Saturday, February 23, 2008

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen- Backstreets (Live 1978)

Here's a raised glass to one of my favorite magazines...long may they run.

(Click on title to play video)

No depression at Backstreets

By David Menconi
On The Beat
Raleigh News & Observer
Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thursday's paper has a story about the soon-to-fold music magazine No Depression. Pondering the state of the magazine business got me to wondering about how other music publications are doing, including Backstreets, the Carrboro-based Bruce Springsteen fan magazine. So I checked in with Chris Phillips, editor/publisher of the 16,000-circulation quarterly.

"Yeah," Phillips says, "times are tough for all niche publications -- and if No Depression is niche, Backstreets is super-niche. Fortunately for us, advertising has never been a major part of our business plan. We count on subscription revenue and merchandise to keep us going, so we're a little insulated from the music industry's print-advertising crunch. But we're feeling it everywhere else, including the way people receive their information. It's a struggle to keep a quarterly magazine relevant in the age of the Internet. That's always on my mind. It's scary. When I look at something like No Depression going under -- and they've done a fantastic job for years and years -- it does make the hair on the back of my neck stand up."

The next issue of Backstreets should be out sometime in March. Click through to see a 2005 feature about the magazine.


Backstreets of Carrboro
By David Menconi, News & Observer
April 25, 2005

CARRBORO -- By now, Chris Phillips is used to weird things showing up in the mail. Not for him, but for Bruce Springsteen -- sent care of Backstreets, the Springsteen fan magazine that Phillips edits and publishes.

"Springsteen doesn't give out an address for fan mail, so people send a lot of that our way," says Phillips. "There are cute poems, the occasional fan letter to the Backstreet Boys. Years ago, someone sent a blanket they had crocheted that said, 'Bruce Springsteen Cover Me.' That was nice. But once, some woman sent a vial of blood with these strange David Lynch-ian writings.

"Yeah," Phillips adds with a laugh, "every now and then we do get something weird that needs forwarding to the proper authorities."

The funny part is that Carrboro-based Backstreets has no real link to Springsteen, operating completely independently of his organization -- a point made quite humorously in the "Frequently Asked Questions" section of But it's an easy mistake to make, given how thoroughly the magazine chronicles The Boss and all his doings.

Since 1980, Backstreets has covered all things Bruce with admirable attention to obsessive detail. When Springsteen released 1998's "Tracks," a four-disc box set of previously unreleased rarities, it had no liner notes to speak of. So Backstreets published a special liner-notes pullout section that traced the history of each song -- and it even fit inside the "Tracks" box.

When Springsteen gets busy, so does Backstreets. With a new Springsteen album, "Devils & Dust" (Columbia Records), dropping Tuesday, Phillips and his staff have been working overtime to get the spring issue out on the same schedule. The magazine will go to the printer this week and start hitting mailboxes by the beginning of May.

"Right now, I'm trying to finish an editorial that's sort of a 'Devils & Dust' review, and sort of an explanation as to why it's not really a review," Phillips says, sitting at his desk on a recent afternoon. "I just haven't had enough time with the record. This issue will also have something about Bruce's Hall of Fame induction speech for U2, and a piece on DJs who were influential in Bruce's career. That's about 12 pages of interviews, archival photos, stuff about how radio changed and what Bruce's career would've been without it.

"A lot of nerd minutiae we can sprawl with," Phillips concludes. "But what would Backstreets be without minutiae?"


Back in the day

Backstreets began in Seattle in 1980, founded by Seattle Rocket editor Charles Cross and named after his favorite Springsteen song (from 1975's "Born to Run" album). The first issue was four newspaper pages, which Cross handed out at a Springsteen concert in Seattle.

While Backstreets remains very much a grass-roots outfit, the product is considerably heftier nowadays. The quarterly glossy magazine has a staff of four and a circulation of 16,000. Most issues are 56 pages, filled up by a stable of about 10 regular freelance contributors plus reader submissions. Backstreets runs very few advertisements. Most of its revenue comes from subscriptions and newsstand sales, and the sale of Springsteen merchandise such as hard-to-find vinyl copies of the new Springsteen album.

"I like the way it covers pretty much every facet," says Charlie Board, a Cary software engineer who has subscribed to Backstreets since 1986. "Bootleg reviews, definitive tour reviews with run-downs of every show -- the rare songs played, guests, fan reaction. You get editorials about the music, articles about tangentially related artists like Southside Johnny or Garland Jeffreys. It's sort of a way to be part of the community, like a print version of being a Deadhead."

Phillips joined Bruce nation in his early teenage years, after seeing what he calls a "life-changing show" on the 1984 "Born in the U.S.A." tour. But he wound up working for Backstreets almost by chance. After graduating from Duke University in 1993, Phillips picked up and moved to Seattle on a whim.

"No job, no nothing," he says. "I'm not sure what I was thinking. But then I remembered, 'Wait a minute, isn't Backstreets here?' I was a fan and a reader, so I got ahold of a back issue to look up the phone number and sent a resume."

Fortuitously, Backstreets was looking for a managing editor. Phillips got the job, and it's the only one he's had since college. He took over from Cross as editor/publisher in 1998 and moved the operation to Washington, D.C., in 2000.

Last summer, Backstreets moved again, to Carrboro. Phillips and his wife both went to Duke, and they count the proximity of Allen & Son Bar-B-Q near their house as a major plus. Also nearby is Phillips' brother Jon, who edits and publishes a book magazine called Bookmarks out of an office in his house. The Backstreets office in Carr Mill is considerably roomier than its D.C. quarters, where the main storage space was a bathtub. But there's still a lot of stuff in boxes.

"Since we moved here, we've had the big 'Vote For Change' tour and now 'Devils & Dust,'" Phillips says. "I hope it will settle down enough so we can eventually unpack, but it hasn't happened yet. I always used to think after every issue, 'This will be the biggest issue for a while, the next one should be smaller.' But that is just not happening."


Talkin' to the Boss

Inevitably, Phillips gets a lot of questions about what Springsteen is "really like." But he can honestly say he doesn't know. Phillips and Springsteen have met only once, at a Patty Scialfa show last year. And Phillips has interviewed Springsteen only once, a phone interview in conjunction with last fall's "Vote For Change" tour -- the only interview that the press-shy Springsteen has ever given Backstreets in its 25-year existence.

"The biggest thing I have to explain is that we're not connected to Bruce Springsteen's organization," Phillips says. "We're not a fan club or anything like that. I used to be able to say, 'I've never talked to or even met the guy.' Getting the interview was a huge thrill. But the down side is that it reinforced this weird impression people have, that I've got a red phone on my desk with a hotline to Bruce's house."

Phillips has dutifully put in another interview request for Springsteen's "Devils & Dust" tour, which isn't coming to North Carolina (Phillips is going to shows in Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago). But he's not holding his breath about getting another audience.

"Haven't heard a word," he says. "My fantasy is they've got a plan. They're waiting until after X number of shows, and then they'll spring it on me. But it probably won't happen. I just hope I won't have to wait another 11 years for the next one."

Posted at 08:05 am by davidmenconi in music On the Beat: David Menconi on music

Mark Steyn: Obama makes Hillary look like Bill Richardson

Orange County Register
Saturday, February 23, 2008

US Democratic presidential candidates Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) looks on as Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) gets up during a break at the Texas Democratic Party's presidential candidates debate at the University of Texas at Austin in Austin, Texas, February 21, 2008. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008

On the day that Margaret Thatcher was toppled by her own party, I ran into an old friend, a hard-core leftist playwright, Marxist to the core, who wasn't as happy as he should have been. He jabbed me in the chest. "You bastards on the right!" he fumed. "You wouldn't even let us be the ones to drive the stake through her heart."

I'm sure in America's Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy there are similar mixed feelings. The Clintons have met their Waterloo but it's not some doughty conservative warrior who gets to play Duke of Wellington, only some freshman pap peddler of liberal boilerplate whom no one had heard of the day before yesterday.

Such are the vicissitudes of politics. I see from the gay newspaper the Washington Blade that, as the headline writer put it, "Clinton Leads Among Gay Super Delegates." Only in the Democratic Party. I don't know how many supergays it takes to outvote the nonsuper primary and caucus voters from Maine to Nevada to Hawaii. They may yet pull Sen. Clinton's chestnuts out of the fire, but they're looking pretty charred and indigestible right now. Unlike the Fall of Thatcher, it's nothing so glamorous as an act of matricide, but just the nightly hell of a tired vaudeville act that can no longer find the spark.

Bill Clinton understood a crude rule of show business – that, if you behave like a star, there are plenty of people who'll treat you like one. The apotheosis of this theory was his interminable ambulatory entrance down mile after mile of corridor at the 2000 Democratic convention in Los Angeles, when Slick Willie finally out-Elvised Elvis – or, more accurately, out-Smarted the opening sequence of "Get Smart."

