Randy's Corner Deli Library

30 December 2008

Freddie Hubbard, jazz trumpeter, dies at 70

Freddie Hubbard
Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times
Freddie Hubbard, widely regarded as the most gifted jazz trumpeter of the post-bebop ’60s and ’70s, died Monday at Sherman Oaks Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 70.
By Don Heckman
December 30, 2008
Freddie Hubbard, widely regarded as the most gifted jazz trumpeter of the post-bebop '60s and '70s, died Monday at Sherman Oaks Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 70.

The cause of death was attributed to complications from a heart attack he suffered Nov. 26, according to Dave Weiss, his longtime manager.

From the beginning, Hubbard's playing was characterized by its strength and assurance, its capacity to roam confidently across the trumpet's entire range, and his gift for spontaneous melodic invention.

He was barely out of his teens in the late 1950s and working with such established jazz figures as drummer Philly Joe Jones, trombonist Slide Hampton, saxophonist Sonny Rollins and composer/arranger Quincy Jones. His identification as an important new arrival gained him a Down Beat Critics Poll Award when he was in his early 20s.

Hubbard was capable of quickly grasping the subtleties as well as the specific elements of a startlingly wide range of stylistic areas, from the hard bop of his work with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers to the most avant-garde music of the decade.

Seemingly the first choice for artists of every stripe, he was present on many of the most significant jazz albums of the '60s, among them Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz," John Coltrane's "Ascension," Eric Dolphy's "Out To Lunch," Oliver Nelson's "Blues and the Abstract Truth," Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil" and Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage."

"Hubbard," wrote Joachim Berendt in "The Jazz Book: From New Orleans to Rock and Free Jazz," "is the most brilliant trumpeter of a generation of musicians who stand with one foot in 'tonal' jazz and with the other in the atonal camp."

Although his playing, especially in the earliest years, reflected the influence of Clifford Brown, Miles Davis and others, he said saxophonists were most influential in his development, often specifically mentioning Coltrane's "sheets of sound" as an important source.

"I always practice with saxophone players," he told Julie Coryell and Laura Friedman in their book, "Jazz-Rock Fusion: The People, the Music." "I find when you get around trumpet players, you get into competitive playing -- who can play the loudest and the highest. After you develop your own style, you don't want to get into that."

Like many players in his generation, Hubbard was drawn to pop and rock interests in the '70s and '80s. In 1977 he toured with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams in the quasi-Miles Davis ensemble V.S.O.P. And he released a series of rock- and pop-oriented albums on the CTI label.

"Red Clay," "First Light" and "Straight Life" received good reviews, and "First Light" was awarded a Grammy in 1972 for best jazz performance by a group. Later CTI albums received generally negative criticism.

In the early '90s, the intensity with which Hubbard had always approached his trumpet caught up with him. After splitting his lip in 1992, he ignored the injury, continuing to play on a European tour. The lip became badly infected, and his physician insisted on a biopsy. No cancer was found, but Hubbard spent the next few years struggling to regain his early ability to articulate his instrument.

His playing over the last decade was uneven, at best. In his most recent local appearance, at Catalina Bar & Grill in April, he performed with The New Jazz Composers Octet, an ensemble organized by Weiss, who was Hubbard's arranger and producer.

Although he performed on fluegelhorn, a more forgiving instrument than the trumpet for players with lip problems, Hubbard did brief solo segments, revealing only traces of the player who Weiss said "played faster, longer, higher and with more energy than any other trumpeter of his era."

Hubbard was born Frederick DeWayne Hubbard in Indianapolis on April 7, 1938. He was the youngest of six children in a musical household and first played the tonette and then the mellophone.

"I had a sister who played classical piano and sang spirituals," he told Coryell and Friedman. "My mother played the piano by ear and I had a brother who played the bass and tenor. So the music was hot and heavy. You'd hear somebody singing, somebody playing the piano, and always a record playing."

He took up the trumpet in junior high school, and also played fluegelhorn, piano, French horn, sousaphone and tuba.

Moving to New York City in 1958, when he was 20, Hubbard quickly became known as one of the important new jazz arrivals. In the early '70s, his career well-established, he moved to Los Angeles, settling in the San Fernando Valley.

He received a Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2006.

Hubbard is survived by his wife, Briggie, and his son, Duane.

