Sunday, November 29, 2009

The one article you must read about Muslims in Western Europe

This article by Laila Lalami, whom I never heard of before, in The Nation is a must read. It is not that agree with everything she says. It is not that I find all of her arguments compelling. It is, however, that I find her to be a fresh, sane voice about Muslim minorities in what we used to call Western Europe, and in particular, France, and that the talk against Muslims in Western Europe seems to mirror the way we white folks in America talked for decades about black Americans in the inner cities.

The one thing I wish she dealt with was the combination of church and state in too many nations in Western Europe, including France, that lead to subsidizing mosques, churches and synagogues--and ironically, provides economic support for the most fundamentalists among each of the organized Western religions, including Islam.

I had blogged on this issue here, here, here, here and here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Some poignant performances for a rainy Saturday night

So it's been raining all day and into the evening in San Diego County...

My son is with friends, my daughter is watching her favorite Disney shows and my wife is working on her math prep for school. I could be doing some review of documents for work (it is waiting till tomorrow morning...), but decided to see where my mind wandered on YouTube. And this is what I found...

Here is Billy Joel doing "Summer, Highland Falls" at the National Press Club last year, which knocked my wife and I out as we flipped by happenstance on C-Span, and saw the performance as it happened.

And here is Judy Garland, looking older and more troubled than her 40 years, with a young, hopeful Barbra Streisand doing a counterpoint duet of "Get Happy" and "Happy Days Are Here Again." I was knocked out by the musical juxtaposition and the decision to sing both songs in a melancholy style...One may also note how Garland treats Streisand like a loving daughter at the end of the song. What an amazing life Streisand has led....

And finally, here is the late Dudley Moore swinging like Oscar Peterson somewhere in the mid-1960s with his trio consisting of the legendary Pete McGurk on bass and Chris Karan on drums.

Updated Blogroll...

I have updated the blogroll in the past few days.

A few blogs have been removed because of inactivity by the proprietors of those blogs. A few have been added, particularly Bernard Avishai, Dennis Perrin, TomPaine.com, 3 Quarks Daily, Multinational Monitor, Boston Review and FiveThirtyEight.

And one more thing: Check out L Curve at the top of the blogroll, which shows why issues of distribution of wealth, or labor and capital, should be top issues, but somehow...

The settlement freeze that is not a freeze at all

Bernard Avishai explains it all here. Here is the second graph:

The freeze allows for the completion of 2,500 partially-built housing units and the construction of 492 new apartments. It does not apply to buildings like schools and synagogues. It does not take into account that the actual drivers of new settlement are not in the government, but fanatic settlement organizations that have been acting more or less independent of government decisions for years, and which the state does not have the manpower (or the army, the stomach) to confront with military force. The freeze does not apply to East Jerusalem, a greatly expanded zone (70 square kilometers) in the heart of the West Bank--historically, Palestine's biggest city, commercial hub, and the site of the mosques. Oh, and the freeze will only last ten months.

Avishai, for those who may not know, is a professor at Hebrew University, and a major writer on political, economic and history of Israel, as well as Zionism. Check his background at his blog.

NuttyYahoo deserves nothing but scorn for this bad faith proposal. A moment for peace is slipping away, and Israel will bear more responsibility than anyone else for this missed moment.

Sadly, it is now time for those who support Israel in the US to begin the painful process of saying the next freeze should be a freeze on US economic aid to Israel, and saying the next step after that will be a freeze on military aid. We as Americans do not have to support Israeli government policies that so clearly violate good faith and so clearly are designed to undermine prospects for peace and stability in that region of the world. As I have said before, friends don't let friends drive drunk. And NuttyYahoo has taken the keys to the Israeli car and is driving drunk.

(Edited)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Palin book sells less than Bill Clinton's book--and way less than Harry Potter

I have refrained from commenting on the ridiculous Sarah Palin. She is a train wreck of ignorance, corruption and vanity. Yet, the waste of space on liberal blogs--who are for the most part corrupt themselves in not even mentioning the climate change email controversy--shows a fear of Palin that is simply not warranted.

After all the media coverage and hype for Palin, including Oprah (!) and other media outlets, the first week's sales of her book are just under 470,000. By contrast, Bill Clinton's memoirs, which received less exposure (but not much less exposure), sold 400,000 in its first day of release, and 1.2 million in the first two weeks.

And by further contrast, in 2005, the Harry Potter book released at that time in its first week sold 8.3 million copies. And you know that received less hype than Palin's and Clinton's books, because Palin's and Clinton's books were the talk of political shows as well as non-political shows.

