Saturday, July 28, 2012

Putting the Lie in LIBOR

The 2008 LIBOR scandal is so open and obvious, so much an example of how banksters manipulate nearly anything and everything if they wish, that maybe, just maybe, we citizens will begin to notice that maybe it's not the undocumented workers, public employee unions and homosexuals we should worry about. Or maybe start to notice that the lives of rich people in reality shows are not worth watching and giving up our time.

Nah.

That would mean we might even notice the two candidates in the Property Party, Obama and Romney, are essentially the same when it comes to serving the financial elite.

"Goldman Sachs '12. We always win."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The politics of the NBA and the Internet

Are some conservatives and anti-government zealots really so shallow? Too often there is evidence of an inability to analyze a sub-system, whether it is in sports or technological advances--or especially the interplay between government and business.

Here is Matt Yglesias' take down of retiring Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl's defense of the super rich where Kyl cited Michael Jordan. The vacuum of perspective and knowledge on the part of Kyl as to how the NBA works and worked in the instance of Jordan is quite stunning.

Here is Michael Hiltzik's take down of the attempt of an anti-government zealot (writing in the Wall St. Journal) to minimize the role of government in the creation of the Internet. And again Yglesias makes the point that the innovations that led to the creation of the technology for the Internet came at a time of much higher income tax rates on the wealthy sectors of society.

When I think about computers, railroads, canals, roads, bridges, school buildings, libraries, post office buildings, subways, planes, etc., I guess our government did know how to spend better than rich people. The worry about a particular NEA grant funding a particular piece of artwork seems rather trivial, doesn't it?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Alexander Cockburn 1941-2012

I had no idea he was ill, and he wanted it that way.

I always liked reading Cockburn, though I sometimes, not quite often filtered his opinions from his factual presentations. Before the age of the Internet, Cockburn (along with his then writing cohort James Ridgeway), then writing in The Village Voice, was vital to knowing what was going on in the Middle East, such as when Israel began its 1982 Lebanon War. Cockburn would provide information from the Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz that was completely at odds with the US newspapers of record that helped readers understand the corruption behind Israel's decision to go to war and what was happening during that war. We did not have to agree with his consistently harsh conclusions about the nature of Israeli governments to understand something was rotten in this instance, and he was helpful in pointing to the Israeli soldiers who returned from that war and joined in protests against that war. It was in those moments that one reaffirmed how dynamic, intelligent and brave Israeli society was, and why it was worth preserving, notwithstanding Cockburn's deep dislike of Israel as a nation.

Cockburn also helped us understand just how many people Stalin killed during the 1930s and 1940s, even if his numbers were ultimately lower than what his readers could conclude from his analyses. I recall him arguing numbers in The Nation in the 1980s where he and historian Jerry Hough were pretty effective in showing the numbers were less than I had been taught and learned through more mainstream sources, though Cockburn's attacks on the work of people like Robert Conquest proved hollow to me. See, for example, Cockburn's letter exchange with Conquest in The Nation's archives, August 7/14, 1989 issues where Cockburn makes some very powerful points.

Further, it was Cockburn and later I.F. Stone who steered me to Victor Serge, with Cockburn sometimes sneering at Serge, and Stone revering Serge (I stand with Stone in deeply admiring Serge). I was so pleased to also learn when I met Robert Conquest at a book fair in Los Angeles some years ago how much he revered Serge. He flattered me, saying, "So few people know about Serge, and I am very glad you have read him."

Cockburn had his quirky side. He was a Brit who lived in northern California for the past 35 years or so. He crankily disagreed with climate change scientists, sounding increasingly like Williams Jennings Bryan railing against evolution (see this article from Cockburn and the wonderful essay on Bryan by the evolutionist Stephen Gould in his book of essays, "Bully for Brontosaurus"). On subjects such as evolution and now climate change, Bryan and now Cockburn remind us there is almost always politics embedded within science and we have to be careful about how we draw conclusions from lab experiments, scientific observations and the like.

Cockburn also had his mean side, particularly his ridiculous attacks on Eric Alterman--who gave as good as he got from Cockburn. Here is a splice which unfortunately shows Alterman acting more petulantly than Cockburn (I was trying to find something more substantive, where Alterman makes some trenchant points, as well).

Cockburn came from as notable a family as Gore Vidal. Cockburn's father was, of course, the great Red journalist of the 1920s and 1930s, Claud Cockburn (Claud's autobiography, published in the US as "A Discord of Trumpets" is required reading for any aspiring journalist even in this Internet age). Cockburn's great-great grandfathers included the British rear admiral, George Cockburn, who burned down the White House during the War of 1812 while saving the lives of African-American slaves and moving them to freedom, and Henry Cockburn, a respected Scottish jurist of the early 19th Century and noted writer of his day.

Cockburn's brother, Andrew, is an amazing journalist who writes in a scholarly way about hot war zones, military expenditures and the like (Andrew's "The Threat" remains one of the most prescient attacks on the Soviet military ever written). And his nieces include the lefty and often brilliant pundit, Laura Flanders, and the talented and yes, beautiful Olivia Wilde.

While those who are not leftists, and even a few leftists will say, Good riddance, I say, I am going to deeply miss Alexander Cockburn. His prose was always brilliant, and he was one of those writers willing to dig deep for facts and make connections that most would miss. He was far more illuminating than most writers in corporate owned media. He was able to write about the sex scandals of British royalty of the early 19th Century in the midst of the Clinton sex scandals and draw connections nobody else was drawing, not only from the politics of the moment, but the way in which the cultures had responded. Cockburn was a unique writer, a gifted writer and one who understood the accomplishments of his family and gleaned insights from those accomplishments.

I'd say rest in peace, but Cockburn was a proud atheist and would have shouted "Rubbish!" if I said that.:-) As you wish, sir.

NOTE: Readers interested in Cockburn in book form could do no better than read "Corruptions of Empire." It is funny, journalistic and scholarly, and very much engaged with the society in which Cockburn and we have lived.

ADDENDUM 7/31/12: Dennis Perrin has posted the two initial columnsabout the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Reading them, I am again reminded about how prescient Cockburn was regarding the true intentions of the Afghan mullahs and their fundamentalist supporters in Afghanistan. It was certainly harsh, but I again recall thinking in 1984, when one of the rebel leaders in Afghanistan told then newsman, Dan Rather, that after they were through with the Soviets, they would turn against the West, that maybe Cockburn was onto something....

Monday, July 16, 2012

Explaining the apostasy of David Frum

I had heard Frum was from Canada, but I did not know the family connection, and frankly, had not recalled Barbara Frum, his late mother.

This article in The Nation is fascinating reading about the former Bush II speechwriter who coined the phrase "axis of evil" but who has been very critical of the loss of rationality within the larger Republican Party.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Happy Centennial Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie is the great troubadour of America. And one of the great American Reds of the early to mid-20th Century.

Here is one of my favorite songs from Guthrie. It closed out the wild film, "Bob Roberts" a fictional story about the corporate sponsored anti-Guthrie and his ultimately successful quest for the US Senate.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The capitalists who love dictatorships of or for capitalists

This post from Corey Robin provides yet another example of a business libertarian avatar of capitalism supporting an outright fascist dictator.

Hayek loved Pinochet more than Paul Robeson ever loved Joseph Stalin.

What's remarkable about this is not that it occurred, since the story of Milton Friedman's affair with Pinochet is well known. What is remarkable is that Hayek's most penetrating analysis for lots of people is Hayek's belief that the reason we can't have the "command economy" (i.e. the welfare state) is because the best results come from allowing the market's cacophony to sing, with its essential sense of the "unplanned." Hayek said it was a conceit to think our government could organize industrial policy to pick winners or losers.

This sort of analysis has many adherents, including Nassim Nicholas Teleb's "The Black Swan."*

Yet, there is Hayek gushing forth with praise for "transitional" dictatorships of the capitalist and military class, as if he was Karl Marx and Lenin waxing about the transitional dictatorship of the proletariat, and being very specific in supporting Pinochet in Chile and Salazar in Portgual.

This, again, is not unusual. Bill Buckley openly loved Salazar and especially Franco in Spain, yet Buckley never had to endure the attacks still made on I.F. Stone for supposedly loving the North Vietnamese government, which was simply a lie made "truthy" by constant repeating (nearly the same can be said about Stone's "support" for Castro, which was tepid in the beginning, and then outright critical of Castro by 1962).

And we know the Dulles brothers played as much if not more "footsy" with Nazi and Fascist leaders in Germany and Italy before, during and after WWII, as well as the Japanese warlords before and after WWII, than Alger Hiss played with the Russians--yet, the Dulles brothers are venerated, and Hiss assigned to the dustbin of history or infamy. I am not defending Hiss here, but making a simple point about the inconsistency of language we use and conclusions we are told to draw about the way in which the intellectuals and political elite divide up their loyalties to dictators and which get the protection of corporate media and "History" and which are attacked.

Oh well. Hayek is nicely exposed by Corey Robin as another business libertarian who loves his dictators. And it further develops Robin's thesis of the consistency of those on the so-called political Right in defending the economically privileged few against the masses.

And this year, those folks tend to be supporting Romney...See this delicious NY Times article about the way the current American rich folks have completely left any sense of how regular Americans think...

* I read most of Teleb's fairly entertaining book. The book started off very strongly, but then faded due to its repetition and ultimate smugness in making the point that since we can't predict the unpredictable, it makes no sense to ever expect the predictable--as if just because we are not perfect, we should not even try for the reasonably effective.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Thoughts about the state of our nation on July 4th, 2012...

Want to know what is in store for us after the election, whether Obama or Romney wins? Read this post and the links to it.

Read it and wonder a bit less why I keep saying if we live in CA at least, we should step out of the duopoly of the Property Party (Democratic and Republican) and consider voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party.

One may only vote for Obama to save women's reproductive rights in the short term and maybe one or two more Supreme Court nominees. But the price of that is the further destruction of the middle class in America, and the further destruction of Social Security UNLESS a plurality of Americans stepped out of the duopoly of the Property Party. It would be ridiculous to vote for Romney. Anyone who votes for Romney just hastens the middle class' destruction and undermines women's reproductive freedom.

That's this election 2012 in a nutshell, and on July 4th, we should be pretty upset about that.

Meanwhile, did anyone notice how two former major league superstars, Don Larsen and Jim Palmer, are selling their uniforms and Cy Young Award trophies, respectively, to help their grandchildren for college, or in Palmer's case, also helping an autistic grandchild? All because our nation wants to keep rewarding millionaires with lower and lower taxes (capital gains taxes, especially) while (1) dropping our nation's commitment to government subsidizing higher education and (2) refusing to enact Medicare for All.

And let's notice these two baseball icons not giving their grandchildren a trust fund or a boatload of money to loaf. The money is being given to keep the grandchildren out of the crushing debt so many younger people have who are attending or who have attended college.

The best we can say about ourselves today is that we are victims of a relentless corporate broadcast media propaganda that diverts us when it is isn't misleading us. We are also led by a group of careerists who, as I have said in the past (see here and here, for example), are players.

A friend just sent me this link from libertarian law professor, Bryan Caplan, who rightly recognizes that John Roberts and Ben Bernanke are players, and that's why they can't even make their own calls, whether one agrees with them or not, for fear of losing the cultural and economic trappings that come with their being on the "inside." Obama is like this, too, and Romney is so far in he actually agrees with the economic elite to a point of loving devotion. Obama, deep down, knows he's just a phony player. Romney has drunk the Purple Kool Aid and has merely and temporarily lost the consciousness that his entire life has been based on overcoming his deep and personal sense of remorse and embarrassment that his father did not become president. Only after Romney's defeat, like the "defeat" of Al Gore in 2000, will Romney remember why his father, George, was right about things after all.

Still, one should not be depressed today. Eat the food, drink the drinks and enjoy our friends today. I'm working a bit this morning, so off I go, but really, today is not the day for lamentations. Tomorrow is, and for the rest of this campaign season at least....