Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Player Who Came In From the Warm--and Managed to Not Get Cold

I have a phrase for people who push their way to the top in a virulently narcissistic manner: Players.

I always sensed that Paul Krugman was a player, and this article in The New Yorker proves it--though I still love and admire the guy. Here is key "money graf" from the outstanding article by the outstanding Larissa MacFarquar (of whom I have posted before):

In his columns, Krugman is belligerently, obsessively political, but this aspect of his personality is actually a recent development. His parents were New Deal liberals, but they weren’t especially interested in politics. In his academic work, Krugman focussed mostly on subjects with little political salience. During the eighties, he thought that supply-side economics was stupid, but he didn’t think that much about it. Unlike Wells, who was so upset when Reagan was elected that she moved to England, Krugman found Reagan comical rather than evil. “I had very little sense of what was at stake in the tax issues,” he says. “I was into career-building at that point and not that concerned.” He worked for Reagan on the staff of the Council of Economic Advisers for a year, but even that didn’t get him thinking about politics. “I feel now like I was sleepwalking through the twenty years before 2000,” he says. “I knew that there was a right-left division, I had a pretty good sense that people like Dick Armey were not good to have rational discussion with, but I didn’t really have a sense of how deep the divide went.” (Bold added)

The article notes that even as late as the late 1990s, Krugman was paid to "consult" with Enron. Not a surprise when the above paragraph is considered.

My memory of Krugman in the 1980s and 1990s, while he was "career-building" is he was a somewhat typical economist, an effete snob who thought the trade treaties like the NAFTA and the WTO were okay, and what was the fuss? The article proves this when it states:

"Until the late nineties, when he became absorbed by what was going wrong with Japan, he believed that monetary policy, rather than government spending, was all that was needed to avoid recessions: he agreed with Milton Friedman that if only the Fed had done its job better the Great Depression would never have happened. He thought that people who wanted to boycott Nike and other companies that ran sweatshops abroad were sentimental and stupid. Yes, of course, those foreign workers weren’t earning American wages and didn’t have American protections, but working in a sweatshop was still much better than their alternatives—that’s why they chose to work there. Moreover, sweatshops really weren’t the threat to American workers that the left claimed they were. “A back-of-the-envelope calculation . . . suggests that capital flows to the Third World since 1990 . . . have reduced real wages in the advanced world by about 0.15%,” he wrote in 1994. That was not nothing, but it certainly wasn’t anything to get paranoid about. The world needed more sweatshops, not fewer. Free trade was good for everyone. He felt that there was a market hatred on the left that was as dogmatic and irrational as government hatred on the right."

This is how Krugman entered the charmed academic halls starting in the late 1970s and through the 1980s and 1990s. Then, a funny thing happened that is not mentioned in the article, but I distinctly recall because I was marginally involved: Krugman started writing for and started peddling his ignorance of how trade treaties were on the whole good. His ignorance was his failure to understand how the trade treaties codified the very global trends that were punishing unskilled labor in our nation, reducing or eliminating our industrial base, and beggaring peasants abroad by forcing them off their land and into sweatshops where they became more poor (they could no longer feed or clothe themselves as they could as subsistence farmers). But at, there was the "Comments" section, where one received immediate, and often vicious feedback. And Krugman definitely met the "Comments" section where he was skewered by people like me and many, many others. But unlike George Will or any number of true "players," Krugman blinked and actually started considering our arguments and data. He began to engage people on the Web and, with his relatively recent concern over inequality data (he arrived late the party, consistent with being a player, but at least he arrived), began to become "interested" in "politics."

And I began to have respect for him for that, because while it seems he has become far more famous since then, the truth is he is less of a player. He was aiming for Tim Geithner's chair as Secretary of the Treasury, but he has not made it. Why? Because, as the article shows, he did become more angry at the economic elite in this nation. He did become more skeptical of trade deals. He supported John Edwards, then Hillary Clinton and--in the It Takes One To Know One Department--was wary of Obama. He did not build his career that far because he stopped being a full player. In the past year, he has even furiously and completely--and wonderfully--turned on his entire profession of economics, as I have noted in previous posts.

Still, he managed along the way to make a lot of money, get a spot on the op-ed page of the NY Times, and was able to invest in his beach cottage in St. Croix...Players. Gotta love them because they make the world go round.

Additional notes: The article quotes Bob Kuttner at one point. Kuttner is a brilliant economics mind and never a major player despite having the credentials--because he always cared about how real people are affected by economics and politics. In the article, Kuttner was discussing Krugman's initial reluctance to support industrial policy, which has successfully guided nation after nation which has embraced it, contrary to the theories of the 19th Century moron, David Ricardo, who at one time Krugman, like most player-economists, revered:

“You have the cases of Japan, Korea, Brazil, China, and, to some extent, France, and the counterfactual—let’s imagine that they didn’t have an industrial policy, would they have produced the same amount of growth?—is unimaginable,” Robert Kuttner, the co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, says. “But to be a conventional academic economist you almost have to swear an oath that governments can’t outguess markets in the allocation of capital.”

