Sunday, March 28, 2010

The outrage! Obama appoints labor lawyer to National Labor Relations Board

The outrage from Republican leaders to the news that Obama has made recess appointments, particularly of Craig Becker, a labor lawyer, to the National Labor Relations Board, led me to my most contemptuous laugh in quite some time--and there have been other days for such laughter.

is the Obama administration's press release (courtesy of Talking Points Memo/Josh Marshall), which nicely exposes Republican hypocrisy on this issue.

It is beyond ridiculous to even suggest that a person should not be appointed to the NLRB on the basis that he or she works for a labor union. Becker is a smart, decent and highly qualified choice, and these jerks known as Republican leaders know it. The real outrage here, of course, is the way the Republicans in the Senate have held up approval of so many nominees for reasons that are essentially petulant. Still, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid should have seen this coming (as should Obama) and changed the Senate rules.

I look forward to Vice President Biden, in the first week of January 2011, taking a page out of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller's book and unilaterally changing the Senate rules to end Senate holds and filibusters. We'll get things done on the basis of something quaintly known as "majority rule," and the Republicans will be routed in 2012 to the point where there may well be a new party or two arising out of its ashes. One may be libertarian and the other fascistic (tea partiers), but arise they may.

The League of Courageous Foreign Correspondents

Here is an article that reminds us there is an informal league of courageous foreign correspondents in nearly every decade of the past century. The story in the linked article by Craig Pyes is substantively important because, in real time, it was difficult to learn the truth about the brutality of the forces who were killing unarmed priests and nuns, and union leaders throughout Central and South America during the 1980s--with our nation's leaders supporting the killers. Had Castro done what the El Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran leaders did during the 1980s, our nation's leaders would likely have obliterated the inhabitants of Cuba--but here, there was denial, denigration of the information and outright lying by President Reagan and his advisers, and political pundits in corporate media.

One of the original foreign correspondents is George Seldes, who I was privileged to meet and spend a lazy afternoon on two occasions back in 1989 and 1990, when he was, respectively, 99 and 100 years old.

One of the more recent and rightly venerated foreign correspondents was the late Daniel Pearl.

In literary or film annals, the two films to see about foreign correspondents are the Hitchcock film, "Foreign Correspondent" (1940), with Joel McCrea, and the documentary on Seldes, "Tell the Truth and Run" (based upon a book Seldes published in 1953 describing his journalistic experiences).


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Anonymous speech gets support from Israeli Supreme Court

The issue of protecting "anonymous" speech on the Internet is an interesting one in American jurisprudence. See: Krinsky v. Doe 6 (2008) 159 Cal. App. 4th 1154, for one example from the California Court of Appeal (which is not the highest court in California, but an appellate court).

Now, the Israeli Supreme Court has weighed in and its decision protects anonymous speakers on the Internet. One doubts this is a blanket endorsement for all time, but it is overall likely a good development. The Internet is often a wild place and libel and slander actions seem less compelling where I can directly speak back at powerful figures--compared to the situation before the 2000s where an individual had a harder time speaking back against corporate behemoth media institutions.

Still, as pointed out in the last post, corporate- and government-owned media can still ignore you, but we do have more "soapbox" power through the Internet than we did before the Internet.

Israeli government shoots at unarmed protesters...and no media cover it.

For years, I have said that if the Palestinians engage in civil disobedience, they would get further than through terrorism.

Sadly, we have an example of civil disobedience that shows the process will still be slow. Here is a poignant blog post from Bernard Avishai, a noted Israeli scholar and writer, about a Jewish friend of his who took part in a protest against Israeli policies in the West Bank.

Corporate media in Israel and in the US have ignored this story, which shows that 24/7 news is such a hoax. They can provide reams of "analysis" to Tiger Woods' sex life, but nothing about what are mostly peaceful demonstrators in the West Bank. If we were truly interested in peace there, we'd give publicity to those who are seeking peace through peaceful means rather than the haters who promote terrorism--either through suicide bombings or depriving communities of water and through travel restrictions.

Saturday Review of Sunday Book Reviews

The NY Times Book Review is outstanding this weekend!

1. Here is a compact and interesting review of a new book about us white folks. African-American historian Nell Painter wrote the book about the history of "white" people reviewed by Jewish-white-American Linda Gordon. Good for Ms. Painter in helping us understand the sociological constructs and the abuse of science in the past 200 years that make us think our skin color matters all that much. Gordon does not explicitly say it, but as recently as 80 years ago, Irish and Jewish people were not considered "white." That's how fluid these constructs really are...

