Thank You, Buffalo Theatre of Youth

NumbertheStars1My younger daughter, Mia – she’s 9 – was cast to play the part of little sister Kirsti Johansen in the Theatre of Youth‘s recent production of Lois Lowry’s “Number the Stars”.  Actually, because the schedule of performances was demanding, that role was double-cast, and she shared it with another girl.

Today was supposed to be the final performance. I was even going to let her do the talk-back; something she hadn’t been able to do during any of the earlier school performances because I needed to rush her back to school before lunch ended. I had figured today’s the Friday before break – what the hell.

Unfortunately, the Friday performance was canceled because of the snow. The districts coming to see it today were unable to do a field trip into a district that was closed; in this case, Buffalo.

Doing this production was a huge commitment in time and energy. I know that most (if not all) working actors in Buffalo also have day jobs, and I have nothing but kudos for them for the physical and emotional investment they make in practicing their art. This is not an easy gig, but you do it because you love it.

For a 4th grader, it’s tough rehearsing and doing run-throughs from 6pm – 10pm on a school night, but she did it through the second half of December and most of January. Rehearsing, blocking, and memorizing lines, taking direction, and absorbing notes take a toll on a 9 year-old from 10 – 4 on a Saturday.

The performances themselves took place over the course of four weeks, plus public performances last weekend – my daughter did two on Saturday; one at 2 and another at 5:30.  She did nine performances in all, and the tenth was canceled.

But she did it. She learned her lines. She acted in front of several hundred people nine times. She was mic’d. She knew her cues. She knew where to stand, where to look, how to act, how to emote. She made people laugh. She acted. She did it.

It’s a hell of an accomplishment, what she did. I’m really proud of her. She proved – most of all to herself – what she’s capable of. She can be thoughtful, diligent, and mature if she puts her mind to it.

We had some stumbles here and there with schoolwork falling behind, but she’s still a 9 year-old. She has yet to correlate her abilities to her everyday behavior. Kids are, after all, a work in progress.

The reason for writing this – apart from memorializing it for some future time when she might stumble on it – is to thank Meg Quinn, Brittany Wysocki, and the rest of the staff and crew at the Theatre of Youth for taking a chance on her, and giving her a first taste of professional theater. You treated her with patience, kindness, and respect and for that we are eternally grateful. It is an experience we’ll never forget.

I also want to thank the rest of the cast – the German soldiers, Bryan Patrick Stoyle and Steven J. Brachman. Uncle Henrik, played by Eric Rawski. Jesse Tiebor, who played Peter. Mama and Papa Johansen, played by Diane Gaidry and Larry Smith. Katie Harrington, who shared the role of Kirsti with Mia. Anne Boucher, who played Ellen Rosen, and Renee Landrigan, who played Annemarie. Thanks also to Joy Scime, Marissa Biondolillo, Justin Fiordoliso, Priscilla Young Anker, and David Butler. Thanks also to Barbara Priore, who was in charge of wardrobes, Dixon Reynolds, who did the costumes, and Todd Proffitt, who did the lighting and handled backstage duties.

Thank you to you all. You are so dedicated and talented, and your professionalism and kindness is something that we will forever cherish. We are so lucky to have the Theatre of Youth here in Buffalo, and the theater is lucky to have you.

Why Donn Esmonde Sucks

Every so often, people ask me when/why/for how long I have been maintaining my Gjakmarrja – my Albanian blood feud – against occasional Buffalo News columnist Donn Esmonde. Rather than repeat myself, let this act as a sort of compendium of why I wish nothing but ill upon him.

Before 2013, I thought him to be a typically self-congratulating small-town columnist. He is best known for having made common cause with Buffalo’s preservationist community, and he had been a strong advocate for public education, especially as it dealt with the district in the city of Buffalo, but he was a big proponent of charter schools, which have come under heavy criticism from people who see them as elitist and unfairly selective.

I had publicly disagreed with Esmonde often in my own writing, but also gave him kudos when I thought it deserved. After all, that’s what I did for most of my blogging years – comment on stuff that was happening in the news, and at the News.

In early 2013, however, everything changed for me.

I live in Clarence and both of my kids attend public schools there. When we moved to WNY, we specifically bought property in Clarence because the taxes were low but the schools were excellent. Both remain true today.

In 2013, the school district found itself in a fiscal dilemma. Some of it was self-inflicted, but a great deal of it was due to inflated pension costs related to the 2008-2009 global financial meltdown. Pension funds had been adversely affected by the drop in stock prices, and this risk was essentially socialized and spread out over a term of years, and the last bad chunk was happening in 2013. Contributions to the NYS Teachers’ Retirement System essentially quadrupled for up to five years to account for the market crash. The problem wasn’t the pensions – it was the unanticipated and practically unprecedented economic emergency. It wasn’t the teachers who were at fault – they did nothing to precipitate the financial disaster.

Without getting too far in the weeds, the only way that the district could maintain its then-extant level of staffing, classes, and services would be to raise the tax levy in excess of the recently implemented tax cap. At the time, the cap was about 5%, and the district wanted to raise the levy by 9.8% for that year only.

The tax levy is not the same thing as a tax rate, it was a one-time emergency measure, and it was a test by the Board of Education to determine whether the community would support going over the cap in order to maintain the schools’ excellence. A couple of groups, very well-funded by a local developer, popped up and flooded people’s mailboxes with flyers accusing the teachers of greed, the district of being spendthrift, and predicting doom and horror. The measure was defeated by a huge margin.

We’re still fighting this same battle every year, even with the budgets back to normal, emergency over, and within cap.

The parents and residents who didn’t want budget issues to be resolved on the backs of their kids’ educations never had a chance. They had a losing message, no funding, a nascent organization, and honestly never saw it coming.

There was a re-vote to keep funding at the cap, which passed in June, but the damage had been done. Here is what Esmonde’s advocacy accomplished:

  • Since 2011, the district had cut 113 full-time positions; 53 of them in 2013 alone.
  • In 2013, the high school lost art, math, English, tech, and business teachers. The entire family & consumer science department was cut, and we lost a guidance counselor.
  • In 2013, the middle school lost an art, English, and science teacher.
  • In 2013, the cuts in the revote budget eliminated 3 K-5 teachers, two librarians, and 12 teacher’s aides.
  • In 2013, the cuts in the revote budget eliminated four music teachers, the last social worker, and summer school.
  • In 2013, the cuts in the revote budget eliminated 23 high school clubs and extracurricular activities
  • In 2013, the cuts in the revote budget eliminated 15 middle school clubs and extracurricular activities
  • In 2013, all the elementary school librarians were let go.
  • When these clubs are eliminated, parents must find privately funded alternatives. This hurts the poorest families  – that 8.7% – hardest.
  • In 2013, the revote budget eliminated all HS freshman sports, affecting 90 kids.
  • In 2013, the revote budget eliminated all modified sports in the middle school, affecting 225 kids.

Also these electives:

To call that devastating is an understatement.

Part of the reason why the anti-tax people were able to out-do the pro-school people? These two columns by Donn Esmonde:

Overstuffed with School Tax Excess on May 23, 2013, and Clarence Reformer Has Solution for District’s Failing Formula on June 2, 2013.

I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe either one. Here was a columnist who was well-known for his suburb-bashing columns going out of his way to insert himself into a public school crisis that had real consequences for real kids. I know they’re mostly white, mostly well-off kids, which is why Esmonde likely felt comfortable advocating for the dismantling of their educational opportunities, but (a) not all of them are; and (b) public education should always be strengthened, not weakened.

Clarence, of all places, is not “overstuffed” with excessive taxes. Here is the breakdown over the past several years:

I wrote an open letter to Esmonde on May 24, 2013. You can read it here, and I still can’t believe I had to write it. I sent it to his email address, but typically never heard back. He did lay bare his anti-suburb bias, though, shortly thereafter.

Drew “Wing King” Cerza helped mediate a truce for the Clarence June 2013 re-vote, and Esmonde wrote about here. Here was my response.

It was amazing to me that Esmonde – a member of the Buffalo Newspaper Guild, and whose wife was a member of the Buffalo Teacher’s Federation – would denigrate the salary and benefits of teachers who had been in the profession for over 20 years. If you think they don’t deserve it, ok, but at least explain why.

Here’s what is especially galling about Esmonde’s arms-length trilogy about a subject that directly affected me – for him, caring about education is merely a pretense.