Apparently, no one had thought to tell him to try to get within four miles of the stage before the introductory video ended. He was, by my calculations, outside the men's room on Corridor G27, Sub-Basement Level 6 of the Staples Center. As he began the long, long, lo-oo-oo-oong televised walk to the podium the crowd watching the monitors cheered – and, 20 minutes later, after he'd strolled down the first three or four windowless tunnels of attractive luminous drywall, hung a left by the water cooler, taken the emergency stairs, cut across the stationery closet, moved smoothly through the boiler room and had still only reached the Coke machine on Sous-Mezzanine Level 4, and there was at least a mile and a half between him and the stage, and the Democratic activists out in the hall were beginning to figure they could get dinner and a movie and still be back in time for the last third of his walk-on, they were nevertheless still cheering.

In effect, President Clinton dared them not to cheer. Tom Jones wouldn't have risked it. Engelbert Humperdinck would have balked. But, after eight years of talking the talk, Bill walked the walk. In the hall, the delegates' hands were raw, bleeding stumps, but the Slickster knew that, even if he started his entrance in Idaho, those Dems would cheer him every step of the way.

The Clintons turned the Democratic Party into a star vehicle and designated everyone else as extras. But their star quality was strictly comparative. They had industrial-strength audacity and a lot of luck: Bill jumped into the 1992 race when A-listers like Mario Cuomo were too cowed by expert advice that Bush the Elder was unbeatable. Clinton gambled, won the nomination and beat a weak opponent in a three-way race, with Ross Perot siphoning votes from the right. He got even luckier four years later. So did Hillary when she embarked on something patently absurd – a first lady running for a Senate seat in a state she's never lived in – only to find Rudy Giuliani going into instant public meltdown.

The SAS, Britain's special forces, have a motto: Who dares wins. The Clintons dared, and they won – even as almost everyone else in their party lost: senators, congressmen, governors, state legislators. Even when they ran into a spot of intern trouble, sheer nerve saw them through. Almost anyone else would have slunk off in shame, but the Clintons understood that the checks and balances don't add up to much if you're determined not to go: As at that 2000 convention speech, they dared the Democrats not to cheer.

With hindsight, the oral sex was a master stroke. Bill Clinton likes to tell anyone who'll listen that he governed as an "Eisenhower Republican," which is kind of true – NAFTA, welfare reform, etc. If you have to have a Democrat in the Oval Office, he was as good as it gets for Republicans – if you don't mind the fact that he's a draft-dodging noninhaling sex-fiend. Republicans did mind, of course, which is why Dems rallied round out of boomer culture-war solidarity. But, if he hadn't been dropping his pants and appealing to so many of their social pathologies, his party wouldn't have been half so enthusiastic for another chorus of "I Like Ike."

Hillary is what the Clintons look like with their pants up. Their much-vaunted political savvy turns out to be a big nothing: The supposed masters of "the politics of personal destruction" can't turn up anything better on Obama than some ancient essay from his Jakarta grade school, plus a few limp charges of plagiarism. And instead of getting the surrogates to crowbar the enemy every time Hillary opens up on him she looks mean and petty, and he gets to do his high-minded Obamessiah routine.

Their star quality was also, as noted above, mostly a giant bluff. In his heyday, Bill could channel his narcissism into a famously sure "common touch" – he liked to bask in proof of his awesome empathetic powers. But, in the years since he left the Oval Office, he's played too many gazillion-dollar-a-plate jet-set dinners in France and Switzerland, and the "common touch" has curdled. That was plain even by the 2002 midterms, when you could more or less correlate Democratic losses by his travel schedule. He's a bust on the stump.

And, worst of all for Bill and Hill, the Dems found a new star – their first in 16 years. Look at it from Hillary's point of view: She'd expected to run against the likes of Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd – the usual mediocrities and misfits. Then Barack Obama came along, and did what the Clintons did in 1992 – saw his opportunity and seized it. All of a sudden, she's the Bill Richardson – worthy but dull, earthbound and joyless, lead weights round her ankles.

She has a melancholy dignity in decline. She knows she would make the better president, but every time she tries to explain why it sounds prosaic and unromantic. Bill gave the party an appetite for slick lounge acts, and this time round Barack's the guy delivering it in buckets of gaseous uplift. Can Barbra Streisand and the Supergays get Hillary airborne again? I doubt it. Go back to that Staples Center entrance in 2000, and try to imagine Hill walking that walk. How far would she get before the applause died away and she'd be padding that endless corridor to no audible accompaniment but the clack of her heels?


Derek Jeter intends to play shortstop for as long as he can


Saturday, February 23rd 2008, 4:00 AM

Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter share a laugh on Friday.

TAMPA - The day will come when Derek Jeter is no longer playing shortstop for the Yankees. Just don't expect that day to be here anytime soon.

For years, stat heads have said that Jeter is a below-average fielder, yet managers and coaches voted him three consecutive Gold Glove awards from 2004-06.

One recent University of Pennsylvania study tabbed Jeter as the worst defensive shortstop in the majors, but the Yankees' captain has no plans to pull a Robin Yount or Ernie Banks and shift positions for the latter years of his career.

Instead, he plans on playing shortstop through the final three years of his current contract, and on remaining there for however many years he plays beyond 2010.

"That's the plan," Jeter said. "I haven't really thought about how long I'm playing. I take it one year at a time; I don't sit down and say, 'Well, I hope I'm playing in two-thousand whatever.' It's a tough question, because I haven't really thought about it much."

Could Jeter, who has been named to eight American League All-Star teams in his 12 big-league seasons - four as the league's starting shortstop - ever see himself playing another position?

"Right now?" Jeter said, "No."

Yount and Banks, both Hall of Famers, are considered two of the greatest shortstops of all time. Both players moved to different positions halfway through their careers - Banks to first base at age 31 and Yount to center field at age 29 - with injuries being the primary factors for the moves.

Injuries have not been a problem for Jeter, who has played in at least 148 games in 11 of his 12 full seasons, the lone exception coming in 2003, when a separated shoulder cost him the first six weeks of the year.

"Hopefully, I don't have to think about that for quite some time," Jeter said.

Year-round conditioning has been essential to Jeter's success, and with him reporting to camp this year in what Joe Girardi called "excellent shape," it doesn't appear the 33-year-old is ready to yield his position for quite a while. If 40-year-old Omar Vizquel can still play shortstop, Jeter asks, why can't he stick around there for the next six or seven years?

"First and foremost, I think it boils down to your body type," Jeter said. "If you take care of yourself and you're agile and flexible, you can do it. A lot more people are working out and conditioning all year round as opposed to the old days."

"The thing about a guy like Derek Jeter is that it's hard to envision him not playing," Girardi said. "There is going to come a day when he'll retire, but in my mind, it's too far out so I don't really see it. Maybe if he's playing at 47, he won't be a shortstop."

Many scouts believe Jeter would be able to make an easy transition to the outfield, where his speed, strong arm and terrific instincts would make him a natural. Asked about the possibility, Jeter waves off the question before it's finished.

"I ain't going out there," Jeter said. "It's not as easy as it sounds to just pick up a glove and say, 'I'm going to be an outfielder today.' It doesn't work like that."

As for his current position, Jeter feels he's a better shortstop now than he was during the early years of his career thanks to experience. By making the necessary adjustments on a regular basis, Jeter is constantly addressing what he feels are his strengths and weaknesses in the field. Just don't ask him what those are.

"I'll leave that to the computers to figure out," he said with a grin.

"You can make a poll or a study look the way you want, but it's not going to measure a complete player," said Girardi, who believes Jeter looks the same as he did in his rookie year of 1996. "I don't think it takes into account his steadiness at short, that you can count on him every day to be the same guy or his leadership skills."

Jeter focused on his agility, lateral movement and speed this winter, looking to help both his fielding and baserunning. After seeing Jeter on the first day of camp, Alex Rodriguez predicted an MVP season for his teammate, who was "flattered" by the prognostication.

"He took a lot of initiative this winter to do what he always does," Girardi said. "He tries to get better each year, because that's who Derek Jeter is."

Jeter brushed off the MVP talk, choosing instead to focus on the Yankees' ultimate goal of winning title No. 27.

"I have to be honest with you guys, I'd much rather win (the World Series than MVP)," Jeter said. "That's the bottom line. I've said it time and time again: you play to win. You always want to do well because the better you do, the better the team is going to be."

That's precisely what Girardi wants to hear. Put any computer study you want on the manager's desk, it doesn't matter. He knows what he sees, and when he looks at Jeter, he sees a winning ballplayer.

"I think 29 other teams would love to have Derek Jeter," Girardi said. "To me, that's the sign of the type of player you've got."

