Monday, April 28, 2008


So what do you do when the hallmark of your community is listed among the state’s most endangered historical places? If you happen to be promoters for the New York Racing Association, you get a horde of rednecks hopped up on Southern Comfort and southern rock and turn them loose inside of the place.

NYRA officials announced plans last week to host a good old fashioned hoe down at the East Avenue parking lot at the Saratoga Racecourse after the track closes this summer. The free-to-the-public event is expected to draw thousands, who will undoubtedly remain in good spirits given the event sponsor: Southern Comfort.

“San Diego had to close the gates because we were at capacity,” event spokesman Sean Wachsman said of a similar concert hosted in California.

Now, if a gigantic billboard-sized warning light isn’t going off somewhere, it should be. Country and southern rock festivals are renowned for their ability to draw drunken yahoos. And offering hard liquor as a sponsor is just about the only excuse all of these folks will need to raise Cain at the track.

It’s not to say these types of events aren’t welcome in the city. In fact, Saratoga Springs could use a little rollicking, now that the City Council has neutered the Caroline Street Block Party. But at the racecourse, the very collection of historic structures listed among the most endangered by the Preservation League of New York State? Well, let’s just say the idea is a bit skewed.

For the recently rehired NYRA, the shin-dig is part of plans to turn the track into an “entertainment destination capable of generating additional revenue,” Gavin Landry, NYRA’s senior vice president of sales and market development told the Times Union last week.

“The concert is a reflection that NYRA perceives all of its racetracks as venues, destinations used to host major events,” he said. “We’re having discussions with all three tracks that will allow us to offer things to people who may or may not come for the races.”

Like thousands of drunk hicks. Only time will tell how the event will pan out. There’s a chance the 7,000 to 15,000 expected for the event will be well-behaved and leave the track much as they found it. Yet scheduling an event like this is akin to dumping a bunch of gasoline all over the place and then handing a lit blow torch to a pyromaniac. Sure there’s a chance the gas might not ignite, but it’s not a very good one.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Asses and lipservice

Breaking down the individual ingredients of your standard hotdog ain’t a pretty thing. This tasty vittle incorporates the most undesirable of parts of multiple dead animals, which are then ground to a paste and mixed with enough salt to raise the standard person’s blood pressure off the charts. And that’s before they toss in the preservatives of mysterious origin.

In fact, were those who scarf down wieners on a semi-regular basis in the know of the process involved in the making this curious link, they probably wouldn’t be too thrilled at the prospect of buying them, much less from a pushcart in the park.

And the franks Ed Miller sold from his carousel-side dog cart were no exception. But Congress Park strollers liked ’em, and they made it evident in their massive outpouring of comments since the short-lived vendor was expunged by City Hall. To these walkers, he offered a cheap way to load up and move on while meandering through the park on a sunny day. The only problem was that he had no real legal right to sell his fare in the park, as a law suit would soon alert the city.

Sure enough, if one fellow seems to have a good thing going, another capitalist is going to come along and look for a piece of action. That capitalist was Kathy Kahl, who was chagrined when the city refused to stamp her permit to operate a similar cart in the park. The rational given by then-Public Works fixture Tom McTygue was that Kahl’s operation could be the beginning of a long line of vendors looking to edge in on the action. He also noted that her cart offered a bit more than the standard dish of asses and lips, along with a menu of Italian ice.

So here starts the fervor. First, newly installed DPW Commissioner Skip Scirocco tells Miller he’s banished from the park because the citys ordinance simply doesn’t allow vendors to sell there, with or without a permit. Simply put, he’s right. While Miller could set up in a variety of public locations outside the so-called “central business district,” he’s simply not allowed to defile the tranquil beauty of Congress Park.

Automatically, the anti-McTygue contingent threw up its arms and blamed the whole debacle on the deposed commissioner, claiming a variety of conspiracy theories that allowed Miller, a self-admitted personal friend of McTygue, to set up shop in the park. The problem is, McTygue was one of three commissioners to sign off on Miller’s permit two years in a row. Among the others were McTygue’s ally in Accounts, John Franck; and McTygue’s enemy-by-association in Public Safety, Ron Kim.

So basically, all three commissioners either tacitly or physically signed off on Miller’s permit without bothering to check if it was actually legal. Former Mayor Valerie Keehn claimed she raised the subject with the council, but determined it was “a political fight not worth fighting,” according to the Saratogian. So instead, she simply convinced Kahl to sue to city. Now that’s good government at work.

