Monday, February 28, 2011

Funny, that's just what I was thinkin'...

...except I didn't bother to do the real math on it. I just had a hunch the pension funds of public employees was not as big a fiscal threat as the right wing and corporate media pundits are saying and assuming.

See this post by Kevin Drum about this study by economist Dean Baker, who is one of the few economists who is one of the good guys.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Just the beginning?

Let's hope this series of protests these past several days is just the beginning of the push for labor unions across the nation--and especially for reviving labor unions in the private sector.

What is good for union workers is most often good for non-union workers,too. One can draw a correlation between levels of unionizing which hits 1/3rd of the workforce and strong protection of workers overall. When unions fall to 10% of the work force, workers suffer.

What would be great about a revived private sector union movement is we are finally passed much of the overt racism that pervaded our larger culture, which had made a mockery of many pro-labor laws passed during the Progressive Era. Even then, however, progressive labor laws and labor unions nonetheless improved many people's lives, including the lives of some minorities. Certainly, those black males who were railroad porters received a benefit from unionizing. Just ask A. Philip Randolph...

ADDENDUM: And it just got more interesting in Wisconsin, as police have decided they are not kicking out the protesters from the Capitol building in Madison. Kind of like the military in Egypt. Governor Walker may yet follow through on his initial threat to call out the National Guard. But what happens if the National Guard acts like the police officers? Hmmmm....Obama is not likely to help if he values what is left of his Democratic Party constituency...May other Republican Governors come to Governor Walker's rescue with other State troops? And if they may, will they?

Stay tuned...

Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews: February 27, 2011

From the NY Times Sunday Book Review:

Here is a must-read review of a new book on the futility of US soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. I am saddened to read that counterinsurgency, a retread from the late 1950s and 1960s, was what led Obama to expand the war in Afghanistan. I mean, really, Mr. President, didn't you read "The Best and the Brightest" when you were at Occidental or Harvard (I read it at Rutgers)? Or maybe you might have read the "Cliff Notes" of Graham Greene's "The Quiet American"? My sense is Obama read neither the Cliff Notes or the novel. And I highly doubt Obama listened to Phil Ochs' "White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land,", either. But that only shows an older English novelist (and sometimes spy), like Greene, or twenty-something folk singer, like Ochs, had more sense than most of our politicians and military leaders then or now.

Bonus point: Apparently, Secretary of Defense (War) Robert Gates has at least learned what Vizzini in "Princess Bride" noted was the biggest blunder of all time: Getting involved in a land war in Asia.

Here is a wonderful review that neatly summarizes Susan Jacoby's new book on the truth about aging. As a person deeply moving through "middle age," I am seeing age 70 as not so "terribly strange" as a twenty-something Paul Simon did--which I find "terribly strange" to contemplate. Oh wait, that was Simon's point, wasn't it?

This is a smart, informative review that helps us understand how England came to have a sovereign who was female at the end of the medieval period. The bottom line: Tough women led England out of the Dark Ages and into national greatness. That is an interesting thesis, isn't it? Kind of makes me wish we had elected Hillary, though I doubt she would have governed all that differently than Obama...

And this review from Jennifer Homans shows us why a reviewer who really knows his or her subject can write the most devastating review of a new book exploring that subject. Homans rips into a new book dealing with various Russian czars' support of artists, including musicians, in the 19th Century and up through the time of the 1917 Revolution.

This review of a new book by a new foreign policy "prodigy" is also sharply and somewhat knowledgeably written, but the book's author is easy prey. The author, Parag Khanna, looks like the new Francis Fukuyama, whose book twenty years ago, "The End of History," received accolades it never deserved. We are nearly always on the verge of chaos, and nearly always on the way to destruction. But History is far more contingent than any neat theory, and it is the contingencies we should explore, not some overriding single theory.

Yet, the problem we Americans face is that America is now truly breaking up into regions, between haves and have nots, between those who thrive on international trade and those who lose out in that trade--and where a good portion of the semi-skilled working class in the private sector is willing to attack and delegitimize their fellow semi-skilled workers in the public sector--during a time which resembles most the Gilded Age of the late 19th Century America.

Yesterday, my son and I toured the Salk Institute as part of the Institute's outreach to high school students in San Diego. During the tour, I was again struck by another separation of haves and have nots in the matter of knowledge. There is clearly a disconnect between the incredible knowledge of the scientists engaged in research and the rest of our society. What the Salk people were also saying is that the USA is just beginning to fall behind in its pursuit of scientific knowledge (The Institute promotes this once a year "High School Day" to recruit and interest American high school students to join the world of math and science). When we compare what is going on at the Institute with what passes for intelligent discourse on poison talk radio and television, or compare the humanity and knowledge of the scientists at the Institute with the politicians who actively promote scientific illiteracy as if it was divinely inspired, we simply cannot have a sanguine view of our nation's future. Khanna is not completely wrong, but he is neither useful nor helpful in promoting public policies that will help our nation survive this century as a functioning state.

