Saturday, March 29, 2008

Can't a guy get some credit?

Looks like some folks are catching up to what I've been saying since last November (scroll down inside link).

As people realize Hillary isn't quitting, further realize Obama's not gonna win a first ballot, and the Hillary and Obama camps realize one is not budging to the other, Al Gore looks more and more like the best bet. He unites the party, the party raises $200 million in 10 days, and it's a 90 day sprint to the White House. By the time the media gets over its shock, Al defines himself and his campaign, and the narrative is set in a way that is harder for the media to challenge.

Here's Al's campaign mantra:

"You know, I won the popular vote last time, I warned y'all against Bush, the Iraq War, and climate change, and I've learned a few more things about leadership since 2000."

I also believe Gore smokes McCain because this Al Gore, unlike the Al Gore with too many insider advisers throughout his career of the late 20th Century, speaks from the heart with knowledge and passion.

So, go Hillary. Stay in the race. Win Pennsylvania. Win a few more primaries. But not too many. And Obama, you need to stay strong, because you'll make a fine VP candidate for Gore.

Yes, nice to hear other voices finally starting to see beyond the day to day minutae of the campaign.

Addendum
: Keith Olbermann talks about this tonight here. But note that Dana Milbank, a reporter with the Washington Post, had to open his comments with the stupid comment about Gore needing to lose 15 or more pounds to get into "running" shape. Then, he talks about mud slinging--probably from yutzim like Milbank himself. This is the state of our elite reporters these days. Still, Keith believes it possible and seems to hope for it. Good for Keith!

(Edited)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Saturday evening review of book reviews

Robin Einhorn, a professor of history at Berkeley, delivers one of the best short essays/reviews I have ever read about the motivations of our Founders and class issues surrounding the creation of our nation's Constitution. The essay is outstanding. Really.

And there is an essay in the New York Review of Books that provides yet another example of why that journal remains vital to an intellectual's need to expand one's horizons. Noted scholar Sue Halpern writes with the brilliance of a scientist and the sensibility of a philosopher about a subject that is so often caricactured in corporate media: Depression and happiness. The closer scientists get to understanding these things, however, the more my humanities major side gets nervous about what governments and corporations can do with that knowledge. I therefore plug again David Brin's book on transparency and the need for the democratization of technology.

Here is a nice review of what sounds like an important book for our next president to read about the Middle East by journalist Robin Wright.

And finally, feeling adventurous? These three essays in this week's Times Literary Supplement should stretch most American's horizons. The book on "The Deep" is outstanding, as I bought it for my science oriented son when it was released a few months ago. I am also a fan of Sir Edward Elgar, though truth be told, Ralph Vaughn Williams remains my favorite composer overall. And while I have never been a fan one way or the other of E.H. Carr, this essay reenforced my ambivalent feelings, but deepened my understanding of 20th Century historical currents raging within England. I just love the TLS!

(Edited)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Defying Dixie: The Foundations of the 1950s/1960s Civil Rights Movement

Last week, I finished reading a wonderful and enlightening book entitled "Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights 1919-1950" (Norton 2008) by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, a noted history professor from Yale University.

I had discussed this book once before in the context of a largely positive book review that appeared in the Washington Post. Later, a not so positive review appeared in the New York Times. However, now having read the book, I find the NY Times' review is misleading and unfair. The reviewer, Maurice Isserman, posited that the interest in this period of the Civil Rights Movement is academic, and that Gilmore had not made a case for any significant connection between the pre-World War II movement and the movement that hit its stride after the US Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Isserman knows better than to say this as the book is quite clear as to how the pre-World War II movement created the foundation for the movement that developed after the 1954 Supreme Court decision, which gave the movement the legal backing on top of the moral backbone it developed during the decades between 1919 and 1950. It is also why I have decided to write my own review of the book in this post.

