Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Going to the dogs

It's been a good week for canines. Michael Vick plead guilty to some pretty sickening charges related to dogfighting. He faces up to five years in prison where, presumably, he won't be able to murder any more animals. If nothing else, the case raised the spotlight on a savage 'sport.' And money too. Nearly two dozen Michael Vick football cards that were drooled on and chewed up by two Missouri dogs sold on eBay for $7400, with the proceeds apparently going to the Humane Society. The success of that auction inspired others to do the same.

Leona Helmsley's dog fared even better. The recently deceased Queen of Mean left $12 million to her white maltese, appropriately named Trouble. The figure is $12 million more than two of Helmsley's grandchildren were left.

Vick's case was pretty nauseating. According to the statement of facts he signed, he agreed to the killing dogs "by various methods, including hanging and drowning.”

I'd talk more about the case but I just ate. Just search for Michael Vick at Google News if you really want to know more.

But the public reaction to the case interested me. There was the predictable hysteria over any such case.

Vick is one of the top players in the country's most popular sport so this was always going to be a big story. But media outlets have been giving ridiculous amounts of coverage to this story.

ESPN was the worst offender because when it comes to grotesquely overhyping a sports-related story, good or bad, ESPN is always the worst offender. It's why SportsCenter and the network's talk shows have become unwatchable. The Vick story should've been covered, but ESPN's saturation bombing was and remains beyond the pale.

On the other hand, you have the folks going on about how Vick is a nice innocent boy* who just made a little mistake and that the media is picking on him because he's black. Any time a black athlete is accused of doing something bad, there is a segment of the population that inevitably downplays the act and denounces the media coverage as racist.

(*-like his younger brother Marcus, who was arrested for pulling a gun on three teenagers during an altercation in a restaurant parking lot and has had more than his fair share of legal problems.)

Contrast this to the treatment of the Duke lacrosse players. These were white athletes accused of doing something bad. They were presumed guilty in the media and many quarters of society simply because they were white and their alleged victim was black. There was a rush to condemn these college students. Though not guilty (I won't call them innocent because while their behavior wasn't criminal, it wasn't particularly admirable), the Duke lacrosse players had their reputations dragged through the mud and the Duke coach was forced to quit. Even though the prosecutor has admitted misconduct in the case, the genie can't be put back into the bottle. Were the lacrosse players racist? Or was presumption of guilt simply because they were white and the alleged victim black a racist assumption?

The other big difference is that the Duke lacrosse players mistake was a (stupid, if not criminal) misjudgement on a single night. Vick's engaged in a persistent pattern of criminal (and disgusting) conduct over a prolonged period of time. But among those who demand Vick be treated with kid gloves by the NFL and the media are many of the same folks who wanted the Duke students be tarred and feathered.

Some are quick to use a racially charged word 'lynching' in reference to the media's treatment of Vick. But let's have a little intellectual honesty here. All you need to do is look at the facts of the case as Vick himself admits to realize that Vick is not the lynchee but the lyncher.

It's also worth remembering that among those who are demanding the NFL let Michael Vick return when his prison sentence is up are many of the same folks who demanded that yap show host Don Imus be fired for uttering one stupid phrase. In some people's eyes, saying 'nappy head ho' worse than lynching a half dozen dogs.

Let's a little sense of proportion here.

That said, Vick did make a public apology after his plea. Not everyone was impressed by it, including this NBC sports columnist and this fellow from The National Post.

I watched a little bit of his apology on TV and it seemed sincere. I'm not naive. He might be a good actor. He probably has a good lawyer and a PR man advising him. In such cases, I always wonder if he's sorry for what he did or sorry that he got caught.

I wasn't impressed by the fact that he acted like his misdeeds were the result of a single moment of madness, rather than a consistent pattern of behavior. But I did notice favorably that he appeared to making his apology without notes. I also recognize that for some people, it's hard to come across as sincere in front of cameras, even if you really are, and that too much self-flagellation in an apology can be counterproductive.

At the end of the day, it's moot. If he's honest with himself, recognizes the twisted mentality that led to his actions and uses the prison time to try to make himself a better person, then it doesn't matter what I or anyone else thinks of his apology.

Whether sincere or for PR, at least Vick had the guts to hold his hand up, say I screwed up and apologize. Contrast that with the weasel behavior of Republican Sen. Larry Craig.

The US senator from Idaho was caught with his pants down, literally, in a Minnesota airport. In June, Craig was arrested in a Minneapolis airport men’s room by an undercover officer who said Craig was sending signals that he wanted to have sex.

Most damningly, Craig plead guilty to charges of disorderly conduct.

He says that he shouldn't have pled guilty, that his actions were misconstrued and that he only did so to try to keep the matter quiet.

Because admitting something that will become part of the public record is a great way to hush up a story.

While Vick accepted responsibility and blamed himself, Craig blamed everyone else.

It probably didn't help that Craig began his newsconference clumisly. "Thank you all very much for coming out today" probably isn't the best phrase to begin a statement denying rumors that you're gay.

The main target of the senator's vitriol was, surprise surprise, the media. He sniffed that he and his family "had been relentlessly and viciously harassed by the Idaho Statesman" newspaper.

In fact, he offered a novel defense for his activity: 'The newspaper made me do it!'

He said, "Still, without a shred of truth or evidence to the contrary, the Statesman has engaged in this witch hunt. In pleading guilty, I overreacted in Minneapolis, because of the stress of the Idaho Statesman's investigation and the rumors it has fueled around Idaho..." rumors that Craig is gay. The senator has angrily denied that he was gay, though one wonders if that doesn't preclude him from being bisexual.

The Statesman heaped scorn on Craig's blatherings, pointing out that the clouds surrounding him are entirely of his own making.

Craig has come under attack from liberals and conservatives alike.

Conservatives are attacking him because of his now presumed non-heterosexuality, certain to enrage theocrats. Some of his GOP colleagues have called for his resignation because both his guilty plea and his presumed non-heterosexuality makes him a political liability. And let's face it, I don't care about his orientation but sex in the public toilet stall is a pretty tawdry thing. But it's too bad he wasn't involved in corruption or fraud. Then conservatives might've given him a break.

Liberals are attacking him not about whatever his sexual orientation might be but for being yet another conservative hypocrite. Craig voted for the misnamed Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which defined marriage in federal law as being only between a man and a woman.

According to Craig, allowing two men to have their loving, committed relationship recognized by the federal law is an abomination but receiving (or giving) fellatio in an airport toilet stall is perfectly dignified.

Gay rights groups laughed at the senator's statements. Sen. Larry Craig’s “I’m not gay” declaration met with disdain today from gay activists, many of whom knew for nearly a year — long before his recent arrest — of allegations that the conservative Idaho Republican solicited sex from men in public bathrooms.

