Archive for June, 2009

Hearing Honduran Voices

June 30, 2009
AP caption: A soldier shoots at supporters of ousted Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya

AP caption: A soldier shoots at supporters of ousted Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya

It seems that the faux government in Honduras is attempting to limit free media coverage in much the same way that the Iranian government has:

Yesterday in the afternoon journalists from the radio station Globo, which objectively reported what was happening in the country, were attacked. These journalists were wounded, with broken bones and cuts on their body. In addition, their equipment was destroyed. Cable service from the International Spanish Television (TSI) has been cut and so this station is now transmitting on broadband. Honduran journalists critical of the de facto government are being arrested and menaced with death. The same way, the journalists of Telesur and AP were arrested by the military, although later freed in response to international pressure.

The world needs to start hearing Honduran voices.  My aunt Rosemary is an archaeologist who has lived on-and-off in Honduras for some 30 years.  She’s started a blog to air her views — and more importantly, those of her friends and colleagues in Honduras — on the crisis there:

Today finally I am receiving email from colleagues in the country, many sending on passionate statements by educated members of the younger generation decrying the return to conditions most never knew, having been born after the end of the last military government with the Constitution of 1982. It is important to underline that, contrary to some emerging reporting, support for President Zelaya is not limited to the poor and poorly educated in the country whose material conditions his action in raising the minimum wage did indeed improve. Zelaya is not Huey Long. Support for the legal government of the country and a return to rule of law, freedom of speech and press, freedom to assemble, and freedom to circulate comes as well from the most promising members of the future generation of leaders that Honduras can ill-afford to lose.


Honduras, Iran and Us

June 29, 2009
Zalaya -- maybe he should start wearing green?

Zelaya -- maybe he should start wearing green?

You may have seen the news about the military coup in Honduras that removed a democratically-elected leftist from power.  Or maybe not, as this story is bound to receive about 1% of the attention granted to the crisis in Iran.  But I’m getting ahead of myself:

Roberto Micheletti was sworn in as provisional president to the applause of members of Congress, who chanted, “Honduras! Honduras!” Outside the building, supporters of ousted President Jose Manuel Zelaya protested, but their numbers were limited, and the streets remained mostly peaceful. Micheletti told CNN en Español Sunday evening that he has imposed an “indefinite” curfew.

Micheletti, the head of Congress, became president after lawmakers voted by a show of hands to strip Zelaya of his powers, with a resolution stating that Zelaya “provoked confrontations and divisions,” within the country. A letter of resignation purported to be from Zelaya was read to members before the vote.

But the deposed president, Zelaya, emphatically denied in an interview with CNN en Español that he wrote the letter. Speaking from Costa Rica, where he was taken after the coup, he said he plans to continue exercising his presidential duties with a trip to Managua, Nicaragua, to attend a summit of Central American heads-of-state.

Zelaya awoke to the sound of gunfire in his residence and was still in his pajamas when the military forced him to leave the country Sunday morning, he told reporters. He was flown to Costa Rica, where he has not requested political asylum.

“This was a brutal kidnapping of me with no justification,” Zelaya said.

He called the coup an attack on Honduran democracy.

To my mind, the coup in Honduras is at least as bad as the apparent election fraud in Iran, and probably a lot worse.  While the fraud in Iran is bad, fraud is an acknowledged part of electoral systems all over the world, even here in the good ol’ USA.  The difference between what happened in Iran and what happened in Mayor Daley’s Chicago in 1960 (or Florida in 2000, or Ohio in 2004) is a difference of scale, not of kind.  A military coup, on the other hand, is simply beyond the pale.  Further, while the Iranian fraud was bad, it didn’t involve violence (although the repression of subsequent protests has been quite violent).  The coup in Honduras is a blatantly violent act committed against President Zelaya but also against Honduran voters and their democracy.

So I’m pretty interested to see how Americans will respond to the coup.  I’m betting that it won’t raise too many eyebrows, despite being (arguably) worse then the apparent electoral theft in Iran.  And I think this will happen because the Honduran coup doesn’t work as a vehicle for the kind of stories that Americans want to tell.

