Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Snipets from the news

ISLAMOPHOBIA IS A FICTION. HONEST!
The Guardian reports that British universities to spy on their students.

Lecturers and university staff across Britain are to be asked to spy on "Asian-looking" and Muslim students they suspect of involvement in Islamic extremism and supporting terrorist violence.

Maybe instead of judging people by their skin color, authorities should pay more attention to what students say and do.

Reliance on such an inane strategy would never have caught suspected terrorists Richard Reed or José Padilla, because they aren't 'Asian looking.'

Israel's national airline understands how pointless racial profiling is. That's why they don't use it. The result: no hijackings in over 30 years.

***

A HIGHER GAS TAX?
The latest prominent economist to advocate a gas tax increase in order to reduce consumption: former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan.

I'm not sure yet where I stand on this. I'd like to see more money be spent on alternative forms of transportation and energy BEFORE any such idea be implemented. Raising the cost of gasoline before viable alternatives are made more widespread will punish the poor most of all.

But it caught my eye that someone as famously cautious as Greenspan would endorse such a move.

***

I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO THE MOUSE...
'Los Angeles Boy Scouts Learn Copyright Law,' reports NPR.

All scout troops award activity patches and merit badges for hiking, forestry and citizenship. In Los Angeles there's now an anti-piracy patch. For scouts to earn the anti-piracy patch, they must first learn the basics of copyright law.

I'm sorry but there is something about this that seems uncomfortably close to indoctrination.

***

WHAT WOULD GEORGE DO?
The AP reports that many governments around the world have tried to rebut criticism of how they handle detainees by claiming they are only following the U.S. example in fighting terrorism.

This isn't really surprising. If the most self-righteous, moralizing government in the world doesn't have to follow international law or otherwise respect its treaty obligations, then why should anyone else?

I know the Bush administration wanted to be seen as a global leader and trend setter. I didn't realize that this is what they meant by it.

***

CONGRESS BACKS OFF BULLYING FOR THE GOOD OF JUSTICE
Congress actually did something good!

They amended the law to stop punishing countries that have signed the Rome Treaty to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The ICC was created to try criminals, such as militia leaders that abduct children to be soldiers or sex slaves, from countries where the justice system is non-existent, corrupt or politicized.

US critics of the ICC complained that the court could be used as a political instrument to engage in vendettas against the United States thus putting at risk American servicemen. However, a clause was inserted into the Rome Treaty (at the request of the US, who subsequently still refused to ratify the document) that any ICC investigation can be halted by permanent members of the Security Council.

The US is a permanent member of the Security Council.

***

UN APPRECIATED EVEN AMONG REPUBLICANS
Speaking of the UN, the international body may be the focus of harsh rhetoric by the far right but a recent poll suggests that it has far more support amongst the US population, including Republicans, than many people realize.

-78 percent of Americans believe “it is in America's best interest to continue to actively support the United Nations", including 61 percent of Republicans.

-76 percent of Americans believe “recent events prove we need to make the United Nations stronger so it can do more to address problems like terrorism and weapons of mass destruction", including 69 percent of Republicans. Note that the poll question said 'stronger' not 'more submissive.'

-74 percent of Americans believe “ t he U.S. needs the UN now more than ever because we cannot bear all the burden and cannot afford to pay to go it alone around the world", including 59 percent of Republicans.

-73 percent of Americans agree with the following statement: “ The United Nations was created after World War Two to help put an end to global warfare. It is frustrating, but it works. There have been no world wars since then and the United Nations has played a critical role because it provides each nation a forum to air grievances and to work out problems to help stop major conflicts. That is a role no other organization plays and it is a role that is more important than ever today", including 56 percent of Republicans.

Perhaps Sen. Norm Coleman will find another scapegoat to further his ambition.

***

BBC LEADING THE FIGHT AGAINST... TRANSPARENCY?!
It's hardly a surprise to learn that watchdogs get very testy when someone watches them.

The BBC is fighting in the courts the release of a report on the Corporation's coverage of issues in the Middle East.

A news organization is fighting AGAINST a freedom of information request. This decision shows shocking judgement by the highly respected broadcaster.

The BBC looks just as slimy and secretive as the politicians its reports regularly expose. They are acting guilty and this cloak-and-dagger opacity reflects far worse on them than whatever the report says. And as a publicly funded organization, they should not be acting like this.

***

THE WRONG TARGET
President Bush recently signed a bill that created a long fence between the US and Mexico.

Bush commented, "Ours is a nation of immigrants - we're also a nation of law."

Many Americans might be heartened by the president's change of heart on finally respecting the rule of law.

However, the Mexican government's reaction caught my eye.

"I'm sure that the United States is committing a grave mistake in building this fence." Outgoing Mexican President Vicente Fox called the plans "shameful".

While Mexican President-elect Felipe Calderon said the fence was "a grave mistake" which would lead to more Mexican deaths on the border and that "the fence doesn't resolve anything".

I'm on record as saying all immigration from Mexico should be legalized under NAFTA.

That said, maybe everyone would be better off if the conservative Mexican government worried less about what the US does on its side of the border and worried more about remedying the economic conditions which cause some many Mexicans to flee the country (and risk their lives in the process) in the first place!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Clash of civilizations not inevitable

The PBS Newshour program had a good interview with Orham Pamuk. Pamuk is the Turkish author who was recently awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He and his work argue that the much hyped clash of civilizations (western vs Islamic worlds) is hardly inevitable. He says that conservative politicial figures in both places are working hard to whip up exclusionary nativist frenzy but that such clashes need not happen if cooler heads prevail.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Good plants make for good neighbors

One issue that has been a cause for concern regionally is the proposed tire burn by the International Paper plant in Ticonderoga. IP wants to proceed with a two week test burn of chipped tires as a new source of energy to power their plant. But this naturally concerns Vermont since the wind would blow the fumes in their direction. The Vermont state government has gone to court asking a judge to issue a temporary injunction againt the burn until the federal Environmental Protection Agency further studies the proposed action.

IP wants to burn sludge too.

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas asked to meet with the head of IP but his request was rebuffed.

New York's state Department of Environmental Conservation has ok'd the move which has also gotten support for New York's governor George Pataki and US Sen. Hillary Clinton. Perhaps this isn't surprising since all the air pollution will quickly leave New York state.

For years, New York has butted heads on the clean air front with midwestern states like Ohio. Factories in these states produce pollution which blows eastward and causes acid rain in upstate New York. The acid rain has killed animal life in many Adirondack lakes, striking a critical blow against the outdoor activities-based economy of the region. This makes Albany's environmental callousness even more hypocritical.


Want more info? The Burlington Free Press has an archive of stories on the issue. Here's the site of a citizens' group against the burn.



Update: Vermonters are breathing a sigh of relief, literally, after the IP plant decide to scrap the test burn a week early after finding that the process was not economically feasible.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Green Party governor's candidate to speak in Albany on Nov. 2

Matt reports:

Green Party Gubernatorial Candidate Will Give One-Man Show Locally

For Immediate Release

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


October 20, 2006 - Local progressive activists, the Adirondack Progressives, announced today that Green Party candidate for New York State Governor Malachy McCourt will perform his one-man show “You Don’t Have to Be Irish to Vote For Me” at The Egg, Center for the Performing Arts, at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY at 7pm on Thursday, November 2, 2006. Admission will be free and open to the public. Donations taken at the door will be used to support Mr. McCourt's campaign for Governor. Seating is limited.