The article is also quite amusing in that Krugman's second wife, Robin Wells, is the one who charged his anger against the stupidity of the elites and continues to edit him to be more "shrill" as horrified elitists on the right like to say. A lighter-skin African-American from Dallas, Texas, she is the one who moved to England when Reagan was elected in 1980 and saw immediately what was going on--she later became a post-doctoral economics student at MIT, met Krugman and married him. I'd hesitate to call her a player, because she sacrificed her career, probably knowing she was too honest to "career-build" in a profession--economics--that demands fealty to corporate capitalists and covering it up with theories of early capitalism. She now teaches yoga classes in Princeton, New Jersey, where Krugman is an econ professor, and Krugman gives her co-credit for his books on economics in the past several years. So Robin, thank you for ruining Krugman's career path, but giving us a fighter among the elite.

But the article never mentions she is his second wife. Perhaps the first wife was an impediment to his "career-building"...I do joke, with some seriousness, that my relative failure as a lawyer and writer is in part owing to my success at being married to the one and same woman for almost a quarter century. We still love each other, and have struggled from time to time, especially with my health issues, which if my wife was a player, she'd have left me years ago because of my poor health.

Bonus point: Appropriate to this subject--and one of the top films of the past decade--is "Family Man" with Nicholas Cage. It is an inside-out "It's a Wonderful Life", which may be my favorite film of all time. "Family Man" is right up there too...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Stand up all, diggers all...

Chumbuwumba brings it all back for us...

"The lawyers they conjoin..." indeed, both for bad and good.

And note the outstanding last verse of this song from the 17th Century about the law of the "club" which is what the elite ultimately know. Jack London's "The Iron Heel" (1907) may be one of the best novels making the same point. See, for example, Chapter 5: "The Philomaths" where London's female diarist recites the following exchange between her soon to be lover and her father's corporate capitalist friends:

And so it went. Sometimes he exchanged the rapier for the club and went smashing amongst their thoughts right and left. And always he demanded facts and refused to discuss theories. And his facts made for them a Waterloo. When they attacked the working class, he always retorted, `The pot calling the kettle black; that is no answer to the charge that your own face is dirty.' And to one and all he said: `Why have you not answered the charge that your class has mismanaged? You have talked about other things and things concerning other things, but you have not answered. Is it because you have no answer?'

It was at the end of the discussion that Mr. Wickson spoke. He was the only one that was cool, and Ernest treated him with a respect he had not accorded the others.

`No answer is necessary,' Mr. Wickson said with slow deliberation. `I have followed the whole discussion with amazement and disgust. I am disgusted with you gentlemen, members of my class. You have behaved like foolish little schoolboys, what with intruding ethics and the thunder of the common politician into such a discussion. You have been outgeneralled and outclassed. You have been very wordy, and all you have done is buzz. You have buzzed like gnats about a bear. Gentlemen, there stands the bear' (he pointed at Ernest), `and your buzzing has only tickled his ears.


He turned suddenly upon Ernest. The moment was dramatic.

`This, then, is our answer. We have no words to waste on you. When you reach out your vaunted strong hands for our palaces and purpled ease, we will show you what strength is. In roar of shell and shrapnel and in whine of machine-guns will our answer be couched. We will grind you revolutionists down under our heel, and we shall walk upon your faces. The world is ours, we are its lords, and ours it shall remain. As for the host of labor, it has been in the dirt since history began, and I read history aright. And in the dirt it shall remain so long as I and mine and those that come after us have the power. There is the word. It is the king of words--Power. Not God, not Mammon, but Power. Pour it over your tongue till it tingles with it. Power.'

Frederick Lewis Allen reminds us there is little new under our sun

Frederick Lewis Allen (1890-1954), an outstanding literary mind, wrote two books, one about the 1920s, called "Only Yesterday" (1931) and "Since Yesterday" (1940), that should be read by everyone in high school or college for the next two hundred years. He has an incredible insight about the intersection between politics, economics and culture that will become immediately apparent to someone who has lived life for some time on this planet, though it might not be as clear to those high schoolers or college students without some supervising explanation. For those coming of age now, they are likely to believe the hype that what we are going through is "unprecedented," and while there are always differences, the similarities are what I find striking.

