Saturday, February 11, 2012

Shadow Dance

Chinese-style dancers at tonight's St. John's Church fellowship dinner, which had a Chinese New Year theme

Freedom To Believe Isn't Freedom To Act

Nicholas Kristof:

I wondered what other religiously affiliated organizations do in this situation. Christian Science traditionally opposed medical care. Does The Christian Science Monitor deny health insurance to employees?

“We offer a standard health insurance package,” John Yemma, the editor, told me.

That makes sense. After all, do we really want to make accommodations across the range of faith? What if organizations affiliated with Jehovah’s Witnesses insisted on health insurance that did not cover blood transfusions? What if ultraconservative Muslim or Jewish organizations objected to health care except at sex-segregated clinics?

The basic principle of American life is that we try to respect religious beliefs, and accommodate them where we can. But we ban polygamy, for example, even for the pious. Your freedom to believe does not always give you a freedom to act.

In this case, we should make a good-faith effort to avoid offending Catholic bishops who passionately oppose birth control. I’m glad that Obama sought a compromise. But let’s remember that there are also other interests at stake. If we have to choose between bishops’ sensibilities and women’s health, our national priority must be the female half of our population

The GOP's War On Reason

Steven Mazie argues that contraceptive services for employees of Roman Catholic universities, hospitals, and charities is 100% a public health and 0% a religious liberty issue:

It is time to put an end to the hyperbolic charges that Obama is waging a war on religion. John Boehner’s claim on the floor of the House of Representatives on Tuesday that the mandate represents “an unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country” is unambiguously baseless. The Health and Human Services guidelines serve important public health goals and threaten no defensible concept of religious liberty.

Hat tip to Tom Tierney

Nixon's Secret Plan (aka Linebacker III)

In 1972 Richard Nixon tried to get the NFL to stop blacking out playoff games by promising to block all congressional attempts to end the league's unpopular regular-season blackouts. The AP reports that Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who worried about playoff games being played in half-empty stadiums, rebuffed the fan-in-chief in favor of a congressional plan he liked better.

Nixon told aides he had the interests of the people of the District of Columbia at heart, at least insofar as 1972's first-round Redskins-Packers game was concerned:

In [a] previously unreported taped White House conversation the week before the first 1972 playoff game, Nixon vented to [Attorney General Richard] Kleindienst and White House aide John D. Ehrlichman about the game not being televised locally.

“The folks should be able to see the goddam games on television,” he said. “Playoff games. Playoffs — all playoff games should be available.

“Now, you might say this. You might also point out, and say listen, just so you understand ... the president is not speaking for himself in this instance, because he’s going to be in Florida. And he’s going to be watching the game in Florida — it’s going to be carried there. But he’s speaking for all the people in Washington that didn’t vote for him,” Nixon said to laughter. The president had lost only the District of Columbia and Massachusetts in his landslide 1972 victory over Democrat George McGovern.

“Put it right that way.”

St. John's Sky

4:10 p.m.

Hamas Mess

Palestinian splinter group splinters over unity deal.

First Lord Of China

Later U.S. ambassador to China, Winston Lord served as an aide to NSC adviser Henry Kissinger in the Nixon White House. As the Shanghai Daily marks the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon's 1972 visit, Lord trumpeted his own achievement during Kissinger's cloak-and-dagger advance trip the year before:
We were flying secretively from Pakistan to Beijing on a Pakistani plane, and as the plane got close to the Chinese...border, I was in the front of the plane, and Dr. Kissinger was in the back of the plane, so as we went into Chinese territory, I was the first. I always told everyone, and Kissinger agrees, that I was the first American official to visit China in 22 years.

Rumors Of War

Liz Sly surveys the discouraging news from the Middle East a year after the Arab spring:
“There are two different trajectories in the Middle East,” said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. While “North Africa is moving toward more democracy,” he said, the Levant region — including Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq — is “moving toward confrontation and sectarian conflict. It is a much darker, gloomier trajectory.”

Friday, February 10, 2012


This egret probably reached our Yorba Linda neighborhood from the Santa Ana riverbed about a mile away, where you can see flocks of them coexisting with ospreys and seagulls. I ran into it during my morning walk and, like your average blogger, was whipsawed between appreciating its stunning gracefulness and snapping pictures with my phone. It was surprising how close it would let me get. As a matter of fact, I had the impression that this most regal of waterfowl found me to be a complete bore. When I got within ten paces or so, it slowly unfurled its wings, looped around me, and landed a half-block ahead, sticking its beak in the air and stepping daintily through the ivy. We did the dance three times. Then I left it alone.

Bigger Than Your Average Chipmunk

This young fan's voice probably hasn't changed, either.

Picture Perfect Once More

When I was director of the Nixon library, I posted this article on the library's web site from Beijing on Nov. 22, 2002. My photos of the TV taping have been preserved, ironically enough, thanks to anti-PRC blogger Kai Chen.

Ji Chaozhu may remember it as the day Richard Nixon’s younger daughter put him back in the picture.

As Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai's handpicked interpreter, Ji stood at Zhou's right shoulder as he greeted Nixon at Capital Airport in Beijing on Feb. 21, 1972. He went on to serve as China's ambassador to Great Britain as well as a UN under-secretary general. But when the U.S.-born and educated Ji fell out of favor in the murky haze of Communist Party politics, he was airbrushed out of the official Chinese photograph of the Nixon-Zhou handshake (above). While the 73-year-old Ji has long since been restored to a position of respect in foreign affairs circles in China, the altered photo still sometimes pops up in official publications (and Google searches; see the sixth image on the top row).

