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God save us, it’s the Queen

For the first time in nearly a century, a ruling British monarch has set foot on Irish soil. Queen Elizabeth II, decked out in bright green from head to foot and looking for all the world like a well-tailored leprechaun, today began a four-day visit to a country her royal predecessors spent untold amounts of money, manpower, manipulation, mayhem and malevolence to subjugate.

A spate of bomb threats, security nightmares for the police force and military, lots of booming voices of protest emanating from the pubs of Dublin and other communities around the Republic of Ireland certainly wasn’t much of a welcome. Quite the opposite of the sort of silly adulation showered on one of her grandsons during his recent nuptials.

The Queen began her official whirlwind tour — the first by a sitting Brit ruler since Ireland gained its independence in 1917 — by shaking hands (above) with Irish President Mary McAleese in front of the Aras An Uachtarain, then moved inside to be greeted by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and sign the visitors’ book. Prince Philip, every bit the Royal Afterthought as always, jotted his name below hers.

(For those unfamiliar with Irish terminology and surprised that not everything there is in English — it is a bilingual country, with Gaelic much in evidence, “Aras An Uachtarain” is the name of the president’s mansion, and “Taoiseach” means “chief” and is the title held by the prime minister.)

Although this is QEII’s first trip to Ireland, she and the President have met elsewhere numerous times and chatted animatedly in public view. The role of President is largely ceremonial in Ireland, but has its moments as a public relations force. Such McAleese predecessors as Mary Robinson have been able to lobby other nations for trade improvements and such things from the bully pulpit. So, it will be interesting to see how McAleese’s public demeanor toward QEII this week will be cited as a negative when the next national election is held in October.

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• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• A shoe-in

s-formal-dress-shoesWhat is it about international politics and shoes?

Back in the prime of the Cold War, Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev was prone to whipping off his shoe and banging it on his desk during United Nations meetings to emphasize his hatred of the US. Now, during George Bush’s farewell tour of places he’s screwed up, the almost-former president had two shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist during a press conference. (Video here of the attack and Bush’s reaction to it.)

But those are not isolated instances of shoes and politics being strange bedfellows. Consider these tidbits:

• Imelda Marcos earned worldwide ridicule when, as first lady of the Philippines, she collected literally thousands of pairs of shoes while much of her country’s population was dirt poor.

• Tony Blair attributed his long success in UK politics to his lucky shoes.

• Bush warhawk Paul Wolfowitz made a brief stir when he doffed his shoes while visiting a Turkish mosque and revealed his ratty socks had holes in them.

• Sarah Palin’s wardrobe came under scrutiny when it was learned the Republican National Committee re-outfitted her and some of her family to make them look more presentable to voters. However, her aides pointed out that her red Double Dare Naughty Monkey shoes were paid for out of her own pocketbook.

The lesson here may be that if you decide to go into public life, decide on your choice in footwear before you take that first step.

• The wonderful world of public hygiene

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• MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Idaho Sen. Larry Craig has lost his latest attempt to withdraw his guilty plea in a Minneapolis airport men’s room sex sting. A three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected the Republican’s bid to toss out his disorderly conduct conviction. Craig was arrested in June 2007 in a Minneapolis airport bathroom stall (seen above) by an undercover officer who said the senator solicited sex. He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor and paid a fine, but changed his mind after word of his arrest became public. Craig insisted he was innocent, but the case effectively ended his political career.

• MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Billie Watts said she was tempted but couldn’t bring herself to keep $97,000 she said she found in a Cracker Barrel restroom. The 75-year-old Murfreesboro woman told The Daily News Journal that she discovered the money inside a tapestry bag hanging from a hook on a stall door last Thursday. But five days later, the money and its anonymous owner remain something of a mystery in the community, where police said they have no report of the find. While digging through the bag to figure out its owner, Watts said she found a bundle of neatly stacked $1,000 bills. Watts said she and her husband took the money home, but later called the restaurant back and asked if there was a lost-and-found department. She was told yes, and left her number.

• NEW YORK (ABC) — Few inanimate objects arouse as much universal germ fear — especially among women — as the dreaded public toilet seat. “That’s like the first rule: Don’t sit on the toilet seat,” one woman told “20/20.” Another woman described public toilets as being both nasty and filthy. And a man told us he would “rather go almost anywhere else than a public bathroom.” “Fifty percent of American women won’t sit on a seat without some type of guard or without hovering,” said Allison Janse, author of “The Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu.” She admits she has spent years herself dangling over toilet seats, but now this self-professed germ freak is changing her attitude. She says paper toilet shields help your head more than your bottom, and those who hover often just leave a mess for the next person.