Saturday, July 30, 2011

Republicans are holding the economy hostage and thumbing their nose at the Constitution

I'm not a Democrat or a supporter of President Obama, but the Republicans' actions with regard to raising the debt ceiling is completely disgraceful, although that's probably an understatement.

To recap...

-Congressional Republicans are refusing to raise the debt ceiling to pay for expenditures Congress has already authorized as part of the regular budget. Given that 'Tea Partiers' yammer on incessantly about strict fidelity to the Constitution, perhaps they can explain how their demand that spending be approved by Congress twice squares with the 14th Amendment.

-The current federal fiscal year ends on September 30. This means that Republicans and their 'Tea Party' fringe are holding the economy hostage to their probably unconstitutional ideological posturing rather than waiting two months for budget negotiations, where such grandstanding belongs.

A piece from last year in The Washington Post sheds some more light on the widening inequality in the US.

From World War II until 1976, considered by many as the "golden years" for the U.S. economy, the top 10 percent of the population took home less than a third of the income generated by the private economy. But since then, according to Saez and Piketty, virtually all of the benefits of economic growth have gone to households that, in today's terms, earn more than $110,000 a year.

Even within that top "decile," the distribution is remarkably skewed. By 2007, the top 1 percent of households took home 23 percent of the national income after a 15-year run in which they captured more than half - yes, you read that right, more than half - of the country's economic growth. As Tim Noah noted recently in a wonderful series of articles in Slate, that's the kind of income distribution you'd associate with a banana republic or a sub-Saharan kleptocracy, not the world's oldest democracy and wealthiest market economy.


It's worth noting that not only Republicans but Democrats, like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have been complicit in crafting policies to this effect.

Clerks claim 'right' to flout law

WAMC News did a story about how some municipal clerks in New York are claiming the 'right' to refuse to issue same sex marriage licenses, now that it has become law in the state. The so-called Alliance Defense Fund rails against "threats from top officials of the Empire State to charge clerks who decline to issue such licenses with a criminal offense--forcing clerks to decide between their career and their faith"... as though this is somehow both illegal and unprecedented.

If a Muslim clerk wanted to refuse to issue marriage licenses to Christian couples because of religious beliefs, would these organizations defend their right to do so? What if a gay clerk wanted to refuse to issue marriage licenses to a straight couple? What if a racist white clerk wanted to refuse a marriage license to a black or interracial couple?

Let’s take this further. What if an evangelical clerk wanted to deny a birth certificate to the newborn of an unmarried woman? What if a strict Muslim DMV worker wanted to deny driver's licenses to women? What if a Protestant bureaucrat wanted to deny a building permit to a Catholic church?

Would any of these be tolerated on the basis of the ‘rights’ of the bureaucrat? Of course not.

The clerks, like all citizens, have the right to their religious beliefs. They do not have the right to a job.

A job is a privilege, not a right, and is subject to conditions and expectations defined by the employer. For example, I may have the right to freedom of speech as a citizen, but if I exercised that right by shouting in the workplace that my boss was a lying crook, I probably wouldn’t have that job much longer. No one would argue with a straight face that my firing would be a violation of my free speech rights.

Rights outside the workplace and those related to the execution of your job duties are two very different things. Why should religious public sector workers be subjected to a different standard?

Taxpayers have the right to expect that public sector workers they are paying will apply and respect the law as written, regardless of their personal biases, prejudices and beliefs. They have a job to do. If they can’t do their job in good conscience, they should have the principle to resign, as some already have. If they won’t do their lawful jobs, the public has the right to replace them with somebody who will.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Male victims of sex crimes in war 'almost equal' number of female victims

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..

In recent years, there's been quite a bit of press coverage of the rape and sexual assault against women during war time, and rightly so. However, there's virtually no awareness of such crimes against men. Both al-Jazeera (here) and the UK Observer (here) have done pieces on this mostly ignored scourge.

Both news outlets report the claim that sex crimes against men during war is nearly as common as those against women, some of the victims having been gang raped repeatedly for months or even years. But The Observer points out that the problem is so little thought of that such statistics are hard to find. Because there has been so little research into the rape of men during war, it's not possible to say with any certainty why it happens or even how common it is – although a rare 2010 survey, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 22% of men and 30% of women in Eastern Congo reported conflict-related sexual violence.


They note that, in addition to the taboos (and in some places, laws) preventing many such men from getting help, many non-governmental organizations are set up to help female victims of sex crimes but not males.

"The organisations working on sexual violence don't talk about it," says Chris Dolan, director of the Refugee Law Project (RLP) at the Makerere University in Uganda.

But it goes beyond not talking about it to an active muzzling of reality.

"I know for a fact that the people behind [a 2006 United Nations] report insisted the definition of rape be restricted to women," [Dolan] says, adding that one of the RLP's donors, Dutch Oxfam, refused to provide any more funding unless he'd promise that 70% of his client base was female.

The Observer article concludes depressingly: Before receiving help from the RLP, one man went to see his local doctor. He told him he had been raped four times, that he was injured and depressed and his wife had threatened to leave him. The doctor gave him a Panadol.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Christian Jihadists

So reading this piece on the terrorist attack in Norway committed by a white, blond-haired Norwegian, could someone please remind me why violent, conservative Muslim theocratic extremists are so much more dangerous to safety, democracy and civilized western values than violent conservative Christian theocratic extremists?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

From the wisdom of Twitter

"When its a Muslim [who commits a heinous crime], every Muslim in the world somehow shares responsibility. When it's a white Christian, he's always a lone wolf." -@Gazamom

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Reporting on a murder is taking a pro-homicide position" and other absurdities

North Country Public Radio announced that it is planning on doing a story on area gay couples who are getting married when it takes effect in New York. Seems pretty straight forward (no pun intended). Gays have never been able to legally marry in the state so doing a story on something that's never happened before seems a no-brainer.

Some of the enlightened commenters on NCPR’s In Box blog whined that such reporting constitutes the station “taking a political stance” on marriage equality.

Strangely, the “political stance” accusation wasn’t leveled at the public radio station when it aired a long interview with the Catholic archbishop of Ogdensburg railing against the gay marriage bill.

According to this sad logic, if a news outlet interviews a convicted murderer, it’s taking the political stance of being pro-homicide.

Those fishing for the dreaded “liberal bias” ogre will look under every nook and cranny for the tiniest semblance of evidence and are not bound by the logic of normal people.

In the same announcement, NCPR also mentioned that it was going to include in the report the views of municipal clerks who have religious reservations about issuing marriage licenses to gay couples (of course they should issue the license or resign on principle).

For some reason, this inclusion was not subjected to the “taking a political stance” accusation; in fact, it wasn’t even acknowledged by the whiners in question. According to the whiners, NCPR's real bias isn't that it's ignoring the anti-gay marriage position; it's that the station is including the pro- side.

But it’s well-known that selective vision and hearing are critical elements in any martyr complex.

Monday, July 18, 2011

More news you may not be reading in your local daily (guest essay)

6th in a series on troubles at The Post-Star

by Mark Wilson

Lee Enterprises, Inc., the Post-Star’s Davenport, Iowa-based corporate parent, reported last week that they have received warning that their listing on the New York Stock Exchange is endangered. Lee’s stock price has averaged below one dollar for the past 30-days, a trigger mechanism for being placed on an exchange watch list.

The NYSE keeps rigid compliance standards for its listed companies. Lee not only needs to find a way to attract investors to lift it out of the penny-stock zone, but charges the company plans to take against earnings in an effort to boost the stock price, may throw the company out of whack on another exchange compliance standard. According to Thompson Reuters ONE, if both the company’s shareholder equity and market capitalization fall below $50 million the second standard is breached.

At the same time, Jonathan Keehner, Shannon D. Harrington and Jeffrey McCracken at Bloomberg.com are reporting that Lee directors are working desperately to refinance the roughly $1 billion in loans that come due in nine months. Lee is sweetening the deal to potential suitors offering higher-than-market rates of interest as well as equity stakes in the company. As reported in previous installments, Lee’s overwhelming debt burden—which increases proportionately as the company’s market capitalization shrinks—and it’s imminent maturity, are largely responsible for investors’ flight away from the stock. Continued sluggish advertising revenues and loss of readership from the publisher’s 49 owned and 4 partially owned newspaper properties have also contributed to the stock’s poor performance.

Since failing in an attempt to refinance its debt with a junk bond issue in April, Lee has started to show its hand in the next frontier of cost savings: In Davenport a corporate executive is taking on the publishing duties of one newspaper (source)

Lee headquarters personnel are also assuming remote publishing responsibility for groups of LEE properties (source).

Out in Montana, Lee has combined the management of two newspapers, The Montana Standard (from Butte) and the Helena Independent Record (seventy miles away), eliminating the Helena IR's editor position.

Lee is also suing three employees—members of the St. Louis Newspaper Guild—over retirement packages.

If the company’s misfortunes continue, Lee’s troubles will have ramifications for its employees in Glens Falls. Apart from the ongoing threat of another round of staffing cutbacks, the depressed stock price adversely impacts all Lee employees whose pension and compensation packages include stock or are tied to stock performance.

Despite efforts to retain as many news reporters as possible, corporate cutbacks invariably take a toll on the quality of journalism. In terms of raw numbers alone: PostStar.com claimed the paper had nearly 200 employees at the start of 2004. That number was down to 147 full and part time personnel in March 2009 before the last major round of layoffs reduced the number to 136.

