A blog on the topics of politics, history, law, literature, and music
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Greenwald nails it again about our Warrior in Chief
There is simply no basis to laud Obama's militarist actions abroad while simultaneously attacking Bush-Cheney's actions.
Glenn Greenwald responds to the latest lauding of Obama as Warrior in Chief.
The strange thing is what Greenwald calls the disconnect where the right wingers don't want to acknowledge how supportive of violence Obama really is. They should love him, but since he's a Democratic Party president, the narrative of "weak on Terrorism" holds.
This AP article at Yahoo! says the Clintons and Obamas are forming an even deeper alliance. No surprise for MF Blog readers. In 2008, when there was so much vitriol passing among Obama and Hillary Clinton supporters, I was calling the two candidates by the single name: Hillobama.
The Clintons have the same corporate Democratic Party attitudes as Obama, and vice-versa. All three would not know a labor union if they fell over one. Both despise the very presence of a Rich Trumka in any room where decisions have to be made. All three love their banker-financier advisers from Bob Rubin to Tim Geithner to Jack Lew.
Arguing about women with Republicans is what they live for, as it allows them to be passionate about something. But we are all poorer when we lose sight of the issues affecting both men and women in the working and middle classes, when our infrastructure continues to weaken and be neglected, and when our nation's industrial base continues to rot away.
Count on it: The Clintons and Obama don't care about those economic and nation-building/nation sustaining issues. They are essentially the same as Romney.
The difference is only Romney's willingness to oppress women's autonomy over their bodies. That's a big issue, but it speaks loudly about our nation's ridiculous discourse that it should even be an issue at all.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Is the recently retired head of Shin Bet anti-Israel too?
This is an interesting article about the recently retired head of Shin Bet saying the current Israeli government is exaggerating the threat from Iran.
If I correctly read the emails my father's right wing Jewish friends and relatives send about Obama being anti-Israel, I guess we should ask former Shin Bet director, Yuval Diskin, to produce his birth certificate....
Friday, April 27, 2012
Wonderful news for CA construction workers
I love watching the FoxNews people all up in arms as they actually explain, backwards of course, why this is a great bill Governor Jerry Brown signed.
Capitalist executive's lackey Stu Varney also explains why Obama has been so politically tone deaf because, had Obama really been able to connect the dots the way Varney claims, Obama would have supported the type of massive infrastructure spending people like Krugman and me have wanted from Day One of his presidency. Plus, he would have supported the labor law reform bill we have wanted to see passed in order to strengthen workers' rights nationally to form and maintain unions. The wealthiest would have seen their profits more equitably distributed among their workers, too.
Don't worry, Stu. Obama will continue to be politically tone deaf. He actually agrees more with you on economic matters than he agrees with Rich Trumka...
ADDENDUM: Young David Atkins at Digby's place nicely sums up the reason why Obama is tone deaf. He isn't stupid. He's just not that into workers and workers' economic interests.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Great review of Murray's book on white people falling...
Andrew Hacker, one of our best sociological minds, has written a brilliant dissection of Charles Murray's new book in the New York Review of Books. Hacker reveals how Murray has caught the decline of white workers' fortunes, but his right wing libertarian bias prevents him from recognizing economic causes and solutions.
Hacker then discusses Tim Noah's new book and how Noah sees the reality, but also what blocks the obvious solutions from being enacted, which is the corruption of DC and State legislatures in bowing to corporate dominated power, and the minions of corporate media pundits who propagate pro-corporation ideology.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Great idea from CA Speaker of the Assembly: Cut public education fees at CSU and UC by 2/3rds
This is a great idea!
I've signed the petition, and every Californian who cares about the future of our state should sign it too. We need to re-balance our priorities as a state if we are to be the golden land we were bequeathed.
I posted about the issue of the value of the UCs last week, linking to Mike Hiltzik's op-ed in the Los Angeles Times Business Section.
At this point, it's too late for my son. He's just made the decision to go to Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio. It's a fabulous university and at least as respected in stature as UC Davis. UC Davis accepted my son, but between the lack of any scholarship and the likely rise in tuition fees over the next two years, plus Case Western giving him strong reason to believe he will receive a solid part time job in a laboratory (something UC Davis would not do), starting his first year, well, it's off to Cleveland.* He's very happy as he loved the CWRU campus and the people he met there from faculty to students.
