Three reasons to cancel my New York Times subscription…

Reason #1: The big ad that was on the front page of the A section, by none other than the Exxon corporation.

Reason #2: The Bill Kristol experiment.

Reason #3: Bono’s columns. Does hiring a rock star as a columnist sound like an act of gimmicky desperation to anyone else? Here’s a sample: “Football captures motion. But football is not an abstract painting. It is a concrete one. Can it save the world?” Horrid.

Reason #4: Its absurdly equivocating coverage of the slaughter in Gaza.

I know that’s four, but who’s counting? If they sink any further I’m cancelling my subscription…

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Out of the Revolution…

Here the Senate Republicans are, standing over the embers of their failed project that began in 1995, and they don’t even seem phased. Unions are their bull’s eye, and if a large chunk of the US manufacturing sector goes under to get at them—well who cares? You at least have to give them points for continuity. These are basically the same bunch that instigated a government shut down and blanketed the national agenda with an impeachment process to get at Clinton. Lord knows what they’ll do over the next four to eight years to undermine Obama.

Lo and behold, it turns out that cries over the union as the source of Detroit’s woes are way overblown. The so called $74 dollar hourly wage that conservatives are wailing about counts the payments to past retirees (Detroit simply has more of them than its rivals who entered the game later). In any case, reducing labor costs to the levels of its competitors would only amount to a small gain for US auto, according to Times columnist David Leonhardt.

In short, the basis for the current union bashing is purely ideological, just like everything else the GOP has done since the Republican revolution of ‘94. Case in point: There is an e-mail circulating among Senate Republicans saying that the vote against big auto would “take their first shot against organized labor.” The moral: You can take the Republican out of the revolution, but you can’t take the revolution of the Republican.

Obama, Detroit, and Pink Slips

The pundit gears are churning and even amidst all the chicanery—like private “advisors” sucking away big portions of the federal bailout money—the main question is what kind of administration Obama will run. As I see it there are two big schools of thought. Some, like Alexander Cockburn, expect Clintonesque right-of-center compromises. Others predict forceful progressive reform. Okay, maybe his appointments answered that question. But some still predict that Obama will put the reigns on, say, deregulators like Larry Summers or friendly hawks like Robert Gates.

I have to admit he does show a domineering presence. So far he’s run his transition team with military discipline. But that doesn’t tell us much. What does is his attitude toward Detroit’s meltdown. Obama looks favorably on Detroit’s euphemistic “restructuring” proposals as conditions for a bailout. That means massive layoffs, factory closings and benefit cuts. Leaders in Congress hope these drastic measures will assure the long term viability of the listing big three.

Compare that to France, which is now fighting to save its own auto stalwarts like Renault. Sarkozy said recently that bailouts would come on the condition that the companies not outsource more jobs. Why isn’t Obama saying that? Why do Democratic leaders appear to be encouraging more layoffs in the middle of a recession?

Nixonland

I just finished Rick Perlstein’s book Nixonland, which is a biography of Richard Nixon but also a study of 60s era politics and how the divisions that existed then reverberate today. The book was so well done that I can’t think of many substantial criticisms. It is one of the most detailed biographical tomes I’ve ever read (for instance, I never knew Watergate robber E. Howard Hunt was a bestselling suspense novelist under a pen name, or that G. Gordon Liddy admires Nazi Germany).

Perlstein argues that Nixon pioneered the manipulation of cultural divides for political gain. More significant than 60s left wing radicalism for Perlstein was the backlash against it, which was more ubiquitous than the movement itself. Nixon did, after all, win the ‘72 election in a landslide. Perlstein identifies Nixon as the grand innovator when it comes to framing liberals as “elites” and conservatives as the true populists who identify with middle America. This, of course, was aided by Nixon’s own insecurities that come from his history as a blue collar Californian who was beaten down all his life by East Coast elites like the Kennedys.

He saw himself as part of the “silent majority.” According to Perlstein, he and his true believers saw saving the country from the liberal democratic establishment and 60s anarchists (they were all bound together) as necessitating any extreme—even a nationwide campaign of spying, political sabotage and robbery.

Perlstein spends a good deal of time on Nixon’s role in putting away Alger Hiss. Nixon was the House’s equivalent to McCarthy and embraced his position in HUAC. At a time when most thought of HUAC as a bastion of wing nuts, Nixon saw it as a populist platform and a way to blur the distinction between establishment liberals and Communist infiltrators.

Nixonland also has the advantage of hindsight. Older books on Nixon—not knowing what we know now—tend to offer fragmented glimpses of Nixon’s chicanery. Nixonland leaves no doubt of Nixon’s role in, among other things, the infiltration and sabotage of Democratic campaigns, nation wide robberies and domestic spying. In addition to Watergate, Nixon’s “plumbers,” who operated right out the White House, broke into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office and the Brookings institution. Nixon himself even contemplated firebombing Brookings so fake firefighters could break in and steal top secret documents.

Read it!

Urban Apartheid

I’ve started living among the swells in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse square district.  Tonight was one of those “when in Rome” nights.  We started with wine on the 19th floor of the Bellevue hotel (where I hear every president since Wilson has stayed, and Sarah Palin recently held a fund raiser).  This city’s skyline is an utter fireworks display at night.  Then it was on to a play.  After that, absinthe (now apparently legal) on the square.

I’ve lived in North Philadelpia (poor), South Philadelpia (blue collar) and now Rittenhouse Square.  Finally I can walk the tree line streets without being reminded of all the city’s problems.  We’ve got a 20 percent poverty rate, a school system that graduates students into the prison system, and a statue of the racist head busting mayor Frank Rizzo standing near city hall.  None of those things bother me anymore.  Apartheid isn’t so bad, as long as you’re on the right side of it.