Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Commenting

Since this has become an issue again, please read this blog's policy on commenting before leaving remarks. As a reminder, unsigned comments will not be published.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gay teens treated as humans by their families less likely to commit suicide

For years, religious fundamentalists in this country have contended that the fact that suicide and drug use were relatively higher among gay teenagers is "proof" that homosexuality is some sort of mental illness.

New research reveals the rather unsurprising finding that gay children whose parents are accepting of them are far less likely to commit suicide, fall into depression, have unprotected sex or become drug addicts. The risk of such problems is also dramatically lower for kids whose parents don't force them into a bogus 'cure' for their non-illness. Notably, research found that these kids had fewer problems even if members of their family were mildly uncomfortable with their sexual orientation, just so long as they weren't belligerently abusive.

Researchers found experienced high levels of rejection were nearly 8.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide. They were nearly six times more likely to report high levels of depression and almost 3.5 times more likely to use illegal drugs or engage in unprotected sex. That was compared with adolescents whose families may have felt uncomfortable with a gay kid, but were neutral or only mildly rejecting.

So basically, scientists found that kids who are treated by their families as human beings, rather than human garbage, do better in life.

It's sad that this will come as news to some people.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Pope's vile bigotry

People wonder why the Catholic Church is hemorrhaging both practicing members and clergy. Certainly, the Church's steadfast protection of pedophile priests severely tarnished its reputation in many western countries. Another part of it is that while the world and its inhabitants are entering the 21st century, the Vatican is stuck in the 17th.

Most recently, the Church's leader, Pope Benedict XVI, actually said that saving humanity from homosexual and transexual behavior was as important as protecting the environment.

I understand the Church continues to follow ancient Jewish law that stipulates that both sex and marriage should be done strictly for pro-creation. Got that all you childless married couples out there!

To be say that non-heterosexual behavior was a threat to humanity is both absurd and vile.

I am just one example of someone who was born, raised and confirmed as a Catholic but has consciously after much reflection (not accidentally or because of laziness) stopped practicing because of the Church's moral decrepitude. If you're a man who has consensual sex with another man, you're a threat to humanity. But if you're a man who rapes a young boy, you merit protection. This has been the Church's de facto stance for some time.

The Pope even said that words like gender identity and sexual orientation "create serious uncertainty in the law."

Worse yet were his pathetic weasel words at the end lamely trying to defuse the inevitable controversy. He said that of course "unjust discrimination" against gays should be avoid.

But if gays are the serious threat to humanity that Benedict claims, then shouldn't this threat be eradicated at all costs? What sort of punishment or restriction can possibly be unjust against something as serious as a threat to humanity?

Thanks for your warm inclusiveness this holiday season, Mr. Ratzinger.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tis the season to share

NPR's All Things Considered had an interesting piece on e-charity. Organizations are becoming more creative and interactive in how they solicit donations. Given that helping those in need is an oft stated objective during the holiday season, here are some suggestions.

DonorsChoose.org is a site where you can help provide teachers with resources for projects that would otherwise be unavailable. According to the site, teachers submit project proposals for materials or experiences their students need to learn. These ideas become classroom reality when concerned individuals, whom we call Citizen Philanthropists, choose projects to fund.

The American Cancer Society maintains an interactive, multimedia site called SharingHope.tv.

One of the more intriguing sites is called Kiva.org. Many of you have probably heard of the concept of microfinancing, the founder of which, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, was awarded the most recent Nobel Peace Prize. Kiva is a site that allows you to fund a microlending project by choosing it directly. It's kind of like sponsoring a child, except you're sponsoring a business. And they pay you the money back, within 6-12 months. (Microlending repayment rates are over 99 pct., significantly higher than the repayment rate to commercial banks). And due to the nature of microlending, you don't have to put forth much money.



And of course, here's a pitch for a few local charities I support...
-Glens Falls Area Youth Center.
-Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Southern Adirondacks.
-Warren/Washington County Homeless Youth Coalition.
-Family Service Association

Sunday, December 21, 2008

iBizzare

I wonder what it says that at present, the #3 and #4 most downloaded applications for iPhone are "Pull My Finger" and "iFart mobile"... especially since these are apps you have to pay for, not free ones.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dobson-lite to speak at Obama inauguration

"They say we're disturbing the peace. But what really disturbs them is that we're disturbing the war." -Howard Zinn

So now President-elect Obama is going to have far right 'celebrity preacher' Rich Warren speak at his inauguration. This is a guy who said the main difference between him and James Dobson was tone, that Warren was nicer in pedalling his bigotry.

More annoying is how the punditocracy shamelessly praises Obama every time he gives the finger to the people who enthusiastically supported him. Every time Obama names a non-progressive to his team (pretty much every time so far), the yapping heads rave about it, saying "liberals can't have everything their own way" or "he's governing as a centrist."

I understand Obama's desire to have a balanced team and to be as inclusive as possible. It's certainly a change from the Bush strategy of giving the finger to the 49-53% of the country who didn't vote for him.

Balance is useful but where's the balance? He has conservative Democrats, corporatists, anti-abortionists, homophobes and theocrats. But where are the progressives? I understand they can't get every position, but a few? What kind of balance is it if you include everyone except your most ardent supporters?

Who knows, maybe he'll find a job in his administration for James Dobson.

I can't say I'm disappointed in him because I didn't expect much in the first place, other than him not being anti-science, anti-intellectual and hate mongering. And that's certainly an improvement but I know a lot of well-intentioned people who had high hopes for him. And I'm sure most of them will continue to give him a free pass for the next 4-8 years just because he'll be less nightmarish than the medieval regime he's replacing. But I wonder if Rick Warren is what they had in mind.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not quite getting the concept

A few times a year, my company hands out a newsletter with tips on healthy living. I'm not sure if central human resources produces it or our insurance carrier. But you know the usual: exercise, eat right, don't sit hunched over a computer desk all day, etc.

Our company provides employees with free coffee and it subsidizes the cost of soda.

But you have to pay full price for milk and juice.

The 'p' word

"They say we're disturbing the peace. But what really disturbs them is that we're disturbing the war." -Howard Zinn

I see that President-elect Obama has named former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as his agriculture secretary.

It seems like he's given a cabinet post to everyone who ran against him in the primaries no matter how briefly... except Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards.

Not coincidentally, these were his only two Democratic opponents who had the audacity to acknowledge the existence of people that were neither rich or middle class*.

(*-Sorry, I'm not allowed to say the 'p' word because it's 'class warfare')

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A truly lame lame duck ducks

"They say we're disturbing the peace. But what really disturbs them is that we're disturbing the war." -Howard Zinn

By now, most of you have probably heard that during a particularly patronizing press conference by President Bush in Baghdad, an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at the American misleader as well as a number of verbal insults. It is the only accountability for this massive crime against humanity that Bush is likely to ever face.

Shoe throwing is one of the most serious insults in Arab culture. The journalist was wildly praised in the Arab media. An ironic reaction in a region that, Bush and his cronies claimed, was supposed to be magically transformed into a pro-American utopia after the invasion of Iraq.

The journalist's boss pointed out that the reporter was no disgruntled Saddamite and pointed out that "his family was arrested under Saddam's regime." The journalist ' his actions were for Iraqi widows and orphans,' according to the BBC.

Following the shoe 'assassination attempt,' some brain dead journalist actually asked Bush if he felt threatened by the incident. American soldiers are out there dodging IEDs. Iraqi civilians are being targeted by savage militias and homicide bombers. And someone had the gall to ask Bush if he felt threatened by a flying shoe?

Worse yet, Bush continued to pontificate about how the incident provided that the 'new' Iraq was so fantastic because a guy was free to throw shoes!

The journalist was arrested and hauled away. This shows how completely ignorant Bush is of any notions of what real freedom is all about. If you get arrested for doing something, then BY DEFINITION you are NOT really free to do that something. It doesn't take Einstein to understand this.

Worse yet are unconfirmed reports that the journalist is being tortured in US custody. He allegedly suffered a 'broken hand, ribs, suffered internal bleeding and sustained an eye injury.' I hope he enjoys his 'liberation.'

The rumors may or may not actually be true, though the charges were made by the journalist's brother. But it's a mark of how far America's reputation has fallen that the rumors are completely plausible. Do the delusional still think 'they hate us because we're free'?

