Nixon in the Rear-View: Three newish books offer three fresh perspectives on our 37th President


The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority, by Pat Buchanan. New York: Crown Forum/Random House. 392 pp, illustrated.

Nixon’s Secrets: The Rise, Fall and Untold Truth about the President, Watergate and the Pardon, by Roger Stone, with Mike Colapietro. New York; Skyhorse Publishing. 661 pp, illustrated.

Pat and Dick: The Nixons, an Intimate Portrait of a Marriage, by Will Swift. New York: Threshold Editions/Simon & Schuster. 447 pp, illustrated.

Nixon ad

The year 2014 was an important one for the friends, family and fans of America’s infamous 37th president, who died 20 years ago this April. August 8th marked the 40-year anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, followed by his dramatic exit from office the following day. It was the beginning of a long journey back into America’s good graces, a process that continues to this day. This country and the entire world have changed a lot since his death, and time has rendered a different judgment of Nixon than the one rendered in his lifetime, as old information combines with new developments to clarify old perceptions.

These anniversaries have triggered a small flood of Nixonalia into the marketplace, and each project wrestles with a central problem: Richard Nixon is not a man who can be spoken of objectively. The nature of his work forces all those who study it to make their own decision at so many different points. Let’s keep it real: His enemies called him “Tricky Dick”, and even his allies would concede how utterly appropriate the nickname was—more so than maybe any president since Andrew Jackson, aka “Old Hickory”. HBO released “Nixon: In His Own Words”, an excellent 75-minute mashup of audio clips and video footage spanning the scope of his career. It’s an ideal introduction to one of the great character studies of the entire 20th century.

Richard Milhous Nixon cut one of the most unique swaths through our nation’s political history, and that influence persists today, a generation after he took leave of this dimension. As President Obama lurches toward the anticlimactic end of his administration, recent scandals have proven that, despite whatever early pretensions he may have had to the legacy of JFK, history will regard him as the closest thing we’ve had to Nixon since Nixon himself—a cold-blooded pragmatist, driven by inner tensions that he can hardly articulate.

Each of the three books tends to center on specific aspects of Nixon’s story, and will be of varying appeal, depending on the reader’s views of the subject. Two of the authors can be considered partisans: Buchanan and Stone were both recruited and trained in part by Nixon himself, and both went on to work for Reagan, as well.

But just as Nixon’s worst enemies would allow for the man’s obvious ability, his key supporters will readily own up to his major flaws—and, seen in its totality, the Nixon Legacy seems like something that could have never gone any differently than it did. Although Nixon himself would later own up to his many mistakes, it is unlikely that, given the opportunity, he would have never corrected them, because Richard Nixon was, by all accounts, pathologically incapable of admitting weakness. The whole debacle involving the infamous “Nixon Tapes” is a case in point. Even as his presidency was lurching, slowly and painfully toward its inevitable conclusion, he retained the power to save his presidency by simply burning the tapes.

Of course, veteran GOP operative Roger Stone, who started working for Nixon while barely out of his teens, posits that Nixon was set up for scandal by his own underlings, through a combination of incompetence and outright corruption, and that even he may not have known exactly what was up until the end. By the time his resignation was a fait accompli, the old man (who aged prematurely, like they all do) had already pivoted into plotting his post-presidency career. Stone argues that the affable ax-man Gerald Ford was selected to replace Spiro Agnew with a mind toward the pardon that he would eventually grant the fallen Nixon; he further argues that Nixon secured that pardon essentially through blackmail—specifically, his knowledge of Ford’s crucial role in whitewashing what became the Warren Commission Report. And that is the axis around which his narrative rotates.

Only in recent years has it become common knowledge that many of the people closest to the situation—Bobby Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and even Fidel Castro—had all privately admitted extreme skepticism of the commission’s findings. Note that the latter three frequently turn up in conspiracy theories related to the real architects of the assassination; for what it’s worth, Stone fixes the blame squarely on LBJ, as he wrote in his previous book, and one may assume that his views were influenced heavily by Nixon’s own.

During his presidency, Nixon was known for making frequent references to “the Bay of Pigs situation”, particularly as the Watergate investigation began to pick up steam. Although he never spoke to the point directly, it was always widely believed that the phrase was a reference to the murder of JFK, but Stone makes this theory explicit: In his telling, Nixon as Vice-President was deputized by Eisenhower to plot the removal of Fidel Castro, in conjunction with the CIA and members of the mafia who’d been alienated by the Cuban regime. This effort, called “Operation 40”, led directly to the ridiculous failed assassination plots run by Bobby Kennedy under his brother, which then led directly to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, which many (including Stone) led directly to the tragedy in Dallas in November 1963. (Add Stone’s name, also, to the list of writers who have alleged that other assassination plots had been in the works prior to November 1963.)

What made all this relevant to Nixon’s interests is that A) JFK was, at one point, a friend of his, and, having survived attempts on his own life over the years, he was deeply disturbed by the idea of any president being killed; and B) Nixon knew that several of the people thought to be involved in the murder plot—including people like Frank Sturgis, Felix Rodriguez, Santo Trafficante, Johnny Roselli and the infamous E. Howard Hunt, who confessed membership in the conspiracy shortly before his own death—were veterans of Nixon’s Operation 40, and as such he knew he could’ve been implicated in the conspiracy himself, even though he presumably was not. The fact that Hunt and Sturgis both went on to be part of the original Watergate burglary team is a historical anomaly that, in Stone’s telling, led directly to the Plumbers’ apparent failure, and the end of their boss’ tenure.

