The atmosphere of the ritual is serious, of course, but the flood of nostalgia it unleashes often washes away the sins of the past. Sepia-toned television imagery allows the subjects to attribute any shortcomings of the deceased to bad counsel or accidents of history. The death of any of these god-like figures becomes an opportunity for mere mortals to reflect upon the meaning of life, while allowing the machinery of the state to show power devolving to the mourning heirs in the most natural and reverent manner possible.

The recent death of Princess Kikuko of Japan at the age of 92 provides these same opportunities to the royal court of Japan. However, her death also presents an opportunity for a more forthcoming discussion of the Japanese Imperial family’s involvement in the prosecution of Japan’s colonial wars and the post war period.

From an occidental point of view, the death of the Princess was a mere footnote; nothing like the media deluge that would have accompanied the death of the Queen Mum of England, for example. Although the Japanese royal family doesn’t generate the same interest in this country as the House of Windsor, it can certainly be argued that the Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan is of equal, if not greater importance, to political events of the twentieth century.

So why should westerners pay attention to the death of this somewhat obscure Asian royal?

From her entry into the Japanese Imperial family as the bride of Emperor Hirohito’s youngest brother, Prince Takamatsu, Princess Kikuko was different. From her fondness for the latest western “flapper” fashions as a newlywed to her reputation for angry outbursts, Princess Kikuko was not a model of feminine subservience. Her recent decision to publish diaries written during the height of Japanese expansionism by her late husband Prince Takamatsu was perhaps one of her boldest decisions.

Publication of these diaries collectively called "Takamatsunomiya Nikki" (Prince Takamatsu Diary) has added significantly to the historical understanding of the period, which is important to international relations in the region. Even now, the traumatic events of the Japanese colonial wars are a source of great division in Asia. Anger over the Japanese occupation and the practice of forcing women to become “comfort women” (a euphemism for sex slaves) is still stoked to great effect in N. Korea, for example. As China rises as an international power, many Chinese feel that Japan has yet to express sufficient remorse for horrific events such as the Rape of Nanking.

“The Yamato Dynasty, The Secret History of Japan's Imperial Family” by Sterling and Peggy Seagrave gives us an overview of the Japanese Imperial family in the twentieth century that sheds new light on the role of the royal family. If it had not been for Princess Kikuko’s decision to publish her diaries, a piece of the puzzle would have been missing.

Since Prince Takamatsu wasn’t next in line to the throne, he viewed himself as marginal. Describing his chief responsibility as, “…to exist and do nothing bad,” Takamatsu’s perspective gives us a rare look inside the machinery of the royal court. Even while Japanese soldiers were worshipping the Emperor as a virtual deity, Takamatsu took part in the real politic of the mid-thirties, which assured a symbiotic relationship between the Imperial family and the proverbial “evil counselors.” This allowed the courtiers and the military to carry out their xenophobic project of looting and pillaging their Asian neighbors for the greater glory of the Emperor.

In “The Yamamoto Dynasty,” the Seagraves describe Takmatsu’s diaries as the revelations of, “…a man deeply pained by the absurdities of Japanese society and the birdcage role of the Imperial family.”

The book goes on to expose the fact that although much of the war booty accumulated by the Japanese army during World War II, was officially unaccounted for at the end of the war, it did, nevertheless, find its way back into the Japanese economy. Perhaps the most controversial, but logical thesis in the book is that the symbiosis between the Imperial family and their inner circle widened after the war to include the Zaibatsu industrial families and also American interests represented by General Douglas MacArthur, the House of Morgan and the nascent Central Intelligence Agency.

The evidence presented suggests that this new group conspired to disperse war booty and shield assets of the Imperial family in order create a new Japanese-American hegemony in the East, to guarantee a speedy war reconstruction effort and also to erect a bulwark against the rising tide of communism.

The diaries of Prince Takamatsu which Princess Kikuko revealed to the world show us a view from within the gilded cage of how the human symbol of the Yamamoto dynasty was manipulated to create unquestioning, patriotic and religious support for a campaign of total war.

In addition to her philanthropic work on behalf of cancer research, the Princess will also be remembered for including herself in a recent political debate over the future of the throne, According to her Associated Press obituary, “In 2002, after Crown Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako had a daughter, Kikuko was the first royal to publicly call for changes to a postwar law that allows only male heirs to assume the Chrysanthemum Throne.”

Indeed, the mourning period being observed for the Princess in advance of her Dec. 26 funeral seems to be filled with the family drama over whether Aiko, the three-year-old daughter of the Crown Prince will become the next Emperor.

How the Japanese choose to mourn the Princess could be an indication of what the future holds for the land of the Rising Sun. Will there be a greater sense of openness about the events of the past and the way they are remembered in Japan, or will a new generation of royals inhabit the same gilded cage of its’ forebears? This question is not as academic as it might seem at first blush.

The Japanese-American political economist Francis Fukuyama famously predicted at the end of the euphoric nineties that we may find ourselves at the end of history. Before we rush to embrace the notion of universal liberal democracy, however, some reflection of how we came to this point might be in order.
While the cold war may be over, and communism may be in the dustbin of history, what about the problems of extreme nationalism and neo-fascism? Something to think about as the U.S. flexes its muscles around the world and Japan ponders a return to militarism. Not all of the ghosts of the past have been exorcised. The occasion of Princess Kikuko’s passing may represent a time to ponder this.
Most companies outsource their advertising, printing & training needs. AdHub.com makes it easy for them to research these services by comparing detailed company profiles and work portfolios. The site also features columns, press releases, jobs and a regional event calendar.

What began as a printed directory in 1993 by publisher, Walter Ketcham of Rochester, has evolved into an online resource that promotes Upstate New York as a single market with a growing reputation for world class services.

Ketcham says, "There may be bigger markets, but our creative and technical skills in Upstate New York are second to none."

"The internet has changed the way so many industries work. Today, companies are more willing to work with vendors who may be in neighboring cities. A marketing director can approve a digital photo, shot minutes earlier, from across the country. So the working distance between Buffalo, Albany & White Plains is just our own big back yard," says Ketcham.

The AdHub will continue to accept digital cards from companies in the advertising and training industry. Call 585-442-2585.

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Walter Ketcham
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since 1993 - Your Link to Advertising & Training Resources in Upstate New York
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It wasn’t because of a racy video a la Paris Hilton that Mr. Getz found himself in the celebrity spotlight, however. Some taxpayers found the preservation of Getz’ salary to be just as obscene. The media whipped this into a firestorm and, voila, a star was born.

Getz became the living embodiment of the proverbial political cockroach, capable of surviving a budget holocaust, intact. Of course, there’s never just one cockroach.

As Plunkett of Tammany Hall famously stated, there’s a distinction to be made between graft and honest graft. In this same spirit, Giambra vociferously defended his patronage system as being comprised of the “best and brightest” and, therefore, thoroughly legitimate, “honest patronage.”

The legal costs that the county has picked up in connection with the defense of some of Joel’s patronage “stars,” however, suggests that Joel’s patronage system has been less than honest. Perhaps the fault lies not in these stars, but in ourselves.

Aurora Garage Scandal Legal Costs

Last year, Giambra patronage appointee Douglas Naylon faced a grand jury investigation for his role in the Aurora Garage scandal. The scandal didn’t seem to bother voters as Giambra won re-election to office handily. As an Erie County Highway Department district engineer, Naylon faced accusations of harassment, missing money and equipment, serial mismanagement, and a lack of accountability.

“We hire only the best and brightest people,” Giambra said after being questioned about his patronage hires by his opponent, Dan Ward.

As one of Giambra’s best and brightest, Naylon was extended the best private legal help that taxpayer funds could purchase. In a letter to County Legislator Al Debenedetti, County Attorney Fredrick Wolf pointed out that the county was bound to defend its employees in actions that fell within the scope of their duties and defended the action “…because it was clear to us that there is a potential of a conflict of interest which precluded our office from representing Mr. Naylon, we had no choice, as has been the case in a number of other matters, but to allow Mr. Naylon the opportunity to retain counsel of his choice at the expense of the county. Mr. Naylon opted to choose Lipsitz, Green et al.”

In a debate with Giambra last year, Ward challenged the county executive to waive immunity for himself and his cronies in the Aurora scandal. Giambra scoffed, predicting full exoneration. Of course, one year has passed, and Naylon pled guilty to charges. Guess who’s stuck with his legal bills? As Giambra said about the scandal recently, this is old news.

More Aurora Garage Scandal Legal Costs?!

While the Aurora garage scandal may be old news, perhaps voters were unaware that some of the lawsuits are just now coming to trial. One of the garage workers, Gerald Williams, has charged two other employees, Albert Coia and Christian Gerling, with harassment and assault. Since these employees were “acting within the scope of their employment,” we’re going to make the wild prediction that taxpayers will wind up paying the legal costs and damages once again. Joel’s friends and family plan might not be cheap but, then again, the crusade for true governmental reform never is, right? This, too, may be old news, but hey, it’s been a slow news week!

Furniture-gate: Fred Wolf’s Legal Eagles Fly Again

At the risk of being redundant, we remind you that handing off county cases to politically connected law firms is old news in Buffalo.

