Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What will Bush say about Iran?

A friend of mine asked me what I expected President Bush is likely to say about Iran at tonight's speech from the throne (as even some conservatives are calling it). I predict that he'll say the following:

Iran is a a lawless regime which is threat to international security by its belligerent rhetoric and its flouting of international law. It thus can't be trusted with nuclear technology.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Bush admin, mullahs come to agreement

Despite all the tension between the US and Iranian governments, it's good to know that the Bush administration and the mullahs can come to an agreement on something. Too bad it's on the subject gay-bashing.

The Challenger

It's said that every youthful generation has an incident where everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news. A single event that binds them in collective grieving and/or anger. For my grandparents' generation, it was Pearl Harbor. For my parents' generation, it was the assassination of President Kennedy. For my sister's generation, it was 9/11.

But everyone my age remembers where they were when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, twenty years ago last Saturday.

I was in 6th grade. When I first heard whisperings about the shuttle's explosion, I was in 'industrial arts' (ie: wood shop). This was around 12:30 PM. I spent the rest of the day agitating to get out of school so I could run home and see it with my own eyes.

Little did I know, I would see it with my own eyes dozens of times in the following weeks.

It was a different time back then. The main worry was the threat of nuclear war. Up until I was about 12 or 13, the most words I most feared on television, the words that made my spine stiffen instantly, were, "We interrupt this programming to bring you this special report."

We were supposed to worry about the Soviets, not about spacecrafts exploding.

Amusement for the day

Every year, I get a solicitation from the Democratic National Committee for my money. While not as amusing as the solicitation I received for President Bush's re-election campaign, the Dems letter also gets a snicker out of me.

Apparently, they still haven't figured out that I quit their party seven years ago.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


Please note: I've never been a big fan of completely anonymous notes. Lately, I've received some obscene anonymous notes on some of my entries in my various blogs. Hence, from now, only registered users can leave comments in my blogs. Becoming a member is easy and free. You don't actually have to maintain a blog to register. It's easy and free and you can choose a pseudonym if you don't want to use your real name. Just click here. I'm sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but few newspapers publish unsigned letters either.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Filibustering Alito?

So now a couple of Democratic senators have talked of filibustering Samuel Alito, President Bush's choice for the Supreme Court. They probably won't have the numbers, since even Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid has said it's a bad idea. But is it?

I have serious questions about Alito's seemingly excessive deferrence to presidential power. The Constitution mandates a separation of powers. It delineates specific authority to each of the three, theoretically co-equal, branches of government. The Constitution offers no such provision for those separations to be erased at the whim of the executive, even during an undeclared war waged ad infinitum against a nebulous enemy.

Though Democrat Robert Byrd, the Senate's leading critic of Congressional subsevience to the executive branch, said he'd vote for Alito.

And I acknowledge that judicial nominees are different than other nominees because once approved, judges can serve for life; Congressional hearings are the only oversight unless they're involved with impeachable misconduct.

But while I'd probably vote against Judge Alito's accession to the Supreme Court, I still wouldn't support a filibuster against him. I guess I'm a believer in giving people their day in court, if you'll excuse the pun. He, and all nominees, should be given an up or down vote.

It's one thing to filibuster a bill, but unless a singularly grave threat to the Republic is being nominated, you shouldn't filibuster people. And it's hard to argue that one justice on a nine-person body constitutes by himself a grave threat to the Republic. Maybe he wouldn't be so great, but a grave threat to the Republic? I've seen no evidence to that. I remember back when liberals said the sky would fall if David Souter were confirmed to the bench. And now he's one of its more liberal justices.

The Senate has no obligation to act on legislation proposed by the president, but it does have a constitutional responsibility to advise and consent on judicial nominees. Up or down.

It's true that Republicans acted much differently when Democrat President Bill Clinton was in power. But given all the ethical scandals immersing the Republicans in Washington, taking the high road is not only the right thing to do for Democrats, but probably the politically smart one as well.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Scott Ritter's speech

I was listening on public radio to a great speech by Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector and former US marine. Ritter has been a leading critic of the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq.

His speech was very interesting. It dealt not primarily with the aggression against Iraq but with the history of US policy toward Iraq since 1990. His monologue is about half an hour long followed by a question and answer session of the same length.

He says that the assertion that there was "an intelligence failure" with regard to WMDs is fraudulent. He says that it was known in the early 90s that Saddam had destroyed his weapons of mass destruction in the summer of '91, shortly after the end of Gulf War I. Yet the ruse that Iraq still had WMDs was maintained because disarmament had been the pretext to maintain sanctions against the country. The real objective of US policy from the get go was not disarmanent, but regime change.

Except the objective wasn't really regime change but dictator change. Ritter argues that the US government did not necessarily want a complete removal of the Baathist regime in the country, only the removal of the man Saddam Hussein. He claims that Saddam's continued hold on power represented zero threat to US national security or international stability. Iraq's military had been annihiliated during Gulf War I and its weapons of mass destruction destroyed a few months later. Economic sanctions denied Iraq the revenue to seriously rebuild or restart either. Yet, Saddam Hussein's continued hold on power was politically embarassing to President George H.W. Bush, who'd launched a war against a man he'd described as the Hitler of the Middle East. You don't call someone the Hitler of the Middle East if you merely want to remove him from a neighboring country; you do so to remove him from his own country.

Ritter says the real intention of successive US administrations was never disarmament, particularly since Saddam's Iraq was never a threat to any other country after Gulf War I. The disarmament ruse created by Pres. Bush I that was unchalleneged by Pres. Clinton and obviously Pres. Bush II. Revelation that disarmament was complete would've compelled the US (by its own logic) to order sanctions lifted, thus undermining the possiblity of internal regime change.

Ritter concedes that Iraq's disarmament in the summer of 1991 may not have been evident immediately, but it was clearly to inspectors on the ground by 1995. Sanctions were maintained through the US invasion in 2003.

He says the "intelligence failure" assertion is patently false because the assertions presume that they were trying to get it right and simply failed. He cites a former CIA director (though I could be wrong, I inferred it to be James Woolsey) who said something like, "We think Iraq has 15-20 missles and nothing will convince us otherwise."