Stone’s book “Nixon’s Secrets” is probably the most must-read of the three books. It’s loaded with insider dirt, rendered by an author whose dirty-tricks credentials are rock-solid. Stone’s book is kind of a throwback to this writer’s personal favorite Nixon book, Anthony Summers’ infamous biography The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon (2000), a tome crafted and marketed as an epic takedown that, as so often with aspects of Nixon’s blowback, backfired.

In a country that glorifies gangsters and anti-heroes of all stripes, it makes perfect sense that Richard Nixon is arguably more popular now that he was at any point in his life, and his fan-base is built heavily around people who weren’t even alive during his presidency. Their views of that era are colored by their living memory of all the (for lack of a better word) shenanigans that have transpired in the 40 years since Nixon’s resignation: the Iran hostage crisis, Reagan getting shot, Iran-Contra, Whitewater, Lewinsky, the Drug War, the Patriot Act, two attacks on the World Trade Center, two Iraq wars and countless skirmishes and incidents elsewhere, leading up to things like the NSA and TSA today. It is frankly hypocritical for Americans to pretend that the 1970s elite consensus regarding Nixon remains valid in today’s world, given the men we elected to succeed him as president. At least half of those six may have eclipsed Nixon, in terms of pure ruthlessness, and maybe all of them.

For today’s GOP to attack President Obama for using Nixonian tactics—which he does, no doubt—creates the kind of bitter, cynical historical irony that only Nixon could appreciate. And when one considers that the three most successful presidents since Nixon (Reagan, Clinton, Obama), all basically came up from nothing, with fathers who were either absent or insufficient, and all grew up with chips on their shoulders that they carried into the White House with them, along with the attendant defense mechanisms, creating a psychological component that directly influenced their own presidencies (for better or for worse) it could well be argued that we are still living in the Age of Nixon, because they all worked variations on a theme that he established in the larger narrative of the presidency as an institution. The only difference between he and them is that (as every Nixon scholar seems to agree) Nixon was never able to check his darker impulses, which eventually consumed him. But then again, Nixon never had Nixon’s example to draw upon.

As time has passed, and the principals on all sides have grown older, passed on and left their (always selective) memories behind, Nixon’s controversial run has come to be seen in a broader context. This process was initiated by Nixon himself during the David Frost interviews in 1977, his Oxford Union gig in 1978 and the publication of his memoirs that same year. While Nixon did not invent the concept of “revisionist history”, he was without question the all-time master of its use in American politics, and the broader culture. It’s hard to think of another public figure in our nation’s history whose posthumous reputation is more different than their reputation in life, and certainly not in a positive way. Again, this was probably Nixon’s plan all along. Only he could have understood what honest observers would now concede: that the historical value of keeping the White House Tapes would transcend the disastrous short-term effect that it had on his presidency.

Even after he resigned he left behind the framework for what would become a winning coalition for Reagan and Bush that later gave his party 12 more years of power—or 20, if one counts George W. Bush, a very different type of Republican, no doubt. Buchanan’s book goes into great detail on the process of triangulating between two parties that were both in transitional phases; he shows how, at all points in the 1960s, Nixon was working toward an end-game that most of his peers were unable to figure out until it was basically over. Nixon was consistently ahead of the curve when it came to almost everything, except his own career; he consistently sacrificed his short-term interests in favor of long-term legacy concerns, culminating with the fateful and fatal decision not to destroy his tapes, and it’s only now, long after his death, that we can appreciate that calculation

Time has leveled a sort of equilibrium to Nixon’s legacy, in that casual observers will remember him mostly for perceived misdeeds that history has given context to, in not exactly validation. On matters like Alger Hiss, the escalation of war in Indochina, the Pentagon Papers and even the Oval Office tapes themselves, time has led more people to believe Nixon simply made the least-disastrous choice in a number of lose-lose situations that were often not of his doing.

The present era of global chaos makes some nostalgic for the man who engaged Communists in China and Russia, reached out to Arab moderates while strengthening America’s relationship with Israel and managed to pass a wave of progressive social policies while ratcheting up the war on drugs. Nixon had a special kind of hustle that we will likely never see again on any level of the business, and that in my opinion is to our permanent disadvantage.

Hillary Clinton (who might not have met her husband, at least not have met her husband, had the two young rising Democratic stars not shared a common enemy in Nixon, but that’s another story) once defined the difference between politicians and statesmen thusly: A politician thinks of the next election, while a statesman thinks of the next generation. Nixon was both, in spades, but 40 years after his final disgrace, more and more Americans are coming to recognize that his disgrace was not really not that disgraceful after all.

Swift notes that Pat Nixon always suspected that her husband’s undoing may have related to willful shenanigans by members of the Watergate burglary team acting at cross-purposes—a hypothesis that Stone makes extensive effort to verify in Nixon’s Secrets. He implicates Alexander Butterfield, who installed Nixon’s taping system and then revealed its existence to Congress—unprovoked, in his telling—while also calling out the incompetence of key functionaries like Bob Haldeman, John Erlichmann and John Mitchell, who were all key to Nixon’s political rebirth but whose personal flaws contributed to their boss’ undoing, and their own eventual imprisonment.

