Saturday, April 25, 2009

Epicenter Geraniums

Saturday afternoon on Fairmont Blvd. in Yorba Linda, a few hundred yards from the epicenter of Friday's 4.0

Arrows Of Neon And Flashing Marquees

When I sent a Grateful Dead video to my Nixonian congressional Deadhead friend Paul and noted that vocalist and guitarist Bob Weir had flubbed the first line, he took a break from solving all the problems of the world at the office on Saturday and wrote:

I really cracked up when I saw this clip. You will appreciate this now: Bob Weir flubbed the lyrics to "Truckin'" -- without a doubt, the Dead's best-known song -- more times than any other song. It was a well-known source of humor for the Deadheads. (I was always amazed that he could remember every single lyric to a long piece like Dylan's "Desolation Row," while regularly flubbing "Truckin'.")

Driving While Stoned Songs: "Willin'" (1970)

Little Feat, performing in 1977

Listening to Lowell George's classic tune on a Saturday morning, I wonder: Where are the Zeitgeist and the correct choice (not necessarily the same thing) on the legalization of marijuana? Cultural elites seem to be saying yes, and yet some well-meaning institution or agency paid good money for the stay-off-dope ad I saw before "Stay of Play" at the Edwards 14 last night. The fact that our tax-addicted state and federal governments need the money from legal drug sales isn't a good enough reason.

Dick Cheney: Elusive Scapegoat

At The New Nixon, reflections on Cheney, Nixon, and scapegoats. From my reply to historian and former archivist Maarja Krusten:
On leaving office, GWB obviously decided to play it old school, letting his successor have his 100 days and assuming, no doubt, that Obama would give him the same cover that RN gave LBJ by not overtly scapegoating him. The preponderance of Obama's public comments makes clear that this is where his heart is. But with the left (significantly abetted by the world's most influential blogger, Andrew Sullivan) defying him and demanding torture prosecutions, I think Cheney heard the rumble of footsteps heading for the Bastille and decided that he was not about to sit meekly and wait for the knock on the palace door.

Have his sometimes aggressive-sounding interviews encouraged his critics? Maybe just a little. And yet by the same token, by essentially saying, "You want a piece of me?", he's rallied both the right and the pragmatic middle (including people such as I, not that anyone's listening) and thus increased the political danger to Obama if he permits a witch hunt. Right now I hear official Washington -- government and media elites alike -- concurring 1) we need to get to the bottom of torture but 2) without legally scapegoating individuals in the prior administration, which would tear the country apart....

Richard Nixon ended up being a perfect scapegoat for Vietnam. In a way, his resignation helped us avoid ever having to come to terms with the war. My guess is that Cheney has decided he doesn't want to go gently into the San Clemente sunset.

Yesterday's 4.0 Was Even Closer

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Obama Is The New Nixon

Michael Freedman at "Newsweek":
Obama is no Carter. Carter made human rights the cornerstone of his foreign policy, while the Obama team has put that issue on the back burner. In fact, Obama sounds more like another 1970s president: Richard Nixon. Both men inherited the White House from swaggering Texans, whose overriding sense of mission fueled disastrous wars that tarnished America's image. Obama is a staunch realist, like Nixon, eschewing fuzzy democracy-building and focusing on advancing national interests.

Monopoly On Reporting

Bill O'Reilly says the New York Times is failing financially because it's left wing. If so, you'd think it would've happened 40 years ago. Since there are scores of papers doing as bad or worse, radically changing media markets and not ideology are obviously 90% of the problem.

In his column, O'Reilly does acknowledge that the Times has journalistic talent. I'd go him one better. It and our best papers, their political leanings aside, have a journalistic monopoly. If they go, and no other media step in to do quality reporting, then Bill O'Reilly, Katie Couric, and all the bloggers sitting in Starbucks and living rooms spewing their opinions will be as blind as bats.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ink-Stained Saviors

I can't write about "State of Play," the last of the great newspapers movies, without giving away the last scene: Reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) and blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) striding together through the darkened (hadn't they paid the light bill?) newsroom of the Washington Globe after filing their big story. From behind, they might as well be Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday." The image evokes the hope that solid reporting will persist even though printed newspapers are dematerializing. Fat chance.

When we first meet Cal and Della, he's eating Cheetos and working on a 16-year-old computer in a cubicle piled high with junk, while she's sipping Perrier and perching delicately in front of her flat-screen monitor -- although failing, along with her colleagues on the "on-line side" of the operation, to repay the Globe's investment in their superior equipment by providing sufficient financial energy to save the dying newspaper from being sold to "Mediacorp." Their hard-nosed editor, played by Helen Mirren, ink still pumping in her veins although somewhat anemically, lets them collaborate on a story about a greedy, menacing company called "Pointcorp," aka Blackwater. Cal teaches Della how to pound the pavement, break the law in pursuit of the truth, and drink Jack Daniels, while she...Actually, she doesn't teach him anything. In this movie, if nowhere else, print trumps pixels. "This is such a big story," she says to him with a smile, explaining why she won't be blogging about it, "that people probably need to get ink on their hands when they read it." It's like when Christina Applegate hands the microphone back to Will Farrell at the end of "Anchorman," except it's serious.

