74 Years Later

Apropos of nothing, here is a picture I found of Nazi-occupied Colmar, in France’s Alsace-Lorraine region. It had been a province of Imperial Germany from 1871 until 1918, and Hitler re-took it in 1940 and integrated it into the state of Baden. It reverted to France after the war. Here is the corner of Rue Kleber and Boulevard du Champ de Mars in Colmar in 1940, soon after the German annexation: 

 

Here is what it looks like today: 

 

Tuesday.

Come for the tune, stay for the ruin porn.

The Voice of Just Awful

Just awful. It’s just awful. Some examples: 

1. Wednesday morning we experienced the coldest temperatures of the season. There was, however, no wind to speak of, so it didn’t feel like it. Howard Stern was a repeat, so I tuned into WBEN to hear the weather, “news”, and traffic. There, the static duo of John Zak and Susan Rose yukked it up about how all those pussy schools and all those pussy kids had “cold days” a few weeks ago, but on the actual coldest day of the season, they seemed to make their way to school just fine. 

The subtext, of course, is what WBEN had  been pushing all that week that schools closed – all these soft people and union schools are un-American jerks for closing schools for cold weather. Every one of their local shows had that as a topic at least once that week. They constantly beat the drum about this complete and utter non-issue. 

So, when the morning newsreaders mount their high horses and criticize schools and kids for not closing on the actual coldest morning, they’re setting up a lie. The schools didn’t close because of low temperatures, they closed because of windchills of -20F and worse. The notion of even kids who are bundled up sitting outside waiting for buses in that sort of dangerous cold just isn’t worth the risk. But WBEN didn’t bring that up – they just left the lie out there so the olds who listen could feel superior to these pussy kids and pussy union schools.

Whatever chump runs the WBEN Twitter feed got sarcastic with me instead of addressing what I wrote. 

 

 

 

If we don’t call them out on stupid little lies, imagine the big ones they get away with on a daily basis. 

2. They put up a picture of the Slovak Olympic hockey team, thinking it was team USA, before changing it. 

I don’t know who’s running their social media feeds, but God almighty. 

3. On Thursday, Facebook added ways for people to identify their gender. The normal human reaction to that is to either cheer this, or shrug. OR TURN IT INTO BREAKING NEWS.  Literally, this “news” went out to people who subscribe to WBEN’s breaking news text service: 

This is, of course, not breaking news. What WBEN was doing was riling up its right-wing omniphobe listenership over the assault on hetero rights in Obama’s America.  You should see the comments to the thread

Facebook. An internet sharing service that is completely free of charge, wholly voluntary, which implemented a change that helps some people and has zero effect on other people. Why would that upset anyone? If it’s so offensive to you, quit. 

The assault on American values comes not from progressives or Obama or same-sex marriage or acceptance of people who are different from you. The real assault on American values comes from hatred, fear, and blatant lies.

UPDATE: 

4. This morning, Buzzfeed (of all places) published a fantastic take-down of the Trump political con game. This exchange occurred: 

 

WBEN even took to Facebook to try and make something of it, 

Here’s the thing about this. First of all, Mark Poloncarz is free to “worry” about whatever the hell he feels like worrying about. If he wants to poke fun at WBEN’s incessant massaging of Donald Trump’s prostate, then that’s his prerogative. It has, after all, been hysterical. But the subtext here is that Poloncarz shouldn’t be taking time out of his day to Tweet things to a local media outlet because taxpayers or something. So, look at the time stamp: 8:06. What’s he supposed to be doing at that time? Whose time is he stealing? Also, he’s a professional – he doesn’t punch a time clock. 

 

 If this is the “voice of Buffalo”, then Buffalo must be a horrible, awful place. 

Michael Sam

This is what one Dallas, Texas broadcaster has to say about the shock! Horror! of the first openly gay prospective NFL player. 

Mark Grisanti Campaigns in Downtown Tantrum

Photo by Jill Greenberg

In a few short years, State Senator Mark Grisanti has accomplished what few of his colleagues manage to do in a lifetime of “public service” – he has made a name for himself.  