In "Defying Dixie," Professor Gilmore expertly provides insight into the people who set the foundations for the post-World War II Civil Rights Movement. She explains how A. Philip Randolph, the Socialist leader of the Pullman train porter's union, and other radicals, which included Communists, successfully pushed the concept that Hitler's Nazi racist policies were analogous to the racism pervading American culture, and the racist laws that pervaded the American South. Randolph's agitation for a March on Washington was only held back due to the onset of American involvement in World War II, but even then, the creation of the first federal anti-discrimination commission under FDR, which proved to be a key turning point in federal policy on behalf of African-Americans, was directly due to Randolph's efforts. And of course it was Randolph who was prominently standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I have a dream" speech.

Communists such as the African-American Lovett Fort-Whiteman, white Communists such as Max Yergan and Junius Scales, were instrumental in agitating against white racism in the 1920s and 1930s in the American South, and radical (but hardly Communist) agitators such as Pauli Murray (a courageous young woman at the time who was also likely a lesbian) forced Southern liberals such as University of North Carolina President Frank Porter Graham to move from a position of accommodating segregation to demanding integration. It was noteworthy to me that when, in the mid-1960s, President Lyndon Johnson was looking for a General Counsel for the then new anti-discrimination federal agency known as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), the Johnson administration was initially going to choose Murray--who had become a lawyer in the 1950s. She was, however, ultimately rejected due to her having briefly been a Communist Party member in the 1930s, despite her being part of the group opposing Stalin during her brief membership.

Yet, this is what Isserman writes in his last paragraph of his too short review:

"Unfortunately [Gilmore's] belief that radical activists of the 1930s and 1940s 'hastened' the end of Jim Crow in the postwar era is more asserted than demonstrated. And without such demonstration, Pauli Murray notwithstanding, 'Defying Dixie' becomes an exercise in radical antiquarianism, a series of disparate essays built around interesting personalities, the whole rather less than the sum of its parts."


Isserman, again, is wrong to believe Gilmore does not make that substantive case. Plus, his last criticism, that Professor Gilmore's book reads like a series of essays on individuals, rather than a coherent narrative, is equally meritless. The book clearly follows a chronological retelling of this history--and a simple review of the book's chapter headings immediately negates Isserman's criticism. This book is both a wonderful read and an important book, especially for non-historian readers. For Gilmore provides a brilliant understanding of the history of the 1920s and 1930s, from the debates inside the US Communist Party, and the larger US policy fights that led us into World War II against Hitler (as opposed to siding with Hitler against Stalin), and yet maintains a laser focus on the impact of these events on the developing Civil Rights Movement of that time.

Contrary to Isserman, Professor Gilmore has written about these historical threads in a wise shorthand that allows non-historian readers to grasp that perhaps only radicals and Communists had the courage and fortitude to organize and agitate for racial integration, and the end of legal discrimination, during a time when lynchings were still considered a "right" in the eyes of too many Southerners.

Again, the NY Times reviewer, Maurice Isserman, who has written about the Communist Party over the past two decades, knows better. His criticism of Professor Gilmore's book strikes me as personal and petty for reasons I frankly do not understand.*

Gilmore, who holds a position at Yale in honor of C. Vann Woodward, the justly famed historian of the American South, recognizes Woodward's own contributions as a young radical in the 1930s. The connection between the 1930s and 1950s is obvious even with Woodward, who went on to write the book that adorned the shelves of nearly all active Northern liberals who supported the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s period: "The Strange Career of Jim Crow" (Oxford Press, 1957). It really makes me wonder how closely Isserman even read this book...

My advice, then, is that those readers interested in wanting to know more about the courageous Americans who made a difference in pushing America to live up to its promise of freedom, should pick up this book or, if you find it too expensive at $39.95, order it from your local library. It is a worthy volume to read--and also to own for your private library.

* I often wish I could be a history professor instead of a lawyer, as my knowledge of history is of course quite strong. Yet, in my face to face discussions with too many college professors, both my wife and I have noticed they often see my knowledge as something of a threat to their position. I was once recommended to seek a law professor position at a new law school in Orange County some years ago, and the sense that I represented a threat to the professors I dealt with at the fledgling school was palpable. Sad, really. It is doubly sad because, even though an old friend tracked me down to say he read my book on RFK, and that I should be definitely teaching history or literature (he said the book was a lively PhD dissertation for history, political science and literature combined), no college or university would likely see fit to put me on a "fast track" to a professor's position. Oh well, perhaps one day a benefactor may come along and say, "Let's establish a chair and give you a chance to teach..." Yes, and the lottery system is just waiting for me to purchase the winning ticket, said this blogger with an arched sarcasm in his voice.

