Saturday, February 7, 2009

Another Way To Look At The Recession

From Shikha Dalmia, more rhetoric we can't afford about the failed policies of the past:
Rather than a time for panicked reactions, this is the time to fully understand a lesson of history: The rubble of every recession contains the seeds of its own regeneration. Physical and human capital of dying economic sectors don't vanish with them. These assets—equipment, property, workers—are re-released into the economy, where entrepreneurs, unless thwarted by taxes and regulations, scoop them up and inevitably find more productive uses for them. In the process, new companies are born and new jobs created—offering, over time, far better returns and wages than before.

Behind The Looking Glass And Blind As A Bat

Paul Krugman has studied the cuts in the Senate version of the Obama stimulus bill, which reduced it to a mere $800 billion, run them through his secret Nobel Prize winner's decoder ring, and announced that they will result in 600,000 fewer jobs over the next two years. Meanwhile Andrew Sullivan says the bill deserves conditional support for six reasons, one of which is:
[N]o one knows quite what will work for sure.

Friendship Makes For Strange Pewmates

A lesbian priest and Mormon father of three make friends and then common cause.

Going With Grace

Could the Episcopalians have learned a thing or two about schisms from the Presbyterians?

"The Most Available Democratic Experience"

St. John's Church at Easter; flowers by Kathe Hayden

A Sunday or two ago on the Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor read out a John Updike passage about churchgoing. Several listeners, including your correspondent, wrote in for the citation, and someone from the show thoughtfully provided it. It's from a "New Yorker" essay by Episcopalian Updike entitled "Packed Dirt, Churchgoing, A Dying Cat, A Traded Car," published on December 16, 1961.

I'd always wondered why I'd extravagantly bought the complete "New Yorker" on DVDs a couple of years ago. It turns out that this (maybe the third time I've consulted it) was why: Vocational encouragement at a pivotal time in my ministry:
There was a time when I wondered why more people did not go to church. Taken purely as a human recreation, what could be more delightful, more unexpected than to enter a venerable and lavishly scaled building kept warm and clean for use one or two hours a week and to sit and stand in unison and sing and recite creeds and petitions that are like paths worn smooth in the raw terrain of our hearts? To listen, or not listen, as a poorly paid but resplendently robed man strives to console us with scraps of ancient epistles and halting accounts, hopelessly compromised by words, of those intimations of divine joy that are like pain in that, their instant gone, the mind cannot remember or believe them; to witness the windows donated by departed patrons and the altar flowers arranged by withdrawn hands and the whole considered spectacle lustrous beneath its patina of inheritance; to pay, for all this, no more than we are moved to give -- surely in all democracy there is nothing like it. Indeed, it is the most available democratic experience. We vote less than once a year. Only in church and at the polls are we actually given our supposed value, the soul-unit of one, with its noumenal arithmetic of equality: one equals one equals one.

Nobody Really Reports For Free

Some propose pay-per-view schemes for quality on-line editorial content. Andrew Sullivan demurs:
[I]t's is not going to work...because there is too much good content out there for free.
Commentary, yes. Reporting, no.

We Still Take, And Need, The Paper

If you believe that a well-informed public is essential to a healthy democracy, then you believe in newspapers. Check out newspaperproject.org. Its mission statement:
NewspaperProject.org was launched in 2009 by a small group of newspaper executives to support a constructive exchange of information and ideas about the future of newspapers. While we acknowledge the challenges facing the newspaper industry in today’s rapidly changing media world, we reject the notion that newspapers—and the valuable content that newspaper journalists provide—have no future.

Of Course He Also Says Nixon Was Right Wing

Up in Halifax, Jim Meek says President Obama is waxing conservative.

Bearly Having A Clue

On Feb. 12, the world will mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. The annual remembrance occurring two days later, Valentine's Day, is the focal point for a particular type of seasonal TV advertising which tends to undermine Darwin's notions about evolutionary progress, at least in humans.

Every year at this time in the Pajamagram ad, rapt young man leer as their female partners parade in the nighties that have come in the mail. As for the Vermont Teddy Bear ad, it reminds me of those who said about the first 1960 Presidential debate that if you watched it on TV, Kennedy won, while RN won among radio listeners. If you see the young woman in the office getting her Valentine's Day bear in the mail and opening it, the ad's rated G. But if you close your eyes and listen (as her male office mates do) to her high-pitched "oh...oh!" and her exclamation, "It's a lot bigger than I thought...I just want to kiss it," you'd be excused for applying an R.

The ads are aimed at men of a certain age who are evidently unable to plot a correlation between things the women in their life enjoy and some appropriate gift. The teddy bear folks also encourage men to believe that women will think they've been planning the gift for months, as if their wives and girlfriends hadn't seen the ads ten times, too. Such limited discernment skills bode poorly for humans' ability to persist and thrive in challenging environments. Better move: Get 'em a Beagle.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Endangering Humans To Save Whales



Was Sea Shepherd ramming for the cameras?

Shopping Made Cheap, Easy, And Fun

Why Amazon is thriving.

Too Narrow And Too Short

The American Historical Review has rejected historian Peter Klingman's article about Stanley Kutler's Watergate tape transcripts.

Status Quo We Can Believe In

Everyone is making us fearful this week. Dick Cheney says that the relaxation of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies, especially the release of certain Guantanamo suspects, make us more vulnerable. On Fox News tonight, Glenn Beck said that since we're on the verge of nationalizing the banks and the stimulus bill looks socialist, that adds up to national socialism, which means we may be about to become another Nazi Germany. This was scary because it was so impossibly, offensively stupid.