Enter Julie Eisenhower. In Beijing this week to help unveil “Journeys to Peace,” an exhibition about her father’s historic trip jointly assembled by the Nixon library and the Chinese government, she participated in a televised interview with Ji. They shared the stage with life-sized statues of Nixon and Zhou, sculpted for our exhibition by Studio EIS in Brooklyn, New York. Following a stop at the Shanghai Library in December, the Reader’s Digest Foundation-sponsored exhibition will be unveiled at the Nixon library on Jan. 9 (the 90th anniversary of Nixon’s birth).

Eisenhower knew about the altered photo and had presented Ji with an autographed copy of the real McCoy (above right) during an earlier visit. She decided to do him one better with the cameras rolling. “I’d like to ask Ambassador Ji to show us where he was standing when my father met Zhou Enlai,” she said. Ji gamely jumped to his feet and took up his accustomed position next to the statue of his late boss. He said he recalled Nixon reaching for Zhou’s hand and saying, “This handshake comes across the vast Pacific ocean and many years of no communication.”

It was one of several bracing moments during a Chinese program called “Let the World Understand You,” taped before an audience of international relations students gathered in the National Museum of Chinese History.

The producers staged a reunion of men and women associated with President and Mrs. Nixon’s visit, ranging from a former server at Bejing’s state guest houses who had helped Nixon with his chopsticks to Zheng Mingzhi, a top Chinese ping-pong player who in 1971 visited Nixon at the White House with her teammates. The PRC having beaten the U.S. that year, Eisenhower asked Zheng if she thought the U.S. might win a rematch. “Well, you’re improving,” she said with a smile.

Seated in the audience’s front row, and described by the program’s host as the most famous person in China, was Zhang Chaoyang, founder and CEO of, the NASDAQ-traded Internet portal. Zhang said he was eight and living in his hometown of Xian when the Nixons visited. He told Eisenhower that while he’d been too young to appreciate the full significance of her father’s visit, it had had dramatic repercussions in his life, enabling him to attend MIT and learn about the fledgling Internet (then a Pentagon project begun during the Nixon administration) as early as 1975. He said Nixon's visit helped trigger China’s astonishing economic growth.

The taping brought back memories of ideological passions in both countries. Zhang Hanzhi, also an interpreter during the 1972 visit, said that before the Nixons arrived, Zhou Enlai had told his staff that he thought they would enjoy hearing American folk songs performed during the official banquets. But as Zhang noted, the only Americans then living in China and available to serve as music consultants were leftists “who were not entirely delighted about the prospect of President Nixon’s visit.” Finally one reluctantly suggested “Home On the Range,” which was duly performed for the presidential party.

Less familiar to the American guests was a ballet entitled “The Red Detachment of Women,” to which the Nixons were taken by Mao Zedong’s third wife, Jiang Qing. After Mao died in 1976, she was tried and convicted for her role in the Cultural Revolution. Song Chencheng, the prima “Red Detachment” ballerina from 1972, came to the Beijing taping to meet Eisenhower. She brought along her costume, which still fit perfectly, and danced across the stage just as she had 30 years ago for the Nixons.

The final speaker, retired government official Li Menghua, summed up the afternoon, and the three decades since that historic handshake, by telling Eisenhower that Americans and Chinese were great peoples who together could help make the world a better place. “That’s exactly the way my father would’ve put it,” she said.

"Nixon's Great Decision On China"

David Ignatius wishes that 37's bold outreach to Beijing would inspire today's timid politicians to run the risk of inconsistency and unorthodoxy:

Great presidential decisions are often ones that escape the boundaries of what a leader may have said in the past, or what his political advisers recommend, or what the conventional wisdom of the day seems to supports. That was true of Nixon in China, Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis, Roosevelt in the Great Depression, Lincoln in the Civil War.

The leader who can deal with America’s problems today may be the one who’s ready to respond to complaints that his policies go against past positions with a simple statement: So what? I’m doing what’s right for the country.

If The Mitt Doesn't Fit

A cartoon from The Moderate Voice

"God May Forgive You (But I Won't)," Iris DeMent

A sweet, powerful, unforgiving performance. Jesus doesn't have to live with you, and neither does she. Song by Harland Howard and Bobby Braddock. Hat tip to No Depression.

This Video Is So Hot

Is there a 12-step program if you keep hitting the Apple sauce?

Statesman And Bad Boy

With Newt Gingrich decreasing and Rick Santorum increasing, David Corn at Mother Jones gives the ex-speaker his due:

For years, Gingrich has led a double life. There's the bad Newt who has counseled his fellow Republicans to call Democrats immoral traitors who betray the nation, who has railed against gay-rights-loving secular socialists hell-bent on controlling and ruining the United States, and who has used racially coded language to assail Barack Obama as a "food stamp president" who can only be understood as someone with a Kenyan anti-colonialist mindset. Then there's the other Newt, who does seem to care about real problems confronting the nation and who genuinely wants to collaborate with experts (and even Democrats!) to reach non-partisan solutions. (Google "couch, Gingrich, Pelosi.")...

Gingrich does have the capacity to be a respected policy statesman—one of the elites!—which clearly is one of his aims. But he cannot resist being the flame-throwing bad boy of American politics. And it's tough to be both. Jekyll was a philanthropist who couldn't say no to his uncivilized urges. And Gingrich has been as unsuccessful as the Victorian-age doctor in controlling his darker impulses. His inability to resolve such a fundamental internal conflict may well be his biggest obstacle to becoming president.

Two Weeks In The Sausage Factory

Last week, Susan G. Komen for the Cure tried to suspend breast screening grants to Planned Parenthood on account of its performing abortions. This week, the Obama administration tried to require Roman Catholic hospitals, universities, and charities to provide free contraception to women.

Last week, progressives rose up, defending PP's work and women's right to privacy. PP will get its money for the time being, permitting it to continue to offer breast screenings to patients who otherwise couldn't afford them. This week, conservatives rose up, defending the independence of religious institutions. Under a compromise announced today by the president, employees at Catholic institutions would still have access to free birth control, but on the insurance companies' nickel instead of the pope's lira, a distinction perhaps designed to satisfy discerning students of the complicated teaching embodied in Mark 12:17.

And that's how it's done in a free and diverse society. It's been a bloody, noisy, anxious mess, but there's a certain beauty to the symmetry of it (with women's only recently won right to self-determination at the heart of both narratives) as well as to the way violently differing viewpoints and the balance of personal vs. constitutional and secular vs. religious were all worked out. In both matters only the most inflexible absolutists have nothing to show for themselves, while those who feel most comfortable in the middle of the road are probably happiest of all.

As Usual, Nixon Was Playing Chess

Playing Checkers.

What If The Children Led Them?

For a post about Alon Ben-Meir's Huffington Post series on the dearth of Israeli-Palestinian mutual understanding, I used photos I took several years ago of Arab Palestinian (shown here) and Jewish schoolchildren in Jerusalem. I was briefly tempted to append something about what might happen if we left peacemaking to the children but then decided not risk a callow-sounding and idealized P.S. to Ben-Meir's thoughtful words.

Then I listened to Dave Davies's "Fresh Air" interview with journalist Katherine Boo, who was talking about how the innate ethics of children in Mumbai's poorest neighborhoods are undermined by the harshness of daily living. Mumbai's struggles for survival are by and large more spirit-killing, I'm sure, than the struggle for political identity. Yet something of what Boo has observed probably applies to what kids in Jerusalem learn from political discussions around the dinner table:
[W]hat I see all the time in children in any country is an enormous ethical imagination. I really think that from a young age, people have a sense of justice in a society that is so corrupt that even to help a neighbor bleeding on the street is to risk your own livelihood and your own liberty because the police system is so corrupt.

I think that that innate capacity for moral action gets sabotaged, gets abraded, and I think that I see that constantly in my work. I see constantly, that in corrupt societies, in extremely viciously competitive societies, people's instinct to do the right thing gets turned upside down.

Sending Israelis And Palestinians Back To School

Alon Ben-Meir, beginning a series of articles in the Huffington Post, says Israelis and Palestinians won't be able to make peace until they finally learn to understand each other:

Overcoming these fundamental obstacles to a two-state agreement requires more than negotiations between political leaders. What is needed is to bring together noted and most-respected religious leaders, historians and NGOs that engage in separate talks about each of the conflicting issues between Israelis and Palestinians without outside political pressure as long as all participants believe in the inevitability of coexistence. Airing these issues and reaching a better understanding could have a tremendous impact on public opinion on both sides and provide the political leadership with the necessary public support and the political cover they need to accommodate each other. Understanding and appreciating each other's position and mindset, and reaching a consensus governed by the reality on the ground, will be a game-changer.

Only with such a broader, deeper dialogue, and the shared pursuit of understanding the issues on the psychological, historical, religious and emotional levels, can the roots of the conflict be addressed and substantive negotiations begin to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

David Brooks' Ticket To Santorumville

In a nice way, David Brooks says Mitt Romney is stumbling because he appears too eager to please -- in other words, inauthentic. The solution:
He needs to show that he is willing to pursue at least a few unpopular policies, even policies that are unfashionable in his own party. Since many people fear that he is a suck-up, it would actually help him at this point if he violated party orthodoxy in some bold and independent way.
I don't think Republicans fear Romney's a suck-up. They fear he's a moderate. If he follows Brooks' advice, maybe Romney will feel more authentic and affirmed, but the nominee will be Rick Santorum.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

GOP Losing Its Will

Michele Bachmann (who I once predicted would be the right-wing dark horse in 2012; never listen to my political predictions) was quoted tonight as saying that Barack Obama's foreign policy made him the most dangerous president in history. George Will (who cut his teeth during the Cold War on the staff of Democratic super-hawk Scoop Jackson) has grown tired of such insubstantial fear-mongering:

Romney says: “It is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” that if he is elected, Iran will not get such a weapon, and if Obama is reelected, it will. He also says that Obama “has made it very clear that he’s not willing to do those things necessary to get Iran to be dissuaded from” its nuclear ambitions.” Romney may, however, be premature in assuming the futility of new sanctions the Obama administration is orchestrating, and Panetta says Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is “unacceptable” and “a red line for us” and if “we get intelligence that they are proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon, then we will take whatever steps necessary to stop it.” What, then, is the difference between Romney and Obama regarding Iran?

Osama bin Laden and many other “high-value targets” are dead, the drone war is being waged more vigorously than ever, and Guantanamo is still open, so Republicans can hardly say that Obama has implemented dramatic and dangerous discontinuities regarding counterterrorism. Obama says that, even with his proposed cuts, the defense budget would increase at about the rate of inflation through the next decade. Republicans who think America is being endangered by “appeasement” and military parsimony have worked that pedal on their organ quite enough.

