Thursday, January 31, 2008

An American-hating terrorist

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -Theodore Roosevelt

The Associated Press did an article about a Brattleboro, VT town petition making President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney subject to arrest for crimes and the reaction to it. It will be put to a town-wide vote on March 4.

The petition has no legal standing, since the town attorney has no authority to write an indictment and the police have no authority to arrest Bush or Cheney if either visits Brattleboro.

As such, the vote is nothing more than a symbolic repudiation of Bush and Cheney. Bush has refused to visit Vermont during his presidency anyway and Cheney has only been once, for a fundraiser of course.

But as is so often the case in this country, pure symbolism has a way of firing people in a way substance does not. There was a lot of vitriolic responses shortly after this made news, though many more favorable responses later on.

It seemed like an ordinary wire service story until I read a disgusting response came from a nutjob in Rosemount, Minnesota.

A mentally deranged person named Brent Caflisch said, "Maybe the terrorists will do us all a favor and attack your town next, our country would be much safer with several thousand dead wackjobs in Vermont."

He suggested that terrorists should kidnap the town's selectmen (councilmen) who allowed the question on the ballot, "cut their heads off, video tape it and put it on the internet."

Call for legislators to be killed simply because they allowed the citizens to vote on a question. American democracy and freedom in action!

The town referendum is irrelevant. The scandal here is that this guy is openly calling for Americans to be brutally murdered because he disagrees with their political opinions.

How exactly is this guy not a terrorist?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Boys will piss on boys

According to multiple sources of mine, there were hazing incidents with high school ice hockey team of a nearby town.

Apparently, a bunch of the team "leaders" knocked one of the kids down in the showers and collectively urinated on him.

The victim didn't say anything to anyone, presumably because of the humiliation. But one of the other kids, observing but not participating, told his parents and word quickly spread. The "leaders" did other things to the victim but this was the worst. They allegedly committed similar acts against other players on the team. Or should I say "team."

The victim's mom made the coach aware of the incident with her son and demanded action. She would've accepted the perpetrators (I suppose I should say alleged perpetrators, for legal reasons) being suspended for a few games each.

Instead, the punishment was the kids had to skate laps.

ALL of the kids, not just the alleged perpetrators. Including the victim.

(And even though it shouldn't matter, the team is horrible... not surprisingly considering the "team bonding" activities. It was 1-14 on the year so far. So it's not like suspending these kids would have prevented them from their inevitable state championship.)

The victim's mom was angry at the coach's inaction so she went to the athletic director. The AD pooh-poohed her complaint with the incomprehensibly stupid comment that these things have been going on for a while.

By this point, the mother is livid and went further up the administrative food chain.

After an amazingly quick investigation (for a school district that's ridiculously dysfunctional... but that's another entry), they find out that this sort of thing had been going on repeatedly. Just as the athletic director admitted.

The manure hit the ventilator, as they say.

It hasn't hit the local media yet but I'm sure it will in the next few days.

According to my sources, the alleged perpetrators were kicked off the team and suspended them from school for a week. Because the coach wouldn't deal with it himself as the mother had wanted, state law kicked in once it got to the higher ups. This will go on their permanent record.

Between the kids kicked off the team and the kids who were pulled off the team by disgusted parents, there were only seven kids left. So the team's season is apparently over*.

In a sane world, people would applaud the administrators for standing up for decency and the town's and school's honor by punishing deviant behavior. In a sane town, people would applaud administrators for demanding their athletes respect the code of conduct that EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM (and their parents!!!) signed.

But even in this hardly sane world, this town is less sane than most. This is a town that takes a jackass who was kicked out of a youth soccer league for slamming a kid against a wall and elects him to the school board.

So is it really any surprise that the reactions to the hockey team's demise are: blame the victim; boys will be boys; being pissed on by seven different people is no big deal.

This is not the only thing that makes this school district a disgrace. Every year, I see more examples of this town's idiocy. Last year, I was at a middle school soccer game involving this school and saw scumbag parents berating a ref because he stopped an attacking rush to deal with an injured kid. An injured 12 year old. An injured kid WHO WAS ON THEIR OWN TEAM.

Every year, I see different players on this school's various teams, different coaches, different parents. Yet the unsportsmanlike behavior by all remains the same. There are good people in this town. But the culture of the place is just rotten, nay poisonous.

What is the reaction of one of the parents who maintains the hockey team website:



(note that this is exactly how it was published. maybe the person would've been better served by spending the last 7 years studying grammar and spelling instead of watching hockey)

The victim's mom is now a pariah for blowing the whistle and make sure the right thing is done, for making sure other kids don't suffer what her son got done to him. I'm sure her son is getting crap from his former teammates, as though they were the victims and he was the one who did something wrong.

I knew this was going to happen. It's happened in places with far more class than this town. But it still infuriates me.

There's a certain amount of "boys will be boys" I can accept. Snapping towels at each other. Maybe putting Icy Hot in someone's jock. Fun with Vaseline (it's not what you think... or is it?). This might merit some kind of punishment like laps or whatever but not suspension.