Adirondack Native Dr. Alice Green will introduce McCourt. Dr. Green was the Green Party candidate for Lt. Governor in 1998, running with Al Lewis for Governor. The ticket received more than 50,000 votes, establishing the Green Party as an official party in New York State.

Introductory music will be provided by Glens Falls Post- Star “Ornery Hipster” columnist Carrianne Skidmore.

On August 22, 2006 the Green Party of NY State filed about 32,000 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.


Dr. Alice Green is co-founder and Executive Director of The Center for Law and Justice, a non-profit community organization that monitors criminal justice activities, provides legal assistance and criminal justice advocacy, organizes efforts to change social policy and empowers poor people and people of color.

Adirondack Progressives is a group of Adirondack area 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: http://www.malachyforgovernor.com

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

An impending voting fiasco?

I wrote earlier about the well-documented problems with the new electronic voting machines. Some argue that these machines are flawless. They contend that anyone who asks questions is nothing more than a liberal, Bush-hating ideologue looking for reasons to whine. Ad hominem against anyone who dares question the status quo is the modus operandi of those presently in power and their apologists.

(Sorry for so many Latin phrases in one sentence)

However, the latest concerns about the accuracy of these voting machines comes not from some left-wing advocacy group but from the staid pro-business magazine The Economist.

The widely respected weekly expressed fears that the 'wrong kind of voting machine could bring chaos to the mid-term elections.'

The problem is not a vast conspiracy but simple accuracy.

A thermal printer to produce a record is available as an added extra on some touch-screen machines. But when these were tried out, as they have been across the country in primary elections in the past few months, the results were not encouraging. If the paper is put in wrongly, the printer does not print at all. Even when it was the right way round, there were many cases of the paper jamming, tearing or producing unreadable results. The fact that most election officials are unpaid volunteers, very often elderly and with little or no training, also caused difficulties. At any rate, with a touch-screen system the paper-trail is produced by the machine, and so is only as good as the machine. And the machines, it also turns out, may be vulnerable to tampering.
In September three scientists at Princeton University got hold of the most popular touch-screen model and took it and its software to bits.

They found serious flaws allowing a competent hacker to infect the machine with a program to transfer votes from one candidate to another.

Such a change could be undetectable without a recount (assuming one were possible), and the program could be introduced into the machine far in advance by anyone having access to the machine's memory-card reader for as little as a minute. The readers are protected by a lock, but the lock is a standard one, and keys can be bought on the internet:


Furthermore

[Some] of the problems occurred not with the voting machines but with other terminals, designed to ensure that people are entitled to vote and have not voted twice.) Elsewhere, there have been horror stories of votes failing to register or upload, of memory-cards going missing, and of machines crashing and losing stored votes. Only a few such cases can damage confidence badly: and crashes, at the least, cause huge delays.

Do you necessarily have to be a Democrat or a progressive to be concerned about the integrity of the most basic procedure in an electoral democracy?

The solutions, according to the weekly are very simple.

[A] wholesale switch to paper ballots and optical scanners; more training for election officials; and open access to machine software. But it is too late for any of that this time--and that is a scandal.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

John Sweeney: chicken, weasel or both? You decide on Nov. 7

Talk about a race that really begs for a good smaller party candidate.

The daily Post-Star newspaper had scheduled the only debate between candidates for New York's 20th district Congressional seat. But Republican incumbent Rep. John Sweeney decided to weasel out.

His fake pretext: Democratic opponent Kirsten Gillibrand has refused to publicize her personal tax returns for the last few years, something she isn't legally obligated to do.

Gillibrand has said financial disclosure forms she filed with the Federal Election Commission show more details about her finances than tax returns would, reported The Post-Star.

This is one of the more creative excuses to avoid a real debate. If Sweeney had much of a (positive) record to defend, he should welcome the chance to be on the same stage as Gillibrand. Then he could embarass the Democrat by grilling her face to face about the tax return issue in front of the voting public. By making it a pre-condition to debate instead of using it to what should be his advantage, he's clearly searching for ways to avoid a face-to-face confrontation; this says more about his character than hers.

Gillibrand has insisted Sweeney release his police records. Apparently, he was involved in shenanigans like pulling a fire alarm back in his younger days. It seems nonsensical to bring up college pranks from the late 70s, but at least she's not making it a condition for debating. Gillibrand accepted the daily's offer.

In a sense, Gillibrand is reaping what she's sowed. The whole premise of her campaign is that she holds herself to a higher ethical standard than merely respecting the letter of the law. She has some sort of personal Ethics IOU on her website that she promises to respect. Sweeney was clever to call her bluff.

This campaign has been very pathetic. But sadly, it's typical of campaigns in this country. The more competitive they are, the nastier they get.

Four years ago, Sweeney ran against a poorly funded Democrat and a single-issue (anti-war) Green. I attended one of the debates between the three. It was an excellent debate. Each candidate stuck pretty closely to the issues at hand and personal attacks were almost nil. The whole campaign itself was pretty much the same way. The reason everything was so clean is that no one considered it a competitive race. The Democrat was a sacrificial lamb and everyone knew it. The Green so shrill and single-issue that even I, someone who regularly votes for smaller party candidates, refused to pull the lever for her.

This race is different. For reasons which I'm still not entirely sure, this year's race is considered competitive. The national Democrats and outside liberal activist organizations have poured a ton of money into this race, something they almost never do in this district where Democrats are outnumbered by Republicans by something like 2-1.

But this district also contains a lot of independents and smaller party members. And the Republicans in the Adirondacks part of the district are a pretty independent-minded ornery bunch, not the straight party-line voters they might be in other areas.

Unfortunately Gillibrand hasn't exactly given them an overwhelming reason to vote for her. The whole 'Sweeney backs Bush 100 percent of the time' line can only go so far. She is a corporate Democrat backed by the Democratic establishment, hardly the ideal candidate to shake things up.

On the other hand, John Sweeney's contempt for democracy might be typical of an entrenched incumbent, but it's disturbing nonetheless. More worryingly still, it's hardly the first time.

And at least Gillibrand isn't take junkets sponsored by organizations linked to garment factory hellholes and then failing to report them.

He may not care about the voters but at least we know he has the best interests of sweatshop owners at heart.



Update: It looks like Sweeney chickened out of a candidates' forum in Wilton yesterday too.

Further update: And he apparently dodged a third offer to spar with Gillibrand.

Still further update: The latest 'issue' in the race brought up by the Sweeney campaign is whether Gillibrand voted in the 2002 elections. I propose the real issue is not Gillibrand's voting record but Sweeney's. Like his vote to reverse 800 years of freedom.

Monday, October 23, 2006

If you want to be an informed voter, read this

I've written before about the farce of electoral debates where most of the candidates are excluded. During the 2004 campaign season, I decided to boycott the presidential debates because in excluding most of the presidential candidates, they were a wasted opportunity to fully inform the electorate. Worse yet, they insultingly claimed otherwise. I continue to refuse to watch any debate that excludes legitimate candidates.