President Obama has also been selling fear. Obviously he wants to get his bill passed. But when Senate Republicans said they wanted more tax cuts, he condemned their pleas with boilerplate "failed policies of the past" rhetoric:
Those ideas have been tested, and they have failed. They've taken us from surpluses to an annual deficit of over a trillion dollars, and they've brought our economy to a halt. And that's precisely what the election we just had was all about.
First, this low-grade partisan tongue-lashing ignores the undeniable success of the income tax cuts proffered in their times by Kennedy, Reagan, and George W. Bush. Besides, the Bush deficits didn't paralyze the economy. The mortgage crisis and Lehman Bros. meltdown did. If deficits are really the problem, then after this bill, we'll definitely be toast.

Second, the bill positively bulges with residue of the failed policies of the past. Democrats are taking advantage of the economic crisis by loading it up with massive spending for pet projects, only 5% of which, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will go for rebuilding infrastructure. Go here to see how appalled liberals and progressives are the relatively minor concessions won this week by Republicans -- most of which, many hope, will be undone in conference committee next week.

Third, where's the hope? How about some encouraging, uplifting rhetoric from the leader of the free world about the creative energy and spirit of the American people? This is where comparisons between Obama and Ronald Reagan fall especially flat. After all, it's we who will dig us out of the rubble, not Congress or Barack Obama. Our jobs are being lost at a near-record rate because consumers are saving instead of spending, not just those losing their jobs or homes, but everyone. Instead of defending his decision to spend taxpayers' money on 25,000 hybrids for federal employees to drive, Obama should be persuading people to buy pickup trucks (or Priuses, if he prefers) with their own money. Instead, with his talk of impending catastrophe, Obama can't help but weaken people's confidence even more. That's not leadership. It's opportunism.

Polls show that people don't much like the bill. He'll get it anyway. The economy will recover, as it always does. Recessions last an average of 18 months. Should the current one follow suit, Obama and his supporters will say it was the result of the bill. That's the way politics works. As Obama's big-spending friends keep saying, they won, and the Republicans lost. In a way, it's reassuring. After months of unhealthful idealization, Obama has settled down to earth, and we have the status quo we can believe in.

Richard Nixon, Socialist Hero

...says the Daily Kos.

Perfect Songs: "Walk Away Renee" (1966)



The Four Tops

Kindle Love At The Highest Level

Dick Cheney has a Kindle and just finished reading James M. McPherson's Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Oh Buddha, This Is All We Need

News from the Christian News Wire:
An Episcopal priest who has received a Buddhist lay ordination has been nominated for the position of bishop in the Diocese of Northern Michigan. The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, who has served in the diocese since 2001, will be the only nominee for the vacant position.

"We're Going To Be In The Hudson"



God's grace. Sully's cool.

The Story Of Mr. Y

History News Network editor Rick Shenkman painstakingly dissects how it was that historian Stanley Kutler's Watergate transcripts were featured in a front-page New York Times article.

Two Chiefs

Old friends and former Nixon chiefs of staff Kathy O'Connor and Jack Brennan met up Thursday night for Ann Coulter's talk at the Nixon Library. Former White House military office aide Brennan ran RN's San Clemente office during the difficult years of 1974-80, while Kathy served beginning in 1990 (after ten years as his confidential secretary) and helped the Nixon family through Mrs. Nixon's illness and death in 1993. Kathy joined in the vigil at the President's bedside after the stroke that led to his death in 1994.

Jack was played by the less dynamic and handsome Kevin Bacon in "Frost/Nixon." We haven't cast Kathy yet.

H. L. Coulter

"If I've offended anyone," Ann Coulter told an audience of 1,200 at the Nixon Library today, "my work is done." Charming and thoughtful in person -- a Connecticut Yankee who was graduated with honors from Cornell, studied law at Michigan, clerked for an appeals court judge, and litigated on behalf of individual freedom before becoming a commentator -- Coulter absolutely horrifies her critics. Strong, forbearing men shuddered with alarm on learning that the Nixon Foundation had invited her to speak, answer questions, and sign copies of her seventh book, Guilty.

For me, the key question came from a fan who wondered why she didn't have her own show on cable. She doesn't want one. "I'm a writer," she said. At that point I began to pay closer attention to the deftness of her wordplay, which she had been honing until five minutes before I had the pleasure of introducing her. Just think H. L. Mencken, who said, "I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty."

Coulter said, "Everything always changes except the avant-garde, which always stays the same." On the tax errors plaguing President Obama's appointees: "I guess that's what Obama means by transparency. We always suspected that Democrats were hypocritical crooks. Now we can see it clearly." She spoke in an affectionate if not necessarily an ideologically comradely way about Richard Nixon, liking the "red-baiting" of his early years best and the creation of the EPA least. She lambasted former White House counsel John Dean for alleging that RN had framed a notorious Soviet spy. "Alger Hiss was guilty," she said, "and John Dean is a liar." As for affirmation action, another Nixon policy, "it's like the stimulus bill: Exactly the wrong thing, and plenty of it."

Politics and culture offer plenty of material for her new book, which is about liberals' skill at playing the victim. "In American politics, he who is offended first, wins," she said. She began her talk by turning the tables on a prominent person of letters who had criticized GOP VP nominee J. Danforth Quayle in 1988 for having a name bespeaking noblesse oblige, as though he could've done anything about it. The writer in question was Calvin Marshall Trillin (Yale '57). Twenty years later, conservatives were called out of bounds for making hay over Barack Obama's middle name. Coulter said, "Liberals either are victims of a Republican's middle name or victims of Republicans' criticism of a Democrat's middle name. Either way, they're the victims."

Might Coulter be victimized by anything she said at the Nixon Library? I certainly hope not, but we'll see what the papers say in the morning. She doesn't mince words when talking about anything, including race. "The images of students at Howard University cheering the acquittal of O. J. Simpson finally ended the white infantalization of blacks, and it was the best thing that could've happened to them," she said, adding that Obama, son of a Kenyan father, isn't in the position to play the victim even if he wanted to. If his forebears had any connection with slavery, she said, it would've been on the business side. If so, she said, he'd be Barack Obama, son of a slave trader. Discerning listeners knew exactly what she meant and also that she had meant "great-great-great-great grandson."

