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Written While High…

August 5, 2015

High? Yeah, we haven’t done this since the late 70s, when we used to drive to Corfu to visit a Hippie farm and get weed.

But in honor of the med mar thing and with the hope that it would improve our writing, we’re doing it.

We’ve been warned by the saner members of our group that this will only make our digression-loaded prose even more so, but we’re pressing on, going to where other political bloggers fear to go.

Actually, we’re quite sure that other political bloggers are there well ahead of us. Does anyone have any doubt about that?

The point of post? We have additional info on how the decision was made. But first – you must, dear reader, reflect on the phrase: “Get high.”

To “get high” implies that you need and want to be elevated from one (presumably lower) emotional and mental state to another. Right?

Well, we’re not low exactly, but we do have a desire to somehow be lifted. And why do we feel the need to be elevated?  The answer lies in the nature of the new information we have acquired. It’s truly disappointing.  It further erodes our confidence in the Cuomo administration, in governance and the way things are in Albany.

Here’s the substance of it: Apparently, there was a bizarre, mid-course turnaround in the way Cuomo handled the med mar matter.

When he first articulated the criteria for selection of winners, Cuomo cited experience, patient focus, local support, security and financial backing as determining factors.

When Cuomo did this, he was in his Al Haig phase. Remember? He engineered the med mar legislation with the provision that he and he alone would decide the winners. And when asked about that exercise of power and authority, he said: “I did it because I can!”

So here’s the weird part, at some point thereafter, rather than pick the winners and actually be  “Mr. I Am The Government,” Cuomo got weak-kneed and squeamish and girly.

That’s when he kicked the whole thing over to the DOH, otherwise known as the D’OH! (See previous post.)

And the DOH bureaucrats created a scoring system that put a 58 percent weight on “manufacturing and quality assurance.”

This really, really skewed the scoring.  Experience, local support, security and financial backing were worth only a 4 percent weight each.

Now we don’t know when this – the handoff to the DOH – occurred, but it appears to have happened right around the time the bids were being submitted.

And here’s the disappointing thing: It sure looks like some people in town may have got a heads up that the change was going to be made and this may have allowed them to adjust their bids accordingly.

That’s how Bolton St. John could have not one but two winners in the final five.

Yeah, that’s right. Ed Draves was on Liz B’s show last night and he blurted that out. We love Liz, but the fact that she didn’t jump on that tidbit also disappointed us.

So Ed Draves and Giorgio DeRosa had two winners. Their clients knew enough to focus on “manufacturing and quality assurance” and those clients scored high and won the lucrative contracts.

And what are people supposed to say to that?

Maybe it’s: “Well, isn’t that great for Ed and Georgio! They really deserve it because they are such swell guys and such diligent, conscientious and effective lobbyists!”

Now this is where we’re hoping the marijuana we inhaled will have a mellowing effect on us. We’ll pause here and try to be cool … be cool… chill…

Oh, fuck it. This is bullshit. These two guys and Al D’Amato got a heads up. They were tipped off. Isn’t that obvious and isn’t that outrageous?

What other explanation could there be? You’re saying Ed, Georgio and Al are just really up on cannabis manufacturing? They know their strains? They’ve studied extraction methods?

We might be high, but we still know reality. We still know right and wrong, and this is wrong

D’OH!

August 4, 2015

A long time ago, we watched a prominent politician – before he was disgraced and run out of town – give a delightful graduation speech. He pretended to be all stiff and pompous as he made repeated references to a famous figure in antiquity: “As the great Homer once said…”

Toward the end of the speech, which was about the need for young people not to take things at face value, he let it be known that he was talking about Homer Simpson, not the author of the Iliad and Odyssey.

We couldn’t help thinking of that speech as we read about the state’s medical marijuana selection process. And every time we saw a reference to DOH, the Department of Health, we couldn’t help blurting out what Homer Simpson always says when he does something maladroit: “D’OH!”

The state agency DOH is getting praise from some editorial boards for its work in choosing the winning bids, but we’re not so sure the kudos are appropriate. Before we get into the reasons why, let’s us provide some background and make at least one affirmative comment about the selection process.