On CNN last night, syndicated columnist Dan Savage noted the irony that cruising bathrooms for gay sex is now an activity primarily perpetrated not by openly gay men but by men who are publicly straight.

Savage is in a committed, long-term relationship with a male partner and, I believe, a son. Precisely the sort of decent, clean relationship to which Cruiser Craig would deny legitimacy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Did I miss something?

So I was listening to WAMC Northeast Public Radio and the anchor announced, "Today at 1:00 on Alternative Radio: former vice-president Al Gore."

Maybe I wasn't paying attention but when exactly did Al Gore, that beacon of the corporate Democrat establishment, become an 'alternative' voice?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Are developers terrorists?

Some ecologists might argue that all developers are terrorists against the environment. I wouldn't go that far. But in our culture of unsustainable excess, developers tend to be among the chief enablers.

In one country, though, developers may be actual terrorists, under the legal definition of the word.

A spate of fires erupted in Greece last Friday. Officials are convinced that the blazes were started by arsonists.

“So many fires breaking out simultaneously in so many parts of the country cannot be a coincidence,” said Greek prime minister Costas Karamanlis. “The state will do everything it can to find those responsible and punish them,” which might include prosecution under the country's anti-terrorist laws.

There is an increasing belief that the fires were deliberately set in the hopes that protected forest land that burnt down would be transfered into private hands for property development.

The Financial Times reported that While Greece requires burned forest areas to be immediately replanted, devel­opers have few problems in finding a way round the law. Burned areas are re-classified by local officials as farmland that can be sold for development.
“Because of the lack of political will to implement the law, it’s easy to build on forest land,” said Theodota Nantsou, policy co-ordinator in Greece for WWF, the conservation agency. “Ahead of an election, for example, thousands of illegal buildings suddenly become legal.”

Fast-growing demand for second homes, driven by north Europeans as well as Greeks, has increased pressure for development of forests, especially in the Peloponnese and near Athens.

Alexia Papadakis, a real estate agent, said the island of Evia is a prime target for developers because of its proximity to Athens and improved transport connections. “Sadly, it’s no surprise that there is a big fire on Evia,” she said.

Authorities have even offered a reward of 100,000 Euros (approx. US$136,000) for information leading to the arrest of any of the arsonists.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Blaming Mr. Maliki

Recently, Democratic senators Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin have called for Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to resign. So has French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner. President Bush took some potshots at Maliki a few weeks ago.

The Iraqi leader hit back, telling all these people basically to mind their own damn business.

He's right. Americans should mind our own damn business and start withdrawing from of Iraq immediately.

Unfortunately, Maliki's become the convenient whipping boy for Democratic and Republican politicians alike who are too cowardly to look in the mirror at their own failings.

Attacking Bush's Iraq policy-of-the-week is risky because the far right will pass this off as undermining the troops. And calling for a withdrawal of US troops risks being tarred as 'surrender,' rather than returning Iraqi sovereignty to Iraqis. This may represent intellectual deceit designed to stiffle serious debate, but historically, such smearing has worked. Bush can't directly attack his own policy for obvious reasons (which is why it changes constantly). And most politicians in Washington voted for the Iraq aggression in the first place. So they don't want to directly admit the obvious: they messed up.

Scapegoating Maliki may be the safest option for the careers for Washington politicians, but is undermining a moderate leader in a snakepit in the interests of anyone else? We can see how well that strategy worked in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon.

The whole rush to blame Maliki for everything under the sun seems more than a bit tawdry. Especially when the fundamental problems are nearly all related to security, a domain which Maliki's government has little practical control. When Sen. Clinton holds her admit up and admits she screwed up in voting for the Iraq invasion, then maybe she just might have the right to criticize the way Maliki is trying to clean up the mess her vote authorized.

Maliki is not an executive president who can snap his fingers and get things done (nor is he the spouse of one). And his party does not command a large parliamentary majority, in contrast to Tony Blair during most of his premiership.

The Iraqi leader heads a shaky coalition government in a 'democracy' that's only a few years old and whose security (such as it is) is provided by an occupying foreign force. If the US couldn't stabilize Iraq during Paul Bremer's tenure when he was essentially the country's absolute monarch and ruled by fiat, how can any one expect that of any coalition prime minister?

Maliki is only one man in a system explicitly designed to prevent the return of a single strongman. Italy has changed prime ministers 36 times in the 61 years since becoming a republic. That's the risk in setting up a parliamentary democracy in a divided country. Having a bunch of foreign politicians dictating things from half way around the world isn't going to make things any better. Clinton, Levin, Kouchner and Bush should mind their own damn business and run their own countries and let Maliki run his.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Actions, reactions

Newsitem: Regarding the iPhone... Apple launched the eagerly awaited phone exclusively on AT&T's network in June, and immediately faced criticism for how resistant it was to any modification.

Observation: Resistant to modification? Impossible to use outside narrowly confined systems? This is so unlike Apple.

Newsitem: Regarding author Ayn Rand... Who is Ayn Rand? More than two decades after her death, readers still debate the morality and cultural influence of the provocative Russian-born author whose "objectivist" philosophy culminated in her 1957 magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. The 1,192-page novel unapologetically fictionalized an individualist philosophy that praises selfishness, scorns charity, and turns monopolists into paragons of virtue. Biographies by spurned lovers and collections of her letters reveal Rand as a passionate, sometimes tempestuous, personality, a woman with devoted loves and sworn enemies, who relished sex and dabbled in swinging, and demanded absolute loyalty from her disciples.

Observation: Because nothing screams radical individualism more than 'absolute loyalty' to someone else.

Newsitem: President Bush has announced that the new war strategy in Iraq looks promising.

Question: Does this mark 25th 'promising' new war strategy in Iraq or 28th? I've lost count.

Followup: Bush says a US pullout from Iraq would make the country as bad as Vietnam after the US withdrawal.

Observation: Since 4 million (civilians alone) perished during the Vietnamese civil war, I think our esteemed leader should be more concerned that Iraq will become like Vietnam was BEFORE the US withdrawal.

Friday, August 24, 2007

What if Iraq becomes another Vietnam?

While most pro-war folks (of the few who remain) attack anyone who makes the slightest hint at an Iraq-Vietnam analogy, President Bush has embraced such comparisons. He warned that a precipitous withdrawal would trigger the kind of upheaval seen after the departure of the US forces who were propping up the South Vietnamese dictatorship.

"Many argued that if we pulled out, there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people," he said. "The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be. Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens."

Of course, this is pure deceit on the president's part. No one argued this. The main argument was that continued US participation in the Vietnamese civil war was having worse consequences than withdrawal would. And this argument was vindicated by the course of events.

