Friday, February 29, 2008

Identity politics: What candidate doesn’t have an identity with race, gender, cultural background or religion?

“Identity politics” is a phenomenon that cuts two ways. On the one had it is a way for a person or group to rally support from people they share something in common. On the other hand it is a way for opponents to stigmatize and isolate this same person or group from the larger community. Some candidates use it and others consciously avoid it.

On the other hand, a case can be made that all electoral politics is about identity of one sort or another. Support from specific subgroups in society is the way to power. However, it is not recognized as such until someone from a group that has traditionally been outside the circle of power (e.g., female or black) tries to step in and then that person is quickly recognized as a member of a particular group first and on personal merits second.

Ann Friedman has a good piece on the subject in The American Prospect:
With the democratic front-runners a woman and a black man, it's not surprising that the phrase "identity politics" is popping up all over the place. In his post-Super Tuesday analysis for The New York Times, Adam Nagourney wrote, "Surveys of voters leaving the polls suggested a reprise of the identity politics that has so long characterized -- and at times bedeviled -- Democratic politics." Christopher Hitchens penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "The Perils of Identity Politics." And Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama warned, "We're not going to win on identity politics."

But just because our front-running candidates are a woman and a black man, it does not mean that this is the first election to hinge on candidates' identities. All those other election years, when only white guys were vying for the nomination, well, those were "identity politics" races, too. Why weren't they framed that way? Because most of the framers shared the identity of the candidates: white and male.

It's high time we acknowledge that every candidate has an identity: a race, a gender, a cultural background. It may not make or break every voter's decision, but a candidate's identity is always an electoral factor -- even when that identity is white and male. Clinton's female supporters and Obama's black supporters don't get enough credit. They are making tough decisions on how to reconcile their political beliefs with their gut reactions upon seeing someone who looks like them up on the dais. In fact, all Democratic voters are wrestling with this. Very few Americans have ever had the opportunity to vote for anyone other than a white man for national office. After so many years with "white male" as the default political identity, we're all suddenly forced to think about how much a candidate's race, gender, and background should matter.

Let's make this election about the issues, everyone says -- and rightfully so. Our presidential nominee should be chosen primarily on the issues. But most of us don't separate issues from identity as cleanly as we'd like to believe. When it comes down to it, everyone is an "identity politics" voter. The problem is that phrase, as commonly used by right-wingers and some on the left who are tone-deaf on issues of race and gender, has the effect of cutting down the political choices and involvement of women, people of color, and gays and lesbians.

After all, Clinton and Obama and their supporters aren't playing "identity politics" any more than John Kerry's supporters did in 2004, or George W. Bush's did in 2000. It's absurd to suggest that the Andover-Yale-Harvard-bred Bush adopting a swagger and thickening his Texas accent, or John Kerry riding a borrowed Harley onto The Tonight Show set, was anything other than identity politics. And after several early primaries, as it became clear that white men most strongly supported John Edwards, nobody accused them of playing identity politics. Nope, that distinction is reserved for people who have historically not been in positions of political power. In short, you can't be a white guy voting for another white guy and still play the identity game.

The news analysis after Clinton's New Hampshire victory (on the heels of her teary-eyed moment) and Obama's South Carolina victory (on the heels of Clinton surrogates throwing around racist phrases such as "shuck and jive") was that the anger of women and blacks reacting to sexist and racist incidents propelled the candidates to victory. That may or may not be true. But without a doubt, when it comes to identity, the negative is a more powerful motivator than the positive. When you attack candidates on the basis of their gender, race, or religion, you're not just attacking the candidates -- you're attacking everyone who shares their background. When people question Clinton's ability to lead because she's a woman, they're questioning my ability to lead. It gets personal.

Identity can also motivate those who don't share a candidate's background. That's important, too. Several white people I know, who had been on the fence, declared their support for Obama after those thinly veiled racist comments about him hit the mainstream media. Those voters, who don't share Obama's racial identity, were nevertheless impelled by race-based attacks to move into his camp. Call this the solidarity vote: supporting a candidate, in part, because of that candidate's identity -- even if you don't share those traits yourself.

Many Democratic voters, torn between two candidates who are remarkably similar on many top-tier issues, no doubt came to support the candidate with whom they felt the most solidarity. In other words, they acted like the vast majority of the electorate: swayed by identity, but not completely persuaded.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What’s in a name?

Yesterday, Senator John McCain was introduced in Cincinnati by a local lowbrow radio broadcaster who seemed to think he was doing the likely Republican nominee for President a favor by ridiculing the name of Senator Barack Obama, the likely Democratic nominee for President. The emphasis on Obama’s middle name, Hussein, coupled with other remarks the gentleman made were clearly intended to suggest the Illinois Senator was somehow not loyal. Senator McCain, himself the victim of a racially tinged smear campaign in the 2000 South Carolina Republican Presidential primary, showed that he had a little class and denounced the yokel and apologized for the comments. (Even Karl Rove has warned Republican operatives from demagoguing Barack Obama's middle name.)

Unfortunately, the nativistic impulse coupled with ignorance has a long tradition in this country. This is likely not the last we will hear this type of garbage so a little history lesson on these “alien” names is called for and Juan Cole provides just that:

At Cincinnati, Bill Cunningham, according to the LAT, who "introduced presidential candidate John McCain at a rally here today accused Barack Obama of sympathizing with 'world leaders who want to kill us' and invoked Obama's middle name -- three times calling him 'Barack Hussein Obama.' " John McCain repudiated Cunningham's low tactics and said that using the middle name like that three times was "inappropriate" and would never happen again at one of his rallies.

I want to say something about Barack Hussein Obama's name. It is a name to be proud of. It is an American name. It is a blessed name. It is a heroic name, as heroic and American in its own way as the name of General Omar Nelson Bradley or the name of Benjamin Franklin. And denigrating that name is a form of racial and religious bigotry of the most vile and debased sort. It is a prejudice against names deriving from Semitic languages!

Christian, Western heroes have often been bequeathed Middle Eastern names. Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, the medieval Spanish hero, carried the name El Cid, from the Arabic al-Sayyid, "the lord."

Barack and Hussein are Semitic words. Americans have been named with Semitic names since the founding of the Republic. Fourteen of our 43 presidents have had Semitic names (see below). And, American English contains many Arabic-derived words that we use every day and without which we would be much impoverished. America is a world civilization with a world heritage, something Cunninghamism will never understand.

Barack is a Semitic word meaning "to bless" as a verb or "blessing" as a noun. In its Hebrew form, barak, it is found all through the Bible. It first occurs in Genesis 1:22: "And God blessed (
āreə ) them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth."

Here is a list of how many times barak appears in each book of the Bible.