The reason for our intense interest in this matter was a tip we received several months ago. Some of the bidders, long before the application info was even released, had acquired property in various communities around the state. They had started building dispensaries. We thought to ourselves:  Who would drop several hundred thousand dollars buying and renovating buildings in upstate communities before being named a winner? Nobody would do that unless … unless they had inside knowledge and the process was rigged!

But as it turns out, it appears that none of the entities that did this were declared winners.  And that’s the good news. It’s one indication that the process might have been on the up and up.

But one affirmative sign doesn’t mean the matter is decided. In fact, affirmative signs have to be weighed against suspicious signs, right?  And as it turns out, there are a lot of anomalies.

For example, the Governor made a point of saying that local support was critical. He said he wasn’t going to place a facility in a community where people didn’t want it. That applied to both the growing facilities and the dispensaries.

But at least one of the winning bidders didn’t secure sites in the affected communities. They simply said they were going put their dispensaries in X, Y and Z counties.

Was it fair that almost all of the bidders went to extraordinary lengths to secure sites and local support before the deadline, while some of winning bidders simply wrote on their applications – “Dispensary sites to be determined later?”

Other bidders read the application and were under the belief that they absolutely had to propose a specific location and, in fact, secure an appropriate building along with letters of support from community officials. So, as fast as they could, they scoured communities for just the right facilities and then negotiated leases in which they had to make down payments and then they met with local officials and produced letters of support.

They weren’t delusional. They read the application requirements and they heard Cuomo say that local support would be “a determining factor.” But how could that be true if some winning bidders didn’t even bother to obtain local support? D’OH!

Another thing the Governor said was that he wanted the evaluators to drill down on each bidder and “separate facts and reality from the sales pitch.”  When we heard the governor say this, we were really encouraged. From our research into the topic, we know that there are a lot of players in this sector who are hustlers. They make all kinds of claims about their products and services and they say they are going to do great things for the communities in which they operate.

And on this specific matter of making promises, we’re stumped on staffing. Most experts who looked at the way the state set this up – with super tight controls on both supply and demand and the total market shared by five companies – and concluded that a growing and processing facility would employ no more than 20 people or so. Keep in mind that everything in agriculture today is largely automated. Keep in mind that a lot of big name players in the marijuana business took a pass on New York because they didn’t think it’d be profitable enough.

And yet some winning bidders are claiming that they’ll be employing as many as 250 people.  Think about that: How could one bidding team with extensive experience analyze the New York market with its tightest-in-the-nation restrictions and conclude that it would only employ a maximum of 20 people, and another bidding team look at the same set of facts and say that they’d hire 250 people?

Again the questions: Did the evaluators notice the wide difference in job creation estimates? Did they wonder about it? Or did they just give a high point score to the bidder who had the most inflated job creation claims? D’OH!

Lastly, there’s the not insignificant matter of lobbying. Cuomo made the point repeatedly that the process was going to be decided on the merits.  Cuomo speaks with disdain for lobbyists and during his first term he was pretty clear that there was no particular  “go to” firm in Albany. But as the second term approaches its second year, there are at least two firms making that claim. One is Park Strategies; the other is Bolton St. John. Both firms have climbed in the rankings. Both firms have lead players – Al D’Amato and Georgio DeRosa – whose names make people’s eyes roll.

D’Amato – no need to say more. But DeRosa needs some explanation: This is a guy who has been in business for decades in Albany.  We don’t know him, but we’re sure he has skills and abilities. We’re sure he works hard. There’s this problem, however. He’s the father of the Governor’s communications director. And people in Albany have been complaining for months that he constantly drops her name around town. Proud father talk it isn’t. It’s said that he’s blatantly using his daughter to advance his business.

To be fair, there’s zero evidence that the daughter has done anything but be a pit bull for Cuomo. Moreover, it should be noted and underscored that the accusations are coming mainly from people in the always jealous and snarky Albany lobbying world. At the same time, the accounts of DeRosa implying that he’s wired to the administration through his daughter are pervasive.

Call us naïve, but a man of DeRosa’s age and position in life should place his daughter’s career ahead of his own. He should do all he can to protect her integrity and reputation. Appearance is everything in Albany.

OK, we’ll step down from the pulpit, but not before saying the obvious one more time. D’Amato and DeRosa’s involvement in this process is creepy. The fact that they are crowing about having won the bids singlehandedly by lobbying DOH is even creepier. D’OH!

