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Showing posts from February, 2013

Woodward is at it again

For whatever reason of his own (seemingly a very personal one), Bob Woodward has chosen to lash out at the Obama administration.  Previously, he had portrayed Obama as a novice in The Price of Politics.  Now, he states that the sequester was Obama's idea from the start, essentially supporting Boehner's current argument, as the Republicans find themselves taking most of the flack for the impasse on Capitol Hill.

Woodward claims a "very senior person" threatened him ahead of an op-ed piece he later published, claiming that Obama "moved the goal posts" on the Republicans by calling for more revenue.  This so called "sequester deal-changer" he believes is the reason for the impasse, not all the stonewalling the Republicans have been doing.

Former Obama campaign spokesperson, Lis Smith, said that "Woodward deserves a lot of credit for taking a macro story about DC dysfunction, competing econ theories & making it all about him."


Let's Win One for the Gipper

For all the fuss over the torture scenes depicted in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, I think more critics would have been concerned with the CIA praise poem Ben Affleck offers in Argo.  Granted, he does give us a cartoon history of Iran in the intro to tell us why the Iranians stormed the US Embassy.   Otherwise, we saw  Tony Mendez become a hero for carrying out a "good bad plan" with a little help from one of the Farsi-speaking US diplomats who managed to ease the suspicious minds of the Revolutionary Guard during an interrogation before boarding their flight out of Tehran.

I think most persons had forgotten (myself included) that six Americans had managed to escape the US Embassy during that fateful day on November 4, 1979, and hid out in the Canadian ambassador's residence for 80+ days before their daring escape.  For 20 years we were told this was the derring-do of the Canadian embassy, thanks largely to ambassador Ken Taylor, Our Man in Tehran.  But, accor…

Here Comes the Judge!

I probably should avoid mentioning books like this, but here is "Judge" Napolitano weighing in on Roosevelt and Wilson, who he dismissively refers to as Theodore and Woodrow in his new book on how they "destroyed" constitutional freedom.  What on earth he means by this is anyone's guess, but it is all part and parcel of the ongoing conservative assault on what it regards as America's liberal past, published in large part by Thomas Nelson.   The same guys who brought us David Barton's Jefferson's Lies.

Judging by the "reviews" it is the progressive streak in Roosevelt and Wilson that Napolitano takes exception to, ushering in a new era of regulation he says was previously unseen in "Federalist" America.  I don't imagine he digs too deep into the past, preferring to take the legislation that was passed during this time at face value.  If he did, he might have noted that Federalism died in 1800 with the election of Jefferson, a…

The Strange Case of Harry Dexter White

I was bemused to find Anne Applebaum calling out Harry Dexter White as a Soviet spy in her recent book Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956.  Apparently, she drew her conclusion from Allen Weinstein's and Alexander Vassiliev's The Haunted Wood, from a few years back, which called out a number of top officials in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, based on the release of the Mitrokhin Archives.  However, many of these allegations have been challenged and refuted, notably that of White, who was fundamental in shaping Roosevelt New Deal policies and the creation of the International Monetary Fund.

James Broughton argues effectively in his paper, The Case Against Harry Dexter White, published in 2000, that these allegations are largely circumstantial, as White was dealing with a number of Soviet officials in his capacity as undersecretary to Morgenthau during the Roosevelt administration.  The Roosevelt administration treated the Soviet Union as an ally …

The Filibuster of Chuck Hagel

The Republicans have recorded another first.  This time the first ever filibuster of a cabinet nominee for what amounts to nothing more than a show of force against the Obama administration.  These same Republicans mounted a successful preemptive strike against Susan Rice when it was rumored Obama would tap her for Secretary of State.  Now here they are going against one of their own in perhaps the most pathetic display they have made to date.

Chuck Hagel rankles a lot of Republicans because he went against his party in 2008 and endorsed Obama as President.  He retired from the Senate shortly thereafter and had been relatively quiet these past four years.   The Republicans, like the pachyderm they used to symbolize their party, never forget, or forgive it seems.

