Thursday, May 31, 2007

Nothing is permanent

When interim/caretaker managers/coaches of sports teams are given the full-time job, it is often said they are the new 'permanent' boss. This cracks me up because there is nothing permanent in life, let alone in sports. For example, here are two news items I noticed recently.

May 23, 2007: Nigel Worthington has ruled himself out of the running to become the Northern Ireland (soccer) manager.

May 31, 2007: Nigel Worthington will be unveiled as the new Northern Ireland manager.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The economic impact of climate change

I don't think those who deny man's influence on climate change should be silenced, but a small minority shouldn't paralyze society from what needs to be done... the 'paralysis by analysis' phenomenon.

The group of people who deny the impact of climate change is very diverse. Some deny its very existence. Others say it's natural and that man has no effect in causing (and thus slowing) it. Some claim that the rage in the 1970s was scaremongering over global cooling. Of course, if we can go from global cooling to global warming in only a generation, then isn't this good evidence that something wacky is going on? After all, scientists call the phenomenon climate change, not global whatever.

Some people argue that to do anything about climate change will destroy the economy. New York Times' columnist Thomas Friedman and others argue the opposite. The United States has always been a technological and innovative leader. Embracing, nay pushing, the green agenda would be a great boon to American business who are well-positioned to take advantage of this. All it needs are the right incentives and this is where public policy comes in. It's a great example of where the right thing to do and the profitable thing to do can intersect if given a little nudge.

In fact, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that NOT taking action to slow down climate change will have a serious economic impact. Particularly here in the northeast, where tourism, agriculture and other commerce related to stable weather patterns are a key parts of the region's economy.

Just recently, I've seen a number of pieces in the regional media on this topic. Such as...

-North Country Public Radio (NCPR) did several pieces on the impact of climate change including one on how it risks affecting the very character of the northeast

-Another on how climate change is affect the supply of fresh water

-And a third on its impact on agriculture

-The Boston Globe, ABC News and The Christian Science Monitor all did pieces on how climate change was ruining maple production, one of key money earners in Vermont and northern New York.

-There were not one but but two articles in The Adirondack Daily Enterprise on how climate change is seriously affecting the ski industry. The Enterprise is based in Saranac Lake, in the heart of New York's ski country. Outdoor tourism is arguably the single most important part of the economy of New York's North Country.

-The same paper also pointed out the negative impact on the logging industry, still a key player in some parts of the Adirondacks.

So the next time someone says we "can't afford" to do anything about climate change, tell them we can't afford not to.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Anti-war in theory vs anti-war in practice

Last year, Kirsten Gillibrand won election to Congress. She became only the second Democrat in more than a century to be elected to the House. I voted for her because there were only two candidates on the ballot and she was certainly less bad than the incumbent Republican. But it was a vote cast with little enthusiasm. There was little to suggest that she'd deviate much from the corporate Democrat line. I was happy she won less for its own sake than for the principle that a non-Republican can actually win around here.

Still, I expected little of her on most things, especially on the issue that most animated the Democrats that elected her: Iraq.

Rep. Gillibrand recently voted to continue funding the aggression against Iraq. Adirondack Musing blog, a strong supporter of Gillibrand, expressed disappointment in the Congresswoman.

He wrote: Rep. Gillibrand...how about fighting to end the Iraq War rather than fighting to win your next election?

I wasn't really disappointed because I completely expected her to vote this way. It is certainly to bad that she was more interested in keeping her job than in doing her job. But it's not surprising. It's consistent with the equivocation on Iraq that she showed throughout her campaign.

But I think it's an equivocation most Democrats pretended not to see in their desperate attempt to get one of their own elected. It's exactly the same thing so many Democrats did with regard to John Kerry in 2004.

I suppose it's yet another example of why we need true multipartyism in this country. Many elected Democrats are anti-war in theory. They are anti-war when it's politically expedient, when they are before certain crowds. We need leaders who are anti-war in practice.

Public service announcement

I learned that a young friend of a friend recently committed suicide after being kicked out the house for being a lesbian by her mom. Though I didn't know the girl, this shook me. In my life, I've had two friends attempt suicide, though fortunately neither succeeded.

It should go without saying that such the mother's action is reprehensible. I can't see how any parent with a microgram of decency would do something like that. People who aren't willing to accept their children for who they are really shouldn't have children in the first place.

Sadly, too many gay teens crumble under the weight of homophobia by parents, relatives, "friends," other students and society in general. It's one of the few forms of hateful bigotry that is still socially acceptable to some extent. Because of this, gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens.

If you are a teen (or know one) who has thought of ending your life, please get help. Click here or here to find out how.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Nader to students: YOU are the Deciders

You can tell a lot about the priorities of a newspaper by its editorial decisions. Decisions that include not only what stories to run, but where they are run.

For example, a local daily decided that a rare visit by one of the 100 most influential Americans in history merited a less prominent space than a visit by Thomas the Tank Engine.

But at least The Post-Star actually did a story on the recent visit of Ralph Nader as well as some pre-visit coverage.