In the end, the way the med mar thing went down is more than a little unsettling. We don’t know how the Daily News or anyone can say the agency has great job. All we can say is: D’OH!

A Good Public Shaming

July 27, 2015

In a new book by Jon Ronson, there is said to be “a great renaissance of public shaming sweeping the land.”

He writes about how ordinary people can make a mistake, like saying something on social media that comes out wrong, and “the next thing they know, they are being torn apart for it, jeered at, demonized, and fired from their jobs.”

Ronson’s focus is social media which he says has given people a voice that they are using in ways that are “merciless.”

Our focus is on the media, which we see selling shame.

Take the Daily News. For weeks, the newspaper has sought to shame anyone who says anything less than fawning of Caitlyn Jenner. The newspaper searches social media for any marginal celebrity’s comment that can be portrayed as politically incorrect. Even an obscure comedian whose entire repertoire is being irreverent was criticized the other day for making a Jenner joke.

Of course, shame and shaming have been in resurgence for some time.

Think of the ink and trees used up on Bill Cosby or think of those attractive 20-something high school teachers who have sex with nearly 20-year-old boys and then get 20 years in jail. Think, in years past, of Spitzer. Think Anthony Weiner even now – he can’t get a job without being shamed again for the hundredth time.

Think of our pols. We have Albany Gallery of Shame, which tallies every lawmaker who has run afoul of the law.

Of course, much of it is indeed “deserving.”

But, ironically, the resurgence of public shaming seems to coincide with increasing shamelessness. No?

A public shaming is supposed to be a powerful tool for enforcing social mores. But it’s just not working.

In some instances it may even have the effect of encouraging the conduct. Some people may be doing shameful things just to get attention.

And that’s the part we really find shameful – not in the individual as much as the media. It’s the tabs. There are no news headlines now, there are only exclamations of righteous indignation. For shame. For shame.

On Libous

July 27, 2015

And just like that – the man is gone.

Convicted of a felony, Tom Libous is out of the state senate that he loved so much.

That he loved the senate was evident from the way he continued to serve even as he struggled with spreading cancer. In recent years, his appearance changed dramatically as he underwent various treatments. But he kept coming back. They actually wheeled him in for his last session.

Libous was always someone who fascinated us. He was a fixture in the senate, a respected guy. At his peak, he was probably the best political mind the Republicans had. But think about it – he was different. He was a Lebanese guy in a conference of white establishment types.  Yeah, the conference had people with ethnic backgrounds – Italian, Irish, Greek. But Libous was technically a person of color, though you never would have known it from his politics.

He was very conservative. He voted against same sex marriage. He always led efforts against abortion.  He spoke for “traditional values.” That said, he was friendly and engaging and respectful of everyone, and everyone seemed to like him.

How he was brought down is a story no one has really examined. Reporters covered the trial, but did so with detachment.  And now that he’s gone, reporters are on to different angles: What are the consequences of his departure for control of the Senate? What will happen next?

In this post, we want to revisit the case against him and simply note – with similar detachment – some aspects of this case were really unusual.

It started when the FBI showed up at Libous’ Capitol office unannounced one Monday morning five years ago. Libous was just arriving from “Binghampton.”

The agents were said to be quite cordial. They asked a few questions, took some handwritten notes and then departed. Libous went right to his preparations for the day’s legislative session.   Little did he know that what had just transpired in that 15-minute exchange would eventually bring him down.

Without an attorney present, Libous had said several times in response to questions: “I really don’t recall. I don’t remember exactly what happened. ”

The subsequent case against Libous was that he lied when he said that he didn’t remember.

Digression on memory: To a person in our group, we’re not that good at instant recall. We are much better having some time to reflect. In fact, we’ll do this little memory exercise that involves thinking of the context.  Ask us something about 1996. At first, we’ll draw a blank. And then we’ll remember that it was the year the Yanks won the World Series. It was Jeter’s first year.  And it was Pataki’s second year and Spitzer was AG and McCall Comptroller.  All the memories come back in a rush.

It’s all about context. It’s what gets you to remember, and it’s what sticks in your mind and influences you.

Context works in other ways, too. In this regard, the prosecution was absolutely brilliant in creating context. Around Libous’ simple “I don’t remember,” comment, they created an extraordinary narrative.

