Saturday, January 14, 2012

Iran: Be Serious. Republicans: Be Quiet

Joe Klein argues that the Obama administration is finally making the Iranians scream and that Republicans look ridiculous claiming otherwise.

Another Newtonian Principle Disproved

Campaigning in South Carolina, angry Newt Gingrich, hoping to end up as the conservative alternative to his enemy Mitt Romney, unleashed a barrage of criticism of Romney's business practices that has made Romney look more...conservative.

Go Ahead. Click. He's Watching.

When President Bush's critics lambasted him for talking about God's Providence, I had trouble joining in, since almost every morning, I pray, right out of The Book Of Common Prayer, "In all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose." Which bring us to Tim Tebow, about whom theology professor Owen Strachan sounds, well, Anglican:
I believe that God is overseeing all of Tebow's passes, but he's also overseeing the typing and reading of this paragraph. He's overseeing the Denver Broncos, but he's also overseeing the Boston Celtics (much as it may seem otherwise at present), the Museum of Modern Art, and the playtime of your nephew. He's in control of all things. In this sense, which is called "secondary" causation (God's oversight of all things), the Lord is directing Tebow's life.

But is God directly intervening on the football field in the same way that, for example, he did to cause the virgin birth of Luke 2 (in what is called "primary causation")? That I don't know. It's not clear to my human eyes how this all shakes out. I do know that the Lord is working everything out according to his wise and mysterious counsel which, try as we might, we cannot fully understand.

We Are Stardust, We Are Golden, We Are Doomed

Gregg Easterbrook on the material word's be all and end all:

Researchers think they have a good idea of what happens inside the sun. Hydrogen, the lightest element and the sun’s primary constituent, fuses to become helium, releasing energy. Eventually, long after humanity has gone extinct or evolved into some other form, Sol’s hydrogen will be consumed. Then the helium will begin to fuse into medium-weight elements. An eon after that, the medium-weight elements will begin to fuse into metals. Ultimately Sol will explode, scattering heavy elements into the cosmos. It’s thought that all the heavy elements of the universe were forged within stars that later exploded, supernovas having been more common when the firmament was young. The Earth, your body—both are composed of elements made inside ancient stars that exploded.

Bruce Juiced

Bruce Springsteen became a superstar in the mid-1980 as the anti-Reagan, a working class patriot expressing a hermeneutic of skepticism about authority. Insiders say his upcoming album has the same energy:
"He gets into economic justice quite a bit," a source with knowledge of the upcoming album told The Hollywood Reporter. "It's very rock'n' roll. He feels it's the angriest album he's ever made. Bear in mind, though, that [Springsteen] wrote and recorded the majority of the album before the Occupy movements started, so he's not just setting headlines to music."

Get Me To The Grand Canyon

St. John's Church, photographed with the AutoStitch Panorama app for iPhone. Hat tip to School Committee member (and Nixon confederate from bygone days) Noah McMahon

Friday, January 13, 2012

NOAA Snark

Presidents usually avoid being critical of predecessors. But Barack Obama was yucking it up about Richard Nixon today as he announced his government reorganization plan:
There are five different entities dealing with housing. There are more than a dozen agencies dealing with food safety. My favorite example—which I mentioned in last year's State of the Union address—as it turns out, the Interior Department is in charge of salmon in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in saltwater. (Laughter.) If you're wondering what the genesis of this was, apparently, it had something to do with President Nixon being unhappy with his Interior Secretary for criticizing him about the Vietnam War. And so he decided not to put NOAA in what would have been a more sensible place.
Obama may have heard the story from William Daley, a Clinton Commerce secretary who just quit after a year as White House chief of staff. If you look at the dates alone, the accusation seems to add up. After the Kent State shootings in May 1970, Interior secretary Wally Hickel wrote a letter to Nixon criticizing him over the Vietnam war and urging him to spend more time listening to young people. That Nixon seethed for months is well known. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was created as part of the Commerce department in October. Nixon fired Hickel in November.

