Saturday, December 13, 2008

Where Hewitt Leads, Will Hollywood Follow?

"Frost/Nixon" gets a thumb-up from Hugh Hewitt, who served the former President in San Clemente immediately after the real-life interviews.

Bad Buzz

Christopher Orr says Frank Langella's just too good for Richard Nixon:
Though ["Frost/Nixon"] chronicles the moment when (in theory) the 37th president of the United States was cut down to size, the movie's presentation of him is utterly larger than life.

Too Ironic Even To Figure Out

John Dean, architect of the Watergate cover-up (and according to James Rosen, the break-in), is advising the PE on how to handle a scandal that may not exist:
Following your press conference, the Chicago Sun Times published a story of the refusal of Rahm Emanuel, your designated White House chief of staff, to respond to questions about his involvement with Blagojevich, and a Chicago television station is reporting Emanuel did, in fact, meet with Blagojevich to discuss filling your vacate senate seat. If true, as I read the transcript of the press conference, you have misspoken; if not true, in a post-Watergate world the burden is on you to prove it is not true - and you can only do this by having information from Emanuel explaining his actions in full. No one would be surprised if Emanuel or others did have discussions with Blagojevich or his office about your successor, but denying that such discussions took place will be the start of a cover-up. You should place the burden on your staff to give you all the information for cover-ups only compound problems, and if anyone withholds information, they should suffer the consequences.

Rehabilitation Speedier In Internet Age

In "Slate," the disgraced former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, about 17 seconds after not being prosecuted, suggests turning the Big Three into competitive suitors for Uncle Sam's love. Under the Spitzer plan, only two out of three would get lucky.

Punk Me Twice, Shame On Me

In which Steve Clemons, a big-hearted, level-headed foreign policy realist who was the first executive director of the Nixon Center, cheerfully acknowledges he got punk'd by a transcript of an imaginary conversation between White House chief of staff-designate Rahm Emanuel and his fellow Chicago pol Gov. Blagojevich.

Notwithstanding the f-bombs, it's someone's fantasy script of what they earnestly hope Emanuel would've said if Blagojevich put the squeeze on him. Wishful thinking (and I join in their wish, for the sake of the new administration's coherence) from the same left-wing web site that published the lie, later republished by a credulous Andrew Sullivan, that Gov. Palin and her minor daughter covered up Trig Palin's true parentage. In this new-media age, more than ever before, consider the source.

Bush II Is The New Hoover II?

In spite of Democratic setbacks in recent weeks -- a Senate win in Georgia and a stinker in Chicago -- no happy talk from Matthew Continetti at the neocon-leaning "Weekly Standard":

The GOP's problem is that it obstinately refuses to address the problems facing those Americans who do not listen to conservative talk radio. Also, the party is tied to the legacy of the most unpopular president since the advent of polling. Democrats were able to invoke Herbert Hoover's legacy for decades. How long will they be able to invoke George W. Bush's?

Perfect Songs: "Like A Rolling Stone" (1965)

Bob Dylan & the Rolling Stones

Friday, December 12, 2008

Blagogate And Jackson's Airport

Rep. John Campbell (R-Newport Beach, California) continues to fail to pull his punches in his must-read e-newsletter:

Several years ago I exposed an earmark requested by Congressman Jackson for $231,000 which was directed to a non-profit organization to develop a 3rd airport in the Chicago area. The problem is that no such airport exists even on a drawing board and that the organization was formed by Congressman Jackson and one of his Congressional staffers runs it. I offered an amendment to remove this clearly abusive earmark but it failed by a vote of 48-372. I also tried to get national news organizations to investigate it further but none did, and in one case the prominence of the Jackson name was cited as the reason why....

In my opinion this Blagojevich scandal will be on a par with Watergate and the House Post Office. The effects will reach many powerful people and will the issue will not go away any time soon. I hope that it causes the public to demand more stringent ethics of elected officials and for us to demand more of our colleagues. If that happens, Governor Blagojevich may have perversely helped us all.

Get Smart About Kennedy, Says Max

The bane of Kennedy assassination conspiracy hounds is Cold War historian and journalist Max Holland, who methodically eviscerates every bogus theory pointing away from the sole murderer, Lee Harvey Oswald.

His latest posting is about Gus Russo's just-published Brothers in Arms, which purports to offer "explosive new information" about an alleged Cuban link to the assassination. As Holland shows, a key Russo source, the late Marty Underwood, an LBJ advance man, just can't be trusted. Over the years he has tricked credulous historians and reporters into writing that he was in the Dallas motorcade at the time of the murder, on Air Force One as President Johnson was sworn in, and in Mexico in 1968 as LBJ's secret emissary. All were lies.

Among those Underwood duped over the years is Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh. In The Dark Side of Camelot, Hersh wrote, based on Underwood's statements, that Kennedy mistress Judith Campbell had delivered a package from Kennedy to mob boss Sam Giancana. Underwood said he knew this because he'd been assigned to tail her. This too was a lie. Holland writes:

Proof that both Russo and Hersh had been duped came in the 1998 report of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), a special federal panel created in 1992 to make available all records pertaining to the Kennedy assassination. The ARRB investigated Underwood’s story as part of its mandate, and the former advance man recanted when sitting across from a government lawyer instead of reporters who were all ears and buying lunch. Underwood “denied that he followed [Judy Campbell] on a train,” the ARRB observed in its 1998 final report, “and [said] that he had no knowledge about her alleged role as a courier.”

An unchastened Hersh moved on to other stories.

