Saturday, February 28, 2009

A measure of justice at last in the land of blood diamonds

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 and the Trumped Up Enemy of the Month. A list of all pieces in this series can be found found here..

Yesterday, three senior members of the former Sierra Leone Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group, including its second-in-command, were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown. The RUF gained infamy in the 1990s for their savage tactics, including the use of child soldiers, the amputation of the hands and arms of victims and the carving of the RUF's initials into the bodies of victims.

The BBC reported that the judges concluded the rebel chiefs "significantly contributed" to a joint criminal enterprise with former Liberian President Charles Taylor [also standing trial for crimes against humanity] to control the diamond fields of Sierra Leone to finance their warfare. They were also found guilty of forced marriage - the enslavement that countless young girls suffered when their villages were raided and they were forced to "marry" a rebel. The convictions mark the first time the forced marriage charge has been successfully handed down in an international court of law.

The RUF's leader Foday Sankoh died in custody before facing trial.

TIME magazine had this interview with the Special Court's prosecutor, who expressed satisfaction at the verdict. When asked about the potential conflict between justice and peace, he pointed out that the two were complimentary. "I guess [the] proof of the pudding is that the country held an election in August and September 2007 where not only was the opposition not expected to get in, they were allowed to get in. That's pretty positive. What the court has done is reinforce the peace and restore the rule of law to allow events like that to happen," he noted.

The three will be sentenced at a later date.

Friday, February 27, 2009

NCPR profile of Libertarian Congressional candidate

I've been a frequent critic of the mainstream media's policy against any offering serious coverage (or in most cases, just about any coverage) of smaller party and independent candidates. So I should probably give a tip of the cap to North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann for doing a story dedicated to a smaller party candidate. His piece today focused exclusively on Libertarian Congressional candidate Eric Sundwall and on the more general topic of libertarianism in the North Country. The segment also featured comments from John Warren, main author of Adirondack Almanack and frequent commenter on this blog.

It's no accident that NCPR is by far the best mainstream media outlet in the area. This story (albeit after a lot of hectoring by regional advocates of multipartyism) is another example why. I don't want to overstate things, though. The profile of Sundwall is a good start and should be acknowledged as such. The next step is for Sundwall or any smaller party/independent candidate to be included in ANY story on the issues or race to the same degree to which the Democrat and Republican candidates are included. That would represent what a great many voters and consumers are starving for: truly fair political coverage.

Update: Here is Sundwall's response to Mann's piece.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fourth candidate throws his hat in the ring for local Congressional seat

It's come to my attention that there's a fourth candidate for the 20th Congressional District special election. Local resident Anthony Cerro (full disclosure: he's a friend of mine) is running a write-in campaign for the seat. Mr. Cerro's press release can be found below:

With the recent appointment of Kirsten Gillibrand to the post of US Senator, her seat in Congress as NY's representative is now vacant. I would like to be the person to fill that seat and serve The People of my state in her place.

I am an Independent candidate, and will not accept any nomination to any party during the campaign, nor during my time of service if elected. I will never accept any contribution from lobbyists, or anyone who seeks to "buy" my influence. I will not accept Congress' retirement or health packages. I will not live and retire as a king upon the backs of those I'm meant to serve. My wage will be an hourly rate, based upon the median salaries of The People of my district.

I will serve one term, and will not seek re-election, nor be distracted by it from my task of representing you. I will not seek to be put on any ballots. If The People want to vote for me, they can learn how and take the trouble to cast it as a write-in. If The People wish me to serve additional terms, they can continue to write me in as they vote in subsequent elections. I go forward with my intent and dedication to hear and serve you to the best of my ability as your friend and neighbor.

Although I am an Independent, I will not be a reckless maverick stampeding through the House of Representatives. If elected, I would seek the support, counsel, and mentorship of my seniors, such as Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich. I would listen to and work with both parties (and hopefully more Independents), but will not be bound by the platforms or principles of anyone other than my constituency.