Make no mistake: Come budget-approval time, officials in every school district are masters at pushing parents’ emotional buttons and propping up false choices. It goes like this: Vote for the budget, or you will force us to cut (choose your poison) sports/music/field trips/foreign language.

It wasn’t false at all, though. He wrote glowingly about all the anti-school activists who were working to prevent non-existent runaway spending and runaway taxes, which were also fictional. All the threatened cuts to teachers, programs, sports, classes, and electives took place.

Families had to scramble to raise money to restore some of what we lost. He could have written about the effort to restore some programs that came about via private donations, but that would have meant he’d have to confront the real-world effects of his own advocacy in the area’s sole daily paper.

Within a year after the 2013 election, one of Esmonde’s “reformers” was linked to an effort to ban a laundry list of books from the English curriculum. I wrote to him about it, sarcastically congratulating him. He never responded. He shouldn’t have to confront the real-world effects of his own advocacy in the area’s sole daily paper, after all.

The Buffalo News published a story that Esmonde wrote, detailing the woes of spending a lot of money to rehab a building he bought so that he could add “petty landlord” to his resume. I have no sympathy for him. I wish him nothing but ill – every check he writes is a win.

On Twitter, I wrote that I hope his ultimate tenants are grifters who trash the place and skip out on the rent. Well, this was just too much for a local librarian and the Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus!

and

Donn Esmonde’s advocacy in the sole regional daily paper resulted in the firing of librarians and the elimination of choral programs in the Clarence schools. But if you attack their golden boy, Donn Esmonde, the Buffalo elites pounce.

Fuck Donn Esmonde.

 

Patrick Kane Wins Again

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Just a few convenient days after his election as Supreme Court Justice, outgoing DIstrict Attorney Frank Sedita issued an unusual statement explaining that his office was not going to prosecute Patrick Kane for allegedly raping a young woman in August. The case has been plagued from the very beginning by strategic leaks of information seemingly from people with something to promote or defend. The vast majority of these leaks seemed to assail the alleged victim, accusing her of being a liar or a gold-digger or that there was a lack of forensic evidence to corroborate the allegation. The best that the alleged victim’s friends could do was leak to the News that she’s a really good person.

To recap: the first article I published explained why club owner Mark Croce engaged in blatant slut-shaming to the Buffalo News. I followed that up with a Kane case FAQ, and a further analysis of the victim blaming that was taking place in the press from literally the moment this news hit. Kane had an off-duty cop on his payroll, and he also told the News tales about the alleged victim and Kane supporters took that all at face value. Paul Cambria argued with me about the case on Facebook, and that made a bit of news, the leak about a lack of DNA evidence happened, and then the alleged victim’s mother attempted to perpetrate a fraud on her daughter’s lawyer, the public, and the system with an evidence bag. District Attorney Sedita held a dramatic press conference where he quite clearly expressed his personal prejudices about the case, indicating that a prosecution was going to be unlikely and explaining that he had exchanged exculpatory Brady material with the popular and wealthy alleged perpetrator’s legal team during the investigatory stage – something unprecedented, according to criminal lawyers with whom I spoke.

Over the course of this past week, we learned that the alleged victim was no longer going to cooperate with this District Attorney’s office, citing the “stress” of this investigation, and the case was ended two days after election day.

Here are some points to consider:

1. Kane isn’t “innocent”: Nothing’s Changed

He’s not even “not guilty”. Despite Mr. Sedita going miles out of his way to cast aspersions on the alleged victim and protecting the alleged perpetrator, no one knows what, if anything, happened between Kane and the alleged victim that night in August. One thing is for sure, because the alleged victim won’t cooperate, we’re unlikely to find out in a court of law what happened. I heard several male commentators take to the air over the last few days, including half of “Cellino & Barnes”, explaining that even a civil lawsuit was unlikely.

There was no trial—no jury, no nothing—to determine Kane’s guilt of lack of guilt. I haven’t seen anywhere that the alleged victim had recanted.

Sedita’s statement about what he characterized as, “this so-called ‘case’” added that it was, “rife with reasonable doubt.” But that’s not the standard at this stage – the D.A. was assembling evidence to present to a grand jury, which would be tasked with determining whether there exists probable cause that a crime occurred. Reasonable doubt is a job not even for the grand jury, but the trial jury. Sedita seems to have skipped all of those steps for one of two reasons; 1. he doesn’t believe the alleged victim and doesn’t want to trouble Kane with this anymore; and/or, 2. His office is notorious for being selective about prosecuting high-profile cases only where there exists a strong likelihood of success.

As a disinterested observer of this entire case, my impression was that the D.A.’s office was more interested in protecting the alleged perpetrator than the alleged victim; more worried about the hockey star’s reputation than whether something wrong may have happened one August night. I’m not saying that’s what happened—only that it is the impression that they left. 

2. Sedita’s Statement Raises More Questions than it Answers

I can’t recall another case of any sort where the D.A. so openly vocalized his sympathy with an accused, where law enforcement bent so far over backwards for an accused. Well, at least not since Antoine Garner allegedly murdered then stuffed Amanda Wienckowski in a garbage tote. Sedita told us that the, “physical and forensic evidence … tend to contradict the complainant’s claims.” Well, why have trials if we can just ask the District Attorney to find facts and assess credibility for us? You can see the entire statement and the News‘ reporting here. It sounds like a report of a trial that never took place; that took place only within the District Attorney’s office. The details that Sedita revealed raised more questions than they answered.

“The physical evidence and the forensic evidence, when viewed in tandem, tend to contradict the complainant’s claim that she was raped on Kane’s bed,” Sedita’s statement said.

Could she have been wrong? Whatever happened—could it have taken place in someone else’s bed? Room? On a couch? This was her first time in Kane’s house.

Sedita wrote that Kane “exercised his constitutional right to remain silent.” Sedita also wrote that Kane made “no known incriminating statements to any civilian.” Sedita also said Kane didn’t engage in “any conduct consistent with a consciousness of guilt.”

He was represented and advised by a competent and experienced criminal lawyer who, according to a radio interview this week, specifically advised him to conduct himself normally.

The DNA results “lend no corroboration whatsoever to the complainant’s claim of penetration.”

Perhaps there was no completion. Perhaps there was a condom. Perhaps it was a lesser included offense.  “Kane’s DNA was found under her fingernails and on her shoulders where there were bite marks.”

All of these factual inconsistencies exist in any case—large or small—and that’s why we have prosecutions and trials and arrests and presentments to grand juries.

3. A Big Win for Rape Culture

We’re already seeing articles explaining how Patrick Kane can rebuild his prior reputation of being a stumbling drunk who punches out cab drivers over pennies in change. Not satisfied with an end to the prosecution, Cambria made sure to mock the young accuser, “[s]tress and strain? Every week, my office would get pictures sent to us of this young woman at parties and social occasions, living it up…I do not believe she was suffering stress and strain.” Did Cambria produce these pictures to the News? Did the News follow up on that? Then why print it? Cambria is being paid to represent a client, he makes a statement accusing a young woman of having a social life, and the News prints it, verbatim, without even checking to see if it’s true. James Brown was right: This is a man’s world.

As all the Kane fans take to social media and condemn Kane’s accuser for being a gold-digging whore who should be sued—or worse—I have no doubt that something happened on August 2nd at Kane’s house that deeply troubled the alleged victim to the point where she accused Kane of rape. It might not have risen to the level of rape—she’s not a lawyer—but there exists absolutely no evidence that she was just out for a big payday, or that she concocted this entire story out of whole cloth as part of a grand scheme to extort money. The young college graduate and former cheerleader probably doesn’t need the grief that’s ensued.

Kane wins, and gets to carry on with his life, at least until the next drunken escapade or assault. The criminal justice system is the real victim here—it’s exceedingly difficult to prove and prosecute rape cases, and this entire freakshow hasn’t made it any easier. It hasn’t given women any assurance that they’ll be treated with respect or fairness if they accuse a powerful and influential man of an assault. It certainly didn’t do any favors for the victims of rape and sexual assault, or the people who make their lives helping them. It hasn’t done a stitch of good in terms of battling back against the rape culture pervasive not just in the fraternity of sports, but in our society overall.

Powerful males in law, law enforcement, Buffalo’s bar scene, and media pulled out all the stops to protect Kane and make the accuser’s life a living hell. The odds were stacked against her from the moment she called the cops in August. The leaks to the media—almost all of which were antagonistic to the accuser—were well-coordinated and devastating. The reaction on social media that I’ve seen is troubling. Quite honestly, from what I can tell, the truth and justice never had a chance.

