Saturday, April 30, 2011

Adventures with the Villagers of Washington DC

I think Alan Simpson is one of the more dopey and pathetic figures in the DC Village. A former senator who lived for giving money to rich people, oil and gas industry companies, insurance companies and banks, he now blathers about how the sky is falling--and we have to destroy social security, medicare and veterans' benefits.

Here
is a blog piece by a fellow who witnessed a panel discussion on the debt and deficit, where economist Dean Baker explains what is really going on, and Simpson ends up telling a participant to get off his rich friends' lawn.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sen on India and China...a must read

See Sen's latest in the NY Review of Books here.

Sen is one of the good guys...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Obama's long form birth certificate is now released...

See the article from Josh Marshall's place here.

Now, maybe Donald Trump can start to talk about surtaxes on multi-millionaires the way he did in 1996 when he was flirting with running for president against an embattled Democratic Party incumbent. And maybe talk about Medicare for All the way he did in 1996, too.

What I don't get is why Obama took so long to release this. It seems pretty conclusive when we look at it. And the current Hawaiian governor, Neil Abrocrombie, knew Obama's mother and father in Hawaii when the mother was pregnant with Obama, and saw him and the parents shortly after the birth. She obviously, in 1961, didn't travel back and forth from Kenya for goodness' sakes. And I love the way CNN found the lady who had a son the same day as Obama, and saw a black baby in the hospital within a day or two in the nursery, and how unusual it was for her to see a black baby at that hospital at that time in that state.

This so-called "controversy" was so ridiculous, but again I did not understand Obama's stubbornness in this instance. Fight for Medicare for All or the labor union reform bill with that stubbornness, Mr. President. Not this garbage.

ADDENDUM: In the last few days, I was starting to hope Trump was right so we could get a new Democratic Party presidential candidate in 2012. Oh well.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Don't hire a national firm on a controversial national issue, at least sometimes...?

There is a controversy over the national law firm King & Spalding deciding to withdraw its representation after agreeing to take the side of defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

I believe former Solicitor General Paul Clement's act in resigning from the firm is reasonable and honorable. However, the firm should have completed negotiations over the fine print of the retainer agreement before stepping into the case because now it has to formally withdraw, a spectacle that could have been avoided in such a high-profile case.

The retainer agreement which the House Republicans wanted the firm to sign was and is overbroad in demanding all employees be "loyal" to the "cause." See here for the sections of the retainer agreement that require anyone working for the firm (meaning those who are not even working on the case!) to give up his or her First Amendment rights to lobby on the subject while the case was pending.

King & Spalding is a national firm, which has more than 800 lawyers, plus hundreds of staff members--not to mention national and international clients. More than enough of these people (and clients!) are likely to sympathetic to gay and lesbian rights as a general proposition--and may want to sign a petition against the DOMA or one that disputes its constitutionality, both of which would constitute "lobbying" or "advocacy."

In my not so humble view, the House Republicans are better off retaining a small boutique firm which specializes in constitutional law appeals, where the Republicans can still demand the retainer language because, in a small firm, most would be working on the case such that the "loyalty" provision might have more particular enforceability from a First Amendment and employment law perspective.

The libertarian-conservative law and politics blog, Volokh Conspiracy, is all over this issue, and should be consulted starting here. As with a few of the Volokh bloggers, I concluded this is similar to a firm defending prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Lawyers are told over and over again to take on the hard case clients, whether Communists, terrorists, homophobes, racists, whatever. God bless those lawyers, is what I say, and God bless Paul Clement for taking this on, whether I agree with him or not on the issue. Still, I don't blame the firm for blanching at the retainer agreement because I would not want to see associates and staff muzzled in their personal, non-firm advocacy because the firm happens to be representing one side in the controversy.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The NY Times locked me out: Sunday Review of Book Reviews 4/24/11

The NY Times' new policy says if we read more than 20 free articles in a month, we're locked out. I think that's reasonable for the NY Times to decide, but I personally don't like it. :-)

So here is the Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews:

From the Los Angeles Times, here is a review by my favorite book reviewer, Susan Salter Reynolds, about a novelist I deeply respect, but I find I simply cannot read through her books, that is Francine Prose. Prose is often witty and sometimes lets the sunshine in, unlike the ridiculous Joyce Carol Oates, but I still find her novels too dark and sad. She may not be writing for guys as much as women, but I would highly recommend Prose to any woman who is looking for a smart, humane writer who writes with great power.

Here is a sharp review of Howard Schultz's latest musings about the creature, Starbucks, he has created. The reviewer captures Schultz's self-centeredness that may show us how Schultz succeeded, but it is inherent in our My Space, now Facebook age: open but not reflective. Still, I'd have rather have had a business-oriented reviewer help us understand how Starbucks is dealing with McDonald's literally becoming a Starbucks with its McCafe. That may have been beyond the book, but an insight in that regard may have led to highlights of Schultz's memoir in that direction.

