December 31, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Janus
The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is frequently attributed to the ancient Romans or Babylonians. According to some, it has to with Janus, the two-faced king who could look both to the future and to the past, and folks wanting to curry his favor or to start the year out on the right foot.

These days, we don’t so much seek favor from the gods, but tend more to commit to weight loss, exercise, and eating better; getting out of debt; and the generic ‘spending more time’ with friends and family. I worry that last one’s an invitation to spend more time with fingers flying over a touch-screen talking finger to finger, rather than face to face, but in the end it many not matter so much the ‘how’, as long as the ‘what’ is achieved.

This is the first year for resolutions here at veritable pastiche. So here we go:
  • I resolve to engage more with people. Instead of just writing about the people who make the news, I’m going to write to the people I write about, so that they have the chance to get involved in the conversation. And, I resolve to give them the benefit of the doubt even when that seems silly, and even when fairness is the farthest thing from my mind. If they ignore me, well that’s another story…
  • I resolve to find joy in my writing. There are moments, sometimes days, I confess, that writing is the last thing I want to do. And then, when I start up again, I can write for hours without even thinking about it, and it’s all fun. Much of that doesn’t end up anywhere, or get seen by anyone, it’s just me priming the pump. I’m also hoping to explore writing poetry a little more; I used to do that when I was younger, but it’s been a while (well, since my poem for a contest in Slate) and I want to enjoy that again.
  • I resolve to read more this year. My Sweet Baboo and I have a whole mess of books that we’re going to be moving into our new library, before spring. They come from garage sales, from friends, and from the bargain bins at the major booksellers, and they’re here for me whenever I need them. I just have to make time for me to make time for them.
  • And, of course, it wouldn’t be a new year if I didn’t resolve to lose weight, eat better, exercise more, spend more time with family, and be kind to strangers.

Oscar Wilde famously noted that, "a New Year's Resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other."  He's right; historically, while something like half of American adults make resolutions, 97% of the ones made are never fulfilled. And while 75% of us are solid on the resolutions after two weeks, a mere 46% make it past six months. I don't know the number of those who make it the full year, but it's not high.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to meet your expectations, if not my own. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, safe, and prosperous New Year.

December 27, 2010

Poll Watch: Ho-Ho-Holiday Edition

According to recent surveys by Rasmussen Reports, (all of which can be found here) 83% of those surveyed believe that credit cards tempt folks to buy things they can’t afford. Of people who have at least one credit card, 36% think they personally need to cut back on spending, 58% think they don’t, and 81% think that everyone needs to cut back. In a showing of economic strength, 65% of credit card holders feel it’s unlikely they’ll miss a payment in the next six months. Last, 36% of those surveyed are very comfortable using their credit cards online, compared to 11% who are not at all comfortable doing so. 

In a survey taken before ten days before Christmas, Fox News found that 75% of respondents would offer a hearty Merry Christmas vs. the more generic Happy Holidays. If a store were to force employees to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, 30% would stop shopping there; the number of Republicans (46%) and white born-again Christians (48%), not surprisingly, is much higher.  Kindly, a good number of those surveyed - 41%  - would give President Obama whatever was on his list, but 31% would give him only fruitcake. Another 21% would give him the proverbial lump of coal. On that subject, if the President were to re-wrap his coal and pass it on to someone else (say, Mitch McConnell), he’d be in good company with the 16% of the population that are re-gifters.  Dems, at 54%, are more likely than Reps (42%) to just keep an unwanted gift. Which may explain Charlie Rangel’s longevity.

December 26, 2010

Sunday School: 12/26/10

On CNN’s State of the Union, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs advised us that POTUS has not had a smoke in about nine months, and that since the election the Reps have learned that they can no longer sit around saying “no” but now they have to participate in governing, which is why the Lame Duck session was so productive.

Over at NBC's Meet the Press, senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett echoed Gibbs’ statement about the Reps having to lead, and she also talked about Obama’s desire to spend more time outside Washington, “listening and learning and engaging” with the American people.  In the roundtable with Tom Brokaw, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Peggy Noonan and Bob Woodward, there was a lot of conversation about the lame duck accomplishments, including the tax deal, repeal of DADT. Brokaw pointed out that POTUS was leading from the front, rather than the back, of the pack and how he stood down the Dems who were not pleased with his deal-making with the Reps. Woodward related a story about Bill Clinton at Richard Holbrooke’s wake, and how everyone got caught up in Clinton’s emotional aura, in comparison to Obama still not seeming connected with the people. Obama may need to find his inner Clinton, or to Peggy Noonan's point, he needs to regain his mystique. And everyone thinks it’s going to be an interesting two years starting in January.

Chris Wallace talked with Senator Tom Coburn on Fox News Sunday. Coburn is the one who brought us the Waste Book 2010, with its $11 billion in easy pickings of wasteful spending. Coburn pointed out that both Dem and Rep administrations have not made the kinds of sacrifices that are necessary to keep us from ending up like Greece. When pressed for specifics, he talked about eliminating redundancies and cutting programs, such as having 39 agencies supporting 267 jobs training programs. If we don’t make changes, the senator says, we could see “15 to 18% unemployment”. Also, Coburn gave us this week’s “no way, no how” – he will not run for another term, he’s sticking to his commitment and self-imposed term limit. Last, Bill Kristol, of the Weekly Standard, predicts that Sarah Palin won't run in 2012.

December 16, 2010

There were only four to greet us...

The day we have been expecting, but not looking forward to, has come. Today we lost our beloved Michael T, the King of Cats.

