Saturday, December 6, 2008

Blog #65: Invasive vetting and other revelations

A most encouraging sign of this particular time is the extraordinary group of people President-elect Barack Obama has so far annointed for his cabinet. "If we do not act swiftly and boldly, most experts believe that we could lose millions of jobs next year," Mr. Obama said on Monday.

Most notable characteristic of the vetting process currently going on in Chicago is the extent of personal questions being put to possible nominees. “In addition to the obvious questions involving past criminal history, candidates are being asked about personal diaries, past blog posts and the financial entanglements of extended family members. This is the questionnaire they've been giving to people who are thinking about signing up for a government job and it is extremely invasive," said David Gergen, a CNN senior political analyst and adviser to four past presidents. "I've never seen anything like this at the presidential level before – the FBI asks these kind of questions, but to have the presidential transition team asking these questions requires ... great volumes of records that have to be checked out."

President-elect Barack Obama is already making presidential history by naming his Cabinet picks faster than nearly all of his predecessors. The recently announced economics team of Tim Geithner as Treasury secretary, Homeland Security director, Gov. Janet Napolitano, D-Ariz., and National Economic Council director, Lawrence Summers, former treasury secretary served as a shot in the arm to stimulate the economy and the stock market's immediate reaction was positive. And the following Monday's announcement of much of the rest of his cabinet: especially the naming of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and Robert Gates to continue on as Secretary of Defense, and with General James L. Jones as National Security Advisor, these picks proved the president-elect to be courageous and not afraid to appoint strong personalities with differing views. Eric Holder, experienced Justice veteran was named Attorney General. And these appointments were followed this past week by the naming of Bill Richardson as Commerce Secretary. This was a departure for Obama, as Commerce Secretaries are usually taken from the world of business, and not public servants of the Richardson ilk.

The naming of such a strong team has to send a message of hope and reassurance to the rest of the world so anxiously awaiting Obama's ascension to the presidency. Raise your hand if you join me in wishing for inauguration day to be moved up somewhat, say to yesterday?

Karl Rove, President Bush's former political director, says the national security team named by President-elect Barack Obama "represents, to a substantial degree, continuity" especially in hot spots like Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Rove said on NBC's "Today" show the naming of the national security team is "a reminder that continuity exists particularly in our foreign and international relations."

Rove pointed to the retention of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the naming of James Jones as national security adviser, a Vietnam war veteran who rose to become a Marine four-star general and served as military chief of NATO during the Bush administration. Obama 's naming of Hillary Rodham Clinton as his nominee for Secretary of State is the one Obama appointment which has gotten almost unanimous approval from a most unexpected quarter, the far right, and the appointment has even garnered the Rush Limbaugh Seal of Approval. (His stated reasoning? He's happy because she won't run for president in 2012.) But the praise has been extremely widespread for all of the President-elects appointments according to an article written by John Batchelor and published in the online aggregator, The Daily Beast.

“The secret truth of it is that everyone is guiltily, honestly, deeply relieved that foreign policy is now with a veteran team of Washington hands led by Hillary Clinton at State and General Jim Jones as national security adviser, supported by old Bush family consigliere Robert Gates at Defense and Clintonista champs Eric Holder at Justice and Janet Napolitano at Homeland.

“I heard a deep sigh from every Republican I pressed to talk — and this was followed with a grin of consternation as they remarked that it could have been much, much worse. They sounded like survivors of a Prius crash. How much worse? Naming John Kerry or Bill Richardson made my colleagues gasp for air.

“Will any Republican go far enough to say they love it? No. Yet when you consider that this is the same posse that once chased the Clintons to impeachment and trial by Senate and harassed Mrs. Clinton as a harridan from Hades, the fact that no one is launching a website war against the nomination process, not a single Republican senator has offered a disconsolate word, neither a talk show doll nor a robo-talking head has popped up out of the trenches to aim an RPG — and even trusty Fox News shrugs in resignation — then this all translates into stealthy hosannas.

