Saturday, September 30, 2006

Objective reporting on Africa

This essay is part of a (more or less) weekly feature on this 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, Iraq and Iran*. (*-added on the suggestion of a reader)

Earlier this month, I wrote about the western media's skewed portrait of Africa and attempts to offer a fairer picture of a complicated and nuanced continent.

There was even a conference on the subject recently in Johannesburg.

The western media typically focuses on bad news. On local and national issues too, not just African ones. "If it bleeds, it leads," goes the saying.

When I pick up my local paper, I tend to read bad news all around. Domestic violence. Political croynism. Influx of drugs into my area. So genocide in Africa isn't out of place in this narrative of negativity.

The difference is that people have first hand experience of their town, state and country to counterbalance the negativity. I know there are bad things going on around here. But I also know many examples of good things going on. Of people helping families whose houses burned down or whose kid has a serious illness. I know of countless smaller kindnesses that occur too. My personal experience acts as a counterbalance to the media's focus on negativity.

But very few westerners have that same first hand experience when it comes to Africa. Hence, there is nothing to counterbalance the media's portrayal.

I don't think the western media consciously tries to smear Africa. Though I think there is the consideration that appealing to liberal pity and guilt is good for ratings/circulation.

I just think the media are lazy. Too lazy to tell good news in a compelling way. Covering bad news is straight forward. Just pick a random war, genocide or famine. Interview random government, rebel and/or NGO officials. Throw in the most provocoative quotes. Add water and stir.

Covering good news is a lot less formulaic. Journalists have to do a little digging.

Western journalism in Africa is very top down. It's heavily reliant on interviewing high ranking official types in capitals or major cities. Quite often, the good news stories are with ordinary people in the smaller towns and villages. These people and places aren't even on the radar screens of most western journalists.

But they are on the radar screens of the really good ones. Radio Netherlands' Eric Beauchemin is a great example of how a western journalism can do justice in reporting on Africa.

His pieces focus not on the presidents and ministers and rebel leaders. They focus on simple, ordinary Africans. The AIDS orphan who, at 12 years old, has to care and provide for her younger siblings. Gay and women's rights activists fighting for fair treatment by government and scoiety. These people may be victims of injustice but they are not lazy and they do not passively accept their fate.

This is how excellent journalism is practiced. Take a broader issue and show how ordinary people deal with it. It takes a little more effort than just getting a quote or two from the information minister and the opposition leader.

Objectivity doesn't simply mean telling the truth. It means telling the whole truth.

Friday, September 29, 2006

I am a terrorist

The National Intelligence Estimate made headlines because of its blindingly self-evident conclusion that the Iraq aggression was worsening the threat of terrorism.

One of the lesser reported parts of the report was to equate those who question the globalization with terrorists. According to The Progressive:

"Anti-U.S. and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies," the document states. "This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack U.S. interests."

I do not oppose globalization whole hog. I think it has many good aspects. It allows activists from all over the world to communicate with each other. It allows people in a small upstate NY town to eat Thai food and easily obtain books by African authors.

It has its well-documented flaws too. You can't make omelettes without breaking eggs. Except the eggs are the lives of ordinary, hard-working people.

This doesn't necessarily mean you should throw out the baby with the bath water. I still think globalization is a good thing overall, unlike many of my fellow progressives. But I also think its pernicious effects on ordinary people ought to be dealt with by the government, since it was the government that imposed this system on the ordinary people in the first place. If the government's role is to protect only corporate interests, then let it be funded by only corporate taxes, let me keep my personal income taxes.

What I most object to is how globalization has been presented as a fundamentalist religion where you must agree with it 100 percent. If you have the audacity to point out that it has some negative effects on ordinary people or worse yet, dare suggest that such problems ought to be addressed by the government or otherwise mitigated, you're labelled a heretic and burned at the stake.

Well, you used to be a heretic if you recognized such nuance. Now, you're a terrorist.

Such is 'progress' in Bush's America.

I've long believed the Bush administration is completely out of control. Not because they're wrong on the issues. Lots of administrations get it wrong on the issues. Being part of democracy means that your guys aren't going to be in power all the time.

Any administration tends toward consolidating as much power as it can, Republican or Democrat. But usually, Congress steps in to try to limit that power. When it doesn't, that's when the disastrous problems occur. Lyndon Johnson did the same thing under a Democratic Congress and that's what sent us headlong into the Vietnam nightmare.

For several years following 9/11, Congress abdicated this constitutional responsibility. It offered no checks and balances against the excesses and abuses of power. So by the time Congress realized that maybe this abdication wasn't a good idea, the trend had been set and the Bush administration was used to acting like an absolute monarch. The Pandora's Box had already been opened.

As a result, you now have those who question globalization being talked about in the same breath as Osama bin Laden. It reminds me of how only a month after 9/11, one of the president's advisors said Congress ought to pass a tax cut for the rich in order to send a message to the terrorists. Again, talk about being completely out of control.

Mostly, I blame the Bush administration itself for this since they're the ones perpetrating the abuses of power. But I also place a lot of blame on Congress, both Democratic and Republican members who acted as a blind rubber stamp for so many years.

Democracy only works when someone has the guts to stand up and point out flaws in what the government wants to do. This is called self-correction and it's essential for a properly functioning democracy. It's why democracies work better in the long-term than dictatorships. Until recently, no one (except those evil, troop hating, terrorist loving, Saddam embracing, America-hating anti-war types) had the guts to say the emperor had no clothes.

But I suppose this is probably yet another thing we can find a way to scapegoat someone completely irrelevant. It must be the fault of celebrities. Or the UN. Or the Dixie Chicks. Or the French.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Candidate debates: the puppets and the puppeteers

Earlier this week, John Faso and Eliot Spitzer held a debate. But contrary to popular belief, these are not the only two men running for governor. Green Party candidate Malachy McCourt is also running (or as he would say, standing) for the office. I believe a couple of other smaller party candidates are also on the ballot, though you'd never know it by relying on the mainstream media. Heck, I wouldn't even know McCourt's running if not for friends.

One of the rituals of the corporate media is to intone in their most pompous, self-important voice, "We don't make news. We just report it." However, if the facts are that half a dozen or more people run for most major offices, why does the media almost always report on only two of them?

The local Post-Star has mentioned candidate McCourt only in relation to his recent visit to Glens Falls (watch this space later in the week for a recap). I'm not sure the paper has ever mentioned the other smaller party candidates. They mention Republican Faso and Democrat Spitzer nearly every day. Every Sunday, they run an AP piece which basically give Faso and Spitzer a blank check to say whatever they want on a chosen topic. The wire service can't be bothered to cc: McCourt and the others with their email?

The news media may not consciously manipulate its coverage in order to preserve of the market share of the two major parties, but that's the undisputed effect. If they gave something resembling equal coverage to all candidates, I guarantee the vote of the smaller party candidates would go up. To report objectively means not just to tell the truth, but to tell the WHOLE truth.

But the "We don't make news. We just report it" media unilaterally decides who is a viable candidate instead of just reporting all the candidates' positions and letting the voters decide who's viable. That might require a little more journalism and leave less space for big, cheesy graphics but it's the right thing to do.

These exclusionary debates are pointless partly because not all the candidates are present. If you went to the supermarket and saw six kinds of sliced bread but two of them were heavily featured by the store and those two were the only ones with nutritional information on them, guess which two would sell the most?

The media outlets who broadcast these debates could easily require all candidates be present but they know that in some cases, the major party candidates would get their panties in a twist and boycott, thus depriving the stations of the ratings' drawers. But if the stations stuck to their guns, the major party candidates would come around eventually because they want free exposure too. Instead, the stations stick to the principles, which is ratings not civics.

A great example of this came during the Democratic primary season. Jonathan Tasini was the only challenger to US Sen. Hillary Clinton. NY1 refused to sponsor a Tasini-Clinton debate despite the fact that Tasini was at 14 percent in the polls because the anti-war insurgent hadn't raised enough money, according to the Time-Warner channel. Not surprisingly, Sen. Clinton wouldn't debate him in any other forum.

