February 28, 2010

The Update Desk: February 28, 2010

Fortunately (or sadly, depending on your point of view) time doesn’t stand still, certainly in the world of politics and nonsense. Here are a few updates to some relevant posts from the veritablepastiche archives.

Regarding my recent
PPOD about the NYCLU filing an amicus brief in the case of the disgraced Amigo Hiram Monserrate, because in their opinion the New York Senate did not really have hard and fast rules surrounding expulsion, happily the arguments of Monserrate’s attorneys, and the NYCLU, were rejected by the judge in a rare victory for ethical activity in the Senate. What this means now, of course, is that the Amigo is hoping to get on the ballot for the special election and win back his seat. What’s making this race even more interesting is that the Republican candidate is a Democrat. Where else but here in New York?

Regarding another PPOD on the
hyper-athleticism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, we’re still in the middle of trying to figure out health care/health insurance reform. Last week President Obama hosted his summit, a bipartisan collection of people who would rather have been doing just about anything other than sitting in that room together, with results indicative of that fact. There was, however, eager anticipation for the summit; there were disagreements on how the room should be configured; and there were of course disagreements on which is the correct path to meaningful reform. And of course now the Dems, and Pelosi, have their work cut out for them. I suspect she’ll need more than just a pole and a parachute to force the Senate bill through the House.

My new
nickname for NY’s senior senator, Charles ‘Touchdown’ Schumer, seemed prophetic as, coming on the heels of his work on behalf of TOPS Markets and their purchase of local Penn Traffic, he began rooting for the state to provide the New York Jets $200,000 so they'll return to SUNY Cortland for their preseason camp in the fall. Mind you, this is the same New York State that is proposing among other things cutting jobs, cutting benefits, raising fees and taxes, and closing state parks to save money, including a local one on Cazenovia Lake which costs taxpayers all of $2000 to maintain. And, this is the same New York State that previously provided billions in funding to the wealthy New York Mets and even wealthier New York Yankees to build their new stadiums. I don’t begrudge the Jets, necessarily, but c’mon – we’re broke, for heaven’s sake! Instead of taxpayers taking the hit, maybe Touchdown Schumer could pay it himself out of his campaign millions.

February 21, 2010

Making a Winter Wonderland

As we’ve seen the wacky winter unfold around the world, including 50+ degree days at the Winter Olympics, ‘snowmageddon’ hitting the nation’s capital, frigid temperatures in the deep south, and even a day this month when there was measurable snow in 49 of the 50 states, here in central New York it’s quietly been business as usual. We’re hovering right around our average snowfall, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of more than one storm that’s really caused any major impact. My Sweet Baboo’s only had to shovel a handful of times since the season began late last year, after we experienced our longest spell ever without snow on the ground – 288 days.

But even with our good fortune here, folks are complaining of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or grumbling that winter’s too long, too cold, too dark, or too something, and driving themselves back to that old CNY malaise that I wrote about a while back. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make light of SAD or other any other type of depression. I’ve suffered from this type of illness in the past, in fact I still do – for me, it’s something I’ll never get rid of, but I’ve learned to live with it, to manage it, and do the best I can.

Sometimes my solution is to curl up with a cat, a blanket, a mug of hot coffee, and lose myself in a book. Other times, it may be striving to accomplish something, like a nagging household chore that I’ve been putting off; exercise is another option that sometimes helps me shake the blahs and get at least into the shallow end of down in the dumps. But what I’ve found is, when all else fails the only thing to do is to dive straight into it, and find a way to make peace with winter.

We had promised ourselves that we’d take a ride to get some snow pictures, and fortunately last Saturday was the perfect day for it. Other than the minor inconvenience of a flattening tire just out of the driveway which we took care of at the gas station (a buck’s worth of air) and local auto parts store (a can of Fix-a-flat), we had a great trip; we headed off to the southern hills, eventually ending up near Otisco Lake, and meandered home by crisscrossing our way up Onondaga Hill and then back down into The Valley.

For folks who’ve been more interested in sticking around Syracuse proper, we’ve had Winterfest, including the Syracuse Newspapers medallion hunt, and just yesterday, the first outdoor hockey game in the history of the AHL was hosted by (and won by!) our own Syracuse Crunch.