In fact, I wish the guy who wrote this Washington Post Book World interesting review of Paul Allen's memoir of his involvement in the rise of MicroSoft wrote the Schultz-Starbucks review.

Here is a perceptive review of the history of the past thirty years in the African (formerly Belgian occupied) Congo that reveals how mass murder permeates a culture. At the end of the review, the reviewer helpfully points out how much Europeans had these sorts of killfests in the 15th and 16th Centuries, but is still too subtle for most who are not familiar with such episodes in European history. Had the reviewer been less subtle, we would have a better reason to know more about what is happening now in the Congo so that we just don't nod our heads and say to ourselves, "...savages..."

I admit I consciously had not reviewed any book reviews of Jeff Greenfield's book of alternative histories, because I wanted some time to think about it. Here is a very positive review in the NY Times from several weeks ago, and here is a friendly, but less positive review in the Washington Post. My take on the RFK chapter is that it does provide in summary form some of the insights from my book, though Greenfield diverges in other aspects. Greenfield correctly recognizes that RFK's ascending to the presidency would arrest the spread of "counterculture" values that occurred in our time in the 1970s. He also recognizes that getting out of Vietnam is not easy, and his choice of a top-down coalition with the VietCong is an uneasy one. His book has Walter Lippmann, the then dean of American punditry, supporting RFK. My book has Lippmann clinging to his hostility to dovish moves.

Other different decisions which Greenfield made are less persuasive to me, particularly RFK's choice of VP. I do not believe Greenfield makes the case as to how or why RFK would choose, as his VP running mate, a governor from North Carolina when there are hardly any electoral college votes for him in that State, and there was no significant liberal enclave there--say like Austin or San Antonino, Texas--that would give him even a fighting chance of victory. I also think our nation's culture at the time was less inclined to give a governor of a relatively small state any chance to gain national stature, and provides no assurance or "political insurance" given the fact that someone had already taken a shot at RFK.

On the other hand, Peter Edelman, a former RFK aide who read an early version of my novel's manuscript, said about the scenarios in my novel which led to RFK choosing as his VP running mate, Ralph Yarborough, a populist and somewhat popular US senator from Texas: "I hope we would have been that smart."

Edelman's quip perfectly captures the difficulty in writing alternative histories, though, doesn't it? I constantly tried to avoid being too smart, and let scenarios work out, comparing and contrasting along the way. For example, I did not want leading feminists of the time to split over RFK, but gave up that ghost after realizing it was very probable. In other words, in the book, I let various things happen I did not want to happen, and that was ultimately a fun part in writing it...

Anyway, Greenfield was very kind in remarking positively about my novel at page 420 of his book about my book being far more ambitious and comprehensive than his regarding the alternative history of RFK. I also note there has been an uptick in sales of my book at Amazon.com since his book was released, which means at least some people read his endnotes of his book. :-) Also, my book is supposedly scheduled to be re-released this summer...Still, I've heard that before from the publisher, and we'll see...

I have some temple and family things to attend to today, so this is an abbreviated edition...But yes, it's good news about the Dodgers and it's good that people are starting to rise up to demand higher taxes on the wealthiest interests, even in tax phobic California.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Yup.

See a nice summary of the state of the American income tax here.

And here is a roundup of articles, including the one linked to above, that provide further insight into the true state of American taxation.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On the state of who pays taxes, and whether Obama is a failed president already...

Read the great David Cay Johnson's latest explanation of who pays what taxes over the years here.

And as we know today, our president "pivoted," as I said the other day, except he pivoted into position as a deficit hawk--precisely what Herbert Hoover would have wanted him to do. Can we say "failed president" yet?

Glenn Greenwald feels as I do, which is that Obama means to pursue policies that benefit financiers and hurt workers' families and the poor. However, my one difference with Greenwald is that Obama is not being shrewd--he's being politically tone-deaf.

What I mean by "tone-deafness," is this: In 2012, the Republican nominee for president will run against Obama as a man who promised change, produced no change, and things got worse for the middle class. The people that argument (and slogan: "Failed 'Democrat' President? Vote Republican in 2012") will convince are the twenty percent of the voting electorate who are independents, i.e. low information voters. Low information voters have short memories which are easily manipulated. They tend to be middle or even working class, which means they do care about the lack of jobs, and the lack of leadership to arrest the undermining of the middle class, of which the cuts in Social Security/Medicare--The Grand Bargain the Villagers in DC crow about--will be a further result.

The loss of these independent voters is where Obama ends up as a one term president, despite and really because of Obama's triangulating between his own party and the rest of the electorate. Even the black and Latino voters who come out to vote in 2012, after missing the 2010 elections, may not be enough for Obama this time.