Funeral services are pending. A memorial tribute in New York will be planned in the new year.

Heckman is a freelance jazz writer.

29 December 2008

Treasury antes up in auto bailout

VIEW FROM A BOOTH: Oh, please! Can I and 1000 of my closest friends just get bailed out, too? I mean, is there no end to this giveaway? Someone should do a calculation of the totality paid out in "welfare" programs for the past 60+ years and compare it with the total of the "bailout" that is being handled by Secretary Commissar Paulson and Obersturmfuhrer Neel Kashkari, a 34 year old guy whose job it is to oversee the tossing of chum over the side of the sinking boat we occupy, in case someone wants a tuna to eat on the way to the bottom of the ocean. Shit. Gimme a break.

Randy Shiner

Treasury antes up in auto bailout

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Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson at a news conference
Treasury Monday night added $6 billion to the $17.4 billion bailout announced Dec. 19, chiefly to help the financial arm of General Motors Corp.
Photo: AP

Stepping into deeper waters to help the auto industry, Treasury Monday night added $6 billion to the $17.4 billion bailout announced Dec. 19, chiefly to help the financial arm of General Motors Corp.

Using financial markets rescue funds, Treasury will purchase $5 billion in senior preferred equity from GMAC LLC, and up to $1 billion more will be lent to GM itself so the automaker can participate in a rights offering at GMAC, which has wanted to reorganize itself as a bank holding company.

GMAC won approval from the Federal Reserve last week to become a bank holding company, but that was contingent on the auto and home loan provider raising at least $30 billion in capital. Treasury’s announcement would appear to move GMAC closer to that goal, and a GM spokeswoman was optimistic Monday night.

From Treasury’s standpoint, the new commitment raises again the pressure on the White House, Congress and the incoming Obama administration to come together on some plan for releasing the second half of the $700 billion financial rescue fund enacted in October.

Even before Monday night, Treasury would need this to happen soon to implement its aid package for the auto industry. And the added $6 billion only makes it more important.

There is some leeway in terms of actual cash flow, since some prior commitments to the banking industry have yet to be fully implemented. But a Treasury official said Secretary Henry Paulson would be meeting “soon” with congressional leaders and the Obama transition team on how to proceed.

"This will restore liquidity in the auto market and help Americans purchase a car,” said Steve Bartlett, President and CEO of the Washington-based Financial Services Roundtable. “This, combined with the deal announced with automakers, will strengthen the entire auto market from manufacturing all the way to the consumer's driveway."

PLO and Fatah Officials: Hamas is Responsible for the Deaths of Its People

MEMRI Email Newsletter

Special Dispatch | No. 2164 | December 29, 2008


PLO and Fatah Officials: Hamas is Responsible for the Deaths of Its People


Along with expressing solidarity with the Hamas casualties in Gaza, PLO and Fatah officials criticize Hamas for its contribution to the escalation that led to the Israeli attack. They blamed Hamas for not listening to PLO's call to prolong the tahdiah, for not preparing properly for the possibility that Israel would attack, and for combining its government functions with its resistance activity, which made it vulnerable to an attack on its institutions. Hamas, for its part, accused the PLO and Fatah of collaborating with Israel.

The following are excerpts from statements and articles in the Palestinian media:

Abu Mazen: We Told [Hamas] - "Don't End the Tahdiah"

In his visit to Egypt, PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) placed the responsibility for the Israeli attack on Hamas, saying, "We called the leaders of Hamas, and told them both directly and directly, through Arab parties and non-Arab parties. We talked with them on the phone. We told them, 'Please, do not end the tahdiah.'"(1)

Nimr Hammad, an advisor to Mahmoud Abbas, said: "The one responsible for the massacres is Hamas, and not the Zionist entity, which in its own view reacted to the firing of Palestinian missiles. Hamas needs to stop treating the blood of Palestinians lightly. They should not give the Israelis a pretext." He called upon the leaders of Hamas to stop carrying out "operations which reflect recklessness, such as the firing of missiles."(2)

Director of the Palestinian TV & Radio Authority: Hamas is In the Grips of Megalomania

