Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Of Heroes, Villains, Nobility, Innovation, and Backwardness


I ran across an interesting few sentences in a chapter about the challenges of archeology in the Middle East by Archeologist Neil Silberman.

Consider this: 
Ottoman history [14th to 20th centuries] .... was filled with ups and downs, heroes and villains, nobility, innovation, and backwardness—in short, a history that is fully as vital as that of the ancient Middle East or the modern West. ....
We live in a vital period. The American empire, with its roots in the 16th century, has been ascendant on the world stage for nearly two centuries now. That vitality, like the vitality of any vital power of the past, is filled with ups and downs, heroes and villains, nobility, innovation, and backwardness. It's something to think about as we watch the Republican primary field this year. The villainy and backwardness we see on display there comes with the territory. The fight for nobility and innovation and progress is never done. True heroes are rare. The fight is never done.

...and this:
What makes the study of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern historical archaeology so intriguing is the possibility that it might offer some concepts and historical formation utterly outside the experience or even analytical categories of the European colonial and, later, capitalist world. For the Ottoman Empire seems to have been based on the maintenance of cultural diversity as the fulcrum of imperial coherence and profit—not in the tendencies toward rigid hierarchization and centralization one sees in the West (Lewis 1995; Brummet 1994). And maybe part of the reason we are today so utterly confused by the surging nationalisms and religious passions of the Middle East, the Caucasus, and the Balkans is because we have been trained as archaeologists—both New World and Old World--to disregard the history, function, and vitality of Middle Eastern religions and cultures as inconsequential or irrelevant to our own experience. 
I look at that and I think--myopic and parochial views of the world, as one sees too often in our political discussions, go hand in hand with backwardness and villainy and down cycles in our national life; and to be mindful and appreciative of cultural diversities, and aware of the history, function, and vitality of other cultures goes hand in hand with nobility and innovation in our problem solving. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Identity over Ideology?

Sarah Palin has endorsed Donald Trump for President. She was popular with Tea Party Republican voters (she was the keynote speaker at the first Tea Party convention in 2010) and the word is she might well help Trump in his battle with Ted Cruz in Iowa.

It's a matter of identity says David Frum in The Atlantic. Trump and Palin appeal to aggrieved white Republican voters of Iowa because they identify with their stories as outsiders; they don't support them because of their conservative ideologies. That's why it doesn't matter that Trump and Palin have weak and inconsistent (or incoherent?) conservative ideologies.

Trump, Palin, and disaffected white Republican voters feel betrayed by the established order. Is this right? I doubt Trump the supreme manipulator of the established order feels betrayed by it.... but he does talk like it: "the system is broken and immigrants are making things worse; vote for me, I'll make America Great again." This is not an ideology; it's tapping into know nothing disaffection.

Other voters are more motivated by ideology, says Frum. Cruz, the Princeton debate champion and Harvard lawyer, is a movement Republican. He is endorsed by many of the prophets of movement conservatism: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, James Dobson, Brent Bozell and Ginni Thomas among many other conservative luminaries who have endorsed Cruz over Trump. Cruz, unlike Trump, is an ideologue who wants to shrink government, is hostile to welfare programs, wants to implement lower taxes, reduce progressive taxation, reduce regulations, restrict abortion, and build the military.

Trump and Palin just want to raise hell.

Here's Frum:
Since Donald Trump entered the race, one opponent after another has attacked him as not a real conservative. They’ve been right, too! And the same could have been said about Sarah Palin in 2008. Palin knew little and cared less about most of the issues that excited conservative activists and media. .... What defined her was an identity as a “real American”—and her conviction that she was slighted and insulted and persecuted because of this identity..... 
That’s exactly the same feeling to which Donald Trump speaks, and which has buoyed his campaign. When he’s president, he tells voters, department stores will say “Merry Christmas” again in their advertisements. Probably most of his listeners would know, if they considered it, that the president of the United States does not determine the ad copy for Walmart and Nordstrom’s. They still appreciate the thought: He’s one of us—and he’s standing up for us against all of them—at a time when we feel weak and poor and beleaguered....
In the contrast between Cruz’s support and Trump’s, one sees something truly new and disrupting—a battle between those for whom conservatism is an ideology, and those for whom conservatism is an identity.
Back in the day when Kevin Phillips was a political operative (he devised Nixon's Southern strategy), says Gary Wills in the NYRB, "he said all politics comes down to who hates whom." Palin and Trump are extremely skilled at exploiting disaffections among a segment of Republican voters.

Last week I met a Trump voter while skiing in Aspen. This was an affluent successful business man, in his seventies and retired. He does not follow politics. He is what we would consider a low information voter. But he hates Hillary. He hates Bernie. "Hate" may be too strong a word because he is not a hateful person. In fact he listens and is reasonably open to discussion. But the hateful talk we hear from Trump and Palin resonates with him.

It's identity over ideology says Frum.

To the extent this makes sense I would think this holds true on the Democratic side as well. How many voters have a meaningful grasp of the policy differences between Clinton, Sanders, and O'Malley. How much does support for a given candidate break down along the lines of who identifies with their stories, their looks, their demeanor... because they remind us of our parents? A mentor? Our fantasies?

Beats me.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Cultural Zionism Good; Political Zionism Bad

Back in 2012 Peter Beinart wrote a book, The Crisis of Zionism, suggesting that Zionism has lost its way from the path promised in Israel's declaration of independence. That promise was to develop the country for all its inhabitants based on precepts of liberty and justice; the promise was to achieve social and political equality for all its citizens. Beinart argued that Zionism breached this promise and has become illiberal. Beinart argued that liberal Zionism must be restored.

Bernard Avishai published an interesting essay about Beinart's book in The Nation when the book came out. Avishai distinguished between political Zionism and cultural Zionism. Political Zionism, argued Avishai, was necessarily illiberal at its founding--and remains illiberal to this day. That same point was made by Ari Shavit's My Promised Land in the chapter about the ethnic cleansing of Lydda that was excerpted in the New Yorker. Without some profoundly illiberal actions (without political Zionism), said Shavit, the state would never have been born.

Avishai suggests that in order to build a Hebrew culture that did not exist in the land in 1900, Jewish settlers needed self-segregated contiguous collectives--otherwise they would become Arab speaking overseers of Arab labor. Socialism fit the bill. And so from 1905 on, says Avishai, the socialist Jewish pioneers built a segregated Jewish political economy and culture. The currents of state building were segregationist, not integrationist. The founding forces of Zionism did not worry about how to integrate Jews and Arabs into a cohesive, harmonious, and non-discriminatory political whole in the small shared plot of land that is Israel/Palestine; they worked in the opposite direction. The founding forces of the state established a separate language, separate political structures, separate institutions, and separate spaces in which the Hebrew culture could emerge.

