Blue Collar Liberalism


Harper’s Magazine, December 2013

Harper’s continues to espouse an ethos that fits well in the jeans and work shirts of the laboring class. This cuts against the grain of most progressive thinking in the early days of the twenty-first century, but who’s to say they’re wrong?

Thomas Frank bemoans (slightly) the political gentrification of Chicago, and Jeff Madrack reminds us yet again of our increasing inattention to educating, informing, and employing our youth.

But not everything here is of beer taste. There’s the wine drinker’s concern about the rising price of art. (Is art not for the masses anymore? author Ben Lerner seems to ask.)

John Kerry seems to have gained the fascination of many journalists since he took the reins of State, and here Andrew Cockburn implies that the project of foreign policy is bankrupt, supposing, I guess, that governmental paydirt lies within the national borders. Meanwhile, the sun rises on a truly international economy and politics.

Of course there’s more, as always with this magazine. I wait patiently to see whether its visionaries have truly glimpsed the future.

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.


The Dark Side of History

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States



I don’t often give movie reviews this degree of treatment, but Stone’s  story here is an ultra-long documentary, and it’s somewhat important for what it accomplishes. In the movie’s preamble Stone professes to be disturbed by what’s been left out of any commonly held history of the United States – school or otherwise. It’s a truism that every good thing has its dark side, and Stone wants us to have the benefit of such darkness in order to view our national legacy in perspective.

He begins with World War II and the development and use of the atomic and hydrogen bombs. Certainly Germany had a similar program, but they were unable to use it. The U.S. did use it, and Stone’s history has it as being unnecessary. As was the subsequent build-up of our nuclear arsenal and the fight we picked with the Soviet Union via the Cold War. Harry Truman is the culprit here in demonizing the Soviets while building up this arsenal, despite evidence that neither was necessary.  In counterpoint to Truman was his cabinet member Henry Wallace who cautioned against Truman’s posturing. Wallace was eventually fired and held up for scorn during the McCarthy era.

Then there was Korea – and Vietnam, which Stone knew from the ground up, having fought there as a soldier. His thesis here is that what U.S. leaders had us see as a monolithic Communism movement was in reality one severely tempered by the various nationalisms involved, beginning with Czechoslovakia, and eventually ending in the dissipation of the Soviet Union.

In modern times, Reagan spurned disarmament advances by Soviet leader Gorbachev. Cooperation in this regard may very well have resulted in a unique alliance of Russia and the U.S. Finally, Stone gives us G.W. Bush’s spurning of world opinion in using U.S. resources in unilateral war and empire advancement in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, leaving Obama to dismantle some of this and carry on the rest.

Stone’s bottom line here is that the several key, misfortunate decisions by U.S. leaders squandered a large chunk of our nation’s assets, hence its future. His facts are essentially true, I think, his opinionizing occasionally askew, but it clearly shows knowledge of our history and his concern and love for this country.  The documentary was apparently put together hurriedly, and the narration and piecing together of film segments suffered to some degree from it.


My rating: 17 of 20 stars.



Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Irrationality and its Pitfalls

Magic and  Mayhem, by Derek Leebaert



In the democratic model of citizen/government relationship, those in governmental power are charged with representing the interests of the people in a reasonable, rational way. Leebaert, in this book-long essay, goes to great lengths to examine the irrationalities that the U.S.’s leaders have foisted on us via their most consuming decisions since World War II.

What then are the warts on U.S. decision making? Leebaert examines six different aspects of the magical thinking he claims has led the U.S. to its current dilemmas, both internal and external:

Emergency Men: these are persons who step to the fore in hard times, partly informed on the issues at hand, who are telegenic and glib enough to garner the trust of governmental administrators and citizens.

The Mystique of Management: this is the tendency of administrators to impose management on what is unmanageable, particularly in foreign policy.

Star Power:  this is the obsession Americans have with self-identified experts, who elbow their way into the national spotlight. Such persons are long on personality, invariably short on the expertise they’ve laid claim to.

Expectations of Wondrous Results from Nominal Effort: To paraphrase, Americans seek easy answers to complex problems. When self-styled experts rise to prominence, promising some catch-all solution to complexity, we’re invariably willing to accept it over an incremental, less showy approach.

History: We often misread history or accept the implications of history only in part.

The World Wants To Be Like Us: we’re so enamored of our nation’s history, of its rise to power, its particular path to economic well-being, that we assume (in error) that the rest of the world would evolve into international versions of our history, or success as a society, if only they had the chance.   

Leebaert, while teetering on the precipice of rant, does provide incisive views into our decision-making history and the draining effect this history is now having on our dynamism and creativity. Identifying problems, however is always much easier and showier than providing solutions, particularly when the complexities of modern societies are highlighted.

 However, the author does attempt to provide the first nibbles at solution here. Some involve re-organization and re-management of government to emphasize true professionals, not political snake oil salesmen. This, however, places a greater burden on citizens to ferret out these emergency men, these stars, and to demand that reason be imposed on those who step to the fore. But this has always been the project of the Enlightenment: to provide a society in which citizens may overcome the emotional baggage of history through education and understanding.

 As with any complexity, Leebaert’s suggestions are only a start.


My Rating: 4 of 5 stars