Now let us take the name "Hussein." It is from the Semitic word, hasan, meaning "good" or "handsome." Husayn is the diminutive, affectionate form.

Barack Obama's middle name is in honor of his grandfather, Hussein, a secular resident of Nairobi. Americans may think of Saddam Hussein when they hear the name, but that is like thinking of Stalin when you hear the name Joseph. There have been lots of Husseins in history, from the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, a hero who touched the historian Gibbon, to King Hussein of Jordan, one of America's most steadfast allies in the 20th century. The author of the beloved American novel, The Kite Runner, is Khaled Hosseini.

But in Obama's case, it is just a reference to his grandfather.

It is worth pointing out that John McCain's adopted daughter, Bridget, is originally from Bangladesh. Since Hussein is a very common name in Bangladesh, it is entirely possible that her birth father or grandfather was named Hussein. McCain certainly has Muslim relatives via adoption in his family. If Muslim relatives are a disqualification from high office in the United States, then McCain himself is in trouble. In fact, since Bridget is upset that George W. Bush doesn't like her "because she is black," and used her to stop the McCain campaign in South Carolina in 2000, you understand why McCain would be especially sensitive to race-baiting of Cunningham's sort. The question is how vigorously he will combat it; he hasn't been above Muslim-taunting in the campaign so far. (And, the McCains really should let Bridget know that she is Asian, not "black." The poor girl; Bush and Rove have done a number on her, and Cindy's confusion can't help.)

The other thing to say about grandfathers named Hussein is that very large numbers of African-Americans probably have an ancestor ten or eleven generations ago with that name, in what is now Mali or Senegal or Nigeria. And, since so many thousands of Arab Muslims were made to convert to Catholicism in Spain after 1501, many Latinos have distant ancestors named Hussein, too. In fact, since there was a lot of Arab-Spanish intermarriage, and since there was subsequent Spanish intermarriage with other European Catholics, more European Americans are descended from a Hussein than they realize. The British royal family is quite forthright about the Arab line in their ancestry going back to Andalusia.

Obama, being a cousin of Dick Cheney on one side and having relatives in Kenya on the other, is just more and more typical of the 21st century United States.

So, anyway, Obama's first two names mean "Blessing, the Good." If we are lucky enough to get him for president, we can only hope that his names are prophetic for us.

Which brings me to Omar Bradley. Omar is an alternative spelling of Umar, i.e. Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second caliph of Sunni Islam. Presumably General Bradley was named for the poet Omar Khayyam, who bore the caliph's name. Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat, in the "translation" of Edward FitzGerald, became enormously popular in Victorian America.

Gen. Omar Bradley, who bore a Semitic, Muslim first name, and shared it with the second Caliph of Sunni Islam, was the hero of D-Day and Normandy, of the Battle of the Bulge and the Ruhr.

Would Mr. Cunningham see Omar Bradley as un-American, as an enemy because of his name?

What about other American heroes, such as Gen. George Joulwan, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Europe? "Joulwan" is an Arabic name. Or there is Gen. John Abizaid, former CENTCOM commander. Abizaid is an Arabic name. Abi means Abu or "father of," and Zaid is a common Arab first name. Is Cunningham good enough to wipe their shoes? Is he going to call them traitors because they have Arabic names?

What about Congressman Darrell Issa of California? ("`Isa" means Jesus in Arabic). Former cabinet secretary Donna Shalala? (Shalala means "waterfall" in Arabic).

I won't go into all the great Americans with Arabic names in sports, entertainment and business, against whom Cunningham would apparently discriminate on that basis. Does he want to take citizenship away from Kareem Abdul Jabbar [meaning "noble the servant of the Mighty"] and Ahmad Jamal [meaning "the most praised, beauty"]? What about Rihanna ["sweet basil," "aromatic"]? Tony Shalhoub [i.e. Mr. Monk]?

Let us take Benjamin Franklin. His first name is from the Hebrew Bin Yamin, the son of the Right (hand), or son of strength, or the son of the South (yamin or right has lots of connotations). The "Bin" means "son of," just as in modern colloquial Arabic. Bin Yamin Franklin is not a dishonorable name because of its Semitic root. By the way, there are lots of Muslims named Bin Yamin.

As for an American president bearing a name derived from a Semitic language, that is hardly unprecedented.

John Adams really only had Semitic names. His first name is from the Hebrew Yochanan, or gift of God, which became Johan and then John. (In German and in medieval English, "y" is represented by "j" but was originally pronounced "y".) Adams is from the biblical Adam, which also just means "human being." In Arabic, one way of saying "human being" is "Bani Adam," the children of men.

Thomas Jefferson's first name is from the Aramaic Tuma, meaning "twin." Aramaic is a Semitic language spoken by Jesus, which is related to Hebrew and Arabic. In Arabic twin is tau'am, so you can see the similarity.

James Madison, James Monroe and James Polk all had a Semitic first name, derived from the Hebrew Ya'aqov or Jacob, which is Ya`qub in Arabic. It became Iacobus in Latin, then was corrupted to Iacomus, and from there became James in English.

Zachary Taylor's first name is from the Hebrew Zachariah, which means "the Lord has remembered."

Abraham Lincoln, of course is, named for the patriarch Abraham, from the Semitic word for father, Ab, and the word for "multitude," raham,. Abu, "father of," is a common element in Arab names today.

So, Mr. Cunningham, Barack Hussein Obama fits right in this list of presidents with Semitic names. In fact, we haven't had one for a while. We are due for another one.

A blessed and good one.

Republicans for Obama

“Obamacans” (i.e., Republicans for Obama) is one of the more interesting phenomena of this 2008 Presidential campaign. Senator Barack Obama has made a calculated risk by transcending partisanship in the highly partisan party nominating process and has developed a following of Obama Republicans similar to the Reagan Democrats of the 1980’s. There was a story about them in the L.A. Times earlier this week and they even have a website. It not only will be an important factor in Obama’s eventual success in getting elected but is a sign of how he will govern successfully in the White House.

Here is Jon Weiner on the Obama Republicans:
Reagan Democrats played a key role in electing a new present in 1980; now Obama Republicans seem to be emerging as a significant political force - at least in the primaries.

In the Wisconsin primary, almost nine per cent of Obama's vote came from Republicans, according to exit polls. Other states that permitted Republicans to vote in the Democratic primary include Virginia, where almost seven per cent of Obama's support came from Republicans - and the Democrats dream of carrying Republican Virginia in the fall. In Missouri, almost six per cent of Obama's support came from Republicans. Missouri is a key swing state that has voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1904 except one.

The next state where Republicans are permitted to vote in the Democratic primary is Texas.