But the Sturm und Drang of building a Jewish nation has resulted in a (virtually) all Jewish army, Jewish only settlements, expropriation of land from Palestinians to build settlements, contiguous Jewish land-ownership were Arabs are kept out, Jewish courts and institutions, a Jewish-only law of return in combination with a complete prohibition of Arab refugees to return to the land, a refusal to sanction intermarriage, and a 48 year occupation.

From Avishai's description, it seems clear that all this illiberality is baked into the DNA of political Zionism because political Zionism says "the land is mine." In order to become a modern liberal democracy the state must abandon its political Zionism.

But the real accomplishments of Zionism, suggested Avishai, are cultural: the creation of 8 million Hebrew speakers who are running a $360 billion economy. The Hebrew language and the culture it has created are now secure. These accomplishments are not going away, no matter what the politics of the country are. The amazing thing about the Zionist venture he suggested is that couples in tank tops and shorts can walk down the street holding hands in Tel Aviv, speaking a language that Moses would have understood. That is a cultural achievement, a cultural legacy that will survive a more liberal politics. These eight million Hebrew speakers and the culture they have created will not go away if the state stops its discrimination against Arabs.

It seems apparent that political Zionism, as described by Avishai, is necessarily illiberal and must go. Cultural Zionism need not be illiberal; it should be preserved and defended.

"Labor Zionists cherished civil and artistic freedoms," says Avishai, "but questions of how to promote political liberty in a pluralistic inclusive state, once the separation engendered by Zionist activity ended, seemed like a distant problem" during the formative stages of the country. I deduce from this that the focus could have/would have/should have changed starting in 1966 when the military occupation of Arab towns ended. But integration was undermined and interrupted first by the Six Day War, then the Yom Kippur war, Lebanon wars, and the Gaza wars, and (most of all) by the occupation and renewed efforts of political Zionist activity in settling the West Bank--setting up contiguous spaces and separate infrastructure, Jewish only political structures, and land confiscation all over again in the expanded space.

It's time to do away with this political supremacist Zionism.

Here are the sounds of political Zionism. When Netanyahu spoke to a joint session of Congress on March 3, 2015, he said: "The days when the Jewish people remain passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over." He meant not only "genocidal enemies," of course, but all enemies--the Palestinians, the Arabs, the Persians, the American President. When soldiers marching to Sinai in 1967 proudly proclaimed "no longer are we tailors, doctors, lawyers," as shown in the film Censored Voices, they also meant that Israeli Jews are now self-reliant and strong. The bully, not the bullied. Israel's hawkish former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman showed off his political Zionism this past December at the annual Saban Forum conference in Washington DC. When asked about the concerns of liberal Jewish students who find it hard to defend Israel's occupation on American college campuses, he said "I don't care; I really don't care."

This is the sound of the political Zionism that thinks of itself as the Jewish state instead of a modern democracy with a secure Jewish culture. To the extent that Netanyahu's comments to Congress, the soldiers's gloating about muscular Judaism, and Lieberman's indifference to people's feelings about the occupation imply a theory of justice, surely they embrace the view of Thrasymachus in Plato's Republic. "Listen, then," says Thrasymachus to Socrates, "I say justice is nothing other than what is advantageous for the stronger." John Holbo recently expressed this in a cartoon (check it out).

Avishai's essay suggests that the real remedy is to abandon political Zionism (which is necessarily illiberal), and to embrace the liberal politics of a modern democratic state. The work of political Zionism is complete. In order to achieve justice, political Zionism has got to go. It must be replaced with a modern democratic state that is Jewish not because it is run by and for Jews, but that is Jewish and Palestinian because it has thriving Jewish and Palestinian cultures.

Now that a Hebrew culture, language, and economy have been created, it's past time to ease up on this illiberal political Zionism. In fact, it's time to jettison political Zionism altogether and trade it for the politics of a modern liberal democratic state. And this does not mean abandoning cultural Zionism or the Hebrew culture that has been built. I think that's the implication of what Avishai is saying, but he's being a bit kabbalistic about the way forward--so read him for yourself [HERE].

Avishai does not foresee one state with one government administration governing all the people between the river and the sea. He speaks of confederated arrangements. Whatever those arrangements will be, they must strive to provide equal protection and equal rights and equal benefits for everyone between the river and the sea, and governmental structures that strive to promote Zionist culture and Palestinian culture equally. Avishai does not expressly say this, but that is what I take away from what he is saying.

"The earliest Zionists" said Avishai, "assumed that the ethical qualities of traditional Judaism, coupled with the experience of being a persecuted minority would naturally make any Jewish state liberal." But this was a false assumption. The political structures that Zionism had to build in order to bring the state into existence as a culturally Jewish state necessarily nudged the state in illiberal directions. Instead of fading over time, the illiberal tendencies of political Zionism have accelerated in recent years.

This trend must be reversed. But instead of working to reverse the illiberal effects of political Zionism, the Netanyahu governments have worked to strengthen political Zionism.

Political Zionism's Thrasymachus rationale is dressed up with anti-semitism, the Holocaust, and religious justifications. For Netanyahu the most compelling fact about Jewish life is the intractability of its enemies, said Beinart. The purpose of the Jewish state in this view is to erect a wall against anti-Semitic forces. It's a life-boat philosophy with a strong streak of paranoia. But these are misleading and self-deluding rationales. As the United States and today's Europe have proven, assimilation is possible. Anti-Semitism is not an eternal law of nature. But even if it were, it would not prove Thrasymachus right.

The very success of cultural Zionism in creating a society conducting a $336 billion economy in a language that Moses would have understood, makes political compromise possible, says Avishai. He does not spell out what that compromise might be. But the principles are apparent enough: structures of the state must be made equitable and non-discriminatory, the support that political structures provides to its citizens cannot be based on ethnicity and religion. Political Zionism which reigns supreme now must be balanced with Palestinian structures and slowly dismantled. Palestinian culture must be strengthened and allowed to thrive next to the Hebrew culture.

