Tuesday, June 28, 2011

WAMC: AWOL (guest essay)

by Mark Wilson

As the 2011 Legislative session in Albany was reaching its dramatic climax last Friday—with the tax cap/rent control/mandate relief bill, the same sex marriage legislation and the SUNY 2020 tuition indexing bill (among others) still hanging fire—listeners to WAMC and affiliated stations tuning in for the 9 AM Roundtable program were met with a surprise. Instead of an informative discussion of the unresolved issues before the New York State Senate, or an analysis of the political dynamics taking pace behind closed doors, the Roundtable staff—host Joe Donohue, producer Sarah LaDuke and WAMC President & CEO Dr. Alan Chartock—were broadcasting live from North Adams, Massachusetts at Mass MoCA, the site of the “Solid Sound” festival.

While Albany burned with speculation on the final day of government business for the term, WAMC “treated” its listeners to two hours of interviews with festival organizers, local officials, headliner acts, and a falconer friend of Dr. Chartock’s who informed listeners that nothing had really changed in his vocation for the past four thousand years. Not one word about the chaos that was coming to a head in their home state. Even the hourly newsbreak: BBC World News followed by four local/regional news reports (Rebuilding of a catholic school in Springfield, MA; 2 stories from Vermont; one from Connecticut) completely overlooked New York State news. They did manage to give the Albany weather, however.

While WAMC was on vacation, over at 1300 on the AM band, Fred Dicker was eating Dr. Chartock’s breakfast, interviewing E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute. McMahon was describing last minute changes to the tax cap bill, particularly a bonding clause that substantially neutered the legislation’s impact.

WAMC has always had an affinity for the Berkshires. From Great Barrington to Tanglewood and the Edith Wharton estate in Lenox, to Williamstown and North Adams. Certainly no one could begrudge the hard-working journalists some time off during the summer. Still, it would be reassuring to those who follow New York State political news and government affairs closely to know that the WAMC news staff is committed to staying focused on their number one job until the lawmakers leave town.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"We don't budget for sidewalks"

The Saratogian ran an article about how residents in Saratoga Springs want more and better sidewalks. The request was pooh-poohed by city leaders. DPW Chief Skip Scirocco said, "We don’t put any money in our budget for sidewalks."

(Probably not a surprise to Jim Kunstler)

Cool... that must mean that people in Saratoga who walk, bike and take the bus everywhere don't have to pay taxes... right?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A great day for civil rights


After intense debate, the New York Senate finally voted on and passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. The bill was quickly signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The irony is that a similar measure failed two years in a Democratic-controlled Senate. But this bill was approved by a GOP-controlled chamber.

Interestingly, a combined 55% of legislators supported the civil rights measure, which is actually a lower percentage than in the 2009 vote. Perhaps surprisingly, a recent Siena poll showed that 59% of Catholics in New York supported the legalization of same-sex marriage, despite the obstinance of their leaders.

Shortly after the bill was signed, someone I know announced that she and her partner were engaged. I checked outside and noticed that the sky did not appear to be falling.

Critics make the farcical claim that allowing gays and lesbians to marry will cause society to implode. I think the real sign of the apocalypse is that the legislature actually did something to make us proud to be New Yorkers.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Chronicle should give credit for using MOFYC/Wilson piece (and did... updated)

The Glens Falls weekly Chronicle picked up the most recent story published here written by Mark Wilson... sort of. This was part of Wilson’s series examining troubles at the rival daily Post-Star. But in his article, Chronicle editor Mark Frost referred to, “A blog that a Chronicle reader referred us to put those numbers in perspective...”

His piece did not include the name of this blog, a URL to Wilson's article or, what should have been the bare minimum, Wilson's name.

The excellent blog entry did not appear out of thin air. Mark Wilson has done a lot of research to put together that piece and the entire series. Frost ought to have acknowledged Wilson in his article as the person who “put those numbers in perspective.”

We hear mainstream media journalists complaining all the time about bloggers ‘stealing’ their content without attribution but here it’s just the opposite.

Blogger Wilson did all the work of “putting those numbers in perspective” in a piece of journalism as good as anything you’d read in either The Chronicle or The Post-Star. But Frost used the material Wilson compiled without bothering to credit him. Frost mentioned that he saw it in a blog but consciously chose to not include details about the source, which is even more of a slap in the face to Wilson’s efforts.