Among them a false and an especially hurtful story, from an equally fishy source, that Hersh repeated publicly about President and Mrs. Nixon. Perhaps more later.

If Someone Asks "Habari Yako?", Say "Mzuri"

Back from a three-week mission trip in Kenya, a church friend, the globetrotting man of mystery Paul Arndt, lent me a copy of the English-language Nairobi Daily Nation dated Tuesday, Nov. 4.

Not much in the issue about Sen. Obama beyond the first 27 pages.

A thoughtful column was filed from Lancaster County, PA by Helen Wakinyue Nthambiri, a Kenyan immigrant. She made her '08 decision after Sen. Clinton forgot that all politics is retail even while she was retailing:

Initially I was an ardent supporter of Senator Hillary Clinton. That was the Hillary Clinton who refused to look me in the face as she was autographing my copy of her biography. Down went my support for the history-making woman candidate....

Then to Lancaster came Obama, who shook my hand with genuine warmth, and surprised me by responding to my "Habari yako?" greeting, with "Mzuri". My passionate entry into the political world of Obama began.

Google says the exchange means: "What is the news?" and "Fine." Sort of like when I ask my friend Steve, "What's the good word?" and he says, "Thunderbird."

GM Hybrid for '11: The Tarpmobile

On the auto bailout, the White House may have given GOP senators a lifeboat (or, given the sums we're throwing around these days, a 120-foot yacht with eight crew members and a masseuse).

Never Enough Sauce For All Geese, Ganders

Gov. Palin gave Bill Berkowitz the sword. The lead on his post suggesting that Chuck Colson hasn't really changed:
In his final days in office, President Bush is pallin' around with former felons and a bomb plotter.

Obama Fakes To Center And Goes Long

Charles Krauthammer says don't be fooled by the PE's centrist foreign policy and financial teams He's FDR on borrowed steroids:

Obama was quite serious when he said he was going to change the world. And now he has a national crisis, a personal mandate, a pliant Congress, a desperate public -- and, at his disposal, the greatest pot of money in galactic history. (I include here the extrasolar planets.)

It begins with a near $1 trillion stimulus package. This is where Obama will show himself ideologically. It is his one great opportunity to plant the seeds for everything he cares about: a new green economy, universal health care, a labor resurgence, government as benevolent private-sector "partner." It is the community organizer's ultimate dream.

Ironically, when the economy tanked in mid-September, it was assumed that both presidential candidates could simply forget about their domestic agendas because with $700 billion drained by financial system rescues, not a penny would be left to spend on anything else.

On the contrary. With the country clamoring for action and with all psychological barriers to government intervention obliterated (by the conservative party, no less), the stage is set for a young, ambitious, supremely confident president -- who sees himself as a world-historical figure before even having been sworn in -- to begin a restructuring of the American economy and the forging of a new relationship between government and people.

Don't be fooled by Bob Gates staying on. Obama didn't get elected to manage Afghanistan. He intends to transform America. And he has the money, the mandate and the moxie to go for it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Perfect Songs: "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (1969)

The Band

Howard And Stone, Between The Buttons

More good stuff from Robert Nedelkoff on "Frost/Nixon."

Puritans In America

At a site called "The Moderate Voice," I look in occasionally to see if they have anything pleasant to say about the ultimate moderate, Richard Nixon. Not hardly. Today Robert Stein is upset about Chuck Colson receiving a Presidential Citizens Medal from President Bush:
Just as Bush himself discovered God after half a lifetime of hell-raising, Colson in a jailhouse epiphany rehabilitated himself into Religious Right respectability after a career as Nixon’s White House counsel, the brains behind the Watergate break-in and countless other assaults on the rule of law.
"The Moderate Voice" doesn't spend immoderately on fact checkers. Colson was never charged with anything related to the Watergate break-in or coverup.

Stein also says that Colson's Christian conversion was fake. How does he know? I have a lovingly inscribed Bible, presented by the Colsons on my ordination, that says otherwise. Tens of thousands of men, women, and children have been touched and changed by Colson's Prison Fellowship.

Meanwhile Stein is a perfect example of American Puritan rectitude. Nobody can change. No forgiveness. Branded forever. Moderate, shmoderate.

It's The End Of The Auto Bill As We Know It

The AP reports that the GM and Chrysler bailout failed because the United Auto Workers wouldn't agree to bring wages immediately into line with those paid by Japanese automakers. Key Republican senators balked as a result. As I write, the text below seems to have gone missing from the version of the story now appearing at the New York Times web site:

Hourly wages for UAW workers at GM factories are about equal to those paid by Toyota Motor Corp. at its older U.S. factories, according to the companies. GM says the average UAW laborer makes $29.78 per hour, while Toyota says it pays about $30 per hour. But the unionized factories have far higher benefit costs.

GM says its total hourly labor costs are now $69, including wages, pensions and health care for active workers, plus the pension and health care costs of more than 432,000 retirees and spouses. Toyota says its total costs are around $48. The Japanese automaker has far fewer retirees and its pension and health care benefits are not as rich as those paid to UAW workers.
The UAW was reportedly willing to consider phased reductions, but that wasn't good enough for the GOP senators.

I concluded in October that the Paulson bailout was essential. The idea of buying up toxic mortgage assets to buoy banks and the housing market made considerable sense, based on the expertise gleaned from my degrees in political science and divinity plus an undergraduate minor in literature. I lambasted the House Republicans who voted against the bailout the first time through as a "Hoover Caucus."

Then, after the bill finally passed, the Bush Treasury Department shifted gears and doled out nearly half the money to banks with virtually no strings attached, hoping in its wisdom that bankers would loosen credit and stimulate the economy. In the word of Ron Howard, ha! Was my face red.