There surely are too many political forces in play to predict outcomes. Building a modern state in Israel/Palestine will require buy in from Palestinians and good will from people across the spectrum. But political Zionism--the idea that the state belongs to Jews and everyone is there at their pleasure—this has got to go.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Man's Free Will and the Problem of Evil

Faust
F. W. Murnau (1926)
Second Act, San Francisco
January 22, 2016

The Second Act is the ever more thriving remnant of the Red Vic, a small San Francisco repertory movie theater in the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. A few years ago the theater was converted to hold several food outlets and there remains only a small movie screen in a room holding ~60 persons. The owners have been experimenting to find events that can attract a full audience there. In the summer of 2014 we watched  the U.S. national soccer team giving  much stronger opposition to the Germans than Brazil did in their embarrassing 7-1 semi-final loss. There were barely 20 people in attendance. Of late The Second Act has taken to showing old silent films, with local musicians providing the music. Check out their website for all upcoming events.

Last night they showed F. W. Murnau's Faust, with live music by That Hideous Strength to a packed house. The film is loosley based on Goethe's story but it also reaches back to older versions. The story was a popular puppet show at carnivals in the 16th century.

Murnau's film is a powerful production, with special effects that were reprised in the Wizard of Oz and many other more recent films. The original music score was by Werner Richard Heyman. In 1995 a modern score was written for the film by Timothy Brock. Last night's production was at least partially improvised with Theresa Wong on cello and voice, Benjamin Ethan Tinker on synthesizer and keyboards, David Phillips on pedal steel guitar, Charles Lloyd on electric Sitar, Josephine Torrio on vocals and hammered dulcimer, Adria Ott on violin and electronics, and Tania Chen on piano. The effect was haunting. Even with a movie streaming from You Tube, this is a labor of love. With 60 people paying on a sliding scale from $7 to $10, there is not a lot of money to go around.

Murnau was born in 1888 and was 36 years old when he made this film. He left for Hollywood and Fox theaters as Faust was being finished. In Hollywood he made three films for Fox (Sunrise, 4 Devils,and City Girl). He died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident on the Pacific Coast Highway near Santa Barbara in 1931.

Although Murnau left Germany in 1926 and was dead two years before the Nazi takeover, Faust is infected by its time. Mephisto (the devil) is an extreme Jewish caricature reminiscent of Shakespeare's scheming Shylock. Halfway into the film, Mephisto is transformed into a younger black-caped count, a vampire figure. Vampire figures are, of course, also closely tied to anti-semitic symbolism.

The story revolves around a bargain made by Mephisto with the archangel Gabriel. They behold Faust, the Lord's loyal servant, who pursues knowledge for the good of mankind. The devil scoffs, "Like all men, Faust seeks to do good but winds up doing evil." Mephisto points out that Faust is an alchemist--seeking to turn base metals into gold. The bet is on: if Mephisto can turn Faust's soul away from God, the earth will be his.

The devil is confident. "No man can resist evil," he crows. To prove it he spreads his menacing black wings wide over the city and brings on the ravages of the plague. Faust engages in earnest prayer for God to intervene and to stop the plague, but God abstains. God will not intervene.

God will not interfere with the wager. In a way the devil is right, the world is his plaything to act upon as he sees fit; to test and corrupt mankind. Neither the archangel nor God interfere with the devil's schemes and torments of mankind. Man is left to his and her own devices, our own free will, to resist a fall into evil.

It's a  Manechean conception of man as a by-product of the eternal struggle between the (good) forces of God and the evil forces of Satan. But here, God does not enter the fight on behalf of the Good; mankind is left to struggle against evil with only his wits and his free will.

And of course man is a weak creature in this fight.

Faust soon finds that prayer is ineffective to stave off the evils of the plague. Similarly, his knowledge and the medicines derived from his knowledge are ineffective. The priests rail against sin and proclaim sinners will perish, but promise the virtuous will be saved. It's folly, an illusion. God does not save the priests and they too fall victim to the plague along with the sinners.

We are lost Faust realizes. Neither prayer nor knowledge can save us in the battle against the evils of the plague. He looks  at the promise in the bible of the everlasting goodness of Jesus Christ--the all powerful God--and he cries in despair. He throws the bible in the fire along with his books of science. The pages open to an occult text revealing the key for overcoming evil spirits. Three times you must summon the Lord of darkness at the cross-roads, says the text. Like Robert Johnson, Faust heeds the call; and Mephisto appears in his Jewish guise.

Mephisto tempts Faust with the power to heal if only he would renounce God. He offers a free trial for a day. And suddenly, Faust is able to bring about miracle cures.

And it does not take long for Faust to corrupt his new found powers from helping mankind to helping himself. With the help of Mephisto he first seduces a lovely countess at her marriage ceremony, and later a fine Christian girl. Nothing good comes of it. But there is true love.... and therein lies salvation.


The next silent film program is at the end of February. Keep an eye on the Second Act website. Check it out!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Censored Voices

Censored Voices
a film by Mor Loushy (2015)
winner of 2015 Ophir Award for best documentary
(currently showing at Opera Plaza, San Francisco)


A week after Israel's 1967 Six Day War, Amos Oz and Avraham Shapira took a tape recorder and visited more than 140 colleagues, soldiers in the Israeli Army, and recorded 200 hours of interviews. The interviews captured the soldiers actions, emotions, and thoughts while fighting the war immediately after the war was over. Those interviews have now been turned into a powerful film documentary by Israeli filmmaker Mor Loushy.

Oz and Shapira both fought in the war. They were young Labor Zionist kibbutzniks. Oz was 27 years old at the time and had already published his first two works of fiction: Where the Jackals Howl (1965), a collection of stories about kibbutz life, and Elsewhere Perhaps (1966), a novel about kibbutz life. He was a member of kibbutz Hulda in central Israel. Avraham Shapira was 32 years old and a resident of kibbutz Yizrael. He became a renowned professor of Jewish philosophy.

Shortly after the war Shapira published Soldiers Talk (in Hebrew), an edited transcribed version of the interviews on the tape. A shorter version was translated to English and published in 1971 as The Seventh Day: Soldiers Talk About the Six Day War.  After this, Shapiro kept the tapes closed in the archives of his kibbutz and rebuffed numerous journalistic requests for access. We're glad he relented to Mor Loushy and enabled her to make this powerful and affecting film.

The heart of the film is the oral testimony of seven soldiers made right after the war, played over brilliantly edited archival film footage from the war. Loushy and her team searched through "30 to 40 archives" to come up with visual content for the film. Except for the excellent modern music score provided by German composer Markus Aust, everything we see and hear is from the period. The effect is riveting.

Loushy was able to track down each of the seven soldiers whose voices we hear, and we see them silently listening to their testimony from 47 years ago. Their emotional reactions, after all these years, adds punch to what we see and hear.

