Sunday, October 31, 2010

October Odds and Ends...

Here it is Halloween and time for some October odds and ends.  Let’s all breathe a long sigh of relief that the seemingly endless election campaign will be over on Tuesday.  I suppose we’ll have to endure the post election evaluations, conclusions, predictions, explanations, and excuses from self-styled experts and Fox news blowhards, but, given time, even they’ll move on to other juicier and more immediately pressing issues.  
We are already being treated to some wild 2012 predictions from David Broder in Sunday’s Washington Post.  Broder spins off his predictions that the economy will not improve substantially, but since Obama is smarter than anyone else, he will recognize that WWII helped FDR get us out of the Depression and so...  Let’s have Broder speak  for himself.  [Here]
...With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.
I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.”
Stephen Walt of Foreign Policy pointedly titled a reply “What was David Broder Smoking?” [Here]  
Let’s leave Broder with his fantasies and move on.
Do you remember Shirley Sherrod, the splendid Department of Agriculture official, who was forced to resign when a doctored video of a speech that she had given before an NAACP meeting appeared on Andrew Breitbart’s website?  That same Breitbart recently announced on his website, which was confirmed by the network, that he (and his editor) have been invited by ABC to provide expert commentary on election night.  [Here]   
As you can imagine, the progressive blogosphere erupted in outrage.  We have also read that the regular ABC news division is not at all happy, either.  [Here]  ABC has done flipflops to explain away its decision to give him a voice over their airwaves, but try as they might, the bad taste and smell is still in the air.  Breitbart will be in your face if you visit ABC on Tuesday night.  Browsers beware.  Channel surfing may be dangerous to your health on Tuesday night.
I have not yet seen CNN’s new Eliot Spitzer/Kathleen Parker spot, but if this Parker column in Wednesday’s Washington Post is any indication of the intellectual level that Ms. Parker brings to the show, poor, poor Eliot.  Parker titled her most recent piece “For Clarence Thomas, an ordeal is renewed.”  (I’m not making this up.)  Parker was referring to two recent stories involving Thomas, viz. the phone call Ginni Thomas made to Anita Hill inviting Hill to apologize for nailing her husband in his confirmation hearings, and the recent statements from Lillian McEwen, an ex-Thomas girl friend who confirmed Hill’s allegations concerning Thomas’s sexual obsessions. 
Parker’s column made me wince.  If you are a feminist, it makes your hand curl into a fist.  She obviously has no understanding of what sexual harrassment is all about or how demeaning and power-driven it is.  Here‘s Parker’s opening: [Here]
In 1991, the world divided itself into two camps: those who believed Anita Hill and those who didn't. I fell somewhere in the middle: She may have told the truth, but so what?
SO WHAT???  Kathleen Parker just threw the entire Women’s Movement and its feminists (including me), right out the window.  
Is she utterly clueless or bone stupid?  She's probably a combination, don't you think?
Poor, poor Eliot...  

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine...

On rare occasions, if we are very lucky, we can stumble onto a book that shapes the way we view the world.  I think of them as deeply moral books.  I’m not referring to a religious tract or a self-help book, which are intended to change your life or at least your attitude toward living.  I mean something different.  
No, I’m referring to a book such as Jonathan Schell’s Fate of the Earth, whose prose led us into the reality of a horror-filled world of thermonuclear war.  Schell’s words still echo in my head when I hear wingnut pundits urging a nuclear wipe-out of Iran’s nuclear facility or North Korea’s nuclear laboratories.  Schell schooled my generation and his words rang with a deep humanist morality.  They became part of the horror with which we viewed nuclear war and those words remain in our bones and hearts and minds.
There is another, more recent book that is as important and I hope will inform as many people as the Fate of the Earth did.  The book is Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
Wikipedia summarizes the book :[Here]
The book argues that the free market policies of Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman have risen to prominence in some countries because they were pushed through while the citizens were reacting to disasters or upheavals. It is implied that some man-made crises, such as the Falklands war, may have been created with the intention of being able to push through these unpopular reforms in their wake.
Klein begins with a description of the development of brutal electroshock therapy that was developed by psychiatrist Dr. Ewen Cameron and the CIA to regress patients into fetal infancy with the intention of being able to remake their personalities.  The first part, the destruction, was successful and the latter, the rebuilding, was a hideous failure. 
She then introduces Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics with its belief in world-wide free markets and less regulation than existed prior to the New Deal.  Proponents of this market model noticed that the Friedman model was often easier to implement when the country had encountered a shock--of war, revolution, or natural catastrophe.  (Should we add a sudden recession?)
Klein takes the reader through the brutal events in Chile under Pinochet with torture and “disappearances” used to shock the population into compliance while Pinochet and his “Chicago Boys,” (the economists trained under Friedman), dismantled the reforms instituted by the Socialist President Savador Allende.  She also describes how Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used the  Faulkland War for milder reform. 
Klein analyzes the same process in Poland, Russia, South Africa and then the financial crises in Asia.  She moves on to Iraq and describes in detail how deregulation and privatization worked in Iraq where the military “Shock and Awe” was quickly followed by an economic “shock and awe” under the American occupation led by the Bush Administration and the occupation authority.
Along the way Klein informs us about the realities of a privatized, free market world with powerful international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank promoting much of the ideology. 
In the present election storm and with increasing pressure from private billionaires and corporations to privatize and enfeeble our public institutions, Klein’s analysis must be understood.  Huge money is being expended to gloss over the ideological thrust of the present conservative movement. 
Naomi Klein thus leads us to what will probably be the next “Good Fight,” the fight to save our nation’s soul.  
Yes, Klein has given us a fine moral book.  We must not overlook her warnings...