I’ve written before about how the American fascination with the Iranian crisis has to do with our need to make the situation all about ourselves, and to use the events in Iran to further our own narratives about ourselves and the Islamic world.  But Honduras is a part of no such American narratives.  Hondurans don’t work as freedom fighters inspired by Bush’s war against “Islamo-fascism,” or as the face of moderation and modernity in a culture that’s supposedly implacably radical and backward-looking.  We don’t read stories in the newspaper about Hondurans who enjoy Western music and smile to ourselves, our cultural superiority reaffirmed.  The only ongoing American narrative that involves Hondurans is about “illegal immigration,” and that’s not likely to win much sympathy from the Glenn Beck crowd.

And, of course, the crimes against democracy in the two countries have two very different political outcomes for our government.  The reformers in Iran would be more amenable to US goals in the region, while President Zelaya is part of a bloc of democratically-elected leftists who are making traditional US dominance of the region more difficult.

So when you add it all up, it seems clear that Americans aren’t going to be as outraged at what happened in Honduras as what happened in Iran, despite the fact that the former was (arguably) worse.  You can see that at Pundit’s site, where the news in Honduras is lumped into a weekend wrap up piece that includes Michael Jackson and Billy Mays.  This isn’t a critique of Pundit — at least he mentioned it, and a blogger isn’t required to talk about everything.  But I think it indicates the level of attention that we’re going to give to Honduras vs. the level of attention that we’ve given Iran.  And I think that indicates something about us.

My Sophisticated Sense of Humor

June 27, 2009

1. I really like the ongoing series of articles by “Larry Flesler” over at the Buffalo Ruse.  They’re full of red meat, alcohol and homoerotic tension between Larry Felser and Van Miller.  This excerpt features Larry and Van visiting a personal trainer following a night at Scotch and Sirloin:

The first thing he had me do was an assessment of my flexibility, a measurement of my fat content and a check of my strength.  I laid on the mat and went through a series of stretches. Unfortunately for Carl and the other members of the gym, the steak mushrooms and dirty martinis were done fermenting in my stomach and I let go with a 21 gun salute. Carl winced, let out a scream, held his nose and ran to the exit. He had to hold the door open as the other members were right behind him.  Van and I were alone for about 15 minutes as the mushroom cloud dissipated. We played slap and tickle until Carl finally returned.

“Sorry about that” I said. “That’s OK,” said Carl, his eyes still watering.  “I just wasn’t expecting it to burn so much.”  He decided to skip the rest of the assessment and delve right into my diet.

“What’s your daily nutritional intake, starting with breakfast?” asked Carl.  I replied, “Well, for breakfast I start with a pound of bacon cooked in 4 sticks of butter and a cheese omelette smothered in hot fudge sauce topped with Skittles. For lunch I keep it light: a chicken salad with bacon wrapped sticks of butter and cheesecake for dessert. Dinner is normally done at the Scotch and Sirloin or The Grapevine. We go with either Steak and mushrooms or the King cut (24 ounce) Prime Rib. I’m not a big snacker and rarely get through more than 4 bags of Funions in an evening.”

“Wow” said Carl, “This could be a challenge.  Let’s run through some of the weight machines.”

2. Reposted from the Rebecca and Colin blog:  I’m a fan of mixed martial arts, and came across an excerpt from a book on the rise of the UFC while wasting time earlier today. The part about a fighter named Luke Cummo and his, umm, unusual routine just about killed me. You can read the whole thing here, but beware that the story includes a gross picture of a particularly bloody fight. Anyway, here’s the comic gold:

In Ohio, I saw Cummo outside his locker room and remarked that he looked decidedly smaller than his opponent, Luigi Fioravanti, an Iraqi war veteran. Perhaps that was because while Fioravanti was adding mass—gulping water and gorging on steak the day after the weigh-in—Cummo had had nothing to eat all day. Not only that, without a trace of self-consciousness, Cummo explained that he had “purified” himself by practicing “urine recycling.” Come again? “I drink my own urine. I had my last meal last night and then I continually drink my urine. Eventually when I poop—you know, when I do No.2—all that comes out is urine. Then I know my digestive system is completely empty. At first I used to put some honey in it, heat it up and drink it like a tea. But now I just drink it fresh. That’s when it’s most delicious.”

Bob Reynolds is a Coward, Tim Wroblewski is a Liar

June 26, 2009
Sloth from the Goonies?

Sloth from the Goonies?

