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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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• Luckily, she wasn’t in Scotland

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From the Associated Press

Susan Atkins, a follower of cult leader Charles Manson whose remorseless witness stand confession to killing pregnant actress Sharon Tate in 1969 shocked the world, has died. She was 61 and had been suffering from brain cancer.

Atkins’ death comes less than a month after a parole board turned down the terminally ill woman’s last chance at freedom on Sept. 2. She was brought to the hearing on a gurney and slept through most of it.

California Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said that Atkins died late Thursday night. She had been diagnosed with brain cancer in 2008, had a leg amputated and was given only a few months to live. She underwent brain surgery, and in her last months was paralyzed and had difficulty speaking.

• A 2nd Lockerbie tragedy

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I have been to Scotland. I liked it. I especially enjoyed the hospitality of the people I met along the way, polite and friendly to a man, and woman. I also enjoyed its history, its tales of fighting for justice and equality against bad government and oppressive rulers.

Because of that, I am not foolish enough to condemn an entire population because of the actions of their government officials. If everyone in the world held our own government against us, no one ever would visit our shores. However, it will be a long time before I visit Scotland again.

The reason: One of the worst mass-murder terrorists on record was freed this week despite being sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, the commercial airliner that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, butchering 270 innocent souls, a large number of them Americans.

And, why was Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, 57, set free? For what Scottish officials termed “humanitarian reasons.” The former Libyan intelligence operative has prostate cancer. By contrast, 259 Pan Am passengers and 11 people on the ground where the wreckage hit them still are dead.

Their lives were tossed on a metaphorical scrap heap as stark and chilling as the one show above, that mountain of debris that was Flight 103 but since that time has been nothing but a pile of refuse.

In a typical and sickening outpouring of adulation for any Arab who has slain any non-Arab, a crowd of thousands turned out to greet al-Megrahi when he landed in Tripoli, the capital of his homeland. They danced, sang and chanted. Some wore T-shirts with his face printed on them. Some waved posters bearing his image.

After all, he murdered “infidels” and only had to serve 10 or 11 days per victim. What a hero.

• More signs of the Apocalypse

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Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, the Manson murder cult follower who pointed a pistol at President Gerald R. Ford in 1975 and later escaped from prison, will be set free on Sunday.

The now-60-year-old nutjob escaped from a female prison in Alderson, WV, in 1987, was recaptured about two days later, and got an additional 15 months in prison for the escape. Otherwise, she might have been released last year for good behavior.

She said she escaped so she could be closer to Manson, who is serving a life term in California for the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and eight others.

• A horse of a different angle

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In 42 years as a newspaper journalist, I had one column of commentary killed. It was about Joe Bruno’s handmaidens.

Joe Bruno, for those outside New York State, reigned as the GOP’s State Senate Majority Leader for many years, wielding a Leno-jawed countenance, carefully barbered silver hair and Machiavellian turn of mind to become one of the three most powerful people in the Empire State. The other two were Sheldon Silver, the New York City Democrat who ruled, and still does, the Assembly as Speaker, and whoever happened to be occupying the Governor’s Mansion at the time, no matter which party was in power.

After one of my columns pointing out some Bruno scalawaggery prompted a series of letters to the editor from various of his supporters, I wrote another explaining to readers what the connections were between Bruno and the letter writers. Rex Smith, the editor of the newspaper and not on my list of good editors even before this move, killed that column at the last possible minute, vaguely muttering something about “Let them have their say.” As if they hadn’t already, eagerly supported by him in several ways:

Their letters were printed quickly, rather than having to wait in line behind others on other topics as was the usual practice. But, don’t for a moment think anyone in the power structure had whispered in this editor’s ear. Heaven forbid such thoughts.

Bruno, Silver and the governor of the moment. They were the infamous “3 Men In a Room” who decided who would get how much money in each year’s state budget, wheeling and dealing in secrecy and presenting their budget as a fait accompli for the cowardly lions of the Senate and Assembly to dutifully approve in sheep-like lockstep, often without even reading the complete document. Included in the document was a slush fund, usually in the $200 million range, the 3 Profiteers divvied up to hand out to pet projects to garner votes for their next re-election bids.