Basically, the 'don't let facts get in the way of pre-conceived notions' mentality pre-dated Pres. Bush II.

Ritter is also very critical of the Clinton administration for maintaining the disarmament ruse. He also noted with contempt an infamous comment by then UN-ambassador Madeleine Albright.

When told by a 60 Minutes reporter that some half a million Iraqi children had died as a result of US sanctions against Iraq, Albright pointedly did not deny the figure. (And this was only through the first four years of the twelve that sanctions were imposed)

Instead, Albright said, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it."

Ritter noted acerbically that it wasn't Sec. Albright who had to pay that price.

He also lambasted formerly pro-war Democrats who now sanctimoniously claim that they were deceived by the administration. They knew better, Ritter claims. They knew better at the time.

I have come to have a great deal of respect for Scott Ritter, citizen. Ritter has been a tireless warrior to make the truth heard. He did so even at a time several years ago when the truth was decreed unpatriotic, a decree enforced with an almost McCarthyistic zeal. (And I don't use that adjective lightly) He has been courageous and unflinching in the face of vitriol and smear, unlike the Democrats mentioned above. There's hardly any westerner with more detailed, first-hand knowledge of the history of Iraq's weapons programs than he, which is why the smear hasn't stuck.

He patiently lays out the facts, the chronology, the things we've forgotton about (or never knew about) and first-hand observations in a rational, mostly dispassionate but firm manner. He avoids sensationalism. He avoids partisan politics. His speeches are refreshingly free of hysterical rants, juvenile taunts and ad hominem. He makes his criticism of the long-standing US policy in Iraq in a dignified, statesmanlike way sadly rare on all sides of the political spectrum.

The speech and Q&A is definitely worth a listen.


Don't you wish the Bush administration engaged in this level of public self-examination, self-criticism and accountability?

At least the UN had enough decency to embarassed by its screw ups.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Nigerian government to ban gay activism

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.

Musings of a Naijaman and Black Looks blogs both comment on a shocking anti-gay bill proposed by the Nigerian government.

The bill would order a five year jail sentence for anyone who has a gay wedding or officiates at one.

The bill doesn't merely ban gay unions recognized by the state, it would ban such unions performed by churches as well.

Gay acts are already illegal in Nigeria.

But freedom of religion and the right to privacy are not the only freedoms under assault, but freedom of speech as well.

Justice Minister Bayo Ojo said the law would also ban "any form of protest to press for rights or recognition" by homosexuals.

This is perhaps the most astonishing provision of this hideous bill. It wouldn't merely ban gay rights, but it would ban people from agitating for gay rights.

What makes this more shocking is that Nigeria is no longer run by a brutal military dictatorship. It's a country supposedly run by democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law.

It's not clear if this bill would be in violation of the Nigerian Federal Constitution.

Section 39 (1) of the document states: Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

However, Section 45 essentially renders this 'freedom' meaningless: Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health.

One can certainly argue about the state not recognizing gay unions. But when a government that claims to be civilized and democratic attempts to ban peaceful political activism, particularly when it's to ensure that all citizens are treated equally, that government is no longer civilized or democratic.

It's one thing to ban gay unions or gay rights. But once you criminalizes freedom of expression, you've crossed a fundamental threshold in a democratic state: the supposedly democratic federal government of Nigeria essentially wants to criminialize politics.

It's even more hypocritical when you know that the current president of Nigeria was imprisoned in the 1990s by his dictatorial predecessor for doing exactly what this bill proposes criminalizing: practicing freedom of expression to denounce fundamental violations of human rights.

The internationally community rightly condemned the Muslim states of northern Nigeria for using Sharia law as a pretext to stone women for being raped and for banning women from public transport. Surely the world must condemn this terrible bill being puhsed by the predominantly Christian federal government, on the urging of vocal Christian clergy.

Anyone who believes in freedom, democracy, human rights must denouncing this sickening assault by the Nigerian government to ban peaceful activism.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Physician assisted suicide

I heard a story on Oregon Public Radio this morning about attempts in California to legalize physician assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, or 'right to die' as supporters call it. California's Gov. Schwarzenegger strenuously refused to give his personal opinion on the topic.

California was also in the news recently when it controversially put to death a former gang leader who some claimed had changed his ways.

As most readers know, I oppose on principle state-sponsored and -implemented murder, euphemistically known as the death penalty.

I have serious reservations about physician assisted suicide and the profound ethical questions it raises.

But the juxtaposition of these two issues raises a salient question: why does the state have the right to order your death but you don't have the right to order it yourself?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Top ten underreported humanitarian stories

Top ten underreported humanitarian stories

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) recently issued its annual list of the top ten underreported humanitarian stories for the most recent year.

They are:

-Congolese ravaged by war and disease

-Staggering needs, insecurity, and dismal response for Chechens living in fear

-Haiti's capital wracked by waves of violence

-No (research and development) for HIV/AIDS tools adapted to impoverished settings

-Clashes in northeastern India take a heavy toll on civilians

-War is officially over, but urgent needs go unmet in southern Sudan

-Somalis endure continuing conflict and deprivation

-Colombians trapped by violence and fear

-Insecurity worsens already desperate situation in northern Uganda

-Crisis deepening in Ivory Coast

There are many noble professions. Teacher. Diplomat. Social worker. Child advocate. Human rights activist. But the humanitarian worker is probably the profession I respect the most. Most people in the field for MSF and related organizations could easily be in a comfortable house in a comfortable town in the US or France or England or elsewhere. But they voluntarily choose to put themselves in some of the most dangerous situations in the world, often in conflicts where the belligerents don't distinguish between civilians, aid workers and combattants. They choose to put themselves in harm's way for the sole purpose of helping innocent victims of war, violence and other disasters. I can't help but admire this.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sign of the apocalypse

Reports from England suggest that the apocalypse may be near.

English Premier League champions Chelsea, rampant this year again, managed only a 1-1 draw with fellow Londoners Charlton Athletic. It was their first non-win at home this year and only the third all season in 23 matches.