Let’s pan to the present. Kahl is moving hotdogs outside the beer store on Excelsior Avenue, Miller is prepared for a season without customers and hungry pedestrians in Congress Park are wondering what in the asses and lips happened to their carousel-side franks. The strange part about everything is that the city recently revisited the vendors law, meaning that all involved parties should have had a cursory knowledge of the ordinance and could have revised it to incorporate a modest number of stands operating in the park.

Instead, the public has Citzen Scirocco claiming no permits will be issued for the park until a “fair solution” can be meted out in the halls of government. With May just a week away, it’s not likely to happen this summer. Any amendment to the ordinance would require at least one public hearing, which would need to be scheduled a month after city officials discussed the matter and developed a law. Given the glacial pace of city government, an amendment isn’t something that's likely over the next month, much less this summer.

All of this all could have been resolved years ago, had someone used an ounce of gray matter. But because the commissioners and their full-time deputies lack even a remote sense of the city’s skewed ordinances, the vendor issue is back on the table. the asses in City Hall can playing lip service to the press, and everyone else gets a heaping helping of ‘go fuck yourselves’ to take to the bank. Looking on the bright side, at least the reporters will have a new ‘issue’ to focus on instead of the ones that will truly wreck havoc on this city.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dodging bullets

It appears as though the snake oil salesmen stocking the Hudson River Black River Regulating District’s administration again dodged a bullet. After taking the Great Sacandaga Lake to a 77-year high, the level of the flood control reservoir is finally starting to recede, thanks to an uncommonly dry spring. Don’t worry, chirped Robert Foltan, the public authority’s chief engineer; there’s no problem here.

It’s a claim Foltan likes to make every time the news media starts sniffing around his fiefdom at the district’s offices in Fulton County. Does it really matter the lake surpassed an all-time high during a year that wasn’t exactly a record breaker when it came to snow pack. Who cares that erosion around the lake is rampant? And most of all, what does it matter if 283 billion gallons of water is slamming in to the aging structure that is the only thing standing between the downstream communities and an apocalyptic wall of water?

Administrators of Foltan’s ilk take glee in dismissing claims that the lake levels might be causing untold problems. Whenever the roughly 4,700 property owners around the lake complain about the high levels, he rightly points out the lake was created to control flooding on the Hudson River, into which the once meandering Sacandaga still flows. By stowing water in the lake each spring, the regulating district can allow the Hudson to drop below flood stage level, thereby preventing untold damage in low-lying areas as far north as Fort Edward and south at the Port of Albany.

With this mission at hand, Foltan claims it’s not the regulating district’s job to protect property owners around the lake. After all, the state owns every bit of shoreline lying 775 feet above sea level, or 7 feet over the 768-foot high water mark.

But what Foltan always seems to omit from the equation is the regulating district’s role in storing away more water than they were originally intended to withhold from the natural flow. Six years ago, they penned a 40-year agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that allowed for the “aggressive use of storage capacity” on the reservoir.

By keeping the lake uncommonly high, the regulating district can release more water during the summer months, when the Hudson slows to a crawl. This allows the downstream hydroelectric companies –major lobbyists during the 2002 settlement agreement –to cash in on power generation during months when their facilities would otherwise languish.

Simply put, this policy is playing a dangerous game of chicken with Mother Nature. Had any significant rainfall struck the Adirondacks, there certainly would have been massive flooding along the Hudson and few options for the regulating district, other than offering several of their surplus row boats to downtown Albany.

More ominous is the level of erosion around the 125-mile-long shoreline caused by this hyper-storage. Anyone familiar with the sandy banks of the Sacandaga can attest, there’s been a lot of erosion since the settlement agreement was signed. In areas where there were once rolling sand beaches, there are now mudflats. Some parts of South Shore Road, the lake’s main thoroughfare through Saratoga County, appear to be threatened by the undermining of the shoreline.

The aging Batchellerville Bridge is surely taking a pounding from the six years of aggressive storage. Though the bridge is scheduled for replacement within the next three years, it still serves as the only passage between the lake’s north and south shores. And let’s not forget when the bridge was downgraded for an entire summer not too long ago.

