Voter registration efforts to combat voter apathy

By Michael Vass | August 22, 2014

**Article contains updates from our original post at Binghamton Political Buzz**

With the quickly upcoming New York State primaries just over 2 weeks away, the stage for the 2014 mid-term elections is almost set. In quick order the candidates for State and local offices will be finalized and campaign season will begin in earnest. The only real question is if voters will notice.

According to the NY State Bar Association, in a Jan. 2013 study, the 2010 mid-term elections resulted in New York being ranked 48th in voter turnout. That same study showed less than 64% of eligible voters took part in the mid-terms and voter registration for New York was the sixteenth worst in the nation.

This news, combined with the comments of pollsters (discussed in our article The biggest loser in 2014 could be… You) stating that lower than average voter turnout is expected nationally creates a disturbing picture. A picture that bodes well for incumbent politicians by default – regardless of indictments and investigations of corruption. Even the attempts at political espionage or the outright desertion of political party members can be excused if voters just don’t come out and vote.

To combat this potential win via voter apathy, several organizations and individuals are working together to register voters and motivate the public. A critical part of this action is the non-partisan nature of the desire to increase voter turnout. The deadline for registering for the November elections is October 15, 2014.

A key spokesperson has been our own Michael Vasquez. On August 14, 2014 Mr. Vasquez was interviewed on WUTQ’s Talk of the Town with Mark Piersma to discuss the problem and the potential result of voter apathy. On Saturday, the Southern Tier Latinos organization, voter registration forms were made available to members attending the organization’s monthly dance celebration. Jose Caceres, leader of the organization said,

Southern Tier Latinos would like to thank Michael Vasquez for providing the voting registration forms during our last dance. It is part of making sure our votes count… we support and we are committed to increasing the number of voters during the next election.

On Monday, August 18, 2014, Mr. Vasquez appeared at the monthly meeting of the American for the Restoration of the Constitution at the Vestal Public Library to discuss the matter.

The efforts of these groups and individuals to spur non- partisan voter registration, coupled with the response to the NY-22 congressional primary which nearly doubled the voter turnout from 2010, could help to prove the pollsters and recent history of New York wrong. But the final tally is far from clear or predictable. Especially in a state that from 2008 – 2012 lost registered voters.

However many voters do show up, they will vote on significant issues that may alter the course of New York State. From a choice of Governor that on the one hand is being investigated for corruption of a corruption commission, to the other hand where Hydrofracking would finally find a home in the State. The choices don’t diminish as they reach the local level. Broome County, as an example, has the explosive revelation of a political party trying to hire a political spy which is sure to ignite campaign debates at all levels.

Ultimately every vote will count, and those that do not vote might even matter more in what could have been done. But only time will tell.

Part 2 of the discussion by Michael “Vass” Vasquez, on the power of social media for grassroots organizations.

To learn more about how you can help get out the vote, contact your local political party or grassroots organization, or contact M V Consulting, Inc

Rating 3.00 out of 5

What is the Obama Administration stance on race in America?

By Michael Vass | August 19, 2014

The issue of race in America is a no-win issue for politicians. This is never more the case than with President Obama. In three separate cases he has interjected the Presidency into the discussion. Twice that has led to more fire than resolution. That latest situation, the death of Michael Brown, is turning out to be no different.

Currently there is controversy over the Ferguson, MO, shooting. The controversy is not about the crime potentially committed by Michael Brown before his death. Nor should the controversy be about the alleged altercation with police that factored into shots being fired. Because unarmed criminals should not be killed by police in the street. Even more the case if that criminal, or just a citizen, surrenders. Though there is confusion on if in this case Mr. Brown did surrender (and at what point) as a preliminary autopsy report released August 17, 2014 raises questions.

But we are not discussing the unknown and unresolved questions on how or why the Brown shooting took place. That investigation is underway, and the answers will come out over time. We are looking at why the President is involved.

Like in the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., and the death of Trayvon Martin, there is huge media interest in this story of Michael Brown. The media is once again alternating on who the hero and villain of the story may be. But once more President Obama has entered the fray. Why?

In January 2009, Oscar Grant was killed by a police officer at a BART train station in Oakland. Multiple videos of the event showed the cold-blooded murder of Grant, as he lay on the ground with his hands behind his back. This led to days of rioting, a small yet national coverage in the news media (mostly about the rioting), police attempts to minimize the shooting before ultimately firing Officer Mehserle. It would ultimately lead to jail for Mr. Mehserle.

There was no comment from the future President of the nation. Not in January after the event and the riots. Not in the months after the event as evidence piled up showing the incident to be murder. Not after the trial finding Officer Mehserle guilty – of involuntary manslaughter that contradicts eyewitness and video evidence of the incident. In fact, it was not until additional riots occurred July 2010, based on the incredulous verdict, that the Department of Justice suggested a review (which has apparently gone nowhere).

