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.

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.


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.

How Not to Write About Evander Kane

So far, we know very little about allegations brought against the Sabres’ Evander Kane. All we know is that they were made, that there is an investigation underway, that he denies them, and that he’s still playing for the Sabres, for now.

As with the Patrick Kane case, it would be bad to jump to conclusions in either direction, and everyone involved in the case needs to keep quiet and let the process play out.

So far, there hasn’t been any Sunday Buffalo News story where a bar owner comments on the matter, so at least we’re ahead on that score. But there is one especially irresponsible local website that took everything several steps too far.

Here’s a primer on how not to write about a criminal investigation involving rape or sexual assault.

So, there’s that.

In 2015, it should go without saying that reducing a criminal investigation into a discussion of how “hot” Kane’s girlfriend is about as irrelevant and misogynistic as it gets. Men don’t commit sexual assault because they’re horny; it’s about control and domination rather than sexual desire. So, Kane’s attractiveness – and the attractiveness of his model girlfriend – neither proves nor disproves whether the accuser in this case is telling the truth.

*Sabres. Also, I didn’t see anywhere that he was accused specifically of rape, but of a “sex offense”. (A rape is a “sex offense”, but if that was the accusation, then that word would have been used in the reporting). Whose ears are “unbelieving”? Because law enforcements’ are the only ears that matter right now.

She is “jaw dropping”? (also, *it’s). I suppose that it’s easy to assume that law enforcement has questions about the credibility of the accuser and her allegations – I’d be willing to bet, however, that a woman would be disinclined to make a false accusation in the wake of the fiasco that was the Patrick Kane case. The Buffalo News reports that the witness is having, “memory issues”, which I suppose is everyone’s way of telegraphing that there are issues here. I’ll bet the folks over at rape crisis services are pleased as punch to see that the News’ reporting on this is already so one-sided and, at the sports desk, tsk-tsk concerned because we’re so “ultra-sensitive” to this sort of thing here, thanks to Patrick Kane.

We should be ultra-sensitive to any accusation of rape or sexual assault by anyone, anywhere.

You can’t “rape the willing” is false. Setting aside for a moment that we don’t even know whether the underlying allegations even involve “rape”, 74% of rapes involve force or the threat of force.

We know you can tell everything about a person and their character from what they post at Instagram. Basically here the author is explaining that Evander Kane is a very attractive man, and clearly women are such shallow creatures that it’s unthinkable that any one of them would reject the advances of a man as handsome as he. I’m not sure whom this author interviewed to learn that Kane is “straight laced” and has “strong personal character”, but media reports of his time in Winnipeg don’t exactly back up that thesis.

Truth is, though, Kane was never a good fit in Winnipeg, even in his first season there where he scored 30 goals… Every unpaid traffic ticket, every rumour about him skipping out on restaurant bills and having his girlfriend with him on the road, every time he posed for pictures with a wad of money attached to his ear, every time he shaved YMCMB into his scalp became a major cause célèbre in the league’s smallest market.

So, disciplined and straight-laced.

That’s some opening sentence. I suppose it’s almost de rigeur for someone irresponsible to bemoan the unfair treatment of such good-looking millionaire sports heroes with “hot” girlfriends. Suffice it to say that I have a hard time feeling sympathy for someone who can afford to pay Superlawyer Paul Cambria to defend him against allegations of sexual misconduct.

No one knows the first detail about what Evander Kane is accused of having done. No one knows who the accuser is or what happened. We don’t even know the extent of any alleged crime. But suffice it to say that there’s a right way and a wrong way to write about these types of cases. Focusing on the relative attractiveness of the accused and his significant other is the wrong way.

Rape is an act of violence. Treating it like tabloid fodder and posting a bunch of cheesecake Instagram pictures does a disservice to society in general.

Camps and Saboteurs

Sometime Tuesday, Chairwoman of the City of Tonawanda Democratic Committee and of the EC Town Chairs Association Gayle Syposs wrote this on her Facebook wall,

How the hell do I get dragged into a blog again. No one talked to me

Good question, I thought! So, at the risk of dragging her into yet another blog, let’s examine why she became the target of one especially irresponsible local website: no names, no links.

So, is she also the former City of Tonawanda Chairwoman, or is that just clumsily written? Chairwoman of what, the city? Is there even a “Hillary Clinton camp” from which she has defected?

