Monday, May 31, 2010

What America needs...are a few good commies? Huh?

Chris Hedges was once a New York Times reporter who began reporting in El Salvador in 1983 as a so-called moderate about a year after the intrepid reporter, Raymond Bonner, was essentially fired at the behest of Reaganites. In other words, Hedges was not a rabble-rousing "red." But the divinity school training in Hedges finally had its effect by the time of the Iraq War II, and the Times not so politely forced Hedges out when he became too vociferous an opponent of that benighted war.

Today, Hedges published a highly provocative, but remarkable essay, "This country needs a few good communists," that deeply speaks to my sense of American history and politics.

If, however, I explained what he is saying in my own way, I would say this: Once liberals after World War II jettisoned the communist and socialist left from the political discourse through their support for the apparatus of anti-communism (loyalty oaths, discounting leftist politics and purging leftists from mainstream political organizations and especially unions), the liberals undermined their ability to present themselves as a truly moderating force, which they were and remain. Conservatives never jettison the far right-wing from the political discourse, and the conservatives won the battle of language and then policy, to the point where Obama passes a health insurance reform that is to the right of Nixon and even Republicans from 20 years ago, and people honestly and ignorantly believe it is "socialistic."

That's what Hedges is talking about, and why we need the good commies back, not the Stalinist hacks. We also need Michael Harrington back, but that's someone I'm not sure Hedges studied much. Harrington is such a lost icon, it is truly sad. I wish I could find on the Internet the quote from William Buckley, Jr., where he said late in his life that if he was a young Catholic man on a university campus today, the person he would most want to emulate would be Michael Harrington (This blog post from Harrington's son, Alex, comes close...). The profundity of that statement rivals Alan Greenspan's admission that his hero, Ayn Rand, was profoundly wrong about the way markets work.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Edmund Pettus Bridge meets the Gaza Strip

Maybe someone more enlightened can explain why this flotilla to Gaza is not like the walk across Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

The Palestinians may finally be starting to learn that civil disobedience, not terrorist bombings and suicide bombing attacks, is the way to fight the occupation.

And yes, the Israeli military sure is acting like Bull Connor and the Alabama State police...

Addendum 5/31/10: David Bernstein, in a contemplative mood, does a good job at showing the difference between the Selma march of the American civil rights movement of 1965 and this adventure of the Palestinians. He links to a Washington Post article which states a "short video clips broadcast on various television stations showed demonstrators clubbing the navy personnel with metal bar" and a Jerusalem Post article showing Hamas extremists managed to take control of one of the flotillas. Some Palestinians continue to not understand that the point of civil disobedience is to let yourself get beat up by the police when you are unarmed and are passive, not attacking. That creates the sympathy so that you are dying for peace, not more war. It's a tough thing I know I might have trouble with myself, but it sure beats the continuation of the 100 years' war.

Addendum II: 5/31/10: Amos Herel in Haaretz states the case very well here. The occupation of the West Bank and the blockade in Gaza remain the primary problem. Hamas is still divided, and the Netanyahu government continues to act with false bravado and recklessness.

Addendum III: 5/31/10 10:28 p.m. Somehow watching the video on the following link from Yediot Achronot, the Palestinians on the particular boat are not acting like the civil rights movement of John Lewis or Martin Luther King after all. I figure it will take about 24 hours before people start to see the situation is a bit more complicated, as usual with Arabs and Israelis. But again...Israel must end the occupation. Israel must end the embargo. It's time. Past time.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Worker strikes in China. Lovin' it.

Forget about Obama. Forget about Congress.

The workers are rising and striking in China. Good for them!

Compared to our idiot tea partiers, the workers in China at least know the issue is labor and capital, not illegal immigrants and homosexuals--or Muslims.

As I like to say, black or white, Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight, Hispanic or White, workers have more in common with each other than any of them do with their boss.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A libertarian thinks he writes a credo, when he has only written a screed

Terry Michael is a very silly man. He thinks this screed he wrote for is really putting it to folks like me. Read it and weep. The shorter Terry Michael:

"Waaah! Big government, stay away from my checkbook...and that other stuff, too."

And who is Mr. Michael? Mr. Michael is executive director for a non-profit think tank specializing in the preservation of conventional groupthink. And the location of the think tank? Washington, DC--the heart of military-financial-prison complex. Yup, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well with Mr. Michael, isn't it? Well, it is, in a way--the way P.T. Barnum saw entrepreneurial spirit...

