Sunday, July 26, 2009

Answering the latest challenges to climate change consensus

Kevin Drum, over at Mother Jones, nicely destroys the latest climate change challenge from a fellow named Jim Manzi and of course the liar George Will. See here and here for Drum's spot-on analysis. does an excellent job, as well, answering the latest argument from the denier/skeptic crowd (I put those together only for convenience here; they are very different in my view) about the El Nino accounting for most of the climate change on the planet in recent times. See here and here.

As I often say, if climate skeptics are wrong, the consequences could be catastrophic for the entire planet. And those in the U.S. who call themselves "conservative," and who supported invading Iraq or purusing torture on the 1% doctrine enunciated by Dick Cheney, ought to be lining up with Al Gore as there is clearly far more than a 1% chance that the scientific consensus is correct. But somehow, these modern "conservatives" (so unlike say Theodore Roosevelt) just can't see their way through that glaring inconsistency--unless one gets snarky and says the consistentcy is their fealty to corporate priorities, particularly those of the oil and gas corporations.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Holly Sklar and David Sirota explain some things that 24 hour news channels don't...

See this article republished at Z Magazine. Ms. Sklar has done tremendous research over the years on issues of income distribution in the U.S. and corporate priorities embedded in American foreign policy initiatives.

And see David Sirota's article on a particular issue emblematic of our Gilded Age here.


Haaretz roundup

Haaretz says Secretary of State Clinton will cut a deal with Israel that lets Israel build the settlements it has started to build. Yuck. This is a typical move by Israeli leaders--start a bunch of settlement building, stand off against the US administration in power, and then say, "Okay, we'll only build what we started," which puts more settlements into the West Bank. The U.S. continues to reward Israeli leaders' bad faith. Nothing new, sad to say.

Still, the U.S. is saying, "Don't build in this or that sector of the West Bank," which might mean something if the U.S. was not giving in to the new settlement building starts.

And here is an interesting story about the son of one of the Orthodox Rabbis caught up in the corruption probe in New Jersey. I can't say I am surprised that Orthodox Rabbis are caught up in such criminal financial conduct. It's almost like saying one is surprised that a right wing family man Republican politician engages in adultery.

Also, I'm not surprised that Israeli Jewish intellectuals recognize that there should be an Israeli probe into soldiers' stories of military misconduct during the recent Gaza war. However, we can bet that no prominent American-Jewish organization would attack Amos Oz or David Grossman the way they'd attack an American Jew for signing such a petition. And God forbid an American who was not Jewish signed such a petition. Such a non-Jewish person would be called at least "bigoted" against Jews and become a pariah to Jewish organizations. Yes, it remains tougher to speak openly about Israel in the U.S. than within Israel.

There are other interesting articles in Haaretz today, but these initially caught my eye...

As the WW I generation completes its pass into history...

I am struck by the comments of Harry Patch, the last surviving and now deceased English (though not necessarily British empire) soldier to fight in World War I. From the article:

"Today is not for me. It is for the countless millions who did not come home with their lives intact. They are the heroes," he said. "It is also important we remember those who lost their lives on both sides."

Patch said he did not speak about the war for 80 years. But he came to believe the casualties were not justified.

"I met someone from the German side and we both shared the same opinion: we fought, we finished and we were friends," he said in 2007.

"It wasn't worth it."

The World War I Allied soliders had, I think, a better sense of the futility of war, than, say, soldiers who fought for the Allies in World War II. World War I veterans saw that the slogan of the war they fought in, "The war to end all wars..." was a cruel illusion. Then, they learned how arms manufacturers manipulated governments--not that the government leaders needed much manipulation--and prolonged the war.* They also learned how effective the propaganda machines operated by government and national media figures had become, as well. While Patch may have came later to realizations than many of his fellow World War I veterans, late is better than never.

By contrast, World War II soldiers, focused on defeating the Axis, and then prevailing against the Axis, have long had more optimism about entering into subsequent wars, and more trust in their governments. It is, sadly, I believe, why American veterans of World War II did not see the imperial aspects of the Korean War and Vietnam War, and were so trusting of the propaganda from government officials about those wars. And that is perhaps why French veterans of World War II did not see the imperial aspects of the Algerian War for so long, either.

