Diplomatic To-Do List: Cuba Libre

ad-1958-havana-hiltonThe biggest hypocrites in the world are Cuban exiles who oppose the normalization of our diplomatic relationship with the Cuban regime.

By way of background, the US normalized our diplomatic relationship with Stalin’s Russia in 1933. We maintained diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany all the way up to the declaration of war in 1941. By no means does having an embassy in a country signify approval or endorsement of the host nation and its system of government. It is, as the name implies, the normal way in which nation-states interact with each other.

It is through discussion and engagement that desired change can be made. The embargo and our attempts diplomatically to isolate Cuba since 1961 have objectively been a thorough failure. As in 1961, a communist Castro wears olive drab and heads a nominally socialist mafia that oppresses its people, stifles expression, and rejects the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas. The embargo has accomplished little. Keeping Americans and their money out of Cuba serves only to help the regime perpetuate the revolution, giving them an easy scapegoat to justify their oppressive behavior and economic backwardness.

Eastern Europe unshackled itself from Marxism-Leninism in the late 80s and early 90s, and the entire former Warsaw Pact, except the former Soviet Union, is now a free and democratic member of the European Union.

I posited that, on the question of changing our diplomatic relationship with Cuba, the opinions of Cuban dissidents matters to me. If they’re happy, I’m happy, I wrote. On Facebook, conservatives attacked this idea as folly. Examples:

U.S. public policy should be formed by foreign dissidents, not by duly elected American officials. Venceremos!

Not at all what I wrote, of course. When I pointed that out, here was the reply,

Yes, and perhaps Barry can bow deeply from the waist to Raúl, and apologize for Amerikkka’s fifty-year efforts to stop Fidel from imprisoning Cuban citizens.

So, trolling.

But then this came in:

As I sit in Miami preparing for a meeting with another Cuban American CEO – my third in two days – I can promise you Alan that the preponderance of opinion of Cuban exiles is against this Obama move. By far. So, what you’re saying here is: “I only care what [rare] Cuban dissidents like Yoani Sanchez [who agree with my world view] have to say about it.”

Well, I never discounted the opinions of domestic Cubans, but since that’s where we’re going, yes. I believe that the opinions of Cubans who live in Cuba and fight the regime from within are far more relevant than that of exiled CEOs in Miami. Or Marco Rubio. Or Ted Cruz. Or any other Cuban-American who knee-jerkedly demands an abolition of Communism before we open up a relationship with the Cuban dictatorship.

I have no idea if Yoani Sanchez “agrees with my worldview” or not, except insofar as she fights a dictatorship from within at considerable personal and professional risk. To my mind, rejection of dissident opinion is not something that, e.g., a Ronald Reagan would have done vis-a-vis the USSR in the 80s, so it’s shameful to do now when politically expedient. In fact, I think it’s shameful.

Absent any other rational explanation, I reckoned that weighing the opinion of exiles as more persuasive than that of in situ dissidents must be based on the fact that the latter aren’t awash with cash and supporting Republican candidates for office.

Respecting the informed opinions of both sides and devising your own is a more effective tack if you ask me. For example: I’m not for keeping the present US policy in place. I’m for requiring change in Cuba before changing US policy. We didn’t do that, which history proves is a serious mistake.

There has, of course, been some incremental change in Cuba. They ended the exit visa requirement for travel. The harassment continues, but they’ve laid off dissidents a bit, and freed – or promised to free – key political prisoners. They have liberalized the economy for small-scale family-run private enterprise, even allowing people to be hired and fired – something even Tito’s Yugoslavia didn’t allow. There are now almost 400,000 Cubans who are entrepreneurs, or working for one. The laws have been re-written to permit the private ownership of personal and real property.

All of that in just the last 5 years. If “change” is the pre-requisite, it’s happening. Slowly, for sure. Not enough? Definitely. But the same can be said of Burma, and we normalized relations with them. Vietnam, ditto. People’s Republic of China – did that in 1979, and the difference between now and then is breathtaking.

But politicians are still in thrall of the Cuban exile community, which has historically opposed any liberalization of ties with that country. Except.

Except they are the biggest hypocrites.

Cuban-Americans have free rein to travel to Cuba whenever they want, as often as they want. They likewise have free rein to send remittances to family members in US dollars, which get converted into (soon-to-be-abolishedconvertible pesos, and go to support the regime, (which they supposedly so oppose that they don’t even want to open up normal diplomatic relations with it). The convertible pesos can be spent in special dollar stores to buy imported items and goods that are in short supply in regular shops.

Then when Cuban-Americans travel to that country, the money that they spend also goes to prop up the regime they hate so much that Americans with no family ties to Cuba must receive a special Treasury license to go there.

When Cuban exiles are willing to shut down their own travel and dollar remittances, then I’ll listen to entreaties about how normalizing relations or lifting the embargo is a horrible, capitulatory mistake.

