Thursday, December 20, 2012
At such moments, does your mind work like mine? If I’m near home, at first I think, “Maybe they’re going to our house!” If I’m near work, I think, “I hope there’s nothing wrong at St. John's!” Once these brief visions of incendiary toasters or Advent wreaths recede, I pray that everyone is okay wherever the firefighters are headed and give thanks for all the people in the world who make a vocation out of rushing toward danger.
We’re usually not the victims when horror strikes – until we are. On the Monday after Newtown, I tried to imagine what St. John’s School parents were feeling at drop-off. Their heads probably assured them that their children would be safe on our campus. Their hearts warned that the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School had made the same assumption.
To the extent that safety is a state of mind, we’re in more a dangerous state this Advent and Christmas. That same Monday at least enabled St. John’s School to thank some of those who risk their lives on our behalf. U.S. Marines and their families visited campus for a chapel service and meetings with our students. Kristen Lanham, Cindy Farnum, and other organizers of our annual Operation Christmas Spirit sent our guests back to Camp Pendleton with presents, food, and clothing.
Preaching in a church packed with students, colleagues, and our guests, I told my fire engine story in the hope of reassuring children who had been hearing about Newtown all weekend. While bad things do happen, we’re pretty safe. If we’re still worried or scared, it helps us feel better when we count our blessings, care for someone else who’s suffering, and give thanks for those from Afghanistan to the neighborhood firehouse who pledge themselves to safety and service.
Worry and fear won’t keep tragedy away, but planning and preparation may. At St. John’s School, we have regular fire and lock-down drills. At the national level, an urgent conversation is underway about the gun violence that marred this year more than any in recent memory. What can we do as one nation under God to deter such acts? It won’t be a thorough conversation unless everything’s on the table, including mental health education and treatment, the prevalence of semiautomatic weapons, and the way video game and television violence influences troubled people.
What might help most of all would be paying more and better attention to one another in our fractious, individuated society. Faith communities such as St. John’s can contribute by modeling how to conduct civil dialogue on difficult issues, build and sustain mutually supportive communities, and care for the lonely, despondent, and marginalized.
Thinking there’s nothing we can do after a moment like Newtown would inflict tragedy on tragedy. As Charles Dickens wrote in A Christmas Carol, “Any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness.” Every one of us is part of the solution, capable of accomplishing far more of God’s just and righteous purposes than we usually imagine. But how could it be otherwise at Christmas, as we prepare to celebrate our enlightenment and empowerment in Emmanuel, God with us?
This post originally appeared in the Vaya Con Dios, the St. John's Episcopal Church newsletter.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
With that, The Episconixonian -- with books to read, songs to learn, and weddings to conduct (especially my elder daughter's on Oct. 6) and to ensure that during the next nine weeks an obsession with politics doesn't crowd out attention to ministry -- begins a campaign-season hiatus.
I'll conclude by saying I was surprised that the Republicans risked reprising Ronald Reagan's 1980 question -- "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" -- and also that the Democrats took a couple of news cycles to figure out how to answer it. I unhesitatingly answered yes, since four years ago, I was considering signing up for firearms training in preparation for the apparently imminent meltdown of the global financial system and the return of a hunter-gatherer-barter-based economy. But I'm a worrier.
For now, it's good enough for me that Ben is better off than he was four weeks ago. God is good!
Friday, August 31, 2012
Mitt Romney wrapped the most important speech of his life, for Thursday night’s session of his convention, around an extraordinary reinvention of history — that his party rallied behind President Obama when he won in 2008, hoping that he would succeed. “That president was not the choice of our party,” he said. “We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than divides us.”
The truth, rarely heard this week in Tampa, Fla., is that the Republicans charted a course of denial and obstruction from the day Mr. Obama was inaugurated, determined to deny him a second term by denying him any achievement, no matter the cost to the economy or American security — even if it meant holding the nation’s credit rating hostage to a narrow partisan agenda.
Kellie Ferguson, the executive director of Republican Majority for Choice, would like to see the GOP shift from banning abortion to finding common ground in order to reduce the number of abortions. She’s been dismayed by recent GOP attacks on family planning (the attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, for instance), which she finds irrational. “If you make it more difficult for women to access planning services, you end up with more unintended pregnancies and more abortions, which ends up costing taxpayers money. So, among other problems, it’s not fiscally conservative.” (The Guttmacher Institute estimates that every dollar spent on family planning saves taxpayers $4.)
Thursday, August 30, 2012
I'm sitting on a screen porch at a lake in Wisconsin. We are taking a few days away from our visit to Chicago where we are visiting our dearest family friend, who is in the late stages of terminal lymphoma. This is a chance to renew and refresh and write before our final days together.
The evening cool is gathering here, crickets are in full throat (or whatever they use to make themselves known), the evening light has now emptied from the sky, an occasional still-energetic human voice wafts in, the dark outline of a tiny gnat crawls across my backlit laptop screen. We watched the burning orange sun set over the lake an hour ago.
This is now the magic hour for which the screen porch was built. It just sits here most of the time, but now I get to sit enclosed in it and read, or write, enjoy the sounds outside without becoming dinner for the sinister bugs that lurk on the other side. You see, with all this flat land and standing water, I'm in Mosquito Heaven.