The polls which show 7 out of 10 Americans consider her unqualified to be president are not going to get better for Palin because they see more rather than less of Palin. The only thing worth mentioning during this hype should have been to criticize corporate media for even covering this silly woman. Now that the book sales have spoken after all this hype, perhaps we can cover something important like the law that was passed out of committee last week to open up the accounting books and records of the Federal Reserve Board (kudos to Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Ron Paul (R-TX) for their efforts in that regard! And boo to Barney Frank (D-MA), who showed once again his ultimate fealty to corporate America and its financiers).

A congressperson who actually wants to help people

Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) is one of the good congress folks who works on behalf of working Americans and their families. See this interview with her in The Nation on her efforts to support bailing out working class Americans, as opposed to reckless, rich financiers.

The letters (and really drawings) of Van Gogh

Van Gogh's letters, which includes amazing color as well as black and white drawings, are now on the Internet.

Thanks to 3 Quarks Daily for the tip.

What has always struck me about Van Gogh is that, at the dawn of the camera age, his style of drawing anticipated what became the most dynamic art form of the 20th Century, which is animated art, or as it is commonly called, cartoons.

The drawings in these letters are further support for this observation. These drawings practically move, and interestingly, the web camera does move along the drawings in the manner of a Ken Burns film. The web site, in an innovation I would love to see more of, allows people to send ecards to each other (for free) various items of Van Gogh's drawings and paintings, as well as letters.

Personal note: At age twenty, while traveling in England and the western part of the Continent, I was privileged to walk through the Van Gogh Museum. I know I did not appreciate it with the depth of understanding I would today. Such is youth! We each learn different things at different times...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Climate change emails: Less in the emails than meets the propaganda of climate change deniers

There is an imbroglio over hacked emails that supposedly shows climate change scientists knowingly tricking people into believing there is a global warming trend. Here is a newspaper article providing a background regarding the emails that were stolen from the facility where they were generated.

RealClimate.org has a very straight forward answer, though, and convinces me that there is little here other than scientists jousting about things in the usual elitist ways that folks at these higher levels of learning tend to act. What I find somewhat amusing after reading the RealClimate.org explanation of what's between the lines of the stray email comments is how little we laypeople know about the scientific process, and how the very detailed knowledge of the scientists, when they speak in shorthand to each other in emails (where many of us can be biting, sarcastic, etc., and therefore easily misunderstood) can create a storm of controversy where none really should exist. None of the data arguments really appear to have been hidden after all is what RealClimate.org is saying.

Wattsupwiththat, a relatively reasonably sane climate change sketpics' website, is having a field day showing how several of the scientists are competitive against skeptics, and are backstabbing sorts of folks. Anthony Watts, the proprietor of WattsUpWithThat, needs to talk more with those in upper echelons of nearly any organization, and needs to hang out more with scientists, who tend to be elitist and can be even...assholes. Stephen Jay Gould, for example, was one tough hombre and suffered fools not at all.* But that shouldn't turn me into a creationist. One of the writers at WattsUpWithThat (Roy Spencer, PhD), nonetheless admits to the following (see this entry and scroll down):

One of the biggest misconceptions the public has about science is that research is a straightforward process of making measurements, and then seeing whether the data support hypothesis A or B. The truth is that the interpretation of data is seldom that simple.

There are all kinds of subjective decisions that must be made along the way, and the scientist must remain vigilant that he or she is not making those decisions based upon preconceived notions. Data are almost always dirty, with errors of various kinds. Which data will be ignored? Which data will be emphasized? How will the data be processed to tease out the signal we think we see?


Yes, and when I read the climate change blog, RealClimate.org, from time to time (and Watts' helpful website less often), I find the folks there are very willing to admit things are not as simple as a headline from a newspaper or television news reader. But the evidence remains quite clear we humans do affect climate to some extent, that there would have been a clear trend of global cooling had it not been for CO2s in the atmosphere, and we all should want to avoid contributing to a longer-term warming trend that has already harmed various species around the world, and could eventually cause problems for us humans (Thank God the solar winds are changing in a manner that has arrested the "hockey stick" prediction popularized by Al Gore, for example), etc. I think even Anthony Watts, the proprietor of WattsUpWithThat, agrees with most of that on his best days--I don't hold him responsible for many of his commenters, and good for him in not deleting comments from his hard line deniers of human involvement in climate changes.

Yes, some of these scientists are "elitist" and show "scorn" against some skeptics who are not scientists at elite institutions. Yes, and the elite scientists could be wrong concerning some aspects of their analyses. But let's not lose sight of the overall reality they have identified. Plus, as a cautious (conservative?) sorta guy, I'd rather spend the money on "cap and trade" and take other actions to blunt the warming effect further--and find out it was not necessary--than do nothing and find out that the skeptics were wrong. If the skeptics are wrong, we are, to put it bluntly, screwed. I think that's why Ronald Bailey, a former skeptic at Reason.org, has had enough of the overconfidence exhibited among several of the skeptics. See here and here.


