Monday, April 30, 2007

Armchair patriots

Spring had just descended upon the Capital Region when Don Neddo hobbled up the City Hall steps. Hundreds of miniature flag waving people that lined the city sidewalks of on downtown Glens Falls, waiting for the70-year-old conservative veteran from Waterford to issue a few terse grunts from the podium as he had done so many times in his life.

Then he caught glimpse of a long-haired fellow carrying picket by the street corner with some hackneyed anti-war slogan scrawled on it. Moments later, the seemingly innocuous old man lunged at the fellow nearly a third his age, delivering a haymaker to the bloke’s jaw, much to the amazement of the camera crews and reporters gathered at the so-called patriot rally.

For Neddo, the episodic outburst was a necessary show of force in the day and age where the troops overseas need as much support as the people can give them. And if it meant cracking his seven-decades old fist upside the head of some vestigial degenerate spawned from the sixties movement, then so be it; he was not going to let the men and women of the world most formidable fighting force down like America had during Vietnam.

One week later, Neddo, along with former WGY chatterbox Scott Allen Miller and many of their collective ilk, lead a similar rally 30 miles south amid the sprawl of Clifton Park. This time, thousands waved flags, wore yellow ribbons and chanted along with the wrinkled old man in what was perhaps the largest and most patriotic mass gathering the generally apathetic slice of suburbia had seen during the new millennium.

That was four years ago. Today, Neddo has virtually dropped off the face of the earth, after the Times Union revealed the lies he had propagated about his military service. “Scotto” as he now calls himself works for a claptrap radio show in Boston. And the patriot rallies? Well, they’ve seemingly gone the way of the dodo, despite pledges of their longevity among the fair-weather supporters who fiercely banged the drum of war in 2003.

The outlook for patriotism –or rather loyalty to the American cause –was much grimmer Sunday than it was just four short years ago. Instead of being greeted by throngs of flag waving masses, the 36th annual Loyalty Parade was greeted by a few more than two dozen people, The Glens Falls Post Star reported. Known in the city as the “first parade of spring,” the VFW-sponsored march from the post office steps was first established as a patriotic counter to the communist exploitation of May Day.

But today, the parade itself seems to represent a sad commentary about the growing apathy toward patriotic spirit, four years after a red-white-and-blue tidal wave swept across the country. Those who so virulently spoke out against anti-war activism and spit vitriol at anyone questioning the war effort have seemingly disappeared to the comfortable sanctity of thier armchairs and AM talk radio booths.

That didn’t stop Clay Beaudet for placing the blame for Sunday’s lack of patriotism. It’s the politicians, he cried to the Post Star reporter; the politicians and the media that are behind this.

“The politicians are making up their minds for their own benefit, and the press is making things up completely,” he told the reporter.

Strangely enough, the politicians and the media were some of the few that did attend the event despite the paltry turnout. Glens Falls mayor Roy Atkins attended the affair despite having a brain tumor removed days earlier. And the Post Star contributed nearly 500 words worth of copy to the event, albeit in a less-than-flattering-but-truthful report.

Noticeably absent, however, were all the self-professed patriots from the 2003 rallies like Neddo and Miller, who don’t seem to find it as fashionable these days to offer their public “support” for the past and present soldiers of America. But who knows, maybe they’ll turn up the next time hostilities break out.

Friday, April 27, 2007

What a twisted web we weave

Something is afoul in City Hall and it ain’t spilled hydrolic oil. With state Department of Environmental Conservation officers ripping up the floor of the city’s DPW garage off Division Street, Valerie Keehn continues to act smug –perhaps too smug –in the mayor’s office. Maybe that’s because the first-term dark horse mayor knows exactly what is going on.

Keehn and more specifically, Deputy Mayor Eileen Finneran, have in the works a power play to boot the brothers’ McTygue out of public office once and for all. The move would eliminate the two long-serving Department of Public Works officials and give the city’s faction of neoliberals the clean slate they were shooting for when they aimed their sites on changing the commissioner-style of government last year.

Besmirch the McTygues and you besmirch the old-school city Democrats, including names like Ken Klotz, Hank Kuczynski and most notably, mayoral hopeful Gordon Boyd. Ironically –or rather not so ironically –all of these figures fought against and were instrumental in defeating the Keehn-Finneran charter revision push. So to pave the way for a new Democratic Party in the city, this dynamic duo is leading a veritable coup to see that these fellows are on the outside looking in come November.

The first prong of this coup is to highlight the DPW’s failures with regards to operations; make them look like a pack of incompetent and bumbling boobs, with the king boob sitting in the director’s chair. The second prong is to characterize the department as a fiscal failure with the city with specific regards to their purchasing practices, thereby making the short-tempered commissioner out to be a sort of tax-dollar suck hole.

“[You've made] every effort and every attempt to make like someone’s doing something wrong,” a visibly irate McTygue told Keehn during the City Council meeting last week. “Ever since somebody [Boyd] announced they’re running for public office you’ve made every attempt to do that.”

See, the Saratoga Democrats have been divided ever since Finneran split from the party endorsement of Kuczynski for mayor to support Keehn, a fellow school teacher, in the 2005 election; McTygue as it’s been well publicized, staunchly supported the party’s endorsement. Finneran then waged an aggressive “grassroots” campaign to power Keehn past the primaries and onto the ballot, despite the candidate having no credentials whatsoever to be mayor.

In retribution, Keehn, most likely under the advice of Finneran, booted Bill McTygue off the planning board. One month later, she needled Public Safety Commissioner Ronald Kim –who Finneran also helped into office – into taking the former campaign manager on as his deputy, despite her utter lack of experience in running anything to do with police or fire departments. Tom McTygue railed out against the move, saying it smacked of Dreyer-like patronage; the rally cry fomented rebuke from newspaper editorial boards and forced Kim to abdicate his “choice” of deputies.

Two months later, Finneran’s name popped up again, when Nancy Ohlin mysteriously needed to step down from her charge as deputy mayor after needing ankle surgery. With nobody except McTygue to cry cronyism, Keehn quickly swept Finneran into what is in essence the full-time mayor’s seat, which carries an annual salary of more than $60,000.

Both Finneran and Keehn are connected in the state party. Or at least their husbands are. Keehn’s husband is a loyal party member and has nice channels through his job as an attorney with the DEC. He’s also worked closely with the Attorney General’s Office, under both the stewardship of Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo. And when Keehn stepped up to the plate in 2005, both Cuomo and Sptizer stepped up to give her support.