There are other cases that are similar. As covered by a site of M V Consulting Inc. which we quote,

Just like Amidou Diallo (41 shots), like Sean Bell (50 shots), like Oscar Grant (1 shot while he laid face down on the ground), like Robbie Tolan (1 shot as he was on his knees)…

Each time, President Obama was silent. Even as riots raged, he said nothing. Generally these incidents either failed to get the attention of the DOJ, or even when they did the result was nonexistent.

Again we must ask why President Obama is suddenly so involved in the case. Even pressing the DOJ to actively take part even while an initial investigation is underway to learn the facts of the case. What is different?

What we can discern is that President Obama waded into the Gates incident, without information on the situation, and got burned. Given the President’s public persona, and the opportunity with the Martin case, President Obama waded in again – raising the levels of anger and animosity in the case.

Is this Brown case an attempt to finally address the issue of police violence towards people of color that the President thinks he can call a universal win? Is it an attempt to have a very public issue finally go into the historical record as a victory for the President, justifying the promises of a post-racial America? Or was the President just shamed into action. As reported by Time Magazine

On Sunday night, as the situation on the ground hit new lows, [President Obama] and First Lady Michelle Obama were enjoying a jazz concert followed by dinner on Martha’s Vineyard, where they were vacationing.

Whatever the case, one thing is becoming clear. The Obama Administration domestic policy with regard to race is as incomprehensible and incoherent as it is with international (Middle East specifically) policy. A platform that is neither complimentary nor beneficial to anyone in the United States. Some would even say that the best thing, given the apparent scatter-shot approach, might have been the President staying out of local events and allowing them to resolve on their own.

America deserves an honest and objective discussion on police violence, especially against people of color. America deserves a direct conversation about racism, which continues to be alive and well in the post-Obama era against all the predictions otherwise. As Victor Davis Hanson stated in his December 2012 article,

Stirring up the pot for short-term political gain in a multiracial society is abjectly insane.

Rating 3.00 out of 5

Our silence on Michael Brown shooting

By Michael Vass | August 14, 2014

Over the past days we have had some individuals ask why we are not covering the Michael Brown shooting on any of the sites of M V Consulting, Inc. Several note that we provided extensive coverage on similar shootings of Oscar Grant, Adolph Grimes, Sean Bell, and many others. The simple answer is because we covered those many other events.

Whenever there is a person who is shot by police in highly questionable circumstances there is a lot of emotion. When that person is unarmed, and as has been reported surrendering, the emotion grows even stronger. Like many people of color, rage is a natural reaction to a situation that happens far more commonly than the major media is willing to report.

Often in these cases, especially with the proliferation of cell phone cameras, there is video and eye witnesses. Often there is little doubt of guilt, and normally there is some degree of coverup enacted. The story, if it reaches the media, invariably changes from the atrocity to any aspect of the case other than the shooting itself. Any crimes in the area, rightly or wrongly, are attributed to the shooting and become a focus.

Usually, if any coverage is provided by the major media, the Rev. Al Sharpton’s of the world arrive on the scene. Often they inflame the situation, while at the same time distracting from the core issue at hand. In the middle of all these twists and turns by the media, the officer responsible is generally lost from the mass attention.

After a week or so, the media moves on, forgetting what has happened. Far too regularly it is at this point that deals are made with the DA, or the case is summarily dropped. Commonly investigations justify the shooting on tenuous grounds. In the few cases where prosecution moves forward, years later there normally is a slap of the wrist given to the (former) officer involved.

The pattern is so consistent it is sickening. It is so common that there is no year since 2009 that can be named where some half dozen of these types of shootings don’t occur somewhere across the nation. And 2009 is used because that is when Oscar Grant was shot. That’s when we started covering this kind of incident and found the huge occurrences and constantly repeated pattern. We can only hope that, if the facts are as is being reported, Michael Brown’s shooting breaks the mold of these events.

But the anger that this kind of event brings, the consistency and frequency of it, is too draining. It’s not that I don’t think it should be covered, I just don’t have the strength to live with that much anguish again. And I know that any hardship covering this story my bring is as nothing compared to the family and friends of the victim, Michael Brown’s family and friends in this case.

The reality is that we need to do more to understand the cause of these kinds of crimes. What is it, across the country, that justifies in the minds of some police officers that killing an unarmed man is ok. Is it because they are racist? That just seems to simple an answer to be complete. Is it because of the stigma of violence attached to Black men? Is it the pent up rage of the officers? Is it the belief that they are protected from consequence for these actions? Maybe a combination of all the above? Whatever it is, it exists and in abundance.

This answer man not satisfy many, but that is the answer we have. For those unfamiliar with the exact facts, as currently known, on the Michael Brown shooting, we believe this is a good summary.

Our condolences to the family of Michael Brown.