It was a narrative less about Libous than his son. But before we get to the portrayal of the son, there’s another relevant point. Prosecutors investigated Libous himself over a seven-year period. They had numerous lines of inquiry. They looked at his real estate dealings in Florida. They looked at his second home on a lake in the Southern Tier. And they poured over his campaign finance holdings and relationships to lobbyists.

They never turned up anything actionable in any of those areas, so they turned to his wife and his son. The review of the wife produced nothing, but the review of the son did.  He was found to have underreported his income by 20k over a three-year period. Normally, this offense would have been met with a directive by the IRS to repay what was owed, plus a penalty. But because Libous’ son is an attorney who should have known better, he’s going to jail.

More on the son: He wasn’t blessed with good looks. Nor is he said to have his father’s interpersonal skills. But Senate staffers who worked with Libous and knew the family well describe the son as a decent person. He was not spoiled, arrogant, abusive, drunk or anything else that might fit the description of yet another 30-something, son of a famous person ne’er do well. A little awkward, yes, but not a failure.  Again, he was a bar-admitted, practicing attorney.

But in court, Matt Libous became a detestable figure. He was portrayed as corrupt, greedy, lazy, and, most importantly, a cad. On this later point, it was said that he got drunk at an office party and hit on his boss’ wife who was in a leg cast at the time.

Digression on plot lines: We are avid aficionados of narrative.  And we have this theory – a well-constructed story always has a detail, seemingly extraneous, that works to establish credibility. The classic example is Spitzer keeping his knee-high socks on in bed with a hooker. Roger Stone has admitted he made that up, but it has really stuck.  Stone said: “It was perfect because it was so creepy.”

Indeed, it’s the creep factor that moves people more than anything else. And in the Libous case, it was hitting on the boss’ wife who was in a leg cast. From that point on, Matt Libous was a creep and Tom Libous was going down.

Again, with detachment, this is what prosecutors in high profile cases do. They work the jury. They pull at strings that influence jurors. And they did it very, very well here. They did it without wire taps, emails or anything other than the testimony of cooperating witnesses. Again, you really have to tip your hat to the prosecutors.

And yet, and yet – how weird it all was and is. What extraordinary effort they made to bring down Libous. Seven years worth of investigation. How bizarre the resolution. How conflated it all seemed with superseding indictments of Skelos and his truly cad-like son occurring at the same time.

It has been suggested to us by some smart people that this just isn’t the time for any Albany pol to have to appear before a jury. The mood of the public is just too ugly. This jury, in fact, took three hours to decide the case. They were home for dinner.

Now Libous is bound for jail for saying that he didn’t remember when he supposedly did.

Going Further Afield

July 22, 2015

We can’t let go of the honey bee matter. Yes, we know its way afield for most readers. But stay with us as the discussion turns political.

When you research colony collapse disorder, you find that it’s quite real and that scientists know the cause. It’s a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids.

These chemical compounds are extraordinary. A single bee can be exposed and fly back to the hive and kill all the other bees, including the queen.

In nature, there are terrible diseases, pathogens and viruses that can be deadly, but there’s always a certain percentage that survives. Some are exposed and not infected. Some are infected and recover. Pick a plague and this is true.

But with neonicotinoids – not so. It just over. Exposure equals death.

Now consider this: There was never ever a flip side crisis that necessitated the creation of this compound in the 80s.  We didn’t have too many honey bees. In fact, the existence of honey bees was not and could never be a public health threat. What threat? Too much honey? Too much beeswax?

So we didn’t really need this chemical compound then, and we don’t need it now. There are, in fact, dozens of other chemical compounds that serve adequately as pesticides.

So, why not ban neonicotinoids? Why not just say in New York, we like our honey bees and we disallow the use of the specific chemical compound that is killing them.

How hard could it be to do that?

Well, perhaps someone would oppose the action. Perhaps they’d say: Hey, we really need it. And if you ban it, we’ll be harmed.

But who would say that? Farmers?  No, this action is being taken to help farmers. They need honey bees and other pollinators. Fewer bees means reduced propagation and smaller yields.  Farmers are seeing that already. They are concerned. They support efforts to protect bees.

So if there are no institutional opponents to the ban, except maybe the chemical companies, why not do it?  In fact, why hasn’t it been done already? This is the real quandary this post explores.

