Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bush's Progress

According to this "Politico" article, George W. Bush's library at SMU is developing according to the prevailing paradigm for GOP Presidents: Profs dislike the monument but are excited about having the documents on campus. There's a nice story about Bush charming some political science undergraduates by spending nearly an hour answering their questions.

No Episcopalians Yet, But We're Working On It!

Who's praying with the President? A circle of five, says the New York Times:

None of these pastors are [sic] affiliated with the religious right, though several are quite conservative theologically. One of them, the Rev. Joel C. Hunter, the pastor of a conservative megachurch in Florida, was branded a turncoat by some leaders of the Christian right when he began to speak out on the need to stop global warming.

But as a group they can hardly be characterized as part of the religious left either. Most, like [Sojourners' Jim] Wallis, do not take traditionally liberal positions on abortion or homosexuality. What most say they share with the president is the conviction that faith is the foundation in the fight against economic inequality and social injustice.

“These are all centrist, social justice guys,” said the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers, a politically active pastor of Azusa Community Church in Boston, who knows all of them but is not part of the president’s prayer caucus. “Obama genuinely comes out of the social justice wing of the church. That’s real. The community organizing stuff is real.”

Neo Dawn

A Chinese buddy, Ajay River of the Chinese People's Association For Friendship With Foreign Countries, writes with the blessed news of the birth in Beijing of his and Aray's first child, Neo, on March 12. Congratulations and blessings, young people. May we bequeath Neo a new world of justice and peace.

From Reddish Orange To Orangish Blue

From Jack Pitney, more on a changing Orange County.

A Lenten Pause In The Battle

John Moorlach, who emigrated from the Netherlands with his Reformed and Christian Reformed family when he was four, tried to read the Bible as a young man, but he started at the beginning and "got bogged down somewhere in Deuteronomy." He told the St. John's men's group this morning that it never occurred to him to begin with the New Testament. Finally, when he was a 19-year-old student at Long Beach State, a friend suggested he read the Sermon on the Mount, which brought him to Christ in earnest.

He says he's counted roughly 2,000 pieces of financial advice in the Bible, many of which concern saving, prudence, humility, integrity, even portfolio diversification. Trained as an accountant, Moorlach, now 53, caught the political bug from an uncle who employed him on his dairy farm ("I learned what money smelled like," he said) and who eventually served on the City Council in Cypress.

In his own political career, Moorlach became a national figure immediately thanks to his prediction of Orange County's $1.7 billion portfolio meltdown and bankruptcy during his unsuccessful 1994 race against Bob Citron, the then-county treasurer who was essentially running a hedge fund with the people's money.

Citron went to jail, and Moorlach succeeded him. In the thick of the bankruptcy, the largest in a municipality in U.S. history, Moorlach did media interviews from 8 a.m. to midnight. In 2006, deciding he could be a better watchdog if he had a vote on policy in addition to a voice on CNN, he won a seat on the Board of Supervisors, where he has battled public employee unions over pensions and, just this week, had his name in the papers yet again. He came to St. John's this morning after reading in the LA Times:
Tuesday's unanimous [Board of Supervisors] vote to suspend a $291,788 education grant with Planned Parenthood followed hours of impassioned public testimony, primarily in favor of continuing the contract.

Ultimately, most supervisors cited moral or religious reasons to vote against continuing the contract.

None of the money is used to fund abortions, said Jon Dunn, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood for Orange and San Bernardino counties.

The health education contract was approved last year through a $7.5-million agreement with the Orange County Coalition of Community Clinics and funded through tobacco settlement revenue.

The funding, first put aside under Measure H in 2000, has been renewed annually since 2001.

Supervisor John Moorlach, who put the issue on the agenda Tuesday, spoke strongly against supporting Planned Parenthood, and he questioned whether sex education, which is not specifically mentioned in Measure H, is an appropriate use of the money anyway.

"It doesn't say one word about education . . . and now they've gotten it, and now it's an entitlement," Moorlach said.

Planned Parenthood in Orange County has used the contract money to provide health education to dozens of groups including teens and pre-teens at Juvenile Hall, Irvine High School, St. Mary's All Angels School and the Santa Ana Youth Council.
Moorlach (invited to St. John's by men's group member Larry Seigel) said no when I asked if political and media controversy contributed to stress and anxiety, though he did aver that if you're going to be in an unfriendly newspaper article, Saturday's the best day. It may also be that he's too busy to worry. "I've always had a focus on time management," he said. "I do this for you 13 or 14 hours a day; my family gets the rest. I don't worry about what I don't get done and tell myself, 'You only do what you can do'."

