The Buffalo News’ Tacky Sign

No way this is in the 2004 Master Plan.

The Buffalo News building has the good fortune to be across the street from Canalside. The News moved into its current location in 1973, and the building is, from street level, somewhat imposing – concrete and institutional, like a Communist-era Warsaw apartment block. That was all well and good for the time when it was kitty-corner from some surface parking and the old, ugly, Donovan Building, but now it’s surrounded by new, shiny things like the Courtyard by Marriott and the other Marriott with 716 and the rinks in it – Harborcenter.

The more we celebrate history, the more it helps Canalside. – Donn Esmonde

So, the Buffalo News building is, I suppose, something of a brutalist anachronism. Tolerable, but unfortunate.

But just this week, something tacky happened.

There’s been a recent outcropping of these LED advertising billboards in town – one on Oak Street inbound, another on the 190 in Black Rock, and now this on the side of the Buffalo News. When I saw the unlit sign on the side of the building this past weekend, I thought that the News might be trying to get a sort of Times Square vibe at that corner, like some sort of haphazard effort to transform that particular corner into a modern-day Shelton Square. But instead, it just looks vulgar.

The historic elements are what gives everything around it credence and value. Fads and businesses come and go. History has a generation-to-generation appeal. That’s why it’s so disappointing that this stuff hasn’t been done. – Tim Tielman, to Donn Esmonde

It reminded me of an article that the News’ own self-righteous retired columnist Donn Esmonde wrote in April 2003. In a three-peeves-in-one blog post, Esmonde excoricated WGRZ for the chain link fence topped with barbed wire that then surrounded its parking lot fronting Franklin Street. He wrote,

Thousands of visitors here for last weekend’s Frozen Four hockey championship were drawn to the Chippewa bars. They raved about our great downtown buildings. And they noticed, in the heart of downtown, the prisonlike fence around the Channel 2 parking lot.

The cyclone fence topped by rings of razor wire wasn’t welcomed when it went up six years ago. It hasn’t improved with age, as the Chippewa boom attracts more people and events like the Frozen Four bring out-of-towners.

Downtown is safer than ever, but the razor wire suggests it’s a combat zone. It doesn’t just startle tourists and less-hearty suburbanites. Restaurateur Mark Croce has sunk more than a million bucks into three places near Channel 2, including his upscale Chop House. Diners coming for a $30 steak first feast on the Attica ambience next door.

“I’ve had countless (patrons) say (the fence) is ridiculous for this part of downtown,” said Croce.

Despite numerous pleas to lose the razor wire, Channel 2 General Manager Darryll Green just says no. He says it protects his people, trucks and satellite equipment.

“You’ve got empty buildings on Main Street,” said Green. “Our fence isn’t the problem downtown.”

True. But it’s not helping. It belongs in a factory district, not on a thriving nightlife strip.

Green says the station can’t afford the security cameras and guards that work for other businesses. He’s open to other suggestions. We’d hate to think it’s time to pass the hat for the local NBC affiliate.

That was long before Esmonde went on to champion the placemaking plan for Canalside, emphasizing green space and history and “lighter, quicker, cheaper“, and “flexible lawns”, and solar powered carousels. It was all supposed to be special – it was supposed to be like the very epicenter of our unique “sense of place” and authenticity.

Yet here is the Buffalo News – the paper that employed him and continues to pay him – throwing a cheap, tacky LED advertising sign on the side of its building.  Mind you, the News didn’t slap that cheap piece of trash on the side of the buiding facing the 190, but right on the corner facing Canalside, where all the people looking for their flexible lawns, a sense of place, and maybe a Bass Pro will see it.

If WGRZ needed shaming over its barbed wire fence, then the News needs some shaming for uglying up Canalside.

And it’s not just the garish, cheesy sign – how about all of that prime street-level real estate that is completely empty on the News’ ground floor? If you’re going to take advantage of your building’s proximity to a new local downtown attraction, why not put that space to use? As it stands now, you have a brutalist fortress of a building with an empty ground level and the sort of tasteless LED signage you might expect in downtown Minsk or Ulan Baator.

But maybe we’ve solved part of the problem for One Seneca Tower.

We can improve any part of Buffalo by slapping a cheap LED “advertise here” sign on the side of something. Does this all follow the 2004 Canalside Master Plan? The guy in the tree suit probably wants to know.

