Tuesday, January 31, 2006

SOTU of the Terrible President: What he says and what he means

Here are the highlights of the Terrible President's State of the Union address this evening:

What he said: "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world...So tonight I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants; revolutionary solar and wind technologies; and clean, safe nuclear energy."

What he means: Yes, and me and my oil baron and oil soaked friends will continue to maintain the primacy of oil, come hell or hellish climate changes. And if I can help agribusiness make money on corn based ethanol, that's okay, too. And notice how I say I am for solar and wind power research and development--but I placed that in the same sentence with my real goal: the re-vitalization of nuk-u-lar energy, for my special friends in the energy industry. Sorry my friend Kenny Boy Lay is gonna miss this bonanza!

What he said: "There is no peace in retreat...Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy." What he means: Lying, blaming others, and continuing to lie is an effective policy for me, as long as the media stays compliant.

What he said: "Terrorists like bin Laden are serious about mass murder and all of us must take their declared intentions seriously." What he means: That's why I made more of them in Iraq, wasn't really concerned about bin Laden in the past, and figure that if I speak with a serious tone and sound tough, the Beltway pundits will salivate like the Pavlovian dogs they are.

What he said: "We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it." What he means: Dick Cheney and I, and our wealthy friends from Exxon to Saudi Arabia to Uzbekistan, love our money and power--and we will wiretap without warrants, torture, and drop less than smart bombs in cities where darker skinned people live in order to keep it.

What he said: "(T)here is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure." What he means: And if I keep living in my bubble and ignoring what Rummy's destruction of America's military, and we pressure the broadcast media like we do with retribution ("You'll never get a controlled leak again!"), I will continue to convince enough voters out there to believe my bullshit.

What he said: "In recent years, you and I have taken unprecedented action to fight AIDS and malaria, expand the education of girls, and reward developing nations that are moving forward with economic and political reform." What he means: This is where I make it sound like I meant what I said, but I didn't put nearly as much money behind this stuff as I promised.

What he said: "In the last five years, the tax relief you passed has left $880 billion in the hands of American workers, investors, small businesses and families. And they have used it to help produce more than four years of uninterrupted economic growth." What he means: Who really cares that my tax cuts didn't spur anything but a greater series of deficits. And most of that money went to investors and rich friends of mine. And it's been uninterrupted economic growth for my friends, stagnation for the rest of you--ha ha, suckers! Hey, quick! There's a homosexual over there! And whoa, wouldya lookie here? Is that some "liberal" attacking Christmas? Better get on it!

What he said: "This year my budget will cut it again and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities." What he means: Yup, screw over middle class families that need college loans, so we can increase "voluntary military recruitment." And cut food stamp programs. Isn't that what Jesus stands for? Tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts that harm the poor and middle class? No? Well, you must be heathen, then. My Jesus tells me I'm doin' great!

What he said: "Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security...


... yet the rising cost of entitlements is a problem that is not going away."

What he means: You bastards applauded my failure to kill Social Security? Well, like a vampire, I'm gonna keep coming back at you all! Bwaaaa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

What he said: "We will strengthen health savings accounts, making sure individuals and small-business employees can buy insurance with the same advantages that people working for big businesses now get. And because lawsuits are driving many good doctors out of practice -- leaving women in nearly 1,500 American counties without a single OB/GYN -- I ask the Congress to pass medical liability reform this year." What he means: Sure, these health savings accounts (HSA's) need $3,000 or more in deductibles to be put aside for a family every year, something most of you can't do, but hey, just get a better paying job! Plus, I like dividing people--and dividing people among the healthy and sick is just devine to me...And despite the fact that there is more evidence that lawsuits have nothing to do with "driving many good doctors out of practice", I want to ensure that our doctors can't get sued when they main and kill patients--unless you're a certain senator friend of mine.

What he means overall: Remember, America. Slavery is freedom. War is peace. I'm a divider, not a healer. I play to your fears, not our nation's strength. And what's good for my cronies is good for the country. Amen.


Upton Sinclair, Sacco & Vanzetti, Part II

Greg Mitchell, the editor of Editor & Publisher, and author of the fine book on Upton Sinclair's ill-fated, though almost miraculous gubernatorial campaign in California in 1934, has weighed in on the Sinclair letter I previously posted.

It confirms why I thought the original article by Jean Pasco was terribly edited and cut apart. While Greg Mitchell believes there is more reason to believe Sacco & Vanzetti were innocent, I remain far more convinced of their guilt. It was not just Fred Moore, their former attorney. Carlos Tresca, a fellow anarchist during the time in which Sacco & Vanzetti were active anarchists, also admitted their guilt, and of course, Ideale Gambarra's dad, who served on the original Sacco & Vanzetti committee. The then-famous writer, John Dos Passos, who wrote an impassioned pamphlet on the case (I found a copy of it at a used book store), later learned from various sources about Sacco & Vanzetti's guilt. As I also wrote in my original post, I had recalled Sinclair had heard this from a source other than Fred Moore, the lawyer who, at the time he spoke to Sinclair, was no longer representing Sacco & Vanzetti. Greg Mitchell's article confirms Sinclair had more than one source.

In any case, I want to defend Jean Pasco, the LA Times reporter who wrote the article. She had told me in the summer of 2005 that the article was supposed to be long, was supposed to go over Sinclair's own doubts about their guilt or innocence (something I frankly forgot about until I read Greg Mitchell's article). In turn, I gave her some background and sources about the times in which the Sacco & Vanzetti trial, and later execution, took place. As I have said, I led her to Ideale Gambarra (a friend of my cousin's in northern CA), and I gave her some sources to read about the Teens and 20s and the repression of radicals during that time, including the famous case of a truly wrongly convicted union man, Tom Mooney, in San Francisco.

Greg Mitchell, a major fan of Sinclair's (even more than me!), may be right that "Boston" had an ambiguous ending. That was a Sinclair novel I tried to read, but did not find compelling to finish ("Oil!" is the best novel of Sinclair's that I have read). But he is still avoiding the sad truth that, despite the prosecutorial corruption in the Sacco & Vanzetti trial, there is more reason to find they were guilty than otherwise.

One thing, though, he is spot on about: Jonah Goldberg's article was a textbook example of Red-baiting. It was not written to enlighten, but to de-legitimize an entire group of activists, historical and modern, who have so often stood for the very values that make our nation so loved, despite the terrible president we currently have.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Pathetic Dems, but a glimmer of hope

As Digby says, the fact that Diane Feinstein and some others who are always running to the corporate-Beltway inside position decided to support the filibuster says the left blogosphere and MoveOn are continuing to gain strength within the Democratic Party. This is the only piece of good news, however, as civil libertarians of any political viewpoint should be saddened by the 75-25 vote to cut off debate on the Alito nomination.