Social Media Attacks Kane’s Accuser

I’ll link to this from this article at the Public, but I think this underscores the horrible outcome of the entire Kane case. All I did to find these was do a search for Kane’s accuser’s name.

#WNYVotes 2015

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Mark Poloncarz cruised to an overwhelming victory last night, defeating Assemblyman Ray Walter 65% – 34%. As a karmic aside, Poloncarz accomplished what Chris Collins couldn’t – re-election to that post.  In Lancaster, the town’s Republican slate – including thuggish incumbent supervisor Dino Fudoli – fared pretty horribly. Winning 58 – 42, Democrat Johanna Metz Coleman will become the town’s first female supervisor, and Democrat Diane Terranova will become town clerk. It was almost a clean sweep for the Democrats, and a humiliating rebuke for the Fudoli experiment.

What Fudoli seems to have learned from his erstwhile mentor Chris Collins is that western New Yorkers’ patience for obnoxious and thuggish political behavior has a short window.

Yesterday, an off-duty police officer coming in to vote at a fire hall in Lancaster overheard and accused Fudoli of muttering something about punching him in the face, and confronted him. It’s unknown whether Fudoli will be prosecuted, but it was emblematic of his ugly, bellicose, and childish behavior. The spectacle culminated in Fudoli and a representative from the Lancaster Police Benevolent Association calling in to Tom Bauerle’s show to explain their side of the story, Fudoli acknowledging he said something about punching the officer out, and that he had apologized. The gentleman from the PBA went on to explain Fudoli’s complaints about alleged police harassment by going into some detail about “suspicious vehicle” calls that prompted those incidents.

Western New York and Lancaster will be better off without Fudoli in elected office. I’m sure that “good government” and “good person” are not mutually exclusive.

Ray Walter – a good person – will go back to the Assembly and lives to fight another day. His campaign for County Executive was a bit quixotic, his sales tax proposal was fundamentally cynical, and he sell the idea of jettisoning a competent and hard-working incumbent. His inability to break 40% speaks volumes about Poloncarz’s continued political aptitude, both in policy and salesmanship.

We shouldn’t be electing judges at all, judicial candidates shouldn’t have to pander to an electorate, and cute ads with their kids hardly gives you an idea of a judge’s temperament or qualifications. Brenda Freedman defeated Kelly Brinkworth to go to Family Court, helped along by an ability to get her name on every fusion line while Brinkworth was only on the D line. No one voted for Freedman or Brinkworth on the merits, because no one had a clue about their respective merits. This was all about ballot placement and electoral fusion.

The County Legislature will maintain status quo, with Democrat Tom Loughran defeating challenger Guy Marlette, and Ted Morton easily defeated Democratic challenger Deb Liegl, in a hotly contested race.

On Grand Island, only two votes separate the two town supervisor candidates, so voting does matter. In West Seneca, incumbent Sheila Meegan defeated challenger Christina Bove. In something of a spectacle, apparent RINO Carl Paladino, in an email co-written by his dog, endorsed Democrat Meegan. The nexus of West Seneca shenanigans right now is that Scott Congel project by the Thruway near Ridge Road.

In Niagara Falls, incumbent Democrat Paul Dyster won re-election to become only the second three-term mayor in Niagara Falls history.

Finally, I watched with some interest that two TV stations use a Buffalo native but current New York City resident as a Democratic analyst. This person is a professional lobbyist and has been disloyal to Erie County Democratic Headquarters since Steve Pigeon was deposed from his chairmanship 15-ish years ago. (As an aside, this lobbyist wrote a book. At the book’s website, there were three glowing reviews; one from the author’s former boss, and the other two came from two newspapers the author co-owns). This person’s somewhat predictable analysis was that pretty much everything – any prospective result – was going to be bad news for Erie County Democratic Committee chairman Jeremy Zellner.

While the Democrats couldn’t seal the deal in the Liegl and Brinkworth races – in both cases due in part to the Republicans outmaneuvering the Democrats in setting up the minor fusion party lines – I think Zellner had a pretty good night, as his close confidant Mark Poloncarz won an overwhelming victory. Maybe WKBW and Time Warner Cable could find a more loyal, and local Democrat to comment on Democratic politics, they don’t seem to have a problem extending that courtesy to Republicans.

Buffalopundit Endorsements 2015

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Greetings, Goodenoughistan!

Usually around this time of year, I do a list of endorsements. I try to have fun with them; last year, whilst writing for a competing publication, I did my endorsement in verse.

Despite a high-profile County Executive race, this has been a very sleepy election season. Turnout will likely be pretty low – 20% is optimistic. That means that fully 80% of the eligible and registered electorate can’t be bothered to take literally a few minutes out of their day to exercise their franchise. People have fought and died for your right to vote. You pay lip service to supporting the troops for protecting our freedoms, but here you’re handed the right and ability to control the future direction of your town, city, and county, and chances are you can’t find five minutes between 6am – 9pm to fill in a few scantron boxes and feed your ballot into a scanning machine.

As far as being a responsible citizen of a representative democracy, voting is quite literally the least you can do. Yet 80% of you won’t do it.

You people who are registered to vote, but don’t bother – you’re useless. You should be ashamed. You’re a disgrace. Go to elections.erie.gov and find out where you’re supposed to vote, and go. Plenty of campaigns and party committees will give you a ride if you need one – just ask them.

Here are my endorsements. They are mine alone, and do not in any way represent the opinion or decision of the Public, its authors, editors, or publishers, nor of the place I work, nor of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, where I am a member of the board of trustees.

County Executive

Mark Poloncarz is a personal friend of mine. I met him in 2003 when I was working to elect Wesley Clark and he was working to elect John Kerry. We then served together on the WNY Coalition for Progress. I have lit dropped for him, campaigned for him, and my firm represents the County in a small handful of cases. I also know and like Ray Walter. I don’t know him as well as Mark, but he’s a good guy – a mensch, I once called him – and he went to the Thruway with specific questions I once asked on Twitter.

Both of these candidates want the county to do well. Mark, however, is my pick.

Big surprise, right?

Substantively, do you remember when Republicans wanted a county manager as part of the charter revision process a decade ago? The elected County Executive would be sort of a charismatic leader, promoting the county, while a non-partisan professional manager would run the day-to-day operations. Mark Poloncarz is a policy wonk and a guy who is a strong and effective manager. He is as close as you’re likely to get to a day-to-day manager looking for ways to improve the delivery of county services, and also a tireless promoter of our region. He’s incorruptible, and he loves what he does, not afraid to get into the weeds of county government.

Ray’s hilariously named “fair share” tax proposal is an effort to rob from the poor to give to the rich and not-so-poor. Population alone isn’t how the 3% permanent sales tax revenue was meant to be shared among the various municipalties, and Ray’s effort to pit city vs. suburb when that’s pretty much the last thing we need to do is shameful. His shoot-first-ask-questions-later effort to scandalize a non-scandal also called his seriousness and judgment into question.

Judicial Races

A lot of people have complained about how the party bosses pick the judicial candidates, thus depriving the electorate of a choice.

My response: the electorate shouldn’t be choosing judges in the first place.

You don’t get to elect federal judges. Many other states also have governors appoint judges as vacancies come about. In Massachusetts, a nominating commission submits a name to the governor, who then passes it along to an elected “governor’s council“, which vets the candidate for qualifications and likelihood of impartiality, and then approves the lifetime appointment. The judge chosen never has to pander to voters, concoct silly commercials with their kids, or make any sorts of promises of any kind.

The judicial branch should be free from campaigns and elections, and you shouldn’t have to vote for a judge because of a cute video with their kids in it.

County Legislature

There are only two competitive races: Morton v. Liegl and Loughran v. Marlette. If Loughran holds on to his seat and Liegl defeats Morton, the legislature swings to a one-vote Democratic majority. Ted Morton has already been vetted based on his questionably ethical and un-declared loans from financial planning clients, and the electorate shrugged. For his part, Morton tried to smear Liegl with the taint of “fraud”, but it backfired because it was completely untrue. Yelling “fraud” is a lot easier than explaining the ins and outs of bankruptcy law, but the Republicans played too fast and too loose with the facts, as they did when accusing Poloncarz of being under some phantom investigation.

The attack pieces against Liegl are far more misleading. Those pieces accuse her of “bankruptcy fraud,” “cheating the system” and “concocting a scam.” A Buffalo News review of the claims found none of that to be true.

