Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Reading

Sixty Years Later — From The New Yorker, Lee C. Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, on the legacy and the future of integration in American

So here we are, sixty years after Brown, and fourteen years away from Justice O’Connor’s wishful ending point: popular referenda have become a favored shortcut to terminate affirmative-action programs; we have a constricted and decontextualized manner of discussing race and diversity in higher education; there is a leaderless public debate about these issues; and primary and secondary education is growing more segregated.

This is a bleak and tragic picture, and it should be a reminder that we urgently need a more serious, realistic, and open discussion about race in the United States today. Along with it, we need a new movement like the one that led to Brown—before it is too late, and the issue vanishes beneath another cycle of inattention.

This movement, we know from past experience, can be led from the middle of the political spectrum. During the Grutter lawsuit, as the University of Michigan faced wide public skepticism and I struggled to enlist effective allies, it was former President Gerald Ford, a proud Michigan alumni, who responded to my request that he write about affirmative action, and who first stood up for our case. Ford appealed to the common decency of most Americans from his own personal experience. Writing in the Times, Ford recalled an incident from his days as a college football player, when his close friend Willis Ward, one of the best players on the Michigan squad, withdrew himself from a game at Georgia Tech after the opposing team “reputedly wanted [him] dropped from our roster because he was black.” Ford continued: “I have often wondered how different the world might have been in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s—how much more humane and just—if my generation had experienced a more representative sampling of the American family.” President Ford then quoted his Democratic predecessor, Lyndon Johnson: “To be black in a white society is not to stand on level and equal ground. While the races may stand side by side, whites stand on history’s mountain and blacks stand in history’s hollow. Until we overcome that history, we cannot overcome unequal opportunity.”

Together, Johnson and Ford understood what a current majority of our Supreme Court does not. And, in their different ways, they communicated to the American people what a university president cannot.

The nation’s struggle with race may be tiring, but it is not behind us. We need voices from all walks of American life to be raised, urging us to stand together on higher ground, to avoid regressing back to an era of more segregated and more unequal education.

The Long Twilight of Democracy — Andrew O’Hehir in Salon on the decline of what we think of as democracy.

The aura of democratic legitimacy is fading fast in an era when financial and political capital are increasingly consolidated in a few thousand people, a fact we already knew but whose implications French insta-celebrity Thomas Piketty and the political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page (of the “oligarchy study”) have forcefully driven home. Libertarian thinker Bryan Caplan sees the same pattern, as Michael Lind recently wrote in Salon, but thinks it’s a good thing. In America, democracy offers the choice between one political party that has embraced a combination of corporate bootlicking, poorly veiled racism, anti-government paranoia and a wholesale rejection of science, and another whose cosmopolitan veneer sits atop secret drone warfare, Wall Street cronyism and the all-seeing Panopticon of high-tech surveillance. You don’t have to conclude that noted climate-change expert Marco Rubio and Establishment mega-hawk Hillary Clinton are interchangeable or identical to conclude that it isn’t much of a choice.

Most critiques of democracy as it currently exists, certainly those from the liberal left, assume that democracy can and should be fixed and that it’s just a matter of switching off the cat videos and doing the work. They remain inside the conceptual and ideological frame mentioned above, the idea that democracy is the only legitimate expression of politics. This has the force of religious doctrine, and in fact is far stronger than any religious doctrines to be found in the Western world. Our democracy may be stunted or corrupted or deformed by bad forces of money and power, these arguments go, but it self-evidently remains the ideal form of government, and it is our responsibility to redeem it. If only we can build a third party around Ralph Nader (that went well!), if only we can ring enough doorbells for Dennis Kucinich, if only we can persuade Elizabeth Warren to run against Hillary – you’ve heard all this before. There are many versions of this strategy, some more plausible than others, but they all rest on the faith that the promised land of real democracy is out there somewhere beyond the horizon, waiting for us to reach it.

