Saturday, October 18, 2008

Plumber Joe didn't go with the flow

By Mark Steyn
Orange County Register
Friday, October 17, 2008

Give a man enough rope line, and he'll hang himself. There was His Serene Majesty President-designate Barack the Healer, working the crowd at some or other hick burg, and halfway down the rope up pops a plumber to express misgivings about the incoming regime's tax plans.

Supposedly, under the Obama tax plan, 95 percent of the American people will get a tax cut. You'd think that at this point the natural skepticism of any sentient being other than 6-week-old puppies might kick in, but apparently not. If you're wondering why Obama didn't simply announce that under his plan 112 percent of the American people will get a tax cut, well, they ran it past the focus groups who said that that was all very generous but they'd really like it if he could find a way to stick it to Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove and whatnot. So 95 percent it is.

By the way, like the nightly news shows, this column now has an exclusive lavishly funded Fact Check Unit set up at great expense (a colorful graphic with the words "FACT CHECK ALERT!") in a lame attempt to pass off our transparent political bias as some sort of scientific exercise. Our accredited credentialed licensed expert Fact Checkers from the University of Factology in the Czech Republic are standing by to rigorously Fact Check the candidate's claims. We check facts so you don't have to. All you have to do is sign up to our Fact-Check-Me-Now! Service, and we'll send you a daily Fact Check on your Facts Machine, which costs only $79.95 from Radio Shack (sorry, no checks).

Anyway, our Fact Check Unit ran the numbers on the Obama tax-cut plan and the number is correct: "95." It's the words "percent" immediately following that are wrong: that's a typing error accidentally left in from the first draft. It should read: Under the Obama plan, 95 of the American people will get a tax cut.

Joe the Plumber expressed his misgivings about the President-in-waiting's tax inclinations, and the O-Man smoothly reassured him: "It's not that I want to punish your success," he told the bloated plutocrat corporate toilet executive. "I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they've got a chance for success, too. I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."

In that sentence about you spreading the wealth around, there's another typing error: that "you" should read "I, Barack." "You" will have no say in it. Joe the Plumber might think he himself can spread it around just fine, but everyone knows "trickle-down economics" don't work. So President-presumptive Obama kindly explained the new exquisitely condescending "talking-down economics." Put that in your pipe and solder it.

Evidently the O-Mighty One was not happy after his encounter with Joe. He's still willing to talk to Ahmadinejad without preconditions. But never again will he talk to Joe the Plumber without preconditions. Outraged at the way the right-wing whackos were talking up Joe the Plumber as if he were an authentic regular Joe, like Joe Biden, the O-Bots of the media swung into action. Vast regiments of investigate reporters were redeployed from the Wasilla Holiday Inn back to the Lower 48.

"We need you down here checking out this Joe the Plumber," editors barked to journalists.

"But I'm this close to wrapping up the Wasilla Town Library banned-book investigation!"

"Forget it! The Atlantic Monthly is claiming Joe the Plumber is Trig's real father. We can't get behind on this. Get to Minneapolis Airport. Joe the Plumber was seen in the bathroom with Sen. Larry Craig."

"Yes, but he was installing a stopcock."

"Look, you went to Columbia School of Journalism. This is what we bold, courageous journalists do. We're the conscience of the nation. We speak truth to plumber."

"Er, shouldn't that be 'Speak truth to power'?"

"That's the old edition of the handbook. Now we speak truth to power-tool operators. Joe the Carpenter, Joe the Plasterer, Joe the Electrician … . When you're building utopia, you don't want any builders getting in the way."

Alas, as a result of this massive investment of journalistic resources, no investigative reporter will be free to investigate ACORN voter-registration fraud or Obama's ties to terrorist educator William Ayers until, oh, midway through his second term at least.

Under the headline "Is 'Joe The Plumber' A Plumber? That's Debatable," John Seewer of the Associated Press triumphantly revealed that Joe is not a "licensed" plumber. In fact, he doesn't need to be licensed for the residential plumbing he does, but isn't that just typical of Bush-McCain insane out-of-control deregulation? It wouldn't surprise me to discover that most of these subprime homeowners got Joe in to plumb their subprime bathrooms. Next thing you know, the entire global economy goes down the toilet. Coincidence?

Joe is now the most notorious plumber in American politics since the Watergate plumbers. And they weren't licensed, either. It turns out Joe doesn't even make 250 grand, and it's only the $250,000-a-year types who'll be paying more (please, no tittering) under Good King Barack. Joe Biden – that's Joe the Blue-collar Senator – said that he didn't know any $250,000 plumbers in his neighborhood, or even in the first-class club car on Amtrak he rides every night to demonstrate his blue-collar bona fides. On "Good Morning America," Diane Sawyer emphasized this point, anxious to give the apostate plumber one last chance to go with the flow:

"Well, I just want to ask you now about the issue that was raised, because it's been a little confusing to me as I try to sort it out here. To get straight here, you're not taking home $250,000 now, am I right?"

"No. No. Not even close," confessed Joe.

So what's he got to be worried about?

The heart of the American Dream is aspiration. That's why people came here from all over the world. Back in Eastern Europe, the Joe Bidens and Diane Sawyers of the day were telling Joe the Peasant: "Hey, look, man. You're a peasant in the 19th century, just like your forebears were peasants in the 12th century and your descendants will be peasants in the 26th century. So you're never gonna be earning 250 groats a year. Don't worry about it. Leave it to us. We know better." And Joe the Peasant eventually figured that one day he'd like to be able to afford the Premium Gruel with just a hint of arugula and got on the boat to Ellis Island. Because America is the land where a guy who doesn't have a 250-grand business today might just have one in five or 10 years' time.

I'm with Joe the Plumber, not Joe the Hair-Plugger. He's articulated the animating principles of America better than anyone on either side in this campaign. Which is why the O-Bots need to destroy him. As Obama's catchphrase goes:

"Joe the Plumber!

Can we fix him?

Joe the Plumber!

Yes, we can!"

For the record, I am not a government-licensed pundit. But I expect they'll fix that, too.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Who's Playing the Race Card?

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, October 17, 2008; A25

Let me get this straight. A couple of agitated yahoos in a rally of thousands yell something offensive and incendiary, and John McCain and Sarah Palin are not just guilty by association -- with total strangers, mind you -- but worse: guilty according to the New York Times of "race-baiting and xenophobia."

But should you bring up Barack Obama's real associations -- 20 years with Jeremiah Wright, working on two foundations and distributing money with William Ayers, citing the raving Michael Pfleger as one who helps him keep his moral compass (Chicago Sun-Times, April 2004) and the long-standing relationship with the left-wing vote-fraud specialist ACORN -- you have crossed the line into illegitimate guilt by association. Moreover, it is tinged with racism.

Michael Pfleger and Louis Farrakhan

The fact that, when John McCain actually heard one of those nasty things said about Obama, he incurred the boos of his own crowd by insisting that Obama is "a decent person . . . that you do not have to be scared [of] as president" makes no difference. It surely did not stop John Lewis from comparing McCain to George Wallace.

The search for McCain's racial offenses is untiring and often unhinged. Remember McCain's Berlin/celebrity ad that showed a shot of Paris Hilton? An appalling attempt to exploit white hostility at the idea of black men "becoming sexually involved with white women," fulminated New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. He took to TV to denounce McCain's exhumation of that most vile prejudice, pointing out McCain's gratuitous insertion in the ad of "two phallic symbols," the Washington Monument and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Except that Herbert was entirely delusional. There was no Washington Monument. There was no Leaning Tower. Just photographs seen in every newspaper in the world of Barack Obama's Berlin rally in the setting he himself had chosen, Berlin's Victory Column.

Herbert is not the only fevered one. On Tuesday night, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Jonathan Alter of Newsweek fell over themselves agreeing that the "political salience" of the Republican attack on ACORN is, yes, its unstated appeal to racial prejudice.

This about an organization that is being accused of voter registration fraud in about a dozen states. In Nevada, the investigating secretary of state is a Democrat. Is he playing the race card, too?

What makes the charges against McCain especially revolting is that he has been scrupulous in eschewing the race card. He has gone far beyond what is right and necessary, refusing even to make an issue of Obama's deep, self-declared connection with the race-baiting Rev. Wright.

In the name of racial rectitude, McCain has denied himself the use of that perfectly legitimate issue. It is simply Orwellian for him to be now so widely vilified as a stoker of racism. What makes it doubly Orwellian is that these charges are being made on behalf of the one presidential candidate who has repeatedly, and indeed quite brilliantly, deployed the race card.

How brilliantly? The reason Bill Clinton is sulking in his tent is because he feels that Obama surrogates succeeded in painting him as a racist. Clinton has many sins, but from his student days to his post-presidency, his commitment and sincerity in advancing the cause of African Americans have been undeniable. If the man Toni Morrison called the first black president can be turned into a closet racist, then anyone can.

And Obama has shown no hesitation in doing so to McCain. Weeks ago, in Springfield, Mo., and elsewhere, he warned darkly that George Bush and John McCain were going to try to frighten you by saying that, among other scary things, Obama has "a funny name" and "doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills."

McCain has never said that, nor anything like that. When asked at the time to produce one instance of McCain deploying race, the Obama campaign could not. Yet here was Obama firing a preemptive charge of racism against a man who had not indulged in it. An extraordinary rhetorical feat, and a dishonorable one.

