The intelligence committee could not have picked a better scapegoat. Its reputation suspect at any time, the CIA will be hard pressed to stop scrambling politicians from dragging out into the open the “company’s” history of assassinations, coup d'etats, drug running, and arms dealings for all to relive. And how can the agency possibly defend itself without compromising its security, operating methods, and perhaps even its field agents? It can’t. All that it can do is sit back and take the smear from the latest inside-the-beltway witch hunt.

Former Director George Tenant will soon begin to reap the whirlwind. At the same time, sniveling, groveling-for-the-publicity future members of the latest committee drag him through yet another crucible-type Salem witch trial. Of course, the administration's chorus of sick children will be there, pointing fingers and screaming them on.

Acting Director John McLaughlin held a press conference at CIA headquarters and declared that corrective measures have been taken. He lamely commented, “We could have done better.” He did not elaborate. The CIA’s budget is a secret, of course, although we know that the U.S. intelligence community spends about $40 billion a year. One would like to know at what, how, when, and where. But it’s a secret, of course.

And, of course, those in the administration who lied us into the war in Iraq, most notably President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and "I-had-my-own-super-tanker" Condi Rice, can follow suit. The collective bleating can now begin in earnest: The CIA lied to us; it’s not our responsibility; we acted on the information supplied to us; everything we said before the war is “INOPERABLE." (Richard Nixon and Ron Ziegler are smiling from wherever!) Joliet Jake Blues sums it up for all concerned: "IT WASN”T MY FAULT!!!"

And they are not to be outdone, expect perhaps, by the mainstream media, who led the cheers and fed us the lied to pile on the now hapless agency. I expect that The New York Times and Judith Miller will now begin editorials of their own disavowing this Mission Impossible joke.

The NeoCons and their right-wing fascist think tanks can breathe a sigh of relief as well. The collective outcry will cover their call to empire as well.

And of course, the American public will demand action. All of those pious, patriotic citizens who waved the flags, screamed for buckets of blood, called anyone who stopped to think this all might be a mistake traitors, appeasers, collaborators, and Frenchmen can now wipe out any guilt from their conscience. How could our own red, white, and blue spies have gotten it so wrong? At breakfast tables across the land, I can hear them now. The e-mails and "letters to the editor" (The New York Times!!} will now begin to pour in.

I imagine Ahmed Chalabi, now resting comfortably in his U. S.-taxpayer-supplied villa in downtown Baghdad, is laughing himself silly. He played a bunch of Jackass Americans Neocons for 38 million bucks or so. So the CIA trashed his office and took some stuff. So what? He’s waiting for the occupation to turn even worse so he can step in and collect the power that he feels is his due.

Next in line will no doubt be our own Tony Masiello. What better way to re-election than blaming all of Buffalo’s problems on poor information? He just might show up at the next intelligence committee meeting demanding action. Why not? Everyone else will.

There was no claim in the Senate’s report that any intelligence analyst was pressured into anything. The ten visits to Langley by Cheney were ignored or glossed over. The role of the Office of Special Plans was disavowed and overlooked. The stove piping of information directly into the White House was ignored. The nonsense of Ahmed Chalabi and his exile group setting up the administration has been forgotten as well.

Bush, true to form, said that he had not read the report. Perhaps Condi will read it to him later at Camp David.

But in the long run, the intelligence community just might have the last laugh. Its job is to collect information. Think what you might, the folks in the CIA are very good at it. They know where all of the bodies are buried, inside and outside of the beltway. Can anyone say ‘October Surprise?”

Alt: In terms of this new formula, when will they resolve this and will that impact the Buffalo schools? Because, essentially, even though they’re talking about New York City, isn’t this going to be expanded to cover all of the inner city areas in New York State?

Byron Brown: That’s a good question. It may, it may not. The Court of Appeals of New York State has imposed a July 30 deadline for the state through the legislature and the governor to take action. Now, if we don’t act by that July 30th deadline, the court could appoint a special master whose job it would be to determine how the under funding of the New York City schools would be addressed. It would be only the New York City schools that would be addressed. That is because those parents and those educational advocates in that community were the only ones who filed the lawsuit. What many of us in the State Legislature would like to see happen is that we address the under funding of school districts all across the state. If we do that and if we take action before July 30, then we could see millions more dollars for the Buffalo public schools. We could see more money for the public school systems in Niagara Falls, Grand Island, the City of Tonawanda, and many other districts across the state that are under funded.

Alt: Is the Legislature going to reconvene before July 31?

Byron Brown: Well, that’s the big question. That’s one of the reasons why all of your listeners should call the governor, the Senate leader, and the Assembly leader, to say that the legislature needs to be reconvened. Prior to the legislators' leaving Albany last week, a six-week budget extender was passed. That essentially means that the legislature does not have to return to Albany until after six weeks. I voted against that six-week budget extender because I thought it was improper. I thought that it was a further sign that we weren’t getting our job done, that we weren’t doing the work that we were supposed to do, and I thought it sent absolutely the wrong message to the citizens and residents and taxpayers of New York State.

Alt: Is this breaking down along partisan issues? The Republicans pushing one agenda and the Democrats pushing another?

Byron Brown: It’s somewhat partisan. Democrats, by and large, often push for more money for education. The Republicans generally don’t feel as much money is needed for education. There are some Republican who, like Democrats, are champions of education, though. So I don’t want to lump every single Republican into that category, but, by and large the leadership, the governor and the Senate leader, don’t seem to think that there’s as much money as required to address the under funding of school districts across the State. Now the interesting thing is that the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Adequacy study, which was a study done by the top educational experts in the country, determined that 580 of the nearly 700 districts in New York State are not properly funded.

Alt: So it’s widespread and it’s not just focusing on urban school districts.

Byron Brown: No, it is very widespread. It’s rural and some suburban school districts for that matter that are under funded.

Alt: So if this master is appointed, and rumor has it that it could very well be Mario Cuomo, can't he create a global formula? Would he be limited to just New York City?

Byron Brown: He would be limited to focusing on the court decision, which is based solely on the needs of New York City schools. That would be absolutely disastrous for Buffalo and other school districts across the state that have proven to be under funded as well.

Alt: Wouldn’t that open up a whole plethora of lawsuits from Buffalo, from Rochester?

Byron Brown: That’s the belief. If this went forward with a special master only addressing the NYC funding issues, school districts that are under funded all across the state would probably bring their own suits. The effect of doing that would probably delay action, not only in New York City, but also for school districts across the state. It would be absolutely disastrous for the children of New York.

So, unless they resolve this in a global way, the result will be a long delay in getting any serious fiscal reform in the educational system. That’s what most people believe.

Following the cover scandal, the paper received what seemed like a gazillion phone calls. Ahmad apparently has received dozens of emails about writing for the paper. If anything good came from this, the response to the scandal made up for all the attention that we never got for the past thirteen and a half years. Many of the folks who called expressed support for Alt and its work but many others agreed with Ahmad. The recurring question is “what next?”

Many people want to know “what’s next” for Ahmad? Has he been fired or shot? Well, how do you fire free help? It was even more difficult to track him down after the infamous cover. But when press time came, Ahmad appeared, knowing that we didn’t have anyone else to do the covers. I surprised him when I asked him what he wanted on the cover. He almost surprised us when he replied, “Nothing.” I said almost because you can’t really be shocked after his last stunt. “Leave the cover blank,” he said. “If we have nothing to write and nobody reads what we write, then we should have nothing on the cover.”

I got his point; I agreed and, so there, you have it. The truth. Nothing, a perfect symbol for our paper and for dying journalism in Buffalo. After thirteen and half years of publishing, what’s next? I just wrote: Nothing.

To be honest, there’s nothing we can do. We could try being like Art Voice, but in my humble opinion, the AAN alternative press formula of faux-journalism sucks. For that matter, the whole group of AAN bubblegum alternative weeklies sucks (botox for everyone)! They are commercial self-censoring and corporate and do very little real investigate journalism. They never offered a real journalistic alternative to the mainstream. The real joke is that the few independently owned weeklies are either being eaten up by the very same media conglomerates that dominate the mainstream media or that are competing against them. An example of this is the duel in Rochester between The City Paper and the Gannett weekly The Insider.

Everyone we’ve spoken with tells us that they all read the same sections in Art Voice: Street Voice, News of the Weird, and What Has Happened (do they still have that section?). Art Voice doesn’t have a real readership. They have a viewer-ship. And while we’re not exactly sure what the statistics are on reading habits in this city, we do know that looking at pretty pictures is still fashionable and qualifies as a winning formula for expensive advertising. (Can you hear the jealousy in my voice?)

And then there is The Beast formula of puberty and bad politics. It offers the worst of all possible worlds: neither a readership nor a viewer-ship but just white-noise suburban pimply urban wanna-bees. But both The Beast and Art Voice have something we also don’t have: A Target Audience.