If people were looking to be offended, they were, thus missing the opportunity to be entertained and challenged by a brilliant political satirist. Someone might well have been angry that she called former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan a butterball. In this day and age, we don't talk about people by referring to their weight. On the other hand, it may be that the new junior senator from Minnesota will end up having been the author of a book called Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot. It is precisely Ann Coulter's point that it all depends on whose bird is being stuffed.

Kutler, Nixon, And The Ellsberg Break-In

Chuck Colson (right) with President Nixon and John O'Neill

In the wake of Sunday's New York Times article, critics and defenders of historian Stanley Kutler (below) have focused on his transcripts of Watergate conversations from March 1973. His 1997 book, Abuse of Power, also included an apparent attempt to edit a transcript to make it appear that by June 1972, the month of the Watergate break-in, President Nixon had become aware of the White House Plumbers' September 1971 break-in at the Los Angeles office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, Lewis Fielding.

Mr. Nixon always maintained that he didn't learn about the Ellsberg caper until the spring of 1973. If he'd known about it during the first days and weeks of the Watergate coverup, it would put his statements and actions in a much darker light.

Nixon critics have been understandably eager to find evidence that he knew in advance about either break-in as well as that he was was mindful of the Plumbers' illegal activity as the Watergate coverup got underway in June 1972. Rick Perlstein joined the counterfeit smoking gun club with 2008's Nixonland when he misconstrued the meaning of a secondary source to make the President look guilty of foreknowledge of an illegal burglary.

Kutler's sleight of hand occurs in his transcript of a July 19, 1972 conversation between the President and political aide Chuck Colson. In an editor's setup, Kutler wrote:
Colson is full of praise for his friend [E. Howard Hunt, arrested at the Watergate], knowing that he had broken into Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office. "They weren't stealing anything,' Colson rationalized. 'They had broken and entered with an intent not to steal, [only] with an intent to obtain information."
Having gotten the reader thinking about the Ellsberg break-in, Kutler alters the rest of the conversation to remove any explicit reference to its real subject, the June 1972 break-in. His transcript begins with the President and Colson discussing Hunt's background and effort to compile a reliable psychological profile of Ellsberg. They ponder whether this entirely legal work might be drawn into the Watergate investigation. According to Kutler, the conversation proceeds as follows:
President Nixon: You've got to say that's irrelevant in a criminal case.

Colson: It clearly will be irrelevant in the civil case, because it had nothing to do with the invasion of privacy. I'm not sure in a criminal case whether it is a sign that will be relevant or not. Of course, before a grand jury there's no relevance...

They weren't stealing anything. Really, they trespassed. They had broken and entered with an intent not to steal, with an intent to obtain information.
The conversation has just jumped from Ellsberg to the Watergate break-in. Bet you didn't notice. Kutler has invited those who question his transcripts to go to the National Archives and listen themselves. Back in 1998, we did. Here's what the tape really says. Pay special attention to what Colson and the President say after Kutler's ellipses:

President Nixon: You've got to say that it's irrelevant in a criminal [unintelligible].

Colson: Clearly-- the civil case has to do with the invasion of privacy, for information. I'm not sure in the criminal case whether these assignments [for the Plumbers] will be criminal [Kutler has "relevant"; tape is unclear] or not. Of course, before a grand jury, those would be irrelevant. I wouldn't worry about it.

President Nixon: It's none of his [the prosecutor's] damn business.

Colson: He knows it has nothing to do with Watergate. [Pause] Magruder obviously would-- [12-second deletion for personal privacy]. They weren't stealing. Really, they trespassed.

This transcript of a small portion of a conversation reveals three things about Abuse of Power.

First, Kutler's transcripts are sloppy -- "it is a sign" instead of "these assignments," for instance. In the settlement we negotiated of his successful lawsuit against the National Archives to free up this cache of tapes, he won a few months of exclusive access to them. He brought in court reporters and rushed his book out, but he didn't have to do it that way. If he had taken his time and published accurate, complete transcripts, he might not be under fire today.

Second, it does appear that Kutler wanted his readers to conclude that when President Nixon was talking to Colson, he already knew about the illegal Fielding break-in in September 1971. One indication is his deletion of the reference to Jeb Magruder, who was centrally involved with the June 1972 break-in but had nothing to do with the Fielding adventure. Also questionable is Kutler's decision to skip a response by the President in order to elide two of Colson's comments.

Kutler himself lent credence to the appearance that he manipulated the record. When I first wrote about Abuse of Power in the March 1998 issue of the "American Spectator," a reporter from the Orange County Register, a seasoned pro named Ann Pepper, called Kutler and asked him what he thought about my charge that he was misleading readers about the timing of RN's knowledge of the Fielding job. Kutler couldn't have been more definitive in his own defense:

Richard Nixon knew, and the tapes I discuss in my book prove it. If (Taylor) wants to say Richard Nixon never said (expletive) or called the Jews (derogatory names), he's a liar. There is always a possibility for error, but I never changed the transcripts intentionally and I didn't do it at all as far as I know. At this point, to say that Richard Nixon didn't do these things is ludicrous.

Still, when the paperback edition of Abuse of Power came out, Kutler made a telling change in his setup of the July 19 conversation. It now reads,

"They weren't stealing anything," Colson rationalized the Watergate break-in [emphasis added by me; phrase added by Kutler]

If I had a hand in that, I didn't get a footnote -- just an e-knuckle sandwich from our brawler of a scholar Stanley, who said on an historians' blog in 2005:
[I]n a scarcely-noted review of my book in an obscure right-wing magazine, Taylor accused me of distorting and inventing tapes. For himself, he managed to find things in the tapes that just were not there, anxious as he was to fulfill Nixon’s constant refrain that the tapes would exonerate him.
The third and perhaps biggest problem with Kutler's amended account of this moment in history is that it obscures the conversation's essentially exculpatory nature. Remember that the conventional wisdom is that President Nixon acquiesced in the John Dean-approved plan for limiting the Watergate investigation to keep the FBI and prosecutors from learning about the the Plumbers' other illegal activity. And yet here are two lawyers talking desultorily about Hunt's situation. Is this what they'd say if they were afraid the public was about to learn about the White House horrors? There's no talk of covering up, no reference to hush money, and no suggestion of guilt -- just Messrs. Nixon and Colson agreeing that Hunt's prior work had nothing to do with Watergate.

