Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ted Sorensen: Gone, but a truly memorable Kennedy stalwart

Ted Sorensen has died. I'll let the obit speak for itself here. Ted, we've missed you already, and wish you had been made head of the CIA under Carter...:-)

Still, the question that swirled around him was how much he wrote of JFK's "Profiles in Courage." The answer is enough that it should have been co-authored, but it would not be the first time a ghostwriter wrote a significant portion of a political figure's book. Even Grant's memoirs had Mark Twain helping out with significant editing (which could have been far more than that, I believe). We can't expect all of our political leaders to be Winston Churchill or Benjamin Disraeli, who were each novelists before they fully entered the political arena...

Halloween Sunday Review of Book Reviews: 10/31/10

In today's NY Times Sunday Book Review:

1.The must read in the NY Times Sunday Book Review today is Paul Simon reviewing Stephen Sondehim's attempt to put into book form what he does for a living, which is write the songs that have come to define "Broadway" theater. Simon's prose leaps and charges, and his warm feelings for Sondheim and knowledge of the craft of songwriting are abundantly apparent. Note to Dylan Cult: Simon is not only better, but he can explain what he does better than Dylan...That is truly remarkable.

By the way, there is a new biography of Simon by an entertainment biographer, Marc Eliot. Funny, I've not seen it reviewed in the Times, but the negative Amazon reviewer gives me great pause (a great review by the Amazon reader, by the way!).

2. And here is a wonderfully dark, but elegant review by the tough-minded Deborah Solomon on a new biography of the early 20th Century artist, Grant Wood. As someone who believes sentimentality is an unfairly ridiculed value, and who also believes there is more depth to writers and artists who are dismissed as sentimental than most mid to late 20th Century critics have said (most of these cynics are still plowing the same field in film criticism in most corporate media--which accounts for their glorification of the ridiculous Quentin Tarantino, for example), I am thrilled that Norman Rockwell is now getting his due, and now Grant Wood.

3. Here is a worthy drive-by review of the latest in graphic comics that have the sensibility of a novella. Douglas Wolk deserves a read for the brevity and insight into how one may approach reading these comic yet scary novels. Too violent for me, but maybe for those who like the aforementioned Tarantino...:-)

4. Susan Straight is a great book reviewer with the Los Angeles Times who also teaches literature and writing at University of California, Riverside. She's now written a novel too gritty for my tastes, but the reviewer obviously likes it and doesn't give away the ending. Again, I wish I understood the appeal of this sort of subject matter in fiction. Writing about violence and self-destructiveness too often strikes me as prurient. As sociology, I can read about the cruelty amidst poverty and how it is not only "society" that creates poverty, but individual actions that often mire people inside their sorrows and troubles. But fiction? I need something more like Dickens, Hardy, Greene and Lewis...and Tarkington. I won't go past Steinbeck or London for the violent and self-destructive aspects of life. And I'd much rather read the novel about the coming of the Spanish Civil War reviewed here in the same issue of the Times' book review. I'm making a point here of taste, but am hopefully making the point that the attack on sentiment needs to be countered.

5. Richard Brookshier is a fellow who came of age in the late 1970s as a far-right writer at the National Review. He has since turned into a relatively good, though not strikingly insightful, historian. Here, he writes a great review of MIT History Professor Pauline Meier's new book that provides us insight into how difficult it was to pass the US Constitution 223 years ago. As Brookshier writes, the battle was an "Ur-battle" of political disputes that continue, in my own view, in more bastardized forms today. I wondered about one thing with a smile, though: Does Meier find Hamilton as "tiring" as Brookshier?

6. Here is a decent, but unsatisfying review of a new book on nuclear disarmament. I have found that enterprise fundamentally silly as I think does Jacob Heilbrunn, who was last seen libeling Bruce Cumings in the pages of the NY Times. Nuclear disarmament is usually pushed by long-standing elite foreign policy officials who think they can alter reality to their minds' desire. Really, now. We're going to abolish a technologically based and powerful weapon. The entire idea has the hubris of Coolidge's Secretary of War outlawing war in 1928. The key policy these officials need to understand is that war should truly be a last resort, and that the burden of proof for fighting a war should be on those who want the war. Sadly, we humans rush to war on the flimsiest of excuses and rabidly punish those who question any war, bad or not so bad (even World War II is often hard to call a "good" war, though it comes closest to any since our first Revolutionary War in the our nation's history). Note, too, that the Kellogg-Briand Treaty had one salutary effect: By stating there was such a thing as a crime against humanity, it formed the basis of the Nuremberg Trials against the Nazis and Japanese War Lords...and made it difficult for our leaders who cruelly attacked the people of Vietnam after World War II.

And as the late Vivian Stanshall would say in his wry and strangely amusing, "Rawlinson's End,"...Read on.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Todd Rundgren's Onomatopoeia

Here at...where else...YouTube.

Later, there was this Monty Python song, "I Bet You They Won't Play This Song on the Radio."

Those who know the Republican cadidate in their district or state is crazy should vote for the Democrat this Tuesday!

There could be an undersampling of Democrats in most of these polls. Therefore, Democrats or someone who is not woefully ignorant of the importance of not electing the likes of Sharon Angle, Christine O'Donnell and Joe Miller, and their ilk, should vote for the Democrat this Tuesday.

In Pennsylvania, there is a US Senate race between a very good Democrat, Pat Sestak, against a very right wing and silly person, Pat Toomey. Sestak is either even or just behind in polling to Toomey. If the undersampling theory is correct, Sestak could easily win by a point or two--or slightly more. Sestak is someone I admire because, as a non-Jewish person, he has supported the efforts of the US to help Israel stop driving drunk with regard to its settlement policies. This has drawn the ire of the Israel Uber Alles crowd. We'll need Sestak in the Senate to speak with common sense on issues affecting our nation, but also in matters of foreign policy. It helps that he is a military veteran in our superficial political discourse, so that we ought to ensure any friends in Pennsylvania vote for him.

The only US Senate race I think someone can afford not to vote for the Democrat is the race in Arkansas. Blanche Lincoln deserves to be defeated. She has been worthless as a Democrat and having a loon like Bozeman in for a term can be remedied in other ways. She is the Star Scorpion who did more damage to the public option than nearly any other single Senator--even though the majority of Arkansans in poll after poll (not all, but many polls) supported the public option.

Well, we're off this morning to the Rally for Sanity that is being held in downtown San Diego. It feels more like a big MeetUp, but I am hoping some not cultist Republicans show up to be part of the request for sanity. Something tells me we'll see a few right wing protesters. Our goal should be to be witty and charming, and maybe best to ignore such protesters.

ADDENDUM: I returned from a local Rally for Sanity. My wife was not feeling well, and said she wanted to stay home to be sure our son did his homework. She is a better person than me, I must say!

