As we slide down this slippery slope to Election Day, it appears that this election may be too important for the voters to decide, as there seems to be no one candidate in the lead. The big guns of the two parties are now marshalling their forces to manufacture every vote they can.

The time for reason and logic are way behind us now. The time for a civil debate of the issues is long gone, buried under a bog of mud and slime. Other than the Red Sox reversing the curse, there has been no long anticipated ‘October Surprise’, which would give the average voter a legitimate chance to come out and toss the election one way or another with little or no conviction. No convenient terrorist attack, no Osama Bin Laden beheaded on the White House Lawn, No photographs of a coked-up George Bush machine-gunning fleeing Texas sharecroppers with his National Guard jet fighter.

Election 2000, The Sequel: “Steal it, Fair and Square!”

Karl ‘Rasputin’ Rove and his political Inquisition partner Dick Cheney realize they are going to have to steal it fair and square.

However, the Democrats are not going to sit idly by and allow the forces of the Dark Side to walk away with the most important prize in the history of the world, namely the White House and the power that goes with it. There will be no limp-wristed eleventh hour attempts such as the universally mocked ‘Mike Dukakis rides a tank episode’. Senator John Kerry didn’t kill people years ago and forget all about it.

The taste of political blood is in his mouth and he likes it. No doubt images of swift boats careening down the rivers of ‘Nam are flashing back as the young gun lieutenant living on the edge comes to mind. Complain all you like about John Kerry’s record in South East Asia, but he didn’t back down then and he’s not backing off now. A John Kerry Corps will be in the streets and at the polls on November 2nd, armed to the ideological teeth and looking for a fight.

Caught in the cross- fire will be the hapless and helpless voter. The first volleys have already been fired.

Forget the Red Sox, Is There A GOP Ballot Box Black Box?

What we can expect next Tuesday is the worst; a winner take all political knife fight, the tip of the blade poised on the throat of the electorate.

Up for controversy first is the technological fact of electronic voting machines. These are ATM like devices that will account for about 30% of the votes next Tuesday. Given the notion that computers are everywhere, it seems natural that their use could only streamline the system and reduce nasty stuff like hanging chads and butterfly ballots. But there are some problems with the system.

Walden O'Dell, chief executive of Diebold Inc., a major supplier of many voting machines has made no secret of his doing everything he can to get the President reelected. A sure conflict of interest seems to be present here, and it gets worse. Voting machine manufacturers are not allowing anyone to inspect the integrity of their systems as they fear industrial espionage and the like. There is also no protection from any sort of hacking, or against a tech from simply tampering with the machine and its record of votes.

Manufacturers are fighting attempts to allow machines to issue a printed receipt of the vote, a so-called paper trail. Without this paper trail, a recount in any close or contested election is not possible. The election official will have to take the word of the machine.

While the state of Nevada requires a paper trail, Georgia and Maryland do not. Monday in Florida, a federal Judge threw out a lawsuit requiring the state to issue the paper records, claiming no Constitutional grounds and also saying that touch screen machines ‘provide sufficient safeguards’.

Even so, the voters may not get close enough to a poll in any case.

Hey, Ho! Where’d You Go, Ohio?

The Columbus Dispatch has reported that many registered voters in Ohio have been getting telephone calls from bogus election workers informing voters that their precincts have changed or their polls have been moved to a different location. This scam is designed to kill votes in certain areas. Dozens of voters called the Board of Elections to report the calls. One wonders how many hundreds (or thousands) didn’t get the word and will be wandering willy-nilly across the political landscape come election day, unable to cast a vote.

Of course, a voter may arrive at the polls on Election Day only to discover that he or she does not exists. In several battle ground states republicans are being accused of simply destroying democratic registration forms. Arizona based Sproul and Associates, a consulting firm hired by the Republican National Committee has come under investigation in Oregon and Nevada and under fire in West Virginia and Pennsylvania . It is alleged that the canvassers the company hired were told to register only Republicans, and ‘get rid of’ any forms completed by Democrats. One Minneapolis hire quit after being told that if he registered democrats he would be fired.

Nathan Sproul, former chief of the Arizona Republican Party and Christian Coalition branch office, denies his company’s wrong doing. The RNC has paid Sproul and Associates $500,000 since July.

The RNC has complained that Democrats are behind these accusations Spokesman Heather Layman responded that Democrats operate to confuse declaring that their strategy could be reduced to the following slogan: “If no sign of voter fraud exists, make it up, manipulate the media into covering baseless charges and spread fear.”

But voters may be disqualified in the courts as well. The Ohio Republican Party has formally challenged the authenticity of 35,000 voter registrations across 65 counties. The contested registrations are voters with incorrect mailing addresses on their voting records.

Local election officials have until October 31st to investigate the charges, and are struggling to meet the Halloween deadline. Many democratic organizations have registered more than 600,000 new voters in Ohio alone, many with forged signatures, faked names, and other bogus information. The RNC seems to be taking no chances.

It’s Poll-Watcher-Palooza, Folks.

But even if the voter runs these gauntlets, he or she now has one more obstacle ahead, this one human and not administrative. Both Democrats and Republicans in many swing states have hired thousands to monitor the election. Most will be paid $100.00 to watch the voters themselves. From Arizona to Wisconsin election officials are preparing for a herd of politicos who will be challenging the authenticity and qualifications of voters them selves. Most states have just such laws in place, so these polling police cannot be kept away, but until this year they were rarely and seldom used.

Officials are terrified that Election Day polling activities can be slowed down for hours, with many voters discouraged or intimidated and frightened away. The Republicans claim they are there to weed out the bad voters, the Democrats claim they will be present to protect them.

These challengers will have the right to check if voters are over 18, US citizens, and a resident of that particular county for the required time.

And the nightmare gridlock could just be under way with weeks of recounts, court battles, and confrontations erupt. It seems that no matter the outcome, this election will never really be over.

Trick or Treat? Halloween Numbers Are Scary!!!

Since the end of the Democratic convention the poll numbers have closed ranks and refused to be moved. Here at Alt we track a dozen individual private sector and University polls, and given an occasional anomaly, the conclusion in the numbers is consistent. The Rasmussen Report, one week before the election, shows an astonishing 47.8% for Bush; an identical 47.8% for John Kerry with 1.5% responding ‘other’ and still 2.9% not sure.

The Democracy Corps Poll reports John Kerry slightly ahead with 49% versus George Bush’s 47%. A look to Reuters/Zogby gives an excellent example of a political ‘flip flop’ showing Bush in the lead with 49% to John Kerry’s 46%, but factor in the usual 3% or so margin of error and the poll becomes moot.

As they used to say in Chicago, vote early and vote often!!

But movies are the reality here and I’ll just walk you through what’s showing, offering a helpful hint or two to assist you in making your choices. New this weekend is Birth, an odd little entry in the psychological thriller sweepstakes that has very few thrills and hardly any psychology. Nicole Kidman’s husband dies while jogging. They are upscale Manhattanites with a tony address. Ten years later, a sweet little boy, all angelic looking, arrives to interrupt Kidman’s elderly mom’s birthday party. Mom is played by the always-solid Lauren Bacall. The boy announces he’s the incarnation of Kidman’s dead husband. “I’m Sean,” he says, and the movie rolls out from there. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t roll out much of anything. An attempt to reason with the kid fails. A talk with his father fails. Soon Kidman, who is set to marry a new husband, ludicrously believes the child and agrees not to marry Joseph, and ends up sharing a warm bath with the tyke. (This sequence got hoots of derision at the screening at the Venice Film Festival when the movie was shown). Anyway, Birth, which is directed by Jonathan Glazer who made Sexy Beast, isn’t much of anything. It isn’t clever, scary, or witty. Everyone talks in low tones and in clipped sentences. It’s all so portentous that it becomes pretentious. The ending is a crock of Halloween hooey. Avoid this one.

I (Love) Huckabees is a misguided mess, the kind of quirky muddle that plays mostly like rejected scenes from Being John Malkovich. The plot is pointlessly goofy and hopelessly lame. Suffice it to say that an environmentalist who plants trees in parking lots wants to stop the Huckabees chain of superstores from opening a mega-store in some marshland. The guy is played by lackluster actor Jason Schwartzman who looks more simian than anything else. He experiences some odd coincidences involving an African immigrant, so, looking for an explanation, he goes to see a pair of existential psychic therapists played by Lilly Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman, neither of whom are funny for one split second. Tomlin does her usual tired old dithering ditz routine and Hoffman sleepwalks his part wearing a Moe Howard wig that only he could have thought was funny. Mark Wahlberg is around as a one-note, always-yelling, moronic firefighter, thus killing his fading career once and for all. Throw Jude Law into the mix as a Huckabees executive and Naomi Watts as a commercial model for the super chain and you end up with an offbeat blob of a tale that lacks coherence, energy, or a mind of its own. David O. Russell directs as if he’s seen every Marx Brothers movie and forgot the good parts.

As you read this week’s issue of ALT you might be able to catch a true masterpiece at the North Park Theater. The folks at the Dipson Chain told me the film will then be moving downtown to the Market Arcade for another week’s run, so catch it where and while you can. The movie is Federico Fellini’s classic La Dolce Vita from 1960; simply put, one of the greatest movies ever made. Marcello Mastroianni plays a tabloid journalist up to his eyeballs in sleaze and cheese. He’s bored with all the wild parties and is looking for some explanations for his lot in life and maybe an understanding of where he’s heading. This is a newly restored print of La Dolce Vita, and when you see sex goddess Anita Ekberg dancing in the Trevi Fountain, you’ll know why the film’s called “the sweet life.” Don’t miss this chance to see a truly great movie the way it was meant to be seen.

Director John Waters is up to his old tricks with A Dirty Shame, a sex-filled romp about a repressed housewife who gets conked on the head and turns into a sex fiend, only to be confronted by her town’s self-anointed sex police. The madcap movie is all over the place and the gags are hit and miss, but even scattershot Waters is better than no Waters at all. Starring Tracey Ullman, Selma Blair, Johnny Knoxville, and Chris Isaak.

In my Toronto Film Festival story I highly recommended The Motorcycle Diaries, a chronicle of Ernesto Che Guevara’s 1951 trip with his best friend (both in their early 20s) through South America before Guevara became the “Che” of the revolutionary banners. The movie, from Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles, has good performances from Gael Garcia Bernal as Che and Rodrigo de la Serna as his medical student pal. Guevara learns a lot about the haves and the have-nots on his journey, thus formulating his future writings and teachings. An entertaining and interesting road trip.

As also previously noted, Maria Full Of Grace is the only – you read that right – ONLY, movie of the past two decades that I viewed without once checking my watch. It’s that good. This tale of poor Colombia women who become drug mules only to be trapped in New York City is both shocking and cautionary. Brilliantly acted by Catalina Sandina Morena as the primary drug courier, the film, written and directed by Joshua Marston, is very nearly perfect. It will anger you, sadden you, and hopefully, enlighten you.

I like actors Ben Affleck and James Gandolfini, so it’s painful to watch them in the excruciatingly unfunny Surviving Christmas, which arrives too early to matter much for the Christmas season. Affleck plays a wealthy guy alone at the holidays who rents out a family with whom he can spend time at Christmas. A comedy without laughs is the worst kind of gift. Instead of hanging the stockings on the fireplace with care, somebody should have hung the director Mike Mitchell and his four screenwriters without care.

Sarah Michelle Gellar, who’s only noticeable talent is survival, is the star and heroine of The Grudge, a remake of the Japanese horror film Ju-On: The Grudge (2003) by Takashi Shimizu, who also directed this newest version, which was rushed into theaters. The movie follows some hapless Americans in Tokyo (Gellar, Jason Behr) who end up in a house in which strange things happen. There are limited shocks (except the silly jump-from-behind-a-wall kind), and there is no discernible style.

Murder in Green Meadows tells the story of Thomas Devereaux, an architect and contractor who has just finished a development in Green Meadows, Illinois. He and his wife Joan have just moved into the original model home. They become fast friends with their neighbors, Carolyn and Jeff Symons. Their interactions reveal the personality quirks of the four characters. Under the perfect middle-American exterior, some troubling questions remain. The dark humor and sinister suspense are somewhat reminiscent of the new television drama that has become somewhat of an overnight sensation, Desperate Housewives. Murder in Green Meadows features Lauren Bone, Ian Lithgow, Kristen Kos, and Paul Todaro.

The performance runs from Friday October 22 at 8pm to Sunday November 14 at 2pm. Ticket prices range from $24-$52 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 716-856-5650 or 1-800-77STAGE or online at www.studioarena.org.

Flag tatoos. Flags on your mom's car. Flag pins on the label of your boss' jacket. People who took their poodles for a patriotic haircut. An entire industry was created around the sudden demand for flags. Companies jumped on the bandwagon with thickly patriotic-sounding promotions and products.(Jeep branded it's new car Liberty, for instance; it was originally going to replace the Cherokee. Internally, before 9/11, it was called the "KJ platform.")

But why? Why were the majority of us thickly sarcastic of our government, our country, and patriotism in general on 9/10/2003, and then on 9/12/2003, we turned into a bunch of flag-waving head-nodders?

Fear.n Fear is the reason.

Everyone was afraid of the next House Un-American Activities Committee like we had in 1977. No one wanted to be accused either socially or legally of being a potential terrorist. Critics nation-wide suddenly felt fearful that their neighbors would turn on them. Innocent people were rounded up and put into a concentration camp (ala Camp X-Ray/Camp Delta). (The are still there, by the way, after over two years of being wrongly imprisoned.) We freely let the freedoms that we claim to hold dear be violated and walked all over, the freedoms this country was founded on, the freedoms that just over 200 years ago men fought to gain, because we were afraid. We The People bent over and took it up the ass.

So now things are quieting down. We can come back out and start looking at the government objectively again. We don't have to stand "shoulder-to-shoulder." The shock of this "unprecedented" event (which had been preceded by other events, throughout our nation's history) has finally worn off.

And another thing that has been worn off by time and nature are all the little flags that had been mass-purchased. Surprise, that 5 dollar flag didn't hold up very long. Actually, it probably held out longer than the purchaser's feigned patriotism.

So now there's a new, more-patriotic-than-thou movement. People dug out and blew the dust off the US Flag Code, and are now angry at all the worn and torn flags everywhere, pointing the "Look! He's not really patriotic!" finger at any person who hasn't replaced his flag. Now either:

A. Holy shit, they are still scared of HUAC returning from the dead.

B. They really are that anal and patriotic.

C. These people really need to get a life.

D. All of the above.

I mean, they are missing the whole point. All of those flag wavers were never patriotic in the first place. If they were, they would have had the flag on their SUV BEFORE they felt that having it was a necessity in order to fit in with all their yuppie golf buddies.

There are a few misconceptions that I'd like to discuss about the flag code. It's not a law. It's a code of etiquette, just like keeping your elbows off the table. Its proper manners to fold the flag in triangles, but if you fold it up like a beach towel and keep it in your garage until the next Independence Day, then who cares, really?

But these people care--because there IS such a thing as a flag code, and they have nothing better to do than try to police it.

Let's talk about flags.

A flag is a symbol. A flag is not the thing it represents.

Just like my signature does not represent me. If you burn something with my signature on it, or tear it up, or stomp on it, I will still be here the next day. (And I'd probably laugh at you, actually.)

It's the same thing with a flag. It's a piece of cloth.

This is the problem with symbols; people start valuing the symbol more than the symbol's meaning.

The most patriotic thing that we can do is keep our government in check. If anyone actually took the time to READ the Declaration of Independence, or any other parts of the US Constitution beyond the Bill of Rights, you'd know that's exactly what we are supposed to do. We aren't supposed to ask the government how we should act, we should be telling them how we want to be governed.

Sigh.... VOTE... VOTE... VOTE!!!

EVERY SINGLE LIBERAL IN THIS COUNTRY WHO IS OF VOTING AGE BETTER GET THEIR ASS TO THE VOTING BOOTH THIS YEAR AND GET THIS ASSHOLE OUT OF THE WHITE HOUSE. Going out and raging in the streets after the election results didn't go the way you had hoped because you were sitting on your hands November 2nd doesn't do one lick of good.

You want activism? Why? Because you like the sound of looting and raging against cops? You want to take direct action, you get your ass to that goddamn voting booth and do something that actually matters, because to the guys in the limos who you are shouting at, you are just riff raff who's opinion doesn't really matter. Because you didn't vote.

The conservatives have us beat, because they view it like a fucking mission from god to go hit those switches. Well, now you have a fucking mission. I'm not asking you to Rock the Vote or some MTV bullshit.

Get educated about it, make the wise decision. I don't care if you decide the best judge in your area ISN'T the guy who's waving the donkey flag. Just get in there and vote. Vote with wisdom, vote with caution, and goddamn it, encourage other people to do the same. You don't have to get into politics and CONVINCE anyone WHO to vote for. But you should certainly convince people TO vote, and moreover, make an EDUCATED vote.

And you should start right fucking now.

This investigation was, not surprisingly, obstructed by HUD. Freedom of Information requests were returned with incomplete information. One person familiar with problems in the Section 108 program told Alt that a similar request filed by Jim Heaney of The Buffalo News also went nowhere.

A Tale of Two Cities – Hoboken and Buffalo According to a Department of Justice press release, in June of this year, Hoboken, NJ based developer Joseph Barry, “… pleaded guilty to making cash payments totaling $114,900 to former county Executive Robert Janiszewski, in connection with federal and state funding for the Barry company’s Shipyard project in Hoboken, U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie announced.”

This case also involved abuse of the Section 108 program. Barry was guilty of making a large cash kickback, a bribe to a friendly, generous politician. What if he had instead, funneled payment through legal sources such as campaign contributions, political fundraisers or even one of the new fangled 527’s that have been spewing political vitriol across America’s TV screens since the so-called McCain-Feingold reform?

The most damning evidence that the Feds were able to obtain was a “payoff list” of bribes that Janiszewski had accepted. Janiszewski, then cooperated with the investigation by wearing a wire. Like Masiello, Janiszewski’s inner circle included boyhood friends who encouraged this sort of “old boy” network. But the question remains, if the bribes Janiszewski received, were redirected into the form of legal campaign contributions, would anyone have been the wiser?

According to our sources, one of Tony Masiello’s longtime political supporters, Harry Williams, had failed to repay, as of last year, a $600,000 Section 108 loan that had been awarded to his restaurant, Harry’s Harbour, as of last year.

Although Williams had supported the political campaigns of the Mayor, such contributions are, in no way, to be construed as bribes. Would that money have been better spent on another business with no ties to the Mayor? Perhaps, but we’ll never know. Will there be any repercussions for Williams failure to pay on the loan provided through his friend’s political influence? Apparently, not.

Another similiarity between the Masiello Administration and the Hoboken story is the questionable redirection of 108 funds into pet projects. In the case of the Pillar’s Hotel project, it was obvious that the City would be stuck with millions of dollars in bad debt. Rather than rule that the loan was in default, over $300,000 was provided to the company to help with “corporate rebranding.”

In the case of the Pillars Hotel, there was major political pressure to keep the cash trough filled because of its association with the much ballyhooed “Buffalo Medical corridor.”

Including both private health care providers such as Kaleida and the formerly public facility of Roswell Park Cancer Institute under the aegis of the government-sponsored Medical Corridor initiative set the tone for the continued taxpayer investment in a money-losing private business.

In Hoboken, the effort to go over-budget for friends was also there. Again, it’s doubtful that this would have raised any eyebrows had it not been for the existence of a payoff list. Think: political contributions good. Bribes, bad.

The Department of Justice in outlining another case of Section 108 abuse stated that, “…An additional $1 million Economic Development Initiative grant was awarded by HUD to the Hudson County government. HUD originally earmarked the funds for use in a proposed hotel in Jersey City, but through a request by Janiszewski as county executive, the money eventually went to an already approved Section 108 loan guarantee application for the Shipyard project.”

In wrapping up the Government’s successful prosecution of Barry, U.S Attorney Christopher Christie stated that, “This is a very satisfying result for the government. Political corruption is a way of life in Hudson County, and we are determined to put an end to it. Using his considerable resources, Mr. Barry helped corrupt the corruptible and added further to the criminal atmosphere that exists in Hudson County government.”

Of course, political corruption appears to be a way of life here in Buffalo, as well. It appears, however, that politicians and favored developers are on the same page here, and that page is not a detailed payoff sheet that will lead to an open and shut case for Federal investigators. As long as Tony Masiello remains a staunch supporter of Gov. Pataki and his anti-labor initiatives with the Buffalo’s Control Board, it is unlikely that Tony and his cronies will find themselves in the same sort of hot water that cooked their counterparts in that other paragon of civic ineptitude, Hoboken, NJ.

Sideways is slowly working its way to a theater near you. The release studio, Fox Searchlight, is letting word-of-mouth build and will open the movie wide some time this autumn. Ray, on the other hand, will have opened when you read this review and you are well advised to head for a theater and see it for the reason mentioned; Foxx is superb.

Regarding movies, a terrific stretch of acting can wake even the most desultory audience members out of their slumber. Bad movies are still bad, but the suffering is lessened when a performer latches onto a character’s quirks and runs with them. Banal becomes boisterous. Ray might not be everything director Taylor Hackford believed he was making, but Foxx goes so deeply inside the man and his music that he and Ray Charles seem to be one unique person.

Foxx’s stunning, occasionally humorous, often daring, and always honestly felt performance is the stuff of Hollywood legend. He’s that good. A skilled pianist and music-maker in his own right, Foxx honors Charles with his keyboard work. And in a smart decision, Foxx doesn’t sing on the soundtrack, but lip-syncs to Charles’ foot-stomping vocals on hits such as “Unchain My Heart, “I Got a Woman,” “Georgia On My Mind,” and “What’d I Say.” When he isn’t singing, Foxx easily shifts from song to dialogue with a grace and believability that suggests he’s channeling Charles instead of mimicking him. He also avoids faux acting notes, never reducing the singer’s hardscrabble childhood to tear-jerking silliness. Instead, Foxx gets close to the bone, cutting to the solid emotional core of Charles’ life story: his dirt-poor Georgia roots, his blindness from glaucoma around the age of seven, his marital infidelities, his battles with racism, his 20-year heroin addiction, and his ruthless business dealings. Early in his career, after one music promoter stiffed him in the cash department, Charles insisted that he be paid in singles, thus being able to count his pay without worrying about being cheated.

From his birth in 1930 to his recent death from liver disease, Charles was a tough customer and a handful to both raise and live with. His mother, well played by Sharon Warren, took in laundry, and no matter how difficult times were, she never coddled her son, even after he became blind, believing as she did that he needed to experience life as it rolled out. Using flashbacks that sometimes get away from director Hackford, the movie never hesitates to reveal the roughness of Charles’ existence. He saw his brother drown in a tub of boiling wash water. When blindness overtook Ray, his mother insisted he lean on his other senses. These moments give the film a harsh reality, but lets us know why the older Charles rarely offered trust to others and never, ever, used a red-tipped cane or a guide dog. The flashbacks have impact, but there are too many of them and the framing of the film gets fragmented. Hackford, director of An Officer And A Gentleman and La Bamba among other works, crams an awful lot into the movie’s 152-minute running time. Unfortunately far too much of it deals with what would be considered “early” Ray Charles and not enough flows about the successful period of the singer’s career, the years when he was an icon. Weirdly, the film ends with a jolt. Suddenly it’s over and there are title cards to report on what seems like 40 years of Charles’ amazing life. This is absolutely unsatisfying and raises key questions about the movie. Should there have been less material about all the women in his life? The point that he cheated on his wife is made and understood. The heroin addiction sequences seem endless and a tad goofy. There were moments when it actually seemed as if Hackford made the dumb decision to shake the camera to represent drug mania. Either that, or the special effects are so amateurish that it looks as if the camera’s being shaken. Where the movie scores high is with the scenes of Charles and his music, as when he’s on the road making a name for himself playing vibrant jazz in Seattle, and, as mentioned, demanding that singles comprise his payment. Charles, who brilliantly blended the blues and gospel music to become the genius of soul, also had the savvy intuition to become a negotiation genius. He has a rigid toughness and a genuine, almost sublime, understanding of his worth. The sequence where he gets rid of his powerful mentors at Atlantic Records (Jerry Wexler played by Richard Schiff and Ahmet Ertegun played by Curtis Armstrong) and replaces them for a new label (ABC-Paramount), so he could own the master recordings, is solid stuff.

