Tuesday, May 28, 2013

NOUVELLE RESISTANCE IN PARIS TO SAME SEX MARRIAGE


           France and the French tend to inspire contradictory feelings, especially among Americans.  Of course, like many others, I have a grudging admiration for a rich, full-bodied Bordeaux; the music of Ravel, Debussy, and Saint-Saens; and the audacity of Napoleon's military strategies at Austerlitz, Jena, and other historical battlefields of Europe.  And honest Americans must also concede the critical supportive role played by the French in our Revolutionary War, particularly the timely assistance provided by Lafayette, Rochambeau, and especially Admiral de Grasse and the French Navy at the conclusive Battle of Yorktown.

             But alas, mon ami, these select entries on the plus side of the ledger tend to be offset at times by the lengthy historical catalogue of French fiascoes, foibles, and misgovernance.   France's Bourbon Dynasty stands forever as the epitome of degenerate and corrupt excess in the exercise of royal prerogative and self-indulgence.  Those vices led to an entirely justifiable revolution which, however, like many things French, ultimately descended on a downward path from just and admirable remedial motives to the malicious bloodbath of the Reign of Terror.  Napoleon's brilliant victories over the combined armies of Europe were soon followed by his feckless and immoral sacrifice of the flower of the French Army on the winter wastelands of the Russian tundra.  De Gaulle's insufferable obtuseness and ingratitude in his dealings with General Eisenhower in World War II were exceeded only by his audacity in taking victory bows on the Champs Elysees when the victory had been achieved by the Allies in spite, rather than because, of any help from de Gaulle (as distinguished from the brave fighters of the French Resistance).  And contemporary France's descent to the status of a morally indifferent, radically secularized, leisure-obsessed socialist basket case needs no elaboration.

            But recent events in France have brought forth a surprising spirit of nouvelle resistance that could set an inspirational example for defenders of traditional morality in America and other countries where the civilizing institution of marriage is under siege.

                                                     
                                            The Sans Culottes in revolutionary Paris, 1789
   
         In one of contemporary history's more ironic twists, the streets of Paris have just witnessed what appears to be the Western World's most impassioned popular uprising against the government-imposed subversion of traditional marriage that is spreading with astonishing speed through Europe and the Americas.  Not since the sans culottes stormed the Bastille in 1789 has Paris witnessed a popular insurgence with the passion and determination demonstrated by the huge crowds gathered there this past weekend to express their implacable opposition to their government's imposition of a same-sex marriage regime on the French Nation.  The huge May demonstrations followed a similar mass demonstration in March.  Both demonstrations expressed widespread popular rejection of a proposition the protesters know to be false and insupportable:  That, contrary to the unvarying law, religious doctrines, practice, and tradition of France and other civilized nations for millennia, marriage is not, after all, a procreative union between a man and a woman, but rather some kind of bizarre and protean grouping between an indeterminate number of  persons of any sex or variation thereof, with no necessary reference whatsoever to biological procreation or the formation of natural families.

            At first blush, France might seem the last place in which to find mass resistance to any movement towards the brave new world of unfettered sexual liberation and license epitomized by the gay marriage movement.   As far back as the 1950's, the French cinema was already pushing the erotic envelope in movies starring the seductive likes of Brigitte Bardot.  And under contemporary France's steady march towards socialism and secularization, most of the French have long since abandoned adherence to the restrictive doctrines of the traditional Catholic Church on matters of sexual morality.

            But despite all that, anywhere from 150,000 to well over one million French men and women – the low estimate is from the Paris police, the higher from the demonstration's sponsors – were willing to take to the streets to voice their adamant public opposition to their government's endorsement and approval of same-sex marriage (SSM).  Only two months earlier, before the government had made its final decision on the matter, some 300,000 French protesters had staged a similarly impassioned demonstration to oppose what they consider a radical distortion of the marital institution – and the harbinger of even more radical restructuring of traditional family life soon to follow.  Considering that the turnout for public demonstrations generally represents only the boldest and most vociferous element of the movement in question, these demonstrations confirm the existence of a very substantial movement of popular resistance to the imposition of same-sex marriage in France.

            At least from one perspective, this impassioned new resistance to the enthronement of SSM from French traditionalists is not entirely surprising.  The French, it should be recalled, originated the famous epigram that so aptly expresses and extols the complementary sexual dualism that lies at the essence of marriage, and which stands in sharp contradiction to the very notion of same-sex marriage:   "Vive la difference."  A culture which has idealized the romantic connection, and God-ordained difference, between men and women for centuries is not likely to suddenly embrace the contradictory and jarring notion that such connections between two men are equivalent and must be acknowledged as such by all.  The millions of French men and women who have joined in resistance to their government's attempt to enforce this alien notion of marriage are merely giving natural expression to cultural -- and in some cases religious and moral -- traditions that have been abandoned by their government and the elements of the populace that support it.

