Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A lie is half way around the world before...

This piece from North Country Public Radio talks about how opponents of the climate change bill in Congress are quoting statistics from an MIT professor.

Problem is that according to that professor, the numbers they're using are wrong.

The disinformation being peddled by Republicans, libertarians and other opponents of the bill is almost 10 times higher than what the MIT professor being misquoted actually found.

The academic told Republicans they were using an inaccurate figure but they continue to do so.

Maybe global warming is exacerbated by the hot air spewed by some of its Deniers.

Note: Interestingly this piece followed another story in which a citizen that she "[has] to listen to conservative radio to get facts." Not sure if facts should be put in 'air quotes.'

Union Yes

Bob over at Planet Albany, normally a staunch conservative in the culture wars, reflects on the dangers of union organizing and the costs of not having a union.

Not as important as the fate of Michael Jackson's monkeys and other exotic pets, according to CNN this afternoon, but still worth a read.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Another success story of industrial 'agriculture'

Check the ground beef in your freezers. More details here.

Are there any adults in the house?

The New York state senate no longer has the monopoly on idiocy among public 'servants.'

I'm not sure which is more absurd:

An out-of-control baseball parent in Ballston Spa abusing his position as sheriff's deputy to try to get a teenager prosecuted* for kicking a baseball helmet after being punched in the stomach during the 'sportsmanship' post-game handshake...


The fact that the Clifton Park town board has managed to turn a park playground into an ideological battle.

Wonderful role models for Our Children.

*-Fortunately the charges were dismissed and denounced by the district attorney.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Puppet masters or puppets?

For weeks, media outlets in New York have been indignantly bashing the state senate for the embarrassment they've been heaping on the state... and themselves.

Just Google 'farce new york senate' for an idea.

The news media has been self-righteously huffing and puffing about senators' refusal to do that most grotesquely overused and underapplied of phrases: the people's business.

And rightly so.

So what have these courageous local media crusaders on behalf of (hold hand over heart) public service been giving us in the last few days: front page and lead stories on a national entertainer. Prominent and numerous.

This is in addition to the saturation coverage that can already be found on the cable 'news' channels.

So it begs the question: are the media the puppet masters, as critics so often claim, or the puppets?

And if the latter, who has their hands up their backsides?

As much as I'd like to believe otherwise (and trust me, I would), opinions like this on the essential role of local newspapers are becoming harder and harder to sustain with each passing infotainment orgy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

If humans were only as honest as our ancestors...

I was listening to this story about a monkey giving his liquefied opinion of the Zambian president's remarks and wondered if we had any simians in the Bronx Zoo we could send to the next New York Senate press conference.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Obama and Iran

President Obama's handling of the Iran uprising has been very tricky. Not surprisingly, the US far right is not happy with his approach. Though it is heartening to see these people stand in solidarity with modern young liberals fighting against a conservative theocracy that wishes to control every aspect of people's private lives. I'm sure the irony will be lost on them.

US meddling in Iran is what helped cause the theocratic revolution in the first place. The CIA-engineered coup which removed Iran's last democratically leader and installed a repressive absolute monarch may have been all the way back in 1953, but it's seared into the Iranian national consciousness... especially when the US lectures on democracy. That makes this situation particularly tricky.

I've been critical of Obama on many things but he's struck the right tone here. Iran's de facto leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his allies are desperately to paint the uprising in nationalist tones. They are trying to characterize it as being provoked by evil foreigners rather than acknowledging what it really is: oppressed people standing up for themselves against a repressive religious elite.

So far, the theocrats' line hasn't stuck because Obama has criticized the repression without taking sides in the electoral dispute. He is putting his vanity aside in order to not screw things up. That's how real leaders act. They are more concerned with the right outcome than the praise of the ninnies. If the last eight years have shown us anything, a leader without followers is no leader at all.

The second Obama takes the militarists, he hands the initiative to the theocratic oppressors by essentially validating their criticism and in turn discrediting the opposition. There's a reason most of the criticism of Obama's approach is coming from the US far right rather than from the Iranian opposition themselves. One side wants freedom to prevail. The other is more interested in Obama failing if they can't get the war they want. One side actually has to live up close and personal with the consequences of what ends up happening. The other will just sit in their comfortable air conditioned houses and wait for the next crisis to ignorantly beat their chests about and formulate war propaganda.

