Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tell the truth and hide on television

This is an amazing article about Robert Saviano, a courageous writer who took on a Mafia family in his home area in Italy, and now lives under police protection. In an age of mass media, however, he now finds some solace on television where he is just as brave on various topics throughout Italy.

We often think of Italy as somewhat sleepy and politically chaotic, but free. We don't often think there still exists the terrible, violent underside that was portrayed in the Godfather movies where the fictional character, Vito Corelone, came from.

Former Justice Stevens discusses latest scholarly treatment of the death penalty

In the latest NY Review of Books online, former Justice John Paul Stevens provides a graceful and intelligent summary of a new scholarly work on something that is not graceful, which is the death penalty.

I have long believed the most powerful argument for the death penalty is to allow citizens and victims' families a revenge against a murderer. Unfortunately, as we realize from DNA evidence just how often convictions are wrongful, and how the penalty disproportionately falls on blacks and Latinos (even if the victims are also often predominantly black and Latino), I truly wonder at whether the cost, from the standpoint of human error, racial and class bias and economic cost, is worth it.

Stevens became frustrated with death penalty cases by the end of his career on the bench and joined another formerly conservative justice, Justice Blackmun, in opposing the imposition of the death penalty on what he and Blackmun still called constitutional grounds.

The scholar, David Garland's most powerful point, is to show how local law and order politics really do drive the imposition of the death penalty. It is quite stunning to see it summarized so strongly.

Overall, it is a compelling read.

Secrecy is overrated...and when it rains, the ground gets wet

The Wikileaks cable data dump has arrived. Reading this summary in the NY Times, it is clear the data dump only proves one thing again: Secrecy is overrated.

More specifically, most if not all of the information is already known from reading newspapers. For example, who is surprised to learn the Chinese government had hacked into Google?

Leaks occur all the time, and usually the only ones being lied to are people in open societies who still give their lying governments the benefit of the doubt. This was true with respect to the "Pentagon Papers," which merely disclosed in 1971 various US government memos and reports regarding US government actions in Vietnam from the period of 1944 to 1967. There was nothing in those papers regarding troop movements for impending or future battles. There was nothing in the papers that the VietCong and the North Vietnamese Communists did not already know. The only people who did not know were those Americans who wrongly trusted the veracity and credibility of our government, and who naively--yet viciously--attacked those who had stated our government leadership from Truman to Johnson were less than truthful about how or why we invaded Vietnam, and how and why we helped set up the fictitious government we called "South Vietnam." And most importantly, how and why we sent young American men and some young women to be maimed or killed in a faraway land for really no good reason.

Oh well. Pass the popcorn and watch dumb like a fox (including the biggest fox, FoxNews) "conservatives" and Republicans vent and act outraged by Wikileaks' disclosures--and watch them also attack the patriotism of the American newspapers which dared to print what was disclosed. And if you think the NY Times acted irresponsibly, please read this editorial from the Times.

ADDENDUM: Here is another story Wikileaks merely repeats what was already known, which concerns US airstrikes inside Yemen against Al Queda. Yemenis were not fooled, and neither was Al Queda. Ever. Again, the only people who don't seem to know is...us.

And the braying has definitely begun.

White non-union working class voters: Untethered

Michael Kazin has a thought provoking and I believe accurate understanding of why white working class voters who are not in unions more often support Republicans. It is a short read, and worth reading.

His point is that white working class people who are not in a union are not connected to institutions that would help them hear and re-enforce hearing a message that speaks to their longing for steady, good paying and strong benefits jobs, and in a way that is consistent with ending tax cuts for the rich and rebuilding the nation and their own neighborhoods. These folks rely upon poison-talk radio and FoxNews for their information. They are more likely attending evangelical churches that preach hatred of the homosexual and believe in the cult of the fetus or embryo, and default to Republican Party candidates as a result.

I recall watching television the night Bush II beat Kerry in the 2004 election (or was it the next day?), and hearing the right-wing evangelical Rev. Pat Robertson say something similar. He said that the key to the victory for Bush II over Kerry was that white workers are no longer in unions, but in "our churches." The man may be a lot of things, but his father was a U.S. Senator from Virginia and he knows politics to his core.

So yes, the information disconnect for white workers untethered from institutions that would provide an alternative story is a powerful barrier for Obama and especially for New Deal oriented Democrats. Still, Kazin would be wrong in thinking this is a sufficient excuse for Obama's failure as president. Obama could have broken through the information disconnect with a strong infrastructure rebuilding program, pushing for labor law reform and ending the Bush II tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 each year. People were ready to listen after his election victory in 2008, and I find it interesting that even the aforementioned Pat Robertson thought in late 2008 that Obama would institute a "new" New Deal and that would help the U.S. economy. The economy has not turned around for tens of millions of Americans, mostly in that working class, and that is the source of the anger, frustration, fear and loathing.

And we are not safe from things getting worse or the politics becoming even more insane.

BONUS THOUGHT: If we think about this further, we can see that the Latino vote in California was strongly Democratic, not only because of the often racially tinged anti-immigrant politics from the Republican Party, but also because so many Latinos in California, including especially in Southern California, are in unions. They are more likely to read union papers and pamphlets, hear candidates speak in New Deal terms, and connect their dots in ways that cause them to default to Democratic Party candidates. That is the key issue. Kazin's point is consistent with that, even if he believes the anti-immigrant policies are driving Latinos' voting patterns. Kazin's point is spot on that helping develop private sector unions would be a great policy and great political move for Democrats. But alas...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Morning Review of Book Reviews

From the NY Times:

1. An extraordinary and conscious-raising book review about self-consciousness and its two main categories. Just read it. It is that great. Ned Block, the reviewer, is my new science writing hero.

2. Here is Roger Lowenstein, the author of a solid biography of Warren Buffett, underdelivering in his review of Felix Rohatyn's slim memoir. Lowenstein appears to have given little thought to getting beyond the name dropping and descriptions of offices and office styles of the captains and generals of industry in mid-to late 20th Century America. And Rohatyn's role as fixer, courtier and industry equivalent to military intelligence adviser. What surprised me was Lowenstein failing to truly explain the disconnect between Rohatyn saying the previous financial executives he served were to be favorably contrasted to today's robber barons, when in fact he "represented" the odious Harold Geneen of ITT. ITT's role with the Nixon administration went well beyond the sort of legalized bribery and overinfluence from wealth. It descended into the bowels of American imperialism with the undermining of a nation in South America, Chile. This summary is actually quite good, though I do not know anything about the author. This is an official US government report, known as the Church Report (named after then Senator Frank Church (D-ID), which details ITT's involvement in Chile (See II(C): Covert Action and Multinational Corporations). Note: If you want to be a player in Washington, DC, do not ever mention Frank Church's name with anything other than contempt, and better to not mention his name at all. The Villagers who support the American Empire never forgave Church for the breach of protocol in analyzing and exposing American imperial adventures and how much American foreign policy leads to murder and mayhem around the globe.

3. I reviewed a book review of this book by Timothy Snyder before. Now the NY Times reviews the book, and I continue to find the book an important work that may still need further perspective.* I question whether the forced collectivization in the Ukraine qualifies as something akin to Auschwitz. Instead, Stalin's actions in the Ukraine strike me as closer to what Andrew Jackson did to Native Americans in the Southeast portion of the US, and its genesis was actually a violent policy fight, where Ukranians were told to collectivize their farms, and their violent refusal led Stalin to engage in mass killings, the destruction of thousands of small farms with the result being murder from disease and starvation, even more than executions. See this Wikipedia account, and Lynne Viola's "Peasant Rebels Under Stalin" (Oxford, 1996) and Robert Conquest's "Harvest of Sorrow" (Oxford, 1986), the latter of which used to be the bible for anti-Communist intellectuals. In short, Stalin did not say, "All Ukrainians shall die" and systematically round them up for gas chambers. The point I am making is that certain elements of the genocide against European Jewry by the Nazis were fairly unique and should be recognized as such. Snyder's main point, however, is compelling in providing us a panoramic understanding of the European Killing Fields of the 1930s and 1940s. The mass of humanity killed throughout Europe and Russian was truly horrific, and both Stalin and Hitler represent twin towers of murderous leaders.