Based on a BBC miniseries, "State of Play" is seriously in love with the newspaper business. It brims with quotations from "All the President's Men" -- a suspenseful scene in a parking garage, three (count 'em) references to the Watergate office building and even a visit to one of its suites, and the Globe newsroom itself, though it's drab and dark compared to Alan J. Pakula's recreation of the 1972-era Post. The end credits roll over images of the Globe's rolling presses as we listen to Creedence's "Long As I Can See The Light." The idea is that we'll be lost in the dark without old-school reporters like Cal who have the training and tenacity to follow stories about corporate and congressional crooks and their $50 billion private armies.

Throughout the movie, we see black helicopters crisscrossing the Washington sky. None of them lands or plays any other role in the story. You just assume it's Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld flying around, destroying democracy. The anti-Bush resonances end up being of secondary importance. In another movie making the same good points about the indispensability of well-reported journalism and the threat posed to it by radically changing media markets, the dangerous chopper passengers could just as well be a big-spending President and Speaker of the House -- not that anyone in Hollywood would probably want to make it.

"Secret" Plan

Confusion continues to reign at Fox News over President Nixon's 1972 visit to China. Earlier in the week, Bill O'Reilly said erroneously that RN hadn't met with Communist Party chief Mao Zedong. Now Ollie North writes:
Richard Nixon's "secret" trip to Beijing precipitated still ongoing changes in the People's Republic of China.
While much of the maneuvering leading up to President Nixon's July 1971 announcement of his China trip was secret, the February 1972 trip itself obviously wasn't. Hard to tell what Ollie meant by the quotation marks.

A Word From Deacon Philip

Besides being a top official in the Bush State Department, Philip Zelikow was executive director of the Sept. 11 commission. His even-handed New York Times op-ed anticipates what the executive summary of a bipartisan fact-finding torture commission report (as opposed to a partisan get-or-save-Dick-Cheney free for all) might sound like:

A professional evaluation of the C.I.A.’s claims [about the effectiveness of the harsh interrogation techniques] would have to examine these cases to sift and weigh the contributions. The Senate Intelligence Committee is embarking on an important effort to sort out the claims and counterclaims.

What the committee may well find, after all the sifting, is that the reports were a critical part of the intelligence flow, but rarely — if ever — affected a “ticking bomb” situation.
That "rarely -- if ever" brings the reader up short. Tell us, please, if there was such a situation. But whether the techniques were effective or not, Zelikow argues that the U.S. Army's anti-al-Qaeda program in Iraq, which complied with international standards, was highly effective as well. As for the CIA's program, allies and even the FBI kept at arms length because they couldn't or didn't want to be associated with practices that smacked of torture. From studying Sept. 11 closer than anyone, Zelikow knows all too well what happens when intelligence gatherers aren't working togeteher.

Obama Obscura

John Dickerson at "Slate" wonders why the President asked for a torture investigation earlier in the week when he now says he doesn't want one.

Creation Story Songs: "Truckin'" (1970)

Grateful Dead

I found this gem from their 1972 European tour (during which the meticulous and sublime "Europe '72" live album was recorded) after the discouraging experience of seeing the Dead, the band's post-Jerry Garcia iteration, tonight on Letterman.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Restorative Reading

When the Mount Calvary monastery and retreat house in November burned last November, resident brothers of the Order of Holy Cross couldn't save very much -- a few personal effects and artworks as well as some of the books from their library. They stashed the books under a tarp near the burn site, where they were threatened by torrential rains a few weeks later. The brothers finally decided to give the books to Dennis Gibbs, a Holy Cross associate, on the condition that he swap them for contributions to Prism, our Diocese's restorative justice ministry.

Just Like They Went Easy On Bush, I Guess

The vast right-wing media cover up the truth about torture.


Gracious of Apple to prove it's not perfect:
Apple has apologized for a "deeply offensive" iPhone application called Baby Shaker, which made a game of quieting crying babies by shaking them.

Burning In November, Shaking Tonight

Yorba Linda calls itself the "land of gracious living," at least between episodes.

Kathy Wants To Move

If you Google "earthquakes," the first entry takes you to a map showing the epicenter of the 8:37 p.m. (PDT) aftershock (or so we hope!) about a mile and a half north of our house. Remarkable how much time southern Californians spend grappling with natural disasters!

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Warren Piece In The Church

Pastor Rick Warren is expected to speak at a June 23 meeting of "the Anglican Church in North America."

Bush Should've Called Doug Piranha

In Churchill's England, they didn't torture Nazi spies, but they knew all the other tricks of the trade: Sarcasm, bathos, hyperbole, and dramatic irony.

