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Thursday, 25 May 2006
Another vote from hell
Topic: antiwar
Earlier this week, the House of Representatives outdid itself in damaging realistic hopes for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.

By a vote of 361-37 (with nine signifying “present” and 25 not voting) the reps okayed the “Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006.” The bill, aiming to sanction Hamas, penalizes the Palestinian people by cutting off all but the most narrowly humanitarian forms of assistance.

In short, the House has endorsed a form of economic warfare – the equivalent of terror, if judged by its longterm effects – against innocent civilians who are already suffering massive unemployment and the collapse of basic services. The measure will make it all but certain that things will end badly.

Among the anti-terrorist heroes who voted yes are several Western and Central New Yorkers: Bush clones Tom Reynolds and Randy Kuhl, moderate Republican Sherwood Boehlert, and the usually liberal Louise Slaughter. Out-of-staters Barney Frank, Charles Rangel, and Nancy Pelosi, among many others in the “opposition party,” also voted yes. (But Maurice Hinchey, a Dem who represents parts of the Southern Tier and Lower Hudson, voted no, as did Ohio’s Dennis Kucinich and Georgia’s Cynthia McKinney, et al.)

Don’t wait to “remember in November.” Take a moment today to condemn the yes-men and women for their recklessness.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 18:28 EDT
Updated: Friday, 26 May 2006 05:16 EDT
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Olmsted, wear your earplugs
Topic: environment
Much is made of Americans’ petroleum addiction. And that’s a good first step toward reforming the addict. But why don’t more people talk about the companion vices – brute force and dominance and the swaggering loudness that goes with them?

I thought about this while taking a little experimental jaunt yesterday to Genesee Valley Park, towing my canoe by bicycle. (My Dahon folder is just the right height for a workable hitch to an Instep brand kids trailer.) The weather was beautiful. People were all over the Genesee River Trail and the park lawns, especially south of Elmwood Avenue, and several women’s crews were rowing downstream like mad. Everything went according to plan, and I had a fine time, even when occasional stiff gusts made “rounding the Horn” from the river into the Erie Canal a little tricky.

But along with the wonderful sensations of late-afternoon sun and warm breezes came the usual outbreak of an environmental plague: machine noise. As most of you know, Genesee Valley Park is severed by I-390, which crosses the Genesee above the canal-river intersection. There was a political battle decades ago over this stretch of expressway. One side saw completion of the Outer Loop as essential to “modernizing” our local transportation “infrastructure.” The other side understood that the project (as well as the jargon used to justify it) was yet more evidence of corporate-driven loopiness.

Eventually a compromise was reached: The x-way was built through Brighton farmlands and GV Park, and the bridge was thrown across the river; and on the other end of the scale, minimalist sound barriers were attached to the bridge and the multi-use Canal Trail got built. In other words, the compromise was typical of such things in Petro-Amerika: the horsepower guys got everything they wanted, and the environment got a couple token “enhancements.”

So now, and effectively forever, the park will suffer night-and-day assaults from traffic noise – so much so that offensive sounds from the county airport nearby hardly make a difference.

What would Frederick Law Olmsted do? The social visionary who designed Genesee Valley Park couldn’t have anticipated the psychic horrors of modern machine noise – he probably thought the loudest thing heard there would be the patter of hooves – but he knew the terrain.

As Transportation Alternatives (TA), a NY City-based group pointed out a few years ago, Olmsted believed his masterpiece, Central Park, “should present an aspect of spaciousness and tranquility...thereby affording the most agreeable contrast to the confinement, bustle, and monotonous street division of the city." Concepts like tranquility and protection from "bustle" fit the TA agenda perfectly: It was November 1999, and the rgoup was observing – mourning - the 100th anniversary of the automobile’s first appearance in Central Park. TA is still pushing for a car-free park and making some headway against blasts of hot air from the usual lobbies.

You can’t stop me from dreaming of a car-free Genesee Valley Park, starting with the ground-level park roads, which are defiled by motor vehicles (including some substantial trucks) making shortcuts. But the dream will mean little if I-390 is left to pour out its noise and filth.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 12:20 EDT
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Tuesday, 16 May 2006
Wegmans should have egg on its face
Topic: agriculture, animals
Word just came that Adam Durand, one of the brave young folks who went into the Wegmans egg farm in Wolcott to film the industrial-strength abuse of some 700,000 laying hens there, has been sentenced to six months in the Wayne County jail for trespass.

The sentence is way out of line, and hopefully Durand won’t spend the whole time behind bars.

He was very recently found not guilty of several serious charges that the Wayne County DA brought against him – including burglary. These charges were more wildly pumped up than the one of trespass. But the jury apparently understood they were being given bit parts in a corporate show trial, directed by the DA. So they did the right thing and voted to acquit on all but the least serious charge.

Now the Wegmans gang must be crowing; they lost the show trial, but the judge came down hard on Durand, regardless. In the Rochester area, you don’t fool with Mother Unnatural.

Durand and his friends did nothing wrong; they acted morally and affirmatively. When going onto the farm, they didn’t damage property (in fact, they saved some, in the form of ailing hens they rescued). Their purpose was solely to document the horrors of “battery cage” husbandry methods – fowl crammed into tiny spaces, “de-beaked,” exposed to their own feces, kept isolated from earth and sun and prevented from engaging in natural social behavior.

But again, you put at least a chunk of your life and freedom on the line when you embarrass the likes of Wegmans, a company that polishes a squeaky-clean image even as the mountains of manure – chickenshit of the PR variety included – pile up.

My last official dealing with the Wegmans flack-farm occurred a few years ago. I was tracking the company’s plans for expanding the East Avenue store near Winton. It looks like the company is determined to bulldoze some old buildings (one of which is arguably historic) near the present store to make way for a new Big Box (and acres of parking space, too).

Here as elsewhere, the project may take time; even an 800-pound retailer can’t wear down the opposition all at once. But I predict Wegmans will get its way with East Avenue, if it hasn’t already. The corporate voice - a real cockadoodle-doo - sounds as loud in Monroe County as in Wolcott.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:46 EDT
Updated: Thursday, 18 May 2006 07:48 EDT
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Saturday, 29 April 2006
General confusion
Topic: antiwar
Talk about an opportunity squandered.

One of today’s hottest national personalities has plopped himself down on Rochester’s lap, but nobody is asking the right questions.

Major General John Batiste came here recently to become head honcho at Klein Steel. The new Brighton resident left the military as a kind of, sort of protest against Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld’s prosecution of the Iraq war and conduct of the occupation. (I think the qualifiers are merited, considering what must be a cushy, non-sacrificial retirement for the general after 30-plus years in uniform.)

Batiste is just one of a half dozen top-brass retirees who've recently criticized Rummy and the war effort. I suppose it’s meaningful on some level that these guys are doing this. In my experience – and here I speak as an irrevocably and joyfully retired USMC Reserve corporal – most high-ranking officers are Yes Men of the first rank. Things have really got to be bad if they open their mouths. Even when they turn into civilians and, inevitably, CEOs.

Still, neither Batiste nor the others will displace another major general, Smedley Butler, USMC, in the hearts of peace activists and leftists. Butler’s declarations (“I was a gangster for capitalism,” etc.) set him comfortably apart from any loyal opposition.

But on to the important questions for Batiste and company:

The Uniform Code of Military Justice, the governing document for all people in uniform, keeps coming up in discussions of Abu Ghraib, attacks by US troops on Iraqi civilians, etc. But for all its emphasis on the duties of subordinates, the UCMJ makes it clear that military personnel have a duty to obey lawful orders only (cf. the Nuremberg principles).

And it follows that if US actions in Iraq were and are unlawful, any orders related to carrying out the US mission there are equally unlawful.

So, dear Generals, why are you beating around the bush with issues like leadership, troop strength and deployment strategies?

Give us the goods: Do you think the war is legal or not? The world wants to know.

And here's another angle. If you thought the war was illegal back when you were in charge, why didn’t you refuse to follow or give orders in connection with the war effort, or failing that, resign immediately and make the matter public when it would really have meant something?

Conversely, if you thought or think the war is legal and should be fought until there’s some kind of conclusion, does it acually make much difference if a boob like Rumsfeld is in charge? You were moving in the circles of power, and you presumably have some good stories to pass along in this regard.

Whatever your feelings about the war’s legality, you couldn’t be unaware that the US occupation of Iraq is a disaster, that it’s making things there worse, and that the Iraqi people want US forces to get out with all deliberate speed. So why not, like Representative Jack Murtha and others, call for a withdrawal of US troops? Are you prepared to show some political courage? Or will you stay with the straight and narrow, the high and tight?

That’s what it comes down to, Generals. You need to ask yourselves some questions the media, if not some tribunal, should be asking you.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:50 EDT
Updated: Monday, 1 May 2006 21:20 EDT
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Monday, 24 April 2006
Signs of the anti-Times
Topic: media criticism
Over the last few weeks, a local story with strong national implications has been playing out in the surprisingly small world of New York City media.

The once radical Village Voice, now an institution with the predictable baggage of one, dropped the axe on a pair of America’s best veteran journalists, Sydney Schanberg and James Ridgeway.

Schanberg, famed for his reportage from Cambodia during the genocide of the 1970s, was essentially pushed to the extreme; he resigned in protest over changes wrought by the VV’s new owner, the New Times corporation, a Phoenix-based “alternative” media chain that’s metastasizing throughout the country. Ridgeway lasted a bit longer at his post. But the dogged investigative journalist, who spent more than 30 years at the Voice and practically defined its news coverage, was fired by the new head honcho, the otherwise negligible Michael Lacey.

Recently Doug Ireland (check out this wonderful journalist at commented: “That these two superb journalists -- Schanberg and Ridgeway -- have now vanished from the Voice is a symbol of what is happening to that paper, and of what will most likely happen to all the other alternative weekly papers in the Voice chain…” And Ireland ought to know. He did a superb job writing the Voice’s “Press Clips” column, one of the pillars of alternative journalism in its golden age.

Some of you will recall other summary executions at the Voice. The great Alexander Cockburn, now co-editor of CounterPunch (go to vanished from the Voice’s pages before Ireland came on board. And in 2004, Voice management, as if sharpening the blade for future atrocities, fired iconic gay journalist Richard Goldstein along with Sylvia Plachy and four others. (Longtimer Cynthia Cotts, another “Press Clips” writer, resigned in protest, as well.)

The Voice has steadily gone downhill in the past few years – which is what happens inexorably to those who take the low road.

But what’s going on in New York, Phoenix, and other big “markets” should concern us all. As the troglodytes press on with the devolution, the alternative weekly newspapers as we’ve known them have been selling out. Consequently, the energy that once powered the alt weeklies now belongs to various online independent media – everything from indymedia and lefty blogs to alt hybrids like the Columbus Free Press, which offers a true alternative to the demi-alt Columbus Alive. It’s in such venues, online and in print, that you’ll find the really interesting writers and activists – the likes of Cockburn, Harvey Wasserman, Norman Finkelstein, Ali Abunimah, Michael Albert, Lydia Sargent, Vandana Shiva… the list goes on.

If you’re looking for the main reasons the “alternatives” are cutting off their nose to spite their increasingly featureless face, consider these: (1) they’re essentially cash cows for their owners, whatever the page-one posturings; (2) they’ve bought into a new readership-building philosophy and format that emphasize lifestyle (read: selling lots of crap), trendiness (ditto) and misdirected rebelliousness and de-emphasize or expunge critical analysis and commentary, particularly that of the genuine left. This is not to say that the alt weeklies are devoid of good writers; I know a few of them myself, with the accent on “few.”

But all things considered – excuse the Freudian slip, but today’s alt weeklies demand comparison with NPR news shows and similar fluff - is it any wonder more and more serious people are recycling these rags unread?

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:16 EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 25 April 2006 07:49 EDT
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