Saturday, January 31, 2009

Weekend Update

Watching the never-ending procession of Dems vie for the 20th Congressional District is sort of like watching Jimmy Fallon’s career plunge after he left Saturday Night Live: Sad, but still funny in a way. Mere days after Kirsten Gillibrand was slated to be New York’s next senator, nearly three dozen Democrats from all over the sprawling 10-county district were said to be interested in her seat, ranging from little-known lawyers to a former National Hockey League goalie.

The scramble continued all week, as candidates ebbed and flowed into the race. Mike Richter, the most obvious candidate, pulled his name from contention by mid-week, claiming he wanted to spend more time with his young family and environmental business enterprise in Manhattan. Then on Friday, party leaders announced they had whittled the 30-something names down to a mere half-dozen. Or at least that’s what they’re telling the media.

Democratic insiders say union organizer Suzy Ballantyne will be the candidate to challenge state Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, a Republican juggernaut in his own rite. In choosing the director of governmental affairs for the New York State AFL-CIO, the party will have a candidate they hope will be able to tap the district’s strong labor union contingent. Officially, the party won’t announce their choice until Sunday afternoon, right before the Super Bowl.

But to choose anyone aside from Ballantyne would stand against all political logic. First and foremost, she’s the top pick of Saratoga County Democratic Chairman Larry Bulman –a union man himself –even if he won’t outwardly admit it. Second, she’s not Tracy Egan, who isn’t exactly in the best graces with the 20th District’s state committee representative. Mind you, the former network anchor’s father was a major proponent of Patti Southworth, the wife of the fellow who tried to oust Shawn Thompson last fall. And let’s not go into the myriad reasons city Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim won’t get the nod.

True, Ballantyne doesn’t have nearly the name recognition as Tedisco. Yet she’s anything but a political neophyte. She’s a grass-roots organizer with an extraordinary network of supporters that may have the ability to raise the kind of dough needed to win the district. She’ll be going up against the GOP’s last great hope in New York, who also happens to hold the key to the Republican Assembly Committee’s war chest.

There’s more behind the choice of Ballantyne than simply her ability generate cash for the party. First and foremost, it’s her appeal to woman voters that makes her an ideal choice for the seat. Don’t think Camp Tedisco hasn’t taken note of this either. The minority leader appeared on the Saratoga Springs Public Library stairs with about two dozen ‘Women for Tedisco’ Saturday afternoon, amid the cold and throngs of masticating chowderheads.

Tedisco’s message wasn’t much different than his normal spiel. Cut taxes...blah..blah…blah…create jobs…jobs…jobs…’I stood up to the steam roller’...yadada… yadada... Really, he said nothing outside of what he normally says, and certainly nothing to convince anyone that woman voters will come out for him in droves. Perhaps that’s because they won’t, especially with a candidate like Ballantyne on the ballot.

In short, Ballantyne is the party’s only hope to defeat the immensely popular Tedisco, who ran unopposed in his Assembly district just a few months ago. So why did they wait so long to make a choice? Well Richter for one. The goaltender that helped the New York Rangers win their first Stanley Cup in more than four decades was clearly the first choice, thanks to his name recognition. But when he quashed all the rumors of a congressional run, the party decided to pick another hockey player.

That’s right. Ballantyne, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, can play hockey. She was leading Clifton Park’s Arctic Foxes several years ago and was even featured with the team on the nationally syndicated Today Show. Not that this matters for voters. Ballantyne will still be viewed as an underdog to Tedisco, regardless of her acumen on the ice or otherwise.

But stranger things have happened. After all, not too many pundits predicted a low-profile attorney from Hudson would have a chance against Congressman Kickass. So who knows? With a name like Ballantyne, she may even garner a few votes from the malt liquor contingent. And they’ve got the tallies that no one can predict.

A world without Google?

Watch out. You too could be infected if you surfed across the World Wide Web and happened onto the malicious Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce Web page. Bad news, folks. Malware. Spyware. Maybe even soiled underwear.

And those looking to access the Saratoga Springs public portal via the Internet could be at risk too, according to Rumor is your computer will turn into a ticking time bomb, which will detonate with the force of a 10-megaton warhead if you don’t heed the warning offered by Google.