The film pays lip service to the familiar narrative of "an overwhelming Arab force poised to annihilate Israel." Dramatic crude graphics from 1967 television provide the story. The film captures the mood of fear and apprehension in Israeli public caused by Nasser's belligerence and the bloodthirsty chanting of Egyptian mobs. But when the order comes to attack the Egyptians in the Sinai, the action does not come across as defensive. "We fucked you in '48, we fucked you in '56, and we'll fuck you all the way to Cairo," soldiers sing. And so they did.

For more background on the build-up to the Six Day War see my post HERE. That war was not a war of self-defense. If you have doubts about this, ask yourself what threat the Egyptian army posed to Israel on the morning after Egypt's air force was wiped out?

The voices in the film, says Loushy, are also voices of Israel's present and future. It's what gives the film immediacy. We see soldiers interviewed outside Gaza city on the second day of the war. It might as well be December 2008, or August 2014. We see troops moving through bombed out and abandoned ghost towns. It could be scenes from today. We see soldiers patrolling occupied towns, subjugating and humiliating civilians against the wall. It looks like the Occupation today. Searching a residence in Nablus, "we wreaked havoc for no reason," says one soldier. It might as well be 2015.

Being conquerors "makes you feel superior," says one soldier. "We felt loathing" for the defeated Arabs, says another. The feeling is reflected in Israeli society today. In 1967 it enabled war crimes. The soldiers tell of uprooting civilians in the West Bank, clearing towns, driving inhabitants away. On the Golan Heights one soldier's platoon encountered a group of refugees. They searched them and found them to be civilians, and let them pass. A while later they encountered the group again; other soldiers had stopped them, sent the women and children ahead, and executed 15 of the men. The soldiers tell of shooting unarmed prisoners of war. "In the war we all became murderers," says one. We were told "kill as many as possible; that was the order." Looking at Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai desert "so long without water, they begged for water. They threw up at our feet. We felt disdain."

Disdain and elation. "A biblical prophecy coming to pass," said an American reporter on television. Capturing the Old City after 20 years--it's "something we've been waiting for," said one soldier. "No longer are we tailors, lawyers, or doctors; we are no longer weak," said another.

The Six Day War, of course, set the stage for Israel's problems today: the occupation and presence of more than four million disenfranchised Palestinian non-citizens (more than 30% of whom are under the age of 14). For 48 years Israel has embarked on a path of occupation and settlement in the West Bank. If you are living in the West Bank and are less than 65 years of age, your entire adult life has been lived under Israel's occupation regime.

We have in mind that in 1948-49 Israel created ~750,000 refugees; we think less often of the fact that in 1967 an additional 350,000 Palestinian refugees were driven out.

Martin Kramer, formerly the director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, and now president of Shalem College in Jerusalem, takes exception to the film. "Flashy," he calls it; "what it betrays is its creator's agenda," he says. He wrote a long critique calling into question just how much of the original interviews were censored by Israel's censor back when Shapira published his book. He suggests Loushy is playing up the "censored" angle for publicity and that this undermines her credibility.

Well here is Mor Loushy in interview with Haaretz correspondent Nirit Anderman at the screening of the film at Manhatten's "Other Jewish Film Festival."  Judge for yourself whether you think these people are acting with integrity. As long as Israel has people like Loushy and Anderman, and as long as Israel can show films like this, there is surely hope. 

They need your help. You can start by watching this powerful film. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

It Has Been Quite the Week for Zionism in America

It started with the Frontline Program: Netanyahu at War. With great editing and sound Netanyahu at War depicts the dysfunctional relationship between Netanyahu and Obama. Netanyahu and Obama came to power within weeks of each other in 2009. Operation Cast Lead--an Israeli assault on Gaza that killed 1,400--had just concluded. By the end of this year they will have butted heads for two entire terms of the Obama presidency. 

The dramatic focus of the two hour program is Netanyahu's speech to Congress last March wherein he attempted to convince the U.S. Congress to scuttle Obama's negotiations with Iran. "Outrageous, just outrageous!" says Dennis Ross; but he says it with an admiring twinkle, like we would say about a mischieveous son of whom we are not so secretly proud. As that opening scene suggests, Netanyahu at War gives a lot of rope to establishment Zionists who were opposed to the Iran deal, and who blame Obama for being naive and inexperienced and over his head and mistaken. The program primarily uses these enemies of Obama to revel in the personal clash between the two leaders. But in doing so, the Frontline program misses the real source of the conflict: namely the conflict between Obama's liberal Zionist goal of helping to create a separate Palestinian state on the one hand,  and on the other hand Netanyahu's unwillingness to give up any land, his intent to continue the occupation indefinitely in order to not give up land, and his unwillingness to grant citizenship to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in lieu of sharing the land.

Liberal Zionists who still think about a Palestinian state in order to achieve peace were represented on the program by Chemi Shalev (veteran Haaretz journalist), Peter Beinart, David Remnick (New Yorker), Sandy Berger (veteran Oslo negotiator from Clinton administration), as well as Palestinian Oslo negotiators Saeb Erakat and Diana Buttu. But the program does not use these people to make the case why the occupation must end now, and why it's absolutely imperative to move rapidly towards a two-state solution before it's too late; rather it uses them to dwell on the personality clash between the two leaders.

The religio-national Zionists who are hell bent on not giving up any part of the land to Palestinians, peace or no peace, and who are prepared to continue the occupation indefinitely are represented on the program by Netanyahu himself, by Likud majority leader Tzachai Hanegbi, by Michael Oren (former Ambassador to U.S. and MK for Kulanu), Dore Gold, and Ron Dermer (current Israeli ambassador to the U.S.). But the program does not use these people to make the case for permanent occupation, nor does it show them as having this view, rather it uses them to dwell on the personality clash between the two leaders.

Other people on the program play the middle. Ari Shavit is used to lament what a shame it is that these leaders could not get along, and how tragic it would be if, ten or twenty years from now the Iran deal turns out to have been a mistake. It's a red herring and the wrong message. What Shavit laments as a mysterious tragedy would be a lot less mysterious--if equally tragic--if the program explained the real conflict between these two men: Obama wanted to implement a two state solution, and Netanyahu wants to never give up land and is willing to continue occupation forever in order to hang onto the land.

