Friday, January 22, 2010

How DARE they?

With wounds still fresh from the New Year’s Day layoffs and city officials still grumbling about potential budget cuts, first-year Police Chief Chris Cole played the DARE card. That being, he defunded the city’s “drug abuse resistance education” program, much to the dismay of the few folks in prevention that still think this Reagan-era relic is an effective weapon to use against the so-called War on Drugs.

The city’s DARE program was instituted more than two decades ago and has trained scores of officers to teach children how to stay off dope. For a while, the Spa City Police actually hosted DARE training seminars and were considered a leading agency in helping to proliferate the program.

“The DARE program has been singularly successful in Saratoga because of the personal quality and integrity of the officers who teach and interact with the students," Maureen Cary, of the Saratoga Partnership for Prevention, lamented to the Times Union Thursday.

Yet after years of brainwashing and billions worth of tax-dollar funding –estimated between $1.04 and $1.34 billion annually across the United States –DARE never seemed to live up to its reputation of preventing drug abuse. Kids kept smoking or snorting, dealers kept dealing and cops kept busting. By 2001, even the U.S. Surgeon General was questioning the program’s effectiveness. Six years later the Association of Professional Psychologists even went as far to say DARE programs actually increase the likelihood of children falling into drug habits.

In Saratoga Springs, the city continues to graduate high school seniors who go on to lead fruitful lives of drug smoking and binge drinking. Some of them come around from their substance-induced haze and go onto lead productive lives. Others succumb to their vices and follow the path to its end. This happens whether or not there’s a cop there telling them that it’s OK to not be one of the ‘cool kids’ smoking grass in between lunch period and class; it’s fine to avoid the weekend keggers or friend who passes a 16 oz. Sprite bottle half-filled with mom’s Smiranoff.

Still, municipalities continue to funnel funding into DARE programs. In specific, this means paying cops’ overtime, mileage and travel expenses for attending DARE seminars and assorted other informational sessions for a program that has never been determined to be effective. And the funding often means spending public safety dollars to keep a cop in a classroom instead of out on the street, as Cole proved by sending the Spa City’s DARE officer back onto the beat.

Like many feel-good programs, DARE is able to withstand the omnipresent scepter of budget cuts because it has withstood the test of time; it is etched into our collective memory as something that is needed to prevent the youth twisting up a fatty with pages ripped out of the Dr. Seuss book tucked in their Elmo book bag. Cutting DARE is a political hot-button and one that social conservatives love to flout as an indicator of a society that is increasingly morally corrupt.

And that is evidenced by the indignation posted by the Saratogian’s online readers. These folks seem to think their anecdotal evidence about the DARE program –that junior didn’t take up manufacturing crystal meth in the basement of their East Side colonial –is enough to warrant keeping a full-time officer in a classroom telling kids to forgo their natural impulses to try something different. Not that any of these kids don’t already get this message from health class, public service announcements, sports team code-of-conduct pledges, persistent visits from Mothers Against Drunk Driving or other organizations, et cetera.

Even if DARE did prove to be somewhat effect, there simply isn’t enough cash lying around to keep a program going in Saratoga Springs. It’s something former Police Chief Ed Moore might have thought about last year or even the year before when he was crafting a department budget way beyond the means set out by the City Council. These are the exact programs that could have been trimmed to prevent the layoffs that occurred, if in fact there were any once the dust finally settles.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

You can make a difference

As you read this, people are dying in Haiti. They’re starving. They’re sick. They’re scared. And that was before a 7-magnitude earthquake ripped through the capital of Port-au-Prince.

This poverty-stricken Caribbean nation was in bad shape long before concrete and timbers started raining down on them. Years of inept leadership left them with a nation mired in abject poverty. With exception to a very few corrupt despots, this is a population entirely bereft of even a modicum of prosperity.

And that’s exactly why you should consider giving money to the legal relief fund of former state Sen. Joe Bruno. He was there in our time of need, now we need to be there in his. For a measly $1,000 –less than the monthly lease payment on a 2009 H2 –you can buy a ticket to Hollywood Joe’s fundraiser at the Desmond in Colonie and help fund the best legal defense team money can buy.

See, unlike the Haitians, Bruno isn’t sick or starving, and he certainly didn’t seem scared when a trial jury found him guilty of federal corruption charges last month. And that’s exactly why affluent New Yorkers need to help him out. In short, this is a man who knows prosperity and can’t afford to lose it. He’s got plenty of fight left, and he plans to use every last bit of it to polish his larger-than-life image.

In contrast, the starving Haitian who spent three days buried beneath the ruble of a poverty-stricken nation’s ruined capital is probably going to die anyway. Even if he or she beats the odds and survives the aftermath of the quake thanks to a modest donation, that person will then need to subsist on the standard $2 the average Haitian earns per day.

Besides, they’ll likely fall prey to the lawlessness that will inevitably descend upon the country once the world stops paying attention to it in a few weeks and all those earnestly given dollars donated to the so-called cause will be lost in an anonymous grave. Or even worse, the aforementioned individual will lash some sub-standards rafts together and then join several dozen friends on a 700-mile sojourn across the Atlantic to Miami. Under these circumstances, it’s highly probable those donated dollars will end up feeding sharks, which is hardly the intended purpose, right?

Then there’s Joe. True, he’s already 80 years old. But he’s got lots of life to live, and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to do that living behind the confining bars of a federal penitentiary. Even worse yet, the taxpayers will have to pay for Bruno’s stay at Club Fed, which simply adds insult to injury from a fiscal perspective.

Of course, there are some wingnuts out there who think it’s not right for the disgraced senator to be soliciting money for his legal defense, which has cost $742,000 over the last six months and left the Committee to Re-Elect Senator Bruno fund more than $1,000 in the rears. These stinking hippies somehow think it’s wrong for multimillionaires like Nigro Company President John Nigro and Albany Med CEO James Barba to throw a lavish shindig aimed at raising money for a lawmaker who many view as the epitome of what is wrong with the system. Talk about wet rags.

Update: The Times Union reports a veritable who's who of were among "the notable attendees" at Bruno's bash, including "banker Daniel J. Hogarty Jr.; lobbyists James Crane and James Featherstonhaugh, who was the first witness called by the government at Bruno's trial; lobbyist David Dudley, a former Rensselaer County Republican chairman and former Senate counsel to Bruno; Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola; and ex- state Sen. Mike Hoblock...Robert Mujica, a Senate budget specialist; former Senate counsel Michael Avella; Abe Lackman, an ex-state Senate finance secretary under Bruno; state Senate GOP spokesman John McArdle; ex-Senate secretary Steve Boggess and Jack Casey, a Senate lawyer." The fundraiser was also attended by Price Chopper President Neil Golub, who for some reason entered through a side door. Fancy that.

Seriously though, Bruno and his supporters have a lot of chutzpa to carry on this fiasco in wake of the most deadly natural disaster this hemisphere has seen in modern history. To say it's in poor taste to host such an event is sort of like saying it’s in poor taste to piss on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier during a Veteran’s Day observance.

Were Bruno and his followers to have even a teaspoon of tact, they’d do an about-face during this event and donate all the proceeds to the relief effort. The gesture would be both a show of class and a display of humility amid a tragedy that has wrought untold misery on our continent. Or better yet, this whole crew of plutocrats could forgo the fundraiser’s merriment, hop aboard one of their jump jets and go lend a hand down there. After all, sometimes a helping hand is worth more than a donated dollar.

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