Depending on whom you ask, he’s either a hero or an infamous traitor. In a way, that’s something for the senator to be proud of. After all, you don’t become an elected representative to blindly poll your constituents and see which way the wind is blowing.  On the contrary, while you should be responsive and available to constituents, you’re supposed to vote your conscience. It’s at the ballot box where your constituents get to tell you whether they agree. 

Grisanti’s change of heart on same-sex marriage is legendary. For supporters of civil rights, he is a hero for coming around on an issue of fairness and equality. For homophobes, he is a traitor because he had once promised not to support marriage. In the end, Grisanti got a boost, same sex marriage is no longer the huge controversy that it used to be, and he was on the right side of history. 

In the wake of the massacre of 20 first graders in Newtown, CT, Governor Cuomo decided to toughen New York’s laws regarding assault weapons and limiting the number of ammunition rounds that can be kept in a magazine. Some prominent recent shootings – Newtown included – saw gunmen carrying veritable arsenals around to do maximum harm in minimum time.  While Cuomo famously said you don’t need 15 bullets to kill a deer, you also don’t need 11 bullets to kill a 6 year-old

Opponents of the SAFE Act point to mental health treatment as the way to stem mass shootings. Gun control advocates likely believe that to be partly true, but expansion publicly funded mental health treatment and intervention don’t appear anywhere in any Republican manifesto of which I’m aware. So, while elected officials decide what they want to do about mental health services, it’s a good idea to make it as hard as possible for people who shouldn’t have weapons to get them. For this, Grisanti is now practically persona non grata

Before NY SAFE, New York already had among the most restrictive set of gun laws in the country. For instance, you’re not allowed to own a handgun unless you apply for – and receive – a permit to do so. New York still enforced the expired federal assault weapons ban, and NY SAFE strengthened it further.  Rifle magazines are never allowed to contain in excess of 7 rounds of ammunition. Semi-automatic rifles or shotguns with certain features (e.g., pistol grip, flash suppressor, bayonet lug, etc.) are banned, but if you owned one prior to the law’s passage, you  get to keep yours. A person’s weapons may be seized if there is probable cause to believe that the person is about to commit a crime or is mentally unstable. In New York State, the government has discretion in issuing pistol permits or conceal carry permits. In New York City, the rules are more restrictive than that. 

What part of “shall not be infringed” do you not understand? 

Well, the right of the people to bear arms is restricted, not infringed. It is up to the courts to determine whether a restriction is a 2nd Amendment infringement. Furthermore, each state’s laws differ on gun ownership and possession. Usually, conservatives cheer that sort of 10th Amendment state’s rights sort of thing, but perhaps that cheering is absent when the states choose policies with which the right does not agree. What came about? Right-wing freakout temper tantrums. 

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

It’s gotten so bad that it’s been rumored that Grisanti’s camp has had preliminary talks with the Erie County Democratic Committee about an endorsement. 

At last weekend’s Republican roundtable, tea party rabblerouser and former congressional candidate Mike Madigan apparently lit into Grisanti as “untrustworthy”. Grand Island Paladino shadow Rus Thompson (R-Tantrum) has threatened to primary Grisanti. Attorney and perennial candidate Kevin Stocker is already trying to reprise his 2012 loss.  At the GOP confab, Grisanti warned

…that the Republicans may lose their hold on the majority in the State Senate. Perhaps warning against a bruising GOP primary for his seat, he noted that four key Cuomo programs are targeted for early passage if the Dems gained control of the chamber: abortion of babies in the 9th month of pregnancy, taxpayer funded elections, fusion voting limitations, and the DREAM Act – free tuition for illegal aliens. Notably, the fusion changes Cuomo seeks could spell the end of the Conservative Party, the endorsement Grisanti has coveted and been denied. 

Oh, joy and rapture. An end to the perverse electoral fusion system that runs on graft, patronage, and confusion would be perhaps the best and most significant change that Governor Cuomo could ever bring about. The Conservative Party yanked its support from Grisanti over same-sex marriage, yet it has astonishingly continued to endorse other candidates who voted for it. Because “principles”. 

Given the hate and vitriol the small minority of ultra right-wing neofascists hurl at Grisanti, he’s not wrong to seek out a possible Democratic endorsement. These loons have labeled Grisanti a “RINO”, which is, to them, worse than being a Maoist, and they have set out to destroy him. They insist on conservative purity, which will go over great in a primary and lead to a catastrophic loss in the general election, because in November, people are generally in the middle. We’re not all gun-hugging omniphobes. 

