Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch

Gatehouse Media closed at a feeble 63 cents today, and it's fallen even further in after hours trading. As always, you can follow the action at Google Finance

In addition, the company will be holding a conference call before the market opens tomorrow morning. CNNMoney has the details:

GateHouse Media, Inc. (NYSE: GHS) announced today that it plans to release its second quarter 2008 financial results before the market opens on Friday, August 8, 2008. The Company has scheduled a conference call to discuss the financial results on Friday, August 8, 2008, at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time. The conference call can be accessed by dialing (877) 545-1409 (from within the U.S.) or (719) 325-4910 (from outside of the U.S.) ten minutes prior to the scheduled start and referencing the "GateHouse Media Second Quarter Earnings Call."

A webcast of the conference call will be available to the public on a listen-only basis at Please allow extra time prior to the call to visit the site and download the necessary software required to listen to the internet broadcast. A replay of the webcast will be available for three months following the call.

Still not a peep from any of the local Gatehouse newspapers, which strikes me as being particularly ironic. Traditional print newspapers are dying exactly because people can find content online that they can't get in their local paper.

Your Tax Dollars At Work

A hat tip to the Albany Times-Union's Capitol Confidential blog for the heads-up about the brand new SeeThroughNY website. Why is it worth a visit?

SeeThroughNY is a web portal -- and more. It's designed to become the hub of a statewide network through which taxpayers can share, analyze and compare data from counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts and public authorities throughout New York.

The information of this website comes from official government sources, but the Empire Center cannot guarantee data accuracy or completeness.

Click the buttons below to search government payrolls, contracts, expenditures, and links to additional information and supporting material on other websites.

Transparency like this is good, but it would be even better if fast and easy access to every government record via the internet was the law.

Arcuri On The Airwaves: Part Deux

The nice folks at CNY Homepage have posted a full recording of Congressman Mike Arcuri's appearance on WIBX Wednesday morning over here.

One of the things I found interesting about the Congressman's comments was his tacit acceptance of the success of the troop surge in Iraq. Mr. Arcuri was a strident opponent of the surge, going so far as to issue a press release excoriating Gen. David Petraeus, yet he admits that the primary problem in Iraq today is political and not military. That certainly sounds like the surge did what it was intended to do, which probably isn't a surprise considering Gen. Petraeus, quite literally, wrote the book on counter-insurgency operations.

As to the fractious nature of the Iraqi government, I think Mr. Arcuri should place more emphasis on his own experiences during one of his much-publicized trips to Iraq. While he spent around two days in Iraq he also managed to squeeze in a three-day stay with his wife in beautiful Rome, Italy. You know, the capital of that boot-shaped European nation that has been through over 60 different parliamentary governments since World War II? The one where yet another government collapsed earlier this year? The country where underground tribal groups infiltrate the government, assassinate law enforcement officers and peacekeepers, and target journalists for elimination? The nation where entire regions are under the control of criminal terrorist organizations?

In Italy's case the "tribal groups" are the brutally effective 'Ndrangheta, Cosa Nostra, and affiliated crime families, not Al-Qaeda, but it's still interesting that Mr. Arcuri would consider Italy a vacation spot and Iraq a "political quagmire" when the former has a far longer, and more devastating, history of governmental instability.

Go take a listen for yourself. I'm sure I'll have some more thoughts on it once I've had a chance to hear the whole thing.

Update: A kind emailer points out that while Mr. Arcuri didn't take any questions from his constituents during this appearance he did promise to do so during his next one, sometime in August. Hopefully we'll also be able to question both Mr. Arcuri and his challenger Mr. Hanna with a few townhall-style debates in the near future.

Update: Another kind emailer points out that Mr. Arcuri is still refusing interview requests from Bill Keeler. Beyond that, his press official won't even return calls from Mr. Keeler's booking agent.

Update: Yet another kind emailer claims that the softball questions tossed by Dave Andrews, the primary interviewer in the WIBX segment, are the result of Mr. Andrews long-running relationship with Mr. Arcuri. I'm aware that Mr. Andrews worked for the Oneida County D.A.R.E program until he was fired for reasons I'm still not clear on, but I'd welcome any input clarifying the nature of the relationship, if any, between Mr. Andrews and Mr. Arcuri.

