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April 30, 2011

American History: Blood & Backrooms @ LAT FOB

Jim Newton: editor at large, LAT and wrote book Justice for All: Earl Warren and the History He Made. He won three elections to be California governor. He is the only governor who won the nomination for both parties and I daresay that will be a record that stands. I was drawn to the sense of paradox about him. In 1942, he was an enthusiastic and unapologetic proponent of Japanese internment and 12 years later was the author of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The first case he won a conviction in was a leftist who was prosecuted under a syndicalist law and one of his last cases was a Supreme Court case that invalidated the syndicalist laws. The Eisenhower book that I just finished came about out of my Warren book. Unlike Warren, whom I felt like I knew from the beginning of my research, Eisenhower I was left sure about. Eisenhower appointed Warren to the court, and very quickly tensions grew. I came to Eisenhower thinking I would be a critic of him. I learned things - I had only seen him through the lens of civil rights and domestic affairs and the work I had done shown almost no light on his foreign affairs. I end the book with the understanding that he was a truly tremendous American president. He was the first American president to have an atomic bomb and didn't use it. ... I venture to say there are very few political figures of his time who could have held off the pressure to use the atomic bomb.

Moderator: You used the term "Warrenism," and I'm wondering if you could discuss his progression from progressive Republican to the right...

Jim Newton: Ike misunderstood Warren's politics. They were both internationalist Republicans. I think he saw him as a like-minded figure. He didn't see that Warren grew up in the California progressive tradition. When Eisenhower appointed him, he misapprehended his politics at the outset. Scott Powe is probably the best scholar of the Warren court. He pointed out that Warren became better at every job he did, and I think that's true.

Six boxes of documents on the writing the farewell address where Ike famously named the military industrial boxes recently came to light. His speechwriter took them with him and they were stored in a house boat in Minnesota. What this shows conclusively is that Eisenhower was intimately involved in writing the speech from the get go. Almost everything about the speech changes from the first draft except the passages on the military industrial complex.

Moderator introduces Thomas Powers, writer of The Killing of Crazy Horse. What brought you to this story after your long history of studying the CIA?

Thomas Powers: One of the reasons I was attracted to Crazy Horse was that it didn't have any nuclear weapons in it. I stumbled across it while at the Custard battlefield at Little Big Horn field in 1994. If any of you have been there and stood on Custard Hill, you look out to the South and see a string of crosses heading out in your direction. The drama of it is very vivid and you can feel the impetuous flight of these soldiers who fell. You see roughly what Custard would have seen or what the Indians who were attacking him would have seen. The only difference is a train in the middle distance that leaves once a day with coal. ... The tribe that came with Custard inherited the battlefield, in effect. Writing a book about Crazy Horse required a lot of literary decisions that I had never had to deal with before in my life, the biggest was what kind of book was I trying to write? Telling a story, or describing, explaining and judging of large and complicating things. But the thing that drew me to history originally was the compelling nature of stories that wouldn't let you go. I decided that's what I wanted to do. It was an incredible cast of characters...the killing of Crazy Horse which took place in 1877 was in some ways a minor event, but had a devastating effect on Souix Indians. They resent it and there are still factions that were happy with it and whose ancestors did what they could to make sure Crazy Horse didn't survive that day. ...I had to make a decision that went deeply against my own nature: I love to explain complicated things; I love to judge things...I had to develop the discipline to just not do that, to just allow the narrative to tell the story. For those of you who are interested in writing history or writing narrative about the real world, I encourage you to read the ancient authors...particularly Thucydides on the Peloponnesian Wars and Josephus on the Jewish Wars and Plutarch on the ancient life of Caesar. The Jewish War involved among other things the siege of the city of Mosada.

Custard was a hero of the Civil War and at a certain moment he divided his forces and started down the river to attack the Sioux villages. His scouts told him that the Sioux village was the biggest Indian village around and tried to tell him not to attack the village until reinforcements arrived. Exactly what happened after he attacked is difficult to discern. None of Custards troops survived, though several thousand Indians survived and lived to recount the story. You're in a position to understand what did happen. The battle that ensued was decided at a certain point by Crazy Horse. When the military determined that, they decided that Crazy Horse was a dangerous man who had to be killed...

