Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Haaretz writer has had enough of the settlements

Read it here.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Listen to Kevin...and me...

Kevin Drum explains in a nice way that the top 1% having so much gosh darn money is a bad thing for our society.

But let's be complimentary to the top 1% folks. Turns out 2/3ds of them say they want their taxes raised. Guess those right wing Democrats who side with Republicans haven't gotten the message yet...We know they haven't listened to the vast majority of Americans who support letting the Bush Tax Cuts expire as to those making more than $250,000 (and please, this only means the income above $250,000 is taxed at the same rate it was under Clinton's administrations).

And as we know, letting the tax cuts for the richest 1% expire is an act of fiscal prudence. How? Because it's been determined that letting the Bush Tax Cuts expire for the top 1% brings into government coffers roughly the same revenue over the next thirty years as the supposed deficit that will only begin thirty years from now in the Social Security system (per the skeptics of the system themselves)...

A true football hero: George Blanda (1927-2010)

I remember those stretches of games where George Blanda would play quarterback and then be the kicker of field goals and extra points. It was an amazing display of talent. No need to add anything further. Just read here and here regarding a truly great American football player whose time spanned the early stages of modern pro football through its prime when it was truly America's Sport in the 1970s.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday Night Review of Sunday Book Reviews--September 26, 2010

The New York Times Sunday Book Review contains reviews of some very interesting books, though the reviewers are themselves hit and miss in their reviews:

1. Sebastian Mallaby's tempered, yet positive review of Robert Reich's new book, "Aftershock" is well worth reading. Reich has distilled important information in less than 200 pages in his new book, and I bet readers even of this blog would be rewarded in reading it. I disagree with Mallaby's lone, if significant criticism of Reich's point about lax demand and the American consumer. What Mallaby fails to appreciate is that Reich's point is that for over three decades the American family has (1) worked longer hours (2) sent the female spouse out of the home and into the workforce and (3) gone into debt in order to consume goods and services. Reich's point is that there would have been much more consumer spending these past thirty plus years if the American worker were paid in a manner that matched individual American worker productivity gains, and had the wealthiest 1-10% not gobbled up most of the income produced over that time.

Reich's more recent point is that the American family cannot get out of the fiscal and financial mess we are in by (1) working more hours, (2) finding a third spouse and (3) borrowing any more money, the last due to tight credit measures going on in banks. See here for Reich's point in a single article at Salon.com. Reich is engaging the argument that if there were a better distribution of wealth and higher taxes to provide the type of government services in education, libraries, social services we used to provide, more families would choose to allow one spouse to stay home with the kids. That this escapes the relatively younger Mallaby is perhaps not too surprising. He is part of the DC Village, after all...

2. Here is a review of a new biography of a promoter of the arts of a century ago who is nearly lost in our collective memory: Serge Diaghilev. The reviewer does a marvelous job of re-creating for us the cultural currents of the early 1900s, and how Diaghilev helped shape much of the culture of Europe and parts of America during that time.

3. An example of a review that lacks historical depth: This review of a new book on why we are supposedly addicted to scandal would have been far more helpful had it been more historically grounded. Are we as a people really more addicted to scandal than we were decades ago? How does the fact that the media incessantly cover it now, as opposed to simply holding back out of elitist decorum fit in? How does it compare to the way British subjects reacted in the 19th Century to various personal scandals among the Royal Family, a topic that would absolutely shock most Americans if they read about the scandals and the way in which regular folks gobbled up the information via word of mouth and newspapers of the time.

4. This review of the growth of "human rights" in foreign affairs deserved something better than the reviewer gave it. It was a too short and perfunctory review, and obscures the salient point the book's author, Samuel Moyn, gave to the 1975 Helsinki Accords and Jimmy Carter's demand for a more prominent place for human rights in the wake of those accords (which were pushed by his predecessor, Gerald Ford, over the sometimes objecting Henry Kissinger). If the reviewer is going to say the 1990s are the key time for the idea of human rights in foreign affairs, then she should write her own book or explain better why Moyn's book is wrong.

5. This review of Israeli novelist, prominent Israeli dove and grieving father, David Grossman, is long enough and extremely positive about Grossman's new novel. Still, at the end of the review, I wondered, Do I really want to read this novel? Is it going to capture and enlighten me in any way? I hope I am not glib in asking those questions. I hope the book gets wide circulation at least in the Jewish-American community, particularly the synagogue going American Jews, who really have no idea about the depths of contradictions within Jewish Israeli society when they go on their Potemkin Village trips there...Grossman certainly understands those contradictions better than most.

6. But let's end this week's review of book reviews on a positive note of personal triumph. This review of a new book by two African-American sisters, one of whom is a playwright of renown, was well-written and the book sounds fabulous. I opened the excerpt and went, "Whoa. Now that grabs me." The African-American story in American History has long called deep into me in a way that makes me feel more Jewish than much of what goes on in Israel. The African-American story does have parallels to the Jew in Europe, the Permanent Other, and yet, our nation's recent gains in promoting civil rights show why our nation's brief history is so much more positive in that realm than the history of Europe. There is still a long way to go, but gains can be clearly seen; plus, life for African-Americans, and how white America views African-Americans, have definitely improved despite the contingent of racists who show up at Tea Party rallies. In all, a novel about African-American history, a novel about music that strives to sing in prose is something worth reading and celebrating.

Wow. Lots to read in the NY Times Sunday Book Review this week!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Stephen Colbert Shames Congress...and FoxNews Propagates Hatred and Ignorance

Compare this post from FireDogLake (including watching the video) with this from FoxNews handling the story of Stephen Colbert testifying in character before a Congressional Committee, where his irony and sarcasm were used to favor migrant and immigrant farmworkers.

