Friday, January 28, 2005

Democracy? In ALBANY!!??

Too bad this is in the New York Daily News and not in the BUFFALO News:

"Under the new rules, lawmakers must be in their seats and push a button marked 'yea' or 'nay' to have their votes recorded.

So it was that Assemblyman Sam Hoyt of Buffalo had a captive audience when he spoke against extending an extra 1% sales tax in Erie County, on the grounds that his cash-strapped city would see none of the revenue. In previous years, Hoyt's plea had reverberated in a half-empty chamber, and the bill sailed through on the strength of automatic 'yes' votes. But this time, his colleagues had to pay attention. And whaddya know? They listened. And pushed the nay button.

At one point, Hoyt says, there were 79 'no' votes, enough to defeat the bill - something that never happens on the Assembly floor. Silver and his deputies swung into action, twisted arms and managed to switch enough Democrats back to 'yes' to pass the tax extension by an unusually close vote of 79 to 67.

Still, it was bracing to see the backbenchers, who normally clop along contentedly in harness, take the bit in their teeth even for a few minutes. 'We did a reform that has the potential to rock the boat a little bit,' Hoyt says. 'All of a sudden, the rank and file matter.'

Maybe they will, maybe they won't. It depends on whether they have the courage to stand up for what they believe when they're called on to actually, physically cast a vote. "

And just to be clear: the vote was on the already existing "temporary" penny; not on the Giambra penny.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

NY Times Op-Ed, Paul Starr - Winning Cases, Losing Voters

New York Times
January 26, 2005
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/26/opinion/26starr.html?oref=login

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

Winning Cases, Losing Voters

By PAUL STARR

Princeton, N.J.

AS Republicans revel in President Bush's inauguration and prepare for his agenda-setting State of the Union address next week, many Democrats would like to consider almost anything but the substance of politics as the reason for their defeat last November. If only John Kerry had been a stronger candidate. If only the message had been framed differently. If only the party's strategists were as tough as the guys on the other side.

The limits of candidates and campaigns, however, can't explain the Democrats' long-term decline. And while the institutional decay at the party's base - the decline of labor unions and ethnically based party organizations - has played a role, the people who point to "moral values" may not be far off. Democrats have paid a historic price for their role in the great moral revolutions that during the past half-century have transformed relations between whites and blacks, men and women, gays and straights. And liberal Democrats, in particular, have been inviting political oblivion - not by advocating the wrong causes, but by letting their political instincts atrophy and relying on the legal system.

To be sure, Democrats were right to challenge segregation and racism, support the revolution in women's roles in society, to protect rights to abortion and to back the civil rights of gays. But a party can make only so many enemies before it loses the ability to do anything for the people who depend on it. For decades, many liberals thought they could ignore the elementary demand of politics - winning elections - because they could go to court to achieve these goals on constitutional grounds. The great thing about legal victories like Roe v. Wade is that you don't have to compromise with your opponents, or even win over majority opinion. But that is also the trouble. An unreconciled losing side and unconvinced public may eventually change the judges.

And now we have reached that point. The Republicans, with their party in control of both elected branches - and looking to create a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that will stand for a generation - see the opportunity to overthrow policies and constitutional precedents reaching back to the New Deal.

That prospect ought to concentrate the liberal mind. Social Security, progressive taxation, affordable health care, the constitutional basis for environmental and labor regulation, separation of church and state - these issues and more hang in the balance.

Under these circumstances, liberal Democrats ought to ask themselves a big question: are they better off as the dominant force in an ideologically pure minority party, or as one of several influences in an ideologically varied party that can win at the polls? The latter, it seems clear, is the better choice.

Rebuilding a national political majority will mean distinguishing between positions that contribute to a majority and those that detract from it. As last year's disastrous crusade for gay marriage illustrated, Democrats cannot allow their constituencies to draw them into political terrain that can't be defended at election time. Dissatisfied with compromise legislation on civil unions and partner benefits, gay organizations thought they could get from judges, beginning with those on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, what the electorate was not yet ready to give. The result: bans on same-sex marriage passing in 11 states and an energized conservative voting base.

Public support for abortion rights is far greater than for gay marriage, but compromise may be equally imperative - especially if a reshaped Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade by finding that there is no constitutional right to abortion and throws the issue back to the states. Some savvy Democrats are already thinking along these lines, as Hillary Clinton showed this week when she urged liberals to find "common ground" with those who have misgivings about abortion.

And if a new Supreme Court overturns affirmative-action laws, Democrats will need to pursue equality in ways that avoid treating whites and blacks differently. Some liberals have long been calling for an emphasis on "race neutral" economic policies to recover support among working-class and middle-income white voters. Legal and political necessity may now drive all Democrats in that direction.

Republicans are leaving themselves open to this kind of strategy. Their party is far more ideologically driven and more beholden to the Christian right than it was even during the Ronald Reagan era. This is the source of the party's energy, but also its vulnerability. The Democrats' opportunity lies in becoming a broader, more open and flexible coalition that can occupy the center.

In the long run, Democrats will benefit from their strength among younger voters and the growing Hispanic population. But the last thing the Democrats need is a revived interest group or identity politics. As the response to Senator Barack Obama's convention speech showed, the party's own members are looking for an expansive statement of American character and national purpose.

Secure in their own lives at home, Americans can be a great force for good in the world. That is the liberalism this country once heard from Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy - and it is the only form of liberalism that will give the Democratic Party back its majority.

Paul Starr is the co-editor of The American Prospect and the author, most recently, of "The Creation of the Media."