For me, as a citizen of California, I am deeply disappointed that our state's priorities are so messed up that we can somehow believe it is better to spend $49K per capita to house prisoners (largely due to our draconian 3 Strikes law), not have an oil extraction tax (unlike Texas, Alaska and every other oil producing state) and not tax Disneyland's property at market rates, and think the way to finance higher education is to make youngsters borrow $10-20K every year of their college years--or more.
Assembly Speaker Perez pays for this plan by closing corporate loopholes, though I'd be glad to take this even further by reforming Prop 13 to no longer apply to commercial properties (the "split roll" proposal) and to add an oil extraction tax on oil companies.
It's about time a leading political figure has initiated this discussion of re-balancing our state's priorities. It is time to engage in this discussion with passion and strength.
* He was also accepted to UC Riverside and we were very impressed with that university as well. However, when we added up the financial incentives they were providing, they were ultimately equal to what Case Western was offering except that UC Riverside was giving my son a chance to start his grant work-study lab work in the summer before he begins as a freshman in the fall. After some hard weighing of options, he said, "Dad, I'd really like to attend Case Western." And that was that. We are biting a heavy financial bullet either way, and we hope to save money on flights back from Cleveland with our mileage plus credit card from United/Continental Airlines. We are fastening the seat belts for a rough financial ride...He'll get into some debt, too, but not much compared to what UC Davis expected him to take on. They acted like mortgage brokers circa 2005 the way they spoke about taking on more loans. Disgusting.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
I guess Bruce Springsteen is as pissed off as I am...
This is an interesting take on Bruce Springsteen from...Forbes.com.
I like that he exposes the cultural phoniness of Bob Dylan, and yet is able to smartly defend Springsteen from the canard that you can't be sympathetic to poor and working folks if you're rich.
Towards the end, as Forbes writer Tom Watson (I am sure he knows the history of his moniker) writes, Springsteen is mighty upset at the way Obama has governed thus far. It's a thought piece worthy of reading.
Greenwald: civil liberties are definitely under attack under Obama
Greenwald's post is must reading.
Why are we voting for Obama again? Is it really enough that Romney would harass women about abortions and all of us about contraception? Is it enough to save an already politicized Supreme Court that already believes Rush Limbaugh is the ultimate authority on constitutional history?
I think it is time to start a more effective and helpful dialogue by saying "No" to both Obama and Romney, and talk more about Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, the Green and Libertarian candidates. They at least can have the important argument about labor and capital, and have an agreement that there is no government "right" to spy and harass us for our political views, and agree that it's time to end the imperial wars in Afghanistan and get out the remaining troops from Iraq, and yes, some other places, too. And both would be against the current crop of trade deals that are really designed to protect and promote corporate power at the expense of workers, though Johnson would really let 'er rip in terms of open borders. Yes, let's at least have that argument instead of the racist arguments we have to endure from most Republican candidates.
It is ridiculous for any Democratic Party supporter to suggest that Obama is anything other than a Bush clone, and sometimes even worse, with respect to civil liberties issues.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
How the US helped make Pakistan worse...
For years, my semi-joke is that if you want to develop open government in your country, you have to find a way to not have the United States government send your country military supplies and advisers, but at the same time avoid having the United States government drop lots of bombs on your country.
This article in Foreign Affairs magazine shows the structural bases as to why Pakistan developed into a political mess, backed by militarists over three generations since its independence in 1947. The fascinating aspect for Americans appears in passive language at the end of the article, and dares raise the question as to the blowback from American governmental influence in Pakistan, with a silent but compelling point that our nations' leaders' indifference to India was good for India.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Judge Janice Brown at it again...
Federal Judge Janice Brown is at it again. She seems to get the Constitution confused with "Atlas Shrugged" more often than not--and this time Justice Scalia's use of Rush Limbaugh talking points during the ACA oral argument appears to have inspired her to new levels of political posturing in judicial opinions.