As for Foxx, watch him as he shows how Charles could flash a childlike smile or hug himself with joy to mask the harshness found in his personality. You admire both Foxx’s acting and the fact that Charles has goals he was determined to achieve. The rest of the cast is equally up to the task. Charles’ wife Della Bea, beautifully acted by Kerry Washington, had to endure the pains of being married to a man who slept around and around and around. Charles loved women, and he could tell what kind of body a female had by fondling her wrist. Regina King is fantastic as Margie Hendricks, the tempestuous backup singer Charles had sex with and then discarded. The weaknesses in Ray are the result of a screenplay by Hackford and newcomer James L. White that occasionally wallows in trivial cliches and the feature runs on too long or seems to because of the aforementioned emphasis on drugs and sex. Fortunately, the music breaks through and Foxx’s stirring performance captures just enough of Ray Charles to make the movie accessible and entertaining. The first time you hear Charles’ singing, you can’t help but appreciate the sounds, and if you listen to the lyrics, you’ll hear wonderful stories in those songs. The film pulls you in right away. Its weaknesses with a surfeit of biographical cliches are greatly overcome when it dramatizes Charles’ musical influences. When Ray examines the changes in Charles’ style and how his fans reacted to these changes and delighted in them, when it exalts in the glory of his music, it soars.

"Partisan, biased material marketed as 'news' is increasingly contaminating our airwaves and democracy," said Rep. Slaughter. "Our democracy depends on an informed electorate. The media is crucial to supporting the free exchange of ideas and providing thorough coverage of the important issues facing our nation. The American public owns the airwaves. Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine would return integrity to the media and ensure that the American public is adequately informed on all points of view. I encourage all Americans to visit www.fairnessdoctrine.com to help us fight for this vitally important doctrine."

"Political discussion on our nation's airwaves has reached an all-time low," said Tom Athans, Executive Director of Democracy Radio. "Divisiveness and the politics of demonization and personal destruction dominate our airwaves and only serve to divide our nation deeper and deeper. For this reason alone, we should fully consider reinstating The Fairness Doctrine." Rep. Slaughter's bill, the Meaningful Expression of Democracy in America Act, or MEDIA Act, would reinstate the Fairness Doctrine to ensure that broadcasters "afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance." The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the Federal Communications Commission between 1949 and 1987 that required radio and television stations to provide all sides of important or controversial issues and give equal time to political candidates. The Reagan Administration then abolished the policy, with President Reagan vetoing a bipartisan bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress in support of it.

Since the abolishment of the Fairness Doctrine, the nation has seen a dramatic increase of partisan news sources "reporting" biased news with no consequences. Sinclair Broadcasting Inc., a giant media conglomerate with ties to the Bush Administration, recently announced it would air an anti-John Kerry "documentary" on all its affiliates, which reach 25 percent of the population. Only after experiencing intense public outcry, a boycott and sinking stock prices did Sinclair agree to scale back its plans.

"Sinclair and other broadcasters use the public airwaves free of charge," said Rep. Slaughter. "It's their responsibility to serve the public interest and adhere to the highest standards of broadcasting. Airing blatantly political programming is a breach of the public's trust."

According to a Media Matters poll, likely voters overwhelmingly support rules restoring "balance" and "fairness" to the airwaves. When asked if TV and radio stations that use public airwaves should be required to present both sides of an issue, 77 percent of respondents said they should. In addition, 74 percent of conservatives and 71 percent of Republicans say that TV and radio stations should be required to present the issues in a balanced manner. Another Democracy Radio survey showed that 90 percent of all broadcast hours on talk radio are fairly characterized as conservative.

Speakers will address the importance of these wetlands for water quality, flooding prevention, and wildlife habitat. They will hold the State Senate responsible their inability to pass the Clean Water Protection/Flooding Prevention Act, which would have better protected the area after recent rollbacks in federal protection, and call on the Senate to pass the legislation when they return to Albany.

For More Information: Sarah Kogel-Smucker, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, 917-414-2427

Directions from Buffalo: 402 Seneca Place, Lancaster, NY. Take Route 33 to Transit; take a right on Transit; take a left on Pleasantview Drive; take a right on Central Ave.; take a left on Seitz; take a left onto Seneca Place and follow to the end of the street.

Sarah Kogel-Smucker Legislative Associate/ Conservation Assistant Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter P: 518-426-9144 F: 518-426-3052

"One kind of evidence for that is that candidates never campaign as war candidates. Lyndon Baynes Johnson, who kept us in Vietnam, promised not to go to war in Vietnam. You can see that again and again. Candidates always campaign as peace candidates.

"Another kind of evidence is that antiwar movements -- popular opinion against wars expressed in marches and demonstrations -- has rarely succeeded at the outset. It's as the war grinds on and people become more and more angry and disillusioned with the war that popular opinion, popular resistance to the war begins to take its toll on the capacity of government to make war. So in a way the antiwar movement is being too impatient. They expect to win too easily."

So do we just keep doing what we are doing and look forward with bated breath for that fateful day? Hardly. What the current antiwar movement has done so far, she says, is express opinion. "They marched in large numbers, they rallied, and it was a kind of voting, voting in the streets. I think a successful antiwar movement has to act in ways that throw sand in the gears of the war machine. Resistance has to be more serious."

Sand in the Gears

What Piven means by "more serious" we can see in some of her published research with political scientist Richard A. Cloward, especially The Politics of Turmoil and Poor People's Movements, with its subtitle "How They Succeed, Why They Fail." "There are always lessons for movements in the history of movements," says Piven. "And the most important lessons have to do with the conditions under which movements exert leverage, exert power. This is not a question that is directly asked in most of the literature on movements." but Piven and Cloward do address it.

In every case they examine, movements found their concerns fell on deaf ears until they directly disrupted 'business as usual' either in government or business operations, and then they made significant gains. When unemployed workers sat in at relief offices, for example, local officials somehow found the money to pay them benefits. Also when participants created chaos on the local level, officials noticed at the state and federal levels and began to make concessions and even to advocate for the protestors' causes. Furthermore, and contrary to conventional wisdom, these efforts lost ground quickly as soon as they changed their methods to more acceptable means to achieve their ends: negotiating through representatives, working with candidates, helping them get elected, lobbying and so on. The first signs of popular discontent had been seen at the polls, Piven and Cloward point out, but the candidates elected as a result only paid lip service to movement sympathies. Once in office, their actions fell well short of needed reforms. This was true both before and after disobedient groups created crises in which they would be heard.

It remains to be seen what effect popular dissatisfaction with the war will have at the polls, but it should be abundantly clear by now that the work of the antiwar movement will not be over with this election, no matter who wins. And if history is any guide, it seems, things may have to get ugly.

"There are numerous ways in which popular resistance could express itself," Piven says. "You know, all the war material has to be shipped overseas. And it's working people everywhere who have to do the shipping, who have to do the hauling." Such methods involve great personal and political risk, as Piven acknowledges, but a "serious" antiwar movement must look at what works and what doesn't work. Get Out the Vote Nor is the lesson here that we should ignore elections. At times when voting was much more restricted, a direct challenge to authority could easily result in massacre, lynching or other violent or dismissive responses. But when poor and working class people are allowed to vote and do mobilize around their concerns and turn out to vote, Piven and Cloward found, governments were much more responsive to social movements. And under the present circumstances, Piven thinks a Kerry administration would be, too. She points out the recent surge in voter registration in communities of color, poor neighborhoods and among students. "Of course it could end up that we'll get a surge of several percentage points, Kerry will be elected, and if he disappoints these people by his policies, then the surge will recede and we'll go back to our fifty percent turnout rate."

Or the antiwar movement, along with the movements for healthcare, living wage and others, could raise the stakes and seize the opportunity to pressure the new administration into making real progress. With this in mind, she says, "I think we should work to get Kerry and Edwards elected, and after that, if Kerry and Edwards are elected, we should raise hell." Ricky Baldwin (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is an activist, organizer, writer and father of twins in Urbana, IL. His articles have appeared in Dollars & Sense, Z Magazine, In These Times, Extra!, and Labor Notes.

Born and raised in Philly, PA the easy mix and readily accessible comfort ability of the quiet suburbs and the howling city is at its worst soothing and familiar. I love Buffalo! I love her magnificent building structures and her tremendous political history.

What I do not understand however, is why Buffalo fails to love me, a converter to its norms, in return. And sadly, I find that it is no just my self.

For the past seven almost eight months I have been trying to earn and establish a life in this city I now love. And for almost thirty-two weeks I have been repeatedly let down and shut out. Finding employment, and more seriously a career, in this city is soul-wrenching and impeccable with its ability to breakdown will and character. My friends and my self, freshly educated and sufficiently experienced, are not good enough!

Many businesses, large and small, public and private, are harsh to the “lack” of experience offered by recent graduates. Our community service, academic honors, volunteer and internship activities are simply not enough to obtain an entry-level position anywhere here. Many alumnus agree with me when I say that we’ve applied to countless (although I have mine alphabetized) places, often for the most menial jobs and have been handed the awful hand of chastisement and the cruel verdict of not good enough.

What sparked my written concern, along with my own pains and frustrations, was overhearing a students’ conversation near Canisius College. A friend of hers, the student, was moving to Atlanta, GA where he had obtained employment after bouncing around in Buffalo since May 2003. This junior student, a native of Buffalo unlike her friend, was already planning to leave Buffalo because of “how hard it is to fulfill your career objectives” here.

Many young graduates from all the universities in Buffalo and her surrounding wardens have left or are planning their leave immediately upon graduation. We can not take it anymore! Mother Buffalo is merciless! We’ve been coaxed and conned into this loving relationship only to eventually be let go as an expendable casualty.

This is a sickness, rapid and disastrous to our city, her heritage, and her growth. Since I love this city, and am proud with my fondness, I am begging this city’s’ keepers to let us in! The young flourishing and definitely capable future of Buffalo are leaving or have left already. And with such resentment as to never return, not even to visit. Our continuity is at stake!

Soon there will be no one with respectable personalities and credentials to maintain our sacred establishments and individual treasures. Please, think twice and productively about your decisions and hiring processes and once again open the doors to your future.

Just check out the abridged edition of my textbook from McGraw-Hill, Retrofitting for Energy Conservation to see just how easy this "eXtreme technology" really is... The illustrations on this website are a real hoot + the first paragraph of each chapter excerpt will give you a whole new perspective on the construction industry...

The #2 concern of Americans is jobs. Energy conservation will put people back to work - in good, high paying jobs. I'll do that right now, without any government regulations at all. I have a simple Excel spreadsheet that does official annual building heating and cooling calculations called The Energy Auditor (This is a self extracting zip file, size 114.7 Kb, that extracts to a file named energy.xls) A simple building is already input so you can play with the numbers right away to see how powerful the program is. All the tables you need are included; no engineering or construction experience is required. It only takes a couple of hours to figure everything out and to create professional quality results. The spreadsheet has almost 400 U.S. cities already input; so anybody in America can do a fast, accurate energy audit. It also has every U.S. military base overseas input, so service members can save energy too...

Reducing energy use means the power grid won't have to be upgraded to avoid more blackouts; that'll save the $1 trillion that is needed to upgrade school buildings to just 1990 code standards. Reducing energy use means a better trade deficit, a healthier economy, energy independence, less Arab terrorism, lower long term interest rates, lower school and other taxes, lower inflation, a cleaner environment, higher corporate profits, higher wages, higher stock markets. Best of all, energy conservation means good, quality professional jobs all over the nation ~ when the only thing Washington can generate now are low paying jobs in the service industries...

Building energy efficiency enforcement will bring the U.S. into compliance with the Global Warming Treaty and that will gratify our European allies whom we alienated by invading Iraq. The U.S. military is the single largest user of energy in the world. Conserving energy will free resources for operations in Iraq. It will also make energy more affordable for all the third world countries struggling to industrialize. America grew up on $5/barrel oil ~ third world nations now are trying to become prosperous on $50/barrel oil. They need our help and leadership. There are so many other positives that it's criminal that the government has not ever considered the idea, or that industry has consistently lobbied against it...
I know, it sounds radical, but let’s consider it.

First: No one will argue with you about English and math being important. One in five people in Buffalo are functionally illiterate. People need to understand how to read and write. This will be a slam dunk. People need to understand how to compute numbers without the use of a calculator or an abacus. No one will argue these.

Second: You shouldn’t have too much difficulty selling the history or science aspect of education. Believe it or not, hands-on experimentation in a science lab actually does promote learning in the student. We have studied it relentlessly, and, when students have something to work on (a Bunsen burner, a live specimen, etc), it fosters intellectual growth in ways that pictures don’t. It will be a breakthrough in education.

In regards to history and foreign language, history adds exponentially to a student’s knowledge of the world. Foreign language classes not only add language understanding, but it may (we aren’t positive), but it may, add cultural empathy to students which helps in our growingly diverse nation.

“Why do they need to understand the world?” you’re still asking.

Well, figure this: students will be eighteen at some point in their lives, probably when they turn eighteen. And then they can vote. I think I want to know that the people who are voting know what happened during events like the great depression and Watergate, or even current events like the war on terror and Iraq.

Third: Art, Physical education, and (whisper as to not alarm too many people) recess and free time. I’m not sure how I can convince you, because I often wonder if people even understand what these elements of education are, but all of these are vital to cultivating growing children (both physically and mentally). I won’t dare mention after school activities. Oh shoot, I just did. These activities work in allowing a student to free their mind from the contained curriculum pounding at them from the state. They learn that not only does light consist of seven different colors, but it also burns your skin if you stand in it too long.

But education today forgets that.

Therefore, I have proposed this radical new educational plan in an attempt to revitalize Buffalo’s educational system. I know it is radical, even shocking, but for some reason I have a premonition that this could work.

But that’s just a request. I also have an idea for a “pirate themed” school. You’ll probably snatch that one right up.
Section 108: Enough to Drive Taxpayers Section 8

In the fall of 2002, outgoing Representative John LaFalce requested a report from HUD on the way that aid money coming into Western New York was being disbursed. In an Alt Press article about the Masiello administration’s myriad problems administering HUD from 2002, the red flag over Section 108 was raised:

“…A concern raised in the study showed problems with debt servicing. Section 108 loans are commonly used to provide loans to a third party to fund eligible Community Development Block Grant activities, but in Buffalo, there have been unusual problems with this program as well. The report stated, ‘The city allocated $17.807 million for repayment of Section 108 loans over the last five years. This represents 16.5 percent of its total CDBG funds, a level more than five times the national average.’

“Not surprisingly, a breakdown of these repayments shows that almost ten million dollars of that repayment was for economic development projects. Yet administration officials said that expenditures for the purpose of addressing ‘slum and blight’ would be included under the category of economic development.

“So, even though the study pointed out certain areas that were way off the charts, there were plenty of excuses as to why these apparent problems were not the problems that they appeared to be.” Debt Service: The Gift That Keeps Taking

When government gets involved in economic development, decisions on funding are not made from a business investor’s point of view. They are made from a public policy standpoint. The public policy of city government in Buffalo has long been based on the precepts of Tammany Hall. Political patronage is the prime directive; debt service is a tertiary consideration, at best.

So the legacy of political gifts became a ball and chain for future administrations. This legacy of the mayor and his cronies is one that will keep giving, or rather taking from taxpayers, for a long time to come.

Not long after the LaFalce report came out, Washington took control of the HOME HUD program away from the mayor. People familiar with HUD locally, who discussed delinquent Section 108 loans with us, said that this was a serious problem as well. A FOIA request that Alt Press filed was returned, showing a partial list of only good, current loans, despite the fact that we asked to see all of the loans.

That’s probably because words such as “delinquent,” “foreclosure,” and “bad” were not used, especially with friends of Tony. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to determine the status of many of these loans. We have been able to obtain a partial list of bad debt from last year through other sources, however. We’d like to share a few of the highlights and lowlights from this list, as the Masiello era begins to recede in the rear view mirror, along with the Super Zoo, the “Deathstar” Convention Center, and, of course, the Buffalo Byte Belt.

The Former Pillars Hotel - Med Inn Centers of America LLC

Alt Press has documented the problems at Roswell Park Cancer Institute that culminated in the collapse of half of all research programs at that facility. We showed how political patronage shaped the direction under two successive directors with strong Republican roots. A decision was made to start marketing cancer treatment at Roswell to wealthy out-of-towners. Experimental treatments long provided to the public at nominal cost by the government-funded institution were now available only to those who could pay. To the brain trust at Roswell, it made sense to ask the cash-strapped city to use precious federal aid money to build a hotel for families of cancer patients (or customers, in MBA-speak) on the campus of Roswell. Was there a big enough market in cancer patients to justify this investment? In hindsight, it was not. Of course, little market research was done in advance, and the hotel funding was obviously predicated on a best-case scenario.

Several years after the hotel was completed, the BERC was stuck with a bad loan of $9.5 million. Even while Med Inn should have been considered in default of its BERC loan, the BERC gave the group an additional three hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the purpose of “corporate rebranding.” It’s now a Doubletree operating under the Hilton Hotel chain, but the debt and the debt servicing, remains. The BERC should have foreclosed, but they apparently didn’t want to be in the hotel business. Why be in the hotel business when you can be in the “throw good money after bad” business?

In all likelihood, the mayor was only trying to support his friend, Gov. George Pataki, with this deal. Will this loss ever be leveraged into state money for Buffalo? Not if the governor’s recent budget vetoes are any indication.

Harry’s Harbour Place

Harry Williams is a longtime supporter of the mayor. His restaurant, Harry’s Harbour Place, generated $600,000 in bad debt on a section 108 loan. Harry’s Harbour Place is a lovely waterfront eatery, but this sweetheart deal doesn’t exactly have a mouth-watering flavor for taxpayers.

Market Arcade Restaurant Development Inc.

Entertainment and retail businesses are very risky, and that’s why the industrial development agencies have traditionally banned investment in these types of businesses. Of course, the BERC was not subject to this sort of discipline. Market Arcade Restaurant Development, Inc., generated $1.7 million in bad debt. The company belonging to Tony Masiello’s friend, Jim Cosentino, developed the Radisson Hotel downtown. But then, this company ran into difficulty. Tony did his part by not foreclosing on his friend, at the city’s expense!

Theatre Place Associates

Theatre Place is the Main Street building that houses the venerated Tralfamadore Café, which, until recently, was operated by noted jazz musician, Bobby Militello. Last year, Bill Huntress’s Acquest Development bought out the building from Theatre Place. Theatre Place Associates original principals included Masiello’s chief of police and boyhood chum, Rocco Diina. The city wound up eating two million dollars of Theatre Place’s bad debt. This wasn’t section 108, but it was typical of Masiello’s “economic development” philosophy.

“Charge Offs”

One practice at the BERC was simply to “charge off” bad debts without ever making a serious effort to collect the debt. The mayor employed this trick with a $10,000 gift to the Burton sisters whose film, “Manna From Heaven” was supported by local elites. One source involved with the film told Alt that this interest was in reaction to Vincent Gallo’s controversial film, “Buffalo 66,” which depicts Buffalo and its residents in a decidedly harsh light.

T.G.I Friday’s

Why a corporate chain, such as T.G.I Friday’s, would need half a million dollars in government funds to locate in downtown Buffalo is anyone’s guess. Maybe they noticed the vacant storefronts that used to house Burger King and McDonald’s. At any rate, they were in arrears for that amount of money. We couldn’t get ahold of anyone at corporate headquarters who could shed some light about the status of this debt, so we can’t say if it was or will ever be repaid. Why would the company bother paying it back? It’s not exactly like they’re under any pressure from anyone.

Crying Over Spilt Beer? Determined to provide tourists with a comfy brewpub in the center of the theatre district, Masiello & Co. recruited Empire Brewing to move into the vacated space. Although the structure of the loan was not as loose this time, when it came time to collect, M&T Bank was first in line. At last count, the city was still nursing a hangover of a half million dollars in bad debt.

Ellicott Mall

Millions of dollars were spent on rehabbing public housing complexes in Buffalo. The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, long a political patronage haven, was deeply involved. Almost three million dollars of Section 108 debt was run up with two separate private partnerships. These partnerships present an opaque face to taxpayers. This seems to be just another story of an unaccountable public authority soaking up money. The best that can be said is that the project to rehab these structures was the closest thing to a legitimate use of HUD funds as one could expect in Buffalo.

Office of Strategic Planning

The Office of Strategic Planning must now address much of this mess. Timothy Wanamaker, an outsider, was brought in to try to change the direction and philosophy of economic development in Buffalo. Wanamaker was out of town and unavailable for comment on this story at press time. We look forward to addressing these issues with him in the future.

Oh, but of course, just a day prior to the event, he doused the flames of outrage by saying he was donating all of that money to charity. What charity? Probably for AIDS research or something, he said in an interview with The Buffalo News on Sept. 29 (by the way, when accessing this week-old article I was told that I would have to PAY $1.95 for the rest of it, so I could not get a complete quote. Since when does The News start charging for week-old archived articles?! Even The New York Times isn’t that bad.). He also said he actually usually charges $300,000, making it look like we were getting off cheap.

Well la di da, Donald.

In my opinion, the so-called “financial wizard” and “real estate guru” didn’t deserve a dime for his speech. It only lasted about 35 minutes, began 15 minutes late, and it was full of clichés and poorly told stories of Trump’s life. My first-grade teacher could have gotten up on the stage to give a better speech about becoming a success (By the way, thank you, Miss Diane). Themes such as, “Work hard,” “have passion; love what you do,” and “never lose momentum” drew a yawn from this onlooker. Hell, I’ve been doing that for years. It lives and breathes inside of you. It’s common sense. It’s life.

It was disappointing to hear that Trump had been picked as the 2004 Student Choice speaker. Is this the person whom kids are really looking up to? For someone being labeled as so sharp and intelligent, Trump’s manner was somewhat pompous and Buffalo Bills game-day vulgar (no offense, fans, you should be proud. Trump couldn’t last in the party zone for a day, although he reminisced about playing catch with Dan Marino and John Elway here many years before). Trump came off as arrogant, greedy, and addicted to cold, hard cash. Sure, having money is nice, no one is denying that, but Trump couldn’t have possibly done more to represent everything that other countries see the United States as being: a complete corporate consumer bastard. Families and businesspeople from all over Western New York came out to see what they probably thought of as an excellent model for their children, and possibly themselves, to aspire to. Someone slick, worldly, talented, and, above all, successful. Ridiculously successful. So successful that he wooed UB into forking over 200k, when he was essentially speaking for free. I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t want my kid to roll into the business world with ethics such as “get even,” “if they screw you, screw them right back (I’ll leave the divorcees out of that one),” and “don’t forget a prenup.” The world is never going to get better if mentors are passing on those lessons.

The poor saps probably came out to hear The Donald’s tickling tales of being a star on his hit show, “The Apprentice.” Well, they received none of that until the end, during the Q&A. Trump seemed somewhat exasperated to answer questions about his show, but he did his best to tackle the mystery of Omarosah’s character. I believe that I left at that point.