All along, President Nixon's Watergate defense was based on national security, specifically his rock-ribbed belief that the Plumbers' legitimate work investigating Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg during wartime shouldn't be drawn into the investigation of the purely political Watergate break-in. Though he doesn't call special attention to them, Kutler's book contains many conversations from the second half of 1972 in which the President makes the national security vs. Watergate distinction and urges aides to own up about involvement in illegal political activity.

Fred Graboske and his team of tape reviewers at the Nixon Project at the National Archives deserve great credit for identifying tape segments that would help as well as hurt RN. Kutler deserves credit for including some of the helpful conversations in his book. Of course in another of Kutler's spin-zone editor's notes about another exculpatory conversation in which RN says, on October 16, 1972, that he doesn't want Dwight Chapin and others to lie about Watergate, Kutler just accuses President Nixon of speaking for the tape recorder to make himself look good later.

Since Sunday's article, it's been all about Kutler, his friends, and his detractors. Better when the tapes themselves speak. All hail young Luke Nichter at nixontapes.org, for going where no scholar or government agency has gone before in making these peerless records available to the public.

It's Time To Make Readers Pay

Sometimes the smartest people in the world don't have a clue:
The editor of The New York Times has hinted that the newspaper might charge again for access to some of its online offerings, less than two years after abandoning fees to boost advertising revenue.
Hint? He should shout it from the rooftops. It's reckless for newspapers to remain complicit in the fradulent and self-defeating idea that quality editorial content should be free. If people don't want to pay to read the Times on line or on their Kindles, then they won't get to read the stories. Ditto the wire service copy available for free on Yahoo. News outlets should start charging now, while they still have enough muscle and depth behind their coverage so that readers really know what they're missing. At this point, the struggling industry has nothing to lose. Text isn't dead, but print is. If you think otherwise, you probably own a printing company.

Have Prayer Book, Will Travel

Another prayer in the public square by Gene Robinson:
The first openly gay bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church led a prayer in the Maryland Senate Monday night in which he asked God to bless the legislators with "anger at discrimination in all its forms."

The Rev. V. Gene Robinson also asked for the legislators to be blessed with "freedom from fear," including fear of their next election and criticism from unpopular votes during the invocation prayer.

Robinson is a bishop in New Hampshire, but he is in Annapolis to lobby for a gay marriage bill and a measure that prohibits discrimination against transgender people.

The Recession's "Web Of Fear"

Having read a perhaps apocryphal story about a fired executive begging on Madison Ave. to feed her four children, Lucy Kellaway wonders if the world wide web has ensnared us all:

The Internet has created a global psyche. The web has mentally joined us at the hip, so we can no longer put our heads in the sand. If that sounds painfully contorted, it is because it is. Just as no country can decouple itself from the ailing global economy, none of us as individuals can decouple ourselves from the ailing global psyche.

Through blogs, websites and e-mails the world’s economic ills are fed to us on a drip all day long. It is not just that we hear about bad things faster, we hear about more of them and in a more immediate way. My worries become yours, and yours become mine. On the Internet, a trouble shared online is not a trouble halved. It is a trouble needlessly multiplied all over the world.

Of Course A Cheerful Scandal, It Wasn't

The Nixon Foundation authorized the removal of the private Nixon Library's original Watergate exhibit (not a favorite of scholars and journalists) in March 2007. While federal Nixon Library officials offer no official target date for the re-installation, Library visitors may now view this photo, which has an "Independence Day" or "Close Encounters" kind of a thing going on, the distinct flavor of Revelation 6:12-13a:
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth... [KJV]

For All Your Foreign Policy Commentary Needs

The Nixon Center now has a YouTube page.

Butt Of Jokes

GOP Rep. John Campbell's weekly constituent e-mail to his upscale Newport Beach district always has an inviting, over-the-pickle-barrel tone, even when he alerts voters that he'll be out of commission for a month recovering from colon surgery:

OK. Now the jokes can begin. Could it be these past 2 years with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker has caused such a pain in my stomach that it led to this? And I know that some of you have felt that I was full of it, but now I have medical evidence that you were correct. However, after this surgery, you will no longer be able to make that claim.

You can add your own jokes now.

Godspeed, congressman!

Plus The AC Broke On The Bus To The Pyramids

At their meeting in Egypt, cordiality among Anglican primates begins to dissipate as the archbishop of Sudan calls on New Hampshire's openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, and all the clergy who participated in his consecration, to resign.

Pope Orders Holocaust Denier To Recant

One small step for sanity in the church. The AP:
The Vatican demanded Wednesday that a bishop who denied the Holocaust recant his positions before being fully admitted into the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican also said in a statement that Pope Benedict XVI didn't know about Bishop Richard Williamson's views when he agreed to lift his excommunication and that of three other ultraconservative bishops Jan. 21.

But You Can't Get Led Zep On The Kindle, Either

It appears that during the first full year of sales, Amazon sold more Kindles than Apple sold iPods in its first year.

Whatever You Do, Don't Make Sean Penn Mad

In his Feb. 19 "Rolling Stone" interview, Penn discusses "Into the Wild," which he directed:
It disgusts me the way they [the Academy] snubbed that picture....I thought about giving Bill Ayers a call and giving him the address of Paramount Pictures.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Kutler's Way

Stanley Kutler says his critics are off base.