However, there's a line you have to draw. And wherever you draw that line, forcing your bodily waste fluids on someone else is on the wrong side of it.

While you may not be surprised when kids do stupid things, you don't excuse it. You expect the adults to be responsible. Don't demand the kids be sent to the electric chair but insist they accept the consequences like men.

Instead, these idiot parents (not all of them but some of them) are teaching their kids wonderful lessons. Like don't keep your promises... the promises that both the kids AND the parents agreed to in signing the codes of conduct. Like your word means nothing. Like blame someone else when you screw up. Like actions don't have consequences in the real world some of them will be entering in a few months. Like pissing on someone is no big deal. Like COMMITTING A CRIMINAL ACT is no big deal.

Truly the apples don't fall far from the tree. The kids are stupid (and malicious... make no mistake about it, it was a bullying power trip not twisted humor). But as stupid as the kids may be, it's the parents who are the real disgrace.

*-Update: the team's coach told the local paper that the season would continue. So we shall see.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sen. Clinton's sense of entitlement

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -Theodore Roosevelt

Most open minded people are pleased at the pathetic implosion of Rudy 9iu1an1's campaign. And we've all had fun teasing fans of Ron Paul for their Scientology-like fervor... although their cult leader has humiliated 9iu1an1 in the voting so far.

But Hillary Clinton and her supporters deserve real scorn.

It's no secret that I've never been a fan of Hillary. I didn't vote for her US senatorial campaign in 2000 or in 2006. And while I'd consider voting for Barack Obama if Ralph Nader doesn't run, I'd never vote for Hillary. I'd be happy to vote for a good woman president, but the good part is more important to me than the woman part.

If you want a corporate tool who's served on that "liberal" haven, the Wal-Mart board of directors, then she's your candidate! Hillary brags about her experience, but she's been an elected official four years fewer than Obama. And her experience as an elected official consists of voting for the Patriot Act, the Aggression against Iraq and most of Bush's war against civil liberties.

Her campaign is trying to have it both ways. She's pandering to women on the basis that it's time for a woman leader, that she'd be more sensible than the belligerent men, etc.

I can deal with this. All candidates pander to whichever group they feel they can squeeze the most votes from.

But at the same time she's bragging about how great she'd be as a woman president, she, her campaign and her supporters are whining like insufferable children about the supposed double standard, about how They are picking on her unfairly because she's a woman.

Well guess what Einstein: if your sales' pitch is to be judged differently because you're a woman, then quit your whiny-ass bitching when you are judged differently because you're a woman!

Take this sniveling entry by a bitter Hillary supporter.

He has no problem with Hillary playing the gender card but rages when Obama supposedly "plays the race card."

He pouts, "I think it is incredibly disappointing that we live in a country where people continue to clique up to that degree based on skin color. I think it is ridiculous that almost half of the voters in an entire state would choose a candidate for the foolish reason of race."

This guy AUTOMATICALLY assumes that every single black person who voted for Obama ONLY did so for the sole reason of his skin color.

(If Obama's popularity is only due to the "race card," as this guy puts it, then I wonder how he won Iowa, a state that's 97 percent white.

But this isn't the only hypocrisy. Bill Clinton has launched blistering attacks on Obama. But when anyone criticizes Bill for it, we're told that he's just the candidate's spouse and he should be treated with kid gloves.)

However, if someone else were to assert that every single woman who voted for Hillary did so for the sole reason of her gender, he'd flip out about this alleged double standard.

When half the population is black (which it rarely is) and Obama wins, it's because of race. But when half the population is female (which it usually is) and Hillary wins, it's NOT because of gender.

What arrogance. What a whiny-ass sore loser.

And this is exactly what people have always associated with Hillary: Arrogance. The presumption that it's her God-given right to be president just because she's a smart woman. That anyone who votes against her must be either far right loon, a raging sexist or both. Because no one with half a brain could possibly vote against this most brilliant woman on the planet!

One of the reason so many people can't stand George W. Bush (even before he started his Crusade against American values) is because he came across as feeling he had this gigantic sense of entitlement. That he was owed the world because of who he was related to. Hillary Clinton has exactly this same sense of entitlement. And that, not her gender, is why so many people both of the right AND the left can't stand her.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The criminal starvation of Gaza won't make Israel safer

I usually don't write about IsraelStine. And I know that, for ideological (not humanitarian) reasons, this smaller man-made disaster will provoke far more reaction than my piece on the much greater man-made catastrophe in the DR Congo (5.4 million deaths = 0 comments). But this story is so disgusting even by the normal low standards of the conflict's participants that I can't help but vent.

In response to rocket attacks on Israeli border villages by Palestinian militants, the Israeli authorities have decided that this situation can only be solved by starving people in the Gaza Strip to death.

The Israelis closed all crossings between occupied Gaza and Israel proper. The state created in response to the Nazi Holocaust EVEN PREVENTED HUMANITARIAN SUPPLIES FROM THE UNITED NATIONS from entering what had been described even before this abomination as the world's largest prison.