“She is not one of them, of course, but she is respected.” Listen to the predictable caution mixed with backhanded admiration. "A gamble for the price of experience, sobriety, competence, and D.C.-insider know-how," commented a stalwart conservative columnist. "This is the best Republicans could have hoped for short of nominating John Bolton," said another unflinching conservative voice. "[She] will pursue a foreign policy that's more moderate that the one Mr. Obama campaigned on," said a think tank executive. "Conservatives are enormously relieved he isn't saddling them with Ramsay Clarks or Dennis Kuciniches," said an acerbic Clinton critic.

“The GOP's affection for Mrs. Clinton is more than its having confidence that, with her at Foggy Bottom, the Obama administration will not mass-produce plowshares and fly directly to Munich. After eight years of Mrs. Clinton in Congress, the GOP remnant in the Senate is in genuine agreement with her on war policy. "There has been something of a melding of minds with Mrs. Clinton on a number of international issues, including Israel and the war on terrorism," said a conservative senior editor at a major network. "She will be tougher and better rounded than the other candidates," said a senior military analyst. "[Her] liberal internationalism is better than the alternative of isolationism, [and is] the lesser of two evils," said a veteran war correspondent. "[The] nomination brought sighs of relief to some Jerusalem officials," said a foreign correspondent.”

John Batchelor is the radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
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In 1965-66 I worked in N.Y. City as managing editor of Sing Out! The Folk Song Magazine. It was during the period when the folk song revival briefly careened into the realm of popular music, a period which found traditional folk songs like Tom Dooley and On Top of Old Smoky blending with homegrown songs the likes of Goodnight Irene, Where Have All the Flowers Gone and the M.T.A. Song (the Boston M.T.A. you paid as you got off and the MTA song was about a man who did not have the money to pay his way off of the Boston subway system, and was thereby bound to ride the train forever) to brighten up America's music scene, and more importantly, to let people who weren't professional musicians know that song writing and performing was in their power if they wanted it bad enough.

The music was tinged in politics, with many a guitar toting college student flying from one antiwar demonstration to another, singing songs protesting our involvement in the Vietnam War. (After awhile it got so bad that the Nixon administration's FAA worked out a rule with the airlines that prevented students flying to demonstrations from carrying their guitars and banjos onto the plane with them unless they bought a separate ticket for their instruments.) Looking back it seems like my two years at Sing Out was marked by the passing of one folk singer after another. Virtually every issue I edited had a cover announcing the death of yet another singer. Of course, many of the traditional singers were elderly, and a phenomena of the times had brought them to the public's attention, where their remaining days saw them the recipients of the adulation of huge crowds of young people at Folk Festivals and events. Other young singer-performers died from accidents, drug overdoses, or occasionally suicide.

The reining queen of the Folk Song Revival back then was a black singer named Odetta, whose remarkable voice was powered by genuine emotions and a fiery spirit. Her Wikipedia listing begins as follows: “Odetta Holmes, (December 31, 1930 – December 2, 2008), known as Odetta, was an African-American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a human rights activist, often referred to as "The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement.” Her musical repertoire consists largely of American folk music, blues, jazz, and spirituals. An important figure in the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s, she was influential musically and ideologically to many of the key figures of the folk-revival of that time, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Janis Joplin.”

Odetta died last week, but her influence was widespread and lasting. In 1961, Martin Luther King Jr called her "the queen of American folk music.” "I'm not a real folk singer," Odetta told The Washington Post in 1983. "I don't mind people calling me that, but I'm a musical historian. I'm a city kid who has admired an area and who got into it. I've been fortunate. With folk music, I can do my teaching and preaching, my propagandizing." In 1999 then US President Bill Clinton said her career showed "us all that songs have the power to change the heart and change the world.” And during a 1978 interview with Playboy, Bob Dylan admitted that "the first thing that turned me onto folk singing was Odetta.”

While Odetta had hoped to sing at Obama's inauguration, she had not been officially invited. Her last big concert was on Oct. 4 at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, where she performed in front of tens of thousands at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. She also performed Oct. 25-26 in Toronto.

