Saturday, December 12, 2009

Obama goes from dazzle to drone

The Orange County Register
2009-12-11 11:15:25

It wasn't so long ago that Barack Obama's speeches were being hailed as "extraordinary" "rhetorical magic" (Joe Klein in Time) that should be "required reading in classrooms" (Bob Herbert in The New York Times). Pity the poor grade-schoolers who have to be on the bus at 5 a.m. for a daylong slog through the 4,000-word sludge of the president's Nobel thank you. Rich Lowry, my boss at National Review, writes that Obama has become a "crashingly banal" bore. The good news is that he "is not nearly as dull as, say, Herman van Rompuy."


Oh, come on. Herman van Rompuy. He's some Belgian cove who was recently appointed "president" of "Europe," whatever that means. He's hardly a household name, even in the van Rompuy household. I'm not sure if Belgian TV has a "Belgian Idol" or "Dancing With The Belgians," but, if so, he'd be knocked out in Round One.

Nonetheless, Rich Lowry does "President" van Rompuy a grave injustice. The boringness is, as the computer chappies say, not a bug but a feature. Like everything in Europe, the "presidency" was a backroom stitch-up, and neither the French nor the Germans wanted a charismatic glamorpuss in the gig, stealing their respective thunders. A Belgian nonentity was just what they were looking for. Being a nondescript yawneroo was the minimum entry qualification. And, by those standards, Herman van Rompuy is performing brilliantly.

By contrast, the point of Barack Obama is to dazzle. That's why he got all the magazine covers of him emerging topless from the Hawaiian surf, as if his beautifully sculpted pectorals were long-vanished Pacific atolls restored to sunlight after he'd fulfilled his pledge to lower the oceans before the end of his first term. The squealing Obammyboppers of the media seem to have gotten more muted since those inaugural specials hit the newsstands back in late January. His numbers have fallen further faster than those of any other president – because of where he fell from: As Evan Thomas of Newsweek drooled a mere six months ago, Obama was "standing above the country ... above the world. He's sort of God." That's a long drop.

The Obama speechwriting team doesn't seem to realize that. They seem to be the last guys on the planet in love with the sound of his voice and their one interminable tinny tune with its catchpenny hooks. The usual trick is to position their man as the uniquely insightful leader, pitching his tent between two extremes no sane person has ever believed: "There are those who say there is no evil in the world. There are others who argue that pink fluffy bunnies are the spawn of Satan and conspiring to overthrow civilization. Let me be clear: I believe people of goodwill on all sides can find common ground between the absurdly implausible caricatures I attribute to them on a daily basis. We must begin by finding the courage to acknowledge the hard truth that I am living testimony to the power of nuance to triumph over hard truth and come to the end of the sentence on a note of sonorous, polysyllabic if somewhat hollow uplift. Pause for applause."

It didn't come but once at Oslo last week, where Obama got bad press for blowing off the King of Norway's luncheon. In Obama's honor. Can you believe this line made it into the speech?

"I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war."

Well, there's a surprise. When you consider all the White House eyeballs that approve a presidential speech, it's truly remarkable that there's no one to scribble on the first draft: "Scrub this, Fred. It makes POTUS sound like a self-aggrandizing buffoon." It's not even merely the content, but the stylistic tics: "I do not bring with me" – as if I, God of Evan Thomas' Newsweek, am briefly descending to this obscure Scandinavian backwater bearing wisdom from beyond the stars.

Obama's sagging numbers are less a regular presidential "approval rating" than a measure of the ever-widening gulf between the messianic ballyhoo and his actual performance. For Americans interested in not pre-crippling the lives of their as-yet unborn children and grandchildren, his windy leave-'em-wanting-less routine is currently one of their best friends. To return to what's-his-name, the Belgian bloke, van Rumpoy, just because he's a nonentity doesn't mean he's not effective. In his acceptance speech the other week, he declared: "2009 is the first year of global governance."

Did you get that memo?

Me, neither. But he has a point. The upgrading of the G20, Gordon Brown's plans for planetary financial regulation, and the Copenhagen climate summit (whose inauguration of a transnational bureaucracy to facilitate the multitrillion-dollar shakedown of functioning economies would be the biggest exercise in punitive liberalism the developed world has ever been subjected to) are all pillars of "global governance." Right now, if you don't like the local grade school, you move to the next town. If you're sick of Massachusetts taxes, you move to New Hampshire. Where do you move to if you don't like "global governance"? What polling station do you go to to vote it out?

America has its Herman van Rumpoys, too. Harry Reid is really the Harry van Reidpoy of Congress. Very few people know who he is or what he does. But, while Obama continues on his stately progress from one 4,000-word dirge to the next, Reid's beavering away, advancing the cause of van Rumpoy-scale statism.

The news this week that the well-connected Democrat pollster, Mark Penn, received $6 million of "stimulus" money to "preserve" three jobs in his public relations firm to work on a promotional campaign for the switch from analog to digital TV is a perfect snapshot of Big Government. In the great sucking maw of the federal treasury, $6 million isn't even a rounding error. But it comes from real people – from you and anybody you know who still makes the mistake of working for a living; and, if it had been left in your pockets, you'd have spent it in the real world, at a local business or in expanding your own, and maybe some way down the road it would have created some genuine jobs. Instead, it got funneled to a Democrat pitchman to preserve three nonjobs on a phony quasi-governmental PR campaign. Big Government does that every minute of the day. When Mom'n'Pop Cola of Dead Skunk Junction gets gobbled up by Coke, there are economies of scale. When real economic activity gets annexed by state, and then federal, government, there are no economies of scale. In fact, the very concept of "scale" disappears, so that tossing six million bucks away to "preserve" three already-existing positions isn't even worth complaining about.

At his jobs summit, Obama seemed, rhetorically, to show some understanding of this. But that's where his speechifying has outlived its welcome. When it's tough and realistic (we need to be fiscally responsible; there are times when you have to go to war in your national interest; etc), it bears no relation to any of the legislation. And, when it's vapid and utopian, it looks absurd next to Harry Reid, Barney Frank & Co's sleazy opportunism. For those of us who oppose the shriveling of liberty in both Washington and Copenhagen, a windy drone who won't sit down keeps the spotlight on the racket. Once more from the top, Barack!


Friday, December 11, 2009

Swingin' Copenhagen

By Dennis Miller
OpEd Contributor
The Washington Examiner
December 11, 2009

So it's come to this. If, and I say if only because it isn't, global warming is a man-made desecration of the planet, the head table of that desecration has been set up this week in Copenhagen under the aegis of stopping the man-made desecration of the planet.

Crazy, huh? But there is a darker vibe about the craziness this time around. I used to feel it was funny crazy, UFO-Loch Ness crazy. Now though, it's becoming disturbing crazy.

In the wake of the publishing of the East Anglia e-mails, I'm beginning to see a Roy Cohn-at-Tailgunner-Joe's-side quality in some of the more zealous climatological gurus' incessant bleats.

(By the way, how much CO2 does a whiny bleat put out into the atmosphere?)