The largest erosion concern caused by this storage policy could lie beneath the earthen dam itself. Though the regulating district claims to inspect the Conklingville Dam with vigor, they also have a nasty habit of leaving out details. For instance, they downplayed work on the dam’s spillway two years ago and didn’t think that failing of three emergency release valves last year was that big of a deal.

Perhaps they don’t care because they don’t need to care. Few members of the public know what the inherently corrupt regulating district is, much less that it actually purports to regulate something. And for decades, the public authority has served as a veritable dumping ground for political patronage. Though the governor-appointed board of directors conducts monthly public meetings, they often conduct them in obscure locations not likely to draw the sparse collection of activists and reporters actually following their transgressions.

For the time being, the Sacandaga issues are out of sight and out of mind for the public, which is largely removed from the process of its regulation. But as the lake regulators become more aggressive with their water storage and problems around the Hudson watershed compound, the public may find itself investigating a broad color of these issues once that bullet finally hits.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Come and see the show

Welcome back my friends, to the show that always spends. We’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside...

Faced with the prospect of dwindling revenue streams, an economy in full-bore recession and a $500,000 shortfall in the state’s VLT aid, the City Council has decided to do what they do best: create more senseless jobs and spend more money.

First up was the creation of a new “executive assistant” for freshman Department of Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco. To the council’s credit, an employee from the Accounts department was transferred to DPW. But this “confidential secretary” to Scirocco will earn $36,000 annually, which is the same salary earned by a similar position in the Finance department. And there was no mention of losing the Accounts position through attrition.

So basically, the commissioners of Finance and Public Works now have their own secretaries, in addition to office assistants and their full-time deputies. What a blast, thought Democratic Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim; why not make it three?

Sure enough, the absent commissioner slipped a resolution into this week’s meeting asking for his own confidential secretary. It wasn’t a surprising move, considering Kim once claimed the public’s safety couldn’t be assured without two deputies to run the office. But Kim’s shot at inflating next year’s budget was unceremoniously shot down by Mayor Scott Johnson and Accounts Commissioner John Franck because he hadn’t in absentia “satisfactorily resolved” concerns raised by the mayor. Political translation: Go fuck yourself, Ron.

Certainly there is no goodwill between Kim and Franck, both Republicans who became Democrats once it seemed fashionable. As many are still trying to forget, Kim sided with the failed mayoral run of Valerie Keehn, while Franck allied with the failed Public Works campaign of her nemesis, Tom McTygue. And that colossal disaster continues to unfold on a smaller level between Kim and Franck.

But more recently, the big battle has been between Kim, a poorly sewn sock puppet for former Keehn deputy Eileen Finneran; and Johnson, a Republican who she rightly views as an enemy to Keehn’s failed politics. So far, Johnson has been the brunt of nearly every media release issued from the Public Safety office this year; Johnson downplayed the danger of the 911-system failures, Johnson doesn’t care about ensuring the safety of residents, Johnson is trying to consolidate his power, Johnson is a card-carrying member of the Illuminati, et cetera.

The most ludicrous missive belched from Kim’s office this week ordered his subordinates to stop using the city’s nonpartisan human resource administrator.

“I am directing until further notice that all employees of the Department of Public Safety cease and desist in any further direct communication with the Human Resources Director[sic],” he wrote in the memo, which he then shipped off to all four area newspapers before cutting out of Tuesday’s meeting.

Basically, Kim wants the city to fund a $36,000 executive assistant for his office, which would more than likely pick up the duties of the $45,000 administrator he directed his employees to ignore. What a great allocation of resources.

He wasn’t alone in his thinking either. Both Scirocco and Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins –fresh from explaining the new VLT aid deficit the city is likely to face –voted in favor of creating a new clerical position for Kim’s office. It’s tough to say exactly why these two purported fiscal conservatives would advocate for spending money on creating new government positions; perhaps it has something to do validating the need for their own executive assistants.

In any case, the Spa City’s government continues to grow like onion grass in springtime. It’s something to take into consideration when budget discussions fire up later this year and the council starts considering whether they’re going to hike taxes or cut services. Meanwhile, there’s a pair of secretaries shuffling papers in City Hall, both making nearly three times the salary of their elected bosses. God bless this American Democracy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Meter maid

Parking meters are so foreign to most Spa City residents that few remember when Broadway was lined with them just more than four short decades ago. Back then, clipping off the posts was offered as a way to revitalize the city’s failing downtown.

