Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Babbitt spies

This story about the Russian spies is fascinating. The female spy who is receiving the most initial media coverage strikes me as a Babbitt type, selling her sex appeal and real estate, and speaking with that sort of Republican-supporting businessperson immigrant tone about America being the land of opportunity where you can meet a venture capitalist at a cocktail party.

The spying part is consistent with the capitalist ethos of having, well, no ethos except the exultation of money and lust for power. I guess that's an "ideology"...

Still, in essence, it's kind of like the Walker case with just a touch of Christine Keeler...And here's a question worth asking but so rarely asked, what did the Russians really gain here with all this spying? I doubt they got much if anything out of it.

Even, during the Cold War between the US and Soviet Russia, when the Russian Commies had infiltrated the CIA into its top operative levels, the spying ultimately brought the Russians nothing--and their Communist regime collapsed all the same.

Spying is so ridiculously overrated, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan learned much too late in his life.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hurry now to the "America's going out of business sale!"

Paul Krugman explains why we are in a Depression.

Every time I see a sale of something, whether it's fast food for a buck, or 80% off clothes or some product, I now say, "This is just part of the 'America's going out of business sale!'"

And while right wingers may fret about immigrants, I say, "We as a nation don't make or build anything anymore. That's the real problem." And give right wingers credit. When you say that, they nod their heads in agreement. I guess that's why even Tea Party people see what I'm talking about, which ought to give some pause to business people who want to bankroll them...But I don't get as excited about that possibility because these same people cower at corporate power and are easily seduced into thinking that giving more tax breaks to corporate executives and corporations are the "real" solutions.

We may, however, be entering a Weimar Moment if Krugman and folks like me are correct that we may be in a long depressive economic period. Chomsky seems to think so, and he's really never spoken like that in the four decades of his writing. The point is that if we abandon Obama, it does get worse. Yet, it will continue to be bad economically because of Obama's defective policy beliefs that support bankers over people, and corporate executives over workers.

Enough. Off to work.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sweet Thursday's "Gilbert Street" on YouTube!

YouTube provides us one of the great unknown, but defining songs of late 1960s British culture, "Gilbert Street," by the first true supergroup of session men in the rock scene (before Toto burst on the scene in the 1970s), Sweet Thursday.

Yes, the name was taken from the John Steinbeck's sequel book to "Cannery Row." I loved both books, as I loved most of Steinbeck's works.*

But back to "Gilbert Street":

On a Sunday afternoon in the early 1970s in the NY Metropolitan area, one would often hear the song, and its ubiquitous chorus, "Get your ticket on the Central Line..." wafting through the radios of teens and college students listening to the progressive rock radio station, WNEW-FM (102.7 on the radio dial at the time)--myself definitely included. Legendary disc jockey Pete Fornatale would play it nearly weekly for awhile, as we would call the station to ask for it to be played. We did so because the album was almost impossible to find--and that was because the record company which released the album in the late 1960s had gone out of business. It took years for the album to get legally untangled and re-released. Memory serves I was able to get a copy of the album on another label by late 1974 or thereabouts. Another copy of that vinyl vesion of the record is currently available on Amazon, not so surprisingly, I guess...

* Please don't waste your time reading "East of Eden" (1952), unless you have to read it for a high-school or college assignment. Oprah did our nation a cultural disservice by pushing that book in her Book Club. I highly doubt she read the book, and most likely only saw the film. Steinbeck did intend to make "East of Eden" his magna opus for the people of Salinas and thereabouts, but after reading most of Steinbeck's books, "East of Eden" is a book where Steinbeck was trying too hard. The key Steinbeck book that captures the spirit of those Americans who came west to Salinas is "To a God Unknown" (1933). I also highly recommend "Pastures of Heaven" (1932), which brilliantly weaves different stories of people in the region in a structure that was unusual for its time and definitely understandable for those living on the Internet in the 21st Century. A reader who reads these two works will then truly appreciate the trilogy of "Tortilla Flat" (1935), "Cannery Row" (1945) and "Sweet Thursday" (1954). Still, any one of these Steinbeck books is eminently enjoyable on its own terms. Plus, "East of Eden" is a tome that frankly does not impart much knowledge compared to these other books.

Some useful facts to know at the Fourth of July Gatherings This Year

Media Matters has compiled a Myth v. Facts list on the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. One does not have to endorse every point Media Matters makes. However, it is highly useful to throw out when some right wing blowhard starts spewing right-wing corporate propaganda.

Nonetheless, my personal advice is don't get drawn into a larger argument with such persons. Just do a quick hit, and do your best to change the subject. On the other hand, if the right-wing blowhard says, "Well, they're all bad," a common defense from such folks, you just smile and say firmly, "Yes, but some are worse than others, and you know, a few are very good public servants."

There was at least one Media Matters factual response that made me wince a bit. This concerned the Media Matters point that the Cheney-Bush administration had, through regulations and attrition, gutted the Minerals Management Service ("MMS"). One can still say Obama had over a year in office to even begin to do something about it, and somebody high enough in the Obama administration must have noticed how the Cheney-Bush administration had gutted the MMS. Surely one of the union leaders covering that service would have said something to Ken Salazar or one of Obama's top advisers.

