Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mark Lilla, shallow professor

Professor Mark Lilla of Columbia University, who we last saw misunderstanding Corey Robin's marvelous book, has finally revealed himself as a "Sex and the City" cultural liberal who thinks Nixon's domestic policies were too liberal-left.

His book review on Charles Keslers' delusional book on Obama is one where I share about 70% agreement, but the rest is what an old friend from Tennessee called a "head shot." It never occurs to Lilla that the destruction of the middle class may be due to the confluence of Reagan and Clinton in opposing labor law reform, opposing tariff policies that would protect American industry and workers in those industries, and their obsessive support for trade deals that codify the trends that undermine American workers' salaries, wages and benefits.

In his zeal to ridicule Kesler, Lilla never feels the need to admit that he likes the very thing that scares Kesler and his allies, which is the rise in personal freedom, particularly for those who want to sleep with and have sexual relations with those of the same sex. This is part of the id for those who feel like Obama portends the culmination of cultural change that so scares these folks.

What surprised me too was the failure of Lilla, the good Nixonian liberal, to focus at all on the issue of Obama's mixed race as something underneath the fear and delusions among the right wing. Gays and blackness are the raw id of the fear: Barack Hussein Obama is president of the United States. He must be some sort of alien radical, right?

But enough of that. That's what most political commentators in the liberal-left blogosphere will focus on in the Lilla review.

For me, I want to show why I think Lilla is not as smart as his Columbia University credentials would lead us to believe, which is quite surprising since Columbia was ground zero for the topic I am to discuss.

Lilla's review assumes Kesler is as deluded to talk about the Germanic influence on American political and scholarly leaders in the late 19th Century, including Woodrow Wilson, as it is to talk about Obama being a wild-eyed socialist.

In fact, in 1922 or 1923, Upton Sinclair wrote a brilliant book about the intellectual and financial corruption in higher education called "The Goose Step," where he noted along the way that most of the college presidents starting in the 1880s were educated in Germany at some point along the way in their lives and were influenced by German philosophers, not merely Hegel, but Kant, Goethe, and a host of other names not normally talked about in most American bars or kitchen tables, Karl Marx loudly excepted, not accepted (The most notorious president of Columbia, Nicholas Murray Butler, who ran Columbia from the end of the 19th and through the first three decades of the 20th Century, kept the German influence going well after many other university presidents had finally begun to abandon it.). In fact, the summary in Wikipedia of Sinclair's book is worth reading because it explains how the financiers and wealthy conservative economic elite were the ones who supported these American university presidents in their zeal for order, efficiency and worker obedience, and supported the pseudo science of eugenics that rightfully make us disgusted, especially since the Nazi era in German history.

Most of these intellectuals at the American universities were scientifically oriented and often critical of religion and religious folkways. That's why poor deluded fellows like Kesler think such folks are "liberal" in the modern sense of the term. These intellectuals, however, were also deeply racist and sexist, unlike the modern cultural liberal, and then often used science to support their racist and sexist prejudices. Lest anyone think these late 19th Century and early 20th Century folks were like New Deal liberals, these men were also strongly anti-labor and pro-capital, and those who lived long enough opposed the New Deal.

That leads us to something else: What made these men marvel at Germany, and things German, in the late 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century was that Germany had very little labor and other internal strife during that time while the US was convulsed in labor strife and angry farmers losing their land during the start of what we would later call "agribusiness." This was also because the famed German chancellor Otto Bismarck, the "conservative liberal," had, in the early to mid-1870s, presided over creation of various government programs designed to blunt what these men most feared, which was revolutionary activity against capitalism and the elite dominated State. Under Bismarck and his initial successors, the German trade union movement was allowed to grow, but only as a brake on the more revolutionary activities Marx and others had not always consistently endorsed (Marx tended toward the revolutionary for Germany, but not England, precisely because there were severe political limitations in Germany that most modern Americans would find equally offensive as Marx did in his time).

Some folks in the libertarian and conservative movement these days love to talk about the eugenics movement as if it was the province of Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes liberals. It was not. It was widespread among the American intellectual and economic elite, and if anything, it was here we saw a reversal of influence: Where American geneticists influenced not only American economic elites, both conservative and liberal, but also German political thinkers and scientists. When mixed with the German Jew-hatred (ever present even in Karl Marx's and Moses Hess' time), eugenics provided the last spark for the rise of Nazism. See Edwin Black's book on the eugenics philosophy that exerted a wide scope and acceptance among the most often conservative economic elite in the USA and then later in Germany.

All of this should be understood because Kesler is not completely wrong to speak of the German connections and influence in the late 19th Century and first decade of the 20th Century America. The problem is where people like Jonah Goldberg and Glenn Beck, and possibly Kesler, want to say this is why the New Deal is fascist and that modern Democratic Party stalwarts who are liberal minded are really fascist and even influenced by German Nazis.

Part of the reason the attacks on the New Deal from that perspective are absurd is that the German influence ended in any conscious way as a result of the anti-German legislation (which Wilson supported) passed by various States after the start of the European "Great War" (later called World War I) in 1914, and the manner in which all things "German" were thereafter deemed foreign, subversive and downright alien.

Again, it is ironic to both Lilla's ignorance and Kesler's politics, that the people in the American elite who were most enamored with things German in the 1920s through late 1930s were the people who opposed the New Deal, people like, ahem, Nicholas Murray Butler of Lilla's Columbia, and folks like William Bullitt and other diplomats in the US State Department. The left-liberal types who liked aspects of Wilson's domestic policies, and who played roles in implementing the New Deal in the 1930s with FDR, had limited their citations of German philosophers for the most part if not completely by then.

