Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Saga of Frank and Jamie--and the Fate of the Dodgers

Frank and Jamie McCourt's divorce case began today--and, from what I've read in the past two days, there is definitely a case to be made for Jamie McCourt that whatever agreement she may have signed that turned over sole ownership of the team to her now estranged husband may not be enforceable. I never would have believed it reading the first drips of the case months and months ago, but she is certainly making me think twice, especially if I was the judge in the case.

It's funny, but if Jamie McCourt prevails, the Dodgers will likely be sold to a third party not named McCourt. That would be a pleasurable irony for us rabid Dodger fans, though again one has to honestly put such emotions aside and simply weigh the facts and circumstances. If I was on Frank's side, I'd at least try to argue how much all the property Jamie was to receive was worth in 2004 or whenever she signed the one of six versions of the contract that gave Frank sole ownership of the Dodgers, and then, compare it to the Dodgers' value at the time. My sense is that the real estate holdings were rising rapidly and the Dodgers' value was not rising, and was in fact falling. If Jamie was truly against Frank buying the Dodgers in the first place, one makes the initially compelling argument that the intent by the two now warring marital partners was to give Frank the Dodgers and Jamie nearly every other real property they owned.

Still, it's gonna be a long trial (meaning at least a couple of weeks), notwithstanding McCourt admitting today on the witness stand that his wife offered no "legal consideration" in return for her signing the contract that made him sole owner. That is a potentially big admission, but McCourt has plenty of opportunities to swat away the questions coming from uber-lawyer David Boies (one of my lawyer heroes!) tomorrow morning.

Pass the popcorn on this one. The lifestyles of the rich and famous are on tap here, with the fate of a once-proud baseball franchise thrown into the mix. Still, it fills me with some sadness watching these two people hurl attacks and expensive lawyers at each other, while the team is crashing this summer. I sure wish Peter O'Malley had never sold the team his father and Branch Rickey helped build...

Again, if Jamie McCourt prevails in establishing her co-ownership of the team, there's a big part of me who would love to see Mark Cuban (one of my entrepreneurial heroes!) buy the team...

Obama's "Mission Accomplished?"

So 50,000 troops are staying in Iraq and President Obama says we have completed our mission?

It seems like Vietnamization, which just means the war drags on in a twilight for us at home, but still looking like a war on the ground where fighting continues.

I also think of this early Phil Ochs song that was not released in a recording until well after his early passing: "We Seek No Wider War." When the President talks about US troops acting as "advisers," one thinks of the verse from the song:

Machine gun bullets became the bloody baptizers
And the falcon copters don't care if someone's the wiser
But the boy in the swamp didn't know he was killed by advisers
So please be reassured, we seek no wider war.

And of course, if Iraqi troops fail to stem the tide of local terrorist acts and general anarchy, the US military leadership has already said the US would return to Iraq--again. As far as I saw, the Obama administration did nothing to contradict that statement.

So, tell me again how we're "out of Iraq"?

On another note, on Sunday, my wife and I went to the most pathetic "unity rally" for the Democrats we have ever seen. The San Diego County Democratic Party organization is a post-union party, meaning that it is what happens when white blue collar and small contractor workers end up in white evangelical churches, and Latinos and African-Americans end up in unskilled jobs with no unions. The unity "picnic" consisted of a few scattered activists and people like my wife and me--disaffected, isolated refugees of the "creative class", together with a few earnest local candidates and their most immediate advisers or supporters. In all, there were no more than 150 people who appeared.

Does this portend the disaster in the making for November? Who knows? I still think as this last sixty days starts up with television ads and radio ads, we'll see more people come out for Democrats than we think in a variety of ways. Folks who have been so terribly dissed by the Obama administration will vote for Democrats more out of concern over rabidly right wing and frankly dumb Republican candidates (this includes Fiorina and Whitman), and we can only hope the low information voters are repulsed by the last gaffe of these Republican candidates, who are more than capable of a well-timed (for Democrats) gaffe.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Everything has a point...doesn't it?

Enjoy some wonderful songs from the great cartoon, "The Point"(1971), courtesy of YouTube:

"This is the town..."

"Think about your troubles"

"Me and my Arrow" (Yes, Arrow is the name of Oblio's dog)

"Are You Sleeping?"


