Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

FCC: Move to digital hasn't improved local news reporting

From the “The Feds Are The Last To Know Department”:

The Federal Communications Commission released a study today reporting that an “explosion of online news sources in recent years has not produced a corresponding increase in reporting, particularly quality local reporting …” The study, titled “Information Needs of Communities” takes a broad but somewhat shallow look at the media landscape. It reads as more of a history of how modern media arrived at its current state than as a clear, practical recipe for change.

The study — which looks at the local reporting performance of all media, not just that of newspapers — was undertaken by senior FCC adviser Steven Waldman, a former journalist for Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report. According to his study:

In many communities, we now face a shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting. The independent watchdog function that the Founding Fathers envisioned for journalism — going so far as to call it crucial to a healthy democracy — is in some cases at risk at the local level.

Well, duh. Continue reading

The American Parliament: our nation’s 10 political parties

Part two in a series.

Forgive me for abstracting and oversimplifying a bit, but one might argue that American politics breaks along the following 10 lines:

  • Social Conservatives
  • Neocons
  • Business Conservatives
  • Traditional Conservatives (there’s probably a better term, but I’m thinking of old-line Western land and water rights types)
  • Blue Dog Democrats
  • New Democrats
  • Progressives Continue reading

Conservatives, Progressives and the future of representative democracy: what would an American Parliament look like?

Part one in a series.

A little thought experiment for a Monday morning…

Over the past few years I have tried to make as much sense as I could out of the American political landscape. By nature, I’m a theoretically minded thinker, and the point of these exercises has been to try and articulate the structures, shapes, motivators and dynamics the define who we are so that I might develop better theories about why so that I might then think more effectively about how we might be nudged in a more productive direction. Facts → Theory → Action, in other words.

I have observed a few things along the way.

The town the War of 1812 built

by Talbot Eckweiler

Part four in a five-part series.

Constance Barone sits at her office desk and adjusts her spectacles. For the last eight years, she’s been the site manager for Sackets Harbor Historic Site near Watertown, New York. In 2012, the site will celebrate its bicentennial anniversary as one of the major sites of the War of 1812. While two hundred years makes for many a memory, for Barone, the site holds a personal history that spans three generations.

“My mother’s father was in the naval militia, so he was involved right here on this property,” Barone says. “My mother as a teenager grew up here, in this house. They lived here and this was my mother’s bedroom,” she says and nods at the office area.

The Lieutenant’s House, a pale-yellow brick building, was built in 1847 for the second in command of the navy yard. Narrow, low-ceiling staircases and uneven wooden floors lead to dark rooms settled in silent repose. In October, the peak tourist season has passed, and now the site settles down for winter. Continue reading

Raptor rehab helps birds, people, parks


Moonlight, a male American barn owl. Moonlight was bred in captivity
for educational purposes

by Talbot Eckweiler

Part three in a five-part series.

Ava, Moonwink, Bella, Starlight: they are but a few of characters cast in Eagle Dream. Ava is a hunter; Starlight is a dancer. Moonwink has trouble keeping his eyes open, and Bella hails from across the Mississippi river.

Each has a distinct personality, a personal history. Each is a raptor, a bird of prey.

Some are rescue cases; others were bred in captivity for falconry or educational purposes. Their keeper, Mark Baker, started his chapter of raptor rehab just last year, and already he’s rescued an estimated forty birds.

When Baker rescues a bird, he does his best to release back to nature as soon as possible. “Because I have so many birds, when I release them, I like to split them up so they’re not all released in one area. Sometimes, I go to the state park area,” Baker says. Continue reading

New York's state parks an easy target in times of budgetary crisis

Text and photos by Talbot Eckweiler

Part one in a five-part series.

EDITOR’S NOTE: New York again faces a devastating state budget shortfall. Last year, when wrestling with an $8.2 billion budget shortfall, then-Governor David Paterson considered massive cuts to the state park system as one way to close the gap. The impact on the state’s conservation and preservation efforts would have been calamitous. As lawmakers again consider ways to shore up another catastrophically wobbly budget, a look at last year’s controversy can serve as an important reminder about the educational, recreational, and economic value of the park system. At a time when other states are also looking at severe budget crises, this can serve as a cautionary tale for others.

In the spring of 2010, my Facebook newsfeed showed several of my friends had joined a group called “Save New York State Parks.” I followed the link and learned that the New York State government drafted a proposal to shut down parts of the park system. In a press release on the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s website (OPRHP), Governor Paterson explained shutting down the parks was a better alternative to cutting costs in education or healthcare, and that the changes to the parks would be good for the overall well-being of the state. Continue reading

Journalism Accomplished: why aren't news organizations telling the whole truth in Wisconsin and why aren't the state's conservatives demanding secession?

I tend to avoid programs produced by major network news divisions like I would the galloping herpes, but I do occasionally tune into CBS Sunday Morning. In its better moments, Charles Osgood helms a tranquil, reflective magazine foregrounding the people, places and things that define what’s best about American culture. At its worst, of course, it’s just another fair and balanced mainstream media medicine show, with a comment from Ben Stein.

This morning we got a frustrating dose of worst, as the producers decided to have a look at what’s happening in Wisconsin. Continue reading

Moral bankruptcy leading states to financial bankruptcy

How mind-bogglingly crazy is it that several states—including my own New York—are considering bankruptcy?

Of course, states don’t qualify for bankruptcy, but a move is afoot in Congress to create a kind of bankruptcy-like status for states.

Bankruptcy for states would raise huge issues of sovereignty. It would throw the municipal bond market into chaos. It would just downright look bad, undercutting what little public faith remains in government. There are all sorts of reasons why this could be hugely problematic.

But worst of all, it would be a loud-and-clear admission by lawmakers that they can’t get their fucking acts together and behave responsibly.

Has it really come to this? Continue reading

Cyber warriors race to Mars

The Hundred Year StarshipNASA and its spooky Sith-lord counterpart, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, are teaming up to achieve the impossible: interplanetary colonialism. DARPA, known for its role in developing such technologies as the internet and GPS, has also funded cyborg beetles implanted with electrodes that control their flight by radio, battery powered human exoskeletons, and ravenous robots called EATRs which find and consume biomass (read humans) for fuel.

The stated purpose of DARPA is to maintain military supremacy through technological superiority. During the dark nights after Sputnik first blinked overhead, Americans gathered in their bomb shelters and grumbled that we should do something before the other guys do it to us. In our innocence, we had no idea what that something might be, so we put together a crack team of scientific geniuses to discover it. Continue reading

The government’s checkbook too screwed up to audit, says GAO

You know the company’s in trouble when the auditor tells the company that its bookkeeper can’t manage the company’s finances, reconcile balance sheets among different departments, or prepare credible financial statements.

And you know it’s real trouble when the auditor can’t even do an audit and provide the company with a statement of its financial health — or ill health.

That’s what Gene Dodaro, acting comptroller general of the United States and head of the Government Accounting Office, has told the federal government about its fiscal 2010 books: You’re in deep fiscal do-do. Said Dodaro:

Even though significant progress has been made since the enactment of key financial management reforms in the 1990s, our report on the U.S. government’s consolidated financial statement illustrates that much work remains to be done to improve federal financial management.

Apparently, the feds don’t know what to count, how to count it, and how to report the count.
Continue reading

Yo, GOP: Slash regulation? Or spend up to $27 million to save a life?

Many of the seats the Democrats lost in Congress can be attributed to a tea-party and GOP-influenced desire to shrink the size of the federal government. Presumed goals of conservative and GOP winners: Reduce federal spending. Shrink the deficit. Lessen government’s intrusion into people’s lives.

Well, let’s see what these make-government-smaller politicians do with a cost-benefit analysis of this proposal to further intrude into the lives of people who drive.

By 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants every passenger vehicle sold in the United States to have a rear-view camera. That’s available now as an option for many vehicles. The camera displays what’s behind the vehicle on the navigation screen in the dashboard.

Reason: The agency says back-up accidents kill 228 people a year and injure 17,000. More significant reason: About 100 of those killed are children.
Continue reading

It's time for progressives to forget about winning the battle and start concentrating on winning the war

It was Sun Tzu, I believe, who first suggested that in order to win the war, you sometimes have to lose the battle. This precept has been on my mind quite a bit since the results of the recent election began rolling in. For instance…

Earlier today one of my political lists was discussing the aftermath of the elections and pondering the future of the progressive movement, such as it is. In response to a couple of thoughtful comments I posed the following question:

In terms of what’s best for the country in the long run, which would be better:

  • Obama gets re-elected in 2012? Or,
  • Obama gets beaten in 2012, allowing Dems to realign and get started gearing up for 2016 assault on Mt. Mitt?

This is a cynical question, but it is not an insincere one.

The always level-headed Guy Saperstein made an important point: Continue reading

Nota Bene #118: VOTE!

“I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.” Who said it? Continue reading

The greatest election ever!

by Terry Hargrove

Last Friday, I received one of those automated calls that has in the last two months given me the illusion of having lots of friends. This one was about a Tennessee politician named Ty Cobb, and what a miserable Democrat/alleged human being he was, and why I should vote for his opponent, Sheila Butt (real names, I promise).

I found the experience confusing for several reasons. First, I assumed Ty Cobb was a great, but dead, baseball player, and given his penchant for sharpening his cleats to maim second basemen and his all-around foul disposition, I always assumed he was a Republican. I mean, he had balls. Second, I haven’t lived in Tennessee for five years, so I’m getting twice as many of these calls as my fellow Connecticutters. Some people might think that’s unfair, but to me it’s glorious. Continue reading

Nota Bene #117: Wake Up!

“Hollywood is so crooked that Mafia gangsters are entirely outclassed and don’t stand a chance. People in Hollywood are smarter. They have more sophisticated knowledge of money and deals and how to steal legally rather than illegally.” Who said it? Continue reading

The root of all evil will rule mid-term elections

Come Tuesday, Nov. 2, it will not matter whether you vote Democratic, Republican, Independent, Green, Tea, or write-in. That’s because the winning entity will not be on the ballot — and hasn’t been for a very long time.

Come Wednesday, Nov. 3, anchors and pundits alike will announce, pronounce, anoint, or castigate individuals wearing the colors of the Red or Blue parties. Few, if any, will comment on the real winner. The newly elected or re-elected will mouth platitudes such as “the people have spoken” or “we’re here to do the work of the American people.”

Nope. The winners will have been chosen, as they have been on average for half a century by less than half of the voting-age population, to serve the corporate dollar.

That’s because come Nov. 3, the winner of the mid-term elections — and statewide races across the nation — will have been well-hidden corporate and billionaire money.
Continue reading

Hedge funds, sensing profit opportunities, buying distressed newspapers

And now, newspapers’ newest problem: The vultures have descended.

Newspapers continue to lose money and advertising – the New York Times Co. reported print ads would decline 5 percent in the third quarter across all its media. But investors are actually buying newspaper properties, often through bankruptcy sales.

What gives? Are they vultures just picking over already tattered carcasses for spare change? Or do these investors expect to make significant money – somehow?

The New York TimesJulie Creswell reports that

A handful of hedge funds, as well as some big banks, are vying for ownership or have already gained controlling interests in newspapers across the country, including The Los Angeles Times, The Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Chicago Tribune.

And it’s not just newspapers or newspaper companies. They’re buying supermarket tabs, television properties, radio and big publishers. Creswell’s story identifies who’s buying what. But a secretive investor is the most active.

Creswell calls Randall D. Smith a pioneer of vulture investing. Continue reading