In all, Lilla was a perfect reviewer for the NY Times, since he seems to be oblivious to the manner in which American intellectual thought was influenced by Germanic philosophers and politicians in different ways during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. I'm sure he has no idea how much the NY Times itself was part of that line of thinking, and how the Times endorsed Mussolini from the early 1920s through early 1930s, and has been consistently hostile to labor unions in ways that would make Bismarck blush.

Sleep tight, Professor Lilla. You'll live just long enough (he's a year older than me) to see our nation break apart into regions by the 2030s, and only then you may begin to understand how foolish you have been to "cringe at the name McGovern." (See: first page of his review).

FUN NOTE: Wouldn't it be funny to learn that Charles Kesler is himself of German heritage? It might explain why he writes with such verve against German 19th Century liberalism...Self-hatred is a harsh mistress who demands never ending loyalty against the cause. :-)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Outstanding article on the strains of and within Zionism

Bernard Avishai is outstanding here in the Nation review of Beinart's book released earlier this year.

An education campaign...

If you've ever been in the bowels of what odious people like Mary Matalin and James Carville do for a living, they'll tell you, when you want to talk about working people's needs and improving the lives of working people, "Well, we're not interested in an 'education' campaign." And then they'll show you a tape of the opposing candidate in college getting arrested for a fraternity prank and say, "That's what this campaign is about."

The strange thing about this year's campaign is that Mitt Romney, by being the living personification of a Daddy Warbucks, Dagwood Bumstead's boss and Little Lord Fauntleroy all rolled into one walking gaffe machine, is backing himself into a "reverse education" campaign.

We are at last talking about the venal greed, stupidity and meanness of the wealthy economic elite and the manner in which our society has become so terribly stratified. And people are really learning they can talk about it, and even be rude about it in a way they thought they can only be rude when talking about people with darker skin, undocumented workers and the poor.

This Jon Stewart bit is hilarious, and I have never felt so much joy at seeing people deflated and ridiculed as those two psychologists to the super rich. Jason Jones, the "correspondent/comedian" has never been better.

Still, the thing which will stop this education campaign from really meaning anything is, well, Mr. Obama himself. He really does not feel comfortable riling up people the way the Jason Jones segment does. He really does not want to help poor and working class people with anything resembling a New Deal system of programs, and he certainly thinks unions have no usefulness in modern society. He is a free-traitor who is actively planning to unveil after the election a Trans Asian Trade deal that will be as horrible as the World Trade Organization.

Too bad, but the more Romney keeps on gaffing along, the more we may see people ready for someone who talks about the New Deal as a realistic set of policies.

(Edited)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

William Henry Seward, one of the greatest Americans

This New Yorker article, which summarizes a new biography of William Henry Seward, is still not as great as Seward was. It's a great introduction to Seward, but not enough.

I will definitely be looking to read the new biography by Walter Stahr.

I have long felt that Doris Kearns Goodwin's "A Team of Rivals" was really supposed to be about Seward, but her publisher probably pressured her not to write a biography on someone most Americans would see as a second stringer behind many presidents and other Secretaries of State. Those Americans, however, are wrong to feel that way.

Seward is a first stringer American leader. He was not a president, but he was a great adviser to a great president. He was both a deep visionary and a brilliant orator--and a most impressive political figure. He once said in the mid 1860s that the 20th Century would ultimately be about the rivalry of Russia and America. That is why he pushed to buy Alaska from the Russians, and even lied about Russian bribery that was used to get US congressmen to vote for it. Not pretty and frankly not something I can support, but man, he was not going to be denied. Kind of like LBJ that way...

ADDENDUM: I own a 1904 edition of Seward's biography of John Quincy Adams. It is flowery in that 19th Century manner, and was written about two years after Adams' death in 1848. It is a fascinating read, nonetheless, and only heightened my respect for Seward, as he recognized that Adams was the last link to the Founders' generation. He also saw why Adams was a most amazing man, especially regarding the cause of fighting against slavery and against the James Madison imposed gag rule in Congress that had kept the discussion of slavery under wraps for far too long.

No union solidarity in the NFL. So what else is new?

For big, tough, well off guys, we have another example of the cowardice of NFL players.

This time, it's the refusal of the NFL players to sit out in solidarity with the referees on strike. The games get more ridiculous, as in last night's game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks and the owners don't care, because the players keep playing.

Back in the 1980s, the NFL players tried a strike, and failed to hold the line. While the public watched replacement players in almost as ridiculously embarrassing games, the players could have held together more--but didn't. Gastineau, Largent, Montana. These guys broke fast and early to join the scabs.

It is not surprising that the NFL has more restrictions on free agency than major league baseball and the NBA. It is not surprising that the NFL has lower salaries overall than these two other sports. The NFL has hard salary caps, the other two leagues' either do not or have soft salary caps, even as the NFL grabs a lot of television revenue, more than the other two leagues.

The lesson is not learned by NFL players...

ADDENDUM: Dave Zirin of The Nation has more about how the NFL owners are being super greedy in stepping on the striking refs.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The new Obama birth conspiracy...

A colleague of mine referred me to this theory the other day. And it is now going mainstream in the Republican Party because the right wing is still harping on the Sixties and Communist leanings when it comes to Democratic Party candidates for high office (Remember when Clinton was thought to be a Communist too?) Well, at least the right wing is starting to realize Obama was, like Bruce Springsteen, born in the USA.

Unlike the Kenya birth conspiracy, this theory does has some plausibility. There is something strange about Frank Marshall Davis hanging around at all with the grandparent Dunhams, considering what we originally learned about Obama's white grandparents was that they were racists back in the 1950s and into the 1960s.

Still, I am wondering what happens to the theory if it turns out the pornographic photos of Obama's mother are not Obama's mother at all, or if they are a clever photoshop.