In this regard, recall what Cuomo said when he banned fracking. He said he had to do it because the risk to the environment was too great.

By the same reasoning, why doesn’t he act now to ban neonicotinoids?  This isn’t a situation in which there is a debatable, potential risk. Instead, there’s ongoing, severe damage to the environment.

And where are the enviros? Why isn’t this a crusade for them?

Back to the risk from fracking. Had it been sanctioned, it would have happened in a narrow band through the Southern Tier. That’s where developable reserves of natural gas exist in New York. And had it been sanctioned  per the approach Cuomo outlined to the Times in 2012, it would have been limited to test wells in very rural areas.

Say that it proceeded and say that the state’s promised, rigorous oversight was a complete bust – what would have happened then? Well, there would have been groundwater contamination in Conklin and Lisle and Big Flats.

That specific prospect – of groundwater problems in some of least populated regions of the state – was enough to mobilize a massive contingent of environmentally-conscious people. Cuomo said it himself – it was the most high charged public policy debate he’d ever seen. It was indeed remarkable and forced him to back off on his plan to join every other state in the nation in engaging in fracking for both economic and environmental benefits. Natural gas is, of course, cleaner than coal and using it instead of coal has helped the US dramatically cut emissions of green house gas.

Now please – somebody is going to think this post is meant to take a rhetorical jab at anti-frackers. In fact, we’re taking our hat off to them. They flat out won the fracking debate. They earned their victory with brilliant, committed political activism. Nobody can deny that.

It’s just that we can’t figure out why they felt that it was imperative to stop fracking with its potential risks, but they are now yawning at the senseless, preventable eradication of bees with much more immediate and dramatic consequences.

With a fraction of the resources and effort, the enviros could force to Cuomo ban neonicotinoids. They could do it tomorrow. And wouldn’t this actually do more to help the environment than banning fracking?

Going Afield

July 21, 2015

Don’t laugh. Don’t snicker. Don’t roll your eyes. Just read this and reflect on it. Please.

For the last several weeks, we’ve been doing this odd thing: We’ll be driving around and whenever we see a stretch of flowering plants at the side of the road, we’ll stop the car, we’ll get out and we will inspect the blossoms. We’re looking for bees, honey bees, to be exact.

The honey bee is brownish and is to be distinguished from the bumble bee, which is yellowish.  Both are pollinators, which in the natural world have exalted status.

The honey bee is at issue. You’ve probably read something about CCD – colony collapse disorder. It’s when entire bee hives die off. It’s said that honey bee populations have declined by more than a third over the last 10 years. Butterfly populations have declined sharply, as well.

Like you, we are skeptical of what we read in the media. Everything is always hyped. It’s frequently bullshit. And yet the sources cited in these stories and the consistency of what they are saying gives us pause.

Without pollinators, without a robust, healthy population of honey bees, there’s less honey in the world – literally and figuratively. Moreover, crop yields decline and there are a host of other adverse changes in the environment.

It’s a troubling prospect – one you can ignore, or spend a little time looking into.

Start with some informal field research: Look for wildflowers – clover, asters, dandelions or daisies will do nicely, or look for a clump of honeysuckle bushes, or a field of goldenrod. Then, staying as close to the flowers as you can, walk in a straight line counting off twenty paces. By the time you get to the twentieth step, you should have seen 10 honey bees.

We’ve been doing this repeatedly in recent days and we haven’t encountered more than four honeybees in 20 paces. Sometimes we didn’t see any.

We think we remember being children, and we think there were a lot more honey bees then. Of course, that’s subjective as hell. And yet, when you actually go looking for a honey bee and you can’t find one at all, well, that’s alarming.

So, what can be done?

You can plant flowers bees love. Google that.

You can advise anyone you know who is poised to zap a honey bee hive with chemicals to call in a person who “rescues” the hives. It’s free.

Most importantly, you can cut way back on pesticide use.

In the near future, there might be more things individuals and states can do. In this regard, Cuomo recently did a good thing in creating a Pollinator Protection Task Force in New York. It’s supposed to issue a report soon.

In the meantime, check out this website for more info: http://www.pollinator.org/

Life is Sweet

July 20, 2015

I tell you life is sweet

In spite of the misery

There’s so much more…

Be grateful.

