Monday, February 26, 2007

And by the time you're 60...

Rudy Giuliani has brought out the old insult often attributed to Winston Churchill. Guiliani said before an audience of blind faith, right wingers affiliated with the Hoover Institution, named for that particularly unsuccessful president, Herbert Hoover:

"'It's one of the reasons that I used to be a Democrat and I'm now a Republican,' Giuliani said before quoting Winston Churchill as saying: 'If you're not a liberal when you're 20, you have no heart, but if you're not a conservative by the time you're 40, you have no brain.'"

When I hear that insult, I sometimes respond to the person who utters the statement:

"And by the time you're 60, you should finally be able to figure out 'liberal' and 'conservative' are labels that mean much less than you assume. It's far more mature to find out whether a particular government policy helps or hurts most working folks in our nation, than worry about hackneyed, cliche-drenched labels."

What makes Rudy pathetic is that he is now 62 going on 63--and he still can't figure out how to think about public policy, relying instead on quick and easy--and often shallow--labels.

Separate from the above, if anyone wants to know the "real" Guiliani, check out this book by Wayne Barrett--and this new book about the myths of Guiliani surrounding the events immediately following 9/11/2001. In a just media "market," Wayne Barrett would be on television and radio at least as much as the so-called Swift Boat Veterans back when Kerry was running for president. At least Barrett is a real journalist, not some political hack opponent as was/is John O'Neill.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Thoughts on the Libby trial, before the verdict

If the jury does not announce a verdict in the Libby prosecution by tomorrow, Monday, February 26, 2007, then Libby looks good for a hung jury or acquittal.

I would less surprised than some other bloggers if that happens only because juries in the DC area, where this case was tried, are likely to be very worried about letting Libby take the fall for Cheney. Even the largely black jury who heard the Oliver North case only held North accountable for acts he did himself, and acquitted him on those counts where the proof was "merely" that he was following orders; thus negating the rule of law that said we cannot defend ourselves for "following orders."

Personally, I always wondered about a too literal and encompassing application of the rule of law that says "following orders is no defense"--and, though I was outraged by North, defended the jury verdict in the North criminal case. What I found truly reprehensible, from a judicial process standpoint, was that the 3 judge appellate panel that reversed all findings of criminal liability against North included two men who worked for the Reagan administration during the events underlying the Iran-Contra scandals--particularly Judge Silberman who, in a just world, would have been slapped with ethics violations for hearing that appeal.

If the jury announces a verdict tomorrow, it will likely convict Libby. The evidence as to Libby's arrogance in lying to Fitzgerald and his investigators was very strong. Unlike most others, Libby simply had no respect for anyone outside his little circle in the Vice President's office--including law enforcement. It is why I also believe Libby should be convicted. It is that deep arrogance and recklessness in exposing Mrs. Wilson (Plame) and then lying about it that did outrage my sense of duty each of us owes our nation.

Final comments regarding the "sociology" of the proceedings:

A salutary aspect of the trial is that it showed many of our fellow citizens of our nation how the national corporate media were enablers to the Bush administration--and the culture of DC reporters and pundits is one of controlled leaking by powerful political elites to spread lies and misleading propaganda among the public. The usual assumption that leaks largely entail whistle-blowing and truth-telling does not apply at the level of "official" national corporate-owned media, for the most part. Mostly, it's a series of "friendly calls" and cocktail parties with Tim Russert, Robert Novak, Judy Miller, and others of that ilk.

Even behind that salutary aspect is another negative one. While we should always be grateful for the Sy Hersh or Greg Palast folks who do break important stories involving deeper truths about our public policy, we should be concerned that, sometime in a not too distant future, a prosecutor with less integrity than Fitzgerald may use the Libby indictment and prosecution to directly go after the Hershes or Palasts out there, with far worse results for our democratic-republican values. The difference, though, may be that Hersh or Palast are likely to not say anything and get confined to jail for contempt (as did Miller), as opposed to lying to prosecutors in the first place.

