Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Campaign silence

t's less than a month before the election ... where are the discussions of issues? What do the candidates stand for?

All we seem to hear lately is how they will spend our money. The governor is going around showering almost every community with promises of millions for this or that special project, McCall wants to spend more on education (which is already receiving more than ever with dismal results), and now even Golisano is proposing a new giveaway program of college scholarships ... Meanwhile Oneida County taxpayers will be forced to ante up 16% more to cover expanded social programs imposed by the state -- other counties face even steeper increases!

It's clear with a state and local property tax burden more than 50% higher than the rest of the nation that NYS cannot compete for jobs -- that something needs to be done to bring the cost of government under control.

Unfortunately all our candidates do is propose/create more programs to buy votes keep in office or get themselves elected .. creating more government, driving taxes even higher and more jobs out of state.

At the rate we are going it won't end until everyone is either a government employee or on the dole.

Might as well stay home on election day. There are no real choices.


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Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Center for Brownfield Studies - Smoke and Mirrors?

According to the 9/15/02 O-D a "regional state-of-the-art brownfields training and research center ultimately destined for Utica's Harbor Point has close to 100 students ... 'We're making progress. It's becoming a reality,' said State Sen. Raymond Meier."

However, a visit to the websites of the five involved institutions reveals very little on this "center." The Utica area institutions MVCC and HCCC don't even mention the brownfields program, and SUNY Tech only mentions its participation and posts what appears to be an 11/01 press release. You have to visit Morrisville and the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University before you can pull up course descriptions that are supposedly linked to the center.

Reading over the course list, there does not appear to be much conscious effort to design a curriculum that would give one a sound academic background to deal with brownfields problems. One gets the impression that someone merely went through existing course offerings at the institutions, picked those that appeared relevant to brownfields remediation, and stuck them in a brochure. There doesn't appear to be anyone in charge of the program (no "center"), since 6 contact persons (one at each institution and one at Niagara Mohawk) are mentioned in the only documentation that could be found.

Are the 100 students mentioned in the OD article consciously working toward a concentration in brownfields related courses (the implication), or did they merely happen to pick those courses?

According to the article, a Niagara Mohawk official said the center is submitting a grant proposal to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency for money to inventory and prioritize brownfield sites state-wide. That is interesting because the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has ALREADY inventoried all of the state's contaminated sites and prioritized them for cleanup.

Like the "Emperor's New Clothes," the reality of the Center appears to be that it doesn't actually exist. Utica is given the impression that it is getting an educational institution (without really getting one). NI-MO looks like it is helping the environment (while Harbor Point is still contaminated DECADES after the problem is known). And the State University has an excuse to apply for Federal Grants (to duplicate work already done).

Smoke and Mirrors! The only beneficiaries of this "Center" appear to be the politicians and NiMo who can claim they are doing something, and the insiders who can apply for grants. The local taxpayers are left with what they've always had .. nothing.


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Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Where's Our Chip Fab?

According to the Albany Times Union on 6/4, a $2 Bil, 2000-employee chip fab plant is expected to be the first tenant in the proposed Luther Forest Technology Campus, according to plans submitted by the Saratoga Economic Development Corp. Four to six companies have expressed an interest in locating at the campus site on the Malta-Stillwater town line if the planned development district is approved. According to the article, the two town boards must still approve a development district for the development to happen.

I believe that Lurher Forest has rather limited water supplies -- a necessity for a chip fab.

We are way ahead, it would seem, on getting a chip fab here .... at least in so far as having a site ready to go. And there is no question that we have adequate water supplies.

Haven't heard a thing about companies showing interest here, even though we have more to offer.
EDGE needs to jump on this -- ferret these 4-6 companies out -- and beat out Saratoga!


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Thursday, May 16, 2002

Changes Needed for Hockey to Return?

oday the O-D ran an editorial stating that changes were needed to the Utica Aud before professional hockey would return -- that more money would have to be spent on the building. Their logic runs something like this: We've had 4 hockey teams come and go in the last 10 years ... The Aud "looks foreboding from the outside" (their opinion) and "isn’t particularly charming on the inside" (again their opinion) ... ergo, the condition of the building must be making the teams fold and keeping the fans away. Really?