I have taken and upheld an oath to support, preserve, and defend The Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic, when I became a citizen in 1990, and will maintain that oath throughout my time of service. I will never vote in support of any bill or measure which I determine to be unconstitutional. Government derives its power from The People it serves. If a person cannot command his neighbor, or restrict the free exercise of his neighbors’ rights, then the government likewise can have no such power over you. You cannot give government any power you yourself do not possess. I will see that government returns to that understanding and conducts itself accordingly.

I was proud to become an American in 1990, and remain proud to be one. However, I am angry and ashamed at many of the things America has come to represent. I want to see the Patriot and Military Commissions Acts thrown into the garbage can. I want full and immediate restoration of all civil liberties lost or restricted by their passage, and review of security measures currently in place, to ensure they meet our need for security without violating the spirit of freedom with which we were meant to move about and live our lives.

I want accountability for what I believe to be crimes that have taken place over the last several administrations, but particularly that of the Bush/Cheney regime. I was raised thinking it was only Nazis and Communists that tortured people and demanded papers of its citizens as they walk the streets. I never dreamed I'd see it happening in my country, yet here it is. I have reason to believe, as many do, that this last administration has conducted itself in an illegal, unconstitutional, immoral, unethical, and inhumane manner; in violation of US and international laws and treaties. No one is above the law, and if any such transgressions did indeed take place, they need to be brought to light and accounted for.

Our current financial crisis was brought about and exacerbated to a large degree by the misrepresentations and misconduct of the Bush/Cheney administration. Intelligence and propaganda were manipulated to a point where this administration tricked the American People into allowing us to enter TWO wars that never should have taken place, creating a fertile breeding ground for cronyism and profiteering. We are no safer from “terrorists” as a result of these wars than we were in September 2001. If anything, we now have more enemies abroad than ever before as we continue to police the world and force our view of “democracy” upon those who might not necessarily agree with or want it. I would demand a complete review of the administration’s granting of “no-bid” contracts to the likes of Halliburton and Blackwater, and would seek damages and restitution for each, any, and every case of misappropriation or misconduct revealed.

Furthermore, I would support legislation calling for the closures of overseas military bases and seek to have all US Military personnel brought back to the United States. With all of our might concentrated and vigilant on our home soil, what country or group would dare try to attack us? If our forces are needed elsewhere in the world, we have the means and technology to deploy troops, render assistance, or deliver a response without having to hemorrhage our economy with the maintenance of these bases.

The other issue requiring review and correction is Congress’ request for bailout funds to be paid by the American People to maintain the solvency of failed banking institutions. From the outset, this is an illegal and unconstitutional program, and they have no authority to require anyone to pay for the failures of ANYONE’S private business venture. When things went well for the banks, I don’t recall any of them sending a surplus check to The Treasury, asking their profits be divided among the American People. I see no reason or justification for The People to be asked to share in their debts.

But still, the money’s been taken, despite massive public outcry. Half of it’s gone now, and no one in Washington seems to know where, however with each passing day, We The People continue to hear of CEOs receiving their multi-million dollar bonuses, company execs still being rewarded with spa and hunting junkets, seemingly as a reward for their failed performance. I would seek to have all these bailout transactions reviewed and revoked, with any wrongfully-disbursed monies to be returned to the Treasury, and for personal assets of these executives – as well as those of the representatives who voted in support of this measure – to be seized and used towards restitution and restoration of a solvent economy.

I would seek to end the unconstitutionally-enacted Federal Reserve and Internal Revenue Service. If you’re scratching your head and asking “why”, then I strongly suggest you view Aaron Russo’s film “America – From Freedom to Fascism”.

I would seek a new, independent investigation into the attacks of September 11th, as it’s been well established – even by its own chairmen – that it failed to get all the facts and do its job. Ample evidence has come to light, suggesting rogue elements within our country and perhaps even our own government allowed or even helped these attacks to take place. The souls of those we lost that day, together with the spirit of American justice, demand that we have a true and complete accounting of what took place that day.

I will work with President Obama to the best of my ability – supporting him when he makes the right call, challenging him when he doesn’t. I will do everything I can to ensure the “change” we get is the change we need, and work every moment to ensure openness and transparency of the US government to its People. I can understand to a certain degree of his desire to not get bogged down in the past, looking instead to the road ahead. That’s a nice bit of ideology, but presently our nation is lost – having been sold a laundry list of bad direction, and asked to continue to “stay the course” even as many of us began to awake to the realization we were far from home and nowhere near where we should be.