And this sort of dumbing down and promotion of short term narcissism by our corporate media is something barely remarked upon...

There is also this review about racial "passing" that delivered far less than I hoped. Better to read about the life of Walter White, a noted NAACP president during the early to mid-20th Century, or a couple of works of George Schuyler. And of course, the great "Kingsblood Royal" (1947) by Sinclair Lewis, who was a friend of White's. The novel is now beginning to be recognized as one of the great race novels of the 20th Century (see this positive discussion from the NY Times from 2002).

This week's NY Times Book Review also contains some interesting reviews of new books of fiction, as well as a review of a new biography of Ethel Waters which the LA Times reviewed last week, and in which I made mention last week in a blog post. The NY Times reviewer has written an equally outstanding review of the Waters biography, which biography should be read by those most interested in the history of early film making in Hollywood. The review is something to read on the day of the Hollywood Academy Awards, I suppose...

Well, that's it for today. Things to do and people to see, and all that...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Smithsonian Magazine..Get it while it's hot!

Some interesting articles in The Smithsonian Magazine:

Here is an excellent article about how the Cherokee Indians did what "moderate" people would want to see, peacefully lobby and agitate, and file suits that were righteous and correct, at least per the US Supreme Court. And yet, President Andrew Jackson acted harshly in expelling the Cherokees from their home area previous US governments had promised them. I had just read a very nicely drawn book on this subject, "Driven West" by A.J. Langguth, after I had favorably cited his book in a book review that did not do the book justice.

This is a decent article about the Luddite movement of the late 18th Century and beginning of the 19th Century in England. The author is not really wrong in noting the Luddite movement was about wages and workers fighting for power against an increasingly powerful combination of business and government bearing down on workers during the 20 years war between England and France. Still, I was bothered by the tone of the article, which was less than reverential to people who bravely fought against powerful people who were acting with corruption and turning property offenses into capital (death) offenses.

A better work on the Luddites is Kirkpatrick Sale's "Rebels Against the Future" or for the brave, E.P. Thompson's magisterial "The Making of English Working Class." I read both, and can say each has its positive aspects. Sale's is more journalistic in tone, but definitely scholarly. Thompson's is scholarly, and deals with the cultural as well as the political and economic. It also has a deeply humane sensibility that springs from Thompson's genuine concern for the workers discussed in the book.

A more appropriate place for the "isn't this fun?" tone is in this article about dinosaur sex. I am usually too busy thinking about how I would escape one of these creatures rather than think about how they mate, but the article does help us at least think about that from a scientific point of view...with just a touch of joviality for the occasion.

And here is a short, but again fascinating article about one of those sub-cultures in the USA which we don't often hear about because it is just out of hearing range. This sub-culture is the Gullah or Geechee Culture in an island off the coast of Georgia.

And here is a hopeful article about how rap and hip-hop are challenging the dictators of Burma (Myanmar).

Finally, and feel free to roam the website is what I say, is this fascinating article about Gauguin and how he promoted himself and his art. It was not very different than Lady Gaga, I must say...

Shep Smith: Off the FoxNews Reservation...Again

Shep Smith nails it. See here.

And watch how Juan Williams stays on message for FoxNews, when he's supposed to be the "liberal."

The one statement Williams made that was a clearly false was to make it sound like only Democrats gave in to the public employee unions. I know for a fact that it was conservative Republicans in Orange County, San Diego County and San Diego City government who gave lavish pension deals in the past 15 years to public employee unions. They did it to buy them off to support their true constituents, which were and remain private real estate developers and sports magnates. "Malarkey," as Shep Smith said about a related point.

Shep's one strange statement was that somehow a Founder of our Constitution supposedly said government employees can't unionize. Um...no, Shep. Not an issue they talked about one way or the other.

I wish I could say Tariq Ali reads MF Blog...

Note this article from Tariq Ali that the uprisings occurring in various Arab nations in 2011 are akin to the 1848 uprisings in Europe.

My post from January 29, 2011 had made that point as well...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Great article on decline of labor movement and rise of income inequality

There is a new and great article in Mother Jones magazine by Kevin Drum, who has redeemed himself recently with his trenchant attacks on those who want to "reform" Social Security. He recognizes that the decline in labor unions has increased income inequality more than any single factor in American life.

