Archive | May, 2010

Remembering Our Dead

31 May

Don’t thank me today; I’m still alive. In our country’s well meaning collective rush to thank those in uniform, sometimes Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day get confused. You can thank me in November. But today, we remember those that died in service to their country.

Like far too many in our country at the moment, Memorial Day for me is not a impersonal holiday. I don’t “Support Our Troops” or “Remember Our Veterans” with sincere but only skin-deep platitudes. I don’t hold a faceless solider in my mind, and send a general thanks into the ether. On Memorial Day, I remember Jeff. And Kermit. And Pat. 

Some of you may know I was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician when on active duty, and still do much of that work now as a military contractor. EOD guys are the military bomb squad, the “heroes” of the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, a film that is about as true to life for EOD as Navy Seals is to the frogs or Law and Order is to lawyers and cops. Not that there aren’t shreds of truth buried in the unrealistic operations: the paranoia, the faceless enemy that remains uncaught, the challenge of becoming an excessive American consumer again when its all over.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have necessarily thrust into the forefront a mission that was kept secretively in the shadows for decades before. Unique among mission areas in the US military, all four services share a common initial training location, common skill sets, and a bond that transcends inter-service rivalries. Most EOD guys have more in common with one another than they do with the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps they happen to be a part of. Its a very small, tight knit community forged from the demanding, high wash-out initial training and the intense dangerous work that follows.

This war has not been kind to the several thousand EOD technicians in the four services. Every year, on the first weekend in May, we gather in Florida, at the EOD Memorial, to add the names of those that have died in the last year to The Wall. So far, since 9-11, we have added 77 names, roughly twice as many as we did in World War II. We already have at least three more names to add for next year. They are strangers to most of the country. But we know them all, and we love them and miss them.

If you’ll permit me, I’d like to list them now:

November 2001: Army Staff Sergeant Adam Harding

April 2002: Army Staff Sergeant Brian Craig

April 2002: Army Staff Sergeant Justin Galewski

April 2002: Army Sergeant Jamie Maugans

September 2003: Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Robsky

December 2003: Army Staff Sergeant Michael Sutter

December 2003: Army Staff Sergeant Kim Voelz

February 2004: Army Staff Sergeant Richard Ramey

February 2004: Army Sergeant Elijah Wong 

July 2004: Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Michael Clark

December 2004: Army Corporal Cory Hewitt

December 2004: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Jason Lehto

February 2005: Army Staff Sergeant Daniel Gresham

February 2005: Army Staff Sergeant Kristopher Shepherd

February 2005: Army Staff Sergeant Eric Steffeney

May 2005: Army Staff Sergeant Russell Verdugo

October 2005: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Joel Dameron

November 2005: Marine Corps Master Sergeant Brett Angus

November 2005: Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Darrell Boatman

November 2005: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Daniel Tsue

December 2005: Army Staff Sergeant Johnnie Mason

December 2005: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Kenneth Pospisil

February 2006: Navy Petty Officer Second Class Nicholas Wilson

March 2006: Air Force Technical Sergeant Walter Moss

March 2006: Army Sergeant First Class Kevin Jessen

March 2006: Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant John Fry

March 2006: Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Justin Martone

July 2006: Army Sergeant First Class Scott Smith

July 2006: Marine Corps Sergeant Justin Noyes

July 2006: Navy Petty Officer Second Class Austin Koth

August 2006: Air Force Master Sergeant Brad Clemmons

August 2006: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Dwayne Williams

August 2006: Marine Corps Sergeant John Phillips

August 2006: Navy Chief Petty Officer Paul Darga

September 2006: Navy Petty Officer Second Class David Roddy

October 2006: Marine Corps Sergeant Justin Walsh

December 2006: Air Force Captain Kermit Evans

January 2007: Air Force Technical Sergeant Timothy Weiner

January 2007: Air Force Senior Airman Elizabeth Loncki

January 2007: Air Force Senior Airman Daniel Miller

March 2007: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Dustin Gould

April 2007: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Peter Woodall

April 2007: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant William Callahan

