The proposed state budget

Governor David Paterson appears to be attempting to make New York a really miserable place to live, in an effort to shore up a $15 billion budget gap.

OK, that's a lot of money, I get it. But among Paterson's proposed measures are 88 new taxes and fees, along with service cuts.

There are some definitely reasonable measures. Upping sin taxes (beer, wine, cigarettes, cigars) and removing the 8-cent-per-gallon gas tax cap, no worries. Upping the auto insurance surcharge from $5 to $10? OK, fine.

But then there's things like...

• Taxes on non-diet sodas, and other "non-nutritious" beverages like juices that aren't really juice (officially, less than 70% juice). You can't really call this an "obesity tax," as some news outlets have dubbed it, because, well, where's ice cream? Cheeseburgers? Bacon? And if you tax non-diet sodas, you get people drinking diet sodas. So, what, they get cancer instead of fat? That will do great things for the health care budget, eh?

• Taxes on services like gym memberships and hair cuts. This might be fine at upscale places, but people will leave gyms if their memberships go up $6 a month (adding weight to the health care problem), and you start pricing people out of some services – if you're generally only willing to pay $15 for a haircut, when taxes send it to $17, you're going to go every other month instead of every month, and your barber will close, meaning a decrease in the business tax base for cities.

• New license plates, which will cost you $25. Why don't you just up the registration fee? Why do I have to stand in line at the registry to exchange my tags, then notify my insurance company, the bank that holds my car loan, and my landlord?

• Raising fees for camping and parks in general and cutting services. Pay more for less? OK, sure!

• Increase fees for fishing licenses by $10 – but only if you're fishing for salmon or trout. Hmmm...if I don't know my fish, will can I catch one by accident?

• New fees for cable TV, satellite TV and satellite radio. I would be in favor of this if these weren't monopoly industries. If there were price competition, it would be easy to swallow an extra $5 or $10 a month (well, maybe $10), but since you pretty much pay $15, $50 or $99 for cable from the local company (at least in this area), you're held hostage for whatever the company wants to charge you to pay those fees.

• Taxes on bus and cab fares. First off, we should be rewarding people for taking public or mass transit, not finding new ways to make money from them. Second, you wind up diminishing public transit services. Centro, the local bus company here, isn't likely to raise their fare to $1.08 per trip, they'll make their rate $0.93 so the sales tax makes the trip $1. And losing even seven cents per passenger means they're going to have some trouble, especially when gas prices go up.

• Taxes on less expensive clothing and shoes. Many states charge a luxury tax for some items (I remember growing up that it was a $70 item you had to pay taxes on in Massachusetts), and in New York, $110 is the demarcation point. You don't pay taxes on on a $109.99 dress, nor on a $3.99 t-shirt. Maybe you lower that threshold to $50 or something, but eliminate it all the way and you have retailers who make their livings on selling $3.99 t-shirts closing up because people are now buying two shirts at a time instead of three, taking away fully a third of their income.

• Taxes on entertainment, like movie tickets, tickets to sporting events, and movie, music and book downloads. I'm sure the anti-piracy firms will love the last bit. When you jack up prices, you encourage stealing of intellectual property.

The budget proposal also includes cuts to SUNY hospitals, increases in tuition at SUNY schools, a removal of a tax incentive to renters in New York City, an eight-fold increase in the cost of taking a civil service exam, and large increases in professional fees for certifications for physicians, lawyers, social workers and others.

And for just a brief second, let's talk about one of upstate's big problems: Brain Drain. Do you see that list of stuff up there? A lot of it hurts younger folks, and that means that once they finish high school or college, they're gone, to some place they can afford to live.

I don't think this budget is going to pass in this form, but if it does, I think we're going to start seeing more problems at ground level – more housing foreclosures, more businesses closing up shop, more people leaving the state.

At some point you have to realize, it's not just a hole in the state budget, it's a hole in people's pockets, and holes in people's pockets means holes in New York – as a whole.