Looking ahead we’re in the middle of Downtown Dining week, the SU basketball team is 25 -2, with only a handful of games left… and the lacrosse season has already started. The arts continue to thrive, with great live performances from the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, Syracuse Stage, and Famous Artists. The Everson Museum is just off a hugely successful showing of From Turner to Cezanne , and a host of local art galleries offer something for everyone. The Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park is also open for business.

The bottom line is we know we’re going to have winter – it’s inevitable – but letting it get the best of us doesn't have to be. We tend to forget about all of the things that this area has to offer, even at this time of year. Do yourself a favor; find a way to get out and enjoy some of it. You'll feel better, honest!

February 19, 2010

Dad's Birthday, Dad's Books

I’ve been doing quite a bit of recreational reading these days – ‘fiction under $5’ mostly – the slightly aged stuff from popular authors, or authors who aspire to being popular, that can be purchased cheaply at Barnes & Noble or on Amazon.com. Even though I’m reading the easy ones lately, I have other, more strenuous books around, many of them sitting next to me in a bookcase filled with my Dad’s books.

Dad was a history teacher; his expertise was American history, but his interests were much broader than that. He was really a student of everything – a lover of books and libraries, newspapers and magazines, music and sports, politics and pets, and on and on. When it came to reading and learning, there wasn’t much he wouldn’t try at least once, and sometimes he’d even give a second chance, if someone he respected suggested he try again.

That openness and ‘studentness’, if you will, is clearly evident in the books that came to me when he passed away three years ago. Not surprisingly, there are tons of history books and biographies – here’s just a slice:
  • The American Nation: A History, a collection of volumes published in the early 1900’s
  • The Shadow of Blooming Grove (Warren G. Harding in His Times), one of many related to our presidents, including Roosevelt, Johnson, Truman, and others
  • a set of six books about World War II written by Winston Churchill
  • Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, one of many related to the Revolutionary War

Dad also had all of the ‘blank and blank’ books – War and Peace, The Agony and The Ecstasy, Pride and Prejudice, Advise and Consent, The Cat and The Curmudgeon, and so on, along with a good number of books on the Oneida Community, important not only from a historical perspective but also personally. He grew up in Kenwood and Sherrill, home of the Community and Oneida Ltd. We were regaled over the years with stories of Dad, Uncle Bob, Aunt Pood and all their friends playing in and around the Mansion House; and at various times, Dad and Grum actually lived there.

There are many books more indicative of ‘the whole Dad’; among the treasures I’ve found are:

  • Perri, the story of a squirrel and other woodland creatures, which was written by Felix Salten, the author of Bambi. This one has Dad’s name and the note 'Xmas 1938,' written by my grandmother. He would have been a couple months shy of his tenth birthday, and I try to imagine him holding this hardcover book, some 228 pages long, reading with wonder at what happens when animals and humans interact.
  • Ivy League Football Since 1872, a book given to Dad by his brother Bob at Christmas 1982; the book clearly has been read, it’s not one that he never opened. Not sure if he read it because it was from Bob, or if he really cared that much about old football games.
  • Also from Christmas 1982, Mike Royko’s Sez Who? Sez Me, a gift from Mom. Royko was an award-winning columnist out of Chicago; he used to be syndicated in one of our local papers, and I remember how much Dad enjoyed reading him. Royko and Art Buchwald were two of many columnists Dad encouraged me to read over the years – because it was good for me, even when what they were writing was not really entertaining, or when their opinions weren’t necessarily in line with mine. Studs Terkel was another of the Midwest boys that made the list of keepers; there are a couple of his books on the shelves.
  • Minute Sketches of Great Composers, another one with Grum’s handwriting, this one dated February 19, 1937, noted ‘From Bob.’ Dad’s love of music, particularly classical, was legendary – just ask any of our neighbors over the years, who heard the stereo blasting. There are other books about composers, or written by composers, in the collection. There’s also A Treasury of Grand Opera, which includes sheet music and lyrics. This one may never have been read; some of the pages are not even completely cut.
  • A number of magazine and newspaper collections, ranging from The New York Times Page 1 (1900 – 1998), and similarly Front Page: Major Events of the 20th Century (selected by the AP), to the 50th Anniversary Collectors Edition of Esquire and two bicentennial issues of Time, written as if they were originally from 1776 and 1789. And we have cat cartoons from the New Yorker (from me, Christmas 1998, it says), along with the complete Cartoons of Charles Addams – a precursor to his love of Gary Larson’s The Far Side, something my brothers benefited from often over the years.
  • 100 Greatest Golf Courses, another present from Mom. Golf was important to Dad; he played from a very young age, and for a while was one of the top players in his league. I went with him a few times to the course in Cato (where remarkably, it never rained on Tuesdays), and pretended to be his caddy; I remember having a root beer float back at the 19th hole. One of the things he hated most about getting sick was not having the energy for playing golf, but he never tired of watching it. I remember many a Father's Day where we had to schedule dinner around the final round of the US Open, especially when it was a close match.

