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Friday, May 6, 2011

Seeing Red

Did you know that postal service machinery can't be used to scan red mail?  They use a red laser to read bar codes, so putting a bar code on a piece of red mail is a waste of time.

On the other hand, selecting red as the color of your mailer means you don't need to use a bar code that will contain the sender's return address.

I got this tidbit from Hector Rodriguez, a county legislator for New Paltz who has a lot of experience in the mailing business.  His mailing experience comes from working for Cornerstone, the source of the red card, and his political experience includes working on Jason West's 2003 and 2011 campaigns, and he admits that he has some biases in this case. He's also an expert with knowledge in all these areas, which is why I picked his brain regardless.

I find the direct mail regulations to be daunting, but Hector assures me that nobody broke any laws with that mailer.  However, while I have maintained that Cornerstone failed by simply taking the business, Hector believes that their expertise was critical in making it a success:  he does not believe that anyone in New Paltz could have sent that mailing and kept it legally anonymous without expert help.  Not only was red a good choice to avoid having to use a bar code, the permit used also has two standard formats.  The other one would have disclosed the name and address of Cornerstone's client.

The red card was cheap to produce and inexpensive to mail.  It probably wasn't greed that led Cornerstone to take the job, because profit margins are razor-thin and Hector assured me that no one got rich off of this job.

While the mailing itself was cheap, Hector believes that the anonymous culprit didn't get his or her money's worth with the list they bought. He's been trying to reconstruct it based on his knowledge of mailing and the board of elections. The BOE will provide lists for free, but adding in a charge for acquiring the data is one of the ways that Cornerstone makes money off its clients.  (I don't think there's any ethical problem with that; if Cornerstone does the work they deserve something for it. Hector disagrees, feeling it's a form of fleecing.)

Based on the people dead and alive who received the mailing, Hector doesn't feel the sender got a mailing which was very well targeted.  Like many people, he believes that West's campaign may have benefited from it.  And I didn't ask him if the campaign did it themselves, because he volunteered that information: "We couldn't have come up with a strategy like that if we tried."

My gut is to believe that statement.  The idea of someone pulling a massive switch like this to garner votes by appearing to drive them away fails to meet the Occam's razor test.  I will remain skeptical of any such charges unless evidence is produced to back them up.

My gut further tells me that no mayoral candidate was involved, but time will tell if my gut needs a checkup.  Evidence is far more effective than speculation.  Readers have been kind in providing me with five or six suspects, at last count, but all I've been able to compile is one piece of extremely circumstantial evidence to implicate one prominent New Paltz resident.  I won't insult my readers or risk libel charges by claiming I am anywhere close to reaching an answer, but I thank the readership for helping.  This is not a mystery which can be solved by only one of us.

Other readers encourage my boycott of Cornerstone until they apologize, and complaining to the USPS itself.  Interested citizens may call the Newburgh office at 567-2331 or complain using this form.

Please keep your theories and evidence coming, but remember that evidence is what drives any investigation.

26 comments:

Martin McPhillips said...

I didn't know that Cornerstone existed but for these peculiar indignations, nor that those kinds of mailings were so inexpensive (per the legislator). Damn valuable resource for local entrepreneurs, and the Cornerstone people are entrepreneurs themselves of course, God bless 'em. If there is any serious boycott of them, I'll happily encourage as many people as possible to use their services, because from taking a look at their site they employ a bunch of people and look like a pretty earnest outfit. Maybe I'll do a mailing myself, if it is in fact so inexpensive, and I'll do mine on non-recycled green paper. Given that I'm still haunted by my solar energy books, maybe I'll pick that as a topic. It pretends to be a popular subject around town. Did you know that there's a big photovoltaic array on the village DPW garage? A very interesting project, from so many different angles.

Brittany Turner said...

Well, the only people that have publicly expressed sentiments similar to those on the red card have been Jon Cohen and the Dungan/Osborn/Gallucci/Wallace camp, as far as I know.

Jon says he didn't do it, so I'm inclined to believe him because I have faith in people. Also as far as I know, the others have remained mum on the subject, which doesn't indicate anything either way. Even if they had denied any involvement, they've lied before, and as much as I try to sustain my faith in people, believing anything the others say kind of falls into the "Fool me once..." category. In fact, I wouldn't put it past any of them to have placed the order under someone else's name.