Mr. Michael gets the cushy job and goes to cocktail parties and lectures, while espousing a theoretical world-view where he does not get to see much of the reality that arises from his world-view. He lives the American elite equivalent of a Communist apparatchik and in his screed, he gives us the American capitalist version of an apparatchik's paean to socialism.

I, of course, live in the for-profit private sector, and far too often live with the consequences of Mr. Michael's policy prescriptions. Where I live, I pray to God every day that I can hold my job, not suffer a stroke, and all the while pay through the nose to ensure I can continue to treat with my favorite cardiologist under a private PPO plan. And, what is worse is that Mr. Michael's "libertarian" solutions to the current smashed-up American economy would only make the actually existing world I live in even more harsh, more punishing and less humane. Give me Denmark, not Chile, if we're going to compare economic systems...

Mr. Michael has a fetish regarding the private sector and its role in society that is anchored more in theory than reality. Just once in awhile, I'd like to hear guys such as Mr. Michael tell me they have been part of private sector board room meetings where real business decisions are made. Just once in awhile, I'd like to hear how they witnessed decisions made in for-profit board rooms where people received raises or demotions or were terminated--or plants were opened or closed. Most of the "libertarians" who write for a living or who work at think tanks don't have a clue about such things. Most of these libertarians do not live in the real world, except as mandarins.

Personally, I never had any truck for communism, but I have long recognized that some individual communists in the United States put their lives on the line for American workers, southern black sharecroppers and the like in ways that were genuinely heroic in the Boorstin sense of the term. I am unaware of any heroic libertarians in our time or any time in the past 100 years who can compare to a communist labor organizer like Clyde Johnson, to take one example of a man I was privileged to know.

From a theoretical standpoint, I have always been more attracted to the mixed economies of Karl Polanyi and Michael Harrington. Even those theories, however, are too romantic for the complex place known as reality...But that is why I see libertarianism as merely a province of the arrested adolescent.

Now, please, don't get me wrong: I don't expect Mr. Michael to be any more convinced by my screed than I was by his. However, I at least recognize a screed when I write one.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Father Maciel scandal hits Pope John Paul II

Anna Guillermoprieto, a respected investigative journalist from the 1970s and 1980s in Latin American politics and history, has written a definitive article in the New York Review of Books on Father Maciel, a leading right wing Catholic priest who was as personally corrupt as anyone in the history of the Church these past 100 years.

The sexual abuse, lies and financial corruption that was Father Maciel is quite breathtaking. That his Legion of Christ group was and remains a powerful force inside the Church is a scandal on multiple levels. The next time anyone in media tries to say the scandal comes from Pope John XXIII's reforms later memorialized in what is called Vatican II, you need only say two words: Father Maciel.

When I think of how Pope John Paul II strongly supported the attacks on so-called liberation theologists in Latin America, who were truly doing Jesus' works of passion and compassion for the poor and downtrodden, and compare it to his abject fealty to Father Maciel, knowing what Father Maciel was up to, this corner of the international pedophile scandal is nothing short of horrible and disgusting.

And for those who want to deny the truth of the article by Guillermoprieto, here is an article on the Father Maciel scandal from the National Catholic Reporter. It is even more damning in how prominent American Catholic writers and US government officials covered up for Father Maciel when the allegations against Father Maciel and the Legion of Christ began to gain momentum in the late 1990s.

Bonus thought: One may want to see Father Maciel as similar in corruption to the "whiskey priest" in Graham Greene's brilliant novel, "The Power & The Glory" (1940), but of course Father Maciel had none of the grace nor the guilty conscience of that "whiskey priest"--and unfortunately, was not hounded by Mexican secular authorities as in that deeply gripping novel. Greene is one of my all time favorite authors, and I've read every one of his novels. "The Power & The Glory" is one of his greatest achievements, though I wondered then, and wonder now whether there was more justification than we might think in the secular Mexican government's attacks on the Catholic Church in the mid to late 1930s...

ADDENDUM 5/27/10: My uncle sent me this article about the excommunication of a nun who supported protecting the life of a woman who was pregnant--which shows again the Catholic Church hierarchy worships zygotes, but does not leave much room for kindness to the humans who are already born. My sincerest hope is that the Catholic Church undergoes a reformation that replaces these horrible leaders, and renews itself in a way that would make Pope John XXIII, the martyred clerics Bishop Oscar Romero and Father Rutilio Grande, and the editors of Commonweal proud. And the only way that will happen is if people within the Church speak up, speak out and speak with a voice that says they care about the institution, and believe the practical side of its mission is to recognize human complexity, human emotion and most of all, human kindness.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Outstanding review of Dickens' biographies

Robert Gottlieb has written an outstanding review of various biographies of Dickens, with special attention to the new Michael Slater biography of the writer who will have his bicentennial birthday in 2012.

