Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dissenters in Israel are in despair at the insanity of the continued war

Read this from the New Yorker by way of Yediot Achronot, and this from David Grossman at the NY Times--and weep for a nation that was supposed to be a light unto other nations.

Israel is, after all, a human run state institution, and it has its interests, its foibles and its hubris and follies.

Hopefully, this conflagration will end and there may be another opening for the start of peace talks. It is said war is inevitable. It is also true that peace is inevitable.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A dust up over maps

There was an interesting intellectual dust up back in 2010 at The Atlantic where Andrew Sullivan published a link to an article from pro-Palestinian writer Juan Cole who published a map that showed how much land the Israelis have pulled in over the past 70 years. It was rather striking. And it proved to me what I have felt these past few years, namely, that Netanyahu and Bennett see no two state solution and are constantly wanting to stoke war and terror in order to keep building settlements, and "win" against the Palestinians. It is a mirror image in many respects to the extreme elements in the Palestinian side.

Jeffrey Goldberg, a neo-con of the first order, was upset at the map because there was no "Palestine" for "Palestinians" in 1946 and Cole conveniently forgets that the Israelis accepted the 1947 UN Partition and the Arabs didn't (MJF note: the Palestinians were mostly voiceless then as the first Palestinian nationalist/terror group began in 1955, with the PLO forming out of multiple groups in 1964). But the point of the maps is that Israel has really taken advantage of the failure of peace talks to make "facts on the ground." There is a cynicism in Israeli leadership that gets lost in the moral outrage from those of us who generally support Israel and know we would want revenge against terrorist rocket attacks. It is this Israeli cynicism and Netanyahu/Bennett's one state solution that compels me to refuse to support Israel's attacks on Gaza. There is another way, as David Grossman and others who are Israeli have written or said. Too bad those sorts of folks are not in power.

As I say, it is worth studying the set of maps. And let's again note this dust up occurred in 2010 and is now back in the discussion on the Inter-tubes, as they say.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Secrecy is overrated, but man, is it deadly...

I have long agreed with the late Daniel P. Moynihan that government secrecy is overrated and most intelligence agency skull and daggers is unnecessary (intelligence analysis, however, is often worthwhile, and needs little secrecy to get that job done reasonably well).

Malcolm Gladwell's poignant article about British Soviet intelligence mole Kim Philby proves again how much secrecy is overrated, but shows that Philby really caused a lot of deaths that were unnecessary as well. That makes Philby pretty horrible.

I always found it fascinating that Philby's father was a man who held a high position in the British government, but left to work for the Saudi government and ultimately negotiated on behalf of the Saudis with various Fascist governments including Spain and Germany in the 1930s. See Anthony Cave Brown's book, "Treason in the Blood" (1994).

(Fixed link to Gladwell article...)

Thomas Frank is spot on, others lack understanding of dynamics of leadership and sociology

It is not surprising to me that a technocratic Kevin Drum and an insider like Scott Lemieux cannot see Thomas Frank's point that Obama blew his mandate in 2008. Drum and Lemieux are smart guys and I most often agree with their analysis on most issues.

But here they are wrong.

First, Obama premised his campaign on being transformative. That is why there was such emotion from so many of those who voted for him.

Second, the economy cratered to a point not seen since the Great Depression within the two months before the 2008 election, and the coolness of Obama compared to the strange zigs and zags of McCain, and the meltdown of McCain's vice presidential choice, led many in the elite who otherwise feared his transformative promises, to embrace Obama as a serious person to lead during a growing perilous time.

Third, Obama had a great opportunity to speak to the nation in December 2008 and January 2009 and go around the nation to show all the potholes, roads, bridges and dams that needed fixing or redevelopment, to stand by shuttered buildings and say, "We can fix this! We can build this together!" and I can guarantee you that even a third of the white folks getting ready to join the Tea Party Express would have been saying, "Yeah, that black guy's gonna get me or my child a job! I'm with him!" Infrastructure redevelopment was the right response to a deflationary spiral and destruction of the stock market.

Fourth, Obama always wanted, despite his rhetoric, the Grand Bargain of the banking class, which is to undermine Social Security and Medicare and just make the rich pay a little more in income tax. His solution to the health insurance problem was to make it more complex and leave the insurers with the ultimate power in the marketplace. If he had any real sense of the tradition of Clay to Lincoln to TR to FDR and LBJ (and RFK), he would have sought a different Grand Bargain, one that many of his supporters, including my Dad, for starters, wanted to see; a bargain that said:

1. We will rebuild the nation from the inside out;

2. You, business people, will make money from government contracts for that rebuilding;

3. You, business people in return will allow for union law reform so that the profits you make are reasonably shared.

There is also a political aspect that Obama completely missed, but which Republican leaders often understand. For example, Republican governors who took over shortly after the 2010 midterms, which occurred as result I would say of Obama's failure to seize the moment,* understood structural ways to undermine the opposition and pursue their policies. They went after public employee unions with a vengeance and demonized them and delegitimized them. They knew if the public unions are weakened, and undermined, it took away a major funding base of the opposition and galvanized their own constituencies. That had already happened with the destruction of private sector unions over from the 1970s forward. As Pat Robertson said to a television reporter on Election Night 2004, Dems used to get out the vote in union halls. Republicans get out the vote in churches in a world of few or no union halls.