But there's a lot more to the story than that. According to NOAA's official history, the new agency was parked at Commerce on the recommendation of Commerce secretary Maury Stans, a Nixon friend since their Eisenhower years, in anticipation of a dramatic plan to streamline the federal government not unlike the one Obama proposed today. Nixon's was the brainchild of Roy Ash, who died last month:
One of [Ash's] proposals was to replace the Department of Interior with a new Department of Natural Resources. One of the elements of the Department was to be a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which would combine some elements of the Department of Interior with the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA) of the Department of Commerce. Then Secretary of Commerce, Maurice Stans, noting that ESSA would comprise more than two-thirds of this new Agency (some 10,000 employees and an estimated FY 1970 budget of approximately $200 million) countered with a proposal to, at least initially, consolidate and house NOAA within Commerce and transfer it to the proposed Department of Natural Resources at a later date.
NOAA's historians attribute Commerce's win to the logic of Ash's proposed natural resources department (an especially good idea today), Stans' persuasiveness (which I experienced many years later when he was raising money for the Nixon library), and "perhaps" tensions between Nixon and Hickel. Given all that, it looks as if 44 took a cheap shot at 37. If Nixon had succeeded in getting his reorganization plan through a Democratic Congress, NOAA would have ended up right where efficiency wizard Ash wanted. When the Republicans get done with his proposals, we'll see if Obama's still laughing.

That Would Be 1982, BTW*

On Thursday a group of conservative religious leaders, including New York's Roman Catholic archbishop, Methodists, Lutherans, Southern Baptists, and the former Episcopal bishop who is now "archbishop" of the "Anglican Church in North America," published an open letter against gay marriage. They warn the like-minded that the government will try to make them knuckle under, not by forcing them to perform marriage ceremonies for gays and lesbians, which the signatories consider unlikely, but by punishing churches that deny benefits to gay couples, state-licensed adoption agencies that won't place children with the same-gender married, and state-accredited marital counselors who won't provide services to them.

Fred Clark, a Baptist Gen X blogger, doesn't just worry about how this kind of message from Christian institutions alienates gays and lesbians. He's afraid that eventually, it will alienate everybody. He writes:
Public statements like this exist only to take sides, draw lines and build walls. This letter serves no prophetic or pastoral purpose. But it is — unintentionally — useful and helpful for identifying the dead-enders determined to make exclusion and condemnation the hallmarks of their communities.

This pronouncement is an explicit “Unwelcome” sign hung on all of their churches.... [T]hat cramped inhospitality applies not just to the GLBT folks they’re demonizing here, but to “all Americans who dare to differ” with the letter’s signatories.

So in a sense what these signatories have just done is they have turned to nearly every American born since, say, Thriller came out*, pointed a long crooked finger and declared, “We don’t want your kind in our congregations.”

Live Or Die?

On Sept. 14, 2001 at Washington National Cathedral, an Episcopal installation, President Bush's national security adviser, Condi Rice, was inspired by an apt departure from The Hymnal 1982. As she writes in her memoir, No Higher Honor:
I am the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and my mother was a church organist. Music has been at the center of my life since I was born. I cannot to this day sing "O God Our Help in Ages Past," without flashing back to National Cathedral. I focused on the music and the extraordinary words of our great national songs. What had begun as a day of sadness ended, for me, with a sense of rising defiance. The last hymn was "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The original words of the Civil War hymn had been "As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free." Over the years congregations (hoping not to sound offensive, I guess) had changed the words to "As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free." Much to my surprise, we sang the original version. As the military choir sang the climatic "Amen, Amen," I could feel my own spirit renewed. We'd mourned the dead. Now it was time to defend the country.

"Change The Sheets," Kathleen Edwards

From her new album, Voyageur. Review here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Then Obama Will Beat Me By THIS Much

Now that angry Newt Gingrich's super-PAC has fired back at archenemy Mitt Romney with a video about the fortune he made shutting down unprofitable companies (shocking behavior in a Republican, just shocking), Andrew Sullivan thinks the frontrunner could be in trouble:

I simply cannot imagine a worse narrative for a candidate in this climate; or a politician whose skills are singularly incapable of responding to the story in any persuasive way. This ad is powerful. Romney has already seen a drop in South Carolina. I suspect he'll drop some more. And I suspect once the potency of this line of attack is absorbed by the GOP establishment, there will be some full, if concealed, panic.

