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Pundit on Golisano, Higgins and State Senate Dems

The Buffalo Pundit has some recent posts worth taking a look at. Topics include:

The alliance between Tom Golisano/Steve Pigeon and the Independence Party.

Opines the Pundit:

While I agree with a lot of what Golisano’s Responsible New York stands for vis-a-vis reformation of state government, his alliance with supremely political tin-pot Machiavellis indicates to me (and a lot of other people) that “reform” is secondary to “power”.

Brian Higgins gets hip with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Reform plan advanced by State Senate Democrats.

Money, money, money

Five state senators are asking Gov. Paterson to release $120 million in upstate economic development funds that have been sitting idle for a year, the Binghamton Press is reporting.

"Despite an overwhelming need for an upstate-focused economic-development strategy, the Upstate Fund has continued to lie dormant," said the letter, signed by Sens. Neil Breslin of Albany, William Stachowski and Antoine Thompson of Buffalo, David Valesky of Syracuse and Darryl Aubertine of Watertown. "We hope you will move quickly to issue these much-needed funds."

Gee, I thought having Bob Wilmers as chairman of th Empire State Development Corp. was going to avoid problems like this. Come to think of it, no major WNY initiatives have been forthcoming from ESD since Wilmers took over amid hopes that state economic development policy would pay closer attention to our neck of the woods.

The Buffalo Pundit weighs in here.

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Chuck Schumer is helping Sam Hoyt raise money, the New York Daily News reports. Likewise, Hoyt is raising money for Andew Cuomo.

Interesting to note that it's Sen. Chuck Schumer, not, say, Gov. David Paterson or Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is coming to Hoyt's aid here.

No surprise, though. Schumer is rolling in the dough and doesn't need to fear Golisano's money, unlike pols at the state level. Might be one reason why no one has submitted legislation that would close the loopholes used by Golisano's Responsible New York to bankroll several races last fall.

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USA Today has a story on how the compensation gap between government and private sector employees is growing.

Overall, total compensation for state and local workers was $39.25 an hour — $11.90 more than in private business. In 2007, the gap in wages and benefits was $11.31.

The gap has been expanding because of the increasing value of public employee benefits. Last year, government benefits rose three times more than those in the private sector: up 69 cents an hour for civil servants, 23 cents for private workers.

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All this talk of money makes me want to hear from the O'Jays. Hit it, guys.

Break the banks or go bust

Like many of you, I've read a lot about the ongoing financial meltdown in the hopes of gaining an understanding of what is a decidedly complicated situation. This month's issue of Atlantic has one of the best pieces I've come across, in part because it describes what it is we need to do to get us out of this mess.

Ultimately, it's not about derivatives or bonuses or regulations. It's about politics, says the author, Simon Johnson.

The lead-in to the story summarizes matters quite nicely:

The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States. One of the most alarming, says a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is that the finance industry has effectively captured our government - a state of affairs that more typically describes emerging markets, and is at the center of many emerging-market crises. If the IMF staff could speak freely about the U.S., it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation: recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform. And if we are to prevent a true depression, we're running out of time.

This is not a short story - the printout runs 11 pages - but it is worth the investment of time.

Wrote Johnson:

Almost always, countries in crisis need to learn to live within their means after a period of excess—exports must be increased, and imports cut—and the goal is to do this without the most horrible of recessions. Naturally, the fund’s economists spend time figuring out the policies—budget, money supply, and the like—that make sense in this context. Yet the economic solution is seldom very hard to work out.

No, the real concern of the fund’s senior staff, and the biggest obstacle to recovery, is almost invariably the politics of countries in crisis.

Typically, these countries are in a desperate economic situation for one simple reason—the powerful elites within them overreached in good times and took too many risks.

Johnson offers some eye-opening statistics:

  • Until the mid-80s, the financial sector never accounted for more than 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. By this decade, they had soared to 41 percent.

  • Average compensation in the financial sector ranged from 99 to 108 percent of the private sector in the '50s, '60s and '70s. It took off in the '80s and by 2007 hit 181 percent.

  • Wall Street paid out $18 billion in bonuses last year, amounting to 13.5 cents for every dollar of federal assistance, not that it was quid pro quo.

Johnson argues that Obama and company have got to play real hardball and break the political power of the bankers and others who have gotten us into this mess. And the public outrage notwithstanding, he said the bankers have gained, not lost power since the crisis began.

Johnson maintains that, absent a disarming of big finance, the nation is in for a continuation of shell games, band-aid solutions and worsening economic conditions. Hence, the need for change.

The power of the oligarchy—is just as important as the immediate crisis of lending. And the advice from the IMF on this front would again be simple: break the oligarchy.

An interesting, understandable and compelling read.

NY Times sees potential in Buffalo

The New York Times longs for a "bold urban vision" to help revitalize the nation's cities and sees particular potential in Buffalo.

Writes Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff:

The country has fallen on hard times, but those of us who love cities know we have been living in the dark ages for a while now. We know that turning things around will take more than just pouring money into shovel-ready projects, regardless of how they might boost the economy. Windmills won’t do it either. We long for a bold urban vision.

With their crowded neighborhoods and web of public services, cities are not only invaluable cultural incubators; they are also vastly more efficient than suburbs. But for years they have been neglected, and in many cases forcibly harmed, by policies that favored sprawl over density and conformity over difference.

Such policies have caused many of our urban centers to devolve into generic theme parks and others, like Detroit, to decay into ghost towns. They have also sparked the rise of ecologically unsustainable gated communities and reinforced economic disparities by building walls between racial, ethnic and class groups.

Correcting this imbalance will require a radical adjustment in how we think of cities and government’s role in them. At times it will mean destruction rather than repair. And it demands listening to people who have spent the last decade imagining and in many cases planning for more sustainable, livable and socially just cities.

The story goes on to deal with four locales, New Orleans, Los Angeles, the Bronx and Buffalo:

Perhaps the most intriguing test case for reimagining our failing cities is in Buffalo, where the federal government is pressing ahead with a plan to expand its border crossing facilities. The city was once a center of architectural experimentation, with landmarks by virtually every great American architect of the late 19th and early 20th century. Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., the father of American landscaping, created a string of elegant public parks intended for the city’s factory workers.

Like other Rust Belt cities, Buffalo began its decline more than a half-century ago, a victim of failing industries and suburban flight. Large sections of Olmsted’s parks and boulevards were demolished; an elevated expressway sliced through one of these parks, cutting it off from the riverfront; many of downtown’s once-proud buildings were left abandoned.

Yet rather than reverse that trend, the government now seems determined to accelerate it. The Homeland Security Department is planning to expand an area at the entry to the Peace Bridge to make room for new inspection facilities and parking. That plan would require the demolition of five and a half blocks in a diverse working-class neighborhood with a rich architectural history, from late-19th-century Italianate mansions to modest two-family homes built in the 1920s.

Local preservationists argue that protecting the city’s historic neighborhoods is fundamental to the city’s survival. Pointing out that bridge traffic is steadily shrinking, they are pressing the government to upgrade the train system and dismantle parts of the elevated freeway to allow better access to the riverfront. Not only would they like to see Olmsted’s late-19th-century vision restored; they would also like to see it joined to a more comprehensive vision for the city’s future.

At this point there is no concrete plan to counter the government’s, but the potential is great. The city’s architectural fabric is rich. It has an active grass-roots preservation movement. And few sites better sum up the challenges of trying to save a shrinking city. I for one would love to see what a talented architect could accomplish if his imagination were given free rein over such a promising site.

The entire story is worth reading, so have at it.

Also worth a look is this story from AlterNet dealing with the next wave of slums -- in outer-ring suburbs.

Suburbia's least desirable neighborhoods -- aging, middle-class tract-home developments far from city centers and mass transit lines -- are America's emerging slums, characterized by poverty, crime and other social ills. 

I don't see that happening here, not yet, anyway. Then again, I have never gotten the appeal of, say, Lancaster. Doesn't seem to be any there, there.

 


Blogging the new year

I've been an avid newspaper reader since I was old enough to read. I grew up in a house where papers were everywhere. We subscribed to The Buffalo News and the Courier-Express. Every day my father brought home from work the New York Times and the New York Post (long before Murdoch got his hands on it). My family had a summer home in Canada, so the Toronto dailies, starting with the Toronto Star, were also staples.

