Saturday, April 18, 2009

Desert Medleys: "A Day In The Life" (1967) and "Give Peace A Chance" (1969)

Sir Paul McCartney performing at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, yesterday; my elder daughter Valerie is there!

Health Reform is Ailing

A New York Times analysis frets that President Obama's pragmatism may delay the boldest and costliest of his domestic initiatives:
Facing Democratic opposition in Congress, the White House seems prepared to give up on several tax proposals, including a limit on deductions that the wealthiest taxpayers can claim for charitable donations and state and local taxes, which was supposed to help pay for health care legislation — raising doubts about how the president will finance it.

A Scrape Over Drapes

More trouble in the Episcopal Church.

Great Guitars: "Bad Luck" (1992)

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with Social Distortion's Mike Ness, who wrote the song, performing on April 16 in Los Angeles

Friday, April 17, 2009

Achy Songs: "Unbreakable Heart" (1993)

Carlene Carter. Song by Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

A Second Look At The Southern Strategy

Reviewing Steven P. Miller's Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, Ross Douthat says there are two ways of looking at RN's success in turning Deep South blue to red:
In one story, Sun Belt Republicanism was a coalition forged in cynicism and denial: it perpetuated real injustices while denying they existed and relied on the votes of bigots to achieve political dominance. In another telling, though, the majority that Nixon built managed to achieve something that seemed impossible at mid­century — using the rhetoric of Christianity and colorblindness to reconcile the white South to a legal and social revolution, and confining the once-ubiquitous support for segregation to a lunatic fringe.

The Econixonian

The Nixon Library's Museum Store, in honor of the creator of the EPA, goes green.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

We Need The Whole Story On Torture

I'm against torture (who isn't?) in any but the most exigent situations, namely everyone's favorite hypothetical, the highly unlikely scenario of having someone in custody who otherwise won't say where the ticking nuclear device threatening hundreds of thousands of lives is hidden. But as the Obama administration releases the Bush-era memos providing legal justification for severe interrogation techniques, I just don't share the passion of Andrew Sullivan and others who favor prosecution of top officials.

To be more precise, I share their concerns but not their anger. After all, the Bush administration calculated that the U.S. faced an existential threat after Sept. 11. They promised the American people that they'd do anything in their power to protect us, and by and large, we were happy to hear it. Allegations that in the process of keeping the promise, the government put itself in the same moral position as Nazis, or even that our democracy was measurably eroded, seem discredited by the results of the 2008 election.

Had there been another attack on the scale of 2001's, we would not be looking at these memos, and we would probably have a different President. Did George W. Bush overestimate and lawlessly overreact to the threat? Or did he meet it so successfully that we now feel safe enough to scapegoat him for his tactics?

There's no question that the memos sound weasel wordy and opportunistic. This image of waterboarding from a museum detailing the crimes of the genocidal Khmer Rouge is especially ironic.

Still, if the Bush policies have been rolled back by his freely elected successor, what exactly is the purpose of a legal witch hunt? Instead, I'd favor a blue-ribbon panel of some kind, given the charge of guiding future administrations. But its members, and to the extent possible the public, should see evidence of all the plots that were thwarted or didn't succeed for some other reason. Ideally, we should know everything Bush knew before we decide he went too far while protecting us. We have a responsibility to make sure we know what was done in our name, legally or not. We also have the right to know why.

Tea Party? Third Party.

Writing for the "American Conservative," Daniel McCarthy:

I agree with Ross Douthat about one thing: the tea parties resemble the antiwar protests of 2002-2003. But that’s not a good thing. Douthat correctly points out that the antiwar marches were probably counterproductive, boosting support for Republican hawks in the 2002 midterms and 2004 presidential election. (The American people don’t like prolonged wars, as polling figures for the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq conflicts demonstrate. But as the ghost of Richard Nixon could tell you, one thing Americans like less than open-ended wars is disruption in the streets.) The tea parties risk ghettoizing anti-tax sentiment.

Ghettoizing? Or Perot-izing? Republicans ought to worry that the anti-tax movement will be captured by an independent candidate in '12 who would persuasively argue that neither party had exhibited fiscal sanity while in power. Ross Perot's populist movement elected Bill Clinton in '92. Anything resembling it would surely help President Obama far more than his GOP challenger.

I Thought I Was The Only One Who Did This

Here's an interesting exercise: Subtract your age from your date of birth and imagine how much history you would've experienced if you'd been born in that year. Whoa.