Hagel seems like the logical choice for Defense, a heavily decorated Vietnam vet who served 12 years in the Senate, and was respected by both parties for his strongly independent nature.  Yet, McCain and Graham took the lead …

Mardi Gras Mambo

Mardi Gras has a rich history dating back to 18th century,  but was banned under Spanish rule.  The celebration was reinstated in 1827 when merry marching was again allowed trough the streets of New Orleans.  Shrove Tuesday is one last Hurrah before the Lenten season, celebrated in many forms around the  world, including Lithuania where they call it Užgavėnės, and celebrate it by setting straw effigies afire in an effort to "burn out" winter.  But, the most recognized celebrations are Mardi Gras, the Venice Carnivale and the Rio Carnival.  I leave you with The Hawkettes singing Mardi Gras Mambo.

Marco Rubio: The New Republican Front Man

If there is one thing the Republicans learned after this past election it is to put a Latino front and center, now that the Latin-American vote has become a significant swing vote in this country.  Marco Rubio appears to be their man of the hour, picked to rebut Obama's State of the Union address tomorrow night.  But, who is Marco Rubio?

He seems to be pretty much following the model Obama set himself for his improbable Presidential run back in 2008 by releasing his own memoir, An American Son, well in advance of what appears to be a 2016 run.  Rubio has received largely favorable national press, despite not having distinguished himself in any memorable way.

The former Florida state senate leader rode on the swell of the Tea Party in 2010, comfortably defeating Charlie Crist in the Florida U.S. Senate primary, and then wisely tacked back to the middle in the general election to gain moderate support that lifted him to victory over Crist, who ran as an independent, and the distant…

The Drone Wars

Mark Mazzetti is shedding light on America's "secret army" in his upcoming book, The Way of the Knife.  Obama finds himself in hot water these days over the constitutionality of his continued use of drones to carry out hits abroad.  The CIA has its own personal drone fleet in addition to that of the military.  Obama has expressed himself that he would like to see the two folded back into one, but continues to favor these surgical strikes against believed terrorists.

The use of drones is nothing new.  Remotely piloted vehicles, or RPVs, go back to the 50s but were primarily used as surveillance planes.  It was during the Vietnam War that RPVs began to carry missiles and were used for air strikes.  The newest generation of drones were extensively used under the Bush administration, but Obama has extended the "drone armada" even further, as Oliver Stone noted in his last episode of the Untold History of the United States, using it to police the world's air spa…

Battle of Bretton Woods

Economic history has always fascinated me and this looks like a good new book, The Battle of Bretton Woods, on the making of the new financial order following WWII.  It was out of Bretton Woods that the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization were born, an attempt to bring global financial security to a world that had literally been torn asunder.  The United States was the kingmaker in this regard.  Great Britain found itself for the first time in a subservient role, as the US held two-thirds of the world's gold reserves.

The dollar would become the new world common currency, on which exchange rates were based, creating a new standard which John Maynard Keynes called "the exact opposite of the gold standard."  Keynes wanted to go one step further and create a single global currency, but lost his argument.  It would take nearly 30 years before this system eroded to the point of collapse, with Nixon taking the dollar off the gold standard, as there wasn't enough…

Chatting with Sonia Sotomayor

Last night, Charlie Rose had Sonia Sotomayor on his show discussing her recent book, My Beloved World. They covered a lot of ground on the show including how to write a Supreme Court position paper.  They mentioned some of the well crafted positions of the past, such as Hugo Black's position on Brown v. Board of Education and how Justice Sotomayor crafted hers, which have been criticized for being "dry."

It was quite interesting as she said she said Obama put her on a bit of a hot seat by saying he chose a justice nominee who brought empathy to the bench, and found herself having to defend herself before the Senate in this regard.  She said she had no idea what the President meant by it, other than she brought her own personal experience to the bench, as each justice does, but she feels it is very important to have proper legal grounding to all her decisions, not let herself be influenced by any emotional response to a particular case brought before her.

In her autobiog…

Preserving America's Great Outdoors

President Obama has offered up some interesting nominees for cabinet appointments in his second term, but again the aim seems to be to find the right balance, not in rocking the boat, even if the Republicans have been crying foul over Chuck Hagel, a former Republican Senator, for Secretary of Defense.  I guess because they didn't quite expect Obama to throw one of their own at them, or upset that Hagel endorsed Obama back in 2008, which is obviously a sore point for McCain.

