Friday, October 27, 2006

Elections are snapshots of voters' mood

The Republicans know this better than the Democrats.

That's why the Republicans, who know they cannot win on their records, have gone into negative campaigning overdrive.

That's why Bush is suddenly denying, knowning it is a lie, that he ever said "Stay the Course" is his Iraq policy.

That's why an embattled Republican incumbent congressman, who supported privitization of Social Security, is running ads--that are working--that say his Democratic Party opponent candidate wants to hurt Social Security recipients or would be recipients by raising the age for receipt of Soc Sec benefits to age sixty-nine. This from a Republican incumbent who supported Bush's privitization plan for Social Security and thinks Social Security is going bankrupt in the next fifteen years.

That's why a Republican campaign broadcast an attack ad against a Democrat, who is a prosecutor, that said the Democrat lied about his record as a prosecutor--which attack turned out to be a lie. And the Republicans won't pull the ad.

These Republicans will stoop very, very low, in terms of ethics and standards, to maintain control of their extremist corporate agenda, protect them from accountability for their corruption, and their ill-fated war they continue to push.

Again, though, what Republicans strategists understand is that it doesn't mean all that much if the public hates Republicans for 11 months out of a year, if, on election day, they still win because they have created enough short-term confusion and misleading arguments and statements designed to get enough "independents" to join with their base. And that doesn't include the inequities as to electronic and not enough ballots in areas which would normally favor Democrats, which, in turn, may have helped Republicans in particularly close elections.

My advice: Anything negative that comes out about a Democratic candidate should be viewed with skepticism until it can be proven--and even then, ask yourself: Is this person worse than the Republican? If not, go Dem.

(Edited)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ohio and other states' votes stolen in 2004?

I felt burned by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s article in the Rolling Stone magazine earlier this year, so I am wary of reports about the 2004 presidential election being "stolen."

However, this article by Greg Palast raises an interesting point about clusters of "spoiled" ballots in areas with a high Democratic Party registration concentration and where, for no apparent reason, there were lots of blanks in the ballots for president among people who would have been expected to vote for a presidential candidate--particularly John Kerry.

If true, I would re-think my skepticism about the significance of the number of uncounted, miscounted, or otherwise improperly removed votes. Could this only be mere negligence and as opposed to illegal conduct? Is it a coincidence, or are the chances too low for these to happen in predominantely Democratic strongholds? Again, if true, I would have to reassess my previous conclusions on this subject.

If the Democrats win at least the House or Senate in a couple of weeks, why not have hearings on the fallibility and easy hacking into computer voting machines? Or perhaps a real analysis of the spoiled votes in the 2004 elections and how such a thing occurs in areas where there happen to be high percentages of Democratic Party voters. It may be worth an investigation or two as this issue goes to the heart of our open government and the right of people to have their votes properly counted.

(Edited)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Obama is a nice banker, that's all

Yesterday, I had the chance to peruse, at an airport book store, and read part of the new and wretched book by Barack Obama. Obama's discussion of the North American Free Trade Agreement alone tells me why this guy is just the next HillaryBiden. Obama says, in his book, that he feels really, really bad that working people are the most likely to lose out in "free" trade, but that really there's nothing to do about it. How does he know this? He asked banker, Robert Rubin.

In the book, Obama says that enacting tariffs to build up our manufacturing base would be worse for Americans--which Americans, buddy? Rubin's pals, in the short run, at least? Yet, Obama offers not one drop of evidence to support that sweeping and unfounded assertion.

Obama, while raising all sorts of cash and clubbing with the elite sectors, hasn't spoken to Lori Wallach, Thea Lee or Dean Baker, for starters, about the myths of free trade and how to rebuild our manufacturing base. Hell, why didn't he at least speak with Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) or Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the latter who is still ahead of incumbent Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH). Or maybe Obama can bother to read Alexander Hamilton's "Report on Manufactures" (1792), which explains how to correctly use tariff policies to internally develop or re-develop one's nation--just as South Korea and China are doing currently.

People may wonder why Obama did not speak to any of these people or at least try to understand whether there are alternatives to the current corporate trade agreements. The answer is actually quite simple in the world of Washington and elite politics: Obama is a "player," to quote Ken Silverstein's decent to solid article on Obama in this month's Harper's (Might as well buy it since it's not online and had the great smackdown by Marilynne Robinson on Richard Dawkin's "The God Delusion"--see this previous post). And "players" don't learn anything by reading or talking with diverse-minded people. "Players" learn information largely if not solely at elegant cocktail parties in Washington, DC attended by bankers and lobbyists.

Obama, Hillary Clinton, Biden, and Bayh are worthless as presidential candidates if you want to split the religious right and win a close election. They are simply nice and rational bankers who do not sufficiently care for the well being of their own nation. Yes, these potential 2008 presidential candidates are significantly better than the scheming, cynical and terrible corporate bankers in the Republican Party, starting with Bush, Cheney, and a host of candidates they are running for president in 2008, including John McCain. But that only tells us the sorry state of our nation's elite overall. Obama has failed to show he is any different from other corporate Democrats.

We who value our nation should not be starstruck.

Others say it so I don't have to

Maxspeak explains why trying to tell us how the economy is doing by the stock market is at best irrelevant, or only tells us how out of whack our distruibution of wealth is in our nation right now.

Kevin at the Washington Monthly explains why Proposition 90, which is supposed to stop the eminent domain abuses, in fact is a dangerous proposition designed to beggar government coffers for any regulations it attempts to issue. I would generally support a reform that stops eminent domain abuse where private land is condemned and sold in order to directly benefit other private individuals. However, Proposition 90 is not it.

