Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Empire Strikes Back

A Drama in One Act

SCENE:   Editors' Conference Room at the Rochester DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE.   Early December, 2009.   As the CURTAIN rises, ALI ZOIBI, Publisher, KAREN MAGNUSON, Editor, and JAMES LAWRENCE, Editorial Page Editor, consult together at the conference table.

ALI: A disaster, that election. We have to get a grip on this thing.

KAREN: Ali, I have a grip on it. What do you call the Robutrad Strategy?

ALI: Something that worked about as well as the Water Authority Strategy.

JIM: And the FAIR Plan Strategy.

ALI: And the MCC President Strategy.

JIM: And the Public Defender Strategy.

KAREN: Well don't look at me! I don't need attitude from the publisher's suite and the editorial office!

ALI: Chill. We're cool.

KAREN: Who turned some nickel-and-dime employee malfeasance into the big, bad Robutrad Scandal? News! That's who!

ALI: OK, Karen.

KAREN: Who spiked the follow-up on City Council expense reports? News!

JIM: We get it.

KAREN: Who turned an innovative, out-of-the-box solution to the County budget problem into a vicious assault on "our children?" News!

ALI: You did? FAIR's legality was suspect before it was passed.

JIM: So are Paterson's unilateral budget cuts, and we told him to go for it.

ALI: Let's not get sidetracked, Jim.

KAREN: Who killed coverage when the County Bar Association suppressed "Not Qualified" ratings of Democrats running for Supreme Court Judge?   And that just scratches the surface!

JIM: Karen. ... We know you're trying.

ALI: Maybe we need to simplify the stories. You know, notch it down, the reading comprehension level.

KAREN: We're already at Sixth-Grade level!

JIM: (chuckling) I thought that was just for Morelle.

VOICE: (offstage) I heard that!
(Enter Monroe County Democratic Chairman JOE MORELLE. Taking his usual seat, he throws a bundle of papers on the conference table.)

MORELLE: Sorry I'm late. Here are my edits for Sunday's lead.

JIM: (looking at Morelle's papers) Wait a minute. This isn't the lead.

MORELLE: It is now.

KAREN: Are you serious? You're really gonna bump "Getting Ready for Kwanzaa"?

MORELLE: Relax ... Now, look ... it's been a hard month since the election. For each of us. (They nod.) We've all been hurting, especially me. But now -- Joey's back! And bettah' than evah'.

JIM: What's with the Noo Yawk accent?

MORELLE: Shelly likes it.

ALI: But Joe, you want to run this? The update on the County Sports Commission for the local section?

KAREN: Plain vanilla. Says it's well-run and brings in a lot of tourist dollars. $33million. How do we whack the Rethuglicans with that?

MORELLE: You losin' your edge, baby?

KAREN: What do you mean?

MORELLE: Read the fine print. The Commission's annual report shows the money all sports events bring in, not just events the Commission brings in.

JIM: (perking up) A clear case of misrepresentation!

ALI: But aren't they supposed to report that?

KAREN: Yes...but we don't have to emphasize it, do we?

ALI: (with dawning awareness) No ... Just downplay it. "Accidentally" on purpose.

JIM: One of our specialties.

ALI: What about that professor?


ALI: In the article. Says the Sports Commission has an obligation to report the economic impact of all sports events, the way it does.

MORELLE: Put it near the end. Who reads that far into the story?

KAREN: Right. Leave the prof. in. Gives us cover. We'll spin it like we always do -- with headlines and "highlight" boxes.

MORELLE: You're back on track, cookie.

ALI: Here's another one -- the County pays less to the sports promoter, LeBeau, because it gives him some office space instead.

KAREN: Where?

JIM: That brick building at Frontier Field.

MORELLE: So what? The County saves cash. Doesn't help us.

KAREN: (brightening) But this does -- Headline: "County Gives Promoter Free Office Space."

MORELLE: (quickly) Is he a Republican contributor?

JIM: You bet.

MORELLE: How do you know without checking?

JIM: Because all these contractors give to both parties. They like City jobs too, you know.

KAREN: But we don't have to mention that part.

ALI: I love it when a plan comes together!

MORELLE: OK. Let's juice it up. (He ponders momentarily.) How about a federal investigation of "County Sports Commission abuses?"

KAREN: Call Louise.

ALI: Washington office or her Rochester office?

MORELLE: Rochester office.