Perhaps the gadflies could FOIL past FOILs to determine who was reviewing the budgets referenced on the card in an effort to narrow things down. Of course, if it was an "insider," they weren't likely to FOIL it, and even if they did, the Village probably won't tell you.

I still haven't received a response from anyone at Cornerstone. While a boycott may not be warranted, you would think at least someone would respond to my inquiry, even if it were only to say that they will not provide any information.

Martin McPhillips said...

"I wouldn't put it past any of them to have placed the order under someone else's name."

You know, this really is starting to look sinister.

From the "red card": "Even the Ulster County Board of Elections lists Jason West's voter profile as "INACTIVE".

You mean you think those people would stoop so low as to check West's voter registration status at the Ulster County Board of Elections and try to use it against him?

What's next after that? Candidates combing through the BOE records to see if residents are registered in order to challenge the value of their views?

Nah, no candidate would do something like that. The outrage would just be too great. It would be positively Nixonian.

Anonymous said...

>the only people that have publicly expressed sentiments similar

Brittany perhaps you're not thinking back far enough....

Brittany Turner said...

@anonymous, I meant with regard to this most recent campaign. Sure there are others going farther back, but why not start where we are? Seems like as good a place as any, unless you know something the rest of us don't.

Martin McPhillips said...

More from the Red Card: "The West campaign has made arrangements to bus students to the Village Hall to offset the election with non-stakeholder votes."

(Lord help me, do I hate the term "stakeholder.")

Here's an easy question, I think: Did the West campaign make such arrangements? Is that claim true?

And then this ancillary question: Is the lumpen studentariat that lazy, that they couldn't find their way from, say, LeFevre or Bevier Hall across the vast Rocky Mountains of the campus and make it to the Firehouse (not village hall) on their own?

kt tobin said...

@martin, the answer to the question, "Did the West campaign make such arrangements? Is that claim true?" is no.

Terence said...

I did not see buses of any kind during my two trips to the firehouse that day. However, I've heard that Woodland Pond had bused in some of their residents. I wonder if they had a sinister motive?

Anonymous said...

and what about previous West campaigns hmmmmmm

kt tobin said...

i totally forgot! i did see the woodland pond mini bus in front of village hall that day!

Martin McPhillips said...

O.K., then, that's what I thought, KT. Busing students to vote did sound like an obvious waste of perfectly good campaign cash.

But since you seem familiar with all the various details, let's cut to the chase here and save some time: Which of the claims on the Red Card are accurate in whole or part?

There's been an effort to track down the Emanuel Goldstein behind the Red Card, but no effort to rebut the claims.

As an example of "accurate in whole or part," the Red Card's claim that West was able to get his salary raised is accurate. He was paid app. $8,000 to begin with. He did eventually ask for a raise to $40,000, after first getting a raise to app. $25,000. (And after having the $40,000 request turned down by the board he came back and proposed an increase to $44K in his next budget.) So the claim that he "settled for $30,000," is too high by app. $5,000 and also inaccurate in its assertion that he "settled" for that salary, because it was after he got the raise to app. $25,000 that he asked for $40K.

So, likewise, for how many of the just previous four years was he in California or someplace other than New Paltz? Or is that an unfair question to ask about the just elected mayor of New Paltz?

How accurate are the budget numbers presented on the Red Card?

Etc.

Stephen Hillier said...

If you're so outraged by an anonymous mailing, why do you allow anonymous comments here? It's an especially pointless errand you've set yourself because West won. As for Dungan et. al. as potential "conspirators" didn't anyone see the piece that went out under Terry's name making some very serious allegations about Jason's fiscal mismanagement? I did. And I'm bothered that these issues were hardly raised during the campaign. Why would he send out an inaccurate hit pieces anonymously when he made more damning points much more effectively in a piece to which he put his name?

Terence said...

Stephen,

I prefer people to use their names. I believe this is the first politically-oriented blog in Ulster County that requires a name on every post, rather than the sniveling shots fired from behind the shield of a keyboard that you see on many other sites.