Update: One of Mr. Arcuri's justifications for his opposition to more oil drilling is that it would be ten years before we actually get any oil. I believe noted energy policy expert Jay Leno has addressed that concern:


Update: I've received some conflicting accounts about what caused Mr. Andrews firing from his position with the Oneida County D.A.R.E. program that might have a bearing on discussions about the interview. One of the problems I'm encountering with verifying the claims in those emails is that the Observer-Dispatch's archives from the Gannet years are no longer available online.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch

The battle for the future of Gatehouse Media continues, but the situation is looking increasingly grim:

GateHouse Media is likely to default under its credit agreement unless it can negotiate an amendment to its covenants or get a cash injection from its largest stakeholder, says Fortress Investment Group, Moody's Investor Service, in a report downgrading the community newspaper publisher's credit and probability of default ratings.

Moody's downgraded GateHouse's Corporate Family rating to Caa1 from B2. Under Moody's definition, the new rating signifies a "substantial risk" of default.

Moody's also downgraded its Probability of Default rating to Caa2 from B3.

"The downgrade reflects Moody's heightened concern that GateHouse could face a near-term default under the financial covenants of its loan agreement, absent an amendment or another equity cure from its largest owner, Fortress Investment Group LLC," Moody's Senior Analyst John Page wrote.

Still not a peep from the Observer-Dispatch, or any of the other Gatehouse-owned papers in the area, about the dire straits of their corporate parent.

Update: Thanks to Peoria Pundit for the link. They're facing much the same situation we are, with the collapse of Gatehouse likely to produce a major shift in the local media landscape.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Col. Joe Bolton On Mike Arcuri

Retired Col. Joe Bolton, a 28-year Army veteran and native of New Hartford, was the featured guest on WIBX's "First Look" this morning discussing Congressman Mike Arcuri's record on military and veterans issues. I didn't even find out about his appearance until it was already over, so imagine my surprise to discover that CNY Homepage not only taped it, but has already posted the video online. You can view the full interview over here. I understand they'll also be providing a tape of Mr. Arcuri's appearance on the show tomorrow morning.

Arcuri On The Airwaves

Constituents of Congressman Mike Arcuri will finally have a chance to ask him some direct questions during his appearance at 8 AM tomorrow morning on Utica radio station WIBX's "First Look" news program. If you'd like to ask a question the call-in number for the studio is 736-0186. You can listen to the interview on the radio at 950 on the AM dial or via streaming audio over here.

The Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch

Things aren't looking very bright for Gatehouse Media, the corporate parent of the Utica Observer-Dispatch, Herkimer Telegram, Little Falls Times, and the various area Pennysaver papers. Earlier today their stock fell even further, dropping to a record low of 56 cents. Most of that plunge can be credited to the news from Moody's that the company has a good chance of defaulting on it's loans:

Moody's Investors Service said it downgraded GateHouse Media Operating, Inc.'s corporate family rating to 'Caa1' from 'B2' with a negative outlook citing concerns over near-term liquidity and the likelihood that the company will face a default under its credit agreement, absent an amendment or equity cure.

Moody's (nyse: MCO - news - people ) also said it cut the United States-based publisher's probability of default rating to 'Caa2' from 'B3' and other debt ratings to 'Caa1' from 'B2'.

Several emailers have suggested there may already be some talks underway about the disposition of Gatehouse's local assets. One of the most horrifying scenarios is that a group of investors affiliated with the Arcuri gang may be looking to finally stem the tide of bad press, while another emailer says the Matt family may be part of another buyout effort. Keep in mind that both options were sent to me by anonymous sources, so a little skepticism is probably in order.

As always, you can get the latest stock price from Google Finance.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch

It would appear the final meltdown of Gatehouse Media is finally underway. While I'm writing this their stock has fallen to a new low of 73 cents, setting the company on a seemingly inexorable journey to the pink sheets.

On the bright side, several kind emailers have pointed out that the liquidation of the company's assets could actually bode well for the area. More than a few employees think the sale of the OD could result in the departure of at least one questionable member of upper management, something they seem to look forward to with considerable relish.

Update: At market close Gatehouse Media had fallen to an unbelievable 66 cents a share. Google Finance has the details.

Update: Editor and Publisher has more on Gatehouse and it's cratering stock:

On another brutal day for the newspaper sector Monday, shares of four chains hit all-time lows, led by a 21% plunge in GateHouse Media Inc. shares to 66 cents a share.

Also hitting new lows were The McClatchy Co., Lee Enterprises, and Sun-Times Media Group.

There was no particular news to explain the sell-off in GateHouse, whose stock has been cratering in the past three weeks. GateHouse (NYSE: GHS) closed at 66 cents, down 18 cents, or 21.43. Floor trading in GateHouse has been suspended, and the stock faces the risk of being de-listed from the Big Board.

Is this the start of the final death spiral?

Update: Analysts seem to think Gatehouse is on it's last legs:

Shares of community newspaper publisher, Gatehouse Media, Inc. (NYSE: GHS), plunged Monday following an across the board ratings cut by Moody's who cited doubts about its ability to service debt.

Gatehouse Media shares lost over 21% of their already low value Monday, dropping to a new 52-week low of $0.66 cents that put the New York-listed community newspaper publisher on a path towards delisting from the Exchange. But somehow shares managed to rally in the aftermarket, rising 24 cents, or 36.3%, to trade at 90 cents, six cents over the day's high.

The dismal news coming out of Moody's Investor Service really came as no surprise, but in reading into the rating agency's comments on Gatehouse Media's debt, the analyst covering the Company had to bite his lip to keep him from commenting about the dividend Gatehouse paid out in the last quarter. At the time, Wachovia Capital Markets analyst John Janedis cut his rating on Gatehouse to "Market Perform" from "Outperform". Janedis issued his rating cut appropriately on Fridy the 13th, perhaps unknowingly signaling an end to the Company.

Read the whole story.

Now is probably an appropriate time to start speculating about who will be buying up Gatehouse's local papers. More importantly, is it likely we'll see a major change in editorial oversight when the buyout happens?

The Firm Hand Steering The Ship Of State

Dave Roefaro once again demonstrated his masterful grasp of city government over the weekend:

Utica Mayor David Roefaro said during an interview Wednesday that his opinion “doesn’t even make a difference” as far as giving medical coverage to part-time employees. It was in practice long before he took office, the mayor said.

“They’re all covered by union,” Roefaro said. “There’s no at-will employees who are getting benefits.”

But, according to the city Comptroller’s Office, there is one part-time attorney who receives medical benefits and retirement. Two additional part-time attorneys also are enrolled in the retirement program. All three are considered “at-will” or nonunion employees.

Roefaro, interviewed again on the subject one day later, said he believes the part-time employee policy could be reviewed.

“Everything deserves to be looked at,” he said Thursday.

Part-time city employees getting sweetheart deals on Mayor Roefaro's watch? Say it ain't so!

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch

After climbing above the $1 mark on Wednesday the stock price of Gatehouse Media, the OD's corporate parent, has once again fallen below a dollar. You can track the stock for yourself at Google Finance.

Update: Friday's close was 84 cents. Ouch.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust: Part Deux

I'm happy to report that the crew at Uticasux won't be departing the area after all. Well, at least not for a few months. You can get the full story here.

While you're over there you might want to check out Bill Keeler's radio interview with Republican congressional candidate Richard Hanna. I'm not a fan of Mr. Keeler's, but his line of questioning does give me some hope that Mr. Hanna has an appreciation for libertarian values. It's worth noting that Congressman Arcuri turned down multiple requests from Mr. Keeler for an interview.

Mohawk River Magic: The Fecal Follies Continue

You might think that the human feces floating in the Mohawk River would be a major roadblock to developing it's tourist potential, but you would be wrong. The same folks responsible for dumping billions of gallons of raw sewage into the mighty Mohawk are now planning to spend an undisclosed amount of money selling it as a "Greenway":

Residents tonight can suggest options for developing and marketing a 35-mile stretch along the Mohawk River and Erie Canal in Oneida County.

Officials are creating a Comprehensive Greenway Plan for the Mohawk River Corridor, which would be from Utica to Sylvan Beach.

“We’re going for a unified plan, so everybody starts thinking bigger than their own particular projects,” said Jessica Breiten, chief planner of the Oneida County Planning Department.

If they're looking for suggestions I've got one that should really help- STOP DUMPING MEGATONS OF FECES INTO THE RIVER.

I'm simply aghast that this tourism proposal is even being considered by Oneida County. Keep in mind, these are the same government officials that have postponed fixing the sewage overflow problem from the Sauquoit Creek station for at least another five years. That means the County, and New Hartford in particular, will continue to let billions of gallons of raw sewage spurt from the inadequate pipelines in the commercial district while at the same time they try and convince people that the Mohawk River is a valuable natural resource.