If, however, Libby is convicted, he will simply appeal and the Worst President will pardon Libby, Cheney, himself and everyone else around them who wants a pardon for their actions during this disastrous presidency.


Personal stuff and reviewing historian reviewers

On Saturday February 17, 2007, I suffered a partial blood clot and have been in some pain throughout the week. I also visited doctors or hospitals nearly every day this week and missed work on Thursday and Friday altogether as I have been resting the leg. I am surviving and the clot is now almost dissolved. Ah, the little things that can become a big problem.

Now, on to the Sunday Book Reviews and reviewing book reviews:

First, there is a review by Cold Warrior defender John Lewis Gaddis in today's Sunday NY Times Book Review of the new book on Nixon's trip to China. It is a great review, though I am not a fan of Gaddis generally. My criticism of the review, however, is that Gaddis never puts his finger on the reason Nixon was "successful" in his trip to China: China had coveted diplomatic relations and UN entrance for years, but were blocked because of people like...Nixon.

Gaddis appears to be unaware, for example, that Zhou Enlai, Mao's Foreign Minister, had been a consistent proponent of "peaceful coexistence" with the US and went so far as to propose, around 1960, that China, in return for UN and US recognition, would leave it to the UN as to whether Taiwan be considered independent or part of China. There was, at that time, a much better opportunity for Taiwan to receive UN approval for independence, again, but for people like Nixon who pushed the view that anyone who talked to Commies was "soft" on Communism. Instead, the US bowed to Taiwan's military dictator, Chiang Kai-Shek, who steadfastly refused to recognize that Taiwan be anything except part of the China--because he himself hoped to re-invade and save mainland China from Communism (The Communist Chinese government was established in 1949 after defeating Chiang in China, with Chiang and his forces escaping to Taiwan). This position backfired when the US, as a result of Nixon's trip to China, led the US to "officially" abandoning Taiwan as an independent nation--though it has been nothing short of a miracle that Taiwan's independence movement has continued to develop and perhaps thrive.

Gaddis also hints at, but fails to recognize the significance of how Nixon's concessions to China, particularly about Taiwan's status, were probably unnecessary--due to the Soviets and Chinese each wanting warmer relations with the US and thus in a position to compromise various positions. Sy Hersh's book on Kissigner is excellent on this point of Nixon's unncessary concessions to the Chinese and the Russians (Hersh's book remains the best book on the Nixon-Kissinger era, despite it having been written over two decades ago as most of Hersh's then controversial points have been confirmed through continued study of the archives).

Nixon's trip to China took place in late 1971 and Nixon was already thinking about re-election. He wanted to be seen as a successful world leader and the trips to China and later to the Soviet Union were designed to give that impression to the American people. It was an early version of "triangulation" where one jettisons aspects of one's own party's ideology and embraces the other side's ideology--to create the impression that one is "above politics."

Too many historians of the Nixon era have failed to appreciate these factors (and this review of the book by China "expert" Orville Schell is even worse than Gaddis' review, I hate to admit).

The failure of too many historians in this area of history has contributed to too many political scientists and historians concluding that, somehow, if the Democratic Party had nominated a less "liberal" Democrat than McGovern in 1972, the Democrats would have had a better chance against Nixon that year. As my New Jersey relatives would say, "Fugedaboudit." Nixon was going to win in 1972 against Humphrey, Muskie, or even Scoop Jackson--which made Nixon's corrupt activities against the Democrats in 1971 and 1972 all the more mystifying (though I do support this theory about what was behind the Watergate Hotel break-in in 1972...).

Second, here is a decently drawn review of a new book on the vegetarian movement in England from the 1660s through the 20th Century. The book reviewer helps us understand how culture and politics cross in strange and sometimes wondrous ways, though I wish the reviewer was more detailed and less interested in trying to be witty and ironic. This is a topic that deserved a more scholarly treatment in a review.

Oh well, gotta keep that leg up and rest today...Back to work tomorrow (Yes!).


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The real problem is health care spending, not Social Security and not Medicare

This is the real problem: health care spending.

Social Security is not in trouble. Medicare is in trouble, in part because there is no way for Medicare to control the cost of medication prescriptions through bulk purchases, for example, and Medicare, by its own limitations, is insuring the most at-risk and expensive group in the nation: Senior citizens. Yet, Medicare's administrative costs are 10% of the administrative costs of private health insurers: 2% for Medicare versus 20% for private enterprises.

The solution is obvious to anyone without "business libertarian" agendas and the most narrow of business interests: Medicare for every American, where there is cost containment of prescription medications through negotiations with Big Pharma for bulk purchases, providing incentives for home care for the elderly, and pushing preventive medicine for those in good health to stay in good health through regular check ups and better healthy habits.

And please, don't start with the usual "long lines for knee replacement" scenarios. The current system sucks at multiple levels and could bankrupt the nation if we don't get our act together. I'll wait for the knee replacement, thank you, if we can solve the other problems inherent in the current system.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Um, Mitt, what do you mean by a "person of faith"?

Mitt Romney says he believes a "person of faith" should be the leader of our nation. Well, apart from the statement's disrespect to those who are agnostic or atheist, the statement itself is not a good formula to tell us whether the person would be a good leader for our nation.

For example, we don't want someone with "blind faith" (hmmm...) to lead us, but it would be nice to have someone who speaks and leads in "good faith."

Better then, to elect, as a leader, someone who is honest, reasonable and intelligent --not a person of undefined "faith" who is dishonest, unreasonable and unintelligent.

After eight years of the Worst President in our lifetimes, who makes ostentatious statements regarding his being a person of faith, perhaps Mitt might wish to qualify what he means by that statement. Then, we can determine whether Atrios may have it correct that it is, in actuality, a bigoted statement. My sense is that Romney's statement represents another level of cynical pandering to the religious right Republican primary voter--and it is a pandering ultimately designed to narrow who is "legitimately" entitled to take part in our public discourse.

Mitt, then, uttered his statement in "bad" faith.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Putting people in jail for holding offensive political views is wrong

See here.

Thank God for the First Amendment in the USA. Really.

We should not be afraid of Holocaust deniers. They are terribly and horribly wrong and probably at least somewhat daft. However, again, putting them in jail for thinking and saying offensive things is wrong and laws like that should be abolished throughout Europe and Canada.

Monday, February 12, 2007

National Artists, not just Dixie Chicks

I mostly have no use for the Grammy awards. Contrary to what it claims to be, a ceremony honoring the best music, it is really no different than a cullinary award ceremony that gives prizes to McDonalds, Burger King or Wendy's for selling the most hamburgers. Taste and artistry are incidental to such a ceremony.

So it was with joy that I awoke this morning to find the Grammy Awards' hamburger sales mentality had intersected with honoring artistry when the Grammys bestowed the Best Album award, among other awards, to the Dixie Chicks' for their album, "Taking the Long Way."

Here was my review of the album when it was released. I was happily surprised by its musical intelligence and its wise lyrics and found the album to be the Dixie Chicks' equivalent to the Beatles' "Rubber Soul," meaning a "transition" album that was innovative, both musically and lyrically. While I had applauded the Dixie Chicks' lead singer's criticism of the Worst President, that didn't mean I liked their music. If that was the case, I'd be a Springsteen or Bon Jovi fan, of which I admit I am not--despite both fellows also being from my home state of New Jersey. The Dixie Chicks earned my support for this album on the merits of the album.

If you haven't purchased the Dixie Chicks' album, please consider this a definite endorsement. It is a wonderful album, and a complete album where nearly every song is excellent (unlike the usual situation where the only good songs are the ones played on the radio). The album is filled with great melodies, smart lyrics and excellent production by the now-legendary Rick Rubin. Rubin's production is crisp to the point where one hears, with clarity, the backing piano and bass, for example, and there is a textured smoothness to the sound that is rare among many pop albums.

My hope for the Dixie Chicks is they continue their development of a national sound and perhaps reach for an international sound, not limited by the confining label of a genre. And maybe next time they tour, they can advertise their concerts on radio stations other than country music stations.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Blaming women...sigh...again

The Washington Post Book World has two interesting reviews of new books that bemoan the state of being a "Woman." The first book reviewed concerns the modern young women's lack of sexual propriety, while the second book reviewed tells slightly and much older women to seek more sexual fulfillment.

The first reviewer is properly skeptical about whether an entire generation of women has embraced the life of the lead character in "Fear of Flying", perhaps because the reviewer may be familiar with this book and this book, two far more important books that help us understand what books like the two reviewed books don't really come to grips with: the other sex, i.e. men, and the fact that all of us are humans with urges and minds that often produce guilt, shame, lust, disappointment and regret--and far less of a sense of contentment and especially pleasure than we expected. The second book's reviewer, at least, senses that the problem for women is likely "Life" itself; and maybe, just maybe it's not totally "her" fault.*

*It does not appear the second book reviewed "blames" women, but its focus on women still has a sense of overemphasizing fault in one sex--and it's not the male of the species.

Having just read this almost content-free article in Newsweek about young women being in an economic and cultural position to ape, on a larger-scale basis, the antics of the latest out-of-control starlets, harlots and hieresses, I am again disappointed in how most of these books and articles often contain a "blame the female" assumption. Again, the articles and books often do not adequately deal with the relationships between men and women, and how those relationships influence the behaviors that we demand of females, but not often of males.

Take this book reviewed in the today's NY Times Book Review. The book concerns the antics of men in that usual snickering way of "men will be boys..heh-heh" with little or no castigation or aspersions for the men. Just imagine an author writing a book about boorish females with a nod and wink that supports such behavior. It's just not done in most instances--because the deeply buried cultural assumption is that women are the sex which must bear the burden of civilization, humility and decorum.

This article, though, begins to show us that how fathers speak with and to their daughters has an effect on their daughters' self-esteem and conduct. Not a surprise, but really it is a surprise that someone would study this instead of studying reasons to blame the girl for falling for bad advertising, engaging in bad behavior, etc. The article about us Dads failing our daughters starts this way:

"Fathers are important influences on their daughters’ perceptions of their weight and shape during childhood, and can increase their risk of developing an eating disorder in adolescence, research shows.

“'Fathers have been mostly ignored in previous research on eating disorders,' Dr. W. Stewart Agras, who led the research, told Reuters Health. Based on his findings, Agras said fathers “should avoid criticizing their daughter’s weight or shape. Rather they should build up their daughter’s confidence by emphasizing other positive attributes.'

"Weight concerns and preoccupation with being thin, together with social pressure to be thin, are strong risk factors for eating disorders in later adolescence. In an effort to throw light on what factors during childhood contribute to weight concerns and thin body preoccupation, Agras and colleagues from Stanford University in California followed 134 children (68 girls and 66 boys) from birth to age 11 and their parents."

Now don't get me wrong here. I am not saying it's Dads' and guys' total fault in general. What I am saying is something which should also be intiutively understood, but is obscured by too many books that place the "civilizing" burden on women: We all have the burden of acting with more humility, decorum and to be "civilized", but too often our personal lives are a mess. We all need to show some humility about the lives of others and to recognize our own hypocrisies and less-than-salutary behavior. This is not the burden of one sex or the other, and if we speak about one sex or the other, we ought to recognize the communication between the sexes and their general conduct towards each other is an important factor to study and discuss.

And as the Dad to an almost 9 year old daughter, I am growing more conscious of how my statements about life in her presence, and my statements to her in particular will have consequences as to her future behavior. I am also trying to help her understand the mixed messages she sees on our home's television screens, including on Nickolodeon and the Disney Channel, and how to rise above the messages to become a more discerning and thinking person. It is what I have done with my now 13 year old son. It's all hit or miss, depending upon what we see on television or hear on radio together, though...

Final note: All of this is not to say that men do not have chemical bases that may cause them to be more rauckus in their behavior or that women don't have different chemical bases that may create different sets of behavoirs. What I am saying is that we humans are more complicated than the chemical bases we each have, and it is our interactions with each other that can change our thinking and our behavior in ways that are multiple and varied, as Eric Kandel writes brilliantly about in this book that combines biography and scientific history, "In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind." If you read any book this year, read this book. I am halfway through it and have been amazed with its brilliance and fascinated by the extent to which scientists are exploring and mapping consciousness and mind--and how our reactions to our environment and relations with each other significantly affect that consciousness and mind.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Too bad CT voters can't recall Lieberman...and Hagel decides to sell shoes

Reading Josh Marshall's post here and this article in the Washington Post about today's failure to stop a mostly Republican led filibuster over a toothless resolution that would have criticized Bush's increase of troops in Iraq, I thought, "Can't the voters in Connecticut start a recall campaign against Lieberman?"

Unfortunately, the answer is "no." There is no recall of federal officials that I've seen in any State's constitution. And anyway, unlike California and 17 other States, Connecticut has no statewide recall mechanism for its own State government office holders, either. My disappointment with Connecticut voters who voted for Lieberman just increased along with the US troops having to go to Iraq.

And let's talk a bit about Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), who two weeks ago said that if a senator can't make a tough decision based upon his principles, he/she might as well quit the senate and sell shoes (thereby insulting thsoe who sell shoes for a living, but making a point about taking a stand). Well, two weeks after railing against Bush's call for increasing troop levels in Iraq, Hagel today voted with other Republicans to defeat the non-binding resolution against the troop increase. I bet a shoe salesman would have understood that, if you are against the troop increase, you don't vote to support a filibuster that has the effect of supporting the troop increase.

Two Republicans voted with the Democrats on the still largely toothless resolution: Susan Collins (R-ME) and Norm Coleman (D-MN). Memo to Norm: While I appreciate your support on this one, with Al Franken running against you next year, there is really no vote you can make that will save you. Therefore, we may expect Norm and the Reeps to go negative early and often against Al Franken. Deeply negative.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Super Sunday for the NY Times Book Review section

In the NY Times Book Review this week, there are several noteworthy articles to read.

Start with Rick Perstein's smack-down of corporate Democrat Terry McAuliffe's new book. It encapsulates much of what I find most odious about McAuliffe and the harm he did to the Democratic Party during the 1990s and early 2000s--from which the party is still recuperating.

Also in the NY Times Book Review, a thoughtful review of a book of the history of vaccination curesm, which have not always resulted in a hero's welcome for the scientists who find cures to diseases. It also briefly notes our nation's penchant for fighting science is having some adverse societal consequences.

Another essay in the book review section that might go unnoticed, but ought to be read is this essay about the cultural and perhaps political effects of Pepsi-Cola reaching out, after World War II, to African-American consumers. (And, while it's not in today's Times, don't miss this lively essay by Janet Maslin on David Mamet's "Bambi v. Godzilla", about life in the business section of Hollywood).

And finally, let's take a trip down history lane and the demonization of liberals and the left by the right wing in America.

In the letters to the editor in the NY Times Book Review, William F. Buckley, Jr. defends an acolyte of his who a Times reviewer said had given a new twist to McCarthyite tactics of demonizing one's domestic political opponents (Here is Alan Wolfe's review of Dinesh D'Souza's "The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and its responsibility for 9/11"). And why not? Bill still defends what he wrote defending McCarthy himself in 1954. Here is what he and his then friend L. Brent Bozzell happily described, at page 333 of their book entitled "McCarthy and His Enemies" (Regnery Company 1954), as the real goal in fanning the the flames of anti-Communism:

"In October of 1952, Senator McCarthy delivered his widely heralded attack on Adlai Stevenson..."

(MF Blog note: McCarthy was speaking about Democratic Party presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, and jokingly referred to him this way: "Alger, I mean Adlai..." McCarthy was invoking the name of Alger Hiss, who, at the time, was facing perjury charges relating to Hiss being a member of the Communist Party and potentially a Soviet spy.)

The book continues:

"With millions of listensers glued to radio and TV, McCarthy reached, not for a red pain brush, but for a list of Stevenson's top advisors: Archibald MacLeish, Bernard De Voto, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Was his point that these men were Communists? No, that was not McCarthy's point. His objection to these men was not that they were Communists, or even pro-Communists, but that they were Liberals--atheistic, soft-headed, anti-anti-Communist, ADA (MF Blog note: Americans for Democratic Action) Liberals...

"Whether the speech was a conscious effort to narrow the limits of tolerable opinion so as to exclude left-wing Liberals, only McCarthy can say...But it may well be we have not heard the last of this idea. Some day, the patience of America may at last be exhausted, and we will strike out against Liberals. Not because they are treacherous like Communists, but because, with James Burnham, we will conclude 'that they are mistaken in their predictions, false in their analyses, wrong in their advice, and through the results of their actions injurious to the interests of the nation. That is reason enough to strive to free the conduct of the country's affairs from the influence of them and their works.'*...

(MF Blog note: The "*" is a footnote in the book that says Burnham was "most clearly advocating social sanctions" (emphasis in original) against Liberals.)

Buckley and Bozell then conclude their immediate point about "Liberals," stating:

"But the real point, for our purposes, is that the mainstream of McCarthyism flows past the Liberals as gently as the Afton; and that the MacLeishs, DeVotos and Schlesingers have no grounds for arguing that any sustained effort is being made to read them out of the community."

Note first the defamation against the three men. Contrary to Buckley and Bozell, the three men were in fact anti-Communist; they were just not pro-McCarthy. Second, Schlesinger et al were not "athiestic", which means an evangelical for atheism--heck, I doubt the three men were more than agnostics. During the Cold War, the term "atheistic" was often used as a qualifer as in "atheistic Communism", which shows us that Buckley and Bozell were in fact demonizing these three respected New Deal liberal gentlemen. And third, but not least, "soft-headed" is a derisive phrase that was eventually refined to simply atacking "liberals" as "weak."

The key point, however, is this: What Buckley and Bozell understood was the importance of allowing the McCarthys and now the D'Souza's space to work their poison in the mass media to delegitimize "Liberals." Even the last portion I quoted from their book is not truly a defense of Schlesinger et al. Buckley and Bozell are merely telling even moderate Liberals like Schlesinger, "Don't worry, it's not a 'sustained effort' to demonize you!" when in fact, their book and that style of attack had long become a sustained attack. At the time Buckley's and Bozell's book was written, the McCarthy hearings looking for Communists in the Army (!) had reached its peak.

As we also know, the demonization of Liberals became so complete over the succeeding decades that, by the late 1990s, it was sometimes better to be called a "radical" or "communist" because at least that implied you were "tough." Being called a "liberal" meant you were even more weak than you were wrong, and being weak is death for any political candidate among so-called "swing" voters.

The ironic portion of the above quotes, of course, is that perhaps America is now "exhausted" by the right wing which Buckley and friends have been calling "conservative" all these years. The right wing is the movement which has shown it is "mistaken in their predictions, false in their analyses, wrong in their advice, and through the results of their actions injurious to the interests of the nation." All I want, though, is not for them to be demonized, as a whole, but that we simply impeach Bush and Cheney and begin passing some laws that actually help the majority of people in our nation, starting with Medicare for everyone and labor law reform.

The only thing I'll say for D'Souza is that he attacked something he called the "Cultural Left." He did not say "Liberal" or "Progressive," which, in the annals of Red-Baiting, is at least an improvement. However, when one looks at his list of "enemies," one finds the definition of "cultural left" can get mighty wide in scope...