And Kevin discovers something I've argued for years, based upon face to face debates at churches I did for the Democrats in Orange County during the late 1980s to mid-1990s: If Democrats ran as genuine (not false Clinton-type) economic populists, the Democrats can split the so-called "religious right" vote and get back quite a few if not many "lunch-bucket" Republicans and actually win a close election.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Why humanities majors are great at spotting gaps in arguments

Marilynne Robinson has delivered a hard slap down against scientist Richard Dawkins in her review of Dawkins' book, "The God Delusion" (Houghton Mifflin 2006).

Sadly, it is not online, but you can get it by reading this month's Harpers magazine.

Robinson knocks Dawkins for unfairly comparing the worst of religion in its oppression and violence with the best of science. When Dawkins is faced with the horrible science known as eugenics, he merely sniffs that eugenics is not science. Robinson notes that if eugenics isn't science, then the Spanish Inquisition wasn't religion, since Jesus would not have approved of such violent conduct against Jews.

She also reveals Dawkins' blind spots and rank ignorance of both Scripture and the history of science in ways that reaffirms why Stephen Jay Gould had his problems with Dawkins' thinking. See this book for a summary of the dispute between Gould and Dawkins.

While unfortunately, some of Gould's and Dawkin's direct hits on each other are not on the web (at least none I found), here is Gould's dissecting of Dawkins' colleague, Daniel Dennett.

Robinson's review of Dawkins' book is the best negative review of a book I've seen in a long time. To equal this review, one would have to go back to Martha Nussbaum's outstanding attack on the merits of the late Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind," where Nussbaum proved quite amazingly Bloom's poor understanding of the classics of antiquity and how his crabbed view of antiquity animated his equally crabbed view of modern scholarship.

What the Robinson review teaches us is the value of the liberal arts education. The liberal arts education, at its best, teaches us how to spot gaps in arguments, to understand the importance of factual information, the sweep and scope of history, and the humility to understand that there is likely no unifying theory that shortcuts critical thinking--even in and especially in scientific endeavors.

And yes, I will deliver a direct plug for Michael Berube's "What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?" Berube's book provides an excellent summary analysis of the liberal arts along with real-life classroom situations that good teachers face in helping students develop critical thinking skills and recognizing the soft underbelly of all of our best arguments. Berube also helps us understand the need for a modern society to ingest a healthy tolerance and skepticism. However, he shows us the soft underbelly of tolerance itself.

In that last regard, I am not quite sure how Berube feels about the latest conundrum faced by those in Europe who are wary of Islamicists who do not want tolerance, but demand to be tolerated. I however feel that one can confidently face that conundrum and say that tolerance is a basic value that demands fealty as much as "good faith" is behind the Golden Rule of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Without good faith, one can twist the Golden Rule beyond recognition. The same with tolerance. If one tolerates for too long a violent intolerance, one loses one's civilization.

Anyway, I highly and immediately recommend Robinson's article as it will provide an excellent lead-in to the issues Berube raises in his, again, excellent book.

(Edited)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Anti-abortion laws often attack women's dignity and autonomy as human beings

TBogg drops some snark and gets serious about a serious issue: In many states, women who find themselves pregnant and seek an abortion, are being given runarounds, misleading advice, and are suffering deep invasions of their privacy.

Please review the links TBogg provides as the one woman's story on the web strikes me as courageously blunt about something most women would be afraid to publicly air (though be ready for some tough language on the link).

This is why I also oppose, here in California, the latest attempt by anti-abortion activists to force the most vulnerable teenaged girls to go to court or tell their parents before being allowed an abortion.

Years ago, I was initially sensitive to the argument that girls and boys need to have parent approval to take a school trip, so why not require a teenaged girl to get at least one parent's approval before having an abortion? I did not, however, find that argument persuasive. I continue to believe that, yes, it's a baby brewing in there, but I never wanted, especially in the first three months of a pregnancy, to support a law that would directly or indirectly force a woman to bear a child.

Also, we now have years of experience with these "abortion consent requirement" laws, as they are the law in at least 22 States. We now know how such laws work in practice. How they work is to force young girls into situations to have the child and deny their right to an abortion.

And, as the late Justice Lewis Powell said, in his majority opinion in US Supreme Court decision of Bellotti v. Baird (1979) 443 U.S. 622 [99 S.Ct. 3035, 61 L.Ed.2d 797]:

"The abortion decision differs in important ways from other decisions that may be made during minority.... [¶] The pregnant minor's options are much different from those facing a minor in other situations, such as deciding whether to marry. A minor not permitted to marry before the age of majority is required simply to postpone her decision. She and her intended spouse may preserve the opportunity for later marriage should they continue to desire it. A pregnant adolescent, however, cannot preserve for long the possibility of aborting, which effectively expires in a matter of weeks from the onset of pregnancy. [¶] Moreover, the potentially severe detriment facing a pregnant [minor] ... is not mitigated by her minority. Indeed, considering her probable education, employment skills, financial resources, and emotional maturity, unwanted motherhood may be exceptionally burdensome for a minor.... In sum, there are few situations in which denying a minor the right to make an important decision will have consequences so grave and indelible."

The California Supreme Court, in 1998, in a decision which invalidated an earlier legislature-passed law requiring parental consent before teen girls could have an abortion, amplified this point based upon the experience of these laws in other states:

"In states with parental involvement laws, the reasons minors give for not consulting their parents include fear of a physically or emotionally abusive parent, fear of being ejected from the home, concern that the parent will not keep the information confidential, and an unwillingness to give upsetting news to a parent who is physically or emotionally fragile.

"Although the experts who testified did not agree on the percentage of families that qualify as dysfunctional or abusive, they agreed that the number of such families was significant. Moreover, evidence in the record indicates that for teens who become pregnant, the percentage of families that are abusive and/or dysfunctional is much higher than for teens generally.