As the Italian political scientist Mario Tronti has noted, this faith in a golden future, with its implicit apology for the current state of affairs, may sound oddly familiar to those whose cultural memories extend back to the Cold War. It’s exactly what defenders of the Soviet “experiment” said over and over. Yes, “actually existing socialism” had its limitations, most of which resulted from imperialist meddling and ideological backwardness, but one day our grandchildren, or their grandchildren, would finish the task of building a communist society. That was hogwash, Tronti says, and so is the insistence that we should judge democracy based on some imaginary potential rather than what it is in practice. “This theoretical-practical knot that is democracy,” he writes, “can now be judged by its results.” What we see around us “should not be read as a ‘false’ democracy in the face of which there is or should be a ‘true’ democracy, but as the coming-true of the ideal, or conceptual, form of democracy.”

In other words, we have to consider the possibility that the current state of American politics, with its bizarre combination of poisoned, polarized and artificially overheated debate along with total paralysis on every substantive issue and widespread apathy and discontent, is what we get after 200-odd years.

Second Verse, Same as the First — Frank Rich in New York magazine: The Republicans go after the Clintons again, which only makes them stronger.

The Democrats will publicly scold the Republicans for recycling yesterday’s garbage. But in private they should pray that Priebus and his camp will bring it on—the old Clinton sex scandals and, better still, some new ones, real or fantasized, the more women the better. The received wisdom that sex scandals threaten a Hillary run is preposterous. It’s the reverse that’s true. The right’s inability to stanch its verbal diarrhea on the subject of female sexuality—whether provoked by rape, contraception, abortion, “traditional marriage,” gay marriage, gay parenting, or pop culture—did as much as anything to defeat Mitt Romney, his “binders full of women” notwithstanding, in 2012. (He lost women voters to Obama by 11 percentage points.) And that obsession with sex can defeat the GOP again. Todd Akin, the avatar of “legitimate rape,” may be gone, but many of the same political players will be in place in 2016 as in 2012—more than a few of them alumni of the Clinton sexcapades of the 1990s. No matter how much Republican leaders talk of reining in their sexist language (though not their policies) to counter charges that the GOP conducts a war on women, they just can’t help themselves. Whether or not there’s a war on women in 2016, there will be a rancorous and tasteless war on one woman. And it is guaranteed to backfire, drowning out fair G-rated questions about the Clintons’ dealings just as Monica and other “bimbo eruptions” drowned out such now-forgotten Clinton scandals as Filegate and Castle Grande.

To appreciate how inexorably the Clintons will seduce the GOP into another orgy of self-destruction, it helps to recall the tone of the insanity the couple induced among their opponents the first time around. That recent past has been obscured in the American memory by the rise in Bill Clinton’s stature and, most of all, by the subsequent detour of right-wing ire to a new hate object in the White House, an actual black president as opposed to merely an honorary one. In addition, many Americans who will vote in 2016 are too young to have grasped or witnessed the Clinton craziness firsthand. (Some first-time 2016 voters weren’t yet born when the Lewinsky story broke in early 1998.) They may be startled to discover what they missed. Only a novelist could capture the mood back then, as Philip Roth did in The Human Stain: “In the Congress, in the press, and on the networks, the righteous grandstanding creeps, crazy to blame, deplore, and punish, were everywhere out moralizing to beat the band … all of them eager to enact the astringent rituals of purification that would excise the erection from the executive branch, thereby making things cozy and safe enough for Senator Lieberman’s ten-year-old daughter to watch TV with her embarrassed daddy again. No, if you haven’t lived through 1998, you don’t know what sanctimony is … It was the summer when a president’s penis was on everyone’s mind.”

Doonesbury — dynasty dynamics.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Short Takes

In the Ukraine, the acting president gives up hope of controlling the eastern part of the country.

A freight train carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia.

Elections were held in Iraq.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin asked for an independent investigation into the botched execution.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia misquoted his own words in his dissent on the Clean Air Act ruling.

R.I.P. Bob Hoskins, 71, actor in Mona Lisa and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The Tigers beat the White Sox 5-1.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Short Takes

ENDA gets past filibuster in the Senate.

New Jersey mall locked down after gunman opens fire.

Supreme Court turns down Oklahoma abortion case.

Sen. Rand Paul faces more plagiarism charges.

