Thursday, October 27, 2011

A general strike in Oakland?

Occupy Oakland, in response to some fairly abusive police action, has called for a general strike in Oakland next week, Wednesday, November 2, 2011 to be precise.

Nothing like a general strike to bring people together...

Oakland had a general strike back in 1946. See here.

Seattle had an interesting general strike--"interesting" in that alleged Chinese wisdom sorta way--back in 1919. See here. Or for those who want to read a great history book, see here (Harvey O'Connor's magnificent "Revolution in Seattle.").

As events move forward, we may wish to keep in mind what the often mild mannered union leader Samuel Gompers said in 1893:

What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails, more books and less arsenals, more learning and less vice, more constant work and less crime, more leisure and less greed, more justice and less revenge.

Yup.

As the Beach Boys would sing, "Wouldn't it be nice?" Or considering the Iron Heel of Capital, those at the epicenter of the strike are likely to get more than they bargained for, and not in a good way.

Still, it's time for some pushback against the Second Gilded Age, isn't it?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Medicore Mind Reviews the New Jobs Bio in the NY Times

Why did the NY Times rent the pedestrian mind of Janet Maslin to review this biography of the most important American inventor and innovator since Thomas Edison?

The review is workable, but mediocre, like Maslin herself. The review fails to express any depth regarding Jobs' sense of abandonment, nor does it find any space to even mention Jobs' biological father, who was himself an interesting guy who deserved better than Jobs treated him. Also, the review's drive-by about the irony of a high tech gee-whiz guy who scorned for too long the medical treatment versions of his products in favor of Luddite home remedies is inexcusable. And where is the discussion of the disconnect between the well paid executives and designers at Apple and Jobs' and Apple's refusal to build the innovative products in our nation, as opposed to China?

For those who may think I am too harsh with regard to Maslin, consider how she misses the fundamental point that Jobs is the modern equivalent to Thomas Edison or Henry Ford. Instead, Maslin lamely compares Jobs to Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. And why? Because Walter Issacson, the author of the Jobs bio, wrote biographies of Franklin and Einstein. It's not like she really thought that up herself. The changes to American culture, and the immediate and direct effects on America's economy, which have resulted from Jobs' products, are barely understood by her. Maslin is the type of insular fiction book chatter who never reads anything like the works of Daniel Bell or Michael Harrington.

For those who may not know, Maslin began as a rock reviewer at the Times in the early 1970s, where she became infamous among progressive rock fans for her trashing of "A Passion Play" by Jethro Tull, where she completely misread the lyrics to the album as evidence that Tull band leader Ian Anderson was a Jesus freak--when in fact he was a heretic questioning religious dogma, not merely the deep hypocrisies that are often tied up within organized religion. And of course, her cramped English major mind failed to recognize, let alone discuss the innovative music and musicianship on that album.

In the 1980s, she was promoted to the NY Times Book Review section where she continues to haunt its corridors. In thirty years, I have yet to read any review of hers that went beyond the banality of an NPR segment on cooking pasta. She can't hold a candle to Martha Nussbaum or Barbara Ehrenreich, or the LA Times Susan Salter Reynolds, for example. And yet, the Times tasked the biography of the most important American Baby Boomer to Maslin. Yuk.

Oh well. Let's wait for the NY Review of Books' take on the Jobs biography, though I'll already have gotten half way through the book by the time it appears...

ADDENDUM: 10/26/11: Here is a review from Slate that is far better than Maslin's review.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fascinating exchange between Cain and then President Bill Clinton

This post from Matt Yglesias is outstanding. It shows the disconnect between business leaders driven by ideology, and rather shallow ideology at that, and an intelligent politician, which was Clinton (saying he is smart does not mean I liked his policies, either, which were so neo-liberal in economics, meaning not much different than a modern Republican). One may note how Cain starts lying about his labor costs once Clinton expertly demolishes Cain's first lines of attack against Clinton.

(Really, nobody in the Republican presidential field other than Romney and Cain himself would even follow that discussion between Clinton and Cain).

If only business folks like Cain would stop their solidarity with financiers and with those in the economic royalty of our nation--and realize that a tax based health insurance system with everyone in the same pool (Medicare for All) would rationalize their costs, ultimately lower their business costs and unleash entrepreneurial spirit in this nation by freeing those who work where they do in order to hold their group health insurance coverage.

The difference between Clinton and Obama, on the one hand, and Cain and Romney, on the other, is how each side responds to their base. Cain and Romney throw culturally conservative bones to their working class supporters, while Clinton and Obama do most of Cain's and Romney's bidding on economics, spit on the Democratic Party base and then say, "If you don't elect us, you're electing the Republicans who will add cultural conservative policies to our pro-banker policies."

And so the Second Gilded Age continues...

Meanwhile...the earth gets warmer after all

I live in an area of the nation, northeast San Diego County, where most people don't "believe" in global warming and are not too sure about evolution, either.

This latest post from Kevin Drum on the study released from a Koch Brothers funded scientific organization ought to send chills down the spines of global warming skeptics. Yes, pun intended...:-)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What Martha says...

Martha Nussbaum is one of those few transformative writers whose insight is worldview modifying, if not worldview changing. She sees levels of reality, and has a knowledge of antiquity and other nations' history that are both detailed and analytical in the best senses of those words.

Her essay in The Nation on the new Gandhi biography and modern India is an intellectually delicious and nutritious read.

She makes a point that Geoffrey Ward had made against Blanche Cook's bios of Eleanor Roosevelt, which is that flowery language is more erotic in our modern time than in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and that ER's letters of "love" to a lesbian journalist do not mean that ER was a lesbian--especially when the only evidence of a sexual relationship ER had outside her marriage is with a male driver for the Roosevelts.

Why does this article tap into my libertarian sensibility?

There is something unseemly about people forcing people to follow a certain eating and exercise regimen to receive a basic right to life or employment.

Ezra sees the same point in speaking of this health expenditure cutting initiative at the Cleveland Clinic. I'd rather us start paying the executive class less...and then see where that goes.

Music for a Sunday morning...

The Paul Winter Consort is a group I had not thought about for awhile, and the earlier post regarding the relative decline of human violence got me thinking about the song, "Icarus" and the Winter Consort sound.

One of the most innovative albums I have ever heard was "Common Ground," released in 1977. It revealed how nature sings in the key of D flat, and how animals sing. Winter wrote music around the singing of wolves, whales and other animals, and there were some wonderful songs to come out of that album as well.

Two of the experimental tracks are "Ocean Dream" and "Wolf Eyes." Too bad the more straightforward tracks, "Lay Down Your Burden" and "Common Ground" (title track) are not on YouTube.

Oh well. And if one is feeling particularly adventurous, and wants some harder electronic sounds that stand in awe of nature, there's always Refugee's "Grand Canyon Suite" (Parts 1 and 2) and Gojira's "Ocean Planet."

A time not to re-fight an old war...

Chris Bertram wants to fight an old war with Steven Pinker, instead of embracing Pinker's embrace of Stephen Jay Gould and David Brin: At least Western Europe is getting less violent (even as riots descend onto Rome as we post), and maybe it is because of reason, science and human rights campaigns around the world. In other words, it is less genetics than societal, and therefore more nurturing than natural. The nod we should make to Pinker, but really Gould, is that this is not to say there is no natural cause, but merely that nature's influence is much more limited than say 20th Century eugenicists would have had us believe.

Peter Singer recognizes Pinker's change in this review from the NY Times last week.

If someone is interested in the older war, Gould's attacks on sociobiology, which descended into recriminations by Pinker and Wilson against Gould, and vice versa, are a good place to start. Wilson, who coined the term "sociobiology," backed off some of its more extravagant claims, and outsiders like me began to wonder just what was the need for any real dispute among smart guys like Pinker, Wilson, Gould and Lewontin anyway.

Brin, in my view, gets short shrift for his optimistic, yet very reasonable and insightful position regarding the relative decline in the level of human cruelty in the past few decades. This is partly what has driven his Uplift series of science fiction books.

This does not mean we are not in for a short term rough ride as economic populism gets much warmer and even hotter. But I am confident that a Hamiltonian-New Deal approach to public policy will illuminate the trend, and continued libertarian approaches will unleash the violent aspects of humanity....

Friday, October 14, 2011

Reporter Chris Hedges shames right wing media commentator...in Canada

This exchange between Chris Hedges and a right wing commentator and his bubble headed co-host is astonishing television. Hedges shames the fellow in a way that was one of the best set of arguments I've seen on anything outside of The Daily Show, Colbert Report or Maher's show.

Note that the commentator is a software magnate and investment banker named Kevin O'Leary, who is the co-host of the program. O'Leary merely proves that an otherwise very smart manufacturing executive and wise financier can still be an ignorant jerk when it comes to discussing public policy issues. Hedges, a former NY Times reporter who tired of corporate-oriented journalism, verbally slammed O'Leary to the floor like an adult wrestler pinning a six year old. O'Leary is an embarrassment to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

GOP: Raise taxes on middle class and poor people

That is the actual effect of solutions which Huntsman and Cain are pushing.

Read about it here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Job killing trade deals pass Congress...and Obama will sign them

The Republicans and "conservative" Democrats sure love those trade agreements, don't they?

The ones that codify the situation where our semi-skilled and unskilled workers must compete with their counterparts in other nations, which counterparts are literally under guns and even more exploited.

Lori Wallach, who was an early and then very lonely voice in the late 1980s and early 1990s against these deals, gives her take of today's vote here.

As Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) said on the floor of the House of Representatives today, how can we support open trading with a nation like Columbia, which leads the world in killing labor union leaders?

What is striking is that a majority of Tea Partiers are consistently against the trade agreements, but their candidates, almost to a man or woman, supported the deals today. It was more often "liberal" Democrats who have opposed the deals, and have for some years now. My district's Republican Congressman, Duncan Hunter, Jr., was one of the few right wingers or Republicans to oppose the deals today. And again, Obama will sign the trade agreements into law.

The corporate elite minority rule over the interests of the many is never more stark than when it comes to these trade agreements...

Top 1% and National Income and Wealth

Here is a nice mainstream article from the Daily Ticker about some facts most progressive activist folks have known for awhile now...ADDENDUM: Here is another set of charts and discussion from the Business Insider.

And when you go from the top 1% to top 10%, there is already a big difference in the income received, but the top 10% are certainly better off than most other Americans. And when one includes the top 10%, the most startling fact is that 10% of the nation has the same amount of national income as the rest of the 90% COMBINED.

The right wing talking point is to focus on federal income taxes and show (as in the linked-to Heritage Foundation blog post) how most federal income taxes are paid for by that top 10%. But that looks at the telescope through the wrong end. The fact that the top 10% pay more of the federal income tax (as opposed to other federal taxes, state and local taxes, which include sales taxes) is merely a symptom of the vast income inequality that has arisen over the past thirty to forty years.

When one combines the significant and deep inequality that has developed, plus the fact that nobody in the financial industry has paid for what appear to be fraudulent and sometimes outright criminal behavior, but instead received the majority of government monies for bailouts (not merely TARP, but the way the Fed threw a trillion or two towards the investment and other bankers' direction), one can see how regular folks can have an idea that something is wrong in the USA. The youngsters at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are often squeezed by college debt, and see the promise of a good paying job has become largely an illusion. That is what emotionally animates many of them from what I can tell--and that is a valid concern and reason for a sense of betrayal.

So next time someone says, "What do these demonstrators stand for?" or otherwise say their message is unclear, then let 'em have it with the facts set forth in this post. Or let 'em watch the Alan Grayson clip where he schools the ignorant, petulant PJ O'Rourke, or read Todd Gitlin's piece in the NY Times.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Someone else gets it about the insularity of most modern American novelists

This article in Salon.com is as close to spot on as I've read in a long time about the state of American literature: Insular and self-centered.

The article's author properly takes to task both Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth. The kindest thing to say about either writer is that they are emotive and competent, though even Roth is less than that. As I've said in other posts, Roth does not evoke Newark, NJ in the 1940s and 1950s with any of the depth of observation that Steinbeck brought to Salinas, CA.

The failure of Roth and Oates, as the author of the article notes, is that their literary lens is exceedingly narrow, and their insights are pedestrian. Neither compares favorably with Steinbeck or Sinclair Lewis, the two most known American writers of the 20th Century who received Nobel Prizes in Literature.

Heck, neither can rise even to the level of Pearl Buck, who also won a Nobel Prize (yes, the modern American literary academy generally sees Buck as a sort of sentimental female version of Kipling, but that misreads her in a most disgusting way). Anyone who disagrees with me ought to read Buck instead of making the assumption your literature professor likely uttered in some high school or college class. Buck understood and was both sympathetic and empathetic with respect to the colonized--more so than even a true favorite writer of mine, Graham Greene. Buck was anything but a Kipling (and I'll admit Kipling himself may not have been so imperialist and Euro-centric). Also, her prose sparkles in a most surprising way. I have recently been reading Buck's 1954 memoir, "My Several Worlds," after reading several of her novels. The memoir confirms my reading of her, and is itself a marvelous record of a very interesting and thoughtful person.

Let's see what the Nobel Prize brings this year. But one quibble with the Salon.com author: Is Don DeLillo really on the same sub-par level as Oates and Roth? I have tried to read DeLillo, unsuccessfully. However, DeLillo's lens tends to encompass the entire nation, not simply an insular neighborhood. On the other hand, I don't find that when I read DeLillo, I get any "eureka" moments. Nobel Prize winner? It would be a surprise, but better DeLillo than Oates or Roth.

Herman Cain channels a Lenny Bruce routine

There is a Lenny Bruce routine called "Religions, Incorporated" (1958) from the late 1950s. In it, Lenny skewers various religious leaders and the general hypocrisy of the "organized" religions. One of the religious leaders skewered is Oral Roberts, a then famous faith healer. He has Oral saying at one point: "Maybe I'm not that smart...I don't know how much a whole lotta nines are...But if I don't, I've got some men on my staff who do."

I thought of that bit when I read this morning that Herman Cain unveiled his gimmicky 9-9-9 plan (9% flat income tax, 9% corporate tax and 9% federal sales tax). Cain is certainly showing he is a business executive Republican. They loves them sales taxes since they are so easy to pass off on their poor and middle class customers and keeps their income taxes low. But is it at least revenue neutral? Hardly. Deficits are not a concern when a Republican proposes something like starting a war or cutting taxes for their rich friends. Don't we know that already?

Number nine, number nine...Narf!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Good for Brian Schweitzer! Single pay may be coming to Montana!

Governor Brian Schweitzer has long been a favorite of mine, though recently I was asking myself, "Why has he been so damned quiet with respect to what's happening around DC and this nation of ours?"

Well, the good Gov has unveiled a plan to cover all Montanans for medical insurance. He's modeling it on the first province in Canada that went to universal coverage back in the early 1960s.

Good for the Governor of Montana!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Labor joining Wall Street protestors is a big development

The political importance of unions is they are the best vehicle to talk to workers about labor and capital issues, and can move the discussion back to a worker-centered perspective. For the past fifty years, we have lived in a corporate-centered perspective in our corporate owned media, and this has got to change if we're going to help save our nation.

Some unions, themselves on their backs and dying off, have joined in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. This is very welcome news, and those aristocratic wannabes on the balcony drinking champagne don't know what they are bringing on.

Even the aristocratic NY Times, which had earlier had its reporter poking condescending fun at the demonstrators, just sent her back with a more balanced and positive report.* And Nick Kristoff, a reporter whose cultural liberalism masks his economic elite corporatist perspective, is noticing that something is happening here...And what it is ain't exactly clear.

*Memo to NY Times news reporter Ginia Bellafante: When you start to talk about rich people as a ruling class, then maybe you can have some fun with a phrase like "left's ruling class." Until then, keep that last bit of snark for an op-ed or an Ayn Rand sort of novel. It has no place in a news report.

(Edited)