Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Who wears the pants in Albany?

On Monday, state leaders emerged from hiding (perhaps lounging in Dick Cheney's famous 'undisclosed location') to announce $131.8 billion budget. The budget resulted from the infamous 'three men in a room' process that was so often denounced by both Gov. David Paterson and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, when both were minority leaders in the Senate -- the proverbial fourth man.

"If the Legislature can maintain this type of fiscal discipline over the next few years, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel." explained the governor, which seems an Orwellian way to describe a budget that increases spending by 8.7 percent. The current budget is double the size of the budget of only 12 years ago, according to The Times-Union.

Gov. Paterson and Sen. Smith each apologized for the secretive process that resulted in the budget and wished things could have been done differently.

The reputation of both Democrats, both of whom, it could be argued, backed into their positions, has been seriously tarnished by an increasing public perception of incompetence and ineffectual leadership. The fact that two of the three men in a room 'wished' the secretive process could have been different but were too weak to make it happen hardly inspires confidence in either of them, in their ability to take tough decisions or in the budget they helped produce.

Secrecy is the enemy of democracy. So it's no surprise that this is how Albany continues to be run. But as usual, the public is the big loser here.

... if they really are out to get me

It's sad when real life events validate paranoia.

This morning, I was checking out the page on how to cast a write-in vote, as I'm planning on writing in the name of Anthony Cerro in today's Congressional special election.

On the page illustrating how to cast a write in vote, the image shows a pencil writing a name.

And I got to worry if my vote would actually count, given that I don't have a pencil so I'll be using a pen.

I know it seems like an absurd concern. But it also would've seemed absurd to think that a guy could get the signatures of 7000 citizens of the district, twice the number needed, and still be denied a spot on the ballot.

If that's the way the 'democratic process' works, then anything is possible. Maybe I better stop and pick up a Ticonderoga #2 on my way to the polls.

Update: I did cast my write-in vote in pen, earlier this morning. Keep your fingers crossed that no Conservative enemies of democracy will challenge it and that my vote will actually count.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sundwall endorses Murphy

According to a statement on Eric Sundwall's website, the Libertarian has endorsed Democrat Scott Murphy for the race he was denied his civic right to participate in by allies of Republican Jim Tedisco.

I'm not sure I agree with this endorsement -- I'm more inclined at this point to write in either Sundwall or Anthony Cerro -- but I certainly understand Sundwall's decision as well as sharing his fury.

Given the general public revulsion with the Republican National Campaign Committee attack ads (not that there's any love for attack ads run by the Democratic equivalent) and now with the Conservative enemies of democracy, I wonder if Tedisco's rueing who he's gotten in bed with.

The latest poll shows that Tedisco, once ahead by 20 points, now trails Murphy by 4 points... and this was before Sundwall's endorsement. I'm sure the Tedisco campaign's (at best) silent complicity with this mugging of democracy will hurt his numbers even more.

From: Sundwall4congress.org

The decision of the Board of Election to remove my name from the ballot proves once again that the political system in New York is rigged by professionals to make sure that average citizens are excluded from the process. While the two major parties could choose their candidates in a smoke-filled room, they made us go out and attempt the impossible: obtain 3500 valid signatures in just 12 days. We came very close but ultimately, the technicalities they built into the law to disenfranchise the people proved too strong
to overcome.

In addition, I faced baseless allegations of wrongdoing and threats of criminal prosecution in a lawsuit brought by Tedisco supporters. While I wanted to file a lawsuit in Albany County to overturn the Board's decision, we got stuck down in Dutchess County where the machine felt they would have a friendly bench. While the court there should have dismissed that lawsuit as moot, the judge instead was prepared to keep us down there litigating silly issues concerning the Libertarian Party emblem and whether witnessing signatures from outside the district constitutes fraud. There was no end in sight and we might have been down there for days facing the inevitable loss with no time to appeal and no time to campaign either. The Tedisco supporters who brought the case sought and received an order requiring me to be present in Court, thereby preventing me from campaigning.

I was also concerned that continued litigation would jeopardize the ballots of military personnel and disabled voters who use special machines that need to be programmed several days before the election.

Faced with the prospect of spending much of the rest of campaign on the witness stand being harassed by the machine's hired gun, I chose not to play that game. Since I could not file suit in the county of my choosing, I decided to end my candidacy and not subject myself and my family to any further abuse, threats or harassment from the political machine.

Thus, the Stalinist New York Election Law forced us to spend the first half of the campaign getting signatures and the second half fighting a lost cause in court.

The voters will be deprived of any choice but the two parties that have destroyed the nation's economy in recent years and have us bogged down in two land wars in Asia.

Mr. Tedisco denies any involvement with the concerted effort by his supporters to knock me off the ballot. I don't believe him. The ruthless effort by his supporters to knock me off the ballot without a word of protest by him proves his unfitness for any office let alone Congress in these critical times.

I will be voting for Scott Murphy on Tuesday. While we disagree on some important issues, I find him to be a man of honor, a good family man and successful businessman. Unlike Tedisco, he actually lives in the District. And, unlike Mr. Tedisco, I view Scott's business success as a virtue, not a vice.

I urge my supporters and all those who believe in open and free elections to show their disgust at the tactics of the Republican political machine to win at all costs. Please join me in voting for Scott Murphy on Tuesday.

I want to thank all those who worked tirelessly on my behalf and who donated their precious funds to help this effort. And I wish to thank the media for all their courtesies during this Sysiphean struggle.

We live to fight another day.
Eric Sundwall

Thursday, March 26, 2009

How to steal democracy and disenfranchise people

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

After completely ignoring him ever since he got into the race, The Post-Star's print edition has finally decided to report on Libertarian Eric Sundwall.

The first article was related to his (eventually) unsuccessful fight to stay on the ballot... two weeks after the fight started and a day before it ended. The second and last article was a front page article on him being kicked off the ballot.

