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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Would FDR Have Dropped the Bomb?

The Ken Burns 14-hour marathon wraps up tonight, well worth my time (since I've written several books about 20th century history and politics) despite some amazing oversights, such as only 80 seconds on Japanese internment during World War II. 
Tonight, now well into the war, we'd expect a lengthy segment on the Manhattan Project but who knows, it may be treated as a massive footnote.  FDR died not long before the decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan and too rarely do we hear discussion or debate over the fascinating question of--would Roosevelt have done what Truman did?  Or, perhaps, he would stopped after Hiroshima?

Unfortunately, there's not much evidence either way but that shouldn't stop the speculation.

I don't have time to do a full treatment, but let's just say that the most brilliant probing of Truman and his motivation (obvious or hidden) for targeting 150,000 to 200,000 civilians for death in the two cities was found in, ahem, the 1995 book I wrote with Robert Jay Lifton--courtesy mainly of Lifton, I hasten to add--Hiroshima in America.  Lifton spent about three pages on FDR and pointed out that Roosevelt, unlike Truman, had sought advice or discussed alternatives to using the bomb, so at least that was on his mind, if only in the back of it.  Also, he was far stronger than Truman in power and confidence and would have been far more able to withstand the urgings of aides and generals.   Einstein said he didn't think FDR would have used it.  McGeorge Bundy and atomic scientist Phil Morrison said they agreed, in talking to Lifton.   Most would dispute that.

Read about Leo Szilard's efforts to get Truman to hold off and ask yourself if FDR's White House would have reacted with more interest.  And then there's the claim that Truman did not fully understand the civilian toll of using the weapon--would Roosevelt have been more in tune?  And see how Truman opened the nuclear era with a lie.  Would FDR have done the same--and gone on to speed, rather than halt, the chances for a nuclear arms race?

On the other hand, FDR had a lot invested in the bomb and would have had to defend the enormous resources poured into the project if he did not use it.  But he also might have recognized, better than Truman, that Japan was basically defeated and would have likely surrendered in the same time frame due to the Soviets declaring war.

Let the debate continue.  I just don't expect Burns to contribute to it.

When 'Born to Run' Was Born

Post from this past August in tribute to Bruce turning 65...imagine that...this Tuesday.

The iconic breakthrough Springsteen album released on this day in 1975.  We had just given our friend his first magazine cover at  Crawdaddy--more than two-and-a-half years after publishing his very first magazine feature (my fun video here).  Here's collection of nine outtakes (if you follow for more)  or rough versions from the album, including quite different  "Thunder Road."  I was in the studio for the early takes--and now live right over the hill from where that happened.  Still recall getting the test pressing--with the songs in a different order.  Also, the original album cover with the title in script.  By the way, I will always believe I inspired the famous Roy Orbison line (see here).

Friday, September 19, 2014

Talkin' Woody Guthrie New York Blues

Out of nowhere, we learn via NYT of three-CD set plus paperback book on Woody Guthrie's years in New York with walking tour guide and tunes.   Video:

When FDR Shafted Upton Sinclair

As Ken Burns series continues on PBS:  The following happened 80 years ago this month,  just after "Uppie," the former Socialist, swept the Democratic primary for governor of California leading one of great grassroots movements ever,  EPIC (End Poverty in California)--and seemed headed for victory in November.  His meeting with a very friendly FDR at Hyde Park seemed to clinch the deal.  They even chatted about Teddy Roosevelt's response to Upton's The Jungle 30 years back.  Then Roosevelt and his top aides screwed him, backing his right-wing dullard GOP opponent.

Eleanor backed Sinclair in epic race--but FDR instructed aides to tell her to remain silent, and she did.  Sinclair wrote her a key private letter after meeting with the president, but she was away when it arrived, and the aides opened it and informed the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover, no less.

