Sunday, January 27, 2013

Texas: High, Regressive Taxation R Us

An informative post from Crooks & Liars about the limits of CA bashing and the limits of TX praising...

Stanley Karnow: Another good guy gone

Stanley Karnow was one of those late 1950s reporters who began as a stenographer, trusting the official American government line about the war against Vietnam, and then, as the 1960s wore on, began to push harder and harder for the truth.

His majestic book on the American war against Vietnam is definitely one of the great books on that topic that provides a deep understanding of just what we as a nation did in Southeast Asia in the mid 20th Century.

Karnow passed away this weekend at age 87, and here is his obituary from the Los Angeles Times.

The obit is great and also reminds me of his fabulous book on the American government's conduct in the Philippines in the 19th and early to mid 20th Centuries.

Karnow, another good guy now gone. May young reporters find inspiration in remembering him.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sex and the City liberal delivers inaugural address

He mentions gay rights via Stonewall, but never mentions labor unions. He mentions high tech, but not rebuilding a manufacturing base. He reenforces "free enterprise," but only indirectly supports government action to build an economy.

Read his speech here, and sigh at the missed opportunities that begin anew....

I was watching MSNBC and watching Rachel Maddow wax on and on about the excitement of watching Obama dance with his wife. But then she disclosed Obama's creation of a political action committee with the odious Jim Messina leading, and she was wondering what it portends. Well, I guess it portends that when Obama finally gets around to undermining Social Security and Medicare, and when the trade treaties get into position to pass, the political action committee will use its money (and power) to push against the liberals who dissent from these things.

That's how it works after all...

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Naftali Bennett, the James Polk of Israel or the new Elazar ben Yair?

Read it here at the New Yorker.

What Remnick's New Yorker article makes clear is that the reason folks like Bennett and his minions don't want to talk peace with the Palestinians, including Abbas, is that they now believe they have enough settlers in the West Bank--over 400,000 of them--to see their ultimate goal in sight, which is the annexation of the West Bank with a Jewish majority. The line "No Palestinians to talk to..." is revealed as a ruse. People like Bennett are saying, there is no two-state solution, give us another generation of settlement building, even with some terrorist acts committed against Israel, and the Palestinians will have to eventually leave or accept second level citizen status. The fellow quoted in the article who says pay each Palestinian $500,000 to leave shows further why this view has gained prevalence--and shows again how much the situation has changed.

The 1993 Oslo Accords sure look like a hoax on the Palestinians, with the great expansion of settlements that followed. However, the Palestinians and their leaders bear their own contribution to this situation by not following the peaceful disobedience route of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi as opposed to the rockets and terrorist attacks.

The article reveals too that it is naive for any of us here in the USA to refuse to see the significance of the E-1 expansion announcement from the perspectives of both Bennett and the Palestinians. The trend is clear and the goal is again being openly talked about through Bennett, which is to complete the annexation of the West Bank once there are enough settlements to form a Jewish majority in that region.

Either Bennett will be the James Polk of Israel, or else he will lead Israeli Jews to another Masada. See here for another article on the Battle at Masada.

I personally think Bennett is the leader of the zealots of the new Masada.

In ten years, Bennett will be seen as the human emblem of the banner that reads "Missed Moment." However, before he succeeds in creating the new Masada, American Jews will have already abandoned Israel in disgust, disappointment and frustration as Peter Beinart has warned.

Not a pretty picture before the Israeli elections....

Monday, January 14, 2013

Allende's Chile was ahead of its time in cyberspace...

This post from Damn Intersting blog (hat tip to David Brin) is a knock out read. I was stunned that I had never heard of the Chilean cyberspace program before...

We as a nation have much to atone for...

Socialist, capitalist, whatever: Imperialism is the core value

So the new Socialist president of France decided to bomb Mali...Imperialism is alive and well in France despite a plan from the French Socialist president to tax the margin of income above $897,000 ($1 million in Euro dollars).

We're old enough to not be surprised that one has nothing to do with the other. There could have been tax cuts from a right wing French president for those earning income at that level, and we'd have seen the same bellicose actions against Mali.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Unions would be nice...

Wonder why wages keep going down even as productivity went through the roof?

Unions would be nice to have again...Give the NY Times writer, Steve Greenhouse, a kudo for quoting Jared Bernstein in saying that pushing for more unions is part of the solution.

Brilliant response to those decrying the death of the novel

Sam Byers at explains the silliness about the latest "death of the novel" theme very nicely and quite amusingly.

And it's my turn to agree with him and say the following:

In every decade since the novel became "popular," say the mid-19th Century, very few novels released every year are worth reading.

Those novels worth reading were sometimes missed in the past, often missed today simply due to the noise from other media, and those novels which are hugely popular tend to become cliches and then become largely forgotten within a generation. Or, the movie version becomes the definer of the work more than the novel itself.