“Look back at how downtown business was prior to 1966, and you will see that the free parking was the beginning of Saratoga as we know it today,” said former city Mayor James Murphy Jr. in a letter to the Saratogian.

But for a certain school teacher-turned-political operative, parking meters just might be the answer to solving summer traffic congestion leading into the city, thus making it a greener place.

“People are realizing that we have to look at paid parking,” deputy Public Nuisance commissioner Eileen Finneran told the Saratogian Monday. “Every community around us has it, except Clifton Park, but they don’t really have a downtown.”

Alas, Finneran can’t take full credit for her flawed thinking in this case. She had a group of graduate students from UAlbany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy pitch the idea of establishing 50-cent parking meters along the city’s main drag. These students were trying to cut down on the “two-hour shuffle” residents apparently witnesses with increasing frequency.

The project was apparently part of their thesis and a requirement to graduate from the program. For their sake, let’s hope it wasn’t a major requirement. Details aside, they’re thinking is about as flawed as the mindset used by the political hacks now usurping the city’s Public Safety office.

It’s an idea that has worked awfully well in cities with burgeoning downtown areas, like Schenectady, which is riddled with parking meters. Not only is the Electric City’s business district a powerhouse, it never experiences massive traffic congestion along the main arteriole of Erie Boulevard during rush-hour times. And if you buy this, please stop by iSaratoga’s bridge sale: This week, bidding for the Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge over the Mohawk starts at $15; act soon or lose out.

Seriously, Finneran must have a few screws loose to think the idea of metered parking would take hold anywhere in Saratoga. The Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce has been quick to nip any such idea in the bud, claiming the meters would add a new layer of hardship on Broadway businesses. Likewise, these business owners have cried bloody murder every time the suggestion has been whispered. Even Finneran’s political ally Lew Benton has railed out against the prospect of Broadway meters.

“The whole idea of paid parking is so foreign to our thinking in this city,” he told the Times Union in 2006, when metered parking was suggested as part of the city’s draft transportation plan.

In truth, stamping four-hour meters along Broadway would do absolutely nothing to limit the ingress and egress of traffic into the city. The same vehicles would come into the city; the same vehicles would struggle to find a parking space along Broadway, and the same people now leaving those vehicles there would reluctantly fork a few quarters into a meter.

Metered parking would add a tacky element to the city that already whored itself to building a pair of useless parking garages. The meters give the impression a municipality is willing to wrest just about any ashtray nickel and dime (or quarter in this case)they can from whoever wanders into its limits. Perhaps that is the fiscal situation now facing the city with its waning revenues. On a side note, if the city does decide to meter parking on Broadway, allow iSaratoga to be the first to offer Finneran as the city’s new meter maid. That way, at least those who are against her ridiculous metering idea will have a chance to nail her with a pair of quarters instead of the meter.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Your taxes at work: The truck stops here

Ask any traveler and they’ll tell you: Truck stops are important. They provide that fast food fat injection many of us motorists need to make it from point A to B. They offer the overpriced gasoline, the hands-free urinals and trinket gift shops that make long-distance travel possible. Without them, droves of urine-filled cash-laden travelers would arrive at their destinations bloated and with far too much money to spend in one outing.

Yes, truck stops are a vital industry in our gas-fueled society. And if they’re not serving the people they were meant to serve –the truckers –they could very well be creating a volatile economy tantamount to the subprime debacle now ravaging the nation. Just think of all those Big Macs rotting under blasting heat lamps; all those hand-dryers going unused; the miles of perfectly parkable pavement just laying there lonely, absent a semi or minivan to drip engine fluids on it.

But fear not, intrepid readers. The state Department of Transportation is coming to the rescue, the Daily Gazette reported last week. While New York’s pork-laden government is reeling from an estimated $5 billion budgetary deficit, the gear heads and specialists over at DOT were doling out $600,000 to see exactly what North American truckers think of the state’s truck stops.

Dubbed the “Truck Intercept Survey,” the study is a joint effort between DOT and the state Thruway Authority, which took time away from its busy schedule of toll hike hearings to participate. See, there’s apparently a shortage of truck stops along New York’s superhighways. The ones located about every 20 miles along the Thruway and I-87 are clearly not adequate.

“This can create problems because they are required to take rest breaks as well as a certain amount of time off duty as part of federal regulations,” said Kendra Adams, the acting president of the New York State Motor Truck Association, which naturally supports the initiative.

