30 June 2011

Movie Review: Promises-The Film

Promises  (2001) is an Emmy award winning documentary film by co-directors B.Z. Goldberg and Justine Shapiro that focuses on seven children living in a sundry of situations for several years (1997-2000) in a sundry of situations in and around Jerusalem.  The concept for Promises seems akin to a Holy Land version of famous British documentary Seven Up! (1964). Promises deliberately eschewed politics as much as possible trying to show how kids from different sides of the border grow up in the turbulent territory.

Promises was quite successful in depicting the variety of living situations in and around Jerusalem which informs their upbringing.  Twin secular bourgeois Jewish boys living in West Jerusalem might be mistaken for being in the San Fernando valley, except they rely on buses and the street signage uses unusual script fonts.  The two Palestinian children living in the Deheishe  live in crowded, modest and battled scared circumstance which one might expect from a fifty year old refugee camp in the West Bank.  The young Israeli settlers living at the Beth El settlement in the West Bank seem to grow up in a Zionist version of Fort Apache The Bronx.  The ultra orthodox son of a rabbi living in the Old City and the Palestinian youth living in East Jerusalem grow up among the history of the Holy City as well as its long help mutual antipathies. 

Reality television shows such as Survivor can be fascinating studies of humanity since prolonged exposure to the camera prompts participants to drop their external guise which reveals who they really are.  The Promises film-makers spent prolonged periods befriending their subjects to win their trust.  Once the kids quit playing to the camera, their guileless portraits 

It was interesting to see that there was not uniformity of perspectives even among co-religionists. The secular twins were uncomfortable approaching the Wailing Wall at the Temple Mount since the Orthodox Judaism on display seemed unfamiliar and uncomfortable.  Mouhamad, the Palestinian permanent resident of East Jerusalem voiced Arab triumphalism over Israel, yet he seemed to think that they could live as dhimmi. However, those being raised in Hamas dominated West Bank Palestinian refugee camps initially parroted the equivalent of drive the Jews into the sea.

Growing up around a contested city that is the center of three major monotheistic religions forces you to grow up fast.  The West Bank twins interests revolved around volleyball, but even at a young age they contemplate which bus line is more prone to being blown up in terrorist attacks. The kids from Deheishe strive to play sports and do dance, but the are mentally scared by a young chum was gunned down by the IDF for throwing stones during an intifada. Moishe, the Zionist Israeli Settler, had to process the murder of a friend and his mother at the hands of a car bomb.  Being acutely aware of your mortality as a minor is a sharp contrast to American suburban youth who might pine for Justin Bieber tickets or follow their favorite sports teams.

The film does present some lighter moments.  The young girl who shares her jejune dream of how she will spend the Sabbath when she grows up while she struggles with unstacking plastic chairs is precious. The Palestinian Camp boy’s precocious grooming procedure when he was preparing for guests was unintentionally comical.  And the ad libbed Palestinian/Orthodox burping contest in the Old City showed how kids can still be kids.

It seems that Promises evolved from being post Oslo Accord portraits of the children of war  to being people to people diplomacy.  When some of the kids expressed interest in Goldberg’s subjects on the other side of the tracks, the film focused on the meeting, the discovery of commonality, exchanging ideas and the aftermath.  The Kumbaya focus does not don rose colored glasses and has honorable intentions , but the evolving point of view documentary style to me gives short shrift to the religious.

Steven Reich’s minimalist opera The Cave successfully created a multi-media opera which explored the roots of Judaism, Islam and Christianity by asking  Israelis, Palestinians and Americans questions about the Patriarchs interwoven with passages from the Torah and the Koran. In Promises, pre-pubescent kids are asked  theologically laced questions about their homeland which inspired some revealing yet puerile replies.  Moishe, the Zionist kid, searches through his familial Torah scrolls for the Genesis passage where Yahweh eternally gave Abraham the land of Israel.  Mohamad cites the Koranic claim that the Prophet Muhammad traveled to the furthest mosque “al Aqksa” in Jerusalem before taking the stairway to heaven, thus the land was promised to Muslims.   Shlomo, the Orthodox rabbi’s son, tries to justify the land of Israel.  While these scenes show faithfulness and explain their apartheid, the film fully concentrates on secular attempts bridge building.

Although there was only a cursory presentation of Israeli education, in the form of bobbing boys memorizing the Torah that has become familiar in scenes from Moslem Madrassas, the Palestinian indoctrination of victimhood was quite clear.  The cultural events at the Palestinian Refugee Camp are supposed to glorify perseverance over adversity in preserving their culture but devolve into blood thirsty lyrics praising martyrdom.  The Palestinian classroom seen inculcating the primacy of Moslems in Jerusalem.  But the teaching therapy of allowing students to draw their victimhood fosters the rage that encourages the Intifada.

The documentarians had several instances of inserting themselves into the picture.  To illustrate the land that residents from the Deheishe Refuge Camp lost after the 1948 war, director Godlberg drove Faraj and his grandmother through Israeli checkpoints to visit the ruins of their abandoned village. At the time, the boy seemed more intent on finding the trashed door which fit his oversized key. Later, the key is a featured prop for demonstrations for Palestinian repatriation in Israel.

Another instance where the directors became less detached was when winning the trust with Faraj after he made acrimonious accusations against all Jewish boys.  Goldberg points out that he was a Jewish Boy who was partially raised in Israel and speaks fluent Hebrew.  Faroj excuses it by saying “That’s OK, you are American” while never letting go of the director’s hand.

Facilitating the meeting between the secular Jewish boys and the Palestinian Camp Kids was other instance where the Promise Film Project was not being strictly documentary film makers. But to their credit, they pointed out the perilousness and rarity of this outreach.

Promises was very successful in not getting stranded in the mental minefield of politics. But the lack of political context propagandized a heart tugging situation.  Sanabal, a Palestinian girl in the refugee camp, was growing up without her father, as he was being indefinitely held in an Israeli prison without charges.  This seems horrific unless one appreciates that he was a journalist for Hamas, a terrorist organization which is resolved in eradicating the Jewish state.  Promises mentioned that he was Hamas-nik, but never fleshed out what that meant.  The film gives an impression of Israeli’s might as being a militarily heavy handed occupier, without balancing that there can be no peaceful co-existence with ardent followers of Hamas.

The film was provocative, funny and endearing.  What concerns me are attempts to use it in a social justice campaign.  Holy Trinity, a parish in Georgetown, DC  that has a two century Jesuit tradition, used The Promise to initiate dialogue and possibly other outreach.  In introducing the film, the Social Justice coordinator admitted that histories could be disputed.  But in his weltanschauung, Jews came back to the Holy Land after World War II but were only 33% of the population at the time of the UN mandate yet they received half the land.  There were wars in 1948 and 1967 where Israel expanded its holdings and then there were several instances of the Intifada where Palestinians fought back.

