Archive for June, 2021

Conflicts of Interest Don’t Just ‘Happen’

Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

B38B4BB8-7234-4325-B13F-8A4490131428     A funny thing happened to Ed Diana on the way to his $500-a-week, no-show job arranged through the public industrial development agency of the county he ran for a dozen years. He got caught.

     That’s the only thing that “happened“ to Diana, despite what his lawyer would have you believe. Everything else he made happen.

      This is a big story in Orange County, New York, which is about an hours drive northwest from New York City, but it’s about greed and political corruption, so it has implications nationwide. And yes, as with most such stories these days, it involves Republicans, but at least this time, some of them are on the right side of the law.

       Diana, who served three terms as county executive in Orange, recently pleaded guilty to two counts of filing a false instrument. Specifically, he signed a form which states that, as a member of the board of directors of the Orange County IDA, as vice chairman in fact, he had no conflict of interest with the business of that agency. That he had no tangible personal gain arising from that relationship.

       In fact, though, he did. Lying on this form is a felony in New York State. Diana did it twice. He also played guilty to a misdemeanor charge of conflict of interest.

        “If this could happen to Ed Diana, this could happen to anyone,” Diana’s lawyer, Ben Ostrer, said, speaking to the press after Diana’s guilty plea in court. “If you are in government service be thankful it isn’t you.”

         What a load of bull, even for a lawyer in the Rudy Giuliani era.

          In addition to his three times as county executive, Diana also served on the county legislature and a couple of terms as supervisor of the town of Wallkill, one of the larger towns in Orange County. Three decades of public service as an elected official in Orange County. With that experience, you should be able to smell a potential conflict of interest about three months down the road. Yet Ostrer would have us believe it could happen to “anyone.“

          Diana was allowed to plead guilty to avoid a prison term. He agreed to repay the IDA $90,000. He said he had been paid as a “consultant” for three-and-a-half years. In addition to Diana, the former CEO of the IDA pleaded guilty to a charge of corrupting government and agreed to re-pay $175,000 for her no-show job.

           The phantom jobs were with a company owned by the former paid managing director of the IDA, who the prosecutor said was the motivating force and worst actor in this case. He steered firms looking to do business in Orange County to his companies for equipment, planning, office space and technical assistance. Over time, he also raised the rates for the services. He pleaded guilty to corrupting government and agreed to repay $1 million. He will be on probation for five years. All three will be officially sentenced in September.

            All of this “happened” while the board of directors, which other than Diana, also included the chairman of the county legislature, looked the other way or napped during board meetings. Same for the board’s lawyer. The county legislature fired the entire board a couple of months ago when it learned of District Attorney David Hoovler’s investigation. The DA, like Diana, a Republican, said he didn’t file charges against any other board members or their lawyer, because “There’s no criminal liability for incompetence.” Sometimes that means prosecutors can’t prove intent.

      Hoovler pointed out that no money had been stolen, per se, and that all the monies paid to people who shouldn’t have been paid had been accounted for. You say tomato, I say tomahto. People got money they shouldn’t have gotten because of their positions and the money could’ve been used by the IDA for other purposes. In the process, the integrity of the IDA was badly damaged. As a public agency whose primary tool is the awarding of tax breaks to companies looking to locate in its county, trust is far more valuable than cash. The new Orange IDA board must work hard to rebuild that trust.

      It can start by knowing that conflicts of interest don’t just “happen.” Not in Orange County, New York, or anywhere else. They are created. A defining feature of much of today’s Republican Party, on a national level as well as at the local level, is a casual disregard for the rule of law and an arrogant disdain for the truth. That’s a fact. I don’t like writing it, but it’s true. I think it represents a major threat to our democracy.  (In this case, the current Orange County executive, also a Republican, sharply criticized the corrupt arrangement  and called for the state to toughen the punishment for such crimes.)