Droves of Saturday morning Web crawlers were greeted with warnings when they happened to use the Internet’s largest and most prolifically used search engine. Millions of trusted sites were arbitrarily listed as harmful by Google’s interface, spurring unmitigated panic among millions of information seekers prone to using their service.

“This site may harm your computer,” the brief warning stated.

Clicking on the site kicked you to another warning page, which informs the user they can continue to the malicious site, but only if they really want too. With the address effectively blocked by Google’s protection software, the only way to access any given site was to manually punch the address in the old fashion way.

In mere moments, sites like lit up with questions from confused surfers wondering whether they should nail a cross through their hard drive, or perhaps shoot the curious screen with a silver bullet. Some said it was hackers. Others blamed it on a suspected plot by Google to finally take over the world, big brother-style. One page on the site amassed nearly 100 posts from Google refugees in a matter of 15 minutes or so.

Google was quick to correct the problem. Within about an hour, their search engine was up and running. But the sheer terror caused by the brief outage shows how dependent many are on Google’s various tools. Even a good number iSaratoga’s devoted readers rely on Google to guide them to the blog, even though the Web address is pretty darn easy to remember.

In fact, 10 out of the past 60 readers that logged onto this site were directed there by Google’s trusted search engine. Several of these searchers are those persistent ones overly excited by an image of marijuana posted here three years ago. Others are still coming for a picture of Kristina Krawchuk displayed back in 2007. And some are just flat-out too lazy to type out the full URL or link to the site.

Nevertheless, it’s amazing how dependent the world is on Google. Perhaps we should all should have been alerted to this when the mere term ‘Google’ was added to the vernacular in most spoken languages, and even Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. Imagine for a moment the utter chaos that would befall the Web –the world even –if suddenly Google vanished.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Piss and vinegar

Pissing into the wind is a tricky business, but it’s one the Democrats for Change seem to be employing now that they’re in charge. The group that has hijacked the city’s Democratic Party and prone to political sniping is making it their practice to piss and piss often, even if there’s bound to be some splash back.

This week, the piss has come in the form of a spiteful and prattling diatribe about Republican Mayor Scott Johnson’s state of the city address. The group under the auspices of Al Turkheimer issued a ‘rebuttal’ to the mayor’s speech Sunday, basically lambasting him for everything they could fit into the nearly 1,000 word statement.

Of course, they didn’t bother to craft this so-called rebuttal until more than two days after the mayor’s speech, long after any media attention toward the event subsided. And the fact that they did offer a rebuttal is somewhat unprecedented, as the State of the City address is often one of the few times the city’s politicians put their partisan differences aside.

For those unfamiliar with this speech, it’s typically used as a rallying cry by the city’s mayor; a sort of pep talk to get the community buzzing and the commissioners moving. Although the address typically includes a lot of party back slapping, seldom is it marred by partisan rhetoric and party dogma. This is exactly why a rebuttal is sort of pointless, especially after the mayor spent a good deal of his speech urging cooperation on both sides of the aisle.

But these Change-ocrats aren’t the type of folk that allow petty things like precedent, reason or calls for cooperation get in the way of their progressive march to righteousness. Their rebuttal is steeped with much of the rhetoric that has dribbled from Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim’s lips after he’s had a good whisper from his deputy, the bitingly partisan Eileen Finneran.

“The small crowd and the half empty seats were an apt metaphor for the presentation itself,” the rebuttal states. “What Mayor Johnson gave us was a ‘small and half empty’ presentation unworthy of Saratoga Springs.”

Obviously the author –or authors –didn’t pay much attention to the embarrassingly monotone speeches given by Johnson’s predecessor. But why digress into semantics? Let’s talk content. The Democrats for Change roundly chided Johnson for conducting his politics in the shadows and behind closed doors, citing the recent ratification of a $270,000 settlement with the Department of Environmental Conservation, even though he is only one of five votes on the council.

The statement also blames Johnson for loading the city’s land-use board with his own partisan cronies and for being a wastrel with city spending. How soon they forget the reign of Keehn, where these boards became dumping grounds for her campaign workers and the city’s mostly empty coffers were treated like never-ending source of financing that could be arbitrarily spent.