I actually squirmed in my seat, and a good one at that, for most of the time, surprising myself to not feel thoroughly excited to see the stagnant blonde slab of hair and signature pink tie five feet away from me. Trump’s speech acted as a catalyst to my cold meds, causing me to space out every so often. I believe that I started drawing farm animals in the margin of my notebook and that I tied to figure out exactly how The Buffalo News’ photographer’s camera worked, and why he had to take about 1,000 pictures when I knew that Trump would look the same in all of them. Finally, at around 8:50 p.m., I packed up my gear and sprinted up the Alumni bleachers, hurrying to get to my car because there was another, far more interesting, show on in town that night. Oh yeah, anyone remember the presidential debates? I think that Trump’s comments could have made President George Bush’s responses sound like Albert Einstein.

I had already written about 400 words of the typical serene anti-Bush rhetoric that’s become commonplace. But it didn’t feel right. It wasn’t me. So now I’ve scratched that for this.

Here’s the deal, kids. Bush sucks. He’s a lying prick. He’s a cowboy, go-it-alone, counter-dependent, self-righteous bastard, and if you’ve been paying even a bit of attention, you should already know that. Never before have I seen an administration lie to the American people so blatantly or so often about such important issues.

We now know that Iraq was not at all linked to the events of 9/11. Just today, the BBC reported that Chief Weapons Inspector Charles Duelfer found no chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. And, we also know that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were not allies; in fact, they were rivals. As We the People realized that the exact reasons we went to war in Iraq were completely fabricated, the Bush cacophony of lies spat out a few other desperate excuses: Saddam Hussein was an evil man who deserved to be ousted, Iraq is the battlefront of the War on Terror, Saddam had the means to create WMDs, and Al Qaeda operative Zarqawi was living in Baghdad, with the last of these being the supposed proof of the link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

I’ll attack these lies in order, since apparently nobody else in the media or politics has stood firm to them.

Yes, Saddam Hussein was a corrupt motherfucker. He was, by all accounts, a sadistic murder. He was also in power for 25 years. The other four U.S. presidents who were in office during those years never felt so overzealous as to think it was that the God-given responsibility of the United States to pick and choose the leaders of other nations. (copy editor’s note: ???????? what about Reagan and Panama and Noriega???????) Yes, while Saddam hurt his own people terribly, if George W. Bush had said that he wanted to put American troops in harm’s way to fight for the freedom of the Iraqi people, he would have been laughed out of the Capitol during his State of the Union address. Don’t any of you understand? Okay, what if the EU attacked us to save us from the Bush regime? My bet is that quite a few members of the NRA would start some shit, guerilla warfare style. People who were baking cookies for the PTA meeting the day before would be “Freedom Fighters” the day after. Imagine how you’d feel if one of your loved ones was being treated inhumanely by their European captors. Or imagine how you soccer moms would feel if you lost one of your little goalies.

The more ignorant of you may think, “Yeah, well, that’ll never happen because our Army is so big and so well trained.” Shut up, you dumb fucks. Might doesn’t make right. If you could stop waving your flag for ten seconds, you’d realize that we would stand up and fight for independence from a brutal invasion, just like any other human being.

That’s why the claim that Iraq is the battlefront for the War on Terror is such a load of steaming crap. Iraq is the battlefront of the still-unjustified War on Iraq. Yes, there are people fighting a guerilla war in Iraq, and there are Al Qaeda operatives entering that country through its now undefended borders. But before we went there, many of these terrorists wouldn’t have crawled out of the woodwork. We decided on the battleground. We made, literally made, our own enemies. What country do you think the majority of the next generation of terrorists will come from? Yes, Saddam had the means and the capability of making WMDs. That’s not very shocking. After all, each of you, my readers, has the means and the capability in your home to make plastic, napalm, or other explosives (remember Oklahoma City?), but we choose not to. Just as, according to weapons inspectors, Saddam chose not to make weapons of mass destruction. By all accounts, he was apparently following the U.N. resolutions that the Bush administration claimed so ardently that he hadn’t. You remember those pre-war days, right? You know, the time when France was holding us back from our drunken fistfight of a war, and we scoffed at them and their fromage? We were boycotting French fries and mustard companies, for Christ’s sake! Oops, aren’t we a bit humbled now. Looks like France had foresight. Looks like maybe France was a better friend then we gave them credit for.

And then there’s that mother fucking Zarqawi. That little cretin and his pals wiggled their way into Baghdad, and the Bush administration is now using this as clear evidence that Iraq was in league with Al Qaeda. After all, there’s a beheading bastard of a terrorist in their midst! Get a clue, people. America had terrorists in our country before 9/11, and it’s likely we still have them lurking now. Most of the 9/11 terrorists carried a Florida driver’s license or ID card. Should we bomb Florida for enabling the enemy? Does the fact that they took up residence there mean that Jeb Bush is in leagues with the Al Qaeda? Of course not. (But I’m all for sending Jeb to Guantanamo, you know, just in case.) The really sad part of this whole thing is that the vast majority of Americans suck these lies down like they are gospel. Why? Why do we believe it? Why do we take it? Why? Because we are in goddamn denial. We don’t want to believe that we stormed into Baghdad and dropped bombs on innocent people — people who were already suffering, due to years of sanctions and misrule — for no good reason. We don’t want to believe that the most patriotic young men and women in the land are being killed and maimed because of bureaucratic blunders or intelligence mistakes. We don’t want to believe that a team of evil, self-righteous bastards in Washington looked upon the murder of 2,800 people on September 11, 2001, as a goddamn opportunity to take care of a little neoconservative business.

And, while we’re talking about body counts, here are some interesting facts for you. In the War in Afghanistan, do you know how many U.S. soldiers lost their lives since the beginning of the war? One hundred and thirty-seven. In Iraq? One thousand and sixty-four. Again, that’s 1,064 U.S. soldiers killed. Not missing, not injured, killed. You want to talk about injured? That’s 7,531, many of them permanently disabled.

And that’s just the US military casualties. Officially, the U.S. government isn’t keeping a body count of “enemy” casualties. That’s for good reason; according to iraqbodycount.net, the total number of Iraqi civilians who have lost their lives since the operation began is approximately 14,118. Add in our casualties, and you have 15,182.

More than 15,000 people are dead without any justification. When contrasted with 2,800, which monster is worse? The value of human life cannot be compared. The death of an Iraqi is just as great as the loss of a New York office worker.

There’s your shock and awe, people.

I saw the headline “Self-snuffing butts make debut” and thought it read, “Self-sniffing butts make debut.” Since dogs are among the strongest proponents of butt-sniffing, I assumed the headline heralded a new dog breed—maybe a dog that consisted of only an ass and a nose, or a dog that could shit out of its nose. The story was actually about an idiot-proof cigarette that goes out if it doesn’t get enough suckage. In any case, The Self-snuffing Butts would make a great band name (as would Women of Mass Destruction, if any unnamed aggressive female bands are reading).

Things that can be fixed: elections, toasters, cats.

Holy things that rhyme: Holy moly! Holy macaroni! Holy guacamole! Holy goddamn almighty! Holy frikkin’ canoli! Holy mother of monkey! Holy Apostles College and Seminary! Holy trinity! Holy taxidermy! Holy matrimony!

Perhaps my total lack of musical ability can be explained by the fact that all I remember about my elementary school music teacher is her fondness for the phrase “zip the lips.”

Words with two o’s in a row tend to be kind of fun: nookie, cookie, forsooth, kerblooey, whoops, stinkfoot, moonie, lagoon, peek-a-boo, oodles, kangaroo, poontang, goo, swoon, vamoose, goober, toot, croon, wookie, stinkarooney, booboo, pooch, smooch, taboo, groovy, hootchie-kootchie, cahoots, behoove, bazooka, boondocks, vroom, doomsday, boob, much-ballyhooed, kook, woof, doodoo, poopoo, doofus, oozing, buffoon, tootsie-wootsie, fumblerooski, frankenhooker, moo. See what I mean?

“With squirrel” means pregnant. Someone who looks like they were “hit in the face with a wet squirrel” is ugly. A patient who is “riding the squirrel train” has woken up in a dazed, desperate, tube-yanking, hospital-room-fleeing state of mind. Now you can’t say you didn’t learn anything about squirrels today.

How many people can put both “death squad” and “cheerleading squad” on their resume?

The world is divided into loaners and loanees, electors and electees, flirters and flirtees, ticklers and ticklees, scolders and scoldees, stabbers and stabees, killers and killees, biters and bitees, floggers and flogees, starers and starees, muggers and muggees, shushers and shushees, shavers and shavees, lickers and lickees, bombers and bombees, pissers and pissees, blackmailers and blackmailees, and motherfuckers and motherfuckees.

“I won the battle but lost the war” is a timeless concept but a horrible cliché. I’m trying to popularize a new version: “I won the banana but lost the monkey.”

Here’s another expression I’m trying to spread like a VD: “That was about as pleasant as a lap dance from a mime dipped in shit.”

We probably all know a couple or two whose matrimony has had more acrimony than some prison riots. When trying to adequately describe these living hells, we can find many useful expressions in the plays of Shakespeare. When speaking to your beloved spouse (and hoping to avoid the popular obscenities), you might shout out, “O curse of marriage!” In the middle of a drinking binge with a good friend who meant well but married badly, you could confide, with a compassionate nod, “Wedded be thou to the hag of hell.” (When offering comfort to wives, this expression can easily be changed to “jerk of hell,” “gentleman of hell,” or “dude of hell”). And if the man or woman of your nightmares proposes marriage, just pause, wink, and say, “I had rather be married to a death’s head with a bone in his mouth.”

In New York City, I once saw a punkish-looking bum perched in a garbage can. Given his circumstances, he had a great sales pitch: “Spare some change for white trash.”

The words of the week:

10) Barbecutionist 9) Plotz 8) Backsplash 7) Splashback 5) Diddlywhacker 4) Gonococcus 3) Swanky 3) Besmirched 2) Crap-happy 1) Pope-a-palooza

I’ve gone postal, and I’ve gone mental, and I’ve gone mad, and I’ve gone nuts, and I’ve gone nuclear, and I’ve gone crazy, and I’ve gone wacky, and I’ve gone bananas, and I’ve gone bonkers, and I’ve gone bugfuck, and I’ve gone batshit, and I’ve gone apeshit. However, I have never gone ape-poopy.

Wordluster Mark Peters wants to hear your thoughts, jokes, and questions about language, including favorite words, memorable goofs, trenchant observations, and other word-ish material. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and read his Wordlust of the Day blog at http://wordlust.blogspot.com

Nature stands mute, and most recognize that the forces of nature never have to apologize for death and destruction. Man stands before the carnage of his own creation and offers excuses and points the finger of blame squarely on the twisted wreckage of his violent actions, be they human or the inanimate objects of his rage.

When the war to end all wars ended, preparation for the next war began in earnest as man sought new and greater means of destruction. Our new age produced both the yawning mouths of ovens capable of consuming millions of fragile bodies and the unleashing of the secrets harbored by the atom. As the mushroom cloud ascended to the heavens, our gods nodded with approval. We were now on equal footing with nature, able to maim, kill, and destroy all that stood in our path. The secret was loosened and fled the opened lid of “Pandora’s Box.” Suddenly the whole world knew our secret formula for destruction, and nation after nation rushed to develop their very own version of how to compete with “Mother Nature.”

The promise of peace through the power of the atom proved as elusive for modern man as it did for the Greeks who developed the “Art of War,” and engaged in heroic legends of death by feat of arms as man’s destiny. I often wonder if a man feels more heroic being blown to smithereens or slowly bleeding to death from a sword thrust through his bowels or a spear protruding from his chest or a bullet ripping through the grey matter that was once a brain.

Our American leaders now look on everything as a war. We have the War on Drugs, the War on Fat, the War on Terrorism, the Iraq War, and Preventive War. One wishes that some bright bulb in the world or perhaps our own White House or Congress would declare a War on War.

The present administration unleashes the politics of fear on a populace that stands and waves the banner as the jingoistic mantras blare from the speakers. Watch as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney pump the crowds with their views of Armageddon and the evil of terrorists and then see the steel grey caskets draped in the flag of our country roll from the gaping bellies of military transports. As George W. and his neo-con legions search the elusive vapors for truth and justification for their invasion of Iraq, their chameleon explanations change quicker than most people change underwear. The preferred threat of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) has been discarded in favor of imposing democracy on this unwilling country, Iraq. I suppose, if our military kills enough of the Iraqi people, the survivors will embrace democracy, rather than dying and meeting up with promised harems of virgins in heaven. It is hoped that the Iraqi people accept democracy soon, as heaven has been rumored to be running out of virgins for all of the willing martyrs. Is there a place in heaven stocked with “boy toys” for the increasing number of women willing to blow themselves apart?

In a few short weeks, the American people will be given an opportunity to choose whether to stay the course of war with Bush, or seek a new direction from challenger John Kerry. Bush supporters are presented with an image of a man who walks a straight and narrow trail, never deviating from his chosen path. Kerry is presented as the “flip flopper,” a man who continually changes his mind. Bush, we are told, never changes his mind, even when presented with the evidence that his direction is flawed, and he is in danger of walking off a cliff.

Our last presidential debates between Bush and Gore were delivered on a sixth- or seventh-grade academic level. The promise of the debates this year between Bush and Kerry, in all probability, will remain at this level or lower. Will we give the thoughtful man or thoughtless man our attention and pause with due reflection regarding the course and direction we want our country to follow. The Road Map for Peace in the Middle East is shredded and has been declared useless by Ariel Sharon and the State of Israel. The promise of Perpetual War looks like a winner for the foreseeable future. The September 18 cover of The Economist shouts, “NO WAY TO RUN A DEMOCRACY.” The ensuing articles detail how many of our American democratic institutions have failed or are in danger of failing.

“As with so many of the other abuses in American politics, it need not be that way. Just as some states have bought good voting machines, others have redrawn their electoral boundaries in a sensible way. Iowa, for instance, allows an independent commission to set them. Redistricting can be fixed – and it should be. America’s devotion to the principle of democracy is admirable – but the principle could be far better honoured in the practice.”

None of us know when our horizon will reveal the distant shore that we seek or when we will finally step ashore to a land that balances reason with the nuances of emotion. Until that time arrives, we will have to continually adjust our compass settings lest we sail off the edge of the world.

Now, the mayor has a new plan to shut down a few more firehouses. Happily, this plan includes a nice piece of action for Benderson Development. They will get to swap an undesirable lot that McDonald’s vacated on Hertel Avenue for a prime parking lot downtown. When you think about it, doesn’t Benderson Development deserve to be rewarded for moving their corporate headquarters out of Western New York for the sunnier climes of Florida? Of course, they do.

Meanwhile, morale in the Buffalo Fire Department continues to suffer. Masiello has stuck by one of his patronage puppies, Michael D’Orazio, who is serving as an interim, make-believe fire commissioner, after the real fire commissioner, Calvin Worthy, stepped down to protest the Masiello administration and the control board’s attacks on the firefighters.

Casino Buffalo: Book Your New Year’s Reservations Now!

Did we get your attention? Good! Okay, so maybe Casino Buffalo won’t be opening until next New Year’s, but our sources tell us that negotiations are heating up for both the Buffalo Convention Center and the Aud. The Aud deal reportedly being considered would see the proposed Bass Pro Shop splitting the cavernous space with a Seneca casino. Alt broke the story that Bass Pro has links to the gaming industry in Las Vegas, last year. Although a Seneca casino in downtown targeting local gamblers continues to be a highly unpopular idea particularly with Citizens Against Gaming in Erie County and is even opposed by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, our mayor has demonstrated that he stands as a true profile in courage by continuing to place Casino Buffalo at the top of his list of priorities.

Although the Bass Pro/Aud casino has some strong support (even mayoral candidate Byron Brown has spoken out in favor of Bass Pro) and stands a good chance of receiving millions in taxpayer largess, would it really do as much as a convention center casino to destroy business in downtown Buffalo. After all, putting the convention center out of business would drain the local economy of millions of dollars.

Since this mayor has seen fit to do everything he possibly can to hurt the City of Buffalo, it probably makes more sense to stick the casino right in the heart of downtown like a dagger. One would hope that the mayor, the governor and the Seneca Tribal Council can come up with a perfect storm solution that will maximize the damage to taxpayers that a heavily subsidized Casino Buffalo will undoubtedly bring.

Stuck in Buffalo with the Sunbelt blues again In a recent editorial in the Sunday edition of The New York Times, titled “Getting to Average,” Henry Louis Gates, Jr., discussed the continuing problem of economic inequality facing black Americans. Gates, who is a professor at Harvard and a highly regarded intellectual found that the consensus in black academic circles is that, rather than paying lip service to the illusive goal of racial equality in this country, most have set their sights lower. “The fantasy isn’t that inequality vanishes; it’s that inequality in black America catches up with inequality in white America.” In this era of war, high oil prices, and uncertainty in capital markets the trend has been toward downward mobility as lower middle class jobs disappear, so this point is well taken. The example Gates uses to illustrate these lowered expectations, however, might give pause to power brokers in our own backyard.

“Recently, I asked a few experts on poverty in black America about how we might get to average. I heard a lot of deep breaths. When they picture a black America, they see Buffalo – a boarded up central city and a few lakefront mansions. The glory days for the black working class were from 1940 to 1970, when manufacturing boomed and factory jobs were plentiful. But when the manufacturing sector became eclipsed by the service economy, black workers ended up – well, stuck in Buffalo.” “A boarded up central city… stuck in Buffalo.” Sound familiar? Encouraging Tony Masiello to be our poster boy should help change this image, right? Sure it will.

“It’s my favorite restaurant; I love the salads.” “Comfortable and relaxing setting.” “Since the new owners have been here, it’s been wonderful.”

Menu:

Appetizers: * Raw Bar: Oysters, Clams, and Shrimp Raspberry Brie in Puff Pastry Dill/Shrimp Puff Pastry Lobster Cake Entrees: Grilled Breast of Duckling Roast Bell and Evans Chicken Breast Seafood Trilogy # Crispy Mango-Ginger Halibut Grilled Swordfish Steak Libations: Johnny Walker Black and Soda

* - Best of Category # - Best of Show

Allawi was indeed the European president of the Association of Iraqi Students Abroad. This job allowed him to travel widely and meet his fellow Arab nationalists. This is when he allegedly fingered student-traitors, some of whom were “denounced and punished” and some of whom were executed. The Tikrit clan of Saddam Hussein’s rise to power was a bad omen for nationalists, such as Ayad. He had a falling out with the strong man and fled the country. While in Britain in 1975, he resigned from the Baathist party. There is much evidence to suggest that anyone who failed to flee the country at that time became buried beneath it.

Cloak and Dagger Exile

Allawi sent himself into exile, first to Lebanon and then finally in London. He received his master’s degree in medicine in 1976, and his doctorate three years later. While in London, the first suspicious incident occurred. Three men broke into his London apartment and struck him several times with an axe. The attackers left Allawi, whose leg was nearly severed, for dead. The attackers were never arrested, but there is speculation that Saddam ordered the hit. Dr. Sadoun al-Duleimi reveals that “…Allawi was an important figure in the Baathist party. He knew a lot of things and passed them onto MI-6. That’s why agents from the Mukhabarat, the secret police, were ordered to kill him.” Whether or not this is true, Ayad Allawi seemed to get the message, and he dropped out of sight. He was back in the game in 1980, when the Saudi secret service helped him set up and run the oddly named Radio Free Iraq. This enterprise failed, but it maintained Ayad’s name on the active roster. It also helped get Allawi some business ties into the only game in town, the oil business, and it helped him put together his first fortune.

The Iraqi National Accord

In 1991, Saddam was chased from Kuwait and his fate appeared sealed. With the help of both British and American intelligence, Allawi organized the Iraq National Accord. This group’s main function was to attract former Iraqi military officers and other officials, with the aim being to oust Saddam in a coup d’etat. But the stubborn beast of Baghdad held onto power. The next year, with the Saudis putting on the pressure, the INA was requested to cooperate with the brand new Iraq National Congress, led by Ahmed Chalabi. Allawi and Chalabi were well known to each other, having attended primary school together. They were also cousins by marriage. Their work together is little more than a collection of embarrassments. They were trying to overthrow the Hussein regime with a series of car bombings and bungled coup attempts and armed revolts. Their cooperation did not last long.

The 1996 Debacle

Allawi was instrumental in helping the CIA in its worst operation since the Bay of Pigs disaster. After Chalabi failed to come up with a promised “people’s uprising” in Kurdistan, the CIA was ready to try again. The operation was in place in January 1996, after President Bill Clinton gave his approval. Sandy Berger, Clinton’s national security adviser, related that Allawi had achieved the support of local Arab governments. But overthrowing a madman is expensive. The CIA paid six million dollars, as did the Saudis and the Kuwaitis. The operation was scheduled for the end of June. But Allawi was eager to put his own mark on this possible success. A month before the attempt, Allawi leaked the story to the Washington Post. At about the same time, Saddam’s secret police in Baghdad had picked up one of Allawi’s operatives. Inside the beltway, little attention was paid to the Post story. But Saddam Hussein’s men were much impressed. They quickly convinced Allawi’s man to talk, and, on June 20, they began to roll up the opposition. Within days, about 30 disloyal generals had been executed, while 120 others had been arrested and tortured. It is estimated that 900 people were murdered in the purge that followed. Nothing was ever mentioned about the millions of wasted dollars. But no Americans were publicly involved, and the matter was swept under the black ops rug. But the future Iraqi prime minister was not yet finished with helping the coalition oust Saddam. He was the individual who tipped MI-6 to the fact that the weapons of mass destruction held the Hussein government could “become operational in 45 minutes.” In July 2003, Allawi was appointed head of the security committee of the fledging Iraq Governing Council. And this May 27, he was kicked upstairs to the office of interim prime minister. Given the chaos and disaster that he has inherited, perhaps this is the puppet strong man that the United States needs in power. Baghdad urban legends still surround the new prime minister. He has survived four assassination attempts. His dealings with captured killers have been ruthless in the extreme. It is rumored that, just a few months ago, Allawi personally shot six prisoners in a Baghdad jail cell.

The cities I visited for extended stays were Rome, Venice, and Florence, all in Italy, of course. My traveling partner and I also took a side jaunt to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower, which is actually quite impressive, and we went to Livorno to put our hands in the Mediterranean Sea. Saw Milan because our train to Paris from Florence had a lay-over for an hour. Ten days in Italy, overall. We were in Paris for five nights and then took the Eurostar Channel Train to London (150 mph through France, 100 mph in the “Chunnel,” and 80 mph in England. Six nights in London.

In fact, I’m writing this article from an Internet Cafe in the Earl’s Court section of London, near my hotel, the Ibis Earl’s Court.

The bottom line is this, Europeans may be concerned about George W. Bush and his war in Iraq, some more so than others, but as a continent, they have their own ways of living and thinking. I experienced no hostility of any kind and got the impression that most Europeans consider Iraq a tragedy, but it’s America’s tragedy. The Italians are lively and amazingly friendly. The French are justifiably proud of the beauty of Paris, and it is astonishingly beautiful. The British aren’t overwhelmingly happy with their Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who the left-wing press calls “Bush’s poodle.”

We spent a lot of time amongst “real” Europeans, although we did see the important sights in each city, but wanted to make sure we traveled away from the tourist traps. We mastered the metro systems in each city that had one.

Rome was surprisingly dirty. There is litter and graffiti, a 1960s and 1970s American experience, everywhere. There are discussions about it on television talk shows. Pedestrians have to watch out for zippy, noisy motor scooters, of which there must be hundreds of thousands. Traffic is chaotic and drivers park their Mo-peds and cars everywhere and anywhere they can. I loved the madness of it all.

Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” was playing at a movie theater around the corner from our hotel, the family-run Hotel Alimandi on Via Tunisi in the Prati district. The view from our window was of the Vatican Wall. Sitting on the sixth floor roof-top breakfast area (and what a great breakfast), you could see the the dome of St. Peter’s. The Pope was in town, but we missed his Wednesday show for the tourists. We went to the Colosseum and the Forum that day. I’d recommend the Alimandi to everyone. Not expensive, very clean, and with a great three-brother staff (Paolo, Enrico, and Luigi) that was always on hand to tend to duties.

Eating in Rome was something wonderful. The people love their cafes and pizzerias. Dinner starts at 8 or 9 in the evening and no waiter bugs you with the check. You can sit outdoors all night eating then thin-crusted, fresh as anything pizza and drink your esperesso and never be bothered. 10 o’clock, 11, nobody cares. For all the pasta and pizza they eat, the Italians are thin and healthy. Dessert was usually half of a fresh pineapple or a quarter of a watermelon. And don’t get me started on the gelato and sorbetto. Heaven!!

Venice is total magic. No other way to describe it. Once you’re there, you walk and walk and walk and enjoy every minute of it. No cars for three days. Although we did see St. Mark’s and the pigeons and all that, we also strolled the Rialto Market, tucked away near a canal, where the fish is so fresh, some of the catch is still jumping in their baskets. We stayed at the Hotel Bernardi on Calle De L’Oca, another family-run place, and highly recommended. The owner has bought a couple of other floors in nearby buildings so some guests get to stay in their own private suites away from the main hotel. We had one of those and it was terrific.

Florence meant the Uffizi (with it’s very important national collection) and the Accademia (with Michelangelo’s statue of David). Actually seeing the David statue is stunning. It is more powerful than any picture can capture. Our hotel was the La Fortezza, on Via Giovanni Milton, in a restored 1850s villa with retro furnishings and another superb breakfast. A great place away from the tourists. Our traditional Tuscan meal took place at Il Latina, where I had, among other delights, ribbolita - a tasty bowl of beans, spinach, broth, and day-old crushed bread. The communal dining experience at this hugely popular spot meant we shared our table with an elderly couple from Venice and two American couples, a homebuilder and his wife from Springfield, Missouri, and a 2nd-generation Asian-American newly-wed duo. It was a sublime eating experience. The food and wine kept coming.

In Paris, everyone who smokes will smoke everywhere they can, and that means anywhere. And most Parisians smoke. And eat in outdoor cafes. Buying a piping hot fresh baguette (a 3-foot loaf of bread) for 80 euros (90 cents) at 7 in the evening is grand fun. Saw the Mona Lisa at the Lourve, and she is also impressive, but the Lourve allows photographs and the tourists are like crazed barbarians, snapping their pix in an endless stream. The collection of Impressionist art at the Musee D’Orsay is astonishing.

We saw Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” in English with French subtitles in a tiny theater near the Sorbonne. The seats were the most comfortable in which I’ve ever sat. The audience was silent beyond belief. Cinema was their religion and the theater was their church. Our hotel was the very affordable Libertel Austerlitz in a great location near the Seine, but if you book, make sure you get a room away from the noisy street. Our room was in the back and quiet, but folks in the front couldn’t open their windows because of the traffic, and the place has no air conditioning. Our traditional bistro meal took place at Cafe Hugo in the Marais neighborhood under the apartment building where Victor Hugo wrote “Les Miserables.”

Once in London, our first evening in London meant traditional pub grub: roast lamb, biscuits and gravy, potatoes, peas, and warm brown beer.

The truth of the matter may be patently obvious to smarter Americans, which is most of you. Europeans like the U.S.A. and Americans, but they have their own views and lifestyles. Too much concentration on politics will only hurt people, not help them. The American government needs to open its eyes and ears to the views and cultural wants and needs of Europe.

And, come on, once you’ve seen Paris and its gardens, fountains, broad boulevards, and traffic circles, you know that no American city has every been designed as well or better

Charter school proponents appear to be prepared to use any means necessary to force through the creation of as many new charter schools in the City of Buffalo as possible. Nothing could be more important to this Republican-inspired movement than to obtain a willing ally in the office of Buffalo’s superintendent of schools.

After Buffalo Schools Superintendent Marion Canedo announced that she would step down, the need for a replacement for the post was obvious. Behind the scenes, however, political strategies were being planned. Alt has investigated Heidrick & Struggles, the executive search firm that is responsible for recommending her replacement and found that the firm’s close ties with the charter school movement raise questions about whether it will be able to be objective in its selection process.

Overcoming Last School Year’s Political Defeat The increasingly partisan nature of American politics was, of course, well reflected locally in this spring’s school board election. The stakes were high as charter school proponents sought a takeover of the school board. The push to create as many new charter schools as possible has the additional benefit (for charter advocates) of taking funds available to traditional public schools. Eventually, a tipping point may be reached in which public education in Buffalo will become private, for-profit education with public funding.

The jury on charter schools, at least in the City of Buffalo, is still out. The radical charter school supporters, represented by Chris Jacobs, did not carry a majority. While several of the new school board members were not opposed to charter schools, they were elected on promises of moderation and a commitment to improve public education, first and foremost.

Identifying and isolating weak points in the opposition is something that charter school radicals have proven adept at, though. New school board member Janique Curry found herself so overwhelmed by lobbyists that she chose to abstain from voting on a moratorium on new charter schools in the district. In the meantime, the school board voted in favor of several new charters in its Sept. 22 meeting. The additional funding requirements of these new charters will put greater financial pressure on Buffalo’s public school system.

Charter School Lessons

One of the great ironies of the charter school battle currently being waged against public education is that Buffalo’s school system experienced real reform under former Superintendent Eugene Reville. Buffalo’s creation of the magnet school system was admired throughout the country. Funding problems short-circuited these successes, however.

In the charter school world, though, the problem isn’t lack of funding; it’s the fact that private individuals and corporations don’t control the public monies that go into public education. The system needs to be privatized, as it was in California. The following story from the Sept.17 edition of The New York Times gives us one lesson about what can result from this sort of “funding reform.”

“The disintegration of the California Charter Academy, the largest chain of publicly financed but privately run charter schools to slide into insolvency, offers a sobering picture of what can follow. Thousands of parents were forced into a last-minute search for alternate schools, and some are still looking; many teachers remain jobless; and students' academic records are at risk in abandoned school sites across California. Investigators are sifting through records, seeking causes of the disaster, which has raised new questions about how charter schools are regulated.

“ ‘Until the Charter Academy went into its tailspin, few people predicted that these crashes could be so bloody, but this has been a catastrophe for many people,’ said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education at the University of California, Berkeley. ‘The critics of market-oriented reforms warned of risks with the philosophy of let-the-buyer-beware, but in this case, buyers were just totally hung out to dry.’ ” “Caveat Emptor” (a Latin phrase meaning “let the buyer be ware”) is a concept with which taxpayers in Buffalo might want to familiarize themselves as charter schools continue to sprout up like mushrooms, and the district seeks a new superintendent.

School Superintendent History 101: Dirty Politics Pays

After the unsatisfying result at the polls, the need to find a suitable replacement for the pliable, yet well-liked Canedo became increasingly important. It became so important, in fact, that M&T Bank CEO (and charter school advocate) Bob Wilmers took the unusual and somewhat suspicious step of offering to pay up to $100,000 of the new superintendent’s yearly salary. Predictable arguments in favor of Wilmers’ largess were trotted out in the local media. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. A bigger salary will attract a better candidate. Etc.

One need only look back on the bitter fight to remove former Buffalo School Superintendent James Harris to realize how politically significant the position of superintendent in Buffalo really is. Harris’ opponents dropped an artificial funding crisis was on his Harris. The Buffalo News took the unprecedented step of running leaked excerpts of his personnel file on the front page, top of the fold Sunday edition. The fact that several people in the Board of Education disliked Harris was all the evidence that was necessary to turn public opinion against him. The movement to remove him, we were all assured, was not racist. Furthermore, people who suspected a racial element in this character assassination must be “playing the race card themselves.”

Behind the scenes, what was at stake in the Harris crisis was control over the Joint School Construction Authority’s bonding. Harris, prior to his dismissal, was reportedly leaning toward Morgan Stanley. His opponents favored Salomon Smith Barney. Guess who wound up with the bonding contract? Maybe the most important color in this conflict was green, after all.

The “Struggles” for Superintendent: Making Buffalo School “Market” safe for the GOP?

So now that the search for a new CEO-type superintendent is underway, who has been charged with conducting the search? That task has been entrusted to Heidrick and Struggles, an executive search firm with close ties to the charter school movement. The nominating and board governance committee chairman for Heidrick and Struggles, Richard Beattie is also chairman of the board and founder of New Visions For Public Schools, a not-for-profit group that promotes charter schools.

The following is from www.newvisions.org, the website for Beattie’s group: “The (New York State) Board of Education requested that New Visions formally address the need to assist such schools (new charters) in recognition of New Visions' experience and expertise in this field. The Charter School Assistance Center will provide resources that will combine New Visions' decade of experience with additional research, making critical information and technical assistance services available to new school leaders, and others embarking on the road to creating, converting, and managing charter schools.”

Beattie’s devotion to the charter school movement raises questions about whether his firm’s search team will be independent and seek out the best candidate, regardless of his or her position on charter schools.

Heidrick & Struggles board member Robert E. Knowling, Jr., is also chairman of the New York City Leadership Academy, a not-for-profit program that helps train new public school principals and is funded by the Broad Foundation, another organization advocating charter schools.

Heidrick & Struggles’ energy and industry advisor Les Csorba is one of the founders of the right-wing attack group, Accuracy in Academia, served in the George H. W. Bush administration and was involved in Southern Baptist Convention coup that created a schism in that religion along political lines. The Southern Baptists basically excommunicated ex-President Jimmy Carter for being a Democrat.

Are this search firm’s ties to Republican organizations and causes something that should concern the parents of Buffalo school?

Philadelphia Story: The Search Team Responds

Nat Sutton and Ken Kring are members of the Heidrick & Struggles search team. Sutton returned our call and stated that he could make no comment on the search itself, since it is just getting underway. He dismissed the notion that Beattie’s involvement in the charter school movement would have any bearing on the outcome of his firm’s search. “We’re looking for the best qualified person for the job, and that’s it,” he said.

He cited his firm’s experience and professionalism as an executive search firm as being the only factors involved. “We’ve been contracted to search for the best candidate, but it will be up to the school board to decide whether to hire that person or not,” Sutton said.

Sutton said that his firm has conducted other school district personnel searches, particularly in Philadelphia. By changing the title of superintendent to “CEO,” the school reform commission in Philadelphia, led by political appointee James Nevels, practically guaranteed that Philadelphia would get a business-friendly, charter school proponent. The executive eventually selected for that job, Paul Vallas, has, to almost no one’s surprise, been a proponent of charter schools. In short, the example of Heidrick & Struggles’ search in Philadelphia does little to prove its independence from the charter school movement.

Conclusion: The Need to Articulate a Positive Alternative

Clearly, it is not enough for charter school critics to stand on the sidelines if they hope to foil the right-wing juggernaut that the charter school movement has become at its leadership level.

Aside from attempting to put out the fires that have already been created by privatizers, such as Chris Jacobs and Control Board Czar Bob Wilmers, supporters of public education must do more to get a positive message out about how poor school performance can be turned around in Buffalo, without the “creative destruction” preached by the right-wing radicals.

In the upcoming search for superintendent, moderates on the school board must articulate the need for a superintendent who can carry on the legacy of Eugene Reville, while being wary of those candidates bearing MBAs and sporting red suspenders.

In addition, other board members are associated with the defense industry (Bechtel and Lockheed Martin).

In fact, except maybe for Kevin Spacey’s movie executive character in Swimming With Sharks, I’ve never seen any Hollywood pasha recoil at the idea of riding in an elevator with plain folks. And I’ve been in a lot of elevators with a lot of movie stars. I’ve even seen Uma Thurman cry in one. Not sure why she was crying, though. Speaking of Spacey, he was at this year’s Toronto Film Festival to share his personal journey regarding the making of Beyond The Sea, about singer Bobby Darin. Spacey plays the bobby sox crooner and sings in his own voice. He revealed that he’s even going to take his show on the road and has booked dates in a number of cities to sing the songs Darin made famous; hits like Mack The Knife. As a child, Spacey idolized Darin. Anyway, how close can you get to Sean Penn without actually knowing him? THISCLOSE. That’s how crowded the elevators are at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto during the annual rite of cinematic passage known as the Toronto International Film Festival. This year’s event, the 29th, was as smooth-sailing an event as I’ve attended. Oh, I’m sure there were behind-the-scene mishaps and fits of pique, but from my vantage point, it was a pleasant experience. Only one movie truly disappointed me and there was one other during which I sat wondering why I had chosen it, only to remember that it had fit my schedule perfectly. Another of my choices thoroughly surprised me. This year’s festival had a slate of 328 films, 253 of them features, which are considered movies that last more than 50 minutes. 207 of the entries were premieres (that’s 82 per cent). According to the festival’s press releases, of those 207, one hundred were world premieres, twenty-six were international premieres (which I guess is somehow different from a world premiere), and 81 were North American premieres. 146 of the movies were in languages other than English, with 61 nations contributing to the festival. Very few of the movies had car crashes and bursts of machine gun fire.

As for the aforementioned Mr. Penn, he created a stir at his press conference when he noted that President George W. Bush would soon top Osama bin Laden as a mass murderer. Penn noted that bin Laden killed 3000 people with his assaults in New York and Washington, D.C. and Bush was already responsible for the deaths of 1000 U.S. military personnel. He didn’t factor in Iraqi and other nationalities, which is what made Penn’s comment a tad convoluted. But he said it, thus the buzz at the festival. Penn was in Toronto to publicize his acting in The Assassination Of Richard Nixon, a film that was well-received and will eventually open wide in the United States.

Star sightings are always a factor at the festival. As I was exiting the building that houses the Varsity Cinemas (where the press corps sees most of their movies), I held the door open for the person behind me, who turned out to be actor Danny Glover. And one of my favorite lines was Warren Beatty’s comment about his wife Annette Bening, who was in town with Being Julia, which opened the festival. He noted that he was there to support his wife, to which he added: “I just like looking at her.” Why not? Ms. Bening is beautiful and since I’ve interviewed her in the past one-on-one (for The American President), I can tell you that she’s also delightful, smart, and terrifically funny. Orlando Bloom worked the ropes, signing autographs, and it’s when teen idols like him are around that you realize the connection between girl power and box office. The screams from his adoring fans almost curdle the blood. Bloom was at the festival to promote Haven, a little independent movie from the Cayman Islands about lost youth and the illusion that the Caribbean region is all sun and sand. The film is quite interesting. Screenwriter-director Frank E. Flowers uses an innovative style to tell his story about problems facing these small island nations. Wherever movie stars gather, you know there will be politics and sex, both of which always get a glad hand at Toronto and this year was no exception. Two of the best movies I saw touched on one or the other of these themes. The Motorcycle Diaries is a remarkably clear-eyed feature about a very complex man, Ernesto Che Guevara. It’s directed by Walter Salles and stars Gael Garcia Bernal as the Marxist revolutionary who dreamed of a unified Latin America, from the northern Mexican border to the tip of the Andes.

The film touches on the nine-month adventure a twenty-something Guevara and his best friend Alberto Granada took through South America, a journey that colored Guevara’s thinking and forged his principles. Guevara was one month away from graduating from medical school (his field was leprosy) and Granada was a biochemist. The movie is based on the books The Motorcycle Diaries (by Guevara) and Traveling With Che Guevara (by Granada) and tells its story in straight-forward fashion. There is nothing fancy on screen; just two men, bonded by a tight friendship who wanted to see some of the world, meet new people, and share an experience. What they learned was a revelation to them about poverty and human misery. Simplistic to the nth degree, Salles’ film (written by Jose Rivera) relies on the acting comaraderie between Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna to hold your interest. I learned things about Guevara that I did not know, always a good result of going to the movies. Sex was omnipresent in festival films and P.S. is a commanding feature that stars Laura Linney as a Columbia University admissions official who beds a potential student, played by Topher Grace. Let me write something about Linney. She is a sensationally good actress. She’s gotten fine reviews in her past films (Primal Fear, The Truman Show, Tales Of The City, Searching For Bobby Fischer, Mystic River, You Can Count On Me, etc.), and frankly, along with Joan Allen, ranks as one of the best screen performers in the business. The story line for P.S. is basic, but the movie is so much more. Based on Helen Schulman’s novel of the same name, it’s directed by Dylan Kidd (his second feature; his first was the very good Roger Dodger). Kidd and Schulman co-wrote the movie’s tight screenplay. Linney’s character moves through life going through the motions. There are minor family complications (with Paul Rudd as her brother and Lois Smith as her mother) that don’t overwhelm the main thrust of the story. Her ex-husband (Gabriel Byrne) is a generous intellectual and her best friend (Marcia Gay Harden) is a jealous needy sort. Both have serious sex issues. The movie concentrates on the energy and wonder and confusion and mystery of the relationship between Linney and Grace, a solid young actor who brings the right amount of eagerness and nervousness to the relationship. What’s especially superb about P.S. is the focus on the Linney character’s power as both a woman and as a university official. The film never dawdles over unimportant factors and never squeezes the worst kind of melodrama from the explosive situation. It has a point-of-view about passion that is refreshing. A person doesn’t have to be lonely and sex doesn’t have to be tawdry. P.S. is a good one. As for the Academy Awards, if Linney isn’t nominated for her role, it’s time to shut down the program.

Linney is also in Kinsey, a biographical picture about Alfred Kinsey. Liam Neeson plays the human sexual behavior pioneer. Linney plays Kinsey’s free-spirited wife Clara. There’s huge Oscar talk about this movie as well, which worries Neeson, who may get a best actor nomination. At the film’s press conference, he said that he thinks “the movie’s jinxed already because of the Oscar buzz. Irish are superstitious, you know.” Linney humorously noted that it’s “better than people saying it’s terrible. I’ll take it over people saying, ‘God, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen.’ It’s very flattering. Very nice. Will it happen? Who knows? It’s early in the season. I think what’s important is that it’s a good movie and that’s just cause for celebration.”

Director Bill Condon, who also wrote the screenplay for Kinsey, said that he became interested in Kinsey following the release of two major biographies of him in the 1990s. Kinsey unleashed a firestorm with is 1948 study Sexual Behavior In The Human Male and his 1954 follow-up about females. Of Kinsey’s importance, Condon remarked that “we all owe a tremendous debt to him. There’s a direct line from the books he published to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and to a lot of the freedoms that we enjoy today. It’s odd how many people, when you mention him [Kinsey], think of Masters and Johnson and think of other people who have come after him. But he’s a forgotten figure. So I’m hoping that this movie can shed new light on him.”

Neeson talked about what made him accept the part in the sexually-charged movie, which includes adult content, myriad stark images of both male and female sexuality, and full frontal nudity from co-star Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Kinsey’s main researcher and occasional lover, Clyde Martin. Said Neeson about Kinsey, “I just got off on the man’s energy. I just love people with that kind of energy. Of course, he was a workaholic and he worked himself to death. That’s the reality. But every second was lived and researched, after Kinsey got inspired to start his campaign. I’m a lazy slob myself, so I admire people like that; who burn the candle at both ends. Seize the day. That inspired me.” I saw a number of movies at the festival and the one that made me wish I had chosen something else was L’Intrus (The Intruder), a French film by director Claire Denis. It had something to do with an elderly gent who lives on the border between France and Switzerland but might have had links to a horse trainer, Russian gangsters, and woodland hoodoo voodoo; not to mention cardiology and a women with a gazillion moles on her face. Half the time the thing made no sense and the other half it fascinated because the movie is breathtaking to look at. True, pure Cinemascope in gorgeous color. And there isn’t much dialogue; Denis, who made Chocolat (a feature with alleged charms I easily resisted) tells her story leanly and meanly, but it just wasn’t a very alluring story.

I was pleasantly surprised by Shadows Of Time, a contemporary romantic drama set in India and directed by German filmmaker Floran Gallenberger. The movie follows a young boy and girl (street children) who work in a rug factory. The fellow buys his way out of the sweat-shop and eventually becomes comfortably well-off selling rugs to Europeans. But he always remembers the young girl and often has spent time searching for her as an adult. His life has changed (he’s in a cold marriage), but his dream of crossing paths with the girl he really adores never dies. The film passes through a number of decades but remains intimate and solidly powerful. There’s emotion and hope and it’s the absolute best reason for going to a film festival. Discovery is a great thing.

The movie that disappointed me was Eros. Thoroughly disappointed me. It’s a compilation film by three important directors, Wong Kar-wai, Steven Soderbergh, and Michelangelo Antonioni. I was excited to see it because of the Antonioni factor. He is one of my favorite directors and you can’t call yourself a film person if you haven’t at least seen his L’Avventura, Red Desert, and Blow-Up, not to mention La Notte and Zabriskie Point. Antonioni was born in 1912 so he’s 92 years old and that he is still making movies is joyful news.

Unfortunately, Eros is a dud. Neither of the three episodes about sexual obsession that make up the feature had any spark. All were unimaginative, flatly directed with uninteresting writing. The Wong Kar-wai piece (in color) was the better of the three as it had a nice look, but the dull tale of a courtesan and her tailor wasn’t stylized enough. Soderbergh’s silly contribution, in black and white, featured Robert Downey, Jr. visiting a shrink, Alan Arkin, who makes paper airplanes while Downey talks about an erotic dream he had about a ravishing woman. Utterly inane. As for Antonioni’s contribution (also in color), well, it had vibrant cinematography. The director returns to his oft-told theme of a young couple who argue more than they make love. The guy is attracted to a mystery woman and he hopes that this attraction will help solve the problems in his relationship. Antonioni has a knack for revealing alienation in perfect images, but in this effort it’s all to no avail. I know, I know, the man’s 92-years old; give him a break, cut him some slack. Believe me, I wish I could, but I can’t.

Love, pain, and the whole darn thing was better shown in An Italian Romance, a romance set in Fascist Italy. Directed by Carlo Mazzacurati, this is a superb adult story about love and passion and missed opportunities. The man is a very handsome banker, married with a child, who finds he cannot stop thinking about a former friend, an attractive beautician. His heart still belongs to her. When their paths cross on a train in 1936, old memories win out. As the movie progresses through time and into the dangers of World War II, the gloriously photographed work grips you. The illicit, often tempestuous love the couple has for each other makes for an engaging drama. There is rich period detail and wonderful performances by Stefano Accorsi and Maya Sansa. Director Mazzacurati knows how to both build tension and deliver exquisite cinematic poetry. This is the kind of epic foreign language film that deserves a huge international audience. I hope it finds it’s way across the Atlantic.

An Italian Romance was the last movie I saw at this year’s festival and it made for a pleasant drive home. While I certainly understand that there are movies that will disappoint (oh that Eros), it’s nice to have good memories of the festival along for the ride.

Dick Cheney has held key posts in nearly every Republican administration since Richard Nixon. The exception occurred during the Reagan years, when Cheney served in the House of Representatives as the representative from Wyoming. Along the way, he cultivated many friends in high places.

A lineman for the county

Lincoln, Nebraska, can claim Dick Cheney as its very own, but only briefly. As a boy, Cheney moved to Casper, Wyoming, where his father worked on the railroad. Young Dick would not be following his father’s railroad tracks. In 1959, a local Republican businessman got the Natrona County High School student a scholarship to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The very same Yale would become the alma mater of John Kerry, Bob Woodward, George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Three of them joined the notorious Skull and Bones society. Cheney was described in Casper as “the all American boy, in the top ten percent of his class….he seemed a natural.”

But Yale would prove too much. The World Book mentions that Cheney “returned home after three semesters.” That, however, is not quite accurate. The truth is that freshman Cheney flunked out. Cheney’s roommates during his first and only semesters recalled that Cheney “…spent all his time partying with guys who loved football but weren’t varsity quality…his idea was, you didn’t need to master the material. He passed one Psych course without studying or attending class…” Eventually, playing fast and loose with academics caught up with him, and he flunked out. When he returned to Casper, he took a job as a lineman with an electric utility. Young Cheney learned from the Yale experience. He enrolled at the University of Wyoming and received a B.A. in political science in 1965. Not one to rest on his laurels, he took a master’s in 1966, also in political science.

Behind every successful man, there may or may not be a great woman. In 1964, Cheney married Lynne Ann Vincent. Lynne, who earned a Ph.D. in English literature, did not hide her light under a Bush. She became a magazine editor, novelist, and college professor.

Rise To Power

In 1968, Cheney won a congressional fellowship, and the couple relocated to Washington, D.C. In 1969, Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, came into the picture, when Cheney joined his staff as his special assistant. In 1971, Cheney served a short stint as White House staff assistant. He then moved on to become assistant director of the Cost of Living Council, a position that he left in 1973. The next year, Cheney made the move to the executive office. He worked as a deputy assistant to President Gerald Ford in 1974 and 1975. He then moved closer to the inner circle, becoming Ford’s chief of staff in late 1975 and stayed in that position until Ford left office in 1977.

On July 10, 1975, Rumsfeld circulated a memo that dealt with the list of possible choices for someone to fill the position of director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Dick Cheney suggested Robert Bork, Lee Iacocca, and Texan George H.W. Bush.

George Bush, formerly the United States ambassador to the United Nations and the chairman of the Republican National Committee, was given the job.

House of Representatives

The fall of Gerald Ford sent Cheney back to Wyoming, but not for long. In 1978, Dick was elected as a Republican to the 98th Congress and was returned for the next five terms. Cheney was no mere member of the House of Representatives. He cultivated a reputation as a hard-line conservative by opposing sanctions against apartheid South Africa. He voted against a resolution demanding the release of Nelson Mandela. On the home front, Cheney opposed the ban on armor-piecing bullets and the Equal Rights Amendment. He voted against expanding the Clean Water Act and Head Start; and he voted against a constitutional amendment banning school busing. He was only one of four members to oppose a ban on guns that avoid detection by metal detectors. At the same time, he began to expand his own base as he served as the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, chairman of the House Republican Conference and finally as House Minority Whip in 1988.

But the conservative and born-again Neo-Con War Hawk Cheney consistently voted against authorizing military pay increases during his tenure in the House. According to the CQ Almanac, Cheney voted against increasing the pay of both senior enlisted members and junior enlisted members in 1981. In 1982, he voted against the “Uniformed Services Pay Act.” Cheney consistently voted against Veterans Administration Funding for seven of his ten years in the House.

In what must be one of the great ironies inside the beltway, the ever- ambitious Dick resigned his seat in 1989 to become Secretary of Defense under President George H.W. Bush.

He immediately began to gut defense spending. As secretary of Defense, Richard Cheney announced a cutback of nearly 45 percent in the administration’s B-2 stealth bomber program, from 132 aircraft to 75. In further testimony to the defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee in June 1989, Cheney said, “This is just a list of some of the programs that I’ve recommended termination: the V-22 Osprey, the F-14D, the Army Helicopter Improvement program, Phoenix Missile, the F-15E, the Apache helicopter, and the M-1 tank.”

The defense industries must have breathed a huge sight of relief when Cheney returned to the private sector and Halliburton.

But between his stints at the Department of Defense and at Halliburton, Dick Cheney did not remain idle. From January 1993 to October 1995, Cheney was a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

But while at the helm at Halliburton, Dick Cheney found the time to become a signatory to the now Infamous Project For A New American Century’s Statement of Principles, along with colleagues Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, and his current vice presidential chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby. This PNAC document stresses major increases in defense spending. Dick Cheney must have known something that we don’t.

The year 2000 saw Dick Cheney looking for work, and he nominated himself to be vice president and chief minder to the young pretender from Texas. And always looking for new friends, that same year, Cheney was an advisory board member for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

What’s next for the man from Casper? A Kerry-Edwards victory in November would hardly cause Cheney any loss of sleep. This ultimate insider has too many low friends in high places.

He can always lobby for the defense industry.

(Sources for this article include the U.S. Congress biographical records, Worldbook.com, Rollingstone.com, right-web.org, the Boston Globe, and the Project for the New American Century)

Then again, maybe not.

The 2004 presidential campaigns are beginning to swing into high gear. Indeed, the Iowa caucus is just a few months away. And the vital and perhaps most well-known presidential hopeful destination is right behind: New Hampshire. Anybody who is any body in presidential politics will be at the world-famous Manchester Marriott, hanging out at the bar and tossing back the booze with the cream of the hardcore political pundits, desperate hangers-on, and editorial hacks. It’s not a pretty sight, and there is no cure.

Everyone wants to know what the polls say. So as a favor to all the political junkies out there, here is a close look at a cross section of as-they-say: likely voters (LV).

There are several questions on everyone’s mind as we swing into political first gear: the war in Iraq, the standing of the president of the United States and the field of Democratic contenders for his job.

Of course, every so-called legitimate news organization in these United States conducts polls, most in partnership with a "non-partisan" academic or think tank type organization. Space limits us to just the news organizations. Most we already know: CNN/USA Today; Newsweek; Zogby; Fox News; ABC/Washington Post; NBC/The New York Times, and CBS.

Let’s begin with Democratic hopefuls for the most powerful office in the free world. Here is how they stood the last couple of weeks. The question asked of Democrats was not skewered or "push-polled" in any way. It ended like this: "Which of those candidates would you most likely support for the Democratic nomination in the year 2004?”

CNN/USA Today is up first. Howard Dean 16 percent; Wesley Clark 15 percent; Dick Gephardt 12percent; Joe Lieberman 12 percent; John Kerry 10 percent; Rev Al Sharpton 6 percent; John Edwards 6 percent; Carol Mosley Braun 4 percent; and Dennis Kucinich 1 percent.

In tracking these results back to the first week in September, we can see a slight change. Both Dean and Clark have risen several points each, while Gephardt/Kerry/Lieberman have dropped. Al Sharpton has climbed from a rating of 2 percent. Mosley Braun remains constant while Kucinich stays firmly in the political basement.

Newsweek and Zogby polls for this time are virtually identical. But these polls suggest that the pack of opponents is much tighter:

Dean 12 percent; Clark 10 percent; Kerry 9 percent; Lieberman 8 percent; Mosley 5 percent; Gephardt 5 percent; Edwards 3 percent; Sharpton 3 percent Kucinich 1percent.

ABC News/Washington Post results closely follow Newsweek and Zogby. ABC, however, puts Dick Gephart with 14 percent, just behind leader Dean at 16 percent.

But what does all of this really mean? At first glance, it would seem that the leaders are indeed the leaders and can’t be taken out. But the closeness of the numbers suggest that any candidate might get enough of a surge to take some votes away and become a spoiler in New Hampshire or wherever. Again, that being said, the numbers also show that grasping at that political straw is wishful thinking. It just might keep some campaign cash coming in and keep hopes alive for someone on the bubble and almost making the cut, such as Dick Gephardt.

About the only clear sign in all the numbers is the fact that Dennis Kucinich couldn’t be elected dogcatcher anywhere in the Republic.

Are Democratic voter unhappy with the field of candidates? Perhaps the next poll might be surprising. Last month, Newsweek asked the question on everyone’s mind: if they were both in the race now, would either Al Gore or Hillary Clinton be your first choice? Or would you prefer another candidate?

The results are not even close:

Hillary Clinton 33 percent; Al Gore 28 percent; Clark 7 percent; Dean 7 percent; Lieberman 5 percent; Kerry 5 percent; Edwards 2 percent; Gephardt 1 percent; Sharpton 1 percent; Kucinich 1 percent. Mosley Braun doesn’t even show.

There is one fact that these numbers do suggest. The race for the Democratic nomination is close. It's so close that, come convention time next summer, no clear winner may be the case. Then a Hillary Clinton move for the White House could come into play, uniting the party. That could be a serious run for power. If George W. Bush’s numbers decline further, and the Iraq situation remains bleak, the numbers may indeed hold the answer.

And what do the ordinary folk think of George W. Bush in the White House?

This is an example of how the numbers could be manipulated for political reasons.

Zogby commissioned a poll in early October asking a straight-up question concerning Bush’s approval rating. The results are about the same for other organizations polling as well.

The ratings are 55 percent favorable; 42 percent unfavorable; 1 percent not sure. Simple enough.

CBS News/The New York Times asked the same question but came out with these diluted results:

Favorable 43 percent; unfavorable 34 percent; undecided 13 percent; haven’t heard enough 8 percent; effused 2 percent.

In this fast moving, sound byte society, CBS might report the first number and omit the others. That 34 percent unfavorable rating would be the number remembered and repeated and discussed around the water cooler. Of course, the same tactic could be used against any other candidate.

The last question concerned the war in Iraq. I’m not going to repeat all of those results. Suffice it to say that, over all, Americans approve of the occupation, usually by a few percentage points one way or another.

There is another poll result. Americans may slightly approve the occupation. But the numbers opposing the idea that the U.S. taxpayer foot the occupation's 87 billion dollar bill are not ambiguous: around 57 percent opposed, and about 35 percent say pay up.

Flag waving is fun, but no one wants to pay the tab.

Our James Bond for the evening, aka Zacheriah, was one of the most charming and informative servers whom I’ve ever encountered. His stunt double, Nick Pitillo, also the general manager, was both friendly and eager to please, always just a few steps behind him. After much consideration, my guest and I chose to start out our mission with the Spicy Thai beef ($9), and the Mussels ($11). The beef came on a bed of mixed greens tossed in a sweet but spicy dressing and mixed fresh vegetables. The mussels were cooked in a spicy coconut broth with crisp pepper strips. Both were prepared in perfect harmony of sweet to spicy. I might add that the mussels were extremely large and very tender. We opted not to have salad, but Sonoma Grill offers a choice of three: the dinner salad ($4), Sonoma Caesar ($9), or a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad ($7). For our entrees, we chose the swordfish with a mango salsa ($18) and one of the specials for the evening, a stuffed veal chop topped with a port wine reduction ($29). Both came with boiled baby red potatoes and perfectly al dente cooked mixed vegetables, which isn’t as easy to do as it sounds. The swordfish was very refreshing, and the veal was the most tender that I’ve ever had.

To finish it all off, we selected a classic crème brulee and a chocolate hazelnut torte. Both were oh so smooth and creamy, served on frozen, gigantic blue plates, very cool. Certainly a great last impression. I almost forgot, the décor in this place is so unique, exquisite taste all of the way across the board. The portions are all more than generous and worth every bite. Definitely a mission complete.

Features: Executive Chef: David Jones Appetizers from $5 to $11 Sous Chef: John Reen Entrees from $14 to $29 Pastry Chef: Steven Amador Desserts all $6.50 Extensive and inviting wine list Great place for an impressive first date or meeting Can accommodate up to 300 guests in four private dining rooms.

Release: A Strange Melodic Shape Artist: Various Format: CD Label: Alternate Take Records Listen & Purchase: www.alt-take.com

Comprising Alternate Take Record’s first two vinyl eps, Southern Soul Cont. 1 & 2 plus five new tracks, A Strange Melodic Shape reflects this Dallas based label’s pen gent for dope instrumental hip hop and funky jazz breaks.

Featuring a wide array of Southern downtempo producers, A Strange Melodic Shape is another testament to the wide array of deep, dark eclectic beats that can be created from hours of digging through old records, finding beats, lifting and reinterpreting them much in the same manner as early releases from London’s Ninja Tune and Mo’Wax Records. A Strange Melodic Shape features the kindest beats out of Texas since Dallas co-hort MC 900 Ft Jesus’ 1991 release Welcome to My Dream.

Ninja Tune

Coldcut’s Ninja Tune imprint has by far become one of the leading labels for the production of wide array of abstract beats from hip-hop, jazz, dub and anything that falls somewhere in-between.

Cinematic Orchestra, DJ Food, Up Bustle & Out and dj Vadim are but a few of artists Ninja Tune currently represents. Ninja Tune’s website, www.ninjatune.net, is bar none one of the best independent label websites going providing a wealth of information on each of its artists and releases (including an extensive bank of audio samples and an easy way to purchase music directly from the label). Their forum section is a great way to get in touch with Ninja’s (how the Ninja Tune refers to its fans) worldwide and reflects the great underground following this label has developed over the years.

Spinnin Around

Off the Wall

Buffalo’s new hybrid restaurant and lounge, Off the Wall, is half eatery half hip antique shop.

As their motto goes, “where almost everything is for sale,” so if you like the table you are sitting at you can buy it along with your dinner. Off the Wall also has burgeoning lounge scene on Friday and Saturday nights with an eclectic selection of djs keeping it kool. Fridays features Deepsoulplug’s Zuk (deep house, broken beat) along with various guests. On Saturday’s djs US Marshall (drum’n’bass, jazz & dub) and Dr Wisz (funk, nu jazz, hip hop) of déjà blü , split duties every other week.

Both Marshall and Wisz appear with an array of quest djs. All djs start at 9pm and play till 2am.

Funkin Marvin

Spinnin a wealth of funk, soul and r’n’b from the 60s to the present day this Marvin is not starving (where did the expression Starving Marvin come from anyways?).

Marvin (aka dj Marv) spins every Wednesday at Mr. Goodbar, 1110 Elmwood Ave (near Forest) starting at 9pm.

Funky music, cheap drinks and a low-key environment make this a great way to make it through ‘the hump.’

Dj List

EVR The Musicologist

Thurs / Fri / Sat 10pm - 4am - Allen St Bar & Grill (aka ‘The Old P _ _ _ ) - 223 Allen St Home of the Hits - Almost Every Day

1. House of Jealous Lovers - The Rapture (DFA) www.dfarecords.com

2. Me & Giuliani - ! ! ! (Chk Chk Chk) (Touch & Go) www.brainwashed.com/!!!

3. Dance To The Underground - Radio 4 (City Slang) www.cityslang.com

4. Motiveless Crime - South (Kinetic) www.south.uk.net

5. Outside Broadcast - The Clash (Epic) www.tigersushi.com/site/Rcd.jsp?RcdId=3584

The Austrian lunk, who admired Adolf Hitler’s speaking style and seems to have an interest in groping his female co-workers, won’t be the first politician to take office looking years younger than his actual age. Schwarzenegger’s smooth face is light years beyond mere facials and exfoliations. A little nip here and a tuck there? Looks that way to me. And does the color of his hair actually exist in nature? The election of Mr. Pumping Iron to the governor’s office of California is one of the great jokes of the past ten years. Funnier even than the election of blowhard wrestler Jessie Ventura to Minnesota’s top office.

Schwarzenegger actually believes he will be able to do something about the California economy, which is absurd, as anybody who invests in the stock market knows. Jobs are being sent overseas in record numbers. And George The II is doing nothing about it. If you telephone help-lines or reservation lines for a lot of American companies, you’ll be chatting with some fellow in India, who actually thinks he speaks and understands “American English.” Hewlett-Packard, Delta Airlines, AOL are just a few of the conspirators who are determined that no American has a job by 2013. Except maybe the publisher of ALT and a few die-hard staffers.

With Schwarzenegger out of the way regarding movies (his career in films is essentially over anyway), this leaves room for new forms of on-screen action. Enter Quentin Tarantino. Well, actually, re-enter Quentin Tarantino. The video-geek turned screenwriter and director loves lousy movies, especially those cheapjack antic kung-fu exploitation efforts from Asia. Tarantino’s directed three feature-length films, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown, and he directed one of the short episodes in Four Rooms. His first amateurish effort was a messy 69-minute comedy entitled My Best Friend’s Birthday, and it seems best-forgotten, especially by Tarantino. With Reservoir Dogs, he reinvented the caper movie and spawned a gazillion imitators, just as director James Cameron and Schwarzenegger reinvented the psychotic robot movie with The Terminator. Whereas Arnold’s violence is machine-tooled, Quentin’s idea of bloodletting takes grotesque human shape; hence the sliced ear in Reservoir Dogs and the anal rape in Pulp Fiction, not to mention the hypo in Uma’s heart.

Part of the folklore surrounding Tarantino is that he used to work as a clerk in a video store, and the inspiration for his own films is old movies, not real life. Thus his first film in six years is an ode to all those fast-moving, nonsensical, Hong Kong fake blood and samurai sword potboilers. It’s called Kill Bill: Volume 1, and it’s actually the first half of a three-hour movie that was cut precisely in two by Miramax because, for some unexplained reason, Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein didn’t want to release a three-hour action picture. Kill Bill: Volume 2 arrives in February 2004. For the past six years, Tarantino’s been writing a war movie, acting in other people’s films (and on Broadway) and generally laying around watching television. Not a bad life. So the question is this: with Kill Bill, has he run out of ideas? Well, yes and no.

Story-wise, Kill Bill: Volume 1 is thoroughly uninteresting. In fact, the story is so slight that it hardly qualifies as a screenplay. Uma Thurman is a bride at a chapel in some seedy, dry and dusty burg. Her wedding party is slaughtered and she is left for dead. She lives, vows revenges, makes a list, checks it more than twice, and proceeds to travel around the world killing the folks on the list who are responsible for the mayhem in her life. A fellow named Bill (David Carradine) has something to do with the sketchy goings-on (which may be more fully explained in volume two) as do Daryl Hannah and Lucy Liu. Primo bad guy portrayer Michael Madsen will also be around in the second installment, but Asian action legend Sonny Chiba has a big part in volume one.

Where Tarantino scores points is that he is a great visual stylist. There are images in the movie that are truly breathtaking. I loved the lush backyard snow scene as Thurman and Liu prepare to hack each other to pieces. The bulk of the film is comprised of fighting. One on one (Thurman versus Viveca A. Fox), and one on many (Thurman versus scores of black-suit clad henchmen who work for Liu). The copious blood flows without mercy in the movie, and the major set-piece involving Thurman, Liu, and her minions is depicted in rich black and white (the movie is in color, but Tarantino isn’t afraid to mix his images and genres). Along with the black and white moments, there’s also animation.

The Thurman-Liu orgasm of violence is an amazing feat. The action is furious and the editing is precise. But after twenty minutes of lopped-off limbs and spurting veins, with more to go, it all becomes rather uneventful. Too much of a fast-paced thing is too much of a fast-paced thing. You’re dazzled at first, but then a disinterested coldness sets in. Tarantino chills his own movie, and kills the momentum. What impresses you soon lulls you into checking your watch. Thirty dead and counting. Oops, there goes another arm. Did that guy lose his head? Look at these people jump through the air.

Kill Bill: Volume 1 is not a life-affirming feature. Its beating heart is a cycle of revenge, but shouldn’t we want to know why Thurman is so angry and determined? And why was she targeted? And shouldn’t we know more about Bill? Yes. As for any sociological thoughts from screenwriter-director Tarantino about women as killing machines or any commentaries on sexual politics, he has no interest in going down that road. Judging from what we’ve got on screen, I think it was a mistake to chop the film into two parts. This could have been a terrific homage to Asian action movies and a self-contained tribute to Tarantino’s talent. As it is, his cinematically grand, albeit thematically shallow vision, has been reduced to a gimmick.

He soon becomes intrigued by a woman who is at least 25 years younger than he, the very interesting Scarlett Johansson. She’s an American, too, a recent college graduate who has no idea what to do with her philosophy degree. She’s in Japan with her photographer husband who takes pictures of rock stars and seems remotely interested in another Yankee, a sexy actress, but maybe he isn’t. When photo hubby goes off to a weeklong shoot, Ms. Johansson spends her lonely time thinking about things and drinking in the hotel lounge, where an American singer warbles jazzy tunes.

The thrust of the movie is the coming-together of Murray and Johansson. In their emptiness, they find a connection. Both are alone and compelled to stay in Tokyo, perhaps longer than they might want to. Their relationship is friendly, not sexual, but director Coppola, who also wrote the screenplay, hints that it could have been sexual. Coppola makes certain that moviegoers think things through and ponder the mixed signals that Murray and Johansson have missed. Lost In Translation is a cinematic novella, a quiet gentle movie that has at its core a truly great performance from Murray and a beguiling one from Johansson. Coppola superbly evokes the loneliness of the long-distance traveler. This is a wonderful movie.

School Of Rock showcases the manic talents of zany Jack Black who plays a rock and roll maven who’s seen better days. When his band dumps him, he ends up broke and out-of-sorts. He’s forced to take a job as a fourth grade substitute teacher at a severely serious private school where his love of rock and roll and his carefree attitude have his heretofore constricted students eating out of his hand. Soon Black and the kids, including a nine-year old guitar prodigy, are discovering the joys of rock, having formed their own high-energy group. Black is urged into a battle of the bands competition and the kids, needless to say, are alright. This is a terrifically entertaining movie that isn’t afraid to make fun of current musical tastes. It’s wonderfully pro rock and roll. Director Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed And Confused, Waking Life) and screenwriter Mike White (writer of, and actor in, Chuck And Buck – he was Buck) have crafted a fast-moving farce that doubles its pleasure because they keep everything light and loose and also because Black is such a whirlwind

Out Of Time follows in the tradition of so many other quirky, noirish movies in which grifters float in and out and doublecrosses are the lay of the land. Bad guys and even badder dames rule the roost. More often than not, the sun is hot and the temperature keeps rising. Usually these movies don’t perform well at the box office, but do develop a cult following. Think Heaven’s Prisoners, The Hot Spot, Against All Odds, Red Rock West, and After Dark, My Sweet among many, many others. Denzel Washington plays a respected chief of police in a small Florida town. He’s called upon to solve a nasty double homicide. Washington falls under suspicion, and the gist of the film is how he manages to outfox his own force and ferret out the truth as roadblocks and red herrings are tossed in his path. Adding insult to injury, he’s not the nicest guy to begin with, having created a cloud of suspicion about some insurance dirty dealing. Director Carl Franklin doesn’t quite cut the mustard with this one. The movie tosses too much into the pot, although there is a nifty sense of place. I liked the evocation of the Florida lifestyle, even as I wish Washington had tried a little harder with his role. Better is Dean Cain as a vindictive husband. The former Buffalo Bills football player and television Superman is aging nicely as an actor.

Under The Tuscan Sun is loosely based - very loosely based - on Frances Mayes’ bestselling memoir about buying a villa in Tuscany and having to fix it up. In the movie, Diane Lane is a writer of book reviews and other short pieces and discovers that her husband is cheating on her, thanks to a gossipy writer she dissed in one of her articles. In that old reliable movie time, a friend gives Lane a ticket to Italy, and she heads there and soon snaps up a villa, only to discover that it needs a lot of rehab. So does her life, and she enjoys flirting with the locals, including a hot Italian stallion. Under The Tuscan Sun has been turned into a pulp-like romantic comedy and it’s lighter than air. The sunny locale is a festive postcard, but the movie falters into the old reliable standbys that Hollywood does so well, but are, by now, nothing more than cliches: meet cutes, clogged pipes, quirky neighbors, and breathlessly coy flirting. Better to go to Italy yourself than believe that the real place is anything like this reel place.

The “crisis,” reveals a new term to many middle-aged and older adults because basically, many do not realize that it exists. They are more aware of phenomena, such as the mid-life crisis, which causes individuals to get the urge to buy trendy sports cars and nifty duds as an attempt to win back their youth.

“Often, our elders cannot fathom why people our age could have such a thing as a quarter life crisis,” said Matt Schrantz, 22, of Springville, a May 2003 history graduate from the University at Buffalo. “They cannot comprehend it because they had simpler choices. For many earlier generations, women could either become a nurse, a teacher, a secretary or a housewife. A man could enter several different professions, but, in some cases, ended up working the same shift at the local factory as their father did. (Both) have many more choices today.”