       When one of our two major parties decides it can unilaterally make up the rules as it goes along  and concoct excuses to avoid responsibility, we are in serious trouble. If people will buy the big lie — The election was stolen. There was no insurrection — why not try a “little” one? “If this can happen to Ed Diana, it can happen to anyone.”

     No it can’t.  Witness the thousands of New Yorkers who serve on public and private boards of directors without such happenings. Of such molehills are mountains created. Lying and entitlement are addictive. So is power. The antidote is truth. Hold public officials accountable. Make them explain their actions. Trust must be earned, today more than ever.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

Get Vaccinated, Get Rich, Get High!

Saturday, June 19th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

Pot for a vaccine shot.

Pot for a vaccine shot.

  A billion free doses or pot for a shot? These are the days of our lives. 

     Some context. At the same time G7 nations were pledging to donate 1 billion doses of Coronavirus vaccines to less wealthy nations, back in the good old US of A, where everyone desperately wants to reach the 70 percent vaccinated goal so we can “open up” and get back to normal again, reluctant vaccine-getters were being wooed with all sorts of goodies, including a joint for a jolt, pot for a shot. A free dose of THC for an already free dose of a life-saving vaccine. What the heck, if your won’t do it for your own well-being, if you won’t do it for the health of your friends and neighbors, if you won’t do it because it is the easiest way to demonstrate both common sense and patriotism, won’t you please, pretty please, get vaccinated if we give you — free! — a pre-rolled joint of marijuana? What a country. 

      Indeed. What a country.

      The “Joints for Jabs” program in the State of Washington, where recreational marijuana use is legal, lets adults who are 21 or older claim a free marijuana joint after they receive their shot. The promotion supposedly will run through July 12. Presumably those who don’t partake in puffing will have to settle for a bottle of water.

        In the same vein, the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce offered a “Shots for Shots” promotion. Anyone who got vaccinated at the Convention Center was given a coupon for a free drink at local watering holes.

       With President Biden’s stated goal of having 70 percent of Americans vaccinated by July 4, states, cities, corporations, businesses were, well, bribing Americans to do the right thing. Tickets to ball games, Disneyland, Six Flags, the Super Bowl, free Girl Scout cookies, French fries, hotdogs, donuts, Pizza, college scholarships, weekly drawings and lottery tickets that could be worth millions have all been offered to try to convince people to do their part to stop the pandemic that has, by the way, killed more than 600,000 of your fellow Americans.

         Meanwhile, the much-lauded agreement by the G7 nations to provide 1 billion free doses of vaccines to less wealthy nations around the world was welcomed and criticized by the outgoing U.N. aid chief, Mark Lowcock, who said, while the vaccines certainly would be appreciated, the wealthy nations offered no plan for how to distribute them.

         Oops. Since speed of delivery is vital in stemming the pandemic, it certainly would help to have a delivery plan, such as was proposed by the International Monetary Fund. This is especially vital for countries across Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and parts of South America, which desperately need Covid vaccines. For now, they can do without the hotdogs and Girl Scout cookies. Just vaccines, please.

          My point? With more than 177 million Covid cases worldwide and nearly 4 million deaths, I have trouble wrapping my head around the fact that tens of thousands of my fellow Americans need a free joint or a ticket to a baseball game or a shot at a lottery ticket to get them to take a free vaccine that could well save their lives, not to mention the lives of others. A vaccine that could finally stem the pandemic.

        Yeah, I just walked in and got my shots, no problem, thank you, so yeah, I’m more than a little annoyed and disappointed.

         Problem is, I don’t really have a solution. People were livid over being required to wear masks. Imagine requiring them to get vaccinated. January 6 would seem like a backyard barbecue. In some respects, I think pot for shots is just evidence that, in this country, we never really left “normal.“

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

AA’s Big Book had Profound Influence

Thursday, June 10th, 2021

 Reprinted in honor of Alcoholics Anonymous’ 86th birthday, June 10, 2021.