The fact of the coverage is shocking... even more so that the reporting was actually decent and showed some depth. There was the obligatory question about the 2000 election but there were also some intelligent questions on how the Democrats harassed him trying to get him off the ballot in 2004 in as many states as possible (the same Dems who'd sniveled about disenfranchisement ever since 2000).

The post-visit article focused on his speech to the local high school, where he encouraged students to get involved and make themselves relevant as citizens.

One of the interesting parts of the article was a section entitled: THE STUDENT'S OPINION [sic].

Hopefully the students in question are more familiar with the fundamental rules of grammar as pertaining to apostrophes than The Post-Star's professional reporter and copy editors. But the article was decent so I suppose I should let that go.

In any case, one student implied Nader was a communist, but that he was okay anyway. I could only chuckle at that.

But high school junior Ben Thompson said, "This is the first politician I've ever agreed with."

And with that, the 11th grader demonstrates that he has a better understanding of basic civics that most political scientists and other political 'experts' in this country.

Ralph Nader ran for president not to be a 'vote stealer,' as one student put it to me. This description is not only pompous, but flat out wrong. Even a basic understanding of the English language will lead one to the conclusion that you can't steal something from someone if they don't own it in the first place. No one and no party owns my votes. Nader didn't steal my votes or anyone else's. He earned them.

Nader ran for president for the only reason anyone should run for president: he thought he could do a better job than any of the other candidates. You may not agree with his ideas, but he ran for the right reasons. He ran for president to fill a void in ideas that was not addressed by any of the other candidates. And for this he is condemned for giving people another choice... most vigorously by the so-called freedom of choice crowd.

If it were up to the political elite, Ben Thompson and other Americans would be forced to vote for someone they don't agree with but who was decreed 'viable'? Shouldn't it be up to the voters to decide who's viable rather than the self-appointed gurus of 'conventional wisdom'?

Hopefully Ben Thompson is not the only student who figured that out.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The welcome return of 'Biased Commentary'

Local political activist Matt Funiciello is back in the blogosphere. The head honcho of Rock Hill Bakehouse and Cafe is a local political activist and concocter of the only oatmeal raisin cookies I've ever had that are better than my own. His blog is just as delicious. Ok, so it's a real stretch for a metaphor but it's definitely something to bookmark if you want a substantive read. His blog can be found at: mattsbiasedcommentary.blogspot.com.

Ralph Nader in GF today

Apologies for the late reminder but it's been a busy week.

Ralph Nader will be in Glens Falls today (May 25) for a pair of events. He will be at Aimie's Dinner and a Movie at 1:00 PM for the showing of an excellent documentary about him entitled An Unreasonable Man. Contact Matt Funiciello for more information.

At 3:30, he will be at Red Fox Books to sign copies of his book The Seventeen Traditions.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Palestine 'worse than apartheid': Jewish ANC cabinet minister

Nobel Peace Laureate Jimmy Carter, admittedly not the best leader in this nation's history but arguably it's best ex-president, is one of the world's few statesmen nowadays. He took a lot of flack for his recent book entitled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The politically correct position in this country is that America and Americans must give Israel a blank check at all times. Israel must be treated and defended as though it were the 51st state. Anyone who dares criticize any action Israel takes is accused of wanting (or being accomplices to) Israel's destruction.

Any serious person who looks at the daily life of the Palestinians in the occupied territories will view the system as inhumane. The despair of life there has only made terrorism flourish. You'll note that Palestinian terrorism* against Israeli civilians didn't start in earnest immediately after the Israeli conquest of 1967 but only after decades of despair and hopelessness made Palestinians feel like they had no other option.

(*-Of course, the Palestinians would resort that they are regularly subject to the terror of Israeli air strikes, border closures and other arbitrary measures)

President Carter was attacked because he dared compare the treatment of Palestinians in the Israeli occupied territories with the racist apartheid system of the white South African government. I commend him for this because he tries to see and treat people on both sides of this divided as human beings with dignity.

But this is unacceptable in the United States. Carter was smeared as a loon, a nut, a terrorist sympathizer and, of course, a Bush hater. Basically, the argument implied that he was not only insulting people's intelligence by equating the Israeli occupation with apartheid, but that no one who fought against apartheid could fail to be offended by Carter's supposedly ludicrous comparison.

So I was interested to read this op-ed column in The Daily Mail and Guardian, a Johannesburg newspaper. The South African minister of intelligence Ronnie Kasrils did not say that what was happening in the occupied territories was tantamount to apartheid. This one-time anti-apartheid activist said that the situation in the territories was "worse than apartheid."

He described in some detail his trip to the territories. His observations make clear that the supposed 'security barrier' is nothing more than a wall designed to facilitate life for the often-fanatical Israeli 'settlers.' Minister Kasrils remarked: Like the Gaza Strip, the West Bank is effectively a hermetically sealed prison. It is shocking to discover that certain roads are barred to Palestinians and reserved for Jewish settlers. I try in vain to recall anything quite as obscene in apartheid South Africa.

If a former anti-apartheid activist makes such a comparison, especially one whose grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Latvia and Lithuania who fled from the Czarist pogroms at the end of the 19th century, maybe he should be taken seriously. If South African blacks can be treated like human beings without them slaughtering their former masters (despite hysterical fears to the contrary), maybe it's time Palestinians are afforded the same fundamental human right.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Who's the nutcase?