Stone reserves special venom for John Dean, whom he places at the center of a conspiracy to undermine the president for self-serving ends, and whose own multiple versions of the story are painstaking elucidated. Their feud has only burned hotter since the book’s release; it would make an interesting debate. Stone also hits Alexander Haig, while alleging that he was among the sources for former Navy intelligence operative Bob Woodward, whose seminal reporting on the scandal was, in Stone’s telling, largely specious, if not transparently false. He flatly rejects the idea of Mark Felt being Deep Throat, suggesting the character was merely a composite of several people.

Stone has obviously given a lot of thought to Watergate and related matters, and his views are useful addendums to the established narrative. (Stone and Dean had a brief, but vitriolic verbal battle at the Austin Book Festival; their dispute may ultimately have to be settled in court.) Stone’s next book, due later this year, focuses on the Clintons, and promises to be potentially even more explosive than Nixon’s Secrets. And with a potential run for US Senate in the works for 2016, with Hillary Clinton seeking the presidency in the same year, there is no reason for him to hold anything back, and no reason to think he’d even consider it. Because, after all, he is a Nixon man.


Shifting Into Summer: john Shannon’s newest project debuts in Florida


The Shift

Jack Rabbits

Thursday, June 11

“7th Direction” is an impressive debut EP from The Shift, a New York-based trio whose show at Jack Rabbits this Thursday comes at the end of their first-ever swing through the Sunshine State, amidst a tour that’s taking them from coast to coast. “The tour has been great,” says lead singer/guitarist John Shannon, writing in from the road. “Our starter went out on our van the other day in Alabama but luckily there was a bowling alley with a bar across the street from the mechanic.”

I’ve known Mr. Shannon for nearly a decade, having met through mutual friends at his old Brooklyn loft back in 2006. Our party watched “An Inconvenient Truth” at the Sunshine Theatre one night, with Questlove’s afro partially blocking the view. I first saw him perform a couple nights later, at Manhattan’s venerable Jazz Gallery, playing guitar in the sextet backing ace cellist Dana Leong; it remains one of the ten best jazz sets I’ve ever witnessed, anywhere. He was then leading his jazz group Waking Vision Trio, which put out a couple of excellent albums a decade ago.

From that first initial meeting through the week spent pacing the circles he runs in, he made an immediate and impactful impression on me, not just as a person, but as one of the most prodigious musical talents in a dense, dynamic scene that was then just beginning to be branded as the borough we know and love (and kind of envy) today. His current group, which includes bassist Ben Geis and drummer MJ Lambert, is his newest and most polished vehicle on a musical journey that has already taken him around the country, more than once.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1980, John Shannon’s released three albums under his own name: “American Mystic” (2008), “Songs of the Desert River” (2010) and “Time Was A Lie” (2012). Critics have compared his work to masters like Tim Buckley, Nick Drake and Paul Simon; the albums have earned praise in places like Rolling Stone, Minor 7th and Time Out NY. His credits include sideman work with Bob Reynolds, Ben Harper, John Mayer, James Maddox, Lauryn Hill and Hiromi Urehara; he’s also recorded with Gary Go and Sonya Kitchell, whom he also backed on tour, as well as composed music for the FX show “Louie”.

In many ways, The Shift represents the present culmination of careers cultivated throughout the 21st century, a syncretic smash-up of the members’ traditional training, processed through years of long nights working club gigs in one of the most competitive commercial markets in the world. The album was recorded in less than a week, using a mixing board in Brooklyn that had once been used by George Martin to record the Beatles. Shannon writes the lyrics, while his colleagues build the music together.

The New York of their generation is simply not a place where you can last for long unless you’re good, and all three have put in practically a decade, ample time earn the confidence that comes through so clearly on the album. Shannon’s voice evokes nothing so much as mid-70s Robert Plant, while the clean, crisp tonality of the instruments gives it a prog-rock flavor, with the kind of tight, dextrous articulation that one would expect from three alumni of the Berklee School of Music—a school so prestigious that using the word “prestigious” to describe it is practically a cliché in music journalism. “It’s kind of a microcosm of the future music business when you’re there that seems to than move out into the real world—at least it has for me,”  says Shannon, who randomly encounters fellow alumni on a regular basis in his travels.

“If you know you have something strong, unique and a band willing to persevere,” notes Shannon, “you end up in more of a relationship/competition with time than with other bands. If you can use that inevitable pressure involved in the process of getting recognized to be more creative, resourceful and alive, then you are already winning.”

All GUTS, All Glory: Alachua’s finest femmes, planting their flag in Duval’s urban core.


Summer Goodman/GUTS/Mouth Mouth/Flat Land

Underbelly–Wednesday, April 1

Courtesy Medusa Productions

Back when I was a college freshman, attending the University of Florida, way back in the Year Of Our Lord 1995 (it wasn’t that long ago, really, but it feels that way sometimes), the best band in Gainesville was called the Crustaceans, but there was nothing crabby about their sound. It was a trio playing guitar, bass and drums; they switched instruments and lead vocal duties repeatedly during their sets, seamlessly. They were a garage band in the true mattresses-on-the walls, un-ironic-clove-cigarette-smoking kind of way.  Their leader was Samantha Jones, already a local legend long before I’d ever palmed my first bottle of Boone’s Farm.

