Friday, April 30, 2010

Dean Baker is rude to deficit hawks. I would be more rude.

Read it here.

Of course, I can be even more rude: I think we need Nuremberg Trials for the traitors like Peter Peterson and Bob Rubin who first sold our manufacturing capacity to other nations and then tore apart our social contract.

There is nothing wrong with Social Security that can't be fixed with a growing economy and letting the Bush II Era Tax Cuts expire. The Bush Tax Cuts create three times the deficit the deficit hawks are so worried about from Social Security. Think about that for just one moment. Three times the deficit, yet these jerks don't make public speeches or set up public conferences about that.

And yet, what is corporate media brainwashing people about: The need to "reform" (undermine) Social Security to stop the massive deficits that may occur in thirty or more years from now. Yet even that is misleading, because what occurs is not that the system completely runs out of money. It just can't pay 25% of the costs at that point.

But even that is too pessimistic. The truth is that if this nation learned to start making what it buys and buying what it makes again--you know, if we had leadership who were not traitors to international corporations and foreign governments--we'd increase the GDP (essentially national income) and the Social Security deficit would disappear. The Baby Boomers can all die naturally in mid-century knowing the system would outlive them without a blip on the revenue stream.

So, Dean, be as rude as you want to Rubin and Peterson. They are lucky they haven't been indicted, tried and executed for their treason to our nation.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Drive by commenting on a Wednesday night

My Congressman makes his racist constituency proud. In his defense, he sorta stumbled around as he spoke. Maybe he'll walk back a bit his comment about deporting American citizens whose parents are undocumented--though he is Republican, after all, so that walk back to any sense of humanity or rationality is doubtful these days.

Still, as Uggabugga points out, Bill Clinton isn't much help here, either. He takes the rich white guy's approach of ain't it great that people will come here to work for less than native born Americans? Gee whiz, Bill, ever even meet with unskilled laborers in our country, even by accident? I wish people would understand this problem from a comprehensive perspective, but we don't.

This article in the April 28, 2010 Los Angeles Times is the first American corporate news media article I have seen on the growing use of civil disobedience by Palestinians. Notice how the Israeli government's action continues to be violent, per the article. Throwing stones, however, is still not something Martin Luther King or Gandhi preached. Some of the Palestinians practicing civil disobedience have some learning to do...

And ain't it funny that the Democrats hold fast to something, and the Republicans in the Senate eventually collapse...Yes, this was a watered down bill already, but it is truly better than the situation that led to the 2008 economic meltdown. We should see some better regulation against the bankers soon enough.

Ah, the family calls, and I am off. I should not blog during the week after all.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

One of the good guys has left us...

William Wirtz, Secretary of Labor under JFK and LBJ, has passed away at the ripe age of 98.

Wirtz agreed with Michael Harrington that jobs, not handouts while waiting for a private sector job to appear, was the way to truly alleviate poverty. Still, as John E. Schwarz's outstanding book, "America's Hidden Success" (1984, 1987) made clear, the anti-poverty policies of the 1960s for the first time in a century, reduced poverty rates below 20% and as low as 10%, which remains a historic record. And when one looks at how poverty is measured, if anything, one is understating true poverty in our nation, and again, the programs that were grouped under the name "The Great Society" were more successful than we are led to believe. What was and is frustrating is how LBJ oversold the program, so that anything less than eradication of poverty was seen as a defeat. "America's Hidden Success" remains one of the most hopeful and powerful works of political science and data analysis I have ever read.

In that spirit, let us remember with reverence and respect William Wirtz, who fought the good fight for our most vulnerable people in our society.

Still too nice, but spot on...

E.J. Dionne succinctly explains the phony populism of the Tea Party movement.

Dionne is too nice, though, because I think more than some of the Tea Party protesters are racist and motivated by racism. The reason I think this is their incoherence. When they say, "My country is being taken away from me!" they can never explain just what it is that Obama is doing that is actually taking away their country, nor can they tell you what he is doing that is qualitatively or quantitatively different than the last guy who they did not protest against--or for that matter, any other president of recent to longer term memory.