Some of them are no doubt vaguely cognizant of the fact that they might have way overbet this hand and that there's now something much more important in play than the plight of the planet. And that of course would be their reputations and standing in the herd of man.

You ever come across raccoons in the outdoor trash can at 11:30 or so at night? As soon as they're exposed by the beam of the flashlight (by the way, how much CO2 does the beam of a flashlight put into the atmosphere?), they turn on you with fangs and paws and let you know what follows will be a short conversation with very little talking involved.

Currently, climate scientists are raccoons hip-deep in statistical garbage and you should approach them with caution because they are unarmed (with facts) and dangerous.

In lieu of having the facts (i.e., the thermometer!) bear out their hypothesis, they are now going to have to get creative. They are going to have to press the bet now and steer into the delusional skid, and that sort of desperation makes for a really unsavory individual no matter how much good they are ostensibly doing for their fellow man.

Deniers will be disparaged, data will be fudged and theories will be advanced that are, if possible, even more wing-nuttier than some of the claptrap currently out there. If heretofore depictions of Manhattan under water in the year 2057 were shown to sixth-graders, they're going to have to drop it down to preschoolers in deference to the Gullibility Expansion Joint.

I say we offer them a lifeline right now. Come back little Sheba. Come to Papa. You went a little nuts. We understand. Of course, now that the fever dream has broken, you, too, realize that the ups and downs of temperature are what we call "the weather."

Of course the only truly creepy thing "the weather" could do would be to remain perpetually constant. Now that would be weird!

Prodigal your loony self right back over here! We forgive you and we just thank God that the light bulb of pragmatic inspiration finally switched on for you.

(By the way, how much CO2 does the light bulb of pragmatic inspiration finally switching on for you put into the atmosphere?)

Comedian and commentator extraordinaire Dennis Miller appears regularly in the "Miller Time" segment of "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News, as well as his own daily talk radio show ( heard on more than 250 stations across the country.

Islam U.

The troubling rhetoric of the men behind America's first Muslim university.

by Emily Esfahani Smith
The Weekly Standard
12/11/2009 12:00:00 AM

Zaytuna College, which plans to be the first accredited Muslim college in the United States, is set to open next fall in Berkeley, California. The college has been hailed as a victory for moderate Islam, a place to promote religious understanding by "blending traditional Islam and American culture and establishing a permanent place for the religion in American society," according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. But Zaytuna College may not be as moderate as it seems--or moderate at all.

The college's founders, Hamza Yusuf Hanson and Zaid Shakir, are similarly lauded as even-keeled Muslims who, according to the Chronicle, "have built a following with their inspirational lectures and willingness to take a critical look at Islam." NPR has promoted Hanson as a moderate Muslim; the New York Times featured both men as "middle ground" Muslims--and Hanson even met with George W. Bush following the attacks of 9/11.

Strange, then, that two days before September 11, 2001, Hanson said that America has "a great tribulation coming to it." Stranger still that Hanson called Judaism a "most racist religion" in 1995. Or that in 2006 Shakir told the New York Times that "Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country." Or that Hanson disparagingly called democracy and the Bill of Rights "false gods" in 1996. Given this, to say that Zaytuna College may not be what it seems may be an understatement.

A man who once claimed that he is a citizen of America by birth and not by choice, Hamza Yusuf Hanson (nee Mark Hanson) is an American convert to Islam who, following the attacks of 9/11, softened his incendiary rhetoric. He may have changed his rhetoric, but he hasn't changed his fundamental beliefs. Proof? He has never explicitly denounced Wahhabism or Wahhabi vandalism of religious culture in Saudi Arabia. To many moderate Muslims, if there's one thing moderate Muslims are defined by, it's their willingness to censure Wahhabism as radical and dangerous. Hanson and Shakir didn't respond to numerous requests for an interview.

More proof comes in the form of Hanson's association with the Radical Middle Way, a British government-financed group of so-called moderate Muslims who urge young Muslims to renounce extremism. But even here, some less than savory Muslim characters speckle its list of speakers: Jamal Badawi, Tariq Ramadan, Abdur Rahman Helbawy--and Hanson.

Shakir, for his part, has yet to completely temper his views, even after 9/11. As late as October 2007, on the website New Islamic Directions, he argues that then-president Bush's agenda was cut from the same cloth as "the fascist movements of the 20th century," mentioning Hitler specifically. Shakir goes on to write that 9/11 "occurred under dubious circumstances that have yet to be thoroughly investigated"--putting him in the political company with the Van Joneses of the world.

Now consider that these men, who have been called among the most influential Muslim scholars in the West, hope to open an institution meant to educate the growing Muslim population of this country. The school will only have two majors, Islamic Legal & Theological Studies and Arabic. In each class, men and women would typically sit on different sides of the room. And though it will incorporate the other humanities and social sciences in its curriculum, it makes no mention of math or the hard sciences. Mahmoud Ayoub, professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim relations at the Hartford Seminary and a Muslim critic of Zaytuna College, says that any attempt like Zaytuna College should be "studied very carefully so we do not ruin the future of young people who, out of religious enthusiasm, would study at such a place and probably get worthless degrees."

The question remains: will that extremism be hardened into students at Zaytuna College?

Emily Esfahani Smith, a Collegiate Network fellow, is an editorial assistant at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

The New Socialism

A metamorphosis from red to green.

By Charles Krauthammer
December 11, 2009, 0:00 a.m.

In the 1970s and early ’80s, having seized control of the U.N. apparatus (by power of numbers), Third World countries decided to cash in. OPEC was pulling off the greatest wealth transfer from rich to poor in history. Why not them? So in grand U.N. declarations and conferences, they began calling for a “New International Economic Order.” The NIEO’s essential demand was simple: to transfer fantastic chunks of wealth from the industrialized West to the Third World.

On what grounds? In the name of equality — wealth redistribution via global socialism — with a dose of post-colonial reparations thrown in.

The idea of essentially taxing hard-working citizens of the democracies in order to fill the treasuries of Third World kleptocracies went nowhere, thanks mainly to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (and the debt crisis of the early ’80s). They put a stake through the enterprise.

But such dreams never die. The raid on the Western treasuries is on again, but today with a new rationale to fit current ideological fashion. With socialism dead, the gigantic heist is now proposed as a sacred service of the newest religion: environmentalism.

One of the major goals of the Copenhagen climate summit is another NIEO shakedown: the transfer of hundreds of billions from the industrial West to the Third World to save the planet by, for example, planting green industries in the tristes tropiques.

Politically it’s an idea of genius, engaging at once every left-wing erogenous zone: rich man’s guilt, post-colonial guilt, environmental guilt. But the idea of shaking down the industrial democracies in the name of the environment thrives not just in the refined internationalist precincts of Copenhagen. It thrives on the national scale, too.

On the day Copenhagen opened, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claimed jurisdiction over the regulation of carbon emissions by declaring them an “endangerment” to human health.

