Riddle me this...

Should school taxes be on a sliding scale? Say you're in Anytown, NY and you have a home assessed at $100,000 (if you're downstate, add a zero). Let's say your school tax is $3,000/year. Whether you have one kid, no kids, or 10 kids in the system, it's the same $3,000/year. Well, that's not really fair, is it?
  • How about if you have no kids in the system, you pay $2,500/year.
  • If you have one kid in the system, you pay $3,000/year.
  • You pay an extra $200/year for every additional kid you have in the system.
Don't know how popular that would be in such a Catholic area as Buffalo, but it seems fairer to me.

The Breeze

The City of Rochester is the proud owner of the Breeze; the fast ferry that operated for 80 days in 2004 before running out of money. "'32 million dollars going once...going twice...sold to the city of Rochester. Congratulations.'" Rochester immediately contacted the Port of Toronto to re-commence building its terminal and customs facilities. The City was pleased that it got the ferry for a little less than what they expected to pay. But the Rochester paper had the same question I did: If the Ferry's builder bid over $29MM, why did the city's bid jump to $32MM right away? Beats me. Now they need to find someone to operate it. They're even considering selling the naming rights to the vessel. That's smart. Anyway, I wish Rochester luck & I hope they can make it commercially feasible. I really wanted to try the ferry last year, and I'm glad I'll get a chance this summer. Cheers, Rochester.

Scandalous & Appalling

In 2004, New York's job growth rate was 0.7%; the national average was 1.7%. Between 1990 and 2004, New York's job growth rate was 2.9%. The national average was 19.9%. Let Upstate be Upstate is right to call this appalling and scandalous. New Yorkers bear the heaviest burden of state and local taxes; both on a per-capita basis, and on a per-$1,000-of-personal-income basis. Our personal income taxes are the highest in the nation. You think people *heart* New York? Then why are we second-to-worst in population growth in the nation, behind only Massachusetts? As anyone in Buffalo who has family in Charlotte can tell you, people who migrate from one state to another generally leave high-tax states for lower-taxed ones. And (Balgar), if you tax the rich, they'll just leave. Finally, Upstate blog underscores the fact that blaming Medicaid as the root cause, or even the major cause, of Erie County's crisis is wrong. Our local officials (Giambra, et al) blame Medicaid because it lets them deflect the blame to Albany (which certainly deserves a lot of it) - how...convenient.
What county officials tend not to emphasize is the major finding of our August report: that the Medicaid-related excess tax burden of $1 billion a year is dwarfed by the real Goliath in the Upstate tax burden, excess spending on local government payrolls. That factor accounts for about $4 billion in excess taxes paid by Upstaters. It sounds to us like Erie County residents have sniffed out the real story.
Yes. Yes we have.

Politicization & propaganda

The SSA has scrubbed and re-done its literature over the past few years to include language to allege that Social Security is in deep crisis. Obviously, this is little more than propagandizing o/b/o the Bush Administration. As Atrios asks, weren't the days quaint when the media spent days agonizing over which phone Gore used to make fundraising calls?

Spitzer 2006

Based upon this, via NYCO's blog, I'm ready to throw my support behind Spitzer for Governor.
In an exclusive interview with The Post, the crusading attorney general — who has yet to campaign for the election that's nearly two years away — detailed his views on a variety of issues, revealing a mix of conservative and liberal thinking. A main concern, he said, is cleaning up a political system plagued by cronyism in which all the important decisions are made by just three men: the governor, the Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader. "The assumption that Albany is broken is absolutely correct — and we need to fix that," said Spitzer, 45. "If we don't reform the trilateral arrangement, we will have failed New York state."
Believe me, 2006 can't come soon enough. Towards that end, a Spitzer 2006 meetup is scheduled for Wednesday March 2nd at 8:00 p.m. at:
Adam's Steak & Seafood Restaurant 204 Como Park Blvd. Cheektowaga Tel: 716-683-3784
Please sign-up via the Spitzer2006 website first. If Spitzer can make Wall Street bigshots play by the rules, imagine what he can do for us in Albany.

Giambra owns it

He took ownership of it today. Hope he enjoyed the sun and sand in Florida, 'cause that's the last idyll he'll have for a while.
"Giambra held a news conference this morning. He told reporters that he accepts responsiblity for the County's budget crisis. Giambra says he is calling on elected County officials such as the Sheriff and District Attorney to put aside their lawsuits challenging the budget cuts and to work together to solve the problem."
There's always a catch.


Hey, honey! Check it out! Our wedding photo was used for the latest right-wing hate campaign!

Defending freedom

Honestly. Is this really necessary to defend freedom?'

Don't Tread on Me

The revolution is here! How do we know? Because the Buffalo News told us so! The News conducted a poll, which concluded what I said months ago - we're in full-fledged revolution mode. I'm talking throwing the tea back in the harbor mode. The green budget was our Stamp Act.
"'There's a lot of anger out there,' said Ried. 'This was one of the most emotional surveys we've done in recent years.' She said the heated emotion centered on taxes. 'It's a taxpayer revolt, no question about it,' said Ried. 'We had people saying over and over again, 'We're one of the highest taxed regions in the country. How can they think about raising taxes again?' People are just sick of it.' One county lawmaker who refused to vote for a sales tax increase, Elise M. Cusack of Amherst, said the poll data doesn't surprise her. It matches what she's been hearing from residents for months now, in the supermarket and over her office phone lines. 'People have had enough,' said Cusack, a Republican. 'The public has just been very engaged in this - more than anything I've ever seen. They really get it. 'The Legislature has finally heard the message,' she said. 'We're really on the cusp of making reform and change. This is where the rubber meets the road.' "
Well, some get it, and some don't.
Legislature Chairman George A. Holt Jr., D-Buffalo, said that points to a problem with residents' thinking on the issue of taxes: They don't want a higher sales tax, but they also don't want more property taxes - and yet county services have to be funded somehow. "The perception of taxes in Western New York is a big no-no," said Holt, who supported a sales tax increase. "However, people must realize: If you want quality services from Erie County, you must pay taxes."
Mr Chairman, your statement implies that we don't pay taxes. We do. The highest in the country. Make do with what you have, Mr. Chairman. You have plenty.
"This provides a huge opportunity for us to drive home the message of changing the way we do business in Erie County," Giambra said. "Once you've got the taxpayers' attention, you can sell them on the idea of regionalism and consolidation."
Or, on the flip side, you can sell them on the idea of abolishing the County altogether.



From Jamaica's Daily Gleaner:

A resolution signed by Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero ordered the 100,000 Cubans directly employed in tourism to"limit relations with foreigners to the strictly necessary."

It calls on tourism workers to "maintain a conduct faithful to the fatherland and respect for the constitution, the socialist laws and government policy."

For two years, President Fidel Castro's government has moved to restore central command over Cuba's economy and curb the "corrupting" influence and creeping inequalities brought by foreign business, tourism and access to hard currency.

The new rules took effect last week. They will undermine the quality of service by cutting incentives for Cuba's tourism workers, said shocked foreign hotel managers.

Cubans working in tourism earn average monthly salaries of $12-$15 paid to them in Cuban pesos, and rely heavily on tips to supplement their incomes. With tips, tourism work is one of the island's best-paying occupations.

If the Cuban emigres and US government were really serious about wanting to get rid of Castro and Cuban communism, they'd be encouraging, rather than discouraging, contact between Americans and Cubans; they'd call for a lifting of the embargo that punishes American businesses; and they'd call for a lifting of the ban on travel.

iPods and Levis would get rid of communism a lot faster than radio Marti.

Minarik is a joke

This, via Yonkers Citizen: According even to Murdoch's hyper-conservative NY Post, newly minted State GOP chairman Minarik, whom I called an asshole, is now officially a joke.
At a function at the state Capitol in Albany Sunday night, Senate Minority Leader David Paterson made some predictions for Democrats. "We're going to send Gov. Pataki back to Peekskill ... [w]e're going to send (Senate Majority Leader Joseph)Bruno back to Troy. And we're going to send that Republican Party chairman back to therapy."

How does a county income tax grab ya?

According to Living in Dryden, Tompkins County (think Ithaca) is thinking of replacing their county property tax with an income tax. I've never thought of that, so I haven't formed an opinion about it. But one interesting thing sticks out right away: renters would be contributing to county coffers. That's something we get now only via sales taxes, and indirectly through the property tax the landlord pays on the property as a whole.

County control board?

Sam Hoyt wants the city's control board's jurisdiction to expand to include county government, as well. Bruce Fisher and Paul Tokasz think that a control board for the county is premature. Why? Fisher says the city had no more ability to tax its people or borrow money when the control board came in. I guess he's saying; wait until we raise taxes to their constitutional limits, then come in and fix our mess. Seems to me it'd be more prudent to fix it now while the fixin's good. Tokasz wants the county to clean up its own mess. Kind of like they're doing in Albany, I suppose. Honestly, you can't make this shit up.