The County Legislature fell one vote short of overriding Chris Collins’ veto of a law that would establish a county-wide planning board yesterday.  10 votes were needed to override the veto, and the vote was 9-6.  I was there, and I’m pissed off.

There are 12 Democrats in the Legislature, so the defeat of the planning  means that 3 Democrats chose to side with Chris Collins rather than their party, more than 80 community groups, and basic sanity.  What were their reasons?

The most consistent argument was that, since the heads of local towns and villages were against the planning board, it would be wrong to support it:

. . . for the notion of a countywide planning board to move forward, it will take the support of the county’s numerous cities, towns and villages, the same group that led the opposition this time.

“I think they’re afraid,” Majority Leader Maria Whyte, the bill’s chief sponsor, told her colleagues Thursday. “I think they’re afraid of change, and I think they’re afraid of losing power and control.”

For the three Democrats who broke ranks, it was clear the municipalities in their districts leaned on them to vote “no” just as fellow Democrats pressured them to vote “yes.”

Legislator Robert Reynolds of Hamburg said his defining moment came last week during a meeting of the Erie County Association of Governments.

Reynolds, who indicated he might provide the necessary 10th vote to override, asked who among the municipal leaders there opposed the new board.

“It was unanimous,” Reynolds said. “That was a changing moment for me.”

Of course, the objections of local chieftains in places like the town of Boston are all about protecting turf, not about protecting a better way of doing development and land use planning.  What Reynolds — who supports the idea of county-wide planning enough to have hosted a town hall meeting promoting the idea — effectively did was to sell out his beliefs and his party in order to protect the turf of a bunch of two-bit town supervisors.

Another argument used by the Democratic turncoats was that they supported the idea of regional planning so much that they just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a board with only advisory powers.  This was the favored argument of Tim Wroblewski, and it’s pure horseshit.  If the most vocal public advocates of regional planning all support this board, maybe you could get behind it, right?  Maybe it’s a necessary first step toward a board with real teeth, right?  And even if it remains an advisory board, isn’t it still a useful body to promote sane planning and anti-sprawl measures?

The final argument was that the board would be costly and bad for business.  There was disagreement about how much the board would cost — some said $100,000, some said $500,000 — but that misses the point, which is that sane planning could save the area far more than that by reducing infrastructure costs and subsidies to business that play one municipality off another.  And since the board was supported by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and the big developers in the area, it’s kind of hard to paint it as an anti-business measure.

So now we won’t have a planning board — unlike almost every county in the state — because of two men: Bob Reynolds and Tim Wroblewski.  Reynolds, a coward who renounced his principles after being threatened by a bunch of town and village nobodies; and Wroblewski, a liar who stood in front of me and 20 others and said that “he wouldn’t leave Maria hanging.”  Fuck them both.

Owning a Home is Hot! Hot! Hot!

June 26, 2009

Flooded basement.  Sump pump.  More rain on the way.  Awesome!

By the way, here’s the reference:

Answering the “Why?” in the One Sunset Scandal

June 24, 2009

Wny did this happen?

Why did this happen?

The News is reporting that 5 of the 9 members of the Common Council are calling for a “full and complete” audit of the Brown administration’s use of federal anti-poverty money.

Leading the charge is South District representative Michael P. Kearns, who is challenging Mayor Byron W. Brown in September’s Democratic primary.

Brown’s communications director insisted that today’s action is fueled by politics. Peter K. Cutler claimed city officials are already working closely with HUD representatives to address concern.

“This is yet another example of Council Member Kearns’ thinly veiled political agenda masquerading as good government,” said Peter K. Cutler. “With Mickey, it’s all politics, all the time.”

“This isn’t about politics … it’s about poverty,” Kearns said.

The Council’s call for an expanded federal review was made at a news conference outside a now-shuttered restaurant on Delaware Avenue near West Delavan Avenue.

HUD officials have raised concerns about the use of anti-poverty block grant funds for One Sunset. The restaurant received $160,000 in city and county loans and grants before it closed last December.

An investigation by The Buffalo News concluded that One Sunset was premised on a faulty business plan and that BERC employees circumvented the agency’s loan committee to snare money for the restaurant.

Well of course this is political.  It’s being spearheaded by Kearns and the anti-Brown faction on the Common Council, and it’s designed to make the mayor look bad.  But so what?  The mayor should be made to look bad because the situation is bad, and he shouldn’t get a free pass just because it happens to be election season.