Affectionately known as Mikey or MT, Michael came into My Sweet Baboo’s life back in 1996, as a little gray and white long-haired puffball. He was originally our neighbor’s cat, but spent most of the time on this side of the property line. Neighbor Bob offered the cat to MSB, and the rest is history. A cat named Zoey went to the vet, but Michael T was the cat that came home – you can hide a lot under all that fur!

Over the years, MT established himself as the king of the house, and more importantly, king of the garden. There were always other cats around, but he was the Big Shot, his gorgeous gray fur and pure white mane demanding attention not only from people, but from the other cats as well. He wasn’t at all interested in birds or squirrels, but adored the flowers, shrubs, and all of the little hiding places he found in the garden, and we always said that for MT, a bad day outside was way better than a good day inside.

Earlier this year, while MSB was doing some weeding out back, MT was at his side, helping out. One of his favorite things was to lie down either on our hands, on the weeds we were trying to pull, or on top of new plants we had just put in… This time, MT stood up looking as if he was going to chase something, then jumped, let out a yelp, and fell to the ground. Making a long story short, after a night at the emergency animal hospital, it was determined that he had suffered a heart attack, he had fluid around his heart and lungs, and a blood clot had likely cost him use of his right hind leg. Worse, we were given a very discouraging prognosis of only three to four months.

Well, MT had other ideas. Loaded up on Plavix, enalapril, Lasix, and aspirin, he fought back slowly but surely. Within a couple of weeks, he had regained almost full use of his hind leg. With good weather every day and the garden starting to come into bloom, he began to thrive, returning almost to the Michael of old. He spent his days in his favorite spots, on a bench out back in an untamed part of the garden, or hiding under the euonymus, or on the bridge over the dry creek bed – we didn’t know for sure where he’d be, and we were pretty nervous at first when we couldn’t immediately find him, but he stayed close to home, came in every night, and was just a happy cat.

As summer turned into fall, and the weather started to turn, he continued to enjoy his time outside; the gazebo became his favorite spot, where he could sit and survey the garden from a cushioned lawn chair, out of the sun. He’d come to meet us at the car when we got home, and when we’d head inside the indoor cats would race to him, greeting him as if he were a conquering hero.

Even when it got colder, he wanted to go outside, he didn’t want to waste a single day of it. Once it got really cold and we had all the snow, he’d grudgingly spend the day inside with the other cats. Every day when we got home, there’d be the five of them waiting at the door, MT in the front of the pack. If it wasn’t too bad, he’d go out and sit on the front porch, or maybe head out into the driveway, getting his curly belly hairs damp with the snow, and then hurry back inside.

Today, when we came into the house, there were only four to greet us. MT had seemed fine last night and this morning, but he passed sometime during the day while we were at work.  I like to think he just figured that all this snow would take way too long to melt, and he couldn’t stand the thought of being inside that long.

Rest in peace, MT.

December 12, 2010

Sunday School: 12/12/10

Today I'm introducing a new feature: Sunday School, where I'll recap the Sunday gabfests. Let's get to it!

White House advisor David Axelrod is confident that the tax deal the president negotiated with Reps will pass when it comes up for a vote. There are still a number of complaints from House Dems, but as many Reps have said, come January the game changes as controls shifts from the left to the right side of the aisle. At that point, all bets are off. Axelrod spoke on CNN’s State of the Union.
 
As mentioned on Fox News Sunday, ten years ago today the US Supreme Court anointed George Dubya Bush President -- my how time flies!  Also on FNS was some conversation about the tax deal and a great round table discussion on Friday’s press conference with ‘two presidents and one lecturn’. A great clip here at about the 7 minute mark.

Over at NBC’s Meet the Press, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg indicated there’s "no way no how" he’s running for president.  He also pointed out that in the real world of governing leaders do what’s possible and so everyone gets something, rather than sticking to a straight partly line and getting nothing accomplished, and that President Obama’s success is America’s success and we all should be supportive of him now, as our President, in light of our current economic situation with China in particular. Interesting position, but perhaps an easier one for an Independent big-city mayor to take than for a dyed-in-the-wool Rep, for example.
 
Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich) told the reporters on CSPAN’s Newsmakers that the hearing on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will likely wait until after Congress has an investigation into the shootings earlier in the year at Fort Hood. Levin personally was against DADT and remains so, recognizing that many other countries allow gays to serve openly.
 
At ABC’s This Week, the tax deal was the main topic of conversation, echoing what was seen on the other shows or talked about last week… the ‘hostage’ situation mentioned by the President; calling it a stimulus; and pointing out that the huge increase in the deficit caused by this compromise seems to be a step in the wrong direction. The round table discussion raised the point that sure this was bipartisan, but it wasn’t leadership and it didn’t make any hard choices or call Americans together in shared sacrifice.  Next year, when the Reps are in control of the House, will there be shared sacrifice, or only sacrifice? 
 
Last, on Face the Nation, Axelrod declared he was not worried about Obama being a one-term president, and Howard Dean indicated he didn’t think Obama would face a primary opponent for 2012.  Interesting.

December 9, 2010

Shots Fired: Bush Tax Cuts, etc. Edition

There’s a whole lot of jibber-jabber about the plan to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone across the income spectrum, tinker with the death/estate tax, and with any luck add even longer unemployment benefits.

Here’s just a sampling from Tampa Bay online, NPR, and Business Week:
  • "If it's take it or leave it, we'll leave it," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.  
  • "While I have concerns with some specific aspects of the plan, I support the proposed framework to avert further economic hardship and provide a first step to restore the foundations for sustained growth and job creation." Rep. Paul Ryan, (R-WI)
  • “Most of us who ran in this last election said we were not going to vote for anything that increased the deficit. This does. It raises taxes. It raises the death tax. I don't think we need to negotiate that aspect of this thing away. I don't think we need to, you know, extend unemployment any further without paying for it.” Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC)
  • “I've said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts. I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed.” President Obama, in his press conference on Tuesday.  
  • “If everybody took out what they didn’t like we would have nothing…At the end of the day this will get done.” – White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
Until we see a vote, which may come Monday, I suspect we'll hear a whole lot more of stuff like this.