Finneran also has her ties in Albany, mainly through her betrothed, who works as a litigator for the state in Albany. Hubby Bill Murray –not to be confused with the actor’s namesake –most recently turned up as an “associate counsel” to none other than the state Comptroller’s Office.

But to think there’s a connection between a joint Attorney General-DEC investigation, the ongoing comptroller’s audit and a pair of spouses that happen to be involved with all three state agencies? Don’t be ridiculous. Or at least that’s what Keehn is insisting by telling The Saratogian that she would never “shut down half of the city" because she has “a political ax to grind.”

Well, that ax appears to be full control over the crown jewel of the upstate region’s cities and the grindstone looks suspiciously like Tom McTygue’s granite-hard head. And when there are influential people in Albany with their eyes on the city, shutting down the DPW for a few days to gain a bit of political mileage doesn’t seem like too bad of a move. This is especially the case when your sole accomplishment in office is passing a bull-shit “decency” pledge that no one in the city council abides by anyway.

On a side note, the Keehn administration has found an unlikely ally in David Bronner, perhaps the Spa City’s most notable blustering butthead, who has gone to great lengths to drag McTygue out of office ever since the commissioner advocated tapping Saratoga Lake as a drinking water source. The staunchly conservative anti-democrat was one of the complainers who allegedly complained to the DEC about illicit dumping, The Saratogian reported.

Ultimately, the proof will be in the pudding. If the Keehn-Finneran duo is right and the Brothers’ McTygue are running roughshod over the city, then maybe they’ll have a case to bring to the voters. What is more likely, however, is that this is indeed an elaborate ploy to shoot the moon and take out her opponents long in advance of the primaries next fall.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Would the real mayor please stand up?

Valerie Keehn’s political advisors should probably start looking for a new job, maybe with McDonald’s or somewhere completely unaffiliated with politics. And given the morass that played out in the press Wednesday, it doesn’t appear as though they’ll have a job much past November anyway.

Not since the Erin Dreyer scandal played out two years ago has Saratoga witnessed such utter dysfunction in City Hall, largely as a result of Kamp Keehn’s political missteps and misgivings. The come-from-behind Mayor has rapidly turned into the knife-from-behind pugilist, dividing the City Council membership better than even the good ‘ol boy Republicans could have hoped for in bygone years.

Despite the state Department of Environmental Conservation leafing through a host of city records and combing down the Department of Public Works garage, Keehn saw it fit to announce her “big, big, big announcement” Wednesday, which was her superfluous run for re-election this year. The city is facing a state investigation into possible environmental contamination and Keehn is playing in the rain with the media. Way to lead the charge, mayor.

When queried about why she chose to announce on a the day that most mayors with half inkling would spend out of the spotlight, the utterly unquotable Keehn simply shrugged and said it seemed like a good idea. And hey, the media was already here for the spill story anyway.

“We debated it all day whether to have it, then decided to go ahead and do it,” she told The Daily Gazette.

Obviously, there are some politics at work here. As many reports have mentioned, Keehn’s husband works for the DEC’s enforcement team and the mayor herself has a fairly massive hard-on for entrenched Public Works Commissioner Tom McTygue. Coming to his own defense, David Keehn insists he has nothing to do with the enforcement of “spills.” Rather, he’s part of the DEC’s “natural resources damage assessment” squad, which clearly has nothing to do with spills. Clearly.

In an even more suspect move, Keehn voted against hiring an environmental attorney, telling the Gazette the city “ought not to be paying for a defense if there are going to be other charges.” Suffice to say, there are no charges. Slight of tongue? Perhaps, but one more becoming of a ditzy school teacher than the mayor of a city with more than 32,000 residents.

In truth, Keehn’s short political resume reads more like a script to a low-budget slasher film; there’s no substance to it, it’s predictable and the outcome is just overly gruesome. She tried to almost single-handedly change the city’s government. And when the people answered back saying they needed more time to work out the fine points, she plowed forward anyway, launching a costly proposition that was failed from the get-go.

Under her tenure, developers laid plans for and started construction on yet more high-end condominiums, leaving the city even more painfully short of affordable housing than it was when she did a victory dance in 2005. Meanwhile, the businesses on Broadway continue to play musical storefronts thanks to high rents spurred by assessment increases. The mayor’s answer? Keep the ball rolling and keep on raising the city’s property values; a decree that was enough to ostracize and infuriate fellow democrat and city Accounts Commissioner John Franck.

And when it comes to cronyism, the so-called peoples’ mayor doesn’t seem any different than any of her predecessors; maybe even a bit similar. She didn’t waste any time in slapping Tom McTygue across the face, unceremoniously dispatching his brother from his spot on the Planning Board. While Keehn vehemently insisted this was a move to get fresh ideas onto the board, it seems a bit more likely that is was retribution for the public works commissioner’s support of ex-deputy mayor Hank Kuzynski during the donkey primaries.

But ask Keehn about her record and she’ll point to the recently re-instated $3.7 million of VLT funding from the state Legislature. She went as far to insist it was her due diligence –and not that of a well-known republican senate majority leader –that brought home the bacon. Never mind the fact that the republican dominated county government also stood to lose a $1.3 million cash-cow.

Sixteen months into her two-year term, the people’s mayor has done little more other than foment an atmosphere that has dead locked the city council and ensured no initiatives will go forward in the next eight months. She has worked tirelessly to create a deep fissure in the Democratic Party, all but ensuring a return by the same Republican majority that was shamed out of office two years ago. Provided the shtick between the brothers’ McTygue and Keehn stays in the news these next seven months, the Republicans could probably run the scandal-ridden Dreyer for city council –an idea one placard-toting retard recently brought up –and still cruise to a landslide victory.

Keehn promised open government. She delivered open cat fights. She promised more affordable housing. She delivered more expensive development. She promised progress in City Hall. She delivered progressively dysfunctional government. The mayor had perhaps the best chance ever in city politics to form consensus among the council, but squandered every last bit of it. And now she wants to be re-elected? Even after the wintry cold of early spring, November can’t come soon enough.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Moving from right to left

First there was David Hyde Pierce. Then the Big Tuna, Bill Parcells, came along. Now, the Spa City can welcome perhaps its newest resident celebrity, The View co-host Rosie O’Donnell, who, according to the Federal Elections Commissions, has moved to Saratoga Springs; or at least a good chunk of her money has.

The city-dwelling comedian has apparently been funneling thousands of dollars to democratic candidates through the land of health, history and horses. O’Donnell has moved no less than $73,000 through Saratoga and to a variety of democratic candidates around the country since June 2006.

Perhaps that’s when she hired the Ayco Company of Saratoga Springs, financial counseling company and subsidiary of Goldman Sachs. All of O’Donnell’s northern filings over the past nine months have come from a post office box owned by the company, which has its headquarters on Broadway.

O’Donnell, as only people living in a bomb-shelter for the past two decades wouldn’t know, is the extremely outspoken left winger who has developed quite the propensity for sticking her neck out on the line, or in some cases, her foot in her mouth. Loved by some, hated by others and considered annoying by most, the actress has recently made large strides away from comedy and into politics, often drawing fire from her hotheaded windbag counterparts on the other side of the isle.

Her candidates of choice are of little surprise to any political junkie. Presidential hopefuls John Edwards, Hilary Clinton, Barak Obama and Bill Richardson each got a cool $2,300 from Rosie. She also broadly funded the Democratic Congressional and Senatorial committees from her accounts in the Spa City, giving a respective $27,000 and $10,000 during the primaries in 2006.

Ordinarily, her donations wouldn’t be of much note, other than the extreme amount O’Donnell is bankrolling for the Democratic Party’s cause; even this isn’t very noteworthy considering some of the high rollers that fund U.S. Politicians. But what is a bit peculiar are the references made on some of these filings, listing O’Donnell as being everything from an entertainer to self-employed to, well, nothing at all. She also gave contributions from companies based in New York City and New Jersey during this same period, which is a bit suspect.

Also of interest are the various companies the comedian seems to work for, ranging from ABC Inc., to Kid Ro Productions to some organization listed as “Best Effort.” Often, the spellings of these companies and the city of origin listed for these campaign donations are off slightly. For instance, the aforementioned production company is once listed as “Kidro Producyions,” which could be a simple typo. Then again, even small typos are a bit unusual when considering the money Ayco undoubtedly earns for juggling O’Donnell’s finances.

Perhaps O’Donnell does have a stake somewhere in the Spa City, maybe in one of those pricey condos adjacent to the old Van Raalte mill. Or perhaps this is standard fare for in American elections now: spread your money across the seaboard and then do the happy dance on top of it until all the proper candidates are showered with loot.

Better yet, maybe all these suck-hole politicians slurping of the supple tit of these cash cows should try waging a campaign on what the average member of the American proletariat brings home in a year. Then maybe O’Donnell could find a better use for some of this money that doesn’t involve flushing it down the black hole of politics.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Can you spare some change?

Been in a drinking and driving accident? Need a lawyer? Well call the Clifton Park law offices of John E. Sweeney. He’s got the skills and the connections to litigate even the most egregious cases that come down the pike. And for crying out loud he needs the money.

The scorned Republican congressman from the 20th district reported in his April quarterly to the Federal Election Commission that his campaign has slipped a bit further down the slippery slide of debt than it had reported in December. Since the start of the 2007-2008 campaign filing year, Camp Kick Ass has fallen another $7,000 into debt, which really isn’t that bad until you consider the $199,000 tab the dejected U.S. representative never settled up last year.

Now, when folks jump in the hole to the tune of nearly a quarter-million bucks, that’s usually a sign for creditors to start sending happy little reminders in the mail. In more dubious circles, such a sum is usually enough to warrant a few broken fingers. But in the case of the Sweeney campaign, just four months after he was removed from office, it’s the green light to keep on spending, albeit at a not-so-feverish pace.

So far this year, Sweeney For Congress Inc. paid out more than $19,000. The cash went to fund everything from flowers in Albany to OnStar payments in Washington DC. But many of these are smaller expenditures. The larger ones totaling in the thousands seem to go to a fellow named Mike Burton, a member of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who received nearly $5,000 in January and $1,600 just last month for “political consulting.”

Amazingly, there are still folks giving to Sweeney’s campaign, even though there’s been no indication that he’ll be picked to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand, who incidentally has already amassed more than $660,000 in the plus column. More than likely, former GOP state party Chairman Sandy Treadwell will get the nod, especially given the legendary plummet in the polls Mr. Kickass took in October.

But all these details didn’t stop either Illinois Congressman Ray LaHood or Ohio Congressman Steve LaTourette from giving Sweeney $1,000 and $2,000 respectively this quarter. Who are these two fellows? Well, LaHood’s only real distinction is presiding over former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearing.

LaTourette, however, appears to be the Sweeney of the Midwest. Among accolades such as being deeply tied to the Abramhoff scandal, LaTourette also distinguished himself in 2003 by phoning his wife and telling her he was banging a lobbyist; the estranged wife later posted signs supporting his 2004 challenger outside their home.

Sweeney’s creditors include a few noteworthy names as well. For instance, he owes $2,000 to the bankrupt New York Racing Association for a fundraising event they evidently hosted. Aside from the ethical questions this poses –it’s doubtful NYRA would have let many other citizens to raise such a tab at the Saratoga Racecourse –the embattled organization could have used the cash, albeit a paltry amount in the grand scheme of things.

For instance, Sweeney hasn’t paid more than $17,000 to X-Press Info of Albany, or more than $20,000 to the Ballweather Consulting Group of Alexandria Va., for event catering expenses. Adirondack Studios in Argyle is owed more than $12,000 from the banished congressman, among a host of other consultants, photographers and attorneys who pitched in during the campaign.

True, when you’re dealing with millions upon millions of dollars, a few hundred thousand doesn’t seem like much. And when you’re dealing with a fellow as oily as Sweeney, chances are pretty good he’ll come up with some scheme to balance the checkbook.

Take for instance this pearl a reader recently mentioned. It appears as though Big John somehow managed to pocket some free Rensselaer County taxpayer money while working as the Stop DWI Director and going to law school in Western Massachusetts. For anyone with that sort of sordid sense of accounting, coming up with a quarter-million shouldn’t be too difficult.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Secure link

No matter where you stand in New York, Virginia is pretty far away. This is especially the case if you happened to be one of the thousands of students who were standing in the University at Albany’s fountain Sunday.

But that didn’t stop the media from making a connection between the mass killings at Virginia Tech last week and the raucous frolic amid the fountain’s streaming waters. Sure there are a few similarities, such as both universities are large and have students. But this is where any likenesses end.

Still, no less than two media sources covering the event made the inextricable link between the two events, raising the one question that was definitely not on the minds of any of the more than 8,000 scantily clad students: is it safe?

Of course they feel safe, you dolts. Four shots of vodka in some tang and a few mid-morning bingers will give anyone a forged sense of safety. If nothing else, the sheer adrenaline of being surrounding by throngs of like-minded scantily clad students is enough to create a bit of apathy toward matters of safety. Just ask the UAlbany students tackling each other in the slippery foot-deep concrete pool.

However, this line of thinking eluded a few stalwart reporters still looking to cash in on the whirlpool of faux news stories generated by the Tech killings. Among the reports, the Jornal Register Company’s Troy Record spent the most time hashing through student feelings about security, even asking one young woman if the shootings more than 605 miles away in Blacksburg would have deterred her from taking the annual plunge with her classmates. Care to guess her answer?

Likewise, the reporter from Capital News 9 pointed to the massive security presence at the event, claiming that it was even “more visible” than in previous years. Obviously, whomever attended this years’ event didn’t take a good look around in 2005 and 2006, when a veritable cadre of university police and a nearly 100-strong private security force –not including the 250-some-odd campus staffers on hand –kept a watchful eye over the revelers.

In actuality, the only issues of security on the minds of students was the fact that there was to damn much of it. Many students who partied during Fountain Days of years past argued the new security measures were going a bit too far, even calling them “Orwellian” in nature. Students were forced to wear wrist band, had to register in advance using their UAlbany identification card; were unable to bring friends from outside the campus; and most of all, had to be frisked just to get in. UAlbany stopped just short of giving students a breathalyzer test before allwoing them admittance.

Some students even went as far to say the mayhem of yesteryear was much more palpable to their tastes than the watered down family-type event of today. After all, young adults are drawn to chaos, even if means there might be a one-in-one billion chance a crazed gunman lurks among them.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lake Avenue Follies

Amidst the black hole of a newspaper that some circles call The Saratogian, one intrepid reader recently issued a challenge: say something about what the paper actually does right; perhaps a commentary on its strengths, not necessarily its weaknesses.

Well, listing the endearing qualities of The Saratogian is probably akin to listing the endearing qualities of the city Police Department’s parking Nazi. Sure, there are a few if you think hard; real hard. But it’s pretty difficult to think of them while that mustached bastard is fiddling around with your windshield wipers one minute to the hour after he chalked your tire.

But for argument sake, let’s reflect a bit about the positives. Given its self-imposed size, there actually is a decent amount of paper for the buck, albeit mostly advertisements and wire copy. Through this morass, there lay a few pearls, often among the convoluted and untamed thoughts of rookie reporters.

Take for instance, this report about Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco swearing off ketchup for the 2004 Presidential Election; the seemingly innocuous article gained noteriety throughout the state as it put a face on the ridiculous nature of American politics. While the writer certainly buries the most hilarious segment of the event, the article does take a snap shot of an event all other newspapers felt above covering. Mind you, this is not good journalism; rather it’s stumbling into stories. In this case, the stumble didn’t make it until two thirds of the way through the story.

Outside of the otherwise abysmal news department, there are a few more bright spots to be garnered from this darkness. Since the departure of the recalcitrant Clark Bell, the photography department has produced quality work. Also, the sports desk is both comprehensive in its coverage and generally well versed in its writing; in fact, some of the wittier of the paper's writers have bore their fruits in the sports section. To a lesser extent, the features department also produces some legible copy. Although it appears as though features is on the outs with the paper, as recently one of the longtime columnists ended up doing news, only to jump ship for The Glens Falls Post Star.

Yet with this grain of sugar on the table, let’s pull up the salt truck. When careless mistakes of both style, grammar and worst of all, fact make it to press each day, it’s difficult to have much sympathy for the so-called “tight budgeted” eds on Lake Avenue. At times, it almost seems as though they’re trying to see how low they can bring the paper’s quality before it starts losing subscribers.

Take for instance, the travesty some called Wednesday’s paper. First, there was the story about “Firefighter Hickey” and his daring rescue of a man in the badly swollen Kaydeross. The reporter uses the term “firefighter” no less than 16 times throughout his article, which neglects to even list the victim’s name until halfway into the fourth graph. Then again, when a writer refers to the rescuers as “firefighter Hickey” and “firefighter Russo” on second, third and fourth reference, style obviously isn’t much of a concern.

Then there’s this gem from the City Council brawl Tuesday, a convoluted piece that tries to convey the havoc commonplace at their bi-monthly meetings. In a dizzying account of this bickering, the reporter makes reference to no less than three events that occurred outside the meeting without once bothering to clarify these issues for the reader. It appears as though the reporter considers the city’s populace savvy enough that explanation is not warranted; nor is one about the Fourth of July fireworks display in congress park being cancelled. Suffice to say, news of an event that drew more than 15,000 people last year reached the front page in papers of higher circulation.

Following this, there was the one-source wonder aptly titled “the psychology of tragedy,” namely because the article itself was tragically reported. Aside from the stylistic errors in the lead –reporting is meant to be objective and therefore should not be written in the subjective voice –the prattle brings nothing new to the table, other than a local psychologist’s opinion of a mass murderer he never had any interaction with.

But any criticism for the aforementioned reporter would also need to be attributed to Barbara Lombardo, the paper’s managing editor, after she slapped her by-line on a strikingly similar article the next day. One-source writing is great for announcements and obituaries, but that’s about it. And when you’re trying to “localize” a tragedy such as the Virginia Tech rampage, the only way to write a piece worth the ink it’s printed with is to contact as many sources as possible. Not for Lombardo, however. When there’s laundry to be cleaned and nails to be done, there’s no time to bother with something pesky like getting a second source.

And the list goes on and on at infinitum; the same horse dung every day, every month, and every year. Some regard this bastard child of journalism and think its deserving of apathy, even apologetic pity in some cases; layoff, they don't have the budget, or they don't have the staff, or people just leave once they get experience.

