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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fever pitch

At last count, there were 131 confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza (commonly referred to as "swine flu") in the United States and just one death attributed to the illness.

This is a country of about 350 million people that, during the average winter, has more than 1 million cases of seasonal flu and an estimated 35,000 deaths from the disease.

Am I the only one who thinks all the hysteria ovet the current "outbreak" is just a bit silly?


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Time to be kinder, gentler

Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Democrat Scott Murphy’s victory on Friday in the drawn-out race for New York's 20th Congressional District seat “is proof positive that Americans, even in this heavily Republican district, support the president and want him to succeed, and the result is a repudiation of the failed policies of the past touted by Republicans.”

The campaign is over, Tim. Your guy won. You can stop beating up the other party now.


Pig, meet Chicken Little

To hear the health "experts" tell it, the recent outbreak of swine flu in Mexico could become an uncontrollable pandemic or epidemic that spreads around the world like a wildfire.

Ordinarily, I'd worry about such a dire warning. But I just can't be bothered right now. I'm too busy cowering in fear about the SARS and Asian bird flu epidemics that were supposed to get here five years ago.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

All the 'news' that fits

Channel surfing at 11:30 tonight, I found not one, not two, but three networks (Headline News, E! and Fox News) simultaneously airing stories about Miss California Carrie Prejean declaring during the Miss USA Pageant on Sunday that she opposes gay marriage.

How is this a story for even three minutes, let alone three days? A contestant in a pageant that virtually no one watches says she opposes gay marriage - a sentiment shared by probably half of America - and it's a three-day story? There's really nothing more important going on in the world?

The sad reality, at least in the 24-hour cable TV business, is that news no longer is defined as what's important or what viewers want to see; it simply is what the producers and on-air personalities decide to waste time showing us. I mean, seriously, how else can anyone explain the yearlong nightly obsession by Headline News and the thoroughly unwatchable Nancy Grace with the Caylee Anthony murder case? The case was more or less resolved last October, with the indictment of the 3-year-old girl's mother on murder charges, but there's Grace, every night on HLN, screaming at us, lecturing her guests and pretending that months-old developments are "BREAKING NEWS." What a joke. And what an embarrassment to the once-reputable broadcast news business.

But regrettably, Grace isn't the exception, nor are all the who-gives-a-damn stories about Miss California and her stance on gay marriage. These are pretty much the rule now in a medium that relies less on less on bringing viewers important stories and more and more on filling the endless news cycle with whatever garbage is available.

How disappointing.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Misdirected anger

Many of the "Boston Tea Party" tax protesters who took to the streets around the nation on Wednesday - a largely conservative, anti-Obama crowd - complained about the government wasting taxpayer money by bailing out banks and insurance giant AIG.

Are their memories really that short, or are they just stupid?

The bank and AIG bailouts were BUSH initiatives.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Running out of options (and ideas)

Jim Tedisco is starting to look desperate.

Unable to open up a lead against Democrat Scott Murphy as absentee ballots are counted in New York's 20th Congressional District race, the Republican has resorted to challenging the ballot cast by Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democratic congresswoman-turned-senator who Murphy and Tedisco are vying to succeed.

The argument being made by Tedisco's lawyers is that Gillibrand was in the district on the day of election and therefore was required to cast her ballot at her hometown polling place, rather than by mail.

Never mind the silliness of that argument - many people cast absentee ballots ahead of time, thinking they're going to be out of town on Election Day, only to wind up being home unexpectedly - it's the sheer pettiness of Tedisco's challenge that is so laughable.

Tedisco expected to win cleanly on Election Day, but he didn't. Then he expected that the thousands of absentee ballots cast would favor him by a wide margin, but they aren't going his way by even a small margin. So now he's doing what so many Republicans before him have done when they couldn't claim victory the old-fashioned way: Resorted to court battles in an effort to steal the win.

First George W. Bush. Then Norm Coleman. Now Jim Tedisco.

Birds of a feather, indeed.


Smoke, mirrors and fuzzy math

Kingston school officials announced on Tuesday that their latest draft of the district's proposed budget for 2009-10 would increase the property tax levy by 5.66 percent, down from 6.78 percent in the previous draft.

It's bad enough that the budget framers think the public will somehow be placated by having to endure a tax hike of only 5.66 percent, but what makes the situation even more maddening is that they didn't even cut any spending to bring down the tax hike. All they did was move some money from the district's emergency fund to the general fund (never a good idea) and adjust the revenue side of the budget to make it appear the district will bring in more money next year than was estimated in the previous budget draft.

If school officials want to calm an angry public (not to mention win voter approval of the budget on May 19), then they need to make some REAL cuts - spending reductions that will bring the projected tax hike down to zero. Other school districts have done this, even in difficult financial times; Kingston can, too - and it must.

Maybe demanding concessions from the teachers' union - like having the members contribute toward the cost of their health insurance - would be a good place to start.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Back to blogging

Just got back from five days out of town. Here's what's been accumulating in my mind during my time away:

* The car accident that claimed the life of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was a crying shame - not only because I'm a fan of the team, but because there's nothing more heartbreaking than a life full of promise being snuffed out at such a young age. (Adenhart, an outstanding rookie, was a mere 22.) I was completely unsurprised to learn that Andrew Gallo, the hit-and-run driver who killed Adenhart and two friends, tested above the legal limit for drunken driving and had a prior DUI record and a suspended license. But I was completely, and pleasantly, surprised to learn that California law allowed authorities to charge Gallo with three counts of murder and that he could be locked up for 55 years if convicted. Under New York state's wussy drunk driving laws, the most serious charge against Gallo would have been vehicular manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, and he probably would have been sentenced to no more than three years in prison. Say what you will about some of California's nutty laws, but they got this one right.

* I loved how the New York City newspapers, especially the tabloids, reacted to the Yankees' opening-day loss as if it was a sign of certain doom for the Bombers this year. Yes, high-priced off-season pickups CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira stunk it up last Monday, but it's not like they've forgotten how to play baseball. Now, five games later, Sabathia is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA, Teixeira is 4-for-16 with two doubles and a home run, and the Yankees are 3-3. In other words, last Monday was too soon to be making predictions about how the Yankees (or any team) will finish this year, and today is equally too soon. As my friend and former Freeman colleague Bob Mitchell likes to say, the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. The Yankees have 156 games left this season. They could finish 159-3, but they won't. They could finish 3-159, but they won't. They probably will win between 85 and 100 games, but anyone who claims, only a week into the season, to know what the team's 2009 record will be is, quite simply, full of crap. (And yes, I know that I, too, in my last post, poked fun at the Yankees' opening-day loss, but I certainly didn't predict that they had no hope of succeeding this season.)

* Driving on the Thruway near Albany today, I had the radio tuned to one of those stations that plays only 1970s and '80s music, and I was quite amused to hear Madonna's "Like a Prayer" come on. This is, after all, Easter Sunday. I guess the station's programmers forgot - or simply didn't know about - all the outrage in the Christian community that "Like a Prayer" and its accompanying video created 20 years ago. If you, too, have forgotten, do a Google or YouTube search and refresh your memory.

* Four days down, four to go for those of us observing Passover. Thursday night can't come soon enough!


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

1 down, 161 to go

There's nothing quite like the start of a new baseball season.

Wait, let me amend that. There's nothing quite like the start of a new baseball season that includes an opening-day win by my beloved Angels.

No, wait. Let me amend that one more time. There's nothing quite like the start of a new baseball season that includes an opening-day win by my beloved Angels and an embarrassing opening-day loss by the overpaid, overblown and overrated Yankees that includes $161 million pitcher CC Sabathia putting up a 12.46 ERA in 4.1 innings and $180 million Mark Teixeira going 0-for-4 in his Pinstripes debut - and against the pitiful Orioles, no less.

I think I'm gonna like this season. A lot.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Tedisco counts his chickens

You may have heard that James Tedisco, the Republican candidate in the too-close-to-call race for New York's 20th Congressional District, stepped down this morning as minority leader of the state Assembly.

An Associated Press story about the move implied Tedisco wants to devote his time to monitoring the counting of thousands of absentee ballots in an election where he and Democrat Scott Murphy are separated by only six votes out of 154,000 cast.

But if you want the real story, look no farther than the subject line of a press release from Tedisco's office that was e-mailed to media outlets around the state today: "Tedisco begins transition to Congress."

Talk about arrogance!

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I spoke too soon

I should have kept my big mouth shut.

I prematurely celebrated the end of the nastier-by-the-day campaign in New York's 20th Congressional District (see previous entry), and now we're stuck with this thing for at least another two weeks.

More than 154,000 ballots cast, and the margin at the end of the day is 65 votes.

Not 6,500. Not 650. A microscopic 65 votes.

So now the attention turns to the absentee ballots - numbering at least 6,000 - which will take until April 13 to count.

And then, with the race probably still close, the inevitable lawsuits will follow (one has been filed already), the wheels of electoral justice will move slowly, and the next thing you know, we're Minnesota on the Hudson.

And worse yet, the good people of the 20th District probably will go for months without representation in the House - in which case nobody wins.

In the Freeman newsroom late Tuesday, when it became clear the race was a cliffhanger, we referred to it as an early April Fool's joke. But this is no laughing matter, and it certainly won't be resolved the end of April 1.