Only a few weeks ago, Obama's secretary of state green-lighted an unprovoked Israeli military attack on Iran. This followed on the heels of years of by both the Obama and Bush administrations to isolate Iran for pursuing what it calls a civilian nuclear energy program; attempts designed to pave the way for just such a military aggression.

It remains to be seen whether Obama will expand the sensible approach he's taken to the Iranian electoral dispute or whether he will revert back to the kind of belligerent arrogance that has disastrously fostered anti-Americanism all around the world and ultimately cost hundreds of thousands American lives.

Obama is right to reject appeasement of the militarists and focus instead of the success of freedom and democracy. Let's hope he continues this in all areas of his foreign policy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sweeps week in Albany!

My brother points out that C-SPAN could probably quadruple their ratings if they decided instead to broadcast proceedings at the New York Senate, as Planet Albany's account illustrates. The New York Times' also has a report on a farce that's simultaneously amusing and enraging.

And yet people remain mystified why I vote 'third party.'

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Times-(anti)Union

Bob over at Planet Albany reports that the Albany Times-Union will soon produce a list of employees it wants to expunge during its present union-busting campaign. The list is expected to include people who have been there long enough that they would have been protected under seniority provisions of the prior union contract.

He opines: Meanwhile, the only decent thing to do is cancel your subscription.

I don't subscribe, but I've ceased buying it on the news stand.

Matt Funicello at his T-U blog offers his pro-union opinion on the dispute... though curiously, the page has repeatedly had technical difficulties in displaying the actual text since it was published.

A coincidence, no doubt.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Your tax dollars in action!

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Every year, the non-governmental organization Transparency International publishes a Corruption Perception Index.

2005 was the first year that the index ranked both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2005's index of 158 countries, there were 17 countries more corrupt than Iraq and 34 countries more corrupt than Afghanistan.

In last year's index of 180 countries, Afghanistan was the 5th most corrupt country in the world and only Somalia was more corrupt than Iraq.

Even notoriously corrupt regimes like Equatorial Guinea, the DR Congo, Nigeria and Cameroon as well as the lands run by the much demonized Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe are better off than the US-occupied former countries.

This is just one illustration of the wonderful Progress that's being made in those occupied lands and proof that we were right to Stay the Course.

If I've forgotten any empty catch phrases, please leave them in the comments field.

Monday, June 15, 2009

'The people's business'

I never thought I'd hear a group of people use a empty catchphrase more frequently than Rudy Giuliani invokes 9/11.

I was wrong.

I just got done watching a 20 or so minute interview on Capital Tonight with John Sampson, the new leader of the Democratic conference in the New York Senate. By my count, Sampson used the phrases 'the people's business,' 'the people's agenda' or 'the work of the people' at least 15 times. He solemnly invoked 'the people' at least another dozen times, probably more.

In a similar interviews last week, Sens. Pedro Espada, Hiram Monserrate and Tom Libous, all key figures in the circus, mouthed those exact same catchphrases with similarly nauseating frequency.

Although this particular phrase was noteworthy by its frequency, the amount of empty b.s. and transparent rhetoric these men spewed was remarkable, even by the standards of American politics.

These yahoos are spending so much time yammering in front of the cameras on about 'the people's business' and zero time at all actually doing the people's business.

Then again, even when the legislature was "functional", it never really did the people's business.

Bruno, Cheney come out

I see that former New York Senate majority leader Joe Bruno has come out in favor of same sex marriage. Bruno, who describes himself as a "conservative Roman Catholic," refused to allow the same-sex marriage bill come to a vote when he was majority leader. Though he did allow passage of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in 2002. Bruno's comments came not long after former vice-president Dick Cheney also came out as being in favor of gay marriage.

While Bruno is in embroiled legal troubles and Cheney certainly ought to be, it's quite remarkable that these two conservatives are to the left of President Obama on this key civil rights issue.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Media bias quantified

I've written often, some have said ad nauseum, about the media bias against smaller party and independent politics and the perspective they could add to the political discourse if given the chance.

John Warren, over at Adirondack Almanack, recently provoked an interesting discussion with an essay on the same topic.

One of the commenters challenging John was Chris Morris, a self-described "upstate journalist" who works for "modest wages."

In the course of the discussion, Chris replied to one of my comments as such:

My original protests with John concern the sweeping generalizations he made about the "local media" having ignored [Eric] Sundwall, which are not accurate. Did the Post Star largely ignore his candidacy? Yes. Did the Times Union? Yes. Did the Press Republican? No. The Enterprise? No. WNBZ? No. Watertown Daily Times? No. And so on.

His claims don't stand up to journalistic scrutiny.

I search around the websites of the newspapers he implicitly praised for both the phrases 'Tedisco' and 'Sundwall' (as a search for 'Murphy' would've brought results unrelated to the special election). Republican Jim Tedisco, Libertarian Eric Sundwall and eventual winner Democrat Scott Murphy all ran in the recent NY 20th Congressional District special election.

WNBZ's online archive not go back far enough to analyze.

I couldn't get good numbers for The Adirondack Daily Enterprise, as their search mixed in letters to the editor and news articles and I think their search was limited to 100. However, the search gave 36 results for 'Sundwall' and 100 for 'Tedisco.' They definitely seemed to do better than the others. However even this least unfair local media outlet's reporting was (bearing in mind the imprecision of the numbers) still at least around a 3:1 imbalance for the Republican. That is considered 'good' in the current environment.

A search of the other two sites was more definitive as it gave articles only.

A 2009 Plattsburgh Press-Republican search for 'Sundwall' gave seven results total, two of which were identical and only two of which were local reports. Of those six unique articles, one was about Sundwall's exclusion from the ballot, four merely mentioned in a cursory fashion that he was running and one was about his declaration of candidacy and... ZERO mentioned anything about his platform or ideas.

A 2009 P-R search of 'Tedisco' gave 63 results.

A 2009 Watertown Daily Times archive search of 'Sundwall' gave one result, about the governor's call for the special election in which Sundwall's name was mentioned only in passing.

A 2009 WDT archive search of 'Tedisco' gave 88 results.

If this meets the definition of 'not ignoring,' zero articles in these last two papers that actually discuss his ideas or platform, then it's a sad illustration of how low the journalistic bar has been set and of exactly how suffocating this media bias really is.

The trials and tribulations of the print media are well-documented. I wonder if any will figure out that maybe it makes better business sense to not completely ignore the 25 pct. of the population who are neither Democrats nor Republicans.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Correcting Sen. Little

Following the recent coup in the New York senate, North Country Public Radio ran an interview with local Sen. Betty Little, who has apparently returned to the majority (unless there's a countercoup).

At the very end, she was asked about the anticipated closing of Camp Gabriels, a minimum security prison in Franklin County, northern New York.

She said it was possible Camp Gabriels might re-open as something like a drug rehab center, "but not as a correctional facility" (prison).

Now some has been made of the prison-industrial complex and its unfortunate economic prominence in the Adirondacks, a topic I've long intended to research and write about but haven't quite gotten to.

But it's a rather telling illustration of Sen. Little's fealty to the prison industry that she considers a place where you lock people up and throw away the key to be "a correctional facility" but not a place like a drug rehab center, where they actually try to correct people's behavior.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Voters need to wake up!

"The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." -Albert Einstein

Typical citizen response to NYS politics (364 days of the year): A pox on all their houses! The Democrats and Republicans are all crooks!

Typical citizen response to NYS politics (Election Day): Huzzah for the Democratic (or Republican) candidate!

Typical NYS newspaper daily editorial (364 days of the year): State and local politics, run by Democrats and Republicans, are broken.

Typical NYS newspaper daily editorial (a few days before Election Day): We endorse x, y and z Democrats and a, b and c Republicans.

When will people wake up and starting voting for (or heaven forbid even considering!) smaller party and independent candidates? You know, people who actually aren't part of the mess everyone decries. Continuing to vote for only for Democrats and Republicans is nothing more than re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. How can you consistently vote for the same old, same old and expect something radically different?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

America's own banana republic

"Doesn't anyone here know how to play this game?" -Casey Stengel

During the Rod Blagojevich scandal, the state of Illinois got a national black eye for naked corruption. But New York legislators seems hell bent on putting Illinois (and especially themselves) to shame. Apparently not content with the moniker Most Dysfunctional Legislature in the Nation, they've decided this week to set the bar even lower.

Following the last election, Democrats had a narrow 32-30 majority in the state Senate, made narrower due to the vacancy of the lieutenant governor's position. Republicans, who'd been in power for over 69 of the previous 70 years, naturally weren't too happy. So they decided to engineer a coup, executed yesterday, by picking off two disaffected Democrats... both of whom are ethically challenged even by Albany's pathetic standards.

The result was a farce. Nay, a farce worthy of a banana republic.

The Republicans (with the two Democrats) apparently retook power and did so trumpeting rules changes that would democratize the chamber. Essentially, the Senate GOP wanted to overturn a rigged system that it spent the last several decades erecting, only to suffer by them when the Democrats took power and didn't eradicate them quickly enough for Republican taste.

But who was the GOP 'reform' agenda dependent upon? One Democrat, Hiram Monserrate, has been indicted for allegedly slashing his girlfriend in the face with a piece of broken glass. The other, Pedro Espada, has been heavily fined for violating election law and dilly-dallied in actually paying the fine.

Both dissidents claim they are unhappy with the incompetent former (?) Democratic majority leader Malcolm Smith. They claim disorganization and failure of the Democrats to implement their reform agenda and were probably right in their assessment, even though no one really quite believes that as their motive. They claim that the disorganization prevented them (hold hand over heart) from doing the people's business.

Interesting that they would launch their coup at the most disruptive time possible to (hold hand over heart) doing the people's business: the last week and a half of the legislative session.

I'm sure Espada's motives are purely noble and have nothing to do with the fact that he was made Senate president nor with the fact that he was reportedly pissed off that he couldn't get pork for some groups in his district, because it could not be confirmed that the groups were legitimate non-profits. The New York Times report makes the setup look extremely fishy.

Even more absurd, the coup planning was aided and abetted by former New York billionaire (it's the New York part that's former, not the billionaire part) Tom Golisano who fled to Florida after a PR campaign whining about his personal income taxes. Though Golisano managed to finagle a plum job for one of his close advisors in the newly-Republican chamber. Not sure how other New Yorkers feel about a Floridian, especially one who explicitly gave New York the finger, meddling in their state politics but I'm not too thrilled.

If that's not absurd enough, here's the kicker. Remember Espada? The one who fined for repeatedly violating election law and who was linked to dodgy, supposed non-profits? As the new senate president, he becomes acting lieutenant governor... and will become the state's chief executive if anything happens to the current governor.

In 2004, a parliamentary delegation from Ghana visited Albany. The New York Times described it as follows:

While West Africa in general is not a place where there are functioning governments, much less governments operating in a way the public can scrutinize, the delegation found New York's budget 'opaque.' "Here we have to ask a lot of questions," [the Ghanaian parliament's finance committee chairman] said. "You just really don't know how each allocation is spent. That is quite bleak."

Even five years ago, Albany couldn't even met West African standards of transparency and legislative sanity. It's hard to believe things have gotten even worse.

Shell pays blood money to Ogonis

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 Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell has agreed to pay $15.5 million in blood money to a group of plaintiffs from the Ogoni region of Nigeria. The group had filed a lawsuit in US court alleging Shell's complicity with human rights abuses in the Niger Delta region of the country. The multinational pretended that the agreement was a "humanitarian gesture," presumably thinking that someone might be fooled. If Shell is suddenly concerned with "humanitarianism," perhaps they could stop the toxic gas flaring and other environmental and resulting human devastation that they are causing in the Delta.

Other sources on the story...
-The Independent (UK daily)
-This Day (Nigeria daily)
-Essay by Ken Saro Wiwa Jr. (background)
-Shell Guilty (pressure group)
-Shell (corporate press release)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Local gay marriage rally

I was interested to read that there was a rally yesterday in Glens Falls in favor of same-sex marriage.

Now, I know we can't criticize opposition to legalization, lest we risk 'violating religious freedom' of gay marriage opponents (supporters not having free speech rights, apparently).

So I'll simply point out the first two comments on the article that has to do with giving same sex couples the same rights as opposite sex couples.

" Ummmmmmmm.... Thanks for making me lose my breakfast!!! "


" Sounds like not much will change for anybody cetrainly (sic) not attitudes. Looks like the this (sic) is really just another ACLU attack on religion disgusied (sic) in a phony equal rights package. "

Though a few other readers did debunk the ACLU attack on religion rubbish.

My blogging friend Bob over at Planet Albany also writes from time to time on gay marriage, though he opposes it. He also writes regular on ethics (or lack thereof) in Albany.