So, I went alone--after stopping off at work. When I arrived, people were already filling up the very large restaurant in downtown San Diego (the "Gaslamp District" is the area of downtown). The audience ultimately hit the hundreds (maybe 350 people), with 98% of the crowd seeming to be of the "liberal" or at least "liberal-minded" political persuasion. Many seemed to be either creative people or people engaged in intellectual pursuits. Many were in their early to late 20s, though some were older than me (my age is 53).

The rally itself was amazingly funny and sharp, just what we have come to expect, but still it was amazing to see Cat Stevens, now known as Yusef Islam, sing "Peacetrain" and seeing it de-railed by Ozzy Osbourne singing "Paranoid" or at least I think it was "Paranoid" (NOPE: It was "Crazy Train"--sorry!)...And of course seeing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Tony Bennett is also great!

The brilliant thing about the rally is Stewart and Colbert had a political discussion and argument. It was, however, spoken with direct words what makes most "political discussions" so difficult--that is, they spoke the words of fear versus hope, hatred versus tolerance and reason versus emotion. The language was almost completely devoid of public policy, which is, sadly, the way most people actually discuss "politics." To often, our political positions are simply reflected behaviors we ourselves exhibit or what we want to see exhibited in others. That is what I was struck by as I watched it all in that communal setting in a downtown San Diego restaurant.

The one critique I can make is the false equivalence reflected in the media montages: Ed Schultz and Keith Olbermann are qualitatively different from Glenn Beck. They indulge in less spin than Bill O'Reilly, though the difference there is smaller. Still, one respects the need for the shouting to stop, and the hyperbole to be toned down a notch or two. Stewart must know, however, that one political party is far more awash in violent rhetoric and actions than the other right now. And the fact that the vast majority of those watching Stewart and Colbert, and showing up today across the nation, and beyond, fit into the other political party--that is, not the one with the consistent pattern of violent rhetoric--is itself something that someone may wish to comment upon in the aftermath of Stewart/Colbert's rally.

One other comment: Note the advertisers were LG, Volkswagen and Reese's Peanut Butter. Good for them for allowing the rally to run on Comedy Central uninterrupted by advertisements. But isn't it interesting that two were large conglomerates from other nations who sell products to younger people in the US, and one is a candy maker (Hershey's)? I always find it interesting to see what corporation is sponsoring what show or event...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lawrence Korb nails it on convicted spy, Jonathan Pollard

This Los Angeles Times article is positively courageous for someone as inside the foreign policy establishment as Lawrence Korb. He used to be considered a far-right Cold Warrior, too. Strange that...at least now it is strange to think about...

It's time to commute Pollard's sentence. The president would not have to pardon him, just commute the sentence to time served, which is a longer time than most people convicted of espionage. I knew most of the information in the article, but did not know even Cap Weinberger, who was the single person most responsible for Pollard's original sentence, has pulled back from his hysteria against Pollard.

I personally detest Pollard and what he did, but there is something detestable about keeping him in jail this long, and some of it in solitary confinement that clearly had an adverse effect on the man's health. It's time. Clinton should have done it, but didn't--he partially pardoned (pardoned only for crimes, not civil actions) the rich criminal, Marc Rich, in a weird bow to even weirder internal Israeli politics--and Bush II didn't either, when he definitely should have.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mid-Week Review of Book Reviews

From the Boston Review (of Books):

1. A fairly illuminating review of the new Mark Twain autobiography, finally being released in multiple and relatively complete volumes. It is a good introduction to the man behind the legend behind the writer. I too had been struck over the years by the vehemence of Twain's private railings against American imperialism and before that Gilded Age plutocracy. I was struck because he mostly refused to be critical in public, and was too vain in wanting to avoid too much controversy that might have undermined his career as a writer.

2. Here is an outstanding review of Robin D.G. Kelley's biography of Thelonious Monk. It's what people need to know about Monk--especially younger folks just "getting into" classic straight ahead jazz.

3. This is a provocative article that begins to upset our usual understanding of ants and ant colonies, and along the way, gives us an interesting perspective of E.O. Wilson's interesting novel about ant colonies.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Best anti-Proposition 19 article I've read so far...

George Skelton of the Los Angeles makes a strong case to vote against California's Proposition 19 (essentially legalizing marijuana). I did not like the beginning as frankly, I could care less about whether he smoked pot as a young person. Still, I read on and was well rewarded with a cogent argument.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Night Review of Book Reviews

The New York Review of Books has some compelling reviews:

1. Anne Applebaum, who I usually find too conservative, has written a great essay review of two books on the early to mid 20th Century mass murders across Europe and Russia. It moves forward the important discussion of how Central Europe was caught in the cross-fire of particularly brutal regimes. One surprise: She seems somewhat comfortable with much lower numbers of Stalin's politically motivated murders than many American writers would be.

2. Diane Ravitch shows that if a scholar lives long enough, she can go from liberal to conservative and back to liberal again. Here, she rips into the myths surrounding "charter schools" while critiquing that elitist anti-teacher documentary that was just recently released.

3. This review could have been more quirky, and thank goodness it was not. It is an insightful analysis of how Oscar Wilde consciously cultivated a bohemian personna even from his school days.

4. Here is Bill McKibben getting close to the heart of National Public Radio, but somehow he still finds it more interesting than I do. For me, I am not much of a radio listener. When in my car, the only time I'll listen to the radio is to listen to Lakers' games--or the San Diego (Baja California) classical station. Otherwise, it's CDs. Still, I think for many Creative Class Americans who live in even less civilized places in the US, NPR is an oasis in a desert of "'pop' country," religious programs and right wing poison talk shows. That 10% of Americans includes those isolated people in those areas where intellectual curiosity is a sign of subversion.

The NY Review has saved me from the not so good NY Times Sunday Book Reviews today...

Outstanding LA Times article: Business not paying their fair share of taxes

Quit yer whining, corporations in California. That's the takeaway from the article in today's Los Angeles Times.

When someone says we don't have money in California to tax any more, remind them:

1. Prop 13 applies to Disneyland as well as a small homeowner. Do a split roll where business gets closer to market property taxes while continuing Prop 13 for us regular folks.

2. California is the only oil producing state with no oil depletion allowance tax. If such a tax is good enough for Sarah Palin, then it's good enough for us in California.

3. Put back the top income tax rates for the State as they were under Republican Governor Pete Wilson in the 1990s (essentially 10% to 11% on the margin). Last I checked, we did not have socialism under Pete Wilson.

Oh, and reform the three strikes criminal law so we're not putting people in jail for life for snorting cocaine or smoking marijuana--and this way we won't have to build more prisons that cost billions. Our state's prison costs eat up 10% of the budget, when 15 to 20 years ago, it was 3% of a much smaller budget.

There, see how simple that was? Of course, you can't speak this way and expect to get elected. I can only pray Jerry Brown, if he wins, will say this in his inaugural speech where he may start to be heard. We can save this State. We can make things better for our citizens and do so in a civilized and humane way that will not really hurt the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Can't we invade a country that hides American corporate taxes?