I was enjoying the cacophony outside my cocoon a few minutes ago when I received an unusual email from my friend John: "I'd appreciate you and Janet saying a prayer for this little one. Thank you for all the healing work you have done around this suffering world. Bless you!" Below that was a link to his blog page with a short entry. Through another child sponsorship agency he has supported for some 30 years, he was now sponsoring Meta, a little girl in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa. He was stunned to receive a letter today that she has died of malaria, two months before her eighth birthday. He went on to lament, "...I have Meta's picture but had never gotten around to writing. It was something I planned to do tomorrow. Today's letter from [the organization's] always efficient and gracious staff left me feeling desolate and ashamed. I've written back offering to sponsor another child in the same community. But no one can replace Meta. For her, I'm forever a day late. Sometimes all we can do is give thanks for the opportunity to do better."
Needless to say, my serenity on the screen porch was immediately pierced through by the story...just the simple tragedy of a singular little girl whom few people would ever know. But for that sponsorship connection and John's willingness to send in $30 each month, he would never have encountered her.
Sponsorship can seem so happy and simple. How nice that as a sponsor I can give a few dollars each month through automatic credit card deduction and have this relationship that the organization mostly handles for me, almost like having a spouse or assistant who makes me look good by sending flowers on my behalf when it's a loved one's birthday. They make it so easy for me, and as long as I send in my check I can feel that my life and the life of my sponsored child are interconnected, and to some degree they are connected.
But then a tragedy like this happens, a one-page letter becomes ice water in the face, and we realize we are still oceans apart in our experience of the world, our rights, our opportunities. It's absurd that a million little kids die every year of malaria on the same planet where I live. I'm writing from Mosquito Headquarters here in Wisconsin, and NOBODY here will die of malaria. Why? Malaria was a major killer in America 150 years ago, but we eliminated it. That happened mainly through widespread spraying of DDT, which for several reasons—many of them relating to global economics of the choices you and I make as consumers—is not an option today.
It's tragic. It's complicated, and I'm no expert. But in the meantime, the unevenness -- the unfairness -- of the world in which I live in and in which Meta lived for a few years leads to numbing letters like the one my friend received today, giving us a piercing glimpse behind the curtain, to the world outside the screen.
Screens, like the new mosquito nets we use in malarial regions, help a lot. But the truth is, there are no malaria-infected mosquitoes on the other side of this patio screen. I might get plenty of bites, but none of them would kill me. Decades ago, we broke the larva's life-cycle once for all here, and every year the dividend in human lives saved grows by leaps and bounds.
That this was not a viable option for Meta and her community is just a small part of the tragedy and unevenness of our lives on this earth. And there is nothing at all in this inequality that pleases the heart of God.
So yes, John; I’ll pray for this little one. I'm sorry for little Meta, sorry for you, sorry for Meta's family...sorry for the Kingdom that is not yet come.
My St. John's friend Andy Guilford is at Dodgers Stadium on another perfect evening tonight, where the Arizona Diamondbacks are leading, 2-0.
7:38 p.m. PT: Got to love the playlist gags, though I'm surprised Ryan mentioned '70s artists AC-DC and Led Zeppelin instead of Gen. X artists.
7:40: The day's immigration theme continues. Will this and Rubio's speech help the GOP get right with Hispanics?
7:43: Feeling the middle class's pain: "You took two jobs at nine bucks an hour." Gas bill hitting $50 (but what exactly are you going to do about that, Mitt?). Good line: "I wish President Obama had succeeded, because I want America to succeed." Take that, Rush.
"I was born in the middle of the century in the middle of the country, a classic baby boomer." John F. Kennedy is first presidential reference, as usual in acceptance speeches regardless of party. Hey, I remember that night in July 1969: Neil Armstrong's "soles on our soul." A great way to work him into the speech.
7:46: George Romney's working class background. "My friends cared more about what sports teams we followed than what church we attended." A natural, easy delivery, verging on the mawkish; but that's okay. "Every day my dad gave my mom a rose," until the day he died, when there was no rose. Killer story. His voice is cracking -- as he segues quickly into a play for gender equality as he goes transparently to work on the gender gap.
7:50: Life wasn't easy as a trust fund scion. It's important to connect and personalize. His tribute to Ann is touching. But what are you going to do?
7:52: Republicans know that Obama can't tap into his faith story this way.
7:53: "If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn't you feel that way now, when he's President Obama?" This is Karl Rove's playbook: Treat Obama with respect; more in sorrow than in anger; acknowledging the excitement of his election. He's right about Obama's inexperience, though not that Obama really thinks that jobs come from government.
7:55: Oh, those hardscrabble Bain days! And then there was the $25 million IRA. Weird reference to not investing LDS money and risking hell. OMG: The Episcopalians' Church Pension Fund invested with Bain Capital, resulting in a lot of "happy retired priests," almost none of whom, Romney no doubt realizes, will vote for him. He's showing a certain puckishness.
8:00: "Except Jimmy Carter, and except this president": He's had his mind on 1980 for a long time.
8:02: "These [suffering Americans] aren't strangers. These are our brothers and sisters." Indeed. So if you're elected, we'll be watching the safety net shredding in the first Romney-Ryan budget.