Here (hat tip to Atrios) are the 25 who voted for the filibuster and against ending the filibuster (against cloture):

Bayh, Evan (D-IN)
Biden, Joseph R., Jr. (D-DE)
Boxer, Barbara (D-CA)
Clinton, Hillary Rodham (D-NY)*.
Dayton, Mark (D-MN)
Dodd, Christopher J. (D-CT)
Durbin, Richard (D-IL)
Feingold, Russell D. (D-WI)
Feinstein, Dianne (D-CA)*
Jeffords, James M. (I-VT)
Kennedy, Edward M. (D-MA)*
Kerry, John F. (D-MA)
Lautenberg, Frank R. (D-NJ)
Leahy, Patrick J. (D-VT)
Levin, Carl (D-MI)
Menendez, Robert (D-NJ)*
Mikulski, Barbara A. (D-MD)
Murray, Patty (D-WA)
Obama, Barack (D-IL)
Reed, Jack (D-RI)
Reid, Harry (D-NV)
Sarbanes, Paul S. (D-MD)
Schumer, Charles E. (D-NY)
Stabenow, Debbie (D-MI)*
Wyden, Ron (D-OR)

* running for re-election in 2006

As for those Democrats who either supported Alito by either a "yes" vote or voting to close debate: These Democrats deserve primary challenges or at least should be denied DNC money for the rest of the year. They have capitulated and have been played for fools by the permanent pundit and cocktail hour class that controls the DC Village. The roll call, please, of those capitulators:

Daniel Akaka, Hawaii
Max Baucus, Montana
Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico*
Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia*
Maria Cantwell (!!!), Washington
Thomas Carper, Delaware
Kent Conrad, North Dakota
Byron Dorgan (!!!), North Dakota
Tim Johnson, South Dakota
Mary Landrieu, Louisiana
Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut*
Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas
E. Benjamin Nelson, Nebraska*
William Nelson, Florida
Daniel Inouye (!), Hawaii
Mark Pryor, Arkansas
Jay Rockefeller, W. Virginia
Ken Salazar, Colorado

* running for re-election in 2006

The Senate women who voted for ending the Alito debate are doubly pathetic. They couldn't even stand up for their sex, let alone their party. And some of the people on this list are stunning, such as Tom Harkin and Maria Cantwell. UPDATE: I removed Harkin's name because he was out of the country and was not present. I am not happy about this, either, but it's not enough to put him in the Hall of Shame, after all.

Oh, and let's not forget those "moderate" Republicans like McCain and Collins who voted for this guy without any qualms. And Chaffee, who was really a coward: Voting against Alito and then against cloture. Sorry, Chaffee, that was really a pro-Alito vote. These "moderate" Republicans have been and continue to be weak themselves. Lincoln himself would be appalled at this weakness.

Over at MaxSpeak, Max is rightly reminding his readers that he was against the "grand compromise" of June 2005 on judicial nominations--and that this cave-in on Alito is proof that it was a capitulation, not a compromise. Me, too , Max.

Again, however, let's keep the following perspective: Without the blogosphere DiFi and some of those others (HillaryBiden, for example) on the "25" list would have capitulated too. It is not how effective the liberal and left blogosphere are at this point, it is how much worse it would be without them. And to think, just last week, I had scolded the Zen Historian Gore Vidal for being too pessimistic...

I'll feel better tomorrow, I guess. Onward and upward, folks...


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Ho-hum. Another Republican outrage

Can anyone see Jesus supporting this latest change in our tax laws on behalf of those who least need the money to live, while cutting programs designed to aid the most vulnerable in our society?

I wish those working class Americans who obsess against homosexuals and abortion would stop and reflect upon things like this action by this Republican president and Congress. Maybe some are, which may explain some of the Terrible President's poor poll showings. But obviously, not enough have expressed their sense of betrayal...yet. Please send the linked article to all your friends, no matter their views, and ask: How would Jesus have voted on these tax and budget spending proposals?

UPDATE: Here is an article to provide further perspective in terms of wealth accumulation. The top 1 to 5% get richer, the rest stagnate (after inflation, either just behind or slightly ahead) or fall in economic power.

Sunday thoughts about the environment

This article is enough to get us to say to those who believe human contribution to climate change is not significant: Tell us what you are going to say or do if you are wrong. "I'm sorry" won't cut it.

Then, let's say this to such people: In the face of the evidence already in existence, it is more prudent to take immediate actions to lessen fluorocarbons in the atmosphere than to continue current policies.

Here are realistic solutions offered by those who view climate change as something to which humans have significantly contributed. In reviewing these links, I am struck by how the solutions offered can have a positive effect on economic growth while promoting values that protect our climate from worse disruption and safeguard our environment.

I also believe, however, that we have more time than some of the scientists believe, because the earth has quite extraordinary renewable powers. It is up to us, though, to help where we can. This article from the Washington Post Book World tells the story of the dust bowl (another review of the book was linked to a few weeks ago) of the 1930s, how it got to be the "dust bowl" and how the New Deal government programs of soil renewal worked to renew the soil in those areas.

It is often good to voice skepticism against doomsday scenarios, as the population bomb scenarios of the 1960s should have taught us (Paul Ehrlich was less a "leftist" than an elitist like Thomas Malthus. In Malthus' time, Karl Marx was one of Malthus' most ardent critics). Less academic, I urge readers to get to a library and read the Dec/Jan issue of Natural History. There is an essay by Neil deGrasse Tyson, not online (a shame!) about the earth and the universe that was fascinating reading. One of his points was that the earth and universe are cooling over geologic time. This made me think that if we didn't have human-made fluorocarbons out there, maybe we'd be worrying about a new ice age right now.

But that is precisely the problem with so much thinking about climate change. We overcorrect and worry about doomsday scenarios instead of seeking the sorts of practical solutions that increase economic wealth, but are, at worst, not harmful to the environment: Tell me how solar energy use will cause air pollution the way fossil energy does. Tell me how an electric vehicle causes harm to the ozone layer the way gas vehicles may in fact do.

While skepticism is a good response to doomsday scenarios, it is not a good response for our nation's and world leaders to continue to do little or nothing--and, worse, continue to promote fossil burning fuel consumption in not merely the US, but places such as China or India. Mass transit, solar and wind power, and electric vehicles are an international solution, not merely a domestic one.


Friday, January 27, 2006

An excellent analysis of the Hamas victory

As I wrote a few days ago, swing voters who are not into long-term political analysis tend to be highly motivated to vote out the political party in power when that party is exposed as deeply corrupt and haven't delivered peace or prosperity (and most of the time, that's a good thing). The Hamas victory at the polls is no exception in terms of explaining the Hamas victory in the Palestinian areas surrounding Israel.

With the election victory for Hamas, there is some reason to think Hamas may be forced into conceding the existence of Israel because they are now the government. There appear to be more and more Palestinians, despite this vote, who no longer want war and figured the best way to stop Hamas was put the organization into the open with no ability to attack the Palestinian Authority. On the other hand, if the marjority of Hamas leaders interpret their victory as a mandate for war against Israel, the Israelis now have a direct government target no different than the Americans did with Japan and Germany in World War II.

David Bernstein, over at the rightward oriented Volokh Conspiracy, is someone I don't think I have much agreement with concerning political or economic issues. However, his analysis of the Hamas victory mirrors many, though not all, of my thoughts on this subject. Thanks, David, for saving me some time when I've been obsessing on the Alito nomination! My only quibble is this: Has Hamas really observed a truce these last six months? Does retaliation count as observing a truce, for example? And are there no instances where there were Hamas suicide bombers acting more aggressively to not deserve the pharse "retailiation only"?

In any event, I do agree with Bernstein's opening phrase of his post that the election of the Hamas party may have been a victory for terrorists, but not necessarily for terrorism. Smart diplomacy by Israel could create a Nixon-goes-to-China/Russia scenario, though the Middle East is the land of lost opportunities these past sixty years.


Open letter to Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)

I just sent this to Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader for the Dems:

Don't let the weakness of those Senators who are unwilling to filibuster become the public face of the Democratic Party concerning the Alito nomination. Alito has already told you that Congress may not constitutionally tell the president not to torture people. With everything else you've heard, to put this man on the Supreme Court for a lifetime appointment at this time is the worst thing that can happen to that august institution.