What makes this all the more dismaying is that it comes from Barack Obama, who has consistently presented himself as a healer, a man of a new generation above and beyond race, the man who would turn the page on the guilt-tripping grievance politics of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

I once believed him.

The Left Declares War On Joe the Plumber

By Michelle Malkin
October 16, 2008

Six-term Sen. Joe Biden's got some nerve going after citizen Joe the Plumber. But the entrenched politician from Delaware, who fancies himself the nation's No. 1 Ordinary Joe, had no choice. Obama-Biden simply can't tolerate an outspoken citizen successfully painting the Democratic ticket as socialist overlords. And so a dirty, desperate war against Joe Wurzelbacher is on.

The left's political plumbers are attacking the messenger, rummaging through his personal life and predictably wielding the race card once again. It's standard operating procedure for the Obama thug machine.

Wurzelbacher, in case you've been in hibernation, is the small-business man from Ohio who questioned Obama about his tax plan during a Toledo campaign swing last weekend. The revealing exchange was caught on tape and broadcast widely across the Internet and TV airwaves.

In response to Wurzelbacher's question about why he should be "taxed more and more for fulfilling the American dream," Obama sermonized that he needed to "spread the wealth around" because "it's good for everybody."

John McCain flung that chilling Marxist mantra back in Obama's face during Wednesday night's presidential debate and repeatedly cited Joe the Plumber's plight.

Obama squirmed. The dirt-diggers started Googling. And the next morning, six-term Sen. Biden launched the first salvo against the Ohio entrepreneur on NBC's "Today Show," challenging the veracity of his story: "I don't have any Joe the Plumbers in my neighborhood that make $250,000 a year."

Under an Obama-Biden administration, they'll make sure no Joe the Plumbers ever earn such a salary. "It's good for everybody," don't you know?

Biden, as is so often the case, twisted the facts about Wurzelbacher. No surprise there. Slick Joe Biden is the one who tells fables about visiting a diner in Delaware that hasn't been open in years; spins yarns about getting "forced down" in a helicopter over Afghanistan because of perilous conditions that turned out to be weather related, not al-Qaida related; and continues to slander the family of the man involved in his wife and daughter's fatal car accident (crash investigators cleared the now-deceased driver of drunk driving, despite Biden's insinuations).
But I digress.

Wurzelbacher never claimed to be making $250,000 a year. He told Obama that he might be "getting ready to buy a company that makes about $250,000, $270,000" a year. His simple point was that Obama's punitive tax proposals would make it more difficult to realize his dream.

Obama's followers couldn't handle the incontrovertible truth. Left-wing blogs immediately went to work, blaring headlines like "Not A Real $250k Plumber!" Next, they falsely accused Wurzelbacher of not being registered to vote—he's registered in Lucas County, Ohio, and voted as a Republican in this year's primary.

Next, they called him a liar for identifying himself as undecided. Only registered Democrats and fake Republican tools used in mainstream media stories and YouTube debates are allowed to use that label, you see.

Next, award-winning liberal blogger Joshua Marshall cast Wurzelbacher as some kind of rabid freak for calling Social Security a "joke"—as if no working-class Americans could believe that the federal government's entitlement programs were a rip-off unless they were bought and paid for by the McCain campaign.

Then, suddenly, the journalists who wouldn't lift a finger to investigate Obama's longtime relationships with Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright sprang into action rifling through citizen Joe Wurzelbacher's tax records. reported breathlessly: "Samuel J. Wurzelbacher has a lien placed against him to the tune of $1,182.92. The lien is dated from January of '07." Press outlets probed his divorce records. The local plumbers union, which has endorsed Obama, claimed he didn't do their required apprenticeship work and didn't have a license to work outside his local township.

Hang him!

After Wurzelbacher told Katie Couric that Obama's rhetorical tap dance was "almost as good as Sammy Davis, Jr.," the inevitable cries of "bigotry" followed. (There are now tens of thousands of hits on the Internet for "Joe the Plumber racist.")

Welcome to Joe the Plumber Derangement Syndrome. If you can't beat him, smear him. It's the Obama way.

-Michelle Malkin [email her] is author of Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores. Click here for Peter Brimelow’s review. Click here for Michelle Malkin's website. Michelle Malkin's latest book is Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.

Ayers Is No Education 'Reformer'

The new media spin is worse than Obama's original evasion.

The Wall Street Journal
OCTOBER 16, 2008

One of the most misleading statements during the presidential debates was when Barack Obama claimed that William Ayers was just "a guy in the neighborhood."

But that piece of spin is nothing compared to the false story now being peddled by Mr. Obama's media supporters that Mr. Ayers -- who worked with the Democratic nominee for years to disperse education grants through a group called the Chicago Annenberg Challenge -- has redeemed his terrorist past. In the New York Times, for example, Frank Rich writes that "establishment Republicans and Democrats alike have collaborated with the present-day Ayers in educational reform."

David G. Klein

I've studied Mr. Ayers's work for years and read most of his books. His hatred of America is as virulent as when he planted a bomb at the Pentagon. And this hatred informs his educational "reform" efforts. Of course, Mr. Obama isn't going to appoint him to run the education department. But the media mainstreaming of a figure like Mr. Ayers could have terrible consequences for the country's politics and public schools.

The education career of William Ayers began when he enrolled at Columbia University's Teachers College at the age of 40. He planned to stay long enough to get a teaching credential. But he experienced an epiphany in a course offered by Maxine Greene, who urged future teachers to tell children about the evils of the existing, oppressive capitalist social order. In her essay "In Search of a Critical Pedagogy," for example, Ms. Greene wrote of an education that would portray "homelessness as a consequence of the private dealings of landlords, an arms buildup as a consequence of corporate decisions, racial exclusion as a consequence of a private property-holder's choice."

That was music to the ears of the ex-Weatherman. Mr. Ayers acquired a doctorate in education and landed an Ed school appointment at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

Chicago might seem to be the least likely place for Mr. Ayers to regain social respectability for himself and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn. After all, the Windy City was where their Weathermen period began in 1969, with Mr. Ayers, Ms. Dohrn and their comrades marauding through the Miracle Mile, assaulting cops and city officials and promulgating slogans such as "Kill Your Parents."

But Chicago's political culture had already begun to change by the time the couple returned in 1987. And the city would change even more dramatically when Richard Daley Jr. became mayor in 1990.

Daley the son has maintained as tight a rein over the city's Democratic Party machine as did his father, doling out patronage jobs and contracts to loyalists and tolerating as much corruption as in the old days. But unlike his father, he was ready to cut deals with veterans of the hard-core, radical left who were working for their revolutionary ideas from within the system they once sought to destroy from without. There is no lack of such veterans. One of Chicago's congressmen, Bobby Rush, is a former chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party; Louis Gutierrez, a former leader of a Puerto Rican liberation group, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, is another.

In this Chicago, where there are no enemies on the left, Mr. Ayers's second career flourished. It didn't hurt that his father, Thomas Ayers, was the CEO of the Commonwealth Edison company, a friend of both Daleys and a major power broker in the city.

Mr. Ayers was hired by the Chicago public schools to train teachers, and played a leading role in the $160 million Annenberg Challenge grant that distributed funds to a host of so-called school-reform projects, including some social-justice themed schools and schools organized by Acorn. Barack Obama became the first chairman of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge organization in 1995. When asked for an opinion on the Obama/Ayers connection, Mayor Daley told the New York Times that Mr. Ayers had "done a lot of good in this city and nationally."

In fact, as one of the leaders of a movement for bringing radical social-justice teaching into our public school classrooms, Mr. Ayers is not a school reformer. He is a school destroyer.

He still hopes for a revolutionary upheaval that will finally bring down American capitalism and imperialism, but this time around Mr. Ayers sows the seeds of resistance and rebellion in America's future teachers. Thus, education students signing up for a course Mr. Ayers teaches at UIC, "On Urban Education," can read these exhortations from the course description: "Homelessness, crime, racism, oppression -- we have the resources and knowledge to fight and overcome these things. We need to look beyond our isolated situations, to define our problems globally. We cannot be child advocates . . . in Chicago or New York and ignore the web that links us with the children of India or Palestine."

The readings Mr. Ayers assigns to his university students are as intellectually diverse as a political commissar's indoctrination session in one of his favorite communist tyrannies. The list for his urban education course includes the bible of the critical pedagogy movement, Brazilian Marxist Paolo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed"; two books by Mr. Ayers himself; and "Teaching to Transgress" by bell hooks (lower case), the radical black feminist writer.

Two years ago Mr. Ayers shared with his students a letter he wrote to a young radical friend: "I've been told to grow up from the time I was ten until this morning. Bullshit. Anyone who salutes your 'youthful idealism' is a patronizing reactionary. Resist! Don't grow up! I went to Camp Casey [Cindy Sheehan's vigil at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas] in August precisely because I'm an agnostic about how and where the rebellion will break out, but I know I want to be there and I know it will break out." (The letter is on his Web site,

America's ideal of public schooling as a means of assimilating all children (and particularly the children of new immigrants) into a common civic and democratic culture is already under assault from the multiculturalists and their race- and gender-centered pedagogy. Mr. Ayers has tried to give the civic culture ideal a coup de grace, contemptuously dismissing it as nothing more than what the critical pedagogy theorists commonly refer to as "capitalist hegemony."

In the world of the Ed schools, Mr. Ayers's movement has established a sizeable beachhead -- witness his election earlier this year as vice president for curriculum of the American Education Research Association, the nation's largest organization of education professors and researchers.

