Tuesday, June 29, 2010

G20 thoughts ...

The early bird gets the worm. But the second mouse gets the cheese.” —Anonymous.

“The squeaky wheel gets the oil. But you catch more flies with honey.” — Anonymous

The anarchist at the G20 summit gets the attention. But the peaceful protesters get new bike lanes.” — Scott Leffler

I doubt my quote will ever stack up to the other two, but it's just as true. And timely, I might add.

I watched with great interest this weekend as the city of Toronto hosted the G20 summit amidst great fanfare and a billion dollars worth of security. That's not a typo. That's billion. The majority of the world's wealthiest nations seemed to agree that everyone should pay down their debt. President Obama, meanwhile, pushed for “stimulus.” In other words, more spending. I really can't say I'm surprised, can you?

But economic policy bores me and I certainly wasn't riveted by a debate between debt reduction and stimulus spending. No, it was what was happening outside the summit itself that I couldn't seem to take my eyes off of.

For some reason, whenever you gather a bunch of world leaders together, a throng of protesters gathers nearby. This was the case in Toronto where the city had been bracing for weeks for the idiocy that comes with hosting the G20 summit.

If idiocy is what they were expecting, they surely weren't disappointed. There were, of course, peaceful protests throughout the city. People marched, wore funny masks, held hands and sang Kumbaya. They sought economic equality, better health care, paved roads in Africa and all sorts of other things.

And then there was the violent faction of protesters who threw Molotov cocktails through storefronts, fought with police and torched vehicles. They sought anarchy, violence and attention. On one hand, you could say the anarchists won. They got plenty of attention. The news covered them with great vigor, and people who were paying attention — like myself — read every word of it, entranced by the horror.

But there was a particular group of protesters that also got a lot of attention due to the simplicity of their message and the means in which they carried it out. A group of bicyclists — at one point led by Toronto's finest — peddled through the city. It was their means of saying that Toronto didn't have enough bike lanes. It was peaceful and had nothing to do with the economic conditions of Third World countries.

I'm betting in the long run, their plea will be heard and their victory will be much greater than that of the anarchists. I mean, anarchy might be entertaining, but it certainly isn't good for the environment … and cannot get you to work on time. To paraphrase the quotes leading into this column, “the squeaky wheel might get the oil, but the bicycle tire gets new bike paths because the squeaky wheel ended up getting set afire by a bunch of idiots.”

The G20 summit, by the way, didn't get as much attention around here as I thought it should have, ironically because everyone seemed to be too busy paying attention to soccer. I like soccer. It's a fine sport. But I'm pretty sure that Americans paying attention to soccer is one of the signs of the apocalypse. So paying down the debt may be unnecessary.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Who's the addict now?

Government likes to use code words so they don't look quite so much like the bad guys.

For example, it seems like every couple weeks we hear about a new plan by the state to “raise money” to “fill the budget gap.”

Of course, by “raise money,” what they really mean is, “raise taxes.” And “fill the budget gap” actually translates to “spend more.”

I'm never a fan of government increasing our taxes. Nor am I a fan of them spending more. But some plans, I must confess, irk me more than others.

The latest harebrained scheme by Albany, specifically Governor Paterson, is to raise taxes on tobacco products, including a $1.60 a pack tax increase on cigarettes … and (here we go again) collecting taxes on cigarettes sold on Native American reservations.

Disclaimer: I smoke somewhere between half a pack and a pack a day. Save yourself the time of emailing me about how bad smoking is, okay? I know. I'm not under the impression that cigarettes have Vitamin C in them. I didn't miss the label that says they're bad. I know. But this is America and I have the right to ignore conventional wisdom and do something that's bad for me. Okay? Good. Moving on.

The $1.60 a pack tax increase bothers me by itself. Raises taxes on addicts is more than cruel. It's got to be a sin. Maybe not one of the seven deadly ones, but a sin nonetheless. And the argument that maybe the state will tax people into quitting is flawed on so many levels. If that's the argument, the state is attempting to push it's own moral standards through tax code. Again, that's just evil.

For me, however, there's something worse than taxing addicts. There's something worse than using taxes to push their morals. And that's attempting to levy taxes on sovereign land.

The State of New York has no more right to levy taxes on Native American soil than it does to levy taxes on Florida or France. The many reservations found within the confines of the state are – essentially – each their own country as set forth in the many treaties we've made … and ultimately broken.