Ask political choad Chuck Swanick how well he did running against Grisanti on an anti-gay platform in 2012. 

So it looks like it might fall to Canisius Professor and County Legislator Kevin Hardwick to primary Grisanti. Before he was a politician, my image of Hardwick was that he was not unlike Grisanti – an old-school, middle-of-the-road, northeastern Republican. Like a Bill Weld, conservative when it came to spending and taxes, and socially laissez-faire. But to challenge Grisanti, Hardwick is going to have to tack right, and I don’t know how that’s going to come across or how well it’ll do for him in November. 

Either way, chances are that Langworthy’s Republican committee isn’t going to be endorsing Grisanti, ever. They might endorse Hardwick if he runs. Time will tell if they get involved in a primary at all. Hardwick says he doesn’t like the NY SAFE Act, either, and that will be the centerpiece of any Republican challenge mounted against Grisanti. I think Grisanti has an opportunity to talk about the SAFE Act and why he voted the way he did. It could be as simple as pointing out just how much positive attention Governor Cuomo has given western New York since that vote. In an Albany run by Andrew Cuomo, Sheldon Silver, and Dean Skelos, you won’t be particularly effective by going against them. Just ask Mickey Kearns. (Changing the way Albany is run is a different matter, but no one in government makes a serious go of it for a variety of reasons.) Hardwick could end up in Albany, and then what? Is he going to get the SAFE Act repealed? Of course not. The whole thing is silliness. The entire landscape in that senate district is a massive fit of gun-hugging pique. 

The district that Mark Grisanti represents is a predominately Democratic one. 

So, to my mind, I wish Grisanti well. I want legislators like him in Albany and Washington – legislators who do what they think is right, even when it’s unpopular. I want legislators who take a controversial stand and then take the time and intellectual effort to back it up. We can do a lot worse than Mark Grisanti in Albany

ECC Follow-up

A coda of sorts to the ECC piece I did yesterday

  • – Transportation and alleged “remoteness” are the chief complaints that the anti-STEM-in-Williamsville people provide to prove their point. It, therefore, follows that improved transportation is the cheapest and most effective solution. 
  • – The opposition to expanding North Campus and including STEM is being led by a coalition of political and activist forces – not by ECC students themselves. Although ECC North is the oldest and main campus in the entire system, and although it accommodates the most students – the majority of whom are suburbanites – (correction: about 400 more students at North are from Buffalo than from the suburbs. However, a heat map shown on page 41 of the report designating North as the best location for the STEM building shows that most of these Buffalo kids live near the border with Amherst and Cheektowaga – around Cayuga and Wehrle and remarkably close to the North Campus. Thank you to David Steele from Buffalo Rising for pointing this out) the people bankrolling this have an ulterior motive. It’s unclear what that is, but it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine developers salivating over a large tract of available land between Main, Youngs, and Wehrle in “remote” Williamsville, by the airport and I-90. 
  • – Erie County loses $5.3 million every year in chargebacks to neighboring counties. That’s for Erie County kids who, for some reason, choose to attend community college in Niagara, Genesee, or elsewhere. 
  • – Community Colleges uniformly serve commuters. They are generally located as conveniently as possible to serve all commuters, not just some. For instance, Westchester’s is in Valhalla. Genesee’s is on the outskirts of the town of Batavia. Monroe County’s is outside the I-390 loop, between Brighton and Henrietta. Albany County doesn’t have one
  • – I was wrong yesterday – NFTA doesn’t run the shuttle bus. The people who attend ECC pay a transportation fee covering parking and an NFTA pass. So, we don’t have to improve a shuttle bus, but implement one that’s dedicated for these students, much like UB operates between its South and North campuses. 

ECC: Reduce and Solve the Obvious Problem

I’m a big believer that problems and issues should, whenever possible, be boiled down and distilled to their simplest and most concentrated form. 

So, when we’re talking about the multimillion-dollar investment in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program at Erie Community College’s North Campus (in Williamsville, at Main and Youngs), I have a threshold question about the seriousness and sincerity of the people agitating to halt it, and move the whole lot downtown.  

So, distillation time. 

