Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Yes, President Gore would likely have gone to war against Iraq

People often ask me, the so-called "alternative history" guy, "What would have happened in the US and world if Gore had actually become president after the 2000 election?"

I often respond that there are a few different scenarios about whether the events of September 11, 2001 would have occurred. I think not because Gore would have listened to Richard Clarke and John O'Neill, based upon Gore's previous trajectory and the fact that even Clinton found them compelling after the Al Queda attack on the USS Cole in December 2000. Gore would certainly have hardened the airport security around the nation, as European governments did in the summer of 2001. And Gore would certainly have reacted affirmatively to the National Intelligence Estimate of August 2001 that said Bin Laden was "determined" to act against the US inside the US. Therefore, the events of 9/11 would have likely been avoided and the Al Queda guys largely caught or foiled.

However, had Gore been as negligent as Bush Jr. in not listening to Clarke/O'Neill, not hardening airport security and not listening to the NIE, the Republican Congress would have impeached Gore and possibly Lieberman, though Lieberman would have likely turned on Gore early in those proceedings. Dramatic, yes? But the first Jewish president, President Lieberman, is definitely within the realm of possibility. That's doubly funny because Lieberman was the first to push Gore to concede the race against Bush, and would not give up his Senate seat in Connecticut to run hedge-free with Gore.

Anyway, and either way, though, President Gore more likely than not invades Iraq in 2002 or 2003. Why, you scream? He opposed that war. Yes, the Gore who was bearded, bloated, depressed-and-thinking-about-Dad's idealism and anti-war stances, did oppose that war. But the Gore who becomes president keeps hanging with and listening to hawks in official DC, who were bloodlusting to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Marty Peretz as a Gore adviser, and again...Lieberman and people like Woolsey and other neo-cons. Gore was an original neo-con in terms of foreign policy, going back to the 1980s and all through the 1990s.

Some differences with Bush, though: I think Gore would have fought off and eventually agreed to lower tax cuts, and maybe more targeted tax cuts for the top 2% of income earners. With lower deficits, and less accumulated debt during most of his years as president, he would have better protected Social Security--kept that institution in the much ridiculed "lockbox" he talked about during the 2000 campaign. He would not have crafted or sold the Medicare Part B debacle. That is another thing that would avoid lots of government red ink, though the Iraq War is a giant sucking cost.

President Gore would announce support for more environmental regulation, but would not fight for it any harder than he did during his Vice Presidency years under Clinton--where fuel efficiency in motor vehicles went down for the first time since the enactment of such laws in the early 1970s.

Remember, under President Gore, the Republicans maintain control of Congress. Even in 2006. For Gore had learned to be a Clintonian triangulator, running as much against his own base and Democrats in Congress, as Republicans. And that means, "Well, the Republicans keep me from doing good things, so you'll just have to vote for me compared to those other guys..." We know the drill, Mr. President, we would say with our eyebrows etched in a face full of sarcasm.

The housing bubble would continue unabated because the financial industry will have its hooks deep into Gore, the way they have it into Obama, Hillary, Biden, you name 'em, they got 'em. And Greenspan would remain the Federal Reserve Board Chairman, so that means not much structural change in terms of our economy.

I decided to blog about this because of this new article in Salon.com where the author agrees with me about President Gore likely invading Iraq. He notes the same names, starting with Lieberman and Peretz, though he could have added Woolsey, who would quickly ingratiate himself with President Gore in most any scenario.

In short, President Gore would have been an improvement over Bush Jr. in terms of basic bankers' oriented stewardship of our nation. And we should give President Gore kudos for stopping the 9/11 hijackers, even as Republicans would continue their drive for Arab-American votes that had begun in earnest in the late 1990s--so they would have been screaming about the innocence of the guys arrested in the multiple plots scheduled for September 11...You know, the way the Republicans in the Congress sounded like Chomsky when attacking Clinton for bombing Serbia and Kosovo in 1998.:-)

This is a fun exercise, but it has less portent than analyzing alternative scenarios for the focal point year of 1968 and with as charismatic and transformational a guy as RFK...

Deliberately provocative article concerning libertarian (and conservative) hostility to political democratic values

Michael Lind writes a deliberately provocative article delegitimizing leading libertarians, conservatives and lesser recent libertarians for choosing economic freedom over political freedom. It is the sort of formulation and style we who identify with liberals and lefties have to deal with every day in corporate broadcast media. You know the drill, "Liberals are..." "Leftwingers are..." and "Liberals hate democracy" "Leftwingers hate America..." etc. And "Oh? Izzy Stone? Wasn't he a Stalinist?" Oy.

