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

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Testing ... testing ... NOT!

A new low for the Kingston school district: Students being dismissed early today, and all afternoon exams canceled, because of an inch of snow on the ground, lingering flurries in the air and the sun peeking through.

This would be funny if not for the fact that it's Regents week.

January Regents often are taken by high schoolers who should have graduated at the end of the previous school year but didn't have enough credits to do so. Now, I assume, those kids will have to wait until June to take the tests (the state generally doesn't allow weather-canceled Regents to be made up immediately), meaning they'll get their diplomas yet another five months later than planned because of what may be the most foolish decision this school district has made in the 22 years I've lived here.

Whoever made the decision should be ashamed.


Friday, January 22, 2010

The lowdown on Brown

Those who view Scott Brown’s victory in this week’s special election for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts as a sign of Republican resurgence haven’t been paying much attention to recent history.

Brown’s upset win over Democrat Martha Coakley in the race for the late Ted Kennedy’s former seat wasn’t a repudiation of Democrats. Rather, it was a repudiation of the current majority party in Washington — which, admittedly, happens to be the Democrats.

For the last four years, the people of this country have gone to the polls with a “throw the bums out” mentality. In November 2006, voters handed both houses of Congress to the Democrats after years of Republican rule. In November 2008, they replaced a Republican president with a Democrat. In November 2009, they elected Republicans to the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia, which had been held by Democrats; and elected a Democrat in New York’s 23rd Congressional District, which had been represented by Republicans for 150 years. And now, in January 2010, the Massachusetts Senate seat that Democrat Kennedy occupied for more than 40 years has been handed to Republican Brown.

And I have no doubt the trend will continue. Clearly possible are a Republican takeover of Congress in this fall’s so-called “midterm” elections, a Republican beating President Barack Obama in 2012, Democrats regaining control of Congress in the 2014 midterms, a Democrat winning back the White House in 2016, and so on.

We’ve reached a juncture in American history where voters elect members of one party or the other with high hopes of change, become disappointed when that change doesn’t materialize, and then elect members of the other party out of anger.

I’ve seen it happen far too many times in recent years to believe that Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts was the result of anything else.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Throwing money away

I came across a story this morning that began with the sentence "Despite the recession, New York lottery sales continued to rise."

Despite the recession? No. I would venture to guess lottery sales are rising because of the recession.

Some people will do anything for a possible fast buck when times are tough, and, sadly, pinning their hopes on big wins in long-odds games is one of those things.

A friend of mine has referred to lottery games as "a tax on the poor." That's a bit of an exaggeration, but there is some truth to it.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Candidates who become complacent, develop a sense of entitlement and take voters for granted tend to get taught harsh lessons on Election Day.

Just ask Martha Coakley.

In the wake of Democrat Coakley losing to Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts' special election for Ted Kenendy's former seat in the U.S. Senate, the GOP/Fox News/Rush Limbaugh mantra undoubtedly will be that voters in the Bay State wanted to send a message of discontent to the Democratic machine that controls Washington.

Don't believe it for a second.

As recently as three weeks ago, Coakley had a 15-point lead over Brown in most major polls. Yet Brown won by about 5 points. That's a 20-point swing during a period in which there were no significant developments in the nation or the state of Massachusetts that would justify such a reversal.

Quite simply, Brown was able to pull the upset because he worked harder - much harder - to win the election than his opponent did. He campaigned tirelessly and relentlessly during the final weeks of the campaign while Coakley put in almost no effort at all, figuring a Democrat couldn't possibly lose in Massachusetts, especially when running for a seat long held by Kennedy, a Democratic icon in the state for nearly half a century.

Oh, how wrong she was!

So now, like Alaska Republican Ted Stevens before her, Coakley has sapped her party of its power in the Senate because of her own ineptitude. And, in the process, she probably has derailed President Obama's health care reform plan and many other initiatives he planned to put before Congress.

And for that, she should be ashamed of herself.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Mark of shame

Former St.Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire admitted today that he used steroids for 10 years - including 1998, the year he broke the record for most home runs hit in a single season.