But your Republican picnic or bar-b-que cohort is not in the clear in this criticism because this only proves Obama is not a Socialist-Muslim, but has in many ways continued the policies of his right-wing corporate predecessor. Just as Obama relies on Secretary of War/Defense Gates, General Prataeus, expanded the War in Afghanistan and still supports rendition to nations which torture people, and supports assassinating American citizens.

Again, just make a few sharp verbal jabs and, well, it's back to a discussion of family events, sports and the general talk that makes such gatherings a welcome break. I know I am devastating to most right-wingers who want to push their talking points at such gatherings. As Walter Brennan memorably said in the underrated t.v. Western from the 1960s, "The Guns of Will Sonnett": "No brag, just fact."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Devastating review of Hitchens' memoir by Ian Buruma in NYRB

One can quibble here and there, but Ian Buruma nails Christopher Hitchens in a way that reminds me of Irving Howe's famous quip: "Those who attack me from the left eventually end up attacking me from the right."

There is much truth that the personality traits that one puts up with among certain leftists like Hitchens, the personal invective and the glorification of violence in revolutionary forms, reveal themselves even more fully when such leftists turn to the right side of the political ledger. One thinks of David Horowtiz as a late 20th Century example, or Max Eastman before him. Rather pathetic fellows, really.

Buruma should be publicly thanked for saving us the trouble of even thinking about reading Hitchens' memoir. I did glance through the index at our local bookstore, and looked up citations to Gore Vidal. After seeing how horribly Hitchens treated Vidal, that was enough for me. Buruma now confirms it.

Hopeful news in peaceful demonstrations among Jews and Arabs in East Jerusalem

Read it here.

Sheikh Jarrah could become Ground Zero for a bi-national (Arab and Israeli Jewish) civil disobedience movement. It's possible, but it faces a daunting challenge as did those first steps of the civil rights movement after the US Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Bd. of Education in 1954.

Sober review of Bill McKibben's new alarmist book

I like Bill McKibben. I just think he needs a little perspective sometimes. Ronald Bailey, who has found perspective far more than one would expect from where he started a decade or so ago, pretty much nails it in this review of McKibben's new book.

My only caveat is Bailey's endorsement of nuclear energy. I think that's a fool's errand, and frankly too dangerous. I still stay with old Dr. Sternglass' analysis of infant mortality rates and overall cancer/leukemia rates at American nuclear power plants. I have never found anything even on the Web that explains why France may be different in this regard, though...

And I must say it is amusing read a writer in a libertarian magazine who says the reason for declining fish catches is due to too much economic liberty, and that he can only imply international government regulation as a public policy solution (it's in the last sentence of the fourth from last paragraph of his review).

In McKibben's defense, I have no doubt he was told by publishers and marketers, "Make it sound like an immediate crisis and you'll get your message across to a far larger audience in the media." That's how life works, doesn't it? Again, that's why I like Bill McKibben. He sees the problem, he has thought about solutions that are reasonably practical, and he is subject to change based upon further analysis of data and comparing alternative solutions in the give and take of policy making. So is Ronald Bailey, I firmly believe.

Friday, June 25, 2010

There comes a time when the operation of the machine...

David Kipen, who I have been privileged to have met a couple of times over the years, has written a critical, but important review of a relatively new biography of Mario Savio by the great historian Robert Cohen.

Savio's famous speech, almost spontaneous in its tone and content, in December 1964 should be recited by every teenager in America the way teens used to recite the Gettysburg Address. But of course, Savio's point was that nobody should be told to say anything. Zen, is that the sound of one hand clapping?

Here is Savio's speech from the wonderful YouTube (though Kipen does not seem to think it is so wonderful...).

Cohen, by the way, wrote the outstanding book, "When the Old Left was Young" seventeen (!) years ago. I have a first edition which I purchased when it was released, and I devoured that book with a joy I still think of with pleasure today. Kipen obviously wanted to love the Savio bio, and I think Kipen is correct if Cohen consciously avoided the personal struggles of Savio throughout his life.

I actually met Mario Savio once--in the late 1980s. Savio was a friend of a friend of my uncle's and he was rather shy about my meeting him because he was told I had memorized that portion of his famous speech above back when I was a teenager. It was, unfortunately, just that sort of adoration that drove Savio mentally over the brink in the late 1960s. My uncle's friend, who was the chair of the Math Department at the University of Sonoma, later hired Savio as an associate professor (Mario only had an MA in Physics). Soon, Savio stunned the at-first-skeptical colleagues and administration with his enthusiasm for teaching and his brilliance in high mathematics. When Savio died suddenly of a heart attack at age 54, there was much sadness throughout the campus and immediate community--and of course, among those on the left side of the political ledger throughout not merely our nation, but our planet.

"There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious..." Yes, we know those times. They occur more than we want to admit, and this week especially, when Republicans and a few ridiculous Democrats denied unemployment benefits to unemployed people, and when there is more worry about a deficit in government revenue than providing people with jobs to rebuild our nation.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Garry Wills tells us most of what we need to know about McCrystal and Afghanistan

See this blog post at the New York Review of Books. Wills nails it. You can have three times the troops, and still we'd be waist deep in the big rice paddy (apologies to Pete Seeger).

The gossip is mostly what drove this story unfortunately--which is all most political pundits and reporters in corporate television know how to do anyway...

Meanwhile, Roy Zimmerman gives us another profound insight through song...Who will be the last man to die for this ridiculous war?