Holt & CBC Update

WNYMedia and Illuzzi are both reporting that Leg Chairman Holt may have traveled to New Orleans for a political fundraiser sometime in 2004, and that it was on CBC's dime. Holt's brother apparently arranged the Holt to meet with CBC's shady folk. Also; Holt is late filing his last fundraising disclosure for 2004. Hm. I wonder why?

Redundancy at the Rath

See? I told you we don't need county government. Just last week, Bill Kindel echoed my call to abolish county government. The current county budget crisis has finally killed the Giambra-Greiner commission's regionalism idea. The county ain't gonna absorb the city, because we don't need the county. Now, Albany is saying that towns can go directly to the State DOT, and bypass Erie County, to arrange for plowing. See? Cut out the middleman.
State Senators Dale Volker and William Stachowski says towns may now be able to deal directly with the state when it comes to snow plowing contracts which were once arranged through Erie County. Normally the contracts flow down from the state to the county and then to the towns. Senator Stachowksi, who is a Buffalo Democrat, claims this is a safety issue and says there would be no labor issues involved when the contracts for the 2005 - 2006 winter season come up for renewal. "We'd just be taking the county out of the process and contracting directly with the towns and the towns seem to feel...at least the ones we've spoken to so far...they can more than manage with it."
I think I smell the end of Erie County as a separate taxing and governing entity.

Mismanagement, malfeasance & medicaid

It's not so much the "gay", but the "hooker" thing

In comments to the previous post, Craig brings up some valid points about JimJeff. But here's what I find interesting. It's not the left that really cares one way or another that JimJeff was gay. The right seems preoccupied with that fact, and their mantra has become "the left took down a conservative because he was gay". Or something. I don't give a crap that JimJeff was gay. What I find astonishing is that he was a gay hooker. Being gay isn't illegal. Yet. Being a hooker, however, is very illegal. More illegal than anything, say, Bill Clinton ever did. A gay hooker. Given a press pass. To the White House. He was so illegitimate that even the Congress wouldn't give him a press pass. But the White House did. They know why and I know why. It's just difficult to prove without a witness. Someone under the direct supervision of Karl Rove and/or George Bush gave GuckertGannon a White House press pass as a favor to Bobby Eberle and his very pro-Bush GOPUSA. It just so happens that the guy Eberle hired is a gay hooker. I do so enjoy the spectacle of Ann Coulter and gents whose respective handles are "Hindrocket" and "the Big Trunk" (rolls eyes) defending gay hookerdom in the White House.


JimJeff GuckertGannon

Craig weighs in today on the Gannon/Guckert nonsense, and echoes the sentiments of Andrew Sullivan. I disagree. While conservatives see the Gannon issue as nothing more than "dredging up the guy's past ... and ... not a reflection of his truthfulness in reporting", I think it has a lot to do with Gannon as an alleged "reporter". The Bush White House is extremely sensitive and tightly controls access to the president; whether by the press or public. During the campaign, Bush gave speeches only to pre-approved Republican voters. There were no hard questions asked of him. Even this month, Bush went on a tour, touting his Social Security "plan", and was surrounded by sycophants and supporters who asked such hard-hitting questions as "I'm proud to have you as a President" and "How can I help you?" The White House press corps is categorically NOT there to lob softballs at Bush or McClellan. The White House press corps is not there to cheerlead for the Administration. As a matter of fact, there should be no political bias in the White House press corps; every President and Administration should be closely scrutinized by the press corps. It is by no means easy to get White House access. Guckert's press pass application was rejected by the Congress; why was it approved for the White House? At the time Guckert first began receiving press passes, he was neither a journalist, nor did he work for a journalism outfit. He was freelancing for "GOPUSA", which is nothing more than a conservative activist website. GOPUSA later spun off "Talon News" to make the whole thing seem more...palatable. Talon News did little more than plagiarize and/or transcribe White House press releases. In order to get a press pass, the journalist and his past are scrutinized. Did Guckert undergo that same scrutiny? If so, why did the White House give a gay hooker credentials? (It's not "in his past", as Guckert claims - at least one of the hooker ads is still live). The inference one makes is that the Bush Administration wanted to reward GOPUSA/Talon News for being good Bush soldiers, so they gave Guckert credentials (not a big deal, right?), and since Guckert's questions were always, consistently Bush-friendly, they rewarded him at Bush's press conference by having Bush call on him. It. Was. Not. An. Accident. Nothing this administration does is an accident. Except for their complete bungling of post-war Iraq. Guckert wrote that Kerry would be "our first gay president." Sounds like Guckert was expounding on gay issues, to me. Finally, and most importantly, the outing of Guckert's gay hookerdom (I won't call it his "past" - in fact he's selling some of the salacious URLs as the "ones you've been reading about") has everything to do with conservative hypocrisy regarding gays. If you're conservative, it's alright to scorn gays, and to marginalize them, and to make jokes about them, and to pander to the Christian Taliban, and deny them rights that don't hurt the straight community. But when you're outed as being gay yourself, (much less a gay hooker), that renders the homophobia so expressly hypocritical and wrong, that there is no choice but to expose it. It's hypocrisy. Not prurience. It is fun, though, to watch the spectacle of Fox News and Ann Coulter defending a homosexual prostitute. But WorldNetDaily seems to get why JimJeff is a big story. From the Oregonian:
....Try to imagine this scenario: John Kerry wins the presidency and appoints a press secretary who grants a White House press pass to a fake reporter with a fake name representing a fake news outlet. And what if this "Jeff Gannon," whose real name is James Guckert, gets called upon daily to lob softball questions at White House briefings? And what if it turns up that Gannon/Guckert has an eyebrow-raising connection to the investigation of the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame? And what if Gannon/Guckert was involved in setting up Web sites promoting homosexual prostitution? And what if racy nude photos of him start flooding the Internet? The only thing imaginary about this scenario was the part about Kerry being president. Had it been Kerry whose aide allowed Gannon/Guckert such access to the president, just think of the furor. Conservative Web jockeys, in tandem with talk-radio shouters, would have created a frenzy thrusting the sordid story onto front pages across the land. At the very least, President Kerry's press secretary would be out of a job. Bloggers on the left are no less bullies than those on the right. But it's possible that mainstream U.S. news organizations resent the liberal-bias tag so much that they're more susceptible to pressure from the right. Whatever the case, the "Jeff Gannon" story is legitimate: On Jan. 26, at a time of heightened national security, a phony reporter with a pseudonym and ties to the Republican Party got to sit just a few feet from the president at a nationally televised news conference and was called upon -- ahead of dozens of actual reporters -- to ask an inanely sympathetic question. How does something like this happen? Frustrated bloggers on the left would love to get the White House press corps -- leery, possibly lazy, but definitely not lefty -- to find out.
I'm happy to see the conservatives welcoming gay prostitutes into their party. Now if only they'd be so welcoming to non-sex-worker homosexuals.


Community Based Corrections, LLC

Click here to see what I dug up about this company to whom Erie County almost paid $3 million to administer low-risk county inmates. WKBW story is here.

Earth calling Chairman Holt

George Holt tells Channel 2 that he thinks the loss of county services is rapidly changing citizens' opinions regarding the sales tax. Where, oh where, is he getting that idea? How wrong he is.


There's a new nickel coming. Consider it free publicity.

More Questions on CBC

George Holt was interviewed on WBEN today, and he tried to poo-poo the CBC issue away. He said that Amendment E was merely a recommendation to the County Executive, that no money had been allocated for or to CBC, and that the proper RFP (request for proposals) bid procedure would still have to take place. It's merely a proposal, according to Mr. Holt. Well, if it's just a recommendation, then why does the Amendment read like a fait accompli? "WHEREAS, Community Based Corrections, LLC (CDC)[sic] will provide case monitoring and case management services..." If Giambra still needs to conduct an RFP process, why does the resolution authorize the County Executive "to enter into a contract with [CBC, LLC] for the purpose of instituting an alternative to incarceration program..."? And if there's no money set aside, why does it say, "funding for this program will be covered by funds appropriated for [probation, the holding center, and corrections]"? Any first year law student can tell you that there is a big difference in statutory construction between mandatory and discretionary language. "Will" is mandatory. "May" is discretionary. The resolution uses mandatory language.

What does Community Based Corrections, LLC do?

Sweet Jesus, what a scam. Forget for a second the fact that CBC apparently told Holt that it would save the county its entire yearly prison budget of $16 million. The county was supposed to pay this company $3 million. (Remember: your zoo is losing funding. Your Kleinhans and Albright Knox are losing funding. Parks are closing. Just remember that.) But that's not all. According to CBC's website, the monitoring they do is anything but "community based". If a judge assigned someone to house arrest, he would call CBC to sign up for the service. The offender would pay a $70 "enrollment" fee, and the first month's monitoring cost of $228.75! The offender then gets what sounds like a debit card, that requires topping up when funds drop below $20.00. What does CBC do for its $3,000,000 + $70 enrollment fee + $229/mo? It makes and receives telephone calls. That. Is. It. It will make random telephone calls to the offender's home, work, etc. They use "voice recognition" technology to make sure it's the offender with whom they're speaking. What sort of reporting do they do? I don't know. What do they do for emergency notification? No idea. Any other questions? Try their FAQ. So, what have we learned? That Community Based Corrections is neither Community-based (unless you're talking New Orleans), nor do they really do any "corrections". Heck, for $3,000,000, I'll make all the phone calls Erie County wants me to.

