Zippidy Doo Da

I'm not stupid, I'm from Texas!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Marvin Miller 1917 -2012

Labor economist Marvin Miller, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 through 1982 died yesterday in his home in Manhattan.

Whatever your opinion of the economics of Major League Baseball, Miller was instrumental in raising the status of baseball players from that of chattel, with a league minimum salary below the national median income, to a bargaining position with the clubowners (who Faye Vincent called “the twenty-four idiots.”)

Miller’s “A Whole Different Ball Game” is one of the great baseball books, telling the sometimes hilarious history of the players union and their struggles against the owners, for whom the real national sport was, and remains, union bashing. He told of an early meeting where a player accused him of being a communist. Miller replied that he had the highest security clearance from the U.S. government from his work on the National War Labor Board in World War II. Miller got a percentage of baseball card revenues for the players when they had formerly been compensated with books of S&H Greenstamps.

Miller has been snubbed five times in Hall of Fame voting, falling one vote short in 2011. He will be eligible for consideration again in 2014.

I heard Warren Buffett on Marketplace this evening and then saw him on The Daily Show.  He’s always fun to listen to; good-natured and unaffected; he lives in Ozzie Nelson’s old house, drives his own American car and apparently darns his own socks. He’s been making the rounds with Carol Loomis, an editor at Fortune Magazine and his bridge partner, plugging her new book of Fortune articles about Buffett, “Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything 1966 – 2012.”
Buffett mentioned an op-ed he published in the NYT this week, here’s some:

“So let’s forget about the rich and ultrarich going on strike and stuffing their ample funds under their mattresses if — gasp — capital gains rates and ordinary income rates are increased. The ultrarich, including me, will forever pursue investment opportunities.
“And, wow, do we have plenty to invest. The Forbes 400, the wealthiest individuals in America, hit a new group record for wealth this year: $1.7 trillion. That’s more than five times the $300 billion total in 1992. In recent years, my gang has been leaving the middle class in the dust.

“A huge tail wind from tax cuts has pushed us along. In 1992, the tax paid by the 400 highest incomes in the United States (a different universe from the Forbes list) averaged 26.4 percent of adjusted gross income. In 2009, the most recent year reported, the rate was 19.9 percent. It’s nice to have friends in high places.
“Our government’s goal should be to bring in revenues of 18.5 percent of G.D.P. and spend about 21 percent of G.D.P. — levels that have been attained over extended periods in the past and can clearly be reached again. As the math makes clear, this won’t stem our budget deficits; in fact, it will continue them. But assuming even conservative projections about inflation and economic growth, this ratio of revenue to spending will keep America’s debt stable in relation to the country’s economic output.

“In the last fiscal year, we were far away from this fiscal balance — bringing in 15.5 percent of G.D.P. in revenue and spending 22.4 percent. Correcting our course will require major concessions by both Republicans and Democrats.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Kimbell at 40

We got to visit the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth a few weeks ago. Hadn’t been there since ’94 when they had a show from the Barnes Collection. They’re celebrating their 40th anniversary with a 90,000-square foot expansion designed by Italian designer Renzo Piano. Meanwhile, the general contractor, the Beck Group, sponsored the current retrospective, a chronological exhibit of 220 masterpieces acquired over the last four decades. I’ll try to paste-up some of my favorites here; a philistines-eye-view.

Get a load of this, Michelangelo’s “Torment of Saint Anthony.”  One of only four surviving panel paintings by Michelangelo, he painted this when he was twelve years old. Before I saw this, I suspected that Hieronymus Bosch had fallen victim to ergot fungus. Looks like people 500 years ago had nightmares too.

Next, here’s El Greco’s “Portrait of Dr. Francisco de Pisa.” My second El Greco, after one of his saints that travelled through the M.F.A.H. When I see a painting that I like that happens to be 400 years old, I think it makes a bigger claim on my attention.

All I know about Thomas Gainsborough is that Ray Davies name-checked him in “Twentieth Century Man.” This woman looks like she was stretched on the rack; surreal for the eighteenth century.

Henry Raeburn’s “The Allen Brothers.” These two just look like they’re up to something.

These two were favorites from my first visit, and I don’t even like to play cards. If they’d had one with dogs playing I’d probably put that one up here too.

Caravaggio, “The Cardsharps.”

George de la Tour, “The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs.”

“Nude Combing Her Hair” by Pablo Picasso. Not quite cubist, I could get my mind around this one; a good companion to “La Toilette” that I saw at the Albright Knox last summer.

And finally, for all the starving artists out there; James Ensor’s “Skeletons Warming Themselves.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Twilight War

Anyone who follows the news has to be aware of all the saber-rattling about the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program. Politicians all the way from the Oval Office to back-benchers in Congress who don’t know Shia from Shinola have been all frothy about “red lines” and “nothing being off the table.” I saw a think-tanker on CSPAN speculate that Israel would attack Iranian nuclear sites before the November election because Mitt Romney was trailing in the polls. Gaza has knocked Syria off the top of the news this week, but through it all, there is Iran, intractable and belligerent from a century of Western meddling. The U.S. has been engaged in conflict just short of war there for thirty years.