2. Here is a nice review by historian Alan Brinkley of a new book on the FDR so-called "court packing" proposal of 1937, and its effects. Brinkley, though, fails to mention the Supreme Court started out with six members, grew to seven, then ten (!), then back to nine all in the space of 80 years after the US Constitution was ratified. See here and here. What was striking in Brinkley's review is that when FDR supported a pension for the justices, three of the dreaded "old men" resigned almost immediately thereafter. Guess these capitalist philosophers liked socialism after all...As you may guess, I would have likely been on FDR's side in the 1930s and find it ridiculous how one-sided the historical discussion has been on this topic since the controversy itself.

3. For those who know me, Michelle Obama is already one of my favorite First Ladies, though her tenure is still too early to make any lasting decisions in that regard. However, John Quincy Adams' wife, Louisa, has always been right up there with Eleanor Roosevelt as a most praiseworthy First Lady (I don't think they were called that back then...), though for different reasons than ER. Unfortunately, this review gives us only a glimpse of the extraordinary Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams. Most of us know about Abigail, JQA's mother, but it is Louisa who truly would resonate with modern women, and the cross-currents of the political and personal that defined her life. The best book on Louisa and the world she lived in, and fought against, remains for me at least "The Adams Women" by Paul Nagel. Nagel writes with a sensitivity toward the difficult life women had in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries that is most astonishing for a male--and I say that as one of those with "outdoor plumbing." I continue to recommend that book wherever I can, and do so again. It should be said that Louisa did eventually impress Abigail, and especially John Adams, and she was most revered in the last days of her life. She was a wise and balanced person in so many ways, and her trek across Europe in the dead of winter following the Napoleonic Wars is only a partial testament to that.

4. And lest anyone think that I believe the male and female brains are really all that different--as opposed to how our culture dominates our personalities--Emily Bazelon neatly demolishes a new book by a pop neuropsychiatrist here.

5. This review of a new book on the "Sabbath" (Jewish) world was amusing, and a nice introduction to two thoughts: (1) How rituals fall particularly hard on women, particularly those women who work outside the home and (2) How the rituals themselves are symbols and totems for various times in human history. Notice too that it is a Jewish person reviewing a Jewish book--and, as I remarked at the end of my review of book reviews last week, where was the black reviewing the book on black history?

There are also nice reviews of a new biography on Fred Harvey (which should have mentioned the woman architect behind him, the amazing Mary Coulter--the link is to a book I bought at the Grand Canyon a few years ago and then read and enjoyed); the particularly stupid, racist and violent prison culture of the American South, and its pernicious effects on the American criminal justice system; and a review of a new novel on the American way of debt. This last one intrigued me so much I decided to look up the book, and read the first chapter (here). Sadly, the prose struck me as cloying with a too self-conscious narrator. That is perhaps only my traditionalist taste, so I invite others to give the book a chance.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why I am not as happy as most Democrats about the passage of this health insurance reform bill

As Kevin Drum points out, after his initial points about David Frum being fired from the right wing think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the bill Obama just signed is a Republican bill from the standpoint of ideology and policy--back when Republicans had a semblance of interest in public policy in the early 1990s.

And of course, the health insurance mandate to buy insurance from insurance companies was something Mitt Romney pushed for and secured as governor of Massachusetts way back in....2006. Romney, of course, is Republican.

Kevin is also right about something else today. It is a good thing the government got back into the student loan business. Might as well keep the profits from loan interest inside the government rather than give the profits to private banks who had the luxury of having the loan monies they lent guaranteed by the federal government under the now discontinued program.

Still, Kevin thinks health insurance companies are going to fade away in 20 years. They might, but somehow I am not as hopeful as he is. The health insurance companies just got stronger with the Obama sponsored plan, and just as we moved further right by embracing the Republicans' counterproposal from 1993 for health insurance reform, 20 years from now we'll probably be told it is a great victory for a so-called "liberal Democrat" to embrace health savings accounts. Ew.

Finally, here is the list of things that immediately happen as a result of the new bill. It's not all phony, and some changes are decent. It's just...It's just that without a public option, there is no meaningful cost control. And I don't get how Harry Reid decided it was a good idea to put in an exemption for his staff from purchasing in the exchanges. That is beyond weird--and is in fact corrupt.

But, a win is a win in corporate media land. So, I guess that's okay...isn't it?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Obama ran against individual mandates in 2008...Don't you just love elections?

What's ironic for me is that I never believed the whole Hillary v. Obama fight in 2008. I used to call them both Hillobama since they agreed on practically everything and were both corporate Democrats.

Back in early 2008, there was a "big" argument between Obama and Hillary over whether to have mandates for buying health insurance. Hillary wanted a mandate and Obama opposed a mandate. Yet, Obama just signed a bill that creates a mandate to buy health insurance. The Hillary supporters therefore "won" on the mandate despite Hillary losing the race to Obama.

