Congratulations, Secretary Collins

History will remember that until early 2016, Chris Collins was a largely irrelevant GOP congressional backbencher. Safely ensconced in an almost loss-proof suburban/rural Republican district, all he had to do was continue to be white, rich, and Republican in order to cruise to re-election. Having been a failed one-term county executive, he bought himself one last plaything – a seat in Congress. An American peerage.

But on a rainy Wednesday in late February 2016, Chris Collins became something more sinister and dangerous than just a casual Obama-hating millionaire seat-warmer. He joined the Trump bandwagon.

His protestations notwithstanding, Mr. Collins has bought himself Mr. Trump’s views about Mexican immigrants, Muslim visitors, Trump’s cut & spend tax plan, and building walls.

Until a few days ago, First Class Chris Collins had supported Jeb Bush, who found himself utterly unwanted by the Republican primary electorate in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada; Trump had swept all but one. Given that the Erie County Republicans had recently chosen Trump in their straw poll, and with our Palinist bizarro-intelligentsia, led by Carl Paladino, firmly in Trump’s barnyard, Collins decided to go with the hometown favorite. After all, Trump came to Depew to raise money for the ECGOP quite recently.

Collins, however, was out on his own on this one. The relatively shoestring Trump campaign isn’t equipped, really, to deal with a bunch of elected officials’ endorsements. The Republican establishment is likely to coalesce behind Marco Rubio, who has emerged to take Jeb’s place as the safe alternative. But some people who value loyalty don’t like that Rubio ran when it was Jeb’s year; Jeb was Rubio’s mentor.  Chris Collins, for all his faults, is a guy who values loyalty.

Collins’ move as the first GOP congressman to openly back Trump took some balls. He hasn’t been a memorable or effective congressman – he’s just a solid vote for whatever the Speaker wants. There was an almost Frank Underwoodian tactical brilliance behind this move to make Collins’ 2016 more exciting. By making this announcement, Collins has suddenly, single-handedly, forced the hand of every Republican in the House and Senate to pick a side.

Vote your district, vote your conscience: just don’t surprise me. Well, Collins surprised them. He surprised the entire Washington GOP establishment. He surprised the Trump campaign – Donald Trump called Collins personally Wednesday to thank him.

Collins took a leap of faith here – he might crash on the cliffs below, or sail gracefully into the best move he ever made. Time will tell, as we move towards an almost MMA-style brawl between two of the most ruthless campaign apparati in contemporary American politics. This will be a showdown so epic that both sides had better prepare for an inevitable recount process.  It’ll be 2000 all over again, and Roger Stone’s Brooks Brothers rioters will be suited up for Trump.

But this is Chris Collins we’re talking about – anti-net Neutrality, anti-consumer protection, anti-birth control, SNAP abolitionist, and condescending prat, so let’s examine his campaign statement.

CLARENCE, N.Y. – Calling for an “end to business as usual” in Washington, Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today announced that he is endorsing Donald Trump to become America’s next President.

As if anyone really cared whom Collins would be “endorsing”, or whether Trump needed or wanted this “endorsement”.

The end of “business as usual” in Washington is code for two things:

1. that Chris Collins is up for re-election in 2016, and he wants to ingratiate himself with the suburban and rural upstate Republican voters who will almost certainly overwhelmingly back Trump in the coming election; and

2. if Trump wins, Collins wants a cabinet position. Secretary of Commerce? That’d look good on the Wikipedia entry.

The reactionary, nativist, populist, authoritarian right is ascendant, after all. Collins knows which way the wind is blowing, and he wants to make sure his voters – and the Trump campaign – know he’s with them on this.

“Donald Trump has clearly demonstrated that he has both the guts and the fortitude to return our nation’s jobs stolen by China, take on our enemies like ISIS, Iran, North Korea and Russia, and most importantly, reestablish the opportunity for our children and grandchildren to attain the American Dream,” said Congressman Chris Collins.  “That is why I am proud to endorse him as the next President of the United States.”

Trump has made this demonstration by, e.g., firing Omarosa on S01E09 of the Apprentice, manufacturing the tchotchkes and schmattes bearing his name in China, and cowering at the intimidating might of Fox’s Megyn Kelly.

The line about the American Dream is typical Collins. If you navigate to his official Congressional page, his idiotic “vision” statement is still up there, that “the United States of America will reclaim its past glory as the Land of Opportunity, restoring the promise of the American Dream for our children and grandchildren.” Imagine the gall of this apparently self-made millionaire suggesting that the American Dream is a thing of the past – he lives it. I live it. The entire region is awash in new economic activity through our startup culture and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. We are still the land of opportunity, and the American Dream remains a real, present thing. To suggest otherwise is ignorant, insulting rubbish.

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

“The results of Barack Obama’s failed presidency have been devastating.  America is no longer seen as the world’s leader.  Our jobs are gone.  Our middle class is struggling.  And, the federal government has grown too large and wastes too much of our hard earned money,” added Collins.  “The last thing we need is a third Obama term which we would get with either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.”

Private sector jobs are up and government jobs are down. Government has grown large bipartisanly – under Republicans who fight trillion-dollar wars of choice, as well as under Democrats who dramatically reduced the ranks of the uninsured. Neither Bernie Sanders nor Hillary Clinton would be a “third Obama term”, but that doesn’t matter. Collins’ people and the Trump campaign believe it to be so, and faith trumps evidence or knowledge. This is Collins’ cover letter for that job in the Herbert Hoover Building. Don’t think Trump and his team haven’t taken especial notice of this.

“We need a president willing to make the tough decisions necessary to restore our country to greatness.  I believe Donald Trump is the man for the job, and I am proud to provide him with my support.”

Both Trump and Collins share a strong private sector background.  Before entering public service, Congressman Collins was in the private sector for over 35 years where he built a successful career as a businessman and entrepreneur.

Both as an Erie Country Executive (New York) and a Member of Congress, Collins has advocated running government like a business. “If we want to get our nation’s economy growing again and deal with the daunting fiscal issues threatening America’s future, it’s time to say no to professional politicians and yes to someone who has created jobs and grown a business,” added Collins.

“America has the potential to once again become the land of opportunity.  Donald Trump understands the importance of American exceptionalism, and has the unique qualifications to make America great again,” concluded Collins.

