Buffalo BEAST - Buffalo's New Best Fiend
 

June 1 - 15, 2005

Issue #76

  .........................Buffalo's Best Fiend
   

The CyberCloset
A Chance Encounter

by Allan Uthman

 
Monkey Business
A Different Kind of Crusade
by Matt Taibbi
 
Jack Davis vs China
Trade Protectionist Gets His Party Started
by Matt Higgins
 
War on Drugs or Just War?
Plan Colombia Stays Aloft
by John Myers
 

Newsreek
Anonymous Sources Under Fire--Sometimes

by Matt Taibbi

 

Lonely Revolution
Free Buffalo, but Nobody's Buying

by Matt Higgins

 

Are You an Evil Genius?
Take the Quiz
by N. Sorrenti

 

Get Your Blog On
Helpful Tips
for Newbies

 
  
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Cover Page
Buffalo in Briefs
Separated At Birth
Page 3
Blind Date Scenario
Beast-O-Scopes
Kino Korner
[SIC] - Your Letters
 
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Lonely Revolution

Freedom: Surprisingly Unpopular

By Matt Higgins

The historic Central Terminal played host to a modern-day political uprising Saturday – a political revolution that doesn’t include any picketing, chanting or burning anyone in effigy. – The Buffalo News, Sunday, May 29, 2005

Some people have a macabre fascination with destructive power – the fantastic feeling of putting a rock through a window or the thrilling sound of a snowball thudding against the side of a passing car. Children know these pleasures, but reject this antisocial behavior when they grow up, or wind up in court sooner or later.

The Central Terminal on Buffalo’s East Side offers a chance to connect for a moment with the good old days of running wild on the streets, and blowing up flowerpots with M-80 firecrackers. For example, hooligans have launched rocks through the train station’s once elegant windows, and vandals long ago pried away anything of value and carried it out. Some crude graffiti colors the dingy walls.

Many people look at the train station in its current state and think wistfully back on the past when passengers filled the place and Buffalo bore some small resemblance to New York City. Not me. I’ve been to Grand Central Station many times lately, and while visually spectacular, it’s no fun to hang out in. Camouflage clad machine gun toting soldiers stare at each other from opposite ends. The place is packed with harried commuters and slow gawking tourists. Any kind of remotely antisocial behavior would result in a bullet between the eyes.

The Central Terminal in Buffalo, however, is a monument to decay and destruction. Those East Side ruffians must have had a great time busting out the windows and running amok with a can of Krylon, painting obscenities on the walls.

Indeed, I was thinking about the spirit of rebellion as I entered the decrepit building Saturday. I was there with Beast publisher Paul Fallon to check out “A Taste of Freedom,” an event hosted by Free Buffalo, a local incarnation of the so-called Tax Revolt. We stepped into the decaying shell of the old train station and were confronted with a strange scene: a madman throwing a party in what looked like one of the post-apocalyptic sets from the original “Planet of the Apes” films.

A broad coalition of interests had set up tables, including the Save Jobs Party, Green Party, Primary Challenge, American Indian Movement and Literacy Volunteers. Red “Join the Revolution” T-shirts sold for $10 apiece. Cover bands blared in the background and local food vendors sold everything from hot dogs to sweet potato pie.

But it was the beer that kept Fallon and me sated. If not for the beer, the event would have been intolerably dull. Only about 300 people – including the vendors – showed for an indoor bash on a rainy Saturday.

The effect of the poor turnout was written all over Free Buffalo founder and event organizer Jim Ostrowski’s face. Early Saturday afternoon as rain fell on the cars parked outside, Ostrowski rubbed vigorously at his chin while looking around the big, empty echoing space. Later, he put on a brave face for a local TV station when he said, “Look, we had probably close to 400 people here today, probably our biggest turnout and we’re not offering them a job, or a grant or a subsidy - they just want to improve their communities.”

We at The Beast intend to take him at his word. The problem with the likes of Ostrowski and other so-called tax revolutionaries, however, is that their radical plans to re-shape the region politically have never been considerate of economic realities.

*                 *                  *

Domestic carnage, now filled the whole year…
Head after head, and never heads enough
For those that bade them fall.

–William Wordsworth on the French Revolution

Maximilien Robespierre would have known what to do with our county legislators, and the members of Buffalo’s city council, and New York’s state assembly. "Terror,” he said, is nought but prompt, severe, inflexible justice.” Perhaps Constitutional proscriptions like “cruel and unusual” are too broad. We might get some meaningful ideas on the county budget from legislators if the whetstone were touched to the guillotine.

Of course it’s tempting to think so, but the kind of “off with their heads” populism practiced in Erie County during the past six months has ignored the economic realities. Consider some sobering facts:

•       Erie County has either lowered or maintained its property tax rate since 1997; the rate is now half the statewide average.