4. Here is a beautifully written review of Edmund Morris' third and final installment on the life of Theodore Roosevelt. It is truly about a lion in winter. Whether I would bother reading it without wincing and feeling bad as TR's obsessions and narcissism got the better of him is, however, another story. Count me in with Geoffrey Ward's father on FDR being the better Roosevelt, though I'd probably take the TR of the first decade of the 20th Century over many, if not most presidents.

5. I am with the reviewer about the latest Nora Ephron book. Ephron is so witty and nice, I forgive her for recycling her last chatty, self-absorbed book about getting old. And the reviewer notes as she is now even older, she is now giving us sometimes inconsistencies in the details of recycled stories particularly about how she learned her then husband Carl Bernstein was cheating on her--but also sometimes deeper probings into her own psyche. I find reading Ephron a guilty pleasure, and know my wife, who read the entire earlier book while I flipped through its chapters, stopping and starting, will end up reading the new one, too.

6. And finally, I'm with the smart reviewer, Alexandra Harney, that book author Ted Fishman is right. And the sooner old, white Americans stop with their racist bullshit and contempt for those of a different color, different accent, different ethnic background, learn that wanting Medicare for All is no more or less than the government-health-care they enjoy, and dammit, turn off FoxNews, the better our nation will be.

BONUS Review: Wading through the extensive review of the history of ballet is not for the squeamish, but it is rewarding. I feel I need to download this one and re-read it in hard copy in order to better understand ballet. As I ascend or descend deeper into middle age, my love for the symphony orchestra playing classical works becomes deeper. I am also beginning to pine for opera. Yet, ballet remains like poetry to me, in that I find ballet and poetry hard to feel emotionally without music performing the lead. There is still quite a bit of low-brow in me after all...especially watching the football games the other day during the Thanksgiving holiday (...and a great game between the New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys; heartbraker for the Cowboys, I must say).

* In June 2009, I had noted an earlier lecture of his, published in the NY Review of Books, here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why Libertarianism is Merely a Symptom of Arrested Development at the Adolescent Stage of Life

Libertarian commentator, Steven Chapman, has written a brief against a proposed federal law to require motorcyclists to wear helmets.

This was my comment at the Reason.org website where the article appeared:

Chapman's article is a good brief against forcing people to wear helmets when riding motorcycles.

However, as we are debating this policy, perhaps we ought to look at some further information on the subject:

1. http://www.physorg.com/news76185258.html. (Link to it here.)

2. http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/in.....Helmet.pdf. (Link to it here.)

It seems like there is reason to wear a helmet to protect against brain injuries and their more likely life-long adverse effects on the productivity of individuals, which medical costs do burden taxpayers a heck of a lot more than a broken or lost leg or arm. At some point, those who are libertarians have to look at societal costs for something...

The question to also keep in mind is how much is one's "freedom" really hurt here in enforcing a motorcycle helmet law?

This reminds me of what people were upset about in New York City 35 years ago when the city passed a law requiring people to pick up their dogs' poop from the sidewalk. People said, "Fascist law!" and other rants, and eventually, the sidewalks were cleaner and not as smelly, and last I checked, people did not feel that law led to a dictatorship in that city. Again, some public policies can be enacted that are not so sweeping as to define one's belief in socialism or libertarianism.


MF Blog additional comment:

When one weighs the Chapman article against a more detailed analysis of factual information, one finds there is little to be excited about in terms of "lost freedom" if this law were to pass. We're talking about regulating an essentially privileged leisure activity--compare the percentage of those who ride motorcycles to work and those who ride for pleasure*--so that the risk of brain injury from an accident is reduced by one-third. To get as fevered about motorcycle helmet laws the way libertarians do is merely a symptom of their arrested development at the adolescent stage of life.

* See here for an article citing a study from 1998 that appears to still hold true. See also here for a group trying to promote people to drive their motorcycles to work, where the article notes few do so.

ADDENDUM, OR WHY I LOVE THE INTERNET:

A commenter, with the moniker Xenocles, responds at the Reason.org website:

There's nothing contra-libertarian about telling people to pick up the litter their chattels leave on the commons, especially when said litter is a biohazard.

It's rather different from telling people they have to protect themselves from themselves under pain of legal sanction. It's true that the injured cost the public money, but that is a burden the public has shouldered itself. There's nothing inherent about it; the public can (and should) lay it down at any time.


AND I RESPONDED AT THE WEBSITE:

Xenocles, I'm glad you raised this point because your point about the public shouldering the burden is where libertarians tend to lose most people.

Most people are not going to say we as a society should not shoulder that burden. And that's because we know the person with the brain injury likely needs help beyond any one individual's family in most instances.

And as we are talking about an activity that is akin to sport (most motorcyclists are riding for leisure, not to commute to work), the real question is why not wear a helmet since it does reduce brain injuries and the significant brain injuries by at least a third?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mr. Mackey Misleads His Employees About "ObamaCare"

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, reminds me why I have boycotted Whole Foods and will continue to do so. He is a deluded Ayn Rand worshipper (I am being kind here in not saying he is a liar) who is actively hurting his workers and undermining the public's ability to create a rational health insurance provider system for our nation.

We last spoke of Mackey here, here and here.

Frankly, Mackey's statement to his workers leads me to wonder whether he is smart enough to operate his chain of stores when he is incapable of understanding how much nothing occurred in 2010 as a result of the Obama administration's "health insurance" reform in terms of why or how the insurance companies are increasing premiums or co-pays in 2010. The insurance companies are increasing rates because they can and would do so anyway. Does Mackey not read the balance sheets of the publicly traded insurance companies to understand where they profit and where they don't profit? Does he not understand how inefficient their cost structures are, in part due to bloated salaries of its executives and penchant for ridiculous marketing schemes? And in some fairness to insurers, does Mackey not understand that insurance companies are really like real estate investment companies, in that they own lots of properties that have decreased in value which has had an even greater adverse effect on their net worth and their immediate cash flow (due to loss in rent payments from tenants for property they own) than Aunt Sophie's hip surgery?

I mean, really, Mr. Mackey. Get your head out of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" already and grow up.

(Edited)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Obama's ignorance (or maybe a lie) about FDR

Thomas Ferguson of the Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute explains.

What Ferguson may not know is that the real problem intellectually about Obama is his fealty to the worldview of University of Chicago Law School professors who believe in the fairy tales that start with the word "free" as in "free" markets, "free" trade and "free" enterprise. His idea of American History is there was all this "free" business practices going on until the bad New Deal happened, and he and his friends have had to work really hard to undermine that bad thing ever since. He and his University of Chicago Economics and Law School friends have no sense of using government to promote wealth for the regular mass of people, no sense of nation building and sustaining with regulation and government development of everything from banking to railroads to airplanes and computers, and no sense that the New Deal represented a later thread of the same policies that go back to Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay.

Naomi Klein recognized this in Obama when he was running for president. See this article in The Nation. I long ago noted that Obama had a bankster's view of the world that was on display in his book, "The Audacity of Hope" and drew attention to a brilliant and prophetic article by Ken Silverstein in the Harper's Magazine about Obama being a stalking horse for the financial industry. My comments about Obama as he was becoming the media's darling in December 2006 (!) are here. In it, I also alert readers to recognizing that Obama is not the second coming of RFK, but at most he is the second coming of JFK because of his cool, intellectual demeanor, and limits of his political thinking.

A shame, really, to have had the chance to rebuild our nation, and having it be lost because of an ineffectual leader who is fighting against a group of men and women now called Republicans who simply do not have the nation's best interests at heart. As I have said on other occasions around the Web, the Republicans have taken a play from the Andrew Jackson Democratic Party playbook of obsessively working to oppose and undermine the presidency of someone they deem illegitimate (in that case it was John Quincy Adams) during the period of 1825-1828 by opposing everything he stood for, even when they agreed with it. Then, they ran their candidate, Jackson, in 1828 as the man who would overcome the divided and ineffectual government they had created. It worked, and it is working for modern Republicans now.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

No room for this majestic animal?

Tigers going extinct?