Kennedy and the press in Syracuse: Not a good start

If Caroline Kennedy is our next senator, I will:

• Not vote for her in 2010
• Not vote for Gov. David Paterson, should he decide to run for re-election
• Let the DNC and the New York State Democratic Party know that I'm really, really upset with them.

One of the biggest complaints the press has had with the Bush administration over the past eight years, is that the administration is very secretive.

We've seen the launch of both OpenTheGovernment.org, which is an advocacy group, and OpenGovernment.org, which is more of a consultant in helping governments open up to the public and to the press.

Caroline Kennedy was in Syracuse today, meeting with Mayor Matt Driscoll to get some idea of Upstate issues. At least we think that's why she was here.

Kennedy has announced that she's interested in filling the U.S. Senate seat that would be vacated by Sen. Hillary Clinton, assuming she is confirmed to the position of Secretary of State in the Obama administration (if she's not confirmed, she'll still be the junior senator from New York).

Kennedy's professional resume certainly gives her the experience needed to hold public office. I'd like to see someone with her qualifications work their way up to senator – perhaps through serving at the state level and as a U.S. Representative first – but sometimes a fresh voice isn't oh so bad.

Ann at Feministing is in agreement with me on her qualifications – not a great first choice, but probably not a bad choice in the end.

But what she did to the local press today was simply unforgivable for anyone seeking public office.

After speaking with the mayor, she stepped out of his office, told reporters that she had told the governor she'd be proud to be considered for the job, and that the governor has a process in place for selecting the next senator.

She said she shared her experience with the mayor, and that's when the press starting asking tough – but I think fair – questions. Questions like, "Will you share with New Yorkers what that experience is?"

She answered exactly one question:

Reporter: Where are you going next?
Kennedy: To the car.

At least one reporter – it's hard to tell via the audio whether it was the same reporter asking multiple times, or multiple reporters – expressed some disbelief that she was meeting with a local official and would not answer any questions from the press.

Here's what's worse to me: She's all but a media darling because of it.

WTVH [an affiliate of my employer], the local CBS affiliate, not only cuts off the video when she walks out as questions are starting, they managed to find some locals who support Kennedy for the seat.

Daily Kos has a screen grab of The New York Times changing from a lede challenging the appearance to a soft, fluffy one.

WSYR, the local ABC affiliate, pokes a little fun at the brief appearance, saying that if you blinked, you missed it.

WSTM, the NBC affiliate, is the only local shop to run the full video.

The local newspaper, The Post-Standard, gets a lot of points for trying [disclaimer: I work for the affiliated Web site]. Their video fades out as she begins to walk away, though they do have audio and transcript all the way until she climbs in the car. The main problem with that is that video is more dynamic than audio or text.

I simply cannot support a potential government official who is not willing to be open and honest with the press throughout her campaign – even if she's not up for election by the public. Her entourage could have warned reporters ahead of time she would not take questions, or she could have introduced her comments with something to that effect, but to entirely ignore questions – hardball or softball – is not only an insult to the press, it's an insult to the people of the state of New York.

Bad hockey

I've seen some rather bad hockey lately.

I try to get to a couple of games a month, and the last two games, well, they've been pretty miserable.

On Nov. 29, I went to see the Springfield Falcons host the Providence Bruins.

Some background, first, on Springfield.

When the Hartford Whalers left Connecticut to become the Colorado Avalanche, they took the Springfield Indians with them. Several years later, the Falcons started playing in town. They weren't so good.

The city built a new convention center called The MassMutual Center on the site of the old civic center, and it's a good place to see hockey.

Unfortunately, no one's doing that.

Rumor around the league is that the Falcons might not stick around, thanks to poor attendance.

The game on the 29th had an announced attendance of 4,906, which filled about half of the arena, which isn't great, but it's not awful, especially since it was a holiday weekend.