I define a legitimate presidential candidate as one who's on the ballot in enough states whose combined electoral votes total at least 270. A legitimate candidate for any other office is one who is ballot certified and who has not withdrawn from the race. These both seem like reasonable definitions.

Some argue that debates with more than two candidates are unwieldy. This is nonsense. Canadian political debates regular include four or more party leaders. Even in this area, the local daily sponsored a debate last year that involved all five mayoral candidates (sadly, their actual reporting on the race wasn't anywhere near so inclusive). Multiparty debates can be done, if the will is there.

But sadly, the will isn't there. And the corporate media sponsors rarely have the backbone to stand up to the major party candidates and demand all-inclusive debates or none at all. The 'we make news, we just report it' media unilaterally decide who is a 'viable' candidate based on arbitrary factors like fund-raising figures.

For the media to ignore anyone who hasn't raised millions of dollars is arrogant. And it certainly flies in the face of the 'we don't make news, we just report it' pablum so regularly spewed.

Maybe it's self-interest. In deciding that fund-raising figures are relevant, maybe the big media conglomerates help ensure that those with money get more money... so they can give it to big media conglomerates for TV commercials and newspaper ads. 'Wall of separation' between editorial and commercial? You be the judge.

Several of these faux debates were held recently. The New York League of Women Voters decided to withdraw sponsorship for the faux debates for state attorney general and senate debates because legitimate candidates were excluded. They argued that such arbitrary and unfounded exclusion 'would violate the League's fundamental belief in the public's right to know.'

The non-partisan League's guidelines for who should be included in the debate are very straightforward.

The national League of Women Voters used to run the presidential debates. But the two major parties got upset when the League invited independent candidate John Anderson to its 1980 debate. So two major parties jointly formed a bipartisan (not to be confused non-partisan) Commission on Presidential Debates. Its co-chairmen: a former head of the Democratic National Committee and a former head of the Republican National Committee. Not surprisingly, only once has it included a candidate not from the Democratic or Republican parties... and that was under public pressure. (Not coindientally, it was the best series of debates they ever sponsored)

Since the corporate media can't be trusted to provide comprehensive electoral reporting (or debates), it's a good thing the League offers resources for voters who actually want to be well-informed.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Night is day

The Bush administration has been re-writing history for many years. Such as when it decided that 800 years of liberty were null and void.

But now, it's re-writing history in another way. In a most Orwellian way.

(Admittedly, references to this administration as 'Orwellian' aren't exactly new)

In a recent interview with ABC News with George Stephanapoulos, the president had this exchange:


STEPHANOPOULOS: Exactly what I wanted to ask you about, because James Baker said that he's looking for something between cut and run…

BUSH: Cut and run and.

STEPHANOPOULOS: … and stay the course.

BUSH: Well, listen, we've never been stay the course, George. We have been — we will complete the mission, we will do our job and help achieve the goal, but we're constantly adjusting the tactics, constantly.


Let that sink in for a minute.


"we've never been stay the course"


There are countless examples which demonstrate that this comment is a bald-faced lie. Check out the president's own words here.

Or here.

Or here.

Or here.

Or here.

The president and his administration have ALWAYS been 'stay the course.'

They just have no clue what that course is.

Although Orwellian obfuscation and deceit are clearly at the heart of whatever that course is.


Update: Continuing the Orwellian theme, presidential spokesman Tony Snow has no idea why anyone would be confused about this issue.

Q Is the President responsible for the fact people think it's stay the course since he's, in fact, described it that way himself?

MR. SNOW: No.


So this begs the question: if The Decider isn't responsible, then who is?

Blaming the voters usually isn't the best strategy two weeks before an election

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ridiculed straight

The Evil doers strike again.

A 'scientific' advisory panel of Christianist 'ex-gay' group has caused outrage by advocating the bullying of children who don't conform to gender stereotypes.

The Los Angeles Times noted that supposed psychiatrist Joseph Berger said that instead of teaching tolerance, schools should "let the other children ridicule" boys and girls who don't conform.

"It is a mistake for various interfering, ignorant and biased busybodies to try to 'counsel' the other children into accepting the abnormal," Berger wrote. "It is very healthy to be able to draw the line between what is healthy and what is sick."


Among those 'sick' individuals: a cross-dressing kindergartner and other children with "gender-variant" behaviors.

Of course, Berger isn't the member of the panel with disgusting views. This is hardly surprising since the whole 'ex-gay' group is based on an insulting premise.

Another board member, a therapist, asserted that slaves may have been better off in chains than in "savage" Africa.

Gay teens face enough social ostracization for their innate (and innocuous) feelings without having sadistic quacks encouraging further mental anguish being inflicted on them. And just because the 'therapist' might harbor kinky desires toward chains doesn't mean he should impose them on others.

Lies, damned lies and headli(n)es

Here's a great example of how deceitful headlines can be and why you should always read beyond them.

Today, the French daily Le Monde ran an article entitled, 'According to a poll, nearly a third of the world population accepts the use of torture.'

But then when you actually read the article, you find out that the survey in question only interviewed people in 25 countries including those 'most at risk of terrorist attack.'

So how can a survey of 25 countries (in a world with around 200 of them) be considered a representative sample of world population? Were there African countries in the poll? Central Asian ones? Central American ones?

Totalitarian regimes almost certainly would not allow such a poll to be taken in their countries. Such regimes are also the ones most likely to actually use torture on its citizens. And when you live in a country where a 'terrorist' is a honest journalist or anyone belonging to an opposition party (or a Quaker), that might give you a different opinion of torture.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

October surprise?

This this news item caught my eye.

The Department of Homeland Security has sent an advisory to the National Football League and local officials advising of a possible, uncorroborated bomb threat against some NFL stadiums.

But

DHS said the posting is not considered credible and the information was being shared only in an abundance of caution so that league officials and others could determine what steps they want to take.

So this begs the question: if the threat was not credible, why was it so heavily publicized?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

North Korea explodes a controversy

A controversy exploded recently when North Korea detonated a nuclear device. International condemnation rained down on Pyongyang. The UN Security Council unanimously imposed sanctions against the country. However, North Korea deemed the sanctions a declaration of war. The key player appears to be China, as it's the leading trade partner and most important ally of the isolated North Korean regime. By many accounts, Chinese suspicious of their one-time close ally appears to be growing.

Presidential aspirant Sen. John McCain and other conservatives blame then-President Bill Clinton's 1994 deal with North Korea for the present situation.

Critics called it appeasement. But bribing countries to do what we want is hardly new. How else to explain the Bush administration's cozying up to the monstrous regimes in Equatorial Guinea and Uzbekistan?

Another former presidential aspirant, Sen. John Kerry, rubbished his colleague's remarks. "The truth is the Clinton administration knew full well they didn't have a perfect agreement. But at least they were talking. At least we had inspectors going in and we knew where the [nuclear fuel] rods were. This way, we don't know where the rods are. The rods are gone. There are no inspectors. Ask any American which way is better," Kerry said.

Other Clinton critics say that the real problem with the 1994 deal was bilteral, rather than multilateral.

Those involved with negotiating the 1994 deal said that it was actually a success, not a failure. Robert L. Gallucci, the chief negotiator of the accord and now dean of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, said it is a "ludicrous thing" to say that the Clinton agreement failed. For eight years, the Agreed Framework kept North Korea's five-megawatt plutonium reactor frozen and under international inspection, while North Korea did not build planned 50- and 200-megawatt reactors. If those reactors had been built and running, he said, North Korea would now have enough plutonium for more than 100 nuclear weapons.

The failure, he says, occurred when the Bush administration changed the policy. North Koreans complained bitterly that the United States was the chief violator of the pact because the reactors were years behind in construction and because promises to end hostile relations and normalize ties were not fulfilled.

Clearly, the Bush administration's aggressive militarism pushed North Korea to speed up its nuclear research. The regime saw what's happened to fellow 'Axis of Evil' country Iraq and that some on the far right are demanding the same fate for the third 'Axis of Evil' nation Iran. Who can blame Pyongyang for seeking a nuclear deterrence?

Though the Clinton administration's tepid response to the 1998 nuclear tests by India and Pakistan certainly did nothing to discourage future nuclear aspirants.

Why would a nuclear North Korea be a problem? Some on the left make the mistake of thinking that just because the Bush administration is demonizing North Korea that this situation is necessarily overblown. Others contend that North Korea is a sovereign country and can have nukes if they want.

I'm not convinced that North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Il is crazy, as neo-conservatives describe anybody they want to invade. A nuclear deterrence for North Korea is perfectly rational given the Bush administration's rhetorical belligerence has often been followed by the military version.

The Dear Leader may be narcissitic and dangerous and probably eccentric. But irrational? I doubt it.

And the regime's rationality is my main concern.

The regime is extremely strapped for cash because they are wasting it all on their hugely bloated military. What does a rational man do when he has no money? He seeks ways to earn some.

What's a good way for a corrupt regime to earn a lot money? By selling nuclear weapons material or technology to rogue, non-state entities.

I do not think the regime in Pyongyang is foolish enough to actually use nuclear weapons against the US or South Korea or Japan. But I think they are desperate enough to sell them to al-Qaeda operatives or other terrorists. That's far more dangerous.

In international geo-politics, the most disturbing thing is unpredictability. The Soviet Union may have been 'The Evil Empire' but they acted in a way that was entirely predictable for a giant state power. This is why Ronald Reagan, who'd so demonized the USSR, was able to negotiate with them. The Cuban Missle Crisis erupted when the Soviets acted in an unpredictable way next door to the US.

State actors, even isolated ones like North Korea, are generally bound to a code of conduct in their relations with other state actors. When non-state actors get involved, it's much more unpredictable because they don't, as they say, have a return address.

The question now is what can be done to reign in North Korea, to ensure they don't sell their nuclear technology to al-Qaeda or other malicious actors.

I'm not sure there's a good answer to that question. I think international sanctions are a good temporary step. They should've been applied to Pakistan and India after their tests but that didn't happen. But given how isolated Pyongyang is already, I'm not sure how much more economic leverage can be placed on them.

Ultimately, the best way to reign in North Korea is to basically bring them back into the international system. This is where the Clinton administration really erred. Offer them a non-aggression pact. Restore diplomatic relations with them. Encourage them to sit down for peace talks with South Korea (with whom they are officially still at war). Perhaps try to pry the country open with the carrot of World Trade Organization membership. But only on the condition that they agree not to sell their nuclear technology and allow UN weapons into the country.

The trouble with this is that it's very difficult to enforce the North Korean part of the bargain. Even a high-ranking official in Pakistan, a nominal US ally, was guilty of illegally transferring nuclear technology. And that's a far less secretive country.

But as problematic as this solution is, I haven't heard anything better.

Bush administration bullying is increasingly leading to defiance, not submission. It's long past time to try something else. I'm highly skeptical that Bush's entourage would ever let him pursue such a course of action with North Korea; these are the guys that patented defamatory phrases like 'cut and run' and 'defeatocrats' to describe anyone who believes that militarism should be option number one for every problem.

Yet if you can believe it, that is exactly what his administration tried with another rogue state recently. The US re-established diplomatic relations with Libya earlier this year. It just goes to show the president and his advisors can make diplomacy work if they actually get serious about it.


Update: some hawks that if the international community simply cuts off food aid, it will starve North Koreans into an insurrection that would topple the Kim regime. This is non-sensical.

For one thing, there is little food aid going into North Korea anymore anyway; the regime didn't like so many foreigners running around the country so it kicked them out.

But moral questions aside, 'the starvation will lead to regime change theory' doesn't make sense. A hungry man may be an angry, as Bob Marley sang, but a starving man doesn't have enough energy to be angry. If you want to forment a revolt from within, you need to empower the people, not weaken them to near death.

Several countries have suffered famines or hunger emergencies in recent years. Niger, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe come to mind immediately. Not a single one of those famines lead to a public uprising that toppled the government in place.

There have been many popular uprisings that toppled governments in recent years. Such as Serbia, the Phillipines and Ivory Coast. In all of these countries, the people were for the most part at least moderately well-fed.

NPR has a good piece on how political change is the last thing on the mind of North Koreans.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Before car was king

Radio National, from Australia's ABC, has a great program on the struggle between streetcars and automobiles.

At one time, streetcars (or trams as they were known in some other countries) dominated the roads. The show noted It's not very well known, especially when people think about the US and think about this pre-eminent car culture that at one time in the early 1920s, one person in ten had an automobile in the US and everyone else used rail, and particularly in the cities, everyone used street rail or streetcars.

What's most interesting is that the documentary focused the city of Los Angeles.

So how did a US city that once had one of the most extensive rail networks in the world become synonymous with the car culture, bad air and traffic gridlock?

What happened was a conspiracy.

National City Lines was a company that was basically formed with the money from General Motors; it was owned and ostensibly led by a group of three brothers from northern Minnesota that had a small bus company, but essentially the money came from General Motors, and General Motors subsidiaries. It began in the mid-'30s, 1935, they began buying up systems in the Midwest and in the southeast. Then more systems came for sale and General Motors pulled in some other companies to help fund this venture. They went to Standard Oil, California, Phillips Petroleum, Firestone Tyre, Mack Truck, and pretty soon these companies were investing in buying up streetcar systems through the Midwest and coming out into the west

Essentially, all the companies that had an interest in promoting the car culture conspired to buy up the streetcar systems and rip them up. GM produced motorcars which ran on oil (trams used electricity) and used rubber tires. Mack produced trucks, which now transport most of the nation's freight... in contrast to the 19th and early 20th centuries when freight was hauled by, you guessed it, rail.

In the late 1940s, GM and its partners were actually convicted of criminal conspiracy but were fined a derisory $5000 and GM executives were fined a token $1. Hardly a disincentive to future conspirators.

But by then, the damage was already done and the car culture quickly suffocated the country, both metaphorically and, in places like Los Angeles, literally too.

Streetcars ran on electricty. Had they been maintained, research might well have led to technological advancements that would have led to mass produced electric-powered vehicles.

Instead, research money went elsewhere with nefarious consequences. Some bad. Some really bad. Others even worse.

(Sporting) Justice is served

I wrote earlier about the travesty of last year's Major League Soccer season. The Los Angeles Galaxy won the league championship playoffs despite having finished with the 9th best record in the 12 team league (no mean feat for a league where only 8 teams made the playoffs). This year, justice has been served. The 'champions' finished tied for the 8th best record in the league but failed to qualify for the playoffs altogether. Good riddance!

(For the record, I fancy a Houston-New England final)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

800 years of liberty down the drain

Last month, I praised a group of Republican senators who obstructed President Bush's attempts to legalize torture, degradation and other inhumane behavior antithetical to American values.

It looks like I spoke too soon. Several of them compromised with the White House to strike a deal that wasn't much of a compromise. As the business magazine The Economist (hardly a wild-eyed leftist publication) described the bill that passed: Not only does it permit the CIA to continue its harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists in secret prisons abroad, it also strips foreign detainees of one of the civilised world's most ancient legal protections—the right to challenge their detention in court.

Habeus corpus, the protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, is arguably the most fundamental right in a free society. In fact, it's more fundamental than the right to vote or freedom of speech because those don't really matter if you're stuck in jail indefinitely, for no justifiable reason and with no recourse.

Some people snidely dismiss accusations of torture in Guantanamo Bay. There is systematic torture against the people held in Gitmo. It's not necessarily physical abuse by US soldiers, which probably is not systematic. It's the mere fact that George W. Bush has ordered they be detained indefinitely, for no justifiable reason and with no recourse.

Some critics have objected to the fact that I've referred to Gitmo as a kidnapee camp. But really, how can it be described as anything else? These people were arrested outside the US, where American law has no jurisdiction. They've been held against their will. They've been held without being charged with any crime. They have absolutely no idea when or if they will be released. They have absolutely no idea when or if they will even be charged with a crime. They have absolutely no recourse to making any of these things happen. In what way are these people NOT kidnapees?

They are not prisoners of war, according to the president. They are not common criminals because they're not being given the same judicial process. To describe them as anything other than kidnapees is a betrayal of the English language.

"But they are terrorists!" I can hear people screaming at me.

"How do you know?" is my response.

That's precisely why these people need to be subject to due process. If they are evil terrorists who were planning to attack America, present the evidence in a real court. Then a conviction will be secured and these guys will (legally) be put away for life.

Some contend that these people are foreigners and thus aren't subject to protections of the US Constitution. This is a gross hypocrisy. If US constitutional protections don't apply to foreigners, then how could US criminal law (the supposed reason they were detained in the first place) apply to those same foreigners?

Given suspected terrorists real trials would have an impact in several ways. President Bush claims that the threat by Islamic extremists is real but most people around the world think this is grossly overblown. This is because everything is being kept secret (as usual for this administration) so we are left to take the Bush administration's word for it. A word which hasn't much value anymore.

Public trials would present evidence against these people in a true public legal forum. The world would see that the terrorist threat is real and that there really are bad people out there. It would bolster the administration's credibility. The fact that they refuse to do so is telling.

Right now, America is seen as a lawless nation internationally because of things like Guantanamo Bay. Bringing Gitmo into the universe of legality would help improve America's battered image around the world.

This is important not because of some mythical global popularity contest. This is important because anti-American hatred is what fuels anti-American terrorist sentiment. Not all anti-American terrorist sentiment is based on rational criticisms but much of it is. The idea that we can keep people detained for years without trial or chage makes us seem more like a third world dictatorship than the beacon of freedom President Bush would have us believe.

The 'compromise' essentially scraps 800 years of the most fundamental liberty you can have in a free society.

"I'm not going to support a bill that's blatantly unconstitutional...that suspends a right that goes back to [the Magna Carta in] 1215," declared Arlen Specter, Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee—though he ended up voting for the bill after his amendment failed.

Even Britain's George III, from whom the US colonies seceded, had to respect habeus corpus. But in the name of 'the war for freedom,' America's George II thinks he doesn't have to.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The revolt of the generals

I've said many times about how the Iraq aggression was a horrible idea badly executed. I've explained countless times why it's a horrible idea half of the equation. But The Nation had an excellent piece on the badly executed part.

A series of high-ranking retired military leaders have attacked War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's handling of the conflict and called for his resignation. Their attack is not a partisan political jibe by a bunch of wild eyed, Blame America first' lefitsts.

Their criticisms are based on the fact that the Iraq aggression is both against the national interest and harmful to the institution of the military.

The generals argue that the Pentagon made enormous strategic errors in the beginning of the war. Primarily, not committing enough troops to the mission and disbanding the Iraqi army, thus creating a large population of unemployed, angry men with guns. This decision essentially created the Iraqi insurgency. The generals contend that these errors can not be remedied by our indefinite occupation of the country.

Retired Lieut. Gen. William Odom calls the Iraq War "the worst strategic mistake in the history of the United States" and draws a grim parallel with the Vietnam War. He says that US strategy in Iraq, as in Vietnam, has served almost exclusively the interests of our enemies. He says that our objectives in Vietnam passed through three phases leading to defeat. These were: (1) 1961-65, "containing" China; (2) 1965-68, obsession with US tactics, leading to "Americanization" of the war; and (3) 1968-75, phony diplomacy and self-deluding "Vietnamization." Iraq has now completed two similar phases and is entering the third, says Odom, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Such dissent even from retired generals is virtually unprecedented in American history. Why?

The fact that so many retired generals are speaking out against the war and against Rumsfeld, and are doing so at such forums as New York's prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, reflects the depth and intensity of the military's dissent. Traditional discipline and career-protecting reticence prompt many disillusioned field-grade officers (majors and above) to keep silent. These are "the Carlisle elite," who attend the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and from whose ranks are selected the generals and top leaders of tomorrow.

And how can blame them.

Rumsfeld publicly humiliated all who dissented, beginning with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was virtually dismissed the day he honestly gave his views to Congress.

I've said from the beginning that the Bush administration's modus operandi is to listen to the views that support its pre-existing opinions and ignore the ones that don't... or worse, as Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame found out. The more I read, the more convinced I am this is true. They let their opinions drive the facts, instead of vice versa. And it's soldiers in Iraq who pay the highest price.

For an administration that intones the mantra 'support our troops' every 3.2 seconds, you'd think they'd be a little more keen on actually listening to them.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The sound of one hand clapping

Apparently there was a second pseudo-debate between New York's gubenatorial aspirants held in Buffalo. I say pseudo-debate because only two of the (I believe) six candidates were invited to the closed debate. No brownie points for guessing which two parties' flag-bearers were invited by the 'we don't make news, we just report it' corporate media sponsors.

(Need a hint about which parties were invited? Check here)

(Need another hint? This guy wasn't one of the invited)

I won't link to the an article about the event because it would imply legitimacy for what was really yet another wasted opportunity to help better inform New York voters.

Even (insert deity of choice) rendered its verdict: the whole thing was a big snow job.

The two major party US Senate candidates will hold the first of two pseudo-debates next Friday.

The most prominent anti-war candidate in the race was refused permission to participate.