Hear no Evil...

Albany likes to force counties and localities to do certain things. Albany doesn't, however, want to pay for them. Take Medicaid, for example. New York is a shrinking state, and Erie is a shrinking county. Yet Medicaid costs continue to rise at alarming rates. Why? New York has fewer people than Texas, and fewer people than California. Yet New York's Medcaid bill is in excess of Texas' and California's COMBINED. Why? States must all provide basic Medicaid coverage, and there is a menu of additional coverages that states can choose to provide, but are not required to. You guessed it. New York provides 'em all. So, when Channel 2 asked Paul Tokasz, the Assembly Majority Leader, and Dale Volker, a Republican State Senator, whether any Medicaid relief is coming from Albany, the answer was a resounding, in-your-face, fuck-you-taxpayers, "No."
Ask Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz (D-Cheektowaga) about Medicaid, and he'll tell you this: "It's a healthcare program. Healthcare has gone up in double digit increases. The State of New York can't solve healthcare." Solving is one thing. Fixing what's wrong is another. Thursday's USA Today headline said Healthcare Tab Ready to Explode. Soon to become 19% of the US economy. "How do you take healthcare away from someone who's blind and handicapped and disabled, and the senior citizens?" Tokasz asks Rich Kellman. Kellman: "But how do you fix it?" "Tokasz: "Rich, that's 70 percent of the cost of the Medicaid program. I don't know. Do we wheel these people out of a nursing home?"
That's right, Assemblyman. There is nothing between paying everything for everybody and throwing the blind, handicapped and disabled (redundant?) out on the Street. What a load of scare-tactic garbage. What about the Republicans in the State Senate, you ask?
From the other chamber, the State Senate, Dale Volker (R-Depew): "This attempt to shift the blame to Albany is a little silly." Kellman: "Why do you say that, Senator. There are unfunded mandates, Medicaid." Volker: "Well, the Medicaid mandate is partially funded." Volker continues, "It's fine to blame other people, but this was created by a county that didn't plan."
Yeah. We didn't plan on Albany's continuing, never-ending bleeding of its people. So disgusting.


Courtesy of my good friends at wnymedia.net. Way back on December 8th, you may recall, the Erie County Legislature supposedly adopted a new budget, which included a penny sales tax increase. Although the budget was passed, the penny (as we all know) was defeated. During that late-night session, an amendment to the budget was introduced quite literally at the last minute. That amendment added $3,000,000 to the budget to pay Community Based Corrections - a Louisiana company - to come and administer low-risk county prisoners. The company had apparently given a presentation in Buffalo regarding the work it does and the fact that it could save the county some money. What's wrong with that? We're not supposed to hire private companies to do county work without putting the job up for competitive bids. It's one of those pesky anti-corruption things. Corruption. Caught on tape.
Almost two months ago, WNYmedia.net brought you the Story of Amendment Package "E". Today, Nancy Naples challenged this part of the Budget process in court because she claims that it was done without putting it out for Bid. This afternoon, Chairman George Holt, Jr. and Legislator Chuck Swanick met behind closed doors to discuss something that they failed to share with the rest of the legislators. WB 49 caught the two red handed. However, they were off the mark as too why they were meeting. It was to discuss today's press conference in which chairman Holt is going to have to answer questions regarding this illegal budget amendment. "“It claims to save $16 million to the county which we already know is not true because that is the entire prison budget for the county." said Nancy Naples. "We feel it is an illegal approriation of taxpayer dollars, circumventing the competitive bidding process" said her attorney Dennis Vacco. During the December 8th midnight budget debacle, Legislator Swanick and chairman Holt held a brief meeting under their breath before more than 10 video cameras in the chambers. Since we were previously familiar with the situation, we went to the video tape. Video technology is a wonderful thing. Through adjusting a few audio levels, we have been able to transcribe most of what the two were talking about. You've got to see this!! It's hard to understand but the conversation went something like this: Swanick: "I dont have all of them with me" Holt: "o.k." Swanick: "I will amend the package with the one that you gave me, you said we missed" Holt: "That's the one...inaudible" Swanick " I'll make it right...inaudible" Holt: "alright, will you do that please" Click here for the video Less than 5 minutes after the meeting, chairman Swanick then proposed the "amended budget Package E", which was passed and added to the budget after the fact. The company Community Based Corrections, LLC is based out of New Orleans and we are looking into what connections they might have to Western New York and Chairman George Holt, Jr. "Chairman Holt was the one that approached me with this proposal" said Sheriff Patrick Gallivan. " I never got a chance to look at it".
(I cleaned up the text a bit). Here's the information from the Louisiana Secretary of State on Community Based Corrections, LLC. The primary member of the LLC is Burnell Moliere. According to this story, Burnell Moliere has been accused of shady dealings (if not downright corruption) before. Moliere was on the board of a company called "National Contractor Services", which obtained a New Orleans city contract (totalling $500,000) to help "disadvantaged" companies obtain loans and bonds. What's interesting is that, of the $6.8 million in bonds and loans that National Contractor helped obtain for "disadvantaged" companies, 25% of that money went to companies owned by Moliere and two other members of the National Contractor Services board. Moliere helped his own AME, Inc. janitorial company get over $300,000 in bonds through his National Contractor operation. Here's a pdf file of another expose, which wonders why Moliere's company is considered "disadvantaged" when Moliere earns $500,000 per year, and is worth $3,600,000. Can I be "disadvantaged", too? Moliere was also among the investors in the Harrah's casino in New Orleans. This article explains that Moliere's AME, Inc. was not registered as a "disavantaged" business at the airport. AME was supposed to share work - 35% of it - with registered "disadvantaged" businesses, but didn't. AME was, however, registered as "disadvataged" by the city of New Orleans, despite the fact that its annual revenue topped $12 million in 2001.
AME President and Chief Executive Officer Burnell Moliere, whose company now is known as AME Services Inc., agreed to answer a handful of questions before terminating a brief telephone interview. Among the subjects he declined to address were the reasons AME failed to meet the airport's DBE participation goal from 1990 to 1998. "From our perspective, the disadvantaged program has worked for us," said Moliere, who personally earned more than $500,000 in 1998 and has a personal net worth of $3.6 million, records show. "It allowed us to get into the marketplace. It allowed us to gain valuable business experience. And now that we are no longer a disadvantaged business, we can compete nationally with anybody in our industry." The airport didn't complain about AME's failure to use DBE subcontractors until 1998, records show. The company then agreed to give 40 percent of the janitorial work to its spinoff firm, Exceptional Temporaries Inc., a former AME subsidiary.
In New Orleans, Moliere is politically well-connected. He has close ties to New Orleans' DA Eddie Jordan, for whom Moliere was campaign finance chairman. It also appears that Moliere's customers aren't exactly...happy ones. Moliere donated $500 towards the campaign of New Orleans school board member Elliot Willard:
Willard also collected a combined total of $2,000 from School Board attorneys Clare Jupiter and Trevor Bryan; $500 from Burnell Moliere, owner of AME, the school system's janitorial services contractor, which (Schools Superintendent Tony) Amato is trying to terminate for poor service; and $500 from Jim Hutchinson, a system insurance broker and former son-in-law of Willard's.
And this:
Janitorial company defends its work / Contract debated by School Board Brian Thevenot, Staff writer 12/01/2000, The Times-Picayune A.M.E. Services, the embattled janitorial and grass-cutting services contractor for New Orleans public schools, Thursday defended itself against district administrators who say the company is so incompetent that the School Board should strip the company of its $2.4 million-a-year contract. The company's statements came at a School Board committee meeting in which three members ultimately declined to take a position on the matter, instead forwarding it to the full board for debate. After a stinging presentation by Chief Administrative Officer Joe Bekeris, backed by 13 binders full of principals' complaints and other documentation, the company responded that it has performed quite well in all but a few cases, showing recent photographs of well- maintained grounds on several dozen campus. In an interview, A.M.E. president Burnell Moliere said the company has struggled to work with an administration that has, from the outset of the contract, sought to sabotage the company with trumped- up complaints so that it could take over operations itself. "This administration came into this contract with the full intent of not entering in the contract for any length of time," Moliere said. "To push that agenda, they had to make us look bad." Given the scope of the job, cleaning and landscaping nearly 130 campuses, even a large number of complaints is not out of the ordinary, Moliere said. Asked what might motivate such a campaign, Moliere replied, "Power."
Oh. And by the way. AME stands for "A Minority Entity". Subtle like a baseball bat. What, exactly, is George Holt's and/or Chuck Swanick's connection with Moliere's corrections outfit?



I'm sick and tired of the ads for this company. If I see that pasty, non-threatening white boy on my TV again, I think I'll scream. I've also grown weary of this gentleman. Please. Let. It. Stop. That is all.