That is not a prognostication, but a scenario that Obama's advisers are really not considering. That is the essence of tone-deafness...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ayn Rand's effect on a family--not very good

It is so easy to attack someone iconic like Ayn Rand or Karl Marx through a showing of how someone who claims to be a follower of the icon behaved badly towards that someone's own family.

I admit that my deep disagreement with Rand's philosophy leads me to believe this young woman's tale of a wacky lawyer Dad who took a bit too seriously the dogmas of Rand, and, in the process, tore their family apart, and acted pretty ridiculous, if not horrible with his daughter, the author of the article.

While, again, one can undoubtedly find similar stories involving acolytes of Karl Marx, I don't know if there are similar stories of wack-job parents who are followers of, say, Michael Harrington. Doubtful. :-)

ADDENDUM: And I guess this is why a family's budget is not like the government's budget, at least our government's budget...

David Cay Johnson nails the issue of taxes

David Cay Johnson is a noted tax writer, and in this article he nails the effect of Bush II tax cuts on revenues consistently through the past decade since Bush II began to wreak his havoc on our nation.

I'm supposed to hate this compared to what...Katy Perry?

I'm confused. Why am I supposed to hate this, compared to Katy Perry or Lady Gaga?

It sure has inspired copycats, though.

Here
is a Christian parody called "Sunday," courtesy of P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula.

And here is Stephen Colbert doing "Friday" with a band, forgotten "Idol" Taylor Hicks, and some snark about March Madness Basketball...and cheerleaders.

People are making fun of the "Friday" song as too shallow, as if the dreck I hear when my daughter gets in our car is not shallow. The Katy Perry and Lady Gaga sort of stuff is sexually suggestive more often than not, but simple it is.

As I said about the attacks against Justin Beiber, this attack on things considered "cute" in our culture is simply wrong, and we ought to stand up for people who are nice more often than we do. My Rebecca Black, laugh at these mean people all the way to the bank.

And one more thing for Ms. Black, there is precedent for a song about days of the week: The song was called "Nothing" by the Fugs. The nihilism is of course welcomed in our culture today, but the references as the song gets beyond the English, Yiddish and Spanish lines stating the days of the week and months, will be lost on anyone under 60 who is not schooled in American leftist history...

What if record albums were books?

This is brilliant.

The way the creator captured the essence of book covers from different eras, such as the Graham Greenish cover for Abbey Road, is brilliant. And I love the way he wrote the names of the artists, such as Robert A. Zimmerman for Blood on the Tracks, or P. Simon and A. Garfunkel for the science trippy oriented cover for Sounds of Silence.

Must see: the completely spacey book cover for Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd.

This was a Wow.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Czeslaw Milosz Centennial (1911-2011)

We are in the centennial commemoration of the political figure, literary writer and poet, Czeslaw Milosz. Here is a wonderful article by Seamus Heaney on Milosz from The British Guardian newspaper.

I have posted before on Milosz here and here.

It is one of those delicious and profound ironies of human clarity and complexity that Milosz, a former Communist, who still clung to the sentiments of Socialism, would become appalled at the slothful dress of American youth in the 1960s, and their disdain for decorum or respect for tradition and elders. Milosz was a person who supported revolution in extreme moments in early to mid-20th Century Eastern Europe, but he maintained a respect for institutions and societal order, as well as human kindness and eccentricities. He saw himself as part of a continuum, which is a different sort of romantic notion than the American romantic notion that is often "I am unique! I am new! I am different from all that comes before!" In other words, Milosz's European sensibility was repulsed by an American exceptionalism applied to radical political thought and action.

Heaney starts to write in his essay about Milosz at Berkeley starting in 1960, but never completes the thought he knows and should have conveyed.

Let's hope that as we glide through this centennial year of Milosz, we recall his sensibility that led him in different directions and modes of thinking and perspective.

Budget Showdowns, Appomattox and Civility

So the Republican Party finally decided to blink and allow the Federal Government to operate for one more week. That's really the issue here: one more week. What we have seen thus far is that some of the Republican Party's leaders, like Mike Pence (R-IN), are such anarchists at heart that they relish the idea of shutting down the Federal Government. They remind me of the late Sixties radical who thought revolution will be a glorious thing and wanted to see the Federal Government destroyed.

We know better, and we know better for multiple reasons. But one of those reasons is because we know that beneath the Republican budgetary positions, there is hatred among a plurality of Republicans, starting in the American South, that is motivated in significant part by racism--a racism which in turn emanates from the cause and effects of the 19th Century American Civil War. It is foolish for us to ignore the fact there is an aspect of the hatred of the federal government among too many, though not a majority of white Americans, in all regions, which is based upon such particular persons' false belief that too many blacks and other minorities work for it (That belief is false because it asks the wrong question: Instead of asking why are blacks overrepresented in government jobs, the question should be why are so few blacks employed in the private sector? And further, what about all the numerical plurality of whites in public sector employment, which includes teachers, police and firefighters. Are they race traitors? Is that an emotional underpinning at work in such denunciations of public sector unions?). There are many white Republicans in the current American South who see the US government that way, which is analogized through this poll showing 40% of white Republicans in Mississippi wish to reinstate miscegenation laws.