Friday, October 29, 2010

“I have a host of friends who are...”

Last Wednesday the President met with five popular Progressive bloggers in the Roosevelt Room of the White House and answered their questions for about an hour.  We might have suggested some other writers whom he could have included, but his list represented a reasonable assortment of left-leaning bloggers.  And, wonders of wonders, the White House folks remembered to include a woman!  Here’s the list: 
Duncan Black (“Atrios”) from Eschaton [Here], Joe Sudbay from AMERICAblog [Here], Barbara Morrill from DailyKos, [Here], Jon Amato , founder of Crooks and Liars, [Here] and Oliver Willis, of Oliver Willis, [Here]
Nothing extraordinary or earthshaking was revealed but it was a good beginning for what we hope will be an expanded and ongoing discussion between Obama and the Netroots.
There was one extraordinary exchange during the interview which reveals much about Obama’s point of view about gay issues in general and same-sex marriage in particular.  (This is from Huffpost’s transcription of the bloggers’ interview of the President.  We presume that the question was from Joe Sudbay from AMERICAblog.)  [Here]
Q:  And this one is on the issue of marriage. Since you've become President, a lot has changed.  More states have passed marriage equality laws.  This summer a federal judge declared DOMA unconstitutional in two different cases.  A judge in San Francisco declared Prop 8 was unconstitutional.  And I know during the campaign you often said you thought marriage was the union between a man and a woman, and there -- like I said, when you look at public opinion polling, it's heading in the right direction. We've actually got Republicans like Ted Olson and even Ken Mehlman on our side now.  So I just really want to know what is your position on same-sex marriage?
The President:  I think it's a fair question to ask. I think that -- I am a strong supporter of civil unions. As you say, I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage.
But I also think you're right that attitudes evolve, including mine. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships.   I have staff members who are in committed, monogamous relationships, who are raising children, who are wonderful parents.
And I care about them deeply. And so while I'm not prepared to reverse myself here, sitting in the Roosevelt Room at 3:30 in the afternoon, I think it's fair to say that it's something that I think a lot about. That's probably the best you'll do out of me today. (Laughter.)”
I’m going to leave this where the President flung it...And I shall not comment further on this interview except to add that the group of 5 bloggers (4 men and 1 woman) were referred to by the President as “you guys.”  (I thought that form of a collective noun ended back in the ’60’s.)  
As for the President’s wishy-washy position on gay marriage, Blogger Taylor Marsh wrote an interesting comment/rant about Obama’s point of view. [Here]  Marsh sums up what many folks, including me, are thinking.  The comments to her blog are worth reading, too.  
It is hard to believe that President Obama ended the discussion of equal rights for gay partners with “it’s something that I think a lot about...”
Isn't that nifty and hunky-dory?

Who or what is the man afraid of?...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Enter the Puppeteers...

In yesterday’s post, we described the Tea Party “movement,” which isn’t a movement at all, but rather a disparate collection of angry folks who are disturbed by the economic plight of the country and the size of the government.  It can best be described as an astroturf movement that has been manipulated by a few billionaires and large corporations.  
As one astute writer for the Guardian wrote: [Here]
The Tea Party movement is remarkable in two respects.  It is one of the biggest exercises in false consciousness the world has ever seen.  And it is the biggest astroturf operation in history.
Astroturf events are those that are manipulated to look as if they are spontaneously inspired, created and organized at the grassroots level, but in reality are manipulated from above and out of sight by elite, special interests.  The tragedy about the current tea partyers is that they are being run and funded by the very folks that they are denouncing or, as the Guardian writer put it,: [Here]
It [The Tea Party] is mostly composed of passionate, well-meaning people who think they are fighting elite power, unaware that they have been organised by the very interests they believe they are confronting. 
The main puppeteers in this election are large corporations and the Koch brothers who own and operate a HUGE privately held enterprise called Koch Industries which makes $100 billion a year in oil refineries, coal, chemical plants and logging.  The brothers control, own, and direct their business and are both worth $21 billion.  David Koch coyly described Koch Industries as “the biggest company you’ve never heard of.”  And that’s just the way they want it. [Here]
Before father Fred died (1967), he wrote his will in such a way that the estate could avoid large estate taxes by mandating large annual charity contributions.  Thus, over time the Koch brothers became adept at the charity giving-and-getting influence game.  The brothers have given huge amounts to public charities, such as the opera and medical research, particulary cancer research. (David has prostate cancer which is in remission, but when it comes out of remission, he hopes one of the institutions that he has funded will have had a breakthrough and will give him more years on this earth.  Ah, it's nice to be rich, isn't it?)
Father Fred was a founder of the John Birch Society, the rightwing group that imagined Communists lurking everywhere.  The extreme conservative philosophy continues today with the Koch brothers’ lavish funding of rightwing think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.  They have also created the Cato Institute which is devoted to espousing libertarian and neoliberal economic points of view.   The Koch brothers also fund the Mercatus Center at George Mason University which is now a center for espousing Friedman’s economic theories, a role that the Economics Department at the University of Chicago once filled.
Two groups that the Kochs have funded in this current election cycle are Americans For Prosperity and Freedom Works.  They have the organizational ideas and the resources and the money to pull the strings of the tea partyers.  These organizations are the puppet masters, but the Koch brothers pay their salaries.  
The names of these organizations are all so innocuous, aren’t they?  And they all sound alike--Americans For Prosperity, Freedom Works, Tea-Party Express, Tea Party Patriots.   
And what is all this sound and fury about?  Make no mistake.  The Koch brothers want a Milton Friedman-styled, free-market American economy and in order to achieve it, there would have to be: Privatization (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Public Education, etc.)  Deregulation( Environmental standards, SEC, etc.) and Government downsizing (no Dept of Ed., etc.)  In effect, let the markets prevail with no regulations or trade barriers.  Throw out the protections citizens have fought for and won in a saner climate with a saner Congress and a more forceful WH. and a less ideological SCOTUS.  
We have just seen what one SCOTUS decision (Citizens United v. FEC) can do.  With unlimited anonymous funding (the Kochs and corporations) and complicit media outlets (FOX and News Corp), the only thing that stands in the way of a neo-liberal grasp of power in this country is an intelligent, alert and knowledgeable citizenry who can smell skunks in the bushes and snakes in the grass.