I speak in generalities here, and offer these observations for further thought as opposed to a hard and fast conclusion. Still, I am struck by comments from various WW I veterans like Mr. Patch's over the years as that generation of soldiers faded into history.

Locally, in the U.S., I am also struck by the lack of fanfare for those who faded from the scene who had fought in the Spanish-American War of 1898. I think that is because that war, while highly successful from a military standpoint, is seen as an almost purely imperial war, and so few people--outside of Rand Corporation circles--see the word "imperial" as being positive in connotation.

War may sometimes be necessary, but most often war represents a failure on the part of human beings. The devastation war brings is rarely justified or cleansing the way some forresters may properly see a fire in a forest. Instead, war is terribly destructive and so terribly hateful. And for those who say war is inevitable, well, so is peace inevitable.

Notwithstanding those points, I am not a pacifist because some wars again may be worth the tremendous cost at the time they are fought. It's just that those who support entering or starting a war should bear a heavy burden of proof. However, as we saw in the build-up to the Iraq War II earlier in this decade, the burden of proof is too often placed on opponents of a war, especially in our empire-supporting corporate media.

On a lighter note, I must say I love the name of the last English WWI soldier: Harry Patch. It is right out of a Dickens, Hardy or Greene novel. Good-bye, Mr. Patch. You are a hero in my eyes for having the candor to talk about war in the way you did.

*For a short, modern update of the role of arms manufacturers in world conflicts, see this article by a Bay Area writer, Paul Rockwell.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

A provocative book review leads to more provocative thoughts...

In the NY Times Book Review this morning, there is a provocative review of appears to be a very thoughtful book about the Romantic poets of the early 19th Century and their seemingly incongruent adoration of science and scientists (Richard Holmes' "The Age of Wonder"...). To our modern minds, this remains hard to fathom--though the recent attack on science by Republican leaders, and the rise of computer-based animation and art, have led both scientists and artists into common cause, which may portend good relations among future artists and scientists (unlike the imbroglio that accompanied the Sokol hoax).

Another highly useful book to overcome the false philosophical dichotomy of scientists vs. artists is E.P. Thompson's "The Making of the English Working Class,". One of Thompson's many insights was that the Romantics label often attributed to the early 19th Century British poets was twisted by powerful economic and governmental leaders during that time to delegitimize those poets as being hopelessly naive, and/or ignorantly isolated from the rest of society. This is because the poets tended to come from aristocratic backgrounds, and therefore had a platform to express their outrage at the economic oppression being pursued by the rising business class and government in early 19th Century England. That these poets were highly engaged in the affairs of the larger world of economics, and that they saw art and science as mutually compatible and extensions of each other (much like Jefferson and Franklin) was something obliterated over many decades of analysis of their love interests and the economic elite's attacks on their quaint mercantilist sympathies.

In the last sixty years, our corporate media has successfully conflated capitalism and democracy (pardon the lack of quotation marks around all these weighty terms) in the minds of most folks as to make it relatively easy--seemingly intuitive--to attack critics of capitalism's excesses. In high brow business circles, whether it be the Wall St. Journal or Fortune magazine, critics of capitalism have continued to be described as naive or aloof by polite writers (such writers, writing for elitists, find it too difficult to use the term elitist as an epithet). However, what has made the Cold War era--and our presesnt time--fairly different from the early 19th Century is an additional layer of deligitimization of capitalist critics. I speak here of the virulent attack by self-proclaimed "morning Joes" (O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Savage, Hannity, et al.) who accuse critics of corporate dominance and economic inequality of siding with whatever foreign enemy of America our corporate media may muster. In this decade, criticism of capitalist oppression is seen as a sign of sympathy for Muslim terrorism--just as in the mid-20th Century, criticism of capitalist excesses was seen as sympathy for Soviet and later Maoist Communism.

