Friday, August 31, 2012

In Dutch With The Dutch

Why the Netherlands' punctiliousness about politicians' claims won't work here.

Say "Thessalonians" Three Times Really Fast

The 27 books of the New Testament begin with Matthew and end with the Revelation to John. Marcus Borg rearranges them according our best understanding of when in the first century the texts were actually written. He starts with St. Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians (generally understood to be the oldest Christian document) and ends with 2 Peter. Teaching all these books to seventh graders at St. John's, the most radical thing I do is have students read Mark (the earliest gospel) before Matthew.

Denial From Day One

Karl Rove's talking point for Republicans is to treat Barack Obama respectfully to woo millions who voted for him in 2008. That requires a new narrative in which Republicans treated him respectfully when he was elected. But who can deny the truth of this New York Times editorial this morning?:

Mitt Romney wrapped the most important speech of his life, for Thursday night’s session of his convention, around an extraordinary reinvention of history — that his party rallied behind President Obama when he won in 2008, hoping that he would succeed. “That president was not the choice of our party,” he said. “We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than divides us.”

The truth, rarely heard this week in Tampa, Fla., is that the Republicans charted a course of denial and obstruction from the day Mr. Obama was inaugurated, determined to deny him a second term by denying him any achievement, no matter the cost to the economy or American security — even if it meant holding the nation’s credit rating hostage to a narrow partisan agenda.

All Nixon's Fault

Juliet Lapidos on the one-time mainline Republicans who became odd ducks when their party and conservative evangelical Christianity converged sometime during the post-Watergate wilderness. For instance:
Kellie Ferguson, the executive director of Republican Majority for Choice, would like to see the GOP shift from banning abortion to finding common ground in order to reduce the number of abortions. She’s been dismayed by recent GOP attacks on family planning (the attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, for instance), which she finds irrational. “If you make it more difficult for women to access planning services, you end up with more unintended pregnancies and more abortions, which ends up costing taxpayers money. So, among other problems, it’s not fiscally conservative.” (The Guttmacher Institute estimates that every dollar spent on family planning saves taxpayers $4.)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Kingdom Not Yet Come

My thanks to Cory Trenda of St. John's Church and World Vision for permission to republish his reflection on my late Plan International sponsoree, Meta Balde. To help fight malaria, go here (Episcopal Relief and Development) or here (World Vision).

I'm sitting on a screen porch at a lake in Wisconsin. We are taking a few days away from our visit to Chicago where we are visiting our dearest family friend, who is in the late stages of terminal lymphoma. This is a chance to renew and refresh and write before our final days together.

The evening cool is gathering here, crickets are in full throat (or whatever they use to make themselves known), the evening light has now emptied from the sky, an occasional still-energetic human voice wafts in, the dark outline of a tiny gnat crawls across my backlit laptop screen. We watched the burning orange sun set over the lake an hour ago.

This is now the magic hour for which the screen porch was built. It just sits here most of the time, but now I get to sit enclosed in it and read, or write, enjoy the sounds outside without becoming dinner for the sinister bugs that lurk on the other side. You see, with all this flat land and standing water, I'm in Mosquito Heaven.

I was enjoying the cacophony outside my cocoon a few minutes ago when I received an unusual email from my friend John: "I'd appreciate you and Janet saying a prayer for this little one. Thank you for all the healing work you have done around this suffering world. Bless you!" Below that was a link to his blog page with a short entry. Through another child sponsorship agency he has supported for some 30 years, he was now sponsoring Meta, a little girl in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa. He was stunned to receive a letter today that she has died of malaria, two months before her eighth birthday. He went on to lament, "...I have Meta's picture but had never gotten around to writing. It was something I planned to do tomorrow. Today's letter from [the organization's] always efficient and gracious staff left me feeling desolate and ashamed. I've written back offering to sponsor another child in the same community. But no one can replace Meta. For her, I'm forever a day late. Sometimes all we can do is give thanks for the opportunity to do better."

Needless to say, my serenity on the screen porch was immediately pierced through by the story...just the simple tragedy of a singular little girl whom few people would ever know. But for that sponsorship connection and John's willingness to send in $30 each month, he would never have encountered her.

Sponsorship can seem so happy and simple. How nice that as a sponsor I can give a few dollars each month through automatic credit card deduction and have this relationship that the organization mostly handles for me, almost like having a spouse or assistant who makes me look good by sending flowers on my behalf when it's a loved one's birthday. They make it so easy for me, and as long as I send in my check I can feel that my life and the life of my sponsored child are interconnected, and to some degree they are connected.

But then a tragedy like this happens, a one-page letter becomes ice water in the face, and we realize we are still oceans apart in our experience of the world, our rights, our opportunities. It's absurd that a million little kids die every year of malaria on the same planet where I live. I'm writing from Mosquito Headquarters here in Wisconsin, and NOBODY here will die of malaria. Why? Malaria was a major killer in America 150 years ago, but we eliminated it. That happened mainly through widespread spraying of DDT, which for several reasons—many of them relating to global economics of the choices you and I make as consumers—is not an option today.

It's tragic. It's complicated, and I'm no expert. But in the meantime, the unevenness -- the unfairness -- of the world in which I live in and in which Meta lived for a few years leads to numbing letters like the one my friend received today, giving us a piercing glimpse behind the curtain, to the world outside the screen.

Screens, like the new mosquito nets we use in malarial regions, help a lot. But the truth is, there are no malaria-infected mosquitoes on the other side of this patio screen. I might get plenty of bites, but none of them would kill me. Decades ago, we broke the larva's life-cycle once for all here, and every year the dividend in human lives saved grows by leaps and bounds.

That this was not a viable option for Meta and her community is just a small part of the tragedy and unevenness of our lives on this earth. And there is nothing at all in this inequality that pleases the heart of God.

So yes, John; I’ll pray for this little one. I'm sorry for little Meta, sorry for you, sorry for Meta's family...sorry for the Kingdom that is not yet come.

Late-Season Skies

On a beautiful Monday evening, Kathy and I saw the Angels take the first of three from the Red Sox. They're three outs from winning the third game, which would be the second sweep against Boston in a row.

My St. John's friend Andy Guilford is at Dodgers Stadium on another perfect evening tonight, where the Arizona Diamondbacks are leading, 2-0.

Liveblogging Romney

Mitt Headroom

7:38 p.m. PT: Got to love the playlist gags, though I'm surprised Ryan mentioned '70s artists AC-DC and Led Zeppelin instead of Gen. X artists.

7:40: The day's immigration theme continues. Will this and Rubio's speech help the GOP get right with Hispanics?

7:43: Feeling the middle class's pain: "You took two jobs at nine bucks an hour." Gas bill hitting $50 (but what exactly are you going to do about that, Mitt?). Good line: "I wish President Obama had succeeded, because I want America to succeed." Take that, Rush.

"I was born in the middle of the century in the middle of the country, a classic baby boomer." John F. Kennedy is first presidential reference, as usual in acceptance speeches regardless of party. Hey, I remember that night in July 1969: Neil Armstrong's "soles on our soul." A great way to work him into the speech.

7:46: George Romney's working class background. "My friends cared more about what sports teams we followed than what church we attended." A natural, easy delivery, verging on the mawkish; but that's okay. "Every day my dad gave my mom a rose," until the day he died, when there was no rose. Killer story. His voice is cracking -- as he segues quickly into a play for gender equality as he goes transparently to work on the gender gap.

7:50: Life wasn't easy as a trust fund scion. It's important to connect and personalize. His tribute to Ann is touching. But what are you going to do?

7:52: Republicans know that Obama can't tap into his faith story this way.

7:53: "If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn't you feel that way now, when he's President Obama?" This is Karl Rove's playbook: Treat Obama with respect; more in sorrow than in anger; acknowledging the excitement of his election. He's right about Obama's inexperience, though not that Obama really thinks that jobs come from government.

7:55: Oh, those hardscrabble Bain days! And then there was the $25 million IRA. Weird reference to not investing LDS money and risking hell. OMG: The Episcopalians' Church Pension Fund invested with Bain Capital, resulting in a lot of "happy retired priests," almost none of whom, Romney no doubt realizes, will vote for him. He's showing a certain puckishness.

8:00: "Except Jimmy Carter, and except this president": He's had his mind on 1980 for a long time.

8:02: "These [suffering Americans] aren't strangers. These are our brothers and sisters." Indeed. So if you're elected, we'll be watching the safety net shredding in the first Romney-Ryan budget.

8:04: Twelve million new jobs. Great! I'm listening. Energy independence by 2020? I've heard heard that before, beginning with Nixon. Skills training? Great -- but you segued immediately to school choice, which has nothing to do with retraining workers, which will cost money. Will Ryan spare any? Free trade? Okay, but then more jobs lost to cheap-labor countries. Investments disappearing? That's not currently a risk in a low-inflation environment; and the stock market has roared back under Obama. Reducing taxes and streamlining regulations. Replacing Obamacare to fuel economic growth? Disconnect. Why didn't you repeal Romneycare in Massachusetts to encourage job growth?

8:07: "Life," marriage, freedom of religion. Social issues get a 30-second sentence.

8:08: Ridiculing Obama's concern about climate change and global acceptance. "My promise is to help you and your family." I'll say this: He's got impeccable timing. He's smooth and confident, and his speech is perfectly modulated to address his problems (women and Hispanics) and exploit his advantages (poor economy).

8:10: Nixon wouldn't like two minutes on foreign policy. Grudging credit to Obama for killing bin Laden. Brief reference to an old enemy, Iran, and Romney's new enemy, our friendly rival Russia. Ritualistic Cuba-bashing to help in Florida; I was unaware that Obama had gone soft on the Castros. He's wrong that Obama threw Israel under the bus and wrong to continue to ignore the Palestinians.

8:12: Good peroration on "that united America, so strong that no nation would dare to test it." But "the constellation of rights that were endowed by our Creator?" No: We were endowed by our Creator with the rights. You don't endow rights.

8:14: Good, effective speech; probably the best he could have done.

Truths And Consequences

On a KPCC-FM talk show this morning, someone said that politics is a lot like the courtroom, where neither prosecution nor defense usually concedes the validity of the other's narrative. The problem with the analogy is that in court, both sides are working with the same facts. Not so in politics, where facts are almost infinitely malleable. If an attorney shows a jury a document with 43 vital words removed, as the Republicans showed the public this week in Tampa to set up their "We Built That" theme, her opponent will swiftly point out what's missing. For evidentiary assessments and challenges in politics, we rely first on journalists and then the opposition.

These days you need a scorecard to keep track of the political agendas of media personalities and outlets. I like bloggers like Andrew Sullivan who aggregate a wide range of responses. He does so here for Rep. Paul Ryan's speech last night, in which he called on Barack Obama to be accountable for his record while failing to be accountable for his own contributions to the deficit and debt as well as his role in torpedoing Simpson-Bowles.

Sullivan calls it a list of Ryan's lies. A legal friend tells me he doesn't like to hear that word applied to misleading political discourse. He says that it's usually not a lie to leave something out. Plus some of Obama's critics argue that the GOP's tape gap exposed the underlying truth of Obama's skepticism about capitalism.

Then there's the opposition as truth teller, which can also be a thin reed. As the KPCC observer said, the prosecution rests tonight, and the defense has its turn next week. In a comment on an earlier post, my St. John's brother Barry Fernelius wrote:

If I were putting together the Democratic convention, I'd feature a segment that first shows the edited version of Obama's remarks, followed by a complete version. Then, I'd hammer home the central message. "The point is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."

An operative has probably suggested something exactly along those lines around a conference table at Obama HQ. A great idea as long as it doesn't sound too defensive. Maybe there's a Romney clip Democrats can selectively edit to trigger people's inchoate concerns about his foreign policy naivete: My opponent has completely attack...Russia...using... Ann's horse Rafalca! Overall we can anticipate a Democratic convention with a comparable mendacity quotient, since that's the way the game is being played. The candidate who opts out loses.

This gladiatorial model has its advantages. Leaders who fight hard and even ruthlessly can come in handy in a dangerous world. And like politics, citizenship isn't beanball. Voters who don't pay attention to candidates' falsehoods deserve the leaders they get.

Besides, the political free market has a way of weeding out those whose narratives aren't authentic or don't resonate with the nation's needs. That's one of the reasons I'm curious about how well Mitt Romney will scour, as Abraham Lincoln (as quoted by Richard Nixon) would say. Is he a conservative who waxed moderate to thrive politically in Massachusetts or a moderate who veered to the right to get nominated for president? Or maybe he has no fixed convictions beyond faith, family, profit, and winning, which would make him the first post-ideological, technocratic president. So far, it's a question that's even defied the fact checkers.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Condi, Condi, Condi

Molly Ball on the star of the RNC so far:

At the Republican convention Wednesday night, there was indeed a lofty, high-minded speech, one that managed to forcefully articulate a conservative world view without cheap partisan attacks or facts stretched to the breaking point. But it wasn't [Paul] Ryan's -- it was delivered by Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state.

Rice's address had a sophistication, ease, and grace almost never found in modern political speeches. It was a speechwriter's speech, the kind you could imagine reading in a history book. She spoke with a diplomat's formality and the teleprompter turned off, glancing only occasionally at her notes on the podium.

Most of the speech was a policy argument, starting with foreign policy and moving to economics, but at the end, Rice, more circumspect than emotive, struck a personal note.

"A little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham, the most segregated big city in America," she said. "Her parents can't take her to a movie theater or a restaurant. But they make her believe that even though she can't have a hamburger at the Woolworth's lunch counter, if she wants to, she can be president of the United States -- and she becomes the secretary of state."

The crowd, rapt throughout her remarks, came to its feet and roared, and you could practically feel the Condi for President buzz sweeping through the collective hearts of the Republican elites. Being pro-choice, Rice's actual presidential prospects might prove tricky, but that's a matter for another day. For now, she has clearly -- and by no accident -- established herself as a political voice.

She also spoke up for foreign aid, compassionate immigration policy, and attentiveness to inequality in education funding that hurts minority students. The crowd applauded almost every line, as though they didn't know that tea party orthodoxy was being gently but firmly rebuked.

Authenticity And Tape Gaps

In his rousing acceptance speech, Rep. Paul Ryan justified yesterday's "we built that" theme, built with a 43-word presidential tape gap, a cynical distortion of Barack Obama's July speech in Virginia. Ryan said:
Behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing. All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores – these didn’t come out of nowhere. A lot of heart goes into each one. And if small businesspeople say they made it on their own, all they are saying is that nobody else worked seven days a week in their place. Nobody showed up in their place to open the door at five in the morning. Nobody did their thinking, and worrying, and sweating for them. After all that work, and in a bad economy, it sure doesn’t help to hear from their president that government gets the credit. What they deserve to hear is the truth: Yes, you did build that.
Obama's point was gratuitously professorial. Why pick a fight with the other side's idealization of job creators, especially when your greatest and perhaps decisive error was failing to make job creation a top priority from the beginning? Even so, he wasn't crediting government with being entrepreneurs' partner but rather our "unbelievable American system." If Republicans think Obama's a lefty, find some lefty language, and make fun of that. Don't stand up for honesty and authenticity and then cheat.

Is Paul Ryan Keynesian Now?

Rep. Paul Ryan is right about Barack Obama, the 2009 stimulus, and jobs:
It was President Obama’s first and best shot at fixing the economy, at a time when he got everything he wanted under one-party rule. It cost $831 billion – the largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government.

It went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs, and make-believe markets. The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal.

What did the taxpayers get out of the Obama stimulus? More debt. That money wasn’t just spent and wasted – it was borrowed, spent, and wasted.

Maybe the greatest waste of all was time. Here we were, faced with a massive job crisis – so deep that if everyone out of work stood in single file, that unemployment line would stretch the length of the entire American continent. You would think that any president, whatever his party, would make job creation, and nothing else, his first order of economic business.

But this president didn’t do that. Instead, we got a long, divisive, all-or-nothing attempt to put the federal government in charge of health care.

It sounds as if Ryan is saying that Obama and congressional Democrats should just have devised a smarter stimulus. That's astonishing, since according to the ideology that he and Mitt Romney now proffer, government is incapable of investing wisely in the private economy. Instead, Ryan implies that a smarter, more experienced Obama could have built that. And yet under Romney-Ryan, we wouldn't get a dollar of new stimulus. So maybe the smarter vote is for an Obama who has learned from experience and a Congress that will help him do what Ryan says he wishes they'd done in 2009.

Caesar Borrowing, Then Rendering Unto Heaven

Coverage of a Billy Graham exhibition in his home town of Charlotte, North Carolina reminded me of watching Richard Nixon's last chief of staff, Kathy O'Connor, hand him a wad of cash one December (from his own account, of course) so he could go Christmas shopping for his grandchildren:
In May 1970...Nixon was one of 75,000 people gathered to hear evangelist Billy Graham preach in Knoxville, Tennessee. When they passed the collection plate, Nixon realized he didn’t have any money. So he borrowed some cash from a friend.

The friend? None other than Billy Graham.

“A number of presidents have looked to you for spiritual sustenance over the years,” Nixon later wrote to the famous preacher, “but I suspect I was the first to hit you up for a loan.”

Read more here:
I hope Graham (with whom I once covered some theological ground) gave Nixon some green. When his father, Frank, took him up to the Angelus Temple in Echo Park in Los Angeles to see the colorful Foursquare Gospel preacher Aimee Semple McPherson, they undoubtedly heard her trademark admonition that she didn't want to hear any coins clinking in the plate, just the gentle rustling of paper.

For Meta

Through Plan International (the former Foster Parents Plan), since April 2011 I've sponsored a little girl named Meta Balde in Bafata, Guinea-Bissau. I got word today that she died of malaria on May 31, two months before her eighth birthday.

Having learned to admire Plan from my mother, an early FPP adopter in the 1950s, I've sponsored children since 1982. The financial part happens automatically. Once diligent about writing to them, I've let other commitments get in the way. I have Meta's picture but had never gotten around to writing. It was something I always planned to do tomorrow. Today's letter from the always efficient and gracious staff at Plan in Warwick, Rhode Island left me feeling desolate and ashamed. I've written back offering to sponsor another child in the same community. But no one can replace Meta. For her, I'm forever a day late. Sometimes all we can do is give thanks for the opportunity to do better.

Then this 1993 video of Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Lullaby" came over the transom, thanks to the good people at No Depression. One more kiss and you'll be gone, on the way to to dreamland. Also aboard were Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Denise Williams, Maura O'Connell, Carole King, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Gloria Estafan, and Dionne Warwick.

Fight malaria in sub-Saharan Africa by supporting Nets for Life.

Give rest, dear God, to your beloved child with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

We Edited That

Hendrik Hertzberg is obviously right that the Republicans' Tuesday convention theme, "We Built That," was based on a grossly deceptive edit of Barack Obama's July speech at a firehouse in Virginia. Say what you will about the president, but the idea that he would tell entrepreneurs that they didn't build their businesses is ridiculous. It would be evidence of dementia, like standing in the rain and saying it's not raining. Obama was making a point about how society trains, encourages, and often subsidizes job creators. That "unbelievable American system," he said, in a rousing tribute to American exceptionalism, "you didn't build that."

You could say the comment resonates because people have a gut feeling, thanks to lackluster job and GDP growth, that Obama doesn't understand how the economy works -- but the comment doesn't resonate unless you change it.

You could say, as Andrew Sullivan has, that Obama deserves the drubbing because he spoke carelessly -- but if it was really that bad, then the mendacious edits wouldn't be necessary. Real gaffes, such as Richard Nixon saying he wasn't a crook or Gerald Ford that Poland wasn't under Soviet domination, don't require deliberate erasures.

You could say that Obama was giving too much weight to communitarianism. Free education, tax breaks, and infrastructure won't create a job unless an individual or group of individuals adds vision and energy and risks capital. It did sound like Obama was scolding entrepreneurs for thinking they're all that, which seems churlish when we've got 20 million out of work. Give us 5% growth, and keep your discourses on political philosophy to yourself.

But that's not what Republicans said all day yesterday. They said, falsely, that Obama told business builders they didn't build anything. Their visceral, uncontainable contempt for Obama simmered behind the sentimental faux documentaries. Besides, they know that their base constituency will believe anything -- he was born in Kenya, he's a socialist, he wants to tear down and diminish the United States, he believes only government can create jobs. I'll leave out of the equation whether it's harmful to the country to alter a president's public policy comments and pummel him for what he didn't say as a means of seizing power. I imagine it's been done before, though an example doesn't spring to mind. I'll even leave aside that the U.S. would probably be better off if many Republicans hadn't given in to these passions in the first months of his presidency and dedicated themselves to defeating rather than working with him. I just keep remembering Karl Rove telling Republicans to treat Obama with respect since they can't win without millions of his 2008 voters. I wonder how these tactics are playing with them?

Republican Winter

Pat Buchanan argues that Mitt Romney has a tough road to victory in 2012, and the GOP a dim future.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Sundown," Gordon Lightfoot

She don't always say what she really means. The great Canadian troubadour performing in 1974, with Terry Clements picking that Martin and Rick Haynes on bass.
Hat tip to Paul Arndt

Angel Stadium Sky

7:22 p.m.

St. John's Sky

3:30 p.m.

You Can Always Count On The Nixon Guy

In her latest Huffington Post column, my Diocese of Los Angeles colleague the Rev. Susan Russell (shown photographing me in 2011) writes that she was a registered (although not always a voting) Republican until 1992, when she heard Nixon ex-aide Pat Buchanan's notorious cultural war speech at the George H. W. Bush convention:
I listened with increasing horror as his narrow, exclusivist, fear-mongering rhetoric laid out a vision for what this country needed -- a vision that bore absolutely NO resemblance to the values my parents had raised me to understand were core to the "Grand Old Party" of my Republican roots.

I turned the stove down under the simmering green beans, told the boys to finish their homework and that I'd be right back. I drove the six blocks down to the grocery store where earlier in the day I'd noticed the card table out front with the "Register to Vote" sign. And I changed my party affiliation that day -- explaining to the woman at the card table that if I got hit by a bus tomorrow I was NOT going to die a Republican. And I've never looked back.

This is one Huffington post GOP elites must read, mark, and inwardly digest. Susan's wasn't the only vote Buchanan lost for Bush in 1992. It could lose millions more socially tolerant, fiscally conservative voters this year, too. With the Paul Ryan pick, Mitt Romney pinned his hopes on the theory that enough former Obama voters will abandon him over the economy that Republicans will win despite tea party selfishness and a platform that envisions women in chains. With Romney's minions having massively out-raised Obama's in super-PAC funds, look for this Karl Rove-inspired script in more and more gauzy, minor-keyed TV spots: Obama meant well. He did the best he could! But it's time to give him a break and try something new for America. Romney and Rove had better hope that no more moments such as Todd Akin's unintended spasm of authenticity will make it as easy as Buchanan did for centrists to glimpse the true heart of today's Republican Party.

The Obama-First Foreign Policy

Roger Cohen hammers Barack Obama for surrounding himself with sycophants and comes pretty close to saying his foreign policy is a failure:

In the end the trust of a cool man who had sublimated abandonment into a singular willfulness was limited. The sense of a controlling leader, unable to provide connective tissue to fire the economy, lies behind the fact that many Obama voters will cast their ballot in November with more grudging respect than enthusiasm.

Nixon, like Obama, was a loner, but he had Kissinger generating ideas. Carter had Brzezinski. Reagan had Shultz. The first Bush had Baker. Obama has Tom Donilon as national security adviser. Donilon is an affable pro who has been described as a one-client lawyer. It is clear who the client is.

Then there is Hillary Clinton, a superb secretary of state. But for various reasons (her future is very much ahead of her), she has generally acquiesced to the White House being the locus of major foreign-policy decisions (salvaging things where necessary, as in Pakistan.)

The Obama inner circle remains a group of tough political tacticians: David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Valerie Jarrett. The White House national security team does not boast a single name of strategic stature. Anyone outside Washington would be hard pressed to name one.

The policy upshot has been predictable: cerebral, cool, and with one big exception, cautious. Obama has corrected big mistakes — abandoning the unwinnable global war on terror and pulling out of Iraq. To his immense credit he took a big gamble on killing Osama Bin Laden. But elsewhere he has been cautious to a fault, eyeing the political calendar.

He held out a hand to Iran but promptly reverted to tired old carrots and sticks; his response to the great popular uprising of 2009 was slow. He took half-steps on Israel and Palestine — criticizing Israeli settlements, saying the pre-1967 lines were the basis for a two-state peace — only to offer zero follow-through. Nothing changed.

On Egypt, he toyed with preserving Mubarak ad interim before the tide became irreversible. On Syria, he has in essence dithered. On Afghanistan, domestic politics dictated the agenda, at a cost in American lives.


In an act of sheer mercy, Amanda Marcotte advises Republicans to stop answering questions about abortion.

Monday, August 27, 2012

God, Geese, And Ganders

After a barrage of criticism, Michigan's Democratic former governor tweeted uncle. She said she'd been kidding and apologized, and appropriately so. Any serious effort to associate God's intentionality with a potentially deadly natural disaster would have been poor theology and in poor taste.

But when conservative legal authority John Eastman made the same kind of comment after an earthquake at the Nixon library in June, quipping to thunderous applause that God agreed with his opposition to gay marriage, there wasn't a peep from Sean Hannity. Go figure.

Blowhard Low Pressure Low Blow

Rush Limbaugh implies that Barack Obama manipulated the government's prediction of Isaac's storm track to disrupt the GOP convention.

His Face Set For The Heavens

From a series of Neil Armstrong photos posted by the National Archives
Hat tip to Maarja Krusten

The Republicans Are Getting Ready For Isaac

So too the Episcopalians.

Where No Wealthy Nation Has Gone Before

From David Leonhardt, a sober assessment of what would happen if the tea party-dominated Republicans win the White House and Senate and keep the House:
What would the combined effects of the new Republican revolution be? Some government agencies would probably become less wasteful, learning to do more with less, and the private sector would take over some government functions. But those would not be the only changes. The American economy would also devote fewer of its resources to the areas that do not naturally create opportunities for profit in a free market: mass transportation, road building, early-stage scientific research, many aspects of education and public safety.

Whether you love that idea or hate it, it certainly would be different. Around the world, the historical pattern has been for government to grow as a society becomes richer and citizens vote for more of the services that the market often does not provide by itself. Federal spending makes up 22 percent of the American economy today, up from three percent a century ago.

In an aging society coping with a globalized economy, where health care and education continue to grow more ambitious and expensive, the country has a choice to make. It can allow government to continue expanding. Or, as a Romney administration would, it can take a more laissez-faire path than any wealthy country has previously tried.

Clash Of Civilizations? What Civilization?

Huffington Post headline: "Taliban Insurgents Behead 17 Afghans As Punishment For Attending Party, Dancing"

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Reagan Was Connected

Big government comes in handy when you really need it. Beginning in the 1940s, Ronald Reagan earned the friendship of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI by informing on his Hollywood colleagues. According to author Seth Rosenfeld, the FBI reciprocated by overlooking Reagan's omissions in his national security paperwork as governor and, on the eve of his gubernatorial candidacy, saving him from the scandal of his son Michael associating with the son of a mobster. Rosenfeld was interviewed by Terry Gross on the Aug. 21 "Fresh Air":
The FBI did a personal and political favor for Ronald Reagan in 1965. FBI agents at the time were investigating the Bonanno crime organization. Joe Bananas, as he was known, was one of the most notorious mobsters in America and had recently moved to Arizona.

FBI agents in Phoenix were investigating him when they discovered that Joe Bananas' son, Joseph Jr., was hanging out with Michael Reagan, who was the adopted son of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, and they reported this to headquarters.

The agents proposed that they should interview Ronald Reagan to see if he had learned anything about the Bonannos through his son. This investigation, after all, was a top priority. But Hoover interceded. He ordered them not to interview Ronald Reagan, and he instead told the agents to warn Ronald Reagan that his son was consorting with the son of Joe Bananas....

This happened in early 1965, just as Ronald Reagan was about to embark on his first run for public office, the governorship of California. And when FBI agents warned him that his son was hanging out with Joe Bonanno's son, he was very grateful. And according to an FBI report, Reagan said "he was most appreciative and stated he realized that such an association and actions on the part of the son might well jeopardize any political aspirations he might have." Reagan stated he would telephone his son and instruct him to disassociate himself gracefully and in a manner which would cause no trouble or speculation. He stated that the bureau's courtesy in this matter would be kept absolutely confidential. Reagan commented that he realizes that it would be improper to express his appreciation in writing, and he requested that the agent convey the great admiration he has for the director and the bureau and to express his thanks for the bureau's cooperation.

Baby Boomers Still Trying To Score Joints

Nothing raises the profile of an ailment faster than an afflicted journalist. Covering his knee replacement surgery, veteran LA Times columnist Steve Lopez learns of a pending shortage. Sounds like dudes will be smuggling knees instead of keys:
[My doctor] told me about a recent forecast that, by the year 2030, there will not be enough joint replacement surgeons to meet the demand. In 25 years, the number of people whose activity is limited by arthritis is expected to grow by 40%, to 67 million adults.

And we think we've got budget and healthcare policy issues now?

Imagine 67 million people on bowed legs — planet of the apes — squinting at mobile devices, trying to find the app that controls the volume on their hearing aids.