Let's At Least Avoid The Political Torture

If there's one place where President Obama's political and diplomatic interests coincide, it's keeping the controversy over whether the Bush administration illegally sanctioned torture from descending into a partisan witch hunt. While cultural elites may think that an exhibitionist accountability exercise will ennoble the U.S. in the eyes of the world, it's more likely to provoke opportunism among our enemies and bemusement among our friends. At home, it will make it harder for Obama to command the center and rebuff the GOP in the 2010 midterm elections.

Though Nancy Pelosi and other liberal Democrats, seemingly intent on punishing Republicans, want a special panel on alleged torture, Obama and Senate Democratic leaders don't, and they held the line today -- an improvement on several days' mixed signals from Obama. A bright partisan spark was thrown by one of his lieutenants yesterday when House Republicans, angered because Obama released Bush-era memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques (which some call torture), pressed Secretary of State Clinton on charges by Dick Cheney that the Obama administration is covering up evidence that the interrogations worked. She pressed back:
It won't surprise you that I don't consider him a particularly reliable source of information.
Ouch! Yet the same day, "Politico" reported:
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair acknowledged in a memo to the intelligence community that Bush-era interrogation practices yielded had "high-value information,” then omitted that admission from a public version of his assessment.
So Clinton accused Cheney of being a liar even as it was made clear that her colleagues are spinning the torture story, just like he said. If there was ever a subject in need of a no-spin zone, it's this one. And yet the Clinton-Cheney contretemps is a reliable preview of what Pelosi's process would look like. I say full disclosure on the alleged torture as well as all terrorist plots discerned and thwarted since 2001. If it's still too dangerous to talk about the latter, then it's probably premature to investigate the former and impossible to do so fairly and dispassionately.

Kathy Felt It In Yorda Linda -- And Here's Why!

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A Mother's Face

A moving reflection by Ann Coulter, who lost her mother last week (and her father last year):
I'll never see my mother's beautiful face again, at least not for the next several decades here on Earth. I've been looking at her across the room in doctors' offices over the past few years, thinking to myself: There will come a point when you won't see that face again.

Her angelic face always looked like home to me. My whole life, as soon as I'd see my mother's face I'd know I was safe, whether I was a little girl lost in a department store or a big girl with a problem, who needed her mother.

The Bigspending 4

Paul Rosenberg on Presidents my old friend Ken Grubbs, who used to run the Orange County Register editorial page, called heterodox Republicans -- but surprise: One of Rosenberg's four is that serial tax-increaser himself, Ronald Reagan.

Tone Deaf

"The Economist" sums up this week's budget initiative:
Mr Obama held his first cabinet meeting and called for his departments to find $100m in savings to “set the tone”. The cuts represent 0.003% of the $3.5 trillion federal budget.

Precocious Pet

Pillow Talk About Lincoln

Scientists want samples from Lincoln's deathbed pillowcase to try to find out if he may have been near death from cancer by the time of his assassination -- hence, they speculate, his premonitions of death.

Mao Tie

Bill O'Reilly is being subjected to severe interrogation techniques (it's up to him to say if it's actually torture) for saying that Richard Nixon never met with Mao Zedong, which, of course, he did, in February 1972. Here's the lashing by the "Economist."

Many Bodies, One Body

Dennis Gibbs spends most of his working days in the Twin Towers county jail in downtown Los Angeles, where he serves as the senior Episcopal chaplain. Iowa-born and now preparing to be ordained as a vocational deacon (a sacramental servant of God's people), Gibbs' own encounters with homelessness, crime, and punishment as a younger man add up to the gift of acute empathy during his encounters with prisoners. "I'm often struck at how decisions made when kids are six, seven, or eight years old can actually play a role in how these guys end up," he said Thursday during a meeting at St. John's with a group of Episcopal clergy.

As Dennis talked, the life of our busy school swirled around us -- elementary students heading from chapel back to class, and younger students delighting at being momentarily incarcerated with rabbits, chickens, and other assorted livestock as part of an annual preschool program. That's our headmaster, Jim Lusby, communing with a lama.

Jim and his colleagues take justifiable pride for viewing every student, and every student's story, as precious and unique. A few steps away, Dennis Gibbs was saying, "For every inmate, there's a story." The same is true of their victims and families, constituencies also served by our Diocese's restorative justice ministry, called Prism. Every Sunday, partnering with the Roman Catholic archdiocese's own inmates' ministry, Prism conducts 16 services in LA county's prison system, using altars set up at the guards' stations in circular cell blocks called pods. The chaplains invite sheriff's deputies (many of them kept from church by their 16-hour shifts) to take communion alongside the prisoners, gently undermining the prevailing argot of prison life whereby guards call the prisoners bodies -- "as in 'Some bodies are coming through'," said another chaplain, Greta Ronningen, who accompanied Gibbs to St. John's. For those sacred moments around the altar, at least, many bodies are one body in Christ.

Neither Gibbs nor Ronningen has any illusions about the prisoners (some 25,000 are in LA county jails on any given day) or the odds against them. Those evincing swagger and pride, she suggested, probably aren't touched by Prism at all. "But so many are humbled," she said. "They say, 'Ma'am, I'm really going the wrong way. I'd like to find my way out of this to a life I can be proud of. These men are on their knees praying. It's like a honeycomb of starving men. We're carrying in as much spiritual food as we can carry." For some, the need to confess is almost overwhelming, she said. The Rt. Rev. Chester Talton, suffragan bishop of our Diocese and a strong supporter of Prism, will be in the Twin Towers taking confessions next month, and more priests are urgently needed for the ministry.

Prism also offers Bible study and meditation classes for prisoners and guards alike. On the outside, a "healing retreat day" for crime victims is coming up. Gibbs is making the rounds asking churches and individuals to contribute not only money for all this work but also altar linens and fixtures, prayer books, and Bibles. He wants the prison masses to be conducted with the same exacting attention to detail as when priests and altar guilds collaborate in our churches. "We want to show the prisoners as well as say to them, 'You are as important to God as anyone'."

The heart of prison ministry, Gibbs said, is one-on-one pastorship -- the simple, timeless, countercultural ministry of presence and listening. "Sometimes a guy will say, 'I've never had anybody sit down and just listen to me'," Gibbs says, adding that sometimes on a busy day of ministry he can't get to all of those among the 196 prisoners per pod who would like a visit. "Next time I'll apologize to a prisoner that I couldn't get to him before, and he'll say, 'That's okay. We saw you on the other side, visiting those guys. That was enough for us'."

Obama's Intentions Vs. Outcomes

John Judis:
My colleagues Frank Foer and Noam Scheiber have written a compelling account of the Obama administration's approach to economic policy. And although I don't pretend to know the president's mind, I might agree with their summary statement that "Obama has no intention of changing the nature of capitalism." Still, I want to make what may seem to be a paradoxical argument: that regardless of the president's intentions, he will change American capitalism in fundamental ways--in particular, he will alter the relationship between the government and the economy. My argument rests on what he has actually proposed to do and how his proposals, if enacted, would situate his administration in the history of American economic reform.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Spring Songs: "Song For A Winter's Night" (1967)

Gordon Lightfoot

Who You Calling Latent?

Writing in the April 21 "Christian Century" (in an article not available on line), seminary professor William Brosend says that if pastors want to be listened to, they need to take their listeners more seriously and also be more interesting. He also offers reflections on those who are barely interested or uninterested in matters of faith:
Do you have a hobby, maybe an unusual one? Some odd thing you collect or passion you pursue? That is Christianity in America to the uninterested -- some weird thing we do with our time that, as long as we keep it to ourselves, doesn't really concern them. Worship doesn't matter to them. They did not read Paul Tillich's The Dynamics of Faith in college and don't know they are supposed to have a latent religious impulse.
He writes that a friend once told him, "Never forget that half the congregation almost didn't show up."

Blocked Veins

Alvaro Vargas Llossa pans the book Hugo Chavez gave 44:
Everything that has happened in the Western Hemisphere since the book appeared in 1971 has belied [its] arguments and predictions.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Texas Songs: "Gallo Del Cielo" (1997)

Tom Russell

I'd been wondering lately about legendary Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot, who I knew had been seriously ill. Rooting around for information about the LA-born Russell, I found his road blog, which has a moving reflection about encountering Lightfoot at a tribute concert a few years ago:
Lightfoot had been in hospital for two months recovering from an aneurism. The prognosis aint good. Suddenly the crowd parts, like the Red Sea, and people are shrieking and applauding, and here’s Lightfoot himself, walking through the crowd with a guitar case. Damn, it’s Jesus coming to town on a mule, armed with an antique wooden machine gun. Then he’s on stage, singing an old song. People are weeping. Quite a moment. I had the chills. Lightfoot waves and retreats to a trailer dressing room and disappears. The door slams. The applause is deafening. The only problem is my guitar is in that dressing room, and I’m on stage in 10 minutes for the tribute. I politely knocked on the trailer door, and Lightfoot bid me come in. He was sitting in the corner, grizzled and shaky-legged, smoking a cigarette. He looks at me: « What song you gonna sing out there, kid? » I said, « Your song, ‘For Lovin’ Me’ » He motions toward his guitar with his cigarette. « Here, take my guitar and sing a little for me. I wanna see if you’ve got it right. » (I thought, holy shit. Im auditioning for Gordon Lightfoot. Heavy dues.) I picked up his revered old Martin axe ; it glowed in my hands. My fingers burned. I sang a verse or two of his wonderful song. « That was great,“ he said. „You sing it great, kid. Go out there and kill em“….I handed Lightfoot back his old Martin and glided out of the room. Later on he made a point of coming up to me and telling me how much he enjoyed my version, and my work with Ian Tyson on « Navajo Rug ». I thought back to that old stained set list on his 12 string at Newport in 65. And all the motel rooms and miles and the dignity of the man. A songwriter. It was like running into Homer, and he hands you his lute. A few troubadors still walk among us, with stained set lists taped to the top of their road battered axes. Old guitars soak up every room and song and situation they’ve been involved with…and oh, the stories they can tell. For a moment, in Lightfoot’s dressing room, I knew I was at the center of my universe. I knew why I was a songwriter. Amen.

Kathy/John and "Frost/Nixon"

When director Ron Howard visited the Nixon Library in September 2007 to film scenes for "Frost/Nixon," his PR company filmed interviews with President Nixon's last chief of staff, Kathy O'Connor, and me about the Library and its genesis as a privately run institution. (It's now part of the National Archives.) That's Kathy and I below with Frank Langella, who skillfully portrayed our former boss.

The "Frost/Nixon" DVD came out this week with a brief special feature on the Library that Kathy and I essentially narrate. Quite a thrill and an honor for a couple of old Nixon hands.

The Last Might've Been First

Reviewing a new book called The Narcissism Epidemic, Raina Kelley may have had her tongue in cheek when she devoted the entire first paragraph to herself. Here's how her article ends:
As an antidote to a skyrocketing self-worth, [Jean M. Twenge, one of the co-authors,] recommends humility, evaluating yourself more accurately, mindfulness and putting others first. Such values may seem quaint, maybe even self-defeating, to those of us who think we're special, but trust me: it gets easier with practice.

Burying The Lead On The Kindle's Value

At the end of a long reflection on how the Kindle may change the way we buy books, read, write, think, grow vegetables, and say the mass (I can sympathize: He's still in the throes of his Kindle krush), Steven Johnson gets to the all-important save-journalism part at the very end of his Wall Street Journal article:
If the Kindle payment architecture takes off, it may ultimately lead the way toward the standardized micropayment system whose nonexistence has caused so much turmoil in the news business -- a system many people wish had been built into the Web's original architecture, along with those standardized page locations.

We all know the story of how the information-wants-to-be-free ethos of the Web threatened the newspapers with extinction. Wouldn't it be ironic if books turned out to be their savior?

All The Archdioceses' Men

From two former White House aides, including Nixonian Chester E. Finn, Jr., a cri de coeur for Catholic schools, which are closing their doors at an epidemic rate all over the country:

The Obama administration could help turn this fatal tide. Stimulus funds could be used to shore up schools on the brink, provide assistance to their teachers and administrators, or expand and replicate promising local strategies. The president could support education tax credits or scholarships, which would help needy students and stabilize school enrollments. By simply underscoring his support and concern for these schools, he would indicate the bipartisan nature of this issue, thereby providing cover to others eager to act but wary of the political implications.

The authors say that local solutions aren't the answer -- though it's not as though the Nixon faithful haven't been laboring in those vineyards as well, especially Peter Flanigan, founder of New York City's Student-Sponsor Partnership program, which raises private funds to help inner-city kids pay their tuition.

Take "Das Kapital" And Shove It, Nikita

Jeffrey Lord on the contrast between Obama vs. Chavez in Trinidad and Nixon vs. Khrushchev in Moscow 50 years ago.

Sorry, We're Reading "The Shack" This Month

This view from Venezuela of Hugo Chavez's noxious regime makes one wish that President Obama's handlers had handled the choreography better at the Latin American summit in Trinidad. But once Chavez lunged at him with his submission for the next White House reading circle, it's hard to imagine what else Obama could've done. If you don't accept an outstretched hand, then the story becomes your snub.

As it was, Obama, who kept his body partially turned away, obviously knew he was being Hugoed. I'm hoping that the incident will persuade the White House to wrap up its "Please like America again" international advertising campaign. Otherwise Obama will begin to look like a supplicant, and that means he'll look weak, and that won't be good for anyone, especially us.

Preaching Songs: "Are You Ready For The Country" (1972)

I was talkin' to the preacher,
said God was on my side
Then I ran into the hangman,
he said it's time to die
You gotta tell your story boy,
you know the reason why.

Are you ready for the country
because it's time to go?
Neil Young performing in St. John's, Newfoundland on April 7. The video is featured this week by the good people at No Depression.

Rosy Fingers

Yorba Linda sky, 6 a.m. Tuesday

Monday, April 20, 2009

Props From A Pro

A belated thanks to historian and former archivist Maarja Krusten for commending, on a New York Times blog, my Feb. 5 post about Stanley Kutler, the Ellberg break-in, and the Nixon White House tapes.

Rancho Santa Margarita Sky

7 p.m. Monday

Calling Mr. Solzhenitsyn

I didn't realize that David Axelrod said on "Face the Nation" that anti-tax "tea party" protesters were engaged in political speech he considers "unhealthy." What's sickening is those in power identifying dissent as pathology.

Your Move, Mr. President

Former Vice President Dick Cheney last month formally asked the Central Intelligence Agency to de-classify top secret documents he believes show harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding helped prevent terrorist attacks against U.S. targets, according to source familiar with the effort.