* Here is the obituary from the NY Times regarding Stephen Jay Gould. It states in part: "Famed for both brilliance and arrogance, Dr. Gould was the object of admiration and jealousy, both revered and reviled by colleagues." Oh, and you know that Isaac Newton fellow? He was really arrogant and a little crazy! Funny, that.

(Edited)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday Night at the Book Reviews

I refuse to even comment on the contemptible Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) and Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), who have the audacity to call themselves Democrats, and who had to be bribed or have ads run against them just to vote against a filibuster to allow a debate--not even a bill to be passed--on health insurance reform. Would someone in the DNC just cut off their DNC money supply, and fund an opponent against them in a primary already? Shameful. Oops. I just commented, didn't I?

Oh well. I'd rather review some book reviews from the London Review of Books:

1. John Gray summarizes a relatively new book that restores some respect for the insights of John Maynard Keynes, and contains a wonderful put down of the so-called profession of economists in its ultimate paragraph:

Akerlof and Shiller intend their analysis to contribute to an intellectual reformation in economics, as a consequence of which the discipline will become more useful to policy-makers. It must be doubted, though, that the authors will succeed in persuading economists of the inadequacy of the conception of rational action. The profession is one of the few areas of human activity in which that conception is applicable. In its intra-academic varieties, at any rate, economics is insulated from the world not only by its narrow explanatory methodology but also because it rewards the mathematical modelling that resulted in nearly all of its members failing to anticipate the financial crisis. As institutionalised in universities, the notion of rational decision-making is self-perpetuating. Economics as currently practised may have only a slight grip on market behaviour, but it seems to be powerfully predictive of the behaviour of economists.

2. And here is a wonderful review of a particularly thick history of the British spy organizations, MI5 and MI6. The reviewer, himself a former British spy, has it quite right in being just a bit cautious in accepting any officially supported history of a secretive organization. I loved his take on the author's rather naive belief that nobody in the military intelligence organizations in England could have ever tried to disrupt a left leaning Labour administration, such as that led by Harold Wilson. Impossible! No way! Well, now, that's settled.

3. And, while it's not a review of a book, Tariq Ali gives his usual interesting perspective of the latest maneuvers in our nation's ever-continuing war in Afghanistan.

And over there again, at the London Times Literary Supplement:

1. As if to prove there can never have been enough conniving or conspiracies, here is a little gem of a review on a new book showing how the Allies, particularly the Americans, wanted to rid themselves of De Gaulle's leadership of the French Resistance very early in the US involvement in World War II. I had long read of American hatred of De Gaulle's leadership of the French Resistance, but I thought the manipulations arose against him much later in the war. Funny, that.

2. The TLS also has a truly fascinating piece of cultural history on the ill fated 19th Century expedition to the Arctic led by, among others, Sir John Franklin.

Now, closer to home, from the Washington Post Book World:

1. Is the next biography star going to be U.S. Grant? Perhaps so, and if so, that is probably a good thing. Better him than many others...

2. And oh man, have I been waiting a long time for this: A richly anecdotal debunking of the Education Testing Service (ETS), the folks who give us the SATs, etc. by someone who worked for them for 15 years. Manipulating results to maintain consistency, absurd grading habits, and other fun things that make me feel better about how poorly I did on standardized tests throughout most of my youthful career in school...Oh well. My son, however, performs much better (well, we don't have his PSAT scores in yet...) in standardized tests than I did, and so does my daughter. Maybe I was just a yutz who didn't know how to take the tests? Yeah, probably.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Adam Smith, protectionist, progressive income tax supporter and unionist

Here is a great "interview" with Adam Smith, he who is idealized by shallow libertarians and Clintonoids who think the NAFTA is just swell!

Michael Lind, who wrote the article, may have been familiar with others who have made similar points about Adam Smith, including John Kenneth Galbraith, who wrote an article on this very subject for Harper's about 30 years ago. Here is one quote from the "Wealth of Nations" that Lind missed:

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” [Wealth of Nations, I.x.c.27: p 145]

Hat tip to David Brin. David believes Democrats are well-advised to re-claim Smith as our own. Perhaps. I'd like to claim Hamilton, who is very close to home. I think he'd sniff a bit at my support of unions, but I don't think a man who proposed the government regulated bank would be against government paid for health insurance...Plus, he was a big promoter of tariffs (See Federalist Paper No. 11, paragraph 3, for example).

News Jews Can Use in America...from Israel of course

The American corporate media has continued its news blackout of things that might highlight to American Jews just how horrible Israeli politicians and leaders are behaving.

Here is Gideon Levy delivering a well-deserved smack-down of Israeli President Shimon Peres for his, again, horrible comments regarding Justice Goldstone. And if anyone thinks the Goldstone Report is a dishonest, ridiculous and patently unfair attack on Israel, then please read this post of mine which quotes a more conservative writer at Haaretz who found the report to be fair.

