Friday, September 30, 2005

Enabling anti-Americanism

Ever wonder why the United States in general and President Bush in particular are so unpopular in Latin America? It has to do with hypocrisy inherent in American foreign policy for decades, a hypocrisy ratched up to the nth level under the current regime in Washington.

Most Americans say they support freedom and liberty (or democracy and human rights, depending on your political persuasion). And for the most part, I think most Americans do. The mistake many Americans make is that they assume their government thinks the same way.

Throughout the Cold War, American governments claimed to act on behalf of the 'free world,' but regularly supported regimes that were not only unfree, but downright brutal and repressive. Chile, Argentina, Panama, Brazil, apartheid South Africa, Morocco, Saudi Arabia; the full list is several times longer. The US government would support any tinpot dictator or outright bloodthirsty thug so long as he called himself anti-communist.

It's hard for people to take you seriously about freedom and liberty when you're propping up murderous regimes like those of Liberia's Samuel Doe or Chile's Augusto Pinochet. If Fidel Castro was demonized simply because he stole American-owned property in Cuba, then how could Washington justify supporting an outright genocidal regime in Guatemala or death squads in El Salvador?

In fact, this chasm between self-righteous proclamations and nefarious actions is the primary source of anti-Americanism not just in Latin America but worldwide. Unfortunately, many people around the world mistakenly assume that because the US government has traditionally filled with hypocrites who enable mass murderers, then they must do so with the conscious support of most of the American people. Anti-Americanism develops because of the unconscionable policies of our government but it's the American people who suffer by expressions of that sentiment like 9/11.

Yesterday, a Texas judge blocked the extradition of a terrorist suspect to Venezuela. The judge blocked the extradition under the pretext that the suspect might be tortured if sent to the South American country.

It's important to remember that judges are supposed to be independent of the government and government pressure, contrary to what some would like. Though it is ironic that a judge in the second most death penalty giddy jurisdiction in the world is concerned about government mistreating prisoners.

But if you're trying to get the 'be tough against terrorism' message across if you're harboring suspected terrorists yourself.

"It's bad enough when the world knows that we're rendering [kidnapping and shipping] suspected Islamic terrorists to countries that routinely use terror," said one State Department official. "But here we have someone who we know is a terrorist, and it's clear that we're actively protecting him from facing justice. We have zero credibility."

The crux of the matter is that relations are hostile between the Bush administration and Venezuela's de facto dictator Hugo Chavez. Chavez is an old school left-wing self-styled revolutionary and the Bush administration is made up of right-wingers that many would characterize as reactionary. It's hardly surprising that they aren't on each other's Christmas card list.

So it's not surprising that the Bush administration hasn't gone to bat to push for the extradition of this suspected terrorist. (Of course, if he were thought to be al-Qaeda, they'd just drop the 'suspected' pretense when referring to him)

This case is simply one of whether to extradite a man already living in the US. Earlier this year, the CIA went to Italy, kidnapped suspected al-Qaeda members and shipped them off to Egypt. Egypt is another country that is widely believed to practice torture, but Egypt's dictator is an American ally.

(The kidnappings were widely condemned not only for being illegal but for damaging the national security of both the US and Italy.)

Should the US extradite suspects to countries that practice torture? That's a fair question. But it's one that should have a universal answer. Is it an expression of American values to be complicit in torture so long as it's done by so-called friendly regimes? If we, as a people, answer yes, then we, as a people, must accept the inevitable dangerous consequences.


Update: Events in Nicaragua add to the hypocrisy charge. The left-wing opposition is trying to impeach the conservative president Enrique Bolanos. Impeachment is a procedure provided for in Nicaraguan law. It doesn't happen very often, but it's not unprecedented and certainly within the framework of constitutional order in democratic countries.

If the Bush administration had any clue about psychology, diplomacy and image abroad, it would've reacted by calling the attempt unwise or by otherwise backing President Bolanos or calling him a wonderful leader. And leaving it at that. Instead, the assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere referred to impeachment attempts as a 'judicial mugging.'

I seem to remember a certain North American country where the president was impeached, but not removed, in the late 1990s. Many claimed it was a terrible idea but no reasonable person equated it to a coup.

Then again, President Bolanos' ambassador to the US described the opposition's electoral victory in legislative elections as a kidnapping so perhaps the regime's understanding of democratic rules isn't fully developed yet. Bolanos' allies in Washington should know better, especially since many of them were the ones who led the afforementioned impeachment of President Clinton. But we know they have short memories.



2nd update: Unfortunately, even The Washington Post has bought into the coup myth

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Wink-and-nod smear mongering

I used to be a regular reader of the anti-Bush website Salon.com but its shrill tedium has turned me off in the last few years. (Its consistent ad hominem attacks against Ralph Nader's candidacy last year didn't help)

It regularly rails against the right-wing smear machine but is more than happy to use some of its tactics.

Today, I saw an article that repeated rumors about the sexuality of right-wing Rep. David Dreier, who had been expected to take over as House majority leader for the indicted Tom DeLay.

Though Dreier is one of the most detestible Congressmen in a body with more than a few, I loathe this sort of sneaky, smear campaign. The Salon attack didn't even offer any original journalism on Dreier's alleged sexuality; it merely repeated rumors peddled by other publications.

The article's author, Tim Grieve, passed off this smear as an "analysis" of why Dreier may have been passed over for majority leader in favor of Roy Blunt. In reality, it was just nothing more than peddling the rumor that one of the top right-wingers in Congress is thought to be gay be some. It was the loathsome wink-and-a-nod attacks that Salon regular condemns Karl Rove and company for engaging in. ("Psst, did you hear? Dreier's a homo! Pass it on.)

Grieve rationalizes the attack by pointing out that Dreier voted against the gay rights lobby on some issues they think are important (in favor of the misnamed Defense of Marriage Act and in favor of banning gays from adopting kids in the District of Columbia). I think Dreier is profoundly wrong on those issues but are they so fundamental that the politics has to get personal? Reasonable people can argue that gays shouldn't get married or adopt kids. I think the state should get out of the marriage business altogether and sanction civil unions for gays and straights. There is no reason, as I see it, that gays shouldn't be able to adopt children. But those are simple policy positions without a consensus in the country at this point in time. If Dreier were advocating the ritual stoning of gays or that they be forced to wear pink triangles on their lapel, I might take a different view.

Salon and like-minded folks like to think of themselves as better than those nasty righties, but they're just as capable of being unethical if they think someone "deserves" it. Salon claims to oppose the right-wing smear machine, but quite clearly it's only the right-wing part they object to.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Hammered!

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has been indicted for alleged criminal conspiracy with regard to a campaign finance scheme.

The Long Emergency

Last month, I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation by James Howard Kunstler, author of the recently published book The Long Emergency: Surviving The Converging Catastrophes Of The Twenty-first Century. The book's basic hypothesis is that the United States' dependency on oil will lead to a long, slow decline in the standard of living. It may not be a dramatic collapse, he argues, but it is inevitable. The USA's economy, layout and whole way of life is based on the premise of cheap, limitless oil. The problem, of course, is that oil is a finite resource. The faster we use it, the faster we run out.

Some mistakenly (or in some cases, self-servingly) contend that those who point out this reality are arguing for the return to a pre-industrial society when we all use scythes to clear fields by hand. I like my computer, satellite radio and refrigerator as much as the next guy. And I'd like to keep them. That, not a desire to return to some agrarian lifestyle, is why the prospect of a Long Emergency concerns me.

The challenge is that even if we wanted to reduce oil consumption, the very layout of our country makes this extremely difficult.

Though I'm not normally an alarmist, some things have made me sit up and take note. One could argue that you're already starting to see signs of the slow crisis predicted by Kunstler.

First, you had near hysteria when Hurricane Katrina and dubious pricing practices caused gas prices to increase by $1 or more per gallon in a few days. If an expected hurricane could cause such economic chaos, imagine would what happen if there were something like a terrorist attack or oil embargo.

Then, the Republican governor of Georgia decided to deal with a feared oil shortage by shutting down the state's schools for two days. I suppose this show's the governor's priorities: when there's the possibility of a crisis, the first thing to be sacrificed is education. Naturally, President Bush praised the governor for having "showed some leadership." People with normal priorities beg to disagree.

The president himself, the old oil man, has issued a call for less driving as a way to conserve energy. (Ironic since Bush's own vice-president only a few years ago said, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it cannot be the basis of a sound energy policy," while his spokesman added that wasteful energy use was "an American way of life.")

The recently passed energy bill offered huge tax breaks and subsidies to big energy companies. If the administration really wanted to encourage energy conservation, it could've offered tax breaks instead to people who carpool to work or to those who walk, bike and/or use public transportation. They might have even given a decent amount of funding to public transportation instead of trying to shut down Amtrak (even as the passenger rail remains popular). They're calling for conservation precisely as they're making conservation more difficult.

As Kunstler alluded to in his Geography Of Nowhere : The Rise And Decline Of America's Man-made Landscape, even if people wanted to drive less, sprawl (and people's choice to embrace it) makes this extremely difficult.

As regular readers will know, I do not drive. Since I live about 2 miles away from my employer in a city that's somewhat amenable to pedestrians and bicylists , I bike or walk or take the bus to work, the soccer fields or wherever else I go.

This has disadvantages, as friends and colleagues often remind me. I can not simply jump in the car and go camping or take a road trip. It can be a pain when I'm in a hurry. Not having a car can be significantly unpleasant when it's raining or snowing.

It also has advantages. It keeps me in decent shape; I bike 1500-2000 miles a year and that's almost entirely in my city or neighboring towns. I do not have to fret over parking spaces (even if bike racks are rare). My lifestyle doesn't radically change when gas goes from $2 to $3.50 a gallon or if insurance rates going through the roof. Frankly, I find biking to be a good stress reliever.

Because I choose to live in this city, I have the choice to not own a car. My colleague lives about 30 miles away in a suburb. As a result, walking to work is a less pragamatic option for her.

I don't damn her choice of residency, but she must live with the consequences of her choices. I take the cons with the pros with my choices but others must do the same with theirs.

Nevertheless, a lot of people I know or work with who COULD forego their car to get to their jobs. They live close to their place of employment. They either don't have kids or have kids who are old enough to ferry themselves to their different afterschool activities. But they choose to drive anyways (all while complaining about high gas prices and lack of parking spots).

Rather than subsidizing big energy, the administration (as well as state and local officials) could offer tax breaks to those people who get to work via carpool, foot, bike or public transportation. Those of us who do those things are reducing our burden on public services by causing less wear and tear on the roads and contributing less air pollution.

The company I work for has made the alleged lack of parking spots downtown one of its top priorities in finding a new home. It is strongly encouraging workers not to take a parking tag if they don't need it. But why don't they offer some kind of incentive for that, such as a few extra vacation days? If the company derives economic benefit by paying less in their lease for parking, then why don't they share some of that benefit with employees who help achieve that benefit? Or, just as importantly, with employees who could help increase that collective benefit.

My city's government is being pressured by various parties to waste millions of dollars on a parking garage that would do nothing to address downtown's fundamental unfriendliness to pedestrians; pedestrians are what drivers become the instant they leave their cars.

If my city and others were to launch campaigns to encourage people to get to downtown on foot or on a bike, it would be a step in the right direction in reducing oil dependency... and there's that darn clean air again.

Interestingly, making a dent in demand for oil would trigger a decrease in the cost of that commodity.

This wouldn't completely solve the problem of dependence on oil (and thus higher oil and gas costs), but it would be a step in the right direction both symbolic and important in its own right. This needs to be followed by steps to make the choice to forego use of automobiles a viable choice for more people. There are no magic bullets.

I'm not a big fan of government regulation in this domain. I'd much rather a carrot be used than a stick. As long as its the right carrot. Instead, the New York State Senate is trying to slash gasoline taxes to allow people to waste gas more easily. Even though it is far more sensible to use that revenue to institute tax breaks like those I've mentioned above to reward efficient choices.

People are free to make wasteful choices so long as they bear the economic burden of those choices. If we want to avoid the Long Emergency, we should reward efficiency, rather than subsidizing wastefulness.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Winning the hearts and minds of our neighbors

Zogby International polled a group of businessmen, academics, communicators and political leaders from eight Latin American countries. The survey found that Chilean President Ricardo Lagos was the most popular (32.1% approval) and least unpopular (15.9% disapproval) leader in the western hemisphere. President Bush had favorable rating of 25.2%, which ranked second; but the US leader had a whopping 73.2% unfavorable rating, far and away the highest in the region.

Lest you think Latin American elites remain infatuated with self-styled revolutionaries, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez was admired by only 5% of respondents and Cuba's Fidel Castro by less than 3%.

Pollster Zogby lauded the moderate socialist President Lagos: “We’re seeing a new pragmatism, with less emphasis in ideology, based on a new model to imitate in the continent which is Chile."

Quite the antithesis of what we're seeing at the White House.

Monday, September 26, 2005

And you think American politics are divisive

Israeli Prime Minister Sharon is accused by some of being complicit with war crimes for his alleged role in a 1982 massacre; a massacre for which an Israeli domestic inquiry found him indirectly responsible thus forcing him to resign as defense minister.

He is widely accused of having provoked the Second Palestinian Intifada by his belligerent visit to the site of Jerusalem's holiest Islamic mosque back in 2000 at a time of tension.

He was once seen as the messiah of Israeli's extremist settlers movement. A movement that now sees him as a traitor for withdrawing Israeli occupation troops from the Gaza Strip and daring to give miniscule autonomy to the Palestinians.

How bitterly polarized is Israel's Likud Party if party leader Sharon is seen as a leftie peacenik by that organization? How radicalized are many elements of the party if Sharon is seen as the voice of moderation?

I'm sure the center-left Labor Party is salivating at the prospect of Sharon being replaced by the hard-line Benjamin Netanyahu, who is widely loathed outside Likud circles.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Boring soccer

The young season has seen a lot of soul-searching in English soccer. Attendances are down noticably in grounds throughout the country. Everyone has their own theories why.

Some contend that the once fast-paced English game has become more defensive and boring. With the financial stakes of not being relegated to a lower division so high, many teams are playing to not lose rather than to win. Others say the change is a natural result of an influx of players and managers from continental Europe where, for the most part, the pace of play is significantly slower. Others blame the 4-5-1 formation that is increasingly in vogue, at the expense of the more tradition English 4-4-2. That is a bit dodgy since most formations can be attacking or defensive depending on the manager's instructions. The Spanish side Barcelona play a 4-5-1 but because of the WAY they play it, the Catalans offer some of the most exciting soccer in Europe.

Some blame increased television exposure and skyrocketing ticket prices for driving away fans. I'm inclined toward the latter. Soccer, much like ice hockey or baseball, is a far better game in person than on television. How is it that the Bristol Rovers (who play in a league equivalent Class A baseball) justify charging twice as much for season tickets as the Spanish side Real Madrid, who are generally considered to be the most glamorous and most expensive team in the world? It's only because of skyrocketing ticket prices that increased television exposure matters. Without it, most people would still prefer going to games.

Others even blame departure from the normal kickoff time. Traditionally, 3:00 PM on Saturday afternoon was soccer time. Now, there are usually games at 12:30 and 5:30 PM local time as well as games on Sunday and Monday... that's in addition to midweek European and domestic cup matches.

Some even take aim at the coaching courses that English managers have to take. They supposedly instill a homogenezation of style and tactics that lead to the current charge of 'boring.'

Interestingly, many Englanders are calling for the removal of national team boss Sven Goran Eriksson and for his replacement with an Englishman like Bolton manager Sam Allardyce or Middlesbrough's Steve McClaren. Perhaps these fans are smoking crack. Replacing 'boring' Sven with Allardyce or McClaren? Have any of these fans actually seen Bolton or Boro play?

I think this epitomize the delusion of many England fans who seem to think that their national team is just the right manager away from winning the World Cup. The fact of the matter is that they aren't that good and that it's not 1935 anymore. It doesn't help that after a single poor performance from any player, fans almost unanimously demand that player never wear the England shirt ever again; Sven's England lost a single game to Northern Ireland and fans are calling for his head.

McClaren even slammed his own supporters because a first round home match in the UEFA Cup against a team I've never heard of and am not sure what country it's from barely drew 14,000 to Middlesbrough's stadium. "The chairman has worked very hard to bring European football to this club and I am disappointed for him that the team has not been backed by the fans," he said. Tickets for the game against this unknown opponent cost over $35... and that was after the price had been REDUCED! Even if I were a Boro supporter, I'd think twice about forking over $35 to be lulled to sleep by that team; I can't think of any (non-Italian) manager who's squeezed so much boring soccer out of so many talented players than McClaren.

In other soccer related news, I was watching the USA-Italy match in the under-17 world championships. It was a shameful, ill-tempered match where the Italians had a player and their coach ejected. After the match, won comfortably 3-1 by the Americans, one of the Italians tried to start a fight with pretty much every member of the US team as well as making obscene gestures to the Peruvian crowd. Though I am Italian and normally support the Azzurri when they're not playing the US, this epitomizes the worst characterstic of Italian soccer: they have absolutely no class when things don't go their way. It's always the ref's fault or cheating opponents or a global conspiracy. Just as bad is that while their fans react angrily to losing, they seem to get little joy out of winning.

And can't players at least come up with some intelligent taunts? The obnoxious Italian player tried to taunt the Americans by simulating a basketball free throw. I'm assuming this is a reference to the fact that I think the Italians beat the USA in the basketball world championships. In the South Korea-USA World Cup match back two years ago, the Korean goal scorer made an Olympic skating reference in his taunting goal celebration. Couldn't they at least do something relevant like point to the scoreboard or something? Oh wait, when it reads 1-3 for the other guys, I guess that's not an option.

In more optimistic news, the New England Revolution are bucking the boring trend. Perenially bottom feeders, New England is having its best season ever with 16 wins, 7 ties and 6 losses. Their exciting, fast-paced attack leads Major League Soccer with 53 goals in 29 games. Let's go Revs!

Friday, September 23, 2005

al-Qaedaism

Frank over at Internet Commentator blog takes aim at many liberals and leftists who act as apologists (unwitting or otherwse) for radical Islam. My initial reaction was one of annoyance: I know a lot of liberals and leftists and I've never met one who had the slightest regard for radical Islam. One can reasonably argue that many leftists have in the past been accomodating to some autocratic ideologies (most notably Soviet and Chinese totalitarianism). But these folks tend to be virulently opposed to all religion-based politics, which explains their bitter opposition to the modern US Republican Party, Israeli settlers, etc. If anything, these folks are usually accused to being too radically SECULAR.

Frank countered that this tendency toward apologia may be more a British thing than an American thing, which I concede could well be true. Many on the American right have insiduously smeared all opponents of President Bush, the ill-directed war on terrorism and the Iraq aggression as being terrorist appeasers and apologists; so perhaps my reaction was more reflexive than reflective. I concede that I am not as familiar with intellectual and pseudo-intellectual trends in Britain as I am with American ones. And by all that I've read and heard, radical Islamic teaching in mosques and elsewhere is far more prevelant in the UK than in the US.

Radical Islam is a fascist ideology that every self-respecting progressive should oppose unreservedly; your opinion of the Bush administration or the Iraq aggression is irrelevant in that regard. Bush may be its Great Satan du jour but Islamism's aims are anything but liberal. Even aside from the strategy of gratuitous terrorist attacks on civilians, look at how the Taliban ran Afghanistan or how the Wahabbites run Saudi Arabia. Women can't leave the house without being accompanied by a man (relative only). Women can't drive or vote. Gays and adulters are stoned. Alcohol is banned. 'Hedonism' is worst possible crime. You think Church and state are muddled here in the US just because of a little 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance? They're a Theocracy Brigade times ten. Radical Islam and western progressivism are as divergently opposed as you can possibly get.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

'Always low prices!' No wonder!

The hostility many liberals and progressives show toward Wal-Mart is nothing more than an ideological manifestation of their anti-capitalist sentiments. Sure, the company is also sued more often than any other entity in the country, save the federal government. It's hard to imagine why considering the fact that one of the nation's richest companies feeds self-destructive sprawl, causes serious environmental degradation (in addition to the sprawl) and receives huge tax breaks which it uses to drive out smaller, locally-owned businesses. But Wal-Mart is good for consumers, good for communities and, most of all, good for workers. Anyone who doesn't loathe the American way of life clearly realizes this.

Some Wal-Mart employees (well, almost 116,000 of them) with first hand experience of the company's labor practices take a dimmer view than that offered by the corporation's cheery commercials. They filed a lawsuit claiming that the company denied employees lunch breaks and forced them to work overtime without compensation.

So the employees couldn't eat lunch and were forced to work for free. Must be a bunch of capitalism haters!

You can bet that competitors who treat their employees decently and within the law hope Wal-Mart gets what's coming to it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Uganda: a former AIDS success story?

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.


For a long time, Uganda was viewed as a success story in the fight against the AIDS pandemic. The country had an HIV infection rate of 20 percent in the mid-1980s but that has been reduced to 7 percent today, according to the UN.

But that progress has been called into question recently. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (AIDS and malaria being Africa's two leading causes of death) has suspended anti-AIDS grants to Uganda. The suspension was a result of what the Global Fund called 'evidence of serious mismanagement.'

Shortfalls were created when grants were converted from US dollars to Ugandan shillings.

Most experts ascribe the dramatic drop to word of mouth and the country's emphasis on condom usage. While any discussion of HIV/AIDS is taboo in most African countries, there's been an unusual culture of openness about the pandemic; many give credit to the very top, where the country's leader Yoweri Museveni has spoken frankly about HIV/AIDS and about what needs to be done to counter it.

It's thus worrying that Museveni's regime appears to be backing away from this successful effort. Many blame the Bush administration for pressuring Museveni's regime to place sole emphasis on abstinence. This allegation is denied by both Uganda and Washington.

However, many organizations and news outlets have documented a concerted anti-condom effort recently in Uganda. The UN envoy for AIDS in Africa recently blasted the Bush administration for pushing its dangerous dogma. The US-inspired policy has led to a severe shortage of condoms in Uganda.

Human Rights Watch reports that the Ugandan first lady, a leading proponent of abstinence only 'education,' has called for a 'virgin census' (you can't make this stuff up). She also accused condom distribution organizations of 'pushing them [young people] to go into sex.' The strongman himself lashed out against condoms as inappropriate for Ugandans and suggested that condom distribution encouraged promiscuity among young people.

The organization added: In numerous interviews, Human Rights Watch found that an exclusive focus on sexual abstinence as an HIV prevention strategy failed to account for the lived experiences of countless Ugandans. “I got HIV in marriage. I was faithful in my relationship,” said one Ugandan woman, expressing a common predicament. Indeed, the suggestion that marriage provides a safeguard against HIV may amount to a death sentence for women and girls. Ugandan women face a high risk of HIV in marriage as a result of polygyny and infidelity among their husbands, combined with human rights abuses such as domestic violence, marital rape, and wife inheritance (whereby a widow is forced to marry the brother of her late husband).

Some link 'abstinence only' to Uganda's dramatic drop in HIV/AIDS rates, however Uganda did not start pushing 'abstinence only' until 2001 (the year the Bush administration took power) when the US started aggressively pushing the program. By 2001, the huge drop in infection rates had already occurred.

Some of us think that's a good thing.

Monday, September 19, 2005

'We don't make news, we just report it' and other fairy tales

Reports indicate that the temperature in Hades is 30 degrees and dropping. The Glens Falls Post-Star actually did an article on one of the three non-Republican candidates to become the city's next mayor... one they'd ignored entirely up until today.

I'll pause for a second to let you recover from your shock.

This brings up to, by my count, four the number of articles Our 'Hometown Daily' has bothered to do in the last nine months on the non-GOP aspirants Bill Berg, Esmond Lyons and LeRoy Akins. They have run at least two dozen articles on Republicans Bud Taylor and Peter McDevitt.

I was almost giddy about this until I actually read the piece. The article they ran today wasn't particularly flattering of Berg as it focused primarily on his battles with his former employer the Fire Department and personal problems.

Bud Taylor is the only candidate allowed to receive flattering portraits by The Post-Star; even most of the paper's articles on McDevitt have been largely negative. So Berg couldn't have been surprised, even if his sales' pitch seems to be in desperate need of work.

The paper would likely say that they only gave blanket coverage to Taylor and McDevitt because they were competing against each other in the Republican and Conservative party primaries.

In fact, their Boos and Bravos editorial even gave a slap on the wrist to the Glens Falls Labor Council and Informed Constituent newspaper for sponsoring a general election debate before the primary election: 'ill-conceived and ill-timed,' lectured the daily.

It seems The Post-Star doesn't approve of candidates campaigning before the primary election if they are their party's uncontested nominee. The debate may have caused 'confusion,' warned The Post-Star.

Apparently after 200+ years of our democracy, citizens aren't savvy enough to know the difference between a general election and a primary election. Are those who attended the debate worse off for knowing the positions of those who weren't in the next day's primary? It's a ludricrous assertion.

This is an extremely weak reason to all but completely ignore three candidates for nine months while giving saturation coverage to the other two. I don't recall them foregoing coverage of President Bush (who got the 2004 national GOP nomination unopposed) during the contested Democratic primaries.

Perhaps this is just a token piece on Bill Berg so they can wash their hands of criticism and say they've run at least one article on all the candidates... even if it's been exactly one for Berg and Lyons and only two for Akins.

Granted, this still doesn't change the fact that not only has the daily annointed Bud Taylor as mayor-select, but they've even transfered that bias into their news articles... which they pass off as objective information.

I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt, but the supply of that is being quickly exhausted. What editorial rationale justified running homey portraits of Taylor, McDevitt and Akins (but not Lyons) earlier in the year while allowing their first and, so far only, purported news article on Berg to be extremely critical? Where is the piece on Lyons where they get his wife, best friend and family dog to talk about what a wonderful man he is?

This article perpetuates the paper's track record of running fluff pieces only on Taylor (except for the portraits of Akins and McDevitt) while being critical of all the other candidates... when they condescend to mention the other candidates at all.

It would be nice if the paper decided to serve the interests of their readers (consumers) who want to be informed about all of the mayoral candidates. Perhaps they might decide to balance out nine months of blanket coverage of Taylor and McDevitt with a month and a half of blanket coverage of Lyons, Berg and Akins... or even a non-hatchet job on McDevitt. Just so they might approximate fairness.

I can certainly fantasize about living in a city where the primary media outlet's management decides that fully informing the public is a duty they take seriously. But I'm not holding my breath.

When interviewed by a journalist for the paper about this blog, I was asked something like, "Do [I] enjoy the chance to take potshots at the paper?"

It was phrased in such a way that suggested I was a little kid who enjoyed throwing stones at the big boys.

The answer is no, not really. I don't squeal in delight everytime I chastize The Post-Star for some alleged transgression. Criticizing our 'Hometown Daily' is not more satisfying to me than an orgasm or the Red Sox winning the World Series. It's not as though I'd have a lack of things to comment on nationally or internationally if The Post-Star became a good paper again. In fact, I hardly ever wrote about the paper until recently, when I realized that I actually had a few local readers.

I don't enjoy criticizing the paper. I would much rather it be a beacon of journalistic brilliance. I would settle for it being the pretty darn good paper it was 5 or 10 years ago. I used to rave about how good The Post-Star was for such a relatively small (in population) area. I'd been to much larger cities who had far inferior newspapers.

The paper's dumbing down process started a few years ago has made it a cariciature of its once excellent self. I realize that no paper is going to have 100 percent reader agreement with every editorial decision it takes; a product that achieve that goal isn't a news publication but an echo chamber. A mainstream paper's credibility is based not on unanimity but a general appreciation for its attempts to be thorough, intelligent, serious and fair. The Post-Star is quickly losing that battle on all fronts, not just in political coverage.

So while I don't enjoy taking potshots at the paper, I also realize that self-appointed watchdogs rarely appreciate anyone watching them. Perhaps they don't think anyone notices things like their skewed coverage of the Glens Falls' mayor's race and then generalized dumbing-down but a lot of people do. And while they would surely dismiss my observations (if they even considered them) as the whining of a partisan, they ignore these legitimate criticisms at their own risk. They are a business, after all. A business with consumers. A business with consumers who have other ways of getting information. While most prefer the convenience of The Post-Star's information, many might decide that hard-hitting front page articles like that about a bridge in Scotland that dogs like to jump off (Aug. 4, 2005) do not serve them well as citizens of upstate New York.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

'Peacekeeping is an art. It's harder than fighting a war'

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.


"Peacekeeping is an art. It's harder than fighting a war…. Sometimes I feel that my hands are bound behind my back and I'm dragging a ball and chain from my leg." --Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The Los Angeles Times ran an an instructive article on the problems faced by United Nations' peackeepers in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). They are charged with surveying an uneasy pseudo-peace in an area considered by some as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (known as MONUC) comprises some 16,000 troops which sounds like a lot until you consider that the DRC is the size of western Europe; by contrast, there are about 150,000 coalition forces in Iraq, which is about 1/5 the size of the DRC... and even they're having problems providing stability.

One of the main problems with UN peacekeeping missions is their voluntary nature. The Security Council may authorize a huge peacekeeping force but it's up to member states to supply troops to that mission. If the mission only draws a fraction of the troops it needs and is authorized, it has to make due.

The other main difficulty faced by MONUC is also common to many UN missions: a weak and sometimes ambiguous mandate. The Security Council is often hesitant to authorize a strong mandate that might actually allow the mission to function properly. Security Council members sometimes fear that an aggressive mandate might endanger a fragile peace... though often, it's a weak mandate that does exactly that. Sometimes, Security Council members oppose a strong mandate on principle; some don't oppose on principle the idea of a UN mission having a strong mandate, while others may not want friendly regimes or rebel groups to face consequences.

If they are given a strong mandate and try to take strong action to enforce peace treaty terms, UN missions are accused of 'taking sides.' If they don't take strong action, they are accused of negligence, of being useless, of allowing another Rwanda. (The UN mission in Rwanda was shackled by a mandate of non-action imposed by the US, Belgium and France)

MONUC's particular mission is complicated by a sex scandal that rocked some of their peacekeepers from Nepal and elsewhere. Sexual violence is a tragic fact of war in all places, but it's even worse when done by so-called peacekeepers. The UN has issued stringent new guidelines on peacekeeper conduct; some of the Nepalese soldiers have already been convicted in a court martial. But the damage to trust in MONUC by civilians in some parts of the country will be hard to reverse. Just like in Abu Ghraib, a few bad apples can spoil the pot.

In reality, the main problem is that MONUC is a mission for peacekeeping, not peacemaking. It can not impose peace and stability any better than, say, the US military in Afghanistan... even though the latter has carte blanche to do pretty much whatever it wants without the nuisance of a 'mandate.'

It's even trickier when you consider the fact that most Congolese do want peace, stability and security and therefore resent that fact that maybe 30,000 militia members can ruin the lives of millions of civilians.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Mr. Roberts goes to Washington

I've been following with interest the confirmation hearings for John Roberts to become the next chief justice of the US Supreme Court.

Some conservative groups reflexively got behind the president's pick and some liberal groups, like People for the American Way, opposed Roberts, almost the instant the nomination was announced.

While I don't agree with everything Roberts has said, I haven't heard anything from the judge that especially distresses me. It's pretty unreasonable to expect that a conservative president is going to nominate a clone of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Roberts is probably about as close to moderate as the president is going to appoint. Homogeneity doesn't make for good decision making anyway.

The whole process of holding hearings for judgeships raises a lot of curious questions. Many want Roberts to answer how he would rule on specific issues such as abortion. Others contend it would be inappropriate for him to do so because if he ended up hearing a case about that issue, he would be seen as already having made up his mind about the issue before hearing arguments. (Ironic since several Republican senators said they would vote for Roberts even before the hearings started)

Roughly this has meant Democrats wanting him to be more detailed and Republicans content with his vagueness, but even some Republicans were left frustrated by his lack of specifics on Roe vs Wade.

If Roberts is confirmed, he can theoretically serve as chief justice for the rest of his life. Little is known about him. He has been a federal judge for only two years. Many of the memos and briefs he wrote in the 1980s, he can quite reasonably claim he was representing not his views but those of the administration for which he was working. But if those views aren't his, then what are his views? If appointed, this man may serve 25 or 30 years if not longer. Given the significant power he'd have if confirmed, it doesn't seem at all unreasonable to ask how he might use that power.

On the other hand, a judge is not a politician. For all the whining about unelected judges, I am glad they are unelected. At least federal judges. Here in New York state, city judges, county judges and trial court state judges are elected. If you were accused of a some explosive crime like child molestation but were really innocent, would you want your fate by someone who has to face voters next month? Would you want your future decided by someone whose job depends on pandering to an angry mob? Or would you be more likely to get a fair trial with some 'unaccountable' judge?

I'm glad to know that Roberts acknowledges the existence of the right to privacy, the right upon which nearly all of the Bill of Rights is based ("The court has ... recognized that personal privacy is a component of the liberty protected by the due process clause."). Roberts believes that competent defense lawyers are essential to the legitimacy of capital punishment. Not an ideal position, since the very principle of state-implemented murder is illegitimate, but requiring such cases to subscribe to basic rules of fairness is a moderate improvement. At least the state can make sure it's murdering the right person.

I don't want Roberts to decide cases based on whether it pleases Ted Kennedy or Rick Santorum or 50.001% of the American people. I would like to have some idea of what his general philosophy is. He has said that he doesn't completely accept the notion of 'original intent' espoused by Justice Antonin Scalia.

'Original intent' means that the Constitution can only mean what its authors intended in 1787. By this standard, any Constitutional references to 'man' or 'citizen' must apply only to men (not women) and only to whites (because blacks were counted as 3/5 of a person and often treated as less). The 'original intent' interpretation would ban women from the presidency since Article II of the document consistently refers to the president as a 'he'; and surely the Founding Fathers did not conceive of female presidents so we must be subservient to 228 year old values now and forever more.

I am glad that Roberts distanced himself from this theory. 'Original intent' is certainly something worth considering in many cases but it should not be dogma. What James Madison would've thought shouldn't be the be all and end all.

On the other hand, Roberts' comment that "This body [The Senate] and legislative bodies in the states protectors of people's rights" is dubious at best.

Supporters say he is well-qualified. But what does 'qualified' mean in this context? He's only been a federal judge for two years so it's not like he has a wealth of experience in the profession. He is, by all accounts, extremely smart. But being a judge were simply about raw intelligence, they'd administer IQ tests instead of confirmation hearings. Even many opponents concede that he's qualified. But if he's qualified, then why do they oppose him?

Roberts has generally been pretty vague. This has infuriated Democrats but might end up hurting conservatives as well. Two of the most controversial justices of the last 50 years, Anthony Kennedy and Earl Warren, were both nominated by Republican presidents. Of course, it's just as conceivable he might become another Scalia (approved 97-0 to the high court by a Democratic-controlled Senate). But it's probably a smart strategy on Roberts' part. The fewer people he offends, the hard it is for critics to galvanize opposition.

I'd love to oppose him in a knee-jerk way before even hearing his side of the story; I'm a contrarian, after all. But I can't oppose someone merely because President Bush likes him. I've read Roberts' testimony and it paints a portrait of a moderately conservative man who I won't agree with all the time but who is highly unlikely to destroy the very fabric of the nation. Ideal? No. But Armageddon it ain't!

Democrats should save their fire in case, for the other empty seat, the president nominates Scalia Jr.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Roy Moore and Cindy Sheehan

I was reading an article in The Atlantic about Roy Moore.

Moore, as you may remember, was the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. He tried to erect a large replica of the Ten Commandments before the federal judiciary ordered him to take it down. For a while, he defied the court order and invented the perfect propaganda maelstrom. The Theocracy Brigade couldn't have asked for better PR: the feds (that it was 'unelected activist judges' made it more delicious) were attacking God himself. Why Almighty God needed protection from mere mortals was never quite addressed.

Moore and his supporters passed this court order off as one of the worst atrocities of the last 100 years, ranking only behind de-segregation and the increasing rejection by most women of Biblically-mandated submission to their husbands. Moore quickly became the Theocracy Brigade's new Messiah, martyred not on a wooden cross but on a slab of granite.

Even since his martyrdom, Moore has toured the country tirelessly, speaking about the Ten Commandments at churches and dinners, conferences and conventions, hitting thirty-one states last year alone to share the news that the federal government is threatening the American way of life.

Being a martyr has never been quite so lucrative... at least not since Oliver North's heyday.

When Cindy Sheehan protested near President Bush's vacation ranch, she was smeared as a 'media whore' by Bush supporters. Yet you hear nary a word from those quarters protesting Moore's PR juggernaut. Back when he stood in front of the Alabama Supreme Court in George Wallace-esque fashion, Roy Moore made as much of a spectacle of himself (out of a much more trivial issue, if you ask me) as Sheehan did and to the same effect.

The fact of the matter is that both Roy Moore and Cindy Sheehan are intelligent, savvy individuals who know how to use the media to get their message across. I don't have a problem with either trying to convince people that they're right. Sheehan has much right to agitate for her cause as Moore does for his. Why the latter is treated like saint and the former like a whore is beyond me.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Red-faced Red Devil shown red card

It's tough being a 19 year old soccer starlet with the hopes and expectations of an entire nation on your shoulders. Especially when that nation has a grossly overinflated sense of how where their national team belongs on the international stage.

It's been a rough week for young Wayne Rooney. First, he nearly lost it in England's humiliating loss to Northern Ireland in a World Cup qualifier (WCQ). It was England's first ever WCQ loss under manager Sven Goran Eriksson but calls for Eriksson's head have been deafening.

Yesterday, Rooney was red carded in his club team Manchester United's 0-0 draw against Spanish side Villareal. Rooney had been cautioned by referee Kim Milton Nielsen, widely regarded as one of the best in the world. As Nielsen was presenting the yellow card, Rooney offered a sarcastic applause right in the official's face. Nielsen appropriately gave Rooney a second yellow card and thus ejected him from the match. This was less than a month after the 19 year old promised to curb his temper.

Rooney plays with a lot of passion, which can be good... if he doesn't cross the line. Unfortunately, the youngster seems to be taking lessons on restraint from United's veteran thug Roy Keane.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson agreed that Rooney deserved to be sent off, while adding, "He's 19 years of age and a fiery character."

Hooey!

As a coach, I can't think of anything more avoidable, brainless and flat out idiotic in soccer than receiving a second yellow card for dissent (arguing with the referee). Even a 13 year old with the slightest bit of soccer sense knows that if you have a yellow card, you have to go out of your way to show restraint. Circumstances might oblige you to take a second caution for a foul. But picking up a second yellow card for arguing with the referee is absolutely inexcusable and demonstrates a complete lack of discipline and professionalism. His actions were selfish and hopefully he'll decide to reflect on this during his suspension.

It will be interesting to see how much longer Ferguson manages. He's made his career harnessing the energy of talented but volatile superstars like Keane and Eric Cantona. But how much longer he's willing to deal with this kind of stress remains to be seen.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bush's character and the Katrina response disaster

I've often commented on President Bush's seriously messed up decision-making process, his complete intolerance for dissent, his overreliance on 'yes men,' his utter refusal to consider anything that doesn't conform to his pre-conceived notions.

The president's supporters say this is merely strong leadership, that it's a result of him not changing his mind as often he changes his underwear. But it's worth noting that while Churchill (to whom many ardent Bush supporters like to compare the president) 'stayed the course' during World War II, so did Hitler. There's a fine line between having a backbone and denying reality. President Bush is consistently on the wrong side of that line.

This large character flaw, far more than his ideology, is his most significant weakness in my opinion. It matters because a primary function of a chief executive is... making decisions.

His ignorance or dismissal of history led him to conclude that any occupation, reconstruction and restoration of normal civil society in Iraq would be a piece of cake. As a result, the administration refused to consider the possibility that any (non-Baathist) Iraqi could possibly see an American invasion as a colonial excursion. In his own heart, Bush probably did consider it a liberation. But his thought process made him incapable of conceiving the remotest possibility that anyone of good faith might view the invasion differently. 'We mean well' thus became 'Everyone obviously knows we mean well.'

This account in Newsweek sheds further light on the bubble from which the president operates.

Hurricane Katrina ripped through the New Orleans area on Monday August 29.

President Bush knew the storm and its consequences had been bad; but he didn't quite realize how bad, goes the official account. The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor [Dan] Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

The analysis continues: How this could be—how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century—is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.
President George W. Bush has always trusted his gut. He prides himself in ignoring the distracting chatter, the caterwauling of the media elites, the Washington political buzz machine. He has boasted that he doesn't read the papers. His doggedness is often admirable. It is easy for presidents to overreact to the noise around them.

But it is not clear what President Bush does read or watch, aside from the occasional biography and an hour or two of ESPN here and there. Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him. Bush can ask tough questions, but it's mostly a one-way street. Most presidents keep a devil's advocate around. Lyndon Johnson had George Ball on Vietnam; President Ronald Reagan and Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, grudgingly listened to the arguments of Budget Director Richard Darman, who told them what they didn't wish to hear: that they would have to raise taxes. When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority.


When he was president, Bill Clinton's decision-making process was often criticized; it was the polar opposite of Bush's. Clinton was accused of being a waffler, of not having the guts to take tough decisions. This approach is flawed like Bush's: his refusal to stand up to the increasingly popular Republicans and support a proposed East African-intervention in the Rwandan genocide led to hundreds of thousands of people being massacred. This just shows that there's a fine line between standing firm and recognizing reality.

But Bush's style is equally, if not more, damaging. Waffling leads to inaction, which should at least please anti-government types. But when an institutional culture discourages or even punishes people for questioning bad proposals, then those bad proposals become bad policies... or disastrous ones. It doesn't help when people who should know better enable those disastrous decisions rather than resigning on principle.

Newsweek's analysis concluded that the government's response to the storm shows how Bush's leadership style and the bureaucratic culture combined to produce a disaster within a disaster.

It's hard to argue with this.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Stop the presses!

Since I've criticized them quite a bit in the past, I'm obliged to tip my cap to the Glens Falls Post-Star for finally doing an article on the non-Republican candidates for mayor of Glens Falls. Granted, this hardly makes up for months and months of giving blanket coverage to the GOP aspirants and steadfastly ignoring the others. But let's hope against hope that this is a long overdue step in the direction of properly informing their readership.

Three of the five mayoral candidates participated in a debate sponsored not by our 'Hometown Newspaper' but by the Albany-based Informed Constitutent monthly. Shame on Democrat Roy Akins and Republican Bud Taylor for skipping the chance to give the public their views (Taylor said he was too busy campaigning for today's Conservative Party primary; Akins said he didn't want to 'interfere with' that primary). Citizens could've benefited from their participation particularly since even in their written statements published in various local papers have been especially vague.

I'm sorry I missed the debate, as I had to work. But kudos to The Informed Constituent and to the Glens Falls Labor Council for sponsoring this event. Check out the article in The Post-Star on the debate. It might be the only time the paper's readers will be able to learn about Akins and independent candidates Esmond Lyons and William Berg.

Hypocrite of the week...

goes to The New York Post.

Yesterday, they ran two main stories on their front page. The bottom third of the front cover ripped Democratic mayoral frontrunner Fernando Ferrer for campaigining on Sunday (Sept. 11). The tabloid objects to the infusion of politics (by a Democrat) on such an occasion. 9/11 is a somber anniversary that should be solely devoted to the memory of the victims and not something tawdry.

The top two-thirds of the front cover was a giant ad for a scratch-off game that the Post is running to sell more papers.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The politicization of 9/11 rememberances

Isn't it odd how something can be completely unsurprising, almost expected, but enrage you nevertheless?

At the ceremonies in Washington marking the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Pentagon neatly hijacked the occasion into a support the troops/president/war rally.

As I've written before (more than once), I am uncomfortable with the way 'support our troops' has been insidiously transformed into 'support the president' and/or 'support the Iraq aggression.'

There are countless 'support our troops' rallies across the nation every week, countless yellow ribbons worn, countless bumper stickers, flags and lawn signs express support for the troops, countless care packages have been sent to the Middle East. Even if you accept at face value that the use of the phrase 'support our troops,' can't we think about someone else for just one day? It's one thing to respect the troops; it's entirely another thing to respect the troops to the exclusion of everyone else.

For just one day, couldn't our national thoughts have been directed somewhere other than to the military?

Isn't 364 days out of 365 enough?

Saddly, the Bush administration decided no. It decided to disrespect the 9/11 victims by making it into a pro-war rally.

As this article noted: Mimi Evans, 56, whose son is serving with the Marines in Iraq, flew from Cape Cod to express her displeasure with what she saw as the politicization of Sept. 11 commemoration. "I felt this event was exploitative in that it connected 9/11 and what our military is doing now."

I'm sure some will attack this woman for hating and undermining the troops (like her son), but she's right on. Iraq and 9/11 were completely unrelated, as is common knowledge for anyone who was willing to know. The Bush administration can no longer justify this aggression on its own merits, its pre-war reasons having been completely discredited, so it must hijack other somber events to prop up flagging support.

It's sad. First, the Bush administration exploited the 9/11 tragedy by invoking it in the justification for the completely unrelated aggression against Iraq. Now, it exploited a ceremony supposedly designed to remember the victims in order to make sure militarism doesn't take a back seat, even for a single day.

When everything, even a memorial service for civilian dead, always revolves around soldiers, then I consider that militarism.

Maybe if they weren't so busy exploiting rememberance ceremonies for political gain, they might have time to give due process to US citizens.

I would say 'Shame on you, Mr. President,' but it's been clear that his administration has none.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Mugabe turns Zim into one giant Gitmo

Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe has rammed through constitutional amendments to legitimize his dictatorial control. One clause will strengthen the government's control over the land seizures, which has been hampered by judges questioning the program's legality. The program seizes land without compensation from white farmers and distributes them primarily to Mugabe cronies. The changes will eliminate judicial recourse for victims.

Another allows the regime to arbitrarily seize passports of anyone deemed to be a 'threat to national security' (critic). This will also be able to be done without judicial recourse.

The bill also reintroduces the Senate, which was abolished in 1987. Critics say this will allow the president to appoint more people to parliament.

And it also includes a proposal to bring private schools under state control.

The Bush administration condemned the changes.

"Some of the changes, as well as the process used to implement these changes in the constitution, are troubling," said a State Department spokesman. "Overall, without cataloguing all of these, let me say that it's a sad step backwards for personal freedom, as well as the rule of law."

Taking away people's freedoms without judicial recourse or any external oversight? What's Mugabe trying to turn Zim into? Another Guantanamo Bay?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Don't forget to remember

Some news observers see at least one serendipitous result from the Gulf Coast calamity--the US press corps seems to be regaining some spine and focus in the wake of the storm. And no one can miss the huge spontaneous outburst of generous concern from individuals, groups and communities all across the nation and the world (see below). But a recent interview with Marc Seigel, author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear, by Daily Show host Jon Stewart put its finger on a core problem with US disaster preparedness. It is increasingly difficult for the media, federal policy makers and the populace at large to differentiate between what is an immediate, likely and widespread threat, and what is a remote, unlikely and localized threat. For example, a resident of New Orleans listening to the news for the last few years might have been led to fear an anthrax attack just as much as a levee break. And disaster officials might have expended as much or more effort preparing to deal with one as with the other. As for the media, Stewart compared its response to these situations to the way eight-year-old boys play soccer: "There's the ball!"--everybody piles on and the ball squirts out the top--"No-there's the ball!"--and everybody piles on again. "Don't they have any memory?" he complained. This time, hopefully, we won't forget to remember.


--Dale Hobson, North Country Public Radio's online editor in their weekly newsletter.

(Reprinted with permission)

Observations on Katrina's aftermath

While some are insisting that the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina was unforseable, many are begging to differ.

The New York Times' Paul Krugman noted that back in early 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) listed the three most likely catastrophic disasters that might hit the United States: a terrorist attack on New York, a massive hurricane strike on New Orleans and a major earthquake in San Francisco. This report was issued before 9/11; if I lived in the Bay Area, I'd be nervous right about now.

A few years ago, The New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper ran a front page series of articles over several days detailing what would happen if a major hurricane hit the city. Looking back on it, the series reads more like an after-the-fact report than a before-the-event prediction. The paper's editor shared his frustration with NPR.

Back in October 2004, National Geographic also ran a feature on what would likely happen if a major hurricane hit the Big Easy. It makes for chilling reading when you consider it was written last year, not last week.

Unforseable?

Dennis over at Moderate Republican blog writes:

Okay, I will join the chorus and say that Bush should (he won't) fire FEMA head, Mike Brown (AKA, "Brownie"). I'm sorry, but having man whose prior experience was looking after horses and giving lots of money to the President's campaign lead the agency that is charged with dealing with natural and man-made disasters has to be the worst HR decision ever made. If this guy can't get it together for a hurricane, how could he handle another 9/11 style attack?

And I don't know about you, but all those voters who trusted Bush because he was better suited to handle security issues have to be scratching their heads.


Now, reports are circulating that military recruiters are inside the Houston Astrodome recruiting amongst the refugees. There is no indication that any other employers have been allowed to recruit. If this is all true, doesn't anyone feel the slightest ethical pang about such shameless exploitation of people who have lost everything including choices?

Military recruitment horror stories like this one involving those even less vulnerable than the refugees don't inspire confidence.

Defenders of the president angrily deny that the amount of resources devoted to the aggression and occupation of Iraq has anything to do with problems in the Katrina response. It's just some fantasy invented by the Bush-hating far left because it meshes with their irrational hatred of the president.

So I was surprised to read that NATO is going to send military equipment to help the Katrina cleanup.

Possibilities notably include the use of NATO planes to transport aid, while NATO could also deploy for the first time ships from its rapid Response Force (NRF), which can provide heavy lifting for bulky equipment and supplies. This received NATO approval after a formal request from Washington on Thursday.

If Iraq is not draining resources that could have otherwise been used to clean up New Orleans and other hit areas, then why is the world's richest country with the world's most powerful and well-funded military asking for military assistance from anyone else?

Then you have the Democratic Congressional leadership denouncing plans for a Congressional inquiry into Katrina response problems. Dems whine that such a commission would only serve as a partisan whitewash of the president and that they won't participate. Doesn't the absence of Democratic participation INCREASE the risk of a partisan whitewash of the president? It's distressing to see that the same sad lack of leadership and mindless partisanship that embarasses the Republican Party also afflicts the Democrats.

And can anyone explain to me why some are calling for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's resignation in regard to problems with the Iraq Oil-for-Food Program but are not calling for President Bush's resignation in regard to problems with the Katrina response? If Annan is personally responsible for everything bad that happens in the UN bureaucracy, then why isn't Bush personally responsible for everything bad that happens in the US government bureaucracy? Republicans are trying to deflect attention by calling for the resignation/firing of the head of FEMA; that would satisfy them. Yet they are not satisfied by the fact that Annan not only forced out the head of the Oil-for-Food program but even lifted his diplomatic immunity so he could face potential prosecution by the US justice system. Why is Annan culpable for everything that happens in the UN but Bush is always able to pass the buck?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Public service announcement for Glens Falls' residents

Since the Post-Star daily newspaper has continually failed to report on 3/5 of the candidates for mayor of Glens Falls while providing blanket coverage of the two Republican contenders, I am taking this opportunity to provide some information to citizens who actually want to be informed about all their choices in the upcoming election.

Every week throughout the summer, The Post-Star has run at least one (usually more) article on Republican candidates Bud Taylor and Peter McDevitt. Each was given a prominent profile article on the front page of the Sunday paper earlier this year; Democrat Roy Akins was profiled as well but I can only remember one other article on him. Independent candidates Esmond Lyons and Bill Berg have not yet been profiled and since the other candidates were featured in the winter, I can only assume they won't be profiled at all. I believe the paper has run one, possibly two, articles on Lyons (the same number the Republican candidates get each week); I don't recall seeing a single article on Berg.

It's unfortnuate that the influential paper has decided that Lyons, Akins and Berg are not worth reporting on, that they have nothing interesting or worthwhile to share with readers. Perhaps this policy isn't written anywhere, but the result is clear for everyone to see. The paper's only mention of these three candidates is a token sentence in each article about the Republican candidates that reads, "Democrat Roy Akins, Independent Esmond Lyons and Independent Bill Berg are also running for mayor." That's pretty much the extent of the paper's coverage of those three candidates.

What's worse is that the paper obviously doesn't feel the least bit of shame about this bias (conscious or unconscious). If they did, then they'd at least have run a few token articles featuring the other candidates to 'balance' out the dozens written about the two Republicans.

But since our 'Hometown Newspaper' is too busy dumbing down their product, writing poorly constructed editorials and whipping up a little hysteria about their crusade du jour, they apparently don't have time to report on the mayoral candidates.

Since they're failing in what most would consider a duty of a local newspaper, I will try to briefly fill in a few of the gaps.

You can learn more about:

-Independent mayoral candidate Esmond Lyons at his website (full disclosure: I endorse him).

and

-Democratic candidate Roy Akins at his website.

To the best of my knowledge, independent candidate William Berg does not have a campaign website. This is unfortunate since in light of The Post-Star's refusal to cover him, a website is the best way to get his word out.

Rather than simply complaining about the daily's abrogation of civic duty, some people have decided to pick up the slack themselves. the Glens Falls Labor Council and The Informed Constitutent monthly newspaper are co-sponsoring an all-inclusive mayoral debate. It will be held on Monday, Sept. 12 at 7:00 pm at the Charles Wood Theater in downtown Glens Falls. Admission is free. All five candidates have been invited and are expected to attend.

The Post-Star hosted a 'debate' earlier this week with only the two Republican candidates. The paper has promised a candidates' 'forum' with all contenders at some point in the future. It is not clear what the difference is between a debate and a forum.

Thanks to the GF Labor Council and The Informed Constituent for filling in the gap and sponsoring this event!



Update: Unfortunately, sources indicate that Akins and Taylor have refused to participate in this debate. Shame on them!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hadlock Pond fundraiser

For those of you who live in the area, here's a final fundraiser to help victims of the Hadlock Pond dam failure. Apparently, no federal disaster aid is forthcoming as it's being diverted to the much bigger Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.


Fund Raisers for Hadlock Dam a Huge Success
Next Up: Pig Roast on Sunday September 11, 2005


September 2, 2005
Nearly $38,000 raised by volunteers supporting the West Fort Ann Volunteer Fire Department Relief fund was distributed to flood victims who lost their homes or had property damage as a result of the failure of the Hadlock Pond Dam on July 2, 2005.

The funds, generated through numerous fund-raisers that included a motorcycle rally, golf tournaments and other generously held events, were handed out directly to the victims at another fund raiser held on August 21 at the Adirondack Bar & Grill in Queensbury.

An additional $29,777 was added to the fund at that event bringing the grand total of funds raised up to that point to nearly $67,000. The fund continues to grow daily.

The committee supporting this relief fund has put together one more fundraiser, which will be a Pig Roast to be held on Sunday September 11 from noon - 6 p.m. at the Hadlock Inn located on what remains of Hadlock Pond in West Fort Ann.

Local Chef Scott Priest has donated the pig and will prepare the meal that will also include barbecued chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs and all the fixings. The meal will be served from 2 - 4 p.m. There is no entry fee for this event, just a donation for the meal of $10 for adults and $5 for youths under 12.

There will be raffles, prizes and live country music provided by the Northeastern Association of Country & Western Entertainers (NECAWE). Be sure to bring a lawn chair. The Hadlock Inn is located off Joe Green Road on the east side of the dam. Follow the signs from Hillbilly Fun Park on Rt. 149 to the parking areas near the Hadlock Inn.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in the Southeast flood victims in West Fort Ann, NY have gotten unofficial word that they will not receive any aide from the Federal Government in the form of FEMA funds. This makes these events that much more important.

For more information on the 9/11 Pig Roast call 761-0447. To make a donation to the relief fund call 761-0453. We thank everyone for your generous support in helping our efforts to support our community come to fruition.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Things going go swimmingly for New Orleans refugees, says Mom Bush

Things are going swimmingly for the refugees from New Orleans. So says President Bush's mother.

Former First Lady Barbara Bush told NPR's Marketplace show, "Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to Houston. What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality."

Ok, so it sounds like she's just praising Texan hospitality. So what's the big deal?

Then Mom Bush added, "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

It's one thing to praise Texan hospitality, to praise the efforts of the Red Cross and other relief agencies. It's one thing to say everyone's doing the best they can taking care of these people. But 'working very well for them'???

And what's the deal with a chuckle in that context? I guess I don't find much hilarious about the situation.

Is she trying to be offensive and insensitive or is she just clueless?

When I lived in Africa, I actually had friends and acquaintances who were or had been refugees*. They were pretty much all underpriveleged before becoming refugees.

(*-under international law, the New Orleans' evacuees are technically called 'internally displaced people' [IDPs]. The legal difference between IDPs and refugees is that refugees are those people who are outside their own country. I call them 'refugees' to underline the third world-esque governmental response to the crisis, especially initially)

Yet even when they were living in camps where everything was taken care for them by aid agencies, I don't know a single one who preferred being a refugee. I don't know a single one who preferred being dependent on handouts. I don't know a single one who preferred living hundreds of miles away from their homes. They may have accepted it as necessary but I don't know a single one who would've said that things were "working very well for them."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

DR Congo's 'tainted gold'

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.



The always excellent Christian Science Monitor ran a sad article on mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire). Its plethora of natural resources has been far more of a curse than a benefit for the people living DRC, which was the site of one of the worst mass atrocities in history when it was the Congo Free State under the personal control of Belgium's King Leopold II.

While the DRC may have its nominal political independence, life is still largely misery for its inhabitants and the quest for natural resources fuels war, violence and exploitation.

But now there are growing efforts to halt the region's resource-related troubles. A June report by the international group Human Rights Watch shed light on the role of local militias, which apparently have ties to neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. They were using proceeds from gold mining to buy weapons to further their battle over control of the most productive mining areas, the report said. In the process, they killed thousands of civilians and extorted many poor local miners, reports the CSM. A major force preventing a breakdown - and allowing miners like Eric to make money for themselves - is the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, which now has a battalion in Mongbwalu, in northeastern DRC.

