Friday, January 16, 2009

Breaking up is hard to do for Pete Carroll

USC coach doesn't handle Mark Sanchez's departure very graciously.

Bill Plaschke
The Los Angeles Times
January 16, 2009

Southern California football coach Pete Carroll, left, and quarterback Mark Sanchez, cross paths after Sanchez announced that he would make himself available for the NFL draft during a news conference at the USC campus in Los Angeles on Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009.(AP)

With tears in his eyes, a USC student announced that after attending classes for four years and receiving his bachelor's degree, he was leaving campus to pursue his life's work.

At which point, his beloved professor publicly scorned him for it.

What's wrong with this picture?

Nothing, apparently, if you are Pete Carroll.

Everything, perhaps, if you are Mark Sanchez.

The gap between college football and college education was never more sadly pronounced than Thursday, when a future graduate happily sent out early commencement announcements, only to see a professed educator shred them in disappointment.

Sanchez, the Trojans' starting quarterback who will finish his classwork in May with one year of remaining football eligibility, formally declared that he was leaving school to join the NFL.

Carroll, his coach, publicly treated him like a traitor.

Said Sanchez: "It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to this university."

Said Carroll: "We didn't see this decision the same."

Sanchez carefully and emotionally thanked everyone from Carroll to the guy who washed his jock.

Yet Carroll was so visibly frustrated, he wouldn't even sit next to Sanchez during the Heritage Hall news conference, then later refused to sit while answering questions.

Said Sanchez: "I will always fight on."

Said Carroll: "Mark is going against the grain in this decision, we know that, he knows that."

Granted, it was a questionable call. Sanchez has started for only one full year, only 16 college games, and he showed consistent NFL skills only in his final game, a 413-yard, five-touchdown Rose Bowl show against Penn State.

Sanchez is currently ranked as the 10th best player in the draft, and there is legitimate debate over whether his decision cost him a Heisman Trophy and a shot at being the No. 1 overall pick.

But there is no debate that Carroll handled it with all the decorum of a jilted lover.

And there can be no argument that, as one who spent four years fulfilling the requirements of a student-athlete, Sanchez deserved better.

USC Coach Pete Carroll listens as quarterback Mark Sanchez announces that he will enter the NFL draft and leave college for the pro game.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
January 15, 2009

"It has been my dream since I was a youngster . . . to play in the NFL" Sanchez said. "Thanks to this great academic institution and football program, I have the opportunity to realize that dream."

Academic institution. Football program. On this day, in this place, the two entities might as well have been Venus and Mars.

In typical USC public-relations fashion, Sanchez was graciously given a chance to say goodbye. But Carroll turned it into something resembling an uncomfortable, awkward breakup.

The surreal gathering in the Heritage Hall meeting room began with two chairs at the front table.

Suddenly, just before the news conference began, one chair was removed.

It was clear, from that moment, Sanchez would be on his own.

The quarterback went first, fighting back tears and talking about "sleepless nights and lots of prayer."

The coach went next, and immediately treated Sanchez not like a college kid who just made a life-changing decision, but like a professional free agent who just opted out of the contract.

"We have compelling information working against the choice going this way," Carroll said.

Sure he does. It's a tough league. Quarterbacks with only one full college season rarely become stars. Sanchez is physically mature but has a lot to learn about playing the position.

Sanchez admittedly looked at how former Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart dropped in the draft after staying for a fifth season, but after his fourth year, Leinart was a Heisman Trophy winner with a bad elbow.

All Leinart would do was drop. All Sanchez can do is get better.

Carroll's evidence, presented to Sanchez at his apartment in a meeting that lasted until 1 a.m. Thursday, should have worked. But did he have to rub Sanchez's runny nose in it?

As Carroll spoke, Sanchez sat in a chair on the side, staring straight ahead, trying to smile through the obvious discomfort.

After Carroll's statement, the coach quickly stood but was asked some questions. Usually he would sit down again to answer them. This time, he stayed standing, as if he couldn't wait to leave.

When he did hustle away, he barely acknowledged Sanchez, lightly shaking his hand and quickly turning away.

If you want to see how other coaches handle this sort of thing, check out last week’s video of Georgia Coach Mark Richt with his two biggest stars as they both declared they would leave school early and go to the NFL.

The loss of quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno will devastate his team, but in this news conference, Richt sat between them like a kindly father who has just proudly sent his sons off into the world.

That's how it works in college football. Great players come, great players go, you treat them all with dignity if you want to get other players like them.

And if one of those players actually graduates? You throw him a farewell party, you don't leave him standing with his arms outstretched for a hug.

Later Thursday, Carroll had cooled considerably.

"I love Mark," he said. "Mark is an awesome kid and I love everything about him."

He added, "I'm not angry at all, I'm not. I just competed to try to get the message across and I had to go hard."

It's a shame he didn't say some of those things when the kid was listening, when the world was listening.

It's a shame that, on this day, the message from the nation's premier college football program was all about football, and not the least bit about college.

Debate Over; It's Freezing

By David Harsanyi
The Denver Post
January 16, 2009

The carbon footprint of Barack Obama's inauguration could exceed 575 million pounds of CO2. According to the Institute for Liberty, it would take the average U.S. household nearly 60,000 years of naughty ecological behavior to produce a carbon footprint equal to the largest self-congratulatory event in the history of humankind.

The same congressfolk who now are handing out thousands of tickets to this ecological disaster mandated only recently the phased elimination of the incandescent light bulb -- a mere carbon tiptoe, if you will. The whole thing seems a bit unfair.

And on the day millions of Americans were freezing their collective backside off, the new Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, Henry Waxman, announced that Congress would fast-track climate change legislation. Waxman claimed, as The Associated Press put it, "Inaction on the climate issue is causing uncertainties that make it more difficult to emerge from the recession."

Waxman's methane emission merely would reek if it weren't so catastrophically sad. I learned long ago that any dissent on climate alarmism will be met with unflinching fury, but is there anyone who can argue genuinely that inaction on "climate issues" (formerly known as global warming) has had a fundamental impact on the economic downturn?

Our plight, in actuality, likely will be exacerbated if Waxman gets his way. Playing on the public's fear of climate change, we almost certainly are about to see a nationalized energy policy and price controls through cap and trade.

The late economist and journalist Henry Hazlitt once wrote that those who attempt "to lift the prices of particular commodities permanently above their natural market levels have failed so often, so disastrously and so notoriously" that no one admits to wanting to try it. Then again, in those heady days, the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman's job was actually of assisting Americans with their energy needs, not making it more expensive.

I've been informed, quite forcefully, that "climate change" can induce weather to warm, make it colder and, miraculously, produce whatever climate condition we happen to be experiencing at that very moment. So I wholeheartedly concur with my environmentalist friends: Climate does indeed make weather fluctuate.

The day Waxman delivered his statement, the National Weather Service issued a warning for Chicago about the wind chill index being somewhere in the vicinity of 25 to 40 below zero. In Maine, citizens expected temperatures to be about 40 below zero. And Iowans were warned that it could drop to 27 degrees below zero. In many places across the nation, there was record-setting cold.

So in other words, Waxman expects these unfortunate glacial souls to pay higher energy prices to shield themselves from Arctic chills in the name of global warming?

That's quite a trick.

Still, politically, the time is right for progressives to pass any legislation they please. But Democrats also may be setting themselves up for failure. This kind of central planning, after all, has a winning record envied only by the Detroit Lions.

Conserving energy, acting responsibly and cultivating technological advances are positive, whether global warming is as dangerous as the alarmists claim or not. But implementing ideas conjured up in environmentalists' imaginations could bring massive economic consequences.

You've told me the debate over climate change is over. But even if I concede it is, the debate over the worthiness, practicality, feasibility and trade-offs necessary to live in a vibrant and free economy should not be over.

Is warming by 0.74 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years really enough to make us panic? I mean, we probably could make that up by canceling the inauguration.

Reach columnist David Harsanyi at

Exit Bush, Shoes Flying

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
Friday, January 16, 2009; A19

Except for Richard Nixon, no president since Harry Truman has left office more unloved than George W. Bush. Truman's rehabilitation took decades. Bush's will come sooner. Indeed, it has already begun. The chief revisionist? Barack Obama.

Vindication is being expressed not in words but in deeds -- the tacit endorsement conveyed by the Obama continuity-we-can-believe-in transition. It's not just the retention of such key figures as Defense Secretary Bob Gates or Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner, who, as president of the New York Fed, has been instrumental in guiding the Bush financial rescue over the past year. It's the continuity of policy.

U.S. President George W. Bush speaks publically for a final time as president from the East Room of the White House January 15, 2009 in Washington, DC. President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in on January 20.(Getty Images)

It is the repeated pledge to conduct a withdrawal from Iraq that does not destabilize its new democracy and that, as Vice President-elect Joe Biden said just this week in Baghdad, adheres to the Bush-negotiated status-of-forces agreement that envisions a U.S. withdrawal over three years, not the 16-month timetable on which Obama campaigned.