April 2007: Navy Chief Petty Officer Gregory Billiter

April 2007: Navy Petty Officer First Class Joseph McSween

April 2007: Navy Petty Officer Second Class Curtis Hall

June 2007: Air Force Senior Airman William Newman

June 2007: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Stephen Wilson

June 2007: Marine Corps Sergeant Shawn Martin

July 2007: Army Staff Sergeant Joshua Mattero

July 2007: Navy Chief Petty Officer Pat Wade

July 2007: Navy Petty Officer First Class Jeff Chaney

August 2007: Marine Corps Sergeant Michael Tayaotao

September 2007: Army Command Sergeant Major Jonathan Lankford

November 2o07: Navy Petty Officer First Class Kevin Bewley

January 2008: Army Sergeant James Healy

February 2008: Navy Petty Officer First Class Louis Souffront

April 2008: Air Force Technical Sergeant Anthony Capra

June 2008: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Christopher Strickland

August 2008: Army Staff Sergeant Brian Studer

September 2008: Army Sergeant First Class Lawrence Ezell

February 2009: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Daniel Hansen

March 2009: Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant John Roy

April 2009: Air Force Technical Sergeant Philip Myers

April 2009: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Mark Wojciechowski

April 2009: Navy Petty Officer Second Class Tyler Trahan

June 2009: Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ricky Richardson

July 2009: Army Staff Sergeant Edmond Lo

July 2009: Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant David Spicer

July 2009: Navy Petty Officer Second Class Tony Randolph

August 2009: Marine Corps Master Sergeant Adam Benjamin

September 2009: Air Force Staff Sergeant Bryan Berky

October 2009: Army Staff Sergeant Thomas Rabjon

October 2009: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Aaron Taylor

December 2009: Air Force Technical Sergeant Anthony Campbell

January 2010: Air Force Technical Sergeant Adam Ginett

February 2010: Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Eckard

So today’s let’s soberly remember our war dead . . . before unsoberly celebrating their lives while we had them. That’s how my buddy Jeff and most other’s names I have listed would have wanted it. Godspeed.

Electoral Fusion Ruins New York Some More

29 May

New York is one of only a small handful of states that permits electoral fusion – the system whereby minor parties can and do endorse candidates from major parties. Any party that garners 50,000 votes or more on its party line in any gubernatorial election is guaranteed a slot on the ballot until the next gubernatorial election. It is often argued that the existence of these party lines enable die-hard Democrats to vote for a Republican without pulling a lever on the Republican line, and vice-versa for Republicans to vote for Democrats. The Conservative Party = Republicans. The Working Families Party = Democrats. The Independence Party = hacks and opportunists.

The net result of this is that a lot of dealmaking gets done to ensure minor party ballot lines – and in any New York State-based political deal, jobs are on the line. For the most part, all this amounts to is a big patronage factory. (I know that there are exceptions, but they just prove the rule.)

So, in-between the Democratic state convention last week and the Republican state convention next week, the Conservative Party held a convention that culminated in Republican Rick Lazio getting the nomination for that party line. This over the strenuous objection of supporters of Angry® Tea Party candidate and horse porn aficionado Carl Paladino, and Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy.

In fact, two competing slates were up for votes at the Conservative convention yesterday – Rick Lazio and Erie County Conservative Party chairman Ralph Lorigo. Lorigo, however, isn’t running. He put his name in as a placeholder for either Carl Paladino, whom he backs, or Steve Levy – Lorigo struck a deal with Levy supporters to create this placeholder slate.

Because Lazio got just a bit over 50% at the Conservative convention and Lorigo got over 30%, Lorigo’s slate has about a week to decide whether it will mount a primary.

Paladino is threatening to dilute the Conservative Party’s clout in November by launching a Tea Party line, and Paladino is supporting Lorigo’s move and will continue to do so unless Lazio strikes a backroom deal with him to guarantee him 25% of the vote at the Republican convention to guarantee a slot on the Republican primary ballot.

Remember Ed Cox moaning about how inclusive and open the Republican convention would be, as opposed to the Democratic convention where the delegates “conspired” in a “backroom deal” to ensure that all five AG candidates would appear on the September primary ballot? Yeah, what a load of disingenuous bullshit that was.

The only things missing from this story are the words “Steve Pigeon” and “Chris Collins”, who have conspired locally to cripple the Democratic Party.

Facts Are Fun

29 May

The local tea party die-hards (the NYS Reform google group keyboard warriors) and wannabes (Tom Bauerle – a third-rate copy of humorous, real-life tough-guy Curtis Sliwa) have been reacting (as reactionaries do) to news that there will be some extra scrutiny of travelers at US-Canada border crossings.