This presumption of guilt what happens when you have an immoral administration allergic to the most fundamental notions of civilization deciding to essentially legalize a barbaric practice like torture... in the name of 'freedom.'

A particularly pathetic thief

Local headline: Woman charged in cancer fraud:
'Victim' who collected thousands of dollars wasn't sick, police say


I don't know. She sounds kind of sick to me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

YouTube for human rights

Radio Netherlands' excellent The State We're In program talked about an interesting new website called Witness.org.

It's basically a YouTube-like site where people can post videos exposing human rights' abuses.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

International Human Rights Day

Today is the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Obviously the election of Barack Obama is a good sign for respect of human rights and the rule of law, most notably because of the US president-elect's promise to close the kidnapee camp at Guantanamo Bay and the imminent end of the culture of impunity in which wallowed the Bush administration. I wrote an essay on the occasion of last year's International Human Rights' day and it's worth reposting.

**

The basic framework for international human rights is embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The content of the Declaration was due in large part to Eleanor Roosevelt, who was President Truman's appointee to the United Nations' Commission for Human Rights, which elected her chairman. All UN member states have ratified the Declaration, which is essentially the closest thing to a world constitution. Since all UN member states have chosen to accept the document, they should all respect it.

Much of the Declaration is what one might expect from a human rights' document. It contains provisions on the equality of all citizens, the right to not be a slave, the freedom of religion and freedom of movement.

There are many provisions which the US government is blatantly ignoring in the so-called war on terror, including (but not limited to):

-Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty. (Article 2)

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

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

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

-Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence. (Article 11, Section 1)

The US is not the only violator of the Declaration. But it's particularly galling since an American was the driving force behind the document (to say nothing of the fact that such violations are being funded with my tax dollars).

But the main purpose of this essay is to highlight some of the provisions of the Declaration that might not be expected in some quarters but are considered no less fundamental human rights under international law.

Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (Article 17, Section 1)

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality. (Article 22)

Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. (Article 23, Sections 3 and 4)

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay. (Article 24)

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (Article 25, Section 1)

I think it's interesting how the Declaration reflects how the scope of rights and freedoms is viewed differently in different parts of the world. The American tradition is to view rights very narrowly, in a negative sense. Most of the Bill of Rights' amendments begin, "Congress shall pass no law...." The framework of rights in this country is very much based on the individual and is almost exclusively centered around economic considerations. People should thrive or starve exclusively on their own (or by the roulette wheel of private charity).

Rights and freedoms are viewed differently in other parts of the world. People in most other western countries, for example, accept rights and freedoms but also accept the counterbalancing notion of social responsibility and the greater good and a governmental role therein. To take one issue, they generally view universal access to health care not as stealing but as providing a key service to every citizen. They don't view the "right to get sick and die due to lack of access to health care" as a freedom worth having. The framework of rights in most other western countries has more of a balance between economic, social and, in some cases, cultural considerations.

Americans view rights as protection against the oppression of government; the pursuit of happiness means to be left alone. Europeans view rights as protection against the oppression of chance; the pursuit of happiness means being given a real opportunity to do so. People in some parts of the world view rights as the protection against chaos or disorder. Everyone has their own perspective. Every society has their own priorities.

But the Declaration is what all countries have consciously accepted should be the basic framework for rights and freedoms.

Monday, December 08, 2008

This says it all

I received an email from the RPCV (Peace Corps alumni group) organization today. This snipet encapsulates what has been the mentality of the Bush administration and their opinion of non-militaristic forms of engaging the world since, literally, day one.

The Returned Peace Corps Community has been selected from among groups around the country to march in the Presidential Inaugural Parade on January 20, 2009.

We've applied for each parade in recent history and last participated in 1997.


Meaning they were rejected in 2001 and 2005.

Says it all, really.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Fun with crazy people

"They say we're disturbing the peace. But what really disturbs them is that we're disturbing the war." -Howard Zinn

Some of you may have heard that a guy has filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of Barack Obama's election, based on the premise that he's not really a 'natural born citizen'. The guy is from the town right next to mine and is well-known for his activities questioning various governmental powers. Some of what he does seems a bit silly but I really don't have any problem with him asking questions. I just wish a little common sense would be part of the equation from time to time.

Because it's a national story partly about from around here, the editor of the local daily wrote a column on him. On the website, some people came out in support of him and against the editor.

I pointed out, among other things, that Obama has a passport, which means he had to prove he was a US citizen.

This other guy, who I've sparred with before (mostly about hockey, ironically), treated my observation with contempt.

"He has a passport he must be a citizen"? Okay. There's some real proof! My God, think before you speak, he spat.

Some people spout their delusions with the absolute dead certainty that they're taking from God's lips himself.

You see, a passport IS proof of citizenship. The SOLE POINT OF A PASSPORT is to serve as proof of citizenship. In order to get a passport in the first place, you must produce many documents, including PROOF OF CITIZENSHIP. A passport is, BY DEFINITION, proof of citizenship.

Then again, maybe he has secret intelligent from Santa Claus that Obama's passport was a fake too.


Update: a passport is not proof of natural born citizenship, but it is proof of citizenship. My comment that was being addressed by this person addressed the 'natural born' and 'citizenship' aspects in two separate sentences. His reading comprehension skills haven't been great in the past so maybe he overlooked it.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Best books of the year

As many of you know, I'm a book junkie. And it being December, sites are putting out their 'best books of the year' lists. Here are some...

New York Times'
-Best children's books

-Best books



The Christian Science Monitor's
-Best non-fiction books

-Best novels

-Best children's books

-Best short stories


The best I've read this year...
Non-fiction: The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart by Bill Bishop. Probably one of the two or three most insightful works of non-fiction I've ever read. If you want to understand why divisiveness has exploded in this country and why actual dialogue about politics has virtually vanished, this book goes a long way to explaining why.

Fiction: The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini. I usually avoid best sellers (and clichés) like the plague, especially in fiction. This is based on the premise that such books need a certain lowest common denominator effect in order to gain mass appeal. But this novel is actually lived up to the hype.

Young adult fiction: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. A compelling novel about two outsiders that's just strange enough to grab your interest but never degenerates into predictable coming-of-age cheesiness.

Readers, feel free to leave your own recommendations.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Blank checks are bad policy

I'm skeptical of giving a blank check to save GM and Ford, just as I was skeptical of giving one to save the financial industry or to fund the (continuing) Iraq Aggression. That said, I have a hard time understanding why many of the same legislators who are demanding the auto makers provide a viable plan before forking over TENS of billions of tax dollars refused to demand that Wall St. or Commander-in-Chief Bush produce a viable plan before forking over HUNDREDS of billions of tax dollars. Congress is right to expect some accountability from Detroit. It's too bad they don't demand any accountability from those who want far more.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Empty the Asylums Day

A conversation overhead at my office:

1st woman (proudly): I stood in line outside Wal-Mart for over 2 1/2 hours in freezing weather!

2nd woman (admiringly): That's amazing! There's no way I could've done that.

I felt like telling the 2nd woman that the reason she couldn't have done that is because she's sane. Even more so considering that I've heard there was a brawl at that Wal-Mart in (where else?) the electronics department.

An acquaintance of mine's Facebook status reads, "everyone who shopped early today deserves all the crap they put up with."

I couldn't agree with him more.

People think sports fans are deranged fanatics. But I'd feel safer around Italian soccer hooligans than Christmas shoppers.

Update: The Season of Peace began badly for one Wal-Mart worker in Long Island who was trampled to death by a rampaging herd of lunatics released for the day from their cages. A tragedy in any context, but even more so considering the scenario.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The cable TV racket

Common Cause NY recently issued a report regarding the huge campaign donations made by cable television companies to New York politicians.

The three largest cable companies in the state (Verizon, Time Warner and Cablevision) along with the cable industry's trade group have coughed up over $4.3 million in legal campaign bribes (euphemistically referred to as "donations") in the last 10 years to NYS candidates for political office. Like most corporations, they are non-ideological: they bet on winners. In 2002, they gave 80 percent of their "donations" to the heavily favored Republican incumbent governor (who won); in 2006, they gave 82 percent to the overwhelmingly favored Democrat (who also won).

The industry has also spent a staggering $24 million just since 2005 on lobbying in New York. That's just for this one state.