Response of Ilona Middleton to Above Article, WNY Coalition for Progress member & Op-Ed Contributor:

I can't help thinking there's something wrong with this premise. Perhaps it's the "centrist" message imbedded in the article. Haven't we tried it before with Clinton, Gore, and, to a certain extent, Kerry? Is Starr intimating that we pussy foot around the important, though controversial, issues of our day?
We're dealing with a RADICAL regime, firmly entrenched in the republican party. Trying to beat this ideological group is going to take far more radical initiatives than Paul Starr has outlined. I've said it before and I mean it, we're going to have to turn the tables on them. The Bush junta (at least George) is intellectually challenged, although extremely cunning; immoral, although they profess otherwise; unpatriotic, though they would have you think they invented the word "patriotism", and power hungry. All this is proven and must be shouted from the highest hilltops. Gore Vidal said it quite clearly on "Democracy Now". He noted that George Bush's inaugural address was the most undemocratic speeches he had ever heard. Again, why aren't our democratic representatives jumping on this and spreading it around?
Trying to do political business in the traditional ways and, at the same time, trying to appeal to everyone will not cut it. Soft peddling major issues will not cut it. Hasn't anyone figured out yet, that it's going to take a revolution in governmental processes and thinking to assure that another George Bush doesn't come along to destroy our democracy and put other countries in jeopardy? We need another Paul Wellstone.
Ilona Middleton

Further Response from Anne Costello, WNY Coalition for Progress Member and Op-Ed Contributor:

Dear Ilona and List
I am glad that this is being discussed - I certainly agree that the Radical Right has
a) taken over the conservative Republican party, to the detriment of that party, our nation and the world;
and
b) intimidated most of the moderate center of the political spectrum.
We have a fair number of radicals of our own, who are pointing out the nakedness of the emperor: Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Daily Show come to mind. They are not intimidated, they strengthen us - or so I think.
And I certainly agree that our so-called mainstream media, like the NY Times and the Weak Kneed Washington Post, have been craven in response to some egregious manipulations by the Bushies.
However....
I think polarization can force extreme responses which turn out to be unhelpful.
What can we learn from the "blow-back" or unintended consequences of the great liberal changes of the past 80 years? Women's Sufferage and Prohibition, which came in simulaneously in 1919: women got to vote, but nobody got to drink, and organized crime expanded exponentially. Good goals don't necessarily make good laws. There's always a trade-off. It took the stock market crash to repeal Prohibition. And now we have the most stringent Drug Laws in the industrialized world, and the worst drug problems.
Truman reluctantly integrated the military, which has since become the most integrated organization in America. The various mainline churches were and are truly and deeply committed to integration, and yet churches are the most segregated organizations in America. The "mainline" churches have now almost completely lost their relevance and influence, and the "born-again" Christians have a vast power, expressed in right-wing extremism which seems focused against individual choice and freedom, and yet there is a significantly higher degree of racial integration in the Evangelicals than in the mainlines.
I fully agree that the present administration is being run by right-wing fanatics. All the more reason to be temperate, measured, and civil in our response. I applauded Barbara Boxer for her dignity and civility as well as her courage in challenging the lies of Condoleezza Rice.
I think Paul Starr has a point when he says: "Democrats have been inviting political oblivion - not by advocating the wrong causes, but by letting their political instincts atrophy and relying on the legal system. The great thing about legal victories like Roe v. Wade is that you don't have to compromise with your opponents, or even win over majority opinion. But that is also the trouble. An unreconciled losing side and unconvinced public may eventually change the judges."
I agree when he says that "Republicans are far more ideologically driven and more beholden to the Christian right than they were even during the Ronald Reagan era. This is the source of the party's energy, but also its vulnerability. The Democrats' opportunity lies in becoming a broader, more open and flexible coalition that can occupy the center....In the long run, Democrats will benefit from their strength among younger voters and the growing Hispanic population. But the last thing the Democrats need is a revived interest group or identity politics. As the response to Senator Barack Obama's convention speech showed, the party's own members are looking for an expansive statement of American character and national purpose."
In other words, I'm not sure that equal intensity in an opposite direction will move us forward.
And I'm wondering, strategically, if this discussion is more appropriate for the blog? Would we get more involvment? Should I have posted Paul Starr's piece there?
----------
Anne Costello
Buffalo
New York

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Domestic Propaganda

There's a reason that the Voice of America isn't broadcast domestically. It's been a given that it's at best bad form, and at worst Orwellian, for the government to propagandize to a domestic audience.

Domestic government propaganda was the province of fascists and communists. Democracies didn't do that sort of thing. Under totalitarian regimes, after all, there was no free press; all press was either wholly owned or wholly controlled by the country's propaganda ministry.

The VOA and Radio/TV Marti are controlled by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is made up of dems and repubs, with the chairman being of the President's party. It is an autonomous and independent government agency. It is nominally under the watch of the State Department; the Sec of State is an ex officio member of the board.

The Bush Administration has pretty egregiously broken the longstanding ban on domestic propagandizing. It's yet another thing that the Right would have excoriated Clinton for, yet defends almost irrationally because it's Bush.

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: This conservative commentator (featured on Townhall.com), was paid $240,000 cash money via contract with the Federal Department of Education to promote "No Child Left Behind."

There's more: Click here to read the rest.

Others Have Questions on NFTA's Outer Harbor Choice

It looks like other stakeholders in the community have serious questions with the plan chosen by the NFTA for the Outer Harbor's redevelopment. Not so much the developers chosen, but the idea to put a convention center on the waterfront miles from downtown (my worry as well).

http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20050126/1023741.asp


2 quotes from the story are interesting and address issues brought up by Coalition members:

1) The Developer is worried about transportation to the site. Here is his quote:

He stressed that "easy transportation connections" will be critical to moving people between downtown and the outer harbor. In addition to circulating buses and roadway improvements, the developers are asking the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to consider extending Metro Rail service to the site.

This is what Alan has been calling for: extension of the Metro Rail to the Outer Harbor.

2) Luiz Kahl, NFTA chairman, basically revealed that a convention center will not happen if people don't want it there:

NFTA Chairman Luiz F. Kahl said that if the community does not want an outer harbor convention center, it will not happen: "This project doesn't hinge on a convention center. This isn't an all-or-nothing proposal."

