Saturday, November 27, 2010

Holiday thoughts for those serving abroad

Spare a thought for the hundreds of thousands of Americans serving abroad who aren’t with their families this holiday weekend: humanitarian aid workers, Peace Corps volunteers, development workers, some diplomats, armed service men and women and many others.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Afghanistan is not Vietnam... it’s worse

This weekend, the US will have occupied Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Union did in the 1980s. Often credited for helping bring down the Soviet empire, the occupation of Afghanistan is often referred to as the USSR’s Vietnam. America’s own occupation of Afghanistan is also referred to by many as Vietnam redux. New York Times blogger Richard Wright disagrees: he says the war in Afghanistan is quite a bit more harmful to America than Vietnam.

He writes: And how many anti-American jihadists has the war created on the battlefield itself? There’s no telling, but recent headlines suggest this admittedly impressionistic conclusion: We’re creating them faster than we’re killing them. And some of these enemies, unlike the Vietcong, could wind up killing Americans after the war is over — in South Asia, in the Middle East, in Europe, in America.

[...]

Al Qaeda’s ideology offers nothing that many of the world’s Muslims actually want — except, perhaps, when they feel threatened by the West, a feeling that isn’t exactly dulled by the presence of American troops in Muslim countries.


None of this is particularly revolutionary to students of world history. Overreach inevitably causes empires to collapse, by creating hostility and resentment and suppressing national and cultural identity. This hostility and resentment usually mystifies the imperial power who has deluded itself to believe that people want to be dominated by foreigners, so long as those outsiders deem themselves ‘enlightened.’ The power thinks that if it replaces one for of overlordship with another, the victims will be grateful for Change. In essence, the imperial power thinks that its own perceived beneficience and omnipotence invalidates human nature.

I almost forgot something that Rep. Dennis Kucinich pointed out: Afghanistan is already America’s longest war... and with no end in sight.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Random thoughts

PRIORITIES
The American people had no problem with kidnapping random and sundry foreigners on foreign soil, guilty or not, and “renditioning” them to torturous regimes under the pretext of national security. We had no problem with funding such tortuous regimes with oodles of your tax money (but God forbid we help working Americans get health care). We had no problem with our agents doing the torturing themselves. We had no problem with the horrors revealed in Wikileaks’ Afghan and Iraq war logs (sorry I can’t link to them as Wikileaks’ site curiously appears to be down). Heck, we had little problem with the insane and counterproductive aggression against Iraq in the first place, even after the WMD fairy refused to show us where those weapons were. But we draw the line at airport pat downs and body scanners?

**
NATIONAL 'DON'T USE YOUR BRAIN' DAY
First, there was a national “Don’t Buy Gas” Day protest. Now, there’s a “Buy Nothing” Day. Do people realize how stupid and pointless these one day protests are? Do you seriously think you’re sending a warning to the consumerist economy by refusing to spend a dime on useless crap today but then going out and buying useless crap tomorrow? Is the self-indulgence of empty symbolism really that powerful? If you really want to send a message, don’t change your day. Change your dang lifestyle.

**
ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ONE, ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ALL
If teachers should be held “accountable” via their students’ test scores, shouldn’t corrections officers be similarly held “accountable” via their released prisoners’ recidivism rates?

**

THE JUDICIARY HIJACKED BY THE MOB
So Mike Huckabee is gloating that he and his fellow theocrats helped oust several Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of equal protection of the law for gay citizens. He claimed that the ruling sent a message.

It sent a message indeed: beyond a certain level, we shouldn't have elected judges.

The system here in New York is fine. Trial court judges are elected. But appellate court judges, those who set precedents, are appointed by the governor and approved by the legislature but to a limited term of office. This gives them a certain degree of accountability but shields them to a certain extent from mob fury.

The judiciary is not supposed represent the "will of the people." It's supposed to uphold constitutions, including minority rights protections, regardless of what the hysteria or scapegoat of the day happens to be.

And it sent another message about why electing judges is dangerous: it lends itself to the same corruption of outside money as the election of politicians.


**

OXYMORON OF THE DAY
New York’s governor-elect wants the judiciary to intervene in a few close election recounts to ensure that we have a “functioning Senate” in January. It’s amusing that he thinks the courts can impose this. Between being run by boobs and criminals (convicted, indicted and not-yet-indicted), NYS hasn’t had a functioning Senate in several years.