We’ll know more on Tuesday.... 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tea Party, Act One...

Are you tired of the Tea Party “movement” yet?  I have been for quite a while but it seems we can’t get away from it.  We certainly can’t get away from the media talking about “them” and what the punditry claims “they” believe in.  So it was with great interest that I read the results of a month-long search and analysis that the Washington Post published last Sunday. [Here and Here]
It appears that the Tea Partyers are made up of disparate groups throughout the country.  As WaPo put it:
...a new Washington Post canvass of hundreds of local tea party groups reveals a different sort of organization, one that is not so much a movement as a disparate band of vaguely connected gatherings that do surprisingly little to engage in the political process. 
The paper tried to contact every group in the country which turned out to be a Herculean task.  Seventy percent of the groups contacted have not had any direct political involvement this year.  According to The Post: [Here]
As a whole, they have no official candidate slates, have not rallied behind any particular national leader, have little money on hand, and remain ambivalent about their goals and the political process in general.
So how many people are involved?  The Tea Party Patriots, an Atlanta-based parent group claims 2300 local groups, but WaPo could verify only 1400 and then could make contact with a mere 647.  All of this suggests how loosely connected these groups are.

Furthermore, there was no agreement among the tea party groups about which issues were major.  The most commonly shared concerns were about the size of government and the state of the economy.  They don’t like Obama and they share a distrust of the Democratic Party, but they don’t hold the Republican Party in high regard, either.  The piece points out that much of their sound and fury would probably fade away if the economy improved.
What is important to note is that the tea party’s successes have come when one of the “super-funded” national organizations have (as WaPo wrote) “swooped in to mobilize local support.” [Here]
In upset victories in Alaska and Delaware, for instance, the Sacramento-based Tea Party Express spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising for Republican Senate candidates Joe Miller and Christine O'Donnell, respectively.
What opened the doors wide for the creation of these “super-funded” 501(c)4  national organizations was, of course, Citizens United v. FEC .  Five black-robed judges unlocked the doors and smugly invited the Koch brothers and their friends to flood the airwaves with ads and spectacles like the Glenn Beck ego spectacle at the Washington Mall.
In that same Sunday Washington Post tea party analysis, there was an essay by a West Coast reporter, Bill Donahue, who rode with an Ohio group from the suburbs of Dayton to Washington to hear Beck. [Here]  The group had been bundled together by a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel who had spent his military career in the “service” division so his planning for this trip of 51 middle-aged folks was right up his alley.   As the ride continued, it became clear that the folks were devout Christians.  In fact, the bus picked them up in the parking lot of a local Baptist church.
The nine-hour trip to D.C. ended in the morning and the group was herded onto the Metro with thousands of other sweltering, trip-tousled folks.  When Donahue’s fellow passengers were directed to their spot on the Mall, they were relegated to a distant spot under the trees where they couldn’t see the stage or any of the giant t.v. screens and the sound system sounded as if the speakers were under water.   
When it was over, the ex-Colonel directed them to a motel where they spent the night before heading back to Ohio.  And there it was.  No deeply-held political convictions were evident or expressed on the bus.  It sounded more like a long summer outing with a bus ride to a Rotarian convention.
We have to go up the income ladder--way up-- to the big money boys to find out what’s really going on.  And rest assured, they are there, ready to pounce. 
More in our next.... 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October Odds and Ends...