…David Jaworski, an attorney for Liegl and her family, called the Republican allegations “untrue and libelous” based on his personal knowledge and investigation into the records. Republicans have been unable to produce any other supporting evidence of their claims, beyond the initial bankruptcy trustee claim.

Morton’s ethics are questionable, his required disclosures were incomplete, and he essentially lied about his opponent. I don’t know what more you need.

As for Loughran, that’s easy: Loughran is sufficiently independent (he’s pissed the Democrats off here and there), and is a knowledgable and likeable business owner who definitely deserves re-election.

Town of Lancaster

If you live in the town of Lancaster and you vote for Dino Fudoli, I don’t  know what’s wrong with you. Mr. Fudoli is a petty and vindictive glibertarian who considers government to be the “enemy” and public employees to be moocher/taker garbage. In December 2014, Fudoli blamed the people who got stuck in the Snowvember storm for their own predicaments. Fudoli whined about a lack of county plows, but he never requested any using the decade-old computerized system towns use to do so – a system he ostensibly oversaw whilst in the County Legislature.

Fudoli is now fighting with the police union in his town because why not.

And Dino Fudoli doesn’t think it’s important for him to pay his property taxes on time, or possibly at all.

If you live in Lancaster, this is the best 8 minutes you’ll spend today:

If Fudoli thinks it’s unfair for the Department of Environmental Conservation to declare his property a wetlands, then he has the right and ability to bring suit for whatever redress to which he’s entitled. Nothing gives him the right unilaterally to stop paying his property taxes, nor does it explain his refusal to pay the property taxes on his former residence.

Who is thug “Richard Heaney”?

When a taxpayer fails to pay property and school taxes on time, the county must make the town and district whole, and then has to chase the delinquent taxpayer down. This sort of behavior is unconscionable from a public official and disqualifies this person from public office. Fudoli also took a very important stand in favor of maintaining a blatantly racist team name for the high school. He also doesn’t know how the internet works.

Polls are open from 6am – 9pm on Tuesday the 3rd of November.

Find your polling place and candidate choices here.

Please go vote like your democracy depends on it.

GOP Whining and the Mainstream Media

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Tim Wenger, the “Operations Manager at Entercom Radio/Director of Content & Digital Strategy” posted that series of Tweets last night during the CNBC Republican Presidential debate. Wenger is an employee of a publicly traded Pennsylvania-based media conglomerate that owns over 125 radio stations in 27 markets. Each one of these stations exists pursuant to an FCC license and is subject to byzantine federal regulations. In Buffalo, Entercom owns WBEN, which is the top-rated news talk station in this market, and second overall only to the FM country music station. As one of the most listened-to radio stations in western New York, it is without a doubt a member of the “mainstream media”.

Anyone whose voice is broadcast on WBEN – from Sean Hannity to Rush Limbaugh to Sandy Beach to Tom Bauerle on down – is part of the mainstream media. Likewise, Fox News Channel – a 24-hour cable news outlet owned as part of an Australian mogul’s worldwide media empire, is also the “mainstream media”. For the anemic ratings that these news channels get, Fox’s are generally highest.

The Republican Party’s decades-long descent from a reasonable governing coalition of conservatives and the center-right into an ultra right-wing nihilist activist movement could not have been sustained without an enemy; some vague “other” to embody and absorb all of the post-Goldwater conservative movements’ hatreds and fears. Today, the Republican Party is a pitiful shadow of what it once was, right down to the lightly informed tea party tail wagging an impotent but noisy establishment dog.

Just about every revolutionary activist movement needs a scapegoat – some “other” to hate – and on CNBC Wednesday night, the “mainstream media”, embodied by the three moderators you never heard of before and will never hear of again, fit the bill quite nicely. CNBC – a channel that caters to Wall Street types and day traders, which employs pretty hardcore wingers and generally promotes a viewpoint closely aligned with business executives and bankers. Indeed, repulsive reactionary Ted Cruz made news by defending his opponents against what he characterized as unfair questions lacking in substance. So did Chris Christie. Marco Rubio denounced the “mainstream media” as Hillary Clinton’s most effective “PAC”.

The audience cheered. The enemy – the liberal media – was getting its smack-down; its just desserts. You can see it in Mr. Wenger’s excited series of Tweets – statements that must immediately end any further doubt about WBEN’s palpable right-wing bias in not just talk and commentary, but also in news itself. If you come to the news party with your own bias hanging around your neck, it’s downright comical to attack the bias of others.

In anticipation of some criticism of this column, note that it’s labeled as “commentary”. I am biased, and that bias is the very stock in which I trade. I adopt an opinion and back it up with facts. I don’t generally do “news” or “reporting”. Indeed, although I’m liberal, I’m not a member of the “mainstream media”. Almost all of my material appears only online, under the umbrella of an independent alternative startup newspaper.

I don’t watch CNBC. It took me several minutes to even find it on my cable line-up. I have no idea who its hosts are, what its bias is, or why it was selected to host a debate of the likes of Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson. But what made big news during and after the debate was the supposed unfairness of CNBC’s questions. 

 

What were those questions? Let’s take a look at every single one.

The proceedings began with a typically corporate bullshit interview question, directed to all of the candidates:

What is your biggest weakness and what are you doing to address it?

Questions to Donald Trump

Mr. Trump, you’ve done very well in this campaign so far by promising to build a wall and make another country pay for it, send 11 million people out of the country. Cut taxes $10 trillion without increasing the deficit, and make Americans better off because your greatness would replace the stupidity and incompetence of others. Let’s be honest, is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?

after some back-and-forth,

I gotta ask you, you talked about your tax plan. You say that it would not increase the deficit because you cut taxes $10 trillion in the economy would take off like…the economy would take off like a rocket ship. I talked to economic advisers who have served presidents of both parties. They said that you have as chance of cutting taxes that much without increasing the deficit as you would of flying away from that podium by flapping your arms.

Later on in the program,

Mr. Trump, let’s talk a little bit about bankruptcies. Your Atlantic City casinos filed for bankruptcy four times. In fact, Fitch, the ratings agency, even said that they were serial filers for all of this. You said that you did great with Atlantic City, and you did. But some of the individuals — the bondholders, some of the contractors who worked for you, didn’t fare so well. Bankruptcy is a broken promise. Why should the voters believe the promises that you’re telling them right now?

In round 3, after a similar question to Senator Rubio,

Mr. Trump, let’s stay on this issue of immigration. You have been very critical of Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook who has wanted to increase the number of these H1Bs.

Trump denied this, yet it’s on his website. This came up later,

Mr. Trump, I want to go back to an issue that we were talking about before, the H-1B visas. I found where I read that before. It was from the donaldjtrump.com website and it says — it says that again, Mark Zuckerburg’s personal senator, Marco Rubio has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities. Are you in favor of H-1Bs or are you opposed to them?

Another question shortly thereafter,

Mr. Trump, you’ve said you have a special permit to carry a gun in New York. After the Oregon mass shooting on October 1st, you said, “By the way, it was a gun-free zone. If you had a couple of teachers with guns, you would have been a hell of a lot better off.” Would you feel more comfortable if your employees brought guns to work?

After saying he would, and saying that, “gun-free zones are a catastrophe. They’re a feeding frenzy for sick people.”, Trump was asked, 

We called a few Trump resorts, a few Trump properties that — that do not allow guns with or without a permit. Would you change those policies?

Later on, and this question was also directed somewhat awkwardly to Jeb Bush,

Mr. Trump says that he is capable of growing the economy so much that Social Security and Medicare don’t have to be touched. Do you want to explain how that is going to happen, Mr. Trump?

Perhaps a record, perhaps an indication of his character, Trump lied about Zuckerberg and visas, and he lied about his campaign’s funding. Trump also simply made up his statements about gun free zones being targets for “sickos”. 

Questions to Ben Carson

Dr. Carson, let’s talk about taxes. You have a flat tax plan of 10 percent flat taxes, and — I’ve looked at it — and this is something that is very appealing to a lot of voters, but I’ve had a really tough time trying to make the math work on this. If you were to took a 10 percent tax, with the numbers right now in total personal income, you’re gonna come in with bring in $1.5 trillion. That is less than half of what we bring in right now. And by the way, it’s gonna leave us in a $2 trillion hole. So what analysis got you to the point where you think this will work?

CARSON: Well, first of all, I didn’t say that the rate would be 10 percent. I used the tithing analogy.