Odetta was active in the civil rights movement throughout her life. She continued performing until her shortly before death at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York on Tuesday (December 2), reports The Wall Street Journal. Following her death the N.Y. Times opened its pages to readers remembering this truly extraordinary personality. The following letter is from that collection:

“Perhaps one of the all time greatest voices of all time. The first time I heard "motherless child" during a screening of the 1965 Newport Folk Festival ("when Dylan went electric"). I wept like a homesick kid ... and it still has the same impact. Odetta doesn't just sing, it is like she is taken over by a divine presence ... too divine for the radio waves ... too heartfelt for the meek. As a twenty-something I can only hope for a resurgence of folk music, that others will be bold enough to "steal" from the past ... but there will never be another Odetta. — Sarah, Paris, France”

Worth seeing is The Last Word – Odetta, a remarkable video that she made telling about her life and songs which is available from the N.Y.Times online at:
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These days most people tend to date the rise of the present day Republican party from the unsuccessful presidential run of Barry Goldwater, in which he ran as a pure conservative rather than as a moderate, deal making politician. Although he did not get elected, his spirit of libertarian conservatism was carried on through the presidency of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and right up to Bush 43. However a different trajectory of modern Republicanism was offered this week in the Los Angeles Times by author Neal Gabler. In his view modern Republicanism did not begin with Barry Goldwater at all. He writes:

“The creation myth of modern conservatism usually begins with Barry Goldwater, the Arizona senator who was the party's presidential standard-bearer in 1964 and who, even though he lost in one of the biggest landslides in American electoral history, nevertheless wrested the party from its Eastern establishment wing. Then, Richard Nixon co-opted conservatism, talking like a conservative while governing like a moderate, and drawing the opprobrium of true believers. But Ronald Reagan embraced it wholeheartedly, becoming the patron saint of conservatism and making it the dominant ideology in the country. George W. Bush picked up Reagan's fallen standard and "conservatized" government even more thoroughly than Reagan had, cheering conservatives until his presidency came crashing down around him. That's how the story goes.

“But there is another rendition of the story of modern conservatism, one that doesn't begin with Goldwater and doesn't celebrate his libertarian orientation. It is a less heroic story, and one that may go a much longer way toward really explaining the Republican Party's past electoral fortunes and its future. In this tale, the real father of modern Republicanism is Sen. Joe McCarthy, and the line doesn't run from Goldwater to Reagan to George W. Bush; it runs from McCarthy to Nixon to Bush and possibly now to Sarah Palin. It centralizes what one might call the McCarthy gene, something deep in the DNA of the Republican Party that determines how Republicans run for office, and because it is genetic, it isn't likely to be expunged any time soon.

“The basic problem with the Goldwater tale is that it focuses on ideology and movement building, which few voters have ever really cared about, while the McCarthy tale focuses on electoral strategy, which is where Republicans have excelled.

“McCarthy, Wisconsin's junior senator, was the man who first energized conservatism and made it a force to reckon with. When he burst on the national scene in 1950 waving his list of alleged communists who had supposedly infiltrated Harry Truman's State Department, conservatism was as bland, temperate and feckless as its primary congressional proponent, Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, known fondly as "Mister Conservative." Taft was no flame thrower. Though he was an isolationist and a vehement opponent of FDR, he supported America's involvement in the war after Pearl Harbor and had even grudgingly come to accept the basic institutions of the New Deal. He was also no winner. He had contested and lost the Republican presidential nomination to Wendell Willkie in 1940, Thomas Dewey in 1948 and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, three men who were regarded as much more moderate than he.

“McCarthy was another thing entirely. What he lacked in ideology – and he was no ideologue at all – he made up for in aggression. Establishment Republicans, even conservatives, were disdainful of his tactics, but when those same conservatives saw the support he elicited from the grassroots and the press attention he got, many of them were impressed. Taft, no slouch himself when it came to Red-baiting, decided to encourage McCarthy, secretly, sealing a Faustian bargain that would change conservatism and the Republican Party. Henceforth, conservatism would be as much about electoral slash-and-burn as it would be about a policy agenda.

“For the polite conservatives, McCarthy was useful. That's because he wasn't only attacking alleged communists and the Democrats whom he accused of shielding them. He was also attacking the entire centrist American establishment, the Eastern intellectuals and the power class, many of whom were Republicans themselves, albeit moderate ones. When he began his investigation of the Army, he even set himself against his own Republican president, who had once commanded that service. In the end, he was censured in 1954, not for his recklessness about alleged communists but for his recklessness toward his fellow senators. Moderate Republicans, not Democrats, led the fight against him. His intemperance disgusted them as much as it emboldened his fans, Goldwater among them.