As we limp to Halloween and with the (gulp) midterm elections just ten days away, we must tie up some loose odds and ends that should not get lost because we’ve been too focused on the Strange Couple, Clarence and Ginni Thomas.
Let’s start with some hopeful news which might actually turn out to be downright cheerful news.  Senator Dick Durbin (D, IL), the current Senate majority whip, was interviewed on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and made some interesting comments about the Deficit Commission of which he is a member.  He mentioned that in order for the Commission to recommend a proposal, there must be 14 of the 18 members to agree.  In the current toxic and extremely partisan, pre-election atmosphere which will no doubt carry over into the lame duck session of Congress, it is extremely unlikely that the so-called “bipartisan” commission will come to any agreement which will whittle away the current Social Security system.  This is what The Hill’s Blog noted about Durbin’s remarks: [Here]
Durbin's comments are an acknowledgment of the pressure the panel faces from both political parties, and suggest that the panel could release a proposal that is less ambitious than some believe.
[...] This week, over half the members of the House Democratic Caucus wrote to the president saying that they will oppose any cut to Social Security benefits.
The letter that the large bloc (136 members) of the House Democratic caucus wrote to the President was unequivocal: [Here
If any of the [fiscal] commission’s recommendations cut or diminish Social Security in any way, we will stand firmly against them...We urge you to join us in protecting and strengthening Social Security rather than letting it fall victim to a misguided attempt to reduce budget deficits on the backs of working families. 
It’s very comforting to read this brave statement, but will the individual Representatives stand by them with all the nonsense that the Republican plutocrats are throwing into the airways?  We’ll have to wait and see--with our fingers crossed. 
The next item concerns the Judicial Branch.  (We can’t seem to escape it, can we?)  Linda Greenhouse, who writes an occasional Op-Ed piece for the NYTimes, has alerted us to a growing problem in the federal judiciary system in an article titled, “Calling John Roberts.” [Here]   Greenhouse points out that there is a current judicial vacancy crisis with 105 vacancies, 49 of whom are listed as “emergencies,” a formula, Greenhouse tells us, that involves the workload of the particular position and the length of time it has gone unfilled.   
She tells us that “the number of “emergencies” has doubled since the start of the Obama administration.”  [Here]  Greenhouse believes that the responsibility rests partly with the President who has been slow to nominate people to the positions and partly with the Senate Democratic leadership which hasn’t pushed for the confirmation process although many of the nominees have received approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee.   
However, the Senators of the Party of No! bear the principle onus for this shameful situation.  The Senate recessed with 23 names left swinging in the breeze.  A list of the 103 vacancies and the lack of nominees are stunning.  [Here]
This is where Chief Justice John Roberts could enter the picture, if he wishes to and has the stomach for it.  Greenhouse reminds us that a similar situation faced the Senate in 1998 when then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist (a Roberts mentor and a Republican) used his year-end report to criticize the Republican-controlled Senate for its inaction.
Once again it’s time for John Roberts to step up and do his job without sniffing the air to find out what is blowing in the wind from the Republican leadership and the Cato Institute.  It would require Roberts to criticize Republicans.  Hmmm....
Let’s stop here.  There are other odd bits, but then again this is election time in which oddballs tend to get odder, bolder and ubiquitous.  After the election, what will we do without Christine O’Donnell?  I suspect she won’t fade away after she loses her Senate race.  And if she wins, she will be in our face for another 6 years and it will be all of us who will have to fade away.  
Canada anyone?...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ginni and Clarence. What a pair...

In my previous blog, I noted that the NYTimes had reported that the Koch brothers, owners of the energy giant Koch Industries, had invited rich GOPers to a confidential strategy session next January in Palm Springs.  In the invitational letter, as a kind of tempting lure, Charles Koch listed the names of some previous attendees.  Among the names he mentioned were Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, raising questions about possible future conflicts of interest and opening debate about not only conflicts of interest but also the practice of recusal on the High Bench. 
On top of this publicity, Ginni Thomas, Clarence’s wife, has refocused national attention on her husband and his 1991 Senate confirmation hearings with an early morning phone call to her husband’s accuser, Professor Anita Hill on October 9th.  (If you recall, Hill had accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.)  The large question that has hovered over this weird incident is the large question of why?  Why did Ginni Thomas make that phone call on an early Saturday morning almost twenty years after those confirmation hearings?
The most interesting theory involves the rash of publicity that Ginni Thomas herself  had received the day before the infamous phone call when  a major article about her activities appeared in the NYTimes, titled “Activism of Thomas’s Wife Could Raise Judicial Issues.” [Here]  The piece described Ms. Thomas’s role as a GOP lobbyist and recent founder of Liberty Central, a TeaParty/Conservative 501(c)(4) organization which can now accept huge contributions anonymously because of the Supreme Court’s narrowly decided Citizen United decision that her husband voted for.

Was Ginni’s phone call a diversion from the unwanted publicity that the Times article shone on both Ginni and Clarence?  Or was Ginni just plain giddy from all the attention?  Neither Thomas could have been pleased by the Times piece because the reporting wasn’t confined to Ginni and Liberty Central but raised reasonable and searching questions about Clarence’s conflicts of interest, judicial ethics (ahem) and Supreme Court recusal issues.  
Just the day before the Ginni Thomas article appeared in the Times, the paper ran an editorial, titled “Recusals and the Court,” which noted Elena Kagan’s recusal of 25 of 51 cases that the Court has accepted.  The editorial did not mention Thomas by name, although it did mention Justice Scalia’s refusal to recuse himself in a case involving Dick Cheney after he accepted a duck-hunting invitation from the Vice President.
Whatever Ginni Thomas’s motives were and are, her professional life and her singularly odd telephone call to an old adversary inviting her to apologize turned a national spotlight on both Thomases.
And then on Friday, The Washington Post increased the heat by publishing a fascinating interview of Lillian McEwen, [Here] a 65-year old former girl friend of Thomas whose association with him was described as “a steady relationship.”  McEwen was not originally called by Judicial Chair Biden because he confined the witness list to those who had “professional relationships” with Thomas.  
McEwen is now retired and is ready to talk.  And talk she did.  (She also has a book she is peddling and hopes that some interviews might help her to be published.)  She confirmed many of the things that we have heard about Thomas--his obsessive interest in pornography, his obsession about female breasts, including asking female employees their bra size, and his “Inappropriate comments” about and to the women he worked with.
Lillian McEwen is a former assistant U.S. attorney and Senate Judiciary Committee counsel who dated Thomas for years.  She was twice married and twice divorced with a grown daughter.  She has been quiet for years, fearing talking would harm her career, but she is now retired and shrugs, “I have nothing to be afraid of.” [Here]
The Post went through many of the old allegations and McEwen confirmed many of the charges that Hill had made.  As McEwen said: [Here]
 He was always actively watching the women he worked with to see if they could be potential partners...It was a hobby of his. 
McEwen’s interview concludes with: [Here]
I have no hostility toward him... It is just that he has manufactured a different reality over time. That's the problem that he has. 
I think we would all agree that’s not the only problem Clarence Thomas has...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Brothers Koch--Again...