They also wrote a transparent editorial calling for him to be allowed in the ballot. It's transparent because it came nearly two weeks after his petitions were challenged. In other words, they waited to editorialize about it until they knew it wouldn't make a difference.

The editorial praising the importance of a diversity of voices was published on the same day as was held a debate co-sponsored by The Post-Star. Sundwall was not invited to this debate. The daily's actions speak a lot louder than their words.

The afforementioned article from today did detail the main reason Sundwall's petitions were rejected.

What was the reason that thousands of law-abiding Americans were disenfranchised? Did Sundwall's campaign get signatures from dead people? Did it get pages of signatures from illegal immigrants from Outer Mongolia?

No.

The majority of the signatures that the board threw out were because the individual who circulated the petitions and witnessed the signatures listed the hamlet of Manorville as his residence instead of the town of Brookhaven, where Manorville is located.

For locals, that's the equivalent of someone listing their residence as West Glens Falls instead of Queensbury.

One person wasn't even wrong in filling out one line of a form. He didn't lie or deceive. Quite the opposite. His 'crime' was that he was too precise. That was the justification for denying one law-abiding American his civic right to run for public office and for disenfranchising thousands of others.

How can any person with an ounce of conscience or patriotism justify this?

This is what happens when ordinary people, without personal fortune or oodles of corporate cash, tries to participate in the 'democratic' process.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sundwall out: report

Maury Thompson's blog reports that Libertarian Eric Sundwall has stopped the costly legal efforts to be allowed to participate in the 'democratic' process.

"Instead of campaigning, we have been forced to have Eric Sundwall spend time and money in court," campaign manager Richard Cooper said in a statement issued this afternoon.

The challenges were initiated by two leading members of the Conservative Party, which endorsed Tedisco. As reported earlier, the lawyer representing the Conservatives had close ties to state Senate Republicans.

If you wish to express your outrage, you can do so in the comments field of this blog and/or by sharing your thoughts on this kidnapping of democracy with the New York State Conservative Party (cpnys@nycap.rr.com) and/or with their endorsed Tedisco campaign ( info@JimTedisco.com).

I’ve lived in Africa. And this is exactly the sort of pseudo-legal thuggery that African autocrats used to silence their political opponents. This is the model used by Don Neddo and his Comrades.

Though if you're so infuriated with the anti-freedom brigade that you refuse to be disenfrachised, write-in candidate Tony Cerro did point to this helpful guide about how to write in a candidate's name.

4 > 2900 = "democracy" in NYS... Sundwall off the ballot?

In a not unexpected but still depressing and infuriating story, North Country Public Radio's blog is reporting that Libertarian Eric Sundwall has been kicked off the ballot for what the Associated Press called 'technical issues.'

The disgraceful enemies of democracy like the dishonorable Don Neddo (who's already been forced to admit that he lied repeatedly in public about his non-military service) have prevailed in their quest to disenfranchise myself and thousands of other citizens. So he's not just a liar, he's a thief too.

Those who succeeded in their anti-democratic efforts were high-ranking members of the Conservative Party, which endorsed Tedisco. According to Planet Albany blog, the scum were represented by expert election lawyer John Ciampoli, who has long worked for the Senate Republicans and in 2006 knocked a potential opponent to Joe Bruno off the ballot.

Planet Albany also posted a video of Ciampoli addressing a state Conservative Party conference last year.

I doubt Tedisco explicitly told anyone to challenge anything. It didn't need to be said. This sort of thing is understood. It's no coincidence that a Republican-affiliated lawyer was hired by the people who endorsed Tedisco to head this 'legal' challenge. I agree with The Post-Star and others that the only people who should be allowed to challenge petitions are other candidates. They shouldn't be able to hide behind henchmen and then claim they had no involvement. Tedisco, who repeatedly pats himself on the back as a 'fighter,' should've had the cajones to challenge the petitions himself.

Even if you exclude the disqualified signatures (and I don't know what dubious nature was used to exclude them), Sundwall still had something like 2900 valid signatures.

Murphy was put on the ballot by a handful of Democratic committee members.

Tedisco was put on the ballot by three or four GOP party bosses.

Only in the corrupt world of New York election law is 4 > 2900.

If you must vote for someone on the ballot, then vote for Democrat Scott Murphy, as his supporters were not involved in this contemptible scheme. Nevertheless, I'd still urge you to write-in Sundwall or Anthony Cerro.

I apologize for the strong language but I can't really express how much I resent these shameless henchmen subverting democracy and denying me and thousands of other people the chance to vote for a valid candidate. If Neddo or any of the other enemies of democracy are reading this, you can go (expletive deleted) yourself. I've pulled the lever on the Conservative ballot line occasionally in the past but I guarantee you I'll never do it again.

Update: The Times-Union has detailed some of the horrible things done by Sundwall petitionees to get their signatures voided and their voices silenced. Board of Elections staff threw out 3,786 of the signatures Sundwall's campaign collected, almost entirely because the petitions were not technically correct as when a voter listed his mailing address instead of his town, for example. If this is how 'democracy' works, I hope the Afghans and Iraqis are NOT paying attention.

Further update: While the state Board of Elections has knocked Sundwall off the ballot, apparently the case is being heard by a Supreme Court justice. More on this as details emerge.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Post-Star finally calls for 'third party' participation... but is it too late?

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

It's a good news/bad news day on the local independent politics front.

The good news is the rather astonishing editorial from The Post-Star in which the paper wisely called for Libertarian Congressional candidate Eric Sundwall to be allowed on the ballot. The bad news is that it may be too late.

As you'll recall, two enemies of democracy, both senior members of the Conservative Party that endorsed Republican Jim Tedisco, challenged Sundwall's petitions. Sundwall needed 3500 people to approve his candidacy in order to get on the ballot, in contrast to Tedisco and Democrat Scott Murphy who only needed the nod of literally a few party bosses.