Another of our members asked what higher office he he might be considering. Moorlach replied that he planned to run for a second term as supervisor in 2010. While he'd love being state treasurer, he said, conservative Orange Countians don't have much of a shot at statewide office.

When a listener asked if California would ever get its budget and deficit under control, John said, "No. The state's essentially bankrupt." He said the only solution was to put it in receivership under the control of a federal judge. On that hopeful note, we presented him with a copy of the Book of Common Prayer, prayed for wisdom and discernment, and sent him back into the fray.

Being Green When We're In The Red

In bad times, some environmentally sound practices thrive; others, especially recycling, evidently don't.

Friday, March 13, 2009

No Waffle Stossel

How did libertarian John Stossel ever make it onto network television? Tonight he landed interviews with Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Peter Fazio (D-OR), neither of whom could manage much of a defense of the policy he was defending -- massive government intervention in the economy in Hoyer's case, opposition to private toll roads in Fazio's. You get the feeling they'd never been asked the questions before. Then he did an item in favor of medical marijuana and took on government-funded pre-kindergarten classes and former Rep. Duncan Hunter's (R-CA) ineffective 670-mile border fence. This was on ABC. Yes, ABC.

I Confess I Saw This Movie

"Confessions of a Shopaholic" is a tidy little sermon about how addicts lie, cheat, and make themselves and the people around them miserable. Since at the end of the first 20 minutes you know the moral of the story and also pretty much exactly how it's going to turn out, you hope for creative vignettes buried in the movie, winning lines, and good music, such as a lazy cover of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" by Greg Laswell.

While Isla Fisher does a fine job as Rebecca Bloomwood, an ambitious journalist who wants to work for a "Vogue"-like magazine but gets tripped up by $16,000 in credit card debt, John Goodman and Joan Cusack are especially endearing as her parents. "All that defines me," Goodman tells his daughter when offering to sell his beloved motor home to pay her debt, "is you and your mother." There's also a great scene where mom and dad play host to the fashion magazine's Coco Chanel-like editor (Kristen Scott Thomas) in their modest home and try to cut her the world's smallest piece of cake. "Smaller!" she barks. If the movie had been any smaller, it wouldn't have been there, but it was good for a Friday night date with Kathy.

Happy Songs: "Havin' A Party" (1962)

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, featuring Steven van Zandt, with Bruce Springsteen sitting in, performing in Cleveland in 1978. Song by Sam Cooke.

How Reporters Could Do Better

"Newsweek"'s Jonathan Darman visits Orange County, California, buys a copy of the Register, does a Google or two about the demographic and political changes that everyone in the world knows about, conducts one interview (at least, one that he produces a quote from), and writes, "Something is not right in Orange County, though at first it's hard to see." Among the findings of this relentless, sidewalk-pounding investigator:
On its front page, The Orange County Register announces a new arrival, John Yoo, distinguished visiting professor at Chapman University's School of Law. In blue enclaves, Yoo is reviled for his advocacy of torture during his time in the Bush administration's Office of Legal Counsel. At Berkeley, where he previously taught law, he clashed with "hippies, protesters and left-wing activists," he says. Orange County is different. Yoo loves the lifestyle, a "total change of pace."

But the Register itself, the nation's premier clearinghouse for Western conservative thinking, is losing money and readers.
Call the non sequitur busters! Irrespective of the kind of thinking that "Newsweek" and its parent, the Washington Post, are clearinghouses for, they're losing money and readers, too.

Why We Need Reporters

For perspective. Honesty. Irony. Memory. Sheer joy in the paradoxes of politics. For instance, the AP's Tom Raum and Jim Kuhnhenn, reporting on the Obama administration's overdue but welcome optimism offensive:

On Friday, the president called on Americans to keep "focused on all the fundamentally sound aspects of our economy." The phrase had a familiar ring. During the heat of the presidential campaign last September, Obama ridiculed rival John McCain when he declared, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong."

It's hard to avoid the impression that the President realized that as a barometer of the national mood, he was running three days behind the stock market.

Augustine And The Jews

In her book Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism, BU's Paula Fredriksen credits Augustine of Hippo (354-430) with being enlightened enough about Jews that he may have saved Jewish lives.

The fourth and fifth centuries witnessed vicious anti-semitism. Bishop John Chrysostom of Constantinople, patron of the church I serve, compared Jews to animals who were unfit for work and ready for slaughter, while Augustine's contemporary Ambrose defended priests who burned down a synagogue. In contrast, Augustine's relatively enlightened view was that Jews should be protected so that their existence would affirm the validity of the Hebrew testament while their tenuous lives in the diaspora continuously demonstrated the perils of failing to come to Christ.