In the same editorial the O-D admits that the arena was upgraded for the Devils 10 years ago (yet the Devils still left). Furthermore, O-D admits there is a successful promoter prepared to place a team in the Aud NOW. These pieces don't seem to logically fit with their theory. [The real reason for the failures is probably traceable to our poor economy with less discretionary income available to fans -- and fewer fans -- but this would admit to the failure of local policy makers who seem to include the O-D editors]

Essentially the O-D really seems to be saying: "We've failed for the last 10 years .. let's not run a risk of failing again ..."

With that kind of attitude no progress will be made! The worse that could happen is that area hockey fans will have a couple more years of professional hockey. What's so bad about that?

One suspects the O-D may be discouraging professional hockey to protect the vested interests of their "friends" at Utica College.

This is the old story in Oneida County -- the well connected use the taxpayer's $$$ to their advantage -- and keep away anyone new that might offer some competition.

The O-D is right ... Changes ARE Needed:


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The "Safe Schools" Project -- What's the real intent?

The UCSD has launched another expansive project with the help of a federal grant -- The Utica Safe Schools/Healthy Student Partnership. The purpose stated in the incorporation certificate is, essentially, to help kids who may be exposed to/prone to violence. UCSD documents posted on-line, however, imply that the project is much larger in scope. The project involves the establishment of a new bureaucracy that is independent of the control of elected officials, the creation of vast databases with unprecedented collection and sharing of personal data about students and their families, the creation of its own law enforcement unit (including a SWAT
team) and the use of school district resources to
funnel students and their families to the services of "partner" agencies.

Rather than places of learning, schools apparently are to become marketing tools to ensure a steady flow of clients (and government funds) to "partner" agencies -- further fragmenting and diluting time and effort directed toward academics. Since a sound education usually results in higher family incomes
and fewer social problems, you have to question the wisdom of this -- we could wind up with more problems that we began with.

The extensiveness of the programs, the data collection and sharing, and what appears to be intrusion into private family life, almost gives the impression that a separate government is being formed -- one that is not subject to democratic rule.

The manner in which this program came about and is being implemented also raises questions.

(1) Government agencies can only exercise those
powers provided by statute. There is nothing in the NYS Education Law that authorizes the UCSD to form a not-for-profit corporation to administer a program -- but they did it anyway. Why?

(2) Public funds will be administered by a
corporation that is controlled by a separate board of directors unelected by the public. Why was this form of administration chosen?

(3) The corporation's board of directors initially was to include Superintendent Lowengard and Board of Education President DiMeo. This was later expanded to include School Board Members Pellegrino and LaPolla in return for their support. Why did the discussions of this take place during an Executive Session of the School Board -- out of view of the public -- when the the Public Officers' Law does not authorize executive sessions to discuss such topics?
Doesn't this create a potential conflict of interest for these persons with the school district?

(4) Inspite of repeated promises by Board Member
Pellegrino to have (a) the actual Grant Application and (b) the study by Ms. Mammone that persuaded him to support the project published at the UCSD Website, why are they still not there months later? Why is the public being denied the information used by their elected officials?

Going through the documentation that already is
available on-line (particularly "goals and objectives") should raise more concerns.



Given the lack of public debate by the School Board, I come back to my overriding question:

What's the REAL intent?

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Monday, May 13, 2002

The Millenium Project -- Who benefits?

Last fall Utica's local newspaper, the O-D, gave a ringing endorsement to the Millenium Project, calling it "progressive education" and a "Giant Step." Please excuse me, but given the experimentation and lack of results produced by "educrats" over the last 30 years, why should we expect anything different for 37 million more of our dollars? Project descriptions are long on rhetoric and short on detail. And the few details given - after some "critical thinking" - are troubling!