On a personal level, I guess it's nice to see libertarians getting that treatment, just so they can begin to understand how we feel about provocative articles.* Let's also see how they come to the rescue of Hayek and von Mises for profession of these libertarian heroes' love for fascists. That ought to be fun...Get your popcorn popping and fun munching...

* Though Lind does note some libertarians who stand a bit taller. Also, I think Lind is deliberately misconstruing Patri Friedman's comments about electoral prospects and strategies for libertarians into an attack on democratic values--when I think Patri Friedman is saying, "Think small" for electoral strategies.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My kind of guy!

Fresno School District's superintendent decided that maybe he was taking too much out of the public purse. Would that some of the greed mongers in the private sector would follow this example and give back to their companies, and maybe even demand some better pay for those employees at the bottom of the hierarchy at the companies...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, but I saw this new information today...

Is Joe Hill innocent once and for all time? So says a new book on Hill, and it sure makes a fairly compelling case.

Even I had thought there might have been a struggle between the grocer, his son and Hill that led to the grocer and son being killed nearly a century ago. This was after reading Philip Foner's excellent book on the events that led up to and include Hill's execution after a less than fair trial, where Foner was actually trying to make the case Hill was innocent of the killing. See however Wallace Stegner's biographical novel, Joe Hill, that had caused many, even in the left-labor community, to wonder about Hill's innocence.

The new book's findings do make sense that culturally speaking, a wandering working man, 100 years ago, would sacrifice himself to protect a young woman's romantic or even sexual relations outside of marriage. This fact, when added to Hill's own sense (that did not disappoint) that the capitalist dominated justice system would never give him an even break, helps explain why Hill refused to bother to take the stand and directly defend himself at the trial. Still, the letter from the woman confirming Hill's initial alibi was over thirty years after the fact, which could be reason to doubt its accuracy--though again she may have had strong cultural and even immediate family reasons to stay quiet all those years.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A history of debt, coinage and credit

This interview with anthropologist David Graeber is outstanding. It is a great example of how philosophy integrated with factual analysis is far better than the usual nonsense of "thought experiments" of certain other philosophers who shall remain nameless...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

John Mikhail on the Necessary and Proper clauses

Last week, I posted about a law professor who had an intriguing analysis of the "necessary and proper" clauses in the US Constitution. John Mikhail has now written his first detailed analysis of the portion of the clauses which were well understood by the Founders' generation, but no longer very well among modern jurists who may lack the deep historical knowledge Mikhail brings to his discussion.

Interestingly, though, Mikhail appears to assume the "enumerated" powers should only include the powers identified starting the second paragraph of Article I, Section 8. That made me say, "Whoa, pardner!" Let's look at the Section 8 in its entirety with the first paragraph bolded before we surrender to that point:

Section. 8.

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;--And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

(Bold added)

Here is my not so rhetorical question: Why isn't the first paragraph as much an "enumerated" power of Congress as those powers discussed in the second through sixteenth paragraphs? Enumeration is a listing. It can be specific or general in each part of the list. The first enumeration says Congress can lay and collect taxes. The first enumeration also says Congress can pay debts. It further says Congress can provide for the "common defence." It says Congress may promote "the general welfare," which in those days meant far more than giving tax money to poor women with children.

Yes, yes, I know what Madison said in Federalist Paper no. 41 (link corrected) , in the last five paragraphs. But Madison is still begging the question of whether the powers identified in paragraphs 2-16 of Section 8 are the only powers of Congress. The other powers may be more specific than the more general statement of "common defence and general welfare." But did Madison mean to say the other paragraphs are exhaustive? Look carefully at what Madison says in the second of the last five paragraphs in Federalist Paper no. 41:

Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases. (Bold added)

The first paragraph in Article I, Section 8 is therefore, to Madison, itself an enumeration just like the "other" enumerations in paragraphs 2-16. Madison goes on to say, though:

But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon? If the different parts of the same instrument ought to be so expounded, as to give meaning to every part which will bear it, shall one part of the same sentence be excluded altogether from a share in the meaning; and shall the more doubtful and indefinite terms be retained in their full extent, and the clear and precise expressions be denied any signification whatsoever? For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity, which, as we are reduced to the dilemma of charging either on the authors of the objection or on the authors of the Constitution, we must take the liberty of supposing, had not its origin with the latter.