Sad, though, that the first link above shows I supported that bum Edwards in 2008. I can't believe Edwards was dumb enough to think his private indiscretions were not going to be leaked during a presidential race. Amazing he got as far as he did, though...It's also humbling to note in case I ever think I'm a "prophet."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews

Today's New York Times Sunday Book Review is outstanding, and worth reading cover to cover:

Here is a wonderful review of what sounds like a hearty autobiography (with photos and some drawings included--I peeked at Amazon!) by the legendary Jules Feiffer. One very, very small and eccentric quibble: The article does not mention Feiffer's brilliant children's book (and a favorite around our home), "Meanwhile."

Ahem, meanwhile, Jill Abramson delivers a knockout blow to a couple of recently released "presidential campaign" books and brilliantly articulates my own unease at "Game Change" and other 2008 presidential election books. She rightly states the books feel like book versions of television tabloid shows about celebrities and fail to give us any sense of perspective before or after the election.

I am starting to wonder whether it is because the people who write these books may no longer be book readers. Ezra Klein made me wince with sadness when he admitted he does not really find books to be helpful to his thinking (knowledge?). Simply stated, books offer us a deeper perspective than a magazine article or certainly most blogs. Perhaps Abramson's point is effectively juxtaposed with what I was saying about Frederick Lewis Allen a few weeks ago in terms of his prose and his ability to provide cultural, political and economic insight into his narrative describing a decade.

Still, a not very good book or a bad book is a tragedy, as Gregory Cowles reminds us in his review of a book that I might have found worth looking at myself. Cowles provides us enough of the book's prose, however, to reveal I would have had a very similar reaction as he did. The book sounded promising enough, comparing disparate lives from a hedge fund manager to a Muslim terrorist and the role each plays in the modern globalized--or at least wired--economy. But I found the writer's prose to be affected and clunky, and Cowles' review succinctly captures the prose along with providing his critique.

Sometimes, too, a memoir may be illuminating in ways the author does not want. Roger Lowenstein, who wrote a beautiful biography of Warren Buffett, neatly and profoundly highlights the limits of a man like former Bush administration Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson in this must-read review. Specifically, Lowenstein highlights Paulson's inability to see much difference between the interest of big banks and the public's interest and his blindness to his living in a second Gilded Age. Yet, Lowenstein properly gives Paulson his due for his steadfast earnestness as he is shocked by the modern Republican, from the phony player, Sarah Palin, to the cynical rube McCain, and the Republicans in Congress who care not a damn for the nation, but only about the next election cycle. That Paulson finds he worked better with the supposedly left-liberal Democrat Barney Frank (D-MA) only proved that Frank is a decent human being who believed in the idea of legislation and public policy, even when Frank himself opposed Paulson's Ayn Rand-laden ideology.

And sometimes, a memoir makes me ask the author: How did you survive? That question unfortunately is not answered in Mika Brzezinski's mediocre review of a book by a husband and wife team of foreign correspondents who each were beaten or shot at nearly the same time, and went back to Rome (the author's home) where the simple act of cooking became the most effective way to salve their deeply emotional wounds that lasted longer than the physical ones. The question I asked while reading the review was never answered. I mean, really, how did they have the money to live that life of leisure while recuperating? Was the lack of need for money something that may have made the depression last longer, since they could afford to think about what had happened and brood on it? Or was the choice made to go back to Italy, where the author grew up, because there was a national health insurance system, unlike in America where one fends for oneself if one is not gainfully employed--or end up on Medicaid where one has to be completely poor to partake of its meager benefits? Mika Brzezinski comes from DC Village royalty and appears on television as just another member of the gilded elite who can hire servants to balance her checkbooks. Perhaps that is why she never bothers to ask the question that immediately popped in my head.

There are other reviews in the Times' Sunday Review of Books, including an ultimately empty review about the group of charlatans who ran the Harvard psychiatry department in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and helped promote drug abuse in the name of seeking a higher consciousness (the book may be better, but who cares?), as well as a moving and well written review by an Irish-American (white) writer reviewing a book written by a likely white Jewish guy on the African-American experience. I normally detest the mindset that says race, sex or ethnic heritage should be given consideration, but there are enough great African-American journalists, writers and historians to have found someone who was African-American to review that book. For example, one can bet the Times hires Jews to write reviews of books concerning American Jews or the Jewish American experience, with the exception proving the rule.

Oh well. Enough for today. Happy reading!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Stewart Udall (1920-2010)

Read this obit and say a prayer in honor of this thoughtful and important public servant.