Managing editor Ken Tingley continues to dress up a grim situation as best he can. A recent blog post “When the cup board is bare” (proofreaders have been lost) explains the careful manipulation of scarce news content around the Fourth of July in a manner that conjures up a tapped-out dowager rearranging furniture to cover frayed sections of the oriental rug. The remarkable efforts of Don Lehman, Tom Dimopoulos and Jon Alexander last week covering incidents in White Creek and Salem notwithstanding, fewer resources equals less coverage.

Unless miracles start to happen for Lee -- in Davenport and on Wall Street --sooner or later the management of the Post-Star will need to figure out how to level with their readers on the exact straits faced by their parent organization (Post-Star is still in denial about its audited circulation figures). If they continue to refuse to shine a light on a matter of interest to many of their readers, when the news eventually hits home those readers may start to wonder what else their newspaper is not reporting.

[Here is a test of the adequacy of the Post-Star’s coverage of itself: Which do you think is the more important Post-Star-related news story: The threatened delisting of P-S parent Lee Enterprise stock from the NYSE, or the third-place finish of P-S editor Ken Tingley in a newspaper columnist award competition? Now guess which of these stories the Post-Star lists on its business web page.]

In other news of relevance to news consumers in the greater capital region, Journal Register Company, the Yardley, PA-based corporate parent of The Saratogian, The Record of Troy, and The Daily Freeman of Kingston announced last week that it had been purchased by international hedge fund Alden Global Capital, a major investor following the company’s 2009 bankruptcy. The recent history of Journal Register Co. may be instructive for those worrying about the future of Lee Enterprises, Inc.

The Wikipedia entry for the company states that the company was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange in April of 2008 (following the dropping of the stock’s 30-day average share price below $1.05 earlier in the year). The company filed for bankruptcy on February 21, 2009, emerging in August of that year as a privately-held company.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Income inequality and economic growth

NPR's All Things Considered ran an interesting story exploring whether the exploding gap in income inequality is holding back economic growth. It notes that income inequality is worse in the US now that at any point since the year before the start of the Great Depression and that it's 'in the same inequality ballpark' as countries like Cameroon and Ivory Coast.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Obama's illegal war in Libya

Here are a couple of articles regarding Pres. Obama's illegal war in Libya...

-Obama rejects top lawyers' legal views on Libya (that the war required Congressional approval): Salon.com

-Obama is bringing America closer to the imperial presidency than Bush ever did: Foreign Policy.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Congratulations South Sudan!

Congratulations to the Republic of South Sudan, the world's newest nation, which achieved independence today. To the country's government: it took you a long time to get to this day. Don't screw it up.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Those darn 11 year old teenagers!

A followup to yesterday's post about media hacks...

The Post-Star ran different articles yesterday and today about an 11 year old girl from Galway who appeared on the TV show Jeopardy!

In both cases, the headline referred to the 11 year old as a 'teen.'

While the prominence given to the Casey Anthony garbage (lead story on the front page for the 2nd day in a row today) doesn't inspire confidence in the 'news judgement [sic]' of the daily's 'professional editor,' repeatedly referring to an 11 year old as a teenager doesn't speak highly of the attention to detail provided by our region's most prominent news institution.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Once a tabloid lemming hack, always a tabloid lemming hack

In a recent blog entry, managing editor Ken Tingley whined about the lack of content over the holiday weekend (as though this is different from the usual state of affairs in the paper). But then he expressed relief that there were some excellent wire reads available to us for the front page today.

In an older blog entry, Tingley pat himself on the back, bragging that One of the services you get with every newspaper is the news judgement [sic] of a professional editor.

One of the “excellent wire reads” as determined by the “news judgement of a professional editor” was a front page lead story about the Casey Anthony garbage, a ‘story’ that should be of no interest to anyone outside the local area of wherever it took place. Then again, this is the same “news judgement” that brought us other front page stories on a bridge in Scotland that dogs like to jump off and a house in Idaho infested by snakes.

If I want sensationalist tripe like this, I will just give my $1 directly to The New York Post. I suspect they do a better job at tabloid nonsense anyways.

I was also surprised that WAMC News wasted member donations by contriving a local 'story' out of this, since people tune in to public radio to avoid such tabloid garbage, but maybe I shouldn’t have been.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Living up to the words

Today being Independence Day here in the United States, it's worth remembering the most famous lines of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

It is thus poignant that the legislature and governor of New York chose to put those words into application so close to the anniversary of their authorship.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

'Cuz God says so' is not good enough anymore

"The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.” ~James Madison, one of the main authors of the US Constitution.

