Saturday, January 31, 2009

Stimulated right into being another Europe

Plan also could trigger protectionist backlash, just like during the Depression.

Mark Steyn
Syndicated columnist
Orange County Register
Friday, January 30, 2009

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, is on TV explaining the (at this point the congregation shall fall to its knees and prostrate itself) "stimulus." "How," asks the lady from CBS, "does $335 million in STD prevention stimulate the economy?"

"I'll tell you how," says Speaker Pelosi. "I'm a big believer in prevention. And we have, er… there is a part of the bill on the House side that is about prevention. It's about it being less expensive to the states to do these measures."

Makes a lot of sense. If we have more STD prevention, it will be safer for loose women to go into bars and pick up feckless men, thus stimulating the critical beer and nuts and jukebox industries. To do this, we need trillion-dollar deficits, which our children and grandchildren will have to pay off, but, with sufficient investment in prevention measures, there won't be any children or grandchildren, so there's that problem solved.

The more interviews Speaker Pelosi gives explaining how vital the STD industry is to restarting the U.S. economy, the more I find myself hearing "syphilis" every time she says "stimulus." In late September, America was showing the first signs of "primary stimulus" – a few billion lesions popping up on the rarely glimpsed naughty bits of the economy: the subprime mortgage racket, the leverage kings. Now, the condition has metastasized in a mere four months into the advanced stages of "tertiary stimulus," with trillions of hideous, ever more inflamed pustules sprouting in every nook and cranny as the central nervous system of the body politic crumbles into total insanity – until it seems entirely normal for the second in line of presidential succession to be on TV gibbering away about how vital the federalization of condom distribution is to economic recovery.

The rules in this new "post-partisan" era are pretty simple: If the Democratic Party wants it, it's "stimulus." If the Republican Party opposes it, it's "politics" – as in headlines like this: "Obama Urges GOP To Keep Politics To A Minimum On Stimulus." These are serious times: As the president says, it's the worst economic crisis since the Thirties. So politicians need to put politics behind them and immediately lavish $4.19 billion on his community-organizing pals at the highly inventive "voter registration" group ACORN for "neighborhood stabilization activities."

"Neighborhood stabilization activities." That sounds like a line item from the Baath Party budget when Saddam sends the lads in to gas the Kurds. What does it mean in a nontotalitarian sense? Do you need a federally subsidized condom to do it? If so, will a pathetic $4.19 billion be enough?

"Stimulus" comes from the verb "stimulare," which is Latin for "transfer massive sums of money from what remains of the dynamic sector of the economy to the special interests of the Democratic Party." No, hang on, my mistake. "Stimulare" means "to goad." And, on that front, the Democrats are doing an excellent job. They've managed to goad 58 percent of the American people into opposing the "stimulus" package. They've managed to goad all 117 Republicans in the House into unpacking their mothballed cojonesand voting against the bill. And they've managed to goad the rest of the world into ending the Obama honeymoon in nothing flat. Headline from the London Daily Telegraph:

"U.S.-EU Trade War Looms As Barack Obama Bill Urges 'Buy American.'"

That would be the provision in the Senate bill prohibiting any foreign-made goods from being used in "stimulus" projects. So, if you own a rubber plantation in Malaysia, and you're hoping for a piece of Nancy Pelosi's condom action, forget it. The EU Trade Commissioner is outraged at the swaggering cowboy Obama shooting from the hip and unilaterally banning European goods from American soil. But so are American companies such as General Electric. Bill Lane, an executive honcho with Caterpillar (the 10th-biggest U.S. investor in the United Kingdom), says, "We are students of history. A major reason a very deep recession turned into the Great Depression was the fact that countries turned inward." Ah, yes. The Buy American Act of 1933. How'd that work out?

Even without Speaker Pelosi talking STDs on the evening news, there is danger here for the new administration. Setting aside the more messianic effusions ("We needed him. And out of that great need," gushed Maya Angelou, "Barack Obama came") as unbecoming to the freeborn citizens of a constitutional republic, it seems clear that large numbers of people voted for this president because they wanted something different, something other than "politics as usual." Not just something pseudo-different like the dreary maverickiness of John McCain "reaching across the aisle" (one of those dead phrases no one outside the Beltway gives a hoot about), but something really different. But the "stimulus" package is just politics as usual with a few extra zeros on the end. Will you notice anything? No. Don't get your hopes up. If you're broke now, you'll be broke in October. The Congressional Budget Office estimates only 25 percent of it will be spent by early next year. The other 75 percent is as stimulating as the gal in the Nancy Pelosi Pussycat Lounge telling you she had such a good time she's penciled in a second date for spring 2010. A third of all the spending won't come until after 2011.

In a media age, politics is a battle of language, and "stimulus" is too good a word to cede to porked-up statist hacks. "Stimulus" has to stimulate – i.e., it's short-term, like, say, an immediate cut in payroll taxes that will put real actual money in your pocket in next month's paycheck. That way, you don't need to wait for ACORN: You can start "stabilizing" your own "neighborhood" right now.

But, if this fraudulent "stimulus" does pass, it will, in fact, destimulate, and much more than the disastrous protectionist measures of the Thirties did: Back then, America was dealing with a far less globalized economy, and with far fewer competitors. "In the long run, we are all dead," Lord Keynes, the newly fashionable economist, famously said. But, if this bill passes, in the medium term we're all dead. It's a massive expansion of the state in the same direction that has brought sclerosis to Europe. A report issued last week in London found that government spending now accounts for 49 percent of the UK economy – and in the Celtic corners of the kingdom the state's share of the economy is way higher, from 71.6 percent in Wales to 77.6 percent in Northern Ireland. In the Western world, countries that were once the crucible of freedom are slipping remorselessly into a thinly disguised serfdom in which an ever higher proportion of your assets are annexed by the state as superlandlord. Big government is where nations go to die – not in Keynes' "long run," but sooner than you think.

Today's Tune: Billy Joe Shaver - Freedom's Child

(Click on title to play video)

Friday, January 30, 2009

All Seriousness Aside

By Paul Chesser on 1.30.09 @ 6:07AM
The American Spectator

It is like the Peanuts gang laughing in derision after yet another Charlie Brown gaffe. It is like the doubling-over at the double-stumble (video) during fashion week in Paris.

The cackles and guffaws now come routinely. Global warming alarmists, led by inconvenienced (because of cooling weather) Al Gore, are seeing their prophecies of doom dissolve. Now that big ice grows, big winter is bad (like last year), cold temperatures hit record levels, and global mean surface temperature has not continued upward -- despite continued increases in that demonized "greenhouse" gas, carbon dioxide -- the panic peddlers look like flailing jesters.

Look at the recent responses to the self-caricature, Gore. The late nighters already found global warming (targeting both sides) to be fodder for yuks. But after the former vice president gave a repeat command performance before Congress this week, the scorn against alarmists is stronger than ever. The acerbic Dennis Miller, who said Gore probably is otherwise a good guy, called him a "doofus" because of his global warming beliefs. And during Gore's Wednesday testimony one of those independent, go-astray-to-not-get-along Western congressmen dribbled sarcasm during his questioning:

Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) begged (Gore) to look further into the future. "What does your modeling tell you about how long we're going to be around as a species?" he inquired.

(Gore) chuckled. "I don't claim the expertise to answer a question like that, Senator."

While the rest of us flick dandruff over why the timeframe of human extinction falls outside Gore's Magic 8-Ball, even those in the mainstream media who once bowed before him now write in mockery:

The lawmakers gazed in awe at the figure before them. The Goracle had seen the future, and he had come to tell them about it.

What the Goracle saw in the future was not good: temperature changes that "would bring a screeching halt to human civilization and threaten the fabric of life everywhere on the Earth -- and this is within this century, if we don't change."

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry (D-Mass.), appealed to hear more of the Goracle's premonitions. "Share with us, if you would, sort of the immediate vision that you see in this transformative process as we move to this new economy," he beseeched.

"Geothermal energy," the Goracle prophesied. "This has great potential; it is not very far off."

Those, skeptics and alarmists, were the observations of the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, about whom the Powerline blog's Scott Johnson observed, "Milbank himself is generally a reliable indicator of mainstream liberal opinion. Is anthropogenic global warming not the crisis it's cracked up to be?"

Actually it's the proponents who are cracking up as their theories crumble and the opposition strengthens. One alarmist blogger -- an Al Gore camp counselor -- devolved into a snit over the proliferation of skepticism produced by Internet search results.