We mostly allow anonymity in comments because some people don't have the technical skills to create an account with one of the many sites that can be used for that here. Their comments are just as valid, although comments without any name are more likely to be nuked. I (usually) think it's worth the risk, although I don't get it myself.

Why is this exercise pointless, exactly? I would have been outraged no matter who the target was, even if it was someone I really, really dislike. I don't like cowardice and underhanded tactics. Are you saying that scumbaggery is acceptable if used against the winner?

I don't recall suggesting that Terry Dungan was the perpetrator, and it would surprise me if I discovered that he was. Terry is an extremely poor communicator, but I don't believe him to be an underhanded scumbag.

Yes, I am calling the red carder an underhanded scumbag. Hope that pisses someone off.

Martin McPhillips said...

If the maker of the Red Card is an "underhanded scumbag," then he or she will have to get in line, and in New Paltz it's a long line.

As for Dungan's communications skills, he did a pretty good job as a letter writer, rebutting the continuous mis-reporting of facts in the Stalinpaltz Wombat-Strangler. His overall communicatons strategy was awful. First and foremost: never getting the village board meeting broadcasts fixed. You had a board of interesting, engaged people who were presented to the public, on Channel 23, meeting after meeting, as smudged shadows and disembodied voices. You couldn't properly put their voices with their faces and it was just horrible crap. Unwatchable.

I don't care whose toes get stepped on; if it's my job to put that show on, I warn the video people once and if the improvements don't happen, fast, I terminate their contract. This phenomenon is one of the great local mysteries to me, why any board would sit still for that sort of ineptitude.

And it's not like no one brought it to their attention, because I know that I did and on more the one occasion.

Stephen Hillier said...

Terrence, Brittany certainly did suggest that Terry "et. al." might have been responsible and so that part of my comment was directed at her. As for underhanded scumbaggery or whatever you want to call it, it seems worthwhile in politics to reserve your outrage for outrageous acts. It's politics. Scumbaggery comes with the territory. Keep your responses to it in proportion is my advice. What do think of Jason, during the last election, going down to NYC to pry money out of old fart Greens by slagging his very own constituents? Yes, he spoke on camera, so I'll concede that it was just scumbaggery and not underhanded... Am I suggesting that tit for tat is OK? No, just that you should view this red card matter in context. And if you're going to make an issue out of it, then make an issue out of all the nasty things candidates do and say.

Terence said...

I think what you're suggesting, Stephen, is an appeal to common practice. Because all politics are slimy, I am only permitted to be bothered by any instance if I apply my energies to all instances, is that correct? Otherwise, I should simply accept the inherent evil as "just politics, deal with it" (my best attempt a paraphrasing a comment Brittany Turner once made to me) or something of that sort?

I don't accept your argument as valid. Humans are most productive when they focus, and most bureaucratic when they generalize. I prefer to pick and choose my battles.

As for Mr. West's past actions, I don't think extending my outrage back through time would do anything but dilute my efforts, either. The past is the one period in time we can't affect, so why dwell on it? This is Jason's first term with this blog in action, and I for one will be more than happy to take him to task about his performance, but whining about the past doesn't change the fact that more village voters wanted him than anybody else.

Martin McPhillips said...

The Red Card is "inherently evil?"

Inherently incompetent and ineffective, yes. Evil, no. Not even close.

(Still no report back from the "West campaign" about what was accurate and what inaccurate on the card.)

Terence said...

No, Martin, not the card; it's the underhanded methods I'm talking about. And the amount of accuracy isn't one concerns me, either. If you're going to attack someone, using truth or lies, be man enough to put your name to it. Then we can question your facts and mock your political savvy to your face.

True or false, the anonymity was cowardice, driven by evil. Sheer scumbaggery, which in this case was mixed with hearty doses of incompetence and illiteracy.

Martin McPhillips said...

Cowardice? That's arguable, I suppose. It could be seen as prudent as well. If you don't want to face retaliation against your business, let's say. Or to be harassed at your job.

I don't see how it really rises to authentic scumbaggery, but let's stipulate that it did. That doesn't add up to "driven by evil."

Compare: Human trafficking is driven by evil.

Authentic scandal is doubly evil -- an act evil in itself that inspires others to do evil.

Terence said...

Martin, I own up to the sin of getting passionate over small things. I find it's easier than getting excited about something I can't impact much on my own, like immigration.