NY1 DID sponsor a debate between Spitzer and primary challenger Tom Suozzi, despite the fact that Suozzi was only at 8 percent in the polls at the time. Suozzi had raised a lot more money than Tasini so he was considered 'viable,' even though Tasini was higher in the polls despite having less cash. Maybe NY1 only will sponsor candidates with enough money to buy commercial time on... NY1. I don't like to be unduly cynical when the facts lead quite clearly in that direction.... Is it a coincidence that giant media conglomerates are among the most voiciferous opponents of public financing of campaigns and of other campaign funding restrictions?

But these debates are pointless for another reason as well. They are not spontaneous exchanges of information, but glorified commercials. The major party candidates insist it be that way and the mainstream media is complicit in this as well. The questions are tightly controlled to ensure that the two campaigns can advance their themes.

If a media outlet dares ask a truly provocative question, they are shot down by corporate media organizers, who know which side their bread is buttered on. For the recent Faso-Spitzer 'debate,' The Ithaca Journal submitted a trio of very relevant questions, but they were rejected by the debate's corporate media sponsor... none other than the infamous NY1.

The questions related to the 9/11 Commission, mental health housing and clean elections. Three very important topics for the next governor. The two candidates managed to find time to spar about the state comptroller who wasn't even on the stage but couldn't take about mental health programs or the hugely important issue of government accountability.

Thank you NY1! I feel so much more informed now. I'm surprised you didn't ask them about Anna Nicole's son!

To its credit, The Ithaca Journal withdrew from the faux debate. It opined that Maybe Spitzer or Faso will decide that questions from regular people deserve answers. We'd be happy to publish them.

But given Adirondack Almanack's recent piece, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, Sen. Clinton's most prominent anti-war opponent, has also been excluded from the 'debate' between her and the GOP's pro-war John Spencer. So have all the other smaller party candidates, most of whom are anti-war.

You might as well check out Hawkins' website since the corporate media is hellbent on ignoring the Ralph Nader-endorsed candidate as well as everyone else who's outside the two corporate-controlled parties.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

New York's dysfunctional courts: a must read

It's now well-known that New York has the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation. But The New York Times has run a provocative and disturbing series which suggest that New York's judiciary might be even worse!

One example cited was a woman the northern town of Malone a mother of four, she went to court in that North Country village seeking an order of protection against her husband, who the police said had choked her, kicked her in the stomach and threatened to kill her. The justice, Donald R. Roberts, a former state trooper with a high school diploma, not only refused, according to state officials, but later told the court clerk, "Every woman needs a good pounding every now and then."

The Times noted that while [o]fficially a part of the state court system, yet financed by the towns and villages, the justice courts are essentially unsupervised by either. State court officials know little about the justices, and cannot reliably say how many cases they handle or how many are appealed. Even the agency charged with disciplining them, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, is not equipped to fully police their vast numbers.

I've never been a fan of New York's system of electing judges. Imagine you're accused of child molestation, basically the worst crime in society's eyes. Child molestation is the Salem of our time: accusation equals guilt. Maybe not in the law's eyes, but certainly in society's eyes.

But if judges are elected, then society's eyes suddenly matter. If you're falsely accused of this or some other high profile heinous crime, would you want your life and liberty to be put in the hands of someone who's putting his own fate before the fickle voters in two months?

And New York's judges are subject not just to elections, but partisan elections. You run for a judgeship as a Democrat or Republican or Conservative, etc. The municipal or county party leadership has a role in whether you even get nominated. Judges should first and foremost jurists, not someone who owes his job to partisan hacks.

The series makes for chilling reading. Part one can be accessed here. Links to parts two and three are accessible there.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Outrage for sale

I wrote earlier about the Pope's comments quoting a 14th century emperor that caused outrage in the Muslim world. As well as the deafening silence in the Islamic world about the genocide of Muslims by Muslims in Darfur.

While some of the Muslim anger is understandable to a certain extent, anti-Islamic bigotry and hatred is real, if not as prominent as some think. But the hysteria around quotatations and cartoons seems a hideous overreaction by people looking to be offended. To what extent is this accidental and to what extent meticulously manufactured is an important question.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Not quite getting the concept

"You get what you pay for," is a fairly well-known saying. But it seems to elude leaders of one upstate New York town.

The Post-Star reports that three firms have bid to replace the Hadlock Pond dam that was breached in Fort Ann last year. The dam failed only weeks after it was built and the town 'leadership' engaged in a studious coverup of their role in the fiasco.

Apparently, all three bids were higher than the town was initially willing to pay.

The paper reported: "I don't understand why they're so high," said state Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury. "The lowest bid was $3.2 million and that seems ridiculous. It only cost $1.8 million to build the dam the last time."

Of course, that $1.8 million got the town a structure that didn't even last a month before its collapse caused millions of dollars of damage. So the town might be advised to spend a little more money and build a dam that will actually last.

Biofuel and northern NY

North Country Public Radio ran a really good series on biofuel and its potential impact on the Adirondacks and northern New York.

-Biodiesel
-Alternatives to corn-based ethanol
-Solid fuel


NCPR has also done a number of interesting stories on the wind power debate taking place in much of northern New York.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Iraq disaster has worsened terror threat: intelligence agencies

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse...

It's now been well-established that the three main excuses presented for the aggression against Iraq have been thoroughly discredited.

Even some who conceded that fact contended that at least staying in Iraq is now necessary to confront terror.

This observation that the Iraq aggression would make the threat of terrorism was is hardly new. For people with a modicum of common sense and a rudimentary understanding of world (not just US) history, this was blindingly self-evident before the aggression was launched.

Yet, official sources, the best and the brightest if you will, are finally starting to realize this.

No, this observation was not made by the Dixie Chicks, Hollywood actors, Michael Moore or whoever the irrelevant strawman of the day is.

It was made by US intelligence agencies. They issued a report which, The New York Times reports, asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

The paper added: In early 2005, the National Intelligence Council released a study concluding that Iraq had become the primary training ground for the next generation of terrorists, and that veterans of the Iraq war might ultimately overtake Al Qaeda’s current leadership in the constellation of the global jihad leadership.

Of course, President Bush's ardent defense of a mythical right to torture hasn't helped either. Even his former secretary of state has said that the president's love affair with torture has caused the rest of the world 'to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.'

At least modern Iraq is better than under Saddam

There were three main reasons offered in 2003 by President Bush and his apologists for why the US should invade Iraq.

1) Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that might harm America

2) Saddam's regime was buddy-buddy with al-Qaeda

3) Saddam was an evil dictator who murdered and tortured his own people.

There were other minor reasons offered, but no one could seriously argue that Americans would've backed an invasion based solely on the premise that Saddam did not adhere to the letter of the Gulf War ceasefire.

So these were the three reasons offered and repeated ad nauseum by the president and his cronies for the unprovoked aggression against Iraq.

The first two were discredited long ago, as I explained earlier.

But at least Saddam's regime is gone and people are no longer subject to widespread torture.

Oops, wrong again.

Maybe these guys are just putting into practice 'alternative interrogation practices'.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Mandela named 'Ambassador of Conscience'

This essay is part of a (more or less) weekly feature on this 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, Iraq and Iran*. (*-added on the suggestion of a reader)

I was pleased to read that Nelson Mandela is going to receive an Ambassador of Conscience award, Amnesty International's highest honor. Mandela is probably one of the two or three greatest leaders of the 20th century. Not in Africa, but in the world.

South Africa is now the most important country in Africa, politically and economically. It has a stable government which respects the rule of law. But it's important to remember that this was not inevitable.

South Africa in the early and mid-90s was a very violent place. Brutality sponsored by the apartheid state was rampant before the country's first multiracial elections in 1994. Cynical, exploitative local politicians made things worse. The country could very easily have exploded into a full-fledged civil war among the black population. There could have been a genocide or massacres against South Africa's white Afrikaans' population. Or by them. After Mandela's ANC won the elections, the party could've purged the civil service of whites or stripped whites of citizenship or instituted apartheid in reverse.

Mandela wasn't the only African liberation leader to take power with great promise. When he became the country's prime minister in 1980, fellow liberation struggler Robert Mugabe was praised for his moderate, visionary leadership of Zimbabwe. But in Mugabe's case, this was a ruse. Three years later, after international attention had moved away from Zimbabawe, Mugabe launched a genocide against the southern Ndebele people, who largely opposed his regime. His more recent atrocities are well-documented.