I tend to think most writers' personal lives are not worth knowing, as they will ultimately disappoint in most instances. As Gore Vidal rightly states, and I paraphrase, the writer's importance should be what he or she writes, not how she lives when he or she is writing.

Gottlieb writes in a pre-feminist manner of phrasing, but nonetheless makes the case that Dickens was a cad to the women in his life. It is not a pretty picture that is drawn here, but it does provide us some interesting backstory for some of the novels. As a fan of Dickens' prose and subject matter, I have also personally found Dickens the man rather difficult to understand. Dickens' abject hatred of socialists, when his books scream for a social welfare state, is perhaps better understood after reading this article. It seems Dickens wanted to be a celebrity, and he knew that meant not being a socialist. Not much money in that position, he perhaps thought. That is not kind, however, and I'd like to be kind to a person who wrote so movingly about subjects and people I adore. Thus, I am left with Gottlieb's enigmatic ending regarding Dickens' life and thoughts.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Poll study in Israel finds denial is not just a river in Egypt

Here is the story.

Personally, the story suffers from too much extrapolation from short term data, and does not take into account other polling over the years showing a majority of parents of Israeli Jewish soldiers don't want to send their sons or daughters into the West Bank to protect messianic style Jewish settlers.

The most important "take away" though is that the Arabs are more flexible than we think, and the Israeli Jewish public may be less flexible than we think. That would help explain the imbroglio between Obama and Netanyahu and how Israel becomes more resistant to peace talks as the Arabs offer concessions.

The president of the AEI is not as smart as a 20 year old...

Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, is rather dumb. He really thinks he can justify the gross inequality of wealth now existing in the US by appealing to some shallow cultural theory about entrepreneurs. Over at Matt Yglesias' blog, a college student sets him straight.

Two thoughts also come to mind:

First, in the case of our Mr. Brooks (yes, that was an old television show reference), we are reminded of Upton Sinclair's famous point that one can never convince a man of something when his job depends upon his not believing it.

Second, there is this brilliant Twilight Zone episode about how people get ahead or not in society that might help the poor fellow, again the hapless Brooks, see past his own personal interest and realize how much hubris exists among the wealthy financiers who think they actually drill the holes, and do the difficult manual work of producing things.

Man, I'm still coughing up junk this morning....Good thing you can't see me live from here...:-(

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lee Siegel smacks down Paul Berman and dissects the isolation of intellectuals

This is an amazing review by Lee Siegel, in the NY Observer, of Paul Berman's new book "The Flight of the Intellectuals." The review deftly exposes Berman's terminal adolescent infatuation with "ideas," and provides us a historical context and analogy for that infatuation. (Hat tip to the blog known as "3 Quarks Daily" for the link)

Sigel's attack works on a different level than my attack on Berman when he maliciously libeled the late I.F. Stone. Siegel's attack on Berman is at once more personal and more devastating from a public policy perspective: Siegel is saying Berman is so isolated and so narrow as to be irrelevant and foolish.

I am also glad to read Siegel's historical argument regarding American Trotskyists of the 1930s and 1940s, because for many years, I have noted (in discussions with the few people I know who understand that era) that American Communists in the 1930s were often far more engaged than the Trotskyists and Socialists in positive acts of public domestic policy during that era, whether it was working as labor organizers, actively working (licking envelopes, organizing rallies, lobbying elected officials) to promote laws such as the federal minimum wage law, the eight hour day and the like. Of the Communists, Socialists and Trotskyists, the Trotskyists were most content to sit in cafes and argue about philosophical ideas, and largely avoid any substantive engagement in specific public policies.

Yes, it is true some American Communists of the 1930s were spies for a foreign government. Some American Communists of the 1930s were horrible people who cynically denied the existence of Stalin's murderous ways, or were in an angry sort of psychological (psychotic?) denial on the subject. But it is also true that most American Communists from that era were people of great humanitarian feeling, who stood for America's best values in terms of American domestic public policy issues, and were dedicated to making America stronger and better.