After all, it’s been 50 years and the embargo and cutting of diplomatic ties have done nothing to weaken or abolish the Castro regime. In reality, it’s only given the Castros an ongoing excuse to maintain revolution without end, and to oppress their people.

But because everyone cites opinion polls except when it’s inconvenient to do so (see, e.g.,  Obamacare), note that 2014 polls of Cuban-Americans shows that almost 70% support the normalization of diplomatic relations; 90% of younger respondents support the move. 70% of respondents support lifting the embargo, and a similar percentage believe that the embargo didn’t / doesn’t work.

As for Yoani Sanchez, whose opinion matters more than yours or mine, because she challenges that regime by her very existence, she has this to say:

Still, despite the absence of public commitments on the part of Cuba, today was a political defeat. Under the leadership of Fidel Castro we would have never even reached an outline of an agreement of this nature. Because the Cuban system is supported by – as one of its main pillars – the existence of a permanent rival. David can’t live without Goliath and the ideological apparatus has depended too long on this dispute.

So she fundamentally disagrees with the notion that this was an American defeat; quite the opposite. She goes on,

In the central market of Carlos III, customers were surprised midday that the big TVs were not broadcasting football or videoclips, but a speech by Raúl Castro and later one by Obama through the Telesur network. The first allocution caused a certain astonishment, but the second was accompanied by kisses launched toward the face of the US president, particularly when he mentioned relaxations in the sending of remittances to Cuba and the delicate topic of telecommunications. Now and again the cry of “I LOVE…” (in English!) could be heard from around the corner.

It is important to also say that the news had fierce competition, like the arrival of fish to the rationed market, after years of disappearance. However, by mid-afternoon almost everyone was aware and the shared feelings were of joy, relief, hope.

This, however, is just the beginning. Lacking is a public timeline by which commits the Cuban government to a series of gestures in support of democratization and respect for differences. We must take advantage of the synergy of both announcements to extract a public promise, which must include, at a minimum, four consensus points that civil society has been developing in recent months.

The consensus points demanded by Cuban civil society (a euphemism for dissident activists) are:

  • The release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience;
  • the end of political repression;
  • the ratification of the United Nations covenants on Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the consequent adjustment of domestic laws;
  • and the recognition of Cuban civil society within and outside the island.

Extracting these commitments would begin the dismantling of totalitarianism.

As long as steps of this magnitude are not taken, many of us will continue to think that the day we have longed for is not close. So, we will keep the flags tucked away, keep the corks in the bottles, and continue to press for the final coming of D-Day.

In the New York Times, she writes,

The tension between the two governments lasted so long that now some people don’t know what to do with their slogans, their fists raised against imperialism and their sick tendency to justify everything, from droughts to repression, on the grounds of being so close to “the most powerful country in the world.” The worst off are the most recalcitrant members of the Communist Party, those who would die before chewing a stick of gum, drinking a Coke or setting foot in Disney World. The first secretary of their organization just betrayed them. He made a pact with the adversary, behind the scenes and over 18 long months.

The thaw in relations with the US and concomitant pledges from the Castro regime give the activists some room to demand follow-through. After 50+ years, the Castros lose a bogeyman and gain some responsibility. It’s not everything, but how’s that for a start?

New York City’s Fallen

Via Facebook

The assassination of two New York City Police officers Saturday is abhorrent and shocking.

The fact that the murderer used the death of Eric Garner as an idiotic excuse to is appalling and sick. He will likely be tried and convicted of 1st degree murder.

That George Pataki, likewise, is a sick asshole.

Here’s what De Blasio had to say:

Here’s what Eric Holder had to say:

“I condemn this afternoon’s senseless shooting of two New York City police officers in the strongest possible terms. This was an unspeakable act of barbarism, and I was deeply saddened to hear of the loss of these two brave officers in the line of duty.

“On behalf of all those who serve in the United States Department of Justice, I want to express my heartfelt condolences to the officers’ loved ones and colleagues. I will make available all of the resources of the Department to aid the NYPD in investigating this tragedy.

“This cowardly attack underscores the dangers that are routinely faced by those who protect and serve their fellow citizens.  As a nation we must not forget this as we discuss the events of the recent past. These courageous men and women routinely incur tremendous personal risks, and place their lives on the line each and every day, in order to preserve public safety.  We are forever in their debt.

“Our nation must always honor the valor — and the sacrifices — of all law enforcement officers with a steadfast commitment to keeping them safe.  This means forging closer bonds between officers and the communities they serve, so that public safety is not a cause that is served by a courageous few, but a promise that’s fulfilled by police officials and citizens working side by side.”

And President Obama:

I unconditionally condemn today’s murder of two police officers in New York City. Two brave men won’t be going home to their loved ones tonight, and for that, there is no justification. The officers who serve and protect our communities risk their own safety for ours every single day – and they deserve our respect and gratitude every single day. Tonight, I ask people to reject violence and words that harm, and turn to words that heal – prayer, patient dialogue, and sympathy for the friends and family of the fallen.