When I saw a tiger walk by behind a plexiglas wall at the San Diego Zoo a few years ago, I felt a combination of fear and respect--and happiness in knowing humanity had invented not merely guns, but plexiglas.

It is deeply saddening that tigers have run out of room to roam freely. They are truly majestic animals and we must do better in protecting their habitats. Why we don't pay off people and nations to protect the tigers is something we can't seem to get ourselves to do...

Okay, okay, no more blogging tonight....:-)

Justin Bieber, Meet Peter Noone

The hostility I hear expressed toward Justin Bieber, a young teen from Canada, is quite extraordinary. It strikes me as mean-spirited to rip into this young man when, in fact, he looks and sings like this then young British teenager, Peter Noone, who was far more loved in his time, and had the same level of talent--well, maybe Justin has a little more, even though the songs Herman's Hermits sang were more fun...and more melodic songs, quite frankly.

I say this because my 12 year old daughter claims to be part of the anti-Justin Bieber contingent, but I don't think she really means it. She claims to be anti-Miley Cyrus, too, but she watches the show regularly and saw her movie--twice. With Justin, I think she just doesn't want to admit to her friends that he's...cute.

My 17 year old son, overhearing our conversation, stepped forward to defend his sister's stance, from his late teen perspective, saying, "But Dad, he's a corporate tool. That's why I don't like him." To which I replied, "But do you hate Lady Gaga that much? Or Katy Perry? Or any of these ridiculous hip-hop people? They're not corporate tools? Of course they are." To which I will now add, "They get to be 'cool,' though, because they are about selling pornographic sex, not romance."

The larger sociological observation is that since the 1970s, people, from teens to adults, are deathly afraid of being deemed sentimental or liking something or someone nice. It comes from a misunderstanding of those Fifties American dissidents, like Lenny Bruce, who recognized that "Father Knows Best" and Fifties t.v. situation comedies left out the seamy side of life. But Lenny was not denying sentiment, as much as he was asking for some room for cynicism. Now, cynicism has crowded the room, which has often brought to mind another Lenny insight, "By the time Bob Newhart talks about integration, I'll be for segregation." If Lenny was alive today, he would likely be pleading for sentiment--and for more Bob Newhart. And the doubly ironic part of that is corporate media commentators would say Lenny had become "conservative," when "liberal" vs. "conservative" is not what we're talking about at all...

Oh well. Enough for tonight...

Mark Tiabbi is not getting invited to Sally Quinn's house for cocktails...

This forum at Rolling Stone magazine of Peter Hart (Democratic Party oriented pollster), David Gergen (Elite Mandarin of the American Empire) and Mark Tiabbi (A Smart Guy who somehow got into the room) is delicious.

Tiabbi clearly insulted the sensibilities of David Gergen, but really, isn't that how most of us who actually understand factual information and public policy issues feel right now?

(Warning: Tiabbi's comments may not be suitable for work due to the earthy language he uses at one point in the discussion.)

Chalmers Johnson: From establishment apologist for Empire to trenchant critic of Empire

Chalmers Johnson died yesterday at age 79. He was truly remarkable because instead of becoming more supportive of the foreign policy power elite in this nation as he aged--you know, like those cowards who decided they were "conservative" after 9/11/2001--became a powerful critic of the American Empire.

He was a UC San Diego professor, retired and stayed in San Diego County. He and I had a nice email discussion as to whether he should come speak to the synagogue where I am president. We both decided his health would not permit him to come out to Poway, and have to deal with the right wingers at my synagogue who were more likely to show up than those who would have been more sympathetic or at least able to consider his factual, historical information and arguments.

Rest in peace, Professor Johnson. Your works will be useful for years to come.

Steve Lopez on the busboy and RFK

A poignant article from Steve Lopez in today's Los Angeles Times that reminds us that our feelings for RFK are wrapped up in our feelings for our nation. The effect RFK had on so many people is truly astonishing, and we are freshly reminded of our nation's loss as we read Lopez's essay this morning.

Oh my. Off to synagogue and then off to work. So it goes, as Kurt V. would say.

A Letter to the Editor Sparks Finding a Missed Book Review

Here is a very thoughtful letter in the Sunday NY Times Book Review from a fellow named John Daniel of Elmira, Oregon of a non-Sunday NY Times Book Review on the subject of technology and society. I think this is the same fellow, and it is obvious he is a strong intellect who has a deep and abiding love of nature.

The letter also inspired me to find the book review to which he was referring. It was a non-Sunday review which is alas how I missed it. Jerry Coyne actually makes an important point, from a scientific standpoint, in his gentle critique of a book that posits how technology formed in our lives. Coyne cites my favorite science writer, the Stephen Jay Gould, about the exciting contingency that is life on this planet and that evolution does not occur through a grand law that inexorably pulls in a "progressive" direction. Instead, as Coyne states, "evolutionary change is a highly contingent process, critically dependent on environmental uncertainties and random mutations." Gould's point is, in my not so humble opinion, best initially explained in his essay, "The Panda's Thumb."

Daniel's perspective reminds me somewhat of the perspective of the protangonist poet and science fiction writer in Anthony Burgess' magisterial work of combined science and historical fiction, "The End of the World News." The perspective is particularly humane and pro-nature and is one set against the rational materialism of a small group of top government-connected scientists who must choose the few people who are to placed in a space ship to find another planet as the scientists recognize that a giant meteoric planet, which they dub Lynx, is going to smash into and destroy Earth. That is merely a third of the book, I should note, with the other two thirds being about Freud leaving Vienna and the Nazis and Trotsky in New York awaiting the revolution in Russia. I have long believed that book may be the single most underrated book of a major author in the past 50 years as it is brilliantly conceived and executed, and its insight is remarkable and often profound.

And on to today's NY Times Sunday Book Reviews which are delectable in both positive and negative ways. These include:

* David Margolick's wise review of a new book by the author of "Seabiscuit" on an Olympic runner who suffered grievously as an American prisoner of war at the hands of the Japanese government in World War II;

* Here is an intelligent review of a book that provides a somewhat anti-septic but important perspective on the origins of the housing bubble. However, both the reviewer and book writers may not be giving due to the combining of banks with investment houses, that caused financial markets to lose the balance of risk and caution that governed our nation for the six decades starting with the Glass-Stegall Act of 1933. Those who want to blame the bubble on acts during the 1970s, whether it was the Community Reinvestment Act of 1978 (a favorite boogeyman of the Rush Limbaugh Right) or simple securitization of mortgages that began in the 1970s are too narrow in their blame. The larger reason is in that marriage of banks and investment houses because there was no longer any brake on the speculation, and that combined with the abnormally low interest rates over that same time are more to blame than anything other single factor. The Federal Reserve Bank itself recognized that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were more victims than perpetrators in the housing bubble's worst aspects, as this Business Week writer recognized in the early fall of 2008.

* This review by a professor of international politics and law should serve as an excellent cautionary example of American hubris and imperialist adventuring among the intellectuals who wish to serve those vested in operating the American Empire. The book under the review is semi-neo-con Robert Kaplan's book about American interests for the rest of the century in the Indian Ocean area. Sorry, guys. The way our nation is continuing to be governed by its banksters in both major political parties, this won't be our century, and it will be the Chinese and Indians who engage in the hubristic activities of imperial war in that ocean arena and perhaps beyond. Humanity is a sad and pathetic sort of mammal in this respect, as Kurt Vonnegut often reminded us.

* Here is another review that serves as an unwitting cautionary tale. It is Francine Prose's review of Antonia Fraser's memoir of Fraser's time with the late playwright, Harold Pinter. As one who harbors economic and foreign policy positions that place me to the left side of the political ledger, I do find cloying and annoying the sort of clatter chatter of the wealthy left wingers who flit from cocktail party to cocktail party and combine a country club personality with near revolutionary rhetoric. Prose seems less upset by this, and that is somewhat surprising, as I do find her a deeply observant and thoughtful writer. A related review is of a memoir from a woman who illuminates how difficult it sometimes is to be the child of a rich and famous person, and even worse to be the child of a famous and horribly wealthy set of parents. Still, as my Mom says, rich or poor, it's good to have money...