That “admittedly disputed” short history of Israel is about as puerile as the kids’ theological justifications.  What about the Zionist movement that prompted so many religiously inspired Jews from the 1880s through the 1920s to move back to the Holy Land (and buy property) to make the desert once again a land of milk and honey?  The quick and dirty history forgets about the Balfour Declaration from the British that dedicates the Palestine Mandate to the Jewish People.  As for the War of 1948, Israel declares its independence based on the UN mandate and is attacked the next day by its Arab neighbors.  The 1967 War was another act of Arab aggression. And the intifada inspired a peace process where Yasser Arafat got 95% of what he asked for, but that was insufficient for the suffering Palestinians. But those inconvenient truths are glossed over.

It is not surprising that the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) has the same initials as Social Justice.  One was left with the distinct feeling that the talk therapy and facilitated dialogue was an attempt to inspire do-gooders to foster dialogue for peace and sympathy for Obama Administration efforts to return to the 1967 “border” and the right of Palestinians to repatriate Israel.  So the Palestinians can have three states for the price of one 1. Jordan 2. Palestine West Bank and Gaza 3. Israel proper.  Vocalizing these dissenting facts is as worthless as talk therapy when the participants are not on the same page.

While I appreciate the Promises documentary for what it is-a labor of love that has honored the film festival circuit for the past decade and aspires to engender understanding and common humanity.  But the glossing over inconvenient truths like the intrinsic animus against Israel by Hamas and the history of hostility promises to make good hearted politically correct activists into useful idiots in the international peace process. If nothing else, this showing of  Promises reaffirmed my resolve to support the Restoring Courage in Jerusalem on August 24th where people can stand for our allies in Israel and the tolerant, multi-religious democracy which it represents.

27 June 2011

Obama's Amnesty By Executive Order

The Dream Act had been kicking around Capitol Hill for a decade but had failed to be enacted.  The Dream Act sought to give effective amnesty (couched as conditional permanent resident status) to illegal aliens who graduate high school, can prove their good moral character and either serve two years in the American military or attend college for two years.

 In the 111th Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) brought it up seemingly to positively position himself with Hispanic voters during his contentious re-election.  The Dream Act failed in its cloture vote by 56-43 vote in September, 2010 when it was added to the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Vote.  Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) immediately introduced the Dream Act as stand alone legislation, but the bill only had two co-sponsors and was defeated. During the Lame Duck session, House Democrats passed the Dream Act, but the rushed partisan cram down again failed in the Senate.  In May 2011, Senate Majority Leader Reid reintroduced the Dream Act, but it was destined to go nowhere when previous co-sponsors, such as Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) refused to sign on again unless there were amendments increasing immigration border enforcement.

Not that the legislative process matters for immigration issues, as President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order in the form of a memo to Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton that agents are now to use “prosecutorial discretion” with regards to immigration issues. ICE Agents now should consider factors such as a detainee being: a veteran; long-time permanent resident aliens; residing in the U.S. since childhood; minors and elderly; nursing or pregnant women; those with serious health conditions; and those suffering from serious mental or physical disabilities. So much for the fools who tried to work within the system for legal immigration to America.  Obeying the law is optional for both the malfeasors and the enforcers.  While outside observers are led to think that ICE has no standards regarding immigration, the memo does mention some negative factors like: those posing clear security risk; gang members; serious felons; and those with egregious immigration violations.

The wording that introduces the prosecutorial discretion is key–“The following positive factors should prompt particular care and consideration”. While it is not mandatory sine qua non “shall”, it is stronger than a discretionary “may”.  This is a not so subtle directive from the Oval Office not to bother enforcing immigration law in most instances.  It is dubious that localities that are actually enforcing the laws about illegal immigrants, such as in Prince William County, VA or the state of Arizona, will have any assistance of federal agents in their own area of enforcement.

The new ICE provisions should make Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas feel more secure about his immigration difficulty. But Vargas’ fraudulent immigration status did not seem to bother either his former employer (the Washington Post) or the Secret Service during White House interviews.

If any agency could use some prosecutorial discretion, it should be ICE’s sibling in the Department of Homeland Security, the  Transportation Security Administration.  The TSA can not bring itself to apply prudent criteria about transportation threats, lest they be accused of racial profiling.  So the flying public has to endure invasive security theater, which includes a 45 minute interrogation of a 95 year old woman in a wheel chair who was wearing an adult diaper. Since Umar Farouk Mutallab, the young Nigerian who was the Fruit of the Kaboom attempted bomber from Christmas 2009, tried to secret explosives in his underoos, so there is no discretion if an elderly,  frail passenger has a pantload–if she is chosen, she must get the full treatment. And Senator Schumer (D-NY) wants to extend the TSA touch to trains too.

After the Obama Administrations decision about not enforcing aspects of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) because Obama thinks that it is unconstitutional. Hence selective enforcement for judicial matters was a tool in the Obama Administration’s toolbox.  Now, effectively re-writing Immigration law by selective enforcement obviates the legislative branch.

While the DREAM Act may be over, the nightmare has only begun. When the Roman Republic transitioned into an Empire under Augustus in 27 BC, the Senate still existed but it effectively became neutered.  It seems that history will teach us nothing.

26 June 2011

Badger State High Court Grudge Match

David Prosser 2nd from L, Ann Marie Walsh Bradley 3rd from L , Shirley Abrahamson C

Union politics in the Badger State have been quiet contentious as of late.   In February, mobs of union sponsored protesters had a prolonged standoff in the state capitol in Madison that caused $7.5 million in damages. In a feeble attempt to circumvent the proper political process, 14 liberal state Senators became fleebaggers to deny quorum to vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) budget that reformed Wisconsin state union’s collective bargaining abilities about pension issues.  National activists dumped $3.5 million to contest the re-election of Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge David Prosser.  When the vote did not defeat Prosser, who could have been the deciding vote on legislation to nullify the state budget on procedural grounds, the left sought to do a costly state recount to win the contest for JoAnne Kloppenburg  in “overtime”.  Since the election was not close enough to for Democrats to steal, Prosser continued in his post and the Walker budget was passed.

Apparently, the situation has not cooled and politicos remain pugnacious.  Prior to ruling on the judicial roadblock to passage of the Walker Budget, there was a black robed melee. The initial reports from Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism were that  Supreme Court Associate Justice David Prosser held fellow Justice Ann Marie Walsh Bradley in an angry chokehold.  The brute!

In a written statement, Prosser did not categorically deny this violent incident against women in the workplace:

Once there's a proper review of the matter and the facts surrounding it are made clear, the anonymous claim made to the media will be proven false. Until then I will refrain from further public comment.

But as Oscar Wilde pithily put it “The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.”  The lamestream media reports left out a salient detail–Prosser was defending himself from Walsh Bradley charging him with fists a flying.

It seems that six justices met in Walsh Bradley’s office to discuss when to release ruling on the budget impasse.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court was tasked with an appellate decision on District Court Judge Sumi’s objection to the Walker Budget on the grounds of the open meeting requirement.  Wisconsin legislative leaders wanted an expedited ruling to complete their work on the state budget.  When Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson was non-committal about releasing the decision in June, Prosser vocalized that he had lost all confidence in Abrahamson’s leadership.