1. It’s not an argument about the quality of education.  Not one person is saying that building STEM in Williamsville, or expanding the North Campus is going to have a harmful effect on education at any of the three ECC campuses. 

2. It’s not an argument about whether we need STEM or not.  Everyone agrees that it’s a swell idea. 

3. It’s not an argument about the North Campus being somehow inadequate to handle the program. 

4. It’s not an argument about the North Campus not needing improvements.

Every single argument has to do with location, location, location.  They want the entire campus to be in downtown Buffalo.  

The statistics, taking the opponents’ word for it, show that about 47% of ECC students live in the City of Buffalo, and that only about 25% of ECC enrollees attend classes downtown.  The “move it downtown” people argue that it is much more convenient for city kids to attend STEM-hosted programs at a downtown location, because of the better public transportation connections. 

Over My Dead Body” is a wildly disproportionate reaction to an ECC plan to expand its northern campus to accommodate a multimillion dollar health and medical training center. A group of people with dubious connections to ECC itself, called “Young Citizens for ECC”, was created specifically to oppose any expansion in the ECC suburban campuses, and to concentrate all spending and programs in a consolidated downtown campus. 

There are some good points to be discussed regarding bringing health training downtown, near the medical campus. Well, sort of near the medical campus – more specifically, across downtown from the medical campus. But one of the things I always like to address is hyperbole and needless falsehoods in advocacy

Young Citizens for ECC wants to same thing Erie Community College does. We want to link our region’s young people with emerging fields in the health sciences and prepare Buffalo for a 21st-century economy. We can’t do that by making educational opportunities inaccessible, especially to people who depend on public transit. ECC needs to focus on creating stronger linkages to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which we believe will help re-brand the college, attract top talent, and prepare our region for the jobs of tomorrow.

Inaccessible. 

Not satisfied with that ridiculous charge, at least one opponent of an expansion of the North Campus refers to it as “remote”. Located between Main and Wehrle, near Youngs in Williamsville; close to the extremely busy Main & Transit corridor, it might be many things, but “remote” is not one of them. ECC North is about 13 miles from downtown Buffalo; take Metro Rail out to UB South, and then the 48 Bus directly to ECC North. It takes about an hour to commute there from downtown via public transportation, but it’s completely within reason. Of course, ECC doesn’t just accommodate students from Buffalo’s neighborhoods, but also students from throughout western New York, including neighboring counties. 

Note that Niagara County Community College isn’t in Lockport, North Tonawanda, or Niagara Falls, but sort of in the middle of nowhere.  And it draws in kids from Erie County’s northtowns – for every Erie County kid who attends NCCC, Erie County has to pay Niagara County, and vice-versa. 

The ECC Board of Trustees has pointed out that the ECC City campus is the most costly and least efficient to operate. This should be taken into account, considering the public nature of the college. 

The college didn’t pick Williamsville for its expansion to stick it to the city. According to Business First, the choice was made after an extensive (and expensive) review undertaken by a consultant retained by ECC for this project. (Here is the study itself)

Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe said other efforts endorsed by County Executive Mark Poloncarz, including the manufacturing institute championed by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, are based in Buffalo.

“A lot is going on in the City of Buffalo, including a lot of money that the county spent on ECC in recent years,” Tobe said. “We intend to continue to upgrade the city campus along with improvements to the other two campuses.”

He said the county received a letter from critics of the Amherst campus plan and is responding to it.

ECC President Jack Quinn said the college will take part in the debate going forward but won’t be swayed from the current focus.

“We’re very comfortable with the JMZ study,” he said. “It was deliberate, objective and expensive. As far as reconsidering any major themes? Probably not.”

And wouldn’t part of the equation include: where are ECC’s students enrolled? 

The consultant, JMZ Architects and Planners, has come back with a recommendation to build on the North Campus, based on several factors, including the availability of land and parking; the need to improve the condition of the aging campus; and the fact that North has the highest enrollment of the three ECC campuses.

“This should put to bed the question, ‘Where’s the best location,’ ” Poloncarz said Tuesday.