* This review was both fascinating and repelling because I could not read it with anything other than shock that someone could write a book of 210 pages about the word/phrase "o.k." And even the reviewer, Roy Blount, Jr., was repelling in his clunky folksy prose that grated rather than inspired full reading.

* And this cultish review of Saul Bellow's letters ironically enlightens me as why I find Bellow so unsatisfying. He hated "Ideas" in stories? Yes, I think he did. I tried reading several of Bellow's books, and finished only two, "Humboldt's Gift" and "Mr. Sammler's Planet," finding the latter unsatisfying, and the former barely satisfying. I found "Herzog" and "Augie March" as unreadable as John O'Hara and only mildly less claustrophobic than Philip Roth's books. Bellow was not as observant as Leon Wieseltier thinks. I find Bellow never gazed much beyond his navel and his loins, and if he did, it was to a narrowly confined space that lacked Steinbeck's or London's illumination. For an urban grit and sensibility from the perspective of North American Jewish sensibilities, as usual, give me Mordecai Richler any day. Damn the literary academy which has elevated Roth and Bellow and ignored Richler.

* Finally, here is a beautifully written review by Thomas Mallon of Cynthia Ozick's new novel that is a take and twist of Henry James' "The Ambassadors." I lament Ozick's noxious views about the 100 Years War of Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, but she appears to have written a marvelous novel of manners in 20th mid-century America and Europe.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Exquisite evening with the San Diego Symphony

Tonight, my son, his girlfriend and I went to the San Diego Symphony and it was outstanding. Tonight's selections were Resphegi's "Pines of Rome," Rossini's "William Tell Overture," and "The Bartered Bride" by Smetana. There was much energy among the orchestra players throughout the evening, perhaps owing to these very upbeat selections.

And to celebrate the Symphony's 100th Anniversary, the Symphony Donors commissioned Michael Torke to write a classically oriented composition, which was premiered tonight. The piece is entitled, "Cactus: Concerto for Harp, Violin and Orchestra," and my son and I both enjoyed it. It had a more melodic movements than we anticipated from a new composition, which I was personally thankful to hear. Overall, the concerto gave the feel of a desert version of a Vaughn Williams pastoral composition. My only criticism of the composition is it lacked a certain level of vigor or a strong crescendo. Perhaps Torke may consider adding that to the piece, and he may have a hit on his hands.

See here for 2009 post that described another wonderful day with the San Diego Symphony. For those who of us who live in or near San Diego County, our local Symphony is truly worth seeing and listening.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

FDA banning Mokie-Koke

This scientist (whose name is Bora Zivkovic) had the same thought I had when I read the FDA is likely to ban Four LoKo, a volatile mix of alcohol and caffeine.

As stated at page 48 of the hardcover edition of The Merchants War (1986) by Frederik Pohl:

"Mokie-Koke is a refreshing, taste-tingling blend of the finest chocolate-type flavoring, synthetic coffee extract and selected cocaine analogues..."

Just don't get "campbelled" into drinking these drinks...:-)*

* See pages 57-58 of The Merchant's War for an explanation.

The conviction of a terrorist in a civilian court seems just

Glenn Greenwald has the analysis of the Ghailani conviction that is worth reading. The big take-away is that the civilian judge threw out testimony that was deemed coercive and not voluntary. This would likely have happened even if the defendant was tried in a military tribunal. See my August 7, 2008 post here for an example of where a military judge threw out coerced testimony, and where a military jury essentially acquitted bin Laden's driver and bodyguard.

See also my analysis of Justice Roberts' dissent in Boumediene v. Bush with regard to military tribunals. See also here for my initial analysis of that Supreme Court decision and a later take-down of Scalia's hysterical dissent in that decision.

I am less concerned whether we try these terrorist suspects in a military tribunal, including military jury, or a civilian tribunal and civilian jury. I simply believe that they are entitled to habeas corpus protections and should not be held indefinitely while we fight a twilight war against terrorists.

Finally, here is a Los Angeles Times article on the Ghailani conviction (note the Times focuses on the near-acquittal), which states near the end, without specifying:

Only five trials have been held by military commissions at Guantanamo, and all have resulted in conviction. In the nine years since the Sept. 11 attacks, at least 400 terrorism suspects have been tried in U.S. civilian courts. Most were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

400 civilian trials of terrorism suspects? Really? And "most were convicted"? Again, really? If that information is correct, again, I ask: Is there really a big deal about civilian trials compared to military trials, especially when both will consist of juries at the request of the defendants?

Another NY Times columnist has woken from his slumber about income distribution in the USA

Nicholas Kristof has awoken from his slumber about the new Gilded Age in which we are living.

And still, our president, won't say things to the American people like:

* "We will not sacrifice Social Security on an altar of more tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 in income." or

* "We are behind Argentina in income distribution and wealth distribution. Behind Argentina! And we wonder why consumer demand is low? When the top 10% of income earners in this country took home 80% of the new income and wealth generated in the past decade? And where the typical American working family has lost income once the relatively small inflation over the same time has been factored in?"

* "We're going to rebuild the infrastructure in this country, starting now. We are going to begin a program to reindustrialize our nation, and create wealth inside our nation that percolates up, that bubbles up like a strong cup of coffee. We will again make what we buy and buy what we make. Starting now."

It remains amazing to me how politically tone deaf our president is. If he would simply ingest and then say with ardor the above statements, he would see his approval ratings rise 10 points, and Democrats would immediately put Republicans on the defensive on everything from taxes to health insurance to deficit spending to Social Security and...well, you name it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Deeply engaging interview with Chomsky

From the newest issue of The Tablet, a deeply engaging interview with Noam Chomsky.

The commenters are amusing in their usual diatribes, tut-tutting and outright slanders. Nothing new there...The interview is the key thing to read.

And related to matters Israel is this great post by Bernard Avishai. He nails the structure of the discourse when it comes to Palestinians...

Meet the Newest Stupid Venal Hypocritical Congressman

Maryland physician Andy Harris is a new Republican Tea Party Congressman. And he wants his government health care now. Not 28 days from now. But now.

See this article and weep for the nation...Well, actually, we can just laugh sardonically.

Shouldn't we withhold the planes for 90 days to hold the Israelis to a settlement freeze?

This is a strange way to deal with a friend who is driving drunk. You don't say, "Here are a few more drinks for you before we let you drive again."

Sending military planes at this moment is not promoting peace. Withholding military plane deliveries for 90 days is more appropriate.

Israeli leaders are playing American leaders again...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nice to be vindicated in a corporate media exit poll analysis

Here is an article, entitled "2010 elections highlight Obama's eroding base", from the Associated Press, that explains, rather tidily, my point about low information voters who vote in a binary manner.

And if you find yourself frustrated with some of the swing voters' comments about bipartisanship and their repeating of Republican rhetoric where they would have spouted Democratic rhetoric two and four years ago, again, we have to filter that through their being low-information voters who swing with their feelings and what is immediately happening in their lives.

This is indeed frustrating to those of us who closely follow issues of public policy and laws, but it is a reality that we have to address by pursuing policies that are meaningful and give support to people. If not, demagogues will fill in the vacuum each time, and they have rather consistently, haven't they?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday Night Review of Book Reviews--November 13, 2010

This week's NY Times Book Review, meaning tomorrow's reviews now worth viewing:

1. Liz Phair writes a paean to her narcissistic hero, Keith Richards. I was not surprised by anything in the review, including Richards' Republican ethos on taxes. Somehow Mother England was good enough for Ian Anderson to make a load of money, why not
"Keef"? Too bad Ms. Phair is not curious enough to see if the tax rates Richards is speaking of were really what was paid by him when he decided he needed to leave his native country for awhile. Oh well, I always liked this song by Liz (not safe for work, I should add).

2. On the other end of the personality scale, here is a wonderfully written review of a new book on the subject of cancer. Not cancer as a metaphor, but the history and life of cancer--and how in the words of the review, our scientists now know enough to be "finally...ready for (the) war" against cancer started in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

3. Also, at the scientific end of the spectrum of writing is this poignant review of Oliver Sacks' new book, which includes something of a surprise, which is Sacks' own encounter with cancer, and how all his training and observations of others did him little good in coping with such a disease--at least at first.