I think this one statement will doom a convention center from being built on the Outer Harbor. Now that the cat has been let out of the bag, so to speak, many will argue against a convention center being built there.

Everyone's 2 cents is always appreciated on this matter. Please comment, we know you are out there...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Byron Brown - what's he thinking?

Via NYCO's blog, we learn that the State Senate just doesn't get it. It doesn't get the idea that people are clamoring for reform; it doesn't get that the people are sick and tired of woefully dysfunctional government in Albany; it doesn't get the idea that a real democracy includes such radical ideas as "debate" and "persuasion."

The RINO Senate majority in Albany talked a big game about reform, but when it came down to it, they resorted to the same old, same old way of doing business.

Here are some choice quotes from Joe Bruno - who Doesn't Get It.:

Senate Republicans learned Monday just how painful opening the chamber's operations would be as they were scolded by Democrats for creating a reform package that minority members said won't cure legislative dysfunction.

Even though the package passed 33-24, with members voting almost entirely along party lines, the Republicans had to suffer through close to four hours of debate as Democrats alleged all manner of slights and unfairness.

*GASP* You mean the Republicans in the Senate actually had to SUFFER through DEBATE in their own legislative body? Perish the thought!


The Democrats put up eight amendments to the package; the Republicans who control the chamber shot them all down before they even made it to the floor for a full vote.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, said, "Reform is in the eye of the beholder."

"We're talking about ... a process that works and has worked," Bruno said. "It doesn't necessarily suit every individual, but governing is governing."

Note to Czar Bruno: what you folks in Albany are doing is not called "governing."

So, we learn that the vote as strictly along party lines. The RINOs backed their fearful leader, while the Dems opposed the non-reform reform.
All the Dems...except one.

"Sen. Byron Brown, D-Buffalo, was the only Democrat to vote 'yes' on the Republicans' reform package.

'I didn't want anyone to think I'm not for reform,' said Brown, who is all-but-certain to run in the Buffalo mayor's race this year and can't afford to be labeled as anti-reform."


This should be splashed across the pages of the News, but won't be. This is pathetic. This is selling out. This is the sort of thing that breeds cynicism about government in general, and dysfunctional Albany in particular.

Senator Brown has thrown his lot in with a guy who thinks that running the Senate like a personal fiefdom is good, right and "governing." And to top it all off, he does it for the cheap political payoff of being able to say he voted for "reform". As if the voters in Buffalo are too dim-witted and impatient to find out that he didn't vote for Bruno's reform because it didn't go far enough.

Waterfront Update

The NFTA says that it's officially selected the massive Lakefront Devlopment Group's proposal as its preferred project, and has authorized the NFTA to negotiate a Memorandum of Intent.

As I've posted before, I think that the NFTA is making a mistake by going with this massive project that is heavily laden with public money, and which might do more harm than good to downtown itself.

What's even more glaring is that nowhere in the NFTA's press release (or on its website, for that matter), is there any indication that plans are afoot to extend Metro Rail to whatever new project goes up on the Outer Waterfront.

Let me be blunt - any project for the Outer Harbor that is completely reliant on car and bus traffic, and does not include a Metro Rail extension, is doomed to failure. It just is.

If I lived in that new community and commuted to downtown, I don't want to have to DRIVE and jockey for parking downtown (or, much less, pay for a monthly spot).

And since the NFTA is taking the lead on this, you'd think that our local mass transit authority would recognize the desireability and importance of extending our Metro Rail to the Outer Harbor. Instead, we get nary a peep.

I hope I'm wrong, and I hope that the NFTA and the developers know exactly what they're doing. But I'm afraid they're trying to build a horrible mix of Amherst and the Toronto Waterfront downtown. In other words - they want all the massive, towering construction of the Toronto Waterfront with all the suburban sprawl and generic feel of Amherst. (Amherst - the town without a downtown).

What I'm afraid of is that the Outer Harbor will become like the Inner Harbor/Erie Basin Marina: an insulated and insular cluster of high-priced condos with no neighborhood whatsoever.

They call it Waterfront Village. When's the last time you saw a village without so much as a coffee shop or convenience store?

Monday, January 24, 2005

My Viewpoint in Business First

HIGHER MINIMUM WAGE WON'T HURT ECONOMY
Business First: Buffalo
January 21, 2005
Mark Poloncarz

Chris Koetzle concludes in his viewpoint published in the Jan. 7, 2005 edition of Buffalo Business First that the recent increase in New York State's minimum wage to $7.15 an hour by 2007 will "cause significant harm to small businesses and local economies, particularly in Upstate New York." Without quoting any factual sources, he goes on to note that the increase "is an anti-worker, anti-business policy that only leads to fewer jobs." However, when you examine the facts surrounding the issue nothing could be further from the truth.

According to a report issued in July of 2004 by the non-partisan Fiscal Policy Institute there is no evidence that a higher minimum wage would be harmful to New York's economy. It noted that the 2004 minimum wage was 71 percent lower than it was at its peak in 1970 when adjusted for inflation ($8.83 compared to $5.15). It determined that when fully phased in by 2007 the increase will directly benefit 740,000 New Yorkers, with most (58 percent) of the benefit going to workers in low wage families.

Moreover, the Institute concluded that an increase would actually benefit New York's economy. It found that in the 12 states that had a higher minimum wage than the federal base, from 1998 to 2004 job growth was greater than the level seen in states with the federal minimum (6.1 percent to 4.8 percent). Even when you take into account the ancillary business costs potentially resulting from the legislation, the Institute determined that for small businesses the number of businesses and rate of employment grew faster in the 12 higher wage states than in those where the federal minimum prevailed. It should be noted that the twelve higher wage states were not in the burgeoning economies of the south or southwest, but in the allegedly faltering economies of the northeast and west.