Michael Vass
President – M V Consulting, Inc

Rating 3.00 out of 5

FOIA response from City of Binghamton

By Michael Vass | August 14, 2014

In the article More news, and questions, about Binghamton blight, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was made. That request was primarily directed to Binghamton Mayor Rich David and the Office of the Mayor. Less than 24 hours from when the request was made, we received a response.

Mr. Vass:

The Office of Building Construction & Code Enforcement is in receipt of your FOIL request, dated August 13, 2014.

Our Office does not maintain any of requested documents/records as outlined in your FOIL request.

Lai Huynh

Thus the answer to question 2 of our FOIA request is the same response that we wrote about previously on Aug. 8, 2014. Which is fine, but we asked the Office of the Mayor, not Code Enforcement. We are seeking answers from the source that should have the answer, but instead we are receiving silence apparently.
Binghamton Mayor Rich David
Does this response mean that the City of Binghamton, and specifically Mayor David cannot answer the questions we asked, or will not? Are we to believe that the City has no idea what it has done with $39,000 of taxpayer money? Are we to understand that severely blighted buildings across the City are of no concern compared to the development plans for the Northside? Is the Office of the Mayor confirming that there is no plan to address the blight, and therefore the various news announcements are just a hodge-podge of positive media grabs?

While we would like to believe that is not the case, we can’t be sure. The silence from the Office of the Mayor is deafening. Clarity is needed.

It is quite possible that the Office of the Mayor will respond, at some point. Perhaps other Departments of the City will provide whatever answers they may have to our questions. If either occurs, we will provide them to the public verbatim.

Let us be clear, we are not picking on Mayor David. We are seeking answers about the future of Binghamton, NY. This is not personal or political, this is a quest to know what is happening to address a serious issue and the hard-earned money that our taxes have provided to resolve that issue. To that end we feel that the questions demand answers.

At some point we hope Mayor Rich David and the Office of the Mayor feel the same.

Rating 3.00 out of 5

More news, and questions, about Binghamton blight

By Michael Vass | August 14, 2014

On August 13, 2014, more news about efforts to battle the blight in Binghamton was issued to the public. But in receiving these answers, more questions have been generated as well. Questions that deserve definitive answers.

City of Binghamton

One of the top issues for Binghamton Mayor Rich David has been in addressing the blight in the City. During this summer Mayor David announced efforts to demolish 8 blight buildings, most located in the Northside of Binghamton. Shortly thereafter Mayor David announced plans to finally bring a grocery store to the Northside of Binghamton, as well as creating a plaza that could help create jobs short- and long-term. At the same time the Office of the Mayor declined our request for interview, and bid us to file FOIA requests for answers to our questions. The result can be seen in our article Why is Binghamton afraid of blight questions?

Expanding those efforts for the City, Mayor David initiated a plan to outsource basic lawn maintenance from City Parks and Recreation crews to Great Choice Lawn Care and Empire Property Management. The cost for the outsourcing will be $25,000 but Mayor David believes this will allow code-enforcement workers to focus on other matters,

“…that will free up some crews to immediately respond to property owners who do not comply with code enforcement violations.” – Binghamton Mayor Rich David

At the same time, Stacey Duncan, executive director of the Broome County Land Bank Corp. announced efforts to gain $1-3 million in State grant funds to address the blight in the City. Last year Broome County was able to receive $150,000 in funding, out of $13 million available, from NY State’s Community Revitalization Grant program. A key target for any funds that might be received is, again, the Northside of Binghamton as stated by Ms. Duncan,

“That area has been outlined by the city and through our board as an area that would make good sense to put some dollars into.”

While the continued efforts to address the blight are commendable, and far more pro-active than in the prior Administration, it still leaves many questions unanswered. These latest announcements also create new questions that deserve answers. Thus we sent the following FOIA request on August 13, 2014

While we seek a response from the Office of the Mayor, any Department that can provide the following answers will be appreciated:

1) The City set a budget for $200,000 for blight building demolition of which $161,000 has been used. What has been done with the remaining $39,000?

2) According to the Office of Building Construction & Code Enforcement, there does not exist a list of severity of blight/abandoned buildings. Is such a list being created? If not, is there a reason why?

3) In reference to the 171 blighted buildings currently on record, beyond the economic interest created by plans for the Northside grocery, is there any other reason that these buildings are being addressed ahead of potentially hazardous buildings in other locations across the city? Or are there plans to act on those buildings simultaneously with the focus on the Northside?

4) Is there a defined plan that details how blight buildings will be addressed, and over what timespan? If so, what are the details? If not, how are blight buildings being selected for action by the City?

We feel that these are timely and important questions for the residents in Binghamton. While there is no question that the Northside of Binghamton has been overlooked for some time, justification for nearly exclusive action in that one area is needed. Or clarification if that is not actually the case.