James Jesus Angleton taught me how to hold multiple accounts in my head at the same time. He was the head of the CIA. ...explained how to create a deep chrono, a deep chronology. Put all accounts into chronological order and makes it difficult to hide a secret event. Basically, what I did was take all sources, with all contradictions and without judgment in chronological order...

A series of moments in the last hours of Crazy Horse's life from his fatal wounding to the hours later when he died...as soon as he realized the army had broken every single promise to him, he made an effort to break free which was impossible to do since he was surrounded by 1,000 soldiers...a soldier pierced him with a bayonet through his back, which seems to have pierced his kidney and his lung....rather than make an attempt to make a decision between different accounts of the moment of his wounding, I put them all in, but briefly and only the things where the detail was not as important as the dramatic moment. ...I wanted to capture some of the intensity and rapidity with which events unfold.

The accounts are in English now. The accounts were given in Lakota and transcribed at the scene by people who grew up with Lakota as their first language. ...I never considered writing a traditional biography, because I wanted to understand the answer to the question, why'd they kill him? Over time, the question in my mind became why did Crazy Horse let them do it?

Question: Obama is compared to Eisenhower, do you have an opinion?
Jim Newton: Haven't heard the comparison much, but it is a reasonable comparison. Eisenhower confronted the Suez Crisis in 1956 and to the amazement of the Third World sided with Egypt over Britain and France. Eisenhower is a great example of governing from the middle.

Question: Mr. Newton, I've heard for a number of years that the phrase "military industrial complex" included "Congressional," is that true?
Newton: The phrase "military industrial Congressional complex," is given and said to have been considered, but doesn't exist in any of the drafts of the text. It is a friendly farewell to the Congress. I think it would have upset the tone he was trying to set.

Question: In regards to Earl Warren, in his decision in Brown v. Board of Education was as much an apology for what he had done to the Japanese in internment and why he wanted to get a unanimous decision.
Newton: I don't think that's right. I agree that many people frame it that way. I think he thought he did the best he could in a pressing national security environment with Japanese internment. His memoir published posthumously is the only place he mentioned regret. He wrote "I have come to regret," and his publisher added "I have come to deeply regret." ...It is to Warren's lasting credit that he created a unanimous decision.

Question: How do you decide when to use your opinion or suspend judgment when writing history?
Powers: When you're working in a field of this kind, you have to start with a suspension of judgment. Just hold back and listen to what makes you feel uncomfortable. I was forming judgments all the time, but I wanted the text to be a text of narrative, rather than a text of judgment.

Powers: Crazy Horse elected to trust what he was told until the moment when he couldn't trust it anymore.

Newton: Eisenhower felt it was important to build an arsenal and never use it. I don't think he saw it as bolstering the military industrial complex. What he was concerned about, as time had gone on, we no longer had the ability to convert civilian industries into arms industries and it was the permanent nature of the arms industry that he was concerned about. One of the things that motivated him around all this was the ads that the military industry took out in aerospace magazines. ....One of the very first speeches of his presidency was The Chance for Peace speech...the military industrial complex was not a late development in his presidency.

Newton: Eisenhower chose to see the decision in Brown v Board of Education as an order from the court that he had to obey.

Posted by cj at 2:00 PM | Comments (0)

History, Identity & Purpose: California, Chicanos, and Beyond @ LAT FOB

Hector Tobar, LAT columnist moderating the panel. Our first author is Mario T. Garcia. His book is Blowout: Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice.

Daniel Hernandez is second panelist. Former staffer at LAT and currently lives in Mexico City. Down and Delirious in Mexico City: The Aztec Metropilis in the 21st Century.

Our final panelist is Miriam Pawel. Worked for 25 years for Newsday and LAT. Her book is the amazing The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez's Farm Worker Movement.