But more shocking was the reaction of Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho. The self-described 'Special One' was, if you can believe it, humble.

He praised Charlton and noted that his team was lacking focus and intensity.

This is possibly the first time in his managerial career in England that he didn't blame a non-win on the officials, on the other manager or team or on evil plots by the Premier League or Football Association.

Perhaps this magnanimity is merely another ploy by Mourinho to shock the rest of the league into disorientation.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Presidential power 'beyond Congress' ability to regulate'

I've often written about the administration's thirst for absolute power. About their contempt for checks and balances. About their loathing of accountability. About their hatred of transparency.

Some critics have accused me of hyperbole, of exaggeration, of overstatement.

So let me use the administration's own words to counter those critics.

In its formal justification of the administration's probably illegal domestic spying program, the Justice Department wrote that some powers of the president are simply "beyond Congress' ability to regulate."

While it's true that some presidential powers are listed in the Constitution, warrantless spying is not among them. In fact, the Constitution requires such spying to be done with a warrant issued by a court upon presentation of probable cause.

Some argue that warantless searches are legal if the administration gets ex post facto approval from a special spy court. But since that spy court was set up by an act of Congress, isn't that an admission that such activities are perfectly within Congress' ability to regulate?

It isn't me who's alleging the administration is acting with impunity. The administration has made its desires explicitly clear.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Proof of secret CIA prisons?

A few months ago, allegations erupted that the CIA was running secret prison camps in Europe. Washington and alleged host countries denied the allegations.

A Swiss newspaper claims to have proof.

The center-right Swiss senator Dick Marty is investigating on behalf of the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights monitor. He said claimed that people were apparently abducted and transferred between countries.

"Legal proceedings in progress in certain countries seemed to indicate that individuals had been abducted and transferred to other countries without respect for any legal standards," Sen. Marty said.

Angrily denouncing wide-ranging criticism of Bush administration policies by the non-partisan organization Human Rights Watch, White House spokesman Scott McClellan huffed that it was all an anti-Bush plot.

"The United States is a leader when it comes to advancing freedom and promoting democracy, and we will continue to be. We are the leader," he retorted.

Kidnapping people without respect for the rule of law. Throwing them in secret prisons with no legal recourse. Demanding the right to torture them.

This administration is a leader only in shameless behavior that destroys America's reputation and makes Americans less safe.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Intelligent design is pretend science: Vatican paper

Intelligent design was rubbished this week. Not by a 'liberal' outfit like Newsweek or a real one like The New York Times. It was criticized in the pages of the official newspaper of the Vatican.

L'Osservatore Romano published a column in which a University of Bologna professor noted: "If the model proposed by Darwin is not considered sufficient, one should search for another,"

He added that: "But it is not correct from a methodological point of view to stray from the field of science while pretending to do science."

The New York Times article added: L'Osservatore is the official newspaper of the Vatican and basically represents the Vatican's views. Not all its articles represent official church policy. At the same time, it would not be expected to present an article that dissented deeply from that policy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Another unintended consequence of the Iraq invasion

Nearly all of the main (stated) justifications for the aggression against Iraq were based on the theme that it would make America safer and the world too. Not only would Iraq cease being a haven for terrorists and repository for weapons of mass destruction (which it never was), but 'shock and awe' would cow other Arab countries into submission to American will. One invasion would prevent the 'need' for five others, according to this logic.

But as with so much regarding the invasion, the (stated) plan didn't quite work out.

Earlier this month, Iran re-started its nuclear program. The Iranian regime claims that the program is strictly for peaceful purposes, to provide for the country's energy needs. The US, as well as many European governments, fear that the program will be used to develop nuclear weapons. The administration in Washington has suddenly become a fan of an aggressive UN (only selectively, of course).

If true, President Bush has no one to blame but himself.

Iran is one of the three members of what President Bush called 'the Axis of Evil.' If Iran does indeed want to develop nuclear weapons, it surely self-justifies that decision by looking at the fate of the other two members of that club. North Korea is widely believed to possess weapons of mass destruction. Iraq, quite obviously, never possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Which one was recently invaded by the US and Britain? Which one has been dealt with via non-military pressure?

If Tehran really is developing a nuclear program, can you blame them? The Iranian theocracy knows how this administration can effectuate regime change and wants to protect itself. Thanks to the Iraq aggression and belligerent calls from some for military action against Iran, the Iranian regime apparently now feels that the best way that this is the best way to guard its national sovereignty.

Yet another way this administration has made us safer.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Madame President(s)

Reactionaires of the world will surely be troubled by yesterday's events. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in as president of Liberia, thus becoming Africa's first elected female head of state. And Michelle Bachelet was elected as the first woman president, South America's most conservative country.

Both were once political prisoners under criminal regimes. Johnson-Sirleaf was imprisoned during Samuel Doe's reign of terror in the 1980s. Bachelet was thrown in jail along with her family after Augusto Pinochet's military coup because her father was an Air Force general (who was tortured to death in prison). Both are divorced women in conservative, predominantly Christian countries where men have always had a stranglehold on the high echelons of power.

Despite those similarities, the women face vastly different challenges. Johnson-Sirleaf has to rebuild a country destroyed by years of war and undermined by her indicted war criminal warlord predecessor's mafioso-style of leadership. Despite being vastly more qualified, her win over popular soccer player George Weah in the presidential runoff was a surprise to many, but the way she dealt with disgruntled Weah supporters demonstrated she posseses some of the deft political skills she'll need to govern this country where political institutions have been devoid of legitimacy for a quarter century.

Bachelet is the fourth consecutive center-left president of Chile since Pinochet's fascist dictatorship under the weight of public disgust. While Chile has the strongest, most stable economy in Latin America, Bachelet will have to address the growing gap between rich and poor. She also promised to reform Chile's 25-year-old private social security systems to ensure better pensions for retirees, though she has yet to offer specifics.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The rise of US soccer

Columnist Paul Gardner has a commentary in The New York Sun on the evolution of American soccer. The US soccer media's resident curmudgeon explains the rapid rise of the country's national team program from international joke to competitive second-tier power in a short 15 years.

