Carl Paladino, Speaker and Writer

March 2, 2009

carl-paladino

Love him or hate him, Carl Paladino is one colorful character.  He was the guest of honor and Executive of the Year at the Buffalo Niagara Sales and Marketing Executives (BNSME) gala on Monday night.  Carl pulled no punches.

Paladino is calling for revolution.  I don’t think I have the backbone to follow him, or maybe it’s just that I don’t think it will do any good – Buffalo and Albany are just too corrupt to be influenced by whiny voters.  It would take balls – lots of them – to foment any real change.  Or maybe I’m just to busy trying to survive, and can’t find the time to take on New York State government.

Quick story:  The Albany Legislative complex is built like a fortress.  It is massive, surrounded by high walls and not pedestrian friendly.  100,000 protesters could show up (they’d have to walk – not enough nearby parking), break into the main entrance…and they would barely be noticed in the cavernous underground mall.  Dispersed throughout the complex they would not raise the people density enough to be taken seriously.  I’m sure the Capitol was built this way, for that reason.

Anyway, Palidino lit into every politician, by name, that has eaten from the public trough for all these years.  He blasted, just blasted, the Buffalo News and Margaret Sullivan’s leadership of it.  He vilified James Williams, Phil Rumore, the Buffalo Board of Education and the 800 million dollar school system they are supposed to be running.  He spat venom at labor unions, Buffalo city government and especially Albany.

How angry was he?

Prior to his speech – and in order to set the tone of what was to come – a letter that he wrote to Margaret Sullivan of the Buffalo News back in January was distributed to the dinner guests.  It starts like this:

Here’s my two cents on the News.  It’s a monopolistic predator imposing its liberal views and superficial journalism on a community seeking to pull itself out of fifty years of decline as a result of impotent public and private sector leadership.  As the only show in town during most of that time, it became lame and lazy serving up assenine [sic] slop without any guilt for failing to mobilize the community with objective, call to arms journalism.  You’ve been in a box so long that you have no idea how to get out of it.  Your subscriptions are falling and you are frustrated.  You have no follow through and you wonder why you can’t hit the ball.

There’s lots more (after the jump)

Read the rest of this entry »


Epilogue

November 5, 2008

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A few observations about the National elections:

  • The huge voter turnout was indicative of a restive populace looking for something different than what the current Administration has wrought.  The voters might be called lots of things, but complacent would not be one of them.
  • A neo-conservative, ideologically divisive and demagogical approach to politics probably works when the resulting policies actually lead to something constructive.  Otherwise, payback’s a bitch.  In retrospect, George Bush beat John McCain twice.
  • Although only a first step, eloquent speaking is a great first step.  Obama’s victory speech sort of puts into perspective the oratorical vacuum of the past eight years.
  • If the Democratic Party can turn this campaign’s organizational approach into a repeatable phenomenon then the Republican Party will have its work cut out for it, for many years to come.
  • The relative closeness of the popular vote indicates that this country still has a lot of healing to do.  As much as I would like to believe that we are the United States – and not Red and Blue states – much needs to be done to heal the wounds of the past eight years.

Let the healing begin.


My Dinner with Newt

October 16, 2008

Newt Gingrich was the keynote speaker at last night’s BioMed Upstate conference hosted by the Foundation for Healthy Living.  The moderately well-attended (but overly long) conference focused on the barriers our state imposes on the Life Sciences economy and solutions to overcoming those barriers to accelerate growth in Life Sciences.

The sessions drifted off-topic to the various ways the New York stifles economic growth in general and to the great divide between Upstate and Downstate, to which the attendees agreed “Change is needed“.   As to what that meant and who should take responsibility for leading it, those answers were not so clear.  Not so clear at all.  And the conference was pretty dry – academic in nature, almost dispassionate really, and IMHO was very poorly attended by industry representatives who are ultimately the ones who create jobs and/or leave the state.  Numerous academics and government officials were in attendance, but the one group that could really make a difference was way under-represented.

Anyway, Newt was pretty interesting.  He made a point about how poorly the Federal Government doesn’t understand the difference between investment and expense.  He cited that the Baby Boomer generation alone will cost the U.S. $1.6 trillion in health care costs just for treatment of Alzheimer’s patients.  But if treatments could be found that delayed the onset of severe symptoms for just 5 years, the costs would drop $600 billion.  Then he challenged the audience:  If you could save $600 billion over the next 20 years, how much would you spend today?  Newt’s implication was that far too often the government won’t budget for that kind of savings – they won’t make the investment – because today it’s just an expense with no short-term benefit.