Nonetheless, and appropos of the title of the post, Paul Berman's crack-up is really sad, considering at one time he was really an engaged person, and his prose was sparkling with that engagement. And part of the reason I feel for Berman is that I personally feel my own historical antiquarianism and isolation developing, as my twelve year old daughter says, "Dad, you're always quoting people who are dead!" Plus, my son said my music rant last week was a sign of my impending old age more than anything else...I write this smiling, as he may be right, and certainly my daughter is correct that I do tend to quote historical figures more often than not...I "feel" the 1930s even though I was born in 1957, and to my daughter, even my birth year is positively ancient. When we think of the difference in time between 1835 and 1905, for example, we can see how antiquarian I can look to others when I discuss the 1930s in our time.

I also feel even more isolated from much of the corporate media discourse, though Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher remind me I am not alone in that feeling. Still, none of those comedians really count, and I am without sufficient money to attend swank fundraisers to personally meet and discuss specific public policies with candidates. Also, my time to engage in politics is limited as my time is already divided with my son for his Boy Scouts work (I was also the one to practice drive with him as he worked for--and secured--his driver's license), and the daily grind of ensuring both children get their homework done. Then, there is my engagement with work, and at the synagogue where I serve as president. I fell ill again in the middle of this week, and instead of resting this morning, I am reading and posting. My wife is yelling at me to stop--and rest. And she is correct, of course. So, I will rest. Sigh.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Who should replace Rand Paul on Meet the Press this weekend?

The Republican nominee for US Senator in Kentucky, Rand "Coward" Paul, canceled his appearance this coming Sunday on Meet the Press.

How about Grayson getting the nod instead, to talk about his "The War is Making You Poor" Act that Rand Paul's father (Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX)) has endorsed?

Or how about the Democratic Party's nominee for US Senate in Kentucky, Jack Conway, who it turns out received more votes than Rand Paul...Nah. That would make sense. And we must stop making sense whenever analyzing the acts or omissions of corporate media. Corporate media, same as it ever was...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Single Ballot Theory

Senator Arlen Specter (Himself-PA), author of the single bullet theory with regard to JFK's murder, has been defeated in the Senate Democratic Party primary in Pennsylvania this evening. Thank goodness. Specter was a phony "moderate" who was a reliable Republican vote as that party descended into madness on Capitol Hill. His attempt to convert to the Democratic Party was too little, too late, and outside of tonedeaf establishment figures, he was toast well before this vote today. Joe Sestak, the Democratic Party challenger who defeated Specter, should defeat wacko Pat Toomey in a race that will still be unfortunately somewhat close.

And hooray for Bill Holter, who stood up to the scorpion, Blanche Lincoln (More R than D-ARK), in Arkansas and forced her into a run-off she may well lose.

Finally, considering the Democratic Party candidate for the late John Murtha's (D-PA) seat in Pennsylvania, defeated a Republican in a special election (a race professional pundits thought would be a Republican win), I'd say there was good news pretty much all around for the Democratic Party wing of the Democratic Party.

The Democrats are winning I think because they may be weak and divided, but they at least stand for something. The Republicans in Congress and in leadership positions elsewhere have let their cynicism show too much, and the Tea Party people tend to be their wackiest people. When there is one vote to make, the Republicans may find they don't get that single vote this year--pretty much anywhere beyond their most loyal strongholds.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Is support for Israeli Likudniks bad for your liberalism as an American?

Peter Beinart apparently thinks so in this very important and compelling article in the newest NY Review of Books.

I don't know what's happening to Beinart. He's starting to grow balls. First, he pens a nice review of the new Ian Buruma book. But now, there's this article about the divergence between American liberalism and the American Zionist movement, and how even the Israeli liberals and left fret more than the official Zionist-American leaders about the danger to Israeli democratic values posed by the likes of the Likudniks and their further right wing minions.

For writing this article, Beinart can be expected to receive no more invites to many a cocktail party among the "national security" set in Washington DC. He might as well start getting used to hanging around with people like me...even though I have been strongly critical of him in the past.

Welcome aboard, Peter....Not a good career move, but certainly one where you can at least speak with more integrity than when you supported the Iraq War II adventure of the previous American leadership.

Timeless pop songs...

My son and I were speaking the other day about some songs that defined an era, either because of their sound or because of the artist who most famously performed it in a particular era. Then, there are songs that defy the era in which they appeared because they sound like they could be released today without anyone knowing they were released decades ago, and are simply not as widely known to most folks in what Gore Vidal calls the United States of Amnesia...