The guy we sat next to said he usually has the entire row for three sections. Other fans also said it seemed like a lot more people than usually came.

Providence won the game 2-0, and despite the fact that the Falcons managed 27 shots on net to the Bruins' 28, they were never in it. Tuukka Rask did make a couple of very nice stops in between the pipes for Providence, but other than that, both teams played a rather sloppy game.

Fran Sypek writes that the Falcons were road-weary, but sometimes you have to play like professionals anyway.

Springfield's offense did a great job finding each other's skates with the puck, rather than their sticks – it seems like they didn't have a solid connection on three passes all game.

The Providence power play – which did manage to score two goals, both in the first – featured the lefties on the wrong side of the ice, with shooters receiving the puck and then having to turn a full 180 degrees to be in position.

At the very least, my sister got to see the fairly physical game she was hoping to see.

Then last night, it was a Syracuse Crunch game. They lost 4-2 to Toronto, and as you can see from the box score, well, the Crunch managed to put more shots on net in the frantic third period than they did in the first two combined.

Toronto got a couple of lucky bounces – the sort that never go you're way when your in the middle of the sort of losing streak the Crunch have been in.

Lindsay Kramer hits the nail on the head when he writes that it was a painful game to watch.

But more telling is this piece from his post-game blog report:

I remember lots of Crunch teams that were bad. Too many, actually. I can't remember a stretch where so many good players are playing so bad. There have been times the past two games were Syracuse looked like a bantam team on its first day of practice.

This is a good Crunch team. It really is. It's just that you'd never know it from watching them play.

Hopefully I'll get one more game in this year, and hopefully it will be a decent game.

Dispatches from the other side(s) of misogyny: Two book reviews

"What are you doing, studying chauvinism?" my brother asked.

We were visiting our parents for Thanksgiving and he saw the two paperbacks I had been reading simultaneously sitting by the bed. The were Women by Charles Bukowski and He's a stud, she's a slut, and 49 other double standards every woman should know by Jessica Valenti.

My love of Valenti's (bio) work is well-documented. I do, however, approach her material with the knowledge in mind that I am not her target audience.

One thing I really liked about her first full-length offering, Full Frontal Feminism, is that she was reaching for young women, and I think she found them with her voice. She writes personally and informally, and with an educational but not preachy tone.

Like many people, I first came across Valenti's writing through the group blog Feministing, which she founded, edits and co-authors (also, I love when people take nouns and turn them into gerunds, but that's probably just me). Between her and my friend Catherine, I've probably learned more than I learned through most of the first 18 years I was in school – and what I've learned from them is stuff that every guy (especially every white guy) should learn.

I didn't enjoy Double Standards as much as FFF, and some of that had to do with the format: essentially, each chapter is three pages of setting up a problem with examples, and then a one-to-two-paragraph solution on a facing page (the title double standard begins on page 14, and the final one ends on page 213, so the book is faithful to this format throughout).

Some of it is the fact that I'm predisposed to disliking books of lists.

That's not to say I didn't get anything out of it – I definitely did. Valenti points out the discrepancies in health care costs and availability, wage inequality, and double standards in everything from rape culture to the daily makeup-or-no-makeup decision.

I'm very much looking forward to her next offering.

But me being me, I had to be contrarian. Or maybe I just couldn't handle one viewpoint at a time.

So I grabbed a copy of Women.

My enjoyment of Bukowski's work has come much slower, much harder. He has proven through his writing – and his alter-ego recurring main character Henry (Hank) Chinaski – to be an unapologetic, well, pig.

Women chronicles his drunken sexual exploits as a 50-something-year-old writer who drinks heavily at his readings and corresponds with female fans. He is constantly getting laid by women less than half his age, and even wins them over when his drinking leaves him impotent for the night.

His occasional recognition that he is a disgusting human being and his even less frequent moment of remorse do not redeem him, although his closing to this novel makes it clear he disagrees.

So, umm, Josh, you liked this book?