DO THE FILIBUSTER! Make the Democrats stand tall. Make the ones who do not want to stand tall vote for cloture with the Republicans. If that happens, every one of those Democrats should lose funding from the DNC, even those running for re-eleciton. And those who are running for re-election should immediately face opponents in the primary funded by the DNC. This is not a threat. This is how parties have to maintain some principled discipline among members on an issue as important as Alito--particualrly as Alito is replacing O'Connor, who was often a "swing" vote on the Court.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Undermining optimism

As I wrote in a long post last evening, if the Congressional Dems keep rolling over to Republicans, even when the Terrible President and Congressional Republicans are suffering from self-inflicted wounds, then there is far less reason to be optimistic.

This article from the Washington Post is telling me we have no reason to believe the Dems are going to filibuster Judge Alito's appointment to the US Supreme Court--when the evidence is clear he is a supporter of the Terrible President's administration's view that torture is okay, is a big supporter of government's right to eavesdrop on US citizens without any warrants or probable cause, and may well end up overturning Roe v. Wade (either relegating it to a state matter or worse, deciding a fetus is a person in all respects, which I guess makes us all nine months older than we are...A little humor helps, I think).

Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), as majority leader, needs to start the filibuster and dare those Dems who don't want to filibuster to vote against his leadership. That's what real leaders do. They take the risks of their office on important issues. While I can think of more important issues than the US Supreme Court nominees (such as trade deals, labor reform, tax issues, and foreign affairs), this is an important enough issue because we are talking about a permanent seat to replace a swing vote--and the issues Alito will hear may involve the very backbone of our Founders' fear of an unchecked executive.

This is a moment to watch the national Democratic Party leaders in the Senate. And for the grass roots activists to rise up against those who do not want to filibuster.

UPDATE: Robert Byrd (D-WV), Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Tim Johnson (D-S. Dakota) have said they will approve Alito. Aren't there any good Democrats in W. Virginia, Nebraska and S. Dakota willing to run in primaries against these guys? Democrats who will not fight, and that means you too Harry Reid (D-NV), are not worth supporting any longer. Alito is taking O'Connor's place, Senator Reid!

The weakness among these capitulating Democrats is now at pathetically deep levels. The Dems who support a filibuster should begin a filibuster, dare these other Democrats to vote with the Republicans for cloture, and then, as to those who voted with the Republicans for cloture, analyze the by-laws and rules at the DNC and see if the DNC can cut funding from the DNC to those who failed to support the filibuster. If the Dems show some unity here for once, they will force the Republicans to vote to repeal the filibuster rule in an election year where everyone will see clearly how radicalized these Republicans are. Republican women who support Roe v. Wade and libertarians who normally vote Republican are mighty nervous right now and this will show them another big reason why they must vote Democratic in the mid-term elections later this year.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Gore Vidal pens an essay that gets me thinking...

Gore Vidal, who often provides a perspective about history and society that is best described as sweeping (despite my ocassional wincing at some of those sweeping statements!), has penned his best essay in some years. It begins with a comparison of the Terrible President to Jonah, of Jonah and the Whale in what my Christian friends call the Old Testament, and we Jews simply call Torah.

Anyway, the link at Truthdig, where this essay is located, contains the extra pleasure of allowing one to hear Vidal read his essay. Vidal's voice is as charming as they come; so wise, witty and worldly, even in less than great health at the age of 80. And that also describes the content of his knowledge in so many areas.

I do, however, have a bone to pick with this Zen Master of American history. It is when he falls into his deep rooted elitism that leads to an attack on the so-called educational level of his fellow Americans. The truth is that most of humanity does not obsess about history or geography; never have, likely never will. If anything, more Americans today have more knowledge of the world around them than they had, say, in the 1930s, where most Americans couldn't tell you where Germany or France was even located--despite having fought against the Germans and with the French in World War I some 20 years before.

As we who are obssessed with world events get older, and continue to read about and study history and politics, we become more and more disappointed that those who are not so obsessed fall further and further behind us in consciousness and perspective of such world events. Kind of like physicists and biologists who pull their collective hair out when explaining again and again why Darwin's theory has been quite successfully tested in a number of areas. Remember what Will Rogers said, "Everyone's ignorant--just on different subjects." A little humility may actually cause us to feel more hopeful about each other.

Also, Vidal's point where he laments the percentages of Americans who would support muzzles on the press is not as bad as one would think from his prose and tone. The percentage of Americans who wish to muzzle the press is far less than 50%. Some of those who wish to muzzle the press may be lamenting that the press reports too much on BradAgelina as opposed to serious news. As for the 50% who would support limits on rights of certain religlious people who may be seen as promoting terrorism (read: Muslims), even that percentage seems like it could have been much worse--and has been worse in decades past.

I am not being a Pollyanna, as anyone familiar with the original beginning of my alternative history novel would attest (It posited that the corporatization of the world would continue, with its beggaring people here and abroad, which in turn promotes further the rise of fundamentalist religious despair, while allowing an urban-based elite to experiment with culturally radical biomed advances, such as "newts"--who have artificial retractable and replaceable genitals to be either female or male whenever they wish; people tatooing corporate logos on their bodies to sell products in a world of network marketing independent contracators, not employees, etc.; a superbacterial plague in 2011 that initiates a shadowy dictatorship and a pharmaceutical-military technology complex that eventually constructs a time machine as the ultimate weapon of war and commerce). Somehow, things look better and more hopeful to me in 2006 than it did in 1999 and 2000, when I penned most of that original beginning--even though another part of me says I might still be right if the Dems continue to lose to a Republican coalition that is merely wounded, but not down.

The Internet has been an amazing, if often overhyped, development that allows citizens to directly challenge elite opinion and provides some hope that those of us who have views different from most t.v. and radio pundits are neither isolated nor alone. The one thing that does worry me is that the Terrible President is likely to gain more powers in the event of another terrorist attack on American soil; a prospect I am starting to think bin Laden knows and desires. For even though the 9/11 commission has given the Terrible President and the Republican Congress low grades, we can count on our broadcast media punditocracy to say the Dems are just as bad, no matter the facts--just as they have with this essentially Republican series of financial scandals. The Terrible President is the anti-FDR not merely in terms of domestic economic policy, but also in playing to our nation's worst fears, not our greatest strengths.

Oh dear, I did it again. Wrote too much. Just read Vidal's essay. It is a keeper.


Garry Wills on Jimmy Carter's new book

Garry Wills does a great service in summarizing Jimmy Carter's new book in this article from the NY Review of Books.

I wonder, however, about the percentage breakdown of population to murders is for each of the countries Wills mentions (my sense is that the difference in murder rates, between the US, on the one hand, and Japan and European nations, on the other, mentioned in the article is probably a factor of 10, not 1000).

And speaking of the culture of death, for those who criticize FDR for not bombing the rail lines to Auschwitz, we can now add the obvious genocidal acts in Darfur that continue while we argue and moan about nearly everything else (I count myself in this criticism I am stating).

Monday, January 23, 2006

Quick anatomy of elections

Canada, weary of the Liberal Party (economically corporate, but culturally to the left), and still not wanting to go the New Democratic Party (more akin to the Greens in our nation), went for the Conservative Party tonight.

It is said the Liberals were suffering from a series of scandals, financially based (sound familiar?).