Well, at the end of this sentence, there’s a dot. See it? That’s the world's smallest violin and it’s playing a solemn tune for these apologists. These are excuses used to condone the lack of leadership over at The Saratogian and the daily mistakes that dribble into its paltry daily content. These are basic journalistic precepts that even a drunken sot of an editor should be able to pluck out after a quart of rye and without an ounce of effort. And when they are plucked out, reporters should be made aware of their misdeeds so they’re not repeated –this is called training the inexperienced.

Moreover, there seems to be an attitude among some, who feel this publication doesn’t deserve the flogging it sometimes gets. However, this is the same attitude that seems to be working its way in the public education system, where the duplicity of punishment and reward has reverted largely to reward and only reward. True, if only bad qualities are brought to light, then who’s to know what is good. In the case of The Saratogian, however, there really isn’t much good to be noted. And what little there is hasn’t changed much over the years.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

But who's keeping points

Meet Kevin O’Brien, the Spa City resident who is ensuring New York's roads are kept safe by making sure the poor, impoverished insurance companies get the overpriced premiums that are due to them.

See, O’Brien, a director of Motor Carrier and Driver Safety Services at the state Department of Motor Vehicle in Albany, is helping to institute a national register of license points so that drivers in are held accountable in their home state for points they accrue in another. In his view, drivers committing violations in one state should be held every bit accountable for them in another state, thereby making traffic violations somewhat akin to misdemeanor and felony record, which freely cross borders.

What does this all mean? Well, prior to O’Brien’s meddling, a New York driver for instance, could get a speeding ticket in Alabama, pay the fine but escape having the points for the violation lodged in his or her permanent record. This driver, mind you, would still be every bit responsible for any applicable fines and would face a New York suspension for any failure to pay them. In truth, the only difference between committing violations –mind you not criminal offenses such as DWIs –out-of-state was that the points, a measure the insurance companies use to base premiums, would not carry over. Under O’Brien’s changes, the points garnered in one state will now transfer over to any other state.

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do” he told the Times Union this week after being awarded a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with public service awards this spring. “This creates one record that follows you wherever you go."

Yes, with Big Brother keeping an eye on everything from credit card purchases to the library books they barrow, people these days need one more stinking record to follow them across this vast continent. Of course, the insurance companies love this new initiative. This means they can finally cash in on all the bullshit tickets given out in the backwoods areas of America; in the far off distant places where it’s impossible to fight the charge in any other way other than by mailing in a certified check or money order with a plea of guilty.

Another problem is that every state has different driving laws, meaning they use different point standards. If they didn’t, then perhaps there would be a federal drivers’ license much like the passport. Obviously, this is not the case. So there will need to be some way to apply the legal standards of one state to the standards of another with O’Brien’s “when in Rome” initiative, something that will undoubtedly require the creation a new layer of bureaucracy at DMV dedicated to this mission, perhaps even a whole office.

Then again, maybe this is the type of thinking America needs in this post-9-11 world: more record keeping, more governmental bureaucracy and more traffic laws. And while we’re on the subject, let’s just erase all these pesky state boundaries. After all, is there any real difference between Alabama and New York? Then again, feel free to pose this question to O’Brien himself.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Look into the eyes of a killer

In the quick-hit world of corporate dominated mass media, there really is no time to pause and reflect upon what staggered its way onto the television set or in print. There are angles to cover –albeit most of them hackneyed and tiresomely explored in previous reports–but angles nevertheless. When national news breaks, localize it; bring it in terms they’ll understand the incomprehensible.

Monday was no exception as a seemingly benign South Korean senior coolly shot down students and faculty members at the Virginia Tech campus with lethal precision. Nearly a thousand miles north in newsrooms across the Capital Region, there was a crack of a whip then a drive to put a face on a “tragedy that rocks the nation” story for the evening news and the morning paper.

Capital News 9, like several others, picked up on the Ralph Tortorici connection, then interviewed University at Albany students about how “safe” they felt attending the school in wake of the shooting. The Saratogian followed suit by interviewing several students and administrators at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, who indicated that the campus appears to be safe, but there’s no way of fully securing the college against a shooting as horrific as the one perpetrated in Virginia.

In retrospect, there were always warning signs. The news is often savvy to point out the things administrators could have done, measures of security that could have been taken and tell-tale indicators that could have been reported. After all, tragedies always appear increasingly preventable as time wares into the future. And to some extent, they are.

While there is no way to prevent desperate people from perpetrating violently random crimes, there’s usually sociological cause that brings their finger to the trigger. Brooks Brown, a former student at Columbine where 13 people died in a similar massacre, told the Associated Press that he wasn’t surprised by the most recent shooting.

"Once you've reached the point where you have lost everything it is not hard to be pushed in any direction," he said of campus shooters.

And for many of the increasingly apathetic masses among the adolescent and college-age populations, it’s not too difficult to lose everything for those who don’t think there’s anything to left in the first place. These are people bore from the increasingly barricaded neighborhoods of suburbia, where neighborhood and community are vestiges from a by-gone era.

But even as reports flow in about “the worst shooting in U.S. history” and as news organizations throw together haphazard timelines of all the other violence in schools across the country, no one has bothered to comment on the sudden increase in their frequency.

Starting after Charles Whitman killed 16 people from a University of Texas clock tower in 1996 and spanning more than four decades, there were no mass shooting in U.S. schools or colleges. That is, unless one considers the college killings conducted by government agents in Kent State, Jackson State and Orangeburg between 1968 and 1970.

Something changed in 1997. First, there were school shootings in West Paducah, Ky., and then Jonesboro, Ark., four months later. Four months later, the shootings moved to Oregon and then to Colorado by April 1999. The horror of Columbine slowed the body count, which took nearly six years to resume in Red Lake., Min. And of course, no one will forget the mass shooting of the Amish children in Pennsylvania last year. Counting Virginia Tech and not the respective killers, 75 innocent people have now perished in school shootings over the course of one short decade.

See, there is a cancer floating somewhere in the bloodstream of America that is slowly metastasizing throughout the nation, moving methodically from one state to the next like a lone gunman. No one is immune to it; no one is safe and no measure of security will protect. Rather there’s a social problem that is afflicting these deeply troubled killers, perhaps a sort of cheapening of life that has caused them to embrace ultraviolence.

Some say it results from violence in the media, some say it’s the guns, some say it’s a lack of morality. However, there is no magic bullet, so to speak, no micromanagement solution. There is some combination of societal influences that are driving these young killers forward. And until society –or maybe the media that seems rife with these reports –reflects deeply and inwardly into why these gunmen now sprout from our soil like crabgrass in the springtime, chances are pretty good there will be more not too far in the future.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Phish food

Sitting Indian-style by a muddy media trailer in Coventry, Vt., was a young man in his 20s, his hair knotted with filthy dreadlocks, his bare feet caked with drying grey mud; tracks running up his wiry arms. A stream of blood flowed gradually from his nose and crusted to the corners of his mouth in a grotesque fashion; the ebbing sunlight illuminated crimson droplets that sputtered from his lips every time he exhaled a shriek into the throngs of drunken and doped up fans moving unwittingly around him.

Just a short distance away amid the ringing sound of anarchy stood this faceless man’s famed doppelganger, Trey Anastasio, a guitar clutched in his grip and an almost vapid gape entrenched deep into his countenance as he stared blankly into the eyes of the more than 70,000 people surrounding him. It was a warm Sunday evening among the rolling hills of Brad Maxwell’s dairy farm and the last moments of the massive cascading wave the lead singer of Phish had ridden from the backroom bars of Burlington to superstardom. Now was time to duck into the relative anonymity of his solo career, he told a haphazard collection of journalists and fanatics in May 2004.

“We don’t want to become caricatures of ourselves or worse yet a nostalgia act,” he said in his farewell note to Phish fans.

Nearly three years to the day since Anastasio posted his statement, he strolled out of the Washington County Court a sober man; that is, as sober as one can be after running their body’s odometer well past the redline. Eluding him was what he had sought in prompting the dissolution of the band that fans once considered more of a movement than anything else: solitude to reflect. With cameras fixated on his bespectacled face and a frenzied pack of reporters shouting questions, he looked to be exactly what he had stuck out to avoid: a nostalgic spectacle of a talent poisoned by his own vices; a caricature of himself.

Take a look at any picture or video clip of any Phish concert and it’s not hard to see how intricately interlaced drugs were with the band. Many diehard fans –the ones who followed the band from its northern Vermont roots back in the 1980s –knew the ride was coming to an end because the music just wasn’t that good anymore. And many of these followers speculated that the main root of this precipitous decline lay with the warm, brown liquid at the tip of a hypodermic needle.

On a cool August night in 2004, Anastasio’s tour bus sped out of Coventry and away from his fans to forge a union with the needle and wander down a path of self-destruction that didn’t stop until one cold night in Whitehall. His December arrest with more than 60 pills varying sizes, shapes and colors, along with a smear of smack was enough to finally affirm what both his fans and critics knew all along: he had become a function of his drug use, a sort of freakish sideshow for the pills and liquid that had consumed him.

Since that day, Anastasio has served as a sideshow for the various media mongrels that have exploited every moment of the case to keep the addled look he sported for his mug shots on the evening news. It’s the sort of hypocrisy the fickle news networks are known for, plastering photos of besmirched celebrities on the air at any possible time, following their every footstep through the court system, every indictment, every status conference, every negotiation, just to get the perfect shot. Anastasio's plea deal Friday was no excpetion.

Perhaps this sort of humiliation is what Anastasio really needs to get clean and stay clean, kind of a public flogging in center square just so he and people of his ilk know not to mess with drugs. Maybe each time he’s referred to as a “rocker” or a “rock star” instead of a musician or an artist, he’ll contemplate how his talents were both tarnished and squandered by his habit. And maybe, just maybe, some of his dwindling legions of drugged-out fans, those who haven’t already turned to sobriety after the days of so-called touring ended, will follow his lead.

But from the unabashed exploitation of this man by the television media in specific, there lays a sort of cheapening of this dire message. This is especially when similar drug arrests hardly garner as much, if any attention. And if they do, the cases are summarily dropped by the camera-toting courtesans of network television, long before they’re ever adjudicated.

Hopefully, Anastasio’s heart-felt apologies and pledges of sobriety are true for his sake, as there’s nothing more gratifying than to see a person buried in the depths of addiction rise from the ashes of their life only to shine brighter than they did before. But if he doesn’t, there will certainly be the omnipresent news camera lens to gleefully follow him into ruin with the rest of the junkies.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Once again, Hollywood Joe Bruno has raced to the rescue, ensuring to all the rich plutocrats visiting the Spa City can bathe unscathed by the filthy tap water drawn to heat their mineral dunks at the state park. The senate majority leader headed north Wednesday to announce a plan to restore the mineral bathes to their former grandeur, just weeks after the New York Post published a damning article exposing the so-called Bathgate.

Undoubtedly, Bruno will make some front pages for his quick and assertive efforts to right the “problems” the Post’s Fred Dicker –who works for a publication known for its unbiased accuracy –exposed at the Roosevelt Mineral Bathes in March. Upstate’s white knight in platinum armor will once again ride away a hero of sorts to the very people he represents –those who can afford leaf over a few Jacksons for a quick mineral bubble in the park.

While it’s great that Bruno wants to restore the mineral baths to their former grandeur, nobody was complaining about how they were run in the first place. That is, until Dicker made a stink about it downstate, riling a constituency that has little, if anything to do with the state park in Saratoga Springs or the system as a whole.

Using words like “adulterated” and “deception,” Dicker made it seem as though the park was foisting a tub of soiled and infected water from the Loughberry Lake as some sort of purifying elixir of health. And amid the whole forged controversy, he didn’t even bother to give former New York Ranger-great Andy Bathgate a jingle to get his reaction; indeed, sloppy reporting.

Dicker’s brand of journalism, much like that of the masthead he writes beneath, is a reckless blight on the face of the media that serves only to meddle in politics and force the hand of government to expend scarce resources in ways that aren’t necessarily good for the people. There are many other areas in the state that could better use Bruno’s attention other than the quality of the bath water in Saratoga Springs.

What was also ignored by fiendish Fred Dicker’s exposé and Hollywood’s valiant effort to right the wrong is the other thousands of acres of parkland in Saratoga Springs that could always use more funding. Perhaps with Bruno’s funding, the Spa State Park could hire a few more employees to open their community pools a bit earlier this year as some have suggested; or maybe to help maintain the aging facilities throughout the sprawling plot.

Ironically, Dicker’s article may have the result of making the bathes less affordable to operate. After all, the process of heating water piped directly from frigid pools lodged thousands of feet beneath the earth is likely going to be much more expensive than warming the tepid tap water from the city. Eventually, the state will need to compensate for this cost in either their annual parks budget or by increasing the cost of the bathes to more than the $20 some crazy people pay to rinse themselves in the mineral-laden water.

Next time, maybe Dicker can cry out against the fact that New York residents often need to pay twice to enjoy the amenities in their park system –something that should be free for the enjoyment of the entire taxpaying public. Instead, state residents need to supplement the cash they already fork over each year from their paychecks with increasingly greater usage fees just to keep things such as the baths, pavilions and pools from crumbling into ruin.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Pleading the fifth

Marylou Whitney thrust her crumpled shares of Empire Racing toward gang of backstretch workers and told them to keep their eyes on ninth race. There’s no time to stick around, the Spa City’s patron goddess explained to the gaggle of Latinos; and who knows, you might just have a long-shot winner tucked in there.

Brandishing a stoically straight poker face, John Hendrickson stood up and rationalized Whitney’s most recent giveaway, which officially puts her in the back seat of the barreling Empire Racing caravan bound for the state capital. All in all, Whitney gave away roughly 1.3 shares in the broad racing coalition, which is now considered the front runner among three private companies looking wrest away the New York Racing Association’s loosening grip on the lucrative contract to run the state’s thoroughbred tracks.

The abrupt donation drops Whitney’s shares down to 2.3 percent of the total Empire pie, which is low enough that her estate won’t need to provide much of anything to the meddling Governor’s office. Prior to the donation, however, Eliot Spitzer wanted to know just about everything there is to know regarding the Whitney Estate.

For some odd reason, the fondly regarded socialite saw it more fit to throw away shares –none of the news agencies bothered to ask their value –that could rightly be worth millions if Empire is wins the governor’s affections. The Whitney Estate just didn’t have time, Hendrickson explained; getting all those financial records together on such short notice would have been a nightmare.

"It would have taken us two years,” the former boy-toy told The Saratogian Monday. "[The timing] was excessive. It was impossible for us to do."

And with Marylou having nothing but the interest of the Spa City in mind, he said putting together the records just didn’t seem worth the trifle. Besides, Hendrickson continued, Marylou had always intended on giving her shares away, once the contract was awarded.

But the perplexing question is why does Marylou own shares to begin with when she –or more fittingly her estate –has no vested interest in the investment? After all, isn’t being touched by Marylou’s blessed golden words enough to tip even the most discerning scales?

Well, perhaps it’s not Marylou who has an interest in Empire. After all, there’s a good chance Hendrickson might need to tuck away his own nest-egg for a rainy day, depending on how the prenuptial he signed in 1996 reads. Even more perplexing is the sudden trepidation expressed by Team Whitney with disclosing financial records, which, according to reports, includes everything from the past three years' tax returns, a decade’s worth of financial records and past political contributions greater than $10,000.

Oddly enough, Hendrickson tied the knot with Whitney just more than a decade ago, which raises a gnawing question about what the bizarre couple has to hide. Certainly, the assertion that someone in Marylou’s cadre of accountants knows exactly what she’s worth, especially since she’s now surpassed her 80th birthday and has already suffered a stroke. Hendrickson even conceded that sorting out her deceased husband’s estate in 1992 took nearly six years, which probably means Whitney herself has made plans long in advance of her demise.

Of course, throwing stones at the benevolent socialite is usually not a way to make friends in the Spa City, so it’s doubtful that anyone will bother to answer these questions. But the sudden departure should give those down in Albany good pause to think before they decide to privatize New York’s tracks. There are a lot of horses in this race and not too many of them who care two shakes of a thoroughbred’s rear about racing itself.

Editor’s note: Then again, there are some who feel it’s alright for the governor to make a determination without having full financial disclosure from the major principals proposing to run the state’s tracks. And the eds on Lake Avenue make a good argument for this case; they’d rather see a decision made on the same basis they decide to run articles: with little, if any information.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Ghetto Fabulous

Notice a change along Albany’s Henry Johnson Boulevard this last couple of weeks? Or maybe along the Pine Hills neighborhood a bit further uptown? Well if you didn’t, then you missed the urban renewal efforts by the Times Union and city officials, in an effort to finally do away with those troublesome areas of Albnay where crime seems to percolate

But unlike urban renewal efforts of old, this new campaign focuses around a relatively cutting edge concept of social development. Instead of tearing down blighted areas and paving over them, simply pretend they don’t exist; maybe even wipe the streets off the map and erect giant blinders around them so that they’re not visible; if you pretend hard enough, perhaps the problem will go away.

First, there was the police effort late last month –in collaboration with both St. Rose College and the University at Albany –to create “safe corridors” through what is known largely as the student ghetto. The idea is to ramp up police patrols and lighting on Ontario and Quail streets as well as Washington and Western Avenue; spiffy blue and orange signs will soon designate these safe routes for the many bibulous students pouring down them each week like a pint of cheap beer spilled off the bar.

Miss a sign and end up on a side street? Well you’re out of luck and into the crime blotter.

The message from the cops is simple: stick to the major throughways, ‘cause we’re not patrolling that slum you kids call home. In other words, abandon ghetto; head for the gentrified streets of Manning Boulevard. Now, perhaps the urban justice that seems to function so well in West Hill and Arbor Hill can move into Pine Hills. Pretty soon, the cops will be able to simply wheel a hearse through these neighborhoods and collect the corpses each Sunday morning.

Then there’s the Times Union’s strategy of urban renewal, which relies more on simply not printing anything that might suggest there’s a burgeoning problem in Albany and has been one for many years. In a moment of unbridled political correctness, the paper printed an online-apology for using the word “ghetto” in a story about a rape late last month nearby the bars of Pearl Street and at the mouth of Arbor Hill. In this case, “ghetto” was printed as part of a quote –ironically as it was in the article about safe corridors just two days earlier –and came from a fellow skulking around the liquoring district late Friday night.

“That's the thing with Albany, there's always a ghetto nearby,” bar crawler John Glushowski opined to a TU reporter in a quote that many city folk would consider innocuous, if they bothered to consider it at all.

Still, the TU eds nearly tripped over themselves to write an appeal when several complaints –they never specified how many –came in the next day. Soon, there was a heart-felt apology posted on the editor’s blog, making amends for being so callous and insensitive with their reporting. But the apology then drew even more criticism from online readers for the paper wanting to “censor” language in the paper.

To this, the paper responded with an even more milquetoast answer about their reporters needing to “exercise good judgment in deciding when a quote best illuminates” a story. In this case, they argued, the quote added unnecessary “racial overtones” and didn’t do anything to answer the underlying question: do bar patrons feel safe downtown? Well, taking Glushowski’s quote either in or out of context, it’s safe to say that’s a big, fat, bold-faced no.

True, the word ghetto has predominantly negative connotations that indeed hum audibly of with racial undertones. But in the case of Albany, the word ghetto rings loudly down the streets of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, whether they happen to be populated by students, minorities or both.

Perhaps that’s why these areas remain in the sordid condition they do, because there aren’t enough folks on the outside willing to admit these failed streets of row housing are nothing but down-trodden ghettos, inhabited by those who have been pushed off the radar screen for one reason or another. Just don’t walk down the streets, drive there or mention them by name, lest you draw a sense of social awareness to it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

To catch a predator

Editor's note: And it gets worse. From sculptures to lawn ornaments. Is nothing sacred to these thieves? Probably not, so break out the chains and lock down that bathtub Virgin Mary sculpture in your backyard.

Lawn gnomes beware, Saratoga County Art Council be warned, and local police agencies be vigilant; there’s a serial thief on the loose, pillaging artistic displays from areas spanning from the paved paradise of Colonie all the way to the granola-belt in the neighboring Berkshires. For this predatory thief –or perhaps thieves even –there seems to be no public display too shameful to uproot.

First, there were reports Friday from Pittsfield, Mass., that Dancer II, the artwork of sculptor and Union College graduate Jack Howard-Potter, had been callously plucked from the soft earth near the south side of Park Square. Curiously, the 200-pound statue was located across the street from a wing-and-beer joint called Patrick’s Pub.

Unbeknown to authorities, a dreadfully similar crime had already been perpetrated just 44 miles west in New York, amid the strip mall-laden throughway of Route 7. Snatched from to storefront clutches of a Hewlitt’s Garden Center was an intricately-carved mahogany-stained wooden statue of the Hindu god, Buddha, which vanished last Tuesday without a trace.

Chainsaw carver and statue creator Glenn Durlacher was flummoxed by the pilfering, noting that the crime must have been premeditated, as the thief was savvy enough to brandish a pair of wire-cutters and sever the quarter-inch thick security cable linking the Buddha to his many other creations. Strangely enough, his creation was also roughly 200 pounds and located near Otis & Oliver’s, a local beer-and-barbecue joint located less than a mile away.

In both cases, investigators were baffled. That is until state police in both Massachusetts and New York got their first big break Tuesday. An anonymous tipster divulged that the Howard-Potter’s metal sculpture had gone for a swim in the marshy area near Fish Creek in the town of Saratoga.

Taking statues for a swim seems to be a popular thing to do these days. Not too long ago, as some may recall, a trio of youthful vandals from the city of Amsterdam took one of the art council’s hackneyed plastic “artistic” horses for a swim in the Schoharie Creek. It was among a rash of horse vandalism that occurred that oddly seemed to spread to Pittsfield’s “Sheeptacular” event in 2005 and then Guilderland’s “Pigtacular” celebration last summer.

So as the city prepares again to launch the most recent Breyer horse campaign in a few short months, take heed, arts councilors, as there’s a cunning mastermind on the loose now, who’s been honing his or her craft with much more ambitious thefts. The Saratoga Springs Police might be wise to add a few more beat cops to the downtown area this summer to watch these horses after closing time. Or perhaps they could get Dateline NBC's Chris Hansen to skulk around the horses all summer long with his camera crew.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Park it

For sale: luxury upscale condominiums overlooking the scenically paved parking lot of Price Chopper and conveniently located near the posh Alley Bar, a nightlife hotspot just west of Broadway in beautiful Saratoga Springs; inquire within.

And that’s not even considering the prime location near social pipeline running from the Stewart’s parking lot to the picnic tables across Railroad Avenue at the adjacent grocery store. Who wouldn’t buy or rent such prime real estate? Better yet, what developer wouldn’t jump at the chance to build the aforementioned housing over top a 450-space garage on a lot that’s 130 feet wide?

Well, this is sort of building jenga is what Finance Commissioner Matt McCabe is sending to the drawing board this week in the form of a request for proposal, the Daily Gazette reported Tuesday. The idea is to hold the carrot of residential development out to contractors –did somebody say Sonny Bonacio –to pipe several thousand tons of concrete onto the property and somehow create a “net gain of 300 spaces” for the city.

In return, the city would offer the sweet deal for the developer –Bonacio for arguments sake –to buy or lease the 1.6 acre property that now has room for 150 vehicles. Bonacio, or rather inconceivably some other developer, would then be responsible for maintaining the newly created parking garage, thus absolving city leaders from entering into another expensive concrete boondoggle as they did on Phila Street.

McCabe said he wants to “fast-track” the development, which means that if Bonacio gets his proposal in before early June, perhaps there could be a ground-breaking sometime after the race season concludes in the fall. And seeing as though Bonacio already has a plan together, it shouldn’t be too hard for him to wheel it on down to McCabe’s office on Wednesday, when his staff begins receiving proposals.

For the man who’s quite literally built Saratoga from the pavement up, developing the lot will mean yet another high-stakes construction project, adding to an impressive list that already includes the recently create Railroad Avenue block and the massive division street building. For the rest of downtown, it means yet another season of heavy truck traffic on the west side, at least a full year sans the 150-exsisting spaces and yet another monolithic building to add to the cityscape before the others can even be filled.

Also, unlike the city’s municipal parking deck lying kittycorner from the lot in question, it’s doubtful the city will place in a provision for “the developer” –in other words Bonacio –to offer free parking at the new structure. The good news is that if the city sells the lot without offering a major capitulation in the form of some bone-brained tax break, they will add a nice high-value property back to the rolls, which will help everyone out. The bad news is that the city’s proletariat better get used to walking, as the race for the free round-the-clock parking spaces downtown is about to get a lot more competitive.

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