And who was Harry Nilsson? A troubled genius of a songwriter, who hung with the Beatles and died of heart trouble at fifty-three in 1994--a death which may have been brought on from too much binging. His song, "Without You," was a well-deserved pop hit in the early 1970s, and he wrote "One" for Three Dog Night, which became their initial signature song. And he even wrote this memorable television show theme song...Lots of us miss Harry...So what was the point again?

There is The Point, but there is no point...Live in the moments, I guess...:-)

Listen to the Angry Bear...

The Angry Bear has explained what the Obama administration is really up to, with what the AB concludes is a continued merging of the Democratic Party into the Plutocratic Party, which the Republican Party joined long ago.

We can all jeer at the latest outburst from the idiot old coot Alan Simpson--God knows I did the last time he acted out--but the real danger is with the Catfood Commission itself.

The significance of the Angry Bear's post is it explains why the Commission is a danger not merely to Social Security, but to the overall functioning of our government. The bankers and bankers' friends on this Commission are in fact using the rhetoric of deficit and debt reduction to make the tax code even more regressive. They are aiming to push our government further toward serving the interests of a military-financial Empire led by and for plutocrats, and to beggar the American worker and his and her families. I mean, really: The Catfood Commissioners' solution for a bloated military budget is to cut the pay and benefits of soldiers?!? And the idea for increasing taxes is not increasing taxes on wealth and the uppermost incomes, but on consumption--as if the answer to deflationary and soft demand in our economy is to tax products and services?

I know my continued attack against the Catfood Commission seems hyperbolic, but the statements and policy proposals emanating from the Commission leaders are themselves hyperbolic in their blatant contempt for the needs of the American people and the needs of our nation. And this goes beyond the rants of that arrogant fool, Alan Simpson. It goes to the heart of the statements of people such as Peter Peterson and his friends, as quoted by the Angry Bear, who are influencing the direction of the Commission.

Obama and the Democratic Party are ratcheting up the economically populist rhetoric for the elections set to take place in about 60 days, which is good. Let's hope the rhetoric creates expectations and groundswells that will result in a broad-based attack against this Catfood Commission when the Commissioners release their findings and recommendations after the election. And if you think the timing of the release of the findings and recommendations is an accident, it is not. The hope among the bankers' friends in Washington, DC is that people will go back to whatever distractions consume their media viewing time while Congress votes "up or down" on the Commission findings. As usual in our fractured republic, the real action occurs outside of what passes for the "issues" of elections, and we must be even more vocal in contacting the senators and congresspeople after this bread and circus we call an election campaign.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Good for Jimmy Carter!

Jimmy Carter served the best interests of our nation once again. He procured the release of an American hostage and re-opened a dialogue with the North Korean government regarding nuclear disarmament discussions. See here.

I've not seen any discussion among right wingers, though I did see a FoxNews report yesterday morning (while at a car dealership for fixing my van) where there was an air of snark when they said Carter was in North Korea, but had not done anything positive there. Perhaps they were hoping he'd fail to begin to attack him. Not this time, FoxNews...

North Korea is one crazy place, and it is perhaps the worst dictatorship on the planet right now in terms of its control of people and their movements. Still, we need to engage if for no other reason than to help open it up to the rest of the world.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A nuclear scientist explains why we should not be worried about Iran's new nuclear reactor

In the NY Review Blog page, which is itself a welcome addition to our civil discourse, nuclear scientist Jeremy Bernstein nicely explains why the new Iranian nuclear reactor is not a portent of Iran's nuclear weaponry power.

However, he links to an earlier post of his as to Iran's continuing pursuit of nuclear weaponry and where our efforts at stemming such a pursuit should be focused.

At this point, I have accepted that Iran will succeed in its ambition to procure a nuclear bomb, and that militarily, neither we nor the Israelis can stop it. I also believe the time is coming when the extremist mullahs in Iran will fall, and Iran's youth will rebel in ways that are somewhat reminiscent of the American 1960s, but with more elements of the American Civil War of the 1860s. We can't do much to make that revolution happen, either, I'm sad to say, but it is coming no matter how much the Iranian mullahs want to blame our nation. Our nation's continued existence as an open and secular-oriented society is the biggest threat to the mullahs, one might say...And when one considers the Christian theocracy that some right wing Republicans wish to pursue, that is doubly ironic, isn't it? I mean, when we really think about it, who has cultural views more like the mullahs in Iran, Barbara Boxer or Sarah Palin?


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews: August 22, 2010

The New York Times Book Review has a couple of compelling reviews this morning, and the rest...not so compelling:

1. Tom Segev, a noted Israeli historian, reviews and explains the history of the Balfour Declaration as a milestone in the creation of the State of Israel. I am, however, surprised that Segev does not make more strongly the point that the British government began to backtrack from the Declaration as early as 1921 or 1922, when the British had finally destroyed the Ottoman Empire, and were now trying to govern Arabs in the various areas that included Palestine. Once that occurred, it became clear to more sober eyed observers that the Balfour Declaration was more a World War I propaganda device to secure Jewish support in the British efforts to colonize and control the Arab regions of the Middle or Near East.

2. The great Robert Darton writes another important article on the latest in thinking about intellectual property and the "commons" in ideas. His article in the New York Review of Books last year about Google and the future of books remains required reading on this vast, yet highly technical subject.

3. The Times Book Review this morning also posts two disappointing reviews that promised much, and delivered little on the "clash" of Islam and Christianity and the decline and challenges facing the Times' rival, The Washington Post. I just felt I learned nothing from these two reviews that I did not know before...

4. There are a bunch of reviews of the latest memoirs, which only confirms my sense that memoirs are navel-gazing and exhibitionism..."Enough about me; well, actually, let me tell you even more about me!" One day, someone may be able to explain the rise of the memoir in the age of social networking on the Internet, where people bare all, literally and figuratively, and how we are heading down a road to "Cold Lazarus."

The London Review of Books has a very interesting review on its site right now: Here is a review and additional personal and sociological insight regarding the Catholic Church's problems regarding pedophilia and priests.

And also at the LRB's site, we have Tariq Ali to guide us in understanding the recent violence in Kashmir and how British media seemed to be ignoring it...It's not a book review, but in books that await to be written on the topic of India's continuing religious and nationalist clashes, Ali's analysis should loom large.

That's it for today...Happy reading...


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Go for it, Ray Lutz!

Ray Lutz is a decent to fine candidate running against a rather shallow and ridiculous Republican scion of a rather shallow and ridiculous former congressman. I live in the district, and the registration clearly favors the Republicans.

Still, I love Lutz for going on a hunger strike to get an opportunity to debate Duncan Hunter, Jr.

Lutz's website is here. He is against reckless foreign and imperial wars, for universal access to health insurance, for job creation in the USA, and has run a business and seems awfully smart. The Junior Hunter is basically a guy who inherited his congressional seat in a safe Republican-oriented district. And Hunter, Jr. has truly hateful views on immigration, that do admittedly appeal to the gut, base instincts of this Republican oriented district.

It will be interesting whether Hunter agrees to debate in September as Lutz's hunger strike goes on. Lutz looks physically strong enough to continue not eating, and we'll see if the story gets legs...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Federal Prop 8 Ruling and Standing Issue

Professor Erwin Chermerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine law school, has written in the LA Times a short, cogent brief in support of the proposition that nobody other than the governor and attorney general has standing to appeal Judge Walker's ruling against Proposition 8.

An Anglican Curmudegon, a blogger, has posted a detailed analysis of standing issues from the side that is against same sex marriage, but well worth reading, too.

I believe there is something fundamentally unfair about not allowing proponents of an initiative to defend the law they promulgated and that, most importantly, was passed by the electorate--simply because the governmental officials with direct standing have decided they do not want to defend the initiative-sourced law. I would probably be for more liberal standing requirements as I wrote here in the context of a specific federal environmental law that did liberalize standing in that limited context. Cultural liberals and the cultural left may well rue having Proposition 8 being declared unenforceable in this manner. That's my initial sense.

Of course, we can see hard core right wing ideologues like Chief Justice Roberts and the trio of right wing Justices (Scalia, Thomas and Alito) suddenly decide in favor of a limited, liberal interpretation to standing requirements. From those fellows, that would be as disgusting as the Scalia and Thomas contribution to Bush v. Gore in 2000. It is not beyond this foursome to be so ideologically motivated, but we will wait and watch.

As for Imperial County's standing to challenge Judge Walker's ruling on Proposition 8, it comes down to whether a county has a sufficient stake in upholding or not upholding a state law. Right now, it appears hard to argue that a mere county has more sufficient standing than the proponents of the initiative. After all, neither are state officials with respect to a state law.

And those in favor of Proposition 8 will find that if they wait for the Republicans to win the governor's and attorney general's chairs, those candidates would not take office until January 2011, which is too late for the state officials to file an appeal...Again, I bet conservatives wished they had a liberal interpretation of standing rules to use...Oh, what a web we weave with such procedural jousting over the years...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Obama runs left as all Democratic politicians do when running scared

It is a time honored tradition for corporate-financial marinated Democratic Party politicians to take for at least three decades: Trash your base while you govern, sell out the American people, protect the economic elite and question the viability of Social Security and Medicare, and then, when finding this strategy is failing, run to the left in the ensuing next campaign.

Today, we have our corporate and finance marinated war president, and supposed Democrat, President Obama, telling us it is the GOP who wants to destroy Social Security. Yeah, Mr. President, we know that. But what is really sad is you--that's you, Mr. President--are also trying to destroy Social Security. Anyone (including the President and even the reporter writing the article) who buys into even the need to reform Social Security is looking to destroy it, too. The President's Catfood Commission is full of such people from the Democratic and Republican wings of the single party Gore Vidal likes to call the Property Party.

Don't worry, Mr. President. People like me, you know the Professional Left that your arrogant and hateful press secretary calls us, are planning to reliably vote Democratic as usual (at least I have Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown out here in California, who do deserve our votes...). We also understand how ridiculous, venal, stupid and reckless the Republicans are--even compared to you and your nearly equally "friendly banker" friends. We do so even as you insult us directly, and then insult us indirectly by thinking we are going to be fooled by your supposed defense of Social Security.

Please know this about your new rhetoric, Mr. President: We are not fooled. We know this is going to be a battle to save Social Security from those who want to "reform" it. There is nothing wrong with Social Security's finances that needs fixing. Nothing.

Yes, it took a right winger, David Frum, to say the obvious: Republican politicians fear the GOP base; Democratic politicians hate the Democratic Party base. But that other 10-20% of low-information voters who decide elections? They are very much confused right now. They wonder where the "change" is. They don't see it, and the Republican strategy that is akin to what the Andrew Jackson supporters did to John Quincy Adams in his one term as president (block everything, oppose everything) from 1825-1828, is working well for Republicans. That's your problem: You are too soft with your enemies, too harsh on your friends.

If you want the opinion of someone in that group of people who are on the so-called left, please know we remain deeply concerned about the paucity of choice of public policy issues our nation primarily argues about, and what issues are not on the table, namely: infrastructure rebuilding, protecting and re-developing manufacturing and industry, and ensuring profits from productivity are spread more evenly throughout the work force and poor. These true issues are not part of the discussion. Instead, the best we have are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert exposing how stupid--that word again--our "serious" discourse is with its almost purposefully distracting non-issues. Nice of these two very bright and thoughtful guys to expose the nonsense, at least, but it is not enough, and they know it, too.

ADDENDUM: August 15, 2010: This article cites a new AP-GfK poll that shows independents' support for Democrats has dropped 20 points based primarily on the economy. That is what Obama and his corporate Democratic Party friends should be worried about...Yet, they seem to think bashing people like me is the answer, I guess...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I love the Internet, Part One Billion and One

This Kevin Drum roundup smackdown of Ari Fleischer's brother's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal is simply a delight.

I'd hear this nonsense from CEOs from time to time and had to gently but firmly explain to them how the root of the problem lies elsewhere. Then, I would say that if they really thought the burden of health insurance coverage too great for the company to handle, then they should please join me in the movement to establish what is now properly called Medicare for All. But no, they just want more perks for themselves and not for their employees. Sad, really.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Angry at public employee pensions? Join a union yourself!

Jonathan Cohn, at the New Republic (!), is asking the right question, which gets to a point I've said to people over the past several years: If you're upset at what the public employees get, it's because they've got a union. And the function of unions is to help their worker members. So if you want what they got, join a union.

Isn't it strange how so many workers in America would rather fight each other, or fight their fellow workers who are the "other" (immigrant, gay, and a little further back in the day, black, Latino, etc.) rather than pursue class based legislation that helps workers?

And let me say the following to the Tea Party People: I'll only believe you have our nation's best interests at heart when you picket banks, and threaten real bankers instead of Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Muslim-Americans or illegal immigrants. Until then, you are little more than tools of the economic elite....John Boehner, the House Minority Leader, is laughing his butt off at your antics and hopes you put him in as Speaker, and then he'll ream everyone but his rich donors. Wonderful...:-(

Krugman channels MF Blog

Paul Krugman has completed his education to become a full fledged New Dealer and overall fan of Alexander Hamilton, Albert Gallatin, John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay. That is wonderful news in an otherwise bleak landscape.

Too bad he holds no power in the White House full of bankers who barely care a whit about the nation.

As I may have said before, I am in the midst of reading Carl Schurz's masterful biography of Henry Clay, written in 1887. It shocked me to learn that John C. Calhoun (Sen.-SC) was an original supporter of internal improvements legislation, but changed in order to protect slavery. I never knew Calhoun supported internal improvements legislation at all. Wild!

Mike Hiltzik at the LA Times nails it again on Social Security

See this article.

And who is Hiltzik? He wrote a great book, back in 2005, on the subject of Social Security and the Cheney-Bush plan for privitization of Social Security. See it here.

I just wish Hiltzik's column was even more clear about the relationship of the percentage of GDP growth year over year and the Trustees' conclusion, and how the Trustees' report's incredibly pessimistic assumptions are never spoken of in nearly any discourse on the subject of Social Security. If it was, people would be outraged and the Trustees' report would be confined to the circular file of a wastebasket.

As I say, if we merely substituted into the Trustees' report a non-recessionary growth, or average growth over the next thirty years, we'd find the Social Security system will pay for all of us Baby Boomers (1946-1964) with no changes needed whatsoever. None. And if we really want to protect against high debt and deficits that may consume our ability to pay Treasury Bond interest to bond holders, all we need to do is repeal the upper bracket (anyone earning over $250,000) Cheney-Bush era tax cuts. The shortfall of the Cheney-Bush tax cuts is three times the size of the shortfall the anti-Social Security system people bandy about.

Now how difficult is that to say in a political debate?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

According to plan...Anti-war songs for new wars that need to end

Obama said he is going to begin to wind down of the Iraq War 2, saying it was "according to schedule."

That put me in mind of the song by the beloved Melanie Safka, "Peace will come (according to plan)."

And when I remembered that Obama has no intention of putting an end to the war against Afghanistan, that put me in mind of other anti-war songs from a now by-gone era such as "Universal Soldier," "I ain't marchin' anymore," and of course, the song about the "big fool who said to push on..."

Well, at least Joe Klein is saying he is sorry...Too bad so many of us who had the temerity to oppose the Iraq War 2 and to recognize, a few years later, the futility of the war in Afghanistan, continue to have the burden of proof as to our seriousness and must constantly prove why we are not traitors to our nation. In a just world, people who support a war should have a very deep and wide burden of proof...

And here is Glenn Greenwald making the case that deficit hawks never seem to make about the cost of empire, proving these so-called deficit fighters care less about deficits than destroying Social Security...

Of course, we can always count on the truly venal and stupid--from Thomas Friedman to Donald Rumsfeld to Sarah Palin--to say seriously what Randy Newman sang in sardonic jest back in 1972...Remember, those people (well, maybe not the Queen of Wasila) are called "realists."

But allow us to end the evening on a nicer note, which is The Seekers from 1968 singing "I'll Never Find Another You." Man, I love that song!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Jon Stewart absolutely nails it...

Jon Stewart exposes both parties, but makes clear which one is acting more obstreperously, and which is acting more weakly...And he also defends his friend, Anthony Weiner, who had a right to be angry on this one.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Prop 8 Ruled Invalid: Gay Marriages Upheld by Federal Court

Here is the decision. It's clearly reasoned in a way to make it difficult to overturn, turning more on a factually-based analysis than nearly anything else. The judge makes a factual case that there is simply no rational reason to oppose same sex marriage, and there is no rational basis to believe that, in America at least, two gays getting married harms marriage among heterosexuals.

The question now is whether Alito, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas can get Justice Anthony Kennedy to join them to simply hold that Proposition 8 is a "political question" that courts should not decide. That is the most simple way to overturn the Federal Judge's decision, and it is one I admit to have embraced at the time the California Supreme Court first "legalized" same-sex marriage just over two years ago.

Justice Kennedy, like the Federal District judge, is from the San Francisco Bay area. He has written the Romer and Lawrence decisions, which most observers, including myself, have interpreted as potentially upholding the privacy rights of people who are bisexual or homosexual in their sexual orientation or practices beyond the holdings of those cases (and contrary to what is stated in Lawrence that it should not be read that way). He is also getting on in age, and may simply decide to uphold the Federal Judge, controversy be damned.

The Federal Judge's opinion does not rest on privacy rights as far as my first reading indicates. Instead, the decision is directly based upon equal protection rights for homosexuals to be treated equally in the bonds of private marriage and the need for the State to respect that right of marriage. I had liked Jerry Brown's State privacy argument when it was first declared, but the California Supreme Court rejected that argument, and this Federal Judge appears to have ignored it (thinking logically, that if the California Supreme Court rejected an argument based upon the express State Constitution's privacy clause, why try to argue an implied right of privacy under the Federal Constitution?).

Again, whether this decision is affirmed or reversed by the US Supreme Court will likely come down to one Supreme Court Justice: Anthony Kennedy. And he may be cajoled into agreeing with the right wing justices on the ground of this being a "political question" not suited to Court interference.

Various law professors have already opined on the decision today in the NY Times Blog space here. I got a kick out of the fact that another Republican-appointed Judge wrote this opinion today. As I have asked before, What is it about Republican Judges writing these sorts of opinions anyway? :-)


ADDENDUM August 5, 2010: This article provides a snap shot of the background of the the Republican appointed judge who wrote the opinion, Judge Vaughn Walker. Considering how the opponents of same-sex marriage feel about homosexuals, I wish this apparently gay judge had recused himself. It would have been like a black judge being the district court judge in the Brown v. Board of Education, or a Jewish judge deciding on the merits of the Dreyfus case.

Judge Walker's private sexual orientation is not, and should not, be a reason to have forced his recusal, nor is his sexual orientation a reason for those of us who have been far more cautious about the entire issue from a judicial (as opposed to legislative) perspective to question the merits of Judge Walker's direct and powerfully worded opinion. It is, however, all about how we consider the emotions inherent in our nation's movement toward a more civilized cultural norm.

Unfortunately, as I was reading the article on Judge Walker's background, I began to develop a sense he may possibly be an arrogant and probably elitist fellow. That was my point in my initial post about the mostly Republican-appointed California Supreme Court Justices first declaring same sex marriage to be a fundamental right under the Constitution, which is that their elitist Republican tendencies led them to push cultural change through judicial pronouncements. Still, I continue to wonder at those who are outraged about two people in a homosexual relationship who want to get married. My marriage to my wife is not threatened in the least by such an extension of rights...So the political struggle continues for the time being. One day, however, I know we will look back at all this tumult and ask ourselves, "Why was this even an issue?"

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Paul Berman may have a minor, but important point...

Far be it for me to defend Paul Berman, who I am still angry with over his lying ways with respect to I.F. Stone (see these two posts of mine on the subject of Izzy), but this essay in the New York Review of Books starts out strong in making a case against Berman, but ends up leaving me more sympathetic to Berman's position than I ever thought I'd be.

As I had stated in this post from a few months ago, Lee Siegel ably trashed Berman in an earlier review of his new book, "The Flight of the Intellectuals," appearing in the New York Observer. However, the NY Review of Books essay review by Malise Ruthven indirectly makes a limited case for Berman, i.e. that Timothy Garton Ash and Ian Buruma have used rather passive language to criticize a particular Muslim intellectual who has shown an inability to stand tall against Muslim fundamentalist practices that enforce a violent, rigid patriarchy, while each found ways to damn with faint praise a Muslim-born woman activist against that same Muslim style of patriarchy.