Allen died without children (his wife died relatively young), and somehow these books have fallen into a public domain in various parts of the world. I now offer a glimpse of Allen's prose and insight that I have found deeply compelling to re-read in the past several months (I had initially read both books as a high schooler and admit I needed supervisory guidance to grasp Allen's insight, though not the very straight-forward and delicious prose). Here, in an early chapter from "Since Yesterday," Lewis discusses the year 1930, just after the last financial bubble of the Twenties had burst:

President Hoover went into action. He persuaded Secretary Mellon to announce that he would propose to the coming Congress a reduction in individual and corporate income taxes. He called to Washington groups of big bankers and industrialists, railroad and public-utility executives, labor leaders, and farm leaders, and obtained assurances that capital expenditures would go on, that wage-rates would not be cut, that no claims for increased wages other than those in negotiation would be pressed. He urged the governors and mayors of the country to expand public works in every practicable direction, and showed the way by arranging to increase the Federal public-buildings expenditure by nearly half a billion dollars (which at that time seemed like pretty heavy government spending). Hoover and his associates began at every opportunity to declare that conditions were "fundamentally sound," to predict a revival of business in the spring, to insist that there was nothing to be disturbed about.

Thereupon the bankers and brokers and investors and business men, and citizens generally, caught their breath and looked about them to take stock of the new situation. Outwardly they became aggressively confident, however they might be gnawed inwardly by worry. Why, of course everything was all right. The newspapers and magazines carried advertisements radiating cheer: "Wall Street may sell stocks, but Main Street is still buying goods." "All right, Mister--now that the headache is over, LET'S GO TO WORK." It was in those days soon after the Panic that a new song rose to quick popularity--a song copyrighted on November 7, 1929, when the stock market was still reeling: "Happy Days Are Here Again!"

But it was useless to declare, as many men did, that nothing more had happened than that a lot of gamblers had lost money and a preposterous price-structure had been salutarily deflated. For in the first place the individual losses, whether sustained by millionaires or clerks, had immediate repercussions. People began to economize; indeed, during the worst days of the Panic some businesses had come almost to a standstill as buyers waited for the hurricane to blow itself out. And if the rich, not the poor, had been the chief immediate victims of the crash (it was not iron-workers and sharecroppers who were throwing themselves out of windows that autumn, but brokers and promoters), nevertheless trouble spread fast as servants were discharged, as jewelry shops and high-priced dress shops and other luxury businesses found their trade ebbing and threw off now idle employees, as worried executives decided to postpone building the extension to the factory, or to abandon this or that unprofitable department, or to cut down on production till the sales prospects were clearer. Quickly the ripples of uncertainty and retrenchment widened and unemployment spread.

Moreover, the collapse in investment values had undermined the credit system of the country at innumerable points, endangering loans and mortgages and corporate structures which only a few weeks previously had seemed as safe as bedrock. The Federal Reserve officials reported to Hoover, "It will take perhaps months before readjustment is accomplished." Still more serious was the fact--not so apparent then as later--that the smash-up of the Big Bull Market had put out of business the powerful bellows of inflation which had kept industry roaring when all manner of things were awry with the national economy. The speculative boom, by continually pouring new funds into the economic bloodstream, had enabled Coolidge-Hoover prosperity to continue long after its natural time.

Finally, the Panic had come as a shock--a first shock--to the illusion that American capitalism led a charmed life. Like a man of rugged health suffering his first acute illness, the American business man suddenly realized that he too was a possible prey for forces of destruction. Nor was the shock confined to the United States. All over the world, America's apparently unbeatable prosperity had served as an advertisement of the advantages of political democracy and economic finance capitalism. Throughout Europe, where the nations were loaded down with war debts and struggling with adverse budgets and snarling at one another over their respective shares of a trade that would not expand, men looked at the news from the United States and thought, "And now, perhaps, the jig is up even there." . . .

But if business was so shaken by the Panic that during the winter of 1929-30 it responded only languidly to the faith-healing treatment being prescribed for it by the Administration, the stock market found its feet more readily. Presently the old game was going on again. Those pool operators whose resources were at least half intact were pushing stocks up again. Speculators, big and little, convinced that what had caught them was no more than a downturn in the business cycle, that the bottom had been passed, and that the prosperity band wagon was getting under way again, leaped in to recoup their losses. Prices leaped, the volume of trading became as heavy as in 1929, and a Little Bull Market was under way. That zeal for mergers and combinations and holding-company empires which had inflamed the rugged individualists of the nineteen-twenties reasserted itself: the Van Sweringers completed their purchase of the Missouri Pacific; the process of amalgamation in the aviation industry and in numerous others was resumed; the Chase National Bank in New York absorbed two of its competitors and became the biggest bank in all the world; and the investment salesmen reaped a new harvest selling to the suckers five hundred million dollars' worth of the very latest thing in investments--shares in fixed investment trusts, which would buy the very best stocks (as of 1930) and hold on to them till hell froze.