Monday, June 21, 2010

A great fugitive slave story from The Smithsonian

Here is a great fugitive slave story from The Smithsonian magazine. The only important thing missing from the article is the reason why the Crafts had to flee to England in 1850: The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 allowed slave owners to go into "Free" States and take back their "Property" that had "escaped."

Whenever I hear about "States' Rights" and the Traitors--I mean Confederacy--I laugh. Throughout the 1850s, these same political leaders, starting with Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis--later "President" Davis under the Confederacy--were supportive of Federal power over the States through the Fugitive Slave Act, which was part of the Compromise of 1850. These largely Southern politicians were all in favor of the federal government's power over basic civil liberties in the States at that time. It was only when Lincoln was elected in 1860 that they began to worry about "States' Rights". But the real issue in the 1850s and at the start of the Civil War that followed the Southern States seceding from the Union was one issue: Slavery.

As the Confederacy's Vice President, Alexander Stephens (formerly a Congressman from Georgia before the Civil War) bluntly said in his so-called "Cornerstone" speech in March of 1861:

(Jefferson's) ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. ... Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner–stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.

And here is President Jefferson Davis' war message to his fellow Confederates on April 29, 1861. Nowhere is States' Rights mentioned. It is all about slavery.

But of course, try telling that to someone in a pick up truck with a Confederate flag on it...As I have said, the failure of the US Government to execute the traitors after the Civil War is one of our nation's leaders' greatest errors. They allowed a lie to grow up about "states' rights" and gave succor to traitors and to treason of the worst kind.

So who's running the country?

There have been a couple of telling phrases coming out of elitists these days:

The "small people" is what a high ranking officer of BP called the people living in the Gulf region.

The "lesser people" is what former Senator Alan Simpson (R squared-WY) called people who are or may one day live to be able to collect Social Security. (An aside: He's another old coot who reminds us of Joad Cressbeckler).

Such talk about "small" or "lesser" people is a cultural consequence of the vast inequality that we've lived through in this second Gilded Age. The rich and their toadies like Simpson are simply above us all. However, such talk also reminds me of this (start at 34 seconds in) Smothers Brothers routine about the amount of clothes people wear as an explanation of American politics.

(LINK FIXED FOR SMOTHERS BROTHERS ROUTINE)

ADDENDUM 6/23/10: Los Angeles Times business columnist Mike Hiltzik explains to idiots like Alan Simpson (Homer's father?) that the people who created Social Security knew people made it past 70 way back in the 1930s.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Balanced budget fetishists don't know how to build a nation

I have been increasingly frustrated with the arguments from those who think we have to worry at this time about the build up of debt and the deficits in our nation's government. Here is a summary of the competing sides, where I of course see more wisdom in the side Paul Krugman is on.

The reason the deficit and debt fetishists are wrong is not because debt or deficits are good. They are not. It's just that the best way for America to get out of its current deficits and reduce its trillions in debt is to rebuild the nation from within. An infrastructure investment program will immediately employ tens of millions of low-skilled workers. That will bring back more in government revenue as it stimulates consumer spending and expands business opportunities generally.

Further, a labor law reform that allows workers to more easily form labor unions, in order to ensure the wealthiest interests don't eat up most gains in income, also increases consumer spending, and again expands further business opportunities.

Finally, a tariff policy that is geared to taxing those products that come from nations that horribly exploit their workers (China is still there, but these two articles fill me with some hope that China may begin to treat its workers better), will allow for the recreation of industry in America. If you think environmental regulations will stop the latter, I have a proposal: We build the new factories with the latest green technology--that's a win-win--and we build in the mid-west, south mid-west and other areas that have seen terrible de-population from the mechanization of agriculture over the past 60 years. We restore the population balances among the states with new union workers--which will be a win for progressive causes and is why our political system is so opposed to what I am saying...:-)
____________________

So, you see the solutions above are actually pro-America from a nation-sustaining and nation-rebuilding perspective. However, because these policies might actually help most Americans' economic conditions, these solutions are simply not on the table nor do they receive any significant respect in our corporate media discourse. The pundits in corporate media and the idiot economists in most economics departments of universities either don't understand what I'm talking about, think my views are antiquarian (quaint, really) or reactionary in terms of tariffs. When I say these things, I love saying to people, "So am I a liberal or conservative when I say these things?" and nearly every time, they stammer because they just don't know. We are all so conditioned to think about "liberal" and "conservative" in cultural issue terms, which is again where our economic elite which includes Obama as much as Gingrich really want us to think--as it keeps us from making decisions that will take any money away from the economic elite who control our political leaders.

Mark Kleiman thinks folks like me are too harsh on Obama. Sorry, Mark. I don't even have to get into the fact that Obama has Bush II's Defense Secretary and General Petraeus, or that he is supporting rendition and torture, or that he is more interested in plugging leaks about military and civil liberties abuses than plugging the leak in the Gulf of Mexico. On basic economics, he stands foursquare with the corporate economic elite in our nation, and against unions and against workers' economic interests.