Since we operate an overwhelmingly carbon-based economy, the EPA will be regulating practically everything. No institution that emits more than 250 tons of CO2 a year will fall outside EPA control. This means over a million building complexes, hospitals, plants, schools, businesses, and similar enterprises. (The EPA proposes regulating emissions only above 25,000 tons, but it has no such authority.) Not since the creation of the Internal Revenue Service has a federal agency been given more intrusive power over every aspect of economic life.

This naked assertion of vast executive power in the name of the environment is the perfect fulfillment of the prediction of Czech president (and economist) Vaclav Klaus that environmentalism is becoming the new socialism, i.e., the totemic ideal in the name of which government seizes the commanding heights of the economy and society.

Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the Left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers, and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality, but saving the planet.

Not everyone is pleased with the coming New Carbon-Free International Order. When the Obama administration signaled (in a gesture to Copenhagen) a U.S. commitment to major cuts in carbon emissions, Democratic senator Jim Webb wrote the president protesting that he lacks the authority to do so unilaterally. That requires congressional concurrence by legislation or treaty.

With the Senate blocking President Obama’s cap-and-trade carbon legislation, the EPA coup d’etat served as the administration’s loud response to Webb: The hell we can’t. With this EPA “endangerment” finding, we can do as we wish with carbon. Either the Senate passes cap-and-trade, or the EPA will impose even more draconian measures: all cap, no trade.

Forget for a moment the economic effects of severe carbon chastity. There’s the matter of constitutional decency. If you want to revolutionize society — as will drastic carbon regulation and taxation in an energy economy that is 85 percent carbon-based — you do it through Congress reflecting popular will. Not by administrative fiat of EPA bureaucrats.

Congress should not just resist this executive overreaching, but trump it: Amend existing clean-air laws and restore their original intent by excluding CO2 from EPA control and reserving that power for Congress and future legislation.

Do it now. Do it soon. Because Big Brother isn’t lurking in CIA cloak. He’s knocking on your door, smiling under an EPA cap.

— Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2009, The Washington Post Writers Group

Global Warming as a Political Tool

The modern tale of Jackson and the Goregonauts.

By Jonah Goldberg
December 11, 2009, 0:00 a.m.

On Monday, Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, formally announced that her agency now considers carbon dioxide to be a dangerous pollutant, subject to government regulation. The finding comes two years after the Supreme Court ruled that CO2 falls under the EPA’s jurisdiction.

A day later, an unnamed White House official told Fox’s Major Garrett that the message for Congress is clear: “If you don’t pass this (cap-and-trade) legislation . . . the EPA is going to have to regulate in this area. . . . And it is not going to be able to regulate on a market-based way, so it’s going to have to regulate in a command-and-control way, which will probably generate even more uncertainty.”

And such “uncertainty” is a huge “deterrent to investment,” which will hurt the economy even more.

Translation: We don’t want the EPA to kick the economy in the groin, but if Congress doesn’t act, well, a-groin-kickin’ we shall go.

This is grotesquely dishonest.

The White House and Congress could, quite easily, do something about the EPA’s threat. President Obama could instruct Jackson to interpret the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision granting the EPA power to regulate greenhouse gases more loosely. He could ask Congress to simply rewrite the Clean Air Act so as to exclude carbon dioxide from its list of official pollutants — the policy the EPA followed for years until the Supreme Court reinterpreted the Clean Air Act.

But no.

As part of the enduring statist desire to penetrate ever deeper into every nook and cranny of our lives, greens have wanted to find a way for the government to regulate CO2, a natural byproduct of fire and breathing, for decades. Now they can.

That is why the White House will use Jackson as a Medusa’s head, to petrify cap-and-trade opponents with the prospect of something even worse: the effective seizing of the means of production. The White House says nothing of the sort is going on. Jackson, the former chief of staff to lame-duck New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, is an independent, disinterested public servant simply following sound science with no concern for politics.

If Jackson cares so much about sound science, why is she basing some of her policies on data from the discredited scientific frat house, the Climatic Research Unit?

If Jackson cares so little about politics, why did she make her announcement to such fanfare at the opening of Climapalooza in Copenhagen?

In fairness, Jackson is only a Medusa’s head to those who care desperately about economic growth and who don’t think draconian taxes on energy and massive wealth transfers for white elephants in the Third World are the answer to our problems. But for others, she represents another icon from Greek mythology: the Golden Fleece.

Jason and his Argonauts set out to find the fleece so they might place Jason on the throne of Iolcus. The original story is one of power-seeking in a noble cause.

It’s debatable whether the modern tale of Jackson and the Goregonauts is quite so noble. But it’s obvious they’re interested in power and hell-bent on fleecing.

Indeed, some of loudest voices have a weird habit of telegraphing their priorities. Tim Wirth, a former senator and now chairman of the United Nations Foundation, once said: “We’ve got to ride the global-warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing, in terms of economic policy and environmental policy.” New York Times columnist and prominent warm-monger Thomas Friedman has repeatedly said (most recently this week) that he doesn’t care if global warming is a “hoax” because, even if it is, the fear of it will force us to do what we need to do.

And it just so happens that with the exception of nuclear power — which most greens still won’t support — global warming fuels nearly every progressive ambition. Wealth transfers from rich to poor nations: Check. The rise of “global governance” and the decline of American sovereignty: Check. A secular fatwa not only to erode capitalism but to intrude on every aspect of our lives (Greenpeace offers a guide to carbon-neutral sex): Check. Weaning us off of oil (which, don’t let the Goregonauts fool you, was a priority back when we were still worried about global cooling): Check. The checks go on for as far as the eye can see, and we will be writing them for years to come.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.

© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

The Great Consolidator

By Jeremy Lott from the December 2009-January 2010 issue of The American Spectator

For all the sturm und drang that rolled off the British newspaper presses in late October, you'd think the Limey scribblers were sounding the alarm over an imminent threat to the realm rather than reporting on a pair of religion news conferences. It was as if the bishop of Rome had scrambled a new Spanish Armada and personally set sail for Canterbury -- guns at the ready, popemobile retrofitted for a water landing.

"An Unholy Battle for the Market Share of Our Souls" complained the normally pro-market Financial Times. "Pope Benedict Opens New Front in Battle for the Soul of Two Churches," observed the Observer. "Desperate Bishops Invited Rome to Park Its Tanks on Archbishop's Lawn," said those crack armchair generals at the Times. It's all about "Un-leashing the Counter-Reformation," figured the Economist. "Former Archbishop Attacks Pope for Anglican Overtures" whinged the Independent. "The End of the Anglican Communion" was ominously announced by the Guardian. But not to worry, old boy, said the Telegraph, "The Queen Will Stand Up to Pope Benedict."

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 09: Pope Benedict XVI attends his weekly audience at the Paul Vi Hall on December 9, 2009 in Vatican City. This year the Pope will brake with tradition moving Christmas Midnight Mass to 10 p.m. The decision was taken two months ago to 'ease the Pope's fatigue at a time when there are many ceremonies and commitments' said Vatican spokesman the Rev Frederico Lombardi. (Getty Images)

What really happened, on October 20, is that the Vatican...made an announcement. Nothing changed immediately; nobody was hired, fired, promoted, pilloried, or even excommunicated; and no new dogmas were propounded. It's not clear that any change whatsoever will have been undertaken by press time, because Rome's gears do grind slowly. But the world moved that day because the Vatican let us all in, with press conferences in both Vatican City and London, on the broad outline of its thinking about what to do with the great number of conservative Anglicans who no longer feel at home in their own church.

