Friday, February 27, 2009
The Washington Post
Friday, February 27, 2009; Page A17
Few phenomena generate as much heat as disputes about current orthodoxies concerning global warming. This column recently reported and commented on some developments pertinent to the debate about whether global warming is occurring and what can and should be done. That column, which expressed skepticism about some emphatic proclamations by the alarmed, took a stroll down memory lane, through the debris of 1970s predictions about the near certainty of calamitous global cooling.
Concerning those predictions, the New York Times was -- as it is today in a contrary crusade -- a megaphone for the alarmed, as when (May 21, 1975) it reported that "a major cooling of the climate" was "widely considered inevitable" because it was "well established" that the Northern Hemisphere's climate "has been getting cooler since about 1950." Now the Times, a trumpet that never sounds retreat in today's war against warming, has afforded this column an opportunity to revisit another facet of this subject -- meretricious journalism in the service of dubious certitudes.
On Wednesday, the Times carried a "news analysis" -- a story in the paper's news section, but one that was not just reporting news -- accusing Al Gore and this columnist of inaccuracies. Gore can speak for himself. So can this columnist.
Reporter Andrew Revkin's story was headlined: "In Debate on Climate Change, Exaggeration Is a Common Pitfall." Regarding exaggeration, the Times knows whereof it speaks, especially when it revisits, if it ever does, its reporting on the global cooling scare of the 1970s, and its reporting and editorializing -- sometimes a distinction without a difference -- concerning today's climate controversies.
Which returns us to Revkin. In a story ostensibly about journalism, he simply asserts -- how does he know this? -- that the last decade, which passed without warming, was just "a pause in warming." His attempt to contact this writer was an e-mail sent at 5:47 p.m., a few hours before the Times began printing his story, which was not so time-sensitive -- it concerned controversies already many days running -- that it had to appear the next day. But Revkin reported that "experts said" this columnist's intervention in the climate debate was "riddled with" inaccuracies. Revkin's supposed experts might exist and might have expertise but they do not have names that Revkin wished to divulge.
As for the anonymous scientists' unspecified claims about the column's supposedly myriad inaccuracies: The column contained many factual assertions but only one has been challenged. The challenge is mistaken.
Citing data from the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, as interpreted on Jan. 1 by Daily Tech, a technology and science news blog, the column said that since September "the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began." According to the center, global sea ice levels at the end of 2008 were "near or slightly lower than" those of 1979. The center generally does not make its statistics available, but in a Jan. 12 statement the center confirmed that global sea ice levels were within a difference of less than 3 percent of the 1980 level.
So the column accurately reported what the center had reported. But on Feb. 15, the Sunday the column appeared, the center, then receiving many e-mail inquiries, issued a statement saying "we do not know where George Will is getting his information." The answer was: From the center, via Daily Tech. Consult the center's Web site where, on Jan. 12, the center posted the confirmation of the data that this column subsequently reported accurately.
The scientists at the Illinois center offer their statistics with responsible caveats germane to margins of error in measurements and precise seasonal comparisons of year-on-year estimates of global sea ice. Nowadays, however, scientists often find themselves enveloped in furies triggered by any expression of skepticism about the global warming consensus (which will prevail until a diametrically different consensus comes along; see the 1970s) in the media-environmental complex. Concerning which:
On Feb. 18 the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that from early January until the middle of this month, a defective performance by satellite monitors that measure sea ice caused an underestimation of the extent of Arctic sea ice by 193,000 square miles, which is approximately the size of California. The Times ("All the news that's fit to print"), which as of this writing had not printed that story, should unleash Revkin and his unnamed experts.
The Washington Post
Friday, February 27, 2009; A17
Not a great speech, but extremely consequential. If Barack Obama succeeds, his joint address to Congress will be seen as historic -- indeed as the foundational document of Obamaism. As it stands, it constitutes the boldest social democratic manifesto ever issued by a U.S. president.
The first part of the speech, justifying his economic stabilization efforts, was mere housekeeping. The economic crisis is to Obama a technocratic puzzle that needs to be solved because otherwise he loses all popular support.
Unlike most presidents, however, he doesn't covet popular support for its own sake. Some men become president to be someone, others to do something. This is what separates, say, a Bill Clinton from a Ronald Reagan. Obama, who once noted that Reagan altered the trajectory of America as Clinton had not, sees himself a Reagan.
Reagan came to office to do something: shrink government, lower taxes, rebuild American defenses. Obama made clear Tuesday night that he intends to be equally transformative. His three goals: universal health care, universal education, and a new green energy economy highly funded and regulated by government.
(1) Obama wants to be to universal health care what Lyndon Johnson was to Medicare. Obama has publicly abandoned his once-stated preference for a single-payer system as in Canada and Britain. But that is for practical reasons. In America, you can't get there from here directly.
Instead, Obama will create the middle step that will lead ultimately and inevitably to single-payer. The way to do it is to establish a reformed system that retains a private health-insurance sector but offers a new government-run plan (based on benefits open to members of Congress) so relatively attractive that people voluntarily move out of the private sector, thereby starving it. The ultimate result is a system of fully socialized medicine. This will probably not happen until long after Obama leaves office. But he will be rightly recognized as its father.
(2) Beyond cradle-to-grave health care, Obama wants cradle-to-cubicle education. He wants far more government grants, tax credits and other financial guarantees for college education -- another way station to another universal federal entitlement. He lauded the country for establishing free high school education during the Industrial Revolution; he wants to put us on the road to doing the same for college during the Information Age.
(3) Obama wants to be to green energy what John Kennedy was to the moon shot, its visionary and creator. It starts with the establishment of a government-guided, government-funded green energy sector into which the administration will pour billions of dollars from the stimulus package and billions more from budgets to come.
But just picking winners and losers is hardly sufficient for a president who sees himself as world-historical. Hence the carbon cap-and-trade system he proposed Tuesday night that will massively restructure American industry and create a highly regulated energy sector.
These revolutions in health care, education and energy are not just abstract hopes. They have already taken life in Obama's $787 billion stimulus package, a huge expansion of social spending constituting a down payment on Obama's plan for remaking the American social contract.
Obama sees the current economic crisis as an opportunity. He has said so openly. And now we know what opportunity he wants to seize. Just as the Depression created the political and psychological conditions for Franklin Roosevelt's transformation of America from laissez-faireism to the beginnings of the welfare state, the current crisis gives Obama the political space to move the still (relatively) modest American welfare state toward European-style social democracy.
In the European Union, government spending has declined slightly, from 48 percent to 47 percent of GDP during the past 10 years. In the United States, it has shot up from 34 percent to 40 percent. Part of this explosive growth in U.S. government spending reflects the emergency private-sector interventions of a Republican administration. But the clear intent was to make the massive intrusion into the private sector temporary and to retreat as quickly as possible. Obama has radically different ambitions.
The spread between Europe and America in government-controlled GDP has already shrunk from 14 percent to 7 percent. Two terms of Obamaism and the difference will be zero.
Conservatives take a dim view of the regulation-bound, economically sclerotic, socially stagnant, nanny state that is the European Union. Nonetheless, Obama is ascendant and has the personal mandate to take the country where he wishes. He has laid out boldly the Brussels-bound path he wants to take.
Let the debate begin.
By Jonah Goldberg
February 27, 2009, 0:00 a.m.
This week, former Vice President Al Gore was forced to withdraw a slide from his PowerPoint presentation.
Admittedly, on the surface that sounds only marginally more exciting than the news that Dan Quayle had wheat toast instead of rye with breakfast this week. But hold on a minute.
The slide in question was part of Gore’s peripatetic minstrel show of environmental doom, made famous in his Oscar-winning horror-documentary An Inconvenient Truth. After a montage of images of people suffering from famines, floods, fires, and other biblical plagues across the globe, the slide purported to show data demonstrating that global warming “is creating weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented.”
The problem: The source of the data — the Belgium-based Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters — explicitly warned against using the data the way Gore did, because there’s no way to attribute all of these disasters to climate change. Caught fudging the facts, again, the former vice president had no choice but to drop the graph.
It’s a small thing, in and of itself, but it illustrates something much bigger.
Democrats take understandable pride in FDR’s famous declaration, made during the Great Depression, that “all we have to fear is fear itself.” More recently Democrats, led by none other than Al Gore, have been fixated on the evils of the “politics of fear” — politics, allegedly, only Republicans are guilty of practicing.
Ever since the Iraq War turned decidedly unpopular, Gore has been demonizing George W. Bush and the GOP as fearmongers. “He betrayed this country!” Gore fumed of President Bush, in a famous splenetic diatribe at a 2004 Democratic Party event in Tennessee. “He played on our fears!” Gore went on to rail against the “politics of fear” going all the way back to Nixon. In 2008, when Gore endorsed Barack Obama it was in part because the Illinois senator represented a break with the “politics of fear.”
What’s hilarious about this is that Gore is, without question, the most successful fearmonger in America, if not the whole world. He is constantly spinning climate change in the most horrifying terms possible. He asserts global warming as the author of nearly every calamity, inflating threats in order to bully people into agreeing with him. There’s no time to argue, do what I say or we’re all doomed, is the central message of Al Gore’s environmental shtick. And it works for him. It’s made him both hugely wealthy and popular in the circles he cares about and it has advanced his agenda farther than fair-minded persuasion would.
Of course, in the process he’s fueled paranoia among an entire generation of young people who think we’re seconds from an environmental Armageddon.
Gore also seems to have taught Barack Obama a thing or two. President Obama, whose whole campaign was about hope over fear, has been scaring the dickens out of people lately. He has certainly terrified the stock market. He’s warned of “catastrophe” and economic “disaster” from which we may never recover.
What’s particularly odious about Obama’s scare tactics is that he’s using them for the mother of all bait-and-switches. He justifiably scares people about the magnitude of the financial crisis, but uses that fear not to sell them on a solution to the crisis but to trick them into signing up for a new Great Society. It’s like convincing someone he’s got cancer and then telling him that’s why he needs to buy a new car.
But beyond the hypocrisy and the undemocratic nature of using panic to cram through policies you couldn’t get through debate and persuasion, what I find fascinating is the psychological projection. Liberals have been using fear to demonize their opponents for generations. FDR did it all the time. Harry Truman claimed his 1948 opponent, Thomas Dewey, was the front man for a fascist cabal. LBJ tried to link Barry Goldwater with the Klan and the (fictionally right-wing) forces who assassinated Kennedy. Bill Clinton was a master of conjuring fears about angry white men and other hobgoblins. Al Gore campaigned in 2000 by decrying every idea he didn’t like as a “risky scheme.” Liberal activists groups stir up panics over food, children, power lines, polar bears, and a thousand other things every day.
I’ve long been convinced that one of the chief sources of rage in politics is when the enemy steals your shtick. Republicans loathed Bill Clinton in part because he ran on issues like crime and fixing welfare. One major ingredient of Bush hatred was that he campaigned on issues like education and gushed about compassion. I’m not saying that Republicans don’t practice the politics of fear. But I do sometimes wonder if Democrats get so upset about it because they think they’re the only ones allowed to do that.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.
By Ramesh Ponnuru
February 27, 2009, 4:00 a.m.
William F. Buckley Jr. died a year ago today, and plenty of people would say that the conservative movement he founded died around the same time. A president allied to that movement has left office widely discredited. Republicans have had their worst two back-to-back elections since Buckley started National Review in 1955.
The financial crisis, meanwhile, has shaken what had previously been a formidable conservative self-confidence. The outgoing Republican president authorized massive federal intervention in response, and now Washington is earnestly debating temporary bank nationalization, which would have seemed like the cause of a left-wing fringe only three years ago.
When Buckley’s son, the novelist Christopher Buckley, endorsed Barack Obama in the presidential election, many saw it as a dramatic illustration of the conservative soul-searching that has marked the last year. Republican politicians are wondering whether it is any longer possible to appeal both to conservatives and to moderates, or whether conservatism has become an isolated subculture. Right-leaning thinkers are wondering where they went wrong, and whether the conservative movement even wants intellectuals on its side any more.
The situation of contemporary conservatives is both easier and harder than the one Buckley and his colleagues faced in the 1950s. It is easier because conservatives do not need to build from scratch a conservative infrastructure: Many of the institutions Buckley midwifed are still on the scene. It is harder because conservatism then had little history to overcome and no political fall from which to recover.
However different our own circumstances may be, today’s conservatives can nonetheless learn from Buckley’s career. Perseverance is not the least important of the lessons. In the editorial for the first issue of National Review, Buckley commented that “it seems altogether possible” that if the magazine did “not exist, no one would have invented it.” America was widely considered a conservative country at the time — but not a country hospitable to Buckley’s type of conservatism, unreconciled to the idea that history must continue to move along the direction of the New Deal. A popular Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, had refrained from disturbing the New Deal consensus and had, indeed, built upon it.
Moreover, the coalition Buckley assembled against this consensus seemed to be a ramshackle affair. It included anti-Communists (who were frequently ex-Communists), libertarians, traditionalists, and even the odd — very odd — monarchist. They disagreed with each other on everything from the existence of God to the necessity of government-run lighthouses. Conservatives and liberals said this coalition made no intellectual sense and could not possibly hang together politically, let alone succeed. But common interests, chiefly in resisting liberalism, kept Buckley’s movement in one piece.
The free-market Catholic Buckley collaborated with Sidney Hook, an atheist and socialist, on anti-Communist projects. The conservatives of today have smaller bridges to build. If Buckley could work with Hook, surely we can make the effort to reach out to environmentally conscious suburbanites and new Hispanic citizens.
In the 1970s, Buckley welcomed the neoconservatives to the fold. While we now associate neoconservatives with an aggressive foreign policy, at the time they were primarily thought of as supporters of the welfare state who criticized its excesses. Buckley made common cause with them, too. Liberalism had spectacularly discredited itself from the late 1960s through the 1970s, but Buckley understood that to overthrow it conservatives needed to present superior solutions to the challenges of the moment. The neocons, in part because they did not share Buckley’s principled aversion to big government, came up with attractive reforms to domestic policy.
Buckley was always a very practical ideologue. When he turned against the war on drugs, for example, he did so less because he believed in an individual right to use drugs than because he thought the war had failed. His pessimism about the occupation of Iraq developed along similar lines: He did not think it wrong in principle, but doubted it would advance national objectives.
There is a lesson here, too, for conservatives, who have been marked by a taste for theoretical debates. One of their favorite slogans, “Ideas have consequences,” predates Buckley’s fame. Buckley himself was sometimes criticized for never producing a book that elaborated the first principles of his political philosophy. Theoretical debates among conservatives and libertarians can be interesting, and Buckley participated in them with characteristic zest. But we conservatives could use a little bit more of Buckley’s practicality as well.
If there is to be a conservative comeback, it will not happen because conservatives have finally hashed out a view of the ideal size of the federal government. It will be because we have practical and attractive solutions to problems as quotidian as traffic jams and as weighty as Iranian nukes — because we have answers to the problems of the world that Buckley has left to us.
Through victory and defeat, finally, we should have fun. Conservatism begins with an appreciation of the world as it is, unreformed and fallen. For Buckley, skiing and playing the harpsichord were not distractions from conservatism.
— Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor of National Review. On Tuesday he will participate in a panel discussion, “On the Ropes: What William F. Buckley Jr. Can Teach Today’s Conservatives,” sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Posted Apr 15, 2004 12:00 AM
Johnny Cash was a biblical character. He was like some old preacher, one of those dangerous old wild ones. He was like a hero you'd see in a western. He was a giant. And unlike anyone else I've known, he never lost that stature. I don't think we'll see anyone like him again.
Of course, the first thing he'll be remembered for is the originality of his music. The first time I heard Johnny Cash was when he released "I Walk the Line" in 1956. It was unlike anything I'd ever heard. Elvis had had a lot of hits by that point, but "I Walk the Line" was completely different. It didn't sound much like any of the country music that was popular at the time, either. There was a kind of dark energy around John. My first hero, when I was a kid, was Hank Williams, and he had a similar energy. You could tell they were both wild men.
As a songwriter, I've always loved his lyrics. At the beginning of his career, John released a bunch of powerful songs in a very short time. For me, the best one was always "Big River." It's so well-written, so unlike anything else. The lines don't even seem to rhyme. "I met her accidentally in St. Paul, Minnesota/And it tore me up every time I heard her drawl." His imagery was so powerful: "Then you took me to St. Louis later on, down the river/A freighter said she's been here/But she's gone, boy, she's gone/I found her trail in Memphis/But she just walked up the block/She raised a few eyebrows, and then she went on down alone."
The first time I saw John live, I was on leave from the Army, visiting Nashville. He was playing the Grand Ole Opry, and I was watching from backstage -- and he was the most exciting performer I'd ever seen. At the time, he was skinnier than a snake, and he was just electric. He used to prowl the stage like a panther. He looked like he might explode up there. And in fact, there were times when he did. A couple of nights at the Opry, he knocked out all of the footlights. I think they banned him for a while after that. But they banned Hank Williams, too. They were a pretty conservative crowd.
The main thing about John, though -- the thing that everybody could sense -- was his integrity, the integrity of his relationship with his music, with his life and with other people. He stood up for Bob Dylan when everyone in the music business was criticizing Dylan's move from folk to electric. And he did the same for me, in the Eighties, when I was taking a lot of criticism for going down to Nicaragua. Once I was opening for him in Philadelphia, and I dedicated a song to Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is on death row there. After I got offstage, they told me the police had gone ballistic and that I'd have to go back out and apologize. John heard about it and said, "You don't have to apologize for anything on my show." That's the kind of guy he was. Throughout his entire career, he stood up for the underdog.
I thought the last album John did, The Man Comes Around, was terrific. I remember driving on my tractor mower and listening to it on my headphones and just weeping. His version of "Danny Boy" kills me every time.
I think he'll be remembered for the way he grew as a person and an artist. He went from being this guy who was as wild as Hank Williams to being almost as respected as one of the fathers of our country. He was friends with presidents and with Billy Graham. You felt like he should've had his face on Mount Rushmore.
[From Issue 946 — April 15, 2004]
By Aaron Goldstein on 2.26.09 @ 6:08AM
The American Spectator
If you have seen Milk, the biopic of slain San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn, then you will be aware that much of the plot focuses on Milk's efforts to defeat a 1978 California ballot initiative known as Proposition 6. This initiative would be defeated that November and in the movie Milk is given the lion's share of the credit for its demise.
Had Proposition 6 (also known as the Briggs Initiative, as it was initiated by Republican State Senator John Briggs) passed, it would have become legal for teachers to be fired if it were known they were gay or lesbian. A teacher could also be fired for publicly supporting homosexuality.
There is little doubt Milk's yeoman efforts against Proposition 6 were significant. Yet if it were not for the intervention of Ronald Reagan the initiative would have almost certainly passed. Milk, to its credit, notes Reagan's opposition to Proposition 6. However, its acknowledgement doesn't properly do justice to how significant Reagan's contribution was to this divisive debate. It is a shame given, the hostility directed towards Reagan by the gay community to this very day due to his perceived indifference to and inaction on AIDS.
Yet Reagan's involvement in defeating Proposition 6 is not lost on all in the gay community. David Mixner, an organizer for the No forces in Los Angeles who would later become a top fundraiser for Bill Clinton in his first bid for the White House, is unambiguous in crediting Reagan for defeating Proposition 6. Mixner wrote in his blog last month:
Despite all our good work, everyone involved had taken the Proposition from 75% in favor of firing homosexual school teachers down to only 55%. We were having a helluva time gaining that last 6%. We knew we needed something big to push us over the top and we needed it soon since we were in the last weeks of the campaign.
There is no doubt in my mind that the man who put us over the top was California Governor Ronald Reagan. His opposition to Proposition 6 killed it for sure.
Actually, Reagan had been out of office for more than three and a half years when he jumped into the fray. Reagan stood absolutely nothing to gain by getting involved in this fight. After all, he did want to take one more stab at becoming the GOP standard bearer for the White House in 1980. In opposing Proposition 6, Reagan ran the risk of alienating a conservative base that had been the bedrock of his support in two terms as Governor of California. This would be especially true in Orange County, the cradle of California conservatism. It was also the home base of State Senator Briggs, who had ambitions to follow in Reagan's footsteps to Sacramento.
Reagan also risked running afoul of Anita Bryant. The singer-turned-orange juice pitchwoman-turned-political activist was squarely behind Proposition 6. Bryant founded and became the spokeswoman for Save Our Children. She was as feared as she was despised by the gay community. The year before, Bryant had persuaded voters in Miami-Dade County to repeal an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Bryant would achieve similar victories in far flung places such as Minneapolis-St. Paul, Wichita, and Eugene, Oregon. Bryant appeared to be an unstoppable force. The sort of force Reagan would need to become the GOP presidential nominee and could ill afford to alienate.
In his book Stranger Among Friends, when Mixner learns of an opportunity to meet with Reagan on the subject he jumps at the chance. The meeting was arranged by a former Reagan staffer who was a closeted homosexual. This former staffer would tell Mixner to use libertarian arguments to make his case. He took this advice to heart when he and his same sex partner Peter Scott met with Reagan. Mixner argued Proposition 6 would lead to chaos in the classroom because it would give students license to accuse teachers of homosexuality when they received bad grades or in retaliation for disciplinary measures. Reagan was receptive to this argument and told Mixner and Scott, "This might be a good day for you boys. Don't think we can allow something like that to happen here in California." If Reagan didn't like disorder at Berkeley, he certainly didn't want it in California's elementary schools either.
Reagan made his objections public first with an informal statement to reporters late that September and again a few days before the vote in a newspaper editorial in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. It is clear Proposition 6 offended Reagan's libertarian sensibilities and put government in a place where it did not belong. He writes, "Since the measure does not restrict itself to the classroom, every aspect of a teacher's personal life could presumably come under suspicion." Reagan then asks, "What constitutes 'advocacy' of homosexuality? Would public opposition to Proposition 6 by a teacher -- should it pass -- be considered advocacy?" In this vein, Reagan would also argue that Proposition 6 had "the potential of infringing on basic rights of privacy and perhaps even constitutional rights."
Nearly four million Californians would vote against Proposition 6, representing 58.4% of the vote. Significantly, a majority of Orange County voters would join the rest of the state in opposing the measure, effectively sounding the death knell not only for Proposition 6 but for Briggs' own political ambitions. Bryant would also never again enjoy the same kind of public influence. This would not have happened without Ronald Reagan.
The defeat of Proposition 6 might be summed up in this way. Harvey Milk organized the gay community while Ronald Reagan took care of everybody else. Sean Penn, alas, forgot to thank him on accepting the best actor prize at the Academy Awards last Sunday.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
NEW YORK – It’s been a tough few weeks for Geert Wilders. First, an Amsterdam appeals court announced in late January that it was going to bring the blunt-speaking Dutch parliamentarian to trial for offending Muslims with his anti-Islam film, Fitna. Just a few weeks later, Wilders was controversially denied entry into Britain after the British Home Office declared that his views on Islam “would threaten community harmony and therefore public security in the United Kingdom.”
Geert Wilders poses during a visit to promote his film in Jerusalem in this December 14, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Set against the near-daily threats on his life, the 24-hour security detail, and the restrictions on travel that have been Wilders’ lot since he first emerged as an outspoken critic of extremist Islam in 2004, these latest setbacks might have tested even the most determined public crusader. But Wilders seems to draw strength from intimidation, whether from aggrieved Muslims or zealous multiculturalists. So it was not entirely surprising that during a visit this week to New York, where he spoke at the invitation of the Hudson New York Briefing Council, the embattled Wilders was as upbeat and unyielding as ever.
Among other things, Wilders used the occasion to try out the defense for his likely trial in the Netherlands. “Formally, I’m on trial, but actually free-speech is on trial,” he told Front Page when asked about the pending case, which could mean a two-year jail sentence if he is convicted. It’s a typically media savvy sound bite that has the added advantage of being true. Agree or disagree with him about the distinctive dangers of Islam – and most Dutch, according to recent polls, share his suspicions that Islam is incompatible with the country’s liberal and democratic traditions – Wilders may be prosecuted for nothing more than expressing an opinion. For the Dutch appeals court, that opinion is so “insulting for Muslims that it is in the public interest to prosecute Wilders.” In the United States, where the First Amendment holds, such a ruling would not pass the laugh test, let alone proceed to trial. In the Netherlands, it may yet cost Wilders his freedom.
To add insult to legal injury, there is the recent unpleasantness in the UK. Invited by Lord Malcolm Pearson earlier this month to screen Fitna in the British House of Lords, Wilders was detained on his arrival at London’s Heathrow airport, refused entry into the country, and ultimately sent back to the Netherlands on the next available flight. For good measure, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband condemned what he called the “extreme anti-Muslim hate” of Fitna, only to admit later to the BBC that he had never actually seen the film he claimed to find so contemptible. What followed was a diplomatic row between the Netherlands and Britain that saw even Dutch Foreign Secretary Maxime Verhagen, a frequent critic of Wilders, protest the British government’s ban. “You expect something like this from Zimbabwe, but not from one of the oldest democracies in Europe,” Wilders says.
In short, Wilders is still sore over the British government’s slight. It’s not clear, though, which he considers the greater insult: his ban from the country, or the British government’s curious assurance that he was turned away in the interest “community harmony.” “What does ‘community harmony’ mean anyway?” Wilders asks. He notes, too, the obvious point that the security concerns cited by British authorities to bar him from the country had nothing to do with Wilders and everything to do with the radical Islamists who might object to his presence – an unacknowledged confirmation of his longtime charge that multiculturalism and political correctness have made European states increasingly submissive to their restive Muslim populations. In this connection, Wilders blames the “outrage of what happened in London” squarely on what he calls Britain’s “self-hating, multicultural immigration policies.”
All this notoriety, to be sure, has paid political dividends for Wilders. For instance, his Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), formerly derided by critics as a one-man vanity project, is now a surging force in Dutch politics. The latest polls show that the nine-MP party would increase its share to 25 seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament if elections were to be held, which would make the PVV the second largest party in the Netherlands. (Wilders mischievously jokes that his many enemies in the Dutch parliament soon may have to address him as Prime Minister.) Wilders credits his latest legal troubles, as well as his ban from the UK, for his growing popularity. “There is outrage in the Dutch public that Muslims can say all the crazy things they want – about killing Jews, for instance – but when a politician stands up and says, ‘This is a threat to our security,’ he’s put on trial.”
Still, there is such a thing as too much controversy – even for Geert Wilders. He is worried about the possibility of a prison sentence. Even short of jail time, he is looking at what will surely prove a costly defense. Legal fees for his trial in the Netherlands could run as high as 100,000 to 200,000 euros ($130,000 - $257,000). “I would rather be less popular in the Netherlands and not have the trial,” Wilders admits.
Not that he’s ready to give in. Besides his signature issue – the growing threat of radical Islam to Europe – Wilders has taken up another cause, urging European Union member states to abolish hate-speech laws and adopt a free-speech standard closer to the American First Amendment. And while he is aware as ever that many European elites would just as soon be rid of him, cheerfully observing that many EU ministers would “send Jordan a bouquet of roses” were he ever extradited to the country that wants to try him for blaspheming against Islam, Wilders remains defiantly indifferent to his critics. “A lot of politicians who would like to see me behind bars, but they will not succeed,” he says. “I’m a fighter. They will not get rid of me that easily.”
Jacob Laksin is a senior editor for FrontPage Magazine. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
February 25, 2009
As Obama prepared to deliver his address to Congress on Tuesday, the Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner, Fox News' Bret Baier and Charles Krauthammer all gushed that history was being made as the first African-American president appeared before Congress.
Even Gov. Bobby Jindal, whom I suppose I should note was the first Indian-American to give the Republican response to a president's speech, began with an encomium to the first black president. (Wasn't Bobby great in "Slumdog Millionaire"?)
Are we going to have to hear about this for the next four years? Obama is becoming the Cal Ripken Jr. of presidents, making history every time he suits up for a game. Recently, Obama also became the first African-American president to order a ham sandwich late at night from the White House kitchen! That's going to get old pretty quick.
But as long as the nation is obsessed with historic milestones, is no one going to remark on what a great country it is where a mentally retarded woman can become speaker of the house?
Obama spent more than twice as much time in his historic speech genuflecting to the teachers' unions than talking about terrorism, Iraq or Afghanistan. So it was historic only in the sense that Obama is the first African-American president, but was the same old Democratic claptrap in every other respect.
After claiming that the disastrous stimulus bill would create or save 3.5 million jobs -- "more than 90 percent" in the private sector -- Obama then enumerated a long list of exclusively government jobs that would be "saved."
He was suspiciously verbose about saving the jobs of public schoolteachers. Because nothing says "economic stimulus" better than saving the jobs of lethargic incompetents who kick off at 2 p.m. every day and get summers off. Actually, that's not fair: Some teachers spend long hours after school having sex with their students.
As with the Clintons, Obama so earnestly believes in public school education that he sends his girls to ... an expensive private school. He demands that taxpayers support the very public schoolteachers he won't trust with his own children.
It is one thing to tell voters that school choice is wrong, because, you know, the public schools won't get better unless Americans sacrifice their children to the teachers' union's maw. But it is quite another for Democrats to feed their own kids to the union incinerator.
Consequently, no Democrat since Jimmy Carter has been stupid enough to send his own children to a public school.
And yet the stimulus bill expressly prohibits money earmarked for "education" to be spent on financial aid at private or parochial schools. Private schools might use it for some nefarious purpose like actually teaching their students, rather than indoctrinating them in anti-American propaganda.
The stimulus bill includes about $100 billion to education. By "education," Democrats don't mean anything a normal person would think of as education, such as learning how to talk good. "Education" means creating lots of useless bureaucratic jobs, mostly in Washington, having nothing to do with teaching.
Apparently, nothing irritates public schoolteachers more than being asked to teach. While 80 percent of the employees of private schools are teachers, only half the employees of public schools are. The rest are "coordinating," "facilitating" or "empowering" something or other.
The Department of Education alone provides more than 4,000 jobs that haven't the faintest connection with teaching. And now the stimulus bill will double the Education Department's funding. (For those of you who went to a public school, that means it will become twice as big.)
We've come a long way from Ronald Reagan promising to eliminate the Education Department, which itself was a Jimmy Carter sop to the teachers' unions.
Federal meddling in education has been an abject failure, so the Democrats' plan is to keep doing more of the same. If only there were some aphorism about people who fail to learn from history -- oh, well!
It can't be easy to reduce the educational achievement in America year after year, but the education establishment has done it! Yes they can!
Thanks to the hard work of thousands of government workers at the Department of Education and well-paid teachers' union employees, American schoolchildren perform worse on education tests for every year they spend in a public school.
It turns out that being in U.S. public schools has the same effect on people as hanging around Paris Hilton does.
In fourth grade, the earliest grade for which international comparisons are available, American students outperform most other countries in reading, math and science. Fourth-graders score in the 92nd percentile in science, the 58th percentile in math and the 70th percentile in reading, where they beat 26 of 35 countries, including Germany, France and Italy.
But by the eighth grade, American students are only midrange in international comparisons. (On the plus side, by the eighth grade they're noticeably fatter.)
By the 12th grade -- after receiving the full benefits of an American education -- Americans are near the bottom. Let X represent the number of years spent in U.S. public schools, and Y represent average test scores in math and reading -- oh, never mind.
With an additional eight years of a public school education under their belts, Americans fall from the 92nd percentile in science to the 29th percentile. While American fourth-graders are bested only by South Korea and Japan in science, by 12th grade, the only countries the American students can beat are Lithuania, Cyprus and South Africa.
Which suggests that if public education were extended all the way through college, by the time a student gets to graduate school he might very well be qualified to be ... speaker of the house!
By Max Schulz
February 25, 2009, 0:00 p.m.
‘The state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others,” said Pres. Barack Obama in his address to a joint session of Congress last night.
Indeed it is. So why is it that when he talked about the first of “the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future” and to our very “survival” — namely, energy — he invoked policies that will increase the economic burden on all Americans?
The one specific energy policy preference the president mentioned amid a haze of green generalities was a call “for Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution.” On its face, Obama’s cap-and-trade program aims to raise costs, specifically by raising the price of energy generated from fossil fuels.
Americans use coal for half of their electricity, and natural gas for another 20 percent, precisely because these fuels produce power at a third to a fifth the cost that such celebrated green sources as wind and solar can. Think of cap-and-trade as a price-protection racket for inefficient technologies. It’s the same logic behind the renewable portfolio standard the Obama administration is pushing: A nationwide RPS would simply force energy companies to generate more power from renewable sources. Naturally, the inefficiencies get passed along to consumers, raising prices not just for electricity, but for everything.
Don’t take my word for it. Take the president’s. A year ago, during a meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board, Obama proved to be an unusually candid candidate. “Under my plan of a cap and trade system,” he said, “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.” Skyrocketing prices. That’s the point. (Inexplicably, the Chronicle straight-news reporters who wrote about the meeting didn’t find those eye-popping words sufficiently newsworthy to merit their publication. The comment only was discovered in the final days of the presidential campaign, by which point Obama’s victory was in the bag.)
The rest of the supposedly critical energy section of last night’s speech was filled with green fluff, and even that fluff disintegrates like cotton candy in the rain. Obama aims to “harness the power of clean, renewable energy” as the means to global supremacy, he said. He didn’t mention that there is a lot less power to be derived from clean, renewable energy sources than from those our economy prefers — renewables pack a weak punch when you consider the space they need. To generate electricity at a rate of 1,000 megawatts, as coal-fired and nuclear power plants do regularly, you need a utility-scale wind plant using 60,000 acres of land. You would need about 11,000 acres of photovoltaic cells to generate the same amount from solar energy. And don’t even get into the question of those technologies’ intermittent reliability.
Comparing fuel density provides an even better contrast. Biomass has far less energy density than other fuels. Pound for pound, coal stores twice as much energy as wood. On the same comparison, oil is twice as energy-dense as coal; it packs the same amount of energy into half the weight and space. Nuclear power, though, wins this test by a landslide. A single gram of uranium-235 packs the same punch as four tons of coal or eight tons of wood.
As much as anything, that explains our current energy economy right there. It also explains why today’s trendy green technologies can’t hope to compete without having politicians rig the market. Neither the physics nor the economics work in their favor. To hear the president tell it, however, there is only upside. He paints a picture of a future full of green jobs and clean skies.
But can we really meet a future of lower (or nonexistent) greenhouse-gas emissions while providing the supplies of energy a thriving economy will require? Not under anything Obama discussed last night. Curiously, he avoided mention of the one energy source that can provide huge volumes of power while giving off no pollution or carbon dioxide: nuclear power. It already provides a fifth of America’s electricity (wind and solar generate about one half of one percent — combined). And nuclear energy can provide steady, baseload electricity, which notoriously intermittent sources like wind and solar cannot do. Of course, many environmentalists (a crucial constituency for Obama’s Democratic party) are reflexively opposed to nuclear power, a misguided hang-up that dates back to 1960s and 1970s protests against atomic weapons.
Obama may be serious about creating millions of jobs for solar-panel installers and wind-turbine manufacturers. But that probably owes more to wanting to satisfy the demands of constituencies like organized labor. Whether Obama is truly serious about meeting America’s energy-supply challenges is another question. Until he begins to seriously discuss nuclear, one can guess that he probably is not.
— Max Schulz is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
February 25, 2009
When the stock market is receding to the levels of a decade ago, and no one agrees on what to do, the coming of the season of penitence might seem easy enough to overlook. Or, relevant enough to engage every fiber of mind and body and spirit.
Boy, do we humans blow it at times! Are we moronic (or worse)! Such are Lent's logical lessons: hard to grasp when the hedge funds are soaring, and borrowing to buy a house is easy as driving up to one and walking in.
The Christian church prescribes the 40 days before Easter as the occasion for soul-searching and accountability seeking. Here is the Book of Common Prayer on the subject: " … Create and make us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness … "
Jeepers. Sins! Wretchedness! Us, you mean? Little ol' us, who never pass a dog whose ears we don't scratch or a panhandler with whom we don't consider sharing a few cents? We're … we're … "nice," is the word. The odds are Bernie Madoff considers himself nice. So, too, Al Sharpton, ex-Sen. Ted Stevens, Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez and other such worthies, whose recent functioning haven't impressed many. Republicans would include Democratic tax-dodgers in the list; Democrats would list Republican so-called "regulators."
We're all "nice" in our way. We're also not nice a lot of the time: stupid, greedy, conniving, self-centered, materialistic, callous, abandoned, selfish … you get the idea.
The Christian churches, I say, designate Lent as the annual opportunity for reflecting on our not-niceness: acknowledging it, then doing something about it through the instrumentality of considered repentance, capped by divine forgiveness.
You know how those people go around on Ash Wednesday with the black smudges on their foreheads? That's the preliminary confession -- of messes made, due essentially to the good old human preference for putting Self first. You can squeeze in the necessary repentance for such delusions during Lent, but you're encouraged not to waste time.
A corollary, if mostly unspoken, premised during the Lenten exercise is the insufficiency of politics for the redressing of the problem. The Lenten exercise presumes insufficiency among humans at large: the consequence, however you want to interpret it, of an unhappy business involving an article of fruit and a talking snake.
A lot of modern people (including some who took too many science courses) resist the snake-and-fruit part, but that resistance comes in the face of powerful evidence that something is out of kilter, human-wise. Was it just lack of government oversight that brought down the banks and the market, or was it something more basic, something deadlier by far?
The Lenten account of the human plight -- Lent being a Christian season, with all that emphasis on repentance and divine forgiveness -- can give offense to the religious skeptic. But the sneaking feeling that there might be something to the account gets stronger in seasons like this, as opposed to seasons when, every time we roll the dice, they come up seven. Christian proclaimers, it strikes me, rarely make as much as they could of the human-insufficiency point, viewed against the backdrop of History and Events. If, broadly speaking, we're fine, how to explain (just for instance) World War I, World War II, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, racial animosity, outrages, panics, crime, oppression, wrong deeds and advice of every kind?
There's nothing wrong? Tell us another one. Tell us how -- among other things -- we blew a 14,000-plus stock market average. How we lost consciousness of human life, at whatever stage, as a precious gift. Why Darfur? Why the Taliban? Tell us.
One could go on. It might be taken for preaching. Wouldn't want that, would we? It might block views of the "truth" that in a democratic society human values are equal, that no idea (with political exceptions) deserves preference over another idea.
Lent comes just in time, one might be forgiven for supposing politely.
By Dick Morris
February 25, 2009
WITH a speech to match the most eloquent of State of the Union Addresses, with strains of FDR and JFK and a touch of Winston Churchill thrown in, President Obama has clearly staked his presidency on the outcome of the economic crisis.
No hedging his bets: The president made it plain last night that he's sticking by his program.
Whether or not you agree with his prescription for recovery (I don't), it's clear that he's not hedging his bets. If it works, his place in history is assured. If it fails, so is his early retirement.
The speech made it apparent that the Obama administration's response to this crisis will either go down in history as a success that Americans will admire for decades, or become a case study in economic failure that students and scholars will study and pick apart for generations.
The speech began where it needed to begin, with a bold affirmation of faith in the rebuilding and recovery of America. Then Obama listed some of the more popular parts of his spending-stimulus program.
The specific items he recalled from the package were attractive. But Americans know, by now, that much of the program (largely unmentioned last night) is a mountain of pork - money spent for the sake of spending it to spur recovery, not to achieve particularly important ends.
Obama did not seek to justify the spending for the specific purposes to which it is dedicated. Courageously, he said that he passed it because it will work. For his sake, it better. But I doubt it.
Then he spoke unconvincingly about his bank-rescue plan. Promising to punish and regulate bankers even as he stressed the need to restore their confidence, he reminded me of the facetious sign posted in a friend's workplace: "The beatings will continue until morale improves."
How he plans to restore the nerve and confidence of our bankers as he castigates them is unclear. But, then, so is his program for financial rescue. One suspects that he knows full well that he will nationalize the banks. But even that step assumes that politicians can do what bankers can't: Act quickly, ruthlessly and honestly - never a notable attribute of elected officials.
Halfway through the speech, the president got to the minefields of Social Security and health-care reform. He avoided any specifics, but it's clear that he plans to salvage the former with increases in the payroll tax and implement the latter by government rationing of health care. If you like your HMO, you'll love Obama's health plan.
And then Obama affirmed that he'll support big tax increases on the richest 2 percent of American families. Disregarding the fact that these households already pay upward of half of all income taxes, while earning only a quarter of the national income, he has singled out the entrepreneurs, professionals, innovators and businesspeople of America for taxation.
Oh, but he won't raise taxes until he's had a few years to stimulate the economy. How many in that 2 percent feel like one of those huge hogs in the Chicago stockyards, being fattened up to slaughter the next year?
Can all this work? Can Obama get banks to lend even as he terrorizes them? Can he get the engines of our economy back to work even as he announces that he'll be taking away more of their earnings? Can he persuade the American people to accept bureaucrats deciding their health-care choices? And can his economic stimulus survive a huge increase in the payroll tax on the most productive citizens?
Probably not;Obama likely won't succeed. This speech will be viewed as his high-water mark - the time before we came to realize how flawed is his understanding of economics and how supreme is his commitment to expanded spending. It will be seen as a sort of age of innocence before we realized what he had in mind.
But it sure was a great speech . . . while it lasted.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
From the February 23, 2009 issue of National Review
The other day I found myself wondering when the conversion rate would become an avalanche. To Islam, I mean. If you’ve been following recent developments in the Netherlands, you’ll know that Geert Wilders, a Dutch Member of Parliament, is to be put on trial for offending Muslims. “Look at what you’re doing,” the sardonic Brit Pat Condell pointed out. “You’re prosecuting a man who is under 24-hour protection from attack by violent Muslims. Yet he’s the criminal for expressing an opinion.”
A hardline Muslim youth shouts slogans in front of a poster of Geert Wilders during a rally outside the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta April 1, 2008. Indonesia's president urged his predominantly Muslim nation on Monday not to use violence in protests at a film on Islam by Dutch lawmaker Wilders, and said world leaders had a moral responsibility to take action. The poster reads, "Death sentence for insulting Islam". (Reuters)
Quite. But, while Europe has a high degree of tolerance for intolerant imams, it won’t tolerate anyone pointing out that intolerance. It is not necessary for Minheer Wilders to be either jailed or forced into exile to conclude that the Netherlands, like many of its neighbors, has already conceded the key point - that Muslims now have the exclusive right to set the parameters of public debate on Islam. And, given that they don’t regard it as debatable at all, that means that the remorseless Islamization of Europe will continue and accelerate while the deWildered political establishment stands mute.
When I talk like that, I’m assumed to be nuts – or, to use the preferred term, “alarmist” (The Economist et al). Brian Barrington, a Dublin blogger, recently concluded a review of my book by asking:
Is Mark Steyn a scaremongering fool indulging in Islamophobic fantasies..?
Answer: yes he is.
Here’s a 2008 headline from Le Figaro re demographic trends in Brussels:
La capitale européenne sera musulmane dans vingt ans.
For those who haven’t taken up President Obama’s urgings to learn another language, that’s French for “Nothing to see here, folks.”
Now here’s a 2009 headline from The Times of London
Muslim Population ‘Rising 10 Times Faster Than Rest Of Society’.
A little bit harder for that one to get lost in translation. According to the United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics, the greatest number of “Christians” (whatever that means in a contemporary Anglican context) is to be found among the over-70s, and the largest number of Muslims is in the cohort aged four and under. Which is Britain’s past and which Britain’s future? No need to ask a “scaremongering fool”. In a land where the head of state is also Supreme Governor of the established church, a quarter of all public elementary schools in England are what are known as “Church of England schools”. In practice, they cannot teach Christianity because many of them, especially in the inner cities, are now overwhelmingly Muslim. In the Blackburn and Dewsbury C-of-E schools, every single pupil is Muslim. At others, the retreating Christian community can still muster up to one per cent of the enrolment. In Bradford, the Church is building a new school for what will be an entirely Muslim student body. “Demographics change,” says the Venerable Peter Ballard, Archdeacon of Lancaster. “There was certainly a Christian population there at one time and, who knows, 20 years from now the Christians might be back.”
Not in 20 years. According to official statistics, of “white British Christian” households 16 per cent have two or more dependent children; among the UK’s “Pakistani Muslim” households, the figure is 50 per cent; “Bangladeshi Muslims”, 58 per cent. The British Government “sustainable development chair” (whatever that is) Sir Jonathon Porritt has just announced that he thinks parents are being “environmentally irresponsible” if they have more than two children.
That 16 per cent will listen to the sustainable baronet. The 58 per cent will fill the void.
So Britain and Europe are becoming more Muslim. The only question is how much more, how fast. And in that respect I think the only thing I got wrong in America Alone is that I was insufficiently “alarmist”. I’ll bet that “la capitale européenne sera musulmane” a lot sooner than 20 years.
Islam is not a race: As The Times reported, “Experts said that the increase was attributable to immigration, a higher birthrate and conversions to Islam.” That last category is the next stage. Like many readers, I’ve been enjoying Robert Ferrigno’s Prayers For The Assassin trilogy, set in an Islamic Republic of America a decade or three hence, while being just a wee bit skeptical about the premise – that a nuclear catastrophe would prompt millions of Americans to convert to Islam. But in Europe? There’s no need for nukes, just the quiet, remorseless daily reality.
In the next few years, Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Rotterdam will become majority Muslim. Let’s say you work in an office in those cities: One day they install a Muslim prayer room, and a few folks head off at the designated time, while the rest of you get on with what passes for work in the EU. A couple of years go by, and it’s now a few more folks scooting off to the prayer room. Then it’s a majority. And the ones who don’t are beginning to feel a bit awkward about being left behind.
What do you do? The future showed up a lot sooner than you thought. If you were a fundamentalist Christian like those wackjob Yanks, signing on to Islam might (pace Mr Ferrigno) cause you some discomfort. But, if you’re the average post-Christian Eurosecularist, what’s the big deal? Who wants to be the last guy sitting in the office sharpening his pencil during morning prayers?
Funny how quickly it all happened. There was the woman on reception, but she retired. And the guy in personnel who used to say, sotto voce, that Geert Wilders had a point. But he emigrated the year after Wilders did.
By Jonah Goldberg
Los Angeles Times
February 24, 2009
Here's something President Obama's biggest fans may need to hear: He's just not that into you.
Recall that during the primaries, Obama was probably second only to Dennis Kucinich as an anti-Iraq war and anti-Bush candidate. But he has kept President Bush's Defense secretary and appointed a secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who voted for the war. His vice president, Joe Biden, also voted for the war. Obama himself seems to be in less of a hurry to leave Iraq than we might have expected from listening to him over the last couple of years.
The new president has ordered that his predecessor's rendition policies remain largely intact, even to the point of using the "state secrets" privilege to block a rendition lawsuit. Obama may have stated categorically that America "will not torture," but outsourcing it is still OK.
The White House also defends the Bush policy of imprisoning, without trial, enemy combatants captured abroad. Obama's lawyers argued in a court case brought by Afghan prisoners at the U.S. Air Force base at Bagram, Afghanistan, that the "government adheres to its previously articulated position" -- the one articulated by those evil Bush lawyers.
Meanwhile, a new Pentagon study commissioned by Obama has found that the prison at Guantanamo Bay meets the standards of the Geneva Convention. One can only guess how the White House will make use of that finding. At the least, it should provide cover while the administration looks for alternatives to Gitmo that might not be all that alternative.
On the domestic front, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has decided that Bush's signature No Child Left Behind Act should be retained and moderately reformed. His boldest suggestion so far? "Let's rebrand it. Give it a new name." Now that's change even cynics can believe in.
In a rare instance of consistency between his campaign and his presidency, Obama is keeping Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, though he's renamed that one.
There are many lessons one could draw from Obama's actions. You might conclude that the famous pragmatist recognizes that this is a center-right country after all. Or that he is a hypocrite, a statesman, or both, now that the buck stops with him.
You could say that this all shows that Bush's war-on-terrorism policies weren't nearly as outrageous as his opponents, Obama included, said they were. Some conservatives might argue that it demonstrates how centrist, even liberal, Bush's domestic policies were. Obama supporters might claim it proves that conservative fears that Obama was a crazy left-winger were always unfounded.
But how do Obama's biggest fans reconcile his contradictions? The slickest approach is to chalk up every about-face and inexplicable decision to Obama's abiding genius.
"Mr. Obama is like a championship chess player, always several moves ahead of friend and foe alike," explained New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. Translation: The One may move in mysterious ways, but that's no reason to doubt him.
Self-described conservatives who supported Obama in the election have made a similarly non-falsifiable argument about his qualifications (given that his record was patently unconservative): He simply has a superior presidential "temperament."
Such rationalizations reveal more continuity between Bush and Obama. Their biggest fans and foes seem driven by emotion rather than reason. We've seen this before. Bill Clinton moved his party to the right, but a lot of conservatives and liberals couldn't stomach acknowledging it. Bush was mostly a moderate Republican, but his liberal enemies hated him, and anything they hated had to be "right-wing." Even Republicans who admired Bush couldn't bring themselves to admit that the subject of their adoration might not in fact be a true-blue conservative.
Indeed, thanks in part to the lazy framing of the media and the pressure cooker of partisan Washington, conservatism became defined as Bushism, liberalism as not-Bushism, even though Bush had campaigned as a "different kind of Republican" and said over and over that "compassionate conservatism" was a sharp break with conventional conservatism.
It's early yet, but I think we're seeing with Obama what happened with Bush. The chess master is really just a man who's figuring it out as he goes along. Sometimes he'll be right; other times, horribly wrong. But whether he's right or wrong, left-wing or centrist, liberalism will likely mean whatever Barack Obama says it means.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
On the occasion of its launch in 2004 from near Buffalo, New York, the Muslim television channel "Bridges TV" won the enthusiastic support of Secretary of State Colin Powell's media assistant, Stuart Holliday: "I laud your expression of interest in promoting understanding and tolerance." And so it went; Bridges TV also met with euphoric media coverage, uncritical academic reaction, and blessings from sports giants like Muhammad Ali and Hakeem Olajuwan.
Logo of Bridges TV
From the start, however, Bridges TV amounted to a lie.
On the political level, its raison d'être was based on the canard that Muslims in the United States suffer from bias and are victimized. That an idea took formal expression in 2000, when the Senate passed a resolution inveighing against the "discrimination" and "backlash" suffered by the American Muslim community, an insulting falsehood then and now.
On the ideological level, Bridges TV was a fraud, pretending to be moderate when it was just another member of the "Wahhabi lobby." Endorsed by some of the worst Islamist functionaries in the country (Nihad Awad, Ibrahim Hooper, Iqbal Yunus, Louay Safi), it was an extremist wolf disguised in moderate sheep's clothing.
On the financial level, Bridges TV marketed itself to investors on the basis of an imaginary population of 7-7.4 million U.S. Muslims, or 2-3 times the actual total, making the station commercially unviable from day one.
Finally, on the familial level, Bridges TV pretended to be based on what critic Zuhdi Jasser calls the "public marital partnership" of the station's first couple; Muzzammil ("Mo") Hassan proudly related how his wife Aasiya Z. Hassan spurred him to create Bridges TV. He was the hard-charging founder responsible for finances and marketing; she expressed her devotion to Islamic ideals and culture as the station's program director.
In fact, reports Aasiya's divorce attorney, the couple had "physical confrontations off and on" during their entire eight-year marriage and these recently escalated to Muzzammil issuing death threats. Salma Zubair, who says she is Aasiya's sister, writes that Aasiya "lived her 8 years of married life with fear."
Aasiya began divorce proceedings on the grounds of "cruel and inhuman treatment" and won an "Order of Protection" on Feb. 6 to force Muzzammil out of their shared house, enraging him; according to the local police chief, Muzzammil "came back to the residence and was pounding on doors and broke one window."
Muzzammil Hassan standing outside the Bridges TV studio.
On Feb. 12, the couple encountered each other at the television studio. At 6:20 p.m., Muzzammil went to the police and directed them where to find his wife's corpse. Officers found her body at the station in a hallway, decapitated and with multiple stab wounds. Detectives charged Muzzammil with murder and are looking for knife used to kill her.
A reliable source informs me – and this is breaking news – that the police found Muzzammil repeatedly told his wife that she had no right, under Islamic law, to divorce him. They also quote him stating that Aasiya, because beheaded, cannot reach paradise.
Muzzammil's defense lawyer says his client will plead not guilty, presumably by reason of insanity.
A great battle looms ahead on how to interpret this crime, whether as domestic violence or honor killing. Supna Zaidi of Islamist Watch defines the latter as "the murder of a girl or woman who has allegedly committed an act that has shamed and embarrassed her family." Deeply alien to Westerners, this motive has paramount importance in traditional Muslim life.
In a Middle East Quarterly article, "Are Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence?" feminist theorist Phyllis Chesler delineates eight differences between these two concepts, including the identities of perpetrator and victim, the circumstances of the murder, the degree of gratuitous violence, the killer's state of mind, and family responses.
Did Aasiya die in a crime of passion or to reinstate a family's reputation? Was the violence generic or specifically Muslim? The Islamic Society of North America opts for domestic violence while the National Organization for Women's New York State chapter sees an honor killing.
The crime at Bridges TV fits neither model exactly, suggesting we need more information to determine its exact nature. But as the forces of political correctness inevitably bear down to exclude an Islamic dimension to the murder, the motive of family reputation must be kept alive. Enough with the pleasant deceits – time has come to utter hard truths about Bridges TV.
Mr. Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
Monday, February 23, 2009
February 22, 2009
Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders will be in the United States this week, arriving direct from Italy where he received the Oriana Fallaci Free Speech Award.
During his acceptance speech, Wilders implored the audience in Rome to protect our most fundamental Western freedom, freedom of speech. Wilders expressed this commitment-contra the willful media distortions of his views-in this pellucid formulation:
That is why I propose the withdrawal of all hate speech legislation in Europe. I propose a European First Amendment. Freedom of speech is the keystone of our Western civilization, it is the keystone of our democracies and the keystone of our freedom. That is why freedom of speech should be extended instead of restricted. Salman Rushdie's ‘The Satanic Verses', Ayaan Hirsi Ali's and Theo van Gogh's film ‘Submission', Kurt Westergaard's cartoons and my documentary ‘Fitna' should never be banned, but should be protected. As George Orwell once said: "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear".
Earlier, while calling the Koran hate speech with specific reference to the Dutch Penal Code, Wilders was simply asking for consistent application of the Dutch law. And, like Winston Churchill (who wrote that Mein Kampf was "...the new Koran of faith and war: turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message"), Wilders compared the Koran to Mein Kampf, and called it hate speech according to the Dutch Penal Code.
Wilders' demand for consistency, recalls the Calcutta Quran Petition of the 1980s. Like his Hindu predecessors, Wilders was fed up with Muslim abuse of similar Indian laws, and simply saying if one bans hate speech, in accord with existing Dutch Law, then the Koran is hate speech. The Calcutta Quran Petition chronicled how it was the abuse of hate speech laws by Muslims seeking to impose Sharia mandates on non-Muslim majorities that was the source of the problem.
As described in the Calcutta Quran Petition, two Hindus were arrested -- under Indian penal code sections exploited by Muslims to prevent public criticism of Muhammad or other aspects of their creed -- for publishing a poster which simply cited 24 Koranic verses (see them below*), with a caption, "Why riots take place in this country." In this landmark case, the Hindus were eventually acquitted by a sober magistrate who opined,
...a close perusal of the Ayats [verses] shows that that the same are harmful and teach hatred, and are likely to create differences between Mohammedans on one hand and the remaining communities on the other.
Geert Wilders is opposed to all hate speech laws, as he stated explicitly on February 19, 2009 in Rome, and previously, here: "Everything should be possible except to issue calls for violence." It is well past time for the media-across the political spectrum-to stop their grotesque mischaracterization of Wilders' unequivocal defense of free speech. But demonizing Wilders, and imposing de facto limitations on his free speech criticism of Islam-not matter how reasonable his concerns may be-is a task for which our craven, lemming-like media elites are far better suited.
* USC-Muslim Student Association Compendium of Muslim Texts, Pickthall Translation
(9:5) Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.;
(9:28) O ye who believe! The idolaters only are unclean. So let them not come near the Inviolable Place of Worship after this their year. If ye fear poverty (from the loss of their merchandise) Allah shall preserve you of His bounty if He will. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise.;
(4:101) And when ye go forth in the land, it is no sin for you to curtail (your) worship if ye fear that those who disbelieve may attack you. In truth the disbelievers are an open enemy to you.;
(9:123) O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).;
(4:56) Lo! Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to the Fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment. Lo! Allah is ever Mighty, Wise.;
(9:23) O ye who believe! Choose not your fathers nor your brethren for friends if they take pleasure in disbelief rather than faith. Whoso of you taketh them for friends, such are wrong-doers.;
(9:37) Postponement (of a sacred month) is only an excess of disbelief whereby those who disbelieve are misled; they allow it one year and forbid it (another) year, that they may make up the number of the months which Allah hath hallowed, so that they allow that which Allah hath forbidden. The evil of their deeds is made fairseeming unto them. Allah guideth not the disbelieving folk;
(5:57) O Ye who believe! Choose not for guardians such of those who received the Scripture before you, and of the disbelievers, as make a jest and sport of your religion. But keep your duty to Allah if ye are true believers.;
(33:61) Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a (fierce) slaughter.;
(21:98) Lo! ye (idolaters) and that which ye worship beside Allah are fuel of hell. Thereunto ye will come.;
(32:22) And who doth greater wrong than he who is reminded of the revelations of his Lord, then turneth from them. Lo! We shall requite the guilty.;
(48:20) Allah promiseth you much booty that ye will capture, and hath given you this in advance, and hath withheld men's hands from you, that it may be a token for the believers, and that He may guide you on a right path.;
(8:69) Now enjoy what ye have won [in war], as lawful and good, and keep your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.;
(66:9) O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and be stern with them. Hell will be their home, a hapless journey's end.;
(41:27) But verily We shall cause those who disbelieve to taste an awful doom, and verily We shall requite them the worst of what they used to do.; (41:28) That is the reward of Allah's enemies: the Fire. Therein is their immortal home, payment forasmuch as they denied Our revelations.;
(9:111) Lo! Allah hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth because the Garden will be theirs: they shall fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain. It is a promise which is binding on Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur'an. Who fulfilleth His covenant better than Allah? Rejoice then in your bargain that ye have made, for that is the supreme triumph.;
(9:68) Allah promiseth the hypocrites, both men and women, and the disbelievers fire of hell for their abode. It will suffice them. Allah curseth them, and theirs is lasting torment.;
(8:65) O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a hundred (steadfast) they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they (the disbelievers) are a folk without intelligence.;
(5:51) O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who taketh them for friends is (one) of them. Lo! Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk.;
(9:29) Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.;
(5:14) And with those who say: "Lo! we are Christians," We made a covenant, but they forgot a part of that whereof they were admonished. Therefore We have stirred up enmity and hatred among them till the Day of Resurrection, when Allah will inform them of their handiwork.;
(4:89) They long that ye should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that ye may be upon a level (with them). So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back (to enmity) then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them;
(9:14) Fight them! Allah will chastise them at your hands, and He will lay them low and give you victory over them, and He will heal the breasts of folk who are believers."
- Andrew G. Bostom is the author of The Legacy of Jihad (Prometheus, 2005) and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism.
Books of The Times
By JANET MASLIN
The New York Times
February 23, 2009
Brad Gooch’s rapt, authoritative “Flannery” is the first major biography of a writer who died 44 years ago. Where is the flood of other biographical material about this mystical, ornery, ardently admired Southern writer?
There has been at least one other account of O’Connor’s life (written by Jean W. Cash and deemed merely “a step in the right direction” by Publishers Weekly in 2002). And there have been many book-length critical studies of her work. But O’Connor has been long overdue for the major biography that Mr. Gooch has written. “Flannery” reveals not only why its brilliantly persnickety subject warrants such attention but also why it has been so slow in coming.
Here are some of the best-known facts about the author of “Wise Blood,” “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and other stories: She raised peacocks. She suffered from lupus and died of that disease at 39. She lived reclusively with her mother at Andalusia, the family farm in Milledgeville, Ga.
Her racial attitudes were uncharitable at best, and they showed up in her work. And she combined the sexual knowingness of a 12-year-old with a gender-bending fusion of Southern gothic and luridly medieval sensibilities in her mordant, theologically inspired storytelling.
Not one of these things readily lends itself to biographical inquiry. But Mr. Gooch, who reaffirms the discerning taste he demonstrated in his 1993 biography of the poet Frank O’Hara, is an unusually patient acolyte. He first expressed interest in writing an O’Connor biography nearly three decades ago, he says, only to be snubbed by O’Connor’s friend Sally Fitzgerald, who planned a book of her own. (Ms. Fitzgerald left behind an unfinished manuscript when she died in 2000.)
Mr. Gooch, who began work on this book in 2003, was ready to roam the world in hopes of penetrating the O’Connor mystique. “Flannery” may make its subject sound like a stay-at-home, but Mr. Gooch went from Georgia to Iowa to Lourdes following her trail of bread crumbs.
He also had access to a cache of recently revealed, hugely illuminating letters between O’Connor and her friend Betty Hester, who had a great crush on her. And he tracked down unpublished correspondence between O’Connor and Erik Langkjaer, the rare man known to have romantically attracted her.
Mr. Gooch’s book lacks the dimension of strong literary criticism. O’Connor’s work does not come alive on this biography’s pages, except as Mr. Gooch traces the origins of incidents and ideas. But the tart O’Connor voice, witty and flippant, immune to vanity, is very much in evidence. “Flannery” captures the spirit of the woman who described her talent this way to Ms. Hester: “I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both.”
Since “Flannery” must sometimes grasp at straws, it begins by placing great importance on a formative childhood incident: the filming of a 1932 Pathé newsreel titled “Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse” and showing little Mary Flannery O’Connor with an early feathered companion. What did this prefigure about the adult writer? How did the chicken lead her to peacocks? What link existed in her devoutly religious mind between birds’ feathers and angels’ wings? Mr. Gooch can’t really answer those questions, but he has written a piquant book about a woman odd enough to have sewed clothing for her birds to wear.
Dropping her given first name for the sake of her writing career (“Who was likely to buy the stories of an Irish washerwoman?” she joked about not wanting to be Mary O’Connor), she had a brief but memorable stint as a cartoonist during her college days. She signed the cartoons M. F. O. C. and wrote “the usual bunk — M. F. O’Connor” when signing classmates’ yearbooks.
She propelled herself to both the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., at times when life at both places was eventful, but she managed to steer clear of trouble. When her friend Robert Lowell began exhibiting extreme behavior at Yaddo, she recalled: “I was too inexperienced to know he was mad, I just thought that was the way poets acted.”
With Lowell and his wife Elizabeth Hardwick, as with other couples, O’Connor enjoyed playing third wheel and child. But she sounded most comfortable when entrenched at Andalusia, surrounded by birds and entertaining the occasional literary visitor. “Mr. Giroux, can’t you get Flannery to write about nice people?” her mother asked the editor Robert Giroux, but O’Connor had her own notions about what nice meant.
“It’s a wonderful children’s book,” she said about the publication of “To Kill A Mockingbird” by her fellow Southern loner Harper Lee. When she inquired about films by “this man Ingmar Bergman,” she came unusually close to identifying a kindred spirit steeped in spiritual rigor. “They too are apparently medieval,” she said, considering common ground between his works and her own.
O’Connor told Ms. Hester about a movie theater in Milledgeville playing the film “Wild in the Country,” starring Elvis Presley, about “the rehabilitation of a country boy from delinquency.” “So Flannery took great pleasure in having her own country boy, Rufus, shimmy down a hallway in Norton’s dead mother’s corset, belting out Presley’s ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll,’ ” Mr. Gooch writes of “The Lame Shall Enter First.”
What makes “Flannery” so valuable is the degree of intimacy with which it captures O’Connor’s sensibility in that story. What creates a gap is Mr. Gooch’s use of the word “so.” There’s something in that “so” that he doesn’t fathom. There’s still a part of O’Connor that we can’t really know.