Church And State, Together Forever

NPR reports on whether President Obama's rules for faith-based initiatives will vary from W.'s, as candidate Obama once hinted that they would.

Churches are exempt from many civil rights laws. If I went to my local Chabad center and demanded a wedding ceremony, and it demurred on the basis of my not being Jewish, my discrimination lawsuit would be cast into outer darkness. If an Episcopal bishop suggests to a male rector of a church that he call a female associate rector so that the people of God are continually reminded that the genders are equal before God, a spurned male's legal complaint would be a Hail Mary at best.

By the same token, as the NPR piece discloses, Southern Baptist groups receiving federal grants were permitted under Bush administration rules to discriminate in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation, since they believe that homosexual activity of any kind is a sin. Other organizations receiving federal funds, such as schools, colleges, and non-religious nonprofits, are required to comply with federal law. Though Obama said during the campaign that he'd change the faith-based policy to match, there are signs that he might not. World Vision, the conservative evangelical charity, says that if it's forced to act against its conscience in hiring, it won't take any more faith-based grants.

During the debate over Prop. 8 in California last fall, proponents said that if voters didn't pass it and gay marriage was affirmed, anti-discrimination laws would be used to force pastors to marry same-sex couples. Citing the same religious exemption now being invoked by the Southern Baptists, our own Episcopal bishop in Los Angeles, Jon Bruno, reassured his priests that none would be forced, either by him or the government, to conduct any marriage to which a priest objected.

Anti-Prop. 8 forces called the warnings about lawsuits a lie. To me, they sounded like far-fetched but not-inconceivable conjecture. While anyone can sue anyone for anything, Bishop Bruno was absolutely right that pastors may still reserve the right to marry whom they choose for whatever reason. But think about this: What if a pastor refused to marry a couple because they were African-American? Technically, it sounds as though they'd have no legal recourse. They might not even want one, since they probably wouldn't want to force a racist to marry them. Besides, if word got out, as it surely would, there wouldn't be much of a church left.

But what if the couple did sue? I'm not a lawyer, and so I don't know what would happen or has happened to any such claims over the years. In the case of the black couple, it might be hard for a judge to avoid trying to find some basis for affirming a federal civil rights claim. While most parishes don't get federal money, one toehold for a plaintiff might be the federal tax advantages enjoyed by Protestant pastors.

I'm not arguing that it was good Prop. 8 failed so that pastors would be safe from hyper-hypothetical lawsuits. I'm sure that for a number of years, perhaps even for a generation or two, churches that consider all homosexual behavior to be a sin would be able to avoid marrying gay and lesbian people. For me, the more important question has to do with the intersection and interaction of church and state.

The case can certainly be made that the church sometimes falls prey to the temptation to spend more time talking about politics than individual righteousness. Others in the church see the sinful secular world as a continual affront. By their lights, efforts to decriminalize homosexuality and eventually the broad social acceptance of gay and lesbian people were worldly fashions, like MTV and pre-marital sex, that the church is honor-bound to resist. These pastors urge their people to be in but not of the world, temporary occupants of a broken landscape who are girding their souls for heavenly glory.

As we consider alternatives to this world view, discrimination against African-American again provides a useful case study, since for several generations after 1865 the very idea of racial equality was viewed by millions as a fad and an abomination. Pastors trotted out biblical texts to prove it. Today, we recoil in disgust from such perversions of God's word. The obvious question is whether in 50 years, we will do the same as we remember those who insisted that gay and lesbian people (and, in many realms of the church, women) should be declined equal sacramental status.

Whatever happens, the church should think more about the interaction of decision-making in its own councils and society at large, especially when the society, like ours, is large, vibrant, and free. Though it took a lot of prodding, often from the church, the body politic has done well when it comes to women and ethnic minorities, though other realms of the church lag behind. Was the Spirit of God at work in the work and words of non-churchgoing Abraham Lincoln and other who fought to liberate the slaves? Does it guide those who fight to protect women against injustice around the world? Might it even be at work as people of conscience debate about the definition of civil as opposed to sacramental marriage?

The outcome of Prop. 8 shows that voters remain ambivalent about gay marriage. When the church gets too far ahead of societal consensus, it risks being fractionalized and even marginalized, as the crisis in the Anglican Communion demonstrates. But when one nation under God does finally make up its mind, faith communities will always have some explaining to do if they don't follow suit.

Valerie And The President Before Ford

Visiting the Nixon Library last night, high school students from La Habra, California revealed that they had absorbed both the ceremony and substance of President Obama's inauguration. They knew that he and the Chief Justice had flubbed and repeated the oath of office and that Obama's main goal in his address was providing reassurance about the economy. Rarely have I encountered a student group so well informed about current events. These were bright kids, first of all; and these are times that focus everybody's attention on politics more than usual.

La Habra is a middle- and working-class town where Richard Nixon had a law office in the 1930s. There is room to grow when it comes to the kids' appreciation of this dimension of their heritage. My opening shtick with student groups is to ask them to go backwards through time with the last names of Presidents. I got a big, loud Obama and a medium Bush. After that, the correct answers came from city staff, parents, and probably the kids who run for study body offices. This is par for the course for any group of visitors where the average age is 20 or less. "And the President before Ford?" I asked at last. In our group of 18, one said "Nixon" -- Debbie Musser, history alum of UC Riverside, a longtime citizen volunteer in La Habra who serves on the city's youth committee.
During our early-evening tour of the grounds and museum I was bucked up, as President Nixon would say, by Debbie's enthusiasm as well as our shared experience of anicent times, the era when Mick Taylor was still in the Rolling Stones. We visited President Nixon's birthplace, which is especially evocative at night, comfortingly lit and smelling vaguely like other places we may remember with old wood furniture and floors and century-old textiles, places associated with visits to grandparents and great-grandparents. We did our best to walk the kids through the terrors and ambiguities of the Cold War and the trauma of Vietnam. They learned about RN's world-changing trip to China. They saw the POWs' sacred flag and the President's resignation letter. They lingered over exhibits in a special exhibition containing handwritten inaugural drafts by FDR and Ronald Reagan, also called to reassure and re-energize their anxious people.

