Saturday, November 13, 2010

When The Cox Crows Three Times

Embattled New York GOP chairman Ed Cox, who helped elect a Democrat governor by undermining the presumptive Republican nominee, may be able to keep his job if he axes his top aide, Tom Basile. A report says Cox is tempted -- and yet:
[U]p to now, he has refused to dump Basile - insisting the better you do your job, "the more criticism you're going to get."
I know!

NC-17 At The Airport

Noting that the chances of being the victim of a terrorist attack on an aircraft are one in 10.5 million, the "Economist" wonders at "the submissiveness and docility of the American people" in submitting to more and more invasive security procedures.

Don't Tell Me DADT!

Cindy McCain now stand with her husband on gays in the military.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Gergen Goes To The Matt

For a round table conversation conducted the day after the election and recounted in its Nov. 25 issue, "Rolling Stone" brought together presidential (you can pretty much name the president) adviser David Gergen (in the left-hand corner), pollster Peter Hart, and RS contributing editor Matt Taibbi (below right, preparing to hammer the veteran in the kidneys), who's written a series of bomb-throwing investigative pieces about scheming, grasping Wall Street fat cats. Some highlights:

Taibbi: To me, the main thing about the Tea Party is that they're just crazy. If somebody is able to bridge the gap with those voters, it seems to me they will have to be a little bit crazy too. That's part of the Tea Party's litmus test: "How far will you go?"

Gergen: I flatly reject the idea that Tea Partiers are crazy. They had some eccentric candidates, there's no question about that. But I think they represent a broad swath of the American electorate that elites dismiss to their peril.

Hart: I agree with David. When two out of five people who voted last night say they consider themselves supporters of the Tea Party, we make a huge mistake to suggest that they are some sort of small fringe group and do not represent anybody else.

Taibbi: I'm not saying that they're small or a fringe group.

Gergen: You just think they're all crazy.

Taibbi: I do.

Gergen: So you're arguing, Matt, that 40 percent of those who voted last night are crazy?...

Had the president's fundamental approach for the past two years been about jobs, he would have been a lot better off coming into the election. People would have felt that he was on their side. He helped to stabilize the major banks, which prevented us from going over a cliff, and he deserves credit for averting another Great Depression. But he clearly made a strategic miscalculation in assuming that the stimulus would keep unemployment under eight percent. In retrospect, it was a blunder to spend so much time on health care instead of jobs. If Franklin Roosevelt's most important accomplishment of his first two years had been a health care bill, we'd have all said that was nuts....

The media has spent way too much time on the Tea Party and Christine O'Donnell and far too little time on the emergence of moderate-right Republicans like Rob Portman and John Kasich in Ohio. There are as many traditional conservatives coming into office on the Republican side as there are Tea Partiers. You have to remember, this was not a vote for the Republican Party — it was a negative election about what was going on in Washington. That's why the Republicans are smart to be humble about this election. I think both parties are now on probation. The voters are basically saying, "We'll put you guys in there, and if you don't solve this, we'll throw you out."...

Taibbi: Obama brings [former Clinton Treasury secretary and Citigroup chairman Bob Rubin] back into the government during the transition and surrounds himself with people who are close to Bob Rubin. That's exactly the wrong message to be sending to ordinary voters: that we're bringing back this same crew of Wall Street-friendly guys who screwed up and got us in this mess in the first place.

Gergen: That sentiment is exactly what the business community objects to.

Taibbi: F--- the business community!

Gergen: F--- the business community? That's what you said? That's the very attitude the business community feels is coming from many Democrats in Washington, including some in the White House. There's a good reason why they feel many Democrats are hostile — because they are.

Taibbi: It's hard to see how this administration is hostile to business when the guy it turns to for economic advice is the same guy who pushed through a merger and then went right off and made $120 million from a decision that helped wreck the entire economy.