The Vietnamese civil war lasted for 16 years. Some 4 million Vietnamese civilians were killed and countless more injured, orphaned and displaced. Only a small fraction of these occured in the year and a half following the withdrawal of US forces when the South Vietnamese army (numerically much larger than the North's) was fighting for its own country.

The US political leadership of the time tried to make the public swallow hysterical predictions of chaos and menace to American security should the Vietnamese civil war be decided by... the Vietnamese. They also peddled the delusion that military might could settle a fundamentally political conflict.

The UK Independent also has a good piece addressing Bush's pap.

And what if Iraq does become another Vietnam, as Bush warns?

What Bush doesn't mention is that while Communist Vietnam became a totalitarian state, its regime didn't murder anywhere close to the 4 million civilians who were "collateral damage" in the war to save them.

What Bush doesn't mention is the politically incorrect fact that while it's hardly paradise on Earth, Vietnam is a less horrific, more stable place in 2007 than it was when US troops withdrew.

What Bush doesn't mention is how many times has communist Vietnam attacked or threatened America since 1975: zero.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Are there any adults in the room?

In the decade I've been following them, politics in Albany have always been petty, childish and having little to do with the public interest. But things have reached a new low in recent weeks.

Not along ago, a(nother) spat erupted between Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, the state's top Republican. Leaked documents accused Bruno jaunting around the state on state aircraft to fly to posh fundraisers, throwing in the token "state business" related appearance.

Bruno was gifted the opportunity to change the subject. Someone in Spitzer's office allegedly used the State Police to spy on Bruno thus creating the documents that were eventually leaked. Ever the crafty politician, Bruno used this blunder to transform himself into an underdog man of the people victim fighting against the spoiled brat elitist governor who he likened to a "third world dictator".

He demanded approximately 142 investigations into the affair in order to drag it out as long as possible.

But the tables have turned again. A nasty, threatening phone call was placed to Spitzer's father, who is 83 years old and has the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

The Albany Times-Union reported: In the message, left on Bernard Spitzer's office voice mail Aug. 6, the caller said he would be subpoenaed to appear before the Senate committee and, "If you resist the subpoena you will be arrested and brought to Albany." The caller referred to the governor as a "phony, psycho, piece of (expletive)" and said, "You will be forced to tell the truth and the fact that your son's a pathological liar will be known to all." Bernard Spitzer hired a private investigations firm, Kroll Associates, to find out who made the call. The firm concluded that Stone controls the phone used by the call.

The call was traced to the apartment of Roger Stone, a top Republican political consultant.

Stone has resigned, 'voluntarily' according to the paper. But he vehemently denied placing the call. He claims someone broke into his apartment to place the call in order to set him up. He adds that the man who owns the building in which the apartment is located is a Spitzer fundraiser.

Now Senate Democrats are calling for an investigation.

Meanwhile, the public's business remains ignored.

This is par for the course for the most dysfunctional state legislature in the nation, but it's ugly even by Albany's virtually non-existent standards.

Update: Apparently, Stone has a long history of sleaze consistent with what he's accused of here. He was part of Richard Nixon's Dirty Tricks Brigade. He was also part of the mob that shut down the 2000 recount in Miami-Dade county.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Justice is served... sky still intact

Last week, Jose Padilla was convicted of plotting to kill people overseas and supporting terrorism.

Padilla, an American citizen, was held in Guantanamo Bay for several years without trial or charge under pretext that he wanted to detonate a 'dirty bomb' in American cities. As soon as it appeared clear that the US Supreme Court was going to order Padilla be charged in a regular court or released, the 'dirty bomb' charges were mysteriously dropped and these new charges pulled out of a hat.

This is because White House and "Justice" Department realized that in order to convict in a real court, they would require actual evidence, compelling evidence. Unlike the kangaroo version, real courts have standards. This is why the Bush administration fought so hard to keep Padilla's 'dirty bomb' charges kept away from the real judges, for fear of its own humiliation.

The conviction of Padilla on these lesser charges is a strong repudiation of the Bush administration's tactics but also of its now virtually discredited defense of the Guantanamo Bay kidnapee camp. For years, they argue that the kidnapees must be kept in Gitmo without charge, without access to lawyers and without any recourse to the judiciary because the sky would fall otherwise. Our fragile democracy would collapse if authorities provide an actual legal justification for their detainment of random and sundry people seized in foreign lands (not prisoners of war, the president insisted).

For too long, Gitmo has served as a perfect excuse invoked by dictators as diverse as Robert Mugabe to the late Turkmenbashi. If the US can take (steal) liberties under the pretext of fighting terrorism, if the so-called leader of the free world can suspend the rule of law as they wish, why can't the despots?

Now is the time to put ALL of the Gitmo detainees on trial in real courts. If there's not enough evidence against certain detainees, they should be released. There is no longer any excuse.

The American judiciary was able to deal with Padilla, just as it'll be able to deal with the other detainees. Our system is strong enough to do things the right way.

American values were upheld, despite the administration's vehement opposition. The sky didn't fall with Padilla's conviction. And it won't fall if the other detainees are given what's due to anyone held by any nation that calls itself civilized: their day in court.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

How the CIA protects America

In a moved designed to pave the way for a military aggression against Iran, the Bush administration has declared the country's Revolutionary Guard, essentially its domestic morality police, as a terrorist organization.

But obviously its threats against America are greatly exaggerated if the CIA has nothing better to do than screw around with Wikipedia entries.

Update: Looks like the Australian government is busy doing the same.

Friday, August 17, 2007

How to rebuild America's shattered reputation

The excellent Utne Reader has a good interview with Dennis Ross, Middle East negotiator under Presidents Bush I and Clinton. He talks about how to rebuild America's image, credibility and moral authority, so thoroughly destroyed by 6 1/2 years of George W. Bush.

All of his suggestions are common sense. Listen (don't just dictate) to allies. Base foreign policy on reality. Support foreign groups that are actually able to help their constitutents, not those who only offer fancy rhetoric.

On key international issues, the US must take positions and especially approaches that lead America to be identified around the world with good ideals, rather than obstructionism, militarism and belligerence. Essentially, we must be a leader that others want to follow rather than a bully loathed even by those who should be its friends.

If we focus on helping create a saner world, particularly by ending our own insanities, other countries may not agree with us on every single issue, but they will respect us and be more willing to work with us on issues of global concern.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chavez wants presidency-for-life

So now Comrade Hugo Chavez wants to become president-for-life of Venezuela.

This belies his 'revolutionary' rhetoric. If Chavez were truly engaging in a revolution to transform the entire society, then surely it would be so thorough and comprehensive that it wouldn't need him to be its head ad infinitum. (See: Castro, Fidel).