Where Kleiman is really wrong is when he says that Obama is a "Hamiltonian at heart." Unlike Obama, Hamilton knew that the fundamental issue is nation-building and nation-sustaining. He would have seen the practicality of the solutions posed above at this juncture in American history. Hamilton never took a dime when other congressmen and people like Jefferson saw nothing wrong with making money off inside knowledge of government policies. Hamilton supported the assumption of debt for the larger goal of building up the nation's credit and trying to start domestic manufacturing--at a time when there were few guilds, let alone labor unions, and most people were into subsistence farming. To not see how Hamilton would have applauded the New Deal is to fail to understand the man. Kleiman has obviously not read Ron Chernow's biography of Hamilton or simply failed to grasp the essence of the book.

Yes, I thank God every day that McCain/Palin are not the executives leading our nation and I am deeply saddened at the nutcases that roam the leadership of the Republican Party in general. But if I can't be critical of a president who is to the right of Eisenhower, then what's the point of having a political discourse? Also, why is it that true, practical and-time tested solutions as the ones posed above are not allowed into the political conversation? If we don't speak about these solutions, they will never get discussed from on high. If that is critical of Obama, then so be it. Now is a serious time. The deficits and debt will become important and devastating at some point, and that is why these solutions posed above are important to talk about, and begin to implement now.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Francis Plante...on YouTube? Yes indeed!

I was speaking with a congregant at my synagogue today who is an excellent pianist and a wonderful fellow. We started talking about the phenomenon that is YouTube, and how many amazing recordings are on it.

He told me about Francis Plante, and listening tonight, I am suitably amazed. Here are two examples of Plante on YouTube. What is amazing is that YouTube has only been around for a bit over five years, and it has become an indelible part of our early 21st Century culture.

Plante was Glenn Gould's spiritual ancestor...with more eccentricity than Plante, but still a similar sense of showmanship and technique.

The Realist Archive on the web. Outstanding!

One of the great satirical magazines of all time is now being archived on the web.

The Realist, edited by Paul Krassner, began in the late 1950s and took us through the 1960s and beyond. There were sightings and a rebirth in the 1980s, but then it faded away. Still, its legacy is in The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert's Colbert Report in combining satirical wit with some very serious discussion.

A cautionary tale about sowing seeds of dissension...

Here is an interesting and sometimes riveting cautionary tale of the early days of the Cold War against Communist China.

One of the things that struck me about the article was that the CIA did not seem to learn this lesson when it undertook the Bay of Pigs operation in 1960-1961. If there is a successful revolution, an outside power is highly unlikely to be able to overthrow it without the full support of the military inside that nation.

The other thing that struck me is the amount of lies the US government told the public along the way. We as a people simply don't realize how much our government leaders have lied to the public. It doesn't mean every conspiracy theory is true. It just means what I just said. Our government leaders lie. The take-away is simply to ask questions and be vigilant in seeking out diverse sources of information.

Latest exhibit in support of a steep and broader estate tax

See this Wall St. Journal article about the caprice and greed of families with too much money. The Posners were and appear to remain people who have trouble understanding the virtue of being law-abiding--and have to rely upon other people who in turn share their twilight values.

Andrew Carnegie
and President Theodore Roosevelt understood the reason for an inheritance tax. And every conservative who rails against the so-called "dependency of welfare" should be in favor of a steep and broad-based inheritance tax even more than a socialist. But really, most conservatives are boot-lickers of rich people and corporations, aren't they?

Just ask a conservative or libertarian how they square their anger about a few dollars a month to welfare recipients creating "dependency" with their support for ne'er-do-wells or people who are in the "lucky sperm club" inheriting millions and millions of dollars. "It's the donor's money!" is all they can say, not realizing that response does not support their argument that welfare money breeds irresponsibility.

Anyway, I wonder if Gail Posner, in one of her drug-addled moments, watched the film, "Rhubarb" to come up with her idea of leaving her millions of unearned money to her dogs? Still, it's one of my favorite films, as it is really a love letter to the wacky, superstitious side of baseball, and particularly the Brooklyn Dodgers, amidst the screwball romance comedy.

(Edited)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Greatest victory in Los Angeles Lakers' history

The Lakers found their grit. They found their heart. And coming back from 13 points behind, they won it all.

And let's say it out loud: RON EFFING AR-TEST!

After all the Boston Celtics backbreaking, heartbreaking victories against the Lakers in the 1960s, Jerry West...I hope you're smiling.

ADDENDUM early morning June 18, 2010: Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times gets it right about the sweetness of this particular championship victory.

But as the lights fade from cameras' glare, I find myself still saying, "Let Phil Jackson retire--or even go to the Chicago Bulls with LaBron James." TJ Simers of the Los Angeles Times disagrees. However, what Simers missed is that, after the game, not one player gave any specific credit to Jackson. The person each player, including Kobe Bryant, said gave them inspiration was Derek Fisher. Fish has been the true coach, doing what Doc Rivers did for a Celtics team that was older than they let on, and more brittle than they let on. That's what a coach does. What's interesting is that Simers knows we fans will be talking about keeping both Fish and Farmar. The key is retaining Fish and giving him the summer off, and even the first month of the season off. Retaining his legs for the playoffs next year is key right now.