From the beginning, we thought that we were writing for readers, not viewers. We thought that certain pockets of the city would appreciate a paper that took the same stories as The Buffalo News and offered an alternative opinion. People have complained about Buffalo being a town with only one voice, and we set out to fix that. For instance, The Buffalo News did not do a good job in telling its readers about the millions of dollars that the federal government pumped into Buffalo to fight poverty and to rebuild the inner city, and how millions of those dollars are still unaccounted for. In any other country, Mayor Anthony Masiello would have been shot. But fortunately for him, The Buffalo News covers for him. The rest of the city fell asleep on the issue, and the few people who read our articles do not care. That is why journalism is dying; who cares? Just look into the stalls in the johns in city hall, and you will find Alt. It is all Political Porn. Alt is too dangerous to read at lunch. You could lose your political patronage job in city or county hall if you’re caught reading it. So what if America or Buffalo is becoming a media desert?

But we’ll take part of the blame and admit that we, in the past, did a poor job. As The Beast pointed out during its pre-emptive war against us, our paper was and is dense, difficult to read, and designed around text (bad design for the modern mind). That’s not a winning formula when you’re competing against bubble gum, beer, and ass.

All of our writers are local volunteers. So we’re going to do the best that we can from here on. And to prove that we can learn from our mistakes, we’re going to wipe the slate clean and start Alt Press all over again. Ahmad’s blank cover design is the appropriate statement.

ALT IS BORN AGAIN AND SEES THE LIGHT OF THE NEW JOURNALISM!

We understand that sex and Mexican puppies sell. If a call for writers worked for Ahmad, then maybe a call for nude models will work for us. We’re looking for some women to show it all in front of the camera. To be fair, and since we’re an alternative paper, we should probably invite a few men to come and pose, too. Let it hang, boys. And as a note to Paul Fallon, Buffalo’s only political nudist, you’re welcome, too, big boy. Masiello, we’ve already exposed you concerning the HUD scandal. We may as well expose the rest of you. Come on down.

Fear and violence seem to do the trick, too. We’d like a few African-American volunteers to arm themselves with pads, pencils, cameras, and an AK-47 and head over to Buffalo’s east side. Adventure is guaranteed. Safety isn’t.

Speaking of all that, racism is always a hot spot. You can’t get more racist than Buffalo. Well, you can if you work at it. So here’s our promise: When the next black man gets a beat down by the police, we’ll be there with video cam and everything. That should satisfy the racist appetite. But the next time that city hall hustles the inner city for a cool million, we’ll leave that one alone. Nobody reads that. Well, how about the time that the Buffalo fire department leaves the city unprotected. Who cares? Just burn, baby, burn.

Hmmmm... what else? General local media crap? Well, hell, we gave you the issue on the Sewer Authority, didn’t we?

Oh, I know I’m whining! I know I’m leaving the door wide open for even more criticism.

Well, we said all that to say absolutely nothing. But we don’t regret it. And while we’re at it, thanks to all of the people who wished us to go away (wish granted?). Thanks to The Beast for opening our eyes to the truth. Thanks to Art Voice for... um... the street festivals. Thanks to the political bozo twins, Joel Giambra and Too Tall Tony Masiello, for giving us a warranted source for our rage. Thanks to Buffalo for being so economically depressed. Continous failure is guaranteed, and gray is not just another color; it is a way of life. We couldn’t have done this alone. (Sniffle. Sniffle.)

P.S. No doubt after this, The Beast will retaliate. They love attention. They’ll probably even move some of those boobie ads to the front cover. If they do, we’ll sue!!! That was our idea!!!! We don’t expect a response from Art Voice. After all of these years, Jamie doesn’t even read Alt. (Boo Hoo.)

P.P.S. For free pot, call

Robert Moses, the creator of the great public authority tax loophole, made sure that one of the authorities that he controlled had a luxurious yacht to be at his beck and call, 24/7. What perks might the control board create with borrowed money for Buffalo's savior, Andy Rudnick, we wonder? Erie County Budget Imitates State Budget: Manana

It all started with Erie County Legislator Al DeBenedetti's interview featured in the last edition of Alt, so perhaps we're partly to blame for Erie County's failure to produce a budget.

Al accused the Giambra administration of presenting a phony budget. He said that the budget that the Erie County Legislature was permitted to see depends on hundreds of early retirements that we know will not happen. Therefore the county executive is knowingly presenting a false picture of the county's finances.

After that story aired, a special hearing on the budget was convened. Representatives of the Giambra administration appeared before the legislature with a secret weapon: PowerPoint.

The Democrats, however, had their deflector shields up. They refused to be mesmerized by the horror story of runaway Medicaid costs. So the County Exec's team took its fine Microsoft product elsewhere. The false information on early retirements never came up. The failure to respect the power of PowerPoint made it personal, so personal that the budget thingy has been postponed until September, so that everyone can just chill out. Maybe by that time, both branches can agree to watch some Macromedia Flash presentations. God forbid government provides a plain old spreadsheet to anybody.

Artvoice Ignores Bass Pro Gambling Link Artvoice recently featured a cover article about Seneca opposition leader, Bobby Jones. Jones and his political party, Senecas for Justice and Preservation, have been given short shrift by The Buffalo News, which managed to run a six-part series on issues confronting the Seneca Nation without so much as mentioning Jones or his many criticisms of the Seneca Tribal Council.

The Council has pursued casino gambling at the expense of core issues of sovereignty, most notably tribal land claims cases. Additionally, New York State's attempt to tax sales to non-Native Americans could shape up to be the main issue in this fall's tribal elections. And, while many consider Mr. Jones to be an outsider, he has been successful in putting pressure on the Tribal Council to be held accountable for its cozy relationship with Gov. George Pataki and the Niagara Falls Seneca Casino kingpin, Mickey Brown.

While the Artvoice article did a good job of describing the numerous legal options available to the Seneca Nation and outlining general strategies of the SJP, it failed to mention an important issue of some concern to the City of Buffalo, namely, the very real possibility that the city's pending sweetheart deal with Bass Pro shops may represent a Trojan horse for bringing a Native American casino into the Aud. You don't have to believe allegations made to this effect coming from people such as Jones; all you have to do is go to the company's website to discover the fact that Bass Pro does indeed have close ties to the gaming industry and is currently constructing a Las Vegas Pro shop/casino/hotel. According to www.basspro.com, “The hotel and casino will also be themed around hunting and fishing traditions and all will be connected by a common entry.”

How's that for seamless?

Is it possible that Bass Pro would consider a similar arrangement in the Aud? Certainly, with people such as Masiello so enthusiastic about providing Bass Pro with millions of dollars of taxpayer support, one can be excused for expecting another shoe to drop.

What's so disconcerting about this is that Buffalo Sabres managing partner and Artvoice supporter Larry Quinn is a big proponent of Bass Pro coming to Buffalo. What's the thought process here? Are we making Delaware North happy? Do Sabre fans really want to share a parking lot with a casino? Will Sabre fans lose money at the casino, only to wind up listening to the hockey game on the radio while driving home?

In terms of economics, at what point do all of these new gambling “opportunities” in Western New York begin to make a real dent in discretionary income? It's a social experiment, and, if it turns out to have a negative impact, there won't be anything that residents can do about it.

If Bass Pro isn't interested in developing a casino in the Aud, why are they being fed so much government money? When Bass Pro competitor Gander Mountain opened its doors, it did so on its own dime. Is it government's job now to punish them by subsidizing a competitor? Regular Alt readers should know the answer to that question.

The term “goo goo” is ordinarily paired with “gaa gaa” as onomatopoetic baby talk. That’s how the powers be treat us, like the ignorant crybabies that we are. The term “goo goo,” however, was also a term of derision for New York State reformers who naively tried to free the state from the corruption of Tammany Hall and the freewheeling business community, which created what was known as the shame of the cities.

The Goo Goo Dolls are very adept at expressing the infantile impulses of corporate rock culture. They can hardly be accused of being advocates of good government, however.

Its corporate overseers keep the band, like any other MTV generation group, on a tight leash. Its longtime manager, Artie Kwitchoff, is now a regional player in the Clear Channel Corporation’s bid to control bookings at local clubs, such as Nietzsche’s and the Mohawk Place.

While bassist Robbie Takac ruffled some feathers by holding concert performances at his recording studio during the Allentown Art Festival, that’s about as deep into local political issues as the band has been willing to go. In terms of the national scene we haven’t really heard a peep out of the Goo’s since they appeared in a 9-11 tribute concert. The grieving process has been cynically manipulated by the Bush administration to great effect. Thank you, Goo Goo Dolls, love Dick Cheney.

Who really cares what a bunch of musicians think about politics, anyway? Of course, the Dixie Chicks had to run a gauntlet of right-wing talking heads asking this very same question after singer Natalie Manes criticized President George W. Bush and his war on Iraq. But we can’t expect that kind of feistiness from Johnny Goo with his store-bought muscles. Perhaps a better question to ask is, which musicians would risk their careers by speaking out against the emerging authoritarian hegemony in this country?

Certainly not the Goo Goo Dolls. Not on a national scale and not on a local level, Allentown Association aside. Their July 4 free concert in front of Buffalo’s City Hall was a good representation of their disengagement from pressing political issues. Instead of addressing the complete takeover of the city’s democratically elected government by the Control Board, the band lived up to their “doll” moniker by jumping around onstage like a couple of windup dolls on speed.