“But if McCarthy had been vanquished – he died three years later of cirrhosis from drinking – McCarthyism was only just beginning. McCarthyism is usually considered a virulent form of Red-baiting and character assassination. But it is much more than that. As historian Richard Hofstadter described it in his famous essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," McCarthyism is a way to build support by playing on the anxieties of Americans, actively convincing them of danger and conspiracy even where these don't exist.

“McCarthy, a Catholic, was especially adept at nursing national resentments among the sorts of people that typically did not vote Republican. He stumbled onto the fact that many of these people in postwar America were frightened and looking for scapegoats. He provided them, and in doing so not only won millions of adherents but also bequeathed to his party a powerful electoral bludgeon that would eventually drive out the moderates from the GOP (posthumous pay back) before it drove the Democrats from the White House.

“In a way, Goldwater was less a fulfillment of McCarthy conservatism than a slight diversion from it. Goldwater was ideological – an economic individualist. He hated government more than he loved winning, and though he was certainly not above using the McCarthy appeal to resentment or accusing his opponents of socialism, he lacked McCarthy's blood-lust. McCarthy's real heir was Nixon, who mainstreamed McCarthyism in 1968 by substituting liberals, youth and minorities for communists and intellectuals, and fueling resentments as McCarthy had. In his 1972 reelection, playing relentlessly on those resentments, Nixon effectively disassembled the old Roosevelt coalition, peeling off Catholics, evangelicals and working-class Democrats, and changed American politics far more than Goldwater ever would.

“Today, these former liberals are known as Reagan Democrats, but they were Nixon voters before they were Reagan voters, and they were McCarthy supporters before they were either. A good deal of McCarthy's support came from Catholics and evangelical Protestants who, along with Southerners, would form the basis of the new conservative coalition. Nixon simply mastered what McCarthy had authored. You demonize the opposition and polarize the electorate to win.

“Reagan's sunny disposition and his willingness to compromise masked the McCarthyite elements of his appeal, but Reaganism as an electoral device was unique to Reagan and essentially died with the end of his presidency. McCarthyism, on the other hand, which could be deployed by anyone, thrived. McCarthyism was how Republicans won. George H.W. Bush used it to get himself elected, terrifying voters with Willie Horton. And his son, under the tutelage of strategist Karl Rove, not only got himself reelected by convincing voters that John Kerry was a coward and a liar and would hand the nation over to terrorists, which was pure McCarthyism, he governed by rousing McCarthyite resentments among his base.

“Republicans continue to push the idea that this is a center-right country and that Americans have swooned for GOP antigovernment posturing all these years, but the real electoral bait has been anger, recrimination and scapegoating. That's why John McCain kept describing Barack Obama as some sort of alien and why Palin, taking a page right out of the McCarthy play book, kept pushing Obama's relationship with onetime radical William Ayers.

“And that is also why the Republican Party, despite the recent failure of McCarthyism, is likely to keep moving rightward, appeasing its more extreme elements and stoking their grievances for some time to come. There may be assorted intellectuals and ideologues in the party, maybe even a few centrists, but there is no longer an intellectual or even ideological wing. The party belongs to McCarthy and his heirs – Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Palin. It's in the genes.”

Neal Gabler is the author of many books, including, most recently, "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination."
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Once again in celebration of 46 or so days remaining of the Bush 43 presidency, we dip into our archives to remind ourselves of the reasons we celebrate.

Saturday, February 9, 2008 Blog #23: Of End Runs and Kiln Baked Bricks
Well, congratulations to us all. We managed to survive yet another Super Bowl; every moment of the pre-game hype, the not-so-golden oldies half-time show (no chance of a “wardrobe malfunction” on the part of Tom Petty and his one time Heartbreakers, thank a merciful god!), moment after moment of football’s self assured commentators pontificating as if what they were saying really mattered in a world skewered with presidential missteps, and a visual space littered with the most over priced commercials on television. All of this happened last Sunday, and it is now but a faded memory. In the game David defeated Goliath, but how much did it really matter?