The answer? Pay more than half-million to a statistics company to interview truckers for two solid years. And the best part? The company conducting the survey is located in Texas, so these tax dollars are literally pumped from the region and piped down south.

Adams said the result of the study may be that New York needs more truck stops. Then maybe the state could give several massive development companies the hard-earned cash they need to pave over and contaminate 30-acre intervals of land along every state thoroughfare so that truckers can get their beauty sleep.

However, one can’t beat on DOT too much for their concept of spending. They’re simply following the lead of another bloated, nonsensical entity that sucks tax dollars like a porn star. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has spent three years dishing out cash to truckers across the nation. In fact, where DOT saw fit to spend $600,000, Homeland Security decided to up he ante and spend $63 million.

Only instead of surveying truck stops, the federal security czars are training truckers as counter-terrorist agents. Yes, you read that correctly: Counter-terrorist agents. The bulk of this fat went to conduct classes, create DVDs and set up a national call center so drivers who see something suspicious can call it into Homeland Security, The Daily News reported last month.

So let’s go to the score card. New York will soon have enough truck stops to keep its 18-wheeler interlopers well rested; the entire country will have truckers trained to spot terrorist while they’re jamming back Slim Jims on the freeway; and New Yorkers will have to sell their homes to fund it all. God bless America.

Editor’s note: Taking cue from the journalistic bastion known as The Saratogian, iSaratoga has embarked upon an “occasional series” investigating the many ways our state government in New York is using tax dollars to serve the needs of the people; all of them. And even a few things that aren’t people, much less things existing in the Empire State. If you have your own suggestion, please don’t hesitate to drop a line to iSaratoga’s tax and spend department.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Deep freeze

Well, at least Saratoga Springs got through the winter before the political climate on the City Council went sub-zero. The deep freeze has officially touched down between Republican Mayor Scott Johnson and Ron Kim, the city’s commissioner of fear-mongering who some loosely characterize as a Democrat.

Kim freaked out Tuesday when his department received a mayoral memo about the “Use of the Human Resource Administrator.” In short, the memo advises the four commissioners that Marcie Brydges, the aforementioned administrator, is an employee of Johnson’s department and should therefore report directly to the mayor on any personnel issues.

Naturally, the ‘shoot everything in sight first and forget about the questions’ commissioner wasn’t pleased by this missive. By his tone, one would assume an armed coup is being waged in City Hall at the moment, instead of Johnson merely exerting the authority provided to him under and rightly cited in the city charter.

“This is a power-grab by the mayor,” Kim blurted out to the Post Star. “What he’s saying is that he also wants to get involved in enforcement,”

Power grab? That’s an interesting choice of words seeing as though the mayor’s office is weakest among all commissioner seats in terms of power. In fact, the mayor’s primary function in recent years has been to appoint his or her friends to the land-use boards and chair the council meetings.

Editor’s note: In the writer’s zeal to seem somewhat balanced and not completely out to prove Ron Kim the dolt his is, there was a paragraph here alluding to Johnson’s uncanny ability to misspell his human resource director’s name. This criticism has since proven to be utterly and completely unwarranted, so the segement of the passage and it’s accompanying photo have been retracted. So, without further delay, we return to the normally scheduled post.

However, the more important issue is Kim’s rather ludicrous assertions, which always seem to overshadow even the most egregious errors made by other politicians. As usual, Kim’s limited intellect is bereft of any knowledge of recent city events; mainly who hired Brydges and how she ended up with a job in the first place.

Those who take a cursory look into the politics of yesteryear would find the ‘human resource administrator’ position was mandated by revisions to the city charter adopted by the council in 2001. For both financial and civil service reasons, the position wasn’t immediately filled.

It wasn’t until the Erin Dreyer scandal touched down in 2004 that then-Republican Mayor Michael Lenz hired Brydges to the position, which streamlined all personnel issues from all departments into one department under the mayor’s office. Lenz was even criticized by city Democrats for not filling the position earlier.

Other mayors directly involved themselves in human resource issues, namely Kim’s beloved Valerie Keehn. Remembering back to the fall, it was Keehn who involved her office and the city attorney in helping a convicted felon sue the city Public Works Department; something that obviously involved human resources’ reporting to the mayor’s office at some point.

Summing things up: it was the Dreyer scandal in the Public Safety Department that led to a Republican mayor appointing a new civil service position to oversee the four fiefdoms of City Hall for any malfeasance, among other duties commonly associated with human resources. This person was appointed by and answers to the mayor’s office. In other words, Ron Kim is a moron.

Since the departure of Keehn and DPW fixture Tom McTygue, there’s been a slight movement away from the back-biting politics of the past. It’s not to say there aren’t resentments among the city councilors, but that they haven’t roiled publically. Kim has tried in vain to shatter this tentative poise in just about everything he’s said and done in his new term. And given the roots of his partisan-driven vitriolic deputy, there’s really little doubt as to why Kim is suddenly trying to roar like a lion.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Primo candidates

A lot can happen in two and half years. The Democratic candidate for governor can go from being the great white hope of his party to the shamed black sheep of politics. The Democratic-lead Spa City government can go from having unified ranks to handing the key to City Hall back to the GOP with their infighting. And Saratoga County Democratic Chairman Larry Bulman can go from accidentally leading his party to success to doing an awful lot of forgetting.

One of the events he may try to forget is how his party shunned former state Senate candidate Brian Premo, allowing the heavyweight incumbent Joe Bruno to run unopposed. Premo, who was initially an enrolled Democrat, played musical chairs between parties and landed on a GOP chair when the tunes clipped off. He missed the filing deadline to switch back to the Dems and thus needed permission from both the Saratoga and Rensselaer branches of the party to run in the badly gerrymandered district.

Not only did the Bulman-lead Democrats unanimously vote against endorsing Premo, they also colluded with Bruno’s attorneys to ensure their no-confidence tally wouldn’t be overshadowed by the Rensselaer Dems. But a lot has changed in two and a half years; more specifically, a lot has changed in the last two and a half months.

Initially, word from on high was that the Saratoga Dems were mustering a sort of one-two punch with the recently re-elected Saratoga Springs Supervisor Joanne Yepsen and ousted Mayor Valerie Keehn. The rumor came from “Democratic insiders” who suggested the one of the two might pull off a Gillibrand-esque victory by going up against the last vestiges of the powerful Republican machine that kept a choke hold on upstate for so many years. And theoretically speaking, their candidacy –Keehn’s in particular –might have been the olive branch Bulman was searching for to rally both factions of the badly fragmented party to make another go at things.

Less than three months after this rumor was hatched, the winds of politics have shift. Bulman told the Times Union last week neither Yepsen nor Keehn will run against Bruno, leaving Premo as the sole candidate for taking on Hollywood Joe. It’s an about-face for state and county Democrats alike, especially seeing as though all they seemed to talk about during the winter months was taking back the state Senate. Now, they’ll have Premo as their candidate; a fellow the Saratoga mules stubbornly kicked at two years earlier.

What is most interesting about this development is the timing of it. In January, rumors of the Yepsen-Keehn tandem were being tossed up on all the so-called progressive sites, even though both candidates had faced brutal elections just two months earlier. Then when the roiling of Saratoga politics seemed to reduce to a simmer, Bulman announces that both candidates are no longer considering a run for the crown jewel of senatorial seats. Could it have to do with a certain gubernatorial development in March?

There is no question the politics of Saratoga’s so-called progressive movement closely mimicked those of the recently failed governor. Namely, they copied Eliot Spitzer’s philosophy of gunning for the big game straight from the get-go, instead of dickering with the small guys. The only difference was Spitzer gunned for the opposition party leader, where as Keehn’s progressives selected fellow party leader Tom McTygue –who they argued was no less corrupt than the Republican senator.

While Spitzer was in power, Keehn’s backers frequently alluded to her “close ties” with the governor; a claim that’s a bit specious but somewhat plausible considering her marriage ties with a state litigator. So when Spitzer was replaced by a member of the old guard –and more specifically a good friend of Bruno’s –it’s quite possible the tide in Albany suddenly changed, thereby washing the progressives’ bellowing yawp for change out to sea. Without a mighty strong set of lungs to inflate a pair of political neophytes, Bruno would have redefined the term ‘having a field day’ at the polls against the likes of Keehn or Yepsen.