The paper's editorial said they call on Assemblyman Tedisco and Scott Murphy to call off the dogs and let Sundwall have his ballot line. Call on supporters to stop the litigation and withdraw their challenges, and let Sundwall campaign unobstructed for the next seven days.

Amen to that.

However, the two enemies of democracy challenged Sundwall's petitions on March 11. Why did the paper wait almost two weeks to editorialize on this? If their purpose was to rally public opinion and shame the corporate candidates, why didn't they do it early enough for it to have mattered? It may sound churlish to ask but they've known about this for almost two weeks. The race only has six days left.

Even if Sundwall gets on the ballot tomorrow, he still has less than a week to get his name out there. Senior Post-Star editors have asked me why they should give Sundwall any coverage if he can't generate any publicity for himself. Perhaps they now understand WHY he hasn't been able to generate much name recognition: he's been forced to waste most of the campaign fighting these pseudo-legal challenges.

Let me repeat that so it's not overlooked.

Perhaps they now understand WHY he hasn't been able to generate much name recognition: he's been forced to waste most of the campaign fighting these pseudo-legal challenges.

This is something regularly faced by smaller party and independent candidates. An editorial is a good first step. But this scandal really merits a big exposé by The Post-Star and other media outlets.

In a related news article, their first on Sundwall, political journalist Maury Thompson reports on the depressing news that the Libertarian is likely to get knocked off the ballot. Sundwall submitted about 6,730 signatures, but the hearing officers determined only about 2,900 of the signatures were valid, claimed a state Board of Elections spokesman.

It's worth noting that both state and county boards of elections are not non-partisan bodies. They are bipartisan, co-controlled by Republican and Democratic appointees. A close relative of mine once served as a county BOE commissioner. He was appointed by the county Democratic committee and, when he wouldn't break the law to kowtow to the party boss (running as a candidate in a local race), the committee removed him from office.

It is not clear what the 'infractions' are but Sundwall told me that in his previous run for Congress, signatures were rejected for trivial reasons, such as a signatory claiming his hometown as Saratoga, rather than Saratoga Springs.

I've said many times that my most important issues are those related to democracy and good governance. Some ask me why I prioritize those rather than 'sexier' issues. The reason is because the lack of democracy and good governance is far and away the greatest barrier to just about everything else most people care about.

Do you support single payer health care? Do you want an end to militarism? Do you, like The Post-Star, think taxes and spending are too high? If you want progress on these issues, then you need to support democracy and good governance. You need to support real multipartyism, rational campaign finance laws and a more open electoral process.

Once real democracy and good governance take hold, the people will be able to start to impose their will. Maybe not completely but at least the monied interests will have more of a fight on their hands.

The issue is whether the two corporate parties and those with a vested interest in preserving the status quo continue to suffocate the rest of the people or whether we 'naive' people at least fight them for it. Tedisco won't fight for that. Murphy won't change that. Sundwall's the only person with even a remote chance of making a real difference because he's the only one who WANTS to change that... but only if he's given a chance.

This fight is not really about Eric Sundwall. It's about us. It's about whether or not we're going to have something a real democracy.

As Sundwall told The Post-Star, "I'm not running against Scott Murphy and Jim Tedisco. I'm running for the fact that people don't have a choice, and they feel trapped for that all the time."

He's not running to as the Messiah that's going to save the world or this district. None of the candidates are going to be that Messiah; I'll settle for someone who at least wants to try. He's running to give us a real choice, which is revolutionary enough.

No wonder the corporate parties are petrified of what he represents.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

IDAs and the ruse of 'economic development'

Earlier this month, the NYS Assembly Committee on Local Governments held hearings on reform of Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs).

WMHT's New York Now program devoted its show last week to reform of the controversial IDA and Empire Zone programs.

Defenders of these programs claim that these programs are ways of offsetting the high cost of doing business in New York. But the real solution to that problem is to reduce corrupt wasteful spending, such as in the state's infamous public authorities (exposed as an over $1 billion slush fund by an excellent series in The Syracuse Post-Standard).

This would lower state and property taxes for EVERYONE, rather than letting the good ol' boy network dish out tax breaks to their buddies. If anything, these special tax giveaways reduce the amount of revenue coming into the public coffers and ends up RAISING taxes for everyone else, those without good connections. Steal from the hard working small business owners so you can give $1.2 billion to the gargantuan multinational.

I'll specifically deal with Empire Zones in a future entry, but New York Now pointed out something that shocked me: IDAs have the power of eminent domain.

It's bad enough that elected bodies like a city council can seize your property and give it to monied developers. It's even more disgusting that an unelected, opaque body like an IDA can do so.

In addition to appearing on the New York Now episode referenced above, local small businessman Matt Funiciello testified before the Assembly committee. His testimony explaining the wasteful and unaccountable nature of the IDA process can be found here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Some contracts are more sacred than others

The main excuse used to justify the outrageous bonuses to AIG executives is that like it or not, the company has to honor its contracts. Some contend that it's the only way for AIG to keep top talent... without quite explaining how the people who bankrupted the company can be considered top talent.

Yet this begs the question: why is there so much pressure on the UAW and other auto workers' unions to 'voluntarily' re-negotiate their collective bargaining agreements? Why aren't their contracts sacred too?

Is it because they work hard and make actual stuff rather than frittering away people's retirements, bankrupting the company and then stealing the taxpayer money used to save the company they bankrupted?

If AIG execs were black, held up people on a Manhattan street at gunpoint and stole their wallets, there would be an outrage at this 'crime spree' and hysterical demands that the thieves be publicly tarred and feathered before being sent to the electric chair.

Instead, AIG execs are white, so rather than using a gun to rob people, they use Congress instead. Instead of being sent to jail, they are sent large checks.

The main difference is that common street criminals can only rob a few people at a time and are usually evading the authorities.

