Manufactured Crises in Suburban Public Schools

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In most of our sleepy suburban communities in western New York, school districts are run without much fuss. Once in a while you get an eruption of controversy, such as what’s been happening in Lancaster with respect to its abandonment of the “Redskins” monicker. In Lancaster, the school superintendent is now receiving death threats and police protection for him and his family. Over a mascot’s name. School is important, but not in that way. This isn’t a 3,000-word screed about the common core or testing, either.  This is about how a community helps pay to educate its kids.

Municipalities and their school boards walk a delicate tightrope between taxpayer expectations and school needs. Among the suburban districts that are typically most highly ranked in Business First’s annual assessment – Williamsville, Orchard Park, Clarence, and East Aurora – they achieve that balance in difference ways. In Williamsville, the school tax rate is about $18 per $1,000 of assessed value. In Orchard Park and East Aurora, the school tax rate exceeds $30 per $1,000 of assessed home value. By contrast, Sloan’s is $57 per $1,000.

It is also typical that budget proposals in high-performing school districts don’t regularly get a lot of pushback from taxpayers. So long as results are good and money is being spent prudently, annual school budget votes proceed without much controversy. Why ruin a good thing? When real estate is bought, the school district oftentimes weighs very heavily in the decision-making. If a home is in a high-performing district, that has a positive effect on the purchase price and home value. Look at any home listing, just about anywhere.

(I hope you’ll excuse the limited geographical scope of this piece. It’s that time of year again when my free time becomes subsumed by thoughts of school budgets and election battles. Although its scope is facially narrow, the underlying points are valid for most upstate suburban and rural school districts, especially in light of Albany’s game-playing with school funding over the last several years.)

In Clarence, however, we have a different scenario altogether. Clarence’s school tax rate is $14.80 per $1,000 of assessed value – less than half that of OP or East Aurora. Clarence is lucky – it has a lot of very expensive pieces of property, so the rate doesn’t need to be as high as in other communities. Nevertheless, a small cabal of anti-school propagandists would have you believe that the district is spendthrift, bloated, and unfair to the taxpayer – that same taxpayer who relies on the schools’ excellence for her home’s resale value.

They say it’s “unsustainable”. Yet today’s $14.80 rate is almost identical to the rate in 2008 – 2009. In 2003, the rate was significantly higher – almost $17. It dropped steadily until 2011, when it slowly began to creep up from a low of $14.13, as state funding dried up and the district had to look to local taxpayers to help bear more of the burden.

What do we get for that money? Is the district spendthrift? Bloated? Not only is the answer a resounding “no”, but the district’s educational output is outstanding. Clarence is ranked 3rd out of 432 WNY districts for excellence but also for cost-effectiveness.  It’s 6th in administrative efficiency, and its per-pupil spending is 2nd lowest in Erie County; it’s 6th lowest in the entire state. The school tax rate is the second lowest in WNY. By all accounts, this is a triumph of cost-effective, excellent results. It’s the sort of thing that anyone – liberal or conservative – would proudly show off as a testament to good, small government. You would think that a school district with those sorts of numbers would have no pushback from angry taxpayers.

Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

In 2013, a perfect financial storm came about that required a proposed 9.8% tax hike to maintain then-extant staff and services. The school board took a gamble that the community had the schools’ back and would support it in a tough time. On the contrary, voters overwhelmingly rejected that proposal, sending the message that any increases in the levy should remain at or under the state’s new tax cap. That’s what the board did in the June 2013 re-vote, cutting tons of clubs, extracurriculars, sports, services, curricula, and teachers. It did so again in 2014, and there was no opposition to that at-cap budget. Meanwhile, the Clarence district alone has lost over $16 million in state aid thanks to the state legislature’s astonishingly cynical “gap elimination adjustment”, an accounting gimmick that balanced the state budget on the backs of local school districts.

Here we are in 2015, and the school board hasn’t even presented a final budget proposal, as the district tries to figure out how much state aid it’s going to receive. Yet a certain subset of local activist – as angry as they are misinformed – has pledged to vote down the budget, no matter what it is, just because.

It helps to understand how these districts determine their levy. Sales taxes are set at a fixed rate; school taxes aren’t. The district proposes a budget, which includes amounts to fund all its personnel and essential programs. Each district has different priorities. If the school district finds that it needs more money than it did last year, – even if it’s just to keep up with inflation – it has to ask for an increase in the total tax levy.  That levy is then apportioned to taxpayers based on the value of their real property. So, if the overall levy goes up 2%, but your property value rises by 4%, your tax “rate” will go down. For towns like Clarence, whose property tax cap is higher, in part, due to its “growth factor” of 1.5, if the total property value added in the district via new construction in a given year outpaces the levy increase, your actual tax bill will go down. The district doesn’t raise taxes every year. The levy might go up, but how that translates to your personal tax bill varies. That’s before we get to the passage of the veteran’s exemption, enhanced STAR, agricultural exemptions, and other programs that lower the tax or assessed value for some taxpayers, increasing the burden on others.

This year’s fight began just after the Clarence High School production of Pirates of Penzance closed its three-performance run. Dedicated and talented kids – with the help from their faculty advisers – put on a Broadway-caliber show that was absolutely world class. Everyone from the amazing pit orchestra, to the tech crew, to the cast itself worked hard for months to pull it off. It wasn’t just some accident of talent. It’s how that talent is nurtured, developed, and grown. It starts with the music programs in the elementary schools, to instrument instruction, to singing, and then is further enhanced by the bands, orchestra, chorus, plays, and musicals that are done at the middle school. By the time these kids get to high school, those who are dedicated to drama, music, tech, and singing are well on their way to becoming professionals. It’s simply an amazing progression to watch, and the Clarence High School’s annual musical productions are absolutely incredible; a testament not only to talent, but to teaching.

But the people complaining about paying the second-lowest tax rate for the third-best school district in WNY didn’t see that performance, or any of that value. They don’t know about the successes in the engineering curriculum, or the fact that our system is one of the best in the country for music education, or that our mock trial team won a countywide competition. Despite the fact that the levy has only been rising since 2011, that is “far too long”, and they presented their first argument: restore local control and kick Albany to the curb. But that gap elimination de-funding hamstrung districts – the tax cap ensured that they had no way to even ask local taxpayers to make up that difference. In Clarence’s case, it was made through cuts, dipping into the fund balance, and through modest increases in the local school tax. Since 2011, the district cut 113 full-time positions. 

But these anti-tax warriors are playing people. In their public pronouncements, they say they want to maintain school quality, but when their words aren’t being recorded for posterity, or they’re speaking amongst themselves, they clearly intend to manufacture a crisis that would require the schools to effectively wither and die. Otherwise, they’d attend regular school board meetings and offer ideas. They’d know about the very strongly-worded letter that Superintendent Geoff Hicks sent to Governor Cuomo.   They’d use the district’s legislative advocacy page. They’d show up.