Greater prudence is therefore in order as I assess the failed auto bailout, lest my three followers and four readers be misled. What are wiser heads saying?

Actually, before we get to them, here's the White House statement:
It's disappointing that Congress failed to act tonight. We think the legislation we negotiated provided an opportunity to use funds already appropriated for automakers and presented the best chance to avoid a disorderly bankruptcy while ensuring taxpayer funds only go to firms whose stakeholders were prepared to make difficult decisions to become viable.
(Who's "we"?)

Over at the "Atlantic Monthly" stable of bloggers-- Actually, as of midnight eastern time, none of them has a comment. Snug in their beds, I guess. And these are the people who are going to replace journalists?

At "The New Republic," John Judis is wide awake and calling the Republican obstructionists "craven":

If you look at the history of Great Depression, what tipped that event from a global recession to depression was precisely a series of dumb, craven – or in Keynes’ word “feather-brained” -- moves by politicians blinded by ideology or by narrow self-interest. An interest rate hike here, a balanced budget there, and spending reduction or two, and we went from ten to twenty percent unemployment. Don’t imagine for a moment that the failure to bailout the auto companies isn’t one of those moves.

Put it this way. What we have learned from the economics of the Great Depression is that in order to end the spiral of unemployment, government has to throw money at companies and consumers. It should be trying to raise wages not lower them. Of course, the Wall Street bailout was a fiasco, but it was probably better than nothing. And the auto bailout was considerably better thought out. Now there is a good prospect that two of the Big Three will fail, jeopardizing, perhaps, as many as a million jobs. That’s exactly the kind of thing that Americans should not be doing.

"National Review" seems pleased, expressing hope that Paulson's ATM will also be closed to the Big, Broke Two:

This means no congressional bailout for now. But the fight goes on. The automakers will now turn to the White House, which urged the Senate to pass this bill. The Detroit three will ask Bush to allow Paulson to use some of the bank-bailout money to save the car companies. It's possible that Bush will cave, but one hopes he won't want to go out on that note.

Majority Leader Harry Reid:

Because Republicans failed to act, three million Americans are more likely than ever to lose their jobs and our economy is at risk of suffering even greater damage. Our hearts go out to those families who will now have to deal with this burden as the holidays near.

Republicans may think that rejecting this legislation sent a message to the auto industry. Instead, they sent a message to every single American that they are more interested in settling scores than solving problems.

Writing before the vote, Robert Tracinski said the bailout was communism:

The term "car czar" is not quite right. As a metaphorical description of the bailout, it evokes the right location--Russia--but the wrong era. "Car commissar" would be much more exact. Perhaps he will begin his work by issuing a five-year plan for the revival of the Big Three.

Perfect Songs: "Take Me To The River" (1974)

Al Green & the Dave Matthews Band

How Do You Talk About RN? Carefully

As the "Frost/Nixon" promos come fast and furious, one's inner Columbo issueth forth.

On the CBS morning show, director Ron Howard said:

There is no part of Frank Langella's personality [that] has anything to do with Richard Nixon whatsoever. He is not only making us believe and understand and relate to somebody we think we kind of know, but it has nothing to do with his personality.
Whereas the actor has repeatedly stressed a sense of commonality with his subject.

This week, Howard said his 1972 vote for RN was a gesture of thanks for his enfranchisement:

That was my first opportunity to vote. He had been the president that sort of made it possible for people under 21 to vote and I went back and forth. And, ultimately, decided to vote for the incumbent...

Whereas last month, Howard (though sounding less sure about whom he voted for) said is was all about Vietnam:

I did turn 18 that year. Richard Dreyfuss, when we were doing “American Graffiti,” was pumping me to vote for McGovern. But I think I wound up going for Nixon. I thought he could get us out of the Vietnam War quickly. Ha.

That version, told to the New York Times, didn't quite wash, since the Paris Peace Accords were signed around the time the President was sworn in for his second term, which would seem to have been quickly enough for anyone.

In short, this most admirable of movie business figures gives the impression of being able to calibrate his comments about RN to suit the expectations of his audience. Perhaps he too is called to public service.

Too Late For Another Edit, I Guess

"Frost/Nixon" Oscar buzz could turn to raspberries if too many critics say that director Ron Howard was too kind to, um...well, you know. Ty Burr in the Boston Globe:
It's a most sympathetic portrait of a statesman-villain, one that matches the current, post-Bush view of the 37th president as a tragic figure rather than a scoundrel. Once again, the movies have given us not the Nixon that was but the Nixon we need.

Yes I Can, Honey Bunch

First, check out the picture.

You will of course recognize the secretary of state-designate. You may not recognize the young man pretending to feel her up. That's Jon Favreau.

No, not the one who acts sort of like that in the new movie "Four Christmases." The one who wrote in his boss Sen. Obama's campaign speeches about grasping for a better world, seizing control of our future, discovering deep within our breast as a people the capacity to change.

He's a poet but doesn't show it. He's 27, so you make allowances, especially since it's just a girl.

What did our future chief diplomat say when asked about this violation of her cardboard space? She was diplomatic, and classy. Her spokesman:
Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon’s obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application.
Her husband's former press aide, Dee Dee Myers, was not required to be so circumspect:

At what point does sexist behavior get taken seriously? At what point do people get punished in ways that suggest this kind of behavior, this kind of thinking, is unacceptable? At what point do we insist there will be consequences? Clearly, that didn’t happen during the recent presidential campaign, when Hillary was—as I guess she is now—fair game. The press, the pundits, and the public could say things about her (“She’s a shrew!”) and to her (“Iron my shirt!) that were over-the-top sexist—yet got almost no reaction.