This analysis would seem to be confirmed by the 1999 annual report of the President's Council of Economic Advisers that concluded that the 1996 and 1997 federal minimum wage increase resulted in no adverse employment effects.

Furthermore, an increase in the minimum wage may provide additional positive impacts on other less quantifiable, yet important social and economic issues. For example, the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued a report which found that a 1997 increase in Oregon's minimum wage above the federal minimum corresponded with a drop in participants in the state's welfare program, i.e., more welfare recipients went back to work because of the greater earning potential. Thus, the minimum wage increase could positively impact New York's economy by promoting the return to work of some welfare recipients, which in turn cuts welfare costs and increases the tax base.

While we will truly not know the economic impact of the minimum wage increase for some time, if recent history is any indicator, New York's legislature, including the Republican controlled Senate, was correct to override the governor's veto because the increase will produce benefits for all sectors of the economy, including upstate.

Mark Poloncarz, an attorney with Kavinoky Cook LLP, is co-founder of the WNY Coalition for Progress.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

RED BUDGET/ALERT

Joel Giambra's bluff has been called.

The only losers will be the people and workers of Erie County. And perhaps the region's credibility and marketability. No big whoop on the 16th floor of the Rath Building, I suppose.

Even though we all thought the EC Budget mess was behind us as of December 8th, think again. For reasons that I'm too busy to discover, yet another vote was taken earlier today on the penny sales tax increase.

It's a home rule petition to Albany, which wanted 10 votes - a supermajority - requesting the sales tax increase. Back on December 8th, 10 legislators voted for the penny sales tax increase (making Erie County's regressive sales tax the second-highest in the USA).

DiBenedetti and newcomer Tim Kennedy were the two legislators who changed the vote. (Kennedy replaced Schroeder, who voted for the penny).

So, the County is $109 million in the hole. Bye, bye libraries. Bye, bye plowing. Bye, bye quality of life things.

And don't let Giambra (a RINO if ever I saw one) fool you into thinking this is all about Medicaid. It's mostly about Medicaid, but a lot of it is Giambra's overreaching and mismanagement.

And by the way - DiBenedetti and Kennedy both said that they'd reconsider their votes if Giambra agreed to cut some patronage and perks. THAT Giambra's not willing to do. He's willing to let the whole county go to hell before he'll permit the Getz family to lose their myriad county jobs.

Remember:

GIAMBRA TOOK AWAY YOUR LIBRARIES AND FIRED 3000 PEOPLE SO THAT VICTOR GETZ AND OTHER PATRONAGE HACKS SUCKING AT THE PUBLIC'S TEAT CAN KEEP THEIRS. DISGUSTING.

Anne Costello's LTE on Social Security

CoPro member Anne Costello submitted the following letter to the Buffalo News' editor which was accepted and will be published soon, please watch for it...

I must confess to being confused about the “crisis” with Social Security. During the past year Vice President Cheney indicated that actual "deficits don't count" and should not be taken into consideration when examining the state of the economy. If that is the case, then why should we worry about potential deficits in the Social Security Trust Fund when the earliest they will occur, if ever, is 2042?

If fiscal sanity does count, then a simple shift in the age of retirement, plus a modest rise in the upper ceiling (people who earn $100,000 or more a year) will repair any breach in the wall. Or put another way, we can mend the system, not potentially end it with the president’s risky proposals.

And, while we're thinking about this, maybe we can look at what "ownership" means. We actually do "own" our Social Security pensions. For many in the president's self declared "Ownership Society," the only retirement benefits they own are the Social Security benefits they receive. Survivor benefits are, while not the same as inheritable wealth, vital to millions of Americans. These things are as real (while not the same) as the "stock certificates" of an "ownership economy."
Sincerely,
Anne M. Costello

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

2-3-05 Panel Discussion on 2004 Election and Future of Democratic Party

Announcing the 1st Big Event to be presented by the WNY Coalition for Progress. Hope Everyone will Be There for a Great Discussion!!

Panel Discussion on 2004 Election and Future of Democratic Party
February 3, 2005, 6:00 PM
Richard Winter Student Center, Regis Room
Canisius College
Buffalo, New York 14214

A discussion about what Happened in 2004 elections and whatProgressives and Democrats need to do to take back the Congress andthe White House in 2006 and 2008.

Panelists:
Simon Peter Gomez, Asst. Professor of Political Science, BuffaloState College
William Graebner, Professor of History Emeritus, SUNY-Fredonia
Kevin Hardwick, Professor of Political Science, Canisius College
Len Lenihan, Chairman, Erie County Democratic Committee
Mark Thomas, County Executive, Chautauqua County
Antoine Thompson, City of Buffalo Councilman and Fmr. WNY Coordinator John Edwards for President

Moderator:
Mark Poloncarz, Fmr. WNY Coordinator, Kerry-Edwards 2004

Discussion will be free and open to public (or at least first 100 attendees as room holds at least 100).

For more information check out CoPro's beta website at http://www.poloncarz.com/wnycoalition.htm.


The elevator to the moon

The elevator-to-the-moon plan for the city's waterfront, as proposed by the Lakefront Devlopment Group, gets a well-deserved smack in today's Buffalo News.

A 3,500-room convention hotel. The largest hotel in Erie County now has fewer than 500 rooms. The proposed behemoth will be about 10 times larger than the Marriott, Hyatt, Adam's Mark or Sheraton. Pray tell: Who is going to stay here? What effect will the glut of rooms have on the existing market?

A 300,000-square-foot convention center. Yes, our existing center is outdated and too small (110,000 square feet). But funding 300,000 square feet of convention space requires many more conventioneers than we are likely to attract. Consider that conventions live and die on attendance; more attendees equal more revenue for the sponsoring organization

Click the link: the author goes on to explain why Buffalo has a hard time booking conventions.

500,000-square-foot "festival pavilion." Can you say Millennium Dome? London's boondoggle, built to celebrate the year 2000, is already being dismantled due to lack of funds for upkeep and lack of ideas for its possible use. How often will Buffalo's "festival pavilion" (the size of 10 football fields) be used? How much will it cost to build? Who will pay for the upkeep?

200,000 square feet of Class A office space. If this is not tax-subsidized, fine and dandy. If it is, then why would we undermine downtown development, especially now that downtown is once again beginning to register a pulse?

I don't know what the 215,000-square-foot sports center is, but do we need it? We couldn't figure out what to do with Memorial Auditorium, but we need this? The Pepsi Center in Amherst loses money. How will this center make it?

The author likes the Norstar development proposal. I like the WestEnd proposal. Either one is doable. The escalator-to-the-moon proposal isn't.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Member LTE in 1-17-05 Buffalo News

Here is CoPro member Joyce Bol's letter to the editor in today's edition of the Buffalo News...

http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20050117/5031494.asp

Republican donors are giving $40 million for the inauguration events on Thursday. Are we a monarchy or a democratic republic? I would like to suggest to these donors some other ideas. How about purchasing better equipment for our troops, mundane items such boots? How about spending this money on armoring vehicles to keep our troops safer rather than spending it on a Commander in Chief Ball for 2,000 servicemen. They are the lucky ones; they survived the chaos in Iraq. Instead, give these 2,000 servicemen a special financial bonus.

Moreover, spending $40 million on such monarchal frivolities while 150,000 human beings died in the tsunami disaster and 1 million are homeless seems to be an outlandish waste to me. Bush might get some applause from me if he decided to forego the extravaganza and have a quiet party with his wife, daughters, Karl Rove and a few others.

Joyce H. Bol
Amherst


Friday, January 14, 2005

Wonderful Thread

The Cyburbia Forums bulletin board has some awe-inspiring views of Buffalo architecture. Go take a look & feel proud.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Feeding at the public trough

What do you do your first month of feeding on the public trough?

Why, go on vacation, of course!

"When Mayor Anthony M. Masiello swore in his 'Team Fire' in December, he outlined the daunting challenges the new leaders face as they begin overhauling fire services.

A short time later, two new deputy commissioners who started their $89,372 jobs the first week in December took actions that didn't go unnoticed by some firefighters.

They went on vacation.

David C. James and J. Gregory Love were only following city policy, officials insisted. An obscure provision allows noncivil service employees appointed by Buffalo's elected officials to take up to two weeks' vacation during the calendar year in which they're hired. As a result, James and Love were each entitled to 10 days' vacation in 2004, even though they were only on the payroll for a month. James said he took six days of vacation last month. Love took five. They decided to take some of their allotted time after an administrator called to tell them about the standard practice. 'We wouldn't have taken any time if we hadn't received that phone call,' said Love, a former fire administrator in Detroit who has become Buffalo's deputy commissioner for field operations.

'There's nothing wrong with it,' said Employee Relations Director Louis R. Giardina. 'That has been our policy.' "

Maybe, Mr. Giardina, it's time to change the policy.

Extension of Route 219

Looks like Buffalonians and Torontonians(?) will soon have a quicker way to reach Ellicottville and points further South.

The State DOT wants to start extending the 219 southwards.

1-13-05 - Buffalo News - Likely Outer Harbor Developer Identified

It appears the NFTA has gone with the plan nobody from here wanted. Did anybody write to them from here because they say it was the choice of most citizens?

Likely outer harbor developer identified
By SHARON LINSTEDT
News Staff Reporter
1/13/2005

http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20050113/1058425.asp

A development team with a $750 million sports and entertainment plan is the apparent winner of the competition to remake Buffalo's outer harbor.

The Buffalo Lakefront Development Team is the "preferred developer" choice and will be put before the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority commissioners, sources involved in the closed-door review process said.

The team, which beat out two others, brings together companies that have been involved in high-profile development projects around the country.

"They stood out from Day One as the best of the three," said a review panel member who requested anonymity.

The panel's 12-point ranking system placed the Lakefront team "comfortably" ahead of the other two contenders, who ended up "neck and neck" in the scoring, according to the source.

The Lakefront team's plan was also a winner with local residents who voted unofficially through written and e-mailed comments.

If the NFTA board agrees on the choice when it meets Jan. 24, the next steps will be to negotiate a development contract and to begin fine-tuning the plan with the help of a community advisory committee.

No timetable has been set for start of construction.

The Lakefront team's proposal anticipates $450 million in private investment and $300 million in public assistance.

The Lakefront team includes Opus Group of Minneapolis, Uniland Development of Amherst, VOA Associates of Chicago, Urban Retail Properties of Chicago and BIDCO of Buffalo. It envisions the 120-acre parcel as a series of "interconnected zones" of residential, entertainment, cultural, business and water-related activity.

The main elements of its plan include:

  • A 300,000-square-foot convention center.
  • A 3,500-room convention hotel and winter garden complex.
  • More than 1,000 apartments, townhouses and condominiums.
  • A 500,000-square-foot festival pavilion.
  • A 215,000-square-foot sports center.
  • A 150-suite hotel/water park/aquarium complex.
  • 200,000 square feet of Class A office space.
  • 236 boat slips.
  • The Lakefront team proposes a phased development strategy that would start at the Seaway Piers, progressing south to the Bell Slip in six segments over a seven-year period.

    Work on public improvements, a marina, housing and the convention center would begin in the first three years.

    Opus' resume includes the new 1.6 million-square-foot Best Buy corporate headquarters in Richfield, Minn.

    VOA is the designer of Chicago's Navy Pier and Disney Club Hotels and Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

    Uniland is the Buffalo area's largest development firm. Its portfolio includes the new Niagara Center office building in downtown Buffalo and Crosspoint Business Park and Sheridan Meadows, both in Amherst.

    Another source involved in the review, who also requested not to be identified, said the Lakefront team's combined resume and financial commitment to the project make it the clear choice.

