Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Barbarian demands to dig up Muslim cemetery... and other musings

"If fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." -Sinclair Lewis

Religion is a strange thing. It seems to bring out either the absolute best in people and the absolute worst in people. For example, it was Christians who were instrumental in pushing the black equal rights movement. And it was also Christians who perpetrated the Inquisition and the Holocaust and, on a less severe scale, are the most vocal opposition to the gay equal rights movement.

I found interest a survey by the Pew Forum concluding that atheists and agnostics in America know more about religion than the religious. It reinforces my suspicions that organized religion discourages intellectual curiosity by its insistence on deference to a central authority.

But this isn’t that surprising. My experience as a Catholic growing up depended greatly on the priests at any given time. The good clerics drew out the religion’s humanity. The mediocre ones never went beyond the realm of theory and scolding. Though this variation was counterintuitive to the principle of a universal church.

I wonder why anti-Semitism is (rightly) considered vile and repugnant but Islamophobia is increasingly socially acceptable... if not mandatory in some circles.

And speaking of Islamophobia, I don’t think you can demand the desecration of cemeteries and call others barbaric and uncivilized.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Howie Hawkins: Voters Want Something Other Than Tea Partiers (guest essay)

As mentioned here, I am allowing my blog to be used as a medium whereby smaller party and independent candidates can publish statements since they are blacklisted by the mainstream media.

Though this is open to any candidate, regardless of whether I agree with or endorse them, I am happy to start by posting a piece by someone I DO agree with an endorse: Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate for governor of New York.

In this piece, he points out that although there is a lot of anger and frustration among voters, not all of it is by those who identify with the so-called Tea Party.

Howie Hawkins: Voters Want Something Other Than Tea Partiers

Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, called today for Andrew Cuomo to agree to open debate in the Gubernatorial election. Republican Carl Paladino supports including all Gubernatorial candidates.

"The polls shows that the voters don’t want this election to just be a coronation for Andy as Cuomo II.. The voters are entitled to hear real solutions to the problems such as 800,000 New Yorkers out of work, a $9 billion state budget deficit, and skyrocketing poverty rates. Nor should the debates be limited to whether or not a real estate developer or a career politician best represents the fringe Tea Party movement. It is incredible that we are in the midst of the worst recession in 70 years and my opponents have no plans to put New Yorkers back to work other than cutting state spending, provide tax cuts to the rich, and attach public employee unions,” said Hawkins, the only union member running for statewide office.

“Public jobs for full employment, single payer health care, making the rich pay their fair share of taxes, and a ban on hydrofracking – these are four policies that have widespread support among New Yorkers. But they will not have a champion if I am not included in the gubernatorial debates. Most New Yorkers do not agree with the Tea Parties agenda,” Hawkins added.

Hawkins has advocate a WPA style jobs program for NYS. If individuals can’t get a job from the private sector, they would go to the local employment office to find work that would improve the local community.

“It is amazing that the major party candidates have largely ignored the fact that we are in the greatest recession in 70 years.” This recession has hit the poor far harder than the rest of society. Unemployment among the poor in the US is now in excess of 30% – as bad as the Great Depression. Our first priority is to put people to work, not cut state spending or protect the wealthy from paying their fair share of the tax cuts,” added Hawkins.

Hawkins also said that the environmental issues were critical to the well-being of New York. “Climate change is probably the greatest threat to our future. We need to invest in an immediate transition in renewable energy, not waste resources on more fossil fuels such as hydrofracking for natural gas. We also need to reduce other uses of fossil fuels, such as increased investment in mass transit and a reducing the use of pesticides and fertilizers as we move to a local, sustainable food system,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins said rather than building more nuclear powers plants with their huge cost concerns and radioactive storage problems, he would shut down the state’s existing nukes, starting with the Indian Point nuclear plant. He said that the negative impact on fish and the lack of a realistic evacuation plan gave the state ample groups to stop the plant. Indian Point has also had problems with a steam boiler rupture, a transformer explosion, siren failures, increasing leaks of radioactive material, and numerous unplanned closures. Hawkins said that while the Attorney General’s office has done good work recently in supporting efforts to get the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to shut the plant down, since announcing his run for Governor Cuomo has been more evasive as to the conditions under which he would seek the plant’s closure.

Hawkins also said that as Governor he would work with the federal government to push General Electric to finish the dredging of PCBs from the Hudson River as soon as possible. GE once again is trying to delay the cleanup, calling for additional studies since the level of PCBs were higher than they predicted.

“For too long companies like GE have increased their profits by polluting our natural resources and expecting the taxpayers would pick up the costs not only for cleanup but for the various environmental and public health problems they created. We need to adopt the concept that polluters pay and that they have to be responsible for their external costs,” said Hawkins.

Since the primary, Cuomo has argued that he embraces the Tea Party agenda just as much as Paladino.

“Andrew Cuomo and Carl Paladino want to cap or cut state spending and blame teachers, public employees, and people using safety net programs for the state’s deficits. I say we have deficits because the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Cuomo and Paladino refuse to raise taxes on the rich, who have enjoyed three decades of tax cuts that were supposed to give them incentive to invest and create jobs. That trickle down economics theory is a proven failure. I say it is time to tax the rich again and put their money to better use in the public sector funding a Green New Deal that will create jobs and a sustainable green economic recovery based on renewable energy, mass transit, fully funded schools, single payer health care, and a green industrial policy. It’s a choice between the Cuomo/Paladino austerity plan and the Green prosperity plan – and New Yorkers deserve to hear that choice debated,” Hawkins said.

In addition to a guaranteed living wage jobs program for all New Yorkers, Hawkins said that as Governor he would enforce the state law (Sec. 54 of the State Finance Law) requiring the state government to share 8% of its revenues with local government; instead, lawmakers each year waive the law and provide only about 2% of its revenues to cities and other local governments. Hawkins also supports reducing local property taxes by having the state take over the counties’ contribution to Medicaid and by enacting a state single payer Medicare for All type program.

Update: Hawkins also agrees with the plurality of Americans who feel that health care 'reform' should've gone much further.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Twice as many want a stronger health care bill than think it's 'socialistic'

After Congress passed a controversial health insurance reform law, the public was largely angry. Conventional wisdom had it that Americans thought the law too expansive and meddlesome. This seemed validated when hysterical mobs stormed last summer's 'town hall' meetings denouncing the health insurance law.

But a recent poll suggests that conventional wisdom was, as is often the case, wrong.

The media bought into the Tea Party-stoked fury. In their mind, there were only two significant populations: those who thought the health insurance reform bill was 'socialistic' and went way too far and those who thought it hunky dory. After all, there are two sides to every story.

Except when there are three.

It never occured to them that there might be a significant part of the population who thought the health insurance law did too LITTLE. It never occurred to them because the media perceived no political party advocating a stronger bill.

Of course, there were political parties, such as the Green Party, advocating Medicare for All, but the media pretends only two parties exist.

The Associated Press poll found that Americans who think the law should have done more outnumber those who think the government should stay out of health care by 2-to-1.

Additionally, The poll found that about four in 10 adults (40%) think the new law did not go far enough to change the health care system... On the other side, about one in five (20%) say they oppose the law because they think the federal government should not be involved in health care at all.

Only a quarter of those surveyed felt that 'minimal tinkering,' which is what the Obama bill does, would suffice to address flaws in the health system.

Breyer: conservative activist judges threaten Court's credibility

A New York Times piece explores the worries of the Supreme Court's least activist justice about the threat posed by conservative activist justices to the Court's credibility.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Tea Party presidency

I am convinced that if a Tea Partier ever got elected president of the United States, he’d sound something like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: loud, hysterical, belligerent, peddler of a martyr complex, an expert manipulator and blaming everything including the bad weather on the US government.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Calling all smaller party and independent candidates!

If you rely solely for your news solely on the mainstream media, the types that pontificate on the importance of media literacy, chances are you won't be too well informed. You'd probably think that the only candidates for governor of this state were the Democrat and the Republican (and maybe the other Republican). You'd probably have no idea that there are EIGHT other candidates for governor besides those from the two major parties.

The corporate media only covers the corporate parties, no surprise there. The media's infatuation with polls has its limits: it ignores the one that shows that 58 percent of Americans think a third party is needed.

Of course, there ARE 'third parties' in this country, but most people aren't aware of them because... oh wait, I already covered this.

So one thing I will do is open this blog up to publishing statements from any candidate for office in NYS from outside the Republicrats.

Obviously, this isn't a substitute for the actual journalism that professional reporters should be doing but since the corporate party candidates get tons of free air time and print in the corporate media and other candidates get virtually none, it's the best I can do.

This offer is not open to any registered Democrat or Republican who is running on a third party line, a process which I believe subvets attempts at real multipartyism. The offer is only open to candidates actually registered in a smaller party or registered independents.

If interested, please email me at: mofycbsj @

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Are journalists slaves to polling companies?

"At times it feels as if American politics consists largely of candidates without ideas hiring consultants without convictions to stage campaigns without content. Increasingly the result is elections without voters." –Gerald Ford

I’m a big fan of North Country Public Radio’s Brian Mann. I think he’s probably the best journalist in this area. His news stories are fair (different than neutral) as well as offering a depth and nuance pretty much unseen in this region’s journalism. But one of his weaknesses is his infatuation with the horse race of politics; this blog piece where he went on about a poll regarding the NY governor’s race is a recent example. I won’t crucify him for it because his real journalism is of such quality. But as someone who’s regularly criticized the overreliance on polls that cripples modern journalism, I wish he’d tone it down a bit.

I think journalists are infatuated by polls because they are far easier to frame than more complex (and more relevant) stories about issues. The way stories about polls are framed are remarkably similar to the way stories about sports are often framed. But ESPN's hype machine aside, most sports journalists don't pass their work off as being of epic importance.

Polls really are a a crutch of modern journalism. As I’ve said before, polls can be useful when they illuminate a story or issue. Far too often, though, they ARE the story. Polls fine as the dessert – fine in small quantities, easy to digest but with little nutritional value; instead, they are usually passed off as the main course – thus we get a malnourished civic soul.

I am convinced that this is a reason why ordinary people are tuning out of politics and why they are losing respect for journalism. Nearly all the coverage, and I mean in the state media in general not just Mann's blog, of the governor’s race is based on polls; this was exacerbated when a poll was released showing the GOP’s Carl Paladino only 6 points behind Democrat Andrew Cuomo. The small rest of the gubernatorial coverage has about Paladino’s controversial personality and emails he once sent.

I’ve seen hardly anything about the FOUR other statewide races, those for attorney general, comptroller and two US Senate seats. There was a little coverage about the Democratic attorney general primary (again mostly focused on the polls and who was 'ahead') but virtually none since.

The state is in a crisis but journalists seem to think that no one’s interested in hearing ideas about how to address the crisis and that everyone's more worried about the little parlor games of polls that ignore most of the candidates anyway.

Yes, the only people talking about issues and ideas are the smaller party candidates... this is almost always how it is. But if the media is going to blacklist those smaller party candidates and perpetuate the deceit that they don't exist, don’t they at least have a responsibility to press the major party candidates to talk about real issues, not just a candidate's crude emails or lineage?

Oh wait, I have to go. A poll shows that Paladino’s popularity has increased by 0.0441 percent since 22 minutes ago. Stop the presses! I need to write a story about this Earth-shattering development!

Update: Matt Funiciello offers his take.

Second update: Curiously, the media's infatuation with polls doesn't seem to extend to the one that shows 58% of Americans think the Republicans and Democrats so inadequate that a third party is needed. Of course, there ARE 'third parties' so this means that the majority of Americans think the media should actually cover them, like is done in the media of every other democracy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Apologies to Muslims

New York Times' columnist Nick Kristof published an apology to Muslims for all the hateful, defamataory and vitriolic generalizations directed at them by far too many citizens of the so-called 'home of the brave.'

Kristof begins: Many Americans have suggested that more moderate Muslims should stand up to extremists, speak out for tolerance, and apologize for sins committed by their brethren.

That’s reasonable advice, and as a moderate myself, I’m going to take it. (Throat clearing.) I hereby apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you. The venom on the airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you. Muslims are one of the last minorities in the United States that it is still possible to demean openly, and I apologize for the slurs.

He laments that a Maine newspaper caved in to hysterical hatemongers by apologizing for an innocuous article that portrayed Muslims as... (insert menacing music)... civilized human beings. In 2010, that's apparently something to apologize for.

The Post-Star ran a similar, innocuous story earlier this month on the religious practices of a Muslim gentleman in Queensbury, which also provoked filthy invective. I'm no fan of the paper's managing editor Ken Tingley, but to his immense credit, he refused to apologize for a piece which portrayed a decent human being as a decent human being and as well as for denouncing the vile bigots.

I applaud Tingley for standing by the article and standing against the mindlessness. I also echo Kristof's apology to Muslims.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

“I support unlimited war... and limited government"

"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.

Chris Gibson is the local Tea Party-backed candidate for Congress. Gibson is the pro-war corporate Republican who claims to be a fiscal conservative running against Scott Murphy, the incumbent pro-war Democrat who claims to be a fiscal conservative.

Gibson’s campaign motto is succinct: “[Iraq] Combat Veteran. Fiscal Conservative.” I’d love to hear him rationalize this given that, their inherent immorality aside, interminable wars of choice and aggression like Iraq are pretty much the most fiscally reckless thing any elected official can support.

But I suppose coming up with such a rationalization would require him to recognize the contradiction in the first place.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Border Patrol: worse than Arizona

The state of Arizona has come under immense criticism for passing a law essentially requiring all citizens and residents to carry proof of citizenship or legal residency with them at all times.

However, this report from North Country Public Radio points out that the Border Patrol is doing very much same thing.

Basically, if you live within 100 miles of the border, you need to carry your passport or green card with you at all times or else risk being detained. Remember that next time you drive to the grocery store to get a gallon of milk.

In many ways, this is worse than the Arizona law. While the controversial situation in the southwest was implemented by the normal legislative process, the Border Patrol did this by nebulous and unaccountable "policy."

Additionally, at least the Arizona law forces authorities to fake some sort of pretext. The Border Patrol can demand proof of citizenship from anyone or search their laptops or whatever for no reason far away from the border.

This story evokes memories of my time living in West Africa, where I needed to carry my documents with me at all times in case I ran into a military checkpoint.

So you think if you're here legally, you have nothing to worry about? Not quite.
Since 90% of all New Yorkers and 2/3 of all Americans live within 100 miles of the border, the 4th Amendment apparently doesn't apply in most of the country.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hobbling journalism's crutch kicked away while foreigners offer a glimpse at the Tea Party's vision

I’m no fan of the Tea Party-backed Carl Paladino but... I do take a little joy from the fact that the polls, the modern substitute for actual journalism, were spectacularly wrong.

The polls had this a neck-and-neck race between Alan Alda-look-alike Paladino and Rick Lazio in the race for the GOP nomination for governor of New York.

Paladino won by 24 points.

Though Larry Sabato, the resident political science expert used by pretty much every national media outlet, pointed out that anti-incumbent fury wasn't quite as lethal as you might think.

As he Tweeted: Final tally: 417 Sens. & Reps. renominated, 7 lost (98% won)

And speaking of the slash-and-burn approach advocated by Paladino and other self-proclaimed small government types, Canada's MacLean's magazine has a profile of what Tea Party's vision would look like. Collapsing bridges, street lights turned off, cuts to basic services... sounds like paradise!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Bigotry today. Bigotry tomorrow. Bigotry forever!

"There's nothing more frightening than ignorance in action." -Tom Smothers

Today’s Post-Star ran a seemingly innocuous piece on the religious practices of a Muslim gentleman in Queensbury.

But since the Park51 (the misnamed ‘Mosque at Ground Zero’) project has brought hatemongers out of the closet, there’s no such thing anymore as an ‘innocuous piece’ related to people of the Islamic faith... no matter how far away from lower Manhattan.

The comments on the article are pretty disgusting... especially considering how mild the article’s topic really was. Can you imagine the furor if defamation like this were directed at Jews or Christians?

I was raised as a Catholic. I was also raised as an American in a country founded by those fleeing religious bigotry. I can’t remember anything in my religious or civic upbringing that could possibly justify the sort of filth being spewed.

I’m not sure which fraud disgusts me more: that these bigots call themselves lovers of freedom, that they call themselves Christians or that they call themselves Americans.

Muslims around the world should know that the majority of Americans reject this barbaric hatred.