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The Morning Grumpy – 2/23/2012

All the news and views fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

 As true today as it was in 1963

1. Welcome back, Jim Heaney. We missed you. If you missed my link earlier this week in the grumpy, the best investigative journalist in Buffalo is back on the prowl with his new project, InvestigativePost. His first article out of the box took a look at Gov. Cuomo’s promise of $1BN in economic development incentives in Buffalo and how we might expect to see them doled out.

The key, of course, is how the state targets its $1 billion. While the plan is a work in progress, some aspects of Cuomo’s general approach appear ambitious – at best – and beg a larger question: Is the apparent focus on big-ticket projects the best way to rebuild the region’s economy?

He began to answer the question with his own reporting and supplemented his work with links to dozens of related stories and data points that I’m still churning through. Really great stuff.

In a blog post, Heaney also explained the DNA of this collaborative, non-profit news outlet.

I’ve had a quote from Carl Bernstein taped to the front of my computer terminal for the better part of 20 years that reads, “Reporting is not stenography. It is the best obtainable version of the truth.”

I’ve never been a fan of the “he said, she said” brand of journalism practiced by many reporters and taken to its lowest form by pundits and other talking – or shall I say, “screaming” – heads on cable. That is, present two sides of the story – as though things are ever that simple – and let readers figure it out.

I always thought my job as a reporter was to figure it out – after all, I was the one with the time, training and resources – and provide readers “the best obtainable version of the truth.” This required me to do my homework, get things right and write with clarity – “telling it like it is,” in the words of Howard Cosell.

This is the mindset I will instill as I build the reporting culture at Investigative Post.

Halle-fucking-lujah!  I can barely contain my excitement about this project and what it will mean for enterprise journalism in this region.

2. Were you arrested and charged with second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an incident resulting in death, and two counts of tampering with physical evidence whilst driving while intoxicated and texting? Are you also a millionaire doctor?  No problem, call Michael Clayton Joel Daniels!

Dr. James G. Corasanti’s actions were not criminally reckless and there isn’t evidence to prove second-degree manslaughter, defense lawyer Joel L. Daniels said.

Daniels is mining an astounding array of technicalities as he mounts his vigorous defense. This case will play out over the summer and if Daniels does what he is well-paid to do, a whole new playbook will be issued to criminal defense attorneys on how to keep wealthy pricks out of jail. Our resident lawyer, Alan Bedenko, will most certainly provide comprehensive coverage on this as the story develops.

3. You should follow the steps at this link and clean up your web history. With a massive change to their privacy policy, the Google is coming to assimilate you.

On March 1st, Google will implement its new, unified privacy policy, which will affect data Google has collected on you prior to March 1st as well as data it collects on you in the future. Until now, your Google Web History (your Google searches and sites visited) was cordoned off from Google’s other products. This protection was especially important because search data can reveal particularly sensitive information about you, including facts about your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, health concerns, and more. If you want to keep Google from combining your Web History with the data they have gathered about you in their other products, such as YouTube or Google Plus, you may want to remove all items from your Web History and stop your Web History from being recorded in the future.

Here’s how you can do that.

Follow the easy, illustrated steps and retain some of your ever shrinking amount of privacy.

4. This story is perfect for talk radio. The type of information that when relayed, causes visceral anger over these entitled 1 percenters who abuse their power and privilege to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal treasury through graft, corruption, and tax evasion. We simply won’t stand for it! Wait…what?!

Not long ago, the Atlantic did a story on the cosmetic surgery rider that Buffalo teachers have.

On Monday, CNN continued to shine the national spotlight on a story that we reported extensively a year and a half ago (“Cosmetic surgery dearly costs city schools,” “Saving face(s): Cosmetic surgery costs for school employees skyrocket,” “Cosmetic surgery rider was saved once,” and more.)

The piece on Anderson Cooper’s show, “Teachers nip, tuck for free,” recaps what we already know: Buffalo teachers have the cosmetic surgery rider; teachers pay nothing for procedures; taxpayers pick up the full tab; last year, it cost about $5.9 million; the district wants the union to waive the benefit as a gesture of goodwill; the union is willing to get rid of the rider, but only through contract negotiations; the contract expired nearly eight years ago.

Stories like this are designed to get you riled up and pissed off about how those damn unions are fucking us over at every opportunity. Sandy Beach can blow an artery and Tom Bauerle can get his thong in a bunch over how these damned teachers are just stealing from you. My reaction? Meh. And I’m in the distinct minority.

Being a teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools is not an easy job. The pay isn’t that great, the working conditions can be hostile, and violent student behavior is a major concern for many teachers in some of the more dangerous city schools. The benefit was originally instituted for medically necessary plastic surgery procedures and has expanded over time to include elective procedures. Imagine a teacher in the BPS suffering injuries at school which might require plastic surgery. Why should that restorative surgery not be covered if deemed medically necessary?

Even so, union leadership is willing to give up the benefit in the next round of negotiations, but the teachers union has been operating without a new contract for nearly ten years. So, instead of demanding the BPS sit down to seriously negotiate with the union, we ask the teachers to make a “gesture of good faith” and voluntarily waive the benefit. To which I say, “Fuck that!”.  Once that’s done, a precedent is set and negotiating power is lost.

Contract negotiations should be a mediated process in which offers are exchanged and compromise is found. Want the union to give up a $6MM benefit? Well, offer them something in return to compensate them for relinquishing it. Perhaps a reduction of the benefit to cover only those procedures deemed medically necessary as a result of injury on the job and moving the saved cash into a teacher training fund, pay increases, or to cover the purchase of new classroom supplies and equipment. Transfer the savings to improve the product.