Samantha Jones was the very first girl I ever met with a tattoo on her arm—just ponder that, for a moment—and her energy lit up the room like Magneto running through airport security. From those first bars, at those first bars, her voice installed itself in my permanent Top 5, all-time, anywhere. Her swag was prototypical, and now, with a quarter-century’s experience in upwards of a dozen bands, all of which were good, she is an established leader in the Gainesville community.

Jones married her colleague in Crustaceans, became a mother, massage therapist and yoga teacher, but she still wields a voice more soothing than shiatsu, and she has aged even less over those years than I have. All the while, Jones maintained her presence in the music scene; her band Cassette recorded several nice things for Bakery Outlet Records and played the old Lomax Lodge back in the John Peyton era. The Crustaceans were my introduction to the deep and dense indie-rock scene here in Florida, the first music I bought from people I actually knew, the first of thousands in almost every conceivable medium—but I lost their recordings 12 years ago, and have never been able to replace them, which irks me to no end. (But it’s ok, because I memorized it all.)

But the good news is that my the singer/guitarist for my favorite Gainesville band back then, in 1995, is also the singer/guitarist for my favorite band working that region today—the fabulous female foursome GUTS, whose debut in Duval County debut happens at Underbelly during the First Wednesday ArtWalk, as part of a free show that also includes Flat Land, Mouth Mouth and Summer Goodman, all of which can be counted among the new generation of indie acts rising out of the Sunshine State.

Jones and her colleagues—bassist Kara Smith, guitarist Rebecca Butler and drummer Kentucky Ultraviolet—are touring in support of their debut album “Lucky All Over”, released last December. Their sound is spare, a sensory delight, all shimmering guitars and multi-part harmonies, anchored by one of the signature voices of the modern era. If Jones’ singing sounds like others you’ve heard, bear in mind that she was first—and, if the new stuff is any indication, she will also be the last. It’s happy, refreshing music, rendered in fine detail, translucent and stocky at once, like Rapidograph on vellum. The video for “Sugar”, recorded at Medusa Studios last year, was my introduction to their work. It’s still my favorite track, but songs like “Lucky” and “There’s a Chill” are standouts, as well.

The Duval connection was formalized just recently when Tomboi worked a bill with GUTS at A Space on March 1. Their singer, Alex E. Michael has a resume similar to Jones’, in that pretty much every band she’s in is really good, from Tomboi today to Ritual Union, Wild Life Society and the legendary Fruit Machine. When Jones noted on Facebook that “Tomboi’s gonna be the NEXT BIG THING, mark my words”, that’s about as close to definitive as an endorsement gets in this region.

Such is Alex E’s reputation that Underbelly’s tasked her with running their new gimmick for ArtWalk, where they’re always busy, by default, like most venues around The Elbow tends to be. It starts with open-mic for singers, poets, magicians etc. earlier in the evening, followed by a free keg at 9 and featured band thereabouts, with free admission throughout. The venue, the night and the audience are all ideal for GUTS’ arrival in the River City. The only April Fools are those who miss this show.

Notes on the 2015 Elections in Duval County



It’s good to hear that so many took advantage of the early-voting. Analysts have been projecting the usual pathetic turnout for this spring’s elections, and with fewer than three in ten registered voters projected to show up, it’s pretty much impossible to get anything better than politics-as-usual. I didn’t early-vote; I always prefer voting on Election Day. I love the ritual of getting a coffee, then standing in line talking to fellow voters, listening in on conversations, etc.

That said, I’m writing this on Monday, the 23rd of March, the day before Election Day. Assorted friends and readers have inquired about my thoughts on the election, but aside from occasional posts on social media, I have mostly refrained from writing about these elections at all. I’ve probably done less writing about this election than any since 1996, on any level, and that was not by accident. After running for City Council myself, four years ago, and pulling about 1,300 votes in a district with 41,000-plus voters, the experience changed my perspective on how the business works. Is politics corrupt? Of course–deeply, madly, inextricably so. But while we can go on all day about the failures of elected officials and the weakness of new candidates, the bitter reality is that it is the people themselves who are the weak link. Their laziness and passivity creates the broader context in which our leaders can underperform because, deep down, they know they can get away with it. They know the people have neither the courage nor the character to facilitate change, no matter what they say. So, I figured, why bother covering a rigged game–especially when no one wants to get into the exact nature of the rigging, and there is no possibility of being paid for it, anyway? Nah. Let the elite play politics, and let the people pretend to care, and the beat goes on and the beat goes on…

With the first round of elections coming tomorrow, a number of the more interesting candidates this year will be eliminated, because fresh thinking is not really appreciated here. Indeed, we’ve seen a number of instances in which the harshest reactions have come directly at those trying to think outside the proverbial box in which political orthodoxy is housed, fortified like the bunker under the old courthouse. For the amusement of the handful of you reading this, and for the sake of promoting my appearance on WBOB AM600‘s Election Day wrap-up show (Tuesday night, 7-9pm), I offer here a rough glance at the people I’ll probably be voting for tomorrow, and why. These are not endorsements, nor recommendations; I refrain from all that. I have no dogs in these fights; I cannot conceive of any way that any result in any of these races will impact on my life, but that is certainly not true for the vast majority of Jacksonville’s citizens, many of whose lives and livelihoods depends on the decisions these people make, or fail to make. You can view the full slate of candidates online, and all the special-interest groups have made their endorsements as well. And so…