That doesn't sound very enlightened, of course. While Augustine is given due credit by Fredriksen's reviewer in the "New Republic," David Nirenberg, his catalog of of anti-Jewish polemic from the church's ancient, medieval, and modern eras is uniformly discouraging (an echo of Constantine's Sword by James Carroll). Only in the 1960s did the Vatican stop requiring congregations to pray each Sunday for the salvation of the poor Jews. With anti-anti-semitism having such a weak hold on the institutional church, Benedict XVI's equivocation or inattentiveness about a Holocaust-denying priest was especially discouraging.

No doubt mindful of the Benedict-Williamson episode, Nirenberg writes, "Are Christian teachings essentially anti-Jewish?" without offering a direct answer. He does fault Fredricksen for failing to try to document how many lives Augustine's "slay them not" directive (invoking Psalm 59) may actually have saved. As for how many died at the hands of a Nazi regime which, Nirenberg writes, worked carefully "to establish a resonance between its own anti-Semitic ideology and the religious teachings of the Christian confessions" -- that number, we know.

Most faithful people, except for those in denominations or sects explicitly rooted in some kind of universal salvation, must grapple with whether their confessions and creeds spell doom for anyone who doesn't believe them. For us Abrahamic people -- Jews, Christians, and Muslims -- the mystery began early, when God gave to Abram's band the land over Jordan that already belonged to someone else and called one group Chosen, the other Canaanite.

Reading scripture literally, some Jews (though not many) say that means no Palestinian state. Reading scripture literally, some Christians (how many? I'm not sure) say no salvation for Jews. If one then says that reading scripture literally is the problem, what's left of the faith? For Christians, at least for me, it's in the perfectly loving mind of Christ itself. We seek it continually.

Jerry Brown Vs. Pharmacists

It's a timeless if dispiriting ritual: An ambitious holder of a relatively minor political office grabs a piece of some notorious matter to get his mug on TV as he ramps up his next race. So there was California AG Jerry Brown, governor in the 1970s and early 1980s and, he hopes, next year, grandstanding about conspiracy charges that have been filed against two physicians and Howard Stern in connection with drugs prescribed for Anna Nichole Smith. I love how the LA Times reporter, who obviously knows what this is all about, included a colleague count:
Speaking before 14 television cameras and a dozen reporters, Brown stopped short of blaming Smith’s boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, and the doctors for the 39-year-old model’s 2007 death from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, but he said the two-year, multi-agency investigation that led to charges uncovered behavior just as troubling as “street corner” drug dealers.

“People in white smocks in pharmacies and with their medical degrees are a growing threat,” he said.
Besides the event itself, two things are wrong with Brown's analysis. First, it isn't true that doctors over-prescribing drugs is just as troubling as the illegal street drug trade. I'd say it's a thousand times less troubling. Maybe it's ten thousand times less troubling. Second, Brown says the enemy are "people in white smocks in pharmacies..." What do pharmacists have to do with it? California pharmacists should give the attorney general something useful to do and sue him.

Global Ignorance

In a digest of depressing statistics about the financial meltdown of the newspaper business, the scariest of all:

The number of foreign newspaper correspondents in 2002: 188

The number of foreign newspaper correspondents in 2006: 141

Nothing like dumbing down America in an era of globalization and global economic chaos. Imagine no newspaper or wire service with a bureau in Moscow or Beijing, covering complex stories and cultivating both official and unofficial sources. How do we learn what's going on? Not from TV networks, which depend on newspapers more than they'd like you to think. Not from bloggers sitting in Starbucks (or even bloggers sitting in their apartments in Moscow or Beijing). The answer is that we'll know what the U.S. and foreign governments choose to tell us.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

From Desolation To Abundance

J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, puts out the call for up to 4,000 volunteers for the national church's General Convention in Anaheim this July.

Perfect Songs: "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (1968)

The Rolling Stones

Dreams And Nightmares

The baby boomers, before Sept. 15: "You don't turn your dreams over to the authorities at age 60," said Dennis Hopper in this age-defying ad for Ameriprise Financial (no longer on the air, as far as I can see). "See, the thing about dreams is, they don't retire":

The baby boomers, after Sept. 15: Don't retire, indeed. Bruce Hosking, 61, who retired two years ago as a photographer for the Tampa Tribune:
“My nightmare would be (that) I’d be at the end of the checkout line asking you, ‘Paper or plastic?’” he said. “This year is either going to make or break us. If the economy doesn’t turn around, we’re going to be with the rest of the people who face the possibility of starting to sell off our valuables to stay alive.”


Disappointment from the left about the Chas Freeman debacle.

Bucking The Comic Book Wisdom

Fielding Buck gets the point about the comic book Richard Nixon in "Watchmen," who talks as though he would be open to launching a nuclear war:

Now that, my friends, is not Nixon speaking. The real president is famous for improving diplomatic relations with China and negotiating nuclear arms control with the Soviet Union.

