JUST ‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’

Photo of Sheldon Silver
NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
Sheldon Silver, head of the New York Assembly for more than 20 years but a career politician in New York State for 40 years, had only one defense against multiple charges of fraud and unlawfully enriching himself etc. brought by the Federal Government.

“There was no crime committed here. It was business as usual. Mr. Silver was just doing his job in Albany.” No defense witnesses. No testimony from Mr. Silver. Nothing but that statement.

After weeks of damning testimony, the jury took 13 hours to convict him.

Just ‘business as usual” wasn’t enough to keep who was committing illegal acts from conviction. But it would be foolish to think that the Albany business model will change just because another politician got caught.

And so it is with the easy availability of assault weapons in America. Just ‘business as usual’ just keeps getting the same result – innocent people dying – doesn’t mean things will change.

Consider:

  1. The San Bernadino massacre was the 355th mass murder in America – more than one victim per incident – since January 1, 2015. That’s right. More than one a day.
  2. The AK 15 assault rifle is one of America’s top selling guns. We’re talking about serious money here.
  3. When given a chance to outlaw the sale of weapons to those on the FBI ‘no-fly’ list Congress voted NO – again – just hours after the greatest killing spree in America since 9/11.

The New York Times pinpointed the problem in its front page editorial on December 5th:

“ Other nations in the world (are trying to have strict gun laws). The United States is not. Worse, our politicians abet would-be killers by creating gun markets for them, and voters allow those politicians to keep their jobs.”

What does America do when government does not do its job?

It seems to look the other way. Decides not to vote. Reelects the very people who aren’t doing the job.

When Americans decide to think, what can they think about a government promising care in processing immigrants coming into the country –and then gives a young woman from Saudi Arabia a ‘fiancée visa’ to marry an American citizen only to learn less than 48 hours after she leads a massacre of his fellow-workers, that she may have been radicalized by Islamic forces in Saudi Arabia before arriving here.

What do guns in America and political corruption in New York State have in common?

Both are due to a failure of government to function as government must in a genuine democracy.

Yes, ideology is involved. Because government is important to both liberals and conservatives. And while it can succeed for both – it can also fail both.

Liberals see government as the great equalizing force between the people and the power of money; government is the only force which can equalize opportunity for all.

Conservatives see government as a force to control so that it does not interfere with the actions of the marketplace…that place where the power of money rules completely.

When there is no true government action, America is prisoner to anyone who can command the direction of the country and its people.

That is true today. State Government malfunctions in Albany, NY.

And the Federal Government in Washington has done little or nothing to move America for the past three years. They get paid well. They have wonderful benefits. They spend tax money freely. They love this career and they want to keep it – no matter what they have to do. But they rarely meet and when they do, they never come close to what used to be called bipartisan decisions.

NEW YORK CORRUPTION
The truth is that Mr. Silver’s conviction should be seen as just another of the hundreds of cases of someone finally forced to ‘pay the piper’ for illegal activity buried in ‘just business as usual’. Because the truth is that there has been significant, on-going corruption in New York State since the late 1880’s…yes 1880’s. That’s a very long time.

Image of Andrew Cuomo - State of State
NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo
To hear Governor Andrew Cuomo suggest that a ‘simple solution’ to corruption would be to make serving in the New York State Legislature a full-time job, is to listen to a man who knows better and is playing the game for all its worth. Andrew learned a lot about ‘the usual business practices’ of politics in New York as the son of a three-term Governor of New York. And plays the Albany game with toughness and skill.

Perhaps he hopes to deflect the damning truth about the ‘pay to play’ attitudes in Albany. Maybe he’s concerned that once the Federal Government puts State Senate leader Dean Skelos away for a time…it might turn its attention to the ‘third man in the room’. So he’s ‘playing cute’ with his little comment about a fulltime Legislature and an end to corruption – but he knows the history and the truth

The true crime for which Sheldon Silver was not prosecuted was his tyrannical control of the NY State Assembly. No other Assemblyman had such control of a legislative body…not only in New York, but throughout the country. He was the best.

Silver was able to assure Assemblymen that they needn’t travel periodically to Albany as long as he had their votes on certain matters. One cooperated – otherwise there would be no special ‘grants’ for the community…nothing on which to launch a successful reelection campaign every two years. In fact, there was always the possibility that a non-cooperative attitude might lead to being defeated in a primary race. With no term limits, members of the Assembly and Senate could develop lifetime jobs and many did.

(Does this sound like the control the Koch brothers have over about 60 members of the US House of Representatives? It should.)

While Silver had mastered the process in the Assembly, Democrats before him had worked through other venues to control New York.

In Albany two men – Albany Mayor Erastus Corning and Daniel O’Connell – were in charge of upstate activities for more than 40 years. They had absolute control.

In the past twenty years, dozens of Assemblymen and quite a few State Senators have been removed from office and charged and convicted of political corruption.

Downstate in much of that same time period, NYC was in the hands of the infamous Tammany Hall led by Carmine DeSapio. New York was a prime example of the phrase ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

Political corruption in New York is so widespread that it is essentially bipartisan. Will the Silver verdict change the landscape?

No…not unless the single cause of this kind of corruption is destroyed by that reality called term limits.

TERM LIMITS

NYS Legislative SealThere will be a mandated State Constitutional Convention in 2017.

If New York State is to ever get ‘clean’ those attending the convention must move successfully for term limits. Limiting a politician to a set term of office – the way we limit the Presidency of the United States – is the only way to stop the centuries old corruption from continuing. If your term of office is limited by law there can be no dreams of a full-time career in the State Legislature.

If holding office is not about a career but a stepping stone to another one – or as an important public service commitment – there is no reason to be enslaved by a Sheldon Silver or by a lobbyist promising you money for another reelection bid.

Term limits in New York City were made possible by law: the public could vote on a referendum calling for them. It took city residents two votes to finally establish term limits…and then wait until Mayor Michael Bloomberg could buy his way around the law to serve three terms..and keep the City Council there too.

But the law prevails. No such law exists in New York State. Nor will it. Only a State Convention can make such recommendations and it does so to the very State Legislature sitting in office.

Don’t make any big bets on a positive outcome. Not voting is not the answer. Though New Yorkers and Americans have been staying away from the voting booth with a genuine determination, that won’t work. It will take action…not inaction.

GUNS
Guns in USA ImageWe can blame terrorists but the availability of guns in American society is taking a toll on many innocent people and will continue to do so until something is done about the marketplace.

Americans have loved guns since the beginning of our nation. While the original 13 colonies seemed averse to them, we didn’t call the western migration of settlers…the Wild West…for nothing. We didn’t hear the term lawlessness until we opened the exploration of the country to all who had to make the trip.

Today we no longer have single shot pistols and rifles. Today we can kill rapidly and numerously.

Charles Rangel, speaking days after the San Bernadino horror to members of the Harlem community, said very bluntly that the members of the House and Senate had been ‘purchased’ by the National Rifle Association and friends in the so-called gun lobby.

Why doesn’t Mr. Rangel whose storied career is coming to a close, standup in Congress, look his colleagues in the eye and damn them with the truth? We guess that only happens in movies like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.

Speeches will be made. Presidential candidates will have something new to talk about. Words will fly. We will get bored to death as they will. The speeches will stop. Then there will be another massacre and another and another. Remember there has been more than one each day this year so far.

What will change things for the better?

A national bi-partisan movement to break the hold of the gun lobby, properly protect Constitutional rights, end the money-making sale of weapons used for combat and the establishment of term limits for all of Congress.

Too bad most of this may take years and years to be achieved.

Wake up America. This democracy belongs to you. Take it back.

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