Just read this article about Google paying 2.4% in taxes, and sigh with frustration. And maybe a little rage?

I wonder why there are no commentators in corporate media who would say, Let's invade Bermuda and the Cayman Islands and find our tax money?

Oh wait, it's corporate owned media. The owners of our corporate media would never allow anyone to say something so outrageous on any sustained basis. Of course, that statement about invading those little nations is outrageous, but really, any more outrageous than what commentators say about invading Iran, or back in the day, Panama, or about the homosexual agenda, about undocumented workers, etc.? Selectivity in outrageous statements is something we ought to notice more...

And yes, there are ways to close those loopholes without invading those nations. Think any Republican candidate would ever do that? Think most Democratic Party candidates even want to talk about it? Nope. And sadly nope.

Thomas Friedman is an idiot or corrupt. It's so hard to know...

As Dean Baker explains...

But of course, Friedman is a well-paid spokesperson for the interests of the global elite and perhaps he is merely corrupt, and not an idiot. Still, Friedman does prove that the NY Times is only "liberal-minded" regarding gays and a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy, not when it comes to workers' interests or even our nation's best interests.

The reason we will find ourselves losing to the Chinese is in the satirical version...

I'm with Mark Kleiman on this one.

The phenomena is the same, though, as with undocumented workers and gays: There is a sizable portion of Americans who are susceptible to propaganda that is based upon how a person looks and their ethnicity or race.

Contrary to the plutocrat's propaganda commercial, there is no threat from "China" or "Chinese" people. There is, however, a stronger-by-the-day chance that our nation's economic power is sinking due to what we're doing to the middle class in this nation, and sorry, folks, it's not Social Security or "taxes" that are burdening the middle class. Instead, it is endless, unnecessary wars that cost us trillions of dollars. It is the lack of private sector unions that would put more money into the hands of workers instead of their bosses. It is the lack of a rationalized health insurance system (Medicare for All). It is the loss of an industrial base where millions of Americans who are semi and unskilled can find decent employment on a regular basis, and it is because we are not investing in rebuilding our infrastructure.

How about that as something simple to say in a political campaign? Think Harry Reid could say that to Sharon Angle, to take one example? So far, Reid hasn't. And he wonders why he is losing to that ridiculous person...

Still, the phenomenon I also spoke about the Creative Class is at work again in that great parody of the deficit hawk commercial.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What's old, but online at The Paris Review

The NY Times Book Review this week of October 24, 2010 is frankly...dull. You can read the two political pundits' review of a spate of political books, but I'd advise against it. I read them and they were all too typical of the pundits in corporate owned media.

Still, the Times gave us a link to The Paris Review because TPR has opened its archives of author interviews to the public, and in so doing, has performed a public service.

First up is Art Speigelman on Lynd Ward, a 1930s graphic artist who worked in wood blocks and whose book was reviewed in the NY Times a few weeks ago.

Second, I decided to dive right into the Archives at The Paris Review, and typed in "Gore Vidal." The first thing that popped up was a 1974 interview that was classic Vidal autobiography, insight into the writing of fiction with a non-fiction eye, and the equally classic Vidal wit.

I later typed in Kurt Vonnegut and found this 1977 interview with Vonnegut, also a classic. And then I typed in a few oldies but dead before the magazine began, and it was interesting to see how writers described Thomas Hardy or Jack London, for example. This listing of some insights about writing from John Steinbeck appealed to me, but maybe not to someone who has not written a book...:-)

And here was a fun interview with the man who made Grove Press a very eclectic but important literary institution, Barney Rossett. I got a kick out of him saying that George Seldes got him into trouble at age 12 because he read Seldes' amazing biography of Mussolini ("Sawdust Ceasar") when it was released in the 1930s.

Much better this weekend to browse through The Paris Review than the NY Times Book Review. The Times can't be great every weekend, you know?

And now for something completely different: Texas Rangers v. San Francisco Giants in the World Series? That is funny from a political perspective of SF v. Texas, but both teams are overachievers who may well create a fun World Series. The thing I continue to be upset about is why are we playing baseball into November? Brrrr....This is football and (indoor) basketball weather, even starting around now in San Diego!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Obama, Fire Tim Geithner, Hire Bob Reich

Robert Reich lays it out pretty clearly. What is probably frustrating to Reich is that he endorsed Obama early and yet, Obama does not return his calls and he waited in vain for the phone to ring after the election--while Obama re-hired banksters like Summers, Geithner and Rubin who helped create the mess.

Obama and his Weimar Democrats don't get it and maybe never will. If people are put upon and feel like the rich have unfair advantages, they will either respond to a New Deal politician or a fascist politician. This article about "The Haves, The Have Nots and the Dreamless Dread" helps people understand this, even though the article does not state that conclusion. The reason I did not say "socialist" candidate is that Americans have been taught for over six decades that "socialism" is whatever you don't like, so our choices are already more limited to those who like me who simply say we need far more significant infrastructure rebuilding, i.e. a New Dealer.

Meanwhile, in Nevada, I wonder if Sharon Angle finally went too far against Harry Reid...who I admittedly predicted at the beginning of this year would go the way of Tom Foley...the Democratic Speaker of the House who lost re-election in the Republican routing of Democrats in 1994. Sharon Angle was supposed to be Reid's gift, but he is having a heck of a time with her, as she is slightly ahead of him in polling right now.

Somehow, he may still squeak through. Somehow...somehow...but this trend in Ohio may be part of the ominous trend nationally...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

MJF on propositions: Listen to the League of Women Voters of CA

My take on the propositions is largely the same as the League of Women Voters of California. See here.

For reasons I find somewhat obscure, the League did not take positions on Propositions 19, 21 and 22.

On Prop 19, I'm worried about legalizing pot, but more worried about how people get put in jail for a long time for smoking pot. So, my libertarian sensibilities say, "Let's try it," Eric Holder be damned. But folks, let's get real. If federal law is applied, and it will be, this proposition goes nowhere even if it passes. And that's because the US Supreme Court has upheld federal authority over the states in regulating and banning marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. I wonder if we can convince Congress to stop classifying marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. If it is a Schedule II, then States might have more control over how they want to regulate or ban marijuana. Not gonna happen, though, is it?

On Prop 21, I'm fine with paying an extra $18 on my car tax if it helps State Parks and protects wildlife there. So, yes on Prop 21.

On Prop 22, I don't understand why we should protect local redevelopment agencies and take more money from education. We've already taken over $8 billion from education in our state budgets over the past several years, and I don't want to see more taken. So, no on Prop 22.

The Creative Class Defends Obama in Witty Song

This send up of a Gilbert & Sullivan tune is well worth watching. It is brilliantly conceived and executed. It almost makes me feel bad about beating up on our corporate-war-torture supporting president, who is now the leader of the elite faction of the Democratic Party that others and myself are calling "The Weimar Democrats." (Note to Father of MF Blog proprietor: Don't worry, Dad, I'm still voting straight Democratic this time!)