Appalling Enemies List

Michael Barone reviews Rick Perlstein's Nixonland:
[M]y reading of this book left me more appalled by Nixon's enemies than by Nixon.

Tell Laura They Love Her (After All)

Surveying the right's underwhelming reaction to the legalization of gay marriage in Iowa and Vermont, Frank Rich at the New York Times detects a sea change:

On the right, the restrained response was striking. Fox barely mentioned the subject; its rising-star demagogue, Glenn Beck, while still dismissing same-sex marriage, went so far as to “celebrate what happened in Vermont” because “instead of the courts making a decision, the people did.” Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the self-help media star once notorious for portraying homosexuality as “a biological error” and a gateway to pedophilia, told CNN’s Larry King that she now views committed gay relationships as “a beautiful thing and a healthy thing.” In The New York Post, the invariably witty and invariably conservative writer Kyle Smith demolished a Maggie Gallagher screed published in National Review and wondered whether her errant arguments against gay equality were “something else in disguise.”

More startling still was the abrupt about-face of the Rev. Rick Warren, the hugely popular megachurch leader whose endorsement last year of Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban, had roiled his appearance at the Obama inaugural. Warren also dropped in on Larry King to declare that he had “never” been and “never will be” an “anti-gay-marriage activist.” This was an unmistakable slap at the National Organization for Marriage, which lavished far more money on Proposition 8 than even James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.

No Harm In A Handshake

It's hard to agree with Newt Gingrich's contention that President Obama erred in shaking hands with Hugo Chavez.

Obama To Cut $100 Million From U.S. Budget

The Killing Field Was Ground Zero

Andrew Sullivan:
On Fox News, waterboarding someone 183 times in a month is not even close to torture, and the only bad thing in constructing and using the torture techniques devised and designed by the Gestapo, the Khmer Rouge, the Communist Chinese and Stalin was that the evidence was not kept secret. It is asserted as fact that this waterboarding saved lives, even though we have no solid evidence for that, apart from the word of those who ordered the torture.
The American people are entitled to know if the U.S. government went too far in permitting torture. But comparisons to the 20th century's most odious regimes are offensive. Does Sullivan equate their genocidal megalomania with the policies of the Bush administration, whose sin appears to have been that it became obsessed about protecting the U.S. from further attacks?

Obviously war crimes, if they occurred, could not be excused purely on the basis of good intentions. But as Sullivan notes, only those who permitted these interrogation techniques really know if they produced any useful information. Does he think they're lying? Or is it possible that they know things we don't about the threats the U.S. faced?

So I say again: We need to know what was done to terrorism suspects in our name. As part of the same inquiry, we need to know about the terrorist attacks that have been thwarted since 2001. That's the only way to find out if we learned anything valuable from the suspects. More important, if we really need further evidence that George W. Bush isn't Pol Pot, that's how we'll come to understand better the zealous mindset of leaders who promised to protect their homeland and appear to have done so.

Old Non-News

The London Telegraph claims to have unearthed the draft of the speech President Nixon was to have given in the event Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had been stranded on the moon in July 1969. But the document has been public for years and on display at the Nixon Library.

Old New Democrat

Franklin Foer and Noam Scheiber say that while President Obama isn't out to alter the fundamental structures of American capitalism, he's not a Bill Clinton-style moderate, either:
Obama has set out to synthesize the New Democratic faith in the utility of markets with the Old Democratic emphasis on reducing inequality. In Obama's state, government never supplants the market or stifles its inner workings--the old forms of statism that didn't wash economically, and certainly not politically. But government does aggressively prod markets--by planting incentives, by stirring new competition--to achieve the results he prefers.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Don't Tread On The Libertarians

Libertarian blogger KipEsquire resents those who use libertarian arguments to justify refusing to provide services to gays and lesbians (such as a photographer who wouldn't work at a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony and a psychologist who wouldn't counsel a lesbian about her relationship). He wonders what they would expect if they were dealing with blacks (a Feb. 4 reflection of mine on this argument is here) or older people:
The “victimized” Christian bigots are of course not making a thorough, comprehensive (i.e., truly libertarian) demand for full entrepreneurial freedom of contract — and its reciprocal “right to refuse service to anyone.” All they want to do is discriminate against gays. Not “anyone and everyone.” Just gays.

Which is precisely why they should not be allowed to do so. As I have blogged previously: Whether or not you approve of bans on private discrimination is not the point — we are not debating the creation of Libertopia.

The point is instead whether, given that we already have such laws, are we going to craft and apply those laws consistently, logically and equitably — or are we going to short-circuit the entire raison d’être of such laws by allowing the majoritarian mob to fashion carve-outs for the very same insular minorities who are most in need of such laws?

If the religious bigots really want to invoke libertarian arguments to legitimize their bigotry, then they better be prepared to be judged by real libertarians about the entire spectrum of libertarian issues — including separation of church and state.

China Circulation Rising

In the U.S., newspapers are folding, whereas China just started one.

Earth Songs: "Fall On Me" (1986)


"The Trouble With The Eco-Crusader"

According to Nixon speechwriter John Andrews, 37 was briefly tempted to throw cold water on the environmental movement he propelled forward by creating the Environmental Protection Agency and launching the annual Earth Day:
"The trouble with the eco-crusader is that his false guilt and his false fears feed endlessly upon each other."

With Earth Day coming up on Wednesday, I remembered this line from an old presidential speech.

"From the emotional remorse that we have sinned terribly against nature," it continues, "there is but a short step to the emotional dread that nature will visit terrible retribution upon us. The eco-crusader becomes, as a result, deaf to reason and science, blind to perspective and priorities, incapable of effective action."

That's telling 'em, Mr. President. Or it would have been, if Richard Nixon hadn't let staffers talk him out of giving the speech in 1971.

Fired up by attacks on the "disaster lobby" by Look magazine publisher Thomas Shepard, and uneasy about his own role in establishing the Environmental Protection Agency after the first Earth Day in 1970, Nixon directed me and other speechwriters to produce a warning against ecological extremism.

Our draft died on his desk amid concerns about political backlash. I kept the file as a historical curiosity — the presidential bombshell that wasn't. Today, four decades into the age of true-believing green religion, Nixon's undelivered speech reads prophetically.

Brill Scheme

Jack Shafer at "Slate" is pessimistic about a plan to charge readers for journalism.

Devesting Ourselves Of The Power Vested In Us

Visiting St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Studio City, California, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson says the church should call a truce over gay marriage by confining itself to blessing prior civil marriages:

Robinson said he favored the system used in France and other parts of Europe in which civil marriage – performed by government officials – is completely separate from religious vows. In the U.S., the civil and religious ceremonies are often combined with the cleric signing the government marriage license.

"In this country, it has become very confusing about where the civil action begins and ends and where the religious action begins and ends, because we have asked clergy to be agents of the state," said Robinson, the bishop of New Hampshire.

Works on paper. But American couples are pretty attached to having their preachers tie the knot. I doubt they'll want to give it up to solve the church's nettlesome theological debate.

To Golda

With Chagall's painting of Moses reading the Ten Commandments as backdrop, President Nixon toasts Israel's Prime Minister, Golda Meir, at a dinner in his honor in the Knesset in 1974. The text of his remarks, and her response, is here.

Coffee, Tea, Or A Third-Party Challenge?

Another hint that the anti-tax "tea parties" presage a third-party candidacy in 2012 that would increase the chances of President Obama's reelection. All it needs is a candidate. Thomas McClanahan in the Kansas City Star:

What we’re seeing is a center-right populist outpouring prompted by the long-term implications of President Barack Obama’s gargantuan budget, his spending plans, the massive tide of red ink those plans will generate — and, most important, what all that implies about the future balance between the government and the private sector.

I attended the tea party Wednesday at Kansas City’s Liberty Memorial, and I couldn’t find anyone who thought the event was about partisan politics. “Both parties are corrupt,” said Brian Stednick of North Kansas City....

The tea party protests recall the Ross Perot phenomenon of the early 1990s. Then as now, the basic concerns were massive federal spending and the size of government. Then as now, the movement blossomed outside the confines of traditional Democratic-Republican politics.

Hat tip to Instapundit

I Say, Good Chap, Please Get Out Of My Lap

Leave it to the British to solve this ancient problem. From the London "Spectator"'s Dear Mary column:

Q. I wonder if you could turn your mind to a distressing problem affecting those of us confined to the pleb class of aircraft and not in a financial position to nibble canapés up front with the co-pilot. What does one do when the...person in front unilaterally decides to press the button entitling him or her to some hours of snore-laden sleep and you to a lapful of coffee? I’ve just come back from a (delightful) trip to New Zealand with stopovers in Hong Kong, and it happened four times. I’m too polite to pretend that my coffee has shot into the air and landed on the back of their neck.

J.B., London N1

A. Respond by leaning forward immediately, and before the offender has nodded off, to ask, concernedly, is he or she is all right? Explain that their chair came back with such force you suspect it may be broken and may collapse fully while they are asleep. Would they like you to call the stewardess? Wear an anxious facial expression. In this way you will get the message across.

The Only Fair Bushwacking

Andrew Sullivan and Marc Ambinder invite us to read carefully what Obama adviser David Axelrod says about the possibility of prosecuting those who may have broken the law in authorizing interrogation techniques that could be construed as torture. I think they're reading too much into it. Axelrod's comment sounds like a boilerplate anchor to windward. But if they're right, and he is hinting at war crimes trials for Bush administration officials, will we also have the opportunity to learn the details of all the terrorist plots foiled on their watch?

President Barack Obama does not intend to prosecute Bush administration officials who devised the policies that led to the harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said Sunday.