And, somewhat related to this imbroglio, here is another example of the irony behind the statement that organized religion is a source of kindness and the best of humanity. I expect a general to state things like that, and probably I'd want a general to say something like that at some point in a military campaign. That's his job. But a chaplain should refrain from such talk as he is the one who has to help guide soldiers in that twilight zone where there may actually be need for mercy at that same point in a military campaign. People have roles to play, and it is not a play in the sense of theater, but a recognition that the world remains a complicated place where conflicting feelings, values and actions have to be harmonized. The choices soldiers face in life and death situations is horribly difficult, and not a choice between saving or not saving a life, but one where multiple innocents are going to die no matter which choice is made.

It is on that ground that one may question the extent of usefulness of any report post-war on the conduct of a war, especially one where Israel militarily struck another nation, "Gaza," for the rockets it was raining down on Israel's people. That civilians died or that some soldiers behaved badly is not a surprise. And yes, it is important to acknowledge for those who are howling against the Goldstone report that the Goldstone report cannot really tell us the U.S. or other countries could not be challenged in a similar manner as was stated in the Goldstone report with regard to wars the U.S. or other nations have engaged in. Yet, what makes the Goldstone report fair, according to the conservative writer at Haaretz, was that the report was at least as tough on Hamas. That is an improvement with the U.N., and the Israeli government missed a great opportunity to have further improved the contours of the Goldstone investigation while it was being undertaken. Instead, they alternated between snarling at and ignoring Goldstone, a committed Zionist and Jew, from the beginning.

But all is not bad news coming out of the Israeli-Palestinian Hundred Years War. Here is an amazing article about Palestinian government efforts to fully create an independent state over the next two years, starting in the West Bank. This unilateral move was praised by....U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, who was with the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, at a press conference. Read it and believe it!

We are in a moment where nearly 60% of Jewish Israelis want to talk with Hamas (even as the "peace movement" in Israel is apparently in tatters), and Hamas' main leader has publicly stated that Hamas will at least accept 1967 borders. But so far, the Nutty-Yahoo government insists on missing this moment, and this virus of snarling stupidity has now infected Shimon Peres.

(Edited)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Deification of Gilded Age Financiers in a Time of Economic Ruin

In this week's issue of The Nation, Steve Fraser does a solid job of providing the background to the spate of biographies in recent years regarding post-US Civil War economic tycoons, and does a takedown of the latest biography of Corneilius Vanderbilt. I had enjoyed David Nasaw's book on Andrew Carnegie because there was a sense that AC was hypocritical and downright tough on his workers. Nasaw was also brilliant in helping the reader understand how tariffs in the 1870s made Carnegie go from merely rich to super-super rich as a steel magnate. As for T.J. Stiles' "The First Tycoon," about Vanderbilt, I have picked it up and put it down in several bookstores because I sensed the book was failing to recognize the very little redeeming values in Vanderbilt, particularly with regard to labor relations. It struck me as more hagiography than biography.

Fraser's review nails this point towards the end of the review. Here are the three "money" paragraphs (pardon the slight pun):

"Stiles thinks the (Henry & Charles) Adamses, (E.L.) Godkin and other patrician critics of the First Tycoon were cynics (in their harsh condemnation of Vanderbilt). After all, they loathed trade unions, lamented that Anglo-Protestant America was being mongrelized by immigrants, feared and deplored mass democratic politics, considered Populists to be hayseeds and were appalled as much by the vulgarity of the new tycoonery as they were by its inordinate power. Stiles says these unsavory views discredit the Brahmins' withering critique of the robber barons' greed, corruption and exploitation. But the charge is a cheap shot and also reflects a kind of intellectual snobbery. After all, the Brahmins' criticisms were echoed in the indictments against the robber barons leveled by the Knights of Labor, farmer-labor and greenback political parties and anti-monopoly leagues, men and women untainted by the reactionary views of their social superiors. But these anonymous or less well-known political actors don't turn up in The First Tycoon. They are as invisible to Stiles as they were noxious to Godkin. (Parentheses added)

...

Stiles insists that Vanderbilt deserves to be treated as a pioneer of modern industrial capitalism. If that's so, and certainly there's a case to be made, then what is more fundamental than understanding his relationship to wage labor, upon which the whole system rests? Thousands of workers, not Vanderbilt alone, made the road what it was. Did they end up dead and disabled in numbers comparable to, less than or more than their co-workers on other lines? Was the Commodore particularly solicitous about their welfare? Did he install the air brake? If not, why not? Did he share the bellicose view of people like Tom Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad or was he, given his lowly social origins, more sympathetic, conciliatory perhaps? What was it like to work for one of the Commodore's great enterprises? The First Tycoon has little to say about any of this, and its silence helps sustain the romance of the misunderstood robber baron.