If Barack Obama wins on Nov. 4, the "guy in the neighborhood" is not likely to get an invitation to the Lincoln bedroom. But with the Democrats controlling all three branches of government, there's a real danger that Mr. Ayers's social-justice movement in the schools will get even more room to maneuver and grow.

Mr. Stern is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. He is writing a book, to be published by Encounter, on William Ayers and social justice teaching.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Anthem salutes the greats

by Jay Lustig/The Newark Star-Ledger
Saturday October 11, 2008, 10:00 PM

The New Brunswick-based Gaslight Anthem are, from left, Alex Levine, Benny Horowitz, Alex Rosamila and Brian Fallon.

The Gaslight Anthem, with Rise Against, Alkaline Trio and Thrice. Where: Roseland Ballroom, 239 W. 52nd St., New York. When: 7 p.m. tomorrow and Tuesday. How much: $35. Call (201) 507-8900 or visit

Maybe there is no new music, just new combinations of old music. Bob Dylan idolized Woody Guthrie and Little Richard, and look what happened. Bruce Springsteen has said that he wanted to write like Dylan, sing like Roy Orbison and sound like Phil Spector on his classic "Born To Run" album.
A New Brunswick band, The Gaslight Anthem -- which will open for Rise Against at New York's Roseland Ballroom, tomorrow and Tuesday -- has become one of the rock world's great young hopes by combining previously unsynthesized elements of New Jersey rock: the gritty romanticism and streetwise poetry of early Springsteen and the hard-driving, punk-influenced sound of bands like Bouncing Souls, Lifetime and Thursday.
"I had to blend it together somehow," says frontman Brian Fallon, 28. "I couldn't ignore either side."

Benefiting from a huge amount of underground buzz, the band's second album, "The '59 Sound" -- released by Los Angeles indie label SideOneDummy in August -- debuted at No. 70 on Billboard magazine's albums chart. It also has earned the band a cover story in British rock magazine Kerrang! (which pronounced it, "The best new band you'll hear in 2008") and an almost equally enthusiastic Rolling Stone feature (with the headline, "Punk Rock, Via E Street").

"It feels good right now," says Fallon. "We're been in various bands that have kind of sputtered and coughed and choked, for a long time. But it seems like we're starting to get that thing where even our parents are like, 'Hey, this is pretty exciting.'"

The band's musical influences extend beyond the Jersey border. "I'da Called You Woody, Joe," from their 2007 debut album, "Sink or Swim," was about Joe Strummer of The Clash. "Say I Won't (Recognize)," from their four-song, early-2008 EP "Senor and the Queen," reworked Sam Cooke's "Having a Party."

Various songs on "The '59 Sound" make references to Bob Seger, Tom Petty, Otis Redding and Elvis Presley, as well as Springsteen: "No surrender, my Bobby Jean," pleads Fallon in his rough-hewn voice, in "Meet Me By the River's Edge." Even the album's name was inspired by the 1959 Fender Bassman amplifier used by Springsteen and many other classic-rock musicians.

"We're fully aware that we're not reinventing any styles here," says Fallon, who writes the band's lyrics, though guitarist Alex Rosamilia, bassist Alex Levine and drummer Benny Horowitz co-write the music. "We're just trying to carry on a tradition of music that, in our minds, has been a bit neglected in the past 15 years: any kind of classic rock 'n' roll bands, your Elvis Presleys and your soul bands -- your Otis Reddings and Wilson Picketts.

"No one is listening to those guys right now, as far as in my age group. And I think that, mixed with your punk-rock bands like the Bouncing Souls ... combining them was one of those lightning bolt moments. You can't take any credit for it at all. It just kind of came down and hit you, and you're like, 'That's a good idea.'"

The Rise Against tour, which also features the bands Alkaline Trio and Thrice, began Oct. 2 in Cleveland and lasts through late November. After that, the band has a few U.K. shows lined up, then it will return home for the holidays, and probably make a few Jersey appearances around then.

Rise Against, Alkaline Trio and Thrice are all more established than The Gaslight Anthem, so The Gaslight Anthem gets the opening slot every night. The musicians are still thankful for the opportunity, though.

"It's been amazing," says Rosamilia, 26. "I've never played places this big before -- none of us have. Usually the first band doesn't see much of a crowd response, but the crowds have been great so far -- singing along and just getting into it."

The band has only been around since January 2006. Before that, Horowitz and Rosamilia had been in a New Brunswick group called The Killing Gift. Horowitz had also been in The Low End Theory, another local band, and Fallon had been appearing at coffeehouses in Red Bank, where he grew up.

"At the same time, I would play a lot of the basement shows in New Brunswick with a punk-rock band," says Fallon. "Me and Benny and both of the Alexes had all been mingling around the same scene, but never had played together. It almost seemed like we played with everyone else, except for each other."

David Goldman for The New York Times

Brian Fallon, the band’s lead singer, performing at the Knitting Factory in August.
A mutual friend suggested that Fallon and Horowitz join forces. "And then we kind of brought in the rest of the pieces," says Fallon. "It was really strange how well it fit together, and the way we did it that first practice. I think we still do it, when we write songs. No one tells anybody else what to do. They just go with it, and no one says a word. Everybody just does what they think is the best for the song."

They took "Gaslight" from the New York cafe where Bob Dylan once played. (In 2005, Dylan released an album called "Live at The Gaslight 1962.") "Anthem" seemed right because so much of the music they were making sounded anthemic.

They began touring, and released "Sink Or Swim" on the New Brunswick label XOXO in May 2007. A European tour in September 2007 showed them just how far their music had spread.

"The kids were singing along to our songs," says Rosamilia. "You'd try to talk to them afterward, but they didn't speak English. So there are these kids that can't converse with you, but they can sing along to your songs.

"It definitely took me aback. I wasn't expecting anything even close to that. I was expecting everything to be empty rooms. But everything was packed. It was pretty ridiculous."

In their brief time together, they have also played the Warped Tour, and hit the road with Bouncing Souls.

"We look up to those guys a lot," says Fallon. "They're not our elders, because they're not that much older than us, but we respect those guys, very heavily. To be able to play with those guys and hang out with them is really great."

He has not yet met Springsteen, though one of Springsteen's sons has attended a Gaslight Anthem show.

"Just this week, I got a call from our manager, and she told us to go look at Bruce Springsteen's MySpace page," he says. "And we go look at it, and we're his first friend, on his legit MySpace page.

"I don't know if he's even heard us, or it's just that his son likes us. But I hope that someday I can get to meet him and just be like, 'Man, I think you're great.'"

Jay Lustig may be reached at or (973) 392-5850.

Today's Tune: The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound

(Click on title to play video)

‘I Am Not President Bush.’

At the Hofstra debate, the simple sentence it took John McCain two years to utter.

By Byron York
October 16, 2008, 1:05 a.m.

You can talk all you want about Joe the Plumber, but the moment of the final presidential debate, held last night at Hofstra University on Long Island, came when John McCain said, quickly and cleanly, “Sen. Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.”

McCain has been trying for two years to highlight his differences with George W. Bush, but only tonight, 20 days before the election, did he come up with a formulation so straightforward. It wasn’t an accident. “We discovered that the arguments we were making weren’t soaking in, that people weren’t getting it, that he isn’t George Bush,” a key McCain aide told me shortly after the debate. “He’s talked about how he’s opposed the president on certain policies, but one of the things that we had told him to really focus on was to keep the answers clear and simple.” So McCain said it clearly and simply. Given that about 70 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Bush is doing as president, it made more than one observer wonder what took McCain so long.

It’s fair to say Team McCain was delighted with the way the Bush line came out, and they were also happy that McCain was able to steer so much of the debate to the issue of Joe Wurzelbacher, a.k.a. Joe the Plumber, an Ohio man who confronted Obama this week with concerns that Obama’s proposals would raise taxes on the business Wurzelbacher hoped to buy. In that encounter, Obama told Wurzelbacher, “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” It wasn’t exactly what Wurzelbacher wanted to hear, and it made Obama sound like a classic income-redistributing Democrat.

McCain heard about it when it happened — the exchange was played mostly on Fox News — and brought it up at a debate preparation session yesterday. “We were sitting around and he said, ‘Look, I ought to use this. I ought to look into the camera and talk to Joe the Plumber and say this is what I’m going to do, as opposed to what Sen. Obama is going to do.’“ The whole team thought it was a good idea, and so, seated onstage at Hofstra, McCain carried it off perfectly. “Sen. Obama talks about the very, very rich,” he said. “Joe, I want to tell you, I’ll not only help you buy that business that you worked your whole life for and be able — and I’ll keep your taxes low and I’ll provide available and affordable health care for you and your employees.”

Obama was forced to defend himself at some length, and not very effectively; by the time it was over, McCain had scored a solid win on the Joe issue. And made history, too — in all, the candidates used the word “plumber” eleven times, surely a record for a presidential debate.

As that was happening, members of Team Obama were at their Chicago headquarters, watching the debate with one eye and, with the other, a computer video feed of a private focus group equipped with those electronic dials that Frank Luntz uses on Fox. The private Obama group was made up of swing and undecided voters “in a Midwest state where both campaigns are competing,” one aide told me, declining to say precisely where.