The most powerful human moments after the game came from Ron Artest. The man was positively giddy, as he deserved to be, and yet he opened up in the most of humble and poignant of ways. His comments about feeling like a coward for the way he messed up while playing with the Indiana Pacers (and how he ended up leaving there), his psychiatrist helping him believe in himself for a big game--something he was not able to do before, he said--and that now, he was going to "the club" to celebrate. What was strange was his saying this in front of his children, siblings and mother. Something tells me he was taking them along...though his youngest girl looked like she would rather go to sleep as he gathered them around him for the post-game press conference. Funniest moment from Artest: "Kobe gave me the ball!" he shouted three or more times during post-game interviews. "He is the Zen master," he explained. "He's in your ear when he's not talking. 'Don't shoot, Ron,' he was saying." Then, Artest smiled a defiant adolescent smile, and said, "I'm shootin' anyway, and it went in. Yeah!"

The toughest moment after the game? When Kobe showed he never forgets a grudge. When asked to talk about the victory, and what it meant, the first thing he said was, "Now I've got one more than Shaq." Really, Kobe? That was what was driving you? That is too much negative energy, which explains the 15 rebounds, and difficulty shooting, I must say. Anger does not help your shooting. It does help on defense, and that is how the Lakers won. That comment showed why Kobe is the toughest competitor in the game today. What Kobe resented about Shaq was that Shaq was not obsessed about conditioning, playing through injuries and continuing to practice, practice, practice the way Kobe does. Kobe plays this game with even greater intensity than Jerry West did (though West had a far better relationship with the press than Kobe has had), as I read in the great biography linked to in the early portion of the post last night. I just completed reading the West biography, by Roland Lazenby. It was an amazing book to read as it captures West's heart and mental toughness, and the pain of being on the losing team of a big game, as good or better than any sports biography I've read.

The Lazenby book also explains best why those Laker teams fell to the Celtics teams in the 1960s. And it leads back to the point about Phil Jackson. The Lakers were outcoached nearly every time. The Celtics played team basketball, while the Lakers' coach, Fred Schaus, set plays each time for Baylor and West, and largely forgot about the rest of the team on offense. The Celts realized that playing five against two gave them advantages throughout the Finals series. And they capitalized on it. Then, when breaks and luck came, they were ready to take advantage of it. The Lakers lost two Game 7s to the Celts during Schaus' time, and then a third one on the Lakers' home court in 1969 when, as West and even the Celts admitted, the Lakers should have prevailed. If last night did anything, it left the Celts for the first time wondering, "How did those guys beat us?"

Wow. Look at all that commentary. Chomsky is right: Spectator sports do crowd out our minds...If only people could speak about public policy the way we speak about the intricacies of sports...Got to get ready for work!

(Edited)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The sociology of media pundits and reporters

Journalism professor, and sometime political pundit, Jay Rosen, tries to provide a sociological understanding of reporters and pundits in corporate owned media. He comes closer than many in the corporate owned media to understanding that sociology, but ultimately obscures rather than illuminates.

My comment in the comment thread is here. And I reprint it for MF Blog readers:

Here's the formulation I use for corporate media pundits and reporters: The pundits and reporters tend to be (obviously not much past the majority) socially more liberal than people who live in a southern State. They tend to be more economically conservative than most Americans. On issues of science, they tend to be...dumb.

In other words, they have the political and philosophical views of Jack Welch and any number of corporate executives around the nation.

These people are also acutely aware of what their bosses want, and so fit the profile of middle management of a large corporation. They need no real direction, other than an indirect reminder from time to time.

This leads them to the Narrative that more often supports Republicans ("It's rarely a bad day for Republicans"), the horse-race (which nicely and deftly takes out issues affecting real people), he said/she said (which undermines any true understanding of an issue, or who is telling something quaintly known as the Truth), and defining one's political views more by cultural hot-button issues than economic ones (which is how Clinton and Obama, who despise labor unions, get to be called "liberal"). And on top of that, because most were "Communications" majors, or increasingly coming from the ranks of political consultants, they are far more concerned with parsing words or phrases or telling us about perceptions than nearly anything else. They really don't know the substance of economics, history, sociology, and again, anything relating to science.

Please. This is not a "conspiracy." It is an institution. And institutions have personalities and create patterns over time.

So, Jay, is more right than wrong. But he still wants to deny the reality that the left's critique of the media is far closer to reality than the right's critique. The left critique focuses on the relations of the reporters to powerful economic forces, which does explain much of the culture of the media as well as its function and operations in how it perceives and disseminates information.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Celtics show more grit...again

Five beats one every time. Kobe can't do it all.

Odom and Artest don't cut to the glass. The Celtics do...all the time.

The Celtics bang the glass, grab offensive rebounds. The Celtics have more grit.

The Celtics are up 3-2. The Lakers have not shown they have what it takes.

Oh, and Phil Jackson is being outcoached by Doc Rivers...again. Can we find Byron Scott now to take over the Lakers?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Saturday Night Review of Book Reviews--June 12, 2010

I am reading the NY Times Book Review this week so you don't have to. Meaning, this week's review of books is mostly either about books you should avoid or the reviews are terribly written.

However, let's start with the three exceptions that actually outweigh the bad: The first is historian David Oshinsky's gritty, emotionally astute review of an autobiography of a man sentenced to life imprisonment for a violent crime, who finally was released after 40 years in a brutal southern prison--and who rehabilitated himself to an extent that is fairly unique.