Cardinal William Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), said that there were still a few details to be hammered out but here's the short of it: Anglicans and Episcopalians will be allowed to convert en masse, if they so desire. The Catholic Church will also set up a special governance structure so that the newcomers can retain most of those things that they deem distinctive, and so that Anglican and Episcopal clerics don't get the short end of the shepherd's crook.

(Married priests will be able to retain their titles, duties, and congregations. Because the new Anglican Apostolic Constitution will pattern things after the flat organizational structure of the military chaplaincy, married bishops will lose their titles but still retain much of their authority, and married priests will be able to be promoted to these not-quite-bishop positions.)

Levada talked a lot about "cultural diversity" and the Anglican "faith journey." When that failed to do the job, he quoted Scripture. The cardinal provided historic context for this decision by saying that the "many diverse traditions present in the Catholic Church today are all rooted in the principle articulated by Saint Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.' " And these add up to: one Church.

That was a huge departure from the Vatican bureaucracy's previous stubborn, almost snobbish position on Anglican conversion. In July, the CDF had sent a letter to the conservative Church of England splinter group called the Traditional Anglican Communion, promising to give the proposal for group incorporation "serious attention." Monsignor Mark Langham of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which is nominally tasked with overseeing Anglican relations, dismissed it in an AP story as a "standard Vatican holding letter." "Conversion is an individual process, " he sniffed.

Not anymore, it's not. Several press accounts accused the pope of "fishing" for converts or attempting to "poach" himself a four-egg Anglican omelet. These stories implied an opportunistic power play, with headlines like "The Pope's Power Grab" and "The Pope's Anglican Blitzkrieg." More accurate assessments made note of the fact that disaffected parishioners from the Church of England and its various offshoots have been banging on Rome's door for years, trying to get in. Rome finally decided to let them for some reason.

In the American press, the timing of the announcement was mostly reduced to the usual boring cluster of sex-related issues. Rome had moved "quickly," we were told, because conservative Anglicans live in waking fear of female bishops and gay nuptials. The Vatican would now have to deal with the supposedly explosive issue of married priests, even though Eastern Rite Catholics have had married priests for centuries and married clerics from other Christian communions are grandfathered in when they convert through the so-called "pastor's option."

A little more creativity could have made the accusations so much more damning, or at least interesting. Given the international politics of the Catholic Church, a better reason to finger for the timing would have been the closing of the synod of African Catholic Bishops the same week. It ended with a message -- aimed at politicians and, indirectly, priests -- to either repent of the ceaseless corruption and change their ways or else resign. There are about 38 million Anglicans on the African continent and the Catholic Church is looking to grow there.

Or, how about sowing the seeds for the grandest of all dramatic papal visits? The pontiff is scheduled next year to visit the UK for the beatification ceremony -- the first step toward saint-hood -- of the famed Anglican to Catholic convert Cardinal John Henry Newman. King Henry VIII's break with Rome in the 16th century fractured the Church in the English-speaking world. Imagine the atmospherics of a pope returning to British soil with hundreds of thousands of Anglicans well along in the process of repairing that old rift, and the old religious establishment straining to deal with the mass exodus. And you thought John Paul II was a rock star.

THERE IS ANOTHER EXPLANATION that cuts to the heart of the issue. Rome is a bureaucracy but it is also a monarchy, and this monarch is of far more than ceremonial importance. Pope Benedict XVI had heard enough, had made up his mind, and was sick of the delays that accompany the curia's slow deliberations about vital matters. As David Gardner rightly noted in the Financial Times, the pope intentionally "side-stepped...the Vatican officials who do ecumenical work" and worked through the CDF, the teaching arm of the Church, which he used to run.

Announcing the Catholic Church's tentative plans in advance would speed up the process and send a message the pope believes the world needs to hear about the Church. It's a message that he's been preaching since he was elected pope in April 2005, but now he has our undivided attention. The Wall Street Journal posed the question: Could this most unlikely man become "The Great Unifier"?

After Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's election as the 265th bishop of Rome, most attention focused on his biography and the sharp-edged message that he had delivered to the conclave of cardinals before the vote. He had been called "God's Rottweiler" as the head of the CDF not because of his personal demeanor -- he rarely snarls -- but because he censured several theologians and priests for heresy. In his message to fellow cardinals at the last Mass before they locked themselves into the Vatican Palace to choose the next pope, he warned against the "trivialization of evil" that is often promoted by ideological fashions.

In that homily, Ratzinger denounced Marxism, liberalism, libertinism, collectivism, radical individualism, atheism, vague religious mysticism, agnosticism, syncretism, and relativism -- all by name -- and spoke up for what "is often labeled today as fundamentalism." Liberals inside and outside of the church tended to take his message as some sort of a personal attack, even though that "radical individualism" bit could have been construed as a dig at political conservatives as well.

Less attention was focused on Benedict's first homily as pope, at a Mass of the College of Cardinals. He opened with the usual boilerplate. "Catholics cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope," he said. He promised to be "especially responsible" for promoting that unity. Benedict acknowledged that he had been "entrusted with the task" of strengthening his "brethren" -- a word that is fraught with meaning in ecumenical circles as Rome has taken to referring to non-Catholic Christians as "separated brethren."

Then he said something extraordinary and perhaps unprecedented: "With full the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter's current Successor" -- that is, I, Pope Benedict XVI -- "takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty." These words were brought to my attention by Keith Fournier, an ordained Catholic deacon who enthused on Catholic Online that "What happened [in October] is just the beginning."

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 09: Pope Benedict XVI attends his weekly audience at the Paul Vi Hall on December 9, 2009 in Vatican City. (Getty Images)

THE ONLY THING IS, it wasn't the beginning. Far from it. The present pope may not go down as the Great Unifier, exactly. He's likely what people today call "too divisive" to pull that off, and it's hard to see why he would want to. Benedict knows how to use divisions to great effect. He takes Christ's statement from the Gospel of Matthew, "I did not come to bring peace but a sword," quite seriously.

When a group of traditionalist Episcopalians held a conference in Dallas in 2003 to talk about breaking away from the U.S. Episcopal Church over its increasing liberal drift, then Cardinal Ratzinger sent them a message egging them on. He assured them of his "heartfelt prayers" and said that the "significance of your meeting is sensed far beyond [Dallas] and even in this city, from which Saint Augustine of Canterbury was sent to confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ's Gospel in England." According to Dairmaid MacCulloch, writing in the Guardian, when the delegates heard this, "There was wild applause."

In fact, the pope's recent actions with the Anglicans mirrored an earlier act of his papacy that was also hugely controversial but that was seen by outsiders mostly as a family squabble with some ugly repercussions. It involved the Society of Saint Pius X. These were traditionalist Catholic priests who, because of the reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council and especially the de facto suppression of the Latin Mass, formed a rebel sect within the Church.

