Friday, August 31, 2007

Protesting too much...

The Republican leadership made a conscious decision to attack Clinton for his illicit sexual activities throughout the 1990s, culminating in the entrapment with his affair with a younger woman that led to the impeachment of Clinton in 1998.

The Republicans are now reaping what they sowed with the various scandals that have engulfed two Senators (Vitter and Craig), a congressman (Foley), not to mention the losses of folks like Livingston and Gingrich, who had penchants for similar sorts of extra-marital affairs that Clinton had. And then there are the stories of various local and state Republican leaders who have recently been caught in acts that would have been fodder for anti-Clinton attacks by Republicans in the 1990s (No time this morning to link on these things, but they are out there).

Two observations, one serious and one somewhat snarky:

1. When will the Republican leadership stand up, apologize for their attacks against Clinton, and renounce the excessive scrutiny and judgment of people's personal lives--or does that undermine their anti-homosexual and anti-abortion agenda?

2. Are people starting to understand that beneath the hatred of homosexuals among Republicans lurk some or perhaps more people who may be desparately in denial of the fact that they have homosexual tendencies? You know the line from Shakespeare, where it is said a person "protests too much..."*

*Personal story: In the 1970s and early 1980s, a male cousin of mine would rant and rave against homosexuals and say things like "We have to stop the faggots! They are going to turn us all into faggots if we don't watch out!" At the time, he was a student attending San Francisco State University. I would look at him in response and say, "Cousin, you need to get out of San Francisco, as I think it has warped your perspective." Or I'd say, "Why do you care about someone's personal life? Give people a break and live and let live!" And then finally, after continued rants, I'd try some levity and say, "You know, most of the best looking guys, who can cook, dance, and are really humane, turn out to be gay. So, aren't we hetero guys lucky that women have to choose us as husbands or boyfriends?"

Then, around Thanksgiving 1983, my cousin suddenly came out of the closet. Oh, and did I mention he was a rabid Republican up until then (Afterwards, he was a libertarian who was not much into political talk, let alone politics)? The sad part of this story is that, though he was devoted to his eventual partner, his partner and then he died of AIDS in the early 1990s.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Priorities, priorities...

This fellow appropriately wonders what we as a nation could have done with half a trillion dollars that were spent invading and occupying Iraq these past few years.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Return of Sunday Book Review reading

It's been a work and volunteer summer for me, which made it difficult to get past articles and opinion pieces on the web for linking. However, I am bringing back (at least this week) the venerable Sunday Book Review reading link post:

1. This week, in the Washington Post's Book World, there is a short and well-written review of "The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation" by Giles MacDonogh. The book review provides a succinct and clear understanding of the exile and violent retribution against German nationals in what became known as Eastern Europe after World War II. The reviewer correctly says any discussion of this horrible retribution against German civilians after World War II must include the context of the German-Nazi brutality. Whether the book fails as badly in providing this context, as the reviewer indicates, is less certain, but still likely. This earlier book by MacDonough shows him quoting the notorious pro-Nazi historian, David Irving, in various footnotes, according to an otherwise favorable review of that book (scroll down in the Miran Ali's review where he is critical of MacDonough citing Irving).

However, if we are truly providing context, we should also recall that some of the most heinous acts of cruelty against Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals were engaged in by non-German nationals in each of those countries, as well. The period of 1938-1988 is an ugly, violent-laden period in Eastern European history where those engaging in the acts of cruelty often became the next victims and then, when the political tables turned again, engaged in retribution against others. Hatred of Jews may have ebbed, but never really went away.

2. A review to stay away from is David Leonhardt's reivew of a ridiculous new book attacking the New Deal (Amity Shales' "The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression"). The book reviewer wrongly assumes, for example, the New Deal did not solve the Great Depression. Conrad Black, himself an unlikely historian with spectacular flaws as a human being, is one of the few writers about FDR to actually look at how the government in the 1930s defined unemployment. What he found is that, if you worked for the Works Progress Administration, the Public Works Administration, or Civilian Conservation Corps, building bridges, roads, public buildings, clearing forests, etc., you were still "unemployed." When one counts such working folks as employed, the unemployment rate in 1938 and 1939 was often below 5%. When one considers unemployment was 33% when FDR began his administration in 1933, this is not a failure except in the fevered minds of capitalist ideologues with axes to grind. Next time one of these libertarian idiots go on about FDR prolonging the Depression, they should be confronted with this fact--and also the fact that GDP growth during the mid- to late 1930s was very strong, which again supports the point that lots of folks were working when before, they were not.

