Saturday, March 31, 2012

95% of US taxpayer money to rebuild Iraq disappears into black hole


Just to give you an idea of the gargantuan level of corruption and unaccountability in the purported effort to reconstruct Iraq after the US aggression.
  
According to Yes! magazine...

Amount of oil and gas money designated by the US for rebuilding Iraq after the 2003 invasion: $9.2 billion

Amount the US Department of Defense was unable to properly account for: $8.7 billion

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Layoffs at Post-Star while parent company gives CEO nice bonus

Part of a series on troubles at The Post-Star and its parent company Lee Enterprises

by contributor Mark Wilson

Following months of seeming good news for Lee Enterprises, Inc., The Davenport Iowa Newspaper corporation which owns the Post-Star, has launched another round of layoffs across its portfolio.

The staff contact page at PostStar.com, which yesterday listed fifty-eight employees in Editorial and Business positions at the Glens Falls paper, today lists only fifty-one. Among the seven missing names/positions are:

• Photographer Aaron Eisenhauer


• Copy Editor Christopher Fitz Gerald
• Saratoga and Washington County Reporter Thomas Dimopoulos
• Washington County reporter Jamie Munks
• Washington County reporter David Taube
• Sportswriter Mary Albl
• Sportswriter Larry Hall

Stacy Perrone has also left the Post Star advertising department, but her position has been filled by Jillian Vitagliano.

Of these seven, Fitz Gerald, Munks and Albl had the shortest tenure at the paper, joining the staff only last Fall. Taube's first bylines and Eisenhauer's first photos appeared in the summer of 2010, Dimopoulos joined the newspaper in March 2007 and Larry Hall, the longest-serving member of the group, dates back over a decade to October of 2001. Similar layoffs have been announced at newspapers throughout Lee's stable of 49 daily newspapers.

In other news, Lee Enterprise this past week filed papers with the SEC declaring a $500,000 bonus for Chief Operating Office Mary Junck, and a $250,000 bonus for Chief Financial Officer Carl Schmidt. The two were credited at last week's shareholder meeting in Davenport with seeing the company through chapter 11 Bankruptcy earlier this year, despite assuring investors less than a year ago that the publisher's dire economic straights were not bankrupting the company.

The two head officers have also staved off delisting of the company stock from the New York Stock Exchange, with the assurance that the company's shareholders would accept a reverse stock split. Last week, Shareholders gave Lee's directors authority to go ahead with the reverse split—a move that could multiply the price of stock shares. The directors must decide on the ratio of the reverse split sometime before June.

Lee remains under a second delisting threat owing to the drop of its market capitalization (the number of outstanding shares times the share price) below $50 million. While recent movement of shares has pushed Lee's market capitalization above the threshold, the company has until next year to strengthen investor confidence and maintain the higher value for the long term.

This week's layoffs and last week's announcement that the web sites of all Lee newspapers will charge visitors subscription fees by the end of the year are the first mobilizations in that effort.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Single parenthood causes child abuse, claims GOP Taliban

It seems the Republican strategy for 2012 is to see how low a percentage of the women's vote they can get. The latest in their anti-female crusade comes from Wisconsin. Two (male of course) state legislators have introduced a bill mandating that schools brainwash children into blaming "non-marital parenthood" for child abuse. The bill would also describe fathers as the primary prevention against such domestic violence.

One of the co-authors of the bill, obviously an admirer of the Taliban's social views, has also come out against divorce for any reason, including spousal abuse. His advice to battered women: try hard to find reasons to love the man that's brutalizing you.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Not One Dame Dime (of Common Sense) Day

Every so often, slacktivists revive the pea-brained idea that if everyone boycotted buying gasoline on a particular day, it would 'send a message' to the evil oil companies. This has been around for at least 7 years, when I first blogged about it, with no discernible effect on anything. Maybe the reason such actions have never changed anything is because they are a self-indulgent, self-delusional, feel-good substitute for actual changing your behavior or lifestyle in some meaningful way. It allows people to say they are doing 'something' when they really aren't.

Apparently, another moronic attempt is being launched next month. Read my 2005 blog entry as to why it was never going to achieve anything.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Muslim Americans twice as likely to oppose attacks on civilians than Catholics, Protestants


Poll cited by Yes! magazine:

% of Muslim Americans who say military attacks on civilians is never justified: 78

% of Catholic Americans who agree: 39

% of Protestant Americans who agree: 38

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The health of the Hudson River: a mixed bag

A couple of recent stories on the health of the Hudson River gave a picture of two steps forward, one step back.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation reported on the consequences of the spring 2011 flooding in much of upstate New York. It concluded that the release of PCBs during flooding was actually much less, due to the much-contested dredging of the Hudson in Fort Edward. 