Justice Walsh Bradley reportedly did not take kindly to any attacks on Abrahamson’s leadership so Walsh Bradley went to throw Prosser out with her fists up.  It seems that Prosser went to defend himself by putting his hands up and was said to have brushed against Walsh Bradley.  Walsh Bradley alleged that she had been choked.  Another unnamed justice immediately disputed Walsh Bradley’s accusation. Still the matter was reported to the Wisconsin Capitol Police Chief and seemingly referred to Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which can neither confirm nor deny that the incident was brought to their attention. Despite filing the report and offering damning press availabilities over the alleged incident, it is unclear if Justice Bradley is seeking justice and pressing charges over this supposed battery in the workplace.

The Prosser hit piece seems strikingly like agitprop to achieve where the electoral, legislative and judicial processes failed, to force a majority liberal Wisconsin State Supreme Court, which acts as a roadblock to changes that adversely impact their union comrades. When all else fails, fall back on the politics of personal destruction.

Right now, the only beautiful thing associated with the Wisconsin Supreme Court is the artwork in the Supreme Court Chambers by Albert Herter (1871-1950). Herter's paintings, including the Signing of the American Constitution, is supposed to represent great moments in history which influenced the law in Wisconsin.  It seems unlikely this will be depicted on canvass even though the alleged incident might still be framed.

H/T:  Red State

24 June 2011

Delta Backpaddling

June has been more than a four letter word for the public reputation of  Delta Airlines.

In early June, soldiers returning home after a deployment in Afghanistan were charged $200 a piece for excess baggage. The soldiers were told the military had made arrangements with airlines that allowed each soldier to bring four bags.  When they got to Baltimore, the soldiers learned during their 18 hour layover that Delta’s contract stipulated only three bags.  The 34 troops from the 94th Infantry  who flew to Atlanta were charged $3,400 out of pocket.  For most of the soldiers, the fourth bag was a weapons case which included a M14 rife, grenade launcher and a 9mm pistol. An exasperated reservist made an even keeled video documenting his disappointment, and that video went viral on Youtube.

It was not immediate apparent to the overcharged soldiers, but the DOD allows for reimbursement for such an out of pocket expense for excess bags.  Delta management maintains that they abided by their contractual obligations that coach soldiers could check four bags and  soldiers in business or first class could check without charge four bags.  Of course in 2008, Delta had a policy which waved all baggage fees for soldiers but that expired in August 2008.  As a result of the kerfluffle, soldiers flying in coach are allowed to check four bags without charge.

The overcharged soldiers should be happy that their bags arrived undamaged.  Another despondent first class Delta passenger from London to Minneapolis who recounted a tale of how his bag was repeatedly misdirected to Boston.  When the lost bag was returned after four days, the bag reeked of urine.  Apparently pissed off airline employees used the misdirected bag for privy target practice. Once again, a YouTube video documenting the despicable circumstances and piss poor customer service.

This appalling circumstance  certainly does not resemble Delta’s corporate mission statement:

We—Delta's employees, customers, and community partners together form a force for positive local and global change, dedicated to bettering standards of living and the environment where we and our customers live and work.

The long delayed and urine soaked bag seems like employee misconduct and persistent logistical mismanagement.  Alas, the preparation for international code sharing seems to be systematic and sinister.
In January, Delta Airlines joined a SkyTeam Alliance that would allow passenger code sharing with AirFrance, KLM, Korean Air and Saudi Arabian Airlines et ali.  The controversy is that SkyTeam partners would not allow passengers with Jewish connections (passport, passport stamps) and non-muslim religious items (e.g. a Bible) from flying into the Saudi Kingdom.

Word of this policy created an uproar on the internet.  Based on these preliminary reports, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) sent a letter of inquiry to the FAA but his concerns were directed to the Department of Transportation, which would be responsible for monitoring the matter.

Delta tried to staunch the wound from this news by noting that Delta does not discriminate but noted that they must comply with the destination country’s policy, or lest it be fined for noncompliance.  This effectively translated into Delta reluctantly following the Kingdom’s visa policies.

When the bad PR continued to fester, Delta issued statements that it does not fly into Saudi Arabia and that it was not code sharing with any airline that serves Saudi Arabia.  Delta claims that it is only a “standard interline agreement” that allows fliers to book with multiple carriers.  Moreover, there is nothing official from Saudi Arabia that Jews, those having an Israeli passport or stamps from Israel are banned.   Ironically, legislation to address this issue was offered in 2009 by now former Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY 9th), but the bill went no-where in the 111th Congress.

Other airlines, such as U.S. Air and United Airlines are in the Star Alliance which has partners that fly into the Saudi Kingdom but have not experienced this problem.  Cynical news junkies may wonder if this is to complicate Saudi Arabian Airlines joining SkyTeam in 2012 or if anti-sharia activitists, such as former talk show host, Love Boat Actor and former Representative Fred Grandy (R-IA 6th & 5th), found this to be a ripe issue.  Perhaps the ramifications of the Skyteam partnership or the “standard inline agreement” were not apparent.  Or it could just be a bad streak for the Delta PR team.

Nevertheless, this streak of poor publicity belies Delta’s slogan in the mid-2000s “Good goes around”.

23 June 2011

Huntsman's Primary Strategy: Operation Chaos Redux

Casual political observers may have the impression that the 2008 Democrat Presidential Primaries were a cakewalk for then Illinois Senator  Barack Obama (D-IL). But in all actuality, the race for delegates was close until the later contests in April.  In sharp contrast, the Republican race had been all but settled in late January, when Senator John McCain (R-AZ) became the presumptive GOP nominee.

In early February 2008, Talk Radio Titan Rush Limbaugh, sensed discontent amongst Reagan Democrats (the type that candidate Obama caricatured sotto voce as bitter bible clinging gun owners) for Obama, with whom the lamestream media was infatuated.  So for the Pennsylvania Primary, Limbaugh promoted an idea of “Operation Chaos” where conservatives would reregister as Keystone Democrats for the expressed purpose of supporting then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and make the Democrat convention in Denver interesting.  As it turned out, Clinton scored a convincing victory in Pennsylvania, but it could not overcome her deficit in pledged candidates to win the nomination.

In some respects, this cross-over tactic is nothing new, but usually this is a sub rosa dirty trick instigated by partisans of a campaign. Limbaugh’s Operation Chaos was exceptional for being overt and not directly helping the eventual opposition (namely McCain).

So it is stunning to hear Jon Huntsman so blithely reveal that his primary Presidential campaign strategy is to appeal to non-Republicans.  Huntsman is wisely skipping the Iowa Caucuses, which requires costly organization and Huntsman would have a tough time appealing to conservative evangelicals who are motivated to participate.  Huntsman thinks that he can go head to head with Romney in New Hampshire, and he is banking on having a large cross over constituency with registered Independents.  If Huntsman can catch Granite State momentum, he hopes to score in South Carolina, with crossover Democrats who do not have a primary contest.  Finally, Huntsman hopes to wrap it up in Florida, where he has based his campaign.