A true revolution is about ideals and about a process to implement those ideals, not about the massive ego of a single man and his endless quest for absolute power.

That Chavez wants to allow the presidency-for-life is further evidence that his main interest if further building the giant cult of personality around him.

Contrast that with the strides made in Bolivia by another avowed socialist Evo Morales. Though not nearly the international leftist cult figure that Chavez is, Morales is a very humble, modest man who makes his focus the improvement the life of his people. He may speak his mind, but he lets his actions speak louder.

There's no international grandstanding, no hobnobbing with Iranian theocrats just to piss off Washington, no gratuitous picking of fights to bolster his ego or global image.

Maybe it's the difference between between a former union leader, where you have to work hard to forge practical consensuses, and being a military man, where you expect underlings to mindlessly follow your commands. Either way, Morales' program about poverty reduction, not caudillo worship.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

T-shirt snobs

With local curmudgeon Scoop on hiatus, it falls to me to write this piece.

Every year, the thoroughbred track in Saratoga has several days where it gives out free stuff with a paid admission.

Earlier this month, the track gave out free Saratoga t-shirts to everyone who bought a $5 ticket. But apparently the free t-shirts were of high enough quality for some people.

One whiny ingrate even wasted time complaining to the newspaper about it.

The shirt, she sniffed, does not portray a "class image." The lettering, and imprinting of the horse is shabbily done. All 11 shirts that we received were the same.

So for $55, she and her large family received a nice day at the track and ELEVEN FREE t-shirts.

She added, My family will not wear them in public. What do you think of them?

What do I think, lady? I think if you should give those t-shirts to the Salvation Army or something. I'm certain there are less privileged people in the area who would be more than happy to wear them and wouldn't have the gall to write to the newspaper to complain about their free gifts!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The arrogance of the power hungry

At times, the pomposity of some politicians is absolutely mind-boggling. Take the two front runners in the Republican presidential campaign.

Former Massachussetts governor Mitt Romney, an ardent supporter of the so-called war on terror, explained to town hall meeting audience why none of his adult children were serving in the military.

"One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president."

I know you have to have a pretty big ego to run for president on a major party ticket, but usually the successful politicians are a little less overtly arrogant than Romney.

Not so for Romney's main rival at this point, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Mormonism aside, Romney is a pretty standard cardboard Republican. Giuliani is a bit different. He's a bit more moderate than most of rivals on many social issues, but he compensates by being significantly more fanatical on questions of militarism. His fanning of the populist flames led a Harper's magazine article to contend somewhat compellingly that a Rudy presidency risks being even worse than Bush's, a fear I've had for some time.

(Note: the Harper's piece is subscribers-only but Alternet talks about it too as does this essay in The Nation.)

Giuliani's national fame came simply by showing up in the aftermath of 9/11. He was our national reassurer-in-chief. This doesn't qualify him to fight terrorism, as a National Public Radio anchor (not a commentator) ridiculously stated, but it was not irrelevant at the time. While not unimportant, a mayor merely showing up and encouraging people in the aftermath of a tragedy hardly qualifies one to be president. Perhaps he benefited by comparison to the conduct of the actual president at the time.

Of course, Rudy's mayorship was quite controversial. He was a polarizing figure for 7 years, 9 1/2 months. But that seems to be lost in the group therapy of the last 10 weeks. He did a good job completing the work started by his Democratic predecessor in cleaning up the city, both physically and in terms of crime. But this also came with the cost of a police force running rampant. NYPD cops pumped 41 bullets into an unarmed African immigrant; I don't like to second guess cops in crime ridden areas and one can debate the actual fact of the shooting but pumping that many bullets into an unarmed person (who, oh by the way, was innocent of any crime) is unconscionable. That came a few years after the infamous Abner Louima torture case when cops used a toilet plunger to sexually brutalize a Haitian man being held in their custody. Incidents like this and others demonstrate a reckless disregard for human life. Given the Bush administration's similar mentality, this is the last thing we need to perpetuate in this country.

Woody Allen famously said that 80 percent of success is just showing up. And since Giuliani's presidential campaign success is due entirely to the fact that he just showed up after 9/11, it's not surprising that the famously ill-tempered politician overplayed his hand.

At a campaign stop in Ohio, he bragged, "I was at ground zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers. ... I was there working with them. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I’m one of them.”

His comments were denounced by both New York's Bravest and New York's Finest.

The head of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association in New York, said: “I have a real problem with that statement. I think he’s really grasping and trying to justify his previous attempts to portray himself as the hero of 9/11.”

Michael Palladino, head of the Detectives Endowment Association, the union of NYPD detectives, said the mayor’s record can’t compare to those who spent 12 months sifting through toxic debris for evidence and human remains.

“As a result of their hard work, many are sick and injured. The mayor, although he did a fine job with 9/11, I don’t think he rises to the level of being an equal with those men and women who were involved in the rescue, recovery and cleanup,” Palladino said.

Only in the Rudy's little mind/gigantic head does preening for the cameras from time to time equate to those who sifted through toxic debris or those who saved people from the stricken towers before they collapsed.

A colleague of Rudy's endorsed successor pointed out that '9/11 is not a wholly owned subsidiary of Rudy Giuliani.'

I'll have a criticism of Barak Obama in the next few days.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The perils of corporate journalism

I've certainly offered my share of criticism of the mainstream media and how it operates. But for the sake of fairness, The New York Review of Books offers a good essay on some of the economic and corporate pressures faced by journalists today. The piece points out that the most significant change in journalism came as family-owned papers started selling to big media companies (or to medium-sized media chains who in turn sold to megacorporations). This essentially emasculated the public service ethos that had prevailed in mainstream journalism and introduced profit motive (as demanded by faceless stockholders) as the industry's driving force.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The banality of torture and how it undermines American security

Alberto Gonzales once wrote an infamous memo arguing that torture was legal. More than that, he argued that torture was necessary and the rule of law obsolete. The man is now the chief law enforcement [sic] office of this country

So i was interested to read a piece in the NPR News blog on the banality of torture.

It's eerily similar to a comment made by Gen. Jacques Massu, the commander of French forces during the brutal Battle of Algiers.

"Torture was part of a certain ambiance," he said in 2000. "We could've done things differently."

Far from helping the cause, torture undermined France's fight against Algerian nationalism by galvanizing the undecided against the torturers and revolting France's allies. Torture is having exactly the same effect in undermining America's fight against Islamist radicalism, a cause where the support of allies is even more critical.

When the most powerful nation on Earth, one that spends almost as much on so-called national defense as the rest of the world combined, claims that it will perish if it doesn't torture people or if it actually respects international law, then it can't expect the benefit of the doubt from anyone. Regardless of its sanctified national myth.