That is, when they’re not suggesting that ID cards for guest workers under a proposed immigration reform program would be the “mark of the beast” as foretold in Revelations.

Conveniently forgetting that it was a competent customs official at a US-Canada crossing in Washington that halted the LAX millenium bombing during the Clinton Administration, the tea partiers complain – why should shoppers be asked questions at border crossings while the Mexican border is completely wide open? Bauerle went so far as to say one would be called racist for suggesting that the Mexican border be protected.

The Border Patrol watches for illegal crossers between the US and Canada, though, on a quite regular basis. Anyone living in WNY has seen Border Patrol vehicles and choppers from time to time.

Legal crossings between Mexico and the US are very frequent – especially for American managers who commute daily to maquiladora plants in Mexican border towns – and the questioning and scrutiny there is much more stringent than on the US-Canada border.

The Border Patrol is a branch of the U.S. Customs & Border Protection service operating under the Office of Border Protection.

The guys in the booths who ask to see your ID work for the Office of Field Operations, a completely different service of U.S. Customs & Border Protection.

In other words, it’s apples and oranges. Life is more fun when people know what the hell they’re talking about.

Sliwa’s Protest: Why it’s Different

28 May

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I disagree with Curtis Sliwa on the substance of his protest / radio stunt yesterday at the 2010 New York State Democratic Convention. I don’t think Andrew Cuomo became Attorney General or the gubernatorial nominee solely by virtue of his father’s identity, nor do I think it’s a “coronation” – not like 2006 when Eliot Spitzer had a real, qualified, serious challenger in Tom Suozzi.

Suozzi, incidentally, was present for Cuomo’s speech, but declined to comment on it.

What I do agree with is the method in which Sliwa mounted his protest.

He was funny.

And that’s no small feat.

Oftentimes people who engage in political protest believe they need to be serious, earnest, and humorless. But I think that turns people off. Carl Paladino is “mad as hell” but has absolutely no sense of humor. Not about himself, not about the state, not about his campaign – about nothing (except, according to him, horse porn and racist jokes).

Curtis Sliwa came in character. He was funny. He got his point across. He made a splash. That’s how you protest – show people that you have a sense of humor. That way, even if people disagree with you, they’ll be laughing – not angry. And if they’re laughing, they’ll be more likely to listen.

Legislature Selects Jack O’Donnell as Erie County Water Commissioner

27 May

It is emblematic of a horrifically broken political system that an hours’ worth of political fighting and hatred stems from giving a do-nothing Erie County Water Authority patronage position paying about $20k as payback to political figures. John Elmore may be a phenomenal lawyer, but has no experience running – or qualifications to run – a water authority. Jack O’Donnell may be the best political consultant in the free world, but has no experience running – or qualifications to run -a water authority.

So, the Republicans, Lynne Dixon (IP) and “reform coalition” Democrats (Kennedy, Bove, Miller-Williams) promoted the name of O’Donnell, a Steve Pigeon associate, for the ECWA position at issue. John Elmore had been the choice of Grassroots, which is somewhat allied with Pigeon at this time. (The Democratic legislators who remain loyal to the county committee run by Len Lenihan had supported Frank Swiatek).

(Yes, in Erie County the Democrats have now split into three separate and distinct cliques. That’s a recipe for disaster not just for the party, but for the region as a whole.)

So, when the Republicans cut a deal with the three rogue Democrats to promote Jack O’Donnell to the water authority, the ECDC Democrats played a shrewd hand – nominating attorney John Elmore, the Grassroots candidate, at the last minute – after it was clear that Miller-Williams had jettisoned him to make a deal with Pigeon’s folks to ensure Independence Party endorsements for everybody in important races (Collins wins, Kennedy wins).

As Lynn Marinelli noted, not for nothing the County Executive’s chief of staff attended this particular legislative session. Deals had been made. Deals were being executed today. Political expediency, as usual in WNY, vanquished merit.

Betty Jean Grant entered Elmore’s name into consideration, and when Miller-Williams indicated that she would be supporting O’Donnell, Grant called Miller-Williams a “hypocrite” and indicated that the chairwoman was either lying before, (when she expressed support for Elmore in the paper), or was lying now.

