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Saturday, 31 March 2007
The wages of public broadcasting
Topic: media criticism

With this year’s fundraising auction on the horizon, WXXI’s relentless not-for-profiteers are out fishing for donations. But if you’re an artist thinking about throwing a pot or painting their way – or if you’re just anybody who might write a check – consider the following.

After some emails about salaries at the station landed in my inbox, I went straight to wxxi.org and checked last year’s IRS 990 form. The latter indicates that in 2005, WXXI CEO Norm Silverstein walked away with roughly $345,000 – including about $237,800 in straight salary, more than $50,000 as a "one-time payment of deferred compensation, and more than $47,000 in benefits. (If I remember right, when I covered this business six or seven years ago, Silverstein was getting "only" about $160,000 in salary.)

According to the 990 for 2005, Chief Operating Officer Susan Rogers got about $139,400 in salary plus $33,900 worth of benefits. Even lowly Jeanne Fisher, who often totes the begging-bowl during the station's endless membership drives, got well over $80,000 total. And the guy who hosts WXXI’s "Second Opinion" show, an New York City-based independent contractor named Dr. Peter Salgo, got $72,000 for his occasional services. (On the other hand, considering we're talking here about a mainstream MD, maybe the station is getting a deal.)

I could list a dozen donation-killer problems with WXXI programming – like Bob Smith's regular stroking of rightwing guests from the Israeli Consulate, to the exclusion of sane voices from Israel/Palestine; or the station’s persistent disinformation campaign aimed at Amy Goodman and Democracy Now!; or practically anything done by the supremely irritating Curt Smith. But the station’s outrageous compensation packages for its top dogs are enough reason to keep your hands in your lap when the auction begins. Your money would be much better spent on DN!, Pacifica, Indymedia, Free Speech TV, and other actually independent media.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 13:09 EDT
Updated: Saturday, 31 March 2007 13:20 EDT
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Saturday, 24 March 2007
Much more than an ounce of prevention
Topic: antiwar

Progressive media are addressing some very big items at the moment – and of course, apart from climate change and its effects, the biggest items are the US occupation of Iraq and legislation dealing with related longer-tern issues, such as eventual control of Iraqi oil. But there are deceptively small items that should command attention. For example, I’m concerned about two little words that, in their quiet way, lead us toward make-or-break, indeed life-and-death decisions.

The words are “preemptive” and “preventive.” You’ve probably noticed one or both - most often “preemptive” - popping up in editorials and columns lately, even in alternative media that should know better. You can be forgiven for thinking these words are interchangeable, because that’s how they’re generally used. Yet there’s an important distinction.

“Preemptive” describes a form of war that’s legal (whether it’s moral is another matter) in the context of international agreements and understandings like the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1927), the United Nations Charter, and the Nuremberg Principles. The idea is simple: If you know you’re about to be attacked, you have a right to pre-empt the attack by striking first. There must be solid evidence of an immediate physical threat. The best-known (and most-debated) example of preemption is the 1967 Six Day War in the Middle East. There are very serious questions about Israel’s justification for firing first (Egyptian moves at the time, among other things, may not have constituted a prelude to invasion). But at least in this historical case, it’s certain that both sides were on a war-footing, and that there was mutual hostile intent.

The case of the US vs. Iraq is vastly different. Even if Iraq had possessed WMDs and other offensive capabilities, it had given absolutely no evidence of using threatening force against the US at home or abroad. Iraq had actually been under periodic attack by US forces for years, and these attacks plus the murderous economic sanctions of the Clinton Era had rendered Iraq entirely vulnerable, i.e. in no position to threaten anyone. So no war that the US might launch against Iraq could rightly be labeled “preemptive.” No, the kind of war the US launched in 2003 is properly termed “preventive.” Which is just a polite way to say it lacks justification, that it is in fact what’s known as “aggressive war,” a term that further reduces to “criminal.”

Shades of Nuremberg. Which reminds me: I recently learned that US Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, the chief US prosecutor of Nazi war criminals, hailed from the Southern Tier. Jackson actually was born in Warren County, PA, but he grew up and worked as an attorney in Jamestown, NY, which is now home to the Robert H. Jackson Center (www.roberthjackson.org). If you thought Lucille Ball was Jamestown’s only famous offspring, think again.