Bassem Abu-Sumayyah, director of the Palestinian TV & Radio Authority and columnist for the PLO daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, reiterated the accusation that "Hamas blocked its ears… They should have had even a little bit of political and security sense, and not left the people wandering, and losing their way, getting killed and injured. It is clear that Hamas was struck by megalomania since they took over Gaza, which blinded them so they would not listen to any advice. Hamas behaved like a superpower, as if they have weapons and means like Hizbullah in Lebanon, and as if they can conduct a war like the July war [of 2006]. Hamas's people thought they have a number of missiles that can enable them to prevail in a war of such size."(3)

Palestinian Columnists: Hamas Could have Prevented the Bloodshed

Editor of the PLO daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida Hafez Al-Barghouthi criticized Hamas for not prolonging the tahdiah, and for kidnapping Gilad Shalit: "Prolonging the tahdiah was a supreme national interest. Why hasn't [Hamas] prevented the aggression and the massacre? How many times have we written, and President Abu Mazen has declared, that these missiles [that Hamas is firing at Israel] as ineffective and contrary to the supreme national interest. Even Hamas saw them as contrary to the supreme national interest at the time of the tahdiah. We said, also, that the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit cost us 500 casualties in one year."(4)

Columnist Muwaffaq Matar called for creating an internal Palestinian investigation committee, and blamed Hamas for being responsible for the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza: "Will we learn the lesson, or are our leaders going to run away from bearing responsibility, as they usually do? If we believe in the value of men and in humanity, we should establish a Palestinian investigative committee that will reveal to the Palestinian people what happened, and why over 200 people have lost their lives and 750 have been injured within one hour, even though the calls for war, the speeches and the statements [in Israel], were abundant a week before the tahdiah ended… What did the commanders in Gaza expect? That the commanders of the Israeli army will let them know what is the zero hour, so that they will remove their people from the military and security headquarters?... This bloodshed and horrible destruction of our national institutions could have been prevented. It only needed political courage, moral wisdom, and adherence to the aspirations of the Palestinian people to live securely and in freedom and independence."(5)

Hamas has to Choose Between Being a Government and Fighting Its Resistance Activities

Abdallah Awwad, columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, argued against Hamas' attempt to be both a government as well as a fighting resistance: "The Israeli incursions after 2000 [during the Al-Aqsa Intifada] and the destruction of the PLO headquarters were enough [for the PLO] to see the incompatibility of being a government at the same time as fighting the resistance… We are paying the price of stupidity, and the maniacal love of being rulers, that has nothing in it except for hollow slogans. [A choice must be made to be] either a government or a resistance. When the two are combined, it gives the occupying power easy targets… The example of the destruction of the PLO headquarters in the West Bank during the Intifada should have sufficed… What happened in Gaza demonstrates that the lesson was not learned. Instead of disappearing under the ground, which is the basis for any resistance, Hamas personnel remained exposed in the open… This destructive formula contained within it a premise that the occupation will not dare to carry out a bloody attack on Gaza."(6)

(1) Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PLO), December 29, 2008.
(2) Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), December 28, 2008.
(3) Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), December 29, 2008.
(4) Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), December 28, 2008.
(5) Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), December 28, 2008.
(6) Al-Ayyam (PA), December 28, 2008.

20 December 2008

Wonderful? Sorry, George, It’s a Pitiful, Dreadful Life

Paramount Pictures

The classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” stars James Stewart as a man who can see the world as it would be if he had never been born. It also stars Thomas Mitchell, left, and Lionel Barrymore, center.

Published: December 18, 2008

MR. ELLMAN didn’t tell us why he wanted us to stay after school that December afternoon in 1981. When we got to the classroom — cinderblock walls, like all the others, with a dreary view of the parking lot — we smelled popcorn.

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Paramount Pictrures

In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a stressed-out James Stewart, foreground, unravels in front of his family, including, from left, Larry Simms, Jimmy Hawkins, Donna Reed and Carol Coombs.

Associated Press

James Stewart, as George Bailey, in the “real” Bedford Falls.

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He had set up a 16-millimeter projector and a movie screen, and rearranged the chairs. Book bags, jackets and overcoats were tossed on seat backs, teenagers sat, suspicious, slumping, and Mr. Ellman started the projector whirring. “It’s a Wonderful Life” filled the screen.