Causing them greater concern is the parade of their former rally monkeys marching into the skeptics' camp. As word of the scientific skeptical mass mounts, the public appears to follow. A Rasmussen poll conducted earlier this month found that more people believe global warming is due to planetary trends instead of human activity. And a Pew Research poll determined that global warming gave respondents the chills, ranking it dead cold last (20th of 20) among policy priorities for 2009.

Juxtaposed against Gore's remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it's easy to see why Milbank takes him less seriously than he used to. Here's Al:

• "We have arrived at a moment of decision. Our home -- Earth -- is in grave danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, of course, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings."

• "This is the one challenge that could completely end human civilization, and it is rushing at us with such speed and force."

• "If something has never happened before, we tend to think, 'Well, that's not going to happen.' The problem is, the exceptions can kill you, and this is one of them."

It's not limited to Gore. Even scientists recognize they have a credibility and perception problem, yet they still can't harness their own panicky rhetoric:

"I think you have to think about (greenhouse gases) as more like nuclear waste than acid rain: The more we add, the worse off we'll be," said NOAA senior scientist Susan Solomon. "The more time that we take to make decisions about carbon dioxide, the more irreversible climate change we'll be locked into."

The faltering reputation of the alarmists, so dependent on the climate change industry bubble they've inflated, now drives environmental reporters to find quotes that attempt to shore up credibility:

Miss Solomon's report "is quite important, not alarmist, and very important for the current debates on climate policy," said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate researcher at the University of Arizona.

Since when does the mainstream media need quotes of validation to support their fellow environmental activists? You would never have seen this, even six months ago. The alarmists are desperate.

Paul Chesser is director of Climate Strategies Watch, a free-market, limited-government project that assesses global warming commissions in the states.

The Hunt for Bin Laden

By David Forsmark
Friday, January 30, 2009

Kill bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander's Account of the Hunt for the World's Most Wanted Man
By Dalton Fury
St. Martin's, $25.95, 320 pp.

In the September 30, 2004, presidential debate, John F. Kerry continued a long-standing Democrat tradition of distorting classified information for political ends — and counting on the Republican opponent to be too principled to give away classified information in rebuttal -- when he intoned in his best Lurch impression:

"(W)hen we had Osama bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, [he had] 1,000 of his cohorts with him in those mountains. With the American military forces nearby and in the field, we didn't use the best-trained troops in the world to go kill the world's number one criminal and terrorist. They outsourced the job to Afghan warlords, who only a week earlier had been on the other side fighting against us, neither of whom trusted each other."

Unfortunately, President Bush, who has the constitutional authority to declassify information on the spot, did not take the opportunity to expose Kerry as a liar who would be too reckless with American lives to be the country's commander in chief.

But even before Dalton Fury's revelations about the situation in his terrific new book, Kill bin Laden, Kerry's charge didn't pass the smell test for any reasonably well-informed viewer. At the time, my fantasy of a Bush response went something like this:

"John Kerry talks about Tora Bora as though it's a little village, and all we had to do was walk in and arrest Osama. He should consult an atlas. Tora Bora is in one of the most rugged mountain ranges in the world. The Soviet Union threw masses of troops against it for ten years and lost thousands of men. Mr. Kerry says the lives lost in liberating Iraq were wasted, but just for the propaganda value of capturing Osama, he would have sacrificed many times that many American lives — without absolute knowledge the target was even present."

That alone makes John unfit to be Commander-in-Chief.

But Senator Kerry's lack of honesty also makes him a poor choice for president. Contrary to press reports, he well knows "the best-trained troops in the world" led a very successful military campaign that killed at least hundreds of battle-hardened al Qaeda operatives, a loss from which Osama bid Laden's legion of terror has yet to recover.

As for the Afghan troops, we used the same methods that were so successful at Mazar-e-Sharif and toppled the Taliban while Kerry and his allies in the media were revving up their talk of a growing "quagmire" in Afghanistan. At Tora Bora, the U.S. accomplished what the Soviets and every other invader, failed to do -- without the loss of a single American life."

John, since you are following in the disgraced footsteps of Senator Patrick "Leaky" Lehey, you should be given the same respect. I believe Vice President Dick Cheney had that about right."

Of course, that would have violated the "New Tone."

Now, for the first time, we have the details that directly refute Kerry and the Democrats' Big Lie about Tora Bora. In Kill bin Laden, the commander of the Delta Force unit that pulverized thousands of terrorists -- using a pseudonym, Dalton Fury — tells the real story of one of recent history's most misrepresented battles.

In December 2001, after much of Afghanistan was liberated from the Taliban, thousands of al Qaeda, most likely including bin Laden, fled to the Tora Bora cave complex in the Hindu Kush mountains, a sub-range of the Himalayas. Bin Laden had been developing fortified positions in the caves there since the days of the Soviet occupation.

Fury commanded about 40 members of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment, popularly known as Delta Force, and called "the Unit" by its members (and whose existence is not formally acknowledged by the U.S. government). They were given the job of rooting out al Qaeda and killing bin Laden. Delta was joined by a few CIA paramilitaries, a Green Beret A Team, some Air Force Special Forces targeting specialists and a few British commandos.

The force's presence, however, was played down, denied and kept as hidden as possible from the press. The official story was that the Afghan Eastern Alliance was taking it to al Qaeda — along with more than a little help from high-flying friends with smart bombs and daisy cutters.
This was difficult, as the press was all over the rear of the battlefield, and Fury shares some amusing anecdotes of the lengths the operators would go to avoid being caught on camera or in front of a microphone. The Afghan "generals," however, were garrulous, indeed.

The tale the Democrats peddled about "outsourcing" the battle seems to be based on an April 17, 2002, story by a Washington Post reporter who apparently fell for the "official line" on the battle at Tora Bora. That'ss no excuse for speading falsehoods, however -- plenty of Democrats on congressional intelligence and military committees knew the truth but were content to fan the flames for partisan ends.

Fury's tale is one of incredible bravery, dedication and ingenuity, leavened by frustrating bureaucracy and conflicting agendas.

The Delta Force operators and the other Special Forces shooters performed splendidly, primarily going out in small teams to establish observation posts where the could call in airstrikes. The teams were stealthy and skilled but extremely vulnerable, Fury notes. Discovery by al Qaeda or the Taliban likely would have meant a Lone Survivor scenario for any of them.

At first, Fury writes, the tactics that worked so well in the rest of the war in Afghanistan stalled at Tora Bora. The Afghans were terrified of al Qaeda's abilities to fight in the darkness. This meant territory taken during the day was yielded as the sun set.

There also was a related problem of motivation. General Ali's fighters had been very motivated to free themselves from the yoke of the Taliban, but al Qaeda was not their direct enemy. It was a painful lesson, Fury writes:

"What motivation did the Afghan Muslims possess for hunting down, raising their rifles, sighting in, and actually shooting an al Qaeda fighter, much less the revered leader?

"I am convinced that not a single one of our muhj fighters wanted to be recognized in their mosque as the man who killed Sheikh bin Laden."

On the other hand, Dalton write, the muhjis responded reasonably well once they saw the example of the American spotters and snipers, who stayed put at night and inflicted awesome damage on the entrenched terrorists.

Another source of frustration for Fury was that his excellent Green Beret A Team was pulled away from him at a critical time without explanation. Whether it was a casualty-shy commander or resentment over Delta's taking over the mission is not something Fury speculates on.

Fury addresses the mistakes of Tora Bora but refutes the notion that even a perfect operation would have been guaranteed to net bin Laden. Nothing is certain in war, and the terrain made everything that much less assured.

An example of the oversimplification of the situation, he writes, was Geraldo Rivera's Fox News stunt of hiking out of Tora Bora to Afghanistan in three hours. Of course, the mustachioed showboat took his walk showing how "easy" it was in the summer -- and without Delta Force snipers or B-52s raining death on his position.

For years, it was considered better than even money that bin Laden was dead. Fury relates the frantic radio transmissions of battered al Qaeda terrorists and bin Laden himself that were used to track movements and target positions; it's very likely Osama's position was hit, and he was severely injured.

It's very possible that closing the mountain passes with mines -- as Fury's boss, Lt. Commander Jake Ashley had requested -- or troops stationed at the Pakistan border would have netted bin Laden. Or it might not have. It certainly would have led to more al Qaeda deaths. The political or diplomatic reasons behind this denial have not been made public.

In an exit interview, President Bush maintained that the military chain of command is still not completely completely certain that bin Laden was at Tora Bora. That may be technically true, but both former CIA paramilitary operative Gary Berntsen whose bestseller Jawbreaker told this story from the CIA side, and Fury, the commander closest to the battle and the intelligence in the field are convinced otherwise.