We need to be very careful, though, and not get distracted. For the ball we really need to keep our eye on is the one George Bush is carrying to try an end run around Congress and the American people by locking the U. S. into a long term military commitment in Iraq. In Bagdad negotiators are quietly working towards this goal as we speak. It’s all part of Shrubby W’s desire to try and shore up his legacy by attempting to justify what to many of us is unjustifiable, our first actual invasion of a sovereign nation since our ill-fated turn of the century invasions of Cuba and the Philippines.

While the administration these days is not denying the fact that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, it continues in its attempts to justify that completely unnecessary invasion by saying that it was based upon information commonly believed at the time. My Dear Lord, of course the information was commonly believed at the time. From day 9-11 one George Bush attempted with all his might to blame the 9-11 attacks on Saddam Hussein, and the administration’s propaganda machine went into high gear, planting false information day and night during the entire two year buildup lasting until the moment of the actual invasion.

As we reported in Blog #21 the Center for Public Integrity working with the Fund for Independence in Journalism has noted 935 false statements over a two year period. Bush led the pack with 259 false statements, 231 about Iraq having Weapons of Mass Destruction, and 28 about Iraq's links to al-Qaeda with then Secretary of State Colin Powell next with 244 false statements about Iraq’s WMD and 10 about its al-Qaeda links. And just when the returned inspectors had come close to ascertaining that Hussein did indeed NOT have WMDs, George Bush pulled the inspectors out of Iraq so he could proceed with his invasion.

And let the record show that the American invaders were not greeted by an Iraqi population bearing garlands of roses as promised by Paul Wolfowitz, the man generally perceived to be one of the primary orchestrators of Bush’s propaganda buildup to war, but rather they were met by strategically detonated roadside bombs, bombs which took a painful toll on many of our troops who had been forced to ride in vehicles without proper armor, thanks to Donald Rumsfeld's attempt to run the war on the cheap. Whereas it is perfectly true that Saddam Hussein governed through fear, all told his people enjoyed far more peace of mind as to their physical well being under his rule than do the Iraq people today under the regime we allowed to be set up to rule the country.

In their exuberance to justify the initial invasion of Iraq, which stands in full view along with a string of other wartime violations of the human condition such as the torture of prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and unmitigated home front neglect during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, this administration attempts to paint its doubters with the brush of the unpatriotic and the un-American. As if it was the doubters and the questioners who were the ones tainted. And to a man Republicans are stuck with inheriting George Bush's war, only Ron Paul has had the courage to call it what is really is, and of course he had not a chance in hell of getting the Republican nomination. A situation for which we can all be thankful, by the way.

Some closing items of note: ABC News is reporting that New York Governor David Paterson has spoken with Caroline Kennedy about taking over Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. What a scintillatingly cool idea, replacing Hillary Clinton with Caroline Kennedy? It doesn't get any better than this.

The op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal is not a place you would expect to find an impassioned appeal to legalize marijuana. But to mark the ending of Prohibition 75 years ago Friday the Journal invited Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, to argue that our stern drug laws should be overturned. He says drug prohibition has led to 500,000 people in jail for nonviolent drug-law violations; 1.8 million drug arrests last year; tens of billions spent annually to fund a drug war that has failed; thousands dying each year from drug overdoses “that have more to do with prohibitionist policies than the drugs themselves;” and tens of thousands needlessly infected with AIDS and hepatitis C because the anti-drug policies undermine responsible public health policies.

From Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review Online: “Tonight I was over at the vice president's house for one of their holiday parties. It was like a gathering of old friends — friends who likely won't see the inside of the naval observatory for a bit. Cheney aides like David Addington. Conservative Hill aides ... Bill Bennett ... Karl Rove. And that's the picture I want for my Facebook page: Karl Rove with Dick Cheney; Karl was two behind me in the receiving line. Maybe Lynne Cheney will bring a signed copy for Jon Stewart next time she's on.”

And finally, the Supreme Court is mulling over whether to take the case that Barack Obama cannot be president because he is not a citizen. Would our supreme Supremes actually have the nerve to do it once again, that is to deprive the American people of their vote for a second time in the 21st century. I guess only time will tell. See ya . . .

The Real Little Eddy