Disapproval of a within-cap levy increase would do to the schools what 2013 did, and force students out of programs, eliminate teachers, close electives, and do palpable and real harm to students and their educations. For what? What is the underlying complaint here? Cui bono?

It doesn’t make any sense. After all, when the tax rate inched up last year, every taxpayer received a rebate check for the exact amount of the increase – mine was $71, and I donated it to the Clarence School Enrichment Foundation. The same thing will happen with this budget, if any increase is at or below the cap. The cap, for the record, is 4.7% because the town continues to grow, and because the district refinanced some existing debt at a lower rate, saving $4 million over the life of the note, and the new payments kick in this year.

So, in the face of all these excellent results and efficient, frugal management, we’re left with one argument: the teachers make too much. They’re greedy. They get summers off. They work short days. They get fat pensions and pay only 10% of their health insurance costs.

We hear a lot from tax opponents about “running government like a business”. Of course, schools don’t exist to make money – they exist to educate children. The output in Clarence is excellent. If you ran a multi-million dollar corporation, and when annual review came along, almost 85% of your key employees were exceeding expectations, you wouldn’t cut their pay and benefits, you’d give them a damn bonus. If you wanted to attract and retain this kind of talent, you need to pay them a living wage. So, are these mostly “highly effective” teachers overpaid?

I had someone argue to me that teachers don’t live in the “real world”. That’s completely wrong. Everyone’s “real world” is a bit different. Most New York teachers, unlike most of us in the “real world”, hold masters degrees. They must be tested, vetted, and authorized – licensed and certified – to teach. They are ad hoc social workers, mandated reporters, emergency caregivers, mediators, peacemakers, peacekeepers, role models, safe havens, and that’s before you get to the actual teaching part. As for teaching, they don’t just have to deal with ever-increasing class sizes, but also with administrators, parents, the state, and bureaucracy. They don’t make as much money as their peers with M.A.s or M.S.s in the private sector, and many of them take pay cuts to work in Clarence, which is by no means the district with the largest salaries in WNY for teaching professionals; Clarence is 13th for teacher pay. Sure, they get better health insurance and retirement than most people in the private sector, but that’s really an indictment not of the teachers, but of the private sector and the way it has stripped workers of pay and benefits over time.

It’s also comparing apples to oranges. Public sector workers go to work to serve the public, oftentimes at wages that would be embarrassing in the private sector. Consider, for instance, why it’s tough to find a CPA to run for comptroller. So, the public sector makes up for that by offering good benefits, usually negotiated through collective bargaining. So, is public service the “real world”? You don’t hear a lot of people whining about Chris Collins’ congressional salary, or that of his staff. Or Mike Ranzenhofer or Jane Corwin – no one bats an eye. No one much cares that the Clarence supervisor gave himself a couple of nice raises over the past few years. What is the “real world”? Why do teachers get this sort of scrutiny, but other public employees don’t? 



If the real world of teaching in New York public schools was the bonanza of wine, song, and riches that some imagine, then everyone would be clamoring to join this profession. But for some reason they don’t.  Maybe some people see the private sector as offering more opportunities for personal enrichment – after all, private sector salaries have no upper limit. Teachers on average make about $50-60k in Clarence, and that’s after at least a decade of service. It’s a nice paycheck, but none of them are getting rich. People complain that their benefits package can’t match what a teacher earns (note that word “earns”), but that’s the real world. Isn’t a good education part of the American dream? Don’t we want properly and adequately to remunerate the professionals upon whom Americans rely to educate our children?

Teachers aren’t paid during the summer. Their workday is not nearly as short as the kids'; it doesn’t begin and end when the bell rings – they have to attend conferences, plan their curriculum, grade papers, draft tests and course materials, and deal with all manner of after-hours parent or student issues. They’re not entitled to retirement benefits until they’ve worked in the district for 10 years. The teachers’ contract is online. An entry-level teacher with a master’s degree earns an annual salary of $41,400 at Step 1. That doesn’t break $50,000 until Step 9. You break $60,000 at Step 13, and $70,000 at Step 16. The max is $93,000 at Step 20. Some teachers receive stipends for extracurricular work, bumping veteran teachers up into the very low 6-figures.

Is $93,000 for a teaching professional with a master’s degree and 20+ years of experience excessive? Or are these wages firmly middle class? Clarence’s median income is $68,000. No one’s getting rich from a $90,000 annual income. No one’s driving a Bentley or smoking Cohibas in West Palm on that salary. Teachers give up the private sector, where financial risk and reward are both higher, in order to educate the next generation, and do so with some modicum of job and retirement security. There are few professions more important or noble, yet we continually demonize them as the root of the problem.

It’s a lot of money, but do they not earn and deserve it? How is their labor not incredibly valuable? I’m not saying their salary and benefits are cheap – they’re just earned. One of the leaders of the current anti-school effort in Clarence has a school tax bill that is, in 2014, a full 32% lower than it was in 2006. In real dollars. But she’s upset about sustainability?

The school board held a budget information session on March 30th. There, Superintendent Hicks outlined a revised proposal that would take into account estimates of increase state aid to raise the levy by 3.9% – significantly lower than the 4.7% tax cap, and restore 4 positions. In the meantime, since the state budget came out, it looks like we may see restoration of as many as 10 positions at that 3.9% figure. It’s a prudent measure designed to placate anti-tax members of the board, and also the parent-taxpayers who are demanding smaller class sizes, restored programs, and easing the burden on remaining teachers. It was a lively meeting, with a good debate. A few students came and spoke. Two teachers spoke. Two. Everyone else was either a parent-taxpayer or an anti-school activist.

The head of this year’s “no” posse sent a note to her listserv about that budget meeting and it was filled with either lies or emotion.

She was moaning about how “defeated” she felt because she was so outnumbered. Her crew was indeed outnumbered, but not by teachers or their union, but instead by concerned taxpayer-parents. We moved to that town because the schools are good and the taxes are lower than, say, Williamsville or Orchard Park. It’s a pretty sweet equation that few other places are able to replicate. But the gutting of teachers and programs in 2013 wasn’t good enough – the school opponents are now out for blood. They’ve moved the goalposts – 4.7% is too high, 3.9% is too high, indeed anything greater than 0% is too high. Their arguments go back and forth like a pinball from “state control” to “teachers are paid too much” to “union contract”. The people demonizing teachers argue that, in addition to making too much, they enjoy tenure and cannot be fired. Tell it to the many Clarence teachers who have been let go since 2011.