4. And here is something strange: Evan Thomas gets only a small amount of space to write about Crazy Horse and the Little Big Horn battle, and its sociological background, while Liz Phair (see #1 above) gets to write a long-winded review about a narcissistic rock star. The Thomas review is wild for a normally stolid guy like Thomas. Crazy Horse comes off as part Nathan Hale, part Keith Richards and part bin Laden. I wish Thomas had either written a longer review or demanded more space in the Times. The title of the review puts us all in mind of "Little Big Man," which truly is a classic western film turned on its head.

5.Reviews to avoid:

a. The neo-connish George Packer reviews a new book by Timothy Garton Ash, who often spouts the usual DC village views of European politics, a set of views familiar to a PBS/NPR crowd in most ways, and never courageous--such as Ash's vacillation on the Iraq War II.

b. Another review to avoid is NY Times reporter Mark Mazzetti's review of a new book on the American government kidnapping of an Islamic fundamentalist cleric in Italy, and his subsequent endurance of torture by Egyptian authorities. The review tells us nothing the newspapers haven't told us, and the book and reviewer really seem like they don't want to know this is one more high level American operation fully approved by Cheney and Bush. I mean, really, we need evidence that Bush and Cheney endorsed this kidnapping and rendition? If the CIA did it, it was with the Oval Office's approval. If it was not, there would have been an immediate disavowal that was swift and harsh, and action taken against those who did it. Instead, the perpetrators have been protected on American soil.

c. And here is a confused review by Jon Meacham about AJ Langguth's new book juxtaposing the American national government's war against the Native American tribes and the US Civil War. Meacham says he just doesn't understand what Langguth is trying to say. However, in studying the book at Amazon.com, I am finding that Langguth's point is that there was a deep argument over the removal of the Native tribes from the Southeastern United States, and that many of the arguments back and forth about slavery that were starting to form had played out in at least an analogous way in the issue over "Indian removal." That President Andrew Jackson was against South Carolina using the power of "State nullification of Federal laws" over tariff policy, tells us less than Meacham believes. If anything, Meacham's review shows me once again why I have picked up, but never really read through his biography of Andrew Jackson. For my money and time, John William Ward's biography of Jackson remains the most astute book on Jackson, with Robert Remini's book, "Andrew Jackson and his Indian Wars" a close second.

Bonus review: This is a must read from In These Times magazine. It is entitled "Eight Myths of Justice" and reviews a book about those myths and the real life devastation those myths create.

Glenn Greenwald explains it all so well...

Glenn Greenwald nails it here.

The fealty of United States Congressional politicians to Likudnik Israeli leaders is sight to behold. It is really quite stunning for one of the leading Republicans in Congress, Eric Cantor (R-VA) (himself Jewish), to say he supports a foreign nation, i.e. Israel, against his own nation's president--especially when one considers how quick Republicans are to accuse Democrats of treason when disagreeing with the foreign policies of a Republican president. Sadly, we can expect no outcry in corporate media against Cantor's comments, no demand that that he renounce his statement, etc.

Nope. Instead, our corporate media will continue to spew anti-Semitic claptrap against George Soros.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shameful Catfood Commission releases preliminary report

No surprise at how disgusting the preliminary report is. I hope it is savaged and ridiculed and then tossed aside.

James Galbraith's wonderfully and courageously contemptuous testimony before the Catfood Commission, as I quoted several months ago, is worth quoting again.

The two jokers who released this draft, Catfood Commision co-chairs former Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson and former Clintonoid Erskine Bowles, want to give more tax cuts to the richest people, repeal middle class and working class benefits (housing interest deductions and earned income tax credits go away under their plan) and of course undermine Social Security.

They say nothing about ending senseless wars that cost another trillion on top of $2 trillion in the past decade. And as we all know, they are either lying or ignorant about the fact that Social Security is not in crisis and likely won't be--ever in our lifetimes and for decades beyond, unless these guys get to help destroy our nation with their ridiculous prescriptions.

Obama is as usual muted in response, and some liberals are already outraged. Good for the libs, and maybe Obama is finally afraid of doing something that would hurt regular people. One tires of toughness being defined as hurting regular folks, instead of socking it to rich people who have taken most of the money these past two decades.

This is why looking at only who pays an income tax is misleading, because looking at taxes paid by the wealthy deftly avoids dealing with the fact that most rich people have taken most of the money that, in decades past, would been better distributed. The loss of private sector unions and outsourcing have had terrible effects that have driven down wages and income for nearly everyone in the US but the economic elite--and the Catfood Commission wants to grab even more for rich people. If we think the homeowners' deduction hurts the richest elite (top 1% to 5%) more than they would benefit from cutting their marginal rate from 35% to 23%, we are really being fooled.

Again, the only way to respond to Simpson and Bowles is to start with contemptuous dismissal and ridicule. They deserve nothing less.

And when I think of Catfood, I admit to thinking of this song by King Crimson in 1970...

ADDENDUM: November 14, 2010: Business writer, Mike Hiltzik of the LA Times, is derisive, but still more respectful than he needs to be with the Catfood Commission co-chairs.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Garry Trudeau is our nation's Balzac

Garry Wills reviews the 40th Anniversary perspective book of Doonesbury cartoons for NY Review of Books. And he does an okay, but not great job. He makes the important point that Trudeau's characters have aged and some have died, and that we are now in the age of the grandchildren of his characters, who have provided Trudeau with continued creative juice to the comic he has written for four decades.

Still, Wills' review reads more like a draft of what would have been a great review. And what he does not get the reader to fully appreciate is that we can read Trudeau's comics and learn the history of America over the past forty years, both what our society thought was important while various important historical events were happening, yet embracing the more profound societal trends of how we got here--and what the future portends.

In a way, Trudeau really is our Balzac, who, in the early to mid-19th Century, wrote a series of novels, short stories and plays that were ultimately bound together with characters who appeared, disappeared and reappeared, and where there was a chronology to the story lines that mirrored larger French and European history during the time in which he lived.

Yes, there was a time in the mid to late 1980s when people (including myself) thought Trudeau was becoming hackneyed and predictable, but then he began to experiment with fantasy characters like Mr. Butts, Mr. Jay, Mr. Dum-Dum and Mr. Suds, who each ended up on Capitol Hill and other bastions of establishment society in a brilliantly funny way. And his use of feathers, asterisks and waffles to define Bush, Quayle and Clinton were scary brilliant. Then, since the period of the build up to the Iraq War II in 2002 to the present, Trudeau has been a reincarnation Bill Mauldin, but with a perspective that speaks to those of us who have read foreign policy analysts from George Kennan to Noam Chomsky.

Reading Trudeau's "Got War?" volume of strips from 2002 and early 2003 is today even more sobering than when the strips were written. For Trudeau had nailed in real time the lies the Cheney-Bush administration told leading up to the war, as well as the craven political calculation of Hillary Clinton and other leading Democrats. The strips also show, early on in the war, how much Trudeau cared about the soldiers being sent to a war based upon those lies and political calculation. Trudeau's sincere and respectful compassion for B.D.'s war injury and the way our soldiers were maimed and killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are nothing short of profound and deeply moving. That is not the way one usually talks about a "comic strip."

The fact is too many of us, including those of us who read him nearly every day, take Trudeau for granted. We do not stop to recognize the brilliance of the saga he has created, a saga that parallels American history and reflects American society. And again, the fact that his characters have aged and some have died, and that we now read regularly about the grandchildren and children of his original characters, sets Trudeau apart from Peanuts, from Mary Worth, from Nancy, from Pogo, from Dennis the Menace, from Family Circus, and from any number of modern strips that have been around as long as or longer than Doonesbury. These traits make Doonesbury different from the other brilliant comics of the past quarter century, like Calvin & Hobbes, the Far Side, Bloom County and Dilbert, each of which is brilliant in its own way (C&H is especially brilliant in a way that it should be taught in philosophy and psychology classes while Dilbert is best appreciated in an MBA program and in sociology classes).