Bratislava Cowboy

As I was waking up with a massive mug of Starbucks French Roast, I watched Bush give a speech in Bratislava, Slovakia. Slovakia is now an EU member, and a "Partnership for Peace" signatory. Slovakia did not exist as an independent nation 15 years ago. She and her Czech cousins launched the "Velvet Revolution" in 1989, which peacefully overthrew a brutal totalitarian dictatorship that had subjugated the Czechs and Slovaks since WWII. The events of 1989 still amaze me to this day, and maybe I'll blog a bit more about them later. See - their new plates have the Euroband. So, I watched Bush give a very good,uplifting speech in the Hviezdoslavovo Namesti of Bratislava. He praised the Slovak people for their victory over communism, for their commitment to democracy (particularly after years under the autocratic stylings of Vladimir Meciar.) Bush then went on to thank Slovakia for helping in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for helping to show the Iraqi people how to transform from a brutal dictatorship to democracy.
"As you work to build a democratic and free Slovakia in the heart of Europe, America stands with you."
Good stuff, that. Why am I sitting here praising Bush - a president whom I detest? Because he gave a good speech, and because this week he's doing what he ought to have done many moons ago, and ought to do with far more frequency: he is traveling to our allies to visit with them, to thank them for their support of the US, to criticize them when necessary (paging Mr. Putin), to engage in diplomacy and dialogue, and to show the world that the US isn't trying to isolate itself or become mired in petty disagreements any longer. Bush is making nice with Europe. And everyone will benefit from that.

Syrian admits training Iraqi insurgents

Maybe our invasion was a few hundred miles too far South. /kidding The Iraqi media are reporting that a Syrian admits training Iraqi insurgents. Whether or not the station is US-funded propaganda is irrelevant. If true, this merely underscores the complete bungling of the post-invasion. Why on Earth didn't we seal the goddamn borders with a known terrorist-sponsoring state? Were we being stupid or lazy. Those are the only two choices.
"BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi state television broadcast a video Wednesday showing what the U.S.-funded channel said was the confession of a captured Syrian officer who said he had trained Iraqi insurgents to behead people and build car bombs to attack American and Iraqi troops. The video also showed an Iraqi who said the insurgents practiced beheading animals to train for decapitating hostages. Syrian officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the claims. The video comes at a time when the Bush administration has stepped up pressure on Syria to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs by allowing insurgents to cross into the country to fight coalition troops and by harboring former Iraqi regime members. Syria has denied the charges. President Bush also repeated Wednesday that Syria must remove its 15,000 troops from neighboring Lebanon but did not threaten any action against Damascus - for now. "
Maybe when Bush said talk of invading Iran was "ridiculous" he would have given a different answer for Syria. Watch for Syria to become this decade's Libya. Syria is Baathist too, by the way. Baathist meaning an Arab nationalist totalitarian dictatorship with some socialist characteristics.


American Idol: as good as ever. Survivor: Seems like a good cast this year. Now in its 10th iteration. Amazing Race: Starts up again next Tuesday. Next is season 7. Amazing Race Season 1: Coming out (maybe, finally) on DVD The Mole Season 1: Anderson Cooper (360 on CNN) was the host. One of the smartest, best reality programs ever. Comes out on DVD in March. And don't forget: The funniest show of all time. Now on sale at Amazon:

Free trade, xenophobia & Geico

Last night, Erie County's tax revolt was featured on Lou Dobbs' CNN program. Dobbs really really very incredibly is against NAFTA and the WTO. A continuing theme on his program is "exporting America", dealing with outsourcing and the loss of manufacturing from our economy. Dobbs has warmed to 2004 26th Cong. District candidate Jack Davis, who runs a factory in Clarence. The big theme in Davis' campaign against too-cool-for-WNY Tom Reynolds was outsourcing and its harm to WNY's economy. There's a dilemma in running an anti-free-trade campaign: you have to avoid turning into a xenophobic crusade. Unfortunately, I heard some reports that Davis' campaign became just that in its waning weeks. Personally, rather than looking back with nostalgia at our steel-producing heyday, I'd prefer our leaders and candidates to explain what they'll do to lurch WNY into a proper, productive, profitable 21st century economy. I think the bioinformatics program downtown is a good step in that direction, and we have Pataki and the taxpayers of NYS to thank for that. As for free trade, it's a two-way street. Literally. We can lament the loss of production jobs all we want, but on the consumer side, free trade's a blessing. It ain't 1955 anymore, and WNY has to stop acting like nothing's changed. It's changed. Deal with it. Do something about it. We now have a post-industrial economy. It's service-oriented. The GEICO announcement was the single best piece of news this region has had since Bethlehem Steel closed.


Zetti's Pizza: Main at Kenmore

I did it. I picked up a pizza from Zetti's Pizza tonight. It was everything I'd hoped it would be. It was everything I expected. I...I think I'm going to ... cry? Nah. But it was real, authentic NY-style pizza; the real deal. It tasted as good as the pizza I used to get when I was a kid. Thank God for Zetti's.

Proving the point

Hey hey. Ho ho. Social Security (!?) has got to go! At least, that's what Rick "dog on dog" Santorum's supporters think. Hat tip to Atrios.

Friends & Family Plan

Giambra: what a reformer. This tidbit, via PoliticsWNY.com:
"I have just been advised that effective immediately the Deputy Commissioner of Buildings and Grounds William Thornton is being replaced by the Chief Custodian Joe Letteri aka Joel's brother in law. Joe was originally scheduled to be laid off in this round of cuts. A prime example of county politics at its best. I guess Joel did tell the truth when he said he would be conducting business from Florida!' I was just reading a memo from Letteri to Commissioner Lehman. I was wondering why he would send a list of his accomplishments to his boss. Now I know!"
I'm sure the county workers getting laid off will be glad to see the extended Giambra clan is being protected.

More on AARP

It's a Roveian smear campaign that's been cooked up against AARP. USANext is the organization that initiated it. Check out their website (find it yourself). I wonder why there's no "about us" link there. Maybe:
Then there's the benignly-named United Seniors Association (USA), which serves as a soft-money slush fund for a single GOP-friendly industry: pharmaceuticals. USA claims a nationwide network of more than one million activists, but, just like Progress for America, listed zero income from membership dues in its most recent available tax return. USA does, however, have plenty of money on its hands. During the 2002 elections, with an "unrestricted educational grant" from the drug industry burning a hole in its pocket, the group spent roughly $14 million--the lion's share of its budget--on ads defending Republican members of Congress for their votes on a Medicare prescription-drug bill.
United Seniors Association is now known as USANext. (Notice the link is to "About USA". But the link isn't on USANext's homepage. I don't know how Josh found it). Anyway, I don't really see how the pharma industry is looking out for seniors. One thing for sure: AARP is rather influential and doesn't back down from a fight. What AARP should do, courtesy of Steve Soto:
First, if he hasn’t done so already, AARP Chief Executive Officer Bill Novelli needs to call Karl Rove and demand that the White House condemn the ad and the tactics of the USAN. Of course Rove will not do this, and Novelli should tell Rove that failure to do this will be interpreted by the AARP as a sign that the White House supports and was a partner in this smear and in future smears. Second, the AARP should do a press conference after the call to Rove for two reasons: first, they should show the despicable ad to the media and point out to what lengths Bush’s supporters will go to smear the AARP; secondly Novelli should reveal at the press conference that he has demanded the White House repudiate the ad and the USAN smear campaign, and has received no such repudiation from the White House. As a result, Novelli should tell the media that the AARP will assume the White House supports this smear.
That sounds about right.

Corruption? *GASP*

Oh the horror what will we tell our children. Corruption? What a surprise that would be. If you have any information, please: 856-7800.
Has government corruption played any role in Erie County's widespread financial problems? The Buffalo FBI office said Tuesday it has received "numerous" complaints from people who claim illegal actions by public officials helped to cause the financial crisis in county government. The complaints will be investigated, but only if people are willing to come forward with specific information, a spokesman for the agency said. "In the past few weeks, as the county budget crisis became more and more heated, we've received numerous calls and complaints," said Special Agent Paul M. Moskal. "But we need more specific information." Moskal declined to discuss any specifics about the allegations. "Obviously, a lot of people are frustrated over layoffs and many other issues surrounding the county's crisis," Moskal said. "If people have specific complaints or information, they can call our Public Corruption Task Force 24 hours a day, at 856-7800. If they want, their names can be kept confidential." No county government leader has been indicted on federal public corruption charges since County Executive Joel A. Giambra took office in 2000. An investigation by the county district attorney's office last year led to a plea deal taken by Douglas Naylon, a former highway department supervisor, for making unauthorized use of a county tractor-trailer for a job on his private property. Another former highway worker faces charges that he stole and resold expensive heavy equipment tires. After a Buffalo News investigation into county purchases of office furniture, State Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer last May filed a civil lawsuit against Buffalo Office Interiors, a company owned by a close friend of Giambra's. No criminal charges were filed in the furniture case, and Giambra and the company's owner, James J. Spano, have repeatedly denied allegations that the county was overcharged for the furniture by $513,810. At this time, the FBI has not opened a formal investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in county government, Moskal said.
Why didn't Giambra just hire James Spano as "furniture czar" or something?

Does your private sector job pay as much?

I don't mind the ECMC docs making upwards of $100,000. After all, going to med school is neither cheap nor for the stupid. But an Erie County Sheriff at the holding center clearing over $166,000/year? That's an outrage.

So, I'm not alone

I'm not the only kook calling for the abolition of County government, it seems.
One lawmaker is suggesting dismantling Erie County government. Amherst Town Councilmember Bill Kindel told News 4 Tuesday night that he believes the budget crisis can be solved by eliminating county government altogether. Amherst Councilmember Bill Kindel said, 'In stages, to have the first ring of towns and the State of New York to take over all, in time, of the services now being provided by the County of Erie. To eliminate the County of Erie, not overnight, but in stages and let those who are full capable of providing these services at a better cost, more efficiently, and I guess, more important than all of that, reliably.' Next week, Kindel will propose that Amherst take over the Grover Cleveland golf course from Erie County.
You heard it here first.


Dear Local Union Bosses: Which do you prefer? Massive layoffs and a gutting of your rolls? Or showing some flexibility and responsibility and negotiating some concessions on work rules that might save many jobs? So far, the union bosses (Bogulski, especially) are all for gutting layoffs. Why? Because that'll show those pesky taxpayers! Perhaps if the bosses asked their membership, they might show some flexibility:
For most county employees, Tuesday was a day of waiting and wondering. They were waiting to find out whether their job would be the one to go. And they were wondering whether there was something they could do to save it. "Definitely, I would,” said one worker. The worker was talking about something brought up Monday, when three county legislators suggested workers make concessions, allowing them to save jobs and services. The concessions would include asking workers to take off one day a month without pay, or turning some of their holidays into floating holidays. The savings, according to the legislators, would be in the millions. "They have to look into it and see what's appropriate,” said another worker. Any concessions must be negotiated between the unions and the county executive. So far, that hasn't even begun.
With all fairness to the unions, it is hard to negotiate with a Regent who's sunning himself in Florida. Again: Kudos to WGRZ for really following up on this story.

Regionalism in Jeopardy

I am for regional government in Buffalo. I am not for a county takeover of all towns, cities and villages. I am for a completely new way of doing business - more along the lines of what Gaughan's proposing. Why? Because the region is in this together, and we can no longer tolerate the pitting of city vs suburb. Giambra, of course, is against any regionalism plan except the one in his head. So, instead of joining with Gaughan, he set up a separate commission that basically called for (surprise) Giambra's county government to take over the city. Masiello said, "no way". So that plan's dead. But I don't think Giambra was really for it at all. His mouth said that he was pro-regionalism, but his actions have shown differently. Forget whether he secretly bought a $500,000 property in Elma using someone else's name, or whether his kids are or are not afraid of Black people; if Giambra was really for regional government, he would have ensured that the one thing the county has taken over from the city - it's park system - was run properly. He failed. Gee. Failed leadership from Joel Giambra. Who'dathunkit? /sarcasm. The Buffalo Common Council sure doesn't like the way the County has basically mismanaged the City parks.
"Common Council members are upset over the way Erie County is managing city parks, and some think Buffalo should withhold payments or even consider taking back the parks system. The complaints have been festering since shortly after the county takeover was approved last summer.
Click the link to read the whole story. It's kind of sad, really. The hope that some had for a change in the way Erie County did its business have been so very sorely disappointed in the last 3-4 months. Instead of reform, Giambra inadvertently sparked a tax revolt. No one said revolution wasn't messy.


I think Esmonde overstates, to some degree, the affect of Medicaid on the county budget crisis and minimizes Giambra's own mismanagement. Doesn't matter. He makes a valid point.
"The county made the payroll-and-perk cuts that come every day in corporate America. But there's more to this disease than pink-slipping Victor M. Getz can cure. The local price of Medicaid siphoned an extra $81 million from taxpayer pockets the past five years. It will suction another $40 million over the next two. Where is that money coming from? I'm ecstatic to see bloated political staffs jettisoned, keys to take-home cars turned in and 'free' cell phones turned off. We're upending a primitive political culture that sees government mainly as a jobs program.
I love that last sentence. It's right on the money.
But don't kid yourself that it will get better, that the cuts we've made loosen the high-tax stranglehold. To twist a line from the Bill Clinton era: It's the Medicaid, stupid. And it's not going away. State lawmakers blasted County Executive Joel Giambra for his budget bungling. No argument. But Albany lawmakers put us against the financial wall by making Medicaid a collection bin for every health program and perk. From drug treatment to mental health care, what other states leave to managed care we dump into Medicaid. We looked our fat self in the mirror, now Albany has to do the same. It has to stand up to special-interest muscle: The hospitals, health care worker unions, drug companies and everybody else overfed by the Medicaid beast. If it doesn't happen, we will keep paying more taxes for less. With parks already gone, medical clinics shut and snowplows sidelined, I'd hate to see what less looks like. "
Well, we don't really need County government to begin with. Let the state pay for its own bloated, diamond-encrusted Medicaid system. Swanick says:
"This (budget) discussion will continue," Swanick said. "But if the state doesn't do something about Medicaid, next year it will be about closing the doors."
So stop your whinging and close them, already.



That's what Sully calls it, and I agree. The Rove playbook: The AARP does not support the President's plan to destr... I mean privatiz... I mean reform Social Security. Therefore, AARP must be destroyed. Via Kos, we find this, courtesy of the folks at the American Spectator, and the good people at Swift Boat Vets for abject lying: Yep. That's right. If you disagree with the President, you're anti-troop and pro-gay marriage. What that has to do with either the AARP or Social Security is up to you to decide. What's really scary, and underscores the vast dumbing down of America, is that this type of juvenile, low-rent propaganda actually works. It worked against Kerry. The outfit that put out this filth will be touted as the "conservative" answer to the "liberal" AARP. Despicable. I guess this is the AARP's payback for reluctantly backing Bush's medicare drug bill last year.


Predictably, the triumphalist Republican Party is eating its own. Craig can chuckle at the bumper sticker humor, but the Republican Party ain't what it used to be. It is now about sticking its nose in your personal business, and economic intervention. Don't believe me? How 'bout a republican to back that up?
"No, the arrogance that will prove problematic, ultimately, was that directed at the libertarian-leaning conservatives by the social conservatives. The message in that regard was clear: We Christians can do this alone, y'all who ain't down with J.C. best be running along. That was the message when Tamar Jacoby of the Manhattan Institute, who was on a panel to defend President Bush's proposed immigration reforms (supported by no less a conservative institution than The Wall Street Journal), was loudly booed by the anti-immigrant crowd. That was the message when a representative of the Log Cabin Republicans was booed and then asked by a student, 'You people [homosexuals, that is] already have the right to live together, you got the sex, what else do you people want?' In fact, if there was anything particularly striking about this year's CPAC, it is to just what extent Republicans have given up being the party of small government and individual liberty. Make absolutely no mistake about it: This party, among its most hard-core supporters, is not about freedom anymore. It is about foisting its members' version of morality and economic intervention on the country. It is, in other words, the mirror image of its hated enemy. Consider these statements. On the immigration panel mentioned above, Phyllis Schlafly took the hard line against immigration. 'The idea of giving any job to any willing worker is absolutely unacceptable,' Schlafly said. American workers won't and shouldn't work for the wages Mexicans and other Latin American immigrants are willing to accept, she said, and companies should be forced to pay them more. All of this met with wild applause from the audience. And so there we have the most conservative of conservatives fully buying into economic protectionism -- not to mention the minimum wage, which a past generation rightly saw as a destructive and outrageous intrusion into the free labor market. Then there was the speech by Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, another CPAC rock star. Santorum made the revealing choice of referring to marriage as "the ultimate public good" -- i.e. a product or service that the government must provide because the free market won't. Santorum, of course, doesn't just support banning gay marriage (though that's where all the energy in the so-called "pro-marriage" movement is directed), he also supports various government programs to promote the institution of marriage. But as one Log Cabiner asked, just when did the Republican Party become the party of Washington, D.C.? Just where in the Constitution is the federal government given the power or responsibility to manage citizens' family lives? To be fair, libertarian -- or classical liberal -- principles were not without representation. The Libertarian Party (ugh…) had a booth. The ACLU had a booth. The wonderful folks over at Bureaucrash had a booth. But precious little libertarianism came from the stage, and what little did was seldom well received. Now, perhaps CPAC just isn't any place for libertarians. But that, in itself, is a problem. The conservative movement should be reaching out to people who, well, just aren't as bothered by "Will & Grace" as some other people are. Conservatism can't survive by religious extremism and tax cuts alone. There needs to be something more than Ann Coulter's substanceless ranting and faux-provocative calls for a "new McCarthyism." There needs to be something more than immigration opponents comparing Mexicans to burglars stealing American jobs. There needs to be something more than treating the Log Cabin Republicans like a punchline conservatives would rather forget. But that something wasn't present at CPAC.
And I'd rather not be associated with these loons who would use the federal government to control your bedroom, and to force Jesus Christ down your throat. I can do without that, thanks. I'll take my government with a dash of good stewardship, a cup of fiscal responsibility, a pint of fiscal restraint, a quart of social liberalism and hold the religiosity.

More ideas

Channel 2 WGRZ outlines some of the alternative ideas that were discussed yesterday regarding the budget cuts. Privatization of golf courses, subcontracting some county services, furloughs, and across-the-board salary cuts for county workers may be violative of union contracts. Mayhaps the union might set aside the contract and change some work rules in order to retain some jobs. But they won't.

Howard Dean

Howard Dean, the new chairman of the DNC, will be appearing at Alfred University in the Finger Lakes, between Olean and Corning. This gets a local mention, but WBEN says Dean is known only by his scream at the end of the Iowa caucuses. Hasn't that jumped the shark yet? You know, he also happens to be a former Presidential candidate, and a former Governor of Vermont. He's also a physician. He happens to be socially liberal, but infinitely more fiscally conservative than our President. So take that, media jerkoffs.

Free Publicity

WBEN has become the Jim Ostrowski show lately. First yesterday on Bauerle, and now this morning during John & Susan's family funtime hour. Jim Ostrowski is a libertarian, and I dare say he has a very, very elevated opinion of himself. He's started a libertarian group called "Free Buffalo", which he bills as a "think tank". Bauerle lauded Ostrowski's group yesterday, and decided that he would probably want to become involved in a taxpayer-watchdog capacity. That's all very nice, and I wish him luck. But today, Ostrowski said something that I thought was very telling: he wants his to be a small group of experts - not a grassroots organization. He also wants money. To paraphrase: "the business community is going to have to step up to the plate with some money because it costs money to run candidates, hold meetings, etc." I'd prefer to be involved in something a little more...grassroots. Something that truly echoes the will of people, rather than a select few "experts." The WNY Coalition for Progress, to which I belong, is the more center-left think tank that we've already started here. It is a truly grassroots, non-partisan organization dedicated to making WNY a better place to live and work. Our local and regional working groups are already planning some fora and events to address the state of government and taxation in NYS. Please check out our website, our blog, and join our discussion forums. We don't want to be limited to a few "experts", and we don't necessarily want or need the "business community" to fund us. We're having a fundraiser on March 12th and all are invited. We'll have a $25.00/year dues next year, probably. James Ostrowski is the attorney who represented Tracy Diina on her ticket for talking on her cellphone while driving. He literally wanted to turn that infraction into a federal constitutional case. I think the WNY Coalition for Progress is entitled to some free publicity too, don't you?

Property Tax

Whilst squandering surplus and tobacco money, HRH Joel I lowered county property taxes. According to WGRZ (on the ball, as usual), Erie County pays the lowest county property taxes in Upstate New York. It's when you add on town/village and school taxes that you discover that New York property taxes are among the highest in the Nation. That's part of the reason why I advocate for an abolition of County government altogether. In any event, everyone agrees that Giambra's property tax rollbacks of the early 2000s will have to be rolled back, at least partially, next year. I call bullshit. Giambra blames the whole thing on Medicaid. Bullshit. Medicaid is definitely part of the problem, but it's not the sole problem. Did you happen to notice that, according to Business First, government pays the most salaries in Erie County? All that government and its concomitant bureaucracy are what makes New York State in general, and Erie County in particular, so inhospitable to private enterprise. In any event, there is now some talk, according to WBEN, of reviewing the County Charter in order fundamentally to change the way Erie County does business. I think that's the right thing to do. We need radical surgery, and these guys are talking about band-aids.

More Upstate Bloggy Goodness

The ever-intrepid Buffalog Craig points us to a new upstate blog: Rome, NY Sucks. While I've never been there, and can't confirm or deny that allegation, I note that Rome is located in Oneida County. Oneida County has the dubious distinction of having the highest sales tax in the United States of America. 9.75%. If what Rome, NY Sucks says is true, then that 9.75% is that county's "thank you" to its intrepid citizens for sticking it out through the upstate stagnation/depression. Well, maybe not "thank". (FYI: Quebec has the highest sales tax in North America, AFAIK. It's about 20%, including GST & PST).


How Not to Govern

Courtesy of the best local paper in WNY, the Niagara Falls Reporter. The NFR's own David Staba (who also writes for the NY Times), covers the rise & fall of Joel Giambra
"In 1999, Joel Giambra rode into office as a new kind of politician, one offering a vision of regionalism that would save not only Buffalo and Erie County, but eventually all of Western New York. Forget that Giambra never offered more than vague details about what 'regionalism' actually entailed, other than impaneling blue-ribbon commissions and scolding the City of Buffalo for being poor -- at least when compared to much of his suburban power base and the county rich with surpluses left by his predecessor. Details didn't matter to the honchos at the Buffalo Niagara Partnership who paid for the former Democratic city comptroller's bid to remake himself as a Republican county executive. Nor did they count in the offices of the Buffalo News, which bought into the warm, fuzzy concept of 'reform,' then helped sell it to voters. Well, maybe all those movers and shakers should have stood still for long enough to pay attention before jumping on the bandwagon. Giambra's blueprint for regionalism turned out to be little more than a few crude notes scrawled on a bar napkin, a document that vanished in the flames of taxpayer anger last week. When the Good Ship Erie County crashed on the rocks Tuesday afternoon, what little momentum he had built toward eliminating the multiple layers of government that weigh down the region's economy vanished as quickly as the tenuous support for Giambra's same-as-it-ever-was 'green budget' and its 12 percent sales-tax increase. 'If you have two dysfunctional governments and you consolidate them, the best you can hope for is one dysfunctional government,' said county Legislator Barry Weinstein (R-Amherst) when asked what the fiscal meltdown meant for the future of a merger plan Giambra had hoped to get on November's ballot. Friday, Giambra departed on what might stand as the most ill-timed vacation in local political annals. He did, however, leave a primer for his peers in Niagara County -- and the rest of the democratized world, for that matter -- on how to screw things up as badly, and as quickly, as possible.
1. Abandon your Party. 2. Give everyone you know a job. 3. Act Invincible 4. Blame everybody else. 5. Try scaring taxpayers into paying more taxes 6. Go on vacation. That's our Joel!

Pizza, part II

I sort of expected this. Peoples' opinions about pizza can oftentimes be more hard-line than political ones. Jaquandor writes:
Seriously, though: why is it that people who grow up on NYC-style pizza hate all other forms of pizza, but people who don't grow up on NYC-style pizza simply adopt NYC-style pizza into their overall view of All Things Pizza? This is something I've always noticed. I've never met anyone who didn't love NYC-style pizza, but those who ate it first, before any other styles of pizza, loathe everything else. It's weird. Anyway, I love Uno's Chicago-style product. I also love Just Pizza. And even though you'll probably hate them too, you should at least try Pizza Plant in Williamsville once.
I went to Pizza Plant to try a pod a while back. It was ok, but not as good as a regular, ricotta-stuffed calzone. Pizza as we know it originated in Naples. There is actually an organization based out of Naples that will certify your pizza to be authentic Neapolitan. That's hardcore. It's the Verace Pizza Napolitana, which has a US office. The first pizzeria in the United States was opened in 1905 (! 100 years of pizza in America!) in New York City by a Neapolitan immigrant. That pizzeria is called Lombardi's. It uses a coal oven to make the best pizza I've ever had in my life. It's still open, and is located on Spring Street near Little Italy. Think about it - Lombardi's was the pioneer. From it sprung all pizza in the US. Its origins, and its location are arguments #1 and 2 as to why New York pizza is the best, and why New Yorkers are so rabid about their loyalty to thin-crust NY pizza. NY introduced pizza to the US. It is the original, and the best. To be authentic Neapolitan pizza;
The dough must be hand pressed with Italian flour and the precise amount of water. The tomatoes are always Italian, usually San Marzano style. And the mozzarella cheese (bufala Mozzarella) is that from water buffalo in the region between Napoli and Roma. These are the ingredients with practiced hands and the special high temperature wood burning oven that make vera pizza Napoletana.
So you see, that's why to native New Yorkers (tri-staters) who grew up on NY-style pizza, the stuff at Bocce and Just Pizza (and countless others around here) are, at best, merely adequate. The thin-crust New York stuff is it. It's the original.


Trattoria Aroma on Main in Williamsville does great NY-style thin-crust pizza, which is baked in a wood-burning oven. It's a really nice little place. Great food, great service. And good pizzas are few & far-between around here. So, I asked the waiter - "do you do takeout?" He replies, "yes, but with NY-style thin-crust pizza, you really need to eat it hot." I agreed, and remarked to him that they are one of the few places around here that know how to do real NY-style pizza. He thanked me, and mentioned Romeo & Juliet's on Hertel as also being good - I agreed. Then he startled me with this news: There is a guy from Westchester who opened a pizza parlor "in the plaza with the theater near UB". At first, I thought he meant the plaza at Maple & Sweet Home by UB North. I checked it out, and there's nothing there. (Except a Taco Bell). Then I tracked it down at the plaza across from UB South, and next to the Amherst Theater (corner of Main & Kenmore Aves.) Zetti's Pizza and Pasta 3500 Main Street Amherst 716-831-8000 Some UB students from the tri-state area comment on Zetti's at a bulletin board: http://www.chowhound.com/boards/tristate/messages/20360.html And a review from UB: http://spectrum.buffalo.edu/article.php?id=15552 Quotes from the owner:
According to Zetti's owner, John Fusco, there is definitely room for one more. "We thought this area could use a better pizza product and pasta product overall to be honest," he said. "The pizza here is like white bread with ketchup and cheese on it. It's a whole different product than what we serve."
OhmyGodOhmyGod. This is it!
"We get everyone. The menu has a wide array of dishes. We have veal dishes, chicken dishes, pasta dishes — so we have everyone from families coming in and sitting down to students," Fusco said. "Lots of students are from Long Island, and they come in because they recognize the product." But, the true test of any pizzeria is the quality of their cheese and pepperoni pizza, so I ordered a slice ($2.40). Growing up in this area, I have tried dozens of different pizzas over the years, but until trying Zetti's, I had no idea there was anything this much better to be had. Though the pepperoni could have been just a little better—I like mine to curl up a little more when it cooks—the crust more than made up for it. It was so crispy and light, even the burned stuff on the bottom tasted good.
I'm so there. If not today, then tomorrow. As a side note, the only good pizza in WNY is: Romeo & Juliet's (Hertel Ave, Buffalo) La Hacienda (Niagara Falls ONLY)(31st & Pine) Trattoria Aroma (Main St. Williamsville) La Dolce Vita (Hertel Ave, Buffalo) I grew up on NYC-style thin-crust pizza; that's the only good pizza, IMHO. Uno's is an encrusted, pizza-like casserole. La Nova is serviceable in a pinch. Great Northern Pizza Kitchen is pretty good. Bocce and Just Pizza? They just suck.


Legislators Ranzenhofer & Cusack (both Republicans) voted against the budget cuts last week. They say they did so because the cuts were being considered hastily. I agree. They're calling a presser today to propose some alternatives to complete shut-downs of county departments. Any time a politician proposes actually thinking about things before carrying them out, then that politician needs to be paid attention to. Honestly, this whole episode is merely proving that we have no use whatsoever for county government. All county assets should be transferred to state and local authorities, and all county duties should be doled out to the state and municipalities.

Stick a fork in him

Donn Esmonde has finally turned on Giambra. Better late than never. A piece like today's used to be reserved solely for the Mayor. As recently as a few weeks ago, Esmonde held out hope for Giambra, and helped to prop him up a bit. Now he realizes it was all like "Weekend at Bernies".
The once-and-not-future King Joel has been reduced to a cardboard crown and a paper scepter. All who had faith in his false promise feel betrayed. The man elevated to higher office on the strength of ideas and - we mistakenly thought - ideals has fallen like Icarus, flapping the tattered wings of pride, pettiness and simple stupidity. Giambra preached reform but didn't practice it. The Highway Division mess, the office furniture scandal and a failure to see the coming financial storm preceded his red/green budget disaster. He sabotaged the December budget deal by slipping in pork and patronage... ...As the fall guy for last year's highway mess, Getz should've been gone long ago. Giambra defiantly kept him around, despite the political damage. It was typical of a "Screw me? No, screw you" attitude Giambra absorbed while growing up in the West Side projects and nurtured as he moved to better neighborhoods and bigger worlds. In the end, nobody - nobody - tells Giambra what to do. He is incapable of taking a hit, swallowing his pride and moving on. Even in his final stab last week at a sales tax deal, Giambra pulled back his offer to share with the city, burning one of the few olive branches he'd extended... ...He had no sway in the budget mess over five of seven Republican legislators. The Republican county comptroller, sheriff and Elections Board commissioner can't stand him. His bizarre sales tax alliance last week with the politically toxic Al DeBenedetti merged the two most unpopular kids in class. At least they had each other. Alienation can be the price of independence, but Giambra's lack of political allies is telling. When riding a wave of popularity, King Joel lorded over his subjects, his hardball style breeding enemies instead of winning friends. The old showbiz adage applies to politics - be nice to people on your way up, because you'll meet them on the way down. Few have fallen farther, faster and messier than Giambra. Either the taste of power overwhelmed his ideals, or they were a sham from the start. Either way, all he touches now turns to straw. The government merger he championed has been cheapened by his connection to it. At a recent news conference, with budget walls crumbling and massive cuts force-fed to every department head, Giambra was asked if he'd take a pay cut. No, he said, I don't see how it would do any good.
Giambra is politically dead & buried. It's time for him to go.


I had a root canal on Friday and I'm in a foul mood right now. The weather isn't helping that. I bit down on an M&M (regular) yesterday right on the tooth, and the pain was lame. That whole side of my mouth is useless now. Now I remember why I avoided the dentists' like the plague for some time. Ugh.


Ann Coulter: fashionable fascist

These are the best tidbits from Ann Coulter's speech at CPAC...
“Liberals like to scream and howl about McCarthyism, I say let’s give them some. They’ve have intellectual terror on campus for years....it’s time for a new McCarthyism.” “Since they’re always acting like they’re oppressed…I say let’s do it, let’s oppress them.” -Talking about Liberals “In addition to racist and Nazi, how about adding traitor to the list of things that professors can’t be? And yes, I realize I just proposed firing the entire Harvard faculty.” “That’s your mission. These institutions can be shaken” -Talking about college campuses “They don’t have any ideas, we have all the ideas. We are sweeping the youth of America and they are going the way of the Whigs” -Talking about Conservative over Liberals.
Ann Coulter: she is actually considered a legitimate author and pundit. The freeper types think she is a goddess - politically and *shudder* physically. She is, simply, a fascist. To her, any and all dissent = slander and/or treason. To her, McCarthy's witch hunts were good things. Hey, Republicans, guess what? She's your Ward Churchill. Too bad the media won't come out and say so.

You're either with us, or you're a pseudo-democracy

Craig links to an article that accuses Western Europe of consisting of "pseudo-democracies." To suggest that Italy, France, Germany are "pseudodemocracies" because they are imperfect is intellectually dishonest. To suggest that a country like Ukraine, that has had about 1 month of democracy, has some sort of duty to ensure the health of Iraq's own nascent democracy is disingenuous. Even to suggest that Spain, whose voters soundly rejected their previous pro-Iraq-war government, has any remaining duty in Iraq is antidemocratic; it is not our place to tell Spain and Spaniards what they ought to do. And the result of that post-3/11 election was wholly democratic, in that it echoed the intent and voice of the majority of people. Really, Johnson's arguing for dictatorship - whereby the leadership of European countries blindly follow the US, Britain and Australia. I think Johnson's very premise is anti-democratic; he accuses certain European nations (read: those not helping in Iraq) of being "pseudo-democracies", but everything he describes is part of the democratic process. Does not democracy include the ability of the people of France or Germany not to participate in a war they think was wrong? I am always astonished by the hubris of Americans who criticize European reluctance to wage war - I'm even more astonished that a Brit wrote this piece. Germany, Italy, France, et al. have actually experienced full-fledged wars on their soil in the last 100 years. Not so the continental United States. War is something we see on TV or Movietone News; something we read about in the newspaper; something that's abstract until it hits one of us personally. All French, Germans, and Italians have been hit personally by war - not so Americans. So, when France and Germany urged the United States to let Hans Blix (remember him?) finish his inspection job in 2002-03, they were asking the US not to rush into war hastily. The legal justification we gave for war was not to depose Saddam Hussein, but to disarm him of WMDs. WMDs that Blix said he hadn't found, and WMDs that, ultimately, didn't exist. In retrospect, and objectively, the French and Germans were right. If the US wanted to depose Hussein for some other, noble, reason, it should have said so. It didn't. We went with the WMD thing. It's the most arrogant and wrong-headed thing I've read in a long time. Why would Steve Forbes publish such nonsense?


Je me Souviens

When the now-vactioning King of Erie County tells you that it's "tragic" that the penny didn't get passed; remember - it was he who first introduced the red budget. Donn Esmonde gets it exactly right today. Giambra wouldn't compromise. He refused to. He had to have it his way - his way meaning keep as much patronage cronies around as humanly possible. When the legislature was working hard at City Court with Judge Makowski's mediators, Joel and his new best bud Al hatched their own plan - which still needed nine votes. Make no mistake: Giambra started this. He let it escalate. His stubbornness and arrogance made it worsen. His short-sightedness and blind loyalty made it stick. To top it off, on the day that 2,000 County Workers are getting axed, HRH jets off on vacation. Not that he's not allowed to, but a lot of politics is about perception. Joel Giambra is to blame. Let's recall him.

Jobs, jobs, jobs.

Someone told me today that one of the news programs did a comparison of Erie County vs. other municipal entities. I can't find it online right now. Erie County: about 1 million people; about 10,000 county workers Chicagoland: about 9 million people; about 10,000 public employees. Anyone want to tell me now that we can't get rid of one single job in County government?


Someone told me today that one of the news programs did a comparison of Erie County vs. other municipal entities. I can't find it online right now. Erie County: about 1 million people; about 10,000 county workers Chicagoland: about 9 million people; about 10,000 public employees. Anyone want to tell me now that we can't get rid of one single job in County government?

He finally Getz out

Victor Getz, longtime friend and former driver of Joel Giambra and newly named Deputy Parks Commissioner, will lose his job. Victor Getz should have lost his job long ago, and Giambra was too stubborn to do it. He was happier to throw the county into chaos than get rid of this hack.
“Victor Getz will no longer be an employee of Erie County. There is no parks department, so there is no need for a Deputy Commissioner of Parks and Recreation,” said Giambra.
With all due respect to HRH Joel the Vindictive, there was no need for a Deputy Commissioner of Parks and Recreation when the parks were open. That perfectly illustrates the problem with our bloated county civil service.
The County Executive also said he plans on giving the Erie County Legislature the budget for 2006 earlier than the November deadline. And he’s not raising ruling out raising your property taxes next year. “Anybody who thinks we can balance next year’s budget without a new revenue source is not being genuine or real,” said Giambra.
Yeah. God forbid the County work with what it has. And your highness, please stop using "new revenue source" as a euphemism for "we're gonna tax you to kingdom come because I'm a professional civil servant, and the taxpayers are my goddamn gravy train, and I'm gonna make you pay you sons of bitches."

HRH Joel I, aka Joel the Vindictive

The legislature met yesterday to impose its cuts before Judge Makowski's deadline. They voted 10-4; Republicans Ranzenhofer, Cusack, Marshall, & Kennedy voting against. I don't quite know or understand why. Joel, who is the sole cause of this entire mess through years of fiscal mismanagement and unbridled arrogance, continues to accept no blame and reside in cloud cuckoo land.
Joel Giambra in a news conference again blamed the whole crisis on Albany. Please note Giambra said he will release his 2006 budget early. There will be significant property tax increases to cover the 2006 deficit. No news there ... But what you do not know is he is releasing the budget early because he hopes to gain political capital & go after his fellow Repubs in November for not supporting a tax increase. Oh & by the way the number for 2006 will be circa $100,000,000.00 ... This includes the $60 million in one time revenue shots in his 2005 budget. Out of the $10s of millions in cuts in the last 48 hours ... Giambra's budget was cut $39,000.00 ... There is still $809,950.00 dollars in the Executive's budget.
So, while Giambra cuts a measly $39,000 from his own budget. (What a douche), the other departments must cut: Comptroller $700,000.00, Clerk $2,000,000.00, Cultural $1,000,000.00, DA $1,000,000.00, Sheriff $4,700,000.00, Social Services $4,700,000.00, Parks & Highways $5,000,000.00. The Department heads must come up with names & positions in 72 hours, Tuesday. And the county parks are closed for the rest of the year. What I think is really HRH King Joel's final nail in his political coffin is the fact that, rather than reap what he's sown, he is using the budget crisis as a political axe - he's going to go after the people of his own party who disagreed with him? That'll go over well. 75% of Erie County voters polled wanted no new tax increase. You think they'll change their minds because the county parks are closed? We can use town and state resources. What a good politician would be doing (well...we never would have been in this mess in the first place) is using the current situation as an impetus to work together with other politicians to fundamentally change county government and the way it does its business, so as to avoid future budget crises. Good politicians around here are few and far between.


Stephen Minarik is an asshole.

Via NYCO, I find that the new chairman of the NYS Republican Party, Stephen Minarik, is an asshole. The increasingly-radicalized Republican Party is, more and more, equating dissent and pluralist democracy with treason. Even Pataki was appalled. On Tuesday, Minarik asserted that the Democratic Party was equal to Lynne Stewart, the leftist activist attorney who represented, and was convicted of abetting, her blind sheikh terrorist client Abdel Rahman. What a load of horseshit that is.
Chairman Howard Dean "is the personification of today's national Democratic Party - elite, radical, out-of-control, and sadly out-of-touch with ordinary Americans." "The Democrats simply have refused to learn the lessons of the past two election cycles, and now they can be accurately called the party of Barbara Boxer, Lynne Stewart and Howard Dean," Minarik added.
Did Minarik apologize for implying that Democrats are traitors? What do you think?
Minarik had issued a statement earlier Tuesday indicating he had no intention of backing away from what he had said the day before and calling Democratic complaints "just the latest `Dean scream."' "The Democrats would be wise to take action on members like Lynne Stewart, rather than attacking me," Minarik said in his statement Tuesday. "Maybe then, the Democratic Party can start to regain some credibility with the American people."
Um...who ever said that Lynne Stewart was a democrat, or in any way led the party, or authored any party platforms? Minarik is an asshole and a bully. All Republicans with a conscience should condemn this guy. And most in New York, to their credit, have.

WGRZ Still on the Ball

Wow! These guys are kicking ass and taking names.:
"Two weeks ago, we compared his staff to that of the county executive in Monroe County, which has about 80% of Erie County's population. She had a total of five, including herself, for an annual payroll of $375,000. Giambra, at the time, had 19 people accounting for $1.6 million. Now, with the first wave of cuts this week plus some cuts Giambra made on his own, his staff will shrink to about 13, including himself. But the Monroe county executive has also since trimmed. She's now down to four, nine less than Giambra's team. Let's also look at Nassau County, which is 45% larger in population than Erie County. Its county executive's office has just 11 people on the payroll, compared to giambra's 13. And what about our legislature? How does it stack up against other places? Let's look at Westchester County, which has nearly the same population as Erie County. Westchester County's legislature has a total of 40 people on the payroll, including the legislators. Now, after Erie County's first wave of cuts, our legislature should still have about 70.
It's about time this sort of waste was exposed. Next, Onondaga County -- home of Syracuse -- about half the population of Erie County, its legislature has 27 positions, again, compared to our 70."

And another thing...

To all the Union folk for whom Mike Bogulski speaks: Do you find the "no new taxes" revolt that you've just witnessed to be inflexible, stubborn, and unreasonable? Now you know how we in the private sector have felt for decades.

Bush's Barberini Faun

Maureen Dowd gets in on the Gannon/Guckert action today with a column that understands the story in all this:
"I'm still mystified by this story. I was rejected for a White House press pass at the start of the Bush administration, but someone with an alias, a tax evasion problem and Internet pictures where he posed like the 'Barberini Faun' is credentialed to cover a White House that won a second term by mining homophobia and preaching family values? At first when I tried to complain about not getting my pass renewed, even though I'd been covering presidents and first ladies since 1986, no one called me back. Finally, when Mr. McClellan replaced Ari Fleischer, he said he'd renew the pass - after a new Secret Service background check that would last several months. In an era when security concerns are paramount, what kind of Secret Service background check did James Guckert get so he could saunter into the West Wing every day under an assumed name while he was doing full-frontal advertising for stud services for $1,200 a weekend? He used a driver's license that said James Guckert to get into the White House, then, once inside, switched to his alter ego, asking questions as Jeff Gannon. "
Exactly. And here's the Barberini Faun.


It's been my opinion that the area that will most benefit from some form of regional government would be Buffalo itself. By expanding the tax base to include both wealthier suburbs and the urban core, the tax wealth gets spread about and places like Buffalo get to benefit from places like Clarence, and hopefully the whole area would strengthen and improve, which would, in turn, grow the region and help places like Clarence. It would turn Buffalo's death spiral into a regional growth cycle. Rod Watson doesn't get it. He argues in today's News that the county budget crisis proves that regionalism is bad for Buffalo. I think he's wrong. I think it proves that the region can do with one less government, and the county's proven that it's the one that has to go. But what really pissed me off about Watson's column today is this line:
Who cares if funding is pulled from a regional economic development fund that could rebuild the urban core? The suburbs will still have the businesses they've pirated from downtown.
That's one of my biggest pet peeves about Buffalo: that people are eager and quick to pit the city against the suburbs. It's counterproductive and, frankly, ignorant. I'm sorry to see Watson do this. I'm sorry because he consistently advocates for the betterment of Buffalo's urban core; and I don't think he gets the fact that the city and suburbs will sink or swim together. Pitting one against the other does nothing but breed resentment. Watson misses the point completely. He advocates that poor people will be hard-hit by services and criticizes people in wealthier communities (who, by the way, are not necessarily wealthy themselves), for standing up to the confiscatory tax policies that have kept the region back for so long. And Watson further misses the point: the people who would be hardest hit by a regressive sales tax would be the very poor people for whom he’s supposedly advocating. Watson says that suburban taxpayers have a "we've got ours, and we're not paying for anybody else's" mentality. Well, if the local unions didn’t have a we’ve got ours, and nothing’s going to change it” mentality, maybe an accord could have been reached. Bogulski and his crew are as much to blame as Giambra. The people spoke, Rod. But I do agree with one thing he mentions in his column: The county legislature must go. As must all county government. Then Rod can have what is apparently his dream: that the City pay for its own programs. Then he can stuff his suburbophobia.