Last Tuesday the NYTimes’s splendid national reporter, Kate Zernike, wrote an article [Here] that has put a public spotlight on the secretive funding of a very conservative Republican agenda.  Titled “Secretive Republican Donors Are Planning Ahead,” the piece described an invitation extended by the Brothers Koch of the Koch Industries to a meeting next January at Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa to discuss future strategies.  Zernike quotes one invitation that says it is a meeting to:  [Here]
...develop strategies to counter the most severe threats facing our free society and outline a vision of how we can foster a renewal of American free enterprise and prosperity. 
The invitation included a personal letter from Charles Koch which, according to Zernike, began with this familiar call to action:  [Here]
If not now, when?  If not us, who?  
The letter continued with this:
to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it. 
And what public policies are Charles Koch worried about that are so “threatening”?  Koch goes on to talk about “climate change alarmism and the move to socialized health care” and “regulatory assault on energy.”  Of course, Charles Koch of Koch Industries, distributor of petroleum, chemicals, energy, natural gas, plastics, and so on, would be concerned about governmental regulations.  The Koch brothers have been leaders of the conservative pushback against environmentalists’ concerns about global warming and the green movement's activities.
This current invitation, quoted by Zernike, was sent out to their usual very affluent attendees.  These twice annual meetings, by invitation only, are also secret.  We would presume that they would prefer to call them “discreet.”  Zernike writes: [Here]
The Kochs insist on strict confidentiality surrounding the California meetings, which are entitled “Understanding and Addressing Threats to American Free Enterprise and Prosperity.” The letter advises participants that it is closed to the public, including the news media, and admonishes them not to post updates or information about the meeting on the Web, blogs, social media or traditional media, and to “be mindful of the security and confidentiality of your meeting notes and materials.”
The invitation included a brochure from the Koch’s last meeting in Aspen, Colorado last June.  Among the speakers at that Aspen meeting was Glenn Beck whose lecture was titled “Is America on the Road to Serfdom?”    
Ding!  Ding!  Ding!  Remember Milton Friedman and his influence on the rightwing coup in Chile under Pinochet?  Remember the “Chicago Boys”?  Remember Friedrich Hayek at the University of Chicago and his influence on libertarian thought? [HereRemember that the Koch brothers funded the Cato Institute and that the lower level auditorium in their building is named after Hayek? [HereRemember that Hayek preferred to call his philosophy neoliberalism. [Here]  Finally, remember that Friedrich Hayek’s most widely read book is The Road to Serfdom. [Here] 
Need I go on?
I’m sorry to say that all of this is coming together, isn’t it?  
One last thought:  In his invitational letter, Charles Koch mentions the names of participants in previous events.  Among the Koch’s previous guests were Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.
More tomorrow, I promise...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

G. Thomas v. A. Hill...

You have no doubt heard about Ginni Thomas’s off-the-wall message to Anita Hill which she left on Hill’s office answering machine at Brandeis University.  If not, here it is:
Good morning, Anita Hill, it's Ginni Thomas.  I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something.  I would love you to consider an apology some time and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.  So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did.  OK, have a good day."  
Prof. Hill has told the NYTimes [Here] that the message was received at 7:31 on Saturday morning, October 9th.  She said that she had kept the message for a week, trying to decide if it were authentic or not.  She finally turned the message over to the campus police with a request to turn it over to the FBI. 
In a statement given to CNN, Thomas has acknowledged the phone call.  [Here]  
I did place a call to Ms. Hill at her office extending an olive branch to her after all these years, in hopes that we could ultimately get past what happened so long ago.  That offer still stands, I would be very happy to meet and talk with her if she would be willing to do the same.  Certainly no offense was ever intended.
Prof. Hill responded to all of this fuss through a statement issued to CNN via Brandeis University: [Here]
I certainly thought the call was inappropriate...I have no intention of apologizing because I testified truthfully about my experience and I stand by that testimony. 
We should all remember that Prof. Hill did not voluntarily offer the sexual harrassment information to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991.  It wasn’t her idea to turn her life upside down. The harrassment charges were only discovered when the FBI interviewed her as part of a routine vetting procedure of Thomas for the Senate confirmation process.  Racy tidbits of that privately sworn FBI testimony were leaked to the press before Hill ever appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  That leak turned the hearings into a media circus.  
After so many years, it is hard to imagine what would have occasioned Ginni Thomas to make that phone call to Hill, but I guess we’ve learned not to be surprised at what either Clarence or Ginni Thomas does or says.  But still, 7:31 a.m. on a Saturday morning?  Had she been up all night thinking about this?  Did the Thomases concoct this together over their morning latte?  
It does also sound as if Ginni Thomas is a bit taken with herself, doesn’t it?  These days she certainly is in the center of partisan rightwing advocacy and money funneling.  After spending some time working for Rep. Dick Armey and then at the Heritage Foundation where she collected resum├ęs for George Bush appointees, she is presently the founder and president of Liberty Central, an advocacy group that is currently very busy funneling money to rightwing candidates.  (All of this was made possible by that 5-4 Citizens United v. FEC decision that hubby Clarence voted for.)
Beyond the questions that we have about “why now, Ginni?,” this whole episode raises, once again, the question of conflicts of interest for Clarence Thomas who seems unphased by mingling partisan politicos with judicial oversight.  We’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.
I guess we’ll never know what inspired Ginni Thomas to pick up that phone a couple of weeks ago and call Anita Hill.  It also must have taken determination and time to get the right phone number for Hill’s college office, proving that Ginni had some scenario in mind.  
Do you think she thought that it was worth a try and maybe Anita Hill would snap at the offer?  Could Ginni be that intellectually challenged?
You don’t have to answer that...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Storm Is Brewing...