The second is Bruce Barcott's outstanding review of two new books on the genocide of the Native Americans in the 19th Century. It provides a compact, yet deeper understanding of the phenomenon of General Custer, and expands our scope of understanding of the 19th Century American West in the story of the "half-breed" Native American-European leader of the Comanches, Quanah Parker. The story of Parker puts me in mind to a favorite Charles Eastman, whose books written in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries are must reading for those interested in the Native American experience during the time of the extermination of so many of the native tribes that inhabited North America.

The third is a ripping review of a new book on a man who transformed the art gallery world. What I loved about this review is that, despite a subject I found a bit too much of "inside baseball" (the world of the industry of the purchase of "art"), the reviewer, Deborah Solomon, knew her subject well, and was able to impart succinctly the history and politics of the industry--while again ripping into the errors and misjudgments of the book under review.

And now, after the good, we have the bad and/or the ugly:

First up, Leslie Gelb's bloated, yet shallow review of Peter Beinart's new book on foreign policy. I really can't tell what Beinart is or is not saying, and I'm not sure whether Gelb doesn't understand what Beinart is saying--or doesn't want anyone else to know. That Gelb is acutely interested in maintaining close ties to the war mongers who inhabit the American foreign policy elite may have something to do with the style and substance of his review...

Second, this review of a new book by a Brookings Institution think-tanker of the history of the American phenomenon of "neoconservatism" tells us nothing we don't know. Despite my skepticism regarding the book, I hope the book turns out to be better than what may simply have been a shallow review.

Third, here is a review that admittedly helps us determine whether to read or not read a book. The reviewer, however, pretentiously praises an author who wrote an 800 page book filled with horrible, self-conscious prose (I even checked the book at Amazon and it was worse than what was described). Joshua Cohen has written a book with an interesting premise, the last Jew on the planet, but fails to pull it off in a way that anyone should want to read it. For anyone interested in a sociological novel dealing about the "other" in society, I heartily recommend George Schuyler's "Black No More" (1931). Schuyler's book reads wonderfully in our still new century, and remains a searing indictment of how people in our nation perceive those who are the "other."

Fourth, this review is even better than the third above in helping us learn why we should avoid journalist Michael Young's new and likely disappointing book. Young's eyewitness account of life in Lebanon in the last half of this just ended decade may well have failed to give us any additional insight into what is happening in Lebanon. Still, having found Young's blog reporting on the Israel-Lebanon war of 2006 to be compelling, I am, despite my initial thought, more willing to give Young an independent look.

Fifth, this review is another one where the reviewer likes a book, but inadvertently succeeds in keeping us away from the book under review. Specifically, reviewer David Kelly only proves that the New Yorker is no place to read about spectator sports.

Sixth is a book review where, again, I can't tell if the book is shallow or the reviewer is. Seriously how can a book about love, inter-racial sex and revolution be dull? Yet, strange as it sounds, this review of "Burmese Lessons"--and maybe the book, too--may fit the bill.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh about this week's NYT Book Review. But I don't think so. If anyone in the ether thinks otherwise, they are, as always, welcome to express their views...

(Edited)

Obama's Eisenhower Republicanism gets the better of him on offshore drilling

When one reads this investigative article through the McClatchy wire service, one sees the hallmark of Obama's Eisenhower-era Republicanism. A passive sort of policy making that trusts corporations and making assumptions only corporate lobbyists were pushing, starting with "Deep sea oil drilling is safe."

This fiasco is not a failure of regulation. It is not a failure of Socialism. It is a failure of corporate capitalism--and exposes instead the corruption of corporate money that permeates the decision-making in our government.

The BP crime in the Gulf of Mexico is a failure of government in one sense. It is the failure of an executive branch leadership to act the way its critics are always claiming it is acting. We now have the spectacle of Republicans attacking Obama for the BP criminal acts as if this is an example of "big government" and "socialist" failure, when they are attacking Obama for the type of administration the Republicans would themselves operate. "Drill, baby, drill" and "Trust corporations and the private sector to know what it is doing." Those are Republican credos...

I guess when someone asks me, "Hows that Hopey-Changey thing working out for ya?" I can say I didn't know when I voted for Obama, that the Republicans and right wingers would be dead wrong, and that I really voted for a Republican, not a Socialist-Muslim. Where's my Socialist-Muslim I voted for? It's like that pony hidden in the manure...

Friday, June 11, 2010

A British Jewish writer speaks my language of critical support of Israel

The writer, Linda Grant, writes for the British Left-Labour newspaper, The Guardian, but published this piece in Haaretz.

The overheated rhetoric against Israel coming from certain quarters of the progressive and Left movements, and this sadly one-sided report from the Presbyterian Church, have me truly in a place I often find stifling--the "middle."

We must remain supportive of Israel's right to exist and the two state (or even three state--Hamas in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Israel) solution. But we must take a critical and pressuring stance with regard to Israel's actions as an occupying power in the West Bank, and in its embargo against the citizens of Gaza. It's time for us in the United States to pressure Israel to talk with the Palestinians. But let's have no illusions that quite a few members of Hamas are not interested in peaceful relations with Israel,* directly and fully support terrorist actions against civilians--and there are those even worse than Hamas. Peace-making is a step by step process, and it needs to begin now. Again, what concerns me is that somehow I still end up in the middle, and those to my immediate--not far left are actually far more critical of Israel as a whole than I am.

That is what I find somewhat frustrating right now...

*The head of Hamas has indicated a desire for negotiations, and is interested in a solution that leaves Israel in its 1967 borders--as an opening to those negotiations. That means he will only become more supportive of a broad based peace with Israel...