Further while high grass may, over time, lead to the deterioration of neighborhoods, a more immediate and lasting cause of blight and its ramifications is a poor economy. Vacant and run down building, whether commercial or residential, may well be a greater deterrent to home buying or rental, and for companies that are choosing locations for new or expanded businesses in New York. Thus it should be asked if there is a plan, and how the actions being announced interact with these plans.

Rating 3.00 out of 5

Binghamton Democrats should seek the high road

By Michael Vass | August 12, 2014

**This is a repost of an article found at the Binghamton Political Buzz**


With the news reported August 11, 2014, that Binghamton City Democratic Committee Chairman Marty Doorey has solicited applications for the city’s deputy city clerk position – based on loyalty to the Democrat Party – Democrats now have an opportunity to take the ethical high road by taking responsibility and being accountable. In fact, some might say it is required of them. Those wouldn’t be Democrats.

As has been reported, Chairman Doorey, who is also the Chairman for the Community Development Advisory Committee, sent out an email on 8/9/14 seeking applicants for the position of the deputy city clerk. The position was stated to be a political appointment, and would require,

“Clerks are expected to be loyal to the party that gives them the job,” the email states. “They are expected to do ‘political’ work, making campaign phone calls, showing up at campaign fundraisers, collecting signatures at petition times and other functions asked by party elected officials and party leaders.”

Further, Chairman Doorey noted that the position would require work as a political spy for the Democrat Party. There is no ambiguity in the email that reporting to the Democrat leadership and Party on the actions in City Hall was mandatory.

Of course Republicans on the Binghamton City Council have called for the resignation of Council President Teri Rennia. It was Councilwoman Rennia who requested help from Chairman Doorey in seeking a candidate for the position, but she denies she had anything to do with the contents of the email sent.

But here is the rub of the issue.

Just over 3 months ago Democrats were screaming for the head of former Deputy County Executive Bijoy Datta over emails he sent that stated political work for the Republican Party was required for County workers in the office of County Executive Debbie Preston.

Mr. Datta has stated in past interviews with the media that the emails were a badly worded statement and the reality of the situation was that workers were not required to perform such duties unless they volunteered (Mr. Datta was unavailable for comment for this article). Yet, as late as May 21, 2014, Democrats stated they were pursuing a case against Mr. Datta even though he stepped down from his position as Deputy County Executive on May 25, 2014 for another position.

Thus, if Democrats believe that an investigation was needed just for the appearance of discrepancies, shouldn’t they be the first to stand by their convictions and take responsibility for actively seeking out a political spy? Unless the requirement to “supply political intelligence about what is going on at city hall, the politics behind pieces of legislation, what’s going on in various departments of the city…,” is considered ambiguous in some way.

Truly if Democrats want to claim the ethical high ground – especially after Gov. Cuomo’s spectacularly failed efforts with the Moreland Commission to root out corruption, which is under federal investigation itself – then they must take action in Broome County. To do nothing is to admit the bluster in April was a political farce meant only to raise political donations.

When looking at the big picture the need for action by Democrats on this issue is even more of an obligation. At the Federal level Democrats in the NY-22 abandoned constituents by not even attempting to produce a candidate to run for the congressional seat that effectively has now been won by Rep. Richard Hanna without a single vote cast. At the State level there is the highly suspect actions of Gov. Cuomo as previously noted. Now at the local level there is apparently spycraft and political favoritism.

Yet Democrats want to claim the ethical high ground? Not without someone taking responsibility and being held accountable. Of course if anyone is expecting that they had best not hold their breath waiting for it. Councilwoman Rennia has stated to the media,

“While Rennia said the email went too far, she says this entire situation is being blown out of proportion.”

As for Chairman Marty Doorey, he has stated in part,

“This is likely what political appointees of any party at any level are told.”

If Democrats in the City of Binghamton are reaching for the ethical (and even perhaps legal) high ground, they might first start off by getting some shovels to dig back to the surface.

Rating 3.00 out of 5

Transparency in the Obama Administration equates to run around

By Michael Vass | August 12, 2014

In the article written July 17, 2014 – Putting WH Press Secretary Earnest claim of “most transparent” to the test – we attempted to determine just how transparent the Obama Administration is willing to be. To that end we sent a letter, provided in that article, to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). What has happened since may not surprise anyone.

President Barack Obama
First, we need to mention as we did in the July 2014 article, that this was not the first time we had sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the OMB. In March 2013 we sought out an answer that was denied to Jonathan Karl of ABC News, how much does a round of golf for the President cost? The result of contacting the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) was being told the OMB could answer our question. The OMB responded to our FOIA request, on April 17, 2013, stating that,

“In response to your FOIA request, OMB conducted a search of its files for documents that are responsive to the request and no records responsive to the request were identified.” – Dionne Hardy, FOIA Officer

Our full article on the response and the result of our inquiry can be found at OMB apparently believes Pres. Obama golf rounds are for free. What is critical is that the OMB did not identify any other Agency or Department of the government that would have the information, nor any legislation that would prevent providing the information we requested, which was part of our FOIA request.

But a year later, based on the comments of the new White House Press Secretary Josh Ernest, we tried again. We received a response from the OMB on July 31, 2014 – a day after publishing the article, One scandal to many for transparency?. The OMB stated,

“In response to your FOIA request, we note that the records/information you have asked for pertain to the White House and the Office of Management and Budget does not have records responsive to the request. As the White House is a separate office from the Office of Management and Budget, OMB does not hold the records that would be responsive to your request.” – Dionne Hardy, FOIA Officer

Notice that the same FOIA Officer for the OMB took 14 days to respond (an improvement of 7 days versus 2013) with a completely different answer to the same general question. In 2013 the OMB couldn’t find the answer and didn’t know anywhere else to have it found, implying they were the correct Department to get the answer from. In just over a year the response has now become a pass the buck game, sending us to the White House. Interestingly, the White House is not compelled to respond to FOIA requests.

Thus we have sent the same letter to the White House on 8/12/2014 @ 9:10AM.

We will give credit where it is due. The latest response from the OMB does note that the White House, and the White House alone apparently, holds the records of the cost of a round of golf for the President. This seems to fly in the face of the mission of the OMB,

“The core mission of OMB is to serve the President of the United States in implementing his vision across the Executive Branch… Budget development and execution, a significant government-wide process managed from the Executive Office of the President… Management — oversight of agency performance, Federal procurement, financial management, and information/IT.”

So as we await whatever response that the White House will give, we ponder the question of transparency. We have to consider the statement by Press Secretary Ernest and the message on the White House contact page that “President Obama is committed to creating the most open and accessible administration in American history.” Is this transparency?

In 2013 it certainly was not transparent. We were provided a brick wall, just as was Jonathan Karl. And we are left, so far, with the same conclusion that we came to in April 2013

“You might say this is not a big deal. But the New York Times doesn’t have the answer. Nor the Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post has zilch. Name the organization and you get nada. Even ABC News, that started this whole thing, remains oblivious to the truth.”

Still we hold out hope. Because even though the major media has given up on what should have been a simple matter, we believe that if our Government cannot be transparent and open enough to tell us something so trivial then it certainly is avoiding letting the public know about matters far more grave that no one has thought to ask about yet.

Rating 3.00 out of 5

The biggest loser in 2014 could be… You

By Michael Vass | August 11, 2014

Wrong way train wreckAmerica is in a slump. There is no other word for it. So far there is 1% GDP growth for the year, official unemployment at 6.2% (unofficially 12.2%), and multiple scandals continuing to signal that the Government is as inefficient and ineffective as the common person always imagined. Yet don’t forget that these are the highlights of the current situation.

In years past the logical displeasure with Congress and the President would reveal itself in polls. The resulting fear of being elected out of office, particularly in an election year, would drive Congress and the White House to some form of compromise on at least one major issue that was in the headlines at the time. The majority of incumbents would maintain an individual approval rating above 50% and their re-elections would generally be assured. Then the cycle would repeat itself.

The latest polls show that the President is in a pickle. Polls for the first week of August tell a tale of woe. NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed President Obama with a 54% disapproval rate. Gallup puts him at 51%, Reuters at 57%. These are numbers hovering at or above the highest disapproval President Obama has had since taking office. President Obama is quickly approaching lame-duck status, and with it comes the inability to make any change to the current situation.

Congress is doing little better. The latest average disapproval has been 79%. But the polls since September 2011 have shown Congress locked in a range from 73% disapproval to 85%. An amazing 53% believe that their own member of Congress places partisan Party politics above the good of the country.

Things are so bad that for the first time a majority of Americans are upset with the job their own member of Congress is doing – a stark contrast to the normal “Congress sucks but my representative is doing great” mentality that has kept the majority of incumbents in office for decades. The next highest low, outside of the Obama term, was back in October 1994 (43% disapproval of your member of Congress then vs. the current 51%).

What does this mean though? Will there be longstanding incumbent members of Congress kicked out to start fresh? Will this be the reboot of Congress people have talked about for decades, finally reversing the 93% re-election rate that members of Congress enjoy?

Without a major change in voter participation? NO.

Voter apathy
To qualify and expand on that, consider what professional pollsters are saying:

“What we’re really seeing in an unprecedented way, especially in the key Senate races, is that voters don’t like either of the major candidates.” – Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling

“If the middle of the country decides not to participate, then you end up having a simple base election, which makes it much easier for incumbents to hold on.” – NBC News’ Mark Murray

“Despite negative views of incumbent officeholders, the impact on incumbents’ actual reelection hopes is likely modest, with the vast majority of officeholders expected to win reelection in November.” – Peyton M. Craighill and Scott Clement

What is the reason? Why would pollsters and news media so uniformly expect members of Congress to be re-elected?

Because only 56% of Republicans and 47% of Democrats are following news on the mid-term elections. 48% of American either don’t know what Party their representative is in, or are wrong in what party they believe their representative is in. This is true even with 2/3 of the nation stating the country is on the wrong track.

The public just doesn’t care enough. Not to know basic facts about their incumbents and the challengers for this November. Not enough to vote, according to predictions from pollsters. The public is upset, and angry, and giving up on the vote.

M V Consulting president Michael “Vass” Vasquez, who ran for the NY 22nd Congressional Republican primary seat, said

“Voter apathy is at massive levels right now. When I was on the campaign trail at least 1 in 10 people I spoke to thought former Rep. Maurice Hinchey was still running – he retired and was replaced in 2010. I’d say 2 in 10 thought the current Representative (Richard Hanna) was a Democrat, even though he is a Republican and got elected in 2010 with the backing of the Tea Party. Not exactly what is considered the most pro-Democrat political organization.”

So what could be the result of all this?

Simply put, if the public just sits back and wallows in apathy, incumbents will overwhelmingly be re-elected. The status quo will remain unchanged. There will be another 2 years of more of the same, until the 2016 presidential elections roll around. If that is the case then the nation as a whole loses.

But like in every election, the choice is with the voters. Even if incumbents win re-election in landslides, if the turnout of voters is above average things will change. If incumbents lose, especially with voters stepping forward to have their voices counted, there will be drastic change.

The reasoning is simple. Politicians like their jobs and want to keep them. If the majority of voters aren’t paying attention, and don’t care about what an incumbent does enough to cast a vote, the incumbent will just do whatever they please. Currently that means intractable partisan gridlock on every issue, and the nation is suffering for it.

In 2016 there will be a new President. Between now and then, the 2014 mid-term elections will dictate the issues and the pace of any changes that might occur until someone wins on November 2015. If voters show up, things like a solution to the mess with the Veterans Administration and a coherent international policy will develop. Maybe even an economic policy that does something might be created, potentially spurring much needed job growth.

But if pollsters are correct that voters won’t show up for the State primaries and November elections in 2014, then even with the majority of Americans completely in unison that things are not the way they are supposed to be in Washington D.C., the next 2 years will continue to be the slowly spinning vortex down the drain.

It’s just that simple.

Rating 3.00 out of 5

As the wheel turns: US policy for the Middle East

By Michael Vass | August 10, 2014

Middle East Map

With the advent of the current growing crisis in Iraq,  the past several years of the Obama Administration’s international policy agenda has be put into question. From Syria, to Africa, to Iraq the question asked by many across the globe is what is America’s foreign policy, especially for the Middle East?

From the beginning, President Obama stood for the retreat of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Highly public timetables were set, against the advice of many, setting these moves in stone.

At the same time the Obama Administration also supported the Arab Spring, going so far as to bomb Libya, without Congressional consent, via the sole authority of the President and questionably in opposition to the War Powers Act. At the time President Obama argued that dropping bombs from drones did not qualify as acts of war, even as the world raised eyebrows to the statement.

Ultimately, Libya ousted Muammar al-Gaddafi and fell into a state of turmoil. The idealized support for America that was envisioned by the Obama Administration evaporated rapidly. This lead to the death of 4 Americans – of which one was an US Ambassador.

2013 Syria conflictAlmost a year ago to the day, President Obama was again facing the question of how far Executive Power extends before the War Powers Act applies. During the summer of 2013, President Obama pushed to defend the red line he had drawn for Syria and the internal conflict in the nation. He urged, and promised, military action – again while at odds with a Congress he had not conferred with on the matter. As the situation boiled over, with allies in Germany and England abandoning the President, Russia took an opportunity to play the peacemaker (embarrassing the US and trapping the nation into a political stalemate) ending the pending conflict.

Which brings us once again to Iraq. As was predicted, pro-terrorist and Islamic fanatical forces have grown in power and sought to retake Iraq. The fragile stability and many of the gains garnered via the blood of US soldiers have been lost. Potentially the Iraq nation could fall back into the hands of a terrorist group as bad as, and some say worse than, Al Quida.

President Obama and his Administration have started to bomb again in Iraq. Once more Congress is split on this action. Several members of Congress have set deadlines for President Obama to either cease operations, or come before Congress and seek approval to  continue. Many fear that this is the beginning of another conflict requiring troops to once again land on Iraqi soil, like Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) of the House Armed Services Committee,

“Where this ends, I don’t think any of us know. But the president has to be very, very clear about timing and purpose. Thus far, it’s insufficient from my point of view.”

This is the foreign policy of the US under the Obama Administration.

It is a policy of retreat on one front and aggression on another. A policy of non-interference in the sovereign actions of nations, while injecting action under the call for humanitarian aid in other (and somtimes the same) sovereign nations. Calls of humanitarian aid that only apply in some nations (Iraq, Syria) while genocide goes on without notice (Dafur) and other nations must fend for themselves (Israel, Ukraine, all of Africa).

Why is it that you chose to stop a potential act of genocide in this one place when you have signally chosen not to prevent things that you have actively described as genocide in other places? - Arshad Mohammed of Reuters

It is a policy of helping organizations that are opposed to US interests (Syria), while opposing other groups (Iraq) that  hold the same position. It is a policy of humanitarian aid, selectively applied based apparently on geography and US strategic interests alone.

As has been noted often, the US international policy is apparently incoherent especially when considering the Middle East as stated by Mackubin Thomas Owens, Editor of Orbis for the Foreign Policy Research Institute

“U.S. foreign policy is in shambles, characterized by drift and incoherence. It is at best a-strategic at worst anti-strategic…”

Especially of note is the problem of Executive Power. When it comes to the Middle East, drones have and are being used throughout the region to bomb various targets (Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, ect) without the consent of Congress. High profile detainees from Guantanamo have been traded without the knowledge of Congress. Military actions have been unilaterally threatened without regard to national security interests, and in violation of the War Powers Act if executed.

And the result of this conflicting mix of international policy decisions?

Iraq is in disarray. Libya is in disarray. Syria is still in civil war. Darfur continues to have an ongoing genocide. Afghanistan looks more and more like Iraq post-US forces withdrawl. Terrorist groups are on the rise and gaining credibility.

Domestically, both Parties are splitting on what to do and how. There is massive partisan gridlock. A huge and unprecedented legal battle is looming – on the overreach of Executive Power, which happens to be part and parcel of the Obama Middle East doctrine.

If this were a soap opera, it would be a very good one. But instead this is the world we are living in, and the chaos seems to not have ebbed since 2010. Whatever the legacy will be of the Obama presidency, without swift action to enact a coherent international policy – especially in the Middle East – that legacy will surely rank akin to that of President Jimmy Carter. Perhaps not even that well.

Rating 3.00 out of 5

Unanswered questions about blight in Binghamton and silence from Office of the Mayor

By Michael Vass | August 8, 2014

**This article contains updates from our original posting at Why is Binghamton afraid of blight questions?**

The issue of blight in Binghamton New York has been a long term issue that we have been following for years. We first wrote on the subject in part in 2009. That was followed up in 2011 with a more in depth article Blight indeed. Then during the 2013 Binghamton Mayor’s race, we worked on the issue via our political consulting division. Which brings us to 2014 and the core of this article.

Binghamton Mayor Rich David
On June 6, 2014, Binghamton Mayor Rich David held an interview with the local press in front of 47 North Street – one of many blighted buildings throughout the city. M V Consulting president Michael Vass spoke with Mayor David at the event, and requested an interview to discuss the plans to address the blight and other issues facing Binghamton. Mayor David agreed.

At this point we must pause to clarify our history. As always, we have sought to be fair and impartial in every interview and quote we have had with an elected official. We have made every effort to quote in context and provide unedited interviews. As a result, there has never been a dispute or retraction in regard to our quotes and interviews with elected officials. Thus, when elected officials refuse to answer a question, or stonewall their response, we must ask why? What have we asked that the elected official does not want the public to know?

With that said, we made five attempts, via email and phone messages, to the Office of the Mayor of Binghamton, from June until July 23, 2014. All but the last attempt received no response. Which we felt was odd, not only because we have had an on-going relationship with the Office of the Mayor in the past, but also because Mayor David has been aware of our work (and Mr. Vass personally) before he even announced a desire to run for Mayor in 2013.

Still, we did receive a response in our fifth request for an interview. Jared M. Kraham, Executive Assistant to the Mayor, asked us to present our questions as a FOIA request to the City of Binghamton. In years of interviews and quotes with a majority of elected officials in the Southern Tier, we have never been asked to make a FOIA request instead of an interview, but we complied with the request.

On July 24, 2014, we sent a FOIA request to Fredrick Grisel of the Binghamton Office of Building Construction & Code Enforcement. The following questions were asked:

  • Do you know, or can you provide the source which contains, the number of abandoned and/or blighted buildings in Binghamton as of Jan 1, 2014?
  • Can you provide a list of the top 10 most cited and/or most public hazard buildings as of that same date?
  • Are you aware of the strategy/reasoning why the buildings demolished in July 2014 were primarily located in the 4th city council district?
  • On the same day a FOIA request was sent the City FOIA webpage asking the following:

  • Was the grant a Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) or a Section 108 loan?
  • What are the terms of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) grant?
  • What is the total of the CDBG grant(s), and how are any funds not used for the demolition of buildings being allocated?
  • The Office of Building Construction & Code Enforcement responded on July 29th that 171 properties registered as vacant exist in the City at this time. They could provide no other answer to any of our questions. Code Enforcement did forward our questions to the Deputy City Clerk, Jeremy Pelletier, who provided us with a link to the City of Binghamton budget, and cited the relevant sections to our questions (page 185). We did not receive a response from Mr. Kraham or the City as of this being published.