The Limited Incentive Of U.S. Friendship

After describing Cuban strongman Raúl Castro's tepid response to U.S. overtures as well as his crackdown on reformers at home, the "Economist" waxes pessimistic about short-term possibilities for positive change:
There will be no stars under Raúl Castro, no individual young leaders on whom outsiders can pin their hopes. This is the scenario that Mr Obama’s measures are intended to influence—and change. But on their own, they look unlikely to do so.
So now tyrants in both Tehran and Havana are trying to figure out if they can survive without the foreign enemy that helps them stay in power. I pray for it, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Different Memes Entirely

Andrew Sullivan suggests that conservative bloggers are being hypocritical for savaging the Obama administration's alarmist though unverifiable statements about right-wing extremism while ignoring reports that during the Bush administration the NSA may have broken the law by collecting too much electronic data.

I'm all for political ironies, but this one doesn't wash. There's no question that some in the Bush administration lost perspective after Sept. 11. We need thorough investigations by journalists and historians of how we ended up in Iraq and probably by a government commission of the administration's dalliance with torture. But I never felt threatened by electronic eavesdropping, because I never had the remotest suspicion that Bush was interested in anything besides possible terrorist connections. If Bush and his team overreached, it was to protect the interests of the United States and the lives of innocent Americans.

I do feel threatened (offended is a better word) by the Obama administration's suggestion that if I want lower federal income taxes, I'm a potential Timothy McVeigh. President Obama and his advocates might say that it somehow helps the country to stigmatize the right, but it really has to do with the appropriations debates and the 2010 elections. So in the end, when comparing memes, motives may matter most.

Neocon Nostalgia

In a defense of President Obama's foreign policy, E. J. Dionne., Jr. admits one worry:
If I have qualms about the Obama Doctrine, they have to do with the relatively short shrift it has so far given to concerns over human rights and democracy. The United States cannot impose democracy everywhere, but we should stand up forcefully for democrats, political prisoners and human rights activists anywhere.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Songs Were Perfect, Don't Change Them

I'm a somewhat anxious and easily distracted person, so when I have my iPod on shuffle, I usually can't listen to two or three songs in a row without thumbing for the next selection, trying to find the perfect drug. Sometimes it takes ten or 20 tries.

But if I'm feeling calm, as during a long Easter Tuesday drive to downtown LA this week, the miraculous little machine makes playlists that end up making perfect sense.

As I pulled out of Yorba Linda, it opened the set with a great morning song, the Who's "The Kids Are Alright," which I first heard on the Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy compilation of the band's still fresh-sounding pre-Tommy hits.

Next up was John Fogerty's "Somebody Help Me," a road song about a guy (probably kind of an old guy) looking all over for his girl (or his fellow AARP member).

From Revival, the song's definitely got a groove. Fogerty's Credence Clearwater Revival was a roots band before the term existed. Among those inspiring CCR was a true original, Bo Diddley, whose "You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care)," released in 1959, has the distinctive Bo beat (famously appropriated by Buddy Holly) plus the purest-sounding harp playing that side of Cream's Jack Bruce's on "Train Time" on Wheels Of Fire a decade later. Bet Bruce learned to play harp listening to Bo's song. No guitar at all on this cut, as far as I could hear.

The Stones' "Under My Thumb" has an equally spare arrangement and one of Mick Jagger's more sneeringly misogynist lyrics. As I drove through the Puente Hills, this cut from 1966's Aftermath evoked the ongoing debate with my friend Andy about whether the pre- or post-Exile Stones are preferable. I'm in the latter camp, but this is a great song, and an ironic one for anyone who's seen "Gimme Shelter." The Stones were playing it at Altamont in 1969 when the Hells Angels started a fight that eventually led to the stabbing death of a concertgoer. As the battle swirls and Jagger sings "Baby it's alright" over and over, a song about dominance becomes a desperate, unavailing plea for calm.

But enough rock and blues, because the mighty iPod then served up Neil Young's "Old Man," one of my high school songs, from 1972's Harvest. It was inspired by the caretaker on the newly rich Young's new ranch in Canada. Funny thing about the insinuating power of music. I don't think I'd heard the studio version of this song in years. While I usually can't remember what I had for breakfast, I remembered exactly when the banjo comes in before the first chorus.