QUICK: I — I understand that, but if you — if you look at the numbers you probably have to get to 28.

CARSON: The rate — the rate — the rate is gonna be much closer to 15 percent.

QUICK: 15 percent still leaves you with a $1.1 trillion hole.

CARSON: You also have to get rid of all the deductions and all the loopholes. You also have to some strategically cutting in several places.

Remember, we have 645 federal agencies and sub-agencies. Anybody who tells me that we need every penny and every one of those is in a fantasy world. So, also, we can stimulate the economy. That’s gonna be the real growth engine. Stimulating the economy — because it’s tethered down right now with so many regulations…

QUICK: You’d have to cut — you’d have to cut government about 40 percent to make it work with a $1.1 trillion hole.

CARSON: That’s not true.

QUICK: That is true, I looked at the numbers.

Round 2 to Carson:

Dr. Carson, in recent weeks, a number of pharmaceutical companies has been accused of profiteering, for dramatically raising the prices of life-saving drugs. You have spent a lifetime in medicine. Have these companies gone too far? Should the government be involved in controlling some of these price increases?

Round 3 to Carson,

Dr. Carson, we know you as a physician, but we wanted to ask you about your involvement on some corporate boards, including Costco’s. Last year, a marketing study called the warehouse retailer the number one gay-friendly brand in America, partly because of its domestic partner benefits. Why would you serve on a company whose policies seem to run counter to your views on homosexuality?

After denouncing same-sex marriage and claiming to not be a homophobe, Carson was asked,

One more question. This is a company called Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplements, with which you had a 10-year relationship. They offered claims that they could cure autism, cancer, they paid $7 million to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit in Texas, and yet you’re involvement continued. Why?

Carson complained that this was propaganda, and although he likes and takes the product, he claimed to have no “involvement” with Mannatech.

QUINTANILLA: To be fair, you were on the homepage of their website with the logo over your shoulder —

CARSON: If somebody put me on their homepage, they did it without my permission.

QUINTANILLA: Does that not speak to your vetting process or judgment in any way?

From Rick Santelli,

Dr. Carson, you told The Des Moines Register that you don’t like government subsidies, it interferes with the free market. But you’ve also said that you’re in favor of taking oil subsidies and putting them towards ethanol processing. Isn’t that just swapping one subsidy for another, Doctor?

Later on, during a back-and-forth about Medicare,

You’ve said that you would like to replace Medicare with a system of individual family savings accounts, so that families could cover their own expenses. Obviously, that would be a very controversial idea. Explain how that would work, exactly.

Carson lied about being a seller and endorser of snake-oil. The conservative National Review called it a “bold-faced” lie. Carson is just another GOP grifter.

Questions to John Kasich:

That is, you had some very strong words to say yesterday about what’s happening in your party and what you’re hearing from the two gentlemen we’ve just heard from. Would you repeat it?

and

Well, let’s just get more pointed about it. You said yesterday that you were hearing proposals that were just crazy from your colleagues. Who were you talking about?

Later on,

You’ve called for abolishing the Export Import Bank, which provides subsidies to help American companies compete with overseas competitors. You call that corporate welfare. One of the largest newspapers in your state wrote an editorial, said they found that strange, writing, that if that’s corporate welfare, what does Kasich call the millions of dollars in financial incentives doled out to attract or retain jobs by his development effort — jobs Ohio. If subsidies are good enough for Ohio companies, why aren’t they good enough for companies trying to compete overseas?

And,

Governor Kasich, let’s talk about marijuana. We’re broadcasting from Colorado which has seen $150 million in new revenue for the state since legalizing last year. Governor Hickenlooper is not a big fan of legalization, but he’s said the people who used to be smoking it are still smoking it, they’re just now paying taxes. Given the budget pressures in Ohio, and other states, is this a revenue stream you’d like to have?

Later on,

Most people can’t get a college degree without going into debt. Over 40 million Americans have student loans and many of them cannot pay them back. This country has over $100 billion in student loan defaults. That’s billion with a b. What will you do to make sure that students, their families, taxpayers, won’t feel the economic impact of this burden for generations?

Questions to Sen. Marco Rubio:

You’ve been a young man in a hurry ever since you won your first election in your 20s. You’ve had a big accomplishment in the Senate, an immigration bill providing a path to citizenship the conservatives in your party hate, and even you don’t support anymore. Now, you’re skipping more votes than any senator to run for president. Why not slow down, get a few more things done first or least finish what you start?

Then

So when the Sun-Sentinel says Rubio should resign, not rip us off, when they say Floridians sent you to Washington to do a job, when they say you act like you hate your job, do you?

In round 2,

Senator Rubio, you yourself have said that you’ve had issues. You have a lack of bookkeeping skills. You accidentally inter-mingled campaign money with your personal money. You faced (ph) foreclosure on a second home that you bought. And just last year, you liquidated a $68,000 retirement fund. That’s something that cost you thousands of dollars in taxes and penalties. In terms of all of that, it raises the question whether you have the maturity and wisdom to lead this $17 trillion economy. What do you say?

Rubio attacked the question and Democrats before adding how he didn’t inherit his wealth, leading to a follow-up:

Senator, I understand all of that. I had a lot of student loans when I got out, too. But you’ve had a windfall that a lot of Americans haven’t. You made over a million dollars on a book deal, and some of these problems came after that…but you liquidated that retirement account after the fact, and that cost you about $24,000 out of that in taxes and feed. That — that was after you’d already come into that windfall. That’s why I raised the question.

Round 3, 

Senator Rubio, Wired magazine recently carried the heading, “Marco Rubio wants to be the tech industry’s savior.” It noted your support for dramatically increasing immigration visas called H1B, which are designed for workers with the special skills that Silicon Valley wants. But your Senate colleague, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, says in reality, the tech industry uses this program to undercut hiring and wages for highly qualified Americans. Why is he wrong?

Later on,

The Tax Foundation, which was alluded to earlier, scored your tax plan and concluded that you give nearly twice as much of a gain in after-tax income to the top 1 percent as to people in the middle of the income scale. Since you’re the champion of Americans living paycheck-to- paycheck, don’t you have that backward?

Rubio lied about what the Tax Foundation said about his tax plan – that it would benefit the top 1% twice as much as it would the middle class.

Questions to Jeb Bush:

…it’s a question about why you’re having difficulty. I want to ask you in this context. Ben Bernanke, who was appointed Fed chairman by your brother, recently wrote a book in which he said he no longer considers himself a Republican because the Republican Party has given in to know- nothingism. Is that why you’re having a difficult time in this race?

In round 2,

Governor Bush, in a debate like this four years ago, every Republican running for president pledged to oppose a budget deal containing any tax increase even if it had spending cuts ten times as large. A few months later, you told Congress, put me in, coach, you said you would take that deal. Still feel that way?

Later on,

Governor Bush, the tax reform bill that Ronald Reagan signed in 1986 cut the top personal income tax rate to 28 percent — just like your plan does. But President Reagan taxed capital gains at the same rate, while you would tax them at just 20 percent. Given the problems we’ve been discussing, growing gap between rich and poor, why would you tax labor at a higher rate than income from investments?

Later still,

Governor Bush, daily fantasy sports has become a phenomenon in this country, will award billions of dollars in prize money this year. But to play you have to assess your odds, put money at risk, wait for an outcome that’s out of your control. Isn’t that the definition of gambling, and should the Federal Government treat it as such?

Questions to Carly Fiorina:

You are running for president of the United States because of your record running Hewlett-Packard. But the stock market is usually a fair indicator of the performance of a CEO, and the market was not kind to you. Someone who invested a dollar in your company the day you took office had lost half of the dollar by the day you left. Obviously, you’ve talked in the past about what a difficult time it was for technology companies, but anybody who was following the market knows that your stock was a much worse performer, if you looked at your competitors, if you looked at the overall market. I just wonder, in terms of all of that — you know, we look back, your board fired you. I just wondered why you think we should hire you now.

When Fiorina brought up how the guy who fired her, Tom Perkins, now supports her candidacy, this question:

[Mr. Perkins] said a lot of very questionable things. Last year, in an interview, he said that he thinks wealthy people should get more votes than poor people. I think his quote was that, “if you pay zero dollars in taxes, you should get zero votes. If you pay a million dollars, you should get a million votes.” Is this the type of person you want defending you?

Later on,

in 2010, while running for Senate in … California, you called an Internet sales tax a bad idea. Traditional brick and mortar stores obviously disagree. Now that the Internet shopping playing field has matured, what would be a fair plan to even that playing field?