ALI: (speaking into intercom) Miss Flaybum, get me the Quatela Clinic.

KAREN: (aside, to MORELLE) What are they lifting now?

MORELLE: Hard to tell; she's a permanent work-in-progress.

KAREN: What do you mean?

MORELLE: Like painting the Triborough Bridge. They start at one end and when they're done, it's time to go back and start over.

ALI: Just wheeled her out. She's still under.

JIM: What about Massa? Call his press secretary.

MORELLE: No good. She's out of town.

KAREN: Where?

MORELLE: LA, kiddo.

ALI: Not to worry. Let's just get it out. Front page.

MORELLE: I'll prep our people in the County Leg.

ALI: To do what?

MORELLE: The usual. Demand an investigation, press conference, you know.

JIM: And I'll do the editorial calling for an inquiry.

ALI: We've got our groove back!

MORELLE: And our game plan for the next two years.

KAREN: Just a minute. (Steps offstage, then returns with a 40-ounce and four tumblers.)

JIM: Yours, Karen?

KAREN: No. Gantt's. Left it behind last time.

ALI: Have one, Jim! It'll help you editorialize.

MORELLE: (chuckling) Is that your secret, Ali?

ALI: That would be telling.

(KAREN and MORELLE pour drinks)

JIM: (aside, to ALI) That Joe! What leadership!

ALI: Looks like a County Executive to me!

(They turn back to the others, and join the convivial merriment.)



Saturday, December 19, 2009

Liberals Call It "Selfishness"

Why should we be forced to pay for the costs of other people’s irresponsibility?

That's the theme of the very best discussion of universal health care I've seen anywhere.

If you're only going to read one thing today that's longer than a few paragraphs, read this.

Some highlights:

There’s a much deeper philosophical objection to “socialized medicine” that is so un-PC that it is rarely if ever voiced in public. And for that reason, the opponents of socialized medicine never even mention the real flaw in the concept that nags the unconscious of most Americans:

Not all ailments are equal.

I feel a deep-seated resentment that the rest of us should pick up the tab to fix medical problems that never should have happened in the first place.

I’m speaking specifically of medical problems caused by:
• Obesity
• Cigarette smoking
• Alcohol abuse
• Reckless behavior
• Criminal activity
• Unprotected promiscuous sex
• Use of illicit drugs
• Cultural traditions
• Bad diets
Now, I really don’t care if you overeat, smoke like a chimney, hump like a bunny or forget to lock the safety mechanism on your pistol as you jam it in your waistband. Fine by me. ... I would never under normal circumstances condemn anyone for any of the behaviors listed above. That is: Until the bill for your stupidity shows up in my mailbox.
You really need to read it.


Friday, December 18, 2009

... And Now It's Official

Leadership of the Monroe County Legislature for 2010-11:

Dan Quatro - Majority Leader
Jeff McCann - Deputy Majority Leader
Steve Tucciarello - Deputy Majority Leader (new to this position)
Jeff Adair - President (new to this position)
Mike Barker - Vice President (new to this position)
Anthony Daniele - Ways and Means Chairman (new to this position)


Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Leaders In County Legislature Coming Soon

Any day now, Republicans in the County Legislature will meet to choose leaders of their caucus, and nominees for the positions of President and Vice President of the Legislature.

Expect to see respected Majority Leader Dan Quatro continue in that role.

Openings are created by the retirement of the current Legislature President, Wayne Zyra, and Deputy Majority Leader John Driscoll.

Likely choices? Sources tell us that current Vice President Jeff Adair - Wheatland, is seen as a strong contender for President.   Other up-and-comers who are liked and respected within the GOP caucus, and about whom there are rumblings of advancement to positions of leadership, are Anthony Daniele - Pittsford/East Rochester, Ciaran Hanna - Perinton, Mike Barker - Perinton, and Steve Tucciarello - Gates.

Tucciarello is regarded as a hero for his tremendous effort over the past 2 years that resulted in a massive re-election win in Gates, which had been seen as perhaps the Democrats' prime target for taking over the legislature.   Tucciarello realized this after the 2007 election, and from that point put forth an exemplary effort to win re-election.

Barker and Hanna, both said to be admired by colleagues for their intellect and judgment, seem to be overdue for promotion to greater responsibility.

If Adair becomes president, look for any of these four to emerge as the new VP, or as Driscoll's replacement as Deputy Majority Leader.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Grim Prognosis?

