Left Field

The Bush Beat, Austin-Style Pols, Bombing the Observer & Smoke Signals


The Bush Beat

The Campaign Against McCain

First in Flight. It’s the South Carolina state motto, and applies to the Wright Brothers getting off the ground at Kitty Hawk — not the state’s confederate troops running from their Union counterparts. (The state motto might also be a double entendre when applied to George W. Bush, whom then-Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes moved to the top of a long waiting list when Bush applied to be a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.)

More recently, when Bush retreated from New Hampshire to South Carolina, his campaign looked like a military deployment. In an attempt to counter voters’ defections to John McCain (who served in the war Lieutenant Governor Barnes helped Bush avoid), George W. showed up at Sumpter with more federal brass to be seen in the local courthouse square since Reconstruction.

Six Medal of Honor recipients, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, five retired generals, and forty-six Bush Veterans County Chairmen, according to a campaign press release, “took center stage in a courthouse rally in this staunchly pro-military community.”

It was great political theater, and it showcased Bush’s “proposal to rebuild the nation’s military,” a fourteen-point proposal that includes plans to:

Increase by $1 billion the currently planned military pay raise to encourage the best and brightest to enlist and reenlist;Renovate substandard military housing and improve military training;Increase defense research and development by at least $20 billion;Deploy both national and theater anti-ballistic missile defenses, as soon as possible;Amend the ABM Treaty, or, if Russia fails to agree; withdraw from it.

It’s almost all bad policy, but good campaign politics. Whether it works against John McCain remains to be seen. Bush’s Southern Campaign coincides with Hyperion’s release of Elizabeth Mitchell’s W: The Revenge of the Bush Dynasty, which is generous to George W. but reminds readers that John McCain spent more time as a military prisoner in the war Bush avoided than Bush has spent as Governor of Texas. While Bush did fly F-105’s in Texas in 1970, McCain was first in flight, in combat missions over Vietnam in 1967.

New Hampshire on $200,000 a day

George W. Bush’s $37 million in expenditures up to the time of the New Hampshire primary might have set a new record- although it doesn’t account for all the money spent through the New Hampshire primary. (The most recent Federal Election Filings cover expenditures through December 31.) But Democrats are crowing about the amount spent to lose by twenty points, and journalists picking over Bush’s filings are turning up some interesting facts:

$186,000 was paid to Century Strategies, the consulting firm of former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed. (Reed’s take will increase as Bush moves South, into states with a large fundamentalist Christian base.) However, it is unlikely that there are very many states in which more than 38 percent of registered Republicans identify themselves as Christian fundamentalists, as was the case in New Hampshire.$17 million was spent on media, the highest single category, according, to an analysis by The Washington Post. Most was paid to ad time purchased by National Media, but $275,000 was paid to Mark McKinnon, Bush’s Austin-based media consultant.$2.3 million was spent on travel, which does not take into account flights on private corporate jets. A Bush campaign spokesperson told The Washington Post that Bush doesn’t fly on corporate jets; they are used to transport his family, including former President Bush and Barbara Bush, and Bush’s wife, Laura. Corporate frequent flyers include Enron, Federal Express — and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., owned by East Texas chicken magnate Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim. To secure the use of Houston energy giant Enron’s plane, Bush went to Enron CEO Kenneth Lay — a longtime Bush family funder.Office bean counters concerned about the monthly FedEx bill might note that the Bush campaign spent $64,000 on Federal Express mailings.

Click Here for Mayor

In 1983, a guitar-strumming, street-corner flower salesman ran for mayor and lost — then in 1987 won a seat on the city council after becoming something of a bumper-sticker cult hero.

That was Old Austin.

Leslie Cochran is New Austin.

Leslie arrived here four years ago, about the time the high-tech/.com economy had redefined the character of the city. Since then, the 49-year old cross-dresser and her shopping cart have become a moving downtown performance art installation, ranging from Starbucks (New Austin) at Sixth and Congress west on Sixth past the Star Bar (New Austin) and at times parking at Katz’s Deli (Old Austin). Like much of New Austin’s new money, Leslie came from Seattle — but not from the Bill Gates campus. Leslie was a K.K.R. casualty, laid off at Safeway after Kohlberg Kravis Roberts bought the chain, broke the union, and began closing down stores. “The last real job I had was at Safeway in Seattle,” where he had worked as a warehouseman (he was dressing straight then),” Leslie said.

After four years on the streets of Austin, with the economy booming, Leslie is again looking for work. “People tell me to get a job. That’s what I’m doing — applying for a job.” Leslie is running for mayor, challenging incumbent Kirk Watson, whose law office is across Congress from Leslie’s downtown corner.

“February 22, I’m going to come up with $500 someway to get my name on the ballot,” Leslie said, sipping café macchiato on the corner in front of Starbucks. (She’s barred from Starbucks — not by Starbucks but by the owner of the office building that holds Starbucks’ lease.) The campaign is an outgrowth of her protest against police harassment of the homeless. Over the course of nine arrests, Leslie turned a shopping cart into a portable billboard, directed at the A.P.D.’s treatment of the homeless. Although she’s not a sound-bite candidate (the exception: “I don’t take political contributions, only bums and politicians ask for money”), Leslie’s platform can be distilled from the disquisitions reporters’ questions elicit.

1. Better treatment of the homeless by the police.

2. Police accountability.

3. Light rail (but not across the Congress Avenue Bridge)

In a followup interview, Leslie took exception to Watson’s lighthearted reference to Leslie’s skimpy summer outfits (heels and a revealing bathing suit). “This isn’t about who has the best legs. It’s about who is right on the issues. And I will beat him.” Leslie was also critical of John Kelso’s coverage in the Austin American-Statesman: “Kelso’s supposed to be a humor columnist and I gave him some really funny lines. He wrote whatever he wanted and didn’t even use the funniest parts.”