So, there you have it. That comment has, incidentally, since been deleted.

A simple email or phone call likely would have sussed out the truth. I’m friends with Syposs on Facebook, and I did a quick scan of her posts going back several days, and the most recent mention of Sanders was critical of him and supportive of Clinton, so God knows where the author of that site got his information. As for Zellner’s reliance on Syposs, I have to imagine that he relies on the support of anyone who’ll give it, since it’s the committeepeople who vote for the chairman.

Oh, also:

So, there’s that, as well. That, too, has been deleted.

The post goes on to describe how a local lawyer and Democratic activist who usually sides with Clinton loyalist Steve Pigeon is instead feeling the Bern.

“Saboteur” is quite the accusation. Whom is Reese meant to have sabotaged, and how? “Compatriot” is a word that has a specific definition, and I don’t think the author used it the way he intended. Sure, Reese and Pigeon are “compatriots” because they’re both American. I think “ally” would have worked better, don’t you?

Who refers to Reese as “Pigeon’s brain”? That’s just someone taking the old trope about Karl Rove and repurposing it locally. While I don’t especially like Pigeon, his tactics, or his politics, his intelligence is undeniable.

Also, Camille Brandon isn’t a lobbyist with “Bolton St. James”, but with Bolton-St. Johns. What kind of thing is that to say – that someone is “thought to control” something? They either do or they don’t. One could conceivably look back to the last reorganization meeting of Erie County Democrats to see the results of the vote: 69 – 31. That’s a shellacking.

I distinctly recall the races in 2004 and 2008 when good Democrats were torn between Kerry, Edwards, Dean, and Clark and later between Obama and Clinton. Presidential primary politics are generally cordial affairs; no one challenges anyone else’s petitions, everyone gets along, and as long as the bigshots get their tickets to the convention, everyone’s happy. To suggest that the Clinton vs. Sanders effort now is any different, that it’s breaking a “circle” of “operatives”, or evidence of a party rift is to either ignore history or to be fundamentally stupid. My only question is whether the “former state legislator” we’re talking about is Al Coppola or Antoine Thompson, since those are the only two I can imagine bothering to talk to that author (if the quote isn’t completely made up).

Look at that caption. First, the author doesn’t properly credit the image as being from Facebook. Secondly, he assigns the monicker, “genius saboteur” – I’ve heard Reese called a lot of stuff, but that one’s news to me. Why is it in scarequotes? Is that a nickname? If so, why isn’t it capitalized?

As for the Eddie Egriu mention, that’s puzzling to me. I distinctly recall the Congressional race in 2014 when Reese supported and worked with Egriu, who was challenging Brian Higgins on the (D) line. If I remember correctly, Reese helped handle the ballot access effort. How did Reese supposedly “sabotage” that effort?

Whom else has he “sabotaged”? Again: I don’t agree with Reese, but accusing him of “duping” aspiring candidates with an “unwieldly” style (whatever that means) in order deliberately to “sabotage” a congressional race is a serious accusation that is in no way supported here; there is a complete lack of evidence or foundation for that charge.

In fact, Reese’s animus towards Higgins is so great that he conducted a gentle and touching puff-interview with the execrable Kathy “from Williamsville” Weppner, who was running as a Republican against Higgins after Egriu failed to earn a slot on the primary ballot.

Lots of allegations, few facts, and wild jumps to conclusion: this isn’t how any of this works.

Buffalo. It’s the People.

Beware the Nitwit

What better way to celebrate the Christmas season than to assail an idiotic thing that soon-to-be Trump ’16 NYS chair Carl Paladino sent around to his flock, and a ridiculous letter to the editor of the Buffalo News?

Carl and Marx

I tried to hunt down the opening quote, but the only place it shows up is on conservative blogs and sites re-printing this very post.

That quote I underlined in red for Marx: there’s no evidence that Marx ever wrote or said any such thing. At best, it appears to be a juvenile paraphrasing of Ronald Reagan’s, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction”. Karl Marx said a lot of things, but not too many on the subject of “freedom”. Indeed, when he did touch on “freedom”, it was within the context of class struggle and the relative freedoms of the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie. If one looks back to the crises of capitalism that bookeneded the 1920s and, which exists in our post-2008 crash world today, we see that Marx warned of growing concentration of wealth at the very top of the social classes, and that this would lead to proletarian anger and revolt. To a certain degree, that explains the appeal of Trump and Sanders in a country that doesn’t go in for coups d’etat.