And the dirtiest, and one of the most influential, campaigns in USA history--it virtually created the modern campaign--emerged to defeat him.  Hollywood took its first all-out plunge into politics and the saintly Irving Thalberg created the very attack ads for the screen.  See a trailer below for my book on what led to all this:


Giving Them the Boots

Great "boots on the ground" in Iraq segment last night.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Massacre in Florida

Man, 51, kills daughter, six young grandchildren, and himself.  And: "The Orlando Sentinel reported on Thursday that in 2001 Spirit accidentally shot and killed his eight-year-old son Kyle with a high powered rifle in a hunting accident. Florida Department of Corrections records show he was released from jail in 2006 after serving three years for firearms offences."   Update:  Only new details is that this arose from a "domestic dispute" and that meth (or evidence of meth dealing or making) found at his home.

Brazil Nut

Brazilian soccer player scores cool goal--then disappears in big hole while celebrating.

Will Rogers, and 'The Heartbeat of America'

To go with the Ken Burns "The Roosevelts" series, my earlier tribute to the one American who rivaled FDR in popularity--and influence. 

One of the all-time great Americans, a hero of my new ebook When Hollywood Turned Left, is Will Rogers.  If you only know him as someone who  might have been on the radio a bit or in a movie or two or maybe wrote a newspaper column here in there or was on Broadway--as impersonated in the hit about his Ziegfeld Follies days--then you can catch up here.

One of the most tragic accidental deaths of an American occurred in 1935 when a light plane helmed by famed pilot Wiley Post crashed in Alaska, killing him and the man often described as "the most popular" American of his time, Will Rogers. The phrase "nation mourned" is often tossed about carelessly, but in this case it was true. Historians claimed it was greatest outpouring of genuine affection since Lincoln passed away. NBC and CBS radio went off the air for 30 minutes in mourning and movie screens all over the country darkened their screens for awhile.

Rogers was simultaneously the country's most popular radio personality and newspaper columnist and one of the top three movie stars. Unfortunately, many Americans today (those who even know about him) think of him as merely a humorist or celluloid comedy star, but he was also the nation's most influential political commentator, and from a progressive point of view, always promoting the "common man." He was, in short, the Will of the people. His views on the economy, FDR and the need for bold action--and comments on the Upton Sinclair movement and election race in California featured in my book--are particularly interesting in the Obama era.

In the wreckage of the plane in Alaska was found in his typewriter a sheet of paper with the beginning of one last column: "Now I must get back to advising my Democrats."

Perhaps the question most often asked in America was: Did you see what Will Rogers said? Some of his wisecracks had turned to cliche ("All I know is what I read in the papers"); others entered the American language as folk sayings or punch lines:

• "Every time Congress makes a joke it's a law, and every time they make a law it's a joke."
• "We hold the distinction of being the only nation that is goin' to the poorhouse in an automobile."
• "This would be a great world to dance in if we didn't have to pay the fiddler."
• "My idea of an honest man is a fellow who declares income tax on money he sold his vote for."

Will Rogers was America's "most complete human document... the heartbeat of America," Damon Runyon had observed. Reviewing one of his books, a New York Times critic insisted that "America has never produced anybody quite like him, and there has rarely been an American humorist whose words produced less empty laughter or more sober thought." The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr praised his facility in puncturing foibles "which more pretentious teachers leave untouched."

Rogers's life was an American amalgam. He liked to brag that his ancestors did not come over on the Mayflower -- they met the boat. Rogers was born in Oklahoma Indian Territory in 1879, and he was part Indian, but his parents were prosperous Methodists. Before settling down as a political philosopher and movie star in the 1920s, Rogers worked as a cowboy, a circus performer, and a comedian. Rope tricks were his specialty, but Rogers was no bumpkin: He lived in New York City for many years while appearing with the Ziegfeld Follies, before moving to Santa Monica, and he often traveled abroad.

Although he never took the trouble to vote, Rogers read newspapers and magazines voraciously and hobnobbed with politicians and foreign dignitaries, gathering material for his seemingly spontaneous political gibes. "This man Rogers has such a keen insight into the American panorama and the American people," Theodore Roosevelt said back in 1918 when Will was still twirling rope, "that I feel he is bound, in the course of time, to be a potent factor in the political life of the nation."