So what does all of this mean? First, there’s more to these books than meets the eye, because they belonged to Dad; for one reason or another, he kept these books. They provide a backdrop to him and his life; they're a story of him, and remind me of our shared stories, of things that sometimes slip my mind. I think the second thing that strikes me is our long family tradition of giving books. Mother to son, uncle to nephew, brother to brother, wife to husband, daughter to father; it makes me think that I can do better at Christmas and on birthdays with my brothers’ kids. A gift certificate to a bookstore is simply not the same gift as a carefully chosen book; I’ve been cheating them out of that, and cheating myself in the process.

Happy Birthday, Dad, and thanks. On a day that I’d traditionally be giving you a present, I’m instead appreciating the ones you’ve given to me.

February 18, 2010

PPOD February 18, 2010: Amicus

Today the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a brief indicating that the vote to boot Hiram Monserrate out of the Senate is unconstitutional and should be vacated.

Citing a number of cases, the NYCLU identifed a few reasons why they believe the vote was wrong; mostly it comes down to there being no rules defining grouns for expulsion, and instead they should have chosen censure (the slap on the wrist) instead.

I'm not surprised that the decision is being questioned, nor I'm not surprised that the NYCLU has filed the supporting brief. While they admit that Monserrate's behavior was "reprehensible" they can't support abridging the right of the people to vote for whoever they want, and to be represented by whoever gets the highest number of votes.

The problem is, Monserrate didn't slash his girlfriend's face until after he was elected. So, the ostensible will of the people - electing someone who had not been charged with or convicted of domestic violence - was abridged by the Senator himself.

The folks in the 13th district have been stuck with him for all this time - since December 2008 - with no recourse except to wait until November 2010 to vote him out. They can't recall him -- not an option in New York. He was convicted only of a misdemeanor, not a felony, so he couldn't automatically be thrown out under clearly defined rules, as the NYCLU's amicus brief notes. His district has to suffer through being represented by someone they most likely would NOT have voted for had his indiscression occured say, in October 2008, vs December 2008.

So, my pet peeve of the day is simply this: when we needed elected officials in Albany to do the right thing, the ethical thing, they tried - and may likely fail because they never defined any rules around ethics.


February 17, 2010

Saying Yes to Education in Syracuse (part 2)

Thinking about whether consideration of mayoral control in Syracuse is a power grab or an attempt at finding a better way forward, I first looked back.

A few days after her historic election as Syracuse’s first female mayor, the editorial board of the Post-Standard suggested that Stephanie Miner had her ‘work cut out for her’, given that she was coming into office at a very difficult time for the city and the country. High on the list of things that needed focus, according to the editors, was education. Strained relationships between the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) and the city, the renovation plans for many of the SCSD’s campuses, a final decision on whether Blodgett School (recently removed from the State’s worst-performing list) stays open or closes -- these all needed to be hashed out and resolved. Continued support for Syracuse’s highly innovative Say Yes to Education program was also critical.

I compared what the editors thought with what Mayor Miner had indicated in her own plan for the city. In the 50 Point Plan, Education and Youth was the second of six key focus areas. In addition to strategies related to funding and fully implementing Say Yes she included completing the renovation plan, working more cooperatively with the SCSD and Board of Education, pursuing a holistic approach to reduce dropout rates and improve achievement, and lastly to “examine how alternative administrative methods might achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness in our City’s schools.”