White color criminals can rob everyone once and with the collaboration of the authorities.

But heaven forbid anyone whip up 'class warfare' by mentioning this.

Friday, March 20, 2009

20th Congressional District update

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

I've heard critics contend that The Post-Star would rather ignore an important political event entirely rather than give newsink to a 'third party' candidate. I always assumed this was just hyperbole but I was wrong.

Yesterday, there was a Congressional debate between Libertarian Eric Sundwall and Democrat Scott Murphy answering questions from journalists and each other.

Republican Jim Tedisco did not attend the debate, which is shocking as he's never before met a camera he didn't like. Tedisco instead attended a razzle dazzle PR event on his own, answering tough questions from Facebook users and Twitters.

There was zero coverage of the debate in The Post-Star's print edition. I can only presume this is because they couldn't reasonably run a story on a debate that only covered one candidate. So rather than deigning to cover a 'third party' candidate, they chose instead to ignore the event completely in the real paper.

Fortunately, the debate co-sponsors decided it was worth it for the public to know what happened. The Times-Union did some reporting on it while WMHT.org is making video of the debate available online.

From time to time, The Post-Star has done some decent coverage of the race. But the good stuff has almost invariably been ghettoized in political reporter Maury Thompson's blog and has not appeared in the much more widely read print edition.

Thompson had good Q & A segments with all three candidates, blog only.

He did offer some coverage of the aforementioned debate, but it was not run in the print edition either. It was posted on the blog at 8:42 PM, more than early enough to appear in the real paper if their de facto anti-'third party' editorial policy were different.

Thompson also had not one but two stories on 'donations' made to the campaigns of the major party candidates. Both were worthy pieces that deserved more prominence than being online only.

Speaking of which, Planet Albany blog also had a piece on money and the 20th CD race.

The Glens Falls Chronicle has an extended interview with Scott Murphy in its current issue. I presume the weekly will question Tedisco and hope they will query Sundwall. In future sessions, editor and veteran journalist Mark Frost should target his questions a little better. Asking if state taxes are too high is legitimate question for someone who's running for governor or state legislature. Asking about the recently ratified Glens Falls School District teachers' contract (which Frost has railed against) is a legitimate question for someone who's seeking a seat on the school board. Neither, especially the latter, is appropriate for someone who's running for Congress, which has no jurisdiction over either.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sundwall and Murphy, but not Tedisco, to debate tonight (updated)

The Times-Union's Capitol Confidential blog reports that
Democrat Scott Murphy and Libertarian Eric Sundwall will be participating at a Congressional candidate debate co-sponsored by the Albany daily and the local PBS station WMHT.

The debate will be held tonight and aired live on WMHT.

Organizers also invited Republican Jim Tedisco but he declined, stating he was doing his on PR event that evening.

Kudos to the TU and WMHT for serving the public by giving all the candidates a fair shake (even if one declined). Let's hope all media covering the race will be so responsible.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

And you wonder why newspapers' fortunes are in the toilet

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

We in the media don’t purposely shut down anyone not with a D or R after their names. We do want to encourage all candidates. But we do have a reality to face. How much space and effort should we devote to a candidate who legitimately has little or no chance of winning? Is that fair to our readers and the candidates? We do try to cover legitimate third-party candidates when we can. But Mr. Sundwall, until the last day or so, wasn’t on the ballot, so voters could not have voted for him. Mr. Cerro is not on the ballot at all and didn’t try to get on it. How much coverage should they expect? If you can’t generate a lot of support, then why should the media be expected to devote a lot of time to your candidacies? This forum was supposed to be about negative ads and their impact, so we’ll go back to that now. But I just wanted to explain a little bit of our position." -Post-Star editorial page director Mark Mahoney on a forum.

His words. Not mine.

To summarize:

They can't afford "much space and effort" to candidates they've arbitrarily decided have "little or no chance of winning" (because calling up Eric Sundwall and asking him a few questions would take a ton of time). But they do have resources to run fluff pieces of Tedisco with his dog and of Murphy eating dinner with his family as well as a piece on the "flap" about what Murphy wrote 20 years ago when he was a teenager.

They don't "purposely shut down" smaller party and independent candidates. They just choose not to give them any coverage.

They do "want to encourage all candidates." They do this by only covering the major party candidates.

Thanks for that clarification.

Actually this is one of the useful things about the paper's forums. It allows you to draw out the editors and goad them into actually saying what we all know they're thinking.

Note: What Mahoney and the paper's managing editor Ken Tingley would contend that their bias against smaller party and independent candidates is standard practice in the corporate media. Tingley said exactly that to me an email -- which, for ethical reasons, I won't publish or quote from. Given the well-documented troubles of the print media, is this really the right time for The Post-Star or any other newspaper to be content with just following the herd? Ultimately, newspapers that continue to fail to provide distinctive, useful information like this that readers want will remain in the herd as it waltzes off the edge of the cliff. Unlike many bloggers, I wouldn't welcome this one bit. But no one could say it wasn't self-inflicted.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Service organization of the week - call for nominations

I am planning a regular feature for this blog called The Service Organization of the Week. It is intended to highlight the countless non-profit organizations out there that raise money and promote volunteerism for worthy causes. The main criteria are that they be non-profit and oriented toward helping people. It doesn't matter if they focus on fundraising or promoting volunteering. It doesn't matter if their focus is local, national or international. If you'd like to nominate one or several organizations, please send me a brief write up of why the organization should be considered and a link to the organizations website (I will credit you unless you state otherwise). Please either email nominations to popeyeckn @ yahoo.com or leave a note in the comments field of this entry. I will be the final arbiter of organizations chosen.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"A mind is like a parachute: it only works when it’s open"

Mr brother sent me an article about a school district in Virginia where residents are trying to get Howard Zinn's A People's History of The United States removed from the Advanced Placement (AP) History reading list.