A few years later, Rogers was mentioned as a presidential candidate, and he regularly received a strong write-in vote in state and national elections. This was one way for a populist voter to protest without turning Socialist. The humorist ran a mock campaign for president in 1928 as the candidate of the Anti-Bunk party ("He Chews to Run") in the pages of Life, the humor magazine. The National Press Club appointed him America's congressman at large, and others called him the Unofficial President. At the Democratic National Convention in 1932, he received twenty-two votes as Oklahoma's favorite-son candidate and was so excited he slept through the balloting. Another Oklahoman named Will Rogers, no relation, ran for Congress in honor of the comedian -- and won by fifty thousand votes.

To those who complained that his humor was becoming too topical, Rogers replied, "I hope I never get so old that I can't peep behind the scenes and see the amount of politics that's mixed in this medicine before it's dished out to the people as 'Pure statesmanship.'" He once compared the U.S. Senate to Siberia--the place "where they send all the rich men. " He proposed as his epitaph: Here lies Will Rogers. Politicians turned honest, and he starved to death.

During the early years of the Depression, he voiced the despair of the common man and appeared at countless benefits to raise relief money. "What is the matter with our country anyhow?" he wondered. "With all our brains in high positions, and all our boasted organizations, thousands of our folks are starving, or on the verge of it. Why can't there be some means of at least giving everybody all the bread they wanted, anyhow?" He boosted FDR's election, and when Roosevelt was about to take office, Will sent along a list of soon-to-be-immortalized suggestions:

"A smile in the White House again, why, it will look like a meal to us."

"Kid Congress and the Senate, don't scold 'em. They are just children that's never grown up... Keep off the radio till you got something to say... Stay off that back lawn with those photographers. Nothing will kill interest in a president quicker... "

"If somebody gets all excited and tells you, 'Wall Street has just done a nose dive,' tell them, 'Those Republican organizations don't interest me in the least. Why, there is 115 million of my subjects don't know if Wall Street is a thoroughfare or a new mouthwash.'"

Roosevelt, a big Rogers fan, followed his advice almost to the letter. When the president declared a bank holiday, Rogers commented:
The whole country is with him... Even if he does something wrong they are with him, just so he does something... If he burned down the Capitol, we would cheer and say, "Well, we at least got a fire started anyhow." ... We have had years of "Don't rock the boat." Go on and sink it if you want to. We just as well be swimming as like we are... For three years we have had nothing but "America is fundamentally sound." It should have been "America is fundamentally cuckoo." Every American international banker ought to have printed on his office door, "Alive today by the grace of a nation that has a sense of humor."
Rogers called the NRA "decency by government control," although he was suspicious of the Brain Trust gang and theorists in general. "I don't know what additional authority Roosevelt may ask," he advised, "but give it to him, even if it's to drown all the boy babies, for the way the grown-up ones have acted he will be perfectly justified in drowning any new ones."

Some accused him of writing the president's speeches, but he explained that he was the Dumb Brain Truster and that the difference between him and Roosevelt was that "when he's talking he knows what he's talking about, and when I'm talking, I'm just guessin'."

Hardly.

A Bridge Too Far: Cuomo Steals Money for Environment

Sept. 18, 2014:  Joseph Berger with another in his year-long series of propaganda pieces on the bridge for the NYT.   (Here's one of my earlier responses to his reporting.)  As usual, barely mention state and builders' lies about noise issues and passes off quickly the enormous EPA rebuff this week (see below)  and notes without comment that commuters will have to pay even greater toll hike now--doubling or tripling--even as state continues to deny any information on that to the press and the publicAlso again does not divulge that the new spans will not provide a single added lane for rush hour traffic or do anything about the real traffic bottlenecks--on the Thruway at either side of the bridge.  Finally, he repeats the urban legend that the original bridge was built to last just 50 years.  No one has ever been able to track down a source for that but has been used by proponents of new bridge for decades.