 So when I saw a copy of David Crist’s “The Twilight War: The Secret History Of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict With Iran” on the ‘new arrivals’ shelf, I picked it up.

Crist, a Colonel in the Marine Corp Reserve, veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Doctor of Middle Eastern Studies, begins his story in the 1970’s as the Shah’s regime is starting to unravel,  but reminds us of the part we played putting the Shah on his peacock throne in 1953. His thirty-year history tracks the establishment of the Islamic Republic, takeover of the Tehran embassy, hostage crisis and the Iran/Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. Here’s a smattering from his book:

“Casey saw the hidden hand of Moscow behind Iran’s leftist opposition and believed that if the party succeeded in overthrowing the mullah’s rule it could lead to Iran becoming a Soviet client like Cuba.” P-67

CIA – “We now had a plan to defend those who didn’t want to be defended against those who are not going to attack.” P-81

On the business acumen of the Lebanonese: “How much is two and two?” the boy replied “Am I buying or selling?” p-106

1981: Algiers Accord to release hostages. US pledges to keep out of Iranian internal affairs.

1982 Sharon invades Lebanon and Phalange fighters slaughter 1000-2000 Lebanese. Reagan sends marines as peacekeepers.

Oct 23rd 1983 truck bomb hits marine barracks in Lebanon killing 241. Another kills 58 French paratroopers.

1985 US sells thousands of missiles to Iran in unsuccessful hostage swap.

Poindexter –“Iran might serve as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism” “help release American hostages in Lebanon and curb terrorism.” “Instead it turned into a swap of weapons for hostages, a political scandal.” “the real legacy of the Iranian arms affair was to scuttle any hope of rapprochement for the next two decades.” –p 202

US plays both sides of the Iran-Iraq war, selling advanced weapons and spare parts for US-made fighter jets to Iran, while arming and providing intelligence to Iraq.

May 17th 1987 Iraqi Mirage fighter hits USS Stark with Exocet missile killing 37 sailors. P-224
July 3rd 1988: U.S.S. Vincennes strays into Iranian waters and shoots down Iran Air flight 655 killing all 290 aboard.

November 4th is called the National Day of Confronting Global Arrogance, commemorating the 1980 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran.

1990: George H.W. Bush spends 29 minutes on the phone with an imposter posing as Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, talking about steps to improve relations. P-380

1992 Iran begins to arm Hamas with weapons and explosives. P-395

1994: Iran mobilizes thousands of troops with surface to air and anti ship missiles after it mistakes U S war games as an impending attack. P-398
1995 New GOP Congress kills Conoco oil deal. Gingrich passes $18 million covert action budget, calling for overthrow of Iran gov’t. Iran parliament votes $20 million to counter

June 25 1996: Iran funds Hezbollah bombing of Khobar towers, 19 Americans dead, 372 more injured. P-404

1997 Operation Sapphire: CIA approaches Iranian MOIS agents soliciting defectors, none join, but many are doomed as their contact with CIA agents throws suspicion on them.p-409

After Sept 11 2001, “Believing that a higher power had placed him as president during this critical moment in history, George Bush embraced Wolfowitz’s goals for the (Iraq) war.” P-427 –By higher power did he mean God or the Supreme Court?

Ayatollah Khamenei endorses openings to U.S. after 9/11 attacks but is rebuffed by U.S.  Iranians go back to calling U.S. "The Great Satan."

Richard Armitage after Sept 11th attacks: “Iran seemed shocked by the scale of the attack.” Iran News calls the attacks “an atrocity.” Thousands of Iranians take to the streets chanting “death to terrorism.” P-428

Iran aided Afghan mujahideen in 80’s, Bosnians in the ‘90’s. p-431

2002: Iran stunned by Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, withdraw from talks with Ryan Crocker p-441

US stops dialog in favor of ultimatums. Condi Rice effort scrapped  p-443

2002 Bush administration divided on rapprochement or regime change. “The Decider failed to decide, it would be another five years before the administration tried again to formulate a cohesive strategy.” P-447

2002: “Iran agreed to aid the US military by offering details about the Iraq military and its weapons of mass destruction programs, permitting use of it’s airspace to attack Iraq, and providing humanitarian assistance in case of a refugee crisis.” P-457

2004: Iran supplying enhanced formed projectiles to Iraqi insurgentss, used in over 35 attacks in 2005.

2005: Iran Quds forces active in Iraq. Iran supports Shia militia.

2006: U.S. provides $880 million in military aid to Lebanon, along with dozens of Dodge Chargers for Lebanese police, which end up on the black market.

2006: U.N. Security Council and Germany offer Iran light watrer reactor and oil and gas expertise in exchange for Iran ceasing enrichment program. Iran balks at ultimatum.