The stuff about Obama's white grandfather, Stan Dunham, being a CIA agent is a line that always makes me wince--and think the person making the CIA agent allegation is wearing a tin-foil hat. But wouldn't it have been delicious if Stan Dunham was a CIA agent, and Frank Davis, the Communist, turned out to be a double agent, with the ultimate agency being with the CIA?

It sure would explain Obama's initial pivots left in his youth, and then serving the financial elite and foreign policy establishment as an adult. :-)

The problem with the new theory is less about who was Obama's father. The problem is that the right wingers think that simply because Obama's "real" father was a Commie, and his mother was a Sixties hippie-commie, Obama must be one too. Sorry right wing conspirators. Obama's actions are what we need to judge, not his parental heritage. If parentage was the major factor, why aren't the right wing conspirators afraid of Rick Santorum, whose family in Italy are Communists, and whose grandfather was a Communist?

Oh, wait I forgot. Santorum is white. As Randy Newman has sung about...

Again, though, it is possible Frank Marshall Davis is Obama's real father and one need not be a racist to believe that is true. It is just that who is Obama's "real father" is meaningless about who he is today.

And for those right wingers who say parentage is destiny, then I want them to explain whether they feel the same way about Santorum. If not, they have the burden of proof to say why they are not racist.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

So how many jobs did Mitt Romney create with his low tax rate?

Reading Kevin Drum's analysis just makes me see red--or is that Red?

So taxing Romney at 39% on the margin instead of the ridiculously low capital gains tax rate of 15% would leave him no incentive to get up and be productive in the morning?

It is to laugh...

The true legacy of Jeffersonian business practices...

This is a fascinating and deeply moving article about the economics of slavery, as practiced by one T. Jefferson...It begins in a dry manner, and does not appear to make the case early on about Jefferson's behavior, but as it goes on, it becomes riveting. The comparison with Washington at the end is most devastating to Jefferson's undeserved reputation for being a champion of liberty; and yet, the article could have been even harsher on Jefferson--by comparing his behavior with that of Hamilton and Adams, who, by the late 1770s, hated and rejected slavery as an institution inconsistent with the best American values.

Also, I wonder if this is what some of those who paid $50,000 to hear Mitt Romney whine about the 47% who won't vote for him mean when they look back fondly on the old days when the poor and workers "knew their place"....

Friday, September 21, 2012

I.F. Stone dictum proven again...

I.F. Stone famously said "All governments lie."

Here is Glenn Greenwald laying out the various lies in the bin Laden raid and killing and then exposing the lie from the Obama administration as to the reason for the attack on the US embassy where the US diplomat was killed. The administration kept insisting for the first week or so that this was spontaneous and due to the anti-Muslim video. I kept wondering, it sure looked like it was coordinated; why was the administration insisting it was spontaneous?

Well, looks like they gave up that ghost, though it is taking some analysis from Greenwald to push through the fog that the administration was creating. As Greenwald says, the fog of war answer does not exonerate the administration. It proves the administration is using a fog machine to create the fog of ignorance among our populace.

ADDENDUM 10/21/12: Maybe Stone's dictum is not fully at work here.

It now looks like neither Greenwald or I reviewed Obama's and Susan Rice's initial statements with enough care. Both were saying there were spontaneous protests against the anti-Muslim video. However, Obama was also clear in immediately calling the act in Benghazi part of what are "acts of terror" (Obama). And Rice said that violent militants took over the protest, and the militants had "heavy weapons."

Key phrases in Obama speech (two sentences in a row below from transcript):

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.
Today we mourn for more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.


And here is Rice speaking in her now supposedly infamous NBC "Meet the Press" interview on September 16, 2012:

GREGORY: Well, let’s talk-- talk about-- well, you talked about this as spontaneous. Can you say definitively that the attacks on-- on our consulate in Libya that killed ambassador Stevens and others there security personnel, that was spontaneous, was it a planned attack? Was there a terrorist element to it?

MS. RICE: Well, let us-- let me tell you the-- the best information we have at present. First of all, there’s an FBI investigation which is ongoing. And we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired. But putting together the best information that we have available to us today our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of-- of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video. What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding. They came with heavy weapons which unfortunately are readily available in post revolutionary Libya. And it escalated into a much more violent episode. Obviously, that’s-- that’s our best judgment now. We’ll await the results of the investigation. And the president has been very clear--we’ll work with the Libyan authorities to bring those responsible to justice.


She is clearly saying there was more than something spontaneous protesting going on, and talking about militants getting guns and engaging in violence. She did not use the word "terror" or "terrorist," but it is ridiculous to conclude she is not talking about a terrorist act.

The media clearly wanted the anti-Muslim video to be the story. The Obama administration did not work harder to push that down because it frankly did not appear to know it had nothing to do with the Benghazi attack at the time. Hence, its caution, and its inadvertently allowing the media to push the video story without pushing back on it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pass the popcorn in the Posner and Scalia fight...

Justice Scalia has called Judge Posner a "liar" for stating Scalia cites "legislative history" in the Heller (recognition of the individual right to bear arms under the Second Amendment).

Posner's New Republic review of the Scalia-Garner book on jurisprudence is here.

Garner's response and Posner's rejoinder in the pages of the New Republic is here.

On the question of whether Posner is right or wrong in saying Scalia is citing legislative history" in Heller, I side more with...Scalia. Posner says he meant "legislative history" in the broad sense that would include philosophical and historical sources outside the drafters of the provision in question. I think Posner is being too loose and therefore Scalia is right that he did not use "legislative history" in the usual sense.

Here is what I wrote about Heller when it was decided. I wrote in part:

Justice Scalia, who claims to be a texturalist and originalist, found himself, in three of the most recent Supreme Court decisions, reaching conclusions using historical and philosophical scholarship concerning the essence of the Constitution--Egad, like a "common law" judge!--in Heller (the 2nd Amendment case), Giles (the 6th Amendment case concerning the confrontation clause) and Indiana v. Edwards (another 6th Amendment case concerning self-reprsentation).

Notwithstanding my more careful phrasing, I came up with the same conclusion as Posner, which is that Scalia's textualism gives way to rather philosophical and historical meanderings that make him sound more like the "living Constitutionalists" he so loudly despises. Scalia's jurisprudence on the 11th Amendment and state sovereignty cases in the late 1990s was equally inconsistent with his texturalist stance, and even inconsistent with his originalist slant (particularly true with his support of the majority opinion in Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 750 (1999)).

(Note: I ripped into Scalia a few days after my original post on Heller when it was brought to my attention how vitriolic Scalia was with Justice Stevens' dissenting opinion. See my post here).

So I ultimately side with Posner that Scalia is terribly inconsistent and I suppose "incoherent" in his judicial philosophy. However, on the more narrow issue regarding the definition of "legislative history," I think Scalia is right to cry foul, though "liar" is sadly typically Scalian in its personal invective and hyperbole.

Oh the irony...

This article and chart explain how Romney's remarks are politically speaking ironic...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nutty-Yahoo must realize he can't invade Iran during the US election season

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu must realize that if he ordered the Israeli military to invade or bomb Iran, it would end up helping President Obama in his re-election. So Netanyahu has tried instead a risky and bold move of attempting to shame Obama into supporting an Israeli strike against Iran.

This latest article, which followed earlier articles about Netanyahu demanding a face to face meeting with Obama, reveals that must be Netanyahu's strategy. So far, it is failing and even some politicians have had the guts to stand up to Netanyahu's statements and tactics. See US Senator Barbara Boxer's (D-CA) letter to Netanyahu (though if she was not Jewish herself, the hounds of the pro-Israel lobby would likely be branding her anti-Semitic).

Does this mean Netanyahu will not attack Iran before the November elections in the US? Despite my statements above, who really knows at this point?

We do note that prominent Israeli military and military intelligence figures have opposed any such attack on Iran, though many American Jews who affiliated with temples or synagogues are not much aware of that. Such fellow congregants are fed propaganda, that mostly travels through elderly Jews' emails, that make Obama sound like the bad guy as opposed to Netanyahu.

Still, the threat of an Israeli attack against Iran remains real. Heck, if Romney were to win, one may bet the Israelis attack Iran in late November or December. But then Netanyahu will find out that Romney, like Bush II, Reagan and Eisenhower before him would not be so supportive if an Israeli preemptive attack leads to more chaos and violence against Americans in the Middle East or elsewhere, especially here on our home turf.

It is ultimately a delusion to think US leaders have the same interests as Israeli leaders, whether that delusion emanates from anti-Semitic sources or from American politicians vying for Jewish Americans' campaign donations. Each nation has its own interests to protect, starting with our own. It's that simple and clear.

Anti-Intellectualism alive and kicking with Rick Santorum

Sometimes Richard Hofstadter's "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" is worth pulling out after one hears what Rick Santorum recently said.

Santorum first insults his own audience, saying they are not very smart--and they are applauding this line of thought. Second, Santorum's "reasoning" that smart people at universities and colleges are always telling people what to do, unlike he and his socially conservative cohorts, is self-refuting: His social "conservatism" stands for having the government tell people when to have or not have babies, who they can or cannot marry, and other intrusions into people's private lives. His belief that the church and family, again unlike those damnable colleges and universities, don't try to tell us how to live our lives is laughable.

The clip linked to above from Santorum's speech is less than a minute and a half, and is simply stunning in its clarity.

If one thinks this sort of thinking from the right wing is new, it is not. David Riesman, a prominent sociologist from the 1950s who wrote "The Lonely Crowd," also wrote an essay in 1958 about the search for Utopia in American political strains. In one passage, he wrote:

"There are...many conservatives who find in the American past an adequate image for our future: they contend that if we only balanced our budgets, spanked our kids, worked hard and uncomplainingly, tore down all the teachers colleges--all would be well."

Certainly one is aware of politically correct leftists telling people not to smoke and say things that might be offensive to minority or religious ears. But the anti-intellectual strain is one that mostly emanates from a certain corner of the right wing, at least in the USA. One does not see this sort of rhetoric in most of the libertarian writers nor in the economically reactionary writers, however. It is they who should be most up in arms about this rhetoric, though I've not seen anything yet from the conservative movement criticizing Santorum's statements. I don't think we've heard the last of this rhetoric, and there may have to be some push back from the intellectual oriented conservatives.

David Byrne on the science and technology of music

This is a thoughtful and thought provoking article in the Smithsonian magazine by former Talking Heads frontman, David Byrne. He, like Zappa and Vaughan Williams, was able to write prose about music in an articulate manner.

Another article of interest in the Smithsonian is Walter Isaacson's article about Steve Jobs' obsession with design as being as important as the workings of the gadget itself. I like that Isaacson recognized near the opening of his article that his biography had inadvertently revealed Jobs to be such a jerk that one lost an understanding of the artistry of his high-tech products--kind of like getting lost in Henry Ford's anti-Semitism and not recognizing Ford's genius and how he changed the American way of life.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Libertarian's fact free rant about teachers' unions falls flat...

Steve Greenhut, who wrote a great book on the abuse of government redevelopment agencies, lets his libertarianism get the better of him in this rant against public school teachers' unions.

