Losers and suckers …

By Steve Banko

Originally published in the Buffalo News

Losers and suckers …

I can’t say this is the first time I’ve been classified thusly.  It is, though, the first time I’ve heard those terms in a while. The first time was on my first trip home from Vietnam. Two bullets had shattered my knee and I was making my way through the Greyhound station in Boston in 1969 when a young girl spit at me and said the VC should have finished me off.

The next time I heard it was at an American Legion post I considered joining. An old beer-addled WWII veteran called me a loser because we hadn’t beaten “a bunch of rice farmers” in my war. Although it was only mid-afternoon, he was too drunk to get the meaning when I told him “we were winning when I left.”

I got that same message, but not in those words, from an English professor at UB where I’d enrolled after my service. My first writing assignment in the Creative Writing class was about something that happened in Vietnam. That professor made a point of calling me to the front of the class where he told me that if I was a veteran of the fighting to drop his class for he could never give a passing grade to anyone “who prosecuted that immoral war.”

These early episodes in my post-war service inured me to anything else that came my way. It was, nonetheless, a little disconcerting to hear such reactions to my service. I was shot four times, decorated for valor and service five times, endured some of the bloodiest fighting of the war and still incurred the wrath of the country that sent me off to fight. Let me be clear. I was a reluctant warrior. I was drafted and that alone caused for younger veterans to denigrate me because I hadn’t volunteered. But I answered the call most of my generation didn’t hear and even I didn’t completely understand. I fought. I bled. I killed some and saved more. Yet, it wasn’t enough. When I came home with a Silver Star, four Bronze Stars, and four Purple Hearts my father told me they would have had a parade for me if I had earned my accolades in World War II. Instead, I got kicked out of a class I needed to graduate.

But I got over it. I didn’t need anyone’s endorsement or appreciation then and I don’t need it now. I know what I did and more importantly, I know for whom I did it. I know some fellow soldiers came home to live their lives because of me and I know I wouldn’t have been here without the courage and sacrifice of a lot of other guys. That’s what soldiers fight for – each other. It’s painful living with the results of my service. Some of the pain is physical, more of it mental because once you see war, you can’t un-see it.

That’s the essence of service: doing something for the good of others, of risking something up to and including your life for a larger cause and for greater good. Some people understand that without ever having had to serve in the military. They are nurses and teachers and civil servants and truck drivers and delivery people and grocery clerks and a whole host of others we often took for granted but now recognize as essential.

We tend to be the sum of our parts: our upbringing, our environment, our experience. We hope that they all total up to something to be proud of. We hope our humanity translates to our children and their children and to our community and our country. But experience has also left me confident in who I am. So when I’m called childish names I recall some advice from my younger days and I consider the source. I’ve been called a lot worse by much better people.

Some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets

Six weeks to go until Election Day.  Early voting started in Minnesota, South Dakota, Michigan, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming this past weekend.  In eight days the federal government will run out of money.  The first presidential debate is next week.  Just four-plus weeks until the start of early voting in New York.  The election cannot come soon enough. 

Here are some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets:

