Thursday, March 31, 2011

One of the great propaganda coups of our time

Take $700,000,000,000 away from working Americans to bailout crooked bankers and then convince the public our fiscal woes are the fault of a teacher earning $40,000 a year. This has to be one of the great propaganda coups of our time.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Obama (secretly) deepens US involvement in Libyan civil war

According to Reuters, Pres. Obama has signed a ‘secret order’ authorizing covert US support for the rebels in Libya.

Nice move by the man who promised the most transparent administration in American history. So he breaks his promise on transparency (yet again) but his people aren't even competent enough to keep it secret.

Then again, this was also the same man who said the US attacks in Libya were solely to impose a no-fly zone and protect civilians and implement the UN mandate, not to take sides in the Libyan civil war.

Apparently, he'll say whatever he thinks will make neutered liberals feel warm and fuzzy.

Fortunately, Rep. Dennis Kucinich is not one of those. He asked why the president had time to consult with the international community before launching attacks on Libya but not the US Congress.

Incidentally, the folly of liberals supporting humanitarian interventionism (as I once did) is that it’s based on the premise that militaries can be primarily governed by humanitarian interests. It’s not their raison d’etre nor can it ever be.

Bullying series a worthy read

I've been critical of The Post-Star for many things, but their present series on bullying is excellent and commendable.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Blowing hot air about wind power

This story from North Country Public Radio on opposition to wind power in Parishville and Hopkinton is a great example of not only NIMBYism in action but sheer stupidity.

Here's the deal.

Fossil fuels create greenhouse gases and climate change.

Nuclear risks a Fukashima-like disaster.

Hydrofracking for natural gas destroys drinking water supplies.

Solar's good on a micro scale but not useful on a wide scale.

New York state has pretty much maximized what it can in hydropower.

People have shown that they are not willing to make lifestyle choices to significantly reduce their consumption.

The energy has to come from somewhere.

So the question is which downside is least palatable: the destruction of humanity by climate change, potentially another Chernobyl or Fukashima, poisoned drinking water or having a less than stellar view out your window?

Let's get in touch with reality, people.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Welfare queens

The New York Times did a revealing article on General Electric. On $5.1 billion ($5,100,000,000) profits it made in the US, its federal tax ball was... zero ($0).

A teacher or prison guard making $40k with good benefits enrages American society but grotesque welfare queens like this are barely a blip on our radar.

A good example of political bribes... I mean... "donations" well spent.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

First hand report from Japan, media sensationalism

I received this email from an American friend of mine living in Japan. It is published here with his permission.

**

From an article in The Japan Times about sensationalized overseas media reports in the past 2 weeks:

"For example, Japanese and foreigners who know a little about the country reacted in shocked disbelief when America's FOX News displayed a map of Japanese nuclear power stations that included the Shibuya Eggman plant in the Tokyo region. It remains a mystery as to how this ended up on a news program watched daily by around 1.8 million people."


Shibuya Eggman is the name of a live music club, not a nuclear plant. There are no nuclear plants in Tokyo.

Not that we're exactly in a comfortable situation here, of course, but some of the media have been pretty irresponsible. I saw headlines on CNN like, "Nuclear Fears Soar as Death Toll Rises"... suggesting a link between the two which does not exist. On another site I clicked on what was supposed to be an educational piece about the nuclear situation and at the top of the page was a photo of dead bodies being carried off. These were of course tsunami victims and the photo had nothing to do with the nuclear plant.

Foreigners have been leaving the country in droves. I am still here, by the way. It's been one of the tougher experiences in my life but we are far luckier than many. There are cracks in my walls but no cracks in my family; we're strong and unified as ever. Anyway, Japan is my home.

From the wisdom of Twitter

"38 percent of Americans would fail the citizenship test. I think I speak for the other 62 percent when I say, por que?" -@DennisLeary

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Priorities

Four stories I read this week are very interesting when juxtaposed...

-North Country Public Radio is doing a series on New York’s crumbling infrastructure.

-School districts across the region are slashing teaching positions left and right.

-Districts in Glens Falls and Saranac Lake each closed an elementary school.

-President Obama ordered air strikes against Libya and our Hitler-of-the-month, with little objection from his fellow Democrats... thus illustrating that having a Nobel Peace Prize on your resumé seems to give you a free pass in launching wars. Mother Jones cites a CNN estimate that costs for the US to fully install a no-fly-zone over Libya could rise to some $800 million, and another $100 million a week to maintain it


We “can’t afford” badly needed improvements to our infrastructure.

We “can’t afford” to preserve teaching positions originally deemed important.

We “can’t afford” to keep community elementary schools open.

We “can afford” to wage wars against countries that pose no security threat to us.

Of course, the reality is the above questions are not at all about what we can and can’t afford. They are about what we choose to afford.

Our choices seem to indicate that destroying things abroad is more important use of our money than building things at home.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Electric rates in NY skyrocketing... with an exception

The New York State Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, recently published information about the average monthly rates for each of the electric providers in the state from 2001-2010 (available here). I decided to do a little analysis. I compared the average monthly residential rates of the providers in 2005 and 2010. Every single provider saw at least a double digit percent increase in that five year period... except for one.

Central Hudson: 31.8% increase from 2005 to 2010
ConEd NYC: 14.9% increase
ConEd Westchester: 18.6% increase
National Grid: 21.5% increase
Orange and Rockland Electric: 26.7% increase
Rochester Gas and Electric: 17.2% increase
NYSEG: 15.9% DECREASE

This begs an important question. The industry tells us that rates are so high in New York because of the state's supposedly unfriendly regulatory environment. So how is it that NYSEG was able to offer its customers a significant decrease in rates in the last several years while every other electric provider was imposing significant increases?

Friday, March 11, 2011

The pointlessness of No Gas Day

It’s silly season again... that time when people boycott gas stations for a day and then pat themselves on the back thinking they’ve actually "made a statement." Of course, that statement is "Meaningless gestures are much easier than actually doing something."

(If you need a reminded on why such days is useless, read my earlier essay on the topic)

If you'd rather eschew empty symbolism, check out this piece from The Christian Science Monitor. It offers 10 suggestions on how to lower gas consumption. They may be small and *gasp* require effort, but they actually make a difference.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

From the wisdom of Twitter

"The GOP says $250,000 annual income isn’t wealthy but $48,000 with good benefits is." -@AngryLiberal

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Chris Hedges and The Death of the Liberal Class

"The system doesn’t work not because of Sarah Palin, the religious right or Glenn Beck. It doesn’t work because the liberal class failed to defend it, failed to find the moral fortitude to defend liberal values when under grievous assault. - Chris Hedges"


Last year, journalist Chris Hedges was at the Hudson Mohawk Independent Media Center in Troy last summer to speak about his book The Death of the Liberal Class. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the talk but it was helpfully rebroadcast on Alternative Radio.

The speech was fascinating and I tried to take some notes about key points he made...

-He talked about the propaganda state of permanent war/fear and the liberal class' complicity with this. He cited liberal icon Woodrow Wilson as an early example.

-He spoke about Bill Clinton, the "greatest traitor to the working class ever produced by the Democratic Party" and how Clinton's strategy was to take corporate money and do corporate bidding because he knew that unions and liberals had nowhere else to go (or thought they did) and would support him anyway.

-He noted that Canada didn't have a banking crisis because they didn't have a Clinton signing off on reckless deregulation.

-"Democrats essentially codified the destruction of international law and rule of law implemented by the Bush administration."

-"The for-profit health insurance companies sponsored the (Democratic Primary) debates in Iowa and weren’t going to allow someone like Dennis Kucinich, let alone Ralph Nader, to participate.... and the the liberal class was complicit."

-"Dostoyevsky knew that when the pillars of the liberal class collapse, the result is moral nihilism. The system doesn’t work not because of Sarah Palin, the religious right or Glenn Beck. It doesn’t work because the liberal class failed to defend it, failed to find the moral fortitude to defend liberal values when under grievous assault."

-"The last truly liberal president of the United States was Richard Nixon, because he was scared of movements and he passed a number of liberal bills, [one of which] was written by Ralph Nader, by the way."

-Anyone who thinks that voting for the Democratic Party will bring about fundamental change "lives in a universe that’s as non-reality based as the Christian right."

-He pointed out that liberals allow themselves to question details but NEVER the fundamentals underpinning the injust system. Ditto the mainstream (corporate) media.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Adirondack Local Government Review Board overrides local governments

A few weeks ago, I published an essay about controversial attempts by the Adirondack Local Government Review Board to meddle in the New York state’s purchase of two tracts of land, which is not part of the LGRB’s taxpayer-funded mandate. The purchase was approved by every single one of the municipalities affected. Any one of them could’ve vetoed it and a few towns did, which forced the deal to be re-worked. The LGRB, without consulting the towns affected, wants to override the localities in question. The LGRB’s purpose is to represent local interests against top-down imposition from the state and yet top-down imposition is precisely what the LGRB wants in this case.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed this hypocrisy. In something else you’d never read in The Post-Star Duane Ricketson wrote a good essay in Adirondack Almanack explaining the recent history of state land purchase inside the Blue Line and brought some-much needed illumination of actual facts regarding the process. He also noted that LGRB executive director Fred Monroe is a member of a hunting club that would be displaced if the purchase went through.

Friday, March 04, 2011

You won’t read this in The Post-Star

The Post-Star has a pretty overt agenda against teachers unions. This manifests itself not only in local columns and editorials but in their selective reporting of facts and a slew of op-ed pieces which, shock of shocks, tilt one way on the issue... most recently, earlier this week. You’re more likely to be exposed to the perspective of the teachers unions on Fox News (sic) than in the Glens Falls daily. Their anti-labor position is not surprising since they took great pains some years ago to bust their own unions.

The paper has disproportionately targeted the Queensbury school district for alleged extravagant spending. This is inexplicable given the below facts, although it’s worth noting that the paper’s managing editor lives and pays taxes in Queensbury.

So I was pleased to read a good story on the district written in the independent Chronicle. Although the weekly’s editor Mark Frost is personally more vocally anti-union than Tingley in his columns, The Chronicle’s news article was much more nuanced and complete.

The weekly noted that In per pupil spending, Queensbury ranks as one of the lowest in the region and in the state, while ranking in the top 74 for academic test results in the state, [Superintendent Douglas] Huntley said. There’s “tremendous efficiency” in having all their buildings on one campus.”

It’s a key fact that I’ve also discussed here in this blog. And although I’ve mentioned it to them repeatedly, I’ve never seen this fact acknowledged, let alone addressed, by the corporate daily. Is it because it undermines their editorial line? I guess you can get away with that when you have a Pulitizer Prize.

Union-busting in Ohio

"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.

Earlier this week, the Ohio state senate voted 17-16 to strip public sector unions of collective bargaining rights. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich offered the following criticism:

In order to understand how devastating this bill is to workers you have to be aware of provisions which take away the right to strike, open the door for replacement workers and set the stage for privatization of services. Wages and benefits will be cut. Inevitably state services will become a target for privatizers. The taxpayers will pay more and get less, while the ‘savings’ will end up in the pockets of corporate service-providers in terms of high profits. The passage of this bill is the just the beginning of a scheme to defraud both workers and the taxpayers.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

From the wisdom of Facebook...

Joke seen going around the site:

A billionaire, a Tea Partier and a teacher are sitting together at a restaurant. There are 12 cookies in a basket on the table. The billionaire takes 11 cookies and then warns the Tea Partier, "Watch out, that teacher wants part of your cookie!"

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

They must have plates in their heads (updated)

In order to preserve low taxes on the rich, some of the thieves in Albany wants to soak kids. Two bills in the New York state Assembly have been introduced that would require license plates on all bicycles. The license plate would cost $25 initially and $5 a year after that and would be required for all bikes, including those owned by children.

Biking helps people get fit, relieves traffic congestion and does not contribute to air pollution or climate change. These things are not only beneficial in and of themselves but lower costs to society by making less road maintenance, less environmental remediation and fewer expensive medical problems.

It's a well-accepted goal of public policy to use taxes and fees to discourage bad behavior. But these brainless wonders apparently want to discourage GOOD behavior... all for a purported benefit to the state coffers of a whopping $375,000 a year.

Contact your Assembly member and tell them to shift their brain into first gear and bury this bill.


Update: I've received word that the bills' sponsor, Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, has withdrawn the pieces of legislation. He said that the bills were "in response to numerous complaints from my constituents regarding bicyclists who were not following local and state laws"... because the way to deal with people who don't follow laws is to pass more laws they won't follow. His press release stated that "the original intent of these bills was to enhance pedestrian and bicycle safety" while omitting the real intent of the bills: a money grab.



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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

National Peace Corps Day

Today is 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.

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 [50th] 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 no 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.


Happy 50th birthday Peace Corps!

Update: Just a reminder that in the history of the Peace Corps, 279 men and women have died in service, at least one in every year (except 1986) that the Peace Corps has existed. A website has been devoted to them.