The Republicans-for-Obama phenomenon is a response in part to the Illinois senator's speech about transcending partisanship - a speech which is not just a naive expression of sentiment, but rather a calculated political tactic aimed at winning independents and Republicans. Many middle-of-the-road Republicans voted for Bush because he claimed to be a "compassionate conservative"; many of them are appalled by the war and concerned about the environment; some of them support gay rights and access to abortion.

A few big-name Republicans have led the move to Obama, including Rhode Island's former senator Lincoln Chafee, a well-known as a moderate; he was defeated in 2004, and Obama campaigned for his opponent. Other Republicans for Obama include Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the president, and Tom Bernstein, a longtime Bush fund-raiser - he was co-owner of the Texas Rangers with Bush.

"Republicans for Obama" has a website and a string of favorable press clips, including a feature story on Monday on page one of the LA Times . At one Obama phone bank in Ohio, the Times reported, four of the 13 volunteers were lifelong Republicans. One of them, Josh Pedaline, 28, who voted for Bush twice, said "I'm a conservative, but I have gay friends. . . I don't feel like Obama is condemning me for being a Republican."

The Austin American-Statesman ran a story on Monday headlined "Obama campaign attracting disenchanted Republicans; 'Obamacans' could be out in force for the Texas open primary on March 4." The Texas paper quoted Jack Holt, a former marine and lifelong Republican who supported Bush and McCain the past, saying "The Republican Party has become so ugly and so arrogant, I don't want to have any part of it."


… small numbers can be significant, as we learned in Florida in 2000. Obama is far more likely to win Republican votes in November than Clinton. John Zogby, the pollster, told the Austin Statesman, "There really is such a thing as an Obama Republican. This group tends to be politically moderate, tired of bickering and even more tired of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. It is part of the unique appeal that Obama has among centrist voters, independent thinkers and those concerned with America's image overseas."

Obama himself often talks about his Republican supporters in campaign rallies. "They whisper to me. They say, 'Barack, I'm a Republican, but I support you.' And I say, 'Thank you. Why are we whispering?'"

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Joe Henderson: “Take the A Train”

This is Joe Henderson (1937-2001) on the tenor saxophone playing “Take the A Train” backed up by Bheki Mseleku on piano, George Mraz on bass, and Al Foster on drums.

Has Hillary Clinton become the new Hubert Humphrey?

Hubert Humphrey was one of the Democratic Party’s liberal young Turks during the 1940’s and 1950’s as mayor of Minneapolis and Senator of Minnesota. It was during this time he helped found the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and Americans for Democratic Action. By 1964 he joined the party establishment, as Lyndon Johnson’s vice president and defender of the war in Vietnam. In 1968 he lost the election to the White House despite switching positions on the war. By the 1970’s had become very much part of the party’s out-of-touch Old Guard.

Of course the country would be differnt and better off had Humphrey been elected in 1968 but a big factor in that loss was his identification with the party's establishment and his tendacy later in his political life to try to shift back and forth on issues such as the Vietnam war. By 1972 he was willing to change the rules of the nominating process after the California primary to advance his own campaign. The price he paid was his credibility and the price the country paid was Richard Nixon.

Senator Clinton seems to be following a similar path as rebel turned establishment figure turned irrelevant Old Guard. Senator Clinton also once represented a freshness that has long become stale. She advocates changing the rules of the nominating process (Michigan and Florida) after the primaries to advance her own campaign. The price she has paid is her credibility. What price will the country pay if she is nominated?

Bruce J. Schulman has these thoughts in the Washington Independent:
As Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) girds for the March 4 Ohio and Texas primaries—races that could mark her last stand in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination—her candidacy represents a surprising turnaround. As an operative in George S. McGovern’s 1972 insurgent campaign, Clinton embodied the reform agenda that McGovern championed: an effort to strip union and elected officials of their influence in the Democratic Party; to open the presidential selection process to previously underrepresented groups, and to replace the nuts-and-bolts deal-making and backroom horse-trading of party bosses with a “New Politics” based on visionary commitments to transform the fundamental rules of public life.

A generation later, McGovern still admires—and recently endorsed—the activist who staffed his campaign. But oddly, Clinton seems to have morphed into 21st-century version of the Old Guard that opposed McGovern. The ABM—“Anyone But McGovern”—campaign failed in 1972. It could not resist a generational shift in the Democratic Party and a sea-change in the way that national politics was conducted, even though McGovern’s opponents nearly succeeded with a last-ditch effort to change the delegate selection rules after the fact.

Clinton now seems to resemble no one so much as Minnesota Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, the ex-vice president and honored Democratic warhorse who opposed McGovern. She has become the candidate of the unions and major party officials. A long-time champion of liberal causes, Humphrey had once been the Democrat’s young Turk whose passionate speech in favor of civil rights threw the 1948 convention into an uproar. He would eventually steer the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the Senate. But by 1972, the “happy warrior” represented the party establishment that youthful activists like HillaryRodham Clinton were determined to push aside.

Will Clinton also pursue a desperate strategy to stop her opponent? Will she become victim of the same generational politics she once championed?

In Texas and especially Ohio, Clinton has embraced Humphrey’s 1972 strategy. Like her predecessor, Clinton derides her opponent’s fancy rhetoric and dismisses his plans to broaden the electorate, while emphasizing her long experience in government, her mastery of policy details and the concrete aid her programs would offer working Americans. Just as party officials like Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and union leaders like AFL-CIO President George Meany rallied to Humphrey’s standard in a last-ditch effort to derail McGovern, so the party’s current old guard is campaigning for Clinton. Former House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and International Assn. of Machinists President Tom Buffenbarger are stumping for Clinton in Ohio, mocking Sen. Barack Obama’s pledges to change the tone of national politics. “Voters are not into highfalutin rhetoric,” Gephardt warned. “They’re into real solutions to real problems.”

If the contest remains close, the Clinton campaign has signaled a willingness to fight for the seating of delegates from Michigan and Florida—two states that the Democratic National Committee had stripped of their votes at the party’s nominating convention for violating rules about when to schedule their primary elections.Obama did not contest those states.

With such a move, Clinton would steal a page from Humphrey’s 1972 playbook. Even though McGovern’s victory in the winner-take-all California primary guaranteed his nomination, Humphrey tried to block it by getting the party to change the rules after the fact and allocate California’s delegates proportionally according to the percentage of the vote each candidate had tallied.

That gambit failed, as did the effort of Humphrey and his party and labor allies to forestall the changing of the guard in Democratic Party counsels. Though McGovern lost badly in the general election, and the party took steps—like the creation of superdelegates—to rein in future insurgent campaigns, the cat was already out of the bag. A host of young McGovernites—Bill and Hillary Clinton, Gary Hart, John Podesta, Gene Sperling, Bob Shrum—would become the party’s new face. They represented a Democratic base increasingly populated by relatively affluent, issue-oriented activists rather than union labor and machine politicians; a party far more skeptical of U.S. military power than Cold War Democrats like John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Humphrey had been.

The McGovern team—Hillary Clinton among them—also mastered a new style of politics. It took advantage of a nominating process that placed new importance on winning favorable press coverage and mobilizing voters in a vastly expanded set of primaries, instead of relying on endorsements from elected officials and get-out-the-vote efforts by union leaders. Theirs was a largely symbolic campaign. Like Obama’s , it was grounded in McGovern’s opposition to a continuing foreign war, to the enthusiasm of young Americans voting for the first time and especially, to a commitment to restore honor and decency to American politics.

“Today,” McGovern declared in 1972, “our citizens no longer feel that they can shape their own lives in concert with their fellow citizens. Beyond that is the loss of confidence in the truthfulness and common sense of our leaders.” His campaign offered change—and hope.

During the Clinton presidency of the 1990s, the Democrats who cut their political teeth on McGovern’s 1972 campaign understood the potency of such an approach. They never forgot the concrete policies, particularly in times of economic distress, but they understood the powerful forces that had made old-style bread-and-butter politics obsolete; that a new generation of voters sought a different kind of nourishment from public life. They drove out politicians like Humphrey—in a final indignity, at the 1980 Democratic convention, President Jimmy Carter had mistakenly referred to the recently deceased former party champion as “Hubert Horatio Hornblower.” In doing so, they ushered in the era of the Clintons.

Now, Hillary Clinton appears to be playing the Humphrey role in this year’s presidential campaign. Much is still to be decided, but she may well be headed for a similar fate.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ralph Nader, again!

Perennial presidential candidate Ralph Nader is once again a candidate for, you guessed it, the presidency. Mr. Nader has run for president every election starting in 1992. His most notable run was in 2000 when the handful of votes he received may very well have been a factor (among others) that helped put George W. Bush in the White House.

Marc Cooper has these thoughts on Mr. Nader:
Nader's anti-corporate message should not be shrugged off nor should his commitment to raise all of the issues that make most politicians of both parties squirm. "You take that framework of people feeling locked out, shut out, marginalized, disrespected," he said in announcing his candidacy on Sunday. "You go from Iraq, to Palestine/Israel, from Enron to Wall Street, from Katrina to the bungling of the Bush administration, to the complicity of the Democrats in not stopping him on the war, stopping him on the tax cuts."

Great message, Ralph. But absolutely no strategy. Politics is all about perception, and the perception of Nader's first run, fairly or not, was that of a tragedy. His redux in 2004 was more of a farce. His run this time will be doomed to be pathetic. It will accomplish absolutely nothing except to diminish Nader's own towering record as a citizens' advocate and to marginalize the crucial issues he raises.

In 2000, running as a Green candidate, Nader scored less than 3% of the vote. He left behind no infrastructure, no organization, no network of any significance. All that marked his legacy was a mountain of bitterness and recrimination. Four years later, in the middle of the Bush catastrophe and with the Democrats fielding a candidate equally lame to Gore, Nader was able to attract a flyspeck .3% of the vote - a tenth of what he garnered in 2000.

What does Nader expect this time around? He has no funding, no party structure behind him, and no rational way of explaining of what he could possibly accomplish. More disturbing, he has no visible constituency. The overwhelming bulk of what might be called the Nader Vote has been swept into the vortex of the Obama campaign. Nader can make the argument, if he wishes, that Obama is just one more corporate sell-out but it is unlikely that the millions who have flocked to Obama are all of a sudden going to be jolted into an about face that because Nader will appear on the ballot.

Nader is far too smart a man to know that he has any chance of winning anything. What he, and whatever few supporters who will join him, will argue is that by running he will somehow force Obama - or Hillary if she wins the nomination--to move to the left. This is, of course, nonsense. All of the factors that contributed to Nader's dismal finish in 2004 are many times more potent this cycle. His candidacy will force nothing, except the voters to view Nader as some sort of bizarre spectacle. The competing candidates will see him as little more than a nuisance.

It doesn't have to be this way. Ralph Nader could play an essential and productive role between now and November without sacrificing neither his independence nor his principles. One could imagine a rolling, coast-to-coast chataqua over this coming summer during which Nader, precisely, would keep alive any and all of the issues neglected by the mainstream debate. It could be a role of great import and great dignity. Why Nader, instead, has chosen to further marginalize himself and his agenda is way beyond me.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Obama v. Clinton: The gap in hard work between the two campaigns has become very clear

The campaign on behalf of Senator Hillary Clinton for President has been quite remarkable. This is the campaign that had going for it the name recognition, money, poll numbers, party establishment backing and a custom-made front loaded nomination process structured to favor the front runner. This was the campaign for the “inevitable” nominee who would be ready on day one to assume the responsibilities of administration of this nation’s affairs. The outcome was so obvious there was no need for a “Plan B.”

Yet, the campaign came more to resemble the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. Early advantages were quickly squandered and there was no planning for what should have been a foreseeable opposition. Senator Clinton’s campaign has shown itself to be nothing less than totally incompetent. Keeping in mind that an electoral campaign is the first public test of a future administration, this does not bode well for the party or the country should she win the nomination.

These are Frank Rich’s observations in today’s New York Times:

WHEN people one day look back at the remarkable implosion of the Hillary Clinton campaign, they may notice that it both began and ended in the long dark shadow of Iraq.

It’s not just that her candidacy’s central premise — the priceless value of “experience” — was fatally poisoned from the start by her still ill-explained vote to authorize the fiasco. Senator Clinton then compounded that 2002 misjudgment by pursuing a 2008 campaign strategy that uncannily mimicked the disastrous Bush Iraq war plan. After promising a cakewalk to the nomination — “It will be me,” Mrs. Clinton told Katie Couric in November — she was routed by an insurgency.

The Clinton camp was certain that its moneyed arsenal of political shock-and-awe would take out Barack Hussein Obama in a flash. The race would “be over by Feb. 5,” Mrs. Clinton assured George Stephanopoulos just before New Year’s. But once the Obama forces outwitted her, leaving her mission unaccomplished on Super Tuesday, there was no contingency plan. She had neither the boots on the ground nor the money to recoup.

That’s why she has been losing battle after battle by double digits in every corner of the country ever since. And no matter how much bad stuff happened, she kept to the Bush playbook, stubbornly clinging to her own Rumsfeld, her chief strategist, Mark Penn. Like his prototype, Mr. Penn is bigger on loyalty and arrogance than strategic brilliance. But he’s actually not even all that loyal. Mr. Penn, whose operation has billed several million dollars in fees to the Clinton campaign so far, has never given up his day job as chief executive of the public relations behemoth Burson-Marsteller. His top client there, Microsoft, is simultaneously engaged in a demanding campaign of its own to acquire Yahoo.

Clinton fans don’t see their standard-bearer’s troubles this way. In their view, their highly substantive candidate was unfairly undone by a lightweight showboat who got a free ride from an often misogynist press and from naïve young people who lap up messianic language as if it were Jim Jones’s Kool-Aid. Or as Mrs. Clinton frames it, Senator Obama is all about empty words while she is all about action and hard work.

But it’s the Clinton strategists, not the Obama voters, who drank the Kool-Aid. The Obama campaign is not a vaporous cult; it’s a lean and mean political machine that gets the job done. The Clinton camp has been the slacker in this race, more words than action, and its candidate’s message, for all its purported high-mindedness, was and is self-immolating.

The gap in hard work between the two campaigns was clear well before Feb. 5. Mrs. Clinton threw as much as $25 million at the Iowa caucuses without ever matching Mr. Obama’s organizational strength. In South Carolina, where last fall she was up 20 percentage points in the polls, she relied on top-down endorsements and the patina of inevitability, while the Obama campaign built a landslide-winning organization from scratch at the grass roots. In Kansas, three paid Obama organizers had the field to themselves for three months; ultimately Obama staff members outnumbered Clinton staff members there 18 to 3.

In the last battleground, Wisconsin, the Clinton campaign was six days behind Mr. Obama in putting up ads and had only four campaign offices to his 11. Even as Mrs. Clinton clings to her latest firewall — the March 4 contests — she is still being outhustled. Last week she told reporters that she “had no idea” that the Texas primary system was “so bizarre” (it’s a primary-caucus hybrid), adding that she had “people trying to understand it as we speak.” Perhaps her people can borrow the road map from Obama’s people. In Vermont, another March 4 contest, The Burlington Free Press reported that there were four Obama offices and no Clinton offices as of five days ago. For what will no doubt be the next firewall after March 4, Pennsylvania on April 22, the Clinton campaign is sufficiently disorganized that it couldn’t file a complete slate of delegates by even an extended ballot deadline.

This is the candidate who keeps telling us she’s so competent that she’ll be ready to govern from Day 1. Mrs. Clinton may be right that Mr. Obama has a thin résumé, but her disheveled campaign keeps reminding us that the biggest item on her thicker résumé is the health care task force that was as botched as her presidential bid.


As for countering what she sees as the empty Obama brand of hope, she offers only a chilly void: Abandon hope all ye who enter here. This must be the first presidential candidate in history to devote so much energy to preaching against optimism, against inspiring language and — talk about bizarre — against democracy itself. No sooner does Mrs. Clinton lose a state than her campaign belittles its voters as unrepresentative of the country.

Bill Clinton knocked states that hold caucuses instead of primaries because “they disproportionately favor upper-income voters” who “don’t really need a president but feel like they need a change.” After the Potomac primary wipeout, Mr. Penn declared that Mr. Obama hadn’t won in “any of the significant states” outside of his home state of Illinois. This might come as news to Virginia, Maryland, Washington and Iowa, among the other insignificant sites of Obama victories. The blogger Markos Moulitsas Zúniga has hilariously labeled this Penn spin the “insult 40 states” strategy.

The insults continued on Tuesday night when a surrogate preceding Mrs. Clinton onstage at an Ohio rally, Tom Buffenbarger of the machinists’ union, derided Obama supporters as “latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust-fund babies.” Even as he ranted, exit polls in Wisconsin were showing that Mr. Obama had in fact won that day among voters with the least education and the lowest incomes. Less than 24 hours later, Mr. Obama received the endorsement of the latte-drinking Teamsters.

If the press were as prejudiced against Mrs. Clinton as her campaign constantly whines, debate moderators would have pushed for the Clinton tax returns and the full list of Clinton foundation donors to be made public with the same vigor it devoted to Mr. Obama’s “plagiarism.” And it would have showered her with the same ridicule that Rudy Giuliani received in his endgame. With 11 straight losses in nominating contests, Mrs. Clinton has now nearly doubled the Giuliani losing streak (six) by the time he reached his Florida graveyard. But we gamely pay lip service to the illusion that she can erect one more firewall.


What’s next? Despite Mrs. Clinton’s valedictory tone at Thursday’s debate, there remains the fear in some quarters that whether through sleights of hand involving superdelegates or bogus delegates from Michigan or Florida, the Clintons might yet game or even steal the nomination. I’m starting to wonder. An operation that has waged political war as incompetently as the Bush administration waged war in Iraq is unlikely to suddenly become smart enough to pull off that duplicitous a “victory.” Besides, after spending $1,200 on Dunkin’ Donuts in January alone, this campaign simply may not have the cash on hand to mount a surge.

You can read the entire article here.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross (1959)

This is Lambert, Hendricks & Ross performing scat singing in 1959 backed up by the Count Basie rhythm section. In vocal jazz, scat singing is vocal improvisation with nonsense words and syllables or without words at all. Scat singing gives singers the ability to sing improvised melodies and rhythms, to create the equivalent of an instrumental solo using their voice.

The trio was formed by jazz vocalists Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross. The three worked together as a vocalese group between 1957 and 1962. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross were voted Best Vocal Group in the Down Beat Readers Poll from 1959 to 1963.

Former Mossad chief advocates talks with Hamas

Efraim Halevy has worked for the Mossad for 28 years serving three Israeli prime ministers as chief of the national intelligence service. He is known as a hawk but also as a pragmatist. He believes Israel should take up Hamas’s offer of a long-term truce and try negotiating.

Below is an excerpt of an interview with Mr. Halevy by Laura Rozen appearing in Mother Jones magazine:

Mother Jones: Mr. Halevy, in your memoir you make clear your belief that Europe, and to a lesser extent the United States, have not fully come to terms with the national security threats posed by Islamic militancy and terrorism. Yet you've also said it would be a grave mistake for the West to treat all Islamist terrorist groups the same way, and argued that Israel should have some sort of process for talking with Hamas. If the West, led by Washington, continues to shun Hamas as an illegitimate terrorist group, do you see a risk that the group could take on a more nihilistic type of violence, a la al Qaeda?

Efraim Halevy: Hamas is not al Qaeda and, indeed, al Qaeda has condemned them time and time again. Hamas may from time to time have tactical, temporary contact with al Qaeda, but in essence they are deadly adversaries. The same goes for Iran. Hamas receives funds, support, equipment, and training from Iran, but is not subservient to Tehran. A serious effort to dialogue indirectly with them could ultimately drive a wedge between them.

MJ: Why do you think Israel and Washington should talk with Hamas?

EH: Hamas has, unfortunately, demonstrated that they are more credible and effective as a political force inside Palestinian society than Fatah, the movement founded by [former Palestinian Authority president] Yassir Arafat, which is now more than ever discredited as weak, enormously corrupt and politically inept.

[Hamas has] pulled off three "feats" in recent years in conditions of great adversity. They won the general elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006; they preempted a Fatah design to wrest control of Gaza from them in 2007; and they broke out of a virtual siege that Israel imposed upon them in January 2008. In each case, they affected a strategic surprise upon all other players in the region and upon the United States, and in each case, no effective counter strategy mounted by the US and Israel proved effective.

Security in the West Bank is assured not by the fledgling and ineffective security forces of Abu Mazen now undergoing training once again by American-led instructors. It is the nightly incursions of the Israeli Defense Forces into the West Bank, their superior intelligence, together with that of the Israel Security Agency that does the job.

Current strategy in the West Bank to forge a credible Palestinian security capacity is floundering; indeed, several of the deaths of Israelis at the hands of West Bank terrorists were perpetrated by none other than members of the units under the command of Abu Mazen.

It makes sense to approach a possible initial understanding including Hamas—but not exclusively Hamas—at a time when they are still asking for one. No side will gain from a flare up leading to Israel re-entering the Gaza strip in strength to undo the ill-fated unilateral disengagement of 2005.

MJ: Should Hamas be required to recognize Israel's right to exist before Israel would talk with it?

EH: Israel has been successful in inflicting very serious losses upon Hamas in both Gaza and the West Bank and this has certainly had an effect on Hamas, who are now trying to get a "cease fire." But this has not cowed them into submission and into accepting the three-point diktat that the international community has presented to them: to recognize Israel's right to exist; to honor all previous commitments of the Palestinian Authority; and to prevent all acts of violence against Israel and Israelis. The last two conditions are, without doubt, sine qua non. The first demands an a priori renunciation of ideology before contact is made. Such a demand has never been made before either to an Arab state or to the Palestinian Liberation Organization/Fatah. There is logic in the Hamas' position that ideological "conversion" is the endgame and not the first move in a negotiation.


MJ: Again and again, Israel and Washington too have tried to engineer which Palestinians would come to power, to whom they would speak or recognize, etc. Is this itself problematic? Should the West step back from trying to manipulate internal Palestinian politics?

EH: Yes, for two reasons. First, is the sovereign right of Palestinians to decide who their leadership should be. I think that is the basis of democracy. More than that, it is the best possible way in my opinion for a country or society to determine how it wants to be governed and how it wants to be lead. And second, so far it must be admitted that attempts to do this [manipulate internal Palestinian politics] have not succeeded. After all, in the final analysis, it would not be possible to create and fashion a leadership from without.

MJ: It's not just Washington and Israel, but Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas who is asking those countries not to deal with Hamas, but rather strengthen him. So do you think it's more of the same phenomenon if the West then picks Hamas as the more legitimate representation of the Palestinians?

EH: I don't think one or the other are the sole representation. But I think that the way things are at the moment, the two of them have a major role in the leadership of the Palestinian people, and to exclude one and to magnify the other artificially will not lead to a productive outcome.

I don't know whether it is Abu Mazen who is pushing Washington and Israel not to deal with Hamas, or Abu Mazen who is acquiescing to them, or some combination of both. I don't know who the stronger element in this policy is.

There is a triangle of forces: Israel, the Abu Mazen–led group in Ramallah, and the [Bush] administration. They have become mutually interdependent on this policy and one cannot rule without the other two. That's the way it is at the moment.

MJ: You are not optimistic that the current administration will change course?

EH: It appears by all indications that neither Israel nor the United States are prepared to contemplate such a test of alternative strategy. Therefore, what we seem to be in for is a period where Israel will continue to negotiate the details of a permanent settlement to the dispute with a rump Palestinian leadership that has already indicated it will not run for re-election in the upcoming elections in 2009.

You can read the entire interview here.

Which presidential candidate is most likely to be able to heal the rift between the U.S. and much of the rest of the world?

The relationship between the United States and the rest of the world has taken downturn in recent years. The unilateralism of the current administration has only reinforced the fears and suspicions of many nations while alienating allies. As a result, the United States is probably in its weakest position internationally since WW II. This is not good for either the U.S. or the international community.

The next president will have his or her hands full with repairing damage done. Which candidate is best qualified to address not just foreign policy but foreign relations? Hooman Majd has these thoughts in Salon:

… Obama's great potential to connect with the Muslim world, and to change how Muslims perceive the United States, is conspicuously absent from our national debate. A crucial question about who should be the next president is whether Obama, Hillary Clinton or John McCain is most likely to be able to heal the rift between the U.S. and much of the rest of the world, a rift not created but dangerously widened by the administration of George W. Bush. What is abundantly clear now -- at least to many foreigners and particularly to Muslims in the Third World -- is that Barack Obama is the candidate by far the best suited to begin healing that rift and restoring America's global reputation, and perhaps even to begin reversing decades of anti-Americanism. Obama would begin a presidency with a huge advantage in terms of world perception.

Here in America, Obama's personal connection with Islam -- slight as it is in truth -- has provoked some telling atmospherics. His Muslim name, and even his perceived Muslim past -- a fiction peddled by Fox News last year and quickly debunked by other media -- remains an issue for some Americans. Some voters freely (and shamelessly) admit to pollsters that they are "uncomfortable" with a candidate who might have Muslim sympathies or sensitivities. …


While most Americans care little about foreign policy or foreign relations, unless direct risk to American life and limb is involved, how those endeavors apply to the Muslim world will figure more prominently in the general election. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has little else to distinguish himself with than the issue of national security. The war in Iraq will still be destroying American life and limb. And there will still be a sense, here and abroad, that America remains at war with the Muslim world.

If foreign relations are viewed to be as important as foreign policy, as they should be, Hillary Clinton has big weaknesses as a candidate. Her initial, and later revised, support for the war in Iraq leaves her judgment suspect in the eyes of many in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. With the exception of maybe Europe, it is hard to imagine that Clinton will be viewed beyond U.S. shores as much different than any other recent American president when it comes to the dynamic of U.S. relations with the rest of the world. Earlier in the campaign, Clinton mocked Obama's willingness to sit down with foreign adversaries such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, arguing that the "prestige" of the United States would be put at risk by negotiating with such enemies without their meeting pre-conditions. (Clinton has since sought to clarify her position, saying that the U.S. should directly engage in "diplomatic processes" with nations such as Iran and Syria -- but she has not rescinded her position of doing so conditionally.)