Sept. 17, 2014:  Well, the national EPA has weighed in--and in a wise move, and enormous embarrassment for Cuomo, rejected state getting 95% of the massive funding, ruling that the "clean water" projects were completely bogus.  The scam that was bridge plan and funding now fully exposed as commuters and others will now--as some of us have long warned--have to pay double or triple current tolls, plus taxpayers subsidize bonds.  A disgrace.  

August 28, 2014:  Read this scathing piece at my local paper, the Journal News of Westchester/Rockland, N.Y.  The NYT earlier this week refused to endorse Gov. Cuomo for re-election due to various "corruption" angles but far worse, in my view, was his ramming through of the long-delayed (for good reason) building of a new Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson.  It's now the biggest highway/bridge project in the country--thecurrent span is three miles long and less than 60 years old--and besides not promising much of a gain in speed of traffic, it includes no mass transit and the state has lied left and right about likely massive toll increases.  Taking the cake, as you'll see in article, is the governor's successful storng-arm push to drain hundreds of millions in dollars for environmental projects and direct them for the bridge--where financing (beyond soaking commuters) has never been place.  Cuomo pushed the project through anyway.  Now it can only be paid for by raiding funds for much-needed new treatment plants etc.--and doubling tolls.   (h/t Barbara Bedway)

June 2014: Latest scandal surrounding biggest construction project in U.S.--building the new three-mile-long Tappan Zee Bridge, just down the hill.  Cuomo and state rammed through the project hurriedly with little funding in place--beyond danger of tripling current bridge tolls.  Now they've gotten a state board to approve an outrageous $511 loan from key fund meant for environmental clean-up and much-needed new sewers.  No public comments allow earlier or today. See complaints by environmental groups and EPA regional chief.   And local residents being subjected to ear- and nerve-shattering noise.

Moyers Retiring, for Real, in January

Bill Moyers tried to quit earlier this year but we kept pulling him back in.  He did cut his public TV show from an hour to half-hour but now he says he's walking away for good in January.  I've been on his shows two times in the past decade or so, related to Iraq, and he blurbed my book on the subject, advising folks to read it "twice."  He also did an amazing segment on our Beethoven Ninth film last December.  Here's hoping our loss will be his gain.

NSA and Israel, One Year On

Just noticed that I wrote this item one year ago today--it's back in the news this week: 

NYT's fine public editor Margaret Sullivan hits the paper for failing to cover last week's scoop on NSA passing info on to Israel.  Paper says "modest" story and didn't have resources to cover.  She points out they didn't even publish an AP or Reuters story.  Of  course, the Times' coverage and commentary re: Israel long been questioned.

Flat Iron Building at Sunset

My autumnal photo.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

More NFL Horror

Another shocking--or not so much, by now--NFL arrest.
Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer has been deactivated from all team activities following his arrest Wednesday on allegations of aggravated assault.
The arrests stem from two incidents involving a 27-year-old female and an 18-month-old child at Dwyer's home in southeast Phoenix at July 21 at 8 a.m. and July 22 at 4 p.m., according to the Phoenix Police Department. Dwyer, 25, was booked into Maricopa County Jail on Wednesday on one count of aggravated assault causing a fracture, one count of aggravated assault involving a minor, two counts of criminal damage, one count of preventing the use of a phone in an emergency, and assault...
Authorities depicted a stormy relationship between Dwyer and the woman that escalated into violence on July 21, four days before the Cardinals reported to training camp.  Neighbors heard a fight and called police, who showed up at the residence but left without making an arrest because Dwyer hid in the bathroom and the woman said no one else was at the home, Sgt. Trent Crump said.

Breaking (Ball) Bad?

Epic Bryan Cranston re-enactment of history of baseball post-season (from Ruth to Fisk to Jeter), a lengthy commercial for TBS coverage this year.  Classic.  Love the organist--and Pedro cameo.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why They Hate Obama?