Imagine how different the reaction would be if an important aide to John McCain had been caught in similar picture featuring Michelle Obama? Or if the picture had shown a cutout of Barack Obama and, say, a white hood? Why is it when ideology and race are eliminated, so is the outrage?

Why indeed? In my church, riven by an argument about gay and lesbian people, we find that the more basic unresolved question is about the ontological and theological status of women, whom a new schismatic organization, "the Anglican Church in North America," says can't even be bishops, what with men bishops doing such a great job keeping everyone in communion.

The same dynamic is present in our politics and the media. Anchorpeople and pundits are already composing their Faveauvean odes and tone poems for Jan. 20, the historic and much-to-be-welcomed day that an African-American becomes President. And yet how extraordinary that during the primaries Timothy Noah got away with writing:
The Clinton campaign has gotten a lot of white women jazzed up at the prospect of electing the first female president, and a good number stayed jazzed up even after it became apparent that Clinton almost certainly wouldn’t get the nomination. By this past weekend, however, it was becoming clear to all but the most delusional Hillary supporters that the game was up. Sisterhood was powerful, but in this case it wouldn’t prevail. That realization left a lot of white women all dolled up with nowhere to go. And so … they went to ["Sex and the City" in enormous numbers].
Substitute blacks for white women and an Eddie Murphy movie for "Sex and the City," and you even better understand Myers' point. If Noah had written something like that about Obama's supporters, these days he'd be...well, writing on his own Google blog instead of at "Slate."

Deepset fear, suspicion, and devaluing of woman, juvenile sexuality pervading our culture, misogynist theological arguments keeping women down in our churches -- we've got a really, really long way to go, baby. Defeating racism may end up to have been relatively simple.

George W. Bush And The Germans

Although not known as a raving theological liberal, the President shows that his years of Bible study have given him some modern insights:
Asked whether the Bible was literally true, Mr Bush replied: "Probably not. No, I'm not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it."

"The important lesson is 'God sent a son,'" he said.
And that God destroyed death by raising him at the first Easter, he might have added. But that "probably not" offers a gateway to many liberating, saving insights about scripture and the reign of God. Way to go, Mr. President.

Paid To Make Bad Food?

For the sake of my younger daughter, studying to be a nutritionist (the unsung life-saving career of the 21st century), this Nicholas Kristof column saying we need a secretary of food instead of agriculture:
“We’re subsidizing the least healthy calories in the supermarket — high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soy oil, and we’re doing very little for farmers trying to grow real food,” notes Michael Pollan, author of such books as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food.”

Bush Leaves An Abominable World

At the Nixon Center's journal "The National Interest," Jacob Heilbrunn isn't mincing words:
Today, the parties have experienced something of a role reversal. It is Obama who sounds like the realist, while Bush continues to indulge in delusions about the advance of freedom even as terrorists around the globe make new encroachments into Pakistan and Afghanistan. After eight years, Bush is indeed leaving behind a transformed world but the transformation has decidedly not been for the better. It has been an abomination.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

This Will Make Your Brain Hurt

Hat tip to Jeff Allport

Perfect Songs: "Find The River" (1992)


"Frost/Nixon" vs. Gibson/Bush

Ezra Klein in the LA Times, offering the new CW: Richard Nixon’s apology to David Frost was a statesmanlike gift of Watergate closure to the American people which can now be used to leverage an apology from George W. Bush.

Old CW: Nixon arrogantly refused to apologize.

We’re making progress. After all, if an influential journalist says it, that means it’s not inaccurate.

Running, Hard; Governing, Harder

"The Economist" on the PE's secret plan to close Guantanamo Bay. Not.

What'd I Miss? I Went For Coffee.

NPR is complaining about anti-Obama press coverage.

RN's Buried In Yorba Linda, FL In The Part

When actor Frank Langella visited Yorba Linda two years ago while preparing to portray RN on stage, he talked as much about his working-class, Garden State roots as his days of fashionable Nixon-hating on Long Island. As every interview he does comes over my e-transom (with journalists paraded through a suite at the Ritz Carlton in New York, just like with Julia Roberts at the Savoy in "Notting Hill"), it feels more and more as if whenever he's talking about Mr. Nixon, he's also talking about himself. And now this, from an interview by Stephen Schaefer:
“When you talk to really successful people they were the runts of the litter, the middle kid or the funniest one. I was one of those kids, a four-eyed kid who was very shy and backward. I had to fight. Whenever I wanted to go out with a girl she wanted to go out with the football captain, not a skinny kid who wanted to be an actor. The characters I often play are fighting.”

Vietnam Or Iraq: Neither's Very Pretty

Knute Berger on who's worse, RN or GWB:
Bush's approval numbers have been below Nixon's a number of times, even Nixon's impeachment period ratings, but while Nixon may have scored slightly lower in approval, no modern president has scored a higher disapproval rating than Bush, according to Gallup. In other words, his negative numbers were in a zone of his own.
Tanks for knutin', Knute. Hidden behind the curtains at journalists' and historians' new favorite ugly contest is the somewhat more urgent and fateful question of which war was worse. Most arguments about RN end up being about Vietnam; ditto GWB and Iraq. If historians ever conclude President Nixon was a great commander-in-chief and President Bush a visionary who leveraged dramatic reform in a volatile region (I'm not holding my breath, but just think about it for a moment), then they'll both look a lot prettier.