I still read a lot of papers, The News, of course, and I subscribe to The Times, which I find indispensable. And I still pick up the Toronto papers on a regular basis.

But the past couple of years, I find myself reading blogs more than I do online editions of daily newspapers. A lot of them are focused on new media, while others deal with topics I cover. I thought I'd share a few of my favorites that cover the spectrum.

Politico has emerged as a leading source of national political news. RealClearPolitics provides a great index of political coverage. Political blogs published by the New York Daily News and Albany Times Union offer daily digests with links to state political news.

The Buffalo Pundit is the best local political blog. Other local blogs worth a look are Fix Buffalo Today, Niagara Times and Buffalo Rising. And I'm kind of partial to the University Heights Answer Lady.

AlterNet, which is actually a Web site with blogs, provides a good cross-section of left-of-center news and opinion. Sorry, I have no right-wing companion. My readers will be shocked - shocked! - at this.

I've raved before about Gristmill, the environmental blog. DotEarth from the Times is pretty good, too.

SeeThroughNY is great for looking up how the state spends your tax dollars.

AllTop is a really nifty site I recently discovered. Pick a topic and it will give you the most-recent posts from a range of online publications.

I haven't been a fan of Tina Brown, but I like what she's doing with her Daily Beast. Pretty innovative.

If you're interested in media, Jim Romenesko produces a daily digest that a lot of reporters read religiously, Newspaper Death Watch chronicles the demise of the industry and BuzzMachine points the way to the future. All highly recommended for those into such things.

Completely off point, fellow New York Yankee fans will enjoy Sliding Into Home. For hockey fans, Kukla's Korner provides a good daily digest of coverage and James Mirtle is the best of the hockey bloggers.

But enough from me. What are your favorites? I'm especially interested in blogs that make sense of the economic meltdown and bailout.

A timely read

I've plugged Gristmill, the environmental blog, in the past, and this is an especially opportune time to check it out, given the pending appointments of Obama's environmental team.

Election sites: Smart, funny & otherwise

This is the presidential campaign where online media has come of age. There's a lot out there. Here's one humble(?) reporter's attempt to help readers wade through it all.

I'm going to start with comic relief. We need it. More with each passing day.

Campaign_button_paulson_4 First up, Indecision 2008, which features the handiwork of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Co. While it's good for yucks, the sad reality is that there's a lot more truth telling among the laughs than often can be found in the blah-blah-blah coverage of the "legitimate" network and cable news programs.

Saturday Night Live is worth keeping an eye on, given its opening skits the past two weeks.

I recently came across this political humor site, which had me in stitches. Among other things, it tallies the wisecracks made by Leno, Letterman and the other late night talk show hosts.

Here's my favorite, from Jimmy Kimmel:

"How are you going to be the vice president of the United States with five kids to take care of? She's got a four-month-old of her own, she's about to become a grandmother and she's partnered with John McCain. How many diapers can one woman possibly change?"

But seriously folks, I should move on to the mainstream news coverage. Yahoo! News offers a cross-section and is not a bad place to start. The major national dailies, starting with the New York Times and Washington Post are good, as is the new kid on the block, the all-Web Politico.

Campaign_button_rfk_2 Alternatives? The Guardian offers a European perspective via a Web site that is considered by many the best in the news business. Left-of-center perspectives on this side of the ocean can be found at Alternet and Huffington Post. Gristmill has top-notch news and analysis of the campaign as it relates to environmental issues.

I suppose I should list the official sites of Barack Obama and John McCain, if for no other reason than it provides an opening to mention a couple of third-party candidates, Ralph Nader on the left, Bob Barr on the right, and Ron Paul, who was all over the place when he ran during the primary. You may not be voting for any of the minor party candidates, but their sites are worth visiting because they raise important issues that the Dems and GOP aren't addressing head on.

Campaign_button_nixon_2There are a few useful odds 'n ends. Factcheck is a non-partisan truth squad analyzing the barrage of charges and counter-charges. If you want to check on the latest polls go here. And if you're still trying to make up your mind, this interactive questionnaire from USA Today tells you how the candidates stand on the issues of importance to you.