Shocking, I know.

Green candidate Howie Hawkins noted that the US Supreme Court has ruled “it is of particular importance that candidates have the…opportunity to make their views knows so that the electorate may intelligently evaluate the candidates’ personal qualities and their positions on vital public issues before choosing among them on Election Day.” (Buckley v. Valeo, 424 US 1).

Apparently, giant media conglomerates think differently.

I wonder if it's of any relevance that Hawkins' opponent, incumbent Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, receives more money from Big Media than any other politician.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Extreme Islam may not be fascism but it's still illiberal

In an email exchange, a friend of mine commented on how some on the European left act as apologists for radical Islam.Or perhaps more accurate, reactionary Islam.

Their political enemies are far right loudmouths like Jorg Haider (Austria) and Jean-Marie Le Pen (France). And since the far right hates Muslims, then those who oppose the far right should love Muslims.

The flaw in this analysis is that it doesn't distinguish between peaceful Muslims and extremist Muslims. The Le Pens of this world insist there is no distinction, that all Muslims are violent. That's assinine. But it's equally assinine to pretend that no Muslims are violent. Any serious analysis must have a nuance that reflects the complex reality of humanity.

The fear I have is that Europe's democratic left will make the same mistake it made in both the 1930s and the 1950s and cozy up to extremists who are really antithetical to their views. The democratic left must unambiguously dissociate itself from all gratuitous violence, whether in the name of Christianity, Islam, corporatism or whatever. Islamism (which is not merely Islam but an extreme politicized perversion of the religion) may not be fascist but it's certainly illiberal and should be opposed by all on the democratic left.

This doesn't seem to be a big problem in the US. While there is certainly some anti-Islamic bias in this country, Muslims seem better integrated into mainstream society than in Western Europe, where they are marginalized in distinct ghettos of many major cities. Maybe the American obsession with money and materialism perversely creates some unifying goals. I'm not sure what the reasons are but you don't hear much apologia in the American left for extreme Islam. Maybe progressives in the US realize that you don't have to pick between Bush and al-Qaedaism, that you can oppose two violent ideologies at the same time.

Islamism is completely antithetical to the liberal, progressive and leftist world views. Extremist Islam hates gays, oppose tolerance, loathes the democratic free exchange of ideas, wants women in their place as maids and baby factories, promotes religious bigotry and uses war, violence and force to try to impose its puritanical dystopia.

In short, its goals are much closer to the Christian Theocracy Brigade's wish list than any progressive ideology. In fact, Islamists and the Theocracy Brigade have actually united in various international conferences to oppose gay rights, abortion and contraception for the purpose of fighting HIV/AIDS. For the (largely secular) European left to reject Christian religious extremists and decide that Islamic religious extremists would be one iota better is complete stupidity. And very dangerous. If the European left is to have any credibility, it must recognize that they would be the first people the Islamists would go after: the secular 'hedonists.'

There's clearly an integration problem amongst much of Europe's Muslim population. One must resist the temptation to assign all of the blame to one side. Clearly, anti-Arab racism in France and anti-Asian racism in England contributes to the sentiment of Muslim isolation. But Muslims in Europe also need to make a more conscious effort to integrate into their societies. Racism will never disappear if Muslims keep themselves completely separated. Such integration must be encouraged by Muslim leaders and non-Muslim leaders alike. Not via demands. Not via legislation. Not via the threat of expulsion. Not via treating all Muslims as would-be terrorists. Not via patronizing lectures. Encouragement.

As someone who's lived in two overwhelmingly Muslim countries, I know that most Muslims are normal, peaceful people who want the same things for themselves and their kids as people here. But I also know that when I was there, I tried to adapt to the Islamic West African culture as much as I could and be respectful of their ways. That didn't mean I became exactly like them. It didn't mean I abandoned everything I grew up believing as an American. But I accepted certain norms by choosing to live there. I lived as a part of them, not apart from them. I knew this going in. If I couldn't in good conscience accept this, I wouldn't have chosen to live there. Westerners who live in Africa are generally expected to be respectful of local customs and are criticized when they aren't. That's perfectly reasonable. So why can't that work both ways?

In Arab countries, women are expected to cover their heads. But in the west, when two people meet, it's quite disconcerting when one party has their face covered completely. When western women are in Arab or Asian countries, they should respect their cultural norm on the issue. So when Arab or Asian women are in western countries, why shouldn't they respect the western cultural norm, especially in private? Why should a perfectly reasonable man be savaged for asking the question?

(And the hysterical overreaction alone is symptomatic. When even the mere mention of serious, important questions become taboo, that should ring alarm bells in a pluralistic, democratic society)

It's important to preserve some of your native culture but it's also important to integrate too and not live completely separate lives. Why should an Algerian live in France if he's only ever going to interact with other Algerians? If you reject British culture, don't choose live in Britain. If you hate French culture, don't live in France. If you think Algerian or Pakistani culture is so much better, I don't begrudge you that. Just choose to live in Algeria or Pakistan. But when you choose to live in a country, whether it's Western, African, Asian or Arab, you implicitly choose to abide by certain basic, commonly accepted standards. If you can't accept those standards in good conscience, live somewhere else.

European progressives must not suddenly become tolerant of intolerance or of anti-progressive ideologies simply to spite their domestic political opponents. It can only lead to disaster.If Arabs expect to remain faithful to Arab values, Africans to African values and Asians to Asian values, then surely the west can remain faithful to western values.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Somehow, lying about sex seems insignificant in comparison

While I've certainly been disturbed by the authoritarian tendencies of the Bush administration, its hostility toward accountability and the rule of law and the general direction they are taking this country, I've never quite bought the argument that America is now a totally fascist state, even if there are some parallels. But you don't have to think that Bush is the second coming of Hitler, Franco or Pinochet to be disturbed by stuff like this.

A Colorado man named Steve Howards recounts his horror story of daring to tell the truth to Vice-President Dick Cheney's face.

"He [Cheney] was walking through the area shaking hands. Initially, I walked past him. Then I said to myself, ‘I can’t in good conscience let this opportunity pass by.’ So I approached him, I got about two feet away, and I said in a very calm tone of voice, ‘Your policies in Iraq are reprehensible.’ And then I walked away.”

Howards says he knew the Administration has a “history of making problems” for people who protest its policies, so he wanted to leave off at that.
But the Secret Service did not take kindly to his comment.“About ten minutes later, I came back through the mall with my eight-year-old son in tow,” Howards recalls, “and this Secret Service man came out of the shadows, and his exact words were, ‘Did you assault the Vice President?’ ”

Here’s how Howards says he responded: “No, but I did tell Mr. Cheney the way I felt about the war in Iraq, and if Mr. Cheney wants to be shielded from public criticism, he should avoid public places. If exercising my constitutional rights to free speech is against the law, then you should arrest me.”

Which is just what the agent, Virgil D. “Gus” Reichle Jr, proceeded to do.

“He grabbed me and cuffed my hands behind my back in the presence of my eight-year-old son and told me I was being charged with assault of the Vice President,”Howards recalls.

[...]