This amateur blog’s policy is to always give attribution to material taken from other sources and, whenever possible, to link directly to it. I’ve occasionally referenced articles from The Chronicle, but always with credit given. A professional newspaper operation should do the same.

As such, I’d like to remind readers of that which is listed in the blog’s masthead: Essays are available for re-print, with the explicit permission of the publisher. mofycbsj @ yahoo.com. If brief excerpts are going to be used or if the piece is going to be mentioned in passing, attribution must be given.

Although I don’t usually agree with Frost’s political opinions, I generally consider him someone who tries to be fair-minded. Frost does like claim he stands up for the little guy. As such, he could start by giving the little guy credit for his work.

A discussion is planned with Mr. Frost and we hope they will run a clarification in the next issue. Stay tuned!

Update: The weekly agreed to run a clarification in the next issue crediting Mr. Wilson for his work. We thank Mr. Frost for his cooperation.

Further update: The weekly did run a clarification in yesterday's issue. It was something like "Mark Wilson stopped by the office to request attribution" rather than "I (Mark Frost) failed to give attribution" (which should have been a no-brainer in the first place). But proper credit was finally given albeit, it seems, grudgingly.

Monday, June 20, 2011

English soccer's cluelessness and FIFA's war against honesty

I saw an article in the UK Guardian about the English soccer team crashing out of the European Under-21 Championships. Manager Stuart Pearce blamed his side’s failure on their lack of ‘doggedness.’

And this is the English mentality in a nutshell. To them, dealing with repeated failure doesn’t mean improving skill, technique or tactical awareness, areas where the English are light years behind countries like Spain, Germany, Argentina and Brazil. Their solution to everything is always to just “be more dogged”... which, without the aforementioned improvements, equates to banging your head against a stone wall a little bit harder.

Why American soccer has taken this as its model, as opposed to those of countries which actually challenge for top level championships and produce world class attacking players, is beyond me.

***

Speaking of soccer dysfuction... the sport’s international governing body FIFA has been tarnished by an avalanche of corruption and bribery accusations. It’s become so controversial that even a newspaper in Nigeria, no stranger to graft, has noted that “FIFA has become so corrupt that it no longer knows that it is corrupt.” FIFA’s tinpot dictator Sepp Blatter has acted in the same manner as every other tinpot dictator, doling out slush funds and ruthlessly punishing anyone who dares challenge his rule. But what do you expect from a man who once dismissed a journalist's query by saying, “I am the president of FIFA and you cannot question me.”

FIFA is so committed to secrecy that not only does it refuse transparency in its own operations, but it even relentlessly squashes any attempts at transparency in its member organizations.

Given the entrenched nature of the organization's corruption, I suspect pressure from their highly-paying sponsors is the only chance of badly needed reform.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The new African land grab, brought to you by Harvard

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..

The UK Guardian has a disturbing piece on how many prestigious US universities, including Harvard and Vanderbilt, are collaborating with European speculators to buy or lease large chunks of land in Africa thus forcing thousands of locals off the land.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I don’t discriminate against Catholics... I just want them to have fewer rights than everyone else



George Wallace at the University of Alabama during his notorious "Segregation today! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!" speech.



The title of this essay is obviously exaggerated to make a point but there actually were those amongst our country’s sainted Founding Fathers who wanted to deny Catholics the right to vote. Would that have constituted discrimination against Catholics? Perhaps not, according to Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York.

If you want an classic Orwellian read, check out this blog entry by Dolan. (If you want to read pure vile hatred and lies, check out some of the reader comments at the bottom)

It was a pretty standard regurgitation of the Vatican’s position.

And no Chicken Little hysteria would be complete without an evocation of a fascist or Stalinist regime -- in this case, North Korea.

The particularly Orwellian passage by the archbishop that caught my attention was this: Our beliefs should not be viewed as discrimination against homosexual people.

Except that applying different standards to different people on the same issue is the EXACT definition of discrimination.

Discrimination is not always bad. DMVs discriminate against the blind in issuing driver's licenses. The Constitution discriminates against young people in who can run for president. Voting laws discriminate against non-citizens. All of these forms of discrimination are generally considered legitimate. But legitimate discrimination is, by definition, still discrimination.