– Natalie Merchant

Liberals are better human beings than conservatives.

Liberals care more about people. They care more about the community, the schools, the environment, the planet.

If there’s injustice, poverty, hardship – the liberal has compassion and wants to do something about it.

Do conservatives care?  They care about their investments, their tax rate and the whiteness of their neighborhood.

Other people and other people’s problems? Hah.

The conservative answer is always the same: Get a job.

Can’t get by on the minimum wage? Get a second job.

Isn’t this all true? Isn’t it totally, ridiculously, undeniably true?

Of course it is, and everybody knows it.

And yet, there are times when you really have to wonder.

For example, there’s a swath of Upstate New York from just east of Binghamton stretching out west toward Olean. It’s an eight-county region where about half a million people live.

Not all of them are white people with guns and anti-Obama bumper stickers on their pickup trucks. Not all are NASCAR fans and Hillary haters. Actually, minorities are a growing percentage. In fact, more than a quarter of the population in the major towns and cities in the region are black and brown. They are all poor. They all live in deteriorating rental housing. They get minimal social services. Their kids go to schools where a sound basic education is in question. And income inequality is a fact of life.

Worst of all, throughout the entire region, there are simply no jobs. In fact, the region has the lowest rate of job growth in the entire nation over the last 20 years.

This snapshot actually doesn’t come close to capturing reality in the region. Outmigration tells the real story. The region has lost half its population over the last 20 years. Half!

So what do liberals with compassion have to say about the situation in the Southern Tier?

They have nothing to say. They act as if the place doesn’t even exist.

But it wasn’t always like that. Not at all. Liberals cared a great deal about the region just last year. In all the nation, the Southern Tier of New York was the most important place to them.

Remember?

Liberal activists were fixated on the Southern Tier. Liberal activists and celebrities came to the region repeatedly to say how truly concerned they were about the health, quality of life and the very future of the people in the Southern Tier.

They told everyone: “Fracking isn’t the answer.  The green economy can and will produce more jobs!”

Those activists, those celebrities, they promised to help. They promised to help.

But what has happened?  Where are those activists now? Where’s Yoko Ono? Where’s Mark Ruffalo? Where’s Matt Damon? Susan Sarandon?  Alec Baldwin? Robert Redford? Where’s Josh Fox?

Has any liberal activist or celebrity said or done a thing to help the people in Southern Tier since the fracking decision?

The answer is no. They’ve done absolutely nothing. They won the debate and then just walked away.

Liberals – who are smarter, more compassionate, more forward looking, more enlightened – couldn’t care less about the people in the Southern Tier of the state.

Natalie Merchant? She drives right through the Southern Tier on the way to visit her family in Jamestown. Does she care that Binghamton has the worst job growth in the northern hemisphere?

Life is sweet, she says.

OK, OK, so we’re being very cynical and snarky here. We’re really kind of liberal ourselves and we’re just trying to make a point here. We’re posturing.

We suppose so, but it truly galls us that nobody on the left has made so much as a charitable contribution to the region. Nobody has thought to hold a benefit concert. Nobody has issued a statement or made a gesture in support of green jobs or any other kind of economic development. None of the foundations and institutes that bankrolled the anti-fracking crusade with millions of dollars has done a thing. Instead, it’s almost as if the activists and celebrities think the people of the region should be grateful for their intervention.

And meanwhile, what have the bad guys, the conservatives done?

Well, there’s one group of conservative business interests trying to create a food and beverage production cluster in the Southern Tier.  There’s still another trying to pull together a medical marijuana growing facility for the region. And another is pushing a gaming facility. Together these conservative interests with actual ties to the region have been writing to Governor Cuomo since last year urging him to focus on the region’s infrastructure and economy.

Tell us again who the “better” people are.

Just one final point:

There’s somebody who predicted with great specificity everything that has happened.

He warned that the liberal celebrities and activists were phonies who didn’t care at about the people in the region.

He said they had no comprehension of life in rural communities and that their interests were completely selfish. He said these people’s talk of preserving the rural character of communities was really a kind of code for preserving the value of their vacation homes.

He said the celebrities and activists had no right to interfere and dictate what happens in other people’s lives and communities.

It was Fred Dicker who said all of this and more, and he was right.