8:04: Twelve million new jobs. Great! I'm listening. Energy independence by 2020? I've heard heard that before, beginning with Nixon. Skills training? Great -- but you segued immediately to school choice, which has nothing to do with retraining workers, which will cost money. Will Ryan spare any? Free trade? Okay, but then more jobs lost to cheap-labor countries. Investments disappearing? That's not currently a risk in a low-inflation environment; and the stock market has roared back under Obama. Reducing taxes and streamlining regulations. Replacing Obamacare to fuel economic growth? Disconnect. Why didn't you repeal Romneycare in Massachusetts to encourage job growth?
8:07: "Life," marriage, freedom of religion. Social issues get a 30-second sentence.
8:08: Ridiculing Obama's concern about climate change and global acceptance. "My promise is to help you and your family." I'll say this: He's got impeccable timing. He's smooth and confident, and his speech is perfectly modulated to address his problems (women and Hispanics) and exploit his advantages (poor economy).
8:10: Nixon wouldn't like two minutes on foreign policy. Grudging credit to Obama for killing bin Laden. Brief reference to an old enemy, Iran, and Romney's new enemy, our friendly rival Russia. Ritualistic Cuba-bashing to help in Florida; I was unaware that Obama had gone soft on the Castros. He's wrong that Obama threw Israel under the bus and wrong to continue to ignore the Palestinians.
8:12: Good peroration on "that united America, so strong that no nation would dare to test it." But "the constellation of rights that were endowed by our Creator?" No: We were endowed by our Creator with the rights. You don't endow rights.
8:14: Good, effective speech; probably the best he could have done.
These days you need a scorecard to keep track of the political agendas of media personalities and outlets. I like bloggers like Andrew Sullivan who aggregate a wide range of responses. He does so here for Rep. Paul Ryan's speech last night, in which he called on Barack Obama to be accountable for his record while failing to be accountable for his own contributions to the deficit and debt as well as his role in torpedoing Simpson-Bowles.
Sullivan calls it a list of Ryan's lies. A legal friend tells me he doesn't like to hear that word applied to misleading political discourse. He says that it's usually not a lie to leave something out. Plus some of Obama's critics argue that the GOP's tape gap exposed the underlying truth of Obama's skepticism about capitalism.
Then there's the opposition as truth teller, which can also be a thin reed. As the KPCC observer said, the prosecution rests tonight, and the defense has its turn next week. In a comment on an earlier post, my St. John's brother Barry Fernelius wrote:
If I were putting together the Democratic convention, I'd feature a segment that first shows the edited version of Obama's remarks, followed by a complete version. Then, I'd hammer home the central message. "The point is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."
An operative has probably suggested something exactly along those lines around a conference table at Obama HQ. A great idea as long as it doesn't sound too defensive. Maybe there's a Romney clip Democrats can selectively edit to trigger people's inchoate concerns about his foreign policy naivete: My opponent has completely failed...to attack...Russia...using... Ann's horse Rafalca! Overall we can anticipate a Democratic convention with a comparable mendacity quotient, since that's the way the game is being played. The candidate who opts out loses.
This gladiatorial model has its advantages. Leaders who fight hard and even ruthlessly can come in handy in a dangerous world. And like politics, citizenship isn't beanball. Voters who don't pay attention to candidates' falsehoods deserve the leaders they get.
Besides, the political free market has a way of weeding out those whose narratives aren't authentic or don't resonate with the nation's needs. That's one of the reasons I'm curious about how well Mitt Romney will scour, as Abraham Lincoln (as quoted by Richard Nixon) would say. Is he a conservative who waxed moderate to thrive politically in Massachusetts or a moderate who veered to the right to get nominated for president? Or maybe he has no fixed convictions beyond faith, family, profit, and winning, which would make him the first post-ideological, technocratic president. So far, it's a question that's even defied the fact checkers.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
At the Republican convention Wednesday night, there was indeed a lofty, high-minded speech, one that managed to forcefully articulate a conservative world view without cheap partisan attacks or facts stretched to the breaking point. But it wasn't [Paul] Ryan's -- it was delivered by Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state.
Rice's address had a sophistication, ease, and grace almost never found in modern political speeches. It was a speechwriter's speech, the kind you could imagine reading in a history book. She spoke with a diplomat's formality and the teleprompter turned off, glancing only occasionally at her notes on the podium.
Most of the speech was a policy argument, starting with foreign policy and moving to economics, but at the end, Rice, more circumspect than emotive, struck a personal note.
"A little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham, the most segregated big city in America," she said. "Her parents can't take her to a movie theater or a restaurant. But they make her believe that even though she can't have a hamburger at the Woolworth's lunch counter, if she wants to, she can be president of the United States -- and she becomes the secretary of state."
The crowd, rapt throughout her remarks, came to its feet and roared, and you could practically feel the Condi for President buzz sweeping through the collective hearts of the Republican elites. Being pro-choice, Rice's actual presidential prospects might prove tricky, but that's a matter for another day. For now, she has clearly -- and by no accident -- established herself as a political voice.
She also spoke up for foreign aid, compassionate immigration policy, and attentiveness to inequality in education funding that hurts minority students. The crowd applauded almost every line, as though they didn't know that tea party orthodoxy was being gently but firmly rebuked.
Behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing. All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores – these didn’t come out of nowhere. A lot of heart goes into each one. And if small businesspeople say they made it on their own, all they are saying is that nobody else worked seven days a week in their place. Nobody showed up in their place to open the door at five in the morning. Nobody did their thinking, and worrying, and sweating for them. After all that work, and in a bad economy, it sure doesn’t help to hear from their president that government gets the credit. What they deserve to hear is the truth: Yes, you did build that.Obama's point was gratuitously professorial. Why pick a fight with the other side's idealization of job creators, especially when your greatest and perhaps decisive error was failing to make job creation a top priority from the beginning? Even so, he wasn't crediting government with being entrepreneurs' partner but rather our "unbelievable American system." If Republicans think Obama's a lefty, find some lefty language, and make fun of that. Don't stand up for honesty and authenticity and then cheat.
It was President Obama’s first and best shot at fixing the economy, at a time when he got everything he wanted under one-party rule. It cost $831 billion – the largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government.It sounds as if Ryan is saying that Obama and congressional Democrats should just have devised a smarter stimulus. That's astonishing, since according to the ideology that he and Mitt Romney now proffer, government is incapable of investing wisely in the private economy. Instead, Ryan implies that a smarter, more experienced Obama could have built that. And yet under Romney-Ryan, we wouldn't get a dollar of new stimulus. So maybe the smarter vote is for an Obama who has learned from experience and a Congress that will help him do what Ryan says he wishes they'd done in 2009.
It went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs, and make-believe markets. The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal.
What did the taxpayers get out of the Obama stimulus? More debt. That money wasn’t just spent and wasted – it was borrowed, spent, and wasted.
Maybe the greatest waste of all was time. Here we were, faced with a massive job crisis – so deep that if everyone out of work stood in single file, that unemployment line would stretch the length of the entire American continent. You would think that any president, whatever his party, would make job creation, and nothing else, his first order of economic business.
But this president didn’t do that. Instead, we got a long, divisive, all-or-nothing attempt to put the federal government in charge of health care.
In May 1970...Nixon was one of 75,000 people gathered to hear evangelist Billy Graham preach in Knoxville, Tennessee. When they passed the collection plate, Nixon realized he didn’t have any money. So he borrowed some cash from a friend.
The friend? None other than Billy Graham.
“A number of presidents have looked to you for spiritual sustenance over the years,” Nixon later wrote to the famous preacher, “but I suspect I was the first to hit you up for a loan.”
Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2012/08/29/2273014/new-exhibit-explores-billy-grahams.html#storylink=cpy
Through Plan International (the former Foster Parents Plan), since April 2011 I've sponsored a little girl named Meta Balde in Bafata, Guinea-Bissau. I got word today that she died of malaria on May 31, two months before her eighth birthday.
Having learned to admire Plan from my mother, an early FPP adopter in the 1950s, I've sponsored children since 1982. The financial part happens automatically. Once diligent about writing to them, I've let other commitments get in the way. I have Meta's picture but had never gotten around to writing. It was something I always planned to do tomorrow. Today's letter from the always efficient and gracious staff at Plan in Warwick, Rhode Island left me feeling desolate and ashamed. I've written back offering to sponsor another child in the same community. But no one can replace Meta. For her, I'm forever a day late. Sometimes all we can do is give thanks for the opportunity to do better.
Then this 1993 video of Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Lullaby" came over the transom, thanks to the good people at No Depression. One more kiss and you'll be gone, on the way to to dreamland. Also aboard were Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Denise Williams, Maura O'Connell, Carole King, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Gloria Estafan, and Dionne Warwick.
Fight malaria in sub-Saharan Africa by supporting Nets for Life.
Give rest, dear God, to your beloved child with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
You could say the comment resonates because people have a gut feeling, thanks to lackluster job and GDP growth, that Obama doesn't understand how the economy works -- but the comment doesn't resonate unless you change it.
You could say, as Andrew Sullivan has, that Obama deserves the drubbing because he spoke carelessly -- but if it was really that bad, then the mendacious edits wouldn't be necessary. Real gaffes, such as Richard Nixon saying he wasn't a crook or Gerald Ford that Poland wasn't under Soviet domination, don't require deliberate erasures.
You could say that Obama was giving too much weight to communitarianism. Free education, tax breaks, and infrastructure won't create a job unless an individual or group of individuals adds vision and energy and risks capital. It did sound like Obama was scolding entrepreneurs for thinking they're all that, which seems churlish when we've got 20 million out of work. Give us 5% growth, and keep your discourses on political philosophy to yourself.
But that's not what Republicans said all day yesterday. They said, falsely, that Obama told business builders they didn't build anything. Their visceral, uncontainable contempt for Obama simmered behind the sentimental faux documentaries. Besides, they know that their base constituency will believe anything -- he was born in Kenya, he's a socialist, he wants to tear down and diminish the United States, he believes only government can create jobs. I'll leave out of the equation whether it's harmful to the country to alter a president's public policy comments and pummel him for what he didn't say as a means of seizing power. I imagine it's been done before, though an example doesn't spring to mind. I'll even leave aside that the U.S. would probably be better off if many Republicans hadn't given in to these passions in the first months of his presidency and dedicated themselves to defeating rather than working with him. I just keep remembering Karl Rove telling Republicans to treat Obama with respect since they can't win without millions of his 2008 voters. I wonder how these tactics are playing with them?