Schrantz, presently a part-time community event coordinator for Mercy Flight (a job he started while in school) began law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in late August. But upon starting classes and confronting his unsure feelings about the career, he decided that it was best to take some time off to really consider his future. Schrantz feels that the vast amount of choices create problems for young people.

“Success in school presents one with more options than it does definitive answers,” Schrantz said. “Many people who have attended college confront a vast amount of opportunities. Fear of choosing the wrong one underlies my uncertainty.”

Aaron Besecker, 22, of Wheatfield, graduated from UB with a degree in sociology in May 2002. Besecker is in a graduate program in magazine journalism at Syracuse University. When he took a one-year break from school, he worked at several jobs, including substitute teaching, grounds keeping, clerical work, and retail.

“At the time I graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career,” Besecker said. “I majored in sociology because it was the only thing I thought I had real interest in. I hadn’t really considered doing it as a career, (and) I think my situation has been more difficult because of my academic record. I really could do whatever I want; therefore, my choices never really were narrowed down for me, and I just kept searching and trying to find what I really wanted to do. I had a lot of interests, and my future was pretty wide open. Probably too wide open.”

Besecker said that he finds the lack of urgency in society a problem after graduation. “People are just floating because the way the system is set up. There’s always time to figure stuff out,” he said. “People love to stay in school. Some want to be career students. It’s easier than finding a real job. Why bother when you can stay in school and take classes and avoid getting a real job and a real boss.”

The majority of complaints from the recent-graduate sector have focused on the state of the economy. Many say, there are no jobs, so what can they do? The ticking-clock of unemployment in their chosen field has soured some graduates, forcing them to re-evaluate the direction of their post-college career.

“The economy is awful right now,” said Bill Hoppe, 23, of Tonawanda, a 2002 journalism graduate of St. Bonaventure University. “I can’t imagine it any worse. If we graduated four years ago, I think we’d all have jobs right now, but if companies don’t have the money to hire, I don’t see how they can. I know a lot of others are in the same boat as me, so as bad as I feel, I feel I’m not alone.” Last week, Hoppe acknowledged the six-month anniversary of his unemployment. He started out the summer after graduation working at a warehouse, shipping orders for a medical company, then was employed by two publications before landing a full-time six-month position with a journalism company that he wished not to name. Hoppe feels that his days are numbered in Buffalo and possibly also in the journalism industry.

“There are no jobs (in Buffalo), very little opportunity,” Hoppe said. “I like Buffalo, and I’d like to stay, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. The economy has been down here for a long time. You have to move if you want a career.” Hoppe has tried moving out of the area, sending out resumes across the country, but he has found the same economic problems everywhere. “I applied to a job in the South and made it to the final five but didn’t get it,” Hoppe said. “They got 80 applications. A few years before I heard a similar position was open, and they couldn’t find anyone to take it.” Schrantz agrees and finds the unemployment issues a cyclical problem.

“The weakness of the economy offers few job opportunities for young people, especially those graduating from the many local colleges,” Schrantz said. “These young people leave, creating a gap in the development of a leadership class, business, political, and cultural. Every young person who leaves means the loss of a potential entrepreneur, visionary leader, or outstanding scientist.” Mike Cuppalo, 27, of Syracuse, graduated from the University at Buffalo with a bachelor’s degree in Media Studies. He currently works part time for ClearChannel radio affiliates SportsRadio 620 WHEN and NewsRadio 570 WSYR of Syracuse. He works another part time job at Media Play “to make ends meet.” Cuppalo feels that the problem is surging not in just Western New York, but in all of New York State and even in the workplace itself.

“As a whole, I don’t think that things are going very well for me,” Cuppalo said. “At this point in my life, I envisioned that I would be into a career, not an entry-level part-time job with lousy pay and no advancement. Even if I felt that my current position would lead to something, I could take solace in that. But ClearChannel does not give that vibe. In fact, it’s a horrible workplace atmosphere with nearly every employee disgruntled.” Cuppalo feels that unemployment may not be as big an issue in other cities, but he sees it at crisis-level in New York State.

“The awful truth is there are no jobs for graduates in New York State,” he said. “I saw the numbers from the last census, and the majority of graduates are going out of state to seek work.”

Cuppalo blamed the problems on New York State politicians’ agendas and sees two options for solution. “As for solutions there are only two to choose from,” he said. “The first being we all stick around and wit for some competent leadership in Albany, who is willing to do what it takes to get real jobs back into New York. By real jobs, I mean jobs that don’t revolve around Destiny U.S.A. (Syracuse’s multi-million dollar plan for a tourist-destination mall), which is just basically more low-paying, go-nowhere jobs. Our second option would be to get the hell out of New York while we are still young enough and go find a real job someplace else.”

According to a press release from the New York State Department of Labor in August 2003, the state’s unemployment rate in August rose to 6.2 percent, while the rest of the nation held at 6.1 percent. In New York City, unemployment was 8.1 percent. The state unemployment rate is up from a year ago, a rate of 6.1 percent. Certain industries have experienced harder times than others. Some of the hardest-hit industries have included manufacturing, information, government, professional and business, and financial. Industries with job gains have included education and health services, construction and hospitality, said the release.

In Buffalo and Niagara Falls, since August of 2002 1,200 jobs have been lost at a rate of .2 percent, with Western New York’s unemployment rate at 6.2 percent, an increase from August 2002, when the rate was 5.7 percent. Professors, some of students’ most cherished advocates, have seen the difficulty that their students have been facing. Adjunct Associate Professor of Organization and Human Resource Management at UB Joseph Salamone sees economic presence lacking in Western New York. “Western New York is not what you would describe as a booming economy,” Salamone said. “The lack of corporate office presence and decreasing tax base compared to opportunities in other areas that have displayed growth (contribute to students leaving the area).” Salamone finds that the students who prove most successful keep in contact with their professors and don’t necessarily land their dream jobs right away.

“This problem is more cyclical than it is structural (students have the skills, but the opportunities are fewer, due to smaller or slower growth/expansion in companies),” he said. “In the interim, those students who maintain contact with me are continuing to build their skill sets via part-time, temp, and project-based work. Those students who choose to use their mobility option have proven to be strong and often successful contenders for job opportunities outside of Western New York.” Salamone has also encountered many students worthy of quarter life crisis.

“Graduates who may second guess their career paths may be graduates who have not validated their interest in the work prior to completing their degree,” he said. “Limited exposure to the actual work while still in school could result in second guessing one’s career choice. Some graduates may just not have the proper insights about the work they are tending toward and instead make a career path decision based on secondary information or market forecasts of growth sectors or growth in starting pay.”

The solutions are hazy and financial predictions grim for the coming years. Salamone said to look into typical job growth sectors such as technology, health systems, and education for the easiest hires. He also discusses less traditional opportunities.

“What I see is an increasing interest in self-employment, a softening of candidate job-offer acceptance criteria, with factors beyond immediate pay taking on greater importance, and company attention to soft skills, in addition to the contents of a resume,” he said. “Perhaps, an overall solution goes deeper than just job opportunities that are available and should include an overhaul of the education/training system that pressure the early years of training to become more contemporary market focused.”

So what should our struggling graduates do in the meantime? Will they continue the mass exodus from Western New York? Hoppe will keep on with his job quest, but he may move on to graduate school if unsuccessful, he said.

“I’ll keep doing it to the bitter end,” Hoppe said. “I’ll go down fighting. I‘ve always wanted to be a journalist, never thought about being anything else. I wouldn’t even know what to go back to graduate school for, but just something else to get a job. Please hire me.”

Schrantz may use this force-out to contribute to the city later down the road. “At some point, I do want to leave the area as to gain more of an appreciation for it and to better understand it,” Schrantz said. “The perspective of coming from another area could be quite beneficial. I hope to work in or around the government and its policies. In the end, though, I want to end up in Western New York and be part of the solution. I love Buffalo, and I envision a day when we look back with some pleasure, knowing that the obituaries written about the region in recent times were grossly premature.”

And as for the future of the city? Something good has to happen. The New York State Department of Labor had predicted an 11.5 percent job growth rate for Western New York in 1998. But then again, that was 1998. And as we all know, things are a bit different than they used to be.

The problem?

To begin with, an October 10, 2003 Buffalo News article, carrying Peter Simon’s by-line, about a recent Public Employee Relation Board (PERB) ruling that forces Buffalo Public School operating engineers to report budget details to the School Board ran on the same day as Associated Press writer Carolyn Thompson’s piece on the same subject. Both articles contain the same misinformation, similar language and, most damaging, they contain the same exact wording in several places. While we here at Alt are unsure if one writer plagiarized the other we must note that the Thompson piece contained more contextual information, leading us to wonder how Simon could have written what he did without a little “help” from his colleague. Whatever the story is this little exercise in lazy reporting cannot be allowed to stand as is. To that end we are passing the two articles in question along to the Columbia Journalism Review and alerting both writers of our discovery and our actions- a coincidence isn’t always a coincidence. Additionally, we here at Alt feel that both articles contain an anti-union bias that must be counter-acted with a little bit of truth, especially since the editorial board at the Buffalo News wrote an October 15, 2003 editorial that reinforces Simon’s misleading information in order to champion the PERB ruling. According to the Simon/Thompson article, the PERB ruling makes school custodians report their budgetary practices “for the first time ever.” This statement is absolutely false, according to a City Hall source. The source told Alt that each custodian must file a quarterly budget report, something that Simon and Thompson should have found out and reported instead of leaving the reader with the impression that there is no oversight mechanism.

Both articles also reported that the custodians, who act as independent contractors, receive an annual, lump sum average operating budget of $227, 373, creating the impression that each custodian is handed a check in that amount at the beginning of the year. In reality the money is allocated as a lump sum in the BPS budget each year but is distributed bi-weekly, according to our sources. Our sources also dispute the idea, presented by both reporters, that custodians pocket any of the money from the operating budget. They are allowed to do so, according to the contract, but in reality this almost never happens because the budget is actually too little to cover the costs associated with operating a school building.

Custodians must maintain clean schools and grounds while paying the cost of several mandated civil service positions in addition to coping with structural problems- problems covered at length by the Buffalo News and local television media- in outdated buildings the district has no money to fix. Each custodian must employ a janitorial staff, at an average of $25,000 a year for each janitor, and rent or purchase the equipment needed to maintain the grounds and interior of each school building. All of these expenses are paid out of the operating engineer’s budget, and often out of the engineer’s pocket as well, according to our source.

None of this information made it into the Buffalo Newsor AP article, apparently because neither writer made anymore than a cursory attempt to get the whole story. Althas also learned that Simon attempted to contact Paul D. Weiss, the lawyer for Local 409 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, at the very last possible minute.

By the time Weiss returned the call the story was filed. Obviously Simon and Thompson chose to overlook other sources for the information in favor of the easy, anti-union article favored by their bosses. There is a great deal more to this story than the mainstream media offers, as usual the simplest explanation is also furthest from the truth.


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-Tripled capital borrowing to the point at which the county comptroller warned against the practice. Erie County is now more than $500 million in debt.
-Spent more than $167 million of securitized tobacco money in three years. This money was supposed to last a decade. Only $44 million is left of the original $211.7 million.
- Has failed to invest tobacco money in developing blighted areas in the City of Buffalo, as required by county law.
-Turned Erie Community College into a patronage mill and almost lost that college’s accreditation.
-Turned the department of public works into a patronage mill, forcing investigations by the sheriff, FBI and district attorney.
-Spent $700,000 in Lancaster Town and Village police department merger to save Lancaster $300,000. Lancaster residents and officials are now calling these savings into question.
-Joel Giambra has done everything that he can to make his administration an opaque, imperial-minded organization bent on breaking the will of labor, minorities, and economically underprivileged citizens of Buffalo. At the same time, he has used the county government to reward friends and punish adversaries. Haven’t we had enough?

The BFSA heard presentations from representatives of the school district, the budget department, the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, and the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, as well as a cash flow report from acting comptroller Andy SanFilippo. The school district's four-year plan was praised as being especially well-done. "I commend you (Superintendent Marion Canedo) and your staff for the vast improvement in the quality of the material and on working with (BFSA executive director) Dottie Johnson and her team. There is nothing more important than the education of our children," said Bob Wilmers. Tim Wanamaker, executive director of the Office of Strategic Planning, talked about addressing problems of inefficiency and mismanagement at BURA. John Faso told him to feel free to make cuts to improve efficiency. "You come to us to ask to spend. Go ahead and cut. You really should leap on it." Sharon West of BMHA said simply, "We have a balanced budget."

The sharpest criticisms were reserved for the city's plan. "We do not believe that you have submitted a plan to us. We hope that the board doesn't go forth with a hole and with hopes that it will be filled," Board President Tom Baker insisted. He wanted a declaration of need from the city. Mayor Anthony Masiello said that he expected to have difficulty getting the declaration of need approved by the Common Council. But he said that he would request a declaration of need for $8.2 million. Baker responded, "You haven't filled the gap. Do it now." Masiello shouted, "We want a balanced budget. I'm the mayor of Buffalo! I'm issuing a declaration! Approve the plan and move on."

Criticism of the mayor also came from the audience, many of whom were firefighters and building inspectors. According to the city's plan, 146 firefighter positions will be lost. Also to be laid off are 75 percent of the city's building inspectors. One member of the audience shouted out, "Tell the truth." Masiello looked directly at the audience and said, "I tell the truth. I tell a lot of truths up here." Before the start of the meeting, union leader Kevin Fitzgerald said that the building inspectors were "looking for reasonable cuts that wouldn't affect the quality of work." He suggested a cut of five to ten percent as being reasonable. Joe Foley, head of the firefighters union, expressed his "concern over the control board and the mayor's lack of concern for safety." He said that the union offered concessions that would have saved more money than the city is now looking to save. The firefighters' plan included no layoffs. "It's very disturbing. They won't talk to us." He pointed out that the firefighters in danger of losing their jobs have risked their lives daily in the performance of their duties.

The BFSA directed the mayor to return a revised plan by October 15. According to Johnson, there must be recurring revenue sources found to close the gap for all four years covered in the city's financial plan.

According to Faso, "The control board stands between the city and bankruptcy. These are not pleasant tasks, but this has to be done."

He got his five hundred and twenty-four miles on the Erie Canal for $30,000... but where's his mule?

The closed bid deal that gave good ol' boy Michael A. Hutchens of Buffalo property development rights on the ENTIRE Erie Canal was brokered by former New York State Senator H. Douglas Barclay, who is now George W. Bush's appointee for U.S. ambassador to El Salvador.

It is hoped that Barclay will do his part to help save El Salvador from the political corruption that has made it so unstable in the past. (Remember, ignorance and incompetence have nothing to do with political corruption.)

Meanwhile, Michael Bragman, a former rival to Democratic State Assembly Majority leader Shel Silver, has teamed up with Hutchens on a $95 million real estate project outside of Syracuse.

Now that Hutchens has his Erie Canal and his mule, will he be able to have his HUD homes and eat his frozen dandelions too? Stay tuned, we're trying to determine if his business empire is properly insulated.

According to a report in the Syracuse Post Standard, which initially broke the story, Hutchens denied making contributions to any political campaign and claimed that the deal was not pushed through because of political connections. Subsequent investigations, including a report in The Buffalo News, however, have shown that Hutchens did indeed contribute a mere $9,000 to Governor George Pataki.

Again, ignorance and incompetence having nothing to do whatsoever with what CIA types refer to as the Political-Business-Criminal Nexus. That's pure conspiracy theory, buddy.

Is California Dreamin' of Being More Like Buffalo?!

Now that the “California Coup” has been executed with Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger dispatching Governor Gray Davis, it's time to start asking the important questions, such as, what's in it for Warren? No, not the Warren Commission! Warren Buffett, dummies!

Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and The Buffalo News, created quite a stir as a campaign advisor for Arnie by suggesting that California's real estate taxes are way too low. Such apostasy calls into question the California Republicans' tax revolution embodied in the famous Proposition 13. It was interpreted as a sign by some observers that Schwarzenegger may actually be a Democrat in Republican body armor.

While some right wingers are uneasy about Schwarzenegger's victory, they should cheer up and contemplate why Warren and Arnie became political bedfellows in the first place. Buffett has decried the excesses of corporate greed and the creative accounting that were the hallmarks of the Enron era. It's important to remember, however, that his business model of privately held monopolies is even more opaque.

Berkshire owns the second-largest residential real estate brokerage firm in the United States, HomeServices of America, Inc. He also owns MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., parent of CalEnergy. Both HomeServices and CalEnergy have been aggressively pursuing opportunities in the California market. Having a fresh set of ears in the governor's mansion in Sacramento certainly won't hurt.

California's deficits were undoubtedly exacerbated by the deregulation of the power industry. While higher property taxes might represent a solution to its current financial crisis, one can't help but wonder whether the situation might, at the same time, apply pressure on smaller realtors and thereby help HomeServices increase its market share in the Golden State.

Before we dismiss such a cynical assessment, let's not forget how Buffett continues to operate in our neck of the woods. The Buffalo News has been used as a siege engine for Buffett's interests.

The attack on the Peace Bridge Authority's plans to expand capacity directly benefited the Detroit International Bridge Company (which owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor) by increasing traffic at the privately held crossing.

According to his authorized biography and Roger Lowenstein of The Wall Street Journal, Buffett owned roughly a quarter of that company. The Detroit International Bridge Company has remained steadfast in its refusal to take no for an answer in its efforts to set up a privately held truck bridge between Buffalo and Fort Erie. Recently, the company announced that its clandestine real estate purchases on both sides of the border will enable it to unveil a master plan for a new bridge by the end of this year.

Wow, we can't wait! Will the tolls be double what trucks currently pay at the Peace Bridge, or triple? It looks like another plan to screw the little guy is under way. So don't say we're not getting things done around here!

So what else may be in California's stars?

Well, the collapse of Buffalo's housing market and the massive fraud perpetrated by the Masiello administration in its misuse of HUD money is a tough act to follow, but it did benefit lenders, such as M&T, another Berkshire-controlled company, and, of course, the inner circle of the Buffalo Club. He got his five hundred and twenty-four miles on the Erie Canal for $30,000... but where's his mule?

The closed bid deal that gave good ol' boy Michael A. Hutchens of Buffalo property development rights on the ENTIRE Erie Canal was brokered by former New York State Senator H. Douglas Barclay, who is now George W. Bush's appointee for U.S. ambassador to El Salvador.

It is hoped that Barclay will do his part to help save El Salvador from the political corruption that has made it so unstable in the past. (Remember, ignorance and incompetence have nothing to do with political corruption.)

Meanwhile, Michael Bragman, a former rival to Democratic State Assembly Majority leader Shel Silver, has teamed up with Hutchens on a $95 million real estate project outside of Syracuse.

Now that Hutchens has his Erie Canal and his mule, will he be able to have his HUD homes and eat his frozen dandelions too? Stay tuned, we're trying to determine if his business empire is properly insulated.

According to a report in the Syracuse Post Standard, which initially broke the story, Hutchens denied making contributions to any political campaign and claimed that the deal was not pushed through because of political connections. Subsequent investigations, including a report in The Buffalo News, however, have shown that Hutchens did indeed contribute a mere $9,000 to Governor George Pataki.

Again, ignorance and incompetence having nothing to do whatsoever with what CIA types refer to as the Political-Business-Criminal Nexus. That's pure conspiracy theory, buddy.

Is California Dreamin' of Being More Like Buffalo?!

Now that the “California Coup” has been executed with Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger dispatching Governor Gray Davis, it's time to start asking the important questions, such as, what's in it for Warren?

No, not the Warren Commission! Warren Buffett, dummies! Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and The Buffalo News, created quite a stir as a campaign advisor for Arnie by suggesting that California's real estate taxes are way too low. Such apostasy calls into question the California Republicans' tax revolution embodied in the famous Proposition 13. It was interpreted as a sign by some observers that Schwarzenegger may actually be a Democrat in Republican body armor.

While some right wingers are uneasy about Schwarzenegger's victory, they should cheer up and contemplate why Warren and Arnie became political bedfellows in the first place. Buffett has decried the excesses of corporate greed and the creative accounting that were the hallmarks of the Enron era. It's important to remember, however, that his business model of privately held monopolies is even more opaque.

Berkshire owns the second-largest residential real estate brokerage firm in the United States, HomeServices of America, Inc. He also owns MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., parent of CalEnergy. Both HomeServices and CalEnergy have been aggressively pursuing opportunities in the California market. Having a fresh set of ears in the governor's mansion in Sacramento certainly won't hurt.

California's deficits were undoubtedly exacerbated by the deregulation of the power industry. While higher property taxes might represent a solution to its current financial crisis, one can't help but wonder whether the situation might, at the same time, apply pressure on smaller realtors and thereby help HomeServices increase its market share in the Golden State.

Before we dismiss such a cynical assessment, let's not forget how Buffett continues to operate in our neck of the woods. The Buffalo News has been used as a siege engine for Buffett's interests.

The attack on the Peace Bridge Authority's plans to expand capacity directly benefited the Detroit International Bridge Company (which owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor) by increasing traffic at the privately held crossing.

According to his authorized biography and Roger Lowenstein of The Wall Street Journal, Buffett owned roughly a quarter of that company. The Detroit International Bridge Company has remained steadfast in its refusal to take no for an answer in its efforts to set up a privately held truck bridge between Buffalo and Fort Erie. Recently, the company announced that its clandestine real estate purchases on both sides of the border will enable it to unveil a master plan for a new bridge by the end of this year.

Wow, we can't wait! Will the tolls be double what trucks currently pay at the Peace Bridge, or triple? It looks like another plan to screw the little guy is under way. So don't say we're not getting things done around here!

So what else may be in California's stars?

Well, the collapse of Buffalo's housing market and the massive fraud perpetrated by the Masiello administration in its misuse of HUD money is a tough act to follow, but it did benefit lenders, such as M&T, another Berkshire-controlled company, and, of course, the inner circle of the Buffalo Club.

Finally, the recent imposition of a Republican-run control board has shut down the city's democratic process, thus guaranteeing that the current, closed market conditions which benefit Warren Buffett and his local vassals will prevail.

So, if some Californian asks you whether democracy can survive in secrecy, just say, “Hast la vista, baby.”

Mere conspiracy theory? Perhaps, but we think not.

We'll be back.

Finally, the recent imposition of a Republican-run control board has shut down the city's democratic process, thus guaranteeing that the current, closed market conditions which benefit Warren Buffett and his local vassals will prevail.

So, if some Californian asks you whether democracy can survive in secrecy, just say, “Hast la vista, baby.”

Mere conspiracy theory? Perhaps, but we think not. We'll be back.

The very sordid Wilson affair, in which two high-ranking administration officials allegedly leaked the name of a serving CIA officer to reporters, in an effort to seemingly smear the agent’s ambassador husband’s reputation and credibility, backfired. Another motivation for this alleged leak was to send a message to anyone else who might want to disagree with administration policies. This action backfired and erupted into accusations of criminal wrongdoing at best and perhaps accessory to murder and treason at the worst against those doing the leaking. The ambassador was, of course, James Wilson, who disabused the administration’s claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger. These false claims found their way into the president’s State of the Union speech in the now-infamous “16 words.” In retaliation, senior administration officials unmasked Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA employee. Veteran Washington reporter Robert Novak was told that Mrs. Wilson was “fair game.”

This story broke as the Iraq Survey Group delivered its first report to Congress. According to this report, no chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons had been found so far in Iraq. The president and his surrogates’ assertion that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States because of a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction that have been proven to not exist. The famous forty-five minute launch window credited to Saddam’s anthrax ridden UAV s by the Blair administration has been discredited as well. Even the fear that Saddam would unleash a chemical attack on American troops as they closed in on Baghdad proved groundless.

The occupation of Iraq has been sinking deeper and deeper into a Vietnam like quagmire, with no exit for the United States any time soon. The American soldier and the American taxpayer are now fully committed. They could both be there for ten years at a cost of $100 billion.

As the summer passed, Bush’s poll numbers slowly sank into the political abyss below 50 percent.

Something had to be done, so Mr. Bush dusted off a little-used and ill-used secretary of state and pushed him into the now-hostile world of the United Nations to negotiate behind the scenes. The United Nations is, most of the time, ambivalent to the world’s problems, doing little to violate any brother member nation’s sovereignty with boorish behavior, such as sanctions. Actual effective intervention is rare. After all, the next time it might be their country. Vicious civil wars and accompanying bloodbaths in place, such as the Congo or Rwanda, are debated and condemned, with the occasional French paratrooper thrown into harm’s way as a token of support. So the United Nations remains mostly harmless. Even action against a man with so little defense as Saddam Hussein proved difficult to arouse and daunting to the Bush administration.

But Bush was forced to appear before the General Assembly, hat in hand, asking for help in the form of troops and money, where, before the mess in Baghdad, he could move unilaterally with little concern for foreign feelings.

Now he had to eat diplomatic crow. He didn’t like the taste, and worst yet, the members forcing him to eat it did not want to pick up the check. Why should they commit political suicide by exposing their own soldiers to Iraqi wrath, with nothing to show for it?

It now would seem that the dogs of war set lose by the Bush team and the compliant American Congress might have been left in the kennel. Attempts to threaten those criticizing the war are beginning to prove fruitless and embarrassing.

And the approval numbers seemingly have nowhere to go but lower.

The president of the United States has serious political problems. Someone’s got to take the fall. The war wagons are circled inside the Beltway, closing ranks and trying to avoid the public political guillotine that is sure to come. After all, Richard Nixon fired his two closest friends and advisors, Bob Haldemann and John Ehrlichmann, and threw them to the Watergate prosecutors when his presidency was threatened with a possible impeachment.

With a Democratic Party now emboldened by falling numbers and questions from the left and right, Bush must react to regain control. His primary political image as the in-charge commander-in-chief must assert itself in November 2004, which is not that far away.

And Bush isn’t the only member of the administration facing political difficulties. The forming of the Iraq Stabilization Group does not bode well for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The administration still claims that the responsibility for running postwar Iraq rests with the defense department. Even so, the secretary of defense must be uneasy with the White House looking over his shoulder, calling the shots, and possibly overriding his authority. Rumsfeld has tremendous power and is a key player inside the Neocon circle who pulls the strings on the war on terror. He will not be easy to displace. But the intelligence community is putting heat on this group. Members of the intelligence community see themselves bypassed and then blamed for intelligence failures, embellishments, or just plain lies.

And the state department is no friend of the Neocons or of the Defense Department. The state department sees them as having stampeded Congress into an easy victory and now a vicious occupation at the cost of years of diplomatic working. An alliance between Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld might form against an emerging Condoleezza Rice. Colin Powell still maintains his tremendous popularity, and he may wish to remain aloof as the struggle runs its course. But the failure of the United States to muster post-war help in Iraq must be causing him problems. And some of the stench of failure in this administration must surely rub of on the secretary of state. His own political future is at stake. He is not an old man, and he still has ambitions. He may not wish to go down with a torpedoed Bush administration.

Their president must be re-elected. George Bush is the only candidate that they can package. But the political reality cannot be denied. For that to happen, someone must take the fall. The question remains, who?

The charges were as varied as his court appearances and provided a number of city court judges with Excedrin headaches. District Attorney Frank Clark, assigned one of his best young attorneys to prosecute these cases. After losing one case after the other the young attorney was rumored to have applied for a managerial position at Burger King.

Kern, earned the street name of "Cat Shit" after stalking a number of neighborhood cats and watching them defecate. He then dug up the fresh feces and saved it until he had enough to decorate the walls of the local neighborhood housing office. Although some believe that acts like these are a bit extreme it does provide entertainment for those into scatological humor.

The Buffalo News, in a copyrighted article by James Heaney, appearing in the Sunday September 28th edition, reported that a Freedom of Information request (FOIA) was filed by The News. This publication, ALT, over the years has filed FOIA's requesting the release of similar information from the local U.S. Housing and Urban Development Office (HUD) only to be stonewalled by the local representatives. Steven T. Banko III, a longtime player on the political scene and former water boy to "Two Tall Tony" Masiello, graduated to the position of Field Office Director for the local HUD office after resigning from his position as chief apologist for Masiello in City Hall.

BMHA has a long and varied history of political cronyism crossing both sides of the political aisle. Clever accounting methods by present and past directors of BMHA may have served for the models for Enron, Tyco, World Com and a host of other corporate giants including their auditing firms. Jack Kemp and his American Enterprise Institute used HUD money to strengthen his political war chest and the lessons learned in that era were carried on with a vengeance.

It is disingenuous of Masiello to claim ignorance and for Banko to express surprise that the Great White Father in Washington has finally closed the tap for more funds for the BMHA and the City of Buffalo. Old audits of the BMHA books found discrepancies large enough for a company of Abrams Tanks to roll through with plenty of room to maneuver; but those reports were quickly filed in the circular filing cabinet under the see no evil label.

"Banko told Masiello that the city is doing a poor job managing the program and that required records are often incomplete or missing." Heaney also quotes Henry Taylor a UB professor and Director of Urban Studies "When you don't have somebody in charge, and when you don't have a strategy in place, this is what happens, 'he said of the city's housing program. "The buck stops at the person at the top. Tony is the mayor, and for whatever reason, these issues have never been addressed."

Mediocrity and ignorance serve as the excuses for this and past administrations in both the BMHA and the office of Mayor; however the true picture is one of malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance and borders on the criminal. Mr. Banko and Mayor Masiello should now demand that Sharon West, the Executive Director of BMHA and her director of Administration and Finance Cheryl MacMillan be removed from their positions and the Executive Board resign for failure to perform the functions of their office responsibly.

Maybe, just maybe the newly appointed control board will look at the real causes of our financial quagmire and demand that changes be made at the top before going after the unions and the little guys at the bottom of the pile. Yep! Dr. Taylor we agree that the "buck should stop at the person at the top. Tony is the mayor;" but being realistic we all know that "rolls downhill

Sexuality has taken many twists and turns over the decades. I don’t really know how we went from the’60s and ‘70s, when sex was seen as rebellion against the woes of conformity, to the ‘80s with the AIDS scare, to the ‘90s, when sex was becoming more and more experimental to the year 2003, when sexuality has taken the shape of a smiling thirteen year old. When did we take that sharp turn off of the path of progression and somehow end up with Jon Benet as the poster child for beauty and sexual desire?

There are many factors that could possibly add to the “kids having sex” phenomenon, such as family life, socioeconomic background, and peer influence. In this country, many families have two parents working. The parents can’t always monitor their child’s every move. “I think that parenting has something to do with it, but you can’t lock your kids in a bubble,” says Sue Smith, a mother of two. “You want them to be exposed to what’s going on in their world so you have to let them know, if you’re going to take the risk of having sex, you have to take the responsibility.” According to an article published in the Guardian, the average age in 1950 for the first time of sexual intercourse was 21 years. Today, it has dropped to 16.

It’s the double standard that children are supposed to look and act as adults and adults are supposed to look like young teenagers that’s creating a confusing mindset for people in our society. “But when you’re older, you become less desirable in the eye of society,” says sixteen year old Rachel Smith. By no means is sex- uality a bad thing; however, seeing Jenny Jones dress in teenage apparel is no weirder than seeing a thirteen-year old bend over, only to expose her diamond-studded thong top that says “flirt.”

Unfortunately, kids are constantly the innocent targets and have been for many years (I’m sure that many of you remember good ol’ Joe Camel). Companies are creating a false sense of maturity through one’s sexuality. “The media targets impressionable minds. Kids are easily impressed and can’t always discern reality,” says Mary Wiser, a mother of two. With kids, much of the issue has to do with rebellion. “It’s put in your head from such a young age that you shouldn’t be having sex and that it’s something so special that you should wait for. The media know that the kids are going to want to know what’s so special about it and try it as soon as they can. They know what they’re getting at,” says Rachael.

Another factor that plays into youth sex is the idea of “instant pleasure.” It seems as though the world has become a giant drive thru.

We spend half our days sitting in our cars ordering food, processing money, or picking up medicine, because, in some way or another, walking has become everybody’s latest hassle and time (or lack thereof) seems to haunt us in our sleep. Our culture is so consumed with time limits, deadlines, and daily to-do lists that the phrase, “stop to smell the roses” has become nothing more than a rarely glanced at refrigerator magnet. We have become a society that is so rushed and so pushed to “be faster, be better, be quicker!” that things such as love seem to have no place in our lives. “Kids and even adults don’t have long attention spans anymore. Everything is in little clips of life, and people think that’s how life is,” says sixteen-year-old Rebecca Wiser.

The question is when did the idea of love an sex become separate? Love takes months, sometimes even years, but sex takes only a few hours, minutes, or, in some cases, seconds. It’s the idea that quick sex will lead to quick love and instant gratification, and the good ‘ole U.S. of A. goes about marketing this product beautifully. Our culture of commercialized everything has managed to take something as wonderfully simple as sex and love and turn it into a moneymaking monster. The reality is that, the younger the client, the more money there is to be made.

Take Abercrombie & Fitch, for example. Back in 1999, this corporation was under scrutiny by Illinois Lieutenant Governor Corinne Wood and Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm for using “pornographic” poses to help sell their clothing line to young people. It was investigated in 2001 for using “scantily clad models.” And you can’t forget the controversy over the fact that the company was selling thongs to fit girls between the ages of 10 to 16.

Movies such as American Pie, although geared toward a younger crowd really promote an adult message. “To a twelve-year old, they may think sex is an important part of daily life, and without it, they’re lacking,” says Rebecca. Companies who are using sex to market their products toward youth culture are, in actuality, feeding off impressionable children by creating an adult ideology that many kids don’t understand. “I think you need to have everybody working together, including Hollywood and the media, to let people know it’s cool to wear normal blue jeans and a T-shirt and that you don’t need to pluck out your pubic hairs to wear them,” says Sue.

Our culture is saturated with sex. The mere idea of sex is so “in-your-face” that the only way to avoid it is to walk around with your eyes shut and your ears plugged. Because this issue seems to invade almost every aspect of our lives, there should be no surprise to the rise in children having sex at younger and younger ages. It’s all a cycle. If the media targets kids by using sex to sell their product, and the kids buy into it, then the cycle continues. Some may call this a loss of innocence. The problem is that for children, being sexy and having sex is their one-way ticket toward what they think is maturity and adulthood. Yes, sex sells, but when exactly is it appropriate to use it? And at what age is there a sense of understanding and responsibility? At the rate our society is going, the next thing you know, there will be thongs and muscle tees at baby GAP.

the publishing industry

Playboy’s competition used to be Hustler magazine. Today, it’s the entire newstand. All it takes is a field trip to the bookstore, and you can shop for naked broads the same way that you shop for beef, and the price is the same. Perhaps the only thing steamier than the photos are the headlines. Here are some of our favorites: 1) Neon Nipples 2) A Better Butt Now 3) Hot New Sex Positions 4) 50 Hot Things to Do to a Naked Man, 5) The Smell of Sex 6) Shhh...librarians on film 7) Oh-Oh Orgasms 8) Put the OH in Orgasm! 9) Shameless Sex Questions, 10) 12,000 men confess what makes their toes curl 11) Sexy. Sexie. Sexiest. 12) Caught With Their Pants Down! Bedroom busts that'll make you die laughing. 13) 12 naughty new sex positions. Oh yea! 14) Is cheating always wrong? 15) What to wear this season, even if it’s nothing.

the porn industry

Porn has been the undisputed champion of T&A for centuries. And if you thought pro-male porn is something new, think again. The secret room in the Naples Archaeological Museum contains sexual artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum. These ancient sexy relics have been closed to all but the very rich and influential for 200 years. We won’t ask why. Today, porn is for everybody. But proceeds from this $7 billion industry go primarily to men.

the music industry

As Snoop Doggy Dogg would say, “G’s up and Hoes Down.” In fact, they go way down in the music industry. In the hip-hop genre, you’ll find plenty of misogynistic references from some of today’s billboard stars. Ironically, the ladies continue to flock to the nearest record store to pay for the privilege of being called a Bitch, Cunt, or Hoe by their favorite male recording artist. “If that’s what they want... you know? But, personally, you’d never catch me spending money on a white singer calling me a nigger,” Says Black Atlanta recording artist Reginald Holtz.

the broadcast and film industry

The debut of Halle’s “Berries” on the big screen achieved its goal of major press and ticket sales. But not without a price. Warner Bros. paid Halle $250,000 per boob, with each nipple getting only a few seconds of actual screen time. But Halle is not alone. Countless other Hollywood heroines help contribute, to the average of seven cinema sex scenes per hour. If you’re not a movie buff, no worries. Watching TV is even better. FOX network stands proud as the ultimate sex stallion, with an average of 14 depictions of sex-related material per hour. ABC comes a close second, with 12 per hour. NBC averages at 10. CBS, the slackers, have a measly six sexual references per hour. Clearly, naked women on screen is no accident. But it’s worse than you think. Actress Sarah Jessica Parker tells of being harassed and nearly losing a job when she refused to do a nude scene that was not in the script, while Rosie Perez tells of being humiliated to the point of tears when director Spike Lee was directing her in a sex scene from Do The Right Thing (how's that for irony?).

government

Perhaps the reason we don’t see more males in sexual ads and movies is because they’re too busy running the country. Or the world for that matter.

the booze industry

Though technically this one belongs in the advertising category, they’ve been so consistent with their famous ass-vertising, that they deserved a category of their own. College kids will be happy to know that when it comes to booze you’ll find plenty of blondes and boobs. But that’s only in the ads. Don’t expect to see these women at the bars.

Three years later, Rebrovich is living in Tennessee on disability retirement. He has expressed his hopes that those involved in the illegal activities and the subsequent cover-up that he uncovered, are punished appropriately. His story first appeared on the Illuziletter website, a locally focused on-line political daily, more than two years ago, but the local mainstream media totally overlooked it until investigations by the FBI, the Erie County Sheriff’s Department, the county comptroller’s office, and the district attorney’s office revealed that there was indeed criminal wrongdoing at the Aurora plant.

According to Rebrovich, Naylon didn’t just illegally use county property, he engaged in the continuous harassment of Rebrovich and other longtime employees. These were employees who had received positive ratings in an evaluation that Rebrovich conducted shortly after Naylon began supervising the Aurora plant.

“He went after everyone who I gave a good rating to,” said Rebrovich. “I have never seen such a hostile work environment in my life. Naylon tried several times to provoke me so he would have an excuse to fire or discipline me.”

Rebrovich reported these problems to the union stewards, who then attempted to contact Lehman on an almost daily basis, according to Rebrovich. Many other Aurora barn workers filed grievances, including Tim Wroble, whose story can be found on the Illuziletter website.

AFSCME local 1095 leader John Orlando confirmed Rebrovich’s claims of rampant harassment in the Aurora garage, and he also confirmed that Swanick was contacted not only by Rebrovich but also by another 1095 member, Ken Genetti.

“Union members are who brought this problem to everyone’s attention first,” said Orlando. He also said that he hadn’t heard of or witnessed any illegal or improper actions at the Aurora garage prior to the appointment of Naylon.

Inefficiency in Action

The harassment charges against Naylon are just a piece of the problem. What happened to the money and equipment, the issues first raised by Rebrovich and local 1095 members, are, of course, at the heart of the matter. County Comptroller Nancy Naples released an audit of the Aurora district in early September, which details serial mismanagement and a lack of accountability at the plant in question, while raising questions about how much further and higher these practices go.

According to Naples’ report on the audit to the Erie County Legislature, there was little if any management and oversight at the Aurora plant. Budgetary, inventory, rental and expenditure controls were virtually non-existent, according to the report. Additionally, payroll irregularities and unapproved overtime were rampant at the Aurora garage, with the two general crew chiefs leading the way.

“In 2002, overtime for Aurora’s general crew chiefs significantly exceeded overtime earned by general crew chiefs at the other four districts,” reads the Naples report. The two Aurora garage chiefs claimed 1,598 overtime hours in 2002, while the seven other chiefs who run the four other plants claimed 2,843 hours. What this means is that the other seven chiefs had an average of 406.14 hours of overtime and $14,378 in pay each while the Aurora garage leaders clocked in for an average 799 hours of overtime for a whopping $27,723 in overtime compensation each. The audit also points out that the Aurora plant “spent more for rented equipment, $452,462 in 2001 and 2002, than the combined spending of the other four highway districts ($247,769), during the three years 2000, 2001, and 2002.” Most of the rentals came from the same company, and the orders were filled without the required paperwork, according to the comptroller’s audit.

Other problems at the Aurora plant aren’t as easy to pin down because documentation is incomplete or non-existent, according to the comptroller’s audit. In fact, lack of paperwork is a serious problem for the highway department. The report concludes with “No formal written policies and procedures were in place to govern the operation of county highway districts, nor (sic) did highway division management have an effective process in place to oversee districts activities.”

Pinning down the perpetrators

Rumors abound about the highway department these days, and many appear unverifiable at this time for two reasons: missing paperwork and the inability or lack of desire on the part of members of Joel Giambra’s administration to offer full disclosure, now that District Attorney Frank Clark has convened a special grand jury to investigate the Aurora plant scandal.

Initial claims that Erie County Sheriff Patrick Gallivan purchased land from Doug Naylon at a cut rate as part of a deal not to pursue allegations against him have been debunked by reporting done by Frank Parlato, Jr., on the Illuziletter. According to Parlato, Clark confirmed he was informed of Gallivan’s land purchase “from the jump start,” and there should be no question of collusion between the sheriff and the main suspect under investigation.

Others caught in the rumor mill are Dale Larson and Jeanne Chase, both Erie County legislators, who allegedly received favors from Naylon while he was still at the Aurora plant. Chase refutes any claim that she received crushed stone for a driveway from anyone working for Erie County, and she invited Alt to visit her property anytime that we wish. Larson, too, denies any impropriety, and he said that claims that he had his driveway and a town or village road paved at county expense are simply untrue. He expressed dismay at the rumors flying around and said that he may have become a convenient target because he chose not to run for office again.

“We live in a glass fishbowl,” said Larson. “I will guarantee not one legislator had one thing done for themselves or any friends. I know in my heart (that) it would never happen in a million years.”

He too invited Alt to examine his property. “There is not much more there that you haven’t read or heard,” said Larson. “At the end of the day, when this is all over, the people who thought they could get away will find out otherwise. Nobody’s going to walk away scot-free.” There is little evidence now that anyone outside the Aurora garage was involved in criminal activities, but this isn’t the only charge assigned to the special grand jury. Clark has publicly confirmed that improper practices, even if they do not amount to criminal misconduct, will be investigated as well. “We anticipate the special grand jury will make inquiry about violations of penal law,” said Clark. “They will also make inquiry into issues of malfeasance that are short of criminal wrongdoing.”

Is There a Cover Up?

It’s this second duty of the special grand jury that points to problems with management in the highway department, the DPW, and higher up in the Giambra administration. To begin with, Lehman stated, “Most of the findings by the comptroller’s office are not a surprise to the Department and have been addressed through the short term.” These short-term actions, outside of the dismissal of some employees, involve little more than memos reminding districts of proper practice as well as an attempt to blame a county-wide computerized accounting system (SAP) for the paperwork problem.

Alt has been unable to obtain a copy of the DPW internal Audit. Attempts to contact Lehman have been unsuccessful. The gatekeeper manning Lehman’s phone line refused to identify herself. She stated, “Ms. Lehman has said that we cannot comment on the Aurora plant as it is under investigation.”

Alt also attempted unsuccessfully to contact Bruce Fisher, Giambra’s chief of staff. Linda Bagley, who answered the phone, said that the office was not free to comment on the Aurora plant scandal. Alt asked Bagley if that was the official statement.

She responded, “No comment. I’m not talking to you, Brendan. Bye.” Then she hung up the phone. Attempts to solicit comment from the comptroller’s office were equally unsuccessful.

One person who was willing to talk was County Legislator David Dale, who pointed out that administration stonewalling and conflicting statements from administration officials over who was called in to investigate and when were reason that a possible cover-up became an issue.

Dale provided Alt with a copy of a resolution that he submitted to request the presence of officials of DPW and other administrative bodies at the County Legislature for an inquiry on the Highway Department. According to Dale, all of the legislature’s Democrats expressed support of his resolution. Legislator Michael Ranzenhofer, chairman of the economic development committee, however, refused to allow the resolution on to the floor. Several letters sent to Ranzenhofer backed up Dale’s statement. Dale provided copies of these letters to Alt.

Dale also said that the DPW internal audit that Lehman referred to was never presented to the Legislature and that he has been unable to obtain a copy.

Living to Exhale

According to Clark, a response to the request to empanel the special grand jury is expected at any day, and the panel of 23 jurors should be picked within a couple of weeks. In the meantime, Joel Giambra claims that he never heard of Paul Rebrovich. He said that he was the first person to call for an investigation. Giambra said that he doesn’t run the Highway Department, he runs Erie County.

Democratic County Executive Candidate Dan Ward has repeatedly called for full disclosure from Giambra. Rebrovich said that he knows of at least three persons who contacted Giambra about the initial problems with Naylon. He added that he has sent an open letter to the county executive but that, of yet, he has not received a response.

AFSCME Local 1095 leader Orlando confirmed that the FBI was investigating the garage prior to September 11, 2001, and that the DPW, the county legislature, and the county executive were all notified, not only of property theft, but also of Naylon’s alleged harassment of several Aurora plant employees.

Meanwhile, Rebrovich waits to see justice served for Erie County residents and for his former co-workers. He has said that he won’t name any new names, but if he is called before the special grand jury, he will provide them with any information he can. “I never registered to vote before I was 49 because I never wanted to owe anyone for my job,” said Rebrovich. “The first person I ever voted for was Joel Giambra. I never gave any money to him. I just voted for him and became a victim of his appointee.”

4) "When I Shine" - Dynamic Syncopation remix featuring Bahamadia by Herbalisher (Ninja Tune) "Badamadia supplies a 'roll off the tongue' rap to a tasty dynamic syncopation remix." Hear it at: www.ninjatune.net

5) "Rodney Yates" by David Holmes (Go Beat) "Another soundtrack gem from the master of 'soundtrack music without accompanying films'." Hear it at: www.buy.com

Kream Get Down - Fridays at Blu, 3112 Main Thurs Oct 9th at Iberia 3148 Main St w/Quantic

1) Got Some Teeth by Obie Trice (Shady/Aftermath) "I know a hit when I hear one. This is a hit. 50 who?" Hear it at: www.sandbox.pair.com/test12c.html

2) Senorita by Justin Timberlake (Jive) "Nsync was gay but Justin + Neptunes = dope male vocalist music." Hear it at: www.amazon.com

3) Light Your Ass On Fire by Busta Rhymes (Star Trak) "Neptunes again, this time bringing electro sounds back to pop music" Hear it at: www.sandbox.pa-ir.com/test12a.html

4) Diplodocus by Thingamajawn (Money Studies) "Temporarily unknown Diplo drops a dirty south/crate digging bomb on 45" Hear it at: www.sandboxautom-atic.com/test710.html

5) When You Hear That by Beanie Sigel (Roc-A-Fella) "He’s got guns, weed and Ol’ Dirty. What more does a rapper need?" Hear it at: www.sandbox.pair.com/test12a.html

Anyone attending a festival of this magnitude has to make choices, and I lucked out with my selections, except, that is, for the excruciatingly horrid comedy, Mambo Italiano. This is a flat and lifeless, garish and unfunny Canadian waste of time about a Montreal family of Italian-Canadians whose gay twenty-something son falls in love with a closeted cop. If Gallo’s effort is the worst movie ever made, and it isn’t, what was this one? Certainly, one of the worst I’ve ever seen. On more solid ground, and much more interesting, were my one-on-one interviews with actress Mary Steenburgen and director Gus Van Sant. The politically active and very engaging Steenburgen numbers Bill and Hillary Clinton among her personnel friends. Well, Mary might want to begin packing overnight bags for future White House stays. She’s also close to General Wesley Clark, who just might be the next President of the United States. In fact, Steenburgen had dinner with Clark a few days before she arrived at the Toronto Festival to help promote John Sayle’s Casa De Los Babys. Van Sant, a markedly introspective man, was in town to talk about Elephant, his gripping, free-form interpretation of the Columbine High School shootings that won first prize at Cannes. The film follows a few teenagers, two of whom prepare themselves to kill their classmates.