Cover letter. Dear Mr. Trump, I’m just like you. I also think Obama is yucky, and I know you’ll make America more friendly for us one-percenters. Enclosed please find my very pro-business CV, and I look forward to a Six-Sigma-efficient confirmation hearing. Yours, etc., Chris Collins.

The question then becomes, if (God forbid) Trump wins in November, who will run in the special election for NY-27?

Kanye Trump

Bizarre Twitter rants? Megalomaniacal, aggro-narcissistic behavior, diva complex, a toddler’s petulance, victim complex – but enough about Kanye West.

This is why cults of personality are horrible. People are following Donald Trump around for millions of reasons, but for some reason his almost Kanye-level childish behavior is a turn-on for them. These two mononyms – Kanye and Trump – share myriad parallels. For instance, they’re both entertainers. They’ve both had money problems – Kanye begs for Zuckerberg to bail him out like the Saudis bailed Trump out

Kanye is famously beefing with America’s sweetheart, Taylor Swift

But Trump is the ultimate petulant rapper. While he freestyles on the campaign trail, he’s beefing with the Pope.

On Thursday, while Pope Francis was on a flight back to Rome from Mexico, he was asked about immigration issues facing Mexico. Then, a reporter asked Pope Francis about immigration in the US and the rhetoric surrounding the southern border. The Pope said this:

A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.

The right wing freaked out. Donald Trump freaked out. How dare the Pope question Trump’s faith? The Pope is a hypocrite – the Vatican is surrounded by walls!

Here is the exchange in full:

Phil Pullella, Reuters: Today, you spoke very eloquently about the problems of immigration. On the other side of the border, there is a very tough electoral battle. One of the candidates for the White House, Republican Donald Trump, in an interview recently said that you are a political man and he even said that you are a pawn, an instrument of the Mexican government for migration politics. Trump said that if he’s elected, he wants to build 2,500 kilometers of wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, separating families, etcetera. I would like to ask you, what do you think of these accusations against you and if a North American Catholic can vote for a person like this?

Pope Francis: Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as ‘animal politicus.’ At least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people. And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.

Do you get that? It’s ok for Donald Trump to accuse Pope Francis of being a “pawn” of the Mexican government, but it’s horrible for the Pope to suggest that people be kind to one another. This is at the heart of this freak-out. Maybe Mr. Trump just needs a safe space to say what he pleases without fear of argument or contradiction.

Yet just a week or so ago, Donald Trump questioned Ted Cruz’s faith. “[N]ot too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, okay.” And here, “[h]ow can Ted Cruz be an evangelical Christian when he lies so much and is so dishonest?” Is that “disgraceful“, too?

Now – the Vatican walls. Believe it or not, Pope Francis didn’t build them, nor is he suggesting heightening, strengthening them, or pulling them out into St. Peter’s Square. After all, the Vatican is a 100-acre medieval city-state, and all of those had walls. And gates. I knew Trump was regressive, but I didn’t know he’d make America great again by sending us back into the economic heyday of 12th century feudal Europe. Tax cuts for nobles, cut off the serfs, and beef with the clergy.  Trumpamagne.

But re-read the Pope’s microaggression that so hurt Donald Trump’s and the right’s tender fee-fees. “A person who thinks only about building walls”. Well, here’s a picture of the Italian/Vatican border:

There are no customs checks, no passport controls, and no immigration checks (Vatican citizenship is unique in the world where there is no citizenship by either jus sanguinis or jus soli – only jus officii; granted when you are recruited to do the work of the Holy See). There’s a knee-high gate with two access points on either side of the square.

Donald Trump is talking about building 2,000 miles of wall to keep out Mexicans and Central Americans, but also to forcibly expel 11 million people, including their American-born kids. This is next-level xenophobic authoritarianism, and not remotely comparable to the Vatican’s medieval walls, which date to the 16th and 17th centuries.

SNL didn’t make Kanye’s stage exactly the way he wanted, and he flipped out like a toddler.

The Pope said that people should be kind to one-another, and the right wing freaked out like babies.

We Don’t Need No Education

The Buffalo News’ editorial board just made a lot of students’ and families’ lives more difficult. In an ill-considered editorial, it assails school boards as whiners, and teachers as greedy pigs at a taxpayer trough. It demands that schools “overhaul” their funding model, but identifies no inherent structural problems, offers no suggestions, and places no responsibility whatsoever on the state for underfunding schools the imposition of unfunded mandates. 

It is a pack of tea party lies, wrapped up in a bow of taxpayer indignation and anti-teacher resentment. 

Suburban districts are in budget construction mode right now. As is true every year, kids’ educations are at stake. To characterize Sunday’s Buffalo News editorial as irresponsible would be an understatement.

It is beyond dispute that school districts in Western New York, and around the state, are struggling to comply with the tax cap. If they weren’t, there would be no need for it.

The tax cap is based on an exceedingly complicated formula that also takes into account a district’s “growth factor” and certain exclusions.

The basic tax cap this year is anticipated to be close to 0.12%, but your district’s may vary. Inflation was flat last year mostly because of the dramatic drop in fuel prices. That’s why the cost of living adjustment for Social Security recipients this year is non-existent.  

But there is a need. Property taxes, led by those supporting school districts, are smothering New Yorkers. The state’s combined tax burden is the nation’s highest. Something had to be done.

In the private sector, when conditions change, businesses respond or collapse. It happened during the Great Recession and, across many industries, has been happening under the influence of new technology (think online shopping). In each case, businesses have had to re-engineer their structures to adapt to change, or face the consequences of that failure.

It’s true that property taxes smother New Yorkers, and that school taxes take the biggest chunk. Does the Buffalo News, however, believe this to be the fault of teachers and school districts? No, this is the fault of Albany.

In other states – let’s say Massachusetts – state funding is more fair and more rational. A house in Newton, MA with the same value as mine pays fully half what I do in property taxes. Massachusetts Districts who want to spend more per pupil can raise a local share of property taxes to finance that, but the difference is that Boston does not dramatically underfund the Commonwealth’s schools, nor does it play cynical games with it. 