ADDENDUM 6/12/10: Maybe we just need to send Tim Minchin over there to sing his Peace Anthem for Muslims and Jews.

ADDENDUM II 6/12/10: Glenn Greenwald reminds me that maybe I am not in the "middle", unless we put putzim like Senator Charles Schumer (D-Israel) and even my beloved Grayson and Weiner (D-Israel?!) over on the right side of the political ledger. Schumer's comments were on the same level of arrogant hatred as Helen Thomas' comment, though not based upon an ignorant formulation. His policy formulation of "strangling" an entire people in Gaza "economically" is a conscious endorsement of "collective punishment"--a policy he would not countenance in any similar situation involving a occupying power ruling over another people. Between his comments and his selling out to financial interests (and attacking unions!), Schumer should turn in his progressive card.

(Edited)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Election Results: June 2010

Now that the scorpion, Blanche Lincoln, defeated a Democrat in the Democratic primary, can we say to Democrats in Arkansas, just let the real Republican win the Senate this time? Is there really any redeeming value to Blanche Lincoln as Democrats? I can't think of any. She is an abomination. And Bill Clinton, shame on you.

Propositions 16 and 17 in California: You can't fool all the people all the time, but with enough money to spend, you can fool 47-48% of the California electorate. Propositions 16 and 17 lost, but 47-48% of the electorate in California voted "yes" on those two cynical and corporate-funded propositions. Too close for comfort, but a win is a win.

Too bad Marcy Winograd lost to the near scorpion, Jane Harman in California's Congressional District in southwest Los Angeles (north of Long Beach, south of Santa Monica). Harman is pretty bad, but her opponent this year, Mattie Fein, is simply a corporate elitist alien. She's pretty, though...but a carpetbagger, too. I mean, she moves from DC, with hubby right wing lawyer, Bruce Fein, to southwest of Los Angeles to run for this seat. While I noted her supposed attack on Harman from the left on civil liberties, I am not fooled. Her website does not highlight it as an issue, and her overall recipe for American public policy is that of a Kanimit cookbook.

And what is it with all these women running? Wow. I am happy to see it, but of course, all this proves is that the Sixties women's movement was wrong that women entering politics would fundamentally change the direction of American politics. Identity politics is an illusion in that sense. Just look at Nikki Haley in South Carolina. She is a political hack from word one. There is nothing there but ambition. And she could be the first true female version of Bill Clinton: "I did not have sex with those men!"

There are more important things to discuss, but I have to get to work...:-)

ADDENDUM 6/10/10: Glenn Greenwald gives the grisly details of both Clinton and Obama exploiting people's loyalty to a truly odious incumbent politician that is Blanche Lincoln.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Local media disses Jerry Brown

Channel 10, an ABC affiliate in San Diego, was amazing in its bias this evening.

Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman got uninterrupted, clean coverage of their speeches tonight. Yet, when Jerry Brown spoke, the anchors cut in late to Brown's speech, interrupted Brown's speech twice in a matter of minutes, and had the weirdest feed I've seen from what is supposed to be a professional staff.

When I called the station to ask, "What's up over there with Brown getting interrupted and Poizner and Whitman not interrupted," the fellow answering the phone at the news desk immediately asked if I was calling it a "conspiracy." I responded, "Don't insult me. I'm a lawyer and I can tell you the legal definition of 'conspiracy' is two or more people who decide to do something illegal. That happens every single day." He backed off and tried to defend ABC's affiliate by saying they had a side room, not direct straight on feed from Los Angeles. I said that does not explain how the local affiliate in San Diego decided to cut away twice in a matter of minutes. He went silent. "Well?" I said, "What do you have to say about that?" He said he had no response. He said, "Look, Brown's race was not newsworthy like Poizner and Whitman" and I said, "So that's your defense? Now, you're just making it up. You have no idea why this happened, and the reason I've called is that you guys need to find out why this happened." He said others had called before me and said they thought it was a conspiracy. I said, "I'm not saying that. I'm saying you need to investigate why this happened and make sure this does not happen again."

I ended my statement, saying, "I'll let you go now. But just remember. We're watching!"

Unbelievable. As I type this, Whitman is still on. It's free advertising for a billionaire. And Brown was totally dissed. KGTV-Channel 10 (ABC) should be ashamed of itself. But we must realize this is corporate media. It is how it works.

Helen Thomas: An icon whose time has passed

So ninety-year old Helen Thomas has resigned from her post in the Washington elite reporter press room.

Helen Thomas was for decades known as the obnoxious-sounding reporter in the front row of the press briefing. When I first became interested in politics as an 11 and 12 year old in the late 1960s, my first impressions of Thomas was that she was an insider who expressed the most conventional of inside the Beltway thinking. Even in Nixon's time, she was not particularly daring or challenging to the status quo. I mean, really, folks, how do you think she ended up in the front row thanking the president for speaking to the assembled press corps? It was not by being I.F. Stone.

That insider mentality began to change after a few years of Ronald Reagan as president. By the time of the Clinton era, she was able to express herself more fearlessly. Still, by the time we came to the Cheney-Bush administration (yes, that is backwards on purpose), she became more and more obnoxious in her words. It was more of a verbal vomit she provided than anything else (and some days, I would smile and say to myself, "Thank God for Helen Thomas" as I felt the same).