The Obama aides were of course listening closely to what McCain said, but they were also studying what they called McCain’s “nonverbal cues.” “The first huge impression was visual,” the aide told me. “He looked angry, he looked frustrated. It was something that I think people reacted to quite viscerally. People are going to remember the look on John McCain’s face.”

It was, on occasion, kind of an odd look. One of the most appealing things about McCain is that he can’t always hide what he is thinking; try as he might, it just shows in his face. But that can sometimes be a problem in a split-screen close-up televised debate.

When it came to perhaps the most anticipated non-economic subject of the night, Obama’s relationship with former Weather Underground bomber William Ayers, it’s probably fair to say that McCain did not do much damage. In part, that was because Obama knew what was coming. “McCain used — I think it was pretty close to word-for-word the way he has talked about [Ayers] in interviews and on the stump,” the aide told me. “Pretty close to word-for-word.”

The same was true in McCain’s discussion of the radical community organizing group ACORN, with which Obama has sometimes been linked. “There was nothing [McCain] said about ACORN that they hadn’t said in their countless conference calls about it,” the aide told me. “They telegraphed their punches pretty effectively.”

I asked if such predictability made preparing for debates any easier. “It helps,” the aide said.

This was also the only debate that touched on the issue of abortion, when moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS asked whether either man could nominate to the Supreme Court a judicial candidate with whom he disagreed on Roe v. Wade. McCain used the question to disavow any litmus tests for judges, and then brought up Obama’s vote, in the Illinois state senate, against a born-alive protection bill. Pro-lifers were undoubtedly happy to see McCain bring it up, but the Obama aide told me it wasn’t a problem. “When he made the attack on the born-alive legislation, you saw a vertical drop in the dial groups that was pretty astounding,” the aide said. “People didn’t find it credible.” There has been a lot of back-and-forth about what version of the born-alive bill was up for consideration, but you can make a pretty solid case that Obama did indeed do what McCain said he did. Nevertheless, if the aide’s account is correct, people didn’t buy it.

Who won? There seems little doubt that McCain scored many more points than Obama. And if you’re talking about dial groups, the graph lines went straight up when McCain declared “I am not President Bush.” But the experience of the first two debates is that the television audience reacted well to Obama’s demeanor, and their impression of him became more favorable as the debates wore on. That was probably no different at Hofstra.
— Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of the book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.


By Ann Coulter
October 15, 2008

With an African-American running for president this year, there has been a lot of chatter about the "Bradley effect," allowing the media to wail about institutional racism in America.

Named after Tom Bradley, who lost his election for California governor in 1982 despite a substantial lead in the polls, the Bradley effect says that black candidates will poll much stronger than the actual election results.

First of all, if true, this is the opposite of racism: It is fear of being accused of racism. For most Americans, there is nothing more terrifying than the prospect of being called a racist. It's scarier than flood or famine, terrorist attacks or flesh-eating bacteria. To some, it's even scarier than "food insecurity."

Political correctness has taught people to lie to pollsters rather than be forced to explain why they're not voting for the African-American.

This is how two typical voters might answer a pollster's question: "Whom do you support for president?"

Average Obama voter: "Obama." (Name of average Obama voter: "Mickey Mouse.")

Average McCain voter: "I'm voting for McCain, but I swear it's just about the issues. It's not because Obama's black. If Barack Obama were a little more moderate -- hey, I'd vote for Colin Powell. But my convictions force me to vote for the candidate who just happens to be white. Say, do you know where I can get Patti LaBelle tickets?"

In addition to the social pressure to constantly prove you're not a racist, apparently there is massive social pressure to prove you're not a Republican. No one is lying about voting for McCain just to sound cool.

Reviewing the polls printed in The New York Times and The Washington Post in the last month of every presidential election since 1976, I found the polls were never wrong in a friendly way to Republicans. When the polls were wrong, which was often, they overestimated support for the Democrat, usually by about 6 to 10 points.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter narrowly beat Gerald Ford 50.1 percent to 48 percent. And yet, on Sept. 1, Carter led Ford by 15 points. Just weeks before the election, on Oct. 16, 1976, Carter led Ford in the Gallup Poll by 6 percentage points -- down from his 33-point Gallup Poll lead in August.

Reading newspaper coverage of presidential elections in 1980 and 1984, I found myself paralyzed by the fear that Reagan was going to lose.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan beat Carter by nearly 10 points, 51 percent to 41 percent. In a Gallup Poll released days before the election on Oct. 27, it was Carter who led Reagan 45 percent to 42 percent.

In 1984, Reagan walloped Walter Mondale 58.8 percent to 40 percent, -- the largest electoral landslide in U.S. history. But on Oct. 15, The New York Daily News published a poll showing Mondale with only a 4-point deficit to Reagan, 45 percent to 41 percent. A Harris Poll about the same time showed Reagan with only a 9-point lead. The Oct. 19 New York Times/CBS News Poll had Mr. Reagan ahead of Mondale by 13 points. All these polls underestimated Reagan's actual margin of victory by 6 to 15 points.

In 1988, George H.W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis by a whopping 53.4 percent to 45.6 percent. A New York Times/CBS News Poll on Oct. 5 had Bush leading the Greek homunculus by a statistically insignificant 2 points -- 45 percent to 43 percent. (For the kids out there: Before it became a clearinghouse for anti-Bush conspiracy theories, CBS News was considered a credible journalistic entity.)

A week later -- or one tank ride later, depending on who's telling the story -- on Oct. 13, Bush was leading Dukakis in The New York Times Poll by a mere 5 points.

Admittedly, a 3- to 6-point error is not as crazily wrong as the 6- to 15-point error in 1984. But it's striking that even small "margin of error" mistakes never seem to benefit Republicans.

In 1992, Bill Clinton beat the first President Bush 43 percent to 37.7 percent. (Ross Perot got 18.9 percent of Bush's voters that year.) On Oct. 18, a Newsweek Poll had Clinton winning 46 percent to 31 percent, and a CBS News Poll showed Clinton winning 47 percent to 35 percent.

So in 1992, the polls had Clinton 12 to 15 points ahead, but he won by only 5.3 points.

In 1996, Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole 49 percent to 40 percent. And yet on Oct. 22, 1996, The New York Times/CBS News Poll showed Clinton leading by a massive 22 points, 55 percent to 33 percent.

In 2000, which I seem to recall as being fairly close, the October polls accurately described the election as a virtual tie, with either Bush or Al Gore 1 or 2 points ahead in various polls. But in one of the latest polls to give either candidate a clear advantage, The New York Times/CBS News Poll on Oct. 3, 2000, showed Gore winning by 45 percent to 39 percent.

In the last presidential election the polls were surprisingly accurate -- not including the massively inaccurate Election Day exit poll. In the end, Bush beat John Kerry 50.7 percent to 48.3 percent in 2004. Most of the October polls showed the candidates in a dead-heat, with Bush 1 to 3 points ahead. So either pollsters got a whole lot better starting in 2004, or Democrats stole more votes in that election than we even realized.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wright 101

October 14, 2008, 4:00 a.m.

Obama funded extremist Afrocentrists who shared Rev. Wright’s anti-Americanism

By Stanley Kurtz

It looks like Jeremiah Wright was just the tip of the iceberg. Not only did Barack Obama savor Wright’s sermons, Obama gave legitimacy — and a whole lot of money — to education programs built around the same extremist anti-American ideology preached by Reverend Wright. And guess what? Bill Ayers is still palling around with the same bitterly anti-American Afrocentric ideologues that he and Obama were promoting a decade ago. All this is revealed by a bit of digging, combined with a careful study of documents from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, the education foundation Obama and Ayers jointly led in the late 1990s.

John McCain, take note. Obama’s tie to Wright is no longer a purely personal question (if it ever was one) about one man’s choice of his pastor. The fact that Obama funded extremist Afrocentrists who shared Wright’s anti-Americanism means that this is now a matter of public policy, and therefore an entirely legitimate issue in this campaign.

African Village

In the winter of 1996, the Coalition for Improved Education in [Chicago’s] South Shore (CIESS) announced that it had received a $200,000 grant from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. That made CIESS an “external partner,” i.e. a community organization linked to a network of schools within the Chicago public system. This network, named the “South Shore African Village Collaborative” was thoroughly “Afrocentric” in orientation. CIESS’s job was to use a combination of teacher-training, curriculum advice, and community involvement to improve academic performance in the schools it worked with. CIESS would continue to receive large Annenberg grants throughout the 1990s.

The South Shore African Village Collaborative (SSAVC) was very much a part of the Afrocentric “rites of passage movement,” a fringe education crusade of the 1990s. SSAVC schools featured “African-Centered” curricula built around “rites of passage” ceremonies inspired by the puberty rites found in many African societies. In and of themselves, these ceremonies were harmless. Yet the philosophy that accompanied them was not. On the contrary, it was a carbon-copy of Jeremiah Wright’s worldview.

Rites of Passage

To learn what the rites of passage movement was all about, we can turn to a sympathetic 1992 study published in the Journal of Negro Education by Nsenga Warfield-Coppock. In that article, Warfield-Coppock bemoans the fact that public education in the United States is shaped by “capitalism, competitiveness, racism, sexism and oppression.” According to Warfield-Coppock, these American values “have confused African American people and oriented them toward American definitions of achievement and success and away from traditional African values.” American socialization has “proven to be dysfuntional and genocidal to the African American community,” Warfield-Coppock tells us. The answer is the adolescent rites of passage movement, designed “to provide African American youth with the cultural information and values they would need to counter the potentially detrimental effects of a Eurocentrically oriented society.”

The adolescent rites of passage movement that flowered in the 1990s grew out of the “cultural nationalist” or “Pan-African” thinking popular in radical black circles of the 1960s and 1970s. The attempt to create a virtually separate and intensely anti-American black social world began to take hold in the mid-1980s in small private schools, which carefully guarded the contents of their controversial curricula. Gradually, through external partners like CIESS, the movement spread to a few public schools. Supporters view these programs as “a social and cultural ‘inoculation’ process that facilitates healthy, African-centered development among African American youth and protects them against the ravages of a racist, sexist, capitalist, and oppressive society.”

We know that SSAVC was part of this movement, not only because their Annenberg proposals were filled with Afrocentric themes and references to “rites of passage,” but also because SSAVC’s faculty set up its African-centered curriculum in consultation with some of the most prominent leaders of the “rites of passage movement.” For example, a CIESS teacher conference sponsored a presentation on African-centered curricula by Jacob Carruthers, a particularly controversial Afrocentrist.

Jacob Carruthers

Like other leaders of the rites of passage movement, Carruthers teaches that the true birthplace of world civilization was ancient “Kemet” (Egypt), from which Kemetic philosophy supposedly spread to Africa as a whole. Carruthers and his colleagues believe that the values of Kemetic civilization are far superior to the isolating and oppressive, ancient Greek-based values of European and American civilization. Although academic Egyptologists and anthropologists strongly reject these historical claims, Carruthers dismisses critics as part of a white supremacist conspiracy to hide the truth of African superiority.

Carruthers’s key writings are collected in his book, Intellectual Warfare. Reading it is a wild, anti-American ride. In his book, we learn that Carruthers and his like-minded colleagues have formed an organization called the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations (ASCAC), which takes as its mission the need to “dismantle the European intellectual campaign to commit historicide against African peoples.” Carruthers includes “African-Americans” within a group he would define as simply “African.” When forced to describe a black person as “American,” Carruthers uses quotation marks, thus indicating that no black person can be American in any authentic sense. According to Carruthers, “The submission to Western civilization and its most outstanding offspring, American civilization, is, in reality, surrender to white supremacy.”

Carruthers’s goal is to use African-centered education to recreate a separatist universe within America, a kind of state-within-a-state. The rites of passage movement is central to the plan. Carruthers sees enemies on every part of the political spectrum, from conservatives, to liberals, to academic leftists, all of whom reject advocates of Kemetic civilization, like himself, as dangerous and academically irresponsible extremists. Carruthers sees all these groups as deluded captives of white supremacist Eurocentric culture. Therefore the only safe place for Africans living in the United States (i.e. American blacks) is outside the mental boundaries of our ineradicably racist Eurocentric civilization. As Carruthers puts it: “...some of us have chosen to reject the culture of our oppressors and recover our disrupted ancestral culture.” The rites of passage movement is a way to teach young Africans in the United States how to reject America and recover their authentic African heritage.

America as Rape

Carruthers admits that Africans living in America have already been shaped by Western culture, yet compares this Americanization process to rape: “We may not be able to get our virginity back after the rape, but we do not have to marry the rapist....” In other words, American blacks (i.e. Africans) may have been forcibly exposed to American culture, but that doesn’t mean they need to accept it. The better option, says Carruthers, is to separate out and relearn the wisdom of Africa’s original Kemetic culture, embodied in the teachings of the ancient wise man, Ptahhotep (an historical figure traditionally identified as the author of a Fifth Dynasty wisdom book). Anything less than re-Africanization threatens the mental, and even physical, genocide of Africans living in an ineradicably white supremacist United States.

Carruthers is a defender of Leonard Jeffries, professor in the department of black studies at City College in Harlem, infamous for his black supremacist and anti-Semitic views. Jeffries sees whites as oppressive and violent “ice people,” in contrast to peaceful and mutually supportive black “sun people.” The divergence says Jeffries, is attributable to differing levels of melanin in the skin. Jeffries also blames Jews for financing the slave trade. Carruthers defends Jeffries and excoriates the prestigious black academics Carruthers views as traitorous for denouncing their African brother, Jeffries. Carruthers’s vision of the superior and peaceful Kemetic philosophy of Ptahhotep triumphing over Greco-Euro-American-white culture obviously parallels Jeffries’ opposition between ice people and sun people.

More of Carruthers’s education philosophy can be found in his newsletter, The Kemetic Voice. In 1997, for example, at the same time Carruthers was advising SSAVC on how to set up an African-centered curriculum, he praised the decision of New Orleans’ School Board to remove the name of George Washington from an elementary school. Apparently, some officials in New Orleans had decided that nobody who held slaves should have a school named after him. Carruthers touted the name-change as proof that his African-centered perspective was finally having an effect on public policy. At the demise of George Washington School, Carruthers crowed: “These events remind us of how vast the gulf is that separates the Defenders of Western Civilization from the Champions of African Civilization.”

According to Chicago Annenberg Challenge records, Carruthers’s training session on African-centered curricula for SSAVC teachers was a huge hit: “As a consciousness raising session, it received rave reviews, and has prepared the way for the curriculum readiness survey....” These teacher-training workshops were directly funded by the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Another sure sign of the ideological cast of SSAVC’s curriculum can be found in Annenberg documents noting that SSAVC students are taught the wisdom of Ptahhotep. Carruthers’s concerns about “menticide” and “genocide” at the hand of America’s white supremacist system seem to be echoed in an SSAVC document that says: “Our children need to understand the historical context of our struggles for liberation from those forces that seek to destroy us.”

When Jeremiah Wright turned toward African-centered thinking in the late 1980s and early 1990s (the period when, attracted by Wright’s African themes, Barack Obama first became a church member), many prominent thinkers from Carruthers’s Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations were invited to speak at Trinity United Church of Christ, Carruthers himself included. We hear echoes of Carruthers’s work in Wright’s distinction between “right brained” Africans and “left brained” Europeans, in Wright’s fears of U.S. government-sponsored genocide against American blacks, and in Wright’s embittered attacks on America’s indelibly white-supremacist history. In Wright’s Trumpet Newsmagazine, as in Carruthers’s own writings, blacks are often referred to as “Africans living in the diaspora” rather than as Americans.

Asa Hilliard

Chicago Annenberg Challenge records also indicate that SSAVC educators invited Asa Hilliard, a pioneer of African-centered curricula and a close colleague of Carruthers, to offer a keynote address at yet another Annenberg-funded teacher training session. Hilliard’s ties to Wright run still deeper than Carruthers’s. A close Wright mentor and friend, Hilliard died in 2007 while on a trip to Kemet (Egypt) with Wright and members of Wright’s congregation. Hillard was scheduled to deliver several lectures to the congregants, and to speak at a meeting of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilization, which he co-founded with Carruthers and other “African-centered” scholars. On that last trip, Hilliard accepted an appointment to the board of Wright’s new elementary school, Kwame Nkrumah Academy. Speaking of the need for such a school, Wright had earlier said, “We need to educate our children to the reality of white supremacy.” (For more on Wright’s Afrocentric school, see “Jeremiah Wright’s ‘Trumpet.’”)

Wright delivered the eulogy at Hilliard’s memorial service, with prominent members of ASCAC in the audience. To commemorate Hilliard, a special, two-cover double issue of Wright’s Trumpet Newsmagazine was published, with a picture of Hilliard on one side, and a picture of Louis Farrakhan on the other (in celebration of a 2007 award Farrakhan received from Wright). In short, the ties between Wright and Hilliard could hardly have been closer. Clearly, then, Wright’s own educational philosophy was mirrored at the Annenberg-funded SSAVC, which sought out Hilliard’s and Carruthers’s counsel to construct its curriculum.

Perhaps inadvertently, Wright’s eulogy for Hilliard actually established the fringe nature of his favorite African-centered scholars. In his tribute, Wright stressed how intensely “white Egyptologists recoiled at the very notion of everything Asa taught.” As Wright himself made plain, it seems virtually impossible to find respectable scholars of any political stripe who approve of the extremist anti-American version of Afrocentrism promoted by Hilliard and Carruthers.

Ayers’s Pals

An important exception to the rule is Bill Ayers himself, who not only worked with Obama to fund groups like this at the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, but who is still “palling around” with the same folks. Discretely waiting until after the election, Bill Ayers and his wife, and fellow former terrorist, Bernardine Dohrn plan to release a book in 2009 entitled Race Course Against White Supremacy. The book will be published by Third World Press, a press set up by Carruthers and other members of the ASCAC. Representatives of that press were prominently present for Wright’s eulogy at Asa Hilliard’s memorial service. Less than a decade ago, therefore, when it came to education issues, Barack Obama, Bill Ayers, and Jeremiah Wright were pretty much on the same page.

Obama’s Knowledge

Given the precedent of his earlier responses on Ayers and Wright, Obama might be inclined to deny personal knowledge of the educational philosophy he was so generously funding. Such a denial would not be convincing. For one thing, we have evidence that in 1995, the same year Obama assumed control of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, he publicly rejected “the unrealistic politics of integrationist assimilation,” a stance that clearly resonates with both Wright and Carruthers. (See “No Liberation.”)

And as noted, Wright had invited Carruthers, Hilliard, and like-minded thinkers to address his Trinity congregants. Wright likes to tick off his connections to these prominent Afrocentrists in sermons, and Obama would surely have heard of them. Reading over SSAVC’s Annenberg proposals, Obama could hardly be ignorant of what they were about. And if by some chance Obama overlooked Hilliard’s or Carruthers’s names, SSAVC’s proposals are filled with references to “rites of passage” and “Ptahhotep,” dead giveaways for the anti-American and separatist ideological concoction favored by SSAVC.

We know that Obama did read the proposals. Annenberg documents show him commenting on proposal quality. And especially after 1995, when concerns over self-dealing and conflicts of interest forced the Ayers-headed “Collaborative” to distance itself from monetary issues, all funding decisions fell to Obama and the board. Significantly, there was dissent within the board. One business leader and experienced grant-smith characterized the quality of most Annenberg proposals as “awful.” (See “The Chicago Annenberg Challenge: The First Three Years,” p. 19.) Yet Obama and his very small and divided board kept the money flowing to ideologically extremist groups like the South Shore African Village Collaborative, instead of organizations focused on traditional educational achievement.

As if the content of SSAVC documents wasn’t warning enough, their proposals consistently misspelled “rites of passage” as “rights of passage,” hardly an encouraging sign from a group meant to improve children’s reading skills. The Chicago Annenberg Challenge’s own evaluators acknowledged that Annenberg-aided schools showed no improvement in achievement scores. Evaluators attributed that failure, in part, to the fact that many of Annenberg’s “external partners” had little educational expertise. A group that puts its efforts into Kwanzaa celebrations and half-baked history certainly fits that bill, and goes a long way toward explaining how Ayers and Obama managed to waste upwards of $150 million without improving student achievement.

However he may seek to deny it, all evidence points to the fact that, from his position as board chair of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, Barack Obama knowingly and persistently funded an educational project that shared the extremist and anti-American philosophy of Jeremiah Wright. The Wright affair was no fluke. It’s time for McCain to say so.

— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Today's Tune: Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues (Live, 1969)

(Click on title to play video)

Johnny Cash's 'Folsom Prison' days revisited

By Mark Brown, Rocky Mountain News
Published October 13, 2008 at 6 p.m.

It's an easy argument to make: Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison is the most important live recording ever. Not only was it a social flash point when released in 1968, but it made Cash a sensation and lifted country music to a new level.

It's rereleased today in a Legacy Edition that lives up to its name. Besides finally presenting audio recordings of both shows performed at the California prison on Jan. 13, 1968, it includes a 90-minute documentary by Cash biographer Michael Streissguth and director Bestor Cram that puts the concert into context.

No film crew accompanied Cash - only photographer Jim Marshall. Using those photos, audio recordings and interviews, the film gives the performances context and resonance. The soul-crushing existence at the medieval-looking stone prison is bleakly captured.

What's particularly engrossing, though, is the telling of the story through the eyes of two inmates who were there for the shows. Convict Glen Sherley was a gifted songwriter; Cash recorded Sherley's "Greystone Chapel" at the concert and later gave the inmate a leg up in the music world, hiring him as an opening act when he was finally paroled. Millard Dedmon, also in the audience that day, recalls the life-changing impact the performance had on him.

The two took different paths. After his release, Sherley spiraled down violently to the point where he committed suicide. Dedmon walked the line for the rest of his life and was officially declared fully rehabilitated.

Here's what Cash biographer Streissguth had to say about the documentary in a recent phone interview:

Was there a real sense of danger at the shows?

There was . . . people in the group feared somebody might lunge at them, lunge at June. There was something palpable there. Jim Marshall's photographs reveal a concern. . . . In the documentary, (Marshall's) saying that when those prison doors slam shut, Cash turns to him and says, "That has a feeling of permanence." We went in there to shoot (new footage) and they tell you, "We don't negotiate with hostage-takers." You think twice. As many inmates say, guards don't run the prison, inmates run the prison.

What made you think there was a story here that needed to be told?

Our characters were compelling. Glen Sherley is a story that's largely untold. We knew from the beginning he'd be a major character. Millard Dedmon is just so eloquent in describing conditions in the prison and Cash's visit. And he's an embodiment of Cash's aspirations. . . . They can succeed, there is life after prison.

What made this album different?

All you have to do is compare it with Cash's San Quentin show (recorded in 1969), which is electrifying, but it was also very much staged with film cameras in mind. Whereas Folsom was kind of in the dark. No fanfare. People went in with low expectations. Marshall Grant told us Columbia only agreed to this to have product to release on Cash, who wasn't spending much time in studios. In the end, it's one of the most important recorded concerts in popular music. It turned Cash's career around. He became an international star, and he brought country music with him. More important, it was a quintessential 1960s statement. The '60s were at least in part about solidarity with those on the fringes of society.

Despite some jail stints, Cash didn't have a lengthy prison record. Where did he get his empathy to do all these prison concerts?

He had a deep-seated concern for his fellow man. I think that probably dates to his Christian education. In the community he grew up in, a farming cooperative, to succeed you often have to rely on the hands of others. It just evolved from that.

In the film, Roseanne Cash says this concert changed her father as a person. Did it?

It did. Because of the affirmation he received in the wake of it. He learned via the commercial response and the critical response that his work was appreciated and it was important. The affirmation helped transform his personal life. It took him away from the heavy drug use and turned him back to religion. It led him to focus more on family.

After the fact, they dubbed in cheering after the line "I killed a man in Reno just to watch him die." Doesn't that contradict Cash's humanitarian intentions by making the inmates sound bloodthirsty?

Bob Johnston, producer of the album, was working to make this as compelling a piece of entertainment as possible. As any producer does, he looks for ways to embellish what's there. It's not at all surprising that Johnston would have cut that crowd noise into it; it happens at other junctures as well. We have to remember that Cash was an entertainer. He was somebody who wanted to sell records. This kind of compromise, if you will, is not so surprising.

Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (Legacy Edition DVD)
* Grade: A

Boxed set shines light on legendary Cash prison show

40th anniversary edition of ‘Folsom Prison’ dispels some beloved myths.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, October 12, 2008

As it turns out, one of the most iconic moments in American music history is the result of a razor blade, a prerecorded hunk of hollering and some Scotch tape.

But the reality of the late singer’s talent and compassion shines through on the 40th-anniversary boxed set.

The 1,000 inmates packed into the California prison’s cafeteria that Jan. 16, 1968, morning screamed, whistled and wildly applauded the musical murder.

For 40 years, music fans have regarded the chilling moment as a key component in the DNA of Cash’s career-making mystique.

But it never happened.

Columbia Records producer Bob Johnston later spliced the crowd response into the song.

Writer Michael Streissguth discovered the bit of larcenous creative license while he was researching his 2004 book, “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece.”

Streissguth was in a studio listening to the master tapes of the concert with Sony Legacy engineers. On the weathered reel-to-reel tape, the moment whizzed past without any audience eruption.

Curious, the writer and the engineers pulled out the edited master. Sure enough, on the final version when Cash’s iconic line was cued up, the spliced in, taped up edit was evident.

“It floored me,” Streissguth recalled. “I had bought into the drama and authenticity of that moment along with everyone else. I didn’t even know if Sony was going to allow me to leave the studio with the information!”

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the classic Cash recording, Legacy has opted to pull back the curtain on almost all the myths long associated with the session that day via a new “Folsom Prison” boxed set. The three-disc set — including a new 90-minute documentary directed by Bestor Cram and written by Streissguth — arrives in stores Tuesday.

For fans, it’s an enlightening, fascinating and occasionally disappointing archaeological dig into a historic day in music.

It’s the album that turned Cash into both a folk hero and a multiplatinum recording artist.

And “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” would also eventually earn one inmate his freedom.

‘Live Performance 101’

Like many creative endeavors, the process began with an argument. Then-Columbia Records President Clive Davis cautioned Cash against making a live album at a prison, warning him that it could kill his career.

Undaunted, Cash, who had become accustomed to playing in prisons, knew there was an energy inside the walls that could be ultimately captured on a live recording.

“You can feel the electricity and the excitement in that room,” country star Travis Tritt said. The Marietta native first heard “Folsom Prison Blues” coming out of his radio as a kid on Atlanta’s WBIE-FM 101.5 FM. After his father bought an eight-track of the album, the future Grammy winner for “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’ ” wore it out. To this day, a dozen or so “Folsom Prison” purchases later, Tritt said he always keeps a copy close by, even when he’s on tour.

“For me, that album is a Live Performance 101 class,” Tritt said. “The crowd reaction was amazing. Johnny Cash was speaking their language on that cafeteria stage. Even the real bad guys in that hall were with him.”

While Cash had never done any hard time himself, he had spent enough time behind bars to familiarize himself with the isolation.

On the “Folsom” back cover, Cash scrawls in the handwritten liner notes: “You count the steel bars on the door so many times that you hate yourself for it. … There is nothing to look forward to.”

Giving prisoners something to look forward to became a primary objective of the 1968 Folsom appearance.

Early that morning, Cash, clad in a leather jacket, was escorted into the prison with his band, the Tennessee Three, girlfriend June Carter, photographer Jim Marshall, Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Hilburn and opening acts the Stadler Brothers and rockabilly legend Carl Perkins.

The grim, black-bedecked entourage could have been trudging toward the gas chamber as the gates clanged shut behind them. A small white piece of bathroom tissue clung to Cash’s face, the result of a shaving slip.

Much of the material Cash selected lyrically sliced as deep: the murderous and misogynistic “Cocaine Blues,” the death row ditty “25 Minutes to Go” and “I Got Stripes.”

Cash also peppered the performance with the humorous, prisoner-pleasing “Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog” and “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart.”

Carter emerged to the inmates’ delight to do a duet and flirt with Cash on “Jackson.”

And Cash ended the show by performing “Greystone Chapel,” a song about the prison’s house of worship written by budding songwriter, singer and Folsom inmate Glen Shirley.

Shirley, who was seated in the front row, was stunned. The fame of the song on the eventual “Folsom” album, coupled with Cash’s public support, eventually earned Shirley an early release from Folsom.

‘A piece of theater’

In Legacy’s new boxed set, for the first time fans will have an opportunity to hear the day’s second show. Also included are tracks from the Stadler Brothers and Perkins warming up the crowd. The set also includes two additional duets with Carter and one more myth-crushing realization.

For 40 years, the first thing fans have heard on the “Folsom” album is complete silence until Cash steps to the microphone and says “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” Thunderous applause then ricochets throughout the room as Cash and crew bang into the opening strains of “Folsom Prison Blues.”

In the new Legacy edition, the album opens with coaching from a radio DJ. Hugh Cherry actually instructs the inmates to remain quiet until after the singer speaks.

“It was a piece of theater,” explained Atlanta author Paul Hemphill. The former Atlanta Journal columnist first got to know Cash when he traveled to Tennessee in 1969 to research “The Nashville Sound.” The book became the first in-depth history of country music (a new edition with a fresh introduction by Hemphill has been published by Everthemore Books). The writer hit town in the aftermath of Cash’s “Folsom” success. By then, the newly wed Cash and Carter were taping a variety show for ABC.

“To me, it’s no different than sitting in the Ryman Auditorium at the Grand Ole Opry,” Hemphill said. “They told the audience when to applaud there, too. It’s an old huckster show business trick.”

‘It stands tall’

Back in 1969, as Cash ripped into a fried trout at a Ramada Inn coffee shop, he talked to Hemphill about the after-effects of “Folsom” and his prison reform activism.

“I didn’t go into it thinking about it as a ‘crusade,’ ” Cash told Hemphill. “I just don’t think prisons do any good. They put ‘em in there and just make ‘em worse. … Nothing good ever came out of a prison. If I can get some good done by writing and singing songs about prisons, it’s a bonus.”

Streissguth said Cash, who died in 2005, might have welcomed the myth-busting new 40th anniversary edition of “Folsom Prison,” even with its extended peek behind the studio wizard’s curtain.

“The album is so important in Cash’s career and as a social statement, this [new edition] won’t dilute the impact of ‘Folsom,’ ” Streissguth said. “It still stands tall.”

Yet, there’s one piece of fiction still Scotch-taped to the new version: the canned crowd noise at the pivotal moment on the opening track.

According to Streissguth, Legacy A&R coordinator John Jackson told him: “It’s such an iconic moment, we couldn’t leave it out.”

Even if it never happened.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An Ill Wind

By Phyllis Chesler
Chesler Chronicles - Pajamas Media
Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The black flag of Islamic Jihad on display at the Muslim Day parade in Manhattan on Friday (10/10/08).

On my way to Penn Station on Friday afternoon, (on West 29th St. to be precise), there seemed to be some kind of demonstration going on. When we got closer we saw that it was a large Islamic prayer service which had spilled out onto the sidewalk and into the gutter. It was mainly a mass of prostrated men but women in hijab walked nearby. The driver, a silver-haired man of Greek and Bulgarian background, launched a non-stop monologue.

“I wouldn’t mind it if they came here to become Americans like I did. But no, they hate America. They want to stay the way they are but they want to take over America. You ought to see it in Astoria, Queens! Far bigger than this. You know why they’re on the sidewalk and in the street? Because they are really protesting not having larger and larger mosques.”

Well, their prayer service, (and it was that), did somehow seem like a protest. There was an aggressive rather than a humbled feeling in the air, more anger than love, a separatism but one right in-your-face.

Upon my return, several brave members of the LiberalHawks listserv group, including Pamela Gellar of Atlas Shrugs, were discussing the Muslim Day Parade. I watched a very disturbing Video and read personal accounts of what happened at yesterday’s parade. Unlike the Hispanic Day Parade, which also took place yesterday, the Muslim Day parade was aggressive, angry, confrontational, and did not seem very happy or joyful. No one was celebrating Islam’s many cultures and ethnicities. One sign read “Home of the Free Shari’a Movement.”

A number of super-angry bearded men tried to charge a small group of women who were holding signs which read “We Will Not Submit.” The men called one woman: “A fu–ing bitch,” “You whore,” “Your Talmud says you can rape a three year old,” “You baby murderer,” “The Jews kill little children,” “Rothschild was a Zionist,” (!). The background was a continuous roar of “Allahu-Akbar.”

One woman, a member of the LiberalHawks listserv group, was threatened by a Muslim man. He threatened to “rape her fifty times.” He, and several other men, walked right through the barrier that had been erected to separate the two groups. Muslim parade marchers also photographed the protestors–a method of intimidation, a threat that they are being watched and might be stalked or worse. The police ended up having to protect the small band of protestors. In my time, it was the police who photographed the demonstrators, the demonstrators and counter-demonstrators did not photograph each other (unless they were FBI or CIA agents disguised as demonstrators or protesters).

Perhaps perfectly peaceful Muslims are paranoid about not being allowed to pray in the public square and are therefore aggressive about it. Perhaps their leaders want to claim public, secular space as Islamist religious space–just as they’ve enjoyed it in the Old Country. Perhaps Muslims who really want to pray have only seen Muslims marching in anger or even rioting in public and believe that this is what Muslims “do.”

This is an ill wind and it’s blowin’ right here in Manhattan and Brooklyn and Queens. The March for McCain on Manhattan’s upper west side elicited a solid, ugly wall of hoots, jeers, boos and rage. When I asked some liberal friends of mine to view it, they were non-plussed. Indeed, they said that the hoots and jeers were proof of a flourishing First Amendment. “The marchers can march and we can express our views of their views.”

When I and others had to be protected by police officers when we spoke on campus about Islamic gender and religious apartheid and about Islamic imperialism and pro-slavery views, many of the students looked and acted a lot like the upper westsiders–but that too was defended as the First Amendment in action. I have been a radical feminist for most of my life and have always voted Democratic. I voted for Bush once and reaped the whirlwind. However, I have not seen conservative students boo, jeer, and move menacingly against speakers who opposed the military, the War, etc. Have you? They just seem to wear their bow-ties and behave in civilized ways. Why? (Needless to say, I do not agree with many items on the conservative and Republican agenda but I do appreciate their civility in these times).

The Muslim Day parade in Manhattan seems to be another example of the First Amendment and freedom of religion being used to censor other views in an ugly and threatening way.

I am afraid for our country. There seems to be an escalation, an acceleration of Islamist aggression in many of our cities, and not just via prayer-protest but also via lawsuit. Even now, the United Nations is preparing a truly racist document against the Jews, (Durban II), and yet it’s being promoted as an “anti-racist’ document. Why is the mainstream media so silent about all this? Why are the intelligentsia silent, why do they once again make common cause with totalitarians and fascists? What will it take to connect the dots?

- Dr. Phyllis Chesler is the well known author of classic works, including the bestseller Women and Madness (1972) and The New Anti-Semitism (2003). She has just published The Death of Feminism: What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom (Palgrave Macmillan), as well as an updated and revised edition of Women and Madness. She is an Emerita Professor of psychology and women's studies, the co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology (1969) and the National Women's Health Network (1974). Her website is

- Photos from

Monday, October 13, 2008

Today's Tune: Brandi Carlile - The Story

(Click on title to play video)

Planting Seeds of Disaster

ACORN, Barack Obama, and the Democratic party.

By Stanley Kurtz
October 07, 2008, 7:00 a.m.

‘You’ve got only a couple thousand bucks in the bank. Your job pays you dog-food wages. Your credit history has been bent, stapled, and mutilated. You declared bankruptcy in 1989. Don’t despair: You can still buy a house.” So began an April 1995 article in the Chicago Sun-Times that went on to direct prospective home-buyers fitting this profile to a group of far-left “community organizers” called ACORN, for assistance. In retrospect, of course, encouraging customers like this to buy homes seems little short of madness.

Militant ACORN

At the time, however, that 1995 Chicago newspaper article represented something of a triumph for Barack Obama. That same year, as a director at Chicago’s Woods Fund, Obama was successfully pushing for a major expansion of assistance to ACORN, and sending still more money ACORN’s way from his post as board chair of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Through both funding and personal-leadership training, Obama supported ACORN. And ACORN, far more than we’ve recognized up to now, had a major role in precipitating the subprime crisis.

I’ve already told the story of Obama’s close ties to ACORN leader Madeline Talbott, who personally led Chicago ACORN’s campaign to intimidate banks into making high-risk loans to low-credit customers. Using provisions of a 1977 law called the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), Chicago ACORN was able to delay and halt the efforts of banks to merge or expand until they had agreed to lower their credit standards — and to fill ACORN’s coffers to finance “counseling” operations like the one touted in that Sun-Times article. This much we’ve known. Yet these local, CRA-based pressure-campaigns fit into a broader, more disturbing, and still under-appreciated national picture. Far more than we’ve recognized, ACORN’s local, CRA-enabled pressure tactics served to entangle the financial system as a whole in the subprime mess. ACORN was no side-show. On the contrary, using CRA and ties to sympathetic congressional Democrats, ACORN succeeded in drawing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into the very policies that led to the current disaster.

In one of the first book-length scholarly studies of ACORN, Organizing Urban America, Rutgers University political scientist Heidi Swarts describes this group, so dear to Barack Obama, as “oppositional outlaws.” Swarts, a strong supporter of ACORN, has no qualms about stating that its members think of themselves as “militants unafraid to confront the powers that be.” “This identity as a uniquely militant organization,” says Swarts, “is reinforced by contentious action.” ACORN protesters will break into private offices, show up at a banker’s home to intimidate his family, or pour protesters into bank lobbies to scare away customers, all in an effort to force a lowering of credit standards for poor and minority customers. According to Swarts, long-term ACORN organizers “tend to see the organization as a solitary vanguard of principled leftists...the only truly radical community organization.”

ACORN’s Inside Strategy

Yet ACORN’s entirely deserved reputation for militance is balanced by its less-well-known “inside strategy.” ACORN has long employed Washington-based lobbyists who understand very well how the legislative game is played. ACORN’s national lobbyists may encourage and benefit from the militant tactics of their base, but in the halls of congress they play the game with smooth sophistication. The untold story of ACORN’s central role in the financial meltdown is about the one-two punch to the banking system administered by this outside/inside strategy.

Critics of the notion that CRA had a major impact on the subprime crisis ask how a law passed in 1977 could have caused a crisis in 2008? The answer has a lot to do with ACORN — and the critical years of 1990-1995. While the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act did call on banks to increase lending in poor and minority neighborhoods, its exact requirements were vague, and therefore open to a good deal of regulatory interpretation. Banks merger or expansion plans were rarely held up under CRA until the late 1980s, when ACORN perfected its technique of filing CRA complaints in tandem with the sort of intimidation tactics perfected by that original “community organizer” (and Obama idol), Saul Alinsky.

At first, ACORN’s anti-bank actions were relatively few in number. However, under a provision of the 1989 savings and loan bailout pushed by liberal Democratic legislators, like Massachusetts Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy, lenders were required to compile public records of mortgage applicants by race, gender, and income. Although the statistics produced by these studies were presented in highly misleading ways, groups like ACORN were able to use them to embarrass banks into lowering credit standards. At the same time, a wave of banking mergers in the early 1990's provided an opening for ACORN to use CRA to force lending changes. Any merger could be blocked under CRA, and once ACORN began systematically filing protests over minority lending, a formerly toothless set of regulations began to bite.

ACORN’s efforts to undermine credit standards in the late 1980s taught it a valuable lesson. However much pressure ACORN put on banks to lower credit standards, tough requirements in the “secondary market” run by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac served as a barrier to change. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy up mortgages en masse, bundle them, and sell them to investors on the world market. Back then, Fannie and Freddie refused to buy loans that failed to meet high credit standards. If, for example, a local bank buckled to ACORN pressure and agreed to offer poor or minority applicants a 5-percent down-payment rate, instead of the normal 10-20 percent, Fannie and Freddie would refuse to buy up those mortgages. That would leave all the risk of these shaky loans with the local bank. So again and again, local banks would tell ACORN that, because of standards imposed by Fannie and Freddie, they could lower their credit standards by only a little.

So the eighties taught ACORN that a high-pressure, Alinskyite outside strategy wouldn’t be enough. Their Washington lobbyists would have to bring inside pressure on the government to undercut credit standards at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Only then would local banks consider making loans available to customers with bad credit histories, low wages, virtually nothing in the bank, and even bankruptcies on record.

Democrats and ACORN

As early as 1987, ACORN began pressuring Fannie and Freddie to review their standards, with modest results. By 1989, ACORN had lured Fannie Mae into the first of many “pilot projects” designed to help local banks lower credit standards. But it was all small potatoes until the serious pressure began in early 1991. At that point, Democratic Senator Allan Dixon convened a Senate subcommittee hearing at which an ACORN representative gave key testimony. It’s probably not a coincidence that Dixon, like Obama, was an Illinois Democrat, since Chicago has long been a stronghold of ACORN influence.

Dixon gave credibility to ACORN’s accusations of loan bias, although these claims of racism were disputed by Missouri Republican, Christopher Bond. ACORN’s spokesman strenuously complained that his organization’s efforts to relax local credit standards were being blocked by requirements set by the secondary market. Dixon responded by pressing Fannie and Freddie to do more to relax those standards — and by promising to introduce legislation that would ensure it. At this early stage, Fannie and Freddie walked a fine line between promising to do more, while protesting any wholesale reduction of credit requirements.

By July of 1991, ACORN’s legislative campaign began to bear fruit. As the Chicago Tribune put it, “Housing activists have been pushing hard to improve housing for the poor by extracting greater financial support from the country’s two highly profitable secondary mortgage-market companies. Thanks to the help of sympathetic lawmakers, it appeared...that they may succeed.” The Tribune went on to explain that House Democrat Henry Gonzales had announced that Fannie and Freddie had agreed to commit $3.5 billion to low-income housing in 1992 and 1993, in addition to a just-announced $10 billion “affordable housing loan program” by Fannie Mae. The article emphasizes ACORN pressure and notes that Fannie and Freddie had been fighting against the plan as recently as a week before agreement was reached. Fannie and Freddie gave in only to stave off even more restrictive legislation floated by congressional Democrats.

A mere month later, ACORN Housing Corporation president, George Butts made news by complaining to a House Banking subcommittee that ACORN’s efforts to pressure banks using CRA were still being hamstrung by Fannie and Freddie. Butts also demanded still more data on the race, gender, and income of loan applicants. Many news reports over the ensuing months point to ACORN as the key source of pressure on congress for a further reduction of credit standards at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As a result of this pressure, ACORN was eventually permitted to redraft many of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s loan guideline.

Clinton and ACORN

ACORN’s progress through 1992 depended on its Democratic allies. Whatever ACORN managed to squeeze out of the George H. W. Bush administration came under congressional pressure. With the advent of the Clinton administration, however, ACORN’s fortunes took a positive turn. Clinton Housing Secretary Henry Cisnersos pledged to meet monthly with ACORN representatives. For ACORN, those meetings bore fruit.

Another factor working in ACORN’s favor was that its increasing success with local banks turned those banks into allies in the battle with Fannie and Freddie. Precisely because ACORN’s local pressure tactics were working, banks themselves now wanted Fannie and Freddie to loosen their standards still further, so as to buy up still more of the high-risk loans they’d made at ACORN’s insistence. So by the 1993, a grand alliance of ACORN, national Democrats, and local bankers looking for someone to lessen the risks imposed on them by CRA and ACORN were uniting to pressure Fannie and Freddie to loosen credit standards still further.

At this point, both ACORN and the Clinton administration were working together to impose large numerical targets or “set asides” (really a sort of poor and minority loan quota system) on Fannie and Freddie. ACORN called for at least half of Fannie and Freddie loans to go to low-income customers. At first the Clinton administration offered a set-aside of 30 percent. But eventually ACORN got what it wanted. In early 1994, the Clinton administration floated plans for committing $1 trillion in loans to low- and moderate-income home-buyers, which would amount to about half of Fannie Mae’s business by the end of the decade. Wall Street Analysts attributed Fannie Mae’s willingness to go along with the change to the need to protect itself against still more severe “congressional attack.” News reports also highlighted praise for the change from ACORN’s head lobbyist, Deepak Bhargava.

This sweeping debasement of credit standards was touted by Fannie Mae’s chairman, chief executive officer, and now prominent Obama adviser James A. Johnson. This is also the period when Fannie Mae ramped up its pilot programs and local partnerships with ACORN, all of which became precedents and models for the pattern of risky subprime mortgages at the root of today’s crisis. During these years, Obama’s Chicago ACORN ally, Madeline Talbott, was at the forefront of participation in those pilot programs, and her activities were consistently supported by Obama through both foundation funding and personal leadership training for her top organizers.

Finally, in June of 1995, President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and Secretary Cisneros announced the administration’s comprehensive new strategy for raising home-ownership in America to an all-time high. Representatives from ACORN were guests of honor at the ceremony. In his remarks, Clinton emphasized that: “Out homeownership strategy will not cost the taxpayers one extra cent. It will not require legislation.” Clinton meant that informal partnerships between Fannie and Freddie and groups like ACORN would make mortgages available to customers “who have historically been excluded from homeownership.”


In the end of course, Clinton’s plan cost taxpayers an almost unimaginable amount of money. And it was just around the time of his 1995 announcement that the Chicago papers started encouraging bad-credit customers with “dog-food” wages, little money in the bank, and even histories of bankruptcy to apply for home loans with the help of ACORN. At both the local and national levels, then, ACORN served as the critical catalyst, levering pressure created by the Community Reinvestment Act and pull with Democratic politicians to force Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into a pattern of high-risk loans.

Up to now, conventional wisdom on the financial meltdown has relegated ACORN and the CRA to bit parts. The real problem, we’ve been told, lay with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In fact, however, ACORN is at the base of the whole mess. ACORN used CRA and Democratic sympathizers to entangle Fannie and Freddie and the entire financial system in a disastrous disregard of the most basic financial standards. And Barack Obama cut his teeth as an organizer and politician backing up ACORN’s economic madness every step of the way.

— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Institute.