(Edited)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Boycott the Olympics in Beijing

This is such a shameful thing for the Chinese government to have done before the Olympics begin in August 2008. And the words from the Chinese government are so Commie-reactionary, such as "the Dalai Clique..." and the language of "...struggle..." Do they even know how ridiculous that sounds in this day and age, and after all the violence against people--and even words--during the 20th Century?

I know corporate executives in America love China these days, proving how they don't care about whether a nation is run by dictators, as long as the dictators let them in on the action of oppression. But it would be nice if at least some US politicians called for a boycott of the Summer Olympics this year.

(Edited)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Republican Governance Principle #3

Republicans, when in power, only rail against government spending and deficits if the money to be spent will directly help poor people, or children.

If the spending is for overhyped war or directly bailing out rich people's interests, there must be no concerns raised regarding deficits or overspending.

That's how Republican-led government really operates. The rest is bullshit rhetoric that only communications-majors-who-end-up-as- corporate media pundits and some small businesspeople (who laughingly think they and ExxonMobil are both in "business" together) believe.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Chinese political leaders censor the Internet as they rampage through Tibet

Writer and reporter James Fallows, over at The Atlantic Monthly online, has a fascinating and important post about how the Great Firewall (Internet censoring) set up by the Chinese government--with the help of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, we should note with outrage--is largely and therefore effectively keeping most Chinese citizens from following the Chinese government's reinvasion of Tibet.*

This is why, as technology and sci-fi writer, David Brin, says, technology must be widely dispersed to citizens to imperfectly, but still more effectively undermine governments' and corporations' natural urge to censor. Brin's proposal and policy position is better than any other proposal I've read on this subject, at least so far.

* Ever wonder why the US has laws against trading with Cuba, but heartily (in Congress) pushed through Most Favored Trading status for China? It's about which nation is most willing to allow corporations to exploit their respective people. Cuba's political elite is more interested in exclusively exploiting its people, which makes American corporate and American political elite leaders angry. The American corporate and political elite are not so much against dictatorship, but against someone else (e.g. Castro) getting in on their game.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Republican Party in America inspires the Iranian mullahs

The Republican Party in America, as we know, loves to disqualify voters in Democratic Party precincts and find ways to disenfranchise African-American and other voters.

The right wing mullahs in Iran have raised the ante. Knowing that the Reformist mullahs were likely to defeat Ahmadinejad and his cohorts, the right wingers simply barred the Reformist candidates from running. See this latest article in Haaretz.com.

See also this NY Times article which stated in part:

The conservative Guardian Council, which evaluates candidates to determine if they are permitted to run, rejected most reformers. The reformers were further hampered because Parliament forbade candidates from printing posters, one of the few ways they could get their message out since the state media report only on conservatives.

“The important message for us was that it was the right decision not to back down after the mass rejection of prominent reformist candidates and stay in the race,” said Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a reformist politician.

On Saturday night, there was confusion over the votes in Tehran, and reformists voiced fears that the results might be rigged since, they said, their election observers had been expelled.

Fars reported that the conservatives won all 30 seats in the capital, but Press TV, the official government television network, reported that conservatives had won 24 seats.

Fifteen reformists who were on the ballot in the city staged a sit-in at the Interior Ministry Saturday to protest what they called irregularities in the vote. Reformists had expected to win at least 10 seats in Tehran.


My disappointment is palpable as it will now be up to the Reformists to band together, and start civil disobedience and protests. The only Americans happy with the results in Iran are those who want to "Bomb-bomb-bomb Bomb-bomb Iran" and of course the Cheney (Bush) administration.

