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Bruno’s rear view

It is with great sadness that I read and listen to comments from many people about the conviction this week of former New York State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno on two corruption charges.

In essence, they contend that because Bruno used his political clout to funnel millions of dollars into local hands for projects from playgrounds to firehouses to business facilities to anything that could bear his name (*), it was OK for him to line his pockets in exchange for being such a benefactor with taxpayer dollars.

That is known as situational ethics. Lawbreaking is OK if everyone else gets theirs. Bruno’s attitude and daily play-by-play commentary on his own trial, along with such reprehensible forgiveness of his transgressions by people who like what he did for them, are a major factor in nourishing New York’s dysfunctional, pathetic political climate.

Bruno says he’s disappointed at the jury’s decision, even though he was found not guilty of several other counts. He should be disappointed in how his own greed and misfeasance led to him becoming a convicted felony.

Bruno, who among many pursuits is a lover of race horses and has been involved in that field, once was asked what he thought about criminal charges against two organizations he had long supported with my tax dollars — the Institute for Entrepreneurship and the New York Racing Association. He gave this thoughtful, statesmanlike reply:

“It doesn’t make sense to look up a dead horse’s rectum. You want to look up a dead horse’s rectum, go ahead; it’s not something I’m going to do.”

In light of the court results, he now might prefer that view than having to look us in the eye.


(*) Joseph L. Bruno Town Park in Hoosick Falls, Joseph L. Bruno Family Resource Center of the Commission on Economic Opportunity for the Greater Capital Region Inc., the Joseph L. Bruno Scholarship from the New York State Summer School of Orchestral Studies, the Joseph L. Bruno Theater in the Arts Center of the Capital Region, the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium at Hudson Valley Community College, the Joseph L. Bruno Pavilion at Saratoga Spa State Park, the Joseph L. Bruno Biotechnology Development Center at Albany Molecular Research, the Joseph L. Bruno Lobby in the Greenbush Area YMCA … . I can’t go on.

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• The Queen and the coin

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News Item: Government ministers and Queen Elizabeth II’s most senior officials have been heavily criticized by a committee of Members of Parliament for allowing historic buildings on the Royal estate to fall into disrepair.

The Queen will be urged to open Buckingham Palace to the public more often in return for millions more pounds from the government to to pay for a backlog of repairs. It now is open only about 60 days a year.

Some of the grandest state rooms at Buckingham Palace have not been redecorated since the Queen came to the throne in 1952. The palace wiring, which should have been replaced 10 years ago, was installed in 1949. The Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, near Windsor Castle, which houses the tomb of Queen Victoria, has been designated by English Heritage as “at risk” after part of the ceiling fell in. A large stretch of roof at Windsor Castle and at Buckingham Palace also needs replacing.

Royal Tidbits: The queen has an estimated fortune of $571.033 million, according to Forbes magazine. That is her personal wealth and does not include properties held in trust for the nation, such as Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, the Crown Jewels, and the Royal Art Collection are excluded. Also not included in the estimate are her privately-owned properties such as Sandringham House, Balmoral Castle, and the Castle of Mey. The worth of Balmoral alone is estimated at $261.8 million. The Crown Estate Lands also are not included in that estimate. They are said to be worth more than $12 billion.

The Queen’s annual income is about $20.45 million from the Duchy of Lancaster, and the income generated from the Crown Estate land, that had belonged to the royal family since 1066, that generated about $180 million a year, out of which about $65.5 million is paid back to the British government to cover the monarchy’s costs. Thus, she makes at minumum $135 million a year.

• So speed ’em up, Joe

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I live in an Upstate New York city just across the Hudson River from the State Capital. Thus, I get to hear and read about a lot more stupid government inactions actions than many people in other parts of the state.

The most recent deals with the decision by the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to reject an application for a liquor license by some local businesspeople seeking to open a wine/martini bar.

The reason: It is within 200 feet of a church, which automatically negates its request.

The problem: It is not within 200 feet of a church.

It is located across the street from a Salvation Army facility that most of the week is a food pantry. It holds one religious service once a week. But then, so does an entertainment venue on the same block, and no one is calling it a church.

Also, at least five other establishments on the same block hold valid state liquor or beer/wine licenses, and have for years despite the presence of the Salvation Army.

It took six months for the SLA to come up with this rejection. The right or wrong of it is obvious can be debated from various angles. What troubles me most is the excuse the SLA uses for its snail-like pace in considering license applications statewide.

During the period of months and, in some cases, years the applicants are waiting, they usually are putting time, effort and money into their facilities. A quick “No” by the SLA can dash all those hopes and lay waste to the money involved.