            Meanwhile, further south in France, the amoral elitists of the Cannes Film Festival were pushing the boundaries of the homosexual gospel to unprecedented extremes, even while the Parisian tradionalists expressed a contrary French perspective at the Esplanade de les Invalides. 

            In a decision that was undoubtedly a deliberate provocation, the jury of cinema mavens (including ultra-liberal American director Steven Spielberg) awarded the festival's top prize to an exercise in porno-lesbian excess entitled "Blue is the Warmest Color."  According to reports which there is no apparent reason to doubt, the film features scenes of the most explicit and prolonged lesbian interactions imaginable, and perhaps unimaginable.  If this were not sufficient to provoke the bourgeoisie to fits of indignation, one of the characters portrayed in the pornographic display is a 15-year-old girl being seduced by an older woman.  In order to underscore its unequivocal endorsement of the theme of virtuous lesbian coupling, the Cannes jury awarded the prize not only to the film's director, but to the two actresses who had grappled so artistically before the cameras.  And in a concluding expression of disdain for the unenlightened Frenchmen opposing same-sex marriage in Paris, the festival's director declared, "Everyone who is against same sex marriage . . . must see the film."  The oblivious ignorance of this character is so extreme that it would not occur to him that the very same moral considerations and principles that make it impossible for the Parisian demonstrators to accept same-sex marriage would also make it repugnant and immoral for them to view a film that is both pornographic and morally subversive.

            Meanwhile, Americans who adhere to tried and traditional principles of morality and marriage are confronted with the same conformist tendency, initiated and reinforced by an elitist media culture,  that has imposed a regime of same-sex marriage in France, twelve other countries, and a growing number of American states.  Millions of Americans – who only ten years ago would have considered the notion of two men "marrying" each other as bizarre nonsense – have experienced an overnight and curious "conversion" to the view that such same-sex marriages are not only reasonable and proper, but that those who continue to oppose that view are somehow extremists.  The logic and merit of an idea that somehow escaped the notice or acceptance of the most brilliant and enlightened thinkers of history during millennia of human experience with the institution of marriage has suddenly and simultaneously been deduced by millions whose intellectual compass and curiosity extends no farther than the ephemeral and vapid chatter of Twitter or Facebook.   Of course, these mass conversions to support of same-sex marriage – indeed, to dogmatic support – have nothing to do with any logical or analytical process on the part of the instant converts.  Instead, they reflect mindless conformity with what has been relentlessly portrayed as the "humane" and "progressive" position in the monolithic liberal media and celebrity culture.

            Fortunately, there remains a stubbornly principled portion of Western Civilization, surprisingly exemplified by the vibrant protests of the French traditionalists, that will not yield to tout le monde in its feckless embrace of the unnatural shibboleth of same-sex marriage.  Americans who remain committed to preserving the integrity of traditional marriage should shake off their slumber and join the Parisian resistance in going public with their opposition to this demoralizing movement a la mode.

 

           

Monday, May 20, 2013

ANOTHER REPUBLICAN REBOUND IN RICHMOND


            For the second time in four years, Republicans and conservatives may find their remedy for the depression of a presidential election downer in the energetic resilience of the Republican Party of Virginia.  Although Virginia Republicans suffered another extremely painful setback in 2012 when Obama again carried the tradition-rich state that gave us Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, they are again ready to roar back in the gubernatorial and other state office elections that always occur in Virginia (and New Jersey) in the year following a presidential election.

            I was a delegate at the Virginia GOP Convention that was just held in Richmond on May 18, just as I was four years ago.  This year's convention provided encouraging signs that the 2013 Virginia elections may produce the same kind of boost for Republican fortunes that occurred in 2009. 

            The 2009 convention followed on the heels of Obama's first election, during the period when the liberal and international media were all but canonizing this political charlatan and when Republican and conservative spirits were suffering from a post-election hangover.  But the spunk and fighting spirit displayed by Virginia Republicans at that convention ignited the comeback that soon produced the GOP's devastating defeat of the Obama Democrats in the 2010 congressional elections.

            The 2009 convention not only provided a rousing sendoff for the stunningly successful gubernatorial campaign of Bob McDonnell – who beat his Democrat opponent by a landslide 17 percentage points – but provided a spectacular liftoff for the meteoric political career of current GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli, who was then seeking the GOP nomination for State Attorney General.  Cuccinelli's impressive organizational ability, and the zeal and determination of his followers, was colorfully displayed by the bright yellow array of Gadsen Flags -- with the "Don't Tread on Me" slogan that was to become the clarion cry of the Tea Party – that dominated the convention floor.  Spurred on by the enthusiasm, unity, and esprit de corps of the convention, McDonnell, Cuccinelli, and Lieutenant Governor candidate Bill Bolling  went on to sweep to victory in a statewide Republican landslide.  Coupled with Chris Christie's gubernatorial victory in New Jersey, the success of the Virginia GOP in the 2009 elections provided the national GOP with the spirit, optimism, and momentum that carried through to the spectacular congressional victories of 2010.