Not that everyone was silent. Stiles cites an open letter of 1869 from Mark Twain to Vanderbilt in which Twain indicts the tycoon's rapaciousness and greed. But what really bothers Twain (and Stiles emphasizes this) is the idolatry that Vanderbilt's fortune inspired among ordinary people: "You seem to be the idol of only a crawling swarm of small souls, who love to glorify your most flagrant unworthiness in print or praise your vast possessions worshippingly; or sing of your unimportant private habits and sayings and doings, as if your millions gave them dignity." Anyone living during the last quarter century must be acutely aware that the inclination to genuflect before great wealth has once again become a national pastime...


What is especially great about the first sentence of the first paragraph quoted above is that Fraser exposes what I've long said about E.L. Godkin, an original founding editor of The Nation not long after the US Civil War. He was a noxious elitist who hated organized and organizing labor. Godkin may have been anti-racist, but long time editor and publisher Victor Navasky's elevation of Godkin as a great editor of The Nation, while never missing a chance to belittle Freda Kirchwey,* a wonderful editor of The Nation from the 1930s through 1950s, is something that has long left me scratching my head with admittedly some anger.

* The usual attack on Kirchwey is that she was supposedly soft on the Soviet Union during the 1930s. Compared to the editor of The New Republic at the time (Bruce Bliven), she was definitely not. Further, anyone reading her essay at the end of August 1939 called "Red Totalitarianism" (sadly not available online unless one subscribes to The Nation archives) would recognize her as a true liberal-minded person who saw Stalinism as a menace to free thought and liberty.

Fraser's article, however, is worth reading in its entirety.

(Edited)

Monday, November 09, 2009

A Disturbance of Galt

It is with amusement, and yes some jealousy that I read articles like Reason magazine editor Brian Doherty's about Ayn Rand. I don't want to be Ayn Rand--and her personal life was something of a mess that I have thankfully avoided in my life so far...It's a great article, though, as Doherty understands well that Rand's atheism is at least somewhat connected to her attack on moralists in economics--and therefore the right wing Republicans in Congress who embrace her should be a bit careful.

But it remains true, from a personal standpoint, that I wrote "A Disturbance of Fate" to be an answer to Ayn Rand's (and Milton Friedman's) philosophy and literature. Sinclair Lewis and Charles Dickens may have been my muses at that time, but Rand was often in my head, too. I used to joke that I wanted a college student or precocious high school student to walk around with my book the way some did and do with "The Fountainhead" or "Atlas Shrugged" and say, "Man, this is the book you gotta read! It's all here!" Of course, part of the reason for the irony in my book, and giving some great lines to people like Ronald Reagan and Roger Ailes, was to give the reader a chance to step back and ponder the larger ironies of nearly any ideology and political movements, including the ideas and political movements with which the author and RFK agreed or supported. In other words, "the Answer" is not all here, there...or anywhere.

My favorite positive review of my book came from a judge on the committee of the Sidewise Awards, who told me he was a major self-proclaimed "right wing libertarian." He said my book was the best answer to Ayn Rand he'd ever read--and that he truly liked my book for its willingness to doubt, and its sense of humor and irony, things he felt Rand had a problem with. He also said he tried very hard to poke a hole in the events described as alternative history in my book, but found even the ironic ending both reasonable and compelling based upon what had appeared in each previous step. His analysis showed a more subtle reading of the book than some critical reviewers on the Amazon site who see my book as one big Bobby Kennedy or left wing love fest, or amazingly enough, anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist in its sections on Israel and the Middle East (My truly left wing uncle thought I was way too tough on Arafat; his perception is actually closer to the mark).

Unlike Rand, I don't have a Nathaniel Braden to market my book. I don't have wealthy benefactors who want to hear a message that is closer to Michael* Harrington's vision (and RFK was definitely closer to Michael Harrington's vision in RFK's Senate years) than a vision that says it is morally good to make unlimited gobs of money and to defy the government under which one has made those ungodly sums. Some readers have told me that Obama's ascension made my book very timely, but I remain feeling Michael Harrington's and RFK's policy proposals and values remain elusive in our time. A relatively small publisher promises to release my book next year in soft cover, but that was supposed to happen this year, and didn't. So who knows?

I would be honored if some professor of literature or political philosophy were to put "A Disturbance of Fate" head to head with one of Rand's leading novels, and let college students compare and contrast at literary, political, historical or philosophical levels. Certainly, I am honored that at least one prominent literature professor has favorably compared the structure of my alternative history to Philip Roth's poorly structured alternative history. Nonetheless, I continue to need my day job as a lawyer, and as Vonnegut liked to say, "So it goes."

* The link contains a nice biography of Harrington, but fails to mention one of Harrington's earliest books, "Retail Clerks," released the same year as "The Other America." It may have been before "The Other America," but I'm simply not sure. It is in any event missing from the biography at that link. Good old Wikipedia has it listed second, and Wikipedia may be correct.