I found it amusing how he said JFK and LBJ gave him whatever he wanted in terms of parks or rivers, but in my novel, Stewart has a hell of a time convincing President RFK of anything important on environmental legislation until he almost stealthily becomes a participant in the growing environmental movement that operates outside the DC Village.

One thing Udall later learned is environmental legislation scares industrialists into thinking their profits are going to be negated. Whether that is true of course is another question. See this article which asks "What If Climate Action Actually Accelerates Economic Growth?" Or this speech by the current head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Alan Grayson pushes the public option as separate legislation

I signed his petition on his website already.

Here is Grayson laying it out on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Go Alan! And it looks like Alan has at least one Republican congressman's support already...:-) Now we should put Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and Grayson on the road, and say, "They'll debate any Republican office holder or think tank director. Go on! Give us the best you got!"

I look forward to signing up for a public health insurance option.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Philosophers channel Sarah Palin...

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, there is a disturbing article on a growing number of modern philosophers who have their heads so deep in the theoretical clouds they can't even imagine empiricism. Less pun-y, the article is about such philosophers' misreading of Darwin and their falling into the shallow trap of creationist/intelligent design dogma.

And here is what is now becoming a more famous article from the Boston Review, which reviewed a new book by two such philosophers (one of whom is a normally brilliant guy, Jerry Fodor, from my alma mater, Rutgers University).

Still, I can't help but think this is another consequence of the separation of art and science so lamented by CP Snow over 50 years ago. One book I've had my eye on for some time, but haven't "The Age of Wonder" by Richard Holmes, which is about how the Romantic poets in early 19th Century England were significantly influenced by scientists of the late 18th Century and early 19th Century. This is less surprising to one who has read EP Thompson's "The Making of the English Working Class", as the effect of poets like Byron and Shelley being called "Romantic" tended to delegitimize such artists who were correctly outraged by the loss of the commons and rise of the unfeeling, vindictive and violent leaders of the Industrial Revolution (both political and economic leaders).

Oh well. Time for bed...It's only Tuesday evening and the week has a ways to go...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Israeli leaders do not want peace

The Israeli leaders do not want peace and want to sabotage peace talks with the Palestinians. That is already clear.

The announcement of the housing expansion in the occupied territories (and this time, East Jerusalem) is also an example of the duplicity of the Israeli leaders, as if we are supposed to believe (1) there was merely a coincidence in the timing of the announcement with Vice President Biden's visit or (2) that the announcing parties were acting without the acquiescence of the Prime Minister, Mr. Nutty-Yahoo (contrary to the second linked article, the Americans know the extremists are in charge, and that Nutty-Yahoo is enabling them).

This article by Aluf Been in Ha'aretz concludes the expansionist ideology of the prime minister, Likud and the right wing nationalist groups in Israel is likely to undermine if not destroy Israel's relationship with the U.S. For it is not as if Nutty-Yahoo does not want to build more settlements in East Jerusalem or the West Bank. He does. Nutty-Yahoo also does not want peace with the Palestinians; he wants them to leave the West Bank and preferably Gaza, too. That is the bottom line.

Still, there is a sign in Israel that perhaps these right-wing jokers have gone too far with this contemptuous prank: See this article about the Jerusalem Council canceling further discussions of settlement expansion. However, don't let that action fool us into complacency. The history of aggressive Israeli expansionist actions tells us the settlement building will likely resume within the next 30-60 days. These are, after all, zealots who will not stop unless physically forced to stop by an Israeli government that means to stop them from acting.

ADDENDUM 10:45 P.M. PACIFIC TIME: Even the Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, is nervous about these recent events. Good. And maybe next time Oren will show up at a J Street meeting...the putz.

ADDENDUM 3/15/10 10:30 P.M. PACIFIC TIME: Nutty-Yahoo proves my point...again. Israeli leaders do not want peace. They want more settlements--and ultimately more war. That is no longer an opinion. That is a fact.

One thing, though: If AIPAC, ADL and the other members of the Israel Uber Alles lobby think they can push around the entire American Congress during this election year, they may be in for a surprise...

Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews

Been awhile, but here is a sampling of reviews from the London Times Literary Supplement that I found worth reading:

London's counterculture from just after World War II was far more difficult to sustain without a First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association. Still, it managed to affect not only the rest of British society, but likely was influential to Americans, who again at least had the First Amendment to protect against too many overzealous police and politicians. It did not stop for example the FBI in its entirety. There was still spying, but not as much in the way of prior restraint or seizing of materials.

