Friday, October 1, 2010

She's Waiting

The New York Times tonight, reporting that Sen. Mitchell, President Obama's envoy, has been unable to persuade the Israelis to extend the ban on West Bank settlement construction:

The built-up areas make up only 2 percent to 3 percent of the West Bank, and Mr. Netanyahu is arguing that the 2,000 or so housing units that might be built in the coming year while a final agreement was being negotiated would matter little in the end. If the talks stop, the building would be likely to increase.

But Palestinians say they have been told for years that negotiations would bring an end to the settlements. The only way forward, they maintain, is to end the construction first.

Looking at it that way, Netanyahu's right. The question is whether all the other other issues, especially the status of Jerusalem, could be settled within those 2,000 settlement units.

Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em

The LA Times' Cathleen Decker has written a thoughtful article that presents the controversy over Meg Whitman's housekeeper in the light of Californians' deep ambivalence about immigration. The whole article's great. As for the political risk to Whitman, Decker writes:
The biggest danger, many said, was that voters might accept that she was duped by her housekeeper but also object to how Whitman treated the woman. That too would be completely in line with a populace that can love the illegal immigrant but disdain illegal immigration.


Marty Peretz says the Obama administration erred in making a halt in West Bank settlement construction the sine qua non:
The fact is that Obama made it the center of his peace strategy from the beginning. This put Israel in a bind. But, worst of all, it put the Palestinians in a much greater bind. They had no room to maneuver. If the president of the United States insists that new building not be done even in settlements that every one knows will remain with Israel how can the Palestinians palaver in any other circumstance? The Palestinians are trapped in Obama’s truculence.

A Nut Case

In the Oct. 4 "New Yorker," Rebecca Mead (left) begins an article about Delaware's GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, Christine O'Donnell (for whom I wouldn't vote, incidentally), and other Tea Party conservatives with a long paragraph about Great Britain's Official Monster Raving Loony Party. "One [candidate] promised to stick juvenile delinquents together with Super Glue," Mead writes, "and one...campaigned on an anti-gravity platform." Mead explicitly puts O'Donnell in this category and lists the reasons: She wears a beehive hairdo at times, went through a Goth phase, is an evangelical Christian who opposes premarital sex and homosexuality, and defaulted on a mortgage.

It troubles me when people call those with whom they disagree crazy. The Soviet Union took the concept to its logical extreme by imprisoning dissidents in mental hospitals. "The New Yorker" just thought it was being funny. But its Googleicious attack on O'Donnell didn't contribute anything to the reader's understanding of her popularity. Calling somebody nuts in tendentious 15-sentence paragraphs is the Upper East Side equivalent of Tea Party signs attacking President Obama. Whether written on a MacBook or poster board from Michael's, they contribute in equal measure to everybody's favorite subject (besides their rivals' moral unworthiness, of course): Declining civility.

Cool Runnin' Loretta

Bill Clinton's coming back to Orange County.

469 Months Of Watergate Is Enough

Still no news on the new Watergate exhibit at the Nixon library? The background on the National Archives-prepared exhibit, opposed by the Nixon foundation and his White House aides, is here. Oddly, the link to the background has been removed from the library's Wikipedia page. Read my thoughts on the controversy here and here and the exhibit's big news here: The dramatic charge by Dwight Chapin (who was jailed for perjury) that Richard Nixon was present when chief of staff Bob Haldeman ordered the creation of a dirty tricks operation for the 1972 reelection campaign.

Weather Or Not

I took this photo the other afternoon at St. John's. The sky had flickered to life after a long, dry summer, when the vast blue curtain had been drawn across the screen while the audience went to Hawaii. The sky show has recommenced, but so far, at least in my parts of southern California, it's been big cloud and no drench. Driving home from downtown LA last night, I saw lightning over the foothills around Diamond Bar. This morning in Yorba Linda, we heard thunder for a couple of hours. But while the air feels thick, like summertime in my native Michigan, the sky's already clearing after giving us just a three-minute dusting. Maybe next time.