Regarding working more cooperatively, Minor pointed out the obvious critical correlation between SCSD and the city’s success, citing the need for full engagement and communication between City Hall and SCSD as cornerstones of leading a ‘…concerted public effort to lift up’ the city of Syracuse. She also called out that “Everyone, especially the Mayor, must take responsibility for the success of our children and our city.” How can the mayor do this? By exploring alternative methods of administration, for one. If we’re looking for efficiency, better control over budget dollars, and improved results, why not look at options? Mayoral control is one of perhaps several options – including staying with the status quo and leaving the Board of Education in charge. Several opinions can be found here, including that of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who states “Mayoral control isn’t the solution in every city. But it is an important tool to consider in cities that need to make dramatic improvements in their schools.”

Earlier in the year, I had asked that we look to 2010 as The Year of Accountability, of people taking responsibility and acting accordingly, or as The Year of Cooperation between jurisdictions, of acting without self interest but in the interest of larger constituencies. To me, here in Syracuse, with some schools improving but still very much at risk, with budget woes at the city, county and state levels, is putting options on the table a bad position for the mayor to take? Is it a power grab, or is the mayor’s office a logical place for the buck to stop?

February 16, 2010

Saying Yes to Education in Syracuse (Part 1)

In Sunday’s Post-Standard there were a couple of viewpoints offered on whether mayoral control of the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) would be a good idea. Mayor Stephanie Minor has suggested that mayoral control might be a viable alternative for the City and the SCSD. Helpfully, Tom Young, former Salt City mayor, came down on the affirmative side. Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, presented the opposing view.

Young’s position (paraphrased of course) is that the since the city budget includes SCSD funding, and the bulk of the taxes collected in the city go to the SCSD, there should be some accountability for what’s delivered against the dollars spent.
Without accountability, there's less incentive to ensure that dollars are well spent, that performance is meeting expectations, and that the city as a whole prospers as the SCSD prospers. And I'm not talking only dollars, I'm talking about community prosperity that can be driven by a high-performing school system.

Kremer’s position, on the other hand, points out accurately that the most common method of school governance is the elected school board. Ideally the Board would hear from many different constituencies, versus the mayor who, under mayoral control, allegedly would only hear from like-minded appointees. As someone who’s been
involved with school boards since 1979, his opinion is not surprising. What was surprising to me was his condescending tone that, what with this being poor little Stephanie’s first year and all, she shouldn’t bite off more than she can chew - and that was his opening salvo.

He goes on to provide ‘many reasons’ why an independent elected school board is ‘the right choice’ for our city, none of which are specific to Syracuse, and only one even mentions the word Syracuse – the same point that Young made, that the city controls the purse strings for the SCSD.

My favorite? “The elected school board model also sends an important message about the future of democracy. How will children know that voting, especially at the local level, is important if they see that adults don’t vote? Children learn what is important from seeing what happens around them.” Call me optimistic, but I’m thinking students may get a sense of how democracy works since they live in a city where our mayor is elected by voters, and the Common Council members are elected by the voters...even if we stopped electing Commissioners of Education. The fact that we managed to elect a woman as mayor of Syracuse, along with a woman as Onondaga County Executive, would seem to send a pretty strong message about democracy in these parts.

With some of our schools hovering on or near the
list of persistently lowest achievers according to the NYS Education Department, and with poor graduation rates (this data reflects the group that entered as freshmen between 2001 and 2004), something clearly needs to be done in order to start getting the type of results that are needed to help keep our city viable, much less to become the type of city that can point to a great urban education as a draw for families to come here.

So, does our new mayor want power, or does she really want to make a difference? More on that tomorrow.

February 10, 2010

But What’s My Motivation?

Last night, Hiram Monserrate was expelled from the NY State Senate. In case you don’t remember Hiram, he was one of the ‘amigos’ from the Dem’s side of the aisle who moved over to the Rep side in the coup last summer, giving the Reps a 32 – 30 majority; a week later, he went back to the other side, and eventually so did Pedro Espada, the other amigo, bribed with a leadership post to cross back over.

The reason he’s been tossed is because he was convicted of abusing his girlfriend by dragging her down the hall, forcibly, on the way to a hospital 14 miles away from their home, to have her slashed face stitched up. There’s security camera footage showing the two of them leaving the house, with Monserrate clearly calling the shots, making the misdemeanor conviction pretty much a slam-dunk.

He wasn’t convicted of a felony for slashing her face, which is what he was charged with. One reason there was no conviction on the felony is because, like many domestic violence victims, she said it was an accident and she was not cooperative with the prosecution. Had he been convicted of a felony, expulsion would have been automatic; however, the misdemeanor conviction led to a caucus, and to two resolutions, and eventually to the yes vote on immediately kicking him out, rather than waiting a while.

If you listen to some of the players, including Monserrate himself, you'll hear a few different opinions on why the expulsion was necessary. Ruben Diaz Sr, another Dem, had these opinions, offered in the middle of the voting itself. Diaz is quite the character, as illustrated by his bizarre quotation of Martin Luther King's 'Dream' speech in response to a question of whether he would begin siding with the Reps in the Senate. Note that the Reps were not in favor of keeping Monserrate around, making it somewhat unlikely that they'll be courting Diaz, but stranger things have happened. Pedro Espada, for his part, made a connection between Monserrate’s rights and the rights of terrorists. I'm not sure what the other five who voted no were thinking and I think I don’t want to know.

Although I didn’t know it was a gem from Alfred Hitchcock, like most folks I’d heard this joke many times before: “When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, 'It's in the script.' If he says, 'But what's my motivation?, ' I say, 'Your salary.'”

In the case of our folks in Albany, I'm hoping their motivation was obvious. Those who think the vote was racist in some way, or retaliation for the coup last year I hope are misguided. I think the real reason he was booted is because he’s a jerk who's been convicted of domestic violence; even in Albany, that should have been motivation enough.

Now of course he’s going to appeal the expulsion, and of course there will be an injunction keeping him in the Senate until all legal courses have been exhausted, and of course during this time people in his district are stuck with him. Hopefully they will ignore him, loudly and vigorously and publicly. If his staff is any good, they'll be able to handle constituent service until such time as someone decent is elected to represent them.

February 1, 2010

PPOD February 1, 2010: Pole-vaulting, Parachuting Pelosi

A friend of mine at work (who's a fan of Fox News, if you know what I mean) mentioned something about Nancy Pelosi and a comment about climbing fences or parachuting, and that I just had to hear this one for myself. Well, my friend and I don't always see eye to eye but I agreed to check this one out. And in fact, online reports from the past few days are filled with many not-so-subtle attacks on Pelosi's latest stupid comment. Some of what passes for discourse, as always, does not bear repeating. But, given what she said, I’m actually surprised at how civil some of the comments have been. Pelosi earns my Pet Peeve of the Day, or PPOD, for today.

Last week, when talking about passing health care reform legislation, Pelosi declared
“We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn't work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get health care reform passed for the American people for their own personal health and economic security and for the important role that it will play in reducing the deficit."

Dear Lord. If the visuals aren’t enough to scare you, be afraid of what her foolish comment means -- that the leader of the House of Representatives is a clueless moron who didn't even listen when the President, the leader of her party, gave his State of the Union address and in it chastised both parties for their bad behavior.

Not only doesn't she listen to him, but she's not listening to us, either. Here’s some of the specific things she must have missed in the address:

Obama: “…They don't understand…why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems. They are tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can't afford it. Not now.”

Pelosi: "We'll go through the gate."

Obama: “But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Here's what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.”

Pelosi:"If the gate is closed, we'll go over the fence."

Obama: “Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it's time to try something new. Let's invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let's meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let's try common sense."

Pelosi: " If the fence is too high, we'll pole vault in."

Obama: “But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can...Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government. “

Pelosi: "If that doesn't work, we will parachute in."

Obama: “So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics. I know it's an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills.”

Are you listening, Nancy?

Obama: “ Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let's show the American people that we can do it together.”

Are you listening, Washington?