One of the biggest differences between the US team in the early- and mid-90s and the program today is depth. While previous managers were lucky to have one quality player at each position, current boss Bruce Arena now has plenty of talent to choose from. This is due in no small part to the creation of a first division, Major League Soccer, in 1996. Essential to MLS' contribution to the national team program is limits on the number of foreign players.

Yet despite the importance of MLS, Arena has a lot of European-based players he can call on. This is in sharp contrast to previous US managers, who had to rely largely on inexperienced, college or second-division players.

Arena now has a domestic pro league, MLS, to rely on. In the 2002 World Cup, his starting team for the opening game against Portugal included six MLS players. But, so striking have been the changes in American soccer, that an MLS dominated team will not appear in Germany. The Europe-based players now hold sway, argues Gardner.

Of the U.S.-based players in Arena’s camp, only Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy) looks like a guaranteed starter,with Eddie Pope (Real Salt Lake) on the likely list. Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids) has always performed well when called upon, whether in defense or in midfield, but he faces competition in midfield from John O’Brien of Ajax (Netherlands), a more experienced, if injury-dogged, player.

In 1990, the US qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years. Now, the possibility of failing to qualify for the world's greatest soccer party is inconceivable. In 1990, the young players were, as the cliché goes, just happy to be there. When the US team goes to the World Cup in Germany later this year, anything less than qualification for the 2nd round will be a disappointment... despite being in a difficult group that includes European powers Italy and the Czech Republic.

And this change in mentality, expecting to compete and get results against world powers, is probably the most significant and heartening change of all.

Except for now regularly beating the Mexicans.

Friday, January 13, 2006

RIP Marc Potvin

I was saddened to learn of the death of Marc Potvin, head coach of the local Adirondack Frostbite hockey team. Potvin was found dead in his hotel room earlier today, reports The Post-Star daily newspaper. Police will not speculate on a cause of death but have said that no foul play seemed evident. Potvin was 38. I'm sure all Frosbite fans would echo my condolences to Potvin's family.

Update: An online memorial to Potvin can be found here

Bill Clinton

Say what you will about Bill Clinton as president, but he's done some pretty admirable things as ex-president. Granted, he's not quite yet Jimmy Carter, arguably the best ex-president in American history, but he's going in the right direction.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Iraq aggression may cost $2 trillion

On Tuesday evening, the fantastic Public Radio International news program The World did an interview with Joseph Stiglitz. The Nobel Prize-winning economist estimated that the total costs of the Iraq aggression could run as high as almost two TRILLION dollars... that's $2,000,000,000,000. A figure so mind boggling let's put it like this: it's over $5500 for every single American. And he came to this conclusion by using the same standard economic estimates used both by the insurance industry and by the federal government itself.

For comparison, in Fiscal Year 2004, the entire federal government's spending on everything was about $2.3 trillion.

(By contrast, some conservatives have launched a war against the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which receives a piddling 0.02% of that sum each year.)

Of course, a few years ago, War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted that the Pentagon had simply lost track of $2.3 trillion over the course of several years so maybe that's why they're so impervious to the Iraq costs. But in a society that counts militarism as one if its primary values, it's no surprise that military is the only branch of government that can spend however much it wants with no public outrage and no accountability whatsoever.

And it was interesting that I heard this story on The World on Tuesday night but I could find no article on it at the websites of those venerable 'Bush-hating' and 'liberal media' outlets ABC, CBS and NBC News and CNN. Go figure.

Fortunately, the always reliable Christian Science Monitor included the story in its press review.

In the interview, Stiglitz addressed the false dichotomy that his critics will surely invoke. It wasn't simply a question of invading Iraq or doing nothing. The question is: was the aggression against Iraq the best way to make America safer? Were there other ways to spend the money to truly make America safer, in ways that didn't result in fanning the flames of anti-American resentment not only in the Middle East but in much of the world? Could the money have been spent to improve America's international reputation instead of to ruin it? Has the aggression advanced American values or undermined them? In other words, was this the most efficient use of one or two trillion dollars?

The answers are obvious.

Update: And despite the astronomical amounts that will be spent on Iraq, there are still troops without body armor. Despite the unaccounted for trillions, the Pentagon even reimburse National Guardsmen for their expenses on missions to serve and protect. Support our troops!

Things fall apart

You know favorite lower division soccer team is having a rough time of it when the headlines at the beginning of the season read "We have a good chance of going up" but only a few months later have degenerated to "We have a good chance of staying up".


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The new NHL

The Christian Science Monitor has an article on Detroit Red Wings' winger Brendan Shanahan and his campaign to make the National Hockey League more interesting to watch.

In 2003-04, the NHL had the most exciting Stanley Cup finals in a decade. Then refusing to capitalize on this momentum, the entire NHL campaign was cancelled due to a lockout imposed by team owners. It was the first North American professional sports season ever to be cancelled in its entireity.

One good thing came out of the debacle: the league re-wrote many of its rules in an attempt to generate more excitement and enthusiasm.

And a funny thing happened on the league's way to oblivion: the changes worked!

For the first time in over a decade, the league is now worth watching on a regular basis. The new rules and emphases protect skaters instead of goons. Referees have been ordered to crack down on the hooking, holding and interference which have absolutely destroyed the game in the last 10 years or so.

While many people do like to see the fights (or like myself, don't mind the occasional one) and most fans appreciate good, clean hits, I don't know of any one who is sad to see the demise of hooking, holding and interference... an unholy trinity which rendered the loathsome old NHL about as exciting to watch as golf or the NBA.

Now, skill players can skate with the puck without getting repeatedly mugged by no talent goons bearing weapons. And if they are mugged, penalties are actually called. Of course, some players and fans will always complain when the written rules are actually enforced; they will whine about refs trying to be the star of the show or controlling the game. To them, refusing to give preference to the talentless makes it less macho, "Eurohockey" as some local fans might snidely call it. The muggings and cheap shots make it more of a "man's game."

But as a result of these long overdue changes, many of the games in the NHL are absolutely breathtaking to watch.