(Addiction and Recovery column from TH-R, Aug. 21, 2012)

By Bob Gaydos
It is one of the best-selling and most influential books of all time, with more than 30 million copies having been sold and millions of lives changed by what is contained on its pages. Yet it is not exaggeration to suggest that a majority of its readers don’t know the actual name of the book.
It is known, proudly and even reverentially, by most who have read it as the Big Book. Officially, the book’s title is “Alcoholics Anonymous,’’ the same as the famous 12-step program for treating alcoholism (and other addictions) described within its covers. The Big Book received more recognition for its influence recently when the Library of Congress included it on a list of “Books That Shaped America.”
There are 88 books on a list that ranges from Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan the Ape Man.” The common factor among all 88, according to the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington is that “they shaped Americans’ views of their world and the world’s views of America.”
While it may not be for everyone, the Big Book has certainly shaped people’s views and lives. Since it was first published in 1939, it has been the textbook, if you will, of how to get — and stay — sober, for millions around the world. AA, of course, has spawned numerous other 12-step programs to deal with addictive behavior. And, while basing its recovery program on established spiritual, psychological and medical precepts, Alcoholics Anonymous has also widened the dialogue within all three areas and influenced the way practitioners in those fields deal with addiction.
The authors of the Big Book are Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, the founders of AA. But they had plenty of help from some of the original 100 AA members whose stories were included in the first edition. Many recovering alcoholics today regard it as remarkable that Wilson, the primary author, wrote two of the main sections of the book — one being his story — when he had less than four years of sobriety.
One could say the Big Book is a classic example of what it preaches. Much of the recovery program contained is take from the Oxford Group, A Christian fellowship that emphasized self-examination, making amends and working with others. (Wilson and Smith both were members of the Oxford Group for significant periods.) But the Oxford Group’s heavy religious emphasis did not sit well with many of the other drunks who were early member of AA. As a result, most references to “God” were eliminated or changed to a “Higher Power of your understanding.”
Editing also changed the preachy “you” to the inclusive “we” in describing how
alcoholics got sober. Thus, this is what we are and this what we did. If you follow these suggestions, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”
What do current members of AA think about the Big Book? A sampling of recent comments:
  • “When I first read it, I had to say, ‘(Expletive!) I’m an alcoholic. How did they know?’”
  • “I used to walk around with the Big Book (in early sobriety) like a protective shield.”
  • “It helped me understand I have an allergy.”
  • “In many ways it’s like the bible for alcoholics. It provides direction and order.”
  • “Think about the impact. One person reads it and passes it on to others for more than 30 million.”
  • “When they get (the Big Book) people are usually in such pain, they will read it.”
  • “It gave me a guide for living, far beyond just not drinking.”
  • “Simple rules for broken people.”
There’s a significant local angle to this story. When it came time to publish the book, Wilson and the others chose The Cornwall Press, a now-defunct printing operation in Cornwall. Because they were going to charge $3.50 for the relatively short book, they wanted it to look impressive, so they used thick paper and the widest possible margins. Hence, the “Big Book” nickname. Subsequent printings were smaller in size, but the name stuck.
The first press run was for 4,800 copies, with the promise from the printers that more would be printed when the first copies were sold. But even those original copies were in limbo as the printer refused to release any books until they were paid for. Although printed in the winter of 1939, only a few copies were paid for at the time. The significant release came in early 1940. Today, with inflation, “Alcoholics Anonymous” sells for around $8 to $10, but many AA groups simply give copies to new members, continuing to spread its message.
rjgaydos@gmail.com
Bob  Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

Wake Up! Time to Put ‘Woke’ to Bed

Tuesday, June 8th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

5F35512E-EB86-4152-9E79-5C620F64C4DA      I recently woke up to the fact that, while I believe I am thoroughly “woke,” I don’t identify myself that way because I don’t think most Americans understand what the word means as a concept and because the word itself can too easily be used as a weapon of derision by those who are not “woke” to the fact of how stupid they sound just saying “woke.”