Martin McPhillips said...

Oh, me too, on the small things. Small town politics is about as small as small gets. As has been said about the academic world, the battles are so nasty because the stakes are so small.

But in another sense, the stakes are not small. Now that Comrade West has taken charge of the village politburo again, you'll see that, even under pain of his imprisoning political agenda, I do not support the dissolution of the village, aka "consolidation, unification, whatever."

In fact, I observed, the last time he presided, that local grandees, sublimating their fear of taking him on, lest they be attacked by his propaganda minister at the Stalinpaltz Politburo-Scatbox, turned to the already much repudiated idea of dissolving the village as an outlet for their frustrations. I said it was a bad idea then, and I explained why at the time, and have done so here more recently as well. (For a point of reference on that, when I first returned to New Paltz in 2004 my reaction to the two governments was "Why the hell do they still have two governments?" And then I watched and thought about it, to some depth, and watched some more, and looked at the different missions and the different character of the two governments, and I understood why. And as I said, I did that while under the duress of the first coming of Comrade West. So I was hardly prejudiced in my conclusions.)

In the big scheme of things, letting go of the village of New Paltz probably does look like pretty small stakes, but from the micro-view, of being right here in the village, it's a really bad idea. Likewise my opposition to the incredibly aesthetically bereft and functionally dismal One-Way Main Street traffic concept. That still has a crowd of busybody supporters eager to try to jam it down everyone's throat.

So those are two examples of my being passionate about small things. Be not ashamed of your own small concerns.

Stephen Hillier said...

First off, I have no problem with candidates helping get their supporters to the polls. Get out the vote efforts are part of any campaign. But lets nonetheless distinguish between a candidate getting only his/her supporters to the polls, versus a retirement community bus getting its residents (no matter who they support) to the poll. One would hope that under any circumstances, young students living literally across the street from the polling place are better able to get themselves there then seniors, many of whom presumably have health issues, and who live beyond walking distance.

kt tobin said...

@martin - i'm a busy lady with family, work, stuff... the red card and the dungan letter were full of lies and misrepresentations. when i find the time i will compile a more empirically based response.

Martin McPhillips said...

Indeed, you are a busy person, KT. You have a finger in so many pies that it boggles the mind. The Board of Education. GreenVerkes. The consolidation study. Gadfly (very neglectful there). The West campaign.

I'm sure I missed something.

So, no need to hurry with answers about the accuracy of the Red Card. (I haven't seen what Terry Dungan put out, but I can't imagine that he would need to lie.) The election is over and the winners have won. Let's get back to the rumors behind the news.

Martin McPhillips said...

Oh, me too, on the small things. Small town politics is about as small as small gets. As has been said about the academic world, the battles are so nasty because the stakes are so small.

But in another sense, the stakes are not small. Now that Comrade West has taken charge of the village politburo again, you'll see that, even under pain of his imprisoning political agenda, I do not support the dissolution of the village, aka "consolidation, unification, whatever."

In fact, I observed, the last time he presided, that local grandees, sublimating their fear of taking him on, lest they be attacked by his propaganda minister at the Stalinpaltz Politburo-Scatbox, turned to the already much repudiated idea of dissolving the village as an outlet for their frustrations. I said it was a bad idea then, and I explained why at the time, and have done so here more recently as well. (For a point of reference on that, when I first returned to New Paltz in 2004 my reaction to the two governments was "Why the hell do they still have two governments?" And then I watched and thought about it, to some depth, and watched some more, and looked at the different missions and the different character of the two governments, and I understood why. And as I said, I did that while under the duress of the first coming of Comrade West. So I was hardly prejudiced in my conclusions.)

In the big scheme of things, letting go of the village of New Paltz probably does look like pretty small stakes, but from the micro-view, of being right here in the village, it's a really bad idea. Likewise my opposition to the incredibly aesthetically bereft and functionally dismal One-Way Main Street traffic concept. That still has a crowd of busybody supporters eager to try to jam it down everyone's throat.

So those are two examples of my being passionate about small things. Be not ashamed of your own small concerns.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the red card was sent by the Anti-gay group that attacked Jason when he did the gay marriages. They have the money to throw around.