The alternative is to offer a sacrificial lamb like Premo. He’s not a bad candidate; just not the type to make a serious run at Bruno, even after a number of the majority leader’s misdoings were exposed during Spitzer’s colossal fall from the sky. The most pathetic thing about the whole affair is that the Saratoga Democrats can’t find a compelling candidate to make a run at Bruno. Despite the inroads Democrats have made in Saratoga County over the past two and half years, their failure to offer a challenger to Bruno shows the shallowness of their candidate pool.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Taking stock

Fifty cents won’t buy much these days. Two quarters is one short of a soda can at most vending machines, a dollar short of a large coffee and a nickel less than the toll to ride the Thruway from downtown Albany to Schenectady. A half-dollar coin won’t buy you a pack of gum at the supermarket, a load of laundry at the Laundromat or pump much more than a couple of pints of gasoline in your vehicle. Two quarters won’t take you very far in today’s economy.

Fifty cents will, however, buy you a Monday through Saturday edition of the Saratogian. And it’s a sum ample enough to purchase a sliver of the company that owns this plummeting publication.

As if the Spa City’s alleged hometown paper needed any more bad news, the Journal Register Company stock sank to 43 cents a share last week, bringing its value to an all-time low. To put this in perspective, JRC was trading at $12.18 per share exactly two years ago and $6.16 just last year. The decline was precipitous enough that the New York Stock Exchange stopped floor trading of JRC stock last month and warned the Pennsylvania-based penny pincher that it would delist its stock if the company doesn’t bring its price-per-share up to a dollar by October. Some are even speculating the rapid decline will force JRC into liquidating its remaining assets.

Taking a quick gander at JRC’s profile, there’s really no mystery why its stock is doing so miserably. Numbers across the board wandered into negative integers between 2006 and 2007. Total revenue dropped by more than $43 million; operating income dropped $119 million, just a year after it increased $51 million; and the company posted a fourth-quarter net loss totaling more than $148.4 million.

The drastic decline of JRC marks a year of wanton mismanagement, starting with the sale of 18 percent of its daily newspaper holdings in February 2007 and culminating in the hapless promotion of two upper-level executives in September as the company’s stock plummeted. Most business aficionados would attest that these moves –having an asset fire sale and promoting a pair of boot kissers to high paying jobs –aren’t the type to make when a company’s stock is in free fall.

Up until recently, Robert Jelenic was the corporate conductor of this off this runaway train; JRC’s Nero tuning his fiddle while playing with matches. He was known in the industry as the type of guy who would come in, gut a newsroom, slash news content and rely almost solely on advertising sales to boost revenues. Marcel Dufresne, a University of Connecticut journalism professor, once opined the company formulaically reshaped its acquisitions by promoting content around personalities and galas, rather than issues.

“It’s pillow-soft local news, kind of like the 1950s boilerplate when every Little League team had its picture in the paper—not the kind of hard focus on issues and events which affect people's lives,” he told the Philidelphia City Paper in 1998, just a few months after JRC bought the Saratogian.

And it’s the type of journalism easily produced by college interns and recent graduates; those content to see their byline in print, even if their boss is a moron and their paycheck isn’t much better than the one earned by fast food fry cooks. Meanwhile, Jelenic and his cronies quite literally made millions. Between 2003 and 2007, the chief executive officer made off with $7.1 million primarily from selling JRC stock, according to federal Security and Exchange Commission filings

All the while, the company was sending out directives to its news outlets to sell more advertising and cut expenditures to somehow right the sinking ship. Jelenic has since been stricken with cancer and was replaced by John H. Hall, a rube who promptly surrounded himself with the same shills his predecessor had relied upon for so many years. Still, the company managed to rope in $419 million in gross profits in 2007. But it didn’t make much of a difference in the end, when the company shelled out $521 million between interest payments, overhead, taxation and most of all, payroll.

Much like the Saratoga Springs newspaper it owns, JRC is top-heavy with top-tier salaried executives. The result is less money for the grunt workers operating in the trenches and doing the hard work to make the company its money. Rather than shedding a few boot kissers or adopting a more fiscally reasonable policy, the company continues to slash away in the areas that actually earn it money. This brand of mismanagement is something that seems to transcend JRC papers, as one vitriolic blogger has painstakingly chronicled.

What does all this mean for the Spa City? Regrettably, not very much. JRC will probably continue its death spiral, as all of its assets are pretty much worthless unless a buyer comes along with a boatload of working capital. Fixing the Saratogian would be akin to renovating the pair of rotting Victorians on Phila Street. Sure it can be done, but the amount of money and effort needed is enough to scare away even the most intrepid of venture capitalists.