What needs to be said loudly and clearly is that the Doonesbury comic strip is an extraordinary accomplishment that transcends the very genre of a "comic strip." It deserves to be compared to a serialized novel from the 19th Century. That is what I mean to say above all else.

As for Wills' review, it is not that Wills missed most of these points. It's just that Wills failed to write with his usual level of insight and compelling prose that he often exhibits in his other essays and books. That has left it to me to say, I guess...:-)

The dumbness of some libertarian law professors...

This op-ed by a law professor Ilya Solmin of George Mason's law school on why the individual mandate of the US government health care reform, which requires people (starting in 2014) to buy one or another insurance policies offered in the private sector--or else face a fee or tax--is quite stunning in its dumbness. The man has no idea how silly his analogies are.

He compares the individual mandate to a government rule that would require us to get up in the morning an hour earlier. In response, I am unaware of anything in our society that would compel such a rule compared to regulating out of control medical expenses.

He earlier compares the individual mandate to the government saying we have to buy cars to prop up the auto industry. So propping up the auto industry to that extreme is the same as saying one has to buy an insurance policy somewhere, instead of the current system, which allows someone to not have insurance, and then show up an emergency room to get free treatment. Or, let's put it another way: If we all agree it is good for insurers to not turn down someone with pre-existing conditions, it seems only fair and reasonable to say, "We don't want you freeloading till you get really sick before you buy insurance."

It is rather ridiculous to compare these factual situations to: "You must buy a Chevy" (the law professor invokes Volkswagens, strangely enough).

Also, the fact that insurance is often regulated by intrastate laws (i.e. State laws) is no reason for the federal government not to decide it wants to become more involved in insurance regulation. I guess the law professor is not up on his early constitutional history of M'Culloch v. Maryland, which upheld a socialist state bank for goodness sakes, and where Chief Justice Marshall wrote that the power of the Congress and President to pass economically based laws must be extremely flexible to allow for exigencies from time to time. It is in short a near plenary or plenary power.

I also find amusing his line that a court can't find something is a tax simply because a politician says it is not a tax. Has Professor Solmin not read the countless court decisions that tell parties, "Yes, you may not think there is a contract or agreement here, but there is." Or where courts say "someone is in fact an employee despite the parties saying otherwise." If the mandate is honestly functioning like a tax, there is nothing wrong with the court pointing out the reality. That is a function of courts, to deal with reality, not political propaganda.

Strange, as well, but Professor Solmin seems paralyzed beyond logic when using the word "product" for insurance. Sorry, professor. Insurance is not merely a "product." It is something we buy in society to protect us from an earlier death, or to give us succor as we are dying. It is not a "product" like a can of air freshener or even a car.

Overall, is this really the sort of argument from right wing law professors and attorneys general wafting through our legal system right now? Has Idiocracy penetrated even our legal community and judiciary? Oy.

One thing we do agree on. I see the Four Horsemen of the Legal Political Activists (Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts) possibly buying into this legalistic sounding nonsense, but not Justice Kennedy. That means 5-4, the mandate is upheld. But the fact that this may well be a close vote only attests to the rank political nature of the current Supreme Court and judiciary rather than having a judiciary that understands the Constitution as Justices Harlan and Frankfurter did, where judges must suspend their personal political judgment for a legal philosophy of deference to the Legislature. It is often rare for judges to consistently do that, but at least let's have the pretense of trying...

Personally, I hate the mandate because making me buy from Blue Cross is not the choice I wanted. I wanted a public option or Medicare for All. That is the best way to go economically. But the mandate to buy private insurance because there is no public option passed? Sorry, I may not agree with it politically, but it is not unconstitutional.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Terrible, Yet Slow Sword of General George Henry Thomas

The latest online issue of The Smithsonian has lots of great articles, but the retrospective on the US Civil War has some outstanding articles from past issues.

One of these, and really one of the truly greatest historical essays of the past decade, is this essay on Union General George Henry Thomas. It is seven "web pages" and worth every page to read.

Historian Ernest B. Furguson is to be heartily commended for his prose, his analysis and research on this long-forgotten military strategist and leader who exhibited a forthrightness and sense of purpose that is truly remarkable.

Long interview with Lawrence Goodwyn worth a read

His perspective in this interview is familiar to my sensibility, except he has far more hope in Obama than I do at this point. He thinks Obama will learn to move Left toward a New Deal populism. I think he will move even further away and toward a Bob Dole sort of Republican politics, which only looks "liberal" when compared to whack-jobs on the far, far right. Again, however, the historical perspective Goodwyn provides before reaching his hopefulness about Obama is important to ingest.

I doubt Gideon Levy's latest article is being reprinted for the Jewish Federation Convention...

Here is Gideon Levy, in Ha'aretz, trying to tell delegates to the Jewish Federation Convention in New Orleans to not let Israel drive drunk. Meanwhile, Joe Biden tells these particular Likudnik American Jews who show up at these conventions that he wants to ship more booze to Israel for its drunken leaders to drink. And they cheer....

I am not cheering, however.

One thing I find amazing about Levy's article is that it is a less an argument than an expression of revulsion and powerless despair. He is not even trying to convince someone who is in favor of the settlements or the status quo why the settlements are bad for Israel. There is no way he would be published in any respected American newspaper nor invited on most American broadcast media--not even NPR, PBS or MSNBC. Not on Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, and not Bill Maher, either. It would be a total blackout.

What is also amazing to me is that he opposed the invasion of Gaza at the end of 2007, while I (as someone supposedly "anti-Israel" in the parlance of the Israel Uber Alles crowd) supported it. But I have remained steadfast against Israeli expansion of settlements, and strongly in favor of talks with the Palestinian Authority and even Hamas. That would make me an unwelcome person at the Jewish Federation Convention, I believe, where Biden genuflected to the delegates in New Orleans today.

Oh well. I'm glad I stayed home this weekend.

Olbermann's contributions vs. Joe Scarborough's and Robert Wright's...and only Olbmermann is suspended?

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting ("FAIR"), a liberal-left press critic organization to which I used to subscribe two decades ago, and still like, has an interesting analysis here.

Addendum 8:45 p.m. 11/7/10: Looks like NBC recognized how ridiculous its suspension of Olbermann is...

Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews: November 7, 2010

There are some fun reviews in this week's NY Times Book Review (and even other reviews worth skimming or reading than those described below):

1. A Yale Law School professor provides an insightful review of Noah Feldman's, "Scorpions," which is about the four Justices FDR appointed to the bench, and how each sharply differed from the other in personality and philosophy. Each may have begun with the mandate to support New Deal policies, but quickly differences arose thereafter. Independent minds will do that...Somehow, I am not going to take the time to read the book, but for those not otherwise as familiar with the jurisprudence and politics of the era, the book appears to be a highly worthwhile read.

2. Here is a smart review of Joseph Ellis' new book about John & Abigail Adams. I have looked through this book and share the conclusion of the reviewer, Caroline Weber, which is that this is a book that did not need to be written at this point. There are plenty of biographies of both of these married figures, and I've read many of them myself. I love the Adams Family even more than the Addams Family, which is saying a lot. I have long believed that perhaps the Adams' marriage survived because of long absences from each other, and they really may not have had such a loving marriage after all. I also believe that John Quincy Adams and Louisa Adams were more soul mates who spent much time with each other, compared to his father and mother. This is not to say John & Abigail detested each other, or that their marriage would have failed had John just stayed at home more often. It is just that some of the idealistic romantic phrasings in their letters carry a deep irony when considering the reality of their long separation, and when one considers that John rarely missed an opportunity to go off to Europe or New York or Philadelphia, while Abigail had to operate the farmhouse and rear the children essentially alone.

3. Thank God they made Joshua Cohen, author of an excessive book on Jews, review another excessive book on Jews. Justice has been pursued and caught in that choice. Cohen, in a tastefully-written and ironically short review, saves us the time of having to read through the latest excessive book even as he praises it. And in doing so, he provides a couple of drive-by references to the overrated Philip Roth, and very overrated but now fashionably dead David Foster Wallace, who wrote the unreadable "Infinite Jest." I am not against length in a book, having just picked up Ron Chernow's latest biography "Washington" (actually my folks bought it for me for an early holiday gift), and I just purchased the Branch Rickey biography by Lowenfish, with each clocking in at about 800 pages. However, when prose is dense either on purpose or for "literary" purposes, as with Wallace and as I recall, Cohen's book, I smell a rat, which is that the author is not a good writer or the author is hiding mundane ideas behind something that is pretentiously written.