Mayor: Bill Bishop (R). Alvin Brown has been an excellent mayor in his first term, in my opinion, but he’s had a very hard time making that case effectively in this campaign. Despite his overall success, his handlers have manipulated him into a series of disastrous political mistakes (most notably the HRO debacle) that are the only reason he’s had any competition at all. If he’d done things even slightly differently, he’d be cruising like Delaney in 1999 or Peyton in 2007. Instead, he’s fighting for his career against two other strong candidates, Bishop and Curry. I’m voting for Bishop not because of anything he says, because it doesn’t matter what any of them say; they will do what they’re told, and what that will be is beyond my pay-grade. I like the way he’s run a new-style campaign, embracing disparate elements of the electorate in a way that presented a real threat to the local leadership of both major parties, both of which are played-out, mediocre and ineffective. The fact that Democrats and Republican elites basically joined forces to try and shut down Bishop, by any means necessary (including all kinds of dirty tricks that we’ll just not mention), speaks to his potential, as does the fact that nothing has managed to slow his momentum over the past couple of months. Lenny Curry is a nice guy, but he’s a functionary, not a leader; he represents a bunch of bad people who pushed him into launching a fusillade of negative mailers that did him no favors. Brown deserves to be reelected, and when he makes the run-off he’ll probably get my vote. But if he is to be defeated, Bill Bishop is the credible alternative.

Sheriff: Ken Jefferson (D). The dirty secret here is that local Democrats are so weak, Jefferson will probably lose, but through no fault of his own. He pulled good numbers against outgoing sheriff John Rutherford in 2011, despite local Dems assiduously underfunding him, for reasons probably more about tactical incompetence that any kind of bigotry. All seven candidates are talented veterans of the department, and in theory any of them would be good at the job, but Jefferson’s media skills will be useful in representing an organization that will probably be under continual FBI investigation for the rest of this decade. Rutherford has endorsed Greg Anderson, but Jimmy Holderfield looks strong. The real question of the 2015 elections is why Rutherford didn’t run for mayor himself, but I’m sure he had his reasons. There are lots of issues that needed discussion in this particular race, and many questions that needed answering. But all of us in local media made the spontaneous and unrelated decision to stand down on all of it, by popular mandate of the audience. In fact, this is probably the last time I will ever mention the police department in print, in any capacity. It’s just not something to be discussed, and maybe that’s for the better.

Property Appraiser and Tax Collector are crucial positions in city government, and the fact that those spots will be won outright by longtime professional politicians (Jerry Holland and Michael Corrigan), Republicans who had no opposition at all, says all you need to know about how this city works, not to mention how the Democratic Party fails to work. You would think there’d at least be some kind of quid-pro-quo for laying and conceding such key spots to the opposition, but that’s not how they do things. They just lay down, because winning has not been a consideration for them for an entire generation. Brown’s victory in 2011 had nothing to do with his party; it was about his own skillful manipulation of a fractured Republican base (because the only real priority in 2011 was stopping Audrey Moran, for reasons that make no sense, but which I’m sure Bill Bishop can empathize with these days) and his ability to win support of a handful of wealthy powerbrokers.

City Council Districts:

1: Joyce Morgan (D). I’ve often noted–in all seriousness–that our city would immediately and dramatically improve if all our elected officials were fired and replaced with local news anchors. This is a chance to prove that.

2: Lisa King (D)

3: I don’t care. When I say that about these council races, it’s not to be taken as an insult to the candidates. It’s just that I’m not a fan of the city council, in general, and I think their collective role in local politics over the past decade or more has been overwhelmingly negative. So, in certain cases, I happily support people whom I think would be great councilfolk, but by and large I don’t think it matters.

4: Ramon Day (D). One of the most talented candidates running this year, on any level. If he loses, that’s an embarrassment to the city–which, of course, means he will probably lose.

5: I don’t care. Lori Boyer (R) runs unopposed.

6: I don’t care.

7: James Eddy (D). Eddy is one of the many candidates who have expressed support for an inclusive HRO, and one of the few who isn’t lying when he says that. But it’s all academic, since the HRO is most likely dead forever. This is what happens when you don’t stand up to bullies.

8: I don’t care. In this singular case, I say that because there are several good candidates, so it’s almost impossible for voters in District 8 to make a bad choice, which speaks well of a community that doesn’t get a lot of good publicity.

9: Glorious Johnson (D)

10: I don’t care.

11: I don’t care. Danny Becton (R) runs unopposed, so it’s whatever.

12: Abner Davis (D)

13: I don’t care. Bill Gulliford (R) runs unopposed.

14: Jason Tetlak (D). Incumbent Jim Love beat me in 2011, but that’s fine. He’s a good guy, a skilled politician and he will surely stomp Tetlak tomorrow–which is too bad. Tetlak brought it on himself by refusing outside contributions; he probably thought that would endear him to the electorate, but he was wrong. The last either party wants is for someone to succeed who is not on the take, so wrecking him was important. He has a future in politics, but it doesn’t start tomorrow.