It is the great care Obama is taking in not preemptively abandoning the anti-terror infrastructure that the Bush administration leaves behind. While still a candidate, Obama voted for the expanded presidential wiretapping (FISA) powers that Bush had fervently pursued. And while Obama opposes waterboarding (already banned, by the way, by Bush's CIA in 2006), he declined George Stephanopoulos's invitation (on ABC's "This Week") to outlaw all interrogation not permitted by the Army Field Manual. Explained Obama: "Dick Cheney's advice was good, which is let's make sure we know everything that's being done," i.e., before throwing out methods simply because Obama campaigned against them.

Obama still disagrees with Cheney's view of the acceptability of some of these techniques. But citing as sage the advice offered by "the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history" (according to Joe Biden) -- advice paraphrased by Obama as "we shouldn't be making judgments on the basis of incomplete information or campaign rhetoric" -- is a startlingly early sign of a newly respectful consideration of the Bush-Cheney legacy.

Not from any change of heart. But from simple reality. The beauty of democratic rotations of power is that when the opposition takes office, cheap criticism and calumny will no longer do. The Democrats now own Iraq. They own the war on al-Qaeda. And they own the panoply of anti-terror measures with which the Bush administration kept us safe these past seven years.

Which is why Obama is consciously creating a gulf between what he now dismissively calls "campaign rhetoric" and the policy choices he must make as president. Accordingly, Newsweek -- Obama acolyte and scourge of everything Bush/Cheney -- has on the eve of the Democratic restoration miraculously discovered the arguments for warrantless wiretaps, enhanced interrogation and detention without trial. Indeed, Newsweek's neck-snapping cover declares, "Why Obama May Soon Find Virtue in Cheney's Vision of Power."

Obama will be loath to throw away the tools that have kept the homeland safe. Just as he will be loath to jeopardize the remarkable turnaround in American fortunes in Iraq.

Obama opposed the war. But the war is all but over. What remains is an Iraq turned from aggressive, hostile power in the heart of the Middle East to an emerging democracy openly allied with the United States. No president would want to be responsible for undoing that success.

In Iraq, Bush rightly took criticism for all that went wrong -- the WMD fiasco, Abu Ghraib, the descent into bloody chaos in 2005-06. Then Bush goes to Baghdad to ratify the ultimate post-surge success of that troubled campaign -- the signing of a strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq -- and ends up dodging two size 10 shoes for his pains.

Absorbing that insult was Bush's final service on Iraq. Whatever venom the war generated is concentrated on Bush himself. By having personalized the responsibility for the awfulness of the war, Bush has done his successor a favor. Obama enters office with a strategic success on his hands -- while Bush leaves the scene taking a shoe for his country.

Which I suspect is why Bush showed such equanimity during a private farewell interview at the White House a few weeks ago. He leaves behind the sinews of war, for the creation of which he has been so vilified but which will serve his successor -- and his country -- well over the coming years. The very continuation by Democrats of Bush's policies will be grudging, if silent, acknowledgment of how much he got right.

A Government of the Goofs, by the Goofs, for the Goofs

By Michelle Malkin
Michelle Malkin Archive
January 15, 2009

There's an old saying from the bowels of the Beltway bureaucracy: "Screw up, move up." Rewarding failure is an immutable trait of the bipartisan Washington political culture. Just ask Barack Obama's Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner and the Senate Republicans who are blindly standing by him.

The Senate Finance Committee revealed this week that Geithner failed to pay some $43,000 in federal self-employment taxes for four separate years—and only coughed up the remaining $26,000 of that debt when he was named Obama's Treasury Secretary-designate in November. The brilliant and meticulous Geithner didn't catch the lapses. The Internal Revenue Service and Team Obama's vetters did.

Recall that Joe the Plumber, an average guy with no Ivy League degrees in business or finance, was crucified for his $1,182.98 Ohio tax lien (the state had sent a notification to a prior residence he had vacated). One might give a common man some leeway for making common mistakes. But Geithner is no "common" man—and "$43,000 in unpaid taxes is a common occurrence" simply does not wash as a credible alibi. Supporters have dubbed Geithner "too big to fail." Try "too smart to care."

Geithner is the Dartmouth- and Johns Hopkins-educated president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank who, according to his extensive biography, has also "studied Japanese and Chinese, and has lived in East Africa, India, Thailand, China and Japan." Apparently, he has been too engrossed in his foreign language studies and too busy traveling abroad to pay attention to crossing the t's and dotting the i's of his household records. In addition to his failure to pay four years' worth of federal taxes (you try getting away with that without getting thrown behind bars!), Geithner also illegally employed an immigrant maid for three months after her work authorization papers had expired.

But wait. That's not all, folks. Geithner's employer at the time of his serial tax-dodging was the International Monetary Fund. The agency reimburses its employees for their self-employment taxes. The allowance was made to keep IMF and World Bank workers' salaries on par with their foreign peers. IMF employees receive an Employee Tax Manual outlining their obligations. (Maybe if it were written in Japanese or Chinese, Geithner would have paid better attention?)

Employees also proactively file an Annual Tax Allowance Request promising to "pay the taxes for which I have received tax allowance payments." The Senate Finance Committee released one of those forms signed by Geithner. A Senate source confirmed to National Review's Byron York that Geithner pocketed the cash: "He was getting the money. He was being paid a tax allowance to pay him for tax payments that he should have made but had not."

IRS employment application packets notify potential workers that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration vets all candidates and current employees "who have violated or are violating laws, rules or regulations related to the performance of their duties." President-elect Obama is standing by a nominee who would oversee the IRS but might not even qualify for a lesser job at the agency. This is insanity.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs calls Geithner's transgressions "honest mistakes." Media outlets like the Associated Press have attempted to downplay his snubbing of the law as mere "tax goofs." When Democrats like Geithner, Al Franken and Charlie Rangel fail to pay up what they legally owe, they're just goofs. When you or I object to forking over more than what we're already paying, Vice President Joe Biden calls us unpatriotic.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Nominee Tim Geithner (L) and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) (R) pose for photographers during their meeting December 9, 2008 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Even more maddeningly, Senate Republicans Orrin Hatch and Lindsay Graham insist on defending Geithner as "very competent" and "the right guy." Never mind Geithner's atrocious role in fostering the spending binge of financial giant Citigroup and engineering the teetering company's $52 billion federal bailout. Those who take his tax evasion and record of failure seriously are guilty of "think[ing] in small political terms," Graham lectured.

Tell that to the millions of self-employed entrepreneurs across the country who sweat bullets paying their quarterlies and ensuring their papers are in order down to the hundredth decimal place. It's fecklessness like this that has earned Washington Republicans the "Stupid Party" moniker.


- 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.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


By Ann Coulter
January 14, 2009

In a front-page article on Jan. 2 of this year, The New York Times took a brief respite from its ongoing canonization of Barack Obama and returned to its series on violent crimes committed by returning GIs, or as I call it: "U.S. Military, Psycho Killers."

The Treason Times' banner series about Iraq and Afghanistan veterans accused of murder began in January last year but was quickly discontinued as readers noticed that the Times doggedly refused to provide any statistics comparing veteran murders with murders in any other group.

So they waited a year, hoping readers wouldn't notice they were still including no relevant comparisons.

What, for example, is the percentage of murderers among veterans compared to the percentage of murderers in the population at large -- or, more germane, in the general population of young males, inasmuch as violent crime is committed almost exclusively by young men?

Any group composed primarily of young men will contain a seemingly mammoth number of murderers.

Consider the harmless fantasy game, Dungeons and Dragons -- which happens to be played almost exclusively by young males. When murders were committed in the '80s by (1) young men, who were (2) Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts, some people concluded that factor (2), rather than factor (1), led to murderous tendencies.

Similarly, for its series about how America's bravest and finest young men are really a gang of psychopathic cutthroats, the Times triumphantly produced 121 homicides committed by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in order to pin the blame for the murders on the U.S. military.

Perhaps the Times' next major expose could be on how a huge percentage of murderers are people who won't ask for directions or share the TV remote.

Let's compare murders by veterans to murders by other 18- to 35-year-olds in the U.S. population at large. From 1976 to 2005, 18- to 24-year-olds -- both male and more gentle females -- committed homicide at a rate of 29.9 per 100,000. Twenty-five- to 35-year-olds committed homicides at a rate of 15.8 per 100,000.

Since 9/11, about 1.6 million troops have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. That makes the homicide rate among veterans of these wars 7.6 per 100,000 -- or about one-third the homicide rate for their age group (18 to 35) in the general population of both sexes.