When Gergen said it was vital that Democrats and Republicans work together the next two years, Hart ended the exchange on a pessimistic if highly literary note:
David draws an eloquent picture, as he always does, of how we would like the world to be. But during the Clinton period in the late Nineties, there wasn't Fox News. Fox not only demonizes everything the president says and does — it has become the major vetting group for Republicans, and it will not allow any kind of compromise to exist. It's like the ending of The Sun Also Rises, when Lady Brett Ashley nestles in the arms of Hemingway's hero and imagines what their life together might have been like. She says, "Wouldn't it be nice?" It would be nice, but I don't think we're going to get there.

Radio, Radio

Another reason to love Elvis Costello: His influences, according to Nick Paumgarten's wonderful profile in the Nov. 8 "New Yorker":
His [jazz musician] father turned him on to the Grateful Dead, which became Costello's band, in part because it was no one else's. (While Costello makes no apologies for his Deadhead phase, his biographers always seem to.) It was through the Dead, and subsequently the Band and Gram Parsons, among others, that he discovered the traditional American music they'd tapped into, such as Hank Williams and Merle Haggard. This in turn became the foundation, along with the likes of Van Morrison, for the kind of music he was starting to write and perform himself...The Band's Rick Danko was a major influence on Costello's style of singing.

Eric Burden

The House GOP whip, Eric Cantor, tells Israel not to worry. Republicans will make sure President Obama doesn't apply too much pressure in the Middle East peace talks.

Well, that's all well and good. But what if Netanyahu starts being unreasonable?

Key to McCain Family Peace: DADT

According to my former Nixon colleague Steve Clemons, John and Cindy McCain differ on gays in the military.

We're Back At The Center Of The Universe

Galileo has fallen out of fashion once again. Robert Lanza argues that our present reality has been created neither by God nor evolutionary progress but, well, by us:
If we, the observer, collapse these possibilities (that is, the past and future) then where does that leave evolutionary theory, as described in our schoolbooks? Until the present is determined, how can there be a past? The past begins with the observer, us, not the other way around as we've been taught.

Kill Order

Did the LA Times buckle to CIA pressure? That's what former Times reporter Murray Seeger asks in this article at "Washington Decoded" about notorious agency defector Philip Agee (shown here), who died in Havana in 2008.

In January 1976, Seeger filed a story alleging that Agee had given the Russians the name of an agent in Warsaw, enabling the Polish communist government to shut down a whole network and make 120 arrests.

That would've been big news. The year before, Agee had published a book naming 250 U.S. agents and contacts. Former CIA director and president George H.W. Bush called him a traitor, and some alleged that his actions resulted in the death of the CIA's Athens station chief, Richard Welch, who was assassinated less than two months before Seeger filed his copy. Agee denied having done anything to bring about Welch's killing.

In any event, Seeger's story never made it into the pages of the Times, but thanks to the British Guardian, Agee got to deny it anyway. Strange as a spy novel! The two Timesmen Seeger mentions were colleagues of my mother during that era, associate editor Jean Sharley Taylor:
I am convinced that Bill Thomas, the LAT editor, had issued a “kill” order on my story after talking to CIA headquarters. I had known Bill a long time and liked him, but I also felt he was gutless. In 1974, he acceded to an agency request to hold his reporter’s story about the CIA effort to recover a sunken Soviet submarine from the Pacific Ocean until other newspapers discovered the story.

Earlier this year, I asked Thomas, now in retirement, if he remembered talking to the agency about my story, and he answered he did not remember the Agee story and had no access to his office records. Bob Gibson, the foreign editor, never responded to my e-mail questions.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hello, Earl

Photographed in August 2009 from weather satellite GOES-13, that's Hurricane Earl bearing down on the eastern seaboard, with tropical storm Fiona bringing up the rear.

Hat tip to Discover magazine

Death Threats. In the Name Of God. Hmm.

Who does that sound like? Unfortunately, they're not all in Waziristan. Take New Hampshire, for instance, when Gene Robinson was elected an Episcopal bishop.

Named Forever In Two Hearts

I took this photo last year at Fr. Rosecrans National Cemetery on Point Loma in San Diego. Was she born when her father was deployed? It's easy to imagine that scenario, among many others. Those who serve -- all volunteers, today -- often become fathers while on the other side of the world. Imagine the agony of not being able to wrap your arms around your wife, suddenly a grieving mother (or anyone who suffers a loss of any kind while you're away). For all the sacrifices they've made, including the invisible ones, we thank our veterans today.