The charts are also outstanding.

The one thing Kevin does not do is propose a program. But the program is pretty clear:

1. Pass labor law reform to allow card check;

2. Rebuild infrastructure with prevailing wages and let the labor unions form with the new laws;

3. Put into place new tariffs designed to begin to restore our industrial capacity (which means getting the heck out of the NAFTA and WTO and demanding they reform to become more humane); and

4. Medicare for All. This frees business and workers from having to deal with each other when they don't want to, and people will not be forced to stay somewhere or go to somewhere to get medical benefits.

Those are the main answers. Others can think of others, but if those are not included, well, then it's not serious from a public policy standpoint. Too bad my solutions are not "serious" to the political class or economic elite in this country...

And also today, Robert Reich has something to say about the Republican Shakedown and the continuing failure of what I call Weimar Democrats.

Lunchtime blogging...US public school teachers not overpaid compared to other countries...

See this post at EconoSpeak, citing information from the New York Times.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Gideon Levy lays it on the line...as usual

Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, says Obama has officially joined the Likud Party in having America's UN Ambassador veto the resolution condemning settlement building in Israel.

It is not enough to say, "Oh, Gideon, that's just American politics." It is really sad because the one bright spot in Obama's administration was a true understanding among ironically his Jewish advisers that Israeli leadership is driving drunk.

Obama is just running for re-election, and he does not want problems with those well-heeled Jewish liberals who support the odious AIPAC--I met some of such folks during the 2008 campaign here in San Diego. That is what drives Obama, and it is driving me more and more to wondering if I will pull the lever in 2012's presidential election for the Green Party?

I balanced CA's budget...and you can too!

With a tip of the hat to Mark Kleiman, the Sacramento Bee offers you an opportunity to balance CA's budget.

I balanced CA's budget without cutting any social spending for poor and moderate income people, without hurting mentally ill people, and with no cuts in education, etc. I cut through prison reforms mentioned. I raised revenues without increasing the sales tax on anything, not even alcohol or cigarettes. I did agree with Brown's plan with regard to redevelopment agencies, whose time has passed. They are too often fonts of business leader corruption which require a different procedure to improve the infrastructure for communities.

The one thing the Sacramento Bee should have included, but didn't is to restore the top income tax rates from the Wilson administration (1990-1998) on the wealthiest 10%. Had this been included, I could have been more precise in cuts to redevelopment agencies, too.

The exercise proves again that CA's problems are structural and further prove one does not have to act punitively against the poor or further harm libraries or schools. One other thing people will notice is how little is saved by eliminating support for libraries, eliminating poor people's programs, and even juvenile justice programs. None of that surprised me, nor should it surprise those who have studied the costs of welfare programs. One thing that did surprise me: CalWORKS cost more than I thought, but I think that has been a function of high number undercounted unemployed in the State.

Friday, February 18, 2011

First, create a crisis...and then attack. Machiavelli, meet Governor Walker

The Talking Points Memo from Josh Marshall's place has the lowdown. While I'm willing to believe this perspective can't be fully accurate, it sure sounds like Governor Walker has some explaining to do...

The cynicism involved with Walker does require notice. First, he puts through budget busting tax cuts and then wants to undermine the public employees' union?

Well, gotta run. But this was just too ridiculous not to comment in the middle of the day...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review of Los Angeles Times Book Review: February 13, 2011

The Los Angeles Times Book Review has been so truncated over the past few years, but it has some wonderful reviewers, mostly women reviewers--something that is not as true with the New York Times Book Review.

Today's LA Times Book Review contains outstanding book reviews:

This is a great review of a new book about Ethel Waters, and the many transformations she made throughout her life. I had no idea of the depth of this gallant and talented woman, or even that she had sung "Stormy Weather" before Lena Horne...

This is a sharply written and cogent review of a new book explaining the hoax behind those who think vaccines contributed to an increase in autism. I will say, though, that my son seemed to be overloaded with vaccines in the mid-1990s as a toddler (ages 1-4), while my daughter, born in 1998, did not receive as many vaccines. This was not really our decision, but recommendations coming from pediatricians. Even the pediatricians seemed to be affected by the belief that maybe we were overloading with vaccines. I also believe that there is something approaching hubris with vaccines, because bacteria and viruses are the most resilient creatures on the planet and they do learn to adapt. This is not a reason to stop making vaccines. It is simply a reason to be careful with hype, one way or the other.

Here is my favorite book reviewer, Susan Salter Reynolds, with delightful capsule reviews of recently released travel books. And here is Reynolds again, reviewing a coming of age novel with a singing prose that guides us through the book she is reviewing.