NYT can't seem to guess the main reason, duh.  Interesting piece just up on how Kentucky has benefited most from Obamacare, perhaps, but voters there still plan to vote Republican in droves.  Leads with example of low-paid woman who has all sorts of ailments who was uninsured and now has great Medicaid coverage.  But she hates Obama and won't vote Dem.  Polls show state 2-1 against Obama but what could there be about him that makes Kentuckians--who he has aided so much--still despise him?  Want to guess?

Suspect Who Shot Trooper Is Domestic Terrorist

They've finally IDed the nut who allegedly killed one trooper and seriously wounded another over the weekend in an assassination act and, guess what, he's another survivalist bent on killing cops and others.  He's still at large.  “He has made statements about wanting to kill law enforcement officers and also to commit mass acts of murder,” Mr. Noonan said. “What his reasons are, we don’t know. But he has very strong feelings about law enforcement and seems to be very angry with a lot of things that go on in our society.”

Poitras Film on Snowden to Debut Oct. 10

Just announced, Snowden film added to sked at NY Film Festival.  And title:  "CitizienFour."  Poitras, of course, key to story since beginning (even pre-Greenwald).  And she's done other key films.
The resulting film, said NYFF director Kent Jones in a press release, is “a brave documentary, but also a powerful work from a master storyteller,” and a work whose screening for festival programmers left the viewers “alternately stunned, excited and deeply troubled.”
Poitras’ past work includes the Oscar-nominated “My Country, My Country” and “The Oath.” She contributed to the Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of NSA abuses by the Guardian and the Washington Post, and co-founded the digital magazine the Intercept with Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill.

Manning On ISIS

Out of nowhere--well, actually, from Fort Leavenworth--famed WikiLeaks leaker Chelsea Manning writes op-ed for The Guardian's site on how to deal with ISIS that might work better than backlash-provoking bombing.
Based on my experience as an all-source analyst in Iraq during the organization’s relative infancy, Isis cannot be defeated by bombs and bullets – even as the fight is taken to Syria, even if it is conducted by non-Western forces with air support.
I believe that Isis is fueled precisely by the operational and tactical successes of European and American military force that would be – and have been – used to defeat them. I believe that Isis strategically feeds off the mistakes and vulnerabilities of the very democratic western states they decry. The Islamic State’s center of gravity is, in many ways, the United States, the United Kingdom and those aligned with them in the region.
When it comes to regional insurgency with global implications, Isis leaders are canny strategists. It’s clear to me that they have a solid and complete understanding of the strengths and, more importantly, the weaknesses of the west. They know how we tick in America and Europe – and they know what pushes us toward intervention and overreach. This understanding is particularly clear considering the Islamic State’s astonishing success in recruiting numbers of Americans, Britons, Belgians, Danes and other Europeans in their call to arms.
Attacking Isis directly, by air strikes or special operations forces, is a very tempting option available to policymakers, with immediate (but not always good) results. Unfortunately, when the west fights fire with fire, we feed into a cycle of outrage, recruitment, organizing and even more fighting that goes back decades. This is exactly what happened in Iraq during the height of a civil war in 2006 and 2007, and it can only be expected to occur again.
And avoiding direct action with Isis can be successful.

Our Nuclear (Dysfunctional) Family

Update Great article just up at The Atlantic on "the world's worst kept secret"--Israel's nuclear arsenal (although IDed below).   Part of yet another U.S.-Israel "deal" to avoid scrutiny and controls.

Earlier:  Every year, the venerable Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists publishes a country-by-country survey for the world's nuclear weapons stockpiles and sites.  I've been following this for over 30 years.  It always makes for fairly depressing reading, as one may assume, from the lack of media attention lately, that those stockpiles have been drastically reduced, approaching zero, in recent years.  That's hardly the case.

