Saturday, April 05, 2008

Mark Steyn: Looks like last call for Hillary

Saturday, April 5, 2008
Orange County Register

"Three o'clock in the morning

And it looks like it's gonna be another sleepless night … "

That's Crystal Gayle from the opening of her hit song, "Talking In Your Sleep," No. 1 on the Billboard Country charts in 1978. No, hang on a minute, it's Hillary Rodham Clinton's new campaign theme.

In Crystal's case, her sleepless night was caused by her husband lying next to her, talking in his sleep, moaning in ecstasy and whispering sweet nothings to some other gal. But Hillary learned to snore through that a long time ago. In the Clinton scenario, the 3 a.m. sleeplessness is caused by the presidential hot line on the nightstand, alerting her to some sudden global crisis.

In her first three-o'clock-in-the-morning ad, the phone was ringing because of a national security emergency: al-Qaida had hijacked nuclearized passenger jets or some such heading our way. Who do you want answering the 3 a.m. call? A tough experienced battle-hardened president like President Rodham Clinton, who landed by plane during a nuclear strike on the Balkans in the mid-1990s yet still managed to have a smile and personalized greeting for each of the fourth-graders there to greet her with radioactive floral bouquets? Or some callow untested youth like Barack Obama, whose experience of taking international phone calls is very limited due to the fact that in his Jakarta boyhood President Sukarno was the only guy in Indonesia with an outside line?

Well, the answer turned out to be: Neither of the above. The McCain campaign gleefully told reporters they'd be happy for Hillary to carry on running the ad for another six months: If incoming-at-three-in-the-morning is the issue, Sen. McCain's your man, and he was very grateful to the Clinton campaign for funding his most effective TV ad to date.

So Sen. Clinton has now released another electrifyingly vivid three-in-the-morning scenario:

"It's 3 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone ringing in the White House and this time the crisis is economic. Home foreclosures mounting, markets teetering.

"John McCain just said the government shouldn't take any real action on the housing crisis; he'd let the phone keep ringing. Hillary Rodham Clinton has a plan to protect our homes, create jobs.

"It's 3 a.m., time for a president who's ready."

Jeepers, will all business during this Clinton administration be transacted at 3 a.m.? Is it some union-negotiated flex-time deal? "Home foreclosures mounting"? We'd better wake the president. There are now so many foreclosures the banks can no longer foreclose on everyone they need to foreclose on during normal banking hours. "The First National Bank of Dead Skunk, Maine, has begun issuing midnight foreclosure notices, Madam President."

"OK, nuke 'em."

"Er, well, maybe this can wait till the regular afternoon meeting."

It's 3 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone ringing in the White House. And ringing and ringing and ringing. Kim Jong-il No Dong missiles are heading for every major West Coast city, but the president's not picking up because at 2:57 a.m. the Secretary for Soccer Moms called to alert her to the growing crisis caused by the lack of federally mandated children's bicycling helmets. When the powder keg goes up, who do you want in the White House? Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose customized MCI Friends & Family & European Foreign Ministers & Overseas Dictators plan allows her to receive unlimited incoming calls between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.? Or John McCain, who'd bawl out the White House operator for waking him up to take a call from the Director of the Federal Bike Path Agency?

As F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, in the real dark night of the soul, it's always three o'clock in the morning, day after day. And so it goes in the real dark night of the Clinton campaign, day after day. When Hillary got into her wee spot of bother over her concoction of the corkscrew landing under enemy fire in Tuzla, she wiggled out of it by putting it down to sleep deprivation. Is she spending too many nights up at three in the morning? In the latest ad, when she picks up the phone at 3 a.m. to take the emergency foreclosure breaking-news update, she's got perfect hair and makeup, and she's immaculately dressed. Is having to get up at 2 a.m. to put her face on for the 3 a.m. campaign ad causing her to retreat into Bosnian war fantasies?

My radio pal Hugh Hewitt drew my attention the other day to a BBC report on Hillary. Asked about the candidates' experience, Sen. Clinton replied: "I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. I know Sen. McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House. And Sen. Obama has a speech he gave in 2002."

Whoa! That's quite a line. But it's a measure of Hillary Rodham Clinton's increasing isolation that she has to use it herself. If she were running against Bush in 2000, the media would have used it for her. If she were in better shape for '08, aides and supporters would be deploying the line against Obama. Geraldine Ferraro acknowledged a simple truth about Barack – that a white guy with this thin a resume would be hooted off the stage – and instead she's the one who got hooted off the stage. Last week, Randi Rhodes, the excitable anchorette of the flailing liberal radio network Air America, dismissed Mrs. Ferraro as "David Duke in drag," and for good measure called Hillary "a big f---ing whore."

Sen. Clinton was the establishment candidate running in a party addicted to novelty (in candidates, that is; its policies remain mired in the 1960s). Hill calculated that, given the Dems' deference to identity politics, her gender would give her enough novelty to sail through. But Obama trumped that, and now it's eternally three in the morning, and the phone doesn't stop not ringing. She's like Frank Sinatra in Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's all-time great saloon song:

"It's quarter to three

There's no one in the place except you and me … "

Superdelegate Jon Corzine, governor of New Jersey and an early supporter of Hillary, now says that if she doesn't win the overall primary popular vote he'll switch to Obama. Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont says she needs to throw in the towel for the good of the party.

"Well, that's how it goes

And Joe, I know you're getting anxious to close … "

They're locking up the joint, and no matter how many nickels she drops in the jukebox it won't play "Hail to the Chief." Any minute now she'll be caught off-mike, reprising the "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy" line. But this is the way the Clinton era ends, not with a bang but a self-pitying whimper:

"We're drinking, my friend

To the end of a long episode

Make it One For My Baby

And one more for the road."

It's 3 a.m. Do you know where your campaign is?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Film Review: "Shine a Light"

Only Rock ’N’ Roll, but They’re Still at It

The New York Times
Published: April 4, 2008

As you scrutinize the aging bodies of the Rolling Stones in Martin Scorsese’s rip-roaring concert documentary “Shine a Light,” there is ample evidence that rock ’n’ roll may hold the secret of eternal vitality, if not eternal beauty.

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Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, the quartet’s three skinny members, certainly look their ages. But there is nothing stodgy about them. The strenuous rock ’n’ roll life has left them sinewy and lean, like longtime marathon runners. (The staid, above-it-all drummer, Charlie Watts, is the exception.)

Jacob Cohl/Paramount Classics

Keith Richards with Martin Scorsese in the concert documentary “Shine a Light.”

Mr. Jagger’s lined face, with its deflated balloon lips, suggests a double exposure of Dorian Gray and his infamous portrait, at once defiantly youthful and creepily gaunt. The simian Mr. Richards, whose upper arm flesh has shriveled, resembles an old madam chewing over her secrets. As he plays, his lips dangling a cigarette, he leans back into his snarling guitar and a joyful grin spreads across his face. He could be the world’s happiest young older man: Peter Pan as a wizened Gypsy fortuneteller.

For the Rolling Stones appear supremely alive inside their giant, self-created rock ’n’ roll machine. The sheer pleasure of making music that keens and growls like a pack of ravenous alley cats is obviously what keeps them going. Why should they ever stop? At the heart of the gizmo, Mr. Jagger whirls, leaps, struts, wiggles his tiny hips and sashays around like an androgynous tart prowling a street corner at 3 a.m.

Ultimately the movie is Mr. Jagger’s show. If his long-running circus act is ridiculous when you analyze it, conjoined to the Stones’ music, it becomes a phenomenal high-wire exhibition of agility, stamina and cheek. He was 63 when the concert was filmed over two nights at the Beacon Theater in New York in the fall of 2006. From certain angles, when the blazing lights hit his face, he suggests an agitated zombie with a full head of hair. But if you squint until your vision blurs, he is the same tireless, taunting cock of the walk that he has always been.