Novels will not die. They will continue to be written and released in e-book form. There may eventually be no more novels released in paper format--or at least they will be released in paper form like vinyl records, to be enjoyed by a small subset of the public. But again there will always be novels as long as there are people who want to write and people who can read. Good novels? Again, see above.

And let's add the following: No matter whether the novels are in paper format or e-book, Phillip Roth is still too narrowly focused and overrated, Toni Morrison is still obtuse in her writing style and vastly overrated, Joyce Carol Oates is still ridiculously morose. Oh, and Jonathan Franzen still needs his head examined for refusing to accept Oprah's endorsement of his breakthrough novel.

There. I feel better now.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Aaron Swartz: Martyr for open access to government and academic papers

Aaron Swartz was an interesting sort of genius. I have mixed emotions about freeing even academic papers, let alone someone's books. But I do get his opening up of documents filed on PACER, which is the system for filing legal papers in federal court cases. If I can review these public documents at any federal courthouse, why not on the Internet?

There is a pattern here that needs to be said more than it is, and I am fine adding my voice: The Bush II-Obama administrations' have an unhealthy hatred toward those who wish to free up what should be public information. Bradley Manning is being treated as if he was a terrorist and Aaron Swartz was being prosecuted as if he was a murderer when even the owner of the academic papers' archive did not want to press charges against him.

See this and this for personal eulogies concerning Swartz...And this article from Alternet makes clear the political angle that Obamabots should be really concerned about...

And finally, this Rick Perlstein post is a knockout. I had no idea this young man was this well read and am sorry to say I missed his name among the unofficial editors of Perlstein's great book, "Nixonland."

A balanced budget is not enough. We must bring back the Future.

California Governor Jerry Brown has unveiled a balanced California budget. Well, with some assumptions and federal money, but still a balanced budget with far less gimmicks than his two predecessors used. And there is at least a slight increase in support to the state colleges and universities and social services. Not bad, not bad at all.

But the Govnernor can do more, especially with a 2/3rds majority in the State Senate and House:

1. Debate (yes, debate to bring attention to the public) and then pass legislation to restore market rates in valuing property taxes for real property that is commercial. The restoration of market rates should be phased in over three years. In a sentence, we are reforming Proposition 13 so that it continues to protect private homeowners, but will not protect business people any longer. Business people like the market? They get to have the market.

2. Continue cutting prison costs by ensuring we find a way to let those convicted of drug offenses find their way back into society. I'd rather see people returned to their families and communities after drug rehabilitation treatment than spend the $50,000 a year the State spends to house them in prisons that are overcrowded and require the State to build more and more prisons--a very significant reason for the increased prison spending over the years.

3. It's time for California to enact an oil extraction tax. Texas and Alaska do it. In fact, every State in the USA which has oil extracted from the grounds of such States has an oil extraction tax.

The point here is to begin to bring back the future. California used to represent the future. But our State became an anachronism like Disneyland's Tomorrowland. Having first class public schools from K to post-graduate, having transportation systems that were beautiful and functional, and maintaining the awe of nature at its most pleasant and beautiful are what made California such a unique and wonderful place. Our anti-tax rhetoric and our mantras of "California is ungovernable" undermined the confidence our citizens had in our State.

We have taken an important step forward with the proposition results in November. We need leadership from the governor and the Democratic Party majority to take the next steps to achieve true success.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Happy birthday to our own nation's Richard III...

Richard Milhous Nixon turned 100 years old today.

Gore Vidal said, not long after Nixon's pitiable resignation on August 8, 1974, that Nixon was one of the more Shakespearean figures in modern American history. I thought the comment was strange and not correct. As I aged, however, I saw the wisdom in that comment, particularly after reading Garry Wills' "Nixon Agonistes" which was published around that time, but which I did not read until years later.

Nixon was a complex figure. There's Nixon the war criminal of Southeast Asia, the paranoid political figure with his enemies' lists, plans to kidnap student activists and place them in concentration camps in Mexico, etc. However, these days, Nixon often gets quoted as the last liberal president on matters such as the environment, his support for more expanded welfare benefits and his more liberal minded health insurance reform.

I have long taken the position that had Nixon won the presidency in 1960 over JFK, he would have been an even better liberal, particularly regarding civil rights, and potentially on matters of foreign affairs. When one watches the debates between him and JFK before the 1960 election, Nixon is the one cautioning against going to war over islands Quemoy and Matsu, while JFK is bellicose. Nixon was the one who looked "weak" in the parlance of the time because he saw diplomacy as the route to take. One wonders whether he would have increased the use of "advisers" in Vietnam, though there is a sense I have that the Vietnam War was so inevitable that Nixon would have had to be far more extraordinary a leader to have stopped it.