Ghana's Kwame N'Krumah and particularly Guinea's Sékou Touré were other independence leaders originally hailed as visionaries, who quickly became drunk with power after the international media focus shifted elsewhere.

This could've happened in South Africa. But it didn't. And that was due largely to the moral leadership of Nelson Mandela and the respect shown by his party members and by South Africans in general.

Twelve years after independence, N'Krumah had been overthrown by a military coup.

Twelve years after independence, Touré launched the first of several major purges against the Peul people.

Twelve years after liberation, South Africa's judiciary threw out corruption charges against a former ally turned rival of the president.

Sékou Touré would've just thrown him in Camp Boiro and let him starve to death. More prominent men suffered the same fate.

Why has South Africa turned out differently? Partly it was because the anti-apartheid struggle was internationalized in a way that the the 1950s anti-colonial struggles (Algeria excepted) were not. So its moral component was more heavily emphasized and thus harder to ignore once liberation was achieved. Additionally, we live in a much different era than in the 1960s when coups, wars and genocides in distant lands might pass without notice.

But partly it was because of the moral leadership of Nelson Mandela. In an era where it's easy to be cynical about politicians, it's reassuring to know that the rare statesman still exists. I can think of no one more deserving of this award.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A 'more hopeful' world ruled by peaceful militarists

Another feature of President Bush's address to the UN was him pretending to be a benevolent peacemaker, a beacon of light to rival Mandela and Gandhi.

He used the phrases "a more hopeful alternative," "a more hopeful future" (twice), "a bright future," "a more tolerant and hopeful society" and "a more hopeful world" to describe what he claims to advance and support.

"Our goal is to help you build a more tolerant and hopeful society that honors people of all faiths and promote the peace," he said, adding that every country should want, "A free society where people live at peace with each other and at peace with the world."

In the last five years, this man who wants 'peace with the world':

-Has invaded Afghanistan (the only action that might remotely be close to justifiable)

-Has launched an unprovoked invasion of Iraq and ignited a civil war (even the Marine intelligence chief has said that there is almost nothing the military can do to slow the chaos in western Iraq.

-Incessantly used belligerent rhetoric against Iran and refused to exclude military action against the country (thus further encouraging them to develop nuclear weapons if they weren't doing so already or to accelerate their development if they were)

-Blindly supported Israeli destruction of southern Lebanon

-Said he'd be willing to send troops to Pakistan, even though his buddy Gen. Musharaff has said his government would vehemently oppose such a violation of his country's sovereignty. In fact, one of the administration's highest ranking officials allegedly* threatened to bomb Pakistan 'back to the Stone Age.'

All of these are Muslim countries. While the president claims he's not at war with Islam, and that might not even be his intent, it's pretty easy to see how Muslims might think otherwise. Some non-Muslim countries suffer under brutal dictatorships. I'm sure Zimbabweans, Equatorian Guineans and Burmese would love "a more hopeful future." But Bush has never talked about western military intervention against any of them.

If all of this belligerence and unprovoked militarism fits his definition of 'hopeful,' then no wonder the president has screwed up the world so badly.

*-Update: For the record, I saw Armitage on CNN and he denied ever making such a comment.

Beyond the first sentence

It's well known that President Bush is one of the most anti-UN leaders in the world, though his administration is not the only ones taking cheap shots at the organization: Bush buddy Hugo Chavez got in some jabs of his own.

Despite this emnity, Bush spoke to the international body earlier this week. It was a typical Bush speech. Everything was divided neatly into good and evil, black and white. Like most Bush addresses, it was compelling, provided you didn't actually think too hard about it or analyze the details.

In the speech, he talked mentioned the usual themes. He talked about the 'hopeful world' in which 'the voices of moderation are empowered, and where the extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority.' Odd comments from someone whose policies achieve the exact opposite.

He pegged Afghanistan as part of the Middle East. But as we know, details are not his strong suit.

He said: Imagine what it's like to be a young person living in a country that is not moving toward reform. You're 21 years old, and while your peers in other parts of the world are casting their ballots for the first time, you are powerless to change the course of your government. While your peers in other parts of the world have received educations that prepare them for the opportunities of a global economy, you have been fed propaganda and conspiracy theories that blame others for your country's shortcomings. And everywhere you turn, you hear extremists who tell you that you can escape your misery and regain your dignity through violence and terror and martyrdom. For many across the broader Middle East, this is the dismal choice presented every day.

He's absolutely right. Yet in the same speech, he praised dictatorial Egypt, where there's been a state of emergency for the last 25 years, and medieval Saudi Arabia as an agents of change. These two American allies, perhaps more than any other countries in the Middle East, exemplify the 'dismal choice' described by the president.

Like most Bush foreign policy speeches, this one was riddled with far more contradictions than I have time to detail. "Freedom, by its nature, cannot be imposed -- it must be chosen," was the most laughable. When have his actions ever demonstrated belief in that principle?

But one comment was particularly audacious.

The principles of this world beyond terror can be found in the very first sentence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document declares that the "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom and justice and peace in the world."

For Bush to invoke the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is galling, even by his standards.

But since he's not a details guy, perhaps the president didn't read much beyond the first sentence of the Universal Declaration, but you think he might've noticed the second: Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.

Or the fourth: Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations.

Because if he had read beyond the preamble, he might've noted:

Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 8: Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10: Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11: (1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.


Or perhaps, like the Geneva Convention, Bush thinks the Universal Declaration only applies to everyone else.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

50 ways to clean up Albany

New York will elect a new governor this year. The new chief executive will almost certainly face a divided legislature, with Democrats virtually guaranteed to keep control of the Assembly and Republicans likely to retain a narrow majority in the Senate. Incumbent legislators almost never lose thanks to legalized (bipartisan) gerrymandering.

Earlier this year, the legislature passed a one-time token rebate (rather than structural reform) to the school portion of New York's onerously high property taxes. Legislators made sure the sending of the checks were held off until election season. Very recently, the state Department of Taxation and Finance wasted a bunch of money by destroying some 200,000 of these rebate checks. Their flaw? The checks didn't give enough credit to the legislature and outgoing Gov. George Pataki.

Such blatant political opportunism might be excused if New York didn't have the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation.

With such a sclerotic legislature, good government groups are focused on lobbying the gubenatorial candidates for reform. With virtually no transparency, secret slush funds and legalized gerrymandering corrupting both parties in the legislature, these good government groups are the de facto opposition and agents of change in Albany.

One of these groups, the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), has issued a report detailing 50 ways the new governor can clean up the mess in Albany. The recommendations include making the governor's budget more transparent, a very critical independent redistricting commission, restrictions on executive branch employees' political party activities and the creation of an independent ethics commission.

Because the legislature is so dysfunction, NYPIRG focused on changes that could be implemented via executive order, explained the group's director Blair Horner.

Good government groups insist that these changes can happen in 100 days if the new governor's political will is there.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Commercial terrestrial radio's decline into irrelevance

The New York Times had a good piece on the decline of the commercial terrestrial radio industry.

The industry has changed dramatically since 1996. In that year, the Republican Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which almost completely deregulated the broadcast industry. President Clinton essentially completed the Reagan Revolution by signing this bill (along with the massive deregulation of the financial sector too.

After ownership restrictions were lifted, most commercial radio stations in the country were bought by a handful of huge media conglomerates, most notably Clear Channel. In my market, like many others, Clear Channel owns most of the radio stations you can find on the dial.

Increasing consolidation led to increasing homogeneity. Many stations ceased to be local and their programming was centrally or regionally controlled. There was an notorious case of a flood in one of the Midwest states, I believe, where municipal officials tried to call the local radio station only to find that there was no human being there to answer the phone. And do you think there's much chance of a Des Moines band getting play on a Des Moines station if the programming originates in Chicago?

In recent years, commercial radio has also been ruined by more and more ads. It's been even more contaminated by an avalanche of yap by inane hosts who think that listeners are actually more interested in their vapid banter than Lennon's lyrics. If you scan the radio dial in PM drive time, music is the exception not the rule; in the morning, it's virtually non-existent.

The increased sameness of programming and deteriorating quality may not have hurt the industry's bottom line in an earlier age but this has coincided with a dramatic increase in consumer choice of music delivery options.