Nonetheless, the song and film also highlight something we should think about more, which is the rise of the Creative Class in our society. Richard Florida's book on the subject is good, but not great, for the reason that a reviewer at Amazon.com correctly argues. Industrial jobs did not disappear in the US because they were no longer "interesting." They were shipped out like so many television sets. Still, the demographic point Florida raises, and its political, cultural and economic implications, is important that there is a new strata of voters who can be defined beyond income lines and beyond levels of power in our society. The creative class can include people who are Democrats or Republicans, too. Instead of income, power or party affiliation, the Creative Class can be discerned through levels of education and creativity.

The corollary of course is the rise of the anti-Creative Class and anti-intellectual politics. That is the other side of the divide between information haves and have nots. And that anti-Creative Class or anti-intellectual politics is currently represented by Sarah Palin. She and the mostly white Tea Party candidates and pundits speak emotionally to those, again, mostly white Americans who are without desire or access to detailed information or scientific oriented analysis (We should not assume these folks are "dumb", though it is something that I have caught myself saying when I am particularly frustrated at the way issues are discussed or not at all).

Palin's entire attack on the elite starts and ends with, "You think you're so smart!" Now that is really not a bad way to begin to challenge elite opinion in this nation (as David Halberstam's book, "The Best and the Brightest" was saying in its own way!), but the problem is that Palin and her ilk never get beyond that initial attack. Worse, the views she and others express are backward in terms of scientific learning, and devalue the very idea of a debate over competing public policies. It is why my negative view of Sarah Palin goes beyond mere disagreement with any particular political position she holds. She represents what I recently linked to in another post, which is the sense that she fosters authoritarian responses as in the play Rhinoceros. She also represents American white resentment at seeing the color of the nation change to something we may still call "multiracial." And that is why it is so deeply tragic when too many white folks use ethnicity and race, not income and class trends, to try and track the cause of where their jobs and income have gone.

Also, if we do not believe the Republican pollsters and "creative minds" at FoxNews have not already ingested Richard Florida's analysis and are actively using it to promote their party, the modern Republican Party, then we are not watching very carefully. The entire structure of the various campaigns around the country, from Fiorina in California to Rubio in the State of Florida, are carefully orchestrated to appeal to anti-intellectual or anti-Creative Class people as well as ideas. "You think you're so smart!" is what Delaware senatorial candidate, Christine O'Donnell, is saying to those who dismiss her, and it represents an appeal that goes back to fascism in Europe (There is a book by Alistar Hamilton, "The Appeal of Fascism," which explains how certain members of a creative class in early 20th Century Europe led the way to fascism, such that those Americans in the creative class who support the likes of FoxNews, poison-talk radio and the modern Republican Party should already be wary of what they are unleashing).

These are scary times, not because something bad is going to immediately happen, but because it is one more step in the decline of American society that shows we are less like ancient Rome than medieval Spain, when Spain began its decline in the late 1500s. Our corporate centrist leadership in Washington DC has an almost fatal failure to understand that not acting clearly and boldly to rebuild our infrastructure and industrial capacity is only making it harder for our nation to compete and succeed against the emerging large populated nations China, India...and Brazil. And the more the Palinesque style takes hold of our nation, the more we will fall behind scientifically and eventually creatively, as Richard Florida began to think about in his later book about the flight of creative people from the United States.

Note One: Florida is not saying precisely what I am saying. Florida has many corporate capitalist assumptions in his work, which blame individuals for their failures instead of understanding how larger forces shape and limit our choices. While he nicely says immigrants bring creativity to our society, he fails to see that there are plenty of creative people in less diverse places from South Korea to China, just for starters. Florida needs a good sit down with Christopher Jencks or William Julius Wilson. Despite the fact that both Jencks and Wilson would be defined as "leftists" in the US corporate media (though not anywhere else on the planet), the great thing about their respective work is that, regardless of whether you are "liberal" or "conservative," their studies and analysis lead to much more meaningful and fruitful discussions regarding public policy. The problem with the modern Republicans and FoxNews is the sneering at public policy while they talk about tax cuts and fetuses as if part of a cult. There is a mindlessness promoted in their manner of discussion.

Note Two: Sarah Palin is a harbinger and representative of an authoritarian anti-intellectual politics, but she will not be president in 2012 or ever. She merely represents a longer trend. As I have always said about her, she really does not want to be president, either. She wants to be on television as a talk show host like Oprah or Larry King, not even political in any larger sense. She is all about "feelings" in a way Ray Bradbury understands and Neal Postman understood.

(Edited)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday Night Review of Book Reviews--October 16, 2010

From the London Review of Books:

1. An informative review about a book that discusses the Chinese way of changing their Communist stripes for other authoritarian stripes, but proceeding with capitalism nonetheless. Chinese leaders, as I have said for 15 years, have learned the lesson from the Russian Communists: Peristroika first, then worry about whether to have open society or glasnost. In other words, however, it is a new form of fascism...which of course appeals to our nation's corporate elite.

From the London Times Literary Supplement:

I don't think this novel about love amidst torturers in Pinochet's Chile is going to get much reviewed in American newspapers, more because of its edgy sado-masochism than its politics. Too much for me, but reading the review was enlightening from what was a fairly horrible era in Chilean history; largely brought on by American leaders' actions, starting with Nixon and Kissinger.

And who knew that one can be a member of "Fight Club" and be Buddhist?

And here is a triviality that is nonetheless intriguing, which is how a quartet of internationally famous English authors were on the same cricket team at the turn of the 20th Century.

From the New York Review of Books:

Here is an example of a book I'll never read, but I do learn from reading the review: A book about saving penguins following a massive oil spill off South Africa a decade ago.

And with multiple mayors killed during this year in Mexico, perhaps it is well advised to read Anna Guillermoprieto's review of books about the drug war in Mexico. I think had Obrador won the presidential election in Mexico a few years ago, we might not be seeing this. Instead, there would be roads being built, and other infrastructure.

Yes, a bit eclectic and short this week. More exhaustion than anything else...

Still, some may wonder what's on my nightstand that I am actively reading. Well, here goes: "The Trumpet-Major" by Thomas Hardy; "The Western Paradox" by Bernard de Voto and "The Oregon Trail" by Francis Parkman (yes, and it is vibrant and surprisingly a good read, even for even someone firmly grounded in the 21st Century).

Monday, October 11, 2010

...The More It Remains The Same

I used to have this on a cassette tape of the entire concert (broadcast live over WNEW-FM 102.7 in NYC), but the tape broke from so many playings. It's The Tom Robinson Band (TRB), live from the Bottom Line nightclub in June 1978, singing "Power in the Darkness."