This was the kind of governance that prompted the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law to annoint as the nation’s most dysfunctional legislature.

Bruno, whose monumental ego was massaged by people who understood the quid pro quo of having taxpayer money shoveled their way, was a regular on the pay-and-preen circuit, appearing at various edifices named for him for his generosity with my money.

Bruno’s ego and deal making may have come back to bite him squarely on his seat of power. Even though he retired from state government last year — and immediately registered as a lobbyist — a federal grand jury last week indicted him on an eight-count felony charge, alleging he used his elected position to extract $3.2 million in private consulting fees from clients who sought to use his influence. Bruno, 79, pleaded not guilty and vowed to fight the charges when taken to court.

The matters of ego and bad business decisions go hand-in-hand. Throughout the Capital Region of New York, Bruno’s home area, we have evidence of the cult of personality that thanked him for giving them my money by labeling such things as the 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.

There were many instances of Bruno’s sloppiness in assembling facts to go along with his dreams and daydreams. One of the most egregious came when he tried to help pull the wool over the eyes of the people of Troy, NY, a small city of 40,000 or so nestled on the east side of the Hudson River near the state capitol.

It was in 2003 that Bruno called an open-air press conference in Troy to present us with something he oh-so-modestly called “A vision presented by Senator Joseph L. Bruno.” Vision? I called it a hallucination.

Two years later, stuck in a newspaper conference room for an editorial board meeting, the then-State Senate majority leader finally conceded on the record that the vision had evaporated.

So, what really happened to the $470 million “Harbor at Troy” waterfront project he had hyped — the one that promised such components as a Hudson River Heritage Center, a Troy Festival Center, a waterfront park and greenway, a harbor and marina, entertainment/ dining/retail spaces, a hotel and conference center, structured parking, aquariums, replicas of historic ships, a campus for U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen, a Hudson River monitoring system and on and on and on?

It all sunk under the weight of its own hot air when some very basic reporting was done. The kind of verification you might expect a powerful politician to do before attaching himself to such a project.

At the time, Bruno told us a consortium called the Hudson River Group would take care of everything. He said the developers behind the proposal helped create the widely praised Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Faneuil Hall in Boston and a riverfront project under construction in Hartford. However, neither Bruno nor anyone on his staff had conducted the due diligence such an audacious plan called for before throwing his considerable political weight behind it.

The developers Bruno praised had not, as it turned out, personally worked on any of the cited projects; the U.S. Navy had neither pledged $50 million to the project nor had plans to decommission the USS Albany and anchor it here as we were told.

In that editorial board meeting, Bruno expressed disappointment that the project had dried up, but, incredibly, once again said the people behind it had done wonderful things in Baltimore, Boston and Hartford.

“Actually, they had not,” I reminded him. “That was precisely one of the fallacies in that presentation.”

Bruno paused, stuck out that jaw, then replied petulantly, “Well, anyone who saw all those great plans they laid out would have been absolutely convinced the project would work.”

If it had, we’d be seeing some signs of the 650 construction workers who were supposed to hammer it all together, or the 1.3 million visitors we were to expect every year according to the good senator’s projections. Instead, all we saw was a political leader reluctant to admit he had been jobbed by some fast-talking developers. Or, was he intentionally part of the misdirection?

Initial exaggerations and fibs aside, did the project have merit? Bruno’s office announced six months after the original plan unveiling that a consultant would be hired to re-evaluate the project. In this same meeting two years later, he grudgingly revealed under persistent questioning that, no, no one had ever been hired and, no, no one would be. In other words, all those months later we finally were told on the record that we had been served another heaping platter of baloney.

So, as the particulars of the current bill of indictment make their way into the court proceedings, we’ll see a clash of egos, a web of intrigue, a pattern of demagoguery and, perhaps, a lesson or two on equine anatomy.

How so? 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.”