Air Ken

In the second-day story in the LA Times on California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's housekeeper, Nixon White House aide Ken Khachigian says:
They've got to take the oxygen away from the fire in terms of the follow-up.
In terms of the metaphor, that's a durable one for Khachigian. He was the Cox family's tactician (see the "secret maneuvers" file) when it differed with the Eisenhowers over the ownership and structure of the Nixon library and with me over how much money family members would get from Nixon's estate. Strike a match under the aide, he advised. In May 2002, "Time" reported:
Khachigian...calls Taylor "oxygen on this fire..."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Strict Obstructionists?

From Nixon on, says Irvine-based legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, it's been the conservatives vs. the Constitution.


In Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," it touched on genius to use one of the 1980s' fictional icons, barracuda financier Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), as the angel of redemption. It's not that Gekko's changed much. You see him on the commercials chomping a cigar (provoking a wince now that Douglas is being treated for throat cancer) and saying he's back, and back he is. But he's wiser, evolved. Learning what's really important (his scarred family) doesn't fundamentally alter his symbi0tic relationship with money. It's just that he's managed to put the two together, to deeply moving effect.

Stone's movie is Obamian in its fascination with evolutionary radicalism. Hero Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is a next-level Gekko, ambitious and ruthless but also, in greater measure, loyal and idealistic. He's desperate to scare up $100 million for a befuddled scientist (played by Austin Pendleton) who seems to be on the verge of a fusion power breakthrough. While we don't really know what Jake's financial stake in the company is, there's no question that he believes it would be good for humanity to figure out how to make free energy from seawater. A big jolt of the movie's energy comes from Jake's passion to bring that moment about, an evolutionary tipping point when a species evolved from the sea (in Stone's cosmology) would be saved by it.

Jake's also busy trying to trick his fiancee, muckraking blogger Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), into reconciling with her ex-con father while trying to avenge his own fallen mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), driven to ruin thanks to a whispering campaign launched by rival tycoon Bretton James (Josh Brolin). Some of these events mirror what happened in the financial markets in 2008. But the market crash isn't Stone's main subject. He doesn't come off as being against money or even greed, but he does think they are apt to get the better of us. We get a lecture from Gekko about over-mortgaged consumers and about how today's barracudas make him look like Gordon Guppy. After the meltdown, Jake demonstrates his own evolved sensibilities by telling his mother, a bankrupt real estate speculator, to get a real job.

But the movie lacks the foreign policy seminar quality of Stone's grindingly dull, and mostly noxious and flat wrong, Vietnam-Iraq trilogy. "Wall Street" is about the important stuff: Whether the boy gets the girl and a more reliable father figure. "People, you gotta give 'em a break," Gordon Gekko says wearily near the end. "They're a mixed bag." Does that go for Nixon and Bush, too?

The Nebulous Baker Boys

Russ Baker is a conspiracy-minded writer whose 2008 book about the Bush family stepped outside the bounds of believability and indeed propriety by hinting that George H.W. Bush had a role in President Kennedy's assassination.

But Baker also poses questions about the military and intelligence communities' actions during the Nixon administration that deserve more attention that they've gotten from mainstream scholars. This piece of the Watergate puzzle doesn't have to be the whole picture, but it deserves to be part of it.

Yet anyone who writes about it at all, such as Baker, Len Colodny, and James Rosen (who's still waiting for a New York Times review of his painstakingly researched study of John Mitchell, John Dean, and Watergate), runs the risk of being called a noncanonical outlier. Former Sen. Gary Hart reprimanded the late Peter Rodman, a respected Kissinger aide, for even raising the issue of detentenik Nixon's hawkish institutional foes.

So in the vein of a beggar not being too choosy, here's an excerpt from a Russ Baker blog entry about the cozy relationship between Watergate reporter Bob Woodward (shown here) and the military establishment:
Bob, top secret Naval officer, gets sent to work in the Nixon White House while still on military duty. Then, with no journalistic credentials to speak of, and with a boost from White House staffers, he lands a job at the Washington Post. Not long thereafter he starts to take down Richard Nixon. Meanwhile, Woodward’s military bosses are running a spy ring inside the White House that is monitoring Nixon and Kissinger’s secret negotiations with America’s enemies (China, Soviet Union, etc), stealing documents and funneling them back to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

That’s not the iconic Woodward of legend, of course — so it takes a while for this notion to settle in the mind. But there’s more — and it’s even more troubling. Did you know there was really no Deep Throat, that the Mark Felt story was conjured up as yet another layer of cover in what became a daisy chain of disinformation? Did you know that Richard Nixon was loathed and feared by the military brass, that they and their allies were desperate to get Nixon out and halt his rapprochement with the Communists? That a bunch of operatives with direct or indirect CIA/military connections, from E. Howard Hunt to Alexander Butterfield to John Dean — wormed their way into key White House posts, and started up the Keystone Kops operations that would be laid at Nixon’s office door?