Republican Congressman Ron Paul has been a lot of hot water lately. In a recent GOP presidential debate, Paul had the audacity to state that America's aggressive foreign policy over the last half century played a role in stirring up the hatred that inspired the 9/11 terrorists.

The official line is that the United States was a virgin victim; that terrorists threw darts at a board and randomly decided to direct their hatred at America for that reason.

Rep. Paul criticized this official line. His comments were based on the premise that actions have consequences.

My mom and dad taught me this when I was a kid. This doesn't seem exceedingly controversial.

But in post 9/11 America, it is controversial.

The tragic part is that innocent American civilians had to die because of the imperial foreign policy of their governments over the decades. But when Paul implied that the 'they hate because we're free' line is a self-delusional myth, it's nothing more than common sense. When he suggests that the 9/11 attack didn't come out of nowhere, it's common sense.

Paul simply pointed out the fact of human nature that if you hit someone, eventually they are going to hit back.

Blind US support for the Shah of Iran led to the Islamic Revolution. Blind US support for the Batista dictatorship led to Castro. Blind US support for the Venezulean oligarchy led to Chavez.

The US is not the first country's whose imperial policy is based on the self-interested rationalization of denying human nature. Most imperial policies throughout history have been based on the same premise. The US in Vietnam. The French in Algeria. The Brits in what became Israel. The Israelis in what will become Palestine.

The exact exchange during the debate was as follows:

MR. GOLER (moderator): Congressman, you don't think that changed with the 9/11 attacks, sir?

REP. (Ron) PAUL: What changed?

MR. GOLER: The non-interventionist policies.

REP. PAUL: No. Non-intervention was a major contributing factor. Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there; we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East -- I think Reagan was right.

We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. So right now we're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting. We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us. (Applause.)

MR. GOLER: Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?

REP. PAUL: I'm suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted that we're over there because Osama bin Laden has said, "I am glad you're over on our sand because we can target you so much easier." They have already now since that time -- (bell rings) -- have killed 3,400 of our men, and I don't think it was necessary.

[Giuliani jumps in]

MR. RUDY GIULIANI: Wendell, may I comment on that? That's really an extraordinary statement. That's an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th. (Applause, cheers.) And I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that. (Applause.)

MR. GOLER: Congressman?

REP. PAUL: I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem.

They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and we're free. They come and they attack us because we're over there. I mean, what would we think if we were -- if other foreign countries were doing that to us? [END]


Actions have consequences. You stick your nose where it doesn't belong and you risk getting slapped. Or worse.

I was taught this when i was in elementary school. But apparently, most Republican presidential candidates were not taught this.

Ironic for a group that bills itself the party of personal responsibility.

I've mentioned Rudy Giuliani's shameless fearmongering before but his gall here is breathtaking. Not once did Paul say that we invited 9/11 by attacking Iraq. This is impossible since Paul knows that 9/11 occured BEFORE Iraq.

Paul said that American foreign policy created the hatred that led to 9/11 and that the subsequent Iraq war is only furthering adding to that hatred.

Whether you agree or disagree with the opinion, this is what he actually said. Giuliani deceitfully twisted his words into something else.

I don't think Rudy was a terrible mayor of New York. Though there were some things that were appalling, such as police brutality, I think he did a fairly decent job of running a tough city to govern. I will give him his due as mayor. But I've never trusted him. And this is a great example why.

Giuliani claims that Paul is blaming the Iraq war for 9/11. This is not merely deceit. It's a bald-faced lie. Paul did not say that. He did not imply that. The record is there.

But it's a bald-faced lie that is consistent with the shameless, populist fearmongering Rudy's campaign has regularly employed. It's consistent with the shameless, populist fearmongering so many Bush sympathizers have regularly employed in the last several years.

Rudy's slime is based on the premise of people not paying attention to the details. Details like, oh I don't know, what Paul actually said. Details like Paul couldn't have said the Iraq war caused 9/11 because it happened after.

Rudy is counting on people hearing the words 9/11 and then shutting off their brains. The sad part is that it's a good gamble on his part. The sad part is that it may work. It may work in the future because it has worked in the past.

Giuliani is doing this because he is to the left of the party on most social issues. So he's compensating for that by being to the right of the president on so-called national security. I don't see how any can think that Rudy's ideas would make this nation more secure. But it's a gamble he has to take if he wants the nomination that he's proven he doesn't deserve.

Republicans reacted with fury to Paul's comments. The Michigan GOP chief Saul Anzius even wants to ban Paul from future Republican debates.

This is the party that lectures us on freedom and liberty (said breathlessly).

This is the party that lectures Iraqis on democracy and tolerance of difference.

Rather than letting rank and file Republicans pass judgement on the Congressman as in a normal democracy, Anzius and many other Republicans want to censor Rep. Paul. Rather than ignoring him or dismissing him as a nutjob, like a smart politician might do, Anzius wants to make Paul into a free speech martyr. I'm sure Paul's campaign is happy for the free attention.