Finally, for those who need a little testosterone to go with their estrogen in book reviewers and subject matter, here is reviewer Ed Park reviewing an interesting, and eclectic compilation of science fiction stories of the 20th Century.

Well, not really finally: The New York Times has a wonderful review of Amy Chua's Tiger Mom book by Susan Dominus here. As a second rate Tiger Dad, I have deeply mixed emotions about the Tiger Mom book.

And here is a guy reviewing a bio of Wild Bill Donovan, the colorful leader of the OSS who was eventually replaced by the fascist-oriented Allen Dulles...Anyway, I'm off to synagogue this morning for synagogue stuff, so no time to discuss further--so I figured I should be deliberately provocative in that description of Dulles. :-)

A last public interview with Daniel Bell

From Three Quarks Daily (hat tip), here is a September 2010 interview with the recently deceased Daniel Bell. I loved Bell, and I know I am not alone in that sentiment. In this interview, any doubts about his being a superior and humane mind should be dissipated.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Art imitates life...?

To my book's critics who thought the book's ending was too far-fetched:

Tell me that I'm deluded or whacked to have written the ending I did again after reading this article about the Wisconsin governor who is preparing the national guard in his State to attack government workers who might get upset at his proposal to eliminate collective bargaining...

And if some critics respond, please show the courtesy of saying SPOILER ALERT...:-)

Also, sorry about light blogging. Been busy with family stuff, synagogue volunteer stuff and work.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Compelling article in NYRB on Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

Here.

Contra Reaganum

I take the title of this post from an insightful essay Nicholas Von Hoffman wrote in the May 1982 Harpers Magazine about Reagan. Too bad the essay is not available on the web for free download. It is a sharp, witty and again insightful read about Reagan and the interests he ultimately served.

Anyway, tomorrow is the 100th birthday anniversary of Ronald Wilson Reagan, who religious right leaders in my alternative history novel call "Mr. 666" (Ronald Wilson Reagan has six letters each) for his embrace of abortion rights and an economic libertarian strain in the alternative 1970s. We will see if there is really all that much media coverage about Reagan tomorrow, as his centennial happens to coincide with that most religious of holidays in America, the Super Bowl. Still, I just don't remember us even talking about FDR's 100th birthday in 1982...

Digby links to this great spontaneous dialogue between Rush Limbaugh and a fellow named Mike Stark, with the latter schooling Rush (who showed as the dialogue went on that he knew more than he initially let on) about the ways in which Reagan acted which should outrage people who call themselves "conservative"--at least in the U.S. Stark was brilliant in setting up and explaining his thesis and it is worth listening to, or reading the transcript Stark helpfully prepared (the transcript is nearly 100% accurate from listening to the recording, but it is off a bit in who said what when and missing a quick word or um here and there).

One can actually take Stark's point even further. Reagan changed from a confrontational stance to the Soviet Union to proposing far-reaching nuclear weapon reductions and sharing space-based military technology (called "Star Wars" by critics and supporters alike) with the Soviet Union while the regime was still considered a world power. See James Mann's "The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War" where Mann proves how Reagan turned decidedly dovish concerning the Soviet Union in the mid- to late 1980s, till the end of his presidency in 1989. At page 346 of Mann's book, he concludes: "Reagan did not win the Cold War; Gorbachev abandoned it." This is the same conclusion Cold War era diplomat George Kennan had with respect the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union three years into Reagan's successor's administration in August 1991. Kennan went so far as to say the Reagan administration's initial confrontational rhetoric and military build up during 1981 to 1984 had the effect of delaying rather than hastening the Soviet collapse.

And let's not forget Reagan's tenure as governor of California. As Lou Cannon's biography of Reagan during his time as governor noted, after running a cultural values-oriented campaign against what Reagan saw as hippies and ungrateful young people protesting at Berkeley and elsewhere, Reagan decided, as governor, to raise all sorts of State taxes. Cannon wrote at page 197 of his book:

During the Reagan administration (in California), corporation taxes nearly doubled, from 5.5 percent to 9 percent. The tax on banks went from 9 to 13.5 percent. The state's share of the sales tax rose from 3 to 4.75 percent. The maximum on personal income taxes increased from 7 percent to 11 percent, and brackets were narrowed to put more persons into higher tax brackets...


Cannon went on to note how Reagan concurrently provided property tax relief to low-income seniors who owned their own homes.