A few months ago, though, when I saw one of Obama's press conferences, she acted with the sort of disrespect that sounded more like "Get off my lawn" or Joad Cresspeckler than a reporter.

Now, we have the spectacle of her arrogantly and ignorantly assuming that the majority of Israeli Jews were born in Germany or Poland. Watching the video, one sees this is her id talking. And as a result, she is finally retiring.

What is interesting to me is that there was a consequence to Thomas' statement about Israeli Jews (70% of whom were born in Israel), but there was no similar consequence after Patrick Buchanan's statement about American Jews, i.e. that confirming Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court would be bad because there would be "too many Jews" on the Court (three).* Buchanan, who has uttered enough anti-Semitic statements over the years to make even Bill Buckley wince, continues to be on television every day of the week. Thomas has been ridden out of town on a rail for attacking Israeli Jews and Israel.

Is the moral of the story that one can be a corporate media star even if one is anti-Semitic, but not anti-Zionist? I don't know. Should we ask Mel Gibson? FoxNews has an interesting story as to how former presidential press secretaries piled on Thomas and used language they did not use with regard to Buchanan, who again has a history of such insensitivity and ignorance.

*What is doubly despicable is that Buchanan, a Catholic in his professed religious beliefs, does not notice that Catholics are 22% of the American population, yet there are six members of the Supreme Court who are Catholic. Under his own hateful logic, I guess Protestants ought to be up in arms...

Sunday, June 06, 2010

A blogger posts a wonderful article about RFK on his yahrtzeit

RFK died 42 years ago today.

A blogger at the Daily Kos reminds us of RFK's legacy, and the way he inspired people, and the way he drove some truly evil people crazy with hate at the same time...It's worth the read. It's a great post.

Inside book review sections of newspapers

The literary editor of The Nation, John Palatella, has written a fascinating look at the demise of book review sections in newspapers, and along the way provides a nice introductory summary of the continued change in media technology, and how each change is greeted with apocalyptic visions, for and more often against the technology.

My take away is that book reading, and especially book review reading is a minority taste, and long has been. If it seemed like book review reading and book reading were more prevalent 130 years ago, in the so called Age of the Novel, it is because there were no films, and obviously no television.

If we book readers and book lovers have done anything, it is that we have gravitated to the Internet. That more and more we buy our books there is something that may be a major part of the problem facing booksellers who want to maintain or preserve their retail establishments.

Separately, but eventually related, I have not purchased nor do I really even want a Nook, Kindle or whatever electronic book holder is out there. I love the smell and feel of a book, and know it will take some time to wean me off that. It is also strange to think that 20 years from now, I will point to what I can carry as "my library" of books. My son's library of music is his iPod, and that is what will likely happen with what we used to call the printed word. To take another analogy closer to home, large law firms once prided themselves on their law libraries. They even had law librarians at some of the largest law libraries of firms. Those law libraries and law librarians simply don't exist any longer as a firm's "library" is LexisNexis and Westlaw within the Internet on the computer sitting on the desk of each lawyer at the firm.

One highly personal note: Too bad Palatella appears to be unaware of my review of book reviews that I post on a somewhat regular basis...:-) On the other hand, he'd probably see it as the drive-by writing that is not as thoughtful as a regular review.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Some drive by follow ups on the dilemma of American Jews and Israel

Eric Alterman at The Nation on Peter Beinart's outstanding article in the New York Review of Books, which I had blogged about here. Here and here are interviews with Beinart by a right wing supporter of Israeli Likudniks. And here is an exchange between ADL's Abe Foxman and Peter Beinart in the NY Review of Books.

Here is an interesting debate between Jeremy Scahill of The Nation with Ed Koch on the Israel Gaza Flotilla imbroglio. My view, expressed in this post, is largely like Scahill's, but I am deeply troubled that Scahill fails to recognize the Hamas terrorism and refusal to engage in civil disobedience on the flotilla. Note, today, that the Israelis killed nobody on the Rachel Corrie ship that was attempting to break the blockade. If the Israelis were like the Ku Klux Klan or Nazis, they would have killed people there, too. So let's make some distinctions here. Surprisingly, Scahill seems ignorant of Hamas' leader calling for a negotiation that begins with the 1967 borders being allowed for Israel, which is really a de facto recognition of Israel. So when Koch says Hamas does not want to deal, he is simply wrong. Scahill's point that Israel must stop the embargo and must get out of the West Bank remains correct.

The saddest thing to me is that more people are dying because of religious and political intolerance. It is also sad that, as Palestinian Arabs begin to show signs of making concessions (with the Arab League long ago endorsing a two state solution) and some Palestinians beginning to learn to engage in civil disobedience, which may be more from the exhaustion of this 100 Years' War in the Middle East than anything else, Israel is hardening its position against peace negotiations.

(Edited)

ADDENDUM: Glenn Greenwald lays it out. The Israeli government has more footage of video it confiscated, and may show the Israelis fired first. Regardless, the embargo and blockade is the issue, just as the settlement outposts and occupation of the West Bank is the issue. And Peter Beinart is not pulling any punches, either. This is becoming a huge moment in the American Jewish community. Who knows if this may be the first step in challenging the Likudniks and Israel Uber Alles crowds at so many temples and synagogues.