progressives a haven: Matt Funiciello of Rock Hill
Photo By: Alicia Solsman
Want Our Ivins
progressives protest columnist’s disappearance from local
North Country, as the area of small towns and mountain outposts
upstream from the Capital District’s suburban sprawl is rustically
known, is generally considered to be a bastion of conservativism.
So it was an unusual occasion last week when more than two
dozen progressives representing a variety of liberal organizations
crowded into the Rock Hill Bakehouse Café in Glens Falls in
honor of Texas-based newspaper columnist Molly Ivins, longtime
chronicler of “Dubya” and author of Bushwhacked: Life in
George W. Bush’s America and Who Let the Dogs In? Incredible
Political Animals I Have Known.
The event, a read-in of Ivins essays by local leftist notables,
was inspired by the writer’s upcoming appearance at a fund-raiser
for Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson at the National Museum
of Dance in Saratoga Springs on Sept. 30. Ivins will be appearing
just weeks after her nationally syndicated column was dropped
from the op-ed page of the region’s daily newspaper, The
To the surprise of many in the community, the paper’s move
sparked an outpouring of letters to the editor from readers
of all political stripes. Green Party member Matt Funiciello,
the upscale bakery’s owner and an organizer of Ralph Nader’s
current campaign in New York state, told the gathering he
was impressed with the “intelligent, academic” tone of the
letters, which complained not only about missing Ivins’ good
ol’ girl humor but about how her absence left the paper lacking
in commentary from a liberal point of view.
believe that this action has taken what was hardly a ‘fair
and balanced’ editorial section to begin with and has completely
set it off-kilter,” Funiciello wrote in an open letter to
Post-Star managing editor Ken Tingley. At the reading
he collected 40 signatures on the letter, which implores the
paper to bring Ivins’ column back. “With this terribly important
election looming, her much-needed voice should not be stifled,”
Ivins herself sent the group a message of support.
you so much for holding the reading on my behalf—an excellent
example of how to raise hell and have fun too,” she e-mailed.
“Hope it’s a grand party. When you are progressives living
in a largely conservative area, you need to regularly get
together for fun as well as activism, because as that great
philosopher Jimmy Buffet has observed, if we couldn’t laugh
we would all go insane. With all best wishes, Molly Ivins.”
With nearly every seat filled with Ivins fans indulging in
high-carb baked goods and coffee, local mural artist Esmond
Lyons, whose paintings adorn the café walls, took the microphone
to speak about the parallel between the newspaper’s action
and the decision of the Aviation Mall’s Regal Cinema not to
show the anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.
is no conspiracy to silence Molly Ivins,” he intoned. “There
was no conspiracy to silence Michael Moore.”
David Dawkins, a Glens Falls community volunteer and activist
who organizes the city’s Martin Luther King Day celebration
every year, said he wasn’t surprised by the column’s demise.
He called the stifling of debate and difference of opinion
a threat to democracy.
a lifelong independent,” Dawkins pointed out. “I don’t subscribe
to any political party, but I’m distressed. Molly Ivins is
the tip of the iceberg.”
Adirondack Green Party chair John Warren, who teaches broadcast
journalism at Ithaca College, placed Ivins in the company
of 20th-century muckrakers Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair,
and Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, who
defied the courts to print the Pentagon Papers.
you think of a single media mogul today who would be that
brave?” he asked.
Warren, who lives in the tiny Adirondack community of Chestertown,
tried to make the case that the GOP’s claim to the North Country
is unfounded. (Warren County, which includes Glens Falls and
Lake George, lists 22,896 registered Republicans out of 42,834
voters on its Web site.)
a progressive movement afoot,” Warren said. “It’s not that
huge, but it’s persistent.”
Although Funiciello invited The Post-Star to cover
the event, the paper declined. (City editor Bob Condon said
the next day that he considered it sufficient to cover Ivins’
appearance itself.) A former feature writer and columnist
for the paper, Stacey Morris, said she believes the Post-Star
tries to be balanced but doesn’t always succeed.
just unfortunate that in the process they lost one of the
best and most insightful writers they had,” Morris said.
Reached by phone the following day, Post-Star managing
editor Ken Tingley said the decision to drop Ivins’ column,
which he began carrying a few years ago, was part of a regular
“shake-up” of the editorial page that occurs every couple
of years. The reason, he said, was not Ivins’ political leanings,
but the column’s “all politics all the time” content.
was a one-trick pony,” Tingley explained. “I didn’t find that
very interesting, as a reader.” He said he was also looking
to give the page a more “regional feel.” The paper’s new columnists
are Lenore Skenazy from the New York Daily News and
Jim Shea from the Hartford Courant. Both write about
a mix of topics, from lifestyle to politics.
Asked if he would reconsider Ivins’ removal, Tingley replied,
“I never say never,” but reiterated, “I think we made the
Tingley added he’s been a little surprised by the attention
paid to the newspaper’s decision, including a mention on WAMC’s
of my tenure here we’ve been told we’re too liberal,” he said
with a laugh. “I don’t know why anyone would think we here
in Glens Falls would have any pull on the presidential election.
We continue to do what we do best, and that’s local news.”
Ceceri wrote for The Post-Star for 10 years as a freelance
about these insurgents I keep hearing about?”
in any other war, everyone would have been killed—insurgents
Spirit of America in which a
soldier tells his friend that the
presence of Iraqi insurgents is
evidence of America’s benevolence.
headlines are full of CBS apologizing for being
taken in by some fabricated documents about George
W. Bush’s military service, and Bushites are hoping
this makes a dead issue of Bush’s “missing year.”
Oddly, the fake memos have gotten far more media
attention than the mountain of other, legitimate,
evidence that Bush went AWOL. Kinda makes you
wonder which side had an interest in concocting
those fake memos. For more details, check
It’s Not a Christian Thing
United States remains deeply divided over same-sex
marriage, with state constitutional amendments
against being passed almost as fast as court-cases
demanding equality are filed. While U.S. opponents
rely on religious arguments against same-sex marriage,
a recent survey in Spain, a strongly Catholic
country, found 70 percent support for marriage
equality. According to Gay.com U.K., the newly
elected Spanish government is expected to legalize
same-sex marriage on Friday (Oct. 1).
Bush’s Hometown Paper Endorses Kerry
Lone Star Iconoclast of Crawford, Texas,
a paper that bills itself as Bush’s hometown paper,
endorsed democratic candidate John Kerry on Sept.
29th, explaining that its 2000 Bush endorsement
was based on “the things he promised, not on this
smoke-screened agenda.” The paper decried Bush’s
mismanagement of social security and the economy,
mistakes regarding terrorism and Iraq, and the
“dangerous shift away from the basic freedoms
established by our founding fathers.” The editorial
urges Texans not to vote by the candidate’s hometown
or political party but by what they intend to
do for America.
New York Independence Party Backs Nader
Independence Party of New York nominated the Ralph
Nader at its state convention of 100 people in
Albany on Sunday. The Nader ticket won by an overwhelming
95 percent, beating out Kerry’s 4 percent and
Bush’s 0.4 percent. This was an odd move for a
party that usually backs major-party incumbents,
Republicans as well as Democrats, but party spokespeople
attributed it to Nader’s ability to speak to the
and peace: protesters and students outside the Army’s
Spirit of America.
by: Chis Shields
Army Wants Us
U.S. Army invaded Albany last weekend, but critics contend
that the military had orders to recruit, not to educate
and synthetic fog filled the Pepsi Arena Friday morning as
green lights swept the floor and video screens taller than
most homes flashed grainy images of helicopters unloading
human cargo into the jungles of Vietnam. The crackle of gunfire
sent a grade-school girl pitching forward in her seat, braids
and red-white-and-blue ribbons splayed out on the seatback
in front of her, hands pressed against her ears. Meanwhile,
a live-action battle raged on the floor of the arena, complete
with soldiers spastically feigning impact from round after
round of blanks and dropping lifeless to the floor.
no mistake about it—when the most well-funded military in
the world wants to put on a show, it’s going to be one hell
of a production.
The Spirit of America, a multimedia performance arranged by
the United States Army, arrived in Albany last weekend with
all the spectacle of a rock concert. Featuring a narrative
history of the American military complete with battle reenactments
and performances by the U.S. Army Band, U.S. Army Drill Team
and the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, the show has been performed
annually in Washington, D.C., for more than 20 years. This
year it branched out to two new locations—Worcester, Mass.,
wanted to go to a place where there wasn’t a large Army presence,”
said Tracy Fitzgerald, spokeswoman for the Army’s Military
District of Washington.