We ended up in the Nixon Foundation's offices for a going away party in honor of my elder daughter Valerie, who had arranged the visit for the La Habra youth committee and organized it with a cheerfulness and an attention to detail which have evidently made her a legend at 23. Valerie's leaving the City of La Habra for a new job in the Yorba Linda parks and recreation department, and Debbie had brought a cake and balloons. Imagine being dad as the young people took turns praising and thanking Valerie and saying how much she'd be missed. Upstairs, she posed with President Obama, for whom, unlike certain others in the family, she had proudly voted.

Dean Of The Watergate Deans

John Dean weighs in to defend himself and scholar Stanley Kutler against the New York Times.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Good Night, Mike

In the Orange County Register, a deeply moving account by Ken Brusic about cleaning out his late father Mike's garage in New Jersey:
I kept nothing. Distance from my California home and shipping costs were one factor. Fear of winding up like this in another 25 years was another.

Working alongside me was my 20-year-old son, Mike, named after his grandfather. He is in his second year of college, considering a double major in physics and math. He has my dad’s powerful shoulders, blue eyes, competence and the same stubbornness that confounds me at times. You wouldn’t think such a trait could be passed through three generations.

Mike took only a small collection of hand tools that we used to set up his apartment in the Bronx. One life ends; another starts on its own road to independence.

At the end of our work, after Mike and I tossed the last piece into the Dumpster, after we cleaned up, ate dinner, packed for the next morning’s trip home and got ready for bed, I said, “Good night, Mike. I love you a lot.”

In Defense Of Stanley Kutler

Historian Stan Katz defends Stanley Kutler vs. the New York Times, which has raised the issue of whether Kutler manipulated the Watergate transcripts in his 1997 book to conceal John Dean's leading role in the coverup. Waves of comments follow Katz's post.

Hat tip to Maarja Krusten

Daschle And Bale: Portraits In Progressivism

As Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle was an eloquent if sometimes harsh critic of President Bush. He is beloved of liberals and progressives. He got a free car and driver from a fat cat when he was a former senator and didn't think to report it on his income taxes because, he said, he was used to people picking him up and driving him around.

Actor Christian Bale is a supporter of Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund who became a vegetarian at six after reading Charlotte's Web and realizing that meat came from animals. When a distinguished director of photography got in his line of sight on a movie set, he screamed at him for three minutes in a degrading, threatening way, refusing to accept the man's mumbled apology and acting for all the world like someone who knew he wouldn't be held accountable for his atrocious abuse of another human being.

So what makes the world go 'round: Power and money, or principle? What tells us more about a person: Opinions or actions?

Frontiers Of Workplace Etiquette

Actor Christian Bale to a photography director who walked onto the set during a scene:
"******! ***** *******! *******!"

Frontiers Of Ethics

The AP reveals the new standard in Washington:
Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, noted the Geithner nomination in saying she suspected tax problems would not prevent Daschle from becoming the next health secretary.

"If the guy who is overseeing the IRS can get away with a tax problem, how are you going to hold up the health and human services secretary over taxes?" she asked.
Meanwhile the New York Times reports that Sen. Kennedy is making calls in support of Sen. Daschle; a confident President Obama so far is not. Perhaps the tide is turning in his favor after thie HHS nominees obviously heartfelt apology.

The Times also gives details about the deduction he took for a personal gift to a wounded Iraqi war veteran even though contributions to individuals are never deductible. Again, you'd think the celebrated tax expert would have known that. But yesterday Hugh Hewitt argued on his radio program that rich people shouldn't be judged too harshly when they get in trouble about taxes since their finances are more complicated that those of regular people, requiring them to trust tax advisers who can make honest mistakes. Perhaps more to the point, Hugh is also concerned that instead of Daschle we might get Ira Magaziner or Michael Moore working on health care policy.

Does Daschle deserves a pass? Perhaps, unless we learn something new. Still, it's hard to believe how anyone, rich or poor, could accept livery services for three years without wondering just once who was paying for them and whether he or she had a tax liability as a result. If nothing else, the rocky start of these two Cabinet members will encourage the gentry to pay a little more attention to their 1040s and the provenance of the Lincoln Town Car that oils into the porte-cochere every morning.

Disaster Averted?

In a "Newsweek" article about the former CIA chief who now runs intelligence for the NYPD, a glimpse of how dangerous the city remains:
In 2003, two alleged Iranian agents caught photographing the No. 7 subway line beneath the East River were surprised to find themselves confronted by a cop who spoke fluent Persian. They quickly left the country. In 2003, a young undercover officer born in Bangladesh penetrated a small group of angry young immigrants, two of whom had started plotting to blow up targets in Staten Island and the subway station at Herald Square.

Monday, February 2, 2009

As Women Reclaim The Bible

Adam Kirsch:
When Harold Bloom suggested, in The Book of J, that the oldest component of the Hebrew Bible was written by a woman--an aristocratic woman at King David's court, possibly even Bathsheba herself--he might not have been offering a testable scholarly hypothesis. But he was correctly drawing attention to the extraordinarily prominent and positive role of women in the Jewish scriptures. God may have made his promises to the patriarchs, but very often it is the matriarchs who carry out his plans. Think of Rebecca securing Isaac's blessing for Jacob; or Tamar disguising herself to earn her due from Judah; or Deborah leading the Israelites into battle against Sisera; or Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes.

It is a paradox of Judaism, then, that a religion that honors such independent and active women should have evolved a code of law that sharply restricts women's independence and activity.
Christianity, too, keeps women down. It's our greatest scandal.