Another Last War Of Watergate

Richard Nixon and Bob Haldeman's ex-aides went to war against John Dean, Nixon's White House counsel, in 2009, with a big boost from another of their own, Sen. Lamar Alexander. Now Dean has fired back in an account of the release of Nixon's June 1975 Watergate grand jury testimony:

There was an attempt to file an opposition...and I was surprised by its source: former Nixon White House junior level aide Geoff Shepard, who had worked on the staff of the Domestic Counsel.

Shepard, who graduated from law school, spent his career in the insurance industry after leaving the White House. More recently, he’s become an active Nixon apologist and conspiracy buff, who published a book titled: The Secret Plot to Make Ted Kennedy President, Inside the Real Watergate Conspiracy (2008). I have not read the book. When I first learned of it, I happened to be talking with the person for whom Shepard worked at the Nixon White House. He told me that he had warned Shepard that he was, in essence, making a fool of himself with his account. This was advice from a person who is intimately familiar with Watergate and has written about it. It was correct, but this fact has not deterred Shepard from proceeding accordingly.

In a similarly fatuous fashion, Shepard tried to intervene in the Public Citizen case I described above, to oppose the petition to unseal Nixon’s grand jury testimony. However, Judge Lamberth denied his request. Shepard then totally flip-flopped and filed a petition requesting the court unseal virtually everything relating to Watergate held by NARA, all the grand jury proceedings, all the Senate Watergate Committee material, the records of the House Impeachment Inquiry of Nixon, and all the WSPF trial materials relating to Watergate. Shepard’s petition appeared to be an effort to stall the effort to unseal Nixon’s testimony. But it failed. When granting the motion to unseal Nixon’s testimony, Judge Lamberth issued an order denying Shepard’s request(s), while pointing out their complete failure.

When Kennedy died in August 2009, I wrote:
In May 2008, when we learned that Kennedy had cancer, a former Nixon White House aide, Geoff Shepard, published a book accusing him of having manipulated the Watergate scandal for the sake of a, well, Kennedy restoration. In the annals of publishing, a stroke of bad timing. With the country awash in sympathy, I decided it would be in poor taste for the Nixon Foundation to host a planned book event for Shepard with the federal Nixon Library. The gesture endeared us neither to the author nor the feds, but it seemed like the right call at the time.

Pastor Pay

Rabbis: Not too shabby.

Will Iran Risk Its Entire Surface Fleet?

The New York Times on what is likely to happen if Iran tries to blockade the Strait of Hormuz:

Estimates by naval analysts of how long it could take for American forces to reopen the strait range from a day to several months, but the consensus is that while Iran’s naval forces could inflict damage, they would ultimately be destroyed.

“Their surface fleet would be at the bottom of the ocean, but they could score a lucky hit,” said Michael Connell, the director of the Iranian studies program at the Center for Naval Analysis, a research organization for the Navy and Marine Corps. “An antiship cruise missile could disable a carrier.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Endless War With Iran

As pressure mounts for a U.S. attack against Iran's nuclear capability, bloggers at the National Interest, published by the Center Previously Known As Nixon, wonder when the war would end:
How do attack advocates propose to stop the Iranian nuclear program if Tehran refuses to roll over after one round of attacks? There are two logical responses to this question. One is regime change, presumably through invasion. But there are significant downsides to invasion, not least that such a war would likely prove protracted and costly... The other is that the United States should be prepared to conduct repeated strikes over a long period of time to ensure the Iranian nuclear program is kept down.

"Nixon's Baby"?

The space shuttle.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Merry Christmas," Said The Jew And Muslim

Deb Neal, my Diocese of Los Angeles colleague, is serving as assistant to the Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem at St. George's Cathedral in East Jerusalem. She's written a moving post about Christmas in the Holy Land, including the trip back to Jerusalem from Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve:
And because God is Good, and to remind me what it is really truly all about, and to make the evening truly blessed, as we passed through the horrid wall on our way home, the young Israeli guard wished me Merry Christmas. As you can imagine, I welled up and thought: This is where I see the hope. And oddly enough, the only other person to say Merry Christmas to me (other than in the church) was a Muslim shop keeper in Nablus. Aaah, Peace and Goodwill to all. I like it!

"Tatoo," Van Halen

Are you a brown sound hound? David Lee Roth's first song with the Pasadena boys since 1984.

Are Rightwingers Just Being Coy?

Ed Kilgore says most GOP conservatives have already resigned themselves to Mitt Romney, in part because of their misgivings about the other candidates:

“[T]rue conservatives” have doubts and divisions about the ideological reliability of Mitt’s surviving rivals. Santorum is regarded by some as an Washington insider and Big Government Conservative. Newt’s heresies were amply aired by those attack ads in Iowa. And Perry, the closest thing to a consensus “true conservative” candidate, greatly upset believers with his position on immigration.

And so, conservative leaders may well be asking themselves: Is the dubious value of nominating Santorum or Gingrich or even Perry instead of Romney worth the risk of creating the foundation for an Obama campaign assault on the eventual winner as a flip-flopping opportunist with the character of a feral cat?

An 1896 View Of Ottoman Jerusalem

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for this gem (St. John's pilgrims will recognize some of the streetscapes from their visits over a century later) as well as for the commentary of a Palestinian high school student, Jalal Abukhater, who lives in Jerusalem:
It is becoming a trend among influential GOP candidates to call out the Palestinian people as “invented” or even “non-existent." First we had Republican candidate Newt Gingrich calling the Palestinians an “invented people." Another rising star, Republican candidate Rick Santorum, has also said “There is no Palestine." But I won’t really bother to give any of them dimwits any more attention than they deserve. Their case is a hopeless miserable case after all.

On this occasion I’d like to share with you this, video footage taken in Palestine back in the year 1896. We see Palestinians; we see Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in peace. We see a Jewish man praying at the Western Wall without having to show IDs to any authority, unlike what we see in Jerusalem today. We see neighbors, friends, families, and a society just like that in Cairo or Damascus, as the commentator says. If we look today, we don’t see much of the same thing. Not so much freedom of religion, not so much freedom of life.

Will Egypt Be The First Moderate Islamist State?

Thomas Friedman:

Islamist movements have long dominated Iran and Saudi Arabia. Both the ayatollahs in Iran and the Wahhabi Salafists in Saudi Arabia, though, were able to have their ideology and the fruits of modernity, too, because they had vast oil wealth to buy off any contradictions. Saudi Arabia could underutilize its women and impose strict religious mores on its society, banks and schools. Iran’s clerics could snub the world, pursue nuclearization and impose heavy political and religious restrictions. And both could still offer their people improved living standards, because they had oil.

Egypt’s Islamist parties will not have that luxury. They will have to open up to the world, and they seem to be realizing that. Egypt is a net importer of oil. It also imports 40 percent of its food. And tourism constitutes one-tenth of its gross domestic product. With unemployment rampant and the Egyptian pound eroding, Egypt will probably need assistance from the International Monetary Fund, a major injection of foreign investment and a big upgrade in modern education to provide jobs for all those youths who organized last year’s rebellion. Egypt needs to be integrated with the world.

It Does Help If The Writer's Ernest

A federal judge ruled last week that a Montana blogger isn't entitled to the legal protection her state extends to journalists just because she claims she's one, too. But Atlantic editor Rebecca Rosen argues that citizen journalism is in the ascendant, as it was when the framers wrote the First Amendment and no one had much of an idea about professional journalism. Rosen says those publishing on-line should be judged not by whom they work for, if anyone, but the accuracy and quality of their work.

Officer? Non-Islamic Blow-Dry On Chair Three!

