Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why you, not big government, should 'do something' about gas prices

I'm sick and tired of hearing people whine that the government “do something” about gas prices. It’s called the free market, as this piece in the Times-Union explains. And there really isn’t anything the government can do in the short-term anyways (not that they should if they could... as a non-driver, I’m tired of subsidizing a car culture that refuses to return the favor). Even the drilling that the Sarah Palins of this country are demanding would not have any meaningful impact on supply for 20 years.

If you're sick of high gas prices, don't cry to mommy big government to do the nebulous 'something.' Do something for yourself. Trade in your gas guzzler for something more efficient. Bike or walk or carpool more often. Take public transit.

(And before anyone tries the false dichotomy, there are more choices than just all car or no car. One can still own a car and have a more efficient model or simply use it less often)
Don’t blame the government for your refusal to adapt. 

If food prices go up, I am more careful about what I buy. If electric prices go up, I use power more wisely. If gas prices go up, make more careful transportation choices.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The conservative vision of America: a spoiled brat

The conservative vision of America in the world is that of a spoiled child. To them, the United States is like that boy we all know whose mommy has spent his whole life telling him how special he is, how uniquely amazing he is, how he should be immune from any consequences the big, bad world might impose for improper behavior because that special little angel can’t possibly do any wrong. The boy's self-esteem must be protected at any cost, even if it means he isn't expected to learn any important life lessons. He is never told he is doing something wrong because that might harm his precious self-esteem. And may God protect the person who suggest that the boy is occasionally imperfect, for the wrath of the boy’s enabler shall be merciless. This is how conservatives treat America in the world.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Secularism and civilization

The riots in the Islamic world over an anti-Islamic video (ie: people responding to vile accusations against them by proving them true) have reinforced one thing for me. The biggest single indicator of a civilized society today is the degree to which that society is influenced by the separation of church and state.

People have every right to follow their religious faith in their own lives. They do not have the right to impose their faith on everyone else. Civilized societies recognize this. Regressive ones do not.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The insidiousness of lazy, casual bias

In a rapidly changing landscape, there is one article of faith among the pooh-bahs of the press: the main reason that traditional media are better than the new media is trustworthiness. Blogs, Twitter and other Internet outlets merely echo rumor and speculation, often because of an ideological agenda. Newspapers, magazines and broadcasters are superior because they always verify claims before publishing them. Or at least that's the contention.

The actions of the Glens Falls Post-Star give lie to this claim and also highlights the daily's rapidly declining standards. 

The Post-Star has long been a divisive part of the community with its editorials reflexively hostile to teachers unions. These editorials wrongly demonize teachers for wanted to be treated like high-qualified professionals when the real culprit for high school taxes is a completely insane structure of education funding in the state. However, a recent editorial highlights just how lazy and casual this bias is.

Its October 1 "Boos and Bravos" section, which states the paper's formal editorial opinion, deplored the 16-month contract impasse between the teachers union and the school board in Warrensburg. Pretty vanilla stuff. In the past, the paper has also called for more transparency in budget negotiations. No objection there.

But the paper goes on to declare that because of the wording of state education law, it can only surmise that this is a stall tactic by the teachers union...

Wait, what?

I thought they were a newspaper. Why do they have to "surmise"?

If they wanted, they could do some actual journalism to try to reveal whether the impasse really was because of a "stall tactic" or whether there was some other reason. 

What would a responsible news outlet would do? Do in a little digging, find out the truth and then let that reality guide their editorial opinion 

Instead, the paper does exactly what the pooh-bahs so often convict the new media of doing: publishing reckless, inflammatory speculation to suit an ideological agenda.

The previous week, the paper did publish a news article on the impasse. But the article did not quote district or union officials as to their positions. 

The paper may or may not have reported on such details in the past, but if it had, then it could have cited those details rather than just "surmising." 

It just assumes that this particular impasse is the teachers fault -- a position that conveniently correlates with its past editorials against teachers unions -- for no concrete reason. This sort of lazy, casual bias is the most insidious kind.

The gutting of The Post-Star's staff and the economic straits of its parent company have been widely chronicled in this blog.

Maybe The Post-Star doesn't have the resources to do decent journalism of the sort that getting to the bottom of this story might require. But if they can't inform the public about what's going on in Warrensburg, then it should remain silent until it's willing and able do its job. Reckless speculation with no stated basis in fact is beneath what a purportedly responsible news organization should be engaging in.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Pro-civil rights senator's defeat sends wrong messages

You often hear people whining that elected officials have no independent thought, that they merely vote the party line, that they just stick their finger in the wind rather than do what's right. And yet when a politician does show independent thought, bucks the party line and does what he thinks is right, the public too often punishes him. The situation of New York state Sen. Roy McDonald is a case in point.

McDonald was one of four Republicans senators who voted in 2011 to approve a marriage equality law in the state. Without those four votes, the measure would have failed in the GOP-controlled chamber.

As a result, McDonald, who'd never faced a primary challenge to his re-election, was opposed by Kathy Marchione. As Saratoga County clerk, Marchione once pulled a George Wallace, threatening not to apply the same-sex marriage law if it passed.

Marchione very narrowly won the Republican primary. McDonald decided he wouldn't contest the general election, despite having a slot on the Independence Party line.

The most common criticism of his vote in favor of civil rights for gay people seemed to be that he went against the will of the majority of his constituents. This is debatable. But even if that was true, his vote was to respect his oath of office which demanded that he respect the New York and US constitutions, both of which contain equal protection clauses.

Another, more stupid, criticism was that McDonald only did this to get 'gay money,' after the revelation that gay rights groups had donated to his campaign. In reality, if he'd taken the easy way out and voted against gay marriage, he never would've had a far right primary opponent and wouldn't have needed the 'gay money.' Needless to say, much 'anti-gay money' was funneled to Marchione's campaign as well.

The general election will be interesting since Marchione, whose campaign was almost entirely based on her opposition to civil rights for gays, will face openly-gay Democrat Robin Andrews.

It was surely unpleasant for someone with such a conservative voting record as McDonald's to be so crucified by the neo-Taliban for a single vote. Still, it's unfortunate that he choose to not contest the general election. Instead, he let a tiny fringe kick him out of office.

Civil rights opponents are crowing about McDonald's primary defeat. But they should be careful to overestimate their victory. All three other Republican legislators who voted for civil rights and contested primaries won those elections, though some were subjected to some disgusting bigotry as well. Secondly, McDonald was rejected by only a tiny minority of his constituents, all from one party. We'll never know how he would've fared had he subjected himself to the entire electorate.   

Each New York senate district contains around 311,000 people.  About 14,500 people voted in the GOP primary. Thus, his fate as an elected representative was decided by fewer than 5% of his constituents, all from a single party, and only a razor thin majority of that rejected him. The other 95% won't even have a say. This is democracy?

Sen. McDonald lost his job because 2.4% of his constituents, all from a single party, didn't like the job he was doing. There's something about this that fundamentally doesn't sit well.

He should've stayed in the race. His job as senator was given to him by everybody in the district; his service shouldn't be taken away from everyone else just because 2.4% of them didn't like one of his votes.