But fewer than 200,000 of the 1.6 million troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been women, and the murder rate for the general population includes both males and females. Inasmuch as males commit nearly 90 percent of all murders, the rate for males in those age groups is probably nearly double the male/female combined rates, which translates to about 30 to 55 murderers per 100,000 males aged 18 to 35.

So comparing the veterans' rate of murder to only their male counterparts in the general population, we see that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are about 10 times less likely to commit a murder than non-veterans of those wars.

But as long as the Times has such a burning interest in the root causes of murder, how about considering the one factor more likely to create a murderer than any other? That is the topic we're not allowed to discuss: single motherhood.

As I describe in my new book, "Guilty: Liberal 'Victims' and Their Assault on America," controlling for socioeconomic status, race and place of residence, the strongest predictor of whether a person will end up in prison is that he was raised by a single parent. (The second strongest factor is owning a Dennis Kucinich bumper sticker.)

By 1996, 70 percent of inmates in state juvenile detention centers serving long-term sentences were raised by single mothers. Seventy percent of teenage births, dropouts, suicides, runaways, juvenile delinquents and child murderers involve children raised by single mothers. Girls raised without fathers are more sexually promiscuous and more likely to end up divorced.

A 1990 study by the left-wing Progressive Policy Institute showed that, after controlling for single motherhood, the difference in black and white crime disappeared.

Various studies come up with slightly different numbers, but all the figures are grim. A study cited in the far left-wing Village Voice found that children brought up in single-mother homes "are five times more likely to commit suicide, nine times more likely to drop out of high school, 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances, 14 times more likely to commit rape (for the boys), 20 times more likely to end up in prison, and 32 times more likely to run away from home."

With new children being born, running away, dropping out of high school and committing murder every year, it's not a static problem to analyze. But however the numbers are run, single motherhood is a societal nuclear bomb.

Many of these studies, for example, are from the '90s, when the percentage of teenagers raised by single parents was lower than it is today. In 1990, 28 percent of children under 18 were being raised in one-parent homes -- mother or father, divorced or never-married. By 2005, more than one-third of all babies born in the U.S. were illegitimate.

That's a lot of social problems in the pipeline.

Think I'm being cruel? Imagine an America with 60 to 70 percent fewer juvenile delinquents, teenage births, teenage suicides and runaways, and you will appreciate what the sainted "single mothers" have accomplished.

Even in liberals' fevered nightmares, predatory mortgage dealers, oil speculators and Ken Lay could never do as much harm to their fellow human beings as single mothers do to their own children, to say nothing of society at large.

But the Times won't run that series because liberals adore single motherhood and the dissolution of traditional marriage in America. They detest the military, so they cite a few anecdotal examples of veterans who have committed murder and hope that no one asks for details.

How Europe Escaped Speaking Arabic

By Michael Novak
Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2008
American Enterprise Institute
AEI Online
Publication Date: December 8, 2008

Revisiting a topic from the first Bradley Lecture Series in 1988-1989, Michael Novak delivered the fourth installment of AEI's twentieth-anniversary Bradley Lecture Series on December 8, 2008. Video, audio, and more information are available at

The Western world has never taken Islam with the full seriousness it has earned. Down through history, once Islamic armies have conquered a land, with very few exceptions, that land has remained Muslim. A Christian will wish in vain that the great circle of Christian lands around the Mediterranean (and on up into Syria, Iraq, Iran, and northwards into Georgia) had not fallen irretrievably into Muslim hands, most of them before 732 A.D. For Christians who think that the future of the world favors movement in their direction, a study of the latent dynamism of Islam is not a little unsettling.

Edward Gibbon, finishing up his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-78), was able to imagine how easily serene little Oxford could have been dominated by tall Islamic minarets before his birth, and the accents in its markets would have been Arabic: " . . . the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet" (469).

Charles the Hammer

Gibbon was writing about the decisive battle of Poitiers in 732 A.D., when at last a Christian leader, Charles Martel ("Charles the Hammer"), drove back the Muslims from their highwater mark in Western Europe with such force that they went reeling backwards into Spain. From there, it took Spain another 750 years--until 1492--to drive Islamic armies back into North Africa, whence they had invaded. Even so, the Islamic terror bombers who just a few years ago killed more than a hundred commuters in Madrid did so (they announced) to avenge the Spanish "Reconquista" of 1492. For Islam, to lose a territory once Muslim is to incur a religious obligation to wrest it back.

It had been a marvel in 732 that a mere one hundred years earlier, Mohammed had launched his army from Medina, to conquer in rapid fire so many of the most glorious capital cities of Christianity--Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Hippo, Tunis, Carthage, and then all of Spain. More amazingly still, Muslims went very quickly further into the Far East than Alexander the Great ever had.

Even today, in the eyes of influential Muslims, the expansion of Islam (although it covers a huge swathe of geography) is far from finished. The religious obligation at the heart of Islam is to conquer the world for Allah, and to incorporate it all into the great Islamic Umma. Only then will the world be at peace. Submission to Allah is the reason why the world was created.

In any case, Islam began making war on the Christian world from the very first moments of its birth. For a thousand years afterward, it fell to southern Europe, and in particular the Pope, to give active military resistance to the "Saracens" (as the Islamists came to be known in the West). From 632 A.D. until about 1292, Arab nations led the Muslim onslaught on the West. After that, the Turks established their dominion (the caliphate) over most of the Arab world. For hundreds of years a huge sea war ensued for control of the Mediterranean. But war by land was not called off. The Turks expanded their empire in all four directions on the map. For more than a century they made attempt after attempt to take down the largest and richest of the Christian capitals, Constantinople, whose walls they finally breached in 1453. There followed great plunder, huge fires of destruction, the desecration of Christian basilicas and churches, murder, torture and thousands of Christian men, women, and children marched off in long lines toward slavery in the East.

A long line of great warrior-sultans sponsored Turkish advances in shipbuilding, gunnery, military organization, and training. By the mid 1550s, they had slowly conceived of a long-term offensive, a pincers movement first by sea and then by land, to conquer the whole northern shore of the Mediterranean. They first launched a massive sea attack in 1665 on the crossroads of the Mediterranean, the strategically placed island of Malta, and were repelled after an epic siege (which in itself is one of history's great stories). Their penultimate aim was to take all Italy; then all Europe.

The northern pincers movement by land was aimed at an attack up through the Balkans for the onquest of Budapest and then, in a northeast arc into Slovakia and Poland. In this way, the Muslim forces would essentially encircle Italy from the North.

Because by 1540 the Reformation was separating the Christian nations of the north from Rome, the Sultans soon recognized that the Christian world would no longer fight as one. The next hundred years or so would be the most fruitful time since Mohammed to fulfill the destiny of Islam in Europe.

The Preliminary Battles on Malta (1565) and at Famagusta (1571)

Each new caliph of the Islamic empire was expected to expand the existing Muslim territories, in order to fulfill the mission given Islam, and to gain for the leader the necessary popularity and legitimacy. So it was that in the pleasant springtime of 1571, an entire Muslim fleet under Ali Pasha was ordered by the Sultan to seek out and destroy Christian dominance of the Mediterranean Sea, all the way up to Venice. During the summer, Ali Pasha raided fort after fort along the Adriatic Shore, picked up thousands of hostages as slaves, and sent at least a small squadron to blockade for two or three days the approaches to St. Mark's Square in Venice, not least to plant a seed of terror about worse things to come.

The Great Siege of Malta 1565

Meanwhile, another large Muslim force soon conquered Cyprus, most practicing ritual cruelties on the defeated population of Nicosia, setting fire to churches, beheading the older women, and marching all younger Christians of both sexes into slavery. The Muslim armies then headed north for the fortress of Famagusta, the last Venetian stronghold on the island, the "extended arm" of the trading posts and protective forts of the Venetian navy in the entire eastern Mediterranean. An army of 100,000 opened the siege, against a force of 15,000 behind the walls.

Under the energetic generalship of the elderly General Marcantonio Bragadino, the small band of defenders held out for week after week, despite receiving more than 180,000 incoming cannonballs. The defenders ran so short of food that in the end they were eating cats, until they consumed their last one. The Muslim general was outraged by the length of the siege, which had already cost him 80,000 of his best men, despite the fact that Famagusta's fate was sealed from the first days. Yet there were still long days and sometimes nights of hard hand-to-hand fighting just outside the walls. Muslim losses kept getting fully replenished by sea, and the Muslim forces grew stronger even as the Christians got down to their last six barrels of gunpowder, and had only four hundred men still able to fight.