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
I listened with increasing horror as his narrow, exclusivist, fear-mongering rhetoric laid out a vision for what this country needed -- a vision that bore absolutely NO resemblance to the values my parents had raised me to understand were core to the "Grand Old Party" of my Republican roots.This is one Huffington post GOP elites must read, mark, and inwardly digest. Susan's wasn't the only vote Buchanan lost for Bush in 1992. It could lose millions more socially tolerant, fiscally conservative voters this year, too. With the Paul Ryan pick, Mitt Romney pinned his hopes on the theory that enough former Obama voters will abandon him over the economy that Republicans will win despite tea party selfishness and a platform that envisions women in chains. With Romney's minions having massively out-raised Obama's in super-PAC funds, look for this Karl Rove-inspired script in more and more gauzy, minor-keyed TV spots: Obama meant well. He did the best he could! But it's time to give him a break and try something new for America. Romney and Rove had better hope that no more moments such as Todd Akin's unintended spasm of authenticity will make it as easy as Buchanan did for centrists to glimpse the true heart of today's Republican Party.
I turned the stove down under the simmering green beans, told the boys to finish their homework and that I'd be right back. I drove the six blocks down to the grocery store where earlier in the day I'd noticed the card table out front with the "Register to Vote" sign. And I changed my party affiliation that day -- explaining to the woman at the card table that if I got hit by a bus tomorrow I was NOT going to die a Republican. And I've never looked back.
In the end the trust of a cool man who had sublimated abandonment into a singular willfulness was limited. The sense of a controlling leader, unable to provide connective tissue to fire the economy, lies behind the fact that many Obama voters will cast their ballot in November with more grudging respect than enthusiasm.
Nixon, like Obama, was a loner, but he had Kissinger generating ideas. Carter had Brzezinski. Reagan had Shultz. The first Bush had Baker. Obama has Tom Donilon as national security adviser. Donilon is an affable pro who has been described as a one-client lawyer. It is clear who the client is.
Then there is Hillary Clinton, a superb secretary of state. But for various reasons (her future is very much ahead of her), she has generally acquiesced to the White House being the locus of major foreign-policy decisions (salvaging things where necessary, as in Pakistan.)
The Obama inner circle remains a group of tough political tacticians: David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Valerie Jarrett. The White House national security team does not boast a single name of strategic stature. Anyone outside Washington would be hard pressed to name one.
The policy upshot has been predictable: cerebral, cool, and with one big exception, cautious. Obama has corrected big mistakes — abandoning the unwinnable global war on terror and pulling out of Iraq. To his immense credit he took a big gamble on killing Osama Bin Laden. But elsewhere he has been cautious to a fault, eyeing the political calendar.
He held out a hand to Iran but promptly reverted to tired old carrots and sticks; his response to the great popular uprising of 2009 was slow. He took half-steps on Israel and Palestine — criticizing Israeli settlements, saying the pre-1967 lines were the basis for a two-state peace — only to offer zero follow-through. Nothing changed.
On Egypt, he toyed with preserving Mubarak ad interim before the tide became irreversible. On Syria, he has in essence dithered. On Afghanistan, domestic politics dictated the agenda, at a cost in American lives.
Monday, August 27, 2012
But when conservative legal authority John Eastman made the same kind of comment after an earthquake at the Nixon library in June, quipping to thunderous applause that God agreed with his opposition to gay marriage, there wasn't a peep from Sean Hannity. Go figure.
What would the combined effects of the new Republican revolution be? Some government agencies would probably become less wasteful, learning to do more with less, and the private sector would take over some government functions. But those would not be the only changes. The American economy would also devote fewer of its resources to the areas that do not naturally create opportunities for profit in a free market: mass transportation, road building, early-stage scientific research, many aspects of education and public safety.
Whether you love that idea or hate it, it certainly would be different. Around the world, the historical pattern has been for government to grow as a society becomes richer and citizens vote for more of the services that the market often does not provide by itself. Federal spending makes up 22 percent of the American economy today, up from three percent a century ago.
In an aging society coping with a globalized economy, where health care and education continue to grow more ambitious and expensive, the country has a choice to make. It can allow government to continue expanding. Or, as a Romney administration would, it can take a more laissez-faire path than any wealthy country has previously tried.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
The FBI did a personal and political favor for Ronald Reagan in 1965. FBI agents at the time were investigating the Bonanno crime organization. Joe Bananas, as he was known, was one of the most notorious mobsters in America and had recently moved to Arizona.
FBI agents in Phoenix were investigating him when they discovered that Joe Bananas' son, Joseph Jr., was hanging out with Michael Reagan, who was the adopted son of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, and they reported this to headquarters.
The agents proposed that they should interview Ronald Reagan to see if he had learned anything about the Bonannos through his son. This investigation, after all, was a top priority. But Hoover interceded. He ordered them not to interview Ronald Reagan, and he instead told the agents to warn Ronald Reagan that his son was consorting with the son of Joe Bananas....
This happened in early 1965, just as Ronald Reagan was about to embark on his first run for public office, the governorship of California. And when FBI agents warned him that his son was hanging out with Joe Bonanno's son, he was very grateful. And according to an FBI report, Reagan said "he was most appreciative and stated he realized that such an association and actions on the part of the son might well jeopardize any political aspirations he might have." Reagan stated he would telephone his son and instruct him to disassociate himself gracefully and in a manner which would cause no trouble or speculation. He stated that the bureau's courtesy in this matter would be kept absolutely confidential. Reagan commented that he realizes that it would be improper to express his appreciation in writing, and he requested that the agent convey the great admiration he has for the director and the bureau and to express his thanks for the bureau's cooperation.