Here, Madison is saying the others define more particularly what the first paragraph says in Section 8. Still, he does not go so far as to say it is completely exhaustive. He knows better than to be that explicit, because Madison had already said, in Federalist Paper no. 37 that the Constitution was itself a document that is vague and built on compromise where even the framers may not have been unanimous or even close to it in what was meant by each phrase or sentence.

Alexander Hamilton, in his Report on Manufactures, 1791, in the first two paragraphs definitely saw the first paragraph in Section 8 as an enumerated power that was expansionary. He wrote in pertinent part of the Report, again in 1791:

...The terms "general Welfare" were doubtless intended to signify more than was expressed or imported in those which Preceded; otherwise numerous exigencies incident to the affairs of a Nation would have been left without a provision. The phrase is as comprehensive as any that could have been used; because it was not fit that the constitutional authority of the Union, to appropriate its revenues shou'd have been restricted within narrower limits than the "General Welfare" and because this necessarily embraces a vast variety of particulars, which are susceptible neither of specification nor of definition.

It is therefore of necessity left to the discretion of the National Legislature, to pronounce, upon the objects, which concern the general Welfare, and for which under that description, an appropriation of money is requisite and proper...

Thus, it would be wrong to reject the point Hamilton was making just as the US government was taking its first steps in practical policy-making. The first paragraph of Section 8 is not limited by what follows in the second through sixteenth paragraphs. Instead, the first paragraph is a general enumeration of powers followed by more specific examples that are not exhaustive.

For those who say, "Oh Freedman, you're wrong. The second through sixteenth are the only things the Congress can do," as if the second through sixteenth paragraphs exhaust the possibilities. Those making that argument, however, have to then say Chief Justice Marshall was wrong in M'Culloch to conclude that the first paragraph of Section 8 is as much a part of Congress' "enumerated powers" as the remaining paragraphs of Section 8 before one reaches the "necessary and proper" clauses.

Marshall explicitly wrote at 17 US at 406 of the unanimous opinion in M'Culloch:

Among the enumerated powers, we do not find that of establishing a bank or creating a corporation. But there is no phrase in the instrument which, like the articles of confederation, excludes incidental or implied powers; and which requires that everything granted shall be expressly and minutely described. Even the 10th amendment, which was framed for the purpose of quieting the excessive jealousies which had been excited, omits the word 'expressly,' and declares only, that the powers 'not delegated to the United States, nor prohibited to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people;' thus leaving the question, whether the particular power which may become the subject of contest, has been delegated to the one government, or prohibited to the other, to depend on a fair construction of the whole instrument.

(Bold added)

Marshall then added at page 415 of the opinion:

...The subject is the execution of those great powers on which the welfare of a nation essentially depends. It must have been the intention of those who gave these powers, to insure, so far as human prudence could insure, their beneficial execution. This could not be done, by confiding the choice of means to such narrow limits as not to leave it in the power of congress to adopt any which might be appropriate, and which were conducive to the end. This provision is made in a constitution, intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs. To have prescribed the means by which government should, in all future time, execute its powers, would have been to change, entirely, the character of the instrument, and give it the properties of a legal code. It would have been an unwise attempt to provide, by immutable rules, for exigencies which, if foreseen at all, must have been seen dimly, and which can be best provided for as they occur. To have declared, that the best means shall not be used, but those alone, without which the power given would be nugatory, would have been to deprive the legislature of the capacity to avail itself of experience, to exercise its reason, and to accommodate its legislation to circumstances.

Marshall is explicitly saying paragraphs 2-16 of Section 8 are not and cannot be exhaustive examples of the first paragraph's enumeration of powers. Again, if one notices, law professor Randy Barnett and his pals are now attacking Marshall and M'Culloch, and really, they have to, don't they? And they have to attack Hamilton in the Report on Manufactures. And they have to avoid admitting Madison's statements in Federalist Paper no. 41 (especially in context with Federalist Paper no. 37) are less than clear. They even have to deny how crafty Madison was in trying to get the Constitution passed as if he was not engaged in some double talk in various Papers (Note: Madison was particularly crafty in his phrasing for the Second Amendment, as Garry Wills pointed out near the end of Wills' famous essay in the NY Review of Books over 15 years ago.)