It is an interesting strategy, but it may be too clever by half. Considering that 40% of New Hampshire voters are registered Independents and the historic involvement of the electorate in the First Primary State, it is not unreasonable to think that Huntsman has a fighting chance in the Granite State. But motivating organizing and getting out the vote of legions of crossover Democrat voters in the South Carolina Republican primary is a tough row to hoe.   Certainly, Florida will be a key state in the 2012 election. But it is dubious if it will have the same sway as it did in 2008, when former Governor Charlie Crist’s  (R-I-?  FL) last minute endorsement of John McCain influenced the electorate.  The Florida primary is later this time, the delegates will actually count and candidates will vigorously compete there this cycle.

There is some question as to Huntsman’s motivations for running.  Huntsman refuses to criticize President Barack Obama, his former boss, by name.  Huntsman’s gushing letter citing Obama as an extraordinary leader raises real questions about his candidacy.

Granted, Huntsman’s Obama admiring, accommodation on illegal immigration, climate change supporter, pro-civil union stance and serving as Ambassador to China in the Obama Administration will lend credence to the impression that he is a RINO.  But Huntsman can’t be the Manchurian Candidate, since  Raymond Shaw was an interesting character.

While Huntsman’s moderate policy positions are not personally appealing, it is commendable to have another choice for the Republican nomination.  But by basing his primary campaign support on cross-over support, Huntsman is enshrining a sure fire way to alienate the base, which ought to be crawling over broken glass to get to the polls to unseat Obama in November, 2012.

Now is not the time for Operation Chaos Redux.  If Huntsman is willing to spend his family fortune, he need not raise outside money for his Presidential campaign.  But if Huntsman is intent on being a spoiler in this election cycle he ought to invest in qualifying for the ballot for the general election à la Perot in 1992.

22 June 2011

AfPak Exit Is Pashtun For Vietnamization

During a prime time White House speech, President Obama sought to  to declare victory for our military efforts in Afghanistan and pave the road home for American combat forces.  The current Commander-In-Chief sounded self congratulatory about focusing American efforts against our original enemies stemming from what he would call the man-caused disaster of September 11th, 2001.  President Obama noted that he staffed a surge in Afghanistan that eventually resulted in the elimination of Usama bin Laden. Now that al Qaeda’s leadership in shambles, America’s job is down and we should draw down our presence in the region, starting with 33,000 troops by next summer and a complete withdrawal by 2014.

President Obama redefined the mission in Afghanistan not as victory but as a responsible end. Obama stressed that Afghan security forces have been well trained and should be plentiful by the time America exits. President Obama proposed a convening a conference next year in Chicago which includes our international allies, the current Afghan government and the Taliban (the faction who sponsored al Qaeda and our involvement) to facilitate future peace in Afghanistan. 

By drawing down America’s involvement in Afghanistan, Obama believes that he placates a war weary public, extricates the country from a foreign policy quagmire and allows us to do what he called “nation building” at home.

President Obama has pursued his own counsel in conducting military affairs.  When planning for a surge in Afghanistan, the commander on the ground General David Petreus recommended sending 60,000 troops to effectively get the job done.  But in the end, President Obama only authorized 30,000 troops.  General Petreus’ strategy was to “win the people” rather than just kill the enemy.  CINCPAC Commanders would not be so recalcitrant to use the term victory for a mission aim instead of “a responsible end” to the conflict. 

Clearly, the President is proud that he got bin Laden.  Now that al Qaeda’s leadership is in flux, he basically believes that it’s mission accomplished and it’s time to leave.  The Obama Administration’s shift from armed nation building strategy is a victory for voices like Vice President Joe Biden.

In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon sought to end America’s prolonged involvement in Vietnam.  American military forces won significant battle with the North Vietnamese forces. But the problem was to stop the spread of insurgent influence of the Viet-Kong.  Nixon engaged a policy of Vietnamization, which would transition responsibility to the South Vietnamese.  America orchestrated the Paris Peace Accords in January, 1973 which guaranteed the self-determination of the South Vietnamese people. But as Bruce Hirshensohn recounts in An America Amnesia, doves dominated the Congress in the midst of the Watergate scandal, which resulted in America abandoning its erstwhile South Vietnamese ally.  This neglect in rearming our allies led to the fall of Saigon in April, 1975, which undermined stability in Indochina and haunted American foreign policy for a decade.

It seems that we are making the same mistakes again in Central Asia.  After suffering the loss of 4,500 troops and nearly a  half trillion dollars, America seems to be cutting and running.  Unlike the Soviet exit in 1989 after the collapse of the communist government, American troops will not be immediately withdrawing.  Additionally, the Chicago Symposia will provide a Potemkin village of stability amongst regional stakeholders.  But President Obama has arbitrarily established a withdrawal date. Basically, we have told American enemies to lay low until after we leave and then have at it.   

Afghanistan continues to be a tribal society that has been in internal conflict for centuries.  Continued American presence will not instantaneously turn it into a model Western democracy. President Obama is determined to keep to his 2008 campaign promise about an Afghan troop withdrawal, as it seems that the bulk of combat troops will be exiting just before the vote for his re-election.  It would seem prudent to follow General Petreus’ prescription of delaying a drawdown if that’s what is called for by conditions on the ground. But Petreus has been shifted to the CIA.  And President Obama has a habit of shopping for opinions on military matters that flatter him, as exhibited by seeking sympathetic legal counsel regarding non-compliance with the War Powers Act for the kinetic military activity (sic) in Libya. 

Despite the dangers of reestablishing a Taliban government which tolerates al Qaeda operating in its territory and the instability of a nuclear armed Pakistan, Obama made no mention about maintaining future forward basing or strong relations with the Afghan government.  After a dozen years in Afghanistan, Obama’s ignominious retreat risks losing the regional stability, walks away from our friends and demonstrates to the world that in the end America is a weak player on the foreign stage.  Can we say Vietnam redux?

21 June 2011

Politicking Versus Voldemort?

Behind a backdrop of the Statue of Liberty, former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT) announced his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States.  Huntsman  had already been campaigning in New Hampshire and his announcement was no surprise.  The lamestream media has been a twitter framing the field as needing another moderate candidate, or a RINO as the conservative base would call it. Of course, Huntsman’s recent service as the U.S. Ambassador to the Peoples’ Republic of China for the OBAMA Administration does not help shaking off the RINO label.

Instead of focusing on his foreign policy experience, Huntsman concentrated on “leadership that trusts in our strengths” to make tough decisions to preserve a powerful, confident, compassionate and compassionate America.  Such platitudinous rhetoric sounds soaring until presenting specific policies.

The interesting aspect of the Huntsman’s campaign is his commitment to a campaign of civility. Huntsman promised not to run down his Republican opposition to the nomination.  It is commendable to observe Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment.  But Huntsman has also has pledged not to mention his former boss (President Obama) by name, even when contrasting their visions for America. This is one step further than failed 2008 Republican Presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who made mentioning his opponent’s middle name verboten, even though Obama used it during both attempts to take the Presidential oath of office.

While the boomlet for Donald Trump’s bid for the Oval Office fizzled after forcing President Obama to release his birth certificate in April, it is thought that much of his support stemmed from his pugnacious sensibilities to bring the fight for the Presidency.  After the recent New Hampshire debate, former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) was roundly criticized for pulling his punches on “Obamney-care”.  Should we rally behind a prospective President who dares not speak the name of the incumbent opposition?  This is reminiscent of the paralyzing fearfulness at Hogwarts of mentioning Voldemort.

A winning campaign for Republican Presidential candidates must have a positive message that addresses the pressing problems which threaten America’s vitality. Those challenging President Obama need not demonize him or name call yet they can not afford to pull their punches or utilize a no-name strategy when opposing Obama, as the incumbent is not raising an estimated $1 Billion to campaign on achievements of improving the economy or a record of popular accomplishments.

20 June 2011

More Weiner Weaseling?

After three weeks of twisting in the wind over  prevaricating over sending risque Twitter messages to women over the internet along with  his unseemly package photos, Rep.  Anthony Weiner (D-NY 9th) announced that he would give up his seat...in Congress.  Instead of quietly resigning in disgrace, the lewd legislator made a campaign like press conference at the venue where he first announced for public office.  Some political pundits opined that Weiner might have intended the occasion as a sort of political relaunching.  But this rebranding exercise was marred by a shock jock heckler who offered a fond farewell to a “freak”.  After this botched presser, Weiner left for the Hamptons in a limo with his wife riding alone in back.  Perhaps gave truth to Weiner’s contention that his lovely wife Huma was behind him.

Perhaps it is understandable that Weiner did not send a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH 8th) immediately on late Thursday afternoon, as his Capitol Hill staff had evacuated the day before with their belongings. The assurances that the Weiner offices will be open for business makes some sense to continue to pursue constituent services.   But where is the letter of resignation?

Weiner does not have discernable skills other than being a political animal.  Weiner’s education was in PolySci, he worked as a legislative assistant to then Congressman now senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY 9th), served on the New York City Council and won Chuck Schumer’s seat.  Weiner had been a fiesty partisan, both on the House floor as well as on talking heads shows. But the prurient problem combined with a lack of friends among his partisans make his future private sector job prospects tenuous, unless he gets hired as an act to follow Keith Olbermann on Al Gore’s CurrentTV or takes that job with Larry Flynt and Hustler.

Each day that passes increases Weiner’s future pension, much to the derision of the public.  It is dubious that Weiner is trying to hold on to his post for nickle and dime supplements for his retirement. After all of his lying about his Tweets, the shamelessness of holding on to the post and brashness of his campaign like relaunch resignation speech, Weiner may be weaseling for political advantage.  

Ordinarily when a Congressional Seat is vacant in New York state, the Governor calls for a special election, where the party bosses pick one candidate and it is a winner take all stakes.  In recent special elections in the Empire State, country Republican bosses have picked RINOS or weak candidates which lost what should be safe seats.  But due to serendipitous timing and the need for Governor Andrew Cuomo to fill open Assembly seats, there way be an off-year election.  In that procedure, candidates would need to file valid petition signatures by July 14th, the Democrat primary would be September 13th and the general election on November 8th.

Weiner and friends may be working the Governor out of the limelights to call for an off-year election instead of a special election. This may include the Clintons. After all, Huma is close to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ex-President Bill Clinton married the couple in 2010 and Gov. Cuomo was Secretary of HUD during Clinton’s Presidency.

If polls are to be believed, a solid majority did not want Weiner to go.  Moreover, Weiner has the campaign infrastructure to get his name on the ballot and he certainly has name recognition.  If the timing for calling the off year election is right, other Democrat candidates could have trouble getting their petitions in on time.  And Cook Report rates the 9th Congressional District as D+5 which is an easier row to hoe for the randy representative.  If it works out, Weiner would only lose about four months pension.  As our 42nd President might say–“Hot Dog!”

But this political ploy might inspire the New York legislature, which needs to eliminate two Congressional seats (including one downstate) to eliminate the boundries of New York 9.  That would be quite the Weiner roast. But in the short run, that prospect may discourage other candidates from running for the seat.  Which would be the gift that keeps on giving, having a dispicable, discredited Democrat who has no friends in the donkey caucus and little prospects be the poster boy for the House minority in the 2012 election cycle. This prospect would cause the GOP in Fantasyland on the Potomac to hum “Hot Dog” too.

Via: New York Daily News

UPDATE  6/20 16:45  Weiner sent his two line resignation letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo & the NY Secretary of State that he is resigning as of midnight Tuesday.

But is this resignation official? A heads up to the State officials who are deciding whether to hold a special election or an off year election to fill the seat.  Surely a POLYSCI major and a former L.A. to the House of Representatives  should realize that an official resigning in disgrace needs to notify the Majority Leadership of the Chamber from which Weiner is withdrawing.  

Maybe Weiner will try to  tweet his resignation to Speaker Boehner and bring a tear to his eye.

UPDATE 6/22  Gov. Cuomo called for a Special Election on September 13th, which means that there will be no primary election and party bosses choose the candidates.  Hence,  any Weiner comeback will likely be elsewhere.

17 June 2011

The Mitten Tightens In Michigan Redistricting

Michigan is the only state in the union that actually lost population after the 2010 Census.  Remarkably, the Great Lake State is only losing one Congressional seat in the redistricting process. Since the population evacuation occurred in and around Mo-town, it was inevitable that southeastern Michigan would end up on the short end of the mitten when it came to reapportionment.   

The Congressional District likely to be eliminated is 2nd term Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI 9th) who represents much of wealthy Oakland County.  Rep. Peters was gerrymandered into a district with 15 term Congressman Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI 12th).  Both Levin and Peters jointly issued a  philippic which bewailed the “unprecedented" gerrymandering:

Instead of drawing fair lines that follow community and county borders in a logical way, the Republican legislature has drafted a map so skewed that it exploits every trick in the book to gerrymander districts in ways that benefit Republican incumbents...The legislature and Governor Snyder should reject this gerrymandered map and draw congressional boundaries in a way that puts Michigan voters' interests squarely ahead of flagrant partisan advantage.

But Peters has vowed that he will not run against the 80-year old Rep. Levin, which is a wise move considering that being the ranking member on House Ways and Means has its privileges.  Hence one can deduce that Sander will not ride off into the sunset quietly.

While Michigan Republicans and Democrats were supposed to release their plans at the same time, but the Democrats withheld their map for over the weekend, hoping that public outcries will change their fate.  But the Republicans hold majorities in both chambers of the State House along with Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) retaking the governorship after the Teanami in 2010. In addition, Republican justices have a majority on the State Supreme Court.  So unless the DOJ can muster some mischief via the Voters Right Act, Michigan’s redistricting should basically mirror the GOP plan.

While the redrawn district lines in the Detroit Metropolitan Area represent splotchy ink art, the population evenly proportioned, with two districts that remain Majority-Minority districts.  The redrawn lines gives media savvy conservative 3 term Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI 11th) a much more staunch yet splotchy district.  The proposed 14th Congressional District of 24th Term Representative John Conyers (D-MI 14th) would jump the infamous 8 Mile Road line which divides Detroit from its northern suburbs. The new 14th would unite the old money of Grosse Pointes with some of tony West Bloomfield, while still maintaining a 57% minority demographic.  

The twofold problem for Conyers is that he has not previously represented significant portions of the redrawn district and it would be less blue collar. This will force the 83-year-old Congressman Conyers to campaign hard with a different message than he has previously used.  If the lines for the redrawn 14th CD stand, this could create an opportunity for a Tea Party Type to be quite competitive, since much of the district had been conservative stomping grounds for seven term Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI 9th) prior to his loss in 2006.

This Redistricting Cycle has seen several states, like Virginia, Florida and California idealistically endeavor to create nonpartisan reapportionment. But redistricting is an inherently political process which does not make for a pretty process.  Anyone thinking otherwise just needs to talk to the hand. 

16 June 2011

Movie Review: The Green Lantern

Summertime is the cinematic season for big budget superhero action flicks.  This year, Warner Brothers reportedly spent $300 million to bring  The Green Lantern to the silver screen. Between the Beltways, there is the notion that some enterprises are too big to fail. Alas, that does not apply to bloated blockbusters from Tinseltown.

From the opening credits, a Green Lantern viewer can tell that the filmmakers dumped a lot of money into special effects.  The action packed space opera start of the film is much more effective when 3-D glasses are supplied for a 3-D film.  While the glasses made seeing the cataclysmic cosmic battle clearer, the affectated exposition of the history of the Green Lanterns called to mind the intellectual onanism of the Architect scene in The Matrix Reloaded.  Combined this alluvia of information with scenes of aliens who strut and fret their time on the screen and heard no more is confusing to all but the comic book cognoscenti.

Since there have been a half dozen humans who have donned the Green Lantern’s garb in the DC Comic’s 70 year franchise, comic book purists should not complain that screen writers Michael Green and Greg Berlanti chose the Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan (originating in 1959) as the superhero and they drew inspiration from the Secret Origin and Emerald Dawn storylines for the script.

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a second generation test pilot who is scarred by a tragic childhood who witnessed his father crash and burn.  Hal is a maverick flier and fearless in the cockpit but when he’s down to Earth, he is undisciplined and undedicated.  When Abin Sur, one of the 3,600 Green Lantern protectors of the universe crash lands on Earth, the extra-terrestrial alien’s ring chooses Hal Jordan as its successor.  Jordan must come to terms with the new responsibilities that accompany his new powers. Eventually, this human Green Lantern embarks on a mission to defeat Parallax, which feeds on fear, and save the universe.

Green Lantern Director Martin Campbell included several thrilling action sequences, but the disjointed storytelling did not allow the audience to develop emotional investment with characters to enhance empathy.  The opening cosmic battle  was spectacular, but the epic battle with unidentified aliens seemed inconsequential without a closer connection to the protagonist.  In 1977, George Lucas started the original Star Wars with a two minute crawl that gave background to the epic space opera along with a triumphant musical theme.  In the first reel of the Green Lantern, there was little connection with the protagonist and no musical cues from James Newton Howard’s original score to draw us into the storyline.

The script should have been reworked because of the conflicting portrayal of Hal Jordan. The daredevil pilot is shown to have a concerned extended family but they disappear after one sequence.  Jordan’s chosen family comes from his employer Ferris Aircraft, with his on-again-off-again girlfriend pilot/boss Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) and his nerdy sidkick Thomas (Taika Waititi). While Carol Ferris visualy cuts quite a figure, the script gives Lively few memorable lines and her commanding initial presence devolves into coquettish cheerleader in the end.

Although Parallox is an unwieldy alien enemy, his human minion Hector Hammond was deftly portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard.

There were a few instances of subtle humor worked into the film.  When Jordan was trying to divine the Green Lantern oath, Buzz Lightyear would have been proud.  The Green Lantern initiation evoked memories of many boot camp moments. But the script jumped around and did not flesh out “the good guys” or give reasons to care.

There were a few action scenes that were best experienced on the big screen, especially the aerial dogfight. the first act of heroism by Jordan as the Green Lantern and the expensive opening sequence.  What was disappointing was the quick dispatch of the ending.  It seemed too simple but think of it what you will.

The Green Lantern’s special effects were wonderful but the plot did not seem cohesive, the audience could not deeply connect with the hero, there were not iconic scenes or quotable lines and the ending does not blow you away.  While it will probably gross more than Brenda Starr, don’t count on a franchise. On the other hand, at least it’s not Aquaman.

15 June 2011

Movie Review: Mr. Popper's Penguins

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a film adaptation of a beloved 1938 children’s classic which stars Jim Carrey and Angela Lansbury.   Some cineastes complain when a script embellishes on an original storyline, but this treatment honors the original’s love of language arts while presenting a plausible plot for a modern family.

Popper (Carrey)  is an elite, seemingly cold blooded city slicker realty salesman who forgoes all feeling for the thrill of success.  But an inheritance from Antarctica puts Popper’s fast track plans on ice.  His Gentoo Penguin wards warm his heart and helps Popper rediscover what he is worth.

Despite South Park’s bawdy parody, Mr. Popper’s Penguins manages to keep the scatological comedic scenes to a minimum, which is amazing in an age when Nickelodeon sliming substitutes for childrens’ comedy.  There certainly was quite a bit of physical comedy which is a natural for a Jim Carrey comedy and a screwball kiddie flick. The mayham at the museum was iconic. Yet  there was only one scene when Carrey employed his over the top manic comedic personal.  Carrey’s governed acting enhanced the integrity of the screenplay rather than being a virtuoso star vehicle held together with a gossamer plot.

The verbal comedy was epitomized by Popper’s alliterative assistant Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond).  Popper’s monetarily myopic doorman (Desmin Borges) stole the show with his smarmy sensibilities.

Much like a romantic comedy, those who have been around the block can accurately anticipate the denouement, the trick is how the film makers get there.   Director Mark Waters successfully combines a screwball/fish out of water comedy with elements of romance, coming of age and heartwarming family elements without being treacly or having things feeling forced.  While no one wants to see reality in a fantasy comedy, not all plot elements are idyllic.  The “villains”, such as the nosey neighbor, the over-eager Animal Control Agent (Clark Gregg), the partners and the hard to please client (Lansbury) serve more as boundaries than scary hurdles for the protagonist.