To be honest, over the last several years, I hardly ever watched a regular season NHL game, even when the Bruins were on TV. I watched the Stanley Cup playoffs more out of habit than enthusiasm. This wasn't out of a disillusionment with the sport of hockey, but with hockey the way it was perverted by the NHL. I still loved watching high school and especially college (university) hockey. This season, I've already watched more regular season games than I have in over a decade and not just Bruins' games.

Of course, you knew the NHL would find a way to mess this up. While the games are about 50 times better than they were before the owner-imposed lockout, far fewer people can see them. The NHL had been broadcast for almost 15 years on the widely-watched and -respected ESPN networks. ESPN naturally wanted to pay less money for the new contract since the NHL brand had been devalued by the lockout.

So the NHL chose to air its national games on the Outdoor Network (OLN), which has far less viewers than the ESPNs. This is an example of short-sightedness so prevelant amongst those who mismanage the NHL. Yes, OLN offered more money but less exposure. After a year off the sports radar screen, exposure is precisely what the NHL needs to rebuild. Due to the rules changes, they now have the product. ESPN would've given them the venue. But they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Again.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The imperial presidency

"We have had discussions with Congress in the past -- certain members of Congress -- as to whether or not FISA [Federal Intelligence Security Act] could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible." -US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, on the administration's warrantless spying on American citizens

This comment epitomizes the arrogance and contempt for the rule of law repeatedly demonstrated by the Bush administration. Essentially, the attorney general is saying "We can't get Congress to legalize these actions so we're just going to do them anyway."

If the Republican administration thinks that spying on dangerous Americans like Quakers and Catholic anti-poverty activists is absolutely critical to national security, then why is it unable to convince a Republican Congress of this alleged necessity?

Bush apologists argue that Congress really gave the president a blank check, law and Constitution be damned, to do whatever he wanted following 9/11. And only whiny partisan Democrats and other terrorists appeasers object to this blank check.

Yet even Kansas Sen, Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican and usually a staunch White House ally, disagrees. "There was no discussion in anything that I was around that gave the president a broad surveillance authority with that resolution," Sen. Brownback told The Associated Press. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is another conservative Republican and normally a friend of the president who's objected to the White House's claims of omnipotence.

And those claims of unchecked authority are precisely what makes this administration so dangerous. What claims?

-Spying on American citizens without a warrant (4th Amendment? We don't need no stinkin' 4th Amendment!)

-Detaining people on foreign battlefields in an undeclared war and then transfering them to an American-run prison camp that, the administration claims, is not subject to American law and keep these people detained indefinitely, without charge or trial until you feel like dealing with them. Some of these prisons are alleged to have been in the former Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. (Illegal on so many levels)

-Claiming the 'right' to torture these detainees. (To advance the cause of 'freedom and liberty' of course)

-Objecting to Congressional oversight of these human rights' abuses.

-Allegedly kidnapping people on European soil without the knowledge or consent of the governments in question.

-Signing bills but unilaterally claiming the right to ignore provisions it doesn't like (Where is this in the Constitution?)

-Claiming powers derived from Congressional resolutions that Congress never intended to give.

I'm sure there are others but these are what spring to mind immediately.

These claims of unchecked imperial authority are even more dangerous than the actual malfeasence.

I am not shocked that the government is doing bad things in my name. But what usually happens in such cases is that when exposed, someone apologizes and has the decency to know that when caught with your hand in the cookie jar, you should at least pretend to be sorry. Even Bill Clinton faked an apology when he was caught lying about a blow job.

This administration is not the least bit sorry when caught in such extralegal activities. Even though we could be kept just as safe in a legal manner. Instead, those who question this contempt for the rule of law, even friends of the administration, are met with defiance and the proverbial middle finger.

As commentator Ron Elving wrote:

Instead, the administration relies on its own notions of its legal authority (courtesy of the White House counsel and the attorney general) and invokes its responsibility for protecting American lives. The administration line is this: The legal points are arguable, the Congress has been told, and the court of public opinion will vindicate the president.

This is what becomes genuinely disturbing: This blanket assertion of authority has no discernible limits. Accepting it confers on this president -- or any president -- the powers of autocracy.

The president does not have powers of autocracy even during a declared war (which we are not in). Congress was not dissolved during either World War or during the Civil War. If Congress' authority as a co-equal branch of government was respected during those far more grave crises, then there's no need for an imperial presidency right now.

Update: I forgot to add some important revelations reported in an article by The Washington Post.

A report by Congress's research arm concluded yesterday that the administration's justification for the warrantless eavesdropping authorized by President Bush conflicts with existing law and hinges on weak legal arguments.

The [non-partisan] Congressional Research Service's report rebuts the central assertions made recently by Bush and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales about the president's authority to order secret intercepts of telephone and e-mail exchanges between people inside the United States and their contacts abroad.


The 44-page report said that Bush probably cannot claim the broad presidential powers he has relied upon as authority to order the secret monitoring of calls made by U.S. citizens since the fall of 2001. Congress expressly intended for the government to seek warrants from a special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before engaging in such surveillance when it passed legislation creating the court in 1978, the CRS report said.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Three 9/11s every week for the last seven years

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.

"One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic." -Joseph Stalin

When figuring out how people will respond to a foreign tragedy, it comes down to three things: location, location, location.

And TV cameras too.

The September 11, 2001 homicide attacks killed about 3,000 people yet it's had more impact on American politics and foreign policy than anything since World War II. And to the great extent that American foreign policy impacts the rest of the world, it had a huge impact on international affairs as well.

While 3,000 is pretty big death toll for a single incident, there have been other wars and attacks with greater loss of life that had a relatively miniscule influence on American or international affairs. Why? Because those attacks didn't occur in the heart of New York City. The international response would've been significantly less if the attack had been launched in Kathmandu, Bogota or Algiers (in countries with homegrown terrorist problems).