I found it interesting that before the formal opinion in M'Culloch, there are statements in the summary of the briefing or arguments setting forth a strong belief that the first paragraph in Section 8 is as much an enumeration as the succeeding paragraphs. Note the language at 17 US at 353, 354 in M'Culloch:

We contend, that it was necessary and proper to carry into execution several of the enumerated powers, such as the powers of levying and collecting taxes throughout this widely-extended empire; of paying the public debts, both in the United States and in foreign countries; of borrowing money, at home and abroad; of regulating commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states; of raising and supporting armies and a navy; and of carrying on war.

(Bold added)

Now, isn't that interesting that the power to levy and collect taxes and pay the public debts are "enumerated powers." This point appears again later in the discussion at 17 US at 381:

All the objects of the government are national objects, and the means are, and must be, fitted to accomplish them. These objects are enumerated in the constitution, and have no limits but the constitution itself. A more perfect union is to be formed; justice to be established; domestic tranquillity insured; the common defence provided for; the general welfare promoted; the blessings of liberty secured to the present generation, and to posterity.

(Bold added)

The attorneys supporting the bank are explicitly stating that common defence and general welfare are themselves enumerations of Congressional power. The enumeration may be general, but they are part of a list (Note the definition of "enumerated" does use the word "specify" in the definition, but it is in the context of listing, not meaning that the words be narrowly stated.)

Therefore, let us continue to argue about the scope of Congressional power in particular areas, but let us not, at the same time, give too much credence to any argument that denies a broad power to Congress, including both expressed and implied powers. For such an argument does go against the larger intent of many people in the Constitution's framers' generation, and against the early Supreme Court jurisprudence, which includes not merely M'Culloch--as well as Gibbons v. Ogden and other early case law. It remains my point that Wickard v. Filburn, decided in 1942, is a restoration of Marshall's jurisprudence, not a departure from the founders' so-called "original intent."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

We're number...um...We're the great--er, um, Hey, did you see that ugly outfit some actress is wearing?

Read here and wonder about the decline of America's standing in so many categories of life and lifestyle indicators...if we don't weep first.

The Solutions Journal, where that article is from, also published a discussion about Thomas Geoghgean's last book which compared lifestyles of and for regular working folks in the US and Europe. We did not fare so well...

Rockin' but wistful music holding tenuously onto hope...

I was bouncing around on YouTube to find songs for the title theme, and strangely I kept coming back to X and the Wonderstuff...

X: The World's a Mess, It's In My Kiss (Here is the song live...)

X: Fourth of July

Wonderstuff: Don't Let Me Down, Gently

Wonderstuff: Welcome to the Cheap Seats

And then of course, there is Chumbawumba's improbable hit of the mid-1990s, "Tubthumping aka I Get Knocked Down."

Urban folk music. That's what these songs really are. If we sing these songs accompanied by an acoustic guitar, we immediately feel and see that it is not punk, not pop, but folk music electrified and sped up.

The urban folksingers tell us there is no reason for hope, but also say our faith tells us that somehow, somewhere someone's gonna help us pull through. That a movement will arise based upon our best values, not our basest values. And yet, we pray that we don't get fooled again.

On the other hand, as another urban folk band, Bad Religion, tells us, faith alone won't sustain us no more...

Suggested reading: "The Politics at God's Funeral" by the late Michael Harrington. Harrington said in this book that when it comes to matters of the spirit, a desire for scientific learning, combined with uncertainty and humility, is the true faith. And in societal matters, let's take better care of each other, okay?

Corporate media still looking through the wrong end of the telescope concerning Social Security

Yes the Social Security Disability program is showing significant signs of strain. But this is the result of no public policy to re-develop our nation and increase demand while doing so. Social Security, or its disability program, is not what is causing our government's and nation's problem.

As I have long stated, the economy is in trouble, not Social Security. The article says the disability program is hurting because of looser regulations in the 1980s--thirty years ago! Then, it admits, oh yeah, it's because of the recent "recession," which is getting closer to a longer depression by the day.

And maybe the payroll tax cuts this past year haven't helped?

It's really not that complicated if one is outside the Beltway Cocktail Party: If government revenues fall, and the cost of government services go up--not because the government is charging more for the services, but more people need the services because of the recession--then government deficits will accumulate, especially in those programs designed to help people in economic need. Why is this a surprise? The only really sad surprise is the tone deafness of Barack Hoover Obama, and his reactive, passive approach to governance.

Worse, Obama has pushed for, and Republicans are now (cynically) accepting, a continued payroll tax cut, which will further lower revenue coming into the Social Security Disability program.

