Sunday, May 30, 2010

Exclusive: the letter The Post-Star won't* publish! (updated)

(*-At least I think they won't publish it. I'm not entirely sure, for reasons which will become clear after you read this entry)


Last Sunday, Post-Star managing editor Ken Tingley wrote a typically obnoxious column bashing one of his favorite targets: teachers unions.

For context, please first read the column in question here.

I was so infuriated by his column, particularly its tone, that I immediately fired off a letter to the editor.

With the exception of one tangential sentence that was inaccurate and that I subsequently asked be removed, the letter read as follows:

If there were a Pulitzer Prize for hypocrisy, Ken Tingley's column "This us vs. them attitude has to end" would be a sure winner. What's next? Cal Thomas pontificating on religious tolerance? Floyd Landis lecturing on honesty?

Tingley repeatedly insists that he has nothing against teachers per se. Yet his primary qualification for acceptable school board members is their willingness to, as he puts it, "wage war with teachers unions."

How exactly is a school board member supposed "to wage war with teachers unions" while simultaneously "[ending] this us vs. them attitude”?

The winners of Tuesday's polls were the communities. Tingley and his editorial board wanted people to act as taxpayers and nothing else. Perhaps, voters noticed that the Constitution doesn't begin, "We the taxpayers..." They decided to balance their roles as taxpayers, parents and citizens. In most places, they approved the budget. In a few, they defeated it. But in all cases, they rejected Tingley's narrow, consumerist-only definition of what were once called citizenship and parenthood.

Tingley should have a chat with his colleague Will Doolittle. Doolittle has the decency to recognize that when teachers claim they are underpaid for the credentials required of them and that when residents claim they are overtaxed, they are both right.

Doolittle understands what Tingley refuses to see: the problem is not the teachers' union, but the fundamentally broken structure of education funding in New York. Tingley stubbornly insists on taking sides on the sinking ship; Doolittle and other wiser heads want to save the ship.

It's disappointing that someone in such a position of responsibility consistently behaves in such a divisive, irresponsible manner.



The following morning, I received a harsh email from Tingley denouncing me. As a general policy, I do not publish private emails without the consent of the author, but suffice it to say, he denied my claim and angrily accused me of taking his words out of context. I replied that my interpretation was based not only on this particular column but on his broader body of work on the topic and that I stood by my interpretation.

My letter was sharply worded so I have no problem that his email was in the same vein, though it did make a typically patronizing reference.

That day, Tingley even Tweeted what I assume was a comment about my letter: Received a letter to the editor today that made my blood boil. I hate when people twist your words for their own convenience.

(Note: Twitter is public so I have no problem re-posting that comment)

It occurred to me that Tingley's fury might prevent the letter's appearance in the paper so that Monday, I emailed Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney (the usual contact person for letters) asking him whether the letter would be published or not. Seven days later, I've received no response.

A few days later, I emailed Tingley back asking him the same question. I have no response.

A few days after that, I emailed Publisher Rick Emanuel but his away message indicated that he was on temporary leave.

After submitting letters, I typically receive a call from a Post-Star staffer confirming that I did indeed submit a letter. I've received no such call for this letter. And I've yet to see it appear in the paper.

Over the years, I've submitted dozens and dozens of letters to the paper. I've never once had a letter rejected or even questioned. But I know other people who've had letters refused and the paper typically gives a specific reason for the rejection.

I don't care how angry Tingley is that somebody called him out, I find it completely unprofessional that he and Mahoney continue refuse to respond to my simple yes/no question. If they want to reject the letter (which was never my intention), it's their business but they should at least have the guts to tell me directly.


Update: What's interesting is that although Tingley claims my letter took his comments out of context, the paper published yesterday a letter expressing the exact same sentiment as mine. If my interpretation was so unreasonable and deceitful as to be unpublishable, why was the other one printed?

Second update: In his managing editor's blog, Tingley bragged about how easy it is to submit letters to the editor.' I left a comment asking why it wasn't so easy to get an answer of whether a submitted letter will actually be published. Not surprisingly, he didn't publish the comment or even respond to it privately.

Third update: Surprisingly, the paper DID decide to publish the letter, with the editor's note claiming I took Tingley's words out of context. Though I never get a response one way or the other from Tingley or Mahoney. Makes you wonder if they read this blog!

Fourth update: Tingley seems to be showing the pique one might expect of an 8 year old denied candy for dinner. He is now apparently and without explanation (a common theme here) refusing to publish my comments on his managing editor's blog, even non-controversial comments like asking what percentage of website users watch the videos reporters now post.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Periodic Twitter update

Note: This is a series highlighting selected stories from the Twitter feeds for my blogs Musings of a (Fairly) Young Contrarian and Black Star Journal. The Twitter feed contains not only links to original pieces from my blogs but also links ("re-tweets") to diverse stories from other media outlets. 103 people presently get their updates this way. Those interested are encouraged to subscribe the Twitter feed to get all stories by going to Twitter.com/mofycbsj and clicking 'follow'.