    "They went to the mat to demonstrate they have the financial backing to finish what they start. They are ready, willing and able to make a substantial private investment," the source said.

    The review panel, which includes representatives from the NFTA, City of Buffalo, Erie County, Empire State Development Corp. and Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, had requested specific information from the teams regarding their financial stake in the huge project.

    NFTA Executive Director Lawrence Meckler confirmed the panel presented its choice t the NFTA board Tuesday.

    "The board members are now reviewing the recommendation and will seek further information before our Jan. 24 vote," Meckler said.

    The other plans that were considered are:

    • The "WestEnd" plan, submitted by the WestEnd Development team led by Ciminelli Development Corp. of Amherst, envisions creation of a new "work/live" waterfront neighborhood, with emphasis on young professionals and entrepreneurs.
    • The Buffalo-based Norstar Development team submitted the third proposal. That plan has been characterized as the "most natural" of the plans, with significant public parkland, about 700 residential units and an ecological-themed business center.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2005

    Metro Rail Expansion

    This was also on Alan's blog, and I am posting here as well.
    Mark

    According to a Business First-Goldhaber Research poll, a clear majority of WNY residents favors an expansion of Metro Rail out to the airport. Not just Buffalonians, and not just Metro users - but a majority of all WNYers.

    Metro Rail, originally proposed as a 29-mile subway system with 47 stations, opened in 1985 as a six-mile link between Buffalo Memorial Auditorium and the University at Buffalo's South Campus. Creation of a second line has been discussed during the past 20 years, but the NFTA has not formally committed itself to expansion.

    C'mon NFTA. Get your heads out of the sand and do something.

    Cobblestone District Development

    This was originally posted by Alan Bedenko on his blog, http://wny4clark.blogspot.com/, but I am "stealing" it and posting it here as well for everyone.
    Mark

    IMHO, the Cobblestone district, just next to HSBC Arena, is really the great hope for urban revival in downtown and the inner harbor area. A cluster of restaurants, bars, shops, and residential apartments/condos would make for a vibrant and historic area.

    Happily, the News reported yesterday that two local developers have teamed up to develop what I hope will be the first phase of Cobblestone revitalization. Good luck to them. This is good news for Buffalo, and hopefully a good business decision for the developers.




    Friday, January 07, 2005

    NY Times, 1-7-05, NY Assembly Passes New Rule Changes

    New York Times
    January 7, 2005
    In Radical Shift for Assembly, to Vote, They Must Show Up
    By MICHAEL COOPER

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/07/nyregion/07rules.html?oref=login

    ALBANY, Jan. 6 - A revolutionary change is coming to the State Assembly, as odd as it might sound to those uninitiated in Albany's ways: the Assembly is adopting new rules requiring lawmakers to actually be present in the Capitol when they want to vote on bills.
    The change alters one of the more curious, and criticized, aspects of the byzantine system of lawmaking in the capital, where legislators use a kind of cruise-control approach to voting: once lawmakers sign in for the day, they are counted as voting yes on all bills unless they signal otherwise.

    The Republican-led State Senate, meanwhile, is planning its own changes. The Republicans want to require senators to be present in their seats only when they vote no, which has the added benefit of requiring their opponents, the Democrats, to hang around all day to try to block the bills that the Republicans bring to the floor.

    Both houses, which have been under public pressure to change their rules to make the New York State Legislature more open, deliberative and democratic, plan to adopt new rules on Monday that even longtime critics call a significant first step.

    The arcana of parliamentary rules are not usually the stuff of high drama, but here in Albany they have become lightning rods for a public outcry in the past year.

    The Brennan Center for Justice, a public-interest law center at the New York University School of Law, rated the New York State Legislature the worst in the nation. Newspaper editorials around the state have waxed indignant about it. Private citizens have started Web sites denouncing state government. On the stump before the November elections, lawmakers tried to out-reform one another.

    On Thursday morning, several dozen private citizens from around the state braved upstate snowstorms to descend on the Capitol carrying signs with messages like "Rules Reform Now," "Albany Is Destroying New York" and "Reform or We Will Fire Majority Party Legislators." The protesters even had chants about rules changes.

    A few hours later the Assembly took the lead, announcing a series of rules changes that - somewhat extraordinarily - have the support of both the Democrats, who control the chamber, and the Republicans, who are powerless under the current rules.

    In addition to ending empty-seat voting, the Assembly plans to restrict lobbyists' access to the area behind the Assembly chamber where lawmakers congregate, and lengthen the time in which lawmakers can petition to have their bills brought to a vote. The Assembly also wants to persuade cable television operators across the state to provide C-Span-style gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Legislature's sessions.

    The Assembly also plans to overhaul the Rules Committee, the shadowy entity controlled by the speaker of the Assembly where bills have gone to die quiet, mysterious deaths for decades. The Assembly plans to have public meetings of the committee, and to record members' votes.
    "I think they are the most significant changes that have been made in half a century," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the Manhattan Democrat who controls the house. "It responds to what is a clear call from people in the state."

    The effect of the changes in both houses will be to make each chamber more open and deliberative; the changes are unlikely to fundamentally change the extreme power the leaders of each house wield over their members. The leaders will still control everything from committee assignments to office space and parking spots, and will still be able to largely control which measures are allowed to pass their houses.

    But the Assembly plan won the support of Assemblyman Charles Nesbitt, the Republican minority leader, who issued a statement with Mr. Silver calling the changes "substantive improvements to the way business is conducted within the Assembly."
    And they were welcomed by several rank-and-file Assembly members who pushed for changes last year, including Scott Stringer of Manhattan, an early proponent of rules changes who embraced the findings of the Brennan Center, and Michael N. Gianaris of Queens, who proposed a law ending the partisan-driven gerrymandering of lawmakers' districts.