So, Carl Paladino kicks off his regurgitation of an email forward with a quote that Marx never said or wrote, but why bother checking?

The story goes on to explain how you can attract wild pigs by throwing free food at them, and then gradually pen them in while they’re busy feeding. This is a handy way to set up your anti-Obama analogy, and also to denigrate the poor and blame them for their own misery by likening them to wild animals. The email ends,

The young man then told the professor that is exactly what he sees happening in America. The government keeps pushing us toward Communism/Socialism and keeps spreading the free corn out in the form of programs such as supplemental income, tax credit for unearned income, tax exemptions, tobacco subsidies, dairy subsidies, payments not to plant crops (CRP), welfare entitlements, medicine, drugs, etc., while we continually lose our freedoms, just a little at a time.

One should always remember two truths:

There is no such thing as a free lunch, and you can never hire someone to provide a service for you cheaper than you can do it yourself.

If you see that all of this wonderful government “help” is a problem confronting the future of democracy in America, you might want to share this with your friends.

If you think the free ride is essential to your way of life, then you will probably not share this.

BUT, God help us all when the gate slams shut!

Quote for today: “The problems we face today are there because the people who work for a living are now outnumbered.”

So, let’s say you’re dying and in hospice, and it’s covered by Medicare. That’s you being a wild pig losing your freedom.

Perhaps you’re a cancer patient on a subsidized health insurance plan under Obamacare. You receiving chemotherapy covered by your health insurance, as opposed to million-dollar bills and medical bankruptcy: that’s you getting penned in with your free lunch.

If you’re a poor black kid who has the misfortune of being a student in the shoddily run school system over which Mr. Paladino presides, your education, your subsidized lunch, your Medicaid – that’s you losing your freedom. Freedom, I assume, to be uneducated and hungry.

If you’ve engaged in “estate planning” to sell off your elderly parent’s belongings to qualify her for Medicaid, in order that the state will cover a $50,000/month nursing home bill – you’re just a wild hog, too.

Did you notice the line about “tax exemptions”? I guess that makes Carl a wild pig, too, for every project he builds that gets an IDA grant, or pays a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT)  instead of straight-up property and school taxes.

Paladino, however, modified that “quote for today” at the end in order to mimic a common right-wing radio trope:

You can pick at that all day – from the clumsy use of pronouns to the idea that some people vote in order to maintain their free ride through life. In a way, that might explain Mr. Paladino’s own political theater. This is a guy who wages childish verbal wars with alleged “RINOs”, but he’s all too happy to donate money to Democrats when there’s a freebie or benefit in it for him.

The KISS Dentist on Transgenders

Cheektowaga’s Eric Schroeder is better-known as the “KISS” Dentist on Harlem Road. He has strong opinions about what a school board a few towns away is up to:

The parents of the Hamburg School District should be outraged. For the School Board to take one minute to determine a “transgender” policy shows the lack of consideration to the rest of the students, parents and staff.

No, they shouldn’t be outraged at all. As a matter of fact, the parents in Hamburg should be relieved that their school board has the reading comprehension and critical thinking skills to see that the state Education Department’s gender identity policy protects not only the transgender and gender non-conforming students, but all students. You can read more about it at this post.

Children today are already horribly oversexualized, and allowing mixed sexes in bathrooms and locker rooms is just plain wrong. In any grade, there is no reason to let girls into boys locker rooms or boys into girls locker rooms. If this were done in any other public institutions, it wouldn’t stand. How does this stand in our public schools?

This gets back to one of the points I made in my earlier post: the people equating transgender and gender non-conforming kids to simple cross-dressers have it all wrong. Kids don’t just get to decide one day that they’re going to use a different bathroom or locker room. Hell, for all Dr. Schroeder knows, there might be a transgender male using the locker room at his gym as we speak.

Whether kids today are any more or less “horribly oversexualized” than any prior generation is, I suppose, up for debate. But if you equate bathrooms or locker rooms with sex, maybe you’re the one who needs to get right in the head.

This kind of sexual exposure is in line with endangering the welfare of a child and violates parents’ rights and responsibilities to their children. If I were a parent in Hamburg or any other district that put forth such nonsense, there would be the start of a class action lawsuit for endangering the welfare of my child.