In the Middle With A Danish

Garrison Keillor says we are a hopeful people:

Paranoia belongs to the fringe right and left, not to genteel burghers like you and me. We sit under our fig tree and enjoy our cheeseburger without brooding too much about toxic chemicals used by meatpackers or thought-control drugs injected into the beef. Every morning in the newspaper, some columnist cries out in alarm that yet one more disaster is creeping toward us like a cougar about to spring and chew our throats, and we read a few paragraphs and turn the page and warm up another Danish.

Must U.S. Pressure Israel's Electorate?

At the "National Interest," Anatol Lieven is deeply pessimistic about whether Sen. Mitchell's Middle East mission will succeed. He writes that while everyone knows what a deal between Israel and the Palestinians would look like, Israel's politics will probably keep it from making a deal:
Lacking a clear offer from Israel (as opposed to partial, qualified and revocable concessions) the PLO leadership has never had the political ammunition with which to confront its own extremists. The United States has remained throughout an essentially unconditional supporter of Israel, instead of bringing to bear the massive pressure necessary to concentrate the minds of the Israeli electorate on the real choices facing them.

Better To Get America Onto Its Feet

One joyful day amid the prevailing gloom -- friends, munchies, a great football game -- and Stephen Metcalf thinks Bruce Springsteen, at halftime in the Super Bowl, should've made like Woody Guthrie in the dust bowl:
Springsteen would have put America on its ass—its mind shortly to follow—had he strolled out with a Martin and played "The Wrestler." (And how about a nice "This one's for Danny," aka Danny Federici, the recently deceased keyboardist who was with Bruce for more than 40 years?) The national mood is sober bordering on a galloping panic. Lively as he was, I wouldn't say the Boss did much to either banish or capture it.
Pretty soon I'm going to start wondering why the media seem not to want us to cheer up. Gloomy, anxious people don't want to spend money. Hey, Stephen: Download Bruce's new CD, and then go buy a pickup truck.

They'll Be Blaming This On RN, Too

William Murchison says Watergate sowed the seeds of the decline of the U.S. newspaper:
The politics of the breed of reporter who entered the business after Watergate was, most of the time, liberal. That was part of the problem but not the essential part. The essential part was the tendency of this breed of reporter to misunderstand what readers wanted, meaning a combination of information and entertainment, with some political philosophy thrown in, as long as the philosophy in question didn't grate or offend deep instincts.

The readership of the American newspaper was middle-class, patriotic, churchgoing, optimistic. Along came these guys (and, subsequently gals) from Columbia U. and Berkeley to tell readers just how morally burdened and ripe for reform their country was. It wasn't precisely what the customers wanted to hear. In fact, it was the opposite of what they wanted to hear.

Time For Replenishment

Sam Tanenhaus, biographer of Whittaker Chambers and, soon, William F. Buckley, Jr., on the rise and fall of conservatism:
The story of postwar American conservatism is best understood as a continual replay of a single long-standing debate. On one side are those who have upheld the Burkean ideal of replenishing civil society by adjusting to changing conditions. On the other are those committed to a revanchist counterrevolution, the restoration of America's pre-welfare state ancien regime. And, time and again, the counterrevolutionaries have won. The result is that modern American conservatism has dedicated itself not to fortifying and replenishing civil society but rather to weakening it through a politics of civil warfare.

Bet It Was Made In China

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao gets the shoe at Cambridge University.

Bob And B.i.ll



Pepsi's "Forever Young" ad from the Super Bowl is historically off key. Bob Dylan and hip-hop artist Will.i.am trade off singing Dylan's song. The images are of a mid-1960s going-electric-at-Newport Dylan, but "Forever Young" was released in 1974 (on Planet Waves, which he recorded with the Band), and the live version on the commercial's soundtrack sounds like it comes from the late 1970s. Still, great ad.

Big Day. Big Photos.

My St. John's friend, ace attorney Tom Woodruff, shared these amazing photos of the inauguration.

Way Pre-Game Bruce



Bruce Springsteen performing "Growin' Up" (1973)


Hat tip to Matthew Yglesias

Strange Hospital Bedfellows

Self-styled progressive Mimi Kennedy wants Sen. Daschle to withdraw because he's not radical enough on health care policy. Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt thinks he should be confirmed because, Hewitt believes, his tax error was inadvertent and otherwise we could end up with someone more radical.

"You Made My Grandpa A Human Being"

Elizabeth Snead at the LA Times talks to "Frost/Nixon"'s Frank Langella:
“I would hope that Richard Nixon would, but doubt that he might, say that he saw something of his inner soul or that I tried to portray him with understanding for his demons and compassion.”

He added that the Nixon and Cox grandchildren saw the film. “They didn’t know him well except what history has said, that he was an evil man. But one of his granddaughters told me, 'You made my grandpa a human being.' ”

In Other Words, We're All Okay *

Cathy Lynn Grossman brings word that the mainline denominations are doing fine:

Statistically, the mainline has declined by the millions in recent decades. But church historian Diana Butler Bass makes a contrary case: That it is thriving despite the odds. She once told me,

Mainline congregations have a beautiful world where they are enacting service, doing justice, learning to pray and caring for one another. And no one seems to realize they are there.

* Name that movie!

There By The Grace Of God They Go, Too

The Presbyterian Church now grapples with the sacramental status of gay and lesbian people.

"Quench Not The Spirit"

Coverage of John Updike's funeral at St. John's Episcopal Church in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts includes this excerpt from the homily by the Rev. Wendel W. Meyer, the late novelist's parish priest:
Shortly after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, I visited John on a Sunday in Advent bringing him communion. I brought with me a copy of the Scripture lessons appointed for that Sunday and I read that passage from First Thessalonians, the same one that John later chose to have read at this service.

After communion, John talked about the lesson and the phrase that prodded his imagination: Quench not the spirit.

"You would think," he reflected. "that the goal of the spiritual life would be the opposite: to quench the spirit, satisfying our hunger and longing for God, but no, Saint Paul seems to be telling us that our thirst of God should never be slaked for it is the very means by which we are drawn to God."

You Going To Eat That Toast?

My "New Nixon" colleague Frank Gannon poses a question that nobody else seems to be asking: Why did Tom Daschle wait until June 2008 to think about getting right with the tax man? Never fear: Frank answers, too.

Depends On What Your Definition Of "This" Is

David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, makes President Nixon's quixotic challenger for the 1972 GOP nomination sound like the voice of timeless wisdom:

Ohio Rep. John Ashbrook, one of the era’s most admired conservative leaders, challenged then-President Richard Nixon in the 1972 New Hampshire primary. We all knew Ashbrook had little chance of winning even double-digit support against a president who was riding high in the polls at the time.

Given the reality of what was likely to happen on Election Day, I asked, “Why are you doing this?” I’ll never forget Ashbrook’s reply. He looked me calmly in the eye and said, “I’m doing it because someday we’re going to want to be able to say we weren’t part of this.”
What did he mean by "this"? Certainly not Watergate, because it hadn't happened yet. Was "this" standing up for the U.S. commitment in Vietnam? Improving relations with China so there would be someone around today to help fund both George W. Bush's and Barack Obama's deficits? Setting in motion the end of the Cold War? Appointing strict-constructionist justices to the Supreme Court? Showing that you could be a Republican and also be for clean air and water and a federal role in desegregating schools and fighting cancer?

If Republicans are still proud of being against all that, their time in the political wilderness will look like thhiiiiiiiisssssssssss.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Credibility Through Conversation

In an interview with the "Atlantic," Archbishop Desmond Tutu displays good Anglican pragmatism:
Obama has indicated that he might be willing to sit down with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Does that seem appropriate to you?

That is not just appropriate, it’s necessary. Belligerence is not going to get us very far. He would garner a lot of support from those who are saying they are opposed to the United States’ aggressive attitude if he says, “I am willing to sit down and talk.” And then if that guy remains intransigent, then Obama will be better able to call on the support of the rest of the world. And if action has to be taken, there will be a great deal more sympathy than there was in the case of Iraq.

Haven't They Seen "Ferris Bueller"?

From Douglas A. Irwin, a sober warning about the protectionist provisions in the House version of the stimulus bill:
When the United States imposed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff in 1930, it helped set off a worldwide movement toward higher tariffs. When everyone tried to restrict imports, the combined effect was a deeper global economic slump. It took decades to undo the accumulated trade restrictions of that period. Let’s not make the same mistake again.

Priest: Jews A "People Of Deicide"

Another leading priest in the liturgically retrograde Society of St. Pius X has expressed noxious opinions about Jews and the Holocaust.

Let Him Twist Slowly, Slowly In The Wind

New York Times:
Republican senators largely held their fire against former Senator Tom Daschle on Sunday, saying that while they questioned how he made a $128,000 mistake on his taxes, they were not yet prepared to vote against his nomination as health secretary.
Meanwhile the President's people made sure every knew Sen. Daschle had known about the problem in June but didn't tell them until after his nomination.

How do you like your toast?

LiveBrucing

What was I thinking? Whenever Bruce is on TV, he does his "is anyone alive out there?" shtick, which sets up a song like "Light of Day" or, his choice tonight, "10th Avenue Freeze Out" -- a perfect choice for introducing the E Street Band to this vast audience. The extended intro with the Miami Horns (how ya doing, La Bamba?) is great stuff. I called "Born to Run" right, but who wouldn't have? He shaved a verse and then one-two-three-foured into the title song of his new album "Working on a Dream," and not the second cut, "My Lucky Day," as I unimaginatively guessed. Behind him was a gospel choir, as during the Lincoln Memorial concert kicking off the inauguration, which made this the inevitable Obamanumber. He closed with "Glory Days," one of the teenage angst songs from Born in the USA, his biggest album. Again, I should've guessed. He smoothly substituted "hail Mary" for "speedball" and goofed off his high school buddy Steven van Zandt, even getting a ref to throw them off the stage.

The set opened with an image right off the front cover of Born to Run, showing Bruce and sax player Clarence Clemons back to back. Poor Patti: For the big football game, Bruce needed to call male bonding all the way. Thus did the greatest rock and roller of all time, with an energy and athleticism that defied his 59 years, pack the majesty of a two-hour show into 12 minutes.

James Harrison...

..was born to run.

My Prediction For Bruce's Show

"My Lucky Day"
"The Rising"
"Born To Run"

Detroit Skips Tampa

Cool "Forever Young" commercial for Pepsi featuring Bob Dylan and Will.i.am during the Super Bowl -- which reminds me of a CBS radio piece earlier in the day saying that U.S. automakers won't be advertising during the game for fear of offending taxpayers who are funding Detroit's bailout.

I'm offended they're not advertising and instead leaving the field to Hyundai, Audi, and Toyota. While I well understand the vein of American Puritanism demanding sackcloth on the dashes of our subsidized automakers, how do you sell pickups if you're not on the Super Bowl?

Dean Of Watergate Historians

If you're following the story about John Dean and Watergate historian Stanley Kutler, you may enjoy this article at progressivehistorians.com by Jeremy Young, the Indiana University doctoral student who founded the site.

Pressing questions for some leaving comments is how this weekend's Times article came about in the first place and what the motives of reporter Patricia Cohen's sources were. Good questions for sure. It's always useful to know the motives of anonymous sources. Too bad we had to wait so long to learn W. Mark Felt's.

Bruuuuuuuuuuuuce

I wouldn't say I have a big stake in the big game -- Arizona, I guess, for the sake of old times -- but then half time. Go here to see Bruce and the E Streeters performing "Waiting On A Sunny Day." Indeed, always.