Andrew Sullivan's Lent

Read this!

Don't Worry About Anything

The verse of the day from the good people at Sojourners:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

- Philippians 4:4-7

Washington Whispers

The Christian Science Monitor surveys postmortems on Chas Freeman's step-down as National Intelligence Council chair, including this:
The Washington Post reports that pro-Israeli bloggers and lobby groups worked behind the scenes with media and lawmakers to undermine Freeman's candidacy, though only a few organizations made public statements. The success of the campaign has highlighted the Obama administration's sensitivity to accusations of not being sufficiently pro-Israel.

So Bob Tyrrell Wants To Have A Beer With Clinton

Bob Tyrrell's tongue is only partly in cheek when he writes:

For years, it has been [Bill Clinton's] boast that he balanced the federal budget and maintained vigorous economic growth. He expanded free trade and, working bipartisanly with Republicans, reformed welfare. People left the welfare rolls and took remunerative employment. Usually, federal spending hovers at about 20 percent of gross domestic product. In the Clinton administration, it dropped to 18.4 percent -- the lowest level since 1966. Bill said, "The era of big government is over," and he meant it.

Today his party has passed him by. Bill, can we now be friends? I apologize for all my past rudeness, even the jokes.
Tyrrell was an aggressive and indeed a rude Clinton critic when he was in office. The Clintons seemed to epitomize everything conservatives of a certain generation had detested about the sixties. His leftward tack in 1993-94 seemed to validate their fears; they considered his move to the center after the GOP triumph in the 1994 midterm elections (enabling the accomplishments Tyrrell lists) to be purely opportunistic.

Perhaps it was. And so even as Clinton reformed welfare and balanced the budget, conservatives continued to attack him mercilessly. At times he seemed as hated on the far right as President Nixon had been on the far left. Looking back, his impeachment and trial may have been the high water mark of the post-sixties cultural backlash. It seemed Clinton was being targeted not for what he did in his public or private life but because of who he was, a hated emblem of a generation's excess and exceeding self-regard.

I opposed his impeachment, because it seemed to amount to an effort to overturn the results of the 1996 election and therefore a political as opposed to a legal exercise, not unlike impeachment proceedings against another centrist, Richard Nixon. The irony is that Clinton was harassed by the right even as he accomplished what Ronald Reagan had failed to do: Balance the budget and restrain the growth of the federal government. Nixon was harassed by the left even as he did what it proclaimed it wanted the government to do: Give global peace a chance. During the Reagan era, some liberals looked back nostalgically at Nixon's domestic and foreign policies. During the Obama era, Bob Tyrrell is offering to buy Bill Clinton a beer.

Being a centrist, moderate, or pragmatist is like being the bumbling, slightly off-key relative at Thanksgiving who smiles genially at everybody else's confident orations about national or family politics and then cocks his head and says, "Well, sure, but have you considered...?" You remember him: Never really took a stand on anything and never as interesting to listen to as the assembled blowhards. In politics and journalism, pragmatism is rarely a campaign platform, seldom a draw for a network or cable booker looking for a sizzling debate on the economy or embryonic stem cells. Our culture seems to depend on the clash of extremes. As for pragmatists, to quote one of the Clintons' favorite songwriters, Joni Mitchell, I guess you don't know what you got till it's gone.

Fate Only Rhymes With Mandate

Walter Shapiro:
Fate and a discredited economy have granted Obama a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform public attitudes about the role and the competence of the federal government.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Who Watches "Watchmen"?

I'm over 20 years late with this assessment. "Watchmen" was published when I was working for RN in New York, practicing almost weekly counter-journalism on his behalf.

Missed this one, Mr. President. Got most of them.

Sadly, the graphic novel's alt.-Richard Nixon gets a raw deal. His high point comes in chapter IV, when he sends Dr. Manhattan, a blue superman with seemingly infinite powers, to defeat the Viet Cong (p. 20), enabling RN to ram through a constitutional amendment in 1975 that enables him to run for a third (and presumably a fourth and fifth) term (21).

From there, for Hannah Nixon's good Quaker son, it's downhill fast toward near-certain nuclear holocaust. I recognize that this is just a comic book, but author Alan Moore, although some kind of genius, misses or ignores that RN discerningly engaged the Soviets through his policy of detente, thus substantially decreasing East-West tensions. Moore might be saying that Nixon's policy, extrapolated into the 1980s, would've been too soft, resulting in the story's October 1985 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan -- which actually happened in 1979 under the dovish Jimmy Carter. And yet reviews of the "Watchmen" film make clear that among Moore's original targets was the hawkish Reagan administration.