Journalist Carina Kamel compares this Christmas in Cairo to last year's and worries about what may be in store for Egypt's women and non-Muslims:

Perhaps one of the biggest changes this Christmas was that the perceived threat of Islamism shared by liberals and Christians is now all the more real as the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood are poised to control parliament.

This makes secular parties, liberal groups, activists and Christians very nervous. They are concerned about religious intrusion in private life and restrictions on civil liberties. Already, there have been local media reports of a self-appointed "religious police" barging into places like ladies' hairdressers and ordering patrons to cease what they describe as un-Islamic practices like getting a blow dry. That incident didn't go down well with Egypt's well groomed women, who, according to reports, beat up the extremists and kicked them out of the beauty parlor.

We Think We Have Church Vs. State Problems

The complexities of the Middle East's only democracy: The ultra-orthodox haredim, who don't think Israel's secular government is legitimate (but who are paid to pray at the Western Wall under an agreement that dates from Israel's founding), battle back against the government's effort to keep them from further oppressing their women.

"Long Time Gone"

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young with Tom Jones in 1969. The young Welshman can rock. Comments left on YouTube reveal that David Crosby, who wrote the song, didn't sing lead this time because he was grieving over the death of a friend. Hat tip to No Depression.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Nixon Invented The Internet AND Birtherism?

Were Nixonistas the first birthers? Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. says so:
Mitt's father -- Governor George Romney of Michigan -- was driven to distraction by his own "birther" movement when he ran in the Republican presidential primaries of 1968. Supporters of his opponent, Richard Nixon, argued that George Romney's presidency would be unconstitutional because Romney had been born in Mexico where his grandfather and five wives had fled to evade America's polygamy laws.

Might As Well Limp

I feel young again! Van Halen, with David Lee Roth, will greet the new year with an album and tour. They'll be in Orange County on June 12. But is that Eddie with an acoustic guitar? Weird.

An Iranian Nightmare

Jeffrey Goldberg urges the Obama administration to reach out to Iran:
[A]dvocates of an attack on Iran today would be exchanging a theoretical nightmare -- an Iran with nukes -- for an actual nightmare, a potentially out-of-control conventional war raging across the Middle East that cost the lives of thousands Iranians, Israelis, Gulf Arabs and even American servicemen.

Richard, Arnold, And Maria

How did Arnold Schwarzenegger choose a political party? Richard Nixon (who would've been 99 today) was the one:
I heard Nixon speak [during the 1968 campaign]. He was talking about free enterprise, getting government off your back, lowering taxes and strengthening the military. Listening to Nixon speak sounded more like a breath of fresh air. I said to my friend, "What party is he?" My friend said, "He's a Republican." I said, "Then I am a Republican!”
They met for the first time at the Nixon library in November 1991, after the future governor of California arrived by chopper from a movie set to attend a reception in 37's honor. As library director, I introduced them, not that they didn't recognize one other already. I was on a flight with Nixon in the 1980s when he ran into Maria Shriver and huddled with her for 20 minutes, sharing stories about politics and their respective political clans (this was before she married Schwarzenegger, with whom, it's rumored, she may be reconciling). I also met Bruce Springsteen because of Nixon, but that's another story.

Buckley's Social Network

Michael Kimmage on the influence of William F. Buckley, Jr.:
Buckley’s power, as a conservative, was the power of association. He made connections where connections had previously been tenuous or non-existent. He united conservatives in journalism, academia, government, and corporate America, sometimes in print and sometimes around the dinner table. He associated the young with the old, the ideologues with the philosophers, and the lovers of economic liberty with the lovers of natural law. In doing so, he helped associate the Republican Party with his preferred synthesis of social conservatism, libertarianism, and a foreign policy of Wilsonian outreach.

Because The Universe Depends On It

Why is one of the largest corporations in the world trying to help one man talk?

Starring The Constitution

Ken Starr, who joined the Southern Baptist church when he was appointed president of Baylor, sticks up for the Nixon doctrine:

In my own life, I have drawn great strength from my religious practices and, according to the teachings of my faith tradition, I intend to continue to keep in prayer those who are chosen to lead our nation. That said, the litmus for our elected leaders must not be the church they attend but the Constitution they defend.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Does She Have To Wait Five More Years?

