Wednesday, December 11, 2013

'Economic development' scams three times more likely to lose jobs than create them

The slush funds known as economic development programs not only lavish 7 billion in New York state tax dollars each year, not only lavish these special perks to a mere 4% of businesses, they do so in a secretive fashion that provide no accountability to assure the recipients actually produce the number of jobs they promise. Over a quarter of projects receiving "economic development" funds were not obligated to promise to create or retain a single job.

To the extent that the data could be analyzed, only 13% produced the number of jobs proposed while 40% either didn't create a single job or actually lost jobs.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Mandela's legacy was about human dignity

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." -Nelson Mandela

South Africa's first democratic president Nelson Mandela passed away yesterday. Mandela is the most important world statesman of the last 70 years.

Much has been said about the great man's contribution to justice and reconciliation, so I'll focus on something different.

Abraham Lincoln said, "Anyone can overcome adversity. If you really want to test a man's character, give him power."

And this is perhaps the most significant way in which Mandela distinguished himself: by NOT pretending he was indispensable to his nation's fate.

He could easily have erected a cult of personality around himself. So many liberation leaders around the world fell into that trap. His insistence on instead choosing the greater good is one of the biggest reasons he is so universally admired.

He was denounced as a terrorist by misleaders like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. But as state sponsors of terrorism themselves, they were in no position to cast judgment on a man who was fighting for freedom as they fought against it.

But much like with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mandela's legacy is usually oversimplified, at least in western countries. It's oversimplified into his role in the fight for legal equality for black people. In fact, his real quest, much like Dr. Lking's was for the complete, fundamental dignity of human beings. That included legal equality but was much broader.

He argued that poverty and inequality "have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils."

That was his legacy.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Ignore the wizard behind the curtain

After scamming the taxpayers of New York out of about $2.4 BILLION in corporate welfare (I mean, "economic development"), the chumps at Global Foundries are now cutting dozens of jobs in the state.

But forget about them. Focus your anger instead of the guy buying a buck fifty Twix with food stamps.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

How to explain the holiday period in American culture to a child

In late November, we gather as families to give thanks for the blessings we have.

In late December, we gather as families to keep the Christ in Christmas.

In between, we do this.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

How tax dodging General Electric threw a community to the wolves

General Electric spent decades polluting the Hudson River that runs through the twin villages of Hudson Falls and Fort Edward, NY. Then GE spent decades and lots of money fighting attempts to make them clean up the mess it made in the river. Then it closed the plants in both villages dealing a gargantuan blow to the local economy and to those who want to work for a living. It claims the Fort Edward plant is “uncompetitive.” It rejected the union’s offer of job givebacks and modernization. It was also reported that the factory’s equipment dates from the 1940s.

This is a bit shocking. You'd think that since GE pays no income taxes, they would have more money to invest in proper equipment.
Call me crazy, but is it a possibility that the factory wasn’t uncompetitive because of its workers, but because GE saddled those employees with 70 year old equipment?

Friday, November 22, 2013

It's no longer Republican obstructionism: it's sabotage

It was interesting to see US Senate Democrats virtually eliminate the filibuster for presidential nominations. This was after Republicans elevated the filibuster from a last resort to a weekly tactic. Fully half of all filibusters of presidential nominees IN THE HISTORY OF THE REPUBLIC have occurred during the Obama administration.

I’d prefer they go back to the filibuster as it was before, in all cases: where you had to physically keep talking to slow a bill down. This whole nonsense of saying, “No we don’t want to vote on it” and making the threshold a 60% supermajority is nonsense. The purpose of the filibuster was to slow down the most extreme things, not everything the temper tantrum throwing minority doesn’t like. I’m sure the Democrats thought long and hard about doing this because they will no doubt be the minority in the chamber at some point in the future. That they resorted to this shows Senate Republicans have no interest in governing. 
What’s being blocked here is not new “big government” programs or whatever. It’s nominees for judgeships and agencies that acts of Congress have ALREADY SPECIFICALLY AUTHORIZED. 
Bear in mind, Senate Republicans aren’t voting down these nominees, which would be a legitimate response to a nominee they may not like. They are refusing to allow these nominees to even get voted on one way or the other.