William Crowley, the SLA mouthpiece spokesman, says the agency has only 22 examiners divided among offices in Buffalo, Albany and New York City. They are responsible for reviewing all license applications. Crowley says the SLA received 5,315 applications between July 1, 2008, and July 1 of this year. The examiners also had to consider an estimated 7,000 applications for short-term permits, most of which are for caterers who, under state law, need a license just to serve for as little as an hour, one time. Thus, says Crowley, they can’t keep up with the workload.

Really? Let us, as they say, do the math.

• 5,315 applications received in one year
• 22 examiners
• 260 calendar work days in one year
That comes out to 242 applications per year per examiner, assuming a five-day work week. If we discount 15 days per examiner for vacations and stray holidays, that comes to about one application to be handled per day.

Doesn’t seem to be much of a workload, does it?

Now let’s look at the one-time applications.

• 7,000 applications received in one year
• 245 calendar days worked by each of 22 examiners
• That comes to 318 per examiner per year, or 1.3 applications per day.

Add it up, and we get 2.3 applications to be handled per day.

Whew! I bet those examiners are laughing their asses off have to lean back and uncap a cold one after maintaining such a blistering pace.

• E-Z pest (Parts 1 and 2)

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PART 1

Twice in recent weeks my wife and I had occasion to travel on New Jersey’s ugly boring convenient Garden State Parkway. We paid the usual tolls, followed the posted speed limits, and went on our merry way.

Shortly afterward, we received — on different days — notices of toll violations, one for her and one for me.

Not unusual to get different notifications since we had taken two different cars on our trips — one registered to me, one to her. But unusual in that the alleged violations had to do with the E-Z Pass toll lanes.

We don’t subscribe to E-Z Pass, for a number of reasons, chief among them the fact I don’t like the idea that a government or quasi-government agency can track my whereabouts (*), running a close second to my heartfelt belief that such agencies usually are riddled with incompetence.

Yes, the notifications had blurry photo images of our cars and the license plates were correct. However, we never use the E-Z Pass lane because we’re not authorized to do so, plus we’re not stingy or stupid enough to try evading a 25-cent toll. What would be the point?

So, I drew up a letter on behalf of both of us. It said:

To Whom It May Concern:

We have each received a “Notice of Enforcement Action” for alleged violations of toll lanes on the Garden State Parkway.

Both are in error.

• We are not subscribers to E-Z Pass.
• We do not use the E-Z Pass lanes.
• We did not avoid paying any tolls.

We suggest you look into your mechanized enforcement process to find your errors. Perhaps the situation is similar to the recent problems E-Z Pass experienced in the Buffalo, NY, area, in which large numbers of people were wrongly accused.

In addition, we are hereby requesting written withdrawal of these erroneous charges, for our records. The two notices are enclosed.

Thank you.

That should do the trick.

PART 2

Well, I just heard from the State of New Jersey today about the E-Z Pass foulup screwup scam problem.

No, not the letter of apology and clarification I requested. It was a

NOTICE OF ENFORCEMENT ACTION
SECOND NOTICE

in big black capital letters.

I’m now expecting a second such letter since this one only dealt with the original notice sent to my wife.

Once again, we’re off tilting at windmills in an attempt to get a government agency/business/other pest to rectify a problem of their own creation.

( * ) If that sounds like conspiracy theory paranoia, let me share a brief anecdote. When E-Z Pass first came into being, I was a senior editor at a daily newspaper here in the Empire State. The E-Z Pass people said no one should worry about their movements being tracked because that would never happen and no one would give out such information. One of our city editors had a long commute to work and used the Thruway on a daily basis. He signed up for an E-Z Pass card, drove on it for a while, then had one of his reporters go through a contact to get his E-Z Pass history. He had it in less than an hour.

Update: I eventually paid both tickets. A cop-out on my part, but since I have to use that same highway on a regular basis, I can’t envision myself trying to keep battling the State of New Jersey for unfettered and unharassed access even though it is in the wrong. And, for the record, I never received a human response to any of the three letters I sent, having to settle for mechanically-generated form letters that never did address the problem.

• Failure to communicate

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“The failure of voters to pass our school budget has significant meaning,” said the teachers union president.

That might seem like an innocuous statement, until one looks at the spin created by use of the word “failure.”

In truth, there was no failure involved. The voters in this particular school district achieved their desire by rejecting the budget proposal.

Of course, this is a common misuse of language. And it’s often common among those in the education industry just as it is with those in the communications field.

The current upheaval in the New York State Senate is a good example. Right from the start, the voting shift of two ne’er-do-well Democrat senators to wrest control from their party and hand it to the Republican side was immediately labeled by both print and electronic media a “coup.”

There was no armed insurrection, no physical misbehavior, no takeover of buildings and radio stations. None of that banana republic or third world activity we often hear about. It was nothing more than a bunch of petulant, greedy, self-serving politicians — redundant, I know — and a behind-the-scenes billionaire twisting procedures around for their own benefit.

