Here’s to Jerry Brown! (On to Term 4.)

jerry-brownJerry Brown, who served his first two four-year terms as governor of California from 1975 to 1983, just after the Reagan governorship, was elected to a third, non-consecutive term in the 2010 elections.

Although Brown was regarded as a bit erratic and pie-in-the-sky the first time around (and in his three failed presidential bids), he proved himself to be a dependable and strong leader in Sacramento over the past three years.

Since Jerry Brown is the oldest governor in the state’s history and sixteen years would be a lot of governing, it wasn’t totally clear initially whether the Democrat would be seeking re-election to a fourth term. But he quickly began amassing enough money to make it obvious he would — and to deter most potential rivals from challenging him. Gov. Brown just announced today that he would be running in the open/top-two primary for governor.

So far he’s got pretty minor challengers from the Republicans. They have “interesting” perspectives, according to what the New York Times has been reporting so far.

First, there’s Neel Kashkari, who orchestrated the TARP bank bailouts while at the U.S. Treasury Department in 2008. He has reportedly raised a cool million — to Brown’s SEVENTEEN million dollars. Here was his insightful critique of the governor: “Californians can’t afford another four years of Governor Brown’s failed leadership.”

Yes, let’s recap that “failed leadership”:

The state had a deficit of more than $25 billion when he took office in 2011 and now has a surplus. The governor has also been working to persuade his fellow Democrats who control the Legislature to stock away money for a rainy-day fund.

Next in line is East L.A.’s State State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, with about $500,000 raised, who helpfully explained that if nominated against Brown, it would be a “showdown between socialism and freedom.”

Again, we’re talking about Third-Term Brown who last month delivered a state budget with a $4.2 BILLION projected surplus, even after proposing an 8.5% spending increase, a $1.6 billion rainy day fund, and $11 billion to pay back outstanding debts and liabilities. So yeah. Basically socialism. Nailed it. No fiscal responsibility anywhere to be found!
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Italy still not on board with democracy, really

italian-republic-emblemAnother ten months, another failed Italian prime minister. The next prime minister is expected to be the Mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi of the ruling Democrat Party, who has been summoned to the presidential palace to see about trying to cobble together a new governing majority coalition and cabinet.

Because, as you may have realized from the above, he’s not actually a member of parliament, he will presumably be proclaimed a “Senator-for-Life,” the appointed position granted to Mario Monti at the end of 2011 so he could become Prime Minister. Under the constitution, the President can appoint anyone to the Senate and then invite them to form a cabinet as prime minister. It’s more or less undemocratic, but it’s constitutional.

Monti, a former career EU official at the time with no elected experience, proceeded to select a cabinet composed entirely of other non-elected “technocrats” (apolitical experts), so he could enact austerity measures. He was succeeded by the now-outgoing Enrico Letta, just last year, after losing an election. Letta wasn’t exactly elected either by the country, but he was at least an elected member of parliament who managed to form a majority from within his fellow members across the three largest parties.

He was brought down by a no confidence vote Mayor Renzi instigated last week. Both Letta and Renzi are Democratic Party members but Renzi took control of the party leadership in December 2013 and didn’t feel like waiting his turn — or even being elected to parliament first.

Post-World War II Italian politics have been increasingly wracked by instability due to having several major parties in parliament — usually 3 or 4 at a time — often with strong geographic alignments in the second tier parties. This all adds up to no one party usually being able to form a majority and certainly not one that can survive no confidence votes easily.
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52s the Mike

michael-samThe prospect of an openly gay NFL player has been bubbling just under the surface for nearly a year. When the crazy Manti T’eo fake girlfriend story exploded, some asked if it was some sort of cover for him being gay (though Manti said he was FAR from it). Former Raven’s linebacker Brandon Ayanbadejo said he was in talks with four players to come out of the closet during the 2013 season. But over the course of the season, no such announcement came and we were left to wonder why. Supposedly one older free agent, who had made private announcements to friends and other teams, subsequently could not secure a job. Many have speculated that this story refers to former defensive back Kerry Rhodes, who fits many of the reported details.

Then there’s the curious case of superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who gave an interview saying he “really, really likes women” after internet rumors put him in a relationship with his roommate and personal assistant of four years. I’m not usually one to give credence to sketchy gossip sites, but some of Kevin Lanflisi’s tweets made this story seem plausible at the very least. I’m honestly not sure about what other interpretations there are for a tweet of Lanflisi and Rodgers sitting on beach chairs with the text: “I know the truth. I’ve seen it. There’s no guilt. I’m bought. Owned. His. Free.”

But instead of speculating on current players, the NFL now has to face the reality of an openly gay player in the 2014 NFL draft. Mike Sam is a Defensive End/Outside Linebacker out of Missouri and he gave an interview this weekend to ESPN.

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The propagandists’ alternate history of the Egyptian revolution

egypt-coat-of-armsRegular readers will have noticed by now my informal chronicling of curious propaganda coming out of post-coup Egypt. Today I flag this passage in a New York Times op-ed, Egypt’s Despair, and Its Hope,” by Alaa Al Aswany:

a systematic media campaign carried out by state television and the private channels owned by businessmen who used to back the Mubarak regime. This public relations effort aims to convey the notion that the January 2011 revolution was a plot by American intelligence agencies to remove Mr. Mubarak. It accuses the young revolutionaries of being traitors and paid agents of the West.

You might wonder how this kind of Bizarro-World bald-faced lying could actually work. How could any Egyptian be persuaded that the January/February 2011 uprising, which was resisted for many weeks by American officials — who had long backed Hosni Mubarak and were hoping he would hold on to power — could also be orchestrated by American intelligence agents and their Egyptian youth recruits?

This gets to the same problem I raised in my first post on post-coup propaganda:

Obviously, given their easy access to outside media, most internet-using Egyptians are probably well aware of the distinction […] It’s worth remembering, however, that a lot of Egyptians still get their news from television media and, unlike their Twitter-savvy brethren, aren’t necessarily exposed to alternate sources of information.

Indeed, many young, urban Egyptians are well aware of the alternate reality being constructed around — and, in fact, against them. As Aswany notes, recently a Facebook post on the despair of the rolled-back revolution went viral. Two sentences stick out in the this context:

Yet we keep on stating that it was a real dream, no matter how much they try to falsify history. None of us who have lived that dream will ever forget, or regret it, for a moment.

The question now is whether they will hold on to those memories long enough to outlast the efforts of the alternate-reality propagandists who are trying to convince them they have misremembered what happened and were wrapped into a Western web of lies and insurrection. It’s hard to keep hold of what you know is true the longer you spend in an environment that tells you an alternative narrative, day in and day out, and gaslights your lived experience constantly.
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Abolition of Russian serfdom vs Abolition of US Slavery

It seems like the emancipation of 23 million serfs in Russia in 1861 was a lot better organized and planned out than the emancipation/abolition of U.S. slaves during the American Civil War happening at the same time. In part, this difference would likely have stemmed from the fact that the Imperial Russian government could act by fiat and receive compliance. Moreover, the serf-holding landowners in Russia were way more indebted/obligated toward their government (than the already literally rebelling Southern American slaveholders) and thus couldn’t resist such a decision from the central government.

But, more importantly, the committee that planned the Russian emancipation also did a lot of theorizing on how to handle emancipated serfs in a manner that didn’t trap them on old lands and gave them some economic opportunities. Freed serfs didn’t exactly get 40 acres and a mule either — and it was still a pretty bumpy outcome — but it was a lot closer to a comprehensive and effective dismantling of the system in a responsible manner. The U.S. approach seems to have ended up at “you’re free now, problem solved. ok, next thing on the agenda,” which immediately led to slavery-by-another-name practices like abusive sharecropping contracts.

President Lincoln was elected by a pro-abolition party (even though that wasn’t personally his primary or even secondary campaign plank). Many of his generals repeatedly tried to brainstorm and implement measures — such as the aforementioned, abortive 40 acres land grants proposal — to deal with the slaves encountered in the South while suppressing the rebellion (and he objected to all of them). So obviously, in spite of (and because of) the Civil War going on at the time, a lot of people in the United States were thinking about this issue on some level.

I would have hoped somebody in the Republican Party or government or military would have at least had a working group on implementation of abolition. After all, this wasn’t a foreign concept because the northern states already had plenty of experience with dismantling their slave-inclusive economies with relatively minimal disruption. Yes, they consistently had fewer slaves, but they still figured out something that worked. So the information and ideas needed to plan for this eventuality — foreshadowed as early as the Constitutional Convention of 1787 — should absolutely have been there by 1861.

But instead, U.S. abolition was implemented chaotically and indecisively over the 1860s, with little plan for what to do with/for all the freed people, and with little enforcement (especially after the removal of Federal troops at the end of Reconstruction) to prevent abuses.

Why I won’t be watching the Sochi Olympics

I was a huge fan of the Olympics when I was growing up, probably ever since I had to do a book report on Jesse Owens when I was in elementary school. I knew about the problems in the past — and have had an emerging appreciation for the difficulties and tribulations it causes the residents of host cities, particularly the lower-income folks. But, broadly speaking, I believed it was one of those things that had an important ideal for humanity even if it didn’t always meet it.

When I say I was a huge fan, I mean huge. In fact, from February 2002 (i.e. Salt Lake) to some time around February 2006 — maybe later even — my bedroom was always decorated with Olympics-related stuff. As a kid, I knew an insane amount arcane trivia about various Olympics, and I’m not even really big into sports. I even had an Olympics-themed birthday party one year. I’ve stayed up late so many summers and winters, night after night, to watch the games. I was very disappointed not to have a TV in 2010 for the Vancouver Games and kept trying to find TVs playing it in public spaces. In 2012, despite all the annoying tape-delay BS, I was relieved I had a TV to watch the London games.

This year, I would have all the time in the world and my own TV. But I won’t be watching any of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Not after everything that’s happened in the run-up to it.
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Op-Ed: Chinese Antarctic Rescue A Positive Signal

My latest op-ed in The Globalist:

Last week, a Chinese helicopter crew rescued 52 people trapped on a Russian icebreaker stuck in Antarctic pack ice.

A difficult mission like this would, in the past, usually have fallen to the United States – and indeed, a U.S. ship is in turn now rescuing the Chinese crew from their own trapped vessel. But China has now joined the small ranks of those nations with the capacity to help in such a situation.

This situation – a Chinese air transfer of an international team on a Russian ship to a waiting Australian icebreaker, accompanied by a U.S. follow-up mission – is symbolic of international cooperation in Antarctica as a whole.


Read the full text here.