And before we just blame the South, allow me to reveal a personal story: During the health insurance/health care debate of 2009, a Jewish relative from deep in Yankee territory told my folks, with all seriousness and earnestness, that President Obama wanted reform in this area "to help his black friends get free medical care--just like his black mother." How much ignorance is wrapped in that simple statement? How many hours of FoxNews did this, again, Northern Jewish relative of ours have to watch to wrap up that package of ignorance and hate?

Make no mistake. There is also hate behind a proposal such as Republican Congressman Paul Ryan's budget proposal. There is, sadly, a deep seated self-loathing with respect to Representative Ryan: It turns out Ryan received Social Security benefits starting when his Dad died when Ryan was just 16. Again, the analogy to the spoiled rich graduate student in the late 1960s who becomes a radical determined to hit back against "Daddy" is fairly remarkable...with the "Daddy" Paul Ryan hates being the federal government which financed his higher education.

Concurrent with this anarchists' sort of hatred for the federal government is the current lack of civility among Congressmen and Congresswomen. We can, unfortunately, trace this modern lack of civility within the Congressional halls and chambers to the Newt Gingrich era of leadership in the Republican Party, when he and Frank Luntz began to institutionalize, around 1990, four years before Gingrich engineered the Republican Congressional landslide of 1994, a contemptuous disrespect of the Democratic Party and its members. One of the less noxious, but more insidious methods to show disrespect was the deliberate mispronouncing of the name of the Democratic Party, where Gingrich and his cohorts began to routinely refer to the Democratic Party as the "Democrat" Party--as if Democratic Party members were like "bureaucrats," which, in the United States, became the insult term of choice to use against public servants starting in the 1950s. That insult, previously used in France in the early 19th Century, and then to describe Communist leaders in Stalinist Russia in the 1930s, became far more often applied to American public civil servants, starting again in the American White South as governors, mayors and business people down in Dixie fought against government policies promoting racial integration. This term, "bureaucrat," proved to be an important tool to de-legitimize the United States government among people in that region of our nation.

The combination of "bureaucrat" and "Democrat Party," which began in earnest under Gingrich's leadership of the Republican Party, became institutionalized when he became Speaker of the House in 1995. A Republican Party member of Congress, or a Republican Party pundit on television or radio, could no longer refer to the Democratic Party by its proper name. It was "Democrat" through and through. And if a Democratic Party congressperson or commentator objected, the Republican political figure who said it was taught to act with even more derision and contempt, as in "How dare you even speak that way to me!" as if the objecting Democratic Party member was the one insulting them.

This was a brilliant stroke, as corporate media political talk show moderators rarely if ever challenged the Republican leaders and representatives and pundits who bandied the derisive term about, or at most reduced the issue to a "he said/she said" that a truly honest moderator should not have allowed in the first place. And we call this a "librul media"?:-)

Substantively, and currently, the national Republican leadership is again being brilliant as that leadership has actively promoted a refusal to govern as a strategy to get back into full power, the way Jacksonians (that's Andrew, not Jesse Jackson) in the mid-1820s in the US Congress steadfastly refused to allow any legislative victories to President John Quincy Adams in order to de-legitimize him. Like Adams, Obama searches and searches for a consensus with people who truly despise his very presence as president. The modern Republicans may say they like President Obama, like ol' Doc Coburn said the other day, but war is war and Coburn will de-legitimize Obama at nearly every conceivable opportunity. He is not "the" president to people like Senator Coburn, any more than Clinton was. He is simply a "Democrat President." That is another example of incivility, where Republican leaders during the Clinton era would routinely--yes, routinely--refer to Clinton when speaking to their Democratic Party counterparts as "your president," not "the president."

This lack of civility, however, has consequences that may be uncontrollable, as John Boehner has found in dealing with the radicals in his own party who were elected on the drug-addled Tea that was drunk by a portion of the electorate in the 2010 congressional elections. Jesse Jackson, who knows about rhetoric and knows about racism, and who himself has been disrespected and then by turn disrespectful with words about others, understands what Bohener may himself privately fear: there is a potential, and I repeat, potential consequence to this long-standing, deep-seated attack on the Democratic Party, and substantively, the best aspects of the US Federal Government. Jackson has actually uttered the phrase "civil war" to describe this political dispute over the budget and shutting down the US government. It is a phrase that should horrify us and cause us much fear not merely among progressive people, but people with higher education, people with secular sensibilities and people who are also in the economic elite. For the people with guns ain't you folks, it's people who really believe Sarah Palin scores debating points when she says to someone, "You think you're so smart!" as if that is an intelligent response to a reasoned, logical argument with public policy based factual information. The people with guns are those who think Larry the Cable Guy is the essence of "funny." These people are not dumb. They are led in a particular way, and the feeling they have that their status as middle class people is deteriorating is true. But they hate us, and I say "us" because I'm part of at least of two of those sub-groups I mentioned.