No surprise there.

What is surprising, though, is the number of people already rushing to Big Mac's defense.

ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kirkjian said this afternoon that he still supports McGwire's induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame (and yes, Kirkjian has a vote) because so many Major Leaguers, including some of the best players in the so-called "Steroid Era," have used performance-enhancing drugs. Great message for the kids, Tim: If other people cheat, it's OK for you to do it, too. Yikes. Thankfully, most other Hall of Fame voters don't see it that way.

And then there's college basketball coaching legend Bobby Knight, a longtime friend of McGwire's, who told ESPN during the same broadcast today that criticisms of McGwire are unfair because, after all, even Gatorade - which restores electrolytes the body loses during athletic activity - is a performance-enhancing drug. Just one problem, Bobby: Gatorade hasn't been banned by Major League Baseball. Steroids have.

Finally, there's Tony LaRussa, McGwire's manager on the Cardinals and still the team's skipper today. "I’ve defended Mark because I observed him develop his unique power-hitting skill through a rigorous physical and fundamental workout program," LaRussa said. Well, yeah, those things and USING STEROIDS!

But then, LaRussa really has no choice but to defend McGwire, seeing as how the now-admitted cheater just came on board as the Cards' hitting coach.

Here's hoping McGwire teaches young hitters to play the game honestly, though I'm not sure he understands the concept.


Friday, January 8, 2010

This and that

Things that have been on my mind in recent days, but that I haven't had time to write about until now:

* Rush Limbaugh using his post-hospitalization press conference to take swipes at the Democrats' health care reform plan was not only shameless, but woefully ill-informed. The right-wing windbag couched his "no need to change the system" argument in the fact that he received excellent medical care after his heart scare and that health care in the United States is the best in the world. News flash for you, Rush: No one's disputing that the doctors and hospitals in this country are top-notch. The health care reform plan isn't about the quality of care, it's about access to care and the affordability of care - things that aren't problems for rich celebrities like you but are for many people. The fact that you don't even understand the issue about which you're bloviating speaks volumes about how out of touch you are with the difficulties faced by ordinary Americans.

* How come, after Sept. 11, 2001, Republicans insisted that all Americans should rally around the GOP president who let the attacks of that awful day happen, but in the wake of the recent failed attack on a Northwest Airlines flight, it's OK for the same Republicans to blame the current Democratic president for the security lapses that almost led to a catastrophe in the skies over Detroit? (Lapses that, by the way, were the result of the failed policies of the former chief executive.) I guess the requirement that everyone join hands and make nice only applies when 3,000 innocent Americans are allowed to die by a hapless commander in chief who ignored clear warnings that such carnage was coming.

* Speaking of the Northwest Airlines incident, how ironic, or perhaps fitting, that President Obama delivered his Thursday night address about security lapses from a podium in the State Dining Room at the White House - the very room where a notorious security lapse (or two) occurred just a few weeks ago.

* A recent poll found the majority of Americans are unhappy with their jobs. Seriously? In this economy, complete with its 10 percent unemployment rate, I would think the only litmus test for job satisfaction would be whether one has a job.

* Sitting in the waiting room at an orthopedist's office this week, I found it amusing that most of the magazines available for patients to read were about skiing. It seems to me that any ski enthusiast waiting to see an orthopedist is probably not, at the present time, able to ski.

* Have you seen those commercials on New York City TV stations for the Top of the Rock observation deck at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan? I love that the spot ends with a view, from 30 Rock, of the Empire State Building - merely a reminder to viewers that Top of the Rock does not offer the best views in the Big Apple.

* People who suggest the current cold spell affecting much of the United States is proof that global warming is a hoax sound like morons. (Are you listening, Neil Cavuto at Fox News?) One stretch of below-average temperatures doesn't change the fact that ice at the Earth's poles continues to melt at an alarming rate or that the decade just ended was the warmest since record-keeping began.

* The legislative leaders in Ulster, Dutchess and Orange counties all spoke this week about how they expect bipartisan cooperation in their respective chambers this year. Yeah, OK. I'll believe it when I see it.