If Nixon had really been in office, presumably the Soviets, in calculating the risks of aggression, would've remembered the tough measures he took in Vietnam (prior to sending the giant blue man, of course). When the alt.-Soviets nonetheless prepare to invade Pakistan, alt.-Nixon seems less than appalled at his advisers' estimation of the vast losses that would result from a nuclear exchange beginning with a U.S. first strike. "Losing the East Coast, we'd need to," he says. "I don't know...I'd always kind of hoped that the big decision would rest with somebody else. This is going to take some thinking about....I think we'll give it a week, gentlemen, before bringing out our big guns...After that, humanity is in the hands of a higher authority than mine. Let's just hope he's on our side." (III, 26-28)

Though each Cold War President no doubt dreaded having to make that decision, the distinct possibility of nuclear war shadowed three generations of Americans. For most of the era, the uneasy peace between the U.S. and Soviet Union was bolstered by the concept of mutually assured destruction. Both sides had enough nuclear firepower to be able to destroy the other, meaning that in a full-scale exchange, neither side could win. What altered the picture was the possibility that one side would have enough forces to destroy enough of the enemy's strategic nuclear missiles in a first strike that the attacker would stand a good chance of surviving as a functioning polity.

While the very idea of a survivable first strike was monstrous, it was the way strategists thought. "Watchmen" author Moore was deftly probing the weak link in the MAD armor, namely whether any leader, American or Soviet, would be ruthless, desperate, or unhinged enough to order the catastrophic first strike.

That's where Moore's choice of a guinea pig came in. His real-life 1985 commander in chief was Reagan, and the policy he was critiquing was Reagan's. When Reagan proposed his Strategic Defense Initiative in the early 1980s, as "Watchmen" was being envisioned and written, skeptics actually feared that Reagan was using it to create or enhance the U.S.'s first-strike capability. And yet for his madman, the monster actually willing to pull the trigger, Moore maneuvers poor Mr. Nixon back into office. To add insult to injury, he even has a character mutter about the privations of "Nixononmics." (VIII, 2) Near the end of the story, alt.-RN arrives at what looks like NORAD, clutching the nuclear football (it's actually a metal football, chained to his wrist), mumbles something about Mrs. Nixon being safe elsewhere, and then sits stoically, watching the big TV screens and waiting to give the order for a first strike if necessary. (X, 1-3)

Meanwhile, his actual Presidency was dedicated in large part to making sure no one would ever have to. Anti-Soviet hawks, including some proto-neocon Democrats, accused him and Henry Kissinger of degrading U.S. nuclear forces and even ceding a first-strike capability to Moscow. Pentagon generals were so nervous about RN's policies that they spied on him. Now that would make a great comic book.

Respectable Republican Poker

This wonderful painting is circulating with a partisan caption that seems just a bit unworthy of it.

Frank Langella 1, Bonehead 0

The "Frost/Nixon" actor coolly disses a guy with a video camera and not enough to do. Especially deft: He graciously stops and thanks a legitimate well-wisher without ending up engaging the bonehead. Well played!

Delay Lama

After a half-century in exile, the Dalai Lama, a holy man practiced in patience, begins to realize that the Beijing regime may be even more patient than he.

It Takes Both Kinds

Andrew Sullivan has been among the most eloquent advocates of the blogosphere (all too often, the hackosphere), which admittedly sometimes breaks or elaborates stories that the MSM has missed or neglected. But here, ironically enough, he longs for an old-fashioned, rigorously reported newspaper thumbsucker documenting how former State Department official Chas Freeman was done out of a job chairing an intelligence board largely by bloggers, with the MSM barely noticing. If it's written, I guess it'll be a story about the reportorial shortcomings and ideological opportunism of both the old and new media.

A Few Things At A Time

In a "New Republic" article entitled "Barack's Too-Long Wish List," William Galston says that President Obama, by proffering an FDR-like flurry of projects and reforms, could end up being a Carter instead of a Reagan:

The core issue is the clarity and self-discipline needed to maintain control of the agenda. Consider the judgment that Erwin C. Hargrove, a respected scholar of the presidency, rendered after Reagan's first hundred days: "Reagan has demonstrated in a way that Jimmy Carter never did, that he understands how to be President. He knows that a President can deal with only a relatively small number of issues at a time." Hargrove might have added that the same is true of Congress, a fact every president must keep firmly in mind.

Bilingual In Canada

Hat tip to Tom Tierney

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stuck In The Center

Howard Fineman says President Obama is experiencing the classic centrist's dilemma, with the additional element of elites' whispering that he's still not up to the job:
Swimming in the middle, he's denounced as a socialist by conservatives, criticized as a polite accommodationist by government-is-the-answer liberals, and increasingly, dismissed as being in over his head by technocrats.