Incidentally, this afternoon, my wife and I went to an anti-war rally in the Normal Heights area of San Diego where Gore Vidal (!) spoke. Vidal is very physically infirm, but spoke nicely for about 5 or 6 minutes. He opened his remarks by saying that William F. Buckley, Jr. could not appear as he was still in hell and Satan would not let him out today. "Rules are rules," said Vidal. Quite amusing, as I thought Buckley would probably have said something similar had Vidal preceded him to the Great Beyond.

Vidal then went on to excoriate the Cheney (Bush) administration, said Obama or Hillary would make a decent president but that we should have sought to do better than either. Then, he started saying one can never know what will happen at the convention, as if he was going to say what I've been saying about drafting Al Gore if neither Hillary or Obama wins on the first ballot. Alas, he appeared to censor himself as he saw a television camera almost directly in front of him. Is that speculation on my part? Assuredly so, but my wife got the same feeling I did--and in fact said it before me. She said, "I thought he was about to say Gore was going to be the nominee through a draft at the convention."

There were about 500 people in the crowd today, and I saw no counterprotestors. It was a knowledgeable activist crowd overall. However, it remains a fact that too few Americans have the passion to push their representatives to impeach Bush or Cheney.

ADDENDUM MARCH 16, 2008: Update on Iran election results from the Yahoo! online.

(Edited)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Obama and his preacher

MJ Rosenberg, over at Josh Marshall's place, lays out why this whole imbroglio about Obama's preacher is overblown. I know I'd hate to be defined by most rabbis' views on Israel. And yet I wouldn't leave a synagogue or temple because of the views of the rabbi regarding Israel or most other subjects in most instances or circumstances.

Still, the only thing I wonder about is why Obama really likes this guy, Jeremiah Wright, at all? He strikes me as a blowhard.

I think we should just say to people: Do you really think Obama believes the crap Rev. Wright believes? And if so, I guess we should say McCain is anti-Catholic, anti-Jew and anti-homosexual just like Reverend Hagee, whose endorsement McCain actively sought and said he was "proud" to receive. I don't believe McCain hates Catholics or Jews, and even homosexuals are possibly liable to receive a decent and perhaps fair hearing and protection under "President" McCain.

Will our corporate owned media cease this silliness sometime soon, or are we doomed to trivialities while the recession deepens and the dollar continues to slip? Sigh.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Stupid and venal men, not really madmen

This article from Wired is important to read, but shows the limits of Wired as a magazine for understanding either politics or history.

The article is about Nixon's and Kissinger's use of "the Madman Theory"* in 1969 while the US was fighting the war against Vietnam. The article correctly notes that Nixon failed in his goal, which was to threaten an all out nuclear war with the Soviet, and in turn, cause the Soviets to force the North Vietnamese to make peace with the US on US terms. What Nixon never really understood was that Soviets had less control over the Vietmanese Communists than Nixon believed, which tells us much about the limits of Nixon's policies and knowledge than anything else. What disturbed me, however, was where the Wired author states:

Nixon and Kissinger believed, though, that their threats opened the door to the arms-control deals of the early '70s. According to this argument, leaders in Moscow recognized after October 1969 that they had better negotiate with Washington, on terms amenable to American interests.

The article never knocks down that canard because the historian author does not appear to really know why this argument has no merit. If the author was familiar with a book by the Nixon era lead US arms negotiator, Gerard Smith, entitled "Doubletalk: The Story of SALT I by the Chief American Negotiator" (Doubleday, 1980) and Sy Hersh's outstanding book on Kissinger, "The Price of Power," (Summit Books, 1983) the author would know that (1) Nixon and Kissinger were the ones desperately seeking an arms deal with the Soviets in 1971 and 1972, and so undermined their own stupid "logic" and, most ironically, (2) gave in on various arms reduction issues to the Soviets that greatly upset Smith and other US arms negotiators.