And here is the one of the best versions of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" from the same concert. I love it when Robinson says to the audience, "...so you ought to know it" as he introduces the song--and the audience proves it knows the song towards the end as it sings with Robinson.

Funny, I recall the TRB keyboardist being interviewed somewhere around the time of the concert, and he was asked to name one of his favorite bands. And he said, "National Health", which was not an answer the interviewer was expecting from a punkish-rock band member. I am very glad to see someone else had recorded this concert and that is now graces YouTube.

Meanwhile, as we wait for the probable (but still not likely?) ascension of the craziest Know-Nothing or Rhinoceros sorts of candidates the Republicans are fielding in various States, we can at least say that in California, things are looking up for Democratic Party standard bearers Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer. Our State remains...civilized.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Who Says Republicans Are Just the Party of "No"?

See this informative article from The Onion.

Also, the Onion has located the precise time of "The Good Old Days"...

Early Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews

From the NY Times Sunday Book Review:

1. Here is a jaunty yet concise review of Bill Bryson's new book on the history of "private life," really a set of rooms in an old home. Having read some of the things Bryson has read, I'm not sure I can get through all 500 pages or even half the book. The review, however, gives a reader a wonderful glimpse of how we should expand our cultural perspective and try to imagine life before 1850 or even 1950, and maybe even 1750, just to help us see the contrasts and continuities of our human civilization. Dominique Browning deserves to write more reviews. She intuitively and intellectually understands the craft.

2. Here is the review of Philip Roth's new novel about a polio outbreak in Newark, New Jersey. I guess we should be glad for the monstrously overrated Philip Roth that he has a found a convert to his cause. But this review does nothing to change my view of Roth, which is that he is a hopelessly claustrophobic writer, unable to transcend anything beyond his childhood neighborhood--poorly described for anyone who did not grow up in or knew the early to mid-20th Century Newark neighborhood where my parents grew up.

3. Here is historian Alan Brinkley's take on a few books regarding the so-called Tea Party Movement. I find his perspective to be written in too shallow a manner. He knows far more than he is saying and that is too bad. The Tea Party Movement are merely disaffected Republicans for the most part, and in particular right wing, snarling sometimes racist Republicans of the past generation. The candidates they support tend to be political hucksters of an incredibly shallow type who show up on television talk shows or local news shows (think William Hurt in "Broadcast News"). And one may better describe the Tea Party Movement as an amalgamation of the 1850s Know-Nothing Movement and the later 1990s disaffected Republicans who joined Ross Perot's initially somewhat moderate Reform Party Movement. Whether the Tea Party Movement burns out like a comet in space or becomes a meteor that hits the mainland with the force to kill us all remains to be seen--but of course the future of that movement in America, like many populist oriented movements, will be something in between, as nothing is really ever that extreme a formulation.

4. Here is a haunting review by Amy Wilentz of a book of essays by a Haitian expatriate, Edwidge Danticat. This one is just worth the read, as it illuminates the sad history of Haiti, a nation that was attacked and decimated 200 years ago for having the effrontery to seek relief from white racist civilization, and then for the next hundred years punished for that effrontery. One thing that struck me was how a culture of despair can be so self-debilitating and reenforcing by the time Haiti reached the late 20th Century. I feel like saying to the entire nation, "Would you all go see 'Precious' already?" There are other reviews of books about benighted lands worth reading, too.

5. And now for the banal: A memoir of a woman rocker shows that 80s indie bands like Throwing Muses lived a rather typical rock and roll life. That she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just lets her have a name for what ailed lots of rock stars, including Keith Moon, who is mentioned in the review. Having seen or read these sorts of books about self-destructive artists, forgive me for just being tired of them. To put it another way, I'm over a decade older than my teen-aged hero, Lenny Bruce, was when he overdosed from heroin. And if I had a chance to travel back in time, I'd slap Bruce across the face and say, Don't do this to yourself. You're going to win the damned appeal, and you'll be a hero if you just stay off the smack. He'd never listen, though, because he was, after all, self-destructive. I'm with Penn Jillette who memorably told a writer from The New Yorker that he did not engage in drug use because Lenny Bruce died from drug abuse. Yes, he was hounded by authorities, but the drug abuse is what killed him.

6. This review offers us a taste of what sounds outstanding and deeply creative: Woodcuts as a graphic art novel. The name dropping in the review gets you dizzy, but the reviewer may not have been given much space.

7. Here is a surprising review of the new biography of Justice William Brennan. It is surprising because Dahlia Lathwick, who is a wonderfully knowledgeable correspondent of the law, seems surprised that Brennan could come up with a constitutional right to abortion despite being opposed to it, or in favor of securing women's constitutional rights while holding traditional patriarchal views. Ms. Lithwick needs to pick up a few classic novels to begin to feel human irony and complexity. And maybe read about Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who understood a great judge separates his or her political philosophy from his or her judicial philosophy. It does sound, alas, like the great biography of Brennan remains to be written and the book under review sounds like a mess. For those interested in the era in which Brennan served, and interested in learning more about Brennan's colleague, Earl Warren, one would be well served to read Jim Newton's book on the great politician and jurist.

8. I've posted about the Rosenberg case before, so I'll just let people read Sam Roberts' review of the new books on the Rosenberg case (Note: I praised Roberts' book in the previous post, which is amusing to me in citing it now). I'm with Roberts on his take on the two books, as he appears to agree with Eric Foner's observation that the Rosenberg case presents for us in the 21st Century a lens to begin to understand the political cultural currents of the mid-20th Century in America. The Rosenbergs remain the only American spies ever executed since the US Constitution was ratified. There remains the indisputable evidence of prosecutors' and a judge's misconduct, and finally, the victims' own lies that contributed to their fate. I was not one of those who ever thought the Rosenbergs innocent, as stated in my last post on the subject. People like Schneir were true believers, and I wonder what motivated them other than a contrarian nature gone to extremes. Kind of like those who can't see that Mumia is probably guilty of voluntary manslaughter, but did not deserve the death penalty, and probably deserved a new trial altogether...

9. Finally, here is a thoughtful review of a thought-provoking subject, the role of religion in our society. My take is we can't destroy religion even if we wanted to. Religion in America tends to be more tolerant because of the separation of church from state, and because our sense of right and wrong has, over the past 200 years, been slowly grounded from a pluralist sensibility and due process oriented "fairness." In the "chicken or the egg" argument alluded to in the review, I'm with choosing the side that says our political and legal structure has influenced our religious structures--and thank God for that. :-)

Phew. These reviews of book reviews are getting too long, aren't they?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

AFL-CIO Tracks Down Lost Jobs and Employer Violations of Laws

The AFL-CIO has created a really powerful Internet software tool that breaks down by zip code the jobs lost from going overseas, jobs lost in the Great Recession, and corporate employer violations of laws. Instead of ranting about illegal immigrants or gay marriage, maybe some of the poison-talk radio show hosts might find this topic something worthy to speak about. Highly doubtful.

The AFL-CIO report cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that 8 million lost American manufacturing jobs since 1979 (page 10 of companion report inside JobTracker.com). And "back office" job outsourcing overseas will reach 800,000 by the end of this year (page 11), per a pro-business consulting group. What was really illuminating was the incredible amount of employer violations, meaning the number of times government agencies actually issued citations or fines, whether for safety (both in the workplace and products produced or distributed), wage and hour, or other laws.

The report also reveals how off-shoring of American jobs has accelerated since 2004, with more companies planning to move more jobs overseas. In other words, the trend has not stabilized, but shows an upward trajectory that contrasts with a resulting downward mobility for more and more Americans. The report, however, admits tracking down the jobs actually lost is difficult because one must rely upon various sources to compile the data including pro-business or consultant sources, as well as university-led studies, some government statistics (including from governments where the jobs end up, such as China and India) and even more diverse sources such as CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com. The report then states:

Though these consultant reports provide a glimpse of the extent of offshoring in service industries, the full impact of offshoring on domestic employment remains an elusive topic. This is due, in part, to severe deficiencies in how the federal government collects statistics that could be used to adequately identify the scale of the job loss involved. A special report by the Bureau of National Affairs reviewed studies of the data collection problem by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the National Academy of Public Administration; it found that all three groups “concluded that data collection structures maintained by BEA, the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics prevent any meaningful understanding of the scope of offshoring, the scale of U.S. job losses, the business and occupations being affected, and the economy’s potential responses to unabated offshoring.” (Footnote citation omitted) Although a series of congressional hearings were held during the Bush administration to examine the data collection problem, no improvements were forthcoming. What was the reason for this inaction? The senior researcher who wrote the MIT report attributed the lack of concern to “the Bush administration’s general opinion that additional data on globalization would only lead to protectionist political responses.” (Footnote citation omitted)

The report also provides an example from the conduct of IBM since 2005:

IBM: Outsourcing Out of Sight

International Business Machines (IBM) has been a global leader in technology for decades. More recently, it has become a leader in the twin practices of outsourcing jobs and of hiding that activity. In 2005, IBM and its wholly owned subsidiaries reported 329,000 employees worldwide. Almost 134,000 of those workers—more than 40 percent—were located in the United States. At the end of 2009, though IBM’s workforce had expanded to include almost 400,000 employees worldwide, only 105,000—just over a quarter of its entire workforce—were located in the United States. IBM is reported to now be the second largest employer in India, with 120,000 to 130,000 workers. The movement of IBM jobs overseas is difficult to track due to the corporation’s focus on secrecy in this area. Though IBM’s domestic operations have shed a net total of nearly 30,000 employees since 2005, the company simply reports its nationwide total cuts, trimming smaller numbers from scattered sites to avoid triggering mass-layoff notification laws. The company no longer reports its employment numbers in geographical terms, making it difficult to discover where the company is hiring or where U.S. jobs go when taken offshore. IBM workers whose jobs have stayed in the country have seen reduced benefits and lower pay—new facilities opening in the U.S. are paying up to $20,000 a year less than older centers paid. Meanwhile, CEO Sam Palmisano made over $21 million in 2009 while cutting 10,000 U.S. jobs during the deepest recession since the Great Depression.


My lawyerly eye says the AFL-CIO report remains somewhat undermined by the fact that the world is not necessarily a zero-sum game. Some of the increase in jobs in India may have resulted from increased consumer and market demand within India. Some of the jobs lost in America may return if (a) the economy in the US begins to recover in a significant way and (b) the dollar becomes more favorable for foreign trade over the next couple of years. These are not structural solutions, however, nor should they make us feel the problem is solvable without legislation that would undoubtedly be called "protectionist," as if that is a bad word, or if that is un-American. For we know that the nation was built on tariffs against foreign goods in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and those tariffs are what built up our nation. That the tariffs are now needed to help workers is why corporate media is not interested in those solutions, and may account for the reaction from the largely displaced white workers who are part of or have sympathy with the Tea Party Movement.

Too bad some of these folks only noticed the wreckage of our industrial base when the skin color of the president changed...

I decided to check the zip code where I live and was quite stunned to find 44 companies which have outsourced jobs or shed jobs due to "trade" issues, 103 companies laying off enough workers to trigger a WARN Act notice, 1,875 companies with OSHA violations, 27 companies with labor law violations and 5 companies violating foreign corruption act laws.

Outsourcing has definitely hit our area of San Diego, and I should have known better. I know an engineer who is an adult leader in my son's Boy Scout Troop who was essentially forced to "retire" from the local Sony plant. He told me the department he worked in went from 120 people to 20 people between 2005 and 2008, before the Great Recession really hit.

The solutions included in the report include (a) overcoming Chinese currency manipulation; (b) ending tax credits or advantages to moving jobs overseas; and (c) state and federal laws to require companies doing business with the state or federal government to hold jobs inside the US. It is striking, however, that domestic content legislation is not a priority nor are significant tariffs. This is the result of decades of corporate propaganda against such measures, even though these measures continue to be successfully applied in South Korea, Taiwan, India and China.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

YouTubin' on a Thursday evening...

I was checking out some strange and wondrous things at YouTube tonight, and this is what I found:

1. A particularly clever and cute Nipsey Russell classic has finally been uploaded: Presenting: "Bennie's From Heaven"...

2. The greatest version of "These Foolish Things", recorded by Ella Fitzgerald with an all star quartet of Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Louis Bellson. Listen to it all the way through, and especially the last verses and be amazed...

3. Anita O'Day falling in love...

4. ....while Dinah Washington sets her destination for the moon.

Bonus vid: Anita scattin' her way through "Tea for Two" at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Amazing archival footage!

Wonder why your Los Angeles Times is not what it used to be?

This article from yesterday's NY Times describes how sharks and cads descended upon the Chicago Tribune which had purchased the Los Angeles Times in a deal so leveraged, it was clear to many insiders and few watching from outside that it was heading for bankruptcy to break the workers and harm the creditors.

The story of the Los Angeles Times from say the late 19th Century through the present is a fascinating one. It goes from the days of Harrison Gray Otis and his coziness and support for railroad and water project "robber barons" and calls for vigilante violence against labor leaders (which led to the labor radical McNamara Brothers firebombing the Times a hundred years ago this month) and, under Otis grandson, Norman Chandler, its role in fostering the rise of Richard M. Nixon to its phase under Otis Chandler--a visionary, liberal minded New Dealer sort of person with a cross-over into "Mad Men" sensibilities--where the Times consciously tried to become the premier newspaper in the nation along with the NY Times. Treating workers well and good quality went hand in hand. One thing that did not and has never changed: The LA Times has rarely met a union it liked, or a worker-killing trade deal it did not like. Just the tone changed starting under Otis Chandler, from a sneering and screaming hatred of unions to an understated, but firm opposition...

In any event, with the hardening of the new Gilded Age culture that descended upon our nation under Ronald Reagan and his spiritual protege, William Jefferson Clinton, those who have loyally read the newspaper have seen what has occurred...The paper feels like it is one-third the size, its book review truncated, the front page stories not as detailed, great reporters reduced to once a week interview slots with newsmakers, etc. Other great reporters leave quietly and attempt to survive in a much tougher world for workers overall...

The Times influences and is influenced by the trends in our nation. We should not be surprised, therefore, to see guys like Zell (and with the Dodgers, Frank McCourt) who used leveraged buyouts to make millions, and destroy the community spirit that existed in these large companies.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Economists: Sold to the highest bidder?

This article is important to read, but the truth is that too many of these economists really believe in their "free" market fairy tales. Still, the corruption of being paid $350,000 to sit on the Board of Directors of Morgan Stanley while teaching at UC Berkeley (hi Laura Tyson!) is something to consider...

And for those who may wince at my phrase, "'free' market fairy tales," I once said some time ago on this blog, and have said for nearly 20 years: Putting the word "free" in front of another word, such as "free" market, "free" enterprise, "free" trade, "free" medical insurance, is propaganda. Like a "free" lunch, someone else always pays if someone is getting the "free" part.

So too with "free" trade and "free" enterprise, for example. Someone in America gets a ride and the other pays for the ride. And in this nation, the people getting a free ride are the top 1% and intellectual courtesans like Larry Summers, while American workers who lose their jobs to peasants in Mexico, China, India and Vietnam, and elsewhere are the ones who pay for their ride.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Donald Duck reveals the lure of fascism...and Glenn Beck

This is deeply inspired and one can only hope the copyright lawyers at Disney just send a licensing agreement to Rebellious Pixels rather than a "cease and desist" letter...

August Bebel once said anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools. So is fascism...and so is some of the rhetoric that spills out of the Tea Party movement.

On a related note, just what does it take for someone to admit he or she is a racist anymore? The African-American anchor at C-Span deserves a medal for not reacting to the pitiful, benighted elderly woman who called in on the Washington Journal show this morning. C-Span anchors are not supposed to comment and are hired to be as emotionless as possible. This fellow, Robb Harleston, followed that rule to the letter today.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Saturday Night Review of Sunday Book Reviews--October 2, 2010

The NY Times this week continues to inspire with great book reviews of interesting books:

1. Here is a review of a new book on Lincoln by Eric Foner, who truly feels the pulse of the social history of the American 19th Century. The reviewer does not fully understand Foner's point, which is that Lincoln was shaped by his time, but seized the moment when it became clear he could, in fact, lead the Union forces in a battle against slavery, and not simply defending the Union of States under the United States. That is Lincoln's leadership genius. That is why he is remembered. Would that our current president understand that...

2. This review further whets my appetite to read the new biography of George Washington, by the always wonderful Ron Chernow. Chernow, who wrote what is the definitive biography of Alexander Hamilton--I simply cannot imagine anyone ever writing a better one--has tackled the most inscrutable of our Founders and appears to have offered us some further insight into Washington, though one must admit there are clear limits to any of us understanding Washington's inner most thoughts and motivations, unlike say, John Adams, who left prodigious diaries.

Personal story: I met Chernow about five years ago at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival, a year or so after his Hamilton bio was released. It was very early in the day, and hardly anyone was around. So, we got to talking. He told me he was researching for the Washington bio. I said, "That's a tough one. Washington is best understood in the intangibles, which is why I've never read a strong biography of him." He turned more deeply toward me and admitted this was true, and that he was finding it frustrating. He even admitted he was thinking of maybe not doing the biography. I said, "No. Go for it. My sense is that you may find something in those intangibles that can be tangibly expressed. If you look at Vidal's take on Washington, he says Washington was always willing to put the United States above Virginia's interest, and therefore was much influenced by Alexander Hamilton. It is what drove Jefferson to distraction and ultimately opposition to Washington by the latter's second term." Chernow smiled with recognition and said, "That is something to consider" or words to that effect. I am personally glad he persevered with this project. Chernow is one of the best historical writers around, especially because he understands how economics, politics and culture intersect in a way that too many historians miss.

3. Ken Follett has written the first of a trilogy of historical novels of the European 20th Century. It is a long one at nearly 1,000 pages. But Follett is a stellar writer of war novels, underrated by literary types, but well received by the public at large (think I am overrating him? Just try "Eye of the Needle" or "The Key to Rebecca" for starters). This review does an admirable job in conveying the strength of the book, and maybe its need for just a touch of editing. Perhaps the next book in the trilogy will be better edited, but something tells me, as with the reviewer, that we should not be deterred from reading this first work of the trilogy.

4. Here is a snappy review of a serious subject, which is the decline of American economic influence, and the rise of China as the dominant nation among a cluster of nations ready for dominance in the next 20 to 25 years, particularly China, India and...Brazil. Unlike the reviewer, I would say there is something America can do to maintain its dominance among these other rising nations: Rebuild American infrastructure, including mass transit projects, and rebuild industry with domestic content legislation and other means to build new factories in the population depleted mid-west region of our nation. And do so with unions and prevailing wages to ensure the productivity that comes from the employment and the products produced may be purchased by the 300 million souls in our nation. That would put a brake on the decline and would likely help restore our economic dominance. Still, the scary thing in the review is the reviewer comes close to saying that the reason our leaders continue to act like global bankers and not American citizens is that they are being wedged in by China, due to China owning so many T-bills (Treasury bonds) which we must pay back to China in due course. I find that difficult to believe, at least at this stage of our nation's existence. Pity us when the day arrives when our leaders develop that fear...

5. This review of a new biography of Roald Dahl gives us a mere glimpse into the strange, sometimes mean and often fascinating life of this writer more famous for his children's books than his wild adult oriented ones. If you don't know what I mean by "wild," just read "My Uncle Oswald" and be ready to flip out as you try to think of Oompa-Lumpas. It is, in that British manner, a randy novel...Still, the point of the review is something I often say, which is that we really don't want to know about writer's lives. Too often, writers lead either terribly lonely lives, or are cruel to those who are close to them by marriage, parentage or otherwise. Writing is a selfish project designed for the world at large. Those who are closest to the writer lose the most from that experience. So, what is really to be gained with a biography of a writer? We should instead read the writer's works. Are there exceptions? Yes, but I'd tell people to read a writer's work before bothering reading about the life of that writer. Exceptions may be people like Victor Serge or Ignazio Silone, but only because the lives they lived were exceptional and novelesque.

6. Here is a smart review of a book that helps intelligent Moms-to-Be to stop worrying too much. Yes, it is possible the decisions you make in the nine month period of pregnancy could have a reaction in the child's later life. But, really, let's not carried away. We all have enough guilt we will develop as parents, and our children will endure the baggage we throw their way (My son and now my daughter know that latter point very well...).