Just click on the "Fecal Follies" label over there on the left to get an idea of just how inane and hypocritical this Greenway proposal is. I'm absolutely stunned at the sheer chutzpah of these people.

Update: A kind emailer points out that this could turn into a PR disaster of epic proportions. That's something we simply can't afford, since the Utica metro area already suffers from a dismal image around the globe. Don't believe me? Go to Google News and do a search for "utica shotgun stroller" and you'll find roughly two hundred stories from around the world about the Stephanie Wilson case- and those are just the outlets that reprinted the story on the internet. Pardon my bluntness, but you can just imagine the reaction when it comes out we were marketing a river filled with our own shit as a tourist destination.

Update: A commenter on the Observer-Dispatch story used part of my rant against this goofy idea, but his comment has since been removed.

Update: A very helpful source claims that Oneida County officials are well aware of the extensive sewage problem, but plan to ignore it. Allegedly, there are more than a few folks that view the Greenway plan as a gravy train that will be running for years.

Oh, and RoAnne Destito is a big supporter. Please notice that this claim is in a totally seperate paragraph from the claim that some officials view the Greenway plan as a gravy train, because I'd hate people to think I was suggesting anything. Because we all know that RoAnne would never try to personally profit from her elected office, and to imply otherwise would be legally actionable.

Update: A helpful emailer points out that the Oneida County Planning Department's own writeup of the initial Greenway proposal meeting includes multiple comments on the River's sewage and pollution issues, including this gem:

One car-top boat (canoe/kayak) access point is better than none but several would make it more accessible to those with less physical ability. Most important is the safety of having proximity to each other. Also of great importance is the pollution (sewage) in the water. This is to be a greenway, not a brownway.

You can browse the PDF for yourself over here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust

Stop me if you've heard this story before: local blogger finally gets fed up with the ever worsening death spiral of central New York and decides to move on.

This time, it's the guys behind that are heading off to greener pastures.

Maybe I'm self-indulgent, but it's not a good sign when so many of the people discussing the area's issues end up moving out of state.

Once More, With Feeling

There doesn't seem to be a copy available online, but R. A. Dudrack, "The Window King", has purchased a new flight of television and radio commercials calling Congressman Mike Arcuri to task for his opposition to domestic oil drilling. Since Dudrack's last flight of spots Arcuri has pivoted his position a bit, so it would appear they're having an impact.

Update: Meanwhile, Mr. Arcuri would like you to join him for another serving of thousand dollar pancakes:

Thursday, July 31, 2008
Reception honoring Congressman Mike Arcuri (NY-24)
The National Democratic Club Townhouse
40 Ivy Street, SE
Washington, DC
Time: 8:30 AM
Requested Contributions: $5,000 PAC Host, $2,500 PAC Sponsor and $1,000 Friend

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

DNC Checks Out Julian

It would appear Bob Julian is drawing some attention from the DNC:

IP Address 192.43.248.# (Democratic National Headquarters)
ISP Democratic National Headquarters
Location Continent : North America
Country : United States (Facts)
State : District of Columbia
City : Washington
Lat/Long : 38.9097, -77.0231 (Map)
Time of Visit Jul 21 2008 5:14:27 pm
Last Page View Jul 21 2008 5:16:26 pm
Visit Length 1 minute 59 seconds
Page Views 4
Referring URL
Search Engine
Search Words "robert julian" attorney new hartford
Visit Entry Page
Visit Exit Page

Curious, that.

Update: They seem to be awfully interested in Frank Giotto at Fiber Instrument Sales as well:

Domain Name (Unknown)
IP Address 192.43.248.# (Democratic National Headquarters)
ISP Democratic National Headquarters
Location Continent : North America
Country : United States (Facts)
State : District of Columbia
City : Washington
Lat/Long : 38.9097, -77.0231 (Map)
Time of Visit Jul 21 2008 3:11:05 pm
Last Page View Jul 21 2008 3:11:05 pm
Visit Length 0 seconds
Page Views 1
Referring URL
Search Engine
Search Words "frank giotto"
Visit Entry Page
Visit Exit Page

I'd noticed a few other searches for Giotto earlier this week from someone using an anonymous proxy server and a Mac, but didn't think anything of it at the time.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch

Google Finance has Gatehouse Media, the O-D's corporate parent, trading at just 95 cents as of 12:20 EDT.

Update: How likely is it that Gatehouse will be forced to liquidate it's assets, including the Utica "Observer-Dispatch, Herkimer "Telegram", Little Falls "Times", and the various local Pennysaver publications? One of the major investors in the company, holding 40% of the available shares, is Fortress Investment Group. According to this story, which has an interactive organization chart that takes forever to load, Fortress has seen it's own shares go into the tank over the last year because of bad investments in the mortgage industry.

These are tough times for Fortress, one of the few publicly traded hedge fund and investment management firms.

Since that earnings announcement, Fortress abandoned its effort to buy Penn National Gaming, the value of its new mortgage-backed securities fund is down 30 percent, and the stock of one its major investments — GateHouse Media — “could be worthless,” according to one analyst. Fortress owns about 40 percent of GateHouse.

The price of Fortress Investment Group’s own stock continues to fall. It closed at just over $10 last week, down from $31 when the company went public in early 2007.

It's possible that their desire for a quick influx of cash could help push the liquidation process along.

Update: The O-D still hasn't reported on the free-fall of Gatehouse Media stock.

Friday, July 18, 2008

From The Inside

Here's what the meltdown of Gatehouse Media, the Observer-Dispatch's parent company, looks like from the inside:

What’s scary to me is that I don’t know what this means for my paper and my job. If the company goes into debt, it could face liquidation. I can’t honestly believe there won’t be local town papers, but that could be the future. I’d hope a private company would pick up some of the papers but Boston suburbs might be doomed to only have the Boston Globe for news. And with the way the Globe is doing, who knows how long that will be going for.

All I know is that no local papers mean residents won’t get news about where they live in as in-depth of a manner as they do now. While some people might not open up the paper, choosing to simply drive over the one in their driveway, many other people do care and read the papers. I hope they’d miss it if that happened.

Here's another look:

GateHouse Media, the corporate parent of my newspaper, just got another ding. The New York Stock Exchange won't let the penny stock trade on the floor any more unless it can stay above $1.10 for an entire day. That's looking unlikely, so it's possible the stock could be delisted.
What a ride it's been -- from a $20 IPO just three years ago to getting thrown out of the NYSE. Sweet.

I imagine the staff at the Observer-Dispatch is feeling much the same. I'm sure the upper management of the paper will survive a liquidation just fine, but I doubt that many of the actual content and production workers will get deals anything close to what they deserve. Even under a buyout scenario, the only option that would allow them to keep their jobs, they're facing yet more uncertainties just over a year since the Gannet/Gatehouse takeover.

Update: Google Finance is reporting that Gatehouse Media closed at 97 cents today, giving it a market cap of $56.4 million dollars. The company has over a billion dollars in debt.

Storming The Gatehouse

The increasingly dire Gatehouse Media situation isn't just bad news, no pun intended, for the Mohawk Valley. If the company does go under it's going to have a huge impact at newspapers across the nation, as this blogger in Peoria points out:

GateHouse also announced today that they’re shuttering two Massachusetts weekly newspapers: The Taunton Call and The Avon Messenger. In both cases, GateHouse also owns a daily paper in the same market. And in both cases, GateHouse uses the same boilerplate to explain its decision to mothball the weekly:

…we have continued to analyze the best possible way to provide you with the most comprehensive local news in [Taunton/Avon]. We believe that mission will be accomplished by focusing our energies on our daily publication and through the most dynamic local Web sites possible.

If that’s any indication of their improvement strategy, look out Peoria Times-Observer.

Make no mistake, I'm not celebrating the potential demise of the Observer-Dispatch. Losing the only daily paper left would be a huge blow to the city of Utica, despite everyone's grumbling about the questionable value of the paper's content. On the other hand, if Gatehouse actually defaults on it's billion dollar debt I'm hard-pressed to imagine anyone that would buy the O-D in today's media environment. Even if a buyer can be found it's likely the new owners would be forced to make significant manpower cuts just to keep the paper afloat.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Getting The Story Straight

I'm shocked! It's another flip-flop from the fine folks in Utica City Hall:

The City of Utica first said it was a decision made by the Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency, but the Agency says that the decision was made in conjunction with the City of Utica, who the Agency says have been following the center's lack of number growth right along. A callback to the City then had them in agreement, saying that yes, the decision was mutual.

