Sunday, April 27, 2008

How to avoid wrecking our planet...

Jeffrey Sachs, who used to be a typical economist--meaning, a moron--now gets it. Here he is on HBO's Bill Maher show and nailing the issues in a humane, practical way.

Ever wonder why he is not on corporate owned television political shows other than a so-called "comedy" program on HBO? It is all part of the dumbing down of the discourse, which is NOT the same as calling Americans dumb (which unfortunately is something Bill Maher confuses way too often). Americans have a sense something is wrong, but are more inert than anything else. They don't go beyond what is thrown at them on television, wrongly assuming that television pundits and reporters are telling the truth when they say "We're covering the world" or some such propaganda line. Corporate media are decidedly not doing that.

And until we learn to get past corporate media propaganda, which could happen if enough people vote for a Democratic Party president this fall, especially the guy who wrote this book on the corporate media's destructive influence on the public discourse, we will have a hard time implementing the policy solutions Sachs so succinctly and effectively proposed.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The NBA playoffs' surprises...

Some lighter blogging about something other than politics or literature:

The Western Conference of the NBA was where there was supposed to be Game Sixes and Game Sevens all over the place because all eight teams which qualified had won 50 or more games out of the regular season 82, a percentage of 60% or more games won.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference first round playoffs were supposed to be a cakewalk for the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons because they were playing sub-500 teams (the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers).

So, what's happened so far? Well, the Lakers are creaming the Denver Nuggets, and are up 3-0 in a series where they only have to win one more game to advance. The same with the defending champs, the San Antonio Spurs, whose players are running and shooting over the Phoenix Suns, a team which itself won just over 67% of its games in the regular season.

But over in the Eastern Conference, Boston just lost to Atlanta tonight--and last night, Philly knocked the socks and shoes off Detroit. While I don't expect Boston or Detroit to go home early in these first round playoffs, and accept the possibility that the Lakers and Spurs could well lose at least one game, respectively, to the Nuggets and Suns, I don't think too many closer observers of NBA basketball predicted these outcomes thus far.

Contrary to the college hoops fans who rag on the NBA, I love the NBA. Anything can happen at the pro level, which is why I am proud to be an NBA fan.

But I have to say this as a fan going back to the late 1960s: Go Lakers!


Book Review Reviews: Flaying the fools

In the Washington Post Book World, historian Kai Bird deftly reveals why military historian Max Hastings is a fool to try and defend Truman's decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The primary reasons the Japanese surrendered--almost one full week after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Japan--were the combination of the Russians finally announcing they were going to invade Japan and the US turning their "unconditional surender" demand into a "conditional" surrender by agreeing to protect the Emperor from war crimes' prosecution. Truman's first Cold War lie was that the Japanese had accepted "unconditional surrender" when, in fact, Truman altered his previous position that the US would not necessarily protect Emperor Hirohito from a war crimes prosecution. A week after dropping those atomic bombs, Truman accepted that Japanese condition of expressly protecting the emperor. One may also note how the historian Bird all but calls Hastings a liar for not including obvious and well-known (to most historians, anyway) information that would call Truman's decision into strong question.

Rather than read Max Hastings, one should read Gar Alperovitz's books on the subject ("Atomic Diplomacy" and "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb" (Vintage, 1996)).

In the NY Times Book Review, Leon Wieseltier has penned a devastating essay on the British bedwetting fear-mongerer, Martin Amis, that will hopefully consign Amis to oblivion. Amis is a pale version of his far more witty and somewhat less fearful father, Kingsley Amis and became unglued after the events of 9/11/2001. The essay is remarkable because, Wieseltier, a New Republic writer who has a long pedigree in attacking something called "the left" in America, has finally had enough of Martin Amis and the type of rhetoric that one ironically associates with...the New Republic, i.e. Arab and Muslim hating and fear-mongering. One of my favorite lines in the essay is: "Pity the writer who wants to be Bellow but is only Mailer." Early on, he writes of Amis: "But he appears to believe that an insult is an analysis." What truly upsets Wieseltier about Amis' book is Amis' hatred of all religion and his seemingly blind view that secularists won't commit unspeakable crimes. As Wieseltier notes, Amis seems to have missed the 20th Century and crimes of Communists, Nazis and others who noisily claimed to value "rational" and "scientific" thinking--at least for their elites, as opposed to the "masses." The review is a delicious read for anyone who wishes to brace oneself against hacks and fear-mongerers.