It’s nice that history shapes the look and feel of Canalside. It’d be even nicer to finally make more of the real history that inspires it. – Donn Esmonde.

Bad Day for Right Wing News

Trump Chickens Out

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump – which is a phrase that really speaks volumes – has declared that he won’t participate in an upcoming Fox News debate because he can’t handle questions from Megyn Kelly.

Let that sink in for a second – Donald Trump is too chicken to answer questions from a right-leaning reporter on an ultra-right-wing news network because she had the audacity to ask him some tough questions at his first debate. This guy is the right’s macho man? This is the WWE wrestler type guy who’s going to be Randy Savage and Ronald Reagan reincarnated all at the same time?

This racist multiple-bankrupt – and, to quote the late Bob Grant, “fake, phony, fraud” would have you believe that he would erect a wall to keep Mexicans out and get Mexico to pay for it, but he can’t answer a few questions about politics and policy from Megyn Kelly. Fox trolled Trump about it,

We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president. A nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings

This heavily coiffed Paladino clone will “kick ISIS’ ass” but he can’t handle a tough question from a reporter FROM FOX NEWS. Hey, Rus, how you like Trump now? Hey, Carl, this is the best you could do? A coward?

I know that a lot of conservatives are having a hard time dealing with the fact that Donald Trump is little more than a parrot, willing to say whatever the right wing wants to hear, regardless of his actual opinions or beliefs. This fundamental act of sheer, unadulterated cowardice should make even his most hardcore fans shudder.

Donald Trump is a coward. He was a coward when it was his turn to go to Vietnam, and he’s a coward now. He’s trying to Twitter-block Fox and Kelly in real life, but ends up looking like a milquetoast who can’t take the heat.

Oregon Cretins Engaged, Arrested

It looks as if the dildo-and-snack fueled “occupation” of the Malheur National Wildlife Reserve may soon be over. Ammon Bundy and some other morons were taken into federal custody after some sort of shootout. Hopefully, no one from law enforcement was hurt.

Just remember: the same people who support Bundy and his band of dummies and their weeks-long occupation of land that belongs to all Americans would have you believe that Eric Garner just should have complied.

Eastern Hills Mall : Lifestyle Center?

Last July, I set out a rough-sketch proposal that the moribund and outdated Eastern Hills Mall transform itself into western New York’s first lifestyle center. It got picked up by WGRZ earlier this month when it was announced that Macy’s would be vacating its space at the mall. A few months earlier, Dave & Buster’s moved to the Walden Galleria.

My point was that, whether the mall knew it or not, it was dying. The Gap left last year. So did American Eagle Outfitters Aeropostale.  Nothing against small, local retailers, but you get a sense that they enable the property to tread water, barely. The mall needs a dramatic re-think, and quickly. This matters because the town can’t afford to have a derelict mall with difficulty paying its taxes or PILOTs.

In my July piece, I recommended that the EHM keep the big box locations as standalone facilities, but rip down the remainder of the mall. Replace it with something just about everywhere else in the country has, except western New York: a lifestyle center. I specifically drew a comparison to what the owners of the once-similar Nanuet Mall in Rockland County did to transform it into the Shops at Nanuet; from a late 60s throwback to a charming replica of a village downtown:

Now, the Eastern Hills Mall seems to be listening. WGRZ reports that it is considering a “major redevelopment”.

Facilities across the United States have transformed from traditional enclosed shopping centers into these open-air plazas, which gives shoppers the atmosphere of a mini-downtown area. Minneapolis has one. So does Cleveland, Pittsburgh and several East Coast cities.

Western New York doesn’t have a lifestyle center yet.

So Eastern Hills Mall, sensing an opportunity, might try to be the first.

In an attempt to adapt to the changing times, the mall will now explore this new “town-center” model of a lifestyle center, according to General Manager Russell Fulton. In an email, Fulton said the redevelopment could include condominium space, hotel space, new restaurants, offices, fitness centers or sports facilities, all tied together by open walkways and plazas.

That is accompanied by this rendering:

Instead of ripping the mall down, it adds the lifestyle center to the area fronting Transit Road and around the north and south edges. It leaves the massive sea of rear parking used now mostly for car dealer overflow and driving lessons. I’m gratified that they’re considering something different, but would tweak this a bit. I think the mall building itself probably needs to go, and the project needs to address that rear area, as well. But it’s a start. I don’t know whether there’s a need there for a “resort”, but a waterpark might be attractive. Several years ago, the town of Clarence debated a public/private partnership to develop a skating rink facility at the EHM, and that should be revisited, as well.