Hat tip to Len Colodny

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Enough, Allredy

It takes some doing to evoke sympathy for a billionaire who's trying to buy California's governorship. Way to go, Gloria Allred!

Nine years ago her client, Nicandra Diaz Santillan, falsely told an employment agency and Meg Whitman that she was a permanent resident alien and got a $23 an hour job. She made her assertion under penalty of perjury. After Whitman announced for governor last year, Diaz Santillan told Whitman and her husband that she was undocumented. They immediately fired her.

In the thick of Whitman's campaign against Democratic opponent Jerry Brown, the ex-employee turned up with Allred at a press conference today, saying she'd been mistreated. Seen that movie before? I knew that you had. Brown supporter Allred and other Whitman critics say she should've known about Diaz Santillan's status. But you have to wonder about Whitman's motive for sticking her head in the sand, since she wouldn't have had much trouble getting a documented worker or U.S. citizen to work for $23 an hour.

The LA Times thoughtfully lists three "potential threats to Whitman's campaign":
Whitman has made a point in her campaign that employers should be held responsible if they hire illegal workers....

Pitting Whitman against a Latina who says she was badly treated could undermine the candidate's extensive outreach efforts to Latino voters, a segment of the electorate critical to winning.

The issue also could hurt Whitman among conservative Republicans, some of whom have criticized her for being insufficiently tough on immigration.

Let's take those one by one.

Diaz Santillan reliably claimed to be documented, so it's hard to accuse Whitman of hypocrisy.

As for Latino voters, like other voters, they're just as likely to conclude that Diaz Santillan treated Whitman badly by misleading her about her status.

No. 3 sounds like wishful thinking by reporters

State And Church

Library of Congress

Hat tip to Tom Tierney for this amazing on-line catalog of Civil War-era photographs, most from the Library of Congress. According to its caption, this one shows the "old Trinity Church" and U.S. Capitol dome, which was constructed between 1855-66, as it nears completion. So far, I can't discern which Trinity Church.

"Bright Fire," Thrift Store Cowboys

From their new album, "Light Fighter." Hat tip to the good people at No Depression.

"I Used Everything You Gave Me"

A year ago today, St. John's Episcopal School parent Ken Bendix died after a struggle against mesothelioma throughout which he grew in faith, spirit, courage, and love. His elder daughter, Aria, marked the anniversary by submitting an essay to This I Believe. That's Aria in March 2009 with her parents, Ken and Alexa. Aria's sister, Isabella, is still with us at St. John's.

Here's Aria's essay:
I heard a quote recently that struck a chord with me: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’” While utilizing your talents is certainly something that should be strived for, upon hearing this quote, I could not help but think that qualities such as bravery, humility, and compassion were far more important to exercise throughout one’s lifetime. These thoughts then brought me to my dad, who passed away from cancer almost a year ago and was the epitome of every aforementioned quality.

The first quality, bravery, was perhaps the easiest to recognize in my dad. I had never seen true bravery in action until I witnessed my father battle for his life. Although he was afflicted with cancer, like so many others in this world, my father was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a very rare and painful form of it. A year ago, when the prospect of his survival was grim and my dad was hospitalized, I visited him in the hospital multiple times each day. The first time I saw him and realized that the man lying before me did not even look like my father, I began to cry. My dad, however, looked at me and asked, “Why are you crying? Everything is gone to be fine.” Everything was not going to be fine and everyone knew it, except my dad, because he simply refused to give up.

The second quality, humility, is always one that is exemplified more subtly, but is admirable nevertheless. Until one has lived with a cancer patient, or has experienced cancer themselves, they cannot truly know the daily and constant struggle that these patients undergo. My dad, however, remained incredibly humble throughout his battle. It would have been easy for him to gain sympathy from everyone he met, but self-interest was not in his character. I remember when we used to run into old friend and they would ask how he was doing. Instead of telling him about his diagnosis, he would simply provide them with a normal response about his kids, the recent golf game, etc. I used to ask him why he didn’t tell them that he had cancer, and he always responded, “Oh, I don’t know.” Eventually, I figured out why. He was not a man who needed another’s sympathy to make himself feel better.