And finally, apart from fools like Hastings and Amis, I found, in the NY Review of Books, a wonderful interview by Judy Woodruff with George Soros. Soros is like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and yes, Donald Trump, to the extent he wonders when our foolish ruling elite will recognize the folly of what Soros calls "market fundamentalism." At some point, Soros appears to be saying, we need smarter people running our government to revitalize what sociologists used to call the "superstructure" that allows business people space to help re-develop our nation.

Soros, Buffett and the others know they should be taxed more. They know there is a need to reinvest inside our nation, and to rebuild roads, bridges, and other public works that will stimulate the economy and do far more than income tax cuts (that are geared toward the wealthiest taxpayers) to create positive cash flow to start to rebalance the budget and pay down our national debt. They understand that government's economic function is to build those superstructures that business cannot do itself, whether it is road building, providing health insurance to every American at an affordable price, and more rationally controlling resources from oil to water to electricity.

Oh well. Let's just pray the Democratic Party's nominee for president defeats the dumb banker's candidate, John McCain, just as the smart banker, Warren Buffett hopes.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

The story of Obama's Mother and Some Cause for Hope (and Despair)

This article in Time magazine about Obama's mother is a fascinating and poignant read. What the article told me is that, deep down, Obama is someone scarred by losing a father early in his life, and having a loving, yet wandering and ultimately distant mother, who was lost to him at a couple of important times, and then lost forever in 1995 when she died of ovarian cancer. I also got a kick out of the fact that left oriented Congressman Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) went to college with Obama's father and mother, and knew Obama as a baby.

This article potentially represents good news for those of us who want a president who truly empathizes with those who are vulnerable to life's challenges. His mixed racial background, his life in Indonesia, and the stability he appeared to ultimately find with his white grandparents, also help us understand why his speech on race was so wise in its ability to get beyond people's use of words that hurt, and to look deeper into people's complexities.

On the downside, last Sunday, a white fellow up in Los Angeles County told me that he would not want to vote for McCain, but would likely do so if Obama won the nomination. I asked him why and he said, "Well, you know that the first thing Obama is gonna do when he becomes president is put Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in his cabinet--and you can't have that happen!" I wish I had read that Time magazine article last weekend, but I still was able to tell this white retired union worker that Obama has no use for Jackson or Sharpton, and that's why they have been quiet, too. They know they are not wanted at his table, a table filled with mostly white, establishment advisers. In other words, I said to this man, "If, as you say, you are able to vote for Hillary over McCain, you can safely vote for Obama over McCain. They have the same nice bankers' and comptent bankers' outlook." And besides, I said to this man, I didn't think Sharpton and Jackson really liked each other, let alone Obama. See this Village Voice article about Sharpton and Jackson being the "best of enemies..."

I then went into the litanies of what makes McCain so loathsome as a presidential candidate. And then the man said that the one thing that impressed him about Obama, and makes him also loathe McCain, is Obama's position about removing troops from Iraq sooner than later, and McCain's stupid stubbornness in wanting to stay in Iraq. The fellow said it's a "crime" what the Bush and Cheney people have done to the military and to our soldiers.

The sad part about the discussion is really, what would be so terrible about Jackson at least as an adviser? I have long been suspicious about Sharpton, a feeling that goes back to the 1980s and the Tawana Brawley episode, and an article in the Village Voice during the 1980s that showed, quite convincingly to me at the time, that Sharpton was a confidence man. Also, just last year, in 2007, Sharpton was having his supporters go around attacking Obama for being a phony on issues of community organizing and civil rights. If there is one thing that approaches an absolute certainty, it is that an Obama administration will not include the Rev. Al Sharpton in the Cabinet.

Overall, I found the Time magazine article made me hopeful about Obama, and should be required reading. However, my discussion with the white retired union man made me very nervous about the ability of Obama to defeat McCain, no matter what polls say. The information gap between activists and regular voters continues to grow, and events like those occuring this week, where Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous asked inane and degrading questions in the Obama-Clinton debate ABC Television sponsored, add to that gap.

And if we really want to get depressed, here are the latest white establishment politicos who have endorsed Obama: Corporate war-mongering Democrat, Sam Nunn (former Senator from Georgia) and dull, go-along coprorate Democratic Party insider and former Senator from Oklahoma, David Boren. See here. And in a fit of pique against the Clintons (a long time coming, though!), Robert Reich, one of the few decent Clinton Cabinet members, endorsed Obama, but he seems to like being fooled by corporate Democrats. I wish Robert would take a listen to this song before making decisions like this.