The Asian tsunami of 2004 had a devastating effect and cost an estimated 283,000 lives and over a million displaced. It generated an international response that was probably unprecedented in scale. As someone who regularly reads articles on underfunded international crisis appeals, I was heartened by the response to the tsunami. That it hit easily accessible coastal regions, including many tourist areas, made it easier to TV crews to get images. That Europeans and Americans were amongst the victims, if a tiny fraction, ensured that it got coverage in the western media.

But if I told you there was a conflict that has cost almost 15 times as many lives as the tsunami, could you name that crisis? If I told you there was a crisis that, in mortality terms, was the equivalent of a three 9/11s every week for the last 7 years, would you know which one I'm talking about?

I bet few westerners could, even though it's by far the deadiest conflict of the last 60 years.

The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) is killing an estimated 38,000 people each month, according to the British medical journal The Lancet. And if not for the involvement of humanitarian non-governmental organizations and UN relief agencies, the toll would be much higher.

Most of the deaths are not caused by violence but by malnutrition and preventable diseases after the collapse of health services, the study said, notes the BBC.

Since the war began in 1998, some 4m people have died, making it the world's most deadly war since 1945, it said.

A peace deal has ended most of the fighting but armed gangs continue to roam the east, killing and looting.

The political process in the DRC is slowly inching in the right direction. Voters in the country recently approved a new constitution, to replace the one imposed on it by the outgoing Belgian colonialists. EU officials praised the referendum as free and fair, probably the first truly open poll in the country's history. Elections are scheduled for June of this year.

However, instability reigns in much of the country, particularly the east. And central government throughout the entireity of the country has never been strong in this gigantic country. There are 17,000 UN peacekeepers doing the best they can but the country's the size of Western Europe. (By contrast the Americans and British have ten times as many troops in Iraq, a country that's less than 1/5 the size of the DRC. And we know how many problems they're having there)

And this shows why war should ALWAYS be a last resort. Most of the deaths have not been directly caused by war (bullet wounds, landmines, etc). Most of the deaths have been caused by factors provoked by war's instability and destruction. The destruction of all infrastructure like roads and medical clinics. The inability to get to sources of clean water. The fear of leaving the house to tend the fields or go to the market.

38,000 people a month. If you get pissed off at Howard Dean or Pat Robertson, spare a little outrage for this.

And maybe a few bucks.

-Doctors Without Borders
-World Food Program
-Catholic Relief Services

Friday, January 06, 2006

How to make us safer? Give the bomb to Iran

President Bush has come under serious criticism in recent weeks for its domestic spying program that many consider illegal. The administration has defended the spying by insisting that the program is only intended to target those who are suspected of links to al-Qaeda. Apparently, this includes Quakers and Catholic anti-poverty activists as well as anti-war protesters (whose dissent is perfectly legitimate, wink wink).

The president himself has defended the indefensible (admittedly, not for the first time) calling the spying vital to preventing terrorist attacks. Apparently, having to go to a secret court that almost always gives him what he wants is too burdensome for him. Even though he doesn't have to go to this court until AFTER the wiretapping. The mere fact that the presiden has to answer to any other legal entity enrages him.

As he's done so often, the president unilaterally claims unlimited and unchecked power simply by demanding everyone just trust him.

Iran is part of the 'Axis of Evil,' as the president put it. It's a country run by a theocratic regime and who's president has said that the Holocaust is a 'myth.'

Iran has also been in the news for its controversial nuclear energy program. Iran argues that the program is strictly for peaceful purposes to meet the country's energy needs. Critics like the US government have argued that the program is really a cover for developing nuclear weapons.

Now, The Los Angeles Times is reporting that our very own CIA gave Iran the bomb, according to a new book.

In a clumsy effort to sabotage Iran's nuclear program, the CIA in 2004 intentionally handed Tehran some top-secret bomb designs laced with a hidden flaw that U.S. officials hoped would doom any weapon made from them, according to a new book about the U.S. intelligence agency.

But the Iranians were tipped to the scheme by the Russian defector hired by the CIA to deliver the plans and may have gleaned scientific information useful for designing a bomb, writes New York Times reporter James Risen in "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration."

Thank you, Mr. President.

Yes, he only acts to make us safer.

Perhaps those are his intentions, but it's clear that most of the significant decisions he takes have the opposite effect.

Yes, we must blindly trust him and his judgement.

In past years, you could get impeached for lying about a blow job. How times have changed.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Soccer the most exciting sport: scientists

It's official: soccer is the most exciting sport

That's according to scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Why they were researching this weighty topic is not clear.

The scientists looked more than 300,000 games played in the top professional leagues over the past century in five sports: baseball, hockey, basketball, American football and English soccer.

The researchers took unpredictability of results - how often a leading team is beaten by an underdog - as a measure of how exciting a game was.

By this standard, soccer was the most exciting sport followed by Major League Baseball.

The study noted, however, that in the last ten years, baseball topped soccer in excitement. This coincides with the advent of English soccer's Premiership which The Guardian accurately describes an era marked by huge spending and a widening gap between the top league and the rest.

The irony is that baseball is the American sport which most closely parallels English and European soccer in terms of restrictions on player movement and players salaries. Specifically, there are fewer restrictions than in the NFL, NHL and NBA. Many people have insisted that the salary cap (overall limit on the amount teams can spend on player salaries) was necessary to preserve competitive balance in sport.

Yet the two leagues with the best competitive balance, according to this study, are the two leagues with no salary cap.

It's ironic that many of the same people who refuse minimum wage for low income workers insist on maximum wages for athletes. Either you let the market dictate wages in an absolute fashion or you don't.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Military recruitment at hockey games

I went to a hockey game at the local arena this weekend. They were handing out tshirts and water bottles to young fans. At games, the most sustained ovations are reserved not for goals or even fights but for the free stuff they launch into the crowd in between periods.

Who's 'they'?

At this particular game, it was the Army.

Well, not really the Army but a handful of teenagers on ice skates decked out in t-shirts bearing the ubiquitous 'Army of One' logo.