Watson, who raised more than $700,000 for his last election, is thus far invisible. (Even with the city’s new $100 individual contribution limit, Leslie might have a campaign-finance problem at a certain point: Do the unsolicited donations Leslie receives from passersby have to be declared as political contributions?) The mayor keeps his name in the news, but lacks the visibility of Austin’s free-media queen. Her fame was expanded recently when Channel 42 aired a November news feature on a local high-dollar ad campaign.. Leslie’s digitized image is used by Yclip.com to attract employees to its website, and Yclip’s full-page ads in the daily Austin American-Statesman and weekly Austin Chronicle have made Leslie a household face beyond the 01 downtown zip. Yclip owner Luís González said he wanted to attract the attention of potential employees, and pledged that for each person hired through one of the Leslie ads, he would donate $250 to charities benefiting the homeless. (“I’m thinking of taking that image back and keeping it as my own,” Leslie said of the photo in a tiara.)

Eighteen years ago, the local economy was about to take off and the deals were done on a dozen major downtown building projects. Max Nofziger, an eager South Austin street entrepreneur appealing to everyone who lamented the closing of the Armadillo World Headquarters, or the developers’ assault on Barton Springs, was the face of the city. At the beginning of the new millennium, with the economy so hot that downtown “lofts” are selling for a quarter of a million dollars and something called an “internet advertising infrastructure” company can earn enough money to give some of it away, it’s weirdly appropriate that the city is represented by the web icon of a homeless crossdresser from Seattle — wearing a pink boa, a cheesy tiara, and sipping a café machiatto in front of Starbucks.

Da Bomb!

Ever since we saw Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor — you remember, the poor but gorgeous shlub is reading foreign novels for the C.I.A., when he takes an early lunch and returns to find all his officemates ventilated by hit men, and spends the rest of the movie on the run with Faye Dunaway — Left Field has kept a wary eye out for pulp fiction about political terrorism. You never know when a surly critic might turn up with a submachine gun, and have us diving behind file cabinets.

Lo and behold, what comes to hand this week is The Oakland Statement, a “political adventure novel” by Frederick Ellis with Carl Frederick. Our eye lights on page 185, wherein:

Then a pipe bomb had blown up the Chicago ACLU office, and a third attack happened in Austin, Texas. The Avengers had bombed the offices of the weekly progressive “Texas Observer” magazine. In both cases, Avenger groups took credit for the attacks by notifying the local newspapers and simply used the name “The Avengers.”

Yikes! Why, we could lose our lease. Not to mention our vintage portraits of Mao, Lenin, and Marx. And our collection of Texas Monthly coffee cups! We readily admit that we did not plow through nearly 200 pages of turgid prose to find that paragraph — we didn’t have to. A press release from author Frederick Ellis (you know him as “President of Synergy International of the Americas, Ltd.”) warned us that the fictional Avengers (a “counter-revolutionary know-nothing group”) were taking vengeance upon fictional us. So we took the bait and flipped through our complimentary copy. (We’re a bi-weekly progressive, by the way; try to bomb us after the first or the fifteenth of the month.)

Aside from our cameo, the novel is a not very artful treatise on pop-revolutionary politics, featuring the “Oakland Statement by Americans for Revolutionary Democracy.” The cadres of A.R.D., exercising “selective violence” by disrupting the electrical system (blowing up transformers) are demanding (between polemics) a constitutional convention, hoping to add two amendments to the Bill of Rights: one guaranteeing proportional representation, and another establishing an oxymoron called “popular capitalism.” At that point (page 3), Left Field fell asleep.

Later, we visited the web site (www.oaklandstatement.com), only to discover the links wouldn’t work. We couldn’t find out “more about the authors” (what the hell is “Synergy International?”) and we couldn’t order an e-mail or softcover copy (very poor binding) even if we wanted to. Another blow to e-marketing. Is the A.R.D. blowing up transformers again?

For the record, we think proportional representation is a great idea, but popular capitalism is a notion only Vladimir Putin could love. And we prefer our Dunaway drunk and surly, as in Barfly.

Singing with Emphysema

Multibillion-dollar lawsuits, humiliation before Congress, and bad press are taking their toll on Brown and Williamson, makers of Kool, Lucky Strike, Carleton, and a half dozen other brands. Callers who dial the B&W information line (1-800-578-7453) are greeted by the following: [perky female voice] “Hello and Welcome to the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation. If you’ve reached this number in error, you’re in luck, because we’re about to serenade you. If you dialed correctly, you’re in luck, because we’re about to serenade you.”

There follows a single note on a pitch pipe, and then a barbershop quartet launches into a little ditty about underage smoking:

Ooooh, the tobacco plant is a lovely plant, its leaves so broad and green, But you shouldn’t think about the tobacco plant if you’re still a teen. For tobacco is a big person’s plant, and that’s the way it should be,

So if you’re under twenty-one, go and climb a tree.

Ooooh, the tobacco plant is a lovely plant — And that my friends is no yarn! We let it ripen in the fields and hang it in the barn.

Enter the perky woman’s voice again, over the last few bars of barbershop humming: “If you think that really sucked, we agree. Write a better song about the tobacco plant, and we’ll use it.”

Are they starting to crack? Or are they trying to prove they’ve got just as much of a sense of humor as, say, the California Department of Health, which has been getting laughs at Philip Morris’ expense for some time now. The Department has produced a number of billboards parodying the Marlboro man, including one in which two cowboy silhouettes amble into the sunset above the caption, “I miss my lung, Bob.”