Massachusetts Rep. Michael Capuano just returned to Washington, after running in the Democratic primary to fill Edward Kennedy's senate seat.

The Wall Street Journal's John Fund reports:

Asked what message he had brought back from voters for fellow Democrats, Mr. Capuano tersely replied: "You're screwed."


Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Apparently Mayor Duffy took the opportunity of a public forum last week to disparage bloggers, who, he said, "throw rocks and hide their faces."

We hold the Mayor in good regard.   No more egocentric than any politician.   Even so, his comment recalls the dictum of the late, great Quentin Crisp:   "To an egomaniac, fair share of anything is always starvation diet."

Isn't it enough for Mayor Duffy to pursue his political career, and undertake his mayoralty, in a consequence-free zone of media protection?

Isn't it sufficient that the local press places anything involving City government beyond the pale of serious, sustained scrutiny?   (We distinguish between City government and the City school board.)

It is no criticism of the Mayor to recognize these perfectly apparent circumstances.   But really, Your Honor.   With a deal like that, a few local blogs get under your skin?

Just a symptom of all that pampering by the press.

Democrat and Chronicle editorial page editor James Lawrence endorsed the Mayor's comment in the newspaper's editorial blog, which is where we learned of it.

Mr. Lawrence, we and other local bloggers are here because you created us.   We're here to discuss information your newspaper suppresses because it doesn't fit your agenda.   We're here because of the D&C's propensity for deceiving the public with partial truths (recent examples of which are teed up for upcoming postings).   We're here because your newspaper's committed advocacy for one political party, its officials and candidates, sometimes goes over the top, even for the D&C.

Want to know why we bloggers are here -- all of us, from left to right?   Step into your own newsroom, Mr. Lawrence.   And look around.

We think the Mayor and the Editor complain about anonymity, because it compels them to confront ideas, rather than individuals.   Ideas, of course, are not in the least anonymous.   They have shape, substance and weight.   Who wants to grapple with ideas when you can slip around them so easily with ad hominem attacks, or eliminate them by using your power and influence to pressure the writer, the writer's employer or family?

A City government operating without scrutiny now has such modest scrutiny as we bloggers can muster.   The self-appointed press "watchdog," notorious for its political tunnel vision, now has watchdogs of its own.

And both are showing a very thin skin about it.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happy Hanukkah!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Media Manipulates Mandates

The Democrat and Chronicle took a shot Tuesday at deceiving the public on the central reality of the County budget.

That reality is that Monroe County, like every other county in New York, doesn't have control over most of its budget.   That spending is dictated by the State -- the infamous "mandates."   Monroe characterizes 81% of its budget as mandated spending.

That's true.   That 81% includes grant money that is "mandated" in the sense that it must be used for a stated purpose, once obtained. Mandates those are, if not the kind of mandates that should trouble us as much as others, since these don't require spending local tax revenues.

Yet, even counties that don't count such funded, grant-directed spending as "mandated" report mandates accounting for half or more of their budgets:   Erie County at 54%; Onandaga at 52%.   A tremendous proportion of each county's budget, and of its local tax burden.

As we pointed out recently, this is a reality that allows the minority party in every county -- whether Republican or Democratic -- to take the regulation-issue, intellectually dishonest cheap shot at the governing party for "spending too much," or for "fiscal irresponsibility."

To be sure, the D&C article included comment from Kent Gardner, who as head of the Center for Governmental Research has studied mandates, that he has no problem with the way County Executive Brooks and her administration characterize the problem.   "The core message, I completely agree with ...," Gardner commented.

Still, leave it to the D&C to attempt to create doubt about this key fact of life for county government, which explains much, if not all, of the budgetary problem this county faces.   Leave it to the paper to do it the morning of the vote on the County budget.   Leave it to them to let all the threads of their story hang, instead of resolving them in the only honest way:   that even if we count as "mandates" only those dictated programs the state forces local taxpayers to pay, it still accounts for more than half the entire budget.   Still a whopping problem, and another colossal failure of State -- not county -- policy.

Anything to undermine public officials who belong to the wrong party.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright ...

The Web and the traditional media seem, fitfully, to be settling on a division of labor: The major media will focus on celebrity scandals and bloggers will focus on things that actually matter.

-- Allysia Finley
Wall Street Journal
Ms. Finley noted that in the two weeks after Climategate broke, emails casting doubt on global warming were the subject of exactly four stories on the morning and evening news shows of NBC, ABC and CBS. However, she continued, over the same period the network shows aired 62 stories on Tiger Woods' auto accident and rumored infidelities.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Thank You, Main Street Scoop!

Mustard Street is one of six blogs chosen from around the nation to be included in the launch of Main Street Scoop, a site featuring news feeds from quality blogs focusing on local matters.

The other featured blogs are Salisbury News in Maryland, Halfway to Concord, Elk Grove News and Mayor of Concord in California, and Niagara Times over in Niagara County.

Thanks for the recognition!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Gargan Declines To Seek County Court Vacancy

We've learned that Assistant District Attorney William Gargan declined consideration for appointment to the County Court vacancy created by Judge Alex Renzi's election to state Supreme Court, apparently some weeks ago.   We discussed recently the scenario for such an appointment.

The Assistant DA withdrew out of concern that such an appointment would be recognized all too clearly as reward for his corrupt prosecution of Monroe County GOP Executive Director Andrew Moore, in order to help the Democratic Party in the recent local election.   Public perception matters, since the appointed judge would have to face voters next year.

We expect that Gargan will wait until a decent interval of time helps to obscure the quid-pro-quo, and eventually will be rewarded with the Democratic nod for a City Court judgeship.


Bruno Found Guilty

Former State Senator Joe Bruno has been found guilty on two of the eight charges brought against him.

Story here.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Truth Is Getting Out

About the State of New York's central problem, that is.

We've been saying it for a while.   So has the Democrat and Chronicle.   Now from Chris Smith's Intelligencer column in this week's New York magazine:

That the car-tag gimmick was even floated points to the larger problem. The state’s feckless legislators are beholden to campaign donors, particularly the unions representing teachers and health-care workers.

No governor will make real progress on reform unless he can alter the composition of the State Assembly and Senate, or at least make its members more dependent on the governor than on the unions. More likely, the budget problems will need to sink to truly Californian desperation before we can aspire to be as good as … Arkansas.


Friday, December 4, 2009

You Hired WHO?

Almost as disturbing as the report of a Rochester City employee committing a rape (does it really matter whether it was on duty or not?) is the information that this employee had been convicted previously of several felonies, including criminal possession of a weapon.

How did someone with that background make it through the City's hiring process?

We hope the incident and the related disclosure about the employee's background motivates City Council to look into the hiring practices of the City's human resources department.

Had it been a County employee, already there would be calls from the political opposition, among others, for investigations.   In the one-party City government there isn't an opposition party.   Let's hope some of the Councillors have enough character and courage to demand an inquiry into the hiring practices that let the accused rapist, with that background, slip through.


Good Call by the Guv

Last Thursday we said the State Legislature wouldn't vote Governor Paterson authority to cut spending unilaterally, so he should just up and do it:

Everyone, including the State's Attorney General, said you couldn't constitutionally appoint a Lieutenant Governor. But you did it anyway. And the Court of Appeals said, "OK."
Now, according to James Lawrence, editorial page editor of the Democrat and Chronicle, writing in the newspaper's editorial blog, the Governor told Mr. Lawrence yesterday that he's going to do just that.

Good for him, to do it, and lucky for us that he will. Let the cuts to bloated spending on education employees and Medicaid begin!


More on this
at N.Y Daily News.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

D&C Gets It Right. But Will It Follow Through?

The Democrat and Chronicle gets it very right in this morning's editorial.   Criticizing the partial state deficit reduction passed yesterday by the legislature as too little, they note that lawmakers failed to touch education and health spending, "because powerful public employee unions insist on it."

Just as we've been saying here on Mustard Street.   And here.   And here.   And ... you get the idea.

To date, the paper has shown its understanding of the problem, as exemplified in this morning's editorial.   But then it goes ahead and endorses for re-election every lapdog of the public employee unions:  the Morelles, Susan Johns and David Koons who perpetuate the very status quo the paper criticizes.   And the Republican state senators who suck up to those unions every bit as greedily as the aforementioned Democrats.

Will the D&C do the same thing in its endorsements in 2010?

In this regard the paper has behaved remarkably like the legislature it so properly criticizes.   It understands the problem, but can't bring itself to take the action it knows is necessary to fix it.

We'll know how "fed up with Albany" the D&C really is when we see their endorsements for state legislature next year.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reluctant Dragon

What's with this?