The Society's late founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was eventually excommunicated when the aging prince of the Church ordained four new bishops to continue his work in 1988, in defiance of the explicit orders of John Paul II. Millions of otherwise loyal Catholics, especially in France, attended the Society's beautiful, ancient Mass because they had a hard time finding it anywhere else.

As head of the CDF, Benedict pleaded with Lefebvre not to ordain more rebel bishops, but didn't succeed. As pope, he moved to reincorporate the Society into the Church, first, by issuing a universal indult in July 2008 mandating that bishops allow the Latin Mass in their dioceses, and, second, in January 2009, by lifting the excommunications of the four men that Lefebvre ordained bishops. This wouldn't have raised too many eyebrows outside the Church but for the fact that one of those men, Richard Williamson, turned out to be a Holocaust denier and a 9/11 "truther" conspiracy theorist.

The press had a field day with that one. But there was another story lurking beneath the obvious scandal. Benedict's Latin Mass decree greatly increased the rights of the faithful against their sometimes imperious bishops. Now, a bishop has to explicitly prohibit the Latin Mass, give a good reason for doing so, and risk losing an appeal to Rome. That ended the need for a Society of Pius X as an outside agitator.

Now, Rome wants more priests trained to perform the Latin Mass, and it wants those parishioners back who had turned to the Society for its ceremony. So it swallowed hard and lifted those excommunications and is in talks to bring the Society's priests back in. If talks stall, expect Benedict to personally intervene.

OR TAKE THAT OTHER great flashpoint of Benedict's papacy, the speech delivered at his old college, the University of Regensburg, on September 12, 2006. The line that set the world on fire was Benedict's quotation of Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, who said, "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Benedict teed up the quote by warning of its "startling brusqueness...that we find unacceptable" today, he reminded people of that Koran's sura that counsels "there is no compulsion in religion," and he never agreed with Paleologus's assessment (" forcefully") of Islam, and he quickly apologized for having caused offense. That did little to prevent churches from being firebombed in Palestine, a nun being killed in Somalia, Christians being attacked in Iraq, riots from breaking out all over the Middle East, or the militant Muslim group Lashkar-e-Taiba from issuing a fatwa calling on faithful followers of Allah to kill the pope. In a direct challenge to these violent Islamists, the pope then visited Turkey -- a nominally Muslim nation whose entrance into the European Union he had opposed.

Most attention was focused on the Muslim rage that the pope's quote provoked but very few people stopped to consider what Benedict was doing quoting Paleologus at all. He was the kind of person previous popes would have been wary of, at the very least. Paleologus, recall, was a Byzantine emperor from well after the Great Schism, and thus Orthodox, and not exactly an ex-emplar of ecumenism.

In good times, Paleologus worked to conquer the Latin part of the old Roman empire, or the pope's own backyard. In bad times, the emperor was forced to contemplate the nature of Islam, because the Turks packed a pretty good wallop. As Benedict said, "It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue [that was quoted], during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402."

We cannot know all the reasons why Benedict chose to quote that particular authority, but it is consistent with his view of a faith that is beset by constant threats, secular and religious. And it sure didn't hurt Vatican relations with Orthodox churches, which had been icy in the past. When John Paul II tried to visit Moscow, the Russian Orthodox Church vetoed it. In October, the same month as the Anglican overture, the AP reported that Benedict may soon meet with the Russian patriarch, and that a papal visit to Moscow in the next few years is likely. Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said, "We have overcome all the tensions in recent years." Not "some tensions"-- all of them.

The Orthodox would be a tougher nut to crack than disaffected Protestants. The schism is much older and the Orthodox have done a better job with church governance and holding the line against theological innovation. Benedict wouldn't dare issue the sort of unilateral open-ended invitation that he did with Anglicans, because it wouldn't work.

Yet if he can bring the two ancient churches together, my sense is that he will do nearly anything, including placing new limits on his own powers, including editing the Nicene Creed to remove the so-called filioque clause (which states that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son"), which drives the Eastern half of the ancient Church to distraction.

BENEDICT'S CONSUMING INSIGHT as pope seems to be that time has made a lot of old theological differences matter less and brought new ones to the fore. Anglicans used to want Catholic tradition but not the pope. Now they may need him to hold on to their tradition. The Orthodox must contend with a demographic decline, but wouldn't have to if they grafted themselves onto Rome. Traditionalists wanted iron-clad protection for the Latin Mass, and got it.

His message will not appeal to everyone, as well he knows. In her book Ratzinger's Faith, philosopher and theologian Tracey Rowlands points out how utterly opposed he is to feminism. At some level, he just can't bring himself to take it seriously. Against calls for female ordination, he "cited the judgment of feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza that ‘true feminists' should actually oppose the ordination of women and work to abolish the phenomenon of ordination itself" -- since ordination is a product of patriarchy and thus, by their logic, bad. In other words, good luck with that, ladies.

Benedict thinks that his Church has got the basics all right and that it is well positioned to hold out against current trends and decide, in the fullness of time, whether innovations are wise. He's willing to extend that protection to Christians of other communions, to consolidate the faithful under a rule of faith that is both flexible and at the same time unyielding.

That makes him a conservative but a radical one. The easiest way to change a church is to drastically change her membership, and that is exactly what the pope is calling for with his impatient prodding to bring whole communions into the flock. Yesterday the traditionalists, today the Anglicans, tomorrow the Orthodox, and the day after, oh, let's say the Lutherans. After all, this pope is from Germany, there has been centuries of ecumenical spadework, and Lutherans are sacramentally inclined Christians who are currently experiencing tremors over issues of sexuality.

If he succeeds, the moniker that future generations should use for him -- the only really accurate one -- is the Great Consolidator.

Jeremy Lott is editor of the Capital Research Center's Labor Watch and author of The Warm Bucket Brigade: The Story of the American Vice Presidency (Thomas Nelson). He blogs at

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Zinn 101: A Radical's History of the United States

by Mark Tapson
9 December 2009

Twelve years ago in his breakout performance as an arrogant young genius in Good Will Hunting, struggling fresh-faced actor Matt Damon sneered at his Boston psychiatrist for “surrounding yourself with all the wrong f__kin’ books. You wanna read a real history book, read Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. That book’ll f__kin’ knock you on your ass.”

The political left loves shout-outs, and this was a direct one to Zinn himself, whom Damon actually lived next-door to as a child, and whose book apparently knocked the actor on his own behind. “Ben (co-screenwriter Affleck) and I were laughing our asses off writing that,” he recalls. (What is it with Damon and the word “ass”?) ”We liked it that the smartest guy in Boston was reading Howard Zinn.”