New York state government fails adequately to fund schools’ foundation aid and mandates, then passes the taxation buck on to localities. To add insult to injury, the Gap Elimination Adjustment has robbed school districts of even more promised, expected state funding in order to make up state budget deficits. This means that Albany has cynically, harmfully robbed school districts to make up for its own spendthriftiness, and left local school taxpayers to make up the difference. 

tl;dr: when Albany underfunds school districts, your school taxes go up. 

That was the only solution unless Albany’s desire was to see New York’s educational system to drop down to Mississippi or Alabama levels. 

School boards, like the teachers unions, aren’t much interested in adjusting to the influence of outside forces. Mainly, they whine. There may be reasons for that, but the reasons don’t add up to an acceptable response. School districts need to adapt to a changing landscape.

The problem – and one of the reasons for school district resistance – is that the changes in this case were political, and politics can change. Board members, administrators and teachers also know that, unlike a private business that fails to adapt, their school districts will not go out of business.

That gives them the freedom – or, more accurately, the temerity – to resist the changes imposed by the tax cap, rather than to begin the admittedly hard work of re-engineering education in New York.

This preceding passage is jaw-droppingly ignorant. Every year, school boards need to present their budget proposals in a referendum to local voters. No other taxing district has to undergo that level of public micromanagement and scrutiny. Your town board doesn’t subject its budget to plebiscite; ditto your state legislature or county. In a representative democracy, we rely on the good judgment of our elected officials to handle budget matters with input from the public, but absent a direct vote. 

School districts and members of boards of education are elected, and their budgets must withstand direct public scrutiny. No other level of government has as strong a need to respond to the will of the electorate. 

What “changes” are school boards resisting? What “re-engineering” do the Buffalo News’ editors demand? Should districts just blindly stop paying for stuff? What stuff, exactly? 

Another likely reason that school boards respond poorly is that while they are accountable for the successful management of budgets that reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, they don’t always have the business skills for that complex work. To the extent that they don’t, they need to acquire those skills, perhaps by finding expert assistance. Albany, which created the tax cap, should help districts with that task.

Every school budget is put together with the assistance of the district’s business manager, who should be someone who is expert in handling issues surrounding school finances. Asserting that elected school board members are lacking “business skills” is just broadly ignorant. 

But the districts need to stop complaining and get busy. As the latest data from the U.S. Census showed last June, New York remains the national leader in education spending. At a cost of $19,818 per student, New York spends $1,643 more than second-place Alaska and more than other high-spending states, including New Jersey ($17,572), Connecticut ($16,631) and Massachusetts ($14,515).

The fact is that there is plenty of money sloshing around New York’s education complex. Former Buffalo School Superintendent James A. Williams repeatedly made the point that there were already enough dollars to educate the city’s students.

This editorial casually flips back and forth between the city’s funding model and that of towns. The city of Buffalo school district has an annual budget of $826 million, and city school budgets are not subject to plebiscite, like those of towns. City residents don’t pay a separately levied school tax, either. 

It also lays blame solely on school districts and teachers for a problem that is far more complex and nuanced. One reason why New Yorkers’ taxes are so high is that we have too many taxing districts. Again – that’s on Albany.

But furthermore, by casually using the statewide average for per pupil spending, you’re completely ignoring a very important point. The cost to run the New York City public schools is going to be naturally higher than elsewhere because of the cost of living in that area. How are you going to retain and hire teachers when the cost of living there is astronomical, compared to other places? How can you compare the cost to educate over a million kids in 1,700 New York City public schools with an annual budget of $25 billion? Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have absolutely no comparison when it comes to educating kids in a massive, expensive metropolis of 9 million people. 

Not surprisingly, the cost per pupil is significantly higher in districts where educational support services are most needed. The cost in New York City and Rochester is over $20,000 per pupil. That’s a reaction to a specific need, not just casual overspending, and wild generalizations and false comparisons help no one. 

What is more, state funding for education has gone up every year, despite the cries about the Gap Elimination Adjustment, imposed as the Great Recession opened a hole in Albany’s revenues. According to the Cuomo administration, funding has risen every year for every school district in the state and is at an all-time high.

Yet districts wring their hands and demand even more money instead of undertaking the necessary work of reworking the education paradigm that, at least in New York, costs too much and delivers too little. Teachers unions join the chorus, even though teachers get annual raises through the step formula if not through their contracts.

It’s a con, aimed at pressuring Albany into opening the financial floodgates and pouring even more tax dollars into the schools. Managing the districts under the state tax cap is challenging, to be sure, but that’s what districts – and more importantly, taxpayers – have needed.

State funding has gone up every year but not by nearly enough, resulting in local taxpayers making up the shortfall. So, what “necessary work” does the Buffalo News propose to “rework the education paradigm”? Obviously, the News’ editorial writers believe that teachers are undeserving of their pay and benefits, but where is the “con”? It is seriously irresponsible to couch in the language of crime the idiotic way state government makes taxpayers fund school districts. Again: school districts only have the tools Albany makes available to them. This is an issue of state law, not local malfeasance. 

It has been exceedingly rare – and downright controversial – whenever a school district has tried to go over the tax cap since its inception. In 2013, Clarence (which spends around $15,000 per pupil) tried to make up a massive pension funding shortfall by going over the cap. That was a disaster borne on the shoulders of students and families, not to mention the dozens of teachers and staff who were fired. 

School districts are not empowered to fundamentally remake themselves into something new and different. The choice comes down to – do we serve the students and community as best we can, or do we pick one of them to screw? To “rework” the “paradigm”, look to Albany. 

The cap allows districts to increase growth in their tax levy by no more than 2 percent a year or by the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This year, with inflation so low, districts are limited to an increase of just 0.12 percent.

The argument that government should be run like a business often falls short, lacking an understanding of the significant differences in their obligations. But it holds true in this case.

What’s businesslike about lumping in well-managed districts with poor? What’s businesslike about comparing New York’s statewide costs and needs with those of tiny New Jersey or Massachusetts? So, what is it that specifically necessitates that school districts act like business? 

As circumstances change, innovation must take hold. If it doesn’t, businesses may fail. Governments may lose the confidence of their constituents and important infrastructure may deteriorate.

In education, that infrastructure is in the classroom, but New Yorkers are paying too much for it. It’s incontestable, and it’s a fact that the tax cap is meant to address.

School boards need to begin doing that.

