Saturday, April 17, 2010

Nonproliferation? How Quaint!

The mound of corpses being piled up around the world today is not from high-tech nuclear states but from low-tech psycho states.

By Mark Steyn
http://www.nationalreview.com/
April 17, 2010 7:00 A.M.

In years to come — assuming, for the purposes of argument, there are any years to come — scholars will look back at President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit and marvel. For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms-control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia, and Thailand . . . but not even mentioning Germany.

Yet that’s what Obama just did: He held a nuclear gabfest in 2010, the biggest meeting of world leaders on American soil since the founding of the U.N. 65 years ago — and Iran wasn’t on the agenda.

Granted that almost all of Obama’s exciting, innovative “change we can believe in” turns out to have been exhumed direct from the sclerotic Seventies to stagger around like a rotting zombie in polyester bell-bottoms from some straight-to-video sequel, there’s still something almost touchingly quaint in the notion of an international summit on nuclear “nonproliferation” in the 21st century. Five years ago, when there was still a chance the world might prevent a nuclear Iran rather than pretending to “contain” it, I remember the bewildered look from a “nonproliferation expert” on a panel I was on after I suggested nonproliferation was a laughably obsolescent frame for this discussion. You could just about enforce nonproliferation back in the Cold War, when the only official nuclear powers were the Big Five at the U.N. Security Council and the entry level for the nuclear club was extremely expensive and technologically sophisticated. Now it’s not. If Pakistan and North Korea can be nuclear powers, who can’t? North Korea’s population is starving. Its GDP per capita is lower than Ghana’s, lower than Zimbabwe’s, lower than Mongolia’s. Which is to say its GDP is all but undetectable.

Yet it’s a nuclear power.

That’s what anachronistic nonproliferation mumbo-jumbo gets you. If you read in the paper that New Zealand had decided to go nuclear, would you lose a moment’s sleep over it? Personally, I’d be rather heartened. It would be a sign that a pampered and somnolent developed world had woken up and concluded that betting your future on the kindness of strangers is a helluva gamble. What Obama and his empty showboaters failed even to acknowledge in their “security” summit is the reality of the post–Big Five nuclear age: We’re on the brink of a world in which the wealthiest nations from Canada to Norway to Japan can barely project meaningful force to their own borders while the nickel-’n’-dime basket cases go nuclear.

How long do you think that arrangement will last? Iran has already offered to share its nuclear technology with Sudan. Sudan? Ring a vague bell? Remember that “Save Darfur” interpretative-dance fundraiser you went to where someone read out a press release from George Clooney and you all had a simply marvelous time? Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed — with machetes. That’s pretty labor-intensive. In the Congo, five and a half million have been slaughtered — and again in impressively primitive ways.

But a nuclear Sudan would be a model of self-restraint?

By the way, that’s another example of the self-indulgent irrelevance of Obama. The mound of corpses being piled up around the world today is not from high-tech nuclear states but from low-tech psycho states. It’s not that Britain has nukes and poor old Sudan has to make do with machetes. It’s that the machete crowd is willing to kill on an industrial scale and the high-tech guys can’t figure out a way to stop them. Perhaps for his next pointless yakfest the president might consider a machete nonproliferation initiative.

Nuclear technology cannot be un-invented. All you can do, as President Reagan understood when few others did, is invent something that will render it, if not yet obsolete, at least less lethal. Until that moment, what makes the difference is not the technology but the regime. The Obama Happy Fairyland Security Summit was posited on the principle that there’s no difference between a Swiss nuke and a Syrian nuke. If you believe that, you’ll be thrilled by the big breakthrough agreement of the summit: Canada, Chile, Mexico, and Ukraine have agreed to reduce their stocks of enriched uranium. Peace in our time! I have here a piece of paper from the prime minister of Canada!

This is the nuclear version of Janet Incompetano’s initial reaction to the Pantybomber — when she banned passengers from having paperback books on their laps for the last 45 minutes of the flight. In an age of freelance nukes, we shouldn’t be banning items but profiling threats. For 30 years, Iran has acted with extraterritorial impunity and without even the minimal courtesies of international relations — seizing embassies, taking out mob contracts on British novelists, seeding terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, blowing up community centers in Latin America . . . Washington’s pathetic fallback of “containment” is intended to prevent Tehran using a nuke in the Middle East, Europe, or anywhere else within range. There is no strategy for “containing” Iran’s leverage of its nuclear status to advance its interests more discreetly, and no strategy for “containing” the mullahs’ generosity to states and groups more inclined to use the technology.

In a characteristic display of his now famous modesty, President Obama reacted to the hostility of the Tax Day tea parties by saying, “You would think they should be saying ‘thank you’” — for all he’s done for them. Right now, the fellows saying “thank you” are the mullahs, the Politburo, Tsar Putin, and others hostile to U.S. interests who’ve figured out they now have the run of the planet.

As for Obama’s pledge to set a good example by reducing America’s nuclear arsenal, there’s no correlation between peace and the number of weapons — except insofar as states with only a few nukes are more likely to use them than states with gazillions: If you’ve only got a dozen, you’re under more pressure to let ’em fly before they’re taken out by incoming. So the principle underpinning Obama’s Seventies-retro nuke summit — that the size of a civilized state’s stockpile adds to the global threat — is not just false but dangerously delusional. Likewise, the urge to forswear nuclear innovation. It would be greatly to the advantage of civilization if responsible powers were to develop new forms of limited, highly targeted, bunker-busting nukes. As is well understood by our enemies, the modern West has no stomach for large-scale casualties: On the morning of September 11th, for example, Mullah Omar had no fear that Washington would nuke even remote and lightly inhabited parts of the Hindu Kush. As we learned the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan, stupid, ill-trained illiterates with primitive explosives who don’t care who they kill can inflict quite a lot of damage on the technologically advanced, highly trained warriors of civilized states. That’s the “asymmetric warfare” that matters. So virtuously proclaiming oneself opposed to nuclear modernization ensures a planet divided into civilized states with unusable weapons and barbarous regimes happy to kill with whatever’s to hand.

So another grand week’s work for a president pressing full steam ahead into the post-American global order. The good news is that at least you don’t have to worry about a nuclear blitzkrieg from Winnipeg. Sleep easy.

Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of America Alone. © 2010 Mark Steyn.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shock as Glasvegas star Caroline McKay quits band

By Bev Lyons
The Daily Record (Scotland)
http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/
Mar 31 2010

GLASVEGAS drummer Caroline McKay has sensationally walked out on the Scottish band in the middle of writing for their second album.

The group, who are working on the songs in Los Angeles, are said to be in shock after she quit on Monday.

Details are unclear but an insider confirmed Caroline was not fired and it was her decision to go.

Glasvegas (from left): Rab Allan, Paul Donoghue, James Allan and Caroline McKay.

Frontman James Allan said: "We are really sad Caroline has decided to leave as she is one of the coolest drummers around.

"But we respect her decision and say goodbye with all our love and luck."

It seems incredible that someone previously unknown would walk away from the band which made her an international star, but our source insisted she had her reasons.

But it is unclear whether she even intends to remain in music.

The insider told The Razz: "Caroline just wants to pursue other interests.

"She left. She was not pushed. I don't know if she's been unhappy for a while or whether it was a recent decision.

"I do know the band are all gutted to lose her as they are all very close."

At least Glasvegas have not started recording, so Caroline's departure should not affect the production schedule or force any re-recording.

Our insider told us: "They are still at the writing stage so this should not have any real effect on the album.

"They are planning to go into the studio in the summer. But they are all very upset though, especially James."

He recruited Caroline while she was working in Glasgow vintage shop Mr Benn, even though she had never played drums before.

He shaped her into the driving force behind the band's signature sound and has staunchly defended her against criticism of her musical ability.

James said: "Caroline had never played before but I thought, 'She should be in the band. She's a brave girl.' " And outspoken star Jon McClure of Reverend And The Makers also leaped to her defence.

He said: "I was furious when I heard someone suggest the band would be better offwithout her. Caroline is the coolest woman in rock."

Jon's opinion was backed up when Caroline made No.10 in the NME Cool List. She had seemed content with her new life as a rock star and has spoken about the bond between the band.

She said: "The boys are like brothers and the journey we're all on together is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

But Caroline suffered terribly from stage fright, so perhaps she simply could not face the prospect of doing a tour with the new songs.

She had confessed: "I get sick every night. All over the country, there are little bags of puke where Glasvegas have played."

Paranoia?

It’s an American tradition that dates back to the Founders.

By Rich Lowry
http://www.nationalreview.com/
April 16, 2010 12:00 A.M.

Only an overcaffeinated tea partier would believe that the U.S. is on the path from “an open society into dictatorship,” right? Who could think that there are ten simple steps to establishing a police state and “that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States”?

As you might have gathered, these aren’t the words of an unhinged right-winger but an unhinged left-winger: Naomi Wolf, author of the perfervid 2007 book The End of America.

Wolf detected a “fascist shift” in the country, and got some respectful notices (Library Journal: “compellingly and cogently argued”). While a New York Times review of the documentary based on the book didn’t buy it all, it concluded “there is still enough here to make you shiver.”

In the context of the media and the Left’s reaction to the tea partiers, the hypocrisy is manifest: fear of the federal government for me, but not for thee. The deeper point is that paranoia about government is woven into the American fabric, on both the left and the right. Provided it’s properly directed and honed, it’s a healthy reflex.

It wasn’t just book-hawking authors warning of the end of our liberties in the Bush years. Democrats recoiled from the Patriot Act — recently re-authorized without a peep — as a foul reprise of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Howard Dean fumed that it trampled “the rights of average Americans.” Sen. Russell Feingold declared it had made Americans “afraid to read books.”

Well, you might say, there go the Democrats again — weak on national security. But when Pres. Bill Clinton proposed a counterterrorism law in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, many Republicans screamed, too. The late Republican eminence Henry Hyde recalled another GOP House member’s saying, “I trust Hamas more than I trust my own government.”

The baton of paranoia about executive power passes back and forth from one party to the other depending on who is in opposition. The reaction tends to be the same because it is written in our political DNA, inherited from the most glorious paranoiacs the world has ever known — our Founding Fathers.

As Bernard Bailyn demonstrates in his classic, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, our forebears prized the thought of the 18th-century “country” opposition in England, which considered the government a clear and present danger to liberty — corrupt, conspiratorial, and insatiable.

America’s leaders viewed Revolutionary events through this prism. “They saw about them,” Bailyn writes, “not merely mistaken, or even evil, policies violating the principles upon which freedom rested, but what appeared to be evidence of nothing less than a deliberate assault launched surreptitiously by plotters against liberty, both in England and in America.”

This is the taproot of American paranoia. It’s not in status anxiety, or economic dispossession, or racism: It’s in flat-out distrust of governmental authority. As the Patriot Act shows, in America even the statists can summon a robust fear of government. And would we have it any other way? Would we prefer the natural deference to authority of a Japan, or a political culture as favorable to central government as Russia’s?

Now, literal paranoia is a noxious thing; it gives us the domestic terrorism of the New Left in the 1970s or the militia movement of the 1990s. But a bristling skepticism of government and a keen vigilance about our liberties should be treasured national qualities.

How you view particular expressions of them depends on your politics. I considered the Left’s tirade against the Patriot Act overwrought and foolish. But we certainly could have used such implacable suspicion of governmental powers when J. Edgar Hoover was waging his dirty war of domestic spying against Martin Luther King Jr.

A New York Times survey found that tea partiers are wealthier and better educated than the general population, exploding the stereotype of them as rubes. Of course, they’ll still be dismissed as lunatics. But if they’re crazy, it’s in a most characteristically American way.

— Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. © 2010 by King Features Syndicate.

Was Marco Polo an ‘Islamophobe’?

Fourteen-hundred years is a very long time for “Islamophobic” stereotypes to persist.

by Raymond Ibrahim
http://pajamasmedia.com/
April 16, 2010

If the same exact criticisms being made against Islam today were also made centuries ago, is it reasonable to automatically dismiss them all as “Islamophobic” — that is, as “unfounded fear of and hostility towards Islam,” as the Council on American Islamic Relations would have it?

This is the question I often ask myself whenever I read pre-modern writings on Islam. Take that elementary schoolbook hero, Marco Polo (pictured at right) and his famous memoirs, for example. By today’s standards, the 13th century Venetian merchant would be denounced as a rabid “Islamophobe.” For me, however, his writings contain a far more important lesson — one in continuity — and deserve closer scrutiny.

Before examining Polo’s observations, it should be noted that his anthropological accounts are, by and large, objective. That is, unlike simplistic explanations that portray him as a prototypical “Orientalist” with an axe to grind against the “Other” — specifically non-whites and non-Christians — in fact, Polo occasionally portrays the few Christians he encountered in a negative light (such as those of the island of Socotra) and frequently praises non-Christians, including Muslims.

For example, he hails the Brahmins of India as being “most honorable,” possessing a “hatred for cheating or of taking the goods of other persons. They are likewise remarkable for the virtue of being satisfied with the possession of one wife (p.298).” And he refers to one Muslim leader as governing “with justice” (p.317) and another who “showed himself [to be] a very good lord, and made himself beloved by everybody (p.332).”

That said, Polo clearly had no problem being blunt about Islam (political correctness being nonexistent in the Middle Ages). Whereas he praised the Brahmins for their “hatred for cheating or of taking the goods of other persons,” regarding the Muslims of Tauris, (modern day Iraq), he wrote:

According to their doctrine, whatever is stolen or plundered from others of a different faith, is properly taken, and the theft is no crime; whilst those who suffer death or injury by the hands of Christians, are considered as martyrs. If, therefore, they were not prohibited and restrained by the powers who now govern them, they would commit many outrages. These principles are common to all Saracens (p.63).

In fact, based on the Muslim prophet Muhammad’s numerous raiding expeditions, plundering infidels is quite standard in Islam and treated regularly in legal manuals; the Koran has an entire chapter dedicated to and named after plunder (Surat al-Anfal). As for being a martyr simply by dying at the hands of the infidel enemy, this too has ample support in Islam’s texts and consensus among the ulema. The authoritative Hans Wehr Arabic-English Dictionary translates shahid (martyr) as “one killed in battle with infidels.”

A more telling anecdote follows: According to Polo, a certain “Achmath” (probably “Ahmed”), one of the few Muslims to have had great influence over Kublai Khan, habitually abused the largely non-Muslim subject peoples without the Khan’s knowledge: he put to death anyone he pleased, robbed them of their possessions, and, most notoriously, he and his sons regularly raped and coerced into concubinage countless women. Due to Achmath’s many atrocities, he was eventually assassinated. When the Khan later discovered the extent of Achmath’s crimes, his

attention [went] to the doctrines of the Sect of the Saracens [i.e., Islam], which excuse every crime, yea, even murder itself, when committed on such as are not of their religion. And seeing that this doctrine had led the accursed Achmath and his sons to act as they did without any sense of guilt, the Khan was led to entertain the greatest disgust and abomination for it. So he summoned the Saracens and prohibited their doing many things which their religion enjoined (p.173).

Of course, crimes against non-Muslim infidels have a doctrinal base and fall within the legal jurisdiction of jihad and its attendant institutions (e.g., dhimma status): war upon and death for non-subjugated infidels is a Koranic mandate (e.g., 8:39, 9:5, 9:29); the sub-human treatment of infidel slaves, particularly women, or, in the Koran’s language, “what your right hand possesses,”is well codified. Little wonder that Muslims like this Achmath—or today’s terrorists—can act “without any sense of guilt.”

(It is significant to note that, in both of Polo’s block quotes above, he criticizes Muslim doctrine — not Muslim peoples. In other words, he allows for what would today be called “moderate” Muslims, as shown by his aforementioned praise for individual Muslim leaders.)

Polo also confirms that Muslim leaders — not just today but from of old — have relied on Muhammad’s account of a lusty paradise to lure young men into becoming “martyrs.” Based on his account of the Shia assassins, who, in accordance with “the description Muhammad gave of his paradise,” dedicated their lives to assassinating and terrorizing their opponents, simply to enter into “paradise, where every species of sensual gratification should be found, in the society of beautiful nymphs” (p.78). (It is further interesting to note that the assassin leader took into his service men primarily between the ages of 12-20—not unlike Osama bin Laden’s position that Muslim men aged 15-25 are most suited for jihad and martyrdom: The Al Qaeda Reader, p.267.)

Other “Islamophobic” allusions are scattered throughout Polo’s account: the caliph of Baghdad’s “daily thoughts were employed on the means of converting to his religion [Islam] those who resided within his dominions, or, upon their refusal, in forming pretences for putting them to death” (p.59); and Muslims “utterly detest the Christians” (p.316), perhaps in accordance to Koran 60:4 — still cited by today’s Islamists as mandating permanent hatred for non-Muslims.


Marco Polo travelling, Miniature from the Book "The Travels of Marco Polo" ("Il milione"), originally published during Polo's lifetime (c. 1254 - January 8, 1324), but frequently reprinted and translated.

Here, then, is the problem: If today it is “Islamophobic,” that is, irrational, to claim that Islam advocates war against and subjugation for infidels, permitting the latter to be abused, plundered, and enslaved in the process — what does one make of the fact that, some 700 years ago, the same exact claims were made by our Venetian traveler? Indeed, what does one make of the fact that, centuries before and after Polo, a diverse host of writers — including John of Damascus (d.749) Theophanes the chronicler (d.818), Francis of Assisi (d.1226), Joinville the crusader (d.13th century), and Manuel the Byzantine emperor (d.1425) — all made the same “Islamophobic” observations about Islam? (The latter’s writings, when merely quoted by the pope, caused an uproar in the Muslim world.) This, of course, is to say nothing of the countless Muslim ulema who regularly affirm that Islam teaches war, subjugation, slavery, and plunder vis-a-vis the infidel, tracing it back to the words of the Koran and Muhammad.

In short, the word “Islamophobia” is a ruse — also permitted in Islam under the doctrine of taqiyya — meant to paralyze all discussion concerning Muslim doctrine; and it has been successful: the United Nations has already presided over a conference titled “Confronting Islamophobia” and a Council of Europe summit condemned “Islamophobia.” Moreover, the influential Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) regularly lambasts the specter of Islamophobia, calling it the “worst form of terrorism,” and publishing two reports on the phenomenon.

Yet, in a classic twist of irony, the opening assertion of the OIC’s first report — “Islamophobia has existed since the time of inception of Islam” — contradicts its entire argument, for it begs the following question: How can something, in this case “unfounded fear of and hostility towards Islam” — to use CAIR’s definition of Islamophobia — be a constant aspect of Islam’s fourteen-hundred year history, and yet still be regarded as “unfounded”?

Surely fourteen-hundred years is an unusually long time for “unfounded” stereotypes to persist.

Raymond Ibrahim is the associate director of the Middle East Forum, the author of The Al Qaeda Reader, and a visiting lecturer at the National Defense Intelligence College.

Putin wins again

Rebuilding imperial Russia

By Ralph Peters
New York Post
http://www.nypost.com
April 16, 2010


Jeez, this guy is good.

A few years back, I wrote that Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was the most impressive major leader on today's world stage. Since then, he's gotten better.

Back then, he was eating President George W. Bush for breakfast. Now he's snacking on President Obama as sushi -- eating him raw, in happy little bites.

Putin's ruthless, unforgiving and murderous. He also has a clear vision of what he wants, the strength of will to get it -- and a stunning ability to spot the weaknesses in his foreign counterparts.

Putin's the Evil Empire's belated answer to President Ronald Reagan. Where the Gipper focused uncompromisingly on bringing down the Soviet imperium, Putin focuses uncompromisingly on restoring imperial Russia.


Fostering trouble in our backyard: Putin (l.) being honored by Venezuelan thug Hugo Chavez, who's buying billions in arms from Russia.(Reuters)

And he's making progress, as US leaders and their advisers bumble and stumble along with neither a clear strategic vision nor a rational sense of foreign-policy priorities.

Putin doesn't seem like a man much given to hilarity, but he must be laughing his butt off at our incompetence. Consider his strategic achievements in just the last few months:

* He cunningly let Obama bamboozle himself into a gotta-have-it-now Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that damages US conventional capabilities while Russia gives up only old junk it needed to dump anyway.

* He cut another arms deal with Hugo Chavez, selling the unstable Venezuelan 5 billion more bucks' worth of weapons -- on top of 4 billion already contracted. It's an unprecedented armament program for South America, supporting Chavez's bellicose "Bolivarian" goal of "re-uniting" Venezuela and Colombia.

* Putin finally got his pawn into power in Ukraine, erasing the westward orientation of yesteryear's Orange Revolution. Bringing Ukraine back inside Russia's borders remains Putin's top priority. He just took a giant step toward achieving it.

* Putin also drew Kazakhstan -- the keystone Central Asian state and a major energy supplier -- closer to Moscow.

* Last week, Putin supported the overthrow of the US-backed government of Kyrgyzstan, tightening his chokehold on our northern supply route into Afghanistan. The Obama administration was utterly blindsided ("Where's Kyrgyzstan?").

* The crash of an aircraft carrying Poland's fiercely anti-Russian president and his key advisers may have been just amazingly good luck on Putin's part, but it's the kind of luck to which we should pay attention. Russia's neighbors certainly have.

* Domestically, Putin continued extending his control over the economy and the media. (What, no protests from Western journalistic colleagues?) An artful sniper, not a clumsy bomber, he kills or imprisons when "necessary," but doesn't purge the Russian masses. (The only problem he hasn't been able to hammer down has been domestic Islamist terrorism -- where he meets his match in strength of will.)

* On Iran, Putin's a savvy old tomcat toying with the Obama mouse. While Moscow's overt, covert and clandestine trade with Tehran continues, Putin does his good-cop/bad-cop routine with President Dmitry Medvedev, keeping hope alive in the White House that, this time, Russia will finally back meaningful sanctions. Sarah Palin will sign on with Code Pink first.

Meanwhile, our president continues to play into Putin's hands. At this week's Nuclear Vanity Summit (which accomplished nothing), Obama snubbed Georgia's president, Mikhail Saakashvili. Putin will read that as license to renew his aggression against the struggling democracy in Tbilisi (first Kyrgyzstan, then Georgia?). Obama had time for Putin's Ukrainian puppet, President Viktor Yanukovych, though.

And all the while the administration's fighting Russia's drug war in Afghanistan while snoozing through the narco-bloodbath on our own southern border.

A major test for Obama comes this Sunday, when our president will pay our respects at the Krakow funeral of Poland's freedom-loving president. If Obama allows himself to be photographed smoking and joking with Putin or Medvedev at a Polish grave, it'll send a horrible signal throughout a region that only escaped Moscow's terror two decades ago.

Putin's certainly not a good man. But he is a great man -- perhaps the most capable national leader of our time. He's also a very dangerous man.

The really bad news? I can't spot a single potential president in either of our political parties who'd be a match for the guy.

It's heartbreaking when an old KGB hand consistently triumphs over the products of the mediocrity mills our moribund political parties have become.

Ralph Peters' new book is "Endless War."

Kill the Death Tax, Once and for All

As Steve Forbes likes to say, “No taxation without respiration.”

By Deroy Murdock
http://www.nationalreview.com
April 16, 2010 12:00 A.M.

The federal death tax today stands at zero percent, and it should stay there. Republicans and free-marketeers should kill the death tax once and for all before it roars back next January 1. If the Democratic Left defends the death tax, the Republican Right should beat them on it at the polls next November.

If Congress does nothing, the death tax will be resurrected at 55 percent after a $1 million exclusion. According to the Wall Street Journal, Democrats wish to restore last year’s 45 percent death tax beyond a $3.5 million exclusion. Republicans seem to prefer a 35 percent death tax above a $5 million exclusion.

In this case, gradualism buys the GOP nothing. A 35 percent death tax would make Republicans complicit in reviving perhaps the most widely hated levy on the books. Instead, they should make Americans cheer by hammering a stake through the heart of the death tax.

This tax’s cruelty may be its worst aspect. Not long after loved ones perish, mourning survivors must calculate how much of the deceased’s wealth to surrender to Washington, D.C. This turns a situation from sad to worse. Relatives and friends of dead people whose estates are subject to the death tax should be free to cry their eyes out in sorrow without thinking about accountants and trust lawyers.

The money that is subject to the death tax almost always has been taxed at least once by the feds. So why tax it again? Death alone should be no reason to let Uncle Sam raid and then re-raid anyone’s bank account.

This convoluted levy, which generated $25.7 billion in federal revenues in 2008, actually may be a net drain on the Treasury. A 2006 Congressional Joint Economic Committee study indicated that the death tax’s “high compliance costs and impact on capital accumulation may actually cause income tax revenue losses for the federal government.”

The IRS’s own website warns: “The laws on Estate and Gift Taxes are considered to be some of the most complicated in the Internal Revenue Code. For further guidance, we strongly recommend that you visit with an estate tax practitioner (Attorney or CPA) who has considerable experience in this field.”

This entire nation would benefit if all of this legal, accounting, and finance talent — plus the resources required to pay them — instead could be devoted to more productive purposes.

Some wealthy people believe the death tax should survive so that the heirs of rich parents will not loaf around waiting for Ma and Pa to expire.

“Dynastic wealth, the enemy of a meritocracy, is on the rise,” giga-investor Warren Buffett told Forbes magazine. “A progressive and meaningful estate tax is needed to curb the movement of a democracy toward plutocracy.”

If layabout children bother Buffet and his demographic, they are perfectly free to chop their kids clean out of their wills. If announced in advance, this would send the message: “Get a job!”

Furthermore, if this “evacuate the yacht club” argument held any water, Congress could reform the death tax by letting Uncle Sam simply confiscate 100 percent of all assets above a decedent’s first $1 million. How would Buffet and company like to see that scenario befall their fortunes?

The death tax even harms the environment. In order to pay the death tax, usually due nine months after the departed’s death, survivors sometimes sell ranches, farms, and other acreage. This, in turn, can get subdivided for housing, retail, and commercial-real-estate projects. That may be splendid for human beings, but it can eliminate the habitats of suddenly paved-over wildlife.

Republican lawmakers should pledge to keep this chamber of horrors locked up, rather than allow it to reopen for “only” 35 cents on the tax dollar. In fighting for the permanent death of the death tax, free-marketeers should quote publisher Steve Forbes on this issue. As he likes to say, “No taxation without respiration.”

— Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.

See No Qur’an, Hear No Qur’an

Posted by Robert Spencer on Apr 16th, 2010
http://www.frontpagemag.com/

What’s that? The “gunman” was a Muslim? He said something about the Qur’an? Surely not! None of that is in the AP story, which is an object lesson in journalistic bias and obfuscation: “Source: Chicago gunman heard voices to kill family,” by Don Babwin for Associated Press, April 14 (thanks to Paul):

CHICAGO – A person close to the investigation of a shooting in Chicago that left a woman and three children dead says the gunman told police that he committed the crime after hearing voices telling him to kill his family.

Compare that to the Chicago Tribune story I discussed here. It says that “the man had converted to Islam several years ago while serving time in prison and had a dispute with his wife — one of the victims — because she would not adhere to his faith. He told police that he needed to take his family back to Allah and out of this world of sinners, a source said….The wife’s sister, Shirina Thompson, said the suspect had been talking about “going to Allah.” Both Thompson and a neighbor in Wisconsin said the man had fought with his wife in recent days because she refused to wear Muslim garb….Letisha Larry, one of the suspect’s sisters, said her brother had been acting strange, carrying around the Quran and telling family members that something in the book told him to kill someone.”
But AP has none of that. He was just “hearing voices.”

This is one of the reasons why we always post at Jihad Watch the names of the reporters who write the stories. These whole process of news gathering and news reporting needs to be demystified, even in this Internet age, and news reports recognized not as objective, dispassionate accounts, but as the work of human beings with agendas. While it is possible that Kristen Schorsch, Annie Sweeney and Cynthia Dizikes of the Tribune are simply better, more thorough reporters than Don Babwin of AP, it is more likely that Babwin had access to exactly the same information that showed up in the Tribune report, but chose not to go with it.

He probably thought it would be “Islamophobic” to do so, or that to do so would fuel one of those fabled but nonexistent “backlashes” against innocent Muslims. So he probably decided it was better to cover up key facts about this incident. And the thing is, Don Babwin is no worse a journalist than thousands of others working today. He was just doing what they all do, in large and small ways, every day.

To expose them as they do this, and to inform you about what is really going on, is one of the main reasons why Jihad Watch exists.

Obama's nuclear strutting and fretting

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
Friday, April 16, 2010; A25
http://www.washingtonpost.com/

There was something oddly disproportionate about the just-concluded nuclear summit to which President Obama summoned 46 world leaders, the largest such gathering on American soil since 1945. That meeting was about the founding of the United Nations, which 65 years ago seemed an event of world-historical importance.

But this one? What was this great convocation about? To prevent the spread of nuclear material into the hands of terrorists. A worthy goal, no doubt. Unfortunately, the two greatest such threats were not even on the agenda.

The first is Iran, which is frantically enriching uranium to make a bomb, and which our own State Department identifies as the greatest exporter of terrorism in the world.

Nor on the agenda was Pakistan's plutonium production, which is adding to the world's stockpile of fissile material every day.

Pakistan is a relatively friendly power, but it is the most unstable of all the nuclear states. It is fighting a Taliban insurgency and is home to al-Qaeda. Suicide bombs go off regularly in its major cities. Moreover, its own secret service, the ISI, is of dubious loyalty, some of its elements being sympathetic to the Taliban and thus, by extension, to al-Qaeda.

So what was the major breakthrough announced by Obama at the end of the two-day conference? That Ukraine, Chile, Mexico and Canada will be getting rid of various amounts of enriched uranium.

What a relief. I don't know about you, but I lie awake nights worrying about Canadian uranium. I know these people. I grew up there. You have no idea what they're capable of doing. If Sidney Crosby hadn't scored that goal to win the Olympic gold medal, there's no telling what might have ensued.

Let us stipulate that sequestering nuclear material is a good thing. But, it is a minor thing, particularly when Iran is off the table and Pakistan is creating new plutonium for every ounce of Canadian uranium shipped to the United States.

Perhaps calculating that removing relatively small amounts of fissile material from stable, friendly countries didn't quite do the trick, Obama proudly announced that the United States and Russia were disposing of 68 tons of plutonium. Unmentioned was the fact that this agreement was reached 10 years ago -- and, under the new protocol, doesn't begin to dispose of the plutonium until 2018. Feeling safer now?

The appropriate venue for such minor loose-nuke agreements is a meeting of experts in Geneva who, after working out the details, get their foreign ministers to sign off. Which made this parade of world leaders in Washington an exercise in misdirection -- distracting attention from the looming threat from Iran, regarding which Obama's 15 months of terminally naive "engagement" has achieved nothing but the loss of 15 months.

Indeed, the Washington summit was part of a larger misdirection play -- Obama's "nuclear spring." Last week: a START treaty, redolent of precisely the kind of Cold War obsolescence Obama routinely decries. The number of warheads in Russia's aging and decaying nuclear stockpile is an irrelevancy now that the existential U.S.-Soviet struggle is over. One major achievement of the treaty, from the point of view of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, is that it could freeze deployment of U.S. missile defenses -- thus constraining the single greatest anti-nuclear breakthrough of our time.

This followed a softening of the U.S. nuclear deterrent posture (sparing non-proliferation compliant states from U.S. nuclear retaliation if they launch a biochemical attack against us) -- a change so bizarre and literally unbelievable that even Hillary Clinton couldn't get straight what retaliatory threat remains on the table.

All this during a week when top U.S. military officials told Congress that Iran is about a year away from acquiring the fissile material to make a nuclear bomb. Then, only a very few years until weaponization.

At which point the world changes irrevocably: The regional Arab states go nuclear, the Non-Proliferation Treaty dies, the threat of nuclear transfer to terror groups grows astronomically.

A timely reminder: Syria has just been discovered transferring lethal Scud missiles to Hezbollah, the Middle East's most powerful non-state terrorist force. This is the same Syria that was secretly building a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor until the Israeli air force destroyed the facility three years ago.

But not to worry. Canadian uranium is secured. A nonbinding summit communique has been issued. And a "work plan" has been agreed to.
Oh, yes. And there will be another summit in two years. The dream lives on.

letters@charleskrauthammer.com

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Congress spending away your taxes

By Cal Thomas
Washington Examiner Columnist
http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/
April 15, 2010

Most Americans may not be fluent in the language of economics, but thanks to our Puritan heritage ("waste not, want not") we understand waste quite well.

The annual ritual of rendering unto Caesar on April 15 brings with it the always-useful "Congressional Pig Book." Compiled by Citizens Against Government Waste, the "Pig Book" lists some of the more outrageous spending indulged in by our "public servants" in pursuit of the only bipartisan activities still practiced in Washington: spending and re-election.

There are 9,129 pork barrel projects listed in the "2010 Congressional Pig Book." They represent a 10.2 percent decline from the 10,160 projects identified last year. "The reforms that were adopted when Democrats took over Congress in 2006 can be attributed to many years of work exposing earmarks," writes CAGW.

Some of the more ridiculous pork projects in recent years have included $50 million for an indoor rain forest in Iowa and $500,000 for a teapot museum in North Carolina.

Even with a small reduction in pork, the CAGW found there is plenty left to outrage taxpayers whose money is being "spread around" in highly questionable projects. Such as:

» "$2,908,000 for shrimp aquaculture research in seven states requested by two senators and five representatives. Since 1985, $74.5 million has been appropriated for this research."

» "$2,573,000 for potato research in four states -- requested by five senators and four representatives."

» "$775,000 for the Institute for Food Science and Engineering requested by Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee member Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Rep. John Boozman, R-Ark." According to CAGW, "One of IFSE's research areas is called 'Pickle Science and Technology,' which the institute's Web site boasts, 'is dedicated to increasing product value by improving production and quality of pickled vegetables.' The program, which enjoys significant industry support, includes the annual national evaluation of pickled vegetable products."

In the movie "State Fair," volunteer judges tasted pickles and gave awards for the best. Why has this become a federal responsibility?

In the defense category, there are earmarks "totaling $6,056,565,000 for 35 anonymous projects. This accounts for only 2 percent of the 1,752 earmarks, but 59 percent of the $10.3 billion cost of the bill, which is more than last year's 57 percent."

» "$200,000 by House appropriator Marion Berry, D-Ark., for the Arkansas Commercial Driver Training Institute at Arkansas State University at Newport. The corporate headquarters for two of the nation's largest trucking companies, J.B. Hunt Transport Inc. and ABF Freight Systems Inc., are located in Arkansas. According to Forbes.com, J.B. Hunt had sales of $3.8 billion in 2008."

This is a commercial driving school for companies that make large profits. Why is the federal government helping to pay the freight?

» "$200,000 by Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., for the expansion of the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor. The museum had a fund balance of $6.9 million at the end of 2008." Why is it getting more money?

» "$102,142,500 for 90 projects for Federal Emergency Management Agency State and Local Programs by 111 members of Congress, spread among 35 states, including towns such as Brigantine, N.J., (population 12,647); Boerne, Texas (population 10,283); Alamosa, Colo., (population 8,745) and Shorter, Ala., (population 374).

The amount directed to this program in fiscal 2010 represents a 357.1 percent increase over the $22,345,000 spent in fiscal 2009."

CAGW recognizes several members of Congress, including Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., "for $200,000 for design and construction of a small-business incubator and multipurpose center in Scranton, Pa."; Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., "for $490 million in pork"; Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, R-Ky., "for $10 million for the National Institute for Hometown Security"; and my personal favorite, classified as the Narcissist Award: Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, "for $7,287,000 to continue the Harkin Grant program and to Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. for $7,000,000 for the Robert C. Byrd Institute of Advanced Flexible Manufacturing Systems."

Read much more and weep at www.CAGW.org. It's a pittance compared with Social Security and Medicare costs, but it's our money they're misspending. We should not be less outraged that they are spending slightly less pork than last year.

STEVENS: 'I NEVER LEFT SANITY. SANITY LEFT ME'

By Ann Coulter
http://www.anncoulter.com/
April 14, 2010


Two observations about retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens are about to become established fact by sheer repetition. The first -- that Stevens is the last Protestant on the court -- is not true in any meaningful sense. The second -- that Stevens didn't move left, the court moved right -- is madness.

In this Sept. 29, 2009 photo, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens sits for a group photograph at the Supreme Court in Washington. Stevens, the court's oldest member and leader of its liberal bloc, announced Friday, April 9, 2010 he is retiring, saying he will step down when the court finishes its work for the summer in late June or early July.
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)


While it's true that there are no other Protestants on the court -- now composed of six Catholics and two Jews, making the Supreme Court only slightly less diverse than cable news hosts, 75 percent of whom are Catholic or Jewish, but also include a Scientologist, a Mormon and a gay -- it's difficult to believe Stevens is any kind of Protestant.

Stevens is more like a pre-road to Damascus Saul. Or maybe the late Justice William Brennan.

It has been said that when asked during his confirmation hearings if he would follow his Catholicism or the Constitution, Brennan should have answered: "Neither." (Only one senator voted against that cheap leprechaun. Guess who!... That's right: Joe McCarthy.)

Stevens' overall career-average may be less ridiculous than Brennan's, but in one respect, Stevens was a standout: He was the most fanatically anti-religious justice in modern times.

In the 1989 abortion case, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, for example, Stevens argued that a state law that defined life as beginning at conception violated the First Amendment by -- yes, establishing a religion. The abortion law, he said, gave "a theological answer to the question of when life begins." (You've all heard of the First Church of When Life Begins, United, haven't you?)

Fortunately, Stevens didn't read far enough to see that the Bible also condemns murder generally, or he might have voted to strike down all laws against murder.

In the 2002 school voucher case, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, Stevens argued that an Ohio program giving poor parents tuition aid to send their children to schools of their choosing also violated the establishment clause. Stevens admitted that the public school system in question was in "crisis" and also that the new schools were freely chosen by the parents.

Still, he said, because the program did not forbid parents from using the tuition payments at religious schools, the state was using "public funds to pay for the indoctrination of thousands of grammar school children in particular religious faiths." That money should have been used to indoctrinate children in subjects such as animal rights, Gaia theory, anti-Americanism and fisting etiquette!

Speaking as a Protestant, and not a "Protestant," we're happy to see Stevens leave the court.

Stevens' claim that he hasn't moved left, the court has moved right, if stated during a mental competence hearing, would have earned him a straitjacket and a handful of Thorazine.

But because Stevens' self-characterization comports with the legal left's position that the Supreme Court's failure to enact the entire platform of the Green Party constitutes "conservative judicial activism," it has been reverently repeated.

It's true that on a few issues, Stevens didn't change. He has long found any religious practice not crushed by the government to be an "establishment of religion." Stevens has also never been an enthusiast of tenuous claims to free speech rights, voting to uphold city restrictions on strip clubs in 1976 and voting to uphold a law that prohibited the burning of the American flag in 1989.

But on many other issues, such as race discrimination, Stevens swung so far to the left that his earlier opinions would be unrecognizable as having been written by the same man.

In 1978, Stevens was not only in the majority in University of California Regents v. Bakke, but he wrote the opinion holding that the school's race-based admissions program violated Title VII and ordering the university to admit Bakke.

In another case of government race-based classifications, Fullilove v. Klutznick (1980), Stevens ridiculed the idea of race-based "remedies" being applied to every ethnic group under the sun.

Adopting Justice William Rehnquist's view that the specific history of blacks in America makes their claims unique, Stevens wrote: "Quite obviously, the history of discrimination against black citizens in America cannot justify a grant of privileges to Eskimos or Indians." (Remember when you could use terms like "Eskimo" and "Indian" without being accused of a hate crime?)

Unlike blacks, who were "dragged to this country in chains to be sold in slavery," Stevens said "the 'Spanish-speaking' subclass came voluntarily, frequently without invitation, and the Indians, the Eskimos and the Aleuts had an opportunity to exploit America's resources before the ancestors of most American citizens arrived."

Now fast-forward to 2003, when the court considered the race-based admissions policy at the University of Michigan. The school automatically awarded 20 points -- one-fifth of the total points needed for admission -– to every minority, including not only blacks, but also Hispanics, Indians, Eskimos and Aleuts.

This time, affirmative action for Aleuts was just peachy with Stevens, who came up with a ludicrous procedural objection to the lawsuit, basically concluding that no one ever has standing to sue for race discrimination in college admissions. I guess he figured it was time somebody did something about the University of Michigan's long, shameful history of discriminating against Aleuts.

That's quite a change from the Justice Stevens of Fullilove, who compared government affirmative action programs to Nazi policies, saying if the government "is to make a serious effort to define racial classes by criteria that can be administered objectively, it must study precedents such as the First Regulation to the Reich's Citizenship Law of Nov. 14, 1935," translated in Volume 4 of "Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression."

Whatever you think of Stevens' newfound admiration for government racial preferences, it's preposterous to say, as Stevens did, "I really don't think I've changed all that much."

If liberals will lie about obvious facts from the last few decades, such as Stevens' dramatic swing to the left, how can they be trusted to tell the truth about a 200-year-old Constitution?

COPYRIGHT 2010 ANN COULTER

Staying Alive

Last Call

By from the April 2010 issue of The American Spectator http://spectator.org/

Ancient tongues like Latin tend to enter our daily lives in small ways. There is the quick phrase sitting like an italicized island lending polish and age, if not pretension, to what we write. In art galleries there is the occasional tapestry with Latin embroidered in the top and bottom margins or in the spaces between figures. And upon aged churchside graves there is often a name carved, usually in wing-tipped Latin letters -- proof, it would seem, that the language is at rest. And yet, every so often, like a crocus in winter, the so-called dead tongue displays her original, brilliant force. This is, I think, a gentle species of what the Greeks identified as epiphany.

Recently I came across such a wonder between the navy covers of a book published 10 years ago and now being reprinted by St. Augustine Press. The book collects and translates the letters -- all of them written in clear, cogent Latin -- between a Catholic saint in Verona, Don Giovanni Calabria, and one of the greatest Protestant writers, C. S. Lewis, in Oxford. As far as I know, this is the one instance in the 20th century when, beyond the Vatican and the classroom, Latin was used out of such merry necessity -- and the one instance when Latin was ferried through Europe's clouds via Air Mail.

Calabria started the correspondence on September 1, 1947, after reading Lewis's The Screwtape Letters in Italian. Wishing to thank the author for his work but not knowing English, he decided to write him in Latin. After all, he recalled, Lewis was a classicist. Lewis responded five days later in Latin, and they exchanged prayers and words on paper until Calabria died. At that time another priest took up his post and wrote Lewis until Lewis died in 1963. The bulk of the surviving correspondence is by the Oxford man, who tended to burn letters he received two days upon receipt to better protect his senders' privacy.

The Lewis/Calabria letters aren't the stuff of literature, but each writer voices the same great wish, and often: that the two churches of which they are part, Catholic and Reformed, might one day be reunified after Christ's imperative, as expressed in the Vulgate, ut omnes unum sint ("that they may all be made one"). That message is refined by casting it in Latin, a language native to neither man and becoming here a silent lingua franca for two.

After reading the 35 letters in this afternoon-length book, which prints the Latin on facing pages, I opened a few other books by Lewis to scan for what he'd written about the old language he commanded so well. In so doing, I came across a passage about another old language he commanded, Attic Greek, that I'd copied out longhand in my first year of learning Latin when I was weary of its starched grammar and wanted to quit. My father, whose first published piece, incidentally, was in these very pages in 1974 and concerned Lewis, urged me to keep on, because after the study of grammar there would come the study of literature.

In the passage about Greek, Lewis says that beginning to think in another language is the "great Rubicon to cross" in learning it. He continues:

Those in whom the Greek word lives only while they are hunting for it in the lexicon, and who then substitute the English word for it, are not reading the Greek at all; they are only solving a puzzle. The very formula, "Naus means a ship," is wrong. Naus and ship both mean a thing, they do not mean one another. Behind naus, as behind navis or naca, we want to have a picture of a dark, slender mass with sail or oars, climbing the ridges, with no officious English word intruding.

What rigorous study of language teaches -- or rather, teaches us to remember -- is that words of any time and place are deliciously and, Lewis elsewhere wrote, "incurably metaphorical," pointing to the raw image behind the noun, the raw action behind the verb. No longer steeped in Latin, I tend to forget this small wonder. As Elizabeth Bishop says in the plain refrain of "One Art," "the art of losing isn't hard to master."

Katherine Eastland is an assistant editor at the Weekly Standard and an illustrator. Her art can be viewed at keastland.com.


REVIEW

The Latin Letters of C. S. Lewis

The Latin Letters of C. S. Lewis
by Martin Moynihan
Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1985
64 pages, $4.95

Letters: C. S. Lewis and Don Giovanni Calabria: A Study in Friendship
Martin Moynihan, editor
Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Books, 1988
125 pages, $5.95

reviewed by James L. Sauer

http://www.touchstonemag.com/

Between 1947 and 1961, C. S. Lewis corresponded in Latin with two members of the Roman Catholic order of the Poor Servants of Divine Providence in Verona, Italy. Don Giovanni Calabria wrote Lewis after reading his Screwtape Letters. Calabria’s ecumenical purpose in contacting Lewis involved the persuasion of “the dissenting brethren whose return to the unity of the body, which is the Church, is most greatly desired,” to resume that ancient cohesion. After Calabria’s death in 1954, the communication was continued with Don Luigi Pedrollo.

Moynihan has done us a service in gathering, translating, and editing these letters. Though one must admit a certain annoyance at his publishing first a prospectus and commentary, and three years later, the letters. Certainly, the texts and commentary could have been brought together in one book; and the multiplicity of texts on Lewis, however lucrative, staunched. But it must also be added that the translation is better for the delay, Moynihan having polished the translations of the earlier excerpts.

If there is any universal theme to these letters it is that of “Christian unity.” This hallmark is set from the onset of their communication by Calabria and followed closely by Lewis. Calabria, a holy and pious man—and now beatified by the Roman Church—writes with a pleasant pastiche of Scripture and the holy fathers somewhat reminiscent of Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation.

Lewis, on the other hand, writes with that vim we have come to expect; biblical allusions, classical quotations, high church anglicanisms, humor, and humble wisdom. Though there are discussions of theology proper, the problem of petitionary prayer, the martyrdom of missionaries in China, and the like; it is to the central theme of their friendship which we return:

“Might we not hope that this unity of love and action over many years would precede—not to say foster—an eventual re-unification of doctrines.” (Letter 2)

Lewis’s suggestion that a conscious love and labor together, as we witness in the contemporary pro-life movement, might set the foundation for doctrinal discussion. Our present tendency is to begin with doctrines which we know we disagree about, and never move on to loving labors.

“Common perils, common burdens, an almost universal hatred and contempt for the Flock of Christ can, by God’s Grace, contribute much to the healing of our divisions. For those who suffer the same things from the same people for the same Person can scarcely not love each other.” (Letter 3)

Certainly this is the case in Communist countries. You don’t ask a person’s view of the sacraments when his beaten body is thrust into your cell.

“Disputations do more to aggravate schisms than to heal them: united action, prayer, fortitude and (should God so will) united deaths for Christ—these will make us one” (Letter 5)

“The unity of the whole human race exists: would that there existed that nobler union of which you write.” (Letter 24)

The union of the Christian church also exists; what we are struggling about is how we relate to each other, and to the head.

It is apropos that he ends his last letter to Don Giovanni Calabria with this line: “Let us rejoice together, my Father: though divided in space, yet in spirit and charity we are united: and may you ever pray for. . . [signature]” (Letter 28)

Throughout the letters one is struck by the united pietas of Lewis and Calabria. Their friendship did not solve the problem of the schism of Christendom; but it did reflect, in a living full-fleshed way, the charity which can be the only basis of reunion.

James L. Sauer is the Director of Library, Eastern College, St. Davids, Pennsylvania.


“The Latin Letters of C. S. Lewis” first appeared in the Spring-Summer, 1989 issue of Touchstone. Click here for a printer-friendly version.

If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue. An introductory subscription (six copies for one year) is only $29.95. This issue, as well as back issues, can be purchased at our online store.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Listening and Telling the Truth

Two essential traits of great leaders.

By Paul Johnson, 04.26.10, 12:00 AM ET
http://www.forbes.com


Any leader aspiring to greatness must do two things, and he must do them not just at supreme moments or occasionally but all the time. Of course, there are many other things a leader must do, but these are the two that matter most: to listen and to tell the truth.

How has Mr. Obama scored? Half and half. At the last moment, as his historic health care measure hung in the balance, the President decided to listen to a group of antiabortion Democrats and act on what he heard. That was decisive. But Mr. Obama has yet to tell the nation the full truth about what his health care project is going to cost. Perhaps he's not even told himself or dared to find out and so does not know.

But a leader must know the truth, however awful, even if--in wartime, for instance--he cannot divulge it. Winston Churchill blamed himself for not knowing--because he did not take the necessary steps to find out--the extent of Singapore's military weakness. The ignominious fall of that military base to the Japanese in 1942 came as one of the biggest shocks in the history of the British Empire.

Not knowing is often the result of not listening to those who do know. If Mr. Obama were to listen harder, not just occasionally but as a matter of ingrained habit, he'd have no illusions about what his health care plan is going to cost or the ramifications of those costs for individuals and the economy.

Listening carefully and telling the truth are each rare traits to be found in politicians, and rarer still in combination. But it does happen. George Washington listened all his life because he loved to learn and because he had no overwhelming desire to speak, unlike most of those in public life. One passion a leader should forgo, if possible, is a love affair with his own voice (and here even Winston Churchill fell below the mark). Washington, happily, liked the sound of his own silence. He also told the truth, even if at times he followed Edmund Burke's advice and was economical with it. When I was writing my book George Washington, I failed to come across any occasion when he had deliberately concealed the truth from anyone who had a right to know it.

One President who admirably combined taciturnity and veracity was Calvin Coolidge, that unobtrusive and so underrated man. He was aptly called "Silent Cal." He listened courteously to all his visitors but would not be drawn out. He said: "Nine-tenths of a President's callers at the White House want something they ought not to have. If you keep dead still they will run down in three or four minutes."

So Coolidge would remain mute. Slight twitches of his facial muscles spoke for him. He was described as "an eloquent listener." When he did speak, however, it was the truth. He told his countrymen that the business of America is business but that "it rests squarely on the law of service." And that, in turn, had its "main reliance [on] truth and faith and justice."

Every American, each in his or her role, has to save the others--by telling the truth, keeping faith and applying strict justice. That is a message worth giving and hearing but not one we hear much nowadays.


More From Paul Johnson

Empathy and the Supreme Court

AP calls it a “fight-for-the-little-guy sensibility”; I call it state-sanctioned prejudice.

By Jonah Goldberg
http://www.nationalreview.com
April 14, 2010 12:00 A.M.

If you don’t mind, I’m going to skip the preliminary bouts over which party is more hypocritical for switching its views on Supreme Court nominees. Democrats now insist that decency and precedent require Republicans to green-light anyone President Obama nominates to replace John Paul Stevens, and Republicans insist that there’s nothing wrong with their adopting the tactics and standards advocated by Democrats — including then-senator Obama — when George W. Bush was in office.

Instead, I’d like to get to the heart of the matter. Obama and the vast majority of Senate Democrats believe that Lady Justice should peek from under the blindfold every now and then.

Obama opposed both of President Bush’s Supreme Court appointees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, presumably because they lacked what he called the “quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles.” And in his run for the presidency, Obama said in 2007, “We need somebody who’s got the heart — the empathy — to recognize what it’s like to be a young, teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor or African American or gay or disabled or old — and that’s the criteria by which I’ll be selecting my judges.”

According to Obama — a former law instructor — in 95 percent of the cases, precedent and the law are clear enough for judges to go with the rules, but in the last 5 percent, judges have got to have a heart that bleeds for certain kinds of people.

Last week, the president offered a more populist spin, saying he wants a nominee who “knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.” The Associated Press calls this a “fight-for-the-little-guy sensibility.”

According to Obama and countless other liberals, this sort of compassion in the law is “pragmatic” because it pays heed to the real world and real people as opposed to legalistic abstractions such as impartial justice. As former Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman put it last year: “I’ve never been sure why Lady Justice wore a blindfold as part of her permanent wardrobe. Yes, it’s supposed to be a symbol of impartiality. But it does limit her vision a bit.” For Goodman, the best judges reject the “myth” of impartiality.

Of course impartial justice is an abstraction, but it isn’t so much a myth as an ideal. Since we are all designed from the crooked timber of humanity, we can only approximate perfect justice.

What I don’t understand is why we should abandon an ideal simply because it is unattainable. If I can’t be a perfect husband, should I get a divorce? If an umpire can’t call each game flawlessly, should he stop trying? Maybe for 95 percent of pitches the ump should call ’em straight, but for the other 5 percent he should give the black or gay batters the benefit of the doubt?

In a country this vast, diverse, and dynamic, any judicial conception of the little guy is bound to confuse more than it clarifies.

For instance, liberals who like Stevens’s rulings insist he understands the plight of the downtrodden, despite the fact that the nearly 90-year-old justice was born rich and has served on the court for almost 35 years, becoming more liberal as he has become more distant from life as lived by the little guys.

Meanwhile, Clarence Thomas was born dirt poor and black in rural Georgia and spends his vacations exploring America in an RV. But those same liberals insist he doesn’t understand poverty and race the way Stevens does. How do they know? Because they don’t like his rulings.

In other words, the empathy-for-the-little-guy standard is simply a Trojan horse for an approach just as abstract as any endorsed by the Right. In fact, I would say it’s more abstract, because at least it’s a text conservatives invoke — the Constitution — rather than the indefinable feeling of “empathy.”

Unless the plight of every gay, black, poor, old, or disabled American is the same, then coming into court favoring a specific category of human being is nothing more than state-sanctioned prejudice.

The benefit of the ideal of impartial justice is that it provides a standard by which judges aren’t asked to rule by prejudice. We’ll never fully get there, but I don’t think we should stop trying.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Tea-Party Saboteurs

They want to smear the anti-tax, anti-stimulus movement, and they’re willing to lie in order to do it.

By Michelle Malkin
http://www.nationalreview.com/
April 14, 2010 12:00 A.M.

One of the popular signs spotted at tea-party protests across the country over the past year goes like this: “It doesn’t matter what this sign says. You’ll call it racism, anyway!” It’s a pithy, perfect rejoinder to the fusillade of attacks that limited-government activists have weathered from their Democratic detractors and a hostile national media. Committed Alinskyites never let reality get in the way of a good tea-party-bashing narrative.

The radical acolytes of Chicago’s late left-wing organizer Saul Alinsky also understand the importance of manufacturing demons. “Before men can act,” Alinsky preached, “an issue must be polarized. Men will act when they are convinced their cause is 100 percent on the side of the angels, and that the opposition are 100 percent on the side of the devil.” This explains the Left’s relentless campaign to sabotage the anti-tax, anti-bailout movement from Day One.

President Obama’s community-organizing allies whispered “racist,” “fascist,” and “fringe” in the earliest days of the stimulus demonstrations in January and February 2009, when hundreds of first-time protesters turned out on the streets in Washington State, Colorado, Arizona, and Kansas. The whispers turned to hysterical screams as hundreds became thousands and thousands became millions of peaceful marchers who gathered for the first nationwide Tax Day Tea Party. Some fringe, huh?

The latest effort to smear tea partiers involves self-appointed agents provocateurs who are organizing a “Crash the Tea Party” campaign to discredit the April 15 Tax Day Tea Party by making up bogus racist signs and providing false portrayals of grassroots activists to the press. An online punk, Jason Levin, is spearheading the infiltration effort to “act on behalf of the Tea Party in ways which exaggerate their least appealing qualities” and “damage the public’s opinion of them.” Never mind that public-opinion polls now show that the majority of Americans stand with the core principles of fiscal responsibility espoused by tea-party activists.

Levin may be a lone-wolf operator, but he has many fellow travelers in the Democratic establishment and left-wing fever swamps. And their efforts wouldn’t be possible without friendlies in the press who have openly insulted tea-party activists with endless vulgar sexual taunts and Taliban comparisons.

A few months ago, Craig Varoga — a Washington-based Democratic political operative and overseer of a convoluted, money-shuffling web of political action committees — launched “TheTeaPartyisOver.org” to target Republicans who support the tea-party movement. The site declared that it would prevent the “radical” and “dangerous” fiscal-accountability agenda from “gaining legislative traction.” Varoga’s money-funneling is designed to obscure the Big Labor/progressive funding of his enterprises under the umbrella of his “American Public Policy Center” (APPC).

After conservative blogs and Fox News exposed his deceptive web of grassroots groups, Varoga password-protected his website so that the Democratic plotting against tea-party activists could be conducted out of view.

I speak from direct experience about the underhandedness of tea-party smear merchants. On Feb. 17, 2009, at one of the country’s first tax-revolt rallies in Denver, a man approached me amid a throng of bona fide anti-stimulus protesters and thrust a camera in my face. I obliged cheerfully, as I usually do after such speaking events. I later learned from the character assassins at Progress Now, a left-wing outfit that just happened to be there and just happened to snap a close-up photo of the interaction, that the man pulled out a sign at the last minute (which I didn’t see until later) sporting Obama’s name with a swastika on it. He held the sign away from me, but in direct view of the Progress Now cameraperson.

That cameraperson just happened to be a former CNN producer, whose blog post on the photo just happened to be immediately disseminated by the local press and to the hit men at the radical-left Media Matters website. The narrative was set: A conservative supporter of the nascent tea-party movement posed for a photo with a man holding up a swastika at a protest against out-of-control spending! Ergo, the anti-stimulus protesters and the entire tea-party membership are all racist, fascist menaces to society!

Fast-forward to April 2010. Alinsky’s avenging angels have declared open warfare on April 15. Will they be enabled again by “mainstream journalists” who have turned their tea-party reporting assignments into search-and-destroy missions? The signs point to yes.

— Michelle Malkin is the author of Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks & Cronies (Regnery). Copyright 2010 Creators.com.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols is 'just amazing'


ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
http://www.stltoday.com/
04/13/2010

At the end of another spectacular home opener at Busch Stadium — and another dramatic, scene-stealing show by Albert Pujols — Tony La Russa strolled into his usual postgame news conference and was immediately asked what seemed to be almost a throwaway question.

"Tony, how incredible would you say Albert is?" someone chirped to the manager after Pujols' one-homer, four-RBI showcase in the Redbirds' 5-0 victory over the Houston Astros.

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 12: Albert Pujols(notes) #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals rounds third base after hitting a three-run home run against the Houston Astros in the home opener at Busch Stadium on April 12, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Leave it to La Russa, whose sense of theater is greatly underrated, to take this throwaway and turn it into a definitive description of the man who has now officially and unequivocally become baseball's best player.

"I was thinking Adam (Wainwright) was incredible," said La Russa, with a little mischief in his eye. "(But) Albert's amazing. ... Albert's just ... just amazing."

Amazing is a heck of a thing to be on a day like this. Opening day at Busch is special not because it spends idle time dreaming of the promising phenoms, but acknowledging Cardinal legends. Accomplishments trump potential. Hefty Hall of Fame pedigrees rule over kids with no pelts on the walls. It's no accident that the first ones to come rolling out of the outfield gates during pregame ceremonies are the legendary Cardinals Hall of Famers like Ozzie Smith and Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst and Bruce Sutter, Lou Brock and Whitey Herzog, and of course the greatest of all, Stan Musial.

But by the end of this perfect day for baseball — with flawless high skies and glorious Cardinal tradition, and with an ace pitcher showing off some pretty good stuff — the man no one could keep his eyes off of was Pujols. He is already on an incredible tear to start the season, with five home runs and 14 RBIs and a .407 average in only seven games. He is also now officially the most productive home run hitter in major-league history over the course of his first 10 seasons (371 home runs) and is coming off a Triple Crown for the past decade (.334 average, 366 homers and 1,112 RBIs in only nine years).

So what else could he do on opening day but do what guys like him are supposed to do on days like this?

He drove in the first run of the day in the first inning with a single, bashed a three-run homer into the Astros' bullpen in the third and then turned things over to Wainwright to close down Houston and send the home folks out of the ballpark happy.

You watch him do this stuff on a daily basis and it spoils you. But the longer you watch him — particularly up close when you see the intensity behind the scenes that comes with the spectacular outward show — and you begin to truly appreciate what he does. For instance, did you happen to notice how zoned in he was before the game?

He came off the flatbed of the shiny truck that wheeled him to home plate for pregame introductions, and as Pujols bounded off the truck, he was already locked in mentally.

"I'm locked in as soon as I jump in my car (to drive to the ballpark)," Pujols said after the game. "I like to think that when I go to bed tonight, if we had a game tomorrow, I am already thinking about the guys I'll have to face. That's the way I do it for 162 games and the playoffs."

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 12: Albert Pujols(notes) #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a three-run home run against the Houston Astros in the home opener at Busch Stadium on April 12, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

I asked him if he even saw the faces of the Hall of Famers during the ceremony because you could tell that he was already in game mode. He smiled a bit and shook his head. "Oh no, you have to get involved in the celebration," he said. "You have to respect the Hall of Famers. That's why we have a pretty special organization. ... It's pretty special having those guys around and to be able to just shake their hand and say hello to them, that is one of the things that I love about this organization."

He paused for a second and again gave you another smile.

"I get involved in the celebration," he said. "But you don't have time to get too caught up into that moment because 10 minutes later, you have to play baseball."

And when Pujols plays baseball, it's no exaggeration that he's doing something that will one day put him in the same company with the great former Cardinals whom he honors best by not just shaking their hands, but by playing the game on the same high level they did.

Pujols loves Cardinals tradition, and said he wished he could have lingered a bit longer with Stan the Man and all the other greats. And when he was asked if he could imagine a time when he will be retired, sporting a red jacket as a part of that Hall of Fame lineup he has passed every opening day for the last 10 years, he almost put up a stop sign like a frantic third base coach.

"Right now I am so young in my career," he said. "I know the legacy that I have to follow because of those guys. That's my job to make sure I follow that ... but I don't want to put that pressure on myself. I know what I am capable of doing ... (but) I will just try to stay healthy and I let my job out there speak for itself."

We have already seen enough, Albert. We have seen you healthy, and seen you hurt, and quite frankly it's actually getting kind of tough to tell by the stat sheets if there really is any difference.

"That's just a part of his amazingness," said La Russa.

Amazingness?

I'm not really sure that's a word. But if it is, that's exactly what Pujols is.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Very Polish Conservative

Remember Lech Kaczynski.

By Charles Crawford
http://www.nationalreview.com/
April 12, 2010 4:00 A.M.


In 2005 I attended a smart Warsaw dinner party not long after the Kaczynski twins and their Law and Justice party (PiS) had triumphed in the Polish elections. The assembled Poles, distinguished Warsaw intellectuals, united in noisy disgust: The Kaczynskis were pathological extremists, and Poland was hurtling to ruin, even dictatorship.

Attacks on the Kaczynski phenomenon from many Poles (including Solidarity-era colleagues) spurred many journalists to label them with one or more of the following adjectives: extreme, nationalist, homophobic, anti-German, anti-European, ultra-Catholic, xenophobic, reactionary, divisive, populist, right-wing.

The worst adjective the patronizing Warsaw elite threw at the Kaczynskis was Polish-specific: They were provincial. Too petty and pedantic, too truculent and self-righteous, too wrapped up in Poland’s proud myths, too worried about all those uneducated, primitive Poles out there. In short, too Polish — but in the wrong way.

I found all this baffling. I had met the Kaczynski family on numerous occasions. They came across as smart, amusing, private, determined, and far-sighted Polish patriots.

Conservative? For sure. But not snooty, paternalistic conservatives. Rather, their conservatism was based on rock-hard core beliefs and unshakable private integrity. Yet it was not a free-market conservatism: They liked a strong state, and fretted in almost left-wing ways about the Polish underclass. They were uneasy with tycoons and capitalists; they suspected (presciently?) that too much easy money sloshing around would do more harm than good.

The Kaczynskis’ overriding ambition was for Poland to be strong. (Since 1795, Poland has been free and independent for only 40 years.) The Kaczynskis believed that Poland’s bleak modern history had created key weaknesses.

One weakness was the dire moral and institutional legacy of Communism. Poles’ heroic efforts to end Soviet rule had come at a huge cost. Poles had spied on and betrayed other Poles. Key state institutions had been penetrated by Moscow.

Above all, the Kaczynskis insisted that key Solidarity leaders, including Lech Walesa himself, had pulled punches when Communism ended, allowing Communist villains to sneak away from their crimes only to return in expensive new suits, whistling nonchalantly as new European “social democrats.” This argument infuriated former Solidarity personalities. How dare the Kaczynskis call into question Poland’s (and Solidarity’s) triumph in ending Communism peacefully. Heresy!

Lech Kaczynski wanted to win the 2005 presidential election primarily to see his view of this recent history vindicated, though he had no clear plan for handling it. There was no unconditional throwing open of Communist-era archives — too many Solidarity people and senior Catholic Church leaders had to be protected from devastating revelations of betrayal or private indiscretions. But Kaczynski worked hard to give proper recognition to the victims of Communism and to many elderly Polish World War II veterans, whose fight for freedom had been airbrushed from history by the Communist regime.

Lech Kaczynski was a fastidious constitutionalist. He did not want Poland slipping back into the ruinous feuding of the 1930s. By 2000, the dozens of political parties that had contested early post-Communist elections had been reduced to some ten groupings. However, too many Polish voters flirted with overtly populist leaders of a “Red-Brown” inclination. Many were marginalized Poles from families displaced from Ukraine during World War II, left “rootless” in poor rural areas.

After the Kaczynskis’ PiS party (to their own surprise) became the largest party in the 2005 parliamentary elections, the twins hit upon a strategy that scandalized many middle-class Poles: They formed a coalition government with two populist parties, the Self-Defense and Polish Families parties.

The ridiculous government wobbled along for a year or so, then collapsed. In the 2007 elections, the centre-right Citizens Platform party swept to power. Insisting on “social justice” and strong state support for the less fortunate, PiS sucked in votes from traditional leftist voters. The populists and former Communists were crushed.

The result of the Kaczynskis’ machinations has been a spectacular success. Only four political groupings are now in parliament, and all of them are committed to modernizing, pro-Western policies. Polish politics, decision-making, and institutions are notably more stable. Poland’s current economic success (while Europe as a whole struggles) is no accident.

Lech Kaczynski wanted Poland to be strong in Europe. But he also wanted Western Europe to grasp that while it had prospered after World War II, Poland had been left at Yalta to rot under Soviet misrule. The values of “modern Europe” had been formed without Poland’s rightful participation; Poland was not automatically bound by them.

One classic example: As Warsaw mayor, Lech Kaczynski famously banned two gay parades. Not because he was against homosexuality (which was decriminalized in reactionary Catholic Poland four decades before the liberal United Kingdom got around to doing so). Rather, he thought that such parades — where gays from Germany and elsewhere in Europe jeered at his authority — were just unseemly.

Lech Kaczynski accepted Poland’s membership in the European Union as the best available way to protect Poland from domineering Germany and assertive Russia. With hundreds of thousands of Poles who had suffered in German labor camps during World War II still alive, his rhetorical noises against Germany played well with his core constituency but did little to make EU processes go smoothly.

He struck defiant postures against Putin’s Russia, but lacked the diplomatic guile to build international alliances and make much of a difference. In a grim yet touching twist of fate, the Russian establishment has responded generously to the fatal crash of the president’s aircraft while en route to the Katyn massacre commemorations. Andrzej Wajda’s harrowing film Katyn is being shown on Russia’s main TV channel — a startling (and good) development by the frosty standards of recent Polish-Russian relations.

President Kaczynski made clear that Poland had not thrown off Communist Moscow to submit to petty-bureaucratic Brussels. Unlike all other EU leaders, he studied the 270 pages of the Lisbon Treaty with an expert legal eye. He accepted it only when he won a dramatic German concession: to extend Poland’s favorable EU voting weight until 2014.

Kaczynski also steered the issue of Poland’s eurozone membership into the long grass. Given the eurozone’s ongoing internal crises, this seems to have been another far-sighted move that did Poland no harm.

Lech Kaczynski fought long and hard to make Poland strong again. In foreign policy especially, he reminds me of Bill Buckley’s famous ambition for NR: to “stand athwart history, yelling Stop!” His weakness was turning his fiercely held attitudes into policies.

Yet his unwavering insistence on integrity and constitutionality made a real difference. I was asked on the BBC and CNN whether Poland would now slump into political instability, given that so many top officials died in the plane crash. I replied, “Of course not.”

Poland today is in deep sorrow, yet it is coping firmly and democratically with this calamity. That is Kaczynski’s towering achievement, for Poland and for Europe.

— Charles Crawford served as British ambassador in Warsaw from 2003 to 2007. He now writes about diplomatic issues at www.charlescrawford.biz.