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America's had it with gov't dysfunction

Network (1976) starring Peter Finch, directed by Sidney

Network (1976) starring Peter Finch, directed by Sidney Lumet. Photo Credit: Photofest / MGM

Can you see it?

It's the anxiety on people's faces as they sense their economic well-being slipping away.

Can you feel it?

It's fear, deeply rooted, that the digital world is passing them by, that its language and institutions are things they cannot understand.

Can you hear it?

It's a scream in the dark, stoked by the steady drumbeat of public corruption and the feeling that their elected officials are not watching out for them.

Dissatisfaction with politics and politicians is swelling, on Long Island and across the nation.

This profound discontent is what's playing out in the 2016 presidential race. Sen. Bernie Sanders and billionaire developer Donald Trump have emerged as the middle fingers of American politics. Seen as outsiders, they're drawing attention on the ground and in the polls as they tap into our anger and our angst.

Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are the insiders, unable to relate to the rest of us. Clinton is shackled by her six-figure speechmaking fee, her family foundation as the multimillion-dollar nexus of government and business, and an email controversy that's just the latest reminder that she plays by her own rules.

Bush is viewed as the epitome of crony capitalism. After stepping down as Florida's governor, he made millions as an adviser to Lehman Brothers and Barclays. They were seen as pivotal parts of a banking system that drove our economy into the ground before being rescued by a huge government bailout.

It's the infection of alienation, and it's bipartisan. And cases are being diagnosed everywhere, and here.

It's politically connected Garden City attorney Steven Schlesinger, who got a court appointment to manage a $10 million family trust with no heirs and then gave slews of that money to friends and institutions he served as a member of their boards of directors.

It's Bethpage restaurateur Harendra Singh, recipient of lucrative contracts from Nassau County and the Town of Oyster Bay, arranging and paying for trips for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Oyster Bay deputy town attorney Frederick Mei.

It's Nassau's opaque contract process, in which some deals go to friends with no bidding and some are rewritten so that only a favored ally can qualify.

It's Ed Morris Sr., whose felony conviction for defrauding Suffolk County government was less important than his friendships with power brokers such as District Attorney Thomas Spota. Morris wrangled more than $3 million in assistance for the struggling Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame -- and for himself as its executive director.

It's 10 state legislators forced out of office on various charges and convictions since 2012. It's convicted elected officials continuing to draw five-figure state pensions paid by taxpayers.

It's the federal corruption indictments of two powerful state lawmakers, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. It's Silver's defense attorneys saying that what federal prosecutors call corruption is really just the way government works in Albany.

These local incidents are part of a larger fabric that cloaks our political scene like a moth-eaten suit. Stitch all those actions together, and people on the outside see a system easily gamed by those in it, a system set up in some cases to allow those in it to profit at the public's expense.

It's insidious, it sucks out the public's soul, and it stinks.

Many officials do walk a straight line. And, yes, some of what goes on might not be illegal. But it is wrong.

Politics always has been a kind of friends-and-family enterprise. But in tough times, when so many folks are wondering whether the ground beneath them will turn to quicksand, it feels like the tipping point is near.

The people are rejecting business as usual. And they've started screaming.


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