**

MONEY WELL SPENT?
The US alone has spent $56 billion on “Afghanistan reconstruction.” For reference, if the US had instead divvied up that money equally and directly given it to the people, that would have put $2000 in the hands of every single Afghan.

**

FORTUNATELY NO ONE EXPECTS COHERENCE FROM SPORTS ANNOUNCERS
Soccer commentators should be thrashed for improper use of the word 'unlucky.' Hitting a shot 15 feet over the cross bar or, worse, out for a throw in is NOT unlucky; it's incompetent. Unlucky is the FC Dallas player who scored the own goal on Sunday night.

**

RADIATING FURY
Last month, Hundreds of gallons of radioactive water from a cleanup at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory spilled from a drainage pipe into the Mohawk River in NY’s Capital District, according to an article in the Albany Times Union. A failed sump pump system caused about 630 gallons of tainted water -- containing Cesium-137, Strontium-90, uranium and plutonium -- to overflow into a culvert draining directly into the river, [the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation] reported.

The T-U described these as ‘known carcinogens.’

I can’t imagine why there’s public reticence about the expansion of nuclear power as an energy source.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A matter of trust: the anti-APA Post-Star plays fast and loose with APA 'facts'

A few weeks ago, Post-Star head honcho Ken Tingley patted himself on the back for how well his paper informed the public. A month or so ago, he did so again by bragging that his 'Newspaper can still make its readers smarter.' (One observer wondered how many issues of The Post-Star he'd have to read to become smarter than non-P-S reader Stephen Hawking.)

Apparently, even Tingley's large ego became so sore from the repeated massaging that he had to take yet another 'brief' two week vacation.

But his claim that reading the Glens Falls daily will make you smarter is accurate if 'smarter' means knowing things that are demonstrably false.

A few days ago, the paper editorialized that Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo ought to make 'reform' of the Adirondack Park Agency one of his priorities. By reform, they mean abolishing it, as they editorialized earlier this year.

In this week's editorial, the paper wrote:

The 11-member APA board is currently comprised of the commissioners of the Department of Environmental Conservation and Economic Development, the state secretary of state, three members of the public from outside the park and five from inside the park - one from each county [emphasis mine]

There's a little problem (aside from the grammatical error in the beginning): there are more than five counties inside the Park.

I left an online comment pointing out that I thought there were between 9 and 11 counties with territory inside the Blue Line (there are actually 12) and I named them.

They didn't change the wording of their editorial. They didn't claim I misinterpreted the phrasing. They didn't even acknowledge my comment pointing out an apparent factual error in any way shape or form.

This error doesn't seem intentional or manipulative. It's not a detail that's central to the editorial's thesis or the paper's general editorial line. It's easy enough to fix. Why they don't correct it raises some questions? Do they not care? Do they feel that, as the self-appointed watchdog, they are unaccountable?

Even though they can't/won't get their basic facts straight, and refuse to correct them when confronted with their error, I'm supposed to give them credibility and take them seriously on this issue?

Have parts of their purportedly objective reporting on the APA been tainted by such sloppiness with (or manipulation of?) the facts?

Some years ago, I asked my mom if she wanted a subscription to TIME magazine. She said she'd never read that magazine again. When asked why, she said that when she was in college in the late 1960s, the weekly did a story about her university. In it, a graphic or photo misidentified one or more buildings on campus. She explained that if they didn't get the facts right that she knew, how could she trust their account of the facts she didn't know.

As part of the declining newspaper industry, The Post-Star would do well to heed this lesson.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Thoughts on yesterday’s elections

Green gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins got more than the 50,000 votes required to secure ballot status for the Greens for the next four years. This will allow Greens all across the state to run for all public offices much more easily and offer an alternative to the corporate Democrats and Republicans. It also established the Greens as the third party in New York state and the top non-corporate party. Thanks to all who voted for him and a progressive agenda and, by extension, for multipartyism in NYS.

Before 2009, the last time Democrats controlled all three of the governorship, Assembly and Senate was 1935. So it was entertaining to hear state Senate Republican leader Dean Skellos act like his party has had nothing to do with the mess that is NYS. The two corporate parties have run the state into the ground in that most sainted of manners: bipartisan. It's time for some multipartyism, courtesy of the Greens.

It was also amusing to hear Sen. Skellos say that we needed a GOP senate to act as a check on the corruption in Albany. A check on Joe Bruno-style corruption?

It was maddening to hear all these liberals rave about Andrew Cuomo. Do they even have a clue what he ran on? I mean, besides the empty “Change Albany” rhetoric. Guys who will act as a check on Wall St. excesses do not get oodles of campaign cash from Wall St. Guys who run on progressive agendas do not get endorsed by the far right New York Post. Remember that, more often than most people want to believe, you really do get what you vote for.

I went to vote and I saw a bunch of cameramen and photographers outside my polling place. So I was prepping myself for the red carpet walk which they obviously wanted me to do. But then this tall red-headed guy with his family comes walking out and all the paparazzi follow him instead. Some Congressman Murphy guy, apparently. I suppose that’s the modern media for you: all substance, no style.

I remember that when Tea Party candidates won primary elections, many liberals were gloating, sure that they would get slaughtered in the general election. As that famous Bard, Lord Dark Helmet of the movie Spaceballs, said, “Evil will always prevail because Good is dumb.”

I don’t think much of most Democrats but am still very disappointed at Russ Feingold losing. When the Profiles in Courage of the last 50 years is written (a slim volume to be certain), Feingold's lone vote against the Patriot Act in the face of post-9/11 hysteria will be one of the chapters.

I love how all the media outlets declared Andrew Cuomo, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand the winners only a few minutes after the polls closed despite reported vote totals of 0 for all of them. Only in the punditocracy is 0 > 0.

If the only way you can get elected is to buy office with your own fortune or to buy it with corporate America’s fortune after they buy you off, is it democracy or oligarchy?

How come no one is demanding to see Marco Rubio’s birth certificate? Or for that matter, John Boehner’s?

Those running on the purported agenda of ‘smaller government’ and ‘less spending’ won big last night. I wonder what amount of the military budget, which by itself accounts for 52% of all discretionary federal spending, these principled spending cutters will slash.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Mixed messages

So today’s Post-Star runs an editorial portraying voting as a sacred duty paid for with the blood of our local servicemen. Standard stuff, trying to encourage civic participation.

But then on the very same page, it runs its Don Cheapshot column (that overstates it a bit, it's merely a snarky little one-liner, anonymous of course) whining what’s the point of voting because they all stink.

And in actual fact, most of Don Cheapshot's recent one-liners have been in the same vein: whining about the election (such as here, here, here and here... and that was just for the last week!)

Ignore the cowardly, anonymous wild canine. Listen (for once) to their editorial board. Vote today.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Endorsement: Howie Hawkins for governor

It probably won’t come as a surprise to readers of this blog that I endorse Howie Hawkins for governor of New York.

Hawkins visited Glens Falls recently and spoke at an event I attend. Like most people who heard him that evening, I came away certain he was the best candidate for governor, certainly far more substantive than either major party candidate.

Hawkins spoke in great detail about his platform for over an hour without notes. He spent at least 45 minutes take questions from the audience... and actually answering them directly.

He spoke about the Green New Deal to restore our crumbling infrastructure, to prevent local economic disasters like the sudden closing of the Crown Point bridge.

He spoke about reforming New York's rigged electoral system and democratic (lowercase d) improvements like New England-style town hall meetings.

He spoke about supporting investment in renewable energy rather than in natural gas, whose extraction requires a water-polluting procedure called hydrofracking.

He spoke about implementing Medicare for All in New York, which would save the state large sums of money.

He spoke about making Medicaid run by the state rather than by the counties which, if enacted, would significantly reduce the state's sky high property taxes.

The state currently collects a 0.05 percent stock transfer tax but then rebates it all to the brokers. Hawkins proposed stopping that rebate, an act which would not only eliminate New York's budget deficit but would also fund his infrastructure improvements.

For context, a stock sale of $10,000 would be subject to a tax of a mere $5 (you pay more tax buying a $100 iPod).

Just as importantly, voting for Hawkins can help implement real multipartyism across New York state. If he gets at least 50,000 votes, then Green candidates across the state will be able to run for local, county and state office much more easily. This would no doubt be welcome by the majority of New Yorkers dissatisfied by the corruption of the two major parties in Albany.

Unlike the major party candidates, he is not a millionaire; he works for a living. Hawkins is the only union member running for governor. And with Democrat Andrew Cuomo pushing the corporate agenda, Hawkins is the only center-left candidate in the race. And aside from Libertarian Warren Redlich, he is the only candidate to have elaborated a serious, detailed agenda.

He has earned my vote, and hopefully you'll give him yours too.