December 7, 2010

Poll Watch 12/7/10: Confidence, Deficit Reduction, DADT

According to Rasmussen Reports, most of us don’t have high expectations for the new Congress. In a recent survey of  likely voters, only 33% think it’s at least somewhat likely Congress will make significant spending cuts, compared to 60% who think it’s unlikely we’ll see significant reductions in government spending.  Also from Rasmussen, 41% think that the 99-week unemployment benefit period up for renewal now is too long, and 49% think that it encourages people to stay unemployed.  

A Wall Street Journal/ NBC News poll taken late last month shows that we’re skeptical of deficit reduction plans proposed by the Presidential Commission, and that Congress has a tough row to hoe in this regard.  Only 41% of those surveyed are comfortable or somewhat comfortable with gradually raising the retirement age to 69; only slightly over a quarter of us are comfortable with cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and about 60% are uncomfortable with other initiatives such as reducing the mortgage interest deduction, raising gas taxes and changing corporate tax rules.

Over at CBS, a new poll shows that 69% of us believe gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly; John McCain is not one of them. Regarding the WikiLeaks and the released confidential documents, about 75% of us have heard about the debacle, and about 60% overall  -- Republicans (74%), Democrats (52%) and independents (59%)  -- believe the leaks will have a negative impact on us. Not surprisingly, only 25% of folks surveyed believe that the public has a right to know everything, and also not surprisingly, Dems (30%) outnumber Reps (18%) on this question. 

It’s going to be an interesting season when the new Congress takes their seats.

December 5, 2010

Five Questions for Ann Marie Buerkle

The race for NY’s 25th district didn’t end until three weeks after election day, and Ann Marie Buerkle has been elected by a prosciutto-thin margin.  She's announced her plans to hold firmly to her ideas but be open to the other half of her district who voted for Dan Maffei. Given that, I've got a few questions for our new Congresswoman, based on her Compact25 and published reports.
  1. You indicate you want to “defund and repeal” Obamacare.  Assuming you are successful, how will you explain to us why we again have be subjected to annual or lifetime limits on health insurance benefits? Or why we’ll again have to pay for preventative care, instead of having it be covered in full? Or why folks with pre-existing conditions will again become effectively uninsured? 
  2. You want to "review all federal agencies for efficiency and effectiveness and cut their budgets accordingly," and at the same time you promise to "ensure the Department of Defense is adequately and appropriately funded."  Will you start with DoD as the primary agency for the efficiency/effectiveness review? Some recent articles on incredible contracts, our bloated defense budget, and out of control intelligence spending may be of interest. 
  3. Congressman Maffei was hammered in your campaign ads (as well in those of the out-of-town groups that poured money into the race) as being a pawn of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Should we consider you a pawn of incoming Speaker John Boehner, and vote you out in two years, if your voting record is consistent with the new Speaker's ideology?
  4. What exactly do you mean by ‘treat our allies like allies and our enemies like enemies’ and who specifically do you think is being treated incorrectly now? 
  5. You support giving tax credits to parents who send their kids to private schools. Why does someone who supports accountability and individual responsibility think the rest of us should be subsidizing people who choose not to participate in public education?
I’m sure I’ll have more questions as you settle in to your new role in January, and I’m looking forward to staying in touch.

November 30, 2010

A little of this, a little of that

Returning well-rested from an extended holiday break, I thought I'd take a moment to catch up on the news of the past few days. Let’s begin.
  • The race for NY’s 25th House district is over, and Ann Marie Buerkle has defeated Dan Maffei. Buerkle had the support of Sarah margin of victory. Even she knows that it wasn’t so much that folks in the district were thrilled with her, but more that folks were disappointed with her predecessor. So, her plan?  Well, of course, she’s going to hold firm on her beliefs including de-funding or repealing health care reform, making the Bush tax cuts permanent, reducing regulation and taxes on business, doubting climate change, and getting rid of the Department of Education. I’ll have a few questions for Ann Marie later in the week.
  • The long-awaited Pentagon report on gays in the military has come out, pardon the pun, and I think as most folks realize, times have changed since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was put into place back in the 1990’s. The report concludes that gays can serve openly without jeopardizing our safety, or the military as an institution. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others are in favor of a phased in approach after the law is repealed, vs. a court-ordered change which would likely be more immediate. We’ll see what the Senate does, once the anti-repeal holdouts (including John McCain) finish reading the study; the House has already approved repeal. The White House, in a weird round of political Twister, is both supporting repeal and fighting a court order to not enforce DADT. 
  • President Obama has proposed a wage freeze for civilian federal workers, but members of Congress and congressional workers would be excluded.  I know it seems like a token effort, and it will only save a few billion dollars over the next several years, but it’s something that many of us in the private sector have already been through and after all, these folks are paid with our tax dollars. The trick is, this can’t be the only effort the government undertakes, and it will be a test of our fortitude when we move from freezing wages to cutting services. Hold on to your hats, and be sure you have your scorecard handy to see which of your elected representatives are really serious about getting our financial house in order at any level of government.
  • Back here in NY, Governor Elect Andrew Cuomo’s video on the challenges we are facing together doesn’t seem to be getting a ton of attention. The video came out about a week after Cuomo slaughtered baseball-bat wielding Carl Paladino by something like a gazillion votes, but there hasn’t been much mention of it. I’ve signed on to get emails from Cuomo, but he’s been pretty quiet since the election. Hopefully things will start picking up as our Accidental Governor’s term winds down.
  • Oh, and that other thing, across the pond. Prince Wills gave Kate Middleton his mum’s engagement ring, the stunning sapphire and diamond number that Charles used to bribe Diana into producing an heir (and a spare). Seems like at least this time the Prince knows his future princess, and he can actually talk about being in love way less awkwardly than his father did. The nuptials are scheduled for April 29, 2011 at Westminster Abbey. Sadly, I have an appointment that day and will have to decline. Hopefully they won’t miss me too much.
What's been going on in your world?

November 23, 2010

Lovin', Touchin’, Squeezin’*

I have no plans to protest the new TSA “you make me weep, and wanna die” pat-downs or their “you’re tearing me apart” then reassembling me scanners tomorrow. (There’s some detailed coverage of the protest here). The only flying I plan on doing is around the kitchen getting things ready for Thursday, or around my keyboard on a pre-Black Friday shopping mission.  But I don’t believe the protests are a good thing, for a couple of reasons. 

The first reason is that it'll only make it harder for other people (many of whom don’t share the same view as the protesters) to get home to their families, which I think is a pretty rotten way to make a point.  It’s the American way, I suppose — some of our best points have been made on the backs of others.  But when we should be focused on counting our blessings and being generous to those less fortunate than us, making it harder for folks to do that seems pretty petty. 

I also think the protests are wrong.  Initially, when I first saw the scanner image of that mysterious naked man, I was appalled – no way was I going to put up with that!  And I’m not saying I’d like it if I were selected for the pat-down, and I feel sorry for the person who’s in the room when my back-scatter photo comes across the screen.  But the bottom line (pun intended) is I’ve come to accept that we have to do something, and this is what we have, so this is what we have to deal with.

Now, don’t get me wrong: most the actions we’ve taken regarding airplane security since 9/11 have been reactive, not proactive. 
  • Some jerk sneaks something explosive on a plane in a couple of plastic bottles; we limit the size and content of the bottles people can bring on board. 
  • Some idiot tries to set his shoes on fire; we take off our shoes at security.  
  • Some moron sticks a bomb in his Fruit of the Looms; we have our naked, wrinkled, inglorious images displayed somewhere in a dark room, hopefully filled with barf bags.
  • The next ‘bomb scare’ will bring about the next ‘security intrusion’ as sure as Thursday is Thanksgiving.
And these steps do feel like intrusions to the American flying public, that’s true.  But isn’t the biggest intrusion of all the slime balls trying to take down the planes?  I expected our government to intrude to protect me from them and frankly if the government did nothing, I’d be up in arms, as would just about everyone else.  

Should the TSA discipline folks who are a little aggressive (or suggestive) in their approach? Yes.  Should they make sure employees are fully trained on all of the options available to passengers? Of course. Should passengers fully understand their rights regarding the new procedures?  Yep. And, importantly, should smart folks be constantly thinking of ways to get ahead of the nuts out there, so we’re not always playing catch-up?  Absolutely! But should senior citizens, nuns, children and others be given an automatic pass? Absolutely not.

If for some reason you prefer not to participate in the new procedures, "it won't be long, yes, till you're alone"...and rather than messing up other people's plans, you could always drive. 
Na na na na na na, Na na na na na, Na na na na na na, Na na na na na
*Journey’s Loving Touching Squeezing lyrics are the property of the authors.

November 21, 2010

Poll Watch 11/21/10: News, Voting Trends, and Body Scans

According to a recent Pew poll, Americans have some general knowledge of what’s going on in the news, but most don’t know very many specifics. For example, only 16% of know that more than half of the TARP loans have been repaid; and remarkably, only 53% of those surveyed know that unemployment is sitting at 10%.  Old folks are way smarter than young folks, getting the correct answer more often 10 of 12 times.  Yours truly is smarter than 98% of the rest of the population, getting the correct answer on 11 of 12 questions.

Asian voters are at least willing to consider Republican ideas, at least in California according to an LA Times/USC pollOn how to cut the massive deficit in the Golden State, more Asians (51%) than whites (46%) or Latinos (35%) said decreased spending was the answer, as opposed to tax hikes. Among the three groups, more Asians (38%) feel that same-sex partners aren’t entitled to any legal recognition, compared to 19% for Latinos and 12% for whites.

Last but not least, what about those full body scanners? According to a CBS News poll conducted this month, 81% of Americans say they’re OK.  The poll didn’t ask about the new enhanced pat-down procedures which are used by the TSA, either as an alternative to the scanners, or at airports where the scanners are not yet available; I suspect there's be a lower approval rate on that, but maybe not.  In the same poll, Republicans (46%) and Independents (40%) believe that racial or ethnic profiling at airports is justified, while (not surprisingly) Democrats (26%) tend to disagree.

What's your opinion?

November 18, 2010

Syracuse's bagel tradition coming to an end

I had an opportunity to chat briefly with the owner of a downtown Syracuse deli a couple of weeks ago. His place, The Bagel Shop, is one of a kind and it’s been around forever. When I worked downtown, I’d stop in at least a couple days a week; now it’s more like once a month or so, when I’m working in our satellite office a block away from the deli. 

In the past couple of years, there have been frequent rumors about his either having already closed (not true) or being on the verge of closing…and, sadly, this appears to be true.  Reliable sources are indicating that The Bagel Shop is closing for good this Friday.  

In real estate, everyone knows that it’s all about location, location, location. In this case, my favorite lunch spot is in the wrong, wrong, wrong location, and it’s become impossible for it to stay open. Why? The problem is, they’re on Warren Street, which unfortunately is not in Armory Square, where all of our downtown development attention has been focused for many years. 