Let’s say a visitor came to our area and stopped in Fort Edward, asking for directions to Glens Falls. The visitor knows it’s somewhere nearby, and thanks the stranger who points him towards the east. The visitor passes signs for Argyle, Hartford, Granville thinking that it’s taking much longer than he had thought. The visitor then sees a sign saying “Welcome to Vermont”. Should he, at that point, still be only concerned about the road ahead? Like most of you folks, I would be thinking about going back to Fort Edward to see where I went wrong, and if I found out that bad directions had deliberately been given to me, I’d be looking for an explanation and some payback. The American People are due AT LEAST this much, and it is OUR call to make, not his.

These are just some of my ideas, the ones housed closest to the top of my head. I will always have an open door, open ears, and an open heart to greet any questions or concerns from The People of my district at any time, and will respond to anyone who posts such on this forum.

I will maintain my principal office in Glens Falls, with satellite offices in the seat cities served in our district. These offices will be staffed solely by your friends and neighbors who will report your concerns to me in the course of monthly meetings. I will always seek to be available for emergencies, and will plan for at least one “open office” day per month for each of my offices, where you can schedule an appointment to meet with me personally if your situation requires it. I will maintain the highest degree of transparency and openness with regard to my office and staff, as I demand the same from our government in Washington.

Your state is my state. Your rights are my rights. Your prosperity and pursuit of happiness are mine as well. As your representative in Congress, my rights and privileges will give way to yours as I humbly pledge myself to your service. I hope and look forward to the opportunity to serve you to the best of my ability, and thank you for your consideration and support.

Respectfully yours,

Anthony J. Cerro

Monday, February 23, 2009

MOFYC exclusive: Libertarian Congressional candidate Sundwall visits GF

Earlier this month, Congressional candidate Eric Sundwall (above) spent over an hour and a half speaking and taking questions from an audience at Rock Hill Bakehouse Cafe. The daily Post-Star did not run a story on the event, even though it sent a reporter who left after about 15 minutes. The local TV cameraman also only stayed for a small fraction of the Q&A. MOFYC is the only media outlet where you will find a full account of this event.

On February 11, Eric Sundwall visited Glens Falls to speak about his candidacy in the special election for the open 20th Congressional District seat, set for March 31. Before the public event, I spoke briefly with Sundwall. The New York Libertarian party state chairman told me that he was a big fan of the blogosphere and other elements of the new media and explained how he thought it held great potential as a way for people with alternative points of view to "bypass" the traditional media that generally ignores them. Accordingly, he maintains his own blog as does his campaign.

He spoke briefly to the public and spent most of the time answering questions from them.

The Kinderhook native said that he "wants to build independent coalitions" with other smaller parties who are disadvantaged by the current political and electoral systems. He emphasized his belief in a four-point platform recently put forth by prominent independent and smaller party figures.

The platform focused on: a rational foreign policy, reducing the national debt, privacy and reform to the Federal Reserve system. He promised to be a "loud advocate" for this sort of change.

Though a Green, event host Matt Funiciello threw his support to Sundwall saying that the Libertarian supported "breaking the two party system and ballot access wall."

Sundwall is familiar with this wall. In 2006, he obtained 50 percent more signatures than required to be put on the ballot for that year's Congressional race. But the two parties got enough of the signatures disqualified to eject him off the ballot. He pointed out that one of the petitioner errors that cost him a lot of signatures was something as trivial as when people would indicate their town of residence as Saratoga, rather than Saratoga Springs. He said he was going to hire a professional political operative to ensure that such shenanigans didn't keep him off the ballot this time.

The Libertarian said that the special election was a "unique opportunity" to get his issues into the public debate because the race was short and did not have other races to spread thin media attention. Whether the mainstream media will cover him is another matter.

He spoke at length about the ballot access issue and its "obstructionary rules." He noted that if someone wants to run for Parliament in Britain, all they have to do is pay a modest, but not negligible, filing fee.

In New York, candidates have to follow a byzantine set of rules designed to keep the two major parties in power. To get on the ballot for Congress, a smaller party or independent candidate has to collect several thousand signatures and not have them be rejected for trivial reasons. By contrast, Republican candidate Jim Tedisco and Democrat Scott Murphy merely had to get the endorsements of literally a couple people (who happened to be county party chairmen).

Judging from media accounts, most of Murphy's and Tedisco's stops seem to be events where only people who'd already made up their mind showed up. In fact, a Post-Star editorial gave a thumbs down to the Democrat and Republican for not answering voters' questions directly, without being "filtered by political flacks and in pre-written, sanitized statements."

Thus, it's odd that the daily continues to ignore Sundwall, who did exactly what The Post-Star demanded.

The event was attended by a diverse audience; questioners self-identified as Libertarians, Greens and Democrats. Not all the questions from the public were friendly. Sundwall's answer on the question of global warming was seen as evasive by some in the audience. When asked about environmental protection, he insisted that the solution was to be found within the civil courts, rather than through government regulation. One Democrat in the audience seemed upset that Sundwall did not guarantee he would change everything in the snap of a finger if elected.

Interestingly, the Libertarian candidate did not rule out a government role in health care. He said that he was pragmatic and that "If single payer would save us x money, I could be on board."

But he insisted he would remain focused on the four-point platform.

Sundwall spoke most passionately in opposition to the skyrocketing national debt. He also mentioned his strong opposition as a small businessman to corporate welfare. He has also subsequently said that he would have voted against the stimulus package recently passed into law, making him the only one of the three candidates to take that position. Murphy says he would've voted for the stimulus. Tedisco has refused to say one way or the other.

He said was opposed to the "extension of empire." He noted the debilitating effects of all of resources going toward propping up that empire because they were being diverted away from other societal objectives. He also spoke strongly in opposition to the skyrocketing national debt.

But while not everyone in audience agreed with all of Sundwall's answers, most seemed pleased that he took the time to answer questions from the public directly and unfiltered. Let's hope his opponents do the same.

Today, his campaign announced that he's been endorsed by one-time Democratic presidential candidate and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Speaker's chum annointed New York's top judge

The Village Voice has a scathing article about the appointment of Jonathan Lippman as head of New York's high court. Lipmann has negligible experience as a jurist. According to The Voice, Lippman's written a mere 16 signed judicial opinions, has been a judge for only a few years and has never practiced as a private attorney. He is the first person in over a century to preside over New York's highest court without ever having previously been an associate judge. He's now in charge not only of New York's top court but of the state's entire judicial system. But Lippman did have one thing going for him: a lifelong friendship with the state's powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a man around whom a whiff of backroom dealing and sleaze is never far. The article does nothing to dissipate that whiff.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Textbook case of media bias update

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

An addendum to my most recent entry on the topic.

Most mainstream media outlets make it out like covering smaller party and independent candidates requires massive amounts of time and resources. They seem to think it requires something like sending questions to 'third party' candidates via carrier pigeon and then conducting a national search someone to translate the response from Ancient Basque into English. Perhaps they don't realize that many 'third party' candidates are not kooks who live in mountain cabins and that many of them know how to use fancy new inventions like telephones and email. The modest Adirondack Daily Enterprise shows that it's possible to cover such candidates (Libertarian Eric Sundwall in this case) with neither sky nor bank account collapsing.

Another rationalization for what some call 'political bigotry' is that no one cares about smaller party and independent candidates. Something like 1/3 of Americans are registered as members of a smaller party or as independents. Why SHOULDN'T the points of view of a third of the country be reflected?

By contrast, I've seen countless articles in The Post-Star and other print media outlets (such as here and here and here and here) about the analog to digital television transition.

Now, this only affects people who get TV over the air (such as by rabbit ears). It does not affect people who subscribe to cable or satellite. Most estimates peg the number of Americans who receive TV this way at between 6-7 million, or around 2 percent of the country. This might be overestimating because it likely includes those who don't watch television at all.

So The Post-Star and other media have no problem bombarding us with articles about a digital TV transition that affects only 2 percent of the people, but when it comes to reflecting the beliefs of over 30 percent of the people, it's 'irrelevant.'

Some have described our society as being entertained to death. Perhaps it's no accident that the media caters to the 2 percent of the people who risk being deprived of shallow, mind-numbing entertainment but refuse to acknowledge the 30+ percent who are already being deprived of political representation.

Morons in high places

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 and the Trumped Up Enemy of the Month. A list of all pieces in this series can be found found here..

Nigeria's Vanguard reports on some rather bizarre comments by the country's foreign minister.

Under its universal periodic review mechanism proceedure, in a session lasting three hours Chief Ojo Madueke presented an overview of Nigeria's human rights situation... His presentation caused a stir when he informed members of the council that the government of Nigeria had been unable to locate persons of gay and sexual orientation, despite concerted efforts by his ministry to include this category of persons in the consultations on the human rights situation in Nigeria.

The foreign minister is part of a government which has proposed to throw people in jail for up to five years who 'witnesses, abet and aids the solemnisation' of a same sex marriage. Two years ago, the foreign minister's party proposed a bill which would criminalize free speech that suggested that gays and lesbians deserved 'rights of recognition'.

Striking a blow for sectarian harmony, the government's virulent anti-gay crusade is one of the few things on which the country's normally fractious Muslim and conservative Christian communities can find common ground.

Given the government-sanctioned assault on (at the very least) their freedom, is it really much of a shock that gays and lesbians in Nigeria aren't eager to discuss their sexual orientation with a rabidly homophobic government?!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Obamania vs progressivism

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Salon's Glenn Greenwald has a good piece on how the liberal cult of personality around Obama and their complacency at being rid of Bush and the theocrats holds back the progressive agenda.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A textbook case of media bias (Post-Star style)

(Ed. note: My friend at Planet Albany blog used that title for a recent entry so I offer this title not as plagiarism but as an hommage)

Last night, New York Libertarian state chair Eric Sundwall was in Glens Falls to talk about his participation in the race for the state's open 20th Congressional District seat, vacated by US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

I will have a report on the event hopefully tomorrow or Sunday. I was the only journalist in attendance for the whole event, as the two members of the local commercial media left after 15-20 minutes and missed 75 percent of what happened.

I am not yet endorsing a candidate, as I know little about Democrat Scott Murphy (though I've been very unimpressed by what I've seen so far).

However, this blog has taken a consistent position in favor of real multipartyism. This blog has also consistently advocated in favor of smaller party and independent candidates getting comparable media coverage to Democrats and Republicans, for such candidates to be included in all debates and for electoral law to be unrigged to allow more candidates to make the ballot without gigantic and unreasonable hurdles. I maintain it is indispensible to our democracy to reintroduce real choice to our democracy. There is no reason why Americans can handle 50 different choices of white bread in the supermarket but will faint with confusion if they have more than two political candidates.

When I report on such "third party" candidates or post information about them or their websites, it's not necessarily because I endorse them (unless I explicitly say so). I do so because I believe that voters should have as much knowledge as possible so they can make an informed decision. And if the corporate media is going to refuse to provide that information, I will fill in that gap as much as I can as a non-professional blogger.

For example, last year, I provided information about and websites for ALL the smaller party and independent presidential candidates on the ballot in New York. I did so as a public service, even though it was clear I only endorsed one. I did so because even though I believed one was the best candidate, I wanted to make sure everyone had access to the same information so they could make that decision. I am a citizen first and a partisan advocate after. I didn't decree who was "serious" or not. I provided the information and let people make up their own minds.

I believe that voters alone should decide who is viable. When the mainstream media blackout "third party" candidates decreeing them "not viable," it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy... especially since the media inevitably give oodles of free coverage to Democrats and Republicans.

I will always bang the drum for the right and the rightness of any smaller party or independent candidate to get a decent amount of coverage from and to be included in any debate sponsored by any media outlet that pats itself on the back as fair and claims some sort of public service role for itself.

If you want us to think you are fair, then don't tell us. Show us!

The local Post-Star hasn't learned this lesson.

In his blog, the daily's managing editor Ken Tingley wrote of the 20th CD special election:

With two new candidates from last fall’s election, we want give our readers a chance to get to know the candidates. We are planning on doing personality profiles on each of the candidates. In our Sunday meeting, we were already discussing in what order and how far removed from the general election the profiles should run.
We really do try to be as fair as possible. We plan out our Sunday stories three and four weeks in advance in an effort to have our very best stories in the Sunday newspaper.

I wrote a comment on the blog pointing out that there were not two candidates for the seat, but three. Democrat Scott Murphy, Republican Jim Tedisco and Sundwall.

Tingley pointed out that right now, only the first two were on the ballot. Sundwall has to get signatures to make that happen, while Murphy and Tedisco were anointed by a couple of party bosses.

Usually, the mainstream media's bias against smaller party candidates isn't overt. You have to read carefully to notice the obfuscation and rationalization. The typical arguments against such candidates are...

-"They have no chance of winning" (which becomes true when the media blacks them out... the media here makes news rather than just reporting it)

-"People aren't interested in 'third party' candidates" (which is impossible to determine if people aren't made aware anything about them)

-"We DO give them coverage" (almost always a token sentence at the end of an article about the Dem and GOP stating 'Conservative Party candidate Jim the Electrician is also running.')

The 'people aren't interested' myth is also belied by evidence. In a Zogby Poll last year, 44 percent of those polled agreed that the United States' system is broken and cannot be fixed by traditional two-party politics and elections.

Some of my friends attribute this bias to a corporate conspiracy against smaller-party and independent candidates. And frankly I think there is some truth to that at the higher-level races. I'm not so sure about the local races, though it's possible. Frankly, I'm reminded of the phrase "Never attribute to malice what can easily be ascribed to incompetence."

I think much of the bias is down to pure laziness. Professional journalists intone that there are two sides to every story. That's not true. For most stories, there are more than two sides. That takes a little digging. That takes a journalist who's willing and able to venture from the standard narrative to give a fuller, more nuanced picture. Giving 1 tablespoon "establishment liberal" plus 1 tablespoon "establishment conservative" plus "mix well" is a much easier recipe. Varying from the Script and offering alternative points of view takes a little more work.

But in reality, this is a pathetic excuse because it doesn't take much more work. If a reporter is going to call up Tedisco and Murphy and get their views on stimulus or agriculture or whatever, is it really that hard to phone up Sundwall and get his views on the same issue? ESPECIALLY in a special election like this where there are no other races to spread thin the paper's resources.

I hope it's down to laziness or to small minds refusing or unable to think outside the corporate box. I hope that's the case because if it's not, then maybe there really is something more sinister.

But while such contempt toward "third parties" (either conscious or through sloth) is usually more subtle, Tingley has decided to come out and admit his bias. When I asked him to promise a profile of Sundwall should he make the ballot, the Post-Star supremo responded:

If a third candidate makes the ballot that has a legitimate chance or seems like an interesting candidate, we would always consider doing a profile on them as well.

So in order to get a profile, you have to be seen as legitimate (hard to do when the media consciously ignores you) and you have to be 'interesting' (Scott Murphy doesn't seem to fit this bill).

I take that back.

You need those things before they will CONSIDER giving you a profile.

Translation: Sundwall has no chance in hell of getting the hagiography that The Post-Star has promised to Murphy and Tedisco.

Even my father, an old-school journalist and establishment Democrat with little sympathy for smaller parties, described Tingley's comments as unprofessional.

Tingley is openly admitting that he has differently rules for how "third party" candidates are treated than for how Democrats and Republicans are treated, the very definition of the phrase 'double standards.'

"We really do try to be as fair as possible," whined Tingley in his blog entry.

Openly admitting you have double standards does not fit most people's definition of "as fair as possible."

"We really do try to be as fair as possible."

Refusing to give comparable coverage to all the candidates, when it's quite easy to do so, does not fit most people's definition of "as fair as possible."

"We really do try to be as fair as possible."

Clearly they're need to try a lot harder.

Update: In another blog entry on the topic, Tingley reiterated that they "do try to be fair and balanced and we talk about how to maintain that balance all the time. And that includes third-party candidates as well."

The very definition of the word balance requires that his paper give equal (I'd settle for comparable) coverage to all the candidates.

If he's going to pat his paper on the back for these qualities, he has to expect others to hold the paper to the standards they set for themselves! The paper demands accountability of others. Readers need to demand the same of the daily.

There's only one thing better than beating Mexico

And that's beating them again and again and again.

Oh yea... and again!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Updated blog policy on commenting

Here's a hopefully clearer explanation of this blog's policy on commenting. Thanks for reader feedback on this issue.

I do accept anonymous comments, which means you can comment without signing your full name.

I do not accept unsigned comments, which means you have to sign it with something, even if just your first name or a nickname/pseudonym.

If you sign in via a Blogger account, that is sufficient.

If you do not have or wish to create a Blogger account, you can still post. Under 'Choose an Identity,' click 'Name/URL'. The URL is optional. But under 'Name,' you can include your full name or your first name. If you wish, you can also comment under a nickname/pseudonym.

Regardless of which you choose, I just ask that you use the same handle each time you post, so I can follow your line of reasoning.

Comments signed with a full name, first name or nickname/pseudonym will be accepted.

Comments that are completely unsigned will be rejected.

All signed comments will be published unless I consider them potentially libelous or defamatory or if they are spam/ads. If you are going to make serious allegations, you are strongly encouraged to provide evidence or attribution.

Obviously I ask readers to keep their comments pertinent to the topic of the essay in question or to the posted comments. In the unlikely event I reject your comment, you are welcome to contact me and ask why.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tabloidism vs journalism

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Post-Star is on a crusade to (hold hand over heart) protect the taxpayers. Nothing else matters in local quality of life except (hold hand over heart) protecting the taxpayers. And the paper gets annoyed to no end when locals think of themselves as citizens or parents first rather than only caring about their wallet.

Their most recent whipping boy is the Glens Falls school district's (GFSD) board of education and teachers' union for approving a new contract which gave the teachers 4 percent annual raises but forced them to contribute more to (always skyrocketing cost of) their health insurance.

The monopoly paper has two objections.

The first criticism is that the board and union refused to release details of the contract until AFTER it was approved. This made it impossible for the public to comment on it.

Many local school districts have followed this same, wrongheaded route. They claim they want the public's input but deny the public the information they'd need to formulate any input one way or the other. It's one thing to not publicize every crossed t and dotted i of the negotiations. But once a tentative agreement has been approved by the union and makes it to the board's agenda, it must be made public well-enough in advance for the public to scrutinize it if they so choose.

Teacher salaries make up a huge chunk (I want to say around 70 percent, but don't quote me) of the typical school district's budget. A budget which is funded in large part by local property taxes. The public ought to be given a chance to comment on that contract before it becomes written in stone.

As the last eight years have shown, secrecy is the enemy of democracy and good government.

On this, The Post-Star is spot on.

But the second objection is more interesting. After bungling numerical analysis in the original article, they ran a corrected piece claiming that the new pact would add up to an extra $1.4 million to the local tax burden.

'$1.4 MILLION' screamed the headline!!!

But a little math puts it in a different context.

There are about 14,000 residents of the city. This number isn't perfect because it includes residents of the Abraham Wing district on the city's east side but excludes residents of the GFSD who live in the town of Queensbury. But this is a good approximation of the number of residents in the GFSD.

$1.4 million divided by 14,000 works out to an increase of $100 per resident divided by the four year length of the contract works out to an extra $25 per GF (at most) resident per year or a little more than $2 a month. So for a household of four, it would work out to around $2 extra per week... or the cost of one Sunday Post-Star (maybe that's why the daily is so worried!).

Then again, $1.4 MILLION (OMG!!@#!) makes for a more dramatic headline than $2/person/month.

But what really gets The Post-Star's goat is that people are not as outraged as the paper's ivory tower editors think they should be.

They continue to bang the drum to whip up outrage that isn't there. In addition to two articles on the topic (one bungled and one apparently correct), they've published an indignant editorial (Update: now two indignant editorials), an indignant opinion column by the always-pompous Managing Editor Ken Tingley and several blog entries (alternatively indignant and defensive) by Tingley.

The tone of all these pieces is that we should be outraged because the eminent newspaper told us to be so. And if we're not, it means either that we're rubes or that we're secretly in league with the leeches in the teachers' union.

There is a reasonable debate to be had on this issue, but the arrogant tone of The Post-Star's brain trust prevents this from happening. They insist on perpetuating the simplistic dichotomy that the only way to alleviate the overwhelming tax burden on local property owners is to target teacher salaries. It's either well-paid teachers and overtaxed residents or underpaid teachers and slightly less overtaxed residents.

A more reasonable debate would ask whether the fundamental structure of education funding in New York state is broken. It would ask why so much of the mandatory education programs is funded locally when the crushing majority of mandates for those programs come from state and federal authorities.

But such a debate requires more nuanced discussion, less scapegoat and faux indignant outrage, fewer tabloid headlines and less reporting driven by editorial positions.

Update: And as some commenters to the paper's website have pointed out, their $1.4 MILLION (!!!!) figure is a maximum. According to the daily's own reporting, the figure assumes that no higher-paid experienced teachers will retire or leave the district to be replaced by lower-paid, less experienced teachers. Given the near impossibility that no teacher will leave the district in the next four years, the $1.4 million ($2/week/family of four) figure will almost certainly be lower.

Monday, February 09, 2009

20th CD report

There hasn't been much of substance to report on the race for the vacant 20th Congressional district seat, vacated by now Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Mostly just the usual negative, personal attacks that have little relevance to anyone other than partisans. Planet Albany blog runs sympathetic toward Republican Jim Tedisco. Matt Funiciello endorses Libertarian Eric Sundwall and notes that the candidate will be making a public appearance on Wed. Feb. 11 in Glens Falls. I haven't read much in the blogosphere about Democrat Scott Murphy, whose disorganized campaign recalls clueless Democratic efforts of the pre-Gillibrand era. Gov. David Paterson still has not set a date for the special election.

Scott Murphy:
Eric Sundwall:
Jim Tedisco:

Albany's attempt to asphyxiate the Adirondack Park

In this entry, I denounced the plan proposed by NY Gov. David Paterson to refuse to pull full property taxes owed on state-owned land in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, a plan that would asphyxiate the Parks' municipalities, counties and school districts.

Bear in mind, we're not talking here about cutting state AID, but about refusing to pay the full amount of property taxes the state rightfully owes on land it owns... a luxury no other property owner has. Bear in mind also that these Parks are subject to restrictions on economic development imposed on them by the state legislature, executive agencies and the state constitution. And now Albany wants to refuse to pay the local taxes it owes, taxes that pay for the mandates on localities and schools that Albany imposes! And of course, this will cost even more taxpayer dollars when the localities inevitably and rightfully file a lawsuit against this proposal.

John over at Adirondack Almanack blog also heaps scorn on the unconscionable proposal. Almanack noted that in 2007, the state paid $69 million in property taxes to localities in the Adirondack Park alone. He points out, like I did, that if the state can refuse to pay the taxes it owes because its finances are tight, then why can't every other taxpayer do the same?

John concludes quite succinctly: I understand we are facing difficult economic times and I'm not one to raise the flag for program after program in tough times, but this is going way too far. A fair system of taxation ranks at the top of the list of American values.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The fight against toxic nationalism in Kosovo

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 list of all pieces in this series can be found here.

The Christian Science Monitor has a good piece on reconciliation in Kosovo, location of a genocide in the late 90s.

Soft power works. So do democratic elections. And it is possible to de-escalate longstanding violence and hate... [Serbia's] new government, while still insisting that Kosovo's independence is illegal, has detoxified this issue and is now acting pragmatically rather than ideologically. It has renounced the use of force. It has moved the dispute from the hot political to the cool legal arena by appealing it to the International Court of Justice.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sundwall seeking Congressional seat

I've been informed, not by the local press of course, that Libertarian candidate Eric Sundwall will be running against venture capitalist Scott Murphy and used car salesman (sometimes referred to as Assembly minority leader) Jim Tedisco for the 20th Congressional district seat vacated by now-US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. With Murphy lacking name recognition and Fucillo... oops I mean Tedisco, not even living in the district, the time seems ripe for a strong showing for a smaller party candidate.

(Sundwall's website can be accessed by clicking here... Apparently his campaign's on Facebook too)