Self-proclaimed radical historian Howard Zinn, 87, is arguably the most popular proponent of the “history from below” school of historiography, which explores past events from the perspective of everyday people as opposed to the so-called “Great Men” theory, which actor Josh Brolin, another Zinn devotee, calls mere “propaganda.” The Boston University professor wasn’t the first academic to pioneer this approach, but he is no doubt the first to dispense with tedious scholarly ballast like footnotes and citations, and to have pop culture powerhouses like Damon, Brolin and Pearl Jam running interference for his openly politicized agenda. His 1980 book A People’s History of the United States, one of the best-selling history books of all time thanks partly to Damon’s shout-out, is a litany of oppression and exploitation on the part of America’s white ruling class, a “raggedly conceived Marxist caricature” of American history, as David Horowitz calls it in Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left.

Yet Zinn’s book is as ubiquitous in high school and university classrooms as sexual tension. His website proudly asserts that “no other radical historian has reached so many hearts and minds.” Well certainly, no other has darkened as many young hearts toward America and clouded as many young minds with utter disdain for facts and objectivity. Like his fellow academic cult figure Noam Chomsky and President Obama’s former associate and ghostwriter, unrepentant-terrorist-turned-radical-educator William Ayers, Zinn’s world view is powered by a relentless and hateful leftist fantasy: that the American government is and always has been racist, oppressive, warmongering, and ruthlessly exploitative, and that it must be subverted. And that subversion begins in classrooms all across America, which is why the left has worked so hard over the decades to imbed itself in America’s educational system.

Zinn encourages among students what journalists in the age of Obama have openly embraced: not even a pretense of objectivity or balance. “Objectivity is impossible,” he once claimed. Granted, historians have long accepted that no writer of history can be completely free of all cultural and personal bias. But whereas this self-awareness normally spurs historians to strive all the harder for objectivity and fidelity to facts, Zinn’s solution is to embrace bias and selectivity as positives, and use them as tools for the left’s Utopian pursuit of social justice: “If you have any kind of a social aim,” says Zinn, ”if you think history should serve society in some way; should serve the progress of the human race; should serve justice in some way, then it requires that you make your selection on the basis of what you think will advance causes of humanity.” (Emphasis added) In other words, it’s not enough for historians to piece together the clearest, most honest picture of the past to give us insight into our present and future; they are morally obligated to selectively shape the material in ways that they think will advance certain causes, even at the expense of truth. This is not historiography; this is, as Josh Brolin might say, propaganda.

Along with objectivity, Zinn jettisons some historical highlights that might actually give young Americans reason to feel proud of and more knowledgeable about their country. A Conservative History of the American Left’s author and Big Hollywood contributor Daniel J. Flynn notes some of the significant omissions in the People’s History:

Washington’s Farewell Address, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and Reagan’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate all fail to merit a mention. Nowhere do we learn that Americans were first in flight, first to fly across the Atlantic, and first to walk on the moon. Alexander Graham Bell, Jonas Salk, and the Wright Brothers are entirely absent. Valley Forge rates a single fleeting reference, while D-Day’s Normandy invasion, Gettysburg, and other important military battles are skipped over. In their place, we get several pages on the My Lai massacre and colorful descriptions of U.S. bombs falling on hotels, air-raid shelters, and markets during the Gulf War of the early 1990s.

Harvard historian Oscar Handlin not only exposed the book’s flaws long ago and shredded Zinn’s “deranged fairy tale”; he also expressed a keen insight: “Brendan Behan once observed that whoever hated America hated mankind, and hatred of humanity is the dominant tone of Zinn’s book.”

Zinn’s experience flying bombing missions in Europe during World War II had a profound effect on him and shaped his perspective of America as an imperialist evil. He went on to become a civil rights and anti-war activist, writing books such as Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal and You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train. On his website Zinn states, “I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong, that the wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are out of jail, that the wrong people are in power and the wrong people are out of power.” This is the kind of nonsensical, anti-establishment rant one would expect from a seventh-grader, not from one of the most influential educators in the country. The KSM’s of the world should be freed from jail, and the Bush-Cheney-CIA axis of evil should be in jail? Yes, that would certainly set the world right. “What’s required,” he says, ”is a total turn­around. We want a country that uses its resources, its wealth, and its power to help people, not to hurt them.” (Emphasis added) Is America perfect? Is our history without stain? Far from it. But only the pathologically anti-American left can deny that this country has used its resources, wealth, and power largely for good, more than any nation in human history.

This perverse worldview lands Zinn on the wrong side of every issue he addresses: he expressed solidarity with vile academic fraud Ward Churchill, who dismissed the 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks as “little Eichmanns”; he placed the blame for those attacks squarely on the shoulders of American foreign policy, completely ignoring the underlying religious motivation; he endorsed the 9/11 truther movement; he offered support for former professor Sami al-Arian, who was jailed for his key role in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as “a victim of a cruel system, in which the rights of anyone who dissents from government policy are in danger”; he denounced “the so-called ‘war on terror’” as “an act of terrorism” itself (”This is not the behavior of a democracy but of a totalitarian state”); and he espoused the moral equivalence of suicide bombing (“The terrorism of the suicide bomber and the terrorism of aerial bombardment are indeed morally equivalent”) as well as the moral equivalence of the terrorists themselves (“the U.S. was reacting to the horrors perpetrated by the terrorists against innocent people in New York by killing other innocent people in Afghanistan”).

Next week Matt Damon, still fresh-faced but now a $10 million-a-movie anti-capitalist, will use his stardom and boyish smile to promote Zinn’s work again. On Sunday The History Channel will serve as a delivery system for Zinn’s subversive anti-American agenda: a documentary co-produced by Damon entitled “The People Speak,” based on A People’s History of the United States and Voices of a People’s History of the United States, which Zinn co-edited with anti-war-on-terror socialist Anthony Arnove. Other Hollywood stars like Brolin, Marisa Tomei, Morgan Freeman, Viggo Mortensen, Rosario Dawson, and Kerry Washington have enlisted to put a pleasing face on this stealth attack (and not only in front of the camera; behind the scenes, Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis is on the Voices Advisory Board) which will launch on multiple fronts, including a classroom study guide, a performance tour of college campuses around the country, and a soundtrack album. The song titles hint at the soundtrack’s (and the project’s) tone: “The Drums Of War,” “Only A Pawn In Their Game,” “American Terrorist,” “Dear Mr. President,” “Masters of War.” Take that, rapacious military-industrial complex!

Why does a mere History Channel presentation featuring attractive, well-meaning celebrities merit concern? What is at stake here? To return to David Horowitz: “The two Americas that matter in the War on Terror are not those of rich and poor… (They) are an America that embraces its heritage and purposes, and an America that has seceded from both.” The secessionists like Howard Zinn know full well the effectiveness of disseminating their corrosive ideas through education and Hollywood, which Liberal Fascism’s Jonah Goldberg labels “the most powerful propaganda agency in human history.” These arenas are key to indoctrinating America’s youth and eroding the patriotism that Zinn claims “has caused so much death and suffering.” What is at stake is America’s ability to stand strong and united against the Islamic threat and the challenge of rising new superpowers. What is at stake is our heritage and purpose, as Horowitz would say. What is at stake is the hearts and minds of our nation’s youth.