Some balk at the idea of a lifestyle center in western New York, pointing to the weather. People won’t walk outside in the cold, they say. But if you give people a reason to do so, they will. There are thriving downtowns in lots of cold places – Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City come immediately to mind, but so do Boston, Portland, ME, and New York.

There is a lifestyle center in Toronto, just north of the Ontario Science Centre. The “Shops at Don Mills” has high-end restaurants and shops, and the weather there is about as similar to Buffalo’s as you can get. Here’s what it looks like:

So, if you give people a reason to brave the cold and weather, they’ll do it. (See, e.g., Canalside). The Eastern Hills Mall in particular is surrounded by some of the wealthiest zip codes in western New York, yet people treat our region like we’re all on welfare, recently laid off from Bethelehem Steel.

Eastern Hills Mall’s plan is being proposed by one of its tenants, Nathan Mroz, who owns a Buffalo-themed shop in the mall. He says his plan would cost about $300 million, and the town’s new supervisor – a commercial real estate developer – likes it. The mall’s General Manager also seems interested,

In an attempt to adapt to the changing times, the mall will now explore this new “town-center” model of a lifestyle center, according to General Manager Russell Fulton. In an email, Fulton said the redevelopment could include condominium space, hotel space, new restaurants, offices, fitness centers or sports facilities, all tied together by open walkways and plazas.

$300 million here, $300 million there, and pretty soon we’re starting to build stuff people want.


Killing Flint

Flint, Michigan is about 70 miles from Detroit – about the same distance as Rochester from Buffalo. For half a century, Flint’s running water came from Detroit, but at great expense – about $12 million per year by 2014. That year, a decision was made to supply Flint with drinking water from the Flint River until a long-planned, equally delayed Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline from Lake Huron could be completed. When the pipeline is completed, Flint could expect to save about $3 million per year.

It was supposed to save the city $5 million per year until the new pipeline comes online. Overall, switching from Detroit water was supposed to save the city of Flint $19 million over 8 years – a no-brainer, on paper. When the Flint city council voted to join the Karegnondi Water Authority, Detroit gave Flint a contractual one-year termination notice, and Flint spent $4 million to update its own water treatment plant in order to handle Flint River waterThe city of Flint made the switch in mid-March 2014, with approval from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality; Flint water began flowing from faucets in April. Complaints, too, quickly began pouring in. The water smelled bad. It tasted bad. It was hard water. The city and state maintained, however, that it was all perfectly safe. 

But four months in, testing revealed excessive bacteria rates, and Flint residents were advised to boil their water. GM wouldn’t use Flint water at its local manufacturing plants for fear of corrosion. By January 2015, testing revealed excessive levels of trihalomethanes – TTHM – in the water. TTHM is a chemical byproduct of water disinfectants, and can cause cancer and other ailments. Flint was slow to react, and when Detroit offered to reconnect its supply and waive the $4 million fee, Flint rejected that, even when Detroit offered to do so with no long-term contract. City leaders appealed to the state for help, and the DEQ said everything was safe and under control.

A water consulting company the city retained also said that the discoloration and sediment was a problem, but that the water remained safe to drink and use. That same company – Veolia – manages the city of Buffalo’s water supply

By March 2015, Flint was forced to spend an additional $4.6 million to add carbon filters and other changes to try and improve the water quality. The city council finally voted to reconnect to Detroit’s system, but emergency manager Jerry Ambrose said Detroit water was “no safer” and opposed the move.

In early September 2015, researchers from the Virginia Tech found that the corrosive Flint water was damaging the lead delivery pipes, causing lead to leach into the water supply. Soon, local physicians and hospitals recorded a spike in Flint children’s blood lead levels. By October 1st, the county had declared an emergency, and asked people to not drink the water in Flint. Governor Rick Snyder announced the state would spend $1 million for new water filters, but didn’t commit to reconnecting the supply to Detroit’s. Flint’s technical advisory committee recommended immediate switch to Detroit water. By early October, the governor announced a $12 milliion plan to do just that.