“Endangering the welfare of a child” is a crime, not grounds for a civil action, much less a class action. If our dentist friend had bothered to read the text of the policy as it relates to locker rooms, he’d have found this: “[t]he district will allow a transgender or GNC (gender non-conforming) student to use the restroom and locker room that corresponds to the student’s consistently expressed gender identity at school. Any student requesting increased privacy or other accommodations when using bathrooms or locker rooms will be provided with a safe and adequate alternative, but they will not be required to use that alternative.” Did you see that text I highlighted there? ANY student. So, if a Hamburg student or parent has a problem with this, they can request an alternative.

Catering to one or a small group of people is bad enough. Now School Board members are listening to young children, full of confusion and raging hormones, rather than their own reason and the parents who pay school taxes.

You know, the fact that you pay school taxes doesn’t give you some license to override or decide every policy you don’t like. In this case, the Cheektowaga dentist does not pay Hamburg school taxes, as far as I can tell. Also, this isn’t up to the school board to implement; the board makes the policy, the administration carries it out. It’s up to the principals and teachers to figure out how best to implement the policy and make whatever accommodations are necessary in order to guarantee the comfort of “any student”. What the dentist would like to say, but doesn’t have the stones to, is that he thinks transgender is all bullshit. I don’t really understand why more people don’t just come right out and say that, rather than dancing around a lot of weasel-words worse than any lawyer could muster. After all, these are the same characters who think political correctness is leading to the destruction of western civilization.

I’d like so see my tax dollars go to educating the kids of today about our rich and exceptional history, the great things we have sacrificed and done for other countries and the world. Shifting the thought process to something as ridiculous as “transgenderism” in such young children is a disservice to all and needs to come to an end.

This guy made it through dental school? This is a policy to deal with an issue that already exists. It has nothing to do with the school curriculum; a curriculum that is replete with courses and credits dedicated to American exceptionalism.

In doing annual battle against anti-school crusaders in my own town, I see these sorts of semi-informed arguments all the time.  I see the elevation of tax payment to a level surpassing that of student, teacher, parent, or average citizen. I see the appeals based on misinformation. I see the vacant wishes that the school curricula would teach something already being taught whilst anti-tax sentiment cuts things like music and extracurricular activities.

No other government is required to submit its budget to annual scrutiny and plebiscite like this. Only schools. And here, where schools are being asked to carry out the law and ensure fair and equitable treatment for all students while balancing that against the needs and rights of a microscopically small minority, complete strangers take to the pages of the Buffalo News and excrete words that promote division, hatred, and discrimination.

It’s the Christmas season – the holiday season, really, if you think that Jews, Muslims, and people who celebrate Kwanzaa count. I would hope that cour community could do a better job of celebrating peace on Earth and goodwill to all people than by transmitting nonsense such as that reproduced above.

No, Virginia. Preet isn’t Indicting Cuomo on Jan 2

The 1st Amendment is a shield against governmental interference with speech, but it can also be wielded like a clumsy, blunt sword by people looking to make a quick buck or attain some level of notoriety without doing the work needed to earn it.

Among the menagerie of western New York media outlets is one so irresponsibly full of shit, so palpably and unironically packed with lies and falsehoods, that it doesn’t deserve even the ignominy of this piece. Aside from being mostly fictitious, poorly spelled, clumsily written (e.g., “profuse” and “profound” aren’t synonyms) gibberish, it has a title that lends itself a sheen of credibility such that the unwary can think they’re reading something legitimate or trustworthy.

This week, hundreds got suckered. Even famed education activist Diane Ravitch:

Doubtlessly, loads of people are salivating over the possibility that Andrew Cuomo might be next on U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s hit list; however, there are glaring errors that should have immediately rung the bullshit bell for someone of Ravitch’s stature.


Federal prosecutors don’t make decisions about bringing corruption charges against a public official – much less a sitting Governor – because they “feel” anything. Bharara isn’t going to prosecute Andrew Cuomo because he “feels emboldened” after winning a conviction against Silver “on all of seven” [sic] corruption charges. The jury didn’t convict Silver because of a public “appetite” to see corrupt officials go to jail; they convicted him because the prosecution presented evidence and testimony that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Silver had committed these crimes. The jury, as the finder of fact, then applied the law per the judge’s instructions, and found Silver guilty. Federal criminal prosecutions don’t hinge on a jury’s attitude, or on a jury’s measurement of public sentiment – they are determined by evidence and the law. To suggest otherwise is ignorant.

Phantom Anonymous Sources

Three sources “confirmed” this? Who are they? Why did they choose to be anonymous? Why did the author choose to grant them this anonymity? Where do these people work, and how did they attain the necessary information needed to “confirm” anything? Do they work with prosecutors? In the administration? Are they staffers? Legislators? Law enforcement?

Have a Cursory Knowledge of Law and Procedure

Prosecutors like Mr. Bharara, by the way, don’t “indict” anyone. Grand juries indict. The prosecution presents evidence and testimony to a grand jury, which then determines whether probable cause exists to charge the target with a crime; if yes, it returns an indictment and the defendant is arrested and charged. Here’s a link to the grand jury indictment of Sheldon Silver. The U.S. Attorney controls the process, but he doesn’t have the foresight to determine the date on which an indictment may come down, nor is he guaranteed of an indictment at all.

Also, January 1st is a holiday and January 2nd is a Saturday. Grand juries aren’t going to be in court to indict anyone on either day. It’s all fantasy.

If you’re unable to confirm “widespread rumors” that other people may also be indicted, then it’s wholly irresponsible to name them. That’s defamation.

Details Matter

“Thought to be guilty”. Is this real life? Maybe say someone accuses him of obstruction of justice, or something along those lines, but guilt is determined by a jury after a trial, not by a blogger. What actions did Schwartz take “in the hours immediately following Bharara’s confiscation of Moreland Commission documents?” Bharara had to subpoena the Moreland documents – he couldn’t just “confiscate” them, and Schwartz is accused of meddling in the issuance of a subpoena to “Buying Time”, a media firm that Cuomo’s campaign had used, as well as generally interfering on and monitoring the Moreland Commission’s actions.

If Schwartz is accused of somehow not complying with a federal subpoena, or destroying evidence, that’s something that likely would have been raised by prosecutors by now.

One of the three sources is an Albany insider? Then I’m going to guess the three: Al Coppola, a guy who once parked Carl’s car, and Joe Mascia.

This is all speculative BS, completely devoid of facts or journalistic integrity, that merely hurls accusations of crimes around at people. “Longtime Albany insider” could mean anything and nothing. Ultimately, the article is fantasy pushed as fact, yet its falsity is evident from its lack of a basic understanding of how the criminal justice system works. It’s like spreading a rumor that Brian Higgins is leaving Congress – completely false with no basis in reality; someone’s wishful thinking. Yet what’s Higgins to do? Dignify that with a denial and response? Hire a lawyer and spend thousands to sue?

Remember the old quip: a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

Make America Great Again

Social media isn’t real life.

I think people tend to forget that from time to time. In a lot of ways, what people post to social media isn’t necessarily the truth, but life and opinions glimpsed through various filters.

Last week, Erie County Legislator Joe Lorigo took to social media to demand that Mark Poloncarz, “reverse his stance” on welcoming Syrian refugees to Erie County. I reacted to that in some detail in this piece. There, I was wrong about something very important that shouldn’t be overlooked. I wrote, “[w]atch Monday as his colleagues in the majority caucus inevitably echo his clarion call; people with no say over the matter demanding that another guy with no say over the matter do something.”

That’s not at all what happened.

Indeed, Lorigo was silent pretty much all week in advance of a meeting of the legislature that took place Thursday. He had a surrogate or two battling valiantly in his corner on social media all week, but there was nary a peep from other high-ranking Republicans or elected officials, with the notable exception of Republican Legislator Kevin Hardwick, who told WBEN that “[t]o shut the door on these people doesn’t seem like a very American thing to do. You’re balancing your own security versus what you should do as an American. It’s a difficult thing to balance.”

No one backed Lorigo. There were whispers all week about saving face; saving Lorigo from himself. Amendments were offered that toned down the more outrageous rhetoric in Lorigo’s resolution, and the legislature ended up voting to hold an information session, rather than agreeing to hold a three-top public hearing circus.

Brian Brown-Cashdollar – speaking for himself and not in his official capacity as the Development Director for Buffalo’s International Instituteone of several local refugee resettlement agencies – wrote an open letter to Lorigo on Friday, 

…if you expect to be treated seriously, then you should conduct yourself in a serious manner. Security concerns addressed by serious people are handled quietly. If you were sincerely concerned about the safety of your constituents, you would have contacted the County Executive privately. You would have approached Homeland Security and the State Department privately and inquired about the threats posed by refugees being resettled to the Western New York.

You would have learned the sad migration taking place in Europe has nothing in common with the refugee resettlement process in the United States. And increasingly it’s looking like it had nothing to do with the attacks in Paris either. You would have learned that refugees coming to the US are more rigorously screened than any other population of arriving immigrants. You would have learned since 9/11 there have been approximately three instances where the security professionals had concerns about the adequacy of the screening procedures, and they quietly slowed, limited, and after 9/11 temporarily halted the admission of refugees. You would have learned that procedures were adjusted and resettlement resumed, bringing much needed talent and energy to our communities. This has always been handled responsibly, respectfully, and discretely.

That gets to the heart of the matter – is any of this out of genuine security concerns, or is this all about politics? We know that a very slight majority of Americans say they support admission of Syrian refugees through the resettlement program, and Congress just passed a bill halting any refugees from being resettled in the United States from Syria or Iraq until some as-yet-undefined security assessment is certified as to every one. Never before – not after 9/11, nor in 2011 – has the refugee resettlement process or the admission of refugees been so starkly politicized.

In large part, this politicized hysteria over Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States is designed by conservatives to promote two distinct threads: 1. that Democrats are willing knowingly to put Americans at risk (although the supposed rationale is never articulated); and 2. that Obama is an un-American foreigner more concerned with _____ than _______. The second is an old yarn that dances in step to the traditional explicit and implied charges that Obama is fundamentally not “American” enough. The first echoes the charges brought against people who opposed the Iraq war – that they were un-Patriotic; that they were traitors. It’s a short walk from “freedom fries” to today’s reflexive, reactionary hysteria.

We have resettled refugees for years without incident – we have accepted refugees from enemy countries like Lebanon, the Soviet Union, and from war-torn, terrorist-filled places like Iraq. We’ve taken them in especially from places like Vietnam, where our own involvement helped bring about the crisis. Even in the very rare instances where someone turned out to be bad, no bad acts occurred. The edifice that the anti-immigrant populists have erected is emblazoned with, “Daesh will infiltrate the Syrian migrants”. This is true; however, as I wrote earlier, the legal, regulatory, geographic reality for migrants in Europe is completely different for those selected for resettlement in the United States. In fact, it can be argued that Daesh/ISIS, as currently consitituted, did not even exist when the current refugees arriving from Syria first applied for resettlement. It is also palpably true that terrorists don’t have to – and won’t – wait to undergo a strenuous and lengthy refugee resettlement process to enter the U.S. when anyone with a Belgian or French passport can travel here as a tourist without first obtaining a visa.

The people who have left Syria in the last few months and who are now applying for refugee status are not yet in the U.S., and won’t be for two years while their identities are ascertained and their security risk determined. Clearly, people whose identities can’t be verified won’t be let in. The refugee resettlement program is to a great extent handled here in the U.S. by faith-based organizations. The Catholic Bishops and the Evangelicals have already condemned the ban on – and scapegoating of – refugees from Syria, some of whom are Christian, many of whom are intact family units. They don’t endure 2 years in a refugee camp in Jordan with their kids just so they can come here and be part of a sleeper cell.

If people think that there are security holes in the vetting process, that is, I suppose, news to everyone who does this on a daily basis. If genuine concerns exist, certainly a pause – much less an outright ban – is not necessary for intelligence agencies to do something more to make changes or enhancements to the process. Some of the more extreme suggestions I’ve seen online or heard on local hate radio – for instance, that we round Muslims up in camps, or deport them, or require them to be registered with the government and carry a special ID, are downright anti-American and on their face violative of the Constitution.

Local AM talk radio has been unlistenably irresponsible and packed with lies. Tom Bauerle said that there were no families among the Syrian refugees – that it was all men of military age. That’s not true. I heard that these refugees are “pedestrian blitzkrieg”. That’s not true. I heard that this is an “invasion”. That’s not true. I heard that Muslim countries weren’t taking them in. That’s not true – in fact, Turkey has taken 2.2 million refugees, and Lebanon has taken 1.1 million. Jordan is sheltering 1.4 million. When Tom Bauerle – who has spent the better part of the week as a human thesaurus re-expressing how he doesn’t want Syrian refugees, “in my country” – has to admonish regular caller “Rambo Jim” to cool it with the Holocaust boxcars-for-Muslims scenarios, you know that a rhetorical, political, legal, rational, and human line has been flagrantly crossed.

Towards the end of an obnoxiously reactionary week, people on a Southwest flight had a fellow passenger detained prior to a flight because he committed the crime of speaking Arabic. The pizza maker was chatting with a friend and someone felt “uncomfortable”. The man called police, and was ultimately allowed on the flight. He also committed the crime of holding a white box, and had to prove to his fellow passengers that he was flying with baklava. He shared it with these people.

Pizza shop owner Maher Khalil emigrated from Palestine 15 years ago. He says he had never experienced discrimination before the incident Wednesday at Midway International Airport.

“We came to America to have a better life,” Khalil explained on Friday. “Everybody in America is from different countries. I’m one of them. I’m an American citizen.”

…”I swear, I never had that feeling before,” Khalil said. “I felt like we’re not safe no more in this country. Because I’m Arab, I cannot ride the airplane? The person who complained is the one who should be kicked out, not me.”

We’re on a precipice – the question is whether we jump or begin walking this anti-American madness back.

Europe has taken under 300,000 refugees, and France has re-stated its commitment to take 30,000 of them in spite of last week’s attacks. The United States was on track to accept 10,000 of them (propagandists are accusing Obama of 10x or 30x that). The screening protocol is well-documented, multi-faceted, and extremely thorough. They work in conjunction with local resettlement programs. The refugees we see in Europe – the ones described on the radio as an “invasion” – come from Syria to Europe by raft or by land. They can’t do that to reach the U.S. It’s turned out so far that exactly zero of the Paris attackers was Syrian – all of them were French or Belgian and could, ostensibly, board a flight to the US on any given day, without a visa.

Perhaps the most craven local political hypocrite of all is Representative Chris Collins. When asked about halting the resettlement of Syrian refugees, he said, “I’d rather err on the side of safety. Safety first, second and third.”  When confronted with the fact that the perpetrators of the Paris attacks held Belgian passports, he said, “he didn’t want to disrupt international travel. ‘One thing we can’t do,’ he said, ‘is overreact in a way that would make ISIS very happy.’”

The problem is that the scapegoating of Syrian refugees – including Kurds and Christians – makes ISIS, “very happy” indeed. More importantly, our gun laws are so lax that, so far, 2,043 people on the FBI’s terror watch list have been legally allowed to purchase guns in this country. “The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used to clear gun purchases, is not cross-referenced with the FBI’s list of potential terrorists.” Republicans, backed by the NRA, have consistently failed and refused to close this significant loophole, thus putting the lie to all of their self-righteous bleating about security.

In response to that, Collins says it’s a “red herring”, and that, “[i]t goes back to the liberal left’s thought that you can legislate against bad people.” Sort of like voting for a “pause” to re-assess the security and identity process used to resettle Syrian refugees in order to prevent terrorists from gaining entry to the U.S.

If we’re assessing risks, the greater risk is that our domestic intelligence services don’t know enough about Belgian or French terrorists whose passports enable them easy travel to the US. The risk isn’t from families awaiting resettlement screening, but from disaffected, unemployed Belgian youth of Algerian or Moroccan extraction who are on a French watch list but not an American one, and who hold a passport from a visa waiver country. What we should be doing is growing our intelligence sharing with European allies and shoring up our surveillance, human, and signals intelligence as it relates to anyone seeking entry to the United States via any means.

But from a political standpoint, I don’t think that conservatives pushing the refugee-scapegoating meme have property thought out how this all affects their position on gun control generally. In the wake of myriad recent mass shootings, gun control advocates have called for strengthening of our background checks, closing of loopholes, and uniformity of regulations in order to better prevent bad people from obtaining firearms. While the overwhelming majority of gun owners are law-abiding and responsible, we should put controls in place to protect Americans from preventable gun violence. The NRA and other gun advocacy groups oppose any tightening of these regulations as violative of a legally inaccurate, absolutist interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.

But if we have to implement stricter background checks on Syrian refugees to protect against the small number who might seek to do us harm, mustn’t the same argument be valid when it comes to reasonable gun control measures?