                                                
                                             Star of the 2009 Virginia GOP Convention

            Just as in 2009 with Bob McDonnell, this year's Virginia Republicans were solidly united and enthusiastic in support of Cuccinelli's nomination as their candidate for Governor.  So overwhelming was party and conservative support for Cuccinelli that two-term Lieutenant Governor Bolling withdrew from the race, complaining that the party should have held an open primary instead of a convention to select the nominee.  In fact, a primary would not only have required Cuccinelli to waste substantial resources in achieving a near certain victory over Bolling, but the primary would also have produced a counterproductive divisive element within the party.

             The convention in Richmond last Saturday left no doubt of the deep and broad support and undisputed leadership position that Cuccinelli enjoys among Virginia Republicans and conservatives.  His acceptance speech, which touted his initiative in taking the lead among state attorneys general in bringing the first lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare and his fierce defense of the U.S. Constitution, repeatedly brought the house down.  At the same time, he carefully balanced his commitment to conservative principles and limited government by emphasizing the substantial and difficult responsibilities he has shouldered as an activist Attorney General in a state where that position is one of considerable power and responsibility.  And in an era when a telegenic and likeable candidate spouse is more important than it should be, the charm and intelligence displayed by Teiro Cuccinelli in her convention speech introducing her husband confirmed that she will be a valuable campaign asset.   All in all, Cuccinelli and his campaign staff's convention performance was highly auspicious.  My only disappointment -- purely aesthetic -- was that only a smattering of Gadsen Flags were on display, rather than the waving field of yellow banners that were in conspicuous evidence in 2009.
                                                                
            Notwithstanding Cuccinelli's uncontested nomination, the spirited battles for the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor nominations provided the convention with considerable suspense and surprise.

            Mark Obenshain, an articulate and experienced state senator and attorney, edged out his comparably accomplished opponent, Rob Bell, in a hard-fought battle for the AG nomination.  Obenshain is not only a principled and thoughtful conservative legislator and attorney, but proved himself a polished and effective speaker.  Moreover, he holds a distinguished family pedigree in Virginia Republican politics.  His father was the late Richard Obenshain, who was a leading figure in the initial emergence of conservative influence in Virginia politics, but who was tragically killed in an airplane crash while running for the U.S. Senate in 1978.  To the great cost of Virginia and national conservatives, his place was taken by serial GOP apostate John Warner, whose perfidies included a critical vote that helped Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden to maliciously subvert the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork.

             It was the 7-person contest for the Lieutenant Governor nomination, however, that produced the most suspense and surprise at the convention.  Considering the modest powers and responsibilities of that post – although with an even split in the Virginia Senate, it does have the tie-breaking vote on some critical laws – it is remarkable that such an accomplished field of candidates campaigned so vigorously (and expensively) for the nomination.  The candidates included the chairmen of two major counties' boards of supervisors, two prominent state legislators, and a highly successful and well-funded hi-tech businessman.

            But it was a candidate that many delegates (myself included) gave no chance of winning who not only won, but did so rather decisively.  E.W. Jackson is an African-American preacher and one-time lawyer – not to mention Marine Corps veteran -- who earned a J.D. at Harvard Law School before studying theology at Harvard Divinity.  He is a genuinely charismatic orator with the ability to move a political crowd to raptures reminiscent of a revival meeting.  I have seen him do it before, and he did it again at the convention, bringing the delegates to their feet again and again with a passionate delivery of a straightforward, uncompromising testimony to constitutional and conservative fundamentals.  Beyond that, his convention campaign was well-organized as well as high-spirited and determined.  He led the vote on every ballot of the convention's rather elaborate elimination process, and pulled off a most impressive victory, especially for a long-shot African-American candidate seeking the votes of an overwhelmingly white-conservative convention.

             Whether Jackson's spot on the ticket will provide a boost or a burden for the Cuccinelli campaign remains to be seen.  As an articulate and highly principled champion of conservative social values, including his especially admirable and uncompromising moral opposition to the oxymoron of so-called same-sex "marriage," he will surely attract the shrill denunciations and calumnies of the liberal media and the well-funded Democrat attack machine (indeed, even as I write, the administration media outlet, Politico, has already posted its first nasty screed against Mr. Jackson).  Further, as a political neophyte whose only prior campaigns were long-shot intra-GOP efforts that did not invite close examination of his background, Jackson has not yet been closely vetted.  The Democrat opposition researchers will surely scour his background with a fine-tooth comb, and will seek to portray even the slightest ancient peccadillo as a fatal flaw.  But given the egregious vulnerability of the Democrat's sleazy gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Republicans shouldn't lose much sleep over such hypothetical concerns as to Mr. Jackson.

             Indeed, the potential positives Jackson brings to the ticket could far outweigh the potential negatives.  For one thing, his indisputably inspirational speaking skills will motivate the party faithful and help assure and expand the all-out support of core conservatives for the ticket.  In an off-year election, where the influence of the hard-core party elements is magnified, this factor could be especially critical.  Additionally, the presence of an articulate African-American on the Republican ticket should help to deflect the canard that the GOP is somehow inhospitable to blacks and other minorities when, as shown by Jackson's defeat of a strong field of white opponents, the party sometimes bends over backwards in its efforts to gain the votes of persistently hostile minority voters.  Finally, there is the possibility that Jackson might even help expand the GOP's consistently miniscule percentage of the black vote.  Admittedly, black conservative Republicans have generally had little success in persuading reflexively Democratic black voters to vote Republican.  On the other hand, South Carolina's Tea Party-backed black conservative Tim Scott – recently appointed to a vacant U.S. Senate seat by Governor Nikki Haley – was overwhelmingly elected to a House seat, although his district was heavily Republican.  Given Jackson's exceptional speaking skills, and his potential ability to draw the support of the many black religious conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage and on-demand abortion, there is a real possibility that he could significantly expand the currently negligible GOP share of the black vote in Virginia.  Given the close balance in the currently "purple" Commonwealth electorate, if Jackson is able to expand the GOP's black vote by even a few percentage points, it could conclusively clinch another GOP sweep in the state office elections.

            Of course, the glaring contrast in the caliber and qualifications of the parties' gubernatorial candidates strongly points to that result in any event.

            The Democrats' embrace of the boorish and sleazy mountebank Terry McAuliffe as their candidate for governor reflects either a desperate void of plausible candidates or the conviction that, if Obama can carry Virginia for the Democrats, anyone can.  A more flawed candidate to take on Ken Cuccinelli would be difficult to imagine.

            Cuccinelli is a rock-solid embodiment of Virginia values with the exact kind of experience and credentials that will make him a superbly qualified Governor.  He earned his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from University of Virginia and both a J.D. and M.A. from George Mason University, giving him not only a superior education, but a Virginia education.  He has won three elections to the Virginia Senate, where he established a strong reputation as a sold conservative and as a champion of individual liberties, property rights, Second Amendment rights, and the protection of traditional marriage.  He then won state-wide election to Attorney General with 58% of the vote, and went on to serve as one of the most courageous, principled, and prominent state attorney generals in the nation.  On all relevant criteria – leadership, experience, qualifications, accomplishment, principles, and policy – Cuccinelli is a perfect fit for Governor of Virginia.

            Conversely, if one were to imagine a perfectly unsuitable candidate for Virginia's Governor, someone in the mold of Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe would come immediately to mind.  His prominence in public life derives almost entirely from his notoriety as a fundraiser and political organizer for D.C.-oriented Democrats as well as his mastery of crony capitalism.  He is utterly devoid of government experience, unless the bizarrely named position of Ambassador to the Taejon Expo of South Korea could be counted as such.  The results of his one venture into Virginia elective politics were utterly ignominious.  He lost the Democratic primary to Creigh Deeds by 23 points, who then lost to Bob McDonnell by 17 points.  Why he expects to do better this time around is anybody's guess.

            The title McAuliffe chose for his own autobiography (co-authored with another writer) aptly describes a career and character which were suitable for his position as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee but which are blatantly unsuitable for the post occupied by such giants as Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and James Monroe:  " What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals."  Among other things gleefully admitted in this egocentric reminiscence was his outrageously churlish and boorish treatment of his own wife during her pregnancies, including abandoning her in the delivery room in 2005 to attend a party for a Washington Post columnist; engaging in a shouting match with the anesthesiologist over health-care reform  when his wife again was in labor in 1993, resulting in his ejection from the delivery room; and, while driving his wife and newborn child home just after another infant's delivery, he left his wife waiting in the car in tears while he made a "quick little drop-by" at a Democratic fundraiser.  His excuse for the latter exercise in appalling loutishness was that it meant "a million bucks for the Democratic Party." 

            If you were the most ruthless campaign attack operative, you couldn't credibly make this stuff up about your opponent (there is much, much more, but this post is already on the long side).  But Terry McAuliffe's value system is so warped, and he is so patently deprived of any normal sense of decorum and decency, that he raffishly recounts these boorish episodes like some nightclub comedian.  It is doubtful that Virginia's women voters will be amused.

            The Virginia Republican Convention gave Ken Cuccinelli and his conservative ticket an energetic boost as they commence their campaign in this critical off-year election.  And with an opponent who seems custom-made to offend and alienate the Virginia electorate, prospects for victory are indeed propitious.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

CAUSE FOR CAUTION ON SCANDAL NO. 3


           The firestorm of scandal and scrutiny which currently envelopes the Obama administration is long overdue.  For six years, and especially during the periods when an objective and adversarial press could have made an electoral difference, the predominant media outlets have acted instead as allies and propagandists for Obama and his leftist agenda.  He could not have been elected or re-elected without their unwavering and sycophantic support and protection.

            But now, three glaring political controversies have effectively forced a reluctant mainstream media, however half-heartedly, to join conservatives, Republicans, and other common-sense observers in subjecting the Administration to a well-deserved storm of criticism and questioning.  Whether the scandals inflict lasting political damage upon Obama and his extremist agenda remains to be seen.

            Without going into detail, two of the three controversies involve manifest wrongdoing or political corruption that should entail severe adverse consequences for Obama, Hillary Clinton, and other Administration figures.  The indecent abdication of responsibility and due diligence accompanying the brutal terrorist murder of our Ambassador and other brave Americans at Benghazi was then shamelessly exacerbated by the political cover-up that followed.  Equally, and perhaps more, serious is the invidious political discrimination engaged in by the IRS in handling the routine applications of conservative groups for clearance as non-profit organizations, exemplified by the administrative harassment of organizations displaying any link with the Tea Party or similar conservative indicators.  Efforts to minimize these scandalous episodes by various diehard Obama courtiers are nothing more than the desperate maneuvers of political spin-doctors to obscure the facts in clouds of rhetoric, and should be dismissed as such.

             But the third leg of the current Tripod of Scandal, involving Justice Department subpoenas of certain AP reporters' phone records in connection with a national security leak investigation, is another matter.  A close and careful examination of the facts surrounding this episode, and of the consequences of a legislative or administrative over-reaction, is very much in order.   In particular, the Administration's transparent attempt to deflect criticism of its heavy-handed maneuver by proposing enactment of an ill-considered Federal Shield Law – which is to say, in effect, "stop us before we start another fishing expedition" – should be firmly rejected.
                                           
                  Al Jazeera, Peoples' Daily, and Pravda Could Benefit from Media Privilege
 
              Although the scope of the Justice Department's probe may well have been overbroad, much of the indignation aroused by the matter is based upon flawed legal premises, fails to take into account the broader consequences of endorsing the AP's claims for media immunity, and extends an almost laughably misplaced sympathy and support to the purported "victims" – i.e., some of the most pro-Obama, anti-conservative elements of the liberal mainstream media.  There are many transgressions and abuses of power for which Eric Holder should be called to harsh account – ranging from race-based maladministration of the Civil Rights Division to flagrantly political disregard for the Constitution -- but permitting  the subpoena of a number of AP reporter's phone records on apparent national security grounds is among the least of his offenses.

            This writer has extensive familiarity with the issue of special press privilege and immunity from compelled testimony and production of evidence.  While serving as Senior Counsel at the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) during the Bush Administration,  I was closely engaged in the review of, and ultimate opposition to, what is commonly referred to as the Media Shield bill or, later, the Free Flow of Information Act (FFIA).  Briefly, the bill has been fervently pushed by the liberal media for decades (with the AP in the lead) in order to immunize themselves from the duty to provide evidence and information that applies to other citizens, and to facilitate the use of delinquent, and in some cases subversive, government officials to obtain classified and other confidential government information.  The legislation has been aggressively championed by the most liberal members of the Senate, such as Chuck Schumer, Patrick Leahy, Barbara Boxer, and the pre-presidential Barack Obama, while it has been strongly opposed by most Republicans and conservatives. 

            Sometimes the unauthorized release of inside government information is in the public interest – e.g., if an IRS employee revealed to a reporter that the agency was illegally targeting conservative groups for scrutiny; and sometimes it isn't – e.g., if a Department of Defense official or serviceman sympathetic to Islamic terrorism leaked information to, for example, AP or Al Jazeera, that might identify a U.S. agent or mole who had infiltrated a terrorist organization or government.  Heretofore, the press and others have found ample means of obtaining the release of inside government information for beneficial purposes without the interposition of a Shield Law, which would effectively give the predominantly liberal federal courts the ability and power to decide what information could be leaked without legal interference, and by whom.  Unfortunately, the press has also often been able to obtain confidential and classified information from disloyal government personnel that is harmful to national security, without the need for a federal Shield Law to facilitate such wrongdoing.  In short, the interposition of a Federal Shield Law would shift the roughly reasonable balance of interests that presently exists in favor of national security leakers and the media interests – think WikiLeaks or Al Jazeera if the AP, the New York Times, or Slate don't do the trick for you.

