I've been reading -- in super slow-motion, a few subway stops every night -- Rick Perlstein's long and majestic The Invisible Bridge, explaining how we went so quickly from the fall of Nixon to the rise of Reagan in the mid-1970s. Perlstein is a master at showing how seemingly isolated events reveal a broader social consciousness -- for example, how the unrelenting double-whammy of Vietnam and Watergate caused Americans to turn to nostalgia (American Graffiti, "Grease," even the ragtime-y Shakey's Pizza) and the supernatural (Uri Geller, UFO fascination) to find any kind of liberation from the fierce awfulness of then.
Forty years later, and where are we? Right back where we started from. The center is not holding. Again.
Yesterday I mentioned the whiz-bang job that David Sirota has been doing -- first for Pando and more recently for International Business Times -- reporting on the shockingly loose ethics when it comes to handling pension monies under the Christie administration. Hours later, he published his latest and it's a doozy:
In the context of a New Jersey pension system stocked with $81 billion in assets, here was a transaction that seemed unremarkable. It was 2011, the year after Gov. Chris Christie had installed his longtime friend Robert Grady to oversee the state pension fund’s investments. A former executive from the heights of finance and a national Republican Party power broker, Grady was pursuing a new strategy, shifting money into hedge funds and private equity holdings in the name of diversification and higher returns. He was now pushing to entrust up to $1.8 billion of New Jersey pension money to the Blackstone Group, one of the largest players in private equity.
But one special feature of that Blackstone bet underscores the interlocking relationships at play as states increasingly rely on the counsel and management of Wall Street institutions to invest their pension dollars: One of the private equity funds New Jersey was investing in – a pool of money called Blackstone Capital Partners VI – claimed among its investors a Wyoming-based company named Cheyenne Capital. That company's list of partners included one Robert Grady.
That giant, inflatable Chris-Christie-for-president trial balloon is up in the skies again. It didn't take much -- just a news report from an NBC affiliate stating that prosecutors involved in the myriad, criss-crossing probes of Christie's affairs of state are now convinced that he didn't order or have advance knowledge of the 2013 lane-closing-as-political-revenge plot on the George Washington Bridge.
For Christie and his boosters -- by which I mainly mean the type of Beltway "journalists" and pundits you might find on "Morning Joe" at roughly 6:05 a.m. -- the burst of energy from that announcement practically carried the New Jersey governor to Iowa on the winds. Christie '16 is back with a vengeance. The governor wants the probes of his conduct wrapped up, saying last week: “These are people who are addicted to MSNBC and the front page of your papers.”
There's a few things you might want to ponder, though, before you take a ride in Christie's beautiful balloon. I'll list them in what I think are ascending order of importance:
People to world: Do something about climate change, NOW!
The killing of [British aid worker Richard] Haines was not an act of revenge. It was an act of provocation. Like the two murders of the American journalists, it was designed to frighten and to inflame. It seems nothing would please Isis more than for these killings to provoke an intemperate and thoughtless violent reaction from those at whom they are aimed. Such a reaction might, in Isis’s crude and perverse logic, give them public legitimacy as victims rather than as killers. Such things have happened all too often in history. This in itself is a good enough reason for western leaders to have cool reactions.
On Wednesday, ISIS released a slickly produced "scary" video. This week, Congress voted overwhelmingly to arm supposedly moderate rebels in Syria as a counterweight to ISIS, something it had no interest in doing before ISIS savagely beheaded three Westerners on camera and thenapparently bought some Apple video-editing programs. President Obama said this:
The Philadelphia mayor's race is starting to a) scare me and b) remind me of what Yogi Berra supposedly said once about California, that it gets late early out there. It may be just 2014 on the calendar, yet for voters hoping for a more dynamic choice to lead Philly beyond the Michael Nutter era the clock is already ticking rapidly.
This week actually brought good news and bad news to the incipient stages of the contest to replace Nutter. The good news is that three candidates declared, or semi-declared, in recent days and none of them look like the 98 (!) mayors who've come before them: A white man or a black man. The expected candidacies of Terry Gillen, Ken Trujillo and Lynne Abraham are a sign that Philadelphia is more diverse and open-minded than any time in our long history, and that's saying something.
Of the three, Gillen -- a former ward leader and Nutter aide -- is the most promising from the progressive standpoint. But in terms of name ID and abilities to raise funds, Gillen's bid to become the city's first female mayor (seriously, the first?...get with the program, Philly!) could be eclipsed by Abraham, who made headlines not just here but nationally as our first female district attorney, aggressively promoted as "one tough cookie" on crime.
It's the American way: We had to drop bombs on ISIS to find out what's inside of it. No doubt ISIS, or ISIL, or the Islamic State...whatever we're calling it today...is an especially loathsome group, but where did America's Next Top Enemy even come from? Matt Stoller has some answers that may (or may not) surprise you:
Let’s start by understanding what ISIS actually is. First, ISIS is a brutal fascistic movement of radical Sunni militants, well-armed and well-trained, and bent on the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate throughout the Middle East. Second, it may also be and almost certainly was an arm of a wealthy Gulf state allied with the United States. This contradiction probably doesn’t surprise you, but if it does, that’s only because it cuts against a standard narrative of good guys and bad guys peddled by various foreign policy interests. The reality is that ally and enemy in post-colonial lands is often a meaningless term —it’s better to describe interests. A good if overly romanticized Hollywood illustration of this dynamic is the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, about the secret collaboration between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan Israel and the CIA to undermine the Soviets in Afghanistan.
This foreign policy apparatus is usually hidden in plain sight, known to most financial, political, military, and corporate elites but not told to the American public.ISIS, like Al Qaeda, is an armed and trained military group. Guns and training cost money, and this money came from somewhere. There are two Gulf states that finance Sunni militants — Qatar and Saudi Arabia.