Sunday, May 28, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Three fairly prominent figures died in the last couple days -- at least prominent enough to warrant articles in the Wichita Eagle: Jim Bunning, Greg Allman, and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Naturally, I go back furthest with Bunning. I became conscious of baseball in 1957, when I was six, and for many years I could recite the all-star teams from that (and practically no other) year. Bunning was the starting pitcher for the AL, vs. Curt Simmons for the NL. That was the year Cincinnati stuffed the ballot boxes, causing a scandal by electing seven position players to the NL team. Commissioner Ford Frick overruled the voters and replaced Gus Bell and Wally Post with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. In my memory, he also picked Stan Musial over Ted Kluszewski at 1B and Eddie Matthews over Don Hoak at 3B, but he stopped short and didn't pick the equally obvious Ernie Banks vs. Roy McMillan. According to the Wikipedia page, Musial actually won, and Hoak (and McMillan and 2B Johnny Temple and C Ed Bailey) started. My memory of the AL team somehow lost 1B Vic Wertz (no idea who played there, since I was pretty sure it wasn't Moose Skowron, on the team as a reserve) and 2B Nellie Fox (I thought Frank Bolling, who didn't make the team -- Casey Stengel liked to stock his bench with Yankees, so he went with Bobby Richardson).

Bunning won the game, pitching three scoreless innings while Simmons walked in two runs. Biggest surprise from the game summary was that Bell pinch-hit for Robinson (no doubt the only time that ever happened, despite being teammates for many years) and came up with a two-run double. Bunning had his best season in 1957, going 20-8, although he also won 19 in 1962, and after he was traded to Philadelphia in 1964 had three straight 19-win years, winding up with a 234-184 record and a lot of strikeouts (2855). He played during a period (1955-71) when W totals were especially depressed -- I worked out a system for adjusting W-L totals over the years but don't have the data handy (one significant result was that Cy Young, Walter Johnson, and Warren Spahn came out with almost identical adjusted W-L totals). But also Bunning spent most of his career as the star on losing teams, so that also reduced his career standing. Still, a marvelous pitcher. He was also one of the more militant leaders in the baseball players union, but after he retired he turned into an extreme right-wing crank and got elected to the Senate from Kentucky, where his two terms went from dismal to worse. If there was a Hall of Fame for guys kicking the ladder away after they used it, he'd be in.

I have far less to say about Allman, but nothing negative. His most recent albums were engaging and enjoyable, and early in his career he contributed to some even better ones.

People much younger than me might remember Brzezinski for his biting criticism of GW Bush's Iraq fiasco. He was the Democrats' original answer to Henry Kissinger, a foreign policy mandarin with a deep-seated hatred of the Soviet Union and anything even vaguely communist, and he seemed to be the dominant force that bent Jimmy Carter's his initial foreign policy focus on human rights toward an unscrupulously anti-communist stance. Still, decades later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, even after Carter wrote his essential book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, Carter stuck to his line that his signature peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was driven primarily by his desire to curtail Soviet influence. It's not that Brzezinski offered any real break from the rabid anti-communism of previous administrations so much as he kept Carter from changing course, and in their Iran and Afghanistan policies they set the stage for everything the US has butchered and blundered ever since -- including Trump's "Arab NATO" summit last week.

Last week when I was reading John D Dower's new book The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II I ran across a paragraph I wanted to quote about how Reagan both adopted and extended policies begun under the Carter administration, while simultaneously belittling and slandering Carter. It seemed to me that we are witnessing Trump making the same move. But since then Zbigniew Brzezinski died, so I figure in his honor I should start with the previous paragraph:

Although Carter failed in his bid for a second term as president his "doctrine" laid the ground for an enhanced US infrastructure of war, especially in the Greater Middle East. Less than two months after his address, Carter oversaw creation of a Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force that tapped all four major branches of the military (army, navy, air force, and marines). Within two years, this evolved into Central Command (CENTCOM), responsible for operations in Southwest Asia, Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, initiating what one official navy historian called "a period of expansion unmatched in the postwar era. Simultaneously, Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski launched the effective but ultimately nearsighted policy of providing support to the Afghan mujahedeen combating Soviet forces in their country. Conducted mainly through the CIA, the objective of this top-secret operation was in Brzezinski's words, "to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible."

Carter's successor Ronald Reagan inherited these initiatives and ran with them, even while belittling his predecessor's policies. In his presidential campaign, Reagan promised "to unite people of every background and faith in a great crusade to restore the America of our dreams." This, he went on -- in words that surely pleased the ghost of Henry Luce -- necessitated repudiating policies that had left the nation's defense "in shambles," and doing "a better job of exporting Americanism."

If Trump seems less committed to "exporting Americanism" than Reagan (or Luce, who coined the term/slogan "American century"), it's not for lack of flag-waving bluster, arrogance, or ignorance. It's just that decades of excoriating "weak leaders" like Carter, Clinton and Obama, and replacing them with "strong" but inept totems like Reagan, the Bushes, and Trump have taken their toll. The lurches toward the right have weakened the once-robust economy and frayed social bonds, and those in turn have degraded institutions. And while it's easy to put the blame for this decay on a right-wing political movement dedicated to the aggrandizement of an ever-smaller circle of billionaires, the equally important thing I'm noticing here is how completely Carter, Clinton, and Obama internalized the logic of their/our enemies and failed to plot any sort of alternative to the right's agenda, which ultimately has less to do with spreading "the American way of life" than with subjugating the world to global capital. Indeed, it appears as though the last people left believing in Luce's Americanism are the hegemonic leaders of the Democratic Party.

I wound up completely exhausted and disgusted from last week's compilation of Trump atrocities (see my Midweek Roundup). I know I said, shortly after Trump's inauguration, that "we can do this shit every week," but I'm less sure now -- not to mention I'm doubting my personal effectiveness.

In particular, the Montana election loss took a toll on my psyche. Then I saw the following tweet (liked by someone I thought I liked): "I wonder what Bernie has learned from his massive loss and that of his scions, Mello, Feingold, Teachout, Thompson, Quist. Probably nothing." Quist, in Montana, ran anywhere from 6-12% ahead of Clinton (at least in the counties I've seen). So did Thompson here in Kansas. They lost, but at least they ran, they gave voters real choices, and they got little or no support from the Clinton-dominated national party (which has made it their business to reduce party differences to a minimum, even as the Republicans stake out extreme turf on the right). The others I haven't looked at closely, but Bernie wasn't the one who lost to Donald Trump. What lessons should he learn from those defeats? Offer less of an alternative? Take his voters for granted? Further legitimize the other side? Clinton Democrats have been doing those things for 25 years now, and look where they've gotten us.

Meanwhile, a few quick links, probably little commentary -- but these things pretty well speak for themselves.

Some scattered links this week in Trump world:

Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though mostly still to America's bout of political insanity:

What a bummer this is all turning into. Nor can I say it's different than I expected. And it's really unhealthy to go through life with so many occasions to say "I told you so."