[My doctor] told me about a recent forecast that, by the year 2030, there will not be enough joint replacement surgeons to meet the demand. In 25 years, the number of people whose activity is limited by arthritis is expected to grow by 40%, to 67 million adults.
And we think we've got budget and healthcare policy issues now?
Imagine 67 million people on bowed legs — planet of the apes — squinting at mobile devices, trying to find the app that controls the volume on their hearing aids.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Are you Ron Walker hiding behind a woman's skirts online? Sure sounds like it. If so, why not reveal your true name and shameful background? Ron Walker was an advance man for Nixon who delighted in storm trooper tactics on behalf of our most infamous politician. Are you the bully who got a big laugh out of pummeling to the ground elderly African-American women who dared to demonstrate against Nixon -- women who had to pull wooden splinters out of their hands for a week (Summers, page 277)? Pretty funny, eh? And, if you are Walker, just why are you defending as accurate a mistake-ridden, conjecture-based anti-Nixon book?The principal source for unprovable allegations that Nixon beat his beloved wife, Summers is not a paragon of truth. But his book contains direct quotes from Nixon operative Walker. Here's the passage to which Fulsom refers, which concerns an operation Walker ordered against supporters of Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey:
Walker was in the lead car of a Nixon motorcade in New Jersey when a radio warning came of possible "difficulty with demonstrators." Humphrey supporters up ahead were brandishing posters picturing a large black pregnant woman and the legend "Nixon's the One!" -- a mocking play on the Republican campaign slogan.Walker wasn't the only Nixon operative to misunderstand what "it's a free country" means. Summers also quotes him as saying he used off-duty police officers and firefighters to administer "hard knocks and stuff" to demonstrators. But in this case, Fulsom has demonstrated that he can be careless with secondary sources. The only African-American women present were the pictures on the signs, wrenched from the hands of citizens whose puerility was ennobled by the measures used against it.
"I wanted those signs down before Nixon got there," Walker explained. "We simply went in and pulled them down. All the black ladies came falling to the floor...And the people were sitting there, their signs were down and they were pulling splinters out of their hands for a week....I don't call that dirty tricks as much as, you know, guerrilla warfare."
Dona is in fact Dona, by the way.
With a hurricane named for the great patriarch himself bearing down on Florida, the GOP has just canceled the first day of its convention. Was it the Ryan pick? The pre-1920 platform on women and abortion? No way. I trust with all my heart that God doesn't punish people with weather and falling buildings, including especially the three reported killed already by the hurricane. In June I praised Br. Hugh for the wisdom of his question mark; I only jokingly borrowed it for this post (before getting back to praying for all in Isaac's path).
Photo: USA Today
How Nixonian. Otherwise uninterested in introspection, 37 eagerly plumbed his crisis narrative and even wrote a book about it, Six Crises. He was acutely aware of his reactions to political and even mortal emergencies, bragging that he stayed calm and rational when others panicked. He applied the same discipline to a president's loneliest work -- making life-and-death decisions when his smartest advisers wildly disagreed with one another. Long before George W. Bush called himself "the decider," Nixon talked about "the April 30 decision" and "the May 8 decision," when he announced that he was sending troops into Cambodia in 1970 and B-52s to attack Hanoi and Haiphong in 1972.
“Mitt was deeply enmeshed in thinking about leadership,” said Douglas D. Anderson, a friend who is dean of the business school at Utah State University. “He developed a very early set of core beliefs and values that had to do with being cool under pressure, that had to do with looking for opportunities where others saw threats, that had to do with being analytical and somewhat detached in order to look at reality the way it is, rather than how it is being perceived by people who are driven by the hysteria of the moment.
“And out of that,” Dr. Anderson went on, “came a pattern of living that was reinforced by events like that critical accident in France.”
Once he'd given himself enough time to decide, undecide, and redecide, as his aide and friend Ray Price called it, he rarely second-guessed himself. Soon after I'd joined Nixon's former president's staff, one morning in 1981 he wandered down the hall from his office in 26 Federal Plaza in New York, without a word handed me a copy of his memoirs with one of his business cards marking the May 8 section, and disappeared again. Media reports suggest that while making decisions about how to battle al-Qaeda and whether to send a team to find and kill Osama bin Laden, Barack Obama has brought the same steely qualities to bear.
Nixon didn't always keep his passions under control. He often felt far more deeply than he let on, and he came to regret some of the decisions he made when he was feeling angry or resentful. It would have been better if he'd occasionally delved deeper, according to the theory that the feelings we fully own are less apt to control us. But in addition to his severe introversion and shyness, Nixon had that World War II-Great Depression generation reticence going on.
Stolberg describes Romney as rarely bringing up personal matters and as having a charitable if not an empathetic temperament. "Mitt Romney will never disgrace the office," Anderson told her. "He will set an example of moral rectitude. But don't expect him to sit down and feel your pain." People do want a president who cares, especially in a country where everyone isn't white, male, straight, and rich. But a leader's inner process, including the ability to be unemotional and occasionally ruthless, is even more important.