I only wish I had a union working on my behalf to secure benefits, protect job security, and demand employer accountability. We should all be so lucky. Instead, we operate in fear of losing our jobs at the whim of quarterly profits and the constant demands to increase shareholder value. And we’re thankful for the treatment and call into WBEN demanding that everyone else suffer our fate. It’s a weird country.

5. Do you remember that KeystoneXL pipeline that Republicans have a hard-on for? The pipeline that will reduce our gas prices to Reagan-era levels and bring us hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in economic development? Yeah, about that…

Unfortunately, there’s an all-too-typical problem with the Republican line on Keystone: it’s completely unsupported by the facts. On the jobs front, the Cornell Global Labor Institute estimates the project would create only 2,500 to 4,650 short-term construction jobs—not the “hundreds of thousands” of jobs claimed by House Speaker John Boehner.

Similarly, gas prices would not decrease if Keystone was built—they’d likely go up in many areas of the country.

This is nonsense on many fronts, most of all because the price is oil is fundamentally set on global markets. As the Congressional Research Service pointed out in late January, when there’s trouble in places like the Straits of Hormuz, the price of oil goes up for everyone and Keystone will make no difference, since the oil market is “globally integrated’; it’s not like Exxon offers a home-country discount to American motorists.

But in the case of the Keystone pipeline, it turns out there’s a special twist. At the moment, there’s an oversupply of tarsands crude in the Midwest, which has depressed gas prices there. If the pipeline gets built so that crude can easily be sent overseas, that excess will immediately disappear and gas prices for 15 states across the middle of the country will suddenly rise. Says who? Says the companies trying to build the thing. Transcanada Pipeline’s rationale for investors, and their testimony to Canadian officials, included precisely this point: removing the “oversupply’ and the resulting “price discount” would raise their returns by $2 to $4 billion a year.

So, are we all done with this now?

Fact Of The Day: An economist spent ten years studying street gangs and found they function much like corporations. Executives in the 1%, the street dealers making less than minimum wage and firmly in the 99%. Linked video is from a classic TED Talk.

Quote Of The Day: “They don’t think it be the way it is, but it do” – Oscar Gamble unaware that he just explained the universe in one sentence.

Video Of the Day: Every punch to the face in the classic film, Roadhouse. As someone who has watched Roadhouse over 300 times, you should know that it is more of a religion than a movie. Be nice until it’s time to not be nice.

 

Cartoon Of The Day: “Terrier Stricken” – Chuck Jones

Song Of The Day: “Acid In My Heart” – The Sleepy Jackson

Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com


  • starbuck

    4.

    So, instead of demanding the BPS sit down to seriously negotiate with the union, we ask the teachers to make a “gesture of good faith” and voluntarily waive the benefit.

    The BPS at least once did offer something in return, 104 fewer teacher layoffs in exchange for waiving the benefit for one year. The BTF said no.

    http://www.buffalonews.com/city/schools/article524677.ece?articleId=524677

    Plan seeks to reinstate laid-off teachers
    School Board members hope for vote today
    August 17, 2011, 8:36 AM
    Two Buffalo Board of Education members plan to introduce a measure today that would reinstate the 104 teachers who got pink slips earlier this month.
    … Smith said one specific concession from the teachers union would cover the cost of reinstating those who were laid off. “That is also the approximate value of the cosmetic rider the district asked the [Buffalo Teachers Federation] to give up for one year on several occasions,” she said in an email.
    … BTF President Philip Rumore has said the union is willing to give up the benefit but only as part of contract negotiations. District officials asked the union to waive the benefit for one year, saying they would use the savings to reinstate positions in the budget. Rumore declined. …

    Why isn’t that considered a serious offer? Employment levels can be a legitimate negotiating item.

    By the way, is there evidence that the BPS hasn’t also already been trying to seriously negotiate a new contract? I don’t know if they have, but why should anybody assume that they haven’t and the BTF has? Aren’t most seats on the BPS board held by candidates who the BTF supported and campaigned for? Why would they refuse to seriously negotiate?

  • Chris Smith

    That exchange was not part of an actual contract negotiation, it was an out of cycle request to give up a benefit. Sure, there was an offer made, but the teachers union is looking for a full negotiation of the contract in an offical, arbitrated manner. Willy-nilly quasi-offers through the media need not apply.

    Ask the Buffalo Firefighters how giving up a benefit outside of arbitrated contract negotiations worked out for them…

  • Chris Smith

    The evidence is that Dr. Williams never entered legitimate negotiations, nor sought them.

  • starbuck

    All negotiation formal offers from the BPS (or any government side of labor negotiations) should be publicly released and made known through media. It’s our money being offered. That offer of 104 fewer layoffs wasn’t any less serious because it was publicly made known. And why wasn’t it a fair offer? >100 jobs isn’t a trivial amount. The BTF has a right to reject it as they did, but it isn’t true to say the BPS never offered them anything in return for giving up the cosmetic rider. The offer was even along the lines of what you suggested in grumpy 4:

    Transfer the savings to improve the product.

    In your second comment, what’s the evidence that there was no legitimate negotiations during Williams time in office? Is it evidence, or hearsay from the BTF side? I’m not saying it’s impossible that there’s evidence, but if you say there is, what is it? Are you saying the sides met but it wasn’t “legitimate”? How so?

    Another thing that makes me question the narrative is why did BTF’s Phil Rumore advocate delaying the firing of Dr. Williams? If Williams was who was delaying “legitimate” and “serious” negotiations from happening, and if the BTF was anxious for those, then logically wouldn’t the BTF have wanted for Williams to be removed asap?

    From this, it looks like Rumore admits he didn’t want that and he suggested to the Board of Ed that they not fire Williams before the previously announced retirement date.
    http://www.buffalonews.com/city/schools/article469822.ece