Why was Reagan raising taxes, you may ask? In addition to funding a relatively small shortfall in the state's budget, Reagan was embracing the California Master Plan for Higher Education written in 1960 under his predecessor governor (who he beat in 1966), Pat Brown--yes, Jerry's Dad. And of course, as governor of California, Reagan signed the most "liberal" abortion rights law of any State in the US, a law which remains today.

And it gets even more interesting. The California Corporations Code sections that deal with state-wide sales of private securities (stocks) was re-written in 1968 with a "liberal" set of provisions that make it far easier to sue companies and officers in California than the federal laws, and most other State laws. Who signed off on that revision? Ronald Reagan.

Overall, Mike Stark points to a fun way to flummox Reagan worshipers among the Right. But there is still something quite sad about how skewed our public discourse is when we can easily prove how Reagan was to the left of a current Democratic Party president who is incessantly called "socialist" by most Republicans.

But let us remember there is more to Reagan than his veering to the left and dovish side of the political spectrum in his time in public office. The dark side of Reagan is also clear with respect to his presidency, and that is the devaluing of government as a tool to help the mass of people, de-regulating the savings and loan industry, the destruction of our industrial capacity and promoting income tax cuts for the wealthy to a cult status. The national debt tripled under Reagan and there is little or nothing to show for it in terms of investment in infrastructure or educational opportunity for Americans. With respect to foreign policy other than toward the Soviet Union, Reagan's policies were brutal and abysmal with respect to nations in Central America, particularly Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras. And of course, there are the Iran-Contra Affairs, which brought together disparate elements of war criminal behavior and greed within the top levels of his administration--and which Stark alludes to when saying Reagan paid off terrorists for hostages. It is deeply ironic that modern Republican leaders and right-wingers continue to highlight and promote the darker aspects of Reagan's policies and values, which policies and values continue to be most destructive to our nation's and even planet's health and welfare.

So as right wingers and modern Republicans enjoy and celebrate Reagan's centennial tomorrow, and ask "What Would Reagan Do?", it remains a fact that Reagan's legacy is far more complicated than they may know. And contrary to liberal and left critics of Reagan, including this post writer, there are probably some things Reagan would have done in our time that may have been salutary for our nation's fortunes, and which would have been denounced by Republicans and right-wingers as liberal or even socialist.

Personal note: February 6 tends to be a personal anniversary for reasons having nothing to do with Ronald Reagan. It was on that date in 1988 that I underwent life-saving surgery to fix a congenital heart condition which, in an earlier era, would have killed me before I reached age 35. I often say to myself I was born again on that date, and have always given thanks to doctors who, with the help of modern medical technology, do so much to save people, including me.

Friday, February 04, 2011

I really like Justin Bieber...

I defended Justin Bieber to some extent from the onslaught of cynicism in our society a few months ago. Last night, Bieber showed up and performed a pretty good impression of Jon Stewart. It was a cute bit, sure, but give Bieber credit for appearing on "The Daily Show" compared to something more staid and establishment oriented...

Green Bay Packers: Socialist Capitalism Working Well

Regardless of whether the Green Bay Packers win the Super Bowl this weekend, and Pittsburgh sure looks formidable, this article by Los Angeles attorney Mark Neubauer in today's Los Angeles Times is quite compelling in offering us an alternative way of thinking about local sports teams.

I miss a Walter O'Malley who wanted to build a stadium with his own funds...not demanding the taxpayers pay for the purchase and building of a stadium. Still, even better is the Green Bay Packers' structure, which gives the municipality control over the team's destiny instead of a few centi-millionaires.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Republicans like China and Financiers More Than American Citizens

The latest plan from the Republicans regarding the debt ceiling is pay back interest on Treasury bonds to China and financial institutions. Here is a money graf from TPM's Brian Beutler:

If passed, Toomey's plan would require the government to cut large checks to foreign countries, and major financial institutions, before paying off its obligations to Social Security beneficiaries and other citizens owed money by the Treasury -- that is, if the U.S. hits its debt ceiling. Republican leaders insist they will raise the country's debt limit before this happens. But first, they're going to try to force Democrats to accept large spending cuts, using their control over the debt limit as leverage. That means gridlock, and the threat that they'll come up short.

What's really disgusting here beyond the fealty to corporate entities and foreign nations is that the US has never defaulted on its bond payments. Toomey is rooting for us to default on bond payments for the first time in our nation's history since the approval of the Constitution--and to dishonor our citizens.

All I can say in addition to the above is that I can't wait to hear from the older white people who belong to the Tea Party Express what they think of their candidate now...Probably nothing. I wonder, can FoxNews really ignore this? My search for this information at FoxNews.com revealed nothing yet on this story. We'll see when it appears and how it is played...