On August 1, General Bragadino finally accepted surrender terms, which guaranteed safe passage of all his men to sail home to Venice, and safety to all citizens of the walled city. He walked with the full scarlet regalia of his office out from the walls and down to the tent of the Alfa Mustafa, the victorious commander. There the two leaders conversed. Then something went wrong, and Mustafa grew visibly angry and called for his men to behead the full complement of 350 survivors who had laid down their arms to march out with Bragadino. All 350 bleeding heads were piled up just outside Mustafa's tent.

Mustafa then ordered Bragadino's ears and nose chopped off, and forced the man to go down on all fours wearing a dog's collar around his neck, to the jibes, mockery, and horror of the onlookers. Bags of earth were strapped over Bragadino's back and he was made to carry them to the walls of the fortification, and to kiss the earth each time he passed Mustafa. As the old man grew fainter from the loss of blood from his head, he was tied to a chair, put in a rope harness and hoisted up to the highest mast in the fleet, so that all survivors of the city might see his humiliation. Then Bragadino's chair was dropped in free-fall into the water and brought out again. The tortured Venetian was led in ropes to the town square and stripped. At a stone column (which still stands today), Bragadino's hands were tied outstretched over his head, and an executioner stepped forward with sharp knives to carefully remove his skin, keeping it whole. Before the carver had reached Bragadino's waist, the man was dead. His full skin was then stuffed with straw, once again raised up to the highest mast, and sailed around to various ports as a trophy of victory, and finally taken back to Istanbul for permanent exhibition.

Meanwhile, Don Juan had put the Christian fleet of some 200 vessels on course toward Lepanto, where Ali Pasha was refitting his vessels in the safe protection of an impregnable harbor. On board the Christian ships, the Spaniards were under secret orders to avoid fighting, only to keep their honor by going along, while urging reasons to turn back. By contrast, when a fast corsair dispatched from Famagusta arrived to deliver the tale of the last dishonors visited on General Bragadino and his 350 surviving soldiers, the blood of the Venetians boiled. They now allowed no question of turning back. They were determined to avenge the horrors suffered by their comrades in arms.

The young Don Juan was buoyed by this new resolve. Now he would be able to keep the vow he had made to Pope Pius V, to seek out and destroy the threatening enemy. The young admiral--he was twenty-two when he became commander of this fleet--felt confident in his battle plan. He had taken care to have his whole fleet rehearse their roles in the quiet seas of the Adriatic, just before turning toward Lepanto.

Don Juan and many of his men spent much of the night before battle in prayer. The fate of their civilization, they knew, depended on their good fortune on the morrow. The uncertainties of the changing winds and choppy seas, and the speed of the two onrushing lines of ships rapidly closing on each other, would erupt in unpredictable havoc. The odds against the Christians in ships were something like 350 ships to 250. But the Christians had a secret weapon.

The Greatest Sea Battle in History: Lepanto, October 1571

For more than three years Pope Pius V had labored mightily to sound alarms about the deadly Muslim buildup in the shipyards of Istanbul. The sultan had been stung by the surprising defeat of his overwhelming invasion force in Malta in 1565. The savagery of Muslim attacks on the coastline villages of Italy, Sicily, Dalmatia, and Greece was ratcheted upwards. Three or four Muslim galleys would offload hundreds of marines, sweep through a village, tie all its healthy men together for shipment out to become galley slaves, march away many of its women and young boys and girls for shipment to Eastern harems, and then gather all the elderly into the village church, where the helpless victims would be beheaded, and sometimes cut up into little pieces, to strike terror into other villages. The Muslims believed that future victims would lose heart and swiftly surrender when Muslim raiders arrived. Over three centuries, the number of European captives kidnapped from villages and beaches by these sea pirates climbed into the hundreds of thousands.

Paolo Veronese's "The Battle of Lepanto"
c. 1572, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

The reason for this kidnapping was that the naval appetite for fresh backs and muscles was insatiable. Most galley slaves lived little more than five years. They were chained to hard benches in the burning Mediterranean sun, slippery in their own excrement, urination, and intermittent vomiting, often never lying down to sleep. The dark vision that troubled the pope during the late 1560s was of even more horrible calamities to befall the whole Christian world, bit by bit. But unity in Europe was hard to find, and even more scarce was the will to fight for survival.

Finally, Don Juan of Austria, the younger brother of the King of Spain, an illegitimate son, stood erect and summoned allies to repel the much-anticipated Muslim advance. He aimed at leading a large fleet to go after the new Muslim fleet preemptively, before they could depart from their home seas. Having seen Muslim ferocity first hand, the Venetian public was eager to contribute a fleet to the task. Their support was crucial, for Venice was in those days the shipbuilding and gunnery capital of the world, producers (for a profit) of the most innovative, most versatile, stoutest, and most seaworthy armed vessels in the world. The best sea captains of Venice were the most eager to avenge their friends and fellow citizens.

For years, Venice had preferred peace with the Muslim East, in order to carry on their lucrative international trade. Now there was a cause that took precedence over the traditions of commerce. Genoa, too, contributed a fleet under their famous but now elderly Admiral Andrea Doria, these days a less bold warrior despite the glory of his earlier exploits.

The Knights of Malta, the premier sea warriors of the time, offered their small but highly skilled fleet in support of the Pope's appeal, and agreed to work cooperatively with Don Juan.

The latter, whom his contemporaries described as a modest and humble man, characteristically set aside his own ego for the sake of the cause that engaged him. He pledged to the armada a large contingent supplied by Spain and Portugal. By the end of September 1571, eager to get their job done before winter turned the seas choppy and unfit for battle, the four distinct parts of the Christian fleet sailed past Italy, hugging the coasts, sending teams of observers to land to pick up the latest intelligence on the Muslim force. Finally, they learned that an enormous Muslim fleet, nearly 100 ships larger than their own, was sailing near to land toward the Gulf of Lepanto. No more talking, Don Juan told his leading admirals; now, battle.

Keeping the Knights of Malta in reserve just a short distance behind the main battle line, Don Juan assigned the impassioned Venetians the important left flank, with its leftmost ships close to the shore line. He himself commanded a hundred vessels at the center. In plain sight was his capitol ship, the Real, its banners of leadership visible to all. To the right flank he assigned the venerable Andrea Doria and the Genoese fleet. The plan was to hold his ships in as long and straight a line as seamanship in a besetting wind would allow, while heading directly for the Muslim line.

At his front, however, Don Juan placed a nasty surprise for Ali Pasha. Six new, taller, sturdier ships packed with cannons (especially in the bow) and heavily laden with lead and shot placed themselves a mile forward of the Christian line. They looked flat on top, like merchant ships. No one had ever seen such ships before. They lacked a bow rising up skywards, the one necessary weapon for vicious ramming. For the purpose of these new galleasses, as they were called, was not to ram oncoming ships but to blast them with an array of cannons. Their shot could carry a mile with great accuracy. When the galleasses turned sideways, they could blast with even more cannons, designed for shorter ranges, often aiming their cannon just at the waterline of their foes. They had the power to sink a smaller, lighter, faster Muslim galley with a single burst.

At first, the two fleets spotted each other on the horizon as single masts, then small numbers, and only as the two fleets closed to about two miles of each other could any one of the two hundred thousand sailors, marines, and janissaries on board catch a glimpse of the lines and dispositions of the fleets. The Muslims preferred to attack in a crescent rather than a straight line, but the winds at their back and tricky tides from the shoreline to their north forced them to straighten up their lines. Those who gazed on the massive array of ships and sails were filled with awe. On deck, one of those to be wounded in this battle, the great author Miguel de Cervantes wrote of "the most noble and memorable event that past centuries have seen." Just over six hundred ships in two amazingly orderly lines, each stretching three miles from end to end, silently bore down on one another as the distance between them closed. The Muslim fleet outnumbered the Christian fleet by nearly a hundred ships. A sense of destiny weighed upon all who watched and waited.

The huge green battle flag of Allah--his name embroidered on it in Arabic some 29,800 times--marked out the tall capital ship Sultana, on which the fearsome young admiral Ali Pasha held command. Pasha was puzzled by the six more or less flat barges out in front of the Christian lines. His own armed soldiers were reliant mostly on clouds of arrows. His sailors had mastered the arts of ramming, and disgorging massive boarding parties onto the enemy's slippery decks, then beating down their defenders by a sort of fierce land warfare out on the open seas. In those days, sea warfare was like land warfare, only carried out on open decks side-by-side instead of in open fields. Ship was lashed to ship, sometimes a dozen together. Hand-to-hand combat was the key.

There is no point here in giving the whole narrative of the battle. Suffice it to say that in the center the volleys from the galleasses out in front destroyed one Muslim vessel after another. Masts snapped, the oars of the galleys were shattered, and huge holes opened up the thin wooden sides of the galleys to the boiling sea. The Muslim ships that were not sunk were easily boarded by the Christian ships coming alongside, built a little higher, and amply supplied not only with boarding nets but, even more important, with ranks of the old-style predecessors to rifles--the arquebuses--directing point-blank rifle balls into the unarmored flesh of Muslim archers. It is true that in a few cases whole clouds of Muslim arrows felled many in the Christian ships, including the great Venetian admiral Marcantonio Bragadino shot in the eye. Mostly, the Christian warriors wore the latest in body armor, which often repelled wooden arrows harmlessly. Nonetheless, at least one Christian ship was later found aimlessly afloat, with every single man dead or wounded.