For another liberal interpretation of the program, read Lisa Goldman at +972; for a conservative take on the program, compare J.J. Goldberg in The Forward

The program caused Peter Beinart to flesh out his views in an article in Haaretz. "It reminds me of a quote from the 2003 film Cold Mountain: “They made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say “Shit, it’s raining,’” said Binart.  He went on:
[B]efore Netanyahu’s election, 44 percent of Palestinians still believed that the PA would become a state. Within a year of his taking office, according to the Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, that figure had dropped to thirty percent. It fell because, in the words of the late Ron Pundak, one of Oslo’s architects, “Netanyahu sabotaged the peace process relentlessly, and made every effort to delegitimize his Palestinian partners.” .... 
In 2008, Ehud Olmert had made the most far-reaching two-state offer ever by an Israeli prime minister. Abbas had made dramatic concessions too including on refugee return.
Then the Bibi wrecking crew returned. Netanyahu withdrew Olmert’s proposal and offered none in its place. Under international pressure, he endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state in the summer of 2009, but emphatically rejected the idea that it would be based upon the 1967 lines plus land swaps, thus rejecting the parameters that had guided every serious two state negotiation in the past. Then, in 2014, he declared that he no longer supports any Palestinian state at all.
Nothing like this appears in the Frontline program. Without this, the program lacked the necessary context to truely understand the clash between Obama and Netanyahu.

In the meantime, Chemi Shalev wrote his own bombshell this week: The Great Betrayal: American Jews stay Silent as Israeli Democracy Withers. 
The authoritarian campaign, waged by Israel’s ruling coalitions since Likud returned to power in 2009, has accelerated in recent months. It is now all-encompassing. It is being waged in the Knesset, in government ministries, in universities, in schoolrooms and in the media, both social and general. It includes legislative assaults on free speech, incitement against dissenters, the withholding of government funds for political reasons, regulatory measures against – and greater government control over – television and other media, compulsory changes to school curricula, reinforced Orthodox hegemony over religious affairs and repeated attacks on the Arab minority. All this is accompanied by the constant drone of victimhood and xenophobia emanating from Israeli cabinet ministers, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on down…..

Yet American Jews have kept mostly mum as such events and countless other manifestations of this dangerous drift have unfolded in Israel. ….

I am not talking about groups such as the Zionist Organization of America, whose chairman Morton Klein wrote this week in support of Shaked’s offensive against “phony NGOs that seek to demonize the Jewish State with falsehoods.” I would not expect Klein, whose organization has been heavily funded by Sheldon Adelson and others of similar ilk, to be bothered by the blatant hypocrisy of a right-wing government exempting its own interventionist billionaires from its war against so-called “foreign intervention.” I would expect, perhaps naively, that other American Jews would be up in arms…. 
[There is a…] “fear and anxiety” gripping a sizable portion of Israelis as they watch their country grow estranged from the values embodied in the Declaration of Independence, a document increasingly derided and undermined by Israel’s new leaders. …. Of course, there are countless valid reasons as well as lame excuses for the American Jewish reluctance to confront the Israeli government or to dedicate funds or efforts to constrain it. First and foremost, it is not in the Jewish community’s nature. ….Perhaps American Jews remain unconvinced by the cries of anguish emanating from Israel’s peace camp; it is certainly more convenient for them to accept the government’s reassurance that it’s all much ado about nothing. And they can certainly point to the lack of any convincing counterbalance to Israel’s persuasive prime minister, someone who could rally the troops and enlist American Jews in a just war for decency and democracy.  
“We need a leader, we need a leader” is the mantra voiced nowadays by Israelis who oppose the government, and while it is an accurate reflection of the sad political situation of Israel’s center-left, it is also an excuse to continue sipping lattes and planning the next family trip abroad while moaning and doing nothing. If Israelis themselves aren’t up in arms, why should American Jews be bothered? 
One can empathize with many American Jews, especially older ones, who prefer to keep on supporting the Israel of their dreams, the Israel of their youth, while averting their eyes and ears from the clear and the present. And one can understand why they would prefer to postpone a confrontation with Israel as long as its very real enemies such as Iran and Hamas continue to threaten its security and perhaps its existence. That is the fight they are used to, the battle that they feel most comfortable with, the war that has kept them united for so many decades.
 But time is running out. By staying silent, by refraining from the kind of forceful, game-changing protest that the current situation warrants, American Jews are not only abandoning like-minded Israelis, they are betraying Israel itself. They don’t owe it to Israeli liberals to come to their aid: They owe it first and foremost to themselves. After all, the biggest existential danger facing the Middle East’s only Jewish and democratic state may not be Iran, but Israel itself. And the time for American Jews to cry foul and raise hell against a government that is running roughshod over Israel’s liberal legacy while intentionally alienating a large part of the population will soon be gone. Notwithstanding the thousand differences, it would not be the first time American Jews stayed silent and hoped for the best as clouds gathered and a storm threatened their brothers and sisters  – nor would it be the first time they came to regret it forever more.
These are tough words. "It hurts," says Jane Eisner at The Forward. Eisner is the executive editor of The Forward and it is her constituency that Shalev's salvo is aimed at. She penned a defensive article  highlighting Shalev's article, and passing the buck right back to the Israelis:
It may be that, as Shalev complains, liberal Jews here are too afraid of internal dissension, bowing to the right-wing argument that groups like J Street and the New Israel Fund only give succor to the enemy in their critique of Israeli officialdom, and that what is needed from the Diaspora is solidarity, not skepticism. And yes, some of this reticence is also driven by fear of alienating the powerful donors, mostly from the right, who increasingly dictate the contours and acceptability of American Jewish discourse. But that’s too simple..... Rightly or wrongly, many of us here view Israel’s security concerns, both internally and in the context of its very rough neighborhood, as mitigating factors in assessing civil liberties. ....We don’t worry about getting blown up riding the bus to work or at a café one evening. We don’t send our children into harm’s way. We don’t have bomb shelters in the basement.....I don’t feel comfortable dictating Israeli policy any more than I want an Israeli dictating American policy. It’s not my civic duty to select and steer Israeli leadership, and I resent the implication from some Israelis that my political choices here should be derived solely from their reality. I similarly resent when Israeli leaders say they are acting on behalf of all Jews. 
But since I care deeply about Israel and believe that every modern Jew should develop and nurture his or her own relationship with Israel, I struggle to find the right balance of criticism and support. That struggle would be helped immeasurably if there were a vibrant, recognizable liberal movement within Israel to learn from and connect to, and if I could be convinced that my complaints from New York might have real consequences in Jerusalem. Instead, I see a demoralized Israeli left that needs to get its own act together before it demands more from us. 
Chemi Shalev comes right back at her. All we need to be is engaged witnesses when it comes to Israel's rightward slide, said Eisner. Shalev isn't buying it:
I guess it’s OK to be nothing more than “engaged witnesses” when things are hunky dory and everything is going swell; but when my house is on fire, or even when I’m just smelling smoke and starting to panic, I expect my good friends, never mind my close family, to drop everything and help put it out. I would certainly not expect them to feel resentful because I cried out for assistance or to start quibbling whether the people who actually live in the house were doing their fair share to stamp out the fire..... Seems I had erroneously ascribed the non-interference of liberal American Jews to an indifference I found infuriating; after reading Eisner, I realized that it wasn’t apathy I was dealing with, but ideology. And that is a whole different ballgame.....
Eisner believes that Israeli security concerns are “mitigating factors in assessing civil liberties,” though I question whether she would feel the same if it was her own civil liberties that were under siege. After all, it was Benjamin Franklin who said “those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”.... 
Israel has enough manpower and weaponry to protect itself from its external enemies; what it lacks are the troops, the arsenal and the combat morale that will enable it to fight for its democratic soul at the same time.
American Jews would do well to remember that if and when Israeli democracy goes off the rails irreversibly, they too will find themselves detached, depressed and wracked by guilt forever more. What will they tell their grandchildren when they ask how they allowed such a tragedy to happen? We didn’t feel completely comfortable? We thought it best that Israelis learn their lesson and deal with it by themselves?
Wow, what a week.  It's worth a subscription to Haaretz and The Forward.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Norm Ornstein's Nine Reasons for Trumpism

Norm Ornstein is one of the more credible scholars over at the fiercely partisan American Enterprise Institute. He has a worthwhile article in The Atlantic detailing what he perceives as nine causes behind the Trump phenomenon. [The Atlantic headline says "eight causes," but they don't county so good]  Here they are:

1. Newt Gingrich

Gingrich arrived in Congress in 1978 with a plan to achieve a Republican majority. He politicized Congressional elections with national issues in order to reduce incumbent advantage. He wanted the electorate to be fed up with Congress as a whole, so we'd be inclined to throw the bums out--meaning Democratic incumbents. To this end he played up scandals, real and manufactured. House Speaker Jim Wright was an example; the Clinton investigations (and impeachment) were examples. 

Ornstein:
Along the way, his strategy also brought with it a deeply damaged image of Congress and alienation from government, sharply enhanced partisan enmity and rancor, and tribalized politics. Gingrich assumed that when he became speaker, he could co-opt the radical outsiders he brought with him to Washington. It never happened. Their disdain for Washington, government, and Congress continued, even during their majority status.
Gingrich also abolished the highly professional, non-partisan, Office of Technology Assessment, which provided non-partisan technical information, e.g. on effects of global warming, effects of immigration policy, effects of NAFTA, etc. In the absence of a mutually respected, independent voice, partisan "truthiness"or outright crazy talk came to rule the day. Repeated assertion came to trump facts.

2.  Ronald Reagan, Georgy H.W. Bush, Jim Wright, William Rhenquist, and Gingrich (again)

The Newt Gingrich effort to discredit Congress obtained an inadvertent assist in 1988/1989--the end of the Reagan presidency--when Reagan, incoming president Bush, the Democratic Speaker of the House, Rehnquist (the Supreme Court Chief Justice), and Gingrich all supported a hefty pay-raise for Congress, top executive officials, and the courts. This was overdue, but it came at at a time of economic stagnation and it enraged the public. 

One person to jump on this and ride it to stardom was talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, but Ralph Nader drummed up outrage on the left, as did Pat Buchanan on the right. It helped facilitate the rise of the political talk-show as a political phenomenon. 

3. Roger Ailes

He who built Fox News. 
Ailes changed the worlds of news and politics. He did so by creating a new business model, using fast pacing and graphics, and charismatic and talented hosts. But mostly it was a model based on luring an audience of staunch conservatives who felt neglected by other television news outlets, treated with contempt for their views by a liberal mainstream media. Ailes used the slogan “Fair and Balanced” to appeal to this audience, but of course the content was neither; Fox adopted a sharp partisan and ideological viewpoint, and attracted a consistently robust audience of more than 2 million viewers of the right demographic for advertisers at any given time, which made it a highly profitable operation.
Fox became an opinion leader and agenda setter for conservatives and Republicans. The effect was tremendously harmful to our political discourse.

4. CNN and MSNBC

These cable outlets did their best to copy the Fox business model, albeit they were more half-heartedly partisan. But when Trump came along they jumped on Trumpmania as a way of luring viewers.
Nearly every Trump rally is covered in real time; every outrageous Trump statement or action gets blanket attention. Meanwhile, equally outrageous statements by other candidates—Ben Carson saying a Muslim shouldn’t be president, Mike Huckabee saying God’s law trumps the Constitution, Chris Christie threatening to go to Defcon 1 against Russia—barely get mentioned. Trump thrives on attention, good or bad. ... [S]ince Trump provides eyeballs, the rules of journalism go out the window.
CNN has had another, broader impact on discourse. Its longstanding attempt to be straightforward has meant that its shows either follow the Crossfire model—someone from the left edge of the spectrum yelling at someone from the right edge, or a spinner from the Democratic side facing off against a GOP spinner—or insist on bringing in “experts” from both sides to discuss or debate issues. By creating a sense that discourse is all one extreme against the other or one cynic against another, CNN has added to the corrosive cynicism that permeates politics, fertile ground for a Trump. And by having every discussion of climate change include one scientist who says it is real and manmade against another who denies it, CNN has contributed to an atmosphere where “facts” are not real—you can find an expert anywhere to deny them.

5. The Internet

The internet has exacerbated the corrosive effects of Fox, CNN, and MSNBC. It has led to a decline in public discourse and a coarsening of discussion.
[N]othing is too coarse or off limits anymore—whether it is calling the president a “half-breed mongrel” or a monkey, or saying Mexicans are rapists and thousands of American Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks. It is not just politics. Violence and graphic sex are everywhere, further deadening reaction to violations of societal standards. ...

Conspiracy theories, demagoguery, and anti-elitism are rooted in American culture, as the historian Richard Hofstadter ably documented in The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. But when Hofstadter wrote, in the 1950s and 1960s, the collection of individuals deeply receptive to those appeals were fragmented and had limited opportunities to communicate together, form communities of interest, or engage in collective action, except via face-to-face meetings in localities. The web and social media have changed all that.
Before the Internet and cable news, information was filtered through three TV channels by trusted intermediaries (e.g. Walter Cronkite). Now we can all actively select our own facts and the information we want and band together in "faith communities" insulated from each other and immune to the moderating effect of trusted common intermediaries. "So Donald Trump can say anything, and fact-check organizations showing that his statements are false are ridiculed and attacked by those who support him and believe him no matter what."