Also, there is an interesting review of books about Barbie dolls, women's self-awareness and relationships that too many American politicians and pundits remain rather oblivious about. Fashion and fascism strike me over the years as being more closely related than just the sound of the two words. Women are far more oppressed by fashion than men are, and it cannot help but affect women's performance in the workplace and their attitudes towards any number of subjects.

Zooming around, it is becoming more difficult for those of us in the 21st Century to imagine the excitement for those in the 19th Century to attend the theater, as we sit in front of our computers and televisions with their instant and incessant entertainment. This review is of a book about a then-famous early 19th Century clown, Joseph Grimaldi, who gained renown throughout England and Europe, and whose posthumously published biography was edited by none other than Charles Dickens (the article begins with Grimaldi's friendship with Lord Byron, the Romantic poet). We have our modern equivalents, of course, but the thrill of seeing someone live was far more exciting in a world where there was no computer, no television, no radio or other form of mass communication.

Finally, here is a nice, compact review in the Washington Post of a new book on the games played by Major League white baseball players against Negro League players in the 1930s and 1940s, before the advent of Jack "Jackie" Robinson. As a major fan of the Negro Leagues (I am often seen on summer weekends in my black t-shirts saluting respectively, the Homestead Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs), this has long been an interest of mine. It is good that someone has written a book devoted to how the white and black players competed against each other in that time, with an accent on my heroes like James Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson. Still, I sense the reviewer may be correct in the shortcomings of the book reviewed...Oh well. There will be more written on this subject over time.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

A NY Times Book Editor starts to wake up from a narrow view of literature

Please read this and let's discuss.

First, let's discuss what is missing in Ms. Schuessler's earnest, but ultimately defensive essay. Ms. Schuessler never mentions the name Sinclair Lewis, who remains the quintessential American writer who wrote many (mostly) books about work, starting with "Our Mr. Wrenn" (1914) and "The Job" (1917) (about women in the work place!) before "Main Street" (1920), "Babbitt" (1922), "Arrowsmith" (1925), "Dodsworth" (1929) and "A Work of Art" (1934), not to mention "Ann Vickers" (1931), "Gideon Planish" (1943) (about the non-profit "business" world; a must read which is also the one time one realizes Lewis does not like his character he has created, unlike Babbitt, who he really loves contrary to the usual assumption that is made)...As I continue to say, Lewis was our Dickens, yet we sadly neglect him in our high schools and colleges. Lewis, more than any single writer, defined the modern American character and gave novelistic insight to America as a business civilization, and, nearly a hundred years later, his prose remains vibrant in its sharpness, brevity and wit.

Second, give Schuessler some credit for mentioning Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," though I have a deep concern she never read more than the Cliff Notes of that novel. Still, she missed Sinclair's strongest novel, an amazing ode to the wildcat oil business, "Oil!" (not the ridiculous film adaptation, the real deal book). The funny thing to me about "Oil" is that the main character, the son of the wildcatter oil man, is played for the fool and the solid, wise and ultimately heroic character is the father wildcatter. What I loved is that Sinclair was willing to subordinate his own political biases in favor of socialists to give a strong nod of glory to the capitalist. It was also far more readable (even though longer) than "The Jungle."

Third, Ms. Schuessler deserves kudos for favorably mentioning William Dean Howells, a most neglected writer who wrote beautifully about the rising American business civilization--not merely "The Rise of Silas Lapham," but also the knock-out "A Hazard of New Fortunes" (here is a witty article on its continued relevance) and "The Landlord at Lion's Head," with my review here.

Fourth, Schuessler is starting to realize, but does not confront the bias of two or three generations of literature professors who de-legitimized the "Big Idea" novel as constituting more sociology than "literature." She makes a still too kind reference to Murray Kempton's cynical attack on "proletarian" novels, which keeps her from fully understanding the destructiveness of the bias of the literature academy against novels with larger ideas than one's sex life. But let's stay with Kempton for a moment. Yes, we all love the late departed Murray Kempton (his defense of Lenny Bruce and I.F. Stone is well noted), but he was long a jerk on the issue of so-called "proletarian" novels. Kempton's famous book on the Thirties/Forties era Communists is that the Communist writers in Hollywood and elsewhere during that time were--shudder!--sentimental. In his book, Kempton is talking about Communist screenwriters like Dalton Trumbo, who wrote films such as "A Guy Named Joe" and novelists like Michael Gold, who wrote "Jews without Money." Kempton was defending Trumbo, Gold and others from the far more serious accusation, i.e. that somehow they were indoctrinating Americans to believe in Communism and were somehow treasonous. Nonetheless, Kempton was actually making a more sly attack on the cultural legitimacy of these writers. He was accusing them of being sentimental, a horrible cultural "crime" both in the 1950s and especially since then.