The Infinite And The Intimate

In this excerpt from his diary, dictated on November 4, 1963, President Kennedy expresses regret about his administration's initial support for the military coup against South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, which resulted in Diem's assassination on Nov. 2 and fundamentally altered the nature of the U.S. role in the Vietnam war. As he dictates, Kennedy is interrupted by his children.

Easy Button

Hat tip to Carlos Echevarria

Bill And Ann And Ron And Nancy

Ann Coulter and Bill Maher, both gifted comic-polemicists, sparred over President Obama's stem cell research decision at a debate in New York:
That led to the two battling over Nancy Reagan, who has come out in support for Obama’s decision.

“Nancy Reagan was so madly in love with Ronald Reagan,” Coulter said, “if you told her that we could bring Ronald Reagan back to life, cure Alzheimer’s by disemboweling everyone in this audience, she would say ‘do it.’”

Maher: “So you’re saying Nancy Reagan, the patron saint of the Republican party ... ”

Coulter: “She’s not the patron saint of the Republican party.”

Maher: “She’s somebody you revere. ... You’ve just said she’s bats--t crazy.”

Coulter responded that it’s funny to see liberals — who once chided Reagan for following astrology — now trying to bring her into a science debate. “I never saw her as a seer of technology,” she added.

New Nixon Gospel According To Jonathan

On the Nixon biography front, the London Telegraph reports:

"I'm planning to write a new life of Nixon to mark the centenary of his birth in 2013," ...former Tory Cabinet minister and jailbird [Jonathan Aitken] told Mandrake at a gathering in St James's. "The first book I wrote was Nixon: A Life, so it makes sense to revisit him for his anniversary."

The Latest In "Nixon In China" Similes

Gerald F. Seib:

Just as only a Republican president, Richard Nixon, could open the door to Communist China, it may be that only a Democratic president, Barack Obama, can save free trade amid today’s global economic upheaval.

Precious Unity

The verse of the day from the good people at Sojourners:
How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.

- Psalm 133:1-2

Slumping God Numbers, Too

Are politically active evangelical Christians giving Christianity a bad name?

What "No Depression" Is Spinning This Week

Kathleen Edwards performing "I Make The Dough, And You Get The Glory" in Boston in March 2008, featured this week by the on-line music magazine "No Depression."

Looking For A GOP Grownup

Romney reconsidered.

Renovating While Rome Is Burning

David Brooks outlines a renewal plan for congressional Republicans that he seems pretty confident they'll ignore. Among his suggestions, as the Obama administration proposes massive new spending on education, health care, and energy:
Republicans could point out that this crisis is not just an opportunity to do other things. It’s a bloomin’ emergency. Robert Barro of Harvard estimates that there is a 30 percent chance of a depression. Warren Buffett says economic activity “has fallen off a cliff” and is not coming back soon....

Republicans could argue that it’s Nero-esque for Democrats to be plotting extensive renovations when the house is on fire. They could point out that history will judge this president harshly if he’s off chasing distant visions while the markets see a void where his banking policy should be.

Monday, March 9, 2009

JFK's Southern Strategy

Conventional wisdom holds that Richard Nixon wooed the old South into the GOP column. According to Richard Reeves, the migration began in 1961, when President Kennedy pressured the House leadership to pack the Rules Committee so conservative, anti-civil rights Democrats couldn't bottle up the administration's bills:
Kennedy — and Lyndon Johnson after him — were able to push liberal agenda items, including civil rights legislation, through Congress. But the price was high: over the next 30 years, the Republicans rose. The solid Democratic South became the solid Republican South. At least until last year, when black Southerners came out in record numbers and Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina were won by Barack Obama.

No More Free Content

David Carr tells how to save newspapers.

The Thing Is, We Need The Oil

News from one of our partners in the war on terror:
A 75-year-old widow in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to 40 lashes and four months in jail for mingling with two young men who are not close relatives, drawing new criticism for the kingdom's ultraconservative religious police and judiciary.

Perfect Songs: "Because The Night" (1978)

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, with Michael Stipe

Running across this collaboration by my two favorite rock stars? Priceless.

Long a staple of Bruce's live show, "Because the Night" didn't quite make it onto his fourth album, "Darkness on the Edge of Town." Instead, he gave it to Patti Smith, who altered the lyrics and released it as a single in 1978. Smith was a seminal influence on the young Stipe, who favored Smith's version of the lyric when he performed alongside Springsteen in 2004 when Bruce and R.E.M. were campaigning for Sen. Kerry. The song features one of Springsteen's most majestic bridges, and definitely his longest. Definitely a desert island video.