The election results in Canada are why one should not read too much into the results of Latin American nations' elections: For the failures of corporate capitalism and nostrums of "free trade" in Latin America has helped economic populists and put the corporate type candidates on the defensive and ultimately defeat. Elections mostly turn on such things--and if that sounds trite, think about how often the pundits are so often surprised by elections, including the Conservative Party's success this evening.

As our nation heads into the 2006 mid-term congressional elections, Democrats should remember that scandals of a financial nature among legislatures, plus a weak economy (weak in the sense of not helping the vast majority of workers) provide an opportunity for an opposition party that has become used to losing.

Democratic Party leaders must seize the moment. Even if the leadership does not, it must at least support candidates who stand for economic populism and oppose the continuation of American troops in Iraq in those districts where the corruption scandals have hit the Republican incumbents. If the leadership does just that, the Democrats will likely pick up 15 or more seats in the House and perhaps enough to swing four seats in the Senate.

Finally, a word about my life: This weekend, I went backpack hiking (with a backpack weighing 40 pounds) with my son and his Boy Scout troop. We hiked about eight miles the first day and another two miles the next. It was also about 20 degrees Fahrenheit during the night deep in a canyon in Mason Valley and all we had was our relatively small, individual tents. Is this any way for a nice, middle-aged Jewish guy to be spending his time? Well, yes. My son is very grateful--and is learning things about nature and taking care of himself, things his Dad couldn't have taught him on his own. Oh yes, work has also been very busy, which is better than not being busy, isn't it?


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Dr. Assisted Suicide, Yes; Medical Marijuana, No: Sayeth the Court

Today, the US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the State of Oregon can allow their doctors to help their terminally ill patients commit suicide. The decision, entitled Gonzales v. Oregon, is initially hard to square with the Supreme Court's earlier decision in mid-2005, Gonzales v. Raich, where essentially the same majority of Justices overturned a California State law that would have allowed doctors to prescribe marijuana as a pain reliever to cancer patients.

The key passage in the majority opinion of Gonzales v. Oregon that distinguishes the Raich holding is here:

"The present dispute [regarding Oregon's assisted suicide law] involves controlled substances listed in Schedule II [of the Controlled Substance Act], substances generally available only pursuant to a written, nonrefillable prescription by a physician. 21 U. S. C. §829(a). A 1971 regulation promulgated by the Attorney General requires that every prescription for a controlled substance "be issued for a legitimate medical purpose by an individual practitioner acting in the usual course of his professional practice." 21 CFR §1306.04(a) (2005)." [Brackets added]

Now, let's look at a key passage in Gonzalez v. Raich (2005):

"Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance, §812(c), based on its high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and no accepted safety for use in medically supervised treatment, §812(b)(1). This classification renders the manufacture, distribution, or possession of marijuana a criminal offense. §§841(a)(1), 844(a). Pp. 6-11."

As I noted to friends at the time of the Raich decision, the time may be right for either a strong lobbying effort to remove marijuana from Schedule I or attempt another run at the US Supreme Court with a full factually based assault on what petitioners could argue is the unreasonableness and arbitrariness of Congress placing marijuana in Schedule I. Perhaps after today's decision upholding Oregon's suicide assistance law, the Supreme Court may be more willing to hear such an argument.

Underneath these decisions is the fight over when federal law trumps state law. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in Raich because he said the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution does not allow Congress to pass laws that would stop individuals from growing marijuana in their private homes or back yards for private, non-commercial use. Today, just as the majority of justices who overturned the California law switched gears to uphold the Oregon law, Justice Thomas switched sides, too: In Raich, he would have upheld the California law. Today, however, his position was to overturn the Oregon law.

Neither set of Justices are as inconsistent, however, as they may seem. The key is to understand what they view as the overriding question. For the majority, it was whether the drugs involved are in Schedule I or II of the CSA. For Justice Thomas, it is a question of whether there is sufficient evidence of "interstate" commerce for the Congress to regulate the drugs and conduct in question.

The majority of Justices reject Justice Thomas' narrow view of the Commerce Clause, as do I. However, I might have well agreed with the results of Justice Thomas' holdings in the two cases, but for different reasons. With reference to the medical marijuana law in California, I might have found that placing marijuana on Schedule I, while placing drugs that are used to kill people into Schedule II may indicate that Congress may be acting more capriciously than reasonably; thus, the CSA would have to give way to the California law in that instance. Thus, if I found my argument compelling, I would frame the legal question this way: Did Congress act reasonably in wanting to eradicate all use of marijuana to the point where doctors can't prescribe it to cancer patients who then grow it themselves in their own back yard?

Regarding the Oregon law, I may have given more deference to the the US Attorney General (per the CSA law) in his determination that the use of drugs to intentionally kill people is something that would cause the type of harm that the CSA intended to outlaw, i.e. death. This is particularly so when most offical medical opinion, starting with the American Medical Association, has continued to conclude as follows: ""Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as a healer." (See: Scalia's dissenting opinioin in Gonzales v. Oregon). While the majority provides its own medically based reasons, this statement by the AMA clearly calls into question the majority's conclusion as to whether doctor assisted suicide is, in the words of Schedule II's regulations, "a legitimate medical purpose."

From a public policy or political standpoint, I admit to being of two minds regarding assisted suicide. Having watched elderly relatives who had pain in nearly every waking moment, a fairly strong part of me, as a voter or legislator, would support the Oregon law. On the other hand, again as a voter or legislator, I remain concerned that a nation that does not provide health insurance as a right for every American is a nation that should not have "suicide assistance" laws--particularly when poor or not well off individuals may find an economic incentive to seek assisted suicide: The "incentive" being that they do not want to economically burden their families. If we don't think a widespread passing of laws such as the one in Oregon would have that effect, then we are being, frankly, naive.

Anyway, that's my take on the decision from a judicial and legislative policy perspective.


Monday, January 16, 2006

Nixon and Gore...

Richard Nixon was a vice president who didn't get along with his president at the crucial time he was running for president in 1960. Nixon went on to lose a race that was razor-thin close.*

* Myth buster: Even if Illinois went for Nixon, JFK still would have had 270 electoral votes. Illinois had 27 such votes and JFK officially received 303. If any state vote was iffy that JFK won, it was Alabama, where the electors may not have truly represented the white vote there.

Anyway, Nixon goes back to his home state of California, proceeds to run against Pat Brown for Governor in 1962--and loses to Pat Brown. At a press conference shortly thereafter, Nixon says to the press guys, most of whom hated Nixon: "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."

Nixon licks his wounds and watches his rival, Jack Kennedy, get assassinated in November 1963. He then watches the Republicans nominate then US Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) for president in 1964, who gets beat big in the post-JFK martyrdom landslide that year.

Nixon then starts showing up around the country doing speeches for fellow Republicans. By 1966, he is talking about national issues and is starting to get noticed. There is, by 1967, a buzz about a "new" Nixon. Nixon then announces he is running for president, and this time, he is getting support from quite a few of the Goldwater activists, who he has been cultivating. He doesn't care whether he receives Jackie Robinson's endorsement and no longer talks about civil rights in the way he did in the late 1950s. Nixon is strictly for "law and order," which is fast becoming a buzzword for certain white folks as "stop this n****r civil rights garbage--NOW!"

Nixon then runs for president against a Democratic Party that is torn apart by a far-off war and in a year where two leaders who might have helped hold the New Deal together--Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy--are gunned down.

Why do I go into this?

Well, Al Gore, whose relationship with his former President boss, Bill Clinton, in 2000 was worse than Nixon's relationship with Eisenhower in 1960, and who, like Nixon, has a very unfriendly relationship with the national media, made another rousing speech today. This speech was on the warrantless wiretaps undertaken by the mis-administration of the Terrible President.

Is Al Gore readying to run as the "new Al" for 2008? I think he may be. And, this time, he appears to have found his father's New Deal sensibility instead of that Democratic Leadership Council crap that he enveloped himself with for most of his career up through 2000. I happen to like the "new Al" better than the "old Al." In fact, I'd be comfortable with him this time around in a way I was not in 2000. His friendship with Marty Peretz at the New Republic (of Likud) is over. His relationship with most DLCers is also over. Al is a MoveOn.org kind of guy now. More at home with the likes of Soon to Be Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) than Not Too Long for the Senate Joe Lieberman (R-CT).

There is one important distinction between Nixon and Gore, starting with the fact that Gore's reputation for being a liar is mostly unearned and unsupported. Gore was a pretty consistent corporate Demorcat for most of his career, listening to his political advisers even when he should not have.

Even back in 2000, though I was a Nader supporter, I defended Gore from the ridiculous press attacks, thanks mostly to my reading the then-incomprable Daily Howler. If Brian Schweitzer (D-MT), the populist governor, is not going to run for president in 2008, I don't see anyone else out there worth supporting (I supported Wes Clark in the 2004 Dem primaries--and it does not appear General Clark is interested in another run; more interested it seems in being secretary of state or defense in a Dem administration, which is fine, too). Al Gore, though, looks better and better every day.

Gore vs. Lindsay Graham would be really interesting. The so-called "liberal" but really corporate-owned press loves Graham to the same extent they hate Gore, which is to say: A lot. If I was advising Gore, I'd run a populist campaign, rip into millionaire reporters who suck up to their corporate bosses--and knock those swing voters for a loop. As the Republicans prove their anti-government rhetoric means they don't know how to run a government--and their "we're for small goverment" rhetoric is contradicted by their love of warrantless wiretaps and imperialist presidencies--we could be in for an electoral shift a la 1968. And who says a former vice president who lost a close election, hated by the media, can't lead that shift. It's happened before...

Stay tuned, campers.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A more humane set of leaders for South America?

With the election of a socialist medical doctor--who looks uncannily like my Mom!--Chile has another opportunity to do well by its people. And my Mom would definitely tell me to let everyone know she is no leftist in any way...

Anyway, with the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia, the continuing rule by the still-possibly-Peronist Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and Lula hopefully getting his act together in Brazil, South America may finally begin to unshackle itself from the chains of international corporate power.

The interesting thing to me is this: The Terrible President must be gnashing his teeth at these developments in South America--knowing US troops are still bogged down in Iraq. One wonders whether an unintended salutary effect of the bungled and misguided adventure in Iraq is that the Terrible President can't invade any of these nations in South America. James Baker, a friend of the Terrible President's father and leading adviser to the international coporate set, was lukewarm at best about the Iraq adventure. Baker must be positively outraged at the Terrible President and Mr. Other Priorities at this point.

For those of us who favor New Deal sorts of political leaders, however, it is a very hopeful sign that people in Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia and now Chile have stood up at election time and rejected the corporate-colonial leadership in those nations. However, we should also remain somewhat wary that, in Venezuela especially, the sort of pro-human economic policies we may applaud may still end up as a prelude to a dictatorship that mouths leftist rhetoric of "equality" and "justice"--or getting overthrown by a military coup, with coup leaders claiming they acted in the interests of "security" and "traditional values."

Michelle Bachelet's election in Chile, however, is very promising for for vast majority of Chileans, who have learned the hard way that privitizing retirement systems benefits the rich while beggaring much of the rest of the population.

California state budget and tax issues aired

The incomprable Mike Hiltzik has an excellent dialogue with Armed Liberal about California's state budget and tax problems (see the posting and the comments). It begins snarky between the two of them, but fairly quickly gets to policy issues and ultimately a respectful dialogue.

I have long said California needs the following reforms. I call it the Nickel Reform as it consists of five proposals and constitutes my "five" cents:

1. Change Prop 13 only as far as removing the protections to commercial property, i.e. have periodic assessments of commercial property on fair market value. This will end most of the boom/bust cycle that burdens California state budget planners when income tax revenues continue to swing wildly depending upon how the state or national economy is doing.

2. End the requirement of 2/3rds needed to pass a budget or raise income or sales taxes. 60% is a decent compromise, but it would destroy the neanderthal putzim like Tom McClintock, who. in all his years of serving in the State legislature, has not come up with a budget plan of his own that is worth a damn. All he does is say "No" and it gums up the works every year.

3. Restore the top marginal rate of 11% for state income tax. If it was good enough for Republican governors like Deukmeijian and Wilson, it is good enough for the rest of us.

4. The best way to start cutting the proverbial waste and fraud: California must revisit all of the proposition measures that force a certain percentage of the budget to be spent on prisons and schools, whether in good times or bad. This creates an incentive to spend as opposed to an incentive to serve the public. A grand compromise would be a combination of #1 and #2 and this reform.

5. Also, it might be a damned good idea if we said to the public employees: Now that most of you are unionized, what is the point of a separate institution known as the Civil Service Commission? We should not have both. Let's have public employees make their choice: Civil Service Commission or unions. And to those in the public employee sector, if I may give you a hint, there's a clear choice here...cough, cough, keep the union, cough, cough. This reform of cutting out the Civil Service Commission saves mucho dollars and doesn't adversely affect the most vulnerable population in our state.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Graduate students who teach fighting for better living standards at NYU

The Graduate Assistant's Union (grad students seeking their PhDs who teach courses at the university) is under attack by the administration at New York University. Graduate students generally earn very little money and receive little if any thing in benefits while teaching at the university and studying for their PhDs. At NYU, the union, known as the GSOC (Graduate Student Organizing Committee), was recognized reluctantly by NYU some years ago. However, after an unfavorable ruling from the National Labor Relations Board (stacked with the Terrible President's appointees), the university administrators have gone on the attack against the union. See this link for details of the Terrible President's terrible appointees' decision.

Michael Berube, whose name should by now be well known to readers of this web log, has written an excellent public letter to the president of NYU.

Here is a link to the main GSOC web site (the union aligned with the United Auto Workers union). Here is their strike fund web site. I donated $50 and encourage others to do the same or better. It has long been a scandal how graduate students are treated at universities. With administrators screaming they can't make it on six figure incomes, it is especially shameful of them to attack the reasonable demands of these graduate students, who do much of the daily teaching and interacting with students while working long hours on PhDs or other graduate research work.

Some may say working in a university is still better than working at Wal Mart. However, we should never let Wal Mart become the standard for employee benefits or wages. This is yet another union worthy of support.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Governator budget: Poor and middle class taxes raised, but not rich folks

Mike Hiltzik, one of the best business writers in the nation, analyzes our California governor, aka Governator's, budget proposals.

Our state's system of requiring two-thirds votes for income or sales tax increases and bonds allow extremist Republican assemblymen and state senators to wreak havoc every year on budgets--and play their silly game of "No new taxes" when what they mean is "No increased taxes on our rich donors."