Nothing. The Buffalo News offers tons of criticisms and denunciations, but has absolutely zero ideas or suggestions as to how every district – town and city – can “rework” its “paradigm” – as if throwing management-speak at a problem might magically repair a fundamental structural problem. 

Some classrooms cost “too much”, but others don’t. But by offering a blanket accusation, even the well-run districts will now suffer from this lazy editorial. Hell, the editors don’t even pretend to identify the reasons why New York schools cost more than that of other states. (Some do, some don’t). 

The blame usually falls on teachers and their salaries. New York pays teachers the most, but the median is only slightly higher than that of Massachusetts, which the News’ editorial praises for its per pupil spending. 

By the way, the top five districts for highest median teacher pay in New York are all in Westchester and Nassau counties. So, the Buffalo News accuses Clarence and Buffalo and Amherst and Tonawanda for the sins of Scarsdale, Bronxville, Jericho, and Mineola. 

If the goal here was simply to identify a problem, the Buffalo News’ editorial board played fast and loose with the facts, issuing a blanket condemnation of school districts good and bad, cheap and expensive. It didn’t so much identify a problem as it accused districts of ignorance and indifference, despite the fact that no other governmental body submits its annual budget to the taxpayers in a referendum.

Direct voter action requires that school boards are especially responsive and sensitive to taxpayer demands; however, they must carefully balance that with the needs of the students, while implementing state mandates. 

By offering thin facts, empty arguments, and casual denunciations, the Buffalo News’ editorial board has just placed millions of kids’ educations at risk because, evidently, inflational pressures do not or cannot affect the running of schools. 

Gia Arnold and Triggering the Ammosexuals

There’s nothing in the world worse than an ultra right-winger who adopts the language of civil rights because he feels the system has wronged him. But Friday’s arrest of Gia Arnold, one time right-wing challenger for what was then Republican George Maziarz’s Senate seat, is emblematic of the hilarity of the dominant Palinist wing of western New York’s tea party scene.

That’s the same brain trust that pushed centrist Republican Mark Grisanti out of office in favor of Kevin Stocker, only to find themselves in a 3-way race, handing the race to current Democratic State Senator Marc Panepinto. Their tactics are bad and their strategy worse.

In 2014, the Palinists’ bête noire was State Senator George Maziarz. The reasons why they hated him were vague and poorly defined, but their feelings were so strong they even accused him of the worst thing their minds could concoct: being gay. Ever the adolescents, they eschewed establishment candidate Rob Ortt in favor of Gia Arnold, who played them like a fiddle.

Gia Arnold is very young – she’s 26 now – and attractive. She was married and co-owned a business with her husband, and they had three kids. She loved the 2nd Amendment, hated the NY SAFE Act, but was otherwise bereft of serious thought or policy. Her personal story was the centerpiece of her appeal. That, and her pandering to the SCOPE and Oathkeepers crowd. She announced in February 2014, and by March she had wrapped up this endorsement:

That’s right-wing darling Carl Paladino and his driver/perennial candidate Rus Thompson clasping hands with Mrs. Arnold.

Western New York’s ammosexual community embraced her, and she them. The image that accompanies this piece depicts how she showed up to campaign at an event in the summer of 2014. But in mid-August 2014, she abruptly dropped out of the Senate race because her marriage had failed, she had been having an affair for the preceding few months, and arglebargle. She went on WBEN, whose afternoon host begged her to reconsider.

So, she did.

Displaying the sort of level-headed judgment she would presumably bring to the Senate, on that Friday, she un-dropped out of the race. Not surprisingly, WNY’s youngest political vacillator lost the (R) primary to Ortt by an epic margin, and didn’t have enough valid signatures to access the Libertarian Party line in November. She was taken to court over the validity of petition signatures that evidently came from outside the district. She was rather un-gracious in defeat, telling her mostly middle-aged male acolytes,

If you happen to have a Rob Ortt for State Senate sign in your yard this election cycle, you are a fool to support the elite establishment that counts on your ignorance and apathy in order to continue to control our elections, state and national governments. VOTE ANTI – ESTABLISHMENT this year. Do your research.

She ended up endorsing the Democrat. The whole thing was a typically tea party Rus Thompson three-ring circus.

Fast-forward to February 2016, and Gia Arnold is now under arrest, and this microaggression has triggered the tea party fanboys. The Buffalo News reports,

She was arrested earlier this week with an 18-year-old Niagara Falls resident on felony charges of criminal possession of a loaded rifle and handgun along with a combat knife that were found in the front section of her vehicle, according to Niagara Falls Police Capt. Michael Trane.

Arnold and Halim Johnson were arrested Wednesday night and offered no explanation for why they had the weapons. A black ski mask was also found in the Pontiac Vibe, police said.

The vehicle was stopped at 10:30 p.m. by Officers Tommie Caldwell and Marsha Gee, members of the department’s Roving Anti-Crime Unit, after they noticed Johnson failed to use a turn signal at the intersection of Haeberle Avenue and 15th Street, Trane said.

As those officers were conducting a records check, a second anti-crime unit arrived and Arnold was asked to step out of the vehicle by Officer Michael Tarnowski, who spotted a loaded magazine clip on her passenger seat.

“Before she got out, she had pushed her coat over the rifle, which was wedged between her seat and the door jam, trying to hide the rifle,” Trane said. “Tarnowski immediately placed her in handcuffs. Caldwell then had Johnson step out of the vehicle and Caldwell spotted a handgun with a red bandana around its grip in the driver’s side door cup holder.”

It’s not every day you have a former tea party politician caught in a car in the Falls with an 18 year-old driving her car, an AR-15, a ski mask, a handgun, and a KA-BAR combat knife. As you’d expect, the anti-SAFE Act tea party crowd perceives this all to be a massive civil rights violation. They’ve even set up a page on a site begging for donations.

On Feb 10th Gia Arnold and her boyfriend became victims of the NYS (UN)Safe Act and racial profiling. We are asking all patriots to Rally behind her and help her get out of this horrid mess. Think about this, you get pulled over for not using a turn signal and it turns into a felony charge because you invoked your constitutional right to remain silent.

Halim Johnson is Gia Arnold’s boyfriend, according to this post. A 26 year-old mother of three is dating an 18 year old from the Falls?

When Gia said they would no longer answer questions (a right protected by the Constitution) she was arrested for “Obstructing the duty of a Government Official” (sound like Oregon anyone?). Following her arrest her vehicle was searched for these drugs they were so sure they had. No drugs were found. But a Non-Compliant rifle under the NY (UN)Safe Act was found….

…On the way to the jail the officers told her that they were pulled over for “not using the turn signal in time.” This is obviously a load of crap they racially profiled her boyfriend and made up the charge after the fact. “He’s black he must have drugs.”

We are asking all patriots to Rally behind her and help her get out of this horrid mess. Think about this, you get pulled over for not using a turn signal and it turns into a felony charge because you invoked your constitutional right to remain silent.

Racial profiling! Like I said, the worst lefty is a wronged tea partier. All of a sudden the cops are monsters and racial profiling is a thing, because their darling is under arrest. What I recall is this same crowd of so-called “patriots” sharing pictures of Trayvon Martin blowing smoke out of his mouth and posing provocatively on his Facebook page, to prove he was a thug and deserved to die.

Well, the gentleman dating Gia Arnold also has a Facebook page. Here’s the happy couple:

But why would the cops “racially profile” him, and assume he’s a drug dealer?

Drugs? Perish the thought.

I don’t think this is Kale:

Interesting pose and use of emojis:

To be clear, recreational marijuana should be legal in New York State, but dealing drugs, and pretending to aim a handgun when posing for the camera under emojis spelling out the word, “gang” isn’t a good luck for the barely legal boyfriend of a tea party darling. The fundraiser must be working, because while Ms. Arnold has bonded out, Mr. Johnson remains incarcerated. This raises the question of how his Facebook profile picture and relationship status were changed while he remains behind bars. Indeed, Mr. Johnson’s high school-age friends seem upset and ready to fight Ms. Arnold. The spectacle, however, of the tea party coming to the aid and defense of Ms. Arnold and her paramour is interesting, but not as interesting as this:

But some of Arnold’s supporters during her failed senate campaign were not as quick to back her up on Friday. Tea Party activist Rus Thompson said he was concerned for Arnold but didn’t want to make any comment about the situation until he had all the details about what happened.

Meanwhile, former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who attended Arnold’s announcement when she entered the senate race in 2014, had even less to say. When called for comment, he asked who Arnold was.

Rus Thompson taking what might be his first “wait and see” position in history, and Carl Paladino denying knowledge of the candidate with whom he clasped hands and posed just two short years ago. This is a perfect coda to the Gia Arnold for Senate clown car.

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.

Trump, Sanders: Two Sides of an Anti-Establishment Coin?

Betteridge’s Law of Headlines teaches us that any headline ending with a question mark demands the answer, “no.”

Donald Trump easily won New Hampshire’s Republican primary Tuesday night. That’s not surprising – he was leading for weeks. What was surprising is that Ohio Governor John Kasich came in second, Texas Senator Ted Cruz finished third, and Marco Rubio’s brief post-Iowa momentum collapsed. Granite State Republicans picked a coarse celebrity populist, and followed him up with literally the only sane Republican candidate left standing.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders utterly destroyed former Secretary of State, First Lady, and Senator Hillary Clinton 60-38. That’s a humiliating defeat for Clinton, whose own inevitability seems to be getting the better of her in 2016 as it did in 2008. Sanders makes a far more compelling argument to frustrated left-of-center voters than Clinton; her poor showing is her own fault.

It’s time now for Fiorina, Carson, and Christie to leave the race. Christie bet everything on New Hampshire and couldn’t break double-digits percentage-wise. Carson is now a punch line, and Fiorina is simply not a contender, and never was.

A lot of pundits argue that Trump and Sanders are two sides of the same anti-establishment coin—that they are the figureheads of movements that are sick and tired of politics as usual. All of that takes place before a backdrop of politics as usual that will only outrage Sanders’ supporters—the Supreme Court enjoining the administration’s rules to address pollution and carbon emissions, and Congress’ refusal to hear the President’s budget. The latter is especially galling, because the behavior of Congressional Republicans towards President Obama has been little more than an 8 year-long temper tantrum, with the sole aim being to oppose and embarrass him. But in so doing, they beclown and disrespect themselves.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders voters are dissatisfied with the status quo, but there the similarities end abruptly. Donald Trump (and, frankly, Ted Cruz) are so pugilistically right-wing that they know exactly what they’re doing—they’re planning to fundamentally transform America, to coin a phrase. The America they envison, however, would be a horror not only for us, but for people around the world. They are literally battling over who can commit more war crimes once elected.

Cruz is unliked and has carefully crafted a reputation for being someone completely unreasonable, unthoughtful, rude, and unproductive. Remote are the chances that the American people would elect someone so fundamentally uncharismatic and unlikeable, and as many hard-right Republicans who love him for what they think are his “conservative” bona fides, the general electorate is much broader and politically diverse.

Trump’s rise is predictable because he’s a celebrity and he knows how to put on a show. He knows what to say to rile his crowd up, and he’s unapologetic about it. He lurches from bellicose point to crude threat and his followers eat it up. The fact that he has literally no idea or plan to actually carry out any of his empty diktats matters not.

It’s not just about rah-rah war crimes though.

But my God, Trump is a phony. He’s a guy who was born a millionaire, but pretends he’s Archie Bunker. He lives in a palatial high-rise, but talks like he lives in a modest one bedroom in Astoria. He has never not been a member of New York’s real estate and media elite, but he talks like a cab driver or a character in a Damon Runyan short story. All of this is a carefully crafted tactic because his whole schtick is to appeal to the angry, disillusioned older white male.

Trump’s almost Putinesque conspicuous, nouveau-riche glitz and consumption are attractive to people who would spend their money exactly like that if they hit the Powerball. The demographic appeal comes in as a direct reaction to a feeling that the country under Obama has changed into something they don’t recognize. They don’t like same sex marriage, they don’t like Planned Parenthood, they don’t like that we haven’t invaded Syria or “bombed the shit” out of ISIS. They don’t like Obamacare or Medicaid or TANF or SNAP or anything else that in any way helps the poor and underprivileged, thus unreasonably constraining the ability of the rich or big business to get richer or bigger.

Sanders’ supporters are also fed up with the establishment and status quo, but they are younger, more diverse, and don’t think Obama went nearly far enough in transforming America from a country that spends $600 billion on its military with a casual routineness—will invest a trillion dollars to completely de-stablize the Middle East, but then cries poverty when asked to help feed the hungry, care for the sick, or educate the young. Sanders supporters don’t want to roll back the rights of others, but seek to ensure that America return its power to her people, as the founders intended.

Trump appeals to hatred, division, scapegoating, and resentment. He is quick to resort to schoolyard bullying, calling opponents names and carefully affixing blame on people whom it’s easy for his constituency to hate: Muslims. Mexicans. Women. China. Obama. On the other hand, Sanders expands upon Obama’s own 2008 playbook. He calls for unity, hope, shared ideals, goals, and purpose.

This is Brooklyn vs. Queens; left vs. right; love vs. hate; red vs. black; unity vs. division; help vs. harm; thought vs. reaction.

There’s one very critical thing separating Trump’s movement from Sanders’: evil. Donald Trump is sinister, and he isn’t just inciting an angry mob, he’s handing out the pitchforks and torches. Ezra Klein boils the danger of Trump down perfectly,

Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory. He pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; he’s a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he’s also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. He lies so constantly and so fluently that it’s hard to know if he even realizes he’s lying. He delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash.

But before you demean Trump as just another carnival barker,

He’s not a joke and he’s not a clown. He’s a man who could soon be making decisions of war and peace, who would decide which regulations are enforced and which are lifted, who would be responsible for nominating Supreme Court Justices and representing America in the community of nations. This is not political entertainment. This is politics.

Do you think that Donald Trump would run a thoughtful administration? While Sanders preaches equality, access, change, fairness, thoughtfulness, democracy, and reinvigorating the middle class, Trump preaches hatred, misogyny, war, racism, resentment, and anger. The whole thing is based on resentment and anger, but if Trump wins the nomination, there simply aren’t enough angry, resentful, xenophobic white people available to win. He is a populist demagogue and a textbook reactionary. Klein goes on to explain, accurately, that Trump addresses anger with anger, and is completely without scruples or shame.

Bernie Sanders takes hits for being an old socialist hippie with disheveled hair and lefty ideas. Indeed, his amazing showing in New Hampshire isn’t because he’s from the neighboring state of Vermont, but in spite of it. But there is a fundamental goodness in him and his proposals that, at least in part, informs his support across almost every demographic. Call it democratic socialism or social democracy, all of it is just words, and as awful as the right-wing attacks on Sanders will be if he’s the nominee, most people agree that he has identified the correct problems, even if they disagree with his solutions.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, would “make America great again” by ruling like an African dictator—an intemperate strongman who would lead through fear and threats—things that are decidedly ungreat and un-American.

The establishment is under attack, and that’s good. That’s how peaceful political revolutions work at their core, by shaking up the status quo when the people become dissatisfied. Our system doesn’t allow for you to take up arms against dysfunctional government; it gives you the power to effect political change, if you want it.

If Sanders and Trump win their respective parties’ nominations, the choice will be very clear: empower the average American, or transfer power to an even more exclusive, less temperate, one-man elite? Trump isn’t a joke and he isn’t a clown. Sanders wants to feed the hungry whom Trump dismisses. Sanders wants to ensure that people who need it get health care, while Trump would repeal Obamacare and replace it with vaporware. Sanders wants to educate the youth while Trump quite literally ran a for-profit online college that is accused of massive fraud. On top of all of this, there’s not a whole lot of Democrats nostalgic for the 90s.

This is real life, and it’s time people took it all seriously. Sanders and Trump aren’t two sides of the same coin. Sanders has one side of the coin, and Trump has junk bonds.

The County Legislature Reminds us of its Pointlessness

A fundamental, structural pointlessness. The County Legislature isn’t a necessity. County government as an entity generally exists to carry out state laws and policies. Of its $1.1 billion budget, the legislature has discretion over how about 1/10th of it gets spent. We are lucky enough to have a reasonably competent county government that carries out the policies, programs, and standard of living that Albany and residents demand. We’re not cutting funding for things like libraries, culturals, and rat control anymore. We never should have, in the first place.

This week, the County Legislature spent many hours and taxpayer money to debate when bars should close. This is not something for which the community is clamoring; a 2:00 AM call time isn’t an issue. This was a manufactured nontroversy pulled out of the clear, blue sky by big-time developers of downtown housing. The people pushing this want to sanitize gritty city living for prospective buyers and tenants. All that talk about safety and families and domestic violence are just fronts; smokescreens. More troubling is that county government wasted time holding a lengthy public hearing about this pointless nonsense, and then took it up at its Thursday session, only to see it fail 7 – 3, with one abstention.

Powerful developer-donors hijacked the legislative agenda to push a pet project at the expense of Buffalo’s vibrant, growing hospitality industry.

It’s hard enough out here for business, the last thing we need is developers making it worse for others.

The legislature’s only mandate is to approve, reject, or make changes to the executive’s proposed budget.  Everything else is surplusage. During the dark Collins years, the legislature admirably added back Collins’ cuts to funding for programs and culturals that contribute to everyone’s quality of life. It’s a necessary check on reckless executive leadership. But is there another way to accomplish this? A cheaper, less political way? How about an appointed part-time budget commission? What about the control board, which still exists, and will exist for a longer period of time than it needed to, due to borrowing that it carried out at Collins’ insistence?

The spectacle of 11 elected, paid officials (plus staff and counsel) spending hours considering something as idiotic as restricting bar times is an insult to Erie County residents. There’s got to be a better way.

New York is overweight with governments and taxing districts. We’ve known this for a while, yet we don’t do anything about it. Efforts to abolish village governments routinely fail, underscoring that people enjoy the rhetoric of less government, but don’t really want it in practice. Right now, there is an effort underway to merge Onondaga County and city of Syracuse operations. We’ve had this debate, too. It always fails for a variety of reasons, not the least of which include prejudice and the self-interest of elected officials and their personnel.

If we want business and industry to thrive in this region, we need to make it easier for them to open and operate. Taxes, fees, red tape, and regulations are all too high and too much. We should become a national model for 21st century streamlining of government, and providing a predictable, easy-to-follow process for businesses to start up and stay open. No one’s doing that. No one’s even talking about it. Can’t we recruit some of these new hospitality companies and start-ups to head up a commission to recommend changes and modernization of our laws and regulations?

Instead, our elected county legislature is busy spending time on killing hospitality and jobs on behalf of short-sighted developers of high-end apartments.

Get with it, people. It’s not 1960 anymore.

Nothing Good Ever Happens after 5:30 PM

Tuesday night the Erie County Legislature held a public hearing on the pressing issue of rolling back bar closing times from 4 AM to 2 AM.  It was a packed meeting, and people passionate about the issue spoke both for and against the proposal, which appears to have little support in the legislature. Majority leader Joseph Lorigo (C – W. Seneca) live-tweeted the whole thing, (I consolidated the whole timeline here), and added in some commentary that underscored his opposition to the move.

The popular themes among the speakers included, “quality of life”, “nothing good ever happens after 2am”, “layoffs”, and “interference with private business”. I tried to boil it down to emojis, as a “shorter” post, as I’m wont to do.

Developer and restaurateur Mark Croce’s energetic appearance on WBEN’s morning news the following day sounded belligerent and odd, but his nemesis  – elected public official and member of the Buffalo Board of Education Carl Paladino – made some absolutely ludicrous arguments. Paladino is also on the board of downtown’s Buffalo Place improvement district and was, until 2014, a director on the board of the developer-run Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps. I love to hear these old, rich men hate each other.

Paladino’s remarks echoed what he wrote a few weeks ago, arguing in favor of a 2AM closing time, stating,

In Toronto bars close at 1:00  AM. We know it as a clean and wonderful place to visit with a vibrant and thriving bar and restaurant scene.  People spend the same number of hours recreating but just go out and come home earlier and get up earlier the next day.  They have learned how to make everyday count in their lives. Do we think of New York City, New Orleans and Las Vegas the same way?

No. Toronto bars close at 2 AM. Toronto also has a thriving after-hours club scene. Toronto’s tourism agency promotes this fact on its website. In fact, there is a movement to extend Toronto’s closing time to 4 AM. The argument goes, “To be a world-class city, Toronto needs world-class nightlife.

I don’t understand the juxtaposition of Toronto versus New York, New Orleans, and Las Vegas. Toronto is, I guess, “cleaner” than its American counterparts? All three of the American cities Paladino cites enjoy “vibrant and thriving bar and restaurant” scenes, and are among the most popular tourist destinations in the country, meaning someone finds them “wonderful” if not “clean”. Is he saying that New Yorkers and New Orleanians don’t “make everyday count in their lives”? Paladino’s argument here is invalid and false.

However, if a tea party guy perceives our social democratic neighbor’s largest city as better than America’s own party cities, then perhaps Paladino is “feeling the Bern”. 

Does the greed driven parasite preying on our community, Mark Croce, want the hours moved back?  No.

Do the mayor, the Common Council or County Executive want the hours moved back?  We don’t know.

How does the community feel?  One professional poll shows 69% of the community wants the rollback.

Note the Croce name-check. How is Croce a “greed driven parasite preying on our community” any more or less than any other downtown developer? The argument in Toronto to extend closing time to 4AM goes like this, “The petition leans on the idea of Toronto’s (and Ontario’s and Canada’s) perceived nanny state tactics. “Adults should be treated like adults,” reads the website. “Torontonians of or above legal drinking age should be free to enjoy their libation later into the night.”

Nanny state. Treating adults like adults. I thought conservatives and Republicans hated nanny state New York?

In the County Legislature, 4 of the 11, namely Lorigo, Rath, Dixon and Burke say absolutely not.  Morton and Mills said they are a firm yes and the others are willing to listen to the citizens and professionals at a public hearing before committing.  Do our legislators have the political courage to implement a rollback?

In what way is this a political issue? Morton and Mills are just as Republican as Rath. Dixon is a registered Independent, and Lorigo is a registered Conservative, and both caucus with the Republicans. South Buffalo’s Pat Burke is the only Democrat whose name Paladino deigns to check. He must like Burke, and apart from giving a number, can’t even be bothered to acknowledge the existence of the remaining Democrats – people who conservatives might otherwise expect to support expansion of New York’s own “nanny state”. They include women who represent Erie County’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. This includes the people who represent the area’s largest concentrations of minority residents; African-Americans, Latinos, immigrants, and refugees.

What does Paladino’s omission of Barbara Miller-Williams, Betty Jean Grant, Peter Savage – not to mention Kevin Hardwick – tell us? What conclusions do you draw?

Carl “temperance” Paladino is a “repeal the SAFE Act” guy. He believes, among other things, that restrictions on gun ownership won’t address the problem of gun violence. Sort of like how drinking restrictions won’t address the problem of alcohol consumption and related societal ills?

The representative business leadership group, Buffalo Place, Inc., passed a resolution favoring the rollback as a necessary intrusion on the few bar business owners who disagree because it so obviously a major part of the cultural problem that has ripped at the family fabric, caused unimaginable societal pain and virtually destroyed the normal maturing process of so many young people.

Whoa, there. Is it a “political” issue, or is it a societal/morality issue? Is this about party politics or the “maturing process” of 21 year-olds? Remember: the nanny state dictates that you’re not even allowed to drink legally until you’re 21 years of age.  No other western Democracy in the world has such a high drinking age, and we still treat alcohol and sex like we did when people walked around dirt roads with buckles on their hats.

The other countries that limit alcohol to people 21 and over include, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, United Arab Emirates, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Solomon Islands, and India.

In fact, binge drinking has become a much larger problem domestically since the mid-1980s change from 18 to 21. Prohibiting something doesn’t make it go away. It only criminalizes otherwise normal behavior:  “When it is legal for an 18-year-old to drive, marry or serve in the military but illegal for him or her to drink a beer, the illogic of the situation is patent. As a result, the overwhelming response of young people has been, not compliance, but contempt for the law. By outlawing moderate use of alcohol in appropriate social contexts and with adult oversight, we have driven more drinking underground, where it has taken the very dangerous form of ‘pre-gaming.’ The ‘under-age’ drinker, no longer permitted the occasional beer during a dance party, is now more likely to chug high-octane alcohol in dangerous quantities before heading off to that party. As a result, alcohol use has become more, not less, dangerous.