The last quality, compassion, comes in many forms. Perhaps the most admirable form, however, is compassion of sacrifice, of which my father could have been that spokesperson. After my dad’s diagnosis, I realized how simple it would have been for him to just give up and let nature take its course. My dad, however, fought for three years against all odds to be there for my mom, my sister, and me. We were the impetus behind his fight and the reason he got up each day, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

I believe, therefore, that a life well lived is worth far more than a long-lived life. Like my father, I strive to live my life in the service and interest of others so that, were it to be cut short, I could leave this earth knowing I left a positive impact on others. Despite the fact that my father passed away when he had almost an entire half of his life to live, I feel confident that when he stood before God a year ago, he looked Him in the eye and said, “Lord, I have not a single bit of bravery, humility, or compassion left. I used everything you gave me.”

Who Gets To Rap With ET First?

They're still working on it at the UN.

El Dia de Miguel y Todos Los Angelos

Michael the Archangel. The cathedral icon of the Archangel Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin, dated to the 1410s. (Caption and image from Wikipedia) Bible up on angels here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

That Would Make Me A Fool For Christ

Matthew Yglesias and his correspondents (at least one of whom bloodcurdlingly favors more Palestinian terrorism, disguised as an "anti-colonial liberation movement") believe that Netanyahu is secretly facilitating more settlement building and is fooling the Palestinians, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and everybody.

Sunday Sermon: "Grasp The Hand Of Lazarus"

In one of Jesus's most explicit parables about the afterlife, a rich man discovers that he can't bridge the chasm dividing him from an impoverished man he ignored in life. We have chasms aplenty in our lives, over politics as well as over the dining room table. The difference is that we can bridge them if we choose, as a group from St. John's Episcopal Church did last Saturday when they helped a family in Mexico raise their new home. My Sunday sermon is here.


The St. John's campus this evening, just before Bible study

Get Her A Future

In March, Israel's prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, was embarrassed (and the Obama administration justifiably outraged) when Jerusalem's municipal government approved new homes for Israelis in Palestinian neighborhoods at the very time that Vice President Biden was visiting. This week, Netanyahu's foreign minister (a West Bank settler himself) enunciated his own policy on the peace talks, which the prime minister, thankfully, disavowed.

What exactly are we witnessing? Total governmental dysfunction? The system's capacity for giving the PM plausible deniability, undermining the peace process so he doesn't have to? Or just democracy, Israel style? I bet #3. The Jewish state's one-man, one-policy approach to politics helps us appreciate the lack of wiggle room Netanyahu has when it comes to the issue of West Bank settlements. But that doesn't mean they don't have to stop. It makes no logical or moral sense to build another unit of housing on land that's supposed to be a Palestinian state someday, and I think Netanyahu knows it. I prayed he'd have his Nixon in China moment last week, before the 10-month moratorium on new settlements expired. For her sake (a friend I made in Jericho in 2007, who must be nine or 10 by now), I hope it comes soon.

St. John's Sky

5:28 p.m.

Yorba Linda Sky

8:04 a.m.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Second "Event"

Okay, I was wrong. The 97 prisoners being held by the CIA on NBC's "The Event" are space aliens. I bet abundant free energy enters into it one way or another, though.

St. John's Cardinals Rule

Fr. John probably shouldn't have distracted the St. John's Episcopal School B-6 volleyball squad with a picture while coach Don Baker was doing his thing, but it was okay, since they beat our neighbors at St. Mary's 3-0.