Turning government accounts over to political cronies so that they can rachet up profits for themselves and the political machine is also a very old and well-respected way of doing the people’s business in Buffalo.

So when Buffalo Office Interiors, owned by Giambra fundraising buddy, James Spano, started to come under scrutiny for overcharging the county for office furniture, the solution to this little problem was painfully obvious. It amounted to another chance to give a government handout. This time Phillips, Lytle et al. was hired as a special outside counsel. Simply admitting that his right hand man had overcharged the county and refunding the money was unthinkable. It would have amounted to political suicide. It also would have wasted a perfectly legitimate opportunity to give another government handout.

Again, DeBenedetti requested details of the deal from Fred Wolf. In his response letter, Wolf reported that the firm was paid at a reduced rate of $185 per hour for work on the case. The cost to taxpayers was a mere $ 11,375. Michael Powers, who successfully argued in favor of a Seneca casino in downtown Buffalo, took the lion’s share of the money.

In the recent budget debate, Giambra was adamant that we can and will afford this kind of patronage, come hell or high water. If he is true to his word, Giambra has now passed the halfway point in his reign as county executive. If the recent defection of his lieutenant, Carl Calabrese, is any indication, his ability to command unquestioning support of his followers may now be waning as well.

Much has been made of Joel’s imperious leadership style, but our “Joel as Caesar” photo is strictly tongue in cheek. After all, Julius Caesar was fully aware of the moment that he “crossed the Rubicon.” Unfortunately for Erie County, voters were oblivious as well.

I spent a lot of time exploring what was inside of me. I wondered what caused me to feel the need to cross again. In this inner journey, what came to me were not words, but images and feelings. When I closed my eyes, I could see Sister Dianna Ortiz as she was in 1987: young and full of life and enthusiasm for her big adventure as a missionary teacher. I could hear her laugh about the little students whom she had taught in the United States. And then I heard screams of pain, of fear, of anger. I could feel the joy being forcibly ripped away from Sister Dianna by terrible men who have never been held accountable for their crimes. One of the men was an American, who was with the CIA. Others had been trained at the School of the Americas.

Sister Dianna is only one of many who have been either tortured or killed or both by graduates of the School of the Americas.

I studied the issues, too, and this helped me make my decision to cross the fence again. This is what I found:

The United States government refuses to take responsibility for the training that has led to these terrible crimes being committed. The United States government has never asked for the curriculum of the School of the Americas and for the behavior of its graduates to be investigated by a truth and reconciliation commission. The United States government responds, not with apologies and offers of reparation, but with denials, lies, and name changes.

The United States government calls the Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation a “new school for the new century.” If that were really so, the United States government would have already set up the truth and reconciliation commission to investigate that old, discredited school. Why has that not happened?

If I were to suddenly get tired of being “Alice” and were to change my name to, say, Eleanor or Morwenna or Bridget, would I become a new person? Would my name change make me into someone whom I am not?

Can the United States, by changing the name of the School of the Americas to the Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation, make the school into something that it is not?

I don’t believe that the country that denies the prisoners of Guantanamo prisoner of war status so that it can hold them for extended periods of time without pending charges is capable of teaching human rights to Latin American troops.

I don’t believe that the country that prosecutes an illegal war in Iraq is capable of teaching human rights to Latin American troops.

I don’t believe that the country that blames the prisoner abuse/torture at Abu Ghraib on its lower ranking soldiers is capable of teaching human rights to Latin American troops.

I don’t believe that the country that certified Colombia as having a clean human rights record is capable of teaching human rights to Latin American troops. Nearly all of the murders of labor union leaders in the world occur in Colombia.

Of course, Colombia has oil. Iraq has oil. I don’t believe that the country that lusts after the oil belonging to foreign countries is capable of teaching human rights to Latin American troops.

I chose to make the strongest statement that I could, to try to draw attention to a training academy that is teaching known human rights violators methods for refining their skills.

I am grateful for your support. Whatever you can do to support me as I go to trial next month will be very much appreciated.

For several years, Buffalo and the surrounding area has been the site of an internecine warfare between grocery stores chains. This is the third Jubilee to close this year; the stores in Orchard Park and Clarence both closed last spring. But closing at Christmas time makes the pain of losing your job even worse.

Today, the store is a shell of its former self; the corridors are mostly empty as stock is liquidated at rock bottom prices. Signs are scattered around the store reminding shoppers that, along with the 30 percent discount, the store now has a “no returns policy.” There are a couple of cashiers still working but the ambience makes you feel as if you were walking into a skeleton of a store.

The place is dark, too; only half of the store’s lights are on. Outside, the parking lot still has a few cars in it, mainly belonging to people, who are attracted by the big “Close Out Sale” sign on Kenmore Avenue. “The regular customers are gone,” said a cashier who didn’t want to be identified. “People are just picking stuff over now.” As if to emphasize the point, a mid-thirties couple is taking turns giving each other rides on shopping carts in the back of the store. They whiz down the lonely aisles like out-of-control five year olds. Somehow, I can’t see them doing this a month and a half ago when the store was crowded, noisy, and lit up.

“Some of us are applying at other stores,” says the cashier, ringing out my close-out carpet cleaner, “but it is kind of sad.” More than 70 people used to work together here. The United Food and Commercial Worker’s union representative Mike Manna summed it up, “There are a lot of ways that this is sad, but the biggest thing is that these were good jobs with guaranteed raises and health care benefits, and those jobs are harder to find these days.” Beyond that, the place was known as a good place to work, with an owner, Mike Fabiniak, whom many people agreed was a “stand -up guy.” Workers and management had pulled together to try to save the store some time ago, but they were ultimately unsuccessful.

Calls to the City of Buffalo and the Town of Tonawanda made it clear that both cities were aware of the closing, but only in an absent minded way. People either didn’t know what I was talking about or knew it only vaguely. For the people who worked there and for well-liked local owner Mike Fabiniak, their store is ending with a sigh. I will miss it, and I will now be driving a little farther to get my groceries. So will my whole neighborhood.

The UFCW is working with workers to help them find work at some of the other unionized grocery chains, such as Tops. “The thing is, when you shop at a non-union place such as Wegman’s or Aldi’s, you support forcing down your neighbors’ standard of living,” adds Mike Manna. So think about that as you shop for eggnog and candy canes during this holiday season.

This northern post-industrial wasteland known as Buffalo is finally getting with the program and spending untold tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on one of the biggest bait and tackle shops in the world. Like Senator “Death Penalty” Dale Volker said, years from now you’ll be telling your grandkids how Tony Masiello, Joel Giambra, and George Pataki saved us by driving us from bankruptcy and into the open arms of southern culture on the skids. You bet, bud. We sure can get there from here!

The research department at The Buffalo News was quick to issue a big ten-four to that by telling its readers that the new bass pro complex is likely to draw as many as five million visitors a year. That’s right! Five million good ol’ boys a year.

So it’s about as clear as your Grandpappy’s white lightning: five million bubbas can’t be wrong! No, sir. This here Bass Pro’s gonna save Buffalo.

Some of us are a little sick of all the negativity around here. All this pissin’ and moanin’ about libraries and such. It’s like my Daddy told me: Just remember, the sun shines on a dawg’s ass ever' now and then!

And these people putting down Joel Giambra for his red budget. Well how’re we gonna turn this into a red state without a red budget? Answer me that. Joel has been busier than a one-legged cat tryin’ to bury shit on a frozen pond. So leave him and his cousin, Jethro, I mean, Victor alone!

Speakin’ of animals and asses, we put some research of our own together to show all of them horses’asses out there who say we can’t afford a Bass Pro just how big this will be. Let’s take a gander (and I don’t mean mountain) at how Five million bubbas comin’ to Buffalo every year compares to other so-called tourist destinations.

One treehugger website says that, “Herschel Island Territorial Park and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska receive the largest number of visitors. Ivvavik National Park receives just over a hundred visitors per year. Vuntut National Park has received few visitors so far and numbers of one or two per year hardly show up on the graph.”

Huh? One hundred visitors a year? Now, we know that this here ANWR has more than a little Texas tea to be had but from all of the bitchin’ about ANWR that those donkey’s asses do, you’d think it was the capital of Yankeeville, or something. One hundred visitors a year, one or two visitors a year? No o-fence intended, but that’s pathetic. Put up them oil derricks and who knows, maybe those Eskimos could afford to come to Buffalo and see the biggest Bass Pro on God’s green earth.

And all these liberals’re gettin’ their knickers in a bunch over the Constitution. Did you realize that the National Constitution Center had only 321,391 visitors last year? In other words, fifteen times as many people are more interested in buying their fishin’ gear at Bass Pro in Buffalo than the Constitution of the United States. Maybe that’s because Bass Pro honors the first amendment better than any boring Constitutional Center can. After all, Bass Pro sells guns. Don’t know about you, but that makes me happier'n a carp in a septic tank!

Some of you Bills fans might have seen the new Seattle Seahawks football stadium with the skyline of the City in the background. Big deal. “In 1998 Washington ranked 14th out of the US states with 541,000 overseas visitors (excluding those from Canada and Mexico).” By my reckonin’ that’s ten times less folks than we’re gonna get here with the Bass Pro. Take that Bill Gates!