Remember Robert Reich?  We’ve written about him before.  He was Clinton’s Secretary of Labor from 1993-1997.  His biography informs us [Here] that he is currently a Professor of Public Policy at the Un. of California, Berkeley.
Reich’s academic credentials are superb.  He completed his undergraduate work at Dartmouth and then studied Economics and Public Policy at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.  He met Bill Clinton at Oxford and, like Clinton, went on to Yale Law School when he had completed his studies in England.  He received his J.D. and was also an editor of the Yale Law Journal.   He clerked for Judge Frank Coffin at the U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit.  In the mid-seventies, he was Assistant to Solicitor General Robert Bork.  (Yes, indeed, this man has had extraordinary experience.)  
During the ’80’s Reich taught at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, before becoming Clinton’s first Secretary of Labor.  After Clinton’s first term, Reich returned to academia, first teaching at Brandeis.  He ran for the Democratic nomination for Gov. of Massachusetts.  Though he lost, he came in an astonishingly close second.
Reich has written many influential books pointing the way to a new liberalism and always with a particular concern for the less well-to-do.  His latest book, published last month, is Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.”  Reich’s title suggests that this could be an American sequel to Canadian Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.
Reich also treats us to occasional blogs which are up on his website, [Here].  After he has posted, his blogs shoot around the blogosphere and influence our political dialogue.  Many are also picked up by liberal online readers subscription sites, such as truthout and ReaderSupportedNews
Reich’s latest blog is called A Perfect Storm:
It’s a perfect storm. And I’m not talking about the impending dangers facing Democrats. I’m talking about the dangers facing our democracy.
Reich’s “storm” concerns the increasing concentration of income within a tiny strata of the American population.  He introduces us to the shocking statistic that one-tenth of one percent of Americans own almost a quarter of the income earned in the country.  
Who are they?  He states that with a few exceptions, they are the top executives of the large corporations and Wall Street, private-equity and hedge-fund managers.  
The disparity of income is bad enough but beyond that fact is their influence in the current election where those “one-tenth of one percenters” are pouring money into the campaigns of like-minded rightwingers who will do everything under the sun to keep the tax structure and the perks flowing their way.  
As Reich points out, the free-flowing money is funneled through groups run by men like Karl Rove, the Chamber of Commerce, Dick Armey, and Fred Malek, the old Nixon crony who was deputy Director of CREEP (The Committee to Reelect the President).  The Federal Election Commission has said that only one-third of campaign money is disclosed, compared to 97% in 2006.  [Here]  
This sea change is due, in small part, to a shift in principled positions by the political leadership in Congress, but in large part was made possible by The Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. F. E. C., when the Roberts Court gave corporations the same free speech rights that individual citizens enjoy.   (We should note here that Reich testified against Roberts during his Senate confirmation hearing!)
The third element of Reich’s “perfect storm” is that folks are angry and hurting with high unemployment, taxation and a seemingly unresponsive government.   As Reich concludes:
We’re losing our democracy to a different system. It’s called plutocracy.
With such storm warnings from intelligent social critics such as Reich, we can only pray that the American people will wake up and recognize what is at stake, before all the social safety nets and services are stripped and crippled by the Pete Petersons, Koch brothers and anonymous reactionaries in our country.
Plutocrats.  A vicious word to add to our working vocabulary.... 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Purple Thursday...

Thursday will be a Purple Day.  On Monday Digby passed along this message from a Facebook entry: [Here
It’s been decided! On October 20th, 2010, we will wear purple in honor of the LGBT youth who have committed suicide in recent weeks/months due to homophobic abuse in their homes and schools.
PURPLE represents Spirit on the LGBTQ flag and that’s exactly what we’d like all of you to have with you: spirit.  Please know that times will get better and that you will meet people who will love you and respect you for who you are, no matter your sexuality.
Please wear purple on October 20th. Tell your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and schools.
Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Raymond Chase, Asher Brown, Cody J. Barker, Harrison Chase Brown, Caleb Nolt, Billy Lucas, Jeanine Blanchette, and Chantal Dube.
Spread The Message.  It is important that all this hate be stopped.
Let us hope that this catches on from coast to coast.
In the meantime, the WH’s Valarie Jarrett has been leaping up and down to explain away what she said in an interview with WaPo’s Jonathan Capehart a few days ago.  This is her retraction in its entirety which Capehart quoted: [Here]
In a recent interview I was asked about the recent tragedies about gay youth who have committed suicide, and I misspoke when I referred to someone's sexual identity as a "lifestyle choice." I meant no disrespect to the LGBT community, and I apologize to any who have taken offense at my poor choice of words. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not a choice, and anyone who knows me and my work over the years knows that I am a firm believer and supporter in the rights of LGBT Americans. Most of all, I hope this does not distract from the issue I was asked about -- the desperate, tragic decision by some young people who feel that their only recourse is to take their own lives because they are being bullied or harassed because they are gay, or because others believe they are gay. We must instill in young people respect for one another, and we must set an example of mutual regard and civility to create an environment that is safe for every person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Most folks would agree with Jonathan Capehart that Jarrett is no bigot, but her stumbling mistake indicated her incomplete understanding of LDBT issues.  We accept Jarrett’s explanation but, as Jane Hamsher points out, the larger problem with Jarrett’s clumsiness is that Jarrett is the person within the administration to whom the LGBT liaison reports and who also is involved in DADT policies.  Hamsher claims that Jarrett has had oversight responsibility for LGBT issues for the last two years.  [Here]
Will Jarrett wear purple on Thursday?
What do you think?...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"The Shock Doctrine"...