Sal Castro is known in LA History for the riots on the East Side in 1968. He's known that this moment rose spontaneously, but from your book we know that he knew for decades about the ideology that led to the walkouts. One of the few Latino teachers in the 1960s. He had lived through the Mexican schools. Their children had to attend segregated, inferior schools. The tracking system of putting Mexican kids, Latino kids into vocational classes. This is what Sal Castro lived growing up in LA, born in 1933. He grew up as a young shoe shine boy. He graduated from Cathedral High School in 1952, went into the military and was sent to the South where he saw segregation. He grew up when Latinos and blacks could only go to public pools on the days that they were cleaned, hence the term 'dirty Mexican.' He was in Texas where a waitress refused to serve him and remarked that the waitress must remember the Alamo. He witnessed the kids being tracked and so forth. He helped to organize some of the kids into "the TiEms" - the tortilla movement. He knew that the problem wasn't the students, their parents: only a dramatic action will shake things up. The problem is the schools themselves and their approach to teaching Latino students. That led to the blowouts, or the walkouts of 1968. Three months later, he and twelve others were arrested. The East LA 13 were arrested for conspiring to foment the walkout and if convicted, he would have be in jail for 113 years. The community staged a sit in at the Board of Education when they refused to allow him to teach. Moved from Lincoln to Bell.

Daniel Hernandez: So my book started out. I tried to pinpoint in the book where my fascination or intrigue with Mexico City began. My parents are from Tijuana, so we don't really have any bloodline into the center or south of Mexico. I kind of had this dual understanding of what it meant to be Mexican or Mexican-American. When I was at Berkeley I met a girl who was from Mexico City. When I told her my family was from Tijuana she said "that's not really Mexican." And I thought, "really? that's not how we were perceived." She had blonde hair and blue eyes and thinking that she was Mexican really tripped me out. I got a job out of school to be a metro reporter for the LA Times and took a break between school and working in Mexico. I saw a landscape that I could not have ever imagined. An enormous bowl of grey smogginess. And the smell of corn, oil, maiz, and toxicity and man there are 20 million Mexcianos here - what is going on? ...how borders can be criss-crossed between an individual and community. Switched to the LA Weekly in March, 2006. I convinced the LA Weekly to allow me to go cover the elections in Mexico and there was a politician trying to form a power base completely around addressing the deep, violent social inequality in Mexico. I started hearing from editors who told me to go back there and write a book. At a certain moment, I decided it was important for me to get out of my comfort zone and explore it. I went to neighborhoods where I was told not to go, I went to parties I was told I wouldn't get in, I went to markets where I was told I wouldn't come out and I would come home and write. I was so stimulated, I felt like I was on this constant acid trip - over stimulation on every level. The book gradually came together. I would post a photo on my blog and an impression would come out of that. My editor told me to focus on young people and that turned out to be fun. And I would be confronted with, "So what are you? Are you a gringo, eh?" In the span of a day, I would get polar reactions.

Miriam Pawel: Your book about Cesar Chavez follows these people who joined Chavez on his struggle. It's about this larger sense of power too. But yet you show that building a movement takes work, takes patience, and sort of becomes messy at times. Tell us a little about their journeys.