(Incidentally, 'Army of One' is one of the most absurd premises I've ever seen for an advertising campaign. For whatever its virtues, I can think of few institutions more poorly suited for individualism and free thinking. The military is an organization that claims conformity and collectivity as primary values)

I'm not really surprised by this, even if I was a bit disturbed. The military is sold just like any other product: with glitz and glamor and glossy advertising campaigns. They particularly target the young, since older potential recruits are more likely to have spouses, children, mortgages and other things to tie them down.

Quite naturally, the glossy advertising campaigns don't show images dead bodies or interviews with amputee soldiers. War is portrayed a video game. A game you can win by being an 'Army of one.'

In many cases, people join the military in order to pay for college. It's tragic that the only way many teenagers feel they can get a college education is by risking being ordered to pick a gun and kill. If people truly want to serve in the military, if they feel this is their true calling, then so be it. But there should be other ways to get a college education without going $100,000 into debt than being shipped off halfway around the world to shoot at people who've done nothing to you or your country and dodge bullets from people who want you out of theirs.

It must be a tough time to be a military recruiter. The regular military is being asked to fight a nonsensical, directionless war based on false premises in a place where we are seen as an imperial, occupying power. The US has the best military in the world but it's fighting an unwinnable war; Superman might have been the most powerful being on the planet but he couldn't overcome kryptonite.

And when I say 'we' or 'us,' I don't mean me or you or even the architects of this insane war. It's kids fresh out of high school, many of whom just wanted to go to college and better their lives. I feel sorry for those who felt they had no other choice.

The National Guard recruiters are having a tough time too. This is the first conflict since World War II where National Guardsmen have been ordered into foreign war zones. People signed up for the National Guard to help their states in areas like disaster relief and (domestic) civil disorder. They may have realized in an abstract way that they might be ordered into a foreign war zone. But they assumed that this would occur only if it was absolutely essential to this country's survival.

They were deceived.

While this deceit is not the recruiters' fault (they were deceived too), it's the recruiters' job to sell a lemon to a population who increasingly dislikes citrus fruits. Many who might otherwise join the Guard see this deceit and hesitate about joining. And they should.

Americans will defend their country when they need to, but they hesitate when it comes to unnecessary and foolish wars. The military was inundated with recruits during World War II because nearly everyone agreed that it was essential to national security. For Vietnam, on the other hand, they had to legally force thousands to serve and fight against their will. If Americans truly believe the Iraq aggression was important to our national security, the recruiting offices would be overflowing with candidates.

A few weeks ago, NBC aired a Tom Brokaw documentary called To War and Back. It profiled seven young men from a National Guard company based in my town who were sent to Iraq; only six returned alive.

While I don't personally know any of them, the six came across not as some sadistic cariacture. Not as a group of bloodthirsty monsters who enjoyed violence and blood. Not as some messianic Crusaders hell-bent on forcing 'democracy' and 'freedom' down the throats of the heathens (in sharp contrast to their commander-in-chief).

They came across as a group of scared kids who were asked to do something that they would rather not have done but felt it their obligation to carry out their mission. They may or may not have liked the war in Iraq but the decision was theirs to execute, not to make. They may or may not have liked the president but they had no choice to but to carry out his orders; it was their job and they'd signed a contract. They missed their families and their girlfriends and their friends. They longed for home. I couldn't help but feeling sad that their lives were in the hands of a man not fit to carry their boots. I couldn't help but feeling that they deserved so much better.

And this is why I would dissuade a young person from joining the military at this moment. If you join the military, it is your job to follow orders of the person who occupies the White House at that time. You might think him a coward or a draft dodger or a womanizer, but by joining the military, you are agreeing of your own free will to put your life in his hands. You are agreeing to follow his orders, no matter how absurd or insane you think they are. And even if you trust the president of the day with your life, you agreeing to do the same for the next president, no matter how much or little you respect him (or her).

I would dissuade a young person from joining the military as long as the military is used by politicians primarily for imperial excursions and advancing economic hegemony.

I wouldn't give my unsollicited opinion to someone who wanted to join the military (and in recent months, I have consciously refrained from doing so in a couple of cases). But if asked, I would have an obligation to my conscience and to the other person to be honest.

If politicians actually returned to using the military primarily for its intended purpose, defending Americans from outside attack, then I would have no problem recommending it to those who wanted to join. Since this has been the way the military's been (ab)used for over a century, I don't expect this habit to change anytime soon, whether a Republican's in the White House or a Democrat.

Then again, if politicians actually returned to using the military primarily for its intended purpose, then we wouldn't need such a large military anyways. And your recruiting problem would be solved... without the assistance of gimmicks like water bottles and t-shirts.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Keeping downtown stuck in neutral

It's no secret that I oppose the roundabout being proposed for downtown Glens Falls. No secret at all.

My main objection is that it will make downtown even more hostile to pedestrians. Pedestrians, as I've mentioned countless times, is a synonym for CONSUMERS. I've contended in previous essays that the roundabout's effect on pedestrians was never even factored into the equation. Some have argued that because roundabout would reduce the speed limit from 40 mph to 15 mph, then it would become paradise for walkers trying to cross the street. However, this ignores the simple fact that the purpose of the roundabout is so that traffic never has to stop and you can't cross the street if traffic never stops!

A letter in yesterday's Post-Star perfectly demonstrates this mentality.

The city's new mayor Le Roy Akins has called for the roundabout to be tried on a temporary basis. He expressed concern as to how a permanent roundabout would affect people going to and from the nearby Civic Center arena. The mere fact that he's taking these pedestrians/consumers into account is a hopeful sign and an improvement on the roundabout's most ardent supporters.

While a temporary roundabout is preferable to wasting $3 million of city money on a permanent one, I've pointed out that this does nothing to resolve downtown's fundamental unfriendliness to pedestrians.

However, a letter written by Chris Harrington takes the opposite approach. Harrington criticizes Akins for the proposal arguing that a temporary roundabout wouldn't sufficiently replicate the attributes of a permanent roundabout.

Harrington writes: We should be concerned, however, that we are making the Civic Center a priority, when the immediate concern is to make travel into and through Glens Falls easier.

This perfectly demonstrates the exact opposite mentality that is needed to improve downtown.