6. The Bailout of Banks in '09 Without Accountability, and Without Relief for the Middle Class

Drastic action was needed to save the economy when the financial system collapsed in the fall of 2008. However the bailout of banks without any accountability of bad actors who contributed to the catastrophe left a wide perception that Congress saved the banks, and that the system is rigged. The fact that there was no apparent serious effort to investigate, prosecute culprits, and make changes created widespread anger. 
Both (Hank) Paulson and his successor, Tim Geithner [Secretaries of the Treasury under Bush and Obama respectively], focused on saving major agents in the financial system, but refused to countenance any actions to punish, or at least bring to the dock, any of the miscreants who had caused the collapse. What Americans saw was elites conspiring to protect their fellow elites—who got off scot-free, along with bonuses, while the rest of the country suffered, losing homes or seeing their home values drop precipitously, losing jobs and nest eggs. No one went to jail. In the meantime, the Obama administration put forth a tepid plan to protect homeowners from foreclosure, which was not fully implemented, and put no significant pressure on banks to free up the huge amount of capital they held in reserve to help out middle-class homeowners.

7. The GOP House Leadership

The "Young Guns" (they wrote a book by that title) of the GOP leadership--Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan--took a page from Newt Gingrich's playbook. They united Republicans to oppose anything proposed by Obama and the Democrats in order to deny them any accomplishments and to stoke anger against all of Congress, just as Gingrich had done during the Clinton presidency. Like Gingrich they nationalized elections by recruiting GOP populists to run for Congress. Like Gingrich, they thought they could co-opt these people to make them loyal to GOP leadership, and like Gingrich they were wrong in that assessment.

Their playbook started with the debt ceiling—the Young Guns instructed their recruits to use it in their campaigns, an easy vehicle to show commitment to keeping the debt in check by vowing never to support an increase in the debt limit. Along with that was a promise to use the debt ceiling as a hostage, to force Obama to his knees by making him give up his key policy goals and accomplishments to prevent economic catastrophe via a breach in the debt ceiling. Thus, a new Republican majority could force repeal of Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, and make the president support dramatic cutbacks in domestic government and spending. 
The Young Guns told their recruits that they would act even before the debt ceiling was reached, promising a good-faith down payment on the conservative revolution to eliminate most government by immediately cutting spending by $100 billion after the new Republican majority was sworn in.

The tactics worked at the polls; Republicans won historic victories in the midterms, and achieved a robust majority in the House. But right after they arrived, the budget-cutting icon Paul Ryan was dispatched to give them bad news. They actually could not cut spending immediately by $100 billion. Ryan used “budgetspeak” to explain that the fiscal year had started well before the election, and they had to pro-rate the amount, and take into account the timetable of the budget process, so they could only achieve about a third of what they had promised. ... As with Gingrich, the Young Guns assumed they could co-opt the new radicals. As with Gingrich, it did not work.
In the end, of course, the Republican majority in the House achieved none of its big promised goals—not the repeal of Obamacare or Dodd-Frank, not the elimination of Obama after one term, not the end of a single government agency. They were, however, able to bring to a halt any major new advances in Obama’s third and fourth years, and through the sequester cuts across-the-board in government, to sharply retard the growth of domestic programs. But those achievements meant little to a group of lawmakers and their activist supporters who had been promised the moon and were given a single slice of cheese instead.
The know-nothing GOP ideologue back-benchers proved hard to control. They caused one government shut-down and threatened another. They were successful to greatly increase anger at Congress. They managed to till the soil for a non-establishment wild-talking candidate like Trump.

8. Mitch McConnell, Anthony Kennedy, and John Roberts

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, hand picked members of the Federal Elections Commission to block all regulation and enforcement of campaign laws and disclosure requirements. The Supreme Court, with Kennedy and Roberts being the key members here who might have made a difference, decided several cases that undermined Congressional efforts to regulate campaign financing, and to limit overall individual and corporate spending on elections. As a result the flood-gates attempting to hold back even a modicum of money seeking to influence elections were opened wide. As a result, a small number of oligarchs are able to dominate politics and politicians. Trump has managed to take populist advantage of the resulting frustration and dissatisfaction.

9. Barak Obama

Obama as symbol, as much as for what Obama did or didn't do, has contributed to the polarization of our politics and help set the stage Trumpism. 
Consider a world where partisan tribalism—the sense that the other party is a threat to the country, the enemy, not just an adversary—is conjoined with race, one party becoming overwhelmingly white, the other largely non-white. The challenge for national unity will be much sharper than it has been in over a century.
Add to this the irrational lightening rod that Obamacare has become. Add the rapid changes in our marriage laws, spurred on by the Supreme Court again.  Add the emergence of the Black Lives Matter issue. Add the irrational populist concern with immigration in a body politic where the white middle class has lost its economic security, its political dominance.... and, together with the other eight factors, it all adds up to an environment ripe for a Trump.

Read the WHOLE THING HERE.

You can follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

"The Suburbs will Die!"

Visiting my hometown in Switzerland recently I was struck by how the landscape had been preserved over half a century. Yes, there were more buildings, freeways, fancier trains; but the open spaces I played in as a boy were recognizable. This would not be true in Vancouver, or Seattle, or the San Francisco Bay Area, where I have spent my adult life. 

By contrast, development in the United States during my life time has been of the suburban sprawl variety. We built the interstate highway system, built an automobile society, and moved to the suburbs. It's alienating.  We have two or three car garages, a fenced yard, television, radio, and we spend hours on congested freeways. It's crowding out life...., and its a Ponzi scheme, says Charles Marohn.

I've seen suburbs like this flying into Cincinnati, Atlanta, or Chicago;
where is this?

Our kids don't play in neighborhood packs. We schedule them to the hilt, drive them to soccer, drive them to hockey, drive them to baseball, drive them to theater, drive them to ballet. It's an automobile merry-go-round.  It's not good for us, and some urban planners say its not good for cities.

Brad DeLong sends us to an article in Time (July '14) by Leigh Gallagher: The Suburbs will Die--One Man's Fight to Fix the American Dream. Charles Marohn used to be a city engineer/planner in Brainerd, Minnesota. He helped the city grow, sprawl-like, but now he thinks differently.

Gallagher:
Marohn ... takes issue with the financial structure of the suburbs. The amount of tax revenue their low-density setup generates, he says, doesn’t come close to paying for the cost of maintaining the vast and costly infrastructure systems, so the only way to keep the machine going is to keep adding and growing. ... 
He likens suburban development to a giant Ponzi scheme. ... The way suburban development usually works is that a town lays the pipes, plumbing, and infrastructure for housing development—often getting big loans from the government to do so—and soon after a developer appears and offers to build homes on it. Developers usually fund most of the cost of the infrastructure because they make their money back from the sale of the homes. The short-term cost to the city or town, therefore, is very low: it gets a cash infusion from whichever entity fronted the costs, and the city gets to keep all the revenue from property taxes. The thinking is that either taxes will cover the maintenance costs, or the city will keep growing and generate enough future cash flow to cover the obligations. But the tax revenue at low suburban densities isn’t nearly enough to pay the bills; in Marohn’s estimation, property taxes at suburban densities bring in anywhere from 4 cents to 65 cents for every dollar of liability. Most suburban municipalities, he says, are therefore unable to pay the maintenance costs of their infrastructure, let alone replace things when they inevitably wear out after twenty to twenty-five years. ...
“When people say we’re living beyond our means, they’re usually talking about a forty-inch TV instead of a twenty-inch TV,” he says. “This is like pennies compared to the dollars we’ve spent on the way we’ve arranged ourselves across the landscape.” 
... In 2010 the financial analyst Meredith Whitney wrote a now-famous report called The Tragedy of the Commons.... [She] said states and municipalities were on the verge of collapse thanks in part to irresponsible spending on growth. Likening the municipalities’ finances and spending patterns to those of the banks leading up to the financial crisis of 2008, Whitney explained how spending has far outpaced revenues—some states had spent two or three times their tax receipts on everything from infrastructure to teacher salaries to libraries—all financed by borrowing from future dollars. 
... [L]ow-density tax collection, sprawling development is more expensive to build. Roads are wider and require more paving. Water and sewage service costs are higher. It costs more to maintain emergency services since more fire stations and police stations are needed per capita to keep response times down. Children need to be bused farther distances to school. One study by the Denver Regional Council of Governments found that conventional suburban development would cost local governments $4.3 billion more in infrastructure costs than compact, “smart” growth through 2020, only counting capital construction costs for sewer, water, and road infrastructure. A 2008 report by the University of Utah’s Arthur C. Nelson estimated that municipal service costs in low-density, sprawling locations can be as much as 2.5 times those in compact, higher-density locations.
Marohn now runs an interesting website, Strong Towns, writing about small town development issues. Here he is in a video explaining some of the disadvantages of low density growth and the advantages of older, denser development patterns.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Story of Hoover Dam


[This book review was initially published on my Construction Law Blog: The Division 4 Triclinium] 

Colossus: Hoover Dam and 
the Making of the American Century (2010)
(Free Press, 496 pp.)
Michael Hiltzik

Michael Hiltzik is a Pulitzer price winning investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He has reported on the economy, corruption in the music industry, and has worked as a foreign correspondent. He previously has published books on Kenya, the history of Xerox, and the "plot" to undo Social Security. In Colossus he draws on the full range of these experiences in expanding on the tale of the building of Hoover dam. This wide ranging book offers time well spent for anyone interested in the development of West's water wars, the development of the Imperial Valley in California, and the emergence of mega construction firms in the early part of the 20th century.

Hiltzik starts with the earliest recorded discoveries of the Colorado river, he lingers with the early development of the great Imperial Valley in Southwestern California; land politics straddling the U.S. Mexico border involving the Chandlers and their Los Angeles Times, and early attempts to exploit the river by land speculators, who proved no match.

The Chandlers, Southern California Edison, and Herbert Hoover started as fierce opponents of a dam on the Colorado. The seven western states that share the river could not agree how to allocate its potential bounty until Hoover, on assignment as Warren Harding's Commerce Secretary, was able to forge a compact that ultimately allowed the political forces to align behind building what was then the largest domestic civil works project undertaken by the United States.

The dam was built by a joint venture, Six Companies, led by iconic personalities and companies that endure, and that were in many ways defined by their construction of the Hoover dam: Marriner Eccles and Utah Construction, Warren A. ("Dad") Bechtel, Morrison-Knudson, Henry J. Kaiser, J. F. Shea, Pacific Bridge. These founding fathers and iconic construction companies are colorfully brought to life, along with their project manager, Frank Crowe, the Bureau of Reclamation's Elwood Mead and Frank Young, and many others.

There is labor politics. The dam was built during the Great Depression, 1930-1935. Frank ("Hurry Up") Crowe finished the project two and one half years ahead of schedule. Six Companies was exempted from the newly enacted prevailing wage law, and from most federal regulations. They operated Boulder City that was constructed for the project as a company town and paid their workers partly in script. Safety conditions were not what they are today. Temperatures in the gorge were 130 degrees in the summer. Deaths were deceptively tracked. Officially there are 96 accidental deaths recorded on the project, but this does not include others who died of heat-stroke, and about 40 or more who appear to have died of carbon monoxide poisoning during tunnel construction--but were reported by company doctors as dying of pneumonia. [Take a look at the video, below, and you'll get the picture] Deaths from "pneumonia" were not subject to workers' compensation. Interestingly, the rate of worker's compensation depended (by a factor of three or four) on whether an accident occurred on the Nevada side of the Project or the Arizona side of the Project. The wobblies made a stand and lost. Wages were cut by substantial margins as the pool of available workers rose in the depth of the depression.

The job may have been hard on workers, but it was a huge success for Six Companies which cleared an $8 million fee on a final construction cost of $54 million. Six Companies persuaded the government to take possession of the dam early and finish the punch list, which took years. The government patiently corrected construction defects, including a dam-threatening defect in the grout curtain extending below the base of the dam. This grout curtain was designed to prevent water from pushing under the dam and jeopardizing the dam's stability. This defect was partly a design issue, and partly a construction issue because Six Companies failed to fill many bore holes with required grout. Apparently there was no litigation over this.

There were false claims with respect to overtime and Six Companies paid a $300,000 fine. There are colorful tales about litigation by workers over conditions, which includes one hung jury, one bought jury, and finally an undisclosed settlement.

The book is not perfect, but who is. Pick up a copy of Colossus; it's People Magazine for construction lawyers. It rounds out The Department of the Interior's propaganda, below. Also worth watching.