Sadly, my company leaving downtown and moving to the 'burbs was a major contributor to the emptiness of Warren Street, but it was not the only one, or even the first one. Before we made our move two years ago, other companies in the center city had already had staff reductions or had left downtown entirely. When we moved over 800 people out – still a decision I disagree with, even though our new leased space is very nice - we left a huge hole in the middle of the block and in the middle of the bottom lines of downtown business, many of whom struggled to survive after we left. Some didn’t even stick around long enough to struggle.  

The Bagel Shop (and its previous incarnation Lox, Stox and Bagels) was a mandatory stop for travelers. I remember years and years ago when I worked at the Syracuse Chamber, a consultant from Colorado Springs had to stop on her way to the airport and take home a dozen bialys every time she came to town, caring not a bit how others on the plane would react to the strong onion aroma. Originally from Long Island, I remember, she had not been able to find anything close to a real NYC bagel shop in Colorado, and was thrilled we had one right here in Syracuse. More recently, we’d see folks from our regional Blue offices doing the same, taking a dozen home. 

When The Bagel Shop closes, there will be only a handful of businesses left on Warren Street, not one of which will be able to give me my favorite, everything-toasted-jalapeno-cream-cheese-on-the-side. 

It just won't be the same anymore.

November 16, 2010

No Rocket Science Required

Too often, when we’re faced with challenges, it seems we get stuck on the fact that if there was an easy solution, we’d have found it already…but since we’re still facing the challenge, clearly the only solutions must be up there in the realm of rocket science, right? 

Take Syracuse’s current situation, our string of violent acts going back to Halloween. Once we get past the shock – five blocks from my house four people were shot the other day! – and we start breaking it down, it doesn’t take too long to get to bad or non-existent parenting, poverty, abuse and neglect, the lure of gangs and drugs, bad schools, and so on as causes for the violence. These are the kind of things that didn’t start yesterday, and won’t end tomorrow; the issues are the boulder, and we are Sisyphus.  

I had a brainstorm today. It may be silly, and it may not work, but it might be worth a shot. And it's not rocket science.

I’m wondering what would happen if famous or semi-famous folks from all walks of life – elected officials like Stephanie Miner, Bill Magnarelli and John DeFrancisco; educators like Debbie Sydow and Nancy Cantor and Dan Lowengaard; businessmen like John Stage from the Dinosaur BBQ; media personalities like Matt Mulcahey, Sean Kirst, John Walsh, and Jim Reith; preachers from the local churches, and just plain folks created a whole mess of ‘stop the violence’ public service announcements? 

They could air on all of the local TV and radio stations; we could have billboards and bus cards and newspaper ads, donated or at reduced cost, and try to get the message out that violence doesn’t solve anything?

Call me crazy or idealistic or simple minded, but this wouldn’t cost millions of dollars, or take thousands of days, or require hundreds of studies, or need dozens of committees… it would take just one influential person to step up, call on their friends or call in some markers, and then it would start. School kids could get involved, and college students; parents and grandparents, and on and on.

Tonight, I reached out to one of those influential people, and asked for help for our city. I’ll keep you posted on what I hear.  Do you have any crazy ideas we can try?

November 15, 2010

Syracuse Police Chief Responds to Violence, Statistics

Coming on the heels of the recent rash of shootings, Saturday’s well-attended community meeting on how to stop the violence, shots being fired at a demonstration on Sunday lamenting the recent violence – seriously, I’m not making this up – today’s newspaper brought us a report commissioned by the Syracuse Common Council about the city’s police department and possible issues of racial profiling. 

The study shows that more blacks and Latinos are stopped, frisked, and released than are whites, so the 'obvious' conclusion is that the cops are biased against people of color. Or on the other hand, as Chief Fowler made clear, he deploys his officers where the crime is – and that tends to be in neighborhoods with higher populations of people of color. Frankly, isn't that where we want the police to be focusing their efforts? As the Chief says, his department does ‘criminal profiling’, which is not the same as racial profiling. 

Naturally, there are different opinions about the report. The local NAACP chapter offered this, according to the Post Standard: '“Actually, the study didn’t tell me anything we really didn’t know,” said Preston Fagan, president of the Syracuse/ Onondaga Branch of the NAACP. What it tells him, he said, is that more blacks are being stopped, searched and then let go because police can find no reason to hold them. The police have a job to do and most Syracuse police do theirs well, Fagan said. But it’s easy for someone who was not breaking the law to conclude that police stopped and searched them because they were black, young or fit some other profile, he said. That spawns resentment that ripples through the community, he said.'  He did suggest that the study be conducted more frequently, to 'track changes in behavior'.  

What an impact it could have had, if instead he had said “The report is interesting, and the SPD needs to be aware there's a perception in some parts of the city that there's racial profiling going on, but what’s much more important to our organization and our community is the fact that so many crime victims and the suspects involved are black. This is a huge concern and we will do whatever we can to support the police in their efforts to stop this senseless violence, even if that means putting up with additional attention from police in our neighborhoods."  

That's the kind of statement all community organizations should be making, but I won't be holding my breath waiting for them.

Gun violence shatters Syracuse's nerves

Yesterday, sitting in the gazebo in My Sweet Baboo’s garden (one of the most peaceful places I know), it was hard to comprehend that only about five blocks northwest of us, four people were shot last week while playing cards. And a couple dozen blocks northeast of us, two more teenagers were shot last Thursday. Coming on the heels of two shootings on Halloween, these incidents have really challenged the Syracuse community.

Many of these crimes involve people who know each other – they’re retaliation for some real or imagined slight – and most of them involve shooters and victims no older than their early twenties – in some cases, considerably younger than that.

Citizens, including local notable Mary Nelson, are reaching out to help; Nelson’s nephew was one of the victims on Halloween. One of the messages coming out of Saturday’s community meeting was very simple, very clear, and right on the money:  If you see something wrong, report it. Kids loitering, drug sales, people hanging around the neighborhood who don’t belong, comings and goings from the wrong places at the wrong times – call the police.

We have to get to a point where people are more concerned with what’s going wrong than they are fearful of calling for help. For one reason or another, whether based on a real or imagined bad act by police, some folks simply won't call the cops. (Witness the reaction to possibly putting cameras up in certain crime-prone neighborhoods.) The intent is not to spy on people, and it's not to identify illegal immigrants, it's to help deter crime.  In fact, it was because of a camera that someone was arrested in a recent murder.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the folks who complain about the police are the ones who tend to live in higher crime areas, so it’s a ‘cutting off the nose to spite your face’ kind of situation. At the same time, police need to respond when things are reported, and create a pattern of responsiveness which will encourage people to call.

Frank Fowler, the police chief, needs to be front and center with his men and with the community, making it clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that the police are here to protect all of our citizens – rich and poor, white and black, Asian and Hispanic, young and old - equally and without delay.  It needs to be equally clear, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the police will act within the law while they enforce the law.

Where possible, we need more police on the streets, out of their cars, walking the blocks, keeping an eye on things. I may be old-school, but it makes me feel better when I see cops walking around the neighborhood. (Seeing them drive by too fast for me to flag them down if I needed them is somehow not as comforting). We know where the crime is happening, and that’s where we need the police to be.

What else can we do? There are those that would say we need more programs for at-risk kids, so they don’t become shooters or victims, but of course programs need funding, and there’s no extra money to go around. We need fewer abandoned houses (we have more than 1000, I think) and more people living in the city, so the tax base is stronger, but it’s a tough sell lately to convince folks to move into the ‘hood. We also need fewer people pushing their own agendas which only distract us from the real issues.

We need parents to parent, we need fathers not sperm donors, we need adults having babies not babies having babies, we need the churches to kick it up a notch with their congregations and get them more active… it’s almost an endless list, and that makes it hard to figure out where to start. Some of this stuff is sytemic; it didn't fall apart in a day, and it won't be corrected in a day.

But hopefully what comes out of the meetings and discussions and the horrors of the past two weeks will be one community focusing on one big problem – guns and kids.

November 14, 2010

Point/Counterpoint: Two Tokes

Dateline The Netherlands:  Police and municipalities in Rotterdam and The Hague this week mailed 30,000 scratch and sniff cards that give off the pungent odor of cannabis plants to help people identify and report marijuana plantations, according to a story in the Washington Post. The campaign, sponsored in part by energy company Stedin, aims to weed out (pun intended) and put a stop to illegal pot plantations, in part because growers sometimes steal the power necessary to keep the lights on.   


Dateline Arizona:  Voters barely approved a medical marijuana initiative this month; the margin of victory was about 4300 votes out of 1.6 million cast. "Voters in Arizona have sided with science and compassion while dealing yet another blow to our nation's cruel and irrational prohibition on marijuana," said Rob Kampia, Marijuana Policy Project executive director. Some 120 clinics could be established under the law; for folks living more than 25 miles from a clinic, home grown’s alright for them.

November 12, 2010

Onondaga County well represented in Cuomo's transition

Seems like we’re going to have a voice in the formation of the Cuomo administration, which is a very good thing. 

Several locals, including County Executive Joanie Mahoney, Common Council President Van Robinson, businessman and former state Republican Chair J Patrick Barrett, and economic development promoter Rob Simpson, head of CenterState C.E.O. (the organization formed when the Chamber of Commerce and Metropolitan Development Association merged) were chosen to help with the transition itself (Mahoney is one of the co-chairs), the Committee of Economic and Fiscal Advisors (Barrett) or the Committee on Economic Development and Labor (Robinson and Simpson). 

There are other solid representatives of Central and Upstate NY, including Danny Wegman, Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, and of course Lt. Governor-elect Robert Duffy, who’s currently mayor of Rochester.  I can’t remember for sure who was on Steamroller Spitzer’s team, and of course our lame duck Accidental Governor David Paterson didn’t really transition so much as he had his feet pressed into the fire -- but I suspect our neck of the woods hasn't been this well represented in previous transitions in quite some time.  

The teams are a mix of Dems and Reps, government and private sector, union and business, and include regional, ethnic and gender diversity. I would have preferred not to see the ever-colorful Ruben Diaz - I'm not sure what he really brings to the table - but in the overall scheme of things, it looks like a reasonable team.  After all, the Reverend Al was complaining about it before it was even announced – so it can’t be all bad.  

And to those who complain that Joanie Mahoney is abandoning the Republican Party or trying to feather her own nest,  you're missing the point, and the benefit, of having her involved.  We need a voice – any strong voice – that can have an impact on reducing the burden that state government places on local governments. We need an advocate for bipartisan collaboration and cooperation to help set the tone for the new administration. Heaven knows we’re not getting it from Senators DeFrancisco and Valesky or the rest of the local legislative contingent.

We’ve got some great representation with the folks Cuomo selected; now it’s up to them to rise to the occasion and take advantage of the opportunity to make a difference in how the new administration governs us for the next four years.

November 10, 2010

PPOD 11/10/10: Please. Put us out of her misery.

A while back, I wondered why it is that we Dems seem to shoot ourselves in the foot by continuing conversations that are long past done, or by beating drums that no one’s listening to, or by in general acting poorly in some way shape or form.  At the time, the national issue was our bad reaction to Joe Wilson, the moron who yelled “You lie!” during Obama’s joint address to Congress last September.

This time around, the chief moron is Nancy Pelosi, who thinks it’s in our best interest to have her continue in a leadership role in the House.  After the beating taken last Tuesday, when the House pendulum took a huge swing to the Rep side of things, pretty much everyone assumed that Madame Speaker would leave, get out of the way and let someone else try to lead us from the abyss.  Sadly, we were wrong.  And where does that leave us now? 

Shooting ourselves in the foot.  While the Reps blabber on about their ‘mandate’ and try and figure out what the heck they’re going to do with the Tea Party, Dems are trying to figure out how to politely get rid of Pelosi while pretending they support her.  Private whispers, public votes, inner and outer turmoil – these are exactly the things we don't need to be worrying about right now.  And the more time we waste on this, the more we show that we're not capable of leading the real conversations we need to be having...the economy, jobs, war, health care, immigration, and on and on. 

But alas, we’re Dems, and we simply can’t get out of our own way. And that's my Pet Peeve of the Day. 

November 9, 2010

A Lover's Lament

He was the silent, sophisticated type, and I worshipped him from both near and far. It was hard for me to be near him without feeling an overwhelming sense of longing. Even as a young woman, I knew he was the one for me, that I’d never find anyone more perfect than him.  

Over the years, even though I tried to stay away from him, even though I knew it was wrong, there were times when I just couldn’t stay away, when I had to be with him, when I just had to take him home with me. We’d steal a few hours here and there, when we could, when no one else was around. 

Curtains drawn, we’d sit by the fire, and I’d indulge in him, consume him, taste him, and it was always perfect. We never argued – we didn’t have time for arguments. We had frenzied moments, where I couldn’t get enough, couldn’t be satisfied, when I’d take and take and take all he could offer.

And then, embarrassed and disgusted by my lack of control, I’d swear I’d never do it again.  I’d keep him at arm’s length, I’d refuse to make eye contact when we were in the same room, I’d do everything I could to maintain my composure. Ah, it was so hard, he was so perfect, and I was so much in love.

I loved the old Mr. Peanut. I really did. And then they went and made him look like Al Roker… and they made him talk… and they ruined it for me!

November 5, 2010

Poll Watch 11/5/10: Is Anyone Even Listening?

Here's what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) had to say about Tuesday's election results: “Over the past week, some have said it was indelicate of me to suggest that our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office,” Mr. McConnell says. “But the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things it is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things. We can hope the President will start listening to the electorate after Tuesday’s election. But we can’t plan on it.”    

Here’s what Americans actually said in exit polling shared by all of the major news networks and conducted by Edison Research in 26 states. 
  • 52% of us view the Republican Party negatively, compared to 53% who similarly view the Dems.  Of the folks who view the Reps unfavorably, only 75% voted for a Dem, 23% still voted for the Republican.
  • On health care, 48% say repeal the legislation, but an almost equal percent say minimally leave it alone (16%) or even expand it (31%). 
  • On what the priorities should be, an almost equal number (37%) say the focus should be on spending to create jobs as say reducing the deficit (39%) should be the focus.  
  • When asked if ‘one reason’ for voting was to express support for Barack Obama, to express opposition to Barack Obama, or Barack Obama was not a factor, an equal number (37%) said to express opposition as said he was not a factor.  
  • It’s almost a dead heat on whether the stimulus helped the economy (32%), hurt the economy (33), or had no impact (32%).  
  • And on the Bush-era tax cuts, 39% said continue them for everyone, 37% said continue them only for those families earning $250K or less, and 15% said let them expire for everyone.   
I wonder who the heck Mitch McConnell's listening to?

November 3, 2010

Shots Fired: Election Edition

“As you heard me say last night, we are humbled by the trust that the American people have placed in us and we recognize this is a time for us to roll up our sleeves and go to work on the people’s priorities: creating jobs, cutting spending and reforming the way Congress does its business. It’s not just what the American people are demanding – it’s what they are expecting from us. And the real question now is this: are we going to listen to the American people…?" --House Majority Leader-elect John Boehner, who will replace Nancy “Pole-vaulting” Pelosi. 

"The time for politics is now over. And now that Republicans have more members in both houses of Congress, they must take their responsibility to present bipartisan solutions more seriously. Simply saying 'no' will do nothing to create more jobs, support our middle-class and strengthen our economy. We must spare no effort to get back to work immediately in order to restore the American Dream for …all Americans." --Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who won a contentious race against Tea Partier Sharron Angle. Across Nevada, 64.5% of all eligible voters turned out. 

“We overcame great obstacles to get this far, and I could not be any prouder of the race we ran. I gave it my all and so did you. We came up short, but certainly not for lack of hard work, determination and a clear vision for making our state better…The journey is ending, but the mission is not. We did not achieve the victory we worked so hard for, but that is not a reason to give up on what’s most important. We love California and we still believe our state can be a better place.” --Meg Whitman, who lost to former Governor Jerry ‘Moonbeam’ Brown after spending $140 million of her own fortune.  

"I have a message for Andrew Cuomo, the next governor of New York...I've always said my baseball bat is a metaphor for the people who want to take their government back. But this isn't my bat after all. As our next governor, you can grab this handle and bring the people with you to Albany. Or you can leave it untouched and run the risk of having it wielded against you, because make no mistake: You have not heard the last of Carl Paladino." --From the concession speech by baseball-bat-wielding, raunchy-joke-spreading, self-imploding Tea Partier Carl Paladino, who lost by more than 1.1 million votes to Andrew Cuomo in NY’s gubernatorial race.

November 1, 2010

Tomorrow's Election Day -- you know the drill

Last year on Election Eve, I posted a message encouraging folks to vote.  At that time, the big race in the area was to replace North Country legislator turned Secretary of the Army John McHugh.   This year, of course, all seats at the state level are up for grabs, including Governor and Attorney General.  There are also a number of races at the local level across the state, and of course the Big Enchiladas, the US House and Senate.  

I thought it was worth taking another look at that post, which included several encouragements on why voting is the right thing to do.  Take a look.

Please. Vote. I don't care if you're a Tea Partier, a Libertarian, a Green, or even a Rent is 2 Damn High-er.  Let your voice be heard. Don’t sit idly by and let everyone else determine your fate.

October 31, 2010

Veritable Pastiche Endorses Andrew Russo

Most regular readers know that typically the only endorsement I give at election time is an endorsement of the power of voting itself.  But this year, I’m actually endorsing a candidate, Andrew Russo, in the race for NY Senate in my district.  

Like most Empire Staters, I’m fed up with the nonsense that passes for ‘government’ in Albany, particularly in the Senate.  The governor’s mansion and the Assembly have their own issues, but the poster children for bad behavior, selfish partisanship, failed promises and do-nothing-ness have to be our Senators (read more here, here, and here). 

My senator David Valesky and John DeFrancisco, who represents pretty much the rest of Syracuse, are both key players in their parties.  Both have had ample opportunity to make things better, to collaborate on behalf of the citizens of Central New York and all New Yorkers as a whole. 

Instead, both were involved in the disastrous, embarrassing, and paralyzing coup in 2009 and since then neither have acquitted themselves well.  While I can’t take part in voting out DeFrancisco (I can only encourage his constituents to do that), I can participate in sending David Valesky home. I believe now is the time to do that.

Why now?  Because he squandered the opportunity he had as a member of the Senate leadership, at a time when the Dems controlled all three houses of government in Albany, to really make a difference for New York, to enact real legislative reform, and to make the hard decisions we needed him to make to help secure our future. 

Why Andrew Russo?  Because he believes in term limits, pension reform, and he talks logically about campaign finance reform. He believes that legislators should have real jobs (as he does), and get their benefits from those jobs, rather than from our tax dollars. He believes that good ideas come from people, not from political parties, and that the way to govern is to bring people together to put those good ideas into place. And of course he’s in favor of more jobs, lower taxes, reduced spending and increased growth in our state.  

How do I know this?  Because I asked him, and he answered me. Which means that, even before he’s in Albany, he’s a couple rungs up in my book because Valesky has never had the courtesy to answer my email

I’ve always considered myself a centrist Dem, but over time, I’ve become more fiscally conservative. I still believe that when citizens truly need help, government should be there, but to offer a leg up, not a handout. We can’t afford to make promises to and protect every corporate interest, every constituent group, every union job, and remain solvent. And we certainly can’t continue to afford a legislature as dysfunctional as the one we have today.

Andrew Russo is not perfect.  I think some of his ads were on the negative side, I'm not excited that DeFrancisco was an early supporter, and I'm not thrilled with the money and support he got from the Republican machine. I'm concerned about his ability to say no to them, and to collaborate with Dems if his leadership doesn't want him to. And I told him that.  He says I'm more important than they are, and I hope he's sincere.  

But under the circumstances, I think we could do a lot worse, including maintaining the status quo.  And that's why I'm voting for Andrew Russo. I hope you'll consider doing the same.

October 29, 2010

The piece of paper on the floor

I was recently invited to participate in a program at work, a 'change agent' development program.  I won’t go into a lot of gory details about the program, (which I fully support) but I'II still have some confusion on what exactly it is that a change agent does.

At a meeting this week, I asked the question, do we tell our fellow employees we’re here and offer assistance, or are we supposed to just sort of exude changiness’  One of the HR mentors at the meeting equated being a change agent to walking down the hall or the street and seeing a piece of paper on the ground…do we leave it there or pick it up? I pondered that response a bit, I’ll admit, trying to apply it to situations at work.

But the piece of paper analogy got me thinking about politics, and change, and how some of the local candidates would do with the whole paper on the floor thing.  Here’s what I came up with:  
  • John DeFrancisco, the ‘pit pull’ of the NYS Senate. He’s an entrenched incumbent Republican, been in office way too long, and sadly sees his primary responsibility as regaining control of the Senate for the Reps. DeFrancisco was a player in the disastrous coup of 2009.  He would only pick up the piece of paper if it would give him the majority of the paper, otherwise he’d simply ignore it. 
  • David Valesky, a Dem, is actually my Senator, for a couple more days, at least.  He’s had some challenges in the past couple of years as a high-ranking member of the majority party leadership, and is facing a tough battle.  He wouldn’t pick up the paper unless he thought it would be good for residents of his district (if you listen to him), or unless he was ordered to by the Downstate party bosses (if you listen to the Reps).  
  • His opponent is classical pianist Andrew Russo, a ‘citizen politician’ with strong support from the Republican party, which can practically taste victory on Tuesday.  But he’s got some unorthodox ideas for a Rep, including supporting term limits (good luck with getting that done here in NY).  I think he’d pick up the paper, but only a limited number of times.  
  • Andrew Cuomo, Dem for Governor, of course would pick up the paper, then find some Wall Streeter or industry bigwigs to whip into compliance so there’d be no more paper on the ground under his watch.
  • Last, we have Carl Paladino the Rep-ish who miraculously won the primary to flail against Cuomo. I pity the paper if Carl found it first; he’d cut it by at least 20% and leave it in tatters, then email rauncy photos of it to his friends. 
Ironically, on the two days after the change agent meeting, I found a piece of paper on the floor; I picked it both times. There were no witnesses, so I'm not sure I shifted the culture dial. I wonder how far it's going to shift on Tuesday...