Cracker has no doubt listened to a lot of Neil Young albums -- Bo Diddley ones, too. Their "Take Me Down To The Infirmary" is so rootsy that it sounds like it could've been written in 1935:
I know the whiskey won't soothe my soul
And the morphine won't heal my heart
But if you take me down to the infirmary
I won't have to sleep or drink alone.
Much as I love Patty Larkin, her dark and dense "Normal," from Red=Luck, sort of broke the mood. But bringing the set to a close (because afterward, I started thumbing that playwheel again) was a charming song by Amy Rigby (shown here) called "Don't Ever Change," not the Beatles' version but her own, which has a Resurrection bonus in each verse and chorus:
I saw my baby sitting there at the breakfast table
His hair a mess and he forgot to shave
And I wished that he would get up, make it all better
Stop drinking so much, learn how to behave

Then the radio was playing a Chuck Berry song
And he was looking at me asking what was wrong
I made a list of the things I could say
But he gave me a wink and it all went away, I told him

Hey, I love you, you're perfect, don't ever change

Here she is, performing the song last year with Wreckless Eric.

For Goodness Sake, Don't Tell Obama

Conservative purist Bruce Bartlett thinks the "tea party" set should count their blessings:

The irony of these protests is that federal revenues as a share of the gross domestic product will be lower this year than any year since 1950. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government will take only 15.5% of GDP in taxes this year, compared to 17.7% last year, 18.8% in 2007 and 20.9% in 2000.

The truth is that the U.S. is a relatively low-tax country no matter how you slice the data. The following tables illustrate this fact by comparing the U.S. to other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based research organization.

Up Against The Wall, Right-Wing Extremists

Covering a "tea party" protest in Santa Ana, California, even the good folks at OC Weekly admit that the Obama administration shouldn't have implied that those who want lower federal income taxes, and say so in public, are political lunatics:
Janet Napolitano's Homeland Security department did, indeed, make the politically insane move yesterday of issuing a report about rising "right-wing extremism," despite the lack of any specific threats. So, anyone who already thought of Barack Obama as a totalitarian had a perfect meme to use at the rally: tea parties = outlawed. Excellent grounds for a revolution.
And yet the Obama team is hardly shy about scapegoating conservatives, sometimes by name. It's hard to remember an administration that was as publicly hostile to the ideological true believers on the other side. Even President Nixon tried not to engage the left rhetorically, though some on his team dogged them ferociously in private. Who can blame the objects of such persistent scorn, whether overt or covert, from thinking the worst about the government's ultimate aims? After all, the left always does. As I recall, back in the day the term of art for allegedly oppressive rhetoric or tactics was "fascist."

End Of Her Era

Is Palin failin'?

"You're Here With Your TWO-Year-Old"

This CNN segment about an anti-tax "tea party" demonstration in Chicago is getting a lot of attention. It would have been better if the reporter had just covered the story instead of dedicating herself to the enlightenment of those present. Of course over at Fox News, Sean Hannity isn't exactly a good listener, either, so who can blame CNN for lapsing into overt advocacy?

Less Taxing Environmental Policies

Mark Lange makes the free market case for cap and trade as a means of reducing overall carbon emissions:

Cap and trade beats the taxing tradition of Washington's "make it so" command-and-control. It strips power from bureaucrats, because all of us tend to be smarter than any of us. It sets the right aggregate goals and incentives, makes a market in outcomes, regulates carefully, monitors diligently, and gets out of the way. And it's simpler than a carbon tax because it enlists private sector creativity in finding efficiencies rather than funding lawyers to make flamboyant end runs around the tax code.

Kathy's Song: "Tuff Enuff" (1986)

The Fabulous Thunderbirds, with Stevie Ray Vaughan

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Who Destroyed Newspapers? Who Else?!

That's right: 37.

The Silent Majority Always Endures

From "The League of Ordinary Gentlemen":
After decades of gripping tightly to a self-conception founded on Richard Nixon’s idea of the “Silent Majority“–and to be fair, that self-concept was not without objective justification–the grass roots conservatives, after a period of cognitive dissonance in which they tried to convince themselves we were still a “center right nation,” is recognizing that the Silent Majority has become the Silent Minority.
Ah, but for President Nixon the silent majority was never a grassroots conservative coalition but a center-dwelling one, people appalled by the far left's Vietnam-era shenanigans but also unmoved by purist Goldwater-Reagan conservatism. RN envisioned the U.S. not as a center-right but a moderate nation. The silent majority is always there for the picking, as President Obama may have discovered.

Saints Or Statesmen

Politics and religion are irreconcilable -- and that's okay, Damon Linker argues, because they have fundamentally different goals:
Our saints will not be statesmen and our statesmen will not be saints. Whether the religious right has been definitively defeated or lives on to fight another day, it can never succeed in its goals -- because those goals deny this ineradicable truth about the permanent tensions between incompatible goods.