I read a comment on a blog that two people of the same gender living together, having kids and getting married was “the slippery slope to moral decline.” Ten years ago, cultural warriors were telling us that people living together, having kids and NOT getting married at all was the slippery slope to moral decline. It’s a mark of the culture warriors' adaptability that, as society evolves, they can switch scapegoats so easily.

And that's what the passage of marriage equality in New York was such an achievement. The main benefit is, of course, to gay couples who want their union recognized by law and thus to receive the attendant benefits. It's also important to legislation reflect the equal protection of the law provisions of the state and federal constitutions.

But one of the secondary benefits was to strike a blow against theocratic tendencies. In the NYS debate, the main argument against marriage equality was simple: "God's law says marriage is between one man and one woman. And Man does not have the right to change it."

Except that the debate was not about changing God's law. It was about changing Man's law. The NYS marriage law was written by men and thus men (and women) have it entirely within their power to change that law. "God's law" remains unaffected. Man's law ought to be democratic. God's law can't be.

One reason marriage equality was such an important victory is that it reminds us that we don't live in Iran or Saudi Arabia. We live in a state run by secular and constitutional values. If you are going to deny equal rights to a group of citizens, if you want to change or defend any piece of governmental action or inaction, you have to come up with a better reason than just "Cuz God says so."

Friday, July 01, 2011

Climate change undermines roads... literally

In NCPR's In Box blog, reporter Brian Mann linked to two piecces relating to climate change.

A column in the Albany Times-Union asked if extreme weather is the new normal.

The article in the Glens Falls Post-Star explained how climate change may alter the way highways and rural roads are constructed. It noted that the region had seen a rash of so-called "100 year events" (extreme weather that normally happens only once in a lifetime) this year alone.

Jon Alexander's piece noted:

"The books we've always used to design culverts, you can throw them all out," Dave Wick, district manager of the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, recently said. "What was once called a 100-year event is now a 50-year event, and a 50-year event has become a 25-year event."

Wick said that precipitation that once fell as snow is now reaching Earth as highly localized super-rainstorms, overwhelming culverts designed using potentially outdated pre-construction models.

For years, scientists have been tracking an increase in global temperatures. They predict the warming trend will generally lead to warmer, wetter weather in the Northeast's boreal forests, while desertification will continue to see places like the Sahara expand outward.

Locally ecologists are already seeing changes.


Ultimately, people who understand the threat of climate change need to just ignore those rejectionists who oppose it for ideological reasons that have zero to do with real science.

Rejectionists don't accept science, not merely climate science specifics but science in general (unless of course they're sick and need medicine) and they do so for ideological reasons. If you say 2+2=4, they will reject it not for any scientific or mathematical reason but solely because they fear the imagined POLITICAL consequences of the sum equalling four.

People who understand the threat of climate change ought to stop using scientific jargon to convince ordinary people and start referencing more practical issues. 350 is not something people can easily latch on to (sorry Bill McKibben), but they sure understand road collapses and damaging flooding.

Folks in the North Country may be of conservative temperament but they are also practical. And as pragmatic people, collapsing roads and flooding lakes in our own backyard, as well as the financial costs of such disasters, are things they can grasp much more easily.

Rejectionists blithely dismiss climate science as hooey. "The Earth's climate is always changing," they say, as though the world's pre-eminent climate scientists aren't aware of that. And they are right, even as human behavior is distorting this wildly; natural climate changes occur over centuries and millennia, not decades.

The threat of man-inflicted climate change is less to the planet itself. As rejectionists point out, the climate has changed before and will change again. But with such UNNATURAL climate change, the planet will survive, but it's an open question whether the human race would do the same.

Africa has been affected by climate change for a few decades. Hunger 'emergencies' have become regular staples of life in the African Sahel, a border between the expanding Sahara Desert to the north and the coastal rain forest to the south that stretches across the continent.

Africans don't need to argue about climate change's existence. They aren't twiddling their thumbs, letting themselves be hijacked by ideology. They see and experience it directly. They aren't wasting their time arguing about settled science. They have more important things to do, such as adapting to the reality they're already being forced to live.

People may not understand the number 350. But they do understand numbers like $1.5 million and $7 million.

The former is the annual budget for the Warren County town of Thurman. The latter is the amount of damage to roads and bridges caused by recent flooding. The number of severe flooding incidents in Warren County has significantly increased in the last few years. If flooding damage that amounts to more the six times a town's annual budget becomes more than a once in a lifetime event, will the ideology of climate change rejectionists still hold water?

Climate change is real and destructive and those who understand this can't be paralyzed by the rejectionists who refuse to be engaged in any rational way. We have real world consequences to deal with and, hopefully, prevent. It's these real world consequences we should be using to try to educate the open-minded part of the public and encourage to live in a more sustainable fashion.