  • The passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will turbo-charge an already fired up Democratic base. It will significantly energize Democrats in at least a third of the Senate races where Republicans are tenuously standing for re-election and might even prick the conscience of the one or two other Republican Senators who still have any integrity. RIP, RBG.
  • It is well known that Donald Trump is his own campaign manager and his own communications director. Which is lucky for him, because if someone else was in charge he would be fired. His loyal staff remains busy like street cleaners sweeping up after the elephant parade passes by.
  • Loyalty is important – but all one-sided for Trump. That goes for his famous base of voters too. Note a recent indoor rally where he bragged, “I’m not at all concerned,” because he was a safe distanced from the mostly un-masked, packed shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. “I’m on a stage, and it’s very far away.” If the crowd gets sick – oh well. I wonder how good the air-handling was in the room.
  • As Trump bounces around from attack point to attack point, trying to get something to stick on Joe Biden, what he cannot avoid is that with 200,000 Americans dead and more to come and with he and his administration bungling supplies, testing and half-witted remedy ideas, this campaign still comes down to three words: PANDEMIC, PANDEMIC, PANDEMIC.
  • If James Carville were working for Trump (boy wouldn’t that be funny), he would tape a sign in the Oval Office saying, “It’s the pandemic, stupid!”
  • But there is no James Carville in the Trump campaign, just a bunch of hangers-on and sycophants who in many cases have helped suck the campaign’s war chest dry. And so it will be for the next six weeks.
  • Real Republican campaign management would be urging Trump to tell the public the truth and to explain the hard realities. Instead, many precious and dwindling campaign days are spent with Trump fighting with his employees in public and with cleaning up matters like the recent Michael Caputo fiasco, a story that used up large parts of multiple days.
  • Democrats in the House approved another pandemic relief package in May while Republicans in the Senate had to be dragged kicking and screaming to, just last week, approve a “skinny” bill that ignores most of the issues that are literally life and death for millions of Americans. Trump just weighed in last week to tell the congressional Republicans to spend more, whatever that meant. Republican senators are not interested.
  • Meanwhile, we are getting very close to seeing budgets in states, counties, cities, towns and school districts explode as the pandemic economy drains their finances even while there are growing demands for the services those frontline governments provide. In some cases taxes will go up, while in most cases safety, health and education services will be cut.
  • Unfortunately New York is a “blue” state, and Trump seems to think he is only the president of the “Red” States of America.
  • The most significant problems locally will be in the City of Buffalo. Mayor Byron Brown proposed and the Common Council approved a budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year which was grossly out of balance from the get-go, assuming that the federal government and the state government would come to the rescue.
  • Rather than raise taxes or cut anything significant from the budget, the City simply included $65.1 million in speculative relief money as revenue from the federal government and another $11 million that the City leaders expect the state to forward to them from casino revenues. The city has been hit by of millions of dollars in state aid cuts (the state budget folks refer to such things as money being “withheld”). Did I mention the diminished sales tax revenues and a lack of reserves?
  • On September 30 the City will have completed one-quarter of their fiscal year without any action on cutting expenses to deal with the impending calamity; raising new revenues during a fiscal year is very difficult.
  • Others are starting to notice. The Fitch rating service has downgraded the City’s bond rating. Perhaps it’s time for the State Comptroller to take a look at what is going on. It might be time for Governor Andrew Cuomo to fill the vacancies and reappoint or re-fill the term-expired incumbent membership in the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority (BFSA) to give it a structure where it can once again become actively involved in the fiscal affairs of the city.
  • BFSA leadership has correctly pointed out they cannot produce revenues for the city, but they could play an important role in getting the spending rationally reduced. The BFSA, which has suggested that the state should authorize $121 million in deficit financing, could also get involved in figuring out how the city would repay such money plus the $25 million that the city already borrowed to close out the past fiscal year.
  • The County of Erie was in much better financial shape than Buffalo as the pandemic began, but County Executive Mark Poloncarz and the County Legislature nonetheless have their hands full as they get ready to approve the 2021 budget. Town government budgets are also being hurt by reduced revenues.
  • School districts everywhere in New York State and throughout the country have their hands full not only with financial problems but perhaps even more difficult operational matters involving in-classroom and online instruction. Some are doing better than others, having taken advantage of the summer months to come up with plans A, B, C, etc. while others are struggling badly and making things extremely difficult for students, parents and staff. I’m looking particularly at you, Williamsville Central School District. The senior staff and the School Board need to be held accountable as they stumble from one mess to another.
  • Unless you are personally involved as a candidate, party leader or campaign staff, local politics this year are struggling for attention. Nate McMurray keeps plugging along, but is Chris Jacobs still running? Okay, I know he is.
  • There are lots of farms in outlying sections of the 26th congressional district, but maybe Jacobs could break away from his tours to tell us if he agrees with Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic; about his position on federal supplemental unemployment benefits and additional relief checks; or maybe Chris could detail just how much money should go to states, local governments and school districts. Does he agree with Trump that Obamacare should be totally wiped out, including protections concerning pre-existing conditions?
  • Races for state legislative seats seem to be mostly non-events. There is a campaign for a State Supreme Court seat where Democrat Amy Martoche will face off against Republican Gerald Greenan. Judicial campaigns are supposed to stay away from political issues but there does seem to be an issue here. Martoche has been rated “well qualified” by the Erie County Bar Association while Greenan is “not recommended.” The Bar Association has rated Republican incumbent County Court Judge Kenneth Case “outstanding.”
  • For the past several years I have written a start-of-season post on the Buffalo Bills but other matters have intervened this year. The season has started (an accomplishment of sorts), the Bills are 2 and 0, and prospects look mighty good for 2020. Josh Allen is performing at a much higher level than in 2019. Allen-Diggs 2020! Go Bills!
  • Finally, ICYMI the Buffalo Blue Jays, in this pandemic-shortened baseball season, are headed for the playoffs. The team’s record of 12 wins versus 8 losses thus far in games played in Buffalo has a lot to do with that playoff trajectory. The Jays are home at Sahlen Field this week for the remaining seven games of the season. Unfortunately the Jays will probably play all their playoff games somewhere else. Go Blue Jays!

The 2020 Census is coming to an end; Buffalo is lagging in self-responses

The United States Constitution, Article I, Section 2 says “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons…  The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States [1789], and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

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Remember reality of climate crisis when casting vote

By Paul Fisk, Editor, Politics and Other Stuff

My friends in politically progressive groups look at me somewhat askance when I admit I’m now focused on climate change more than the election.

They correctly point out that little will get accomplished on the climate crisis without a national regime change, and that our immediate focus should be on getting out the vote. Quite true, but it’s equally important to remind voters that after Donald Trump and COVID-19 we will still be faced with a climate crisis that continued to approach with increasing rapidity and severity as we diverted our attention to “more immediate” problems.

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SAM, we hardly knew ‘ya

Changes are coming in the New York Election Law that will adjust the landscape politicos have known for many years.  The changes will make some people happy, and others angry – very, very angry.

The state law sets out the terms under which official political parties are created and continue to exist.  New York being New York, the process is byzantine, used by many, understood by few.

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The 2020 Republican platform revealed

“But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we’d have a very, very solid, we would continue what we’re doing, we’d solidify what we’ve done, and we have other things on our plate that we want to get done.” Donald Trump, articulating his vision for a second term, in an interview with the New York Times, August 27, 2020

So the convention shows are over and it is time to get down to business. There are now just over 60 days until Election. Early voting in some states begins the week of September 20. Continue reading