The reviewer deserved a chance to write a longer essay, but I sense the NY Times Book Review editor still suffers from what C.P. Snow decried as a modern era's essential separation of science from the arts. That is bad enough. However, not having a way to critique capitalism the way people critiqued mercantilism or feudalism (or continue to easily and glibly critique socialism) makes it difficult for us as a society to analyze public policy when confronted with the information in this review of another book, "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture" by Ellen Ruppel Snell. If our corporate media would regularly include voices who can critically analyze capitalism the way its usual analysts analyze other economic relations, I guess it would not be corporate media, would it?


Friday, July 17, 2009

And that's the way it is...

Walter Cronkite died this afternoon at the age of 92.

As our news readers descended further and further into Ted Baxters, it became somewhat ironic and sometimes amusing to me to think that Edward R. Murrow thought Conkrite a lightweight. If he only lived to see Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams, Candy Crowley and the other true blow-dried lightweights, he might have apologized to those of us who called Cronkite "Uncle Walter."

As LBJ famously said after Conkrite departed from merely reading the news to a rare comment about the growing futility of the American effort in Southeast Asia, "If I've lost Conkrite, I've lost middle America."

Conkrite was most courageous when he broadcast what was supposed to be a two part series on the Nixon scandals where he borrowed heavily from Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post. The first broadcast was in the fall of 1972, in the heat of the Nixon-McGovern campaign. No other television news shows on ABC and NBC would talk about what Woodward and Bernstein were finding. Nixon was shocked that Walter Conkrite, who had played tennis and was friendly with Nixon's Vice President, Spiro Agnew, would do such a thing. But Conkrite was incensed at what he read and how the major corporate media were ignoring the stories. I could not find either of the shows on the web, and am going on memory (always a blunt instrument...). The show was probably not completely accurate, as Woodward and Bernstein relied on leaks and differing points of view from those who may not have perceived events as accurately as they thought. Still, the overall thrust of the show was accurate. And Conkrite earned a tough talk with CBS owner Bill Paley, who said, "Sorry, Walter, you won't do the next installment." And the next installment was not aired.

Ah, the "free" press...or as A.J. Liebling once said, "Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one." Yet, this blogging stuff is mighty amazing when we think about it...:-)

ADDENDUM: Former CBS reporter, Daniel Schorr, in today's LA Times (July 20, 2009), corrects my understanding of the Watergate reports on the Cronkite news show. He says the second show did air--but highly edited and shortened. The rest of my recollection of the anger emanating from the Nixon administration, Paley's response, etc. were essentially accurate.

Labor laws making strange bedfellows--and exposes lobbyist corruption along the way

This is an interesting article about the American Conservative Union (not a union, but a lobbying group for right wing causes) getting caught in the act of demanding money to promote one side in a policy dispute, and then going to the other side when the first side did not pay them money to lobby. As best I can tell, the ACU went to FedEx, which is in a labor regulation dispute with UPS, and offered its lobbying services for a couple of million dollars--telling FedEx it had studied the issue and wanted to "help" FedEx in exchange for payment by FedEx.

Then, when FedEx refused to pay the ACU, they wrote a letter on behalf of UPS to Congress free of charge to UPS. I guess the message to FedEx was "You don't pay us, we'll attack you as a lesson in how Washington DC lobbying works."

The dispute itself is also fascinating. Here is an article explaining the nature of the dispute. Naturally, I agree with UPS' position because it would make unionizing at FedEx easier than before. Still, if we want to simplify labor law (and stop this battle of corporations with one or two unions as ultimately pawns in the battle) we should support the efforts of organized labor to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Yes, FedEx should no longer operate under the Railway Labor Act of the 1926 (which is a horrible act against organized labor), and instead operate under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (which is what needs a serioius overhaul, too), but, really, both UPS and FedEx (and especially Wal-Mart) should operate under the EFCA proposed laws, which make it easier for all workers to form and join unions.

Just as naturally, George Will weighed in on the subject on the side of blasting the supposed union power on Capitol Hill, which, if that was true, we'd have already seen the EFCA pass. Also, Will's point that FedEx workers already make more than UPS workers (at least on "average", something I question) misses the ultimate point. If FedEx workers can more easily form unions, their workers will receive more money and benefits, and that will help UPS workers, too.

