Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
"Is California Crazy?" was how The Week magazine billed its political discussion yesterday. Journalists (and gossip columnists, politicos, NYC fixtures and one of California's 135 gubernatorial candidates--porn star Mary Carey) filled Michael Jordan's Steakhouse in Grand Central Station for an afternoon panel on the California recall.
Harold Evans moderated a spirited, serious, chaotic, sometimes comical debate between the scions of two political families (Barry Goldwater, Jr and Ron Reagan, now a fighting independent liberal sort), longtime California state legislator and activist Tom Hayden and profiler of the Kennedy family Ed Klein.
I still don't know if California is crazy, but there were moments when California's carnivalesque politics seemed to fill the room, and it was certainly a lively and fairly enlightening discussion among an eclectic group of panelists.
Ron Reagan (RR): The recall is a terrible, infantile idea. The California public is like a two year old--last year they wanted Mommy to buy them a Gray figure, and this year it's the Arnold doll.
Barry Goldwater (BG): It's democracy, it's revenge, it's a good expression of the peoples' will.
Tom Hayden (TH): We don't need this recall. It's been hijacked by money and celebrity. I've known Gray Davis for thirty years. I've fought with him on many issues. This recall has national implications in that Davis took the advice of the centrists in the Democratic Party--scouring money from corporations--and moving the party to the right--that is, to the center. He abused the grassroots and wound up in the middle of the road, alienating his base. New York should listen; there's a lesson here for the rest of the country, for the Democratic Party. We're looking at the results of the failed strategy of the so-called centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Davis went to the limits with deregulation, with fundraising, and alienated his core base. I still want Gray to win because of what Arnold stands for. I know Arnold and he's a decent guy, but look at his after-school program. It required balancing the budget before it starts up. It's like Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation and that's what we'll have if Arnold's course is followed in California.
Bill Simon, Jr, (who ran unsuccessfully against Davis last year was piped in by speaker phone: Davis should be recalled for his incompetence. He lied about the deficit. Those are adequate grounds for recall.
BG: I'm for anything that increases accountability of government.
RR: Much of what you say about Davis--lying and deficits--is also true of Bush. Shouldn't he be recalled? (Sadly, no one took this bait.)
BG: The California recall is a classic example of failed socialism.
RR: How is it that a man who is supposed to be so courageous on screen, is so cowardly on the campaign trail--refusing to debate Davis?
Ed Klein (EK): You know Maria Shriver told him not to engage in debates with Davis. Remember that Saturday Night Live skit, Hans and Franz, (with Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon playing East European body-builders). Well, if Arnold is Franz, Maria is Hans.
TH: When it comes to the implications of the recall, I don't think we'll see more attention paid to politics. This is celebrity politics with a big bang. And big money. The next Republican strategy is to go to celebrity candidates. Dennis Miller will be next--versus Barbara Boxer--for a Senate seat.
For the Democratic party, the national implication is what Jim Hightower always warns about: There's nothing in the middle of the road except yellow lines and armadillos. The party is engaged in the same debates about Dean's electability. It should be instead healing the breach with Nader and the Greens. The phenomenon of Nader arose because Dems created space for opposition with their pro-corporate policies on NAFTA, WTO. The party has a responsibility to build a bridge to Nader if it wants to be a majority party.
RR: I don't think California will stop being a Democratic Party state but Dems will need to spend more money in California in 2004.
Harold Evans then introduced one of California's candidates for Governor--the porn star Mary Carey, dressed more demurely than usual in a red halter dress. Carey laid out a surprisingly radical platform for the assembled crowd. Its highlights: Tax breast implants ("From Beverly Hills alone, we should bring in millions in tax revenue;" earlier that day, on TV, she had said she would exempt strippers and hookers); Make lap dances a tax-deductible expense; Wire the Governor's Mansion with live web cams in every room ("reality shows are very popular these days, and think if the White House under Clinton had been wired.")
At that point, over the speakerphone, Bill Simon erupted: "Is it too late for me to switch my endorsement from Arnold?," as Hayden declared ruefully, "Well, New Yorkers, you're all Californians now."
And then, in a delayed reaction to Goldwater's statement that the recall was about "socialism failed," Hayden shouted into his mic: "Where's the socialism in California!?"
BG: Well there's been an explosion in growth of government.
TH: So, explosion in growth of government means socialism to you? Then, was Franklin Roosevelt's expansion of government socialism?
Simon: Yes!(By this time, Ron Reagan is looking grimly at Goldwater.)
RR: I was down in Orange County last week, doing some reporting, and there is a fear and loathing of immigrants, immigration.
TH: The majority of the US will be Latino in forty years. It already is majority Latino in California. In my view the most important issue to be decided next week, after the recall, is Prop 54, which seeks to amend the California Constitution to prohibit the state and other public bodies--including local governments, colleges and universities--from classifying individuals and collecting information on them by race, ethnicity, color or national origin. I hope it will be defeated. Dems must build a coalition of middle class whites and blacks and Latinos--but if Dems raise tuitions at state colleges, and rates for homeowners, they're going to lose that possibility.
BG: New York is just as crazy as California. New York has faced these same issues, California is still young; New York is more mature.
Hayden: I don't think the recall is a plot. Davis won with only forty-three percent of the vote--so people saw an opening and seized it.
EK: I'd tell Arnold to get rid of his man tan and Grecian formula. I think he's likely to be a Kennedyesque Republican.
As I snuck out to head back to reality and work, Mary Carey was eyeing Tina Brown's red suit.
Has the Washington Post op-ed page gone into the "Op-Ad" business? In early September, the paper published an op-ed piece by Mark Penn, a paid political adviser to Democratic Presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman. The piece was a big wet kiss for Lieberman's candidacy, a lecture to wayward party activists and another warmed over Democratic Leadership Council sermon. You know the drill:
"...People are seeking a progressive moderate -- someone who is strong on defense and earns high marks on personal values..."
Penn's "Op-Ad" bashed Howard Dean for making the party look weak on defense, criticized Gephardt's healthcare plan for its price tag, and attacked Kerry for abandoning Clinton's trade policy. "Most Democrats," he insisted, "want to see a moderate candidate for President." What Penn doesn't say is that Lieberman continues to preach a Republican-lite line that is so out of touch with political realities on the ground that it sometimes inspires laughter at Democratic Party gatherings.
Unless the Washington Post is going to make this a series, and give space to each of the candidates's principal advisers so they too might expound on the virtues of their employer/candidates, Penn's piece should have been marked "Op-Ad," not Op-Ed.
One good measure of this Administration's extremism is the steady drumbeat of criticism being leveled against it by leading establishment figures--many not known for being politically outspoken.
Just the other day, Pulitzer-prize winner James McPherson, one of America's preeminent Civil War historians and the current President of the prestigious American Historical Association (AHA) published a blistering critique of President Bush and his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in the September AHA newsletter.
Among other charges, he accuses them of mis-using the term "revisionist historians" to derisively deflect criticism and denigrate a legitimate and essential activity of his profession.
"Neither Bush nor Rice offered a definition of this phrase," McPherson notes, "but their body language and tone of voice appeared to suggest that they wanted listeners to understand 'revisionist history' to be a consciously falsified or distorted interpretation of the past to serve partisan or ideological purposes in the present...The 14,000 members of this Association, however, know that revision is the lifeblood of historical scholarship. History is a continuing dialogue between the present and the past...There is no single, eternal, and immutable 'truth' about past events and their meaning. The unending quest of historians for understanding the past--that is 'revisionism'--is what makes history vital and meaningful."
"Without revisionism," McPherson argues, "we might be stuck with the images of Reconstruction after the American Civil War that were conveyed by D.W. Griffith's 'Birth of a Nation' and Claude Bowers's 'The Tragic Era'."
Would President Bush and Condoleezza Rice wish to associate themselves with Southern political leaders of the 1950s who condemned Chief Justice Earl Warren and his colleagues as revisionist historians because their decision in Brown v Board of Education struck down the accepted version of history and law laid down by the Court in Plessy v Ferguson?..."
McPherson reserves his real contempt for the alleged scholar on the Bush team--former Stanford University Provost and political scientist Rice. "The judgmental tone of Rice's derogatory reference to 'revisionist historians,'" McPherson observes, "brings to mind a review of her book The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, 1948-1983, in the December 1985 issue of the American Historical Review...The reviewer claimed that Rice 'frequently does not sift facts from propaganda and valid information from disinformation or misinformation.' In addition, according to the reviewer, she 'passes judgments and expresses opinions without adequate knowledge of the facts" and her "writing abounds with meaningless phrases.'"
Sound familiar? It does to McPherson, who concludes: "I am tempted to wonder, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, whether we are experiencing deja vu all over again."
Maybe it's a drug problem? Comedian D.L. Hughley may just be on to something. Take Hughley's recent exchange with neocon Bill Kristol, editor of Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard, on Bill Maher's "Real Time" on HBO.
Kristol: "We're not failing in Iraq. In fact, we've done an amazing job. If you had said six months ago that we would have a total of 300 American casualties, and rather few Iraqi casualties--I mean under 10,000 probably--no ethnic warfare, no religious warfare, huge parts of the country pretty peaceful, the American military doing really a fantastic job of running the country, parts of the country, that was all good news. Now the bad news is there's a nasty counter--there's a nasty insurgency that we need to crush, because there are Baathist remnants, and there are terrorists there."
Hughley: "You're high, aren't you? You're high! [laughter] [applause] I have a cousin in rehab and he says a lot of the same things, let me tell you. [laughter] [applause]
Kristol does seem to be exhibiting signs of erratic behavior. After cheerleading for Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and other architects of the war, Kristol is now filling his weekly magazine with articles lambasting current Iraqi policy and attacking the Administration for its poor postwar planning. Maybe it's a form of political rehab?
"I want to do everything," Madonna said recently. I thought she was talking about positions. (I was a keen reader of her X-rated 1992 book of photography, Sex.) My twelve year old daughter thought she was talking about her MTV Video Music Awards' open-mouth pump and grind kissing routine with Britney Spears and Cristina Aguilera.
Turns out that we were clueless. Madonna has found another way to have it all. On September 15th, this kinder and gentler forty-four year old mother of two, America's premier mistress of reinvention (once married to bad boy Sean Penn and involved romantically with, among others, Warren Beatty and Dennis Rodman), tackled J.K. Rowling's empire.
Madonna's first children's book, English Roses, was simultaneously released in more than one hundred countries in forty two languages with all the hoopla and publicity that normally surrounds Rowling's Harry Potter. The plot is based on Madonna's spiritual lodestar Kabbalah--the mystical Jewish guide to the universe. ("Yikes, I for one never knew Madonna was Jewish," writes some strange columnist called Mr. Joel of Hollywood, an independent blogger.)
I think early Madonna was brilliant, I respect her ability to cause controversy and her mastery of reinvention and rejuvenation, and I would rather read Madonna's book for kids than William Bennett's moral sermons--or, for that matter, former French sexpot Brigitte Bardot's new work, Cry in the Silence. (Bardot, an ardent right-wing National Front supporter, uses her book to rail against immigration to France, to bash women in politics, gays who assert their rights, and unemployed people who are "handsomely kept by taxpayers.")
Madonna, on the other hand, recently made an antiwar music video for her new single "American Life." When accused that she was being un-American, Madonna responded: "I am not anti-Bush. I am not pro-Iraq. I am pro-peace." (So America has better aging sexpots than France. Maybe the Bush Administration could find a way to work this into its French-bashing routines?)
As a forty three year old mother of one, who believes in personal reinvention and redemption (and sin and sex), I think Madonna has a right to have it all. My daughter and I are going off to buy English Roses later this week. And I may dig out my 1984 copy of Like A Virgin. I bet it's held up well.
It was reported today that retired four-star General, ardent critic of Bush's national security policies, telegenic TV commentator, and recently declared Democrat Wesley Clark will enter the crowded presidential race.
Democrats believe that Clark, as a former military officer, could make the party more viable on foreign affairs than it's been since a general named George Marshall was containing Communism under the command of a president named Harry Truman. (That's the conventional wisdom, though the staggering cost of the badly bungled Iraqi occupation has diminished the Republican advantage on defense no matter who runs against Bush.)
While media commentary on Clark's prospective candidacy has been almost entirely favorable--even adulatory--it's worth looking back at a forgotten chapter in his military biography that occurred when Clark was Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and Commander In Chief for the US European Command. Call it Clark's "High Noon" showdown. It's an incident that deserves scrutiny because Clark's claim to be an experienced leader in national security matters is tied, in significant part, to his record in the Balkans.
On June 12, 1999, in the immediate aftermath of NATO's air war against Yugoslavia, a small contingent of Russian troops dashed to occupy the Pristina airfield in Kosovo. Clark was so anxious to stop the Russians that he ordered an airborne assault to confront these units--an order which could have unleashed the most frightening showdown with Moscow since the end of the Cold War. Hyperbole? You can decide. But British General Michael Jackson, the three-star general and commander of K-FOR, the international force organized and commanded by NATO to enforce an agreement in Kosovo, told Clark: "Sir, I'm not starting world war three for you," when refusing to accept his order to prevent Russian forces from taking over the airport. (Jackson was rightly worried that any precipitous NATO action could risk a confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia and upset the NATO-led peacekeeping plan just getting underway with the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo.)
After being rebuffed by Jackson, Clark, according to various media reports at the time, then ordered Admiral James Ellis, the American in charge of NATO's southern command, to use Apache helicopters to occupy the airfield. Ellis didn't comply--replying that British General Jackson would oppose such a move. Had Clark's orders been followed, the subsequent NATO-negotiated compromise with the Russians--a positive element in the roller-coaster relationship between Moscow and Washington, which eventually incorporated Russian troops into peacekeeping operations--might well have been undermined.
In the end, Russian reinforcements were stopped when Washington persuaded Hungary, a new NATO member, to refuse to allow Russian aircraft to fly over its territory. Meanwhile, Jackson was appealing to senior British authorities, who persuaded Clinton Administration officials--some of whom had previously favored occupying the airport--to drop support for Clark's hotheaded plan. As a result, when Clark appealed to Washington, he was rebuffed at the highest levels. His virtually unprecedented showdown with a subordinate subsequently prompted hearings by the Armed Forces Services Committee, which raised sharp questions about NATO's chain of command.
As a Guardian article said at the time, "The episode triggers reminscences of the Korean War. Then, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the UN force, wanted to invade, even nuke, China, until he was brought to heel by President Truman." Of course, the comparison is inexact. The stakes were not as high in the Balkans, but Clark's hip-shooting willingness to engage Russian troops in a risky military showdown at the end of the war is instructive nonetheless.
Indeed, it is believed in military circles that Clark's Pristina incident was the final straw that led the Pentagon to relieve him of his duties (actually retire him earlier). Clark had also angered the Pentagon brass--and Secretary of Defense William Cohen in particular--with his numerous media appearances and repeated public requests for more weapons and for more freedom to wage the Kosovo war the way he wanted (with ground troops). At one point, according to media reports, Defense Secretary Cohen, through Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton, told Clark to "get your fucking face off of TV."
In recent years, it's only fair to note, Clark has insisted in interviews and in his memoir Waging Modern War that the incident was a surprising moment for him. Clark said that his order to confront the Russian troops was refused by an emotional General Jackson, who took the matter up the British chain of command, where General Charles Guthrie, British Chief of Defence, said that he agreed with Jackson. Guthrie, according to Clark, told him that Joint Chiefs Chairman Shelton also agreed with the British. This surprised Clark because he claims that the original suggestion to block the Russians came from Washington. Clark maintains that the matter was a policy problem between the US and British governments and insists that he was carrying out the suggestions of the Clinton Administration.
Despite concerns this incident raises, it remains a fact that the Clark candidacy is a tantalizing prospect. Clark says he is a liberal Democrat who favors abortion rights, affirmative action, gun control and progressive economic policies. He has also spoken eloquently about basing America's role in the world on the country's better principles: "generosity, humility, engagement..."
The other day, Clark told http://www.billmaher.tv/Bill Maher"> Bill Maher on HBO that this country was founded on "the idea that people could talk, reason, have dialogue, discuss the issues…We can't lose that in this country. We've got to get it back."
Perhaps Clark has learned that building alliances--and not risking showdowns--is more crucial than ever in these perilous times? It would be good to hear from the general himself now that he has decided to run for president.
So, Richard Perle--a man whose arrogance knows no limits, whose countless op-eds and television appearances about the imminent threat Iraq posed to the US deceived the American people---has now admitted that he and his neocon cabal underestimated the disastrous consequences of poor postwar planning.
In a recent interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, the NeoCon Prince of Darkness acknowledges, "Our main mistake, in my opinion, is that we haven't succeeded in working closely with Iraqis before the war so that an Iraqi opposition could have been able to immediately take the matter in hand."
But wasn't it the Bush Administration's over-reliance on the claims of the self-interested exiled Iraqi opposition (and its handmaidens on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board), that was one of the main reasons for the US failure to anticipate the postwar crisis? As the costs of occupation soar--in both lives and dollars--shouldn't chickenhawks like Perle be held accountable for their failures and fabrications?
After all, wasn't Perle--along with the other faith-based warrior intellectuals at the project for the New American Century and in corporate-funded think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute--an architect of these failed policies? Isn't it time that their colossal failure meet its just response? President Bush should ask Dick Cheney and his cabal of (failed) armchair wargamers to hit the road.
(Update on "Sally Baron RIP")
The AP reports explaining that Wisconsite Baron's family had asked that memorials in her honor be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush from office caught the attention of American citizens far from the verdant scenery of Wisconsin.
The Madison Capital Times reports that already "dozens of people from around the United States have written to the [paper] saying they will make donations." (People have even printed shirts featuring a photo of Baron.) And Keith Olberman's national coverage of the Baron family's request on MSNBC recently is sure to increase this number.
Baron's story is also being hotly discussed on online bulletin boards, among both liberals and conservatives. Baron "has become a sort of poster girl for all of us who despise George Bush," wrote Nancy Tonies of Appleton, on the chat-site democraticunderground.com. "I did not know Sally at all, but I wish I had had the opportunity," wrote Linda Brown, a retired teacher in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "We would have had fun shouting back at the TV together. I suspect my language would have been worse than hers."
Memorials in Baron's honor can be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush.
In 1898, the Anti-Imperialist League was established to oppose America's territorial expansion, especially the "liberation" of the Philippines from Spain. Long before a President talked of an "axis of evil" and "regime change," or before Trent Lott and John Ashcroft accused critics of aiding the enemy, President William McKinley and his men attacked members of the League for opposing an America that projected its ideals abroad by force.
Imperialism, League members argued, was unjust, unnecessary and harmful to America's national interests. The league had a diverse membership featuring many respected public figures like Mark Twain, historian and industrialist Charles Francis Adams, Harvard professor and writer William James, financier Andrew Carnegie, reform journalist and senator Carl Schurz and The Nation's founding editor and prominent abolitionist E.L. Godkin.
League members drew a dramatic contrast between America's proud history as the land of liberty and its brutal repression of the Filipinos' struggle for independence. Such militaristic tyranny, they argued in their national platform, would ultimately erode the country's "fundamental principles and noblest ideals."
As Charles Eliot Norton, a founding member of the League, said: "It is not that we would hold America back from playing her full part in the world's affairs, but that we believe that her part could be better accomplished by close adherence to those high principles which are ideally embodied in her institutions--by the establishment of her own democracy in such ways as to make it a symbol of noble self-government, and by exercising the influence of a great, unarmed and peaceful power on the affairs and the moral temper of the world."
Fast forward a hundred years and meet the "Committee for the Republic." The Committee, recently formed to ignite a discussion in the establishment about America's lurch toward empire, includes Republican former counsel to first President Bush C. Boyden Gray; former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman, Jr.; President of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development Stephen P. Cohen; William Nitze, son of Paul Nitze, the Reagan Administration's top arms control negotiator; and Washington businessman (and descendant of Revolutionary war patriot Patrick Henry) John B. Henry.
The Committee's draft manifesto includes language the Anti-Imperialist League would recognize: "Domestic liberty is the first casualty of adventurist foreign policy...To justify the high cost of maintaining rule over foreign territories and peoples, leaders are left with no choice but to deceive the people...America has begun to stray from its founding tradition of leading the world by example rather than by force."
Committee members say the group may create a nonprofit organization and will sponsor forums examining how imperial behavior weakened earlier republics, starting with the Roman Empire. "We want to have a great national debate about what our role in the world is," says Henry. The Committee is also considering ways to "educate Americans about the dangers of empire and the need to return to our founding traditions and values."
In my mind, these latter day anti-imperialists are charter members of the Coalition of the Rational--an embryonic idea I recently proposed to bring a broad, transpartisan group of concerned members of the establishment together to mobilize Americans in informed opposition to the Bush Administration's extremist undermining of our national security.
The Committee's creation is yet another sign of how mainstream members of the conservative establishment are waking up to George W's (mis)leading of the country into ruin. (Paleocons like Patrick Buchanan have also lined up against Bush's empire-building.) After all, imperialism is just as un-American today as it was at the turn of the century--or in 1776.
"Any Democratic candidate will be destroyed in the South," gloated Chris Caldwell in a recent issue of the Weekly Standard. Caldwell should head to Greenville, South Carolina, one of the most conservative areas in the United States, where Bush--bashing currently extends from unemployed machine operators to textile industry CEOs.
"Bush can forget about the Solid South," says Roger Chastain, president of a textile company. "There's no Solid South anymore." Chastain told the New York Times that the massive loss of jobs (2.5 million nationally) since Bush took office, and anger over the stagnant pace of economic recovery, makes the president vulnerable in a region his party has long taken for granted. Lynn Mayson, a mother of three, and unemployed for months, put it bluntly: "I'm not going to vote for Bush unless things change. The economy has got to get better." Both Chastain and Mayson are registered Republicans, part of the "solid south" that helped Bush win office in 2000.
The trade issue has become a lightning rod of discontent in these parts. Even the Republican chief executive of Spartanburg, South Carolina's Economic Development Corporation, laments that the number of new jobs is not keeping pace with those lost, putting South Carolina among the highest-ranked states in percentage of jobs lost during the Bush years (#3 behind Massachusetts and Ohio).
With all the talk about how free trade has been good for the country, textile industry leaders in the region are so fed up with job flight to Mexico, Indonesia and China that they've vowed to withhold support for Bush in 2004 if the Administration doesn't immediately narrow the trade gap. Chastain, like other South Carolina Republicans, says problems have reached such a point that he would consider voting for a Democrat like Richard Gephardt, a consistent foe of NAFTA. Mayson says she would vote for anyone with a plan to create more jobs.
One of the great surprises of Election Night 2000 were the early results that suggested Al Gore might win Virginia, Louisiana and Arkansas--as well as Florida. Gore barely bothered to campaign in the South and he was anything but an ideal messenger for the Democratic Party in the region. But he did offer a dose of us-against-them populism in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention and in enough of his subsequent appearances to remain competitive in states where he was not supposed to be a player.
Indeed, Gore proved to be so competitive on Election Day that the television networks couldn't declare the winner in many southern states for hours after the polls closed. At the very least, Gore tied Florida, ended up winning forty-five percent of the vote in Virginia, Louisiana and Arkansas, and secured only slightly weaker finishes in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. Only in George W. Bush's homestate of Texas did Gore pull under forty percent of the vote.
The bottom line for Democrats should be clear: Fighting the next election on behalf of jobs, family farms, healthcare and education for all, a populist Democratic nominee could give George Herbert Hoover Bush a real race in a region that the GOP--and its media boosters--now take for granted.
At last Saturday's rally honoring the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Civil Rights, the Rev. Jesse Jackson recounted the narrow election losses Democrats have suffered in southern states and called for a renewed emphasis on voter registration and populist campaigning to close the gap.
"We must go South today," said Jackson. "It is the red zone where we must go to win the election." Jackson is right. If the Administration's economic policies continue to destroy the industrial base of the region, the South need not be solid for Bush in 2004. In fact, it could well provide the margin of victory for the Democrat who is willing to challenge Bush with the old cry, "It's the economy, stupid."