For me, the real story is in how this is all being reported.  The News has done a great job of bringing the rotten One Sunset situation to light, and they should be commended for it.  But what’s been almost entirely missing from the discussion is one obvious question: why did the mayor, Michelle Barron, Brian Davis and others go so far out of their way to help Leonard Stokes?

I mean, sure, the city might regularly squander and misuse anti-poverty money, but that doesn’t explain what happened here.  The mayor, who has been nearly impossible to meet with for so many, has no problem having more than one meeting with an unqualified twenty-something businessman looking for a handout?  Barron gets money for Stokes by evading the internal BERC structures that were in place to avoid giving bad loans, and goes on to act as the de facto manager of the restaurant?  Davis covers the restaurant’s overdue rent with a personal check?  I don’t know the details of every business that the city grants aid, but I have to believe that this kind of hands-on help is unique.  So while the News has done a great job of answering the who/what/when/where questions, they’ve not yet answered the most important question: why?

I’ve suggested an answer to that question, namely that Stokes is related to one of the co-founders of the Grassroots political organization.  I’d love to see someone with a press credential start asking about those connections.  In fact, I’d love it if they had asked those questions right from the start.

Call Bob Reynolds

June 24, 2009
Afraid of Lynn Dixon . . .

Afraid of Lynn Dixon . . .

You may have read my earlier post about that gutless coward Bob Reynolds, who went from hosting public meetings in favor of a county planning board to voting against one in the space of a few months.  The critical vote on overturning Chris Collins’ veto and establishing the board is this Thursday, and Donn Esmonde chimed in today:

I feel sorry for her. I feel sorry for all of us. But I feel especially sorry for Maria Whyte. She thought she could change something. Not a big thing. A little thing that, 12 years after we were warned about sprawl, we still have not done.

Unless something changes by Thursday, the 0- for-progress batting average will persist.

Whyte wants us to take the same baby step most other upstate counties have. She wants us to have a regional planning board, made up of informed folks who recommend where a new or relocating business should go. We want it where it will do us the most good, and cost us the least tax dollars in new, sprawl-feeding roads, sewers, bridges and buildings. Especially when we already have plenty of underused roads and empty buildings.

A planning board would help us. That is, if our multitude of 44 village, town and city governments, or our handful of local industrial-development agencies, or our supposedly business-savvy county executive, are interested in seeing a bigger picture.

Chris Collins, who vowed to run county government like a business, already rejected the planning board. To leapfrog the veto, Whyte needs 10 of 15 legislators. She has nine. The vote is Thursday.

Targeted holdouts are three of Whyte’s fellow Democrats—Bob Reynolds of Hamburg (office number 649-2640), Dan Kozub of Lackawanna (822-0462) and Tim Wroblewski of West Seneca (675-8817). All oppose it, Whyte and others believe, out of political self-interest.

Make those calls and let them know you want them to support a baby step towards sane regional planning, not Chris Collins.

Leonard Stokes’ Grassroots Connection: Part Deux

June 22, 2009
All in the family . . .

All in the family . . .

Ok, let’s try this again.  It appears that the substance of my original post on this subject is true: Leonard Stokes has a family connection to the Grassroots machine, which just might have something to do with why he received such unusually attentive service from the city when he was opening his doomed restaurant, One Sunset.

I’ve heard from two solid sources that Crystal Peoples got married this Saturday.  Congratulations and Mazel Tov!  The groom’s last name: Stokes.  He’s either the father or grandfather of Leonard Stokes, the ex-basketball player and would be restaurateur.

Now, it could be the case that the relationship between Stokes’ family member and Assemblywoman Peoples began after June 2007, when Stokes began receiving city money to help start his restaurant.  And it isn’t necessarily the case that the relationship led to the extraordinary help that Stokes received over the brief lifetime of his business.  But the pieces fit, and it appears that there are new questions that need to be asked of people like Stokes, Michelle Barron, and Byron Brown.

Iran, Americans and Roadside Memorials

June 21, 2009

iran+protestLike most folks, I’ve been thinking a lot about Iran lately, but I haven’t written about it because so much of what has been written and said by Americans is so stupid, so ahistorical, and so self-serving.  The best thing I’ve seen was written by Peggy Noonan, of all people:

America so often gets Iran wrong. We didn’t know when the shah was going to fall, didn’t foresee the massive wave that would topple him, didn’t know the 1979 revolution would move violently against American citizens, didn’t know how to handle the hostage-taking. Last week we didn’t know a mass rebellion was coming, and this week we don’t know who will emerge the full or partial victor. So modesty and humility seem appropriate stances from which to observe and comment.

Now Noonan’s piece isn’t great.  It’s full of all the typically stupid American bluster, like describing ourselves as “lovers of political freedom who are always and irresistibly on the side of the student standing in front of the tank.”  I’ve been attacked by the forces of the American state often enough to realize that we aren’t always on the side of those exercising their democratic rights.  But no matter how deluded Noonan is,  at least she argues in favor of modesty and humility before setting out to make the Iranian crisis all about us.

And that’s why Americans are so fascinated by what’s happening in Iran, isn’t it?  It gives some of us an opportunity to hold ourselves up as the beacon of democracy and freedom, and others of us the chance to vicariously play out our anxieties about the sad state of American democracy.

jennifer-hudson-memorial-10308-2_mediumIn that sense, our interest in the Iranian protests reminds me of the phenomenon of creating spontaneous memorials at the scene of a murder or a car accident.  A terrible and dramatic thing happens, and suddenly people with no real connection to what happened start leaving flowers and cards by the side of the road.  Why?  Because so many of us lead lives that are devoid of real drama or meaning, for one.  But also in order to reaffirm that we are alive, and to deal with our anxiety at the fact that that won’t always be the case.

I’ve always found those sorts of displays distasteful, and an intrusion on the tragedy and grief of those who are actually affected.  Similarly, I think statements like the Congressional resolution in support of Iranian dissidents passed on Friday are out of line, and an attempt to insert ourselves into another nation’s drama  for our own purposes.  Instead of these self-serving shows of solidarity, perhaps Americans could actually learn something from the Iranians, take a real look in the mirror and start hitting the streets themselves in a push for greater democracy at home?

Economic Development — Buffalo Style

June 19, 2009
Not Buffalo -- Byron Brown's podium is nowhere to be found.

Not Buffalo -- Byron Brown's podium is nowhere to be found.

Exciting news — the local economic development bigwigs have decided to invest in the neighborhood.  Oh happy day!:

A long-vacant gas station on the Lower West Side of Buffalo will be replaced by a newly built Family Dollar discount merchandise store, in an area that supporters of the project say is sorely in need of retail development.

Ellicott Development, headed by developer Carl Paladino, plans to open the store by the end of the year at Niagara and Pennsylvania streets, five blocks from City Hall. The Erie County Industrial Development Agency on Monday approved nearly $300,000 in sales and property tax breaks to help offset costs of the project, which is valued at $1.25 million.

Huh.  Not that there’s anything wrong with a dollar store, but does anyone else find it odd that the Erie County IDA would subsidize the construction of a retail outlet, and a low-grade one at that?  An IDA is supposed to be focused on luring new employers to the area and creating jobs, not playing the the zero-sum game of subsidized retail.

Of course, even when they focus on their mission, they manage to muck it up.  Buffalo Geek points out that the much-discussed deal to lure a Yahoo data center to the area would deliver only 75 jobs — not the 125 that the politicians trumpeted — while its location in Lockport would stifle chances for spinoff development that may have happened in another setting.  Geek did the math and found that Yahoo would receive $90,000 in subsidies per year for each job created over the life of the 15 year deal.

That’s a pretty incredible deal, considering that these jobs pay less than $90,000 and that there’s nothing stopping them (that I know of) from simply packing up and leaving when the subsidies expire.

So why do our economic development agencies spend their time — and our money — either throwing money at projects that don’t create new jobs like chain retail and doomed restaurants or giving away the store to big corporations?  Geek has it right here:

While Lockport is a much better choice than Pembroke or Cambria, I wonder why New York State did not encourage Yahoo! to locate its facility in the urban core of Buffalo or Niagara Falls or even Amherst.  Oh, wait…I know!  It’s because we don’t have a plan.  Practicing ad hoc economic development is no way to go through life, guys.  Here’s a lesson for local leaders, if you’re going to give away over $1MM in incentives per job created, you have the responsibility and right to dictate some of the criteria for site selection.

Until we start to plan beyond the next dollar store ribbon cutting, we’re doomed.