I warned about elevating then California Supreme Court Justice Brown to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington DC way back in 2005.
Give one thing to Judge Janice Brown: She isn't dumb, just a bomb thrower. She recognizes a major part of the attack from the libertarian-right and Republicans on the ACA is an attack on the "rational relation" test. People like Paul Clement and Randy Barnett use the rhetorical dodge, "Where is the limiting principle?" But Janice Brown knows the limiting principle: The "rational relation" test Justice Marshall and the Supreme Court identified in 1819 in McCulloch and then again in Gibbons in 1824. And she knows what she wants to see: The destruction of the Hamiltonian and initial Madisonian vision (Before Madison realized his vision was a threat to slaveholders...) of the US Constitution.
I can see a President Romney nominating Brown to the US Supreme Court to replace Justice Ginsburg if the latter's health does not hold out....
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Saving the UCs costs a lot less than I thought it does...
Here is an informative op-ed from business page columnist Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times.
It states two things that knocked me out:
1. If we went to a free tuition University of CA system, it would cost the State of CA $3 billion. When Meg Whitman ran for governor and said let's repeal the state capital gains tax, she was messing with $11 billion in revenue. How's that for priorities? And let's just think about how important it would be for middle class families if it was just a 50% subsidy for each admitted student? I know it would make a big difference in my son deciding to attend UC Davis, which accepted him a few weeks ago. UC Riverside, though, has been more aggressive in offering to lower my son's tuition costs and is therefore the school we as a family are most interested in as far as public institutions are concerned...
2. The State of CA is now only providing 11% of the UC revenues. That makes the UCs a lot closer to private institutions as its State support has plummeted in the past three years. The UCs must now figure out how to raise endowments as private universities do. This undermines the 1960 plan for the UC system as Jerry Brown's Dad, Pat Brown, and Clark Kerr envisioned.
Hiltzik said that the tuition increases "threaten to place a UC education out of reach of working-class and middle-class students..." It is past "threaten." There are many families who simply cannot afford the UC education that those of us in my age group could afford a generation ago.
And as Hiltzik reminds us, the money is there. It is a question of priorities. Prison spending is far more than what the State spends on UC students per capita (Compare prison spending per prisoner, which is $49,000, with the UC student * spending from the State). And if we would just learn to tax commercial property as we did before Proposition 13 in 1978,** we would also find there is plenty of money to invest in education in this State.
* The link overstates the State spending because it assumes 100% of the UC tuition and room/board, etc. cost is State government subsidized. Wrong. It's 11% of the budgeted sum, which would work out to a sum that is quite a bit less than the $32,500 average UC tuition, room/board, etc. costs per student.
** Here is the money quote from the article from Bloomberg:
"In Los Angeles County, where a quarter of the state’s $4.38 trillion in assessed property value is located, commercial and apartment buildings represented 60 percent of the tax rolls in 1975, while single-family homes accounted for 40 percent. Today that ratio is almost reversed."
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Oh, this is good. Really good...
This is one fun book review of a very interesting, if somewhat older book called "The Invention of Capitalism." It is a good tonic to the belief that Adam Smith was a kindly libertarian free-market guy who believed in small government. And it exposes how capitalism takes root, mostly with state action.
Let's try this mantra, shall we?
There will always be government. The essential question is for whom is the government working?
ADDENDUM: The author of the book in question is an economics professor from Chico State in California, Michael Perelman. I like him alot. If Obama was a real socialist, or someone economically populist, Professor Perelman would be the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers at the very least...:-)
Sunday, April 08, 2012
Punishing the poor through "reform." And now they're wanting to do the same with the middle class.
What I'm reading and have recently read...
I think I should blog more about what I read as I must admit it's somewhat eclectic compared to average readers.
Recently, I read a biography of Herman Mankiewicz (called "Mank") that was outstanding. The author was Richard Meryman, who wrote with an astute knowledge of the early 20th Century and with a penetrating sense of his subject. Meryman's insight and prose writing is often compelling and even brilliant, and his literary allusions are equally sharp and based upon a strong knowledge of literature and cultural history.
The publisher William Morrow published Meryman's biography in 1978 and is long out of print. It deserves a fresh edition and should be read in literature departments across colleges for those who want to understand the interplay of screenwriting and writing fiction in print form. Mankiewicz was far more of a player among the literary set of the 1920s and 1930s than I ever understood, and his style of screenwriting was informed by a strong knowledge of 19th Century novelists than I ever imagined. Mank's crowning achievement, writing much of the still amazing film, "Citizen Kane," arose from his newspaper writing experiences and his actually knowing both William Randolph Hearst and Hearst's mistress-wife Marion Davies.
I then finished "Desperate Remedies," Thomas Hardy's first novel from 1871, which has more twists and turns than just about any novel of its time--and perhaps even our own peripatetic time. We must, however, read Hardy with the annotations to help us understand colloquialisms and Hardy's use of literary allusions to the Bible and antiquity to truly digest and recognize the artistry in each of his novels. I find the annotations amazing to read, and they are definitely informative. Hardy's prose may also initially seem jarring to a 21st Century reader when first encountered, which may turn off such readers as either dense or "flowery." Hardy's prose is neither. His prose, in fact, is poetry rendered in prose form, and that is what makes him delicious to read for someone (yes, me) who has never been able to appreciate pure poetry. Hardy provides folks like me a sense of the joy of those who love reading poetry.
I then read "An Equal Music" (1999) by Vikram Seth, which did something I did not think possible, which was match and even eclipse "The Rosendorf Quartet" (English translation, 1991) by Nathan Shaham, in turning the emotional and intellectual power of music into prose, and deeply explore the lives of a musical quartet--which is sort of a polygamous marriage of four highly focused and individualistic people. Shaham's novel contains the more momentous back story about Jews escaping Europe for Palestine and eventually forming the State of Israel--which definitely drew my attention. Seth's book, on the other hand, is more narrowly focused about trying to rekindle lost love amidst life changes and decisions. This, though, gives Seth more freedom to focus on the music being played as he is not as concerned with the historical events sweeping over people's lives. Perhaps my personal bias in favor of Seth's book also springs from Seth's obvious love of Ralph Vaughan Williams and "The Lark Ascending," which makes more than several appearances in his graceful and powerful novel.
I am now reading the late Joan Peyser's "The Memory of All That: The Life of George Gershwin," (1993). The NY Times obituary linked to the mention of her name does no service to Peyser nor to her biography of Gershwin. I read the obit this morning after reading the first 50 plus pages of the book. Contrary to the obituary writer, Peyser's knowledge of music theory--and how to write about it--is both beautifully rendered and insightful. That she has also been able to write with insight about Gershwin's personality without sounding like a gossip magazine is a testament to her writing talent. The Times' obituary of Peyser is embedded with a condescending "ladies' writer" sensibility which is obviously sexist. Peyser's Gershwin biography is a must for any true fan of George Gershwin, even if we are going to learn his personality may not have been s'wonderful...:-)
I am also slowly reading through David Bernstein's legal text, "Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform," that is more an extended law review article about the Lochner case. It is certainly magisterial in explaining once and for all how Lochner is misunderstood as a curtailment of federal power when it concerns a state's power. He is making a good case that the decision should not be used as a shorthand of an era where capitalist principles were grafted onto the Constitution. Early on, though, his libertarian ideology comes through when he summarizes decisions of the US Supreme Court in the era that he said were "pro-women" because they overturned legislation that had benefited women--writing "George Sutherland strongly expressed his longstanding support for women's legal equality in a 1923 opinion he wrote invalidating a women-only minimum wage law as a violation of liberty of contract." (Page 5 of Bernstein's book)
That is the equivalent to the Lenny Bruce bit ("The Defiant Ones") where the white guy says to the black guy, "There's a lot of equality out there--people are just causin' trouble. For example, when it comes time to get drafted into th' army, you get drafted along with ev'ryone else, right? So that's equal. At income tax time, don't you pay taxes on what you make 'long wit' ev'ryone else? Well, that's equal, too. And when you rob a store, don't get the same time as ev'ryone else?" At that point, the black man in the bit, often played by a jazz musician appearing with Lenny, particularly Eric Miller, would interrupt and say, "But what about the segregated schools and segregated housing?" And the white guy, again Lenny, would answer: "Hey, you can't shove everything down people's throats there. Those things take a little time. You people need some patience!"
In the libertarian world view, federal or state legislation designed to stop the exploitation of women is bad, see? It makes women less equal to men. While Sutherland came from a tradition supporting women's rights (see the Wiki entry on Sutherland), his main motivation was the old standby by 1923, freedom of contract and exulting capitalist values. One also tires of the libertarian canard that the progressive movement was filled with sexists and racists as if those opposing them were the champions of civil rights. Sutherland was one of the few on the capitalist side who were not racist. It was in the air among the elite, along with eugenics and other racist and sexist positions. That we are appalled at Brandeis' famous brief containing sexist assumptions and statements 100 years plus later is a reason to look at the cultural trends of the time, not just convict Brandeis of sexism in a vacuum for current political posturing.
Bernstein's conclusion about Sutherland overturning the women's minimum wage legislation permeates Bernstein's larger analysis with which he is engaging the reader: That the law in the Lochner case, which set a limit on the number of hours one may work in a day or week at a bakery was bad legislation because the law limited the "freedom" of those who "want" to work long hours. My ideological bias, I guess, finds that to be an abhorrent sort of "freedom." I would say "So there's a freedom to starve" and Bernstein would say, "Yes, there is," and then he'd start to argue that poor houses and such would keep people from starving anyway. As with the white guy in Lenny's bit being in fact more wrong than right about whether there was equality in fact with respect to serving time for a crime, such an argument about the effects of private charity would also be more wrong than right. If poorhouses worked so well, why were people starving in the USA in 1967 according to the Field Foundation, which was a study of doctors who went into rural and urban areas and found true instances of starvation in our nation? Those who run soup kitchens are most often the most vociferous advocates of the type of government programs such as food stamps so railed against by people who agree with David Bernstein's libertarian ideology.
Bernstein also says the particular bakers who protested the law were acting against "special interests," i.e. unions and larger shop owners. That is an important perspective, but I see the legislation as ameliorative, and designed to protect workers being exploited with longer hours--even if we find some workers saying, "Yeah, I love working 15 hours a day in a hot, smoldering and often dangerous bakery!" I believe a legislature is well within its power to draw a line about the number of hours worked, and to do so in the name of stopping economic masochism. Call that "patriarchal" or "condescending" (I am not saying Bernstein is using those terms, just noting the argument libertarians often make), but those are cynical uses of those terms in my view.
Nonetheless, I see Bernstein as a true devil's advocate here, and he performs a great service because he demands we defend each step of ground not only with respect to Lochner, but the entire era where courts made a fetish of the "freedom to contract." The fact that our current president speaks in the sloppy way about Lochner that Bernstein criticizes is precisely the value of Bernstein's book.* Bernstein's endnotes are also a delight to read and more importantly ponder, which partly accounts for the slow reading I am giving his book. The other reason for my slow reading is this: I admit, at the end of long days of work and dealing with the synagogue and/or family, I want to be taken somewhere else other than my own life, as I mostly read just before falling asleep. Bernstein's book jars me awake with his detailed arguments and analysis that demands I defend my worldview. That admittedly makes me put his book down after careful reading of five or six pages (plus a couple of pages of endnotes)--and leads me to pick up Hardy or a biography of a long gone personality or historical figure. If I was a professor somewhere, I could read Bernstein's book in the light of day, devour its legal oriented prose (that is a compliment, most definitely for a book of this nature) and fully and actively engage it.
I wish people read more than "The Hunger Games" (a book I saw mostly women reading this week on multiple plane rides). However, seventy years ago, people were reading similarly trendy things. A trend is not a trend if it is not widely read to the point of being a cultural cliche...
* For at least two decades, I and likely some others have spoken of the US Supreme Court era from the 1870s through the mid-1930s as the era of "Gilded Age" jurisprudence, where capitalist ideology was grafted onto the Constitution. I therefore see the "New Deal" era of the Supreme Court that began in the late 1930s as a restoration of the Alexander Hamilton-John Marshall interpretation of the Constitution in the early history of the Republic. I see nearly any economic system the legislature legislates as constitutionally proper, whether it be mercantilist, socialist, fascist, capitalist, or anything in between and beyond--limited only by a "rational relation" test, as John Marshall tried to explain in McCulloch (1819) and Gibbons (1824). That this interpretation is somewhat at risk in the ACA (health insurance mandate) case is of more than current academic importance. My argument against the libertarian legal scholars is they want their world view of libertarianism to limit the scope of legislation under our Constitution. I am far more open to letting Congress pass legislation I abhor, i.e. laws that favor capitalists at the expense of workers, laws that mandate I have to buy health insurance from a private insurer, etc. When libertarians prattle on about "enumerated powers," they often do so in a manner antithetical to majority rules in the economic realm--while they would say they are promoting economic freedom, again using the word "freedom" in I think an ironic and often cynical way.
Sunday, April 01, 2012
A fascinating read about a dinner party...
This essay by the former Weatherpeople Underground leader, Bill Ayers, about him and his wife, fellow ex-domestic terrorist Bernardine Dorhn, hosting a dinner party attended by Tucker Carlson and his wife, Andrew Breitbart (alone) and two young reporters from the Daily Beast, Carlson's on line magazine, was deeply fascinating, and somewhat hopeful.
The way Breitbart reacted proved what I thought about Breitbart, which is that his bark was sometimes much more of a pose, and that deep down, he wanted to find a way to get along.
There is also a sneaking admiration for Ayers and Dorhn among the bomb-throwers of the political Right, similar to the way they admire the tactical analyses of Trotsky, Lenin, Mao and Stalin (Hint: Research the Internet for Grover Norquist and his admiration for Lenin, for one example). I think that is why Breitbart and his fellow "conservatives" are smiling so broadly in the photograph accompanying the article. Dorhn and Ayers know they are deeply de-legitimized outside of their circle. To be embraced by these stars of the "conservative" movement had to be...fun.
For me, I will readily admit that the dinner I'd like to have with a prominent "conservative" person of the 20th Century would probably start with Richard M. Nixon. Not Kissinger. Nixon. Nixon always struck me as a decent, knowledgeable and witty guy underneath his abiding bitterness and sometimes paranoia toward those in the elite who treated him badly. It would have been a great treat for me to listen to him play piano and talk about classical and other music he enjoyed. I think my wife and I would have liked Pat Nixon, too, for her abiding traditional teachers' personality that admired decorum, a traditional sense of respect and her longing for a home life uninterrupted by the ghoulishness that permeates corporate media.
Yet, I have to also admit, I consider what Nixon did in southeast Asia and in Chile to be war crimes. How to square that with my emotional sympathy for Nixon? I don't know if I can. It is because the USA is my country and I have a hard time emotionally distancing myself even from leaders I politically speaking detest. Heck, I like Obama and feel Michelle Obama is the hottest first lady ever! (I blush as I wrote that!) GW Bush may have been a tough sell for me, but not his Dad. Reagan, well, I always felt there was really nothing underneath his superficial personna, which may be more fascinating if I was a psychologist. I'd end up talking more with Nancy, as most did if they wanted to have a deeper exchange of heart-felt dialogue.
Nonetheless, my sympathy for Nixon is a strange phenomenon for which I have thought long and hard and find no satisfactory answer. It is why I think it is important for us as citizens to call out our leaders when they commit such crimes. We must at least say it to help us understand that if we were to so describe another nation's leader for the same misconduct, then we should do so when it is our nation's leader which commits the same crime.
Oh well. It was still a fascinating article...
Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews: Is it socialism after all?
Some interesting book reviews out there....
First, a solid review by historical fiction author Kevin Baker, one of the good guys, of Tim Weiner's fairly solid book about the FBI. Baker neatly summarizes how the FBI is used far more effectively to aggrandize government police power against unarmed citizens who dare to have views outside the corporate media mainstream than it does in stopping real terrorism. Still, I wonder how often the FBI gets most criminals it undertakes to arrest, and I bet the answer is that it is actually very good.
Weiner's book is salutary, however, because there is a need to update previous histories of the FBI, in all its abuses and glories. See here for a good compendium, which includes some famous books, such as Max Lowenthal's magesterial investigative history of the FBI, Sandy Ungar's book and Athan Theodaris' work, among others. Missing, however, is William Turner's tell-most-if-not-all about his years as the number three person with the FBI, as well as Anthony Summers' salacious biography of Hoover--though Curt Gentry's biography of Hoover is listed.
I think Summers' book is unfairly maligned, and Tim Weiner maligns Summers, consciously refusing to mention Summers' name when I searched through Weiner's book. He said the charge that Hoover was a closet homosexual was likely false, quoting Hoover publicist, Cartha De Loach, that Hover was not a homosexual at all. Weiner says next that anything to the contrary is "third hand" and therefore not believable. Summers' book is not third hand any more than De Loach's denial. Summers names names, including Joseph Shimon, who was a top inspector at the FBI DC office for years; Ethel Merman, a mid-century actress and singer who was a close friend of Hoover's and who openly stated after his death that she knew he was gay, and so what?; and a few others. Yes, there was the woman actress who said she once saw Hoover in a dress, but one can discount that one without losing the rest. Hoover and his top aide, and likely lover, Clyde Tolson, traveled at least once a year to the Del Mar Fairgrounds to watch dog races, staying at what were known as gay bungalows, which were ironically controlled by the Mob. Then, when we connect the dots as to Hoover's soft stance as to the Mob compared to say...Helen Keller and Martin Luther King, Jr. (true that), one sees how Weiner engaged in that time honored tradition befitting his history as a NY Times reporter denying something salacious when it comes to the power elite, unlike an "usurper" such as Bill Clinton. Nonetheless, with that caveat, Weiner has again performed a public service in dealing with the FBI's bungles and abuses that are systemic in a secret police organization, as opposed to just blaming one man, Hoover, and talking about mere "mistakes."
Second, a tightly argued review of Peter H. Diamandis' and Steven Kotler's book "Abundance," which rightly shows how technology will continue to lead us to greater convenience and humane results--if we have the political will to ensure the mass of humanity will have access to that technological abundance. The reviewer, Jon Gertner, knows he must stay tight by talking about his economic pessimism to counter the authors' optimism, and not give voice to a political version of the authors' optimism.
If the writer was not reviewing the book in the NY Times, he might have been free to speak about the democratic socialism of Michael Harrington: You know, where an open government uses technology to actually help us humans and other creatures on the planet instead of killing us. Can we imagine if we had the political will to have the doctor robots available alongside doctors throughout the nation? Can we imagine that we could immediately use solar energy to limit our fossil fuel abuse? One can go on, and simply say, the reason for pessimism is not because the authors' are wrong to be optimistic about technologies' advances. The reason for pessimism is that our nation, which should be the leading light in promoting technology, is undermining itself because it is systematically destroying the middle class and creating feudalistic structures where we rely upon the super rich to save us, as they pull up their drawbridges and fill their moats with water and crocodiles. And if people are impoverished, and have to rely on the largess of the super rich, there will be little improvement in the lives of millions and perhaps billions of people on this planet.
(Heck, even the gap between the information haves and have nots is becoming significant with the continued undermining of public education)
Harrington told us that democratic socialism is our language of political optimism, and twenty three years after his death, his insight remains compelling because it says, "Why not work together to build a garden, and why not fund the development of that garden through taxes so people are supported in that effort?" Remember, Marx openly derided Malthus as a tool of the rising capitalist class when Malthus said there was not enough food to go around. Marx said, There is more than enough food to distribute, and the beauty of capitalism is that it is pushing that supply ever upward. For Marx, the issue was whether there is a political will to use governments, unions and revolutionary councils (Take your pick or picks) to ensure that the gains are more evenly distributed. Not exactly equal, as any careful reading of Marx's overall writings would tell us (a major exception is the little pamphlet he and Engels wrote in a revolutionary moment in Europe in 1848), but something where people can decide in our legislatures to draw reasonable lines.
There was once a Brazilian priest who said, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist."
Third, an older review from early February I missed: Here is a nice review of Tracie McMillan's book on who is providing us with the food we eat and how the system of distributing food gives us false choices while exploiting the food workers. Indirectly, McMillan provides an example of the socialist-optimist sensibility that we need to restore in our political discourse. The reviewer does not deal with the last part, of course, because...that is again a systemic blind spot at the NY Times. For the Times, capital is king, and labor is well...the less said, the better, and it's always just so messy and outdated in each new "new economy" decade--which is rarely new at all (as Anthony Trollope's great 1850s book reminds us here).
What's interesting about McMillan's book is how she has had to endure personal attacks from putzim like this from the San Francisco Chronicle. The libertarian minded fellow at the Chronicle thought McMillan was just slumming with the poor agricultural workers and servers at Applebee's and had no sense of how the "real" people live and how they think (He even cited a film I loved, "Sullivan's Travels"). When one reads McMillan's autobiography on her website, one realizes why the cook at Applebee's recognized how well she worked in her manual labor position--and that's because McMillan performed precisely those sorts of jobs as a teenager after her mother's tragic death when McMillan was just 16. She had five jobs at one point while attending NYU on a partial scholarship. But my response to the putz reviewer from the Chronicle is, Why does it matter whether she is "slumming"? What makes people planting a garden in a blighted area so ominous that it should lead to a snarky comparison with the Soviet Union's gulags? As usual with too many (but not all) libertarians, the putz is more fearful of community gardens than gulags. He'd ultimately rather see the gulags built by private enterprise, or through a government that otherwise supports private enterprise.
We so need the language and sensibility of democratic socialism to balance and enrich our political discourse. Only then will we regain some optimism in our discourse, and promote a more humane alternative to the Slate.com contrarianism, libertarian claptrap about gold standards or devolving the few areas of our nation's government that do help people, as well as the general dystopian fulminations into which even I descend as I survey the choice for president we are likely to face this year.
This review of book reviews has turned into a theme, hasn't it? Interesting that...So let's complete this theme, shall we?
For those who would like to understand more about Harrington, one should read his works directly, starting with "Socialism" (1972), "The Twilight of Capitalism" (1975) and "Socialism: Past and Future" (1989). See also this beautiful essay from a Christian professor from over 20 years ago in the Christian conservative magazine, First Things, which reviews that last book. The essay is one of the best explications of Harrington's vision I have read on the Internet. Of course, one may disagree with Max L. Stackhouse' attack on scientific methods that Marx championed, but that is really not important at the point one is reading this again beautiful essay. And here is another "conservative" writing very respectfully about Harrington.
Stackhouse and George Shadroui help us understand why Bill Buckley, in his last years, said that if he was entering Yale in the 2000s, he'd not be a "conservative," but a devotee of Michael Harrington. And that is, again, because Harrington speaks to a political, economic and social optimism that is long gone from the "conservative" movement, and only exists in non-media pockets of leftist activism, which then gets bashed and derided by the Slate.com set. "What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?" indeed.
Socialism is a the political sensibility through which we should guide our humanity, Harrington last wrote as he saw the dictatorial edifices collapse in Eastern Europe while he lay dying of cancer in 1989. It is not the answer to the present, it is a goal. It is not the answer to all public policy problems, as public policy problems will require compromises, balance of public and private spheres, and ensuring openness in government and corporations to protect the public that often pays little attention to anything beyond what is personal to each individual. Socialism is, however, like scientific inquiry, the default philosophy we need to embrace for our future if we are to have some hope for humanity as a species. It's what E.O. Wilson is backing into as he recognizes altruism is an important part of a species' survival. It is obviously not negating the existence or virtues of selfishness, but we don't have to decide that only selfishness is the natural way of things. Wilson is definitely coalescing and harmonizing his world view--and most ironically with Stephen Jay Gould's worldview, though Wilson remains more optimistic about scientific and cultural consilience than Gould did (I find myself more in tune with Wilson these days on that...).
And if all that sounds religious, it isn't. Democratic socialism is not a religion. It is instead a political ideology. As with Wilson's consilience, democratic socialism is the political consequence of that harmonizing of our culture and science, and it will likely be the most effective world view we'll need to have to save us from a dystopic application of science and technology to our lives.