The Banks And The Reign Of The Cool

John Judis uses Karl Marx's rhetoric to explain why President Obama hasn't nationalized the banks. Judis says the banks may or may not be as strong as the administration says (and yesterday's earnings reports seemed to affirm). Their successfully persuading the government to stop using "mark to market" rules makes it hard to know for sure, Judis says, and proves that they're winning a shadowy class struggle, which may not be best for the country.

I disagree. Obviously private control of the major banks is in the long-term interests of the economy. Hard to say whether Judis actually agrees with that. As for Obama, he's once again demonstrating an ability to watch, discern, wait, and avoid overreaching.

Monday, April 13, 2009

GOP's Stock Falling

Thomas B. Edsall:

A growing number of political scientists, analysts and strategists are making the case for a realignment of political power in the U.S. to a new Democratic majority based on two trends: 1) the increasing numbers of black and Hispanic voters, and 2) a decisive shift away from the Republican Party by the suburban and well-educated constituencies that once formed the backbone of the GOP.

The Preacher Clarifies Himself

Explaining why illness and exhaustion prevented Pastor Rick Warren from taping an interview to be broadcast Easter Sunday on ABC's "This Week," a Saddleback spokesman clarifies Warren's recent comments about gay marriage and Prop. 8:
Throughout his pastoral ministry spanning nearly 30 years, Pastor Warren has remained committed to the biblical definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, for life — a position held by most fellow Evangelical pastors. He has further stressed that for 5,000 years, EVERY culture and EVERY religion has maintained this worldview.

When Pastor Warren told Larry King that he never campaigned for California's Proposition 8, he was referring to not participating in the official two-year organized advocacy effort specific to the ballot initiative in that state, based on his focus and leadership on other compassion issues. Because he's a pastor, not an activist, in response to inquiries from church members, he issued an email and video message to his congregation days before the election confirming where he and Saddleback Church stood on this issue.

During the King interview, Pastor Warren also referenced a letter of apology that he sent to gay leaders whom he knew personally. However, that mea culpa was not with respect to his statements or position on Proposition 8 nor the biblical worldview on marriage. Rather, he apologized for his comments in an earlier Beliefnet interview expressing his concern about expanding or redefining the definition of marriage beyond a husband-wife relationship, during which he unintentionally and regrettably gave the impression that consensual adult same sex relationships were equivalent to incest or pedophilia.”

Weird If Hanks Had Played Nixon And Lovell

From a great site, The Public Domain, which offers free images, this photograph of President Nixon with the Apollo 13 astronauts in April 1970.

Obama Had To Shoot Them, Hannity Says

Untethered from the long suffering Alan Colmes, his erstwhile liberal conversation partner, Sean Hannity is on the verge of becoming a parody of himself. If President Obama cured cancer and won the Masters, Hannity would criticize him for neglecting Alzheimer's Disease and excelling at a sport invented in a foreign country. The American pastime not good enough for you, Mr. President?

Obama deserved praise for skillfully navigating the relatively minor but potentially tragic hostage crisis off the Somali coast. If the situation had gone south, Hannity would've been all over him like a cheap suit. Instead, grasping for any means of depriving Obama of credit for a win, Hannity misconstrued this reporting by "Politico":
Obama's involvement in the decision to authorize lethal force was legally required, officials said, because it was a hostage situation, not combat, and unrelated to the already authorized U.S. effort against Al Qaeda and other terror groups, officials said.
On his new all-Sean-all-the-time show tonight, Hannity was so desperate to bring Obama down a peg that he implied to listeners that the President was legally required to authorize the Navy snipers to act. Instead, the "Politico" passage means that Obama's personal involvement was necessary, whereas it wouldn't have been in a military operation. In other words, "Politico"'s reporting makes Obama look stronger for ordering the use of lethal force.

It was disappointing that Hannity actually seemed to want to mislead his viewers. His guest, media critic Bernard Goldberg, a persistent Obama critic, said as much, to Hannity's frustration. Goldberg said that he didn't want to behave the way some of President Bush's liberal critics did when they refused to give him credit for doing anything right. Sorry, Bernie, but Hannity intends to behave exactly that way.

