Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hatfield-McCoy feud reignited by new book, TV miniseries
May 25, 2012

The Hatfield-McCoy feud has been over since the 1890s, but the hills are still alive with talk about it. And not just the hills: cable television and publishing also have taken an interest.

The History channel has been heavily promoting its three-night miniseries Hatfields & McCoys, about the legendary Kentucky-West Virginia feuding families. The miniseries stars Kevin Costner as William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield and Bill Paxton as Randolph "Ole Ran'l" McCoy. It premieres Monday.

Writer Lisa Alther's book Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance (Lyons Press, $24.95) went on sale Tuesday. Alther will sign the book June 5 at The Morris Book Shop in Lexington.

The miniseries goes for the standard feel of a television epic, taking a handful of poetic liberties. Alther's book is well researched, if more tongue-in-cheek. At one point, she refers to "Devil Anse" Hatfield as a padrone, rather like a mountain Tony Soprano.

"It was actually my editor's idea to write it," Alther said of Blood Feud. "He said there hadn't been a book about the feud in about 30 years. There are so many versions to every episode that happened, depending on whether the teller sympathized with the Hatfields or the McCoys. I realized I was going to have to pick my way through it, picking my path as to what seemed plausible to me."

Kentucky ancestry

For some Kentuckians, the feud is not a 150-year-old tale to be parsed out. It's part of their family history.

Patty Hatfield is a Floyd County real estate agent who often draws attention because of her last name. How often do people comment on her Hatfield moniker, which she kept after her 32-year marriage ended amicably?

"All the time," Hatfield said. "And that's when I say I'm not a Hatfield at all, I'm a McCoy. My mom's a McCoy, and I married a Hatfield."

In the 19th-century feud, the McCoys generally hailed from Kentucky and the Hatfields mainly from West Virginia.

Patty Hatfield said she and her mother used to draw attention when they visited clothing shows for a shop they owned wearing their "Hatfield" and "McCoy" name tags.

Benita McCoy-Lyons, a Lexington cookbook author behind the Web site, said she owns the gun that is said to have fired the final shot in the feud. Mainly, her battles these days have to do with keeping up with how many meals to fix for her catering business, The Real McCoy Catering.

David McCoy of Lexington is confident that the History miniseries will get the flavor of the feud right.

"I'm just interested to see some of the big-name actors and see how it's portrayed," said David McCoy, who even named one of his sons Mark Randolph after the McCoy clan's founding father. "It really means a lot to our family."

Still, the differences might be startling to those who don't have roots in Eastern Kentucky or Western Virginia — Costner, for one.

In Entertainment Weekly, he said the feud wasn't all that different from property-rights issues in more modern, affluent areas.

"It's very easy to make fun of these people and call them hillbillies," Costner said. "But if somebody builds something that takes away your view in Malibu, you're in court for 15 years. It's not so different today."

'A voice of clarity'

Actress Mare Winningham, who plays matriarch Sarah McCoy in the miniseries, said the part is a great role, a devoted wife and mother who loses almost everything. In her climactic scene, with her house on fire behind her and two of her children dead, Sarah comes striding out of the blaze with a gun in each hand.

"When I read that scene, I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, it's got to be the most cinematic, wonderful scene," Winningham said. "It's the beginning of her madness. She has nowhere to go with all the madness and horror and terror."

Winningham's character "is a voice of clarity throughout the piece ... and in a sense, (she has) some sort of prescience — when they're going to come, how they will come, how bad it's going to get."
"She's the only one in the piece who reacts to the deaths the way she should," Winningham said.

Sarah McCoy is horrified by the deaths and heartbroken when she has to tell three of her sons goodbye before they are shot by the Hatfields. The remaining McCoys are fixed on revenge, obliteration of the other family's partisans.

The miniseries was not filmed on location, but rather in Romania. Winningham said that shooting in Eastern Europe instead of Kentucky and West Virginia wound up being inspiring.

"At first I found that amusing, going all the way to Romania to shoot Kentucky and West Virginia," she said. "To be in a location that was so remote. In some ways it was very isolating, ... but it took us back to another time and place."

Ugly in many ways

The ugliness of the story of the Hatfields and McCoys extended beyond the actual feud.
The original feuding Hatfields are often portrayed as holding an edge in holler social circles, but you wouldn't have wanted to hire them as catalog models.

Alther's book describes a reporter's reaction on seeing Cap Hatfield (portrayed in the miniseries by Prestonsburg native Boyd Holbrook): "I do not think that I ever saw a more hideously repulsive face in all my life. ... Simply a bad young man, without a single redeeming point."

Alther goes on to describe Cap Hatfield's colon deformity, which made dining with him something of an adventure in discovering close up how digestive processes work.

Holbrook, who has had a successful career as a model and is decidedly not like his character in the looks department, said he tried to add some dramatic shading to the brutish character "rather than being evil for evil's sake. ... Cap is kind of like a shadow character."

Brutality and banality

For the nation, the Hatfield-McCoy feud symbolized some dark backwoods intrigue that the media has played up into a fever dream of bloody revenge and forbidden romance deep in the mountains.

It was indeed bloody, and there was some forbidden romance, but the real Hatfield-McCoy feud was a bit more about the banality of backwoods war: cowering in a cave, bickering over a pig, knocking a mother senseless as her home burned and her children died nearby.

David McCoy said, "Young kids in my children's generation on down, ... it's been lost because it's not taught in history classes any more."

Despite the popular idea that the Hatfields were villains and the McCoys were less-successful villains, not all Hatfields took up the family side. Members of both families sided with their friends and neighbors.

And as Winningham and Alther point out, women on both sides of the divide got short shrift. In the midst of a bloody feud, they were expected to raise gardens; preserve food; sew; cook; and raise, slaughter and butcher animals — often while pregnant.

"The women were giving birth every one or two years and doing all the farm work while their husbands were out creating havoc," said Alther, a native of East Tennessee who lives in Vermont, Tennessee and New York.

At the time, The Courier-Journal of Louisville once suggested that the Hatfields move to what was then the Dakota Territory and the McCoys to Venezuela to end the feud, according to Alther's book.

A complicated narrative
"When I started off, all I thought I knew was that it was a struggle over who owned some hogs," Alther said.

It was far more complicated than that, with influences from the Civil War, clashes over the ownership of timber land and "that whole hillbilly stereotype that I think the feud is responsible for, of the dullard with the jug of moonshine and the overalls," she said.

According to Alther's book, the feud finally waned when the Kentucky state government pressured the families to back off so the state could attract outside investment.

The "investment" that the governments wanted was coal mining, which required a docile work force and decimated the influence of farming, hunting and herding.

"It kind of summed up what had been evolving in my mind about how the feuds fit into their era," Alther said. "They weren't just isolated atrocities in Appalachia — how all that led up to the powerful male that deserves to survive when the rest of us don't."

The feud allowed the coal industry to get a toehold in Appalachia, where it has been responsible for environmental destruction and enduring poverty, she said.

"I lay a lot of the responsibility for it at the foot of the feud," she said, "that allowed the corporations to come in without anyone else in America objecting."

Read more here:

Facebook also a loser in Egypt

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
May 25, 2012

Supporters of Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate in Egypt’s presidential election, pray during the party’s last campaign rally in Cairo on May 20, 2012.(Mahmud Hams/AFP/GettyImages)

So how's that old Arab Spring going? You remember – the "Facebook Revolution." As I write, they're counting the votes in Egypt's presidential election, so by the time you read this the pecking order may have changed somewhat. But currently in first place is the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi, who in an inspiring stump speech before the students of Cairo University the other night told them, "Death in the name of Allah is our goal."