The film, which used 18 cameras, many operated by eminent cinematographers, is an unabashedly reverent tribute to the Stones made in the same spirit as “The Last Waltz,” Mr. Scorsese’s elegiac 1978 movie of the Band’s farewell concert, and his more recent Bob Dylan biography, “No Direction Home.” That said, it is far less ambitious, and less overtly romantic.

This is a concert film with frills that places you on the stage with the band and, with a finely trained eye, observes the musicians’ interactions with one another and with the audience. The visual rhythms and unobtrusive editing reflect the contradictory status of the Stones as a majestic rock institution and a gang of down-and-dirty bad boys thumbing their noses at propriety while scooping up all the girls.

Although there is no frantic cutting back and forth, the cameras are continually on the move. As the movie artfully shifts its gaze, it helps you see much more than you could if you actually attended the concert. The audience is largely ignored.

Mr. Scorsese is a besotted rock ’n’ roll fan who wholeheartedly embraces its mythology. Its scruffy guitar heroes and roustabout rebel-prophets are the musical equivalents of the hotheads and outlaws who populate so many of his films. Almost every shot of “Shine a Light” conveys his excitement.

Prefaced by preconcert footage and interwoven with excerpts from television interviews from the Stones’ younger days, going back to 1964, “Shine a Light” makes no attempt to explain the Stones or to tell their story. All it wants to do is to give you the best seat in the house and the best sound you could possibly hope for.

The program is a best-of selection that concentrates on Stones classics, including “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Shattered,” “Some Girls,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Start Me Up” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The only misfire is the quaint, quasi chamber-pop ballad “As Tears Go By,” a hit for Marianne Faithfull in 1964, which sounds incongruous in Mr. Jagger’s parched delivery. Otherwise, the full-tilt rock concert roars along like a steam engine. A horn section, a keyboardist (Chuck Leavell), a bass guitarist (Darryl Jones) and three backup singers augment the band.

There are three special guests: in ascending order of interest, Jack White, who trades vocals with Mr. Jagger on “Loving Cup”; Christina Aguilera, who shares the vocals on “Live With Me” and bestows demure pecks on the cheek to the musicians as she leaves the stage; and the great blues guitarist and singer Buddy Guy performing an old Muddy Waters song, “Champagne and Reefer.” (There is also the Clinton family in the audience, on hand to celebrate Bill Clinton’s 60th birthday.)

Like Muddy Waters, whom I saw in the Beacon Theater shortly before his death in 1983 at 70, Mr. Guy, 70 when “Shine a Light” was filmed, is a mighty blues presence, one who puts the Stones in historical perspective. Muddy Waters was an ominous force of raw blues aggression. Mr. Guy, though equally imposing, is a more benign, patriarchal figure.

Beside him, Mr. Jagger and company are mischievous bohemian whippersnappers churning up variations on their elders’ musical bedrock. It is obviously a thrilling game to play into your 60s and beyond, if you’ve still got the juice. And the Stones have the juice. But it is ultimately just a game.

“Shine a Light” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) for drug references in the songs, and smoking.


Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed by
Martin Scorsese; director of photography, Robert Richardson; edited by David Tedeschi; music by the Rolling Stones; produced by Victoria Pearman, Michael Cohl, Zane Weiner and Steve Bing; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 2 minutes.

Remembering and Misremembering Martin Luther King Jr.

April 4, 2008
Remembering, and Misremembering, Martin Luther King Jr.
By Richard John Neuhaus

From left to right: Andrew Young, Dr. King, Richard Fernandez, RJN. (The crease is a newspaper fold, as we were not able to obtain the original photograph.) This was a news conference on April 4, 1967, precisely one year before Dr. King’s death.

This is a week of remembering. Wednesday evening I celebrated and preached the Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral recalling the death of John Paul the Great three years ago April 2. This Friday, also at St. Patrick’s, I will concelebrate–Edward Cardinal Egan celebrating and Father George Rutler preaching–the memorial Mass for William F. Buckley Jr. In 2005, April 2 was the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, and John Paul’s last words were, “Let me go to the house of the Father.” In the issue of First Things that subscribers will be receiving this week, I have an extended reflection on my friendship with Bill Buckley. In our last conversations, it was evident that he heard the Master calling and readily went.

And then there was the killing of Dr. King on April 4 in that apocalyptic year of 1968. For all the horror and heartbreak of the time, there were sustained moments in which one thought with Wordsworth, “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive / But to be young was very heaven.” For those of us who were there, it not easy to recognize that, had he lived, Dr. King would now be seventy-nine years old. Not to mention that John F. Kennedy, killed in 1963, would be ninety-one, and Robert, also killed in 1968, eighty-three. But the memories still break out of amber and renew the luster of a liberalism that was.

I have in First Things several times offered reflections on the times with Dr. King. One has no choice but to risk the use of the much-abused term prophetic in describing his historic role in addressing what Barack Obama and many others have called, politically speaking, America’s “original sin” of slavery, along with its aftermath. I am in a distinct minority in believing that the best single book for getting an honest feel for Dr. King and the movement he led is Ralph Abernathy’s When the Walls Came Tumbling Down.

Nobody was closer to Dr. King than Ralph Abernathy, who had recruited the young preacher to lead the Montgomery bus boycott in 1956. His book, published in 1989, was much criticized at the time and has long been out of print. The ostensible reason for the criticism is that he gave a candid account of King’s inveterate womanizing. That was not news. J. Edgar Hoover’s use of tapes of King’s multiple trysts had been given prominent attention in the national media. In 1970, John Williams had published The King God Didn’t Save, with sordid depictions of King’s sexual indulgences. I wrote a sharply critical critique of Williams in the New York Review of Books. In retrospect, I am somewhat embarrassed by that review. It was an exercise in damage control. I didn’t want to believe this seamy side of Dr. King’s life, or at least I didn’t want to believe that it was quite so seamy. More important, I didn’t want it to besmirch the memory of a man whom I greatly admired and loved.

I believe that the real reason for the savaging of Ralph Abernathy’s book was that his account of King and the movement he led was an embarrassment to those who were using that legacy for their own ideological purposes. Numerous books have been written depicting King as an apostle of Gandhian nonviolence or, alternatively, as a quasi-Marxist revolutionary. In these versions, and especially in the latter, the soaring sentiments of the “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington are treated as the American soft soap that he employed to sell his cause to the general public, and to disguise his more radical purposes. That claim is voiced to this day also on the fringes of certain right-wing circles.

As Abernathy tells it–and I believe he is right–he and King were first of all Christians, then Southerners, and then blacks living under an oppressive segregationist regime. King of course came from the black bourgeoisie of Atlanta in which his father, “Daddy King,” had succeeded in establishing himself as a king. Abernathy came from much more modest circumstances, but he was proud of his heritage and, as he writes, wanted nothing more than that whites would address his father as Mr. Abernathy. He and Martin loved the South, and envisioned its coming into its own once the sin of segregation had been expunged.

“Years later,” Abernathy writes that, “after the civil rights movement had peaked and I had taken over [after Martin’s death] as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” he met with Governor George Wallace. “Governor Wallace, by then restricted to a wheel chair after having been paralyzed by a would-be assassin’s bullet, shook hands with me and welcomed me to the State of Alabama. I smiled, realizing that he had forgotten all about Montgomery and Birmingham, and particularly Selma. ‘This is not my first visit,’ I said. ‘I was born in Alabama–in Marengo County.’ ‘Good,’ said Governor Wallace, ‘then welcome back.’ I really believe he meant it. In his later years he had become one of the greatest friends the blacks had ever had in Montgomery. Where once he had stood in the doorway and barred federal marshals from entering, he now made certain that our people were first in line for jobs, new schools, and other benefits of state government.” Abernathy concludes, “It was a time for reconciliations.”

Others who claimed the mantle of Dr. King were in no mood for reconciliation, and are not to this day. When making his birthday a national holiday was being discussed, a black preacher friend remarked to me, “Well, if we can’t have Malcolm or Huey, we might as well settle for Martin.” The reference, of course, was to Malcolm X, originally of the Nation of Islam, and Huey Newton, the latter being the founder of the Black Panther Party in 1966 who was killed in a dispute over a cocaine deal in 1989. They were figures much more to the liking of those who construed the civil rights movement not as the rectification of a great injustice but as the precursor to a revolutionary new order.

Then, and still today, there are some for whom Dr. King was not “black enough.” That note was sounded already in the mid-1960s with the rise of the “black-power movement.” Now-forgotten figures such as Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) derided King as “d’Lord.” White radicals, and radicalized liberals of the political class, cheered them on as they declared that King’s day was past. King was accustomed to receiving death threats from whites, but now he was receiving death threats from blacks who accused him of being an Uncle Tom. When Dr. King was killed in 1968, many on the left said privately, and some said publicly, that it was just as well, since he had outlived his time.

And now, exactly forty years later, these arguments are being revisited. Last Friday in this space, I wrote about Senator Barack Obama’s Philadelphia address on race. While criticizing some of the more bizarre statements of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the senator said, “I could no more disown him than I could disown the black community.” Whatever Obama’s intentions, the implication is that the Rev. Wright is representative of the black community. Thus, however inadvertently, did he and some of those who wrote in defense of his speech reinforce an ugly stereotype of blacks being just a little, and maybe more than a little, crazy. The suggestion is a vile slander of the great majority of black Americans.

The question of black identity is maddeningly complicated. In an extraordinary new book, The Word of the Lord is Upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Harvard), Jonathan Rieder details the different cultures and subcultures to which Dr. King tailored his message with striking success. He could, in turn, be raucous, smooth, erudite, eloquent, vulgar, and even salacious. This does not mean he was a chameleon or a hypocrite. Rather, says Rieder, “he had an uncommon ability to glide in and out of black, white, and other idioms and identities in an elaborate dance of empathy.” He adds, “The constant for King lay beyond language, beyond performance, beyond race. The core of the man was the power of his faith, his love of humanity, and an irrepressible resolve to free black people, and other people too.” From his actions on the public stage and from our times together, that is how I remember Dr. King.

Forty years later and the argument is by no means settled whether Martin Luther King Jr. was black enough to be part of “the black community.” That in no way detracts from his greatness. As long as the American experiment continues, people will listen and be inspired by his “I Have a Dream,” and will read and be instructed by his Letter from Birmingham Jail, and will once again believe that, black and white together, “We shall overcome.”

John Paul the Great, William F. Buckley, Martin Luther King. It has been an extraordinary week, marked by sorrow and gratitude. I count it a gift beyond measure to have known each of them as a friend. Each was great, albeit in very different ways. The life of each awakened us to the possibilities of life lived greatly.

The Theses of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” February 1991
The Way of Revolutions,” The Public Square, January 1999
Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.,” October 2002
The Strange Ways of Black Folk,” Daily Article, March 28, 2008

Sharia-Compliant Finance Funds Jihad

by Deroy Murdock
Posted: 04/04/2008

Palani Mohan for The New York Times

The Citibank building in central Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A number of big banks are adding Islamic banking businesses, in line with the Koran’s prohibition against charging interest. Money is lent with a set profit margin for the lender.

Turn your clock back 70 years. Imagine that Wall Street banks and brokerages sold Nuremberg-compliant bonds and stock funds in 1938. American Nazi sympathizers bought financial instruments certified by Berlin-based advisors as free of “Jewish profits” from, say, Salomon Brothers and Bloomingdale’s.

In turn, a percentage of such funds’ gains underwrote pro-Nazi charities, like the German-American Bund, and similar organizations in the Fatherland, like the Hitler Youth.

Seventy years hence, an analogous outrage grows on Wall Street, only this time for real.

Sharia-compliant finance (SCF) is expanding among banks and securities houses eager to absorb the hundreds of billions of petrodollars cascading into the Middle East, thanks to $100-per-barrel oil. To lure this cash, financial companies increasingly offer vehicles that neither pay interest nor benefit from gambling, entertainment, alcohol, pork, or anything considered “haram” or “un-kosher” in Islam. Bahrain’s International Islamic Financial Market (IIFM) counts $97 billion in Islamic bonds in circulation with another $66 billion forecast through 2008 -- and SCF is not limited to the bond market.

SCF goes far beyond marketing to Muslims and Middle Easterners. IIFM lists “wider sharia acceptance” among its goals. Selling sharia-compliant investments legitimizes a barbaric theocratic orthodoxy that should be defeated, not promoted.

Turn your clock back 1,300 years. According to the Koran, sharia means that, with disobedient women, men should “admonish them, and send them to their beds and beat them” (Koran 4:34). For those having sex outside marriage: “The fornicatress and the fornicator, flog each of them with a hundred stripes” (24:2). “Cut off the hands of thieves, whether they are male or female, as punishment for what they have done” (5:38). Instead of celebrating gay sex with parades and rainbow flags, “kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done” (“Reliance of the Traveler” -- Abu Dawud 4447). How do you handle an adulteress? “Khalid Walid came forward with a stone which he threw at her head, and when the blood spurted on his face, he cursed her” (“Reliance” -- Muslim 4206).

Western financiers have no business complying with this.

Nevertheless, SCF advisors help these funds remain sharia-compliant. Unfortunately, these authorities often are Muslim extremists who appear mainstream by consulting for such powerhouses as Deutsche Bank and Standard & Poor’s.

*In 2002, Caribou Coffee had to explain the ties between its Atlanta-based sharia-compliant owner, Arcapita, Inc., and Arcapita’s sharia advisor, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. He had defended “our brothers and children in Al-Aqsa and the blessed land of Palestine generously sacrificing their blood, giving their souls willingly in the way of Allah.” Qaradawi eventually resigned from Arcapita.

*Sheik Muhammad Taqi Usmani advises the Dow Jones Islamic Index. He has written: “The purpose of Jihad…aims at breaking the grandeur of unbelievers and establish[ing] that of Muslims.”

* The North American Islamic Trust owns 69.8 percent of the Dow Jones Islamic Fund. The Justice Department identified NAIT last June as an unindicted co-conspirator in supporting Hamas’ murderous anti-Israeli terrorism. NAIT also owns Albany, New York’s Masjid As-Salam mosque. In April 2007, its founder, Mohammed Mosharref Hossain, and imam, Yassin Muhiddin Aref, received 15-year prison sentences for assisting an FBI sting operation to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat in Manhattan with a shoulder-fired missile.

Sharia-compliant funds usually donate 2.5 percent of profits as “zakat.” While such money assists peaceful Muslim causes, some of it has gone ka-boom.

*The Holy Land Foundation, Benevolence International Foundation, and Global Relief Foundation, all major Muslim charities, were shuttered in December 2001 for allegedly supporting Islamic terrorism.

*According to “The Tax Lawyer,” Yasin al-Qadi -- an investor in one Hamas-connected, sharia-compliant company called BMI (not the perfectly legitimate Broadcast Music, Inc.) -- transmitted $820,000 to Chicago’s Quranic Literacy Institute in 1991. QLI employee Mohammad Salah confessed in 1995 that he trained recruits to handle assorted toxins and “basic chemical materials for the preparation of bombs and explosives.”

“This is bad for America, bad for capitalism, and good for jihad,” says Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, which is sounding the anti-SCF claxons. CSP’S legal analysis by David Yerushalmi richly details SCF’s dangers.

The last thing America needs is jihad with tailored suits and Excel spreadsheets. It’s time to stop the clock on this deadly idea.

Mr. Murdock, a New York-based commentator to HUMAN EVENTS, is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.

Obama and King

The Wall Street Journal
April 4, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr. died at age 39; today, the 40th anniversary of his death, is the first time he has been gone longer than he lived.