So I remain where I have been: Obama or Hillary over McCain. But pining for a divided Democratic convention and an Al Gore sprint to the White House...


Sunday, April 13, 2008

If American corporate media gave more context...

I expect there will be outrage among many synagogue or temple affiliated Jews that Jimmy Carter will meet with Hamas. And of course, American politicians and candidates for political office, both the Democratic and Republican Parties, will continue to say "Israel must not talk with Hamas...", which stance serves to further delegitimize Carter and his attempt to broker a peace the Cheney (Bush) administration does not want, or does not want enough.

Yet, I wonder whether most of this outrage against Carter or whether the "bi-partisan" support for the current Israeli government to bomb, not talk with Hamas, would begin to dissipate if Americans, and particularly American Jews, knew a former head of Mossad (Israel's FBI and CIA equivalent) had called for the current Israeli government to talk with Hamas, or that other prominent Israelis, including former military leaders in Israel, have called for the government to begin talks with Hamas.

I wonder, too, what would happen if Americans, and again particularly American Jews, knew a prominent Hamas leader had wanted to open a dialogue with America about prospects for peace--and that Haaretz, Israel's leading newspaper, had published an article by one of its corresponents whose headline perfectly summarized the correspondent's view of that Hamas spokesman's overture: "If we can kill them, we can talk with them."

And I wonder how most Americans would react if they learned the Israeli government's post-war report on the Israeli war with Hezbollah in 2006 contained a secret section designed to protect "The security of the state and its foreign relations", and that there is reason to believe the Cheney (Bush) administration helped push Israel into the war against Hezbollah in 2006. How, too, would Americans react if they learned that prominent Israelis believe Israel has to ask the US for permission before attempting to engage in a dialogue with Syria (Read the entire linked article, and get past the "official" US denial).

I wonder, if American corporate media pundits placed such information into the discourse, whether Jimmy Carter would have to endure as much opprobrium from the American corporate media and political elites; an opprobrium that not only delegitimizes Carter, but also undermines an intelligent discourse about American foreign policy.

I wonder...but not really. I know the US should not be pushing Israel into more wars. I know Israel needs to talk with Hamas representatives who wish to speak to the Israeli government. I know that Carter means well in his plan to speak with representatives from Hamas, and that his speaking to Hamas does not harm the security of Israel or the United States.

Is Carter's meeting with Hamas really going to be discussed in American corporate media with this informational context? No, we can be certain that the subject will not be discussed in this context and, worse, anyone who dares bring up that context will be attacked as "anti-Israel" or "weak" with reference to American foreign policy.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Clinton supporter slams Obama while reporting LA preacher's anti-Semitic remarks

Daphna Ziman, a high-powered supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton's quest for the presidency, has reported that she attended a fundraiser of a Los Angeles African-American oriented organization where an African-American reverend made remarks that are fairly reported as anti-Semitic.

Here is the Jewish Journal article about the episode.

The Rev. Eric Lee, the reverend in question, has apologized and appears contrite, though his personal thoughts were probably revealed in his speech that night--personal thoughts that should cause him to be even more reflective for quite some time.

A limited defense of Rev. Lee is revealed in the Jewish Journal article where Rev. Lee said he had opened his remarks by castigating the African-American community for its support of media portrayals (and one assumes rap "music") of African-Americans as criminals. In that context, perhaps his later statement in the speech about not wanting alliances between African-Americans and Jews was part of an exhortation of (attack on?) African-Americans to internally unite to challenge the negative stereotypes that we see African-American entertainers and rappers promote. I was not there, and can't say. But, it is clear to me from reading the article that Ms. Ziman may have slightly, but still materially, given a less than accurate rendition of Rev. Lee's words that night (It is also a sad, but still amusing commentary that so many people interviewed were not even listening to the Reverend. Yes, that could be more a a fear of telling what they heard, or just as likely, people tune out theologians whom they expect to just drone on...).

The main reason, though, I bring up this unfortunate episode is that the email Ms. Ziman has sent around contains a gratiutious slam against Sen. Obama. This causes me to question Ms. Ziman's true motives, which is really to hit Obama with this incident. Ms. Ziman is an over the top supporter of Sen. Clinton who sent out an inflamed email against Obama several months ago. See here for some background.

Ms. Ziman's fear of Obama being "anti-Israel" is simply not fair to Obama. Obama has been a supporter of Israel, even supporting the Israeli government's ridiculous wars it fought in the spring and summer of 2006 with Hamas and Hezbollah. I wish Obama was going to be the least bit critical of Israeli policies if he became president. Sorry, Daphna, not a chance. Obama will far more likely continue the bi-partisan hackery for Israeli governments, with at best vacuous pleas for Israel to stop building settlements (see this April 1, 2008 Haaretz article for the latest vacuous criticism from Secretary of State Condi Rice on the subject), supporting Israeli governments' refusal to speak with Hamas, and continuing to support Israeli governments' checkpoint and other policies that are as much aimed at humiliating Palestinians as anything connected with fighting terrorism.

So, yes, we have evidence of another semi-prominent African-American leader in Los Angeles who made insensitive statements regarding Jews. But Ms. Ziman likely had a more immediate priority in exposing this episode, which was to attack Obama--who had nothing to do with Rev. Lee's remarks--in order to push her candidate of choice, Sen. Clinton. I say this with some circumspection though because, you know, I think I'd really like Ms. Ziman, who probably agrees with me on any number of things (outside of Israeli politics) and is clearly a wonderful philanthropist who deserved much better on the evening when Rev. Lee spoke.

I am also sorry to go through all this, but unfortunately, too many American voters, including Jewish-American voters with whom I speak, are grasping at such "issues" in order to convince themselves to vote for...yuck...McCain. Readers of this blog know the negatives regarding McCain, and know I would gladly support Clinton or Obama over McCain. Therefore I won't speak of those matters. What is more important is that we give context to this latest imbroglio that is flowing through emails of Jewish-American and other voters throughout the nation.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

"Moses" was supposed to live to 120...

Charlton Heston died at the age of 84. I thought he was supposed to live to be 120, like Moses.

I know it's probably not politically correct of me, but I like him. He may have said some horrible things while president of the NRA, but really, he was an earnest man (who was actually a "liberal" on some significant issues during the 1960s and 1970s). Plus, I sensed he was far nicer person than his political enemies gave him credit for.

And you have to love him in this--or this.

When I think about Heston, I am sometimes reminded of a Lenny Bruce joke about Moses not wanting to return to an earthly life because, says Lenny, "Moses feels embarrassed that he's only five foot two and Charlton Heston is six four."

Charton, rest in peace. I hope there's at least a ripple in the Red Sea tomorrow morning in your honor...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr.: A commemoration

The Rev. Jesse Jackson says it nicely as to why Martin Luther King, Jr. was a truly revolutionary American who did more for America and Americans than most US presidents, senators or congressmen. And here is Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, remembering the power of King's rhetoric and policy positions--and how they resonate today.

Tomorrow, April 4, 2008, is the 40th anniversary of King's assassination. We as a nation should take a moment, mourn our loss and his murder, and renew our pledge to judge an individual not on his/her "group" characteristics, but, as King so memorably said, "the content" of his/her "character."

Here is Robert F. Kennedy announcing King's assassination to a largely African-American gathering while RFK was campaigning for president in Indiana. Indiana was a place where stuff like this happened more often than its current lighter skinned residents may care to remember.

As we survey the last forty years, a natural question is whether King would have continued to make a difference had he lived, or would he have become so controversial as he attempted to confront economic inequality. My sense is that King's extramarital affairs and push for a populist left economics would have increasingly isolated him had he lived. This is due to the cultural changes going on in America and how corporate owned media was beginning to trivialize its news coverage.

In my book of alternative history about RFK surviving and becoming president, King is already assassinated, as the book begins on June 4, 1968. In the novel, RFK promotes such then younger civil rights leaders starting with Andy Young and Julian Bond, who take away some of the hurt and cynicism arising from the King assassination, and promotes the Bedford-Stuyvesant urban renewal and development program, which improves communities where African-Americans make up the majority of citizens. This has significant impacts on the culture as well as economy of our nation. But enough.

Tomorrow is a day to mourn, commemorate and reflect about Martin Luther King, Jr., our nation's strong and positive steps forward in overcoming prejudice and bigotry, and the challenges we continue to face on economic, military, political and cultural fronts.