Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A curfew on common sense

Letting the conclusion drive the facts invariably leads to poor public policy decisions, as eight years of the Bush-Cheney regime amply illustrated. Apparently, the city of Glens Falls never got that memo.

The Post-Star ran a good editorial (it does happen occasionally) casting skepticism on the city's attempts to impose a youth curfew.

The push to implement a curfew came following a costly vandalism spree that resulted in significant damage to the playground at Big Cross Elementary School, on the city's southwest side. Since they didn't catch who was involved, no one has any idea the age of the perpetrators, but that fact hasn't stopped the scapegoating of young people.

This isn't surprising since actual facts don't seem particularly germane to this debate. As this article pointed out:

A subcommittee was formed to research Glens Falls Police Department calls for service to see how many calls involved youths and were made within the parameters of a curfew, between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The study looked at the months of Jan. 1 through March 10 of this year and July through August 2009.


The low number of calls involving youths during curfew hours was hardly enough to provide "compelling" evidence for creating a new law. But the committee refused to give up and called for another study, this time compiling calls for service data for the past five years.
[emphasis mine]

In short, the sub-committee didn't find facts to back up its pre-ordained conclusion so it was going to look at further data until it could cherry pick what was required to fabricate the 'need.'

If the city really wanted to lower crime and the use of police resources, they'd put a curfew on drunks, not kids. I'm sure they wouldn't have to look at much data for that one.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The worthlessness that is MobiTV

If you want to waste $9.99 a month on a "service" that's going to crap out on you at the moments you most want it, then MobiTV is for you!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bits and pieces

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

-ABC News takes a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a documentary on the NGO Doctors Without Borders and the truly heroic work they do.

-The Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, which focuses on isses relating to rural America, published a report exploring the particularly high rates of young child poverty in the southern US. Carsey also released an interesting report on Challenges in Serving Rural American Children through the Summer Food Service Program.

-A piece on Alternet 6 shocking ways conservatives have caused the economic destruction of America... or more specifically, the conservative ideology.

-Speaking of harm caused by the Supreme Court-sanctioned corporate takeover of government... I noticed an AP piece highlighting how many judges in the Gulf Coast (where lawsuits related to the BP oil catastrophe will be heard) have close ties to Big Oil... 37 of 64 federal judges in the region, to be exact. (And this doesn't even take into account state judges, many of whom are elected and thus raise money) Then, I caught an item about how one of those federal judges struck down the Obama administration's temporary ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Please move along... nothing to see here.

(Also see: - a project of the Campaign to Legalize Democracy)

-Sadly, this area has seen the death of not one but two local soldiers this week in Afghanistan, the latter 19 years old. The deaths of these young men occured the same week that a report by Congressional investigators issued a 'shocking' (not sure I'd use the adjective) report that the US is funding Afghan warlords.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Less than a week until historic elections in Guinea... and you can help!

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..

Republished with permission from Friends of Guinea blog.

Campaigning and preparations in Guinea are well underway for the June 27 poll, expected to be the first ever free and democratic elections in the country's history. Some 24 candidates are contesting the presidential election, none soldiers.

The US NGO the Carter Center has sent a delegation to monitor the vote and has described the campaign as 'positive.' The African Union has also praised preparations.

The Economist had a profile of the head of state Gen. Sekouba Konate and his efforts to ensure that both the elections and the future civilian administration remain free of military meddling. Additionally, the army chief of staff Col. Nouhou Thiam warned that there would be no immunity for soldiers involved in the Sept. 28, 2009 massacre.

However, Foreign Policy warns that challenges remain beyond the formal election. It published an article on 'Guinea's economic junta' which noted that the army's domination of lucrative mineral contracts won't end with the ascension of a democratic head of state.


Also from FOG blog:

Our colleagues at Alliance Guinea have launched a 'high-tech election monitoring system' in support of this Sunday's presidential election in the country.

The system, GV10 Witness (or GV10 Temoin, in French), will allow Guineans on the ground to report violence, threats of violence, fraud and other serious incidents via SMS, email and Twitter.

The messages will then be posted to the website on a map of Guinea, organized by incident location and type of incident or report. People monitoring the elections – whether election administrators and observers, international media, civil society organizations or the general public – will then be able to follow developments on the site or through email updates.

This effort will require volunteers to process the information. If you'd like to help, please click here for more information.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dear Congressman Scott Murphy

Dear Congressman Scott Murphy,

Your alleged efforts to reduce federal spending might have more credibility if you didn't waste money to send me two identical glossy mailers pamphlets bragging about it... especially when I'm on your email list.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Let's hope they predict Slovenia and Algeria to thrash the US too!

One of the reasons I hate England's national soccer team is that the English soccer culture has an arrogance that does not befit its actual accomplishments. England has one only a single major trophy: the 1966 World Cup on home soil. They have never won their continental championship. They have never made it to the final of another major tournament besides 1966. Their best ever World Cup performance on foreign soil was a single semi-final appearance.

By contrast, the 'patghetic' United States has won 4 continental championships, has made the final of the Confederations Cup and their best ever World Cup performance on foreign soil was... a single semi-final appearance.

None of this should be construed to suggest that the US is a better soccer nation than England. We're not. Our 4 Gold Cups have come out of a relatively weak region with only one real peer. The Confederations Cup run required only two wins to reach the final (though England has never been in that tournament because you actually have to win something to participate).

England is a great example of a medium-sized nation whose fans have always held unreasonable expectations as a result of one great tournament. England are regular World Cup quarterfinalists, which is a pretty good achievement considering their player pool (lots of good players, a few very good players, maybe two truly world class player). But English fans are under the insane delusion that if they only had the right manager, they'd be sure to win the World Cup. England isn't, and in my lifetime has never been, good enough to EXPECT to win the World Cup. Their superiority complex is completely unjustified.

The above front page of the tabloid Sun rag is a great example of this. A group with the US, Slovenia and Algeria was probably the most favorable World Cup draw England could have gotten but easy? In the last year, Algeria beat African giants Ivory Coast as well as back-to-back-to-back African champions Egypt. Slovenia qualified ahead of respected soccer nations like the Czech Republic, Poland and Russia. The US ended Spain's world record winning streak last year. The best group they could've expected? Sure. But easy? Only typical English soccer provincialism would've expected this to be simple. No wonder it's been 45 years since they've won anything.

After the US 1-1 draw with England, The Sun is the only entity who now looks more stupid than poor Robert Green. But I suppose unlike Green, The Sun isn't classy enough to be embarassed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bits and pieces

A New York Times' piece explores efforts by the world's worst dictator, Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema, to refashion his image.

On January 20, 2009, most of America rejoiced at the end of the error that was the Bush/Cheney regime. However, the effects of the oil men's reign was always going to last far more than eight years. The BP/Gulf of Mexico oil cataclysm is the logical consequence of the Bush/Cheney/Tea Party ideology of letting industry regulate itself without the meddling of 'liberty snatching' government. An Associated Press analysis points out another consequence: the majority of federal judges in the Gulf coast have financial connections to the oil and gas industry. These are the judges that would hear lawsuits relating to the oil catastrophe.

I've frequently commented on the manner in which the punditocracy suffocates the practice of journalism... specifically how polls, speculation and horse race crap is replacing the real news reporting. In defending this, corporate media types piously claim that it's not because the horse race crap is easy, lazy stuff but that they are just giving the people what they want. The Washington Post's excellent media critic Howard Kurtz gives lie to that claim. In a Tweet, he pointed out that 5 pct. of people were interested in last week's primaries but they got 18 pct. of the news coverage.

CNN reports on a quarter century long study published in the journal Pediatrics concluding that kids of lesbians have fewer behavioral problems than their powers. This will surely have no impact on the opinions of the far right, the Catholic Church and other groups who reject scientific analysis on principle. But it begs the question: should heterosexual adoption be banned? For the well-being of the children, of course.

And the world's most important sport event in its most beloved sport starts today. From now until July 11, the soccer World Cup will be held in sites throughout South Africa. For one month out of every four years, soccer fans in America get to be as insufferable as fans of the boring pointyball are for the other 47 months. My predicted semifinalists are Argentina, Spain, the Netherlands and Nigeria (though watch out for dark horses Serbia, Uruguay and Cameroon), with Spain beating the Netherlands in the final. The US plays the hated England tomorrow at 2:30p ET, Slovenia next Friday and Algeria the following Wednesday. The full World Cup broadcast schedule can be found here. C'mon USA!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

13 years ago today...

Exactly 13 years ago today, I got in a taxi left my little village in West Africa for the last time. I know it sounds cliche but it really does seem like yesterday. I still remember the exact sequence of what happened in my last 36 hours in that village. Just thinking about it makes me tear up a little bit.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

How corporate personhood perverts the quality of our democracy

We Americans like to whine about our politicians as individuals, and not without reason. But aside of the 'fringe' parties, few notice the role the broader political system of campaign financing plays in that.

The only way to run a run for federal office decreed serious by the corporate media poobahs is to either raise oodles of corporate cash... I mean, raise oodles of corporate "free speech"... or to use millions of your own money.

In other words, the only people who can afford to run for high office are millionaires and those who accept to be bought off. The only options are to buy public office or let corporations buy it for you.

And we wonder why sub-standard individuals are attracted to politics. The decent ones don't feel like whoring themselves out.

Relevant websites related to the re-institution of democracy:

-Move To Amend
-Don't Get Rolled

Friday, June 04, 2010

German president resigns after truth-telling 'gaffe'

As I've often said, in politics, a 'gaffe' is when a politician strays from the official orthodoxy and accidentally tells the truth. The latest big gaffe occurred when Germany's president caused a furor after noting that his country was involved in the military occupation of Afghanistan in order to protect commerce.

Horst Kohler stated that "in emergencies military intervention is necessary to uphold our interests, like for example free trade routes, for example to prevent regional instabilities which could have a negative impact on our chances in terms of trade, jobs and income."

Although the German presidency is mostly a ceremonial post, he was widely attacked for deviating from the required narrative that the mission was only related to security and safety.

As a former head of the International Monetary Fund, Kohler has a particularly deep insight about the incestuous relationship between war and financial and commercial interests.

Following his truth-telling 'gaffe,' Kohler resigned.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The BP disaster is the logical result of the Tea Party ideology

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

Over at Alternet, Jim Hightower has a great piece on the BP catastrophe. The title speaks volumes: 'Who the Hell's in Charge Here? BP Disaster Caused by a Nasty Mix of Government Impotence and Corporate Rule'

Hightower notes that [t]he explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon well was the inevitable result of deliberate decisions made by avaricious corporate executives, laissez faire politicians and obsequious regulators.

The catastrophe is often described as an accident. And I wouldn't characterize it as deliberate. But when a disaster of this magnitude is the result of incompetence, greed and negligence, the word 'accident' seems grossly inadequate.

Much like the financial collapse, the cataclysmic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the very logical outcome of the corporate parties' ideology of de-regulation for its own sake.

Conservatives have spent the last 30+ years de-legitimizing all forms of government authority (except the military of course). They've spent decades preaching that businesses should be able to do whatever they want without the 'tyranny' of regulation, that the market would sort everything out neatly in every case.

It's perfectly legitimate to debate whether the state should be micromanaging x or y. Even much of the left believes that New York state government, for example, has far too many regulations that have no good reason for existing.

But conservatives have taken it much further than simply getting rid of the stupid regulations. They've pushed the un-nuanced idea that ALL forms of (non-'security') government authority are inherently illegitimate.

Just as it's wrong to say that regulation is inherently good, it's also dangerous to say that all regulation is inherently bad. I believe state authority should be exercised only when other options don't work or are not viable. But I don't exclude this option in all cases. Government regulation shouldn't be the first option, but it shouldn't be automatically excluded. Ideology should be a guide, not a straitjacket.

Disasters like the financial collapse and BP catastrophe are the inevitable result of the cult of less government for its own sake. If you want more of them, vote for Tea Party candidates.

I wonder why you don't hear Sarah Palin chanting "Drill baby drill" anymore.

Update: as an anonymous commenter pointed out, my last statement apparently gave the quitter too much credit. Why Republicans pay attention to empty celebrities like her is beyond me?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

On the nature of service to others

NCPR's Brian Mann wrote an interesting essay on Why Memorial Day Matters.

I could go on about how activities like Memorial Day are exploited to chill dissent and stifle real debate on when soldiers should be forced to risk their lives. But that's for another time. Memorial Day is a holiday that has become important to me. I am not entirely sure why but I think it's related to the notion of service to something greater than oneself. I also think it's related to my horror at the actual effects of war.

Yet, I think one of paradoxical effects of the us constantly honoring our soldiers is that it (inadvertently, I hope but am not sure) leaves the impression that the only way you can render service to your country is to join an institution whose primary means of problem-solving is violence.

The use of force for true self-defense is legitimate. And I believe it is right to honor the sacrifices ordinary soldiers made, since the controversial stuff is nearly always done by the politicians.

One thing for which I am grateful to my father (an Air Force veteran) is the way in which he stressed to me the importance of service to others. He did not view service as something strictly limited to joining the military, something he never once encouraged or discouraged me from doing. He once expressed envy at my choice to serve in West Africa in the Peace Corps. He had a very broad view of service and I am thankful he shared that.

As such, I wished we lived in a society that place more value on serving your country and community in ways that build and help other Americans. We honor soldiers constantly. But do we honor teachers? Do we honor firefighters, who also risk their lives? Do we honor the truly heroic work of humanitarian aid workers? Do we honor volunteers who read to the sick or feed the homeless or visit the elderly, tasks perhaps more modest but an integral part of our greater humanity? Why don't we do more to honor that service which gives aid and comfort to human beings in our communities? Is it possible to wish we valued other forms of service without devaluing the very real service of soldiers? Is service to humanity really any less important than service to America? If not, why do we treat it as such?