According to her email, one of the two school board members the anti-tax crowd perceives as friendly wrote to them, “Don’t give up – that’s what they want. Keep up the good work. You guys showing up last night was important because it balances out the teacher influence. Keep the troops organized and keep coming to the meetings. thank you for what you do – it makes a difference.”

That was written by a school trustee who owes a fiduciary duty to maintain the excellence of the school system in a way that is respectful to all taxpayers. I don’t know what “teacher influence” was extant at that meeting, as only two teachers spoke. The “difference” being made is that the board could choose to raise the levy by 4.7% and restore even more positions, but won’t. Is that refusal to right the wrongs of the past few years in the district’s best interests? Are the students’ needs being met?

What I do know is this: parents will agitate for the levy to go up to the cap, and for the restoration of teachers, social workers, and electives. The “no” crowd doesn’t get to control or monopolize the agenda. What is there to lose? The anti-school people will vote “no”, regardless; they will vote no for 4.7%, and they will vote no for 3.9% and they would vote no if the increase in the levy was 0.01%. The parents, by contrast, are likely open to compromise.

So, it’s only a matter of time before this sort of nonsense happens in every school district. Demonization of teachers, de-funding of schools, privatization, and the further erosion of the middle-class American dream. Not just demanding that teachers be at-will grunts who earn McDonald’s wages, but that parents and students be subjected to substandard public schools, leading to de-funding, vouchers, or straight tuition.

They say that private schools do it better and more efficiently.  My tax bill is about $4,400, and that pays for two kids’ educations. That’s a bargain, and one of the most important taxes I pay, and I pay it gladly. Our future depends on it.

It will continue to be thus when they graduate, because all town kids deserve the same shot that mine got, if not better.

Please get active in your school board. Take an interest in what’s going on – whether you have kids or not, but especially if you do. Apathy is the ally of malevolence, and you can help ensure that the people you elect do the right thing.

Indiana and the Right to Hate

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In 2004, Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. It wasn’t done legislatively, but by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny homosexual couples the right to marry.

Back in the mid-90s, the federal government saw the writing on the wall and passed an idiotic and narrow-minded piece of legislation called the “Defense of Marriage Act“, as if “marriage” as an institution needed federal “defense” from the marauding homo hordes, as opposed to, e.g., hetero divorcees. To his eternal demerit, President Clinton signed this dreck into law. In 2013 the Supreme Court declared DOMA unconstitutional, opening up federal benefits to married same-sex couples. That recognition was expanded administratively to ensure that same-sex married couples were treated like a heterosexual married couple for purposes of federal law.

In the nine years since Massachusetts’ highest court made history, the United States went from one state permitting same-sex marriage to thirty-seven, plus the District of Columbia. That’s a swift adoption curve.

Naturally, there will be resistance to such a rapid and dramatic societal shift. Alabama allowed same-sex marriage for a few weeks, but some of its state officials are taking a “state’s rights” stand and forbidding licenses from being issued. Apparently their stubborn adherence to Jim Crow generations ago didn’t teach them any lessons. Kansas is similarly complicated. There have also been a handful of cases where merchants have refused to serve same-sex couples, ostensibly on religious or political principle.

So it is that Indiana’s governor Mike Pence on Wednesday signed into law something called the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act“. This law doesn’t “restore” religious freedom, so much as it effectively legalizes anti-gay bigotry. Signed in private, surrounded by clergy and social conservative lobbyists, Governor Pence claimed the law didn’t allow anti-gay discrimination. Not unsurprisingly, it is redundantly similar to a federal law President Clinton signed in 1993.

The NCAA, major corporations, and conventions have all expressed concern over how this law might effect their future placement of events and people in Indiana. After all, gay people play sports and spend money, too.

The law will allow businesses to deny public accommodations to gay people and couples, so long as there is some sort of a religious pretext to do so. The argument goes that one should have a right to discriminate against LGBT Americans because homosexuality is against their sincerely held religious beliefs. So, a bakery can refuse to serve a gay couple, a restaurant can eject same-sex dining partners, and lunch counters wouldn’t even need to segregate gay patrons to a separate section – they could simply refuse to serve them.

While Governor Pence rejects the idea that the new law would permit discrimination, when Democratic legislators attempted to add language into the bill to prevent it, Republicans wouldn’t do so. We should pay attention to deeds, not words.

But this whole notion of faith being under attack is utter garbage. According to Pew, (updated in 2012), over 73% of Americans identify as Christians, just under 6% are “other”, like Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu, and 20% of Americans are ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ about faith. Your ability and right to worship are as esconced in the Constitution today as they were 200 years ago. Just like an atheist has no right to demand that a Catholic clergyman conduct a same-sex wedding, a Baptist shopkeeper has no right to refuse service to a gay couple. Atheists don’t get to control what goes on in clerical life, so religious people don’t get to control what goes on in secular life or government.

But in the 50s and 60s “religious freedom” was one of the justifications whites used to maintain Jim Crow. Here’s a speech that Bob Jones, Sr, of the eponymous “university”, gave in 1960 doing just that. Here is a compendium of faux-religious justifications to segregate and discriminate. It’s no coincidence that the Ku Klux Klan burns crosses. The use of religion to justify hatred is not novel, and it shouldn’t be tolerated.

What we’re witnessing is a right-wing attempt to co-opt “political correctness”.  Forget the whole imbroglio over the Lancaster Redskins, which established how the new political correctness is to be against political correctness. This is far more dangerous, because laws are being passed to legalize and justify bigotry. For some, it is politically correct to allow Christians to refuse to accommodate a certain type of person because it is somehow against their religion. Query whether they’d agree if, say, a Muslim shopkeeper decided that his beliefs permitted him to exclude Jewish or Christian patrons.

But being asked to bake a cake for a gay couple doesn’t invoke anyone’s religious freedom. You’re not being asked to solemnize or legitimize something you don’t believe in – you’re being asked to mix up some ingredients and bake a cake. You don’t have to like it, but if we could all get away with avoiding things we don’t like, the world would be a bigger pain in the ass than it already is. Adding, “because my religion says so” shouldn’t be some sort of discriminatory wild card.

This is why using the word “tolerance” is so appropriate. “Tolerance” isn’t a synonym of “acceptance”; instead, tolerance is about holding your nose and putting up with something that’s noxious to you. Frankly, it’s a bad term to use for how it’s usually intended – that you shouldn’t be horrible to other people for any reason. The state of “not being horrible” is what we’re really talking about, and same-sex couples do not leave a trail of victims. Their state of being doesn’t insult or injure your place or your beliefs or your own marriage. Contrary to what many outspoken homophobes argued, same-sex marriage throughout the US hasn’t led to the destruction of traditional different-sex marriage, nor has it led to the legalizaton of bigamy, bestiality, or incest. (see Santorum).