These "donations" have accomplished their goal. Despite the theoretical legalization of competition in the industry some years ago, I am not aware of a single municipality in the state where residents have more than one cable choice.

Furthermore, these three companies have a virtual stranglehold on cable service in the state. A bill sponsored by powerful Assemblyman Richard Brodsky that would've legalized statewide franchises and provided stronger consumer protections for cable subscribers was defeated in the legislature, thanks to heavy industry lobbying. The industry continues to resist a la carte channel choices, despite strong support among consumers.

With their oligarchical control and no competition even amongst themselves in any municipality, the market leaders have no incentive to improve their lousy, overpriced service.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The first casualty

I'm reading an intriguing book entitled The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart by Bill Bishop.

The basic premise of the work is that while America as a whole has become very evenly divided, communities are becoming increasingly homogeneous and that polarization is being aggravated by these millions of little echo chambers.

In the part I'm reading now, the author talks about how more and more positions are being taken not because of any ideological or principled basis but out of a reflexive reaction to 'the other side.'

When I was one of the very few on the American left to condemn the Russian aggression against Georgia, I was struck by the ferocity of the criticism against me.

But the fact of the criticism didn't surprise me. I was taking what was perceived to be 'Bush's side' and that was unacceptable.

My critics trotted some token criticism of an alleged Georgian war crime. But it was just that: token. If they really cared that much about it, they'd still be beating the drum for the alleged perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Their main objection was clearly that Georgia's president was too friendly with Bush so he deserved to have his country get the crap beat out of it by the Russian behemoth.

Never mind that this seems grossly inconsistent with the normally expressed progressive position against imperial wars and militarism.

Why do I think it was just token? Virtually no mention of these alleged Georgian crimes were made before the Russian invasion.

And here's another reason: in recent months, both rebel militias and the national army in the eastern DR Congo are guilty of far more extensive, far more brutal and far more devastating war crimes and crimes against humanity than anything the Georgian military is accused of.

Yet there's nary a mention among those who were so quick to condemn Georgia's alleged shelling of the civilian area of one city. The Congolese combatants are guilty of savagery that dwarfs anything the Georgians did, in a manner that's much longer and on a far greater scale.

The only difference I can see is that none of the combatants in the DRC are seen as pro- or anti-Bush so there's no Pavlovian bell to react to.

I opposed the Russian aggression on grounds that were consistent with my ideologies in favor of human rights and against militarism. And I've written several times about the nightmare in the DRC. Both are wrong. And Bush has nothing to do with either.

Bishop talks about this sort of knee jerk behavior in his book.

He points out that the first town in the US to place limits on DNA research was none other than Cambridge, MA, home of Harvard. One of the most liberal cities in America nearly outlawed genetic research in 1977.

But something changed.

When the religious right came out against embryonic stem cell research, however, it created "this reflexive response to that religious point of view", noted a San Francisco scientist.

Liberals like to think that questioning this kind of science is the unique provenance of uneducated, Bible thumping rubes.

So how do they explain this in the home of the most elite university in the nation? Do they forget that a century ago, the progressivism of the time supported eugenics?

I am pro-science but I'm not fundamentalist. When I was in West Africa, a colleague of mine often said to me, "Science without conscience will be the ruin of mankind."

He was no Einstein. He had no fancy degrees from elite institutions. He was a humble middle school biology and chemistry teacher in a tiny village in the West African jungle. I do not know his politics. He may not have been highly educated but he was very wise.

Of course, such knee-jerk behavior is not unique to the left. When Republican George Bush decided to launch his unprovoked aggression against Iraq, Republicans rallied behind him and intoned the mantra that it was treasonous to criticize a president during war time.

Many of these same Republicans were the most bitter critics of Bill Clinton and his decision to launch a NATO intervention in Kosovo. Bill Clinton was a Democrat.

People today are more concerned about being with 'their side' than about being right than anything else. Professed values just get in the war. That's why values get tossed out the window and rabidly anti-war citizens will eagerly get behind pro-war candidates. It's easier to pick a side than to search for what is often a messy, nuanced truth.

They say truth is the first casualty of war. The saying was directed toward conventional military conflict. But apparently it's also true of the culture wars.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Are you dumber than an 11 year old?

I'm sorry to rant but... is there anything more flat out stupid than observations like "With really cold weather we're having tonight, I have a hard time believing in global warming."

The scary part is that people with this sort of comprehensive ignorance of the most basic tenets of science, stuff I learned way back in 6th grade... these are the people who've been running the country and overruling informed scientific policy for the last eight years.

It was 63 here last Wednesday afternoon. I guess that proves global warming!!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Coverage of the Adirondack Climate Conference

Today and tomorrow, John over at Adirondack Almanack is providing live blogging coverage from the climate change conference being held at Tupper Lake's Wild Center. Check it out!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Churches' special rights

It's no secret that churches are the main opponents of attempts to offer state-recognition of gay unions. These are proposals that only affect what the state does and has no impact on religious organizations, who remain free to be as bigoted as they want.

Something's occurred to me recently. Organized churches benefit great from one enormous special right: the tax-exempt status that society (via governments) chooses to accord them. They are not allowed to explicitly endorse or oppose candidates for political office. But obviously, there are no restrictions to what they can do related to other political issues.

Given this special right that society gives them, you'd think they'd be a little bit less in your face in lobbying about public policy issues that don't affect them.

There's a huge difference between a church saying "We won't recognize gay marriages" and it saying "The state should ban anyone from recognizing gay marriages."

The state doesn't dictate how churches regulate themselves. Churches should return the favor.

After all, churches risk a backlash. Revulsion against creeping theocracy may create a movement to revoke this special right.

If they want to be political, so be it. They just shouldn't be subsidized by the rest of us.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is a dead fetus in Kansas worth more than a dead toddler in Baghdad?

"They say we're disturbing the peace. But what really disturbs them is that we're disturbing the war." -Howard Zinn

The US Catholic bishops are at it again. They've issued their periodical call for Catholic politicians who support legal abortion to be denied Holy Communion.

There is one hypocrisy that infuriates me to no end. And that most Americans who claim to be 'pro-life,' define the term EXCLUSIVELY in terms of one's position on the legality of abortion.

The reason this infuriates me is because there are two other central 'life issues' that ought to be given equal consideration: wars of aggression and state murder, more commonly known as the death penalty.

I do not wish to devote this essay to a debate over whether the fetus should be considered a child. But I will say this.

If you consider an unborn fetus to be a full-fledged human being deserving of all the rights therein, shouldn't you expect the same rights be accorded to former fetuses that now live outside the womb?

In short, if the unborn have rights, why are rights for the born forgotten?

It infuriates me that so many people demand the unborn be afforded special protection but then don't give a crap what happens once they leave the mother's fetus. It's too bad that 'pro-life' and 'pro-quality of life' seem unrelated.

And here's the point. The Vatican regularly speaks out against abortion. It regularly speaks out against the death penalty. It regularly speaks out against war generally and against the catastrophe of the Iraq Aggression in particular. The Vatican, for its many faults, believes that all three are key questions related to the sanctity of human life. Agree or disagree, it is consistent not only in its positions but in its emphasis.

So why do American bishops SINGULARLY FOCUS on only one of those three key 'life issues'? Why do they seek to deny Communion to politicians who support legal abortions but not to politicians who support state murder like the death penalty or Iraq Aggression? Do they pick and choose which Vatican positions to support and which to ignore? Doesn't this make them the 'cafeteria Catholics' many of them denounce?

If the US bishops were to deny Communion to politicians who went against Vatican policy on ANY of these issues, I'm not sure I'd agree with it but I'd respect its consistency. This inconsistency sends the message that a dead toddler in Bagdhad is worth less to them than a dead fetus in Kansas?

In fact, one could argue that of these three 'life issues,' abortion is the one where politicians have the LEAST culpability. Abortion is the only one that doesn't result from action perpetrated by the government. With legal abortion, government merely allows people the choice to commit what the Church considers a sin. With unjust war and the death penalty, the government itself is actually committing the sin.

Furthermore, many anti-abortion commentators believe the Church's focus on the legal aspect of abortion is misguided. They feel the Church should worry less about punishing politicians who support legal abortion as state policy and more about trying to convince its own flock and society in general that abortion should be avoided at all costs.

Because at the end of the day, the legality of abortion doesn't matter if no one chooses to have one.