Friday, February 22, 2008

If It Feels Good, Say It

By George Neumayr
The American Spectator
Published 2/21/2008 12:07:57 AM

Presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill, speaks to a watch party crowd Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008, in Austin, Texas. Each hopeful spoke at the watch party after Thursday's 90-minute televised debate between Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
(AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)

If you have heard one Barack Obama speech, you have heard them all. In a way, his words are as limited as his legislative accomplishments, which explains his now-famous cribbing off Deval Patrick and JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen, among others.

The only variation in his speeches comes from the slight rearrangement of cliches, while the quality of thought in them never rises up the level of an episode of Oprah. That she launched his campaign is altogether fitting.

In the Oprah age of fantasy and instant happiness, feel-good babble about this or that problem, usually determined not by reality but by political exigency, is all that is needed to captivate crowds. If it feels good, just say it, and if anyone scrutinizes your promises too closely, accuse them of "fear" and cynicism.

"The fierce urgency of now": To what momentous injustice does that Obama line, borrowed from Martin Luther King Jr., refer? It is not clear and apparently it doesn't matter. Who cares what it means? It feels good.

The right words and principles, you see, aren't as important as the right feelings -- a defense to which the Obama campaign resorted after Michelle Obama's declaration of sudden pride in America. Her brazen words were defended by the campaign and sympathetic media commentators on the grounds that they conveyed a vibe of justified feeling from a black woman. Anyone who says otherwise is "parsing." The Obamas won't take responsibility for the words lifted from others or even their own.

"Hope is making a comeback," she burbled fatuously. But what she calls hope, sober historians would call raw demagoguery, which is a sign not of a society's renewal but of its accelerating decadence.

Obama's faux-radicalism and idealism, carefully stirred into a safe brew of truisms, is catnip for a decadent elite that would rather feel good than be good and complains amidst prosperity of the need for dramatic change. But how urgent could their "revolution" possibly be if it was hatched down at a Starbucks?

Perhaps Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital in between sips of a Latte, but the Obama craze is ridiculous, evidence not of revolutionary idealism but of a prosperous democracy's slide toward dilettantism. Were the country truly in a bind, it would never take a chance on a rookie senator whose only real accomplishment is revising and extending his remarks.

The fakeness of it all reminds me of Robert Redford's The Candidate, in which an attractive but vapid pol says upon winning: "What do we do now?"

THE BLANKNESS OF Kirk Watson -- the Texas legislator who, under barking questions from Chris Matthews on Tuesday night, couldn't come up with a single accomplishment by Obama in the Senate -- captures the hollowness of Obama's movement.

Obama appeals to an increasingly childish class of adults who crave an emotion-based politics and don't particularly care about the details of the package in which it comes. There is a "Kids for Obama" section on his web page but it is not clear where it ends and the rest begins.

Obama presents his campaign as one of high principle and great courage, but in reality it simply sparks off liberalism's low and perennial appeal to man's appetites and emotions. This is what makes "progressive" liberalism so easy to sell in a modern democracy: it straightforwardly caters to fallen human nature, "challenging" people to take a low road Original Sin takes them down anyways.

Conservatism, on the other hand, is a tricky sell (which is why it is so quickly compromised), as it asks people to follow reason despite wayward emotions -- a message fallen humans don't care to hear until a crisis hits which brings them back to reality.

For many years the Clintons played these demagogic games too, casting corruption as change and failed liberalism as progress. "Yesterday is gone, yesterday is gone," they enlisted Fleetwood Mac to screech.

And it is. Obama has surpassed their sophistry, scooping up yuppies who jumped off Hillary's train as they saw it begin to derail. While the Clintons couldn't stop "thinking about tomorrow," Obama was busy stealing away their supporters with his similarly sham "fierce urgency of now."

George Neumayr is editor of Catholic World Report and press critic for California Political Review.

Methodist Madness

Divesting from Israel

by Mark Tooley
02/22/2008 12:00:00 AM

ONE OF THE OLDEST Religious Left groups in America is targeting Israel for divestment. The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) was founded in 1907 after its leaders met with President Teddy Roosevelt. It was one of the Social Gospel's chief proponents in the early 20th century, when much of Mainline Protestantism was exchanging theological orthodoxy for progressive political action. Functioning as an influential caucus within America's once largest Protestant denomination, MFSA for decades has commanded the allegiance of bishops, church bureaucrats, and seminary professors.

Famously derided in the 1950's by Reader's Digest as Methodism's "pink fringe," the increasingly far-left church caucus was briefly marginalized after its infatuations with Stalinist Russia. But MFSA roared back with the counter-culture of the 1960's, vigorously promoting the welfare state, disarmament, and racial, and gender justice. In the 1970s and 1980s it enthusiastically embraced Liberation Theology, touting the Sandinistas and countless other revolutionaries. Of late, MFSA has focused on homosexual causes and "marriage equality."

But now MFSA is demanding that the 7.9 million member United Methodist Church divest from firms consorting with Israel. The church's official lobby arm, the Capitol Hill-based General Board of Church and Society, is more cautiously recommending divestment only against Caterpillar, Inc. for its bulldozer sales to Israel. In late April, the denomination's governing General Conference will decide whether to accede to the anti-Israel initiatives.

MFSA wants a "phased, selective divestment from companies supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and other violations of human rights in Israel/Palestine," according to MFSA's chief Kathryn Johnson. "Those who support selective divestment will be accused of being anti-Semitic," she admitted. "Pleas will be made to consider inter-faith relations." But Johnson countered that divestment to pressure the U.S. and Israeli governments is not anti-Semitic. Instead, it can be a "powerful nonviolent tool to change unjust policies that lead to massive suffering and human rights violations in Palestine." She confessed that ties to Jewish groups will be "strained" by divestment, requiring more "compassionate" dialogue. And she urged that "interfaith relationships" also should include Muslims.

The rationale for MFSA's divestment legislation declares: "The destruction of Palestinian homes and confiscation for Palestinian land is made possible by the use of armored bulldozers, helicopter gunships, tanks and other equipment that may have been purchased from the U.S. corporations in which the United Methodist Church may hold investments." If the MFSA proposal were approved, the United Methodist Church would give the targeted companies 60 days to "change" their ties to the "Israeli occupation." Absent this "change," all church entities would divest from that company.

Anti-Israel divestment would primarily involve the United Methodist Church's $17 billion pension portfolio. But it also would affect another nearly $1 billion in assets by the church's 13 national church agencies. And it presumably would affect the even more considerable assets of United Methodism's over 100 affiliated universities and colleges and about 60 hospitals and clinics. Especially wealthy United Methodist universities include Duke, Emory, Southern Methodist, Boston, and Drew. United Methodism has never before targeted governments for corporate divestment, not even South Africa under Apartheid.

But MFSA, along with many United Methodist elites, apparently believes that Israel is uniquely guilty among the world's numerous oppressor regimes. MFSA's January-February 2008 newsletter offers a rather sinister history of Israel. Muslims, Christians, and Jews had lived in "harmony" in Palestine for centuries until disrupted by "extremist" Zionists, whose zeal for a Jewish state provoked violence. "High-placed American Zionists" pressured the United Nations to "give away" most of Palestine to Jews, who avariciously went on to "conquer" three quarters of Palestine. The Jewish conquest advanced in 1967, when Israel launched a "Pearl Harbor-like surprise attack" on Egypt. Israel's continued "confiscation" of Palestinian land perpetuates injustice until this day, inevitably igniting Palestinian uprisings.

The MFSA newsletter includes a commentary by a Sara Roy, a research scholar at Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Herself the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Roy likens Israel's stance towards Palestinians to Nazi attitudes towards Jews, while declining to call it morally equivalent. "Within the Jewish community it has always been considered a form of heresy to compare Israeli actions or policies with those of the Nazis, and certainly one must be very careful in doing so," she recounted. "But what does it mean when Israeli soldiers paint identification numbers on Palestinian arms; when young Palestinian men and boys of a certain age are told through Israeli loudspeakers to gather in the town square; when Israeli soldiers openly admit to shooting Palestinian children for sport; when some of the Palestinian dead must be buried in mass graves while the bodies of others are left in city streets and camp alleyways because the army will not allow proper burial; when certain Israeli officials and Jewish intellectuals publicly call for the destruction of Palestinian villages in retaliation for suicide bombings or for the transfer of the Palestinian population out of the West Bank and Gaza; when 46 percent of the Israeli public favors such transfers and when transfer or expulsion becomes a legitimate part of popular discourse; when government officials speak of the 'cleansing of the refugee camps'; and when a leading Israeli intellectual calls for hermetic separation between Israelis and Palestinians in the form of a Berlin Wall, caring not whether the Palestinians on the other side of the wall may starve to death as a result."

MFSA's condemnation of Israel is harsh and contrasts starkly with its romances over the decades with Marxist regimes, whose absolutist oppression was far more akin to Nazi tactics. Such lack of proportion may lead to failure when the vote comes in April, but with support from many church officials, MFSA will continue to identify Israel as a pariah nation. Such hostility towards Israel may not be so much anti-Semitic as an anachronistic relic of the old left, which dreamt that world revolution would sweep away all religious and national identities. Israel is a stubborn rebuttal to the old left's historicist claims. For the fading remnants of old-time liberal Protestantism, that might be infuriating.

