Sunday, February 24, 2013

Great article on Thaddeus Stevens

Stevens was correct. Lincoln was wrong about the intention of white Southern elites as the Civil War ground down to its end.

Speilberg and Kushner don't do justice to Stevens.

Hail, Stevens.

A well written article from William Loren Katz in the Consortium News, edited by the great investigative reporter, Robert Parry.

Brill is laying it out on medical insurance delivery, and Drum accents it...

Kevin Drum's post on medical doctors' salaries in the U.S. and elsewhere is important to read, as is the initial link he makes to Steve Brill's article in Time Magazine.

I have long said, Subsidize medical school for doctors and nurses, and bring Medicare for all to the U.S., and we can lower costs overall in the delivery costs of medicine. And I'm definitely in favor of giving the docs' a psychological victory by taking medical malpractice cases out of the civil jury system and putting them into arbitration--if the docs pay for all arbitration fees (not attorneys' fees).

That's a Grand Bargain we can support!

The savagery that accompanied the European discovery of North America...

The Smithsonian has an interesting interview with Bernard Bailyn on his new book on the century 1600-1700 in North America. Anyone who thinks it was all about Puritans just acting oppressively or "traditionally" in their own communities will be suitably shocked at how two different peoples met and were brutal and murderous toward each other--with the long time (but certainly not original either) natives having a possibly understandable reaction to the invaders.

Blast from the past: Sunday Review of Book Reviews

The Los Angeles Times Book Review contains a worthwhile review of the new book, "The Age of Edison," that nicely encapsulates the Hamiltonian sensibility that government intervention and business development go hand in hand. Turning electricity into a public utility, whether regulating a private entity, or having the government own it outright, was the proper solution to a commodity such as electricity that everyone uses. For those who say, "Well, food is a commodity," consider that we regulate food prices and growth all over the place since the 1930s and that is what really created the overabundance of food production (It is in the distribution that we rely on people having money, or food stamps if they don't). I have picked up this book, read through parts of it and found the author's gee-whizzing too much for me. We needed a more historically grounded writer to guide us through this important topic of where technology affects politics, economics and culture--and how each affects the pace and growth of technology.

What may be interesting reading to those eager to learn about the period of the late 1800s when private companies with a new technology competed against each other, and the usual greed, intrigue and wasteful economic consequences being the result, one may wish to consult Theodore Dreiser's now forgotten, "The Financier." Dreiser was a journalist who interviewed writers and business leaders before he became a novelist, and there is some outstanding business analysis inside this book. The literary academy, awash in its sex and violence fetish posing as "reality," only offers us "Sister Carrie" and "American Tragedy" in defining Dreiser's literary prowess. One would never know Dresier wrote seriously and ironically about businessmen and the rise of American business culture even before the more prolific and creative Sinclair Lewis. The Amazon link has a bunch of reviews of the book, none of which mention that it is about trolley cars and electric cars. And for those interested in how Dreiser constructed the novel, Dreiser modeled his lead character on the then famous electric railroad car businessman, Charles Yerkes.

For those who may still care about the latest fallout from the Patraeus affairs, here is a review of a book on the British precursor, which was bundled up in the hysteria of the Cold War and the end of the culturally repressive and anti-female atmosphere of the 1950s. The review does not focus on the two young and attractive women very much, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, but what should be said is that the two refused to "behave" even after the scandal began, and were, in an unsuspected way, starting to lead women in general in English and American societies to step out of the victim and subordinate roles women had so often played in sexual dalliances with rich or powerful men.

Here is a fascinating review of a book that sifts through the wreckage of the British Empire, with the sun having set and the darkness increasing. The reviewer sees racism and male dominance ("I'll smash that piano," is how one colonial governor growled at a civil servant who brought one) as the cement to the Empire's rise and ultimate fall--which itself is a worthwhile insight.