With the clever outmaneuvering of Miller-Williams, I can’t think of a WNY politician being so quickly out-witted, or looking more foolish in recent memory. In the video below, Grant goes after Miller-Williams like I’ve seldom seen anyone go after a local politician before in an open forum.

Given the sudden … confusion … Maria Whyte recommended the matter be returned to committee to suss out who was for Elmore and who was for O’Donnell. This was defeated. The vote was taken, and the Republican minority voted for purely political reasons to support a Democratic associate of Steve Pigeon.

This is fantastic political theater.

This is depressing to anyone who cares about good government and smart policy.

The fun starts at 19:11

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Curtis Sliwa as King Cuomo II

27 May

Here is the complete video of Curtis Sliwa’s stunt today as the 2010 NYS Democratic Convention wrapped up. Literally, from entry to forcible removal – it’s one 7 1/2 minute continuous shot.

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Andrew Cuomo: Democratic Nominee for NY Governor

27 May

At its convention today, the New York State Democratic Committee nominated Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as its candidate for Governor. His nominated was seconded by Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul, as well as a former New York City comptroller and a Suffolk County pol.

Cuomo began his remarks by stating that he is a proud Democrat, who believes that government can make lives better. He listed a pantheon of great 20th and 21st century Democrats, pledging to work for social justice and “returning integrity” to government.

Due to our “new economic reality”, Cuomo said that we need to make “government work again” through “balancing the budget without raising taxes”. “New Yorkers can’t afford a tax increase”, he said, adding that he will “make bureaucracy work better”, citing New York’s 1,000 agencies and 10,000 governments and special districts, using a rhythmic patter to list districts ending in, “justincaseyoumissedadistrict”.

He noted that the property tax burden is particularly acute in upstate New York, where property values are lower but take up a greater percentage of that value.

Cuomo stated that the “relationship between the people and their government” cannot be maintained “without trust”, and that the people of New York feel “betrayed”. He pledged to “clean up Albany…with deeds, not words”.

Calling education the “civil rights issue” of our era, Cuomo noted that some schools feature state of the art computers, while others feature state of the art “metal detectors”. He pledged to expand charter schools and make sure the state participates in the “Race to the Top” federal schools funding. He also restated his support for abortion rights, and pledged to bring about marriage equality.

Cuomo said he would bring about fundamental change in Albany by first unifying the Democrats, and then forming “honorable coalitions” with Republicans to get past Albany gridlock. Cuomo has released a 200+ page blueprint for change.

In a shot to the Republicans in general, and tea party in particular, Cuomo said that people in the state are “nervous” and “angry”, and that “activist groups” (using airquotes) would try to exploit that nervousness and pit people against each other; “black against white, rich against poor, upstate against downstate”. Cuomo stated that “we will not tolerate” that sort of division, and that we must be inclusive.

Video highlights to follow.

Duffy: LG Pick

27 May

At the New York State Democratic Committee’s convention, Rochester mayor Robert Duffy today accepted the nomination as Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor.

Pledging to “stand up for all New Yorkers” and to “put the people first”, Duffy expressed thanks to Andrew Cuomo for selecting him as his running mate, and struck a tone of not just help and growth for upstate communities, but touted the fact that the Cuomo/Duffy campaign has put forth a remarkably specific plan for change and reform.

Pledging to institute fair redistricting and to restore integrity and ethics to a partisan failure that is Albany, Duffy remarked that the state government must learn to “live within [its] means.”

Duffy’s speech was, overall, a rather typical upstate politician’s list of gripes and proposals, pledging to change the state through Cuomo’s “New New York Agenda”, which Duffy is “ready to join”.

Finally, perhaps channeling resentment over the last elected governor of the state of New York, Duffy stated that New York does not “back down” from a “challenge”, and that “we will not let you down.”

Curtis Sliwa: Performance Artist

27 May

Radio talk show host and Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa made an unscheduled appearance at the Democratic state convention in Rye Brook today.  Dressed in regal garb complete with crown, Sliwa, referring to himself as “King Cuomo II” issued a press release entitled, “A second Cuomo, second thoughts: I fell for Mario — and I won’t be fooled again”.

Sliwa was escorted from the premises.  Video to follow, but here is some I shot for WNYMedia.net’s Ustream channel:

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Cuomo’s Acceptance Speech Live Stream

27 May

You can watch the Cuomo acceptance speech live at NY1 at 11am today.