Friday, February 29, 2008

William Buckley: A Deprecation

When legendary journalist I.F. Stone died in June 1989, the Los Angeles Times asked William F. Buckley, Jr. to comment. His terse response was that Stone was a "Stalinist." It was not the first time Buckley had used that term to describe Stone, either. (As I have remarked in earlier posts, contrary to Buckley, Stone was not a Stalinist, and even those who think Stone defended Stalinism in the 1930s are wrong. Damned wrong. But nobody outside of Buckley and right wing nuts would choose to call Stone a Stalinist as a description for Stone's entire life.) After reading that statement from Buckley, I vowed that when Buckley passed away, I would remember to apply Buckley's rules of political discourse to Buckley. Now that Buckley has passed away this week, it is time for what I will call a Deprecation.

Under the "Buckley Rule," if a writer or pundit, for a relatively fleeting moment, supported someone or something odious, that marked the writer or pundit for life. Allow me to apply the rule to Buckley.

Applying the Buckley Rule to Buckley
, William Buckley was a racist. On March 24, 1957, Buckley's then new magazine, National Review, published an editorial that stated whites in the American South "were the advanced race" and that those whites were "entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally..." to protect themselves. See: Tim Noah's nicely written article on Buckley in Slate.com.

As Noah says in his essay, when one considers the South's history of lynchings and violence towards blacks up through that time, both "politically and culturally," Buckley's endorsement of such an editorial is chilling. It is also a matter of public record that Buckley vehemently opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He later opposed affirmative action even in instances of egregious discrimination against blacks. He was a foe and harsh critic of Martin Luther King, Jr. when King was alive, and strongly oppposed the establishment of a holiday for King in the 1980s. Again, using Buckley's own criteria he applied to others, one can say that Buckley generally saw blacks as fit for little more than to act as his maid or butler (Think this sort of rhetoric is too rough? Then please read on...).

But surely he was not racist in recent years, you may say. Well, what does one make of this November 21, 2000 editorial Buckley wrote during the Bush-Gore recount controversy? In the editorial, Buckley says he cannot stand seeing pictures of then-President Bill Clinton visting leaders in Vietnam, saying Clinton was "saluting gooks he didn't have the nerve to shoot at..." Breathtaking, isn't it? Apart from the fact that Buckley never attacked our current president, Bush II, for cowardice in such a manner, where were the editors at National Review to stop the already doddering Bill Buckley from spewing a particularly odious racist epithet?

Besides being a racist, again applying Buckley's Rule to Buckley, we can also see that Buckley was a fascist. If we parsed the columns of Buckley the way a few obsessed minds maliciously parse the writings of I.F. Stone or Noam Chomsky, we would see that, over the decades, particularly during the Cold War, Buckley was at least a fellow traveler of Fascists or an outright supporter of Fascists. As Tim Noah pointed out in his essay on Buckley, Buckley called Fascist dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco, "a national hero..." with no irony whatsoever and no significant qualification, either. Nothing I.F. Stone ever said about Stalin or Castro, for example, comes close to that. It's too bad Buckley's editorials of various defenses of right wing dictators are not on line. For Buckley supported the odious string of dictators in Guatemala starting in the mid-1950s, Suharto in Indonesia, Pinochet in Chile, and the list goes on. Buckley rarely met a right wing dictator he truly didn't like or support.

Thus, applying the Buckley Rule, we can now sum up Buckley as a racist and a Fascist.

It is also important to recall Buckley's abiding support for Joseph McCarthy and the politics of personal attacks against "liberals". As I noted in a previous post describing a book by an acolyte of Buckley's, Buckley and his brother in law, L. Brent Bozell (the father of this poor sap), wrote a book in 1954 defending McCarthy. It was called "McCarthy and his Enemies" (Regnery 1954) . The book was published at the time when McCarthy had turned his subpoenas and harassing methods to the US military and icons such as former WWII General George Marshall. At page 333 of their book, Buckley and Bozell describe an incident where McCarthy made an intentional error, calling Democratic Party presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson, "Alger," as in Alger Hiss. Here is what Buckley and Bozell wrote about this incident:

"In October of 1952, Senator McCarthy delivered his widely heralded attack on Adlai Stevenson...With millions of listensers glued to radio and TV, McCarthy reached, not for a red paint 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. Gee, thanks for that clarification, fellas.)

Buckley and Bozell then concluded 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 cited. 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 liberals. And third, but not least, "soft-headed" is a derisive phrase that was eventually refined to simply atacking "liberals" as "weak."

What Buckley and Bozell understood was the importance of allowing the McCarthys and now the likes of Dinesh D'Souza and Ann Coulter 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 and other similarly situated "liberals." It's really a warning that they were "okay for now," but had better watch it, or else they too would be demonized, like other New Deal liberals.

As most readers may know, in 2003, Ann Coulter wrote a book praising McCarthy that regurgitates Buckley's and Bozell's book in various instances, including the unexamined assumption that because one is a Communist, one is also a traitor to our nation. Buckley may have found Coulter crass, but ultimately belived, in his review of her book, that she had done a service in her defense of McCarthy. His last paragraph of his review of Coulter's book says: "There is a lot of such fun and shrewdness as this in Ann Coulter's book, but there is also mischief, which of course can be fun. Especially mischief about the other guy."

Applying the Buckley Rule, Buckley is clearly the spiritual father of Ann Coutler-even if one finds direct evidence to contradict it. That evidence cannot count under the Buckley Rule since the point is to "strike" against one's political opponents.

Finally, I'd like to say a word about Buckley's essays and columns that is akin to Andrew Sullivan's complaint. Too often, Buckley's articles were regurgitated right wing or conventional wisdom surrounded by philosophical syllogisms that smart college sophomores would usually be able to see through. His use of big words masked the fact that his columns and even essays had little of substantive fact in them. Compare any essay of Buckley's, for example, with any number of essays of I.F. Stone or Gore Vidal, who each wrote for the ages far more often than not--and in ways that pay homage to Montaigne. Ever hear anyone quote from an essay of Buckley's with any real reverence? Not really. It's kind of like asking people to play a Madonna song at a wedding. Buckley is, in this limited, but important sense like Madonna--a personna or celebrity more than anything substantial.

Rest in peace, Bill. You have done your job for international corporations, white racism and spewing hatred into our political discourse. Your anti-Semitic, greedy son of a bitch father (as admitted in this sympathetic biography of William Buckley, Jr. by John Judis) would be proud of you.

There you have it: A Buckleyesque remembrance of Buckley. Now, please excuse me as I take a shower to wipe off the grime of such utterances that wrongly diminishes Buckley's life, as he did with so many others during his life. And for the patient reader, I leave you with this nicer assessment of Buckley.

(Edited)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Obama made my day today...

In a speech and Q&A yesterday, Obama said the following:

I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel. If we cannot have a honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress.

It's about time a presidential candidate, who otherwise supports Israel, said something like this. Still, Obama, in the same speech and Q&A, said he would not push Israel to talk with Hamas until it formally recognizes Israel, which of course puts Obama to the right of the former head of the Israeli CIA, known as the Mossad.

I also hope that Obama does include someone like Robert Malley as an adviser on Middle East policy if Obama wins the election. Well, a man can dream, can't he?

But again, Obama made my day today when I read the above opening quote.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Kurds were always expendable to the US government

The US announced today that it supports Turkey's efforts to "eliminate" over 4,000 Kurdish "rebels". This should not be a surprise to anyone who has followed American foreign policy for the past 90 years.

And this should not be a surprise to anyone who read my posts from December 30, 2006 and October 27, 2007. I was wrong, though, about the US deciding to leave after Saddam was executed...

But hey, don't worry about the Kurds fighting a guerrilla war against Turkey. Don't worry about our troops having to stand in between Turkey and the Kurdish region of Iraq. Nah, just keep clapping your hands, close your eyes, and keep saying, "The surge is working. The surge is working..." Or maybe it's not working anyway...

And about those troop levels going down? Well, ya see, ya gotta wait awhile longer than we were told, see...?

(Edited)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday morning musings...

Some Sunday morning musings, starting with my wacky prediction:

1. If the Republican convention does not produce a first ballot winner, then look for Republicans to nominate Newt Gingrich. If you saw him at the Conservative PAC convention weekend on C-Span, then you understand what I mean. Also, I think enough Republicans would rather lose with Gingrich than win with McCain. If the Democratic convention does not produce a first ballot winner, Gore will be drafted and he will be the nominee.

For both men, who have been out of the Washington, DC fishbowl, it will be a 90 day sprint, not a "run" for the White House. Also, if either of these scenarios happen, perhaps the Democratic Party candidate who gets elected can push through public financing ("clean elections") and people may finally realize that electioneering for candidates two years before an election is silly.

2. I am picking up my copy of the first time ever English translation of Victor Serge's last novel, "The Unforgiving Years," later this morning. Serge is one of the key 20th Century novelists and writers, as I have stated in this previous post. ADDENDUM: Urgh! It has not come in yet! Gotta wait till next weekend...

3. Ralph Nader running again for president? How pathetic. Ralph's previous accomplishments in the 20th Century will remain great, but that greatness ended after 2000 for me and I'm sure most other progressive-minded Americans. Nader had the right and, for me, an obligation to run back then, but when people refused to step outside the two party system and vote for him, that was enough. In 2004, he received 0.38 % of the vote. He will get less this time, and deservedly so.

4. In today's London Times Literary Supplemenent, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, a prominent British writer, has written an excellent essay about Zionist history and the charismatic Vladimir Jabotinsky, who is still best (or really least worst?) described as personifying the fascist element in Zionist history. In retrospect, an antiquarian such as myself enjoys Jabotinsky's tweaking of the Chaim Weizman and David Ben-Gurion sets, the way any antiquaian should also adore Ahad Ha'am's tweaking of political Zionism--and be amazed at his insightful critique of early Zionist phrasings about giving a land without people to people without land.

The word "Zionist" has unfortunately become a negative sounding word in US political discourse, where even those who intently support Israel shy away from using the word. It's like hearing younger women say they are not feminists, when of course, if they have any self-dignity (which they do), then they are feminists. The same with Zionism. If you support Israel's existence in fact and in a nationalist frame of reference, then you are a Zionist. We should not allow the enemies of Zion steal the word anymore than we should allow Pat Robertson's defintion of feminism steal the word "feminism."

(Edited)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Straight and false talk from McCain

John McCain and his campaign have now made another statement that is directly contradicted by the facts.

First, McCain said he did not meet with anyone from Paxon Communications before he wrote the letters to the FCC. Not true, said the president of Paxon Communications himself. And not so said McCain himself when he was under oath a few years ago.

Second, defenders of McCain have said that McCain's actions, in writing the two letters to the FCC on behalf of Paxon Communications when he did, were not unusual. McCain's campaign obviously has done nothing to correct such an impression. However, the FCC's letters in response to McCain's letters say McCain's actions were "highly unusual"--something McCain's staff should have known because of McCain being the head of the Committee that often deals with the FCC. See also: This January 6, 2000 article from the NY Times on McCain's actions in similar matters.

Maybe this will be the event that will finally cause lazy reporters and pundits in corporate media to stop referring to McCain as some paragon of public policy virtue or that he is a "straight talker." McCain is just one more bought and paid for politician on Capitol Hill and if anything, it is high time for him to be accorded to the corporate media rules for Bill Clinton or Al Gore, to take two prominent examples.

(Edited)

Friday, February 22, 2008

More news Likudniks don't want American Jews to know

Efraim Halevy, the former head of Israel's version of the CIA, Mossad, says it's time for Israel to begin talks with Hamas. Read this interview in Mother Jones magazine for more.

There is precedent for this position among previously hawkish intelligence chiefs in Israel. After retiring from his position as chief of military intelligence under Prime Minister (and original Likudnik) Menachem Begin, Yahosafat Harkabi wrote a book entitled "The Fateful Hour" (1986, paperback in English 1989). In it, he said about then more secular-oriented Palestinian terrorists pretty much what Halevy is saying about Hamas. It was time to talk. Harkabi was thereupon ignored and discounted by those who claim to be Israel's "friends," who of course think that Israel killing more Palestinians, and building more settlements in the West Bank after publicly saying otherwise, are the most effective security policies for Israel.

Through this day, American Likudniks continue to receive an unwarranted privilege to call themselves "pro-Israel" when the policies they propose and support are at least as prone to blowback and adverse consequences as the foreign policy pursued by those who pushed America into war against Iraq in 2003. Most Americans no longer believe that those who pushed us to war against Iraq are, for that reason, "pro-America." Therefore, nobody should think the Likudniks deserve the privilege and assumption that they are automatically "pro-Israel" because they support hawkish and violent policies, either.

McCain: In bed with lobbyists in the financial sense at least

Joe Conason nails it with the real scandal that is John McCain. And here is the Washington Post weighing in with a solid front section story on McCain's ties to various industries and lobbyists.

The only question is whether this will ever be discussed with any depth among the corporate media pundits on television and radio. So far at least, the answer is not likely.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thoughtful article on Venezuela's Hugo Chavez--and additional commentary

This week's The Nation has a thoughtful extended article on Hugo Chavez, the limits of Venezuelan democracy, and how some of Chavez's authoritarian rhetoric and actions, when seen in the context of Venezuela's institutional bias in favor of anti-democratic right-wing elements, seem somewhat (but not quite) justified.

The author of The Nation article, Daniel Wilkinson, works for Human Rights Watch, which is significant when considering his perspective and opinions among the facts and analysis.

And how is Venezuela's economy doing? Per a web site that has been defending Chavez against so many bad faith attacks by the Bush administration and American corporate media (which means we should still be careful when considering the source), the Venezuelan economy seems to be performing decently, and providing important and good services to Venezuelans--especially compared to US client states in Latin America.

The web site's latest summary on Venezuela's economic performance over the past ten years is here.

Final comment: Foreign Policy magazine states that inflation is running at almost 20%. However, the web site noted before states in response:

Inflation itself is a problem, now running at (an annualized) 19.4 percent. But it should be emphasized that double-digit inflation rates in a developing country such as Venezuela are not comparable to the same phenomenon occurring in the United States or Europe. Inflation in Venezuela was much higher in the pre-Chávez years, running at 36 percent in 1998 and 100 percent in 1996. It has fallen through most of the current recovery, from a 40 percent annual rate (monthly, year-over-year) at the peak of the oil strike in February 2003 to 10.4 percent a year ago, before climbing again to its present rate (see Figure 3). Over the last three months it appears to have stabilized at 19.4 percent.
(Parenthesis added)

And Figure 3 in the paragraph cited above shows inflation rates to be lower under Chavez's reign than under previous Venezuelan leaders. Other Latin American nations are now grappling with inflation woes, though Venezuela and Argentina have the highest rates--at least currently. Chavez, however, is spending money to help people, something most US client states in Latin America do hardly at all, and many pursue policies which further impoverish people.

(Edited)

McCain should avoid talking about his "character" and his fealty to the "public trust"

I have no idea whether the New York Times story is true or not. I am also prepared to believe McCain's denial of the accusation that he may have had sex with a female lobbyist during his 2000 campaign for president.

However, let's not forget that McCain met current wife, and beer heiress, Cindy (nee Hensley) while McCain was married to his first wife, Carol. Carol McCain had tirelessly waited for McCain while he was prisoner of war and, as this still too sympathetic article to McCain says, Carol saw the breakup of their marriage as the result of "more to John turning 40 and wanting to be 25 again than...anything else." 25 was the age of Cindy Hensley McCain when Cindy and John met.

Therefore, Cindy McCain's response to the NY Times' article's accusation, that her husband is a man of "great character", rings somewhat hollow.

Also, Senator McCain's denial contains the statement that he had "(a)t no time...ever done anything that would betray the public trust." That is breathtaking considering McCain being one of the Charles Keating Five of Congressmen involved in the larger Savings & Loan scandals of the 1980s. And the issue over a sexual relationship with this lobbyist has obscured McCain's cozy relationship with a media contributor, Paxon Communications, for whom the lobbyist had done lobbying work.

I continue to despise the corporate media's obsesssion with a politician's personal life. Whether McCain messes around on his wife is not an indicator of what type of public servant he is. I'd rather the focus be on McCain's policy positions, and the fact that McCain, like most politicians in the Republican Party, has continued to have cozy, meaning financial, relationships with corporate lobbyists. McCain is not a maverick and not anywhere near a Russ Feingold (D-WI) in terms of ethics. That should be the focus if there is going to be negative reporting on McCain, not an alleged fleeting dalliance with a female who happened to be a lobbyist.

(Edited)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Welcome to the corporate media terrordome, Barack and Michelle

So this is what Michelle Obama said according to FoxNews:

People in this country are ready for change and hungry for a different kind of politics and … for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.

First, let's recognize that the context is about change and a hunger for a different type of politics than the politics she has seen since becoming an adult in 1982. What she is talking about is her belief that her husband represents the best hope among young folks since Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Let's leave my personal opinion out of the equation this time, shall we?

Second, is it really reasonable for any of the corporate pundits and political hack-spinners to assume Michelle Obama's words meant she had no love whatsoever for her nation before now? The word "pride" is somewhat ambiguous in its definition: Here is the first of several definitions for the word "pride" in the Merriam-Webster's dictionary:

The quality or state of being proud: as a: inordinate self-esteem : conceit b: a reasonable or justifiable self-respect c: delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship...

To paraphrase the late Karen Carpenter, the Republican slime machine "...has only just begun..." to slime her and her husband.

And, really, when we think about it, isn't what Karen Carpenter was singing about the same as what Michelle Obama was meaning to say, which is merely to express a happy moment regarding her husband and those supporting her husband for president? Of course that was the true intent--and the incessant, poisonous chatter emanating from our television sets and radios about this phony "issue" is, unfortunately, the latest example of why our public discourse is so polluted and toxic.

Want to learn anything? Want to participate in a more reasonable and ultimately higher level of public policy discourse? Turn off television and radio "news". Instead, read leading newspapers and journals (hard copy or on the Web), and maybe even a few books by learned scholars or writers instead of hacks. One learns more about life and living from SpongeBob SquarePants and Fairly Oddparents than what passes for "news" in corporate media.

(Edited)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Desperate times, populist measures

One of the reasons I detest political consultants is that they are always telling their candidates how to please corporate and financial industry donors and to therefore avoid anything that sounds economically populist. One of the reasons I detest corporate media pundits is that they are always telling us how economically populist messages are not really popular, which reenforces the advice coming from political consultants.

Yet, when a politician, oh, say Hillary Clinton, becomes desperate for votes, out comes the economically populist manifestos and policy proposals. We saw this back in 1988 when Michael Dukakis found himself behind in the last weeks of the campaign against Bush the Elder, and then almost caught up with a populist message. We saw this with Gore at the end of his 2000 campaign, a campaign where he was often behind Bush in polling. One does not need much imagination to assume there would have been a different result in those elections had the Democratic Party presidential nominee started to sound economically populist policies earlier in the campaign, and stated those themes in a way that was truly genuine. This should tell political consultants that maybe that is the best way to go, but of course, with corporate media attacking economic populists, perhaps a candidate must wait until there is some traction before sounding those themes (as John Edwards may have learned this time around...).

I believe we will now see Hillobama, the corporate Democratic Party twins, trying to sound populist themes, though less with reference to actual policies, throughout the next couple of weeks as the primary season swings into Texas, Ohio, and other similarly blue collar oriented states. And people wonder why we can easily become cynical about all of this.

(Edited)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

We're not dumber today, even if it feels like it

Kevin Drum links to an essay by Susan Jacoby where she laments that we're dumber as a nation. Kevin finds it unpersuasive and itself shallow--and I agree. The following is a comment I left at Kevin's blog at The Washington Monthly:

Tom Lehrer had a wonderful response for those who think the whole world is getting dumber in that those persons' lifetimes. When discussing, "new" math, Lehrer noted the following:

"Consider the following subtraction problem, which I will put up here:
342 -
173.

Now remember how we used to do that. three from two is nine; carry the one, and if you're under 35 or went to a private school you say seven from three is six, but if you're over 35 and went to a public school you say eight from four is six..."

Apropos of Jacoby, the reason FDR wanted people to buy maps in World War II is because polling showed a significant number of Americans did not know where Germany was located on the globe, and of course, at that time, there were far more people than today who believed the earth was not a sphere, but essentially flat. My question to Jacoby would be "How many people really went out and bought maps--and of those, how many were the ones who didn't know where Germany was?"

Yes, one can be frustrated, as we get older, at the ignorance within our nation's public policy discourse, but my ire is far more directed at the elite pundits and university professors, and think tankers, etc., than regular folks who put too much trust in what they see on t.v. or hear on radio.


ADDENDUM: What I would add is that there is a growing gap among what our children are learning in school, and the gap that exists in households across America. My son and his fellow students in the so-called "gifted and talented education" (GATE) classes are two years ahead of where my junior high school classmates were in my time of the early 1970s. He is reading far more sophisticated books than I did at that time, in school at least, and doing far more sophisticated math and science. He is sharp, though too much time playing computer games has left him, in my view, less able to handle social situations than my peers at that time (though I was a wallflower, I must admit!). Life is different in certain ways than it was 35 years ago, as my life was different in certain ways from my parents' time. Still, the similarities of human behavior persist...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The original sin of Woodrow Wilson's foreign policies

The London Review of Books provides us a brilliant review of a book that nicely analyzes the hidden racism, corruption and militarism behind Woodrow Wilson's rhetoric of "self-determination," but also how the ideal of "self-determination" continued to inspire nationalists, good and bad, throughout the 20th Century.

The book is entitled "The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism" by Erez Manela (Oxford U. Press, 2007).

This book and review should be read in the context of the continuing dispute over the true effects and structure of so-called "free" trade treaties. Imperialism does continue with different guises and names.

Washington Post praises book critical of "free" trade

Stop the presses!

The Washington Post, an elitist newspaper that never met a corporate trade treaty it did not support, hired an economist from the Brookings Institution to review a wonderful book by Cambridge economist, Ha-Joon Chang, that dared to criticize "free" trade. As noted in a previous post, Chalmers Johnson gave strong kudos to the book.

At the Washington Post, economist Paul Blustein admits the book is highly readable and persuasive for many of its points. But Blustein, an avatar for corporate trade deals, can't help trying to find a way to be critical of the book. He lamely says near the end that if some nations are too corrupt or incompetent to promote internal economic development, then how can the tariff programs and other departures from "free" trade work in those nations?

The reason this is lame is because Blustein, in the rest of the article, never points to any success story for the World Bank-IMF-Clinton-Gingrich worldview that "free" trade works. Not one example. Nada. Yet, Blustein admits that South Korea, Taiwan, the U.S. and even Britain did not pursue open-ended imports without tariffs while each successfully pursued economic development.

Secondly, if a government is corrupt or incompetent, it is also just as likely that capitalism and "free" trade will develop as a "crony" capitalism--which will resemble feudalism more than anything else. See: post-Communist Russia, for example, and the other nations Blustein discusses as "free" trade failures.

This is indeed good news that a major elite newspaper saw fit to positively review a book that challenges the ignorant orthodoxy of "free" trade.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Congressional priorities should not include investigating The Steriod Era in baseball

Can someone explain to me why it is that Congress is making such a big deal about Roger Clemens and steroids in baseball? This spectacle is so inappropriate at this point, with the subprime crisis, FISA, and any number of issues pending before Congress.

Yes, yes, Major League Baseball has an anti-trust exemption, but why should Congress care about whether Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds used steroids when baseball's ownership and management obviously didn't care at the time, either? That is what I mostly took away from the so-called George Mitchell Report investigating what is now generally understood to be the Steriod Era.

I also find it pathetic that Republicans on the committee investigating this issue decided to protect a Republican Party-supporting ballplayer, Roger Clemens, and to attack his accuser in ways that made it seem like a warm-up to the Republican Party's fall campaign against the Democrats. I surely hope Clemen's accuser's lawyer is right: That Bush pardons Clemens. However, if Bush pardons Clemens, he ought to pardon Bonds, and every other person named in the Mitchell Report if that person is agreeable to be pardoned. If it's just a crass pardon for a Republican supporter, that would be the icing on the cake of hypocrisy in our nation's capital.

Clemens' troubles may not be over even then, though, due to Clemens' ridiculous libel suit against the accuser, McNamee. Clemens is fast becoming the Alger Hiss of this tawdry farce.*

The Steriods Era has been established. It is time for baseball's owners to continue to clean up their act and the fallout from that era. Congress should stay out of it and help focus the American people on what is truly important for us a nation. Let the players who took steriods live with that, and Clemens and McNamee should drop all claims against each other and live in peace.

* Yes, I know I just got "political", but the point is that Hiss filed a misguided libel suit against his accuser, Whittaker Chambers, and, when Chambers reluctantly produced evidence that was devastating to Hiss' case, ultimately led to proof that Hiss was, at least at one time, a member of the Communist Party. Whether Hiss was a "traitor" to the US is a completely different story. See here for a sympathetic brief for Hiss not being a traitor. My personal view has always been that Hiss was a Commie, but not a traitor, for what it's worth...

(Edited)

Barbara puts me in a reflective mood as always...

Barbara Ehrenreich, as usual, puts me in a reflective mood, and seems to read my thoughts on things political. This short, hopeful, but tongue somewhat in cheek essay in this week's Nation magazine is worth reading.

I still pine for Al Gore, and am reduced to wondering whether I should be saying, "Hillary, can't you get a win or two under your belt already just to stay in this race..." I simply don't buy that many Republicans are crossing over to vote for Obama. But if Obama keeps racking up the victories as strongly as he has been, and more superdelegates like civil rights era icon John Lewis (D-GA) start to question their support of Hillary Clinton, then it's time to start hoping the way Ehrenreich is, and to say to the youth of America:

"Okay, kids, let's try hope from a guy with corporate money one more time. Maybe Obama will be different, and better, than Bill Clinton."

Truth be told, I am so ready to want to believe that, too...and to believe that white people in modern Republican leaning states will vote in sufficient numbers for a "black" man.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Latest Obama "Yes we can" parody using McCain's own words

Yesterday, I posted about the Obama "Yes We Can" video and the wonderful parody using McCain's own words. A second parody using McCain's own words has just appeared here. It's much darker (I can say that, right?) in tone than the first parody, and gives a sense of the creepiness McCain sometimes exudes.

Yes, I do love the Internet!

By the way, Obama delivered a decent to good speech tonight, which included a direct, policy-minded attack on McCain. And for the first time, Obama actually made a statement which acknowledged the gap in wealth in our nation. And David Sirota caught a paragraph in Obama's speech that actually showed Obama may be listening to John Edwards on things like the NAFTA. What Obama intends policy-wise, who knows? In any event, expect the corporate media to gear up its attacks on Obama in the next few days, starting with, as Ezra Klein already noted, Obama's failure to directly engage reporters in discussions on the campaign trail.

Evangelicals and "support" for Israel

Jonathan Kulick, over at Mark Kleiman's blog (see Blogroll here at MF Blog) has a nice smackdown of the often silly James Q. Wilson's latest screed, which posits that American Jews need to support Christian fundamentalists who want a Gog and Magog showdown in Israel--and jettison support for those pesky African-Americans who supposedly are so anti-Semitic, it hurts.

It's too bad that Wilson gets as much respect as he does. Otherwise, it would not be worth it for folks like Mr. Kulick to bother refuting Wilson.

Despite Wilson's tired arguments, I admit to having a little sympathy for the argument that says one may at least coalesce at some level with evangelicals in certain matters pertaining to Israel. It could be analogous to the Popular Front of "liberals" and "communists" during the 1930s, which coalition helped pass important pro-working class reforms during the New Deal under FDR. However, even that analogy does not work well because Mr. Kulick's best point is that the evangelicals tend to support the craziest Jewish settlers in the occupied territories and really don't mean well for either Israel or American Jews.

Personally, my observations of various Protestant churches is that liberal Protestant churches love Jews, but are not happy about Israeli oppression of Palestinians. On the other hand, conservative Protestants tend to love something they call Israel, usually in support of Israel's worst and most oppressive policies, yet are wary of American Jews who they generally see as too culturally "liberal." These are of course gross generalizations across the board, but there are enough instances where these generalizations fit to make it worth noting.

Wilson should crawl back into his hole at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, and not even bother. He adds nothing to the discussion where others have been far more eloquent, which I find is usual for him.

(Edited)

Monday, February 11, 2008

God, I love the Internet!

First there was the Obama video, which I found ultimately vacuous and which reminded me of a Billy Joel video and song from about 15 or more years ago.

But now, there's this video smacking McCain in the kisser with a cream-filled satiric pie. Killing him softly with his own words...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fathers and Sons--and Politicians

Rick Perlstein provides a fascinating analysis of George Romney and son Mitt, and how the son became an automaton in order not to be his speak from the hip and heart Dad. I would love to see Perlstein next write an article about why it is that in the 1960s, nobody ever thought of even asking George Romney to defend his Mormon religion the way Mitt had to do in early stages of the 2007-2008 Republican primary.

This reaction by the son to the father's political failure finds an analogous situation in Al Gore's trajectory from the mid-1970s through 2000. I have seen articles that said Al Gore, Jr.'s studied avoidance of anything resembling the New Deal or opposing a war could be traced to how Al Gore, Sr. lost his Senate seat in 1970 due to the Nixon Administration targeting the senior Gore for being vocal against the continuation of the Vietnam War.