They’re not even refusing votes on these appointees based on any individual qualities the specific appointees have. It’s a mindless, blanket rejection of any appointee Pres. Obama wants for the sole reason that Pres. Obama wants him/her. No other reason.

I know some might say we shouldn’t care because Democrats are just as corporatist are Republicans and that’s certainly true. But this is another part of the right-wing’s 30+ year campaign. It's no longer mere opposition or obstructionism. It's outright sabotage. The right's objective is to sabotage nearly all government functions, even the judiciary, and then claim it as proof that the government undermined by their sabotage “can’t” work. They don't have the guts or the popular support to outright repeal what they don't like. So they engage in a series of behind-the-scenes death by 1000 cuts attacks that ordinary voters don't pay attention to. It's clever. It's working. And we can't let it.
If you don’t like a program, repeal it. If you don’t like a nominee, vote him/her down. That’s how adults act in a republican democracy.

Monday, November 11, 2013

How to meaningfully thank a veteran or GI

Farenell Photography, run by a Marine veteran, has an excellent blog entry entitled 'How to Thank a Serviceman.' It offers a number of ideas about how to show meaningful thanks to a veteran or active duty service member... and this is important, as well as to their families. It's often forgotten that while only the active duty member may serve, his or her whole family shares in the sacrifices. He offers a number of great concrete suggestions: check it out here.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

How corporate interests have taken over our politics

The Nation has a very good piece on how special interests dominate Washington (as well as the states) and undermine our democracy. This is not new - liberal hate figure and progressive hero Ralph Nader has been warning about this for years. But the extent to which our political process has been corroded keeps edging closer and closer to 100%, particularly since the fraudulent Citizens United ruling was decreed. The increasing replacement of serious journalism with transcription, talking point-saturated commentary and horse race analysis only makes things worse.

The piece also points out that the much vaunted 'tension' between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and tea partiers is mostly a sideshow, a narcissism of small differences. Both major parties are thoroughly corrupted by corporate cash. Neither wants any sort of fundamental change that would redefine their primary role back to representing real human beings. Their main argument is whether we should be speeding down a hill toward a cliff at 80 mph or 65 mph.

What are the solutions? There are no easy answers. But two that come to mind immediately are:

-Help support and build grass roots parties who are accountable to human beings. The Green Party is my choice. If you're of a different mind set, I believe the Libertarian Party also refuses legalized bribes ("donations") from corporations.

-Join the movement to amend the Constitution to repeal Citizens United and affirm that money is not speech (it is, in fact, property): We the people, not we the corporations.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

NYS ballot proposals

As an odd-numbered year, it's only local offices up for vote here in New York. But voters in the Empire State will have a number of statewide propositions to vote on. All would amend the state constitution.

The exact wording of all amendments can be found at the website of the state Board of Elections.

The most controversial of the amendments would authorize up to seven non-Indian casinos in the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo has come under fire for manipulated the wording of the amendment after passage by the legislature, a move of dubious legality. Further, it makes one suspect that makes one suspect that accusations of him being in the back pocket of gambling interests might be true; revelations that he and other pro-casino legislators have taken large brib... I mean, "donations" from the industry add to the appearance of sleaze. Many New Yorkers think the amendment would cause far more problems that it would solve. The process has been so rigged that I can't have any confidence in supporters' claims.

Current law gives state workers credit for being disabled and credit for being a veteran, but not both. This change would allow them to get credit for both.

The change would allow municipalities to exempt debt incurred for sewage facilities from their constitutional debt limit.

This amendment would settled disputed land claims in the Raquette Lake area. The change has been negotiated by the state and landowners. It is supported both by local officials and by all the major environmental groups. There isn't any known opposition.