And here is the meandering, but brilliant essay that has caused so much consternation in England, by the historical fiction writer, Hilary Mantel. It is less an attack on the Prince's wife, Kate Middelton, than about the weird way in which we humans revere, revile and are utterly fascinated by people who are given the title, Monarch.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Remembering an enduring and critical insight from Karl Marx

It is important to see Karl Marx in the pantheon of philosophers, economists and sociologists. One should not be a Marxist any more than an anti-Marxist. It is better to see him as part of a Western philosophical continuum which one may say starts with Hume and Locke, works through Smith and Ricardo, flows through Marx and then leads into Keynes and Hayek. It is not even progressive in the sense that later born persons are "better" than the previous ones. Each has an insight worth exploring and analyzing and recognizing the limits in each person's approach.

Here is an excellent article that helps us understand an important and enduring insight from Marx, which is to remember that labor may have some aspects in common with commodities, but it is a peculiar type of commodity since labor consists of people. The author of the article goes by the Internet moniker, Sandwichman, but he is an economist named Tom Walker who at one time was an analyst for the government of State of Massachusetts. At least, I think that's the same fella...(UPDATE: Sandwichman corrected me in the Comments that he is a professor at a university in Canada, near Vancouver, B.C. and never been in Massachusetts.)

Anyway, it's a great article published today and is called "Labor is (not) a commodity."

Cass Sunstein's thoughtful article on means and ends of governmental positive reenforcement

Cass Sunstein proves to be a wiser man than I have previously given him credit. He has written, in the NY Review of Books, a compelling review of a new book that ponders whether we should always default to the "let people decide for themselves..." position in the manner of when we were 14 years old and completely convinced by John Stuart Mill. The book reviewed is Sarah Conly's "Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism," which strikes me as an unfortunate and unduly provocative title that I doubt she was fully comfortable herself in using (coercive editors and marketers at Cambridge University Press, I suppose...:-)).

I was most impressed with Dr. Conly's formulation about coercive means to an autonomous end. One example of coercive means to an autonomous end that Sunstein surprisingly does not mention in his review (Conly mentions it, per my glance at her book at Amazon.com) is the Social Security and Medicare payroll tax. If we did not have the automatically required and therefore coercive Social Security and Medicare payroll tax, the chances are very high that most elderly in our nation would be deeply mired in poverty and the consequent despair that comes with economic poverty.

Where Sunstein happily surprised me is with his skepticism toward NYC Mayor Bloomberg's call for banning soda from food stamp purchases and Sunstein's outright rejection of Professor Conly's policy prescription of banning smoking cigarettes. I would have thought Sunstein, from some of his previous writings and musings, would have supported these things. Myself, I am also opposed to such draconian solutions in those particular instances, but do support the payroll tax for Social Security and Medicare, and also support regulations on the size of drinks and portions in restaurants. On the latter, I don't see how we would suddenly live in an oppressive society if the largest drink size I can order from McDonald's was the same as it was back in 1973.

One theme I wish Sunstein found more time for in his review would be the importance of stating that once we recognize the principles involved, we should find their tensions, their limitations and move on to a rigorous analysis of factual information regarding a particular or specific public policy. When we recognize the tautologies and tensions that exist with every formulation, it helps us regain reality and not confuse metaphors and theories with reality.

In any event, it is a great essay review and helps us understand the book being reviewed and moves the debate forward.

Another otherwise good guy misses the labor union perspective, too...

Joseph Stiglitz, who is still atoning (and quite nicely) for his support of corporate oriented trade agreements in the 1990s, writes a powerful article in the NY Times about the lack of social mobility in America. His solutions are focused on education and lessening discrimination, but he misses the gorilla in the room, which is the demise of private sector labor unions and the need to restore the balance between labor and capital.

Too bad we don't have Abraham Lincoln to inspire us among living politicians. Here is Lincoln from his first annual message to Congress in 1861:

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Had FoxNews been around in 1864, when Lincoln ran for re-election that year, they would have flogged the fact that Karl Marx was supporting Lincoln's re-election, and even wrote a congratulatory telegram upon his re-election. Marx wrote it as the recording secretary for the International Workingmen's Association. See here along with US Ambassador to Great Britain's Charles Francis Adams, Sr.'s "diplomatic" reply.