Putting Life Ahead Of Life

William Saletan equates proponents of embryonic stem cell research to proponents of torture:

Think about what's being dismissed here as "politics" and "ideology." You don't have to equate embryos with full-grown human beings—I don't—to appreciate the danger of exploiting them. Embryos are the beginnings of people. They're not parts of people. They're the whole thing, in very early form. Harvesting them, whether for research or medicine, is different from harvesting other kinds of cells. It's the difference between using an object and using a subject. How long can we grow this subject before dismembering it to get useful cells? How far should we strip-mine humanity in order to save it?

If you have trouble taking this question seriously—if you think it's just the hypersensitivity of fetus-lovers—try shifting the context from stem cells to torture. There, the question is: How much ruthless violence should we use to defeat ruthless violence? The paradox and the dilemma are easy to recognize. Creating and destroying embryos to save lives presents a similar, though not equal, dilemma.

We're All Socialists Now

hilzoy offers some perspective on President Obama's tax proposals:
Obama is not proposing to raise the personal income tax. He is proposing to allow the Bush tax cuts on families making over $250,000 a year to expire. The Republicans wrote that expiration into law to conceal to hide the costs of their tax cuts. Under the law they wrote, the top marginal tax rate will go up from 35% to 39.6% in 2011.

If a top marginal tax rate of 39.6% is socialism, then there are a lot of socialists in the world. For instance, Japan, South Korea, Australia, along with a lot of the OECD: all have rates higher than Obama is proposing. (Note: I just chose some countries at random. I'm sure I could have found more.) No wonder the world economy is in trouble! There's socialism and class warfare everywhere you look!

Thank You, Daylight Savings Time

Saddleback Mountains at 6 p.m.

Buy It This Year, Sell It Whenever, Tax-Free

From his weekly e-newsletter, a bright idea from Rep. John Campbell (R-Newport Beach):
[My soon-to-be-introduced] bill would eliminate all Capital Gains taxes for any assets purchased in 2009, regardless of when the asset is sold. So, people would be encouraged to purchase homes, property, stocks bonds and businesses in 2009. This incentive would alter the risk/return ratio and likely spur a great deal of economic activity that is currently paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. And from the federal government standpoint, there might be an increase in revenue to the federal government now as the sellers report capital gains. The “loss” of revenue on the sale would not occur until some years later when the asset is sold and hopefully the government is also on better footing.

Everyone Knows Nixon Served Until 1989!

One review after another of "Watchmen," including this one in England's prestigious Guardian, says that the movie's fictional Richard Nixon was serving a third term as President. Evidently reviewers are being thrown off by the opening titles, which show RN reelected in 1976 after a constitutional amendment permits him to seek a third term. But by 1985, when the action of the story occurs, he's on his fifth.

RN's luck's about to run out, though, because at the very end of the graphic novel (I'm not sure about the movie, which I haven't seen yet), a newspaper headline says that "RR" is considering running in 1988. Presumably the reader is expected to think Ronald Reagan. If so, the authors are teasing us. As we learn on "Watchmen"'s very last page, the candidate's actually another famous cowboy: Robert Redford.

The Knixons At Knott's

From a blog specializing in Orange County, California history.

From Little Things, Big Things Grow

From President Obama's remarks today as he overturned the Bush administration's ban on using federal funds for new lines of embryonic stem cells:

In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research -- and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.
On several occasions, the President was interrupted by boisterous applause and cheers as yet another hated Bush policy was buried. I'll confess to some relief that those who believe that the earth is 6,000 years old (President Bush probably wasn't among them, incidentally) don't have the influence they once did on science or indeed any other kind of national policy. I also appreciated Obama mentioning his faith. Bush would've come right out and said that God calls us to care for each other and gives us the capacity to make the world better. If the Almighty works better for the President in the passive voice, so be it.

Beyond that, I wish I felt more certain about the issue myself. Opponents of the use of new embryonic stem cell lines argue that adult lines can be manipulated in such a way that they can be just as effective as embryonic lines in research and treatment. Proponents counter that it makes no sense to proscribe the additional resource of new embryonic lines if scientists want them, especially since most of the embryos to be used would be discarded anyway.

What bothers me most is that only the anti-embryonic party is generally referred to as being in the thrall of ideology. I can't help but think that some of the energy behind the policy Obama adopted today comes from those who for any number of reasons don't want society to get too sentimental about embryos. And yet if through some miracle I could have been introduced to the ones that would become my daughters, wife, colleagues, or seminary professors, I would've gotten pretty attached to them.