The growing number of free summer concert series may bring residents together in a local public space but they certainly have not had the effect of raising political consciousness. In fact, events such as the Goo Goo Dolls concert/Warner Brothers DVD filming have more in common with the bread and circuses of Rome than with, say, Paul Robeson’s 1949 concert in Peekskill, N.Y., where concertgoers faced down the Ku Klux Klan.

Jeff Meirs! Where Are You? We Need You Now! The unexpected deluge of hard rain that threatened to spoil the Goos’ homecoming is now being repackaged as local myth. Building on the mythology of hearty Bills fans supporting their club in all sorts of weather, the ill-advised decision to “go on with the show” is being hailed as a “watershed” concert experience.

Enter Buffalo News rock critic Jeff Meirs. Jeff, a local musician of some note himself, penned a couple of articles documenting the heroism of the day in a bas-relief of our boys in the band. He didn’t really mention that fellow Buffalonian musician Ani DiFranco, her band, and their fans braved the same conditions. This was the Goo’s hour to shine. We wouldn’t want to put the spotlight on yet another female who is highly outspoken in her criticism of the Bush administration and is a rebel against the “Hit Men” of the music industry.

For some people, the spectacle of Mother Nature in Buffalo blowing apart the carefully staged event wasn’t a tribute to our heartiness, as folks such as Jeff would have fans believe. For these people it was karma. Karma for the suburban white noise that comes into the city for sinnin’ and then leaves. Karma for the political caste system that had hoped to create a postcard image of major city at play, when, in reality, it should have pushed Tony Masiello out there to give a violin performance as our democratic form of government goes down in flames. And, of course, karma for the quasi-governmental Buffalo Place, which saw its vendors take a bath (or a shower, in this case) while the GOP-friendly Park Lane siphoned most their customers off into the golden ballroom of the Statler Towers.

In all likelihood, the Goo Goo Dolls will end up packaging a product that relies on the Jeff Meirs myth, with plenty of Murphy’s Law moments thrown in for good measure. Speaking from experience, losers can relate to the idea that anything that can go wrong will. They can idolize those who find a silver (or better yet, golden) lining in a monsoon. They can trade stories about their brush with greatness as their city is engulfed in red ink.

Why give a voice to our desire to fight back, when you can fill their heads with dreams of stardom? Repeat after me: goo goo, gaa, gaa, NOT gabba, gabba, hey!

Today’s Menu

Soups and Sides: * New England Clam Chowder Onion Rings

Specialty Sandwiches and Salads: Cheddar Bacon BBQ Burger * Chicken Souvlaki

Beverages: # Root Beer Milk Shake Stewart’s Root Beer

* - Best of Category # - Best of Show

ABOUT BILL BROWN:
Bill Brown is an award-winning filmmaker who has been described by Brian Frye in Cashiers
du Cinémart as "a punk-rock version of Ross McElwee." His films have screened on the Sundance Channel and at nearly every festival on the planet. He has received both Rockefeller and Creative Capital grants, and in November 2003 the Museum of Modern Art presented a retrospective of his work. He's
also the creator and author of the 'zine Dream Whip.

ABOUT ROGER BEEBE:
Roger Beebe is a professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of Florida. Film Threat calls him "an artist with a strong visual and musical sensibility" and the Wilmington Encore raves that "Beebe's work is goofy, startling, and important." He has screened his films around the globe at such venues as McMurdo Station in Antarctica and the CBS Jumbotron in Times Square and at numerous festivals including NY Underground and the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

TOUR DATES:
Aug. 1, Minneapolis, MN
Aug. 2, Madison, WI
Aug. 3, Milwaukee, WI
Aug. 4, Chicago, IL
Aug. 6, Cleveland, OH
Aug. 8, Windsor, ON
Aug. 9, Buffalo, NY
Aug. 10, Pittsburgh, PA
Aug. 11, Columbus, OH
Aug. 12, Bloomington, IN
Aug. 13, Chicago, IL
At 4:00 AM on Saturday morning I called 911 to report a very loud and violent domestic argument between 5 individuals occurring on Grant Street near Delevan. I waited about 10 minutes before making the call, hoping they would just decide to move inside or quiet down, neither of which occurred. During this argument I heard several threats of stabbing, shooting, and even killing each other which I relayed to the 911 operator. The 911 operator indicated that they had already received several other calls about it and were "on there way". The argument continued until 4:45 AM when one of the groups drove away. No police officer ever arrived.

When the city of Buffalo announced that they were changing to 1 Officer patrol cars, they gave better response time and visibility as one of the major advantages. How can there be any justification for taking more than 1 hour to respond to a call, or never responding at all, when there are threats of physical violence. Why are there so many murders, shooting and stabbings in the city? When people are given that long for tempers to escalate and opportunity to obtain a weapon, how could it not happen! Where could all of the police officers possibly have been for that long that no one could respond and calm this situation?

We got lucky this time that cooler heads prevailed and this group of individuals separated before violence did occur. This could have been a lot worse. Response time to any 911 call of threats and violence needs to be minutes not hours. It should not matter where the call is coming from, who makes the call, or who may be involved. There is no time to wait for several other police cars to be available or in the area. The only way to stop violence is to respond quickly before it gets out of control.


Mr. Bailey
When it was just “bidness”, whether a sports team or an oil company, few suffered for his ineptness and ignorance but those who chose to do so. Now that he’s the President we are ALL paying for his lack of ability and intellect. In fact, the entire world is suffering irreparable damage from his appointment as head puppet of the neo-con fascists running the government from behind his smirk and VP Cheney’s grimace. Our children are being killed on a daily basis and we are spending upwards of FIVE BILLION DOLLARS A MONTH for his Iraqi fiasco alone, and the sad thing is we let it happen.
When a country with access to information at the level Americans have at their disposal from cable TV and the internet to the multitude of independent and alternative press sources, allows the policies of this administration to ravage the environment, rescind rights and alienate the rest of the civil (and un-) world to continue unchallenged, it shows a distinct disregard for the responsibilities of a democratic society too involved in the latest “Friends” episode or what the next “must have” media-induced fad item is going to be and how they’re going to pay for it. To put it bluntly: YOU DESERVE THIS.
As abhorrent as this administration is, you obesely overweight, slovenly, selfish, lazy, self-indulgent, materialistic, brain-dead, responsibility shirking, little consumermaggots are the real problem with America because you sit back on your well-padded butts in your gas-guzzling Selfishly Useless Vehicles and allow this to happen even though you know better. And until you get up off your fat asses and bring this administration to justice for the crimes it’s committing in your name with your tax dollars, YOU DESERVE EVERY 9/11 THE WORLD THROWS AT YOU. And none of us who saw this coming will shed a single tear for your loss. It’s time for you to take responsibility for what America, YOUR AMERICA has become. Whether you do or not will determine both the course of history and your personal worth from this November on. WAKE-UP. REGISTER. VOTE.
So it should come as no surprise that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s latest Metro Bus and Rail rate increase went through with little discussion or public comment. Since the last increase in 1995, the NFTA has suffered through Buffalo’s decline with less state, county, and city aid while serving an estimated 37,000 Metro Bus and 25,000 Metro Rail riders daily, according to the authority’s own reports and the Citizens Regional Transit Corporation. Surely, the fare increase sounds reasonable when put into the context.

The NFTA isn’t just Metro Bus and Rail; it owns large tracts of waterfront property in addition to operating two airports, and a marina. And it maintains its own police force. Both the Niagara Falls and Buffalo International Airports have been under severe financial strain since long before the World Trade Center attacks. This situation became acute last year and led to the NFTA proposing a fare increase. In press releases and on the NFTA pressroom web page, the NFTA tied that request, which was ultimately avoided by last minute state aid, directly to losses due to the terrorist attacks. The 76-officer Transit Police force has recently surfaced as yet another area of financial liability for the NFTA. Officers can earn a maximum annual salary of $40,000, according to NFTA Police Benevolent Association head David Zarbo. According to The Buffalo News reports, the NFTA is alarmed that New York State might pass a binding arbitration bill for transit police across the state that will allow these officers to forgo working second jobs and applying for public assistance to make ends meet.

And as for the waterfront, well, it would appear that the marina’s rates don’t prohibit the region’s more affluent from enjoying the waterfront. At the same time, the authority waits for someone else to foot the waterfront development bill before it lets go of the land it owns off of Furhmann Boulevard.

All of which brings us back to Metro service itself. Riders, activists, and even a few area politicians have anecdotally characterized the system as a model of inefficiency. From buses that never show up, can’t seem to stay on schedule, and appear to only carry schedules for lines that don’t connect to the complete Metro map conveniently placed behind the South Campus Station kiosk and the ever empty bus schedule racks, the NFTA has done little to manage the details that make public transportation desirable. Then there’s the much-derided Rapid Transit. Advocates have pled for expansion for years, but anyone who has paid attention knows that the line will never reach Amherst, let alone those burghs of safety and civility in the outer ring of suburbs. Area politicians have been jumping at the opportunity to support plans to return traffic to Main Street as a panacea for downtown’s woes. This would guarantee that the current transit defunding program will continue, even accelerate, into the foreseeable future.