Should he not fare well in court, he might prefer that view than having to look us in the eye.

• 75 years since ‘The Noble Experiment’ fizzled

There is something about Americans that requires special treatment of anniversaries ending in the numbers 0 and 5.

Rarely do we make a big deal about the fourth anniversary, or the ninth, or even the 24th of some event. Ah, but let us get busy when it comes to the fifth, 10th or 25th.

So, imagine all the hoopla that will be going on around the country tomorrow, Friday, December 5 — the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. Let the happy hours begin!

Officially, the prohibition on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, with a rare few licensed exceptions, was a result of the National Prohibition Act of 1919 — commonly called the Volstead Act, after U.S. Rep. Andrew J. Volstead, R-Minnesota, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and sponsor of the bill that went into effect in 1920.

This came about in a period in our history in which religious organizations and anti-drinking societies abounded and had plenty of political clout. Chief among them were the American Temperance Society, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League, all of which had gained phenomenal influence.

According to the National Archives:

“Between 1905 and 1917, various states imposed laws prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages. … In 1917, the House of Representatives wanted to make Prohibition the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Congress sent the amendment to the states for ratification, where it needed three-fourths approval. The amendment stipulated a time limit of seven years for the states to pass this amendment. In just 13 months enough states said ‘yes’ to the amendment that would prohibit the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic liquors.

“The amendment worked at first, liquor consumption dropped, arrests for drunkenness fell, and the price for illegal alcohol rose higher than the average worker could afford. Alcohol consumption dropped by 30% and the United States Brewers’ Association admitted that the consumption of hard liquor was off 50% during Prohibition. These statistics however, do not reflect the growing disobedience toward the law and law enforcement.

“The intensity of the temperance advocates was matched only by the inventiveness of those who wanted to keep drinking. Enforcing Prohibition proved to be extremely difficult. The illegal production and distribution of liquor, or bootlegging, became rampant, and the national government did not have the means or desire to try to enforce every border, lake, river, and speakeasy in America. In fact, by 1925 in New York City alone there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy clubs.

“The demand for alcohol was outweighing (and out-winning) the demand for sobriety. People found clever ways to evade Prohibition agents. They carried hip flasks, hollowed canes, false books, and the like. While Prohibition assisted the poor factory workers who could not afford liquor, all in all, neither federal nor local authorities would commit the resources necessary to enforce the Volstead Act. For example, the state of Maryland refused to pass any enforcement issue. Prohibition made life in America more violent, with open rebellion against the law and organized crime.”

Finally, the political pendulum swung far enough in favor of ridding the nation of what came to be called by some “The Noble Experiment.” As many anti-Prohibition organizations popped up as had anti-drinking groups. The Democratic Party platform in the 1932 election included an anti-Prohibition plank and Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for the presidency promising repeal, which occurred on December 5, 1933.

The popular vote for repeal of Prohibition was 74% in favor, 26% opposed. Thus, by a 3-to-1 margin, the American people rejected Prohibition. Only two states opposed repeal.

Crowds raised glasses and sang “Happy Days are Here Again!” and President Roosevelt, referring to what he called “The damnable affliction of Prohibition,” sipped a martini at the stroke of midnight, what was widely reported as the first legal cocktail since Prohibition began.

• Smoking can hurt you in so many ways

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From the Albany (NY) Times Union:

A Washington County, NY, tow truck driver has been charged with two unsolved rapes in Maryland from 1988, but only after State Police in New York secretly obtained his DNA off a discarded cigarette butt.

William Joseph Trice, 47, of Eagle Bridge is being held in the Albany County jail, awaiting extradition on first-degree rape and assault charges that could send him behind bars for life.

State prosecutors in Maryland say Trice unwittingly allowed his DNA to be taken off the cigarette butt earlier this month, handing investigators long-awaited evidence to solve the attacks.

Trice already has a 1994 conviction for indecent exposure in Maryland, court records show. A person with knowledge of the case said Trice had exposed himself to a 12-year-old girl.