The Republicans are not quite sure what to make of Sally Jewell either.  She is Obama's pick for Secretary of Interior, a coveted position that has usually gone to a Western legislator.  Jewell is a former Mobil Oil company official who became a leading conservationist and has successfully managed Recreation Equipment Inc. (better known as REI) the past 8 years.  She is a Seattleite with a strong interest in the outdoors, which could bring a refreshing change to the cabinet.  Obama is pinning his hopes on …

Honoring Rosa Parks

The US Postal Service has released a stamp honoring Rosa Parks on what would have been her 100th birthday, and in turn her historic bus ride.  She boarded the Montgomery bus on December 1, 1955, as part of Martin Luther King, Jr. famous bus boycotts.  You can see the bus at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.   The stamp was first issued in Detroit, which she eventually made her home.  Interesting that there is no denomination on the stamp, but I assume it covers the domestic mail rate.

Here's Looking at you, kid

This book sounds really interesting.  Richard Lingeman is an unabashed liberal and cultural historian who takes us back to the "inter-war" years between WWII and the Cold War, roughly 1945-1950, and captures the mood of the time.  Lingeman lived through that time so he gives it an immediacy other authors are not able to, and deals with a specific period of time where the US could have gone anyway it liked on the open road that stretched out before it, but chose the most narrow way.  To read the author's preface, Lingeman doesn't look back in anger but rather bemusement.  There is even a chapter on "The Lonely Passion of Henry Wallace," as he draws heavily on book and movie references, particularly noir film references of the time, noting in his preface that this was the leading cultural reference at the time in films and in the highly popular pulp fiction.

Guns and Politics

The NRA has plunged to a new low by coming out with a list of National Organizations with Anti-Gun Policies.  It has been dubbed the "Enemies List" in the media, but at least the NRA was relatively careful with its wording, unlike Sarah Palin a few years back when she literally "targeted" Congressional races, including that of Gabby Giffords, which landed her in a lot of hot water when Giffords was shot.  But, the intent is clear.  The NRA wants its supporters to know who the "bad guys" are when it comes to "anti-gun" legislation.

Among those organizations listed are AARP, the Episcopal Church (Washington office), the National Education Association, the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Service, The National Organization of Women, The YWCA and many others.  It once again demonstrates the NRA is less an organization concerned with gun safety than it is a political action committee, using its political muscle to not only attack what it perceive…

A Wicked War

Amy Greenberg offers a fresh take on the Mexican War, approaching it largely from the anti-war sentiments expressed at the time by such statesmen as Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln.  Most historians have regarded the Mexican War as a manufactured war largely engineered to expand slavery below the Mason-Dixie line.  Theoretically, the line ran all the way to the Pacific Ocean, so annexing Texas, the New Mexico territory and California virtually doubled the size of the "South."  

As wars go, it was a relatively easy affair for the US Army, which greatly outmanned the duplicitous Santa Ana, who was largely bent on seizing power of Mexico again.  The sprawling country simply wasn't prepared for the onslaught and succumbed within a year and a half, forced to sign the notorious Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago, which ceded Upper California and the New Mexico territories to the United States, which had previously taken Texas, all for the princely sum of $15 million.  The two countr…

Ain't no sunshine

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, So far will the snow swirl until the May.

To read the good news, Spring is near!  Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow.  This tradition apparently goes back to the late 19th century, although it has its roots in Candlemas, which goes back much much further.  The Roman legions apparently brought the festival of light to Germany, which farmers adapted to "Hedgehog Day," seeming to need an animal to symbolize the event.  Later, Germans brought the tradition to Pennsylvania, with the groundhog making its first appearance in 1886.  Since then the town of Punxsutawney has cultivated this celebration into an international event, probably best portrayed in Bill Murray's thoroughly engaging Groundhog Day.

What Might Have Been

It seemed to me that Sean Wilentz, in his NYBooks review, hoped to drive a dagger through the heart of Stone's and Kuznick's thesis of  The Untold History of the United States by attacking Henry Wallace.  Andrew Goldman noted in his earlier review in the NYTimes that Kuznick is apparently as enamored with Wallace as Stone is Kennedy and sold the filmmaker on the idea of building a historical documentary around the former Secretary of Agriculture and Vice President to Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Stone and Kuznick see American history as having had an entirely different trajectory if Wallace had remained on the ticket with Roosevelt in 1944, instead they insist Truman was thrust upon Roosevelt despite his own misgivings with the Missouri senator he barely knew.

In his review, Wilentz cites Robert Ferrell's book Choosing Truman, which I had previously linked.   Ferrell notes that various meetings were held long before the Democratic Convention of 1944 to present an alternative t…