Clinton's attack on Obama illustrated that she has very little concept of where American "prestige" currently lies -- namely, in the gutter as far as millions around the world are concerned. Maintaining a unilateral attitude toward U.S. adversaries will be perceived elsewhere as a policy similar to that of President Bush, and will hardly be a step toward improving America's reputation. In effect, Clinton's posture signals to much of the world that although she is smarter, more likable and far less threatening than Bush, U.S. foreign policy under her would continue to be one of arrogance and dominance.

Rightly or wrongly, Obama, who opposed the Iraq war from the start, simply will not be viewed as having the same attitude. This is not just because he's the son of an African immigrant or that he's black, although those elements certainly factor in, but also because he does not come across as (nor is he) someone from the privileged American class who believes America should impose its wishes on the rest of the world.

The most important foreign policy issue of relative concern to Americans may be the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- but in truth, the most important long-term issue, the one that may most affect our standing in the Muslim world, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (President Bush was rather late in recognizing this, and despite some 11th-hour activity is unlikely to succeed in solving the problem at all before leaving office.) Here, Clinton will have little, if any, credibility with Palestinians (or other Muslims) as an impartial broker in any peace process. There are several reasons for this: Many in the Muslim world believe that with the Oslo peace process Bill Clinton tried to force Yasser Arafat to accept a treaty more beneficial to Israelis than Palestinians, and then blamed Arafat unfairly for the failure of the process. There is also suspicion among Muslim leaders and across Arab media of Hillary Clinton's deep ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful conservative lobbying group.

Obama would not carry the same kind of baggage into U.S. attempts at mediation. And the basic perception, right or wrong, of him as someone with sympathies for oppressed people, and for Muslims in particular, will give him a tremendous negotiating advantage, whether with Palestinians, other Arabs or Iranians, for that matter, who largely view themselves as oppressed. There is a natural empathy in the Muslim world for anyone who carries a sacred Muslim name, such as there was for Muhammad Ali (even though his brand of Islam, the Nation of Islam, was as foreign to most Muslims as Mormonism is to mainstream Christianity). But while Muslim and third-world leaders will have little doubt about Obama's allegiance to American principles and American interests (unlike those Americans who might question his loyalties), they also will have little doubt as to his compassion for and understanding of their grievances. They may believe Obama's mantra of "change" even more than Americans do.

Either an Obama-McCain or Clinton-McCain race will be viewed with as much interest around the world, obviously, as it will be in the United States. McCain, honorable though he may be with his many years of service, will be viewed abroad as the candidate representing the belief that America's problems can be solved through military might. He will be viewed as the candidate who believes that America is under threat from what he himself calls "Islamists." With her own record and political history, Clinton will be viewed abroad as someone who is easily willing to resort to force, and who embodies the same foreign policy philosophies -- particularly as they apply to the Middle East -- as every recent president before her. Obama, on the other hand, will be viewed as an American presidential candidate unlike any prior one.

Iran will continue to pose one of the prime foreign policy challenges for the next U.S. president. In Tehran, I know, politicians and ordinary Iranians alike would welcome an Obama presidency -- particularly as Iran's own presidency is up for grabs six months after the next U.S. president takes office. Even Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, may well be looking forward to a day when he has no more excuses to avoid talking to the "Great Satan." In January, he made an unprecedented announcement about relations between Iran and the United States: "Not having relations with America is one of our main policies, but we have never said this relationship should be cut forever," Khamenei said in a speech in the central province of Yazd, as reported by Iranian state television. "Certainly, the day when having relations with America is useful for the nation I will be the first one to approve this relationship."

Even Iran's arch-conservatives have realized that Iran's chronic economic problems as well as its long-term growth, political stability and national security will be better addressed by a thaw and gradual normalization of relations with the world's leading superpower. With Obama as president, the "Great Satan" would surely have to be renamed anyway; Satan, after all, could not have the middle name of Hussein.

While some Americans might be uncomfortable with a President Obama running around the world making deals with what they consider unsavory regimes and characters, perhaps they shouldn't be so worried. If anything, it's the Republicans more than the Democrats who have run around the world in the past making deals with unsavory regimes and characters. (They conveniently just don't call them unsavory at the time, knowing that Americans by and large are incurious about foreign affairs.)

Obama has spoken clearly about his vision for defending American security and interests. "We can create the kind of foreign policy that will make us safe and will lead to renewed respect of America around the world," he reiterated in a speech Tuesday night, at a campaign rally in Houston, Texas. "You know, as your commander in chief, my job will be to keep you safe ... And I will not hesitate to strike against any who would do us harm. I will do whatever is required." That would include hunting down terrorists, securing loose nuclear weapons, and deploying the U.S. military wisely, he said. He further underscored his foreign policy paradigm: "I want to rediscover the power of our diplomacy. I said early in this campaign I would meet not just with our friends, but also with our enemies ... I remember what John F. Kennedy said. He said we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. Strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries, and tell them where America stands, and try to resolve differences without resort to war. And when we do that, I believe the world is waiting. I want to go before the world community and say, 'America's back, and we are ready to lead.'"

Obama has also surrounded himself with capable and respected foreign policy advisors, including seeking advice from a preeminent and forceful U.S. negotiator, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose reputation overseas is less sullied than it is back home. With foreign policy, there is no indication Obama will give away the store or, contrary to what his opponents might charge, that he will be a Chamberlain-like appeaser.

Rather, a President Obama will likely engage the world in the way it should be engaged -- with respect, understanding and a clear sense of purpose. He will be, at the very least, a symbol of what can restore greatness to America -- a greatness that millions of people outside America want to believe in, but have up until now had difficulty reconciling with the facts. From their perspective, if a black son-of-an-immigrant with a Muslim name can become an American president, then anything truly is possible in America. And that's a country that would be very hard to be enemies with.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Iraq: What has the surge accomplished?

While U.S. troops have a tenuous hold on the situation in Baghdad, Iraq is in trouble in the north and south. In the north, Turkey has invaded Kurdistan in pursuit of guerilla fighters with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) but may be on a collision course with Iraqi Kurdish troops. In the south, clashes in Basra have broken out between Iraqi soldiers and offshoots of the Mahdi Army while British troops have come under fire.

The center of the country around Baghdad has seen a decrease in violence in part due to the increase of American troops -- the "surge" -- on the ground in the area. However, while there has been a decrease in fighting in central Iraq progress on political goals and reconstruction has been stalled by weaknesses in U.S. strategy and the ineffectiveness of the government in Baghdad according to a report issued by the General Accounting Office (GAO) to congress. We were told the whole purpose of the “surge” was to buy time for the political work to get done to resolve Iraq’s multiple internal conflicts. While the soldiers have done their part the political leaders in Washington and Baghdad have not done their parts.

