Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The New York State Assembly Sucks


Okay, that's a rather nasty title, but really, they do. Here's why:

The Senate and the Assembly of New York State engage in a practice known as member item spending. Basically, when the "three men in a room" plan the budget they set aside millions of tax payer dollars to give out to their favorite members to spend on projects they like with virtually no public oversight. Until yesterday, the public was denied access to how the money was spent or which member was given money.

The Times Union sued both chambers, specifically Joe Bruno, Senate Majority Leader, and Sheldon Silver, Assembly Speaker, under the Freedom of Information Act here in New York. A judge ruled that both men must give up the information. Silver did so first, but initially struck the names of the Assembly members who received the money! I'm not kidding.

(If they didn't think what they were doing was wrong, why hide the names of the Assembly members? And, why "protect" them? It's not like the Assembly members are in a witness protection program. They simply received unregulated, unsupervised money to spend on any pet project they pleased.)

Okay, but that's not why the Senate sucks (that's why the Assembly sucks). Here's why the Senate sucks:

So, yesterday both chambers released Adobe PDF documents of the 3,000 documents or so on the member item spending. But, here's the thing, both offices scanned the documents as images, not as text, so there's no way to search the thousands of pages or import the data into a program that would help with the analysis.

When the Times Union went back to the Assembly, Silver's staff acquiesced and produced text-based PDF documents. When they went to the Senate, Bruno's staff member John McArdle said, "What the Senate has been willing to do is to provide the information [author's note: only under court order] . . . . Our understanding is that this is all you're entitled to." And here's my favorite part: "Bottom line, that's all you're going to get."

Don't you just LOVE that?!?

The arrogance, and the lack of any sense that they have an obligation to provide USEABLE information to the public. It's shocking. It makes me supremely angry. These public officials have no regard for the public. It's disgraceful. That Bruno is still in office can only be because that man can bring home the bacon like no other pork dealer in this state. It's certainly not because he has any regard for transparency in politics.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Give to Your Local Food Bank

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I tend to reflect back on past Thanksgivings, and people, events, and things in my life that make me thankful.

One thing I am thankful for is food. I know that sounds rather silly, but when I was a teenager, food was scarce at times. My Mom had mental health and chemical dependency issues, which led her down a classic path of divorce, economic distress, job insecurity, job loss, and welfare. Since she had custody of me and my brother, we joined that path with her. There was a set of Thanksgivings and Christmases that were made possible only through the generosity of others. That generosity was funneled through our local food bank.

So, this Thanksgiving weekend, be thankful that you are not one of the estimated 35 million Americans (according to the Agriculture Department) that do not have regular access to food on a given day. Be generous and give to your local food bank.

In the richest nation in the world, no one should go hungry.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Touch(ed)

I spent this weekend in San Antonio, Texas at the National Communication Association annual meeting. This is the big, national conference for communication teachers and researchers. When I say big, I mean 8,000 people big this year. That's a lot of communication people.

These conferences serve as a place for people to share ideas and present research. It is also a reunion of sorts. Here, once a year, friends from graduate school or from prior jobs converge in one location. I roomed, for example, with two dear friends from my Annenberg days, had lunch with two dear friends from my Minnesota days, had drinks with senior scholars in the field, had dinner with friends and possible collaborators of future research projects. I had chance encounters with old acquaintances and old friends who had grown distant.

In nearly all of those interactions, the one element that seemed to be a constant was touch: hugs, handshakes, hands on shoulders and upper arms or around the back, kisses on cheeks or lips. Greetings in this context seem to require some form of touch. Why?

I think when we see acquaintances and friends whom we rarely get to see, physical touch communicates more effectively and deeply the reality of that connection than can words. We rarely if ever physically touch strangers, and when we do we often apologize (think about walking through a crowded hallway of strangers: bump into somebody's arm as you're passing through and you apologize). We also rarely touch people we see on a daily basis, with exceptions of family members or really close friends. I don't often touch my co-workers, and I certainly don't give them a hug everytime I see them standing by the coffee pot in the office (can you imagine what a reputation one might get for doing so?).

As I think about my interactions with my friends and colleagues at the conference, I often remember the warm embraces, and the feeling such physical connection brings: warmth, connection, love.

That's why I enjoy conferences.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Election Post Mortem

Like all political junkies I was up until the wee hours Tuesday night into Wednesday morning watching the returns come in. When it was clear Montana, Missouri, and Virginia were not going to be decided in the next few hours, I went to bed.

I woke up with the news that Missouri had been called for McCaskill, leaving Montana and Virginia. By Friday, the outcome was clear: The Democrats were the majority in both the House and the Senate.

I am relieved to see, at last, a check on the executive. I believe it is problematic when both the executive and the legislative branches are held by the same political party. The legislative branch as of late has been especially meek, tepid, and mostly useless, with too many legislators saying "Yes" to whatever the executive asks for, while lining their pockets with lobbyist money, and bringing home the bacon to constituents to ensure the lever gets pulled for them the next election cycle.

And, even though there were ridiculously few genuinely competitive races this year, I'm heartened to see Americans rejecting another 2 years of what we've seen the last 6. I don't think the budget, our foreign policy, or minimum wage workers can stand much more of the same.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

My Brother Passed the Bar!

I just have to shout it out to the world - my brother passed the Maryland Bar exam.

Mark, I am SO proud of you.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Congressman Sweeney's Ad Lies

So, Factcheck.org released an analysis of the latest ad in Republican Congressman Sweeney's arsenal in his re-election run against challenger Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand here in upstate New York. It's been an especially nasty race since September, and it just got nastier.

Factcheck.org analyzes an ad that attacks Gillibrand for being a war profiteer, taking illegal campaign contributions, harassing a fallen soldier's mother, and (my favorite) making little kids cry (I'm not kidding).

Factcheck exposes the claims for what they are - lies.

It's disgraceful and Sweeney should be held accountable for such lousy antics.

Good ol' Aristotle argued that effective persuasion was possible when the person attempting to persuade had upstanding moral character and genuinely had the interests of those he was trying to persuade at heart. Where did that go in this country? The authors of the new book, The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power, reveal that Rove has targeted Christian conservatives for both legislation and mobilization tactics to strengthen the dominance of the Republican party. Rove himself, though, has no particular affinity with God, and does not necessarily hold the values of the Christian conservatives he is targeting. He has encouraged such overtures solely for strategy - to help benefit the Republican party.

Where are the people who genuinely believe the values they preach? Where are the people with values, period?