This is another amendment regarding state land but is more disputed than Prop 4. The mining company NYCO is offering to swap some of its land for state owned land. It would mine the land and then return it to the state forest preserve. Not surprisingly, this is supported by the business community and most local officials, but it has divided the environmental community. The Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club support it. Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild oppose it. I think both sides' arguments have merit but it seems to me that if public land can be handed over the private interests for open pit mining, then it's not really 'forever wild.'

Note: North Country Public Radio has a more in-depth look at Props 4 and 5.

Prop 6 would increase to 80 the maximum age to which some state judges could serve before mandatory retirement. This is a good idea in theory but poor in execution. It does not apply to all judges and has some many exceptions as to defeat the purpose. This amendment should be rejected and the legislature instead should raise the retirement age of ALL judges.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Syria suffering awful but NOT 'unparalleled in recent history'

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 a rather shocking statement statement from someone in a position to know better, the head of the UN refugee agency described the situation in Syria as involving “suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history."

Perhaps António Guterres should get off YouTube and speak to his staff in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, home of what is widely acknowledged to be the deadliest war and worst humanitarian catastrophe anywhere on the planet since World War II.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Tea Party alternative to Obamacare

"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.

My criticism of the Affordable Care Act is on the record but the 'Tea Party' narrative about ending Obamacare might be a little more compelling if this weren't their alternative.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Millionaires lead GOP crusade against health insurance for working people

I never voted for Barack Obama and my criticisms of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") are on the record, but GOP attempts to hold the economy hostage to defund it and ram through other parts of their fringe agenda are despicable.

The Republican strategy is essentially this: get a bunch of guys with taxpayer-subsidized health insurance, most of whom are millionaires. Anoint them to be your spokesperson on why people who have to work for a living shouldn't necessarily have access to health insurance.

Let me know how that works out politically.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lies and the lying liars who tell them

I’ve decided I’m not going to listen to the president’s sales pitch for yet another war with a Muslim country that poses no threat to us after hearing his secretary of state angrily lie, “We are not talking about going to war!”

If this administration is going to deem cyber attacks an act of war and then declare that cruise missile strikes are not, it’s not worthy of trust.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Syria bombing: so urgent, we can't upset Congressional holiday

The Obama administration's position on the situation in Syria can be summed up as follows: it's an *URGENT* moral imperative that we bomb Syria in order to (insert one of: punish Assad/protect civilians/send a message/keep our word/effectuate regime change). That's why it's going to wait a week and a half until Congress gets around to reconvening rather than bother them on their long holiday weekend.

Why are chemical weapons deaths worse than conventional weapons deaths?

Discussion topic: the UN estimates that approximately 100,000 people have been killed during the Syrian civil war (not all by Assad’s forces) with conventional weapons over the course of a few years. There has been no serious discussion of a response by external military powers in that time period.

Yet a single attack of chemical weapons that kills a small fraction of that number of people “necessitates” a global (ie: western) military response, we are told.

So why is it that the 1400 deaths caused by chemical weapons is more “morally repugnant,” to use Sec. of State Kerry’s phrase, than the 100,000 deaths that preceded it by conventional weapons?

If the answer is some piece of paper called a treaty, then the follow up question is why does that piece of paper value chemical weapons deaths more? Why does it view those deaths as more of a threat when, by any objective measurement, conventional weapons cause far more deaths and are much more of a threat to international stability?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

When you sleep with snakes, they will bite you

Earlier this summer, I said that Egyptian liberals were nuts to align themselves with the corrupt, brutal military whose only concern was re-seizing political and economic dominance of the country. A few weeks later, the country’s leading liberal, Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, was been arrested by the junta for the ‘crime’ of having protested the insecurity forces’ massacre of protesters. Shortly thereafter, the country's long-time dictator, convicted following the 2011 revolution, was released from prison. The intent of the coup against President Mohammed Morsi was always to reverse the revolution. The military is well on its way to doing just that.