Something Else "Frost/Nixon" Got Wrong

From Tricia Olszewski's thoughtful review:
“Do you like all those parties?” Nixon asks the socialite [David Frost, in the film], who says he does. “You got no idea how fortunate that makes you,” Nixon says. “Liking people, being liked, that facility…I don’t have it, never did.”
Ah, but he did. Those who know, know.

A Measure Of Redemption

Chuck Colson was honored at the White House today.

Shortest Honeymoon In History?

"Time", mentioning a possibility that at this moment in the nation's life should please relatively few:
[T]here are enough connections between the worlds of Blagojevich and Obama that the whole thing has the potential to grow beyond a colorful Chicago tale of corruption to entangle members of the Presidential transition team, to test Obama's carefully cultivated reformist image and to distract the President-elect just as he is preparing to take office.

Who Got The Vig From Maternity?

After the recent campaign's focus on GOP misdeeds, Michelle Malkin is having fun with accusations against Illinois Gov. Blagojevich, accused of trying to sell the PE's Senate seat:
Anything that breathed was a potential shakedown target. It's the Chicago way. Democrat Blago's so dirty he'd hit up a children's hospital for money. Oh, wait. He's accused of doing that, too.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sure You Are

Conan O'Brien says he's thrilled that Jay Leno will be on the same network, doing his exact show during prime time (and undoubtedly stealing O'Brien's viewers).

Perfect Songs: "Nostalgia" (1993)


Why Were Jews Targeted In Mumbai?

Camille Paglia has a post-Mumbai question for the world's Muslim organizations:
The tragic fate of so many innocent victims in Mumbai deserves our pity. But what should live in special infamy was the ruthless execution of the Lubavitcher rabbi, Gavriel Hertzberg, and his lovely wife, Rivka, who was 5 months pregnant. These were two idealistic young people of obvious warmth and humanity, who sought only to serve. The rescue by their Indian nanny of their orphaned 2-year-old son, Moshe, crying and smeared with his parents' blood, is already legendary. Was this zeroing in on the Chabad Jewish Center in Mumbai about Israel, or was it simply a gruesome eruption of the medieval tradition of anti-Semitism? Why have Muslim organizations, very quick to protest insulting cartoons, been mostly silent about the atrocities in Mumbai?

More Green Must Precede Green

A survey of climate change experts discloses that many believe efforts to reduce carbon emissions will await economic recovery.

Dog Doesn't Bite Man

My "New Nixon" colleague Robert Nedelkoff has a great post about "Frost/Nixon." Another one coming soon.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Now an expert on the Nixon-Frost debates, Nixon authority du jour Rick Perlstein overlooks the difference between introversion and insincerity.

Weather Anglicanism

Hat tip to the Rev. Cn. Mark Shier and Andrew Plus

Don't Put "Heroes" In Quotes In My Town

In the wake of the Orange County, California fires last month, Steven Greenhut, a writer for the still-libertarian editorial page of the Orange County Register, had complained about excessive praise of firefighters after being evacuated from his home (an event that caused him relatively little stress, he said, because he has fire insurance and a second house in the desert):
[T]he public should lighten up on the excessive thanks offered to firefighting "heroes." Firefighters perform an important job. Most of the time, they have little to do, but when a fire strikes we are glad that there are folks willing to go out there and stop the flames. Thanks are in order, as they are for anyone who does a good job in any area of work. Still, Orange County firefighters are highly paid professionals. Most of them love their job and do it well. But their $175,000 a year taxpayer-paid salary/ benefit packages with retirements at age 50 are thanks enough. Getting overly teary-eyed leads to: A) an unwillingness to look closely at firefighting policies; B) a willingness to give these agencies anything they ask for once the fires are over. And they will ask for more while the fields are still smoldering.
To which my friend Cathy Cuevas, wife of a firefighter, had this to say in a rebuttal that was also published in the Register:

First, he has no idea how much [firefighters] have to do. If he thinks all they do is "go out and stop the flames," then maybe he should work a shift side by side with them, to see what a real man does during a work day (which, by the way, is a 24-hour shift, not 8-to-5 office work).

You also mention the "fancy training centers they spend as much money as possible on." How does he think these men and women know how to "put out the flames" or bring someone back from death while in full cardiac arrest? Does he think that just happens?

Which leads me to another point. While Steven is tucked in his cozy, warm bed, next to his wife, Donna, who had to "shove [him]in to his car" because he "wanted to be a free citizen and not subject to anyone's mandatory orders" on his own property, firefighters are up in the middle of the night, answering medical calls, fighting house and commercial fires, extricating people from cars involved in car accidents, just to name a few....

Next, I don't know where Mr. Greenhut gets his information, but I sure would love to see a $175,000 salary-benefits package. And, as far as retiring at 50, some men and women are forced to retire at that age because their bodies simply can't take it anymore. The demand is so great, dragging people out of burning buildings and cars and lifting dead weight when dealing with a person in full cardiac arrest. They are exposed on almost a daily basis to cancer-causing agents, and most die of some form of cancer. Most firefighters I know work at least two jobs to make ends meet. We certainly don't have a second home in the desert to evacuate to, either.

And to address his seventh point, "If you face evacuation, leave the chickens. They will poop in your sports car." Typically, firefighters can't afford sports cars.