Sadly, the anti-state of the city address did include a nugget or two of sensible questioning. For instance, a mention of the Johnson Administration’s over-reliance on outside council, while two perfectly capable attorneys in the mayor’s office. However, any sort of reason to be gleaned from the diatribe is lost amid the partisan piss and vinegar.

In all, the statement shows how petty the party has become under its new leadership and how they are hell-bent on bringing back the fruitless city council battles of bygone days. Unfortunately, this sort of sniping is basically neutering the party and will likely scare away the centrists they so desperately need to gain seats on the council.

That doesn’t seem to be a concern for the Changers, as they appear ready to roll out a slate of candidates that is bound to roll some eyes in both parties. Among the forerunners of the slate is Kim himself, who is rumored to be making a run for the mayor’s seat once he realizes there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that he’ll get the nod to run for the 20th Congressional District. Most would say he only stands a marginally better chance at winning the mayor’s office, even though the nut jobs in his party seem to think otherwise.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

You can’t keep a good scam down

As the saying goes, you can’t keep a good man down. Or in the case of the Spa City’s very own professional con, you can’t keep a good scam down.

Dave Silipigno is at it again. After bilking millions of dollars from Bears Stearns and still waiting to make his mark in the film industry, the mortgage lender has decided to go Madoff with something that looks suspiciously like a pyramid scheme. Only this time, it’s legit. No seriously, it really is.

Hey you over there. Yeah you, the one who just can’t seem to make ends meet. Did you ever want to cut out the middleman? Did you ever wonder why you can’t have a slice of the more than $200 billion dollar online shopping industry?

Well then take a look at ShopWurld, the exclusive online service that is guaranteed to make you money while you shop. There’s no money down. There’s no investment. There’s no risks. Just shop like you normally do and watch the money roll in!

Into Silipigno’s pockets that is. Call him an entrepreneur or brand him a scam artist, but he always seems parachute out of the crashing airplane with a bar of gold in one hand and get-out-of-jail-free card in the other. He avoided a 10-year prison sentence after more-or-less embezzling $5.6 million from his mortgage banking company before it dissolved and left nearly 400 people without work or paychecks before Christmas. The impetus for allowing him to remain free largely stemmed from the idea that he couldn’t repay the money he bilked –and then conveniently hid –unless he was free.

Why let one measly felony arrest scare you away from a startup company founded by a local philanthropist and movie maker? Of course, the movie he made at the Batcheller Mansion more than three years ago has yet to be released, despite persistent claims that it would in 2008. Or was that 2009?

Let’s also overlook the fact that Silipigno’s new company the business he advises was featured prominently in the news after a highly publicized drug raid in 2003. It seems a cell of telemarketers, loan officers and supervisors were somehow finding the time to deal massive amounts of cocaine from the downtown offices in between draining equity from people’s homes with assorted adjustable rate loans.

Don’t let it sour you to the idea of ShopWurld. And don’t even think for one minute that Silipigno’s venture into the world of online media has anything to do with Wurld Media Inc., the peer-to-peer company that also left its employees holding the bag when it went belly-up last year.

Silipigno’s Partner Paul Bardwell claims the choice of names was simply because ‘ShopWorld’ was not available. Bardwell, an unindicted investor in the Wurld Media scheme, points out that the defunct company has absolutely no relation to this new online shopping network focused “on assisting Charities here and abroad.”

So let’s get this straight. Charities are supposed to trust the guy who made his millions offering subprime loans; had his fiancé deposit in her account more than $300,000 he removed in cash from his own Albany bank; avoided a 10-year jail sentence for a wire fraud conviction; didn’t know anything about the pounds of cocaine moving through his Saratoga Springs business in broad daylight; made a B-movie that still hasn’t surfaced in a theater and is partners with an Wurld Media investor. And that’s not even mentioning the fact he’s suing the city for over valuing his 20,841-square-foot mansion, which is reportedly the second largest residence in the city.