Just two examples of mis-use and corruption of our language in a universe of such things.

• State of ignorance

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The Empire State? Hah!

New York is, at best, in a state of disarray. And, that’s on a good day, which we don’t have very often.

The latest calumny is the State Senate, where a couple of sleazeballs got elected by a constituency as unaware or unintelligent as has ever been seen. They’re in the do-little governing body despite one of them being indicted for slashing his girlfriend’s face with a bottle and the other one — who probably doesn’t even live in the district he represents — adamantly refusing to pay $60,000 in fines he owns the New York City Campaign Finance Board. He already was shone up for what he is by getting caught trying to steer a bunch of taxpayer dollars — several hundred thousand of them — to a company he operates and would use that money to pay him.

Meet Hiram “Slasher” Monserrate (left above) and Pedro “Deadbeat” Espada Jr.

The two Democrats cooked up a plot with the minority Republicans in the Senate — and the backing of billionaire, failed gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano — to throw their votes to the GOP side, thus returning the Republicans to their long-held majority by a 32-30 vote count. If everyone keeps his word. Given the record of many of our utterly useless state legislators, expecting everyone to stay true to a pledge is laughable.

A judge who the Dems asked to overturn the Senate deal recommended that instead of one branch of government telling a co-equal branch what to do the two sides spend the weekend working out their internecine squabble. Slasher and The Deadbeat promptly swung into action — by heading for plush seats at Yankee Stadium to watch the Yankees vs. the Mets while the chaos they helped create was left behind them.

Interesting that Espada doesn’t pay the money he owes, but he can afford to treat he and his buddy to cushioned reserved seats in the Legends Suite section of the new stadium, which offers in-seat wait service, concierge and exclusive access to a restaurant with an all-inclusive buffet, top-shelf liquor and private restrooms. Face value of each ticket is $650.

Espada says he was lucky enough to come across tickets for $150 each. He didn’t say how he got 77% off, if he was even telling the truth. Legislators are not supposed to accept gifts, discounts and the like. But then, we’re talking about a guy who has shown he doesn’t give a damn about rules or public opinion.

I’m not sure what Golisano was doing over the weekend while the pot he stirred by using his money and influence to manipulate an elected government boiled and bubbled. Or what Dean Skelos, the Long Island GOP incompetent who succeeded the arrogant Joe Bruno as Senate Majority Leader then dropped to Minority Leader after the last election, was doing. But they’re smaller fish in this stew of avarice, sloth and stupidity even if their names are better known around the state.

There is a rather simple solution to the embarassing mess that has made New York State’s government a national laughingstock. It will come at the next election, or the next several elections. Vote out virtually everyone now in office, and their staffs along with them. You know, those unelected and anonymous people who stroke their bosses’ egos and stoke the fires of plots and ploys.

Forget the bullshit campaign rhetoric the incumbents will toss around about the need for experienced people at the wheel. Given the ride they’ve taken us on, it would be refreshing to let some amateurs navigate. Their road map could be reading the state Constitution and the various laws and rules by which the state is supposed to be governed, and ignoring what the current incumbents have done.

It could not possibly work worse than what we have today.

• Paper Wait, Part 4

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Have I mentioned recently my experience with the U.S. Census Bureau?

[If you’ve missed the saga, read Paper Wait, Paper Wait 2 and Paper Wait 3. I’ll hang on ’til you get back.]

Well, I dutifully mailed out the completed American Community Survey form, which I have been told I must do under penalty of law, about 10 days ago. So, I was surprised when I got a phone call the other day from someone representing herself as being with said Bureau.

She asked me some identification questions — address, phone number, etc., which was interesting considering that the Bureau had mailed me all paperwork I’ve been discussing, and she had, after all, reached me by phone. After satisfying her curiosity that I was indeed at that moment in the abode she was curious about, she launched into a prepared spiel about the American Community Survey and its legendary special qualities.

After several attempts, I was able to insert a verbal wedge and get her to stop blathering on.

“I mailed out the completed survey about 10 days ago,” I informed her.

“Oh, well, it’s not marked down that we’ve received it,” she replied.

I felt like saying, “Well, I did,” but I decided to simply wait, silently.

“Maybe it’s still working its way through our intake system,” she offered.

I remained mute.

“Well, I’ll just mark it down that it’s in the system and we’ll wait. We might have to call you again if there’s anything we can’t read on any of the answers.”

I couldn’t maintain silence.

“Virtually all the questions were multiple choice, so all I had to do was make a check mark in the appropriate box. Do you think that would be hard to read?,” I noted.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “I’m not involved in that part of the survey.”

Oh, how I wish I wasn’t either.