City Council At-Large Districts:

1: Anna Brosche (R). A lot of people hate incumbent Kimberly Daniels, which I find ridiculous, but whatever. It’s another case in which progressive interests are best-served by voting Republican, because the Democrats are just so caught up in their losing-on-purpose gimmick that the real political debate in this city now occurs among factions of the increasingly (and refreshingly) fractious GOP.

2: John Crescimbeni (D). Controversial? Yep. But it doesn’t matter. The incumbent will walk away with this election, and has a strong chance of being mayor someday, unless someone pays him not to run. Whoever wins the mayor’s race will need to put a priority on keeping him happy, for their own sake.

3: Tommy Hazouri (D). Mincy Pollock is cool, and I had a couple of friends who tried and failed to run for this spot. But at the end of the day, you don’t vote against Tommy Hazouri; the mere thought is laughable.

4: I don’t care. But the LGBT community endorses Juanita Powell-Williams (D) over Greg Anderson (R), and so that’s good enough for me. This is a good place to make a note: The LGBT community has been ruthlessly used, abused, exploited and extorted by all sides, such that their own political power is shadow of what it could have been. Blame starts with the leadership, who chose personal gain over protecting the interests of their constituents. The HRO debacle was largely of their making–first, by allowing transgenders to be thrown under the bus, in hopes of getting a watered-down version passed, and second by actually believing that a watered-down HRO was going to pass. All it did was show the trans community that their own political leaders view them as a separate class within the constituency, and that their rights were a secondary concern. It also showed the bigots and hatemongers that the LGBT community could be bullied into submission. The mayor double-crossed them, and now they have no actual champion, which sucks.

5: Michelle Tappouni (R). Ju’Coby Pittman (D) is a longtime family friend, but Tappouni is a personal friend, so that’s that. Good luck to everyone, candidates and voters alike–you’ll need it!

Notes on Lobo Marino


Lobo Marino/Joseph Shuck/Jesse Carole Montoya/Swamp Trees/Charlie Hunt—Rain Dogs, 1045 Park St.

Friday, January 30, 8pm; $5

Spirit Animals

Lobo Marino, and their subcontinental drift.

“Lobo Marino” means “Sea Lion” in Spanish—in this case, specifically, the Pacific Sea Lion. Hailing from historic Richmond, VA, Lobo Marino’s national bonafides were certified through relentless touring over the past couple of years, much of which has been documented across the full spectrum of social media. The thermodynamic duo of Laney Sullivan and Jameson Price have certainly built a solid following—wide-ranging, diverse and loyal—in a very short time, and that is largely due to their usage of technology, which stands in stark contrast to their own personal austerity.

My favorite album of theirs is “Fields” (2013), their second, which is built around field recordings made while on the road in places like Cheffcouan, Morocco; Albujaras, Spain; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Chicago; Butte, Montana; Geyserville, CA. It’s truly one of the most singularly unique albums recorded in the 21st century so far—an absolutely essential document. For Lobo Marino, travel is not a means to an end—it is the end, and that is a crucial component of their brand.

Their Tumblr page, for example, is largely devoted to photographs of the various places they’ve slept while on the road, none of which are five-star hotels, and very few of which are even hotels at all. Guest rooms, living rooms, band rooms, barns; offices, couches, floors, tents; garages, farms, hostels, sometimes even their own vehicle. (While in Jacksonville, the band crashed in Antique Animals’ music room.) It’s a funny, fascinating look at the interior life of a working musician in the modern era, and the logistics involved in carving out a niche in this crowded, competitive marketplace. Hopefully they collect all those pictures for a book someday.

They’ve already established a semi-regular presence in Northeast Florida, having previously performed at Burro Bar and Bold Bean. They’ll be playing three local gigs this week, starting with a two-night stand January 28 & 29) as part of Ananda Kula’s “Audio Ananda” concert series on Wednesday and Thursday. Lobo Marino headlines a stacked bill at Rain Dogs on Friday night that includes two of the region’s top singer-songrwriters, Antique Animals frontman Joe Shuck and the delightful Jesse Carole Montoya, as well as fellow Richmond band Swamp Trees and rising star Charlie Hunt. Both settings make for an ideal matching of artist, audience, and aesthetics. Theirs is a breezy, esoteric sound—music for meditation, and maybe astral projection, heavy on harmony, dense with drone and dulcimer. It’s safe to say that no other group anywhere sounds quite like them, nor could any, if they tried. Singer Sullivan and percussionist Price lean toward older, unusual instruments that don’t get as much use in the usual indie-rock toolkit.

Lobo Marino’s newest video is for “Holy River”, the lead track from their fourth album, 2014’s “City of Light”. The Indian influences insinuated throughout the album reflect the couple’s longtime love for the subcontinent, its culture and its music, which only increased after going there a couple years ago. It was recorded at the Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville in Buckingham, VA, with some sounds recorded in India; all proceeds from online sales go toward their friend’s Vagdevi Children’s Art School, which uses music and arts to help lift children out of unfortunate circumstances.

It’s the best record yet from a band that always makes great records, and it was recorded six months ago. Lord only knows how good the next one will be, but you can be damn sure that it will be epic. The band’s sound has expanded dramatically from their experimental indie-folk roots in their five years together, but they had already grown into their mature song by the first time they worked Duval. “City of Light” points the way forward toward even greater creative evolution. “Radhe Radhe” takes the form to its apogee over nine minutes; it’s like an Indian field holler with bass drum (which Price plays Mo Tucker-style), hand-claps and harmonium. It may be cliché to call it “trance-inducing”, but not if it’s true. Buy it, and play it loud, and then do it again.