Today, the city that Michael Moore made famous is back in the spotlight. During the Reagan Administration, Flint became famous as an example of the ugly byproduct of globalization and the deification of profit and shareholder return. It was the city that Reaganomics left behind. Except statistics show that most people and most places have been left behind thanks to Reaganomics – supply-side, trickle-down theory that never worked.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

It worked, alright. It worked for the moneyed elites. It worked for big business. Cutting taxes on the wealthy and big business worked great for them. Carving out special loopholes in the tax code to enable the superwealthy to avoid paying taxes while the rest of us rubes financed wars and deficits and tax cuts worked great for some people. We bail out megabanks and insurance conglomerates but scoff at people on WIC or food stamps. We subsidize massive private enterprise but wonder when “entitlement America” is going to pull itself up by its bootstraps and get a job, already.

Flint is merely a symptom of a nationwide disease. If people sincerely want to make America great again, then they need to make the middle class strong again, rather than sacrifice it to appease our billionaire gods.

Flint, Michigan shows that penny wise is, indeed, pound foolish. Switch to the corrosive, dangerous water supply to save a few bucks, and spend far, far more to concoct emergency fixes. End up right back at square one with millions of dollars squandered and thousands sickened. Spend millions more over years to deal with the social cost of poisoning people with lead, a neurotoxin.

Flint is now a federal disaster area. There are open criminal investigations with the state’s attorney general and the Department of Justice.

But Flint is special. It’s a city in receivership, administered by an emergency manager appointed by the Governor. The emergency managers maintained that Flint River water was safe from the moment the first complaints came in. When the TTHM problems arose, the city council wanted to switch back to Detroit water, but the emergency manager hired Veolia, instead. When the Mayor pleaded for help, the emergency manager said they were working on it, but resisted switching back to Detroit’s supply.

Poison people to save a few bucks. Save a few bucks and end up costing taxpayers exponentially more to fix the unnecessary resulting crisis.


It was not until Jan. 5 that Snyder declared a state of emergency and Jan. 12 that he mobilized the National Guard to assist with distribution of bottled water and water filters. Although the state helped Flint switch back to Detroit water in October, danger remains because of damage the Flint River water did to the water distribution system. President Obama declared a federal state of emergency in Flint on January 16.

A problem that first manifested itself in 2014 is only now being addressed in a remotely serious manner. It bears mentioning that the population of Flint is largely poor, and predominately African American. These people matter. They deserve better. They deserve better than to be used as guinea pigs in some sick penny-pinching experiment. They deserve better than to be completely let down by government at all levels, which is almost pathologically looking for “cheap” rather than “quality”. The Wal*Martization of the delivery of government services.

Now, the state’s Republican governor is in full CYA mode. He is pledging $28 million to temporarily alleviate a problem that never had to happen in the first place, but was carried out to save a small fraction of that.

Flint is the result of bad government, bad governance, and a selective refusal to do the right thing. Flint is what happens when the system breaks down and regulations mean nothing. It is a catastrophe with a massive human toll.

The thing that’s scary is that if you get in just the right people who worship “smaller government” and are willing to cut corners to save a few dollars, and do so without considering the consequences, it could happen here, too.

Obama Tackles Trumpinismo

President Obama’s final State of the Union address Tuesday really captured the zeitgeist. The media have been so consumed in Trumpgasm and measuring the Republican horserace while ignoring the battle for the Democrats’ soul, that a simple reminder was needed; and Obama delivered.

We don’t need to make America great again; America is great now.

The victory lap was muted. There was no grand legislative goal on which President Obama asked Congress to act. This was, to a certain degree, legacy building, but it was also a stinging rebuke of the pathetic, xenophobic fearmongering that has infected our politics thanks to the virus of Trumpism.

Remember “hope” and “change”? Obama sought to rekindle those flames. Hope – you don’t have to fear the future. The President reminded us that there’s no past glory for which we need to be nostaglic; on the contrary, every time we’ve undergone change in our society, we have overcome the fear that goes with it. We let our thoughts and actions mature, so that we as Americans made that change work for us. Our diversity, our optimism, our spirit of innovation, and the rule of law help to see us through tough times, and transformation. They are what we need to ensure our security and prosperity.

The President assailed Trumpism’s inherent cowardice by reminding us that it’s far better to face the future with confidence, rather than fear.