So, no, Indiana, you don’t get to legalize discrimination by using “religious freedom” as a flimsy crutch. You don’t get to flip “political correctness” on its head and allow “sincerely held religious belief” to negate legally protected equality in public accommodations.

This, too, will pass.  All 50 states will eventually – and soon – have legal same-sex marriage. Discrimination against, and segregation of, homosexuals will eventually be illegal and socially repugnant, and history will not lightly judge the people misappropriating God’s love to protect their right to hate.

The Buffalo Schools Gong Show

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When it comes to the Buffalo Public Schools, we have clearly entered a period of severe and acute self-parody.

The new majority on the school board – Paladino, James Sampson, Patty Pierce, Jason McCarthy, and Larry Quinn – were ostensibly elected to fix longstanding structural, substantive, and procedural issues facing the beleagured district. Perhaps Paladino and his cohorts are taking a cue from revolutionary Cuba – perpetuate the crisis to remain politically relevant and legitimate. After all, if everything is going smoothly, and the emergency has ended, who needs their special brand of “leadership”?

The past 15 years of schools stewardship have been marked by failed experimentation. The popular and effective Marian Canedo was superintendent for 4 years, and left abruptly before her contract expired. After an interim period, the board retained Dr. James Williams, whom they ultimately had to pay to leave. Amber Dixon was interim superintendent for a year before Pamela Brown was hired to serve from 2012 until this new majority forced her retirement in 2014. She had about two years to try and turn around a lumbering behemoth, and the majority essentially hand-picked Donald Ogilvie to serve as interim superintendent while they performed a national search for a new permament placement.

Ogilvie has barely served a year, and Paladino now wants him fired because … well, here’s what Paladino says,

Paladino said Ogilvie has become an obstacle to making the dramatic reforms the district needs to move forward. Even waiting until June or July for Ogilvie to leave is too long, he said.

“I will be presenting a motion to terminate his employment effective immediately,” Paladino said. “I do what I think is right. I’ve reached the point where I felt betrayed. I feel there was a lot of treachery.”

It’s no secret that members of the board majority have been disappointed in Ogilvie’s performance on the job, saying they expected more sweeping and immediate changes than have occurred under Ogilvie’s leadership. Paladino said Ogilvie misrepresented his position when he met with the board majority prior to his appointment.

Board majority members were clear about their vision for the future, Paladino said, and Ogilvie led them to believe he was on board.

But over time, Ogilvie’s lack of enthusiasm for charter school takeovers, slow movement on school downsizing, and general unwillingness to fire administrators and reduce the size of the Central Office has frustrated the board majority.

“We’ve made some marginal kind of progress,” board President James Sampson said, “but not the kind of progress the community wants to see.”

The “snap your fingers” method of effecting wide, sweeping privatization simply isn’t real life. Paladino may be the dictator within his narrow business interests, but he is now an elected official – a trustee who owes taxpayers and students a fiduciary duty to do the right thing. What we’re witnessing, however, is utter lunacy. This is cloud-cuckoo land, and even Paladino’s own allies think he’s gone too far. The majority may be disappointed in Ogilvie, but not enough to throw the entire district into further disarray and fire him before a replacement has been found. Because to do so would be irresponsible and stupid.

The minority, for its part, is already under constant siege by Paladino’s intemperate and childish mouth, and can do little more than use their own words and conduct to be islands of class in a sea of intemperate privatization. Parent activists have demanded that Paladino resign, and suggest that Carl’s own South District constituents are silent because they’re, frankly, embarrassed they elected him to be a constant, stupid distraction. I don’t know whether or not that’s true, but if Pamela Brown only got two years to turn around this district, why should Paladino get one day more?

“It’s always everybody else who’s the problem,” said the Rev. Kinzer M. Pointer, pastor of Agape Fellowship Baptist Church. “We need Mr. Paladino, for once in his life, to take an honest look and determine that he’s the common thread.”

What if Paladino has made the dysfunction worse, not better? That’s the charge, and it’s quite persuasive. Members of the parent group are sick and tired of administrative and legislative ridiculousness, and calling for a federal receiver to take the district over. What an incredible indictment that would be.

In the end, we’re learning that a functioning, collaborative school board is important in order to effectuate change and improve results for students. Even if you buy into the privatization model being pushed by Paladino and his confederates, the fact that they have so far failed, and that Paladino now wants to fire his hand-picked superintendent for putting students before politics, establishes how words don’t translate into deeds if you denigrate and dehumanize, rather than persuade and compromise.

Ogilvie explains that his job was made harder by the fact that “key positions” were vacant, and he’s had an uphill battle made worse by a distracted, belligerent board.

Buffalo and its students deserve better than this pseudo-reformist clown car. Perhaps it’s time for a receiver to assume control of the schools and render the board as irrelevant in law as it has become in fact.

As for Carl Paladino, he was sworn in to that school board on July 1, 2013. He seldom gives people time to do his especial bidding, so who will call for his expulsion or resignation come July 1, 2015? After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the tea party gander.

Dino Fudoli: Redskin 4Evah!

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God bless Dino Fudoli, the Lancaster town supervisor. Having solved every other problem that exists in his town, he’s taken on the very important work of protecting a racist school mascot name. He even went on the air at WBEN, that brave enabler of anachronistic racist ignorance, to put his foot down about this critically important issue.

For the uninitiated, Fudoli is a tax evading caricature of a WBEN caller, who spouts nonsense about the government being your “enemy“, an accused former drug pusher, an anti-democratic Collins stooge, and a former county legislator who is apparently ignorant about procedures for town requests for county resources during natural disasters.

Fudoli wants a referendum on the critically important, existential “Redskins” crisis in Lancaster because, well, the town elected him, so chances are it might vote to maintain a patently racist team name.

On Wednesday, I was in meetings from about 12:45 until 6pm. During that time, people baited Fudoli on Twitter, and he clearly doesn’t know how to use it. But he sure is feisty!

On Ignorance

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The Lancaster school board voted last night to end the use of its team mascot name, effective immediately.

No more Lancaster Dumbpolaks. No more Lancaster Ginzos. No more Lancaster Moneylenders. No more Lancaster Bogtrotters or Krauts or Coloreds. No more Lancaster Redskins.

Lancaster’s school board is to be commended for quickly and unanimously ending a simmering, pointless controversy over something as trivial as a team mascot. It was astonishing to watch news coverage of this event and see myriad older and middle-aged Caucasians donning the mantle of oppressed minority over this mascot issue. If you’re 50+ years old, and your high school’s mascot remains something so critically important to you that you would protest, curse, turn your back, or threaten the lives of the members of the Lancaster school board, then your life is in desperate need of a rethink.

I laid out my argument for changing the mascot name in this piece. There is no way anyone can look at the blatantly racist name “Redskins” and declare it to be what one Twitter user called a “positive racial slur” worth keeping. If any of the slurs I used above made you uncomfortable, “Redskins” should do the same.

It was also another reminder of just how utterly disgusting, ignorant, and racist WBEN has become, as a media entity. This rests squarely on the shoulders of operations manager Tim Wenger, who also runs WBEN’s social media accounts. WBEN is now openly pandering to the worst, most profane, ignorant suburban racism. No fewer than eight (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight) separate Redskins-related posts were made to WBEN’s Facebook page in the 24-hour period of March 16 – 17, and you can imagine the comments on what is, on a normal day, like digital flypaper for WNY’s dumbest bigots.

The unifying meme that so aggrieves WNY’s Suburbanite Caucasus seems to be “political correctness”. But within the context of these sorts of racial controversies, “political correctness” is shorthand for “why can’t I be a hateful bigot anymore?” Although “political correctness” and “PC” are now perceived negatively, within their definition is the radical notion that people should not deliberately be horrible to one another.

The over-reaction to Lancaster’s decision to no longer use a racial slur as a team name has come to this:

Some loudmouth with no ties to Lancaster – who went to High School in Massachusetts and lives on Grand Island – is so incensed at another town’s decision to no longer defame American Indians that he hopes the town votes down the school budget and punishes the students. I mean, why not burn the whole town down, while you’re at it? That would be just as reasonable a reaction as the one Carl Paladino’s driver suggests here. It simply doesn’t get any stupider than this.

A quick scan of the comments that follow the Facebook posts linked-to above contains a fatal overdose of benighted, pretend-offended white people. WBEN was so intent on feeding the racist suburban call-in beast that it pre-empted Hannity to keep f*cking that chicken all night.

I have to try and be optimistic, and hope that the vast majority of Lancaster residents didn’t much care what the school board did with the team name. I have to figure that the silent majority of people who either agreed that the “Redskin” name was offensive, or didn’t much care, won’t do something stupid like throw away their kids’ education over this. I have to assume that the students are going to be smart and creative about coming up with a new team name that will let Lancaster be just as proud as it was as “Redskins”. Because it wasn’t the team name or mascot that generated any past glories, it was the hard work of dedicated students and coaches. Changing the team name is a win:win, because it abandons racial animus and does nothing to erase any pride people should have in whatever their high school triumphs may have been.

I don’t quite understand why ending racist slurs in school settings is considered to be “political correctness” and, thus, a negative thing. Perhaps western New York has a dramatically long way to go with respect to race relations and mutual respect.

The Lancaster school board should be commended for its brave, unanimous decision to cast racism aside. The problem remains that it shouldn’t have to be a “brave” thing to do, and I suspect the death threats have already started coming in.

Perhaps the best comment I saw on WBEN’s Facebook posts was this one, because it was as pointed as it was funny.

All These Racists

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It’s 2015.

Last week at a commemoration of the march on Selma, President Obama said,

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character requires admitting as much.

Look at Ferguson, Missouri. The Michael Brown shooting did a great job in dividing Americans along racial and partisan lines. The Justice Department investigated and issued a report on the city. While it found that there was no utterance of “hands up, don’t shoot”, and cleared Darren Brown of any wrongdoing, there were bigger, structural, endemic racial animus and discrimination in Ferguson that went far beyond one tragic episode on a city street.

Anyone with even a passing interest in the notion of justice should be appalled at what was going on in Ferguson, Missouri.

As it turns out, Ferguson was a shakedown racket. The conservative response to this governmental overreach, incidentally, is anemic. If the issue had to do with, say, the ability to buy a particular type of bullet that can pierce body armor, conservatives would be screaming bloody murder about Obama’s totalitarian dictatorship. But when an investigation reveals that a city had devolved into a corrupt, oppressive banana republic, there’s almost complete silence. Either you believe in your central political ethos, or you’re a disingenuous liar. Or worse.

Because Ferguson is run like a white mafia that exploited its largely Black citizenry with petty harassment and excessive fines for things like jaywalking and parking violations. It is a domestic kleptocracy. If you wonder why its citizens might have erupted in violence and anger in response to the Michael Brown shooting, consider that these people were being treated by their government as an occupied colony.

Ferguson officials repeatedly behaved as if their priority is not improving public safety or protecting the rights of residents, but maximizing the revenue that flows into city coffers, sometimes going so far as to anticipate decreasing sales tax revenues and urging the police force to make up for the shortfall by ticketing more people. Often, those tickets for minor offenses then turned into arrest warrants.

Police officers were judged not only on the number of stops they made, but on the number of citations they issued. “Officers routinely conduct stops that have little relation to public safety and a questionable basis in law,” the report states. “Issuing three or four charges in one stop is not uncommon. Officers sometimes write six, eight, or, in at least one instance, fourteen citations for a single encounter.” Some officers compete to see who can issue the most citations in a single stop.

In one email, the police chief, who also oversees the municipal court, brags to the city manager about how much revenue it is generating. Ignoring that conflict of interest is a recipe for a justice system that bleeds the powerless of their meager resources.

The city’s judge was evaluated by the city council that appointed him, and they found that he was really bad at the whole “justice” part of his job, but he was outstanding at the “shakedown” part of his job.

He’s gone. So is the city manager. So is the police chief. So are a bunch of cops who sent Paladinoesque racist emails around. The city is a powderkeg, and somebody shot two cops last night. It goes without saying that violence is not the answer, but when America’s gun nuts go on and on about how the 2nd Amendment is about fighting governmental tyranny (it isn’t), I half expect the NRA or tea party to come out in defense of the shooter.

That sort of rhetoric, of course, is as dangerous as it is wrong.

But what’s going on with racism in this country? We’ve had a barrage of “nigger” coming out of white people’s mouths lately. A notable recent example came from some young idiot at the University of Oklahoma. It was heartening to see the rapid, strong, unwavering response from the school’s administration and the fraternity’s national governing body. The frat was shut down within hours, the students in question were expelled, and the school implemented its no tolerance policy properly.

What about locally? In the last year, we had the woman screaming “nigger” outside a dollar store, and the truck driver yelling that word at a woman who called him out for improperly using a handicapped spot. But this mentality isn’t rare in our segregated region.

Look no further than the WBEN Facebook page. Open and public, Operations Manager and Director of “Digital Strategy” Tim Wenger unapologetically encourages his station’s racist listeners to display their ignorance. Stuff like this:

or this

It can more subtle and easy to miss, of course, than the public rantings of WBEN’s oppressed white listenership. It can be blatantly obvious to the point of parody

What role, if any, did racial politics play in Bennett’s demise? School Board member Carl Paladino is sure it did. Peoples-Stokes, Heastie and Collins are all African-American, but that alone doesn’t prove anything. Bennett and many of his supporters are white and no one has claimed a racial component there. Still, race does seem to be playing a more dominant role in education, at least in Buffalo. It’s an important issue to resolve.