Will Ebola Claim the Obama Presidency?


For months, as the Ebola virus spread precipitously throughout Africa, American citizens have engaged in the usual rampant speculation that accompanies modern pandemics. Questions were asked about how the disease is spread, how it can be contained and, most importantly, whether nor not the United States was in any danger of it spreading to these shores.

At every step, the official response from medical professionals was dismissive, to the point of smugness. No, they said: Ebola will not come to America. And then they said the odds were simply way too low for anyone to consider. We were told all this assiduously, by men and women whose primacy as experts rendered them incapable of being credibly second-guessed. Whether it was the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or our own Department of Health and Human Services, the pushback against public concern was delivered with the same self-satisfied certainty once used to anoint Wall Street CEOs as “masters of the universe”—and we know how well that worked out.

But now, with the first diagnosis of Ebola on these shores, with everyone that person contacted now in quarantine, and with an NBC crew on its way back in quarantine after their own cameraman tested positive for Ebola, one thing that should be obvious is that the experts were wrong—dead wrong, about almost everything—and that their failure means innocent people are going to die.

A man with Ebola lied his way onto a plane that carried him—and the virus—from Liberia to Dallas, where he then contacted multiple people before showing symptoms himself. Multiple airline officials failed to stop him from getting into the US, even after being warned of what to look for and how to proceed. At that point, doctors in Dallas failed to diagnose him, and the CDC only got involved because people close to the patient made the call, not hospital staff. Even now, with the man’s condition a national story, his family sits in quarantine, along with their neighbors in their apartment building. The man’s contagious vomit was pressure-washed by cleaning crews without proper safety equipment, and his soiled linens remained sitting at home in a plastic bag as this is being written. As with the airlines, established safety protocols were not followed, to devastating effect.

Right now is probably not the time to be thinking in terms of accountability. These failed experts are still the best at what they do, and the priority must remain on containing the disease and doing everything possible to help those already affected. However, when this current outbreak is over, a lot of people are going to lose their jobs, and one of them might be the President of the United States himself. Right-wing conservatives whispering about impeaching Obama have been handed an early Christmas present: Every Ebola diagnosis within US borders makes it easier to advance the case for impeaching a president whose own personal failings made a bad situation much, much worse.

Obama’s sorry handling of the Ebola debacle has been somewhat consistent with his handling of pretty much everything this year, and it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to wonder if maybe there’s something seriously wrong with him. After all, this is the same president who referred to ISIS as “the JV squad” while they were building critical mass in Iraq and gaining a foothold in Syria, and then admitted on-camera that “We don’t have a strategy yet” to deal with them. This is the same president whose underlings allegedly threatened the family of James Foley for being open to paying ransom for him—and then, after he was murdered on video, Obama offered half-hearted condolences with no tie on, minutes before running off to play golf. This is the same president whose Secret Service has been compromised more times than his own principles, with no real consequences.

This is the same president who recently saluted a Marine guarding his helicopter while holding coffee in his right hand, and whose advocates complained about the resulting controversy, which only occurred because the White House released the video themselves. It’s not about the salute; it’s about how one of the most successful politicians of the post-war era has suddenly forgotten how politics works. It’s hard to say what would be worse: that he didn’t know how that would look, and how people would react, or that he didn’t care. Further, not one member of his staff intervened to block the release of the video, and none of them seemed to care at all about its practical effect on the election. He was elected because he wasn’t George W. Bush, and now, five years later, that’s all he’s got.

At the very least, it comes at the worst possible time for congressional Democrats, who already face serious losses in a tight, contentious mid-term election season that culminates just a month from now. Part of any president’s job is to be the leader of their party, and in that regard Obama may go down as one of the absolute worst presidents of the past century, in terms of the brutally negative effect his presence has had on the fortunes of his party, which controlled both houses of congress at the time he took office in 2009. Since then, Obama’s greatest political legacy has been to empower the most reactionary elements of his opposition, which has cakewalked into dozens, if not hundreds of elected offices on local, state and national levels from coast to coast, driven largely by reflexive hatred and fear of a president who, amidst all this, has never offered any real resistance.

If Republicans are able to maintain their control of the US House, and somehow manage to take control of the Senate, there will be nothing to stop them from at least trying to impeach Obama. Nothing, that is, except their own fear, which is legitimate. It’s quite possible that voters will be thrown off by the ugliness of it all, and might retaliate by voting out the principal aggressors and rallying behind the Democratic nominee (presumably Hillary Clinton) in 2016. Of course, the last president impeached was Bill Clinton, whose successor was a Bush. That could easily happen again—assuming that there’s anyone left to actually vote in 2016. As always, time will tell.

October 2, 2014


The Semiotics of Dress: Angela Corey for Governor? Maybe…

Angela Corey, as painted by George Zimmerman

Angela Corey, as painted by George Zimmerman

October 1 was arguably the most important day in Angela Corey’s political career, and future historians of the state may see it as a watershed moment, for reasons we cannot really grasp at present. Angela Corey took the podium following the announcement of Michael Dunn’s guilty verdict in the first-degree murder of Jordan Davis, a conviction she failed to obtain earlier this year.