-Boaters, don't pollute lakes and rivers (NYS DEC)

-Amnesty: Powerful Governments 'Stand Above the Law' on Human Rights (VOA Africa)

-The opposition is the restraining force on government. Obama in power means we must look to the GOP to restrain militarism... (Wikileaks)

-Green Party Nominates Clark and Lawrence for US Senate and 2010 Candidates of Green Party NY (GPNY)

-Guinea headed for free election, analysts say (AP)

-Sexual violence against men (Forced Migration Online)

-What a 'Peace Corps' of Africans Is Doing for Cajuns and Creoles (Wall Street Journal)

-Six myths about immigration that just won't die (Alternet)

-Children working on farms at younger ages, report says (PBS Need to Know)

-Despite Legislation, Misleading RNC ‘Census’ Mailers Continue (Pro Publica)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

This is Pulitzer Prize editorial writing?!

Check out this editorial, which is a perfect example of The Post-Star's typical editorial tone: a snide condescension that treats readers like petulant children.

An editorial that begins:
OK class, put away your cell phones, take out your notebooks, and pay attention. It’s time for review. What did we learn from Tuesday’s school elections?

And concludes:
Tuesday’s election was very educational — for school boards and for the citizens. Let’s hope they don’t forget those lessons at budget time next year. Class dismissed.

Surprisingly, the graphic does not include a wagging finger or a ruler smacking against knuckles.

This obnoxiousness apaprently constitutes Pulitzer Prize-caliber editorial writing in the 21st century.

To the four children on the daily's editorial board, here is a message.

Despite the unexpected absence of grammatical and spelling errors, I'm afraid to inform you that this essay is wholly inadequate.

Your assignment is to re-write it so that it meets the standards expected of a serious newspaper.

This assignment is due on Tuesday morning.

If you fail to turn in the assignment, you risk being...

... dismissed.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

School budget vote day in NYS

Today is the day when voters across New York state get to vote on their local school budgets and for school board members; in most districts, voting is from noon to 9 PM. While some media outlets will tell you to vote solely based on the proposed rate of school tax increase (or decrease), responsible voters should weigh a variety of factors, including the tax levy but also the quality and variety of educational programs.

It's tempting to vote against a school budget to "send a message" about taxes and spending. But in school budgets, you're really only voting on a small percentage of the budget (10% or less typically), the part NOT mandated by the state and federal governments. If defeated, schools will adopt a contingency budget, whose spending and/or taxation levels are often only negligibly less.

So make sure you cast an informed vote and understand the full effects of pulling the yes or no lever.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Dereliction of duty in Albany, pt. 2491

Blogger Bob at Planet Albany gave an account of what our esteemed Assembly members were working on today, which culminated with a discussion "so boring it drove [him] out of the chamber."

No one will be shocked to learn that you will NOT find in his account any mention of the Assembly working on what's most needed: the now-six weeks late state budget... a delay which risks having effects nearly as catastrophic as the cuts the delinquent lawmakers are avoiding.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Jackson hits big time!

The town of Jackson has hit the big time: a profile in The New York Times. The daily did a story on the English-only law passed by the Washington County town with a 1% Hispanic population.

As I reported earlier, the law's sponsor admitted that there was no issue in the town that the legislation was intending to address; he conceded that it was a solution to a problem that didn't exist... other than the ordinance's error-strewn original text. He simply wanted to make a gesture about making English the national language. The NYT piece means his empty grandstanding succeeded.

I still think it was merely a clever PR campaign to get Jackson on the map. People all around the country will read the article and think, "This town's worst problem is the fact that it has 19 Hispanics, none of whom even request public documents in Spanish. It must be a pretty great place! Maybe I'll move there!"

Personally, I can't wait for Congress to pass an English-only law. With all the towns and regions that have either Spanish or Native American language origin names or French (-ville), Dutch (-kill) and German (-burg, -burgh) suffixes, we're going to have to rename 80 pct. of the places in the country.

Warrensburg (German) in the Adirondacks (Mohawk) and Middleburgh (German) in the Castkills (Dutch), we hardly knew ye!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Delinquent New York legislators should be impeached

Contrary to what they may say in public, I think New York Democratic pooh-bahs are secretly thrilled that David Paterson is governor. He can do all the unpopular things they know need to be done but are too cowardly to do themselves and Paterson can take the public crucifixion for them.

Yesterday, the legislature approved Paterson's controversial plan to furlough 100,000 state workers. The governor argued that the move was necessary to save money, since the legislature hasn't passed a budget that was due on April 1.