I do believe that the President probably made the right decision. If he erred, it was on the side of logic, compassion, and hope. And yet there are some who celebrate today for different reasons, who have muffled their reckless wonder at the miraculousness inherent in humanity's smallest, most vulnerable potentialities and want to muffle ours as well. They're ideologues, too.

"As Good As Dead": Sermon For II Lent

Reading "Watchmen" (to catch up with a 20-year-old pop cultural phenomenon as well as plumb its Nixonian resonances), I started having apocalyptic dreams as the story's looming nuclear holocaust resonated with the world's real-life economic nightmare. Friends and fellow worshipers tell me they're feeling oppressed by dread that bad times will get even worse as well as by the private emergencies of sickness and alienation that plague the people of God irrespective of the Dow Jones average.

One friend told me that her limbs felt heavy and weak from constant worry over a problem at home. Because of the scripture readings for this week, her comment reminded me 100-year-old Abram (later Abraham). He and his wife Sarai had no heir. Everybody in town was no doubt gossiping about him. He was exhausted and disillusioned and probably didn't have a tooth in his head. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says Abram was "as good as dead." And yet on whom did God settle the responsibility for building a whole universe of faith? None other than Abraham, father of many nations.

In a riveting interview last week with Terry Gross, Donovan Campbell, who commanded a Marine platoon in Iraq in 2004, said the only way he could do his job was decide that he was already dead, a mind trick that freed him to make effective and indeed moral choices in the most chaotic, amoral environment possible. By the same token, Jesus counsels his followers to accept the inevitability of his death so his (and our) triumph over it (and over all deathly things, including dread) could be revealed.

We're all as good as dead. And yet God wants us to feel safe, free, and bracingly alive. Check out Campbell's book, Joker One. My Sunday sermon is here.

Timothy's Tax Holiday

The Treasury secretary is overworked, understaffed, and on the verge of being overwhelmed. Meanwhile, the markets need some answers on the financial system. I vote for letting him name whomever he wants to key posts whether they've paid their taxes or not. But just this once.

The Music Within

Hat tip to Mike Cheever

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Mightiest Band In The Land

From Bruce's Super Bowl journal:
The Super Bowl is going to help me sell a few new records, that's what I wanted because I want people to hear where we are today. It'll probably put a few extra fannies in the seats and that's fine. We live high around here and I like to do good business for my record company and concert promoters. But what it's really about is my band remains one of the mightiest in the land and I want you to know it, we want to show you…because we can.

Rush Limbaugh Isn't The Leader Of The GOP

It looks like it's John McCain.

When You're Broke, Go For Barack

Isn't it ironic? The Washington Post's David Shribman:
[T]he president, who counts audacity as a measure of character, is using the crisis to do what would be more difficult to do if the economy were more nearly normal. If things were good, he'd have a harder time committing tens of billions to green the economy, expand health care or overhaul education.

Huvane's U2

Fordham University IDs were on sale for $300 on Craigslist after word got out that U2 would play a free concert on campus last Friday. The photo above was taken by Tommy Huvane, husband of my wife's younger sister. Tommy even got backstage and met drummer (and band founder, evidently) Larry Mullen, Jr., pictured below with Tommy and his niece.

Why did the biggest band in the world decide to play for free on a college campus one morning? It's a Jesuit thing, reports the New York Times:

After the band played two rousing short sets of music, Fordham’s president, the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, took the stage and addressed the cheering students.

“You may wonder why U2 chose us,” he said. “They chose us because we’re in New York, because we are Fordham, because of the warmth of the campus.” He drew a parallel between the campus principles of Fordham and those of U2’s members, mentioning “social justice, service of the poor and advocacy.”

Father McShane said he was pleased to see so many students show up for the concert so early — students began lining up at 3 a.m. — and joked that the university would add extra-early classes to the curriculum.

On Vacation With My Daily Dish

The view from Kathy's and my window in Twentynine Palms, California last week was featured this morning on Andrew Sullivan's "Daily Dish." Thanks, Andrew & Co.!

And Girls, He's A Great Dancer

In an otherwise useful article about the future of the conservative movement, former Bush speechwriter David Frum veers briefly off course:
[Obama] is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.

And for the leader of the Republicans?... With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence...
Physically honed? Women dig him? Limbaugh is fat? Am I reading this? What would be the relevance in such an essay of Bella Abzug's dimensions or those of any number of buffed-out sociopaths? Several women I know do not trust Obama because he is going to raise their taxes, the cut of his jib notwithstanding. So let's rebuild the GOP without resorting to demeaning and irrelevant physical descriptions and veiled misogyny.

Easy, With A Giant Blue Superman On Your Side

They're wondering how RN got his five terms in "Watchmen." As usual, those who read the comic book have the edge.