4. This was a frustrating review because, while the reviewer may be right about the limits of a new book on the violence at the Mexican-American border involving the billion dollar drug cartels, she rightfully acknowledges the power of the book in setting forth what is happening. It is a true journalist's book, from her description of it. Still, she had the opportunity, but failed to provide more depth to tell us what she believes is causing this war to have escalated so horribly in the past three years. The disintegration of Mexican society is one of those stories that produce shrugs in our nation, not a deep concern nor any coherent call for policy solutions. Contrary to the reviewer, the author of the book may be on to something when he talks about the effects of trade deals and global capitalism on a peasant society like Mexico. I think he may have something to tell us because here is an excerpt from the book, which shows he is tying in the Cold War policies of the 1980s, where the CIA under Reagan openly promoted international drug cartels in their ideological struggle against the leftist revolutionists in Central and South America, which deepens my sense that the trade treaties of the 1990s may have well contributed to an unraveling of Mexican society of which drugs become a symptom, not a cause. As I recently stated in another post, the failure of Mexico's citizens to vote for Obrador in 2006 is proving to been far more significant than even I felt at the time. Obrador was actively speaking with labor economists in our nation about building infrastructure, putting millions of Mexican citizens to work in Mexico, and...well, that is a "what if?" for Mexico, isn't it?

5. Here is a smart review that allows us a glimpse of the thinking of a couple of smart establishment-oriented foreign policy analysts. It is safe and cozy inside that establishment, but at least the reviewer of the foreign policy book, and perhaps the author of the book, recognize what a screw up the Iraq II adventure has been. They show signs, dangerous for them in their personal ambitions, how our imperial adventures overall create more blowback than nearly anything else. Still, I think these fellows will pull back in time to promote their careers and help lead our nation in yet more wars, starting with Iran. Oy.

6. Stacy Schiff is a writer of creative and scholarly power who has now written a potentially controversial biography of Cleopatra. This review gives us a good start on the subject and book, and does intrigue me. Still, I wonder, is the prurience still prevailing in our interest in this particular despotic ruler of ancient Egypt in a time of Roman imperial dominance? Having read all the way through, and definitely enjoyed, the Marcus Arelius biography from Frank McLynn, I am doubtful whether I will find the bandwidth to read the biography of Cleopatra. She strikes me as interesting, but not compelling in terms of her impact on ancient history. She cleverly maneuvered with both Caesar and Antony, and was as famous for her ritual suicide as anything else, but is there really that much more to the story?

Bonus review: Garry Wills has a memoir out, and the other day, the Times reviewed it. Whimsical, yet scholarly is how one may describe Wills, who is one of those rare people who moved Left rather than Right as he aged.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Dylan Cult Lives On

A young would-be novelist, Giles Harvey, has written a review of the new Dylan books for NY Review of Books. The Dylan Cult is alive and well, unfortunately, in this review. One thing struck me, though, and that was Harvey's gratuitous attack on Phil Ochs, when he says:

“Only a Pawn in Their Game” is about Medgar Evers, the NAACP’s chief organizer in Mississippi, who had been murdered less than three months earlier, on June 12, by the Klansman Byron de la Beckwith. Dylan’s approach to this subject, like his decision to perform the song at the March on Washington, is characteristic of his refined moral intelligence. Rather than sermonize—as, for example, Phil Ochs does in his predictable, hand-wringing, and largely forgotten “The Ballad of Medgar Evers,” written the same year—the song asks its audience to husband their anger and to consider where it might be more profitably spent..

What the heck is that? Because Ochs wrote about the emotions of losing Evers, it lacks "moral intelligence"? And what makes Ochs' song predictable? Predictable as in lacking in toughness? What is "predictable" about Ochs? Let's see Harvey come up with a Dylan equivalent of the power of:

* "Here's to the State of Mississippi"

* "Cops of the World" (no YouTube link by Ochs on this one...)

* "I Ain't A Marchin' Anymore"

* "Is There Anybody Here?"

* "When I'm Gone"

and on and on and on.

People may wonder why I talk about the Dylan Cult and why I point out how overrated Dylan is, especially compared to Ochs or Paul Simon. It's precisely because of the drive-by libel by arrogant writers like Giles Harvey, who can't stop at praising Dylan, but must attack people like Phil Ochs.

As I posted yesterday, there is a new documentary out on Ochs that may ultimately become influential in restoring Ochs' memory and promoting his legacy.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Chomsky Tells Us To Worry, But Also Stay Calm and Rational

See this short essay in In These Times.

Chomsky opens with a stat from a Rasmussen poll, but as 538 points out, the Rasmussen polls have skewed to Republicans and the right-wing, and had some of the most inaccurate electoral forecasts among pollsters. So some good news there, or at least some less bad news.

Best line in Chomsky's essay:

People rightly want answers, and they are not getting them except from voices that tell tales that have some internal coherence—if you suspend disbelief and enter into their world of irrationality and deceit.


And when David Brin wants to quote Adam Smith and say more leftist should do so, Chomsky delivers the following lines:

That incorrigible 18th-century radical Adam Smith, speaking of England, observed that the principal architects of power were the owners of the society—in his day the merchants and manufacturers—and they made sure that government policy would attend scrupulously to their interests, however “grievous” the impact on the people of England; and worse, on the victims of “the savage injustice of the Europeans” abroad.

A modern and more sophisticated version of Smith’s maxim is political economist Thomas Ferguson’s “investment theory of politics,” which sees elections as occasions when groups of investors coalesce in order to control the state by selecting the architects of policies who will serve their interests.

Ferguson’s theory turns out to be a very good predictor of policy over long periods. That should hardly be surprising. Concentrations of economic power will naturally seek to extend their sway over any political process. The dynamic happens to be extreme in the U.S.


It's definitely worth the read. The only thing missing is the racial element, which is that the majority of white voters went off the rails in this election, and the bright spots for civilization occurred in areas where Latinos voted more than they had in past elections, starting in California.

It's About Time...Phil Ochs Documentary

Watch it here.

Phil Ochs is a key to understand the student movements of the 1960s, it's highs, it's lows and it's despair and legacy.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Sparky Anderson, a baseball managerial icon

Sparky Anderson was a guy who thought a lot about baseball, but was also very community oriented. I knew him somewhat when my family and I lived in Thousand Oaks about a decade ago. Our family and his family frequented the same local Chinese food restaurant, and we'd be in the same line getting our take-out. Sometimes, when we ate in, he'd stop by our booth on his way to getting the take-out. He'd talk to my son, who was a wee lad of five or six, and feel his hands, and say, "Son, you've got good, strong hands for a young man" and smile right into his eyes. He said our son should keep playing baseball, but when he saw Andrew was saying he liked soccer, he smiled and said, "That's great, too, but you can't beat baseball!" I said I understood, but also said Andrew likes to dig for bugs and study them. I remember him saying, "That's really great! Use those hands..."--and then he tapped Andrew's head with his index finger--"and use your mind!"

Sometimes, when he walked by, he would just tip his cap when he had one on, or just give us a civilian sort of salute when he was not wearing a cap. This occurred over several years, and happened at least six or seven times when we'd see him. It was a thrill for me, recalling him as a major league manager all those years before.

When I'd get a chance to briefly talk with him, it was usually about the weather, the latest in baseball news, and once about the local political scene--where Sparky and I saw eye to eye. I was not alone in having such conversations with him, as others would say, "Oh yeah, I see Sparky at" such and such place around town. See this article, which talks about how he kept his number listed in the local phone book--under his proper name, George Anderson.