The speech focused on four questions:

1. How do we ensure that everyone gets a fair shot and opportunity in this new and changing economy?

2. How do we reignite our spirit of innovation, so that this economy works for us?

3. How can we best keep our people safe, and lead the world without becoming a global policeman?

4. How can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us as Americans?

As to question one, Obama took his somewhat muted victory lap, touting his record of job creation and saving the American auto industry after the great recession. He proposed that benefits and retirement savings should be simplified and portable, and that “wage insurance” might be offered so that people can pay their bills if they lose their jobs or go back for training or school. We should, he said, make sure that the system works for average people and small businesses, and not just for megacorporations.

On innovation, Obama alluded to climate change, noting that we were stunned in the late 50s when the Soviets beat us to space. We didn’t “deny that Sputnik was up there”, but in 12 years we developed our own space program and put a man on the moon. The President then called for a “cancer moonshot”, asking Vice President Biden to head it up, adding, “let’s make America the country that cures cancer”.

On the issue of security, the President explained that his priorities were keeping the US safe, and going after terrorist networks. No matter how many innocent civilians Daesh or al Qaeda slaughter, none of these terrorist groups poses an existential threat to the US, so we should stop elevating them to that level through our rhetoric. Sort of like how we shouldn’t call the Occupy Malheur crowd “terrorists”. Daesh are killers and fanatics – nothing more, and the President again asked Congress to authorize military force against it.

Appealing to our better selves: this was Obama essentially campaigning against Trump and Trumpism. The President called on Americans to reject any politics that targets people on the basis of race or religion. Diversity, openness, and mutual respect make us strong as a nation – not discrimination and name-calling. When people like Trump insult Muslims, they’re not “telling it like it is”; they are instead diminishing us in the eyes of the world and betraying who we are as a country. It weakens America maliciously to act in such a way.

Hatred and division won’t fix anything, and they’re un-American.

The most extreme voices get all the attention, and when you pair that with a sense that the system is rigged against regular people, in favor of the rich and powerful, you stand on a dangerous precipice. The President called for an end to gerrymandering; so that politicians can’t “choose their own votes”. We need to reduce the influence of money in politics. We need to make it easier for people to vote – not harder.

America is great already. We don’t need to be nostalgic for the good old days either because they weren’t that good, or they weren’t good for everyone. The President concluded,

They’re out there, those voices. They don’t get a lot of attention, nor do they seek it, but they are busy doing the work this country needs doing.

I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours. I see you. I know you’re there. You’re the reason why I have such incredible confidence in our future. Because I see your quiet, sturdy citizenship all the time.

I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages to keep him on board.

I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early because he knows she might someday cure a disease.

I see it in the American who served his time, and dreams of starting over — and the business owner who gives him that second chance. The protester determined to prove that justice matters, and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.

I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him ’til he can run a marathon, and the community that lines up to cheer him on.

It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.

I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count, because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

That’s the America I know. That’s the country we love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.

We have challenges. Change is scary, and if you pair it with economic inequity, it makes people angry. But America is great because, among other things, we can sit here and debate all of this. America isn’t any one thing: America is the sum of our daily acts of citizenship.

A Week in the Renaissance

Developer Gerry Buchheit’s: Social Media

Sometime during this past New Year’s weekend, I shared this story about a bill in New Hampshire that would ban women from baring their nipples or areolas in public. Congratulations, it seems, are in order for New Hampshire, as it seems to have solved every other conceivable problem facing that state, thus giving it the time to address the female breast.

Currently in New Hampshire, both men and women are free to go topless, reports Slate. A bill sponsored solely by Republican men would change that, if it becomes law. A woman could be charged with a misdemeanor if she “purposely exposes the areola or nipple of her breast or breasts in a public place and in the presence of another person with reckless disregard for whether a reasonable person would be offended or alarmed by such act.”

A female Democratic New Hampshire legislator, Amanda Bouldin, took to Facebook to criticize the Republican males who proposed this law,

Bouldin called for the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Josh Moore, to kill it or at least exempt new mothers who are breastfeeding. “The very least you could do,” Bouldin wrote, “is protect a mother’s right to FEED her child.”