Overall, Nixon remains a deeply intriguing, sometimes tragic, sometimes monstrous figure in 20th Century American history. And the irony is that I always felt, even at the time of his resignation, I would love to spend an evening with him, listening to him play piano, discussing his love of classical music and having a dinner where we did not talk politics. Strange, that, and yet, it is something I think of whenever I see that iconic photo of him standing in his presidential jacket and dress slacks on the beach at San Clemente, California.

Nixon's back, intoned Futurama. I wonder, will Nixon always be with us as a nation?


ADDENDUM 2/2/13: Looks like Thomas Mallon, writing in The New Yorker, sees some decency lurking within Nixon in a not dissimilar manner...

Monday, January 07, 2013

Military spending, tax cuts, poor economy requiring transfer payments are major causes of the deficits and debt

Ezra Klein explains most of the headline of this post. Read it here.

I guess that's why I think the fiscal cliff was really more of something to truly jump off of if we really cared about lowering debt and deficits. Further, if we really wanted to stimulate the economy, we'd rebuild and redevelop infrastructure and act to restore the manufacturing base.

But no, it's all one big Kabuki dance and shouting matches over cultural issues...

Sunday, January 06, 2013

I'll take the anti-war Republican over Democratic Party neo-cons...

What Glenn Greenwald said about the pending Beltway furor over former Republican Senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel. He sounds like he'd be an improvement over the often horrible Leon Panetta, a former Republican who became a Democrat only because he didn't like Nixon (and Panetta never stopped questioning the utility of labor unions and the New Deal).

Friday, January 04, 2013

Ha'aretz articles that do not show up in American broadcast corporate media

Israeli writer Zeev Sternell lays out the implications of the Likud and it right wing allies in refusing to recognize a Palestinian state.

I too have often noted the disconnect between Israeli polling on withdrawing from the territories and the way in which Israelis vote. It convinced me long ago that Israelis vote with their fears, and poll with their hopes. It belies the macho hawkishness one sees in too many Israelis who move here to the US.

This article too by former Shin Bet security chief Diskin about Netanyahu's inner self is interesting. Considering the phony pop psychology that the media indulged in against Al Gore during the 2000 election, and the manner in which Charles Krauthammer indulges in that sort of stuff on a regular basis, I guess it's fine to put that shoe on the other foot for once. Where I think Diskin is correct, however, is that Netanyahu has long had the instincts of a political figure who wavers and will switch positions for political gain. I had hoped that would make him like Nixon, to "Go to China," meaning to make a peace deal with an enemy. However, in this last term, Netanyahu has fought against that in a manner that seems like he is trying to please his now deceased right wing father. I have been deeply disappointed that Netanyahu has refused to "Go to China" when there is a clear opportunity to create the basis of a lasting peace with the Palestinians. I have concluded he really thinks he is in the end game of taking over most of the West Bank and that is what drives his avoiding policies that would lead to peace.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Gerda Lerner 1920-2013

I have long admired Gerda Lerner, an often described pioneer in women's studies. I read and adored her biography of the Grimke Sisters while in college in the late 1970s, and have read other works by her since that time.

For those interested in Lerner, her memoir is a fascinating read. What I never got around to reading was her book about the death of her husband, the filmmaker and activist, Carl Lerner, in the early 1970s. I am still not sure I will ever want to live through the pain she describes, but for those who have an interest in the intensely personal subject of the death of a loved one, the book was highly reviewed and has become a classic of sorts of the genre.

Lerner was a great prose writer of history, and gave us the first modern histories and biographies of 19th Century women activists and male feminists like Theodore Weld. It is her work we consult first on the subject of women's history in the U.S., and I am frankly very glad to see that her passing has received a prominent trending in the Yahoo! Internet, where I saw it this evening.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The president largely wastes another mandate...

Depending upon the poll, but fairly consistent these past two years, 60% to 70% of Americans wanted income tax rates increased on those earning more than $250,000 a year. The same percentage wanted to be sure Obama did not sacrifice Social Security or Medicare benefits or harm workers or the poor in any way in the funding of those programs.

Yet, let's analyze the deal that Biden negotiated for Obama with the Republicans, and which Democratic Party stalwarts are supposed to endorse.

As he has done in the past, Obama has saved the Republicans from being fully exposed as being only in favor of the interests of the economic top 2%, per the income reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Obama's "compromise" with Republicans is that those reporting $400,000 for single persons and $450,000 for couples or families will have to go back to the Clinton-Gingrich era federal income tax rates--with no loopholes for those levels of income closed whatsoever.

The estate tax exemption, meaning no taxes, on the first $5 million remains the same. Then, for any sum above that already high threshold, the tax will be 40%, no longer 35%. A pittance, dear friends, a pittance.