While everyone was paying close attention Thursday to a county legislature debating amendments to a toothless piece of irrelevant paper, everyone overlooked something that passed unanimously. The Legislature authorized County Executive Poloncarz to enter into a contract with the NYS Office of Indigent Legal Services to accept a state grant of $1.35 million, and to contract with the Erie County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer’s Project to deliver the servcies anticipated under that grant.

The grant specifically expands the county’s ability to provide legal representation in criminal and family court matters to indigent non-citizen, immigrant persons in Erie County. This specific grant is put in place to ensure that indigent defendants are represented adequately where criminal and immigration matters intersect.

What this means is that, on the same day that the county legislature wasted time responding toothlessly to a remote possibility that refugees might commit bad acts, it expressly authorized the use of state funds to represent immigrants who were already accused of actually having commited them.

Ultimately, the blood libel that Democrats or liberals are willing to put Americans at risk is beneath our discourse, and the time for politicizing security fell from the skies 14 years ago.

We can do a hell of a lot better than what’s happened over the last week. In response to terror in France, we succumbed to fear and unfounded political reaction. In 1941, FDR declared that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. In blaming the victims of ISIS for ISIS’ crimes, we indict the very notion of what America is supposed to be, and for what it is supposed to stand.

Godly Hate and Christlike Crimes

IMG_0548_JPGOn Twitter, someone posted a piece of this story, so I reached out to the actual victim to find out what happened. Dan and Alexandra Palmer of North Buffalo sometimes flew a flag that looked like this, alternating it with a Buffalo flag.

The Buffalo flag came down and the US rainbow flag went up when the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same sex marriage came down a few weeks ago. Dan Palmer says,  “I made it a point to fly the rainbow. My wife and I are not gay, bi, or trans but we support equal rights for all people.”

On Monday morning, the couple awoke to find the flag burned on their front lawn with a note placed on top of it. Police and neighbors were milling about. Here is what they saw:

Here is the note that the perpetrator placed on top of his handiwork,

“You have dishonored the flag, Christ ______ the symbol of America, the nation that I love. Just enough _________ You have twisted the flag so many men and women have _______ protect all that it stands for, and in doing so offended not only myself, but the very religion this country was founded upon. The rainbow was the L-RD’s way, the L-RD’s message to all mankind that never again would the earth be destroyed by flood. Homosexuals have taken his message and used it for the symbol of something he does not approve of, and furthermore disgraced my nation’s flag. From now on, whenever and wherever another abomination of a ‘flag’, I will burn it so long _______ gasoline. You can raise your flag, and I will raise ________.

Uncle Sam”

Palmer explains that, “we weren’t able to touch anything, smooth the creases or move the rocks because the police wanted them as evidence. And I was a bit surprised at how seriously they took the situation. There were 3 patrol cars and a detective in an unmarked vehicle. They interviewed as many neighbors as they could rouse, took what evidence they could, searched the block for matching rocks (found in a garden a few doors down.)”

One of the things that flag stands for – whether it has red and white stripes or a rainbow – is freedom and liberty. Your neighborhood homophobe arsonist might, for instance, fly a confederate flag. You don’t have to like it or what it stands for, but you have no right to come onto his property, remove the flag, and burn it with gasoline. That’s a crime.

Likewise, a homophobic firebug who happens upon a rainbow American flag doesn’t have to like it, and can be as “offended” as he wants, but that doesn’t give him a license to commit theft, vandalism, and arson. Palmer adds, “I am also a strong supporter of free speech, even for folks with whom I strongly disagree. If the individual responsible for this wanted to sit on his (or her) own lawn and burn his property, he’d only be wasting his own time and money, as well as doing his neighbors the service of letting them know what a dumbass he is (knowledge that could come in handy,) but this clearly crosses a line”

The Palmers promise to replace the burned flag, and many neighbors express that they will do the same. Palmer, however, has some concerns, “I do not want to cave to bullying or let hate win. But I am concerned about the safety of myself and my family. It’s chilling to think that this was far from an impulsive act. Someone took the time to write out that letter. They obviously stood by and waited for the flag to burn before leaving it.”

I’m heartened by the fact that the police are taking this matter seriously, and sincerely hope that the content and style of the note helps the authorities catch whoever committed this act of hatred. Indeed, it’s quite possible that the perpetrator, when caught, will be charged with a hate crime, which would render something like criminal trespass to be a “violent felony offense”.

Trespass, theft, and arson don’t constitute the free exercise of religion or free speech. Stop using God to justify hate, crime, and hate crimes.

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