The bill was, incidentally, amended to exempt breastfeeding from the law, but Bouldin didn’t know that at the time. The exemption wasn’t there in the bill’s original language. Here’s how Republican Josh Moore, the bill’s sponsor, responded to Ms. Bouldin:

Not sure that every man would have the “inclantion” to commit a sexual assault and battery against a woman baring her breasts in public, but that seems to be Mr. Moore’s own “inclantion”. Another Republican state representative added this:

One thing that definitely sticks out is that the state of New Hampshire is running a dangerous spelling and grammar deficit. I’m not sure how it’s not disrespectful for Representative Baldasaro to mock Representative Bouldin’s looks, or what being “liberty minded” has to do with a female body and “family values”, but New Hampshire has always been a puzzling place, politically. (Mr. Baldasaro made national headlines in 2011 when he explained that, “he thought it was “great” that a Republican debate audience booed an active-duty soldier because he is gay.”)

A local female lawyer shared the article to her own Facebook page adding, “I’m speechless #rapeculture”, and Buffalo developer Gerry Buchheit (Orchard Park’s Quaker Crossing, Freezer Queen on the Outer Harbor) chimed in.


That’s an interesting one, since the female attorney is self-employed, and not remotely “dumb”. It was also unclear what part of the article Mr. Buchheit considered to be “bullshit”, or what compelled him to chime in at all.

When called on it, he replied thusly:

So, to be clear, Gerry Buchheit of Buffalo, New York; the guy who heads up Orchard Park’s (a town apparently not in the boondocks) Accent Stripe, Inc. – a company convicted of anti-trust violations in 1991, and which was found to have violated myriad environmental regulations in 2008 – and the guy who is going to go fishing for state incentives to build something on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor thinks that legislation regarding a woman’s body and issues concerning breastfeeding are just “liberal” “bullshit” and although he can post stuff on Facebook, others who do so need a “job”.

Presumably, Mr. Buchheit needs buy-in from the state, as well as likely “incentives” to build whatever it is he thinks he’ll be building on the Outer Harbor. People should know his attitudes about Democrats, breastfeeding, etc.

Reviving Dead Malls

Speaking of development, now that Macy’s has announced that it will be closing its stores at the McKinley Mall and the Eastern Hills Mall, it’s a good time to revisit this post from July 2015, where I recommended that the best way for these old, struggling malls to survive is to become lifestyle centers. The Eastern Hills Mall in particular is surrounded by huge traffic numbers and a few of the most well-off zip codes in the region. There’s no reason for it to be a repository of off-brand knick-knacks. There’s so much potential there, just waiting to be exploited.

Make Melilla Great Again

Dangerous nativist populist Presidential candidate Donald Trump put out his first TV ad this week. One of the scenes purported to depict Mexicans rushing the US border, with this voice-over: “he’ll stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our Southern border that Mexico will pay for.” However, the accompanying image in fact showed Moroccans rushing the border of a little-known Spanish exclave on the African coast called Melilla. When confronted with this, Trump’s spokesman replied, “no shit it’s not the Mexican border, but that’s what our country is going to look like if we don’t do anything.”

Interesting that, since the entire exclave of Melilla is completely surrounded by three levels of 18-foot high fencing topped with razor wire. Because it’s one of only two (Spanish Ceuta is the other) direct land boundaries between North Africa and the European Union’s customs and passport-free travel area, border security is extremely tight and high-tech for both. Nevertheless, they stand as evidence that no border is impregnable.

Melilla’s border is what our country is going to look like if we don’t do anything, yet it already has the sort of border fence Trump wants, and was used in his ad to stoke fears about illegal immigration. None of it matters, politically, however, because Donald Trump isn’t so much a campaign as it is a traveling parapolitical Vaudeville act.

Obama the “Fascist”

Oh, but the right wing had a proper conniption fit this week when President Obama actually cried whilst thinking about the twenty first-graders who were mowed down by an unstable lunatic who was armed to the teeth. Can you believe it?! One idiot from Fox News said he must have had a raw onion under his podium. Another cretin from Breitbart alleged that Obama’s “fascist tears” were caused by a careful dollop of Ben-Gay under the eyes, because it is unfathomable that anyone would feel sadness at the thought of 1st graders cowering in their classroom being slaughtered by a person who never should have had access to a firearm under any circumstance.

Meanwhile, the afternoon drive jock on WBEN ranted about the end of America, rolleyes emoji.

Having spent time in a totalitarian state, I can tell you this: if you’re free to broadcast your hatred for the President on the FCC-regulated airwaves, and you don’t find yourself disappeared into a secret network of prisons and labor camps, you’re not in a totalitarian state. If your anti-Obama rhetoric is sponsored by a privately owned vacuum store and Indian restaurant, you’re not in a totalitarian state. If gun registration or background checks are fascism, then our closest allies like the UK and Australia must be fascist.