Thanks to the Bush administration's crusade against American values, America's integrity is probably at an all-time low. It's a sad fate for a country once seen as the moral leader of the free world by the peoples of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Local Greens to protest gargantuan tax giveaway

The US is a country where big business yammers on about 'the free market' and whines whenever government 'oppresses' them. But when government messes with the free market in their favor, big business is always appreciative of such corporate welfare.

A computer chip fabrication company called Advanced Micro Devices has promised to build a huge factory in Saratoga County's Luther Forest Technology Campus, about half an hour north of Albany, NY.

The company claims that plant would not have been built without a gargantuan tax giveaway. The state promised AMD a $1.2 billion incentive package that includes capital grants, tax breaks and infrastructure improvements. The building would cost only $600 million.

By comparison, $1.2 billion is more than the gross domestic product of 29 independent countries.

The factory will allegedly employ 1200 people.

That's $1 million per job.

$1 million in subsidies paid by the ordinary taxpayer.

I've never been a fan of tax breaks for businesses. I can tolerate such programs for small businesses, because mom and pop stores aren't going to up and move after a few years because another state offered them a sweeter deal.

But big corporations location shop all the time. They play one locality/state against another to extort the best deal.

The purported justification of these tax breaks is that they allow for job creation... even when it's merely job relocation.

Even if the new jobs in Luther Forest represent entirely new money, a questionable premise, how long is it going to take to recoup $1 million per job?

For the sake of argument, let's say the jobs offer a generous average annual salary of $50,000. And let's say all of the money is spent locally. Even under these two conditions, it's going to take 20 years before the local and state governments (taxpayers) break even.

Of course, this doesn't factor inflation, which will raise salaries. But it also doesn't factor that much of the money will be leaving the region in federal taxes. And it doesn't factor in further costs to maintain infrastructure for AMD's, such as roads, water and electricity.

It's going to take an entire generation for the state and local taxpayer to break even.

And that's assuming AMD actually sticks around. That it'll do so without cutting jobs. And that chips will still be a relevant technology in 20 years. None of these is a given.

This is also not factoring the future costs based on AMD's poor environmental record.

The Tri-County (Warren, Washington, Saratoga) Greens point out that 'AMD has had several superfund sites.' Such as in Santa Clara County in California. The different sites, in fact.

The corporation's filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission has a long section on its legal proceedings. It has a good summary of how it screwed up Santa Clara County's environment and the incredibly intrusive steps it had to take as a result.

New York state is not the only government AMD is leeching off. It recently sucked 262 million Euros (US$359 million) from the teat of the German taxpayer.

The same economic development myth was used.

'I am pleased to approve aid for an important investment project in a high-tech sector which will contribute to regional development and job creation in a disadvantaged region of Germany,' competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement.

But as North Country Public Radio has reported in the last few days, the job creation myth is often just that.

Some years ago, New York state created the Empire Zone program, which is designed to give tax breaks to companies who create jobs in disadvantaged areas. Or rather, promise to create jobs. There's been little accountability until very recently, when a newspaper investigation has shamed officials into action.

The program's cost has exploded from $30 million to around $550 million in only seven years. But of thousands of programs who signed up for the job creating Empire Zone, as many as 3000 may have failed to meet their goals for... creating jobs, according to Gov. Eliot Spitzer's office.

The Syracuse Post-Standard has done a long series of good articles detailing abuse and inefficiency in Empire Zone tax giveaways.

Maybe if the state closed all these corporate loopholes and stopped all the giveaways, it would have enough money to lower tax rates for EVERYONE. Isn't this a far more sensible economic development program than throwing money with no strings attached toward big companies that don't need it?

$550 million was judged by the legislature as sufficient economic development seed money for the state (and bloated and corrupt at that amount). How could taxpayers possibly benefit from a giveaway to a single environmentally dubious corporation in a single town that's more than twice as generous as a program for the entire rest of the state combined?

Note: The Tri-County Greens are organizing a protest against an AMD summit hosted by local Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand. Opponents of this environmentally destructive corporate welfare scheme will be congregating outside the Gideon Putnam hotel in Saratoga Springs at noon on August 14. Contact me at popeyeckn @ if you need more info and I'll either answer you or pass it along to the organizers.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bush threatens Iraqi leader, grovels to UN

Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki caused waves recently when he took an opportunity to praise Iran. He said discussions with Iran's loudmouth president had been positive and that that, "Even in security issues there is no barrier in the way of co-operation" between the two countries.

This politically incorrect comment infuriated Iraq's American overlords. President Bush threatened that if the Iraqi prime minister dared disagree with his declaration of Iran's inherent Evilness, then the US leader would be forced to have a 'heart to heart' talk with him. If the prospect of having to listen to president's voice for an hour doesn't bring Maliki into obedience, then nothing will.

The US president might finally be realizing how disastrous the situation in Iraq is. Despite being right about Saddam's mythical weapons of mass destruction, the UN went into Iraq to help rebuild the country following the US aggression. This decision, by then secretary-general Kofi Annan (one of the few truly great world figures of our time), was extremely controversial among UN staff but gained him no favor with a US administration determined to whip up anti-UN fervor. It's a sad example of doing the right thing and pissing everyone off anyway. The UN withdrew its staff from Iraq's Eden when a car bomb killed 22 staff members at its Baghdad headquarters in 2003.

But after spending most of the last five years attacking and undermining the international body at every turn (and then blaming it for everything else), Bush is now on his hands and knees grovelling to the United Nations to return to the country. Washington got the Security Council to approve an expanded UN presence in the country.

The UN actually knows something about the difficult and complicated task of nation building, having successfully contributed to such efforts in places like Mozambique. This is a lot harder than the task of nation destroying, so perfected by the Bush administration. The neo-cons have struggled with nation building because it's not something that can be achieved with belligerent rhetoric, religious fervor and dropping random bombs.

In crawling back to the only body (however flawed) with any real international legitimacy, perhaps the White House has finally realized how discredited America is in Iraq, how that discredit is paralyzing progress and that only the UN has even a marginal hope of helping to clean up the gargantuan mess it created.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Fight night in Canada

Canada's CBC ran a fascinating piece about the country's national sport: ice hockey. Or more specifically about fighting in hockey, which might be its real national sport.

A former NHL 'enforcer' (goon) recently started a fighting academy. But it's not designed for young pros cutting their teeth in the minors or hot prospects in major juniors, but on kids aged 12-18.

The goon claimed that he wasn't actually teaching kids how to fight, but rather, "We're teaching kids how to protect themselves so they don't get hurt on the ice."

A spokesman for Hockey Canada, the sport's national governing body, pointed out that fighting is against youth hockey regulations, "especially for 12-year-olds."