Looking at it another way, the United States gets nearly 50 million international visitors each year, so theoretically ten percent of those people could come to the Bass Pro. That’s the equivalent of five million bubbas. Hot damn!

And then there’s old Europe. No doubt they’re against us. But with things getting better every day in Iraq, they’re all probably feeling pretty foolish for second guessin’ the good ol’ USA. You might not know, for example, that Paris is the capital of France and what’s their main attraction? It’s this piss-ant little glorified outhouse that they call the Eiffel tower. How many visitors a year go to it? Only five and a half million! I can guarantee that the Bass Pro in Buffalo does better than that in its second year. Frenchies can’t fish, either I s’pose.

And to all our Canadian friends who feel so smug about the fact that twelve million people a year visit Niagara Falls, if you’re reading this article you must be shakin' like a lil' dog shittin' peach seeds. Cause you know that once the Bass Pro brings in a casino all of your attractions are gonna start to look worse than a bear’s ass sowed up with barbed wire.

Now that we’ve proven beyond a gnat’s ass of a doubt that the Bass Pro deal’s gonna save Buffalo, we need to tell off those treehuggers, some more. The Bass Pro is gonna be the jewel in our crown, shinin' like a diamond in a goats ass, so we need to clear up some disinformation about whether or not the fish in Lake Erie are safe to eat. Safe to eat? Why that thought is makin me so hungry I could eat the south end of a north bound skunk. So without any further to do here’s what the New York State Department of Health has to say about the matter:

“Due to PCB contamination, women of childbearing age, infants and children under the age of 15 are advised to eat no more than one meal per week of chinook salmon less than 19 inches, burbot, freshwater drum, lake whitefish, rock bass and yellow perch and to EAT NO MORE THAN ONE MEAL PER MONTH of all other fish from Lake Erie. Other people should eat no more than one meal per week of any Lake Erie fish species.”

Like that great lawyer Ben Matlock, did on many occasions, I rest my case. Bass Pro ain’t no good ol’ boy handout, it’s a good ‘ol boy magnet. Just like all them ribbon magnets on you see on vehicles these days, this Bass Pro’s gonna support our troops. It’s like Charley Daniels said, “Get loud and get proud, cause the south’s gonna do it agin!”

Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a filmmaker who loves magic-realism, as he put to brilliant use in Amelie. In A Very Long Engagement he’s teamed up again with his Amelie star, Audrey Tautou, in a gorgeous looking movie based on Sebastian Japrisot’s World War I-era novel about a woman who refuses to believe that her soldier love has been killed. He was one of five French military prisoners convicted by their superiors of self-mutilation to avoid duty. Tautou is truly moving as Mathilde and Gaspard Ulliel is excellent as her beloved Manech. You should go to this film reading little about it, so I’m not going to spoil the vision you’ll encounter with any more information. This is an epic love story that proves to be an emotional juggernaut.

Screenwriter-director James L. Brooks enjoys making movies about human nature. Even when his films border on drama, he goes for the joke. Sometimes the dramedy wears thin. Before you see Brooks’ latest, Spanglish (the odd mix of Spanish and English spoken in multi-cultural cities like Los Angeles), you have to get used to three things. One is Adam Sandler in a calm role. Two is Adam Sandler as a leading man. Three is Adam Sandler married to Tea Leoni. Hit and miss here, folks, hit and miss. The movie is about colliding cultures. It goes from amiable comedy to nasty comedy faster than a rattlesnake strikes. A Mexican woman with a daughter arrives in L.A. hoping to capture the American dream. She ends up as a maid in a comfortably well off Beverly Hills household. Dad is Sandler, a nice guy who has a popular, well-rated restaurant to run. Mom is Leoni and she’s a neurotic mess. High maintenance doesn’t begin to describe her. These are the Claskys, parents to a son and daughter. Along for the ride is their wisecracking grandma, Cloris Leachman, who’s good in the role, but the cliches start falling out of Leachman’s mouth right from the get-go. Are their any seniors in Hollywood who aren’t feisty? The gist of Brooks strained effort is that dad is running out of excuses for mom’s behavior. The kids are not okay. Granny is a boozehound. Eventually, the Clasky clan takes the maid and her kid to their Malibu place for the summer. It’s here that the movie’s cultural commentary crumbles. The dialogue really gets mean-spirited. There are no insights into dysfunctional behavior and the Upstairs-Downstairs connections are pointless. The usually wonderful Leoni is so over-the-top that she has nowhere to go with her character. Sandler’s low-key performance is fine, but soon becomes dull. The movie fades into the Pacific Ocean as it tries to tie-up Brooks’ views of the relationship between a maid and her bosses, mother-daughter bonding, and having a career versus hanging around.

Closer is based on the hit play of the same name. We’re in contemporary London, and the movie expertly captures the look of the new architecture that has befallen that town. Some of it is striking, but most of it is deadly. The film feels modern, but its roots are in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. This is a terrifically tough, lacerating adult drama about four lonely souls searching for passion. Sexual passion, relationship passion, human contact passion. Closer seethes with bitter emotions. Would-be novelist Dan (Jude Law) meets an American who’s a part-time stripper. She’s Alice (Natalie Portman) and it’s lust from the start. You know there are going to be complications. The movie, directed by Mike Nichols, uses flash-forwards and flashbacks as unsettling expository elements. The technique works. Seems that Dan has met photographer Anna (Julia Roberts) at a photo shoot and betrays Alice by seducing Anna, who meets a hyper-masculine dermatologist named Larry (Clive Owen). Since nothing stops on a dime in this movie, she and Larry are soon in bedded bliss. But the bliss doesn’t last for anyone as backstabbing and betrayal are the order of the day. The quartet keeps the sparks flying. Closer has scathing insights into the negative things that humans do to each other in relationships. The acting is brilliant from all. This is one hard-edged movie.

Twelve is the new eleven. That’s what the posters read. Like the movie, it’s a saying that’s meaningless. Ocean’s Twelve is a trifle wherein the good-looking gang from the Ocean’s Eleven remake returns to carry out a series of scores so they can pay back Las Vegas casino owner Andy Garcia who’s out for vengeance. He’s already collected on the insurance, but the boring Garcia, looking like Peter Lorre, wants to double his money. Enter Danny Ocean and company (the twelfth member of the gang will end up being Ocean’s wife, Julia Roberts (sans make-up and with stringy hair – her interpretation of homemaker, I guess). Also along for the ride – and a ludicrous ride it is – is a lifeless Catherine Zeta-Jones as an Interpol agent trying to outguess what Ocean plans to do in Amsterdam, Paris, or Rome. It turns out she once had a love affair with Brad Pitt’s character, but we didn’t see that in Ocean’s Eleven, so it comes out of left field. Zeta-Jones seems to have been modeled after actress Anna Karina from some of Jean-Luc Godard’s faux gangster films. She can’t pull it off. In fact, she pulls nothing off. Another subplot involves a Frenchman known as The Night Fox wants to keep his title of world’s greatest thief. Add Bruce Willis as Bruce Willis, Eddie Izzard and Albert Finney in cameos that look truncated from longer bits, and you’ve got a caper movie that isn’t about anything except George Clooney playing ennui until it hurts. Hurts you, not him. I like Clooney a lot, but come on. This is a film that is virtually without solid elements. It’s more like the Frank Sinatra Rat Pack 1960s Ocean’s Eleven than a next step in the Ocean caper progression. Director Steven Soderbergh has made a movie that’s lighter-than-air and just as gassy. A bit of it is fun, but most of it isn’t.

Theses incidents were described in affidavits collected to bolster an election challenge lawsuit that was filed on the same day at the Ohio Supreme Court. The official recount, instigated by the state’s Green and Libertarian parties, was also scheduled to begin yesterday as Ohio’s Republican Electoral college members also met at noon. President Bush’s campaign officials have complained, pointing out that the effort won’t reverse the Presidents reelection. Bush beat Kerry by about 119,000 votes in Ohio on election- day.

On Sunday, Dec. 12, Senator John Kerry spoke to Jesses Jackson urging him to ‘take a more active role in investigating irregularities and ensuring a fair and impartial recount.” Evidently the Kerry campaign has contributed some of the $50 million left over from the general election to help. Expertise like Jesse Jackson doesn’t come cheap. Kerry pointed out the three areas that should be considered: 92,000 ballots that recorded no vote for president; counting and qualifying provisional ballots; and analyzing the software and set-up of the optical scan voting machines.

Affidavit Excerpts for the Election Challenge:

In Warren County election official declared a homeland security emergency and barred reporters and others from watching the recount on election- day. It turns out that county employees were told the previous Thursday to expect the lockdown. That being the case, why were ballots left unguarded? This suggests the lockdown was politically motivated and not a security threat.

In Knox County, students at a liberal arts college stood in line for up to 11 hours because only one voting machine was available. However, at nearby My Vernon Nazarene University, there were plenty of machines and no lines.

Shorting of voting machines turns out to be a major event.

In Franklin County, the election director seems to have perjured himself by testifying that the county had no additional machines. It now appears that as many as 81 voting machines out of 2,866 were kept away from voters. These shortages in democratic areas led to long lines and many people abandoning polling places before casting their ballots in complete frustration.