At the last, the two capital ships Real and Sultana clashed head-on, and Don Juan led the final boarding party which in its ferocity drove Ali Pasha to the aft poop, where he soon fell with a bullet in his eye. The Muslim admiral's head was cut off and borne aloft on a pike to be mounted on the bow of the Real. The seas around were filled with cloaks, caps, struggling bodies, the vast wooden wreckage of battle, and large splotches of red blood.

On the Christian left, the Venetians attacked with almost blind rage and broke the line of the Muslim right with relative ease. They were aided by a revolt of the galley slaves on board a number of Muslim vessels, who in the explosions on board had their chains broken, and poured up on deck swinging their chains to left and right. So great was the Venetian fury that even after the battle, many of its sailors spent hours using their pikes to kill Muslim sailors and soldiers struggling in the sea. They tried to excuse their bloodlust by saying that they never wished to see those individuals sailing against the West again.

In four hours the battle was over. More than forty thousand men had died, and thousands more were wounded, more than in any other battle in history, more even than at Salamis or, in years to come, at the Somme. Never again did the Muslim fleets pose a grave danger to Europe from the South, although of course Muslim fleets kept busy expanding their bases on the African coast, harassing Western ships and territories across the Mediterranean. Technology, especially that pioneered by Venice and by ocean-going Portugal and Spain, had made the decisive difference. As Victor Davis Hanson writes, it was to capitalism that the victory was owed, for it was open markets that spurred competition to keep improving gunnery and ships, and it was the great merchant and commercial cities that built these new technologies. After Lepanto, the arts of gunnery replaced the arts of the bow and arrow, however deadly for many centuries those weapons had proved to be. Ships were made stouter, taller, more able to carry heavy armaments--and new methods had to be sought to replace locomotion by galley slaves.

As news of the great victory of October 7 reached shore, church bells rang all over the cities and countryside of Europe. For months, Pius V had urged Catholics to say the daily rosary on behalf of the morale and good fortune of the Christian forces, and above all, a successful outcome to the highly risky preemptive strike against the Turkish fleets. Thereafter, he declared that October 7 would be celebrated as the feast of "Mary, Queen of Victory." A later pope added the title "Queen of the Holy Rosary" in honor of the laity's favorite form of prayer. All over the Italian peninsula, great paintings were commissioned--whole galleries were dedicated--to honoring the classic scenes of that epic battle. The air of Europe that October tasted of liberties preserved. The record of the celebrations lives on in glorious paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, and many others.

The Northern Pincers and the Siege of Vienna, September 1683

Of necessity, our consideration of the Battle of Vienna must be briefer than our attention to Lepanto. But many of the same forces were at play as before, only this time by land, not by sea. The Protestant nations regarded the expanding Ottoman Empire as a Catholic problem. Few Catholic nations took the Muslim threat as seriously as it deserved. The French, in particular, had become used to buying off the Turks with trade and commerce, rather than resisting them in war. The French even preferred the defeat of their most dreaded rivals, the German-speaking Austrians. The nation Germany did not yet exist, only a number of smaller political units--Brandenberg, Saxony, Bavaria, and others, some Protestant and some Catholic. And so the Muslim overland advance through the underbelly of Europe seemed not only relentless but mostly unopposed.

Polish Hussaria Breaking the Siege of Vienna, 1683
"The Avenging Angels", painted by Keith Rocco

The sultan of all Islam, Mehmet IV, spent his days in his unrivalled harems and on his huge hunting territories, some of them as large as nation-states. Thousands of mostly Slavic serfs were required to service his hunting party, in part by driving deer and other game animals his way. To uphold his obligations to Islamic expansion, however, Mehmet stirred himself to choose Kara Mustafa to be general of all his forces in the final conquest of Hungary, Slovakia, and the south of Poland -- the greatest of all ventures on which the sultan's historical reputation would rest. The sultan directly warned Mustafa not to try to take Vienna, for doing so would arouse the West to retribution. He gave Mustafa the long green cord of the Prophet to wear around his neck, both to signal the importance of his commission, and to warn him that failure meant that he must be hanged--must even hang himself.

For the drive northward, Kara Mustafa sent messengers throughout Anatolia, through Greater Syria, and out to the scores of Muslim nations from Morocco to India. He marched northwards with an ever-increasing army of more than three hundred thousand, many on horseback as cavalry to spread terror in advance of his main forces, other scores of thousands in his supply trains. This huge army took some five months to occupy Budapest, rest, and then push on northwards. They swatted resistance away like flies, and sometimes bypassed walled cities that refused instant surrender, to deal with them later with special severity.

By July 7, they were in sight of Vienna, which in those days was a walled and heavily fortified city, well designed by its military engineers to lay down fields of fire by which each strong point could assist its neighbors. Compared to today, Vienna within its walls was a small city, and yet large enough in those terrorized days to admit refugees from nearby villages who hurriedly sought safety. For the next weeks the sultan's armies kept tightening the ring they had established on all sides of Vienna. Both Mustafa with his green cord around his neck and the leader of the Viennese defense, General Lubomirski, now knew that they were fighting to the death.

Meanwhile, the Turks launched massive engineering works, including many honeycombed tunnels beginning from long distances away, out of sight, and burrowing underneath strong points and vulnerable walls that ground troops might breach. These veteran and highly skilled sappers--the best in the world--dug all the way underground both to the wide moats at the base of the walls and still further underground to the very center of Vienna. Beginning in mid-August, without any warning, huge explosions tore gaping holes in one strongpoint after another, and sometimes beneath homes in the very center of the city. The twenty thousand or so warriors within the city fought with great determination and intelligence to drive back the screaming, bloodthirsty men who were storming through the breaches, while all around them Viennese civilians rushed to make repairs to the breaches in the walls. The Christians also sallied forth themselves, often at night, to drive far into the Turkish lines to blow up engineering devices and stockpiles of gunpowder.

Relentlessly, the Turks kept heaving up huge mounds--small mountains--of earth and sand just outside the walls, from which fire might constantly be poured down into the doomed city, from above its walls. With every Muslim attack, fewer and fewer Christian soldiers were left to repel them. In late August, supplies of meat ran out, and the population was reduced to eating horses and stray dogs. A very strict rationing of water became necessary. The elderly began to die off from starvation.

Meanwhile, the Christian relief forces were belatedly and all too slowly advancing from the north in four separate columns, from Catholic Germany and from Poland, to lift the siege. For nearly forty miles around the beleaguered city, Muslims had ravaged the land, and sent refugees fleeing by foot in all directions. Thus, making use of captured Muslim cavalrymen and foot soldiers, as well as the fleeing Christians, the Germans and the Poles picked up enough intelligence to learn that their best chances lay to the southwest, through the Vienna Wood. It would be hugely difficult terrain for cavalry, and also for quick forced marches by the infantry. But one other factor spoke for that line of attack: the supply trains and Mustafa's luxurious tents, with their splendid harems and rich treasury, were also located on that side of Vienna. The approaching Christian generals met together to go over the plan of attack, and then rapidly set off to their southwest, far enough from the city to advance mostly undetected.

At intervals, back in Vienna, Mustafa had messages in German tied to dozens of rocks, which he had his catapults shoot over the city walls. One such message read:

Surrender now and you will be saved. Open your gates, turn your churches over to us and lay down your arms, and no one will be killed. If you resist the will of Allah, your leaders, and all of them, will be slain. Able men and women will be sold into slavery. You will be allowed no rights of worship, and your mighty walls will be thrown down. Fight and you die! Surrender and you live!

For more than four hundred years, hundreds of Christian villages and cities had received such messages. The duplicity and primitive brutality of Muslim conquerors were well known to hundreds of thousands of Christian families, through the fate of relatives in other overrun communities. Nevertheless, sometimes terror overwhelmed them and they surrendered. At Vienna, behind fearless and determined leaders, they chose to die fighting rather than to surrender. So the issue inside Vienna became whether food and gunpowder would give out before the long-promised army of relief would arrive. Dauntless messengers slipping in and out of Vienna kept hope at least flickering. The commander in Vienna promised he could hold out until September 1. The advancing army of relief replied that they would need almost two weeks more than that. Only gritted-teeth determination could bridge that gap in time.