So, at this point you’re yelling at me – so what? Just because they’re enrolled at North doesn’t mean they want to be there! Plus, 47% of enrollees live in the city! Well, the problem is that ECC North is plagued with a dreary campus, made up of a cluster of buildings reminiscent of 70s-era DMVs. Kids haven’t been flocking to ECC’s gorgeous adaptive reuse of an old downtown post office, but instead they’ve gone to Niagara County

The college first raised the issue of a new building around 2010 and set its sights on the North Campus at Main Street and Youngs Road, which consists of eight buildings constructed in phases between 1953 and the late 1960s.

The college hoped updating the unattractive North Campus would help stem the number of Erie County residents going across the border to attend school at Niagara County Community College.

When that happens, public and private money gets spent in rural Sanborn, to Erie County’s detriment. 

Part of the problem is that this is an ideological battle, rather than a practical one. When the Common Council debated the matter, ECC and the County Executive were not invited to speak on the issue. Living within a bubble of confirmation bias doesn’t always lead to good results. If a discussion is to be had, inflammatory rhetoric and exclusion aren’t the way to go. This past week, rookie county legislator Pat Burke, who represents Cheektowaga and South Buffalo, tried to put the brakes on the STEM expansion in Williamsville.  He was unsuccessful, as the GOP majority, led by Amherst legislator Tom Loughran, blocked debate on the question. 

When in doubt, accuse ECC and the county of racism, but you’re frankly not going to win an argument by calling your opponents names or by shutting them out.  

So, when we finally distill the issue down to its essence, the issue is location and transportation.  Kids in Buffalo – not just ones downtown, but on the east side, west side, North Buffalo – need better access to the various ECC campuses. Kids in the suburbs do, too. So, what is the easiest, least costly, quickest fix to all of this? 

Better dedicated shuttle buses. 

The shuttle buses that the NFTA runs between campuses are unreliable. They don’t run at convenient times. They’re infrequent. They don’t run late enough. 

So, get the NFTA out of the equation and either run or outsource a better system. Get a fleet out on the road to serve all three campuses plus the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Have some buses stop in the Buffalo neighborhoods that need them most. Run them all the time, and run them late. Give kids a mobile application to use to track the bus locations and times. Run one line between the STEM building and the medical campus on a continuous loop. 

These aren’t expensive or Earth-shattering fixes for a pretty minor problem.  This isn’t a group of kids coming in from outside WNY to live in dorms and hang out in coffee bars; they’re commuters.  They likely have jobs and families here.  Recognizing that not all of these students have cars or gas money, give them a better transportation network, and everybody wins. 

Storming the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort

Dieu et Mon DroitWe have it all backwards. 

The tea party wasn’t a revolution. It was the most recent flare-up of a revolution that’s been killing America for 30 years.  

The great right-wing upheaval that began, not uncoincidentally, in late January 2009 is merely the latest flare-up of a war to fundamentally unravel the very fabric that has made America great over the last 200+ years. 

Go back to the time of the American Revolution and the creation of this amazing country, and recall that it was a direct product of the Enlightenment. Replacing mythology and tradition with science and thinking, this was a country founded on the notion that the people should govern themselves. At the time, this was as radical a notion as Marxism in the late 19th century. America was the first post-feudal country, no longer based on nobility, bloodlines, peerages, and royalty, but instead on liberty, social mobility, self-government, federalism, and limited and divided powers. At its foundation was an educated meritocracy. They didn’t attain power through accident of birth, but through excellence of deed and thought. 

It was at its founding an imperfect country, and America has always been a work in progress. Many laws were changed and much blood was shed to expand basic liberties and freedoms to those who were not lucky enough to be included in the American dream at the country’s founding. The sins of slavery and segregation still poison the country to this day. Racism, nativism, and genocide were an inherent part of our Manifest Destiny. Many of the promises of liberty were merely theoretical for many people, for a long time. 

Some now argue that the rights we hold so dear – codified in the first ten amendments to our Constitution – are inherent and God-given. They may indeed be, but I am wary of any such claims of sanctity, because oppressors – kings, dictators, and warlords all universally claim for themselves divine right. The whole point of the American Revolution was that it was we who control our own destinies and our freedoms are there for the taking, if we want them. 

The industrial revolution, our westward expansion, and the first World War brought great changes. As people lived longer, as industries found new efficiencies, as a mostly rural population suddenly turned to the cities and transformed into a working class, we as a nation decided that it was a good idea to care for the old, to feed the needy, to help the helpless, to welcome immigrants, to protect workers and consumers from predatory behavior, and to otherwise ensure fair and equal treatment, but not equal results. 