(Edited)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sunday night review of book reviews

I have long believed a good reviewer of a book should be able to describe the book under review so that even if one disagrees with the reviewer's opinion, one can decide whether a book is worth looking at to read. The NY Times today offers two examples of this:

1. I have awaited Barbara Kingsolver's "The Lacuna" with bated breath and desire. Yet, reading this very positive review leaves me deeply troubled. I am unsure Kingsolver's latest book is going to work for me, since I find the politics of Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo to be rather dumb and mean, even as I share some of their general sensibility. I share I.F. Stone's disdain of Trotsky and Stalin, though that does not excuse Stalin's brutal murder of Trotsky in the least. I therefore wonder about the new book. Still, when I went to read the first two pages in the excerpt provided by the NY Times, Kingsolver's brilliant prose is still there--all of it. I will have to take a longer look at this book before reading it...

2. The same feeling of hestitancy pervades me as I read about the new John Irving novel, also given a largely good review here in the NY Times. I think I would like the self-consciousness, but I may not like the parts the reviewer found moving or strong.

Elsewhere, some notable book reviews from the Washington Post Book World:

* The history of Arlington Cemetery is one we should know as we approach yet another war anniversary, this time Armistice Day, now known as Veteran's Day. I love that the reviewer castigates the author for not mentioning the racial segregation in Arlingon up through World War II, when Arlington Cemetery had itself been the result of the US government confiscating the land from Robert E. Lee during the Civil War, a war fought largely over slavery...

* Here is a nice review of a writer who we will soon celebrate his 200th Birthday in 2012: Charles Dickens. I believe Dickens to be most neglected by readers of the modern world, even as he is constantly mentioned and venerated. I have taken the time to read several of his novels, and found them very gratifying and finely written. 21st Century readers will be pleasantly surprised by his modern sense of irony and sacrasm, and will find relief in his very adult and wistful sentimentalism.

* A too short discussion of a new book on the longest running modern television show, "The Simpsons." The reviewer should have been allowed to flesh out the ideological/non-ideological aspects of the show, though a stronger analysis would conclude that there is a general culturally left bent to the show, a love-hate relationship with labor and labor unions, a strong environmentalism and remarkably astute cultural references from the past 100 years in American and European history. The love-hate with labor unions stems from its use of foreign animators and its sadly successful fight against the animators in America who had been in a union going back to the 1930s--something not in the review, unfortunately.

Finally, from the LA Times:

* On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the horrible and dreaded Berlin Wall, Carlin Romano provides a good introduction for American readers regarding that mystical and often scary place known as Eastern Europe (formerly known in the 19th and early 20th Centuries as "Central Europe") and the end of Communist control in that benighted area and in Russia. The great book on the rise of Communist control after World War II in Eastern Europe awaits an English speaking author (or at least an English translation of such a book, should one have already been written elsewhere). I believe understanding the complicated timeline as to how and when those societies went Communist would make the fall of those Communist dictatorships all the more illuminating. My knowledge of that time of 1945-1950 comes from two American journalists, William Shirer and George Seldes, who each went to that area during those years and...well, another time.

* For my vegetarian son, this review of Jonathan Foer's new book, "Eating Animals," enhances my guilt about being a carnivore, and yet I am not going to become a vegetarian without more people becoming vegetarian before me. I am a bad person in this regard--for I will not go more than a few weeks without going to McDonald's or some other fast food place. Is it the pace of my life? Perhaps. Is it laziness and abject denial of the twisted nature of factory farming that produces so much fast food while being so cruel to cows, chickens and the like? Undoubtedly.

There is something, however, I would like to add: One of our synagogue members is a Holocaust survivor, having survived one of the death camps. His brother, whom he revered, was killed. This synagogue member, after being liberated, vowed he would not eat animals and became a vegetarian. He told me he saw cruelty in how we ate animals that reminded him of the death camp he was in. It was that simple, he said. To me, his willpower is extraordinary and it likely played a role in how he survived such a horrific situation. That perhaps is something for all of us to think about--especially the next time we get worked up with outrage when animal rights groups quote the noted 20th Century Jewish writer, Issac Singer, to compare the mass killing of chickens to the Holocaust. At least it should destroy the glibness of this review of a book on "Jewish" delicatessens in the same LA Times.

(Edited)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Pelosi and Reid should resign as leaders in Congress

Pelosi and Reid should each resign as leaders in Congress--particularly if this monstrosity passes. It does nothing to cut costs in how medical services are delivered and paid for--but it does put Medicare on a collision course with a watered-down public option that looks like a weak expansion over time of Medicaid. And it does not even come close to helping insure most Americans for another 4 to 10 years--and does it through mandates that require people to pay the same inefficient, greedy insurance companies who bankrupt more and more Americans every year when they deny or limit coverage that should otherwise be provided to Americans simply based upon their being...Americans.

Plus, if this stupid (Stupak) amendment passes, sorry Ezra, that is not worth staying the course to vote for the monstrosity. (See below that the Stupid-Stupak Amendment did pass. Oy.)

All the cajoling and ridiculous level of compromise and delay has resulted in no Republican votes in the House, and not even a guarantee of a vote from the insurance company laden Olympia Snowe (R-ME) in the Senate.

If Pelosi and Reid were real leaders, they would let the Weiner Amendment go to the floor of the House and the Senate, and push for that vote. If you're going to be called "socialist" and have to deal with obstreperous bullshit like this stuff* the Women's Caucus went through in the past 24 hours, then go for the gusto of what is really needed and what any sensible person should want: Medicare for All. And yes, like any other insurance policy, it should include a small stipend that pays for an abortion if a woman wants one.

And this is how a real leader gets that done: By telling every Democrat who votes against Medicare for All that he or she is immediately stipped of committee leadership or seniority, that each will get a primary challenge and will get no money from the DNC. And in the Senate, you just amend the rules to get rid of the filibuster.

Reid and Pelosi: You have failed. You need to resign regardless of whether the health insurance monstrosity passes. And Obama, you better start taking Krugman's calls and tell your friends like Valerie Jarrett or Rahm Emmanuel, and certainly Geithner and Summers, who all wouldn't know a labor union member if they fell on one, to get the hell out of the way. You've got a nation to save, and to maintain.

*Yes, it's a legal parlimentary maneuver. The request was for unanimous consent. The objection makes it less than unanimous. So there would have to be a vote or the person speaking must stop speaking. The reason we haven't seen what the Republicans have now done is that the tradition in Congress is that congresspeople be allowed to speak. No non-racist Democrat in recent decades (or more) ever thought of doing something like what Republicans have just done. See? Republicans don't believe in tradition. They don't believe in decorum. And you think they would not be ending the filibuster if the Dems acted like the Republicans are now acting? It is to laugh.

(Edited)

ADDENDUM: Pete DeFazio, mostly one of the good guys (D-OR), is trying to sell us on this monstosity, saying it ends pre-existing condition denials--without telling us that the insurers get to charge whatever they want. He also tells us it ends insurers' anti-trust exemptions--as if years long anti-trust suits do anyone but us lawyers any good. Yeah, we see how our lives have been changed by the successful anti-trust suit against Microsoft and before that AT&T, for two examples. The problem is that DeFazio, again a great guy in so many ways, has his head so far up the ass of the Congressional building that he confuses his rhetoric with the reality of the situation. This is not reform we are debating anymore. This is deform. This is a cruel hoax for those of us who thought we were going to improve access of people to affordable, government-sponsored and supported health insurance. You know, just like most civilized countries.

ADDENDUM #2: The monstrosity passed this evening. Anything AARP and the AMA want is bad for America. Democrats will rue this vote unless something drastic changes in the "conferencing" on this bill. If not substantially changed, people will wonder a year from now what the hell this so-called reform changed for them, if anything. Going along with this bill is blindness to the pain people are suffering. These politicians really think they can fool people with statements like "making history" when this will change nobody's lives for the better--unless of course you are in the private insurance business. This is Phase II of the Big Business Bailout more than anything else it is purported to be. Shameful, Obama. Shameful, Pelosi. Shameful, Reid. And worse for these three corporate marinated careerists, it is politically tone deaf. Tom Foley anyone?

ADDENDUM #3: Kucinich gets it. He voted against the monstrosity. No surprise there. He also voted against the Stupid-Stupak Amendment.

(Edited)

Obama finding his inner...Hoover

So says historical fiction writer, Kevin Baker in the July 2009 Harpers. I am sorry I missed this compelling essay, as Obama's timidity in the face of crisis is something I've been frustrated about, though the most I could muster was Weimar analogies (or Clinton with a better marriage), not Hoover. And truthfully, I kept wishing Obama would find his inner FDR, which kept me from an historical analogy far closer to FDR's time and place. And I know exactly what Baker's talking about when he is essentially writing about the tragedy of Hoover as a person and a leader.

Alas, Obama has solved only a quarter of the economic challenge, which quarter was, in fact, a short term not long term challenge (propping up banks and financial institutions). The remaining economic challenges Obama faces are going to overwhelm the good news that the current economic situation offers. Instead of WPA projects, as Paul Krugman (and MF Blog) recommends, Obama has taken care of the banks as unemployment grows. He has refused to support Medicare for all, when just discussing it would put the insurance company and fascistic forces on their back heels. He has refused to support labor law reform to help put a brake on the runaway growth in profit taking at the top that comes from rising stocks. And his re-appointing Bernanke at the Federal Reserve Board was one of those moments that captures the essence of a policy favoring the wealthiest segments of society.