His penultimate paragraph reads:

Liberals used to insist that every child deserves a great education. Now, thanks to their closeness with unions that protect an arcane education system built on an industrial labor-union model, liberals are saying that we can’t help poor kids until we eliminate poverty and create Nirvana. Haven’t they seen the great success of Catholic and charter schools in tough urban areas? Why are these union advocates so willing to leave so many poor kids behind?

But this article shows that the charter schools in Chicago did not do any better than the neighborhood public schools, even when the charter schools can pick and choose their students. See this summary of a study from Stanford University with the same result beyond Chicago.

Diane Ravitch, a long time education scholar and activist, who came back to the more liberal side after serving under GW Bush, has a better rant here.

The public school teachers care about the students, and know what it is like to face a child who, when asked why he or she did not complete a homework assignment, says, "My Mom shot my Dad last night...." or "My brother was shot by a rival gang..." or something similar. That is an experience unlike that of my own family, as we are like Sneetches on the beaches, living in a middle to upper middle class suburb, with a high performing public school district.

But let's also note Steve Greenhut's sneer that the teachers' union is supposedly saying "we can't help poor kids until we eliminate poverty and create Nirvana." The teachers' union is not asking for that. They just want some social worker help and smaller class sizes so they can better reach each student. See here.

Let me posit a different set of "principles," meaning different from the libertarians and the Rahm Emmanuel corporate Democrats:

Poor areas tend to produce poor performing schools. Success depends on the depth of parental involvement more than any other single factor. Well off schools have both parental involvement and additional parental funding outside of taxpayer funding.

If we build a public policy around those points, we'd find we would not have to fight "wars" against unions, we won't have to build or expand charter schools, nor retreat into religious schools where we wonder, are they learning Jesus rode on dinosaurs. And if we talk public policy, like smaller classes and social workers' involvement, we might find we'll reach more kids.

And to our California folks, let's not lose sight of the fact there have been overall improvements in testing scores at least.

ADDENDUM: This is a great article from the New Republic by a fellow from Richard Kahlenberg, from the Century Foundation, which makes many valid points, including defending the teachers' union on holding them accountable for student scores. A system of this nature would likely lead to teachers refusing to take on the toughest to reach students. Still, I am a little troubled by it as we want to find some ways to measure improvements.

Ya think?

Paying workers higher wages may help the US economy?

Ya think?

For the crime of committing...moviemaking

So our government is putting police authority pressure on the makers of the movie become some religious zealots in other parts of the world reacted with violence after watching it on YouTube?

Perhaps they are really going to place this fellow in protective custody, give him a new name and such like the witness protection program...This guy may become marked by the religious zealots as what happened to the author, Salman Rushdie.

One hopes that is the real reason...but it is not likely at this point.

Explaining what constitutes "middle class"...

Jared Bernstein, economist extraordinaire, explains it...again.

Those wacky Republicans in Congress...

Republicans in Congress plan on eliminating work mandates in the TANF or "welfare" while accusing Obama of having done that when he hadn't.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chicago school teachers strike...

I figure we don't really hear much sympathy on corporate television for most striking workers. So here are a few pro-worker links for the striking Chicago school teachers:

Salon.com article.

The school district is offering a 2% per year raise for four years. The expired contract had called for 4% per year. Also, the Board is calling for teachers to work another 20% longer each day. See here and the pdf report identified in the link.

And here is a nice explainer from Mother Jones that reveals other issues at stake, as there often are...And related, Kevin Drum notes Chicago student scores are improving...

And here is why we might want to be careful when listening to the school district leadership...

I think the teachers will likely compromise, and I bet they settle for 3% raises in light of the increased hours that are going to likely be imposed. It's a shame that only public employees have unions these days, as it makes it so hard for Americans, so used to corporate media propaganda, from having sufficient sympathy for their fellow workers.

I say, Right on, teachers. And God bless you all.

ADDENDUM: 9/12/12: Greg Palast explains what's going on quite nicely...

ADDENDUM: 9/13/12: Diane Ravitch explains the public policy issues driving the strike. One may make the very reasonable argument that the teachers' union in Chicago is striking to improve the lives of school children during the school day, with smaller classes and more social workers to help children navigate through the horrible poverty and crime they have to try and survive.

Excellent Boston Review article about human development

Read it here.

Can't wait for the responses, and see if any additional light is shed. But James Heckman certainly has written a marvelously detailed article that moves us forward in understanding why we should promote policies that increase the human potential through direct social work and promoting reading, good health and stable relationships in families. Our nation is so anti-family in its economic policies that it is quite stunning when we start to compare ourselves to many nations in Europe for example...

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Clinton and the stock market tech bubble

Or should this be called Bubba and the Bubble? Economist Dean Baker explains it quite nicely.

In 1996, I voted for Ralph Nader as I was appalled that Clinton was pursuing policies designed to accelerate the decline of the manufacturing base, and further codified those trends with securing the passage of the Reagan- and Bush I-negotiated NAFTA and the WTO. And then, adding insult to injury, Clinton, listening to the odious political operative, Dick Morris, ran over to the Republicans to undermine the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with what he called "welfare reform."

At the time, I said to anyone who would listen, and most thought I was just being narrow minded as if trade and the middle class was just a single issue not worthy of concern, that this stock market and tech boom was actually a bubble not likely to last beyond the end of the 1990s. I said what we were doing as a nation was merely buying Rolex watches and hot tubs instead of using the excess money to rebuild the nation. I further said this was a perfect time for tariffs to restore manufacturing, as it would ensure good wages for blue collar workers and allow us to enter the 21st Century with bridges, roads and subway and other transit systems commensurate with a great nation.

But no. Instead, in 1996, we had another presidential election that involved lots of talk about the cultural issues, and endless horse race and gotcha analysis....

Reducing crime and gun rights

This is a relatively short, but highly interesting article from the NY Review of Books about the decline of crime in many American cities. It seems like it is headed in the direction of gun control, but by the end, one is recognizing again that better policing tends to be more effective than implementing gun control laws.

The problem of racial profiling is bound up in those police methods, and that is something that greatly troubles me--to the point where there should be more immediately funded studies to attempt to find alternatives that overcome the racism of police departments.

The article, however, does not deal with the recent crime wave in Chicago, as I don't think there is yet a readily ascertainable explanation for the spike in crime in the former Second City.

Reading soldiers' obituaries makes me angry and sad at the same time...

When the wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq War II began, I would read the obituaries of soldiers who were killed in action in those wars. I was struck by how many were loved and respected in their communities when they were in high school, and how many were truly leadership material. It pained me so deeply that I stopped reading the soldier obituaries by the middle of 2003. I'll still skim them every once in awhile in the Los Angeles Times, which has been outstanding in continuing to provide the obituaries, but I do so out of a faint sense of duty that someone owes them a memory of their lives.

My folks still read the obituaries from time to time, and the obituaries fill them with sadness and not a little rage at the continued senselessness of it all. My wife won't read them at all because she immediately cried when she started to read them years ago.

So here is an article that should cause deep embarrassment to most of us as Americans. It shows the amoral nature of a volunteer military, where we simply avert our concern and our eyes to the death of so many young American soldiers.

What I have long said is that, in a just world, those who want war should have the burden of proof, and it should be a high burden of proof. Yet, the opposite often prevails in our society and in various other societies over time. I have further said that we citizens let our soldiers down when we send them to wars of choice, like Iraq War II was from the start, and the Afghanistan war after the first year. Our soldiers do not deserve to sacrifice their lives in imperial wars or wars of choice. Our greatest respect for them is shown by sending them home alive and away from such wars as soon as possible.

But no. Even politicians like Obama, who should and do know better, use the soldiers for short term gain to show "toughness." Our corporate broadcast media, and in the past 15 years, print media like the Washington Post, bray with bloodlust...and the politicians obey. And we can always count on Republicans these days to pursue even more wars and bloodlust. We live in a very sad state of affairs, and we Americans shrug our shoulders, indifferent and numbed to the deaths of men and women who have sacrificed their lives in the name of the United States of America.

I wish we citizens were all atoning at this time of year...

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Gawker gets it right...

This is a telling little video. It shows that nearly every Democratic Party delegate Gawker spoke to had that tribalist view that if their guy is in power, the hell with Constitutional restraints.

The only truly honest person in the video is Bill Press. Hail Bill Press!

Gloria Allred, though, was precious. She flashed her cultural liberalism, damn-everything-else credentials very well...

TBogg: I dish it out, but I can't take it very well...

I had some fun over at TBogg's place, where he doubled down on his attacks on those who challenge the Property Party from the liberal-left.

Here is his post.

And scroll down to #16 in comments for my take, which I reprint here:

TBogg, did you see any of Digby’s posts this week where she exposed how Clinton, Biden and even Obama himself are fairly clear that they embrace the Bowles-Simpson proposals that will cut Social Security benefits and Medicare, and especially Medicaid, all in these corporate Democrats’ desire for a post-election Grand Bargain?

A TBogg who had any integrity would have said: “You know, I, the great TBogg, was wrong to say that anyone who thinks Obama is seeking that sort of Grand Bargain is delusional. Maybe Obama ought to take warning from his base that there is a limit to how far he can go to destroy the rest of the New Deal.”

But no, you’ve just doubled down with your hippie punching–and revealing how much you suffer from battered wife syndrome when it comes to the Obama administration.

And you lemming commenters, with your phony monikers and your childish cursing, have at me. But the truth hurts. You may blame the Stein supporters if they contribute to Obama’s loss (which they won’t; they or we just don’t count). But you folks and again TBogg must take some responsibility when Obama undermines the entitlements and continues to support the banksters against the declining middle class.

And maybe all of you guys can stop typing long enough to run for office too….


Then, scroll down and see how people respond, and my replies to them. One person was pretty nice, and I was agreeing with him, saying at #29 that I can understand voting for Obama in swing states like Ohio and Florida, but in Oklahoma and California, it is reasonable to likely vote for a third party to say No to the Property Party.

Then, TBogg finally stepped in at comment #53 and made clear he does not like me one bit:

I like to think that I punch the far left as much as I punch the far right because they both deserve it. Quite frankly, when I read posts and comments like I did yesterday where so-called progressives were complaining that the DNC convention was reveling too much in the (choose one) “murder”/assassination” of Osama bin Laden, I pretty much lost all hope that liberals have any real desire to govern for any extended period of time.

The progressive wing of the party is nothing less than the Black Bloc members of Occupy except that they spend more time setting their own houses on fire than the other guys.

Obama drone-killed Alawaki? Good. I’m glad the fucker is a smear in the desert. I don’t know why they killed his son, but I don’t think they wasted a Hellfire on him because they wanted to see if they could hit a smaller target. But, as I have said before, I’d prefer death from above to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. If you want another terrorist attack on the US, this time under Obama’s watch (and believe me, he won’t get the same pass Bush did) despite the fact we could have nipped it in the bud, well then explain to me how you would deal with al Quaeda cells in the hinterlands of Pakistan and the terrorist petri dish that is Yemen..

I read Digby’s post which stated about the same thing that David did here on FDL. I just don’t have the same over-the-top reaction that they do, to say nothing of the fact that they failed to address the alternative. Ryan budget anyone? You have an idea for a better outcome for Nov 6? Then spit it out.

And quit complaining that I have not considered the serious implications of voting for Obama over Romney/Ryan, okay? Because you obviously have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.


Note first the false equivalency to the far left and right. It's High Broderism from a guy who thinks he is anything but the late, and largely unlamented David Broder. And note that TBogg sounds almost like Dana Loesch in his discussion of Obama and drone killings. He certainly is trying to avoid admitting he doesn't like Glenn Greenwald all that much. But we don't even have to read Greenwald to note what TBogg is not discussing about Obama's policies and actions since becoming president. Just read the Washington Post, showing how Obama has pushed hard to expand drone killings and targeting in a way that guys like TBogg would be outraged if Bush-Cheney was doing it. And TBogg did not mention this post earlier this week from his own FireDogLake as to how Bush II sent opponents of Gaddafi to Gaddafi under the rendition program--but Obama has continued the rendition program elsewhere. Beats me as to what he was talking about at FireDogLake about "murder" of Osama bin Laden, as he gave no specifics as to the particular post. I went back in the past week of FireDogLake posts, and found nothing supporting him (It must be there, I just can't find it).

Still, for TBogg to think that the drone attacks are saving us from another 9/11 must mean he is auditioning for CNN. If anything, the unmanned killing machines in the sky create more recruits for Al Queda. See this Wiki summary which notes the drones have a tendency to bomb weddings...

Anyway, 9/11 happened because we did not harden our airport security when Europe did. That was criminal negligence on the part of Bush-Cheney of course. If our nation is attacked with a nuclear bomb hidden in a briefcase left in a subway, it will likely come from Pakistan, where our nation has done so much to foster such violence and hatred over the decades, including drone attacks.

TBogg also couldn't bring himself to admit that the Grand Bargain is coming under Obama, Part II. He can say all he wants about Romney's and Ryan's similar and worse plans, but he refuses to admit that when Bush II tried to cut Social Security in 2005, the Democrats in Congress did show an unusual backbone. While they may not show a backbone against Romney & Ryan, chances are better than even odds they would.

TBogg obviously cares very little about economics and the declining middle class, preferring instead the sort of cultural liberalism which would have made him a fine Republican 30 or more years ago.

I'd debate him, and he'd learn quickly I do what I am talking about, but I doubt the Democratic Party or most organizations would want to waste their time with such a debate--and it would not do Obama any good to have me publicly speaking right now. TBogg exposed himself as pretty thin skinned for a guy who lives on snark. I was going to reply, but I think the more objective folks I was trying to reach there recognized the weakness of his response, and heck, it's his blog.

Still, it is quite funny when we think about it...

(Edited: I read the Firedoglake article on rendition linked above too quickly: It was released recently, but concerned Bush II's renditions to Libya).

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Boss politics lives at Democratic Party convention...

So Democratic Party leaders strong armed the delusion that the US should recognize an undivided Jerusalem as Israel's capital, even though no previous administration ever agreed with that statement, and even the current administration does not agree with that statement--and even though what appeared to have been a majority of delegates at the convention did not agree with that statement.

This is similar to what happened at one point in the Republican Party convention, as I noted last week.

I also got a sardonic kick out of the God reference in "God-given" ability. Really? The platform needed the reference to God there? How craven to restore that archaic phrasing, especially as there is already a platform plank that announces a fealty to faith.

The Empire is playing to all sorts of religious fundamentalism in order to continue its oppressive ways....

Oh, and I guess there were more pretty speeches last night. As the good side of the Eighth Dimension creatures in "Buckaroo Banzai" would say...So what? Big deal.

Tim Geithner and the bankers remain firmly in control. We argue against government control of individual uteruses while the Empire and banksters go on their merry way.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Republican Delusions and Lies, Democratic Lies

Last week's Republican Party convention was a convention of delusions. Delusions that more tax cuts for rich folks will solve our problems. Delusions about Obama being anything but Bob Dole with younger, hotter wife. Delusions of deficit cutting with policies that end up increasing the deficit. And when they want to speak about "facts," they simply make things up.

This week, the Democratic Party identifies what ails us, but their policy prescriptions, to the extent they offer any, are lies. They don't mean it. They don't plan to implement the prescriptions. They are just lying.

If Obama was really telling the truth, he would fire Tim Geithner in his prime time speech on Thursday. And tell every one of his financier advisers to go home, as they have done enough damage to the nation. But that won't happen.

What I heard tonight as I sat at the computer and listened to the television blaring from another room was Mayor Julian Castro saying we have a great country because he and his brother did well twenty years ago. Then, Michelle Obama said the same thing.

What I found striking is that neither saw fit to emphasize the various new sociological studies that show class mobility is at an all time low for America. Mayor Castro and First Lady Obama are doing well. But other Latinos, other African-Americans, and now other white folks are doing worse. The Castro and Michelle Obama speeches were personally focused, and reminded me of "I got mine...And that's enough."

I have long been out of step with most corporate media discourse, of course. Even what I read is vastly different from the pundits on television...I have been reading "Abundance for What?" by David Riesman, a series of essays he wrote in the 1950s and early 1960s that are eerie in what they catch in his glimpsing over the hedgerow. And I'm also reading 1880s novels of William Dean Howells, starting with "Annie Kilburn" and now "The Minister's Charge." My long observant arc makes me have more in common with dead people like Gore Vidal, George Seldes, John Jay Chapman, Carl Schurz, William Seward, JQA and Alexander Hamilton than the living people who populate our television sets, unless one counts the jesters on Comedy Central and HBO--but even they are getting angrier.

The Property Party, which we know consists of the Democratic and Republican Party wings, is now in its absurd phase. There is little hope for change in our nation, except that Republicans continue to become more absurd, and the Democratic Party keeps trying to catch up to the Republicans. We now have the spectacle of a Democratic Party incumbent president who is to the right of Nixon on a host of economic and even civil liberties issues.

Will someone please lead a mantra that says "We must build what we buy, and buy what we build?" Will someone say it is time to give consideration to labor over capital, the way Lincoln said in his speech to the Workingmen's Association in 1864? And that it is time to cut back on the Empire abroad and rebuild our Republic at home? These should not even be "political" as we should be able to begin to join together to talk about nation re-building and nation sustaining. We used to be able to pull it together. That seems feint and remote in our time when people like Obama don't believe it and people like Mitch McConnell (R-KY) revel in rejecting it.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Good for Melissa Harris-Perry!

Yes, I'd rather be rich and deal with those risks than poor and face their risks.

I agree with Melissa Harris-Perry that a white person's view on race is a great predictor about how that white person views "welfare."

Krugman setting Paul Ryan on fire...again

Two weeks ago, Paul Krugman torched Paul Ryan in a way that was truly the equivalent of "I'm not fooling around anymore. This is serious fraud, and I'm calling Ryan on it."

This week, Krugman's done it again. And TBogg provided the perfect visual aid so I link to TBogg who links to Krugman.

Hail the Internet.

And for those who don't get TBogg's reference, see here. I personally have always been troubled by that short story and film, in its irrational rejection of success, as the supposed integrity of not being someone's tool is simply not sufficient for the character Colin Smith to undermine his self-worth. Krugman's metaphor of Rosie Ruiz, the person who lies to victory, is the exactly correct metaphor for Paul Ryan. Still, TBogg merely meant to be snarky and punny, and in that he succeeded. No problems with self-worth with Mr. TBogg...:-)

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Legalizing what Bush II did...

Elizabeth Goitein, a law professor at NYU Law School, has written for the Boston Review a nice summary of the civil liberties issues that reveal the overlap and continuity in the Bush II and Obama policies.

In the guise of critically reviewing Jack Goldsmith's new book, she proves that for all the controversy regarding the Bush II policies during the period of 2005-2008, Congress essentially changed the rules so that what was once illegal became legal. She proves (1) Bush II ultimately won the battles, (2) the countervailing Supreme Court decisions were bypassed, and (3) Obama embraced those illegal to legal reforms and ran with them.

Key graphs include:

Nor does the record support Goldsmith’s claim that post-9/11 legislation represented robust pushback. Almost every time it emerged that the executive branch was violating a statute, Congress rushed to legalize the infraction. When the Supreme Court ruled that the government violated Guantánamo detainees’ statutory right to judicial review of their detention—habeas corpus—Congress rescinded habeas through the Detainee Treatment Act. When the Supreme Court ruled that Bush’s military commissions were inconsistent with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Congress dutifully changed the Code. When news broke that the NSA violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by wiretapping citizens’ international communications without warrants, Congress amended FISA to allow the practice to continue. Beyond these legislative validations, Congress provided the FBI with breathtaking new powers through the Patriot Act and repeatedly extended them despite clear evidence of abuse compiled by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

Goldsmith relies on a handful of legislative provisions to proclaim the glass half full. His strongest example is Senator John McCain’s amendment to the Detainee Treatment Act. The amendment reaffirmed the prohibition on “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” established in international law. But it did not prohibit the CIA’s use of any specific interrogation techniques that had been reported, including waterboarding. Nor did it establish the same prohibition by limiting the CIA to the techniques available to the Department of Defense. Further, the statute stripped the courts of jurisdiction over detainees’ claims, making the McCain amendment essentially unenforceable.


...

The truth is that counterterrorism policies at the end of the Bush administration looked much more like they did right after 9/11 than like those advocated by critics. A notable change was the abandonment of waterboarding and other disgraceful elements of the CIA’s interrogation program (although some of the original enhanced interrogation techniques continued). But even here there is little evidence that the change resulted from governmental oversight and enforcement, as opposed to the political impossibility of openly engaging in a universally condemned war crime. Another theoretically significant change was the establishment of judicial review for preventive detention, but the promise of that change is ebbing under appellate court rulings and the government’s failure to release detainees granted habeas.

Many of the Bush administration’s early policies were unchanged—or little changed—when Obama took office. Procedures surrounding preventive detention evolved, but the practice itself continued, despite the controversy it generated. Military commissions continued under legislative rules that borrowed heavily from Bush’s proposal to Congress. Extraordinary rendition continued with increased involvement by foreign partners. Warrantless wiretapping of international communications proceeded with Congress’s blessing and the judiciary’s role reduced to a cameo appearance by a secret court. The collection of domestic communications, as far as we know, went on. The sweeping legislative authorities granted to the FBI remained in place, and the Justice Department’s rules for the FBI grew more permissive rather than less. The targeted killing program continued (and expanded under Obama). The prison at Guantánamo Bay remained open.

Goitein has convinced me that Jack Goldsmith, who many of us saw as a "spy who came in from the cold," has gone back to being a player who is now seeking to justify the expansive powers of the late period American Empire. He reveals himself to be not much different than John Yoo or Jay Bybee. Very sad.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Selling America...

The Daily Show did this brilliant take down of "running government as a business," and arguing that States should be shuttered and fired if they run a deficit with the federal government--and lo and behold, the Republican oriented States are the ones with the deficits to the federal government, meaning these States receive more federal monies than the federal taxes they send to the federal government.

When combined with this illuminating, though polemical article by Matt Tiabbi in the latest Rolling Stone magazine, and it is required reading all the way through, as it gets better and better in its explanations, a thought occurs to me.

I think, if Romney is elected, he will after a few months begin to push for selling the assets of America, land, public buildings, parks, etc., to private companies to raise money to fight the debt and deficit. The thing that is most precious in our nation's balance sheet is our nation's land and that is what Romney would want to raid, vulture capital style.

It is why I say that Romney hastens the decline, while Obama manages the decline of the USA.