Despite the fact that he has taken great pains to hide the identities of those on active duty and to not reveal relevant information to the enemy, Fury has taken some heat from his former comrades for talking about so recent a Delta operation in public. Constructive or not, some feel it just isn't done.

However, Fury's tough assessment of his own performance clears him from any charges of self-aggrandizement. It would be easy to emphasize the achievements of the fight and pound his chest; but Fury thinks that the lack of a serious military analysis about what really happened at Tora Bora is keeping its lessons from being learned, and that the record should be set straight. I think he's right on this one.

So was Tora Bora the "biggest mistake" of George W. Bush, as Democrats maintain, or the unqualified success that some Pentagon spinners have proclaimed? Fury says it was neither.

Since the elimination of Osama bin Laden was the primary goal of the mission, Fury concludes:

"So regardless of how one chooses to spin the facts, the battle must be viewed as a military failure. This harsh reality is not to say that American and British commandos, controllers, and intelligence operatives did not perform according to billing, for they certainly did. Even so, how can any other claim of success be made? It was, without a doubt, a tremendous tactical victory. But throw in the strategic assessment, and the fight at Tora Bora can be classified as only being partially successful operationally."

While it has moments of excruciating suspense, incidents of awe-inspiring daring, and lots of fascinating detail on how elite warriors are fighting al Qaeda, Kill bin Laden does not have the non-stop, slam bang action of other recent war classics like House to House or the mega-selling Lone Survivor.

It is, however, a very compelling read-- and a valuable corrective to the public record. Dalton Fury has done his country another service by writing it.

These running shoes were made for talking

By John Kass
Chicago Tribune
10:54 PM CST, January 29, 2009

Impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich arrives at his home, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009 in Chicago.(AP)

On his first day as a private citizen, now unemployed and with a federal indictment bearing down on him, Rod Blagojevich should stick to his routine, put on his track suit and go for a run.

He usually runs 5 miles at a brisk pace, but the new route I'm proposing would take about 8 miles. He's in shape for it, and he's got the time. It might be the only route he has left.

From his Northwest Side home he should run south on Ashland, to Lincoln Avenue, and head southeast on his way downtown.

His wife, Patti, can drive the car and meet him there with a bag containing a nice blue suit, something serious, dark tie, white shirt, shined shoes.

As he runs he can think of how he made disgraceful history all on his own, as the first corrupt Illinois governor to be impeached and booted from office. He can consider how he first descended into the maelstrom by breaking with the man who made him, his ward boss father-in-law, Ald. Dick Mell (33rd), and how after that angry public fight in 2005 he became a free agent without the protection of the organization.

Rod will run past the Biograph Theater, site of one of the great untrue myths of Chicago, which says that a woman in red pointed out bank robber John Dillinger to the FBI. It wasn't the woman in red. It was the Chicago Outfit that tipped them. At least that's the story the wise guys tell, and I believe them, the Outfit giving up a freelancer who had no protection, no organization, a freelancer like Dillinger bringing unnecessary heat.

There's a certain Chicago logic to it: When freelancers bring heat to organizations, they become problems. But problems can be solved.

As he runs past the Biograph, and onto Clark Street and farther south, he can think of his friends, guys he deluded himself into thinking would be there with him.

Guys like state Sen. Jimmy DeLeo (D-How You Doin?), who didn't speak loudly when the Senate voted 59-0, but that little light went on next to Jimmy's name just the same. And Rod's neighbor, state Sen. President John Cullerton (D-DeLeo).

Rod's Republican buddy and fundraiser, Bill Cellini, indicted now, is awfully quiet, awaiting trial in the Operation Board Games case that has formally exposed the bipartisan Combine. And those silent shrugs of boss Daley, who, like kings of old, can't afford friends.

Outside Blagojevich's home on Thursday evening, after he was booted, the ungovernator popped out to meet the press and rambled on with the same old tired lies about how he wasn't given a chance to prove his innocence, how he fought for the people and not for himself. But he cracked a few truths.

"I'd like to tell you some of the inside stuff, some of the things they were trying to do, and I'll talk about that later, if you're interested," Blagojevich said.

I know people who are interested.

"And as for some of those friends of mine in the state Senate, Dr. King said, that in the end, you remember not the words of your enemies, but the silence of your friends," Blagojevich said.

He nodded a couple times to himself, tired, on the verge of breaking. There was something in his eyes, but not tears. It was the final clarity of the damned.

Perhaps things will become even more clear to him as he runs on Friday. He must understand that his troubles are just beginning. The political class can't be satisfied with merely his political head, they need his soul. All this, and the feds have him on their menu, too.

So Rod can run south on Clark and into the Loop, turning east on Adams Street to the southeast corner of Adams and Dearborn, a steel-and-glass high-rise, where Patti can wait for him.

I'm told there's a shower in that building he can use, and Patti can fix her face and they can take the elevator on up.

It is the federal building, where U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald works.

It's time to cut a deal, Rod, if they'll let you. You'll do prison time, sure, and you'll have to testify against Cellini and many others. But don't think others aren't lining up to bury you with their own testimony to save themselves.

Consider the silence. The silence in the state Senate after you stopped speaking on Thursday. The silence of friends. The silence in your body as you run. The silence of federal prison.

There's one thing to do, former governor. Start talking.

Obama's Unnecessary Apology

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
January 30, 2009

An image grab taken from an interview broadcast by the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite television network late on January 26, 2009 with US President Barack Obama.(Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- Every new president flatters himself that he, kinder and gentler, is beginning the world anew. Yet, when Barack Obama in his inaugural address reached out to Muslims with "to the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," his formulation was needlessly defensive and apologetic.

Is it "new" to acknowledge Muslim interests and show respect to the Muslim world? Obama doesn't just think so, he said so again to millions in his al-Arabiya interview, insisting on the need to "restore" the "same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago."

Astonishing. In these most recent 20 years -- the alleged winter of our disrespect of the Islamic world -- America did not just respect Muslims, it bled for them. It engaged in five military campaigns, every one of which involved -- and resulted in -- the liberation of a Muslim people: Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The two Balkan interventions -- as well as the failed 1992-93 Somali intervention to feed starving African Muslims (43 Americans were killed) -- were humanitarian exercises of the highest order, there being no significant U.S. strategic interest at stake. In these 20 years, this nation has done more for suffering and oppressed Muslims than any nation, Muslim or non-Muslim, anywhere on earth. Why are we apologizing?

And what of that happy U.S.-Muslim relationship that Obama imagines existed "as recently as 20 or 30 years ago" that he has now come to restore? Thirty years ago, 1979, saw the greatest U.S.-Muslim rupture in our 233-year history: Iran's radical Islamic revolution, the seizure of the U.S. embassy, the 14 months of America held hostage.

Which came just a few years after the Arab oil embargo that sent the United States into a long and punishing recession. Which, in turn, was preceded by the kidnapping and cold-blooded execution by Arab terrorists of the U.S. ambassador in Sudan and his charge d'affaires.

This is to say nothing of the Marine barracks massacre of 1983, and the innumerable attacks on U.S. embassies and installations around the world during what Obama now characterizes as the halcyon days of U.S.-Islamic relations.

Look. If Barack Obama wants to say, as he said to al-Arabiya, I have Muslim roots, Muslim family members, have lived in a Muslim country -- implying a special affinity that uniquely positions him to establish good relations -- that's fine. But it is both false and deeply injurious to this country to draw a historical line dividing America under Obama from a benighted past when Islam was supposedly disrespected and demonized.

As in Obama's grand admonition: "We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name." Have "we" been doing that, smearing Islam because of a small minority? George Bush went to the Islamic Center in Washington six days after 9/11, when the fires of Ground Zero were still smoldering, to declare "Islam is peace," to extend fellowship and friendship to Muslims, to insist that Americans treat them with respect and generosity of spirit.

And America listened. In these seven years since 9/11 -- seven years during which thousands of Muslims rioted all over the world (resulting in the death of more than 100) to avenge a bunch of cartoons -- there's not been a single anti-Muslim riot in the United States to avenge the greatest massacre in U.S. history. On the contrary. In its aftermath, we elected our first Muslim member of Congress and our first president of Muslim parentage.

"My job," says Obama, "is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives." That's his job? Do the American people think otherwise? Does he think he is bravely breaking new ground? George Bush, Condoleezza Rice and countless other leaders offered myriad expressions of that same universalist sentiment.