I loved Colbert's testimony, but his question and answers were especially poignant. I loved the lines:

“I like talking about people who don’t have any power…. I feel the need to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. (Quoting Matthew 25:40)...The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me....We ask them to come and work, and then we ask them to leave again. These people suffer, and they have no rights."


And what the heck was up with doddering John Conyers (D-MI) telling Colbert to leave before he spoke? Not only did Conyers have no sense of humor, he was tone deaf to what the first linked to post from FireDogLake was noticing--it was the first time since Edward R. Murrow's Harvest of Shame (1960) that a celebrity or journalist had brought national attention to the plight of farmworkers.

Of course, FoxNews doesn't want its viewers to know facts regarding migrant workers and their working conditions, so it covers the outrage, not the facts. Colbert did not make a mockery of Congress. He shamed Congresspeople like Steve King (R-IA) who would rather support the status quo which exploits these brave and strong workers.

ADDENDUM: Here is the Los Angeles Times article on Colbert's appearance. In the article, we read how utterly dumb Lamar Smith (R-Texas) was in serving as an unwitting straight man for Colbert:

"Does one day working in the field make you an expert witness, do you think?" Rep. Lamar Smith (R- Texas) asked scornfully.

"I believe one day of me studying anything makes me an expert on something," Colbert replied confidently.

"Is that to say it's more work than you've ever done before, right?" Smith followed.

"It's certainly harder work than this," the comedian deadpanned.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How to watch "Waiting for Superman"

Some of the leading people propagating--properly so--for a solution for climate change have decided to attack the educational system in this county in a way that betrays their elitist bent. "Waiting for Superman" is a film about our failing public schools that may be unfairly focusing on the obviously bad aspects in poor neighborhoods' public schools and leads people to heighten their attack on public school teachers.

If the teachers' union leader is correct, this film would constitute a travesty. I will withhold judgment before I see the film, but if, again, she is correct, it would be is as if some wealthy environmentalists made a film about bad performing hospitals in poor neighborhoods and said, "If only we had better doctors in this country, our poor and lower income people in this country would be healthier." Excuse me, but that is not the way we need to talk about health care delivery and health insurance in this nation, and it would be a mistake to primarily attack public school employees and unions in trying to reform our schools.

Good performing public schools tend to be more concentrated in wealthier neighborhoods and badly performing ones tend to be more concentrated in poor neighborhoods. That needs to be understood first and foremost so that we can begin to understand how the exceptions remain exceptions and how larger forces shape parents' and children's responses to the public school system in their neighborhoods (See this report about income levels and education performance).

Again, I will be seeing this film for myself but I wonder whether the reaction to the film will hold to an overall trend of the public discourse in the United States for the past sixty years, which is a loss of an ability to articulate a class-based analysis. Worse, too many workers in America too often attack their fellow workers who may have relatively speaking marginally better benefits or wages than they do, rather than attack the incredible maldistribution of wealth that more often plays a larger role in inequities that arise in nearly every other aspect of life in our nation.

I hope, for example, the film will help us understand that international educational comparisons leave out the fact that most other nations are not attempting a mass education after middle school, but are geared toward elite intellects (in link, see discussion of participation after elementary school); but note another link that states US children lag in pre-school attendance, which tends to improve later school performance, due to our nation having less socialist-oriented child-care legislation. Thus, a truer comparison of elite vs elite will find America performing fairly well even in science and math (here is yet another way to look at the issue, in terms of state by state performances compared to other nations). I hope the film helps us understand that there has been a general decline in class mobility in the U.S.--to the point where various nations in what we used to call stratified Europe have more class mobility than we do in the US, largely since we abandoned subsidizing education and went in for more and more draconian levels of loans for higher education.

So we should see "Waiting for Superman". But we need to ensure our perspective gets beyond worker bashing and recognizing broader social inequality based upon wealth distribution. We do need to work harder at promoting quality mass education, but this means that for poorer neighborhoods, more money to develop the poorer communities overall. And that requires Bill Gates giving up more money to taxes (sorry Bill...but life is tough, right?). The teachers' unions, in my personal reform, should agree to end their involvement in the civil service system as it is redundant to unions. That will save money without impacting too many union jobs, and make it easier to fire incompetent teachers without going through two organizations, i.e. the civil service system and the union grievance procedure. But again, one can make a better argument that the decline of the middle class corresponds with declines in union participation, and inequality breeds more often the consequences seen in the film. And, again, it may help us understand why the exceptions that crop up in poor neighborhoods (meaning good performing schools) remain exceptions.

___________

For disclosure, my wife is a teachers' assistant in a union in a successful suburban school district, my father was a public school teacher decades ago before he became a lawyer, and my sister, unemployed, is a special ed teacher. Ironically, my sister has the best right to complain about unions because she is overpriced in the system and can't get back inside a district here in California after being gone for several years in another state as she followed her husband around in jobs. She gets glowing reviews from principals for long-term substitute jobs, and is told the school will hire someone less experienced for less pay instead of her. Should she be allowed to take a lower salary? That could undermine the other teachers. She knows that, too, but perseveres in the hope that a school district will pay more for someone experienced who will make a difference in special ed children's lives. Yet, we in the family are admittedly frustrated about her situation and wish there could be a waiver to allow her a special ed position.

(Edited)

ADDENDUM: Oh, this is going to be a hard film to like.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

David Frum thinks Anthony Codevilla is dumb (and I'm with Frum on that!)

David Frum, who is a right-winger trying to restore some sanity to his side of the political ledger, rips into fellow right-wing professor Anthony Codevilla's article (now short book) "The Ruling Class," which posits that there is a ruling class and country class, but defines them in ways that sound suspiciously like a Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich rant.