Also, Leonhardt takes a shallow swipe at farm subsidies, focusing only the fact of their abuses where folks are paid not to farm, and how the subsidies wound up helping what we could easily call "agribuisness." However, one should recognize that farm subsidies created the system that led to an overabundance of food which had not been the case before the subsidies were created. In fact, if one reviews the history of how government subsidies developed railroads, airplanes, computers and medical technology advances, one would be forced to abandon most of what passes for libertarian thinking. The truth is that mixed economies work better than societies that attempt anything close to pure capitalism or socialism. That's what grown ups understand.

Finally, there is nothing new in Amity Shales' analysis, as anyone who read John Flynn's works on FDR during the 1930s through 1950s could explain. I admit to enjoying Flynn's "The Roosevelt Myth" (1948)--see Book Two, Chapter Three of the book for Shales' analysis almost 60 years ago--and Flynn's early anti-Cold War essays. While attacking FDR made Flynn a prominently featured writer in newspapers and magazines across the country, his refusal to support the Cold War sent him into political oblivion for reasons having to do with the fact that, at that point, Big Business interests had made peace with the Democrats still basking in the sunlight of the New Deal.

3. If you know nothing of India's history after its independence from Great Britain in 1947, then this review should be read as an introduction. Another review of the book is contained in the Washington Post Book World here. Ironically, for more comprehensive reviews, one should read the Amazon web site for this book on Indian history, "India After Ghandi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy," by Ramachandra Guha.

4. Here is an eye-opening review of a book about the often losing fight against AIDS in Africa (Helen Epstein's "The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West and the Fight Against AIDS"). Just read this review. It provides one more example of how the US war against Iraq has reduced our ability to think about, let alone do much about something as pervasively horrible as the spread of the AIDS disease throughout Africa.

5. Finally, this review from the New York Review of Books is a perfect example of how a book review can illuminate important ideas and information beyond the books under review. The subject of the review is the Prophet Muhammad and the works of Tariq Ramadan published by the Oxford University Press and elsewhere. The review provides us with important insights into the history of Islam and how its relationship with the West, with Jews and Christians shaped its often violent tendencies. This is not comforting reading, but it does help us navigate through the present challenges we in the West face with regard to Islamic fundamentalism. Still, count me as a skeptic as to the strength of Islamic fundamentalism for reasons too detailed to explain here. Suffice it to say that the Communist threat against America was similarly overhyped and further, we should be carefully monitoring the upcoming elections in Iran in March 2008. The most oppressively anti-Western mullahs are in danger of losing to those who seek accomodation with the West, and may still yet declare a "state of emergency" or otherwise undermine electoral protections for citizens to avoid defeat. When understood in this context, the Cheney (formerly Cheney-Rove) administration's sabre rattling against Iran does little to help reformers in Iran, which makes Cheney a strange bedfellow after all with the current Iranian leader, Ahmadinejad.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Padilla case as latest example of corporate media elitism

Jamison Foser of Media Matters has published a fascinating article regarding the corporate news media's (particularly broadcast news media's) relative silence about the Padilla case. Convicting a troubled young man such as Padilla for a "conspiracy" to commit terrorist acts "abroad" after what the government did to him before the ultimate trial is as close to a Star Chamber as our government's come in some time.

One does not defend Padilla here--he needs psychiatric help and that should be at least part of his sentence from the trial court. However, it's been known (but not well publicized) for some time that our nation's government set out to make Padilla a true mental case worse than he was before he was arrested.

The broadcast media's relative silence on this outrageous conduct against an American citizen, and the way so many Beltway commentators cried about the injustice meted out to Scooter Libby, tells us so much about the priorities and horrible elitism pervading our nation's corporate news media.

To allow ourselves to argue over whether the corporate news media is "liberal" or "conservative" misses the point: The corporate news media supports pro-corporate interests and is elitist in its biases. And it will often support government oppression of "little" people by either what it reports and worse, what it does not report on.

ADDENDUM: I did not see this nice Glenn Greenwald post until this morning (Sunday, August 19, 2007) on the Padilla case. Glenn feels as I do: The line has been crossed.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Max Roach

Max Roach has left us.

I always loved his work with the late and legendary Clifford Brown. Together they created a sound that defined the best of Fifties Jazz: Cool, compelling and sharp.

In the early 1980s, Roach did something most extraordinary. He recorded a drum solo and backbeat to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, showing us how King was really singing that speech. This You Tube clip gives a glimpse of what Roach did, but does not do it justice, and does not cover the best parts as the speech reaches its climax.

And then, there's this...Hi ho, or really Hi Hat. R.I.P., Max.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The connection between racial thinking and prison growth

Glenn Loury, an African-American professor who used to be associated with Republicans on matters of race, and has endured a relatively difficult personal life, has surely had a change of heart over the years as he continued his research into cultural attitudes among Americans in matters of race.

This article in the Boston Review (hat tip to Henry Ferrell at Crooked Timber) is an excellent place for Americans, particularly white Americans, to begin to understand the corrosive effect of "law and order" political rhetoric over the past four decades. When one adds in the loss of ladder-stepping unskilled labor jobs, the decline of unions, and the neglect of the poor in our cities and rural areas, then one can see the societal effects--in human lives--from the destruction of a New Deal sensibility among our nation's citizens.

A primer on the undermining of 4th Amendment guarantees

I have not commented until now on the capitulation of some Democrats in joining with Republicans on the so-called FISA bill because I felt there was too much speculation going on as to what had happened and why.

This article in the Washington Post provides us enough information to confirm some of the initial anger among the liberal and left blogosphere as to that captiulation (though the attack on the Democratic Party leadership was largely wrong if one reads the entire Post article), as well as helping us understand what is at stake in terms of public policy and our constitutional guarantees under the Fourth Amendment (probable cause needed for government warrants to search citizens).

This post by Marty Lederman at Balkinization provides a cogent analysis of the article in the Washington Post.

Simply put, the reason I believe there is an undermining of Fourth Amendment rights, as interpreted over the past 200 years, is that the Congress has just given the executive branch authority to intercept communications between a U.S. citizen and a foreign living or born person, where there is not even a suspicion that either are "terrorist suspects." It's an open invitation to mining citizens' communications in a variety of contexts well beyond "probable cause."

Also, this Kevin Drum/Washington Monthly post linking to this Washington Post opinion article, by a person who appears to have expertise in the software used, shows the potential abuse of this software and authority by a reckless executive branch.

One good thing about this compromise is its temporariness. The law expires in 180 days, which, along with statements from the executive branch that our nation is essentially at "high alert," shows how the Republicans and executive branch representatives convinced enough Democrats to support this bill.

Final thought number 1: Kevin Drum provides a summary of the article here (I did not see it until I was searching for the link to the op-ed piece in the Post).

Final thought number 2: While I believe it is vital to ensure our military is able to combat the threat of terrorists, our leaders in Congress and the executive branch ought to be vigilant in preserving our nation's bedrock constitutional rights.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Two articles to read this weekend

This article by a truly great investigative reporter, Wayne Barrett, on Rudy Guiliani's five lies about the infamous events of September 11, 2001. Those who think Rudy G is unbeatable if he survives what may yet be a blood-letting Republican primary season should think twice before making that assumption--even he ends up running against Hillary or Obama.

This article, by former Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, Jane Meyer, tells us why the Cheney-Rove (Bush) administration has simply been lying all along about the degree to which they are using torture as part of interrogations. It's worth reading only because you can't believe how much the larger corporate media has missed or refused to cover this issue.

Speaking of this terrible subject of torture, last year, in a used book store, I found a book called "A History of Torture," by George Riley Scott, first published in 1940. Scott, an Englishman, wrote the book in the now-classic British empiricist style that manages to allow the reader to be emotionally outraged, while he, the writer, maintains an air of calm objectivity. I admit to only reading particular chapters in the book as I honestly found myself too saddened by the fact that Scott takes apart every argument the modern pro-torture crowd has offered--and yet, here we are again.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

So tell me again why we shouldn't support Kucinich?

Here is a great clip from last night's debate with Kucinich's responses to questions.

If there was a strong non-corporate media, we'd hear about Kucinich every day the way we hear about the finance industry and corporate supported candidates Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Instead, we hear about who raised how much money, most of which comes from a relatively few number of people, and that determines "legitimacy" in the eyes of rich corporate news reporters.

We should at least ask ourselves why we even talk about Obama and Hillary--other than because corporate media talks incessantly about them.

Addendum: This AP article is typical corporate-leaning bias. Imagine if Hillary had the wild applause Kucinich received. The by-line would have been "Hillary Wows 'Em at Debate" or something like that. Instead, Kucinich gets no credit for a strong performance and the story is not even about Edwards' performance (as it initially implies), but only...Obama and Hillary. This is soft, yet very effective propaganda.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Real world economics

Thankfully, the death toll from the collapse of the federally funded bridge in Minnesota is lower than initially thought.

The issue of rebuilding our nation's infrastructure, however, should not be allowed to fade. Just think of the economic benefits our nation would reap from an investment in rebuilding our infrastructure. New construction jobs by the score for unskilled and semi-skilled labor, likely "prevailing wage" or union jobs, which pay well and provide benefits, and an a consequential increase in consumer demand--which ought to make those jittery on Wall Street very happy.

The problem with modern Republicans, who see income tax cuts, spying on domestic policy opponents (whom they call "enemies" and confuse with Al Queda), and outlawing abortion or homosexuality as the only worthy goals of government, is they have no idea what Alexander Hamilton was talking about with respect to nation building or nation sustaining.

Imagine if we created, as part of that investment in rebuilding infrastructure, a mass transit system in various mid-western areas which have been hollowed out. It would not take long for a corporate executive to understand that if the exec built a new plant along that route, the exec would save money in land for parking spaces, have a steady employment base for growth (employees likely to live off that route, or move to homes built near the route), etc. And if there was national universal health insurance so the exec did not have to worry about being in the health insurance business, well, we can again see how the company's focus as to its core product or service would become stronger.

Think of the collateral benefits from an investment of $1 trillion in rebuilding infrastructure over 10 years compared, say, to the nearly $1 trillion in costs of the latest war our nation is waging in Iraq.

That is real world economics, as opposed to the silly world of "metrics" and shallow assumptions of human behavior that characterizes most so-called economists' analyses. I wish I could find that New Yorker cartoon from some years back where two wealthy old men are sitting in chairs in what is clearly a drawing room of an exclusive club. One says to the other, "You know, it's the damnedest thing. When Democrats are in power, I make more money." What they hate of course is that they pay more taxes, but if they look to the money they make, they come out ahead. Plus, with more people working, there's less crime in most instances, and the savings in the criminal justice system are then invested in other more productive and healthy pursuits. And so on.

The good news is that a majority of people already understand this. It's just time for the Democratic Party's leadership in Washington to speak about this vision with passion and to push changes in public policy to implement that vision.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Ward Churchills of the Right on Radio and Television

A previously little-known professor in Colorado who said vile things, and holds vaguely leftist philosophies on American foreign policy matters, is dismissed from his position with a university with which he was employed (yes, the main charges turned out to be plagarism, but that's not why he was investigated in the first place).

To right wingers and too many viewers or listeners of American television and radio, the dismissal of Ward Churchill represents a small victory for conservatives against the overwhelming bias of liberals on campus--so they are likely to say.

Yet, take these two samples of people who call themselves conservative and their comments on television and radio, respectively: Here and here.

My deal for conservatives is this: You can have the poli sci and history departments, where the so-called liberals and lefties are. In return, I'll take the economics departments and radio and television political commentary, okay? A deal?

Didn't think so.

And please tell me who are the leftist or even liberal commentators on television and radio who speak such poisonous things as Rush Limbaugh and Michael "Savage"? And try this Melanie Morgan set of quotes on for size.

These people are Ward Churchill in their vileness and mean-spirited silliness--and they're on television and radio on a regular basis.