"Lenore E. A. Walker, a psychologist specializing in family violence and abuse, testified that approximately 25 to 30 percent of families in the United States 'will have some form of domestic or family violence at some part of their life history' and that an adolescent revealing her pregnancy to her parents is likely to trigger violence or some other form of abuse in such families. (See also Hodgson v. Minnesota, supra, 497 U.S. 417, 439 [110 S.Ct. 2926, 2939] [referring to 'the distressingly large number of cases in which family violence is a serious problem']; testimony of social worker Jeth Gold stating that some parents "react very violently when they find out their child is sexually active"; testimony of Dr. Adele Hofmann (footnote reference omitted) citing instances of a parent inflicting physical injury on the adolescent after learning of her pregnancy.)

"Charles R. Figley, a psychologist and a professor at Florida State University, testified that approximately 10 percent of families would not have any of the characteristics necessary for providing appropriate support to a pregnant minor. He also testified that forcing a pregnant adolescent to involve her parents in the abortion decision would be inappropriate if the parents are psychologically or physically abusive.

"W. Robert Beavers, a psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center, testified about a test (the Beavers System Model) he developed to rate family competence. Using this test, he found that 5 percent of families attained the optimal level of competence, 38 percent were judged 'adequate,' 38 percent were judged mid-range,' 16 percent were 'borderline, and 3 percent were 'severely dysfunctional.' He also testified that child abuse occurs in 3 to 5 percent of American families. He conceded that some teens cannot involve parents in the abortion decision."


(The above was taken from footnote 9 of that decision)

Anyway, Prop 85 tries to get around that decision, which was largely based upon California's express right to privacy in the California Constitution (unlike the federal constitution, which has (ahem, for now) an implied right to privacy), by amending California's Constitution.

The way things stand politically, if Prop 85 passes, it may still be found unconstitutional. Why? Because the proposed amendment to the California Constitution requires the female minor to provide a court with "clear and convincing" evidence of her "maturity" to keep from getting her parents' permission. In 1997, for example, the US Supreme Court had refused to overturn the Louisiana Supreme Court's invalidation of a similar proposed law.

On the other hand, with the current line-up of US Supreme Court Justices, there are now four solid votes against abortion rights at all: Thomas, Scalia, Roberts and Alito. Yeah, yeah, tell me about how Alito and Roberts haven't ruled on abortion cases yet. The only hope is that Roberts, who is more institution-minded, will follow precedent and not overturn Roe v. Wade. If Prop 85 passes, it will likely go to the US Supreme Court where it will all come down to one Justice, a Californian, Anthony Kennedy. And I wouldn't bet that Justice Kennedy would necessarily agree that the law is unconstitutional, either.

Folks, if you live in California, just vote against this Proposition 85. Since abortion rates have plummeted in California generally, and since most girls talk with one or both parents about abortion decisions already, this is just a punitive law designed to force abused, often poor teen girls to bear children they are afraid or don't want to bear. A law with that effect is not a law that upholds our best family values.

(Edited)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

On the loss of widely shared cultrual reference points

Michael Berube, who has two new books out (and who is one of my favorite cultural critics and analysts; not to mention we are also email pals), has written a post on a subject in which I have personally observed and thought about over the years. Here is Michael's post--and here is my response to that post that I placed in Michael's comments section of his blog (now slightly edited for clarity):

Michael,

Good thing my Borders 30% off coupon came in today…

Anyway, I have thought a great deal about the topic of your post and note that those of us in our 40s (I’m still barely there at 49) have things like Adam West’s Batman, Gilligan Island as very wide spread and shared culture reference points. This was because television consisted of only a few channels in the 1950s through early 1970s and were truly “broadcast” as opposed to “narrowcast.” Even radio was relatively broadcast (Radio remains relatively broadcast as most stations continue to play the same thing--though today, music has been so decimated as an art form that it is no longer culturally important to too many younger folks. This is not to blame them, I assure you. My blame is on my generation and older).

Since the advent of cable, television is increasingly narrow casting, not broadcasting. One must be more of a cable hound, or read a hellava lot as I do (and you do), to keep up with the different, more narrow cultural references. For example, far fewer people watched the Sopranos or House in first runs than the Brady Bunch or even Welcome Back, Kotter.

For my parents, radio, which had only three or four national networks during the 1930s and 1940s, provided wide spread and shared, but singular, cultural reference points: Fred Allen, “Fibber McGee,” “The Shadow,” for example.

Today, our spectator portion of our culture is more diffuse than ever--and so are the media. While Clear Channel continues to provide an unfortunately largely trashy level of shared cultural references in radio (starting with 50 Cent or Britney Spears), it is not just television and radio any longer that form the cultural reference points. For my 13 year old son, at least, he finds common language and reference points with computer games, such as Frogger, WarCraft, etc. These are, however, only shared cultural references among boys, not girls for the most part.

Girls are largely left out of that equation, unfortunately, which causes me some concern about male-female relations (though of course, people tend to find their ways). In fact, I recently saw an article by a woman who had just graduated from law school who said she has now refused to date men who play computer games as she finds they are more socially awkward and unable to be sharing individuals. That’s a bit harsh, but I do not in the least doubt her experience with such boys and men. Still, I expect too many boys my son’s age will overwhelm her younger sisters if they tried to follow her advice.

For my eight year old daughter, she is finding her way to Nintendogs on an increasingly sexist named, “Game Boy” and she enjoys the Barbie/American Girl web site.

So if you’re feeling like you can’t find the right cultural reference points with students born in 1988...well, it’s likely to get worse for those of us who are not watching our children on the computer (which often includes me).

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Light blogging..heavy reading

Izzy Stone finally gets a review he deserves (Tim Rutten of the LA Times reviews Myra MacPherson's new bio of Izzy).

Historians of this era will more likely, and more respectfully quote Keith Olbermann than Thomas Friedman or, God help us all, David Ignatius.

If the Republicans lose one or both houses of Congress, it will likely happen because of this. Tax cuts to the middle class were so small as to not even be noticed compared to gas price and food price increases, the sense that the boss is getting far more ahead than the workers, and the overall sense that the Republicans in Congress either don't care or are incompetent to heal our nation.

David Sirota gets it right about how corporate America is now upset with China...for giving workers the right to organize and freedom not to starve at slave wages. He also gets it right about the true agenda of the World Bank, which is to beggar most people for the benefit of the wealthy few.

Enjoy...And if you want to feel happy, at least today, check out electoral-vote.com.

And if you wish to ponder the cosmos, try this.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

MacPherson comes to the aid of Stone-twice!

Myra MacPherson smacks down Paul Berman in the letters section of the NY Times Book Review. In her letter to the editor, MacPherson reveals more from her book regarding her interview with the former Soviet press attache/covert KGB agent who had occasional lunches with Stone during 1966-68. She recounts, from her book, information that Berman never mentioned in his review, such as the Soviet agent admitting Stone (1) did not "cooperate" with the Soviets, (2) was not a Communist and (3) offered no classified information to the Soviets. Berman, like most bullies and drive-by shooter gang members, cowardly fails to confront MacPherson with a response.

MacPherson also strikes another blow against Berman at the American Prospect. Here, MacPherson states, again from her book, Walter Lippmann had far more wide ranging and useful-for-the-Soviets conversations with KGB agents--yet, nobody questions either Lippmann's integrity or loyalty to the USA. And again, Berman has offered no response to MacPherson.

BUT, MacPherson, in the American Prospect, says this:

"It can certainly be argued -- which I did in the book -- that it took Stone too long to acknowledge the full horrors of Stalin. But during the Cold War he did attack Communism and cautioned the United States to "not go the way of Russia" in suspending civil liberties and persecuting dissidents. He infuriated leftists by expressing skepticism about the innocence of A-bomb spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and decrying the Communist-led martyrdom campaign in their defense, with its "distorted presentation of the facts and its wild charges of anti-Semitism." Earlier in Stone's career, during the era of the Stalin-Hitler non-aggression pact, he was in a minority who supported FDR's tough slog to get congressional appropriations for aid to Britain. For this and other actions Stone was attacked by the Communist Daily Worker."

This is a great, but not complete defense. MacPherson rightly states, in the last sentence of the above passage, that Stone was critical of the Soviet Union during at least the 1939-1941 period, when the Soviets were operating under the infamous Stalin-Hitler Pact. This places Stone's criticism of the Soviets well before 1956, which was Berman's original line of attack.

But, there is a problem with the first two sentences of the passage, which implicitly agrees with Berman's attack that Stone's public writings were supportive of the Soviet Union during the mid- to late 1930s. As I said in my first post on the subject, Stone's public record of criticism of the Soviets is very strong against Stalin and the Soviet Union, particularly in the context of the Popular Front and the fact that Communists were part of the coalition that helped the New Deal succeed. MacPherson, in her comments to my first post on Berman's review of her book on Stone, agrees with me. I wish she said that, though, in her otherwise spot on take down of Berman at the American Prospect.

Overall, though, Myra MacPherson has, with her book and her response to Berman, performed a tremendous service to I.F. Stone and his legacy. Her defense of Stone on the charges of Soviet cooperation should put that issue to rest. Of course, one will never stop right wingers, and the right wing's useful idiots such as Berman,* from continuing to make those accusations against Stone, but her book will become the most important source on this topic.

* So, Paul, how does that feel? I don't like it, either. But unless you feel it, you will never understand the maliciousness of your article regarding I.F. Stone.

Final comments: It is worth reading the other letters the Times Book Review printed in response to Berman's review. In the letter immediately below MacPherson's, the son of Bernard Nossiter (who was a Washington Post reporter stationed in London during the 1960s) wrote that his non-Communist and non-spy father often lunched, and occasionally played tennis with "the local KGB man," which the son properly noted is far more intimate an acquaintence than the KGB ever had with Stone.

The third and last letter gently corrects Berman "courtier" view about the history of Vietnam and Cambodia in the late 1970s and 1980s. The sad truth is that the US did as much as Communist-led China to enable the Khmer Rouge to continue to maintain some control over Cambodia through the 1980s and early 1990s, something Berman failed to mention in his sly attack on Stone. See here for some further support for the letter writer's information, something rarely discussed among the courtiers and people such as Berman.

(Edited)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Can't walk and chew gum at the same time

Just as the Republicans desperately and wrongly try to blame the Democrats for the problem of their own congressmen who prey on teenaged boys, they are now trying to blame Clinton for the North Koreans firing off a nuclear bomb.

Here
is Clinton's Secretary of Defense from 1994-97, William Perry, quite nicely answering that Republican spin on the subject of the North Korean nuclear program.

The short version of the Perry article is: North Korea did not move forward in its development of nukes with plutonium from the time of the US-North Korea agreement in 1994 through the time Bush II decided to scrap the agreement in 2002. From there, the North Koreans went back to developing their plutonium-based nuclear bomb program and, by 2006, presto, a nuclear bomb has been born in North Korea.

My two cents: If one has the basic technology down from the Smyth Report, released by the US in 1946, and some competent scientists, one can produce a bomb in about four years--if one has the ability to get one's hands on plutonium. Now there's an interesting question. Per Wikipedia, the North Koreans already had enough plutonium to detonate 10 nuclear bombs by the time Clinton first entered office. I guess, if we wish to engage in the game of blaming prior administrations, one should be blaming the first George Bush.

If one wishes to blame the Clinton administration, it was for not building North Korea some civilian nuclear power plants, as the US promised in the 1994 accords. Still, is that something the Republicans want to really argue? That Clinton failed to appease the North Korean appetite for civilian nuclear power plants? Ew.