If Obama had an ounce of what the aforementioned political leaders understood, he would have started with infrastructure redevelopment and made the Grand Bargain union law reform, starting with card check. He'd have gotten it as the business leaders and financial leaders were scared out of their wits and ready to compromise. I had a moment where I thought Obama was truly going to grasp the FDR mantle, particularly when Time Magazine had a cover photo of Obama as FDR--see here for two concrete examples behind the thought of the Time Magazine cover. I thought, if Time Magazine gets it, it must be clear to a significant portion of elite opinion this needs to happen.

But after all is said and done, Obama was not FDR. He was also not Lincoln, contrary to Evan Thomas in Newsweek in late 2008. Lincoln, unlike Obama, was a trial lawyer who knew how railroad magnates thought and how regular folks thought by virtue of representing both. In short, Lincoln knew how the world worked and knew how power was exercised. Obama was a community organizer who lived by consensus-seeking from a position of no power, and then became an academic cog in a university machine. He did not know how to exercise power and did not believe in transformative power, despite his rhetoric in his campaign. And because he was not of the patrician class, like TR, FDR and RFK, he did not realize how overrated financiers and magnates really are. I've met quite a few myself. What they have is either inherited wealth that gives them enormous advantages or they are psychopathic about money. That is all Obama's failure, and consequently, that is our failure as a nation.

And please, folks, let's not pine for Hillary. She has never understood the utility of labor unions, has always been a cheerleader for trade deals that undermined our industrial capacity and has no understanding of what Alexander Hamilton and John Quincy Adams and Albert Gallatin understood about nation building and nation sustaining. She is merely a Republican from the late 1960s, as is Obama. It is why I called them in 2008 Hillobama. She would not have fought for these things or understood the political import of moving to change structures that improve the power of one's constituents, either.

The derision from Drum, Lemieux and other neo-liberals against Frank exposes the limits of these critics, who lack what C. Wright Mills called the "sociological imagination." And frankly, they just don't understand how leadership works.

* Compare the 1934 mid-term election results, which were in a backdrop where FDR had put millions to work already and had stabilized the banking system simultaneously. The Dems won big in 1934, and political scientists still scratch their collective heads not understanding why that occurred. Oy, is all I can say to these clueless academics.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Begin Again: Best soundtrack in years. Innovative romantic comedy

Just saw the film "Begin Again" with my daughter this afternoon. It is a truly innovative romantic comedy that is an homage to NYC and an homage to the creative class in our nation. It also has the best soundtrack I've heard in years (here is a taste, and yes, that is Keira Knightley singing). This film is what "Inside Llewyn Davis" should have been instead of the heartless mess that film was.

Also, I must say that the film pays tribute indirectly to the idea that if we had a guaranteed national income in our nation, we would see a flowering of creativity like we have never seen. There is an obvious do-it-yourself sort of libertarianism spirit going on against greedy record companies, but in the end the creative class, and the characters in the film, really don't think about money except for security and stability to be able to create. Sorta Star Trekky...The use of technology by people in the film will mark the time of this film, the way the technology of the time marks "It Happened One Night" and "Casablanca." The characters' use of technological gadgets drives the plot forward in various ways.

Structurally, the film's opening sequences were deeply moving and powerfully (again that word) creative, where the film begins with Knightley reluctantly getting up to sing at an open mic in a bar, and then cuts back twice to how both her character and Mark Ruffalo's character end up at the same open mic bar. And the scene with Raffalo drunk at the bar showed beautifully the creative mind drunk or high as Ruffalo's character mentally invents an imaginary arrangement to enhance what Knightley was singing at the open mic, even as Knightley looked helplessly sad and unwanted singing with her lone loaned guitar. Adam Levine plays the initial boyfriend of Knightley's character, and he does an outstanding job as the rising modern pop star struggling with authenticity as he rises, then rockets to stardom. He feels his role more than acts it, but it works really well.

This is not a boy meets girl movie. It is about overcoming loss and heartbreak and moving forward--though it also about reconciliation with a major question mark. As I say, it is an innovative romantic comedy worth seeing and hearing. A bow to writer-director John Carney.