The concerns I had with Obama well before his ascension to the top of the Democratic Party have been largely realized. I am
reminded again why I voted for Nader in 1996 and 2000, and why I had joined the Reform Party in the early 1990s. But then, very sadly, I am reminded what happened when Republicans took over in 1994 and then overall after the 2000 presidential election. Double sigh.

We truly alternate between smart bankers and dumb bankers as leaders while our corporate media keeps too many of us diverted with pseudo-political talk that is really gossip. That is the choice America continues to make. It is part of the formula for an Idiocracy.

(Edited)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Point No Counterpoint: California needs to raise and restructure taxes on business and the wealthy

The LA Times today ran a point-counterpoint on the state of the State of California.

The point, laid out in a compelling way by Rebecca Solnit, stresses the need to change the distribution of the tax burden in California, and the prison spending, which are both important factors rarely discussed in any corporate media discussions.

The counterpoint, written by some pro-corporate think tanker at the Claremont Review of Books, reveals why what passes for modern "conservative" thought is very little thought, and monocausation based upon an emotional hatred of government and outright ignorance.

The Claremonter writes that California schools perform no better than Texas' schools now while spending 12% more in its overall budget. He then writes that California public employees have the highest compensation in the nation. This causes him to say: "The 'dues' paid by taxpayers in order to belong to Club California purchase benefits that, increasingly, are enjoyed by the staff instead of the members." He also says Texas "spends its citizens' dollars more efficiently than California..."

What's missing from this corporate think-tanker's analysis, just for starters, is any statement about the cost of living in Texas compared to California. Buy a house or rent an apartment in Texas and check out the price difference from California. The difference is more than the difference in school spending of 12%. Check out the difference in pay scale in the private sector in any number of jobs and you'll see the same pattern. So it's not as if Club California members get less for their money because the State is inefficient. It's because it costs more to live in a relative paradise, weatherwise.

He then cites a study from McKinsey & Company saying that California students are two years behind Texas students. If so, how does he explain that Texas still ranks #49 out of 50 states on the Verbal portion of the SAT and #46 out of 50 states in the Math portion? California students scored higher than Texas students in all three categories of the SAT--Critical Thinking, Math and Verbal (Writing)--last year and this year.

Oh, and Texas' scores have been going down for the past five years. This is obviously news to the Claremonter and Joel Kotkin, who the Claremonter favorably cited in his propaganda piece. Maybe both need to get out of their limos a little more when they go on their corporate sponsored junkets...?

The Claremonter also notes how people are leaving California, never once analyzing the circumstances--such as whether they are leaving because...again...the lower cost of living in other states, starting with housing. See this article from the LA Times in 2004 (during the housing bubble) that showed how well paid folks were leaving California for cheaper housing and lower costs of living not tied to taxes. And now, in these bad times, if I'm semi-employed, it's economically (though not necessarily culturally) better for my family to have me semi-employed in Iowa or Texas, where housing costs are much lower, than trying to pay the mortgage or pay the landlord in California. What's the consistent fact between good economic times and bad: The high cost of housing in the Golden State, even as housing prices significantly decline in that still Golden State.

Oh well. The Tax Cut Cult remains alive in the halls of Claremont College and the op-ed page of the Los Angeles Times.

For those who wonder just what to do about the state of this still wonderful state of California, the state needs five reforms, as I've noted before:

1. Let the market rates for real estate decide property taxes for businesses (in other words, reform Proposition 13 to free up property taxation for business property owners). Yes, you read that right. I said "market rates." Yup, market rates...See? I'm not always against market rates.

2. Reform the "Three Strikes" criminal sentencing law so that we are not overcrowding our prisons with lifers who smoked too much weed or were caught with cocaine as their "third strike."

3. Reform the requirement to balance the budget and raise taxes so that "only" a supermajority of 55%, not 67% of the votes of both the Assembly and State Senate are needed.

4. Limit the scope of initiatives or ban them outright. They have become captives of truly special interests across the board and have done more harm to this State than just about anything else from an institutional standpoint.

5. Increase the state income tax on the top 5% to what it was under Republican Governor Pete Wilson in the 1990s, including increasing the top rate to its Wilson-era rate of 11%.

Equal time critique: Did we note Rebecca Solnit's point about the distribution of water in this State? That 80% of our water goes to agriculture, and 40% of our water goes to water the crops that constitute 1% of the gross output of our State? That may not be true, and if it is true about alfalfa and rice, the subsidy may be worth it. Also, here is the Pacific Institute's report to which Ms. Solnit may be referring: The study's summary shows the 80% water usage figure is limited to the Sacramento-San Jacquin Delta, not the entire state. Otherwise, Ms. Solnit is fairly spot on about what's needed in our state as far as institutional reform.

(Edited)