By contrast, a report by the group Environment New York noted that, despite clean up efforts in recent years, the Hudson remains one of the most polluted waterways in the nation. The river's biggest polluter: Finch Paper in Glens Falls, just upriver from Fort Edward.

According to a search, neither story appears to have been covered by The Post-Star, the only daily newspaper in the Glens Falls/Fort Edward area.


Update: Several days after this blog entry appeared, The Post-Star finally got around to doing a piece on this story.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Post-Star likely to go behind paywall this year

A reader pointed me to this press release by Lee Enterprises. In it, the Post-Star's parent company announced a paywall would be imposed on more Lee newspaper websites in the next three months and in most Lee markets by the end of the year. The New York Times recently announced that net surfers would only be able to access 10 free articles per month, down from 20; it is not clear if Post-Star readers will be able to access any free articles. The Iowa-based corporation certainly hopes this process goes more smoothly than the disastrous and quickly abandoned PostStar.net scheme of the early 2000s.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Media diversity

'Liberal': we need to forge an international consensus and get UN approval so we can nuke Iran (or whatever the officially decreed Hitler-esque regime of the month happens to be).

Conservative: Screw the UN. Let’s nuke Iran now!

This is what passes for a diversity of voices in the mainstream media.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Making downtown Glens Falls a gated community

"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.


So I was reading an article on PostStar.com. It reported on the brilliant idea some downtown Glens Falls merchants have of making people spend money for the glorious privilege of spending money at their stories. 


I made the mistake of reading a few of the comments. The stereotype many have is that the only comments on the PS website are from uneducated rednecks. This is not entirely true. 


Here's one rant: As an educated professional (whatever that's worth), here's my take on Downtown Glens Falls... note to Business owners and Diamond, you don't have a clean or respectable downtown yet. Sorry, but I don't wanna see welfare Tammy and abusive Tyrone with 6 kids smoking cigarettes and arguing in downtown. Out of thousands of dollars I've spent on food and entertainment in recent years, Downtown GF is lucky to have gotten 40 of that. 


That some judgmental rhymes with witch who describes human beings like pieces of trash to be 'cleaned up' doesn't shop here is no loss to the city. Screw her. How does her 'educated' self propose to 'clean up' downtown of these pieces of human refuse? Put a cordon around downtown where you have to show proof of a minimum $35,000 a year income before being issued a laminated snob card and then granted the privilege of entering?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Greens and media bias, Occupy and outsourcing police

A show on the excellent al-Jazeera English explored the question of whether the Green Party could influence this year's US elections. It's a sad indictment of our corporate media and its biases that the only mainstream media outlets that acknowledge the existence of the third largest party in the United States are non-American ones. In a related piece, NPR's Ombudsman explored accusations by American hero Ralph Nader that the public broadcaster ignores real progressives.

Speaking of NPR, it also pointed that just because that rumors of the Occupy movement's imminent death are greatly exaggerated.

Privatization of public resources, one of Occupy's main objections, have led to some disastrous scandals. The partial privatization of the military led to a variety of scandals with Blackwater including corruption, impunity and human rights abuses. The privatization of some prisons has led to Orwellian nightmares like Pennsylvania's Kids for Cash scandal. But a few people were making a lot of money out of these hideous abuses. So it's appalling, yet not surprising, that a few police forces in Britain are also outsourcing some of their public safety duties. Let's hope this reckless experimentation is short-lived and, especially, that it doesn't cross the Atlantic.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Who said it: Khamenei or Santorum?

Foreign Policy magazine had an interesting little quiz: quotes from Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and former US senator Rick Santorum. You had to figure out whether the comments were made by by the leader of Iran's theocracy or the Republican presidential candidate.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Happy birthday Peace Corps

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 51st 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.


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.

Why Catholics are losing faith in their Church


If you want to know why the Catholic Church in America is hemorrhaging members, check out this heartbreaking story. A Maryland priest recently denied a grieving woman communion at her own mother’s funeral because she lives with another woman.

While relentlessly protecting child rapist priests to preserve the Church’s reputation, it draws the moral line at giving communion to a lesbian at her mother’s funeral. It certainly has the right to do so but these kinds of priorities are exactly why the Church’s moral credibility has largely evaporated in this country and most of the western world.