Weeding Out The Amateur TV Critics

Former drug czar Bill Bennett is right about the drug crisis -- a horrifying 40,000 U.S. dead each year from overdoses, according to a recent federal report -- but wrong about one of the best shows on television:
Back when our country was making a serious assault on drug abuse, a show like "Weeds" would never be aired. Today it is promoted in full page ads in our nation's most popular magazines. This, for a comedy about the life and times of a marijuana-growing and -dealing family. As the head of the network that produces and airs "Weeds" put it, "Our ratings were va-va-va-voom! Who said hedonism is passé?" This, for a show where one is lured to root for a family responsible for the death of a DEA agent, children dropping out of school, gang violence and rape.
I'm glad no one appointed Bennett culture czar, because he evidently doesn't understand that fictional characters don't have to be admirable in order to entertain and enlighten. Neither he nor the Showtime executive he quotes grasps what's really going on in series creator Jenji Kohan's laboratory for studying the consequences of twice-widowed drug dealer Nancy Botwin's (Mary-Louise Parker) poor decisions, especially as a mother. "Weeds" isn't promoting drug abuse or hedonism. It's exploiting the irresistible allure of watching an HD train wreck.

Still Debating, Though They Agree On The Nap

Kennedy aide Ted Sorensen on the first Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960:
Kennedy — who had no debate coach and almost never rehearsed — arrived in Chicago the day before the debate and, after a long morning reviewing potential questions and issues in the sunlight on his hotel roof...was sufficiently relaxed to nap.
Journalist Aaron Barnhart:
Kennedy...had trained extensively with aides for the debate and took a refreshing nap before the telecast.

What Gingrich, Jones, And Ellmers Have Done

Photo by Kirsten Luce/New York Times

Turnout was less than expected for New York City's annual Muslim Day parade yesterday. Some may have stayed away because of security concerns. Too scary to take your kids to a parade because you're the wrong religion. How about that for America? In a New York Times article, this quote stood out:
A lieutenant with the fire department of Elmsford, N.Y., Syed Alirahi, said: “We are public servants. Most of us are born here, live here and die here. We’re going to fight for our country. Today is our opportunity to show ourselves to other people, and our contributions to the country as Muslims.”
Would you spurn his vote if he lived among the "Christian people" of North Carolina's second congressional district, Renee Ellmers? Is he like a Nazi, New Gingrich? And if he came to put out a fire at your houses, would you let him?

"Unlikely" Doesn't Begin To Say It

JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen on what's changed in politics since the first Nixon-Kennedy debate 50 years ago:
Though it seemed at the time to be a battle between two opposing worldviews, the truth is that the two candidates did not vastly differ in that first debate. And while Kennedy would probably find a home in today’s Democratic Party, it is unlikely that Nixon would receive a warm welcome among the Tea Party.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"If The President Does It, That Means It's Legal"

Nixon? Obama.

Quote Of The Day

Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, interviewed tonight on "60 Minutes":
If 9/11 happens again, I want to be the first to die.
I learned something else from Scott Pelley's report. Hundreds of Muslims have been worshiping in the Cordoba House building for over a year, ever since a nearby mosque lost its lease. Do Newt Gingrich and Renee Ellmer propose to evict them?

UFOs Needed In Jerusalem

Peace talks hang by a thread as West Bank settlers build a Jews-only kindergarten.

Did UFOs Mess With LBJ's Nukes?

This is not an "Onion" article.

Ellmers' Glue

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for this paste wad contest between CNN's Anderson Cooper and Renee Ellmers, the Palin-backed Republican candidate in North Carolina's second congressional district who's trying to rescue her sagging campaign against Rep. Bob Etheridge with a commercial equating Muslims with terrorists.

I don't think Cooper did as well as Sullivan suggests. He didn't push hard enough when Ellmers refused to rule out the possibility that Cordoba House's Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf himself was a terrorist. Then he let her get under his skin by accusing him of being anti-religion. Near the end, she goes right over the top by saying that the residents of her district are "Christian people," insulting every non-Christian in North Carolina and the country. Lamely, Cooper just asked if she wanted Muslims' votes. I'd say that's a big no. Jews need not turn out, either.

Afterward, Cooper whined about how mean she was. It was a tie until then, but when you have to get the last word after your subject's camera's been turned off, it means you lost. What the confrontation makes you understand is that if a person has no shame and is willing to say whatever is necessary to win and get power, you can't argue or reason with her. Cooper may believe it's his job to stay neutral and get the facts. But at what point does the obligation to speak truth against ignorance and prejudice take precedence? What if she had said her district consisted of "white Christians"? We'd demand that he denounce her as a bigot. Isn't what she did say also false and incendiary and therefore just as bad?

RCP says the district's still leaning Etheridge's way, but this year, no one can tell.