While few would argue that New York’s capital lacks the military
presence of, say, the nation’s capital, the arrival of the
Spirit of America prompted some residents to remind their
officials that they would like Albany to remain that way.
Many critics questioned not only the historical accuracy of
the show’s content but the decision of many local schools
to cancel classes in order to attend Friday morning’s performance.
On Thursday night, at a meeting of the Albany School Board,
several speakers questioned the academic merits of the show,
calling the production a “recruiting tool,” and urging the
board to reject the Army’s offer of free admission and continue
with classes as usual.
ought to be teaching our youth strategies of peace,” said
Frank Houde, president of the local chapter of Veterans for
Peace, which alerted local school districts to the presence
of military recruiters at the event—a condition which many
districts had not been made aware of when the tickets were
can parents give their consent when they have no idea what
their children are attending?” asked John Amidon, another
member of Veterans for Peace, at Thursday’s meeting.
While one of Albany’s School Board members, Bill Barnette,
questioned the educational value of the event at Thursday’s
meeting, the remaining members assured attendees that they
had “looked into” the presence of military recruiters at the
performance and decided that the show had significant educational
content to merit canceling classes for the day.
A protest organized on short notice by the veterans’ group
attracted more than 70 activists Friday morning, many of whom
told the busloads of children on their way into the event
to be certain they learned the truth about what they were
about to witness.
Army never bothered to tell anyone that they would have recruiters
greeting all of the children,” said Amidon, adding that “the
best lesson the kids got from the field trip was seeing us
on the street.”
Despite the picture of the event painted by many peace activists—full
of aggressive recruiters pushing leaflets into the hands of
second-graders and conning contact information from high-school
students—there was little evidence of such activities at Friday’s
show. Students who approached the recruiting stations often
received little more than a handshake and a nod from the attending
soldiers, and were only offered more specific information
when they requested it. Even the promotional items such as
lanyards and pencils were provided without the high-pressure
sales techniques that often accompany giveaways.
to what some people would like to believe, there really are
people here who want information about what we’re doing and
the options available to them,” said Lt. Col. Paul A. Fanning
of the New York Army National Guard, gesturing to the booth
behind him. “That’s why [the recruiters] are here. . . . It’s
no different than what you see at a fair or any event sponsored
by a certain group.”
However, while the process of recruitment was less overt than
it typically tends to be—a condition peace groups attributed
to the media attention the show received—there was no shortage
of military propaganda to be found in the Army’s Spirit of
isn’t just a ‘go and sign up’ thing,” explained Houde, “it’s
a process that starts by making the military more appealing—especially
to young people.”
Several critics called specific sections of dialogue in the
show rife with propaganda and misrepresentation. In one such
exchange, a soldier returning from overseas tells his friend,
“When we were in Iraq, we weren’t really thinking about why
we were there. It didn’t matter to us—it was more like a distraction.”
And in the repetition of this message—that the mission comes
before a soldier’s morals—lies the danger, claimed critics.
have an obligation to make moral judgments,” explained Amidon,
citing 1968’s My Lai massacre—in which American soldiers who
claimed to be following orders slaughtered more than 300 unarmed
civilians—as evidence of soldiers’ responsibility to carefully
consider the demands placed upon them.
Throughout the show, many simplistically pro-military messages—including
that of “mission before morals”—quickly became oft-repeated
themes, leaving many to question whether the Army’s production
was aimed less at educating the public than at justifying
its actions. “You think that we rely on you,” one character
tells a soldier during the show, “but really, you rely on
us—to be good citizens and support you and your mission while
you’re overseas.” For some, the repetitive applause cued by
soldiers positioned in the audience only made the show’s intent
Yet, the most controversial aspect of the performance for
some members of the audience was not the military propaganda
or recruitment process, but the content of the show itself.
Although the information initially released to schools described
the performance as a history lesson and musical revue, the
graphic nature of the production took many teachers, chaperones
and—in some cases—attending military veterans by surprise.
battle scenes were a bit much for a second-grader,” explained
one teacher, on her way to escort one of her charges to the
bathroom. “The guns were definitely more than we had prepared
[our students] for.”
According to Amidon, such problems often arise when isolated
groups like the military venture into a public medium.
military is so isolated from the values of mainstream society
that this type of performance would seem, to [the military],
to be perfectly appropriate for children,” he explained, “so
that’s the one part of the show I can’t really fault them
for—they don’t know any better.”
And for the girl with the red-white-and-blue ribbons in her
hair who covered her eyes and ears during the Vietnam portion
of the show (and every battle thereafter), the lesson learned
during the Spirit of America was probably far simpler than
any of its opponents—or advocates—intended.
a lot of running around and shooting things in the Army,”
she frowned, making her way up the stairs at the end of the
first half of the show. “I don’t think I would like being
in the Army very much.”
the Superintendent’s Office You Go
controversial decision by Albany’s School Board may come back
to haunt members up for re-election in NovemberDespite
an initial announcement that the job would only be filled
after a nationwide search, Albany School Board members voted
4-2 on Thursday in favor of suspending the search for a new
superintendent of schools, giving the position to interim
superintendent Eva Joseph. An unusually large crowd attended
the meeting, with many speakers criticizing the process—though
not the person—at the heart of the board’s decision.
According to board members, the decision to end the search
and select Joseph was a result of board members’ fear that
the district would be left without leadership for too long
during what could develop into a long selection process.
Board President Scott Wexler said that the chance of losing
Joseph as both a candidate and in the interim role—she had
been offered a similar position in another district—contributed
to the urgency of their decision.
Bill Washburn, the former principal of Albany High School,
described the board’s action as a “fear-based decision.”
actions by the members of the current board to abandon the
open search process for a new Superintendent . . . have had
a chilling effect on an already fragile public trust,” said
Suzanne Waltz, one of the candidates for school board in the
Nov. 2 election. Albany’s last superintendent was also chosen
without a nationwide search.
Yet, those opposed to the board’s decision stopped short of
criticizing Joseph’s credentials. Like the union representatives
and community residents who spoke in favor of Joseph’s appointment,
even those who denounced the end of the board’s search acknowledged
that Joseph, a longtime district administrator, was an exceptionally
One of the most prominent complaints voiced by critics of
the board’s decision focused on a need to include more representatives
of the black community on the school board. Many of those
in attendance at the meeting said that they hoped an open
search might allow for black candidates to receive consideration.
While the 4-2 vote was split along racial lines, with the
two votes against cast by the board’s only black members,
the two dissenting members insisted that their votes were
a statement about breaking the promise of an open search and
not related to issues of race.
Joseph’s three-year term will begin Oct. 1, and three of the
school board seats will be up for election on Nov. 2.
Republican candidate for Albany County Family
Court judge, Lisa Harris, [“Family Rivalry,”
Trail Mix, July 8] withdrew from the race when
the party realized she was 51 days short of the
required 10 years membership in the bar. Given
the withdrawal, it is possible that the Democratic
nominee, Margaret Walsh, could be appointed by
Gov. George Pataki to fill the vacant position,
but no decision has been made yet. . . . After
a Mayor Jennings-precipitated detour to examine
its possible use as a library [“Looking to Branch
Out,” Newsfront, Dec. 4, 2003], the Washington
Avenue Armory is back on track to be sold
to former county executive Jim Coyne and transformed
into a sports arena. The library plan turned out
to be too expensive. As part of the current deal,
Coyne will drop the lawsuit he filed against the
state for backing out of the previous sale arrangement.
. . . After Democrats dropped their campaign-finance
lawsuit against the Democratic District Attorney
nominee David Soares’ campaign [“Primary
Shake-up,” Trail Mix, Sept. 16], the Republicans
took it up, with the same claims: the Working
Families Party shouldn’t spend money during a
Democratic primary, even for its own nominee,
and the Drug Policy Reform Network is a corporation
and exceeded corporation giving limits. (DPRN
says it gave the money through a political action
committee, which would be allowed.) A hearing
has been scheduled for Oct. 7, but on Tuesday
a Republican judge lifted the temporary restraining
order that had prevented Soares from spending
any more campaign money. The Soares campaign continued
to insist that the lawsuit is frivolous, and to
point out that despite the outcry about downstate
money, his campaign had twice as many local donors
as Paul Clyne’s.