As such, one might argue that the Church’s anti-marriage equality position constitutes legitimate discrimination but even if that's so, it’s still discrimination. It’s one thing to defend a pro-discrimination position; the Catholic Church has a number of them. It’s another thing to deny its reality.

(The most enraging thing about the position of the Vatican and many other religious organizations is not that they are defending their own right to discriminate internally, which would remain unaffected by same-sex marriage bill; it’s that they are trying to mandate that the state practice discrimination itself based on the Church’s own religious beliefs)

The archbishop insists that marriage was invented by God and can’t be modified by Man, even in our non-theocracy. A cursory look at history shows that this is demonstrably false.

But I say that if Albany can’t redefine marriage, then Dolan can’t redefine the dictionary.

***

Opponents of equal rights in New York state have recently invoked the Torah (even though we're "not a theocracy"), the Holocaust and, of course, the totalitarian North Korean regime. State senator and evangelical minister Ruben Diaz, New York's own George Wallace, compared marriage equality proponents with the Ku Klux Klan.

(Maybe there is hope... Wallace eventually came around to the fairness position, recanted his anti-civil rights views and apologized for the damage he helped inflict).

Surely that can’t be it! No Chicken Little hysteria is complete without a Nazi reference. He may have sent gays to the gas chambers, but Hitler would've supported same-sex marriage too, right?

***

A few days ago was the 44th anniversary of the Loving decision, named after the plaintiffs Richard and Mildred Loving. That was the US Supreme Court ruling that struck down all state laws banning interracial marriages.

In his ruling, the initial trial court judge ruling against the Lovings said: Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

The rhetoric sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it.

In a statement a few years ago marking the 40th anniversary of the case, Mildred Loving wrote: I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no
matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over
others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights.


She then expressed her pride that her husband's and her name is on a court
case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life.


I couldn't have said it any better myself.

If "Wallace" Diaz's assertion is correct, then the African-American Mrs. Loving was no doubt wearing a white hood.

Why Dolan and Diaz, both self-proclaimed men of God, are so rabid in demanding the state deny this basic humanity is beyond me. I just hope the God who they claim to be representing will ask them that exact question when the time comes. I will leave the judgment up to Him. I'd urge them to do the same.


Update: the United Nations passed a historic resolution insisting up equality for all humans, without regard to sexual orientation. The Vatican joined Saudi Arabia, China and Russia in opposition.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The power of the Punch



Watching the Stanley Cup final, you probably thought the triumph of my Bruins was down to Tim Thomas' amazing goaltending, hard-working forwards and the generous hospitality of Vancouver's defenders and goalie. I'm here to tell you it's just an illusion. In fact, the Bruins' Stanley Cup victory was proof positive of the power of Hawaiian Punch.

When I was in high school, I drank nothing but Hawaiian Punch. Lord knows why. It probably has more crap in it than a McDonald's McNugget. But I was addicted to the stuff. It was my superstition to drink it around gametime. The Punch became the official drink of the Stanley Cup finals. During that time period, the Bruins made it to a pair of Stanley Cup finals and went deep into the playoffs every single year. Coincidence? I think not. Proof?

By the time I got to college, I outgrew my taste for the drink. And the Bruins became crap, with the occasional foray into the choking domain. After 1992, the team never once made it even to the conference finals. Some blame it on the demise of the Wales Conference and the identity-shattering re-naming of the league's groups with boring geographical references. But I know better. I'd betrayed the Punch.

This season, the Punch reprised its role as the official drink of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The B's became the first team ever to win three Games 7 in one playoff series and won their first Cup in my lifetime. In a nod to tradition, I drank a glass of the Punch to start each period of Game 7. This ritual so emasculated the Canucks that they knew the jig was up and played like it. Why do you think the first place targeted by Vancouver rioters after the game was the Hawaiian Punch merchandise store.

As Zdeno Chara hoisted the big mug to celebrate, I hoisted my own mug, downed it and saluted the Punch. I shall never again doubt its power.




He knows its awesome power.

May you get what you want

"People tend to get the kind of government they deserve." -Thomas Jefferson

This blog has a good commentary slamming liberals who voted for Andrew Cuomo and his regressive agenda and are now whining about Cuomo actually trying to implement that agenda.