This has inspired me to consider founding a school to teach young soccer players how to dive. I won't be teaching kids how to dive. I'll be teaching them how to protect themselves so they don't get injured while faking a injury!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The cult of heroism

Rosa Brooks in The Los Angeles Times has a good column on heroism. She argues that not only is the word so overused as to become devalued, but she also warns that it veers uncomfortably close to the language of fascism.

It's sure to piss some people off but is she really wrong when she writes: The empty rhetoric of heroism is everywhere these days. You know what I mean. Pat Tillman -- the former NFL star -- is "an American hero," apparently because he volunteered for duty along with several hundred thousand other people, then had the misfortune to be accidentally shot by his own side.

My grandfather was injured in Normandy during World War II and received two Purple Hearts. He was a hero to me because he was always there for me, not because he was unlucky enough to be shot. I respected him because of his conscious conduct over the almost two and a half decades that I knew him, not of an accidental misfortune of a single incident.

Brooks adds that while she respects the service of soldiers, it's a big mistake to mix up the idea of service -- or the idea of sacrifice and suffering -- with the idea of heroism.

Humanitarian aid workers, development workers and firefighters aren't part of the cult of 'heroism,' even though they make important contributions to humanity. Work that doesn't involve killing or destruction. And in those rare occasions when they are mentioned, it's a token gesture, thrown in there to appease the gods of political correctness. You don't see bumper stickers that read, "Support our firefighters." Aid workers don't get a mention every 5.1 seconds in a George W. Bush speech or place of pride at the Republican National Convention.

Why? Because this narrowly defined cult of 'heroism' is essential to maintaining support for American militarism. Every warrior is a hero. Every hero is a warrior. The only way to be publicly (and repeatedly) lauded as a hero is to wage war.

Where is the society that places at least as much value on those who build, heal and educate as those who kill, destroy and annihiliate? I'm not sure where such a society is, but sadly it's not here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Farm subsidies: the country's second biggest corporate welfare program

Late last month, the House of Representatives passed a big farm bill. Normally a bipartisan exercise in dolling out pork slop, this year's version is proving fairly controversial.

Farm subsidies are the biggest bone of contention in international trade talks. Developing countries ask why they are ordered by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization and western donor countries to have laissez-faire capitalism shoved down their throats while at the same time, North American and European governments lavish generous subsidies on their own powerful agricultural lobbies. Maybe the reason developing countries are skeptical of the free market is because they see that western countries don't seem to believe in them either.

But it's not as though the venerable family farmer, so lionized in American mythology, is benefitting from any of this. Oxfam points out that the 2007 Farm Bill is primarily designed to benefit big agrobusiness.

"Under the guise of saving the family farm, Democrats and Republicans have turned the farm safety net into a slop bucket for American corporate welfare," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.

“The House Farm Bill makes minimal progress for nutrition, conservation, and rural development programs but ignores the rare opportunity to finally overhaul US trade distorting subsidies that benefit large, corporate operations at the expense of family farmers and rural communities," he added.

One of the most egregious subsidies goes to the US cotton industry, which particularly hurts farmers in West Africa. Oxfam notes that 12,500 American cotton producers receive some $3 billion in subsidies. That means that the average cotton farmer receives around $240,000 in taxpayer handout. Yet the typical American is more outraged by a single mother with three kids receiving a tiny fraction of this in welfare benefits to feed her family.

This op-ed piece in The Christian Science Monitor calls for the elimination of farm subsidies. They help giant corporations, not small-time family farmers and result in higher taxes and prices for consumers.

The author notes that yes, some family farmers continue to struggle. But if subsidies were really designed to alleviate farmer poverty, then lawmakers could guarantee every full-time farmer an income of 185 percent of the federal poverty level ($38,203 for a family of four) for under $5 billion annually – one-fifth the current cost of farm subsidies.
Instead, federal farm policies specifically bypass family farmers. Subsidies are paid per acre, so the largest (and most profitable) agribusinesses automatically receive the biggest checks. Consequently, commercial farmers – who report an average annual income of $200,000 and a net worth of nearly $2 million – collect the majority of farm subsidies. Fortune 500 companies, celebrity "hobby farmers," and even some members of Congress collect millions of dollars under this program.

The author also re-states a claim made that farm subsidies contribute to serious health problems and rising healthcare costs by subsidizing corn and soy (from which sugars and fats are derived) rather than healthier fruits and vegetables.

Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand represents a major dairy producing area of New York, which actually does have some small farmers. She argues that the Farm Bill represented progress, particularly for those who support organic and local farming.

She points out that provisions in the bill would

-direct the USDA [US Department of Agriculture] to provide loans to businesses that promote buying and distributing within 400 miles of the farms where the product was produced. This provision will specifically help agricultural businesses in the Northeast because of the large markets in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Promoting local distribution also helps to keep local economies strong and prices low because consumers don’t have to pay the high cost of transporting products long distances.

-offer $50 million in grants and free technical assistance to farmers that want to transition from traditional farming to organic farming. Many of New York’s farmers are operating on the financial edge and can not afford the high investment that is required to transition to organic. This amendment addresses that need and will help keep many of our small farms in business. Further, the organic market has been growing exponentially recently – especially in New York City – and the Upstate economy can benefit immensely from this increased demand.

Organic farmers presently pay more for federal crop insurance, for no apparent reason. There is no statistical evidence that organic crops are any more prone to natural disasters than pesticide laced ones. NPR report notes that a provision in the farm bill would force the USDA to justify this higher rate or else stop charging it.

There is one proposal making the rounds that international charities have wanted for years. When there's a humanitarian emergency abroad, the US government typically ships surplus food from this country over to the affected area. This might seem logical on the surface but it creates many serious problems.

In many crisis locations, food is available locally or regionally, but not in the particular area where the emergency occurs. For example, there was recently a hunger emergency in eastern Kenya. There was sufficient food available in other parts of Kenya but poor infrastructure made distribution of the food difficult. And the government of Kenya didn't have the resources to buy or transport it.

Flooding the area with free food from abroad depresses prices for locally grown food. This causes further hardship for local farmers and thus deepens the cycle of poverty. It also takes several weeks or even months to get the food from the US to the affected areas.

"It does not make sense to the average American, to the average African -- probably to the average anyone -- that the best way to get food to someone who is hungry a continent away is to buy it in the U.S., process it in the U.S., ship it on a U.S. ship and hopefully a couple months later, it would actually arrive to where it's needed," notes Erin Tunney, from the non-governmental organization Bread for the World.

This delay has severe repercussions in emergency situations. Additionally, this hideously inefficient process creates unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, wastes energy and adds significantly to the cost of the assistance picked up by the US taxpayer.