Despite passing the bill which included the furloughs, legislators blasted the proposal and the governor. In fact, many contended that furlough plan was illegal. It speaks volumes about the legislature's uselessness that they would vote to approve something they not only condemned but thought wasn't legal.

Their uselessness was further illustrated by the posturing against the governor. Furloughs wouldn't be necessary if the legislature DID ITS JOB AND PASSED A BUDGET, according to its constitutional obligation. Basically, the legislature is blaming the governor for doing what they're too craven to do themselves.

But the posturing is working. Public sector unions aren't firing their venom at the delinquent legislators; they are bashing the governor, the only person in Albany who seems to have a clue about his responsibilities. This is why the Democrats secretly love David Paterson.

And with the budget six weeks late, legislators are busy not only with grandstanding press conferences, but they managed to find time to revive another unfunded mandate. Maybe some day, they'll find time to do their job.

Update: Again, props to the governor for trying to prevent New York from turning into Greece or California or even Spain. The Spanish Socialist government is pushing through deep budget cuts, which will include a 5% REDUCTION in public sector salaries. By contrast, New York's public sector unions rejected a request by the governor to hold off on their 4% annual pay raise for this year in favor of a pay freeze (something I and many other private sector workers got). Since the unions have rejected a pay freeze are trying to get furloughs declared illegal by the courts, Lt. Gov Richard Ravitch has warned that mass layoffs might be the only option left. I thought a union's first priority was to try to preserve jobs. The white collar unions should be careful what they wish for. New Yorkers might end up deciding that they CAN live with fewer bureaucrats.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Empty snark: so easy, even an editorialist can do it!

Yesterday, The Post-Star ran yet another editorial on school spending with its trademark temper-tantrum tone. This followed the previous day's only slightly less obnoxious editorial on school tax rises; the paper, which recently increased its newsstand price by 100%, objected to Hadley-Luzerne school district's (admittedly steep) 25% tax hike. Sunday's editorial lectured school board members to stick their neck on the line by cutting the fat but was, as always, woefully short on specifics. I guess the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial writing is no longer based on quality or persuasiveness but on empty snark.

Sunday's editorial took issue with the recent decision by the Glens Falls' school district (GFSD) to save three sports programs originally slated for extinction. Reportedly, the district's athletic director found $34,000 in other areas of the sports' budget to cut in order to save volleyball, golf and alpine skiing. The $34,000 represents less than 0.1% of the overall proposed $38.2 million budget, a budget which DECREASES overall spending.

More accurately, the editorial didn't take issue with preserving those three sports in and of itself, but rather with the concept that, in their opinion, it was so easy for the AD to rustle up $34,000 from other areas of the budget. His program must be dripping with excessive lard, the daily claimed.

So for his trouble, the athletic director is serenaded with such cutesy lines as:

All it took was the athletic director reaching into the special coffee can he keeps on top of the fridge for equipment, supplies, uniforms and fees, and pulling out a wad of cash. Oh yeah, that $34,000. I didn't hear you the first time.

and

It doesn't take a miracle to find fat to cut from budgets. It just takes diligence and courage. Unfortunately for taxpayers, those qualities among our elected officials are often in short supply.

And the editorial then proceeds to not offer any other specific examples of so-called fat in the GFSD budget. Is then the editorial board, by its own definition, lazy and gutless?

But given this harshness against perceived waste, I was astonished to see a column by Managing Editor Ken Tingley waxing eloquent on the virtues and vices Joe Bruno, the former state senate majority leader recently convicted of corruption. He paints the portrait of a good man who had a moment of madness, which is quite different than the very deliberate and systematic decision-making revealed in his trial.

[I realize the difference between an editorial (collective opinion of the editorial board) and a column (the personal opinion of the author). However, Tingley's previous columns have made it clear he shares the editorial board's harshness against perceived wasteful school and governmental spending.]

Perhaps more than any other politician in Albany, Joe Bruno represented the old-school machine politician doling out of public largesse and buying loyalty like some sort of Mafia don. He represented the politician who freely spent and allocated tens of millions of dollars of our money so as to advance his power, prestige and, given his corruption conviction, his personal business dealings. Bruno (who had a baseball stadium named after him) became the embodiment of Albany's decadence.

Regardless of what you think about GFSD spending or Joe Bruno's legacy, the paper's hypocrisy is stunning.

An honest and decent athletic director who very arguably 'wasted' $34,000 deserves to be tarred and feathered and drowned in a sea of snark, but an ethically-challenged convicted felon who wasted tens of millions of tax dollars and is one of the key contributors to the state's current fiscal crisis deserves a certain degree of sympathy.

Maybe The Post-Star's brain trust is so worried about creating ever more snarky insults that they've decided to abandon any sort of guiding principle.