Nevertheless, the digging continues. The war destroyed most other employment options, so many locals go to "the holes." Many diggers are ex-militia members, including young men and boys, who use picks and shovels now. At one mine near Mongbwalu, roughly 40 percent of the workers are under 18. About 25 percent are 12 to 14 years old.
Each miner gets paid in mine muck, usually three buckets for a full day's work, and all the gold that may or may not be in it.

One 12-year-old, who didn't give his name, says he works only for himself. "Both my parents were killed in the war," he says, walking along with a bucket of mud balanced on his head.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Guantanamo kidnapees still detained two years after exoneration

The BBC reports on a group of 15 Chinese Muslims still held at Guantanamo Bay despite being cleared by the US authorities two years ago. Washington won't return them to China, for fear they might be persecuted, but they won't let the exonerated Chinese into the US either. Ten of the men are said to be low-risk detainees who see the Chinese and not the US government as their main enemy. The other five simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and were picked up by Pakistani bounty hunters.

Disturbingly: Sabin Willett, a Boston lawyer who is representing several of the Uighurs, said the fact of their acquittal was not revealed to the men for several months.

"They clearly were keeping secret that these men were acquitted," he said, quoted by the Washington Post.
"They were found not to be al-Qaeda and not to be Taleban. But the government still refused to provide a transcript of the tribunal that acquitted them to the detainees, their new lawyers or a US court."

Mr Willett also told a hearing earlier this month that during detention at least one of his clients was forced to wear a leg shackle chained to a bolt in the floor.


Remember how some objected to me referring to Gitmo prisoners as 'kidnapees'? Well, tell me how these folks aren't kidnapees. Remember when Bush administration apologists insisted that the Patriot Act was a wonderful thing and we should accept it entirely, unquestioningly and permanently? Remember how they insisted that only bad guys would be affected by such things and the bad guys didn't need or deserve due process anyway? Remember when the apologists insisted that the contrived military tribunals for the Guantanamo kidnapees would address all the worries from chicken littles like the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross, etc? Remember how they insisted everyone be patient and things would get sorted out quickly? Remember how they said it wasn't a big deal that the military was allowed to be judge, jury and executioner for these terrorists... er accused terrorists... er suspected terrorists? Remember how the apologists insisted that the worst thing happening is a guard accidentally dropping a Koran? Remember how the administration's apologists insisted there nothing to worry about on trivialities like civil liberties or basic humanity?

As usual, they were wrong.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Olé Olé Olé Olé Olé Olé

Congrats to the US national soccer team who qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany by thumping Mexico 2-0 on Saturday in Columbus, OH. The US qualifies for their 5th consecutive World Cup (one of which they received an automatic bid as hosts) and Bruce Arena, already the winningest national team coach in history, becomes the first US boss to lead the country to two World Cups.

A win against bitter rival Mexico is always sweet but even more so because this win allows the Stars and Stripes also becomes the first team from the CONCACAF region (North and Central America and the Carribbean) to qualify for Germany '06.

Mexican coach Ricardo Lavolpe will surely face renewed pressure after the loss to the hated Americans despite an impressive showing in this summer's Confederations Cup and despite needing only one point in Mexico's last three qualifiers to advance to Germany. He was characteristically whiny in defeat: "The U.S. is a small team," he said, presumably not meaning small in height or weight. "They play like my sister, my aunt and my grandmother."

Hey Ric, if that's true, then it means your team just got outclassed by that side that plays like an old woman!

Lack of grace seems to be a characteristic of Mexican coaches when they lose to the hated USA. Lavolpe's predecessor, Javier Aguirre, offered similarly snivelling comments after losing to the US in the 2002 World Cup. "They didn't want to play, they didn't let us play," he sniffed.

US attacker Landon Donovan said it best: "They do a lot of talking. They haven't beat us in a long time here. I'm kind of sick of it. There's no better scenario than to beat them easily." Mexico hasn't won an away qualifier against the US since 1972.

It may not have been easy, though it wasn't the hardest game the US has ever played (except for winger DaMarcus Beasley who was hacked at least a dozen times by Mexican thugs posing as midfielders; amazingly he avoided injury). Nevertheless, it was still very sweet indeed.


Update: Steve Sirk over at MatchNight offers a colorful commentary on the Red, White and Blue's victory.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Ignoramuses

You already knew that racists are ignorant twits who don't let facts interfere with their pre-conceived notions. Here's an example:

I was reading a story in The Post-Star today about a local gas station owner who was arrested for going into a racial tirade against a customer. I suppose in most places, the anger is more likely to go the other way.

Anyway, the customer was an American citizen of Afghan origin. The gas station owner launched a verbal racial tirade against the poor customer calling him ‘a camel jockey’ and a ‘sand nigger.’ The owner said that it’s because of the customer’s people that gas prices are so high.

Afghanistan does not export petroleum to the United States.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Lord of the Flies, New Orleans style

Every year, a hurricane or two slams into the states that border the Gulf of Mexico. There is always devastation and property loss. But even those who might normally be emotionally immune to the effects of such annual events, it's hard to not be dazed by the utter anniihilation of the city of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. What's left of New Orelans has been gripped by near anarchy and a virtual breakdown of civilization; today, there were a series of massive explosions at a chemical factory on the city's waterfront. And while the former Big Easy is certainly the biggest disaster, it's worth remembering that other parts of the south were smashed too.

There has been plenty of 'looting' in New Orleans. Though those who take water, food, hygeine products, etc. in such catastrophic circumstances can't really in good conscience be called looters. Those who steal electronics, on the other hand...

But it's absolutely sickening to read that those trying evacuate refugees from the Superdome football stadium came under sniper fire. To steal food or water is completely understandable. To steal TVs and stereos is morally wrong, but at least there's some sort of selfish interest involved. But to open fire on people trying to evacuate refugees? What sort of twisted rationale can there be for something like that, other than sadism or pure malice.

Dennis, over at Moderate Republican blog, applauds the countries.who have planned to offer aid to the US in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Most notable are Canada, Germany and France, three countries regularly smeared by the far right as irredeemable America-haters because their governments rightly opposed the Iraq aggression. The supposedly anti-American United Nations also offered relief.

Also offering help were Australia, Belgium, Russia, Japan, Britain, China, Jamaica, Honduras, Greece, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, South Korea, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Thanks to France, Canada and all the other countries for their help.



Update: President Bush went out of his way to condemn relief efforts in the area. Efforts have been hampered by the fact that state and local officials are having such trouble mobilizing and deploying National Guard troops to the crisis. How come? The Washington Post notes that thousands of National Guard troops from the affected states are out of the country in Iraq. Some 30% of the Louisiana Guard is in the Middle East. Perhaps more importantly, so their equipment. The role of the National Guard is to help in domestic crises. There were plenty of New York Guardsmen who helped deal with the aftermath of 9/11; they were available because they were in New York, not Mesopatamia. The National Guard is not sent abroad except in the most grave emergencies that threaten the safety of America. At least that was the case until a few years ago.



Another update: This editorial in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wonders How do you justify cutting $250 million in scheduled spending for crucial pump and levee work in the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA), authorized by Congress in 1995? Editor and Publisher magazine reports that even "as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside," after 2003 "the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle." Why? Editor and Publisher says both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the New Orleans Times-Picayune blame "spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Big Lie must be countered again and again

So I was listening one of the alt/punk channels on my Sirius Satellite Radio and they read a few listener comments. One of the listeners blasted them for playing Green Day because the group is 'anti-American.'

A few years ago, I might've flipped out over slander like that. But such vile slime equating anti-Bush with anti-American has become routine in today's atmosphere where it's only permissible to say anything bad about terrorists and liberals/progressives (their alleged apologists/collaborators). These are the descendants of McCarthy and Nixon so perhaps it's not shocking.

While I don't flip out anymore about such unconscionable filth, Americans with a shred of decency shouldn't let such garbage go unanswered, about a band or about any other American.

Refusing to toe the Leader's line doesn't make one anti-American. Criticizing the Leader is not a luxury for when He feels like permitting it. It's necessary for a functioning democracy to work properly.

Troops, even those at war, are patriotic enough to realize that it's absurd to shut down democracy at home in order to supposedly export it abroad. Those who do not realize this aren't fit to wear the uniform, it's that simple. Democracy is not a zero sum gain, contrary to what some imply. These Big Lies need to be answered at every turn.

Opponents (on all sides of the political spectrum) of the president and his reckless policies were silent, or at least reticent, for too long. Patriotism used as a muzzle takes a lot of courage to stand up to. But it must be done. A lie unanswered becomes accepted as truth.