I was not a mushy kid. My ears were fed a steady stream of the Clash and the Jam, and I was doing my best to conjure a dyed-haired, wry, angry-young-man teenage persona. But I was enthralled that afternoon in Brooklyn. In the years that followed, my affection for “It’s a Wonderful Life” has never waned, despite the film’s overexposure and sugar-sweet marketing, and the rolling eyes of friends and family.

Lots of people love this movie of course. But I’m convinced it’s for the wrong reasons. Because to me “It’s a Wonderful Life” is anything but a cheery holiday tale. Sitting in that dark public high school classroom, I shuddered as the projector whirred and George Bailey’s life unspooled.

Was this what adulthood promised?

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.

I haven’t seen it on a movie screen since that first time, but on Friday it begins its annual pre-Christmas run at the IFC Cinema in Greenwich Village. I plan to take my 9-year-old son and my father, who has never seen it the whole way through because he thinks it’s too corny.

How wrong he is.

I’m no movie critic, and I’ll leave to others any erudite evaluation of the film as cinematic art, but to examine it closely is to experience “It’s a Wonderful Life” on several different levels.

Many are pulling the movie out of the archives lately because of its prescience on the perils of trusting bankers. I’ve found, after repeated viewings, that the film turns upside down and inside out, and some glaring — and often funny — flaws become apparent. These flaws have somehow deepened my affection for it over the years.

Take the extended sequence in which George Bailey (James Stewart), having repeatedly tried and failed to escape Bedford Falls, N.Y., sees what it would be like had he never been born. The bucolic small town is replaced by a smoky, nightclub-filled, boogie-woogie-driven haven for showgirls and gamblers, who spill raucously out into the crowded sidewalks on Christmas Eve. It’s been renamed Pottersville, after the villainous Mr. Potter, Lionel Barrymore’s scheming financier.

Here’s the thing about Pottersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stultifying Bedford Falls — the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If anything, Pottersville captures just the type of excitement George had long been seeking.

And what about that banking issue? When he returns to the “real” Bedford Falls, George is saved by his friends, who open their wallets to cover an $8,000 shortfall at his savings and loan brought about when the evil Mr. Potter snatched a deposit mislaid by George’s idiot uncle, Billy (Thomas Mitchell).

But isn’t George still liable for the missing funds, even if he has made restitution? I mean, if someone robs a bank, and then gives the money back, that person still robbed the bank, right?

I checked my theory with Frank J. Clark, the district attorney for Erie County upstate, where, as far as I can tell, the fictional Bedford Falls is set. He thought it over, and then agreed: George would still face prosecution and possible prison time.

“In terms of the theft, sure, you take the money and put it back, you still committed the larceny,” he said. “By giving the money back, you have mitigated in large measure what the sentence might be, but you are still technically guilty of the offense.”

He took this a bit further: “If you steal over $3,000, it’s a D felony; 2 ½ to 7 years is the maximum term for that. The least you can get is probation. You know Jimmy Stewart, though, he had that hangdog face. He’d be a tough guy to send to jail.”

He paused, and then added: “You really have a cynical sense of humor.”

He should have met me when I was 15.

The movie starts sappily enough, with three angels in outer space discussing George’s fate. Maybe that’s what turned my dad off, that or the saccharine title. I’m amazed they didn’t spoil it for me in 1981, but I may not have been paying attention yet.

Soon enough, though, the darkness sets in. George’s brother, Harry (Todd Karns), almost drowns in a childhood accident; Mr. Gower, a pharmacist, nearly poisons a sick child; and then George, a head taller than everyone else, becomes the pathetic older sibling creepily hanging around Harry’s high school graduation party. That night George humiliates his future wife, Mary (Donna Reed), by forcing her to hide behind a bush naked, and the evening ends with his father’s sudden death.

Disappointments pile up. George can’t go to college because of his obligation to run the Bailey Building and Loan, and instead sends Harry. But Harry returns a slick, self-obsessed jerk, cannily getting out of his responsibility to help with the family business, by marrying a woman whose dad gives him a job. George again treats Mary cruelly, this time by chewing her out and bringing her to tears before kissing her. It is hard to understand precisely what she sees in him.

George is further emasculated when his bad hearing keeps him out of World War II, and then it’s Christmas Eve 1945. These scenes — rather than the subsequent Bizarro-world alternate reality — have always been the film’s defining moments for me. All the decades of anger boil to the surface.