In second place is the military's man, Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak's last Prime Minister and a man who in a recent television interview said that "unfortunately the revolution succeeded."


In third place is moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, a 9/11 Truther endorsed by the terrorist organization al-Gama'a al-Islamiya. He's a "moderate" because he thinks Egyptian Christians should be allowed to run for the presidency, although they shouldn't be allowed to win.


As I said, this thrilling race is by no means over, and one would not rule out an eventual third-place finish by a rival beacon of progress such as Amr Moussa, the longtime Arab League flack and former Mubarak Foreign Minister. So what happened to all those candidates embodying the spirit of Egypt's modern progressive democratic youth movement that all those Western media rubes were cooing over in Tahrir Square a year ago? How are they doing in Egypt's first free presidential election?
You have 0 friends!

I don't know about you, but I have the feeling that Messrs Morsi, Shafiq and Abolfotoh are not spending much time on Facebook, or even on Twitter. Indeed, for a "social media revolution," the principal beneficiaries seem to be remarkably antisocial: liberated from the grip of Mubarak, the new Egypt is a land where the Israeli Embassy gets attacked and ransacked, Christians get killed and their churches burned to the ground, female reporters for the Western media are sexually assaulted in broad daylight, and for the rest of the gals a woman's place is in the clitoridectomy clinic. In the course of the election campaign, the Muslim Brotherhood has cast off the veil of modernity and moderation that so beguiled the U.S. State Department and the New York Times: Khairat el-Shater, the deputy leader, now says that "the Quran is our Constitution" and that Mubarak-era laws permitting, for example, women to seek divorce should be revised. As the TV cleric Safwat Hegazy told thousands of supporters at a Brotherhood rally in the Nile Delta, "We are seeing the dream of the Islamic Caliphate coming true."

Thus, the Facebook Revolution one year on. Status: It's not that complicated. Since the founding of the Kingdom of Egypt in 1922, the country has spent the last nine decades getting worse. Mubarak's kleptocracy was worse than Farouk's ramshackle kingdom, and the new Egypt will be worse still.
At a certain level, there's nothing very new about this. In the early stages of revolution, students are often on the front line, mainly because they've got nothing else to do all day. But by the time the strongman is being sworn in at the presidential palace they're usually long gone from the scene, supplanted by harder and better organized forces. Was it ever likely that Western "social media" would change this familiar trajectory? National Review's editor Rich Lowry, from whose byline picture the pixie twinkle of boyish charm has yet to fade, was nevertheless sounding as cranky an old coot as I usually do when he declared that "Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is to uselessness what Henry Ford was to the automobile" and deplored a world in which millions of people spend their time "passing around photos of pets in party costumes, telling us whether they are having a good or bad hair day, and playing the farming-simulation game FarmVille." It is not necessary to agree with the full majestic sweep of Lowry's dismissal to note that neither Lenin nor Mao is known to have taken a photograph of his pet in a party costume, or even a Party ] costume, and that both men played their farming-simulation games for real, and on an industrial scale. Putting aside its deficiencies in revolution-mobilizing, Facebook, until its shares headed south this week, had a valuation of over $100 billion – or about two-thirds of the GDP of New Zealand. Which seems a little high to me.

Whatever one feels about the Shariah-enforcing, Jew-hating, genital-mutilating enthusiasts of the Muslim Brotherhood, they do accurately reflect a significant slice – and perhaps a majority – of the Egyptian people. The problem with the old-school dictators was that, in the end, Mubarak, Ben Ali and Gadhafi didn't represent anything other than their Swiss bank accounts. The question for the wider world is what do "social media" represent? If they supposedly embody the forces of progress and modernity, then they've just taken an electoral pounding from guys who haven't had a new idea since the seventh century.

No one should begrudge Mark Zuckerberg his billions, and decent people should revile in the strongest terms thug-senator Chuck Schumer's attempts to punish Zuckerberg's partner Eduardo Saverin for wishing to enjoy his profits under the less-confiscatory tax arrangements of Singapore: It is a sign of terminal desperation when regimes that can't compete for talent focus their energies on ever more elaborate procedures to prevent freeborn individuals voting with their feet.

But it is also a sign of desperation to talk up amiable diversions for pampered solipsistic Westerners as an irresistible force of modernity. One of the basic defects of the Bush administration's designation of a "war on terror" was that it emphasized symptoms (bombs and bombers) over causes (the underlying ideology). In the war of ideas, the West has chosen not to compete, under the erroneous assumption that the ever more refined delivery systems for its sensual distractions are a Big Idea in and of themselves. They're not. If you know your Tocqueville, they sound awfully like his prediction of a world in which "an innumerable crowd of like and equal men ...revolve on themselves without repose," a phrase which nicely distills the unending busyness of our gaudy novelties.

Don't get me wrong; I like goofy pet photos. But can these gizmos do anything else? Yes, in theory. But, in practice, is a culture that "revolves on itself without repose" likely to be that effective at communicating real ideas to the wider world? Ideas on liberty, free speech, property rights, women's rights and all the other things conspicuous by their absence in the philosophies of Egypt's new political class. In the end, a revolution cannot be Tweeted. Whatever their defects, the unlovely forces running the new Egypt understand the difference between actually mutilating a young girl's genitals to deny her the possibility of sexual pleasure, and merely "following" your local clitoridectomist on his Twitter feed.

A century ago, the West exported its values. So, in Farouk's Egypt, at the start of a new legislative session, the King was driven to his toytown parliament to deliver the speech from the throne in an explicit if ramshackle simulacrum of Westminster's rituals of constitutional monarchy. Today, we decline to export values, and complacently assume, as the very term "Facebook Revolution" suggests, that technology marches in support of modernity. It doesn't. Facebook's flat IPO and Egypt's presidential election are in that sense part of the same story, of a developed world whose definitions of innovation and achievement have become too shrunken and undernourished. The vote in Egypt tells us a lot about them, but it also tells us something about us.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Three Key ‘Fast and Furious’ Questions Still Unanswered

Deputy Attorney General James Cole releases a statement without a hint of factual backing.
By Bob Owens
May 25, 2012

The congressional investigations into the gunwalking plot known as Operation Fast and Furious largely faded from the public eye over the past month, yet there is a growing conviction among legislators of both parties that a grueling political battle is ahead.
Those determined to uncover the truth behind Fast and Furious are being opposed by Democratic congressmen and Obama administration officials such as Deputy Attorney General James Cole (pictured above). Cole has objected to the House Oversight Committee’s investigation and the actions of Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa. His recent combative letter to Issa received sympathetic coverage at progressive site TPMMuckraker:
Rep. Darrell Issa’s drive to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt is “unwarranted,” “unprecedented” and “ill-advised,” a top Justice Department official said in a letter to the California Republican, who is chair of the House Oversight Committee, on Tuesday.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole also wrote that the committee’s “core questions” on the flawed gun trafficking operation known as Fast and Furious “have been answered.”
Cole suggested that the lack of documents showing high-level discussions about the tactics used in Fast and Furious show the problem grew out of offices in Arizona and that top Obama administration were not aware that ATF agents were telling gun shop dealers to sell large quantities of weapons to individuals they suspected were “straw purchasers” for Mexican drug cartels.
“Far from reflecting a ‘cover-up,’ as some have claimed, the lack of documents makes clear that these tactics had their origin in the field in Arizona and not among Department leaders in Washington,” Cole wrote.
Cole’s assertions would be laughable, were it not for the hundreds of bodies linked to Fast and Furious weapons and their almost certain role in a recent spike in violence in northern Mexico that has resulted in bodies turning up by the dozens.
The deputy attorney general — who is also suspected of having a role in the plot — is correct when he claims the congressional investigation is “unprecedented.” Never in American history has an administration stood accused of facilitating the smuggling of thousands of weapons in an attempt to generate murders as propaganda for undermining the constitutional rights of Americans.
Multiple Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents have testified under oath that the explicit intent of the operation was to have guns purchased by straw purchasers be smuggled over the border and recovered at Mexican crime scenes. The entire plot hinged upon Mexican citizens being killed with walked guns. As one supervisor said to an agent complaining about the deaths that would occur: “If you’re going to make an omelette, you’ve got to break some eggs.”
Cole did not try to refute these facts: he simply lied in stating that “core questions” about Fast and Furious “have been answered.” More than 18 months after Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was gunned down by a cartel “rip team” led by an FBI informant, the Department of Justice has refused to answer the three most basic questions about the gun-walking plot:

1. Who conceived this radical departure from normal law enforcement practices? Who conceived an operation requiring the deaths of hundreds or thousands of Mexican nationals for its success?
2. Which Department of Justice officials saw that Operation Fast and Furious needed hundreds or thousands of firearms to be given to the cartels and recovered at the scenes of crimes, knew that the crimes in question were likely to be murders of Mexican nationals or U.S. citizens along the Mexican border where the cartels operate, and approved the operation anyway?

3. Knowing that Operation Fast and Furious could be the political and criminal albatross that drives away moderates and Latino voters and destroys his chances of winning a second term, why does President Obama refuse to appoint a special prosecutor or to call for Eric Holder and his direct reports to resign?

We don’t know who came up with this obviously dangerous and illegal scheme that relied upon the murders of allied foreign citizens to function. Who conceived it? We know that such a high-risk operation would never be conceived of or executed by low-level bureaucrats, as it required coordination across four cabinet-level departments and at least a half-dozen federal law enforcement agencies. Who approved it?

The most damning question may be the most revealing: why won’t President Obama appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate Fast and Furious? Secret Service agents (and now DEA agents) that were “serviced” by Colombian hookers were investigated and terminated in weeks. Are we to believe that the DOJ Inspector General’s Office cannot conclude their Fast and Furious investigation in more than a year and five months? That a coverup is in effect within the Obama administration is obvious to all but the most incredulous Democratic allies of the president and a complicit media.
Perhaps the tide is turning against the Obama administration’s coverup, with Attorney General Eric Holder first on the firing line:
The embattled attorney general is losing support. On Wednesday, 142 Democrats joined with 239 Republicans in approving an amendment to the Justice Department budget prohibiting the use of funds for the purpose of lying to Congress. The vote could be Democrats’ way of signaling they, too, are tired of Team Obama’s stonewalling over Fast and Furious.
Speaker of the House John Boehner has now stepped forward to pressure President Obama to force Holder to stop stonewalling the investigations.

Despite hopes that the scandal would fade, Fast and Furious seems primed to become a separation of powers battle that may peak at the worst possible time during Obama’s reelection campaign.

Bob Owens blogs at

Today's Tune: Waylon Jennings - Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out Of Hand (Live)

Stealth Islamic Propaganda Shown to Six Million American Students

By Larissa Scott
May 25, 2012

On May 16 and 17 of 2012, Channel One Network, a national distributor of educational videos and newscasts viewed daily by over 8,000 middle and high schools, aired a two-part video series, titled "Young and Muslim in America" and "Islam in America."

In "Young and Muslim in America: How being a part of Islam changed ten years ago, Part 1," students watch as Muhtasham Sifaat, 18, kneels on a prayer rug inside an empty classroom. His voiceover explains how he moved around a lot when he was younger, but Islam has given him stability. What is not revealed is that Mr. Sifaat is a political activist serving as a chapter president of the Muslim Students Association (MSA), one of the most radical Muslim Brotherhood front groups in America.

The MSA pledge states: "Allah is my lord. Islam is my life. The Koran is my guide. The Sunna is my practice. Jihad is my spirit. Righteousness is my character. Paradise is my goal. I enjoin what is right. I forbid what is wrong. I will fight against oppression. And I will die to establish Islam."
Kyle Smith, 22, gives an overview of the five pillars of Islam before the narrator explains:
Kyle, who's president of his university's Muslim Students Association, grew up in a Roman Catholic family, but converted to Islam three years ago after searching for meaning in his life (italics mine)...two of his friends led him to the religion.
Doesn't searching for meaning in life describe almost every American adolescent? Presenting an idealized, whitewashed image of Islam and its followers, and showing how converting to Islam helps those who are lost and confused, this programming is nothing short of a disguised recruitment video pushing a religion in a public school setting.

The airing of "Islam in America: How being Muslim has changed since 9/11, Part 2" on May 17 begins with a news update on the Trayvon Martin case, which deals with the alleged racial profiling of a black teenager. Coincidentally, the video that follows compares "Flying While Muslim" to "Driving While Black." Students learn about Amany Killawi,19, who struggles to board airplanes:
[H]aving to be checked at the airport a couple of times is definitely not comfortable, especially if you're Muslim. I often joke if you think driving while black is tough, try Muslim while flying. Because it's really, really tough.
Zana Lee, 14 and wearing hijab, is filmed walking into a store, stopping in front of a candy display, and subtly pointing to a bag of Skittles. Her voice-over:
I do think that Muslims are discriminated here in America...sometimes it happens to me. Sometimes I could be shopping in the store, or just getting some candy from the corner store and I could just look up at the cashier and she can look at me in a certain way, and it just kinda hurts sometimes.
Since Skittles brand candy has already become part of the Trayvon Martin media narrative, portraying a hijabed Muslima shopping for Skittles at a corner store looks more like a manipulative re-enactment of the Trayvon Martin incident, designed to reinforce the victimology trope of racial profiling.
The narrator picks up the story:
These young people say they represent the majority of Muslims here in America. Not the extremists.
These young girls in the video may not be extremists, but it doesn't take much to see how they are being used as figurative human shields by two just-as-innocent-looking activists of the MSA -- a patently extremist organization. According to USA Today, NYPD "spokesman Paul Browne provided a list of 12 people arrested or convicted on terrorism charges in the United States and abroad who had once been members of Muslim student associations, which the NYPD referred to as MSAs."

Despite their efforts to radicalize the rest of the Muslim population, they do not represent the majority -- yet. Their claim is false, pretentious, and deliberately misleading.

We know of this episode only because parents complained about their children having been forced to watch it. Given the zero-tolerance policies toward Christian prayer in public school, forcing students to watch Islamic evangelizing is beyond mind-boggling.

This case is not unique; in fact, it is consistent with the Islamist methods and ideology. Last year, Hamas-linked CAIR Tampa Director Hassan Shibly proselytized Islam in a Tampa high school, of which we also initially learned from a complaint by a parent. It led to protests by local parents and organizations, such as Florida Family Association, followed by a series of school board meetings in which it was decided to establish a workshop reviewing the qualifications of future speakers.

But that was only about one school in Florida. The "educational" TV broadcast in question was force-fed to 8,000 public schools nationwide, which makes it 8,000 times worse -- and the parents have no recourse in this battle for the hearts and minds of their children.

Says David Caton of Florida Family Association: "Channel One Network never addresses the fact that Islam is more than a religion. They never mention Islam is a radical political movement that seeks government dominion along with their oppressive Sharia law. They never mention that radical Muslims have seized Sharia control over Egypt and five other countries during the last year."
In today's climate of political correctness and media blackout, American citizens seem to have no other course of action than to generate enough public outcries to make their objections heard. For example, since Channel One Network was gracious enough to lend MSA the pulpit, it would be reasonable to demand that they at least give equal airtime to Christian, Jewish, and other religious organizations.

Florida Family Association is already protesting this attempt at nationwide Islamic recruitment by creating an e-mail campaign directed at Channel One Network and its parent companies: Alloy, Inc. and ZelnickMedia Corporation. It's a start.


By Ann Coulter
May 23, 2012

It's been breaking news all over MSNBC, liberal blogs, newspapers and even The Wall Street Journal: "Federal spending under Obama at historic lows ... It's clear that Obama has been the most fiscally moderate president we've had in 60 years." There's even a chart!

I'll pause here to give you a moment to mop up the coffee on your keyboard. Good? OK, moving on ...

This shocker led to around-the-clock smirk fests on MSNBC. As with all bogus social science from the left, liberals hide the numbers and proclaim: It's "science"! This is black and white, inarguable, and why do Republicans refuse to believe facts?

Ed Schultz claimed the chart exposed "the big myth" about Obama's spending: "This chart -- the truth -- very clearly shows the truth undoubtedly." And the truth was, the "growth in spending under President Obama is the slowest out of the last five presidents."

Note that Schultz also said that the "part of the chart representing President Obama's term includes a stimulus package, too." As we shall see, that is a big, fat lie.

Schultz's guest, Reuters columnist David Cay Johnston confirmed: "And clearly, Obama has been incredibly tight-fisted as a president."

Everybody's keyboard OK?

On her show, Rachel Maddow proclaimed: "Factually speaking, spending has leveled off under President Obama. Spending is not skyrocketing under President Obama. Spending is flattening out under President Obama."

In response, three writers from "The Daily Show" said, "We'll never top that line," and quit.

Inasmuch as this is obviously preposterous, I checked with John Lott, one of the nation's premier economists and author of the magnificent new book with Grover Norquist: Debacle: Obama's War on Jobs and Growth and What We Can Do Now to Regain Our Future.

(I'm reviewing it soon, but you should start without me.)

It turns out Rex Nutting, author of the phony Marketwatch chart, attributes all spending during Obama's entire first year, up to Oct. 1, to President Bush.

That's not a joke.

That means, for example, the $825 billion stimulus bill, proposed, lobbied for, signed and spent by Obama, goes in ... Bush's column. (And if we attribute all of Bush's spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and No Child Left Behind to William Howard Taft, Bush didn't spend much either.)

Nutting's "analysis" is so dishonest, even The New York Times has ignored it. He includes only the $140 billion of stimulus money spent after Oct. 1, 2009, as Obama's spending. And he's testy about that, grudgingly admitting that Obama "is responsible (along with the Congress) for about $140 billion in extra spending in the 2009 fiscal year from the stimulus bill."

Nutting acts as if it's the height of magnanimity to "attribute that $140 billion in stimulus to Obama and not to Bush ..."

On what possible theory would that be Bush's spending? Hey -- we just found out that Obamacare's going to cost triple the estimate. Let's blame it on Calvin Coolidge!

Nutting's "and not to Bush" line is just a sleight of hand. He's hoping you won't notice that he said "$140 billion" and not "$825 billion," and will be fooled into thinking that he's counting the entire stimulus bill as Obama's spending. (He fooled Ed Schultz!)

The theory is that a new president is stuck with the budget of his predecessor, so the entire 2009 fiscal year should be attributed to Bush.

But Obama didn't come in and live with the budget Bush had approved. He immediately signed off on enormous spending programs that had been specifically rejected by Bush. This included a $410 billion spending bill that Bush had refused to sign before he left office. Obama signed it on March 10, 2009. Bush had been chopping brush in Texas for two months at that point. Marketwatch's Nutting says that's Bush's spending.

Obama also spent the second half of the Troubled Asset Relief Fund (TARP). These were discretionary funds meant to prevent a market meltdown after Lehman Brothers collapsed. By the end of 2008, it was clear the panic had passed, and Bush announced that he wouldn't need to spend the second half of the TARP money.

But on Jan. 12, 2009, Obama asked Bush to release the remaining TARP funds for Obama to spend as soon as he took office. By Oct. 1, Obama had spent another $200 billion in TARP money. That, too, gets credited to Bush, according to the creative accounting of Rex Nutting.

There are other spending bills that Obama signed in the first quarter of his presidency, bills that would be considered massive under any other president -- such as the $40 billion child health care bill, which extended coverage to immigrants as well as millions of additional Americans. These, too, are called Bush's spending

Frustrated that he can't shift all of Obama's spending to Bush, Nutting also lowballs the spending estimates during the later Obama years. For example, although he claims to be using the White House's numbers, the White House's estimate for 2012 spending is $3.795 trillion. Nutting helpfully knocks that down to $3.63 trillion.

But all those errors pale in comparison to Nutting's counting Obama's nine-month spending binge as Bush's spending.

If liberals will attribute Obama's trillion-dollar stimulus bill to Bush, what won't they do?


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Egypt’s Presidential Elections: What’s at Stake

By Raymond Ibrahim
May 24, 2012

A Navy officer stands guard as Egyptian women line up outside a polling station to cast their votes during the first day of the presidential elections in Alexandria, Egypt, Wednesday, May 23, 2012. Egyptians went to polls on Wednesday morning to elect a new president after the fall of ex-President Hosni Mubarak last year. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Egypt’s long awaited and much anticipated presidential elections—the first of their kind to take place in the nation’s 7,000 year history—are here. As we await the final results—and as the Western mainstream media fixate on images of purple-stained fingers—it is well to remember that there is much more at stake in Egypt’s elections than the mere “right” to vote.

While some Egyptians are certainly voting according to their convictions, the fundamental divide revolves around religion—how much or how little the candidates in question are in favor of Islamic Sharia law. In other words, Islamists are voting for Islamists—Abdel Mon‘im Abul Futuh and Muhammad Mursi—whereas non-Islamists (secularists, liberals, and non-Muslims) are voting for non-Islamists, such as Amr Musa and Ahmed Shafiq.

Bear in mind that this is not the same thing as American voters being divided between “liberal” Democrats and “conservative” Republicans; rather, this election is much more existential in nature—possibly cataclysmic for Egyptian society. For, whereas both American Republicans and Democrats operate under the selfsame U.S. Constitution, in Egypt, an Islamist president will usher in Sharia law, which will fundamentally transform the nation.

One veiled woman interviewed yesterday at the voting polls put it best: “We came to elect the man who implements Sharia (Islamic law). But I am afraid of liberals, secularists, Christians. I am afraid of their reaction if an Islamist wins. They won’t let it go easily. But God be with us.”

Interestingly, while she sums up the ultimate purpose Islamists like herself are voting—to empower “the man who implements Sharia”—she alsoprojects her own Islamist mentality onto non-Islamists, implying that if a Sharia-friendly president is fairly elected, non-Islamists will rebel. In fact, it is the Islamists who are on record warning that if a secularist emerges as president, that itself will be proof positive that the elections were rigged, and anarmed jihad will be proclaimed.

None of this is surprising, considering that Islamists have not hid their abhorrence for democracy as an infidel heresy to be exploited as a gateway to a Sharia-enforcing theocracy which will, ironically, eliminate democracy. Some have gone so far as to insist that cheating in elections to empower Sharia is an obligation. And, rather than encourage Egyptians to vote for whom they think is best suited for Egypt, days prior to these elections, various authoritative Muslim clerics and institutions decreed that Egypt’s Muslims are “obligated” to vote for Sharia-supporting Islamists, while voters are “forbidden” to vote for non-Islamists—a proclamation with threats of hellfire.

One of the blocs not voting for the Islamists consists of Christian Copts, who make for some 12-15 million people. Not only does an AFP report capture their mood well, but it demonstrates how Egypt’s non-Muslims are so convinced that any Islamist president, including the oxymoronic “liberal Islamists” like Abul Futuh, will lead to even more intolerance for Christians—a reminder of reality from those non-Muslims on the ground.
[V]oting lines were long, and the worry and tension felt by many Christians was palpable.

“I don’t want the Islamists. If they come to power and I oppose them, they will say I am criticizing their religion and who knows what they’ll do to me? We can’t talk to them,” said 57-year-old Sanaa Rateb after casting her ballot…. Nassim Ghaly, a young man with a cross tattooed on his wrist in the distinctive manner of Egyptian Christians, interjected: “God protect us if the Islamists come to power and they control the parliament and the presidency at the same time.”…. “What we want is a non-religious state,” which would guarantee the rights of all religious groups, Sanaa Halim, in her sixties, said. “The Islamist trends are worrying,” one of her friends added, declining to give her name. “And what have they done in parliament? Nothing, except talk about women and female circumcision.”
Indeed, above and beyond the recent clash between Egypt’s Islamists and the military—where the former exposed their jihadi face, losing some popular support—the elected Islamist-majority parliament is increasingly seen as a disappointment, more interested in banning toys that “humiliate Islam” and legalizing “death-sex,” rather than addressing the country’s economic woes. As another voter put it, “I voted for the Brotherhood in parliament elections. Now they want to control religious tourism, this is what I got from them. The parliament has failed.”

Likewise, Ryan Mauro reports that “the secularists have benefited from a sharp fall in Islamist popularity. In February, 43% of Egyptians supported the Muslim Brotherhood, 40% supported the Salafist Nour Party and 62% felt that it is positive to have a strong Brotherhood presence in parliament. A Gallup poll in April found that the statistics fell to 26%, 30% and 47% respectively.”

Notwithstanding all this, perhaps the most decisive voting bloc consists of those tens of millions of impoverished Egyptians who care little about voting, who care little about Sharia or secularism, and are more than happy to exchange their vote for a temporal boon. These, the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis—funded by Saudi petro dollars—have been busy buying, including with food and drink.

The outcome of the elections remains uncertain. While Egypt is home to the modern day Islamist movement—giving the world several headaches, including the Muslim Brotherhood, the “godfather of jihad” Sayyid Qutb, and al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri—up until recently it was also home to one of the Islamic world’s most secular and “fun-loving” societies (it’s not called the “Hollywood of the Middle East” for nothing). Yet, based on the spectacular advance of political Islam in the last few decades, one remains pessimistic.

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Bob Dylan’s Latest Award For Being Bob Dylan

By Jon Friedman
The Wall Street Journal
May 23, 2012

Bob Dylan performs onstage during the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards held at The Hollywood Palladium on January 12, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.
(Christopher Polk/Getty Images North America)

Not even Bob Dylan, who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom on May 29 at the White House, can fully explain why he has been so highly decorated relatively late in his life.

For instance, Dylan sounded bemused in 2001, as he was turning 60, when a European journalist asked him whether he was surprised to be winning so many high-profile awards.

“I’m winning a lot of stuff,” Dylan conceded, bemused by the rush of awards. Was this a part of a sudden recognition of Dylan a s a cultural force for good after his decades of important work?

“There may be an element of that,” Dylan shrugged in 2001. Also likely, Dylan is finally being hailed for both his remarkable and still-evolving body of memorable songs — Dylan released his first album 50 years ago, in 1962 — and longevity on the popular-culture scene. Ever industrious, Dylan earlier this month completed a tour of South America and Central America. In March, he completed recording his first studio album in three years. Word has it that the new record will be released this summer.

Dylan, who turns 71 on May 24, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom that same month at the White House along with a host of other luminaries. Novelist Toni Morrison and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright are among the 13 people who will be awarded the country’s highest civilian honor by President Barack Obama.

You might say that Dylan’s renaissance began at around the time he received the prestigious Grammy award for Best Album in 1998 for “Time Out of Mind.” A few years later, he took home the Oscar for Best Song for “Things Have Changed” from “Wonder Boys.”

Dylan has since been honored by a number of organizations — though, his fans ruefully note, a Nobel Prize in the category of writing has still eluded his grasp. They hope that this latest citation will next bring Dylan a Nobel accolade.

What does Dylan think of this latest honor? Of course, Dylan is notoriously private when it comes to expressing his thoughts about these kinds of occasions. When pundits repeatedly ask him to say what his songs mean, he tells them, as he put it in 1981, “the answers to those questions (are in) the songs themselves.”

Who knows? If Dylan ever decided to talk about his feelings now, he might think for a moment, break into a grin and shrug: “I used to care/But things have changed.”

Jon Friedman is the author of “Forget About Today: Bob Dylan’s Genius for (Re)invention, Shunning the Naysayers and Creating a Personal Revolution,” which Penguin will be publishing in August.

Today's Tune: Bob Dylan - Not Dark Yet

Alamo book offers new view

Travis Drew a Line in the Sand

By Steve Bennett
San Antonio Express-News
May 20, 2012

Do we really need another book on the Alamo?

Of course. Aside from the heroism displayed on both sides of the little fort's walls, the mystery — we will never truly know everything that happened — is what continues to make the Alamo so captivating.

Dallas author James Donovan's “The Blood of Heroes” is not without controversy — yes, William Barret Travis drew a line in the sand; no, Davy Crockett didn't survive the battle to be executed afterward — but its most exciting attribute is it's one of the best one-stop overviews of the entire campaign, from the 1835 siege of Bexar by the Texans to Sam Houston's victory at San Jacinto.

“I took this project on with a few goals in mind,” says Donovan, who took on another famous last stand in his previous book “A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn.” “One, I hoped I might be able to scrape away some of the myth and legend that have encrusted the Alamo story over the years. Two, I thought the Mexican side of the story had not been told properly, and believed I might be able to do that more extensively, as I did the Indian side in ‘A Terrible Glory.' Three, I hoped that I might uncover some new material. I truly believe that you can always find something new if you dig enough. Too many writers of history don't research thoroughly — they rely too much on secondary sources, such as books on the subject, and don't spend the hundreds of hours in archives and collections necessary to do it right. Fortunately, I love that part of the job.”

Donovan, who will be in San Antonio on Tuesday to discuss and sign “The Blood of Heroes,” recently spoke with the Express-News.

Q. What ignited your interest in the Alamo?

A. I've lived in Texas for 36 years, so I've been aware of the dramatic power of the Alamo story for a long time. My previous book, ‘A Terrible Glory,' was about the Battle of the Little Bighorn. When that was published in 2008, I suggested the Titanic as the topic for my next book. My editor declined, and suggested something Western-oriented as a more logical foll-owup. The Alamo battle jumped out of my mouth almost without thinking — I had always wondered about all the myths and legends that had grown up around it, and thought I might be able to get to the root of some of them as I had with the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In retrospect it was the perfect subject.