In other words, that sort of childish, politically ignorant hyperbole makes you sound like a dick.

After waiting years for congress to do anything about it, Obama did what little he could with an executive order, mandating that any licensed gun dealer – whether in a shop or at a gun show – must run a background check on any prospective purchaser.

Is this all an evil plot to take away your guns? Obama’s in the last year of his presidency. He would have gotten to that much earlier if that was remotely one of his aims. This won’t have any positive effect, you say? Well, then you have nothing to complain about.  The people who consider themselves big 2nd Amendment activists talk about how the real culprit has to do with mental health. So, what legislation have Republican lawmakers proposed to address that situation?

The point here is that we have seen too many innocent people die in mass shootings in recent years, and we as a society have been perfectly ok with that. The problem was that the gun lobby had so paralyzed Congress that even common-sense measures that the NRA had once supported were now anathema to it. The Daily News did a nice job debunking the propaganda:


Reality Check: There’s nothing in the executive actions that will lead to gun confiscation, advocates say. The President’s actions will simply narrow the loophole that allows people to buy guns from an unlicensed dealer – at a gun show or through the Internet – without a background check.


Reality Check: The executive actions won’t affect any law-abiding person who is looking to buy a gun and can pass a background check, experts say. They also won’t qaffect the many law-abiding gun owners who trade and sell guns occasionally or as a hobby. Instead, the orders will crack down on sellers who are evading the background check requirement and selling guns regularly.


Reality Check: Advocates note that loopholes in federal law allow criminals, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill to go online or to gun shows to buy guns with no background check, no questions asked. The best way to keep guns out of dangerous hands, they say, is by closing this loophole. And while Obama’s executive actions do not close the loophole entirely – only congressional action can do that – they’re an important step in cracking down on traffickers who fill the black market with guns that flood our streets and endanger our communities.


Reality Check: There’s nothing in the executive actions that violate the Second Amendment at all, advocates say. Federal law already requires background checks at gun shops – these executive actions just seek to narrow the loophole that allows guns to be sold by those “in the business” of selling firearms, because if you’re making a living selling guns, you should be running background checks.

You have a right to bear arms, but my kids have a right to go to school and not be shot at by some well-armed lunatic. The hallmark of a free and civilized society is balancing and reconciling those two rights. Just like you don’t have unlimited and unrestricted right to free speech, you don’t have an unrestricted right to bear arms. Obama’s executive action on this is literally the least he could have done, but at least someone’s trying something.

The Oregon Snack-In

These seditious cretins occupying a wildlife sanctuary’s visitor’s center in Oregon are undeserving of any of our energy – positive or negative. This article is pretty spot-on.

On Credibility

Along with people like Kelly Sedinger and Jennifer Weber, I’m proud to have been among the pioneers of blogging in Buffalo. They’re still at it, and so are others, but among the smattering of politically-oriented blogs, mine was one of the first.  Although it’s changed a lot over the years, one of the challenges of blogging about politics was overcoming questions about credibility. Like respect, it has to be earned; you have to write coherently, keep it interesting, have a basic grasp of spelling and grammar, and get more things right than not.

Occasionally, I’ve seen local bloggers try to leapfrog over the time and work needed to establish that credibility.  My perspective is that bad blogging hurts everyone – not just the now-misinformed reader, but also other bloggers. It cheapens and diminishes the medium, so I occasionally feel the need to defend what’s left of it.

In early December a local political rumormonger wrote that U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY, Preet Bharara, would be indicting Governor Andrew Cuomo on January 2nd. I fisked the article and explained, in detail, why that was not just unlikely – but legally inaccurate to the point of impossibility. The reason why I felt compelled to do that? It had been picked up by numerous people and online publications. Diane Ravitch linked to it. So did others. Someone posted it to Daily Kos. The nominally conservative blogger was proud of that:

Well, January 2nd came and went, and as I predicted, there was no indictment – not by Preet Bharara, and not by a grand jury. The entire story was completely made up – utter fiction.

Don’t let a good and attractive story destroy your common sense. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. If the story is poorly written, if it misstates facts easily verifiable through Google, if it cites unnamed “sources” of dubious pedigree, stay skeptical.