And the head of one of New York City’s police unions:

There’s blood on many hands tonight. Those that incited violence on this street under the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did everyday. We tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated. That blood on the hands starts on the steps of city hall in the office of the mayor.

So, some people see this as the despicable criminal act that it is, and others are making political hay from it.  It’s not so much a tragedy for them as it is an opportunity.

The idea that people protesting excessive police force have “blood on their hands” would be laughable if it wasn’t so emetically disgusting.

We should be respectful of the police, who put themselves in harm’s way day after day.  We depend on them to keep order, to protect us, to protect our things, and to catch criminals. Our laws and society convey upon police special privileges that you and I don’t share. By the same token, the police must not abuse those privileges. Saying these things doesn’t mean you condone violence against them.

Here’s the bottom line: you can simultaneously believe that cops shouldn’t be choking people to death for selling loosies on a sidewalk, and that people shouldn’t assassinate cops. Violence is wrong, period. Justifying either type one is absolutely sick.

Friday Funny

I’ve argued with my share of die-hard libertarians – glib and otherwise – in my time writing this blog. So I find Mallory Ortberg’s “Ayn Rand Reviews Children’s Movies” in the New Yorker to be especially hilarious.

Bambi:

The biggest and the strongest are the fittest to rule. This is the way things have always been. —Four stars.

Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:

An excellent movie. The obviously unfit individuals are winnowed out through a series of entrepreneurial tests and, in the end, an enterprising young boy receives a factory. I believe more movies should be made about enterprising young boys who are given factories. —Three and a half stars. (Half a star off for the grandparents, who are sponging off the labor of Charlie and his mother. If Grandpa Joe can dance, Grandpa Joe can work.)

See the whole thing here.

If Cuba’s Dissidents are Happy, I’m Happy

@yoanisanchez Via Google Translate

@yoanisanchez Via Google Translate

We’re not lifting the embargo. We’re simply going to normalize diplomatic relations. This means we’ll have an embassy in Havana, they’ll have an embassy in New York, and we will conduct diplomatic business with each other as we would with any other country.

This does not mean that we’re friends, even. It just means that we’re talking.

We normalized diplomatic relations with Stalin in 1933, and with Maoist China in 1979. We normalized diplomatic relations with Communist Vietnam in 1995. We had diplomatic relations with all sorts of despots and horrible places.

Normalization is not an endorsement of the Castro regime, nor for Cuba’s communist system. This is not an endorsement of Cuba’s oppression.  If anything, the diplomatic process will go a long way towards expanding US – Cuban ties, and hopefully doing for Cubans what trade and contact did for ties with China and pre-Putin Russia.

It is, however, high time the embargo was lifted. It has given Castro 50+ years’ worth of excuses for his oppression and economic stagnation.  Taking that excuse away will go a long way towards making Cubans free again.

As a final thought, please check out the website 14ymedio, which is operated by Cuban citizen journalists like Yoani Sanchez, of the Generacion Y blog. They are happy, so I am happy.

Kim Jong Un Dictates to Sony

The Interview is a satirical work of fiction that apparently so angered the hermit-like Stalinist North Korean regime that it famously unleashed its crack hacking squad on Sony Pictures.

An astonishingly un-American series of reactions took place throughout the day Wednesday when Pyongyang’s hackers invoked 9/11 to threaten moviegoers. First, Sony said it would let cinemas opt out of showing the movie, and major chains including AMC and Regal announced that they would not screen it.

Later in the day, Sony decided to pull the movie altogether and has no plans ever to release it.

What kind of bullshit is this? We’re letting Stalinist hackers dictate what American moviegoers get to see? North Korea – which made no such complaints against Team America : World Police – is now censoring American motion pictures? Are there any other programs or movies that Pyongyang would like me to not watch? Should Kim Jong Un be on retainer with the MPAA to rate movies as “PA” or “Pyongyang Approved”?

Jeff Simon in the Buffalo News is absolutely wrong. The Interview doesn’t “go too far” – it’s a comedy, for God’s sake. It’s satirical. Who will be the arbiter of what does and doesn’t “go too far”? A Stalinist dictator who inherited his post from daddy and grampa?

When a crazed, heavily armed lunatic shot and killed 12 and injured 70 in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, the studio didn’t pull “Dark Knight Rises” from American cinemas.

We hear a lot about how diplomacy equals appeasement, which isn’t at all true. Appeasement is appeasement – unilaterally pulling a movie (with no quid pro quo),  succumbing to blackmail and threats is appeasement. North Korea wins because Sony is obviously run by idiots, and next time Kim Jong Un gets a diseased bug up his ass about something in America, he’ll make more threats because, apparently, that sort of shit works. Maybe theaters and studios will just pull any movie that receives a vague and anonymous threat. This Esquire piece is spot on: this is simply idiotic and gutless.