Q. You come down on the traditional side on the line in the sand and Crockett's death in battle. Are you confident that you're right about these incidents?

A. I discovered some new sources that support the line in the sand, and incorporated them into a 24-page afterword that examines and analyzes all the evidence concerning the line. Yes, I think there is now enough reliable evidence to write it as acceptable, factual history. As far as Crockett's death in battle, the several Mexican accounts (five or six officers and one sergeant) that are used to support his execution are, upon close inspection, highly suspect for many reasons — second- and third-hand hearsay accounts that just don't hold water, and none of the high-ranking officers who were there, including Santa Anna himself, ever mention it. Some Alamo defenders were executed after the battle, but it's highly doubtful that Crockett was one of them. My discussion of the execution theory is the longest endnote in my book, and I invite anyone interested in the controversy to read that, and the sources I cite, and make up their own minds.

Q. What was the most challenging thing about researching and writing the book?

A. When you're researching a fight-to-the-death battle like the Alamo, there's a serious shortage of primary sources on one side of the struggle, since they all die. And in this case, the only accounts we have on the defenders side is from noncombatants like Susanna Dickinson, who was hiding in the church during the entire battle, and from Joe, Travis's slave, who saw Travis die on the north wall very early and then retreated into a room for the remainder of the struggle. The Mexican accounts are complicated by the fact that there are few of them extant — a few officers' terse after-action reports, and plenty of other accounts over the next 70 years that vary wildly in reliability. And don't forget that it was dark for most of the battle, and none of the participating Mexican soldiers or officers knew any of their opponents by sight, so we have little knowledge of who did what on the defenders' side. That makes it tougher to write a narrative, since there isn't an abundance of personal details that bring a story alive.

Greed, slavery and Davy Crockett: The truth about Texas history


Special Contributor
The Dallas Morning News
Published: 17 May 2012 02:42 PM

Dallas author James Donovan’s new book, The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo — and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation, was released last week to critical acclaim. To mark its arrival, we asked Donovan to tell us what he learned about the myths and facts of Texas history while immersing himself in the story of its birth.

Everyone knows that Davy Crockett was executed after the battle of the Alamo by Santa Anna.

Except he wasn’t.

Although many historians have written of Crockett’s execution as if it were a proven and accepted fact, it’s unlikely. Proponents of this claim often cite as evidence the accounts of five or six Mexican officers and one sergeant, which sounds convincing on the face of it. But a close look at these accounts reveals a collection of second- and third-hand hearsay stories that run from the highly questionable at best to the patently preposterous.

Among the many arguments against the Crockett execution theory is the fact that several high-ranking members of the Mexican army who were there (including Santa Anna himself) never mentioned the event in their accounts, diaries or after-action reports — and that two men, William Barret Travis’ slave Joe and the acting alcalde of San Antonio de BĂ©xar — were asked by Santa Anna to identify Crockett’s body, and did. Clearly, he would not have needed it identified if he had just ordered him executed, and the two men described the location in a manner that makes it extremely difficult to accept his death as being the result of a post-battle execution.

All we can say with any certainty is that Crockett died at the Alamo — in a battle that lasted (contrary to claims of a quick 15-minute rout) at least 45 minutes and probably more than an hour, as the small garrison put up a fierce fight early on, one that forced Santa Anna to send in his reserves; even when his brave soldados had forced their way over and through the walls, they had to laboriously clear out the last pockets of resistance in the convento and the church.

Crockett’s death, and the duration of the Alamo battle, are two examples of how historical events often become encrusted with myth, legend and error, deliberate or not. Particularly before the invention of electronic recording devices around the turn of the 20th century, history was more pliable, especially for those with an agenda — or simply to make a good story even better.

False issues

Texas history, and particularly its early days, has seen more than its share of distortion, which seems to have increased in the last decade or two. Recently I heard a caller on a radio talk show state matter-of-factly that Sam Houston stole Texas from Mexico, and a recent book on the Alamo characterized the men who died there (and by extension virtually everyone who took part in the Texas Revolution) as greedy, land-grabbing slaveholders — and those without slaves as yearning to own them.

It is true that most of the Texas colonists at the time were from the nearby southern states of the U.S., and some of them owned slaves. (Though slavery was illegal in Mexico and its territories, including the province of Texas, immigrating slave owners could declare their chattels as indentured servants, and the Mexican authorities looked the other way once they were settled.) At the outbreak of the revolution in the fall of 1835, the plantation system was in the early stages of development. There were only 2,000 to 3,000 slaves in Texas, and the issue was not a major factor in the rebellion. (On the eve of the Civil War 15 years later, this repellent institution would comprise 183,000 bondsmen in Texas alone, and 3.5 million in the seceding states.)

As for greedy and land-grabbing, Texas colonists were no greedier than most people in search of a better life. It’s important to remember that the ownership of land at that time was essential to the concept of liberty, and its importance went beyond the desire for riches. Suffrage in the United States was initially confined to property owners; land meant power. While that requirement had been eliminated in all but a few states, the mind-set remained. In a world and time based on an agrarian way of life, in which 8 of 10 men worked the land, a man without land was nobody. Land at the time was expensive in the states, so when empresarios working under the auspices of the Mexican government promised generous grants at a nominal fee, thousands of men and their families from the United States and other countries began streaming into the untamed wilderness known as Texas.

Land and freedom

Few of these men were saints. Though some of them were not hardy backwoodsmen but former merchants and professionals (at least a half-dozen were attorneys, and a similar number were medical men), most were men of the land and they became de facto frontiersmen. And though aspiring colonists were required by Mexican law to supply proof of responsibility and good citizenship, and did, a good number of illegal immigrants entered Texas without permission, and some of these had G.T.T. (Gone To Texas) intent on shady pursuits, or were fugitives from the law, or from creditors, or family responsibilities.

Though most were southerners who, like their revolutionary ancestors, had reconciled slavery with their own freedom, all were fighting for what they saw as similar reasons: lack of proper political representation; the threat of military occupation; the demand to deliver up their arms; and the absence of basic rights such as trial by jury and habeas corpus. All these issues and more added up to a flagrant denial of liberty to men who still considered democracy a fresh and wonderful thing.
I have read dozens of letters written during that time by men fighting for the Texas cause, and though a few mention the fear that slavery would be eliminated, the overwhelming majority cite the ideals of their American Revolution forefathers. They sound almost like evangelicals for a new religion. Travis’ letter closing of “Liberty or Death!” echoed Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” — clearly a deliberate stratagem by the well-read Travis.

Let’s not forget that this was not just a rebellion by Anglo settlers. Ironically, when Santa Anna was elected president in April 1833 on a platform of peace, prosperity and “an end to all hatreds,” he was hailed as a republican hero throughout the country, Texas included. Only when the church, the army and the landed gentry, unhappy with recent egalitarian reforms that limited their power, convinced him to change his politics did Santa Anna dissolve the Mexican Congress and begin canceling democratic laws and exercising the powers of a dictator. Uprisings occurred in at least half of the Mexican states, and armed resistance broke out in a few. Santa Anna repressed them all, some of them brutally, then raised a 6,000-man army and marched north. Texas was next.

Until that point, most of the Texas colonists were against a move toward independence and would have been satisfied with statehood and some guarantees of their rights. Although most of the province’s 35,000 inhabitants were Anglo colonists, hundreds of Mexican-born Tejanos (as they later came to be called) supported the cause and fought for it.

Truth matters

Were their reasons, and their revolt, justified? They thought so, and so did the overwhelming majority of observers around the world. If Mexicans could rebel against the yoke of Spanish tyranny, could Texans not do the same against a Mexican despot?

Every generation attempts, consciously or unconsciously, and with varying degrees of success, to reinterpret history according to their own beliefs. There are inherent dangers in this lack of objectivity — laws, programs and policies are made based upon such fallacies.

History, like life, may be messy, awkward and embarrassing on occasion, but that’s because it’s about people, and none of us is perfect. Without respect for historical truth, we compromise our ability to grow and improve both as individuals and as a society.

More on The Blood of Heroes

For a review of Donovan’s book, visit

Book review: ‘Blood of Heroes’ is the best true Alamo telling

James Donovan’s solid research and eye for novelistic detail bring 13 days in 1836 to life.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review: Joey Ramone - 'Ya Know?'

By Mark Lore
May 22, 2012

It’s people’s insatiable appetite for nostalgia (and the money it potentially generates) that inevitably leads to put-on-a-happy-face reunions, half-hearted posthumous releases and, well, Hologram Tupac and Optical Illusion Freddie Mercury (sigh).

Then there are the rare occasions when an artist leaves behind material that should be heard. When Joey Ramone died from lymphoma in April of 2001 he left behind a cache of songs in various states of completion and fidelity. Some of them appeared on Don’t Worry About Me, released in early 2002, less than a year after his death. The collection was a sad reminder of not only what an incredible voice Ramone possessed, but that simple sentiments and even simpler rock songs could still carry emotional heft.

Not every song on Don’t Worry About Me was a barn burner, but even the less-than-stellar material offered an intriguing glimpse into Ramone’s final years as he removed himself further from the public eye due to his illness. Such is the case with …Ya Know?, another—perhaps final—collection of unreleased material from the estate that was assembled and produced by Ramone’s brother Mickey Leigh over the past three years.

What’s interesting here—aside from the fact that …Ya Know? comes a decade after the first release—is that the music itself was re-recorded by a handful of Ramone’s friends and collaborators over the years, including Joan Jett, the E Street Band’s Stevie Van Zandt and Plasmatics guitarist Richie Stotts. For purists wanting to hear original versions in all their wobbly glory, these modern takes on the songs might sound over-produced. And in a few instances they are a little too slick. Just rest assured knowing they nixed the original plan of having popular bands influenced by the Ramones provide the music. We could have ended up with The Offspring or My Chemical Romance playing behind Joey.

In the end it’s really Ramone’s voice that matters, and his vocals throughout …Ya Know? (the phrase that ended most of his sentences) are deep and soulful, especially on softer acoustic numbers like “Make Me Tremble” and “Waiting For That Railroad.” Same goes for party punkers like the love letter “New York City” and first single “Rock ‘n Roll Is the Answer.” The standouts are the utterly sweet “What Did I Do to Deserve You?”(and its “Beat On the Brat” refrain) and “Party Line,” a nod to Ramone’s affinity for Spector pop that features a lovely shared vocal by Holly and the Italians’ Holly Beth Vincent. While the 15 songs in this collection were recorded over the decade and a half leading up to the singer’s death, the album’s cohesiveness illustrates again just how timeless Ramone, and the Ramones themselves, really are.

For the most part …Ya Know? comes across exactly as one would hope—like a collection of songs Joey Ramone would have been proud to share with the world. The Ramones are arguably the greatest rock and roll band to come out of America. When they finally called it a day back in 1996, the state of punk rock was already being questioned. And whether or not they left things in good hands could be argued for another two decades. If anything, Joey Ramone’s latest posthumous release proves the adage that if you want something done right, it’s best just to do it yourself.

The Mandate War

At stake is nothing less than the future of civil society in the United States.

By George Weigel
May 21, 2012

University of Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins and President Barack Obama walk together at the university's 2009 commencement.

The battle for religious freedom between the Catholic Church in the United States and the Obama administration just entered the second quarter.

The first quarter was bureaucratic and rhetorical. The debate began with the January 20 announcement that the administration’s implementation of Obamacare would require Catholic institutions and individual Catholic employers to provide “preventive health services” (including contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs) that the Church rejects as gravely immoral. It was a clumsy attempt at coercing consciences, and it drew widespread condemnation across the spectrum of Catholic opinion.

The debate intensified after the administration announced, on February 10, a future “accommodation” of Catholic concerns; but the proposed “accommodation” was an accounting shell game that would change absolutely nothing in either the moral or the legal structure of the issue. Showing a remarkable degree of unanimity, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops rejected the “accommodation” at its March meeting and insisted that the issue at stake was not birth control, but religious freedom: The federal government was trying to compel the Church and individual Catholic believers to do something the Church’s settled teaching considers immoral. That same point was underscored a month later by the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty in its Easter-week statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.”

Throughout the first quarter of this deadly serious game, the administration did not move a millimeter, the claims of its flacks and some of its Catholic apologists notwithstanding. The “contraceptive mandate” (which, remember, is also a sterilization and abortifacient mandate) is now law, without any “accommodation.” The administration continues to insist on provision of the services in question; it continues to define a “religious exemption” that is so stringent that it is not clear whether any Catholic entity (or Orthodox Jewish entity, or Mormon entity) would qualify; its narrow definition of “religious ministry” puts the Church in legal and financial peril for serving people who are not Catholics, which is another requirement of the Catholic conscience.

But the debate is not only about religious institutions; it is about the rights of conscience of employers (Catholic or otherwise) whose convictions require them not to include contraceptives, abortifacient drugs, and sterilizations in the health-insurance coverage they provide their employees. These men and women, like the numerous Catholic entities (including dioceses and educational institutions) that are self-insuring, are all put in grave legal and moral peril by the administration’s intransigent determination to impose its concept of “reproductive health” on the entirety of American society — and to force those who oppose that concept to provide the very means by which the concept is imposed.

Now comes the game’s second quarter, which will be legal, as the battle for religious freedom moves into the federal courts. A dozen lawsuits challenging the administration’s mandate are being filed today on behalf of more than 40 plaintiffs: Catholic dioceses, including the archdioceses of New York and Washington; Catholic social-service and health-care agencies; Catholic educational institutions, including the Catholic University of America, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and the University of Notre Dame; and Catholic publications. These suits, in addition to those already filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of other religious litigants, ought to help clarify several sometimes-confused points in the months ahead.

• This is not an argument about birth control, nor is it part of some “War on Women” waged by misogynistic clerics and their political allies from the fever swamps of the Right. The mandate is being legally challenged, in twelve different federal district courts, on the grounds that it violates the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion. If those legal protections mean anything, they must mean that neither religious institutions nor individuals can be compelled to provide “services” that are readily available through means other than coercing religiously informed consciences. Contraceptives are more readily available in the United States in 2012 than either cigarettes or beer. There is no compelling public need to dragoon institutions and individuals who conscientiously object to providing them into doing so — with the threat of ruinous financial penalties if they do not.

• This argument over the meaning of religious freedom was not initiated by the Catholic Church; it was initiated by an administration that seems to regard “religious freedom” as merely a privacy right to certain kinds of recreational activities (like worship). As in its international human-rights policy (which speaks exclusively of “freedom of worship”), the administration seems unwilling or unable to grasp an elementary truth: Religious convictions are community-forming, and those communities, like the individuals whose conscientious convictions form them, are the subject of genuine religious freedom.

• More than free exercise is at stake here, though. For the administration is arguably violating the intent of the “no establishment” provision of the First Amendment, which (among other things) means that the federal government is incompetent in theological matters. Yet that is precisely the turf onto which the administration is intruding with its attempts to define religious institutions, ministries, and employers so narrowly that Jesus and the Twelve would almost certainly not qualify, having fed five thousand people who were not “church members.”

• While the media’s attention to this battle has typically focused on the U.S. bishops’ conference and the administration, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan (the conference president) in one corner and President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the other, the number and character of the litigants now challenging the administration’s mandate ought to make it clear that this is not “the bishops vs. the administration” during an election year; it is the administration vs. the Catholic Church on an issue of first principle. That one of the litigants is the University of Notre Dame, which in 2009 gave President Obama an honorary doctorate of laws and invited him to address its commencement ceremony, ought to underscore the point that the mandate is regarded as a threat to religious freedom far beyond the boundaries of the bishops’ conference. As Notre Dame’s president, Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., put it, “this [suit] is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission.” Period.

• The clock is ticking, and the pace of the battle will now accelerate. The mandate was finalized “without change” on February 12; it is now law. The mandate is scheduled to go into effect on August 1, with a “safe harbor” for some entities until August 1, 2013 — a “safe harbor” famously described by Cardinal Dolan as “a year in which we’re supposed to figure out how we can violate our consciences.” Even those entities to which the administration extends this “safe harbor,” however, remain vulnerable to private action to enforce the mandate (affording Ms. Sandra Fluke her second 15 minutes of fame?). Thus it would seem important that one part of the litigation strategy be the pursuit of a preliminary injunction that would prevent the mandate from going into effect this August. That would not only relieve pressure on Catholic institutions and Catholic employers to decide whether to shut down their schools, hospitals, and social-service agencies in response to the mandate; such an injunction would also signal clear concerns from the federal bench about the legality of the mandate.

• While Obama supporters (including some Catholics) will contend that this is partisan politics, it isn’t — except insofar as the administration has made it so. It was the administration that refused to countenance Catholic concerns before and after the mandate was issued. It was the administration whose apologists (including Secretary Sebelius) bent every effort to turn what was clearly a religious-freedom issue into a “War on Women.” It has been the administration and its Senate allies, like Majority Leader Harry Reid, who have refused to enter into any sort of serious discussion aimed at mitigating Catholic concerns. It is the administration that seems willing to drive the Catholic Church out of health care, education, and social services if that is what is required to enforce the administration’s notions of “reproductive health” and “reproductive choice.” If the administration pays a price for this in November, it will have no one to blame except itself.

Legal victory in the third and fourth quarters of this battle is not certain, but it seems likely. For it is very difficult to see how the administration can justify this burdening of Catholic employers (and other employers with religiously informed moral objections to the mandate) under the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. As the battle continues, it will be important, amidst the litigators’ argument and the administration’s attempts to reply, to remember that what is at stake here is nothing less than the future of civil society in the United States.

A victory in the lawsuits filed against the administration’s mandate will be more than a victory for religious freedom, important as that will be. It will be a victory in defense of the social architecture of American democracy. Government is not the only custodian of the common good. The institutions of civil society bear a significant and irreducible responsibility for the common good, a responsibility they must be able to fulfill freely, without unwarranted interference from an overweening state that is ignorant of the limits of its legitimate reach. That is the truth for which today’s Catholic litigants are contesting — and they are doing so on behalf of all Americans.

— George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - Prove It All Night (Barcelona 17 May 2012)

The World Wildlife Fund Targets Humanity

To save the Earth, the WWF urges us to adopt the living standards of Chad or Sudan.
By Robert Zubrin
May 23, 2012

Climate Change Summit at Copenhagen (2009)

The World Wildlife Fund, the posh flagship of the global environmentalist movement, has just released its biennial publication assessing “the state of the planet.” Entitled “Living Planet Report 2012,” the publication bemoans alleged catastrophic effects that humanity is inflicting upon the Earth, and calls for drastic curbs on civilization as a necessary corrective measure.
According to the WWF, the human race is currently consuming at a rate that would be sustainable only if we had 1.5 Earths. Since we do not, overall human activity needs to be reduced by 33 percent to put mankind “in balance with the Earth’s biocapacity.”

The WWF amplified this thesis by determining how much acreage each person on Earth is using. With a total land mass of 12.6 billion hectares (a hectare is 10,000 square meters, or about 2.5 acres) and a population of 7 billion, there are now, on average, 1.8 hectares assignable to each person. However, according to the WWF, each American currently uses the resources of 7.2 hectares, so that if everyone lived like us, four Earths would be required. (The report does not consider productivity. For example, the fact that Americans on average produce eight times the per capita GDP and 24 times the number of inventions that non-Americans do goes unmentioned.) Even the living standards of countries like Botswana, Romania, and Iran, which score near the world average of 2.7 hectares used per capita, are still 50 percent too high.

No, if we are to live in harmony with nature, human consumption needs to be brought down to the consumption level of 1.8 hectares per capita. The feasibility of this is proven by the fact that this consumption level is currently being achieved by such model countries as Chad, Mali, and Sudan. In fact, even smaller “ecological footprints,” of less than 0.7 hectares per capita, are currently being demonstrated by the world’s top five environmental citizens, which are, from fifth to first place: Eritrea, Haiti, Afghanistan, Timor-Leste, and, best of all, “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

So what is to be done? “The immediate focus must be on drastically shrinking the ecological footprint of high-income populations,” says the WWF. This can best be done by cutting carbon emissions. (The report presents no data showing what harm global warming may cause to wildlife.) The Kyoto Treaty’s target of reducing global carbon emissions to less than 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2020 (which would require cutting the world’s current 34 billion tons of annual CO2 emissions down to 18 billion tons over the next eight years) is insufficient, the report tells us. We must “increase the proportion of sustainable renewable energies in the global energy mix to at least 40 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.” As a means for achieving this impossible, economy-destroying objective, wind power — which kills innumerable birds — is strongly recommended, and the use of biomass — which can destroy natural habitats — is supported implicitly. But nuclear power, which draws on no resources used by the wild biosphere, goes unmentioned.

In order to enforce the policy of global impoverishment, governance in accord with a “one planet perspective” that “proposes to manage, govern, and share natural capital within the Earth’s ecological boundaries” is set forth. The proposed governing body will have the power to “redirect financial flows” and enforce “equitable resource governance,” which will “explicitly integrate population dynamics . . . and per capita consumption trends into national planning policies to support a better balance between population and available resources.” This will ensure that we “produce better” (“manage resources sustainably,” “scale up renewable energy production”), “consume more wisely” (“achieve low-footprint lifestyles,” “change energy consumption patterns”), and “preserve natural capital.”

Founded in 1961 by British Eugenics Society president Sir Julian Huxley and the Netherlands’ prince consort, Prince Bernhard, and supported over the years by a galaxy of aristocrats and jet-setters, the WWF (whose U.S. branch alone boasts an operating budget of $240 million per year) is the high church of the global environmentalist movement. It has used its considerable resources over the past half-century to take possession, directly or indirectly, of millions of square miles of land in Africa and remove them from the possibility of development. However, as the 2012 report shows, its core agenda goes well beyond the protection of wildlife. Rather, it is hunting bigger game.

The Earth is not endangered by humanity. But humanity is being seriously threatened by those who follow the guides of the WWF.

— Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics, a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy, and the author of Energy Victory. His newest book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, has just been published by Encounter Books.