It’s Election Day in a lot of places, including Virginia, New York, and New Jersey.

Alert Starfleet — There are billions of Earth-like planets in the galaxy.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Slow Start

It may take a day or so for me — and a lot of people — to get back up to speed after the time off (even if some of us had to work on Friday) for the 4th of July holiday weekend.  So forgive me if the postings are a tad light today.

I’m slowly going through my newsfeeds and catching up with some of the things I may have missed, such as Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) signing an ultrasound requirement bill in Wisconsin.  He did it when basically no one was looking and on a slow news day when everyone else was either at the beach or sleeping in.

This was not totally unexpected; Gov. Walker has always proclaimed his anti-choice views.  But what I find interesting is that he basically kept the signing under wraps as if he knew that if he made any public show about signing it, he’d get a lot of backlash.  Or at least that’s how it appears.  The same with Gov. John Kasich of Ohio.  New abortion restrictions were slipped into the state budget, and he signed the bill like he was running on his way to catch a bus, saying nothing in the process except, “Well, we have a new budget.  Gotta go, seeya.”

Both of these men were proud and loud to campaign on their anti-abortion creds, but when it comes to signing the bill, they dodge the press and do it like their bail release papers.  Maybe they just know that they’re doing something that they know a majority of Americans don’t want to see done, but they’re also afraid that if they actually veto a bill that they know will end up costing their state millions of dollars to defend in court and get people rallying against them, they might not be able to run for re-election without incurring the wrath of the American Taliban.

It’s also been a while since we caught up with David Brooks, and maybe it’s just as well.  Friday he penned a column in support of the coup in Egypt and put forward the notion that perhaps the Islamists that were running the country under President Morsi weren’t mentally capable of governing.

Islamists might be determined enough to run effective opposition movements and committed enough to provide street-level social services. But they lack the mental equipment to govern.

Yikes; racist much?  It’s one thing to say that religious fundamentalists like the Islamists or the Taliban or right-wing Christians are not on board with the idea of democracy such as what we attempt to practice here in the U.S. and other nations and that secular constitutional governments are not their cup of Tea, so to speak, but to suggest that they lack the capacity for democracy takes it to a whole other level.  Now we’re into the “white man’s burden” that recalls the age of missionaries armed with bibles and Rudyard Kipling verses going into whole continents and pillaging them in the name of Christ and Standard Oil.  And, according to our Mr. Brooks, the people on the receiving end of our beneficent plundering will never be capable of American democracy, white bread, and the three-martini lunch.

In reality, the U.S. has no ability to influence political events in Egypt in any important way. The only real leverage point is at the level of ideas. Right now, as Walter Russell Mead of Bard College put it, there are large populations across the Middle East who feel intense rage and comprehensive dissatisfaction with the status quo but who have no practical idea how to make things better. The modern thinkers who might be able to tell them have been put in jail or forced into exile. The most important thing outsiders can do is promote those people and defend those people, decade after decade.

It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.

To be fair, at least Mr. Brooks didn’t posit that the best thing for Egypt would be another Pinochet, like the Wall Street Journal suggested.

You don’t have to wonder what America would be like if we allowed the religious fundamentalists to take over the country and they decided who does or does not have the mental ingredients for their idea of government and democracy.  We’re already seeing it in places like Texas with Gov. Rick Perry, who, unlike his counterparts in Ohio and Wisconsin, has no problem bragging about how he just loves to control the uteri in his state.

Whether they’re standing on a soapbox or sneaking it through in the middle of the state budget, they’re getting their way.

Those are just a couple of things that caught my attention as I slowly get back to speed.  There will be more coming, more’s the pity.  It’s going to be a long summer.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Short Takes

Coup in Egypt — Morsi out, military in.

U.S. and Germany to discuss N.S.A. activities.

Taliban ignoring peace overtures.

Team to examine the site of the fatal fire in Arizona.

Chrysler recalling almost half a million vehicles.

R.I.P. Douglas Engelbart, 88, inventor of the computer mouse.

The Tigers beat the Blue Jays 6-2; Max Scherzer goes to 13-0.

Happy Fourth of July.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Saturday, May 11, 2013