Some time later,

Mrs. Fiorina, you were the CEO of a large corporation that offers a 401(k) to its employees. But more than half of American have no access to an employer sponsored retirement plan. That includes the workers at small businesses, and the growing ranks of Uber drivers and other part-timers in the freelance economy. Should the Federal Government play a larger role in helping to set up retirement plans for these workers?

Fiorina’s answers are fact-checked here, and the one about women losing jobs under Obama is “mostly false”.

Questions to Sen. Ted Cruz:

This is the question that led to his anti-media rant:

Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown and calm financial markets that fear of — another Washington-created crisis is on the way. Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem-solver American voters want?

Cruz’s rant read as follows:

You know, let me say something at the outset. The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match. And, you look at the questions — “Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?” “Ben Carson, can you do math?” “John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?” “Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?” “Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?

After that, the moderator reacted, “OK. (inaudible) I asked you about the debt limit and I got no answer.” Cruz tried to answer,  but he had, “used [his] time on something else,” including a quip insulting the Democratic candidates as presenting a choice between “Bolsheviks” and Mensheviks”.

Later, Cruz was asked,

Senator Cruz, working women in this country still earn just 77 percent of what men earn. And I know that you’ve said you’ve been very sympathetic to our cause. But you’ve also you said that the Democrats’ moves to try and change this are the political show votes. I just wonder what you would do as President to try and help in this cause?

Round 4, from Rick Santelli, the guy who coined the phrase “tea party” (the same question was also posed to Sen. Paul)

Senator Cruz, let’s focus on our central bank, the Federal Reserve. You’ve been a fierce critic of the Fed, arguing for more transparency. Where do you want to take that?

Do you want to get Congress involved in monetary policy, or is it time to slap the Fed back and downsize them completely? What are your thoughts? What do you believe?

Ted Cruz lied about women earning less under Obama than before, incidentally. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2015/oct/28/fact-checking-republican-cnbc-debate/

Questions to Sen. Rand Paul:

Senator Paul, the budget deal crafted by Speaker Boehner and passed by the House today makes cuts in entitlement programs, Medicare and Social Security disability, which are the very programs conservatives say need cutting to shrink government and solve our country’s long-term budget deficit. Do you oppose that budget deal because it doesn’t cut those programs enough?

When Paul complained about how Republican and Democratic compromise was really an “unholy alliance”, he was asked,

Senator, if what you just said is true, why did Speaker Boehner craft this deal and why did Paul Ryan, who has a strong reputation for fiscal discipline, vote for it?

Later on,

Senator Paul, among the leading conservative opponents to the creation of Medicare back in the 1960s was Ronald Reagan. He warned that it would lead to socialism. Considering the mounting cost of Medicare, was he right to oppose it?

Questions to Gov. Chris Christie:

In your tell it like it is campaign, you’ve said a lot of tough things. You’ve said that we need to raise the retirement age for Social Security. You think that we need to cut benefits for people who make over $80,000 and eliminate them entirely for seniors who are making over $200,000. Governor Huckabee, who is here on the stage, has said that you and others who think this way are trying to rob seniors of the benefits that they’ve earned. It raises the question: When it is acceptable to break a social compact?

Round 2 to Christie,

Governor Christie, there has been a lot of political rhetoric that some bank executives should have gone to jail for the 2008 financial crisis. But General Motors paid more than $1 billion in fines and settlements for its ignition switch defect. One hundred and twenty- four people died as a result of these faulty switches. No one went to jail. As a former prosecutor, do you believe the people responsible for the switch and the cover-up belong behind bars?

Later on, after Christie complained about a question to Jeb Bush about fantasy football gambling,

Governor Christie, you’ve said something that many in your party do not believe, which is that climate change is undeniable, that human activity contributes to it, and you said, quote: “The question is, what do we do to deal with it?”. So what do we do?

A quip Christie made about Senator Bernie Sanders was judged to be a “pants on fire” lie. Christie’s claim about how there’s a war on cops is also statistically false.

Questions to Mike Huckabee:

The first question came well into the program:

Governor Huckabee, you have railed against income inequality. You’ve said that some Wall Street executives should have gone to jail over the roles that they played during the financial crisis. Apart from your tax plan, are there specific steps you would require from corporate America to try and reduce the income inequality.

Later,

Governor Huckabee, you’ve written about the huge divide in values between middle America and the big coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles. As a preacher as well as a politician, you know that presidents need the moral authority to bring the entire country together. The leading Republican candidate, when you look at the average of national polls right now, is Donald Trump. When you look at him, do you see someone with the moral authority to unite the country?

Those are the questions that were asked. There were a few interruptions and candidate demands for time, but as far as actual questions from the debate moderators, the list above contains ever single one. Where the hell is the problem?

Let’s break it down even further:

  • Trump, Carson, Rubio, Huckabee, and Bush were asked specific, pointed questions about their tax plans and how they would fix perceived problems. (Tax plans, incidentally, that Politico and Slate characterize as existing only in an “oddly imaginary” world, “insane“, and  “an exercise in economic fantasy.”)
  • Trump and Rubio were asked about immigration.
  • Trump, Carson, Paul, and Christie were asked about Social Security and/or Medicare.
  • Kasich was asked about the state of the GOP, marijuana, and student debt. Carson and Kasich were asked about corporate subsidies.
  • Trump was asked about his companies’ bankruptcies, and the second amendment.
  • Carson was asked about a sketchy business relationship.
  • Rubio was asked about his relative youth and inexperience, and also about his business savvy.
  • Bush, Fiorina, Cruz, and Paul were asked about budget policy and the debt ceiling.
  • Bush was asked about the recent controversy over fantasy sports leagues.
  • Fiorina was asked about private retirement savings accounts.
  • Cruz was asked about equal pay for women.
  • Paul and Cruz were asked about the Federal Reserve and monetary policy.
  • Christie was asked about climate change and holding corporations accountable.
  • Huckabee was asked about values.

These questions were direct and almost completely substantive in nature. Given that CNBC is a business channel, many of the questions dealt with issues surrounding money – taxes, the Fed, subsidies, trade, and immigration. A few questions were outliers, like pot for Kasich and gambling for Bush, but for the most part, when you read the text of the questions alone, they’re all dealing with important issues that matter – if not to you, then at least to the people who watch CNBC.

What you’re missing here is the emotion. You’re missing the whining and complaining about the perceived hostile tone of the questions or the questioners.

That’s what happens when the GOP slate leaves the friendly and compliant bubble of the conservative media’s Bullshit Mountain, and find themselves confronted with substantive, challenging, probing questions. In the end, the whole things came out a bit of a mess, but the best way for the denizens of Bullshit Mountain to deal with the glare of reality is to simply attack the media. Their acolytes love it, because they, too, hate the liberal media!

Asking candidates about how their tax plans would work is “gotcha journalism”? Well, congratulations to us, since it would appear we’ve come a long way since “what newspapers and magazines do you read” was considered a “gotcha” moment. Immigration? Budget policy?

And all of these characters whining about media bias and a lack of substantive gravitas in the questioning – what sorts of important issues do they tackle up on Bullshit Mountain every day? The republic endured years’ worth of Orly Taitz / Donald Trump – style birtherism, but asking pointed questions about policy to Presidential candidates denotes elite liberal media bias? From Drudge to Limbaugh to Fox to AM radio on down, the right-wing movement and its activists have turned politics into a blood sport where trivial nonsense uttered by a member of the right-wing club is treated as something very important, but genuine issues affecting average Americans are denounced as gravitas-free evidence of journalistic prejudice.

These are the people who brought you “Planned Parenthood sells fetus parts”, or “President Obama is a Kenyan usurper”, or “the war on Christmas”, or “Saddam Hussein is actively manufacturing weapons or mass destruction”, or “Obama’s coming for your guns”, or “Obama won’t say the word ‘terrorism'”, or “Climategate”, or Michele Obama’s “Whitey Tape”, or “net neutrality is a government takeover of the internet”. They have the chutzpah to condemn CNBC after years of lies, mythology, and faith-based economics. To characterize what the Republican media do as lowest common denominator rumormongering would be insulting to math.

Last week, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave 11 hours of testimony before a mostly hostile Congressional Committee purporting to investigate the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. It was Mrs. Clinton’s second time testifying about this event. 11 hours of blistering insults and allegations from preening backbenchers, including an odd obsession with Mrs. Clinton’s exchanges with friends via email. 11 hours of Clinton’s relationship with Sidney Blumenthal, but ask Ted Cruz one question about the debt ceiling, and he crumbles into a self-righteous temper tantrum.