It was the post World War II era that brought about the predominance of the middle class – the ability for people to earn a decent wage for a day’s work, raise a family, build a house, buy a car, and have something that had previously only been reserved for the wealthy – leisure time. That period from 1945 – 1970 saw unprecedented economic, social, and political maturity and growth for this country.

The 70s brought about setbacks –  a series of global economic, military, and political crises delivered deep blows to our prosperity, outlook, reputation, and self-image. If you think it’s bad now, then you don’t remember the 70s – never mind the 30s. 

But in the 80s, we changed. The country changed. The Reagan Revolution was the precursor to what we’re dealing with today. Reagan did a great job restoring America’s self-image. We felt good about ourselves again. The Reagan economic stimulus had a heavy emphasis on tax cuts, introducing the supply side or “trickle down” theory of economics into action. The theory goes that you lower the tax and regulatory burden on high earners and businesses that supply our goods and services, the extra time and money they save will  “trickle down” to the employees through more employment, higher wages, and more productivity; if you make the rich richer, the prosperity will spread down the ladder.

We have been clinging to that as gospel truth for 30 years, but it never came to pass. The rich already have all the money they need to spend. What we got was massive deficits and sovereign debt, because the government grew. The situation improved in the 90s, but after 9/11, we did it again. And it worked for a short time, until we decided to wage two simultaneous wars without end in Asia. The trillions of dollars we spent prosecuting those wars could have built so much in this country. But by late 2008, the entire global economic system was collapsing under the weight of its own lawless nonsense. 

And so it was that a new administration came in to hit reset. In the past, as productivity went up, so did wages. But in the early 80s, something changed. Although productivity continues to increase, wages have stagnated; the middle class has made almost no progress. Protections for workers and consumers have been eroded. The tax cuts for the top earners has helped to make that segment of the population ever-richer, but the wealth never trickled down. Ever. It’s a completely discredited concept

Why? Because without people like you and me to buy, say, an iPad or to shop at, say, Home Depot, those things fail. Without average families with disposable money to spend on things, the companies that make or sell those things fail. An argument can be credibly made that it isn’t the CEO of Apple or Home Depot who is a “job creator”, but the consumer. The middle class. The middle class substituted its stagnant wages and decreased spending power with cheap debt. The people who are still waiting for the wealth to trickle down, living paycheck to paycheck, getting shafted by bailed out big banks, being taken advantage of by usurious payday lenders, watching jobs migrate to China, going bankrupt when a family member gets sick and the insurance runs out. 

We spent 30 years building an economic, social, and political system that is founded on protecting and comforting the extremely wealthy. Money has so poisoned our political system that our government institutions become paralyzed at the sight of the most uncontroversial matters. Money in politics is so unregulated, thanks to the Citizens United decision effectively legalizing outright bribery as “political speech”, that average people of all races, creeds, colors, and religions have become effectively disenfranchised. 

One need look to the health care debate as evidence. Since World War 2, this country has been discussing and debating whether people should, as a matter of right, have access to quality, affordable healthcare. All one has to do to defeat any such proposal is accuse it of being communism or socialism. Yet like Medicare or Social Security, it wouldn’t be a handout, but something that people pay for – pay into. What our health insurance system had become by 2008 was unconscionable, unfair, and palpably untenable. Policy maximums arbitrarily cut sick people off and plunged families into destitution and bankruptcy. The “richest country in the world” funds children’s leukemia treatments with change cups at gas station check-outs. People who lost coverage for a time but had a pre-existing medical condition found themselves uninsurable. The variety of different private insurance plans, regulations, rules, and restrictions meant that physicians had to hire people just to process claims, and untold hours and money is lost every year on tasks having everything to do with penny-pinching, private, often for-profit bureaucracies, and little (if anything) to do with patient care. 

Medicare was supposed to fix that; it did, for seniors. Hillarycare failed. Obamacare – now pilloried as a neo-Trotskiite fraud –  was, in the 90s, the conservative alternative to Hillarycare. Every country in the western world has a different system, and not one of them is perfect. Obamacare sure isn’t perfect, either. But every single one of them is a dramatic improvement over what we had before. 

The tea party revolution wasn’t what it appeared to be. If not at its founding, it quickly became a wholly-owned subsidiary of big money interests who wanted to maintain the supply-side status quo; who wanted to maintain the blind fetishization of wealth at the expense of average Americans. The tea party – conservative Americans resistant to Obama and his policies – played directly into the hands of big business, big lobbyists, and the shadow plutocracy that pushes a phony libertarian agenda to make sure that billionaires are free from income and estate taxes; a phony agenda that would maintain the sheen of “trickle down” without anything actually trickling down

They’re working to create two Americas, with the tea party rolling along as its useful soldiers. By de-funding public education through “school choice”, the middle class and poor get one, inferior, set of school “choices”, while the very wealthy – some of whom pay only a fraction of what you and I pay for income taxes, because they earn not through work, but through capital gains –  have their private schools subsidized by the middle class taxpayer. By maintaining the ridiculous health insurance status quo and eliminating the employer and individual mandates, CEOs can continue to pay themselves outrageous sums of money while employee wages and benefits stagnate – and they should be lucky their jobs aren’t in Shenzhen or Malaysia. 

By creating a second-class America, people like the Koch Brothers and their network of wealthy Americans create for themselves a new, subsidized American aristocracy. You and I? We become worker drones, as protections are abolished, clean air and water protections are weakened to ineffective levels, the minimum age for workers is abolished so our kids can work cheaply, so that we are so beholden to the new aristocracy that we would be mad to oppose it. These new aristocrats have already poisoned our body politic with money and gifts, so you and I have no meaningful chance. Remember – these guys truly believe, with all their hearts, that 47% of Americans – vets, the elderly, schoolchildren – are just takers. 

And they’re doing it in the shadows. In the dark, they hold their confabs and plot how to create their libertarian fantasy-world of controlling and keeping down the placated vassal class. It’s a country where a drunk teenager commits vehicular homicide four times over and gets zero jailtime. It’s a country where we fight each other over scraps from a pie we’ll never see. The billionaires running the tea party distract us with idiotic fights about guns. It’s a country where you and I are playing the game of life with a stick in the street while an entire separate population is playing in Yankee Stadium. We’ve created an inherently unfair, unequal system and we’re reaping unequal results. The American dream isn’t dead, but it’s being eroded, and the erosion is happening intentionally or recklessly, like the uncontrolled spill of unknown and unreported chemicals into the water source for 350,000 West Virginians. Like the unregulated, reckless  poisoning of western New Yorkers by Tonawanda Coke. 

I don’t want these guys to win. I want the tea party and progressives alike to see that the new plutocracy has pit us against each other to distract us from the larger issues. I want the very wealthy to play by the same rules as you and I when it comes to politics and taxation. I’m not saying everyone deserves to be a millionaire for no work – I’m saying that we all deserve to have the same opportunity on the same playing field. Will it take a constitutional amendment to limit money in politics? Sounds good to me. Will it take a complete, a-partisan re-think of how average Americans perceive problems and discuss solutions? Absolutely. Will it mean that people like the Koch brothers or George Soros will have to disclose how much money they spend on legalized bribery, and how much they raise – and from what sources – to assist them in that? Damn straight. 

Because America isn’t – and never has been – a county that embraced the extremes. Communists and fascists have been marginalized in our society – never mainstreamed. America generally votes the center. Americans generally consider themselves to be in the center. Extreme candidates appeal to a party’s base, but they seldom win general elections. 

I’m afraid we’re slipping back into a system that pre-dates even the enlightenment – a system that more closely resembles contemporary Russian and Chinese neo-fascism; nationalism and perpetual crisis used to confer a faux legitimacy on a system whereby all power is concentrated not with the people, but with the rich and politically powerful, who work in tandem to keep each other rich and politically powerful. 

But we can’t do it if the system itself has ceased to function. 

#Sloppery

1. The problems with the Sochi Olympics are myriad and sundry, but most of the mockery has been centered on the general shoddiness and unpreparedness of it all. Not to mention safety concerns. What people don’t get is that Russia is not a functioning nation-state, and doesn’t have anything in its long history that comes within miles of the “customer service” concept. Indeed, Russia’s only functioning economic sectors are “corruption” and “graft”, with “gangsterism” close behind. Putin’s portrait on the front desk of one of the unready local hotels speaks volumes. 

It has forever been a feudal kingdom run first by imperial gentry, then by communist nomenklatura, and now by a hybrid kleptocracy/autocracy with a fierce nationalist streak that is joined at the hip with its secret police service. The notion that this Russia could get it together to throw together an Olympic games in its current political and economic climate was always absurd. Perhaps a future Russia will do better. 

2. A United Nations human rights panel sharply criticized the Vatican for: 

…systematically adopting policies that permitted priests to sexually abuse tens of thousands of children globally over the last several decades.

The United Nations committee faulted the church for failing to take effective measures to reveal the breadth of clergy sexual abuse in the past, and for not adopting measures to sufficiently protect Catholic children in the future.

“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse,” the report said.

The report also criticized the church’s culture of secrecy and longstanding practice of silencing abuse victims in order to protect the reputation of priests and the church’s moral authority worldwide, asserting that the church had systematically placed preservation of the reputation of the church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims.

This is quite possibly the sharpest and strongest criticism yet of what really amounts to a worldwide criminal conspiracy to protect and cover-up sexual assault perpetrated against children by people in a position of trust and authority who donned a mantle of sanctity and holiness. It is nothing short of sickening. 

3. Much of the criticism of the ECC North STEM expansion is emotional rather than factual. The downtown campus isn’t so much a campus as it is a building, and my curiosity is piqued by the interesting group of people who are most vocal about it, and I’d love to know more about who’s funding these efforts. The fact of the matter is that the health-related expansion is taking place at North campus to (a) effectively compete with NCCC and ensure that students and their money don’t end up in another county; and (b) North has the capacity to most inexpensively support the building. It would seem to me that complaints about the commute to Main & Youngs could be alleviated by an improved, more frequent shuttle bus service between downtown, the medical campus, and ECC North, with longer hours and an app to track bus location, departure, and arrival times. If, as the expansion opponents argue, the real issue is student convenience it would seem as if cheaper, more immediate solutions are at hand. A lawsuit to block the ECC North expansion is great for lawyers, bad for students. 

4. Yesterday, bigshots were in town to announce the creation of 43North, a huge business plan competition that will award $5 million in prizes to the best business plans, with the top idea getting $1 million to get started. The competition is open to anyone in the world over the age of 18.  Winning companies will be required to locate in Buffalo for one year, and will receive not only the cash prizes, but free space. Got an idea? Apply here.  

5. You know how people like Chris Collins are salivating over a CBO report that supposedly concluded that Obamacare will cost 2 million jobs? Chris Collins is one of those plutocrats who think that America only exists to comfort the comfortable and further afflict the afflicted. When Paul Ryan is busy fact-checking your clumsy ass, you’ve really gone down a weird rabbit hole. Next time you see Chris Collins in person (that’s a laugh), ask him why he doesn’t think you and your family deserve health insurance. The CBO didn’t say it would cost 2 million jobs – it said that Americans with newly acquired health insurance coverage would be more free

Obamacare would lead to a decrease in the number of hours worked by up to 2 percent in 2024. Most of that drop, the CBO said, would be the result of Americans choosing not to work, for various reasons, but not because employers would want to hire fewer workers on account of the law. Translate those lost hours into full-time employment and it equals up to 2.5 million jobs by 2024. But that’s not the same as jobs being cut.

6. Speaking of our plutocracy, if you want to see the Koch Brothers’ sausage-making recipe, you’re going to want to click here. What people like the Kochs and other billionaires are plotting is to effectively turn the United States into two distinct countries, divided by class.  Succinctly put, they want to effectively end America as we know it and replace our bourgeois revolution of the late 18th century – a product of the Enlightenment – with some restoration of feudalism. The people on the list that Mother Jones obtained would be the lords and you and I would be, at best, mere vassals. The problem is that they’ve got a compliant media, a wholly owned political party, and a poorly informed tea party army to help move the fight along. 

You know, when the rich unionize to halt taxation and further concentrate their wealth and power, doesn’t that prove the fallacy of supply-side, trickle-down economics which has enthralled and destroyed the country since the early 1980s? 

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