After Potter takes the deposit, George flies into a rage and finally lets Uncle Billy know what he thinks of him, calling him a “silly, stupid old fool.” Then he explodes at his family.

If you watch the film this year, keep a close eye on Stewart during this sequence. First he smashes a model bridge he has built. Then, like any parent who loses his temper with his children, he seems genuinely embarrassed. He’s ashamed. He apologizes. And then ... slowly ... he starts getting angry all over again.

To me Stewart’s rage, building throughout the film, is perfectly calibrated — and believable — here.

Now as for that famous alternate-reality sequence: This is supposedly what the town would turn out to be if not for George. I interpret it instead as showing the true characters of these individuals, their venal internal selves stripped bare. The flirty Violet (played by a supersexy Gloria Grahame, who would soon become a timeless film noir femme fatale) is a dime dancer and maybe a prostitute; Ernie the cabbie’s blank face speaks true misery as George enters his taxi; Bert the cop is a trigger-happy madman, violating every rule in the patrol guide when he opens fire on the fleeing, yet unarmed, George, forcing revelers to cower on the pavement.

Gary Kamiya, in a funny story on Salon.com in 2001, rightly pointed out how much fun Pottersville appears to be, and how awful and dull Bedford Falls is. He even noticed that the only entertainment in the real town, glimpsed on the marquee of the movie theater after George emerges from the alternate universe, is “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”

Now that’s scary.

I’ll do Mr. Kamiya one better, though. Not only is Pottersville cooler and more fun than Bedford Falls, it also would have had a much, much stronger future. Think about it: In one scene George helps bring manufacturing to Bedford Falls. But since the era of “It’s a Wonderful Life” manufacturing in upstate New York has suffered terribly.

On the other hand, Pottersville, with its nightclubs and gambling halls, would almost certainly be in much better financial shape today. It might well be thriving.

I checked my theory with the oft-quoted Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban policy at New York University, and he agreed, pointing out that, of all the upstate counties, the only one that has seen growth in recent years has been Saratoga.

“The reason is that it is a resort, and it has built an economy around that,” he said. “Meanwhile the great industrial cities have declined terrifically. Look at Connecticut: where is the growth? It’s in casinos; they are constantly expanding.”

In New York, Mr. Moss added, Gov. David A. Paterson “is under enormous pressure to allow gambling upstate because of the economic problems.”

“We ease up on our lot of cultural behaviors in a depression,” he said.

What a grim thought: Had George Bailey never been born, the people in his town might very well be better off today.

Not too long ago I friended Mr. Ellman on Facebook. (To call him by his given name, Robert, is somehow still unnatural to me.)

I asked him about inviting us to stay after school to eat popcorn and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He said it was always one of his favorite films, if a little corny and sentimental, and that he always saw staying late with us as part of his job. If anything, he said, there was just as much to learn after school as there was during it.

He reminded me that it was an actual film print we saw; this was before video took hold. And he also proved to be a close viewer. It was Mr. Ellman who pointed out to me how cruel George is to Mary the night they first kiss, and who told me to keep an eye out for Ernie’s vacant stare when George gets into the cab. He said he cried the first time he saw it.

I asked him if he’d continued those December viewings.

“In later years,” he wrote, “it became too difficult to get students to stay. We started doing a festival of student-written/student-directed one-act plays right after the end of the fall show. Everyone was too busy to stay and watch a movie.”

It’s a shame.

So I’ll tell Mr. Ellman a secret. It’s something I felt while watching the film all those years ago, but was too embarrassed to reveal.

That last scene, when Harry comes back from the war and says, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town”? Well, as I sat in that classroom, despite the dreary view of the parking lot; despite the moronic Uncle Billy; despite the too-perfect wife, Mary; and all of George’s lost opportunities, I felt a tingling chill around my neck and behind my ears. Fifteen years old and imagining myself an angry young man, I got all choked up.

And I still do.

"It’s a Wonderful Life” continues through Tuesday at the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at West Third Street, Greenwich Village; (212) 924-7771; ifccenter.com.