And perhaps in a portent of irony, today, the morning after the tentative and temporary Congressional budget deal, is the 146th anniversary of the end of the US Civil War. That most bloody of American wars--bloodiest for us as Americans I must add--ended largely and perhaps only because the Southern Confederacy General Robert E. Lee had had enough of bloodshed, and saw that the slavery cause was no longer worth the fight. As I remarked in a review of book reviews a week ago, Jay Winik's "April 1865" is the best single source for this insight. And, as any intelligent book on the post-Reconstruction Era should be able to help a reader understand, the American Southern leaders of the Confederacy treason regrouped within five or six years after the end of the Civil War to re-institute oppressive measures against African-Americans in the form of segregation and sharecropping. And the Northern politicians and businesspeople were only too pleased, in the name of unity, to adopt segregation policies (without the institutionalizing of lynchings, but nonetheless effective) as well.

Sitting at this computer typing away this morning, it seems to me that the only way we are going to restore civility in Congress and in corporate media commentary is for the Democratic Party stalwarts to first and formally demand respect. That begins with calling out Republican commentators and leaders who matter-of-factly say "The 'Democrat' Party," or talk about "bureaucrats," or talk about "worthless I.O.U.'s" when discussing Social Security. Confronting, and demanding respect for the Democratic Party, for civil servants or the sanctity of our bond credit rating as a nation, could make things worse, as happens as an argument descends to the level of a fight in a neighborhood bar or nightclub. However, ignoring the insults, as most Democratic Party members have done over the years, has clearly not worked. And Democratic Party leaders need to re-gain and re-emphasize the now almost completely lost New Deal sensibility, a sensibility which will do more than anything else to unite the working class in this country--as may be starting to happen in places like Wisconsin or Ohio. This is not a class based unity, however, as there are more than a few people in our nation's economic elite who know or at least recognize that a healthy working class is the best cure for economic instability and anxiety.

Unfortunately, however, President Obama remains a weak Democratic Party leader, and his plan for re-election is simply to say "The Republicans are worse!" That is not a viable plan to improve our nation's prospects. Does anyone think I am being unfair to our beleaguered and missing in action president? If so, then please consider another semi-personal story: This past week, my wife received in the mail a survey from the National Democratic Party. The survey's first three questions concerned who she thinks the Republicans will nominate for president, and even asks whether she's read any of the Republican candidates' books. My wife asked me, "Why are they asking me these things?" "Because," I replied,"they are wanting you to be so scared of Republicans that you will vote for the weak and corporate marinated Democratic Party incumbents and candidates." It's not really a survey, I also told her, it's propaganda. She sighed, and I sighed, too.

In closing, this is not merely about budgets, the commemoration of the end of the 19th Century American Civil War, or the lack of civility that reigns in Congress. We are a nation which is in deep economic trouble. Our salvation depends not on attacking government in general, and more particularly the federal government. Far from it. Instead, our salvation will be through enacting national or federal government policies that promote the restoration and rebuilding of infrastructure. It is in government policies that promote simplicity and genuine cost savings, not more complexity and spending more for less, in the delivery of health insurance to every American--and by simplicity and cost savings, I mean a program many of us have simply called "Medicare for All." It is in government policies that promote re-industrialization so we as a nation make more of what we buy, and buy more of what we build. It is in government policies that restore higher tax rates on the wealthy elite, the top 1%, and for those who live solely at the highest levels of interest income (So often, we forget that the capital gains tax is a completely flat tax at a rate below 20%, which is why Warren Buffett says he is taxed at a lower marginal rate than his very well-paid, salaried secretary). With the other policies, most of our wealthiest fellow Americans will not mind the marginal increase in their taxes, as this is as much a cultural issue as an economic one in terms of what rich folks can "take" in the form of higher taxes.

On the other hand, no matter what rhetoric fills corporate media airwaves, our nation's deep structural troubles are not cured by cutting the guts of our governments' national, state or local social services. Our troubles are not cured by undermining Social Security or Medicare. Our troubles are not cured by continuing imperial wars in Afghanistan, Iraq or even in an ever deepening military commitment in Libya. Our troubles are not cured in depriving a woman of an ability to undergo an abortion procedure, or depriving her of information regarding her physical health in those areas that make her a woman, and not a man--nor depriving her and her significant other of information regarding family planning. Our nation's troubles are also not cured based upon a naive or cynical (it's one or the other) belief that a less than zero percent corporate tax (the effective corporate tax rate for General Electric and other corporations) creates jobs in the USA. The below zero corporate tax rate did not, do not and likely will not ever create more jobs in the USA.