Update: the coup leaders have now charged President Morsi with allegedly inciting deadly violence. The mass murderers are passing judgment on someone for murder. The snakes strike again.

Friday, August 30, 2013

If the major parties don't represent us, does that mean we're stupid?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” –Albert Einstein

 The Independent Voters Network had this op-ed piece which opined that the two major parties 'clearly and strikingly' do not represent most voters. It offers scant little evidence for this thesis, other than there are an increasing number of independent voters.

The sort of lazy excuse for analysis in this article bothers me. Giving the voters a free pass for their choices may be nice populism but does not serve the national interest.

100% of Americans are represented by either Democratic or Republican Congressmen (obviously except for two vacant seats). 

99.3% of Americans are represented exclusively by major party US senators.

100% of Americans are represented by Democrat or Republican state governors. 

All of them are the result of (sort of) free and fair elections. 

If Americans don’t feel these two parties represent them, why do they elect exclusively them virtually all the time from among the 3-6 choices available in the majority of elections?

One can reasonably infer from this situation one of two possibilities: either a) Democratic and GOP elected officials *do* generally represent the views of most Americans or b) that voters are so stupid or gutless as to overwhelmingly elect people who don't represent them even though, in the majority of cases, there are non-major party alternatives. 

Which is it?

You can bitch and moan about your cable company or your cell phone provider but as long as you keep buying their product, they don’t care. They will have no incentive to improve. 

Politics is the same way. The corporate parties don’t give a toss about your whining, so long as you keep buying what they sell. 

If you keep voting for them, they’ll never have an incentive to change in any meaningful way. Sometimes people whine when politicians break promises but more often, the moaning comes about when a polician acts exactly as he or she suggested in the campaign! 

As PJ O’Rourke concluded in his excellent book Parliament of Whores: [I]n a democracy such as ours, the whores are us.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How the Baghdad bombing changed humanitarian affairs

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.

Ten years ago today, a bombing obliterated United Nations headquarters in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, killing 22 aid workers and UN staff members. This piece on the BBC website highlights how this attack fundamentally changed the work of not only the UN, but also of humanitarian aid organizations around the world. A subsequent bombing of the facilities of the Red Cross, generally considered the most respected humanitarian organization in the world, also had a shattering effect. In the subsequent decade, aid workers have increasingly found themselves the target of combatants, not merely bystanders.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Government criminalizes those who shine light on its crimes

In America, when the government commits crimes, it’s the people who reveal those crimes who are treated as criminals.

Only days after President Obama assured us that the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program was in compliance with the law, The Washington Post has revealed that the program is actually a serial law-breaker.

Thanks to leaks provided by Edward Snowden, the paper reported that, according to the NSA’s own audit, the agency violated thelaw ‘thousands of times’ in the 12 month period of 2011-12.The NSA chief waved this off as nothing more than mere oversights. Do you think Snowden could get away with the same argument?

The head of the special secret court charged with oversight of the NSA’s activities has conceded that his ability to provide proper oversight isquite limited.

The statecan violate the law repeatedly and with complete impunity, but it’s Snowden who is the most wanted man in the world for publicizing these crimes.

This is yet another piece of evidence that, contrary to liberal self-delusion, the Obama administration is just as criminal as its predecessor.

Update: Looks like the UK government follows the same path. The Huffington Post reports that the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald was detained at London's Heathrow Airport under the country's Terrorism Act. Greenwald has been a high-profile critic of the UK's and US' attacks on civil liberties and has been instrumental in expose their abuses.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Majority oppose Obamacare... but not in the way you probably think

A CNN poll reports that 54% of Americans oppose Obamacare. But the dynamic is not as simplistic as the “tea party” or Obama partisans would have you believe. 

It reports only 35% of Americans think Obamacare is ‘too liberal.'

Nearly 1/3 of all opposition to Obamacare is by those who, like myself, think it is ‘not liberal enough.’

This reality probably isn't something you've ever heard in the mainstream media's narrative.