    The Senate, meanwhile, is explicitly giving its committee chairmen the power to hire and fire staff, requiring committees to prepare reports on each bill they send on, and taking away the majority leader's power to freeze action on any bill he wants simply by placing a star on the bill, a power that has not been used in recent years.

    But Senate Democrats do not support the package, which they say does not go far enough and contend is a step backward in some areas.

    Senator Joseph L. Bruno, the Republican majority leader, said in a statement, "It's important to point out that these reforms are the first step, not the last, in our overall government reform effort."

    Senate Democrats were indignant because empty-seat voting was being ended only for "no" votes. Currently, Democrats who miss votes that they want to oppose can return to the Senate chamber and seek unanimous consent to change their votes to no. Now, they fear, they will miss committee meetings that Republicans will be able to attend if they have to stick around to be recorded as voting against bills on the floor.

    Republicans said that they could not end empty-seat voting altogether because they do not have the electronic voting machines the Assembly uses, but that they were looking into technological improvements.

    State Senator David A. Paterson, the Democratic minority leader, said he had calculated that Democrats cast more than 99 percent of "no" votes in the Senate. "I hope President Bush hears about this, because he's a freedom fighter, and he will encourage new elections for the Senate," he said.

    Wednesday, January 05, 2005

    State of the State - Do it.

    Pataki delivered his 11th State of the State today in Albany. Newsday has the full text.

    Thus spake Nero:

    "I introduced a new philosophy that day - I asked you to join me in seeking not just incremental change, but rather 'bold, sweeping fundamental change:' change to improve the lives of all New Yorkers.

    Now, a decade later, I hope you'll indulge me as I reflect on what we've achieved together, and more importantly, outline the steps we must take today to build on that great achievement."


    Easily the first third of the address has to do with the decrease in the crime rate in NY. Then 9/11 predictibly comes up.

    You have to scroll down a ways to get to the first real mention of Upstate, and then it's lauding businesses who are locating outside of NYC, but in NYS. Yay.

    It takes a while, but eventually he calls for medicaid relief/reform, and the following seven items:

    1. Reform our state's lobbying laws.

    2. Impose a ban on all gifts from lobbyists.

    3. Bold reforms and improvements at our public authorities.

    4. A new Executive Order establishing a new, broadly inclusive Commission on Public Authority Reform to explore new ways to continue promoting greater openness and accountability at all public authorities, whether at the state or local level.

    5. Move aggressively forward with the elimination or consolidation of hundreds of commissions, task forces, boards and authorities that have been established over the course of many decades.

    6. A new commitment in both houses to make internal reforms… to give members a greater voice, to improve the day-to-day operations of the Legislature, and to help strengthen public confidence in our government.

    7. Topple the most notorious symbol of Albany's dysfunction…enact a real budget reform bill that opens up the process, empowers individual legislators and ensures balanced and on-time budgets.

    So, do it. If anything, it's not ambitious enough.

    1-20-05 Panel Discussion on Future of Museum District

    ALBRIGHT-KNOX ART GALLERY'S NEW GROUP
    TO HOLD PANEL DISCUSSION: "MUSEUM DISTRICT: 2015"

    Buffalo, NY – The NewGroup at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery will present a panel discussion entitled Museum District: 2015 on Thursday, January 20, 2005, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The event is part of the New Group’s popular Thursday at the Knox series.

    The panel discussion will explore the potential of Buffalo’s museum district ten years into the future, in 2015. In the recent years the cultural institutions in and around Delaware Park have worked together to market to visitors as one cultural destination, the Olmsted Crescent, made up of a collection of attractions.

    A number of these institutions have ambitious plans for the future that may conflict with another organization’s goals,” said event co-chairman Mark Poloncarz. “This panel discussion will examine some of these goals and how the organizations interplay with each other. We hope by bringing representatives from some of the different cultural institutions together, we can create a vision of how to make the institutions and the region more successful and how some of these goals will be funded in a climate of decreasing government support for not-for-profit institutions.”

    Harold Cohen, Dean Emeritus of the University at Buffalo’s Department of Architecture, will moderate the panel which includes individuals representing a cross-section of interests related to the topic:

    Ø John Courtin, executive director, Martin House Restoration Corporation;

    Ø Laura Fulton, director of community resources, Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy;

    Ø Louis Grachos, director, Albright-Knox Art Gallery;

    Ø Hon. Sam Hoyt, NYS Assem. and advocate for Richardson Towers Project; and

    Ø Ted Pietrzak, director, Burchfield-Penney Art Center.

    A complimentary wine reception follows the discussion. The event is free for New Group members, $3.00 for students and $5 for non-members. However, admission is free with the purchase of a New Group membership. The New Group is a volunteer organization dedicated to attracting new and diverse audiences to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery through the presentation of various entertainment, cultural and civic related events.

    - ### -

    The Gentleman from South Buffalo

    Mr. Higgins goes to Washington.:

    I wish him luck. As a freshman Dem in the House, he's gonna need it. But let me tell you something - he got things done in the notoriously corrupt NYS Assembly. That says a lot about the guy, AFAIC.

    Higgins is seeking an appointment to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which directs billions in construction money to localities. Quinn and his predecessor, Henry J. Nowak, a Democrat, both served on that panel, and Higgins sees a seat there as a key to funding to fix Buffalo's highways and reviving its waterfront.

    But if a vacancy opens up on the House Appropriations Committee - which allocates most federal dollars outside of Social Security and other entitlements - Higgins plans to try to move to that all-powerful panel.

    'It's a reflection of the needs of the area,' Higgins said. 'I want to be a leader in Western New York,' he added, saying he will focus on local funding issues rather than bigger-picture national politics.


    As I've said before, NYS is a net contributor of Federal taxes, while almost every single Bush-votin', tax-hatin' red state is a net recipient

    I certainly hope that, since there's federal money being thrown around, we get our fair share. I'm not in the mood to subsidize the states that are living off our cash-money.