Who noticed that there was more zeal for consolidating businesses than for expanding them or initiating them? In the favorite phrase of the day, Prosperity was just around the corner.

But a new day was not dawning. This light in the economic skies was only the afterglow of the old one. What if the stock ticker--recording Steel at 198 3/4, Telephone at 274 1/4, General Motors at 103 5/8, General Electric at 95 3/8, Standard Oil of New Jersey at 84 7/8--promised fair weather? Even at the height of the Little Bull Market there were breadlines in the streets. In March Miss Frances Perkins, Industrial Commissioner for New York State, was declaring that unemployment was worse than it had been since that state had begun collecting figures in 1914. In several cities, jobless men by the hundreds or thousands were forming pathetic processions to dramatize their plight--only to be savagely smashed by the police. In April the business index turned down again, and the stock market likewise. In May and June the market broke severely. While Hoover, grimly fastening a smile on his face, was announcing, "We have now passed the worst and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover," and predicting that business would be normal by fall--in this very season the long, grinding, heart-breaking decline of American business was beginning once more.

Allen's later discussion of FDR's first six months as president is something I wish Obama had read before he started office. The similarities between Hoover's and Obama's sensibilities are striking to me, though in Obama's defense, there was not the type of filibustering over the smallest bill, and there was, in the dark, spring days of 1933, a very abject fear from the Bonus March fiasco that there might be revolution if the Congress did not listen to FDR and his advisers. There is still time for Obama to act more like FDR, but that time is closing faster than he may think.

Stylistically, Allen writes in a manner I admit I consciously aped from him and Catherine Drinker Bowen in my own novel on RFK, which was to write in a way that impels the reader to push to the next page, and the page after that. It is a language of immediacy with an active voice (Though Allen had a gift of brevity from his perch at the Atlantic Monthly that did not require him to cite many sources or establish credibility...and unlike my book, he was not writing simultaneously about two eras:-).).

Based upon my own knowledge of that era of the early 20th Century, which I must say as a matter of fact, not brag, is formidable, I highly recommend Allen's works on the Twenties and Thirties. In fact, whatever you are reading, just drop it and get hold of these works--which I did myself during these past several months. In tandem with reading a daily newspaper, these two books will better explain our modern time than most books coming off bookstore shelves or online today. However, I recommend beginning with "Only Yesterday" as it will deepen your appreciation of "Since Yesterday". I also believe the reader will be fascinated by Allen's brilliant explanation of the stock and land bubbles of the Twenties, and how, during the so-called "Roaring Twenties," industrial workers and farmers largely endured hard economic times, contrary to popular assumptions that drive our understanding of that era. In this, Lewis had clearly digested the insights of pre-Cold War economists like Stuart Chase, who had a better understanding than most modern economists about how economic systems actually impact working class and agricultural folks.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Charlie Wilson's Legacy...and a memory of Al Haig

I missed the news that Charlie Wilson, the famed Congressman with the penchant for adventure, boozing and womanizing, has died. Unfortunately, Wilson is seen as a hero when in fact he was a...well, not quite a pawn, but certainly no more than a rook, in contributing to the rise of Islamic fundamentalists as a threat to our nation's security.

See here for my discussion of the book, "Charlie Wilson's War," by the late George Crile when the film version arrived in theaters across America.

And I had not commented on Al Haig's death--no, not that Al Haig!--just because I did not want to say anything too harsh. I met the military Haig in 1978 when I worked for a congressman, and frankly, he was a charming and bright person. Too bad he was not a wonderful guy if you were a peasant in southeast Asia or Latin America...My favorite Al Haig story is when William Watts resigned from the NSC over Nixon's invasion of Cambodia, and...well, read it here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

NY Times Book Reviews reveal the limits of elitist thinking

Too often, people think the NY Times is "liberal." That is sadly not the case, however. If anything, the history of the Times reveals it reflects elite opinion, which makes it more culturally liberal than about half the nation, but far more often, a handmaiden to imperial, empire-building adventures of the US government, and domestically, takes positions that are anti-labor and pro-corporate elite. This formulation better explains why the Times continues to support trade deals that beggar US workers and peasants in other nations, supported the Iraq War II, and on back for at least 100 years.

The Times was a big booster of Mussolini in the 1920s and 1930s. It sided far more with the Franco forces in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 (its editors was internally contemptuous of Herb Matthews' reporting from Spain, but Matthews had credibility as a journalist to them ironically because he was so pro-Mussolini in the Italian war against Ethiopia in 1935). The NY Times' hostility to Nixon has misled some into thinking it is liberal, but the Times' real hostility has been to middle class politicians who had a personna that remained "middle class." Hence, the Times' strong distaste for Truman and Clinton (and pushing the scandals that engulfed Clinton from the get go), and its love of Reagan and now Obama, who transcend their middle class sensibilities. Yes, the Times' editors are people who are attracted to personalities no different than the homemaker who watches Oprah...meaning, no different from the rest of us.