So there we have it. Happy Appomattox Day. And here is a hopeful wish that Democratic Party members show they care about being treated with respect and concurrently restoring civility. And here is an equally hopeful and possibly Pollyanish wish that, substantively, Democratic Party leaders begin to affirmatively reach the 20% of the American electorate, the voters who call themselves "independent" but are so often low-information voters, who switch parties in their voting patterns from election cycle to cycle, and help those particular voters realize the folly of electing people who truly despise using government for anything other than imprisoning people or engaging in more war and torture. This includes not merely Republicans, but also too many Democratic Party leaders, including our current president.

This is a very tall order, but we ought to be on guard as the nation continues to fail. President Obama, for example, could surprise us and pivot from his weakness and his promotion of policies (inaction is also a policy in this situation) that have led to a deeper undermining of our nation's middle class at the hands of financiers and international corporate CEOs. But Obama must prove his genuineness in making that pivot, not with flowery rhetoric uttered in front of a teleprompter, but with clearly enunciated policy proposals and taking action by appearing around the nation and speaking directly to people, starting in places like Wisconsin and Ohio. Instead of being absent from the attacks made against public employee unions and this fight over the budget, he should be reaching out directly into the deepest parts of America, standing in front of and with labor union members. He must stand with the people who have recently been on the front line of a political dispute that increasingly looks like a mere a dress rehearsal for more consequential political, economic and cultural strife in our again deeply troubled nation.

(Edited)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Mid-Week Miscellaneous Links

The new Smithsonian Magazine arrived at our home the other day, and now parts are online. Here is a nice primer but detailed essay on the start of the Civil War, of which we are commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the start of that conflagration.

Here is an amusing article to file under the quirky and contingent history of scientific research, this time the story of how hamsters became such great lab studies for researchers. The hamster population has certainly grown, but not in ways that they may be too happy about. Reading the article put me in mind of one of the most inventive and greatest sociological novels of all time, Doctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle. I adore that book and heartily recommend it to anyone teen-aged and older.

And from its online edition here is an article that knocked me out: Mozart's sister was the original prodigy of the family, and it is a double shame her compositions have been lost.

And finally from The Smithsonian Magazine online, this article shows us once again how fragile our planet can be, though we do know it can be wonderfully resilient, too...

As for other links of historical oriented note, I found this article from The Nation magazine about Daniel Ellsberg and Private Manning to be important the next time you hear a pundit say Manning is not really like Ellsberg. Ellsberg seems to think so...

And this article from The Nation on the latest crisis in the Ivory Coast is fascinating reading. Chocolate as a cause of war? Sounds like Jon Stewart material until one actually reads the article.

And of interest is this Chomsky essay from In These Times magazine. Chomsky finds and talks about things not many pundits know or dare to say, and his analysis is both trenchant and surprisingly easier to read than other recent essays he has written. There is a reason to be wary of how Western leaders choose to make military stands, and Libya is no exception. However, I continue to say, are we really being wise in not hearing the cries of the rebels in Libya?

For a true "finally," this blog post from a source (Yaniv Reich) I am not sure about is nonetheless worth reading for he makes a pretty effective case through links that the Israeli military did confirm many points raised in the original Goldstone Report. For those who say Goldstone retracted everything, the links from the post allows one to re-read Goldstone's op-ed from the other day with a more discerning eye than the Likudniks want us to use when reading Goldstone's editorial. Reich's latest editorial on Goldstone's op-ed is here.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Goldstone Report still stands as a reasonable document

The South African jurist Richard Goldstone voices further and second thoughts regarding his eponymous report in the Washington Post. Likud supporters such as George Mason Law Professor David Bernstein are now chortling, and we can expect some real braying in the little journals around the nation that cater to members of Jewish synagogues and temples. And we'll hear it around the dessert table after Shabbat services at those same temples and synagogues, even among those Jews who say, "I'm a liberal, but when it comes to Israel..."

Oy.

My initial take on the Report was here.

And my response now was contained in the following comment I posted in response to Professor Bernstein at the Volokh.com website:

The Goldstone Report was released on September 15, 2009.