Update: If the bishops' position isn't dubious enough, a crazy priest in South Carolina has done them several better. He said that anyone who voted for Obama should refrain from receiving Communion. In addition to falsely referring to John McCain as 'pro-life,' the priest stated that a vote for a politician who supports legal abortion 'constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil.'

And the Catholic Church wonders why it's hemorrhaging members.

Of course, such rants merely illustrate why the Church's influence is declining. Despite (because?) of the this kind of hysteria, 54 percent of Catholics voted for... Obama.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New media models for Africa

This essay is part of an occasional feature on this blog that presents compelling 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, IsraelStine, Iraq, North Korea and Iran.

AllAfrica.com has a good article on new blueprints and models for the continent's media as discussed at the recent African Media Leaders’ Forum in Dakar, Senegal.

The chief executive officer of East Africa’s Nation Media Group urged African journalists take ownership of how the continent's stories are told. He said the African press should be less reliant on western media outlets and "to tell the African story in an African way."

He also called for African media leaders to pool resources for training and for more focus on bringing more radio broadcasters – who reached much bigger audiences than newspaper – to join other media leaders in planning for the future.

A Burkinabè publisher called for the establishment of training courses in skills such as media management for publishers in Africa. He also advocated collaboration among publishers so they could learn from one another about such practical issues as methods of distribution, and even share co-operatively-owned printing presses.

I found this article really interesting. It's always frustrated me the way the western media covers Africa, focusing almost exclusively on famines, wars and other crises. Most of the time, western journalists jet in whenever there's a 'hot' situation, talk to various cabinet ministers and rebel leaders and then jet out as soon as things calm down. They rarely scratch beneath the surface to find something outside the convenient narratives of plundering and ethnic hatred.

These crises need to be covered. People really are dying in Darfur and North Kivu. But there's more going on in Africa than just misery. You just wouldn't know this from the media coverage, even the ones like the BBC that actually cover it reasonably well.

This lack of proportion distorts westerners' perceptions of Africa.

Most news reporting in general is of bad things. Today, my local newspaper contained, among other things, stories of a fire that made people homeless, a town supervisor convicted of a felony, massive state budget cuts and an attempted armed robbery. The paper mostly reports bad news because that's standard operating procedure for most mainstream media outlets.

And if my only knowledge of this area was from the paper, I'd avoid it like the plague.

But the thing is this. MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE tells me that this is a great place to live. My personal experience is that the people here are generally friendly; I have no doubt the community will rally to help the people who lost their home in the fire. My personal experience is that this area is pretty safe.

The media may report the bad news, but I have my personal experience to balance out my perception of this area.

Most people do NOT have that balancing personal experience when it comes to Africa. So they read all the horrible things, but are kept in the dark about all the good things. They are not aware of how communal village life is and how everyone is expected to share with those less fortunate. They are not aware that outside war zones, crimes like theft in small villages are virtually non-existent. They are not aware of how villagers will pool their resources to send a single boy or girl to university in Europe or the US.

And they are not aware that the overwhelming majority of countries in Africa are at war right now.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Poetic justice

It's no secret that I did not vote for Barack Obama nor that I have issues with both him and the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, especially in the week a Republican campaign that did everything it could to appeal to broader cult of ignorance, I take some satisfaction in knowing that all the racist idiots in this country will spend the next four years having to choke on the words 'President Obama.'

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A historic victory for... bigotry

"I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth; I am a citizen of the world. I would not violate my principles for God, much less for a crazy kaiser, a savage czar, a degenerate king, or a gang of pot-bellied parasites." -Eugene Debs

Tuesday's election was a historic victory for equality with the election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States. But there was a bittersweet footnote to the election that made it a not-as-great day for equality under the law.

The decisive margin in the narrow passing of a gay marriage ban in California was provided by blacks. According to The Los Angeles Times, 70 percent of African-Americans voted to enshrine this bigotry into the state constitution.

In fact, blacks backed this constitutional bigotry even more strongly than people who identified themselves as Christians, only 2/3 of whom supported it.

Blacks who supported this should be ashamed of themselves. It's shocking that equality was blocked by one of the group of Americans that's suffered the most from inequality over the centuries. How can you claim Obama's election was slap in the face to bigots while support a bigoted gay marriage ban? Blacks deserve human rights but gays don't? Disgraceful!

Being a bigot is like being pregnant. Either you are or you aren't. There's no somewhat about it. You have NO right to whine about veiled racism in society if you support government-mandated homophobia.

Anti-racism and anti-homophobia are not part of some sort of zero sum game where the success of one imperils the success of the other. There's plenty of room in society for everyone to be granted equal human rights.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Local political thoughts

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.

It's been said that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally says what he really thinks. Local Republican Congressional candidate Sandy Treadwell made such a gaffe recently. At a campaign rally, he reportedly said, "I'm all about grass-roots politics. That's the way it began 23 months ago...."

That might seem innocuous until you do a little math.

23 months ago was December 2006.

December 2006 was a month BEFORE Treadwell's opponent, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, had even been sworn in as a Congresswoman.

So that means that even before Gillibrand had started her job, Treadwell had decided she was going to be so bad at that he had to replace her. He didn't even give her a chance to be a bad representative for a single day to determine that she was going to be a bad representative.

I realize that Treadwell is hardly the only politician who puts personal political ambitions before anything else, but most are smart enough to couch in it some thin veneer of public service.

***

Queensbury is probably the most establishment Republican town in this area. Not the most conservative, but certainly the one most in bed with developers who want to pave over or put a housing complex on every square inch of the place. It is also the town most hostile to both non-automobilists and civic participation in government.

I wrote earlier about the miraculous appearance of actual sidewalks on the town's portion of US Route 9, though a reader corrected my mistaken impression that the town had built them. It was actually the state.

People who speak at town board meetings are treated as troublemaking interlopers, especially by the town's belligerent supervisor Dan Stec. Stec is the heir apparent to the area's late congressman Jerry Solomon, another loudmouth contemptuous of real public discussion who served as Queensbury supervisor.

But Stec is not the only powerful Queensbury official contemptuous of residents.

A group called Citizens for Queensbury is pushing for a sidewalk or multi-use bicycle-pedestrian path on Aviation Road adjacent to the Aviation Mall. Of the many places in Queensbury where it's suicidal to be a pedestrian, this location is near the top of the list.

However, town planning board chair Chris Hunsinger thumbed his nose at the group, dismissing Citizens for Queensbury as 'an ad hoc group of like-minded people putting forward their own agenda '

So what?

Isn't that what we need in this country? Wouldn't it be better if more people got off their butts and tried to make their community a better place? A government not controlled by developers should welcome civic participation. Such a government should welcome input from people who will actually be affected by their decisions. Or at the very least, such people shouldn't be spat upon by people like Hunsinger.

No wonder Americans are increasingly apathetic about the state of our democracy. Whenever they actually try to be active citizens, they're treated like a bunch of barbarians crashing at the gate of the castle where only the know-it-all government officials are permitted.

What Chairman Hunsinger should learn is that the people who comprise Citizens for Queensbury are residents of the town just like him, they pay taxes just like him and their voices deserve to be heard just like him.

***

One of the most interesting local political blogs out there is The Ballot Box by North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann. The primary focus of Mann's reporting and blogging is the dynamics of rural politics.

A recent entry reveals a lot about the largely unseen hand of corporate media conglomerates.

The Saranac Lake-based Adirondack Daily Enterprise is the only daily newspaper published in the Adirondack Park. I check out the paper's website most days. What makes it interesting to me is that, like NCPR, the Enterprise's content and focus is resolutely local. It's not a generic media outlet that tries to be everything to every body. It's an Adirondacks' media outlet reporting on Adirondacks' issues.

At least that's what it usually does.

But an editorial run in the paper endorsing John McCain calls that into question.

The reason?

Because the paper did NOT actually endorse McCain.

The Enterprise's managing editor explained that daily's editorial board could not come to a consensus on which presidential candidate to support so it endorsed none of them.

Yet an editorial ran in the paper encouraging voters in 'our area' to support the Arizona Republican.

The editorial was written by the daily's corporate owners... based in West Virginia.

A small byline indicated that it was written by 'Ogden Newspapers Inc.' But it was still labeled an editorial, not an opinion, thus giving readers the false impression that the local daily agreed with this position.