This background helps us understand two reviews of books in the Times, one from this morning's Sunday review and one from a few days ago.

First, there is NYT editor Richard Berke's review of the new book on the Clinton impeachment/scandal by Ken Gormley. Berke says the impeachment and scandal represented an excess on all sides, as if the facts identified in the defense of Clinton was as immoral as the other side's persecution of Clinton. Berke even missed the significance of the quote from Henry Hyde (R-IL) who explains the real reason for the impeachment near the end of Berke's review:

Shortly before his death in 2007, Henry Hyde, the Illinois congressman who led the impeachment, defended the Republicans’ actions as honorable and added, “I take consolation in comments that George W. Bush would not have been elected if we had not impeached President Clinton.”

Berke does not dispute Hyde's statement that the impeachment of Clinton was "honorable," and missed Hyde's admission of a rank, partisan political motivation for Clinton's impeachment. Would we call it honorable for a Congressional Democrat to proudly say the reason he voted for Nixon's impeachment was because he wanted to elect a Democrat to the White House in 1976? Even after reprinting that quote, Berke says he just doesn't understand why Starr and the Republicans pushed the impeachment proceedings.

As noted above, the Times was itself a booster of the initial Whitewater scandal, which led the first special prosecutor, and later a tory law firm's investigation, to exonerate the Clintons, which only then led to the highly partisan Republican, Kenneth Starr, becoming the new special prosecutor. Berke also admits the following:

...Unlike some other commentators, Gormley allows for the possibility that even the most rabid-seeming players might have acted out of honorable considerations. Starr, for one, comes across not as a zealous partisan but as the wrong choice to prosecute the case. Despite his impressive résumé — he had been a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then solicitor general under George H. W. Bush — he had never run a major criminal investigation. His missteps handed both sides in the case ample cause to distrust him. Yes, he gave running room to a clique of lawyers driven by a deep antipathy toward Bill Clinton. But he also initially opposed subpoenaing the president, invoking the duty “to be respectful of the presidency.”

Does Berke really believe Starr was naive about what his highly partisan underling lawyers were doing? It is to laugh. Even Berke's single example of Starr's supposed caution is about Starr "initially" opposing the subpoena of the president. That is extremely weak in light of what others have documented as an overzealous and, again, partisan attack by Starr's office on Clinton. What was utterly amazing was that the mostly Republican attackers appeared more motivated by partisan rage against the Clintons because the Clintons were Democrats. It was even difficult to chalk up the impeachment to some ideological or public policy dispute. Lying under oath about an extramarital affair--after the investigation of a business deal gone sour found no violation of law? It's not like Clinton was being impeached for lying about the basis for a war, or authorizing torture, or secretly bombing a neutral nation like Nixon did--or Nixon's White House hiring guys outside of all Fourth Amendment proscriptions (and outside the FBI and CIA) to break into the offices of political opponents.

And notice what's missing from the review: No mention of Jeff Gerth and the role of the NY Times in framing the scandal. Nada. All the news that's fit to print indeed.

The Times also revealed its own elitism in a book review from a few days ago. On February 15, 2010, the Times' Michiko Kukatani had fun reviewing a book that supposedly debunks "conspiracy" theories so prevalent in human affairs, mostly focusing on the more famous American conspiracies of the past 100 years. What Kukatami fails to understand is that the real problem with the conspiracists is that they assume perfect knowledge and competence on the part of the people they accuse. Contrary to the elitist Kukatani, FDR had a damn good idea the Japanese were going to attack at the American military presence in the Philippines before the end of 1941. However, FDR did not realize the Japanese military had the capability to attack simultaneously in Pearl Harbor--and the US code breakers who could have told them the Japanese were going to attack at Pearl Harbor simply did not analyze the codes in time. Contrary to Kukatami, Bush and Co. did have knowledge that an attack from bin Laden was imminent (remember the August 2001 NIE that Condi Rice handed off to Bush, who barely read the document while vacationing at his ranch in Texas?). They just did not know where. John Ashcroft knew enough to not fly in an airplane starting in July 2001, but the US government--unlike European governments--refused to start hardening security at airports during the summer of that fateful year.

The motivations of our political leaders are more often correctly discerned by conspiracy theorists than we want to admit. For example, we have to admit FDR wanted war with Japan and Germany, but he was mostly very open about it. Bush & Co., before 9/11/2001, were very open in their disdain for military operations against Al Queda and more focused on nation state leaders such as Saddam, who was financing Palestinian terrorists, for example. And Bush and Rove were very motivated to use the 9/11 attack to push through policies they could not have pushed through otherwise.

It is typical for an elitist like Kukatami to fail to acknowledge the strong evidence that JFK's assassination was most likely a Mob hit. I doubt she's read Dan Moldea or ever bothered to have a conversation with the lead counsel from the 1978 Congressional investigation into JFK's murder, G. Robert Blakey. In 2008, Harvard University Press published "The Road to Dallas" by David Kaiser, a professor of history at the Naval War College. Kaiser summarizes and analyzes the very persuasive evidence that JFK's murder was a mob hit, and that the mob was reacting to Bobby Kennedy's increasingly successful pursuit of the mob--and how the mob felt double crossed since it was working against Castro with the Kennedy administration at the same time. I met one of Harvard U. Press officials at the 2008 Book Expo who told me the Kennedy family was very upset for publishing this book, but the evidence shocked the staff--and they were proud to publish it. Funny, the book did not get reviewed in the NY Times, despite "starred reviews" in both the Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly (as noted in the Amazon link). However, when Vincent Bugliosi embarrassed himself with a 1,600 page book of invective posing as argument in saying Oswald was a lone nut, the Times rushed to publish a favorable review (See my post on the subject; though my post does cite an Alan Brinkley review in the Times of another Kennedy book that mentioned the Mob angle to JFK's murder).

As I noted in the aforementioned post, the legal definition of a conspiracy is simply two or more people engaged in an illegal act. It does not have to be a secret, though it helps when planning the illegal act, of course! Conspiracies, therefore, happen every day. It is again the grand conspiracy that often fails to remain secret because people talk--and talk a lot. And the truth is far more mundane than some grand plot. For example, Bush & Co. were simply negligent in ignoring warnings, which is far different than planning the attack of 9/11/2001, or even wanting it to happen. The same with FDR and the destruction of a significant number of US naval vessels at Pearl Harbor. FDR did not want to attack Japan first and, at worst, assumed Japan was going to attack in the Philippines only.

The frustration I have at people like Kukatami and Aaronovitch is that they are essentially ignorant of history, elitist in their disdain for "regular" people, and take the positions they take because they are "players"--meaning people who have an acute understanding of how to get ahead and stay ahead in polite, elite levels of society. Kukatami will never read David Kaiser's book because she knows it is bad for her to be saying in polite society what I have written here. She knows that being correct about the mendacity of the Bush administration about the pretext for going to war in Iraq is already a dangerous thing to discuss at swank cocktail parties in NY, DC and Boston. It's okay to say Bill Clinton was "classless." It's not okay to say trade treaties codify the very trends that undermine wages for American workers and destroy our industrial capacity. That brands you as a radical and not "serious."

Yes, there are some conspiracies that are beyond the pale, whether it is the Masonic oriented conspiracies, or the conspiracy that somehow Obama's mother gave birth to Obama in a hospital in Kenya in 1961, and despite not being very enamored about America at the time, quickly and secretly flew across two oceans to Hawaii (!) to make sure his birth was recorded in America. But the way in which people such as Kukatami and Aaronovitch discuss the topic reveals far more about their own limits and hubris than anything else.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Obama wants us to be like France!

The conservatives' lament is that Obama wants to turn us into France, as if national health insurance and a 35 hour work week were something bad.

Who knew the conservatives would be right, however, as Obama wants to expand the construction of nuclear power plants--just like France.

More change we don't believe in...Sigh.

For a glimpse of health problems associated with American nuclear power plants, see here, here and here.

And all is not so well with French nukes, either.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The new Brandeis biography and the importance of Zinn

I am about halfway through Melvin Urofsky's magnificent biography of Louis Brandeis. I put it down for awhile as I was doubled over by the brilliance of--and simply had to read--a novel entitled "The Rosendorf Quartet" by Nathan Shaham, written in Hebrew in 1987, and translated a couple of years later. The novel contains the greatest description of the power and sound of music I have ever read. I could do without the eroticism, but that's my personal taste. Shaham's understanding of the politics of Europe and Palestine in the 1930s is also very insightful and compelling, which adds to the emotional power of the work.

But anyway, I digressed.

Despite my deeply positive conclusion about Urofsky's biography of Brandeis, I have to say it is often wincing to read Urofsky's corporate capitalist and elitist understanding of macroeconomics. Urofsky primarily sees the world, as unfortunately Brandeis did, as being made up of the small shopkeeper, the large conglomerate executive and the "consumer." Urofsky rarely notices employees or workers, and sees the poor even more abstractly than "consumers."

I was initially struck by Urofsky's anti-worker perspective of the Great Labor Strikes of 1877, despite his footnote that shows he at least glanced at Philip Foner's outstanding book on the subject. The way he describes the wildcat strikes that could have led to a second American revolution--and required corporate capitalists to push the Hayes administration and various governors to call on American troops to shoot workers and subdue them--one would think the violent reaction to the strikes were mostly the workers' fault. He ignores the hardships that led to the wildcat strikes and the way in which the violence often started on the management side, particularly with the initial use of armed strikebreakers and/or the local police, who tended to get riled up against workers who went on strike in those years. He used the passive voice as in violence "breaking out" and when specific, highlighted the violent actions of labor. Now I realize one should take the biography subject's side, and Brandeis definitely was not on the side of the workers at that point in his life, but there should have been a better understanding of the circumstance of that important series of events, which have been obliterated from our collective memories.

Throughout the book thus far, there has been a continued sprinkling of this lack of sense of the plight of workers. This lack of sympathy for workers reached a dispiriting and obvious level in Chapter 13 of the book, which takes its title from a famous Brandeis formulation, "The Curse of Bigness." In this chapter, Urofsky leads the reader to think there was a consensus among the American people in favor of "laissez faire" capitalism in the late 19th Century. He reaches this conclusion without giving his readers any understanding that millions of workers disagreed with that formulation, and that there was a continuing struggle by workers against an economic elite tightening its grip on workers' lives. He finds Brandeis' belief in smallness a bit on the naive side, that much is acknowledged. But Urofsky again can't seem to get his mind past a battle over prices between monopolists and consumers. Labor starts to come into the foreground in his discussion, but is quickly pushed back again. He fails to see the depth of Brandeis' own ignorance and naive world view when Brandeis wrote that the "greatest danger" to American society is for the American people to become a "class of employees." No, the greatest danger to American society is an unfair distribution of wealth generated by the monopolists that beggars and oppresses workers physically and monetarily.

I am not saying that Urofsky should be as pro-socialist as Eugene Debs or the left side of the progressive movement, as exemplified by Robert LaFollette. It is, however, sad that he can write a book that does such a great job in dealing with the intricacies of Brandeis' battles for US Forestry service icons like Gifford Pinchot against lumber barons, and yet, in his discussions, miss an important element such as the rights and dignity of labor.

It is here that I am most vociferous in promoting Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States." Through Zinn's focus on workers, social reformers and the like, Zinn restores a balance against the corporate capitalist viewpoint of American history that Urofsky assumes is correct, but is itself highly ideological. When people nitpick at Zinn for taking minority viewpoints in particular passages, particularly with respect to the last few chapters of Zinn's book, they miss the richness and diversity of the points of view Zinn expresses, and how most of the information Zinn imparts that was obvious to those who lived during the time Zinn described has been deleted from our discourse. Zinn recognized that the lack of balance in the historical sweep presented by corporate media and people like Urlofsky is precisely what limits the ability of our discourse to embrace various alternative solutions or move us forward in terms of public policy.

Urofsky is no fool, however. He is a retired professor of History who was once the chair of the History Department at Virginia Commonwealth University and has an intimate knowledge of the American Zionist movement, and the Progressive Movement in the United States during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. Still, I wonder how he much he recognizes the profound differences between labor-oriented progressives like LaFollette and Florence Kelley, and business oriented progressives like Brandeis, Andrew Carnegie in his last years, and Teddy Roosevelt. I also wonder how he views Gabriel Kolko's insightful attack on the fundamental conservatism of the business progressives or Edwin Black's "War Against the Weak," which reveals how eugenics was the rage of elite (including business oriented) American opinion from progressive to conservative.

Urofsky's biography, however, remains a compelling portrait of Brandeis and an outstanding description of his life struggles. Most importantly for me, Urofsky exhibits deftness in describing for the lay reader the legal arguments for and against various propositions that were hot button issues of the time--and their relevance for today. I heartily recommend the book and am enjoying the prose and information imparted--and I expect to finish it with joy.

But, if you are a music fan, please click on the right side of this blog (scroll up or down a bit, depending upon where you are in this blog page) to Amazon or Powell's to order "The Rosendorf Quartet", and prepare to be amazed at the richness of that novel.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Timely folk songs for a Satuday night

Here is the Chad Mitchell Trio on the Tea Baggers' true forebears in a song from the early 1960s.

And don't play this mid-1960s Phil Ochs song for anyone who has to ship out to Afghanistan. Might be too subversive...

Bonus songs: Protest song from the 1840s, sung a capella by the anarchist pop group, Chumbawumba.*

And here is a new version of an old English anti-work song from Chumbawumba, "I wish they'd sack me..." One should be careful to long for the good old days, even as we find new meaning in old songs.

* Yes, the same band who did this clever pop song which my children would dance along with me when they were very young. Well, maybe it's more accurate to say they acted out the lyrics: They'd push me down, and I'd get up again, and then they knocked down again, and...well, you know the rest. Then they'd laugh while singing "pissing the night away..." and listing the various drinks, to which my wife would shake her head trying to think how to explain it all to her mother and especially my mine. Now, those good old days might be worthwhile for a visit!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Obama already walked away from health insurance reform

Please read this set of quotes from President Obama the other day compiled by The Washington Monthly's blogger, Steve Benen.

Obama thinks if we don't pass this health insurance monstrosity out of the Senate or House, we get nothing. He's wrong. Passing either the House or Senate plan means we ensure ourselves we get nothing for this year, next year, the year after that, and even the year after that. And Blue Cross knows it.

Obama sets up a straw man: Pass one of the two health insurance monstrosities euphemistically called "reform," or "walk away." Sorry, Mr. President, there is another option. And that is to renegotiate without the whores for health insurance companies in the Senate in the room (the Rule of 51) and have Pelosi enforce the type of discipline in the House the Republicans have used against their own members (the Republicans have another ingredient to their mix--they lie about anything Democrats seek to do).

But let's note something else in Obama's comments the other day. I love the subtlety that Obama employs when he says if we don't pass the monstrosity:

...(w)e know that premiums and out-of-pocket expenses will skyrocket this decade and the decade after that and a decade after that just as they did in the past decade. More small businesses will be priced out of coverage. More big businesses will be unable to compete internationally. More workers will take home less pay and fewer raises. We know that millions more Americans will lose their coverage. We know that our deficits will inexorably continue to grow -- because health care costs are the single biggest driver. (Bold added)

The bolded language shows Obama knows I am right about the failure of this reform to do anything now, and how it leaves us vulnerable to the rapacious behavior of the health insurance companies--now and for the next several years (and three election cycles).

Mr. President, you already walked away from reform. You are now operating under a cynical belief that if you pass something, that is better than nothing. The majority of our voting population is not stupid, no matter what the DC Villager political advisers think. The majority of people know "nothing" when they see it. And if they get "nothing," in a binary politics, then the least informed of those people will more likely vote for the other party in open seat races in Congress...and for president in 2012. That is how the Republicans are gaining traction, and that is their plan--and you continue to enable it. Does anyone think the Republicans would not have already dumped the filibuster or gone to reconciliation to pass a bill they wanted to pass on any number of subjects?

Let me put it bluntly: I have no interest in helping tone deaf politicians like you, Reid and Pelosi pass legislation that strengthens the power of health insurers in the short run on a mere promise that something will change for the better in the long run. The long run crisis is here already, and Obama, Reid and Pelosi have abdicated their responsibilities to the Commonweal. It is time for a true political spine, and if Reid and Pelosi can't deliver, they should get the hell out of the way and let Al Franken, Anthony Weiner and Alan Grayson barnstorm this nation, debate the dumb right wingers and shallow libertarians head on. That's not running away, that's standing up and fighting.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Adventures in corporate media propaganda

If Bernanke was rejected, and the market reacted the way it has, we'd never hear the end of how the markets were voting with their shares against the commie bastards who rejected Bernanke. That was the threat before the vote, and it worked to get the spineless whores of the Senate to vote for Bernanke.

Instead, Bernanke secures 70 Senate votes (!) and, as Dean Baker noted, the stock market tanks.

And corporate media says....nothing. It's a void. No discussion. Nada.

This is how propaganda works. It is what is reported and argued, and what is not reported and argued.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Well written review of two books on California

The London Times Literary Supplement contains an excellent review of two recent books on California, one of which I have read, which is the brilliant historian, Kevin Starr's latest on California history.

Starr is one of the best prose writers around, while Vollman is a more eclectic writer, stronger in his non-fiction than his fiction (in this blogger's opinion, anyway!).

Most of Starr's books on California are must reads. His interweaving of architectural, cultural, political and economic trends in various books, starting with the first book through the 1930s history of California, at least, reveal why California is a microcosm of the United States, and yet, a world community unto itself, with all the paradox that phrase evokes.

My review of Starr's latest is here.

There are only two other writers who can rival Starr on California history, and they are (1) Josiah Royce, whose own history of California, written in the 1880s, is part-Chomskyesque in its exposure of the hypocrisy and brutality that began the western conquest of California (the chapters on General Fremont are delicious!), yet had a strong love for the State and its people overall, and (2) Carey McWilliams, whose works on California are polemical, but highly insightful and informative--and outstanding prose.

California, we need a constitutional convention, don't we?