Adams, of course, was more inclined toward what later became the economic corporatist thinking of the Republican Party, though Adams always remained a stalwart for good government, and government based economic action in developing a nation. I remain a great fan of Charles Adams, Sr. and in another life, I'd love to write that particular Adams' biography, as he has never received the modern comprehensive treatment he deserves. There is only one decent biography of him, from Martin Duberman, written in the late 1950s, and nothing of note since.

Funny how we went from Stiglitz to Adams...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Just wonderin'....

We invaded Grenada, Panama, and made life very harsh and difficult for those living in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Brazil, among others in this past century. And often for the flimsiest of reasons and on the most misleading of circumstances.

So I wonder, why does nobody in our nation's elite foreign policy establishment call for invading the Cayman Islands and opening up accounts there?

As I wrote above, just wonderin'...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

He still can't mention labor unions...

The president continues his moderate Republican ways circa 1976...See this post and read the transcript of his speech. He continues to ignore a key constituency of the Democratic Party and continues to fail to understand the importance of labor unions in any society that wishes to call itself civilized. We remain a society out of balance and revitalized labor unions in the service sector, and in a growing or restored manufacturing sector, are necessary to restore that balance.

What the president and too many liberals these days do not understand is that his policies will not restore the power of the middle class unless he includes labor law reform to restore and revitalize private sector labor unions.

It is sadly this simple, and this imperative.

A prophet returns to Israel

This Ha'aretz article about 87 year old sociologist Zygmunt Bauman is a fascinating read, as we receive a summary of his extraordinary life, from pre-WWII Poland, through the period of the Holocaust, and Communist repression, and then into Israel, where he diagnosed the destructive nature of the occupation, and then his turning toward England as a pastoral retreat to allow him to write books that led to the insight about our "liquid" culture.

He is a prophet because in 1970, he penned an article for Ha'aretz where he correctly identified where the occupation would lead Israel in terms of its culture, its politics and economic policies.

Bauman is interesting because he recognizes that those on the Palestinian side who wish to completely de-legitimize the nation of Israel are also wrong. Here he stands up to those who say he should boycott speaking at all in Israel because of the occupation. Again, however, Bauman is a trenchant critic of the occupation, as seen in this post at a somewhat notorious website and discussion of an interview Bauman gave some time ago in his native Polish language.

Bauman reminds me of Czeslaw Milosz who also straddled two worlds and remained true to a left aesthetic which demands we see how policies from government and corporations impact individuals and their families, and how to remain humane in the face of entrenched power. Both men saw the destructive nature of ideologies and "isms," whether nationalism or Communism, or any other ideology where "principles" override human decency and caution. Both saw that factual analysis and discussion of issues through the prism of a scientific form of public policy making, i.e. seeking facts, asking questions, is the way in which we control the ideological impulse.

Obama continues his tone deaf ways toward labor union interests

President Obama is sure a funny sorta "socialist," ain't he?

It looks like he has chosen a Wal Mart Foundation executive to lead the important budgetary and policy position of the Office of Management & Budget, aka the OMB.

I guess we should be thankful President Obama did not choose this woman to be the new Secretary of Labor. She might have renamed the department Secretary of Associates...

The labor movement gets less bang for the buck than any other group that lobbies Congress and the President, and this is one more example. I have long said the union movement should give money to a new party, whether it was the Reform Party in the 1990s before xenophobes took it over, or the Greens. They would get more respect and more traction for improving the lives of workers and their families. Otherwise, it is better to plow the money into strikes and union organizing and help its existing members understand the true meaning of labor solidarity.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ronald Dworkin 1931-2013

I continue to admire the wisdom of Ronald Dworkin in recognizing that legal positivism was a dead end, and still rejecting rigidity in the so-called originalist position. His understanding of the law has been a combination of the best (not worst) of the legal/judicial philosophy Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. the political philosophy of John Rawls, and an elegant touch of Felix Frankfurter's jurisprudence.

Dworkin has now fled the mortal coil and will become a voice for the ages.

(Edited)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Technocrat speaks...

President Obama, technocrat par excellence, has spoken.

Not one word about labor unions. Not one word about card check.

Obama simply does not understand, or perhaps won't allow himself to understand, that there is a connection between no labor unions and the mass of service jobs that pay so poorly. So poorly that even an increase of the minimum wage to $9.00 is an improvement, but is too little to make that much of a difference for the economic health of our nation.

Just imagine had the president pointed out how hard and fast the fast-food workers work. Don't believe me? Try the job for a week. Don't want to do that? Well, watch the workers carefully next time you're at McDonald's or somewhere like it. Tell me it is easier to do their job, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, than welding a part in a Ford Motor Co. factory in 1935. Just imagine had the president said, "If we supported and promoted--yes, promoted--the workers in our nation to form unions and demand their wages doubled over the next three years, we'd be a stronger nation." Then, his welcome rhetoric about the importance of well paid workers being great customers would be more than rhetoric.

Yes, I love his stuff about promoting efforts to limit climate change. Yes, I agree with most of his position on gun control. Yes, I agree with increasing the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. Yes, I agree with him about increasing and protecting voting rights. And I am thankful this imperialist is finally going to end the the U.S. war in Afghanistan after fourteen years (though his rhetoric there sounded awfully like "peace with honor" and therefore, Nixonian).

But notice he made a pitch for the Trans Pacific Trade Treaty, a treaty that will codify the trends that so decimated American manufacturing these past fifteen years. Notice he pushed for more trade treaties that make imports into the U.S. easier, which helps Obama's rich donors and friends, but puts American workers further at risk of losing to cheaper labor.

Obama is again a technocrat. A humane one, but still limited in his understanding of the fundamental importance of labor unions for true growth, for true support of workers and their families.

He has failed and most of his economic initiatives will amount to very little or nothing at all. The American dream continues to wind down and die. Unless labor unions are promoted, and the split of profits from productivity going to workers significantly improves, we will continue to beggar the middle and working classes in the United States. It is really that simple. And it is a sad spectacle that we have to deal with the dumb rhetoric that calls Obama a "Marxist," a "socialist" and the like.

My Dad, who is a good union supporter, said, "Well, what do you expect him to do? What can we do?" That is the extent to which the propaganda of corporate broadcast media is complete. My father knows better. My father knows there is a need for labor law reform and things like card check elections that are the end of the matter, not the beginning of a long, arduous battle that workers cannot withstand with their limited personal economic situation. Yet, corporate broadcast media talking heads yabber on about anything but what I am talking about here. And so, the most fundamental economic issue is crowded out while we make sure gay guys and gals get to die in imperial wars, we argue about guns, about not teaching Shakespeare anymore but pushing instead for vocational schooling for all in high school, as if that is an answer for a beggared middle class in our nation.

Oh well. Enough for the evening.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

New Palestinian-Israeli peace initiative?

This article by David Horzany may be the best and most hopeful article on the results of the Israeli election I have read. I was myself very surprised by the strength of the liberal-left vote in the election in Israel and am wondering if the television personality Yair Lapid is able to create a working majority in the Knesset that may re-start peace talks with Abbas in the West Bank, at least, and maybe stop the madness of the settler movement.

Plus, there may well be another opportunity for peace with Hamas, especially as Ha'aretz is reporting that Hamas leader Khaled Meshal is stating even more clearly his support for a two state solution. I find Meshal's remarks amazingly hopeful as they come just weeks after Israeli bombers killed his friend and his subsequent public abandonment of his pro-peace negotiations with Israel position he has mostly held since 2008. It is apparent Meshal sees the election results as Horzany and I do, and believes at some point, Israelis and Palestinians have to stop killing each other.

The saddest thing to me about the last six years is how often Meshal has made statements that are legitimate peace overtures, and how successive Israeli governments have refused to engage with the peace process in good faith. Under Olmert in 2006 and then especially under Netanyahu, the Israeli rightward leadership has abandoned the two state solution--and believe Israel is in the later stages of its takeover of most of the West Bank--and thereby want instead to fulfill their dream of a "Greater Israel." If the rightward majority holds in the Knesset because Lapin sides with Netanyhau, we are likely to see Netanyahu demand "conditions" in order to humiliate Palestinian leaders and delay the peace process. We are also likely to see Israel continue to build settlements, even while proclaiming a "freeze," a favorite tactic of many Israeli governments, whether centrist or right. And then, we'll know the annexation of the West Bank and the further undermining of Israeli democratic values remain the true goals--not peace.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

The politics of Israel-Palestine spill over again onto American campuses

Glenn Greenwald has the story in detail. See here. Poor Brooklyn College. Caught up in the storm of the 100 years war. I am against the BDS movement myself, though I find that as the Likudniks and their allies get more comfortable with explicitly calling for a one-state solution, Israel, over the Palestinians, they are enabling the BDS movement, which also stands for a one-state solution, but one based purely on demographics, which will eventually favor the Arabs over Jews.

Ideologues like Alan Dershowitz look worse and worse in these matters. Greenwald catches Dershowitz in enough inaccuracies as to call into question Dershowitz's good faith. Readers of this blog know about Dersh and how bad he gets when it comes to matters of Israeli policies, and this is really no surprise. It's still sad, though.

Stewart takes on the gun maker lobbyists and lackeys...

Jon Stewart does a marvelous job of destroying the talking points of the gun maker lobbyists and lackeys that are just plain dumb. See here.

The woman from the Independent Women's Forum who recounted every detail of the story of the woman who defended herself with a gun, but didn't know the gun used is a rifle that is not banned under the 1994 Assault Weapon law that expired several years ago is, alas, a classic example of the cynical dumbness of right wing pundits. They know no shame and know they are playing to a particular demographic where they are rarely disturbed by subtlety or factual analysis.

Stewart's take down of that woman and especially La Pierre of the National Rifle Association reminded me of the time Stewart destroyed the odious Betsy McCaughey, who appeared on the show carrying the then entire proposed Obamacare law (nearly two feet thick) and plopped it down on Stewart's desk as if to say, "Isn't this all too complicated?" One of her main arguments against the proposed law at the time were the so-called "death panels," which she claimed would immediately lead to forced euthanasia of elderly people. Stewart showed the audience what the section of the proposed law actually said, and she said Stewart had it wrong. So he asked her to look it up in the law she brought...and she couldn't find it. She looked through the pile of paper as if she had hardly ever bothered to look at the law at all. It was a pathetic performance, but one realized watching it that she had probably brought that law around to more friendly venues and never had to once answer the question, "Can you show us exactly in the language of the law it states what you say it does?" I recall starting to feel sorry for her, and then had to remind myself that she had been spreading poison about "death panels" all around the nation. Then, I felt a sudden sense of vindictiveness that I realize is not pretty.

The day after Stewart's show aired, McCaughey resigned from a prestigious pharmaceutical company board of directors where she had served for good money. I don't think she's been anywhere but a rare appearance on FoxNews perhaps. But as James Fallows of The Atlantic noted at least twice, Ms. McCaughey was one for the books. Well, she was, until Ms. Trotter showed up a few days ago...

First as tragedy, then as farce...

Why imperial actions in Afghanistan tend toward failure...Read this brilliant, sharply written review of William Dalrymple's new book on the British Afghan Wars in the Financial Times.

I recall learning about the British invasion and war in Afghanistan in the late 1970s as part of a course on Southern Asia. When the Russians went into Afghanistan in December 1979, I recall saying to my folks, who thought the Russians would wipe out the Afghan rebels in a week, I responded, "The Russians will think they will win in a week, too. And they'll be bogged down there for the next five years or more, and won't win at all..." They thought I was being a Commie anti-war naive guy again, and I just laughed sardonically.