There has always some private forms of music, from vinyl to CDs via cassettes. But digital music has dramatically increased consumer flexibility. Accessories can transform an iPod to a boombox. The Internet has led to tons online only radio stations. With podcasts, you're more likely to get a host who actually talks about the, gasp, music. Or not at all. Why would anyone suffer through commercial radio yammering when these options are available?

In the last few years, satellite radio has exploded: the two main services being Sirius (which I get) and XM. They each offer dozens of channels of music, also commercial free. Host banter is minimal. In the past, terrestrial radio might've competed with satellite on the basis that it was local, that it was homegrown. In most cases, that's no longer true.

It's telling that commercial terrestrial radio's quality has diminished so rapidly that people would rather spend a few hundred dollars for an MP3 player instead of forty bucks for an ordinary Walkman. Commercial terrestrial radio has so turned people off that they are now flocking to pay $12.95 a month for what they used to get for free.

Reminder

The Green Party candidate for governor of New York will be in Glens Falls this Saturday night. The event is open to the public.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Christianists

I've coined a new word: Christianist.

Much as an Islamist means someone who's hijacked the religion of Islam to advance their politco-ideological fanaticism, a Christianist is someone who's done the same thing to Christianity.

It's pithier than Theocracy Brigade.

He's a uniter not a divider, after all

Thanks to the American president's brilliant foreign policy 'strategy,' we now see a cozying up between Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, a supposed Marxist (who are notoriously hostile to all religion) and radical religious fundamentalist Ahmadinejad of Iran.

Not many people could help join an alleged Marxist with a staunch theocrat, but Bush managed the trick.

Maybe he's a uniter after all!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Republicans against torture

It's not often that I praise Republicans in this blog but I have to tip my cap to Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner. While President Bush wants to arbitrarily re-define the Geneva Convention so as to allow torture, degradation and other 'alternative' interrogation methods, these Republican senators have demanded the administration not betray America's fundamental values in its war on terror (or whatever the euphemism of the day is). Bush's former secretary of state Colin Powell, another Republican, has also come out against the president's plan.

McCain was a victim of torture by people who didn't respect Geneva Convention. Powell was a former joint chiefs of staff chairman whose job it was to look out for the well-being of American soldiers. Both have far more credibility than the president on this issue. They also realize that information obtained under torture is notoriously unreliable. It's quite logical: if someone's torturing you, you're far more likely to tell them what you think they want to hear, whether it's the truth or not. That's precisely why evidence gained under torture is inadmissible in the courts of most civilized countries.

Even Gen. Jacques Massu, whose French forces in Algeria committed widespread torture in the late 1950s, recently expressed regret for the atrocities. "Torture is not indispensible in wartime; you could easily do without it... we could've done things differently." Before adding, "If France recognized and condemned these practices, I would take this for progress."

France quit Algeria in 1962 despite the torture, indefinite detention and other widespread human rights abuses,. Or more likely, because of them. The abuses undermined France's moral authority. This made it easier for the Algerian nationalists to portray the French as degenerate thugs and galvanize support for the independence movement. The same thing harmed the British cause in Kenya.

The president's plan would also deny the right of suspected terrorists to see the evidence against them. If another country put an American in some kangaroo court where they were essentially refused the opportunity to defend themselves, any administration in Washington would rightly condemn this travesty against justice.

"They hate us because we're free," the president's apologists constantly intone. Not allowed to see the evidence against them? This farce is more reminiscent of Stalinist show trials than anything in America's long judicial tradition.

These Republicans are right to refuse to legalize the president's desire for lawlessness and to authorize his refusal to be accountable to anyone. They realize that the war against fanaticism will never be won on the battlefield, any more than the Cold War was won via a NATO 'liberation' of Eastern Europe. The US must instead win the battle of ideas against the illiberal forces of belligerent theocracy. These senators realize what the president refuses to acknowledge: the battle of ideas can only be won if America holds itself to a much higher moral standard than the Evil Doers.

Update: Perhaps my praise was premature.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Arab world fiddles while Darfur burns

I read that Pope Benedict XVI caused a stir by quoting a medieval emperor who trashed the Muslim prophet Mohammad, an Orthodox Christian emperor in fact.

The media reported that the emperor's quote, repeated by Benedict was:

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.

Now, it probably wasn't the smartest thing in the world to invoke a quote invoking the prophet of one of the world's major religions. If the most important leader of the Muslim faith trashed the Christian prophet Jesus, Christians would probably be a little annoyed too.

Benedict's comments seems more odd since Christianity has been just as guilty of spreading its faith 'by the sword.' The Middle Ages, when this quote was made, were dominated by holy wars of Christian armies invading Muslim lands.

However, it's worth remembering that the media did not quote Benedict's entire speech, only this controversial segment. So he may or may not have criticized Christian-inspired violence as well. If Benedict erred, it was in not being explicit about whether violence is inherent in the religion of Islam or if the faith has been perverted by extremist interpretations thereof.

The fury it caused is ironic since the whole purpose of the Pope's speech was to denounce religious-inspired violence, adding that violence was "incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."

"The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application," he added. "Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."

The uproar it caused in the Muslim world is reminiscent of the near eruption of World War III over some cartoons of the prophet Mohammad.

There certainly is Islamophobia. There are indeed self-proclaimed Christians who are openly anti-Muslim.

These bigots would roundly reject Benedict's denunciation of violence and explicitly subscribe to the emperor's characterization of Mohammad's tactics.

Take this anti-Muslim bigot who said:

"We must conquer the Muslims not simply with the sword but we must also change their hearts."

Such fanatics do not hide their view that the current tension is nothing less than a battle between Christian extremists and Islamic extremists.

"The reality is that this is a war against the Muslim religion."

No sugar coating it. To the brainwashed, the phrase 'extremist Islam' is redundant.

But there another reality: some extremely hypersensitive people in the Muslim world who are looking for reasons to be offended. Would-be martyrs need to feel angry. Cynical religious leaders and politicians need their flocks to feel persecuted in order to better manipulate them against an exterior enemy. This is as true of America's Theocracy Brigade as of al-Qaedists.

I was listening to the excellent public radio program The World. And before the story on Benedict's comments, they did a story on the ongoing genocide in Darfur, western Sudan. The juxtaposition of these two stories stupified me.

This genocide has not gained a ton of attention in the west, but it's gained more coverage than most African issues. Even the president took a break from encouraging Congress to sanction torture by demanding action to halt the genocide.

The Washington Post editorial page and New York Times' columnist Nicholas Krystof are among those in the mainstream US media who've dilligently tried to keep this genocide in the news.

Now, the Israeli aggression against southern Lebanon caused hundreds of deaths. The numbers vary but even the highest, most partisan estimate says that 1300 Lebanese were killed.

The rape of southern Lebanon provoked a gigantic international outcry against Israel. Not only from the Muslim world, but from most of the western world as well. Not all, but most.

The genocide in Darfur has claimed over 200,000 lives. The genocide is being perpetrated by Aranb Muslims against black Muslims. It's been sponsored by a military regime that was once aligned with Islamists. What has been the reaction fo the Muslim and Arab worlds to this mass slaughter?

Virtual silence.

200,000 actively murdered in Darfur? The Arab and Muslim worlds play ostrich.

0.6 percent of that number killed as 'collateral damage' in Lebanon? The Arab and Muslim worlds denounce Israel like it's run by Stalin.

A couple of dumb cartoons published? Rioting, boycotts and fatwas.

This is completely irrational behavior for anyone who claims to be interested in humanity.

And in fact, that's one of the most striking observations one can make. Western aggression against Muslims, whether by the US against Iraq or Israel against Lebanon, has been widely attacked in the west itself. Angry editorials. Protest movements. Huge marches. Prime ministers have been kicked out of office.

We've all seen on TV huge marches against Israel's immoral occupation of the Palestinian territories in Riyadh or Damascus, but where are the marches against Morocco's immoral occupation of the Western Sahara? Where are the demands to sever diplomatic relations with the genocidal Sudanese junta?

I guess those don't serve propaganda purposes quite as well or advance the victimhood/martyr syndrome.

I don't argue for one second that the Israeli aggression ought not to have been criticized; I lambasted it myself.

But if one kind of violence should be villified, why is a far greater kind of violence being completely ignored?