17 December 2008

Supermarket defends itself over Adolf Hitler cake

Heath Campbell, left, with his wife, Deborah, and son Adolf Hitler Campbell, 3, AP – Heath Campbell, left, with his wife, Deborah, and son Adolf Hitler Campbell, 3, pose in Easton, Pa., …

EASTON, Pa. – A supermarket is defending itself for refusing to a write out 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell's name on his birthday cake. Deborah Campbell, 25, of nearby Hunterdon County, N.J., said she phoned in her order last week to the Greenwich ShopRite. When she told the bakery department she wanted her son's name spelled out, she was told to talk to a supervisor, who denied the request.

Karen Meleta, a ShopRite spokeswoman, said the store denied similar requests from the Campbells the last two years, including a request for a swastika.

"We reserve the right not to print anything on the cake that we deem to be inappropriate," Meleta said. "We considered this inappropriate."

The Campbells ultimately got their cake decorated at a Wal-Mart in Pennsylvania, Deborah Campbell said Tuesday.

A Wal-Mart spokesman told The Associated Press on Wednesday that in light of the incident, the company would review its guidelines regarding cake decorations and other requests.

"It's clear that in serving this customer, some people were offended," spokesman Greg Rossiter said. "As a result, we're going to review our policies."

Heath Campbell said he named his son after Adolf Hitler because he liked the name and because "no one else in the world would have that name."

The Campbells' two other children are named JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, who turns 2 in a few months, and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, who will be 1 in April.

Campbell said he was raised not to avoid people of other races but not to mix with them socially or romantically. But he said he would try to raise his children differently.

"Say he grows up and hangs out with black people. That's fine, I don't really care," he said. "That's his choice."

He said about 12 people attended the birthday party Sunday, including several children of mixed race.

Park Your Money With THIS Guy: The Man That Fingered Madoff

Dec. 18, 2008

Harry Markopolos, who once worked in a trading firm that competed with Bernard Madoff's, for nine years has been trying to persuade staffer after staffer at the Securities and Exchange Commission that Mr. Madoff's operation was a fraud. The agency never brought charges.

A week after Mr. Madoff was arrested in an alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme, Mr. Markopolos was vindicated. Internal SEC documents show how the agency, prompted in 2006 to investigate by Mr. Markopolos's complaints, found serious violations at Mr. Madoff's firm, but took no public action. These documents show the SEC found some violations at Mr. Madoff's firm in 2006-07, but didn't take action on allegations that it was a Ponzi scheme.


14 December 2008

With elections in February, Israel searching for its Obama

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JERUSALEM — While U.S. Sen. Barack Obama was running for president, Israeli pundits publicly fretted that he was too green, too liberal and too naive to capably navigate diplomatic quagmires in the Middle East.

Now, Israeli politicians can't get enough of the president-elect.

Candidates across the Israeli political spectrum are doing everything they can to wrap themselves in the Obama mystique as they position themselves for national elections in February.

The conservative front-runner has re-designed his campaign web site to mirror Obama's.

The religious right wing party has appropriated Obama's trademark "Yes We Can" slogan - and personalized it by adding "...with God's help."

And one of Israel's small, left wing parties enlisted help from a pair of Obama campaign consultants.

But the mad rush by Israeli politicians to wrap themselves in Obama sloganeering hasn't obscured an uncomfortable reality recognized by most pundits: There is no Israeli Obama poised to become a transformative voice in the Middle East.

"Israel is undergoing a profound transition from leaders who had moral authority and competence to a younger set of leaders who have demonstrated that they're not quite up to it," said Aaron David Miller, author of "The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace," and an adviser to six former U.S. secretaries of state. "Israel is going to have enough trouble finding a competent leader, much less a transformative Israel is heading into a period of political change, but no one expects elections to produce dramatic changes.

The current front-runner is conservative Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who served three lackluster years as prime minister in the late-1990s.

That hasn't kept Netanyahu from trying to lay claim to some Obama charm in the weeks since the Illinois Democrat beat U.S. Sen. John McCain to become U.S. president-elect.

The Likud Party now deliberately mirrors the Obama campaign Web site's color, format and style. And Netanyahu aides played up their decision to enlist advice from two low-level Obama political consultants.

Netanyahu's attempts to link himself to Obama earned him the ridicule of Amos Biderman, the Haaretz newspaper political cartoonist who drew the Likud leader getting an extreme Obama-esque makeover. In the cartoon, stylists put blackface on Netanyahu and curl his newly-dyed-black hair to look more like the U.S. president-elect.

"I don't see anybody that is new and has (Obama's) talent and coolness," said Biderman. "I'm sure that there could be an Israeli Obama, but so far nature hasn't supplied one."

Of the next potential Israeli prime ministers, Netanyahu probably represents the one least ideologically aligned with Obama.

When compared with Obama, Netanyahu favors go-slow diplomacy with Israel's Arab neighbors and a more confrontational approach to deterring Iran from pressing ahead with its nuclear program.

But Netanayhu's not the only conservative Israeli appropriating Obama imagery.

Israel's conservative-religious Shas Party has adopted Obama's signature "Yes We Can" slogan, translated it into Hebrew, added "...with God's help" and plastered it on bus billboards across the country.

And Shas is even farther from Obama's ideological foundations than Likud.

The problem in Israel, said former Israeli adviser Daniel Levy, is that the nation's voters are still largely driven by fear, whereas Obama's election was a direct rejection of the politics of fear.

"The path to change is really challenging that existing paradigm," said Levy, who served as an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and is now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.

In the upcoming election, voters are facing a choice among members of a new generation of political leaders whose resumes lack the gravitas of the country's warrior-statesmen who helped found Israel.

Each potential next prime minister has had a chance to lead the nation - and fallen short.

Netanyahu served three years as prime minister before losing to Labor leader Ehud Barak in 1999.

Barak unsuccessfully sought to secure a breakthrough peace deal with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Within months, the second Palestinian uprising broke out and Barak was forced from office after less than two years as prime minister.

Now back as Labor Party leader and defense minister in the current coalition led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Barak is a long-shot to regain the post.

Netanyahu faces a stronger challenge from Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister and the woman elected to succeed Olmert as head of the young center-right Kadima Party.

Had Livni been able to pull together a coalition government this fall, she could have avoided elections. But Livni refused to agree to political demands from Shas for joining her coalition. That sent Livni into the elections with a weak hand and little political cachet.

If there were to be an Israeli Obama, some think the leader would have to come from among Israel's Arab minority - an idea that isn't within the realm of possibility in the current political climate.

"Israel hasn't gone through its own civil rights struggle, so we're so not in a place where someone could have credibility inside the Arab community and have appeal to the broader community," said Levy. "We're not in that place because the narrative of Israeli-ness is still structured on such a level of exclusivity rather than inclusiveness that, until you address that reality, it's fantastical to think in those terms."

Pity He Missed

12 December 2008

The Recession Made Me an Optimist

 The Recession Made Me an Optimist

Lit Klatsch: Shining City
Modern Tribe - Judaica Hanukkah Gifts

I am not the sunniest person I know. Not even close. But neither am I a font of Scandinavian gloom. If I had to describe how I try to go through the day, the word that comes to mind is bemused. My wife sometimes asks what is upsetting me and I have to explain my dour countenance. Nothing, I say, that is just my face in repose. Some people look blissful when they are relaxed. I look like I just finished reading The Brothers Karamazov. I wish I were smiler. My natural expression is a slightly foreboding one (at fifteen, my son is actively trying to cultivate this), and I wish it were not so. If I were smiling naturally, perhaps it would be easier to feel better about things.

Although I have been relatively lucky in life - if you don't count a series of bad relationships prior to marriage, and cancer (I'm fine now, thanks) - I have developed a somewhat pessimistic outlook. Perhaps this has something to do with having worked as a screenwriter for the past twenty years. An agent once told me, "The movie business is designed to make you cry." I can attest that this is true. So I developed a negative gene, one that protects me from damage. If you can anticipate the insult, it can be deflected. An open heart is one that will bleed to death.

But that, my three readers, is show business. Not life.

I don't feel like I have the luxury of pessimism any more. The country is in dire shape, the problems seem insurmountable, the leaders of the past eight years dangerous buffoons who will pay no price for their epic malfeasance. The auto industry is tanking, newspapers are going bankrupt, and Wall Street is fleecing us again with the bailout. Truly, things are awful.

And yet.