Miriam: These books are all about people who felt tremendously passionate about people what they were doing. I came to this from a different route from other panelists. I spent a year at the LAT doing a series about the UFW union today and what it's become. It's not a major force in the farm movement today and if you go out in the fields today and ask them who Cesar Chavez is, they think you're talking about the boxer. As I began to talk to people who were involved in it, they were all sort of caught up in the last great social movement of this country. ...Activists all over the country who had committed their life and worked for free to change the condition in the fields, I met all these people who are literally haunted 30 years later about what they weren't able to succeed and why the UFW didn't become a sustainable union for farm workers. It's not a book about Chavez per se, it's a book about the movement he inspired. I chose to write the book about 8 characters who represent the ways the movement changed the lives of a generation. It was a part of Chavez's ability to drive these people into a movement together. It was an idea that you could send farm workers across the country and were wiling to go around the country to ask for money, "I'm a farm worker and I'm 2,000 miles from home and all I'm doing is asking you to not buy grapes." California to this day has the only law on the books to allow farm workers to join a union and protects their right to do so. Farm workers and domestic workers are the only workers not included in the National Labor Relations Act (editor's note: and government employees). It was a little like the story of the blind man and the elephant. Depending on where you were, your perspective was very different. I wanted you to be able to see as a reader what it was like to go through this experience. As the omniscient reader narrator you have an idea of where it's going. Cesar Chavez: he is an incredibly important figure in American history who in someways, because there is so much hagiography around him, that has done him a disservice. Writing about his life in all its complexity allows people to know that heroes are human and heroes have flaws. Academics and journalists have shied away from writing about Chavez in any way but celebratory, but he was brilliant and brought about significant change not just for farm workers but for everyone who joined the movement. My book only deals with the part of his work that dealt with the farm workers movement, but the larger Chicano movement is distinct from that. He's a fascinating character and the people around him were. As many of the people who were involved in the movement ended up disillusioned, sad, or angry. They left on voluntary or sometimes involuntary terms. I came about at a point when people felt that it was history and it was okay to talk about it now. How do you participate in a movement and have a democratic movement and still get things done. So people left on very kind of mixed terms, but I've never met anyone who worked even for a brief time who felt like it was the most important thing they've done in their lives. So that's what I tried to capture in very human ways, so I wanted you to be able to care about the people.

Hector: For me, Cesar Chavez is about awakening the civic spirit. I'm going to throw the mike, metaphorically speaking, over to Sal. We were talking a little bit about you before you got here and the book that you two produced together. And there was a question that Mario brought up is what the legacy of the movement you were involved in is. How is LA education different because of the movement?

Sal Castro: The producer and director asked if I would help them with the movie, the project "Walkout," about the students who walked out of school. This thing was an urban movement across the SouthWest, the entire country. My first question was who would be my love interest. ... My second question was who would play me. When I was invited to the White House in 1996, I spoke to Clinton about the fact that we're the country with the highest rate of high school and college drop outs. I'm sorry to say my statement to Obama would be the same thing..

Question from the owner of Libros Schmibros, a lending library in Boyle Heights.

Sal: We as Mexicans have been involved in every war the US has been involved in, including the Revolutionary War. We came with troops, 44 vessels that blockaded the Southern ports, and money. There is no American cemetery without a Mexican buried in it, including Gettysburg.

Posted by cj at 12:31 PM | Comments (0)

Obama:: 2 Years In @ LAT FOB

Nick Goldberg - editor of editorial page at the NY Times. Called in because tonight is the night of the correspondence dinner at the White House. Start by reading something Garrett Gaff wrote.

Conservatives are still questioning where the president was born. Progressives, which I think are over-represented on this panel, are disappointed by the president. Hoping we'll have a serious discussion about whether progressives are right in their criticisms.

Garrett - editor of the Washingtonian magazine. Second book just came out - The Threat Matrix.

Garrett: I started out in politics working on Howard Dean's campaign and I represent the far right wing of the panel. One campaign's in poetry and governs in prose. The lesson Obama has learned in many hard ways over the last two years is that governing is much harder than talking about governing. As much as we'd like to think that closing Guantanamo would be easy to do, for a lot of reason - not all of which is related to the Republican party - it's not. I've followed Obama's national security plans and strategies closer than other issues. The world is a complicated place and he has been buffetted by events beyond his control. The unrest in the Arab world and the earthquake in Japan. One of the challenges that has become clear is how little of a presidency is up to a president. So much is a president reacting to events rather than creating events. What concerns me more than where Obama is or where the Republican party is, I think we're entering an era of politics in that we're no longer serious about solving the big problems. That was sort of the subject of my first book in 2007. I think that you can really see that playing out in Washington right now. This budget debate in so many ways has become about Paul Ryan and his plan and his thinking about the budget. The idea that we think that there is only one guy talking seriously about the budget is an indictment. These are huge issues, generational issues that are going to have to be solved one way or another. This is a stunning indictment of where we are in the political process.

Katrina vanden Heuvel - I'm editor and publisher of The Nation. I do think there are fundamental debates in this country. I think there's radical disconnect between the debates going on in Washington and those going on in the rest of the country. I met Obama once and the one thing he said to me was that perfect is the enemy of the good. 'If the left were not somewhat unhappy with Obama, it would not be much of a left.' Obama did pass two pieces of landmark legislation. But they were not commensurate with the scale and scope of the problem. The power of money, the power of lobbyists to dilute legislation. And a Republican party that stated their goal is to delegitimize Obama. Because of the diluted financial regulatory legislation, Obama resuscitated the financial system but did not fundamentally change it...worst thing he did was the demobilization of the base. Real crisis is not a deficit crisis but a jobs crisis that hasn't been heard in the halls of power...Progressives need to be as tough and as pragmatic about Obama as he is about us...He talked about Afghanistan being 'a good war.' I think now you have the ability - transpartisan majority of people who want to find a way out of Afghanistan, who want to challenge corporate power...thinking of President Johnson: wars kill a reform presidency. ...It's imperative now for citizens of conscious to organize more independently and force these issues into the next election and to create space for these issues to be taken up. ...A broad based assault on what have been considered fundamental pillars of this society.

Eric Alterman: In my head I have four competing arguments about Obama and I'm not sure which is best. One is just what Katrina mentioned briefly, which is personal. He had me over for dinner when he first became a senator. I can't think of anyone who is as smart and as committed to my values getting elected. So, I like the guy a lot. I'm sure a lot of you were crying when, Grant Park. So, part two is I was writing a chapter on Obama for my next book, called the Cause. Liberalism is a lot more marginalized than some of us would like to think it is. It's not easy to find liberal moments where the country has agreed on the goals and moved forward in ways that we would define progress. It's significant that Teddy Roosevelt called for public health insurance in 1912 and every Democratic president since him have tried to pass it and Obama did.

Part three - Legacy of the most corrupt, incompetent and ideologically obsessed presidency since Buchanan. People only knew about the MMS before the Gulf disaster because people were dealing crystal meth out of their offices in exchange for sex. For eight years, people were in charge who had no respect for government. I quote Dick Durbin saying of the banks "frankly, they own the place," talking about the Senate. I have a great deal of sympathy for a guy who treats us with respect and has to go and show his birth certificate. It's difficult to govern in that context. On the other hand, a series of columns I've written in The Nation on the Republican class war. A lot of people have launched an attack on the role the government plays for the poor and the middle class. The wealthiest 2% went from owning 8% of our assets to 20%. The top 10% have enjoyed 60% of the gains in this country. It's only in America that we've had this degree of inequality and it's been purposeful. The other attack is what you've seen in Wisconsin, the attack on our public unions. Obama refuses to recognize this fact - he's got all this 'why can't we all get along' stuff, and if one side is fighting a war and the other side has got their hands tied behind their back.

Mr. Ryan is not talking about sensible government, he's talking about what the Republicans call sensible government. He does nothing about the deficit for 10 years but it does two things: it destroys Medicare and gives another tax break to the wealthy. Paul Krugman says the only serious attack on the long term deficit of the social services is The People's Budget, so I'll take his word for it. This conservative aura has created a notion that you have to attack poor people and enrich rich people and that to me is the problem.

Garrett: We sort of use Ryan as short hand for starting the debate. There is a sense in Washington that there's not serious thinking on these big issues. When one person does begin to do that, we sort of default to letting him own that debate. There's sort of an interesting divide that we're talking about this.

Katrina: Explains that The People's Budget is marginalized not just by Fox News, but by the mainstream press. Quotes from an egregious Dana Milbank's editorial. 40% of people surveyed did not know Medicare is a government program.

Moderator changes topic to Libya.

Garrett: Scariest war we're involved in because it is a war without possibility of American casualties.

Katrina: The issue of drones is a problem in US foreign policy. The larger framework is that we are seeing the expansion of the security state with marginal attempts to cut the defense budget. But it's part of the expansion of, I don't like the term, but US Empire. The over-arching thing in my mind, which Obama may not have had the courage to do, is to make the case that we must end this war on terror. This is not a war. What should have happened after 9/11 should have been an increase in policing.

Eric: This is kind of a sacrilioug thing to say, but I don't know everything. I do know he should have gone to Congress and get a resolution. I do know that they're not evil people. I do know that Samantha Power is a nice person. (At one point he talked about war sometimes being the answer and I hissed. He remarked that it wasn't right to hiss this point. As a woman with a degree in Peace & Justice Studies, I find it ridiculous that my anti-war position is dismissed outright by someone without a clear understanding of real diplomacy being an alternative to war.) The choice is not between war and peace. The choice is between war and massacre. It is just anti-intellectual, a kind of moral masturbation to say you know that one evil is worse than another.

Katrina: I think he's been given a gift of a Republican candidate field that looks like a scene from the bar in Star Wars.

Garrett: I think he's going to have a relatively easy re-election bid....young people, people of color electorate expanding. If those people vote, it will be an easy election.

Eric: I'm not so sure Obama is going to get re-elected. Unemployment is not going down any more. The problem of Japan and the supply lines have not shown up yet, but it will. Housing prices are collapsing again. It really depends on whether the Republicans can select someone that the rest of the country will consider sane. They're setting up Mitch Daniels to be his guy and the press loves him. As far as the demographics, I think minorities and young people are going to be the hardest people to turn out because of the disappointments that have happened from 2008-2011. ...The fact is that, the greatest criticism I would make against Obama. ...quote that was given to Obama when he was running for state senate - you can't go after the whole hog, sometimes you have to accept a ham sandwich. And Obama has been taking a lot of ham sandwiches and the problem is there isn't even any ham in those sandwiches.

Opened up to questions.

Posted by cj at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

April 16, 2011

Clarifying My Core Political Principles

I shared this video on Facebook and started an extremely long discussion.

Since the conversation included people across the political spectrum, I laid out my core political beliefs as a starting place:

I know corporations / business have one reason for existing: to create profit. They do not support human or environmental needs - they make money for their shareholders. When corporations were first invented, they had to prove that they were supporting the welfare of the nation/colony/state they were incoporated in, but no more.

The gap between the rich and the poor, in the US and globally, is larger than it has ever been. There is no real middle class in the US. Fairness in taxation means that the people who profit the most should pay the most. Otherwise, government will end up imposing more sales taxes, which affect the poor far more than the rich. The Bush tax cuts were unpaid for and unsustainable. Reagonomics DID NOT WORK. And it did not create a magical, growing, healthy economy. It simply exacerbated the gap between the rich and the poor.

Individuals create governments to increase their own freedom. Government protects citizens by imposing regulations on business, enacting laws that protect people, animals, and the environment. Civil society and government institutions are the only pathways to a more just world.

I am not willing to sacrifice my freedom to the whim of corporations. The problem in DC is the corporatacracy. Government paychecks are red herrings - contractors make far more than any govt employee. The problem is politicians rely on Big Money and Big Business to get elected and re-elected. Until we have public financing in our elections, it will remain difficult for the majority of the people to have their opinions heard and enacted by government.

The majority of the people isn't the same as the decisions made in individual races in a midterm election. Too many people are turned off by politics in this country. Even the president isn't chosen by a simple majority vote - giving people in Omaha a larger voice in national politics than people in LA.

Government job bills are the only things that truly get us out of a recession - it was the Works Progress Administration that finally got people back to work after the Great Depression. And yes, it was also the military industrial economy. We're addicted to war. It's the largest form of welfare in this country - the military, or a military contractor, exists in every single Congressional district in this country. Can't say that about any other federal program.

The world I want to see has a culture of peace and human security as its core principles, rather than this culture of war and humans being disposable. Those great corporations refuse to hire people who have been unemployed 2+ years - are you really willing to sacrifice millions of Americans for a political ideology?

In addition to ending US wars, we need to slash the military budget and spend more on creating jobs and social services. By the way - it doesn't matter how much intelligence POTUS, SecDef, or SecState have: the bottom line is that if your primary form of diplomacy is depleted uranium bombs, your country will never be at peace. Terrorism cannot be defeated with terrorism. Only skillful diplomacy, robust international institutions, pathways to peace and economic prosperity will make us truly safe.

Posted by cj at 11:09 PM | Comments (0)