Mark Tooley directs the Institute on Religion and Democracy's program for United Methodists.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Today's Tune: Uncle Tupelo- No Depression (Live 1992)

Here's a salute to all those who had a hand in producing one of my all-time favorite magazines..."No Depression"...hmmm...with the news of the magazine's demise I am now plenty depressed.

Uncle Tupelo's original lineup (c. 1991)—Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, and Mike Heidorn.

(Click on title to play video)

Today's Tune: The Backsliders- Cowboy Boots

(Click on title to play video)

Slump takes down magazine

Changes in the recording industry prove fatal for roots-music chronicle No Depression

By David Menconi,
Raleigh News & Observer Staff Writer

This week's announcement that No Depression magazine was shutting down took most of its fans by surprise. The bi-monthly magazine, which helped define as well as popularize alternative-country music, will end a 13-year run with its May/June issue.
"I feel gobsmacked," says Raleigh's Phyllis Gordon, a subscriber for nearly a decade and one of No Depression's many Triangle readers. "This is really a shock. It's like finding out your best friend has moved to China."

All sorts of metaphors have been flying around since Tuesday's announcement. The publishers cite declining record-company advertising revenue as the primary reason for the shutdown. But the magazine's folding is also a sign of the changing habits of music buyers, especially younger ones.

"It's like one of my favorite bands is calling it quits, only this time I'm sort of in the band," says Rick Cornell, one of several local writers who regularly contributes to No Depression. (Full disclosure: I am another.)

No Depression began in Seattle in 1995, named for the Carter Family song "No Depression in Heaven" (covered in 1990 by the pioneering alternative-country band Uncle Tupelo) and an early online music discussion group. The magazine frequently covered North Carolina acts, starting with its first issue.

I did a short feature on the Raleigh band Whiskeytown for that first issue, after spending a memorable evening trying to interview frontman Ryan Adams at the Berkeley Café. The interview ended prematurely when a drunk calling himself "Kenneth From Nashville" began making threats and the police showed up, triggering an all-night standoff -- the first and last time I've ever had an interview cut short by third-party psychosis.

No Depression co-editor Peter Blackstock thought this was so amusing that he printed the interview and back story under the headline, "A short interview's journey into hell." Over the next few years, 6 String Drag, Jolene, the Backsliders, Flat Duo Jets and Jim Lauderdale were among the North Carolina acts to score full-length features in No Depression, gaining nationwide exposure at a time when that was hard to come by. Even in the Internet age, getting a feature in the magazine remains a coup.

"When I first talked to the Avett Brothers about managing them, the game plan I presented had getting a story in No Depression as a main goal," says Dolph Ramseur, manager of the Concord-based band. "That was a big point for us. No Depression always felt like a punk-rock fanzine, but covering roots music. This is terrible news, really sad."

From Willie to Wilco

No Depression always had influence beyond its modest circulation of about 30,000 copies.

"It's been like the Bible for that style of music," says longtime subscriber Molly Flynn of Raleigh. "It's hard to imagine it gone."

The magazine began as an attempt to find common ground between classic old-school country and young upstarts. So it covered Nickel Creek as well as Ralph Stanley, Willie Nelson as well as Wilco -- plus choice historical obscurities, such as the long-forgotten R&B singer Little Miss Cornshucks.

In the process, No Depression became a brand. When the soundtrack to 2000's "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" unexpectedly sold 7 million copies and won an album-of-the-year Grammy Award, the mainstreaming of No Depression's alternative country was at hand.

"Things get taken for granted as time goes by, and I don't think people remember what a void No Depression stepped into in 1995," says Fred Mills, managing editor of the competing music magazine Harp. "What stands out to me is that they were able to very deftly draw a direct line from Johnny Cash to the Replacements. And this all happened pre-MySpace, long before blogs and all that."

Untimely move

In 2000, No Depression's connection to North Carolina became more direct when Blackstock moved to Durham (co-editor Grant Alden now lives in Kentucky, while co-publisher/co-owner Kyla Fairchild is still in Seattle). Blackstock returned to the Seattle area a few years later before coming back and buying a house in Mebane last fall -- which makes the timing of the magazine's shutdown about as unfortunate as it could possibly be.

But as outlined in the "publishers' note" released Tuesday, the principals don't have much choice. While increasing paper and postal costs are factors, the single biggest reason is the decline of the U.S. record industry.

Album sales in America have declined 36 percent this decade, from a high of 785 million in 2000 to 500 million last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan. As a result, record labels have drastically cut their print-advertising budgets.

No Depression's advertising revenue has declined even faster than U.S. album sales -- down 36 percent in two years -- and the pace is picking up, pushing the magazine's page counts lower. At 80 pages, the March/April issue is just half the length of the same issue in 2004.

"It became apparent at the start of this year that things had changed," Blackstock says. "When we only had enough advertising for 80 pages in March/April, which is always one of our biggest issues, we knew we had a serious problem that would not balance out if we kept going into the future."

As a small business, No Depression doesn't have the deep pockets to hang on and hope for a turnaround. Reading the writing on the wall, Blackstock and his partners opted to shut down rather than risk going into debt or bankruptcy. No Depression's Web site will continue at, although not on the same scale as the magazine.

Of course, No Depression's demise is indicative of larger trends beyond the magazine, record and advertising industries. Shifting consumer interests also enter into the equation, especially those of younger adults.

"The 12-to-34 demographic gets their music on iTunes, their videos on YouTube, their friends on Facebook," says Karen Albritton, president of the Raleigh marketing firm Capstrat. "Do we really expect them to get their entertainment news in print? Advertisers chase trends, and right now the trend is online."

That leaves niche publications of all kinds struggling to survive. No Depression probably won't be the last such magazine to go down.

"The ad-revenue thing is very troublesome for all of us," says Harp's Mills. "All the things [No Depression] pointed out about print media, that's all true and it's the canary in the coal mine. Everybody has to adapt to electronic media more rapidly, because we see a lot of advertising shifting. Any magazine not in a position to do that ... Well, they're in trouble." or or (919) 829-4759.

News & Observer music critic David Menconi has had a byline in 73 out of 74 issues of No Depression magazine. He is listed as a "contributing editor" on its masthead, but receives no compensation beyond freelance fees for stories published in the magazine.


1995 - Issue No. 1 debuts in the fall, 32 pages long with Son Volt on the cover. Raleigh's Whiskeytown gets a short feature.

1996 - The magazine goes from quarterly to bimonthly with issue No. 5, September-October.

1997 - Whiskeytown appears on the cover of the July-August issue, a full-length feature written by co-editor Peter Blackstock. Whiskeytown is also one of four bands on a "No Depression" concert tour sponsored by the magazine, which has its first 100-page issue.

1998 - "No Depression: An Introduction to Alternative Country Music (Whatever That Is)" is published by Nashville-based Dowling Press. It reprises magazine features on the Backsliders and Whiskeytown.

2000 - A January-February feature headlined "Ready for the Country" profiles "five emerging insurgents," two of which are from the Triangle: Trailer Bride and future Grammy nominee Tift Merritt.

2001 - No Depression receives an Utne Magazine award for arts and literature coverage.

2003 - Inside color is added. Page count hits 160 for several issues.

2005 - The September-October issue with Nickel Creek on the cover is the magazine's biggest ever at 176 pages. A second anthology is published, "The Best of No Depression: Writing About American Music" (University of Texas Press), in conjunction with the magazine's 10-year anniversary.

2006 - The year's longest issue is 144 pages. Concord's Avett Brothers get their first full-length feature in the March-April issue.

2007 - The page count peaks at 128 in March-April, shrinking to 112 pages the rest of the year.

2008 - Down to 80 pages for the March-April issue, the magazine announces it will cease print publication after its May-June issue.

David Menconi

Delusions of Grandeur

by R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.
Posted: 02/21/2008

Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., pauses as she makes a campaign stop at the Dodge Arenain Hildago, Texas, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

There always has been something delusional about the Clintons' project to make Hillary this country's next commander in chief. Start with the balderdash so frequently exuded through the media that she is, along with her husband, a "rock star." Well, they left the White House like rock stars. They trashed the place.

Yet Hillary, a physically unprepossessing lady on the far side of middle age, is not a rock star. Agreed, when she and her bodyguards enter a room, she turns a lot of heads, but so does a roadside automobile accident or the clumsy waitress who just spilled a warm plate of fettuccine alfredo on a customer. Why have members of the press insisted on claiming that Hillary is a rock star and, more preposterous still, that she possesses "charisma," notwithstanding that she is a pedestrian campaigner with a tin ear for politics?

For that matter, why have members of the press insisted on claiming that the former Boy President is a political genius? The Democratic Party went into decline almost everywhere throughout the republic while he was bemanuring the White House. Truth be known, when Boy Clinton began campaigning for her, her prospects darkened. The stubborn minority of journalists who have remained undeluded by the Clinton legends and aware of the Clinton record recognized the impending danger. All through the spring and summer, I was asked on talk radio and television whether I thought Bill would be active in Hillary's campaign and, if so, whether he would be an asset. Usually, I expressed doubt on both counts. As I point out in my book about his retirement and his attendant designs to return to the White House, "The Clinton Crack-Up," Hillary's staff always has been uneasy about the presence of her big loveable lug on the campaign trail. Anyone who might bother to contemplate his record as a campaigner would recognize that he is poison when he campaigns for others. In 2004, of the 14 fated Democrats he campaigned for, 12 lost.

Delusional, too, are Hillary's boasts that her "experience" is superior to that of Sen. Barack Obama. Actually, the less said about Hillary's experience the better for her. Now, after this week's primary defeats, she is introducing her "experience" theme again by boasting that as president, she will be "ready from Day One." She capitalizes "Day One." Is she telling us that upon entering the White House, she will again fire the apolitical employees at the travel office? Or is she promising a "Filegate" hullabaloo with her opponents' FBI files turning up in White House offices? Will there be billing records appearing and disappearing? Will she preside, as she did in the early 1990s, over a "War Room" to handle Whitewater? Whitewater is old news, Hillary. Get over it!

For Hillary to stress her political experience is about as reckless as it was for the most recent Democratic presidential candidate to stress his war record, knowing that it included easily accessed film of his appearance before Congress denouncing the Vietnam War and blatantly lying about his comrades' combat behavior. Candidate Jean-Francois Kerry fallaciously charged his comrades with committing atrocities, and three decades later, he expected to be elected president. Regarding Hillary's experience, I suspect that the electorate is well-aware of its luridities. As I noted in "The Clinton Crack-Up," when her campaign for the presidency drew near, anywhere between 40 and 50 percent of the electorate were polled saying that they would not vote for her.

I noted those statistics to a mainstream journalist a few months back, and he thought I was exaggerating. All he had to do was consult the polls.

The explanation for Hillary's collapse as a front-runner with a 25 to 35 percent (chose your poll) lead over Sen. Barack Obama is that a small cloud far back in the memories of many Democrats has come forward in their minds with every one of her campaign's blunders. After the early bullying of Obama, the arrival of shady Asian money, the planted questions at an Obama rally, implausible complaints about Obama's kindergarten essay, the racist rhetoric in South Carolina, and now evidence of voting fraud in the New York primary, those little clouds have become thunderclouds. Hundreds of thousands of Democrats do not want to go back to the 1990s.

Perhaps historians will note what I noted not long ago. Obama began to cut into Hillary's lead in late November. That was when he deftly reminded voters of the "1990s" and of the quarrels of "the baby boomers." He wanted to move on, and that meant leaving the Clintons and their episodic apologists in the media forlorn among the vapors of their delusions.

Mr. Tyrrell is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator, a political and cultural monthly, which has been published since 1967.

Michelle Obama's America -- and Mine

By Michelle Malkin
New York Post
February 20, 2008

Michelle Obama, wife of Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. speaks to a crowd of supporters during a campaign rally, Friday, Feb. 15, 2008, in Columbus, Ohio.
(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Like Michelle Obama, I am a "woman of color." Like Michelle Obama, I am a working mother of two young children. Like Michelle Obama, I am a member of the 13th generation of Americans born since the founding of our great nation.

Unlike Michelle Obama, I can't keep track of the number of times I've been proud -- really proud -- of my country since I was born and privileged to live in it.

At a speech in Milwaukee this week on behalf of her husband's Democratic presidential campaign, Mrs. Obama remarked, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change."

Mrs. Obama's statement was met with warm applause from other Barack supporters who have apparently also been devoid of pride in their country for their adult lifetimes. Or maybe it was just a Pavlovian response to the word "change." What a sad, empty, narcissistic, ungrateful, unthinking lot.

I'm just seven years younger than Mrs. Obama. We've grown up and lived in the same era. And yet, her self-absorbed attitude is completely foreign to me. What planet is she living on? Since when was now the only time the American people have ever been "hungry for change"? Michelle, ma belle, Barack is not the center of the universe. Newsflash: The Obamas did not invent "change" any more than Hillary invented "leadership" or John McCain invented "straight talk."

We were both adults when the Berlin Wall fell, Michelle. That was earth-shattering change.

We've lived through two decades' worth of peaceful, if contentious election cycles under the rule of law, which have brought about "change" and upheaval, both good and bad.

We were adults through several launches of the space shuttle, in case you were snoozing. And as adults, we've witnessed and benefited from dizzyingly rapid advances in technology, communications, science and medicine pioneered by American entrepreneurs who yearned to change the world and succeeded. You want "change"? Go ask the patients whose lives have been improved and extended by American pharmaceutical companies that have flourished under the best economic system in the world.

If American ingenuity, a robust constitutional republic and the fall of communism don't do it for you, hon, then how about American heroism and sacrifice?

How about every Memorial Day? Every Veterans Day? Every Independence Day? Every Medal of Honor ceremony? Has she never attended a welcome home ceremony for the troops?

For me, there's the thrill of the Blue Angels roaring over cloudless skies. And the somber awe felt amid the hallowed waters that surround the sunken U.S.S. Arizona at the Pearl Harbor memorial.

Every naturalization ceremony I've attended, where hundreds of new Americans raised their hands to swear an oath of allegiance to this land of liberty, has been a moment of pride for me. So have the awesome displays of American compassion at home and around the world. When millions of Americans rallied to help victims of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia -- including members of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group that sped from Hong Kong to assist survivors -- my heart filled with pride. It did again when the citizens of Houston opened their arms to Hurricane Katrina victims and folks across the country rushed to their churches, and Salvation Army and Red Cross offices to volunteer.

How about American resilience? Does that not make you proud? Only a heart of stone could be unmoved by the strength, valor and determination displayed in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., on September 11, 2001.

I believe it was Michael Kinsley who quipped that a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth. In this case, it's what happens when an elite Democratic politician's wife says what a significant portion of the party's base really believes to be the truth: America is more a source of shame than pride.

Michelle Obama has achieved enormous professional success, political influence and personal acclaim in America. Ivy League-educated, she's been lauded by Essence magazine as one of the 25 World's Most Inspiring Women; by Vanity Fair as one of the 10 World's Best-Dressed Women; and named one of "The Harvard 100" most influential alumni. She has had an amazingly blessed life. But you wouldn't know it from her campaign rhetoric and her griping about her and her husband's student loans.

For years, we've heard liberals get offended at any challenge to their patriotism. And so they are again aggrieved and rising to explain away Mrs. Obama's remarks.

Lady Michelle and her defenders protest too much.

Copyright 2008, Creators Syndicate Inc.

Today's Tune: Drive-By Truckers- Decoration Day (Live 2003)

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Today's Tune: Dave Alvin- Blackjack David

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Today's Tune: Kevin Welch & Kieran Kane- Anna Lise Please


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Today's Tune: Fleetwood Mac- Rhiannon (Live 1975)

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Today's Tune: The Beatles- Let It Be

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Georgetown U's Wahhabi Front

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

John Esposito

In December 2005, Georgetown University announced receipt of a $20 million gift to endow the school’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, after whom the Center was renamed. The Center’s director, John Esposito, has been known for his vigorous apologetics for Islamic extremism, authoring several books prior to the endowment’s announcement dismissing the global influence of extremist Islamic ideology. Under Esposito’s oversight, the Center has also developed questionable ties to individuals and organizations directly involved in Islamic terrorism. One example of these ties is the joint conference held by the Center with the United Association for Studies and Research (UASR) in July 2000. By that time, UASR had long been identified as the political command for HAMAS in the United States, and Esposito’s co-chair for the conference was then-UASR executive director Ahmed Yousef, who fled the country in 2005 to avoid prosecution and currently serves as the spokesman for the HAMAS terrorist organization in Gaza.

As a result of the Saudi funding and terror ties, Rep. Frank Wolf last week directed a letter to Georgetown president John DeGioia expressing his concerns as an alumnus of the university over the activities of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and the seeming absence of criticism or discussion by the Center of human rights abuses and denial of religious freedom by the Saudi regime. An article by Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project reporting the contents of Rep. Wolf’s letter also noted Esposito’s long history of defending radical Islam and his vocal support and praise of his self-described “good friend”, convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Sami Al-Arian.

In fact, there is much more for Rep. Wolf and other Georgetown alumni to be concerned about. Since Prince Alwaleed’s gift, the Center at Georgetown under Esposito’s direction has since become a haven for Muslim Brotherhood-connected scholars and longtime paid representatives of the Saudi Wahhabi regime. Two individuals that have recently been appointed to top positions within the Center, Susan Douglass and Hadia Mubarak, have been active in leadership positions with known front organizations for the international Muslim Brotherhood – identified as such in court documents by the Department of Justice. Douglas, who has additionally been a longtime paid employee of the Saudi regime (discussed below) is listed as the Center’s educational consultant and Mubarak is identified as the senior researcher for the Center. A third staff member is Abdullah Al-Arian, the oldest son and family spokesman for Sami Al-Arian, who is listed as a researcher for the organization.

The appearance of Susan Douglass on the staff of the Center should be of particular concern. As investigative reporter Paul Sperry observed in a 2004 article, Douglass was a longtime instructor at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, VA – a Saudi government-funded institution that has been described by some media outlets as “Terror High”. One recent class valedictorian, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was convicted in 2005 of joining Al-Qaeda and plotting to kill President Bush. Two other former students have also been convicted of plotting terrorist attacks. As Senator Chuck Schumer observed in a 2005 letter to then-Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar concerning the school’s troubling record, the school’s former comptroller, Ismail Elbarasse, is a known HAMAS operative and former assistant to designated HAMAS terrorist leader Mousa Abu Marzook. And just a few months ago, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom asked the US Department of State to close the school down as a danger to the country for its open promotion of hatred and religious bigotry in its Saudi curriculum, as reported by the Washington Post. One Post front page article in 2004 describes how children at the school “file into their Islamic studies class, where the textbooks tell them the Day of Judgment can't come until Jesus Christ returns to Earth, breaks the cross and converts everyone to Islam, and until Muslims start attacking Jews.”

During her tenure at the Islamic Saudi Academy, Douglass had a series of textbooks published by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), an organization raided by federal law enforcement authorities investigating terror financing as part of Operation Greenquest. The Washington Post reported in 2004 how IIIT was founded with money from Muslim Brotherhood operatives and the Saudi terror funding network. Perhaps coincidentally, Esposito’s “good friend” Sami Al-Arian has been charged with contempt of court for refusing to testify about his terror funding operation’s ties to IIIT. Al-Arian initially claimed there was nothing to testify about, but later changed his story that testifying would put his life in grave danger (his attorneys have yet to explain how testifying about nothing would put him in danger).

But perhaps the most important point concerning Susan Douglass’ past work is her role as the principal researcher and textbook review for the Council on Islamic Education (CIE), which has been pressuring American textbook publishers to revise their respective curricula to promote an extremist and revisionist view of Islam. One CIE campaign was directed at Houghton Mifflin Publishers, which resulted in a number of changes to their public school curriculum, including open promotion of Islam and requiring students to participate in Islamic worship activities. Gilbert Sewall of the American Textbook Council has documented the changes to textbooks resulting from CIE’s efforts, and the changes made to textbooks under CIE’s direction has been criticized by former Secretary of Education William Bennett. One published estimate states that Douglass and CIE have also trained more than 8,000 public school teachers.

It is precisely her role as “educational consultant” at the Georgetown Center that should cause concern. As noted by Stanley Kurtz last July, Georgetown is one of a few universities that receive money from the federal government under Title VI of the Higher Education Act for Middle East Studies centers to develop approved K-12 Middle East curriculum. This program has been used by the Saudis to circumvent educational oversight. Kurtz describes how this end-run works:

The United States government gives money — and a federal seal of approval — to a university Middle East Studies center. That center offers a government-approved K-12 Middle East studies curriculum to America’s teachers. But in fact, that curriculum has been bought and paid for by the Saudis, who may even have trained the personnel who operate the university’s outreach program. Meanwhile, the American government is asleep at the wheel — paying scant attention to how its federally mandated public outreach programs actually work. So without ever realizing it, America’s taxpayers end up subsidizing — and providing official federal approval for — K-12 educational materials on the Middle East that have been created under Saudi auspices. Game, set, match: Saudis.

With a directed effort by the Saudis to influence American attitudes by exercising its influence of educational curriculum under this program, it is hardly surprising that Esposito’s Saudi-funded Center would suddenly create an “educational consultant” position to be directly involved in this effort. Nor is it any surprise that the Saudis would turn to one of their own – Susan Douglass – who is a former longtime educational employee of the Saudi regime to oversee their educational efforts at Georgetown.

Then there is Hadia Mubarak, the Center’s “senior researcher”. Not only is Mubarak the former president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), but she is also a former national board member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Both organizations were identified last year by the Department of Justice as unindicted co-conspirators and as front organizations for the international Muslim Brotherhood in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism finance trial.

Ms. Mubarak’s extremist views can be seen in her attacks on Stephen Schwartz, a moderate Muslim leader and director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, for his criticism of Saudi Wahhabism and the Muslim Brotherhood. She was quoted in an article in Church Executive magazine as saying regarding Mr. Schwartz that he maintained a “deep hatred of Islam”, notwithstanding his own Islamic beliefs and leadership in the American Muslim community. Schwartz responded in an article noting Mubarak’s multiple ties and involvement with MSA and CAIR, part of what his organization identifies as key components of the “Wahhabi Lobby” operating in the US. He concludes:

The real message of Ms. Mubarak is the classic Wahhabi spin on Islam. That is, only one interpretation of the religion is acceptable, that propagated by the Saudis, and anybody who disagrees with the Wahhabi doctrine is an enemy to be attacked. With dreadful results, this view of Islam, denying its vital internal diversity, has come to dominate Muslims as well as non-Muslim so-called experts on Islam in the U.S.

Last, but certainly not least, of notable characters on the Georgetown’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding employee directory is Abdullah Al-Arian, oldest son of convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader and fundraiser, Sami Al-Arian. Abdullah’s uncle, Mazen Al-Najjar, was also detained for three years during the Clinton Administration and later deported from the US for his alleged terrorist ties.

In recent years, Al-Arian has championed his father’s innocence as the family’s chief spokesman, undeterred by his father’s guilty plea to conspiracy to materially support a terrorist organization. During his father’s trial, Abdullah appeared as a character witness along with his sister, claiming that they never heard their father speak of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Apparently, they had never seen the videos of their father fundraising for Islamic Jihad, cursing the United States for its support of Israel, or being introduced by others as the head of Islamic Jihad at terror fundraising events. During his court testimony, the prosecutor questioned Abdullah about his own sympathies for Hezbollah and the Iranian regime, which is the primary financial backer of Islamic Jihad.

Abdullah made national news of his own in July 2001, when he was removed from a meeting at the Old Executive Office Building by the Secret Service, as reported by the New York Times. But more recently he has been semi-famous for his international promotion of the recent Norwegian directed and produced “documentary”, USA vs. Al-Arian, in which he and his family figure prominently. The documentary declares Sami Al-Arian’s innocence and casts Al-Arian and his family as martyrs of freedom and victims of an unjust American terror prosecution (despite Al-Arian’s voluntary guilty plea), a narrative with Abdullah himself has openly promoted. One recent article covering a special premier of the film sponsored by CAIR quotes the younger Al-Arian reflecting on his father’s upcoming deportation and the difficulties of locating a country that will take him. “It's a sad day when you have to leave the U.S. to be free,” Abdullah said.

Confirming the business maxim that “personnel is policy”, we can readily see the extremist and narrow interpretation of Islam promoted by John Esposito and the Georgetown Center as seen by these three staff members. Under Esposito’s direction and since Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s capital endowment, the Center at Georgetown has become an active front for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudi Wahhabi regime, which has repeatedly shown its international commitment to using its significant financial resources to gain access and control of respectable private institutions for its own questionable purposes. (As an aside, I have not taken up the issue here of other scholars at Georgetown funded by terror-connected groups, such as IIIT.)

If Rep. Wolf or Georgetown President DiGioia want to know what’s going on at Georgetown Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and the version of Islam they’re promoting, they don’t have to look far if they have the will to look.

Fidel Castro: The Teflon Tyrant Resigns

By Humberto Fontova

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Last September, Fidel Castro vowed to stay in power until President George W. Bush leaves the White House. Even with his failing health, one would have been hard-pressed to bet against the dictator who outlasted nine U.S. presidents and his great sponsor in the Soviet Union. Castro’s retirement yesterday, in favor of his brother Raul, confirms that he will not be able to keep his word. But to understand his legacy, and its implications for Cuba’s future, one must go back to a promise that Castro made at the dawn of his one-man rule nearly half a century ago.
Upon entering Havana on January 7, 1959, Cuba's new leader Fidel Castro broadcast that promise into a phalanx of microphones. "Cuban mothers let me assure you that I will solve all Cuba's problems without spilling a drop of blood." As the jubilant crowd erupted with joy, Castro continued. "Cuban mothers let me assure you that because of me you will never have to cry."
The following day, just below San Juan Hill in eastern Cuba, a bulldozer rumbled to a start, clanked into position, and started pushing dirt into a huge pit with blood pooling at the bottom from the still -twitching bodies of more than a hundred men and boys who'd been machine-gunned without trial on the Castro brothers' orders. Their wives and mothers wept hysterically from a nearby road.
On that very day, the U.K. Observer ran the following headline: "Mr Castro's bearded, youthful figure has become a symbol of Latin America's rejection of brutality and lying. Every sign is that he will reject personal rule and violence."
These two events perfectly symbolize the Fidel Castro phenomenon, even half a century later: Fidel Castro oppresses and kills while issuing a smokescreen of lies not merely devious but downright psycopathic. The worldwide media abandons all pretense as "investigators" or "watchdogs" and adopts a role, not merely as sycophants, but as advertising agency.
By the time of his delirious, deafening, foot-stomping receptions at Harvard Law School and the National Press Club (most of whose members oppose capital punishment) three months later in April 1959, "Mr. Castro's" firing squads had slaughtered 1,168 men - and boys, some as young as 15.
By the time Norman Mailer (another opponent of capital punishment) was hailing Fidel Castro as "the greatest hero to appear in the Americas!" his hero's firing squads had piled up 4,000 corpses and one of 18 Cubans was a political prisoner, an incarceration rate that surpassed Stalin's.
By 1975, when George McGovern (another opponent of capital punishment) was calling him a "very shy and sensitive, a man I regard as a friend," the bullet-riddled bodies of over 10,000 Cubans lay in unmarked graves, and Cuba still held the most political prisoner as a percentage of population on earth, surpassing Nazi Germany's prewar rate by several multiples.
He brought the world closest of anyone to nuclear Armageddon by pleading, begging, and finally trying to trick Nikita Khrushchev into launching a surprise nuclear strike on the U.S. Yet he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Price by Norwegian parliamentarians.
He jailed and tortured at a rate higher than Stalin. Yet Cuba sits on the UN's Human Rights Committee.
His legal code mandates 18 months in prison for anyone overheard cracking a joke about him. Yet Jack Nicholson and Chevy Chase sing his praises.
He abolished habeas corpus while his chief hangman, Che Guevara, declared that “judicial evidence is an archaic bourgeois detail. We execute from Revolutionary Conviction.” A month later Harvard Law School invited him to address them and erupted in cheers and tumultuous ovations after his every third sentence.
He drove out a higher percentage of Jews from Cuba than Czar Nicholas drove from Russia and Hafez Assad drove from Syria. Yet Shoah Foundation founder Stephen Spielberg considered his dinner with Fidel Castro "the eight most important hours of my life."
He overthrew a black Cuban head of state and replaced his government with one where only nine percent of the ruling Stalinist party is black and where the prison population is 80- 90 percent black. He jailed the longest suffering black political prisoner of modern history. (Eusebio Penalver who suffered longer in Castro's dungeon's than Nelson Mandela suffered in South Africa's.) He sentenced other blacks (Dr Elias Biscet, Jorge Antunez) to 20 year sentences essentially for quoting Martin Luther King Jr. in a public square. Yet he's a hero to the Congressional Black Caucus and receives passionate bear hugs from Charlie Rangel.
He twice tried to destroy New York, once with nuclear missiles, the following month by planning to set off 500 kilos of TNT in Macy's, Gimbel's, Bloomingdale's, and Grand Central Terminal on the year's busiest shopping day. Yet Newsweek magazine hailed him as "The Hottest Ticket in Manhattan!" and Time as "The Toast of Manhattan!" referring to the social swirl that engulfed him on a visit to New York in 1995 from the city's best and brightest, including David Rockefeller, Robert McNamara, Dwayne Andreas, Mort Zuckerman, Mike Wallace, Peter Jennings, Tina Brown, Bernard Shaw, and Barbara Walters. According to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, on that visit, Castro received 250 dinner invitations from Manhattan celebrities and power-brokers.
His firing squads murdered pregnant women, his coast guard machine-gunned mothers with their children for trying to escape on rafts, and his regime made Cuban women into the most suicidal in the world, tripling their pre-Revolution suicide rate. Yet Barbara Walters hails "the great health he has brought to Cuba," Andrea Mitchell, referred to him as "an absolutely fascinating figure!" and Diane Sawyer was so overcome in his presence that she rushed up, broke into that toothy smile of hers, wrapped her arms around Castro and smooched him warmly on the cheek.
Over the years a varied assortment of foreign fans and well wishers have showered Castro with accolades.

* "Cuba's Elvis!" -Dan Rather.
* "Castro is the most honest and courageous politician I've ever met! Viva Fidel!" - Jesse Jackson.
* "If you believe in freedom, justice and equality you have no choice but to support Fidel Castro!" - Harry Belafonte.
* "Castro is a genius and Cuba is a Paradise!" - Jack Nicholson.
* "One helluva guy!" - Ted Turner.
Sadly, lunacy on the subject of Fidel Castro is hardly confined to the lunatic fringe.

* "Castro has done good things for Cuba." - Colin Powell.
* "Castro threw out an SOB and liberated Cuba's poor." - The late Stephen Ambrose, America's best selling historian.
* The conservative and respected London Times, owned by Rupert Murdoch even editorialized about Castro's "achievements."
Among historical figures Fidel Castro was, hands down, the most effective liar of modern times. His effectiveness was greatly aided by a fawning worldwide media dazzled by his status as the world's pre-eminent symbol of anti-Americanism. With such cachet much could be forgiven, overlooked, ignored or simply falsified. If what we constantly heard and read about Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution in the mainstream media and college textbooks was merely in error it might be less obnoxious. Instead the media/academia clichés usually upend the truth. We get the precise opposite of the truth. Ignorance (usually willful) of conditions in pre-Castro Cuba, of Fidel Castro's background, of U.S.-Cuba relations pre-1960 all contribute to the cliché-ridden Castro legend. With Fidel Castro's burial as a backdrop and the media wallowing in a Castro-cliché orgy let's examine them one at a time, in no particular order of importance.
Cliché no. 1: A plucky Castro succeeded in defying a relentlessly hostile U.S. that worked ceaselessly to topple him.
The Facts: “We ended up getting exactly what we'd wanted all along," wrote Nikita Khrushchev about the Missile Crisis Resolution.
"Security for Fidel Castro's regime and American missiles removed from Turkey. Until today the U.S. has complied with her promise not to interfere with Castro and not to allow anyone else to interfere with Castro [italics mine]. After Kennedy's death, his successor Lyndon Johnson assured us that he would keep the promise not to invade Cuba."
Henry Kissinger, as Gerald Ford's secretary of state, renewed the pledge.After the Missile Crisis "resolution," Castro's "defiance" of the U.S. took the form of the U.S. Coast Guard and even the British navy (when some intrepid exile freedom fighters moved their operation to the Bahamas) shielding him from exile attacks. Far from "defying" a superpower, Castro hid behind the skirts of two superpowers, plus the British Empire.
Cliché no. 2 : Pre-Castro Cuba was a veritable U.S. colony, greedily exploited by U.S. corporations and by her most notorious gangsters who maintained the hapless island as a sordid casino and bordello. Castro rectified this shameful condition.
The Facts: In 1958, only 7 percent of invested capital in Cuba was American, and less than one-third of Cuba’s sugar output (its main crop) was by U.S. companies. Cuba had a grand total of three gambling Casino's at the time. (Gulfport Mississippi has triple that number today.) Exactly one Havana hotel was mob-owned (compare this to Las Vegas and ask yourselves who demands that Nevada suffer Stalinism to rectify its shameful condition.)
In 1958, Cuba had approximately 10,000 prostitutes. Today an estimated 150,000 ply their trade on the desperate island, many as young as 14.
And to cap it all off: in 1950 more Cubans (out of a population of six million) vacationed in the U.S., than Americans (out of 200 million) vacationed in Cuba. At that time, Cubans didn't come to the U.S. in any great numbers to settle. In fact as a percentage of population, Cuba took in more immigrants (primarily from Europe) in the early 20th century than did the U.S. In the 1950's, when Cubans were perfectly free to emigrate with all their property and U.S. visas were issued for the asking, fewer Cubans lived in the U.S. than Americans lived in Cuba.
Cliché no 3: Fidel Castro overthrew the "U.S. backed" Batista whose patrons and puppeteers went instantly ballistic at his ousting. No sooner had Castro entered Havana than the U.S. started pounding its big stick while waving nary a carrot. This pushed an affronted and innocent Fidel Castro into the arms of mother Russia. The poor man had no choice against such relentless bellicosity and bullying, characterized by the vindictive and ineffective embargo.
The Facts: Former U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, Earl T. Smith, during Congressional testimony in 1960, declared flatly: "We put Castro in power." He referred to the U.S. State Department and CIA's role in aiding, both morally and materially, the Castro rebels, to their pulling the rug out from under Batista with an arms embargo, and finally to the U.S. order that Batista vacate Cuba. Ambassador Smith knew something about these events because he personally delivered the messages to Batista, who was then denied exile in the U.S.
"Me and my staff were all Fidelistas," boasted Robert Reynolds, the CIA's "Caribbean Desk's specialist on the Cuban Revolution" from 1957-1960. The U.S. gave Castro's regime its official benediction more rapidly than it had recognized Batista's in 1952, and lavished it with $200 million in subsidies.
In August 1959, the liberal U.S. ambassador to Cuba, Philip Bonsal, alerted Castro to a conspiracy against his regime by Cubans. Thanks in part to Ambassador Bonsal's solicitude for a regime then insulting his nation as "a vulture preying on humanity" and poised to steal $2 billion from U.S. stockholders, the anti-Castro plot was foiled, hundreds of the plotters imprisoned or executed, and the regime that three years later came closest to vaporizing many of America's biggest cities (including Bonsal's home) with nuclear missiles, survived.
In 1958, at the very time the U.S. State Dept. and CIA were helping his movement, Castro had written in confidence to a colleague, "War with the U.S. is my true destiny." Castro had sent armed guerrillas to attempt the violent overthrow of four sovereign Latin American countries, confiscated $2 billion in U.S. property, invited in thousands of Soviet military and police agents, kidnapped 50 U.S. citizens from Guantanamo Bay, and jailed and executed several Americans before we lifted a finger against him.
Cliché no. 4. "The Cuban embargo doesn't work. It never succeeded in toppling Castro or even in moderating Castro's policies. It allows the regime to blame "the bully to the north" for its economic failures and thus rally the Cuban people to its side. It's long past time to do away with it."
The Facts: Spanish pollsters conducted a clandestine poll in Cuba last year and found that less than a third of Cubans blame the U.S. "blockade" for their economic plight. The U.S. embargo was reactive not pro-active and came only after Castro stole 5,911 businesses worth $2 billion from U.S. stockholders. This was (and remains) the biggest such heist in history Castro boasted that he'd never repay a penny of what he stole ( the only promise he's ever kept.)
If the embargo "failed" it is simply, because for over 30 years no "embargo" has been in place.
In 1974, Henry Kissinger allowed all foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to trade with Cuba. Since most U.S. brand products are available (cheaper) from Mexico, Cuba's tourist and "dollar stores" have long been well-stocked with U.S. products.
But even that avenue is now moot. In the last three years, U.S. companies have done more than $1 billion dollars worth of direct business with Cuba. Currently, the U.S is Cuba's biggest food supplier and fourth biggest import partner. Since 2000, Cuba has been able to buy practically anything it wants from the U.S. -- but only for cash.
What the Castro regime craves (along with the U.S. agricultural lobby and Cuba’s long queue of stiffed creditors) is U.S. sales to Cuba on credit and guaranteed by the U.S. Export-Import Bank (i.e., U.S. taxpayers.) Cuba has defaulted on such credits whenever offered, most recently from France’s own Ex-Im bank, COFACE. Cuba’s external debt, primarily to Russia, Venezuela and Europe, approaches $40 billion and her credit rating according to Dun & Bradstreet is below Somalia's. Via Congressional lobbying, stilted mainstream media stories and UN votes, all of the above parties ( for obvious reasons) urge the U.S. taxpayer to come to their rescue. They refer to this as “lifting the Cuban embargo.”
The U.S. taxpayer is among the few in the world not screwed and tattooed by Castro. As such the so-called embargo has been a resounding success.
Cliché no. 5. Cuba was a wretched place before Castro. The Castro regime's minuses in political liberties are more than offset by its plusses in heath care, literacy, nourishment, etc. The London Times described pre-Castro Cuba as "an impoverished Caribbean island." The New York Times termed Cuba's economy in 1958 as "Near-Feudal."
The Facts: A UNESCO report on Cuba circa 1957 stated: "One feature of the Cuban social structure is a large middle class.The U.S. Department of Commerce Guide for Businesses from 1956 stated: “Cuba is not an underdeveloped country." In 1958, that "impoverished Caribbean island" had a higher per capita income than Austria and Japan and Cuban industrial workers had the 8th highest wages in the world. Cuba also had the hemisphere’s lowest inflation rate and her peso was always equal in value with the U.S. dollar.
Cuba also had more doctors and dentists per capita than Britain and lower infant mortality than France and Germany the 13th lowest in the world, in fact. Today, Cuba's infant mortality rate despite the hemisphere's highest abortion rate which skews this figure downward is 34th from the top. So, relative to the rest of the world, Cuba's health care has worsened under Castro and a nation with a formerly massive influx of European immigrants needs machine guns, water cannons and Tiger sharks to keep it's people from fleeing. In 1958, 80 percent of Cubans were literate and Cuba spent the most per capita on public education of any nation in Latin America. In 1958, Cubans had the third highest protein consumption in Latin America, more Televisions per capita than any European nation and more autos per capita than Japan and half of Europe.
Since 1962, a Cuban's government-mandated food rations are lower than those mandated for Cuban slaves by the Spanish King in 1842. The average salary is $10 a month and oxcarts are envied as a mode of transportation in Cuba's countryside. The only people on earth with fewer cell phones per capita than Cubans live in Papua, New Guinea.
All of this after the Soviets lavished Castro with the equivalent of six Marshall Plans, and pumped not into a war-ravaged continent of 300 million but into an island of 6.5 million who formerly enjoyed everything mentioned above.
Regarding Cuba's “near-feudal countryside" as The New York Times described it: According to the Geneva-based International Labor Organization, the average daily wage for an agricultural worker in Cuba in the 1950's was higher than in France, Belgium, Denmark, or West Germany. Also, far from huge latifundia dominating the agricultural landscape, the average Cuban farm in 1958 was actually smaller than the average farm in the U.S .
Cliché no. 6. The Bay of Pigs was a “fiasco” because Cubans in Cuba overwhelmingly supported the Castro regime and were not motivated to fight it as they had the Batista regime.
The Facts: Initially, thinking the moment of liberation had arrived, entire battalions of Castro’s militia surrendered en masse to the invaders. Only when it became obvious that the invaders had been abandoned and no U.S. military support would be forthcoming did the ring close. Even then, one U.S. jet flying over the beachhead on a reconnaissance mission briefly halted most of the firing from Castro’s forces. After the battle, Fidel Castro himself fumed at the poor fighting spirit of his troops.
More facts: A ferocious anti-communist guerrilla war raged in the Cuban countryside from 1960 to 1966 that involved t10 times the number of rebels who ever fought against Batista. Raul Castro himself admitted that his troops, militia, and Soviet advisers were up against 179 different "bands of bandits" as he labeled the freedom-fighters. Tens of thousands of troops, scores of Soviet advisors, and squadrons of Soviet tanks, helicopters, and flame-throwers finally extinguished the lonely Cuban freedom-fight Everyplace else on earth the liberal media/academia axis refers to such a thing as "an insurgency," and is proof that “the people” oppose their rulers.
"Fool me once," they say. "Shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you." Once in exile, the Cuban refugees pouring out of Cuba adopted the desperate role of Dorothy's dog Toto, tugging the curtain open and urging the world to avert their gaze from the smoke and mirrors and please, please! pay attention to that man behind it.
Results have been -- to put it delicately -- "mixed." Even in death the mainstream media remains in awe of The Great and Powerful Fidel. Castro's primary detractors lacked the proper cachet. Few ethnic groups have ever hit these shores carrying more unfashionable baggage. Not that they carried much. Most landed with the clothes on their backs, their every possession stolen by Castro. Then these people compounded the curse tenfold by bounding into the middle class in one generation and by becoming the most solidly Republican ethnic bloc in U.S. history. From 71 to 82 percent of Cuban-Americans vote Republican. So the usual taboos regarding the discussion of ethnic groups vanish when discussing Americans of Cuban heritage. Georgetown professor and Democratic presidential adviser, Norman Birnbaum referred to them as "Those truly reprehensible Miami Cubans." During the Elian Gonzalez circus Bryant Gumbel referred to Cuban demonstrators as "disgusting" and The New Republic and Nation writer Alexander Cockburn recommended "nuking" Miami's Little Havana.
Yet, no hysterics erupted from the usual quarters. None of the brouhaha that hounded John Rocker, Jimmy the Greek, and Mel Gibson ensued. All Professional sniffers and snouters in matters regarding "ethnic sensitivity" remained deafeningly mum.
So, what now for Cuba? Fidel's successor, Raul, was the one who gave the "FUEGO!" order for the massacre mentioned at the beginning of this article. "Meet the new boss," wrote Pete Townsend, "same as the old boss."
You get the picture. Given the temper of the times, and given his lackluster personality, Raul is unlikely to gather the same media plaudits as his brother. But he's already being described as "pragmatic," "efficient," "a skillful manager," "more open," etc. by the mainstream media.
And, based on their track record, why wouldn't you believe them?

Humberto Fontova is the author of Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him. Visit