Figures such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have tried to claim his place on the American stage. But at most they have achieved fame and wealth. What separated King from any would-be successor was his moral authority. He towered above the high walls of racial suspicion by speaking truth to all sides.

Martin Luther King, Jr. during the march on Washington.

Now comes Barack Obama, a black man and a plausible national leader, who appeals across racial lines. But to his black and white supporters, Mr. Obama increasingly represents different things.

The initial base of support for Mr. Obama's presidential campaign came from young whites – who saw in him the ability to take the nation to a place where, to quote from King's "I Have A Dream" speech, "we shall be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."

Black voters rallied to Mr. Obama after whites in Iowa and New Hampshire showed they were willing to vote for him. Mr. Obama spoke directly to charges that he was not "black enough," that he was not a child of the civil rights movement because he grew up in Hawaii and has an Ivy League education, that he is too young, it is not his time, and even that his campaign is too risky because white racists might kill him.

Mr. Obama, his wife Michelle and supporters such as Oprah Winfrey make the case to black voters that he is the fruit of the struggles of King and others. They argue that this generation of black Americans does not have to wait for their turn to reach for the ultimate political power of the presidency.

Mr. Obama has carried a message of pride and self-sufficiency to black voters nationwide, who have rewarded him with support reaching 80% and higher. His candidacy has become, as the headline on Ebony magazine put it, a matter of having a black man as president "In Our Lifetime."

Among his white supporters, race is coincidental, not central, to his political identity. Mr. Obama is to them the candidate who personifies the promise of equal opportunity for all. But as black support has become central to his victories, this idealistic view has been increasingly at war with the portrayal, crafted by the senator to win black support, of him as the black candidate. The terrible tension between these racially distinct views now surrounds and threatens his campaign.

So far, Mr. Obama has been content to let black people have their vision of him while white people hold to a separate, segregated reality. He is a politician and, unlike King, his goal is winning votes, not changing hearts. Still, it is a key break from the King tradition to sell different messages to different audiences based on race, and to fail to challenge racial divisions in the nation.

Mr. Obama's major speech on race last month was forced from him only after a political crisis erupted: It became widely known that he'd sat for 20 years in the pews of a church where Rev. Jeremiah Wright lashed out at white people. The minister cursed America as worthy of damnation, made lewd suggestions about the nature of President Clinton's relationship with black voters, and embraced the paranoid idea that the white government was spreading AIDS among black people.

Here is where the racial tension at the heart of Mr. Obama's campaign flared into view. He either shared these beliefs or, lacking good judgment, decided it politically expedient for an ambitious young black politician trying to prove his solidarity with all things black, to be associated with these rants. His judgment and leadership on the critical issue of race is in question.

While speaking to black people, King never condescended to offer Rev. Wright-style diatribes or conspiracy theories. He did not paint black people as victims. To the contrary, he spoke about black people as American patriots who believed in the democratic ideals of the country, in nonviolence and the Judeo-Christian ethic, even as they overcame slavery, discrimination and disadvantage. King challenged white America to do the same, to live up to their ideals and create racial unity. He challenged white Christians, asking them how they could treat their fellow black Christians as anything but brothers in Christ.

When King spoke about the racist past, he gloried in black people beating the odds to win equal rights by arming "ourselves with dignity and self-respect." He expressed regret that some black leaders reveled in grievance, malice and self-indulgent anger in place of a focus on strong families, education and love of God. Even in the days before Congress passed civil rights laws, King spoke to black Americans about the pride that comes from "assuming primary responsibility" for achieving "first class citizenship."

Last March in Selma, Ala., Mr. Obama appeared on the verge of breaking away from the merchants of black grievance and victimization. At a commemoration of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights, he spoke in a King-like voice. He focused on traditions of black sacrifice, idealism and the need for taking personal responsibility for building strong black families and communities. He said black people should never "deny that its gotten better," even as the movement goes on to improve schools and provide good health care for all Americans. He then challenged black America, by saying that "government alone can't solve all those problems . . . it is not enough just to ask what the government can do for us -- it's important for us to ask what we can do for ourselves."

Mr. Obama added that better education for black students begins with black parents visiting their children's teachers, as well as turning off the television so children can focus on homework. He expressed alarm over the lack of appreciation for education in the black community: "I don't know who taught them that reading and writing and conjugating your verbs were something white. We've got to get over that mentality." King, he added later, believed that black America has to first "transform ourselves in order to transform the world."

But as his campaign made headway with black voters, Mr. Obama no longer spoke about the responsibility and the power of black America to appeal to the conscience and highest ideals of the nation. He no longer asks black people to let go of the grievance culture to transcend racial arguments and transform the world.

He has stopped all mention of government's inability to create strong black families, while the black community accepts a 70% out-of-wedlock birth rate. Half of black and Hispanic children drop out of high school, but he no longer touches on the need for parents to convey a love of learning to their children. There is no mention in his speeches of the history of expensive but ineffective government programs that encourage dependency. He fails to point out the failures of too many poverty programs, given the 25% poverty rate in black America.

And he chooses not to confront the poisonous "thug life" culture in rap music that glorifies drug use and crime.

Instead the senator, in a full political pander, is busy excusing Rev. Wright's racial attacks as the right of the Rev.-Wright generation of black Americans to define the nation's future by their past. He stretches compassion to the breaking point by equating his white grandmother's private concerns about black men on the street with Rev. Wright's public stirring of racial division.

And he wasted time in his Philadelphia speech on race by saying he can't "disown" Rev. Wright any more than he could "disown the black community." No one has asked him to disown Rev. Wright. Only in a later appearance on "The View" television show did he say that he would have left the church if Rev. Wright had not retired and not acknowledged his offensive language.

As the nation tries to recall the meaning of Martin Luther King today, Mr. Obama's campaign has become a mirror reflecting where we are on race 40 years after the assassination. Mr. Obama's success has moved forward the story of American race relations; King would have been thrilled with his political triumphs.

But when Barack Obama, arguably the best of this generation of black or white leaders, finds it easy to sit in Rev. Wright's pews and nod along with wacky and bitterly divisive racial rhetoric, it does call his judgment into question. And it reveals a continuing crisis in racial leadership.

What would Jesus do? There is no question he would have left that church.

Mr. Williams is a political analyst for National Public Radio and Fox News.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Today's Tune: Chuck Berry- You Never Can Tell

(Click on title to play video)

Knock, Knock, Knocking on Europe's Door

Geert Wilder's Campaign to Save The West

By Brenda Walker

April 3, 2008

Demonstrators hold banners during a protest against Dutch politician and anti-Islam filmmaker Geert Wilders on Dam square in Amsterdam, March 22, 2008. REUTERS/Ade Johnson

The War for Europe is heating up. Despite the somnambulism of many Europeans themselves, immersed in comfortable lifestyles, immigration realist Geert Wilders is stirring the pot to arouse the public before it's too late.

And there's nothing like telling the truth about Islam to arouse people.

Wilder, a member of the Dutch Parliament, recently released a long-awaited (and dreaded) short film called Fitna (strife, in Arabic) to reveal that violence was built into Islam from the start.

Fitna is brief, only 15 minutes long, but it packs a lot into that time. The point is unmistakable: murderous terrorism is not the result of a noble religion being "hijacked" by extremists who misunderstand the teachings. Islam's history is filled with war and bloodshed because its holy book has numerous instructions for followers to deal violently with non-Muslims.

Exhortations to slay the unbeliever are common. Among the major faiths, only Islam needs to define itself constantly as (in George W. Bush’s words) a "religion of peace"—because it isn't. Fitna leafs through pages of the Koran, with pertinent verses highlighted followed by an act of terrorism as an example of Koranic sensibility in action.

The film opens in the first seconds to Surah 8, verse 60...

Prepare for them whatever force and cavalry ye are able of gathering to strike terror to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies, of Allah and your enemies.

That scripture is followed by a film clip of two planes flying into the World Trade Center, with a trapped woman's frantic call to an emergency operator: "I'm going to die, aren't I?... Yes, I'm going to die... I'm going to die. Please, God... It's so hot. I'm burning up."

The scene then switches to the horrific Atocha train station bombing in Spain, with religious comments from imams.

What makes Allah happy? Allah is happy when non-Muslims get killed. Annihilate the infidels and the polytheists. Your (Allah's) enemies and the enemies of the religion. Allah, count them and kill them to the last one, and don't leave even one.

See for yourself: Fitna (linked at JihadWatch).

Wilders wanted Fitna to be shown on Dutch television, but no stations were brave enough to broadcast it. He turned to the internet and persuaded to post the film. In a short time, it was pulled because of "threats to our staff of a very serious nature". In a couple days, it was back, so presumably precautions were taken.

When it comes to telling the truth about the culture of Islam, no good deed goes unpunished, and the appeasement brigade has been in full activation mode. The Secretary General issued a press release condemning "hate speech." The Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen [Send him mail] denounced the film and said he found the "expressions extremely offensive." Dutch PM Jan Balkenende said he rejected the interpretation that "equates Islam with violence." Support for the free speech that undergirds representative government has been sadly lacking among Euro-elites in this episode.

Intimidation works against those who don't value freedom.

In a recent survey of the Arab world, 55 percent polled believed that offensive words were a permissible excuse for violence [Arabs find issue of religious extremism exaggerated: poll, Gulf Times, March 31 , 2008]

To sign a petition in support of Geert Wilders and his right to free expression, click here.
In our society, based largely although imperfectly on reason, it is easy to lose track of the primitive nature of Islamic fanatics, their characteristic cruelties and rigid belief in Muslim superiority. The public can easily forget Islam's goal of world domination under a caliphate, when the ACLU and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) are working to undermine America.

Geert Wilders doesn't want us to forget what's important—saving western civilization in Europe.
A little background is in order. On Nov 2, 2004, Dutch artist Theo van Gogh was assassinated on an Amsterdam street by Muslim Mohammed Bouyeri because of van Gogh's film Submission. The film, made in partnership with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, used Koranic verses to illustrate Islam's integral brutality toward women.

At that time, a handful of public figures of the Netherlands put aside their country's usual PC reticence to state the truth about the shocking murder: a well known Dutch artist was killed because Muslims thought his ideas were insulting to Islam.

One of those people speaking out was Geert Wilders. Shortly after he began discussing the cultural background to the van Gogh assassination, he received so many death threats that 24/7 police protection was required. Wilders still needs bodyguards today, now that even more members of the Religion of Peace want him dead.

Wilders is not an alienated cultural bomb thrower, but is an elected member of the Netherlands government. He is a political leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV), where he "has the most loyal following of all political parties in the Lower House" according to polling earlier this year. He was recently voted the most popular politician in the Netherlands. He is providing much-needed leadership on a vital issue that many elites prefer to sidestep. He has chosen an unusual venue—film—to make his point. But living with constant police protection has deprived him of the normal ways in which a politician communicates.

Let’s compare Geert Wilders, political leader, to another elected official on the thorny problem of leadership in the war for civilization:

George W. Bush has been worst possible war President. He launched a trillion-dollar military adventure on foreign soil, while leaving the homeland's borders wide open and the public unconnected to the ideas underlying the larger clash of cultures. To be effective, a President must name the enemy and warn the American people about what happens if the bad guys win. Instead, Bush has honored the ideology of the adversary in the White House in his annual Ramadan dinners, with little criticism from the MainStream Media [MSM].

In comparison, Geert Wilders has showed us the brutal nature of the Islamic foe, revealed by their own unapologetic words and actions. But other critics of Islam also focus on its objectionable beliefs and ideology. Wilders understands those things don't matter as much as the idiocy of allowing a fifth column to establish itself in your national home. Unwise immigration can pose a serious danger to a country's safety.

In earlier centuries, Muslim attacks on Europe were beaten back in military victories at Tours (732), Lepanto (1571) and Vienna (1683). Today Islam is accomplishing the goal of conquest through "terror and migration" as explained by scholar Bernard Lewis in a 2007 lecture at the American Enterprise Institute:

“In the eyes of a fanatical and resolute minority of Muslims, the third wave of attack on Europe has clearly begun. We should not delude ourselves as to what it is and what it means. This time it is taking different forms and two in particular: terror and migration.

“The subject of terror has been frequently discussed and in great detail, and I do not need to say very much about that now. What I do want to talk about is the other aspect of more particular relevance to Europe, and that is the question of migration.

“In earlier times, it was inconceivable that a Muslim would voluntarily move to a non-Muslim country. The jurists discuss this subject at great length in the textbooks and manuals of shari`a, but in a different form: is it permissible for a Muslim to live in or even visit a non-Muslim country?”

One of the best things about the nation-state is its boundaries that ideally keep out people who have hostile intentions and antithetical values. Multiculturalism, however, rejects that bit of common sense. It asserts that if we all hold hands kumbaya-style, then human differences will magically disappear.

But someone from the diversity committee forgot to tell the Muslims, because they are still bent on blowing us up.

Multicultural immigration, particularly Muslim (which has been increasing), has brought enemies into our midst. The European diversity disaster should scare us silly, but Political Correctness has prevented the prudent precaution of denying immigration to certain groups on a national security basis.

The poet Robert Frost famously defined a liberal as someone "too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel".

Similarly, liberal societies are too broadminded in a multicultural sort of way to admit that the West really is better than Third-World backwaters of cultural cruelty, misogyny and dysfunction.

As Wilders says:

"I really believe that the Koran is a fascist book and Islam—which is more ideology, according to me, than religion—is something that is at least very bad for our values and our society. I’m not a cultural relativist. I believe that we should be proud of our culture. Our culture is far better than the more retarded Islamic culture."

Fitna is his plea that the West stop committing suicide through Muslim immigration. We should watch and listen.

Brenda Walker (email her) lives in Northern California and publishes two websites, and she hopes the success of Fitna spurs the production of more short documentaries on immigration-related subjects.

Obama's Dimestore 'Mein Kampf'

by Ann Coulter

Posted: 04/02/2008

If characters from "The Hills" were to emote about race, I imagine it would sound like B. Hussein Obama's autobiography, "Dreams From My Father."

Has anybody read this book? Inasmuch as the book reveals Obama to be a flabbergasting lunatic, I gather the answer is no. Obama is about to be our next president: You might want to take a peek. If only people had read "Mein Kampf" ...

Nearly every page -- save the ones dedicated to cataloguing the mundane details of his life -- is bristling with anger at some imputed racist incident. The last time I heard this much race-baiting invective I was ... in my usual front-row pew, as I am every Sunday morning, at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Obama tells a story about taking two white friends from the high school basketball team to a "black party." Despite their deep-seated, unconscious hatred of blacks, the friends readily accepted. At the party, they managed not to scream the N-word, but instead "made some small talk, took a couple of the girls out on the dance floor."

But with his racial hair-trigger, Obama sensed the whites were not comfortable because "they kept smiling a lot." And then, in an incident reminiscent of the darkest days of the Jim Crow South ... they asked to leave after spending only about an hour at the party! It was practically an etiquette lynching!

So either they hated black people with the hot, hot hate of a thousand suns, or they were athletes who had come to a party late, after a Saturday night basketball game.

In the car on the way home, one of the friends empathizes with Obama, saying: "You know, man, that really taught me something. I mean, I can see how it must be tough for you and Ray sometimes, at school parties ... being the only black guys and all."

And thus Obama felt the cruel lash of racism! He actually writes that his response to his friend's perfectly lovely remark was: "A part of me wanted to punch him right there."

Listen, I don't want anybody telling Obama about Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" line.

Wanting to punch his white friend in the stomach was the introductory anecdote to a full-page psychotic rant about living by "the white man's rules." (One rule he missed was: "Never punch out your empathetic white friend after dragging him to a crappy all-black party.")

Obama's gaseous disquisition on the "white man's rules" leads to this charming crescendo: "Should you refuse this defeat and lash out at your captors, they would have a name for that, too, a name that could cage you just as good. Paranoid. Militant. Violent. Nigger."

For those of you in the "When is Obama gonna play the 'N-word' card?" pool, the winner is ... Page 85! Congratulations!

When his mother expresses concern about Obama's high school friend being busted for drugs, Obama says he patted his mother's hand and told her not to worry.

This, too, prompted Obama to share with his readers a life lesson on how to handle white people: "It was usually an effective tactic, another one of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied, they were relieved -- such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn't seem angry all the time."

First of all, I note that this technique seems to be the basis of Obama's entire presidential campaign. But moreover -- he was talking about his own mother! As Obama says: "Any distinction between good and bad whites held negligible meaning." Say, do you think a white person who said that about blacks would be a leading presidential candidate?

The man is stark bonkersville.

He says the reason black people keep to themselves is that it's "easier than spending all your time mad or trying to guess whatever it was that white folks were thinking about you."

Here's a little inside scoop about white people: We're not thinking about you. Especially WASPs. We think everybody is inferior, and we are perfectly charming about it.

In college, Obama explains to a girl why he was reading Joseph Conrad's 1902 classic, "Heart of Darkness": "I read the book to help me understand just what it is that makes white people so afraid. Their demons. The way ideas get twisted around. I helps me understand how people learn to hate."

By contrast, Malcolm X's autobiography "spoke" to Obama. One line in particular "stayed with me," he says. "He spoke of a wish he'd once had, the wish that the white blood that ran through him, there by an act of violence, might somehow be expunged."

Forget Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- Wright is Booker T. Washington compared to this guy.

Ann Coulter is Legal Affairs Correspondent for HUMAN EVENTS and author of "High Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Slander," ""How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)," "Godless," and most recently, "If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans."

Checkpoint Condi

By P. David Hornik

Thursday, April 03, 2008

US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice smile together during a session with invitees, at the NATO Summit conference in Bucharest, Thursday April 3, 2008.

A new Hamas TV production for Palestinian children shows a puppet stabbing President Bush to death after telling him the White House has been turned into a mosque. The Palestinians elected Hamas as their leadership by a wide margin in January 2006, and in a poll two weeks ago a majority of Palestinians said they would vote for current Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh for president if there were new Palestinian elections.

After the massacre at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem on March 6, Bush called Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and said “This barbaric and vicious attack on innocent civilians deserves the condemnation of every nation.” But the same poll of Palestinians found 84% of them approving the attack. And the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority featured a front-page photo of the dead terrorist over a caption calling him a shahid (martyr).

To say that Bush and his secretary of state don’t appear impressed by these problematic proclivities of the Palestinians is a great understatement. Condi Rice was here yet again this week in what has become a grimly obsessive quest to award the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians—in their current condition of moral development—with a sovereign state by the end of 2008.

Rice’s visit was seen as aimed at ensuring “progress” by the time Bush visits Israel in May to mark its 60th anniversary. Any remaining doubts as to whether Bush and Rice are serious—or just intended the “Annapolis process” as a spectacle to appease broader Arab opinion—can be laid to rest by the fact that Bush has also invited PA president Mahmoud Abbas to the White House in early May.

So Rice came to Israel with an agenda of “easing conditions” for the Palestinians—meaning mainly the removal of roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank that the entire Israeli defense establishment regards as a key element in Israel’s mostly successful containment of West Bank terror over the past couple of years.

Rice’s main foil was reportedly Defense Minister Ehud Barak. A former military hero, a left-of-center, Labor politician who himself—as prime minister—made draconian offers to Yasser Arafat in 2000 and 2001, Barak is said to be concerned about jeopardizing the recent security achievements and, concurrently, his own ambitions to be prime minister again.

Nonetheless, Rice didn’t find Barak too tough a customer this time and, along with her U.S. delegation, was reportedly “amazed” at the gestures Barak offered in a three-way meeting with her and PA prime minister Salam Fayyad. These include, among other things, removing a major checkpoint near Ramallah and 50 dirt roadblocks, allowing 700 PA policemen (trained in Jordan under U.S. supervision) to enter the West Bank terror-town of Jenin, building a city or several neighborhoods near Ramallah, increasing the number of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel, and easing security checks on Palestinian public figures passing through crossings.

Part of why Barak folded so easily has to do with the pressure on him: as Jerusalem Post analyst Calev Ben-David noted,

it can’t be easy for Rice to sit opposite the most decorated soldier in Israeli military history, and counter his arguments that the concessions she is demanding risk endangering the security of his nation’s citizens. Perhaps that helps explain why she has enlisted some heavy brass to help her in that mission, a trio of top US military officials: Gen. James Jones, Lt.-Gen. William Fraser and Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton.

As Ben-David details, Jones—who is no less than former Supreme Allied Commander of Europe—is said to help Rice with putting the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” in a larger context and is the one who already “leaned on Barak to make security concessions ahead of the secretary’s visit.”

As for Fraser, he’s a former top-level air force commander and currently assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as Rice’s top military adviser, and he’s also entrusted with monitoring Israel and the PA’s compliance with the “process.”

Dayton , also no lightweight, was director of the Iraq Survey Group and a senior member of the Joint Chiefs, and helps oversee the training of the Palestinian security forces that Bush and Rice still hallucinate to be a pro-Western contingent that will resist and, if necessary, defeat Hamas. Ben-David speaks of “rumored tensions between Dayton and Barak, the latter reportedly bristling at [ Dayton ’s] criticism of [his] unwillingness to approve giving the PA security forces more operational latitude and higher-level military equipment.”

If that sounds like a lot of pressure on the defense minister of a democratic ally, it is. If it sounds like the idea that Israel is supposed to be a sovereign country in its own right is getting lost in the shuffle here, it is.

Barak’s recent reference to the decision to allow PA policemen into Jenin as a “calculated risk” prompted a letter to him from Nachman Zoldan, whose son Ido Zoldan—29 and a father of two—was murdered last November in a shooting attack by two PA policemen. Nachman Zoldan asked Barak to

reconsider your decision. Over the years, considerable facts and figures have emerged that all point to deep involvement of those same Palestinian security the terror campaign against Israel . This involvement in terror, ranging from intelligence gathering through actual terrorist acts, is carried out by uniformed and plainclothed Palestinian policemen as well as high-ranking police officers….

Recent terrorist attacks have displayed a regrettably much-improved performance of the terrorist organizations. We are therefore very concerned regarding permission you granted to these same policemen to undergo training in Jordan . This training, under American guidance, will grant them heightened professionalism that will enable them, according to past experience, to act in the future against us, civilians and IDF soldiers alike, with increased effectiveness.

Zoldan concluded by requesting

an urgent meeting regarding your appalling justification of your decision to “take calculated risks.” The many ramifications of this statement include life in the shadow of bereavement and loss, the ongoing hellishness of pain and grief for the immediate families and extended circles of friends of slain victims, and the rage at the murders. And the murdered victims!...“salt of the earth” who placed their faith in you, their elected leaders, to protect them. And you take “calculated risks” with their lives! You, our elected representatives, do not take risks with your own lives, but are closely guarded and secured at great monetary cost to the public. Therefore it is not ethically appropriate to cast “calculated risks” on the unwitting public.

As always it is hard to know how to apportion the blame between acquiescent Israeli leaders and American leaders who pressure them. One thing that appears certain is that even if the bereaved father’s letter had been brought to Rice’s, or Bush’s, attention, its pathos would not have mattered to them.

Rice has already expressed her perception of the Palestinians as analogous to blacks in the segregated U.S. south. As for what motivates Bush in this policy of bullying an ally into going against its very hard-won security wisdom and endangering its citizens in the name of creating a terror state—I wish I knew.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at He can be reached at

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Today's Tune: Ryan Bingham- Southside of Heaven

(Click on title to play video)

For Ryan Bingham, the rawness is real

Ryan Bingham has no formal musical training. His chords are often mismatched and his lyrics melancholy. But his songs are heartfelt and genuine, and that's what makes him stand out.

By Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 30, 2008

Michael Stravato / For The Los Angeles Times

Ryan Bingham, singer: "I was lost. Broke. Playing guitar was my way out."

HOUSTON -- There are nights when Ryan Bingham sounds just like what he is, and there's no shame in that.

He sounds like a kid. Twenty-six years old, on paper, but a kid, really, who can write a pretty song about truck stops and pawnshops but was still carrying around a chord book not all that long ago. A musician so raw that some prospective band members have thrown up their hands and bailed on him because his songs, all mismatched chords and misplaced bridges, don't make sense to people who know what they're doing.

Then there are nights like this.

It's a blustery, mischief-making night in Houston. Bingham is playing Fitzgerald's, a beer joint that ran out of letters for the marquee, so it says RYA BGAM on the side of the building. The graffiti over the toilet says "JESUS VOTES REPUBLICAN," and the ratty wooden floor in front of the stage rises and falls like a fat man's belly when the crowd gets going. It's his kind of place, and it's packed.

Most in the audience are there to see Joe Ely, or at least they think they are.

Ely is virtual nobility in the West Texas songwriting kingdom, which has produced, over the years, a startlingly deep bench of talent -- Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Terry Allen, Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Backstage, Ely suggests, graciously, that the show is a "co-bill," that it's coincidence that Bingham is going on first.

The truth is, Bingham’s got less than an hour out there. It’s all he needs. His belly full of pork chops and Lone Star beers, Bingham rips through a dizzying set of 13 songs, with elements of roadhouse rock, beach music, mariachi, new country and old.

By the time he's done, his voice is so throaty he sounds like a dying man's last wish. When he puts down his guitar and strides offstage, people in the front row are banging their fists on the stage and chanting "Bing-ham! Bing-ham!" and it's so absurdly over the top you'd think they've been healed at an old-timey revival.

Bingham seems a little taken aback himself. Backstage, he stands in a corner, drops his cowboy hat between the toes of his boots and bends over with his hands on his knees. Sweat drips from his nose, and he says nothing until he notices a visitor.

"Hey, man," he drawls. "You havin' a good night?"

Bingham, raised in New Mexico and Texas, reveals his hardscrabble life in his songs.
March 7, 2008

Rough beginnings

Just about everybody who hears Bingham for the first time assumes it's all a put-on, that no one his age could have this many miles and hardships behind him.

He hasn't received much press, despite the release last fall of his first major-label album, "Mescalito." Some of the attention has been laced with skepticism; one alternative publication said he had fallen victim to "absurd self-mythologizing."

That's what Ely figured too, after someone handed him a Bingham tape a few years back. It seemed a little silly for a then-24-year-old to be singing about "being a desperado in West Texas for so long," about being "lost on them back roads so many times I've gone blind."

But Ely, like most who have come across Bingham, learned quickly not to underestimate him. The more Bingham unspools, the more it becomes clear he is authentically wayworn and wounded, that his life has, as his songs contend, hurtled between cursed and charmed.

“That’s a rough-and-tumble world out there in West Texas,” said Ely, who grew up in Amarillo and Lubbock. "It's not a very easy place, even if things are going good. There comes a time when you might either wind up in the pen or you can pick up your guitar and sing your way out. That's what Ryan did. I could relate to it."

He was born just across the New Mexico border, in the boom-and-bust oil town Hobbs. His grandfather was a cattle rancher and owned 72 square miles, each more stark than the last, between Hobbs and Carlsbad.

Bingham's family lost the ranch amid a money dispute and would soon see more bust than boom. His father became a roughneck, an old-fashioned oil field worker who chased his work, first to Bakersfield, Calif., then to Texas -- to Midland, Odessa, Laredo. They never stayed anywhere long; Bingham eventually stopped unpacking, then reduced his belongings to a cardboard box that he carried from town to town.

His parents, he said, "were not mean people. They just couldn't get it together." Trouble came in heaps: "Fights. Pills. Alcohol." One day, he came home and slumped on the couch. The TV wasn't working but something underneath the set caught his eye. It was a mirror topped with a pile of cocaine.

"I thought: 'Well, no wonder the electricity got turned off again,' " he said.

Before his 17th birthday, he dropped out of school, where he'd grown tired of being the new kid in a small town, and left home for good.

"It just wasn't working out," he said quietly.

He was befriended by a group of Mexican boys who introduced him to jackpot bullrides. His uncle had ridden bulls professionally and had imparted a few tricks of the trade, including the ability to sense how close he could get to the edge before he had to jump free of an animal.

Until then, Bingham had ridden only smaller steers in the bull-riding equivalent of Little League. Now he was graduating to the real thing, bulls that could easily weigh more than 2,000 pounds -- "beasts," Bingham said with a smile, "who will stalk you down."

In the next few years, he would ride hundreds of bulls in Mexico and Texas. He broke both legs, one wrist and the big toe on his right foot three times. He broke his right hand at least once just hanging onto the rope, leaving him with a permanent growth on the back of his hand.

One night in Weatherford, Texas, a menacing black angus named Spanky reared his head violently and crushed Bingham in the face, leaving his top lip hanging from his face and knocking out most of his upper teeth, now replaced with fakes.

Bingham's friends -- particularly his prom date, as he had put himself back in high school and the dance was just a few days after the incident -- nearly fainted when they saw his face. He got a kick out of the whole thing.

"It gave me a purpose -- something," Bingham said. "Something to drive for."

Musician Joe Ely, left, backstage at Fitzgerald’s with Bingham’s girlfriend, Anna Axster; Bingham; and Bingham’s friend and drummer, Matt Smith. Ely said he felt a kinship with young Bingham: “That’s a rough-and-tumble world out there in West Texas. There comes a time when you might either wind up in the pen or you can pick up your guitar and sing your way out. That’s what Ryan did. I could relate.”
March 7, 2008

Music as refuge

Still, he was often homeless, working odd jobs -- shoeing horses, pouring concrete -- and sleeping on friend's couches and in the bed of his truck. His only constant companion was a guitar he could barely play.

His mother, who died recently, had given it to him for his 16th birthday. It was a little classical guitar with gut strings. Bingham knew one song, taught to him by a crackhead who lived next door at a seedy apartment complex in Laredo. It was a mariachi-style folk song called "La Malaguena:"

"Que bonitos ojos tienes. . . . Ellos me quieren mirar."

"What pretty eyes you have. . . . They want to look at me."

Bored, Bingham got himself a chord book. Untrained, he could not pick up the keys or the chord progressions of other people's songs. So, unlike most musicians, the first songs he learned to play -- other than "La Malaguena" -- were his own. (That's why he plays few cover songs in concert, other than the occasional Freddie King number.)

About seven years ago, while living in a trailer outside Fort Worth, he sat on the couch one day and began to play. Out came "Southside of Heaven," the song that is perhaps best known today within his small but fervent following.

The song was born of anger and abandonment and solitude -- the very authenticity that those who don't know better have called into question. It was uncommonly revealing and personal: "Money can't buy my soul, 'cause it comes from a hard-earned place. . . . Losing faith in my family has driven me out of my damn mind."

"I couldn't sing. I couldn't play guitar," he said. "But that day, it damn near made me cry."

Bingham, still riding bulls, recorded some of his songs in a friend's garage and began hawking recordings while playing on tailgates before rodeos. Soon, he was booking himself at roadhouses and beer halls, wherever the rodeo circuit took him. He developed a small local following; a couple of his songs even made it on the radio.

Then came a fateful night five years ago, when he mistakenly booked a rodeo in Brownwood and a bar in Dallas -- almost 200 miles apart. The choice, he said, was evident.

"I was lost. Broke. Playing guitar was my way out," he said. "When I wrote these songs, I was just venting. . . . And then when I played and people liked it? And wanted to pay me money to do it? Well. . . . " He threw his head back and laughed.

Bingham dived into his music, studying his guitar, playing small clubs across the West, busking for tips and recording several versions of his songs. He scraped together enough money to record a fairly polished album in Nashville -- a little too polished, though a small label began to distribute it in 2006. Bingham hated the recording. So did his band.

"It didn't sound like Ryan," said Matthew Smith, his drummer. "It sounded like what somebody thought Ryan should sound like."

Bingham jams with Corby Schaub, who is on the mandolin. Some musicians have grown frustrated with Bingham’s music, he confessed, because he wrote many of his songs with no training, so the songs break many “rules” of traditional music.

Some breaks

But the stars were about to align.

Around then, Bingham had been invited to play in Marfa, Texas, at a large anniversary party thrown every few years by musician Terry Allen and his wife, Jo Harvey. Allen had invited Bingham after catching his act at a local club.

It was no ordinary party; it was more like a Cabinet meeting of the West Texas songwriters. Among those in attendance: Ely, Guy Clark, Butch Hancock, Gilmore and Robert Earl Keen. David Byrne of the Talking Heads, who'd begun collaborating with Ely, was there too. Everybody had a guitar, and they played until almost 8 the next morning. Bingham kept pace, and more; it was all the Cabinet needed to see.

"It's a pretty serious lineup, and he just kept right up," Ely said. "That night, we accepted him into the Texas Songwriters Ne'er-Do-Wells -- an exclusive club."

Ely, Allen and others took Bingham under their wing, letting him sleep in their guest rooms when he was in town and lobbying for him in the industry. Lost Highway Records, a Universal Music subsidiary, came calling for Bingham a few months later. The first thing Bingham did was buy a new van for his band; the old one had conked out as they had driven into Nashville to sign the contract.

At about the same time, Marc Ford, an elite guitarist best known for his work with the Black Crowes, and Ben Harper, walked late one night into the King King, a Hollywood Boulevard club. Bingham was on stage.

"I was floored," Ford said. "I believed every single word that he said."

When Bingham walked off stage, Ford was waiting. He effectively demanded to take over Bingham's recording. Bingham agreed at once, and together they took up residence at the Compound, a recording studio in Long Beach whose sound is gaining an increasing reputation among Southern California musicians.

To that point, Bingham's recordings were "Nashvilled out," Ford said. "By trying to make it better for radio, they were taking something away from it," he said.

Ford stripped them down as if they were rebuilding an old house. They eliminated many of the fancy trappings, such as a pedal steel guitar part that had been added on "Southside of Heaven." A machine had been used to automatically put Bingham's voice in tune; Ford did away with it, recognizing that it eroded the raw, untutored sound that had struck him that night at the King King.

"It needed to be bones -- its natural state," Ford said.

The result was "Mescalito," Bingham's first album for Lost Highway. Bingham, Ford and the band -- also including guitarist-mandolinist Corby Schaub and bassist Elijah Ford, Marc Ford's son -- are back at the Compound today; they will remain there for the next 10 days or so recording Bingham's next album.

They're a loose, tight-knit group; they spend much of their time smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and telling Texas tales -- about how they're going to have to rename themselves "The Dirty Underwear Gang" if they don't get off the road soon, about the time a roadie stole a chicken from some backwoods beer hall.

None of it masks the sense of possibility that follows them around these days. Bingham is a practical man; he knows that he will probably either make it or not in the next couple of years. At the same time, he figures that it took him this long to convince the skeptics that he's real. There's no sense in doing anything different now.

"If it's not the best record in the world, well, then that's as good as we are right now," he said. "It's not going to be anything that it's not. That's the way it should be. Always."

STORY: Listen: "Don't Wait for Me"

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Michael Gerson: Obama's Abortion Extremism

April 02, 2008
Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr.'s endorsement of Barack Obama last week -- "I believe in this guy like I've never believed in a candidate in my life" -- recalled another dramatic moment in Democratic politics. In the summer of 1992, as Bill Clinton solidified his control over the Democratic Party, Robert P. Casey Sr., the senator's father, was banned from speaking to the Democratic convention for the heresy of being pro-life.

The elder Casey (now deceased) was then the sitting governor of Pennsylvania -- one of the most prominent elected Democrats in the country. He was an economic progressive in the Roosevelt tradition. But his Irish Catholic conscience led him to oppose abortion. So the Clintons chose to humiliate him. It was a sign and a warning of much mean-spirited pettiness to come.

The younger Casey, no doubt, is a sincere fan of Obama. He also must have found it satisfying to help along the cycle of political justice.

But by his father's standard of social justice for the unborn, Obama is badly lacking.

Obama has not made abortion rights the shouted refrain of his campaign, as other Democrats have done. He seems to realize that pro-choice enthusiasm is inconsistent with a reputation for post-partisanship.

But Obama's record on abortion is extreme. He opposed the ban on partial-birth abortion -- a practice a fellow Democrat, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once called "too close to infanticide." Obama strongly criticized the Supreme Court decision upholding the partial-birth ban. In the Illinois state Senate, he opposed a bill similar to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which prevents the killing of infants mistakenly left alive by abortion. And now Obama has oddly claimed he would not want his daughters to be "punished with a baby" because of a crisis pregnancy -- hardly a welcoming attitude toward new life.

For decades, most Democrats and many Republicans have hoped the political debate on abortion would simply go away. But it is the issue that does not die. Recent polls have shown that young people are more likely to support abortion restrictions than their elders. Few Americans oppose abortion under every circumstance, but a majority oppose most of the abortions that actually take place -- generally supporting the procedure only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Perhaps this is a revolt against a culture of disposability. Perhaps it reflects the continuing revolution of ultrasound technology -- what might be called the "Juno" effect. In the delightful movie by that name, the protagonist, a pregnant teen seeking an abortion, is confronted by a classmate who informs her that the unborn child already has fingernails -- which causes second thoughts. A worthless part of its mother's body -- a clump of protoplasmic rubbish -- doesn't have fingernails.

Abortion is an unavoidable moral issue. It also has broader political significance. Democrats of a past generation -- the generation of Hubert Humphrey and Martin Luther King -- spoke about building a beloved community that cared especially for the elderly, the weak, the disadvantaged and the young. The advance of pro-choice policies imported a different ideology into the Democratic Party -- the absolute triumph of individualism. The rights and choices of adults have become paramount, even at the expense of other, voiceless members of the community.

These trends reached their logical culmination during a congressional debate on partial-birth abortion in 1999. When Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer was pressed to affirm that she opposed the medical killing of children after birth, she refused to commit, saying that children only deserve legal protection "when you bring your baby home." It was unclear if this includes the car trip or not.

Having endorsed partial-birth abortion, Obama has little room for maneuver on the broader issue. But he does have some. He could take the wise counsel of evangelical Democrats such as Amy Sullivan and come out strongly for policies that would reduce the number of abortions -- support for pregnant women, abstinence education, the responsible promotion of birth control. An organization called Democrats for Life has proposed the creation of a "95-10 Initiative" in which states and the federal government would work toward the reduction of abortion rates by 95 percent within 10 years. That would be a unifying national goal.

Such efforts will not please many pro-lifers, who are waiting on Obama to support any type of legal protection for the unborn. But a real effort to reduce the number of abortions would indicate that Obama's Democratic Party is moving beyond its humiliation of Gov. Casey. And maybe Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., with his newfound leverage, could insist upon it.