As for the supposed love-fest that the Democrats got at their debate, let’s consider for a moment the very first question posed, to Hillary Clinton:

Secretary Clinton, I want to start with you. Plenty of politicians evolve on issues, but even some Democrats believe you change your positions based on political expediency.

You were against same-sex marriage.  Now you’re for it.  You defended President Obama’s immigration policies.  Now you say they’re too harsh.  You supported his trade deal dozen of times.  You even called it the “gold standard”.  Now, suddenly, last week, you’re against it.

Will you say anything to get elected?

If CNBC had asked a similar question of any of the weak-kneed, whiny, professional victims on stage in Boulder Wednesday night, the Republican National Committee would have aborted the entire program early.

If the Benghazi hearing was an 11-hour Republican paid advertisement for the Clinton campaign, then every one of these GOP debates – and the accompanying whinging – also have to amount to an in-kind contribution to the Democratic Party.

NFG Government

United_States_Capitol_west_front_edit2_jpg__2953×1529_

When President Obama came to office, it became congressional Republican policy to simply oppose and block anything and everything he wanted. Whether it was the tax cut stimulus or Obamacare and everything in-between, the Republican minority in Congress made it a central theme and strategy simply to reject everything the President wanted. So soon after the McCain campaign’s “Country First”, Republicans put party and partisanship first, country be damned.

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” That was the sole policy aim, as Senator Mitch McConnell so succinctly put it, and they failed. They weakened the stimulus, but didn’t destroy it – as a result, our recovery is weaker than it needed to be, but still better than the UK, where its conservative government is now reaping the myriad failures of austerity. They weakened Obamacare by rejecting the public option, but they couldn’t kill it. They’re still trying.

Disagreement and partisanship are to be expected and accepted within the context of representative pluralist democracies. But in 2008, the Republican Party twisted that into not just political, but governmental sabotage. It’s how the now-weakened tea party was conceived and was built on a foundation of denigrating President Obama as being foreign, un-American, not one of us. As Carl Paladino emailed on Monday, Obama wasn’t just a Kenyan usurper, but an “affirmative action” President.

But Obama is now finishing up his second term of office, and will likely never run for office again. Therefore, the constraints of electoral politics no longer hold him back, and he can give “no fucks“. Similarly, outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner – pushed out by tea party hard-liners – gives no fucks, either. Because they no longer fear political consequences,  they are free to govern. They’re free to compromise.

In point of fact, our federal congress was specifically designed to require and encourage compromise. Ours is not a parliamentary system where a majority government has, in effect, the political equivalent of carte blanche to implement the policies on which it run and won election. Here, a Senate minority can block legislation, and compromise is often required, if not encouraged.

Today, the NFG Congress and NFG President will cut a budget deal to raise the debt ceiling and prevent a government shut-down until some point after the 2016 election. This is Boehner and Obama unconstrained by political considerations acting in the best interests of the country. This is compromise. This is how our government is supposed to work, and was designed to work.

For one day, at least, the grownups are back in charge.

Political Shorts

1. SAFE ACT: Not Dead

Earlier this week, the Federal Appeals Court for the 2nd Circuit upheld most of New York’s and Connecticut’s firearms statutes passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. Anti-gun control groups brought suit challenging them, and they now plan to appeal this partial defeat to the Supreme Court.

One might ask, what part of “shall not be infringed” does the 2nd Circuit not understand?

The court found that banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines comports with the “important — indeed, compelling — state interest in controlling crime.” It continued,

“When used, these weapons tend to result in more numerous wounds, more serious wounds, and more victims. These weapons are disproportionately used in crime, and particularly in criminal mass shootings,” according to the ruling written by Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes. “They are also disproportionately used to kill law enforcement officers.”

The three-judge panel noted that the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in December 2012 occurred when 154 rounds were fired in less than five minutes, killing 20 first-graders and six educators and renewing a nationwide discussion on the role of guns in America and how to diminish the threat of large-scale shootings.

The court upheld a lower court’s ruling striking down the 7-round limit in 10-round magazines. The SAFE Act contains a severability clause, so if any portion of it is stricken down by a court, the remainder survives and remains in effect. The list of SAFE Act provisions is broken down here. Its purpose is to avoid and prevent mass shootings such as the one at Sandy Hook elementary where a lone terrorist shot and killed twenty little kids within seconds. It does this by limiting the types of weapons that can be bought and possessed, requires registration of some, mandates that mental health professionals report to authorities if they believe a patient might be planning to commit a violent crime, and requires background checks for all firearms and ammunition purchases. From the Buffalo News,

The court rejected the arguments by the plaintiffs – which included the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the Sportsmen’s Association for Firearms Education and other groups, businesses and individual gun owners – that the law “will primarily disarm law-abiding citizens and will thus impair the very public safety objectives they were designed to achieve.’’ The court said there is a “dearth of evidence that law-abiding citizens typically use these weapons for self-defense” and that the state tailored the two key components of the law “to address these particular hazard weapons” that it said has a higher chance when used to inflict more numerous and serious wounds to more people than other weapons.

The court said there are still “numerous alternatives” for people to purchase weapons with magazines capable of holding up to 10 rounds and to use them for self-defense. “The burden imposed by the challenged legislation is real, but it is not severe,” the court ruled.

While the Supreme Court in DC v. Heller affirmed an individual right to bear arms, (thus jettisoning the “well-regulated militia” language in the 2nd Amendment), the decision clarified that, like other rights, the right to bear arms is by no means absolute.

Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms

The right to bear arms is further limited to weapons, “in common use at the time”. Heller stands for the principle that people can own weapons for personal protection in the home, and since handguns are in “common use”, they cannot be banned altogether. On the other hand, military grade weaponry such as machine guns, tanks, RPGs, etc., can be, should be, and are banned from personal possession and use. The 2nd Amendment isn’t an absolute and unlimited right, just like the right to free speech doesn’t protect libel and the right to free exercise of religion doesn’t protect Rastafarian pot use.

2. All Quiet on the Preetsmas Front?

The investigation into campaign finance illegality that led to the May 28th raids of three prominent political operatives is still very much alive, despite the expiration of the statute of limitations for any misdemeanors. Rumor has it that state and federal investigators are excitedly trying to wrest a Pigeon associate from being represented by a private lawyer, and to convince him instead to take on a public defender and turn state’s evidence against his (former?) associates. This person knows where a lot – if not all – of the figurative bodies are buried, so if this succeeds, it would be huge. Law enforcement has to prove that these guys didn’t simply accidentally forget to make necessary election disclosures in the proper way, but that they knew exactly what they were doing, and that it was part of a continuing, chronic scheme to trick and defraud opponents and the public at large. It’s not over yet.

3. Vice President Biden

The Vice President announced that he would not be running for President in 2016, and gave a heartfelt barn-burner of a speech that left a lot of Democrats wishing that he actually was. Biden is a centrist Democrat who has fought for the beleagured middle class his entire career. Hillary Clinton and the Freedom Caucus and the entire GOP Presidential slate take note:

I believe that we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart. And I think we can. It’s mean spirited, it’s petty, and it’s gone on for much too long. I don’t believe, like some do, that it’s naive to talk to Republicans. I don’t think we should look at Republicans as our enemies. They are our opposition. They’re not our enemies. And for the sake of the country, we have to work together.

Hillary Clinton is breathing easy, not only because Biden is out, but the Benghazi witch hunt is unraveling hour by hour in advance of her second round of testimony about a tragedy – not a scandal.

4. Canada goes Trudeau

Stephen Harper’s 9 year-long government is over, he will stay as an MP but resign as head of the Conservative Party he helped to re-formulate. As so often happens in left/right North American politics, the grueling 11-week Canadian general election pitted Harper’s fear against the hopeful vision of Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau. With a clear majority, Trudeau can form a majority government and actually implement the policies for which he advocated. The parliamentary system may not be perfect, but it’s certainly fairer and more efficient in many ways than ours.

5. Wikileaks

Let’s say you believe it’s wrong for the NSA to have the ability to snoop on people’s emails and phone calls and text messages, etc. We can agree that warrantless government searches of the substance of people’s private communications is illegal. So, in what way is it newsworthy or reasonable or fair for Wikileaks to publish the private emails from CIA Director John Brennan’s personal AOL account? No one has found or identified any classified or secret information there – it’s all private stuff, including his application for a security clearance that contains intimate details of his personal life. Wikileaks obtained the information from hackers – criminals – and is simply publishing it all for everyone to see. Wikileaks defenders, defend this. You can’t. It’s a stunt designed to keep these people relevant.