It's been demonstrated that some people will riot over cartoons and go apoplectic when the Pope quotes a 14th century monarch in the middle of an academic speech. Maybe now those same people should prove they can get angry about mass murder. Maybe they can show that they can get upset about what is so far the greatest crime against humanity of the 21st century.



Update: Apparently some Muslims are so upset with the Pope's perceived linking of Islam to violence that they have attacked churches and killing a nun. Talk about living down to stereotypes!

Further update: While some of the Muslim anger is understandable to a certain extent, the hysteria around quotatations and cartoons seems a hideous overreaction. To what extent is this accidental and to what extent meticulously manufactured?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

'Another Africa' and its 'New News'

This essay is part of a (more or less) weekly feature on this 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, Iraq and Iran*. (*-added on the suggestion of a reader)


Black Looks blog points to a piece in Salon which excerpts the incomparable Chinua Achebe's Another Africa. The excerpt explores a theme common to Achebe's work: the cariciaturization of black Africa in the west. Whether it was the sensationalist novels of late 19th and early 20th centuries or the sensationalist TV programs of today. It seems everything we hear out of Africa is bad.news. Achebe takes issue with this one-sided characterization.



I am presently reading New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa's Renaissance by Charlayne Hunter-Gault (who I wrote about here). Hunter-Gault, an African-American journalist who lives in Johannesburg, explored a similar theme in her book. The new news out of Africa, she concludes, is that forward strides are being made too.



We in the west get a very biased picture of Africa. Certainly, war, hunger, poverty, disease and corruption are a part of the African reality. A part. Not the whole thing. There are certainly bad things happening on the continent. Most of these things are worse in Africa than any other continent. But it's easy to be cynical. It's easy to either write off the continent. It's just as easy to patronize Africans as helpless children, instead of recognizing that the majority of them are far more innovative and resilient than you'll ever be. They have to be that way or they'd be dead. Of course, the reason most westerners see Africans as passive victims is because portraying them as proactive or entreprenurial isn't as good for ratings and circulation.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Get a job!

I don't normally get into cheap athlete or celebrity bashing but every so often, one of them says something so ridiculously clueless that it deserves to be lambasted.

At the beginning of the month, defender Ashley Cole moved from the London soccer club Arsenal (the Gunners) to their crosstown rivals Chelsea. He did so because Chelsea offered him more money. If he'd simply said that, I'd have no problem. Players move for more money all the time. It's not a big deal. Any team sports fan is used to it by now. If another company offered me 9% more money to do the same job, I might take it too.

But he described the situation in the most absurd possible terms

"I don't believe the board (of directors of Arsenal) gave a damn about keeping me," he sniffed.

"The truth is that the Gunners had done nothing all season to hold on to me," he whined.

As if those comments weren't melodramatic enough: the 25-year-old left-back was told of the board's refusal to sanction the deal (to keep him) while he was driving his car and says he "nearly swerved off the road."

So you might think they were offering him barely more than minimum wage.

In fact, they were offering him a mere 55,000 pounds a week which, if you do the conversion and multiplication, translates to US$5.3 million per year.

Oh the trials and tribulations of the nearly starving big time soccer player.

He wanted the equivalent of $5.8 million a year. Which is fine, but if he considers 'only' $5.3 million to be an insult, then the real insult is to all the people who shell out ridiculous on tickets and shirts to pay his wages.

Worst of all, he sniveled that the Arsenal board, "preferred to haggle over a difference of 5,000 pounds" a week... or $500,000 a year.

For someone that out of touch with reality, it's no surprise that he didn't bemoan HIS OWN REFUSAL "haggle over a difference of 5,000 pounds."

Contributions to the Feed Ashley Cole Fund can be made at 1-800-GET-A-CLUE!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Every vote counts... if it's counted

The UK Observer's Paul Harris has a good piece entitled 'The myth of fair elections in America .'

He writes: The debacle surrounding the Republican victory in 2000 demonstrated to the world that America's electoral process is wide open to abuse. But as Paul Harris discovers, the system has actually worsened since then... The prospect of a 'second Florida' is now more likely not less ... America's democratic system is simply starting to fail... by a simple collapse in its ability to count everyone's votes accurately and fairly.

Before you reflexively dismiss this as left-wing or conspiracy theorist whining, he also writes that the problems are not caused by some takeover by a Neocon cabal and that he doesn't believe that there is a cunning secret plan, set out in detail beforehand and then masterfully carried out to deliberately steal presidential elections.

Essentially, he notes that America's extremely decentralized electoral system is responsible for much of the chaos. Not only does each state have their own electoral laws, but within most states, each COUNTY can choose for itself how it lets its citizens vote. In the moderately sized New York alone, there are 62 counties.

He also notes that elections are often run and controlled by state office holders or county level election supervisors. Often these officials are nakedly partisan and all too willing to use the power of that office to favour one party over another. Their county or state is, after all, their patch of turf and they seek to protect it for their side.

Think this is hysterical fantasy? Think again.

In New York, for example, there are two elections commissioners in each county who run the polls. These are not non-partisan officials. There is one Democrat commissioner and one Republican commissioner who jointly run the elections. So we have to trust that commissioners chosen by the two main parties in internal, non-public deilberations will always act in a fair way. We have to trust that explicitly partisan officials who owe their jobs to the party bosses will act in a non-partisan way. Do you think that's open to abuse?

My dad was once a Democrat election commissioner for this county but he refused to order a re-run an election that had a minor problem with the ballot. He didn't order a re-run the election because he did not have legal authority to do so; such a decision could only be ordered by the state board of elections or the courts. Unfortunately for my dad, the guy who lost this election was both a very small-minded, petty man and the chairman of the county Democrat committee. So for following the law, my dad was fired (since it was the party's choice). He was replaced by the chairman's wife.

Furthermore, in New York, the party of each county's two elections commissioners depends on the party affiliation of the top two finishers in the governor's race. If a smaller party finishes first or second in the governor's race, then that party gets to appoint half the elections commissioners. That almost happened in 1990 when the Conservative candidate came within a whisker of outpolling the Republican for second place.

But that also means that elections commissioners are responsible for running the elections which will decide whether or not they have a job. Isn't that a pretty big conflict of interest?

Combine that with the much documented problems with voting machines, which The Observer pieces mentions combined with state secrecy regarding those problems and it hardly inspires confidence in the voting process.

Harris concludes You don't need to be a conspiracy theorist to be seriously worried about this state of affairs. In many ways, it is more worrying that the system is not being deliberately stolen from on high. It is actually broken from the ground up.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Saddam/al-Qaeda link rubbished by GOP Senate

The Republican-controlled US Senate's Intelligence Committee has released a report stating that There is no evidence of formal links between Iraqi ex-leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq prior to the 2003 war.

(Even Fox News published a report on the story)

Bear in mind, this isn't after the fact second guessing. They were looking only at information that was available in 2003 that was used to justify the invasion.

The report stated what is common sense to anyone familiar with Middle East politics: Religious Islamists and secular nationalists are sworn enemies.

Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qaeda to provide material or operational support, the Senate report noted.

There were three main reasons used to justify the aggression against Iraq.

-Weapons of mass destruction that threatened America's security
-Links between Saddam and al-Qaeda
-Mass atrocities committed by Saddam's regime

The WMD myth was discredited a long time ago.

The faux Saddam/al-Qaeda link is now rubbished by a body controlled by the president's own party.

At least, the (state-sponsored) atrocities are over.

Or maybe not.

There's nothing we can do to go back in time and reverse this debacle. I don't know for sure if the Bush administration outright lied, were self-delusional or were merely grossly incompetent. But I do know they got it 100 percent wrong on the most significant foreign policy decision in over a generation.

When they ask you to give them the benefit of the doubt about launching a war against Iran, when they ask you to not ask questions and just trust them, ask yourself if they've done anything in the past to earn that trust.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Bizarro world

The race for the local Congressional seat (NY-20) is something straight out of bizarro world. For one thing, I'm still shocked that this actually appears to be something resembling a competitive race. Upstate New York is a very conservative area. The district has far more Republicans than Democrats. The seat representing my area has bee in Republican hands since the 1978 election. I can't even remember the last time a GOP incumbent was even faced with a close election. While the Republican incumbent has had little drips and drabs of problems, there's no 'perfect storm' to indicate that he'd be vulnerable in what has always been considered a safe GOP seat. Yet somehow, Rep. John Sweeney has a race on his hands.