The Social Security and Medicare tax, which only applies to incomes well below the $250,000 threshold, will increase as the year 2009 revenue holiday ended. While that is a good thing from a fiscal prudence standpoint for those programs, it is revealing that Republicans and corporate Democrats were in favor of that particular "tax increase." The sting of restoring the pre-2009 rates for those two programs would have been far more palatable had Obama stuck to his campaign promise on the income tax increase that, again, 60-70% of Americans supported (which means nearly 20% to 30% of Romney voters agreed with Obama on that subject).

The only good news, one supposes, is that unemployment compensation and Medicaid continues, and doctors continue to get the old Medicare/Medicaid rates instead of further cuts in reimbursement.

The "fiscal cliff" spending cuts are now put off till the debt ceiling debate begins anew in February 2013 so that the Republicans now get to make it sound like a "deal" to cut spending, read Social Security and Medicare, in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling. As we know, the Republicans and most deficit scolds or bond mongers are only concerned about the deficit to the extent it cuts middle class government programs like Social Security and Medicare, not when it cuts military spending, which benefits the upper classes more than the middle and working classes.

And now, the biggest failure, so big it will not even be discussed in corporate broadcast media: Um, where is the jobs program? Where is there even a discussion of a jobs program? Where is the stimulus, infrastructure rebuilding or development? Where is there anything about even "green" jobs that may have something to do with climate change public policy making?

Silence. Again, Obama leads from behind, which is not leading at all. He was provided a mandate, and again is squandering it for some short term applause from the likes of millionaire corporate television and radio commentators.

Digby is not happy about this deal, either. And let's do shout outs of "Right on!" to Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Michael Bennett (D-CO) and Tom Carper (D-Del) for standing tall to the president and his cohort, vice president Biden, and saying "No" to this deal. We note five Republicans voted against the deal but that was only because it was not punitive enough on workers, seniors and the poor. Remember, the compromise was designed to bring in Republicans, not govern on behalf of the 70% who said no cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and making the wealthy shoulder far more of the sacrifice on the revenue side of the government's ledger.

For those who think bully pulpit-ing doesn't work, as Digby's young friend, David Atkins thinks, I suggest such persons should give up on democratic and republican values, too. The bully pulpit would have worked, as those Republicans who talk big have never been tested by this president. Never.

What was the harm in going over the cliff for a few weeks to see what happens when Obama goes into Republican districts, points out potholes and infrastructure decay, brings up those suffering with unemployment, and those who work under bad conditions? What would have been the harm in bringing up working class families and seniors, a labor organizer describing what it's really like to work in mines and Wal-Mart? Do the young Mr. Atkins and other Democratic Party stalwarts seriously believe all those Republicans would have held steady to their Ayn Rand and anarchist impulses? Really? Not enough would have defected under pressure to pass a pro-Democratic Party platform from the Senate and an Executive Branch leadership that really cared about workers and our nation's future overall?

Let's do a switch for a moment: Let's assume the Republicans won the 2012 presidential election, and 70% back the main campaign slogan economic policy from the incumbent Republican president. Assume further that the Democratic Party, owing to gerrymandered districts from a victory in the off year 2010 elections held their dwindling lead in the House of Representatives, but lost more seats than they expected to lose in the Senate and now there are 56 pro-Republican or Republican seats, and only 45 Democratic Party Senators. Tell me, what would the discourse be here? Would the Democrats win as much as the Republicans won here in terms of continued gridlock and compromising on the core positions? Of course not.

The pattern remains: Pusillanimous Democrats, starting with Obama and Biden, who fail to stand up for what are both politically popular and correct economic policies, giving in to hardened Republicans who stand up for the economic elite at the expense of workers and our nation.

We remain mired in the world of lesser evils and drift more and more toward becoming a failed nation. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison would be appalled, as would Henry Clay and William Henry Seward.

Oh, and just watch, the Congress will pass this year the Trans Pacific Partnership Trade treaty...I don't like the talk, as in the linked to post, about it being "secret." It's not secret in the sense that someone can't find out about it if he or she wants to do so. It's just not reported in corporate media. With this treaty, we'll see the final codification of the very trends undermining workers in the US and elsewhere. It is a deep and horrible shame to lose our nation in this slow, but steady manner....


ADDENDUM: Some juicy corporate and financier tax breaks are included in this bill...Nice of the Democrats to act like Republicans, and note how Republicans are largely letting the Democratic Party members of the House pick up the tab for this meal. The deal will easily lead to Republican campaign commercials in 2014: "My Democrat opponent voted to raise your taxes--yes, yours too, because they raised the Social Security tax!--but refused to vote for reforms and spending cuts. And they took the time to add goodies for their rich friends! Let's throw out these out of touch Washington politicians!"

Nice work, Obama-Biden.