"No Showstopper"

The Obama administration is working hard to get the Middle East peace talks back on track, announcing $150 million in additional aid to the Palestinians, continuing to criticize Israel for new construction plans in east Jerusalem, and sending John Kerry for his own round of talks, from which he emerged with encouraging news. The New York Times:

Speaking from Tel Aviv, Senator Kerry said that, based on his discussions, he believed the United States could devise a formula that would persuade the Palestinians to return to negotiations even without an extension of the freeze on settlement construction, which the Palestinians have demanded.

At the same time, he said he did not rule out the possibility that Mr. Netanyahu would extend the freeze for a brief period, despite being constrained by a right-wing coalition that opposes any further halts to building.

“Is it difficult? Yeah,” Senator Kerry said in a telephone interview. “Is it a moment of disagreement? Yes. But it doesn’t have to be a showstopper by any means."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bet He Didn't Like "American Graffiti"

Nixon's White House movies.

Levon And Bruce

At a documentary film festival in Copenhagen, Stewart Nusbaumer reflects on the lives of two great American voices:
With Levon Helm, the musician is traveling down the homestretch of his life, the riotous past is present yet mostly behind him -- he is proud he did it his way, and today he loves his land in Woodstock. With Bruce Springsteen, he looks back upon a crucial transitional time in his life, when he learned not only to make the album he wanted to make ["Darkness on the Edge of Town"], but to be the man he wanted to be.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Those British Aren't So Smart

They think Leo McGarry from "The West Wing" is real.

What Rocket Trail? Oh, That Rocket Trail

I saw this Monday night while driving home, and 24 hours later, nobody seems to know what it was. Weird.

A Bush, And A Hoover

Actually, I think he's right, though it's odd to see it in print: Writing about W., Jesse Singal says that good-natured, non-anxious leaders are unlikely to succeed:
When you are in a position of power and you are not neurotic, you’ll be relentlessly shaped by the forces around you. That’s not to say any president is immune to this—Obama, after all, is quite neurotic, and he is buffeted by forces over which he has little control—but, if nature abhors a vacuum, political power abhors one even more. Bush was mostly a vacuum. A good-natured, privileged vacuum, perhaps, and one with a bit of inspiration in his biography (hasn’t had a drink since 1986, he said), but a vacuum nonetheless.

Put Dan Quayle On The Case

Easy for him to say: Losing GOP candidate J-o-e M-i-l-l-e-r insists that the write-in voters who decisively rejected him (and Sarah Palin) in favor of incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski have to spell her name exactly right if their votes are to count.

Stealing Shepherds

Five Anglican bishops in England, staking their vocations on a bizarre and illogical insistence that female priests should be banned from the episcopacy, go to Rome, which is, at least, consistent in its medievalism.

The Mountain Of Muhammad

Yesterday a St. John's friend invited me to speak to her and her fellow AP students at Mission Viejo High School. They're studying the power of ideology in our political and cultural life and wondered how Richard Nixon fit into the picture. I argued that Nixon embraced just one ideology, anticommunism, which he transcended -- or, rather, leveraged -- in order to make the world safer by virtue of his openness to constructive relationships with communist regimes in Moscow and Beijing.

I took along some show-and-tell items, including this late-1980s photo of me (with hair and spectacles) loitering behind Muhammad Ali, Nixon, and former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath. Nixon had given up his Secret Service protection in 1985, so in crowded rooms it sometimes fell to his private guard or me to take the point. At this event, a fundraiser in Manhattan for a Nixon friend's medical charity, I was edging forward, my eyes over my shoulder on the boss, when I ran up against a brick wall that turned out to be the former heavyweight champion of the world.

Monday, November 8, 2010

View From The Second Floor

Outside the St. John's School administration offices, about 3 p.m. this afternoon

Can't Find City Hall

Israel's PM again claims to be surprised as municipal authorities announce plans for 1,000 housing units in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians envision as their capital.