The plan is as apparent as the plainly visible Metro service gaps on the aforementioned South Campus map. Apparently, the NFTA has determined that non-driving city residents have no need to travel into Clarence and little reason to travel any further south than West Seneca. The limited suburban service promises to promote auto traffic and to further erode Metro ridership.

With half hour waiting times and hour plus rides, trips outside of the first ring suburbs hearken back to bygone times when going to the general store was an all-day event. Throw in the extra cash for transfers and crossing zones, and it’s surprising that anyone bothers with the trek at all. Then again, since most jobs and stores have fled Buffalo, many city residents are left with little choice.

The amazing part is that few riders express discontent with the big picture. Instead, it’s the little issues that matter most to riders. On a recent rainy afternoon Alt Press round trip from Allentown to Amherst and back via the east side, several regular Metro riders voiced their concerns about the service that they receive in exchange for the recently raised bus and rail fares.

“They don’t clean the buses out good enough,” said Kordel, a city resident and regular rider of the 30C (Kenmore Avenue) bus line. Kordel said that the morning buses normally aren’t that dirty, but that, by the time he heads home from work, the buses are litter strewn.

“There’s wrappers under the seats, and the buses smell like urine a lot of the time,” he said. Pointing under the seat directly directly in front of him, Kordel said, “There’s a blunt under there. I see that a lot.”

Kordell takes three buses to travel between work in the Delaware and Kenmore avenues area and his home near Eggert Road. Kordell said that, as long as the buses are running on schedule, the trek takes about an hour in the morning and a little longer in the evening. But “if you miss one, you’ve got to wait twenty or thirty minutes for the next one.”

All things considered, though, Kordell said that he thinks that the service is adequate. He accepts the fare increase as unfortunate but necessary due to what he’s read and heard in the local news media.

“I wish it wouldn’t have changed,” said Kordell. “With the economy in Buffalo now, I guess we just have to deal with it. I just hope they don’t raise it again.” Other riders had a similar outlook, citing long waiting times and absent buses as annoyances that they’ve learned to deal with. But they accept the fare hike as inevitable as long as service doesn’t deteriorate further.

Thirty-nine year old Paris is developmentally disabled and rides the 25 Delaware route regularly between his home near Kenmore Avenue and downtown Buffalo. He said that, although the bus usually runs every 15 minutes, he has had to wait 40 or 45 minutes for a bus on a number of occasions. For Paris, the fare increase is a little steep but still affordable because Metro offers reduced-fare Flash-a-Passes to disabled people.

Susan, a Bryant Street resident who works in the Delaware-Kenmore area, said that Metro service is generally satisfactory and that the fare increase doesn’t bother her too much. What she would like to see fixed is the timing of connecting bus routes.

“The buses aren’t timed correctly,” she said. “I usually have to catch the later, second connecting bus. It’s good service but needs some fixing, especially with timing the connecting buses.”

For some, such as Jason, a teen who rides the 19 Bailey bus to the Clinton/Bailey area for work almost every day, the bus may provide good service but the fare increase is less than acceptable

“It doesn’t make too much sense to someone like me who takes it every day. The cost just adds up,” said Jason, adding that he pays per ride rather than purchase a Flash-a-Pass. Jason said he is happy with the service, although he often times has to wait more than thirty minutes for his bus. Waiting times of 15 to 30 minutes may be acceptable to riders on the routes that serve the more prosperous parts of the city, but, for those who are more dependent on bus service, it isn’t uncommon to wait much longer.

Jay Witherspoon had been waiting about 50 minutes outside a store on Genesee, a few blocks from Bailey, for the inbound 24 Genesee Street bus to take him to his night job at the Rath building. He said that this was not uncommon. “I’ve seen three buses going the other way,” Witherspoon said. “The morning service is alright but the evenings are a lot slower. I’m late for work right now.” Witherspoon said that fares should be lowered, and he offered advice to Metro administrators attempting to increase ridership. “Get some younger guys driving the Genesee route; those older guys drive too slow.”

All these seemingly minor complaints point to larger problems that need to be addressed. If Metro riders are willing to acquiesce to shouldering the NFTA’s financial burden, shouldn’t they at least get something in return? NFTA administrators have largely ignored the small picture while never discussing the bigger picture. Infrequent service in and between the regions’ poorest and wealthiest areas suggest, at the very least, that some decision makers want to keep these two groups as far apart as possible. Jobs? Parks? Stores? Guess the poor don’t really want those things. If they did, they’d buy a car. Right?

If the inability to find microphones in one of the best concert facilities in the country is a harbinger of the control board's ability to find a way to save Buffalo, we’re in trouble.

When asked his impressions of this opening performance, regionalism guru Kevin Gaughan expressed dismay. “It was poor, very poor. It didn’t seem to convey a genuine understanding of the importance of conducting an open process. This has to be conducted as an open process,” Gaughan said.

Unfortunately, running government like a business requires the abandonment of the open process, in the philosophy shared by most of those who are enmeshed in the local political-business nexus. It mirrors the changes that have taken place in this country under George W. Bush.

As if to underscore that connection to the grander scheme of things, rumor has it that control board member and M&T Bank CEO Bob Wilmers had as his lunch guest none other than former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, Jr.

Given the deep pockets of many of the players on the Buffalo scene, the question remains: why has there been practically no investment in this community? Could it be that Buffalo is broke by design?

As long as the control board operates in secrecy, these sort of questions will remain.

PBA Hearings Assemblymember Richard Brodsky of Westchester County chaired a public committee hearing on the Peace Bridge Authority’s eminent domain proposals on July 16 that highlighted a lot of the reasons why, one year after the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Peace Bridge, there is still no new bridge under construction.

To realize its goal of expanding capacity at the existing crossing, the Peace Bridge Authority has requested power of eminent domain on the American side to cover all possible plans that are on the table.

That pre-emptive insurance policy, however, renewed some of the major problems that the PBA has faced throughout the entire process, which has gone on for nearly a decade: mistrust, fear, and a suspicion, whether real or imagined, that the PBA is either unable or unwilling to communicate effectively with the community on this side of the border. Some of the residents who have been directly affected by increased traffic and who may be evicted by construction in the area were on hand to express their anger at the PBA and to plead their case against granting the PBA the extraordinary powers that it has requested.

Yet after some very tough cross-examination of the PBA and its American and Canadian counsel, Brodsky said, “I do not sense a tremendous wave of opposition to the PBA moving forward.”

He added, “An enormous amount of improvement in the process could be made by better communication.” Of course, both The Buffalo News and Artvoice did a great deal to fuel the public mistrust and opposition to the PBA. Now that it has become clear that no signature span will be constructed with public money, the only alternative to the PBA’s plan has been presented by The Detroit International Bridge Co., a company in which Buffalo News, Chairman Warren Buffett held (still holds?) a substantial stake. Opposition to this plan appears to be strong on the Canadian side, as it would require a new plaza. That doesn’t mean, however, that the PBA will be able to avoid further delays, accusations, and complaints about the public process that it must, by law, pursue to achieve its objective of expanding capacity at the border crossing in Buffalo.

While the Detroit International Bridge Co. would like to control truck traffic at an additional crossing here, limitation of commercial capacity at the Peace Bridge also benefits its interests.

Now That’s Italian!: Local GOP Plays Ethnic Card Word is that one of the main goals of County Executive Joel Giambra's administration, now that it is counting its chickens, has to do with reform -- reform of Italian-Americans who are Democrats, that is. Buffalo has a long history of myopic tribal leadership and the current county executive is certainly no exception. Making the GOP the default political association for as large and diverse a population as Italian-Americans represent might not appear to be the greatest area of need that Erie County faces, but it is if you’re Joel Giambra.

Now that the Buffalo Common Council has been reduced to a sort of academic debating society through downsizing and the governor’s draconian control board, you wouldn’t think that it would be a focus of intense campaigning. Yet, Common Councilmember Marc Coppola will be under intense pressure this fall as the GOP spends big on its strategy of eliminating as many Italian-American Democrats as possible. The hope is that voters of this ethnicity will switch their loyalty to the Republicans, based on nothing more than ethnic loyalty to Italian-American Chieftain Joel Giambra. Ironically, Coppola was loyal to Giambra in the push to trim black political representation on the Common Council. His refusal to join the party of the Plutocrats may be his downfall.

Other targets include Al DeBenedetti, former chairman of the Erie County Legislature, and Lynn Marinelli, an artificial Italian by marriage. All of these offenders will be faced by other “good” Italians who are either crypto-Republican Giambracrats or flag waving followers of our “education president.” Joel’s trying to pull an Italian job. It’s a shallow, parochial, and extremely cynical “anti-ideology,” the kind of mindset that has always held this community back. But when you have no new ideas, sometimes it's best to just make believe and keep doing things the old-fashioned (tribal) way.

Rokke, who has a doctorate in science education, said, "People seem to forget that the purpose of war is one thing only: to kill and destroy. And you're affected permanently. Nobody wins."

Rokke, whose first experience of war was Vietnam in 1967, said that Gulf War Syndrome, a permanent effect of war, was a "large incidence of 'friendly fire.'" The causes are exposure to DU munitions, low levels of chemical and biological warfare agents and smoke from the burning oil fields of Iraq and Kuwait, and a wide variety of toxic chemicals. Military personnel experienced compromised immune systems after being given up to eight shots at a time, including the never-approved anthrax vaccine. The government denies the existence of Gulf War Syndrome because it doesn't have the money to take care of all of the victims, Rokke said. More than 221,000 Gulf War I veterans are on permanent disability, and more than 10,000 veterans have died, Rokke said. Veterans' children, born since the war, show an increased incidence of birth defects and learning disabilities.

Rokke explained the attraction of DU munitions. "It's like playing darts, except that it's ten pounds of solid uranium. This thing comes out of the gun, flies through the air, and catches fire immediately. You fire a DU round at a vehicle, at a building, at a bunker, and they're destroyed." DU munitions were shot from Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles and were present in cluster bombs and landmines. They blew up anyone in their path, including enemy soldiers and small children. DU is now also used in bunker buster bombs, machine gun rounds, and parts of cruise missiles.

Problems began occurring. It took Rokke and his team three months to clean 24 Abrams tanks, destroyed by friendly fire. In the process, he and his team developed respiratory symptoms and rashes. Rokke said that he has been trying, since then, to get medical care for his team and himself, with little governmental cooperation. In 1994, Rokke was asked to direct the army's DU project in Nevada, where they discovered that protective devices didn't work. "During Gulf War I, people wore gas masks and still smelled it and tasted it (uranium particles) . The particles were going right through the filters."

A destroyed tank equipped with DU munitions is "a toxic wasteland. But we found out how much contamination, how you clean it up, and we wrote up the procedures," Rokke said.

In 1996, Rokke went to work at the Edwin R. Bradley Radiological Laboratories, at Fort McClellan, Alabama." The job "didn't last long because I kept adding proper education, medical care, and environmental cleanup." At the same time, the United States developed "Project SHAD" or "Shipboard Hazard and Defense." It involved testing biological and chemical germ warfare agents on U.S. naval crews and marine personnel.

"Did we just go to war because Saddam Hussein and Iraq used chemical and biological agents on their own population? We knew that, in 1990, Iraq did possess chemical and biological weapons. We knew that because the United States gave the weapons to them. We kept the receipts." The U.S. military blew up those weapons during the 1991 war. "Hey, guess what?" Rokke said. "Project SHAD was the deliberate use of chemical and biological munitions on U.S. citizens. And it's still going on." Rokke said that the U.S. government continues to deny the dangerous effect of DU munitions. Another reason for the recent war was to prevent Iraq from developing nuclear weapons. Yet, Rokke pointed out that the United States, which signed the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, has given tactical nuclear weapons to Australia. "How many people know that we want to take tactical nuclear weapons and warheads to Auckland, New Zealand?"

Rokke charged that the government has engaged in an elaborate system of denial. U.S. officials told a reporter in 1998, "army regulations are not applicable to soldiers in combat" and "overexposure is not applicable to the deployed army." All references to his team's research has been excised from the Pentagon's website. The last time that Rokke was tested at the DU medical project in Baltimore, Maryland, was in 1999. "They found all kinds of problems and they sent me back home. And that's the last I'd heard from them. The doctor does not return my phone calls or my doctor's phone calls."

But Rokke said, "When you use uranium munitions, you contaminate air, water, and soil and the military has confirmed that it makes the food and water unusable. There is no safe level of low-level radioactive exposure."

Chemistry does not create better living, despite the 1960s advertisements, Rokke said. And it doesn't create better wars. "The lesson from Gulf War I illness is the fact that extremely healthy individuals, when they have complex exposures to chemical, biological, and radiological sources, are going to get sick," Rokke said.

Rokke, a warrior for many years and who now works as a substitute teacher, said that he would still fight to protect his country. But he added, "War is a toxic wasteland. We've got to start living together and talking or we're going to contaminate everyone's soil. I'm a warrior but I'm here to tell you that war is obsolete."

Instead of digging deep into one story, let’s do a review of the top few.

The 5:45 p.m. Reuters newswire update is reporting the deaths of Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay. They were killed in a shootout with U.S. paratroopers in a villa in the city of Mosul. The entire administration must be breathing a huge sigh of relief. U.S. casualties are mounting, and the home front is getting restive, as the folks back home may actually have to think about the war. With the Hussein boys shot out of the saddle, the opinion polls will swell again with approval, and the general population can return to its grave concerns regarding the upcoming nuptials of JaLo and Matt.

There is still a hot war cooking in Afghanistan, but it seems t be out of sight and out of the mind of the mainstream media. The Taliban has regrouped and is launching counter attacks against just about everybody. The so-called government of Hamid Karzai now barely controls the capital city of Kabul. The rest of the countryside has long since fragmented into its traditional tribal and clan groups with their own alliances and controlling warlords. The fact that Afghanistan has reclaimed its lost title of number one opium producer in the world is hardly mentioned anywhere. Last season’s harvest was the largest ever, approaching 5,000 tonnes. The beneficiary of this agriculture has been the Afghan farmer, some of whom are putting their kids into private schools. (Editor’s note: that was a joke; there are no schools in Afghanistan). The victim of this now revitalized heroin industry will be the politically punch-drunk and staggering government of a now-under-siege British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Great Britain gets 90 percent of its smack via the Afghan-Moscow-London connection. British cops are not happy.

And, as Blair hid out in Beijing last week, he was notified that one of the country’s premier biological weapons experts had apparently committed suicide. This occurred after he was unmasked as the alleged source of the BBC’s stories charging the Blair government of “sexing up” its Iraq WMD claims. Apparently, Dr. David Kelly took pain- killers, slit his left wrist, and then calmly sat down and waited to bleed to death. The conspiracy industry, myself included, is gearing up for weeks of solid copy, as the British government is sure to mishandle this entire sordid affair.

Wherever you find a Bush family member, you are certain to find oil. They just can’t help themselves. It’s the family business.

In the July 4 issue of Alt, we reported the new American interest in west African oil. One of the world’s smallest and poorest counties is the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe. Fortunately, for its 170,000 citizens, that nation is sitting on just about 10 billion barrels of oil. Drilling permits is expected to generate about $100 million in revenue this year. Sao Tome will do a 40-60 split the swag with neighboring Nigeria, with Sao Tome getting the short end of the oil platform.

Sao Tome is interested in the constructing a naval base and other facilities and having the United States protect its new oil fields. The United States has shown some interest and has sent some high-ranking military people to have a look. Up till now, no decisions seem to have been made.

I say up to now, because, last Wednesday, there was a coup in Sao Tome.

Hardly noticed domestically, this was a big story in Europe and Africa. The president of the country was visiting friends on the mainland when one of the army of 900 officers led the uprising. They took over the capital, arresting government officials, and taking over the radio and television stations. Fortunately, no one was injured. At press time, the rebels are still in control, although the prisoners have been released. Their ambiguous demands seem to be related to the above-mentioned $100 million.

And this past weekend, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld signed a new deployment order. A three-ship Amphibious Ready Group, stationed off of the coast of the Indian Ocean near the Horn of Africa, was ordered to pull up anchor and set sail up the Red Sea and enter the Mediterranean. This naval group, led by the USS Iwo Jima, will wait there for orders.

Presumably, their destination will be the civil war-torn nation of Liberia. But as rebels close into the besieged capital of Monrovia and African dictator of the week Charles Taylor, one can wonder and speculate about the timing. The Iwo Jima is at least ten days steaming time from Liberia. By then, the fighting may well be over, and Charles Taylor long gone with his bagful of Krugerrands.

By then, there will be little for the complement of 4,500 sailors and marines to do but clean up the mess, help bury the dead, and evacuate anyone who couldn’t escape sooner. Then again, the coast of Liberia is just a few days from Sao Tome, and its still-running coup. And the president has yet to decide where to put these troops ashore.

Paul Wolfowitz was heard to quip about Iraq, “It’s swimming on a sea of oil,” or words to that effect. Sao Tome doesn’t have its own sea of oil just yet, but it’s close.

And, of course, no national affairs column is complete without reporting that the Pentagon is spending more money on another private military contractor. A few days ago, the Independent (UK) reported that a US PMC, known as Kroll, Inc., was being considered to take a contract to train Iraqi security guards. I sent them a note requesting confirmation, but they have yet to reply.

And, given the state of security on the ground in Baghdad, Kroll, Inc., just might consider staying home. After all, there are safer places, such as Sao Tome.

An internal memo code-named “Gallant Piper,” obtained by Alt, shows that the governor and his administration understood perfectly well that the Mohawk Warrior Society was a dangerous faction of the Six Nations. Of course, the governor, then serving his first term, had chosen to throw caution to the wind. He launched the kind of assault on Native American sovereignty more suited to the nineteenth century than to the twentieth.

In attempting to collect New York State taxes on Native American soil at gunpoint, the governor, wittingly or unwittingly, drove Native American popular support into the arms of the very same militant group about which his advisers were warning him.

The memo stated, “DSP (Department of State Police) is expected to be met with resistance from the pro-gambling warrior society dissidents who have demonstrated violent militant resistance to occupation or intervention by DSP in the past.”

If the Department of State Police issued such a statement about the Warriors, why is it that now, in the Post 9-11 world of homeland security, that that the governor has welcomed this alleged “violent” and “militant” group is welcomed with open arms? Could it be that political cronyism is more important than threats to public safety?

Later in 1998, the INS launched “Over the Rainbow II,” in which several people associated with the Mohawk Warriors were arrested and charged with transporting large numbers of illegal immigrants into the United States. Both Pataki and Tom Ridge, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, ignored this even greater threat to so-called “homeland security” was also ignored, as we shall see. Clearly, the governor knew who he was dealing with, when he negotiated the Seneca Gaming Compact. And, if it turns out that just one illegal alien slipped across the border with the help of the governor’s new friends and, at some point, commits the next 9-11, don’t think of the victims, think of the short term political benefit that George Pataki, Joel Giambra, and their local GOP Rat Pack are enjoying now.

Concerns Over Organized Crime Continue To Haunt Delaware North, Seneca Casino In an article published on July 12 of this year, The Washington Post revealed that Delaware North’s past links to organized crime appear to have scuttled the company’s plans to take over Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland.

According to the article, “Court papers filed last week by Delaware North shed new light on the deal’s collapse. The documents show that Centaur (ed. note: the company Delaware North was negotiating with) had repeatedly expressed misgivings about Delaware North’s 1972 conviction and decided to ditch its partner after a series of private meetings and conference calls failed to assuage its concerns.”

Delaware North, then called Emprise, was convicted of conspiring to conceal mob interests in the Frontier casino. Perhaps, more troubling than the conviction was the assassination by car bomb of journalist Don Bolles in 1976. He just happened to be doing an investigative report on Emprise at the time of his death. No evidence was ever found linking the company to Bolles’ death. The intense media scrutiny that followed, particularly a story by Sixty Minutes, did much to raise doubts about the company, and was perhaps more damaging than the criminal conviction.

Since that time, the company has changed its name, successfully countered its negative image, and has gotten back into the gaming industry in a fairly substantial way. Delaware North subsidiary Sportsystem is the largest operator of pari-mutuel betting facilities in the United States. Forbes magazine has it listed as the 153rd largest privately held company.

Naturally, the company can point out that, since these suspicious incidents took place decades ago, they can no longer be used as a measure of how the renamed company does business at the present time.

Or can they? The Buffalo News has not raised concerns about Delaware North’s past ties to organized crime, nor was the Washington Post story picked up here. Recent stories have centered around the company’s meetings with the Seneca Nation of Indians Tribal Council to build a casino in Cheektowaga. While the charges against Delaware North are old, concerns about the Seneca leadership’s association with criminal activity are relatively fresh.

The active involvement of convicted felon Arthur “Sugar” Montour on the Tribal Council and his association with the paramilitary Mohawk Warrior Society has raised plenty of eyebrows with casino opponents here and on both Seneca Reservations, but again, The Buffalo News has not mentioned that.

Delaware North spokesperson Wendy Watkins told Alt, “We have no agreement at all with the Seneca Nation, and I can tell you that we are not in negotiations with them,” downplaying the company’s involvement with the Tribal Council. “We’re not aware of any of those claims or charges. It’s certainly something that has never come up in any of our meetings,” Watkins said

When asked whether the company has a responsibility to look into some of the concerns surrounding the Warriors, Watkins said, “At the point where we’re actually going to have an agreement, we’d be doing due diligence.”

The company did, in fact, reach an agreement with the Senecas, according to The Buffalo News as far back as 1999, only to have the Senecas inexplicably pull out. Watkins, in commenting on Delaware North’s corporate policy, however, did go on to state categorically, “We never want to be involved with anything that is not above board, ever again.” Attention Tom Ridge: The Real “Shadow Enemy” Is Organized Crime!!!

On July 21, Tom Ridge gave a speech at the Chautauqua Institution, where he claimed, “Terrorism is a shadow enemy, and terrorist are shadow soldiers.” Unfortunately, terror has long been a tool of organized crime, and it can serve opposing political and economic interests with equal effect. In summary, Ridge has said that we need to be afraid of an unknown enemy that we can’t see. If we employ reason in place of fear, we can see that the most serious shadow enemy that this region now faces is organized crime, as represented by groups that have employed terror tactics in the past, such as the Mohawk Warriors. Sadly, our country’s leader against this threat, Tom Ridge, was governor of Pennsylvania, when that state also opened negotiations with members of the Warriors for a Native American casino. While those negotiations broke off, they have now reportedly been renewed with the influential Liggett family pushing its political weight in Harrisburg to strike a deal.

The lukewarm response that Ridge received at Chautauqua appears to have been justified. Until corruption, starting with the Enron crowd at the top and extending down to Casino Buffalo at the bottom, is dealt with in a serious manner, the “shadows” in this community and this country will only get longer. Until that time, it appears that the Department of Homeland Security is little more than yet another vast political patronage empire.

While Dinkus 9 has only been together a few years, the groups could probably already make its debut on VH1’s show, Where Are They Now? Of the original three band members, only Heim remains in the group. As for who the other past members were, Heim warned me, “Oh man, you’re going to wish you never asked that….” Because this list of different names and instruments (for a brief time, a DJ had been incorporated into the band) eventually turned into a jumbled mess, here's a synopsis. Everyone in D9, besides Heim and Jeff Mayne (tenor sax) has been replaced at least once. And besides these three, current members include Neil Brodfuehrer (guitar), Tim Sadue (bass), Ryan Martin (drums), and Adam Soon (trombone).

Although the six members of this group began playing ska, they’ve recently adopted a more punk-ish style. “People tend to label us ska once they see that we have a horn section, and, growing up, we were a ska band,” said Heim. “It’s a bit difficult to get booked in a lot of out-of-town clubs these days because there’s supposedly no scene left for it. I usually tell promoters we’re a punk band. Not to bash the ska scene because god knows it doesn’t need any more of that, but there are so many bad ska bands out there. A lot of it just lacks substance; I know because we used to be that.” With four independent releases under their belt, most recently Shameface in 2002, these guys may as well have the word “determined” tattooed on each of their foreheads. So far, D9 has shared the stage with big-name bands, such as The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Planet Smashers, Run DMC, and The Ataris. The band has also played Warped Tour two years in a row and will once again take the stage in 2003. Because fame hasn’t bitten D9 in the ass as of yet, the group still embraces the intimacy of a smaller venue. “My favorite kind of shows are the small, hole-in-the-wall, all-ages shows where the band plays on the floor,” said Heim. “Kids go nuts! You can just feed right off all the energy because everyone is like a half a foot away from you.”

While offers from record labels have been made, there have been no John Hancocks as of yet. “We’ve had offers, but none of them are attractive enough for us to buy into,” said Heim. “We’ve been working really hard the past few years and label help would be nice, but it’s not necessary.” And if these boys aren’t busy enough, the band has also been working on a side project called Benson, with big-time producer Dow Brain of Underground Productions, which has evolved talents, such as KRS One, Aerosmith and Marky Mark. The group is planning on recording within the next two weeks. Although recent focus has been drawn away from Dinkus 9, you can still catch these guys at local Buffalo venues or on their east coast summer tour.

For a long time, Heim wasn’t really into the whole “music label” scene, viewing it as “selling out” a band’s organic musical roots. After numerous tours around the country, however, those “company perks” that a music label has to offer don’t look quite as bad. “I used to be one of those kids in the crowd yelling ‘sell out’ at a commercial pop punk show, but now that I’m on the other end of things, I have a better understanding,” said Heim. “Sleeping in the van in Walmart parking lots every night gets old. I don’t see any shame in a musician actually seizing the opportunity to actually make a living off of doing what he or she loves.” But the music industry isn’t perfect and many changes need to be made, Heim said. “I don’t think that the musicians get to reap the benefits of their hard work. But then again, this is a country saturated in capitalism. Leave it to America to screw up something as beautiful as music.”

With so many musicians getting sucked up by the ritz and glitz of stardom, bands such as D9 keep the rest of the musical world in check. “I never really expected anything out of this,” Heim said. “I just enjoy being able to hang out with my friends and do what I love. We’re going to keep at it until it stops being fun.” Dinkus 9 leaves for its summer tour July 20, and dates can be found at http://www.dinkus9.com/. CDs are available at New World Records, Home of the Hits, Record Theater and at www.interpunk.com

Maybe the targeted teen audience is morphing, even aging, and younger teens don’t have the interest in movies the way older teens did and do. Whatever the reason, Hollywood’s summer of the sequel is turning into the summer of the “it sucks.”

Oh sure, some of the big box office blockbusters do smashing business their first weekend out, but the trend this season is for the first weekend to be great and then it’s free fall time as last week’s winner becomes this week’s has-been. Only two strong studio movies have emerged: the deservedly praiseworthy Finding Nemo and the vastly overrated The Matrix: Reloaded. Waiting in the wings to see if it breaks the one-week- and-over jinx is Pirates Of The Caribbean (see Short Takes), which is doing nicely, but the jury is still out as to whether or not it’ll be something more than yesterday’s box office fizzle. One independent feature is faring quite well, the jazzy, edgy, intriguing bio-nightmare, zombie terror film 28 Days Later, which, although it is being released by 20th Century Fox subsidiary Fox Searchlight, is a low budget, shot on digital video, thriller from director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) that has audiences talking.

As adult moviegoers wander the multiplex desperately seeking something other than fast talking men, faster moving cars, and sub-verbal women, equally adult movie critics have been quietly watching private screenings of good films. Suddenly, with a burst of energy that tosses asides the hazy heat and humidity of summer, there may be hope. I can’t guarantee you’ll like the five movies detailed below, but you'll understand what I mean when I write (and have written) that yes, there are good movies being made. And you may just love them. And don’t give me that smarty-pants reply that goes something like, “oh you critics only like arty movies.” An independent movie is not necessarily an art movie. The term indie means that the producers didn’t waste $10-million on bullets or $5-million on a trailer for the star’s ego. Indie films are alive and well and damn good. Again, 28 Days Later is a prime example.

In my cover story about last year’s Toronto Film Festival, I raved about a little movie called Winged Migration. It’s about birds, but believe me; it’s so much more than that. It’s also about the promise and the possibility of cinema as well as the beauty of nature and the mysteries of avian life. All that in a documentary feature that runs around 80 minutes. Heavy burden, but don’t worry about it. This is a truly great movie. It’s playing in Buffalo at the Amherst Theatre and you will go see it. Not must, not should, but will. Once the film begins, a mood is created and the poetry of filmmaking overtakes your senses. Varieties of birds are followed on their migratory paths and what unreels is utterly amazing. You don’t need to know how the spectacular shots were made. You don’t need to know how the stunning birds were chosen. You only need to know that there is photographic greatness on the screen. I have a friend, Alec Humann, an interesting chap who is what is commonly known as a birdwatcher. After seeing the film in Toronto, I truly understood his devotion. The team of moviemakers understands the language of film and uses that language with breathtaking brilliance. Digital schmigital. Special effects? Forget ‘em. This is real cinema. Real footage. Real passion. Real power. Take the children, take grandmother and grandfather, take everyone you can. Enjoy the spirit of Winged Migration.

Two studio movies, Seabiscuit and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen earn high marks for at least trying to break the stifling summer Hollywood mold. Seabiscuit is an uplifting, rags-to-riches true story about a California horse that never won a single Triple Crown race, but was one of the most popular thoroughbreds in the history of horse racing. Small but gifted, Seabiscuit, once trained, could run with the best of them. It had a devoted owner, trainer, and jockey and the movie from director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) is an ode to an America that is no more. The film has minuses that don’t overwhelm it. It never quite captures the smell and the feel of horseracing, only the excitement of winning. And the black and white images of Depression-era America are used carefully, but a bit too slickly. The horse doesn’t show up for 40 minutes of an overly long movie, and those 40 minutes are mostly set-up for the main trio of characters who will lead the horse to a match race with what was called the greatest horse of all, War Admiral. Fortunately, the trio of characters is gloriously played by Jeff Bridges (owner), Chris Cooper (trainer), and Tobey Maguire (jockey). The biggest plus is that the characters were real and complex people and there’s nothing like rooting for the underdog, just as Americans did near the end of the Depression for the little horse that could.

The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman is an action adventure movie that falls far from being perfect, but there’s something clever in its daring, albeit often unbelievable escapades, and there’s something brave about its assumption that audiences have a working knowledge of English, French, and American literature. A group of heroes from great fiction band together to fight evil, so it’s good that you know who Captain Nemo, Tom Sawyer, The Invisible Man, and Dorian Gray are, as well as a few others. And it helps to have a working knowledge of Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and some of their literary pals. There’s also great fun in watching a grizzled Sean Connery do what he does best. Underplay with a bit of wisecracking sarcasm. You gotta love the guy.

Two indie features that score high marks are Swimming Pool and Capturing The Friedmans. Swimming Pool is a clever French mystery about a successful British novelist (the superb Charlotte Rampling) who goes to her publisher’s villa in France in order to write and discovers that all may not be what it seems regarding the publisher’s voluptuous, provocative teenage daughter (Ludivine Sagnier). The terrific movie, directed by Francois Ozon (8 Women) is exuberant about the joys of sex and plays itself out in skilled and alluring fashion. This is a smart film that unveils its clues with cinematic devotion and a true understanding of the quirkiness of the writer’s art. Rampling’s novelist will remind of you offbeat Texas-native and Europhile Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley). Swimming Pool is gorgeous to look, blessed with an enticing screenplay, and unafraid of sex and nudity as a means of expression.

Capturing The Friedmans is an engrossing documentary about average people in an average family accused of sexual abuse. What surprises is how the movie plays with your mind – you shift back and forth between their innocence and guilt. Amazingly, much of the footage used is material shot by the Friedmans themselves and even after seeing these family get-togethers and antics, the question of their actions are still subject to question.

LARA CROFT, TOMB RAIDER: The Cradle Of Life: Speaking of pouty lips, here comes the divine Angelina Jolie, back again as tomb raider Lara Croft. The sequel is packed with more frenetic stunts than the 2001 edition, but there’s less Freudian angst. None of that messy father-figure mumbo jumbo. This is a movie that prides itself on your believing that an archaeologist and explorer can be so flawless in her vision and erudition that looting temples isn’t a bad thing. Croft ends up in an underwater locale that contains the mythical Pandora's Box, only to have it stolen from her by the leader of an Asian crime syndicate. He’s in cahoots with a villain named Jonathan Reiss who wants to use Pandora’s memories as a doomsday weapon. Racing breathlessly to save the day, crime fighter Lara battles all comers. Not particularly engaging, but definitely exhausting.

HOW TO DEAL: I know how to deal; skip this movie. A mother and daughter duo (Allison Janney and Mandy Moore) end up searching for love at the same time. And that folks is the crux of this melancholy teenage mopefest. One of the weird things about movies is that no matter how long Hollywood makes films, some things never change. The teenage weepy is one of them. When dad dumps mom for a hottie, the family is torn asunder, but the daughter’s puppy love might pull her out the dumps. Janney is very good and actually manages to create a character who breathes life. Parents hurt too. Moore is talented, but this is a “who cares” movie, and I didn’t care about her teen girlfriend’s pregnancy or her boyfriend’s possibilities. It all seemed so calculated.

BAD BOYS II: Of course, How To Deal doesn’t hold a candle to calculated when it comes to Bad Boys II, a sequel, as if one were needed, to the movie that made Will Smith and Martin Lawrence cover boys and future stars way back in 1995. The new caper is well-worn Hollywood territory. Narcotics cops Smith and Lawrence head up a task force investigating the flow of ecstasy into Florida. The movie is loud and violent and utterly worthless. In fact, it borders on grotesque and creepy. There clearly were no checks and balances at the studio when director Michael Bay was given free rein to do whatever he wanted to do with the material. Rough and tumble police work leads to a dangerous drug kingpin, who wants to control Miami’s drug traffic, which touches off a street war among rival gangs. How many cliches can you find in that sentence? The movie has a cruel streak that is dehumanizing and no performance in it deserves merit. Unless your brain already has turned to mush, avoid.

Like a person, the alternative or "natural" health industry has grown by leaps and bounds in the past thirty years. But, as an industry, it is still in its adolescent stage. Big corporations have jumped on the bandwagon, eating up the small independent companies that had a conscience. Now it’s all about dollars and cents.

The image that the supplement industry projects is that "natural is better" or "natural equals safe." The reality is that some pretty crappy "natural" products are on the market. There are also some unsafe products being widely promoted as "safe and effective." "Natural" and "safe" are not synonyms. Think about it. Arsenic is "natural," but you don’t want to eat it! There are many herbs that are neither safe nor effective. Most people think that these products are safe because of their belief that the FDA sets some kind of standard for safety. The supplement industry must adhere to specific manufacturing standards, but quality and effectiveness are not regulated. The supplement industry has long said that it can monitor itself.

But the reality is that it doesn’t police itself very well. Poorly labeled products are sold without the botanical (Latin) names, which allow an informed consumer a way to be sure that he has the correct ingredient that he’s actually seeking. Herbal pills are sold without listing the parts of the plant that were used in their manufacture. And herbs with low therapeutic safety margins are promoted and hyped as "safe."

Therapeutic safety margin is a term used to define how much of a substance a person would have to take to cause harm (or a negative reaction). For example, Chamomile is an herb with a high therapeutic safety margin. Most people (assuming that they’re not allergic to the ragweed family of plants, of which chamomile is one) can drink very large amounts of it and not have a negative reaction. Ephedra (Ma Haung) is an herb that will cause an elevated blood pressure, even when taken in small amounts.

Where am I going with these two thought patterns? As an industry that has had to fight for respect, we’ve developed an attitude, much like a teenager! We haven’t had many rules so far, so why should we have rules now? The corporate giants of our industry want us to fight for a totally unregulated industry, one that allows maximum profits with low corporate responsibility, even when the products we make have low therapeutic safety margins. It looks as though it’s time to start acting like a responsible industry and account for the problems we have. Here are a few examples:

The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that, from 14,684 call records provided by Metabolite International, users of the company’s ephedra-based Metabolife 356 reported 18 heart attacks, 26 strokes, 43 seizures, and five deaths. There were reports of 433 incidents of chest pain, 181 rashes, 110 systematic urinary tract infections, 93 incidents of high blood pressure, 47 episodes of loss of consciousness, and 31 abnormal heart rhythms.

According to the GAO, "Because of the inherent limitations of adverse event reports (AERs) and the incomplete nature of these call records, it cannot be established from the information available to [us] that the adverse events reported were caused by Metabolife 356." ( The Food and Drug Administration recently reprimanded Metabolife International because of protracted delays in turning over AER information. This information was requested in 1997.)

Of the 1,800 AERs reported to the FDA, as of September 2002, from users of ephedra products, 322 concerned Metabolife 356 (view this report at: www.gao.gov).

There are herbs that are not safe for many people. Ephedra is one of them, especially if you combine it with caffeine, as in many diet products, such as Metabolife, and energy products. We as an industry must recognize this fact and not allow the marketing of this type of product to the masses as a weight loss panacea. Overweight people are more susceptible to high blood pressure and cardiac irregularities, yet they are the target market for these products.

Yes, the herb industry is correct when it says this herb has been used safely for generations. The industry has have also stated that, when taken as directed, this herb is very safe. And there is a warning and disclaimer on the label of ephedra-based products. My complaints that the industry continues to promote these products heavily to the single group of people who are most at risk for the negative side effects. Plus we all know someone who takes more than the label recommends. In addition, ephedra is easily abused as an energy supplement!

Ephedra has a legitimate medicinal use. It is the single best herb for head and chest congestion (if you don’t have blood pressure or cardiac issues). Because it stimulates the heart, it can be used for an energetic lift. But, before you use ephedra for these purposes, you need to address the reason for your congestion and or lack of energy to eliminate the cause of the problem. If you’re congested because of a cold, make a mental note to wash your hands more often, to prevent the spread of viruses that cause colds and flu. Take a good multivitamin mineral supplement and anti-viral herbs to build the immune system. Get enough rest.

Most people are not well informed about the correct way to use herbs or the risks associated with using herbs for medicine. They assume a level of safety that is not there. They rely on the kid behind the counter to give them accurate information. Well that kid, who is working for minimum wage to pay for his schoolbooks for school, has little or no training in the proper use of herbs and herbal medicine. You need to do some serious research before choosing herbs for medicine, if you expect good results.

The supplement industry has been backed into a corner on the issue of supplements containing ephedra. Because of pending lawsuits, insurance companies are refusing to provide coverage for companies that manufacture products containing ephedra. It took that type of kick in the ass to get manufacturers to stop producing this type of supplement (I guess that the best way to get someone’s attention is to cost him or her money). New York State has been trying to ban the sale of products with caffeine and ephedra for years. Now it won’t have to.

Well, I guess that the folks in the supplement industry is growing up. They're resisting, like any adolescent would, but they’ll eventually become responsible adults and police themselves into producing the safest and most effective product that they can. It’s better than having the government force them or being litigated out of business.

While these elements may not always agree on the specific problems and almost never agree on solutions, it is undeniable that they all speak with one voice when it comes to the issue of accountability. At “A Buffalo Conversation” on June 10, citizens and their elected leaders were given the rare chance to interact directly in a three-hour long question-and-answer session that demonstrated how far apart the population of the region really is.

The conversation, organized by local regionalism pusher Kevin Gaughan, was called to discuss how to develop a regional approach to the future, not, as The Buffalo News claimed, to talk about what a control board means to the city and region.

Citizen participants, along with a handful of thoughtful community and political leaders, showed up with a lot of questions, a few suggestions, and a host of grievances. From Hickory Woods activists and union leaders to one gentleman who inquired when the city became our baby-sitter, all manner of voices clamored for answers and accountability from the two most visible figures, Mayor Anthony Masiello and County Executive Joel Giambra.

Unfortunately answers and accountability were in short supply. No vision for the future was offered, and both men managed to avoid directly answering any questions throughout the entire session.

Undaunted by the lack of realism offered, we here at Alt figured that it was time to soften things up a bit and ask local leaders what comes next. Where does the city go from here?

Surprisingly enough, neither Giambra nor Masiello had any interest in answering this question either. The mayor’s office failed to return phone calls, and Giambra staffer Linda Bagley replied to our statement that we’d like to know what’s going on in that office with a laughing, “so would we.”

Other officials contacted were reluctant to comment on the immediate or long-term future of Buffalo until all of the details concerning the control board were in. It seems the coming of the control board has caused many of the tight-lipped local public officials to become even more reserved. Even the normally open PBA head Robert Meegan declined to talk until the deal was done.

The Control Board is Coming, The Control Board is Coming…

Common Council President James Pitts, a man rarely at a loss for words, was quite critical of the imposition of a financial control board, claiming that the cry for a control board is all part of a pitch to make the city seem dysfunctional.

“If you go to the suburbs, you get your lawn, your house, and your half a kid,” said Pitts. “The city isn’t the problem, it’s the policies supporting suburbanization that have been the cause of the problems of the city. Industrial cities, such as Buffalo, have been made to be seen as unhealthy places to live.”

Pitts said that most of the community redevelopment programs that the federal government pitches, especially the categorical ones, such as low-income housing programs, are designed to show cities as dysfunctional places. Despite the city’s current fiscal crunch, Pitts noted that Buffalo is not bankrupt, a point made by New York State Deputy Comptroller Thomas Sanzillo at the Buffalo Conversation.

Back in the early eighties, the county was faced with similar fiscal problems. It faced a $75 million deficit and had to resort to the temporary one percent sales tax increase for new revenue. According to Pitts, there was no similar call for a state control board.

“The county was a dollar and a deficit away from a control board,” said Pitts. “At that time, there was a call to come together to save the county. That’s not happening this time. I don’t see much difference between what Giambra’s regionalism is presented as and a control board. The city is still being taken over.”

Buffalo Teacher Federation leader Philip Rumore had a similar take on the imposition of a financial control board, claiming that the city is being forced into pauperism on purpose. “One can read into this that they’re purposely trying to destroy the city,” Rumore said. “The county is holding their fingers around the throat of the city and constricting it. Everybody has to realize that we’re being starved for resources.”

Rumore took issue with the county executive’s belief that money won’t solve the problems facing the city, especially since throwing money at the problem is what saved Erie County from going bust two decades ago.

“I was around when Erie County got into trouble,” Rumore said. “At that time, no one was saying that we need a control board. No one was saying, let’s not throw money at the problem. On the contrary, people got together and said, if we need to raise taxes, let’s do it.”

The different approach taken toward the city smacks of hypocrisy to Rumore. “Now that it’s the City of Buffalo, mostly poor people, what’s the first thing that comes to mind, a control board. What do they say, let’s not throw money at the problem. If we would have done the same thing way back when the county was in trouble, we would have been saying that the county needs a control board. We don’t need to give extra money to the county.”

Business First, as Always

One of the powers that the financial control board may have is the ability to abrogate union contracts and to freeze wages and hiring for municipal employees so that the city can get its financial house in order. Many participants in the Buffalo Conversation seemed to believe that public employee unions are part of the problem, but they seem to be missing the fact that government is the largest employer in the region. And, if local governments start trimming jobs, the sputtering Buffalo job market is going to be awash in skilled, highly educated, and experienced workers desperately looking for nonexistent jobs.

These people may displace current workers, forcing them to leave the region, or they may elect to leave. Either way, it amounts to more people leaving the region, which, in turn, will mean less revenue for local government, resulting in fewer services and higher taxes, the same problems that we face today.

The distinct possibility of the problem getting worse is what makes some in the business community believe the exact opposite of Pitts and Rumore, that the control board may actually be beneficial to Buffalo and the region as a whole.

Dennis Penman, executive vice president of MJ Peterson, a local real estate development company, said that he believes that a strong control board is a good thing because it may be able to implement changes that local officials are reluctant to attempt.

“It’s too bad we had to get to this point,” Penman said. “We have to have a certain degree of patience, but let’s approach it positively to see if we can get a substantive change in how government is run in Buffalo.”

One such change that Penman would like to see is the approach to local government revenues and expenses. According to Penman, the budgets and administrations of the city and its schools shouldn’t be viewed as separate entities when it comes to assessing local finances. “Looking at the school and city administrations in total gives you almost one billion dollars in resources to draw from,” said Penman said.

Another opportunity that Penman sees is that the control board may be able to look at the consolidation of services, such as merging the Buffalo Police Department and Erie County Sheriff’s Department, currently being championed by Giambra, and to assess their economic viability.

This talk of changing how Buffalo is run and viewing public school money as assets doesn’t mean that Penman agrees with those who feel government should be run more like businesses. He said that he feels that the two entities have different missions and that they address different concerns in society.

“Government and business are separate ideas,” Penman said. “But, one should be able to use reasonable business practices in governance.”