If you have time to read only one book in the next few months, I beg that you chose Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.  No other author that I have stumbled over has Klein’s keen insight into the dynamics of  the major international economic and monetary crises of the last forty years.  Documentaries have been made from her book and her thesis has not been refuted in any substantive or intelligent way that I have found. 
Klein's book is about how the current so-called free global market economy spread throughout the world, starting in Pinochet’s Chile, on to other South American nations, and then to Margaret Thatcher’s England, Poland, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and so on.  She shows how even natural disasters such as Katrina in New Orleans, tsunamis in So. Asia, were used to achieve economic change, beneficial to free market corporations.
Klein calls this disaster capitalism and traces its origin to Milton Friedman’s economic theories.  Boiled down to its essence, Friedman and his acolytes, the infamous “Chicago boys,” believed in three main ideas to achieve a free market world, privatization, deregulation and shaved-down government. 
As Milton Friedman wrote, “Only a crisis, real or perceived, produces real change.” [Here]  And when a crisis occurs, leaders reach around for ideas that are ‘laying around.”  Obviously, he believed that only his “correct ideas” should be laying around to be picked up.
The book’s website gives us just a sampling of the examples that are discussed in detail in the book: [Here]  
At the most chaotic juncture in Iraq’s civil war, a new law is unveiled that would allow Shell and BP to claim the country’s vast oil reserves…. Immediately following September 11, the Bush Administration quietly out-sources the running of the “War on Terror” to Halliburton and Blackwater…. After a tsunami wipes out the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off to tourist resorts.... New Orleans’s residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools will never be reopened…. These events are examples of “the shock doctrine”: using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters -- to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.  Sometimes, when the first two shocks don’t succeed in wiping out resistance, a third shock is employed: the electrode in the prison cell or the Taser gun on the streets.”
As we see unprecedented amounts of corporate money, even foreign corporate money allegedly siphoned through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, pouring into Republican coffers to sway voters in this coming election, it all sounds very, very reminiscent of what has happened in the past forty years from Chile to New Orleans.  And we must admit that parts of our country are in an economic shock.  
Following lessons learned from Klein’s book, we can expect many things.  Certainly there will be a push from Obama’s Deficit Commission to weaken or gut Social Security, perhaps in preparation to an attempt to privatize it.  Can’t you imagine the insurance industry and the stock brokers drooling over the prospect?  There will be attacks on the teachers’ unions and a push for more charter/parochial schools.  (GOP N.Y. Gov. candidate Paladino is already campaigning for it.)  The list will be long.  
Remember: Privatization.  Deregulation.  Small Government 
This whole ball of wax is called neoliberalization.  In my opinion there is nothing “neo” about these theories.  They were rampant in the 1890’s and we spent years and years to make capitalism more humane through the union movement and government regulation and taxation.  We should call this Friedmanism the Neo-Gilden Age.  Its proponents are certainly not liberals.  
They are, of course, reactionaries...

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Mortgage Crisis...

I have a folder on my desktop labelled Mortgage Mess and it keeps getting thicker and thicker.   I promise not to share all the items with you, but a couple will give you an idea of what I’ve collected. 

Paul Krugman’s Friday column entitled “The Mortgage Morass” started my day. 
American officials used to lecture other countries about their economic failings and tell them that they needed to emulate the U.S. model. The Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, in particular, led to a lot of self-satisfied moralizing. Thus, in 2000, Lawrence Summers, then the Treasury secretary, declared that the keys to avoiding financial crisis were “well-capitalized and supervised banks, effective corporate governance and bankruptcy codes, and credible means of contract enforcement.” By implication, these were things the Asians lacked but we had. 
We didn’t. 
Krugman goes on to explain what we are all beginning to understand, viz. that we are in what he calls: 
... a legal morass, in which property rights  are ill defined because nobody has proper documentation. And where no clear property rights exist, it’s the government’s job to create them. 
Yes, but will this particular “government” step up to the plate?

David Dayen (dday) at Firedoglake skewers Wall Street in an essay titled “Banksters Lash Out As Wall Street Comes to Realization About Their Exposure.”  [Here]  He includes a video of a Parker/Spitzer interview in which Spitzer states flatly as a former NY Attorney General that major mortgage bond fraud has occurred.  
Dayen quotes University of Missouri-Kansas City Economics professor L. Randall Wray who labels this as “is the biggest scandal in human history.”   This description is a bit over the top, perhaps, but Wray has some interesting proposals to get us through this crisis/morass/mess.  [Here] Among the suggestions is a bank holiday to examine the largest banks for fraudulent mortgages and a suspension all forclosures until clear chain-of-titles can be established.  
Wray’s list is long and interesting, but whether this administration has the backbone to confront this issue directly and dramatically is very questionable, particularly in these weeks before the November elections.
On the other side in a state of utter tranquility and denial is John Carney, the Senior Editor of CNBC,  who is totally confident that during its lame duck session, Congress will: [Here]
...pass a law called something like “The Financial Modernization and Stability Act of 2010” that will retroactively grant mortgage pools the rights in the underlying mortgages that people are worried about. All the screwed up paperwork, lost notes, unassigned security interests will be forgiven by a legislative act.
Yes, I know--from his mouth to Obama’s ear.
I’m going to stop here.  My folder groweth by the hour.  Wouldn’t it be nice if White House wisdom and leadership abilities would grow as fast as my folder?  How this morass/crisis/mess/fraud will play out we do not yet know.
But we soon shall...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

DADT Continues...

What a mess the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is in!  On Tuesday  federal district court Judge Virginia Phillips issued an injunction immediately stopping the United States military from enforcing the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that has bedeviled the military and fair-minded people in this country since it was first signed into law in 1993.  Judge Phillips’s action was certainly courageous, intelligent and long overdue.  
The ball is now in Obama’s court. (Ahem)  And here is what White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs read in what Huffpost reporter Sam Stein called an “off-camera briefing to reporters.” 
The president strongly believes that this policy is unjust, that it is detrimental to our national security, and that it discriminates against those who are willing to die for their county. And the president strongly believes that it's time for this policy to end...The best way to end it is for the Senate to follow the lead of the House of Representatives so that that end can be implemented in a fashion that is consistent with our obligations in fighting two wars.
Absent that action, the president has again set up a process to end this policy. And I think the bottom line is that recent court rulings have demonstrated to Congress that it's time to act and end this policy; they demonstrated that time is running out on the policy of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and the bottom line is this is a policy that is going to end. It's not whether it is going to end but the process by which it is going to end.
Aren’t you thrilled that the President “strongly believes that this policy is unjust?”  And what about “detrimental to our national security?”  Thrilled you might be, but aren’t you also a triffle uncomfortable that this man who states that a policy is both unjust and detrimental to our national security allows it to continue for one second?
We now learn that Obama’s Justice Department has appealed the injunction, thus assuring that this “unjust” and “detrimental” policy will continue until the appeals process grinds away.
Also, don’t you think it interesting that the President is waiting, waiting, waiting for the Senate to take its turn in acting against the policy?   Obama and the Senate leadership did not press for action when they had 60 votes in hand.  Are we really supposed to believe that the Senate is more likely now to vote to do away with this “unjust” and “detrimental” policy than they were when the Democratic majority was flushed with Obama’s historic win?
Even the NYTimes is disgusted.  They wrote this yesterday in a strongly worded editorial, titled “Dithering on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: [Here]
The Obama administration professes to oppose the odious and misguided policy of banning gay soldiers from serving openly in the military. So it was distressing to hear that the Justice Department plans to appeal a federal court order that the military immediately stop enforcing the law that is used to drum out gay service members once their sexual orientation becomes known...
...Now that the administration is expected to appeal Judge Phillips’s ruling unnecessarily, we hope the appeals court lets it take force immediately. It is unfair to persecute valued service members under an outmoded and harmful law that should have been scrapped long ago.
This temporizing is not leadership that we can believe in.  Nor is it leadership we should believe in.  
It’s not leadership at all...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Free At Last...

The world spent the better part of Wednesday listening to the miraculous rescue of the trapped Chilean miners.  As I write, they have just all been rescued.  Throughout the day we’ve been allowed to bear witness to the unfolding of  “good” stories, filled with happy endings and huggings and tears of pure joy.  (And most of us have shed a few ourselves.)
Beyond the incredible individual stories of the trapped miners’ bravery and stoicism and gallantry, we have also seen the swelling of Chilean national pride.  And what a welcomed sight it has been when we remember the suffering that these fine people endured in the last years of the Twentieth Century under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.  And although there are economic critics today [Here] who assert that Pinochet’s rightwing privatizations of the economy are still delivering huge profits only to the few, at least  Chilean life is freer and more egalitarian today than it was under Pinochet’s iron fist.
In 1970 the Chilean people elected Dr. Salvador Allende, a Marxist and a member of a prominent Chilean family, as their President. [Here]  The election was a close three-way race and was the first time a South American people freely elected a Marxist to lead them.  Dr. Allende was a well-known political figure in Chile, having previously served as a Senator and a Cabinet Minister.  He had also previously ran unsuccessfully for the Presidency three times before his victory. 
Allende immediately nationalized industries and collectivized farm land.  The rightwing responded with strikes and protests and political unrest.  The Nixon White House was agitated, as we can imagine.  The Chilean military, ostensibly at the request of the Chamber of Deputies to “restore order,” staged a coup after attacking the Presidential Palace with ground and air attacks.  Inside the palace, Allende vowed not to leave and allegedly  committed suicide before the palace was overwhelmed.
Pinochet was in charge and so were the so-called Chicago Boys who were Chilean economists who had been trained initially at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman, the program funded by the Ford Foundation.  When they completed their studies, they, in turn, settled into Chilean universities to recruit more economists and were ready with a 500-page economic plan, called “The Brick,” which called for privatization of government-owned programs and industries and deregulation of most government controls, thus opening Chilean doors wide to foreign corporations, and foreign capital.
Meanwhile, Pinochet’s military began a reign of terror that “disappeared” thousands of Allende supporters, and made torture and imprisonment without due process a regular occurrence.  (Michelle Bachelet who was a very popular President of Chile from 2006=2010, had been tortured and imprisoned by Pinochet during this time, as was her mother. [Here])
Pinochet was finally voted out of power in 1990 after ruling for 17 years and throwing all of Allende’s ideas and supporters under the bus.  The story of Milton Friedman and his Chicago Boys, the “Brick,” and the economic theory that fed the Chilean human rights debacle is told in fascinating detail by Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine which we shall write about in the future.  
There are critics today who say that if Chile’s mining industry had been more responsibly regulated, the heroic rescue that we are witness to today would not have been necessary.  In our cheers about this rescue, we should not overlook this criticism.  There are lessons to be learned here.  There are an average of 39 fatal accidents every year in Chile’s privatized mines.  Just six days before the mine disaster, a Chilean labor department report said that there were “serious safety deficiencies” in the mine but no action was taken.  
One wonders if there will now be some Chilean discussion about proper, sensible public regulation of those mines.  While we cheer, we also pray that the Chilean people will demand that this will never happen again.
Never.  Never.  Never...