The Project will create 4 themed "houses" to "personalize" education. Students have always completed a "core curriculum" that is "personalized" by electives - so what makes the Project better? Perhaps there will be more "specialized" coursework. The Project's segregation is new, with "finance/business" types going to one "house," the "science/techs" to another, "health" to a third, and "human/public services" to a fourth. What will be the result? Expect health providers that are illiterate in broad science/technical issues, scientists who don't understand the impact of their discoveries on society, and public servants who don't have a clue about their effect on business. The logical result of encouraging students to specialize before they develop a broad knowledge base in common with others is a fragmented society -- one unable to communicate with itself.

Students must select their "theme" before entering high school. Given the difficulty a lot of college students have in picking their major, asking an 8th grader to do so seems rediculous. Forcing an 8th grader to make what may be a career-determinative choice before we've given him or her a solid foundation of knowledge is unjust. The choice will likely be made or strongly influenced by "counselors" who can only have limited knowledge of each student's true potential. The end result: Many will wind up in jobs they hate, and without a strong broad foundation that would otherwise enable them to easily retrain for something different.

Each house will have its own administrative and support staff to create "smaller schools." While there may be some studies that suggest smaller schools can help student achievement, it is the subject matter presented and how it is taught that is more important. This is where the real beneficiaries of the Project become apparent. In an era where public funds are becoming scarce, we are spending 37 million dollars to create a facility that will require administrations in quadruplicate -- ensuring that more funds will be required for administrators and support on an annual basis. Administrators and support staff don't teach. The end result will be a more expensive system with no return for the investment.

Class and "work place learning" will be connected through "focused" courses and "mandatory internships." This begs the questions "What workplace?" "What is the focus?" "Who will get the interns?" Workplace learning is labor intensive specialized learning. It is what normally happens when one starts on the job. Since this is going to happen anyway -- with the student's first "real job," which might not even exist in this area -- what purpose is served by a "mandatory" internship? Time in high school is precious -- the last opportunity for many to take purely academic pursuits. The time should not be wasted by forcing students to take jobs they don't want.

Don't expect the Millenium Project to accomplish anything for the students. Do expect it to create jobs for those already milking the system.


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Utika's step backward ...

Utica (Utika?) took a giant step backward this week with its major newspaper, the Observer-Dispatch, eliminating anonymous postings on its internet forum. While the O-D is certainly within its rights to do this, it has a chilling effect on free-speech.

There are various reasons why posters choose not to reveal their identity. While some may have evil intentions, the majority do not. Some may be public employees who would like to "blow the whistle" on wrong doing without jeopardizing their job. Others may want to debate issues with their friends without destroying good friendships. Still others may want their ideas judged by their content rather than by the reputation of the poster. It has been said that anonymity may be the greatest form of altruism.

Although there are anonymous posters who abuse the priviledge, most do not. And of the few who have made inappropriate postings .. many get retracted when others point out the error of their ways.

Given that the Syracuse newspapers and the New York Times -- with much larger readerships than the O-D -- allow anonymous postings on their websites, there clearly is no good journalistic reason for the O-D to forbid them.

The O-D has long been perceived as the organ of the Utica area "elite" -- the "movers and shakers" who act behind the scenes to ensure that their "vision" is implemented (assuring themselves of power and their cronies of high standards of living). Of course, we have seen where the "vision" has gotten us.

The entity who should be screaming the loudest for open government -- who should be going to court when government boards go into illegal executive sessions or fail to disclose information under FOIL -- is strangely silent ... except, of course, when it is necessary to serve its "vision." The entity knows that knowledge is power, and that the easiest way to control people is to control what they know. The entity now moves to ensure further control over the populace by eliminating anonymous postings.

It is only through (1) comprehensive knowledge by the people, (2) the free flow of ideas, and (3) political leadership with consensus building skills that this area will progress. The newspaper should provide #1 -- anonymous forums will encourage #2 -- and maybe, if more people become involved through ##s 1 & 2, the leaders for #3 will emerge.

The O-D's action demonstrates what's been suspected all along ... they are more interested in playing politics than reporting it.

Fortunately ThePulse is an available alternative ... I hope Vito advertises this forum and people come together here to discuss the issues.