One song that strikes me as outside any particular time is "Angel of the Morning" by Merilee Rush. Released in 1969, it could be a hit today without anyone knowing it released then.

Another is Patsy Cline's "Crazy." The Youtube posting is haunting as it begins with a clip of Cline saying she hoped she'd be as talented at 83 years of age, when her life was cut down in a plane crash in 1963.

Here is "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams. It still packs a punch to even a computer era child raised on modern corporate radio.

And of course, this song sung by Blossom Deerie will always sell in Rhode Island...And this will always be a hit with chemistry students (despite more that have been discovered since it was written).

Good thing I'm not planning a trip to Israel...

The Netanyahu government has denied a visa to Noam Chomsky. Petulance, thy name is Netanyahu.

But not to be outdone, an individual Israeli legislative member from the Kadima Party does his best to equate the eighty-two year old, unarmed Chomsky with armed terrorists. The Kadima Party member is quoted in the initial linked article as follows:

Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, on the other hand, praised the move. "It's good that Israel did not allow one of its accusers to enter its territory," said Schneller. "I recommend [Chomsky] try one of the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt."

Of course, Schneller lives in a settlement in the West Bank. Using his sort of loose characterizations, may we call him a racist, oppressive fascist? For me, that's just too complicated. Let's just stick with this: Otniel, you're a putz.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Random acts of musical criminality in our culture

In honor of Jack Black's (language alert) infamous rant that included, "The top five musical crimes perpetrated by Stevie Wonder in the Eighties and Nineties", I must rant about a couple of examples of random acts of musical criminality, and then rant again about the debased state of our cultural elite--this time with feeling...

Here is one more ersatz hipster mythologist re-enforcing propaganda among the cultural elite that a particular Rolling Stones album ("Exile on Main Street") from 1972, which contained nothing really memorable, is supposedly "one of the greatest albums of all time."

News flash: Exile" is an album only stupid rock critics (redundancy noted) talk about, but nobody wants to listen to. The Rolling Stones have not put out anything of any value since the "Beggar's Banquet" album in 1968. They are a corporation posing as a rock band. You can't suck worse than the Rolling Stones have sucked in terms of worthwhile song output for the past forty years. People go to Rolling Stones concerts to see if one of them dies onstage and then sell the ticket stub for a million bucks on EBay.

And here is the latest shelf life of bread singing with a guy I like politically, but find terminally pedestrian musically, singing a song that is self-parodying, but which our cultural elite tells us is somehow a "classic."

Meanwhile, a neo-progressive rock band, Transatlantic, releases a compelling album and it falls unheard in the corporate radio cultural forest. Youtube provides tastes of the album, "Whirlwind", including here and here. My son dragged me to see Transatlantic in a small crowd of less than 300 in Los Angeles County last month, and I was absolutely knocked out by the amazing musical performance.

It continues to strike me how disconnected our cultural elite is from anything that even attempts to be intelligent in music these days. When Genesis was recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it was striking to watch Phish play Genesis's "Watcher of the Skies" and watch people in the audience like Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and other people who lead our culture, having no clue as to what they were hearing and watching. And one felt the defensiveness of Phish' lead vocalist in his induction speech about Genesis, where he finally says at the 5:39 mark of this link that most people in the room of the Hall of Fame had no idea of what he was talking about. He was being defensive when the people in that audience, representing rich and powerful cultural elites, should have been ashamed that they had never heard the Genesis album to which the Phish vocalist was referring.

It's not that I think we should hear only progressive rock on corporate radio. It's not that I think it's the only music to listen to. It's just that I become enraged when otherwise intelligent people--in the arts especially--start to sound like Sarah Palin when they discuss progressive rock, as if any rock music that uses counterpoint, creates complex time signatures or chord structures, or promotes virtuosity in music, is "pretentious" or somehow grounds for dismissive ridicule. The rock critics and others who attack progressive rock in this way are in fact channeling a Palinesque sensibility that says about someone who speaks or writes in a coherent manner, "Oh, you think you're so smart!"--as if being smart is a bad thing.

And yet our corporate capitalist cultural elite throw flowers at the feet of Lady Gaga while any musicians trying to stretch pop forms or play with any virtuosity are either ridiculed or ignored. Oh well. End of rant.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Obama: Never failing to miss an opportunity

Robert Kuttner explains here.