The Prez Blows It

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.

-- Kipling
The Young British Soldier (1897)
And nothing much has changed since then.

The British tried it in the 19th Century, and the Russkies in the 20th.   Both with substantially greater investment of men and money than the President proposes now.

If we could win this thing and eradicate Al-Qaeda with 30,000 troops in 18 months in Afghanistan, then OK.

But it seems unlikely we can fully defeat the Taliban under the proposed circumstances.   Even if we did, Al-Qaeda still exists in numerous other countries, not all of them ending in "-istan."

So every U.S. soldier who dies over there in the next 18 months will die for nothing.   For an abstract ideal, yes.   But for an attainable result supporting the national security interests of the United States, no.

It's time to get out, but the President blew it.


Wrong Target

The unseating of Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi raises this interesting question:   Why is it that county government so often seems to be the focus of discussion and criticism of high property taxes?

We thought this might be peculiar to Monroe County, but it seems evident in Nassau County as well, and, therefore, seems likely to prevail elsewhere.

The Nassau County Executive vote may have to do more with voters' higher trust in Republicans than Democrats on the issue of taxes.   Nevertheless, why is it in relation to county government that the issue seems to resonate?

In Nassau, (as The New York Times points out in today's sour editorial), county property tax accounts for only 16% of property taxes collected.   Here in Monroe its about the same.   It's the school taxes, of course that comprise the whopping portion of the tax bill:   over 60% in Nassau County, even more here in Monroe.

Part of it has to be fallout from ordinary partisan give-and-take.   The minority party in any county, whether Democrats or Republicans, will criticize for high property taxes the majority it seeks to displace  --  conveniently omitting that county government accounts for less than one-fifth of the tax bill.

The mechanics of paying property tax in New York has been set up deliberately to diffuse responsibility for the biggest component of the tax.   It's not by accident that school taxes are aggregated together with city, county, and town taxes in the same bill.   Or that the property tax is paid at town halls, or at City Hall.

Anything to obscure the lines of responsibility for sky-high property taxes.   Anything to conceal as much as possible the cause-and-effect.

What else do you expect when the lobby spending the most in Albany each year is the Teachers' Union?   Remember that New York has only the superficial trappings of democratic government.   This is the key to understanding the New York Problem.   New York, in substance and operation, has an aristocratic form of government, with a public-sector labor aristocracy supported by the population outside the aristocratic class.

Another cause of misplaced focus on county government in regard to property tax derives from reporting on the subject.   A county or town property tax increase that's trivial gets front-page treatment.   School tax hikes routinely exceeding the rate of inflation are treated as  ...  routine. Dog-bites-man stuff.

These represent some of the reasons why it's county government in New York that seems so often to be the focus of property tax discussion.   Together with the understanding of most voters that they have some actual control over their town and county governments.   Something New York's meticulously-crafted Third World-style school budget elections don't allow.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Does Suozzi's Defeat Tell a Larger Story?

Thanks to today's piece by Cincinnatus of Monroe Rising, we became aware of the recount going against Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi.

Suozzi conceded the election this afternoon.

Granted that voters across the state are fed up with taxes in general and property taxes in particular, Suozzi's loss is surprising.

There's probably no Democratic office holder in New York who has identified himself in recent years more thoroughly, or more credibly, as a champion of property tax relief -- and specifically, a property tax cap -- than Tom Suozzi.   Although his loss was a squeaker, by fewer than 400 votes out of 250,000 cast, he was widely expected to win.

It raises the question:   if this Democrat, who surely established his bona fides as an opponent of high property taxes can't win, does this indicate an an even more focused backlash against Democrats in New York than last month's other election results suggested?

Stated differently, if a Democrat like Tom Suozzi can't prevail in a race where property taxes are the big issue, is there a Democrat in the state who can?


What Became of Robutrad News?

Just a short month ago ... every Robutrad-related development, no matter how small, appeared prominently in the Democrat and Chronicle. Usually front page.

But that was before the local elections. The D&C was helping its side to win. Then came the Democrats' election night meltdown. All the paper's effort came to nothing.

So ... today's report about a Robutrad employee being sentenced? With no election at stake?

Back on page 3-B. In one of those sidebar columns. Without even mentioning Robutrad in the headline.

Now that it's not politically useful, it looks like Robutrad news goes where it belongs.