One parent said that kids taking the AP course "don't have the judgment to put this book into proper [perspective]."

Bear in mind that an AP course is by definition not only a college level course (and one presumably taken by the smartest, most intellectually driven 15-18 year olds) but it's voluntarily chosen by those who participate. No one is forced to take AP history.

There is no question that Zinn is politically incorrect.

What you're supposed to intone the half quote ("My country, right or wrong") not the full quote ("My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right").

What you're supposed to mouth is, "America is not perfect, but it's the best damn country in the world."

It's ok to acknowledge that America has been imperfect, but you’re not actually supposed to detail those imperfections.

You're supposed to present a rose-colored picture of history, not one that presents the whole truth. We don't want to learn from our mistakes so that's why we should never talk about them.

This is why so many of the crimes of the "war on terror" that we now regret are repeats of American crimes in previous conflicts. But most Americans aren't made aware of these parts of our history, because it's politically incorrect and, as in the Virginia school district, often consciously censored. As a result, they had no reason to realize that things like imperial occupation and waterboarding and other forms of torture were counterproductive (to say nothing of grotesquely immoral for a place that claims to be a "Christian nation") in the 19th and 20th century and thus they were almost guaranteed to be counterproductive in the 21st.

Discussion of topics like genocide and imperialism should be limited to the Nazis and the Brits, should be limited to "them."

Zinn doesn’t follow that politically correct orthodoxy.

This orthodoxy is why critical thinking is so badly lacking in this country. And if you think it's not important, just remember how many American were so quick to buy the bill of goods being sold about how the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were brilliant ideas... in complete defiance of the common sense offered by historical perspective.

More tellingly, look at the degree to which people who exercised critical thinking by actually asking tough questions were denounced as unpatriotic for doing so.

Zinn argues that America has committed, and continues to commit, genocide and imperialism. Even if you don't think America has ever been guilty of those things, you should be allowed to argue that. But the point is that there ought to be a discussion. This is how healthy democracies operate.

A country that continuously pats itself on the back as the Leader of the Free World ought not to be so childishly insecure as to be afraid of an open dialogue.

One woman called Zinn’s book "a real slander of American history."

Let's leave aside her ignorance of the difference between slander (spoken) and libel (written). But even so, slander and libel unpleasant. They don't disagreeable. They mean untrue (intentional and with malice).

This flap is yet another example of a plague that's affecting America. People are more and more hostile to reading or hearing points of view that might be different.

And contrary to liberal smugness, this closed mindedness not unique to conservatives. The establishment liberal hostility to Ralph Nader was not toward his ideas (which were much closer to what liberals claim they believe in than were Obama's, Kerry's or Gore's), it was against the fact of his candidacies.

They steadfastly refused to engage Naderites on the ideas. They'd say that Nader is an idiot or naïve or a cancer or a Bush-enabler. But they'd never say he was wrong on the issues that they themselves most strongly advocated. They just thought he should shut up and disappear. They weren't afraid he was wrong. They were afraid he was right. And they were afraid that enough liberals might be open-minded enough to realize he was right, although this turned out to be an unfounded fear. And as much as liberals may refuse to admit it, this hostility toward Nader participating in democratic politics and pushing ideas they themselves believed in was just as nasty and closed-minded and virulent and frothing-at-the-mouth as anything you'll hear from Michael Savage.

Liberals watch Olbermann and Rachel Neddo on MSNBC. Conservatives watch O'Reilly and Hannity on Fox. Liberals read the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos. Conservatives read World Net Daily and the NRO.

The real problem isn't that people seek out views that are similar to their own. That's completely normal. The problem occurs when they ONLY seek out views similar to their own and don’t seek out or when they actively push away views that might challenge them to (gasp) think, examine and reflect.

Worse yet is when they seek retribution against opposing points of view. Book banning like I mentioned above is just one example. Another is when Democrats and Republicans conspire to keep smaller party and independent candidates off the ballot; don't beat them, silence them.

I've heard it argued that Obama critics ought to be thrown in jail for slander/libel; I'm sure Bush-Cheney apologists wish this had been true during their reign. It actually was once illegal in the US to criticize the federal government, as anyone who criticized World War I and the liberal saint Woodrow Wilson found out. Just ask Eugene Debs.

In fact, one of the important differences between generally free and generally unfree countries is slander/libel laws. In the US, for example, slander and libel are civil crimes. That means the violator is subject to being sued by the object of his alleged offense. In some countries in Africa and other parts of the world, slander and libel are criminal offenses. That means the violator is subject to being thrown in jail for long prison sentences. This is actually one of the most common ways that tyrants silence any and all political opposition. The human rights' community strongly believes that slander and libel should be civil crimes.

Too many people in this country chose to ONLY seek out agreeing points of view. Whenever they leave their echo chamber, they've been so bombarded with the notion that no humane or patriotic person could possibly disagree with liberal/conservative orthodoxy that they think it's perfectly reasonable to call others bloodthirsty fascists or an America-hating terrorist appeasers. Someone who disagrees with you is not wrong or misguided or ill-informed, they are evil.

When you shield yourself from differing points of view, you don't expose yourself to the possibility that people of good will can honestly disagree on important issues. To hide from (or worse yet to try to silence) differing points of view is, I dare say, the position of cowards.

Disagreement can cause discomfort, so people avoid it. But disagreement can also cause enlightenment. If your mind is open, it can cause your views to evolve or change. Some people reject this as "flip-flopping." I contend that being open to the possibility that you might sometimes be wrong is a sign of maturity. Absolute certainty is the domain of fanatics and sociopaths, of religious fundamentalists and revolutionaries.

Hopefully, you become wiser as you get older, learn more and experience more. If you change, why shouldn't your opinions change? If you evolve, why shouldn't your perspective evolve? If you're exposed to facts or opinions you hadn't previously considered, what's wrong with adjusting your point of view based on that new information?

Think of it this way. I have a canister of flour in my kitchen. As long as it remains in the canister, it will never be anything other than flour. But if I take it out and expose it to yeast and hot water, it will become dough. If I then expose the dough to heat, it will become bread. Bread tastes much better than flour.

If I screw up the yeast/water mixture or if I bake it for too long, then the result will suck. So it's a risk. But if I don't take that risk, if I never expose the flour to outside influences, the powder will never be anything other than flour. There will never be the possibility that it becomes something much better.

Modern technology is great. I love how customization allows me to find lots of news about Africa and about soccer, things that are ignored in the mainstream media here (except for the worst catastrophes). But it also allows people to make sure they're only exposed to points of view that fit their pre-conceived notions and to skip those that don't.

The word 'broadcasting' is a compound word, the first part being broad. You used to consume your broadcast media and be exposed to a BROAD range of things, whether sports, other hobbies or stories or political points of view.

This specialization has transformed things into narrowcasting, where every micro niche has its place. And that's useful for people with out-of-the-ordinary interests like me.

I don't have to suffer through 3 hours of watching random F-list celebrities play Xbox NBA on ESPN followed by 2 hours of faux angry discussion about how the injury to the Rams' third string long snapper might affect the fantasy leagues values just to get my 20 seconds of soccer highlights. I can just go to FSC or GolTV and skip the b.s.

It's also good because broadcasting has never been quite as broad as it should be. The mainstream media only includes points of view within a very narrowly proscribed spectrum, especially in news coverage. On any particular issue, there was the standard establishment liberal point of view and the standard establishment conservative point of view. Those who claim a 'liberal' or 'conservative' bias to the news media or a particular mainstream outlet are really missing the point.

The real bias comes from never hearing from non-establishment points of view. You almost never hear from leaders like Ron Paul or Ralph Nader. You almost never hear about smaller party and independent candidates for political office (much easier to invent non-stories by constantly analyzing polls and discussing strategy). Even though smaller party and independent voters make up a significant portion of the population.

When such people and ideas are mentioned, it's only sporadic tokenism not anything even vaguely resembling consistent.

Very religious people is another significant demographic that the media doesn’t know how to cover.

Rather than figuring out how to properly integrate into their coverage the points of view of smaller party and independent voters and of very religious people (each of whom make up a significant percentage of the population), the media just throws its hands up and doesn't make a serious effort.

Narrowcasting is a way for people like this see their point of view reflected. It's popularity is a testament at how much broader broadcast could be.

But narrowcasters are only useful if they supplement, rather than replaces, more general sources.

Ultimately, society will continue to become more polarized as long as people keep consciously rejecting any seed of dialogue with anyone else who might conceivably with 1 percent of what they to have to say.

People ought not to abandon their principles just to avoid the slightest hint of tension. But solutions need to be sought. The millions of unemployed aren't all conservatives. The tens of millions with no or too little health insurance aren't all liberals or progressives.

Ignoring the tens of millions of Americans who might disagree with you is self-indulgence that isn't going to solve anything. Suck it up, find people who may not share your political perspective and talk with, not yell at, them and see what happens.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Enemies of democracy reveal themselves

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

Locals may remember a guy by the name of Don Neddo. Shortly after the Iraq Aggression, Neddo organized many pro-war rallies in this area where he led denunciations of those who act like citizens by daring ask questions about the insanity.

He later stepped down as an organizer of pro-war rallies after it was revealed that he was telling bald-faced lies about being a veteran. He claimed to have served in Korea when in fact he hadn't been in the military at all.

Apparently not content with his earlier attempts to suppress freedom and democracy at home, he's embarked on another crusade against them.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise is reporting that Neddo is one of two people challenging the petitions of Eric Sundwall, a Libertarian running for the special election in the 20th Congressional District.

The other enemy of real democracy, or perhaps the tool of the enemies of real democracy, is someone named Laurie Kelly Sickles of Ballston Spa, according to the ADE.

These tactics designed to asphyxiate free choice are very familiar to me as someone who follows African politics, but they remain an unwelcome site in a country that markets itself as the leader of the free world.

During an appearance in Glens Falls, Sundwall said he expected challenges to his petitions by anti-democratic forces and that he was taking measures to ensure more than enough signatures to remain on the ballot.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Less than zero

As many of you know, Jim Rome is sports yap's equivalent of Michael Savage. A guy who thinks he's relevant and is loud and hysterical, but almost never coherent. Additionally, Rome hates soccer... or at least pretends to. With these lame entertainers, you never know what are their real beliefs and what's schtick done just for ratings. This is why shock jocks are boring.

Anyway, the best part about European Champions League soccer airing on ESPN2 is that pre-empts Rome's show.

So ESPN execs feel that his show deserves even less prominence than something Rome claims no one here cares about.

I wonder how Jimmy feels about his show being less than worthless.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The apotheosis of the ADD society

So after checking out Twitter and using it maybe three times before deciding it was totally pointless (as though modern politics in general and "Mr. Hip" Jim Tedisco in particular aren't superficial enough), I've come to wonder: do we really need another medium entirely devoted enabling people with attention spans of 10 seconds or less?

I realize that people with attention spans of 10 seconds or less represent a very large potential market here in the United States, but is reading Facebook status messages really so taxing for such people that they need something shorter?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

(Multiparty) Democracy in America

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

Adirondack Almanack blog ran a nice essay arguing in favor of true multiparty democracy in the US.

The essay's author is a University of Hawaii student from Washington County, NY. She spent the early part of her life in the Canadian capital.

What's interesting is that most of the people I know who support multiparty democracy are people who've spent at least a little time living in other countries.

I don't think that's a coincidence. The United States is the only democracy in the world with only two parties represented in its national legislature. Not only do nascent Slovakia, Benin and Senegal have more than two parties seated in their national legislatures, but so to de facto dictatorships like Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

So if pretty much every other democracy in the world from the oldest (Britain) to the youngest (East Timor, Kosovo) can have multiparty politics without the sky falling, why can't the self-proclaimed 'leader of the free world'?

Maybe in this case, we should be following the rest of the free world.

Note: the essay can be found here.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Why do the Arab League, African Union and Muslim world oppose justice for Arabic-speaking African Muslims?

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..

The arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court of Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir has provoked outrage in the Muslim world and in much of Africa. Bashir was indicted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, the western region of his country.

The arrest warrant is historic. A few former leaders, such as Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and Liberia's Charles Taylor, have been indicted by international tribunals, but Bashir is the first sitting head of state to face such charges. Whether he faces trial is highly doubtful unless, like Milosevic and Taylor, he is apprehended after being evicted from power.

The condemnation of the arrest warrant by the African Union, the Arab League and the Muslim world in general is both understandable and predictable.

Understandable in that there are legitimate complaints about double standards. The early ICC trials have dealt with warlords from Uganda and the DR Congo, and now the controversial indictment of a Sudanese one. Many ask why Pres. Bush has never had to answer for the illegal aggression against and criminal rape of Iraq. Many ask why Israeli Prime Minister Ohlmert and his cabinet colleagues don't have to answer for what even independent human rights' organizations believe are its war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Critics claim that only Africans and Muslims are ever subjected to justice. And it's hard to argue.

Predictable in that these organizations are quick to rally around brutes in high places but silent about the crimes these brutes commit. The Arab League is quick to condemn Israel every time their prime minister sneezes without covering his mouth. But it's uttered barely a peep about the hundreds of thousands that have been slaughtered in Darfur. The AU doesn't quite adhere to this despicable silence, but they still seem more concerned about not offending sitting heads of state (coughMUGABEcough) than anything else. Its predecessor organization, the OAU, was often referred to as a country club for dictators. The AU is shedding that reputation far too slowly.

The Muslim world rightly believes it's under siege from the west. They notice that pretend western 'concern' about Muslim places like Afghanistan and Iraq resulted in military invasions and about Muslim Darfur in proposed invasion and an actual attempt at international justice. They notice that pretend western 'concern' about Christian places like Zimbabwe only ever results in endless talk.

The thing that the Arab League ignores in its knee-jerk defense of Bashir is that the victims in Darfur are Arabic-speaking. The thing that the African Union ignores in its knee-jerk defense of Bashir is that the victims in Darfur are Africans. The thing that the Muslim world ignores in its knee-jerk defense of Bashir is that the victims in Darfur are mostly Muslim.

The reason is that these reactions are less a knee-jerk defense of Bashir than a knee-jerk opposition to anything that can be manipulated into being portrayed as 'neo-colonialism.' And in many cases, 'defenders' of Bashir are really more interested in not setting a precedent that might be used in the future to subject themselves to justice.

These critics don't give a crap about the fact that hundreds of thousands of Arabic-speaking African Muslims are being slaughtered. They just wanted to take up the 'anti-colonial' mantle. As I've written several times before, it's both sad and sickening that it's remarkably easy to mobilize international opinion is by being against something or hating someones (no matter how right the position), but incredibly difficult when it comes to being in favor of something (helping the victims).

When the son of the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher unsuccessfully allegedly tried to organize a coup against the monster running the oil-state of Equatorial Guinea, he was arrested and faced trial. This was widely praised in Africa as a blow against neo-colonialism, even by people who loathed the man who is arguably the world's worst despot.

So it begs the question: if it's right and proper to put someone on trial for a crime that ultimately killed nobody and only targeted a single individual, why is it so outrageous to put someone on trial for crimes that have actually killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced many more and resulted in countless rapes?

Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu is always a strong voice first and foremost in FAVOR of humanity -- all of humanity, not just any particular sub-section of it. He had an excellent op-ed piece in The New York Times about exactly this hypocrisy.

He asks of African leaders quite succinctly, "[A]re they on the side of justice or on the side of injustice? Are they on the side of the victim or the oppressor?"

It's a question everyone should ask themselves, especially apologists for Bashir.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bush's would-be police state

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

This piece in The Chicago Tribune and this editorial in The Washington Post detail the frightening post-9/11 police state envisioned by the Bush administration. This reads like something from one of those infamous 'outposts of tyranny' than the something from a regime that uttered the word 'freedom' every 3.2 seconds.

Some Democrats reportedly want a truth commission to investigate the crimes of the previous administration. If Republicans want to rebuild their credibility as the so-called party of law and order, they'd be wise to join in.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Why doesn't The Post-Star ax its own editorials?

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

A few days ago, The Post-Star posted yet another obnoxious screed treating people idiots for not following the blindingly self-evident illumination that appears on the righteous daily's editorial page.

(Matt has his own take on The Post-Star's 'leadership')

The Post-Star pretty much only writes editorials on two topics: whipping up COUNTERPRODUCTIVE hysteria against teen drinking (how dare pragmatism and common sense be injected into a serious discussion) and slapping around readers for acting like citizens or parents rather than only thinking of themselves as taxpayers (how dare anyone stray from the consumerist model).

Occasionally, they throw a nod to the open-government types. These editorials are usually sensible in their actual position, while never losing the paper's smug tone.

Given the two-trick pony that The Post-Star's editorial slot has become, it belies the excuse they concocted for axing Molly Ivins' column several years ago before her untimely passing: that the Texan was too predictable.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Q & A with (all) the candidates

Maury Thompson's blog at The Post-Star has offered a series of Q & A's with all three candidates in the Congressional special election. Unfortunately and perhaps typically, none of these have made it into the print edition, which has a far greater readership than the blog. But in any case, here are his interviews with...

-Democrat Scott Murphy

-Libertarian Eric Sundwall

-Republican Jim Tedisco

Update: Thompson also had a nice piece on "Jolly John" Kemnitzer. The former Glens Falls councilman and owner of the area's best fish fry passed away on Sunday after a long battle with cancer.