Simply put, Silipigno’s business ventures seem about as genuine as the offers of untold riches promised in email from some deposed Nigerian prince or dignitary. It’s a god-given miracle that he wasn’t run out of the city with a fresh coat of tar and feathers. Even more amazing is the fact that he somehow still has the capital to start companies like ShopWurld. But like P.T. Barnum once said, there’s a sucker born every minute.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Skid row

Location, location, location! These stylish town houses are located near all of the Spa City’s amenities. You’re just blocks away from a state-of-the-art YMCA, grocery store and retail center and just a short walk from the Saratoga Performing Arts Center!

These units are priced to sell! Attractive incentives for first-home buyers are aimed at getting you out of that dingy old apartment and into these luxurious homes.

Overhead power transmission lines offer easy utility connections, and drainage from the nearby asphalt jungle will create scenic nature ponds plus all the fauna associated with them. Allow the soothing hum of the nearby HVAC systems lull you to sleep in this beauty, or just take a deep breath of the carbon monoxide fumes wafting over from idling tractor-trailer trucks. Don’t worry! It’s in line with federal guidelines!

These are low-maintenance properties. Years of oil contamination from the former Delaware and Hudson rail yard will ensure no weeds grow on your perfect lawn. Are you an art lover? Just step out your back door to see all the wonderful street art masterfully painted by anonymous artisans late at night.

So what are you waiting for? Are you worried about taxes? ‘Cause these pads come with a price guarantee that you’re property assessment will never increase! This is a once-in-a-lifetime offer!

“This will be an improvement,” property owner Bill McNeary told the Planning Board, trying his hardest not to smile while counting the digits on the proposed sale price of his 7-acre lot. “It’s not going to be a ghetto. It’ll be nice housing for young people.”

And hopefully the city’s Planning Board push it where it belongs: In the trash dumpsters behind the Ballston Avenue Price Chopper. You can’t blame Developer Gary Olsen for trying. After all, a good number of city residents have spent years harping for so-called affordable housing. Some even fault the issue for giving rise to one of the most vapid mayoral administrations in modern city history.

But the planned urban development Olsen designed for this slender swath of industrial-zoned property between Railroad Run and the Ballston Avenue shopping plaza is almost destined to be a disaster; more so than the derelict-laden scrubland that exists today. Olsen’s company will build these shoe-horned structures and then walk away as they turn into the newest incarnation of what locals refer to as ‘the Terrace.’

Certainly, every city needs affordable housing. Pricing residences within the economic grasp of young professionals can help recharge the demographics of an increasingly homogeneous municipality such as Saratoga Springs, where most of the working class can only rent. However, Olsen’s plan is ill conceived even if one ignores the fact that the stock of so-called affordable houses in the Spa City is higher than it has been in almost five years.

Moreover, the whole plan sounds like a boondoggle for anyone who would be in the market to buy one of the homes. Price controls will be placed on all 86 units jammed into this small property, meaning any buyer with half a brain won’t give them much consideration. Those that do face the very real possibility that they could one day be selling their property for significantly less than what they bought it.

This isn’t even taking into consideration the average lot size for each unit, which happens to be less than a tenth of an acre. Or the fact that the development will all but drain the equity from homes recently constructed along the recently-developed Empire Avenue and St. Joseph Street; properties that don’t have federally controlled values and were likely purchased with some sort of investment in mind.

The sum total of all these factors seems to indicate the project will be a quick moneymaker for the developer, a nightmare for those goaded into buying the homes and a long-term eyesore for the community. In other words, if it’s designed like a ghetto and priced like a ghetto, it’s hard to argue that it won’t eventually become a ghetto.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Up in smoke

Righteous people, unite! Fire up the torches, bust out the medium-sized flog, dust off the rack and head to the Clifton Park Ice Arena! Justice must be exacted upon these heathen scoundrels! They must be made accountable for their sins!

Members of the Shenendehowa High School’s varsity hockey team caught smoking the marijuana got off easy. Back in the day, even the ones that weren’t smoking would have gotten 30 lashes at town square. And the ones that did? Well, let’s just say water boarding is too good for them, but pulling out fingernails might be a good start…

…Wait a second. It appears as though another bull-shit news story has flipped iSaratoga’s sarcasm switch. This always happens when more than a half-dozen area news agencies form a lynch mob for a story that is hardly worth the press or airtime it was generously given throughout the Capital Region. Of course, the media needed to do something to fill the void left after the year-in-review pieces and before the next spate of winter weather hits.

The dozen Shen hockey stoners were an obvious target. They’re a group of top-performing athletes who were caught doing…well…what many high school kids do when they’re staying with a bunch of their peers in an out-of-town hotel room: They passed around the peace pipe. Unfortunately, these players must not have known the tried and true subterfuge needed to toke up undetected among the legions of parents and coaches standing guard in the hallway.

Techniques such as using the ‘spoof’ – exhaling through a cardboard tube stuffed with dryer sheets –and the age-old ‘towel the door’ technique would have surely prevented Coach Juan de la Rocha from detecting this hard-to-miss essence. The notion that these students didn’t use these devices suggests they are either lacking in ingenuity, devoid of intelligence or simply don’t puff herb often enough to familiarize themselves with the finer points of undetected teen marijuana use. Shame on them.

Immediately, the coach punted six players from the squad. He threw another six from the team after the team finished their Morrisville road trip. The dearth of players almost immediately touched off a swirling miasma of media coverage, which has hovered around the rink ever since.

Naturally, the monastic throngs of anonymous Internet chatterboxes also found the need to chime in on the debacle at the Saratogian’s Web site. The indignity, the nerve, the shear gall of these…these…ingrates, to violate the code of conduct and tarnish the good name of Shen athletics.

“Send them packing for the season and future students under this iron fist of a moral code of conduct will know there are consequences for their actions,” posted one frothing reader. “That is the real issue here: The continual degradation of our society's moral code of conduct by not holding people responsible for their actions.”

The Times Union, the Daily Gazette and the Saratogian all featured front-page articles on the team, with all varying substantially in their content. The Times Union –a paper known for its brazen ability to pat itself on the back –managed to wait until the second graph in their story before bragging about how they “first reported” the earth-shattering story Monday. They didn’t bother to mention how any sports reporter with half a brain would have realized something was amiss when a third of players didn’t dress for a tournament game.

The most lacking was from the Daily Gazette, which regurgitated everything printed in Tuesday’s addition. The only new information included was from the district flack, who spuriously claimed the school wouldn’t release information about the players’ punishment.

Not true, as the Saratogian correctly reported today. Eight players were booted from the team, while another four were allowed to return. Like the Gazette, the Saratogian stopped short of identifying the players, claiming the district wouldn’t identify them because of privacy laws and whatnot. Of course, this is a load of horseshit.

The district did identify the players quite clearly on the varsity team’s Web site, albeit inadvertently. Is it a coincidence that only 16 players are now listed on Shen roster and statistics database? Conspicuously absent from the top of that database is the team’s lead scorer and his two linemates, among others. In fact, it’s pretty darn easy to pick them out by simply pairing the roster to the season advances printed in the various local papers –each of them also featured on the Web site.

But why name names? It’s not as if these kids broke into a private residence, had a raging kegger and then trashed the place. They smoked weed, which is something that will stunt growth, diminish sexual apetite, kill brain cells and cause a predisposition to spending long nights trying to pair Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ album with video feed from the ‘Wizard of Oz.’ Marijuana, however, is not a performance enhancement drug, nor is it considered physically addictive. In fact, it’s probably less harmful than most of the prescription medication the typical suburban family routinely keeps in their medicine cabinets these days; and certainly not the type of thing teens use before going on a destructive rampage.

Even the long-held belief that it’s the so-called gateway drug is roundly questioned by most rational circles of researchers. Possessing amounts less than 25 grams is less of an offense than doing 20 miles over the speed limit. Incidentally, smoking or being under the influence of marijuana is not a crime in New York, unless one is caught doing it while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. These are facts some editors and producers might want to consider before charging up the righteous masses that are too chaste these days to remember their own high school indiscretions.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Flying pigs beneath the falling sky

Mark Monday down in your calendar: Ron Kim has made a valid point. The shoot-from-the-lip Public Safety commissioner sensibly griped about Mayor Scott Johnson’s effort to hire a private lawyer to bare-knuckle box a band of obstructionist semi-residents that have sued the city over the proposed recreation center.

The City Council narrowly passed a resolution authorizing a Glens Falls law office to spend up to $20,000 litigating a virtually frivolous Article 78 challenge filed by landowners abutting the proposed facility’s site off Vanderbilt Avenue. Kim, who is better known for his mindboggling ability to speak before his neurological impulses can move from dendrite to axon, objected to the hire under the reasoning that the city already pays its own legal staff, which could just as easily make a court appearance in an attempt to work things out.

“I think we should go to court and negotiate,” Kim told the Times Union. “Why immediately reach for a wallet and throw money at it, especially during these difficult economic times?”

For once, Kim’s knee-jerk assertion seems somewhat reasonable. Why is the city spending even more on this boondoggle of a recreation center? Aren’t there better uses for that cash?

Now, loyal readers of this blog are probably checking the sky to make sure it’s not falling; at the very least, they’re looking out the window for a migratory flock of flying pigs, headed south before hell freezes over. Kim seldom exudes even a hint of rationality when it comes to city politics, the public safety department or anything tacitly associated with them. His inability to grasp the basic tenants of government are legendary, and perhaps second only to a certain vapid one-term mayor who once served as his lone ally.

In this case, the commish has a very good point, even though it’s likely driven by politics instead of the aforementioned sensibility. Taxpayers already in the hole for $6 million and change and still lack even a foundation for the building, which is no closure to completion than it was when it was proposed more than a decade ago. Making matters worse, the city now faces a looming deficit that could balloon up to $3.4 million once the state Legislature is done whittling away at the Video Lottery Terminal aid.

Given all this, wouldn’t this money be put to better use if it went toward finding a way out of the recreation center quagmire; one of the last failed legacies of the Keehn Administration? The city can’t support a new recreations center anymore, especially if there’s any consideration for a new public safety facility. Simple logic dictates that the addition of close to 100,000 square feet of additional building space will be cumbersome for taxpayers to fund.

Sure, any decent attorney should be able to quash the flimsy argument offered by this band of landowners, which showed up at the planning table a dollar short and a day late. The whole premise of their suit is bonkers and will likely be thrown out of court after six months of litigation. Then the city can build and pay upkeep for a structure that was needed during the 1990s before a state-of-the-art YMCA facility was built within walking distance of most neighborhoods within the city proper. Sure. That makes sense, right?

In truth, Kim’s motives in criticizing the hire are probably more rooted in his own political ambition than any sense of rationality. The recreation center has become a political lightning rod for Mayor Scott Johnson, who has largely escaped intense public scrutiny over his first year in office. Interestingly enough, his ally –former Mayor Valerie Keehn –was the first to lob a stone at Johnson over the recreation center during a town hall-style meeting on the Westside last spring. Several weeks later, a vocal opposition swelled among the Southside neighborhoods.

Johnson has done an adequate job of defraying this dissent and has moved the project further toward completion than any of his predecessors. However, there seems to be a void of reason for completing the project, other than to ‘stop the bleeding’ so to speak. In other words, the city has already spent more than $500,000 on the project, so why not spend another $5.5 million and get something out of it. Try pushing that logic on an antsy investor after squandering a half-million dollars on a Ponzi scheme.

The other side note to be garnered from Johnson’s rec center push is that the city’s new mayor seems a bit over-eager to toss money at private law firms. Perhaps this is merely perception, or perhaps political enemies like Kim are simply making a bigger deal out of such allocations and thus garnering press attention. It’s still hard to ignore the fact that Johnson’s council has hired private attorneys on three occasions over the past month, each for about $20,000 and twice from the same law firm.

To say these issues are the first dings in Johnson’s otherwise unblemished armor is exaggerating both. However, don’t be surprised if they arise as campaign flash points if the newly installed Democrats For Change live up to a nasty little rumor that has circulated since they took over the city party. As the rumor goes, Kim will be their candidate for mayor this year, while a certain former mayor will be resurrected as the new public safety head. While the mere notion seems laughable, the fact that the rumor hasn’t dissipated seems offer it legs.

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