•       The County Legislature rebuffed an attempt to raise the sales tax this year and was forced to lay off 1,500 workers and cut services.

•       County Executive Joel Giambra projects a $60 million budget deficit this year. Comptroller Nancy Naples says the deficit will be $113 million. Either way, it’s a lot.

•       Raising the sales tax to 8.25 percent would raise $30 million annually. The county rate was 8.25 until June 1 when the state’s .25 cents on the dollar expired. Raising it to 9 cents on the dollar would generate $120 million per year.

•       The County will still have to raise property taxes to meet budget gaps in this and coming years.

None of which is a defense of the elected goons and hacks that have completely abrogated their responsibility to serve the public. However, the insistence by the Free Buffalo movement, and others, that Erie County enact no new taxes is just as meatheaded. Failing to raise taxes somehow during the next six months will simply provoke serious problems.

In a weird way maybe our downfall is something we can take pride in: For once Western New York is ahead of the curve on a national trend. What trend? Intentional and stubborn financial crisis.

Want to know the effect that President Bush’s cutting of progressive taxes will have on future government, and its budgets? Look what’s happening now at the county level after lowering or keeping taxes flat for nearly 10 years.

This isn’t string theory or rocket science; it’s an intentional strategy of cutting taxes to create a shortfall, which forces government to cut programs. These ideas gained traction during Ronald Regan’s tenure, were shunted during the 1990s, but meanwhile have been advocated for years by the so-called libertarian think tank Americans For Tax Reform, headed by Grover Norquist. Finally this thinking has caught fire with current Republican bigwigs, and been followed by meek Democrats. As a movement it is not well known. After all, only a few hundred showed up at the “Taste of Freedom.” Perhaps their appetites haven’t been sufficiently whetted.

*                  *                  *

Forever shall we live as a beacon of glory to the world!
—Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus (Shortly after Romulus made his proclamation, the terrorist Vandals ransacked Rome and sent Europe into the Dark Ages.)

Ever think what it would be like without public facilities like libraries, hospitals, schools, etc.? Do you really think private industry would provide?

The prospect of such a world is popular with tax reformers. They like to invoke the Ross Perot worldview that “government should be run like a business.” But The Beast refuses to back down from such flippant goofy talk. And so, armed with facts and some cold beers, Fallon and I charged ahead to confront these reformers.

First we got a photo of Fallon with WBEN radio’s right wing jabbermouths Tom Bauerle and Kathy Weppner, who were broadcasting live from the Terminal. They had taken a break for some refreshments when Fallon asked for a photograph with the two celebrities.

“Thanks, that was for The Beast,” Fallon said. Bauerle seized up, and Weppner said, “What… What?”

We had a good laugh over that one. (Bauerle was concerned how his new haircut would look in the photo; we said, “Flattops are way cool.”)

Later, while Fallon worked the commerce angle with Drew Cerza, founder of the National Buffalo Wing Festival, I charged toward a rather large man wearing jeans and a ripped shirt. He told me he was a property owner in the Southtowns. (I was supposed to get the impression that he was some big real estate mogul.) He must have been undercover, wearing his poor everyman getup.

We quickly found a subject to disagree on: libraries. This guy (who refused to give his name) was in favor of closing all but four of the county’s libraries. He said anyone who wanted to read a book could always go to Media Play, sit down with a tall drink, and page through the latest Tom Clancy thriller.

“Where’s the nearest Media Play?” I asked, gesturing to the urban decay of the East Side.

He wanted to wipe it all clean. The goal: No more big government programs to waste his money. This is about the time I knew I had the bastard; I went for the kill.

“I think you and I are basically in agreement,” I said. I told him that all legislatures should be abolished in favor of public referendums conducted via email. The County Legislature, State Legislature, and even Congress could be wiped away. They were once needed when communication traveled overland by letter, but no more. Why have proxies passing or rejecting legislation? Politicians spend half their time in office trying to get reelected. Don’t Americans think they’re smart enough to handle governing themselves?

I was really rolling on this issue, spilling the foamy contents of my cup as I gestured wildly in the beer tent. My victim was confused. He couldn’t comprehend it, and began to get a dazed look in his lazy eye. “Top heavy,” he muttered. “It would be too top heavy…”

“What?” I snapped. “What do you mean?”

But his mind was elsewhere. “I’m going to go walk around,” he said. “It’s been nice talking to you.” Later I saw him strolling through the Terminal, a beer in his hand. He seemed lost in the dim cavernous space that had been a playground for years to gangs of kids who saw fun in destroying a monument to another era. Perhaps he was considering the implications of a real revolution.

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