The better point remains this simple, but compelling timeline:

1993--North Koreans can explode nuclear bombs because they have the plutonium and need only a couple of years or so to have their scientists actually build the things.

1994--Clinton reaches accord with North Koreans to suspend the program and not use the plutonium to build nukes.

1994-2002--North Koreans generally abide by accord, despite occasional US and North Korean breaches of the accord.

2002--President "Can't focus on anything but Iraq" Bush formally abrogates the accord and protocols.

2002-2006--President stubbornly refuses to engage North Korea. North Korea goes on its way to producing first nuclear bomb.

2006--North Korea explodes first nuclear bomb.

And this is primarily and mostly Clinton's fault?

Anyone who can still answer "Yes" to that question has become or is a member of the Stalinist-Republican Club.

(Edited)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

This can't be Syria-ous

Unfortunately, this is serious. What is really serious is that Assad seems to be saying the Israelis are already expecting to fight Syria and he is simply gearing up for that battle.

Personally, I have not understood why Israel should give up the Golan Heights in any negotiations with Syria. Over the years, I've read articles where military strategists in Israel, including Arik Sharon, have said the Golan Heights are no longer of strategic military importance to Israel--and yet, I simply don't agree. I can't imagine why the Heights would not be of at least some strategic military advantage--and I can well imagine why the Heights would be to the advantage of the Syrians against Israel. On the other hand, peace with Syria would be better, wouldn't it? But, then again...is that feasible without a peaceful co-existence solution with the Palestinians?

To return to American politics for a moment. With the Republican Party imploding, I am concerned that, related to this growing possibility of war between Syria and Israel, Bush will drop some bombs over Iran to try and "rally" enough scared Americans to vote for the GOP Congressional candidates and incumbents. While I'd like to believe a bombing of Iran would backfire against Republicans, I would rather not see any further blooshed under any circumstances at this important time.

Friday, October 06, 2006

If the election were held today...

but it's not.

Still, there is something hopeful in looking at today's (Oct 6, 2006) "Electoral-vote.com" web site. It shows the Dems in control of the Senate and the House! 50 to 49 with one independent (Bernie Sanders!) in the Senate and 218 to 216 in the House.

The issue that may be driving some independent or even some Republican voters to switch to the Democrats may well be the Republican Congressional leadership's protection of now former and disgraced Congressman Foley and his predatory ways with Congressional pages. It's things like the Foley cover-up that can turn an election with so-called "swing" voters.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Berman misleads--and defames I.F.Stone, again

Paul Berman is at it again. Here is Berman's rejoinder to Eric Alterman's less than adequate response to Berman's original hit piece on I.F. "Izzy" Stone, Stone being one of the greatest journalists of the 20th Century.

After Berman continues to take the word of an elderly KGB agent who has no documentation to back up his interpretation of Stone's ocassional lunches with him from 1966 to 1968 (as if KGB agents living in DC didn't have a motivation to exaggerate for their bosses and then their own aggrandizement) Berman expands another line of attack against Stone. Berman says:

"In my Times piece I (Berman) quoted Stone sneering a little bit at someone named Boris Shub, an American Menshevik -- that is, an American with Russian Menshevik roots. Boris Shub wrote a book in 1950 called 'The Choice,' about how America ought to treat the Soviet Union. Shub was against mere 'containment,' which he thought wasn't working. And he was against launching a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, which he thought was insane, and which, in any case, was only going to unite the Russians against us. (This was the part of his argument that Stone approved). (Bold added)

"Shub favored, instead, lending aid and support to the sundry Russian socialists (Shub used that word, referring to the Mensheviks) and to democrats and trade unionists who could be found in the Soviet Union, in spite of Stalin. Shub wanted to help these people because he hoped that, with support from the United States, they might be able someday to overthrow the Communist government."


Berman says earlier in his rejoinder that Eric Alterman is a confused in his defense. Here, Berman is confusing in his phrasing: "Sneering a little bit"? I wonder what that looks like. Sneering is something done with emphasis, and is not done "a little bit."

But is Stone "sneering" at Boris Shub? A review of the article Berman is quoting from says otherwise. First, the article Stone wrote is entitled, "Shall we take the gamble Hitler lost?" (October 25, 1951). Second, the article expresses Stone's outrage at then noted writer Hanson Baldwin's article in Collier's magazine that supported the idea of what was then called, among US policy-makers, a "limited" invasion of the Soviet Union. Here is Stone, toward the end of the article, which also provides the context for Stone's single remark about Boris Shub:

"Collier's blueprint calls for round-the-clock bombing but assumes we can fight Russia's masters without fighting her people. There is no way to bomb with such pinpoint accuracy as to hit only card-carrying Communists. There is no way to wage a war of liberation with atom bombs. History shows that foreign attack tends to solidify Russians against the invader rather than against their rulers, whther czars or commissars."

Stop for a moment before we get to Stone's comment about Boris Shub. Note the words Stone used: "Russian masters" and "rulers, whether czars or comissars." That doesn't sound like Stone thinks the Soviets are his "comrades," as Berman says of Stone late in his rejoinder. Anyway, Stone continues in this 1951 article:

"Let us listen to a bitterly anti-Communist writer, who himself advocates American aid to counter-revolutionary movements within the Soviet Union. 'If,' Boris Shub writes in his book 'The Choice,' 'through the continued absence of a positve American peace program toward Russia, the Kremlin does convince the majority that we intend to wage genocidal war, they will have to rally behind Stalin as the lesser evil.'

"'For no matter how much they hate the police state,' Shub continues, 'they cannot welcome mass extermination by American hydrogen bombs.' War against the Soviet regime would inescapably be war against the Soviet peoples and their allies in China and Eastern Europe. That is a lot of people, about three quarters of a billion of them. It will take the lives of a good many American boys to subdue them, if inistead of collapsing (as in the Collier's blueprint) they resist."


That's the last two paragraphs of the article. This was no attack on Shub. Instead, Stone begins his citation about Shub with the phrase "Let us listen" to Shub. Stone then goes on to let Shub have the last major quote--and then goes on to agree with Shub's point! Don't you wish people would "sneer" at you like that?

But, does Stone advocate Shub's plan, as explained by Berman (who I am starting not to trust any longer), which was to give "aid and support"--military?--to people behind Soviet borders? No, Stone does not advocate Shub's plan. Stone is clearly concerned with nuclear war, as many sober commentators were at that time. And note again the word Stone uses attached to the word "Soviet" in the last paragraph of the article: "regime." That is a negative, not a positive, term to describe a government.

Now, Stone did use the phrase "bitterly anti-Communist writer" to describe Shub. Is that negative? Maybe. However, writers sympathetic to FDR have described FDR as being "bitterly opposed to Hitler." Does that constitute a sneer at FDR? Hardly. Also, the definition of the word "bitter" in the Merriam-Webster's dictionary has, as the first relevant definition of the term: "...2 : marked by intensity or severity...being relentlessly determined..." Again, that doesn't sound like a word that denotes "sneering."

As for Berman's endorsement of Shub's plan in 1950, Berman is being quite naive and ignorant. Berman needs to read, for starters, Christopher Simpson's "Blowback: America's Recruitment of Nazis and its effects on the Cold War" (1988), which details, in addition to the Truman administration's active recruitment of Nazis after WWII, the US government's failures, in the late 1940s, in trying to land spies behind Soviet lines, and foster a revolt against Stalin.

Also, I ask Berman, how many trade unionists and social democrats were active in Russia at that time, and how many were going to go into espionage for the US in the early 1951, when Stone wrote his article? Maybe that's why Stone saw what Shub was calling for was a "counter-revolution." It is not surprising, though, that Berman wants to give the particular phrase, "counter-revolution," that Stalinist type of twist, which is par for the course for Berman.

Again, Berman is slyly and deeply attacking Stone and again, Berman never bothers to make a real-world comparison of Stone to a Cold Warrior such as Bill Buckley--and Buckley's outright support of dictators, great and small, during the Cold War and beyond. Weirdly, Berman decides to defend Jean-Paul Sartre, of all people, which shows again how Berman is applying benefits of the doubt to others, but not Stone.

Berman, when it comes to Stone, would rather spend an inordinate time talking about the old KGB agent's usage of words in recent interviews with Stone's biographer and, while doing so, never really comes to grips with whether that KGB agent is someone credible. Berman therefore needs to twist Stone's actual writings to the public and try to lead people to believe Stone lacks integrity--precisely what the Bob Novak's and Bill Buckley's have said about Stone for so many decades.

Final points
:

In one rhetorical flourish, Berman, in his rejoinder to Eric Alterman, says Stone wrote "idiotic salutes to Castro and other Communists." Berman offers no support for this statement, which would, for proof, require more than an isolated incident. I have reviewed Stone's essay books for citations to Castro and noted the following: Stone, in an article from February 27, 1961, said that he was disappointed that Castro will not compromise with the US and that Castro was starting a one-party state that would undermine the hope of the Cuban Revolution against the former dictator, Batista. Stone had gone to Havana to see the "Revolution" for himself, at that time, and saw signs that showed Cuba was possibly heading toward the Soviet style of dictatorship.

Almost two years later, Stone returned to Cuba and reported on his own poor treatment by authorities there (see: Stone's article "Not easy to be a reporter--at large--in Havana," dated January 7, 1963). A week after that, in a January 14, 1963 article, Stone wrote that he saw that the Soviets had permeated into the culture of Cuba, but that, at the time of his trip to Havana, there was no evidence of a Soviet military presence from what he saw. He did see plenty of armed Cubans, a few of whom detained him, as he recounted in the previous article. Stone then says at the end of his article, after noting the reverence people had in Cuba toward Castro in those still-early years, that Castro was "liquidating" the Communist Party as "an independent force," which did not, Stone said, make Castro an "anti-Communist." Instead, said Stone, Castro had decided to pursue a "one-party Socialist" state with Castro himself, not the Communists, being the "party."*

Is that an "idiotic salute to Castro"? Berman's defamatory flourish is ridiculous. As Berman did not name any other Communists, I'll not respond further at this point. Suffice it to say though that Stone had few illusions about Ho Chi Minh, unlike some New Leftists (Berman in his younger days, perhaps?).

As for Eric Alterman, how did he react to Berman's rejoinder? Sad to say, Alterman acted like Joe Lieberman responding to an attack on Democrats. Alterman punted. Don't believe me? Here is what Alterman said on his blog at Media Matters today:

"Paul Berman replies to my critique of his review of Myra McPherson's biography of Izzy Stone, here. My piece was here. I'm going to let it go at that."

That's it, Eric? After all those years you told everyone that you were a personal friend of I.F. Stone? With Stone dead since 1989, and unable to defend himself, Alterman showed he is not a good friend. At all. For shame, Eric, for shame.

* In the January 14, 1963 article, which would be easy to caricature as it is a stream of consciousness reporting his impressions of Cuba, Stone also says, "Persons like myself, friendly to Cuba, and with a liffelong acquaintence with Communists, could not see Fidel Castro as a Marxist-Leninist..." for reasons having to do with Castro's sense of the dramatic and sometimes, in the earliest days of the Revolution, Castro's other mannerisms. But, says Stone, "I no longer think this true." Remember, this is January 14, 1963, still early in the day of Castro's rule over Cuba, and Stone is already off any possible bandwagon. I did note the phrase Stone uses inside that quote, that Stone said he had "a lifelong acquaintence with Communists." I'm sure Berman would salivate over that one, but he would have to admit that Ronald Reagan also had a "lifelong acquaintence with Communists." That's far from being, as Berman accuses Stone of being, "comrades." As Berman himself also already admitted, Stone was not a Commie and wasn't a spy or even an agent of Soviet Russia. But he still can't help trying to discredit Stone, who was open, honest, forthright--and often insightful in a way most other commentators would wish for themselves.

(Edited)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I.F. Stone, American

Paul Berman wrote a sly and misleading attack on the long-deceased investigative journalist, I.F. Stone in last weekend's NY Times Book Review. I wrote the following letter to the editor, knowing it won't get published, but wanting to set straight the record as to Stone's commentary on Soviet Russia from the 1930s through the early 1950s. I sent a copy of my letter on Sunday morning to Eric Alterman, who has long said he was a friend of Stone's--and also of Berman's. Despite Eric having a copy of my letter, he wrote a poorly argued defense of Stone, published today at the American Prospect, where Eric repeats Berman's canard that Stone defended the Soviet Union until 1956, the year Soviet Premier Krushchev made his famous speech denouncing Stalin. With friends like Eric, Stone needs no more enemies.

Here is my letter (It's worth reading the review first) to the NY Times:

"Paul Berman misleads NY Times readers regarding IF Stone's views of the Soviet Union. Berman's review leads readers to believe Stone never voiced strong criticism of the Soviet Union until 1956, the same year Krushchev denounced Stalin. Berman's supposition is not supported by the record. For example, in a December 7, 1934 editorial, Stone denounced Stalin's dictatorship, specifically Stalin's murders of Old Bolsheviks that began after the infamous Kirov murder that year. A couple of years later, Stone denounced the Stalinist "show" trials of Old Bolsheviks as a frame-up that resembled Nazi show trials and compared Stalin's regime to one of "Fascist thugs and racketeers." As the show trials continued, Stone spoke of the Soviet Union heading toward a new type of "Thermidor" between pro-Trotsky and pro-Stalin forces in the Soviet Union. Was he wrong in not understanding that Stalin had completely consolidated his power over the so-called "left" opposition by that point? Yes, but that does not make Stone a Stalinist. Mr. Stone, as did others such as Daniel Bell, simply recognized that Trotsky and his internal Soviet supporters were also capable of repression, starting with Trotsky's own order to kill striking sailors at Krondstat in 1919. At the time, Trotskyists such as Stephen Schwartz* or Irving Howe despised Stone for not revering Trotsky, which appears to be the genesis of the later left-wing red-baiting of Stone--a position that Berman, himself an acolyte of certain aging Trotskyists, has now endorsed.

(*Error on my part: I should have put Stephen Schwartz after Howe and pointed out Schwartz is a modern Trotsky supporter. He was not born until 1948.)

"Apart from an errant signing of an anti-fascist petition that called the Soviets a "bulwark" against fascism and Nazism, a petition Stone immediately regretted signing as it came just weeks before the Soviet-Nazi pact of 1939, Stone's written record, contrary to Berman, is consistent in not "favoring" the Soviet Union. In fact, even the former Trotskyist and later Red-baiter, Max Eastman, recognized that Stone voiced very hostile opinions of the Soviets after the Soviet-Nazi pact.

"Berman also selectively quotes a portion of Stone's March 14, 1953 editorial regarding the death of Stalin. Mr. Berman quotes Mr. Stone as saying, "Magnanimous salute was called for on such an occasion." One doubts Berman read the editorial, or else he'd know the topic of the essay concerned Stone's wonderment at the muted, almost respectful response the Eisenhower administration expressed in response to Stalin's death. Stone noted, archly, that even the extremist, anti-communist Congressman, Martin Dies, lamented, after learning of Stalin's death, that Stalin was "more cautious and conservative than the younger Bolsheviks." Stone's article discussed the fear among members of the American anti-communist establishment that the Soviet Union might have a repeat of the 1930s purges after Stalin's death. Stone also favorably cited a then-noted anti-communist dissident from the Soviet Union as to the messianic fervor of the Bolshevik movement and its continued sway over too many Soviet citizens. At the time, Stone himself was concerned over a potential nuclear confrontation between the Soviet Union and the US. Yet, present-day critics, such as Berman, would use that concern as a basis to paint Stone as a Stalinist. What they must ignore, however, in addition to the above, is that shortly before Stalin's death, Stone had publicly denounced Stalin's conspiracy theory against Stalin's own doctors, known as the "doctor's plot." Stone decried Stalin's conspiracy theory as "too hideous to be credible." Stone further said, in this regard, "The Russian rulers have a way of erecting possibilities into actualities and then staging trials to 'prove' what they fear..."

"Berman, however, is not content with misleading assumptions and selective quotations. Instead, he goes on to cite an elderly, retired KGB agent who calls Stone a "fellow traveler" of the Soviet Union and who claims Stone performed "tasks" for the Soviet Union. Upon questioning the agent, however, the "tasks" turn out to be Stone voicing opinions of various senators or congressmen during occasional lunches with the agent. The phrase "fellow traveler" was a favorite of Leninists in the early 20th Century, but became a verbal weapon of American right wingers, who used the phrase to de-legitimize American liberals and leftists. If it was an objective phrase, it would be applied against more than one side of the political ledger--but it isn't. For example, one doesn't see articles about William F. Buckley, Jr. where writers call Mr. Buckley a fellow traveler of fascists in the context of Buckley's outright adoration for the Spanish fascist dictator, Francisco Franco. If one compared the number of fascistic dictators Buckley has actively supported over the decades, including Buckley's support of regimes that targeted and killed Catholic priests and nuns in Central America in the 1980s, one would find that IF "Izzy" Stone has a better record than Buckley in supporting freedom movements and open governments. On domestic issues, Buckley's own written record reveals himself as a fellow traveler of home grown racists, in his disdain for the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s, and a fellow traveler of home-grown fascists, with Buckley's continuing defense of Joseph McCarthy.