The illogic of the Israeli government is that starving Gazans will pressure the militants to stop the rocket attacks. In reality, this will only INCREASE support by ordinary Gazans for the militants. This is what has happened in with past collective punishments. And this is what will happen again. I believe that it was Benjamin Franklin who described insanity as trying exactly same thing over and over and expecting different results. As such, the Israeli government is stupid. The primary cause of terrorism is despair and there's little despair more primal than starving to death.

I am not a reflexive critic of the Israeli government, current or past. Israel has the right to exist in peace. Israel has the right to defend itself. Israel faces real threats. I've said that Israel ought to be allowed to join NATO in exchange for allowing the creation of a truly sovereign Palestinian state.

But the right of self-defense has certain implicit qualities: the self-defensive act should be specifically targeted to the threatening entity and its only objective should be to end the threat.

Israel has been trying collective punishments on its Occupied Territories for over two decades. And the same problems of insecurity remain. This is not surprising to anyone with an iota of understanding of human nature. Sure, you have the rare heroic exceptions like in South Africa. But when you treat people as sub-human savages, it is almost inevitable that they will react in a sub-human savage way.

Let me repeat that: when you treat people as sub-human savages, it is almost inevitable that they will react in a sub-human savage way.

In such crises such as the rocket attacks, there is a completely understandable desire on the part of the aggrieved that their government DO SOMETHING. What often happens is that the government ends up being more concerned about DOING SOMETHING, anything, than about doing something that's ACTUALLY GOING TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM. The appearance of concern ends up trumping common sense and judgment and ultimately results.

This is why the Israel irrationally invaded Lebanon in 2006 and it ended up being the disaster it was always likely to be. This is why the US launched its irrational aggression against Iraq and it ended up being the disaster it was always likely to be.

These governments may have made disastrous decisions that hurt their national interests and security. But hey, at least they DID SOMETHING.

The bottom line is that heavy handed collective punishments in occupied lands do not work. They create resentment and hostility and resistance. Somehow, people forget that the collective punishment (in al-Qaeda's eyes) known as 9/11 failed to cower Americans into subservience to the Islamists. It hasn't worked for America in Iraq. It hasn't worked for Israel in the West Bank.

And Israel's criminal attempts to starve Gazans to death aren't going to serve Israel's interests any better.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Freak shows

Sometimes the triviality of the corporate "news" media is absolutely mind-numbing.

What was one of the stories at the very top of the front page of today's Glens Falls Post-Star? One of the stories that the paper's collective editorial judgement deemed to be a big news item of great public importance?

It was a story about how former Phish lead singer Trey Anastasio after he missed a mandatory drug counseling session. This was required after he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance last year.

Washington County Sheriff Roger Leclaire said Anastasio's days in jail were uneventful, added the paper, if to underline the pointlessness of the story.

5.5 million people have died in the DR Congo avoidably in the last decade and the honchoes at The Post-Star feel that far more ink should be given to a C-list celebrity druggie spending a few days in jail.

I suppose at least it's a non-story with a local angle, unlike their groundbreaking "bridge that dogs in Scotland like to jump off" front page non-story from August 2005.

The daily's motto must be "a small-minded paper for a small town."

But it's not just the small-minded, small-town media that's complicit in the dumbing down of the American citizenry.

Here are the top stories on the domestic this morning:

Snow strands hundreds near L.A.
$20 bill in Ledger's home tests clean
Autopsy: Slain Marine's fetus not born alive
Freed man: Detective's big ego stole half my life
Crash kills 20 after air safety meeting
CNNMoney: One trader costs bank $7.14 billion
Scary movie making viewers sick
Married mayor to aide: 'I love you madly'
Snow-day rant teen wishes calls would stop
Ticker: 5 year old quizzes Clinton on marriage
Are you an obnoxious patient?
WSB: Police: Coroner stole gift cards from dead
Laughing jail call gets woman long sentence
Old photo reunites teacher, beloved student
Bigfoot pops up in more unexpected places

Only two stories, possibly three, even remotely worth mentioning on a supposedly serious national news outlet out of the 15 listed.

And this is without the "random middle class, photogenic blond white girl is kidnaped" story that periodically dominates TV coverage.

I suppose that if the self-proclaimed America's most trusted news source's editorial judgement is this warped, then it's not surprising that small town media is following them like lemmings off a cliff.

Update: Interestingly, the top stories on CNN's INTERNATIONAL website has the ratio of serious stories to trivial garbage was completely reversed. This is one of many indications that CNN treats its international audience with far more respect than its domestic audience... something that Democracy Now's Amy Goodman noted was key to the differing American and international perceptions of the US Aggression against Iraq. Just watch CNN domestic TV and switch to CNN International and you'll notice the same thing. Perhaps this is because CNN domestic's biggest competitor is Fox News [sic] while CNN International's biggest competitor is the BBC.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Peace deal signed to (hopefully) end second Congolese holocaust

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.

A peace deal has been signed that will hopefully end the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The deal was signed by the DRC's government, the pro-government Mai Mai militia and dissident rebel chief Laurent Nkunda.

Some observers called the deal historic but others were skeptical.

Africa analyst Muzong Kodi at Chatham House in London told the BBC's Focus on Africa program that, "The underlying problem is the resource war and if any of the groups disband other groups are going to replace them."