With Obama, there has been no audacity of hope, only the passivity of reaction. That is why he needs to announce he is not running for re-election. Unfortunately, he won't because that too takes guts he so evidently lacks.

So, his pathetic re-election campaign continues and, as of now, we see no prominent liberal, progressive person rising up to challenge Obama the way Eugene McCarthy (then a Democratic Senator from Minnesota) did against LBJ in 1967 and early 1968. If things don't change, and let's hope they will (McCarthy did not enter the race until November 1967), we will be faced in 2012 with a choice of a Weimar-ish Democratic Party backed incumbent against one or more howling banshees in the Republican Party who, if elected, will likely enact policies that will only hasten the decline of our beautiful nation....

How's your Sunday, by the way? I'll try to find something more soothing, as even I am now sad!

Great idea: Tax capital gains at ordinary tax rates

Jared Bernstein takes Warren Buffett's point and raises it more fully: Let's tax capital gains at the same rates as regularly received wages for work.

I have long decried taxing one's investment at lower tax rates than a wage earner. It makes no more sense to give a break to someone playing with investments (and most are in fact playing) than someone who is digging trenches all day, or waiting on tables or washing dishes all day, and getting a wage taxed at ordinary tax rates.

If we really want a balanced governmental budget, or at least cutting some of the recently accumulated deficits or debt, let's start with taxing capital gains at ordinary income tax rates. The analysis Bernstein does shows me that if we pushed forward with a policy of re-development, the investment rate would go up even as we raised the capital gains tax as follows: 15% at bottom, and then progressively rising consistent with the ordinary tax rate.

My overall view is an even broader version of Bernstein's: Changes in tax rates at the margins--as opposed to drastic changes--do not significantly alter economic behavior. What more significantly alters or affects economic behavior are public policies of broader scope, such as cutting programs that would otherwise put money in the hands of the poor and lower-working classes, subsidizing business development, re-developing the nation's infrastructure, starting a war, etc.

ADDENDUM: I wish I did not have to add this but I will: I do NOT advocate starting any war. I am just listing what are public policies of broader scope that do affect economic behavior. :-)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

More worker unrest in the USA...

The workers at a Hershey factory, who were foreign citizens, decided they had enough.

Note in the article how Hershey has built in two levels of other companies to attempt to avoid legal responsibility...

ADDENDUM: And close to my home, the grocery store workers are gearing up for a strike for the first time in almost a decade. Good for them, and let's hope their fellow worker-citizens are even more supportive than they were last time around.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Peter Singer on animal language

Peter Singer has a fascinating and emotionally moving blog post at the NY Review of Books about the new documentary regarding an experiment in teaching language to an chimp. I am not certain if Chomsky is as doctrinaire on the subject of whether animals can learn a language as Singer states or implies, but the post is nonetheless brilliantly argued.

I happen to believe that apes and perhaps even dogs can learn to understand words and perhaps even complex tasks formed with words. I also believe animals in general have far more complex feelings than we humans give them credit for--and perhaps I am influenced by one of the great novels of the past several decades, "Dr. Rat."

I am most proud of my son for maintaining his vegetarian stance since age 4 (he's now approaching 18), while I, being a lazy sap, continue to be a carnivore who lives off fast food and such. Yet, like liberals of yore, I do feeling guilty about it...:-)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The strike at Verizon, and an AWOL president

Read a nice primer on the strike here at In These Times magazine.

And yes, it is striking...pun intended...that the president won't join the picket line, even as the company lies about Obamacare to make its argument for workers' concessions. A president who truly cared about the middle class should have been finding picket lines all over the USA for the past two years to join in solidarity with those workers. Instead, Obama hangs with insiders and financiers, bankers and corporate CEOs.

And Obama thinks a bus tour is gonna fool significant numbers of Democrats who have been screaming for a new New Deal? Pathetic.

Corporate media bias in favor of empire is more obvious than ever...

I normally don't even bother to watch corporate broadcast media political commentary and discussions. Jon Stewart and other bloggers do it for us. This time, Stewart has exposed the most ridiculous bias by corporate media pundits and reporters I've seen in my lifetime.

Stewart's exposure of the studied and snarky avoidance and dismissal of Ron Paul is worse than what occurred to Dennis Kucinich in 2008.