Conferences like these raise important questions but rarely do the spawn that passionate white knight who can lead the charge to a new way of thinking, and actually persist long enough to stimulate real change.  How do we convince our political leaders to reach beyond the policies of the past 50 years to something that bears future fruit?  At the conference, we were at a loss to answer that question.


So, What ARE the Fundamentals?

October 9, 2008

I have been intrigued by the use of the phrase “The fundamentals are strong”.  It’s been used often by the Bush Administration until recently, and just a few weeks ago by John McCain to indicate that our economy is still strong, without ever defining what the fundamentals are.  Ironically, the person who originally coined the equivalent phrase is none other than Herbert Hoover.  Whoa boy.

I don’t believe that the fundamentals have been strong for so time, but I wasn’t sure and so didn’t know whether or not to believe either the Bush Administration or John McCain.  So I dug back to my college economics texts to get an idea of what the economic fundamentals are.  To Samuelson, they include

  • Inflation (or consumer price index) – the lower, the better
  • Economic growth (or gross domestic product) – the greater, the better
  • Wages – Higher is better
  • Unemployment – the lower, the better
  • Industrial production – growth is good
  • Worker productivity – more is better
  • Balance of trade – Positive is good
  • Strength of the dollar – stronger is better

Respectively, in the past 12 months these indicators are up, flat, flat, up, down, up, negative, weaker.  Six of the eight are pointing in the wrong direction, one is neutral, and one (worker productivity) is positive.

I thought so.

The fundamentals are strong” might not be the wisest of political statements to make, in light of where the economy’s been going.  Nonetheless, the Presidential candidates might be better spending their time talking about it, since all the rest of us are.


The House Bailout Bill

October 3, 2008

The House of Representatives added to and otherwise modified 34 sections of H.R. 1424, the so-called bailout bill, passed by the Senate two days ago.  They then voted on and passed it and the President signed it into law about two hours after that.  It took $150 billion in earmarks to sweeten the deal enough for 59 Representatives to change their votes between Monday and Friday.

All told the Bush Administration and Congress have added roughly $1.4 trillion to the national debt since January.  This does not include the 2008 budget deficit, which will add between $200 billion and $400 billion more.  The Dow Jones responded with joy by only dropping another 157 points.

We have crossed the line from Capitalism to Socialism.  Capitalism when the markets are adding to the coffers of the wealthiest institutions, Socialism when taxpayer-funded bailouts are needed to shore up those same institutions because of those markets.  I notice that suddenly, no one is using the term Socialism, but there it is.  Stan O’Neal is probably busting a gut on his yacht right now, laughing at all those Congressional patsies.

One must wonder that a bill, written in a few days with 170 sections and 450 pages, could possibly be cohesive and not swiss-cheesy.  Do you think that big financial companies with leagues of lawyers and accountants will spend a lot of effort to find all those loopholes that will benefit them the most?  I do.

They got their Christmas bonuses early this year.  We got coal.


Campaigns 2

September 12, 2008

Some of the more interesting campaigns are the personal ones.  I’m particularly impressed with this person’s attempt to qualify Barack Obama in as few words as possible.

From just four words I believe I can characterize this individual as

  • Not interested in reading or research
  • Barely able to finish high school
  • A beer drinker who perfected the burp at 14
  • Set in his ways

During this Presidential runup I’m going to scour the Internet for campaign signs like this; it shouts volumes about our electorate.  And it’s fun, too.


Campaigns

September 11, 2008

It’s not about the people; it’s about winning.

It’s not about what’s best for the country; it’s about winning.

The Presidential election is, like all other elections, a popularity contest.  I dread the next fifty-some days of attack ads, vitriol and general lack of specifics that will lead us to November 4th.

The primaries were a warm-up.  It embarrasses me how we run them, and run our elections.  Whatever happened to platforms and issues?

Someone knock on my closet door when it’s over.


Did Bucky Gleason Really Write That?

July 11, 2008

I don’t read sports commentary very often but occasionally I glance at Bucky Gleason’s musings on the Sports page of the Buffalo News.  One of today’s paragraphs read

It was good to hear Sabres owner Tom Golisano’s plans to shell out $5 million to candidates he supports for the state Legislature.  Like he said, he can afford the donation and wants to help out.  But wouldn’t the dough be better spent on something that actually affects Western New Yorkers, such as the Sabres’ blue line?