One thing the Muslim armies were not trained to do, as were the Christian armies of that time, was to fight on two fronts--against the city ahead and against any oncoming forces that might arrive to break the siege. For this, Kara Mustafa relied on his mobile cavalry, some twenty thousand Tatars from the Asian steppes in camp about twenty miles south of Vienna. Because of the density of the Vienna Wood to the southwest of the city, this was the one region which the cavalry could cover only lightly. Still, if even small bands of mounted Tatars had infiltrated the hills and valleys of the Wood, no Christian soldiers could have made it through the narrow passes. Unaccountably, Mustafa forbade the Tatar leader to launch an attack on the Wood.

King Sobieski of Poland had drawn the privilege of advancing on the right flank, right through the heart of the Vienna Wood. His army's double-time march through the Wood was arduous, by narrow valleys and slow but deep summer streams. Late on September 11, just as his men were making their initial contact with the Turkish outposts, and the final battle began to be joined, the King formed a resolution to attack on the morrow as swiftly and with as much surprise as possible, to overwhelm Mustafa's bodyguard of cavalry and rush on with force as close to the supply trains as he could, and to conclude the matter on the next day. In the rough terrain where his troops broke out from the Wood on September 12, Sobieski held his famed hussars back. They were his best, his ultimate, weapon.

For hours all day long, left, center, and right flanks of the Christian army advanced far more steadily than expected, although the hand-to-hand fighting was furious, and the Turkish lines were yielding only a yard at a time. The last four hundred yards took an immense effort, but the Christian forces reached open ground with less than an hour of daylight left. This is when Sobieski made a huge gamble and boldly released his much-feared hussars. These famous horsemen wore special caps with strips of leather flying behind them in the wind, lined with feathers like the headdresses of American Indians, and the wind whistled through the leather with an eerie tone. As they charged across the open land the low, melancholy wail of the wind through their feathers frightened the Arabian horses--and their Turkish riders, too.

The sheer speed and force of the Polish hussars was too great and too surprising to be resisted. Mustafa escaped, but his tents and treasury were captured (one of his green velvet tents sits now in the Czartoryskis Museum in Krakow). The Muslim lines nearby broke, and their men began looting Mustafa's rich supply wagons and pleasure tents on their panicky flight southward. The entire Muslim ring surrounding the city melted away, back whence it had come.
Mustafa, slowed by a bad wound to his eye, was rushed southward by his remaining bodyguards. From the first moments of crushing defeat he began plotting his reports to the sultan, shifting the blame onto one of his subordinates. Yet as the Christians pursued the once-great Muslim army down through Hungary, retaking one city after another from Muslim control, and in effect laying the groundwork for the future Austro-Hungarian Empire, the sultan's anger against Mustafa finally exploded. Mustafa recognized what must happen. He was hanged on December 25, 1683, by the green cord that he had worn round his neck, a little more than three months after he had imagined he had Vienna in his grasp.


Thus, once again, this time by land, the Muslims had attempted to fulfill the Prophet's command to spread Islam to all corners of the world decisively, with force. The sultans had long had the advantage of an enormous standing army ready for all seasons, and swiftly added to when larger ambitions demanded. This time, however, the siege-lifting battle outside the walls of Vienna marked the high-water mark of Muslim power. After September 11-12, 1683, that power kept receding, on into modern times.

Still, it should surprise no one that the date chosen to bring the new resurgence of modern Muslim ambition to the whole world's attention was also September 11, 318 years after 1683. The announcement came in the vivid orange bursts of blossoming flame and dark black smoke from two of the tallest towers of the West's financial capital. Muslim memory runs very deep, and so does the Muslim imperative to conquer the world for Allah, not just by force of arms but by conversion to Islam. The West has always refused to give this long and deeply rooted Muslim threat against the West's own soul the sustained attention it requires.

Nonetheless, four centuries after Lepanto, three centuries after Vienna, today in most of the capitals of once-Christian Europe, there are more Muslims attending services in mosques on Fridays, than Christians at worship on Sundays. In some ways, the pluralism of the West is a blessing, even an advantage to the West--and yet its profoundest historical weakness lies in its own divided spirit. The ultimate issue between Islam and the West is not military force. It is the depth of intellect and engagement. In matters of the spirit, we seem always to become tongue-tied, as if lacking in spirited confidence. We do not insist on presenting better arguments in recognition of the inalienable rights to human liberty that our totalitarian opponents deny. Mere secular force will not do, when the fundamental battle is spiritual. Thus, the same movie seems to be played over and over.

That is the historical record, it seems, at least in regard to October 7, 1571, and September 11-12, 1683, after Lepanto, and after Vienna.

Michael Novak is the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at AEI.

Related Links
Related book by Novak: The Universal Hunger for Liberty
Related Irving Kristol Lecture on the conflicts between Europe and Islam by Bernard Lewis
Related article on Islamism in modern Europe by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Skeptical of Obama's Stimulus Plan

By Jonah Goldberg
The Los Angeles Times
January 14, 2009

Barack Obama has a curious definition of “non-ideological.” He’s insisting on bipartisan support for a stimulus package that will cost more than anything Uncle Sam has ever bought, save perhaps for victory over the Axis powers. He says he wants “to put good ideas ahead of the old ideological battles” and doesn’t care whether they come from Republicans or Democrats. But he also says that “only government” can pull us out of this crisis.

It’s like Henry Ford’s line that you could buy any color car you wanted, as long as you wanted black. Obama is interested in any idea, as long as its peddler starts from the same “non-ideological” assumption that government experts know best.

In fairness to Obama, there is a huge consensus around the notion that government must do, well, something — something big. Conservative economists such as Harvard’s Martin Feldstein support a stimulus package. Heck, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell passes for a fiscal conservative these days because he opposes any bill of more than $1 trillion.

It’s the consensus that scares me. Chin-stroking moderates and passionate centrists often glorify consensus to the point where they sound like it’s better to be wrong in a group than to be right alone — an example of ideological dogmatism as bad as any.

Obviously, consensus can be good. But it also can lead to dangerous groupthink. Everyone knew that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Everyone at 60 Minutes knew those memos about George W. Bush and the Texas Air National Guard had to be right. Everyone knows everything is right, until everything goes wrong. If that’s not one of the great lessons of the financial collapse of 2008, I don’t know what is.

Last fall, the smartocracy said the Treasury Department had to be given $700 billion for the Troubled Asset Relief Program because the government had to buy all that bad paper right away. Since then, Treasury has bought no toxic assets, done nothing to help with foreclosures and, a congressional report released Friday revealed, can’t adequately explain what it did with the first $350 billion.

The current climate reminds former Freddie Mac economist Arnold Kling of the battle of the Somme in World War I (a war everyone knew would be over in six months). “Having experienced nothing but failure using offensive tactics up to that point, the Allies decided that what they needed to try was ... a really big offensive,” Kling writes. “My guess is that in 1916, anyone who doubted his own ability to direct an enormous offensive involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers would never have made it to general. Similarly, today, anyone who doubts the ability of a handful of technocrats to sensibly allocate $800 billion would never make it into government or the mainstream media.”

That might overstate it a bit, because some naysayers can be heard. Economist Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute notes that whatever the benefits of the proposed stimulus, they probably don’t outweigh the enormous costs of the debt we would incur. As a result of the stimulus, the deficit this year would equal the total cost of the federal government in 2000. That’s on top of $7.76 trillion in bailouts pledged by the government, according to

The real reason the stimulus package will be gigantic is not that the smartest people with the best ideas say it needs to be. It’s that Obama’s real priority is to get the bill out as quickly as possible, which means every constituency gets something, including Republicans. Indeed, Republicans are a priority because if he can bribe them into supporting the bill, that might prevent them from campaigning against it in 2010 if it proves ineffective or counterproductive. Hence Obama’s proposed billions in tax breaks for corporate welfare addicts and the lobbyists who love them. Democrats are justly skeptical about a tax break for a company that decides not to lay off its workers.

The GOP is right to question this “shovel-ready” infrastructure “investment.” From World War II to the early 1990s, according to economist Bruce Bartlett, not a single stimulus bill succeeded at moderating the recession it was aimed at, while many bills helped invite the next recession. Bartlett supports a stimulus in theory (as do I); he merely notes that the political process tends to be just that — a political process — and it produces political results.

The best stimulus might be to trim — or temporarily eliminate — the payroll tax. That would put money in the hands of the people who need it — and know best how to spend it. But that would be “too ideological” because it rejects the assumption that government knows best, and it would reward taxpayers, not politicians.

Today's Tune: Waylon Jennings - Lonesome, On`ry and Mean

(Click on title to play video)

More Than a Good Feeling

Why are so many oligarchs, royal families, and special-interest groups giving money to the Clinton Foundation?