“First of all, I was scared,” Howard recalls. “They wouldn’t tell my wife where they were taking me. Second of all, I was incredulous this could be happening in the United States of America. This is what I read about happening in Tiananmen Square. They hauled me away to Eagle County jail and kept me with my hands cuffed behind my back for three hours.”

At the jail, the charge against him was reduced to harassment, he says, and he was released on $500 bond. The Eagle County DA’s office eventually dropped that charge.


To his credit, Howards sued the Secret Service thug.

Given the number of articles I've read on similiar events, such a despicable action on the part of Bush/Cheney's storm trooper-esque entourage is hardly an isolated event by a bad apple.

You expect this sort of garbage in Mugabe's Zimbabwe, where it really is a crime to insult the president or vice-president. If our soldiers really are fighting for freedom, maybe they're doing so in the wrong places.

America may not be a fascist country yet but it sure seems that any town becomes that way when the emperor or vice-emperor visit.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Abolish the APA?

North Country Public Radio reported on a plan by NY state Senate candidate Tim Merrick. Merrick is a Democrat running for the 45th district seat against incumbent Republican Sen. Betty Little. While she seems like a pleasant enough person, I not a huge fan of Little as a politician. But at least she's never proposed gutting the Adirondack Park Agency.

The APA was created in 1971 to develop long-range land use plans for both public and private lands within the [Adirondack] Park.

The Park is the largest publically protected area in the lower 48 states, greater in size than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Park combined.

According to Article 14 of the state constitution, the Park should be kept forever wild. The APA was created to ensure that any development was closely monitored and was in conformity with constitutional requirements.

The APA has been fairly unpopular among residents within the Park itself. They view it as an Albany-based institution whose sole purpose is to micromanage land use inside the Blue Line.

However, it has achieved its desired effect. The Adirondack Park is unique. With a few exceptions, it has retained its rural character. The local economy is driven by this rural character as it depends greatly on tourists engaging in outdoor activities like hiking, camping and skiing.

However, this is under threat as the understaffed APA is being deluged by applications from developers, such as the controversial massive project in Tupper Lake. As a result, the APA has been criticized for hastily approving applications without giving them thorough review.

Merrick has called for essentially dismantling the APA and devolving its powers to towns within the Park. I hope this proposal is nothing more than a lame attempt for a Democrat to appeal to the very conservative and anti-government residents of the Park.

(Anti-government except in their reliance on taxpayer subsidies)

It's not clear from Merrick's vague proposals how 'Home Rule' could be granted while ensuring that towns and villages within the Park respected the constitution's provisions.

He also suggested [creating an] ombudsman program to help landowners within park with projects which is a perfectly reasonable suggestion.

APA procedures should be streamlined and be made friendlier to ordinary homeowners based in the Park. It should be given more resources to analyze proposals in a timely manner. But the agency should not be dismantled nor should a carte blanche be given to developers who want to raze the trees and mutate the Park into Anyplace, USA.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fake news is more real than real news

Back when I had TV, I was a big fan of the satirical Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Like many Daily Show fans, I noted that the self-described 'fake news' show was actually more informative than 'real news' programs. The reason is because Stewart and his colleagues are unafraid to ask The Question about an issue that screams out to be asked. He demonstrates the hypocrisy of leaders not in his words but in their own words. Mainstream media journalists, slaves to a fake objectivity which is really neutrality, generally won't do this because they are petrified of one thing: losing access.

Some in the elite are snarky about people who watch The Daily Show and get their information from other non-traditional sources. They think the assertion that Stewart's fake news is more real than the real news is a fanciful exaggeration. And to be honest, I once wondered it myself.

Now, it turns out that there is empirical evidence to back it up.

"The proportion of each story devoted to substance [on The Daily Show] was greater than in the network news stories," according to an Indiana University study.

The IU researchers noted that Stewart himself has insisted that he is a comedian and not a journalist.

And perhaps this is the strongest indication of all of how discredited TV journalism has become. The non-journalist presents a more newsworthy show than the real journalists.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The dastardly helper of the poor

The Economist has a cautionary portrait of Brazil's incumbent president Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, generally know as just Lula. President Lula will face a runoff for re-election at the end of this month.

The somewhat menacing title of the piece: 'Love Lula if you're poor, worry if you're not.'

Of course, helping the destitute is a pretty good strategy, both political and social, for the leader of the country with the world's greatest disparity between rich and poor.

From the cataclysmic title, you'd think he were some sort of Robert Mugabe or Hugo Chavez where he steals land or assaults judicial independence.

But his real crime, at least by reading the article, is being from the center-left.

According to The Economist, among the catacylsmic developments of Lula's first time:

-The poverty rate, as measured by the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a business school, fell from 28% of the population in 2003 to 23% last year

-While suppressing inflation and containing the deficit, he has transferred more cash to households, partly through the Family Fund, which helps the poor, but also through increases in the minimum wage, which raises publicly financed pensions.

-Instituted a Family Fund, a stipend of up to 95 reais a month that goes to parents who keep their children at school and take them for medical check-ups. The fund now reaches the poorest quarter of Brazil's population... the price of rice has “fallen a lot”, another boost to the family budget.

-Cash transfers have animated the economy of the poor north-east, where retail and wholesale trade jumped 15.6% in the year to July.

-His government has done several useful things, such as passing a bankruptcy law. A long-delayed measure to encourage the private financing of public works may at last yield results. And, after a shaky start, a new model for commissioning power generation is starting to show it can attract private capital to the electricity industry.

So his policies have reduced poverty for millions of citizens, increased trade and encouraged parents to seek education and health care for their children? By The Economist's own analysis, Lula has cut inflation, created jobs and kept the economy growing. Foreign debt no longer hangs over Brazil like the blade of a guillotine.

What a monster!

But the magazine's real objection is that state spending is high and economic growth as other countries in Latin America. Ironically, the fastest growing in South America is in evil Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. But as real life improves for ordinary Brazilians, if not for foreign money men, I'm sorry if I don't seethe with outrage at Lula.

There certainly are more issues to tackle. Urban crime is rampant and the country's educational system needs improvement. And while the president is seen as personally incorruptible, several prominent members of his party have been shown to be otherwise. The constitution Lula inherited is a convulted mess and he's called for its reform.

But so far, he's off to a good start.

Unless your standard for judging presidents is how well they cater to financiers in New York and London.

Friday, October 06, 2006

No integrity vs no ideas: is their another choice?

The party of national security and family values is turmoil as its house of cards finally comes crumbling down. This long overdue event has been triggered by two crises of its own making.

First came the explosive revelations from Bob Woodward. Arguably the most respected print journalist in America, Woodward's new book accuses the Bush administration of deliberately misled the American public as to the scale of the disaster in Iraq. He also accused the administration of intentionally withholding key intelligence from his allies in Britain.

Woodward's book says that insurgent attacks in Iraq are now running at a rate of about four an hour and that officials believe the situation will get worse next year.

This came a week after a leaked intelligence report concluded the self-evident (to everyone but the president and his apologists) conclusion that the Iraq debacle has worsened the terror threat.