The premise of Harrington's comment is that the automobile should be given priority over pedestrians/consumers. The immediate concern SHOULD NOT BE making it easier to get through Glens Falls without stopping. The immediate concern should be to facilitate movement for those who DO stop in Glens Falls to peruse its shops or eat in its restaurants and watch events in its arena. The Civic Center is one of the largest generators of sales tax in the city. Why should its patrons be given short shrift just so people can cut a minute or two off their travel from Hudson Falls to the Northway?

People who watch hockey games at the Civic Center should be given priority. People who eat at Gourmet Cafe or Rock Hill Bakehouse should be given priority. People who get dinner and a movie at a Aimie's should be given priority. People who want to speed past our shops and restaurants without stopping should NOT be given priority over people who want to spend their hard earned money in the city.

That some city leaders and residents want non-patrons to be treated better than patrons is the most maddening and absurd aspect of this whole debate.

Only when people realize that pedestrians/consumers must be given priority over automobiles will downtown truly be on its way toward revitalization.

Monday, January 02, 2006

'Past controversies' and other media inventions

The Glens Falls daily Post-Star is a publication that suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Every few months, the paper comes up with a different obsession to bash its readers over the head with.

Sometimes, it is actually useful, like arguing for increasing governmental accountability and openness. Othertimes, it does more harm than good, like the hysteria they whipped up about teen drinking/binge drinking/drunk driving (which the paper disingenuously treats as one and the same).

The present crusade du jour concerns the counterproductive anti-pedestrian roundabout for downtown Glens Falls that the outgoing [city] Common Council approved.

Incoming mayor Le Roy Akins wisely seems to have some concerns about the permanent roundabout, something which raised the ire of never stand in the way of ‘progress’ folks at The Post-Star. Editorials and opinion columns have chastized Akins to not waste his time revisiting the roundabout and that he should just implement the cockamemie project without these pesky questions.

In addition to being counterproductive, the roundabout will also cost the city some $3 million. The paper regularly attacked the previous Council for refusing to consolidate police dispatch services with the Warren County Sheriff’s office, a move which would allegedly have saved something like $150,000 (a figure critics dispute). The daily also applauded a move by the Council to reduce by $225,000 the subsidy paid by the city for the Civic Center. (This is more of a philosophical statement, since the city is legally obligated to cover the arena’s operating deficit.)

The paper and its columnists continually assault politicians who, in their view, are not sufficiently ruthless against taxes and spending.

Fair enough.

But how can the daily rip politicians who won’t cut $150,000 from the city’s police department and applaud those who cut $225,000 from the sports arena, but savage those who question the widsom of spending $3,000,000 of city money on a boondoggle in silver bullet’s clothing like the roundabout?

A boondoggle that not only fails to address the fundamentally pedestrian-unfriendly (pedestrians being a synonym for consumers) atmosphere in downtown Glens Falls, but makes it worse.

Now, the Crusaders at The Post-Star have gone one step further. Rather than attacking critics of the roundabout, I think their new strategy is to pretend the controversy no longer exists.

In his column today, managing editor Ken Tingley raved about outgoing mayor Robert Regan’s plan for a retail development proposal across from the Civic Center. The plan looks intriguing, provided the city addresses the anti-pedestrian atmosphere I’ve mentioned before.

But Tingley added, in his most Orwellian fashion, that the new Common Council must continue to move forward and stop resurrecting past controversies like the roundabout....

The roundabout has only been approved by the previous Council. It hasn’t been built. Construction hasn’t started. No contracts have been signed. So how did it become a past controversy?

The Crusaders at The Post-Star regularly attack those who dare question the paper’s claims of omnipotence. And it’s not just concerning the roundabout or the alleged paradise of unfettered development.

When a teenager from Queensbury named (I believe) Patrick Murphy wrote a letter to the editor pointing out the logical flaws in the daily’s teen drinking hysteria, he was ripped apart by Grand Inquisitor Tingley and by the editorial board. And after demanding Murphy be stoned for heresy, the managing editor broke his arm patting himself on the back for starting a ‘discussion.’

The next letter Murphy wrote was to express shock and dismay at the way the ‘Hometown Paper’ treated him expressing an entirely reasonable opinion and stated that he’d never write another letter again because of it.

In today’s ‘From the Managing Editor’ column, Tingley had the gall to say “Readers shouldn’t be afraid to let us know what they think.”

He added, I know I have had anonymous phone calls from readers voicing complaints, and when I asked who I was talking to, they sometimes refused to tell me out of fear of retaliation. I always find that disturbing since our goal is to always get the facts right. ‘Getting someone’ just isn’t what we do.

Patrick Murphy might disagree, assuming he hasn’t been burned at the stake already.

Talk is cheap, Mr. Tingley. The Post-Star has every right to think its editorial positions are correct, just as I think my opinions are spot on. But it’s pretty arrogant to attack honest citizens who disagree in good faith and then profess shock (SHOCK) that anyone might be afraid to speak out.

Some day, The Post-Star’s leadership might realize that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. While the occassional strongly-worded editorial can be effective, relentlessly bashing readers over the head is a blunt and ineffective way of convincing them, one that usually has the opposite effect. People don’t like being condescended to. They don’t like being told, “Why are you so stupid/masochistic?”

If anyone at The Post-Star reads this, they may well think that I hate the paper and hope it rots in hell. That’s simply not true. To the contrary, I was a long-time defender of the paper when criticizing it was in vogue. I thought it was a pretty good paper for a small market like ours. Notice the past tense.

I don’t like the sharp decline the paper has suffered from in the last few years. As the only serious source for local news, it’s too important an institution to let its rot pass without comment. I want it to be better. A few weeks ago, it did a good piece on local poverty. It was good, solid reporting on a serious, but hidden/ignored, problem. It was the kind of journalism that should be more common in The Post-Star’s pages.

Drop the pomposity and treat readers, even dissident ones, with respect. And they’ll return the favor. If the paper does that, it won’t have to reassure readers not to be afraid. They’ll figure that out for themselves. I hope this transformation happens sooner rather than later, but I’m not holding my breath.