Hosts Say The Darnedest Things

Left-wing talk radio is just as nutty as right-wing talk radio.

National City Days

National City is a gutsy Navy and working-class town of about 50,000. San Diego is its northern neighbor. In 1941, a sharecropper's son named Kile Morgan arrived, made his fortune, and decided, as impossibly quaint as it may sound, that he owed his neighbors something in return. After all, growing up in Tennessee and Missouri during the Depression, he'd often gone to bed hungry, whereas he'd never missed a meal in National City. That was good enough for Kile.

He served as mayor for two decades beginning in 1966, pioneering the concept of the auto park (now-ubiquitous clusters of dealerships, designed to reap sales tax revenue for municipalities), creating a Heritage Square of historic residences, paving roads, rebuilding sewers, persuading the May Co. to build a regional shopping center, and raising the funds to build high-rise affordable housing for older people. He became famous for finishing what he started, occasionally cutting corners to get the job done, keeping secrets, turning off his hearing aid when he found you tiresome, and running through city managers as if they were Diet Cokes. When he took office, the city couldn't cover its payroll. By the time he left, it had $8 million in reserves.

I got to know the mayor when I covered National City for a local paper, the Star-News, in 1978-79. He died on Maundy Thursday at 89 after a long, faithful life of joyous servanthood and practicing the art of the possible. He'd asked that I be one of his eulogists.

After the service, I got caught up with Charlotte Webster and her son Tom, who could be the twin of his substantial late father George. As manager of the Chamber of Commerce, George was Kile's cheerful consigliere, feeding me stories and taking me to McDini's for corned beef and shrimp cocktail. As much as I enjoyed my time in National City, I learned that year that I wasn't cut out to be a journalist. Just as the Cold War was, according to Bob Dole, the age of Nixon, in National City I was experiencing the age of Morgan. He was so good at what he did, and so obviously proceeding from good motives, that it seemed churlish seriously to question any of it in print. At least in part as the result of the glaring lack of objectivity in my reporting. I believe I was Kile's favorite reporter. At least, I was the only one he asked to speak at his funeral.

Friday's service was at the One in Christ Church, an American Baptist parish where the mayor had been a church council member and usher for many years. Like many urban congregations, One in Christ is struggling against the tide of demographics. On Sundays, its soft-spoken, thoughtful pastor, James Kilinsky, welcomes a congregation of whites, Latinos, and Laotian-Americans. Everyone worships together, so Pastor Jim produces a complicated 16-page trilingual bulletin, and without a church secretary. Money's tight, but he's still preaching the good news of fellowship, community, and the hope of the Resurrection.

Around the corner is the oldest church in town, St. Matthew's Episcopal (pictured here). A National Historic Site, it was completed in 1887, built from California redwood on a skeleton of timbers brought around the horn, presumably from the east coast or Canada. At 8:30 a.m., its front door was wide open, the downscale neighborhood notwithstanding. As I knelt to pray in the silent, fragrant nave, I wished that when I'd worked in town all those years ago, I'd thought to visit the church of my forebears, just once. All that time, it had been there, and it would've done me some good.

Good Sense Will Hunting

I read George Will's column about Russia three times and couldn't figure out what it means. Then I realized that he doesn't know what it means, either. He accuses President Obama of being nostalgic for the Nixonian era of U.S.-Soviet detente by making the blunder of proposing arms control negotiations with Moscow. Without meaning to do so, he then shows why Obama is right.

Reprising arguments he made two generations ago from the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party, Will says that arms control wasn't the ticket for combating rampant Soviet militarism. Ronald Reagan's tough policies were. Will's setup prepares the reader for the argument that Obama is overlooking the threat that Putin's Russia still poses to U.S. interests. Instead, marshaling his usual flurry of statistics, Will argues that Russia, drowning in vodka and stunted by declining fertility rates, is dying as a great power. He enumerates no threats posed by Russia to U.S. interests except one: The nukes that Obama's policy is aimed at reducing:
Today, in a world bristling with new threats, the president suggests addressing an old one -- Russia's nuclear arsenal. It remains potentially dangerous, particularly if a portion of it falls into nonstate hands.
But if it's dangerous to have several thousand thermonuclear devices aimed at us by a crumbling nation (which I would think Will would accept as an axiom), and if Obama can achieve reductions in their number at no risk whatsoever to our interests, why is it a bad idea to have arms control negotiations?

It's not Obama who's nostalgic for the Nixon era (which he barely remembers, of course). It's Will, who embarks on the same anti-arms control column he would've written back then, even though he ends up proving (in spite of himself) that U.S.-Russian arms control today makes abundant good sense. If things are really so bad for Russia, perhaps we'd even be doing it, and the stability of the Asia-Pacific region, a favor by helping relieve it of the cost of maintaining its arsenal.

Extreme Anger

A blogger and former political columnist for the Nashville Tennessean, and a cancer survivor, helps us understand that political extremism and anger (whether on the right or left) are sometimes indistinguishable.