Their summary this week in the new report:
As of mid-2014, the authors estimate that there are approximately 16,300 nuclear weapons located at some 98 sites in 14 countries. Roughly 10,000 of these weapons are in military arsenals; the remaining weapons are retired and awaiting dismantlement. Approximately 4,000 are operationally available, and some 1,800 are on high alert and ready for use on short notice. The largest concentrations of nuclear weapons reside in Russia and the United States, which possess 93 percent of the total global inventory. The United States today stores nuclear weapons at 18 sites, including 12 sites in 11 states in the United States and another six sites in five European countries. There is considerable uncertainty about the number of Russian nuclear weapons storage sites, but the authors estimate that Russia today stores nuclear weapons permanently at 40 domestic locations. 
Of course, especially on this subject, the devil is in the details.   For example:
The United States is the only nuclear-armed state that deploys nuclear weapons in other countries [5 in Europe]. Approximately 180 non-strategic nuclear bombs are stored in underground vaults beneath 87 aircraft shelters at six bases in five European countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey) for delivery by US and NATO fighter-bombers. 
And:
Pakistan has a rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal of 100 to 120 warheads and an increasing portfolio of delivery systems.
Anything on Israel is always interesting because 1) they won't even admit they have long had nuclear weapons 2) from media coverage you'd think they didn't and thus would be at the mercy of Iran if the latter did gain some warheads.  So here:
Israel is a wild card because of the opacity of its nuclear weapons program. Like other nuclear-armed states, however, Israel has been modernizing its nuclear arsenal and probably also its storage facilities. Israel’s nuclear weapons are not believed to be fully operational under normal circumstances, but are estimated to include 80 to 85 warheads. 
My book on how it all began in 1945 and U.S. "cover-up" since. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Soldier Who Killed Herself After Refusing to Take Part in Torture

The blood on the hands of Bush, Cheney and so many others (including certain members of the media) in the Iraq war  comes not just from soldiers and civilians killed in action but the many, many soldier suicides, in the war zone and back at home.  Recent reports find high levels remain, even with no U.S. fighting in Iraq and declining combat in Afghanistan.   For years I wrote about the suicides almost every week (when no one else was doing this).

But one of the most most wrenching stories concerned Spc. Alyssa Peterson, 27.  She was one of the first female soldiers to die in that conflict.  It was an unusually tough loss for U.S. forces there, as she was one of the few Arabic-speaking interrogators. She had been killed by a bullet from a rifle--11 years ago today.  A daily occurrence for U.S. soldiers in Iraq then, but in this case the rifle was her own.

She had committed suicide after refusing to take part in torture. Naturally, a cover-up followed.  From a 2009 dissertation by Alan Hensley, Ph.D.
Statements in the post-death investigation (United States Army, 2003) suggested the former Mormon missionary found the human intelligence (HUMINT) interrogation techniques used on Iraqi detainees repugnant and physically, psychologically, and emotionally distressing. Though Peterson was reassigned to other duties at Tal Afar after expressing her distress to her superiors, she continued to be assigned near the building in 9 which she was acutely aware that interrogations continued. She was repeatedly reprimanded for revealing to Iraqi civilians that she both understood and spoke Arabic.

In all of her actions, Peterson demonstrated a strong sense of empathy and altruism. While her personality domains and educational and occupational history would have been ideally suited for public affairs or humanitarian duties, her assigned military duties were immensely incongruent.

Many of her fellow soldiers noted in the weeks prior to her death, Peterson became distant and withdrawn. In the last few days prior to her death, her behavior changed markedly from troubled and withdrawn to pleasant. To professionals trained in suicide prevention, this behavior is an all-too-familiar indicator that, with her strategic coping mechanisms overwhelmed, Alyssa Peterson had made the decision to end her biopsychosocial distress by ending her life.
I was the first national reporter to write about her case, after a local radio newsman uncovered it.  I've updated it since and wherever I write about it the articles draw wide readership and comments.   Here's my most recent piece, from The Nation four years ago--it's in two parts, with updates.   She was also featured in my new e-book on the war, So Wrong for So Long.