It would appear the city didn't want to take the fall for kicking 400 senior citizens out into the street, but then they realized that wasn't going to fly.

Is The Observer-Dispatch About To Go Under?

Psssst...have you heard? The OD is about to go under.

Editor and Publisher, a publishing industry website, is among the sources quoting analysts that the stock of the Observer-Dispatch's parent company, Gatehouse Media, is effectively worthless:

As GateHouse Media Inc. stock sank more than 20% in early trading Tuesday -- briefly touching $1 a share -- Morningstar released a trenchant report declaring shares of the acquisitive community newspaper publisher "could be worthless."

"Because of the company's exposure to a challenging advertising environment, a debt-heavy balance sheet, and declining cash flows, we think the equity shares could be worthless," stock analyst Tom Corbett wrote.

Morningstar reduced its fair value estimate for GateHouse shares to zero from $3 in its report in May.

Morningstar also said GateHouse is close to violating one or more of the covenants on its huge debt. "Should that happen, its debt could become due immediately, resulting in a possible liquidation scenario," Corbett wrote.

After the O-D's editorializing against online content last month I find a delicious irony in the fact they aren't covering their own financial collapse. Instead, you have to rely on...tada...internet websites.

Update: Gotta give props where they're due- I was pointed towards this story by a former local blogger. Sadly, like so many others, he's in the process of leaving the area and moving out of state.

Update: A kind emailer points out that Gatehouse Media shares have dipped under $1 this week. That means they're facing a possible delisting from the New York Stock Exchange.

Update: You can track the stock collapse for yourself at Google Finance.

Update: An emailer claiming to be an employee of the OD says Liberty Plaza is not a happy place to be these days. Not suprisingly, the Boilergasm was a huge drain on a lot of content employees and the drive for sales revenue is relentless. There also appears to be some tension in upper management over the direction of the paper. Take that for what it's worth.

Update: Boom! That's the sound of Gatehouse Media shares hitting bottom. Editor and Publisher is now reporting that the New York Stock Exchange has halted trading in the company:

NYSE Regulation spokesman Scott Peterson said trading of GateHouse (NYSE: GHS) was put under an "operational trading halt" on Tuesday morning. To return to floor trading, a stock must trade above $1.10 a share for an entire trading day.

If the stock continues to close below $1 a share on average over a consecutive 30 trading day period, it is notified that it could be de-listed unless it is able to bring its share price above $1 within six months.

GateHouse shares, which in the past 52 weeks have traded as high as $19.00, have been driven down steeply in recent months as Wall Street began to doubt the Fairport, N.Y.-based publisher's strategy of funding aggressive expansion with big debt while paying out a substantial dividend.

Update: A kind emailer points out that if Gatehouse goes under it's not just bad news for the Observer-Dispatch- the company also runs the "Evening Telegram" in Herkimer and the Little Falls "Times". One of my first jobs was at the Telegram, so I hope the paper is able to get through this and survive.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It All Adds Up

Oneida County's bleak economic situation has taken another hit with the announcement that yet another local employer is going under:

State and local leaders vowed Tuesday to help the more than 40 employees who will lose their jobs when Canterbury Press closes at the end of the week.

The business, which opened in 1950, has laid off 42 people, a state Department of Labor spokeswoman said Tuesday. A handful of employees will continue working until the end of the week.

That's another 42 jobs down the tubes in a year that has already seen hundreds of jobs flee the area and the tally of losses is, frankly, scary. In just the past few months Utica's ConMed has announced 150 layoffs, 104 jobs vanished with the closure of the Rome Home Depot, and 25 jobs disappeared when Linens n' Things shuttered it's Utica location. That's 321 jobs lost since May, and that total doesn't take into account any of the smaller companies that didn't make the news when they shut down.

Update: A kind emailer points out that the bankruptcy filing of the "Steve & Barry's" clothing chain likely means their store in the Riverside Center will be closing. That probably amounts to another 20-30 jobs down the drain.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Slow Motion Neutron Bomb

The neutron bomb, or "enhanced radiation warhead", was a nuclear weapon designed to kill off the population within it's blast radius with a lethal dose of radiation while keeping the buildings and infrastructure intact. Metaphorically, one was detonated in central New York in the late 80's and it's effects continue to linger:

The populations of Utica and Rome have continued to drop since 2000, according to U.S. Census estimates released today.

Each city lost about 3 percent of its residents between July 2000 and July 2007 — for a total decline of more than 3,000. Utica fell to 58,475 people, while Rome’s population was 33,872.

And Utica and Rome were not alone. The only village or city in Oneida and Herkimer counties to gain residents was Waterville, which gained 14.

The population loss in Oneida County can be attributed to many factors, including an aging population, a low birth rate and insufficient migration from other U.S. cities, Mohawk Valley Edge President Steve DiMeo said.

The Mohawk Valley also continues to lose out to areas that offer more employment opportunities and lower local and state taxes, he said.

I think Mr. DiMeo gets the cause and effect chain reversed. The unbearable level of taxes upstate almost singlehandedly explains the lack of economic opportunity, which in turn leads to generation after generation going elsewhere to build their lives. Since Mr. DiMeo's organization is generously funded with tax dollars it's not surprising he doesn't see high taxes as the primary problem.

Monday, July 7, 2008

And The Song Remains The Same...

Strikeslip has a great post up about the upcoming Contractor and Administration Employment mean the upcoming Utica school bond vote:

Wow. These are the same people who studied a project for months that they could not carry out, shuffled administrators like they were a deck of cards, couldn't keep student schedules straight, ran out of textbooks, and spent a ton of money at Proctor and now want to spend more at the same school. Did Ms. Eichler "slip" with the reference to "support groups" in the quote above. One suspects that the spending really isn't to benefit the kids, but to benefit the "support groups" and all the others who are allegedly there to "help" the kids, but are really helping themselves . . . to a lot of money.

Be sure to check out the comments as well, since they include the obligatory "it doesn't cost taxpayers a dime" party line. 'Cause, you know, all that state funding just magically appears under the magic mushrooms of the money fairies.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Long Hot Summer: Happy Fourth

Utica's arson epidemic reached a new peak yesterday, with two definite and one probable arson erupting almost simultaneously:

Two out of the three fires that erupted late Friday night were intentionally set, and the third has been ruled suspicious, Utica Fire Chief Russell Brooks said Saturday.

All three fires were called in within a 45-minute period - from 11:15 p.m. to midnight - and resulted in Utica firefighters using the county mutual aid program in which suburban fire department are called in. New York Mills and New Hartford assisted Friday night.

That's 22 confirmed arson's so far this year, with a possible 23rd pending laboratory tests. More disturbing is the fact that three suspicious fires happened to occur within minutes of each other. Hopefully, this is just a coincidence. If it's not, and the arsonist or arsonists are co-ordinating multiple fires, then things have taken an even more ominous turn.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day

Today we celebrate not only the founding of our nation, but a turning point in the history of the world.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Most of us grew up with at least a passing familiarity with those words and the rest of the document that paragraph is part of. I think that's one of the reasons we don't appreciate just how revolutionary, in every sense of the word, the Declaration of Independence was. Hell, it still is.

For most of the people on this planet the idea of an inherent right to life and liberty is an alien concept. We're all familiar with the daily horrors spawned by the repressive governments of the world, but even in countries that we think of as liberal democracies there are severe restrictions on the rights of the individual. The Canadian conception of a right to free speech, for instance, is profoundly different from our own- you can still be fined and tossed in jail for publishing a fully accurate and fact-based story if it's about a topic the Canadian government has deemed off-limits.

That commitment to the rights of the individual is something we should value not only for our personal interests, but because it quite literally has been the salvation of the Utica area. In the past twenty years tens of thousands of political refugees from around the globe have moved to Utica to escape the tyrants that ruled their homelands. Without that influx of population, and the resultant second and third generation families, there's a very good chance the Utica area would have undergone an even more traumatic economic collapse than it already has. Things are bad now, there's no doubt about that, but without those extra thousands of people they would have been a lot worse.

Those immigrants bring more than just economic life to the area, however. They have personal stories that make their embrace of our nation all the more precious.

I'm sure some of you have seen an elderly Vietnamese gentleman with horribly deformed hands walking on Genesee street. Please, if you have the time, talk with him. You'll find out that his hands are the way they are because the communist government of Vietnam took a dim view of his service with the ARVN during the war. They had him place his hands on an anvil and then started pounding his fingers with a ball-peen hammer until he was fully "re-educated".

Or talk to some of the Somali immigrants that now call Utica home. Ask them what it was like to try and stay one step ahead of the warlords and their roving gangs as they desperately searched for food. One of the most emotional experiences of my life happened the first time I took a recently arrived Somali ironworker to the grocery store. We were rounding the corner between produce and the meat section when he just started sobbing uncontrollably.

Why? Because there was just so much food. Fruits from around the world, fresh vegetables, loaf after loaf of bread, hundreds of pounds of meat and cheese...and anyone could buy all they wanted. It's humbling to see a proud man reduced to tears by the abundance we casually take for granted.

The thousands of Bosnians now living in Utica have their own horror stories. Some of them witnessed first-hand the organized extermination of entire regions while others were subjected to daily artillery and sniper attacks that left their homes destroyed and decimated their families.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Despite all our flaws, and we as a people have many, we still have a lot to be proud of. We're an exceptional nation, born of exceptional circumstances, and, I hope, destined for an exceptional future. Take some time today to think about what we're really celebrating.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Long, Hot Summer Rolls On

Another abandoned building, another suspicious fire:

Arson Task Force investigators continue their investigation today into a suspicious fire that broke out in an abandoned apartment building in Cornhill late Wednesday night.

Fire Chief Russ Brooks said this morning task force officials might determine fire's cause sometime today.

Brooks said the task force began investigating the fire even before it was fully extinguished, interviewing spectators, analyzing the burn and looking for evidence of accelerants.

He reiterated his statement from Wednesday night that, “When you have a vacant house that does not have power to it, which means there is no source of ignition, that narrows down the possibilities.

If Chief Brooks is correct in his assessment this is Utica's 20th arson this year. So far the arson epidemic has killed four people and turned twenty buildings into smouldering piles of rubble, a toll that more than justifies the reformation of the Arson Task Force. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a single arrest or even a named suspect in any of the fires.

Energy Leadership, Clinton Style

Hillary Clinton, New York's junior Senator and former presidential candidate, was in Syracuse yesterday laying out her vision for making the United States less dependent on foreign oil. Amid the questionably useful displays of cooking oil recycling and cellulose-based skateboards, along with the genuinely promising technology of algael oil, she gave an excellent demonstration of what's holding us back:

In her speech to the public, Clinton said, "We are more dependent on foreign oil today than we were on 9/11. Shame on us that we let that happen."

She said President Bush and Congress should pass renewable energy production tax credits, require higher gas mileage for cars, tax windfall profits of oil companies, and crack down on market speculators who are causing the price of a barrel of oil to skyrocket.

"There's a lot that could be done, but unfortunately I don't see much indication that's going to happen in the remaining months of President Bush's term," she said. "I'm very disturbed by the lack of leadership coming out of the White House and the difficulties we have in the Senate passing something over the Republican opposition because of our rules."

Then Clinton climbed into the rear of a black Chevrolet Suburban that gets 16 miles per gallon and rode out of Syracuse.

A lack of leadership, indeed. 16 miles per gallon? I'd find it a lot easier to believe in Senator Clinton's solutions to the energy "crisis" if she was actually acting like it was, you know, a crisis.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Utica Is Number One!

This seems to be the year that Utica will once again take it's rightful place as one of the top cities in the state. Since January 1st of this year we've already racked up some impressive numbers: 11 unsolved shootings, 5 unsolved murders, and an arson rate that's still hovering over fifty percent.

Now comes word, via the Times-Union of Albany, that Utica has managed to clinch another top spot by having the lowest level of consumer confidence in the state:

Siena has found consumer confidence generally going down in New York since it peaked in the first quarter of 2007. The Albany region has mostly followed the trend except for a slight bump up last fall. The most upbeat area appears to be New York City; the least is Utica. The Binghamton area has the biggest decline; Rochester fell the least.

That's what happens when people are paying a significant percentage of their home's value in property taxes every year.

Update: In response to a question, I'm basing the number of unsolved murders on the city's own records- 4 victims in the April Fools Day arson fire and the fatal shooting of Richard Savage over the weekend.

Back From Vacation

Sorry about the lack of updates, but I've been having a wonderful time staring at a hand-tied fly floating on the surface of the water. Why, once in a while a fish had the audacity to disturb the peaceful scene by actually trying to swallow the fly!

Sadly, that didn't happen as often as I would have hoped.