In addition, any Soviet historian worth his or her salt** can tell you the Soviet leaders had sought a reduction in tension with the US throughout the 1960s and this remained true into the 1970s. It was the US which largely remained intransigent (JFK being a brief exception with his anti-proliferation treaty in August 1963 with the Soviets) due to hard core Cold Warrior politicians ("spiritual" descendants of Nixon) who red-baited other politicians who dared to say we should seek peace with the Soviets or "Red" Chinese.

Then, when the "Cold Warrior" Nixon decided, with motivations that included crass political calculations, to be the peace leader for the US, he found both the US and Chinese surprisingly obliging. That was not a surprise to anyone who knew what the heck was going on. And please, this does not mean the Soviet and Chinese leaders were "nice" or not dictatorial. It just means their leaders had the sense to know that peace was better than a nuclear war, something Nixon and Kissinger did not understand very well.

Overall, the Wired article reminds us that Nixon was often as stupid and venal as Bush II, which is what really makes men such as Nixon and Bush II dangerous to humanity, including citizens of the United States.

* The Wired historian author may or may not know that Daniel Ellsberg, who, in the late 1950s, was at Harvard lecturing as a PhD candidate on matters involving military strategy, may have been the first person to use the word "mad" or "madness" to describe this theory. This was while Ellsberg was still himself a Cold Warrior and intrigued by the idea. See: This article by historian Jeffrey Kimball that attempts to credit another Harvard professor, Thomas Schelling, with wanting to apply this likely very old theory in the context of nuclear confrontations between the Soviets and the US.

** Pun intended. The arms reduction talks were called "SALT" or Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.

(Edited)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Howard Metzenbaum (1917-2008)

They don't make many Howard Metzenbaums anymore...He was a self-made millionaire who didn't forget what it was like to work for one's daily bread.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What not to worry about...and what to worry about

Up through the 1960s, British politicians used to run for office still saying and acting like the sun had not set on the British empire. There were all sorts of stupid campaign slogans and arguments, and there was of course pass-the-popcorn sexual scandals with politicians. And there were even brilliantly funny films, such as "I'm Alright, Jack" (1959) that skewered shallow ideologically driven labor leaders and corrupt, manipulative corporate executives. Still, the Brits drifted...

Meanwhile, Labour Party leader, Harold Wilson, and Edward Heath, Conservative Party leader, each tried, but failed to stem the devaluing of the British pound while all the bread and circuses were going on.

That's why I don't worry about the latest sex scandal to hit a politician I happened to like. And I don't worry about the silly statements by surrogates for Obama and Clinton.

Here is what I worry about:

1. The US government's top military commander in the Middle East and South Asia resigns because he opposes the Cheney (Bush) administration's lust for war against Iran.

2. The dollar continues to fall in ways that show nobody in power seems to understand that we're supposed to do something about this as a nation.

3. The continuing failure of our nation to adopt Hamiltonian policies that also overlap with New Deal policies to benefit a wide working class.

Worrying about these things should help Hillary and Obama supporters realize that Obama and Hillary are each better than McCain. While Hillary and Obama don't speak to the above points very well, either, at least Hillary or Obama are more likely than McCain to listen more to someone who worries about these more important public policy matters and strengthening the working and middle classes of our nation.

Oh well. Back to news reports as to when New York Governor Elliot Spitzer is going to resign, while Senator Vitter (R-Louisiana), who loves prostitutes as much if not more than Spitzer, but had the audacity to parade himself as a family man with strong moral values, ripped Bill Clinton's private indiscretions, and yet still sits in the US Senate.

(Edited)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Of collaborationists in Israel and the latest Chomsky article regarding Israel

This article by Israeli politics professor, Neve Gordon, appears in this week's The Nation. It's about political collaboration by Palestinians with Jews in the Mandate Period (from the 1920s through 1948) and the Israeli government thereafter.

It should not surprise anyone that the two books under review, both written by Israeli historian, Hillel Cohen, did not generate much discussion in US corporate owned media.

Also, in this week's The Nation, we find a trenchant analysis from Noam Chomsky that helps us understand how "the other side" might reasonably see certain things American corporate media would have us forget--or never know in the first place. While I am uncomfortable with some of the conclusions drawn, or observations made, Chomsky proves once again why he is important to read to understand world affairs, starting with the Middle East region of the planet.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Primary election comments: Go Hillary. We Want Al Gore.