…like the Buffalo News taking cues on race relations from notorious forwarder of racist images and videos Carl Paladino.

I suppose we should be grateful, in a way, that all of this previously sub rosa racism is becoming more public. We can no longer pretend it doesn’t exist, or that it’s a problem that’s been rectified. It’s most definitely a serious problem in western New York, which is very segregated along racial and class lines. It’s hard to change people’s hearts and minds on these sorts of things. The comments at WBEN’s Facebook page or on Buffalo News stories are replete with racism – some anonymous, some from people who aren’t ashamed of their own ignorance. Social media seems to be an important factor in bringing episodes like Janelle Ambrosia or Oklahoma’s SAE racist bus song to light. In the past, it would have been rumor. Now, we have proof. The racism can be fleeting, like a casually thrown “nigger” during a parking lot dispute, but it’s the tip of an iceberg that the Ferguson report laid bare.

Racism remains not just a personal problem for many people, but a systemic one that does actual harm under color of law. We’ve come a long way in 50 years, but we still have a long way to go.

The War on Diplomacy

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Ironic, isn’t it?

Generally speaking, diplomacy and negotiation is a pretty good way for independent and sovereign nation-states to resolve differences. More importantly, however, diplomacy and treaties help to prevent war. War should be a last resort, not a foreign policy tactic. Our misadventure in Iraq stands as an example of how stupid it can be to rush to war. Invading Iraq, removing Saddam Hussein from power, and occupying that cobbled-together multiethnic, multi-sectarian state had absolutely no positive impact on regional security.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

Nowadays, most especially since President Obama’s election, any sort of diplomacy is seen as Chamberlain ceding the Sudetenland to Hitler at Munich; appeasement.

Right now, six nations are negotiating a comprehensive deal with Iran to ensure that this regional sponsor of terrorism cannot develop nuclear weapons. Generally, Republicans who don’t trust President Obama might at least be heartened by the fact that Britain’s Conservative PM and Germany’s CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel are at the table with the US, France, Russia, and China. But negotiation and diplomacy are now considered appeasement.

Never mind that the absence of a deal between the permanent members of the UN’s Security Council plus Germany will free Iran to develop whatever nuclear weapons it wants under the quickest timeline it can possibly muster. Negotiating a deal with Iran with a strong inspections regime can ensure that Iran doesn’t develop nuclear weapons that it could use against our friends in the region. But negotiation and diplomacy are now considered appasement.

Never mind that Iran is simultaneously funding and supporting militant Shi’a groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, it’s also helping our allies fight Daesh in Iraq. It’s an unlikely alliance, but the enemy of our enemy is often our friend. But negotiation and diplomacy are now considered appeasement.

Never mind there’s no deal finalized yet, and we don’t exactly know what the outlines of any putative deal might be. Never mind that, for all its faults, a thaw in relations with Iran could have very positive effects for both countries and the region. Iran has been crippled by international sanctions imposed at the UN to halt its nuclear ambitions; it has a palpable incentive to negotiate in good faith. But negotiation and diplomacy are now considered appeasement.

Forty-seven Republican Senators signed an unprecedented communication to Iran’s government, offering up a big middle finger to President Obama and a condescending lecture about our Constitution, indicating that President Obama has no authority to negotiate and conclude any deal with Iran and our four negotiating partners. To so blatantly and openly undermine a President who is in the middle of negotiating a multilateral deal with our partners. Labour isn’t undermining David Cameron, and the SDP isn’t undermining Angela Merkel. The Republicans’ hatred and disrespect for President Obama is so strong that it vastly outweighs their love of this country.  These 47 lawmakers would weaken the US to embarrass the President.

What have they accomplished with their letter? Nothing. The President – rightly – accused these Republicans of aliging themselves with Iranian hard-liners who also want no deal, so they can be free to develop whatever weapons they want. Do these 47 Republicans prefer war – possibly nuclear war – with Iran rather than a deal preventing war? The Iranian Foreign Minister called it what it was – a propaganda ploy to kill any deal, regardless of what it might contain.

Vice President Biden wrote,

In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary— that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments—a message that is as false as it is dangerous.

The decision to undercut our President and circumvent our constitutional system offends me as a matter of principle. As a matter of policy, the letter and its authors have also offered no viable alternative to the diplomatic resolution with Iran that their letter seeks to undermine.

Many have accused these 47 Republicans of violating the “Logan Act”, a piece of legislation from 1799, which reads in relevant part:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

But even as a political ploy, how is this different from the recent efforts to link funding of the Department of Homeland Security with a shutting down of President Obama’s recent immigration policy initiative? The GOP might have the majority in the Senate, but not a veto-proof one, and by so egregiously undermining a President whose administration is in the middle of negotiating a deal with our partners and Iran, it ensures that the issue is now politicized and they’ll never get Democrats on board to help them.

A senior American official said the letter probably would not stop an agreement from being reached, but could make it harder to blame Iran if the talks fail. “The problem is if there is not an agreement, the perception of who is at fault is critically important to our ability to maintain pressure, and this type of thing would likely be used by the Iranians in that scenario,” said the official, who spoke anonymously to discuss the negotiations.

The White House and congressional Democrats expressed outrage, calling the letter an unprecedented violation of the tradition of leaving politics at the water’s edge. Republicans said that by styling it as an “open letter,” it was akin to a statement, not an overt intervention in the talks.

Congressional Republican hatred of the President outweighs love of country. Republican hatred of Obama is more important a policy goal than an international deal ensuring that Iran can’t develop a nuclear weapon. The deal sunsets in 10 years? What would prevent these world powers from negotiating something permanent down the road?

Preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is a bipartisan goal. Pre-rejecting a deal that doesn’t exist is counterproductive and stupid, and undermines the President and makes the US seem like an untrustworthy bad actor that lurches around like a banana republic. It’s stupid because it’s bad politics, bad policy, and an ugly precedent to set. Hey, good job taking the “Hillary Clinton E-Mail” story off the front page, Republicans!

The real appeasement would be to abandon these negotiations and simply free Iran up to develop nuclear weapons. The only reasonable conclusion one can draw from this “open letter” is that at least 47 Republican Senators prefer to go to war against Iran. The war on diplomacy has got to end.