And of course, once the Iraq was stabilized American troops were to be brought home and the rebuilding of the armed forces to begin.

The problem is this doesn’t seem to be happening. The relative calm in central Iraq apparently is not sustainable on its own.

Here are Michael Kinsley’s thoughts on the rational of the surge to bring American troops:
…Bush laid down the standard of success when he announced the surge more than a year ago: "If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home." At the time, there were about 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq. Bush proposed to add up to 20,000 troops. Although Bush never made any official promises about a timetable, the surge was generally described as lasting six to eight months.

By last summer, the surge had actually added closer to 30,000 troops, making the total American troop count about 160,000. Today, there are still more than 150,000 American troops in Iraq. The official plan has been to get that number back down to 130,000 by July, and then to keep on going so that there would be about 100,000 American troops in Iraq by the time Bush leaves office. Just lately, though,
Petraeus has come up with another Zen-like idea: He calls it a "pause." And the administration has signed on, meaning that the total number of American troops in Iraq will remain at 130,000 for an undetermined period.

So the best we can hope for, in terms of American troops risking their lives in Iraq, is that there will be just as many in July -- and probably in January, when time runs out -- as there were a year ago. The surge will have surged in and surged out, leaving us back where we started. Maybe the situation in Baghdad, or the whole country, will have improved. But apparently it won't have improved enough to risk an actual reduction in the American troop commitment.

And consider how modest the administration's standard of success has become. Can there be any doubt that it would go for a reduction to 100,000 troops -- and claim victory -- if it had any confidence at all that the gains it brags about would hold at that level of support? The proper comparison isn't with the situation a year ago. It's with the situation before we got there.

Imagine that you had been told in 2003 that when George W. Bush finished his second term, dozens of American soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis would be dying violently every month; that a major American goal would be getting the Iraqi government to temper its "de-Baathification" campaign so that Saddam Hussein's former henchmen could start running things again (because they know how); and "only" 100,000 American troops would be needed to sustain this equilibrium.
Or as Colonel Douglas Macgregor has put it:
The trouble is that the war's rationale has become circular -- "success" means success at putting the military engagement on a sustainable basis. We're fighting for the ability to keep on fighting. But sustaining that posture keeps making the United States and our position in the world as a whole weaker and weaker.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thelonious Monk: “Epistrophy” (1966)

Here is Thelonius Monk (1917-1982) playing “Epistrophy” in Denmark in 1966.

Monk was a jazz pianist and composer regarded as one of the founders of bebop although his playing style evolved in different directions. His compositions and improvisations are full of dissonant harmonies and angular melodic twists, and are impossible to separate from Monk's unorthodox approach to the piano, which combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of silences and hesitations.

You can see him perform “Blue Monk” here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Generatión Y blogs on Castro’s exit

Yoani Sánchez is a Cuban blogger writing for Generatión Y. The “Y” is a reference to the popularity of Russian-influenced names starting with Y for those born in the 1970’s and 1980’s when Russian culture was in vogue in Cuba. These same young Cubans then came of age following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Cuban economy. Their personal experiences were quite different from generation that lived through the revolution and creation of the post-revolution Cuban state.

The Internet is tightly controlled in Cuban but a very small number of people have found ways to access outside Internet sources denied to the Cuban population. It is not without risk that they voice opinions contrary to the official truths of the state.

This is Yoani Sánchez’s post (via Salon) following the announcement of the retirement of Fidel Castro – the only person she or her parents have known as president of the island nation. The post is following by comments. (If you are fluent in Spanish, you can read the original post plus all the comments here.)
I haven't been able to get any sleep since three in the morning. The phone began to ring minutes after Granma's webpage published Fidel Castro's latest reflections. I haven't been able to go back to bed since then. It's hard to think with any clarity when I've been up all night, especially since I'm still in the "pinch me to make sure I'm awake" stage. My friends don't help much either, since they assault me with questions, as if anyone on this island could have "answers" to anything.

I have lived all my life with the same president. And not just me, but my mom and dad too -- they were born in '57 and '54 respectively -- they don't remember any president other than the one who resigned today. Various generations of Cubans have never been asked who would govern them. Although we don't have much doubt today of who will be next to occupy the highest office, at least it appears that one person will definitely not be it. Just like in those Alfred Hitchcock (suspense) films, we've now found out, just five days before the elections, that our disciplined representatives (in the General Assembly) will be facing a different ballot, that they will not have to put their mark next to the same candidate's name as always.

Even though I'm exhausted from lack of sleep, I understand that today marks the closing of a circle. It's important to ask whether the new one that also opens today will carry our names, our hopes, or if it will take another 50 years.

For the time being, I close my eyes, and already I feel lighter.


El Marques de Santa Lucia wrote:

Feb 19, 2008 - 21:07

Thanks, Yoa, what joy, I see that you're reacting to our times!!! You say, "they don't remember any president other than the one who resigned today."

Fidel has resigned from two posts: Commander in chief of the army and President of the Council of State, but he hasn't addressed the other two offices he holds, President of the Council of Ministers and First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party.

But it's probably best to sit back and see what happens, cautiously.

Yoarky wrote:

February 19, 2008 -- 21:39

It would be a real shame if Cubans didn't take advantage of this opportunity.

We must take advantage of this fact or there'll be another five decades of the same thing, just accompanied by something else!

ali wrote:

February 19, 2008 -- 21:40

This is a new era for our country. A new era in which uncertainty reigns. We cannot allow that, instead of building a a glorious future for our country, power is simply handed over without our people having a real voice or vote. Pray to God that information reaches the people of Cuba, because it's the only way we'll be free.

Patomas wrote:

February 19, 2008 -- 21:43

Forget it, dear, and sleep tight. So long as Fidel is alive not a single comma in the script will be changed. Raul already said this 18 months ago, that it would be that way out of respect to his brother, and he's not going to be repeating it now and again. He said it, and that's it.

Gabriel wrote:

February 19, 2008 -- 22:31

Personally, I could care less about the unnamed one's retirement.

It's been a long time since he's been relevant; the only truly relevant ones here are the Cuban people, because the future of Cuba is in their hands.

With the unnamed one or without him, Cuba will change, not when the government wants it to, but rather when enough Cubans dare to openly show their discontent with the current situation.

We're waiting for that moment to arrive.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dave Brubeck Quartet: “St Louis Blues” (1961)

This is the Dave Brubeck Quartet performing the “St. Louis Blues” on a tour in the Netherlands in 1961.

Dave Brubeck born in 1920 is one of the most well-known jazz pianists of all time. The classic Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring Paul Desmond on the alto saxophone lasted for 17 years. The two other members of the quartet were Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums.

You can see the Dave Brubeck Quartet here play one of their best known recordings, “Take Five.”