Friday, August 24, 2012
Someday internet advertising may generate the same revenue that print did. Until then, the responsible reading citizen must learn to pay for the production of professional editorial content the same way she pays for dry cleaning, groceries, and legal advice. Without trained reporters and editors, we're guaranteed to suffer more abuses of power. Cable TV zealots and the Starbucks-based hackosphere will fill the vacuum left by facts with twice their weight in opinions. Our media will be deaf, blind, and insufferably loud.
One recent example of the indispensability of old-fashioned journalism. At 9 a.m. this morning in New York City, someone opened fire. I heard about it on the radio and checked Huffington Post, but there were few details. So I went to the New York Times on my iPhone (for which I gladly pay a monthly fee) and found this article, posted within four hours of the event. Written with precision and terse eloquence, it's a masterpiece of team reporting, an everyday example of the fine but dying art of good newspapering, painstaking and often dangerous work that no one will or should have to do for free:
[The suspect] lived on the third floor of a six-story walk-up on East 82nd Street for about 18 months, said Guillermo Suarez, 72, the super of the building.
Every morning he had the same routine. He would leave the apartment between 7:30 and 8 a.m., say good morning and head to the McDonald’s on Third Avenue and 84th Street.
After about 20 minutes, he would come back carrying a McDonald’s bag. He would nearly always wear the same thing — a tannish brown suit, sometimes with a tie. Then he would generally stay in the apartment the rest of the day.
He did the same thing on Friday morning, but this time he did not come back.
So speculation abounds. Naomi Schaefer Riley thinks the president's miffed at Warren, who's being, well, pastoral and giving Obama some cover:
Andrew Sullivan comes right out and calls Warren a liar for saying the cancellation was his idea and speculates about why Romney would never have risked sitting down with the world's most famous Christan evangelical:
One...suspects that Mr. Obama's refusal to participate has much to do with Mr. Warren himself, who publicly opposed the [free birth control] mandate. In February the pastor tweeted: "I'm not a Catholic, but I stand in 100% solidarity with my brothers & sisters to practice their belief against govt pressure."So why is Mr. Warren covering for the president by suggesting that nixing the forum was Mr. Warren's idea?
[T]he idea that Mitt Romney would ever have agreed to sit down for fifty minutes to discuss the fact that he believes God was once a human being, that humans can become gods as well, that Israelite tribes once inhabited the Americas and that polygamy exists in the after-life ... well, it was never going to happen, was it?
Wrapping up, Krauthammer sounds worried that war is looming -- and if he's worried, so am I:
If we simply continue to drift through kabuki negotiations...one thing is certain: Either America, Europe, the Gulf Arabs and the Israelis will forever be condemned to live under the threat of nuclear blackmail (even nuclear war) from a regime the State Department identifies as the world's greatest exporter of terror. Or an imperiled Israel, with its more limited capabilities, will strike Iran – with correspondingly greater probability of failure and of triggering a regional war.
All options are bad. Doing nothing is worse. "The status quo may not prevent some form of war," concludes Cordesman, "and may even be making it more likely."
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Warren announced in July that the forum would take place this week. When CNN contacted Saddleback Church today to get a comment about the candidates' evident disinterest in journeying to Lake Forest, Warren's spokeperson referred them to the Register article, which is evidently serving as a reliable expression of Warren's point of view, if not necessarily the full story.
Mr Romney may calculate that it is best to keep quiet: the faltering economy will drive voters towards him. It is more likely, however, that his evasiveness will erode his main competitive advantage. A businessman without a credible plan to fix a problem stops being a credible businessman. So does a businessman who tells you one thing at breakfast and the opposite at supper. Indeed, all this underlines the main doubt: nobody knows who this strange man really is. It is half a decade since he ran something. Why won’t he talk about his business career openly? Why has he been so reluctant to disclose his tax returns? How can a leader change tack so often? Where does he really want to take the world’s most powerful country?
It is not too late for Mr Romney to show America’s voters that he is a man who can lead his party rather than be led by it. But he has a lot of questions to answer in Tampa.
The Romney-Ryan proposal to reshape Medicare by giving future beneficiaries fixed amounts of money to buy health coverage is deeply unpopular in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, according to new polls that found that more likely voters in each state trust President Obama to handle Medicare.And yet they report:
The race appears to have tightened a bit in both Florida and Wisconsin in recent weeks. In Florida and Wisconsin, where Mr. Obama had led Mr. Romney by six percentage points in polls conducted before the selection of Mr. Ryan, the race is essentially tied.
It would be hypocritical to pretend civility for one evening only to have the name-calling return the next day.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Hear that sound, GOP? That’s women running for the exits—and the big tent collapsing.
While I don't agree with Akin on much of anything, his authenticity is refreshing compared to a presidential candidate who abandoned the humane pragmatism of his gubernatorial years and a deficit-hawk running mate whose Bush-era votes helped add hundreds of billions to the national debt. If they lose in November, Republicans may one day identify Todd Akin as the unlikely prophet who helped them grasp what they had become.
According to news reports, Limbaugh calls Akin's comments stupid and says that he hopes the congressman will do the right thing and quit his Senate race against the Democratic incumbent, Claire McCaskill (D-MO). I didn't listen to any more of his show today -- while driving I sometimes flip around among talk shows on KFI, KRLA, and KPCC -- so I don't know if he finished his thought about the prevalence of Akin's views.
One can't help wondering what he might have said. Mitt Romney, for instance, has accepted the support of an anti-abortion activist who believes, just as Akin does, that women's bodies have the power to terminate pregnancies that result from what Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, and others call "forcible rape" (Akin's term was "legitimate rape"). Akin, Ryan, the GOP platform committee, and 20% of the American people want to make all abortion illegal without exceptions for rape or incest. They fear that in the pre-1920 conditions they envision for American women, those wanting or needing an abortion would lie and claim to have been raped.
So Limbaugh's right: Some people do believe as Akin does, and they're pretty powerful. Expressing the rest of whatever had bubbled to his lips might well have contributed to what Akin's critics seem to fear most: Voters realizing he's not an outlier. As an opponent of women's reproductive rights, Akin actually stands neck-deep in the mainstream of his party's thinking.
It's not a debate the GOP wants to have before the election, since when it comes to women's rights, its mainstream doesn't conjoin with the national mainstream. They're not even in the same time zone. Many conservatives still have trouble understanding that women (and a considerable number of men) won't let government dictate to them about abortion. The hard work of reducing the number of abortions instead requires the broad availability of sex education and birth control, gently encouraging women (think tax breaks and free college tuition) to carry unwanted babies to term and give them up for adoption, and better teaching and preaching about sex's sanctity and awe-inspiring generative power. But as long as Republicans insist that the way to battle abortion is to put women back in chains (thanks for that image, Joe Biden), Todd Akin is the poster boy they deserve.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Last year, Todd Akin and Paul Ryan were co-sponsors of a bill that would have specified a pregnancy resulting from “forcible rape” as the only kind that Medicaid or a health savings account could pay to end. A middle-school girl impregnated by her uncle or a sophomore coed subjected to the carnal aggressions of fraternity boys after a night of binge drinking would have to settle for the comfort of being told that her rape, like the baby the GOP would oblige her to have, was illegitimate.
On the purely substantive level, it's hard to understand why they're so upset. He probably didn't come up with his weird theories by himself. It appears that he cribbed them from anti-abortion zealot Jack C. Willke, whose political support Mitt Romney has welcomed. From a practical policy perspective, Akin's position is indistinguishable from that of his party's platform writers and Romney's putative running mate, Paul Ryan. Along with 20% of the American people, Akin and Ryan and the Republican platform committee want to criminalize all abortion, including in the case of rape.
It's not the issue those now controlling the GOP want to talk about during elections. It's merely the policy they want to adopt while in office. They're mad at Akin for outing them. He should stay in the race and keep them honest.
Friday, August 17, 2012
I used to hang out with my grandfather all the time. Because he used to have to pick me up from school sometimes or, you know, drive me to my mother's or whatever, but - so I would be with my grandfather a lot. I used to watch him write his sermons. He writes his sermons pretty much the same way I write my act. He would never write the exact sermon. He'd always write the bullet points, whatever would hit him, and he would write it when he was driving. And I probably come up with half of my standup when I'm driving....
His preaching, it's weird, it's not a lot different than my style on stage. And he let things move him and he, you know, he never locked into, you know, exact words, and he tried to, you know, to bring a little Bible but also try to bring in something that is happening to people today; that way the Bible went down a little bit smoother, if you can relate it to their lives. No, he was a pretty good preacher....His vocal style was...old-time black preacher. And the Lord said!, you know, so I take what he said and turn it down a little bit...
[W]hen you grow up with a preacher, it's almost like--it's like seeing a magician stuff the rabbit in his side jacket. Like, I knew all the tricks....I don't think he thought of it as tricks, but every job becomes a job, and you figure out shortcuts and you figure out, you know, ways around things. I mean, I could watch a preacher now...I watch [Joel Osteen and TD Jakes....I can see when they're preaching, and I can see when they're...kind of losing the crowd and have to go to something. I can tell when they make audibles and have to go to something else so they can get the crowd back.
[I watch them half] for performance reasons and half of it just because I like a good sermon, and [you're] always looking - A, a good sermon's always great, and, B, you know, these guys, they're always - they have this task of coming up with a new with new material every week....
I like how a preacher can talk about one thing for an hour and ten minutes. I keep trying to figure out how I can do that in stand-up. So, how I can, like, OK, how can I just be funny about, you know, jealousy? You know, a preacher will pick a topic, and they'll run with it for the whole sermon, like, and, you know, take you on a ride talking about literally one thing. And I just love that style. So I'm always-- I've always been trying to figure out how do I do that in stand-up.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Mr Ryan was...wrong to vote against the proposals of the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission, which he did on the grounds that it wanted to close the deficit partly through an increase in tax revenues. He believes that the gap should be closed wholly through spending cuts. Because Mr Ryan, in true Republican fashion, wants to increase spending on defence, everything else—poverty relief, transport infrastructure, environmental protection and education, for instance—will have to be squeezed intolerably.
Playing to the GOP's stingy base, which demands cuts for the poor and uninterrupted federal goodies for itself, is about as edgy as wearing a Yankees jersey in the Bronx. Of course Barack Obama didn't have the guts to accept the commission's recommendations, either, and it was his commission. At the moment there appears to be more courage at the weekly meeting of the St. John's Boy Scout troop than on the major parties' tickets.