Every president has the right to portray himself as ushering in a new era of this or that. Obama wants to pursue new ties with Muslim nations, drawing on his own identity and associations. Good. But when his self-inflation as redeemer of U.S.-Muslim relations leads him to suggest that pre-Obama America was disrespectful or insensitive or uncaring of Muslims, he is engaging not just in fiction but in gratuitous disparagement of the country he is now privileged to lead.

Springsteen Promises ‘12-Minute Party’ at Halftime

The New York Times
January 29, 2009

(Click on story title to see the press conference)

TAMPA, Fla. — The halftime show at the Super Bowl is just one more big gig for Bruce Springsteen. The Boss has rocked Giants Stadium 19 times. That is more than a full regular season of Giants and Jets home games combined.

So when Springsteen and the E Street Band perform Sunday night during the Super Bowl at Raymond James Stadium, the only new wrinkle will be the size of the television audience.

Up to 90 million viewers of NBC might watch New Jersey’s best-known musical act since Frank Sinatra, another superstar whose career spanned decades. Springsteen will perform for about 12 minutes, enough time for three or four songs, the titles of which will not be announced beforehand.

If Springsteen is nervous about the size of the audience, he said it would not compare to playing at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington before Barack Obama’s inauguration as president.

“You’ll have a lot of crazy football fans,” Springsteen said Thursday at a news conference. “But you won’t have Lincoln staring over your shoulder. That takes some of the pressure off.”

As for football, Springsteen said, “I don’t know anything about it.” Later, he said: “I did play the game in my backyard around the summer of 1958. I haven’t played a lot since. I’ll date myself. When I hear Steelers, I think Terry Bradshaw.”

Bradshaw was the Steelers’ quarterback in the 1970s. Springsteen acknowledged that he had been asked before to play the Super Bowl, but had turned down the invitation. “It was sort of a novelty,” he said. “It didn’t feel quite right.”

He said the production values of recent shows have impressed him. And there are other considerations. “We have a new album coming out,” he said. “We have our mercenary reasons, of course.” Then, in a mock formal tone, he added, “Besides our deep love of football, blah-blah-blah.”

His set should start about 8 p.m. Eastern, an hour that is historically significant for rock music on American television. In the 1950s and 1960s, before cable fragmented the audience and expanded viewer choice, 8 p.m. was the start of “The Ed Sullivan Show” on CBS.

Now, as then, that hour draws large audiences, especially in winter. So Sullivan’s variety show provided a little of everything for everyone in the family, including major exposure for rock ’n’ roll acts like Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, reflected on the cultural change in TV this week. “Without Sullivan around anymore, there is no place for you to see in prime time a good musical performance,” he said.

In general, Ebersol said, music causes some viewers to change channels because not every act appeals to all age groups and tastes. That is why “Saturday Night Live” allows no music until the second half-hour, he said.

But the Super Bowl is an exception, Ebersol said, because it draws a varied demographic, much like an audience for Springsteen, who is 59. In that way, Ebersol said, Springsteen draws the same kind of multigenerational audience that Sinatra did.

“A lot of gray hair, but a whole new generation of young people,” Ebersol said of the typical audience at a Springsteen show. “He’s one of the very few people like that. His fan base has expanded.”

When someone asked Springsteen on Thursday about his cross-generational appeal, he said his fan base “sort of skipped a generation: last two tours, we’ve noticed a large influx of young people.”

As for the song list, Springsteen said: “Who decides? The Boss decides. People suggest, hint. They cajole.” One option might be “Glory Days,” which is often played in sports arenas after championships are won.

The theme of the song is sometimes overlooked. Rather than celebrate victory, the lyrics in part sketch a former athlete boring a companion with tales of youthful baseball triumphs amid the complicated realities of middle age.

Springsteen will perform free, said Charles Coplin, vice president for programming for the N.F.L. “We don’t pay for the acts,” Coplin said. “We produce the show and pay for the production costs, but there’s no fee for appearing.”

The payoff comes from the exposure. Coplin said recent Super Bowl acts like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney measured increases in music sales after their appearances.

“It’s probably no secret that we’ve been trying to get Bruce and the E Street Band to do the show for many, many years,” Coplin said. “This year there was an overture by them. But, rest assured, had they not called us, we would have called them again.”

The modern musical era for the Super Bowl began in 1993, Ebersol said, when Michael Jackson appeared in the Rose Bowl. The biggest gaffe in this era was the wardrobe malfunction of Jackson’s sister, Janet, in 2004.

Among the few Americans unable to observe the performance are the players in the game. Ben Roethlisberger (the Steelers’ current quarterback) said: “Yeah, I wish I could watch it. He’s a rocker.”

Defensive end Brett Keisel said: “I love the Boss. Saw the Boss in Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. When we found out that the Boss was going to be playing, we felt we had a good chance to come down here. He’s a lucky charm. Hopefully, I can meet him.”

Keisel said that if someone leaves the locker room door open, “hopefully I can jam out a little bit” before the coaches start yelling at the players.

Springsteen said Sunday’s show would be “a 12-minute party” that would be like what would happen if a concert fan showed up at Giants Stadium 2 hours 48 minutes late because of traffic and other problems on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Hines Ward, the wide receiver of the Steelers, said, “I love Bruce,” and hoped he would sing “Born in the U.S.A.” “He’s got a lot of swag about himself, he’s very confident,” Ward said. “When he’s up there performing, it’s all about him.”

But Pittsburgh defensive end Aaron Smith said he did not care for his music. “I never really grew up listening to Springsteen, no,” Smith said. “You might have to find someone a little older than me, probably.”

And how old is Smith?

“I’m 32,” he said.

At the Half, It’s B-r-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-c-e

The New York Times
January 30, 2009
Tampa, Fla.

Scott Audette/Reuters

Bruce Springsteen, speaking, and members of the E Street Band on Thursday during their first news conference since 1987.

A Super Bowl week that has been largely devoid of excitement and news got a shot of New Jersey adrenalin — reminiscent of last year — when Bruce Springsteen stepped onto a stage Thursday and announced, “If there are going to be a lot of questions about football, this is going to be the shortest press conference, because I don’t know anything about it.”

That’s quite all right; neither do many of those who produce, cover or watch it. But Super Bowl Sunday and all the trimmings is an institutional custom you eventually can’t avoid, or resist, even when you have held yourself to a higher standard than the crass commercialism occasionally mixed with patriotic pandering that has long been the nation’s most-watched sporting event.

So after long dismissing a gig he described as “playing where the cheerleaders usually go,” Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band will finally do the 12-minute halftime show of Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday, almost two weeks after the politicized rocker reveled in the departure of the 43rd president of the United States.

Springsteen celebrated Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House by singing at the inauguration concert, and that was pressure, he said, with “Lincoln staring over your shoulder.”

The Super Bowl is just a phalanx of pseudo fans running onto the field and waving on cue. It’s an unabashed hard sell, as Springsteen was at least decent enough to note.

“We have a new album coming out,” he said. “We have our mercenary reasons, of course.”

What the heck, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney — icons of the band’s youth, according to Steven Van Zandt — have already done the halftime show, in back-to-back years. And while I’d like to think that John Lennon would have been a holdout for life, I’m probably kidding myself. Everyone wants to hawk their work before the granddaddy of television audiences, stay relevant in the new media world.

As Springsteen, 59, said: “One of the nice things about the Super Bowl is that it’s a place where you go. ...” He didn’t finish that thought, just connected it to another. “We’ve been on the road awhile; we’re some old soldiers.”

During a news conference that was billed as the band’s first since 1987 and was nothing short of hilarious, the Boss reminded the guitarist Nils Lofgren (I can admit to owning one of his distant solo albums, the vinyl kind) that he was not supposed to say that as a resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., he will be rooting for the Cardinals to beat the Steelers.

Not in the contract, Springsteen said with deft comic timing. But who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky and there will be at least one bold moment Sunday night when Springsteen goes rogue and rails against — oh, I don’t know — offensive Wall Street bonuses, $18.4 billion worth.

Go ahead, Bruce, make those corporate fat cats squirm on their sofas. It’s a one-time forum — make a lasting impression. One thing is certain: whatever he may say, he is capable of something far more disquieting than the disrobing of the woman in his band, even if Patti Scialfa happens to be his wife.

I’ve always thought the Super Bowl and especially its halftime show was, with rare exceptions, a waste of the country’s rapt attention. But politics and paychecks aside, give the N.F.L. some credit for getting the right band for a moment in America when everyone could use some impassioned and lyrical reminding of what Springsteen writes beautifully of — daily life struggles.

When the Boss got a reluctant Van Zandt to take the microphone, Silvio of “The Sopranos” said, “I think one of the things that we’re kind of proud of is that there’s a certain inspirational quality to what we do, and that’s because of when we grew up, we had the high standards of the ’60s.”

Say what you will about the flaws of that decade, at least it generated longstanding ideals more resonant than ever as of two weeks ago. And after a news conference in which normally skeptical reporters sat at the edge of their seats and took cellphone photos of Springsteen and the other seven members of the band, it occurred to me that this was a pretty good match after all.

While the saxophonist Clarence Clemons played football in school (which, according to Springsteen, explained his cane), the Boss last recalled having a fling in his backyard “around the summer of 1958.” Not a problem; his band has been a long-running dynasty in its own right, together almost 40 years, with its most junior members, Lofgren and Scialfa, in for the last 25.

“Imagine you’re working alongside the same people you were with in high school, for 40 years or so and keeping that together,” Springsteen said. “It’s the long, long ride — that’s what it’s all about.”

Sounds like a speech a Super Bowl coach would want to deliver Sunday evening in the pregame locker room after months of surviving the brutal N.F.L. season. Mercenaries, deliver your messages!


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris - Love Hurts

(Click on title to play video)

Economic Stimulus or Opportunism?

By George Will
The Washington Post
January 29, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Summoned to remove a fish bone agonizingly stuck in a rich man's throat, British surgeon Joseph Lister did so. When the grateful patient asked the charge for this service, Lister replied: "Suppose we settle for half of what you would be willing to give me if the bone were still lodged in your throat." The point -- that the price one will pay depends on the urgency of the purchase -- is pertinent to the president's "stimulus" proposal.

Frightened people are receptive to his pleas for large and quick action: Just do it -- we'll count the cost later. As Emerson said, when skating on thin ice, safety lies in speed, and the administration's confidence in what it is doing should be -- this is not its fault -- thin.

Economic policymaking in turbulent times is a science of single instances, meaning no science at all. When economic theories matter most -- when the economy is in uncharted waters -- all theories are necessarily untested. Hence attempts to derive prescriptions from the New Deal are somewhat surreal.

Furthermore, our language is bewitching our intelligence. Long ago -- a year ago -- Russell Roberts, economics professor at George Mason University, deplored terms that suggest that economics is a science akin to medicine. With a "stimulus," of a sort that makes the legs of a dead frog twitch, the government will "inject" money as a doctor gives a blood transfusion. Or as a life-reviving "jolt" from a defibrillator.

Sensible people are queasy about throwing trillions of dollars at barely understood problems on the basis of untested theories. For Republicans, the question is: What are the duties of the opposition at a moment like this? The answer has three components, beginning with elementary political arithmetic:

Having received near 53 percent of the popular vote -- better than Ronald Reagan's 50.7 percent in 1980 -- Barack Obama won 100 percent of the presidency, and almost that much of the nation's leadership expectations now that the public, which really should diversify its investments, invests such extravagant hopes in presidents. To govern is to choose, always on the basis of imperfect information, and the president may never have more public support than he has now. He deserves some deference. Some.

Second, congressional Democrats have turned the 647-page stimulus legislation into an excuse for something that never needs an excuse -- an exercise in wretched excess. They have forfeited some of the president's claim to deference.

The opposition should oppose mere opportunism, which comes in two forms. One is presenting pet projects hitherto considered unworthy of funding, as suddenly meritorious because somehow stimulative. The other attaches major and nongermane policy changes to the stimulus legislation, counting on the need for speed to allow them to escape appropriate scrutiny. For example:

The stimulus legislation would create a council for Comparative Effectiveness Research. This is about medicine but not about healing the economy. The CER would identify (this is language from the draft report on the legislation) medical "items, procedures, and interventions" that it deems insufficiently effective or excessively expensive. They "will no longer be prescribed" by federal health programs. The next secretary of health and human services, Tom Daschle, has advocated a "Federal Health Board" similar to the CER, whose recommendations "would have teeth": Congress could restrict the tax exclusion for private health insurance to "insurance that complies with the Board's recommendation." The CER, which would dramatically advance government control -- and rationing -- of health care, should be thoroughly debated, not stealthily created in the name of "stimulus."

The opposition's third duty is to assert inconvenient truths, one of which is that the truth shall make you modest. There never is a moment when an open society that wants to remain such does not need the wisdom of Friedrich Hayek, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who said: "The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design." So the deference accorded this president should be proportional to his willingness to acknowledge that neither he nor anyone else can know whether the stimulus will work.

And from the quantity of deference owed to him, Republicans should subtract the sum of the opportunism of congressional Democrats. If Republicans conclude that the truly stimulative portion of the legislation is less than half the size of the portion composed of banal and brazen opportunism, and irrelevant but consequential policies surreptitiously pursued, they should oppose it.


By Ann Coulter
January 28, 2009

I notice that liberals have not challenged the overall thesis of my rocketing bestseller, Guilty: Liberal 'Victims' and Their Assault on America, which is that liberals always play the victim in order to advance, win advantages and oppress others.

I guess that would be hard to do when the corrupt Democratic governor of Illinois is running around comparing himself to Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.
Indeed, you can't turn on the TV without seeing some liberal playing victim to score the game-winning point.

Caroline Kennedy tried to Bigfoot her way into New York's Senate seat while being bathed in the Kennedy light of eternal victimhood. The New York Times began a profile of Caroline by quoting an average citizen who "turns almost maternally protective" upon hearing Caroline's name, mentioning the assassination of her father -- nearly half a century ago.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews summarily announced: "We all want to be protective of Caroline Kennedy." When one of his guests, Michael Smerconish, merely asked what her qualifications were, an appalled Matthews said: "Wow."

Political reporter Ron Brownstein elaborated on "wow," saying: "Well, that's pretty rough. That's pretty rough. I mean, but she has got, at least publicly, a very private persona, one of quiet grace and elegance and intelligence."

The Times' City Room exercised its own protective function toward Caroline by censoring any indelicate inquiries about her on its blog.

The Kennedys are the textbook case of victims who go around victimizing others. As I describe in Guilty, in 1969, Times reporter James Reston began his story about Teddy Kennedy driving a girl off the Chappaquiddick bridge with the sentence: "Tragedy has again struck the Kennedy family."

Reston waited a discreet four paragraphs before mentioning the name of the dead girl, whose "tragedy" was arguably greater. (Even the Times rewrote Reston's opening line.)

Caroline's expectation that she would sail past all other contenders and be handed a seat in the U.S. Senate is perfectly in keeping with her family tradition.

When Robert Kennedy won his Senate seat from New York, he unseated a well-liked Republican, Kenneth Barnard Keating, who had represented New York in Congress for more than a decade.

Meanwhile, Robert Kennedy hadn't lived in New York since he was 12 years old. But the allegedly sophisticated voters of New York were awed by the Kennedy name, and dumped a popular native son.

A deputy manager of Kennedy's campaign explained that the carpetbagger accusation could not withstand the image of JFK's assassination a year earlier: "You couldn't vote against Robert Kennedy without seeing the presence of John Kennedy."

With New York's record of swooning for celebrity victims, it was a snap for another carpetbagger, Hillary Clinton, to push aside veteran New York Democrats to win her Senate seat in 2000.

When Gov. David Paterson ended the Kennedy soap opera by appointing Democratic congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand, her Democratic colleague, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, blanketed the airwaves, threatening to challenge Gillibrand in the next election because of her NRA-approved stand on guns.

McCarthy explained, "My voice is for the victims."

The only reason McCarthy was elected to Congress in the first place is that her husband and son were shot by a crazed gunman on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993. Colin Ferguson's shooting spree wasn't stopped sooner because none of the passengers had guns. As has been demonstrated beyond dispute at this point, armed citizens save lives.

In a comprehensive study of all public multiple shooting incidents in America between 1977 and 1999, economists John Lott and Bill Landes found that the only public policy that reduced both the incidence and casualties of such shootings were concealed-carry laws. Not only are there 60 percent fewer gun massacres after states adopt concealed-carry laws, but the death and injury rate of such rampages are reduced by 80 percent.

Rep. McCarthy claims to "speak for the victims" by promoting policies that will provably create a lot more victims.

And all of this occurs in a year when the mainstream media is agog with their discovery that a black man can be elected president in America! By being elected president, Obama overcame the massive racial hatred that existed only in liberal imaginations.

I don't know a single conservative who thought America wouldn't elect a black man.

If Republicans had run Colin Powell in 1996 -- back when he was a Republican -- he would have been the first black president. As Powell himself said, he received the strongest support from Southern white men, who admired his military background.

The first serious black candidate to run for president in America won, so blacks are one-for-one in a country liberals would have us believe is teeming with Ku Klux Klanners.