If you want to understand what Wikileaks is, consider this, from John Schindler: Wikileaks is a front for Russian Intelligence. There exists no other reasonable explanation at this point. One need only compare Wikileaks’ published secrets of the Russian Federation vs. the secrets of the United States it has revealed.

An important gap has been filled this week by Julian Assange, who admitted that Snowden going to Moscow was his idea. Ed wanted to head to Latin America, Julian asserted, especially Ecuador, whose London embassy Assange has been hiding out in for years on the lam from rape changes in Sweden. As Assange explained, “He preferred Latin America, but my advice was that he should take asylum in Russia despite the negative PR consequences, because my assessment is that he had a significant risk he could be kidnapped from Latin America on CIA orders. Kidnapped or possibly killed.”

Only in Russia would Ed be safe, Julian counseled, because there he would be protected by Vladimir Putin and his secret services, notably the FSB. One might think that seeking the shelter of the FSB — one of the world’s nastiest secret police forces that spies on millions without warrant and murders opponents freely — might be an odd choice for a “privacy organization.” But Wikileaks is no ordinary NGO.

Now, the private phone numbers and social security numbers of innocent private civilians are being revealed by this phony, hostile “privacy” organization. Its justification for publishing the substance of all of Brennan’s AOL emails is weak, if it exists at all.

Just because you enter public life doesn’t mean that it’s ok for a hostile government’s PR arm to publicize your personal emails. Wikileaks has proven Schindler’s thesis beyond reasonable doubt.

One Buffalo and the Resentment Industry

onebuffalo

When I moved to this area in 2001, WNY was economically and politically in peak “old Buffalo” malaise, treading water while the world largely passed it by. Since then, the region’s journey forward has been pretty epic. Old, intractable problems still persist, but the region has made amazing strides in terms of finding its way into the 21st century.

Except for the Peace Bridge. For some reason, we remain stuck on the question of improving access to our well-to-do neighbor.

At the beginning of the aughts, the city of Buffalo was the region’s financial basket case, lumbering towards an inevitable control board’s oversight while suburbia touted the seemingly miraculous financial stability of then-Erie County Executive Joel Giambra’s county government. He cut taxes and maintained services, even taking over the maintenance of city parks from the hurting city.

The 2005 red/green county budget fiasco blew up the county’s charade, revealing that our perception of its comparative fiscal stability was artifice, built with finite tobacco settlement windfalls. The county soon found itself with its own control board, and a region that really couldn’t afford the hit found itself brought to its knees.

Since then, both the city and county have righted their financial ships and things are looking up. Neither Buffalo nor Erie County hold an exclusive monopoly on prudent governance. The specter of 2005 still looms – no one is eager to repeat it.

Regionalism as an idea was killed due to politics – chauvinism, patronage, and racism. We hit rock bottom with two control boards before we could right ourselves, but the state recognized that a strong region is anchored by a strong city.

Erie County remains a segregated place where poverty and minorities are concentrated within distinct parts of the city of Buffalo. There remains a tendency to focus on what divides us, rather than what unites us. Racism still plays a huge role in our political reality, logic gets turned on its head as well-to-do white people play victim, and craven politicians exploit that.  It’s us vs. them; we pay our taxes while they get their Obamaphones and welfare and Medicaid and HEAP and SNAP and WIC. It’s downstate’s fault, so they demand secession.

Blame the poor, blame the immigrants, blame African-Americans, blame the city they live in. Here in Erie County, the artificial divide between city and suburb is best used to further inflame already toxic arguments about who pays, and where it goes. Proud city folks denounce the suburbs as homogeneous or racist repositories of boredom whose sprawl is killing everyone. While largely apathetic, suburban voters can easily become inflamed by rhetoric about socialism and redistributive financial policies.

It’s easy to hate the people you think are taking advantage of you. It’s easy to hate the “other” – people who don’t look or live like you. The easy way out is secession. Separation. It’s why we’ll never have a unified countywide school district or a metropolitan form of government to replace our current, corrupt menagerie of taxing districts.

I guess it makes political or strategic sense to divide and conquer, but it’s not leadership. Leadership is taking what divides us and finding common ground. Leadership is about listening to the people and implementing policies that will help as many as possible while doing as little harm as necessary. Leadership is rejecting the easy way out or divisive rhetoric and understanding that a County Executive, for instance, must serve the whole county; not just the ones that will vote for him. Leadership means finding solutions to intractable problems and not blaming the victims.

In a way, that’s what’s so brilliant about Ray Walter’s “fair share tax” plan, which would seek to abolish a 1977 agreement on how the 3% permanent county sales tax is shared. Campaign issues don’t get more obscure or wonkier than this. The pitch is that Erie County’s cities receive more in sales tax revenue per capita than the suburbs. The agreement can be modified wth consent of the parties, or canceled unilaterally with one year’s notice. Mark Poloncarz says that subsequent state control board legislation forbids the county from canceling the contract; Walter disagrees.

If you’re most people, you never even heard of this before. You have no idea who’s right. Nobody cares.

The whole thing has to be dumbed down literally to capture anyone’s attention, but suffice it to say that it makes sense that the county’s three cities receive a larger share of the sales tax revenue because the need is greater. If you want to parse and analyze Walter’s plan to redistribute the cities’ share to the suburbs, re-read Bruce Fisher’s piece from mid-September. There, Fisher noted,

…neither the Erie County executive nor the executive plus the legislature has the power to change the sales tax distribution. All the recipients would have to agree. Then the State of New York would have to agree.

During the debate between Poloncarz and Walter, there was some back-and-forth about Walter’s plan, and far from acknowledging that the scheme is anti-city, Walter would have us believe that cities would benefit.  Yet in one breath, Walter argues that the cities are making out like bandits, getting twice per capita what towns get from the 3% sales tax, but in the next, his plan “spreads prosperity to every corner of the county and does not pit communities against one another.”

Re-formulating the sales tax sharing plan isn’t conservatism; figuring out a way to abolish the sales tax altogether would be conservatism. This is just double hypocrisy: 1. Walter says Poloncarz only helps the communities that vote for him, yet Walter’s signature policy propsal does exactly that; and 2. Walter wants to avoid pitting suburb vs. city by robbing the cities to throw more cash at the suburbs. That’s not going to work. It will accomplish the opposite, and he’s stoking these divisions.

Put it this way: if Walter’s tax plan was fair, the mayors of the three Erie County cities would have lined up to support it. Their silence and absence is deafening. When I asked a Walter partisan on Twitter about this, here is the response:

Ultimatum. Hostage-taking. How does that meet the goal of “not pit[ting] communities against one another”, as Walter claims? It doesn’t. It’s a noxious idea borne out of a base desire to exploit suburban prejudices and anxieties; to punish the “takers”, who are the most vulnerable and needy in our shared community.

A conservative way to tackle tax equity and poverty and lifting all boats probably exists, but you won’t get it from this Walter campaign. This is the stuff that fuels the local suburban talk radio resentment industry. Setting up a re-do of Empire Zones to spur investment in blighted communities isn’t the problem – access to jobs and credit are the root problems.

By the time the debate was over, the two campaigns’ themes had become quite clear, and the difference between them couldn’t be more stark. Poloncarz was advocating for One Buffalo – the notion that we’re all in this together; that a strong city helps the whole region, and vice-versa. That we can do great things when we work together towards a common goal of making Erie County a better place to live and work. In the last 15 years, we’ve made incredible strides towards that goal – progress that would have seemed unthinkable to you in 2001.

On the other hand, we had a campaign that threatens the cities with ultimata over dramatically reducing their share of the sales tax despite the need for that revenue. Walter’s campaign wants no part of “One Buffalo”, instead very clearly delineating a pure vision of suburban “real” Buffalo versus the crime, blight, and poverty of the inner city. The aspiration isn’t unity, but division. It’s not too dissimilar from how, in the aughts, the suburbs condescended to poor, beleagured Buffalo, while burning through budget-balancing tobacco settlement one-shots.

We can do better in this community than to pit white against black, rich against poor, city against suburb. WNY’s resentment industry is perhaps bigger even than the Medical Campus and SolarCity combined. It’s time it shrank.

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