Dismissing half-measures proposed by longtime Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross, Paul Pillar at The National Interest says it will take a president with nothing to lose to make a Palestinian state a reality, which is to say a reelected president:

The slim hope for [a fundamentally changed U.S. approach] would require a president winning a second term and thus having four more years knowing he will never run for office again. The alternative election result in the United States certainly gives no hope for an end to the stalemate. Front-runner Mitt Romney, with his stand-with-Israel-no-matter-what approach, almost sounds like the moderate on this issue compared to his principal opponents, Newt (“We have invented the Palestinian people”) Gingrich and Rick (“All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis”) Santorum.

Now, "Voyageur"

You can and should listen to Canadian folkie Kathleen Edwards' upcoming album, Voyageur, for free at NPR. It doesn't rock quite as steady as her earlier records; it's more spacious, atmospheric, and, frankly, commercial. Here's hoping it breaks big, as she deserves.

They Took It From Me

London's Express celebrates the 99th anniversary of 37's birth with an article about Don Fulsom's likely-to-be-discredited book. Reporter Peter Sheridan includes a quote from The Episconixonian:
Though Nixon remains one of America’s most reviled figures, even his harshest critics question the book’s conclusions. There are no love letters, videos or audio tapes proving an affair with Rebozo and White House gossip can be notoriously politically motivated. Nixon’s former chief of staff John Taylor insists the gay allegations are “not true, take it from me... Nixon was heterosexual. He loved smart, attractive women, flirted with them keenly if ineptly and had no sexual energy whatsoever with men.”

Present At The Creation

If parish ministry is the best work in the world, baptisms may be the best of the best. Jack Christopher Hageman was marked as Christ's own forever this morning at St. John's, wearing the baptismal gown that his great-great-grandmother made in Ireland a century ago. His sister, Abby Rose, wore it at her baptism, which I also had the blessing to perform. I officiated at the marriage of Jill, my St. John's School colleague, and Bill Hageman. If you sense I'm grasping for some small measure of credit in connection with this wonderful family enterprise, you're not half wrong. Pastors do that.

A Pox On Both Your Posts

On Dec. 3 Fred Clark questioned evangelical leader and former Nixon aide Chuck Colson's motives for accusing those who want to raise taxes on the rich of class envy:

During every day that [Colson] worked in the White House as one of the most powerful men in the executive branch, the wealthiest Americans were charged double the rate of income tax that they pay today....

[T]he top marginal income-tax rate today is half of what it was during Colson’s service at the top levels of the Nixon administration. And the capital gains tax today — the tax that matters more to the wealthiest Americans who make money from money rather than from work — is even lower. The capital gains tax rate is just 15 percent, which is why Warren Buffett pays a lower rate than his secretary does.

When Chuck Colson was working alongside the president, revenue as share of GDP was 17.6 percent. Today it is 14.4 percent — historically low, the lowest it has been since 1950.

So according to the standard set by his column, Chuck Colson and the rest of the Nixon administration were a bunch of soak-the-rich radical redistributionists driven by socialist envy.

Clark uses the word "socialist" several times, as if Colson had used it against those who wanted to raise taxes on high incomes. But neither that word nor "radical" comes up in Colson's column, which substantially detracts from the irony that Clark claims exists. Colson may well have thought taxes were too high in 1969-73; many conservatives such as he did, but they couldn't do anything about it since the Democrats controlled Congress throughout the Nixon administration. For his part, Colson errs in accusing those who favor higher taxes of falling prey to the sin of envy. Many experts sitting in cushy think tanks who aren't acting out rage akin to that of Russian peasants nonetheless believe that a sensible fiscal solution requires more revenue from the wealthy (whom else? Russian peasants?) than Republican obstructionists are willing to consider.

Neither putting words in an opponent's mouth nor questioning his motives is a good idea, especially in the name of our LORD. Let us reason together, brothers!