In October 2009, Goldstone was already trying to explain that it was a preliminary finding and that further investigation was necessary, which was consistent with the report. See:

(here)

And here is also an article from the same time where Goldstone says an internal Israeli investigation would put pressure on Hamas to do the same, which explains why Goldstone has NOW said Hamas’ failure to investigate should be noted and criticized:

(here)


Too bad the braying Likudniks like an Alan Dershowitz or the folks at AIPAC, who claim to speak for most Jews in America, are going to have their field day…They overstated the criticisms of the Goldstone Report in order to justify the Israeli government’s abject and contemptuous refusal to cooperate with Goldstone, and now they will argue that there was never any truth to any charge against Israeli conduct during the Gaza incursion. And please, folks, I supported the incursion so don’t make assumptions about me on that one…:-)

David, you are a lawyer. If a judge denies a defendant’s summary judgment motion, does he believe the plaintiff’s case is a winner? No, he just believes there is a prima facie case and it needs a trial. If at the trial, the same judge tries the case, he may well find against that same plaintiff (MF Blog adds for lay readers: ...after the judge hears further facts and gets to finally weigh the facts previously provided by each side). I’ve seen it happen, and so have plenty of trial lawyers. That is what Goldstone was doing, and obviously too many of us couldn’t ever get past the political rhetoric surrounding the report.


ADDENDUM MONDAY EVENING 4/4/11:

I love the Internet! I stand--well, sit really, corrected--that the proper analogy is not to a motion for summary judgment. I re-read the Goldstone report early this morning, and realized there were some facts found, and others that were tentative findings. It is really a first step or indictment, as I note in my response to the first commenter. It does not pass legal judgment as if it was a trial. Thus, it was a first step, i.e., again, indictment. I also re-read Goldstone's op-ed again, and re-affirmed his careful statements that since the report was issued, Hamas has done no internal investigation, and Israel at least undertook some steps to answer the report and take some actions. He also said that Israel proved to him that it had a reasoned response to the killing of a family in one example showing it was unintentional, and he concluded that with the new evidence, there is insufficient evidence to say Israel intentionally targeted civilians.

Still, when one considers Israel refused to cooperate in preparing the report when it counted, for the pro-Likud crowd to rip into Goldstone for producing a one-sided report, when he recognized at the time Israel was essentially defaulting, merely shows once again how the Likud ideology of Israeli and American politics work.

Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews: April 3, 2011

As usual, the NY Times Book Review has a few reviews worth reading:

This is a great review of a harrowing book about the monstrous one-child policy in China, and how a patriarchal culture has created a society where men outnumber women. My somewhat social science fiction "prediction" for the 2020s or 2030s is that if the US continues to economically fail, and China continues to economically succeed, you will see mail order brides coming from the US to China, with blond haired women being a "premium." This book of stories by the Chinese writer Xinran are as important a window in the life of Chinese people as Chen Ruoxi's "The Execution of Mayor Yin" was when it was released in 1978 (It was published under her more traditional spelling of her name, Chen Jo-Hsi).

This is a strange review, one which focuses on a supporting historic figure in a book about Julia Child and her husband as members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, and the aftermath of the government's hounding of the radicals who were so important to the success of the OSS. I admit, though, that the story of Jane Foster, described in the review, should be made immediately into a film. A glamorous radical in US intelligence during World War II who becomes a target of the Red Scare, and who was definitely a person who traveled in the circles of the American Communist Party. Here is a Wikipedia entry on Foster that strikes me as a little too pat in its conclusions and statements. For example, what did she provide Soviet intelligence? Did she merely--but importantly--provide information which helped the Soviets defeat the Nazis in Europe, which was the goal of the USA, too? Anyway, there's something else about Jane Foster, and that is Jane Foster was glamorous--and daring. Angelina Jolie and Uma Thurman, your agents are calling for the bio-pic...Nevertheless, one wonders and is amazed at Julia Child being an intelligence agent, and we are left wanting to know far more after reading the review.

This review highlights a book that also deserves a fictional historical novel, and then a film based upon it. The reviewer writes succinctly, but movingly, about the work of relief workers helping "displaced people" (DPs) after World War II. It is the story of human suffering, some who deserved it, and most who didn't, including those who endured the Holocaust only to be hounded again after hostilities supposedly ended, starting in benighted battlegrounds such as Poland. My uncle, a Holocaust survivor who lived in the woods in Poland for four years with his families and relied principally upon two Christian families who stealthily helped them, has told publicly about how he and another Jewish boy of 16 or 17 returned to their village, only to be confronted by a mob. My uncle escaped, but the friend was caught--and killed. The post-World War II DP story is one that again deserves the eye and feeling of a skilled novelist.

Finally, here is a compelling and brilliant review of a new biography of Otto Bismarck, the man who shaped Germany into a true nation in the late 19th Century, and who was a man who understood the value of peace and economic development. The review is nearly perfectly drawn in explaining the virtues and limits of the Bismarck biography and reveals a deep knowledge and sophistication that should not be missed. The thing is...well, this essay is written by a war criminal who is responsible for the murder of more people in Southeast Asia and Latin America (and for the most politically crass and imperial reasons), as well as parts of Africa and the Middle East, than nearly anyone else besides the presidents under whom Kissinger served and advised.