Hillary won big in Ohio and Rhode Island, and won the votes, but not enough delegates in Texas due to the strange system concocted by the Democratic Party there. Obama won big in Vermont. As Steve Benen says over at Crooksandliars.com, it is now the narrative (and momentum) vs. the delegate count.

This is, overall, excellent news for those of us who hope for a divided convention in Denver this summer, and a draft of Al Gore to run a sprint against the Republicans to November.

I am praying Hillary stays in the race, just as I would have prayed Obama stay in the race if the delegate counts each has was reversed.

On the Republican side, McCain is a highly flawed candidate, ignorant of economic policy matters, and a pandering flip-flopper who is out of his cotton-pickin' mind on the Iraq War.

And if anyone is upset that Obama belongs to a church whose pastor used to praise the odious Louis Farrakhan--even though Obama consistently said he rejects, denounces, etc. Farrakhan--then what do we make of John McCain actively seeking the support of, and getting it from the odious Rev. John Hagee?

So why should any Democrat be concerned the race in the fall is likely to be either Hillary Clinton v. John McCain or Barack Obama v. John McCain? Because, as this book will explain in a single volume, the corporate media pundits, and a host of reporters, have a love of John McCain that will not die. Think the little NY Times scandal was a harginger of negative reporting on McCain? Let's hope so, but it does not seem to be the case. Chris Matthews loves McCain in ways that make me want to wash down the television set after he slobbers over McCain the way a real man would, after losing his sense of decorum, slobber over Angelina Jolie (but I wish she'd lose the tattoos...).

So, here's my slogan for the next round of primary elections for the Democrats: "Go Hillary. We want Gore!"

(Edited)

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Dennis Perrin deprecates Buckley, too...

Dennis Perrin, a blogger of note, has a similar take as I do on William Buckley. Perrin's post contains two You Tube sections of a debate between Buckley and Noam Chomsky. What I find fascinating is how little information Buckley actually provides, other than a "front page newspaper headline" level of information here and there, and the conventional wisdom one learns at NY and DC cocktail parties.

What one also sees from Buckley in the two You Tube videos are thrusts of shallow syllogisms and arguments based upon freshman, not even sophomore logic classes. Chomsky is constantly trying to bring Buckley back into the real world and to avoid theory. It makes one realize how much Buckley resembles French Marxists like the odious Louis Althusser or the clownish leftist, Jacques Derrida.

At one point, I believe in the second of the two videos, Chomsky explains the situation in North and South Vietnam in the 1955-1959 period, and Buckley is reduced to a debater's trick in telling Chomsky (I paraphrase) "Well, you are starting your historical narrative where it is most advantageous to your point..." Chomsky then reminds Buckley that Buckley chose that time period, and that Chomsky was merely responding. Buckley has no clue, by the way, of what comes before or after that time period in Vietnamese history, and he knows it. It is just a debater's trick.

In the final portion of the second video, Buckley is simply shocked that anyone would think US actions in Guatemala were anything like Soviet actions in Eastern Europe. Anyone who knows anything about US intervention and support of military regimes in Guatemala from the 1950s through the 1990s would not be in the least surprised by such an observation. In fact, a rational observer might even say there were points where the various Guatemalan military regimes were more brutal than the Eastern European military regimes.

Over the years I watched Buckley's show, "Firing Line," I noticed this pattern of Buckley's in not having a ready grasp of factual information, and an increasingly lazy reliance on syllogisms and theoretical arguments based upon logically sounding "conventional wisdom." (Believe it or not, I watched that show almost weekly, and was a fan of the show, particularly when people such as Robert Scheer and Michael Harrington were guests). What is, however, also important to note is that the conversation between Chomsky and Buckley was remarkably civil, and there was at least a back-and-forth that went beyond the now commonplace advertising-style sound bites. This is what we should lament--as well as lamenting the fact that Chomsky does not receive any decent airing on American television (other than C-Span).

(Edited)