Jeez, You Take Everything So Seriously

My colleague Jim Lusby, at the pinnacle of a distinguished career in independent and Episcopal education, is an astute observer of the interpersonal dynamics of the not-yet-old. He enjoyed this New York Times article by a UC Berkeley psychology professor about the danger of defining bullying too widely:
The reason teasing is viewed as inherently damaging is that it is too often confused with bullying. But bullying is something different; it’s aggression, pure and simple. Bullies steal, punch, kick, harass and humiliate. Sexual harassers grope, leer and make crude, often threatening passes. They’re pretty ineffectual flirts. By contrast, teasing is a mode of play, no doubt with a sharp edge, in which we provoke to negotiate life’s ambiguities and conflicts. And it is essential to making us fully human.
Amen. I'm afraid it took me about 45 years to figure this out. In childhood I learned to process all teasing as criticism, as confirmation of my sense of inadequacy. Eventually I learned that there are people who go through life making cheerful fun of everybody. It's how they communciate, and by and large they enjoy being teased back. I've also learned that it's best not to try it via e-mail, since visual and tone of voice cues are missing (you humorless, judgmental bastard).

For Now, Rust May Trump Green

I'm with the "Economist": Economic recovery shouldn't take the back seat to environmental reform:
Utilities, carmakers, oil firms and the like will have an integral role to play in reducing America’s emissions. Congress should not pander to them when crafting legislation, but it should not ignore them either. The relevant committees in both the House and the Senate are now headed by Californians, who have few energy-intensive, metal-bashing factories in their constituencies. The symbolism of Beverly Hills usurping Detroit in the legislative pecking order will not be lost on workers and firms in the rust belt who fear that aggressive curbs on greenhouse gases will deal a fatal blow to America’s already ailing heavy industry.

The Prices Aren't Right

All over the world, trouble at home.


Robert Epstein is the former editor of "Psychology Today." These days he hangs his hat at my alma mater, UC San Diego. His biggest recent challenge, however, was at home, defending himself against his wife's charge that he was a bigot for favoring Prop. 8. He wrote Thursday in the LA Times:
I'm not really skeptical about same-sex marriage per se. If anything, I think that same-sex marriage is a shortsighted idea that doesn't go far enough.

Most Americans insist that they want the word "marriage" to continue to mean a long-term, opposite-sex union, as it has in the Judeo-Christian world for nearly two millenniums. To put this issue into better perspective, imagine that English were more like German and that the word marriage had a lot more syllables: longtermoppositesexunion. Should same-sex couples wed under that label? I say no -- and that gay activists have been fighting the wrong battle.

The real challenge is to have the state begin to recognize the full range of healthy, non-exploitative, romantic partnerships that actually exist among human beings. Gays are correct in expressing outrage over the fact that official recognition, the power to make health decisions, inheritance rights and tax benefits, have long been granted to only one kind of committed partnership in the United States. But wanting their own committed relationships to be shoe-horned into an old institution makes little sense, especially given the poor, almost pathetic performance of that institution in recent decades. Half of first marriages fail in the U.S., after all, as do nearly two-thirds of second marriages. Is that really a club you want to join?

Running In Baghdad And Loving It

Marine Capt. Giles Clarke (godson of a couple with whom I go to church) reflects in the Washington Post on how it felt to run a half marathon in Baghdad:
This is my third deployment to Iraq. Before that morning, I realized, I never would have believed I would see the day when over 200 service members would line up in nothing more than workout clothing and running shoes. There were no weapons, gas masks, flak jackets or ammunition among us. The hardiest defensive gear we runners carried was our mandatory reflective belts.
His moving comments about what brave Americans and Iraqs have won and lost since 2003 aren't to be missed.

Honesty About Vietnam And Iraq

The Iraq war got substantially less attention during the election campaign after Lehman Bros. collapsed on Sept. 15. As debate about U.S. policy resumes, and in view of the mathematical possibility that one of my four readers is an Obama adviser, I'm reposting a submission to The New Nixon from May:

Vietnam is in the news again. A vigorous debate about whether South Vietnam could under any circumstances have survived the withdrawal of U.S. forces began at Matthew Yglesias’s blog after Rick Perlstein, in Nixonland, called Saigon’s army a “joke.” Then Robert O. Borosage wrote indefensibly that the South Vietnamese army disintegrated after we left and also claimed that President Nixon always knew Saigon was doomed.

As Borosage shows, the history of how South Vietnam fared — and the what-if of how she might have fared better if we’d supported her more reliably after our troops came home in 1973 — pertain directly to the looming argument about Iraq during the fall campaign and after the election. Let’s hope the Iraq debate is more honest and less emotional than the Vietnam one, then and now, which is still burdened by the canard that the glorious Vietnamese revolution could not have been stopped, the Vietnam war could never have been won.

Of course it could. It only depended on how much the United States and South Vietnam were willing to commit and sacrifice, kill and destroy. Throughout its time in Indochina, the United States was fighting with one hand and three fingers tied behind its back. I’m not saying some Curtis LeMay exercise in total war would ever have been justified or appropriate. But had it chosen to, the United States could’ve destroyed North Vietnam’s capacity to wage war in a matter of days. What kept us from doing so was not the communists’ superior commitment but our superior scruples. After 1973, if as President Nixon had intended the U.S. had punished violations of the Paris Peace Accords with air strikes and continued to provide sufficient non-personnel aid, there is no reason why South Vietnam couldn’t have survived.

By the same token, as the surge showed, the U.S. has the capacity to bring substantial order to Iraq by deploying additional troops. These days fewer people claim that we can’t help militarily in Iraq, that there’s something uniquely hostile or foreign about the setting such that U.S. force is destined to be ineffective. The more honest argument is how long we should continue to do so.

During the debate at the Yglesias blog, some said that even if South Vietnam could’ve been propped up indefinitely, it wouldn’t have been in the U.S.’s interests to do so. That’s a good, rational argument, if a debatable one in view of the string of Presidents who identified a free Indochina as a U.S. interest and of the tens of millions of people we pledged to help. But let’s please have an debate like that about Iraq instead of saying that there’s nothing more we can do to help owing to our incompetence or even that of our allies. Our capacity to help is virtually unlimited, but our will to do so may not be.

There’s an analogy to the abortion argument. Pro-choicers often stress that the fetus isn’t human. Yet think of each one’s inescapable potential — another Mozart, or the greatest mother or father in town. It would be better, if more harsh-sounding, to say that while one acknowledges each fetus’s indefinite potential, one can see and touch the definite person who has decided her potential would be better realized by having an abortion. The honest antiwar position is to say that while if the U.S. spent and risked enough and stayed long enough, we could permanently transform Iraq for the better, we must choose not to, because we have more important work awaiting elsewhere. After 1973, the United States could have helped preserve South Vietnam as an independent country. It merely decided it didn’t want to.

Deciding To Win

Brian Robertson, a thoughtful young scholar, examines the parallels between 1968, when Richard Nixon inherited Vietnam, and 2008, when Barack Obama inherited Iraq. President Nixon’s fateful decision was to stay engaged in Vietnam rather than blaming it on the war’s Democratic architects and withdrawing. By the same token Robertson warns that Bush’s war could soon become Obama’s:

If U.S. efforts cannot sustain or support the regime after disengagement, Obama may choose the path that merely continues the violence and produces another decent interval.
The option Robertson doeesn’t flesh out is what might happen if the U.S. continues active, creative non-combat troop support for Iraq after our forces withdraw. We didn’t in 1973-75. We became distracted by Watergate and decided to let South Vietnam go down the tubes by slashing our aid budget to the bone.

Like most Vietnam scholars, Robertson virtually ignores the endgame. What if the United States had kept its promises to Saigon? Might it have survived? Even though Rick Perlstein calls its forces a “joke,” it’s beyond dispute that they fought well after U.S. troops were gone. Still, it’s an impossible question to answer for sure. What’s odd is how seldom scholars and journalists ask it at all.

As for the coming Iraq endgame, Robertson’s choice of words is intriguing. “Cannot sustain” the Iraq regime suggests the possibility that no amount of non-personnel aid would help a decrepit Baghdad. “Cannot…support” suggests something different: The possibility that the United States might choose not to continue to support the regime on whose behalf over 4,000 Americans have given their lives. In 1973-75, the U.S. Congress, often echoing the rhetoric of the antiwar movement, made the conscious decision to systematically abandon an ally. Whether that was the right decision depends on your perspective. But what the world — our allies, certainly, and even our theorists inside the Pentagon – may have learned from Vietnam is not that America couldn’t win, but that America was capable of deciding not to. What will the PE and the Congress decide in the next two years?

Anatomy Of A Sneer

The LA Times continues its federophilic coverage of the Nixon Library with this ungenerous reflection by Karin Klein.

Last Thursday, her colleague Christopher Goffard left readers with the misleading impression that the transfer of the library to the National Archives has resulted in the opening of more Presidential records than would otherwise have been the case.

Klein called us later in the day to ask some follow-up questions. As she recounts it,

“What kind of changes to the library did you want to ask about?” a spokesman for the foundation inquired guardedly when I called for information Wednesday. And then, sardonically, “Oh, yes, I would expect the L.A. Times to be asking about Watergate.”

Well, considering that the archives had just released notes and recordings detailing Nixon’s attempts to smear perceived “enemies” — anyone who disagreed about the Vietnam War — that would seem the natural question.

My colleague couldn’t possibly have been more sardonic than Klein was in her piece. As a matter of fact, his question was natural precisely because her questions were coming from the LA Times — which, for instance, last year falsely attributed to reporter-hating Nixonians a famous scholar’s quote about the the Washington Post’s Watergate ethics.

Klein says she visited the Nixon Library to observe our old Watergate gallery. She evidently observed poorly:

When I first visited the library nearly five years ago, its greatest quirk was the Watergate exhibit, which asserted that the break-in and coverup that ushered in an era of mistrust of government were actually caused by the zeal of two unethical Washington Post reporters “to create a Watergate story.”

That’s an image — zealous Carl and Bob dressed up as zealous Hunt and Liddy. Actually, neither we nor anyone else on the planet ever claimed that “the break-in and coverup…were actually caused” by newspaper reporters. But at the LA Times, you can write whatever you want about Nixon Foundation folks, no matter how fanciful or confusing, and it gets past editors and copy editors and goes right into the first draft of history. Why? Because we’re a small band of people — or, as Klein says in her article, “cronies” — who believe that notwithstanding his sins and omissions the 37th President deserves a balanced portrayal in view of his course-changing policies as a statesman and wartime commander-in-chief. For whatever reason, our perspective is evidently inconvenient to the LA Times.

Our old Watergate exhibit did include a quotation about “Woodward and Bernstein’s failure to address any of the ethical deficiencies of their investigative reporting, including offering of bribes, illegally gaining access to telephone numbers, and talking to members of the grand jury.”

We admit it. We definitely had that quote in the gallery. And it was taken word for word from Stanley Kutler’s widely praised book The Wars Of Watergate.

Klein does seem to have intuited that we had something against Woodstein. Goffard was more clear if not more accurate. In an article last year in which he accused us of despising poor Mr. Bernstein just on the evidence of the Kutler quote being in our gallery, Goffard went so far as to proclaim that our charges against the reporters were false.

Goffard and Klein should have taken it up with the person who had actually made the charges. But Kutler is one of the most respected scholars in the country. So the LA Times wraps his inconvenient statements around our necks. If it were you, you'd be sardonic, too.

Obama's Enemies Guest List

Elaborating on points he made last Monday at the Nixon Library, Dick Morris, writing with Eileen McGann, outlines the risks the PE runs by giving top jobs to past and perhaps future opponents.

Covered "Dish": Andrew and Trig

Last Friday, before taking a post-election break from his blog “The Daily Dish,” Andrew Sullivan unloaded with another ridiculous attack against Gov. Palin, keeping alive the lie that she and her minor daughter Bristol conspired in a massive coverup of her son Trig’s parentage. Today Patrick Appel, subbing for the boss, wrote at the “Dish”:

I strongly believe that there is nothing to this story….

The easiest way to disprove these conspiracy theories is to consider what would be required for them to be true. Palin’s doctor, along with a good number of Mat-Su Regional’s doctors, nurses, and administrators would need to be in on the cover-up. On multiple occasions Palin would have had to pad her belly to make herself look pregnant. She would have needed to get friends to lie about seeing her breast feed. She would have had to silence an entire community – including two 17-year-olds and their friends – while the national media and the National Enquirer snooped around. Implausible to say the least.

I don’t believe Sarah Palin is capable of pulling off such a cover-up. And, like Alex Massie and John Schwenkler, I don’t understand what is being accomplished by continued investigation.

Hallelujah and amen. Good for Sullivan for letting Appel rebut him on his own site. Better if he had just dropped it weeks ago. Best if we never hear about it again — but Andrew will be back by the weekend!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Aging "Frost/Nixon" Demographic

Book editor and novelist Michael Korda, who had a business relationship with former President Nixon when RN was at Simon & Schuster, extrudes detailed psychological profiles when Nixon’s in the news. Here’s the latest. Its canniest insight:

[I]t’s hard to believe ["Frost/Nixon"] will fill the theaters at Christmastime with moviegoers under sixty. It is definitely a movie for those who have a NIXON’S THE ONE button in their sock drawer, or even an I LIKE IKE button hidden away.

Perfect Songs: "Tower Song" (1971)

Townes van Zandt

Katharine The Calming

I met the boss on Friday -- the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the first woman to hold the position and the first to serve as an Anglican primate (the head of a national or regional church). Raised in Pensacola, Florida, Katharine was trained as an oceanographer before she became a priest and, eventually, bishop of Nevada. She was elected presiding bishop in 2006.

As Episcopalians prepare to come to Anaheim from all over the country next summer for our next general convention, she spent this weekend in Riverside at the annual convention of the Diocese of Los Angeles. Katharine celebrated Holy Eucharist, preached, lectured about women's empowerment, and answered questions from the floor about Sunday School and social justice.

The location of next year's national convention notwithstanding, the church she leads, troubled by a fresh schism, isn't exactly the happiest place on earth. An entity calling itself "the Anglican Church in North America," which believes women can't be bishops and gays and lesbians should also have limited access to the church's sacramental work, was launched the week before our Riverside convention began. The 1,000 churches forming the wannabe new province include tiny congregations which left years ago over one ancient beef or another, such as the Episcopal Church ordaining women to the priesthood or adopting a new version of The Book Of Common Prayer.

The group hopes to achieve official recognition in the worldwide Anglican Communion through the support of similarly inclined Anglicans in South America, Africa, and elsewhere. Not likely, Katharine says:
"The Anglican Communion has never formed a province based upon theological perspectives," she said. "It's always on the basis of geography, and the need to present the Gospel in another part of the world."...

Jefferts Schori said there was no need to form the breakaway province. The Anglican Communion has always embraced vigorous debate, she said.

"We think it's important to have a diversity of opinion within one body," she said. "God gives us people who disagree with each other for a reason. As long as they're willing to be at the table together, worshiping, being in dialogue together, being in mission together, then we have something very important to give each other. But when some decide to leave, that process is broken down."

Regrettably, when it comes to church schisms, broken processes usually stay broken. Today most Episcopalians are proud that our outpost of catholicism with a small "c" ordains women, taking to heart St. Paul's dictum that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28). The new prayer book is now the familiar, beloved 30-year-old prayer book. It's hard to imagine that it ever gave offense. Yet while a few who left the church over those issues may have drifted back from schismatic parishes, most didn't. Most of those leaving today over homosexuality may also be gone forever.

In a way, schismatics solve a problem for a mother church by marginalizing themselves. But there is no victory, there are no winners, and there is nothing but sadness in God's heart when people of faith turn away from one another.

Amid all this turmoil, during her two days among members of the six-county Los Angeles diocese Katharine made friends and inspired confidence with her quiet eloquence and non-anxious (dare one say Obamian?) temperament. To some of her fellow Anglican primates, including those who refused even to kneel next to her to take Holy Eucharist, her election was an abomination, an affront to Jesus Christ because of her gender. These are Christians who believe God and the Bible prescribe a hierarchy among human beings. While keeping her heart open to them as well as TEC's domestic critics, Katharine also reminds us that there is much work to do building the realm of God -- empowering women, combating poverty, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, the widow, the orphan, and bringing people to Christ in mission and service.

Reflecting in a homily on the Advent call to make straight in the desert a highway for God, Katherine counseled laypeople, deacons, priests, and her fellow bishops to tend the stretches of road we may find closest to us. It was a blessing to get to know our chief highway superintendent. Our church is in good hands indeed.