Henry Kissinger, born in Germany, deeply admired Bismarck, and it shows in his masterful explanation of the differences between Bismarck and Hitler. But one wonders, how could Kissinger not see how much he fell short of his hero, and how his hero would have been appalled at the mass killings of people and destruction of land which Kissinger supported and promoted? Still, if one wishes to begin to understand the personal appeal and charisma of Henry Kissinger, his book review is a great place to start. It is really outstanding in its prose and insight.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

RTF's "The Endless Night" comes to YouTube! Finally!!!

This is one of my all time favorites from Return to Forever. Part King Crimson, part Frank Zappa, part Gentle Giant and still within the realm of RTF.

The lyrics are innocuous, which one should be thankful for since the lyrics on the rest of the MusicMagic album are horrible, but what speaks to the title of the composition is the music itself. It sounds as fresh, vibrant and exciting as when I first heard it 34 years ago...

As I love to say, thank goodness for YouTube!

Jim Messina: Weimar Democrat in a growing civil class war

This article in The Nation about Obama's re-election campaign manager, Jim Messina, tells us pretty much everything we need to know about Obama's re-election strategy. And the strategy is both pitiful and scary for one reason: The tone-deafness regarding job creation is stunning at top of the re-election campaign, whether that is Jim Messina or Obama himself. The other takeaway from the article is how much Messina protects people like his one time boss, the odious Max Baucus (Big Pharma-Montana).

As Bill Maher's latest New Rules segment makes clear, television, not Democrats, moved the gay marriage issue forward in our culture. Republicans, for worse and even worse, move their agenda no matter what the majority of Americans say they otherwise want. As I recently said to someone, Bush II was far more effective in pushing through his policies, and what was so ironic was that the destruction of our economy, the endless deficits and debt, and the human, economic and environmental waste from the imperial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the direct result of those policies.

What is so frustrating is that Democrats such as Messina are merely carrying water buckets for the most crass and selfish parts of the wealthy economic elite, even when individual wealthy elite donors to the Democratic Party tell Messina and Obama that they better start fighting back on behalf of the middle class. This is particularly true when the Republican leadership across this nation have found traction in their promotion of the civil war among the declining middle class.

And as a bonus, there is a gender bias when we consider the harmful effects of government budget cuts in social programs. Perhaps one of the right wing or libertarian women commentators on television might want to try and explain that away...I don't think such people will rest in their dogmatic nonsense until we are back to the sort of Dickensian economic temper of the 1830s. "Are there no poor houses? Are there no prisons?"

But let's not mix our historical references. Make no mistake. If the civil class war becomes more pronounced, and fascism does become our nation's future, then History will see Obama as a Weimar Democrat.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The quagmire of good intentions and the logic of intervention

In 1956, after years of our nation's leaders telling Eastern Europeans to throw off the yoke of Soviet Russian Communism, Hungarians stood up to their local Communist leaders who had been the puppets of the Soviet Empire. And we did nothing but watch as the Soviet tanks rolled in and mowed down the people of Hungary, captured and killed their rebel leaders and instituted an even harsher dictatorship.

In 1991, after pushing Saddam Hussein back across Kuwait's border back into Iraq, we had said Saddam was a tyrant who must be overthrown. Iraqis and Kurds in northern Iraq rose up against Saddam. We did not nothing but watch him mow down tens of thousands of people, and displace over a million people.

Libyan rebels have now stood up to Gaddafi (so many ways to spell someone's name), and initially we did nothing. Now we've acted and now there is the question of whether it is too much--or too little, too late. Or if we are just making it worse if we're not going to put in ground troops. And if we put in ground troops, don't we become an invader?

I have been mixed on this because I believe that we should not as a rule intervene pretty much anywhere. However, let's be clear about something: We as a nation have sold the world on the propaganda that we are a just nation who cares about supporting world peace and world freedom, whether those two are in tandem or contradictory. And too often we have sided with fascism, with oppression and have acted the imperialist.

So when the UN Security Council members said we need to act to protect the rebels fighting Gaddafi, and the majority of nation states said the UN is right to act, we finally took part in creating a no-flight zone and with some strategic air strikes (bombs), we hit Gaddafi and his supporters, and as always--and let's remember that it is always "always"--civilians were killed too. Still, sending in ground troops is a mistake, and maybe we've done enough already, which is to give the rebels a chance. But maybe (and I think this is happening) we need to tell Gaddafi we'll set him up in Ha'waii at Ferdinand Marco's place, with DirecTv and ten years' supply of beer.

At the NY Review of Books blog, foreign correspondent Anne-Marie Slaughter has a better and more scholarly but practical explanation of our domestic-laden foreign policy in taking action--or not taking action--with respect to Libya.

Notwithstanding this, I hate being on the other side of Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader....