Friday, July 30, 2010

Americans celebrate 45 years of 'socialized medicine'

Single payer health insurance in America is 45 years old today.

Government-provided, national health insurance for all senior citizens was signed into law on this date in 1965.

We've had four and a half decades of Medicare for some. It's about time for Medicare for all.

The Wikileaks' revelations will harm Afghans and that shows why we need to get out

The Obama administration freaked out at the historic leak of Afghanistan war documents by the whistleblower website Wikileaks and subsequent publication of articles based on that information by The New York Times, The Washington Post, the UK Guardian and Germany's der Spiegel.

Many people, including Daniel Ellsberg himself, compared the significance of what Wikileaks did to the release of the Pentagon Papers. Though, the respected non-profit journalism organization Pro Publica disagrees.

I tend to side more with Pro Publica. The Wikileaks information paints a damning portrait of a morass that was never going to be winnable, but even though I'm no South Asia expert, there wasn't a lot of stuff I hadn't heard before.

It's certainly important in that it illustrates to governments and bureaucracies that secrets are a lot harder to keep in the Internet age and that's certainly a good thing. Bureaucracies, even those of sainted 'liberal' administrations, tend to loathe transparency even though secrecy is the enemy of democracy and good governance.

As expected, the Obama administration and the Pentagon blasted the leaks, as did Afghan president Hamad Karzai. They all claimed it would put Afghan lives at risk. It goes without saying that there's a huge element of spin in this. 'National security' is the perpetual claim any time anything comes out to offer a real version of reality that contradicts the officially approved version of reality.

Yet here's also an element of truth to the claims.

But I think that element of truth is even more damning to the cause of the eternal occupation. How can the foreign occupation possibly succeed (whatever 'success' means) if Afghans who openly cooperate with it are literally risking their lives?

Americans like to believe we can accomplish anything if we just beat our head against a stone wall a little bit harder and never give up until that wall comes down. But what can we possibly accomplish if Afghans are too fearful to work with us? What kind of Afghanistan can be built if Afghans are too afraid to be a part of its construction?

Or maybe the definition of 'success' has other priorities than the security of Afghans and Americans.

And if there's any doubt that the present sainted 'liberal' administration has no interest in even beginning the dismantling the American empire, look no further than the fact that Pres. Obama has ordered all federal agencies to prepare for a five percent budget cut for the next fiscal year... except for the Pentagon, while will be exempted.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bits and pieces

A few towns in rural Washington County, NY recently passed laws mandating English as the sole official language of government communication; though to his credit, the Green mayor of village of Greenwich, David Doonan, categorically refused to entertain such a proposition.

Recently, police in Saratoga Springs responded to a stabbing near the city's famous racetrack. But officers who responded to the scene could not communicate with the victim or any of the witnesses, because they spoke only Spanish. The track attracts a lot short-term workers during the summer, many from Latin American countries.

In response, the city's police department is implementing Spanish-language training for its force and is contemplating giving preference to bilingual officers in future hiring.

It's a good thing for the safety of city residents that the Saratoga Springs PD isn't hampered by an English-only law preventing them from effectively investigating crimes.


In my last post, I lamented the poor state legislators who, unpaid due to the unfinished budget, have to survive on a meager $171 a day per diem. I guess some of them are managing to survive.

Gov. Paterson called a special session of the legislature yesterday and the Senate merely gaveled in and out rather than do its job and work on a budget. The majority Democrats complained that the governor called the session when several of them were on vacation and thus wouldn't have the votes to pass anything anyway. Of course, if they'd passed the budget when it was due on April 1, or any time since, there wouldn't be an issue. The idea that they felt they had done anything to earn a vacation is, in and of itself, appalling.

The outspoken social conservative Democrat Sen. Ruben Diaz blasted the governor for wasting time and money. In other words, he said it's the governor's fault the he and his colleagues refuse to do their jobs.


Given the morass in the legislature, it's not surprising little talent is seeking the governor's mansion. Democratic attorney general Andrew Cuomo, the consummate insider, is running as a fake agent of change. I think his campaign handlers have banned him to not mention one single specific or proposition of something, limiting him to mealy-mouthed vague platitudes. His Republican opponents, Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino, are even emptier suits. They've chosen the demagogue route.

Far behind Cuomo in the polls, they have seized on attempts by a moderate Muslim group to build a mosque and community center near Ground Zero in a pathetic attempt to get someone to pay attention to them. They've both expressed support of using eminent domain to block the construction. It's bad enough they're focusing on this issue rather than the state's fiscal mess or corruption in Albany. But now we have the spectacle of so-called conservatives and opponents of big government launching an assault not only on freedom of religion but also on private property rights.

At least the Greens are offering a serious candidate for governor worth your attention, Howie Hawkins, as well as a number of other good candidates for statewide and local office. I've heard Hawkins speak several times and was impressed. He's not nearly as eloquent as the aforementioned empty suits but he's not afraid to get specific and offer concrete ideas, not just empty mom-and-apple-pie platitudes. The current governor is doing a decent job, considering the entrenched opposition. His successor needs both a brain and a spine and Hawkins is, to my knowledge, the only candidate with both.


The catastrophic spill in the Gulf of Mexico has made Americans aware of the environmental and economic devastation caused by reckless practices of petroleum multinationals. People of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria are far too aware of this, as the public radio show The Story recently explored.


On a more upbeat environmental note, Adirondack Almanack's John Warren has a good piece on the profound legacy of Earth Day, which was first celebrated in 1970.


The Post-Star has a good editorial (hey it happens! law of averages) on Saturday about the state's now-defunct Empire Zone program, which was a slush fund for businesses. The current head of the Empire State Development Corporation told the daily's editorial board that out of the more than 8,500 companies that had received financial benefits under the old Empire Zone program, two-thirds of them probably would have done what they did anyway - without receiving any benefits at all. We would have gotten all the same economic benefits - jobs, local investment, tax revenue - without a single penny of taxpayer money.

The paper rightly bemoaned this huge waste of tax dollars for little appreciable benefit.

But there's even more waste than just that: the various quasi-public agencies.

The city of Glens Falls alone has: local development corporation, an industrial development agency, a tourism office and an urban renewal agency.

And yet it 'needs' to pay staff and fund these agencies even though they largely duplicate the work of the Warren County economic development corporation, the Warren County tourism office and the bi-county industrial development agency.

I'd urge Post-Star to continue its opposition to waste and do an investigation into the city EDC, IDA and tourism offices to see a) if their existences really justify what we're spending on them and b) if that benefit is really greater than what we'd get simply by using the parallel county agencies.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The working (?) poor

Our esteemed state legislators in New York won't touch their salary until they grow some stones, defy their misleaders, do their job and actually pass a budget... one that was due nearly four months ago.

Until then, The Times-Union reports that the poor lot will have to survive on a paltry per diem of a meager $171 a day. How will they manage?!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This is America. We speak Christian!

From a letter in today's Post-Star:

"If Obama had his way, we'd all be speaking Muslim."

Since this guy is no doubt a supporter of hers, I call on Sarah Palin to 'refudiate' this sentiment.

As Tom Smothers said during the Bush regime, "There's nothing more dangerous than watching ignorance in action."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Coaching priorities take a dive

The World Cup is over. The best team (Spain) won, despite Dutch attempts to kick them into submission in the final. This was the most violent final in World Cup history, with the Dutch alone committing 28 fouls and receiving 7 yellow cards (the previous record for cards in a final was 6 COMBINED by both teams). The Dutch were also eliminated from the previous World Cup, literally kicking and screaming, in one of the most infamous matches in the tournaments history. Their previous reputation for beautiful soccer is surely now in tatters.

In the opinion of some, the shame of the final was not Dutch anti-soccer or violence.

Take this blog entry by Jeff Tipping, technical director of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

In it, Tipping blasted the behavior of players who dove and brandished imaginary cards at the referee.

While Spanish players do have an annoying propensity to "play act," there was no mention by Tipping of the anti-soccer and pure thuggery on the part of the Dutch players.

This point of view is widely held in Britain (where Tipping is from) and in most countries that are heavily influenced by English soccer, like the US, Australia and Canada.

This hypocrisy is quite breathtaking.

Players cheat in so many other ways, ways that are more serious, ways that ruin the game in a far greater fashion.


Shirt grabbing.



General mugging.

This sort of cheating is not only tolerated, but often praised, with adjectives like "robust," "getting stuck in," "tough," "sophisticated" and, my personal favorite, "well-organized."

And yet when a mugged player takes a dive or to even out these assaults, it's an international incident.

Dutch thug-in-chief Mark Van Bommell nearly broke a Spanish player's ankle with a horror tackle. Dutch deputy thug-in-chief Nigel de Jong nearly broke the ribs of Xabi Alonso with a kung fu kick that would've made Bruce Lee proud. Yet, Tipping and those like him don't say a word about this MMA-style garbage that could potentially end someone's career. But a guy who rolls around a few times? Send him to the electric chair!

Apparently, it's far more acceptable to inflict injury than to complain about or fake it.

You wouldn't have players brandishing imaginary cards or taking dives if horror tackles like Van Bommell's and de Jong's were actually punished appropriately (with red cards in both cases) rather than the "tsk tsk tsk" treatment (yellow cards) that both got.

Sometimes a player just flops for no reason. But often, a player exaggerates a fall in order to get a call that he actually deserves but would never get if he didn't fall. Referees generally only call fouls when a player goes to ground. If the refs actually blew the whistle when fouled players tried to stay on their feet, they would have an incentive to do so. As it is, players who try to stay on their feet (and generally don't get the call) are punished for being honest and the defenders who fouled them are rewarded for breaking the rules.

Cheating is cheating is cheating. To make a distinction between intentional fouling or injurious cheating and play acting cheating is just intellectually dishonest.

But I suppose that fetish with the "robust" at the expense of the technical is why youth development in both the US and England are in such a sorry state of affairs.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Amateur hour (and a some professionalism)

Today's Post-Star ran as its front page lead a commentary about the passing of Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner.

Bear in mind that this is referring to...

-The front page of the paper, not of the sports section;

-A commentary, not a news story;

-A sports figure with no particular personal connection to this area.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a commentary, let alone one about sports, as the front page lead. Then again, the paper's managing editor is an avowed Yankee fan.

It doesn't speak well of the paper's editorial judgment.

Though as an antidote to such poor prioritization, I've recently discovered two excellent websites.

The first is Pro Publica. The non-profit organization its mission as [t]o expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing.

The other is Wikileaks. It describes itself as a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public... [based on the principle] that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies. Wikileaks has become so influential that Pentagon Papers' leaker Daniel Ellsberg warned that the personal safety of the website's founder might be at risk and Obama administration's relentless pursuit of whistleblowers. More 'change' we can believe in, it seems.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Bits and pieces (the mostly World Cup edition)

From @ebertchicago: [Glenn] Beck University drops reading requirement. I'm not sure which is more surprising... the phrase Beck University reading requirement or the phrase Beck University.

Uruguay reached the last four of the soccer World Cup thanks to Luiz Suarez. Their young spiker, I mean striker, punched away a goal-bound ball volleyball style, preventing what would have been the last second quarterfinal winner for Ghana. So I could only laugh apoplectically when, late their semifinal content against Holland, the Uruguayans were whining hysterically about an alleged... handball in penalty area.

Uruguay's elimination was welcome also because no one will miss the whining, diving and time wasting that they were almost as good at as volleyball. But their dismissal ensures that this World Cup will be won by a positive attacking team: either the Netherlands, Germany or Spain. This is a welcome development in a tournament that, early on, threatened to shatter the mark for the lowest scoring World Cup ever. Instead, the five goals scored in the Uruguay-Netherlands match was the most scored in regular time of a World Cup semifinal since 1962.

Even though I'm American (and thus unfortunately part of the English soccer sphere of dominance), there's a hypocrisy which I've never quite gotten: why diving alone is heinous crime worthy of tarring and feathering, but jersey grabbing, elbowing and rugby tackling is 'savvy' defending. I guess I'm not sophisticated enough to distinguish between these different forms of cheating, the latter being far more prevelant and ruinous than the former.

A few weeks, ago, I tweeted a link to his blog entry on human rights abuses in Angola . It was automatically re-tweeted (amplified) by a Twitter feed set up by the PR arm of the Angolan government. Thanks for your cooperation, stupid propagandists!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Authentic patriotism

VPR's Vermont Edition has a great interview with Stephen Kiernan, author of the book Authentic Patriotism: Restoring America's Founding Ideals Through Selfless Action.

On this Independence Day, it's a timely reminder that patriotism is more than superficial, shallow gestures like waving a flag or wearing a lapel pin or mouthing words. Patriotism means love of country. And true love doesn't mean just saying things, it means doing things.

We Americans have a tendency to think patriotism can only be expressed by joining the armed forces or revering those who do. In fact, any one who acts, in ways big or small, to make their country and community better is a patriot.

Friday, July 02, 2010

MobiTV sucks and honesty doesn't pay

Apparently I can watch the World Cup more reliably on one of those free pirated online sites than "legally" via the garbageworthlesspieceofcrapthieving MobiTV 'service' which stole my $10 and crashes every few minutes. So much for honesty. And they wonder why people are so reluctant to pay for stuff online.

Not coincidentally, MobiTV's website offers no way to contact them via email or online. You can indirectly Tweet them but they ignore you. Given their garbageworthlesspieceofcrapthieving 'service,' I can see why.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Try acting like a human for a change

I listened to a great segment on the NPR show Fresh Air with Jeffrey Gettlemen, East Africa bureau chief of The New York Times. Gettleman talked about ideology-free "un-wars" that plague places like Somalia and the DR Congo and the massive human devastation they cause. Last month, he published a piece about how the US- and UN-funded Somalia transitional government was conscripting child soldiers to fight against Islamist extermists.

So naturally, the first comment left on the page was:

Tragic shame about the situation in Somalia; but there's a solution: Just deploy Oliver Stone to do a documentary on how it's really a paradise on earth and any negative images are simply the fabrication of the imperialist/capitalist U.S. media. It seem to work in other chaotic hell-bound locations. Send Michael Moore as well, to really put a shine on the situation.

After listening to the piece on the radio, my reaction was one of sadness and disgust at the carnage. Yet, this person's first reaction was to be snide. It was to take a shot not at the disgusting murderers like Joseph Kony or al-Shabab but at left-wing film makers.

Sadly, this is emblematic of our society has devolved. An exploration of tragic human suffering is met not with anger or empathy toward the suffering of other homo sapiens, but only with a shallow political temper tantrum.

When did we Americans become ideologues first, rather than human beings? And is any ideology worth having if it's completely divorced from humanity?