Of course, I'm sure Governor Paterson would love to be able to tax Florida and France, too. Just like I'm sure he's trying to devise a way to tax our brainwaves and white blood cells. After all, there's that “budget gap” to fill.

This concept of taxing reservations is not new. It's been pushed hard twice before and floated a number of times. You likely recall parts of the New York State Thruway shutting down over a decade ago over this exact same issue. As much as I abhor violence, I can't blame Native Americans for protecting their way of life. And if they were to do it again, I'd root for them.

The problem is simple. New York State spends more than it makes. The solution is equally simple. New York State should spend less.

The fact that certain people in Albany seem to think it's easier to declare war on the sovereignty of Native Americans than to reign in spending should tell you all you need to know about the disease that infects state government.

A drug addict will steal from loved ones, burglarize homes and even knock off convenience stores to get money to get their fix.

Albany – apparently – is no different.

Rather than allow our elected officials to knock off the metaphorical convenience store that is our Native American reservations, we should get them the help they need. Just like we'd send a drug addict to rehab, we should send our elected officials for their own treatment.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Watered down advice to officials

Our taxes are high. Too high. We've had the distinction a couple times now of having the highest property taxes in the country based on a percentage of our homes' values.

Add to that the fact that we have a boatload of special districts and usage fees and it's amazing we can find two nickles to rub together when we need to.
So any effort by local government to save us money should be looked upon kindly.

Niagara County's three cities are looking at possibly doing just that for it's residents.

Lockport, North Tonawanda and Niagara Falls each have their own water system and their own wastewater treatment plants. And they're looking at possibly sharing services and reducing costs.

Between the three of them, annual costs for their water and wastewater endeavors total $30 million.

Apparently a plan called the Tri-City Regional Water and Wastewater Optimization and Consolidation project came out of a three year old study that could create a blueprint to save you some cash.

If that $30 million annual price tag for operations is reduced to $29.9 million, that would be a good thing. And it would be even better if it were less than that.

The mayors of the three city's all say they are cautiously optimistic that saving will occur.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster says the project may not result in a “silver bullet,” but that it looks positive.

I would hope that our elected officials would understand that anything is better than nothing and reject the notion that there is any silver bullet out there.

Oftentimes is seems to me like our elected officials – and even we – seem to only want to find one solution to all our problems and in doing so, we look over several other smaller solutions. This is true in government as well as the private sector.

I can't tell you how many people I hear scoff about a new business opening up. “What? It's going to create 10 jobs,” they'll say, not seeming to recognize that those 10 jobs are 10 we didn't have before.

We need to stop searching for a panacea and just stop the bleeding. And once the bleeding has stopped maybe we'll get better.
I know many of you think I'm just a pessimist who only finds reasons to complain about everything and everyone. Sometimes that's true. But when I hear of something good, I like to promote it.
Saving money is good. Let's do that. And let's appreciate it when it happens.

I'm pretty jazzed about the upcoming concert series. The last two have been brilliant in my opinion and this years' lineup looks great.

That said, what's with the banners downtown with the concert series sponsors names on them?

I hear we lost last years' banners that said “Historic Lockport” and replaced them with these.

In a city that has a fit over signs, it's kind of amazing that our city fathers would be willing to cheapen the look of our downtown like that.

Dear Mayor Tucker: Find the old banners. Put them up. These ones are tacky.

I have to give a quick special note of thanks to the Tonawanda Fire Department for their speedy arrival at my home on Sunday.

What started out to be fried eggs turned into “stove flambe.” And I'm told it was a very short while before it turned into “kitchen flambe” followed shorty by “Homeless Leffler surprise.”

I didn't actually time them on how long between when I called and when they arrived, but it seemed like seconds. Once on scene, they quickly assessed the situation and put out the fire.

As a result, I only had to get a new stove on Monday. Not an whole new home.
Firefighters: Whatever your salary is, you're worth it.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Obama and the oil leak

I got a bill in the mail the other day for $95.43. Much as I hate bills, I'll pay it. It's my responsibility.
Could have been worse. Could have been the $69 million bill that the Unites States government sent to BP last week. I don't think I could have handled that one.
I was actually kind of proud of the Obama administration when I heard that they had sent the British petroleum company a bill for the government's costs due to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. And I snickered just a little bit when I heard that the government had given the oil company until July 1 to pay.
Over the past couple weeks, we've heard that there may be some sort of cap on BP's liability concerning the un-natural disaster they created in ocean. That means that the rest of the cost would fall on US taxpayers, a thought that seemed unconscionable to me.
I didn't mind paying the bill I was responsible for. But getting billed for the oil leak would certainly bother me.
Of course nothing can happen in the world these days without it having some political ramifications. To many in the Republican party this oil spill is somehow entirely the fault of President Obama and the Democrats in Congress. I've heard repeatedly that the oil leak is
“Obama's Katrina.” The people saying this, mind you, are the same exact people who want government to stay out of the affairs of business entirely.
Truth be told, I want as little government intervention in the business world as possible, too. But I don't then blame government when a business screws up.
Note to the GOP: You can't have your cake and eat it, too. Either you want government regulation and oversight, or you don't. You can't complain that Obama should have done more when you've been complaining that he's been doing too much up to this point. That's disingenuous and that's just one of the many reasons why I'll never join your little party.
Yes, BP screwed up. They've created an environmental disaster the likes of which have never been seen along our shores. And they should be held accountable for it. Every dime.
The ocean has been polluted. Wildlife has been killed. And the United States has become a laughingstock once again. So, yeah, BP should pay for that.
The president also took some flack last week because he hasn't been openly upset enough about the oil leak. More politics, apparently.
I thought White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' response to that particular accusation was just about perfect.
“If the president thought that yelling at the top of his lungs would solve this crisis, he would stand on top of the White House and do that. But he believes this crisis will be solved by plugging the hole and responding to the damage done, not by method acting,” Gibbs told
reporters last week.
That said, the president could stay true to his word about not resting until the leak is plugged. He's been seen doing a lot of relaxing and a lot of playing while the ocean fills with oil.
I know a lot of people are plenty upset about the situation, self included. I also know there's been plenty of jokes about it on late-night TV and the internet. I guess maybe that's our way. It is, however, a very serious issue that won't be solved by finger pointing or punchlines.
The leak needs to be stopped. The disaster needs to be cleaned. And the bill needs to be paid. And not by you and I.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Oh goody, another Cuomo

It was brought to my attention earlier this week that Andrew Cuomo, son of Mario Cuomo, will be our next governor.

This wasn't the worst news I got this week, but it was close.

I was no fan of Cuomo the elder. Kind of like I was no fan of Bush the elder. And then came George W. Bush, who somehow made his father look like a compassionate genius. The cynic (read: journalist) in me fears
that Andrew Cuomo will make me pine for the days of Mario, just like George W. made me pine for the days of George Herbert Walker.

And yet, Andrew Cuomo's acceptance speech was rather uplifting. He said we need to balance the budget without raising taxes. He said we need to eliminate bureaucracy. He said we need to get rid of some of
the four million special districts (only a slight exaggeration) we have in New York State.

I couldn't disagree with any of these things. And I'm sure you couldn't either. Of course, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. And if Andy Cuomo were capable of accomplishing those things, the
three governors who sit between him and his father would have, too.

Fact of the matter is that New York is broken from the top down and the bottom up. And the pessimist (read: voter) in me isn't entirely sure that it can be fixed. Ever.

Cuomo pulled one stunt that I like, though. He chose Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy as his running mate. This will give his administration a Western New York perspective while preventing Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown from advancing his career.

A few things to point out:

First of all, I know Cuomo's selection by the Democratic Party doesn't really make him governor … yet. But, come on. The state GOP is rudderless. I have as good a chance of being governor as any of them. And I'm not running.

Second, I know that “technically” Rochester is not in Western New York. But whoever decided that Western New York was eight counties not including Monroe is an idiot. It's probably the same person that starting calling up “upstate.” I'm just saying.

Third, I'm sure I just offended some Byron Brown fans, including some friends of mine who work for the guy. If they can give me one example of something good he has done, I'll volunteer to campaign for him to run as a third party candidate.

Fact of the matter is, Cuomo is going to be governor and Duffy is going to be LG. If they owe you favors, call them in now.

I hope that the new governor is capable of controlling spending and reigning in bureaucracy and eliminating waste. But I'm not going to hold my breath any more than I did when Spitzer became governor. Or when Paterson took over from him.

Governor's a tough job. Only the best and brightest can be successful at it. Unfortunately, the best and brightest are too smart to want it. So we'll give it to the son of a guy who wasn't very good at it when
he held the job.

Come to think of it, this actually was the worst news I got this week.

Way to aim low, New York.