Cinematographer Florian Ballhaus shot Mr. Popper’s Penguins as a visual love letter to mid-town Manhattan.  The backdrops of architectural gems like the Flatiron Building, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Tavern On The Green and the Guggenheim Museum contribute to the feeling of a fantasy cityscape. Turning a penthouse into a winter wonderland was wonderful. Composer Rolfe Kent provided a playful, upbeat which also gave the right emotional cue with remaining understated.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins did not have obvious product placement or corporate tie ins.  The dialogue was playful, particularly with the alliteration but there were not notable quotable scenes.  In many respects,  Mr. Popper’s Penguins is reminiscent of a 1960s Disney screwball comedy which surreal circumstances collide with conventionality but in the end affirm the individual.  Perhaps the casting of Angela Lansbury contributed to this amiable aura.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins was a charming comedy that was a perfectly pleasant family film.  Yapsolutely (sic). However, it would be surprising if this is a movie blockbuster and not at Blockbuster in short order.

If you want a true taste of Antarctica, then check out the exhibit at the National Geographics Museum in Washington, DC (thru August 21st) that celebrates the Centenary of Conquering the South Pole.  A team of British explorers led by Robert Scott raced a group of Norweigian explorers headed by Roald Amuldsen for the arduous south end of the Earth.  Amuldsen had a one track mind to get to the terrestrial South Pole first while Scott’s team stopped to befriend the penguins and conduct scientific experiments.  Alas, only Amuldsen’s team was successful and brought them back alive.

14 June 2011

Polishing Off The Granite State Debate

Seven candidates for the Republican Presidential Nomination debated in New Hampshire in an event sponsored by CNN/WMUR/Manchester Union Leader.   When there are so many candidates participating, a”debate” can devolve into a joint press conference, which this gathering mercifully avoided, but there was little adverse interplay amongst the candidates.  It was wise to not invite former Governor Gary Johnson (R-NM), so that he could whine about not getting enough time to promote legalizing pot.  

To keep things moving, CNN wanted answers to be 30 seconds or less, which may be perfect for short attention span theater, but the incumbent in the Oval Office can hardly clear his throat in that short soundbite.  Even though there were no buzzers or lights to cut off candidates, CNN moderator John King displayed an annoying tick to either grunt or  murmur after 15 seconds into a candidate’s response, stepping into any outstanding answers. To wit this might be chronicled as the CNN Grunt-It State Debate.

To keep things moving and interactive, questions came from the moderator John King, from the studio audience at St. Anselm’s College as well as from remote stand up sites scattered throughout the first primary state.  In addition, CNN promoted a social media angle, promising to take questions from Facebook and Twitter as well as streaming Twitter comments during the debate.  It did not seem that many questions that were answered came from social media, but a couple of comments were highlighted as well as the alluvia of information.  Considering the reputation of CNN and the Lamestream Media, it would be advised that for future debates candidates demand that the Twitter stream be eliminated, as this is rife for manipulation by the media or politicos.

Another experimental element of the Granite State Debate was “This or That?” when a candidate is asked to quickly choose from two options.  This was intended to show the softer side of a candidate but it was a wasted opportunity.  Asking Herman Cain “Thin Crust or Deep Dish?” was kind of cute, especially considering his experience as CEO of Godfather Pizza. Continuing in that vein, perhaps CNN could appealed to Hispanic audiences by asking “¿Que es más macho?”  à la Laurie Anderson. It is a pity that the opportunity to ask snap questions did not delve into more revealing subjects, such as  “What book most influences you?” or “What was the biggest challenge that you faced?”  At least ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich was able to quickly choose American Idol over Dancing With the Stars.

The Granite State Debate managed to make some news by Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN 6th) announcing that she filed her paperwork with the FEC and would soon be announcing her candidacy.  Of course participating in a Presidential Primary Debate does kind of show one’s cards.  

What made news was the dog that did not bark.  After former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) threw down a label “Obamney Care” the day before on Fox News Sunday, the lamestream media salivated at the prospect of a GOP food fight, particularly directed at the perceived frontrunner former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA). But it seems that all abided by Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."  While the candidates did make some policy distinctions amongst one another, the rhetorical fire was aimed after the fecklessness and failure of the Obama Administration.

Lamestream Media commentators were quick to label Pawlenty a loser for not have the courage to continue lambasting the current leader Romney.  But perhaps the Pawlenty campaign remembered the acrimony between Romney and Huckabee which divided and dispirited the conservative base in 2008. Or even more contemporarily, Pawlenty might have looked at the bad press that Ed Rollins sparked as Rep. Bachmann entered the Presidential race by slamming former Gov. Sarah Palin, particularly since the candidates hoped to draw from the same base of support.   

Pawlenty should be mindful that New Hampshire is not his game as Romney has a “home field” advantage and currently a 32% lead.  Romney is not competing in the Iowa Caucuses while that is Pawlenty’s touchstone.  Pawlenty is probably cultivating a message of governing success in a Democrat state and implementing right leaning  policiesrather than serving up a plate of rhetorical raw meat.  That is the same demographic that Romney is targeting, along with an appeal of electability.   Why cultivate starting the struggle prematurely?  Should the internecine imbroglio be over National Health Care, when that should be a rallying cry for the Tea Party to charge against the incumbent.  While I certainly think that Pawlenty pulled his punch, it was a wise tactic.  The “Obamney” quip planted the seed, especially amongst the base who questions Romney’s conservative bone fides.  Pawlenty need to succeed in Iowa Caucuses using Minnesota Nice and positive conservatism stressing economic growth. If Pawlenty wins the Hawkeye Cauci (sic) then Big Mo will be the wave which helps him compete in the other contests. 

Rep. Bachmann’s almost official entry into the race along with her energetic answers brought some fight into the race against President Obama.  Bachmann’s political pugnaciousness along with a couple of fumbled responses from Herman Cain (Muslims in his Administration, command in chief issues) seem to have taken the steam out of the Cain boomlet among movement Conservatives.  But Bachmann is the only top tier candidate who is currently an elected official in the race and the responsibilities of office may force some tough votes to defend or great opportunity.  

After the meltdown of Newt’s campaign staff last week, Gingrich got off easy from niggling campaign questions during the debate, as he only needed to defend the “right wing social engineering” gaffe.  The ex-Speaker did well in answering questions succinctly instead of offering meandering musings.  But Gingrich should be commended for trying to thwart the liberal Lamestream Media false dichotomy of “This or That?” concerning wedge issues like immigration. That helped keep the tone of the debate adult rather than partisan soundbites.  May all candidates, including Newt, remember not to be suckered by media cheap shots or awkward answers.

Even though all of the players in the GOP Presidential Primary process may not have entered the stage yet, the Granite State Debate was a good start to framing the campaign to be a referendum against the fiscal and foreign policy failures of the incumbent. But winning the nomination is more than putting in a good debate performance. There is the matter of fund raising, not just from a handful of wealthy donors.  Even though Paulistinians (sic) have successfully deployed internet “money bombs” for their Libertarian leaning leader Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX 14th), money isn’t everything. Successful candidates must make wise tactical choices (e.g. Guilini putting all his marbles in FLORIDA in 2008), a cohesive campaign (not to mention any names, but Ed Rollins will savage others then savage his former candidate) and develop messages that catch fire with the electorate.  Those Republicans onstage in Manchester had the right instincts to govern well.  Just about all of them would make plausible Commanders in Chief (sorry Paulistinians and Cainiacs).  As the campaign progresses, may the participants keep their eye on the prize and develop policies which will address the pressing political problems which this country faces.

10 June 2011

Newt-Run Bomb

Newt and Callista Gingrich   /Photo: Brian Matt

The implosion of the Newt Gingrich Presidential Campaign this week has been remarkable.  Sixteen senior staffers, including the Campaign Manager and Press Secretary, resigned en masse on Thursday.  Former Speaker Gingrich, who was off on a cruise to the Greek Islands with his wife Callista, indicated that he was not dropping out of the race despite the radical change in staff.  Newt's preliminary spin is that he is running an unconventional campaign and that the seasoned campaigners could not see the wisdom of a strong spouse.  But Gingrich will need more compelling responses on the ready for the CNN Presidential Debate in New Hampshire on Monday.

Many GOP partisans were skeptical about Gingrich’s chances to win the Republican nomination.  After all, Gingrich has not held elective office in 13 years, he has a complicated personal background  (three marriages with two messy divorces and now his conversion to Catholicism), Newt had alienated diehard conservatives with a campaign with now former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 6th) for Global Warming and Gingrich generally has a polarizing disposition. Still, it was thought that Gingrich would be valuable in framing primary issues and rejecting the accommodation inclinations of the Between The Beltway Republican establishment.

The launch of the Gingrich Campaign was not smooth sailing.  Newt chose to announce his intentions on May 11th via a Facebook video.  Alas, the sappy soundtrack scoring which accompanied the candidate’s preliminary pitch lent itself to mockery.  While doing the Sunday morning media rounds, Gingrich made news when position himself on budgetary issues by condemning Paul Ryan’s fledgling plans to bring solvency to Medicare and help balance the budget as “right wing social engineering”.  After letting that fester for a few days, Newt claims that he was taken out of context.  Be that as it may, an experienced politico who has been on Meet the Press 34 times should have been more careful when opining to the Lamestream Media’s gotcha game.  Smelling blood, the media dug up a story indicating that Gingrich had up to a $500,000 line of credit with Tiffany’s and linked it to potential lobbying by an ex Gingrich aide who worked for Tiffany's with Callista Gingrich, while Mrs. Gingrich worked on a relevant Congressional Committee.  Amidst the stormy campaign seas, the Gingrich’s took a two week cruise to the Aegean Sea.

Political junkies are trying to determine what is the rest of the story.  The campaign staff that jumped ship cited creative differences on how to direct the campaign. Since Gingrich’s Campaign Manager Rob Johnson, Spokesman Rick Tyler and Strategist David Carney all have ties to Texas Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), this may portent Perry throwing his hat into the 2012 Presidential contest.   There is scuttlebutt that Callista Gingrich’s close involvement with the campaign was not welcomed by the staff.  It may simply be a question about pay.

Gingrich has been adept at funding his post-Congressional professional pursuits with large scale donors.  It is dubious that he was doing well with garnering the an array of contributors that were limited to $2,400 a piece.  The staff is starving, the campaign is floundering and the boss is on a European Vacation might have been enough to abandon ship.

Mercifully, the 2012 Presidential Primary campaign has not been the grueling four year slog that it was in the last cycle.  While the Republicans have many hopefuls who have already jumped in, there may be more time for later entries.  But you have to be in it to win it.

Gingrich wants to have an idea oriented campaign. That would be welcomed by Tea Party types who want to find real answers.  However, Gingrich seems to want to be a part time candidate.  One would think that Fred Thompson’s lackluster performance for the 2008 cycle should have shown that unless you are Born Yesterday, there is No Way Out of the Necessary Roughness of a full time campaign.

Presidential politicking can be personally taxing (sic), but it can also be quite revealing of character.  The clumsily worded statements made after a long day on the hustings can be an opportunity for recovery or ruin.  The strategic choices that a campaign makes can also be quite telling.  Although the media would have observers believe that Barack Obama won the 2008 Democrat nomination in a landslide, it actually was pretty close in delegate/Super-delegate count.  The margin for victory was partly due to Obama’s dumping of resources in caucus states where Democrats had no chance of winning in the general election.  By mobilizing activities to do caucuses in states like Idaho, he won lopsided victories which meant more delegates and built a loyal following of believers of hope and change to use for national phone banks for the general.  That bond can not be done through wholesale politics in a war of ideas.

While Newt is down, he should not be counted out quite yet. In the 2004 Democrat Presidential Nomination Campaign, Senator John Kerry’s (D-MA) primary victory in 2004.  Kerry had initially relied on having top drawer endorsements from elected officials but was not winning the Super Delegate race and was having trouble fund-raising.  So much so that Senator Kerry, the man who married money twice, had to mortgage his Boston home for $6 million to stay in the race.

Now former Governor Howard Dean (D-VT) had won the “invisible primary” in 2004 by  pioneering internet fund-raising and had a warchest of $40 million earmarked just for Iowa.  Dean thought that he could influence Hawkeye caucus goers by sending an army of orange hat volunteers (mostly out of state college students) to knock on doors.  But despite the formidable war chest and the invading Dean Brigade, Dean ended up finishing in third place.

The poor performance of a supposed front-runner was bad enough but everyone remembers the Dean scream during the concession speech.  That prompted Democrat party activists to rally around an acceptable candidate.  Senator John Kerry was a three term Senator who had served in Vietnam (and was awarded three Purple Hearts) yet he based his campaign around voting against the war in Iraq.  In the end, Kerry won the nomination and chose his chief remaining rival first term Senator John Edwards (D-NC) as his running mate.

Another example of not giving up the fight and triumphing in Presidential politics is Senator John McCain (R-AZ) had great difficulty raising funds in the first half of  2007 as the Republican base was adverse to McCain’s Immigration legislation.  The McCain campaign had to downsize his campaign staff, he lost his campaign manager and chief strategist and he was fourth in the polls with 15%.  But McCain capitalized on his maverick status with the media, not competing in the Iowa Caucus where he would not win, and did intrepid campaigning in the Granite State.  Much to the consternation of the conservative base, McCain won the Republican nomination in 2008.

But in many ways, both of those paradigms were compromise candidates who won due to both pluck and luck.  If you are trying to educate the electorate and redefine the national agenda, there needs to be personal commitment and a roadmap of how to achieve that objective.  Otherwise, it is just tossing intellectual grenades that strafe the campaign battlefield but are sound and fury which signify nothing.