In pandering to the religious right, former Massachussetts governor Mitt Romney said, "In France, for instance, I'm told that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms where either party may move on when their term is up. How shallow and how different from the Europe of the past."

Of course, this is patently false. But why should Giuliani be the only person who can refuse to let truth interfere with populist cheap shots.

It appears that Romney took his comment from the plot of a 2003 French romantic comedy.

So among the choices available to Republican voters, assuming Anzius doesn't intervene further, are:

a) a guy who takes his view of reality from the movies,
b) a guy who can't pay attention long enough to correctly quote his opponent
c) a guy (Sen. John McCain) who thinks the nightmare in Iraq is going swimmingly
d) a guy who says what that everyone should've learned in elementary school (actions have consequences)

According to conventional 'wisdom,' a, b and c are the front runners most likely to win the nomination while d is a whackjob.

I have a headache.

Friday, May 18, 2007

'Boos' to The Post-Star

Every Mondays, the Glens Falls daily Post-Star gives 'boos and bravos' to local newsmakers. I know self-appointed watchdogs usually don't like being watched themselves but I'm going to insist on giving the paper a 'boo.'

The daily revamped their website a few months ago. I actually like the new site. Granted, the quality of reporting hasn't changed so it's a bit like putting old wine in a new bottle. But some of the bells and whistles of the new site are worth checking out. One of the best things about the new site is that listeners can leave comments.

But recently, the paper stopped allowing comments on letters to the editor.

According to a note now appearing on the site:

The Post-Star has decided to remove all commenting on letters to the editor at this time. Our letter writers are held to a standard that requires them to sign their letters. The commenting feature online does not require the respondent to be identified. We don’t feel that is fair. If anyone would like to respond to a letter, they must be held to the same standard as the letter writer and be identified. They can do this by writing their own letter to the editor through the Web site or responding directly to the editor.

Under other circumstances, I might have sympathy with this argument. I regularly submit signed letters to the editor. I spent four years as an opinion columnist and three as opinion editor at my college newspaper. We didn't allow anonymous letters to the editor and, as someone who signed everything he published and often took flack for it, I agreed with this policy.

But the specifics of The Post-Star's situation makes this new policy a bit hypocritical.

For one thing, comments must be approved by a Post-Star staff member before publication. Any online reader comments that are libelous or defamatory can easily be rejected by the paper without ever appearing on the site. So can comments that comprise 'racial, religious or personal attacks, slander, profanity, e-mail addresses, mailing addresses, phone numbers or Web site addresses that are for personal or promotional gain.'

Second, I'd be happy to 'be held to the same standard as the letter writer and be identified' except that published letters to the editor can only be posted once a month, where comments can be made on any article. I thought the purpose of the comments' feature was to facilitate dialogue. A mere 300 words once a month doesn't make for productive dialogue.

Third, the paper regularly publishes in its printed pages anonymous cheap shots by staff members under the guise of something called Don Coyote. This invention even had a blog of cheap shots for a short while before dying a deserved death due to disinterest. I don't always agree with everything Ken Tingley writes, but at least he has the guts to sign his name to his comments, as to other Post-Star columnists. Why do different standards apply to 'Don Coyote'? Why is it permissible for employees of the paper to make snide, anonymous cheap shots but not for readers?

Finally, the daily already publishes anonymous reader comments in its printed pages. I believe it's called 'It's Debatable' and readers are allowed to comment up to 150 words on a topic of the paper's choice. I'm not keen on this feature precisely because of its anonymity and I've refused to participate in it. These anonymous commenters aren't held to the same standard as regular letter writers, yet the paper actively promotes this feature.

Since letters to the editor are usually focused on local topics, the comments' feature had been the only real generalized (ideologically diverse) discussion forum dedicated to issues of regional concern. Their closure is an unfortunate blow to local dialogue.

Correction: An earlier version of this incorrectly identified the name of the Post-Star's anonymous reader comment feature. It is called 'It's Debatable.'

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Top Bush officials manipulate semi-conscious colleague on sickbed

During the recent controversy over reactions to the death of "Reverend" Jerry Falwell, another Bush administration scandal may have been overlooked. Recent testimony by then-attorney general John Ashcroft's number two demonstrated yet again the complete lack of shame, ethics and common decency on the part of this administration.

Former deputy attorney general James Comey, appointed by President Bush, told Congress of actions by Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzalez (then White House chief of staff and counsel, respectively). Actions that are pathetic even by this administration's virtually non-existent standards of integrity.

This issue in question was certain provisions of the National Security Agency's domestic spying program and attempts to reauthorize it. Justice Department lawyers had found it illegal unless changes were made. In a rare nod to the Constitution, Ashcroft himself sided with the lawyers' interpretation.

But then, Ashcroft was suddenly hospitalized and Comey became acting attorney general. According to testimony, Card and Gonzalez pushed Comey to overrule Ashcroft's decision. Comey refused. So then, the top White House officials went to the hospital to try to manipulate the ailing Ashcroft, who was drifting in and out of consciousness.

The situation was so serious that Comey threatened to quit. Though he stayed on, he is reported to have influenced the course of events that lead Bush to adopt the necessary changes to give the program a masquerade of legality.