By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, Jan. 12, 2009, at 12:27 PM ET

Here is a thought experiment that does not take very much thought. Picture, if you will, Hillary Clinton facing a foreign-policy conundrum. With whom will she discuss it first and most intently: with her president or her husband? (I did tell you that this wouldn't be difficult.) Here's another one: Will she be swayed in her foreign-policy decisions by electoral considerations focusing on the year 2012, and, if so, will she be swayed by President Barack Obama's interests or her own?

Bill Clinton speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in Hong Kong

The next question, and I must apologize in advance for once again making it an un-strenuous one, is: Who else will be approaching Bill Clinton for advice, counsel, and "input" on foreign affairs? It appears from the donor list of the Clinton Foundation that there is barely an oligarch, royal family, or special-interest group anywhere in the world that does not know how to get the former president's attention. Just in the days since the foundation agreed to some disclosure of its previously "confidential" clients—in other words, since this became a condition for Sen. Clinton's nomination to become secretary of state—we have additionally found former President Clinton in warm relationships with one very questionable businessman in Malaysia and with another, this time in Nigeria, who used to have close connections with that country's ultracorrupt military dictatorship.

The Nigerian example is an especially instructive one. Gilbert Chagoury is a major figure in land and construction in that country and has contributed between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation as well as arranged a huge speaking fee for President Clinton at a Caribbean event and kicked in a large sum to his 1996 re-election campaign. In return for this, he has been received at the Clinton White House and more recently at Clinton-sponsored social events in New York and Paris. This may have helped to alleviate the sting of Chagoury's difficulties in Nigeria itself. As a close friend of the country's uniformed despot Gen. Sani Abacha, he benefited from some extremely profitable business arrangements during the years of dictatorship but was later compelled, after an investigation of his transactions, to return an estimated $300 million to the Nigerian treasury in exchange for a plea-bargaining arrangement by which his bank accounts could be unfrozen.

Aha, you say, there's no evidence of any quid pro quo here. (Or, in other words, Chagoury gives a fortune to Clinton because he, too, wants to "fight AIDS.") Of course, this may only be seed money for a later "quid" or even "quo" that hasn't yet materialized. And if Chagoury or anyone else had ever received the impression that the Clintons would play for pay, it's easy to see how he got the idea. (See my Nov. 24, 2008, Slate column on the investigations of the Clinton campaign-finance scandals and the shenanigans surrounding the Marc Rich pardon.)

But does a contribution to Bill Clinton's foundation get you any traction with Sen. Clinton, at least in her political and official capacity? Let's see. A recent story in the New York Times managed to begin with some very crisp and clear and fact-based paragraphs:

An upstate New York developer donated $100,000 to former President Bill Clinton's foundation in November 2004, around the same time that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton helped secure millions of dollars in federal assistance for the businessman's mall project.

Mrs. Clinton helped enact legislation allowing the developer, Robert J. Congel, to use tax-exempt bonds to help finance the construction of the Destiny USA entertainment and shopping complex, an expansion of the Carousel Center in Syracuse.

Mrs. Clinton also helped secure a provision in a highway bill that set aside $5 million for Destiny USA roadway construction.

Why should anyone doubt, then, that in small matters as well as in large ones, the old slogan from the 1992 election still holds true? As Bill so touchingly put it that year, if you voted for him, you got "two for one." What the country—and the world—has since learned is a slight variation on that, which I would crudely phrase as "buy one, get one free."

The deal struck by the wide-eyed incoming Obama administration is that the list of donors to the Clinton Foundation will be reviewed once every year and that only the new donations from foreign states—which already include an extraordinarily large number from Gulf sheikdoms—will be scrutinized by administration lawyers. How would we react if we read that this was the rule for the Vladimir Putin government, say, or former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's regime in Germany? Before me, for example, is the report of a pledge of $100 million to the Clinton Foundation's Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative by a set of companies based in Vancouver and known as the Lundin Group. The ostensible purpose of this mind-boggling contribution is stated in the usual vacuous terms of "sustainable local economies," chiefly in Africa. All I know for sure about the Lundin Group is that it does quite a lot of business in Sudan. And all I can think to ask—as perhaps some senator might think to ask—is why such a big corporate interest doesn't just donate the money directly, rather than distributing it through the offices of an outfit run by a seasoned ex-presidential influence-peddler. What do they and the other donors suppose they are getting for their money? A good feeling?

That was another no-brainer question I just asked. So let me stop insulting you, dear reader, and pose a question to which we do not have any obvious answer. Why is Sen. Clinton, the spouse of the great influence-peddler, being nominated in the first place? In exchange for giving the painful impression that our State Department will be an attractive destination for lobbyists and donors, what exactly are we getting? George Marshall? Dean Acheson? Even Madeleine Albright? No, we are getting a notoriously ambitious woman who made a fool of herself over Bosnia, at the time and during the recent campaign, and who otherwise has no command of foreign affairs except what she's picked up second-hand from an impeached ex-president, a disbarred lawyer, and a renter of the Lincoln Bedroom. If the Senate waves this through, it will have reinforced its recent image as the rubber-stamp chamber of a bankrupt banana republic. Not an especially good start to the brave new era.

- Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the Roger S. Mertz media fellow at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, Calif.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A True Pastor

Remembering Father Richard John Neuhaus

George Weigel
Newsweek Web Exclusive
January 13, 2009

The conventional story line on Father Richard John Neuhaus, who died on Jan. 8 at age 72, is that his eventful life was defined by change, transition, even rupture: Lutheran pastor's kid becomes teenage hellion becomes Lutheran pastor becomes Catholic priest; Democratic congressional candidate becomes adviser to Republican presidents; Sixties' radical becomes '80s neo-conservative. And truth to tell (as he would say), there's at least something to this.

The early influences on his religious thought and sensibility included the Lutheran theologian Arthur Carl Piepkorn (who taught him to think of Lutheranism as a reform movement within the one Church of Christ) and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (from whom he drew the idea that Christianity and Judaism were necessarily locked into a conversation from which both ought to benefit); his later interlocutors in matters theological shifted to include the German Lutheran Wolfhart Pannenberg (whom he introduced to the English-speaking world), Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), and Pope John Paul II.

He worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ralph David Abernathy in the classic period of the American civil-rights movement; his chastisement of William F. Buckley, Jr., in a letter complaining about the National Review's stance on civil-rights legislation, led to lunch and then to 30 years of friendship, conversation, and collaboration.

He was typically labeled a "conservative" Catholic in his latter years; yet for more than four decades, he was at the intellectual center of both the ecumenical and inter-religious dialogues, in partnership with a diverse crew that included, at various moments, Cardinal Avery Dulles, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Charles W. Colson, Alexander Schmemann, Rabbi David Novak, and Rabbi Leon Klenicki.

He was an early supporter of Jimmy Carter who became a counselor to George W. Bush; with the sociologist Peter Berger, he pioneered a new way of thinking about "mediating structures" (or voluntary associations) in society, thereby providing the intellectual foundation for Bush's faith-and-community based initiative.

He was a vocal critic of America's war in Vietnam who helped cause a major rift in the post-war peace movement by criticizing the new communist government's persecution of religious believers.

His friends and familiars included prominent American public intellectuals of all faiths and no faith; on two different days, he could be found arguing amiably and intensely with Henry Kissinger about morality and foreign policy, and then with Norman Podhoretz about the proper interpretation of Isaiah and St. Paul. In tandem with colleagues like Michael Novak and Robert Benne, he made a Christian moral case for the superiority of the free market over socialism; yet by his own choice, most of his pastoral work as both Lutheran pastor and Catholic priest was in poor and working-class parishes. He loved music, especially Bach, and he loved to sing; but he couldn't carry a tune to save his life. He was a brilliant preacher and a wonderful raconteur who also suffered through his dark nights.

Anyone whose journey through this world spanned that range of experiences and touched that wide a cast of characters obviously went through some changes over time. Yet, as I reflect back on 31 years of friendship and common work with Richard Neuhaus, I am far more impressed by the consistencies than by the discontinuities in his life and thought.

To begin with, he was a thoroughgoing Christian radical, meaning that he believed that the truth of Christian faith was not just truth-for-Christians, but the truth of the world, period. As with his hero, John Paul II (and contrary to the conventional wisdom on "tolerance"), that conviction opened him up to serious conversation with others, rather than shutting down the argument. Yet his basic theological and philosophical convictions, and the intellectual sophistication he brought to their defense, had resonances far beyond the boundaries of the religious world, for those convictions also undergirded the two big ideas that he put into play in American public life.

The first of these ideas, laid out in his 1984 bestseller, The Naked Public Square, involved that hardy perennial in the garden of American controversy, church and state. Neuhaus's position was that the two pieces of the First Amendment's provisions on religious freedom were in fact one "religion clause," in which "no establishment" of religion served the "free exercise" of religion. There was to be no established national church, precisely in order to create the free space for the robust exchange of religious ideas and the free expression of religious practices. In making this case, Neuhaus changed the terms of the contemporary American church-state debate, arguing that the Supreme Court had been getting things wrong for more than half a century by pitting "no establishment" against "free exercise," with the latter increasingly being forced into the constitutional back seat. It was a bold proposal from a theologian that has increasingly been vindicated by much of the recent legal and historical scholarship on Supreme Court church-state jurisprudence.

Neuhaus's convictions about the meaning of religious freedom in America also reflected his consistent defense of popular piety and the religious sensibilities of those whom others might consider "simple" or "uninformed." If 90 percent of the American people professed belief in the God of the Bible, he argued, then there was something profoundly undemocratic about denying those people—a super-majority if ever there was one—the right to bring the sources of their deepest moral convictions into public debate, even if they sometimes did so in clumsy ways.

That populism was also at the root of Neuhaus's second big idea: that the pro-life movement was in moral continuity with the classic civil-rights movement, because pro-life claims were rooted in the same moral truths for which he had marched with King and Abernathy across the Edmund Pettis Bridge outside Selma, Alabama. The pro-life position, Neuhaus insisted, was a matter of the first principles of justice, and those principles could not be sacrificed to what some imagined to be the imperatives of the sexual revolution. Thus as early as 1967, he warned his liberal and radical friends that their advocacy of "abortion rights" was a betrayal of their previous commitments. For to deny the unborn the right to life was to shrink the community of common protection and concern in America, whereas the whole point of the civil-rights insurgency had been to enlarge that community by finally including African-Americans within it.

On a related set of questions, Neuhaus was also concerned with elitism and its corrosive effects on the poor people he served. He often spoke of his experience of reading an early essay on "quality of life," back in the embryonic days of what would eventually come to be known as bioethics. The author described "quality of life" in terms of income, education, recreational opportunities, and so forth; then, as Neuhaus told the story, "I got into my pulpit on Sunday, looked out at the congregation, and realized that not a single person there had what was being described as 'quality of life.'" Something was seriously wrong; and so the dignity of every human life, not its alleged "quality," became the conceptual basis on which he entered the bioethics struggles that now define such a significant part of the national agenda.

Both of these Big Ideas—no war between "free exercise" against "no establishment," and the pro-life movement as the natural moral successor to the civil rights movement—intersected in what Richard Neuhaus, public intellectual, thought of as his life's project: the creation of a "religiously informed public philosophy for the American experiment in ordered liberty," as he frequently put it. Understanding each of the pieces of that puzzle is important to understanding the man.

A "religiously informed public philosophy" was one that took account of the American people's abiding religiosity, but "translated" biblically informed moral convictions into a language that people of different faiths or no faith could engage in. The American "experiment," for Neuhaus, was an unfinished, and indeed never-to-be-finished, political project. American public life, as he understood it, was a constant testing of whether a nation "so conceived and so dedicated" could "long endure:" thus Lincoln's question at Gettysburg was a question for every generation of Americans, not just the generation of the Civil War. And then there was "ordered liberty," in which the adjective captured Neuhaus's conviction (which paralleled that of the classic English liberal and historian of freedom, Lord Acton) that political liberty was not a matter of doing whatever we like, but of having the right to do what we ought.

Richard John Neuhaus's lifelong habit of serious conversation—typically complemented by bourbon and cigars—was fed by his voracious reading. The breadth of his professional reading was on display every month in his personal section of First Things, the magazine he launched in the early 1990s; fittingly enough, the section was styled, "Public Square," and its large readership marveled at the amount of material Neuhaus, read, digested, and commented on every four weeks. Our 22 years of vacationing together at his cottage on the Ottawa River introduced me to the more personal side of my friend's unquenchable thirst for challenging ideas, preferably couched in good writing: one year, he would read Macauley's history of England; another year, it would be Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; yet another, Aquinas's Summa Theologiae. And on at least three occasions during those two decades, he read through virtually all of Shakespeare. Yet the same man could spend the late evenings howling with laughter over DVDs of Talladega Nights, Best in Show, or A Mighty Wind. (Lest I create scandal, I should add that he also appreciated serious movies, and that his leisure reading included mystery writers such as P.D. James and Ellis Peters. If memory serves, he also claimed to have read Scoop, Evelyn Waugh's send-up of journalism, at least 10 times.)

The public world, where he spent much of his working life as writer and editor, thought of him as a controversialist, which he surely was (and a very skillful one at that). But what the public world rarely saw was the man who spent countless hours counseling young people, or receiving unannounced and uninvited visitors to his office who just "had to meet Father Neuhaus," or hearing confessions and saying mass in his parish. He could be fierce, rhetorically; but those whom he led through the thickets of religious quandaries, vocational discernments, or psychological crises knew him to be remarkably patient and gentle. And so, while he was arguably the most consequential American religious intellectual since Reinhold Niebuhr and John Courtney Murray, his memory will long be cherished by people who knew little of his public life, but did know him to be a man of conviction, conscience, and compassion—a true pastor.

Which is no bad way for the man who dubbed his poor Bedford-Stuyvesant parish "St. John the Mundane" to be remembered.

GEORGE WEIGEL, a Newsweek contributor, holds the William E. Simon Chair at Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center.

In Defense of Death

Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-2009

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
January 13, 2009

William D. Eddy was an Episcopal minister in Tarrytown, N.Y., and an admirer of the writer and theologian Richard John Neuhaus. When Rev. Eddy grew gravely ill about 20 years ago, I asked Neuhaus to write him a letter of comfort.

I was shocked when I read it a few weeks later. As I recall, Neuhaus’s message was this: There are comforting things you and I have learned to say in circumstances such as these, but we don’t need those things between ourselves.

Neuhaus then went on to talk frankly and extensively about death. Those two men were in a separate fraternity and could talk directly about things the rest avoided.

Neuhaus was no stranger to death. As a young minister, he worked in the death ward at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, a giant room with 50 to 100 dying people in it, where he would accompany two or three to their deaths each day. One sufferer noticed an expression on Neuhaus’s face and said, “Oh, oh, don’t be afraid,” and then sagged back and expired.

Much later, Neuhaus endured his own near-death experience. An undiagnosed tumor led to a ruptured intestine and a series of operations. He recovered slowly, first in intensive care, and then in a regular hospital room, where something strange happened.

“I was sitting up staring intently into the darkness, although in fact I knew my body was lying flat,” he later wrote in an essay called “Born Toward Dying” in his magazine, First Things. “What I was staring at was a color like blue and purple, and vaguely in the form of hanging drapery. By the drapery were two ‘presences.’ I saw them and yet did not see them, and I cannot explain that ... .

“And then the presences — one or both of them, I do not know — spoke. This I heard clearly. Not in an ordinary way, for I cannot remember anything about the voice. But the message was beyond mistaking: ‘Everything is ready now.’ ”

That was the end of Neuhaus’s vision, but not his experience. “I pinched myself hard, and ran through the multiplication tables, and recalled the birth dates of my seven brothers and sisters, and my wits were vibrantly about me. The whole thing had lasted three or four minutes, maybe less. I resolved at that moment that I would never, never let anything dissuade me from the reality of what had happened. Knowing myself, I expected I would later be inclined to doubt it. It was an experience as real, as powerfully confirmed by the senses, as anything I have ever known.”

Most scientists today would say that Neuhaus’s vision was the product of him confusing an inner voice for an outer voice. He was suffering the sort of mental illusion that sometimes befalls epileptics before a seizure.

Neuhaus took it the other way. While most people might use the science of life to demystify death, Neuhaus used death to mystify life.

When he wrote about his experience later, his great theme was the way death has a backward influence back onto life: “We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already under way.”

Neuhaus spent the next days, months and years impressed by the overwhelming fact of death. This made him, he writes, a bit blubbery. “After some time, I could shuffle the few blocks to the church and say Mass. At the altar, I cried a lot and hoped the people didn’t notice. To think that I’m really here after all, I thought, at the altar, at the axis mundi, the center of life. And of death.”

It also made him almost indifferent about when his life would end. People would tell him to fight for life and he would enjoy their attention, but the matter wasn’t really in his hands, and everything was ready anyway.

He quoted John Donne who also was changed by a near-death experience: “Though I may have seniors, others may be elder than I, yet I have proceeded apace in a good university, and gone a great way in a little time, by the furtherance of a vehement fever.”

Cancer returned, and Neuhaus died last week. In his final column for First Things, he wrote again about his mortality.

“Be assured that I neither fear to die nor refuse to live. If it is to die, all that has been is but a slight intimation of what is to be. If it is to live, there is much I hope to do in the interim.”

This awareness of death, and of the intermingling of life and death, gave Neuhaus’s writing an extra dimension — like a metaphysician who has been writing about nature within earth’s atmosphere and suddenly discovers space.