      It’s complicated.

      To be honest, I feel awkward just writing the word “woke” in the context in question and I could never actually say it out loud in a conversation to describe myself, I would say, as I have said and written countless times over the years, that I believe racism is a serious issue in this country, that gays, blacks, Latinos, Muslims and women of all ages — in other words, anyone who is not a straight, white (preferably Christian) male — faces unfair obstacles to enjoying the opportunities and freedom promised to all Americans. I believe that social injustice is a fact of life that many Americans would like to deny. I am woke.

        But I have also spent nearly two-thirds of my life trying, with varying degrees of success, to communicate information and opinions in a way that is at once clear, understandble and not subject to derision by those who might have different views simply because it smacks of exclusion or suggests elitism. Like “woke.”

        The word, which comes out of Black culture, was thrust into current conversation a few years ago in the wake of police killings of black males and the subsequent police use of excessive force in response to the Black Lives Matter protests across the nation. To be “woke” was to be aware and watchful for possible danger during the protests. In this era of the meme, in which clarity is sacrificed for speed and brevity, “woke” came to mean you were someone who supports the causes embraced by the demonstrators, to wit, eliminating racial and social injustice.

         And who could be against that, right? Well, Ted Cruz for one. Also Marco Rubio. And Josh Hawley. And Donald Trump.just to name a few. They have all spoken out recently against what Hawley, a senator from Missouri, described as “the woke mob.” He was upset because a publisher decided it didn’t want to be identified with a book written by a public official who actively encouraged an insurrection. Hawley.

         Rubio, from Florida, used the term to criticize corporations for pulling resources out of Georgia to protest efforts by Republicans in the state legislature to make voting more difficult. Trump simply used it to criticize all the policies of the Biden administration. And Cruz, well he just throws the word around because he knows a lot of his supporters don’t know what it really means and it suggests to them that elitist liberals are doing something to mess with the lives of Texans.

         All four men, of course, are Republicans and all these criticisms of “woke“ are part of a Republican Party campaign to confuse the electorate and keep the most rabid element of the Republican voting base (the truly unwoke) riled up against Democrats, who, by implication, are disrespecting Republican voters by saying that they are not “woke.”

         It’s what you do when your party doesn’t have any actual policies or programs to promote. And it works. It works because the message is clear: Liberal, elitist, socialist Democrats are ruining this country and don’t care about you because you’re not “woke.” They think they’re better than you. They think you’re unsophisticated, ignorant.

         Now, some of that may well be true, but it is not what “woke” is all about. Ted Cruz can’t say he’s against equality of opportunity for all and an end to racial injustice, because senators are supposed to at least say they support such principles. But Cruz and a lot of his Republican colleagues 1) may not support such goals as passionately as Democrats and 2) know full well many of their supporters don’t and 3) also know that a good percentage of Repunlican and independent voters likely do support the idea of equal justice and opportunity for all, so they need to be convinced that they are being insulted by “the woke mob.”

         It’s one of the oldest way to combat an idea or movement. Change the subject. Forget about voter suppression laws and racism within police forces. Make it “them” against “us.” The woke versus the whatever.

         If liberals, Democrats, people who really believe in racial and social justice hope to gain support from conservative ranks, they would do better to simply state clearly what they are fighting for, without using any clever phrases (cancel culture is another). Say what you mean, don’t meme what you say. It just gives hypocrites (Republicans) an opportunity to avoid the issue. They attack the language and subvert the message. This is the Republican playbook today. 

          I just know I can’t take hearing the word “woke” spewing as an insult from the lips of Ted Cruz, one of the most “unwoke” people in Congress, when we’re talking about deep-rooted racism and social injustice. Use those words. Make Republicans use those words. Where do they stand on the issues? They have become masters of avoidance. Don’t make it any easier for them. Call it an awakening, if you will, for them and their potential voters. 

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.