They'd Rather Reagan Than Romney

John Fund on the significance of Rick Santorum's trinity of wins this week:
Mitt Romney doesn’t seem to realize he is campaigning for two jobs, not one. He is doing quite well in the race to become the Republican nominee for president, and must still be considered the strong favorite. But ever since Barry Goldwater captured the GOP nomination in 1964, the Republican nominee has been more or less the titular head of the conservative movement, the most important single component of the Republican party. It is that race that Romney is doing so poorly in, as evidenced by the willingness of many conservatives to vote against him.

Romney would help himself and his party if he realized that he will have a much higher chance of winning the general election if he reaches out to conservatives and convinces them to be enthusiastic. It’s one thing to win the vote of every anti-Obama voter in the country, but on his current trajectory Romney will fail to convince many of them to make that extra effort to get their friends and neighbors to the polls. That could ultimately mean the difference between victory and defeat — and for now Romney seems oblivious to that fact.

In response, Conner Friedersdorf argues that the right's quest for a reliable ideological champion is highly impractical, since few GOP presidents actually governed as conservatives -- especially Richard Nixon, who was way to the left of Barack Obama, and even Ronald Reagan, under whom taxes and the federal government grew inexorably.

True enough. But the Fund-Freidersdorf exchange fails to address two distinct but related possibilities. First, Romney might not want to be the leader of the conservative movement as it now exists. A moderate his one time in government, as a presidential candidate he's a Potemkin conservative who's trying to do the right-wing mystery dance but is stepping on everyone's toes because he can't wait to waltz to the center in the general election and in office. And conservatives, sensing that this is true, may prefer that Romney, even if he manages to get nominated, will lose so they they can spend Obama's second term Reagan-questing for 2016, and then for 2020, and forever. For these conservatives, a moderate in the White House, a pretender to the leadership of their movement, is a perfect vision of hell.

The Whole Deal According To Meryl

For Meryl Streep, great acting is all about fooling the other actors, which is why she wanted to keep the prosthetics and makeup to a minimum as she aged four decades in "The Iron Lady." Check out her wonderful conversation with Terry Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air":

STREEP: It's all about being free and having -- so I can look in the mirror and see me, not stuff. And it all has to do with, you know, it's not about the audience. It's all about fooling the other actors into believing that you are who you say you are because that's hard when you walk on set, and it's a big makeup job, and it makes it hard for them.

And I take my entire performance from them, so if they don't look at me and hate me appropriately or love me the way they're supposed to or find, you know, an old face but see the young one underneath, which is Jim Broadbent's task as Dennis Thatcher, then I'm lost. I don't have anything to go on because I can read that immediately in their eyes, you know.

GROSS: Gee, I never thought of it that way, that you have to convince the other actors that you're Margaret Thatcher.

STREEP: That's the whole deal, the whole deal.

Pro-Life And Pro-Choice: How Anglican

Episcopalians are often asked what our church teaches about abortion. We're a pretty democratic denomination, and it can appear that we've as many opinions as communicants. But my clergy bud the Rev. Susan Russell, in a post about the Komen controversy, provides a summary of holy writ insofar as General Convention is concerned:
In 1988 the Episcopal Church went on record with a powerful statement affirming its commitment to both the sanctity of life and a woman's right to reproductive freedom. From the resolution:
All human life is sacred from its inception until death. The Church takes seriously its obligation to help form the consciences of its members concerning this sacredness. Human life, therefore, should be initiated only advisedly and in full accord with this understanding of the power to conceive and to give birth which is bestowed by God.

We regard all abortion as having a tragic dimension, calling for the concern and compassion of all the Christian community. While we acknowledge that in this country it is the legal right of every woman to have a medically safe abortion, as Christians we believe strongly that if this right is exercised, it should be used only in extreme situations. We emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience.
And then, in 1994, as the anti-abortion movement mobilized to restrict reproductive freedom of American women, we added this "further resolve":
The Episcopal Church express its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision.

"Dreams," The Cranberries

Performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

One Ramrod Straight Reformer

In 2010, President Obama rebuked the Supreme Court to its face for the super-PAC-unleashing Citizens United decision. This week, he announced his super-PAC would be passing the hat among the tycoons just like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Robert Scheer reminds us that this is Obama's second self-serving about-face on campaign finance and that at least one reform advocate has actually walked the talk -- and he's a Republican:
John McCain..."disarmed" by accepting public funding in the last election. Obama subverted what remained of political campaign finance reform by turning instead to private contributions, with the result that major Wall Street interests greatly financed his victory. It is not entirely true that shunning the PACs would have left the president at a disadvantage, since he commands predominant media space by virtue of his office. He could have exploited the fat-cat contributions to Republicans as confirmation that they are servants of the 1 percent that has caused the rest of us so much misery. Once again he has failed to take that case for economic justice to the American people and instead validated the Republican assault on what remains of our democracy.

Nixon And All Those San Francisco Republicans

Great art from an earlier era. Below the gallery, San Francisco Chronicle blogger Peter Hartlaub writes:
Throughout most of my own lifetime, most Republican presidential candidates have avoided San Francisco. Occasionally one will drop by on the Peninsula to raise money, but it’s usually a covert kind of thing. So when I started looking for signs of Republicans campaigning, I wasn’t expecting much. Maybe Eisenhower passed by on a battleship once …

Apparently I greatly misjudged the number of Bay Area Republicans in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Republican presidential candidates didn’t just campaign here, they had huge parades the you would only see now after a Super Bowl win. And what about protesters? If there were any, they were at home shaking their fists at the radio....

I’ll need a presidential historian to weigh in here, but Richard Nixon seemed to love San Francisco. Not only was he here all the time, but he looked happy.
This photo, showing Nixon in 1962 during his gubernatorial candidate, is from Dr. X's Free Associations.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Go Figure: Ones We Read In School Sold Worst

Dickens' greatest hits
Chart by The Economist

Penny Saver

Bill O'Reilly takes on One Million Moms:
He likened the group's boycott of the Texas-based retail chain [JC Penny] after they hired [Ellen] DeGeneres to a "witch hunt." He went on to note, "What is the difference between the McCarthy era of the '50s and the Million Moms saying, 'Hey, JCPenney and all you other stores, don't you hire any gay people. Don't you dare.' What is the difference?"

The Other Watergate Break-In

Nixon scholar Luke Nichter thinks that we might learn more about the motivation for the June 1972 Watergate burglary, which destroyed the Nixon presidency, if he can pry loose secret records about a May 1972 Watergate burglary that most people don't even know about. The Washington Post:

During that break-in, a wiretap was placed on at least one phone. It was during a second burglary more than two weeks later that the group was caught with additional bugging devices. Information about the contents of the initial wiretaps, which played a role in prompting the second burglary, were sealed and never revealed.

“These and other sealed materials may be the key to determining why the Watergate break-in occurred, who ordered it, and what the burglars were looking for,” Nichter wrote in asking the chief judge of the federal court in Washington to unseal the materials.

The Peril Of Palestinian Unity

As Fatah and Hamas edge toward a unity government, Ethan Bonner writes, they push creation of a state of Palestine further down the road. Israel and the U.S. don't trust Hamas, and they must be assuming that before long the Islamist party will dominate the Palestinian National Authority. One expert puts it in a regional context:
“The Arab awakening is witnessing the rise of a reformist political Islam in Egypt and Tunisia, and I believe we will see that Hamas is no exception,” asserted Mahdi Abdul Hadi, chairman of Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs in Jerusalem. “Western governments are dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and it is only a matter of time before they will meet with Hamas as well.”
A peace deal between Fatah and Israel would've been shaky, since Hamas would have undermined it. It will be better for Palestinians if their leadership speaks with one voice. That's the good news. The bad news is that Israel will build more West Bank settlements, further eroding the integrity of a future Palestinian state, while it and the U.S. wait for Hamas to earn a place at the negotiating table by renouncing violence and recognizing, at least for the record, Israel's right to exist as a Jewish nation. In turn, Israel's hard line will diminish the likelihood that Hamas will make such concessions, enabling even more time for more settlements. So the paradox is that while factional unity might help Palestinians in the long run, it looks like the death knell for the state of Palestine.

You Think?

Headline for on-line version of this story: "In Santorum's Sweep, Sign of G.O.P. Unease With Romney."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dickens The Radical Moderate

Rick Bayan at The New Moderate claims Charles Dickens for the enlightened center:

Was Dickens a radical? Only in the sense that anyone with an active social conscience is a radical. When you think about it, the mere presence of such a conscience shouldn’t automatically relegate us to the leftward fringes of the political spectrum. Charity should be mainstream.

In the end, I’d label Dickens (if I were forced to label such a human whirlwind) as a radical moderate. He was one of us. He believed in serious reform, but just enough to usher in a new era of fairness and decency. He wasn’t about to set up a new guillotine to lop off the heads of the money-changers. Remember that he gave old Scrooge a reprieve: he had the heart to understand the miser’s heart, and simply led him to rediscover the kind soul that was trapped and withering inside him for so many years.

It’s a sad commentary on contemporary American society that so many self-professed Christians and traditionalists scorn the charitable virtues exemplified by Dickens. It’s an ominous sign that so many Americans, Christian or not, seem to take wanton pleasure in the “epic fails” of their peers. What are our televised reality shows but social traffic accidents engineered for our viewing pleasure?

Queueing More QE

With interest rates so low, the only way the Federal Reserve can stimulate the economy is quantitative easing, which means (get this) using electronically created money to buy assets from banks and inject them into the economy. The risk is inflation, but Matthew Yglesias says it's worth running, the optimism engendered by the recent jobs report notwithstanding:
What the Fed governors ought to be doing is trying to clarify whether or not they really want a recovery. Do they want to see hundreds of thousands of people newly joining the ranks of the employed month after month? If it happens, after all, there will be some downsides. A jobs boom will mean a lot of new cars on the road, and gasoline prices may go up. Electricity bills may even rise as idle factories are put back to work, and vacant retail spaces turn into restaurants that need heat, air conditioning, and lights. Rents might spike in a few cities as people move out of their parents’ basement faster than new apartments get finished. That would be a small price to pay for a real recovery, especially when you consider that discouraged workers keep leaving the labor force even as the economy adds jobs. A sluggish recovery causes not only short-term pain, but long-term harm as the long-term unemployed see their skills deteriorate and end up gravitating toward low-productivity informal sectors rather than proper jobs. To get our economy back to capacity, the central bank has to tolerate a little bit of price inflation here or there as long as it doesn’t become embedded in a dangerous spiral.

Mr. Obama Follows The Gingrich Precedent

Newt Gingrich, criticizing the Obama administration's policy change on Roman Catholic institutions and birth control, says that Mitt Romney had a weak record when it comes to respecting the church's prerogatives.

What a joke. Compared to Gingrich, Romney's holier than Benedict. In 2010, Gingrich compared Muslims to Nazis and argued that Muslim U.S. citizens shouldn't be permitted to worship as they chose within a certain distance of the World Trade Center. Gingrich, who ironically enough claims that Obama doesn't respect the Constitution, was proposing a blatant violation of Muslims' God-given, constitutionally-protected freedom while inviting reciprocal moves by anyone who resents the privileges religious institutions enjoy in our country. As I wrote at the time:
The case of the inconvenient mosque would be a useful precedent for harassing others with unpopular or controversial views such as Roman Catholics, orthodox Jews, Mormons, and even Rick Warren and his fellow Southern Baptists. Should that moment come, religion's enemies would smile as they remembered the day when Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin became their useful idiots.
Even imams have objected to the Obama ruling. Imagine that: Muslims speaking up for the letter and spirit of the Constitution, while Gingrich, the history professor, betrayed them all.

Freedom Of And From Religion

My Episcopal bud the Rev. Susan Russell on this morning's ruling by a three-judge federal appeals court panel overturning the result of Prop. 8:
[M]ake no mistake about it: There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the days to come from those in the marriage discrimination business about how their freedom of religion is being trampled on by today’s decision for equality. But the truth of the matter is they are just as free today to decide for themselves whether God equally blesses our marriages. What the 9th Circuit Court said today is that they are NOT free to decide whether the Constitution equally protects them.

A Roman Catholic priest is just as free to NOT marry a gay and lesbian couple as he is to NOT marry a divorced couple. Meanwhile, and in my congregation – All Saints Pasadena – we can now get back to the business of offering equal pastoral care for ALL couples who come to us for the sacrament of marriage – because today’s ruling affirms that the First Amendment protects not just freedom of religion but freedom from religion.

Luke Acts

No one can be absolutely sure why burglars broke into Democratic headquarters in the Watergate in June 1972. A young scholar in Texas is trying to obtain court records that he hopes will solve the mystery for good.

Hat tip to Len Colodny

A Compassion That Can Change Everything

Today is the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth. The Prince of Wales laid a wreath at his grave in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, and the Archbishop of Canterbury summed up:

A man...who portrays human beings excessively and extravagantly. A man who portrays human beings in hell. And yet when we read him, it does not read like bad news. Because what does he have to say at the end of the day about redemption?

In some ways not a great deal. Or rather there is a tension again and again in his books between a carefully, neatly resolved happy ending, and an immense burden of recognized, almost unbearable, unresolved suffering. He achieves the balance of those two most perfectly, for one reader, in Bleak House, where the past tense of Esther’s narrative is balanced by the present tense of unhealed suffering, the rain still falling on the Lincolnshire wolds.

But in that book, which one reader at least thinks is perhaps his most profoundly theological – though he wouldn’t thank me for that – in that book, we have one of the strangest, most shocking images that he ever gives us of compassion and mercy, and that is the figure of Sir Leicester Dedlock. At the very end of Bleak House, left alone in his decaying mansion, holding open the possibility of forgiveness and restoration, “I revoke no dispositions I have made in her favor,” says Sir Leicester, with his typical dryness about his wife who has fled from him in guilt and terror. And in that appallingly stiff phrase we hear something of the hope of mercy. Almost silent, powerless, Sir Leicester after his stroke, dying slowly in loneliness, and stubbornly holding open the possibility that there might be, once again, love and harmony.

“We may confidently hope that God will forgive us our sins and mistakes, and enable us to live and die in Peace,” says Dickens for his children. And perhaps for us as grownups, or people who might quite like to be grownups one day, that image of the hope of God’s forgiveness is shockingly, startlingly, expressed in that lonely figure stubbornly holding the door open, revoking no dispositions made in our favor. Powerless to enforce love or justice, and yet indestructibly, even extravagantly, offering the only kind of love that is appropriate – the extravagant and excessive nature of human beings. An utterly unreasonable compassion, which because of its utter unreasonableness can change everything.

Just A Little Nuance, Please, Gov. Romney

Did Mitt Romney even consider staking out a thoughtful position on this issue, decrying abortion, as he now does, but acknowledging PP's work in providing care to women who wouldn't get it otherwise? Here's just one example from this morning's Orange County Register, about an unemployed woman with no health insurance who learned that she could get a free breast screening at PP:
[Monique's] Benoit's mammogram led to an ultrasound and then more tests that found a benign cyst in her breast. That was followed by an operation to remove the mass. Her total bill for the entire process? A $30 lab fee. The rest was covered by Planned Parenthood with funds from the Orange County Komen affiliate.
Just a little nuance, Gov. Romney. A grownup's acknowledgment of the complexity of issues in a vast, diverse country. Or is that just too risky in this era of lock-step absolutism masquerading as conservatism?

The Romneys' past support for PP is detailed here.

Overdue Explanation

Turns out the most eloquent defense of Komen's grants to Planned Parenthood can be found in the 2010 memoir of its founder, Nancy Brinker. Huffington Post's crack investigative team uncovered it at the public library (that building downtown with the weird return bin in front; I think they have free WiFi).

Reporter Cast In An Eerie Light

When Watergate reporter Bob Woodward was at the Nixon library in April 2011, I snapped a photo of James Hohmann, a 24-year-old Politico reporter who was taking notes on his laptop. I was gratified to see the other day that Hohmann (who's now following the Republicans around the country) is using the photo on his Twitter account. In the original, that's Paul Reza of St. John's Church on the left.

Yorba Linda Sky

6:40 a.m.

"Crazy Love," Van Morrison and Bob Dylan

Recorded in Athens in 1989. Hat tip to No Depression.

Sacrificing One Peace For Another

As Fatah and Hamas make nice, will the Palestinians' prospective new prime minister, PNA President Mammoud Abbas, have to step even further back from negotiations with Israel to placate hardliners? The Jerusalem Post:
[S]ome Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip voiced opposition to the deal, especially the appointment of Abbas as prime minister.

“It was Hamas that won the election [in 2006] and not Mahmoud Abbas,” said a Hamas legislator who asked not to be identified. “Many people in Hamas are not happy with this agreement.”

Another Hamas legislator, Ismail Ashqar, criticized the Qatari-sponsored pact, saying it “violated the Palestinian Authority Basic Law and bypassed the Palestinian Legislative Council.”

Ashqar said the ball was now in the court of Abbas who, he added, would have to stop the negotiations and security coordination with Israel to ensure the success of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Number 1 And Number 1.5

Paul Pillar at The National Interest:
In a portion of the [NBC] interview about the danger of Israel touching off a war with Iran, the president said, “My number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel.” Wait a minute—shouldn't the security of the United States be the number one priority of the president of the United States? Rather than merely sharing the top spot on the priority list with some foreign country's security? This comment was part of an unscripted interview, and perhaps the language of a prepared speech would have come out differently. But the president said what he said.

Blues In The Night

A Blue Marble image of the Earth taken from the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA's most recently launched Earth-observing satellite - Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth's surface taken on Jan. 4, 2012. The NPP satellite was renamed Suomi NPP on Jan. 24, 2012 to honor the late Verner E. Suomi of the University of Wisconsin. (Text from NASA)


First real-media comparison between Richard Nixon's so-called last press conference and Newt Gingrich's midnight in Vegas.

The War Against Christians

Ayan Hirsi Ali, writing in Newsweek:
[A] fair-minded assessment of recent events and trends leads to the conclusion that the scale and severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the bloody Christophobia currently coursing through Muslim-majority nations from one end of the globe to the other. The conspiracy of silence surrounding this violent expression of religious intolerance has to stop. Nothing less than the fate of Christianity—and ultimately of all religious minorities—in the Islamic world is at stake.

Her Majesty Poppin' Fresh

Queen Elizabeth II and her hat during the Nixons' visit to England in 1970

Hat tip to NARA

Shoot Me Now

What's scarier than black helicopters? NPR:

With millennial children now in their 20s, more helicopter parents are showing up in the workplace, sometimes even phoning human resources managers to advocate on their child's behalf.

Hat tip to Meaghan O'Connor

More Hamas

Karl Vick writes that the competing Palestinian movements have had little choice but to make friends with each other. Too bad the unity sounds more Hamas than Fatah:
When crowds in Tahrir Square toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, the Palestinian faction led by [Mahmoud] Abbas lost its main patron. Mubarak strongly favored Abbas’ secular Fatah party, and as an enemy of political Islam kept a tight rein on Hamas activists in the adjacent Gaza Strip, which they governed since kicking Fatah out in 2007. Then the Arab uprisings cost Hamas a vital ally: Until recently, [Hamas leader Khaled Meshal] lived in Damascus, but Hamas is moving its headquarters out of Syria rather than side with President Bashar Assad against his population. Analysts in Gaza say Iran last year slowed or even stopped its subsidies to Hamas as punishment for not backing Assad. Bottom line: both factions lost their main state supporters just as their own people pried themselves from Arab satellite news to insist that they be heard, too.

What Palestinians demanded was that Fatah and Hamas bury their differences and form a united front against the Israeli occupation. This the factions promptly agreed to do, in a series of meetings held – not by accident – in Egypt. The new government emerging in Cairo may be dominated by Islamists, but it has pushed both sides to make up and adopt the non-violent strategy against Israel, complete with negotiations.

How Do You Get Sprung From The Arab Spring?

In Egypt, promoting democracy is now a crime.

Giving Lawyers A Heep Of Grief

Acknowledging the contempt that one-time law student and court reporter Charles Dickens expressed for the British legal system by imagining characters such as Uriah Heep in David Copperfield and never-ending lawsuits for lawsuits' sake in Bleak House, law clerk Joseph Tartakovsky speaks up for his profession:
Isn’t it true that for both lawyers and novelists, whoever tells the best story wins? The difference is that lawyers (one hopes) take facts as they exist instead of inventing them. Dickens, for all his genius and wrath, was himself unable to undertake reforms, or protect clients, or draft fairer rules. He needed lawyers to achieve his vision of a just society. Even the inimitable novelist would agree that the two old trades must go hand in hand, together improving the noble system that, for all its Dickensian farce, makes us civilized.
In fairness, even in Dickens there are good lawyers and bad ones. Uriah Heep is a law clerk who usurps the practice of Mr. Wickfield, a diligent and highly ethical solicitor whose professionalism is eroded by alcohol and grief over his wife's death. Thanks to David (a stand-in for Dickens) and a plodding but virtuous young attorney friend from school, Tommy Traddles, the facts as they exist are exposed, Mr. Wickfield's fortunes are restored, and Heep is ruined. Even in a Dickens yarn, the system works.

His bicentenary is tomorrow. God keep his noble soul.

Hat tip to Denise Paddock, clerk to the Hon. Andrew Guilford

Low Blow

Tuba thefts in Bell, California

Annals Of Jewish Christology

Chabad rabbis call an Orthodox rabbi a heretic for saying Jesus was a nice Jewish boy.

If You Must, Hate Abortion, Not Abortion Rights

It's now obvious that Komen's self-inflicted wound was caused by a politician-turned-staffer who devised a change in grant criteria as a way to cut off funds for Planned Parenthood. Her colleagues reportedly hope she'll resign. But what about the board? One member, at least, understands where the responsibility lies. Laura Bassett reports:
[T]he criteria did gain the support of Komen's top executives and board. And in an interview with HuffPost, board member John D. Rafaelli, a Democratic lobbyist and a supporter of Planned Parenthood's mission, took responsibility for the changes. As the only lobbyist on the board, he told HuffPost, he should have anticipated the political fallout.

"Honestly, I didn't think it through well enough," Rafaelli said. "We don't want to be pro-choice or pro-life; we want to be pro-cure. We screwed up, I'm saying it. We failed to keep abortion out of this, and we owe the people in the middle who only care about breast cancer and who have raised money for us an apology."

Most opponents of abortion don't deserve to be portrayed as the right-wing villains who have loomed in much of the coverage of the Komen-PP set-to. Many cringe over the lost potentialities, every lost brother and sister. I do, too, when I think about it, which I probably don't as often as I should.

But better to hate abortion, if one must, than reproductive rights. In a society that practiced gender apartheid until 1920 and a world in which women's rights still teeter on a knife's edge, legal abortion is an indispensable bulwark against misogyny, paternalism, and oppression.

Instead of guerrilla moves against Planned Parenthood, abortion foes ought to devote themselves to reducing the number of abortions by reclaiming the sacramental character of reproductive activity, promoting birth control education and availability (a PP specialty, it's vital to note), and encouraging women to carry unplanned babies to term and give them up for adoption. PR crisis notwithstanding, I hope both Komen and PP continue to thrive. But I'll be sending a check to Holy Family Services, which provides adoption and foster care services in partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

He Probably Doesn't Know It

Jennifer Ruben compared Newt Gingrich's midnight press conference in Nevada on Saturday to Richard Nixon's farewell to his staff in August 1974:
The Rasputin of Republican politics is finally dead. I think. Yesterday’s blowout victory by Mitt Romney in the Nevada caucus followed by Newt Gingrich’s bitter, angry press conference (sort of a combination of Howard Dean’s scream and Richard Nixon’s White House farewell speech) confirmed what we strongly suspected in Florida: Gingrich’s presidential campaign is caput, whether he knows it or not.
Nixon's White House farewell was searingly emotional but not angry. A better comparison is to his so-called last press conference after he lost California's 1962 gubernatorial election.

LDS 411

Randall Balmer, an historian and Episcopal priest, says that Mitt Romney will eventually have to give us a peek at how his devotion to his church would influence his conduct of the presidency:
What ought to interest us about Romney’s faith are not the vagaries of Mormon theology, fascinating as they are, but how he understands that theology, how his faith informs the way he lives, his sense of responsibility toward others and how that might affect the way he governs. Granted, there are relevant political questions peculiar to Mormon teaching. The Latter-day Saints, for example, teach that the United States Constitution is divinely inspired. It’s fair to ask Romney how that affects his understanding of the Constitution. Although Mormons are hardly the only group that claims to be the “true” religion, how does that teaching inflect Romney’s notions about pluralism and toleration?

But the more pertinent question applies to all presidential candidates who make declarations of faith: How does religion shape your policies? Unfortunately, Romney has remained studiously tight-lipped about all matters of faith, referring only vaguely to “my church.”

Only The Asia Society Could Go To Nixon

As the 40th anniversary approaches of Richard Nixon's world-changing arrival in Beijing on Feb. 21, 1972, a distinguished panel -- including journalists Max Frankel of the New York Times and CNN's Mike Chinoy and Ambassador Nicholas Platt (a high-ranking State department official during the Nixon visit) -- gathers to discuss Nixon's breakthrough at the Nixon library and foundation...No, it must be at the Nixon Center in Washington-- Wait, that's not the name anymore, it's the Center of the...Uh, Center for the-- Oops, sorry. It was at the Asia Society in New York.

Only Palestine Can Stop The Settlements

A heartrending story of a hunger strike in a West Bank village being gradually surrounded by "greater Israel":

Khirbet al-Tawil sits on the sides of a hill that descends into the Jordan Valley, between the Palestinian town of Aqraba and the Jewish settlement of Gitit. The village is accessed by a muddy road, which took us a long time to find. On the rocky terrain in between the fields, there were several buildings - either houses or shacks - next to animal pens and coops. When we entered the mosque, accompanied by two researchers from the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem and a researcher from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the residents were absorbed in lively conversation. It was noon, and they turned first to pray, kneeling on the wet rugs, their faces toward Mecca.

The stone ruins of the ancient, magnificent houses in Khirbet al-Tawil attest that Palestinians lived here for centuries. The villagers recall the stories of their ancestors who lived here, but Gitit is encroaching from northeast and Itamar is expanding from northwest; Nativ Hagdud, Yafit, Tomer and Patzael, the settlements of the valley and the surrounding slopes, are gradually choking off the Palestinians' agriculture in the valley.

But who can stop the Israeli settlements if Israel won't? Neither international pressure, hunger strikes, nor worse. Palestinian negotiators should try to win a freeze on new settlements in exchange for accepting the broad outlines of Israel's current territorial offer. They should do it now, before their future stake shrinks even more.

Hat tip to Deb Neal