David Bernstein, whose post I linked to, asks why is the media ignoring Paul? First, let's remember, it's corporate owned media we're talking about here. Second, Stewart diagnoses the reason in his satiric laced commentary: Ron Paul is against the American wars of choice in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and God knows where else we send and hold our troops in other people's countries. And to the corporate media, that is simply too dangerous to even discuss.

The US corporate broadcast media is at least consistent in that it has pretended that Noam Chomsky does not exist, except an occasional reference to his being a far left loon. But here we have a candidate who is already a US Congressman, running for president, and who comes within 200 votes of winning the first official polling of Americans--in Iowa--and....is completely ignored by the commentators, and then ridiculed by a CNN anchor who is supposed to be reading news, not commenting.

My Dad often told me that in 1956, he was in Texas in the Air Force, and newspapers there would rarely refer to Adlai Stevenson by name. It was almost always "the President's opponent." I think we've reached that level of bias in this instance.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Rachel Portman's latest soundtrack masterpiece

I love Rachel Portman's music. I really do.

Here is a sampling of her latest work in a marvelous, heartfelt film, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan." My wife thought I'd rebel against the chick-flick nature of the film, but I found it a powerful meditation on the oppressive societal pressures on women, back in the 19th Century and now. It had a plot line that was not painfully obvious, and the acting and writing was outstanding. Throughout the film, I so enjoyed the music, and said, just as the closing credits began to roll, "You know, the music has the feel of Rachel Portman's work..." and then Rachel's name appeared shortly thereafter.

If I had to describe Rachel Portman's work, it would be to say she evokes the culture and time of a film's plot through violins and other string instruments, and the occasional keyboard instrument. Her music speaks within and transcends the story, which is what every soundtrack should strive to achieve. Portman develops a profoundly soulful theme from what are initially simple notes, and yet she maintains a strong fealty to melody throughout the development of the theme.

There is definitely a Portman style, as there is a Danny Elfman and John Barry style. Portman's style is informed by Vaughan Williams, meaning she juxtaposes and combines folk music and classical music--yet she still touches modernity (such as King Crimson) to remind us of where we presently are living. Portman also appreciates the mystery and majesty of film; how film envelops us as we float in and out of reality, and how film emotionally transports us to a different place as we watch and take in what we see and hear.

Portman's masterpiece remains "Nicholas Nickelby," but this new one comes very, very close. Yes, Rachel Portman is definitely my favorite active film soundtrack composer.

Obama needs to be like LBJ...decline a second term

I've said it elsewhere in comments on others' blogs, it's time to say it here:

Obama needs to follow Lyndon B. Johnson's example and say to the American people that he will not stand for re-election in 2012 (See: LBJ's March 31, 1968 speech). Obama has failed and even his ardent supporters in the Democratic Party know it. Obama is more like Hoover than FDR, more like Carter than even LBJ. In fact, Obama is like James Buchanan, a mid-1850s president who was a ditherer failing to grasp the moment in which he lives.

As for Vice President Biden, one piece of advice: Don't get any ideas. You're history, too. Time to call it a career.

Democrats with influence should be looking now to find replacements who will speak to New Deal principles and policies, which are principles and policies that have their antecedents in the policies of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.

For us to accept that nothing can be done but vote for the lesser evil that is Obama-Biden is to embrace the thinking that caused Obama and Biden to fail. We must be transformative, not reactive.

I know, I know. The Republicans are worse. Yes, they certainly are. It is a fact that they wish to hasten our national decline, a decline that Obama-Biden are "managing." However, arresting and redirecting our nation is why we have primaries.

I wish Obama had the integrity to step aside now. To make him do so, a primary challenge is necessary...and proper. :-) Would someone of note in the Democratic Party or even outside the party take up that task? Please!

And yes, I know this is a pipe dream. But it can only stop being a pipe dream if we start to say it, believe it and move to make it real. So, I say it. And hope others do, too.

This is gonna be a fun read!

John Mikhail, a smart guy at Georgetown University law school, has written an already persuasive, yet provocative post at Balkinization, a law blog, on what he calls the three "necessary and proper" clauses in our nation's original Constitution. Can't wait for the details in future posts from him!

And considering the majority opinion the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down from Atlanta, GA yesterday, the analysis is going to be timely.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Spraying to different fields on a Wednesday morning...

Mark Cuban, a main entrepreneurial hero of mine, lays out a succinct and brilliant case for ending process patents and software patents. I was against process patents way back in the 1990s because I thought (Cuban agrees) it would stifle competition. Software patents were something that also bothered me as I did not understand why copyright was not good enough. Cuban says the same thing--in a declarative way.