The Enterprise's editorial line is typically middle of the road. I wonder how the paper's editorial board feels about having endorsements shoved down its throat by distant corporate masters claiming the local region as their own.

What plays well in Alabama doesn't work in Vermont

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.

I saw two good articles this weekend on the slow demise of northeastern Republicans. As the national party has veered sharply to the right in the last two decades, it's has shown less and less room for the moderates that populate the northeastern GOP. Half a century ago, New England was the most reliably Republican part of the country. (And the south, the most democratic... they've basically switched).

Even recently, there used to be room for moderate Republican governors in Democratic states like New York (George Pataki, 12 years) and Massachussetts (several, mostly moderate ones for 16 years). Both reigns ended for different reasons, but ones that didn't work the more moderate northeast.

In Massachussetts in 2006, Republican lieutenant governor and gubenatorial candidate Kerry Healey ran a Rove-style smear campaign and lost to a charismatic opponent by over 20 points. New York Republicans nominated the former Assembly minority leader John Faso as their sacrificial lamb to face the (then) wildly popular Democratic attorney general Eliot Spitzer. Faso was far too conservative to ever have a chance in a state like New York and was crushed by almost 40 points. Both the MA and NY GOP tapped conservatives to replace incumbent moderates and were crushed at the polls.

The New York Times had an article about the main state political story here in New York: the desperate Republican fight to preserve control of the state senate.

Outsiders might be surprised to know that the GOP has controlled the state senate for all but one year since 1938, back when basically a new state constitution was promulgated. Despite New York's increasing Democratic dominance in registration, the GOP has maintained control of the senate thanks to gerrymandering (in collusion with Assembly Democrats) and bedrock support in the more conservative rural upstate.

However, the increasing unpopularity of the national Republican brand after eight years of Bush plus a lack of leadership in the state party and an aging Republican caucus has led to a slow decline in GOP fortunes, as it's turned out off what used to be the other main bastion of NY Republican support: suburban New York City and Long Island. Republicans have a mere one seat majority in the chamber (with one vacant seat at the moment). They are aided by the fact that the lieutenant governor's post, who casts tiebreaking senate votes and would normally be in Democratic hands now, will remain vacant until 2011. But the trends are not in their favor.

Northeast Public Radio points out that Republicans now have only 6 of New York's 31 federal House and Senate seats and that number could dwindle to as low as 2 after Election Day.

The Boston Globe also had a story about the collapsing Republican fortunes in New England. It points out that in the early 70s, 10 of New England's 25 House members were Republican. Now, there's only one. And the region only has two Republican US Senators, both moderates from Maine, one of whom is in a tough re-election fight. The article points out that this is why several moderate Republicans, such as former Bush Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell and former MA Gov. William Weld, have endorsed the more unifying Barack Obama and Joe Biden rather than the more divisive campaign John McCain and Sarah "Real America" Palin.

Basically, the GOP is disappearing in the northeast for one simple reason. 50 years ago, the national GOP was moderate enough to nominate someone like Dwight Eisenhower. 45 years ago, the national GOP was moderate enough to be a main reason why key civil rights legislation passed the US Senate. 35 years ago, the national GOP put the good of the nation and the rule of law ahead of partisanship in impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon.

Now, someone like John McCain is too liberal for a good chunk of the party. Now, the national GOP stands against civil rights for gays. Now, the national GOP has put partisanship ahead of the good of the nation and the rule of law in passing many of Bush's self-destructive and/or anti-constitutional policies.

What plays well in Alabama doesn't work in Vermont.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How to improve baseball

It's no secret that baseball, once THE national sport, has slipped dramatically in popularity in recent decades. This is due partly to the equally dramatic rise in popularity of NFL Throwball, saturation coverage of which asphyxiates coverage of everything else. But Major League Baseball's (MLB) wounds are largely self-inflicted.

Some people complain that MLB's wage structure makes it uncompetitive. The success in recent years of low-budget teams like Colorado and Tampa Bay shows that a properly managed club can win. Similarly, the spectacular failure of high budget teams like the Yankees and Mets shows that money is no guarantee of success. Of the 10 teams with the highest wage bill this year, only half made the playoffs. And despite this complaint, which is more conventional wisdom than backed up by the facts, baseball remains one of the most unpredictable leagues. The last nine seasons including this one will see eight different teams win the World Series. The last 11 National League pennants have been won by 10 different teams.

But MLB's biggest problems are elsewhere.

1) Shorten the games. This can be done without fundamentally changing the game. All that needs to happen is for MLB to adopt the amateur baseball rule whereby a batter is not allowed to step out of the batter's box after a caught pitch. Baseball games take forever. Playoff games even more so. I can't watch a baseball game on TV from start to finish any more. I flip to other channels and then back to the game. If a game's going to last four and a half hours, it ought to be because there's a lot of action, not because players waste half of it standing around picking at various body parts. Baseball is renown for its "deliberative" nature. But there's a fine line between "deliberative" and "interminable." Spending 40 seconds watching a batter step out of the box, readjust both batting gloves, readjust his helmet, readjust his crotch, spit on the ground, rub his hands with dirt and amble back into the box isn't especially appealing to me. And it's even less appealing at 11:52 PM on a work night of a game that still has several innings to go. Just get on with it already!

2) Call the strike zone as the rule book says. The strike zone is supposed to be from the letters to the knees. Most umpires have a strike zone that runs roughly from the top of the belt buckle to the bottom of the belt buckle. A larger strike zone makes players swing the bat, which is what people want to see. Fans won't mind the length of game time if they're watching actual action. Ever watch college or Little League games? Umps call strikes. Batters swing the bat. Action occurs.

3) Start playoff games at 7:00 or 7:30 PM eastern time. This, combined with the game shortening changes listed above, will make it so that games get over at a not totally ludicrous hour. The most important games of the season, the games that MLB wants the public to care about most, are ending after midnight ET and later on work and school nights. I think one of the Tampa Bay-Boston games ended at like 12:40 am... and that was for a 9-inning contest! And MLB's braintrust is absolutely mystified why both ratings and interest keep falling. DUH! Yes, such a start time might make it so fans in the western time zones miss the first few innings. But I'd rather miss the first few innings than the last few innings. If you want fans to care about your game, make it so as many as possible can see the most gripping moments.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The price of a woman? $500

This essay is part of an occasional feature on this blog that presents compelling 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, IsraelStine, Iraq, North Korea and Iran.

In what will hopefully be a landmark decision, a West African court ruled that the Republic of Niger failed to protect a woman from being sold into slavery when she was 12 years old.

The Community Court of Justice, the judicial body of the West African regional organization ECOWAS, ordered the Niger government to pay close to $20,000 in damages to Hadijatou Mani, who is now 24.

Slavery wasn't officially outlawed in Niger until 2003, but remains a problem there and in nearby West African countries like Mali and Mauritania.

As The New York Times reported:

Ms. Mani’s experience was typical of the practice. She was born into a traditional slave class and sold to Souleymane Naroua when she was 12 for about $500.

Ms. Mani told court officials that Mr. Naroua had forced her to work his fields for a decade. She also claimed that he raped her repeatedly over the years.

"I was beaten so many times I would run back to my family," she told the BBC. "Then after a day or two I would be brought back."

[...]

She had initially sought protection under Niger’s laws. In 2005, Mr. Naroua gave her a certificate freeing her, but when she tried to get married he claimed that she was already married to him.


Some observers have compared Ms. Mani to Rosa Parks. This is probably an understatement. It's difficult to imagine how much courage it took for her to bring the case in an extremely conservative society by challenging traditional practices that have been going on for generations.

The Niger government said it would respect the court's decision.


Also see:
-Anti-Slavery International
-Free the Slaves
-UN information of human trafficking

Sunday, October 26, 2008

'The last man'

To any soccer fans who might be reading this: If you are going to comment on the sport, especially if you're doing so a broadcaster, here's a little tip.

LEARN THE BLOODY RULES!

The Laws of the Game can be found here.

Read them before spouting off.

I realize that some, like the offside rule, are ridiculously complicated. But the overwhelming majority of rules are very straight forward.

According to Law 12, you can be sent off (red carded) for 'denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity... by an offense punishable by a free kick or penalty kick.'

The phrase 'last man' appears no where.