In that context, Good Will Hunting’s “smartest guy in Boston” is starting to look like little more than a useful idiot.


By Ann Coulter
December 9, 2009

In Tuesday's primary election, Massachusetts Democrats chose as their Senate nominee a woman who kept a clearly innocent man in prison in order to advance her political career.

Martha Coakley isn't even fit for the late Teddy Kennedy's old seat. (What is it about this particular Senate seat?)

During the daycare/child molestation hysteria of the '80s, Gerald Amirault, his mother, Violet, and sister, Cheryl, were accused of raping children at the family's preschool in Malden, Mass., in what came to be known as the second-most notorious witch trial in Massachusetts history.

The allegations against the Amiraults were preposterous on their face. Children made claims of robots abusing them, a "bad clown" who took the children to a "magic room" for sex play, rape with a 2-foot butcher knife, other acts of sodomy with a "magic wand," naked children tied to trees within view of a highway, and -- standard fare in the child abuse hysteria era -- animal sacrifices.

There was not one shred of physical evidence to support the allegations -- no mutilated animals, no magic rooms, no butcher knives, no photographs, no physical signs of any abuse on the children.

Not one parent noticed so much as unusual behavior in their children -- until after the molestation hysteria began.

There were no witnesses to the alleged acts of abuse, despite the continuous and unannounced presence of staff members, teachers, parents and other visitors at the school.

Not one student ever spontaneously claimed to have been abused. Indeed, the allegations of abuse didn't arise until the child therapists arrived.

Nor was there anything in the backgrounds of the Amiraults that fit the profile of sadistic, child-abusing monsters. Violet Amirault had started the Fells Acre Day School 18 years before the child molestation hysteria erupted.

Thousands of happy and well-adjusted students had passed through Fells Acres. Many returned to visit the school; some even attended Cheryl's wedding a few years before the inquisition began.

It's one thing to put a person in prison for a crime he didn't commit. It's another to put an entire family in prison for a crime that didn't take place.

In the most outrageous miscarriage of justice since the Salem witch trials, in July 1986, Gerald Amirault was convicted of raping and assaulting six girls and three boys and sentenced to 30 to 40 years in prison. The following year, Violet and Cheryl Amirault were convicted of raping and assaulting three girls and a boy and were sentenced to 8 to 20 years.

The motto of the witch-hunters was "Believe the Children!" But the therapists resolutely refused to believe the children as long as they denied being abused. As the police advised the parents: In cases of child abuse, "no" can mean "yes."

To the children's credit, they held firm to their denials for heroic amounts of time in the face of relentless questioning.

But as copious research in the wake of the child abuse cases has demonstrated, small children are highly suggestible. It's surprisingly easy to implant false memories into young minds by simply asking the same questions over and over again.

Indeed, the interviewing techniques in the Amirault case were so successful that the children also made accusations against three other teachers, two imaginary people named "Mr. Gatt" and "Al" and even against the child therapist herself -- the one claim of abuse that was provably true.

But only the Amiraults were put on trial for any alleged acts of abuse.

Coakley wasn't the prosecutor on the original trial. What she did was worse.

At least the original prosecutors, craven and ambition-driven though they were, could claim to have been caught up in the child abuse panic of the '80s. There had not yet been extensive psychological studies on the suggestibility of small children. A dozen similar cases from around the country had not already been discredited and the innocent freed.

Of all the men and women falsely convicted during the child molestation hysteria of the '80s, by 2001, only Gerald Amirault still sat in prison. Even his sister and mother had been released after serving eight years in prison for crimes that never occurred.

In July 2001, the notoriously tough Massachusetts parole board voted unanimously to grant Gerald Amirault clemency. Although the parole board is not permitted to consider guilt or innocence, its recommendation said: "(I)t is clearly a matter of public knowledge that, at the minimum, real and substantial doubt exists concerning petitioner's conviction."

Immediately after the board's recommendation, The Boston Globe reported that Gov. Jane Swift was leaning toward accepting the board's recommendation and freeing Amirault.

Enter Martha Coakley, Middlesex district attorney. Gerald Amirault had already spent 15 years in prison for crimes he no more committed than anyone reading this column did. But Coakley put on a full court press to keep Amirault in prison simply to further her political ambitions.

By then, every sentient person knew that Amirault was innocent. But instead of saying nothing, Coakley frantically lobbied Gov. Jane Swift to keep him in prison to show that she was a take-no-prisoners prosecutor, who stood up for "the children." As a result of Coakley's efforts -- and her contagious ambition -- Gov. Swift denied Amirault's clemency.

Thanks to Martha Coakley, Gerald Amirault sat in prison for another three years.

Remember all that talk about President Bush shredding constitutional rights? Overzealous liberal prosecutors and feminist do-gooders allowed Gerald Amirault to sit in prison for 18 years for crimes that didn't exist -- except in the imaginations of small children under the influence of incompetent child "therapists."

Martha Coakley allowed her ambition to trump basic human decency as she campaigned to keep a patently innocent man in prison.

Anyone with the smallest sense of justice cannot vote to put this woman in any office. If you absolutely cannot vote for a Republican on Jan. 19, 2010, write in the name "Gerald Amirault."


A God Who Hates

By Pamela Geller
10 December 2009

A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks Out Against the Evils of Islam.
By Wafa Sultan
St. Martin’s Press, 2009
256 pages

Wafa Sultan’s seminal moment was when she took on an Islamic cleric on Al-Jazeera. The clip went viral on Youtube, and it really was a defining moment in the clash of civilizations. Here was a woman, basically considered “property” in the Muslim world and expected to do what she was told, turning around after she had been interrupted numerous times, and saying in effect, “Quiet, it’s my turn.”

Now comes her new book, A God Who Hates, which will undoubtedly prove to be a key resource in the resistance to jihad and Islamization. In it, the brilliant psychiatrist from Syria, now an American citizen, tells her own story.

It is the story of a Muslim woman who grew up in a country where she was indoctrinated in Islamic ideology. So her perspective is very important in terms of establishing the credibility of scholars like Robert Spencer and Dr. Andrew Bostom. But what makes this book great, apart from its breathtaking honesty and truth and the clarity and urgency of its warning, is that it is also a beautiful love letter to America.

Wafa speaks powerfully about what America means to her. It manifests itself in little things. She leaves her house at 5 am and makes her way to Starbucks to have her coffee without fearing that someone might see her and accuse her of immoral behavior. To her, America means saying “good morning” to her neighbor and chatting with him for a few moments without being accused of having spent the night with him. America, for this courageous woman, means that her daughter can come home and tell her that she had lunch with her boyfriend without being beaten or accused of having impugned the family honor.

It is clear throughout A God Who Hates that Wafa Sultan was always a very independent thinker, even though there were times in her life when she did not immediately allow herself to go to the next step to which her thinking was leading her. She writes lovingly about her husband, who was very supportive of her. He was an open-minded thinker — initially more so than was Wafa herself. But she recounts in the book certain momentous events that jarred her thinking, such as in 1979 when Muslims screaming “Allahu akbar” murdered one of her professors, the ophthalmology lecturer Dr. Yusef Al-Yusef, whom she respected and admired. Wafa witnessed the murder – and at that exact moment started to question the nature of the Islamic faith.