It takes usually just a question or two for these folks to say something that exposes their racism. Like they may say, "I worked hard all my life, and I don't want to pay for anyone else's health care." Like who, you innocently ask. And they reply:

"You know. Poor people. Obama just wants to give health care to his black friends."

or

"You know. Mexicans who come here just for welfare."

Oh, those people...

Bonus video: The "CEO of Crayola" speaks up for Tea Partiers...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday Night Review of Book Reviews--April 24, 2010

The NY Times starts us off with a couple of reviews of colorful historical figures who personified the 20th Century American Empire:

Here is retired USC History Professor Ronald Steel's excellent review of two new books on the "splendid little war" that led to further US imperial adventures, and ironically sowed the seeds of Japanese aggression in the Pacific that led to World War II and later the US government's 50 year war against the Cubans for daring to institute their own dictatorship instead of submitting to ours. One can't help but conclude that perhaps the Japanese felt a bit double crossed by America entering into secret treaties in 1905 to allow Japan to take over Korea and China, and then thirty years later, accuse Japan of unwarranted military aggression. That is a mind-blower, though it does not forgive the infamy of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor nor even worse, Japan's brutality in China, including in Nanking.

Here is a somewhat long-winded (boy, do I know about that!:-)) review of a new biography of Henry Luce. Luce is a larger than life figure, somewhat foolish, somewhat of a marketing genius and, again, a personification of a liberal- minded conservative who wholeheartedly promoted the expansion of the American military and economic empire. Luce's failure of vision are the failures of the American empire overall, whether it be his blind love of Chaing Kai-Shek in China or his inability to foresee the futility and violent stupidity of America taking over the role of French colonialists in Southeast Asia. The biography is probably better than the review, as reviewer Bill Keller is unfortunately a mediocre mind who, ahem, personifies the debased American elite of our time.

And here is a too short review of a book that lays out the hubris of the debased (that word again!) modern American economic elite, with appropriate villains that include the odious Lawrence Summers, who might as well be a Republican--except I guess he has openly homosexual friends and doesn't want to force women to bear children against their will. That of course makes him "liberal" in the parlance of our shallow political discourse...The fealty of people like Summers to corporate America has never been greater, and we are continuing to find ourselves living in an extended Second Gilded Age. But heck, let's argue about zygotes, gay marriage and stay within the bounds of corporate priorities by thinking "cap and trade" is something really radical! :-(

If you can handle it--I barely kept my food down reading it--Army Archerd, I mean, Mark Halperin, reviews two stupid books by two cynical political figures of our time. If there is any insight in the review, I guess I missed it.

Think I'm too hard on the small-minded Halperin? Compare his People magazine equivalent piece of stenography and gossip to this piece in the London Review of Books, written by Jonathan Raban. Unlike Halperin, Raban uses names as a short hand for serious critical cultural and political philosophy and policy, and, near the end of the review, cuttingly exposes the vacuousness of the modern British Tory movement, both its current leader and its muse, Phillip Blond. The name dropping is difficult to traverse for most Americans who are not familiar with 20th Century British intellectual history, but it should cause an American with some curiosity to do some Google searches. Better than bathing in the shallow cold waters of conventional wisdom...

Finally, from the Los Angeles Times, here is perhaps an unduly negative review of an intriguing novel-biography of the wonderful Pearl Buck. Pearl Buck is woefully underrated in our modern cynical culture. I have found her books, and I have read several now, to be extraordinarily insightful about Chinese history and politics, and astute regarding American imperial designs. Buck's book on the Chinese Cultural Revolution era, "Three Daughters of Madame Liang" (1969) is emblematic of what I am discussing here. What knocked me out was that Buck was so amazingly insightful about the chaos and repression going on in China while it was occurring, and yet understanding how some otherwise decent people could be supportive of aspects of it from the inside. Buck also provided a longer-term view of China that most Americans political commentators and political scientists could not even imagine at that time, but would clearly appreciate now. Yes, "The Good Earth" (1931) is outstanding, but it is Buck's lesser known novels that deserve a review as well. This would include such largely unknown works as "Come, my Beloved" (1953), which is about India and British colonialism, written in a manner that channels Graham Greene, yet softer and surprisingly more forgiving of all involved. I found "Madame Liang" and "Come, My Beloved" to be deeply satisfying, and surprisingly sensual without being overt or base. That Pearl Buck was always supportive of the works of Sinclair Lewis endears her even more to me...:-) While I am not sure the novel-biography of Buck is worth reading, her novels should be far more read than they are in our current time.

Happy book review hunting...and good evening.

Mike Allen of Politico is the son of a Bircher?!

This knocked me out this morning.

Mike Allen, a leading political reporter for Politco on line, is the son of Gary Allen, the John Birch Society writer who wrote that Kissinger and the Rockefellers were secret Commies, among other ridiculous things. Gary Allen's "None Dare Call it Conspiracy" is a staple among the tin foil hat crowd on the right side of American politics (there is a left side to the tin foil hat crowd, too, as we know...).

Normally, I'd shrug my shoulders and say, "You don't visit the sins of the father on the son." But the shocking thing in the article is how Mike Allen covers up his father's activities and claims he does not know much about what his father did for a living, if at all.

That's like the Meeropol brothers saying they don't really know how it came to be that they were rendered orphans.

Come on, Mike, just come out of the closet. It's okay to say your Dad was a Bircher. He may well have been a great Dad, football coach for Pop Warner Football for kids, and such. Whether one is a Bircher or a LaRouchite, or a Communist, people are mostly individuals who could be wonderful or horrible on that individual basis. Some humanity would be in order if you were honest about it. Instead, covering up your Dad's political views says something far less than salutary about you...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Makes me want to up-Chuck

I had no idea NY Senator Chuck Schumer (D-Tel Aviv) was a Likudnik and long time Israel Uber Alles advocate. Read it and weep here.

Maybe Chuck needs to read this article by Yoel Marcus in Haaretz, entitled "Netanyahu isn't, and never will be, a true leader."

And maybe Schumer needs to recognize that because of the still very friendly prodding by the many Jewish advisers in the Obama administration, Netanyahu is slowly realizing he needs to start peace negotiations with the Palestinians. While I see Marcus' point that Netanyahu is not capable of leading his own conservative supporters in a "Nixon goes to China" scenario, Netanyahu can be taught to lead for his nation if led correctly by cooler heads, whether that be with the Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, or the Obama administration. Obama is not an enemy of Israel. Obama is simply the friend who would not let his own friend, Israel, drive drunk.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Obama administration imitates RFK administration on Middle East...

I have been told recently, "Your book is uncanny in describing how RFK runs afoul of the Israel lobby over pushing Israel to peace with the Egyptians. It's like what Obama is going through today!"

Well, not quite, since the Palestinians are not quite as devoted to peaceful relations with Israel as the Egyptians were in 1971 (and of course in 1977 when Sadat renewed peace efforts and was blunt in those statements in wanting to recognize Israel)--though there is clearly an opportunity that the Israelis are missing here, as anyone who regularly reads my blog (and Haaretz newspaper from Israel) would know.

Nonetheless, there is an eerie feeling I have rereading the following chapters or pages from my book as RFK navigates through the Israel lobbyists and Middle East politics. See: chapters 19 (pages 268-270), 24 (pages 357-384), 35 (pages 531-533), 40 (pages 599-602) of "A Disturbance of Fate."

Life imitates art. Yesterday's alternative history becomes today's actual history, at least in some ways...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Musing while reading a review of two books on the latest financial bubble and the government rescue of the banks

If you want to read a capsule summary of the financial meltdown and government rescue, here is the NY Times review by the excellent Daniel Gross.

If all the credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations do not remind anyone of a far more privitized South Sea Bubble, then more's the pity. And if we don't heed the analysis from this book on the Federal Banking laws, which laws served our nation well from 1934 to 1999 ("Slapped by the Invisible Hand: The Panic of 1907"), then we are doomed to further failures and even more accumulated government debt.

That modern Republican leaders are against any financial regulation that would work to avoid the madness of the last housing bubble is evidence of the hatred these leaders have for our nation's Commonweal. The irony is the proposals encompassing "financial regulatory reform" are merely those a moderate Republican would have endorsed decades ago as promoting stability in financial markets in order to allow for wealth to be created.

It's not like Obama agrees with my solution, which is the recreation of the national bank our Founders endorsed, but ensuring the bank served regular folks' interests, something admittedly unheard of in the history of our business-oriented civilization...God forbid a small business should get a low interest loan in this nation, right? Or individuals of modest income provided good interest on their savings that might cut the profits of some banking executive, right? Nah, that's socialism. And socialism is only for bankers when they stuff themselves too much and their financial bellies become too bloated.

Addendum Sunday night 4/18/10: Carmaig deForest explains the reality of who controls the game, while playing the ukulele.

A New Yorker Cartoon Explains Modern Libertarianism

Here. (Hat tip to Paul Krugman, whose most recent column was eerily prescient about this cartoon here).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Promoting Past Victimization to Oppress Others in the Present

One would think that a survivor of the Holocaust would be interested in ensuring truth when it comes to oppression or displacement of people in the present time. But when it comes to a player like Elie Wiesel, such an assumption would be mistaken.

This post by Bernard Avishai's wife, a resident of Jerusalem, challenges Wiesel's latest propaganda for Israeli hardliners relating to the political strife in Jerusalem. However, one should read the first two links in her post for background for her commentary.

Personally, as a history major and non-paid historian, I stand foursquare with Avishai's wife, Sidra Ezrahi, in saying that knowing the truth about the past should lead us to recognize the need for human kindness in the present. The present should not wallow in the miseries or recriminations that made the past so horrible or a failure. For those who say war is inevitable, so is peace inevitable after war. And for those who say Palestinian Arabs will never get along with Israeli Jews, let us recall those "realists" who said the Germans would never get along with the French or vice versa. And Southern whites in America would never get along with Southern blacks, certain modern Southern State Republican governors notwithstanding. Certainly blacks' lives in the American South are an improvement over where they were two generations ago. So time passes, and people can improve their sense of humanity towards each other. Having said that, it is not enough to say we have reached a satisfactory plateau. It is never enough to say that.

Elie Wiesel has reason to be ashamed, but again he is a player who is sadly more interested is promoting Jewish victimology in order to defend otherwise indefensible Israeli hardline policies.

Addendum 4/18/10: Another Israeli, Yossi Sarid, rips into Elie Wiesel's propaganda regarding Jerusalem.

Friday, April 16, 2010

J.K. Rowling explains a few things...

In the London Times, J.K. Rowling informs us she remains opposed to those who would undermine welfare payments for single parents and the poor. Her essay is nicely written and shows a remarkable understanding of the duties we owe each other in a society. I think she'd even be willing to pay higher taxes than she already pays. Kind of like Warren Buffett that way...

Well done, Ms. Rowling. Well done.

(Edited)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Poignant interview with retiring labor leader, Andy Stern

This is a poignant interview by Ezra Klein with Andy Stern, in multiple ways: on a personal level, policy level and a political level. Still, I found it compelling reading.

Something tells me Stern is leaving to allow his organization, the SEIU, to fully reintegrate with the AFL-CIO now that Rich Trumka is running that venerable organization.

Tough articles in Haaretz on Isareli military scandal

Here are two articles by journalist Gideon Levy in Haaretz on the military scandal that is unfortunately being seen in Israel as essentially a "spy" scandal. Here is an earlier post I wrote on the subject for those just catching up.

Haaretz has an interest in protecting its journalist who wrote the story, and sadly, less interest in protecting its source, the brave young woman Israeli soldier who was exposing how the Israeli military broke the rules of engagement and other laws of war as defined by the Israeli Supreme Court and legislative/executive enactments.

It is outrageous that this woman soldier may be sentenced to life in prison or worse executed for exposing a war crime. The people who should be fearing execution are those who perpetrated the crimes exposed, and the political leaders who countenanced these crimes. But, since when do we live in a just world?

Nonetheless, we as Americans (and especially American Jews) should speak up on this issue. I hope at least those who are not cowed by the Israel lobby will speak up on behalf of Haaretz, its reporter and especially the soldier.

Also, as a bonus, here is an example of illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank who uprooted trees planted by Palestinians. There is no sense the Israeli government will do anything to help these Palestinians who are merely attempting to work their own land. So tell me again how the Israeli government only wants peace...

Double bonus: There is some hope as some Palestinians are starting to find Ghandian principles to be useful. But will American and Israeli media cover such actions? We will see, but so far not likely...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Adventures in capitalism and other musings about California

So tell me, why is capitalism so important that it should be neither regulated--nor simply overridden when dealing with an important utility like water, electricity or oil?

See this article about the latest financial scam where scammers prey upon gullible religious people (a favorite pastime of such scammers) and this article about a couple who have obviously leveraged their growing economic power to control what should be public water resources in much of central California.

My sense of my Hebraic brethren in the water business, the Resnicks, is that unlike the Ponzi schemers, they are legitimate and good business people who are creative and very savvy. Heck, I'd definitely like them on a personal level, especially with Lynda Resnick being a friend of Daniel Ellsberg (read her Wiki bio on the link!). Also, I could frankly care less about protecting a smaller competitor of theirs who is likely not as efficient as the Resnicks' businesses are. The larger question, and one which unfortunately would get me tagged as a commie, is why the State does not simply and completely take over the operation of water reservoirs and sell directly to the businesses that want to sell bottled water to the public or sell water to farmers to grow their crops. Late in the article there is a brief discussion of a local water board that was essentially controlled by a private interests who the Resnicks ran roughshod over through litigation (Mr. Resnick started life as a power lawyer at one or more elite law firms). One can bet the disgruntled smaller private owners were running roughshod over their workers in a myriad of ways through that association. If we simply had the State own and control the water, regulate the sale of water and ensured the people who haul the water and work the fields are paid a decent wage, we'd actually see more efficiency in the distribution of water.

To put it another way, the Resnicks were simply smarter than the hick business owners who themselves ran the place like a feudal kingdom in such benighted towns like Bakersfield and into central California. The cute analogy here is the Resnicks were like Napoleon blowing apart various royalty in different parts of Europe, who simply never dealt with someone who played the same power game much better than they did.

But the basic public policy question may be stated this way: Why is it so important for the Resnicks to be billionaires to have any efficiency in the water business?

For decades now, corporate media have promoted the idea of California as a place of liberals, Hollywood and the arts, high-tech business and generally modern living. But at best that defines slivers of the coastal region of metropolitan areas. In fact, the land mass of California is much larger than that and the culture and politics is much more diverse (even if Republicans tend to win gubernatorial positions, and little else). The eastern part of the State is more like Nebraska, in terms of fields of wheat, water, fruit and vegetables, and ironically even more feudalistic--which explains the more ugly sort of right wing politics that bubble out of this eastern portion of the State. The reality is there an economic underside of California with deeply exploited workers, wide disparities in wealth and status, and other feudalistic economic patterns that mostly ignorant politicians and more intelligent, but scheming corporate media owners dress up as "Main Street" capitalism.

See "Factories in the Fields," by Carey McWilliams (a book first published in 1939, but amazingly relevant even today), "The Great Thirst: Californians and Water: A History" by Norris Hundley, Jr., "The King of California" (about a powerful businessman who controlled the CA cotton industry) by Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman, and "Strawberry Fields: Politics, Class & Work in California" by Miriam J. Wells, just for starters. A Nader funded book from decades ago, "The Politics of Land," (1973) led by now University of San Diego Law Professor Robert C. Fellmeth, provided an update and overview of the feudalism posing as merchant capitalism in California.

Overall, if California were to have a constitutional convention, a smart, creative and knowledgeable person might connect the dots in terms of wealth and power in the Staete, and translate it into structural reforms that produced more revenue and promoted economic equality that also led to economic growth (putting money in people's hands leads them to spend after all). But of course, that is a pipe dream...and (snickering starts here) Meg Whitman, who knows nothing about this structural history of the State (and could not be bothered with voting as opposed to buying politicians while at EBay) will surely lead us with her plans of capital gains tax cuts, selling off more state owned land for one time payoffs, and of course cutting "waste" in government, as if that last set of cuts buys any more than 5% at best.

Can Jerry Brown save us? Maybe. At least he knows what I am talking about here...particularly in his establishment of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) of 1975, which proceeded to get gutted with agribusiness appointees in succeeding Republican administrations in the State, but still improved the lives of agricultural workers from before 1975.

Funny, this was supposed to be a short post...:-)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Nicholas Nickelby soundtrack finally on YouTube!

One of my all time favorite soundtracks from the greatest film of the past decade: Listen to the soundtrack here.

I most ardently recommend the film...It is outstanding in its acting, screenplay, direction, cinematography, and of course, its musical score.

Inequality Chart from The Nation magazine

Nice to see such important information in one chart.

Outrageous to consider the chart represents the reality of the deep inequality that has returned in our nation.

I have placed the chart at the top of the blogroll for easy access in the future...

Saturday Afternoon Review of Book Reviews

The NY Times has two outstanding writers reviewing books this week:

1. Garry Wills reviews the new book by David Remnick on Barack Obama, and manages to still give us new insight into Obama, his life story and his meaning in our politics--and this moment in time.

2. Barbara Kingsolver, who may be the greatest American prose writer of our time, has the best review I've seen so far of biologist E.O. Wilson's intriguing and creative scientific novel, "Anthill." That Kingsolver began her adult career as a biologist made her the perfect reviewer for this book.

3. Peter Beinart, for whom I generally have very little respect, nonetheless penned a nice review of Ian Buruma's new book on the role of religion in North America and Western Europe.

Finally, in the Boston Globe, two succinct yet probing reviews:

1. Mark Grimsley, a military historian, on the American cultural response to American (Union) General U.S. Grant both in his time and over the next century thereafter.

2. And here is a sharp, penetrating review of British military historian, John Keegan's new book on the U.S. Civil War. The reviewer, Michael Kenney, often writes reviews for the Boston Globe, and is a person who reads far and wide.

Now, off to take a nap...a required nap according to both my wife and son. Sheesh!

More evidence of the criminal acts of Henry Kissinger

It is a testament to the power of the elite in our nation that Henry Kissinger is not in jail, or was not tried, convicted and executed for crimes against humanity.

Here we find evidence for one of Kissinger's smaller crimes, i.e. Kissinger's highly likely knowledge of and support for the murder of a former ambassador to the nation of Chile, and his American citizen girlfriend, both killed in the streets of Washington DC by foreign agents from the dictatorship then operating in Chile.

I found amusing the part of the article stating that just two years ago, Nixon's Secretary of State William Rogers, denied any knowledge by Kissinger of Operation Condor, but of course that was either a lie or just an example of ignorance by someone in a powerful position.

For those shocked by the first paragraph of this post, take a look at Christopher Hitchens' book on Kissinger, which mostly relied (quite well!) on earlier scholarly and journalistic works. And if you are not a book reader, then watch the film. The best journalistic account remains Sy Hersh's "The Price of Power" because he not only shows how Kissinger was a liar and a war criminal, but also how most of Kissinger's grand strategies failed either immediately or within a few years in Vietnam and Iran, or had longer lasting damage as in Kissinger fostering the U.S. government's tilt away from India and towards Pakistan. We can see how that tilt worked out for America and the world, can't we?

In addition, Hersh reveals how Nixon and Kissinger gave in to the Russians on various points of contention in the first strategic arms limitation talks for short term political gain during the 1972 re-election year for Nixon. See also this book by leading SALT negotiator Gerard Smith, who, in the restrained manner of a diplomat, nonetheless explained the political cynicism of both Nixon and Kissinger in first refusing to negotiate with the Russians regarding the issue of multiple re-entry (nuclear) vehicles (so-called MIRVs) during 1969 and 1970, and then, later undermining American diplomatic negotiation efforts by way of a back- channel with the late Anatoly Dobrynin--even going so far as to give in on a few issues the Russians were themselves ready to concede. There are few more detestable American statesmen in the past 100 years than Henry Kissinger.

Bernard Avishai on the military scandal in Israel

Some may say this is a "spy" sort of scandal, where a person inside the military leaked military information to a newspaper. In fact, as Bernard Avishai explains, this is a scandal for the Israeli military for violating official Israeli laws of military engagement in the occupied territories.

It may also be an Israeli version of the Pentagon Papers, as Avishai titles his post. But the most compelling point is made near the end of Avishai's post because it supports a point I made some time ago: Hawkish policies tend to be self-defeating. More simply, hawkish policies tend to make things worse while they ratchet up a rhetoric that makes it sound like they are most protective.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

What Harold says...

Harold Meyerson says it so I don't have to: Obama blew it with labor law reform.

The only thing I'd add, and that's because I am never going to be invited to any event where Obama is present, is that Obama never intended to keep that promise, and labor union leaders should have known that early on, too. Labor needs to be more careful who it supports this year and serve notice on Obama that if he wants support for his re-election, he better wake up and smell the coffee.

It is good labor unions are seeking to defeat the scorpion Blanche Lincoln (D?-No, R!-AK) in a primary election this year. More please. As Samuel Gompers memorably said a century ago: "Reward your friends and punish your enemies."

Monday, April 05, 2010

Scottie Pippen, Hall of Fame player and member of the Beatles

Scottie Pippen, among other greats like Karl Malone and Lakers' owner, Jerry Buss, are going into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

But of course, Pippen will be most remembered as one of the original members of The Beatles.

But wait! The Beatles were Irish, weren't they?

Seth Godin is pretty cool, but actually being a "lynchpin" is tough with a pre-existing medical condition--at least in the US

3 Quarks Daily has a great interview with Seth Godin, who has some interesting and sometimes compelling insights from his new book, "The Lynchpin."

I know I tend to make impacts wherever I go, and when I lose jobs or quit them, I do eventually get employed and bounce back (though this last bounce back was for 1/3rd less money...). Still, I live with the fear of losing medical benefits if I took a real risk with my creative writing or deciding to get my PhD in History or Literature when I have a significant pre-existing medical condition that insurers will not cover (and now they'll say "Yeah, we'll cover you...for $3,000 a month!"), and worse, how I would mess up the lives of my wife and children by putting them in an economically bad situation...That is the lizard in my brain yelling, "You need to survive, man!"

Oh well...There's always purchasing a lottery ticket, though I always forget to actually do even that.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Yeah, yeah, we're okay

7.2 earthquake hits northern Mexico. We shook, rattled and rolled. My daughter rolled her eyes and said, "What me, worry?" while we were yelling, "We're getting out of the house--NOW!" Still, no damage that we can see or notice. And a few aftershocks that are a bit unusual, but not so when considering the magnitude of the quake.

And of course, my wife, son and daughter, and the family dog are fine. We'll still take these shakes over hurricanes, tornadoes, and freezing cold...:-)

A heretical Jewish guy thinking about things on Easter

This Easter Sunday, for reasons I cannot explain, I am reminded of this wonderful episode of Davey & Goliath, a show I loved as a child and still think is worthwhile. My father's mother, my Grandmother Sylvia, died in November 1967, and we were fairly close. The episode, which is about Davey's Grandmother dying the Thursday before Easter, is about Davey learning about the Resurrection of Jesus, and the immortality of a person's soul. He is therefore able to process the idea of Easter beyond the pagan oriented Easter bunny and begin to deal with his grandmother's death. The episode first aired in April 1967 and it was an episode I definitely thought about when my grandmother died later that year, just before or during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Yes, yes, I have always been proud to be Jewish, and have never believed in Jesus' divinity, but I always loved Davey & Goliath, and always will.

Did Jews of the time kill Jesus? Some had conspired with the Romans, with the Romans doing the killing, but let's recall that Jesus was acquitted twice by the Jewish legal authority, the Sanhedrin, according to the amazingly prolific lawyer and writer, Marshall Houts. I read that book (and own what is obviously a rare copy) and found it not only fascinating, but compelling in its analysis.

Still, when asked by friendly Christians, "What do Jews do on Easter?" I do like to jokingly respond, "We hide." After they stop laughing, I will sometimes add: "I can see you all coming out to your cars in the church parking lot, muttering, 'Darn Jews...' So I figure, 'I'm staying home today and watch 'Easter Parade' or 'Harvey' like everyone else!"

I also have another irreverent thing I say, but I think it is too irreverent to be imprinted on the Internet! Better for a stand-up comic to say than me...

And for those who miss the Review of Book Reviews: Here is a review of a new book on the pagan and Jewish origins of Christianity that sounds somewhat intriguing...And here is a review that I found exasperating because I can't tell if the book, "Something Red," is as limiting in its focus on an important sociological subject (what makes activists activists?) as the review...In fact, I wish this reviewer (the musician John Wesley Harding) had reviewed "Something Red" because he is at least funny and sees the intersection between art and philosophy in a way that few seem to do--and that book about Buckminster Fuller and punk rock sounds hilarious...This review provides indirectly more evidence for us to despise the entire enterprise known as World War I. Count me in with Eugene Debs and Randolph Bourne on that war...Finally for the military history buffs, here is a gripping review of what sounds like a gripping novel (too much for my tastes, however) that helps explain the military insanity of the war in Vietnam, but probably not the political insanity of it. That is a topic for another day...

Happy Easter.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Conservative Crack-Up Continues

The conservative movement leaders continue to amaze with their utter ignorance of history.

I predict a short shelf life for the new Texas textbook guidelines as historians continue to analyze the guidelines.

The funniest whopper has got to be Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann's multiple manglings of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 (three years before FDR took office) as "Hoot-Smalley." I wonder if she was thinking of Al Franken as "Stuart Smalley".

But of course, I'm one of those (Joseph Schumpeter is too, as is this guy at SeekingAlpha.com) who does not think the Smoot-Hawley tariff had any significant impact one way or the other on the economic collapse that began in 1929--and earlier if you were a mine worker or farmer. Unfortunately, the key essay on this topic, by union leader Gus Tyler in the mid 1980s, is not on the web. Still, we are miles ahead of the level of discourse from the idiots like Bachmann and Amrey at this point...

A picture is worth a thousand words...or maybe it's just a picture

This is a well-written and fascinating article in the March 29, 2010 NY Times that provides a good side to historical revisionism, where one recognizes a larger reality and overcomes a mythology posing as an historical narrative.

The essence of the article is that Roman Vishniac's iconic photographs may not be what he claimed in his comments about when and where he took the photos, and only revealed the harsh side of Jewish life before the Holocaust ripped through and destroyed the Jewish communities in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

I have seen this book of photos and commentary by Roman Vishniac since the 1980s and have to say I believed the myth of perpetually virulent anti-Semitism against those communities, and the poverty of the communities, too. That Vishniac hung out with Robert Capa's brother--when we now know Robert Capa was either lying or incorrect as to the timing or location of one of his most iconic photographs--is not really discussed in the article, which may have been edited out for space purposes.

It is baffling, however, that Vishniac, after the Holocaust, would not want to show the Jewish community of Poland in all of its glory as well as despair, and show its confidence and not merely its fear. Such a wider scope of portrayal would have given more power to the way events unfolded, why all the Jews had not quickly escaped in the early stages of the hyper-Jew hatred that was unfolding toward its ultimate ferocity of the war in Europe in the early 1940s. We are left to suppose that, after the war, there was an overwhelming need to portray the European Jew as a weak and sometimes pathetically gentle victim--the Warsaw Ghetto uprising being the nearly singular example of resistance.

Still, one begins to understand the criticism the now retired American scholar Peter Novick has leveled at a player like Elie Wiesel, who wrote the Forward to at least one edition of Vishniac's iconic book. Wiesel's claim to fame is that he is a witness from that "vanished world." Yet, Wiesel plays up the mythological image of perpetual and pervasive poverty and anti-Semitism. What's now deeply ironic is Wiesel's opening statement in the Forward he wrote for Vishniac's book:

"A picture is worth a thousand words--or is it? In most cases, I would say: no, a poet's word is worth at least a thousand pictures."

He later says: "Sometimes I think I prefer the storyteller in him to the photographer."

Wiesel should be feeling a bit foolish since this article appeared.

A final comment: I wonder whether Vishniac's daughter's willingness to parse her father's untruths is due at least in part to her own anger at him as a less than supportive father and husband to her mother. That is nicely hinted at in the article without letting that sense consume the article.

(Edited)