Furthermore, this practice encourages agricultural overproduction in the US, thus lowering market prices and increasing the dependency on subsidies.

A new plan would set aside $25 million for a pilot program to test buying food in poor countries for both emergency and long-term aid.

In buying food locally, help would reach those who need it faster and thus save lives. It would be a boon to local agriculture and help farmers escape the cycle of poverty, thus reducing their own and their country's dependency on foreign aid. It would also discourage wasteful overproduction in US agriculture.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Beckham's comet threatens to flame out early

I promised myself I wasn't going to write a piece on the obnoxious Beckhamania, as I loathe all things overhyped. But it's so suffocating those of us who are already Major League Soccer (MLS) fans that I can't help but vent.

MLS is trying to expand its appeal in the country. 18 million Americans play soccer, 80 percent more than play baseball. Millions follow foreign soccer leagues from Mexico, England and Italy, but the majority of these do not follow MLS.

The American league's popularity is growing steadily. MLS is the 12th most well-attended first division in the world, in only its 12th year of existence. The league's average attendance of nearly 15,000 fans a game is not that far off the National Hockey League's (16,486) or the National Basketball Association's (17,757).

The league's popularity is growing but not fast enough for the league's increasingly ambitious investors. And the increasing popularity hasn't translated into significantly increased TV ratings for MLS games. Too many people in America are soccer fans but not MLS fans and the league wants to change that.

With much fanfare, English player David Beckham recently signed a 5 year, $250 million contract with MLS and Los Angeles Galaxy.

Beckham is no longer even one of the best 50 soccer players in the world, but he is probably one of the world's top five most recognizible athletes. He is a pop star in a city whose middle name is celebrity. Beckham's primary jobs are to sell jerseys, to put fannies in the seats of other MLS stadia and to get the league media exposure.

He's already succeeded on all three counts. Even non-soccer fans know generally that some big soccer player is coming to the US. Media attention has been through the roof.

Ticket sales have skyrocketed too. New England and Columbus have sold twice as many tickets for LA's visits as they normally do. New York's average attendance is about 11,500 but they've already sold 50,000 (and counting) for the Galaxy game.

There's only one problem: Beckham's injured. He hurt his ankle in early June with England. He was given a cortisone shot and played in his former club Real Madrid's last two league games, which made the injury even worse. He arrived about a month ago but has only played 12 minutes for the Galaxy in one friendly (exhibition game) and only participated in a single (photo op) training season.

Galaxy coach Frank Yallop is being sensible. He won't play Beckham until the player is fully fit, lest the prize investment be injured even more severely.

The whole situation has been a mess for MLS and Los Angeles, whose marketing strategies for the season were based around Beckhamania. The club changed its logos and colors the day Beckham was introduced. The Galaxy's schedule was backloaded by the league with away games to maximize Beckham's impact on attendance (LA already sells out most of its home games).

Toronto FC has already issued a statement warning fans that no refunds would be given if Beckham didn't play. New York has done the same.

You'd think this would be self-evident. Soccer players, even massively hyped ones, are human beings. This is a sport where starters may run 7 miles a game or more for 90 minutes (with only one short break); none of this run hard for 8 seconds and catch your breath for 45 seconds stuff for soccer players.

In such an environment, having healthy ankles isn't an afterthought. This isn't rec soccer where players get subbed off every 10 minutes. The ticket stub says FC Dallas vs Los Angeles Galaxy, not Carlos Ruiz vs David Beckham.

But there are some idiots out there who don't get it. After the recent Dallas-LA game, one soccer mom whined "My daughter has a broken ankle and she sat in the car and made it up here for the game."

Because she expected that a little girl sitting in a car for 220 miles was going to magically send good vibrations to cure Beckham's ankle?

"We weren't going to waste the tickets, but it was a big disappointment," said one man, of whom it would be deceitful to call a fan.

This was after a 6-5 LA victory which was arguably the most entertaining game ever played between two MLS teams and this guy's abiding memory of the game was disappointment about who didn't play. What could a player with one good ankle have possibly added to one of the most remarkable games ever played between two US clubs?

But that doesn't matter. To these people, soccer has nothing to do with it. They were drawn to the game based on celebrity, flash, glamour and glitz.

Given the irrationality of our culture, I'm surprised no one's filed a lawsuit... yet.

In a way, you can't blame them. The media hype would have you believe that Beckham is here to save soccer in America. The MLS would (rightly) have you believe that soccer in America doesn't need saving; Beckham's only trying to take it to the next level.

LA general manager Alexi Lalas said that Beckham could have a bigger legacy on American soccer than Pele did. Of course, that's not as an outrageous statement as it might seem.

The old North American Soccer League was in tatters only a few years after Pele retired. And the NASL was never really that healthy, outside a few extremely successful teams, when he was there. So while Pele's contribution while he played was huge, the legacy he left was fleeting. But the headlines are going to be "Lalas: Beckham can be bigger than Pele."

In that way, MLS is a victim of its own strategy. It invited huge media exposure. But it's media exposure the league can't control now. It can't shove the genie back into the bottle and say "Don't come back until Becks is healthy."

MLS and LA based its marketing strategy on Beckham. But now that Beckham's injured, as is always a possibility in sports, everyone's calling for patience.

Given the gargantuan hype he helped flame, Lalas sounds more than a bit disingenuous when he called for everyone to realize that when they buy a ticket to see the Galaxy play, they're buying it to see a team and not just one player.

In order to succeed, MLS must try to bring in real fans, not just the ADD types who drool over the celebrity culture. MLS can not pander to those who watch one of the most thrilling soccer games you can possibly imagine only to whine about the 'big disappointment' of someone not playing.

MLS should learn from the National Hockey League's experience. In the early and mid-90s, the NHL tried all kinds of lame gimmicks to bring in the [insert dramatic music] casual fan.

The league threw franchises left and right at places where most people's only experience of real ice was in their glass of soda. The NHL now has more teams in the Sun Belt than it does in Canada. Even Canadian icon Wayne Gretzky was sent to, you guessed it, Los Angeles.

Ask yourself: where is the NHL now? Here's an anecdote to explain why.

I'll never forget being in the Peace Corps and watching a tape someone had brought back of the 1996 NHL all-star game. The broadcaster (Fox) destroyed the telecast with all this amateurish graphics. There was a blue cloud that surrounded the puck. A red comet tail graphic was made every time the puck was shot. It was obnoxious.

The purpose of the graphics was to make the game 'more accessible' to the casual fan, who apparently found it difficult to follow a black puck against the backdrop of white ice.

There were eight of us watching the game: myself and three others were hockey fans, four were not. The four hockey fans thought the graphics were idiotic. The four non-fans thought the graphics were really omigawdsuperfantasticallyawesome.