My contribution to ripping into Codevilla occurred about three weeks ago and is linked to here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Onion is inspired...and wonderfully adolsecent in its humor

Here the Onion asks people on the street to share their thoughts about the increase in poverty.

Jess Cressbeckler is back and the Onion has him. This one is not as great as the first one, but the creativity in the language Cressbeckler employs was brilliant, and surprisingly poignant at the end.

And finally, the Onion helps us understand how the violence from the wars among Mexican drug cartels has dramatically escalated...

Bonus video from the Onion: Are tests biased against students who don't give a...?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mike Huckabee thinks I'm an arsonist

Mike Huckabee says he is against having laws that require insurers to provide insurance to people with pre-existing conditions. He says its like giving property insurance to people whose homes burnt down the day before.

I guess when he talks about family values, this is what he means.

Republican leaders may yet talk themselves into defeat in fifty days.

Corporate media propaganda machine continues to hum

A new national poll shows 54% of Americans support letting Bush Tax Cuts expire for those making more than $250,000 a year (meaning, those above that income would pay the same tax on the margin above that sum as they did under Bill Clinton). Only 44% say no, with the rest undecided.

Considering the Democrats have not really tried to make any case for this, that is quite stunning.

Yet, the Associated Press headline and opening sentence it sent to nearly every newspaper in the nation, and which most newspapers reprinted without change? "Nearly half" or "almost half" the nation "opposes tax increases for the richest Americans..."

That, dear folks, is how modern propaganda works.

What's also interesting to me about the article the American Prospect blogger linked to is the continued ignoring of disaffected Democrats. Why is it that only 46% want Republicans to control the economy, and 41% want Democrats, yet we see on various issues like taxes that the majority of people support policies often promoted by Democrats--and in most individual congressional races, the two parties' candidates are nearly evenly split? That is because the Republicans, by stopping legislation, and Democrats, by not fighting harder, have caused confusion among low information voters and have literally depressed lower-information Democratic Party voters and even some activists or knowledgeable folks like me* into saying, "To hell with everyone" which means a lower turnout among Democrats.

This is how Democrats lose elections...However, we may see more corporate media advertising that helps increase turnout to defeat more than a few of these Republicans in fifty days...

* Don't worry, I tell my father. My wife and I are voting in November, and we are voting for all Democrats up and down the line. It's other folks who generally agree with me, where Democratic Party leaders should be worried, in addition to the low-information voters.

(Edited)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Amusing heroic story of the day...

Down in Amarillo, Texas, a young 20 something atheistic skateboarder saves the Koran from being burned on a grill by a Christian fundamentalist. The video at the website is fun to watch, too.

I love the skateboarders' line after swiping the Koran from the hate preacher: "Dude, you have no Koran!"

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Active lies and lies by omissions in book reviews

(MF Blog note: A lot more editing and fixing of links than usual...)

This post is a special one regarding reviews of the same book in today's The New York Times and Washington Post. The reviews of University of Chicago History Professor Bruce Cuming's relatively short-essay form book on the Korean Civil Wars of the 1940s and 1950s, including the full scale war North Korea began on June 25, 1950, are excellent examples of how apologists for the American Empire operate. Both reviews rely on attacking around the edges Cumings' book, attacking him for not sufficiently mentioning the positive aspects of American conduct in the Korean peninsula, and, while doing so, the reviewers downplay and sometimes ignore what is often missing in most other books on the South Korean-American conduct of that time. The point of the reviews is to say, "Stay away! Nothing to see here!"

What is great for the public to combat these courtiers is that we now have blogs like mine. And more importantly, we now have Amazon.com, where regular people who show remarkable insight get to engage each other in reviews of the book, and where the "Look Inside" software allows us to search Cuming's book to see if the establishment reviewers are honest. With these additional resources, we will see that these reviews are dishonest and constitute a political libel against a great historian, Bruce Cumings.

Let's start with The Washington Post's review by William Steuck, himself an historian at the University of Georgia, and an authority on the Korean War (1950-1953). Stueck writes at one point in his review:

Cumings also ignores evidence from archives in China and Russia that sheds light on the lead-up to North Korea's invasion of the south. Cumings lays emphasis on a Chinese role in the attack, but newly released documents show that Beijing was largely left out of the pre-war planning while Moscow was intimately involved.


Yet, at Amazon.com, using the Look Inside software, we find the following at page 144 of Cumings' book:

Based on the scattered evidence now available from Soviet archives, it appears that a wary and reluctant Stalin, who had restrained Kim (MJF NOTE: The North Korean leader) for months before, changed his mind in early 1950 and approved an assault on the South. He offered Kim military equipment and sent advisers to help with planning the assault, but sought to distance the Soviet Union from Kim's adventurism (which became evident when Kim, at the last minute in June, changed a major assault on the South designed to seize Ongjin and Kaesong, and perhaps Seoul, into a general invasion). Little definitive information has appeared about Kim's talks with Mao, but other evidence from the time suggests that Mao was probably more supportive than Stalin of Kim's plans.


At the end of this paragraph, we have a footnote 47 citation, which, at the back of the book, states:

Anyone who thinks they know exactly what happened in June 1950 is insufficiently well read in the documentation; there is still much more to be learned from the Soviet, Chinese, and North and South Korean archives--and from the U.S. National Security Agency, which still has not declassified crucial signals intelligence on the Korean War.

Oh, and earlier, at page 24, Cumings tells his readers that Mao had informed Stalin that Mao was sending twelve infantry divisions to help North Korea against the South.

Cumings has written a two volume scholarly study of the Korean War and its Origins during the early 1990s. He has written a few books on the topic since then. This book is for a general reader and is, again, relatively short (less than 300 pages including the footnotes and index).

Stueck's previous paragraph to his paragraph about what Cumings supposedly missed (but didn't) makes a mundane, and ultimately irrelevant, point about American Cold War architect George Kennan and the scope of Kennan's Soviet containment proposal. But, really, who cares whether George Kennan's "version" of "containment," which Stueck does not make clear to a lay leader is non-military containment, may have included the Korean peninsula? Kennan was already being isolated among US policy-makers before 1950, and his ideas for non-military confrontations with the Soviets and the "Red" Chinese were seen as quaint by more than a few military strategists and foreign policy "experts" around President Truman, which experts included, interestingly enough, the Dulles brothers (who are insufficiently recognized as agents of international fascism, if one uses the same nomenclature one sees used against Owen Lattimore or John Service, among others). And how dare Stueck not inform his readers that the Truman administration publicly did not include South Korea in its perimeter of military action in the months before June 1950? That is far more important than what Kennan thought, and Stueck knows this, too.

So, why include that paragraph about Kennan in his review? The goal, of course, is to stigmatize Cumings, who, unlike most other American authors writing about the Korean War, included in his book a reasonably full rendering of American supervision of Southern Korean atrocities, incredible and horrific American bombings and napalm against a civilian population, and very astute analysis as to how the US-supported leadership in South Korea included many Japanese war lord collaborators. Also, contrary to Stueck (who again knows better), the South Korean government under Rhee was in fact in disarray following national assembly elections in late May 1950. Those elections resulted in a decided rejection of the South Korean President Rhee and were in favor of the leftists who were seeking reunification with the North in open elections. Stueck does not want American readers to know that the North Korean invasion of the South saved Rhee from being thrown out of office, and allowed Rhee to implement harsh military repression in South Korea that lasted decades. What occurred was a victory for the polar extremes in South and North Korea.

I also find it interesting that, contrary to the accusations from Stueck, and the NY Times reviewer, courtier Jacob Heilbrunn (more in a moment on Heilbrunn), Cumings is very willing to expose and harshly criticize the repressive nature of the North Korean regime. As stated by one of the reviewers at Amazon.com, Cumings wrote that there are still 100,000 to 200,000 political prisoners in North Korea. I confirmed this in Cumings' book at Amazon.com's Look Inside mechanism (page 186 of Cumings' book; cited in index to Look Inside software, not the full page). Cumings also talks about the "Hermit Kingdom" to highlight North Korea's isolation and makes fairly clear that the North Korean dictator, Kim Il Jong, acted perversely and horrifically toward his people. Cumings also describes the pervasive and continued absurdities in North Korean media propaganda (For the last point, see page 98 of Cumings' book, again through Amazon.com's Look Inside software system).

In the NY Times, Heilbrunn does a drive-by shooting style of book review against Cumings. Heilbrunn opens with the usual, "Now children, let me tell you about a very strange man...He seems so smart and learned, but really, he is too radical for us serious adults" that one sees in establishment corporate media reviews of books by Chomsky or the late Howard Zinn or Edward Said. Heilbrunn provides what he claims were Truman and Acheson's view of the Soviet Union in the period of 1945-1950, without informing readers those views were the "public relations" views those two leaders expressed to the American people. Heilbrunn fails to disclose that Truman and Acheson knew very well that the Soviets were acting far more cautiously and defensively than what they were publicly stating to the American public. Thus, when Heilbrunn writes "It’s hardly surprising that Truman administration cold-war liberals, led by Secretary of State Dean Acheson, took a different view of South Korea’s fate", he misleads readers into thinking the public stance from these men was what they really and honestly, i.e. privately, believed. Who is the biased one writer here, Jacob?

(For those appalled by such a statement that maybe Truman and Acheson deceived the public, one may begin with the non-leftist Lafayette College History Professor Arnold A. Offner's "Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War 1945-1953" (published by Stanford University Press), the late Frank Kofsky's more polemic, but fascinating, "Harry Truman and the War Scare of 1948," (which shows how there was a lie spread about an imminent Soviet invasion of Western Europe to pass new US legislation regarding the American airplane industry, and incidentally, help pass the Marshall Plan) or an original "revisionist" book, "Architects of Illusion," by my old Rutgers professor, Lloyd Gardner to get an understanding of that fact. Yes, that is a fact, folks, a sad, but true fact that monstrous Stalin was not nearly as aggressive in Eastern Europe as we are so often told in American corporate media.)

Heilbrunn is really misleading and commits a sly libel against Cumings when he writes:

These insights are undermined by (Cumings') penchant for offering excuses about the nature of the North Korean regime. For example, Cumings dismisses the idea that North Korea is a Stalinist state. He claims that “there is no evidence in the North Korean experience of the mass violence against whole classes of people or the wholesale ‘purge’ that so clearly characterized Stalinism.” The large-scale famine of the late 1990s, the cult of personality surrounding the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il and, not least, a gulag currently filled with innocents would seem more than enough to qualify the wasteland that is North Korea for the label Stalinist.

In fact, Cumings' point about the non-Stalinist side of the North Korean regime is not an excuse for the regime. Cumings' point in the book (and again I have checked various pages dealing with the word "Stalin" and its "isms" etc.) is that the regime resembles a totalitarian dictatorship with a Confucian hereditary-leadership bent as much as a Leninist-Stalinist dictatorship. Heilbrunn also makes it appear Cumings does not mention the 1990s famine in North Korea, but there it is at page 186 of Cumings' book. And we have already established that Cumings describes the cult of personality regarding Kim Il-Jong and his son (Cumings does not use the hackneyed phrase "cult of personality" though...).