Also in Franklin County, staff at a Holiday Inn noticed a group of 25 peoples who called themselves the “Texas Strike Force’ using payphones to make intimidating calls to likely voters. The “Texas Strike Force” members paid their own way to Ohio; but the Ohio Republican Party paid for their hotel rooms. People who were not inside polling places by 7:30 PM were told to leave, even if they had been waiting for hours. This is a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

In Warren County, Democrats were being targeted and forced to use provisional ballots even though they had proper identification. Sworn Affidavits conformed reports that old voter registration rolls being used, therefore new voters were not on the list and had to be given provisional ballots. Some were not allowed to vote at all.

Tampering with the Numbers

Jonathan David Simon, an expert witness, claims that at 12:53 AM the exit polls suddenly altered the projected winner without changing the number of votes cast. “Although each update reports the same number of respondents (872), the reported results differ significantly, with the latter exit poll results apparently having been brought into congruence with the tabulated vote results.” It would seem that the exit polls were fixed to declare President Bush the winner.

Another affidavit by Richard Hayes Phillips, geomorphology Ph.D from the University of Oregon, claims to have discovered that votes were taken away from Kerry by what can only be described as computer manipulation. “It is my professional opinion that John Kerry’s margins of victory were wrongly reduced by 22,000 votes in Cleveland, by 17,000 votes in Columbus, and by as many as 7,000 votes in Toledo.” Dr. Phillips points to a suspect statistic in Miami County. Early in the evening, when 31,620 votes had been counted and then again when 50, 325 were in…”Kerry had exactly the same percentage, 33.92, and George Bush was almost exactly the same…the second set of returns gave Bush a margin of exactly 16,000 votes, giving cause to question the integrity of the central counting device for the optical scan machine.”

Jesse Jackson is not John Kerry’s only ally in Ohio. Donald McTigue is the lawyer responsible for the recount for the Senator. Kerry wants election officials to allow McTigue to visually inspect the suspect 92,000 ballots on which no vote for president was recorded. Lawyer McTigue said that the visual inspection is allowed under state law. His goal is to look for votes that were cast but not recorded by the tabulating machines. Senator Kerry also has requested that independent experts be retained to check both the calibration and programming of the election equipment.

“We’re trying to increase the transparency of the election process,” said McTigue. This concept seems to be invisible in the republican camp.

Good luck. You’ll need it.

The Aviator is everything the Academy supposedly likes: energetic, well-acted, colorful, rife with dazzling production values, and filled with terrific references to moviemaking itself. Nothing like a little pat on the back to make film folks happy. Whereas the tedious two hour and fifty minute running time of Alexander felt like we were fighting the entire Alexandrian campaign, the two hour and fifty minute running time of The Aviator seems like speed dialing. The movie is fast, often funny, and never dull. Scorsese’s biggest challenge was to make industrialist Howard Hughes interesting. It isn’t enough that a person has a fascinating life. The movie itself has to be fascinating. Hughes was a Texas kid who inherited an oil drill-bit business, invented all sorts of gizmos and styles of planes for the airline industry, produced and directed movies, and bedded some of the most interesting women in Hollywood. Seems like pretty amazing fodder for cinematic bliss. Well, the road to riches is strewn with interesting ideas that failed as screen entertainment. Larger-than-life often seems puny when that life gets the biopic treatment. Not this time.

Hughes has popped up in movies before, including Melvin And Howard, in which a goofy sort of ordinary guy supposedly inherited much of Hughes wealth. But he was a part-time character in that film. This time around, Scorsese has provided a broad canvas upon which to depict much of Hughes successful and quirky existence. We don’t get the full extent of his life, none of the crazy older billionaire holed up in a Las Vegas hotel suite watching Ice Station Zebra over and over and padding around naked wearing empty Kleenix boxes for slippers.

To Scorsese’s credit, we definitely get a look at Hughes mental disorder, and I think the look we get is look enough. Hughes had obsessive compulsive disorder before OCD was the disease of the season.

The Aviator takes us from Hughes arrival in Hollywood to make his airplane-filled war epic Hell’s Angels to his rip-roaring battle with a corrupt United States Senator who practiced governmental chicanery to the nth degree and was in the hip pocket of the chairman of Pan American Airways. Hughes’ air company was TWA. Competition can get pretty ugly when U.S. Senators are on-the-take.

Scorsese has gathered together a number of his loyal collaborators and that comfort level adds to the movie’s success. And think about, the guy’s previous film was Gangs Of New York. You really have to admire the ability of a director who’s able to follow one movie (Gangs…) with another like The Aviator. They are both broad and sweeping; the kind of motion picture people call epic. And Scorsese has the talent to deliver a feature that is a font of cinematic richness. He knows how to move a camera, cut to the heart of a scene, and keep the audience alert. More power to him. These days, hard-edged, driven billionaires seem to be all around. Reality television is filled with obnoxious tycoons like Donald Trump or inventive tycoons like Richard Branson. Neither of them can hold a candle to Howard Hughes. He wrote the book on billionaire businessmen with out-sized egos and the desire for more. Call it greed or something else. What compels these men? When is enough enough? Scorsese gets under the skin of Hughes, gives us a sense of what makes the man tick, sorts through the compulsive behavior, and delivers a picture that does what a movie is supposed to do – entertain.

The Aviator stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes. Too young you say? Not at all. Remember that Hughes was young when he went to Hollywood. Orson Welles young. He was a fresh-faced kid with a tinny voice and a smile that belied the determined cunning he would display in his knockabout battles with governments and corporations. DiCaprio gets Hughes down perfectly. His energy is focused. Acting is all in the eyes, and DiCaprio’s eyes brilliantly depict Hughes’ ardent willpower. They suggest force of personality and force of vision.

The movie opens with a brief prologue that touches on a character-defining moment in Hughes’ childhood. Remember it, because something from that scene recurs throughout the film. Again, Scorsese has the knack for choosing the telling moment, the key to a personality. Good art is about showing complexity with simplicity. After this opening, the movie literally dives into action. Airplanes buzz about, propellers spin, dust swirls, the camera sweeps. The screenplay by John Logan (he wrote Gladiator) takes us to the 1920s and the filming of Hell’s Angels, the expensive aerial epic that Hughes was financing with profits from his family’s tool company. The movie, which went through re-shoot after re-shoot and cost $4-million to make, would turn the twenty-something Hughes into a celebrity. He’s able to concentrate on his filmmaking because he’s hired a right-hand man for his business, the smart and affable Noah Dietrich (nicely played by John C. Reilly), who would stay loyal to Hughes for decades. Hughes even staged a premiere for Hell’s Angels on Hollywood Boulevard that would shame today’s publicity hucksters. The opening is a wildly dazzling event, supposedly the mob scene that inspired novelist Nathaniel West to write The Day Of The Locust. And we see it in all its overblown glory. Soon Hughes was dating glamour girls and spending time at famed Tinseltown nightclubs. Scorsese expertly captures the high energy and dazzling excitement of Hollywood in its heyday. In one scene, Jude Law pops in as dashing actor Errol Flynn, a cameo that works superbly.

But through Hughes’ rise to fame, we see the battle between his surface success and his inner demons. The guy won’t eat food that touches other food. He only drinks milk from a sealed glass bottle. He washes his hands again and again. He can’t touch bathroom doorknobs. He’s a bit of a loon, but a very lucky loon. He’s got the support staff and money to hid any number of tics. And when the OCD switch is turned off, he has sex with some very hot and very interesting women. Cate Blanchett is pitch perfect as Katharine Hepburn, actress, raconteur, and a bit of a nutcase herself. Kate Beckinsale does a nifty turn as Ava Gardner and has a beautiful scene late in the movie when she shows Hughes how much she understands the obsessive compulsive acts that cause him to hide out in his home for an extended period, terrified of germs and people and confrontation. There’s even a hint of what’s to come for the elderly Hughes, when we see him locked in his office, middle-aged and fearful, stark naked and starkly worried about that U.S. Senator who wants his scalp. Alan Alda acts the guy with villainous delight. Playing his partner in crime is Alec Baldwin as Pan Am’s honcho. Nobody does quiet malevolence better than Baldwin.

Through it all: the women, the fears, the glory, nothing can compete with Hughes truest love – aviation. The guy would battle the movie ratings board for the right to show Jane Russell’s breasts in their best light (he even designed a push-up bra for her to wear), but airplanes and air power never, ever took a back seat. Would his giant wooden transport plane, an invention of extremes, fly? Well, when push comes to shove, nothing takes a back seat to Hughes desire to prove his point. Not even a Senate hearing.

Overall, The Aviator is a mix of two elements. Firstly, it’s about the rise of aviation as a vital means of transportation and mode of travel. Secondly, it’s about the determination, vision, and emotional malaise of one individual. Blending newsreel footage, digital effects, and a point-of-view that never wavers, Scorsese delivers a series of truly spectacular aerial sequences. Directing his entire cast with a sure-hand, from DiCaprio to the smallest part, he makes everyone believable. Scorsese and Logan keep the storytelling clear-eyed. Dante Ferretti’s lavish production design, Sandy Powell’s wonderful costumes, and Howard Shore’s flawless musical score all contribute mightily to the movie’s success. And special praise has to go to Robert Richardson’s stunning, often beautiful cinematography.