First Coast News cut their coverage of the presser just as the Q&A session had begun, while WJXT sustained their feed. She looked almost like a different person, in that moment, which makes sense. Any professional of any type can appreciate the feeling that comes after the successful resolution of a long-term, intensive high-stakes project, and can easily recognize that look on another’s face when they are in that moment. All the more so for Angela Corey, who hasn’t had a lot of those moments as our State Attorney. She took power amidst the proverbial firestorm of controversy, much of which was not her fault, and has steadily stoked those flames into a conflagration that many assumed would’ve consumed her fully by now. Without reaching for the obvious Phoenix reference, let’s just say that it appears the exact opposite has been the case. And the question now becomes: What next?

In her green blazer, her turquoise-and black scarf, gold earrings and a phat gold chain with a cross at the end, the city’s lead prosecutor could’ve passed for Iggy Azalea’s mom—and that is a good thing, in terms of politics. No velvet ropes at any bougie nightspot from South Beach to the South Bronx would impede her progress in an outfit like that, no more than the glass-ceilings have so far.

If clothes make the man, then even more so for women, and the message of Angela Corey’s clothes was simple: Even after botching the Zimmerman case and failing once to nail Michael Dunn for the murder of Jordan Davis, and with many observers predicting another public humiliation for her office, Corey dressed like someone who was absolutely certain of victory. And certainty is something we see very little in Florida politics.

If Michael Dunn is Corey’s first major trophy, one expects to see more. Whether she has found vindication in the public eye, or simply earned temporary respite from criticism that will never really go away, depends on what she wants to do. Any plans she has for her own future remain publicly unstated; if anyone knows, they’re not letting on. But Corey’s performance today raised an interesting possibility, one that many Floridians would surely find horrifying: Angela Corey could be governor someday.

Florida has never had a female governor, and Florida Republicans have never nominated a woman to hold that position. Democrats, of course, failed to get Alex Sink over in 2010, which has in all likelihood cooled the party on any effort to make history again, for the near future. Indeed, poor Nan Rich got steamrolled by the famously former Republican Charlie Crist, who refused to even debate her. Andrew Cuomo did the same against Zephyr Teachout in New York, and in both cases their state parties essentially went along with that. Whether anyone cares to admit it or not, at no point did Nan Rich ever have any chance whatsoever to be the Democratic nominee, that was plainly obvious six months before the election even happened.

Nan Rich was humiliated, and even if that wasn’t directly attributable to gender bias, it damn sure looks that way. One rarely heard Republicans ask if Florida was ready for a female governor, in part because they knew the momentum for gender equality in state politics belongs to them—a delicious irony that will pay off huge over the next decade or two. Whomever Florida’s first female governor is, she will almost certainly be a Republican—and it might very well be Angela Corey.

Getting the Dunn verdict gives her immediate credibility in the African-American community, which recognizes that Dunn was already set to die in prison on the other charges, but that Corey personally put her own career at risk to “do the right thing” for Jordan Davis’ parents and give them a rare symbolic victory in this bloody year for black youth. It doesn’t negate the damage done by the Marissa Alexander case, but the ball is really in Governor Scott’s court on that. If Corey didn’t get a few photos with Davis’ family and the crowds of black women cheering the verdict outside the courthouse, that would represent a huge missed opportunity.

The Alexander case illustrates that, ironically, Corey’s biggest political weakness right now remains her support among women, in particular the longstanding perception that she soft on issues related to violence against women and children. Given that this particular problem is only going to escalate in the years ahead, she would do well to get out in front on the issue and establish a record of action that can hyped when the time is right. (Her views on DCF, in particular, would be useful.)

Corey’s traditional law-and-order bonafides should be sufficient to keep her competitive in any GOP primary, especially if she continues to rack up high-profile convictions, so there will be plenty of room for her to appeal to elements of a progressive base whose own interests will be more or less ignored for the rest of this decade. The abysmal turnout for this year’s primary merely formalizes the widespread apathy and disgust that the majority of Florida voters already have with the leadership (such as it is) of both parties—a power vacuum ripe for filling. But, again, by whom?

Putting gender issues aside, the reality is that Northeast Florida has not held the top position in state government since Haydon Burns retired in January 1967. Several of Jacksonville’s subsequent mayors were at least discussed, Democrats and Republicans alike, but none were ever nominated. The election of Alvin Brown raised some hope of breaking that drought in this decade, and making even more history in the process, but he’s so far failed to build what could have been a very formidable statewide organization. Between Occupy and the HRO, he had the opportunity to establish himself as the logical successor to whomever wins in 2014, but instead he’s been occupied by defending his spot against opposition he should have simply neutralized from the get-go.

If Brown wins reelection and governs as the forward-leaning centrist his core supporters expect him to be, the governorship is entirely within his grasp. The I-4 corridor has had its run, and South Florida’s traditional dominance in the post-Consolidation era is weaker now that it’s ever been; it would be flat-out stupid for the north not to exploit that vulnerability while it exists. But if he stumbles, or just has no interest, it is imperative that Northeast Florida have someone ready to roll when the time is right. Regardless of who it is, Florida’s next decade should begin with Duval firmly in control. Time, as it does, will clarify these things, but right now Corey’s looking golden. And if the idea of Angela Corey being governor of Florida frightens you, good. You should be afraid—especially if you’re her opponent!