Heilbrunn simply does not want otherwise intelligent and knowledgeable readers of the NY Times Book Review to learn about indisputable American-led atrocities, American leaders' mendacity and other actions of our leaders that might cause us to be more cautious in accepting current American leaders' attempts to drag our nation into further wars. Yes, I have sometimes winced at Professor Cumings' not fully crediting the last 15 years of South Korean history, where it has had a remarkably successful development of democratic-republican values and economic strength. But Cumings knows this, too, and is simply attempting to give us a perspective that helps illuminate those facts not illuminated in the discourse in America on this subject.

The sad thing is that neither Heilbrunn or Stueck have to be told to ridicule or denigrate Cumings or to mislead readers of the NY Times or Washington Post. They know their roles as courtiers for the American Empire and they know how to speak or write about those who dissent from the apologists for the American Empire. For those who see the Post and Times as "leftist," perhaps this review of reviews offers a valuable contrary lesson.

But most importantly, people who have any interest in History or American politics should read Cumings' book about American actions in the Korean peninsula. They will be shocked, amazed and enlightened in ways they would never have imagined before on this topic. That is the reason Heilbrunn and Stueck don't want people to read it. These two courtiers know more than they let on, and they know what their views about the Korean conflicts leave out. And if Stueck or Heilbrunn want to speak with me, they know where to find me....:-)

(Edited)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Memo to Abe Foxman: Here is your next ADL Dinner Speaker

Fidel Castro, Zionist.

Who knew?

A non-violent action that will eventually lead to the defeat of violent Islamic fundamentalists

See this very interesting article about a Pakistani Islamic rocker and his sensible take back of his faith from the violent extremists who act in the name of Islam.

How stupid Republican pundits serve the propaganda system

Paul Krugman provides another example of the dumb factor completely taking hold among so-called "conservative" or "libertarian" pundits, and ironically leads us to the insight that the dumbness has a purpose. The stupid Republican corporate media pundit is designed to confuse the rest of us into voting for Republicans who have even worse motives and policy ideas to harm our nation than even corporate-marinated Democrats.

In his blog post, Krugman easily dispatched a dumb "libertarian" pundit at The Atlantic who didn't understand the point that extending Bush tax cuts for the wealthy top 2% alone adds nearly as much to the federal government's deficit, starting now, and continuing over the next thirty years as the deficit the Social Security system may cause starting thirty years from now.

But of course, that dumb pundit is paid to not understand that point. Her job is to be a shill for the greediest sector of the economic elite in the US who continue to gorge themselves at the expense of the rest of us. The real slogan for the greedy top wealthy folks is:

"More income tax cuts for us, and more cuts in Social Security benefits for you!"


Sadly, the false alarms about Social Security and the entire imbroglio regarding the Muslim community center at the old Burlington coat factory building, located two and a half blocks from the former World Trade Center, are two reasons why regular folks are so confused less than fifty days to Election Day 2010. The propaganda system is working splendidly for the economic elite right now...

And what's amazing about the corporate media propaganda system is we'll never see a memo that would support this nonsense and these diversions as being intentionally inspired, i.e. a conspiracy (Well, maybe there is one at FoxNews?:-)). And that is because the system does not work by what people think of when they use the word "conspiracy." Instead, systems have their own logic after awhile, and the people who lead them know what to do for rather normal reasons of self-preservation or how to get ahead within the system. It's how a person like David Gregory succeeds. It's how Megan McArdle becomes a pundit at the once respectable The Atlantic.

This explanation of the functioning of the system is what Chomsky was actually conveying in his co-written book, "Manufacturing Consent,". It is why he went back to the conscious propagandists of the 1910s and 1920s to begin to describe the process of creating modern corporate media news dissemination. This includes what topics are covered as a "big" story, what are not covered and how matters of importance (distribution of productivity gains and public policies that concern economic matters) are discussed or obscured, as each issue may unfold. The creative minds behind the beginning of the structure (Ivy Lee, Edward Bernays, George Creel, Irving Thalberg and Walter Lippmann, among others) were conscious of what was being created and the purpose in creating the system. Then, during the 20 year period between the end of World War II and the 1970s, the system developed its own logic and began producing an increasing number of fairly vacuous, attractive-looking and sounding people (Tom Brokaw being an icon here) who effectively spewed corporate propaganda and promoted various wars, among other ideas and policies necessary to beggar our nation's working families.

And of course, Ronald Reagan was the original modern corporate shill spokesman who gained the presidency in 1980, and the rest is our nation's sad, true history, as Kevin Phillips, a paleo-conservative, was one of the first people outside the far left to notice what was happening. Phillips was a respected part of the propaganda apparatus and, while his initial books sold well, once he started writing about the plutocracy in less than kindly ways, he was no longer invited to the sorts of parties in the DC Village that David Gregory and Megan McArdle now attend.

Let us, however, stay calm and hopeful amidst the growing electoral storm, and let's see if the 10-20% of low-information voters who normally decide elections really pull the lever for various idiot, snarling candidates the Republicans have vomited into prominence this year. As is now common, this election will turn on the effect of television advertising and corporate media coverage of what broadcast corporate media pundits deem a political candidate's "gaffes" or pratfalls of phrasing, or whether the media will engage in a guilt-by-association as to any of the candidates in the hot races around the nation. We'll have a better sense of things by say, October 15...which is coming fast, isn't it?

(Edited)

Monday, September 06, 2010

In honor of Labor Day...some labor songs

Happy Labor Day, 2010. I worked today, but I think this is the year where workers around our nation are starting to think even more positively of the need for labor unions...but we've still got a long way to go.

Anyway, some labor songs:

The Strawbs: "Part of the Union"

Chumbawumba: "Diggers Song" and "Poverty Knock"

Pete Seeger: "Which Side Are You On?"

Paul Robeson: "Joe Hill"

And here is the "Internationale," which was originally written and sung as an anthem for human kindness and solidarity. Perhaps now we may again hear that song as it was originally intended, and separate it from the specific, monstrous governmental regimes that made a mockery of its lyrics and music (which unfortunately make their way into the video versions of the song on YouTube).

Of course, the American version of the "Internationale" may be "The House I Live In", especially the version Frank Sinatra sang. Right now, though, with our tough economic times, we have to avoid losing our homes, which would make it "The House We Used to Live In."

Ezra's spot on column on Social Security and work...

Ezra Klein seemed to be under the spell of Village-itis. This column shows there is still life in the young man yet! His post on Social Security, alternatives to raising the minimum age, and the fact that Social Security is really not in trouble--plus an ode to retiring earlier, not later!--is a must-read.

When labor began to decline in the 1970s, workers' wages did too...

This interview at Salon.com with a Cornell University History professor, Jefferson Cowie, is enlightening reading. Cowie has written a book chronicling the decline of the middle class in the 1970s, and the intersection of the cultural currents of the 1970s.
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Hmmmm....Isn't there a book about that, too, except it was an alternative history about how and why that did NOT happen?

A few years ago, I found it intriguing that when I began reading Nixonland, by the wonderful Rick Perlstein, it became clear to me that it was the later, straight history version of my novel. Perlstein never read my book, and was obviously drawn to his subject after his first book on the rise of the Republican Party from the ashes of the 1964 defeat of Goldwater.

With regard to Cowie's chronicle, there are obviously strong undercurrents in my novel that match his just-released book. Hopefully, when my novel finally is re-released--hopefully in the next six months--we will also release the original sci-fi opening to the book, which may make some people nod with a wry smile at the similarities of that previously unseen sci-fi opening that was written ten years before "Super Sad True Love Story." There is truth to the belief that ideas float through the air and independent minds can hit upon the same thing within a relatively short time period. Funny that!

It's about time...Oh wait, it's election time, too

The president is finally--finally!--calling for the sort of infrastructure investment this nation has needed since before the crash of 2008. Still, only $50 billion? In a nation as large, and with infrastructure worth tens of trillions, and probably double the people unemployed that our ridiculously figured unemployment rates show (I mean, really, when a man, even more than a woman, gives up looking for work, they are no longer unemployed?), $50 billion is not enough. It should be five times that sum for it to make the impact we need to reinvest in our infrastructure and stimulate demand throughout the economy of our nation.

Is the president serious, though? Or is this just another election ploy from an essentially corporatist Democrat? Time will tell. My only hope is that enough low-information American voters vote for enough Democrats to hold the Senate and the House. I am almost rooting, however, for people like Blanche Lincoln (Scorpion-AK) to lose, just to get people like her out of the way so that the Democratically-held Senate abolishes or severely limits the filibuster and good legislation begins to move forward.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Paul Conrad: American Icon

Paul Conrad has passed away at age 86.

I loved his venomous political cartoons, both for his ability to capture important points with a drawing, and for the quality of the drawing itself. I loved most of, if not all of his cartoons attacking Israeli policies, and even a few of his anti-abortion ones. Conrad was a consistent pro-life guy--against abortion, against the death penalty, against war--but still fierce. He was a sculptor as well as a cartoonist, which multiple talents surprise me less and less when one studies the lives of truly talented people. Here is a clever website that provides some idea of Conrad's cartoons...

I was lucky enough to have met him a couple of times in the past seven years. He was seen as cantankerous to some people, I noticed, but he was very kind to me both times we met. He sent my publisher a rather long, positive and lyrical comment about my RFK novel, and said that the RFK inaugural speech I wrote captured the essence of what RFK would have said had he survived and become president. He personally told me it brought tears to his eyes, and reminded him again what our nation had lost with the assassination of RFK in 1968. I was truly honored by such comments.

Paul Conrad, Rest--or Rail--in Peace.

ADDENDUM: In reading the LA Times obit again this morning, I noted Conrad eventually decided Roe v. Wade was an okay decision after all, and had moderated his anti-abortion position. Interesting...

Friday, September 03, 2010

Cranky Conservative Cracking Up: 2010 edition

Angelo Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, has written a frustratingly shallow article in The American Spectator that people may mistake for some possible opening of a conservative mind into an economic populism. It is not. Instead, the poor fellow is just cracked up and bleeding from the failures of market capitalism and now wants to rail at elites--until Republicans return to power of course. I've heard this sort of nonsense back in the early 1990s during the start of the Perot movement. But, as The Who sang, "We won't get fooled again."

Let's start with something simple, like the professor's snark near the end of his article after he tells us there is the "ruling class" and the "country class" and in which professors like him are in the "ruling class" because they are more likely to like symphonies and the opera rather than sports car racing. And if you like the symphony or know how to conjugate verbs, you obviously hate your country. Here, he writes:

"You do not doubt that you are amidst the country class rather than with the ruling class when the American flag passes by or 'God Bless America' is sung after seven innings of baseball, and most people show reverence. The same people (the 'ruling class') wince at the National Football League's plaintive renditions of the 'Star Spangled Banner.'" (Parenthesis added)

The professor thinks the people who wince at this hate their country. They don't. Instead, most simply hate seeing patriotic symbols manipulated for cynical ends. Surely a professor at an elite university should know the difference, but maybe he never asked anyone who winces at such things. I tend to wince at "God Bless America" played at the end of the 7th inning, but that is because I am a traditionalist and feel it takes away from "Take me out to the ball game" in the middle of the inning, and we already stood for the "Star Spangled Banner" at the start of the game, in which I reverently take off my hat (most of the time, anyway...:-)). In fairness, I have had to explain to some who wince that regardless of their feelings that they are feeling manipulated by such displays, others who are reverent don't see it that way.

Now on to the larger scale topics. The professor makes the point over and over again that somehow those who favor more significant economic regulation by government are somehow against families and children. This is said in the sort of fact-less vacuum one expects from a failed philosophy professor rather than one who supposedly specializes in international relations. Are families helped or hurt when they have to rely solely on the "market" for health insurance? Just try getting insurance for a family when you are not in a group plan. You want to talk about anti-family? Paying through the nose for--or not having--health insurance for you or your family is surely Exhibit "A" for something that is anti-family. Also, are families helped or hurt if the minimum wage laws were abolished? We know how it was before the minimum wage was instituted; unless the professor really thinks people's personalities, and bosses' personalities have changed and that they learned their lesson to not beggar their workers (Please, please note my sarcasm here...). One could go on, of course.

The real silly season begins early in the article, where the professor does a full on attack on intellectual scientists who try to understand biology and climate. He engages in the usual live by one's internal wits' attack on Darwin (if there is a fact-based argument against Darwin in the article, as opposed to an ahistorical philosophical libel against Darwin, it is buried too deeply for me). Has this guy never read Stephen Jay Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man" which attacks the long history of scientific racism and elitism? Yet, Gould was an Ivy League elitist, a leftist who came from a labor-left tradition, and of course was a strong advocate for Darwin and science. Where does Gould fit on the axis of ruling class or country class? Gould's existence explodes the theory the professor posits already...

Still, we're not done by a long shot, though it is like shooting fish in a barrel. Next, the professor then assumes that everyone knows Michael Mann's hockeystick was discredited outside the academy, when in fact other scientists--who still nonetheless believe the earth is warming due to human contribution--had questioned Mann's (and others') findings before the public got wind of it. Better to attack the dumbness of most corporate-owned media reporters, professor, than construct a Manichean theory of good and evil, with non-scientists being good and scientists being evil. He also accuses Mann of consciously manipulating data, something that should surprise those who wrote the recent review of the emails from the university in England, with whom Mann corresponded (as if those who deny humans play any role in climate changes are free of such charges). And as Ronald Bailey, a libertarian usually on the right side of the political aisle explained, the scandal itself changed nothing in terms of the proof of other data on the planet warming and how humans have contributed to that warming. Oh wait, I forgot, the professor had opened his essay by citing a conspiracy in which some elites protect each other, as if that was only a phenomenon of the past forty years.

And this was precious:

"Ever since Oliver Wendell Holmes argued in 1920 (Missouri v. Holland) that presidents, Congresses, and judges could not be bound by the U.S. Constitution regarding matters that the people who wrote and ratified it could not have foreseen, it has become conventional wisdom among our ruling class that they may transcend the Constitution while pretending allegiance to it. They began by stretching such constitutional terms as 'interstate commerce' and 'due process,' then transmuting others, e.g., 'search and seizure,' into 'privacy.' Thus in 1973 the Supreme Court endowed its invention of 'privacy' with a 'penumbra' that it deemed 'broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.' The court gave no other constitutional reasoning, period. (MF Blog editor comment: I bold the last sentence only because it was italicized in the original, and I have italicized the portion of the paragraph from the article)

First, as I have had to point out in the past, the modern Supreme Court's jurisprudence for an expansive, almost plenary interpretation of the "interstate commerce" clause was merely a restoration of the closer-to-original-intent of the Founding Federalists under the leadership of Chief Justice John Marshall. The modern courts' interpretations are not unprecedented--and the drive-by attack on Holmes is, again, a libel. Holmes was more in tune with the Founders than most of the Gilded Age justices, though he is never too far from criticism for his own biases, as with most of us.

Second, the Founders intentionally left the phrase "due process" vague (read Federalist Paper no. 37) because they could not decide upon its meaning. They wanted posterity or experience to guide the meaning. While they had an idea that it was to protect individuals and their criminal rights, they left the phrase's definition open, again, on purpose. If anything, it was Gilded Age jurists who stretched the phrase, using it to strike down legislation designed to help workers and their families--and to uphold and expand the power of the rising corporate class.

Third, I am rather amazed the professor thinks that the Warren Court's interpretation of the phrase "due process" to define rights for individuals or aggrieved minorities would have appalled Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, or for that matter, John Adams.

As for the "1973" decision--professor, can't you say Roe v. Wade, or is it like Voldemort in your worldview?--that decision in fact rested on more than the word "penumbra". Did the professor miss this portion of the opinion by Justice Blackmun, in which six other justices, including conservative Chief Justice Warren Burger agreed:

The Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy. In a line of decisions, however, going back perhaps as far as Union Pacific R. Co. v. Botsford, 141 U.S. 250, 251 (1891), the Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution. In varying contexts, the Court or individual Justices have, indeed, found at least the roots of that right in the First Amendment, Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 564 (1969); in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 8 -9 (1968), Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 350 (1967), Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886), see Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 478 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting); in the penumbras of the Bill of Rights, Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S., at 484 -485; in the Ninth Amendment, id., at 486 (Goldberg, J., concurring); or in the concept of liberty guaranteed by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment, see Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399 (1923). These decisions make it clear that only personal rights that can be deemed "fundamental" or "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty," Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325 (1937), are included in this guarantee of personal privacy. They also make it clear that the right has some extension to activities relating to marriage, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967); procreation, Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 -542 (1942); contraception, Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S., at 453 -454; id., at 460, 463-465 [410 U.S. 113, 153] (WHITE, J., concurring in result); family relationships, Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944); and child rearing and education, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925), Meyer v. Nebraska, supra.

This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.


Contrary to the professor, the Court refused to find just one avenue to reach its conclusion that there is an inherent right of privacy for a woman to decide what to do with her body. Unfortunately for people like the professor, who obviously did not read the decision and continues to slander the reasoning of the decision, the right to privacy is not without limits under Roe v. Wade. For example, the State has a compelling interest to consider protection of the fetus from the moment the fetus is able to live outside the womb, with or without medical technology. See: Roe, 410 US 113, 159-161. And if anyone wants to know how abortions were treated at the time the Constitution was ratified, one should read the amazing law review articles from the 1960s, cited by the Supreme Court in Footnote 21 of the Roe v. Wade decision. The reader would find that abortion laws were rarely enforced in the last decades of the 18th Century (1700s), and abortion was allowed under the common law and other formerly colonial laws for at least the first trimester--or essentially what was known as "quickening."

You see, these are facts, and that is what is missing from most of the professor's essay. He lives in a world where he has no need to consult books or talk to colleagues who disagree with him. He has no need to read Roe v. Wade, or speak to those who don't like standing up during "God Bless America" being played in the middle of a ball game played by millionaires for teams owned by billionaires. He never stops to think about what it would be like to find health insurance for his family without his university's group plan, or to be an unskilled worker with no benefits whatsoever and who has to wait for hours for a bus because he can't afford a car--while two rich capitalist jerks fight it out in court over hundreds of millions of dollars.

I'd feel better if the professor, in his disappointment at the failure of the schemes of the Cheney-Bush administration he likely supported, had decided to read Michael Harrington, or sit down with Rich Trumka, who worked in the mines and got his hands dirtier in one day than this silly professor ever did in his entire wasted life.

If I sound angry at this point, it is because I am angry. I am angry because I fit rather comfortably the profile of the professor's Country Class, in that I have been married to the same woman for 23 years and neither of us have ever been married to anyone else. My son is in the Boy Scouts, my daughter in the Girl Scouts. We are active in our synagogue--and I am its president, while my wife assists in the religious school. We are essentially debt free apart from our home mortgage, and we don't own fancy jewelry or even a big screen t.v. I don't think I've ever taken unemployment benefits, though I have been without work from time to time. Same for my wife. We admit to liking our computers (we have three) and I'd say our main expenditures are on books and DVDs, mostly purchased used. Oh, we're also white, which I guess is a badge of the Country Class, unstated of course in the professor's article. Yet, my son and I enjoy the symphony, while my wife says it makes her sleepy. My daughter likes whatever new pop songs are out these days, though none of us like rap or hip hop (my son has tried, though...). Yes, I went to Rutgers, just like the professor (I graduated in 1979...), but after growing up in a union neighborhood in New Jersey.

On the other hand, I have voted for Democrats far more often than Republicans. And I have been railing against the elites far longer than the professor. My anger at the elite players, however, is anchored far more in the depths of American History than the professor, who seems to have borrowed his crankiness from the closeted gay conservative hero from a generation ago, Allan Bloom (Too bad he likely never read Martha Nussbaum's devastating exposure of Bloom's ignorance of antiquity in her NY Review of Books review of Bloom's book).

Does the professor find it inconvenient to know that it was more often people in the professorial and activist Ivy League "class" who were most enamored with third parties outside the elite consensus, whether it was Ross Perot or Ralph Nader? Does the professor find it interesting that The Nation magazine came out against the NAFTA before Pat Buchanan and the right wingers with tin foil over their heads? And that the Right only came out against the NAFTA when it was ultimately passed under Clinton, though it was started under Reagan and negotiated under Bush I? I know the professor is waking up to the Chomskyian view of understanding the continuities that exist from one American political administration to the next, but why can't he at least credit Chomsky, instead of trying to demonize him and his "ilk" with his silly theory that is over and under inclusive to such an extent as to be, ahem, unintelligible?

Professor, beyond the elites, there are "players" across the political spectrum. But players make the world go 'round, too. They are playing. We are...watching. Jefferson was a player, too, as was Hamilton. And good for them.

Finally, it's more than a little ironic that the author of the article is a professor at an elite school, Boston University, a member of a corporate funded think-tank, the Claremont Institute, and an editor for a political journal read by...elites. I guess it's a nice theory fit for a soundbite: Ruling Class and Country Class. But it tells us far less than Thomas Frank told us in "What's the Matter with Kansas?" or Kevin Phillips told us in "The Politics of Rich and Poor" and most articles by William Greider, just to take some more modern folks than my usual and increasingly historical examples.

My advice to the professor is to read more political and economic history before he puts fingers to computer keyboard or whatever he wrote on to produce his cranky screed. And he might find it useful to talk to some colleagues who might disagree with him every once in awhile.

(Edited)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Hamas would rather miss an opportunity for peace than let Abbas make peace

Hamas has returned to its full-on terrorist ways in the past two days. Despite the previous statements from one of its top leaders to engage in peace ("long term cease fire") negotiations, it is now reverting to form.

The real reason for this is Hamas' hatred for Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas believes killing Jews will undermine those talks.

The best response will be to continue the talks with Abbas and let people in the Territories see the real face of too many who lead Hamas. Hamas is isolating itself. It is the sign of its weakness, not its strength. Hamas fails to realize that the Jews who are leading the talks are not going to be deterred, and Palestinians are not more likely to agree with Hamas because it is killing Jews.

Meanwhile, Israel's Jewish fundamentalists continue building settlements. This is more likely to undermine Abbas among his Palestinian supporters than the Hamas-led terrorist attacks. So says Akiva Eldar, too, in Haaretz.

These are the ironies of trying to bring peace among religious fundamentalists in the place which brought us monotheism...