All of this has proven Seth Rogen and James Franco right. They clearly saw, from the beginning, what the monster in North Korea fears most: to be ridiculed. They will no doubt soon be venting their rage against the companies that have blocked and delayed their movie, and their rage will be justified. Everyone is ridiculous except them. That may turn out to be the deepest irony of the Ridiculous War of 2014: that Seth Rogen and James Franco, a couple of Hollywood stars in a gross-out comedy, are the only two people involved in the whole affair who have emerged with their dignity intact.

Remember: North Korea didn’t intimidate anyone into killing this movie:

Area Cretin Laments Death of America

When It was OK to be anti-German

Robert Knapp of Lewiston, NY has some very important thoughts about America and how far its fallen. Perk up your listening ears, and make sure you pay close attention to any dog whistles you might hear.

What happened to my America? When you could walk down any street at any time and feel safe – not be shot at or mugged.

The premise here is that America was once a country without any crime, petty or grand. There was never an America where it was safe always to walk down a street without fear of being victimized by some crime or another. Ever. Crime has existed since the dawn of time, and violence is, for better or worse, what made our country what it is.

When you could say “Merry Christmas” and nobody would be offended.

No one is “offended” when someone says “Merry Christmas”. But it is a fact that there are several holidays in December, not all of which are celebrated by everyone. Some people find it just as kind and polite – if not more so – to simply say, “Happy Holidays”.

I remember an America when you could say, “Happy Holidays” and nobody would be offended.

When regardless of the language you spoke at home, in public you spoke English, and did not have Spanish as a second language.

That passage right there is just the author’s more politically correct way of using an anti-Latino epithet. Seriously, why not just say, “fucking spics” while you’re at it? Notice how the first part of the sentence is open to myriad native languages, but the only tongue the author singles out for his offense and ire is Spanish. Here’s a thought – just ignore the Spanish text on whatever sign is so offensive to you.

When people were innocent until proven guilty.

 

Based on the general tenor of this screed, I’m going to guess that this author is referring to the cops whom grand juries cleared of wrongdoing in the homicides of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Well, people are innocent until proven guilty.  By juries. At trial. That doesn’t mean the general public, prosecutors, or police can’t suspect that these people are guilty – it just means that a jury and judge must be impartial.

When we were all Americans, without a race before it.

America is a made-up country that was never homogeneous and was created by and for immigrants and refugees. Some of us were 3/5th Americans. Some of us had no rights at all. Until the 20th Century, women couldn’t even vote. And this isn’t a new complaint  – it goes back at least over a century. I’m not sure what panacea this gentleman has concocted for himself, but it’s ok for Americans to call themselves whatever they want. It is, after all, a free country.

When a human life meant something, and a person who took an oath to save people did not leave a young girl dying on the roadside.

What?

When our motto was to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” not to wimp out and carry a feather.

Teddy Roosevelt coined that phrase around 1901 to characterize his foreign policy ideology, which at the time was focused, somewhat ironically, on the subjugation and colonization of Latin American countries. As for “wimping out”, the US has been involved in nation-building Asian land wars almost continually since 2001. So, who knows what this guy’s talking about?

When a red light and a stop sign meant stop, not ignore it.

Traffic scofflaws are on a recent uptick? People never ran red lights and stop signs before n0bummer?

We were known as a “melting pot.” Now we are a dumping ground.

The racism and xenophobia really aren’t veiled at all – thinly or otherwise, is it?

We are well on our way to becoming a Third World country, with people living in cardboard homes and sewage running down our streets.

Well, no we’re not and I’ll repeat: who even knows what this guy’s talking about? Is this some call for making housing more affordable, or for a massive public works project to fix our crumbling infrastructure?

No. Paraphrasing – he’s just saying these garbage (“dumping ground”) brown people are shitting and pissing in the street like they do in Wetbackistan where they came from.

What happened to my America?

It never existed. You made it up. It’s a figment of your imagination.

Incidentally, “Knapp” is a German surname. Here’s what they said about German immigrants way back when. What happened to Mr. Knapp’s America? You know, the good old days when you could own a black and hate the Hun?

Sheesh, that’s compelling. Who let you in?

Send This to the NFTA

The NFTA is staring down a $10 million deficit.

Nevertheless, the authority is planning no layoffs or fare hikes – at least not yet – as it pleads for greater funding from Albany. All public transit systems require government subsidies to operate, but it won’t be enough for Albany simply to shovel more money in the NFTA’s direction.

There will also have to be a re-evaluation of what the authority’s mission is and what it should be doing differently to accomplish it.

The News suggests that the NFTA needs to figure out a better way to serve the growing medical campus, adding that,

For 20 years, it has used money meant for capital projects to balance its operating budget.

That money has now dried up. There is less money for maintenance, meaning broken escalators don’t get fixed and old buses aren’t replaced. That further discourages riders from using the system, further pinching the authority’s financial resources.

NFTA Commissioner Kimberly A. Minkel had it exactly right: Unless it’s interrupted, the NFTA is caught in a “death spiral.” The problems will feed on one another until only a skeleton of a transit system remains. That cycle, therefore, must be interrupted, and Albany is the only likely source of intervention.

The News notes that Buffalo’s urban poor rely heavily on the NFTA’s service. This is true, but limiting the NFTA’s scope to just serving people who can’t afford cars is self-defeating. Begging Governor Cuomo for more aid is hardly the solution to a longstanding, systemic “death spiral”.

The News’ editorial essentially rejects the notion that the NFTA could or should fix itself or aim any higher than the faded and tired service it provides to Buffalo’s underclass.

RochesterSubway.com

You don’t have to look too far. Rochester’s RGTRA was $27 million in the hole in 2004, with an annual budget of $70 million. It was, at the time, in “a crisis situation looking at service cuts and layoffs when the authority was looking for a new CEO.” Fast forward a decade,

RGRTA had a six-zone, complicated system and the fares were between $1.25 and $3.10. The cost recovery at the time was 28 percent and the on-time performance was 76 percent.

Today it is paying employees more, healthcare costs have gone up and fuel costs more, but despite that, it has become less reliant on taxpayer dollars than it was before.

It’s also grown to 840 employees, more than 400 vehicles, an on-time performance up to 90 percent, it’s eliminated the six-zone system and went to one fare for all rides. In 2008 the fares went from $1.25 to just $1.00 for a ride. And the cost recovery is up to 41 percent.

This strategic shift is something the team has been really focused on, [RGTRA CEO Mark] Aesch says. RGRTA has increased ridership six consecutive years, up to just shy of 18 million folks a year and it has had five straight years of surpluses and will have made $33 million over the last five years.

I don’t know if the NFTA has the brains or will to hire someone as effective as Mr. Aesch, but luckily he wrote a book about his experience. Basically, the RGTRA re-focused its goal from “save money” to “achieve excellence”. In this interview, he explains that the RGTRA board was, in 2004, in the same boat as the NFTA is now, and the board recognized the crisis, a business-oriented board with a clearly defined notion of success, and a willingness to make bold decisions. (Here’s another article about Rochester’s amazing success).

Instead of a survivor mindset, which would result in just cost savings, they pursued excellence.

“Some people would say we’ve cut service. No, we were looking to drive productivity,” he says. “We were strategically trying to become more efficient in our delivery to the community.”

He continues, “They look at other people and they say, ‘We’re going to cut service on some route.’ Well, there are two people riding it.

“You’re going to jeopardize 60,000 people a day over two people that you’re running a bus one way 30 miles for? I’m not sure that’s cutting service, I think that’s silly.” He stresses, “It’s all very strategically driven.”

There were two changes that were critical to this process. One was changing the thinking from customers to passengers and the other was becoming less reliant on tax dollars.

“We wanted to get us to no longer pick up passengers but to pick up customers,” Aesch says. “You can easily get people to just parrot that. ‘Fine, if the boss wants us to call them customers instead of passengers, that’s what we’ll call them.’

“But it’s getting people to culturally think of it differently.”

 

Specifically, the change in language was key to changing the corporate mindset – a passenger is someone with no choice, Aesch says.

In “Driving Excellence,” he says he tells the story of one of their employees that he had an encounter with. “He essentially said, who cares if we get the buses cleaner, they were riding before, what difference does it make if we make them cleaner?”

A big difference, as it turns out. Bus cleanliness is important to the customer. Even the very poor customers who have no choice.

What changed it at RGRTA was putting together a plan with a vision, strategies, operating tactics and a measurement system so that everybody can follow where the agency is headed.

And in six years Aesch says they haven’t adopted a budget, they adopt a plan.

The plan is the vision statement that he says tells them what they are trying to be “when they grow up.” The plan also outlines the strategies needed to implement to achieve that vision.

The last piece, he says, is aligning the money to realize those operating tactics and then building a measurement system to outline whether they are successful.

“One thing I just love about the plan more than anything, this is very transparent, we put this out in front of everybody so for each one of our four strategies … we say 14 months ahead of time on March 31, 2011, ‘The authority is successful if,’ and there are numbers with each one of these things.

Vision and plan? On Planet Byron Brown? Is this even possible? Is this real life? Aesch went on to rally the troops and hold a pep rally when things started to look up.

“What I said to the employees was, if you felt like you helped this year, to dig us out of this massive hole to succeed, you can come up now and we’re all going to sign the letter submitting the plan to the board for the coming year. “

He explains how they ended the pep rally, with U2’s “Beautiful Day” playing in the background, the high energy and excitement in the garage and employees coming up and signing their plan.

One of the drivers that had challenged policies when Aesch came on board, came up at the rally and said he wasn’t going to sign the letter.

“He’s looking down — tall guy — and I said, ‘That’s OK, Caesar, don’t sign the letter.’” And Aesch says he was thinking at the time, “Don’t bring me down on a day that’s exciting.”

The driver said he couldn’t sign the letter. “I kind of hesitated for a minute thinking if he can’t read or write, that’s not why he’s going to sign?

“He says, ‘I’m not going to sign the letter because I don’t deserve to. I didn’t help, I was in the way, I was an obstacle, but this coming year I will help, I will do the right things, I will advance the organization and next year I’ll be able to sign the letter.’”

I’m pulling so many quotes because I love everything about this whole story about how Rochester’s mass transit system pulled itself out of mediocrity, and wishing to God almighty that the NFTA takes a cue from the people 60 miles to the east.

They recruited RIT to help test everything that the RGTRA uses.

One of the areas they’re working together on is with the vehicle diagnostic testing pre-breakdown so when testing equipment, it will send an automatic signal back to radio control before the bus breaks down, telling them the bus is thinking about breaking down.

And this – the NFTA could, at the very least, do this.

rochesterhomepage.net

rochesterhomepage.net

And when he talks about technology advancements, Aesch stresses that it’s all about achieving a strategy. Another that they’re in the process of is rolling out signage at stops to let riders know when buses are coming.

“We’re not putting them up because they’re cool,” he says. “About 70 percent of our customers who call our call center are looking for information on timeliness of when the next bus will be. Seventy percent.

“We’re doing this investment to help reduce the number of incoming calls to the call center so that we will be able to address that from an efficiency perspective.” He stresses, “It’s a very specific investment that we’re making.”

When you stop thinking of riders as mere passengers and start thinking of them as customers with a choice to take – or not take – the bus, you improve service and results. The service started partnering with schools and businesses to get subsidized routes.

Talking about their partnership with RIT leads to a discussion of how RIT subsidizes the route and that it’s not the typical “paying for passes” that many educational institutions have with transit properties.

“Businesses would typically say, ‘Well I pay taxes, so run a bus, bring me customers, bring me employees.’ Our reaction to that is, you also pay taxes to have water lines put in but you don’t expect to just get your water for free, you’re clearly going to get a water bill at the end of the month for the water that your company consumes. So if we’re going to extend a bus line to bring you customers to shop at your mall or employees to work at your nursing home or students to go to your college, we will enter in to a business relationship to deliver that to you.”

When providing service to the community, RGRTA questioned whether the responsibility of the agency is to provide a bus to provide service to people who ride it or if it’s to take as little money from the taxpayers to support it.

“After chewing on that for a couple months, we decided the answer was, ‘Yes,’” Aesch says. “What we did is we took and built a measurement system which takes the service side: how many people are on board a bus, and we give it a score. Then we take the cost recovery side: how much does the taxpayer have to put in, and then we give the bus a score.

“Then we add those two together and that tells us the answer to how are we doing and rather than ‘cutting service,’ as so many folks are apt to do, we’re able to go in with a microscope and then a scalpel.”

As he explains, if there are a lot of people on board a bus but very low cost recovery, there is a service obligation to provide that service. Conversely, if there are only a handful of people on board the bus but it has a high cost recovery score because it’s a subsidized route, the taxpayer’s not putting money in.

“What we’re looking for is, where do we have very few people, or nobody, and where is the taxpayer paying and that’s where we get the microscope and the scalpel to find those kinds of trips. We’re looking to balance all the time,” he says.

So please send this to the NFTA board and urge them to learn the lessons and implement the strategies that improved service and saved the RGTRA from an identical crisis a decade ago. There are no excuses – Rochester is similarly situated to Buffalo in every conceivable way. By 2011, the RGTRA had been running five consecutive years of surpluses, while ridership and revenue both improved.

[Aesch] suggests to other agencies: Build a road map, have a plan and have a measurement system which tells you whether or not you’re being successful in the implementation of your plan. And the last piece he says is to have the courage to make the right decisions.

Aesch will be leaving RGRTA at the end of the year. He really likes what he does and he says he’s really proud of how they do it, but the part that really excites him, that he’s really passionate about, is the public sector management piece.

He says, “It happens to be public transit today, but whether it’s a hospital, a school district or a sewer system, I like being able to take what people traditionally see as stodgy, tired government bureaucracy and turn that into a lean, mean efficient, less-taxpayer-dollars-needed business mindset organization.”

The NFTA can do it, if it wants to.

Carl Paladino Has Important Things to Say About Things

54478a6ec38aa50812eeb979
Carl Paladino ran for governor of the state of New York.

The market has improved for residential development. It’s fairly good right now for apartments…Young people – and it’s just a trend thing – they’ve had it with … mowing lawns and all that. They want the urban life they see on TV, and to live approximate to things

Carl Paladino is a wealthy developer who is well-respected in the community.