I don't know how many times I've heard some ignorant commentator ranting hysterically that a player wasn't the last man and therefore didn't deserve to be red carded for his foul.

It's not surprising that the phrase 'ignorant' and 'ranting hysterically' often go together. And such stupidity is as likely to come from an English commentator as an American one.

But if you're not going to learn the rules, then you should STFU.

And you should certainly pass your broadcasting responsibilities to someone who actually knows what they're talking about.

Whether a player was the last man has no bearing in and of itself on whether that player deserves to be sent off.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Voting guide

Since the corporate media is waging its usual blackout of non-corporate candidates, here are links to the websites of all the smaller party and independent presidential candidates who are on New York state's ballot.

Ralph Nader (independent): votenader.org
Cynthia McKinney (Green): mckinney2008.com
Roger Calero (Socialist Workers): themilitant.com
Gloria La Riva (Socialism and Liberation): pslweb.org
Bob Barr (Libertarian): bobbarr2008.com

I post the websites because it's about the only place you'll find information on them, thanks to the negligent media.

Actually, I'm not sure negligent is the right word. That implies a disservice that's unintentional.

There has also been virtually no media coverage of the race for three state Supreme Court justices for northern New York. Unfortunately it's too late for me, as I mailed out my absentee ballot a few days ago.

But the Plattsburgh Press-Republican has a useful piece, what might be the only piece, on the candidates.


Update: NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday has run interviews with many of these candidates. Granted, one 5-minute or so interview per candidate is negligible compared to the gargantuan amount of free air time they've given to Obama and McCain. Still, the token NPR coverage is negligibly better than just about another other major media outlet.

NPR's interviews with...
-Ralph Nader
-Cynthia McKinney
-Bob Barr
-Chuck Baldwin (Constitution Party)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Media lemmings

Some conservatives like to whine about how 'liberal' the news media is. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Such complaining has always seemed more a tactic than a real belief. A tactic designed to bully the media into being more conservative in order to appease them. Unfortunately, liberals, seeing the success of the conservative intimidation campaign, started adopting the same tactics a few years ago. This all misses the point.

In my opinion, the news media isn't liberal (or conservative). It's corporate, which means its objective is to maximize profit and it does so by minimizing risk. Minimizing risk like being so neutral and milquetoast and superficial. This is done because when you do real reporting, you're likely piss someone off. If the media really were overwhelmingly liberal, it would go out of business because a generally centrist country wouldn't have enough demand to support an overwhelmingly liberal news media.

It's this superficiality that leads the media to focus on trivialities like lipstick and other forms of makeup and on the 'horse race' aspect of the irrelevant polls (ie: all of them except the one conducted on Nov. 4) instead of covering, for example, the real issues raised by the so-called 'third party' candidates who provide the real alternatives in this election.

A great example of this superficiality can be seen in the breaking news alerts for ABC News and CNN to which I subscribe. I've lost track of how many I've received with garbage about OJ Simpson or drunk driving Hollywood actors or an update on the latest 'missing random, photogenic, upper middle class white girl of the week' saga.

Take this one I just received a few minutes ago:

Elisabeth Hasselbeck of 'The View' Invited by Sarah Palin to Appear at Two Weekend Rallies

Does ABC really need to clutter my inbox with this crap?

I subscribe to the NEWS alerts of these channels. For the three people who actually care who Elisabeth Hasselbeck or any other celebrity is campaigning for, put it on the Entertainment alerts!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hiatus... sort of

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.

As habitual readers will have noticed, postings here have become less regular in recent weeks. I broke my ankle earlier this month and it's difficult to sit at a desk for the period of time required to research and write the essays published here. Hopefully within a month to six weeks, I'll be back to publishing my regular essays. Until then, postings will be sporadic.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Are we civilized or not?

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.

I was interested to see that Gen. Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for president. A BBC report on the story interviewed one McCain supporter contemptuously dismissing the endorsement because "Powell was a moderate."

Perish the thought!

Perhaps the former secretary of state feels this is part of his penance for complicity in the Iraq Aggression, when he was the main mouthpiece for Cheney's and Bush's deceit. A mouthpiece whose utterings were made all the more credible precisely because he was the only respected senior figure in that administration.

As a moderate with a preference for diplomacy and multilateralism, he fit uneasily into the extremist Bush administration. Contrary to popular belief, there are moderates and multilateralists within the Republican Party. Susan Collins, Dick Lugar and Chuck Hagel come to mind. However, their influence inside the national party has dwindled to almost nil. Some Americans believe that we are part of the world. The corporate militaristic cabal running the national Republican Party wants us believe that we are apart from the world.

While the moderate Powell may have little influence within the immoderate national party, his endorsement is likely to hold some sway with undecided moderate Republicans uneasy with divisionism and hatemongering, as well as conservative Democrats and the independents and smaller party voters who make up around a third of the electorate.

I still fault Powell for his complicity in help launch the most disastrous US foreign policy decision and one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades. I feel he should have kept his honor and resign rather than promote a course of action which, I'm sure, he knew in his bones would be tragic for America and even more so for Iraq.

His endorsement of Obama, who isn't quite a True Believer in the Gospel of Permanent War, isn't nothing, but it's too little, too late for the former secretary of state's reputation.

But Powell did do one thing for which he deserves enormous credit. Not the endorsement of Obama but his denunciation of the bigotry that has been whipped up by so many of McCain's supporters. There is the far right whispering campaign spreading the lie that Obama is secretly a Muslim. Powell took head on not only the libelous nature of the accusation but more importantly, the defamatory nature of its implication.

"[Obama's] always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, 'What if he is [a Muslim]?' Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?"

Good for Powell.

There's been plenty of hatemongering whipped up by the far right in this campaign. In addition to the religious bigotry inherent in the "Obama's a Muslim" smear, you also have bad old-fashioned racism.

Bill O'Reilly and Pat Buchanan dismissed Powell's endorsement not because Powell's a moderate, a line which you might expect from the extremist yapping heads. They dismissed his endorsement because Powell was black.

I suppose the only solace is that as the hatemongering has increased, McCain's poll numbers have fallen.

For years, Republicans portrayed Powell as a true American hero. Especially when he was a shill for Bush's Aggression. But now that he's endorsed a Democrat, they've changed their tune.

Not that anyone should be surprised.

The McCain campaign and a good chunk of its supporters seem to believe (or at least want you believe) not just that Obama is wrong on the issues. They want you to believe that he's un-American, that he's a terrorist, that he wants America to implode, that he wants to hand the keys to the White House to bin Laden.

And to them, this applies not just to Obama but to his supporters too. The left-of-center doesn't belong the 'real America' that Sarah Palin said she was happy to be a part of. The 'real America' votes Republican, or at least conservative.

This faction views enemies everywhere. Not just political opponents, but enemies. They view the half or so of the country that will vote for Obama or another left-of-center candidate not just as misguided, but as traitors to America.

It is for this reason, more than any other, that you should not vote for them in November.

There are many decent people who have decent reasons for supporting McCain. But this sentiment being whipped up is extremely dangerous for our democracy, even if it's a minority of the pro-McCain crowd.

American civilization can not survive if half the country is demonized as traitors simply because of who they support politically. If you think otherwise, just ask people in Kenya or Cote d'Ivoire how that worked out for them.

I may not be an Obama supporter but the extreme right is extremely wrong. We are all American.

How can you claim to love America if you hate half of it?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

No class warfare? Sorry, too late

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.



"America didn't become the greatest nation on Earth by spreading the wealth." -St. John, mocking Barack Obama... both of whom voted to give $700 billion in taxpayers' wealth to Wall Street. The bailout is an example of wealth redistribution in the wrong direction.

Some whine about 'class warfare' any time a progressive politician notes the fact of structural economic unfairness. But how does wealth redistribution like the Wall Street bailout constitute anything else than class warfare against the working class?

In the view of too many Americans, welfare to help out poor people is evil socialism but welfare to help out big corporations is 'economic development.'

Individuals who screw up are 'irresponsible' and should rot in hell. Corporations who screw up deserve gargantuan sums of my money.

Parents and their kids who may be victims of unfortunate circumstances should go hungry or homeless rather than receive a few thousand tax dollars. However, corporations who make reckless decisions deserve hundreds of billions of tax dollars.

These are the positions of both St. John and the GOP as well as Obama and the Corporate Democrats.

No class warfare?