Kempton's attack is really a proto-modernist attack on anything that smacks of sentiment. Stated another way, anything in art is only considered "real" if it is violent, mean or anti-social (Think of the Hollywood crowd's crowning of "Crash" as the best film a few years ago). The attack on sentiment or sympathy, combined with college literature departments telling young writers to "write what you know" led to the fetish of novels becoming "personal"--you know, the homosexual Pakistani young man who moves to New York, and writes about a young homosexual Paksitani male who moves to New York. Navel gazing is what I call it.

Still, as Schuessler defensively recognizes, it is all art or literature. The debate, she implies more than says, should be whether something is good or bad literature, not to attack a genre of literature as being illegitimate (Perhaps if she says that too loudly, she may fear for her career among the literati, I suppose). Yes, some "proletarian" novels may not be very good. But the attack on the entire genre of the "business" novel or "proletarian" novel has caused most literature departments and intellectuals to miss "The Great Midland" by Alexander Saxton, which deals brilliantly with the lives of black and white labor organizers, and most amazingly for a male writer, female workers as more than love objects. It's caused Sinclair Lewis to be read out of the academy, particularly his long forgotten novel from 1934, "A Work of Art", which counterposes, through the story of two brothers, the "business" of writing and screenwriting and the "art" of developing a business (in the novel, the hotel/motel business).

It is a shame, for example, that even among black studies departments, you can go through most such departments and not find anyone who has read "Black No More" (1931) by George Schulyer (or his even racier, but not quite as brilliant "Black Empire" (1938)) or Sinclair Lewis' "Kingsblood Royal" (1947) (When, oh when will we stop hearing that Lewis wrote nothing of note after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930?). Yes, I harp on these issues in this blog from time to time. But it remains vital to harp on this because our cultural elite continues its destructive ways--and not quite in the way right wingers attack our nation's cultural elite. Gore Vidal and I were both appalled 20 years ago by the "Western Civ has got to go" chants for a different reason than the chauvinists who consistently put down any study of women, blacks, Latinos, homosexuals, etc. in history. Vidal and I never understood why someone living in the "West" (Europe and America) could not find something compelling in Pliny the Younger or Dickens that speaks to that person's life, even if he or she just fell off a boat or plane into America from say, Nigeria.

There remains something compelling in Thomas Hardy, Jack London, John Steinbeck, Sinclair Lewis, Graham Greene and others (yes, even Booth Tarkington and Pearl Buck, who I adore!), and even further back to Montaigne and into antiquity. None of these writers should be lost to the proliferation of information in a digital age or the corrosive belief that only new writers can tell us what's going on with our lives. And just as importantly, we must stop delegitimizing the role of sentiment and sympathy in a society. Norman Rockwell did paint "reality" as much as if not more than a Quentin Tarantino film, yet Tarantio receives nearly universal applause (while, in my worst moods, I think he should be waterboarded so he might understand how destructive his cartoonish love of violence is). Yes, Rockwell's art may be incomplete in its perspective, but so is any one artist's capturing of any moment. It's like the attack on Spike Lee's "Do the right thing" where people said, "Where is the drug dealer on the corner?" as if Lee had to put that into his already crowded film. We need to realize there is much to learn from our past, which would do more to enrich our present, and give us a common language to face our future.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Palin: The gift who keeps on giving

Palin proves the worthiness of unions and health insurance from Canada with her own practical experience here.

That she plays the role of right winger is just another way for her to get ahead in life. Would that her small constituency recognize that.

The problem of Americans crossing the border into Canada to freeload on Canada's national health insurance system is not limited to people named Palin and not limited to purchasing medications. That sort of information does not often become a topic of discussion among our corporate media pundits, which should be no surprise to readers of this blog. As I am suffering from acute bronchitis these past few days, I simply must stay off the computer, and have no time to research that point. I therefore leave it to others.

Still, Palin remains the gift who keeps on giving. ...

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Obama: My strategy has been a complete screw up so far, so trust me...

So sayeth President Obama.

And once Obama finishes reforming the health insurance system that ends up making private insurance companies more powerful, he promises to destroy Social Security. Just like every other Republican.

So why did I vote for this guy?

I know, I know, Supreme Court, abortion, know the real important issues to rich people who don't have to worry about their economic needs or the economic future for their children--or the economic health of our nation for that matter. As I also like to say to right wingers I meet, "If you had told me the guy was Bob Dole with a better personality and a hot wife, I'd have voted for Nader. But no. You had to tell me he was a secret Marxist-Commie-Muslim. And that gave me so much hope...and I voted for him."

Zero sum politics

Two great political cartoons worth seeing.