Well, yes, I did, thanks for asking. Bukowski writes plainly, if brutally (if you can't stand to read the words "fuck" and "cunt" repeatedly, skip this one). He hates fame, he hates other writers, he prefers boxing and horse racing, he despises other people (but still admits to loneliness once in a while).

If you're looking to ease into Bukowski, start with Post Office (OK, no one eases in, but still), and be sure to skip his poetry – it's godawful.

November: Looking back, looking forward

November was a good – if very busy – month.

You may have noticed I neglected the blog for most of the month. Hell, you may have stopped reading the blog because I neglected it for most of the month. But hopefully you're at least subscribed to the RSS feed (and if not, please do subscribe) or reading it because you follow me on Twitter (again, if you're not, please do).

So, what came of November? Well, there was...

• The 40 Under 40 award. This was a classy affair. About 420 people or so for lunch and the ceremony, and I wound up on TV. This was definitely an honor, especially when I look at the other names on the list.

• There's a new title on my resume (retroactively). I was already doing the job, but, well, I needed to show some movement. The new title ("Project Coordinator") may still get massaged, but both my boss and I signed a title change sheet, so I'm calling it official.

• There was the whole NaNoWriMo thing. I churned out (officially) 50,015 words between Nov. 1 and Nov. 25, which meant that not only did they declare me a "winner," I spent a long Thanksgiving break hanging out with my family, rather than trying to cross the 50,000-word mark.

In December, I am looking forward to...

• Downsizing. Getting rid of the stuff I don't use, books I'm not re-reading, etc. I'm hoping this turns into moving into a new apartment, as well. I currently have two rooms that hold four file drawers and a book case, and nothing else. I have to walk through them, but I rarely stop in them. They could certainly be consolidated into a small office.

• Editing the crap out of the NaNoWriMo stuff. Some people actually wrote full novels, but I wrote short, creative non-fiction essays. They aren't related, and are, I guess to use a legal term, severable. I'll break them up, edit them down, and if something's worth posting I'll post it, and if something's better, I'll try to sell it.

Remembering Kristallnacht: How far have we come?

On the night of November 9 and 10, 1938 – 70 years ago today – a state-sponsored pogrom (riot, incursion) killed 92 German Jews and saw somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 Jews arrested.

Synagogues were burned. Jewish-owned shops were vandalized or destroyed. There was so much glass they called it Kristallnacht (Wikipedia), the night of broken glass.

It brought to a head five years of increasingly restrictive anti-Semitic laws, and offered only a hint of what was to come in the ensuing years.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is doing a special exhibit this year.

If, by the way, you haven't been to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, next time you're in DC, give yourself four hours there, and a couple hours of recovery time.

This is the exhibit that does me in.

From the time we're young, Jewish people are taught about the Holocaust. We see movies. We read books. We hear from survivors – though even people who lived long, healthy lives after the Holocaust are dying off now.

We take it personally, even all these years later. Working for a weekly newspaper about six years ago, I was sent to cover a school event that featured children of Holocaust victims and children of Holocaust perpetrators sitting on a panel, talking primarily about forgiveness. I sat in the back of the auditorium and pretty much bawled for an hour and a half.

We are taught to never forget. If you forget, it could happen again.

And so the world puts on its blinders, and makes sure that Jews don't ever have to live through genocide again.

We forget about the six million gypsies, homosexuals and others who died during the Holocaust. In the U.S., we're systematically denying the latter group rights (that's the first step, by the way). We didn't believe anything was happening in Rwanda in 1994. We did so little about Darfur. We're certainly not in the Democratic Republic of the Congo right now.

I'm not naive enough to believe we can all just get along and that's that. But when we see genocide, why are we sitting still?

Parsing the election: Equality edition

In case you missed it, the U.S. elected Barack Obama to the office of the presidency on Tuesday.

It didn't really surprise anybody. Even Karl Rove predicted he would win in a landslide.

Obama is African-American, and if you're not up on your U.S. history, please leave right now, go to the library, and educate yourself.

During the primary season, it became clear that the Democratic Party was going to make some history. It was either going to put a woman at the top of the ticket, or it was going to put an African-American at the top of the ticket.

Some people – including some close to me – said that they would vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary because they were worried there were people in the country who would vote for the Republican candidate (we later found out that would be John McCain) solely because they wouldn't vote for Obama because of his race.

My response? These people wouldn't vote for Clinton because of her sex. Also, they would probably vote Republican even if John McCain were the Democratic candidate.

Once Obama and McCain were nominated by their respective parties, race became all but a non-issue. McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, certainly couldn't use race as an issue, at least not overtly. Same for the mainstream media, even if they were to endorse McCain/Palin (which very few of them did).

But once Obama got elected, people all over the world – including in the U.S. – started reacting positively at the fact we had elected a black man to the presidency.

Black voters interviewed by members of the press – particularly older ones, who had lived through depression-era segregation all the way up through the civil rights movement of the 1960s and '70s – celebrated. Some said they feel at home for the first time.

McCain, in his concession speech, brought race into the picture.

Media pundits declared the Bradley effect dead.

It feels like this election was never about race, but the reason for that is we have an economic crisis and two wars on our hands. Mitch reminds us that Obama's victory doesn't mean racism's dead in the U.S. He's right, of course. It just means race wasn't the top issue in this campaign.

There's still a lot of work to do, and it's not only racism that needs eradicating in the U.S.

Several states added constitutional amendments making gay marriage illegal. One state added an amendment – presumably aimed at gay couples – making it illegal for unmarried couples to adopt children.

Women still make less money than men for equal work – I've seen numbers that say women's salaries come in about 75% to 84% of men's salaries.

Some reading for you:

» The Housewife of the Revolution asks, "What are you doing to eliminate inequality?" Me: Doing the best I can to not use the privilege that comes with being a straight, white male.

» Keep it Trill wants to know how people in California could say Yes We Can to Obama, but No You Can't by passing Proposition 8.

» Here's one I found most illuminating, though: Jasmyne Cannick, a black lesbian, was out campaigning in force in California, but didn't feel the need to talk about Prop 8 at all, feeling a struggle she felt personally had been co-opted by a primarily white No On 8 movement.

Policing the vote: Twitter edition

You may have heard, but the U.S. is electing a president (and 435 U.S. representatives, and 30-odd senators, along with countless statewide and local officials) Tuesday, Nov. 4.

That's tomorrow, if you live stateside.

Not every state is fully compliant with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) – New York falls into the "not compliant" category – and we're expecting at least some trouble, though hopefully it won't be as widespread as some people think it could be.

If you're in New York, by the way, you're probably using one of those lever machines. If you're not familiar with how they work, watch the video above.

Twitter, via the hashtags standard (more info), has set up some ways to for citizens to police the election.

If you run into minor issues (long lines, people holding signs too close to a polling place entrance), use a #votereport hashtag. Also add a #ZIPcode hashtag to be entered as a location. Check out the votereport aggregator here, including a map of where reports are coming in from.

If you have major troubles – people blocking entrances, not being allowed to vote, not being allowed to fill out a provisional ballot, that sort of thing – get Election Protection involved. You can call them at (866) OUR-VOTE (687-8683). On Twitter, use a #EPxx hashtag, where xx is your two-letter state abbreviation. Throw in a #ZIPcode for good measure. And let #votereport know, too.

What it comes down to is, the more information that's out there, the better. The more people know you plan to exercise your right to vote, the better.

EP has a New York voting FAQ here (Massachusetts - more).

I've also set up some hashtags for local folks. If you're writing about the election in Central New York, use a #votecny hashtag to get into the mix on syracuse.com's Twitter page.

The bottom line is, we're having an election tomorrow. This stuff's important, people.