Among state and local blogs, I like what the Buffalo Pundit is doing, and the political blog of the Albany Times Union provides both statewide election coverage and a daily digest of political and government news from around New York. And, of course, there's Politics Now from my colleagues at The Buffalo News, which offers a good blend of local, state and national coverage.

Interested in how politicians are raising and spending money? Go here for state elections and here for federal. Good stuff.

Any sites you'd add to the list?

Flat wages, soaring profits

I'm reading "The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Workers," by New York Time labor reporter Steven Greenhouse. I'm only a couple of chapters into the book, but already, the numbers make me wanna holler.

Worker productivity is up 60 percent since 1979. Not that it did the worketing stiff much good.

Wages during that period for 80 percent of U.S. workers -- non-supervisors working in the private sector -- are up 1 percent after being adjusted for inflation. Wages for men are acutally down 5 percent.

Who made out? Stockholders. Corporate profits from 2001-2007 jumped an average of 13 percent a year.

The working poor are getting hit especially hard. And there are lots of them. Almost one-quarter of the work force earns less than $10 a hour. Yeah, some of them are students, but many are a mom or dad trying to support a family. Raise a family of four on those wages and you're below the poverty line. Which is growing, by the way, up 15 percent, or 5.6 million people, from 2000 to 2006.

Greenhouse's findings are summed up by his Times colleague Paul Krugman:

"It's a great economy if you're a high-level corporate executive or someone who owns a lot of stoock. For most other Americans, economic growth is a spectator sport."

Part One of a Greenhouse interview on Democracy Now! is posted above. Part Two is below. They both run about 10 minues each.

Here's a book review from the New York Times. Read it and weep.

Oil prices, climate change, etc.

On the energy and global warming front:

Globalization may have met its match in the form of high energy prices, according to this NY Times story.

Cheap oil, the lubricant of quick, inexpensive transportation links across the world, may not return anytime soon, upsetting the logic of diffuse global supply chains that treat geography as a footnote in the pursuit of lower wages ...

Many economists argue that globalization will not shift into reverse even if oil prices continue their rising trend. But many see evidence that companies looking to keep prices low will have to move some production closer to consumers.

The Jet Propulsion Laborary at the California Institute of Technology has put up a catchy, informative site on climate change. The lab is a NASA center staffed and managed by Caltech, as it is known.

Gristmill, the environmental blog, describes the site like this:

It offers a nice summary of the relevant science in a variety of areas: key indicators, evidence, causes, effects, uncertainties, and solutions. The website is a good place to send people who are uninformed on global warming, but looking for basic information. 

NY Times columnist Paul Krugman on the politics behind the debate over what to do about global warming.

In themselves, limits on offshore drilling are only a modest-sized issue. But the skirmish over drilling is the opening stage of a much bigger fight over environmental policy. What’s at stake in that fight, above all, is the question of whether we’ll take action against climate change before it’s utterly too late.

Read and react.

A loophole we can live without

Great_lakes_3 The Toronto Star had a front page story the other day about a pact before Congress designed to stop diversion of Great Lakes water that may contain a giant loophole that would allow bottlers to siphon as much H20 as they want, provided they ship it in small containers. The warning came from noted U.S. environmental attorney James Olsen.

Reported The Star:

"Among other concerns, Olson criticizes an exemption in the Great Lakes Compact allowing water to be removed by private industry as long as it's not "bulk diversion" –- in other words, restricted to containers no more than 20 litres in Canada or 5.7 gallons in the U.S., with no limit on the number of containers a business, such as a bottler, can sell.

"That means an important legal precedent has been set giving water a 'product' exemption from the diversion ban on Great Lakes water at the heart of the deal. It is a product to be exploited for private gain, and not to be recognized as a public trust.

"While Olson is worried about the gradual loss of water levels through the activities of, say, bottling companies, under current limitations, he predicts these quantitative restrictions will turn out to be mere formalities destined to be overturned in court challenges.

"The agreement has been reported to have a veneer of glory around it, but it's much less than that," Olson said.

This does not sound good.

Jerry Zremski has a story in today's News on the status of the bill in Congress.

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