2007, NSC’s Michael Doran: “If our only options were war or a nuclear armed Iran, we have failed.” P-495

“Various administrations have tried to woo Iran back into the western fold, or talk of replacing the Islamic Republic with one more to Washington’s liking, but the results have been uniformly miserable.” P-571

“Giving a medal to a ship’s captain who just inadvertently killed 290 civilians and then wondering why Iran might harbor resentment is just the most obvious example of American obtuseness.” P-572

“Intervening in Lebanon threatened Iran, Tehran’s leveling a building full of marines and taking hostages still colors American thinking. Punishing Iranian intransigence justifies in their minds the need for a nuclear program. P-572

“Soon it may no longer be twilight; the light is dimming, and night may well be approaching at long last.” P-572

Monday, November 12, 2012

Chupacabra Report

News that Gets My Goat:

After another election season where people invited me to leave the country because I didn’t agree with their opinions, I would like to share a letter that appeared in today’s Chronicle. Generally, I’d be happy if “love it or leave it” had gone away with George Wallace’s harangues against “pointy-headed intellectuals;” but it is fun to see it turned around.

“We're still No. 1

“Regarding "A divided nation stays with Obama" (Page A1, Wednesday), many of my friends and neighbors have expressed a wish to move elsewhere following the election. I have heard Canada as a suggestion - but they are just like us, with a government-run healthcare and a multicultural population.

“Here are my suggestions: If you are concerned about the size of the federal government, move to Somalia. They have the smallest federal government in the world. No bloated bureaucracy there! It's Ayn Rand's philosophy, lived out to the fullest.

“If you are concerned about government's role in healthcare, move to Haiti. I was just there on a mission trip, and I can assure you that government has no role in healthcare in that country.

“If you are upset about having elections, move to North Korea. You'll never have to worry about an election again.

“If you are simply upset that your candidate lost the election, move to Russia. They have fake elections there, where the conservative party always wins.

“As for me, I will continue to proudly reside in the United States of America, the richest, best and most diverse country the world has ever known!”

-Jason Metcalf- Lindenburger, Seabrook

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

After some elections I feel that the American people is a genius, other times I feel that the people is an idiot. I have mixed feelings this year because the GOP holds a forty seat edge in the House and a forty-five seat “majority” in the Senate.

But I’m happy and proud of the results at the top of the ticket. Folks in the “FIRE” sector (that is; finance, insurance and real estate) invested three to one in the Romney campaign. I see Obama’s win as a blow against plutocracy, rebuking the “smart money;” the “masters of the universe” who brought us the Crash of 2007.

Chupacabra Report

News that Gets My Goat


The race at the top of the ticket played out as predicted by most polls not employed by Fox or the GOP. Before the local returns are in I’ll make some predictions. I’d love to be wrong on most of this, but this is Texas in 2012, the belly of the beast.

-Texans will send another mostly Republican congressional caucus to Washington, who will vote in lockstep with the most extreme element of their party. On the plus side, they will provide fodder for comedians and satirists across the country.

-The Texas Legislature will convene in January with solid GOP majorities in both houses. These yahoos will do their best to ignore the pressing issues of tax reform, school funding, public health and infrastructure to grandstand on the usual distractions, that is, God, guns, and gays, plus school vouchers and a ‘show me your papers’ law thrown in.

-Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature will turn down $13 billion a year in federal funding for Medicaid expansion, leaving one million low income Texans without health insurance. Texas’ most populous counties will bypass Austin and contract directly with Washington to join the system and provide Medicaid coverage for citizens with incomes of up to 133% of the federal poverty level. Texans elsewhere earning over $2,904 will remain ineligible.

-Texas continuing assault on women’s reproductive health programs will lead to a baby boom. This decidedly mixed blessing will cost the state, which already pays for 57% of birth and delivery services, hundreds of millions of dollars.

-Unless one of the parties nominates a favorite son who happens to be a pro football player or movie star, Texas will continue on the sidelines in presidential politics with our winner-take-all distribution of Electoral College delegates. While I’m calling for proportional allotment of delegates to the Electoral College, I’ll also advocate a non-partisan panel to do redistricting and removal of the straight ticket option on the ballot.

Highway 290 out of Houston is the latest piece of road to be designated the Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway. Before we get to the canonization, may I suggest that we just name the whole damn country after him? How about Reaganland or Rontopia? Maybe Reaganistan?

Monday, November 05, 2012

Max Martin for Congress

I met Max Martin last week and will be proud to vote for him tomorrow. A well-spoken and well informed candidate, a retired pilot, small businessman and native Houstonian, he will be a credit to the new 36th Congressional District. Max is the sort of conservative "Tory Democrat" that Texans used to elect again and again. The Houston Chronicle editorial board recognized this and awarded him their endorsement over sketchy extremist Steve Stockman who snuck through a GOP primary runoff to conduct a stealth campaign that's been trying to capitalize on name recognition without reminding everybody why they voted him out after one term in 1996. There are already way too many wingnuts in Congress. This year, let's elect a neighbor, not a nut.