7. And last but certainly not least, Joe Klein (yes, that Joe Klein) pens a great review of a book more Americans (and especially Jewish-Americans) should read, which is a biography of the movement in Lebanon known as Hezbollah. Klein unflinchingly tells us what those of us who read widely already knew, but which most Americans do not know: Hezbollah arose out of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It was a defensive reaction of much maligned Shi'ites in southern Lebanon. That it was supported by Shi'ite Iran is not a surprise when this simple fact is initially understood, and it begins to help us understand why most Israeli hawkish and war oriented policies have backfired in terms of Israel's security. "A Privilege to Die" is one of those books that will shock those who believe the DC foreign policy establishment rhetoric about "terrorist" groups in the Middle East. It is not a defense of those groups, nor particularly Hezbollah. But it tells us why Hezbollah became successful in the eyes of Shi'ites in Lebanon, and that is the first step to implementing more successful and less violent responses...

Wow. That was a lot more than I intended to write. My wife is saying, "Come to bed. Go. To. Sleep. You said you wanted to work tomorrow..." Sadly, I do want to work tomorrow. Things to do...

A secular band is by its very nature political in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim worlds

Black Theama is an Egyptian pop band that, because of its secular sensibility, is deemed "political" in a nation that is teetering between Islamic fundamentalism and Western secularism, and is led by a dictator who plays at democratic-republican values.

The Los Angeles Times has an article on Black Theama here.

Here is a sampling of their work from YouTube:

Here.

Here.

Such phenomena should fill those of us who seek peace with the world with some hope...Black Theama may be somewhat compared to the Plastic People of the Universe from the late 1960s. The difference musically is that PPU was more like the Fugs or Velvet Underground, while Black Theama is closer to a boy band with just a touch of U2. The musical difference may make Black Theama more able to transcend the political regime it opposes and transform the society it inhabits to become more pluralistic and less prone to fanaticism.

Why Alan Grayson Matters...

Just watch. It may seem a bit dry in parts, but this is simply and clearly stated.

As Digby notes, Grayson has written to the Florida Supreme Court to be far more vigilant and careful before granting foreclosure petitions.

Gosh, I hope Grayson survives this election cycle...

When weak policies are oversold...and what happens next...

Ezra Klein has written a good but not great post entitled "When good policies look bad." He tells us something important: The loans (bailout) to the bankers will all be paid back (most already are) and the government may make some interest money. That's good news. He also says the relatively small stimulus monies have created jobs, just not as many as the Obama folks predicted.

Still, I have said from the get-go that Obama was more preoccupied with protecting bankers than regular folks and the stimulus was too small. Obama's rhetoric, however, was that he was supposedly doing what people like me were calling for, i.e. a large stimulus package, and denying he was bailing out bankers more than regular folks. So when the economic results started coming in, i.e. higher unemployment than Obama believed, the corporate media machine played up the populist anger from the right more than left and...well, here we are.

People hear the competing rhetoric among the Property Party (Democratic and Republican Parties) leaders and mouthpieces and fill in their own assumptions and conclusions. They don't look for facts underneath the rhetoric. That's the way people tend to "analyze" things from time immemorial.

The takeaway for Obama is to understand that people wanted actual policies that matched the rhetoric. The populace wants the very things economic liberals tend to support (and a majority oppose expanding the war in Afghanistan), but leading Democratic Party leaders refuse to push these policies in any sustained manner.

That is what explains Obama's ratings going below 50%. It is not Obama's and Democratic Party's leaders' lurch to the "left," as pundits in the corporate media say (and who themselves live in a world of rhetoric and "perceptions" from their cocktail parties they attend), that is hurting Obama's poll ratings and depressing Democratic Party voter and union voter enthusiasm. It is the failure of Obama and Democratic Party leaders to even try to push for policies that match the rhetoric.

Obama, however, is incapable of being anything other than what he is: a banker with some culturally liberal guilt. Kind of like Herbert Hoover feeling bad for people, but feeling like he really can't do anything to improve people's lives. Because of that, Obama will continue to fail to convince the 50% plus of the electorate he needs as he sails toward a re-election campaign.

As I said a little over a year ago, all Obama has is: The Republicans are worse. And while that may still be enough for him and his fellow supine Democratic Party leaders in Congress, the question is how long our nation can continue to avoid the catastrophic consequences of Republicans coming back into full power...and how long our nation will endure if we do not reverse course, learn how to make what we buy and vice versa, and rebuild our infrastructure?

When my novel posited a civil war between workers with guns and the culturally liberal elite, except with most of the cultural liberals on the side of capital and the workers in unions, some people who read the novel were outraged and disgusted. They hated that ending. What is interesting is that smart folks like David Brin, a noted sci-fi writer and astrophysicist, is starting to call what we're going through now as the Third Phase of the US Civil War:

Anyone who thinks we are in anything less than phase three of the American Civil War is a complete ostrich.

I will never again let myself be lectured to, about patriotism, by men who fantasize about riding with Nathan Bedford Forest. When the McVeighs start rampaging, I hope we'll recognize Fort Sumter and remember Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. A noble man who served his country in all four corners of truth: government, academia, science and media, and who wore a color we are all going have to choose, if we want to save our country, again.

And here is Brin starting to sound like...me, not his usual much more libertarian self:

One of the tricks mastered by the Murdochs (envision the Morlochs of HG Wells's The Time Machine!) is to create an impression of false equivalence. We are seeing this here in California. Every time GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman is accused of favoring never-ending tax largesse for the uber-rich, she responds by calling her opponent, former governor Jerry Brown, of being in the clutches of Big Unions.

It frustrates me that she is never given the ultimate rebuttal. "Even if this is true, the unions have been plummeting in power, for decades, while the super-rich have been skyrocketing. So which should we fear?" What social force, in fact, did nearly ALL of our ancestors fear? What group ever came close to oppressing liberty, open competition, social mobility or free markets, more than oligarchy? Whether they called themselves feudal lords or commie nomenklatura, or captains of the crony-CEO caste?

We older folk grew up in an America with the flattest social strata (for white males) in the history of the world, yet that did not prevent a vibrant capitalism! In contrast, over the last two decades, the fraction of the total national income going to the top 1% doubled; the fraction going to the top one tenth of a percent tripled; the fraction going to the top 1% of 1% quadrupled - and capitalism is floundering. Can anybody parse cause and effect here?

Do the Murdochs actually believe they can prevent the chivvied and harassed and cornered middle class from noticing this trend... forever? How about when this disparity doubles? And doubles again? And again? Is there a limit where the oligarchs will conceivably say "enough"? Any limit at all?

History doubts it. Insatiable oligarchies are unable to stop, even in their own long term self-interest. But don't take my word for it. Pick a random decade and continent. Try reading history.


Yup.