Here is Barack Obama. I am not one of the people who think he walks on water. He is human and will make his share of mistakes, of bad calls. He will do things I don't like. But he is a supremely intelligent grown-up, and someone I am willing to trust. Perhaps he won't be able to disarm Iran, or provide universal health care, or eliminate the drum machine from pop music, but his being in charge makes me hopeful.

Pessimism is too easy right now. The public education system is an abject failure, we are in an S&M relationship with China, and our economy is in free-fall. But to be pessimistic is to give in to the obvious. The hope thing, so in evidence throughout the Obama campaign, always struck me as a loser. I would see the famous poster of Obama and it reminded me of the classic one of Che Guevara that adorned dorm room walls back in the 70s, and was so-often observed through a haze of bong smoke and Joni Mitchell music. It was a killer in graphic terms, but it had the look of a loser. Che had ended up riddled with bullets in a South American jungle. What did he have to show for all of his revolutionary fire? The dictatorship of Fidel Castro's Cuba? And please, don't tell me about how everyone there has free medical care.

In my previously pessimistic state, I assumed Obama would follow Che's path to irrelevancy. The Obama posters, like those of Che would be an aching memory of a candle that burned just brightly enough to tickle everyone's expectations, before being blown out in a foul gust of McCain-Palin. How great it is to be wrong. Clearly, anything can happen.

People will continue to do bad things to each other. They will be greedy, slothful, consumed by lust, and insensitive in the extreme. Some might be pessimistic about their chances in such a difficult world. Borders is failing, major publishers are contracting, and the market for fiction by someone who isn't Stephanie Meyer is shrinking. So I am optimistic right now. Given all the awfulness, why should that be? It's no secret that the most resonant art comes from pain. I suspect we are in for an unusually creative period.

Seth Greenland, author of Shining City, is guest blogging on Jewcy, and he'll be here all week. Stay tuned.

11 December 2008

Study Finds White-Collar Unemployment Spreading


Updated, 3:55 p.m. | Well-paid professionals like lawyers and architects are joining the rapidly expanding unemployment rolls in New York City, according to a new unemployment study.

The report, released by the Fiscal Policy Institute, shows that the effects of the financial crisis have spread well beyond Wall Street to other white-collar jobs, as well as construction, retail and service jobs.

The number of white-collar workers outside the financial industry receiving unemployment checks has increased by more than 40 percent and the number of college graduates collecting benefits is up by 50 percent in the city since last year, the report shows.

In other dire news for the New York economy, the city comptroller forecast on Thursday that Wall Street’s cash bonuses will drop at least 50 percent to their lowest level since 2002, which could have grave consequences for city tax receipts. The comptroller’s chief economist recently explained in an interview how the city’s fortunes have changed so dramatically.

A report today put the national unemployment rate at its highest level in 26 years.

Although the nation has been losing jobs since the start of this year, New York City’s job market remained strong into the summer, according to the report, which is based on data compiled by the federal and state Labor Departments. As recently as July, the number of new claims for unemployment benefits in the city was only about 10 percent higher than it had been a year earlier.

But unemployment claims have been rising rapidly, portending an “upsurge” in the city’s unemployment rate in coming months, said James Parrott, the institute’s chief economist and author of the report.

According to the state’s figures, the city has lost about 10,000 jobs since employment peaked in August. A report on the condition of the job market in the city and state in November is due to be released next week.

Most forecasts of the effects of the financial crisis project that the city will lose more than 150,000 jobs during this recession. The report estimates that job losses will average about 10,000 a month from November 2008 through the end of 2009.

The layoffs are following a traditional recessionary pattern by radiating out from the big financial companies to other professional services and to lower-paying businesses like retailing, according to the report, which is based on a breakdown of the latest data available from the state labor department.

The number of unemployment beneficiaries who worked in professional, technical and scientific services was 6,428 in October, up 42 percent from October 2007. That total — which includes the fields of law, accounting, consulting and engineering — exceeded the 5,935 beneficiaries who worked in finance and insurance, the report shows. The number of blue-collar beneficiaries was up 50 percent, driven by a jump in laid-off construction workers.

Mr. Parrott said that the figures understate how severe the unemployment situation is because many laid-off workers have not yet started collecting checks and many others do not qualify for benefits. In October, fewer than one-third of the 225,000 unemployed residents of New York City were collecting benefits, he said.