Throughout Obama's entire life, doors were opened for him, his college applications smiled upon and favors bestowed simply because he is black -- the original victim category in America. Being black is the highest victim caste because of blacks' authentic victimhood: The nation once tolerated slavery and Jim Crow.

But ironically, Obama's father is from Africa: He never suffered from the ancient policies that, today, give his son Victim Gold. To the contrary, if Obama's African relatives had anything to do with slavery, it was on the business end.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - Working On A Dream

(Click on title to play video)

DREAM ON Bruce Springsteen

The Boss delivers a stirring exploration of love in the face of time and space itself.

January 23, 2009

Working on a Dream is the most confounding album Bruce Springsteen's ever released-a lush, orchestrated, collection of pop and rock songs whose profound statements swirl beneath the music rather than float on its surface. Musically, it's a logical extension of the road he's been traveling since he started working with producer Brendan O'Brien on 2002's The Rising and continued on with 2007's Magic. But where The Rising was explicitly tied to 9/11 and Magic explored the state of the union even in its non-overtly political songs (am I the only one who kept hearing "You'll Be Coming Down" as Bush left Washington?), Working on a Dream's concerns are more eternal-it's not so much a meditation on "love in the time of Bush," as Springsteen himself called "What Love Can Do," as it is an exploration of love in the face of time and space itself, a "big string of shining stars, rusting in red out of arms," as he sings on "This Life."

And while it carries echoes of all of his past work-from the glockenspiel in the title cut harkening back to "Born to Run" to the bonus track "The Wrestler," which, save for its synth intro, would have sounded at home on The Ghost of Tom Joad-it's also unlike anything he's ever done. Minus the opener, the eight-minute "Outlaw Pete," it's the kind of record Steve Van Zandt has said he always wanted his boss to make, full of concise pop melodies, rich harmonies, and hooks straight out of the mid-1960s. Sonically, its debts are most deeply owed to the Beach Boys, Turtles, Byrds, and, on the reckless and raucous "My Lucky Day," the Rolling Stones.

That this album is more about music than lyrics is made clear from the album's opening notes, the locomotive chugging of cellos that kick off epic "Outlaw Pete." The song begins as a comic tall tale-by the time he was six months old, Pete had spent three months in jail for robbing banks in his "diapers and little bare baby feet"-and ends as a reckoning of our inability to escape the sins of the past. What it is mostly, though, is an Ennio Morricone film score writ small, Roy Bittan's barrelhouse piano and Springsteen's reverb-heavy guitar working in concert with strings to create a sonic spaghetti western. The real payoff comes in the song's denouement, bells ringing and Springsteen's harmonica playing virtually the same notes as Charles Bronson did in Once Upon a Time in the West before the full band and strings come crashing back in.

It's pretentious and overblown, to be sure, but then again, so was "Jungleland," and "Outlaw Pete" works nearly as well. (That blowhards like Bob Lefsetz are trying to drum up controversy by claiming the song's melody is a ripoff of Kiss's "I Was Made for Loving You" misses the point of the song, which isn't about melody but orchestration, and of Kiss, which was never about music anyway.) Still, it's a weighty song with which to open an album, and "My Lucky Day" blows away pretention with the most straightforward rock on the album and one of the most unabashedly optimistic songs Springsteen's ever written. The dirty guitars, Soozie Tyrell's sweet fiddle line, and Steve Van Zandt's ragged harmony vocal are the antithesis of "Outlaw Pete"'s studied perfection.

As orchestrated and ornamented as most of Working on a Dream is, it's driven by a band playing live. Springsteen recorded the core tracks live with Bittan, bassist Garry Tallent and drummer Max Weinberg before adding overdubs to flesh out the productions, and it shows. That's one of the things that makes the album sound so deceptively simple on first listen; rarely have such layered arrangements sounded so effortless. From "My Lucky Day" forward, it's a wild, not-so-innocent ride through examinations of eternal love (the meditative "Kingdom of Days" and "This Life"), transient life ("The Wrestler"; blues shouter "Good Eye"; and a heartbreaking acoustic tribute to late E Street organist Danny Federici, "The Last Carnival," which ends in a soaring, wordless chorale), and, lest we get too lofty, the supermarket.

"Queen of the Supermarket" is one of the sweetest, strangest songs Springsteen's ever recorded, a stroll through a world where "aisles and aisle of dreams await you" and "the cool promise of ecstasy fills the air." Never has grocery shopping sounded so alluring, with a lilting melody and strings carrying us to the counter where the object of the narrator's fantasy awaits. But something else lies beneath the bright lights and materialist fantasy; the singer catches a smile from the cashier at song's end that "blows this whole fuckin' place apart," and the profanity shocks us out of our reverie, reminding us that all of it-the market, the fantasy, the checkout girl's job-is a dead-end. The guitars and harmonies dissolve into legato strings and the beeps of a UPC scanner that sounds more like an EKG monitor, another version of "wounded, but not even dead."

And while Springsteen reckons with death literally on "The Last Carnival"-the first time he sings "we'll be ridin' the train without you tonight" in concert, you can bet there won't be a dry eye in the house-and on "This Life," whose chorus refers not just to this life but "then the next," he only sounds fearsome when he faces up to the death of the spirit and of faith in "Life Itself," asking "Why do the things that we treasure most slip away and die/ ‘til to the music we grow deaf and to God's beauty blind?" He doesn't have the answer, and only finds the antidote, as always, not in the abstract but the human, clinging desperately to his love as he sings "I can't make it without you." Again, though, it's the music that makes a more powerful statement than the lyrics. A sinister, Byrds-y 12-string sizzles throughout and is joined on the bridge by a backwards guitar solo reminiscent of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows."

He also steals the title of that song for another of the album's tracks, one that also shares the Beatles' tune's imploration to live in the present, as death is always around the corner. A bouncy country shuffle, "Tomorrow Never Knows" and the birthday tune "Surprise, Surprise" offer the breeziest moments on what initially appears to be a pretty breezy collection.

But like Born in the U.S.A. almost 25 years ago, Working on a Dream is an immediately accessible collection of pop songs whose depth is belied by their simple charms.

Springsteen counts his blessings

Asbury Park Press Music Writer
January 25, 2009

POP MUSIC IS A YOUNG person's game, no doubt about that.

But at 59, Bruce Springsteen can still reach back and conjure the helpless thrill of a crush.

"I'm in love with the queen of the supermarket, There's nothing I can say," he sings, and that says it all.

Tongue-tied and overwhelmed, the narrator on "Queen of the Supermarket" wheels his cart through aisles of abundance, pining away.

It's an adorable song, with flashes of humor ("Though a company cap covers her hair, Nothing can hide the beauty waiting there") and a winsome melody.

"Queen of the Supermarket" brings to mind John Updike's 1961 short story, "A&P," in which the teenage narrator tries to stand up for a young customer he refers to as "Queenie." In contrast to Updike's story, however, Springsteen's tale ends with a hint of luck, as the seemingly unattainable queen smiles at her suitor.

As a grace note, the track ends with the beeping sound of the check-out line, and a chorus of sighs.

Springsteen's new album, "Working on a Dream" is laden with semi-precious gems like that.

While not as exuberant as "Magic," from 2007, "Working on a Dream" is cut from the same cloth. Brendan O'Brien produced both discs, and his shimmering style puts a bright glaze on every track. Likewise, the art work in the CD booklet is saturated with color. Even Danny Clinch's portrait of Springsteen on the cover has been infused with bright, warm spots.

O'Brien's production seems to free Springsteen from the constraints of roots rock. Several tracks brush against psychedelia, notably the swirly "Surprise, Surprise," and the luscious ode to love, "This Life." There's also some sprightly folk rock on "Tomorrow Never Knows," with a whispering drum beat by Max Weinberg.

Springsteen experimented a lot on this album, and, OK, not everything works.

Clocking in at eight minutes, the opening track is ample enough to contain the unabridged biography of one "Outlaw Pete." It's a tall tale, but not a particularly engaging one, and too long by half.

But hang on, because Springsteen jumps into "My Lucky Day" for track two, and we're on steadier ground, with a robust solo from saxophonist Clarence Clemons and the high, expressive backing vocals of guitarist Steven Van Zandt. Rollicking and upbeat, "My Lucky Day" segues nicely into the wistful, mellow title track.

Springsteen's tribute to bandmate Danny Federici, who died last year, is a privilege to hear. "The Last Carnival" paints a succinct picture of two close friends, and of the deep ache of the survivor.

Throughout the album, there is gratitude. The song titles proclaim it: "Life Itself," "Kingdom of Days," "This Life," "My Lucky Day." Everything is savored — night and day, seasons and stars, the leaves, the moon, and the wind.

In these songs, Springsteen is thankful for love, most of all. His words are deeply romantic, delivered in a voice reverent and awestruck.

"This life, this life and then the next, With you I have been blessed," he sings in "This Life."

"You were life itself, rushing over me, Life itself, the wind in black elms," he sings in "Life Itself."

And in "Kingdom of Days," he pens verse after verse of mature, poetic appreciation of love:

"And I count my blessings that you're mine for always, We laugh beneath the covers and count the wrinkles and the grays, Sing away . . . This is our kingdom of days."

Flirtation, as in "Queen of the Supermarket," brings a frisson of joy. And if we're lucky, this album reminds us, we find the real deal, and cultivate a life of love and friendship, for which we should be forever grateful.

Springsteen's "Dream': Cherish every minute

jAMUARY 27, 2009

"Had we but world enough and time. . ." — "To His Coy Mistress," Andrew Marvell

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; so they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." — Ecclesiastes 3:11

Bruce Springsteen's new album, "Working on a Dream," begins in the mythic past of the Old West with the tale of "Outlaw Pete," and it ends, more or less, somewhere north of forever with a farewell prayer for late E Street band member Danny Federici.

Springsteen may or may not have a lot of time on his hands these days, but this new album reveals a man with time on his mind.

Song after song offer reflections on what moments may bring, what the years carry away, and how we fill our days.

Even the titles of the tracks reveal the overwhelming concern: "Tomorrow Never Knows," and "My Lucky Day" and even the Old Testament-sounding, "Kingdom of Days." "Tomorrow Never Knows" he sings, but we do.

We know where all our tomorrows ultimately lead: to the grave and what, if anything lies beyond.

"The nights are long," the singer admits in the title track, and sometimes trouble seems like it's here to stay. But if there's yearning in his voice, there's also hope. In fact, Springsteen whistles a jaunty tune through the bridge.

Whistles, of all things; probably in the dark and likely past the cemetery.
Which is why the music itself kind of alternates between the stately and the urgent. We need the stately to slow life down so we may capture each blessed moment. And the urgency propels us forward, reminding us that however much time we have is probably never enough.

In "Life Itself," Max Weinberg's drum seems to be ticking out the very seconds. And the singer remarks that his lover feels like "life itself rushing over me." But the hardest rocking number, "Good Eye," with its swamp rocking, foot stomping, harmonica wailing, yelping singer, is the most fatalistic: "I had my good eye to the dark and my blind eye to the sun."

Which leaves him exactly where? Howling in the dark.

Better perhaps to seize the blessings on this brief journey, Springsteen seems to say: melody, soaring harmonies, moments of joy, love, and faith.

Though no one said it would be easy.

In "Lucky Day," he admits that happiness is a long shot at best: ". . . I see strong hearts give way/To the burdens of the day/To the weary hands of time/Where fortune is not kind. . ."

And love has its limits, as even "What Love can Do" shows.

But what other choice is there?

Maybe it comes down to laughter, as in "Kingdom of Days": "When I count my blessings and you're mine for always/We laughed beneath the covers/and count the wrinkles and the grays."

We treasure even the hard and dark of this world even as we hope for more and believe in more. Explicitly or implicitly, God makes his presence felt on this album.

"This life, this life and then the next," Springsteen sings on "This Life," without a trace of doubt or irony, "With you I have been blessed."

Springsteen and the E Street Band have always been good at providing travelin' music, music for the open road.

Well, for many of us, the journey has changed, the ultimate destination closer than many of us are comfortable with.

Even on this leg of the trip, "Working On A Dream," lets us put the top down and crank the music up.

Do the Right Thing: Die

From capellini at Orso’s to an infinity of darkness.

By David Kahane
January 28, 2009, 4:00 a.m.

We’re off to a good start. In Chicago, the prosecutor formerly known as Fitzmas has just subpoenaed a boatload of the beloved BO2’s closest buddies and aides to testify in l’affaire Blagojevich. A full 43—count ’em, 43!—subpoenas, including ones for the mighty David “the Press Conference Rag” Axelrod; the lady from Shiraz, Iran, Valerie Jarrett; the man from Aleppo, Syria, Tony Rezko; and Rahmbo himself. Neither the Grant nor the Harding nor even the Clinton administration can make such a claim to inherent, systemic, Chicago Combine corruption. Eat your heart out, Ulysses S., Warren Gamaliel, and Billy Jeff Blythe III!

Then there’s the “stimulus package,” an income-transfer program from the suckers, er, the taxpayers, to banks, General Motors, and lawyers across this great land of ours, a bailout of such gigantic proportions that it will make Ayn Rand look like she suffered a profound failure of nerve and imagination when she wrote Atlas Shrugged. And up until last week, we lefties thought she’d been smoking crack when she cooked up the Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Act! Who knew she was a do-the-right-thing prophet?

Even better, Pres. B. Hussein Obama Jr., fresh off his first official presidential interview with Al-Arabiya, has already begun to experience the joys of the executive order—“Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kind of cool,” in Paul Begala’s felicitous phrase. No more torture! No more Gitmo! Abortion services to the world! I don’t know about you, but I’m already planning my trip to the Netherlands for Geert Wilders’s hate-speech trial, and I expect to be showered with free hashish, hookers, and hijabs now that we Americans can hold our heads up in the world again. All this plus a call to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed under the right-wing nut . . . er, the Clinton administration.

Not to mention this helpful, budget-saving tip from the Grandmother of the Year, Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro Pelosi, the pride of Baltimore and the sage of San Francisco, whose blink-free brain just deposited this pearl of wisdom upon the body politic: “Well, the family-planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now, and part of what we do for children’s health, education, and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those—one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception—will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.” Speaker Pelosi is like one of those McKinsey & Co. efficiency experts who show up at your employer’s door and explain that he could make more money by firing all his employees and ceasing operations altogether.

That’s the ticket for what ails us—fewer people! In the bad old days, breeders had lots of kids in the hopes that some of them would survive, some would join the army, some would enter the clergy, some would grow up to be Frank Rich, and all would take care of their parents in their dotage. Which began at about age 45. In our new, improved, progressive world, however, children are a net negative. They’re voracious consumers of scarce resources, a luxury we can no longer afford, as likely to grow up to be Britney Spears as Eric Holder. Plus, have you seen how much Harvard’s tuition is these days?

Never mind that the Ponzi scheme known as Social Security has lost some 40 million payroll-tax payers since 1973, along with those would-be citizens’ unborn children, not to mention their unborn grandchildren, who patriotically pre-aborted themselves by choosing an aborted forebear. Good-bye, carbon-based life form native-born Americans, hello Third World immigrants. Speaking personally, I like the idea that the guy I pay four bucks an hour to cut my lawn and clean my pool is going to support me for at least 20 years after I retire from the lucrative profession of screenwriting and lunching at Orso’s.

My wingnut friends, if I had any, which I don’t, would surely call modern progressivism a suicide cult. Reduce your standard of living! Walk to work! Install chemical toilets instead of flush johns! Grow your own damn vegetables! But what do they know? In progresso-world—the world of imaginary psychiatric diseases, endless trauma, unreasoning fears and worries, and a confirmed belief that upon our deaths an infinity of darkness will swallow us up—the greatest of all virtues (even greater than Hope!) is Fairness, followed closely by Tolerance. And the worst sin, the dirtiest word in the English language, is Discrimination. We’d rather die than give offense, and, you have to admit, our existence is an offense in itself.

So go ahead and call us a suicide cult. We prefer to think of ourselves as the saviors of the planet, and what better way to save it than by self-immolation (with the appropriate carbon offsets to combat the resulting air pollution)? If and when the Dear Leader and Teacher, the Mahdi, the Expected One, the Quisatz Haderach, orders us to drink the Kool-Aid of Change, then we will proudly belly up to the bar, quaff l’elisir della morte, and, like the Rev. Jim Jones and his followers at Jonestown, lie down and expire in the loving arms of Gaia.

(By the way, did anybody but my sainted father, “Che” Kahane, find it odd that in Sean Penn’s paean to that seminal American hero, Harvey Milk, there was not a single mention of the mass suicide by the adherents of Jones’s San Francisco–based Peoples Temple in Guyana, even though it dominated the news in Baghdad-by-the-Bay for a full week prior to the murder of Milk and Mayor Moscone? Jonestown happened on Nov. 18, 1978; Harvey and George were killed by Dan White on Nov. 27. Unless I missed it, I guess it didn’t fit the narrative.)

After all, as San Fran Nan says, it’s all about reducing cost, so that “part of what we do for children’s health, education, and some of those elements” is just not to have them. Or kill them. Whichever.

You wouldn’t by any chance know a good death cult, would you?

—David Kahane, luckily for him, was not aborted in the womb. If he were, you couldn’t write to him at But he still feels guilty about it.

— David Kahane is a nom de cyber for a writer in Hollywood. “David Kahane” is borrowed from a screenwriter character in The Player.

Explaining Israel’s Strategic Mistakes

By Daniel Pipes
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell during their meeting in Jerusalem January 28, 2009. Mitchell called on Wednesday for a Gaza ceasefire to be strengthened and extended, and promised after talks in Israel and Egypt that Washington would pursue Middle East peace vigorously.(Reuters)

In an article earlier this month , “Israel's Strategic Incompetence in Gaza,” I made three points: that the Israeli leadership unilaterally created its current problems in Gaza, that the war against Hamas meant ignoring the much larger threat of Iranian nuclear weapons, and that the goal of empowering Al-Fatah makes no sense.

These arguments prompted an earful from readers, who made interesting points that deserve answers. Slightly editing the questions for clarity, I reply to some of them here:

“Your article was a real downer. Do you have any uppers?”

The Middle East is a source of nearly unmitigated bad news these days. Two rare positive developments concern economics: Israel has finally, thanks for the reforms carried out by Binyamin Netanyahu, weaned itself from the debilitating socialism of its earlier years; and the price of energy has gone down by over two-thirds.

“Accepting that your opinions are true, the title and tone of the article can only encourage Israel’s enemies. More careful language would have been more to Israel’s advantage.”

I try to offer constructive criticism. Even if Israel’s enemies do find encouragement in my less-than-boosterish analysis, I expect this is more than offset by my helping Israelis realize their errors.

“The enemy of Israel is its traitorous leadership that is intentionally working to destroy the Jewish state and bring upon world Jewry another Holocaust. To refuse to make this clear and to continue to suggest incompetence is the problem, is to enable the leadership and, thus, become a traitor oneself.”

If one is a traitor to Israel by not seeing its leadership as “intentionally working to destroy the Jewish state, and bring upon world Jewry another Holocaust,” then color me guilty. I see the leadership as incompetent but not malign, much less suicidal.

“Here’s an exit strategy from Gaza: Israel should lease a strip of land from Egypt to be used as a buffer zone.”

Great idea – except there is zero chance of Cairo agreeing to it.

“Your analysis wrongly deals with Israel as an independent actor when the U.S. government has a major role limiting Israeli actions.”

I addressed and rejected this point with regard to the Gaza withdrawal at “Sharon’s Gaza Withdrawal – Made in Washington?” but your assertion is broader than Gaza and deserves a full-scale analysis.

My brief reply: The idea that Washington forces bad ideas on an unwilling Jerusalem offers solace, implying as it does that the Israeli leadership knows what to do but cannot do it; unfortunately, it is out of date.

Yes, from 1973 to 1993, that was indeed the pattern. Since the Oslo accords, however, the Israel leadership has not just been a willing accomplice of its U.S. counterpart but has often taken the lead - e.g., Oslo itself in 1993, the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the Camp David II meetings in 2000, the Taba negotiations of 2001, and the Gaza withdrawal of 2005.

Aaron Lerner sums up this point in “American pressure is not the problem,” arguing that “Israeli diplomatic initiatives have been almost without exception carried out with American approval only ex-post,” then providing examples.

“What if the most efficient elements of Israeli society, the military, were in charge in Israel?”

But the Israeli military has been largely in charge since the fundamental reorientation from deterrence to appeasement that took place in 1993 – Rabin, Barak, and Sharon dominated the past 16 years, along with many other ex-generals in the country’s public life. In Israel, as around the world, the military tends to absorb the warmed-over leftisms produced by civil society.

“This is not the time to look backwards and place blame; rather it is time to move on and fix the problem.”

Assigning responsibility for mistakes is not just a matter of finger-pointing but crucial if one is not to repeat them.

“What must Israel do now?

In another column this month, “Solving the ‘Palestinian Problem’,” I endorsed the Jordan-Egypt option, whereby the one former takes over the West Bank and the latter Gaza.

“You ask, ‘Why did Olmert squander this opportunity to confront the relatively trivial danger Hamas presents rather than the existential threat of Iran’s nuclear program?’ The answer lies in the New York Times article on Jan. 11, ‘U.S. rejected aid for Israeli raid on Iranian nuclear site,’ which explains that the U.S. government prevented Israeli efforts to destroy the facilities at Natanz.”

The analysis at “Israeli Jets vs. Iranian Nukes” suggests that the Israel Defense Forces does not require U.S. approval to cross Iraq or additional U.S. ordnance to strike Iranian targets.

“It is so easy to criticize; do you really think you could do better? If so, why not go to Israel and enter the political life there?”

A sports writer need not star on the field before he critique players – and neither must a Middle East analyst climb the slippery pole of Israeli politics before offering strategic analysis. As for the legitimacy of my offering views while living in the United States, see “May an American Comment on Israel?”

“What do you think of other alternative plans making the rounds, both of which call for no Palestinian state to be established and for Palestinian Arabs to be paid to leave and resettle in the country of their choosing, other than Israel. The “Israeli Initiative” is by Knesset member Benny Elon and the other is from the Jerusalem Summit, authored by Martin Sherman, a professor at Tel Aviv University.”

I applaud these efforts at creative thinking. The Elon plan resembles my Jordan-Egypt idea, except it focuses exclusively on Jordan “as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians” and involves Israeli sovereignty on the West Bank, something I do not call for. The Jerusalem Summit plans calls for a “generous relocation and resettlement package” for Palestinians to leave the Israeli-controlled areas; I expect this will find few takers.

“There are real leaders in Israel. To mention just one – Moshe Feiglin. What about him?”

He brings important ideas to the Israeli debate but he is not “at the upper echelons of Israel's political life,” as I put it in my article, and so I did not include him in my generalization.

“Where is Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu in all this? Is he not a hawk who is repelled by the thought of giving away Israeli land for ANY reason?”

If I voted in Israeli elections, I would vote for him next month. That said, we saw him in action as prime minister between 1996 and 1999 and I judge his tenure a failure (in contrast to his subsequent stint at the finance ministry, which was a success). In particular, I recall his poor performance vis-à-vis Syria (which I uncovered in a 1999 article, “The Road to Damascus: What Netanyahu almost gave away”). Perhaps Netanyahu has matured as a leader but, the old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” implies Likud might have recruited a fresh face.

“Now that General (Ret.) Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon has entered politics, I believe there is hope for Israel's future.”

I admire Ya’alon and hope he will have an important post in the next government. He comes as close as any Israeli leader to understanding the country’s strategic imperatives. For example, when asked for his definition of victory, Ya’alon replied that it consists of “the very deep internalization by the Palestinians that terrorism and violence will not defeat us, will not make us fold.”

But, when one looks closely at his main analysis, “Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy,” Ya’alon does not work to gain such a victory over the Palestinians. Rather, he wants to reform the Palestinian Authority so that it can better control territory, effect law enforcement, strengthen its judicial authority, acquire a democratic spirit, and improve the quality of life of its population.

“Economic convalescence, an effective rule of law, and democratization are essential conditions,” he writes, “for the rehabilitation of Palestinian society.” He concludes that a reorganization of Palestinian society in accordance with his ideas “could feasibly serve as the foundation for a future settlement that would realize some of the hopes that were pinned on the Oslo process.” I conclude, therefore, that Ya’alon’s goal is not victory but another attempt at Oslo-style compromise and resolution.

“What has happened to the Israelis that they no longer fight smart?”

Good question. I offered one reply a half-year ago: “The strategically brilliant but economically deficient early state has been replaced by the reverse. Yesteryear's spy masterminds, military geniuses, and political heavyweights have seemingly gone into high tech, leaving the state in the hands of corrupt, short-sighted mental midgets.”

But this does not explain the whole situation, which results from a deep mix of fatigue and arrogance. The best analyses of this problem are by Yoram Hazony, The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul and Kenneth Levin, The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege.

“Daniel Pipes should try to defuse tensions between Israel and the Arab neighbors.”

Attempts at defusing tensions have been a central focus since the Kilometer 101 agreement of 1973. They have failed because they try to finesse a decisive conclusion to the Arab-Israeli conflict. I favor a decisive conclusion, for it alone will end the conflict.

Mr. Pipes ( is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.