    The Masonic Temple at 66 Main Street in Binghamton

    The Masonic Temple at 66 Main Street in Binghamton

    Thus what we know is that the City of Binghamton has no idea of how many blighted buildings exist, nor the severity of disrepair of the vacant buildings the City is aware of. Code Enforcement has been given no strategy about demolished building, or what will replace them.

    In addition we know that the Office of the Mayor, while very happy to hold press conferences and issue press releases about the intent to address the blight, is unwilling apparently to answer any question about how the blight will in fact be resolved. Further, it appears that the Office of the Mayor is acting without a short- or long-term plan in this matter (which is required by the CDBG grants). Lastly, it appears that the Office of the Mayor is reluctant to share how it is planning to spend funds received to address the blight.

    It’s a troubling revelation. We can begin to see why our request for interview has been avoided. But that has not stopped our quest for answers.

    What we have determined is that of the $1.9 million in CDBG funding that the City received, $200,000 was dedicated to demolition of blight buildings. After demolishing 8 buildings, almost all of which were located in the 4th City Council District, almost $40,000 remains unused. The final 20% could have been used to demolish two more buildings, but it wasn’t and there is no indication where that money has gone.

    We cannot determined at this time if the funds allocated were a loan to the City, or a grant. If this is a loan, the terms of repayment are unclear. If a grant (such as the NSP) then a requirement is building low- and middle-income housing, or other items to benefit those in that income bracket. What fulfills the term of “benefit” is unclear, even after requesting and receiving information from Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):

    Our question to HUD: “Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) was established for the purpose of stabilizing communities that have suffered from foreclosures and abandonment.” – what comprises stabilizing?

    Response from Shantae Goodloe, HUD Public Affairs: Neighborhood stabilization is a function of restoring a functioning, vital market. NSP funding helps communities to purchase foreclosed homes and to either rehabilitate them or tear them down. [We received an update from Ms. Goodloe on 8/8/14 that will be noted at the end of this article]

    We must note that there are a few curious actions that have occurred, or failed to occur. Our investigation has raised the following questions:

    1. In all forms, CDBG funding allows for the demolition of blighted buildings. Theoretically any part of the $1.9 million of CDBG funds in the City budget could be used for the purpose of demolition. Given that fact, why was just $200,000 allocated when there is a need in 171 buildings?
    2. Considering that the majority of the buildings are located in the 4th City Council District, why were these buildings selected for demolition? Especially since the City is unaware of which buildings are the biggest public safety threats.
    3. Given the location of the majority of the demolished buildings, and the subsequent announcement of a Northside grocery store, were these buildings selected because of the imminent plan for the store without regard for public safety or other concerns?
    4. Also, given the level of development, was the grocery store part of the required “benefit” that allows CDBG funding?
    5. Since up to 30% of CDBG funding can be used for other purposes, were any funds used to enable the Northside grocery store deal?
    6. Finally, with newly vacant lots available to the City, what plans have been made for those plots? Will this be land used to create low-income housing owned by the City or private individuals? Will the land be sold to the highest bidder or the well connected?

    Considering that the news of the grocery store and plaza development – a deal that had been in the wind since 2006 – will likely increase property values significantly in that area, who owns that land is a major question. At the same time, since the Northside of Binghamton is traditionally not a major hot spot for Binghamton University students, apartments in that area can be lucrative year-round from native residents. Thus who the City is giving preference to (if any preference) and how is that being decided is a serious issue.

    Over all we are not saying that the demolition of blight buildings is bad. In fact we cheer this action. But, at the same time we must ask why the Office of the Mayor would retract an interview agreed to by Mayor David directly? We must ask what plan is in place, as is required by the CDBG funding, and how is that plan being executed? We need to know how much funding is being diverted to other programs, and what those programs are. Finally, we need to know that there is no favoritism occurring as changes are happening across the landscape of Binghamton.

    These are all questions that we would like the Office of the Mayor to answer. Preferably in an interview. But it would seem this administration would prefer FOIA requests; which we are equally happy to make as that provides us more questions to ask and have answered. Eventually.


    After our original posting at the Binghamton Political Buzz Examiner, we received an email from Shantae Goodloe of HUD Public Affairs. HUD provided clarity on the CDBG grants and loans, and their requirements. To provide full context, we will be providing the questions asked of HUD, and their updated response, in a separate article – Department of Housing and Urban Development updates response to M V Consulting

    Rating 3.00 out of 5