Think harder, though, about Jackson’s famous words at the Nazi trials. He hammered home the plain truth: “To initiate a war of aggression,” he said, “is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

So connect the dots. Following on Jackson, you can’t escape the conclusion that what US leaders have been doing since 2003, if not before, is no different purely in legal terms from what the Nazis did. And that the crimes US troops have committed - atrocities large and small in Fallujah, Haditha, Abu Ghraib, and many other places – may be horrendous, yet in the final analysis, they’re less serious than what George W. Bush and company have dictated.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 13:49 EDT
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Tuesday, 13 March 2007
Wind mills - outstanding in their field, maybe not so good in yours
Topic: environment

On the way home from Montreal a few weeks ago, I stumbled on what’s billed as the largest windmill installation east of the Mississippi. Maybe “stumbled” is not quite the word. It felt like driving through a 21st century Oz, with 250-foot-high towers churning in every field, and route 177 seeming like a narrow ribbon indeed as it rose and fell, gradually descending toward Lowville, Lewis County.

The Maple Ridge Wind Farm, which eventually will have 190 wind towers and a generating capacity of some 300 megawatts, is no shrinking violet. The towers dominate the landscape completely, and the thousands of dollars in annual lease payments that go to local landowners for every operating tower have a decisive economic effect in this chronically depressed agricultural area.

On balance, I think Maple Ridge, which reportedly can meet the electricity needs of 60,000 homes, is a good thing for the North Country. Similarly, wind power will help the country as a whole, indeed the planet, do what’s necessary for minimizing the effects of global climate change. This form of power is about as clean as they come. But some questions remain.

As I read the official New York State wind maps (available from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, et al.), Maple Ridge is not optimally located. Unless the grand plan is to exploit every usable site, not just the best ones.

The wind resources on the northwestern fringe of the Tug Hill Plateau, measured in average wind speed and steadiness, are pretty good, as anyone who’s spent time there can attest. I’ve battled some very worthy Tug Hill winds on my bike trips, and to be fair, I’ve also coasted for many easy miles with such wind at my back. But the winds there are not the best New York has to offer.

For the really potent stuff, you have to go to the offshore areas of eastern Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, as well as off the south shore of Long Island. The next best resources are found in the Southern Tier, especially a small pocket northwest of Binghamton, and a few high mountain areas in the Catskills and Adirondacks. Northwest Lewis County doesn’t match up. So why has a major wind installation like Maple Ridge been sited where the wind doesn’t blow the strongest? (Please note: The Catskill/Adirondack Forest Preserve, and any spot within sight of it, must be kept free of wind farms. The state constitution’s “forever wild” does provide protection, but with a host of greedbags on the loose, you never know…)

I won’t try to answer this question fully right now, but I can say this much: Various siting problems flow from defects in the economy and the political process. Wind farms are located where private concerns decide to put them, helped before the fact by state agencies like NYSERDA, and (minimally) regulated after the fact by local governments. Private developers don’t just look at things like wind speeds; they also look for weak spots in the armor of regulatory bodies, etc. They love nothing better than a small town or rural with a sagging economy, high unemployment, and few options. And among the things they avoid like the plague are lakeside scenic mountain communities with high concentrations of well-positioned weekenders and political influence.

I believe that if public, democratically-controlled entities were in the driver’s seat – and crucially, if localities directly ran the siting process and owned and managed the windmills – we’d see less friction and controversy and more rational siting decisions. Look for this angle to be developed further in upcoming posts, including one I’m working on about a windfarm proposed for farmland in western Monroe County.

 

 


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:12 EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 13 March 2007 21:14 EDT
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Saturday, 3 March 2007
It's your money - no, it's the Pentagon's
Topic: politics

The next time you’re challenging some politico or pundit to explain why we don’t have national health care, adequate public housing, decent mass transit, etc., etc., and he (it’s usually a he, in this context) tells you in a George Bushian exasperated tone, “We can’t afford it,” refer the schmuck to the War Resisters League.

Every year as people scurry toward April 15, the League puts out an informative two-page document that tells “Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes.” My copy just arrived in the mail; you can get a copy via www.warresisters.org.

WYITMRG puts the plain facts on the table, the kind of facts that even smooth political talkers can’t dispute – at least not without making even bigger asses of themselves.

The fiscal 2008 edition of WYITMRG says that out of total federal outlays of $2.347 trillion, with a “t,” fully $1.188 trillion will go for military purposes. (The figures do not include trust funds like Social Security and Medicare, which are funded separately, i.e. not through income taxes. The War Resisters rightly charge the feds with “deception” for presenting a so-called “unified budget” that, by adding in the trust funds, makes the various programs of organized violence seem smaller than they are.)

The $1.188 trillion includes nearly half a trillion for the Pentagon, plus military-related outlays for the Department of Energy (nuclear weapons, @ $17 billion), the military side of NASA, the twelve-figure annual outlay for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and occupations; and a huge outlay for interest due on the portion of the national debt attributable to past wars.