Meanwhile, recalcitrant “managing editor” Barbara Lombardo continues to cash a paycheck, despite clearly taking no interest in her job whatsoever. Her failed blog is riddled with glaring grammatical errors and she clearly doesn’t care enough to make corrections. Even her column contains the sort of careless mistakes one would expect of a freshman reporter, but not a so-called managing editor of more than three decades.

Only time will tell what the paper’s ultimate fate. Most likely, the suckfish and yesmen at JRC will continue to load their lifeboats with the booty they’ve plundered from the sinking company, while honest employees frantically try to bail out the rising water. In the end, its assets will probably get swallowed up by a larger shark in the ocean, allowing the failed policies of corporate journalism to continue.

Editor’s note: a belated thanks to those who sent tips about JRC’s waning stock numbers. We all knew it would happen at some point; thanks for pointing it out at such a poignant time.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

American History X

John F. Kennedy once posited American liberalism as an ideology in which adherents struggle to look ahead and not behind. He painted the liberal as someone who cares about the welfare of people; who welcomes equality and accepts new ideas without rigid reaction.

“Someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad,” he said after accepting a presidential nomination from New York’s Liberal Party in 1960. “If that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal,’ then I'm proud to say I’m a Liberal.”

Kennedy’s ascension to the presidency gave wind to the sails of American Liberalism, which carried it through a decade of political and cultural change that literally revolutionized life in United States. This change was strongly rebuked in the decades that followed, largely by proponents of Nixonian conservatism, a quasi-fascist ideology promulgating a strengthened federal government led by an elite group of free market cheerleaders.

By the dawning of the new century, American Liberals found themselves a dying breed; largely shunned by the Democrats and treated like a pack of rabid lepers by the Nixonians, a scurrilous group cultivated under the laissez-fair leadership of the Regan Administration into today’s neoconservatives. For nearly a decade now, this ideology has tried to exact the final solution that was narrowly thwarted by the Watergate scandal: the full excoriation of American Liberalism from the halls of government.

Foisted into government by many of the Nixon minions, these buggers consolidated their power from the bottom up. After dominating the AM airwaves throughout the 1990s, they managed to take unprecedented control of all three branches of government with the rise of the Bush Administration. And when liberals watched the twin towers crumble in 2001, they finally took a gander at the writing on the wall. Facing merciless extermination at the hands of an authoritarian political movement, they decided something would need to change dramatically.

This lit the fire underneath today’s Neoliberalism, a riddle-like movement wrapped in a conundrum, much like its new-right doppelganger. Born in liberal bastions such as Vermont and Northern California, the take-no-shit new left preaches many of the same principles as its predecessor, just in a far more militant way. In other words, believe what we’re shoveling or you’re one of them. And if you’re one of them, you’re just another cog in the problem machine.

Such is the case at Skidmore College, as an apparent proponent of this new left thought ludicrously etched a swastika on a jumbo-sized poster advertising former Attorney General and noted Neocon John Ashcroft’s speech on campus this evening. Clearly, the individual drawing this hate symbol figured it might give viewers pause to think about Ashcroft and how his short term in office could be equated to the brutal Nazi regime that laid waste to most of Europe with their hatred.

The gesture was just what Tom Qualtere –co-president of Skidmore’s Young Republicans –needed to prove the hackneyed theory that liberals won’t be happy until they’ve changed the country into a Soviet-era gulag.

“It’s so frustrating,” he told the Times Union Monday. “You want to act like you’re running Stalinist Russia, go ahead. But don’t call yourselves liberals while you're doing it.”

What is unfortunate is that neither the swastika-artist nor Qualtere seem to have even an inkling of the historical markers they reference or the completely asinine implications of their respective statements. Comparing Ashcroft or his movement to Nazi Germany is quite ludicrous, in that the neoconservatives generally shriek every time even a cursory mention of socialism is brought up. Likewise, anyone associating the militant new left with the former Soviet Union obviously hasn’t read much about Russia under Stalin’s rule or bothered to compare it to some of the areas of the U.S. where this ideology was hatched.

The whole affair is disturbing in that it shows the unbelievable political and historical ignorance being bred in today’s colleges. In as much, the future for dialog and progress seems remarkably grim. But the most frightening thought born from this rather minuscule event is the thought proffered by Edmund Burke, an 18th century British philosopher and one-time champion of the very American Independence neoconservatives and liberals both enjoy today: Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.

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