25 January 2008

A Third Term for Rove

I have been trying to keep this from morphing into a political blog, but there’s plenty of content and goings on out there to prompt a major relapse into political junkiedom for the time being. I tune it all out when I want to, as when I let myself be totally oblivious to the Gore-Bush recount news when it was happening and didn’t know about Saddam Hussein’s capture for over a week.

Obama’s Super Tuesday strategy is designed to keep the campaign going for the long haul and lower expectations for his ability to make up what was just last summer a 30 point deficit in California. A long campaign can give Democrats a longer look at what they’re choices are and digest the tactics used to win early primaries. Much prognosticating has gone on about the Edwards effect, but my sense is he takes votes away from Hillary in Red States and Obama in Blue States.

For one thing I’m glad John Kerry has spoken up today against Hillary’s attacks, because his use of the term ‘swift boating’ puts the nature of the campaign into proper focus, bringing together the themes of Honesty and Change and highlighting the similarities between the methods of W’s and Hillary’s campaigns.

In South Carolina in 2000, John McCain had just won New Hampshire and found himself the subject of a whisper campaign from Karl Rove that had he'd ‘fathered an illegitimate black child,’ referring to his daughter Brigit, adopted from Bangladesh. South Carolina in 2008, Obama is facing an email campaign that he swears his oaths on the Koran and doesn’t take the Pledge of Allegiance, requiring him to respond to the allegations. In New Hampshire, Hillary sent out a mailer saying Obama was ‘unwilling to take a stand on choice’ right before the primary despite Obama 100% rating from Planned Parenthood.

Ken Waldman has had interesting things to say about all this:

“So many of the ingredients of a typical GOP campaign are there, in addition to fear. We have the efforts to make it harder for the opponent’s voters to get to the polls (the Nevada lawsuit seeking to shut down at-large caucus sites in Las Vegas, to which the Clinton campaign gave its tacit support). We have, depending on how you interpret the events of the last couple of weeks, the exploitation of racial divisions and suspicions (including multiple Clinton surrogates criticizing Obama for his admitted teenage drug use). And most of all, we have an utterly shameless dishonesty.”

Someone in the Hillary camp has gone to school on how to campaign Rove-style, scripting a plan to turn whites against Obama to use in case of emergency, and it’s pretty obvious who that was: chief strategist Mark Penn, who talked about Obama’s cocaine admission on a talk show that was supposed to be about campaign attacks. Penn was brought into the Clinton camp by Hillary in 1994 concurrent with Dick Morris to script what continues to be her political style: co-opt the positions of the Republicans and make it a race about ‘V-chips and school uniforms.’

Mark Penn’ PR firm has advised Blackwater on its testimony to Congress, having garnered their business with a resume that includes representing, as Ari Berman writes, “everyone from the Argentine military junta to Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, in which thousands were killed when toxic fumes were released by one of its plants, to Royal Dutch Shell, which has been accused of colluding with the Nigerian government in committing major human rights violations.” It was through Charlie Black, the Republican head of the lobbying wing, that the firm has had close ties to Rove himself, which no doubt helped them get the Blackwater contract in addition to that of Iraqi warmonger Ahmad Chalabi. Berman notes that Penn’s client list has affected Hillary’s policies as with her reluctance to oppose the Indian Point nuclear reactor that’s had nine unplanned shutdowns since 2005, and that Penn has already conducted Rove-style push polling utilizing fabrications about Obama on the topic of abortion.

What happens if Hillary’s race baiting and smear campaigns snatch the nomination from the claws of defeat is that then the political tactics of Rove will make way for the policy positions of Rove. She’s been the beneficiary of her Democratic opponents’ unwillingness to lay her record on the line, but predictably she couldn’t leave well enough alone because the Rove playbook is all Hillary and Penn know. The Republicans will get to finally dig in on the Marc Rich pardon if they get Hillary, who is no competition for McCain for independent votes. Hillary’s attacks seem to have scraped two or three points off Obama’s general election numbers, but Obama can win them back if and when the party’s wrecking ball returns to her legislative duties.

17 January 2008

The ‘white hands’ ad ran by Jesse Helms in the week previous to his first general election contest with Harvey Gantt was authored by Dick Morris, who has worked for the Clintons in Arkansas and became the architect of their political identity since 1994. In a column published yesterday, Dick Morris said what I had been thinking the past few days, that the Clintons after Iowa have been seeking to make Obama out to be ‘the black candidate.’ What throws people for a loop is that the comments about ML King came before the SC ‘black’ primary, and everyone assumes that they are directed at African-American voters. Actually both Bill and Hillary commented on the topic right before NH. Since Hillary’s comments, she has gained new momentum with white voters after the race had been effectively declared over, maintaining a seven point cushion over Obama over the past few days.

On the day after Obama’s Iowa victory, Morris in his NY Post column with Eileen McGann said “Obama - by winning in a totally white state - shows that racism is gone as a factor in American politics.”

Yesterday Morris had new observations to share: “(The Clintons) embarked on a strategy of talking about race -- mentioning Martin Luther King Jr., for example -- and asking their surrogates to do so as well...

“According to the Rasmussen poll of Monday, Jan. 14, Obama leads among blacks by 66-16 while Hillary is ahead among whites by 41-27. The overall head to head is 37-30 in favor of Hillary.

“It does not matter which specific reference to race can be traced to whom. Obama's campaign has resisted any temptation to campaign on race and, for an entire year, kept the issue off the front pages. Now, at the very moment that the crucial voting looms, the election is suddenly about race. Obviously, it is the Clintons' doing. Remember the adage: Who benefits?”

The Morris and Clinton saga is critical to the careers of both Morris and Clinton. When Clinton lost his gubernatorial reelection in 1980 in Arkansas' response to the thirtysomething Yalie kid’s motor vehicle tax, Clinton joined forces with Morris for the 1982 race and joined the Democratic Leadership Council, getting the job back. In 1994 he started corresponding with Morris again during Newt Gingrich’s Contract for America campaign against him, and upon losing the House over Hillary’s ability to botch a universal health care proposal that the public overwhelmingly wanted, Morris became the most influential advisor to Clinton, the architect of ‘triangulation,’ and chaired his successful reelection campaign. During the period when Morris advised Clinton on race politics, Clinton fired Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders and signed the welfare reform bill written to Gingrich’s specifications that he had previously vetoed.

When Morris got caught with the call girl in the Willard, Clinton sent him packing with two months to go in the election. Morris said publicly that the disclosure was insufficient reason to can him, effectively ending his career as a campaign operative, and I think that is why he has run an obsessive campaign against the Clintons starting with a publication of a tell-all the next year.
Media Matters, the center-left watchdog organization started by former GOP smear artist David Brock (The Real Anita Hill) after he was outed, has called attention to how Morris teamed up with David Bossie, a renegade Clinton-hating Dan Burton staffer that produced with Morris the conservative response to Fahrenheit 911, to do a ‘swift boat’ style documentary (as Morris characterized it) on Hillary. Morris’ opinions and credibility should be seen with this perspective, but he knows Bill and Hillary’s political mindset concerning what Leon Panetta called ‘the dark side’ of race politics more than anyone.

In addition to insinuating that Obama, despite more support of independents and better polling in general election head to heads against every Republican, is less electable because he is black and thus less likely to pass reforms in the tradition of LBJ, Hillary Clinton sat beside Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson and watched while Johnson made racially tinged insinuations about Obama’s admissions of early drug use. Imagine if a white politician said Obama was ‘doing something in the neighborhood - and I won’t say what he was doing.’ Hillary then said she had no input on the statement and Johnson said he was referring to Obama’s community organizing, which is obviously dishonest as ‘I won’t say’ wouldn’t apply to community organizing.

Why does Johnson support the Clintons? He has a film company backed by JP Morgan Chase, an equity fund financed by The Carlyle Group, and a hedge fund backed by Deutsche Bank. The Carlyle Group, cited by Michael Moore and others for a board of directors including both the Bushes and the bin Laden family, currently has Arthur Levitt, Clinton’s SEC Chair, as its Senior Advisor, and William Kennard, Clinton’s FCC Chair, as its Managing Director.

Gloria Steinem’s piece in the New York Times has provoked an inevitable response from African-American intellectuals. She doesn’t need to win the argument, and she doesn’t and can’t, but her objective is to initiate a conflict that divides white women and blacks. There are fourteen woman Senators and one African-American Senator (Obama) and both Hillary and Elizabeth Dole have been treated as major presidential candidates. Carol Moseley-Braun was not treated seriously by the media because she had lost her Senate seat to a white challenger, not showing Obama’s skill at winning white support.

Steinem and Hillary are making the argument together that women are more marginalized but blacks can’t win. Steinem’s is the same approach that Dick Morris utilized for Helms’ benefit: make an enfranchised class feel disenfranchised so that they rally together in opposition to the disenfranchised. Obama, of course, has never said that anyone should vote for him because African-Americans are disenfranchised, which is why the Clintons’ strategy is significant.

If Hillary wins the nomination, it will come at the cost of her having divided the party amongst racial lines, despite the African-American candidate being less divisive, more popular amongst conservatives and moderates, and more electable in November. This is a price the Clintons are willing to pay because they don’t care about the party, as evidenced by how they let the Congress go Republican in the 90s, and because after Iowa the pundits left their presidential hopes for dead. Hillary's current lead for the nomination has vindicated her cynical strategy for gaining the support of white Democrats.

14 January 2008

This is the time of year when Cienfuegos, Cuba holds its Luiz Gomez Ballad Festival of punto guajiro music. Gomez is the singer in the white shirt, who worked tobacco fields growing up and learned to sing horses to sleep. He is sparsely mentioned on the web and this video is one of the rare recordings of his voice in circulation. Guajiro songs were originally sung by farmers that were driven into the hills by the sugar barons in the 19th Century.

09 January 2008

On the TV the pundits are saying that the voters reacted to the media by voting Hillary, but Hillary won because Catholic women over 40 making less that 50K household who made up their mind over a month ago turned out and the kiddos didn’t. If anything the inevitability of Obama may have kept his supporters from getting off their butts and voting. It’s also interesting that the two main early primary states have virtually no minorities.

Caution - consumerism: I finally broke down and purchased one of those mp3 players, ‘imported’ and all that over the weekend and now I can’t hear. Also, squirrels got into my seaweed over the weekend.

I collect compilations of mid-century Cuban music and my favorite is an album called Trova Cubana that I found in El Rastro in Madrid, featuring Son by Compay Segundo and friends. Segundo became famous giving hangover cures (chicken comsommé before you drink) in Buena Vista Social Club, which also featured the uniquely talented pianist Rubén González, who got his first break playing in the 40s with Arsenio Rodriguez, the revolutionizer of Son Cubano.

Before Rodriguez left for NY in 1948 hoping to get his blindness cured he left his band in the care of trumpeter Felix Chappottín, who renamed the band Conjunto Chappottín or Chappottín y sus Estrellas. Those guys were just the tightest. Incredible! The first song heard on the Youtube video is a half minute live excerpt of the song Mentiras Criolles. The live vocals are not as good and harmonized, the many percussion elements distract from the melody, and the studio version is so well produced, but you get an idea of what’s going on and the way Chappottín took Rodriguez’ Son Montuno trumpet sections and ran with it. Check out Chappottín’s facial expression at the 3:35 mark in this video, and try not to get up and dance!

Chappottín’s grandkids have restarted his band with new albums, and they’re ok but don’t approximate the old sound in any way.. What does in the absence of a Chappottín reissue is Rodriguez’ recordings of the time which are being reissued on a number of labels. The one good song on this disc that can be downloaded easily is Cheo Marquetti’s Aprietala de Rincon, but it is the least enjoyable of Marquetti’s three songs on this disc due to stiff competition. That voice! Marquetti also got his big break with Chappottín. Also standing out here is Conjunto Casino, a Son Montuno band of the 40s and 50s and Orquestra Novedades from the late 50s.

04 January 2008

I thought this might happen, tho my predictions usually err on behalf of the underdog. What Obama needed to do, as it’s now clear, was win Iowa by a large margin and make a great acceptance speech - then the money would pour in even more and the media would anoint him as the inevitable nominee. The polls were mixed as to who led in ‘likely voters’ in a way that suggested some were just wrong, and the 60% turnout of women seemed to favor Hillary, but Obama won them.

There is a common progression of Obama’s victories in that he makes a quick dash from underdog to ‘the inevitable.’ This is somewhat similar to his Senate race, where he started out third in the primary, knocked off a front runner that was arrested for beating his wife, his Republican opponent left after his divorce records of swinger clubs were unsealed, and he then took on the comfort level of a three term incumbent, beating Alan Keyes 70-27 whose job it was to remind Black America that Obama’s was an immigrant family rather than plantation descendents.

Media types have taken to calling him the likely next president in part because of the lack of a clear, strong general election opponent. The Republican result is notable in that it didn’t eliminate anyone out of the top six, and Huckabee, while still fighting uphill, is the only candidate that can seal the deal before mid-February. Thompson was the one that people thought was out the door but he edged McCain out for third. Guiliani, though not campaigning, saw what was once a lead in Iowa and thereafter double digits become four points. The setback to Romney is much discussed - anything but a win in NH will end his candidacy. This may be the perfect storm that strategically vindicates McCain’s seven years of courting the establishment, since they may call on him to take out Huckabee.

The theatrics of Obama’s speech were effective, he filled the void of Leader of America in a manner that evoked the Kennedys in the 60s, and I let myself somewhat counterintuitively to get teary eyed during the speech and enjoy it all. Whatever liberals think of his policies, we feel a sense of closure after the wrath of W. African-Americans I’ve run into today have a smile on their face and a spring in their step and their past support of the Clintons will apply to this race no further unless the news changes drastically because of the perceived electability of Obama.

The best thing the Clintons did was remove Bush from the White House. Hopefully Obama will amount to much more, but he has at least taken a major step to remove the Clintons from White House contention. I enjoyed watching Hilary and Bill with Madeline Albright spinning a loss. All the strategists of the DLC that have advised Democratic presidential losers and steered the triumphant Democratic congress to an approval rating hovering between Dick Cheney and Paris Hilton have been treated to a preview of the future of the party.

One of Sam Smith’s data dumps makes the strong case that Obama is a centrist that global finance favors with contempt for the activist left. We can’t prove whether or not Obama’s fundraising from Wall Street was necessary for this result, and time will tell what an Obama administration will amount to, but Obama spent more money on TV in Iowa than all the 2004 candidates combined and that definitely had an effect on the turnout. The fact that the three billion spent on an election cycle is not paid for by the taxpayers in exchange for honest government is both the shame and salvation of the current political class. Less funded by corporate America, the suddenly populist Edwards is calling it a two person race, and so be it.

As it’s hard to imagine the Obama juggernaut as a vote of confidence for the affections of foreign policy advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski while his son Mike is a chief advisor, it’s clearly a defeat for the neocons that Zbig trashed in his latest book. With Republicans split between the neocon ‘bomb Iran’ contingent (Guiliani the most hawkish, with McCain and Romney right there with him) and the advisorless ‘where is Iran?’ contingent (Huckabee), a general election featuring Barach will be a match between a neoliberalist caretaker and one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Obama’s rhetoric on Pakistan, perhaps Zbig-influenced, has justifiably angered peace activists but it has called the neocons bluff as to whether we are really spending all this money to combat Al-Qaeda. Neoliberalism and neoconservatism are both elitist ideologies, both facing an overwhelming popular resistance, but one can anticipate the conflicts created by neoliberalism will cause fewer people to die.

Obama’s campaign rhetoric about alternative fuels and fuel efficiency standards is backed by his voting record and is in stark contrast to Hillary’s votes and the Clinton-Gore administration, impacting both their economic and foreign policies on the whole. Obama and Edwards both cut their teeth on trade after the public had woken up to the pitfalls of secretly negotiated hemispheric treaties which, as in the case with NAFTA, Clinton had his finest hour as a congressional headcounter ratifying, restoring a WW2 tin subsidy in one Texas district in exchange for a vote. In her ‘a bunch of charts’ response, Hillary reiterated the empty ‘labor and environmental’ caveat that her husband used back then to placate the base. Hillary said “we’re not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez” while Obama said he would, and Obama voted to cut off funding for TV Marti in Cuba.

Nationalism thrives on the self-image of citizens, and Obama adroitly makes people see themselves in his unspecific message of hope, inclusion, and a togetherness that seems to rely on his authority for its harmony. But his charisma and cunning has given us potentially a major step forward in American governance and policy.

03 January 2008

DC Art: Haven’t been to the Hirshhorn in perhaps a year: Jiří Kolář’s collages are up, hard to come by online and elsewhere. Was banned from publishing his poetry or even giving his poems to friends so he expressed himself through photographic collages, which are wonderfully subversive and, being anti-Stalinist, can be shown across the street from Voice of America. They seem to be grouped around elemental themes like water, earth, smoke, the vertical.

Nine and a half minute interview with Václav Havel on Kolář (link to avoid registering):

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I noticed they have a strong assortment of early David Smith- late Ernst sculptures which is always pleasing. A seven year old girl said she liked Ernst’s Moonmad the best (there's also one in Philly).

Miniature Whistlers in the basement of the Freer. I like how his paintings upstairs are the occasion for presenting Pound’s attack on American art of the time on an accompanying card. African and Indian getting more folky rather than modern. Still no Old Musician.

Dream journey: Got into the food business which led me to be one of a cluster of 20 nude men that hammer pig’s feet in Tunisia, in a manner that taxes the waist, to make some sort of gravy. I started to pull raw sausage out of my mouth and the sausage turned out to be 20 feet long.

“Kurt (Gartz, a Bavarian medical student) was obsessed by the philosophical ideas of Nietzsche and I observed in him mental anomalies; at the same time I observed that he, in common with everyone who had read Nietzsche, had not in fact understood what constituted the true novelty discovered by the philosopher. The novelty is a strange and profound poetry, infinitely mysterious and solitary, which is based on the Stimmung ( I use this very effective German word which could be translated as atmosphere in the moral sense), the Stimmung, I repeat, of an autumn afternoon, when the sky is clear and the shadows are longer than in summer, for the sun is beginning to lower. This extraordinary sensation can be found (but it is necessary, naturally, to have the good fortune to possess my exceptional faculties) in Italian cities and in Mediterranean cities like Genoa or Nice; but the Italian city par excellence where this extraordinary phenomenon happens is Turin. I tried to make Kurt Gartz understand all these beautiful things; he listened to me very intently and made a great effort to understand, wrinkling his forehead and looking down, but I felt that he did not understand and would never have understood.”
- de Chirico, Memoirs