Roger That, For Pete's Sake

Over on Facebook, a St. John's buddy, Jim Leach, thinking about the just-concluded silly season, posted this stunning performance (from the 1979 documentary "The Kids Are Alright") of Pete Townshend's ambiguous political anthem, "Won't Get Fooled Again," which famously ends, "Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss." To hear Townshend tell it, he wasn't decrying political change as mush as warning us not to put too much faith in its agents -- advice which, as I age, I find I have less and less difficulty heeding.

No three-piece (not counting Roger Daltrey's powerful vocals) has ever rocked like the Who. I regret not introducing myself to bassist John Entwistle when we were both having a drink with colleagues (his were musicians from his tour, mine were tacticians from the Nixon Center, who were helping me gird for a brewing assault by Nixon family members) in the bar of the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown in 1996. His thundering, peripatetic runs (listen especially to what he plays during the chorus) and Keith Moon's exquisitely musical drumming have been quieted. What would I have said to the bassist forever known as the Bear? Probably the only thing you can say to an artist who's given you years of joy: Thanks.

Centering Prayer

Can Obama be the new Clinton? The Lexington blog at "The Economist" isn't sure:

As to whether President Obama can pull off the same trick, there is as yet simply no way of knowing. But just note the differences. The Republican speaker this time is going to be the cautious and experienced John Boehner, not the fiery and impetuous Newt. That could make compromise easier, but it will also be harder for the Obama White House to out-manouevre the other side. Second, the Republicans in 1994 had a worked-out strategy, the Contract with America, from which Clinton could cherry-pick; this time they have only the broad slogan of spending cuts. Third, in 1994 the Clintons had watched their health reform go down in flames; this time the president has enacted his big reform already and will certainly do his utmost to defend it from repeal.

Last is the question of presidential beliefs and temper. As the proud author of health reform, what Joe Biden memorably called that "", it is going to very much harder for Mr Obama to rebrand himself as a plausible centrist, even if he would like to. And moving to the centre has dangers: it could further alienate his disappointed base and perhaps prompt a presidential challenge from the Democrats' left.

I think the only impediments are the president's inexperience and his inflexible temperament. So I don't buy the plausibility argument, especially because Clinton came off as more of a leftist in 1993-94 than did Obama in his first two years. (I'm talking, of course, about the real Obama, not the fictional one portrayed on Fox News.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Man Up, And Pass The Iced Tea

Richard Dreyfuss's snarling caricature of Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone's "W." seemed way off base. but now the former president himself has described being called out by his real-life #2 over fine bone china:

At one point during their private weekly lunch, Mr. Cheney questioned whether Mr. Bush would follow through on the threats against Mr. Hussein. “Are you going to take care of this guy, or not?” Mr. Cheney demanded.

Hope, Always

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers ponders the differences between agonistics and "non-fundamentalist" Christians:
I can't help but think that the agnostic, at the end of the day, reads all the great old books that dwelt on all the great questions self-aware man has posed to himself, and shrugs. He acknowledges mystery but does not seem to care about the source of that mystery, or even if he is responding to something "real" when curious moments of spiritual transcendence actually occur. There is, of course, a certain sanity in this response -- at the least he won't end up an ideologue. I wouldn't mind having an agnostic for my neighbor. Yet all this seems to amount to a form of evasion. Its a form of studied non-observance.

The non-fundamentalist Christian experiences doubt within the framework of faith, and above all hope.

"Just War" Theory Is So Yesterday

Lindsey Graham endorses an unprovoked preemptive against Iran.

Worrying About What's Irrelevant

Want to know what it's like to be bitten by a shark? Jose Molla describes the experience and lessons:
Funny how the fragility of life can you make stronger. Funny how being so close to death can make you feel more alive.

Seeing a fin in the water is not nearly as alarming as not seeing that we spend our lives worrying about what’s irrelevant. I’m convinced that the shark didn’t come to take a piece of me but instead to leave me with something. A kind of wisdom that I will never ever forget, written with eighty stitches and my own blood.
Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan