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Steven Jonas

Steven Jonas (211)

Friday, 19 December 2008 00:53

Dr. J.'s Commentary: I Just Saw "Milk"

Walking home from seeing "Milk," I found myself humming a song about another great American leader of people, Joe Hill. He was an organizer for the International Workers of the World who was framed on a murder charge and killed in Utah in 1915. A song by Earl Robinson that was famous when I was a boy (frequently performed by Pete Seeger) goes in part:

"I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, Alive as you or me. Says I, 'But Joe, you're ten years dead,' 'I never died,' says he, 'I never died,' says he. 'The copper bosses killed you, Joe, They shot you, Joe,' says I.

'Takes more than guns to kill a man,' Says Joe, 'I didn't die,' Says Joe, 'I didn't die.' And standing there as big as life, And smiling with his eyes Joe says, 'What they forgot to kill, Went on to organize, Went on to organize.'"

Tuesday, 09 December 2008 20:03

Dr. J.'s Commentary: Obama's Appointments

To understand where President-elect Obama is going with is appointments, I think it is very important to understand something about his psyche. As far as I can tell from a distance, Mr. Obama has his ego out of the way. He is not making decisions based on meeting internal ego needs. He feels really good about himself, and so he should. But even people who should, based on externals, feel good about themselves, sometimes don't. In fact, Mr. Obama appears to me to be the first U.S. President since Dwight David Eisenhower (you can do your own analysis) who makes his decisions on everything, from his policies to his personnel to his choice of White House dog (see last week's New Yorker cover), based on objective reality as he sees it, not on dealing one or more self-perceived personal deficiencies or emotional needs.

This leads me to admire another important element of his thinking that is becoming clear as one analyzes his decision-making process. The first question he asks and answers for himself is: "what is the objective here?" That became oh-so-clear when he intervened in the Senate's process for dealing with poor ol' Joe Lieberman (who will be a lame duck in the Senate for so long that he will need crutches just to get into the chamber by the time 2012 rolls around). Many of us on the Left (and yes, I do count myself as being on the Left) wanted to do nothing more than "get 'im." What a SOB. "Out, out, damned spot" on the escutcheon of the Democratic Party.

In the past month or two, peace talks have been going on between the new, democratically elected (!) government of Pakistan and the Congress Party government of India (democratically elected, of course). The peace talks would eventually have to get to the status of the disputed region of Kashmir, of course. They would ultimately be considered successful only if a final settlement was reached of that dispute which was set up by the British when they left the Indian Raj split in two in 1947 (three, actually, for the original Pakistan had an East portion, now Bangladesh, and a West portion, now Pakistan). Initiated by the new Pakistani President, a businessman, they have focused at a much lower level, concerning such matters as visa-free travel (at present there are not even scheduled flights between the two nations' capitals), the opening up of trade between the two countries on a broad scale (essential for the Pakistani economy, now heavily dependent on the International Monetary Fund for its survival), and a joint "no nuclear first strike" treaty.

It is often said that the United States "has no energy policy," that we "need to develop one as quickly as possible," and that it should be based on alternate fuels and more importantly, alternate and renewable energy sources. Well the last two parts are true; the first is definitely not. As we enter an era of debate on and development of a new energy policy, it is very important to understand these facts. We would not be substituting something for nothing. Rather we would be replacing the current energy policy with another one. Further, the new one would be highly antithetical to the interests (to say nothing of the profits) of the developers and defenders of the old one. They would (and indeed will) constitute a very powerful enemy of change. It is impossible to estimate just how far they will go in defending their interests. But these folks have fought dirty in the past and there is no reason to believe that they will change their stripes anytime soon. But no old policy can be changed to a new one if one does not clearly understand just what the present one is.

Remember the original bailout package? Yes, that one was some years ago for some hedge fund or funds. The Republicans were all for that one. Several billions. Then there was the bailout/buyout package for Bear Stearns. Billions more. Lehman Bros. wasn't so lucky (but then again it's primarily Goldman Sachs folks who populate this Treasury Dept., not Lehman folks). Then came the broader financial sector $700 billion bailout, the first draft of which was essentially written on the back of a paper napkin. (OK, that's an exaggeration. It was actually two-and-a-half typed pages long.) That package eventually got into a very long bill. It was eventually passed to help the investment banking sector recover from its excesses of greed in the process of securitizing mortgage loans.

The process was enabled, courtesy of McCain's Treasury Secretary-designate Phil Gramm and the repeal of the New Deal Era Glass-Steagal Act. It had separated investment and commercial banking to forestall exactly the kind of financial meltdown that has occurred over the past six months, courtesy of investment banks not being required to have the reserves to back up mortgage loans at anywhere near the level commercial banks are still required to hold. And then there is AIG, running through government funds at a great rate, currently around $150 billion. Boy those resort/spa costs are high, aren't they? No problem there for the Republicans.

Straws in the Wind: Murdoch

If your neck got turned around watching "Fox and Friends" on the Fox "News" Channel almost immediately following the Obama victory, you are likely not alone. I can't say that they did a 180-degree turn, but they went at least 90 degrees, at least in what I saw. No more Ayers/Rezko/Wright 24/7. All of a sudden they were doing three things. The President-elect was being treated with a modicum of respect. They were back to spending lots of time on "schoolgirl gets dumped from school bus two miles from home" stories. The "anti-Democrat Party" red meat that they regularly feed their loyal listeners (such as the soon-to-be-former Vice President) came in smaller amounts and was hardly so red anymore.

On the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times of November 2, 2008, six contributors were asked to respond to the question "What Will I Miss About President Bush". As The Times said, "The Op-Ed editors asked six writers to reflect on what they have most admired about him." The comments were thus generally encomiums of one sort or another. Although I hate, just hate, bringing facts into situations such as this, especially when it involves right-wingers, who are so sensitive to the introduction of facts into any discussion, I thought that a few comments on the factual side might be in order.

Negative Advertising v. Negative Advertising

As we enter the last week of the presidential election campaign, much has been made and much continues to be made of "negative campaigning." The mainstream media makes much of the issue, even though it has a long-standing tradition in American politics going back to the early 19th century. But I'm confused. The MSM's usual take on what's going on is "a plague on both your houses," as if both campaigns were engaging in the same kind of campaigning that can described as "negative." So the McCain campaign says Sen. Obama is a "socialist" while the Obama campaign says that Sen. McCain voted for Bush policies 90% of the time. Sarah Palin says that Sen. Obama has been "pallin' around with terrorists," while Sen. Obama points out that Sen. McCain's proposed tax cuts benefit only the wealthy. A McCain Minnesota robo-call, which ends with the statement "this call as approved by the Republican National Committee and Sen. John McCain" says that Sen. Obama was a "close associate of the terrorist [Prof. William] Ayers," (demonstrably untrue) while Sen. Obama points out that Sen. McCain is on record as proposing to appoint Supreme Court justices who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Significance of the Powell Endorsement

There are many reasons why the Colin Powell endorsement of Barack Obama is significant and will indeed be included in that fairly small category of "endorsements that do make a difference," Republican whining to the contrary notwithstanding. A number of those reasons have been discussed, at length. Two that have received less attention are as follows. President Clinton was perceived in the African-American community as the first "black" President, a "white black," if you will. Similarly, Sec./Gen. Powell is perceived in certain segments of the white community, especially among service members and veterans, segments that otherwise may well be tinged with racism, as an OK black, a "black white," if you will. Thus for these folks, the Powell endorsement gives Obama a very important imprimatur. "Well, if Gen. Powell says he's OK, then I guess he's OK, even if he is black." It's as if the Secretary is giving them permission to vote for Obama, even if he is (literally) an African-American.

Palin's Debate Performance: Where Was the Box?

Palin's debate performance has been much discussed. One element not noticed was the technological advances made by Republican debate managers since 2004. Bush's rectangular control box was clearly visible. (Too bad Kerry didn't ask him about it, but he was much too much of a "gentleman" to do so. Who was it who said "nice guys finish last?" [Actually is was the great Leo Durocher, who managed to manage both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants in the glory days of New York baseball, 1941-1957, before they both deserted us for California.]) At any rate, they obviously are now masters of miniaturization. But still one wonders just where they hid the Palin control box.

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