I think it's telling that his essays on ethics usually get few if any comments. His last one on gay marriage got 18. It's a sad commentary that two people who love each other wanting equal rights provokes more outrage than venal politicians.

Correction: In a previous version of this entry, I'd stated that Democratic state Sens. Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Montserrate were opposed to same-sex marriage. According to media reports, Espada is on record as being in favor of gay marriage and Montserrate is undecided. Thanks to reader Louis E. for questioning this.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

As if the Jewish people haven't suffered enough

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..

Foreign Policy blog points out that former Liberian dictator and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor has pretended to convert to Judaism.

This might be surprising, as he used to be a pretend Christian. You may remember his farewell address shortly before fleeing the country rather than be overthrown, where he seemed to compare himself to Jesus Christ.

However, one of his wives [sic] clarified this to the BBC. "No, no, no he hasn't rejected Christianity. He has always been a Christian. He just decided to become a Jew. He wants to follow the two religions," she said.

As Foreign Policy put it: Least. Welcome. Convert. Ever.

Thanks to reader Mark for the tip.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Should cities cater to autos or humans?

CBC Radio's The Current has an interesting discussion on moves in Canada's two largest cities to facilitate commuting by bicycle. Both Toronto and Vancouver shut down a car lane on one of their main streets and turned each into two bike lanes. Not surprisingly, the move to expand transportation options has proved controversial. But as Toronto's mayor rightly pointed out, the purpose of roads is not to move cars, but to move people. I suspect Jim Kunstler would agree.

In addition to the obvious environmental and quality of life costs of society's fetish with the automobile, one of the guests points out the huge economic opportunity costs of so many cars. Expensive urban land that's devoted to ever expanding roads and parking lots is land that's not being devoted to something that produces economic wealth. So we're spending money in order to reduce the possibilities of making money.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The decline and fall of the newsprint empire

Unlike many who see new media as a replacement for, rather than a compliment to, traditional media, I take no joy in the collapse of the American newspaper industry. Newspapers have been way too slow to adapt to changing times. The 1950s model of a newspaper was to be all things to all people. But in 2009, newspapers can no longer compete with TV for immediacy, with the cable for infotainment, with ESPN for sports and with the internet for all of the above.

The mile wide-inch deep model no longer works. I can go to a million different places if I want analysis of President Obama's proposals or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the comics or even a good crossword puzzle. But if I want news of what's happening in my hometown on a daily basis, there's really only one. Local newspapers need to focus on what makes them most unique: LOCAL.

They also need to focus more on news. Real news. In my local Post-Star, the most relevant reporting often gets relegated to online blogs, such as interviews with 'third party' candidates and stories about from where legalized bribes (often referred to as campaign contributions) are coming from. But you can rest assured that public urination and alcohol stings will always make the more widely read print edition.

Given newspapers' failure to adapt to changing times, it's hard to say the pain hasn't been largely self-inflicted. That doesn't mean I welcome it. Newspapers have the potential to play a central role not only in investigative reporting, but in fostering some sense of communal dialogue in a Balkanized, hyperpersonalized society. That's how newspapers like to think of themselves and that's how many used to be. Newspapers are failing because they are not/no longer living up to that potential and consumers are thus looking elsewhere. Unlike in the past, they now have a lot more options.

Speaking of self-inflicted, I see that the print edition of The New York Times has been jacked up to $2 daily and $6 on Sunday. I'm left to wonder whether massive price hikes are the best business model in an industry where consumers are already fleeing in droves.

Update: Washington Post columnist Michael Kinsley speculates on the future of newspapers. American Public Media's The Story did a piece on the demise of Denver's Rocky Mountain News.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Discussion on rehumanizing a corporatized society

The public radio show On Point is having an interesting discussion right now (11:00 am) on the suffocating influence of corporations on society. As the show's website describes it:

Social critic Douglas Rushkoff is ready to think big in response to the economic crisis still rocking the U.S. and the world. Really big.

Rushkoff thinks we got off track as a society a ways back. About 400years back.

He’s not against capitalism. But the form we fell into –corporate capitalism – is killing us, he says. Killing values and communities. Turning us into the “brand that is me.” Turning homes into investments and 401k balances into cold barometers of success or failure.

It doesn’t have to be this way, he says.

The show is being aired locally on North Country Public Radio (a national broadcast list is here) and will eventually be available on demand the On Point website and iTunes.