Kodi added that impunity is another major obstacle.

The deal was signed a day after the International Rescue Committee estimated that war and its resulting chaos had caused some 5.4 million Congolese deaths in the last decade.

The IRC has concluded that there are 45,000 more deaths, every month, than would be expected from the average, already poor conditions in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

Many of the deaths are caused by conditions like malaria, malnutrition and pneumonia, which are easily treatable... when public health infrastructure is available.

IRC noted that the DRC's vastness, it's the size of western Europe, exacerbated the astronomical death toll. In geographically smaller countries, aid agencies could better concentrate their efforts.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"Conservativism" according to the Huckster

A friendly acquaintance of mine pointed this out about the most theocratic presidential candidate in the Republican field:

"South Carolina people know true conservatism when they see it. You don't like people outside the state telling you how you ought to raise your kids. You don't like people from outside the state telling you what to do with the [Confederate] flag. In fact, if somebody came down to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em where to put the pole."

-- GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who supports Constitutional amendments that would ban abortion nationwide and prohibit any state from legalizing same-sex marriage even if the voters in that state wanted to do so.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Glens Falls mayor to run for re-election

The local weekly Chronicle newspaper had a brief blurb with some bad news: Glens Falls mayor Roy Akins intends to seek a second term.

If the next mayor created a ceremonial post, Akins would be the ideal person. He is always there for ribbon cuttings and ceremonial speeches and Christmas tree lightings and Harry Potter book launch parties and photo ops with visiting luminaries.

Akins would be a great ambassador for the city, but he is beyond question not up to the job of being the chief administrator for the city. His passive, hands off style is clearly not working.

His top staff members have resigned in droves.

He is completely unresponsive to citizen complaints about things like unplowed roads and noise of garbage trucks. I speak from personal experience. Of course, dealing with the nitty gritty of running a city is much less fun than fancy photo ops but it's much more about what the job of being mayor entails.

Rather than trying to court potential new businesses or keep current businesses from leaving, he expects them to come to him. His response is always "My door is open if they want to come talk to me." He is the least pro-active mayor in recent memory.

The same could be said about the city's quest for a new pro hockey team. You'd think he'd offer at least token public support to the search committee that hopes to bring a permanent tenant to the economic boondoggle that is the city owned Civic Center.

Or if he thought the building was no longer worth the trouble, he should take a position that it should be torn down or sold to a private group.

But it's not in his nature to take a position on anything. That's what he did during the election campaign. That's how he's been mayor.

His attitude is to just let things happen and if the best occurs without him, make sure he's available for the photo op.

Essentially, he lets everybody else argue about things, do the hard work while trying to stay above the fray. He lets other people take the heat but makes sure he's there to take the credit. That may be good politics but it denies needed leadership and direction.

Some criticized his predecessor, Bob Regan, for trying to run roughshod over everyone. Akins has gone too far the other way.

The mayor is a battling the effects of a brain tumor. He seems like a very nice person who's truly dedicated to the city. I wish him well.

But I think both he and the city would be better off if he resigned so that he could focus on his health and we could have a mayor who could focus on the job that needs to be done. If he's not going to do the most honorable thing and resign for the good of the city and himself, the least he could do is not run for re-election.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Prankster nearly provokes US-Iranian conflict

Earlier this month, you may have noticed sensational stories about alleged threats made by the Iranian authorities on American naval vessels. Many were skeptical of the official accounts, simply because a) the Bush administration has no credibility left and b) most people know they are trying to contrive some fake pretext to fabricate a military confrontation with Iran.

Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! contends that the media was complicit in helping make this molehill into a mountain.

It turns out that whole 'incident' may have been provoked by a prankster.

A well-known prankster, apparently.

The Navy Times quoted Rick Hoffman, a retired captain, as saying a renegade talker repeatedly harassed ships in the Gulf in the late 1980s.
"For 25 years there's been this mythical guy out there who, hour after hour, shouts obscenities and threats," he said. "He could be tied up pierside somewhere or he could be on the bridge of a merchant ship," Hoffman said
, reported the Associated Press.

The fact that an apparent prank could nearly provoke a military confrontation between a US administration desperate for one and Iran is pointed illustration of just how irrational and dangerously out of control the fanatics in the White House are.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration in Glens Falls

I recently received the following press release:

Contact: Matt Funiciello at mattfuniciello @

The Glens Falls Martin Luther King Committee announced today that the 2008 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemoration will be held Monday, January 21, 2008 in Glens Falls.

Adirondack Native Dr. Alice Green will be the Keynote Speaker of the day’s events with a speech entitled “Doctor King: From Dreamer to Revolutionary.” Dr. Green is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Center for Law and Justice, a non-profit community organization that monitors criminal justice activities, provides legal assistance and criminal justice advocacy, organizes efforts to change social policy and empowers poor people and people of color. She entered the 2005 Mayor's race in Albany running as the Green Party's candidate in which she garnered an impressive 28% of the vote.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most important leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in America. Dr. King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech during the March on Washington in 1963. Dr. King vociferously opposed the Viet Nam War and became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Price. He was assassinated forty years ago this April 4 while in Memphis, Tennessee, to support striking black sanitary public works employees, represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Dr. King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

Although James Earl Ray was arrested, convicted and imprisoned for Dr. King’s murder, in 1999 Dr. King’s widow Coretta Scott King, along with the rest of King's family, won a wrongful death civil trial against Loyd Jowers and “other unknown co-conspirators.” Jowers claimed to have received $100,000 to arrange King's assassination. The jury of six whites and six blacks found Jowers guilty and that “governmental agencies were parties” to the assassination plot.

Martin Luther King Day was established as a national holiday in the United States in 1986, but it wasn’t until 2000 that all 50 states officially observed the holiday for the first time. Before 2000 the holiday was not observed by New Hampshire, Arizona, or South Carolina and in Virginia, the holiday was added on to Lee-Jackson Day, a day meant to honor confederate generals, and became Lee-Jackson-King Day. Although the day is now a universally celebrated federal and state holiday, it is usually not observed by American corporations.

The event will begin at 4:30 pm on the steps of Glens Falls City Hall with remarks from local politicians, including Glens Falls Mayor Roy Akins and Assemblywoman Theresa Sayward. At 5 pm, following their brief remarks, marchers will proceed to Christ Church at 54 Bay Street where a public program commemorating and celebrating the life, work, and message of Dr. King will be held beginning at 5:30 pm.

The public event at Christ Church will feature an opening prayer, music and hymns by a community choir and local musicians, readings from Doctor King and the keynote speech given by Dr. Alice Green. A reception with baked goods and hot beverages donated by local businesses will follow.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Newspapers' race to the bottom

As the newspaper industry continues to struggle nationally, some papers are succombing more and more to sensationalism. The "infotainment" virus, which has already destroyed television news, increasingly plagues newspapers as well.

Here are two local examples.

Ken Tingley, supremo at the Glens Falls Post-Star, makes regular appearances on WAMC's The Roundtable program to discuss local issues.

On today's Roundtable, the ONLY issue Tingley was willing to discuss was the recent death of former Major League pitcher Johnny Podres, who was the first ever World Series MVP. Podres helped the Brooklyn Dodgers win their only World Series in 1955.

Podres was from neighboring Queensbury and spent most of his life in the region so it was a perfectly legitimate story to discuss.

But was this the ONLY big story in the area? Tingley was specifically asked by the host if he had anything else to talk about and he said no.

Meanwhile, the front page of his own paper today features a rather significant update in the saga of a missing local boy, whose adoptive father was named a 'person of interest' by police.

How about the huge story about a state court ruling that, if upheld, will costs local towns tens of millions of dollars?!

I have nothing against Johnny Podres, nor do I have any problem with Tingley talking about his life. But surely he could've found a minute to talk a little about a missing 12-year old or a hugely significant court decision.

Perhaps this isn't surprising, since Tingley is a former sports' editor of The Post-Star. But it's a sad reflection on the priorities of the managing editor of the only daily newspaper serving much of the southern Adirondacks.

But they are not the only paper in the area to descend into tabloidism.

Take The Times-Union's treatment of John Sweeney.

The Albany paper felt it necessary to run a big non-story about a dispute between the former Republican congressman and a taxi company.

Apparently, Sweeney got a cab ride home but didn't immediately pay because he thought a friend of his had paid the fare for him.

When he was later informed of the discrepency, Sweeney paid the company.

Police were called but before they could even charge him, Sweeney cleared up the misunderstanding.

There's nothing in The Times-Union's reporting that suggests this was anything more than an honest mistake.

So where's the story?

Oh wait, did I forget to mention that he was coming home from a strip club?

I have no sympathy whatsoever for John Sweeney. I voted against him every time he ran for office. I cringed when he went down to Florida in 2000 to disrupt the vote count like some common street thug. I've long felt him a lowlife slimeball, both as a politician and as a human being. His actions in the last year and a half have only strengthened that belief.

But John Sweeney has been out of the public eye since his election defeat in November 2006. He hasn't spouted off on local or national politics. He's expressed no interest in getting his old job back. He's just an ordinary citizen. A lowlife, slimeball, ordinary citizen, but an ordinary citizen nonetheless.

As The Times-Union pointed out: Sweeney's driver's license was suspended in November for six months following his guilty plea to driving while intoxicated. He also was fined $1,000 for the incident. Sweeney was pulled over on the Northway and admitted to drinking at the Envy Lounge in Albany. His blood-alcohol content was 0.18, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.

I have no problem with any media outlet reporting when he's actually charged with a crime.

But this taxi cab spat is a non-issue that was sensationalized by the paper only because the tawdry strip club aspect... something which was really irrelevant to what little story there was anyway.

(I once wrote a check to a local pizza place that bounced because of a mixup in my checking account. As soon as I was informed of this by the restaurant, I immediately went down there and paid my bill. This never made it to the front page of the newspaper... because there was nothing erotic about it.)

No public interest was served by this being fabricated into a big deal; it was only sensationalism to sell some extra copies and get the T-U some publicity. It's sad, because the daily is actually doing some excellent journalism on the commerce in steroids that seems to be centered in the Albany region. But that good journalism is tarnished by its proximity to the shameless tabloidism surrounding Sweeney.

I'm not the only one to be disturbed by the increasingly superficial tendencies of the local media. Adirondack Almanack did an excellent analysis of how important stories were covered by the mainstream media as compared to by blogs.

There's nothing I need to add to Almanack's commentary except that it's very much worth reading.

Newspapers are at a crossroads. Many are making the wrong decision. Newspapers can no longer compete with television for sensationalism, least of all with cable 'news' outlets. The Times-Union or The Post-Star out-tabloid The New York Post so they shouldn't bother trying. The risk is that in attempting to do so, they will also turn off people who want good journalism.

What papers that claim to be serious need to do is focus on serious journalism. People who want a superficial scan of current events, with a focus on Brittney and the random, upper middle class, photogenic, missing white girl of the week, will watch television because that's the medium that can best feed this appetite. People who want a more in-depth look at real events both in this country and abroad will read newspapers... provided they can find one that serves their needs.

It's a bit like Wal-Mart. Mom and Pop stores will never be able to compete with Wal-Mart when it comes to price because of corporate welfare, Wal-Mart's dubious business practices, etc.

Instead, what small local businesses need to do is find their niche. They need to focus on offering stuff of a higher quality to appeal to the consumers who don't want crap and are willing to pay a little extra for it. Sucessful small businesses are those who try to find their niche, instead of engaging in a race to the bottom that they can't possibly win.

Newspapers would do well to emulate this model.

Update: The most read news article in the last seven days at is a piece on six kids that were arrested for underage drinking. This has received 75 percent more hits than the story on Podres' death, although the Podres' story was posted a day later. The most commented stories on the site were ones about a drunk and stoned driver who refused to apologies to the families of the people he killed (38 comments) and a big felony drug seizure as well as ones about the missing kid (30 comments) and the drinking party. No story about Podres' even hit the 9 comments level. So maybe the paper's readers aren't quite as superficial as Tingley thinks they are.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The hypocrisy of small government types

Supporters of GOP president candidate Rep. Ron Paul, most of whom are libertarians, amuse me. They seem to have an almost messianic belief in the man, in a way that reminds me almost of a cult. They vaunt his intellectual purity in a party whose watchword is intellectual deceit.

The libertarian wing of the GOP is virtually irrelevant. The party's fortunes are now split among the corporatist, militarist and theocratic wings, all of which promote big government.

You can't blame them for trying, I suppose. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is largely dead, but a few noble souls are trying to keep the flame alive.

What's interesting is how many folks on the left I've heard praise Paul. He believes (supposedly, but we'll get to that latter) in the dismantling of big government, something you'd think progressives would find anathema. However, many on the left are taken by his foreign policy positions. He opposes militarism and imperialism as well as the wars against civil liberties and Iraq. He's in favor of a non-interventionist, non-meddlesome foreign policy, which makes virtually unique among prominent or even semi-prominent elected Republicans.

I'm no libertarian but you have to wonder if he's all he's cracked up to be.

An acquaintance of mind is part of the Ron Paul cult and he posted a press release from the good doctor (Paul is a practicing MD). The press release stated:

The U.S. House of Representatives reports that Congressman Ron Paul has once again run his Congressional office in a frugal manner, and he will likely return tens of thousands of dollars to the Treasury once again this year. Preliminary estimates forwarded to Paul’s office indicate he has about $75,000 left in his account... [the Congressman's chief of staff] said that the purchase of new equipment, staff changes and postal rate increases made it especially difficult to restrain spending this year. “Considering Congressman Paul’s efforts helped to land nearly $50,000,000 in appropriations for crucial projects in this part of Texas last year, we are most pleased that we were able to once again get the job done under budget.”

The last comment illustrates the Fundamental Hypocrisy of most of the people who pretend to want smaller government. Even someone who acts like the king of small government can't help but boast about the tens of millions of dollars in pork he's brought to his district.

And that's the point. I'm sure that in the eyes of Paul and those in his district, none of that " $50,000,000 in appropriations for crucial projects" constituted pork. All the wasteful spending was limited to the other 434 congressional districts.

And this is exactly why government continues to expand, even when the self-proclaimed small government types are in charge.

All of my projects are "crucial." It's the other guy's projects that are "pork." My bike path is a wonderful addition to the community. The other guy's bike path is a boondoggle.

So the "taxpayers' best friend," as Paul's supporters call him, saved us $75,000 in office expenses but cost us 667 times more in pork/"crucial projects."

Thanks for nothing.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The effects of climate change and pollution

I read with interest the top 100 science stories of 2007, as ranked by Discover magazine. I was struck by just how many stories involving climate change and pollution made the list.

Many people would rather fiddle while the Earth burns. But at the end of the day, tackling these serious global challenges is infinitely more important than whining about Al Gore's mansion.

Their #1 story explained the huge impact of China's unrestrained economic growth. And not just on China itself.

The country will soon surpass the United States as the world's largest polluter (in raw terms; the US will remain at the top... er bottom... of that list per capita). China's coal-fired power plants emit the world’s highest levels of sulfur dioxide (a major element of acid rain) and mercury, both of which rise high into the atmosphere and hitch a ride on air currents circling the globe.

Furthermore, a study found that three-quarters of the black carbon pollution in the atmosphere over the western United States originates in Asia. It is estimated that as much as 35 percent of all the mercury pollution in the western United States comes from abroad, and China is most likely the main culprit. According to the World Wildlife Fund, untreated waste has turned China’s Yangtze River basin into the single largest polluter of the Pacific Ocean.

Man-aggravated climate change is already hitting hard in many countries, including Australia. The Land Down Under is suffering through its worst drought in a milenmium.

"Australia is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the impact of climate change on water resources,” says Ross Young, executive director of the Water Services Association of Australia. “Many people thought there would be adequate time to adapt to less water. The lesson from Australia is that the shift has been very dramatic and has occurred in a very short period."

Some other climate change and pollution related stories in Discover's top 100...

-Soot Began Harming Arctic A Century Ago

-Quantifying Global Warming

-Acid Rain Intensifies Threat To Marine Life. Those of us who live in or near the Adirondacks already know the devastating ecological impact of acid rain caused by pollution from far away.

-Wastewater Decimates Minnows

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Britain to go nuclear

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -Theodore Roosevelt

It's no secret that the Bush administration is hell bent on inventing pretexts for a military confrontation with Iran. This is cause for great concern. When two belligerent, theocratically-based regimes of different sects collide, the results are rarely pretty.

The main fake pretext for militaristic posturing against Iran is that country's nuclear program, which it claims is designed to provide energy to its exploding population. Washington counters that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons. I'm not sure if this is true but even if it is, can you blame them? Nuclear weapons are the only proven deterrence to Bush administration belligerence. Contrast the different fates of Iraq and North Korea.

That the nuclear question is a fake pretext is pretty transparent. Take the British government recent decision to give the green light to a new generation of nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom. They even tried to couch it in environmentalism by invoking green buzzphrases.

Britain's energy minister told Parliament: "Nuclear power has provided us with safe and secure supplies of electricity for half a century. It is one of the very few proven low carbon technologies which can provide baseload electricity. Nuclear power currently provides us with around 19% of our electricity. Nuclear power will help us meet our twin energy challenges - ensuring secure supplies and tackling climate change."

In fact, the minister said that limiting the amount of power produced via the nuclear route "would not be consistent with [Britain's] long term national interest."

This drew no reaction at all from Washington.

It's in Britain's national interest that it have nuclear power but a threat to world peace if Iran does.

It's in America's national interest that it have nuclear weapons but a threat to world peace if Iran might... even though the only country ever to use nuclear weapons against a civilian population was not Iran, but America.

And yet many are still under the delusion that "they hate us because we're free."

Whew! I'm glad it's not the hypocrisy.

Aside: this really raises an interesting question. Pro-gun types contend that if everyone had a gun (or several), the world would be safer because there would be so much 'deterrence' from reckless or aggressive use. According to this logic, wouldn't it stand to reason that the world would be safer if every country had nuclear weapons?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What do you think of John Edwards?

I have always been skeptical of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. There's something of a 'fly-by-night' quality of him that has always turned me off. Something that makes him come across as being as artificial as Mitt Romney. I've also always been suspicious of angry populists who pander to people's emotions because while that's great for getting votes, it's a poor way to actually make change happen... something that Edwards isn't actually famous for.

Yet Ralph Nader and a few other people whose opinions I respect have spoken well of him, or at least his campaign. Nader doesn't speak well of prominent Democrats very often so it caught my attention.

I think the fact that Edwards is actually talking about poverty and economic concerns (instead of the "bipartisan" approach of pretending these things don't exist and pandering only to the middle class) can be useful for advancing the debate, regardless of whether it's a campaign stunt or not.

But I just doubts about whether he's the man to make the change that he very eloquently says needs to be made.

So instead of giving my opinion, I'll ask for yours. I know some progressives read this blog. What are your thoughts about John Edwards?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The illusion of media choice

US News and World Report has a good article on media consolidation.

It's commonly believed that the explosion in news outlets (primarily via cable TV and the Internet) has increased the diversity of product choice.

However, the magazine points out that although the number of news outlets has exploded, the number of journalists has remained static.

Says Tom Goldstein, director of mass communications at the University of California-Berkeley: "Resources are in the distribution rather than the collection of news."

The weekly added: Today, about a dozen media corporations—the largest is Gannett Co., followed by the Tribune Co.—own roughly one third of the country's more than 1,400 daily newspapers.

In other words, the change is not in being able to see a wider variety of opinions or deeper news coverage. The change is that now, you can see the same people's opinions and the same superficial infotainment in many different place.

It's not choice, but the illusion of choice.

Monday, January 07, 2008

20 percent of Army recruiters under investigation for dishonesty

In a 'dog bites man' story, the British Ministry of Defence is apparently under fire for glamorizing war.

I'll pause a moment to allow the shock to wear off.

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust says recruits are unable to make informed choices about enlisting and children are being targeted, reports the BBC.

This is exactly when you get savvy adults whose career it is to prey upon vulnerable 16 year olds because the military needs to feed the war machine's insatiable appetite. A war machine that's so transparent that even people only a little bit older can see through it.

But don't get too smug. It's hardly just a British thing.

According the New York Times, nearly one of five United States Army recruiters was under investigation in 2004 for offenses varying from "threats and coercion to false promises that applicants would not be sent to Iraq." One veteran recruiter told a reporter for the Albany Times Union, "I've been recruiting for years, and I don't know one recruiter who wasn't dishonest about it. I did it myself."

See the world. Get money for college. Visit different cultures. The military sounds like a paradise!

I wonder if the recruiters mention destroying other people's countries for no reason, dodging bullets in a place where you have no idea who's enemy and who isn't, putting your life in the hands of whatever nitwit happens to be elected (or not) president and surviving (hopefully) roadside bombs.

Recommended reading: Top military recruitment lies.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

And that's just those who've been caught

Ever wonder why New York state government was so messed up? Why Albany was the home of the most dysfunctional state legislature in the nation?

The Albany Times-Union offers a clue. An investigation by the daily and Columbia University's investigative reporting center revealed as many as one-fifth of state lawmakers have... broken the law.

Friday, January 04, 2008

"You would like nothing better than to hold grudges"

In my local paper, I caught a version of this article about the debate over casino gambling in Massachussetts. The piece talked about how religious folks that had previously been on opposite sides of the argument over gay marriage are now uniting to oppose casinos. It was supposed to make you feel warm and fuzzy about how ideologically different people can get along. And then I read this snipet:

"You would like nothing better than to hold grudges. But in government you can't do that," said Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a leading anti-gay marriage lobbying group whose mission statement says it's committed to affirming Judeo-Christian values.

Just think about that comment for a second: "You would like nothing better than to hold grudges."

This so-called Christian should be absolutely ashamed of herself.

This is exactly what's wrong with America. You have a group claiming to represent core Judeo-Christian values talking about the joy of holding grudges.

The only reason this "Judeo-Christian" group reluctantly chose to drop its grudge is only because it became politically expedient to do so.

I was raised a Catholic. The Catholicism I learned might be derided as "bleeding heart" or "cafeteria" in some quarters. But in contrast to Ms. Mineau, the version of Christianity I was raised with did not preach about how there is "nothing better" than holding grudges.

America is filled with so many people who are angry and nasty and who view those with differing political opinions as enemies, as dishonest, as evil. What America needs is more emphasis on honest dialogue and less emphasis on holding grudges.

Even if it doesn't fit some people's idea of Judeo-Christian values.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Yacking drivers to blame for traffic congestion too

It's fairly well known that people who yack away on their cell phones (or worse yet, text message) while driving are extremely hazardous not only to other drivers, but especially to pedestrians and bicyclists. Some studies have equated the practice to being as dangerous as driving drunk. Whether this is strictly true or not, the practice is clearly distracting and unsafe.

Such people (here in New York state, we call them criminals) are now being blamed for another ill: traffic congestion.

U.S. researchers said on Wednesday that people who use cell phones while behind the wheel impede the flow of traffic, clog highways and extend commute times, reported Reuters.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Things fall apart

This essay is part of an occasional 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.

There's one thing that's become eminently clear during the last few days: neither Mwai Kibaki nor Raila Odinga deserved to serve as dogcatcher, let alone president of the Republic of Kenya.

Over 300 people have been killed in post-election violence. And the toll mounts daily.

Odinga and his party accused Kibaki, the incumbent, of stealing the election. Kibaki's light-speed inauguration to pre-empt legal challenges only gave further credence to the accusations that his 'victory' was a fraud.

Odinga and his followers were little better. Odinga chose to inflame the already volatile situation by comparing the election to the rape of Kenyans. Meanwhile, his supporters did something far worse: they torched a church where dozens of suspected Kibaki supporters had taken shelter. 30 people were killed in the blaze.

The massacre brought back eerie memories of the genocide in nearby Rwanda, where such atrocities were frequent.

The two parties traded charges of genocide.

Certainly, the election should be re-run. As National Public Radio noted:

The head of the country's electoral commission, Samuel Kivuitu, said he had been pressured by both sides to announce the results quickly - and perhaps wrongly. The country's oldest newspaper, The Standard, on Wednesday quoted Kivuitu as saying, "I do not know whether Kibaki won the election."

But that is no excuse for plunging the country toward the abyss.

The ethnic communities have lived in peace with each other for decades. Intermarriages are common. The only time there's ever been any problems have been during elections. They've been repeatedly betrayed by their misleaders.

Nearly every country that borders Kenya (Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia) has suffered through brutal civil war and/or genocide in the last quarter century. Despite these cautionary lessons, Kibaki and Odinga seem far too eager to risk this horror in order to get/keep the intoxicating drug called power.

And sadly, far too many of their fellow citizens seem willing to kill and die for these 'men' who have shown beyond any shadow of a doubt that they are traitors to the Kenyan nation.