Berman, however, cannot leave it there, but must instead sound like his anti-Communist intellectual ancestors who spilled much ink with their fallacious belief that a particular religious or nationalist enemy can never be defeated and is an unchanging monolith. One thinks of Jeanne Kirpatrick and her "Totalitarian" communist model that was supposedly unable to change or be defeated (Michael Walzer's outstanding essay, "On Failed Totalitarianism", published in the Summer 1983 issue of Dissent, was the single best smackdown of Kirkpatrick I have ever read; it is reprinted in Irving Howe's edited essay book, "1984 Revisited").

Still, there was a point midway through Ruthven's discussion of Berman where I started to sympathize with Berman, and concluded Ruthven was too parsing in glossing over the active hatred existing within too many Muslim fundamentalist communities; a hatred we would easily denounce when such hatred of the "other" manifests itself in Christian and Jewish religious fundamentalist communities. To put it another way, there is some limited truth to Berman's point that some intellectuals who are correctly concerned with opposing colonialist-based oppression of other peoples may sometimes downplay Muslim fundamentalist rhetoric that is so obviously anti-female or anti-Semitic. I know I am personally more willing to give credence to a Hamas leader who calls for opening negotiations with Israel based upon his acceptance of the 1967 borders in a way I wish I did not have to do. However, with the extremes Hamas represents, I try that much harder to find a "moderate" among them because we have to start somewhere... Perhaps something similar may be said of the Republican Party in the US over the past decade, where, starting a few years ago, some Republicans began to notice that many in today's Republican Party would find Ronald Reagan "too liberal" in his acts as governor of California and even as President. It's amazing how the more extreme a group of people becomes, the more we want to hope there is a moderate somewhere, even when the moderates shift further and further toward that extreme.

Again, a careful reading of Ruthven makes a partial and an indirect case that wonderful and sober writers such as Ash and Buruma may well have been too conciliatory to Tariq Ramadan, who is, not so coincidentally, the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. What's funny and ironic to me is that in this post of mine from January 6, 2008, I was tough on Ayyan Hyrsi Ali for not understanding Western, secular culture's own contradictions and tensions, and gave kudos to Ramadan for an article he wrote for the NY Times where he provided a liberal, pluralist interpretation of various passages in the Koran. I stand by my critique of Ali, but I don't think I would have lauded Ramadan as much had I known then what Ruthven's essay described as Ramadan's failure to speak out against Muslim religious-backed patriarchal oppression when he had a platform to do so, or Ramadan's ambiguous refusal to condemn terrorist acts in various instances.

The world is sure a complicated place, isn't it? Berman's point, in short, is not completely daft. However, it remains my conclusion regarding Berman that his worldview presents no effective foreign policy prescription and worse, his fear of Muslim hordes may only exacerbate the challenge we face from the rise of Muslim fundamentalism. Nonetheless, Ruthven may have indirectly given Berman some due with too much parsing of Muslim fundamentalist scholars such as Ramadan...


Sunday, August 01, 2010

Howard Zinn a Commie? Okay. So maybe he was...

I love American conservatives and rightwingers who have a fealty to outing old Reds. Really. They are so quaint, and that appeals to my antiquarian sensibilities.

The latest feeding frenzy on that side of the political spectrum has arisen these last few days as the FBI has released its files on Howard Zinn (who I happen to like a lot). And lo and behold, when reading through some of the FBI's files, we find there are two informants who go unidentified (why not identify the informants after all these years so we can test the informants' credibility, too?) who say Howard Zinn was a member of the Communist Party USA from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s. Robert Stacy McCain, who even other conservatives have distanced themselves from as white supremacist and a "fellow traveler" of neo-Confederacy groups (not to mention a leading editor at the Washington Times, a newspaper owned by the religiously insane Rev. Moon), is on the story, which you can read here.

I throw in the description of Robert Stacy McCain to show that, yes, we can play the guilt-by-association card too, but really, that should simply cause us to filter things, not ignore what people say if it is otherwise accurate. And I think McCain's conclusion about Zinn's membership in the Party may well be accurate, though I find McCain's perspective and world view abhorrent and more important, inaccurate.

The chances are fairly strong that the two informants are stating the truth when they stated to the FBI that they saw Zinn at meetings of the CPUSA in the late 1940s or early 1950s and that Zinn admitted to at least one of the informants he was a member of the Party. It is also likely true there is at least one Communist Party mailing list with Zinn's name and then residential address. Therefore, McCain is probably correct that Zinn lied when he denied being a Communist during that period of history.

But is that really the end of the story? Of course not. First, it is difficult for people in our time to understand that if one admitted to being a Communist in the years after World War II, one lost his or her job, one was subject to harassment from the police, government officials, and sometimes subject to being physically threatened or beaten by other individuals or even mobs of people. During the time of the hysteria generated during the Palmer Raids following World War I, people in the US who were Communists were lynched or otherwise beaten to a pulp. There was a fear among such people after World War II that this could happen again. The Peekskill, NY riots that began with a singing appearance by "Communist fellow-traveler" Paul Robeson is a case in point. It does not take more than one of those events to keep people from saying "Yes, I'm a Communist."

Second, what I have said to people for over three decades while reading extensively on this subject is, so what if someone was a Red. The very different question and issue is: Was the person spying for the Soviet Union, and if so, what was that person actually providing to the Soviets? And it is here that one sees how Robert Stacy McCain goes off the rails and falls into a polemical ditch. McCain desperately wants to make the case that Zinn was a spy, but refrains. He knows, though, if he could prove Zinn was a spy, it would discredit Zinn and people would not be apt to read Zinn's public statements and essays. Try as he might, however, the FBI files for which McCain provides a link do not make a case that Zinn was a spy for the Soviet Union. Zinn was merely (and admirably) an activist and academic who performed important research and commentary.

One must also say, isn't it amusing that one can attach Robert Stacy McCain himself to Nazis and white supremacists who preach violence and act violently more easily than one can attach Zinn to anyone who was a spy for the Soviet Union? One might think that people like McCain would be more judicious, or is it projection on their part based upon their own shadowy associations?

The liberal-left blogsophere is more likely to react as Mahablog has, and say there is insufficient proof of Zinn being a Communist Party member. One may argue that the FBI obviously did not convince the government lawyers that there was a strong enough criminal case to bring against Zinn (there were laws against lying under oath about being a Communist and laws against being a Communist at that time). This is especially so at a time when when Zinn was very active in "front" organizations, and vocal in his activism. The failure to prosecute may mean the informants were determined to be less than reliable once they were cross-examined by a district attorney or attorney general. Still, the list and the two informants make a fairly reasonable case for Zinn's membership in the Party.

Nonetheless, Mahablog is absolutely correct in stating that the hounding and spying on unarmed radicals such as Zinn is the real crime here, not whether Zinn was a member of the Communist Party USA (See also this post from Josh Marshall's place focusing on Zinn's employers at Boston University supporting FBI spy efforts against Zinn). And it is also true that people such as Robert Stacy McCain would more likely want to support an American secret police that would attack liberals and leftists. It cannot be stressed too often that even Bill Buckley, in his co-authored book defending Joseph McCarthy, had admitted that a primary purpose of the Red Scare was to attack "Liberals" with a capital L. (see: this post where I happen to discuss Buckley's defense of red-baiting in the modern world and note his consistency dating back to the 1950s).

I will not say "There is nothing to see here." There is. It's very interesting for any future biographers of Zinn if a biography is worthwhile. Where it does mean nothing is that Zinn's alleged Party member status for a decade during the 1940s and 1950s does not undermine the power of Zinn's "People's History of the United States". The FBI files also mean nothing regarding Zinn's public statements and essays on public policy issues, which statements and essays stand on their own merit (or sometimes lack thereof).

BONUS POINT: Here is an article from Reason.org attacking Zinn's book and Zinn when Zinn passed away. In the comments, I go to war against the author (who never responds) and then against some other folks. I think I acquit myself well factually, though I find when debating business-oriented libertarians, I get very angry. They are smart and often decent people, but their ideological rigidness frustrates me, the same way I feel about Stalinists and Communists from the 1930s, whom modern business oriented libertarians resemble in their mindset of "Don't let the facts and consistency get in the way of my ideology!"