The Republican leadership knows that in zero sum politics, the twenty or so per cent of low information voters, also known as independents, will vote for the other guy when they conclude there is reason to fear for the future and things are not getting done to change things for the better. And that is the margin of victory in many cases; just ask the new Republican senator from Massachusetts.

The Republican leaders' plan to sell or hype "fear" is part of the Republican leaders' understanding of how zero sum politics works.

Would that Democratic Party strategists would learn that because if they did, they would have dumped the filibuster, stopped listening to scorpions like Blanche Lincoln, and they'd be riding high on their achievements that a majority of people support anyway, like a robust public option with regard to health insurance, an equally robust public works program across the nation, cap and trade and yes, making it easier for workers to form unions at their work. But now, with the Republican strategy successfully in play, 2010 is going to be a tough year on more than a few Democratic office holders or office seekers.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Grayson leads among Republicans in his district

The Huffington Post has the story.

Remember all the Villagers in DC, and the professional political consultants, who said Grayson should not engage in tough rhetoric and progressive policy making in a district that barely trends Democratic in registration? Yeah, I remember. And I loved him then, and love him now.

Now, Grayson is leading all Republican challengers in a poll of Republican voters. Let's be clear, however, that this won't last. Still, the chances of Grayson losing this year appear slim. To quote a former Louisiana governor, the only way for the Republican Party to beat Grayson is for Grayson to be "caught in bed with a dead girl or live boy."

Just watch this slap down Grayson did with Bernanke. And the DC Villagers can't understand why some Republican voters like Grayson?

Bart Stupak: Liar

Bart Stupak (D????-MI)* has threatened to oppose the reconciliation process for health insurance reform because he says the Senate plan undermines the Hyde Amendment and is a proposal for federal funding of abortion.

Tim Noah at explains why Stupak is a liar. Here are the main paragraphs so you don't have to read through the entire article:

What really rankles Stupak (and the bishops) isn't that the Senate bill commits taxpayer dollars to funding abortion. Rather, it's that the Senate bill commits taxpayer dollars to people who buy private insurance policies that happen to cover abortion at nominal cost to the purchaser (even the poorest of the poor can spare $1 a month) and no cost at all to the insurer. Stupak and the bishops don't have a beef with government spending. They have a beef with market economics.

Another matter that rankles Stupak and the bishops is that the ban on federal funding for abortions in the Senate bill is tied to the fate of the Hyde Amendment. A common misconception is that the government's ban on abortion funding through the Hyde Amendment (which covers spending by the Health and Human Services Department, chiefly through Medicaid; other laws ban abortion funding through other government agencies) has the force of permanent law. It does not. It is merely a rider routinely attached to annual appropriations bills. Should the appropriations committees in Congress decide one year not to attach it, then HHS will become free to fund abortions. Pro-lifers live in fear that this will happen, but they don't want to draw too much attention to the possibility, lest they discourage the public from thinking the Hyde Amendment is writ in stone. If Congress ever did tire of the Hyde Amendment (which at this point has outlived Hyde), Stupak wouldn't want to see abortion restrictions evaporate from health reform, too. But that's exactly what would happen under the Senate bill. Its legislative language deliberately defines abortion "based on the law [governing HHS appropriations] as in effect as of the date that is six months before the beginning of the plan year involved." (This is on Page 119.) No HHS prohibition, no rules against federal subsidies for abortions through health insurance exchanges. The bishops state this bluntly: "[A] reference to this annual rider is far less secure than the House bill's permanent provision."

And why the requirement in the bill that abortion coverage be not "less than a dollar" per month (This means insurers may charge more based upon "supply and demand")? Because insurance companies normally include abortion in their coverages for no extra cost whatsoever. Here is Noah again:

Stupak is right that anyone who enrolls through the exchange in a health plan that covers abortions must pay a nominal sum (defined on Page 125 of the bill as not less than "$1 per enrollee, per month") into the specially segregated abortion fund. But Stupak is wrong to say this applies to "every enrollee." If an enrollee objects morally to spending one un-government-subsidized dollar to cover abortion, then he or she can simply choose a different health plan offered through the exchange, one that doesn't cover abortions. (Under the Senate bill, every insurance exchange must offer at least one abortion-free health plan.)

One dollar exceeds health insurers' actual cost in providing abortion coverage. In fact, it's entirely symbolic. The law stipulates that in calculating abortions' cost, insurers may consider how much they spend to finance abortions but not how much they save in foregone prenatal care, delivery, or postnatal care. (This is on Pages 2074-2075.) This is to keep insurers from pondering the gruesome reality—one they surely know already—that covering abortions actually saves them money. For health insurers, the true cost of abortion coverage is less than zero, because hospitals and doctors charge less to perform abortions than they do to tend pregnant women before, during, and after childbirth. (Ironically, only the Senate bill—not the House bill—provides some small counterweight to this calculus by increasing aid for adoption assistance.)
(Bold added)

There are good reasons to oppose the Senate and House plans, as I have posted in the past. In fact, I would counsel the progressive/left congresspeople to say: "We will not support reconciliation without a public option and immediate implementation of the reforms." (Marshall Ganz, former UFW organizer, gets it.) Otherwise, we are deluding ourselves into thinking this reform will have any impact on people's lives for the next three years. The exchanges that Stupak is lying about do not start until 2013 (House plan) or 2014 (Senate plan).

* Actually, less a Democrat than a member of the "Family" of weirdo religious fanatics and property tax cheats. I got a kick out of Stupak living there for "many years" and now saying he didn't know anything about the sponsors of the home he lived in. He is either stupid....or again, a liar.


Friday, March 05, 2010

Jews who live elsewhere telling those living in Israel: Love it or leave it

A revealing article by Bradley Burston in Ha'artez. It is a fact that many Israel Uber Alles types living in the United States are more in favor of the endless war against Palestinians than many of those people who actually live in Israel. As Burston says to such Israel Uber Alles types, in so many words, "Easy for you to say, bub."

What is doubly amusing is that Burston turns on its head the usual Israel Uber Alles argument against those of us who agree with Burston: "Until you decide to live in Israel, don't criticize Israel." I have never found such an argument valid because that would mean we can't criticize Iran because we don't live there, either. Still, there is something to Burston's argument against those from outside Israel who rip into him for supposedly not being loyal to Israel.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Beach Boys Personified California Beyond Surf Culture

Thinking about California some more; and some stuff that doesn't get heard much if at all on corporate-owned radio airwaves, but should from the Beach Boys:

"Surf's Up" off the album of the same name, released in 1971.

"Sail on, Sailor"
and "California Saga" from the sadly ignored "Holland" album, originally released in 1973 (The Eagle bit in the middle does not hold up much, but the start and finish are outstanding).

And here are the Beach Boys feeling radical...before Mike Love found John McCain...

The Beach Boys define more than surf culture in California, don't they? They were cultural barometers in California's transition from the Fifties to the Sixties, and again from the Sixties to the Seventies.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Jerry Brown for California Governor. It's that simple.

Jerry Brown, currently California's Attorney General, announced his candidacy for governor today.

I agreed with Brown's strategy to wait it out until the latest time before filing deadlines because it was best to let Republican money-monster Meg Whitman start costly fights with her Republican challenger(s). It was also best to wait it out because it gave less time for Republicans to mobilize their hate machine, including their conspirators at hate AM radio, to remind or "educate" Californians about medflies (though Brown's early support for creatively using sterile medflies to stop infestation seems to have finally worked!), Rose Bird, Moonbeams and now aged--no, not New Age!--pop singers. This sort of attack may or may not go over well with that half of the electorate too young or who were not living in the State at the time when Brown was previously the governor (1974-1982). Also, I for one have been impressed with Brown's tenure as attorney general because the state did not need the type of "creativity" that comes from litigation. It needed and needs legislation.

And if Meg Whitman is seen as sponsoring the anti-Brown ads, it may not bode well for her reputation among those voters in California who have not taken kindly to rich people who buy their offices. I must also say GOOD for Jerry Brown to use the Republican playbook in seeking to turn Whitman's potentially positive "outsider" status into a liability. Such a critique by Brown and others will more likely resonate this time with enough voters because Whitman has the bad timing in seeking to follow another outsider governor who frankly has been a disappointment--I mean, who knew the Terminator would be more like the guy he replaced in terms of a failure of political nerve?

If I was a "conservative" who was not a wingnut, I'd consider voting for Brown because he is a true maverick who may end up challenging the public employees unions, which challenge may well be part of any structural solution to the fiscal problems plaguing our state. And anyone who knows my love for unions may be surprised by that statement, but really, that is a consideration as the State attempts to restore its fiscal structure. My other structural reforms have been set forth here.

Jerry, my last bit of advice tonight is this: Run just the way you started with today's announcement--and hit the airwaves now to define yourself with voters because you know Whitman and the Republicans will be doing it to define you. Then, we'll see what happens by the summer and then again in the fall. In this modern Internet world where 24 hours ago seems like weeks ago, this race has a long way to go--but first impressions linger. If you win in November, and wake up the next morning feeling like Robert Redford's character in The Candidate, then all to the good, as well.

I love this State and it pains me to see it suffer so...