Too late.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On Obama and the Corporate Democrats

Here are some thoughts from Nader/Gonzalez on Barack Obama and the Corporate Democrats. Obama is probably the most appealing presidential candidate the Dems have nominated in a quarter century. The fact that Obama can have all of these flaws on core issues (I'm not talking perfection here, but issues that go to the heart of the progressive agenda) and still be the best choice the Dems put forward in two and a half decades shows how irredeemable the party is. Vote for a smaller party or independent candidate this November.



Fascism, like socialism, is rooted in a market society that refused to function.

A financial system always devolves, without heavy government control, into a Mafia capitalism -- and a Mafia political system.

A self-regulating market turns human beings and the natural environment into commodities, a situation that ensures the destruction of both society and the natural environment.

Who is this speaking?
It is the Hungarian intellectual Karl Polanyi, author of the influential book The Great Transformation (1944).

Polanyi fled fascist Europe in 1933 and eventually taught at Columbia University.

Remembering Polanyi, former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges writes today:

"I place no hope in Obama or the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is a pathetic example of liberal, bourgeois impotence, hypocrisy and complacency. It has been bought off. I will vote, if only as a form of protest against our corporate state and an homage to Polanyi's brilliance, for Ralph Nader. I would like to offer hope, but it is more important to be a realist. No ethic or act of resistance is worth anything if it is not based on the real. And the real, I am afraid, does not look good."

We live in difficult times.

But one man has shown the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the corporate state -- Ralph Nader.

For most of this year, Ralph has been barnstorming across the country -- bringing a message of hope and resilience to a troubled America.

And now it's time to step up and support Ralph Nader and the shift the power platform he has gifted to the American people.


and

[O]n three key issues [Tuesday night] -- energy, health insurance, corporate crime -- Obama stood with the corporations against the interests of the American people.

Compare Nader to Obama.

Last night, McCain challenged Obama.

Tell me one time you have stood up to the leaders of your party, McCain said.

Obama couldn't name one time when he stood up to the corporations that control his party.

So, instead he named a couple of times when he stood with the corporations.

And against the interests of the American people.

I voted for tort reform, Obama said.

Wow!

Brave of you Barack.

You stood with the National Association of Manufacturers against injured people.

I support clean coal technology, Obama said.

Wow Barack, you stood with the polluting coal industry against people who suffer the consequences.

When McCain accused Obama of supporting a single payer, Canadian style national health insurance system, Obama said he didn't.

And he doesn't.

Despite the fact that a majority of doctors, nurses and the American people want it.

On national health insurance, Obama stands with the insurance industry and against the American people who are demanding single payer.

Over 5,000 U.S. physicians have signed an open letter calling on the candidates for president and Congress "to stand up for the health of the American people and implement a nonprofit, single-payer national health insurance system."

Obama says no.

McCain says no.

Nader/Gonzalez says yes.

Yes to single payer.

Yes to solar and no to coal.

Yes to protecting the American people from corporate recklessness and
crime, no to tort deform.

So, donate $3 to the candidacy that is not on the debate stage.

But that is right on the issues.

Nader/Gonzalez.

Today, while Obama fronts for his corporate donors, Ralph Nader, Matt Gonzalez and the Nader Team will be on Wall Street protesting
corporate America's sustained orgy of excess and reckless behavior.

Nader/Gonzalez continues to stand with the people.

Against the corporate criminals and their candidates in the two major parties.


For more: votenader.org

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ralph Nader in Albany tonight; real debates when?

Matt Funiciello reports that independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader will be in Albany tonight.

Corporate mainstream media is NOT doing its job to report the news!

Have they told us there will be SIX viable presidential candidates on the NYS ballot this November?

Have they told us that one of them, Ralph Nader, will be speaking at The Egg in Albany tonight?

Did you know that you don't have to accept the two corporate choices American media is force feeding us?

Did you know that Ralph Nader was against the bailouts and is against corporate welfare?

Did you know that he is an absolute supporter of Single-Payer Health Care?

Did you know he will get our soldiers and our corporations out of Iraq starting on Day One?

Did you know that he is for alternative and sustainable energy (solar and wind, not "clean coal" or "safe nukes")?

Did you know that he's on the ballot in 45 states and is being equally virtually ignored by all media (Fox, Clear Channel, PBS, NPR & the N.Y. Times alike)?

Did you know that the polling organization whose job it is to shut independents out of the "debates" recently admitted this is done arbitrarily?

Did you know that we can celebrate democracy by taking it into our own hands?

Come see a real American citizen in Albany tonight! See you there!

Thurs. Oct. 16th, 7:30pm
Nader/Gonzalez Rally
The Egg - Empire State Plaza (Albany NY)
Suggested Contribution: $10/$5 students


Contact: Matt Funiciello
(518) 793-0075



Also, I noticed that yesterday, C-SPAN had an interview with George Farah, head of a non-partisan organization called Open Debates. Open Debates wants to replace the corporate-funded, two-party Duopoly controlled and anti-democratic Commission on Presidential Debates with a structure that will present the American citizenry with more points of view than the 1 1/3 they are force fed under the present closed system. Perhaps once a true diversity of voices are permitted into the debates, then they will actually become debates rather than mere regurgitations of well-worn soundbytes.

Sadly, useful but marginal media outlets like C-SPAN are about the only places you'll be exposed to points of view like those of Ralph Nader and pro-democracy advocates.

Yapping/texting while driving: just like being drunk

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.

As a biker and walker (not so much recently since the broken ankle), I can say that cell phones are the biggest plague on the road today. I don't know how many times I've almost been hit by some idiot flapping their gums or, worse yet, texting (sending text messages) while driving. I was actually run off the road a few months ago by such a moron.

Texting and yapping on your cell phone are both illegal here in New York state, but of course people do it anyway. I believe it's legal to use hands-free devices in New York, but they are just as dangerous, according to scientists interviewed in NPR report.

The scientific research discussed in the report confirms my anecdotal observations as a very exposed part of the road.

As one researcher put it, "If you're driving while cell-phoning, then your performance is going to be as poor as if you were legally drunk."

This conclusion isn't new but it bears repeating.

Driving while yapping/texting is a lot like driving drunk in another way: everyone thinks that they are talented/disciplined/focused enough to do it safely.

Yet the research shows that people who are distracted by their cell phone are four times more likely to get into an accident than people who aren't. Apparently a lot fewer people are Superman than they think.

The NPR report used pianists to demonstrate how the concept of efficient multitasking is a myth.

Yapping/texting while driving is more dangerous than other distractions because while some drivers may fiddle with their radio or iPod, they do so for a few seconds at a time, rather than several minutes non-stop. Figuring out which song you like or taking a gulp of coffee also doesn't require the brainpower needed to follow a conversation.

As the report explains, there is a reason yapping on your phone (hands-free or not) is more dangerous than chatting with a passenger sitting next to you. The passenger sees you and sees the road and is thus more likely to shut up if he sees something that requires your concentration or that you're focused or agitated. People on the other end of your cell phone can't see those visual cues.

So if you want to yap or text on your cell phone, just pull over to the side of the road. And be warned: the next person who runs me off the road because of such stupid self-indulgence is going to have his license plate reported to the county sheriff.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Cut the budget or the corporate welfare?

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.

I've been a big fan of the way David Paterson has tried to run New York since becoming the Accidental Governor. He recognizes that the state is facing a serious budget crisis and that the state has to fundamentally change the way it does things. He understands and is trying to make legislators accept that irresponsible spending habits have contributed to what was a state budget crisis even before the collapse of Wall Street. He's lectured repeatedly and, astonishingly, to great public approval, on the need for austerity. He understands that the status quo is unacceptable.

Or at least I thought he did.

Just days after saying he'd seek a further $2 billion in cuts to the existing state budget, Paterson has said that Albany can afford to waste $1.2 billion in subsidy handouts to Advanced Micro Devices, in possibly the largest corporate welfare scheme in state history.

I am disappointed beyond words in Paterson. He'd appeared to show courage in standing up to both public sector unions and the business lobby in pushing for across the board cuts. But when it came to one of the most obvious cuts of all, gargantuan, no strings attached handouts, he reverted back to the bad old habits.