Sparky, in his early days managing the Cincinnati Reds, was against the idea of "free agency," at least publicly. When Reds pitcher, Don Gullet, became one of the first players to exercise his right to free agency after the momentous Messersmith and McNally arbitration decisions, Sparky was outraged and said Gullet was being selfish. A couple of years later, when Sparky was thrown out by the Reds management, he recanted his position and said he did not blame players for wanting to ensure they received as much money as they could. He said the game was a business, after all.

That hurt him, because, for Sparky, he loved the game of baseball, and always wanted others to see that it was above all, a game--in the best sense of the term. He remains the only major league manager to win a World Series from a team in the National League (the Reds) and the American League (the Detroit Tigers). He will be missed as a baseball man, and I am sure he will be missed in the Thousand Oaks area where he was a relatively quiet, but accessible citizen.

Rest in peace, Mr. Anderson.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Proposition results: California just got harder to govern, too...

As I stated in my addendum to the post below, the nation just got harder to govern last night. And the same holds true for California.

From the official CA Secretary of State Proposition Results, we see that Proposition 22 won. While this may save some local redevelopment funds, it means less money for state and local schools. We also see that Proposition 26 won, which will now require a 2/3rds vote to raise fees for state and local government funding. This nearly negates the great victory for the State in passing Proposition 25, which will now only require a simple majority to pass the budget. Still, Proposition 25 did not change any of the 2/3rds needed to raise any tax, and with Proposition 26 passing, that applies to many so-called fees.

What is interesting is that the "No on 23" ads seem to have worked and the State was saved from voracious Texas interests out to undermine CA leading the way with green regulations concerning our planet's climate. This is important from a public policy standpoint, but again, when one is hampered by the Party of No's tax cut cult, then the ability to actually move forward may be hampered--again.

It's a shame some people thought it was unfair to negate some tax cuts for business (Proposition 24, which failed to get a majority) and it's somewhat of a shame that the new redistricting commission will now have to add to its new scope of duties the drawing of the congressional lines. At least our new Governor will be able to appoint some people to this commission, I believe.

It's also a shame that so many people voted against protecting public parks with a small increase in the vehicle fee (aka "car tax"), which was Proposition 21. It lost with over 60% of Californians who voted voting "no" to Smokey the Bear.

It was a close vote on Proposition 19, the marijuana initiative. I wonder if the turnout would have been worse for Dems among younger folks if they did not have this on the ballot.

SOME GENERAL COMMENTS ABOUT CALIFORNIA'S RESULTS:

The Secretary of State's results for the vote yesterday is here.

Beyond the Propositions, it appears the Democrats swept all State official elections, including Kamela Harris winning the Attorneys' General position over the "law and order" candidate, Republican Steve Cooley. That is an impressive set of wins for Democrats, especially compared to their brethren across the US. I do think there is something to Harold Meyerson's belief that minorities (especially Latino) voters tend to be more reasonable, which helps Democrats. Still, when one sees the big majorities on the tax issues, one still sees that without advertising, as in the "No on 23" advertising, people revert to the most atavistic positions that say "You won't take anything from me, man!"

Jerry Brown has his work cut out for him to teach California's voters how the taxes actually operate in this State, how they need to be changed, and how to restore some stability to the inflow of revenue and outflow of expenditures.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Low information voters swung to Republicans in various States--And the Nation Just Got Harder to Govern

That's the most direct answer for what has occurred. The Democrats gave them no reason to vote for them other than the Republicans are worse. I agreed with that, and voted Democratic accordingly. The 20% who decide elections, who forgot the Republicans are the ones who drove us into this ditch, simply flicked their binary switches back to the Republicans.

(Do you think Chris Matthews' rude comments to Michelle Bachman--and I was appalled at Matthews for his rudeness--were based upon this Roy Zimmerman song making its way around the Internet? I have to say I love Roy's song, but I think Bachmann, as an elected official, and given her party did prevail in the US House of Representatives, deserved more respect from Matthews than he gave her).

The simple proposition is that 40% will vote for Republicans no matter what and 40% will vote for Democrats no matter what. Those in the remaining 20% like to say they are "independent," but they are the most often manipulated by last minute gaffes, negative ads, tut-tuts from the corporate media, etc.

So, two years ago, the 20% went for Obama and the Dems. Tonight, more often, they went for Republicans.

If Reid holds on, it's a minor miracle. I'd have rather us kept Feingold in Wisconsin, and lost Reid in Nevada. I'd have rather kept Grayson in Florida than Reid in Nevada. But, thank goodness for the small favor of keeping Reid in Nevada.

California remains civilized, as Brown and Boxer appear headed to victory. We'll see how the "down ticket" candidates from Lt. Governor to Insurance Commissioner to Secretary of State and the like do, however...

In another world, the Lakers won again tonight, and look awesome, though...:-) I got it. Jerry Buss for President. He knows how to act and get things done.

MF BLOG MORNING AFTERTHOUGHTS (11/3/10):

The nation got harder to govern after last night's vote. With a Republican majority in the House, any progressive, pro-worker legislation will never reach Obama's desk. So even if the Senate drops the filibuster, there is no hope for any good progressive bills to come out of Congress for President Obama to sign. We as a nation ended up voting for gridlock as we can expect the House to not pass anything that is pro-worker, and will be stopped by the Senate or Obama from passing anything too draconian, though much damage can still be done considering Obama's likely continuing Hoover-esque ways in failing to lead.

The really bad thing is the Republicans will likely govern the way Chris Matthews said Bachmann and Darrell Issa (R-San Diego County, CA) want to govern, which is to use subpoena power to harass Obama officials, and perhaps even some Democratic Party congresspeople, with investigations into "corruption" or some such thing that really means, "We will de-legitimize you, and make you the issue so we don't have to talk about the drift of America, and the continued Gilded Age of Wealth For the Few, And the Beggaring of the Many."

That is the sad, sad takeaway from last night's results. Can the Democrats get it together in 2012? Only if Reid and Obama (Pelosi has been vanquished as a leader for the time being) decide they want to fight for New Deal values instead of running from them. They can still change the discourse, and still put pressure on the rather dumb Republicans who have been elected across the country (Issa in CA and the new Senator from Wisconsin, Johnson, are not dummies, however, but they can be pushed back). But so far, one simply has not seen that from Reid or Obama. Reid won last night in spite of himself because enough Nevadans realized they simply could not elect a loon like Angle.

And if Obama and Reid have any sense whatsoever, they will reject the findings of the Catfood Commission, and let the Republicans wear that Commission's likely attack on Social Security. And a fun thing to do in the session between today and January 2011 would be to repeal the Bush Tax Cuts for those making over $250,000 and watch Republicans be forced to say, "But we want to make rich people even richer!" The gridlock would stop the Republicans from being able to repeal that, and the more they fight for it, the more people will see who the Republican politicians really support. Still, can one count on so many of the defeated "conservative" Democrats to show they have some semblance of dignity for the working people of this nation, and for governance in general?

Overall, our nation will not fall apart in any apocalyptic sense after this election. However, our nation will continue to accumulate senseless debt from wars and tax cuts, and gridlock will cause our nation to drift instead of taking much needed action to rebuild our nation's infrastructure and restore our industrial capacity--or begin to restore some balance in who holds what money and power in our nation.

Oh well. Get ready for work, America, if you have a job. And if you don't, good luck in finding a job. I sincerely mean that for those without jobs these days.

Remember...

Digby linked to this video ad that is pretty powerful stuff. It speaks to how I feel today as I vote. I am lucky to be in California where Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer, and several other state wide Democratic candidates should win.

It is vital for those in other States to vote for the Democrat against those true Tea Party type of ignorant ravers running for elective office. Again, let's hope there was an undercounting of Democrats with cell phones in those polls we've been reading for months. That's a slender reed to hold onto today, but hold it we must as we march to the voting places around our nation.

And maybe, just maybe, some Weimar Democrats like Harry Reid will survive, and realize they had better act with strength and vision...for once. As regular readers of this blog know, I predicted Reid's fall at the beginning of this year, and he has managed to prove me a prophet so far. I want, however, to be wrong by tonight.

Oh, and here are my recommendations on the California State Propositions, though I have wavered on Proposition 19 because we are already decriminalizing marijuana use...Still, I'm likely voting for it as we must stop criminalizing the poor through our enforcement of drug laws.