Law enforcement says that nothing good happens after 2:00AM. Parents, educators and anyone with common sense recognize this as truth or learned it from experience.  Except for Mark Croce and a few other quick buck, in and out of business, bar owners, responsible bar and restaurant owners will say that after 2:00AM they deal with loser drunks and drug addicts preying on good young people who have told their parents that all of their friends are out so they must be out.  Is it good for a young person to be conditioned to getting out of bed at 3:00 in the afternoon on weekends?  Does it help the maturing process, the desire to achieve.

Is it a cause of domestic distress or violence.  Is it a breeding ground for the incessant drug culture?

What an intellectually lazy slippery slope argument. Going out drinking with your friends as a gateway to “drug culture” is so facile. You’re more likely to drunkenly stumble into Jim’s Steakout for a fix of fried meat and carbohydrates than to stick a needle in your arm. Rolling back closing times isn’t going to address any of this. It’s not going to end “domestic distress or violence”, nor will it affect the “drug culture”.

Again – you can’t drink legally until you’re 21 years old. You become an adult at the age of 18 for almost everything else, including signing contracts and going into the military  – dying for your country. If you’re 21 and you go out drinking until 3AM, under what circumstances are you discussing that fact with your parents, exactly? Who are these 21 year-olds in Buffalo still living at home with mom and dad, discussing their comings and goings and worrying about the “maturing process”?

I detect that there is a personal angle to all this for Mr. Paladino – an issue he won’t confront head-on.

We have all witnessed or suffered the horrible pain inflicted on so many families in our community by the current opiate drug epidemic not only in Buffalo, but throughout America.  In 2015 in Erie County, over 200 people died as a result of heroin overdose. Over 600 more were saved by police with Narcan. Others, unable to kick the habit or to deal with the guilt created by the pain they brought their families, committed suicide.  Others have stolen all the family valuables to support their habit or cost their parents their savings spent on rehab.  The scourge has ruined the lives and potential of so many people.

Are you aware of a single piece of evidence to link a 4AM bar closing time (versus a 2AM bar closing time) to the current heroin epidemic? I’m not.

Connect the dots.  Isn’t it better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.  Rolling back the bar closing time will not solve the drug problem but it will bring awareness and jump start an effort to address the culture that is so destructive to our community.

Non-sequiturs everywhere. Here you have a tea party conservative advocating for stricter nanny state regulations on the hospitality industry in Buffalo. I don’t care either way what they do because it doesn’t affect me, but to see this creep spread lies and silly, hypocritical moral arguments about heroin and family values is simply ridiculous.

Carl Paladino has no standing whatsoever to lecture the community on morality. Something about glass houses and rocks comes to mind.

If you really want to discuss people’s behavior, the quality of life, community standards, and how late-night drinking is a gateway to drugs and immorality, then consider Paladino’s own behavior:

Presumably, an earlier call time might also protect Buffalo females from elderly male bar patrons demanding to see their “pussy”, or calling them a “fucking dyke”.

The Iowa Caucus: Determining Nothing

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are essentially tied at 49% and change, each. As of Tuesday morning, Clinton appears to have a minimal lead. It’s somewhat inexcusable, since Clinton has been running for President since 2007 and lost Iowa in 2008. One would expect her to learn from the 2008 primary, and would have used the following 8 years to anticipate how to deal with a surge from a surprise candidate like Bernie Sanders. Clinton is five votes ahead, and has one more delegate than Sanders, so far.

Can someone explain why O’Malley was still in the race at this stage, given his ridiculous showing?

Make no mistake, though, Democrats. You might be rooting for Sanders, you might be rooting for Clinton. You might be in Sanders’ camp because of Clinton fatigue – getting past the 90s, for instance. You might find Hillary Clinton untrustworthy, unlikeable, susceptible to attacks based on scandals old and new. But never forget this fundamental truth:

Even among those who don’t believe in the phony scandals, there is, as there was in 2008, a desire for someone new, who they imagine won’t bring out all that ugliness. But of course they’re wrong: if Sanders is the nominee, it will take around 30 seconds before Fox News is nonstop coverage of the terrible things he supposedly did when younger. Don’t say there’s nothing there: a propaganda machine that could turn John Kerry into a coward can turn a nice guy from Brooklyn into a monstrously flawed specimen of humanity in no time at all.

It will take 30 seconds before Fox News whips out the mothballed red stars and hammer and sickle graphics, because smears are the name of the game over there.

Here’s what happened on the Republican end:

All you Trumpistas – bored with winning yet? Because America’s own African dictator lost to the far better organized and exponentially more unlikeable Ted Cruz, with Marco Rubio coming up right behind him. That translates into a big win for Cruz and Rubio; the former for obvious reasons, and the latter because he out-performed expectations.

Trump, on the other hand, is a loser, looking now for New Hampshire voters to bail out his campaign much like a Saudi prince bailed out earlier failures. What happened? From the Washington Post:

Donald Trump may have been hampered by two unexpected factors: Weaker than expected performance among new voters and a late surge by Marco Rubio. In the last Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll in Iowa, Trump led Cruz among first-time caucus-goers by 16 points. On Monday night, Trump’s margin among this group was closer to half that. Rubio earned about as much support from new voters as did Cruz, and was the preferred candidate of about 3 in 10 Iowa Republicans who made up their minds in the last week.

The article goes on to say that fully 45% of Republicans made up their minds in the last week. Just 14% of them went for Trump. Cruz won among evangelicals and movement conservatives.

It’s not over for Trump, though. Cruz will do poorly in New Hampshire, where his brand of obnoxious, Christianist brand of conservatism won’t play as well as in Iowa. Recall that Huckabee won Iowa in 2012, and Santorum won in 2008. This last week, they sheepishly shared a stage with Trump at his “screw you, Fox News” rally.

Polling in New Hampshire shows Trump at 33%, with Cruz, Bush, and Kasich trailing at 10 – 11%, and Rubio at 9.5%. Expect Iowa to give Rubio to get a bounce, and a second look from New Hampshire voters. Trump’s lost his sheen of invincibility, and that might hurt him with the low-information crowd who find his boasting about poll numbers to be substantive and compelling.

After New Hampshire come Nevada and South Carolina, where the results will be much more interesting to watch.

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.