Shame on him.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Bush's fraud, America's shame

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that President Bush's so-called Freedom Agenda has proven to be a massive fraud. It was pretty obvious even when it was being enunciated that it was nothing more than a smokescreen to launch our own wars of aggression (against Iraq, for example) and to support others (Ethiopia's against Somalia, for example). The only winner of these wars has been the military-industrial complex.

This piece in The New Republic shows how global authoritarianism has been skyrocketing the last several years despite, or more likely because, of the Bush administration's choices.

Even places that had been moving forward, like Lebanon, have now seen that progress disintegrate, if not worse. The Trotskyists in the White House said that once freedom bit Iraq, it would spread through the region like a plague. There's been a plague, to be sure, but it's been that of chaos and instability.

But some BushCheneyCo's actions have served as an inspiration for others.

The BBC reported on Africa's Guantanamo, located in Ethiopia. It's been reportedly used by the CIA to import kidnapees from all over and 'interrogate' them outside the jurisdiction of the US Supreme Court and those other pains in asses that demand, you know, things like legality and justice.

Just say the phrase: Africa's Guantanamo.

In past generations, when people wanted a shorthand for evil, they would use phrases like 'Auschwitz' or 'The Gulag.'

Now when they want an analogy for the unspeakable, they refer to something run in the name of those of us who claim to live in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

This is the legacy St. John McCain wants to continue.

Of the many legal and moral crimes of the BushCheneyCo administration, their jihad against American values, their dismantling of everything we say we hold sacred, is perhaps the most damning of all.

Monday, September 29, 2008

More spin than Karl Rove in a G Force machine

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.

Check out the first segment of the most recent episode of the Media Project, from WAMC public radio.

In it, a listener (myself) asks the following:

Given the results of a recent Zogby poll in which 44 percent said they "believe the United States' system is broken and cannot be fixed by traditional two-party politics and elections," doesn't this discredit the corporate media's rationalization that they ignore "third party" candidates because no one is interested in them?

Listen to Times-Union editor Rex Smith's response to this. He claims that it's not the media's job to drum up support for smaller party and independent candidates. He doesn't say what IS the media's job though. I naively thought it was to provide the public the information they needed to make an informed choice at the ballot box. And Smith can't quite figure out why newspaper sales are tanking.

It's hard to listen to this segment without wanting to puke... or to laugh hysterically. It contains more spin than Karl Rove in a G Force machine.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

Paul Newman passed away on Friday from cancer. Though more famous for being an actor, Newman spent much of his time over the last two and a half decades as a philanthropist, particularly for charities related to sick kids.

Newman was a frequent visitor to this area because the Double H Hole in the Woods camp for seriously ill children that he co-founded in Lake Luzerne.

Please consider making a donation in his memory to Hole in the Woods camp.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bipartisanship or democracy?

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.

There may be a presidential debate tomorrow, if Republican candidate St. John decides to participate. But I won't watch it. It won't really help me make an informed decision because it will exclude most of the candidates.

There are at least five candidates that I know of with a mathematical chance of winning. By mathematical chance, I mean they are enough state ballots whose electoral vote totals combine to at least 270.

Those five candidates are St. John, Democrat Barack Obama, Libertarian Bob Barr, independent Ralph Nader and Green Cynthia McKinney. I strongly suspect there are at least one or two more. But of those 5-7 candidates, only 2 have been invited. Why?

The presidential debates used to be run by a non-partisan group called the League of Women Voters. The LWV still sponsors many debates at state, local and Congressional levels. In the mid-80s, the two-party Duopoly decided they wanted to seize control of the debates and decided to stop cooperating with the widely respected LWV. The League argued that a change in sponsorship that put control of the debate format in the hands of the two dominant parties would deprive voters of one of the only chances they have to see the candidates outside of their controlled campaign environment.

But the Duopoly persisted and created the the Presidential Debate Commission.

The commission is bipartisan entity created and controlled by the two corporate parties. Its two co-chairmen are former heads of the Democratic and Republican National Committees. Most of its members are former Democratic and Republican elected officials, appointees or money men.

Befitting its control of the two corporate parties, the debates have over several corporate sponsors.

So the corporate party-run and corporate-sponsored debate commission excludes candidates from non-corporate parties. The Democrat- and Republican-controlled commission excludes candidates who aren't Democrats and Republicans.

This isn't exactly shocking, but it is disgusting.

Imagine if baseball's rules on payrolls were written by the Red Sox and the Yankees.

The corporate debate commission has two objective criteria for which candidates they allow. The first is constitutional eligibility. The second is whether they have a mathematical chance of winning an electoral college majority, as I described above.

These objective criteria should be the only criteria.

But if this were it, then people might actually be exposed to the ideas of non-corporate candidates. And we can't have that.

So the bipartisan, not non-partisan, commission arbitrarily decides to restrict participation to candidates who have received the arbitrary figure of an average 15 percent support in five arbitrarily chosen polls.

The corporate media blackout on non-corporate candidates essentially prevents them from getting anywhere near 15 percent in the polls, unless they can buy their own media coverage. How can candidates like Nader, McKinney, Barr and others gain widespread support in the polls if citizens are never exposed to their ideas through the media?

Non-corporate candidates are being told that they won't be given a forum until they prove they are popular... which of course is almost impossible if they're never given a forum. The corporate candidates buy their forum with the huge campaign bribes they receive (from corporate America of course... see how it's all one giant circle).

Smaller party and independent candidates don't get these huge "donations" and are ignored by the media. So how can they effectively get their message across to the masses?

The only non-corporate party candidate ever admitted by this commission was Ross Perot, who bought the poll numbers with his own money.

When smaller party and independent candidates ARE given something close to a fair shake, they often do well. Green Matt Gonzalez (now Ralph Nader's running mate) came within a whisker of winning the runoff to become San Francisco's mayor after getting a fair amount of media coverage.

Independence Party candidate Jesse Ventura was at a few percent in the polls for Minnesota governor. But after his participation in the debates, which apparently were done fairly because he was invited, his numbers skyrocketed and he eventually won the election. At first, no one supported him because no one had heard anything about him. People don't support unknowns. But as soon as he participated in the debates and people were exposed to his ideas, they liked what they here.

This is democracy.

This is what Democrats and Republicans are desperately trying to prevent.

The Duopoly will use all kinds of excuses. They will say that huge debates will be unworkable. Canada's upcoming elections will feature a pair of debates that include five party leaders. The last mayoral election in my city had debates that also included five candidates. They sky hasn't fallen yet because of this.

The Duopoly will say people aren't interested in smaller party and independent candidates. This is a lie. According to the polls they venerate so much, 44 percent of those polled agree that "the United States' system is broken and cannot be fixed by traditional two-party politics and elections."

The Duopoly will say that these are nothing more than "fringe" candidates with whacky ideas. Of course, if they were that far on the extreme, the Duopoly would have nothing to fear in allowing their participation. If anything, the Democrat and Republican would look moderate by comparison. But in reality, they know that these candidates have some good ideas.

Basically, they think you're too stupid and unsophisticated to handle more than two choices at once.

The excuses presented by the two corporate parties are based in nothing more than self-interest. Their self-interest, not yours. Really accountability is the last thing they want.

This collusion is nothing less than crooked. This collusion is nothing less than the rape of our democracy. And I'm sorry to tell my well-intentioned, but sometimes blinkered liberal friends that the Democrats are just as guilty in this rape as the GOP. Even the major party names are fraudulent. The Democrats' leadership believes in plutocracy, not democracy. The Republicans' leadership believes in the empire, not the republic.

All debates should invite every candidate with a mathematical chance of winning. It's fair. It's democratic.

The viability of each candidate should be decided on election day by the voters, by no one else and at no other time.

Let people decide who they're interested in hearing and who they don't care about. Let the citizens hear everyone's ideas and make up their own minds. Don't let the closed shop make this decision for you.

There are other things that need to be done as well. The biggest being the reform of rigged electoral laws in many states. As The Post-Star put it in an editorial: Up until the 1880s in this country, there were no obstacles keeping candidates from getting on the ballot. But as third-party candidates racked up victories against the major political parties of the day, those parties, which were in power, introduced more and more stringent ballot requirements, such as requiring a large number of signatures or an entry fee to qualify.

These two things, combined with a sane campaign finance system, are essential to restoring American democracy.

But for now, it's fair to say that if Americans are presented 10 different brands of white bread on the supermarket shelf, then surely they deserve more than two presidential choices.