Paladino said he hopes the mostly vacant Commodore Perry housing complex nearby will eventually be torn down.

“We’re just praying that they don’t rehab those apartments and put people back in them. Hopefully, they will get rid of the whole thing and tear it down. That Perry Street has caused a lack of interest in any development there.”

Carl Paladino is an elected school board member who has his finger on the pulse of goings-on in WNY.

“They made a big mistake by making [Ohio Street] into a two-way highway when it should have been a four-lane. It’s a terrible mistake. You can’t park a car. And if you’re on it and stuck in traffic, you can’t even turn around. And they’re talking about it being one of the feeders to the Outer Harbor,” Paladino said.

Carl Paladino is on the board of Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps, which is so forward-thinking and consumer-oriented that its ramps take only cash, even in 2014.

“How many people are riding bikes in this community? For four or five months a year you can’t ride a bike in the snow. If you want to ride a bike, do it on the sidewalk. That’s why they have sidewalks,” he said.

It is against the law for adults to ride bicycles on the sidewalk. It’s a sidewalk – not a sideride. Just shut up and run your company. No one gives a shit about your lunatic crackpot opinions.

Republican Infighting Over the Erie County Legislature’s Leaked Email

Logo_ErieCo_tpThe Erie County Legislature has one elected member of the Conservative fusion Party – Joe Lorigo, whose father happens to be the chairman of the county committee. This particular fusion party is very influential in New York politics because it helps both Democratic and Republican candidates burnish whatever “conservative” bona fides they think might be necessary to win a general election. In conservative towns like Clarence, Democrats have a tough (read: almost impossible) time getting elected without the Conservative Fusion Line.

Lorigo caucuses with the Republican majority coalition, which also includes Independence Fusion Party member Lynne Dixon, and they hold their majority by one vote. John Mills is the chairman, and Lorigo is majority leader.

A few articles appeared recently (Buffalo News; Bob McCarthy column; Daily Public) concerning an incident whereby an email was leaked from someone likely associated with the Republican caucus. The email, written by the Republican chief of staff, was critical of the Democratic minority and its staff, and was over the seemingly minor issue of flexible time – employees seeking the option to work 8 – 4 instead of 9 – 5. Here’s the email thread:

The GOP Leg Leak

It’s sort of funny. How is 8 – 4 lazier than 9 – 5? I think you could argue the opposite. The, “news…writing stories” about all this was somewhat prescient, albeit for different reasons.  Nice of the legislature to hand out 2% raises and I’m pleased to see that even Republican hacks think that “phenomenal health care” [sic] is a good thing.

Nevertheless, whoever leaked it was smart in one specific way – if you’re going to leak an email, do it by US Mail, because it’s going to be impossible to trace back to the source. If you were to just forward it – even a few times, via your personal email address – there would be a way for savvy IT people to trace the computer from which it came.

So, that’s what the leaker did – sent the email by regular mail to Democratic legislators’ field offices. The News and Public reported that an aide to Republican legislator Kevin Hardwick was implicated as the source of the leak, and suspended without pay. The aide – Susan Gregg – is a longtime friend of Hardwick’s, and her anxiety over the whole thing has adversely affected her health.

Hardwick reacted angrily to the suspension, and expressed to people that he thought it was untrue at least, and unproven at best.

There has been speculation that this is Lorigo’s payback against Hardwick over the shutting down of Amigone Funeral Home’s crematorium in Hardwick’s district over pollution concerns. In a telephone interview with me last week, Lorigo denied this, citing the Amigone issue as just a routine legislative defeat, unworthy of revenge.

Earlier in December, the legislature considered the 2015 county budget. Lorigo and the Republicans had a package of about 60 amendments that they intended to present and have the legislature consider, but refused to let the Democrats see any of the amendments they’d be asked to vote up or down.

As each amendment came to the floor, Democratic legislator Pat Burke would immediately move for a recess to have a chance to review each one. The first time, he asked for an hour. Hardwick crossed party lines and voted with the Democrats for the recess.

This continued on for a few amendments – each one would come up, Burke would ask for a recess (he requested 15 minutes for subsequent ones), and Hardwick would vote with the Democrats to give the minority a chance to read and consider each one. In the end, a deal was struck giving Democrats a half-hour to review all remaining amendments. Some of them were important – for instance, the Republicans mistook a merger of two part-time library positions for the creation of a new full-time position and intended to eliminate it, until the Democrats advised them otherwise. In one instance, the Republicans almost eliminated a measure put in to settle a pending employee grievance.

Democratic sources at the legislature, speaking on the condition that they not be identified, characterize the Republican caucus as “hating each other”, and point the blame squarely at Lorigo. Some at the legislature have begun to refer to Lorigo using fictional or historical pejoratives. Despite this, his behavior is excused by people who covet his father’s club’s endorsement. The word “enablers” was uttered by more than one person with whom I spoke.