"Overall, Berman's review misleadingly obscured the values of a man who deeply loved his home nation, the United States, and who revered our nation's founders in ways that would make many modern historians wince. As a journalist, Stone broke important stories with regard to civil rights, war and peace, and the health dangers of nuclear testing, among other issues and often wrote in a gentle style that is scarce today--though Stone was often cantankerous and sarcastic in private conversation. Stone, who died in 1989, deserved better than having Berman trying to settle old scores from certain aging or now departed Trotskyists. And I say this as someone who reveres, as did Stone, a brilliant Trotsky supporter and Russian dissident of the 1920s and 1930s, Victor Serge. Shame on Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the NY Times Book Review, who is correctly willing to give Whitaker Chambers the benefit of the doubt, but who has never extended that benefit to IF Stone."

_________

Final comments: Even Stone's new biographer, Myra MacPherson, calls Stone's attacks on the Soviets during the 1930s "tepid," which is also wrong. MacPherson's bio of Stone and Berman fail to understand that, in the context of the Popular Front*, the need to support the New Deal with a wide coalition, that included American Communist Party members, and helping our nation understand that the more immediate threat to the US was from Nazi Germany and the other two members of the so-called Axis Front (Japan and Italy), it is striking how critical Stone was, in fact, of both Communists (Stalinist and Trotskyist) and the Soviet Union. That is also why I compared Stone to Buckley, so that people can see how Buckley, during the Cold War, where the main threat was supposedly the Commies, excused and even lauded far more dictators than Stone ever did, if one applied the nomenclature of anti-communism to those who were "soft" on fascism and worse. Does anyone recall Buckley ripping into Pinochet, Suharto, Franco, and a host of other right wing dicatators who claimed to be anti-communist and who claimed to be fighting against "International Communism"? If Buckley did, he did so a lot later than even Alterman and Berman claim Stone was with reference to Russia and Stalin's rule there.

I also note that, late in MacPherson's biography of Stone, she says that Stone himself, in a clearly sardonic remark on a television show in 1988 (a year before his death), said he was a "fellow traveler" of the Soviet Union. There is strong reason to believe Stone didn't mean to use that phrase the way Berman is using it, that is, without irony. Look for Berman to use that point in his defense if my response is published in the Times or if someone else calls him on his ignorance of Stone's actual writings. I want to be careful in not calling Berman a liar because I want to believe he is just ignorant. I happen to have loved Berman's writings over the years and share Alterman's sadness at Berman's descent into Hitchensville with regard to Iraq.

Finally, the really sad part of all this is that Stone's commentaries over the years hold up extraordinarily well. He provided real information for readers on real issues, foreign and domestic, and his prose is truly spectacular. See here and here, for just limited examples that are on the web. His books of essays are outstanding and remain highly readable for younger readers. See also: Stone's full length investigative works, such as "Business as Usual" (1941) (which shows the capital strike against FDR and the US, during FDR's efforts to build up a war machine to fight in World War II; a book that put Stone against the Communists and the Soviet Union's stance at that point) and even "The Hidden History of the Korean War" (1953) (where Stone makes a strong case that the North Korean invasion was not a "surprise" to South Korea's leaders or US General MacArthur; but where Stone was dead wrong in speculating whether the South invaded the North in that fateful month of June 1950). "Hidden History" has so many scoops that it took decades for mainstream writers to expose the so-called "unknown" history that Stone put together using American and European newspapers in real time (Compare Joseph Goulden's excellent book, "Korea: The Untold Story of the Korean War" (hardcover, 1979) and its findings with Stone's book and you'll be amazed!). The "Hidden History of the Korean War" is a great book for budding journalists and political writers as Stone shows how to critically read media sources and how the "conventional wisdom" is often devastatingly wrong.

I miss Izzy Stone and I am angry that these attacks on Stone's integrity are not being adequately answered and knocked down by people with far more readership than this little blog.

* The Popular Front included communists, who often were "manning" booths, registering voters and licking envelopes for election mailers to solidify votes for Democrats and the New Deal, the way the religious right does for the Republicans today. In a great, but largely unknown work, "When the Old Left Was Young" (1993) by Robert Cohen, Cohen makes a secondary point that liberals used the Communists far more than Communists used liberals during the New Deal years. He shows how most so-called "Communist Fronts" collapsed after the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 and when the Communists tried to directly take over the organizations. This proved that the organizations were effective in helping "New Deal liberal" causes, but failed when the organizations were turned to directly help Communist causes. It is amazing how upside down most of the "conventional wisdom" is on the subject of the 1930s, the New Deal and the left of that era--and, again, how there is no consistent application of the nomenclature of anti-communism to those who apologized for right wing dicatators during the Cold War.

(Edited)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Hamas imploding and losing influence

Here are two articles from Ha'aretz that show Hamas is losing influence and imploding. This is far less the result of Israeli policies than self-inflicted wounds from Hamas' acts of violence and absurd rejections of compromise from the Israeli government (which is itself a surprise, considering where the Israeli government was just 90 days ago).

But note here, which is likely to produce more acts of violence from Palestinians as Palestinians will continue to feel that no matter what they do, Israel will build more settlements and exprorpriate land.

Finally, sources friendly to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are now telling her side of the story of the Israel-Hezbollah War of 2006. Close observers of that war may recall how Olmert pushed her into the background late in the month of July 2006. This story helps us understand why that happened. I also sense she now has Olmert's ear, to Defense Minister Peretz's consternation. Olmert has now announced he will at least speak to Abbas, and without conditions, and try to jump start peace talks--and perhaps she was behind the compromise offer the Hamas stupidly and callously rejected.

(Edited)