The Governator is afraid to take them on and therefore won't propose returning to the 11% marginal income tax rate on those whose incomes exceed $150,000*--the way it was during the Republican Governorship of Pete Wilson in the 1990s. Instead, teachers, poor folks who rent their homes or apartments, and students all face higher costs because tax credits have been removed or suspended. Plus, the Governator does not truly balance the budget--he again borrows from sums that are already borrowed for other purposes. Sigh.

* For those who may not understand how income taxes work, the 11% does not kick in until one has reached that level of income. Then, every dollar earned above $150,000 is subject to that marginal rate. In other words, it does not mean you multiply 11% by $150,000. Unfortunately, one can win a bet that at least some of the members of the State Legislature don't understand the true meanning of marginal tax rates.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Thursday night links and quick comments

Very busy work week, so here are some fun and informative links and comments:

1. A brilliant animated feature lampooning Garth Brooks for signing up to shill for Wal-Mart. One recognizes that a writer may sign with Simon & Schuster or heck, be a political commentator at FoxNews. But, Garth really has no need for the money or exposure--and to do ads for Wal-Mart, a company that is well known to be pushing American manufacturing and distribution jobs to China, well...it's a very sad and shameful thing for him to have done. This organization that produced the video is worth a look, too. And see here for Jib Jab's satirical, yet spot on song about Wal Mart (Look for title, "Big Box Mart").

2. Alito headed toward approval? Pathetic. If the Dems can't get a filibuster going, then this was just a damned kabuki dance. The guy deserves a filibuster. Surely Alito is not even close to the best our nation can do for the Supreme Court, especially to replace a key swing voting, if still pro-GOP Justice, Sandra O'Connor.

3. Two letters to the editor to the LA Times defend the UFW's activities that are outside union organizing. Still, the LA Times series makes clear that the UFW is not very interested nor is it emphasizing union organizing. Worse, family members of the Chavez family are interested in growing their family empire more than growing the union membership--and the recounting of Cesar Chavez's longstanding relationship with the Synannon founder was heartbreaking to relive.

For a nice, short summary, see the incomprable Patt Morrison's essay published today. For the original articles, see here and here.
A hopeful article is about the fellow who left Chavez and the UFW and helped organize the very successful union movement, Justice for Janitors. At least it dampened the pain of the other information in the other articles.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

This is what a fighting Democrat sounds like

Howard Dean explains a few things to poor Wolf Blitzer, who needs to learn to actually read things besides the Republican National Committee's one-page talking-points sheets.

Notice Wolfie's condescending, but defeated "sigh" at the end of this video courtesy of Crooks & Liars. I have never heard Wolf sigh like that after the closeted Ken Mehlman, RNC chair, repeats his often false talking points to Wolf.


The plight of farmworkers and the failure of the UFW

The LA Times has begun an amazing series on the United Farm Workers union, its failure to maintain the vision of union organizing for farmworkers, its misleading of donors and workers, and the continued poor conditions and wages existing for farmworkers. It is required reading for every American.

Here is a companion article that embarrasses me because I live thirty-five minutes from Carlsbad, CA and did not know of the situations and problems being discussed in the article. When we lived in Ventura County, my wife and I gave to local organizing unions in the fields and showed up for vigils and rallies. That was because we were able to learn about it from our local newspaper. Here, in San Diego, it took the Los Angeles Times to inform us things are even worse for people in Carlsbad--a town which is usually thought of as a wealthy community.

The reason union organizing is so important is that it is the best form of self-help. Yes, it may squeeze some profits at the top, as if that's a bad thing. And yes, it may cause a slight rise in the cost of fruits and vegetables. But even that needs a perspective that it is cheaper to pay a little more for oranges and peaches than pay for these workers having to visit hospital emergency rooms for emergencies when, if they had a decent wage and medical benefits, they could have seen a doctor before their problem became an emergency. The extra costs of schooling and prisons for those children who do not develop healthy outlooks on life is a cost that could be deadly if any of us draw the wrong card.

When people tell me, "Americans won't work at those jobs--and that's why growers have to hire illegal immigrants..." I respond, if you paid people a wage commensurate with the back breaking nature of those jobs, and provided medical benefits, American citizens would rush to fill those jobs. Growers may individually consist of nice people, but the business they are in makes them evil.

Final comment: For those sympathetic to the UFW who believe this series of articles is misleading or wrong, I would ask you to get to a library and look up an article that appeared in The Nation around 1990. It was about the same thing that was happening in Cesar Chavez's last couple of years among us. It created much outrage in the union community at the time, but it was spot on in its call for the UFW to re-focus on union organizing. It also led to a resurgence of such organizing in the 1990s. It now appears that since the late 1990s, the UFW has reverted to its days in the late 1980s when it gave up on organizing.

This is a microcosm of the fight led by Andy Stern at the SEIU and others who left the AFL-CIO over the future of unions in America. As with Andy Stern, I am a firm beleiver that the job of unions, in these times, is not to give to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC). The job of unions, in these times, is to organize workers to secure a portion of the profits due them as workers and, as a consequence, allow those workers to become part of an open, vibrant organization that will turn out for, and produce candidates who support increased minimum wages, national health insurance programs, a humane foreign policy and trade policy that has a goal of helping people, not international corporations, etc. Our entire political discourse and apparatus is ass-backwards when it begs for money from nice bankers and businesspeople who think it's more important to let two homosexuals marry each other than the issues I've just mentioned. Sorry, it just isn't. Most of these people who live in the shacks of Carlsbad and elsewhere aren't homosexual and their status as hetero- or homosexual isn't why they live in those shacks.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Memo to Dems and "moderate" Reeps: Filibuster Alito

Here are several links which provide information regarding Judge Samuel Alito and why the Dems and the few remaining Republicans who are supposed to be "moderates" need to filibuster this guy:

1. People for the American Way: a summary and a more detailed analysis of his corporate and right wing judicial activism. The People for the American Way also provide this handy map to help you contact your senator. My advice: Even if your senator is likely to vote "No," and you agree, call him/her and let the senator know you are on his/her side. The senators who oppose the nomination need support from each of us. I plan to call both Boxer and Feinstein, who are the CA senators. And obviously, if any of your senators are on the fence or voting for him, let your voice be heard. It's worth a few minutes of your time--and it makes a bigger difference than you may think.

2. Media Matters (scroll down for the excellent response to the argument that "Well, the Republicans gave Ginsburg a pass, why not give a pass to Alito"? The answer is that Ginsburg, out side of women's issues, was a raging constitutional corporatist). I recall being very disappointed with Breyer and Ginsburg for that very reason. Ironically, the best justice picked by any president in the past 40 years is Justice David Souter. Souter is my favorite because he combines intellect, compassion, and a truly organic sense of constitutional history and law.

3. The Alliance for Justice's Alito page includes a comprehensive analysis on Alito's rulings over the years and how his 1985 job application with the Reagan administration presaged his rulings on the bench.

4. A readable and relatively short article from the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain revealing Alito's right wing record that defers to the government in cases of military and police abuse of individuals--and in favor of corporations in cases of discrimination against individuals. One can imagine how much leeway he'd give the Terrible President and Mr. Other Priorities in their thumbing their noses at the 4th Amendment, FISA law, and other civil liberty protections. Also, if we want to continue to honor the memory of Americans such as Hugh Thompson, Jr., who just passed away, we need to stop guys like Alito from ascending to the top judicial post in the nation.

I have also been troubled by Alito's lack of candor in his initial failure to admit he was a member of a reactionary alumni group at Princeton, as well as the right wing Federalist Society, when he put those memberships on his application for the Reagan administration. The issue with his mutual fund stock holdings with Vanguard and his ruling in a lawsuit involving Vanguard was not as bothersome to me--except when I heard Alito's lame excuse that he somehow forgot most of his stock holdings were being managed by Vanguard. See here (Motley Fool summarizes Alito's Vanguard holdings) and here (Washington Post article shows how unlikely he could have forgotten this).

Finally, let's also not forget Alito's classmate and friend, the FoxNews legal commentator, former Judge Andrew Napolitano, who was described and quoted in the Daily Princetonian as follows:

"Napolitano also said he wasn't surprised that Bush chose Alito.

"'Sam Alito is just what George Bush is looking for: a big government conservative who will almost always side with the government against the individual, and the federal government against the state,'" Napolitano said."

If a filibuster seems too extreme, let's remember this: The Terrible President and his allies in Congress are suffering the self-inflicted wounds of a poorly run war begun by their misleading the public, their utter contempt of law, their large scale money-based corruption, and their poor stewardship of our nation overall. The nation can do better than Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court to replace Sandra O'Connor.

Therefore: Filibuster.

Make the Republican leadership--no, dare them to!--exercise the "nuclear option" in an election year where their radicalism and incompetence is already under scrutiny. If Alito's nomination passes the senate under those circumstances, a lot of voters who might otherwise lull themselves into voting for Republicans this year will more likely decide "Enough is enough." This is not just another political issue. This is very important to the nation at a time when the lawlessness of this administration has been further exposed.


Friday, January 06, 2006

Upton Sinclair and the modern conservative pundit

Jonah Goldberg, as is his style, makes a broad attack on the "left" and "liberal" person by pointing out how Upton Sinclair refused to tell his readers what he really learned about the guilt of Sacco & Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists who were executed for a crime they had actually committed.

The source of Goldberg's diatribe was this article in the LA Times, which was a too-deeply cut version of what was going to include an examination of the times in which the Sacco & Vanzetti trial took place.* Too bad it didn't because it has, in retrospect, left the door wide open for sophomoric commentary of the likes of Goldberg.

First, this letter writer to the LA Times summarizes the facts of a biased judge and corrupt prosecution, which shows, regardless of their guilt or innocence, they did not receive a fair trial under our nation's laws. There is no dispute among reputable historians, conservative or liberal, concerning this point.

Second, Goldberg's ahistorical commentary fails to inform a reader that this was not the only case out there during the 1920s involving radicals. For example, there was the case of Tom Mooney, a labor union radical in California who was convicted on trumped-up charges who served 20 years in prison before being released. Never has anyone with any authority attempted to doubt his innocence. In general, the actions of the police and district attorneys across our nation during that time formed a pattern of harrassment, imprisonment and sometimes the murder of radicals. The latter had occurred in places such as Wyoming, Colorado, and other states in that region. Sinclair had a sense that if he went public with Sacco and Vanzetti's guilt, he was undermining those who would be the next victims of such police and district attorney misconduct. And again, remember how corrupt the Sacco/Vanzetti trial was.

This is not a defense of Upton Sinclair, who should have told the truth if he learned it from a source besides the attorney for Sacco and Vanzetti (and I believe there was at least another source). It is, however, helpful to understand why Sinclair would have acted this way at that time.

Third, Goldberg is desparate to attack Sinclair's entire character for one episode because Goldberg is well aware that his "Cause" (on behalf of the Terrible President, Tom DeLay and the whole corrupt, lying bunch) is now in deep trouble. Considering Goldberg's support of the Terrible President and the Republican Congress, he still has the audacity to write: "It's difficult to find many liberal martyr-saints who haven't been burnished by deceit." Yes, Goldberg, nobody's perfect. But where are your martyr-saints on the deceit meter? And in a self-refutation, Goldberg immediately mentions Reinhold Niebuhr, John Dewey, Michael Harrington as "liberal intellectuals" who were not deceitful. Funny that Dewey and especially Harrington thought of themselves as more "left" than "liberal," but that is perhaps a quibble. Here is more on Sinclair, who, if it was not for him, millions more of Americans would have died from ingesting unhealthy and rancid food.**

Overall, the Goldberg article is not designed to enlighten. It is designed to delegitimize and stigmatize. It is a classic slur on an entire movement of people who have fought for good working conditions, social security, medical insurance for people who are vulnerable (Medicaid and Medicare), civil rights, and due process of law in criminal prosecutions. It is especially galling for Goldberg to call the Rosenbergs, Abu-Mumia and Stanley "Tookie" Williams "liberal martyr-saints" to attempt to attack the integrity of those of us who stand for civil liberties and "liberal" public policy causes. I have, nor have most "liberal-left" persons, never thought Julius Rosenberg innocent, have always believed Mumia did not get a fair trial, but is most likely guilty of at least 2nd degree murder (killing in a heat of passion) and that Tookie Williams lied about his innocence in the crimes for which he was convicted. However, regardless of their guilt, they nonetheless deserved fair trials. Tookie received a fair trial, but Mumia and the Rosenbergs received neither a fair trial nor sentence, as many if not most legal scholars and historians would now agree. None of this, however, interests Goldberg who would rather rant like an arrogant, spoiled child.

* Disclosure: I was consulted on the Upton Sinclair article before it was published. I helped the reporter find Ideale Gambara, whose father was on the original defense committee for Sacco & Vanzetti. I was lucky to have met Ideale once, who is a friend of my wife's cousin, who is also a close and dear friend of mine. I contacted my wife's cousin to see if Ideale would talk to the reporter. He did and her article was going to include a more complete background as to how neither side acquitted themselves in the plea bargaining or trial. The "news" about the guilt of Sacco & Vanzetti was not a "hot" story, as Ideale's father was already well known in historians' circles because of Francis Russell's book on the subject almost 20 years ago (the comments at the Amazon cite do not do justice to the book, in either their approval or disapproval). I was thinking about blogging about the Upton Sinclair article and the deep cut editing (I never saw the original, but it was definitely going to include lots more information and context). Then, time ran by and I didn't. Oh well.

** In early 2005, I finally got around to reading "Oil!" Sinclair's novel about the California oil business in the 1910s and 1920s. It was extraordinary in its prose, its understanding of the oil business, and the best surprise was that the most sympathetically drawn character in the book is the wildcat businessman--not his bright, but sometime naive communist-leaning son. It is a great read and I strongly recommend it.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Frank Wilkinson (1914-2006)

I'm unable to blog much this week due to work and other commmitments. Let others write about Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, whose latest stroke is an important, tragic and sad event.

Instead, I write about the passing of an iconic figure in southern California who worked for the betterment of the human condition.

Frank Wilkinson, a "Popular Front" New Dealer, and quiet Red, died the other day at the age of 91. Here are two obituaries, one from the NY Times and the other from LA Times. And if that whets your appetite for more, here is the web site for the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, where he and his wife Donna served on the Board for many years. The Library is itself a marvelous place that contains much in the way of American Radical non-fiction, fiction, and pamphlets.

I was privileged to have met Mr. Wilkinson several times, often at the Southern California Library. Eventually, he remembered me when we saw each other. Physically, Frank Wilkinson was tall (he must have been about 6 feet 5 inches in his prime) and strong. He possessed a defiant, but still gentle soul. He truly lived to help people. He was a wonderful public servant who fought a valiant battle against corrupt politiicans, bankers and developers in the city of Los Angeles. Whenever I had the chance to sit down with him, I loved listening to him speak about LA in the late 1940s and early 1950s and the challenges he and others faced when helping those who were impoverished or working class.

If anyone has not seen the Culture Clash's great play, "Chavez Ravine," I highly recommend its agit-prop take on Wilkinson because it highlighted important truths about Wilkinson, the Red Scare, the destruction of the community of Chavez Ravine and the coming of the baseball Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Culture Clash's play was also willing to explode certain myths about who was truly left in the community by the time Walter O'Malley of the Dodgers bought the portion of the town that had been condemned to build his team's stadium. See: Neil Sullivan's magisterial book, "The Dodgers Move West" (Oxford University Press, 1987). I know Culture Clash used this book as a source because I personally recommended it to them when the play was a work-in-progress.

Ry Cooder's "Chavez Ravine" album also has a song about Wilkinson, though I'll admit the music was not very good--to my ears, at least.

With the passing of Frank Wilkinson, we must again recognize that those who worked for the people of this nation during and shortly after the New Deal are almost all gone. The ghosts of that era far outnumber the living. Rest in peace, Frank. We miss you more than you may ever have known.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Bob Kuttner explains the new Medicare law

A must read from Bob Kuttner of the American Prospect. This new Medicare law was so cynically based, so anti-consumer, and pro-drug company--that even supporters of the Terrible President should find it outrageous.

Then, again, the people who still support the Terrible President have already had many reasons to be upset at their guy who sits in the White House when he's not chopping down trees at his phony ranch in Texas.


Science time!

Here is a thoughtful scientific article from The Nation, not noted as a science magazine I know, about the ramifications of advances in the study of our brains. The article shows us, again, how political classifications often confuse us rather than enlighten us. In other words, political shorthand ("He's a liberal! She's a conservative!") are hardly ever a substitute for actually reading and analyzing particular policy issues.

Kathryn Schulz, who wrote the article, writes for Grist.org, which is an environmental magazine I will be exploring.

Here are also some "samplings" from the latest issue of Natural History. I wish the magazine had more articles up as I am greatly enjoying many of its articles. Last fall, we began receiving the magazine when our family joined the San Diego Natural History Museum. Natural History magazine is also known for having published the great essays of the late Stephen Jay Gould. Gould was the greatest science essayist of the 20th Century, which should be no slight to Martin Gardner, Issac Asimov or and Lewis Thomas.

I have also added physicist and sci-fi writer David Brin's blog to my blog link list. David and I see fairly eye to eye on a number of things, though he has more respect for the corporate right leaning Democratic Leadership Council than I do. I am a fan of his book on Transparency and his wonderful novel, The Postman (a book that harkens us to the voice of the New Deal and feminism within the apocolyptic story; it's also about scientifically enhanced soldiers who end up destroying society, an issue raised in the brain studies article in the Nation noted above). He is also well respected and known for his thoughtful Uplift series of science fiction books.

The Terrible President's cut and run election year plan

For those of us who have long wanted the US troops to come home from Iraq, I guess there may be some hopeful news.

First, the Terrible President is strongly considering drawing down troops, though perhaps one should be wary that the troop drawdown is an election year tactic, echoing Nixon's phased withdrawal from Vietnam during 1970 and 1971--all while expanding an air war against Vietnam, and adding Cambodia and Laos as bombing targets.

Second, and here is less hopeful news, the Terrible President has decided nation building just isn't worth it, blaming the insurgency for US unwillingness to provide further economic aid to Iraqis. I am disappointed in this particular decision, however, though at least this is consistent with the Terrible President's and his Party's Scrooge like policies for our own nation: Where tax cut benefits are provided to those wealthy Americans who least need help while simultaneously cutting government aid to economically vulnerable Americans (By the way, does anyone think Jesus would support such domestic policies?).

The reason the drawdown may be politically motivated is that the Terrible President misleads the people of our nation the way the rest of us breathe. Here he is saying the warrantless, domestic surveillance (that was at least illegal under FISA) was limited to where calls come into the nation. As alert citizens are aware, however, facts have already been revealed that the warrantless surveillance included calls going out of the US, internal calls from one state to another, and was not limited to calls coming into the US.

The article also helpfully reminds us of the Terrible President's lie in 2004 when he told Americans he was seeking court orders for surveillance against terrorists, when it now appears he and his war department head, Rummy, were engaging in non-court ordered surveillance and worse, spying on unarmed Quakers protesting the Terrible President's war in Iraq who did not even remotely fit the profile of a terrorist.

In short, the Terrible President's personality and policies combine mendacity, incompetence and arrogance.

A final note: Will the Terrible President's supporters agree with the drawdown of US troops and canceling of rebuilding aid to Iraq? That will tell us much about their attacks on people such as Howard Dean, though there is more than enough evidence of their unfairness in their attacks on Dean. See here, though the linked article is still only available as a subscription.


Sunday, January 01, 2006

Will college costs affect the extravagance of bar/bat mitzvahs?

Non-Jewish readers may wonder, Huh? But this is something that Jewish readers with young children at least should ponder.

This LA Times Book Review article, entitled "Torah and Hora"* deals with the cultural changes over the last 40-50 years where bar/bat (boy/girl) mitzvahs have became extravagant parties on a scale higher in cost than most weddings. The latest truly off the wall extravagance for a bar/bat mitzvah is the infamous $10 million affair thrown by a modern military contractor executive in the New York area, which had 50 Cent, Tom Petty and Areosmith (among others) performing. As Bob Uecker said in the film, Major League, when describing a wild pitch that went over the backstop wall, "That pitch was jeuuuust a little outside..." In turn, I'd say that party's cost was "je-uuuuuust a little outside" the sensibility one may usually associate with what is supposed to be a religious ceremony.

I believe the LA Times book review/article may represent something of a trend setter as more and more Jewish middle class parents will begin to analyze the cost of college and other costs to help their children succeed in a global economy. They may finally begin to ask, "Why spend even $15,000 on a four to five hour party for a 13 year old...particularly when college costs are rising much faster than inflation--and when one or both parents may be suffering from unemployment for some period between the time of the child's bar/bat mitzvah at age 13 and the first year of college at 18?"

As my son's bar mitzvah approaches late this year in 2006, we are, at our home, thinking about this more and more. My son has said, "Dad, I'd rather have you save money for my college. Really." Yes, but old cultural habits die hard--just ask my folks.

In the old days of the 1940s and early 1950s, for example, there was a joke among Jews on the phrase that a bar mitzvah boy would say on his bar mitzvah day, "Today, I am a man." The joke was that, since a boy would most often receive a fountain pen as the one and often only gift, the boy might as well say, "Today...I am a fountain pen."

Well, you had to be there.

Anyway, as we gaze upon our fairly small, though growing, savings, we are seriously considering a small scale party for our son's bar mitzvah. Perhaps Temple members across the US may want to discuss the issue of extravagant bar/bat mitzvah parties alongside the usual stuff about intermarriage, the often maniacal one-sided nonsense spouted about Israel and the Arabs, etc. In fairness, I think this issue of bar/bat mitzvah party costs are not discussed because there is a bit of embarrassment to admit you can't afford both a major bar/bat mitzvah party and save for your children's college costs. Perhaps. I feel it, though...

* A hora, also spelled "horah" in my more youthful days, is a group folk dance most commonly understood to be a Jewish dance, at least in the US. However, per the Wikipedia, the hora is also a description of a group folk dance for Molodvans and Romanians, among others.