            Significantly, but just as I suspected when the AP subpoena story broke, the Obama Administration has promptly sought cover from the controversy by suddenly and urgently advocating the reintroduction and enactment of a Federal Shield law, in the form of the FFIA  bill previously introduced by the media-enamored Senator Schumer and previously blocked by a Republican filibuster.  If Republicans and conservatives now reverse gears and support the FFIA to appear consistent with their attacks on the Justice Department's AP subpoenas, it will be the triumph of misguided political calculation over rational policy.

            The reflexive enthusiasm with which some conservatives and Republicans have allied themselves with the ultra-liberal herd of AP reporters on this issue is based on a number of mistaken premises, and fails to consider some rather grave long-term consequences.

            First, twittering voices from both sides of the ideological and partisan divide have casually repeated the mantra that such subpoenas of reporters' records somehow violate an established First Amendment privilege that extends to reporters.  This canard was rejected by the Supreme Court over 40 years ago in the case of Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972).  The Court concluded that the First Amendment did not afford reporters any special protections. "Until now, the only testimonial privilege for unofficial witnesses that is rooted in the Federal Constitution is the Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination," Justice Byron White wrote for the majority. "We are asked to create another by interpreting the First Amendment to grant newsmen a testimonial privilege that other citizens do not enjoy. This we decline to do."  Simply put – and especially in an age when citizens using the Internet are often more effective and reliable reporters of fact than professional reporters – representatives of the establishment media should not be singled out for special immunity from whatever duty to provide evidence and testimony that applies to ordinary citizens.

            Second, there has been much discussion of certain Justice Department regulations that apply to the Department's compulsion of testimony or information from media sources and whether Mr. Holder and the Department complied with those rules.  Those "regulations," however, are not binding rules with the force of law or statute, but, rather a policy statement which in terms imposes internal "guidelines" on Department officials and attorneys in this context.  See 28 CFR 50.10.  On the other hand, however, those policy guidelines are quite restrictive on obtaining information from the media, go far beyond anything required by the First Amendment, and, if strictly adhered to, would themselves obviate the perceived need for a federal Shield Law now risibly invoked by the Administration.

            Third, endorsement of the AP's and other media's claims to immunity from compulsory process, especially in national security/leak cases, entails adverse consequences  for legitimate law enforcement and national security concerns that are receiving short shrift in the focus upon the relatively broad scope and heavy-handed execution of the AP reporters' record sweep. 

            Perhaps the thorniest problem in establishing a judicial or legislative media or reporters' privilege is formulating a sensible and workable definition of the group to be protected.  In the age of the Internet, limiting such a privilege to mainstream or traditional media would be grossly underinclusive and discriminatory.  For example, the work of Internet bloggers in exposing the flagrant misreporting of President Bush's National Guard records by discredited CBS media maven Dan Rather demonstrates that citizen bloggers are often more effective in accurately reporting the news than the so-called "reporters" who commonly invoke the privilege of a media shield.  Conversely, extending protection to anyone and everyone who uses the Internet or other modern media to gather and report "news" would entail such a broad privilege as to create an insupportable obstacle to effective law enforcement investigations.

            Another problem posed by media claims to investigative immunity involves the question of whether foreign media should be covered.  If it is wrong for the Government to obtain the phone records of AP reporters in an effort to locate a national security leak, what if the leak recipients were reporters for Al Jazeera, Wikileaks, Peoples Daily, Pravda, or, for that matter, Le Monde?  Do we really want foreign media, even hostile foreign media, to enjoy privileges and immunities not extended to ordinary American citizens?  Although later iterations of the Media Shield legislation have made various efforts to address this embarrassing aspect of a media or reporters' privilege, there is no guarantee whatsoever that judicial or legislative formulation of a media privilege would be limited to U.S. media or reporters.  In this respect, both the establishment media and the U.S. State Department have shown an oddly misplaced reluctance to offend foreign governments and foreign media in connection with the coverage of proposed Media Shield legislation.  Indeed, when I included a critical reference to Al Jazeera in one of the comments I drafted opposing such legislation while I was at the Justice Department, the State Department insisted upon its removal and, despite my resistance, the reference was deleted.

            A final, and perhaps most critical, problem posed by a judicial or legislative reporters' privilege is placing what can sometimes be sensitive national security determinations in the hands of the increasingly liberal federal judiciary.  Although the facts are not fully known, it appears that the Justice Department's procurement of the AP phone records was part of an effort to identify the source of a highly significant national security leak.  It also appears that the leak may have involved classified information relating to the identity of moles that had infiltrated Al Qaeda or a similar terrorist organization.  Under such circumstances, it is not at all clear that the need to protect the AP reporters' phone records – not the conversations, just the numbers called – outweighs the Government's need to identify and address a leak that poses a genuine threat to national security and, specifically, the abilityy to maintain and protect undercover agents in the field. 

            Obama will no longer be President in 2017.  Yet the Media Shield legislation he now advocates --- and the sweeping claims of privilege long advanced by AP and now reflexively endorsed by some otherwise sensible voices in their haste to pounce on the Justice Department's apparently overbroad subpoenas -- could enable leftist federal judges appointed by him to thwart a future President's efforts to identify, for example, a disloyal DoD employee leaking dangerous national security information to an Al Jazeera or a People's Daily. 
 
            It is all perfectly well to investigate and criticize whatever excesses or mismanagement occurred in the Department's AP subpoena fiasco, but it would be a serious mistake to embrace an unwarranted and unworkable reporters' privilege or Media Shield bill in the process.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

LEON RUSSELL, KAREN CARPENTER, AND THE UNITY OF OPPOSITES


            All great singers need great songwriters to bring out their best, and SR's favorite vocalist, the late Karen Carpenter, was no exception.   Contrary to the well-worn hyperbole, not even Ms. Carpenter could produce a Top Ten hit by singing from the phone book.

            Karen's perfect contralto was the beneficiary of a wide range of moving and memorable tunes composed by some of the best pop composers of the era, including some who were very close to home – and one who was from another world altogether.

            Several of her most popular songs – including "Top of the World," "Yesterday Once More," and "Goodbye to Love" -- were written by her big brother and fellow Carpenter, Richard, together with his lyricist, John Bettis, who was a fellow member of Spectrum, the precursor group that the very youthful Carpenter siblings formed in 1967 (and which met a rapid demise in the hostile, rock-oriented environment of the Hollywood Boulevard club scene).  Paul Williams and Roger Nichols, who like the Carpenters "hung their hats" at Herb Alpert's A&M Records lot, collaborated on such Carpenters classics as "We've Only Just Begun" and "Rainy Days and Mondays."  And of course there was the illustrious Burt Bacharach, a close colleague of Herb Alpert, whose "Close to You" brought the duo to instant stardom, and who wrote the medley of tunes that formed an integral part of many of their tour concerts and of one of their most popular albums.

            But the writer of three of the most memorable and haunting songs ever recorded by the Carpenters, each of which provided a perfect vehicle for Karen's smoky and intimate vocal style, presented an image and a persona that could hardly stand in sharper contrast from a demure suburban ingĂ©nue from Downey, California.  The accompanying pictures may subtly suggest something of this cultural contrast.  But what the Carpenters had in common with the inimitable Leon Russell – the talent, drive, and sensibility to produce enduring great music – supersedes in importance the glaring differences in their styles and deportment.


                                Leon Russell and Karen Carpenter -- Tulsa Boy and Downey Girl

            Russell – who was originally Christened Claude Russell Bridges – co-wrote the haunting rock ballad "Superstar" with Bonnie Bramlett during his days with Joe Cocker's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" troupe.  Although this classic has been recorded by a variety of other formidable artists, Karen's dark rendering of Richard's intricate arrangement of the song was by far the most popular, reaching either No.1 or No. 2 on the major charts and certified as a Gold Record.  "Superstar's" musical quality and complexity has even inspired doctoral dissertations and other scholarly analyses in musicology, and its status as an enduring classic is evidenced by its appearance in major motion pictures, such as Tommy Boy and Ghostrider, released decades after the song's heyday.

            Russell also wrote two of the Carpenters' most popular and prominent album cuts.  "A Song for You" was the title and "bookend" song of their 1972 album of the same name, which is generally regarded as the duo's most artistically successful album.  It contains lines which, when sung in Ms. Carpenter's husky lower register and pondered with the recollection of her premature death, are remarkably poignant:  "And when my life is over, remember when we were together.  We were alone, and I was singing this song for you."

            Leon Russell's final contribution to the Carpenters' catalogue is "This Masquerade," another darkish ballad which was recorded as part of the 1973 multi-platinum album, "Now and Then."  It is another bluesy, intimate, musically intricate piece that is a tribute both to Russell's creativity and the Carpenters' extraordinary ability to find the soul of a song and give it perfect pitch and voice in the recording studio.

            Although the Russell songs recorded by the Carpenters all fit well within the duo's musical oeuvre, Russell himself was an eccentric and multi-faceted character who might not have been entirely at home at the sedate Carpenter family digs in Downey.  To say the least.

            Interestingly, however, his beginnings were strikingly similar to Richard Carpenter's in one key respect:  Like Carpenter, he was a musical prodigy, who began playing the piano at 4 years of age and was playing for money in nightclubs in Tulsa, Oklahoma, well before he was old enough to order a drink. 

            Russell went from there to become a premier member (on piano) of the legendary informal group of session or studio musicians, now known as the Wrecking Crew.  Along with the likes of drummer Hal Blaine, guitarists Glen Campbell and Tommy Tedesco, and bassists Joe Osborn and Carol Kaye, he provided the backup music to such groups as varied as Aretha Franklin, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Ventures, and countless others.  In one session, recalled by Cher (who also enjoyed the backup support of the Wrecking Crew), Russell arrived at the studio still half-smashed from the prior night's carousing, and misbehaved accordingly.  When the insufferable Phil Spector (they were apparently recording one of Spector's "wall of sound" productions) confronted Russell and asked him if he understood the word respect, Russell jumped on top of his piano and demanded if Spector understood the meaning of a certain two-word expletive phrase that we need not quote.  According to Cher, the studio collapsed in hysterics.  So, among his many other distinctions, Russell deserves special credit for standing up to one of the music industry's most notorious jerks.

            Interestingly, Russell's experience with the Wrecking Crew presents another indirect link with the Carpenters from a Degrees of Separation vantage.  Fellow Wrecking Crew members Joe Osborn and Hal Blaine provided invaluable bass and drum backup on most of the Carpenters hits – Karen generally yielded to Blaine on the drums in the studio because, good as she was on the Ludwigs in concert, she knew Blaine was the best.  And Osborn was actually the first to discover the superiority of Karen's voice during a rehearsal session in his garage studio when she was only 16, and her first professional recordings were done on Osborn's short-lived Magic Lamp label.

            Leon Russell went on from his Wrecking Crew days to become one of the most versatile artists in the music industry – composer, instrumentalist (on guitar as well as piano and keyboards), and vocalist.  His musical range ran the gamut from hard rock to R&B to country rock to the melodic pop compositions that were so well-suited to Karen Carpenter's intimate contralto.  Among his many and varied career highlights – and the iteration at the farthest remove from the romantic ballads like "Superstar" and "A Song for You" that led to his intersection with the Carpenters' sound – was his collaboration with Joe Cocker and the raucous tour group supporting Cocker's 1971 "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" album.  Russell's hard-rock credentials, not to mention his instrumental versatility, are well evidenced by the accompanying video of his lead guitar backup to Cocker's rowdy on-stage rendition of "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window."  A farther remove from the world of "We've Only Just Begun" would be difficult to imagine.


            And yet, the intersection of different strains and styles of musical greatness can often produce songs of remarkable and lasting beauty.  "Superstar," which crosses the barriers of pop, rock, and torch song, is a classic case in point.  Russell's composition (with the help of Bonnie Bramlett), Richard Carpenter's exquisite, horn-rich arrangement, and Karen Carpenter's deeply moving delivery combined to produce one of the great pop recordings of the 20th century.


            There is no evidence that Leon Russell ever crossed paths with Karen Carpenter, which is not surprising given their profoundly different circles and lifestyles.  But had they done so, there can be little doubt that there would have been an amicable, and probably amusing, meeting of the musical minds.  Karen and her brother showed their recognition of Russell's musical excellence in the most convincing manner possible – by turning to his works for some of their most important recordings.  And Russell unambiguously expressed his fondness for Ms. Carpenter's singing in a 2005 interview.  SeePBpulse (Palm Beach Pulse), Dec. 28, 2005.  When asked which recorded version of "Superstar" was his favorite – the interviewer apparently tried to steer him towards a version other than the Carpenters' – Russell simply and tersely responded, "I have always been a huge fan of Karen Carpenter."  He mentioned no other versions.  It was Russell's polite way of saying that the Carpenters' version was best, without offending the numerous artists who had also recorded the song.  A man with Leon Russell's musical compass could not say otherwise.

         Addendum:  A recent interview of Leon Russell by Mike Ragogna published in the Huffington Post amplifies Mr. Russell's admiration for Ms. Carpenter, the lady who sang his songs so well. When Ragogna mentioned the importance of Superstar for the Carpenters, Russell responded:

         "Well Karen Carpenter was just a singularly amazing singer. There was just not anybody like her. I produced a gospel duet called the O'Neal Twins; they were a couple of twin brothers who were soul singers and they sang gospel songs like The Everly Brothers. I asked them one day who their favorite singer was and they both said together, "Karen Carpenter." So that's kind of amazing for me."

      Just further testimony to the range and variety of the deep admiration of Karen Carpenter in all genres and levels of the musical profession.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-ragogna/life-journeys-conversatio_b_5062965.html