Monday, March 02, 2009

National Peace Corps Day (after)

Yesterday was national Peace Corps Day. In 2004, I wrote this essay (slightly modified since) in honor of Peace Corps Day. It's become a bit of a tradition for me to re-post it every March 1 (or 2, if I forget).

Moms and dads have their day. Old presidents have their day. So do labor unions and medieval saints. Soldiers have two official days plus numerous 'support our troops' rallies. Even bosses and secretaries have days, according to Hallmark. So why not Peace Corps volunteers?

Today is Peace Corps Day. It's the [48th] anniversary of the day President Kennedy signed the executive order creating the Peace Corps.

Some people think the Peace Corps is a military organization. In fact, it's the antithesis. It's an organization which sends volunteers to developing countries to engage in such activities as teaching, public health, environmental management and small business development.

Volunteers receive a living allowance to cover their basic expenses and are provided housing, but are otherwise not paid. They received a modest readjustment allowance following completion of their service and a small (10 percent when I left) reduction in federal student loans. But they otherwise receive further medical care or educational benefits. There is a small movement to obtain for departing volunteers benefits more similar to those received by those leaving the military, but it hasn't gotten anywhere.

The goals of the Peace Corps, according to the organization's website, are three:

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.

2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.

Suffice it to say, all three goals have been important since the organization was created but #2 seems particularly crucial in the era of post-9/11 random invasions. Though increasingly, it feels like a "one step forward, three steps back" routine.

There have been many books on "the Peace Corps experience" (which is about as broad a generalization as "the American mentality"). Nevertheless, some themes tend to be pretty common among them.

-Go to God-foresaken country with the expectation to save the noble savages.

-Learn that they are not savages and that they are noble/ignoble in more or less the same proportion as Americans.

-Sense of loneliness in a totally alien culture.

-Learn that life without TV/computer is not the apocalypse.

-Leave with the realization that you learned more than they did.

-Sadness when they have to leave their village/city.

-Transmit these themes interspersed with a lot of humorous anecdotes.

-Commentary on the impact of American foreign policy, French foreign policy and the IMF/World Bank may be included.



Common themes for volunteers who served in sub-Saharan Africa, as I did, are as follows:

-Annoyance at people who call you 'toubabou' (or whatever the local language word for 'white person' is); "My name isn't 'toubabou'," fumes the author. "My name is John!"

-Agitation that everyone wanted you to marry their sister/brother/son/daughter or get them a visa to go to America.

-Rage at the dichotomy between the fabulous wealth of the political elite and the overwhelming poverty of the masses.

-Observation to the effect that "[nationality] are so poor monetarily but so rich in spirit/culture/community."

-Elegies about how welcoming [nationality] are to strangers.

-A brief history of the country and the legacy of European colonialism.

-Maddening anecdotes about dealing with corrupt officials, musings on heat, mosquitoes and hygeine and comical (or frightening) travel stories.

-General commentary about "the African condition" may be included.


(And just so I don't sound like a snob, I included every one of these themes in my journal and letters home)


The best book I've ever read about "the Peace Corps experience" was George Packer's The Village of Waiting. It was a wonderfully written book in its own right. But I enjoyed it even more because, even though it was set in Togo and I served in Guinea, it was pretty much the story of my experience. Reading The Village of Waiting is why I decided not to write a strictly autobiographical account of my experience: it had already been done.

Abandon all principles ye who enter power

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

I realize that I'm not supposed to criticize President Obama. Even when I disagree with him, I'm obliged to just shut up and praise his "pragmatism." I'm supposed to realize that I shouldn't expect him to actually do anything meaningful because that might (insert menacing music) "give ammunition" to the Republicans. At least that's what I've been told by critics.

Apparently, John Nichols of The Nation never got the memo. He actually thinks that if Obama does something that the left would've slammed George W. Bush for doing, then the left should criticize Obama for it too.

When Bush proposed a 'surge' in Iraq, the left vigorously opposed this. But when Obama proposes something similar to Afghanistan, Nichols points out that the left is largely silent.

This Nichols guy is so naive. He thought the "Change We Can Believe In" slogan implied a change of the fundamental direction of the country, not just a change in the party that occupies the White House.

I'm sure, one day he'll stop being so childish and realize that principles are only for those people whose 'side' is out of power.

Afghanistan, long referred to as 'the place empires go to die,' is far more of a mess than Iraq ever was. The unpleasant reality is that Afghanistan is a morass with American troops and will be without them.

The British Empire couldn't sort out Afghanistan. The Soviet Empire couldn't sort out Afghanistan. The American Empire isn't able to sort out Afghanistan. Here's a novel idea. Why not let Afghans sort things out for themselves?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Theocracy in America

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

I listened to a disturbing NPR report on a sex abuse scandal in a Hasidic Jewish community and school in Brooklyn.

It was a very troubling report. Probably even more so than the Catholic clergy sex scandals due to the insular nature of the community and the omerta that has descended upon it.

The Brooklyn District Attorney expressed frustration that the omerta is preventing his office from getting any cooperation from the community. They feel the problem should be dealt with 'in house.'

In recent years, howls of uproar exploded in places like England and Ontario when it was suggested that perhaps Muslims who "voluntarily" chose so should be subjected to Sharia law, rather than the criminal law of those jurisdictions. The howls of uproar were well justified. Theocracy is antithetical to fundamental notions of western civilization. If you want to live in a religious state, move to Iran.

The controversies were also seized upon by militarists in the US to advance their Islamophobic agenda. But except for the NPR piece, this story has got virtually no play outside the NYC media.

So if society risks disintegrating if Muslims are exempted from the laws of the land, why is the same not true of Jews? Is the real concern the fear of a theocracy or a fear of a non-Judeo-Christian theocracy?