Then, the Mark Foley scandal exploded. The GOP Congressman resigned after it was revealed that he was exchanging sexually explicit correspondances with young male pages. But the bigger scandal erupted when it was alleged that House Speaker Dennis Hastert was informed of Foley's conduct months ago. This allegation of a coverup was made not by the opposition Democrats but by two promiment members of Hastert's own Republican caucus, including his second in command.

So while most Americans are being made less safe by Republican policies, there is one group that's been protected by the GOP: Congressional pedophiles.

(At least until the media called them on it)

Of course the Democrats, with their record of kow-towing in craven complicity to Bush until it became politically expedient to do otherwise, are little better. Some Americans will limit themselves this November to a fake choice between massively corrupt ruling party and a substance-free former ruling party. If Americans aren't going to consider voting for a smaller party at this point in time, then will it ever happen?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hooray for high oil prices?

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)


Some environmentalists are thrilled by the relatively high price of oil. They see it as the only way to wean westerners off their addiction to cars. This view may be well-meaning but myopic. It presupposes that the only people affected by increased petroleum costs are upper middle class suburbanites in rich countries who could easily swap their gas-guzzler for a commuter train token with marginal inconvenience.

In reality, the people most harmed by high oil prices are in the developing world, as this VOA piece explores.

The effect in Senegal, for example, means lower energy generating capacity and thus power cuts. It means higher prices for passengers in public taxis and buses, which are the primary means of transport for most Senegalese. It means higher inflation and slower growth.

So the next time you smile with self-satisfaction about sticking it to SUV owners, just remember that they aren't being harmed anywhere near as much as African city dwellers and subsistence farmers who already can barely afford to make ends meat. Is that really anything to be smug about?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

'Your fate is in the hands of a barely literate judge' and other tales of NNY justice

Remember that New York Times' series on New York state's dysfunctional court system?

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise offers a followup on the situation in northern New York counties.

Local judges, some of whom weren't even lawyers, complained about lack of training from the state and lack of resources.

Kevin Nichols, a lawyer from Malone, complained that a town justice in St. Lawrence County sent his client to jail in 1998 based on 'secret' evidence. A probation officer brought in documents to the courtroom to show the man had violated probation.

But when Nichols asked to examine the paperwork, as is the defense’s right, the judge refused, he said. 'When I pointed it out that it was inherently wrong in this country to send someone to jail based on secret government documents,' Nichols recalled, 'he told me to be quiet or he’d send me to jail in contempt of court.'


The basic problem is that the simple lack of qualified people willing to do the job. The village justice in Saranac Lake spends over 20 hours a week on cases but earns a mere $10,034 a year, notes The Enterprise.

A former public defender in Franklin County who served for 15 years, Alexander Lesyk, said he believes the law has gotten too complex leaving many justices ill-suited for their responsibilities. He said the judges he’s come across have run a wide spectrum, from thoughtful and fair, to those that seemed mentally unstable.

'The people who take the job, for the most part, take the job because they want to help the community,' Lesyk said, 'but that’s perhaps why we need to change the job. Because someone will get the job for no other reason than they’re willing to do it.

'Quite honestly, I have appeared in front of judges in Franklin County who had trouble reading,' Lesyk added.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Taking their eye off the ball

I'm no fan of the nativist brigade, to say the least. I think that if you believe in the free movement of goods and services across borders (aka: free trade) then that also implies accepting the free movement of people, since labor is a service. If you truly believe in free trade, you should reject all restrictions on who enters the country. There should be no such thing as illegal immigration from Mexico, a partner in the so-called North American Free Trade Agreement. As such, I believe the fence approved by Congress to separate the US and Mexico is a bad idea. It's a political solution, not a practical one.

That said, the reaction of the Mexican government is absurd. The Mexican Foreign Relations Department.sent a letter of protest to the US. Outgoing president Vicente Fox called the wall 'shameful.' His foreign secretary riducuously compared it to the Berlin Wall.

The AP noted Fox has spent his six years in office lobbying for a new guest worker program and an amnesty for the millions of Mexicans working illegally in the United States.

Yet it begs the question, why is the Mexican government so concerned with making sure its citizens CAN flee the country (the Berlin Wall having the opposite purpose)? Why does it want its labor force to go elsewhere?

Instead of contriving pseudo-nationalist fight with Washington, the conservative administration in Mexico City should focus more on improving the living standards of its people so they are less inclined to flee the country for economic reasons in the first place.

If the Mexican government worried more about poverty reduction, then maybe migration policy would take care of itself.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Wire service follies

I've written several times (most recently here) about the 'we don't make news, we just report it' mainstream media's institutional bias against smaller parties in particular and outside-the-box views in general.

Ideologues claim there is a right-wing (or left-wing) bias in the media. But this is really more an attempt to shape the media than to analyze it. For years, the right claimed the media suffered from a 'liberal' bias. And the news media pushed toward the right in reaction. In fear of controversy. The left finally noticed that this was working and started attacking the media's 'conservative' bias, hoping that they can push it back.

This misses the point. The real bias of the corporate media is against non-traditional views. Let's be honest: Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky are as unlikely to get mentioned or interviewed on the networks as Pat Buchanan or the head of the infamous Minutemen jihadists. The media sees its job not to report or reflect all points of view or even most, but rather the ones a few inches on either side of the center. It wants predictability, not controversy.

One of the most egregious perpetrators of bias against smaller parties is the Associated Press. While the average citizen can turn to many TV channels, magazines and websites for national and international issues, most Americans get their information on state and regional issues from their local newspapers. While some major metropolitan newspapers do have their own reporter at the capital, most local newspapers rely on the Associated Press for coverage of state issues.

Since public perception of state issues is viewed almost entirely through the prism of the AP, whether their coverage is expansive or limited is a crucial question.

Here in New York, the AP has almost completely ignored the non-major party candidates running for state office. No mention of Green gubernatorial candidate Malachy McCourt or any of the other smaller party candidates. Most other media oulets have followed its lead.

The AP is running a weekly series of questions and answers with two (but not all) of the candidates for governor: Democrat Eliot Spitzer and Republican John Faso.

Presumably, they ignored the smaller party candidates because 'there wasn't enough room.'

Different papers ran different excerpted different versions of the piece but among the hard hitting questions answered by the two men:

-Who pays the house bills and balances the family check book?'

-What would you do about traffic congestion in and out of Long Island's Hamptons? (this segment was deemed relevant to its readers by a central NY paper!)

-Have you ever used marijuana?

So the AP didn't think readers would be interested to know what smaller party candidates thought about education funding, Iraq and dredging of the Hudson River. Yet the wire service magically found room to say that both men smoked pot but only one balanced his family's checkbook.

We certainly wouldn't want the beautiful people from suffering through those nasty traffic jams.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Left-wing comedy in Glens Falls

Local comedian John Briggs informs me that he will be bringing his show to Glens Falls.

Briggs and another former Tonight Show writer Mike Irwin will be presenting Left Wing Laughs at the newly renovated Park Theater at 14 Park St. (between the Civic Center and the Glens Falls Hospital). It will be held on Friday October 13 at 8:00 PM. Tickets at $12.

Observes Briggs: "The News Should Be Fair & Balanced. Comedy Should Have a Point of View."

For reservations, call the theater box office at 793-2600. You can also visit the Park St. Theatre website.