Gonzalez, who is now attorney general and thus the nation's top law enforcement (cough cough) officer, might be in even more hot water as a result.

On Wednesday, in a letter to Gonzales signed by three other Democratic senators, [NY Sen. Charles] Schumer reminded Gonzales that he had testified last year that "there has not been any serious disagreement" about the National Security Agency program and asked about the apparent contradiction. On Wednesday, Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, joined the calls by lawmakers for Gonzales to quit.

In October 2001, President Bush said the following:

"Let me say a few words about important values we must demonstrate while all of us serve in government. First, we must always maintain the highest ethical standards. We must always ask ourself not only what is legal, but what is right. There is no goal of government worth accomplishing if it cannot be accomplished with integrity."

Since Bush's people clearly can not follow his own professed expectations, it's long past time he and they all resigned.

Newly arranged deckchairs on the Titanic

I see President Bush has named a 'war czar' by the name of Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute. This, after nearly half a dozen retired four star generals refused the poisoned chalice.

Why do we need a 'war czar'? If Lute actually has a clue, unlike the people around the president, why doesn't Bush just replace them with him?

Shouldn't the secretary of war, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, the Iraq commander, the Afghanistan commander or, heaven forbid, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces actually be the 'war czar'?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pity the continent

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, North Korea and Iran.

When they read news stories about Africa (particularly the continent's misleaders), many Americans throw their hands up in despair and exclaim, "A pox on all their houses." Many wonder why the US should continue to send huge sums of money to countries that are only going to spit on them in return.

As a resolute Africaphile, I'm not prone to this kind of cynicism. And I'm informed enough to realize that foreign aid by governments is not some humane charity but a way of advancing the donor country's perceived interests. But every once in a while, it's easy to understand such isolationist rage.

The Christian Science Monitor had revealing piece on why most African leaders have bent over backwards to avoid criticizing Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.

Many African heads of state are also dictators or at least have autocratic tendencies. So it's no shock when birds of a feather flock together.

But the more disturbing fact is that some of Mugabe's most ardent apologists are the democratically-elected presidents. The highly educated ones. The former 'freedom fighters.' The supposed beacons of the continent. The ones who should know better.

Mugabe has destroyed Zimbabwe by his own hand. It's not surprising that he should blame everyone but himself. It's not surprising that he blames Tony Blair, George W. Bush and John Howard for everything INCLUDING the bad weather. But it's shameful that the 'best and the brightest' of African leaders are going along with the thug's smokescreen.

As The Monitor article pointed out:

At a March 28 conference of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, South African President Thabo Mbeki called for African unity above all.

"The fight against Zimbabwe is a fight against us all. Today it is Zimbabwe; tomorrow it will be South Africa, it will be Mozambique, it will be Angola, it will be any other African country. And any government that is perceived to be strong and to be resistant to imperialists would be made a target and would be undermined. So let us not allow any point of weakness in the solidarity of SADC, because that weakness will also be transferred to the rest of Africa."

At the end of the conference, African leaders threw their unanimous support behind Zimbabwe's Mugabe and called on Mr. Mbeki (not the West) to mediate between Mugabe and the political opposition. Leaders who had been critical of Mugabe before the conference, including Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, fell silent.


This is something I would expect from Bob himself. But coming from an educated, widely-respected man like Thabo Mbeki, it leaves one speechless. Especially from someone like Mbeki who famously promised an African renaissance. If Mbeki and Mugabe embody that African renaissance, then I despair for the continent.

Zimbabwe is a place with 1700 percent yearly inflation. A place where not only the political opponents and journalists brutalized, but so are lawyers. Even bishops aren't safe.

The unpleasant fact is that a good chunk of the African 'elite' is more interested being anti-western than being pro-African. It's a sad example of egoism getting the better of both rationalism and humanity.

When Mugabe's regime razed townships in Harare creating at least 200,000 homeless, it wasn't Bush and Blair who suffered.

When Mugabe's regime seized control of international food aid for the purpose of punishing opponents, it wasn't Bush and Blair who suffered.

When Mugabe's insecurity forces torture whoever they feel like, it's not Bush and Blair who suffer.

When the ruling party's militias run rampage after attending torture training camps, it's not Bush and Blair who suffer.

That someone as educated and respected as Thabo Mbeki fails or refuses to see this is a sad commentary on the state of leadership on the continent. I'm not an Afro-pessimist but when I read comments like those from Mbeki, I wonder why I'm not. Is this the best Africa has to offer? Have all the Africans with real leadership skills fled to Europe and North America?

Via colonialism and neo-colonialism, western countries have clearly played a pernicious role in hindering the development of Africa. There can be no doubt about that. But it's about time the 'best and the brightest' realized that African leaders, even the 'good' ones, are also part of the problem.

The west is certainly the cause of some of Africa's problems, but not all of them. As long as the 'best and the brightest' on the continent continue to bury their head in the sand and refuse to accept their share of responsibility for putting their own house in order, Africa will remain a basket case.

Most ordinary Africans are industrious. In countries with virtually no social welfare programs, they have to be or else they die. If hard work were rewarded on the continent, Africa would be the most prosperous place in the world. But it's not rewarded. That's why so many Africans emigrate to the west.