Ten minutes into the game, the four hockey fans were still there, bitching about not being able to follow the puck. All four of the non-fans, so enamored with the hip graphics, had left the room.

Ten years later, the NHL remains mostly ignored in the US, outside the northeast and a few other cities.

Beckham is the MLS' version of the comet tail graphic designed to bring in the [insert dramatic music] casual fan. But once the newness factor wears off, will the comet flame out? Once these folks gotten their dose of Beckham's celebrity and another takes his place, will these paparazzi followers still be buying MLS tickets? And more importantly, in the meantime, will the MLS have turned off the hard core soccer fans who are far more important to the league's long term success?

Update: this blog in the notoriously anti-US soccer Guardian opines that some of the passion of soccer around the world is starting to seep into MLS. This shouldn't degenerate into the hooliganism, racism and general irrationality that prevails in some places, but it's certainly a welcome antidote to the stale, homogeneized experiences offered by most US (professional) sports venues.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A supposed ex-sports' fan speaks

Last week was not a good one in sports. A NFL football quarterback was indicted on charges related to dog fighting. Cycling's Tour de France was plagued by doping allegations. So was Major League Baseball's Barry Bonds as he sought to break the sport's most hallowed record. A National Basketball Association was under investigation for betting on games he was officiating in.

Let's get our kids back on the couch. Let's get them reading about the war in Iraq, famine in Africa and global warming that will probably kill us all at some point. That's the real world.

Contrary to what Tingley might think, people from Iraq, Africa and worlds far more real than he or I live in DO care about sports. It's something that brings pleasure and joy to lives that otherwise have a lot of misery.

All this led Post-Star managing editor Ken Tingley to conclude that there is no redeeming value to professional sports anymore.

When Tingley was the sports' editor of the daily, I always appreciated the many columns he wrote emphasizing the importance of sportsmanship and integrity in sports.

I understand his disillusionment but isn't this a bit melodramatic?

The front page of the newspaper is lightweight reading compared to the sports pages.

Slaughter in Iraq, genocide in Darfur, refugee crises in Jordan and Chad and chaos in Afghanistan are 'lightweight' compared to athletes allegedly choosing to stick needles in their arms?

He is right when writes: We are a culture that demands our athletes be superhuman. They need to perform at levels that are not better than anything we have ever seen, but at a level that is greater than Superman.

But the solution isn't to give up on sports altogether. It's to put it in the proper perspective. Too many kids already spend enough time in front of their computer or game console. We don't need to discourage kids from having role models that might encourage them to be physically active.

Many Americans are disillusioned with our political leaders. According to Tingley's understandable but misguided logic, the solution would be to stop being civicly involved altogether. Sadly, many Americans have followed this path.

Instead, we should all condemn the cheaters. And, just as importantly, praise those athletes like Cal Ripken Jr and Tony Gwynn who are not only great at what they do but whose class and integrity are beyond reproach.

Instead of falling into an easy but corrosive cynicism, why not highlight the many athletes who selflessly donate their time to various charitable causes?

This would emphasize to kids that you can be good at what you do AND be a good person at the same time. That nice guys don't always finish last.

The fact that Tingley hasn't axed The Post-Star's sports' section tells me that he sees some redeeming value there.

While there are lots of good people in sports, it's the scumbags that get the headlines. But doesn't that say more about us than them?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Name the leftist

The far right would have you believe that if only traitorous liberals and progressives would stop rooting for us the enemy in Iraq, then everything in Mesopotamia would be hunky dory! They are so concerned about peddling their anti-Bush agenda that they can't see how much progress is being made in the place.

So which pro-treason, anti-GOP, Bush-hating hippie said the following:

-The war on terror is "phony war"

-"None of you should believe we are winning this war. There is no evidence that we are winning this war."

-"If you can't look failure in the face, how do you improve it?"

This was said by the noted radical leftist Newt Gingrich.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Main exporters of political Islam to receive huge arms' shipment from Bush administration

Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive and regressive societies in the world. Anyone daring enough to publicly advocate reform is thrown in jail indefinitely and without charge in Guantanamo-in-the-desert. Saudi Arabia is the spiritual home of radical strand of Islam championed by al-Qaeda. The Saudi regime is actively trying to poison sub-Saharan Africa by spreading its regressive interpretation of Islam into a region which has always been home to a very moderate form of the faith.

So one would think that those in Washington supposedly worried about the spread of radical Islam would deal with the Kingdom very carefully. Instead, the Bush administration, always in hoc to the military-industrial complex, is planning a massive, multibillion dollar arms deal to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

The deal would send advanced weaponry, missile guidance systems, upgraded fighter jets and naval ships to the Kingdom.

Bear in mind that the Saudi army had negligible involvement in the first Gulf War. Its only other external military action involved the 1948 and 1973 wars against Israel. This is a regime the Bush people want to send tons of arms to.

The apparent purpose of the deal is to counter increasing Iranian influence in the region. The neo-cons and other militarists, not the least chastened by the disaster in Iraq they got us into, is now hell bent on provoking war with Iran.

But perhaps the real objective of the arms' deal is to prop up the corrupt, creaking Saudi royal family. Given the Kingdom's role in exporting political Islam, it's hard to say that Iran is clearly a greater threat. It's harder to call the Saudi regime an ally, let alone one that should be showered with billions of dollars of advanced weaponry.

That the US government holds a human rights' double standard vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia and other countries as compared to Iran is self-evident. But it's not exactly new.

During the Cold War, the War on Terror's spiritual ancestor, the leader of the Shining City on a Hill regularly propped up repressive, thieiving, torturous, murderous and even genocidal regimes so long as they called themselves anti-communist.

All you needed to be was anti-communist and voilà: you were a 'beacon of freedom and liberty' (said breathlessly). Genocides? Mass repression? Torture? Death squads slaughtering innocent civilians? No big deal. Just say you were acting on behalf of 'freedom and liberty' (said breathlessly) and you got a free pass for mass carnage.

The 'logic' of the day dictated that thousands of people slaughtered by communists was morally reprehensible but an identical number slaughtered by anti-communists was a great blow struck on behalf of the Free World.

Today, nothing has changed. Just the devil of the month. Instead of supporting despots who call themselves anti-communist, the US government now supports despots who call themselves anti-Islamist. But it makes you wonder to what degree the Saudi regime is really anti-Islamist.

The Saudi regime exports radical Islam. It's accused of funding Islamist organizations like Hamas and the Taliban.

The Bush administration is going to reward them with a huge weapons shipment.

This begs two questions:

1) What genius thought this up this mind-numbing idea?

2) How much do you want to bet that said genius will given the responsibility of planning the miltiary action against Iran?