His Democrat opponent, Kirsten Gillibrand, is certainly savvy and has a campaign behind her with two attributes Democrat candidates for this seat usually lack: professionalism and a fair amount of money. She's slick and smooth and without a great deal of substance or vision. She strikes me like Hillary Clinton-lite. Her main campaign theme is 'Sweeney = Bush.' Given how conservative this area is, I'm surprised that it appears to be working; the latest poll has her trailing by only 8 percent for a seat Republicans usually win by at least 25 points without breaking a sweat. Then again, this area is more conservative than Republican and a lot of traditional 'smaller government' conservatives are dismayed with the direction of the current Republican administration.

I believe there are two smaller party opponents in the race, but you wouldn't know it by reading the local Post-Star. The paper regularly runs editorials (rightly) criticizing Sweeney and Gillibrand for attacking each other and not talking enough about substance. Given their avowed disgust with the two major party candidates, you'd think the daily would do a little digging to see what the smaller party candidates think about the important issues. Especially since their reporters are already spending time on the alleged non-issues brought up by Sweeney and Gillibrand so denounced in the editorials. But it's no secret that The Post-Star, like most other corporate media outlets that claim to 'not make news, just report it,' would rather pretend that smaller party candidates didn't exist at all.

However, the most recent diversion is amusing enough to comment on.

Gillibrand proposes an eventual withdrawal from Iraq but it's cautious and fuzzy enough to be 'flexible.' As I said, Hillary Clinton-lite.

Sweeney has been an unquestioning defender of President Bush's non-strategy for unlimited and directionless war.

MoveOn.org has been airing commercials denouncing Sweeney, who's gotten tons of outside help too. Sweeney attacked the MoveOn ads which, in his words, were designed "to help Kirsten Gillibrand who, while cheering them on, was caught red-faced profiteering off the war in Iraq with war stock that has tripled as young American men and women fight for freedom."

In reality, Gillibrand's husband owns some sort of retirement fund which has investments in so-called defense contractors. That's the 'profiteering' in question.

Sweeney denounces her for allegedly profiting from an ad infintum war that he has voted for at every step of the way.

Is it only acceptable for companies with Republican ties to profit from the 'fight for freedom'?

Let me get this straight: Gillibrand wants end a disaster from which she's accused of profiting from personally. Sweeney is comfortable with the non-strategy of American troops dying in Iraq indefinitely, with no clear mission and with no expectations of Iraqis being able to provide for their own security.

Which is the less honorable position?

Gag rule

I was amused to read the match report of yesterday's English Premier League (EPL) soccer match between Sheffield United and Blackburn Rovers. The match finished goalless but three penalties were awarded (two to Sheffield Utd), all of which were saved by the goalkeepers. It's not surprising that there was controversy in this match. Blackburn is the dirtiest team in the EPL and United's Neil Warnock is one of the two most obnoxious managers in the league.

The reactions of the two bosses:

Warnock: "Obviously I thought ours were penalties and theirs wasn't."

(Obviously. We can't expect managers to be intellectually honest.)

Blackburn manager Mark Hughes: "We are pleased that the two penalties have not cost us because I think the decisions were poor."

Both managers thought the ref got it wrong on every key decision (except the ones that went in their favor).

Referee bashing has been endemic in all sports since forever. But it seems to be getting worse.

It's ironic because the culture of English soccer PLAY is one of rough, rugged, macho tough guys. But the EPL's managers are some of the most obnoxious snivelling whiners in all of sport. It baffles me why English fans turning on players who are crying babies but say little about EPL managers (well British ones anyways; they readily go after a certain Portugese one) who pull the very same crap.

This is disturbing because English soccer is unfortunately the biggest influence on the American soccer culture. Fortunately, this garbage hasn't plagued Major League Soccer too much. Let's hope it stays that way.

The EPL, like most big soccer leagues, requires managers or coaches to talk to the media after games. But since more and more bosses have nothing to say except the ref cheated them, maybe rather than mandating such press conferences, the league should ban them instead.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Network follies

I was visiting my parents earlier this week. They watched both ABC and CBS evening news. I don't have much regard for TV news but I watched it with them just because I was there.

ABC had a segment on the controversial 9/11 'docudrama' they are airing. Apparently, they got some central facts wrong. What's worse is that they appear to have done so intentionally and are rightly taking heat for it.

For example, they aired a scene where a CIA agent had Osama bin Laden in his crosshairs but Pres.Clinton's national security advisor pulled the plug at the last second.

One problem: that never happened.

ABC claims that the film is based on the 9/11 Commission Report. But the 9/11 Commission Report said it didn't happen, that Osama was never in anyone's crosshairs.

ABC Entertainment responded to these accusations with a shrug. It's not a documentary, it's a docudrama. They didn't even pretend to say the scenes in question were anything close to accurate.

A docudrama is not a documentary but a one that claims to be based on a factual document should remain reasonably faithful to that document. They don't have to get everything exactly correct but they have to get the main parts correct.

If then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright were wearing a blue suit and drinking a cup of coffee in a particular meeting and the film showed her wearing a red suit and drinking a can of Coke, this wouldn't be a big deal. But getting facts central to the story incorrect and then hiding behind some notion of artistic license (after claiming that the film is based on a document)? Ethically, this is dubious.

What if the film had shown a scene where Pres. Bush ordered the CIA to commit the terrorist attacks? What if the film had car bombs blowing up the Space Needle and Dodger Stadium as the central events of 9/11? Wouldn't people have been outraged? Would that have been within fair artistic license?

Some will say that the film is fictionalized, just like the West Wing, so anything's fair game. But there are some big differences. West Wing was often inspired by real events, but storylines were fictionalized, other countries were usually fictionalized and people's names were fictionalized. The main character wasn't Pres. Clinton or Pres. Bush, it was Pres. Bartlet.

By using real people's names and having them do things they didn't really do (especially while claiming that the film is based on a document), ABC is veering uncomfortably close to criminal defamation.

I don't have any problem with the film showing mistakes made by the Clinton administration in not sufficiently dealing with Islamic extremism. But if the Clintonites really did make so many mistakes, then ABC surely could've designed the film in such a way that central facts were respected while still getting their point across. Especially since they claim the film was based on a document.

Given that key scenes in the film are now known to be demonstrably false, I don't know how anyone can take the rest seriously. Any purported educational value pretended by ABC is now nul and void.

***

Then, I watched the new CBS News with Katie Couric. I was hardly inspired but I didn't expect to be. They had a segment called Free Speech, which is a random person making a brief opinion discourse on a topic of their choice. The segment I saw had Rush Limbaugh. This segment has potential but only if done differently.

First, the segment is only 60-90 seconds long. In order for the segment to have any value, it needs to be at least a few minutes long in order for the speaker to venture away from predictable soundbites and into, gasp, nuance. I know that's an eternity on the network news but if they're not going to do it right, why bother.

I was also disappointed with the choice of Limbaugh for two reasons. I have no problem with putting an avowed conservative on, but why put on someone so partisan and shrill? If 'Free Speech' is going to be any different from the plethora of yap shows, then it must eschew speakers with that mentality. Spare us the Limbaughs. Spare us the Jim Carvilles and Michael Moores and Ann Coulters and their lame, predictable soundbites. When I listen to these people, not only do I not learn anything, but I feel myself actually getting stupider.

The other problem I have with the choice of Limbaugh is that he already has a long daily radio show that's aired on tons of radio stations across the country. People like him and Al Franken and others already have a medium to reach a huge audience with their opinions. Give us someone new and fresh. You want someone to argue that the 'war on terror' must be supported unconditionally? Isn't there some college professor, think tank person or retired ambassador without their own broadcast show who could make that case?

If this is going to be yet another vehicle for establishment people to express their establishment opinions, then it will be a waste of time. But it can also be a chance for intelligent, well-spoken people without a national profile to get exposure for their ideas.

It all depends on what CBS does with it.


Update: This guy has a great piece pointing out how even many conservatives have criticized the shortcomings of ABC's 9/11 'docudrama.' Even Bill O'Reilly, a person more normally associated with deceit and the other worst traits of modern 'punditry,' is critical. Given the hyperideological times and the hyperpoliticized event in question, it's nice to know that even some of the most partisan warriors can put aside their ideology for a moment and retain a shred of intellectual honesty. Too bad this can't be the rule in public discourse rather than the exception.

Are you now, or have you ever been, a homosexual? (pt. 2)

This essay is part of a (more or less) weekly feature on this 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, Iraq and Iran*. (*-added on the suggestion of a reader)

Sexual McCarthyism is alive and well in many parts of Africa. Sure, homosexual acts are banned in most African countries but it's more than that. After all, private sexual acts between consenting, unrelated adults of the same gender were illegal in some parts of the US until only a few years ago. In some African countries, things are much worse for gays and lesbians.

Nigeria's government, supposedly led by one of Africa's statesmen, is actually trying to ban free speech for gay rights activists. Zimbabwe's dictator Robert Mugabe and former Namibian president Sam Nujoma have angrily compared gays to pigs and dogs; both are former leaders of 'liberation' movements.

Earlier this year, Cameroon launched a gay witchhunt by publishing the names of alleged homosexuals.

A few days ago, a Ugandan paper has done the same thing. This is a troubling devlopment in a country run by a strongman who's also used vitriolic language to regularly denounce homosexual men and women.

"For years, President Yoweri Museveni's government routinely threatens and vilifies lesbians and gays, and subjects sexual rights activists to harassment," said [Human Rights' Watch's] Jessica Stern.

When not confronted by official government harassment and state sponsored homophobia, many gays and lesbians in Africa are subject to violence and even death at the hands of 'vigilantes'.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Green candidate for NY governor to visit Glens Falls

Matt reports:

Contact: Matt Funiciello (518) 361 - 6278 or mattfuniciello@earthlink.net

September 6, 2006 - Local progressive and Green Party activist Matt Funiciello announced today that Green Party candidate for New York State Governor Malachy McCourt will be in Glens Falls to perform his one man show “You Don’t Have to Be Irish to Vote For Me” at the Wood Theater at 8pm on Saturday, September 23, 2006. A mystery guest will introduce McCourt.

On August 22, 2006 the Green Party of NY State filed about 30,000 signatures - twice the number required - to place Malachy McCourt and the GPNYS Peace Slate on the ballot for November 7th.

McCourt’s Patriots for Peace campaign offers an alternative to the bankrupt campaign of negativity and fear mongering by his opponents. Among his proposals are plans to bring the New York National Guard home from Iraq.

“There is no such thing as a just war because in all wars, the majority of people who are killed are innocent. We need to resolve our differences and difficulties by peaceful methods,” McCourt said.

McCourt also seeks to abolish the Death Penalty in New York once and for all, will pursue the elimination of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. He believes in healthcare for all New Yorkers, ridding New York State of its old and dangerous nuclear power plants, curbing global warming, and legalizing same-sex marriage.

McCourt is a longtime activist, author of the NY Times bestseller A Monk Swimming, and brother of Angela's Ashes author Frank McCourt. He is a well-known radio host on WBAI 99.5 FM/Pacifica Radio in New York City. He is highly regarded by progressives for the stand he took for justice by marching in the alternative Queens St. Pat’s for All Parade, the response to the traditional NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade which excludes the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender community.


Tickets for the event will be available for $20 each in advance at either Rock Hill Cafe or at High Peaks Java. If the show is not sold out, tickets will also be available at the door. All proceeds will be used to support the McCourt campaign.

Adirondack Progressives is a group of local Independents, and members of the Green, Democratic and Republican parties interested in fostering a local dialogue on today’s most important issues. For more information on the McCourt campaign see: www.malachyforgovernor.com

Huzzah for the 'culture of life' (pt. 239)

Of all the people to wish dead...

Osama bin Laden? Sure.

Charles Taylor? Ok.

Joseph Kony? Why not.

'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin? What!!

From Right Wing Nation:

and proves that there is, indeed, a God, and He is just.
You know that idiot who can't speak English and hollers, "Crickey!" (as if that were some kind of word in any language) and runs around sticking his thumb up crocodile butts — and gets TV shows for it? (That is the amazing thing. TV shows. Wow.) What's that idiot's name?

Oh yeah. Steve Irwin.

Oops, looks like he got killed by a stingray. Too bad it wasn't a croc, and while filming, but you can't have everything.


Talk about sick.

Here's a guy who dedicated his life to raising awareness about endangered animals and ecological consciousness. Is that really such a horrendous thing?

Or is it the fact that he speaks Australian English?

Or is it the fact that he's famous?

Are any of those reasons to rejoice over his death and bemoan that his demise wasn't more violent?

Sure, he engaged in a very dangerous profession and he knew the risks. I don't think his death is the worst tragedy in the history of the world but I'm sorry it happened.

Our troops also participate in a a very dangerous profession and they too know the risks. So do policemen and firemen and prison guards. Would this nut rejoice over one of their deaths?

If Irwin's death is proof of a just God, then I'm not sure I want to believe in Him.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Shame on CAF, (half) props to UEFA

UEFA, the European soccer confederation, has apparently passed a controversial new rule. Now, players who brandish imaginary yellow cards toward to referee trying to get him to book an opponent would be subject to a caution themselves. A Leicester Mercury editorial rubbishes this idea.

The card gesture to the referee is no more than an appeal and in many cases is far from a breach of the laws of the game, it is an insistence on them being applied, the English paper sniffs.

Yet, most English supporters and those who follow the English soccer tradition were appalled at the unsporting behavior displayed at the recent World Cup. Most clearly exemplified by the tactics of dirtycheatingportual (TM). It was a common sight to see players collapse as if shot whenever a fan in the upper deck sneezed and then demand the ref show a card for some imaginary offense.

The new UEFA rule aims to get rid of this garbage. It says, "The players' job is to play and the officials' job is to officiate."

I understand the English revulsion against increasingly pedantic soccer rules, but how does the paper aim to get rid of such obnoxious, unsporting tactics if not via the yellow card?

***

European soccer fans like to look their noses down at North America (and to the rest of the world, for that matter, but particularly North America and Asia it seems). It's true that the top quarter of European teams are on the whole, far superior to the top quarter of North American teams. But I've always said I'd love to see England have to play a World Cup qualifier in San Salvador where they have to dodge bags of urine tossed their way or a hideous pitch in the interior of the Guatemalan jungle. Then they could talk about how 'easy' things are in North America. In Europe, the tough matches are much tougher but the easier matches are a joke.

I'm not sure North America has ever had a continent-wide final round qualifying match for any tournament that finished 13-0 like the recent San Marino-Germany farce.

There were 30 matches in the final round North American World Cup qualifying for the most recent World Cup. The most lopsided was a single match that finished 5-0.

Euro 2008 qualifying has already had 5 matches (out of 43) which were decided by 5 goals or more.

Germany was ahead 6-0 at halftime.

San Marino's next match is against the Czech Republic so you can expect another annihilation.

Simply put, Europe needs to have a prelimary qualifying round before major tournaments. Clubs in big countries already complain about too many international matches. And let's face it, do the Germanys and Englands of this world really improve or even test themselves pounding on the minnows of Europe? Sure, it helps inflate their FIFA computer ranking but I sure wouldn't pay 40 Euros to watch them trash a bunch of amateurs.

***

African soccer outlets made a big deal this week about Angola being awarded hosting privileges for the 2010 African Nations Cup (CAN) by the African soccer confederation. What was overlooked is much more distubring news: international pariahs will host the two succeeding Nations Cups.

Gabon and Equatorial Guinea will co-host the 2012 tournament. Equatorial Guinea is run by one of the two or three most despotic regimes in the entire world; it's in the same league as Burma and North Korea. It's also one of the poorest countries in Africa with virtually non-existent infrastructure, despite the recent discovery of huge oil reservoirs. Shame on CAF! Equatorial Guinea's dictatorship should spend its oil revenues not on soccer stadiums but on alleviating the desperate poverty of its people.

Libya, whose reputation for respecting human rights benefits only in comparison to Equatorial Guinea's, was awarded the 2014 edition.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Notes from Upstate NY: wind power, voting machines, refugee soccer

Wind power is a hot topic in upstate New York. There are divisions even within environmental community. Some have concerns about the potential impact of wind turbines on birds or on scenic views. Others contend that such concerns are minor and that wind power is a step toward weaning the country from its unhealthy addiction to oil by producing a clean energy alternative.

Northern NY folies blog lambastes the conduct of elected officials regarding a wind power project in Cape Vincent, on the St. Lawrence River. Adirondack Almanack blog seems to approve of a wind project in Ellenberg in the state's northeastern Clinton County.

***

New York will be the last state in the nation to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act. Supposedly, New York is supposed to be scrapping the long used lever-based voting machines in favor of electronic touch screen machnines. But the League of Women Voters accused the State Board of Elections of withholding technical data that they say could show whether new voting machines are accurate or not.


***

The Global Game, a fascinating blog about the intersection of sociopolitics and soccer, has a good piece about soccer and foreigners living and working in the United States.

One of the places featured in the entry was the central New York city (misidentified as a hamlet) of Utica.

Ten thousand refugees from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe resettled in [Utica] have struggled to assimilate, but the pickup football matches at a local high school have proven popular with the large numbers of youth. Refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burma, Somalia (Bantu), Haiti, El Salvador and Jamaica mingle and create an ad hoc community, while a local refugee center assists with language and job training.

Utica is a rust belt town that decayed badly for several decades but appears to have been rejuvenated by the influx of foreigners.

As WorldPress.org noted:

In Utica, there is no clan warfare, but soccer does bring together groups that generally do not interact, and [Kenyan Adde] Ibrahim believes forging this kind of connection with the community can provide a safety net.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

This and that

America's Theocracy Brigade aren't the only politicoreligious types who object to 'liberal' academia. Apparently the 'Hitler of the Middle East' (this year's version) feels the same way.

***

One of the great myths circulated is that the United Nations is a leech stealing money from the US taxpayer and funnelling toward the 'ratholes' of third world dictatorships. In reality, the US economy ends up BENEFITING from membership in the UN, a study has shown.

The US' annual dues represents 22 percent of the UN's regular annual budget. However, on average, 22.5 percent of purchases made by the UN are from US companies.

The US pays $396 million in annual UN dues but received $315.8 million in UN contracts in 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Add to that the fact that the UN and its agencies contributed over $3 billion ($3,000 million) a year to the New York City economy in the late 90s, according to the city's former Republican mayor Rudy Giuliani. The annual figure is surely higher now.

***

On a related note, The Washington Post offers a reasonable editorial defending the UN. This has credibility because the paper's goal is to improve the UN's operations not smear the organization for cheap political points.

It also has credibility because unlike the UN-bashers on the far right, the paper demonstrates a clear understanding of the UN's role, limitations and expectations of it.

The editorial points out that while American UN bashing is at an all-time high, the US and international community are relying on the UN at an unprecedented rate. Everyone wants the UN to go into Lebanon. Everyone (except the genocidal Sudanese government) wants the UN to go into Darfur. The UN already has huge missions in places like Côte d'Ivoire, the DR Congo and Bosnia.

Unfortunately, the editorial is short on specific reforms that ought to be undertaken. Some want to expand the Security Council and give permanent seats to different regions of the world with the accompanying veto power. Some critics claim that this is a recipe for further gridlock while others fear this would weaken US control of the body.

***

California's legislature recently passed a bill designed to undermine the antiquated electoral college system. Under the legislation, California would grant its electoral votes to the nominee who gets the most votes nationwide - not the most votes in California.

Why?

Get enough other states to do the same, backers of the bill say, and soon presidential candidates will have to campaign across the nation, not just in a few key "battleground" states such as Ohio and Michigan that can sway the Electoral College vote.

The electoral college system may have been innovative and made sense in 1787 but it's counterproductive in 2006. And it doesn't even accomplish any longer the objectives for which it was created.

Let's hope California's governator signs the bill.

***

It amuses me that self-described meritocrats get into a tizzy about race-based affirmative action in university admissions but don't say a word about wealth-based special preferences.

The anger against affirmative action in college admissions is nothing more than fury in search of a problem. College officials take into account a host of non-academic, non-statistical considerations in deciding who to admit. They want geographical diversity. They want diversity in student specilizations (Yale wouldn't want 95 percent of their students to be mechnical engineer majors). They want well-rounded students, not automatons. They sure as heck want students with rich parents. So why is it the worst thing in the world for a little racial diversity to be one of many, many subjective factors considered by college admissions officers?

***
Almost two dozen former generals and high ranking have called on President Bush to negotiate with Iran and North Korea. In a letter, , the group told reporters Bush's 'hard line' policies have undermined national security and made America less safe.

"That seems strange since Ronald Reagan was willing to negotiate with the Soviets even though they were the 'Evil Empire," noted one general. "One wonders why George Bush can't negotiate with the Axis of Evil."

The generals further argued that the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq is at least partially responsible for Iran's drive to develop a nuclear program.

"When you announce an axis of evil of three countries and invade one and then say that Iran should take that as a lesson, it does seem that it may give them an incentive to do precisely what they don't want them to do," [Lt. Gen Robert] Guard said, "develop a nuclear weapon."


In fairness, it's not really clear what sort of negotiations can be undertaken with the two countries. The Clinton administration tried negotiations with North Korea in the 90s and their nuclear weapons program is still going. Forget their antipathy toward the US, Iran's regime has refused to cooperate even with the UN. One thing that's clear is that yet another half-cocked military intervention will only lead to disaster. Reasonable suggestions are desperately needed.

***

AlterNet has a good look at how health care is really run in Canada and its effects on the well-being of Canadian citizens. Vermont Public Radio notes a study which argues that universal health coverage is possible in the progressive state without increasing overall costs.

***

Another piece in AlterNet rubbishes the notion of the clash of civlizations at the moment but warns that such hysteria could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The neocons who are pushing a Clash of Civilizations are mirror-images of the terrorists that inspire their hyperbolic fear -- they are just as irrational and just as great a threat to our security.

***

Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman isn't the only senator who's under serious heat for rankling his party colleague. Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel is also bucking his party's line and taking heat for it with comments like:

-"There were no terrorists in Iraq until we got there."

-"War should never be held hostage to a political agenda. It shouldn't be used as a partisan issue, a wedge issue, especially by those in my party who say Democrats don't care about the secu rity of our country"... which goes against the GOP's electoral strategy since 2002 (and from 1948-1988).

-"I think the Patriot Act had gone too far (and needed to be amended) to balance constitutional liberties and security."

-On the future war with Iran: I hope this administration thinks through this very carefully. Who's going to do the dying?"


Though I haven't always agreed with them, I've always had a fair amount of respect for Republicans like Hagel and Indiana's Dick Lugar who take a moderate internationalist approach to foreign policy. I wish they were in the ascendancy in the GOP rather than the Norm Colemans of the party.

***

This editorial from the Salem, OR Statesman-Journal points out something I've been saying for years.

Americans don't understand why organizations they see as being terrorists, like Hamas and Hezbollah, have a fair degree of support in the countries in which they operate. The reason is simple. Hamas and Hezbollah certainly have armed wings which execute liberation (if you support them) or terrorist (if you oppose them) missions. But they also have social wings. They run hospitals and community centers and sports clubs.

These groups have traditionally operated in regions where the central government authority were virtually non-existent. They fill a critical vacuum. So ordinary people see Hamas and Hezbollah not necessarily as a paramilitary organization but as the guys who provide social services. After the Israeli destruction of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah was much quicker to come to the aid of displaced peoiple than the Lebanese government. Ordinary people in Hamas- and Hezbollah-controlled regions don't necessarily want the destruction of the Jewish state; they just want health care when they're sick. Is that entirely unreasonable?

In many ways, Hamas and Hezbollah are just like the Mafia. Outsiders see them as violent thugs. But they provide a social stability and safety net that would otherwise be lacking. Yes, that stability comes at the cost of silence and de facto complicity with a criminal organization. However, if only other alternative is to let your relative die of illness due to lack of government-provided health care, most people would choose the same unpleasant option.

***

Another great example of this is in Somalia. Given the recent Islamist takeover of the pseudo-country, Foreign Policy has a good analysis of why such fundamentalist regimes are often popular when they take over (think Iran's Ayatollahs, the Taliban, etc). It's not because the people necessarily desire theocracy. It's because they yearn for law and order and stability and, after years of chaos, will naturally gravitate toward anyone who can provide it.