Most ordinary Africans know how responsibility should be apportioned. Most ordinary Africans know that Blair and Bush are not responsible for all their problems. They are smarter than most people give them credit for. So I wonder when they will rise up against their self-delusional elites who are complicit in the continent's underdevelopment.

Update: The New York Times ran an editorial on Thursday on the same topic. Western critics claim that Mbeki's policy of quiet diplomacy needs time to bear fruit. But Mbeki has been engaging in this practice for some five years and the decline in Zimbabwe is only accelerating. It looks like Pres. Mbeki has as clearheaded a view on Zimbabwe as Pres. Bush does on Iraq.

Monday, May 14, 2007

10 percent of US soldiers admit to abuse

The top US commander in Iraq made waves recently by coming out against torture. Many top ranking officials in the administration have sent approving messages about torture. The attorney general wrote memos rationalizing it. The vice president called for its legalization. Many Americans agree.

It is sickening how many people believe that the way to advance freedom (said breathlessly) is to employ such barbarity.

But Gen. David Petraeus realizes its counterproductive effect. He says that the US must reject torture if it's to maintain the 'moral high ground.'

Petraeus' comments came a week after an army mental health advisory team released a survey of troops in Iraq, which found a wide tolerance for torture and abuse.

More than a third believed that torture was acceptable if it helped save the life of a fellow soldier or if it helped get information about the insurgents.

About 10% of those surveyed said they had actually mistreated Iraqi civilians by hitting or kicking them, or had damaged their property when it was not necessary to do so
[emphasis mine]

Bear in mind that this is simply asking soldiers to judge for themselves whether such actions were necessary; in other words, 'mistreatment' by their own definition.

I wish this were surprising but it's not. I've written many times on this blog that if you people put in unreasonable situations, they will act in unreasonable ways. Contrary to popular myth, American soldiers are human, not superhuman, and thus subject to human nature. It's also not surprising that such abuses

But although it's surprising, it's still disturbing. The 'war on terror' can never be won militarily. Much like the Cold War, it will only be won ultimately by 'winning hearts and minds,' by convincing people that the American way is morally superior. This can never occur if the 'American way' is to promote or accept savage behavior like torture and abuse. Either we're better than the Evil Doers or we're not. Either we're civilized or we're savage. End of story.

One of the most famous renunciations of torture came from former Gen. Jacques Massu, the French military commander during the Battle of Algiers. France was fighting a brutal guerrilla war against Algerian nationalists. It was their equivalent of Vietnam.

Massu came to conclude that torture was more part of the atmosphere than militarily necessary. And that it was counterproductive in the 'hearts and minds' battle, which the French lost, before eventually losing the war. Massu said, "Torture is not indispensible during times of war. You can easily pass it up."

He added tellingly, "Torture was part of a certain ambiance. We could have done things differently."


The LA Times has an op-ed piece on a major terrorist the US government is aiding and abetting.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Not quite getting it

I remember reading a story about how Republican president Ronald Reagan used Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA as the theme song to his 1984 presidential campaign. There was only one problem: Springsteen was a Democrat and supported Reagan's main opponent Walter Mondale. During the Cold War, many right-wingers virtually adopted the great English writer George Orwell as one of their own... without mentioning that Orwell was a democratic socialist. That's a little how I feel right now.

I'm not exactly sure how, but I stumbled across the blog of the local Democracy for America chapter, the organization started to advance the cause of establishment liberal Democrats. Apparently, one of the people there commented on my recent entry on the Republican race for sheriff of Warren County (NY).

In it, I criticized the Republican Politburo for trying to shove their annointed candidates not only down the throats of the general electorate, but of trying to usurp the free will of their on rank-and-file party members.

Upstate Blue (who writes in the first person but doesn't even sign a first name) cited approvingly my essay, agreeing with its thesis against the astonishing arrogance of the GOP hierarachy.

But then, s/he concludes that:

The abuse of power described by the blogger above is one more example of why our region is long overdue for a two-party political system where Republicans don't maintain a total monopoly on all the local offices.

Additionally, a graphic at the top of the article asks, "Isn't it time for two-party checks and balances in this region?"

It's ironic that the author would cite me to back up his/her case on this topic.

As careful readers of this blog will know, I believe that this country needs a true multiparty system; a system where all parties are allowed to operate effectively without absurd restrictions by electoral laws written the the two-party duopoly. I believe this is as true for the state and localities as it is for the nation as a whole.

I believe that smaller parties can play a constructive role in positively influencing the public agenda, something that has consistently happened throughout American history. I believe that if every major western democracy (and even most African countries) can have more than two parties represented in their national legislatures without the sky falling, so can the United States of America.

I don't oppose the DFA. I believe that if the Democrats have this much trouble getting a fair shake in Warren County, then it's going to be an even more uphill task for Greens, Libertarians and other smaller parties. But no, it's not time for two-party checks and balances in this region. It's time for multiparty checks and balances in this region.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The fanaticism of absolute certainty

"The only people I fear are those who never have doubts." -Billy Joel

Our local paper re-printed this column in the New York Daily News. In a recent GOP debate, Rudy Giuiliani gave some rather ambiguous answers to questions about abortion.