One other key element in filmmaking is the editing. Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s longtime collaborator, edits The Aviator. She is as important to the success of the movie as any one person can be. Scorsese and Schoonmaker are a team. And this team has made a solidly entertaining movie.

Before we go any further we’d like to extend our apologies to Ms. Linstedt for using her fine report as a spring board for our satire. There’s “fair use” and then there’s “fair abuse.”

If you believe that corporate welfare amounts to legalized prostitution, especially in the area of government subsidies to retailers (a practice that was, a few short years ago, illegal for Industrial Development Agencies) you’ll probably think that this is a case of fair use. If you believe that the denigration of politicians has turned people off from politics, you might find this “new and improved” article is completely unfair. Fair or foul, keep in mind that it’s like we said, we’re only trying to have a little fun.

City officials go “fishing” for additional retailers

Fresh off landing in the brothel of new pimp, “Daddy” Bass Pro, a contingent of “Buffalo Gals” traveled to various New York City red light districts on Tuesday in search of additional “retail” tricks.

(“Retail” is sex industry slang for using business or government accounts to pay for sex. A john who “pays retail” is highly desirable because customers who are using embezzled funds can afford to be more generous. Whores that can assist clients in creating such slush funds help themselves and also their clients. )

Long time two dollar whore, Mayor Anthony M. Masiello joined “freshmeat” Timothy Wanamaker, head of the city's Office of Strategic Planning, and four development staff bitches in stalking “retail” prey at the International Council of Shopping Centers fall meeting in Manhattan.

"I'm here to tell our story of arousal and excitement, and we're getting a very warm reception," Masiello said with a wink. “Freshmeat” Wanamaker, who has represented Buffalo at past meetings of the group, said last week's “Daddy” Bass Pro announcement has increased interest in the area.

"There are key ‘retailer’ johns we've had difficulties getting a meeting with in the past, and now they want to see us," he said. "When you tell people “Daddy” Bass Pro is coming to town, it’s like Christmas: Ho, ho, ho! It opens doors.”

Masiello concurred, “It’s like Snoop said, we gonna pop it like it’s hard.”

Masiello said that as soon as these potential “clients” noticed his name tag, he was greeted with congratulations on his decision to hook up with his new pimp, “Daddy” Bass Pro.

"I probably had 15 people talk to me about it just walking through the lobby," he said. “It’s like getting a new set of boobs and showing your cleavage. This group lives and breathes ‘retail’, and they couldn't say enough good things about the impact of ‘Daddy’ Bass."

Masiello and Wanamaker had several set meetings with an undisclosed list of retailers, ranging from "big vagina" clients to upscale, specialty fetishists, as well as national “retail” brokers. Both whores expressed a mix of optimism and caution when they talked about attracting any of their targets to Buffalo.

"The good news is we're getting the propositions, but these deals take time and patience," Wanamaker said. "It could take two or three years to get a firm commitment, tap into the taxpayer’s wallet and set up these ‘retail’ accounts. These ‘retail’ johns force taxes to go way up, and taxes are sky high already. But on the bright side, we’ve always had the D.A. in our pocket, we just made a deal with the Attorney General, and we got plenty of ho’s ready to hit the street.”

Masiello’s input on this: “Word.”

“Retailers” looking to ride the coattails of “Daddy” Bass into Buffalo, he noted, will time their decisions to the Sportin’ Life “Daddy” Bass’s 2007 Sha-dizzlin’Throw Down. Pimpin!

Patrice Duker, spokestrumpet for the shopping center council, said public sector participation in the organization's retail meetings has been growing. The group's convention last spring in Vegas featured a keynote session on how to whore out the community interest through “public-private partnerships” (industry slang for intercourse and fellatio) that drew “two-dollar whore mayors,” like Masiello from 50 U.S. cities.

The event's "leasing mall," which features peep shows for retailers, developers and brokers, has grown to include a "municipal court," where cities and regions tout their charms and “show a little leg” to the ‘retail’ world.

"The private sector johns want to get laid, and the public sector ho’s wants growth that fits with their master plans and long-term growth strategies," Duker said. "It makes a lot of sense to get them talking to each other about price at the outset."

She also noted that, with “Daddy” Bass Pro in its future, Buffalo brings more to those conversations.

"It's instant brand recognition for Buffalo. Buffalo is famous for its political whores, already. It's a destination ‘retailer’, if there ever was one, that attracts a strong, dedicated core customer," Duker said. "When you can put a ‘Daddy’ Bass Pimpdom on the table, it lends credence to your pitch, absolutely."

In addition to telling ‘retailers’ about possibilities in Buffalo's Erie Canal Harbor entertainment neighborhood (euphemistically known as “Maiden Lane” in the early years of Buffalo’s rich history of prostitution) and the Main Street corridor (once home to numerous burlesques and bawdy houses), city representatives also are plugging the potential of Elmwood, Hertel and Jefferson avenues as ‘retail’ destinations.

Masiello noted that he was willing to, “Ho the whole damn thing out.”

For now, though, Masiello said, that Buffalo group's growing list of introductions should be considered a victory; more serious meetings would follow in the months ahead.

“This is much more than just another booty call,” Masiello said with evident satisfaction.

Well, you could have knocked me over with a bulldozer after I got through reading two days worth of articles in The Snooze about how public monies got poured down the drain faster than the stale beer at the Breckenridge Brew Pub that was last seen floating down the Colorado River sporting a big banner saying, “I got mine and I’m taking it with me.”

Not to be outdone by a fellow scribbler, Donn Esmonde, of the same Snooze, waded in and slammed Too Tall Tony for being a lousy basketball player and a failure to become a Rhodes Scholar and an intelligent mayor. At least, Heaney spread the failure to include the administration of former mayor Jimmy Griffin and didn’t mention how mediocre 3T was as a basketball player. In fact, Heaney didn’t mention any names connected to the disappearing funds, but he did manage to quote the beady-eyed, mustachioed troll who is the resident expert on all things governmental and heads an outfit called the Buffalo/Niagara Partnership/Enterprise.

Should it really surprise any of us that public monies disappear down rat holes dug by corporate elites and the politically connected? Our world’s history is a richly woven tapestry of corruption and scandals and the bold buccaneers who stole more with a slap on the back and a firm handshake than all of the armies since the time of Alexander. Our very own Empire State was an important player and training ground for generations of thieves since before the time of Aaron Burr. The legacy of Boss Tweed and Tammany politics lives on in Albany and in all of the little burgs that comprise our great state.

Reformers have risen from the pits of the political cesspool, promising to restore democracy and fair play and to restore trust in governmental functions, and the media, that great champion of the people, have shouted their huzzahs and have spread the mantle of honesty to the shoulders of those visionaries who will soon fall back into the slime from which they arose. Ah, yes, even the readers of history succumb to the sins of the past, and editors and writers seem to be at the greatest peril, excepting myself.

Dorothy and Toto are no longer in Kansas, and Alice has returned from Wonderland, but we are still imprisoned in a world of our own design. Why don’t we or why can’t we just admit that change is one thing that we refuse to accept. We are comfortable with the devils we know rather than with the idea of venturing into the unknown world of ethics and personal responsibility.

Fear not, brothers and sisters, the revelations embedded in Jim Heaney’s series appearing in The Buffalo News only serves to remind us of the immortal words of Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The great lamentations over the recent elections for various public offices should remind us forcefully that we are neither all on the same page nor do we read from the same book. George W. Bush is in and trees are out, and the war will continue, and the money will still flow into the subterranean coffers of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. How I wish that I could be tight with either one and proudly say, I got mine you’ll have to get your own. But, alas, I am too lazy to petition HUD or to smooch backsides in search of loot from Kellogg Brown and Root.

The calculus of individuals and human psychology does not allow for quantum leaps into perfection, so do not be amazed that one can be anything more than what he or she is. In other words, when choosing leaders, be assured that what you see is what you’ll get and, as the old cliché repeats, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” Just relax, lean back, and remember that there will always be another election, and you can vote for the clown of your choice, maybe.

NYSNA, the union that represents the 900 registered nurses employed by the county and the medical center, said that the budget being considered this week by county officials would dismantle the healthcare system and create havoc for what remains:

* Fewer RN would mean longer waits at the emergency room.

* There would be no on staff at schools to check on children’s health or administer medications.

* Citizens would lose their safety net for protecting the public’s health in an emergency.

Starting this weekend and running through Tuesday – when the legislature votes on the budget – NYSNA will sponsor a radio advertising campaign to inform the public and persuade county officials to preserve public health funding.

About 60 nurses are assigned to school health and another 50 are in community clinics – working in areas such as primary care, maternal-child health, and sexually transmitted diseases.

NYSNA maintains that it is not appropriate to eliminate preventive and primary care services that have a proven track record for being more effective and less costly than hospitalization for preventable conditions. Clinics operated by the County Health Department have been a cost-effective alternative to emergency-room care. If the clinics are closed, it is uncertain that these same patients will find their way to access county services through the ER at ECMC.

County nurses also provide much needed health services in the schools that are so important, all schools are required to have similar services. Children need school nurses and the county has an experienced and qualified staff. NYSNA believes it is not appropriate to use these children in a political debate.

With more than 34,000 members, NYSNA is the oldest and largest state nurses’ association in the nation. It is an influential union for RNs, representing nurses in New York and New Jersey. Offering a wide range of services to its members, NYSNA fosters high standards of nursing education and practice and works to advance the profession through legislative activity. It is a constituent of the American Nurses Association and of the United American Nurses, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

—30—

Contact:
Mark Genovese (518) 782-9400, Ext. 353
Nancy Webber (518) 782-9400, Ext. 223


Ever since I was a four-year-old beginning reader, I have experienced the delights of the library. The treasures that I discovered in the library have given me an opportunity to travel through time and space. Via the wonders of books and my own imagination, I’ve gone to prehistoric times with Jean Auel, to outer space with Isaac Asimov, into the mind of a dictator with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, on amazing and heroic quests with Alexandre Dumas, and to so many other places and times and realities.

The treasures that I have discovered in the public libraries may be lost to Erie County residents. County Executive Joel Giambra’s “red budget” cuts funding for the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library system from a requested $29,154,123 to $6,082,879. The result would be that the entire system of 52 libraries would be forced to close on January 1, 2005. Borrowing from libraries will discontinue on December 7, 2004.

Busy Year for the Library

Buffalo and Erie County’s library system recorded a successful year for 2003 with 52 locations, mobile outlets, and remote access via the internet. According to the library systems website (www.buffalolib.org), nearly 350,000 people are regular customers of the library. The trend continues into 2004, with a six percent increase in circulation over 2003, a 24 percent increase in computer use, and a 12 percent increase in materials shipped among all of the library system’s locations.

The red budget, however, would decimate these services, said Michael Mahaney, director of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library system. It would provide “barely enough money to lay off the staff and lock the doors of all 52 libraries, including the central library.” Any remaining money would be used for climate control, to ensure that the pipes do not freeze in the vacated buildings.

Ironically, according to the Erie County Legislature, in a prepared handout to attendees at its four public hearings, $14 million has been budgeted for library supplies, including books, media, and capital projects.

“This is the first time in American history that an entire library system has been threatened with shut down. Sometimes individual libraries are shut. (Closing the libraries are) unthinkable things that our community should not have to contemplate. It is shocking and unacceptable,” Mahaney said.

What the Community Stands to Lose

The proposed closure of the library system is “taking the heart out of the community. It’s leaving the community an empty shell in a way that it never was before. We’re in so many different communities, and we serve so many people, who have limited options. I can’t imagine what they could find to fill the void. The library system is 168 years old. It has survived everything from a great depression through world wars. It is inconceivable to think that it could come to an end,” Mahaney said.

The things that would be lost include story hours, computer training, and free lunchtime concerts, as well as public access to the libraries’ vast storehouses of books, CDs, videos, and other materials. Rare books would be pulled from exhibition and would be placed in a vault for safekeeping.

Far More than a Job

Mahaney, 52, has found a career and a home amidst the books, videos, and CDs. Thirty-one years ago, he was hired to shelve books in the Central Library. In 1977, just after graduating from SUNY at Buffalo with a master’s degree in library science, Mahaney became a reference librarian. He has worked in administration since 1990 and has been the system’s director for two years.

The library system is where Mahaney said that he found his closest friends and where he first met his wife. Mahaney said, “I have affection and respect” for the libraries and for their staffs and patrons.

The library systems has been through difficult times in the past, Mahaney said. In 1976-1977, the system went through a fiscal crisis, which resulted in the layoff of 40 percent of its staff. “Back then, a lot of really bright, talented, capable people were laid off, and they left. They became the leaders of libraries around the country. I would hate to lose more talent and commitment to something like this. These are people who are not just library assets; they are community assets. Erie County will be poorer if they have to leave,” Mahaney said.

Mahaney said that he intended to finish his career in the library system in Erie County, a community that has been his lifelong home. If the library system closes, however, he would have to look for options out of town. “I can’t bear the thought of this collapsing around us. It’s one of the finest library systems in the country. This is the best staff that I’ve ever encountered anywhere. It would be shameful to allow this to die.”

Citizen Responses to Proposed Elimination of the Library System

On November 28, at Erie Community College’s South Campus in Orchard Park, more than ninety individuals addressed the many budget cuts that have been proposed by the red budget. Many of them discussed the public library system. Mercedes Russow, a retired teacher, wanted to know, “What kind of tumor in the brain caused this?” She said that the county executive has proposed “taking away everything that makes life worthwhile.”

Ed Arnold said that his two children go to the library twice a week and that his wife meets friends regularly in the library. He said that Erie County’s excellent library system is a factor that keeps his family in the area. His wife is a native of Poland and libraries are a high priority in that country. “In Poland, every town, no matter how poor, has a library.”

Joseph, who held his small daughter as he tearfully addressed the members of the Erie County Legislature, said that he had just been at the Angola branch of the library. He said that he “loves taking the baby to the library, the botanical gardens, and the zoo. “She goes to the botanical gardens every Sunday, and she runs up and down the steps.”

Marsha of Orchard Park said, “Libraries are not expendable. They are where community happens. At the library, you find the greatest diversity of people.” She said that she recently took a Microsoft Word class with a group of older people at the library.

Abraham (Abe) Kenmore, a nine-year-old home schooler from Clarence Center, said straightforwardly, “I really like libraries. I like to browse. I have lots of interests.” As an example of the value of libraries to him, Abe said that he recently became interested in the history of music and was able to borrow fifteen books on the subject. “It’s hard to buy books and have money left over.”

“Libraries are fun places,” Abe concluded.

In our estimation, this attempt to put the mayor out to pasture began in earnest with this month’s publication of James Heaney’s three-part series, which documented the Masiello administration’s squandering of federal aid money. We can wonder what took The News so long to identify the severity of the situation, but on the positive side, perhaps we should be saying better late than never.

Donn Esmonde has led The News in criticizing Masiello, but prior to the Heaney series, his columns always seemed to leave Tony with some wiggle room. Esmonde’s follow up column to the Heaney series, however, was blistering. Later that week, the editorial staff of The News published an editorial that was more genteel but essentially confirmed the obvious: The News will no longer continue to make excuses for Masiello. The Heaney series would never have been published as written if the editors at The News had any intention of allowing Tony to stick around for another four years.

We know from previous articles by Bob McCarthy, top political reporter for The News, that the business community has been desperately seeking an alternative candidate to support in next fall’s mayoral race. If Masiello does run, Byron Brown and Sam Hoyt will present him with determined competition for his job. Perhaps Joel Giambra’s prophecy that Tony will be the last mayor of Buffalo may be fulfilled with the elimination of the office altogether. Eliminating that office will take some doing, however.

Tony’s Discreet Charms Finally Wear Off

When we look back, there is something particularly odious about the fulsome lies and nauseous flattery that filled The Buffalo News’ copious editorials in praise of Tony in election years past. But then, certain power brokers wanted a Governor George Pataki-dominated control board in charge of the city’s finances. To arrive at that point, a good measure of malfeasance was necessary, and it’s obvious now that Masiello was equal to that task.

Several points need to be made about the Heaney series and Alt’s coverage of this story.

First off, when we attempted to obtain some of the information that Heaney presented, people in the local HUD office told us that no loans were in default. Then, our appeal to Washington for information on all current outstanding loans in full was returned as a partial list showing only good loans.

Grant + Loan = Groan

A source who wishes to remain anonymous and is very familiar with local development issues told Alt that this was merely a language issue. The Masiello terminology morphed the word “default” into “aging.” This is why there were no loans in default to be found.

This person related the following inside riddle about the Masiello crew’s chicanery: What do you call a cross between a grant and a loan? A groan. This little rib tickler implies that Masiello and company knew that, when they were gifting some of their developer friends with section 108 loans, there was an implicit understanding that they were really going to turn out to be grants in the long run. Hilarious, isn’t it?

The partial information that this person was able to provide us with about some of the defaulted Section 108 loans was largely confirmed by the Heaney series. Many questions remain, however. First and foremost on our minds is that if there were a pattern of deliberate abuse for political payoffs, why isn’t this a law-enforcement issue? Why isn’t anyone even thinking about bringing the mayor and his cronies up on charges? We published a story about a very similar situation in Hoboken, N. J., which resulted in several convictions. Are we in Buffalo more corrupt than the folks in New Jersey?

Heaney presents an array of information that the Masiello administration had kept quiet, particularly the abysmal record of the HUD Section 108 loan program.

Favored Developers and Political Influence There are points of interest that Heaney does not elaborate to our satisfaction, however. While the series avoids certain critical questions in our minds, we agree that it represents a good start in making people aware of what a terrible job the Masiello administration has done in managing federal aid intended to alleviate inner-city poverty, not to sock an already impoverished city government with even more debt.

A major problem with the series is that Heaney fails to mention developers by name, again and again. Who were these mysterious developers? Were they plugged into the mayor’s political campaign? Was there a pay to play understanding? Heaney sidesteps these questions.

Heaney failed to mention that the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation pumped more than a quarter million into the Pillar’s hotel AFTER it was clear that the hotel was in default. The medical corridor was not Tony’s brainchild. When it came time to secure capital for a pet project on the campus of Roswell Park, however, it’s doubtful as to whether Masiello could have refused or not. There was enormous political pressure to keep Roswell pumping money into political coffers, along with forecasts of irrational exuberance about the market for high-priced cancer treatment. No one questioned a government-sponsored hotel on the Roswell campus.

While naming several of these businesses and some developers, Heaney leaves some notable absences. He omits information on James Cosentino and Harry Williams, for example. Have they repaid their loans? There are ethical concerns with some of the recipients of Section 108 loans and their political and personal relationships with Masiello. Were these deals legal? Are there ethical violations that can be pursued against Masiello? Heaney fails to explore the nexus of political-business relationships that led to this sorry state of affairs and, therefore, in our opinion, misses the point of this story.

Bi-Partisan Complaints Are Ignored

Heaney shows that even a community activist such as Kim Harman and a Business big shot such as Andrew Rudnick can agree that Masiello has done a horrible job with the Section 108 program. This kind of agreement across the political spectrum is unusual these days. You would think that this would not bode well for any effort to re-elect Tony next year, but Tony doesn’t seem to be too concerned. "I wish we had more private-sector investment. It's coming in dribs and drabs, but it's coming," Masiello told The News.

Tony is satisfied.

Tony wishes that there were business investment. It’s coming at some point in the future. Didn’t Heaney ask for comment on specific deals? In how many instances did section 108 loans result in significant investment in nearby properties? We don’t know because Masiello was not challenged on his assertion that many projects had significant spin-off.

Banko: Fox/Hen Housing Arrangement Not to Blame

Heaney stated, “The loans must be approved by the Common Council, development agencies controlled by the mayor, and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Cities are responsible for paying them off, using block grant funds, in the event a developer defaults.”

This is pretty accurate. The system of checks and balances, however, was not as rigorous as it might first appear. The mayor had allies in the Common Council and, since block grant funding was important to the pet projects of councilmembers, there was little resistance to the mayor’s section 108 initiatives. In addition, after Masiello Chief of Staff Steve Banko was put in charge of HUD, there was no longer an arm’s length negotiating distance. In effect, the mayor’s 108 loans were generally rubber stamped.

Banko’s statements are enlightening: "The problem in Buffalo is developers have it backwards… Everywhere else, they put the deal together, get what they can from private sources, and come to the government if they have a gap. In Buffalo, they all come to the city first – ‘what can you give me?’ - then they go get their financing." Is this because developers here are a breed apart, or is this because they know that this is the way the game is played?

Banko’s explanation shifts the blame from the Masiello administration, of which he was an integral part, and onto the community as a whole. It’s the culture of Buffalo that’s the problem, not the specific funding decisions that were made. We share communal guilt and change is unlikely. The “they” to whom Banko refers aren’t really identified by name. “They” are the same developers whom Heaney, for the most part, does not mention by name. From our experience, “they” are often the same people who supported Masiello and are an integral part of the political process. “They” are frequently hostile to outside investors out of fear of losing control of local development money that the mayor has spent so generously.

Tony’s Theme: A Legacy of Learned Helplessness

"Many of these (section 108 loans) were gap financing; no one else wanted to help," Masiello told The News.

The other way to look at this lavish lending is as politically driven. Masiello’s so-called “gap financing” statement was made to avoid the embarrassment of default. Loans made to the right people were allowed to “age” gracefully. In accounting terms, this is called knowingly presenting a false picture of financial information to investors. What do we call this in Buffalo? Heaney calls it “a half billion dollar bust,” which is a surprisingly polite euphemism for fraud, if you think about it.

The last article in Heaney’s series concerned the Masiello administration’s bad debts in the Theatre District. We here at Alt lovingly refer to the 600 Block of Main Street as Mayor Masiello’s “Potemkin Village.” The term came from a Russian politico, Grigori Potemkin, who created fake villages at huge expense to show Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, how happy and prosperous the peasants were. The peasants in Russia, like their modern Buffalonian counterparts, were neither prosperous nor happy with the hand that was dealt them by their imperial overseers. As Masiello himself said a few years ago, “We need a revolution.”

Casino Buffalo – Chairman Masiello’s Long March Continues

Masiello’s idea of revolution appears to be more of the same, however. There are more section 108 loans being queued up. Heaney reported that, “One, of about $3 million, would be used to redevelop Central Park Plaza. Plans to convert Memorial Auditorium into a Bass Pro store call for a $7.3 million loan through the Section 108 program, plus an additional $2 million through another program.”

Heaney didn’t mention that Bass Pro has ties to casino gambling, in Las Vegas or that certain power brokers, such as Carl Paladino, would like to see a casino in downtown Buffalo. If this is going to be Tony’s last term, he might as well go out with one last big “Ka-ching” for himself and all of those friends of his whom no one else seems to want to help.

This could bring abuse of the Section 108 program up to a whole new level. Heaney reminds us in his first installment of this series that the HUD program was supposedly intended to alleviate poverty. How a massive fishing superstore (and possibly an inner city casino) would accomplish this goal is a mystery. Maybe it’s all part of Tony’s revolution. Pull quotes: “Loans made to the right people were allowed to ‘age’ gracefully.”

“ ‘They’ are often the same people who supported Masiello and are an integral part of the political process. ‘They’ are frequently hostile to outside investors out of fear of losing control of local development money…”

Lockheed Martin, based in Bethesda, Maryland, was awarded military contracts for fiscal 2003 totaling more than 69 billion dollars. Its campaign contributions in 2002 were more than nine million dollars, so the return on the initial investment is more than reasonable. That year, Lockheed Martin CEO Vance Coffman collected a hefty 25 million dollar salary. Lockheed Martin manufactures F-16 and F/A-22 jet fighters, the world-famous C-130 Hercules transport plane, and the lethal Hellfire and Javelin missiles. Hellfire missiles have been used to whack terrorists from the Gaza Strip to the Khyber Pass and beyond.

Next in line and always a contender, we have Boeing. Now headquartered in Chicago, this giant aircraft maker generated 60 billion in government business in 2003. But Boeing was a bit savvier than Lockheed Martin; it only had to shell out four million dollars in campaign contributions. Phillip Condit, the CEO, collected a measly four million in salary. The stockholders must be pleased, as the number for both companies seem to wash each other out. Boeing manufacturers the F-15, C-17 transport plane, the Apache Helicopter, and numerous brands of “smart” bombs, that somehow managed to wipe out mostly the wrong targets.

But to be fair, these two blue-chip name companies, in the market for decades, are the 800-pound gorillas of arms manufacturing global corporations. They have produced some of the most famous combat aircraft of all time, and they sell to clients all over the globe. They proudly put their cost-over runs out in the open for everyone to see, and war profiteering to them has been propagandized into nothing more than the cost of R & D and doing business the American Way. Milo Minderbinder would be proud.

These companies didn’t necessarily have to ride the hysterics, uncertainty, and fear of post 9/11 to make millions. But there is one company that did.

Custer Battles

I am not making this up. The name of the company IS Custer Battles. Two Army veterans, Scott Custer and Michael Battles, established this business in October 2001. These two thirty-something entrepreneurs had little experience in private security. But Mike Battles had political experience, having been a former Republican Congressional candidate in Rhode Island. He and Custer set up shop in McClean, Virginia, and then headed to Washington and the Pentagon to make their fortune. They were lucky or good or connected, because in June 2003, they won a 16.5 million dollar deal to guard Baghdad International Airport. Having no troops of their own, they ended up by hiring Nepalese mercenaries, the guys with the knives, who had served in the British Army’s Gurkha Regiments. Using folks from Nepal has become popular. At $1,000 U.S. a month, they are paid less, even poorly, than the average merc. But take look at the map. Nepal is in the middle of the Himalayas, where jobs are few and not even Wal-Mart has a foothold. For some soldier-of-fortune wannabees, this could be the ticket to sea-level. It was the first major contract for the security neophytes. Since then, Custer Battles has generated more than $100 million in deals. One contract calls for that company to train the newly formed and since unraveling Iraqi Army, but then EVERYONE has a contract to train the Iraqi Army. Another contract has the company protecting the new currency in Iraq.

Custer Battles’ Last Stand??

The company is now charged with over charging the Federales by tens of millions of dollars. Made public on October 8, a lawsuit was filed under the False Claims Act. The U.S. Air Force alleges that Custer Battles marked up invoices by as much as 162 percent. The Pentagon has banned the company from any further government contracts under the matter is resolved.

Custer Battles Calls the Charges “Baseless”

The above-mentioned currency protection amounts to little more than well-armed payroll guards, but it can get tricky. Last December, British-based Global Risk Strategies, a well-known private military contractor, was contracted to oversee a portion of the changeover of Iraq’s currency from that of the former regime. On December 1, Fiji mercenaries (that’s right, I said Fiji mercenaries) hired by Global Risk randomly opened fire after a currency changeover convoy in their charge came under attack. Ten Iraqi civilians were killed, and dozens were wounded. Fijian mercenaries are also popular to hire, as they contract out at the aforementioned $1,000 U.S. a month. I was unaware that Fiji had any military tradition whatsoever.

While the Fijians’ military skills may or may not be in question, their skill as negotiators certainly is. As mercenaries go, they are definitely bottom feeders. A thousand dollars a month is less that chicken feed. At the top of the mercenary heap are the British and the South Africans. No self-respecting ex-Special Air Service (SAS) operative would strap on a weapon for less than a $1,000 U.S. A DAY. Not to be outdone, American firms are working hard to close the gap. Black Water Corp., based in North Carolina, is staffed by ex-U.S. Special Forces, SEALs, and Army Rangers. These fellows also know how the Pentagon works when it comes to payroll and potential risk. Convoy escort duty in a nasty place such as Fallujah can get downright dangerous. Black Water is paying its troops as much a $1,500 U.S. a day. Of course, Black Water bills Uncle Sam and the American taxpayer. Black Water also has hired 60 Chilean ex-commandos. But salaries for them remain unclear.

The amount of money up for bid is staggering. The details are hard to come by, but the latest estimate is that, of the last $18.6 billion dollars that the Bush administration has shelled out for Iraq reconstruction, 25 percent will be used for to pay security companies. No wonder the Iraqi mercenary gold rush was on. David Claridge, managing director of the Risk Advisory Group, has said that annual revenue has increased for just the Brits to more than $1.7 billion U.S. Risk Advisory Group, a company that advises governments and leading businesses on security matters, is one of many British private military contractors cashing in on the Iraq reconstruction bonanza.

The contracts have gotten so lucrative that many soldiers on both sides of the Atlantic are taking stock. Many have left the service (before the stop loss orders went into effect) and have returned to Iraq as private employees. The risks are indeed the same, but the pay is much better. Of course, you can’t get paid if you are dead.

Many private soldiers take the money and run; there is no contractual obligation for them to put themselves in harm’s way. The U.S. taxpayer is left to pay the bill.

A Thousand Clowns tells the story of Murray Burns, a recently unemployed writer for a children’s television show, who has been taking care of his delightfully precocious 12-year-old nephew Nick. When Arnold and Sandra from Child Welfare Services get involved in their lives, the antics of Murray and his nephew turn into a roller coaster of side-splitting humor as Murray faces the possibility of having to give up his freedom and return to a job that he loathes.

Michael Milligan, who plays Murray Burns, was last seen this past summer playing Orlando in As You Like It. Micheal Milligan’s Murray is the perfect blend between whimsical jester and tragic clown, reminiscent of Red Skelton. He is truly a joy to watch as he meanders around the stage showcasing his skill in the realm of physical comedy. The chemistry between Milligan and the rest of the cast is phenomenal as the other characters feed his delightful larking about. Also impressive is Brad Bellamy in the role of Leo Herman. Herman acts both as children’s performer “Chuckles the Chipmunk” and as Murray’s ex-employer. Returning for his tenth production at Studio Arena, he flamboyantly portrays the pathetic egotist and offers yet another layer of raucous laughter to pie. Stan Klemenko, a Niagara Falls native and Studio Arena alum, adds another delightful element as child welfare worker Albert Amundson. He rounds out the cast, providing an element of dichotomy to the free spirited Murray Burns. His depiction of the socially repressed bureaucrat is right on the mark and highlights the play’s theme of the desperation that lies in social conformity. Michael Dentico and Christopher Piedmonte, students of the Academy of Theater Arts in Williamsville, share the role of Nick. A Thousand Clowns also stars Christine Marie Brown and Kevin Carolan.

Performances of A Thousand Clowns continue through December 23 and will prove to be a delightful holiday treat for the whole family. Ticket prices range from $31to $52 and can be purchased by phone at (716) 856-5650 or 1 (800) 77STAGE and online at www.studioarena.org.

As is true of most successful 21st century businesses, much of The Abbey Grange traffic comes via the internet (www.abbeygrange.com). A large basket of outgoing packages were bundled near the door when I arrived, waiting for shipment the next day. Packages will go all over the world, to such places as the United Kingdom, South Africa, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and, of course, throughout Europe and the United States. Spain has been his most recent bulk consumer, ordering mysteries of all persuasions. Rich, a former educator, is excited about his new business, and his wife, Tracy Van Patten-Sawicki, who works for the American Red Cross, shares this excitement. His daughter Martha, a high school senior, is the Abbey Grange’s interior decorator. She’s creating a warm, comfortable environment that sets the stage for Rich’s. It is a hospitable shop where customers sit around, coffee cups in hand, to browse through books and newspapers from all over the world. Eventually, you will even be able to bring in your laptops. Finally, there is Eli, a sixth grader who makes his contribution in enthusiasm and ideas.

When you visit the little shop on Lexington and chat with Rich, you know that it is a place where you will shop, meet friends, and “hang out” for years to come. Why not start this holiday season? What better way to think globally and shop locally than in a new neighborhood bookstore?

PAST WORK EXPERIENCE:
I ran for U.S. Congress and lost. I began my career in the oil business in Midland, Texas in 1975. I bought an oil company, but couldn't find any oil in Texas. The company went bankrupt shortly after I sold all my stock.
I bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in a sweetheart deal that took land using taxpayer money. With the help of my father and our friends in the oil industry (including Enron CEO Ken Lay), I was elected governor of Texas.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS AS GOVERNOR OF TEXAS
I changed Texas pollution laws to favor power and oil companies, making Texas the most polluted state in the Union. During my tenure, Houston replaced Los Angeles as the most smog-ridden city in America. I cut taxes and bankrupted the Texas treasury to the tune of billions in borrowed money. I set the record for the most executions by any governor in American history.
With the help of my brother, the governor of Florida, and my father's appointments to the Supreme Court, I became President after losing by over 500,000 votes.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS AS PRESIDENT:
I am the first President in U.S. history to enter office with a criminal record.
I invaded and occupied two countries at a continuing cost of *over one billion dollars per week*.
I spent the U.S. surplus and effectively bankrupted the U.S. Treasury. I shattered the record for the largest annual deficit in U.S. history. I set an economic record for most private bankruptcies filed in any 12-month period.
I set the all-time record for most foreclosures in a 12-month period.
I set the all-time record for the biggest drop in the history of the U.S. stock market.
In my first year in office, over 2 million Americans lost their jobs and that trend continues every month. I'm proud that the members of my cabinet are the richest of any administration in U.S. history. My "poorest millionaire," Condoleeza Rice, has a Chevron oil tanker named after her.
I set the record for most campaign fund-raising trips by a U.S. President. I am the all-time U.S. and world record-holder for receiving the most corporate campaign donations.
One of my best friends, Kenneth Lay, presided over the largest corporate bankruptcy fraud in U.S. History, Enron.
My political party used Enron private jets and corporate attorneys to assure my success with the U.S. Supreme Court during my election decision.
I have protected my friends at Enron and Halliburton against investigation or prosecution. More time and money was spent investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair than has been spent investigating one of the biggest corporate rip-offs in history.
I presided over the biggest energy crisis in U.S. history and refused to intervene when corruption involving the oil industry was revealed. I presided over the highest gasoline prices in U.S. history. I changed the U.S. policy to allow convicted criminals to be awarded government contracts. I appointed more convicted criminals to administration than any President in U.S. history. I created the Ministry of Homeland Security, the largest bureaucracy in the history of the United States government. I've broken more international treaties than any President in U.S. history. I am the first President in U.S. history to have the United Nations remove the U.S. from the Human Rights Commission. I withdrew the U.S. from the World Court of Law. I refused to allow inspector's access to U.S. "prisoners of war" detainees and thereby have refused to abide by the Geneva Convention. I am the first President in history to refuse United Nations election inspectors (during the 2002 U.S. election). I set the record for fewest numbers of press conferences of any President since the advent of television. I set the all-time record for most days on vacation in any one-year period.
After taking off the entire month of August, I presided over the worst security failure in U.S. history.
I garnered the most sympathy for the U.S. after the World Trade Center attacks and less than a year later made the U.S. the most hated country in the world, the largest failure of diplomacy in world history. I have set the all-time record for most people worldwide to simultaneously protest me in public venues (15 million people), shattering the record for protests against any person in the history of mankind.
I am the first President in U.S. history to order an unprovoked, pre-emptive attack and the military occupation of a sovereign nation. I did so against the will of the United Nations, the majority of U.S. citizens, and the world community.
I have cut health care benefits for war veterans and support a cut in duty benefits for active duty troops and their families -- in wartime. In my State of the Union Address, I lied about our reasons for attacking Iraq and then blamed the lies on our British friends. I am the first President in history to have a majority of Europeans (71%) view my presidency as the biggest threat to world peace and security. I am supporting development of a nuclear "Tactical Bunker Buster," a WMD I have so far failed to fulfill my pledge to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice.
During the Iraq War and Occupation thousands of American troops were injured and killed. I did not have the time to attend any of the funerals for our fallen soldiers but I did have the time to attend more than 43 fund-raising events of the Republican party

RECORDS AN REFERENCES:
All records of my tenure as governor of Texas are now in my father's library, sealed and unavailable for public view. All records of SEC investigations into my insider trading and my bankrupt companies are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.
All records or minutes from meetings that I, or my Vice-President, attended regarding public energy policy are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public review. provided by alexander graham