Despite the fact that Cuomo openly promised BEFORE THE ELECTION to wage war against unions, one of the groups who endorsed Cuomo was none other than the AFL-CIO.

I guess it would've made too much sense for unions to endorse the only candidate who was not only pro-union but an actual union member.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Obama's illegal war

Even the establishment magazine Foreign Policy ran a piece highlighting the illegality of Pres. Obama's war against Libya.

Update: Obama's spokesman offered a defense of the imperial presidency that would have made Karl Rove blush (if such a thing were possible). Liberals would not doubt have burned him in effigy were his name George W. Bush. Instead, the silence of liberals who once patted themselves on the back for being “anti-war” is deafening.

I saw somewhere a Q&A on the War Powers Act and I was going to forward it to Obama and to Congress, but apparently there are actually a few lawmakers who are familiar with the law. 10 of them filed suit against the president and secretary of war for violations of the act.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

No News May Be Good News, But Less News Is Bad News (guest essay)

5th in a series on troubles at the Post-Star

by Mark Wilson

In his Sunday column, From the Editor, Post-Star Editor Ken Tingley this week announced the latest cutbacks in store for the troubled regional daily. Owing in part to the rising price of newsprint, starting next week the paper will resort to eliminating an entire newspaper section (one of five*) from Monday and Tuesday editions.

*-Editor's note: the fifth section is classified advertising.

To accommodate the decreased comics and puzzle pages on those days, the paper will also axe four nationally syndicated comic strips throughout the week. The abbreviation of the newspaper’s content for the first two days of the work week may be seen as an unfair burden by readers who buy their papers at the newsstand on those days—a burden not shared Wednesday through Sunday. Subscribers to the Post-Star’s e-edition who receive digital PDF files of the paper as laid-out in print, will also bear the cost of the lost content, even though their subscription requires no commitment of newsprint whatsoever.

The new round of economizations comes on the heels of the paper’s promotion of a new director of circulation, Michelle Giorgianni, following the departure of former director Matt Lang. After doubling their newsstand prices fourteen months ago, the Post-Star has seen a dramatic decline in circulation numbers for its print editions.

Despite the evident turmoil in daily operations, Editor Tingley seems preoccupied by the future of news distribution. Even while admitting to conflicted feelings on how to treat digital media scandals in his paper, Mr. Tingley has been bringing himself quickly up to speed. In May he spent a couple days in Washington attending seminars on the future of newspapers in the digital age. He returned to report many “fascinating factoids,” perhaps unaware that a factoid is not, in fact, a fact.

Mr. Tingley also tuned into an American Society of Newspaper Editors webinar last week on the future of print news. He now sees the Apple iPad and similar tablets as the most promising technology for delivering an increasingly digitized news product. The Post-Star, having devoted time and resources most recently into developing software to convert its content to the black-and-white interface of Kindle, is now hard at work coming up with an app to adapt itself to tablets. Tingley hopes to have it ready by fall.

Recently, in defending the newspaper’s sudden doubling of its newsstand price to a dollar last year, Mr. Tingley stated in his blog, “there is essentially nothing you can get for a dollar anymore.” (Countless dollar stores to the contrary notwithstanding.) The passage of time has provided at least one: a share of stock in the Post-Star’s parent company Lee Enterprises ended last week trading at 95¢ per share, the first time it has ended a trading week below the one dollar mark since the depth of the recession in 2009. Along with the stock certificate and a few pennies change, you also get an invitation to the annual shareholders’ meeting in Davenport, Iowa, in February.

Last month, In the wake of a failed attempt to refinance the corporation’s crushing debt, Lee CEO Mary Junck assured investors and the market in general that they will continue tightening their belts. That may be good news for the bottom line, but it would appear to be bad news for regular Monday and Tuesday readers of the Post-Star.


Mark Wilson is a freelance artist and writer who contributed cartoons for the Post-Star from 2001—2003.


Editor's note: Tingley bragged about how much more local content the paper has now as compared to 1900 and 1956; but a more ingenuous comparison would be to 10 or 20 years ago. A Tweet from the Federal Communications Commission notes that the Baltimore Sun produced 32% fewer stories in 2009 than in 1999. I wonder what percentage drop the local daily has seen.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Food co-op to start in Glens Falls

The Post-Star had a report on an organizational meeting held by those hoping to start a food co-op in Glens Falls.

The group is also keeping people updated via its Facebook page.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Risking a fracking mess in southern NY

One of the important debates in the New York relates to hydrofracking (“fracking”), a natural gas extraction technique that’s incredibly destructive and threatening to the safe drinking water supply. Fracking companies are salivating over the possibility of operating in southern New York’s Marcellus Shale, which also extends into Pennsylvania where it’s already been very damaging.

The public radio show On Point had a good discussion about the basics of fracking.

Then-New York governor David Paterson issued an executive order imposing a temporary moratorium on fracking. Planet Albany blog reports that the state Assembly wants to extend that ban until June 1 of next year, so that the state Department of Environmental Conservation can complete a study into its damage to the environment and drinking water. It is unclear if the Senate will follow suit. The deputy majority leader, Republican Tom Libous, is from Binghamton, in southern New York, where some officials want the jobs that fracking would bring.

This is also called into a question by a Rochester Democrat and Chronicle report that the state’s pension fund has over $217 million invested into natural gas and fracking companies and $1 billion in total invested in the energy industry. "The main objective [of the pension fund] is to make money, so that's always a primary concern,” said state comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who is sole trustee of the fund.

The great non-profit journalistic website Pro Publica had a telling story on the fracking industry’s well-funded and –organized opposition to any safety disclosure requirements whatsoever. ProPublic has done a series of articles on hydrofracking and the natural gas industry.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Important Wikileaks stories ignored by the corporate media

Alternet has a good summary of five stories revealed by the whistleblower website Wikileaks that are being ignored by the corporate media.

Among them: how "the worst of the worst" of the kidnapees in Guantanamo Bay include children and the elderly; how key US allies are among the world's top sponsors of international terrorism; and yet another story about the US government acting as a surrogate for corporations, both at home and abroad.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Panning the New York state ethics bill

The Glens Falls Post-Star is generally known for offering poorly thought out, small-minded editorial positions completely devoid of any nuance or forward thinking. The one exception is that they typically run pretty good editorials on issues related to governmental transparency, the topic which earned its editorial writer, Mark Mahoney, his Pulitzer Prize.


An editorial
earlier this week dealt with the proposed bill in the New York state legislature on ethics and public integrity (try saying that without a snicker). The governor and two legislative leaders fell over themselves patting themselves on the back and describing the agreement as ‘historic’ about as often as Rudy Giuliani invokes 9/11.

The Post-Star points out that the bill is seriously flawed and said that it is, at best, a mere first step. Unfortunately, we know that it’s not to be; Albany only ever does the bare minimum necessary to give the illusion of something meaningful.

It points out that the new ethics commission would have even fewer investigators and less time to do its work than the current, ineffectual panel. The bill makes it virtually impossible for the commission to actually take action, since nearly everyone has veto power.

State electoral law is rigged to ensure that the two corporate parties are the only ones realistically able to win any party-based election. Leaders are so confident of the rigged system that the ethics bill contains no provision for enforcement against elected officials who are outside the two corporate parties. They can’t conceive that there would ever be a non-Democrat or –Republican in state government to worry about.

Ethical standards as well as the organization and conduct of elections are supposed to be non-partisan, not bipartisan. Kudos to my friend Bob over at Planet Albany for being one of those rare mainstream journalists aware enough to actually understand the difference.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Weiner's pickle and how journalism blew it

The Anthony Weiner controversy is a great example of the hypocrisy of political horse race junkies. They hold their noses up to view their interest as intellectually superior to estrogen-driven soap operas or 'white trash' hobbies like pro wrestling or Jerry Springer.

But ultimately, it's the same thing: the voyeuristic glee of watching others take a fall. Even more so than those other forms, this is quite literally navel gazing.

Yes, Weiner's a bald faced liar and should resign. But unless he's your Congressman, you shouldn't waste emotion on it.

It's a zillionth example of a national "scandal" that would be nothing more than a local story if we had a responsible journalistic profession.

Monday, June 06, 2011

No more taxpayer funded health insurance for state legislators

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise ran a piece how some of the region's town and village boards are stopping board members from getting taxpayer-funded health benefits because they are only part-time elected officials.

As an excuse against ethics regulations relating to disclosure, state legislators in Albany claim that, despite their very hefty salaries, they are part-timers as well...