The piece criticized him for not offering a clear position. The writer implied that the former New York mayor would've been better off stating a clear position on question, even at the risk of pissing off the hard core anti-abortionists. Because the only thing worse than being seen as controversial is being seen as that most dreaded of political adjectives: a waffler.

I have no love lost for Rudy. While his stances on social issues are far less extreme than most Republican candidates, I abhor his shameful populist fearmongering on so-called national security.

But I beg to differ with this piece. Giuliani DID express what is far and away the most controversial position on abortion that anyone in this country can have: uncertainty.

The Americans who yell most about the topic believe that either abortion is part of a woman's inalienable right to control her body or that abortion (though not war, oddly enough) constitutes mass murder. There is a misperception that every American is either adamantly anti-abortion or adamantly in favor of abortion rights.

In reality, many Americans share Rudy's uncertainty. Many of us oppose abortion as a practice but uncomfortable with the prospect of making it illegal. And yes, that includes myself.

I don't consider people who oppose abortion to be evil fascists. I don't consider people who get abortions to be murderous scum. It may not be politically correct to not see everything in black and white, but life is complicated.

Many people believe that a fetus is something less than a full-fledged human being, but something more than a mere scab that can be picked off and thrown on the ground. Many of us can't put our finger on exactly why thing abortion is generally wrong, but that criminalizing it would be also wrong. Maybe it's a fear that it would make mothers resent their unwanted children. Maybe it's a fear that this would even further increase the number of single parent families. Maybe it's just a fear of absolutes.

We've seen over the last 6 years of Bush where the fanaticism of absolute certainty has gotten us. Maybe simplistic answers to complex topics is a trend we should be getting away from. Maybe a little sober reflection isn't the end of the world. Maybe words 'maybe' and 'sometimes' and 'I'm not sure' shouldn't be treated as a dirty words anymore.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Losing the plot entirely

During the recent state visit of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, President Bush told the sovereign, "You helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17 ... in 1976."

The anti-Bush crowd salivated in glee at this 'gaffe' by the president.

Even calling it a 'gaffe' is ridiculous. He recognized his own mistake as soon as the words came out of his mouth.

I hate it when the anti-Bush crowd seizes on trivial crap like this. I'm as anti-Bush as they come but with all the serious stuff that this guy and his cronies are doing, why waste time and energy (and your own credibility) on such silliness? It makes it easy for the president's apologists to treat all Bush critics as petty and small-minded.

And in this case, they're right. Seizing on the simple fact that he misread one word and immediately corrected himself is indeed petty and small-minded. I am in a writers' group and occasionally I stumble reading my own words. Big deal!

There are far worse things Bush's critics should be focusing on than an irrelevant, honest mistake.

Heck, you could find something more egregious in the very same speech.

Most state visits are polite, apolitical gatherings. Not this one. The president treated it as yet another chance to spout his ideological drivel.

But what most struck me is his comments praising Britain's additions to civilization.

The United Kingdom has written many of the greatest chapters in the history of human freedom. Nearly 800 years ago, the Magna Carta placed the authority of the government under the rule of law, Bush stated.

This is the same president who has ordered the cancellation of those very same provisions of the Magna Carta, by annulling habeas corpus protections and scrapping the rule of law.

But while this most grotesque hypocrisy went virtually unnoticed, the peanut gallery threw darts at him like giggly little schoolchildren for misreading one date in a speech.

With opposition like this, no wonder he got re-elected.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Ralph Nader, Brian Mann in Glens Falls

Matt Funiciello reports on two book events that will be happening in Glens Falls.

North Country Public Radio reporter Brian Mann will be hosting a town meeting style event regarding his book Welcome to the Homeland. It will be held on >May 9 at 6:30 PM at the Rock Hill Bakehouse Cafe in Glens Falls.

I've read a bit about this book and heard him talk in other forums and it intrigues me. He contends the political divide in America is not the simplistic red state-blue state divide commonly assumed. He points out that there are many "red" areas in blue states and vice versa. His thesis is that the real divide in this country has the urban/suburban mentality (which he calls 'metro') on one side and rural mentality ('homeland') on another.

This is pretty similar to a thesis I came up with about 10 years ago after my experiences in West Africa so Mann's book interests me even more because of that.

The red-blue state explanation has always been too simplistic to really satisfy me. Especially as a resident of the southern Adirondacks... one of the 'reddest' parts of one of the 'bluest' states.

Matt also notes that Glens Falls will also be visited by Ralph Nader, former presidential candidate and one of the few truly great public citizens of the last half century. Nader will be at Red Fox Bookstore for a book signing on Friday May 25 from 3:00-4:30 PM. He will also participate in a Q&A session at Aimies Dinner and a Movie, also in downtown Glens Falls, that evening following a showing of a documentary about his career, An Unreasonable Man.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Small town America

North Country Public Radio ran a few good pieces recently related to the future of small town America.

There are certain traits about most small towns that bother me. The insularity. The frequent small-mindedness. The conservativism. The lack of arts and culture. Not all small towns are like this but there are general traits.