Don't believe me? Try Chapter 3 from The State of Working America 2006/2007. You can also use this as an Exhibit "A" as to why I call our broadcast media such as CNN, FoxNews, CBS, NBC and ABC "corporate media." Corporate media does not want workers to know that forming unions can lead to higher wages and better benefits for workers. They want them arguing over same sex marriage and gotcha politics ("Did you hear what so and so said today? Let's parse and analyze this till we vomit!").


Monday, July 13, 2009

For those having a tough Monday...

I found this on Youtube.

It's Soft Machine's 1976 release of "Out of Season" from the Softs album.

Personally, my Monday today was pretty good. But it only makes me wonder about those who are having a rougher one...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Judge Sotomayor in the Circus Funhouse

The distortions are going to be fast and furious against Judge Sotomayor, whose rulings, from what I have seen, have been decent and thoughtful. She is the type of judge most litigators would want to be in front of since she is careful in her rulings. And sometimes, folks who become Supreme Court justices surprise even their initial supporters. Therefore, I remain personally cautious about her, but support her nomination to the Supreme Court.

Still, Eugene Volokh, the conservative-libertarian law prof from UCLA, gets it exactly right in nailing this right wing distortion of an opinion she joined in regarding a religious-oriented billboard.

On the other hand, I find it amusing to see one of the other Volokh Conpiracy website writers so concerned about the firefighter, Mr. Ricci, who was the lead plaintiff in the recent "reverse-discrimination" case. The question Jonathan Adler does not address is the question that proves his concern to be a partisan whine, and that question is this:

Why is Mr. Ricci testifying at all at the Sotomayor hearings?

Every lawyer who knows this area of law knows that Sotomayor joined with other judges of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in applying the law as it existed before the US Supreme Court changed the "disparate impact" rule to make it easier for white workers to pursue reverse-discrimination claims. Mr. Ricci's presence in DC is primarily if not solely political--and that is to attack Judge Sotomayor. Therefore, why should anyone be outraged that some Judge Sotomayor supporters are digging into Mr. Ricci's past?

What is interesting is what the diggers found: Mr. Ricci may have used his condition of dyslexia as a basis for a discrimination claim against the city fire department in order to secure his first position within that department. He then used the claim of reverse-discrimination as a white man as a basis to attempt to secure a promotion within the department. Please note I would be against using this information against Mr. Ricci if he had stayed home. What he did before becoming the lead plaintiff in the latest Supreme Court case is irrelevant to the hearing on Judge Sotomayor's nomination. If, however, he is going to D.C. to testify for Republicans against the "liberal" Judge Sotomayor, then it is very fair to point out how "liberal" anti-discrimination laws have helped him, too--and does he see any hypocrisy in his expected testimony against the "liberal" judge.

The Republican leaders will pull out all stops in their attacks on Judge Sotomayor--such as bringing Mr. Ricci to Washington or, as Eugene's post proved, distorting a perfectly legitimate holding in which Judge Sotomayor joined. The Republican leaders live for these staged cultural fights because they crowd out substantive policy discussions on matters in which they stand against the vast majority of the American people: substantive issues such as health insurance, labor law reform and financial institution reform. And such cultural fights crowd out the important debate over just how often and deeply Bush/Cheney lied about torture and wiretapping.

We can grit our teeth, or just pass the popcorn, knowing this nomination hearing will be over in two weeks. The reporting and commentary from corporate broadcast media on the hearing will be filled with funhouse distortions, rank politics and gossip posing as news. Of course, that is how corporate broadcast media tend to be in general. Now, I am gritting my teeth...


Saturday, July 11, 2009

No, sir, that was a coup in Honduras

A Honduran born elite lawyer has tried to justify the coup in Honduras. Here are the key grafs the elite lawyer's LA Times op-ed, with the last part bolded, which bolded part undermines the merit of his position:

What you'll learn is that the Honduran Constitution may be amended in any way except three. No amendment can ever change (1) the country's borders, (2) the rules that limit a president to a single four-year term and (3) the requirement that presidential administrations must "succeed one another" in a "republican form of government."