Easter Monday Sunset

From Village Center Drive, Yorba Linda

Our Citizenship In Heaven Has Begun

From the Easter sermon of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury:
Now we should not doubt for a moment that Paul means what he says and that he takes for granted that the resurrection of Jesus is not a piece of fantasy or wishful thinking but the actual emptying of a grave. However, the point of Paul's entire teaching on the resurrection is to take us much further than that. This event, the emptying of the grave, has done something and has brought the Christians of Colossae - like all Christians - into a new universe. They are living in a new climate, with new 'thoughts' - a climate in which the various ways in which we've put up barriers between ourselves and God have been shattered and our old selves are dead. We may still go on trying to put those barriers back up again, but something has happened that opens up a new kind of future. Our selfish and destructive acts and reactions can be dealt with, overwhelmed again and again by the love shown in the cross of Jesus. Because of Jesus' death and rising from the dead, our resurrection has started, and our citizenship in heaven has begun.

A Prayer On Both Your Houses

E. J. Dionne, Jr. (that's Isaiah at right, not E.J.) argues that the increase in the percentage of Americans who say they aren't religious is related to the pervasive association of Christianity with the evangelical, politically activist, generally Republican faction of the faith:

Religion is always corrupted when it gets too close to political power. It's possible to win a precinct caucus and lose your soul, to mistake political victory for salvation itself.

While he may be right, he overlooks what happened a generation or two ago to the mainline Protestant denominations, which began to lose adherents as they become more closely associated with so-called liberal causes such as opposition to the Vietnam war and equity for women and gay and lesbian people. Would Dionne say that religion can be corrupted if it advocates too aggressively for politicians who support green energy and world peace instead of (as in the case of the evangelical cohort) oppose abortion?

As an alternative to spending its time and energy worrying about the swinging ecclesiastical pendulum, I would like to see the church simultaneously become more knowledgeable about politics and policy and yet less emotionally engaged in outcomes, which actually aren't our job. Studying Matthew's account of the Resurrection this Easter, I was struck by what happened to the guards (possibly Roman, but more likely working for the temple authorities) when the angel rolled away the stone in front of Jesus's tomb:
For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
Likewise, in Isaiah's Fourth Servant Song, which Christians take to be an anticipation of Christ, the prophet says:
Kings shall shut their mouths because of him.
That would be something to see, huh? Secular authority staring divinity in its face and being struck dumb with terror. Obviously the church has spent much of its life promoting fear and guilt, often in a self-serving and emotionally destructive way. And yet there is still something to be said for the fear of God (as opposed to fear of the Pope or parish priest). After all, continues Isaiah, God's ways are not our ways nor God's thoughts our thoughts. It seems to me that politics at its best is inherently cultural, the gospel inherently countercultural. So perhaps the church should be less focused on trying to refashion the state in its image than on modeling a radically different way of living, interacting, and building and sustaining community even in the throes of conflict.

Some in the church love justice, righteousness, and mercy so much that they find it unbearable when governments and political leaders don't do all they can do promote these virtues. The difficulty is that prophecy can breed pride, even zealotry. So today, prophetic Christendom is as fractured as politics, with one faction promoting justice for those who have been born and the other for those who have merely been conceived. Don't we see that in our divisions, we are aping the very secular leaders we so often scorn?

Latest In "Nixon In China" Comparisons

Might Israel's new prime minister abandon his opposition to a Palestinian state? Menachem Rosensaft:

Clichés by definition are rooted in reality. Richard Nixon going to China; Menachem Begin giving Sinai back to Egypt -- milestones are sometimes reached by the most unlikely protagonists. Perhaps [Benjamin] Netanyahu -- flanked on his right by hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and on his left by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, head of the once dominant Labor Party -- will emulate Begin (and, for that matter, Yitzhak Rabin).

Turning Green Green

The "Economist" on how societies could better protect their scenic views and pounding surf by getting them onto the balance sheet:
[Dr Glenn-Marie Lange of the World Bank] wants the value of the environment to be integrated into national and local accounting. She argues that governments should identify the contributions that marine ecosystems make to their countries’ GNPs and foreign-exchange earnings. She also wants them to examine whether or not they are running down their countries’ “natural capital”.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Songs: "Don't You (Forget About Me)" (1985)

Simple Minds. Song by Keith Forsey.

Pass The Peace To Them And Risk Death

The Obamas worshiped at St. John's Episcopal Church today, too.

Reign Of The Cool Continues

Jennifer Loven of the AP, describing President Obama's intimate but quiet involvement in the Somali pirate crisis:

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said Obama's silence should not be interpreted to mean that he wasn't deeply involved. The president's public posture was calculated to not raise the temperature on the situation or give the hostage-takers anything to exploit.

He Is Risen

Icon by Todor Mitrovic