No Bucky, the dough wouldn’t be better spent on the Sabres’ blue line.

I can’t believe he was serious when he wrote that.  It’s about as Cro-Magnon a comment as one could possibly come up with.


High-Tech 2010 Census Effort Reportedly Adrift

April 10, 2008

Census 2000The United States has, for the third decade in a row, attempted and failed to create a method by which census data can be collected by some means other than pencil and paper.

It’s not that this would be so bad except that the Census Bureau estimates that the cost of this handheld system is $1.3 billion, and it won’t do what was intended: Allow canvassing workers to enter and transmit census data digitally. It was to be the first truly high-tech census. Plans for the 1990 census called for quite a bit of minicomputer technology to support data collection, and in 2000 the use of data capture systems; those plans didn’t materialize, either.

This article is really discouraging. It further reinforces my belief that agencies like the Census Bureau are loaded with bumbling political appointees being gifted large salaries and prestigious titles for their support of the party in power. The Bureau’s bumbling appointees were Jay Waite and Louis Kincannon. Their CV’s are impressive, their results are not. When asked in 2006 by Senator Tom Koburn what the Bureau would do if the handheld units did not work, Kincannon stated that the handhelds would work, implying there was no need for a contingency plan. He repeated this statement four more times during the Senate hearing, indicating that no plans were in place should the system of handheld units fail to materialize by 2010. Kincannon was replaced in late 2007 by Steven Murdock. Read the entire story here; it’s fascinating.

Fed Ex seems to do a pretty good job using handheld scanners to track millions of packages daily. My wife uses Nielsen SCANTRAK to enter all kinds of data about her weekly purchases, transmits that data on a regular basis and gets awarded points that she can turn into gifts for all her effort. Turbo Tax turns my digitally-created 1040 forms into 2-dimensional bar codes that can be scanned at the receiving end in a matter of seconds.

The technology to do everything the Census Bureau needs has been around for years – commercially, about 15 years already – yet the Bureau cannot figure out how to turn that already-available commercial technology into something that would work for them.

What a shame. What a statement of utter incompetence.

We will pay $1.3 million for a system that will not provide census workers with the tools they need to efficiently do their jobs. We will, instead, pay those 600,000 workers to arm themselves with pencil and paper to collect data from the expected one-third of all Americans who will not return their census forms, only to have that data re-entered by other census workers sitting behind banks of PCs once the paper forms arrive back at headquarters. Total cost for the census: Around $14 billion and growing.

But it’s not entirely a lost cause. Even though the units won’t be able to collect and transmit data, the 151,000 handheld units that will be purchased (note that apparently, not every census worker gets one of these toys) will be able to use GPS to verify the location of every home in America, just like a Tom Tom. An $8,600 Tom Tom.

Maybe by 2020 we’ll decide to build something high-tech that actually works, or make the potentially wise decision to simply continue doing it with pencil and paper. The alternative – the worst alternative – we seem to choose is to pay some company billions for a half-assed, poorly thought-out design that has no chance of getting off the ground.

How sad for us.


Race to the Bottom

April 9, 2008

Dan GundersenDan Gundersen, Upstate chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, came to the Buffalo Niagara Partnership today to discuss state incentives to businesses, and how we compete for that business with other states.

In a nutshell:

  • Business incentives have become an entitlement, not an incentive. Businesses not given an incentive package to come to New York (or any other state, for that matter) will generally choose to go to some region offering an incentive package.
  • Because New York has real estate taxes 50% higher than the national average it must offer incentives to lure businesses to the state. The problem is that incentives are being offered by every state, regardless of where they rank tax-wise. The conclusion: Offering incentives rarely provides New York an edge over other states.

This is the classic race to the bottom. As each state tries to outdo every other state the logical conclusion is that businesses will eventually be incentivized (read: entitled) to locate to the region that offers shovel-ready or spec-built real-estate essentially for free – no taxes, ever. People who are lured to that region for the jobs it produces may be burdened with taxes, but not the businesses providing those jobs.

Given that our current system of taxation is plainly not working well, New York State might be wise to grab the lead on this and offer a free ride to any company willing to relocate to the state – especially to the upstate area.


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