In addition, Article 239 specifically states that any president who so much as proposes the permissibility of reelection "shall cease forthwith" in his duties, and Article 4 provides that any "infraction" of the succession rules constitutes treason. The rules are so tight because these are terribly serious issues for Honduras, which lived under decades of military rule.

As detailed in the attorney general's complaint, Zelaya is the type of leader who could cause a country to wish for a Richard Nixon. Earlier this year, with only a few months left in his term, he ordered a referendum on whether a new constitutional convention should convene to write a wholly new constitution. Because the only conceivable motive for such a convention would be to amend the un-amendable parts of the existing constitution, it was easy to conclude -- as virtually everyone in Honduras did -- that this was nothing but a backdoor effort to change the rules governing presidential succession. Not unlike what Zelaya's close ally, Hugo Chavez, had done in Venezuela.

How is an open election a "backdoor effort"? And worse, what sort of constitution is it that states it is "treason" if there is even a mere referendum sought that would allow a president to serve an additional term? That sounds more like a Soviet Union style of Constitution than an American Constitution.

The elite lawyer thinks these constitutional provisions were included to stop a military dictatorship from occurring again, due to Honduras' history of military dictatorships. Sorry, sir. Those rules strike me as stopping true representative democracy--precisely what happened here (especially since the Constitution was created in 1982, during the time the US was deeply involved with the Honduran military and political elite in pursuing wars against leftist insurgencies in El Salvador and Guatemala, and against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua). Plus, the elite lawyer betrays his bias by conflating Zelaya with Nixon and Chavez in the same few paragraphs, with no support for either comparison. Finally, it is almost laughable that, after all the fancy legalisms, the elite lawyer has to admit the arrest and forced exile was extra-constitutional...or put simply, illegal.

The elite lawyer also is highly credulous of official propaganda. He assumes the question put before the people in Honduras is a referendum. Instead, the question constituted a plebiscite, if one wants to split legal hairs. In other words, the question put to voters was not to enact legislation, as in a normal referendum, but to have a commission formed to investigate whether to change the Constitution. Even if people voted "yes", Zelaya's term as president ends and he could not succeed himself. See this post from the blog of Professor Steven Taylor for the exact Spanish wording and his translation into English, which shows that Zelaya was not trying to force the nation to accept his continuing as president.

The blog site, Fruits and Votes (written by, among others, a University of California San Diego political science professor, Matt Shugart), helps us understand why there was a coup in Honduras, meaning the military and Supreme Court in Honduras were in cahoots--a merging of interests--to oust Zelaya. See here, here, here and here for some of the posts. Various links in the latest posts are also important to at least review, if not fully read.

As usual in matters of foreign affairs, our nation's corporate media are handmaidens to right wing and militarist propaganda.

And most importantly, for American citizens, it's great to see the Obama administration publicly state that it was a coup, and, if true, at least try to help Zelaya. It is therefore nice to know that our nation's leaders did not, for once, side with militarists and fascists in Latin America.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Freaky Music Friday

In a mood for freaky music this evening...

Here is Rick Wakeman and his band doing a raucous and yes, freaky version of the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black."

And here is "Toy Symphony" by Daryl Way's Wolf (from 1973). It is outstanding!

Finally, for those really adventurous and patient prog rock fans, Jethro Tull from 1970 at the Isle of Man concert, doing Dharma for One (part I and part II). Sounds sorta Jewish and India-Indian in various parts, doesn't it?

I like all this better than bitching at Blue Dog Democrats who betray the American people by not supporting a public option in health insurance...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

McNamara Agonistes

He was the man Jack and Bob Kennedy thought should be president after Jack's anticipated two terms as president. He was the man behind the Falcon , who also used his power as president of Ford Motor Company in the mid-1950s to limit the negative impact from the Edsel. He personified the organization man who was sent into government to reform the military, and ended up pursuing the escalation of a war in southeast Asia based upon a logic put into place under Truman and Eisenhower.

He died this week, and here are several articles on his passing that are worth a read:

Jonathan Schell

Eric Alterman

Robert Scheer

Jesse Walker (who I only read after I wrote the opening paragraph--and found we were very much in sync!)

And meanwhile the lies by the CIA (ahem, the president) to the Congress and the American people keep on coming...