Of course, the most burdensome costs of all this military spending are best measured in lost and shattered lives all over the planet. You could say the people of Iraq have been “taxed” to the tune of maybe a half million lives, just since Bush’s dirty little invasion of 2003. Meanwhile, Americans have “contributed” more than 3,000 men and women. Forget this week’s plunge in the Dow and NASDAQ – we need to fire the broker who gave us the “War on Terror,” surely one of the worst long-term investments ever.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:50 EST
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Thursday, 22 February 2007
Local yokels - and a man with a real plan
Topic: urban issues

Maggie Brooks is so shocked, shocked that she’s become a Shock Trooper, trampling the First Amendment as she storms the Central Library and threatens to cut off the latter’s county funding. And her small-town mentality – or political cynicism – has given us a nice likeness of Rudy Giuliani vs. the Brooklyn Museum.

 

What is Brooks’ beef? Goodness gracious, she says, library patrons are being allowed to access “adult” sites, and it’s possible that kids are looking over the pervs’ shoulders. Such are the obsessions of Church Ladies everywhere. They aren’t bothered about small things like attacks on free speech, and the last thing they’d do is consort with groups like American Library Association, which defends freedom of patron internet access. Of course, the ALA has also opposed Bushie designs to spy on library users, and that might give Brooks another incentive to pull a Giuliani. Is she positioning herself for a race for higher office?)

 

People like Brooks shoot first… but ask no questions later.

 

What we have here is not real concern for children and community “values,” but an attempt to impose a kind of cyber-apartheid. If Brooks gets her way, Central Library patrons, a large proportion of whom are low-income people with no other internet access, will see only the material their superiors deem safe; meanwhile, the well-heeled, including many Blue Nose Republicans whose money and power keep Brooks and her clones in business, can surf porn securely at home.

 

I hope this whole business will blow up in the county executive’s face. She’s had too long a honeymoon, almost an endless one, even though her policies are generally indistinguishable from those of her predecessor, Jack Doyle – i.e., retraction of services, maintenance of elite privilege, and a relentless war on the poor.

 

News of a more uplifting sort: I usually avoid commenting on anything in City Newspaper, though I love the work of my friend Tim Macaluso, the sole remaining staff writer there, and follow the work of George Grella and Frank DeBlase. (BTW, whatever happened to Krestia DeGeorge? Did the heavy hand of CityNews labor policies shove him down the front steps? Has anyone seen anything in the paper about his leaving? I haven’t. You’d think the publisher would at least acknowledge his contributions and wish him well.) But now Rochesterians should check out an article in the Feb. 21-27 issue by Metro Justice organizer Jon Greenbaum, a man who’s definitely got smart things to say about the local economy.

 

In the article, the first of two on the subject, Greenbaum casts a skeptical eye on orthodoxies like promiscuous tax breaks, which never to seem to go away. And he looks hopefully toward alternative “path[s] to a better business climate,” including the policies that made Finland’s economy one of the healthiest in the world - several notches above the US, in fact.

 

But this issue of the paper has a dark side, too. After you read Greenbaum’s piece, turn to “The Mail” on page 2. There you’ll find a prime example of “alternative” hypocrisy and screwy thinking, in the form of an editor’s response to a letter about a recent ad. I’m not so interested in this particular ad debate, which centers on some odd, pseudo-edgy Toronto tourist pitches. What bugs me is how the editor, Mary Anna Towler, buttresses her defense with a discreditable theory about commercial speech that she’s trotted out at least once before. The first time around, she used it to justify her running a recruitment ad from the Ku Klux Klan. (Maybe some of you remember the firestorm that followed.) This time, she’s trying to justify running cigarette ads, regardless of how they contribute to disease and death.

 

Briefly, Towler bases her justification in “a commitment to freedom of speech” and claims the paper is “in the business of fostering communication, not suppressing it.” How noble. Or rather, noble-sounding.

 

And how wrong. Commercial speech doesn’t have full freedom. It’s rightly subject to all kinds of limitations (truth in advertising, etc.) that don’t apply to political, artistic and other forms of expression. Moreover, newspapers and magazines routinely turn down ads that fail to meet content guidelines. Compare CityNews’ own guidelines for “adult” material, which have apparently evolved over time but are nonetheless much more restrictive than those of the Village Voice and other alt weeklies – not to mention “mainstream” internet sources like craigslist.

 

So what’s the story? I can’t help thinking that with CityNews there’s still a lot less than meets the eye. And that Mary Anna Towler and Maggie Brooks have more than a little in common.

 

 


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:29 EST
Updated: Sunday, 25 February 2007 12:48 EST
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