Here is an interesting analysis from the Federal Reserve Board in San Francisco about what is made in China and what is not as far as American consumer purchases are concerned. The analysis gives us more subtlety to consider as we attempt to redevelop the nation, but actually proves that with respect to making things, China in fact is where a lot of things are made. The economists get to their conclusion that only 3% of goods are "made" in China by including services and transportation as being "made" here. While it's nice to confirm how much local mark up, sales and transportation costs there are, it is still misleading to declare that only 3% of "goods" American consumers buy are "made in China."

I'm disappointed that Doug Henwood thinks this analysis is not misleading...Henwood should know better what the butterfly effect of the durables and clothing manufacturing numbers show...Perhaps Doug is worried about the coming right wing attack on China with the usual racist overlay. I don't hate China or Chinese. I do hate that our nation's leaders in both political parties have no policy to promote industrialization in the USA and in fact seem to promote, in a variety of ways, de-industrialization.

And in Wisconsin, close, close, but not far enough...at least not yet. Walker should be hearing some loud footsteps for his unbridled attacks on union workers and unions.

Finally, a sad story about what happens when Roe v. Wade is overruled and why Mitt Romney should have run for president in the Democratic Party primary against Obama (at least he talks about jobs, unlike Obama)...

BONUS CUBAN: Read it here. I love the way this particular business guy thinks. It's not that I fully agree with him on his solutions, but they are rational, smart and offer room for compromise in practical terms. Would that there be Congressmen and pundits who are as sharp eyed as Cuban. Mark, please buy my beloved Dodgers when the Dodgers are finally ordered on the market!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Makes me wanna read it--twice

See historian Ron Rosenbaum's meandering, brilliant review of Joseph Heller's great novel, "Catch-22", on its 50th anniversary, here.

I would only add to Rosenbaum's analysis that one may see a connection between "Catch-22"and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" as being about people confronting societal absurdities with sanity, and being considered insane.

Funny to read about Heller because, recently, I have been reading Heller's "Something Happened," which I recall being ripped in some quarters when it was released in the mid-1970s. It captures better than most literature or histories the cultural sensibilities of the 1970s in suburban America, and provides a powerful portent of the later destruction. It has proven difficult sometimes to read because it strikes at the heart of a middle aged man, of which I am in deepening middle age, and the angst it captures amidst the dark humor is simply remarkable.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Why Obama is a Fool, Part 100: Failed Labor Law Reform Undermines Democratic Party's natural superiority

This post from Kevin Drum explains how the decline of unions played a significant role in the decline of middle class economic fortunes these past few decades.

But let's note the political implications of the decline of unions, which unfortunately highlights Obama's political tone deafness.

Where do culturally conservative people go to organize? Their churches. Who has tapped deeply into churches to ensure that people vote for what are called "conservative" causes? The Republicans. As Pat Robertson memorably said on television in the aftermath of the 2004 election, Democrats used to be able to use unions to get out the vote, now they come into his--meaning Robertson's and others'--churches and Republicans get out the vote. In 2008, with everything collapsing economically speaking, people were incentivized to try the Democrats. But the Democrats failed--again--and worse, failed to grasp the political structural reasons to support an economically populist agenda.

Labor law reform was something Obama gave little lip service to during the 2008 election, and simply ignored it upon arriving at the White House. Worse, his advisers who were at least somewhat supportive of labor unions failed as a group to grasp the political significance of making it easier for workers to form and join unions.

On the other hand, Republican governors knew exactly what to do this year when assuming office: Destroy the last unions in public employment so as to (1) undermine Democratic Party prospects and (2) enrich the Republicans' corporate executive donors so as to give them more money to run more ads and elect more Republicans. They used the budget as a smoke screen. Still, while they may not destroy public unions, they have changed the debate in their direction and have, as John Boehner said, won 98% of what they want in economic policy terms.

Democrats in power have no sense of this sort of thinking, which is doubly pathetic. For even though I have concluded Obama does not believe in New Deal values, and is at best one of those late 60s cultural libs (even then he follows rather than leads), if he was politically astute, as opposed to politically tone deaf, he'd have pushed hard and talked up labor law reform. If there had been labor law reform, there would have been a different push to get out the vote to help pass progressive or liberal economic reforms in 2010, and a way to funnel information to people that pushed back to explain the real reason for skyrocketing debt and why Social Security and Medicare are a symptom of larger economic structural issues, not the problem that needs "solving." And Democrats and Obama would have the wind at their backs as we look forward to 2012, not running on "Well, um, the Republicans are worse."

Seems like this did happen in some alternative history, though even there the alternative universe president did not quite grasp the significance of supporting labor law reform (he just thought it was a quid pro quo for union leaders' support in that president's election campaign)...


Thursday, August 04, 2011

Informative article about the state of the US Postal Service

This two "click" pages article by Philip Rubio from the Washington Post is compelling and interesting reading. One paragraph stood out among the others:

The USPS’s current $8 billion deficit is mainly a result of a 2006 congressional directive that the USPS pre-fund all retiree benefits for the next 75 years within 10 years, a financial burden no other agency shares. This imposed deficit has prompted some people to question the need for universal postal service as authorized by the Constitution.

If this is true, and apparently it is true (and there is evidence the pensions are already over-funded!), the attack on the Post Office is surely misguided and wrong.* It is far better to allow the US Postal Service to pre-fund retirement benefits in a more reasonable timeline.

The Post Office is very important to our society, and should remain a public trust. For those who can't stand to read public policy articles or books, then one may wish to enjoy oneself and read "The Postman," a really wonderful sci-fi book about the importance of a government entity that delivers the mail.

* Heck, even the Cato Institute admits this set of facts, despite its conclusion for privitization, which is simply part of their overall libertarian ideology:

A significant portion of USPS costs stems from PAEA, which requires the USPS to prefund its future retirees' health benefits at an accelerated rate of about $5.4 billion per year for the first 10 years of the 50-year liability; any remaining obligation is to be amortized over the subsequent 40-year period. Prefunding health benefits is unique to the USPS within the public sector, and it is not required in the private sector. The effect of this massive accounting charge is to temporarily increase the total costs of the USPS by 9 percent a year. As mail volume and revenue have declined in recent years, the USPS has experienced a cash shortage and has been on the verge of not being able to fulfill this accounting obligation. As a temporary solution, the federal government enacted legislation in 2009 that allowed the USPS to reduce its payment to its retiree health-benefits fund by $4 billion, from $5.4 billion to $1.4 billion, for the year 2009. However, the USPS must repay this sum after fiscal year 2016. As for fiscal year 2010, there is significant uncertainty as to whether or not the USPS will have the cash required to fulfill its prefunding obligation for retiree health benefits (Kosar 2010).

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Yup. Greenwald's correct...again.

Read it here.

The only words that we can legitimately conjure up to vote for Obama in 2012 are: Supreme Court. But really, other than that, what is there to vote for? The guy is the new Hoover. The new Weimar chancellor. He has no idea how to be a president, particularly during a continuing economic crisis for so many working families.

I wish he and Biden would just get out of the way. Please resign fellas, if you have any decency. Please resign. Let people see what Republican governance is like for a year and give the frayed grass roots inside the Democratic Party a chance to nominate someone who would roar about what has happened to the middle class and what needs to be done to restore American greatness.

A pipe dream, I know. But the rage is real.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Krugman and Reich on the debt-ceiling deal--and Obama's Big Lie

Krugman and Reich properly vent about the debt ceiling deal, here and here.

As for Obama's big lie, it is when Obama says: "Is this the deal I would have preferred? No." Sorry, Mr. President. You are lying. You preferred this type of deal from the beginning. Since you became an adult hanging out with philosophers and economists at the University of Chicago, you have refused to recognize the value or need for Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. You think the New Deal was a failure. Your "liberalism" is about the cultural issues, and even then, you follow rather than lead.

(Personal somewhat amusing note: My son has a meeting tomorrow evening with a recruiter at the University of Chicago. I would be extremely proud if my son was somehow accepted by and attended the University of Chicago. I am not worried about his ability to see through the silliness of the Ayn Randian-Milton Friedmanite axis that pervades the economics and philosophy departments at that august academy--it pervaded the economics department at Rutgers when I attended that institution in the mid- to late 1970s. For he'd be hanging more with the science research folks, though with his interest in music and literature, he'll end up with more than a few courses in the humanities (and maybe he'll take a history course with one of my favorite historians, Bruce Cumings). As a fan, since my high school years, of Robert Maynard Hutchins, I have long been enamored with the University of Chicago as an institution...And two more profs at the U of Chicago I adore...Martha Nussbaum and Neil Shubin).