And Obama's nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court is the latest example of Obama's tone-deafness during an important political moment. Obama thinks we're supposed to get all excited about his nomination of "Pat" and have a big sideshow fight over homosexuality and military recruiters on college campuses, when we should really wonder whether Obama has nominated someone who will be a reluctant, but reliable fifth vote for government when it tortures people.

I'm not sure whether to fight against Kagan's nomination, or just let her twist in the wind to see if she survives the process...I mean, really, Mr. President. The Republicans are going to oppose every nominee you provide, so why not nominate someone who is truly understanding of our Founders' best values, and someone who is at least to the "judicial left" of the retiring Justice Stevens? The Republicans chose an activist right-winger, Alito, to replace O'Connor, and you pick someone to the right of Justice Stevens on an issue like executive branch authority to override the main criminal rights under the Bill of Rights?

TBogg says the left blogs are acting all uncool about this nomination, but I admit to being very disappointed with Obama's nomination of Kagan.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gloom and misery everywhere: Lena Horne has left us

Lena Horne passed away at age 92, and I still can't believe she was 92. She was never more than 50 in my mind, and was always vibrant, sharp and oh so beautiful.

Stormy Weather
will be watched and enjoyed in the year 2410--even by space aliens, who will swoon like so many of us did now and when she first sang it in the movies in the early 1940s.

But this rendition of "I've Got the World on a String" (with the amazing Phil Woods on sax)--which she sang when she was nearly 70--personally defined her for me. And of course, I remember this Lenny Bruce bit about the way in which sex messes up even racism, which famously cited Lena Horne...

Today, though, it feels like it's raining all the time...

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mothers' day: Not just a marketing campaign by greeting card companies

So says this article in

My Cousin Jenna also has another idea for celebrating Mothers' Day, courtesy of my Aunt Paula, who is Jenna's stepmom: Give money to a cause that promotes the safety and health of women.

Who knew that idea is more in keeping with the original spirit of Mothers' Day?

Now, to take my wife out after helping my son finish his fundraising letter for his Eagle Project...I wonder if she'll be okay with donating to Planned Parenthood or something similar?

Bonus comment: I also found compelling this article by writer Annie Lamont about Mothers' Day being potentially oppressive to those women who are not "Moms." There is some deeper pressure on women in our society than anything a man who is not married with children would feel on Father's Day. I can't articulate it in a way I would like at this point, but it is something I definitely feel and observe. Still, I wonder if Annie Lamont would feel a little better if she knew the original Mothers' Day was done to fight militarism...

Saturday, May 08, 2010

A new discussion of the October Surprise evidence from Russian archives...

For those too young to know, in the last months of the 1980 election campaign, the Reagan camp supposedly cut a deal with the Iranian government to assure the American hostages held in Tehran would not come home before the election of 1980, and if Reagan won, arms would be supplied to the Iranian government in its war against Iraq. The Russian government later issued an intelligence report confirming the deal occurred. It was provided to the American government in 1993, yet Congressional Democrat Lee Hamilton's (D-IN) now claims he never saw the report. And why is that significant? Because Hamilton issued a Congressional report around 1993 that debunked the accusation, which is discussed here, by journalist Robert Parry. Still, one should not rely on a Soviet government report to prove anything without corroborating evidence--though that does not stop those who see Americans as Soviet agents, does it?

When it comes to the subject of the October Surprise of 1980 involving Ronald Reagan's campaign and the Ayatollah of Iran, I have long believed it was at least reasonable to conclude, and likely probable that the Reagan campaign cut a deal with the Ayatollah to ship arms to Iran in exchange for freeing the American hostages held at the time in Iran. I mean, really, the hostages come home on Reagan's Inauguration Day, January 20, 1981, and Israel supplies arms to Iran at the same time--with not a whimper of protest from the US government?

And let's not forget that Reagan later shipped arms to Iran in exchange for freeing hostages in the so-called Iran-Contra scandals. The late Theodore Draper's book on the scandals, entitled "A Very Thin Line", remains the best book on the subject of the Iran-Contra scandals.

There is also precedent in the modern Republican campaign strategy book for such conduct. In 1968, it is fairly well established the Nixon campaign convinced President Thieu of South Vietnam not to accept any peace offers until after the US presidential election in November 1968.

Robert Parry, who is now unfortunately seen as a crank among polite elite journalists, is in fact an amazing reporter who simply followed up on leads that are dangerous to one's career in official Washington. He was at ground zero for the Iran-Contra scandals for first the Associated Press and then Newsweek. When he began to become interested in investigation the Reagan campaign's actions with Iran in 1980, his career suffered. While he was still riding somewhat high, he published a book, "Fooling America," which remains one of the best "been there, done that" journalist books of all time.

Parry's first book on the Reagan-Iran October Surprise, "Trick or Treason," was followed much later by "Secrecy & Privilege," which focuses on the Bush family dynasty, but deals with the October Surprise of 1980 as well.

Sometimes there are government-related conspiracies. It's a practical fact of life that they sometimes occur. A conspiracy, as I often quote from the law, is simply two or more people willing to engage and engaging in an illegal act. Under the law, a conspiracy does not require secrecy, though that obviously helps. But, does that mean, for example, that I should believe GW Bush and Cheney engineered what occurred on 9/11/2001? Certainly not. Popular Mechanics did the best job debunking the conspiracy theorists on that one, and really, the Bush/Cheney people were so damned incompetent, they could not have possibly run such an operation with any effectiveness.


They don't make Republicans like Hickle anymore...

They don't make Republicans like Walter Hickel anymore, especially not in Alaska.

Read about his life, which just ended at age 90, here. Too bad the obit does not really give a reader an idea of Hickel's book, "Who owns America?" published in 1971 following his termination from the Nixon administration as Interior Secretary. Here is Time Magazine's discussion of Hickel and his book back in 1971, addressing issues that are particularly relevant to our time:

"Who owns America? Hickel says that Americans do, but they do not realize it. They must cultivate a feeling of ownership for every public property, whether it be a city park, the Potomac River or the Grand Tetons. The problem is the feeling that anything that belongs to everyone belongs to no one. Hickel's answer is that ultimately it is the Federal Government that has to assume the responsibility. Says Hickel: 'The Federal Government has to care. It has an obligation of ownership to more than 200 million Americans. A perfect example of not owning and not caring is the whale. No one owns the ocean, so everyone goes out to exploit the whale. The same thing is true of public lands.' Moreover, to feel ownership, Americans need leadership. On close inspection, his definition of leadership is not far from his description of himself. 'If I have an obsession,' Hickel writes, 'it is always to be positive.' That also might be the book's chief failing, for he skips over many of the less impressive aspects of his tenure. There is not a hint that he was a poor administrator of the sprawling, 70,000-man Interior Department."

Rest in peace, Mr. Hickel. You were and will remain one of the good Republican public servants...

I should note the Time magazine snark at the end of the above quote is simply not fair to Hickel. He had to start from scratch an agency under his authority, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the laws and regulations were new, and often unwieldy. There was confusion as to whether and how to regulate the environment, which made things somewhat chaotic. Hickel ran into immediate political problems, being a Republican businessman and trying to balance business and environment to business people who were not yet attuned to accommodating the public interest in what their businesses spewed into the air or water, or how they used their land.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Bobblehead Translations watches so you don't have to

What is amazing about the translations like today's translation is that I pretty much can tell what was actually said without having seen it, yet this is far more enjoyable. Calling David Gregory "Fluffy" is sublime...

I added Bobblehead Translations to the blogroll a few weeks ago, and remain very glad I did!

Americans for Peace Now: Powerful op-ed about Jewish settler violence against Palestinians

This is a brave article, and the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles is to be highly commended for publishing it.

Conan O'Brien: Look in the mirror, bub

Conan O'Brien says he would not have done to Jay Leno what Leno did to him, which was to take back his show. No? Then, what did O'Brien think he was doing in accepting TBS' offer for a talk show, by pushing George Lopez out of the way? O'Brien is doing essentially the same thing. And for that matter, it was O'Brien who pushed Leno out of "The Tonight Show" job in the first place because O'Brien's threat several years ago was to leave NBC if he did not succeed to Leno's chair when Leno did not want to leave at the time.

O'Brien is a man of mediocre talent who is more about snark than anything else. He is overrated by a few coastal elites, but good for him that he can make millions in failing. Leno, on the other hand, is now consistently beating Letterman in the ratings (even as both shows' ratings have dipped), proving the NBC affiliates knew more about what works in late night television than the coastal suits.

If there is any true successor to Leno in terms of affability and humor, it is Craig Ferguson. My admittedly coastal-living uncle loves Ferguson and says Ferguson reminds him of our beloved Soupy Sales, the way Ferguson walks into the camera and gives you the feeling he is talking just with you. I would say that's true, but Ferguson is actually carrying an even more humane personna in the sense there is an "Aw shucks, I'm not sure I deserve to be here--or even in America," and that is the underlying endearment he brings to those who are looking for some humor and comfort as they go to bed late in the night.

And I must say the two clips of Ferguson I linked to are unusual in the subject matter for his show, but what I loved about them is his personal touch, and deep philosophical sense that puts him somewhat outside the usual "show biz" stereotype.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Inside a human rights observer organization, and the Middle East fishbowl

David Bernstein, who is an economic libertarian and a booster of Israeli military actions against Palestinians, is joyful about this article by a writer, Benjamin Birnbaum, in The New Republic about the internal political controversies at the Middle East desk of Human Rights Watch. He castigates various people who have been critical of Israel government officials in various ways for not responding to the article, presumably because he believes the article goes against the grain of such persons' political views regarding the on-going 100 Years Arab-Israeli War.

I personally stopped reading The New Republic long ago and only find out about articles there by way of others, like Bernstein. So no conspiracy of silence for me...:-)

Still, because I tend to hold critical views of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and support a Palestinian State in Gaza and the West Bank*, and because I knew TNR has long been a pro-Israeli occupation journal, I expected the article was going to be a hatchet job.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. I believe that certain sentences in the article aside, it was a well-balanced article that at least in part undermines the positions Bernstein himself has taken with respect to the organization. First, the article favorably lionizes the guy at the Human Rights Watch Middle East desk who was suspended after it was disclosed the guy had collected Nazi memorabilia. Bernstein, at the time, thought the guy was perfectly suited to the anti-Israel views of others at the Middle East desk. Funny, Bernstein does not mention his past castigation of the guy TNR thinks is actually quite fair about Israeli and Arab conduct.

Second, the article, while attacking the leading person at the Middle East desk at HRW, Sarah Lee Whitson, around the edges, actually reveals her to be fairly decent. I share her view of Norman Finkelstein as someone who is a solid scholar, but who is his own worst enemy because of his over-the-top rhetoric and quick trigger attacks on others' motivations. I also did not see all of the film, "Paradise Now," but my sense of the film, from the parts I saw on cable television, was that it was very tough on the mindset that causes people to become suicide bombers and showed how irrational we humans are--and sometimes even grimly funny. I saw one of the scenes where the girlfriend of one of the suicide bombers eloquently argues against the cycle of violence, and it was powerful against the stupidity of the boyfriend who was the would-be suicide bomber at the time. And I happen to think the Goldstone Report was really quite fair, especially for an official UN report.

Third, Bernstein, who has supported most everything the Israeli governments have said or done in the occupied territories over the years--from what I have read of his posts--ought to be humbled by the fact that Robert Bernstein, Sid Sheinberg and others are essentially restating liberal-left views of Israeli conduct. Their views are really not really so far from the Middle East desk of the Human Rights Watch as even the author of the article may believe.

Contrary to the implication of Bernstein's piece, this article should not change one iota the views of most of the people he cites (nor my own) on the 100 years war of Arab and Jew. For me, the article actually re-enforced my world view and view of that on-going war. The perhaps "dirty truths" in the article, e.g. (1) it is easier to cover and criticize Israel than Iran because Israel is a more open nation, (2) cowardly Boards of Directors of non-governmental organizations are, like their government and business counterparts, often afraid to confront their day-to-day operations managers, and more particularly (3) HRW fails to criticize Hamas and non-governmental terror groups with the same level of vehemence (there are more often press releases and pamphlets attacking Hamas' conduct and more full scale reports on Israeli conduct), are important for the context in which the Human Rights Watch is operating and reporting. I hope the article gets legs and helps HRW refine its operations and reporting in the often difficult Middle East region. The Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians does undermine the sympathy it should normally get as an oppressed people. That needs to be more directly recognized. Otherwise, Israel remains an occupying force in the West Bank, and further Israeli leaders need to recognize now is the time to talk peace if there was ever a time.

* I did, to the chagrin to some of my very few readers, support the Israeli military action in Gaza in late December 2008 and early 2009. I thought then, and think now, that no nation on earth would or should accept the number of rockets being fired into its communities from across that nation's borders that the Israelis endured. The fact the rockets mostly missed their targets does not change the formulation since that is more due to incompetence than intent. And considering the very few rockets that have been launched against Israel since, and Hamas actually taking some action against the splinter groups that were largely responsible for those rocket attacks, the Israeli actions during that war remain in my view very appropriate.