Balancing the Upstate Billions

Governor Cuomo Presented with Buffalo Billion Investment Development Plan

Buffalo’s billion is being divvied up mostly as state investments in private enterprise – things like Elon Musk’s SolarCity. How the money is being spent is reportedly opaque, and controlled by very wealthy, well-connected people whose charge is to transform Buffalo’s economy into, according to the Buffalo News,

a hub for clean energy research and manufacturing, as well as a center for medical genomics research centered around the University at Buffalo’s supercomputing capabilities. Another center would have costly and sophisticated equipment that would help some types of advanced manufacturers develop new products and technologies that they couldn’t otherwise afford to do on their own.

That’s all very forward-thinking and laudable, but average western New Yorkers had no real input into how the state investment was made.

Some of the billion will be used for infrastructure changes, such as redesigning Niagara Falls’ sad downtown, and removing a portion of the Robert Moses Parkway, but that’s a small fraction of the billion.

More glaring is the fact that Cuomo hasn’t come up with a Buffalo or Syracuse or Binghamton billion.

During the 2014 campaign, Syracuse reporters were asking Cuomo why Syracuse didn’t have a billion, and Cuomo challenged the city to come up with a plan.

“I want to do the same with Syracuse,” Cuomo said today. “But don’t think I come and write a check and it happens. Because that’s not what happens. I don’t write the check until you have a vision and you have a plan”…

…To attract more state taxpayer help for the Syracuse area, the ideas and commitment from private companies have to be bigger, he said.

Winning communities, he said, have to be energized, coordinated and committed. “So I’m ready,” he said. “Are you ready, Syracuse?”

Syracuse is, evidently, ready, but its mayor, Stephanie Miner, has a radically different idea about how she’d use the money. More specifically, the state is staring at a $5.4 billion windfall from settlements with banks and other financial institutions, and trying to figure out how to spend it. School districts are clamoring for relief, at long last, from the Gap Elimination Adjustment, and Republicans in Albany want money for infrastructure improvement.

As set forth in this editorial, Miner would spend $851 million of a Syracuse billion to replace its crumbling water system. The balance would be spent on municipal broadband ($84 million), rebuilding roads ($48 million), develop newly created public space due to a reconfiguration of I-81 ($3.6 million), $10 million for schools, and a $3.34 million public market specifically targeted at Syracuse’s new refugee residents.

But the price tag for the new water mains has a modern addition:

At the same time, the city would create a natural chilled water system to cool buildings cheaply, efficiently and sustainably using the cold water at the bottom of Skaneateles Lake.

Miner’s ideas for this money directly benefit all Syracuse citizens by spending public money on public needs, like infrastructure and schools. It bucks Cuomo’s goals of public-private partnerships for industrial modernization. The Post-Standard likes Miner’s ideas, although its editorial board thinks it doesn’t go far enough,

It’s an “eat-your-peas” approach that aligns with Miner’s view of the role of government, versus the “shiny toys” approach favored by Cuomo and the Buffalo Billion.

adding,

Miner is right that investing in infrastructure gets government out of the business of picking winners and losers in its efforts to stimulate the economy. Infrastructure is a public good that enables and encourages economic activity. Government doesn’t create jobs; it creates the conditions for the private sector to create jobs.

The mayor is smart to capitalize on Syracuse’s distinct natural advantage — an abundance of potable water — and to piggyback on the existing paths that move it from Skaneateles to Syracuse. The question is whether “the best darn water infrastructure in the nation” is a boast worth making.

Whether by accident or design, the mayor’s plan leaves us wanting more. Think of it as an opening bid. Who’s willing to push her vision farther?

Frankly, wouldn’t it be prudent for a city to use a massive windfall to balance eat-your-peas with one or two big projects that could lead to a fundamental restructuring of its economy? This is without getting into how Cuomo’s handouts to upstate communities hardly puts a dent in the palpable damage that his hedge fund donors have done to those same communities.

But Miner makes a good argument – what’s the point, for instance, of building Syracuse’s version of Canalside if it’s going to be dependent on water mains from the 1890s?

Governor Cuomo has put up a $1 billion revitalization fund that upstate cities must compete for to receive. Business leaders have called on the governor to up the stakes to $2.5 billion.

There needs to be a good balance between direct state investment in capital projects, as well as public-private partnerships to jump-start anemic upstate economies. After all, it’s not like a complete rebuild of Syracuse’s water system isn’t going to directly benefit private contractors, as well.

But fundamental to remaking upstate, and a point that always gets overlooked because it’s far less sexy than Cuomo making it rain, is that Albany has yet to address things like making it easier and less onerous to start and maintain a business in New York State. It has yet properly to address the dysfunction of myriad stacked taxing districts and authorities that implement and make you pay for unfunded Albany mandates, over and over again.

Amherst Parking: Coda

As a follow-up to yesterday’s viral story about an ugly verbal altercation in a local parking lot, I received an email late Tuesday from Marcia Lynn, the woman who shot the video of Kyle Mast verbally berating her from his pickup truck.

Here’s what she had to say in response to his explanation/apology:

In reference to Mr. Mast saying he did not “intentionally” park in a handicapped spot and he is “sensitive” to the needs of handicapped people, this is clearly false. There was no snow on the ground in Dick’s lot on Sunday.  All of the spaces have handicapped markings. My husband saw them when parking and didn’t park in those spots.  And even if he missed those clues, I did POLITELY tell him the first time he got out of his truck that it was handicapped. He chose not to move his car and said he didn’t care.  He stayed in the handicapped spot.

Mr. Mast said he was only in Dick’s for 5 minutes, yet he told you he went into Dick’s to “check out if there were any good sales.”  I’m sorry, but is he really trying to insinuate that he drove all the way to Dick’s to spend 5 minutes in there? I don’t think so. It takes longer than that to look at sale goods and he was in there longer. He pulled up right after my husband went in and my husband came out when I texted him after Mr. Mast called me nigger.  My husband was in there for a half hour. I feel he is trying to justify his parking in a handicapped space because he was “just in there for 5 minutes.” Which it wasn’t, but no matter how long he was in there, he shouldn’t have parked in that handicapped spot.

As far as going in to contact the manager or calling the police -I didn’t think to do it. I wouldn’t call 911 for a non-emergency and what is a store manager going to do?  Most retail employees fear customers’ reactions to being told such things. Additionally, aggressive customers like Mr. Mast have been known to attack people. If my husband had come out earlier, I wouldn’t have even been there when he came out. It would have ended there because I wasn’t pursuing the matter. I just thought to tell him so he didn’t take up the spot for someone who needed it, to say nothing of getting a ticket.

Mr. Mast says he is “adamant that he did not intentionally park in a handicapped spot.” He states, “it was accidental and not intentional.”  Well, if that is the case, then why didn’t he move his truck when he was informed of his indiscretion?  I’ll tell you why –he didn’t’ care.  He told you that he is sensitive to the “need for easy access for the disabled.” Yet, he didn’t move his truck.

In your interview he stated that as soon as he got out of his car, I began yelling at him, accusing him, “you can’t park there, you’re illegally parked.”  This is true. I did tell him that… But, he says he didn’t respond as he went into the store. This is untrue. We were both yelling back and forth to each other. I told him that spot was for war veterans without legs and people in wheelchairs. He swore at me. He yelled he didn’t care and told me “mind my own F***ing business.” Mr. Mast says that, as he came back out of the store, the “taunting” resumed until he got into his truck. He conveniently leaves the part out where he called me a B**** and was acting in an aggressive manner toward me the minute he came out. He was yelling and cussing at me when the only “taunting” I did was continue to tell him he was still parked illegally and he was wrong.  When he got into his truck he started revving the engine. I started videotaping because I wasn’t sure what he was going to do. I was worried he might ram my truck or something else and I wanted it on tape if he attacked me.

Mr. Mast said he noticed I was videotaping and in a “fit of rage he used a racial slur.”  If that is the case, it would be interesting to see what he does when someone is not videotaping.  He says he is sorry that he did that, and says, “it just came out,” but I feel that sort of word does not just “come out” unless you use it often.  So Mr. Mast must use that word often.  He says, “He didn’t even know or think I was black, and was just trying to come up with the most hateful word he could muster.”   Well, that’s nonsense because I’m clearly not white and I doubt he’s called other white people that name. These are all excuses to try to justify his racist actions.

You say that you feel Mr. Mast was genuinely remorseful for what he said and what had happened. And yet, he has yet to apologize to me personally.  I feel he is sorry, but not for his actions towards me, but for getting caught.

A lot of people have attacked Marcia Lynn for confronting Mr. Mast, in effect blaming the victim. That’s ridiculous. There were many different ways that this could have gone down, and each actor could have taken a different path, but Marcia Lynn’s decision to openly confront someone who, according to her, was parked improperly in a handicapped spot, was not the cause of Mr. Mast’s outrageous reaction.

Would you confront someone who was improperly taking a spot reserved for people who can’t get around easily? Perhaps not, but if you did, that doesn’t give the pig parker license to curse at you or call you a racial slur.

With respect to Mr. Mast’s explanation, on the video when she said he was parked in a handicapped spot, he didn’t say, “no I wasn’t”; he said, “so was everyone else”. That’s in the heat of the moment, as it’s happening. In my opinion, his explanation doesn’t hold water. As for Mr. Mast, he could have simply driven forward and ignored Marcia Lynn. He could have backed up, as he did, and yelled whatever epithet he wanted – short of racial slurs – and it wouldn’t have been an interesting story. Once he whipped out “nigger”, the whole thing changed.

When I spoked with Mr. Mast, I reminded him of Janelle Ambrosia, whose racist rant went viral last year. He wanted me to take the post down, and, in consultation with the editorial team at the Public, we spoke with him and decided not to. Instead, we offered to tell his side of the story and to delete references to his work and home. I told Mr. Mast that he had been recorded – with his knowledge – and that he can’t simply un-ring this bell because it had come back to haunt him. I suggested that – contrary to Ms. Ambrosia’s experience – that he had an opportunity now to explain and defend himself.

Obviously, I had to give Marcia Lynn at least the same opportunity. Nothing, after all, justifies someone calling someone a “nigger” over a yelling match in a parking lot. People need to maintain self-control if they’re going to leave the house. Honestly, I don’t understand the mentality where if you’re somehow irritated with someone, and you know they’re recording you, you rant and rave like a lunatic for everyone’s amusement.

Marcia Lynn wasn’t doing anything wrong by pointing out Mr. Mast’s improper parking. Even if, as he claims, she goaded and taunted him while he remained stoically silent, that doesn’t justify his reaction. Drive away. Change spots. Keep your window rolled up.

Don’t park in handicapped spots if you don’t have permission to do so – ever, under any circumstances. Don’t yell racial slurs at people, even if you think they’re being mean to you. That’s the lesson in social media and virality for today.

Amherst Racist Pig Parker: Final Version

UPDATE: I spoke with Kyle Mast, the man shown in the video below. Without a doubt, Mr. Mast is having a bad day. To the extent people are contacting him directly to harass or threaten, you’re committing a crime and could be prosecuted. I gave Mr. Mast an opportunity to give his side of the story, and he obliged over the course of two phone calls. 

He traveled to the Dick’s on Maple to check out see if there were any good sales. He is adamant that he did not intentionally park in a handicapped spot. He sometimes has a placard to use for his own family members, and is sensitive to the need for easy access for the disabled. When he parked there, he says he saw no markings on the ground or any signs or poles marking that spot as being for the disabled. If he parked in a handicapped spot, it was accidental and not intentional. He didn’t see that it was a disabled spot, and he would typically have apologized had he realized his mistake. 

As soon as he got out of his car, Mr. Mast says Marcia Lynn began yelling at him, accusing him, “you can’t park there, you’re illegally parked” and making jokes about how his truck was overcompensating for something else; “big truck, small package” he recalls. Mr. Mast says he was “aggravated” by this taunting, but didn’t respond at all as he went into the store. 

Contrary to the Facebook post’s allegations, Mr. Mast claims only to have been inside the store for about 5 minutes, not 30. He adds that, if he had been parked illegally for 30 minutes, why didn’t the woman shooting the video complain inside to the manager. He also says that Marcia Lynn was yelling at other people about parking improperly. 

He says that, as he came back out of the store, the taunting resumed until he got into his truck. He was growing angrier because of the heckling, but also because he saw that Marcia Lynn was videotaping.  In a fit of rage – he says he was being “hotheaded” – Mr. Mast used a racial slur. He is sorry that he did that, and says, “it just came out”. He says, in retrospect, he didn’t even know or think Marcia Lynn was black, and was just trying to come up with the most hateful word he could muster. He admits that he wasn’t thinking straight, and was very upset because Marcia Lynn wouldn’t leave him alone. 

In speaking with Mr. Mast, I detected genuine remorse for what he said and what had happened. He knows what he said was wrong, and that there were many other ways he could have either defused or ignored the situation – just driving forward was one of them. Mr. Mast let his emotions get the better of him, even though he knew he was being recorded. 

Here’s a video from local Facebook user “Marcia Lynn”, capturing her encounter with the driver of a wildly conspicuous monster truck in the parking lot of a Dick’s store on Maple Road in Amherst.

Here is her story, in a nutshell:

 

 

So, a pig parker parks his Tonka truck in a handicapped spot for about 30 minutes, and when someone confronts him about it, he tells her to, “get a life” and, just before he drives off, calls her a “nigger”.

Here’s what his real-life Hot Wheels truck looks like:

As always, you can email me at buffalopundit[at]gmail.com with any information / tips / etc .

 

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