But there are many aspects of small town life that appeal to me. That's why I've chosen to live in one, despite the fact that many of my high school classmates now live in big cities. I like the walkability. I like the (more or less) clean air. I like the green space, the access to the outdoors. I like the recreational opportunities. I like the relative quiet (though even that sadly seems to be changing in my town).

I don't have anything against big cities. I love to visit Montreal. I love Boston. But I wouldn't want to live in either. Some people like hustle and bustle. Some people like peace and quiet. There should be a place for both.

Anyway, NCPR had a story on the Rural Journalism Summit, whose purpose was to identify and raise awareness of the big issues facing small communities.

They also had a story on how many small town papers are bucking the trend exhibited by their metropolitan counterparts and actually growing their circulation.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Unions targeted all over the world

Today is international Labor Day. Though many Americans associate the May 1 Labor Day with communism, it's actually been long celebrated in most countries of the world.

Given that celebration, here are a few articles on the difficulties faced by labor union organizers, both abroad and at home.

-Labor activists targeted in Cambodia.

Hy Vuthy, a prominent member of the Free Trade Union of Workers in the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTU), was shot dead while riding his motorbike home on 24 February. The FTU president at the Suntex garment factory had just finished his night shift when he was gunned down within a kilometre of his workplace in the Dangkao district of the capital, Phnom Penh. To date, no one has been arrested for the killing. He is the third FTU official to be killed in three years...

In recent years, attacks on FTU activists have intensified, with perpetrators going unpunished and the government failing to take any action to reverse the trend of violence. The FTU is one of the largest trade unions in Cambodia and is especially active within the garment industry, campaigning against the exploitation and sub-standard working conditions of garment workers. With high profits at stake, FTU’s actions have been met with a ruthless counter-campaign of harassment and intimidation.




-Union activists in Colombia are being assassinated by right-wing death squads. Most disgustingly, the death squads were apparently given their information by the 'democratic' country's intelligence services. It doesn't help that eight members of Colombia's Congress have been imprisoned for working with these death squads. All the Congressmen have ties to President Alvaro Uribe.



-Union busting tactics at Wal-Mart are nothing new. But according to a piece in the UK Guardian, the retail giant's abuses are so bad that it merited a damning report by Human Rights Watch... an organization usually more concerned with dictators and mass murders.

The daily explained: The company is accused of focusing security cameras on areas where staff congregate and shifting around loyal workers in "unit packing" tactics to ensure votes for union recognition are defeated.

American store bosses get a "manager's toolbox" - a manual which openly describes itself as a guide on "how to remain free in the event union organisers choose your facility as their next target".

They are told to phone a special "union hotline" if they suspect staff. Teams of union busters are then sent from Wal-Mart's Arkansas headquarters who regale workers with vitriolic presentations on the perils of unionisation.

[...]

In a breach of US law, Wal-Mart has allegedly banned union organisers from distributing flyers outside its stores and has confiscated literature found on the premises. Since Wal-Mart began in 1962, there has only been one successful formation of a union - among meat cutters in Texas seven years ago. The department was subsequently shut down - an act ruled illegal by US labour authorities.




-Want to scaremonger against a union? The same Guardian piece on Wal-Mart had this interesting nugget.

Paul French & Partners specialises in making bespoke, glossy films dramatising the so-called impact of union recognition - strikes, redundancies and uncompetitive, failing businesses.
Wal-Mart uses Paul French to produce films ostensibly to explain "the facts" to workers about union membership. But the Georgia-based firm's website makes no bones about its true purpose - to prevent union recruitment drives.


Its clients include General Electric, Fruit of the Loom, Lockheed Martin and Wrangler.

An anti-union propaganda piece by French & Partners for Delta Mechanics, depicts organisers as silky-tongued manipulators who pressurise staff around the clock until they join.

A third film for Allied Holdings dramatises the pain of redundancies caused when union-negotiated pay rises make a company uncompetitive.




Such demonization by management is to be expected. Certainly there are union abuses in some cases that make the workers suffer. But in most cases, unions are clearly a net good for their members.

But in many cases, unions benefit society as a whole. Let's not forget they were the unions who fought for things like the 40-hour work weeks, workplace safety regulations and paid vacations, things that most American workers take for granted now, whether or not they belong to a union.

Trade unions in Zimbabwe are seen as one of the biggest threats to the appalling dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. So much so that the country's forces of disorder have banned unions from any May Day celebrations. Union members have also faced death threats by Mugabe's thugs. But they are also the only organized group able to put pressure on the regime to address the country's unfathomable inflation rate and lack of basic goods.

In Guinea, West Africa, trade unions were instrumental in forcing the country's strongman to back down and name a technocrat prime minister to lead the government instead of another crony. Their general strike also pushed the regime to put a cap on the skyrocketing prices of rice (the country's staple food) and fuel (which affects the price of the public transport that most citizens use). All Guineans, not just union members, benefited from this.

Update: This article from The Washington Post caught my eye. Circuit City fired 3,400 of its highest-paid store employees in March, saying it needed to hire cheaper workers to shore up its bottom line. Now, the Richmond electronics retailer says it expects to post a first-quarter loss next month, and analysts are blaming the job cuts.