In the end, the legislature passed the budget unanimously, and Hardwick thwarted Lorigo’s efforts to jam the amendments through without review or debate. As one Democratic source said, “[Lorigo needlessly] violated his own rules to fuck the Democrats in the budget process.”

When I specifically asked several people at the legislature whether Joe Lorigo is given wide berth so as to not piss Ralph off and lose a future Lorigo party endorsement, the answer was strongly and uniformly affirmative.

News reports have focused on Lorigo’s efforts to find out the source of the leak, going so far as to demand the email passwords of Republican staffers. Susan Gregg has retained the services of attorney Jim Ostrowski, who told me that he had served the County with a “notice of claim”; a statutory prerequisite to filing suit over this personnel matter. Lorigo refused to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Republican sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, counter that Gregg has been a “disciplinary problem” and a “shit-stirrer” in the past, so they argue that it’s not far-fetched to suspect her as the leak. Lorigo interviewed everyone in the email string and asked for their login and password to see what was sent and received, and rumor has it that there was an agreement among Republicans at the leg to terminate whomever was determined to be the leak, but that Hardwick balked when Gregg was accused; hence, the suspension.

Hardwick was extremely angry, and claimed that there was no proof whatsoever of Gregg’s guilt – there was no way of knowing when or from where the emails were copied or printed, but Gregg had allegedly forwarded that email to her personal email address. When the letter hit Democrats’ mailboxes, Betty Jean Grant and Barbara Miller-Williams were upset, and Republicans were embarrassed.

Hardwick asserts that he doesn’t know who sent the letter, but he’s convinced it’s not Gregg, who denies having done so.

It takes special skill to mess up an historic majority, but it would seem that infighting isn’t a disease that affects only Erie County Democrats. It can, however, have the same deleterious effects.

Free Speech Confounds Tim Wenger

A recent Tweet from WBEN’s operations manager / program director / director of digital content:

Good question. What does protesting and shouting slogans “do for anyone”? In February 2013 WBEN featured wall-to-wall “news” coverage of a pro-gun rally that took place in Albany to protest Governor Cuomo’s NY SAFE Act. Albany sees protests on a daily basis, but in this case WBEN sent reporters, commentators, and organized a bus charter to Albany and back for its listeners. (Here’s the photo album!) Tim Wenger was on the bus, too. But while Wenger doesn’t understand what all these people think they’ll accomplish by protesting the fact that Eric Garner’s killer won’t be brought up on criminal charges, he had a completely different opinion when it came to busing a bunch of listeners to Albany and back for a gun law that’s still on the books over a year later.

It really doesn’t matter to me or WBEN where you stand on this issue of the NY SAFE ACT.  What matters to us is that people have the passion for their beliefs and that they’ll fight within their Constitutional rights for what they think is right. .These people aboard both our buses, more than eighty strong, are working Western New Yorkers who are taking a day of their life to rally for what they believe in.  That’s what it’s all about. I’ve met every single person on the buses and all are friendly and excited, despite being a tad tired.  There is a sense of excitement aboard the buses as a group of mainly strangers who came together on the radio make a day-long trip to have their voices heard. What will happen when the rally is over and the people and buses leave?  No one knows for sure.  The hopes of those aboard the buses is that a repeal will be in the works. But when all is said and done and the last person leaves the rally and the buses arrive back home, one thing is for sure. Democracy worked and allowed a group of people passionate about an issue and their rights to be heard. Tim

But when it’s people passionate about an issue he doesn’t agree with, then WTF LOL, right?

I love the banner here.

The answer, of course, is that there’s nothing to “figure out”. Tim Wenger “can’t figure out what good protesters screaming “hands up don’t shoot” at BPD officers is doing for anyone” because he’s a Republican partisan who operates a Republican news outlet. Yelling “hands up don’t shoot” or “I can’t breathe” during a protest is as meaningful – or pointless – as a radio station sponsored bus trip to yell “Skelos is a traitor” and “Down with il Duce Cuomo” in Albany.

Oh, and this was hanging in the WBEN Newsroom:

gun rally

 

Maybe Wenger just couldn’t find sponsors to list along the bottom of a banner? Incidentally, the businesses shown there – Country Inn & Suites, Wingate by Wyndham, Thrifty Car Rental, Hampton Inn, Dollar Rent-a-Car – those are all Paladino-owned franchises of national firms. (Remember when Paladino had his people smack “Vote for the American” bumper stickers on cars rented from his franchises at the Buffalo Airport?) Do you think that the corporate bosses for the national brands know, or are supportive, of their trademarks being used so blatantly for a partisan political purpose?

Anyhow, everybody gets to shout slogans pointlessly in the cold and dark – gun huggers as well as people protesting the homicide by cop of a guy standing on a sidewalk selling loose cigarettes.

 

 

1 2 3 99