ADDENDUM: Three things I should add when discussing this wonderful film:

1. When Raffalo's character invents the arrangement in his head, the film is referencing the way Tom Wilson added bass, electric guitar and drums to "Sound of Silence" to give Simon & Garfunkel their first hit.

2. The film delivers a sharp put down of Dylan designed not so much to attack Dylan as the Dylan Cult. When Keira Knightley's character says Dylan is authentic, Ruffalo's character laughs and delivers the smack down. Later, she mentions Leonard Cohen, who was who I thought she would say instead of Dylan, as Phil Ochs is too complicated because Ochs wanted to jump into stardom at one point or another.

3. The phrase "creative class" is not my own. It belongs to political scientist Richard Florida, for his book using the phrase. My take on the book is here.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The epicenter of nostalgia for the 1960s

What is interesting looking back at the 1960s America is that the decade is reasonably seen as filled with strife and contentiousness. Yet, within that decade there were children's weekday afternoon and weekend morning television programs which conveyed a happy feeling of innocence. A prominent joke from Alan King and other comics who were middle aged in those years was "Who is going to be nostalgic about today?" Twenty five years later, though, there was the "Wonder Years" dramedy show and then there was "Forrest Gump." There is an even deeper nostalgia among those of us who were children in that decade, and songs such as "That Happy Feeling" and Chuck McCann singing "Put on a Happy Face." Then there were television personalities for children's shows, whether it was, in the NY Metropolitan area, "Uncle" Fred Scott, Sandy Becker, McCann, "Officer" Joe Bolton, "Captain" Jack McCarthy, Sonny Fox, Bill McAllister, and of course, Soupy Sales, who are near or at the epicenter of that nostalgic feeling.

Bonus video: From 1975, Bob McAllister welcomes Roger Daltrey of The Who!

Monday, July 14, 2014

We need to treat our cities with more respect and support

I can't imagine Europeans or Canadians treating its own cities in the manner in which Detroit has struggled. This article about the water crisis in Detroit and how the largest commercial users of water have significant arrears in payment but are not subject to water being turned off, unlike citizens, is indirectly related to the first statement because we as a nation need to be more interested in re-building Detroit than Baghdad or Kabul.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Happy Birthday JQA!

I had forgotten that yesterday, July 11, was the birthday of perhaps the greatest failed president, John Quincy Adams. A one term president who his opponents, the Jacksonians, opposed at every turn, Adams was a true visionary who may rightfully be viewed as a "younger brother" of the "Founding Fathers." Adams spoke seven languages, was extremely well read, had an amazing life experience at the top levels of governments from an early age, and after his presidency, returned to Congress as a regular Representative and stood tall against the Slaveocracy that had defeated his presidency.

Adams was responsible for the creation of the Smithsonian after James Smithson, a British man, had left a significant sum of money to the United States to do what our government pleased with it. Adams, who was learned in the natural sciences as well as arts, formulated with a few others what became one of the most amazing governmental institutions from a perspective of enhancing human civilization.

I am reading Fred Kaplan's recently released biography of JQA and while it is familiar, it is brilliantly pursuing my long held thesis that JQA was an amazing visionary for the growth and development of our nation, for which I am deeply gratified. The book is written in a breezy manner for the ease of non-history reading readers. It also has Kaplan's patented literary analysis of a political figure (Kaplan's book on Lincoln's writing style and literary understanding is a remarkable read), which has thrown off some reviewers, unwisely in my opinion. Kaplan and I had a brief flurry of emails as I had defended his book against two reviewers who had shown a lack of understanding of the underside of Andrew Jackson and his political cohorts in the 1820s and 1830s. He enjoyed my responses and admit I was honored he did...

There may be something in the air about JQA because Harvard University Press is releasing in September a similarly themed biography of JQA from Charles Edel entitled "Nation Builder: John Quincy Adams and the Grand Strategy of the Republic." I expect I'll be reading that one at some point as well.

Overall, what made JQA so important is that what he proposed in his 1825 Inaugural Address and the policies he attempted to promote in terms of developing infrastructure (internal improvements was the phrase of the day), promoting the sciences and arts as part of a nation's security and growth, his opposition to slavery as an institution and desire for a more economically open and fluid society did become an important part of our nation's thrust forward. JQA had designed, as President James Monroe's Secretary of State, what became the Monroe Doctrine. Adams definitely wanted a sea to shining sea empire and spoke openly of it. However, he also cautioned, as his hero George Washington said, against foreign entanglements. Adams famously said that our nation should not go out into the world militarily "in search of monsters..." He was without a doubt the most learned man ever to hold the presidency, and our nation made a terrible error in not awarding him a second term and turning the nation over to the often odious Andrew Jackson.