Ironically, it took Al Gore's "loss" in 2000 to help him find the voice of his father.

The Bush father and son (GHW and Dubya) is a fascinating relationship, too, more for its dysfunction than anything else. Dubya ultimately resented his father in ways that neither Mitt Romney nor Al Gore, Jr. ever did. And Dubya has failed worse than his father as a president.

Fathers' and sons' relationships among intellectuals and politicians are relationships I tend to watch over time. I am continually amazed at how sons react to the triumphs and failures of fathers, or what the sons may perceive as failures, and how that reaction plays out throughout the lives of those sons.

(Edited)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Weekend Book Review: February 9-10, 2008

From the London Times Literary Supplement, a succinct and fascinating review of two books that discuss European cruelty to each other during the decades of war from 1914-1945. What I found especially enlightening is how the book review author, Craig Gibson, sees the continuity from World War I to World War II, and not as separate events.

Also from the TLS: A nice survey article on modern China and its portentious future.

And back in the US, here is a poignant article on a biography of the great, but immediately forgotten labor leader, Tony Mazzocchi. He was born a few decades too late, but even labor heroes Eugene Debs, John L. Lewis and Walter Reuther are now unknown to most people.

Final thought: A major literary event for American and British readers is going to occur on February 19, 2008, but I don't anticipate it will be even barely noticed. But allow me to whisper it to you from this little blog: Victor Serge's "Unforgiving Years" is finally being released in an English translation by the great Serge translator, Richard Greeman. This is the last of the known Serge novels that traces the revolutionary era in Europe and Russia from 1914 through the end of World War II. I am a major fan of Serge's and I heartily recommend any number of his fiction and non-fiction works. His "Memoirs of a Revolutionary" is one of the most important and amazing books of the 20th Cenutry. I savored every page and was continually struck by his incredible objectivity in speaking of former enemies as well as comarades in the first decades of the Soviet Union before and after the Bolshevik Revolution. It should be required reading for its assertion of humanity in the face of unrelenting ideological and beaucratic forces.

ADDENDUM: The Los Angeles Times has an excellent book review of a book regarding the Harding Administration and the Teapot Dome scandal of the early 1920s. It gives us reason to wonder whether the many suicides and even Harding's own death on a train on August 2, 1923 were perhaps not suicides or accidental.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Another reason for Medicare for everyone

Dean Baker responds to Paul Krugman about the efficacy and utility of mandates for health insurance. All the disucssion proves, however, is that, once again, single pay or Medicare for everyone makes the most sense. If there are no mandated coverages, then people will "free load", i.e. not pay anything for any insurance until they get seriously ill. If there are mandates, that means there will be penalties for such behavior, which means we'll have horrorshows of people losing their cars or homes to the government in penalties when those folks suffer catastrophic illness.

On the other hand, Medicare for everyone has everyone in the same pool at once, with everyone paying a portion of his or her taxes. We pull together overlapping bureaucracies such as Medicare for seniors, Medicaid for the poor, and the Veterans' Administration. We also bypass private insurance companies. This pooling of costs creates more efficiencies to cover the previously non-covered folks. Why is this so difficult to see?

Final comment: A commenter under Dean Baker's post wondered why LBJ was able to pass Medicare and Medicaid over the opposition of the AMA and Insurance Companies back in 1964: Apart from the fact that we were, as a nation, still basking in the sunlight from the New Deal, and believed in the power of government to do well by people, it remains a fact that the insurance companies, in 1964, did not insure old people very much, and the poor hardly at all.

Thus, Medicare and Medicaid were merely government taking on the responsibility of insuring the formerly non-insurable, which of course led insurance companies to realize later that they could make money by providing "gap" coverages around the edges of Medicare for old folks with extra income.

As for the poor, the doctors at least got some money out of the system they did not get before.

Yet, it was still a hard fight in Washington, D.C. because the AMA/Insurance Company and Republicans were still ideologically opposed to Medicare and Medicaid. As we know from experience, the administrative (bureaucratic) costs are lower in the public insurances than with the private insurance companies, and growth in costs is slower in the public insurances than their private counterparts. So much for private sector efficiency and public sector inefficiency. And there is nothing scarier to ideologues than the threat of a good example against their pet theories.

The only good news these days is that many doctors finally figured out they are not on the same side as the insurance companies. Too bad the AMA leadership is still not in the forefrront of single pay or Medicare for all.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Who wins if it is McCain v. Hillary? McCain v. Obama?

This article shows McCain is more than halfway to a first ballot nomination victory at the Republican National Convention later this summer. So much for any of the prognosticators, including me, who thought McCain had imploded last year with little chance of coming back. McCain is the corporate media pundit darling, and he was saved as much by them as anyone.

To my lemming Democrats, my question is this: In a match up between McCain and Hillary, who do you think wins? Same question with Obama: Who wins? McCain or Obama? Getting a little worried now? I hope so.

This is why I hope for a brokered Democratic Party convention this summer, with Gore as the drafted nominee. Gore speaks to young folks, to blacks and Latinos, to women, and even to my fellow (high percentage voting in states like CA, Florida and NY) Jews. And he was right on the war, without being a "pacifist" or a dirty hippie in the eyes of voters, and Gore is on the side of God when it comes to saving our planet. And this time, Gore would show people the passion he hid when he was in thrall to political consultants during his long years in politics up through 2000. It would be a sprint, not a run, from September to November.

Fast, speculative analysis of the voting yesterday
: More than enough women voters (though not feminist leaders) voted for Hillary out of a backlash where they see, somewhat properly, how Hillary is attacked in part for simply being a woman. Latinos in CA have a hard time with black folks (and vice versa), no matter what Rueben Navarette says. Remember, Rueben, it's who you don't talk to that often counts more than who you talk to. Also, Temple-affiliated Jews, who tend to be liberal except when it comes to Israel, swung to Hillary because they have emotionally ingested the "Barack Hussein Obama is a secret Muslim" emails and rumors. In other words, not many people really voted FOR Hillary.

As for Obama, he remains a mirror with flowery rhetoric. People see what they want to see with him, more than many candidates. Yet, when he gets specific on matters such as health care, Obama keeps wanting to show, at least rhetorically, that he is a reliable corporate Democrat a la the Clintons. See Krugman here.

Disclosures: My wife voted for Obama, hoping he won't be a corporate Democrat like the Clintons, and that he ends the war in Iraq sooner than Clinton would. I petulantly voted for Edwards.

But let's not get too sad just yet: I am also praying the Republicans religious right fights like hell to deprive McCain of the nomination. The religious right primary voters correctly recognize McCain's flip flops on so many issues over the years, his history of political coruption, and his phony pandering to them during 2006 and 2007. And as many Republicans recognize the need to get the hell out of Iraq, they should also be fighting against McCain because McCain will want to set up a draft to stay in Iraq for the rest of the century. Romney is more malleable for such voters in the Reep Party, though Romney shares the flip flop award with McCain. Huckabee is the Republican Party's Edwards, isn't he?

Oh well. Hey, did you catch those Lakers last night? I am so glad the Laker-Celtic rivalry may be staging a comeback.

ADDENDUM: Oops. Huck's no Edwards. He won several states yesterday, all in the Southern region of the US. Could my December 18, 2007 prognostication of a McCain-Huckabee showdown in the Republican Party prove correct?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

We didn't start Obama...

This video is making the rounds where people sorta sing an Obama Barack speech that contains the refrain "Yes we can." It makes me wonder, am I being too cynical about Obama?

But Obama's speech is vacuous and it makes me think instead about this equally vacuous video from Billy Joel from the late 1980s, where his big line: "JFK blown away, what more do I have to say?" used to make me scream at my television screen, "Billy, you haven't said a damned thing." The song, "We Didn't Start the Fire", was merely a catlogue of names that mean nothing to anyone in the 21st Century.

Obama's speech about "women grabbing for the ballot" is vacuous because it tells us nothing about what policies Obama is even thinking about. Is he saying he'd support abortion rights when he says that? Is he saying he'd fund more Title IX programs? What does he mean?

Again, I wonder if I'm being too cynical for my own good. Then, I read this article by Alexander Cockburn and just sigh. I guess I'm voting for Edwards on Tuesday here in California after all...

Articles on Israel not likely to be seen in American corporate media

From the London Review of Books: Henry Seigman on Israel's actions in Gaza over the past year, and how absurd and counterproductive they continue to be.

From the New York Review of Books: Amos Elon writes about how successive Israeli governments' settlment policies continue to undermine various plans for peace--and how embracing Abbas while killing Hamas supporters has miserably failed to achieve security for Israel.

And here is an interesting article from a noted leftist peace activist in Israel, Uri Avnery, who believes the secret part of the Winograd Report (the Official Israeli government report on the Israel-Lebanon War in 2006) is that the US pushed Israel to invade Lebanon in mid-2006, and that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is the real failure that the Winograd Report was afraid or unwilling to fully address.

Here is another article from Avnery where he notes, I believe correctly, that Israel wants more war with Hamas' government in Gaza because Israel has ignored the latest Hamas proposal for a cease-fire, something Hamas had also proposed a few months ago.

Despite these articles, it remains important not to start painting Hamas as "good guys" or "victims." They could easily engage the Israeli public's sympathy and support with peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience instead of terrorist acts. The Israeli public is fundamentally decent, but there is that "middle 25%" of the voting public, which is neither Labor/Meretz or Likud--but is often fearful when terrorists strike in the heart of civilian areas inside Israel. There is a near 50% consensus in Israel to get out of the West Bank and Gaza, but again politically it rarely translates into anything lasting or significant in terms of a peace movement. Hence, the bedwetting war mongers in Israel and the US continue to control the dialogue and drive policy. Hamas' failure creates Israeli failure, too.

But again, let's notice that when Hamas does make a peace offer, or one of its top spokespersons speaks about peaceful overtures, the Israelis too often respond with military strikes, not olive branches. See this post of mine from December 11, 2007, for example, or before the Israeli invasion into Lebanon in 2006, here.

(Edited)