    Tuesday, January 04, 2005

    Bush Social Security Plan Proposes 1/3 Benefit Cut

    washingtonpost.com
    Social Security Formula Weighed
    Bush Plan Likely to Cut Initial Benefits
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A45726-2005Jan3.html

    By Jonathan Weisman and Mike Allen
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Tuesday, January 4, 2005; Page A01

    The Bush administration has signaled that it will propose changing the formula that sets initial Social Security benefit levels, cutting promised benefits by nearly a third in the coming decades, according to several Republicans close to the White House.

    Under the proposal, the first-year benefits for retirees would be calculated using inflation rates rather than the rise in wages over a worker's lifetime. Because wages tend to rise considerably faster than inflation, the new formula would stunt the growth of benefits, slowly at first but more quickly by the middle of the century. The White House hopes that some, if not all, of those benefit cuts would be made up by gains in newly created personal investment accounts that would harness returns on stocks and bonds.

    But by embracing "price indexing," the president would for the first time detail the painful costs involved in closing the gap between the Social Security benefits promised to future retirees and the taxes available to fund them. In late February or March, the administration plans to produce its proposed overhaul of the system, including creation of personal investment accounts and the new benefit calculation.

    "This is going to be very much like sticking your hand in a wasp nest," said David C. John, a Social Security analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation and an ally of the president. "And the reaction will be similar."

    In informal briefings on Capitol Hill, White House aides have told lawmakers and aides that Bush will propose the change in the benefits formula, an approach recommended by his 2001 Commission to Strengthen Social Security , according to congressional aides and lobbyists.

    Currently, initial benefits are set by a complex formula that calculates workers' average annual earnings in their 35 highest-paid years and adjusts those earnings up from those years to reflect standards of living near that worker's retirement age. That adjustment is based on wage growth over that time span. Under the commission plan, the adjustment would be based instead on the rise of consumer prices.

    The change would save trillions of dollars in scheduled expenditures and solve Social Security's long-term deficit, but at a cost. According to the Social Security Administration's chief actuary, a middle-class worker retiring in 2022 would see guaranteed benefits cut by 9.9 percent. By 2042, average monthly benefits for middle- and high-income workers would fall by more than a quarter. A retiree in 2075 would receive 54 percent of the benefit now promised.

    While no decision has been made, allies and opponents expressed little doubt about where the president is heading.

    "No decision has been made, but the administration is clearly leaning in that direction," said Michael Tanner, director of the libertarian Cato Institute's Project on Social Security Choice. "I don't think anything else is seriously on the table."

    A former senior administration official who recently discussed Social Security strategy with Bush aides said the change in the indexing formula "is assumed to be a part of any final solution."

    "You've got the bitter medicine of changing the indexing, but to go along with that you've got the sweetener of the accounts," the former official said.

    "There will be price indexing," said John Rother, policy director of AARP, the powerful seniors lobby.

    The White House has been slowly building the case for the change. Last year's Economic Report of the President, written by the Council of Economic Advisers and signed by Bush, uses the Social Security commission's primary proposal to advocate overhauling the retirement system. Last month, the council's chairman, N. Gregory Mankiw, fingered the current system of "wage indexing" as a primary culprit for Social Security's problems.

    "A person with average wages retiring at age 65 this year gets an annual benefit of about $14,000, but a similar person retiring in 2050 is scheduled to get over $20,000 in today's dollars," Mankiw said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. "In other words, even after adjusting for inflation, a typical person's benefits are scheduled to rise by over 40 percent."

    Opponents of the proposal have also been mobilizing. Under an inflation-linked formula, benefits would keep up with prices, but wage levels determine standards of living, Rother said. Social Security benefits currently equal 42 percent of the earnings of an average worker retiring at 65. Under the new formula, that benefit would fall to 20 percent of pre-retirement earnings. Future retirees would, in effect, be consigned to today's standard of living.

    "It's like saying elderly people today should live at a 1940 standard of living," said Robert Greenstein, executive director of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. "Part of our social contract has been to allow seniors to participate in rising standards of living rather than consigning them to some second-class status in retirement."

    But proponents say the shift to price indexing has to be viewed with the addition of private accounts.

    "If this was a case of just price indexing and doing nothing else, frankly, some of the [opponents'] charges are pretty valid," John said. "But if you give the personal accounts as well, you're giving people the opportunity to make up the difference. Not everyone will do that, but a substantial number will."

    White House spokesman Trent Duffy said benefits under a revamped system should be compared with benefit levels that are possible under the current system, not benefit levels that are promised but cannot be financed. "A solution has to be compared to current law, and current law will guarantee huge tax increases or huge benefit cuts, or both," he said.

    Administration officials point out that future retirees face two prospects: the amount of benefits the retirees were promised and the amount that can actually be paid.

    If workers are allowed to divert four percentage points of their 12.4 percent payroll tax into personal investment accounts, future retirees would probably be able to raise their total benefits above the amount payable from taxes collected at that future time, according to the chief Social Security actuary. But those increased benefits still would not match the benefits currently being promised because future tax levels cannot keep pace with the rapid increase in the number of retirees.

    A retiree in 2032 would see a promised monthly benefit of $1,343 drop to $1,231, an 8.3 percent cut from both the payable and promised levels. But by 2052, returns on personal accounts would push total benefits for a middle-income worker to 129.4 percent of the payable benefit, even though the total benefit would still be about 6 percent less than promised because of the rising number of retirees.

    © 2005 The Washington Post Company

    Outer Harbor Meeting

    Meeting will focus on Outer Harbor plans- Business First of Buffalo

    An open session for residents to discuss various proposals to develop Buffalo's Outer harbor will be held Tuesday evening.

    The meeting, sponsored by the Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers, will be held from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m., at the Olmsted Vision Center, 1170 Main St., Buffalo.

    The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is overseeing development of 120-acres along the waterfront and the public comment period on the various proposals ends Jan. 10.