Steenburgen’s movie is another superb work from Sayles. It’s about American women who travel to South American to adopt babies from poor families and the red tape they face as well as the friendships they establish with each other. The film is gloriously acted by Steenburgen, Lili Taylor, Daryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rita Moreno, Susan Lynch, and others. The movie makes powerful statements about the politics of international adoptions and the glaring differences between cultures. Steenburgen told me Sayles is remarkable for his ability to understand bonds between people of different means and to explore the myriad questions about foreign adoptions. She was enthralled by the “idea of seeing a film where you would have a woman staying in a hotel and then have the woman who cleans her room. And they don’t speak the same language, but they are speaking the language of the heart. That was the theme in the movie that was the most dominant for me, this thing of the haves and have nots of the world. And how do we travel between our places in life? And is it right to take someone from one culture to another, and is it right to leave someone not to be loved and not take someone from their home?” Commenting on the fluid camera and dreamlike feel of the haunting Elephant, Van Sant said: “films are like dreams. I think that when you consider what dreams are supposed to do, or at least what I think they’re supposed to do emotionally; usually if you’re having a really good period of your life and everything is going well, your dreams might be very very dark and very troubling. If you’re going through a very very dark period in your life and things are difficult; people that are going through really horrific things, like prisoners, they’ll very very beautiful dreams. Dreams are seemingly meant to counteract or prepare you for emotional changes. So that if everything is going well, at least emotionally you’re grounded in a world that actually is unsettling, so that when the unsettling things happens, emotionally you can handle it, and you can say it’s like a dream. Which just means it’s not like my life. It’s more like what my dreams do. In films we tend to use them as other realities.”

The chance to see movies like Easy and The Station Agent is a reason festivals are so terrific. That sound you hear in Easy is the sound of silence. Good silence. This is the first feature film from screenwriter-director Jane Weinstock and she knows exactly when to have her characters be quiet for a few seconds. To think, rather than act solely on impulse. This is a very funny romantic comedy that understands adults and adult behavior. Easy features a starmaking performance from Marguerite Moreau as a young woman torn between love and the idea of love. Relationships are not what they’re cracked up to be, and she knows it. For some reason, she attracts oddballs, and she needs to understand why. Does love have a future or is it just going to be sex, or maybe even celibacy? Weinstock has a real understanding of the dynamics of human connection. The nicely acted movie never cloys. In fact, it offers up a few sweet and thoroughly believable surprises. The Station Agent is a fascinating tale about a dwarf who is obsessed with trains. He inherits an abandoned railway station and his life changes in the most amazing ways. Screenwriter-director Tom McCarthy has made a first feature that is sheer bliss.

Of course, festivals are also about gossip. You really can walk through the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel and trip over celebrities. Most of them eschew attitude, but just in case you’re thinking it’s all fun and games, here’s the skinny on one movie star’s behavior. The Toronto Globe And Mail reported about Diva behavior from recent Oscar winner Nicole Kidman. Seems that reporters at the one-hour question-and-answer session with The Human Stain star were advised to maintain a discreet distance from Kidman. “To ensure that no one got too close and infringed on the Australian actress’s personal space, all reporters had to turn on their tape recorders (which were granted a place on the desk in front of her) 15 seconds before she entered the room. They were also advised that they could not shut their tape recorders off - or, God forbid, leave their seats - until the ex-Mrs. Cruise was safely out of the room.”

Kidman co-stars with Anthony Hopkins in The Human Stain, which is based on Philip Roth’s novel about a recently widowed Massachusetts college professor with a secret that has everything to do with who he really is. Both play troubled people who come together for sex and companionship. Director Robert Benton’s outstanding, well-acted, wonderfully written movie works well on a number of levels, although I had a little trouble buying Kidman as a gum-cracking, salt-of-the-earth type. Hopkins’performance is flawless. There’s a breakthrough performance from Wentworth Miller as Hopkin’s character as a young man. Anna Deavere Smith, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, and Jacinda Barrett are also onboard. Nudity ruled the roost in a lot of movies at TO, and critics were hard-pressed not to have seen something with sex, sex, and more sex. The good news is that the ones I saw were worth the time.

Director Jane Campion (The Piano) unreeled her In The Cut, a gritty and very engrossing thriller about a serial killer on the lower east of Manhattan. The movie divided fans and critics alike, but this is an atmospheric film that isn’t supposed to make you comfortable. Loneliness and lust, murder and malevolence are not family fare. Meg Ryan is a teacher who falls hard for, and has rough sex with, a NYC detective played by Mark Ruffalo. Both Ryan and Ruffalo bare all, and when I say all, I mean everything. For some, that might be reason alone to see the movie. I liked it for more than that. It’s unsettling, and that’s a good thing. Young Adam features Ewan McGregor, no stranger to nudity. It’s a Scottish film about an unusual subject. A family runs a boat up and down the watery back channels of Scotland, delivering coal and other goods along the way. McGregor starts having sex with the wife (Tilda Swinton) of the boat owner and bad things start to happen. This is a fascinating movie about loyalty and responsibility and lack of guilt. There’s a murder and a mystery and it plays out perfectly. Twentynine Palms is from French director Bruno Dumont (L’Humanite). A Los Angeles couple (the guy’s carefree; the girl’s got serious issues) head for the desert and spend most of their time working on their relationship and sexual technique. At the end of the poetic and alluring movie, something devastating happens. Dumont expertly captures the mellow California lifestyle and then jolts you. He leaves you thinking about punishment and retribution.

All in all a good festival. Next year’s event begins September 9th.

Musicstack is free to the consumer. Gemm, in most instances, is also free, although, unlike Musicstack in some cases, Gemm will charge a transaction fee to purchase from certain sellers through its website. While this is a small added expense, (approximately 15 percent) these transactions have a money back guarantee from Gemm (something Musicstack does not offer).

Of the two websites, both offer an excellent resource to find almost any record / CD that you could imagine. While both are an excellent resource, Gemm does a better job of offering feedback on the different sellers and helping users to find sellers who will provide the most courteous, reputable, and prompt service.

Release: Trading Eights Blueprint Artist: The Five Corners Quintet Format: 10” Label: Ricky Tick Records

A tasty side project of NuSpirit Helsinki, Finland’s Five Corner Quintet dishes up two bossa flavored dance jazz numbers, reminding us of everything that was great about the bossa influenced jazz of the ‘60s. Yet Trading Eights and Blueprint still maintain a feeling that is both vibrant and fresh while managing to avoid the overproduction that is laden in so many contemporary dance jazz tracks. Nice packaging and liner notes reminiscent of old Blue Note and Verve releases make this even more desirable. Author's Note: Trading Eights can also be found on Schema Record’s compilation Break N' Bossa, Chapter six, while Blueprint can also be found on the compilation Jazz Bizniz! Volume three - Independent Jazz, Soul & Outernational Sounds on Counterpoint Records. Label Website: www.wobblyhead.com

In addition to the BERC mortgage, four and a half million dollars was lent to Theater Place Associates through HUD community development block grant funds. Theater Place Associates is led by Buffalo power attorney Jim Rolls. And what would a Rolls be without a Royce, you ask? Of course, Buffalo Police Commissioner Rocco Diina, a Mayor Anthony Masiello crony, was a founding investor, along with his brother, Anthony.

Control board or not, the breakfast of champions in this town will most likely continue to be publicly funded urban renewal projects, at least as long as the spigot of federal money to "save" Buffalo continues to remain on.

In terms of public subsidy, the building has been a relative bargain for taxpayers, though, especially since the new owners agreed to pay back taxes on the property. It is a success story, kind of compared to the L.L. Berger's building. The city acquired the building for $1.7 million, and then it absorbed several hundred thousand dollars in repairs. Just a few years later, it was sold for a dollar.

The cycle of massive investment of public money in downtown projects, followed by a fire sale, seems to be broken only when new properties are targeted for “renaissance.“ No one seemed more surprised about the turn of events at Theater Place than Bobby Militello, who, as a relative of Masiello crony Jim Militello, had every right to expect that the new ownership would allow him to continue to run the club. Apparently, he got blindsided by an avalanche of ice nine. We can see then that “The Tralf,“ as it's known, is merely another exhibit on display, much like Kurt Vonnegut's character Billy Pilgrim in his sojourns on the planet Tralfamadore. Instead of staring up at a big board like Billy Pilrim, Buffalonians are now looking up at a control board. Most of us seem to understand that what will happen next will probably not be good, and it will all out be of our control. That’s hardly the attitude of a renaissance society, but it’s one that appears to have a firm grip on Buffalo. So it goes.

Operation Clean Sweep Challenges Civil Rights on the East Side

Last year marked the debut of a new federal program called "Operation Clean Sweep," which was described by its proponents as a "quality of life program."

Critics say that the program could be more accurately described as an attack on the fourth amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which protects American citizens from illegal search and seizure by government authorities.

The operation entails the formation of a posse including, but not limited to, federal marshals; the city corporation counsel; representatives of the U.S. Attorney's office; social services; all major utilities including Adelphia Cable; parole officers; and even the city dog catcher. Coordinated by Rocco Diina's Buffalo Police Special Services Unit, the group conducts surprise "sweeps" through poor, inner-city neighborhoods, going door to door and requesting entry into private residences, ostensibly to make sure that citizens are "safe."

The most successful clean sweep to date was the first, which targeted Hispanics on the city’s west side. Some residents with poor English skills and no knowledge of their rights as Americans allowed the "quality of life program" into their homes, whereupon the authorities quickly began to look for violations of the law and evidence of wrongdoing, all without search warrants.

On Sept. 24, Operation Clean Sweep swung into action, once again centering its "information campaign" in and around Goodyear Avenue on the city's east side.

One elderly resident, who requested anonymity, told Alt that she was deeply upset by the massive show of force on her doorstep. A frightened housemate had let the "quality of life" team into the home, which led to an interrogation revolving around licenses for the resident's dogs.

Who says that a United States marshal or the city's corporation counsel is not fit to be a dogcatcher? Obviously someone who does not understand compassionate conservatism or the war on terror.

The New York Civil Liberties Union Western Regional office, led by Jeanne-Noel Mahoney, told Alt that the program appears to be based on the false premise of providing citizens with information about home safety. "If the idea of this program is to help people," she said, "wouldn't it make sense to notify people ahead of time?"

Mahoney also pointed out that most of the cleaning activity that Operation Clean Sweep has conducted have been in vacant lots owned by one of the most notorious landlords of all, the City of Buffalo.

While Mahoney said that the NYCLU does not disapprove of some of the program's public information dimension, she questioned the use of a massive posse to provide it.

"There certainly are cheaper ways to let people know that smoke detectors can be installed free of charge in residents’ homes," she said.

In previous Clean Sweep efforts, the NYCLU, when it received notice of it, had shown up to inform citizens that they have the right to refuse the posse entry into their homes. The civil rights group was not informed of the location of the latest Clean Sweep, according to Mahoney.

Indeed, where there's smoke, there's fire. Unfortunately, what’s burning may turn out to be the Bill of Rights.

I’ve argued this point before, but too many of today’s movie critics are clueless as to what comprises a good film. They’re so overwhelmed by flimsy plots and cheesy acting and unending special effects, that they wouldn’t recognize a well-made movie if one fell on their collective head. Always remember the young Turk reviewer (age: middle twenties), whose favorite movie of all time (well, his time) is Ghostbusters, and then, in no special order, considers Goonies, Men In Black, and all Star Wars features to be the highest achievement in contemporary cinema. And the gloriously untalented Richard Roeper, the lump who replaced Gene Siskel as one half of the critical television thumb duo, “really, really, really” believes that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is sheer genius. I mean, come on, it’s a good movie, but Roeper is so off-the-mark that you end up feeling sorry for his naivete, rather than angry or embarrassed.

Well-made movies are what Woody Allen directs. HBO recently ran his last movie, Hollywood Ending, for a month of showings. It became a guilty pleasure. I watched it often. I wrote when it was released, and I’ll write it again: structurally the film is perfect. It’s also very funny and very insightful about the motion picture business. Allen’s newest feature is Anything Else, and it’s been promoted by DreamWorks as a young adult comedy rather than a smart Woody Allen production. In fact, if you didn’t know that Allen wrote and directed it, you’d never realize that fact based on the television advertisements for it. DreamWorks is guilty of being both silly and cowardly.

When it comes to Allen, there’s always some complaining that he’s too old to play the romantic lead. Ageism is very much alive and well in America. Maybe Allen wanted to prove a point, so in Anything Else, his character doesn’t get the girl; his character advises the fellow who gets the girl. He’s Jason Biggs and she’s Christina Ricci. Unfortunately, Biggs chooses to channel Allen’s acting style and as the director, Allen should have stopped him in his tracks. But Ricci is wonderful, as always. Allen plays Biggs’ mentor so he’s around to offer advice about love and relationships. Biggs and Ricci play an on again/off again couple. The camera worships Allen’s beloved Manhattan. Anything Else is cozy and cosmopolitan and never shrieks its points the way too many contemporary comedies do. The film has some very solid laughs and you watch it relieved that Allen is still making movies as he approaches his seventh decade of life. More power to him.

There are a number of amazing things about American Splendor, not the least of which is that, considering the subject matter, it’s thoroughly entertaining. The movie is written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, and it’s based on the graphic novels written by favored David Letterman guest (in the 1980s) Harvey Pekar and drawn by the illustrious R. Crumb. The novels and movie are based on Pekar’s life. In the film, we see the real Harvey and his real-life wife Joyce, and we also see fictional episodes in their unusual lives. Harvey’s a Cleveland file clerk who is one of those nerdy types who belongs at a comic book convention, or, better yet, should be dressed like the lowest-billed Star Trek character. The fascinating film explores the lives of this odd couple. In the “cinematic” scenes, they are brilliantly played by Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis. Pekar is a loveable loser, a Sad Sack who has flourished under the glare of celebrity. That American Splendor is a treat is mind-boggling. Go figure.

The Magdalene Sisters and Thirteen are two indie productions that have been playing in town for a couple of weeks. They both have their assets, but I’m not wild about either of them. The Magdalene Sisters suffers because it’s a true story. There isn’t much the filmmakers can do except present the facts. They don’t have the vision or the talent to take the facts and do something astonishing with them. This is another one of those juvenile abuse movies. Irish girls are sent to a dreadful home for wayward women, overseen by Catholic nuns, for the most outrageous of things – thinking about sex can get them sentenced to a year in the hellhole. Regarding political shenanigans and child abuse, I gather that the Roman Catholic Church has a lot to answer for in Ireland, let alone here in the United States. The girls are treated like dirt and the thrust of the film is that they will either succumb to the inequities or fight back and maybe figure out a way to escape. The movie is very gray and straightforward and utterly unsurprising. It seems to exist to get revenge. The acting is good, but the dreary surroundings weigh you down. This is an interesting movie, and it’s to the credit of the talented young actresses playing the abused girls that it isn’t a total downer. But, it could have been so much better.

Thirteen is drawn from the life of a contemporary teenager, but it isn’t quite a true story. There are fictional embellishments. The main selling point of the movie is that it’s co-written by a teenage girl, Nikki Reed, who helped pen the script (with an adult) at age 13. She acted in the film at age 14. The gist of this movie is that bad girls influence good girls, and Thirteen is a testament to the power of sex, drugs, and more sex and drugs. Toss in a little rap and rock and roll, and you’ve got an ode to juvenile delinquency that might have made Nicholas Ray proud, but in my gut, I think he would have hated it. I found the entire exercise turgid and tedious. After one, two, or ten scenes of meanness and abuse and a rash of “like no way,” “fer sure,” and “whatever,” you sort of wish for Doris Day. To truly enjoy a movie, you have to care about the characters, and I just didn’t care. Independent movies are everywhere, and Hollywood keeps cranking ‘em out as well. There’s Cold Creek Manor, which is basically a haunted house movie without much haunting. Sharon Stone and Dennis Quaid buy a new home and have high hopes for happy family dreams. Bad things happen to good-thinking people, but this is an exercise in tedium and familiarity. The Fighting Temptations showcases the now officially annoying talents of Cuba Gooding, Jr. How manic can one man be? I fear we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Gooding is an executive who falls on hard times and in order to earn an inheritance has to whip together a local gospel choir and have it win a singing championship. If this sounds like Sister Act, it is, only flipped gender-wise. The pedestrian movie is decidedly not about the singing group, The Temptations, who might want to consider suing the filmmakers.

Secondhand Lions showcases the prodigious talents of Michael Caine and Robert Duvall who play a pair of crusty curmudgeons who are visited for the summer by their teenage nephew, Haley Joel Osment. The kid is shocked, shocked by the eccentricities of his uncles. There are life lessons to be learned and a few laughs along the way. The movie is cute without being cloying. It probably won’t score high at the box office, but it’s going to be a great home viewing rental for families. Underworld is a standard vampire versus werewolf movie that delivers a few chills, one or two thrills, but no surprises.

Last, but certainly not least, is The Rundown, a run-of-the-mill action adventure feature that stars The Rock, another wrestler who thinks he can act. Perhaps if he makes a movie that requires more than just silly kung fu fighting, we can judge him on his thespian skills. This is another one of those hunting-for-a-human-in-the-jungle movies that’s beautifully photographed, but telegraphs every threat, joke, and incident. The plot is remarkably convoluted. Suffice it to say that The Rock is some sort of troubleshooter who also likes to gamble and who owes money to someone who needs a favor. The Rock is compelled to retrieve a wiseacre young American man who is spending more time in the Amazon than he should be. He’s played by Seann William Scott, who one day might want to explain why his first name has two ens. Scott has comedic talent and he’s personable, but he seems unsure of whether to play the whole thing straight or strictly for laughs. His main claim to fame are the America Pie movies. Anyway, The Rock and Scott are like oil and water and tensions flare. As they traverse the jungle, they have to battle big rebels and bigger insects. The Rock, Scott, and a fierce enemy figure all have sculpted bodies, so they take off their shirts and fight a lot. The camera swoons over them as the audience fades from sheer exhaustion at the sight of so much leafy tree canopy and so many flying fists.

“Awesome wine list.” “Magic Mushrooms and Lobster Ravioli were tremendous.” “Fred is cool.” “We’ve been here several times. It’s always good.”

Menu Tapas: Ceviche; shrimp/scallop goblet with spicy lime salsa Thai Sticks; grilled chicken with chili peanut sauce over sesame noodles Salads: Fredi house salad; greens with raspberry vinaigrette and feta cheese Entrees: Duck Breast; seared with oyster sauce Steak au Poivre; garlic & black pepper crusted tournedos with Gorgonzola Dessert: Key Lime Pie Chocolate Muse Torte Libations: Wine with Mousse Tapas; Pinot Bianco, Au Bon Climat, Bien Nacido, California Wine with Entrees: Zinfandel, Cellar 8, Beringer Blass Selection, California Wine with Key Lime: Muscat, St. Jean de Minervois, France Wine with Chocolate Muse Torte; Black Grenache, Banyuls Rimage, France

Buffalo's beginning experiences with the BFSA have been difficult for city officials and residents alike. The meetings on September 10 and September 15 revealed a process that seemed much like sausage making: messy and difficult to watch.

The adversarial nature of the process became clear on September 10, during Commissioner of Administration and Finance James B. Milroy's presentation.

"To close future gaps with property taxes, the city would soon exceed its constitutional taxing limits," Milroy said. The reforms that the city would have to make to balance its books "will cause pain," he added.

The BFSA offers the "last and best chance for saving the city," Milroy said hopefully.

And then, BFSA members asked questions and made comments, which seemed sharp and adversarial in tone. Robert Wilmers said that monthly cash flow statements. "bring clarity. When will you turn it in?" "You don't have reasonable assumptions," John Faso said. "In light of the gaps, why aren't you taking more aggressive action to reduce the head count (of city employees)?" Alair Townsend asked. "The state helped the city mask its problems until 9/11," Faso said. "You're asking us to approve a plan with no substance," said H. Carl McCall. Townsend said, "We have to make a decision based on whether the money is there. The help that you ask for is not available here."

Mayor Anthony Masiello responded, "We can borrow our way out. It will only prolong our problems. It will take state legislation to solve the problems." Milroy said, "We need across-the-board help. You can't keep going back to increase the garbage fee or other users fees. Putting the debt on a credit card will not help the city's structural problems."

When Faso said, "The city cannot balance its budget by itself," this prompted Milroy to point out, "The control board shines a light on a dilemma" but it doesn't offer solutions. "What good is a control board," he wondered. Buffalo Schools Superintendent Marion Canedo also faced BFSA members, who complained that she overwhelmed them with massive quantities of statistics. Richard Tobe said that he couldn't come to grips with the "big picture," due to being overwhelmed with multiple lines of numbers. She insisted that the plan that the school board submitted was a plan to achieve fiscal solvency, not to provide a quality education for Buffalo's school children.

On September 15, the BFSA rejected the city's entire plan, calling it unacceptable. Board President Thomas Baker termed the school districts plan a "nonstarter." "There is a structural gap all the way around," said BFSA Executive Director Dorothy Johnson. McCall said, "It's not the BFSA's responsibility to lobby for changes on the city's behalf. We should say that we acknowledge that change is needed."

The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority and the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency failed to submit plans. "They are required to show how they would cut the deficit, not just acknowledge that they have a deficit," said Baker. Like Milroy, Alt Press, wonders what the BFSA seeks to accomplish. Questions about the authority's "hidden agenda" were raised by the hiring of Joseph Stefko as the authority's principal analyst. Stefko formerly worked for the Rochester-based Center for Governmental Research as a research associate. Among the many projects that the Center for Governmental Research produced was the 1997 analysis of the City of Buffalo's financial situation, titled "No Handout, No Bailout." In the acknowledgments, credit is given to the "vision and insight of City Comptroller Joel Giambra and his staff." Today, County Executive Joel Giambra sits on the BFSA.

According to an anonymous source, an update of the "No Handout, No Bailout" report is due to be released in October. Alt Press sees the timing of this report as interesting, but not a coincidence. The city is required to submit a revised four-year plan on the first of October. It will be either approved or denied at the authority's next meeting on October 7. The author of the "No Handout, No Bailout" report, the Center for Governmental Research, has experience with control boards. CGR also devised an action plan for the Troy Strategy Group. Troy was one of several localities in New York State for which a control board was appointed. New York City, Yonkers, and Nassau County all have had control boards.

Masiello, himself a member of the BFSA, appealed for assistance. "This system is broken. All of the upstate cities need help. We need a collective vision for tomorrow. Today's dreams ultimately become tomorrow's services and reforms."

It remains to be seen if the BFSA will be willing or able to provide that help and to be a part of a vision for Buffalo's future or if it will just be another signpost for Buffalo to follow on the road to economic ruin.