“But I was afraid,” she explained when I interviewed her recently, “to express my feelings. I was afraid to express my thoughts, because under Islamic sharia, a Muslim who dares to leave Islam or dares to convert to any other religion is to be killed. And every Muslim has the right to kill someone who has left Islam without being asked a question. This is the Islamic law. Once you were born as a Muslim, you’re not allowed to leave it. This is simply the Islamic law, and it seems to me it’s very hard to convince Americans that this is the way it is.”

The recent Rifqa Bary apostasy case shows how right Wafa is about that, and how urgent her message is. Rifqa Bary is the teenage girl, a Muslim in Ohio, who left Islam four years ago and converted to Christianity. When her father found out about her conversion, she fled from her home in fear for her life. She said she ran away to Florida because she wanted to get as far away as she could — because not only her family but the mosque and the community in Ohio is very devout, and as an apostate she is in danger. But now she has been returned to Ohio, in large part because American authorities don’t know anything about Islamic apostasy law.

If they had read A God Who Hates, Rifqa might be in a safer place today. “This case,” said Wafa, “showed America in a very ugly light, that we will sacrifice a young girl on the altar of political correctness rather than do the right thing.”

A God Who Hates is a devastating book, coming from a most reliable witness. “My book,” Wafa told me, “is about my personal life. In my book I lead my readers step by step throughout my life, from A to Z, so they can figure out what has changed me, what has helped me to break free from Islam. It didn’t happen overnight. It took many years and a great deal of pain to reach where I am today. Through my book I am trying to send a message to the West, that Islam is a hateful ideology and it’s very dangerous for Islam to be established in this free country. This is my message to the West.”

Wafa Sultan is trying to get her message to the Muslim world, not just to the West. Hers is a very powerful voice, and one that Islamic supremacists would very much like to silence. As she told me in our interview: “It’s very dangerous to go against Islam. Prior to my book release I was forced to go into hiding, fearing for my safety and for my family’s safety. I received death threats on a daily basis, and I know what they mean by telling me that, I know how bitter they are, I was one of them. I can very much understand the mindset of Muslims.”

Nevertheless, despite the immense risks, A God Who Hates will be translated into Arabic and made available in the Arab-Muslim world. And it is a must read for all free people. This is a book that you not only have to read, but to give to the people in your office. Give it to your daughters, give it to your children. Show them why they should love America, and fight to defend her from the Islamic oppression that Wafa Sultan escaped.

- Pamela Geller is the founder, editor and publisher of the popular and award-winning weblog She has won acclaim for her interviews with internationally renowned figures, including John Bolton, Geert Wilders, Bat Ye’or, Natan Sharansky, and many others, and has broken numerous important stories — notably the questionable sources of some of the financing of the Obama campaign. Her op-eds have been published in The Washington Times, The American Thinker, Israel National News, Frontpage Magazine, Big Government, World Net Daily, and New Media Journal, among other publications. She is the co-author (with Robert Spencer) of The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America (forward by Ambassador John Bolton), coming soon from Simon and Schuster.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Mark Steyn on America
Tuesday, 08 December 2009

from the December 7th issue of National Review

As longtime readers know, the Demographic Deathwatch is not a novelty dance craze but a recurring feature of this column. But it’s not just for Europe, Russia, China, and Japan anymore! Some parts of America are acquiring demographic profiles that would qualify them for EU membership.

Take the Green Mountain State. As Howard Dean was fond of saying during his 2004 presidential campaign, “Vermont is the way America ought to be.”

If it is, we’re all done for. Its marquee brands are either Canadian-owned (Vermont Castings wood stoves) or European-owned (Ben & Jerry’s ice cream) and any non-foreign economic activity in the state long ago had any life regulated out of it.

But never mind all that. I ventured across the Connecticut River the other day and picked up the local paper, the Journal Opinion of Bradford, Vt.

And among the other front-page headlines (“Newbury Will Mail Town Reports”; “Upcoming Sand Pile Talk”) was a story on how local school districts were in merger talks. No underlying reason was immediately given for the suddenly pressing need to merge: It seemed to be accepted as a natural feature of life that you can’t do anything about. And then a gazillion paragraphs into the story, the reporter finally explained what was going on:

Throughout Vermont, student enrollment at public elementary and secondary schools is declining. According to figures from the state’s Department of Education, there were 104,559 students at those schools during the 1999–2000 school year. Last year, that figure was down to 92,572.

Which is quite a drop. In fact, Vermont school enrollments have declined 13 years in a row. Since 1996, they’ve fallen by 13 percent, slumping below 100,000 in 2004 and projected to fall below 90,000 in 2014. The part of the state that my corner of New Hampshire borders is admittedly rural, and it’s not an unusual phenomenon for small towns to drain population to the big cities. But a couple of days later I was in the capital, Montpelier, and its school board is in merger talks with the neighboring towns of Berlin and Calais.

If schoolkids are thin on the ground, the state’s total population has held steady — 604,000 in 1999, 621,000 today. So Vermont is getting proportionately more childless. Which is to say that Vermont, literally, has no future.

One school-board member whose enrollment has bumped from 600 to 500 and is now heading down to 400 told the paper: “What are we going to do? We’re not holding our breath that the state is going to solve this problem.”

I suppose by “the state” he means the department of education or, in a more general way, Montpelier. But in a very basic sense there is no “state”: Graying ponytailed hippies and chichi gay couples aren’t enough of a population base to run a functioning jurisdiction. To modify Howard Dean, Vermont is the way liberals think America ought to be, and you can’t make a living in it. So if you’re a cash-poor but land-rich native Vermonter taxed and regulated and hedged in on every front, you face a choice: In the new North Country folk wisdom, they won’t let you fish, so you might as well cut bait. Your outhouse is in breach of zoning regulations, so you might as well get off the pot. Etc. When he ran for president, Howard Dean was said to have inspired America’s youth. In Vermont, he mainly inspired them to move somewhere else. The number of young adults fell by 20 percent during the Dean years. And what’s left is a demographic disaster: The state’s women have the second lowest birthrate in the nation, and the state’s workforce is already America’s oldest. Last year, Chris Lafakis of Moody’s predicted Vermont would have “a really stagnant economy” not this year or this half-decade but for the next 30 years.

True, more gays appear to have moved in. In European terms, homosexuals are Vermont’s Muslims — no disrespect to either party, I hasten to add, before you press that fatwa button. And gay second-homers still require enough of a local populace to generate a scenic plaid-clad coot or two chewing tobaccy on the porch of a still-operating general store: It’s kind of a downer to drive past a bunch of abandoned farms and collapsed barns en route to your weekend pad.

Nowhere in the news reports of school-merger talks does anyone suggest trying to reverse the policies that drive out young families and make Vermont — what’s the word the eco-types dig? — “unsustainable.” When it comes to “climate change,” it’s taken for granted that we can transform the very heavens if only we cap’n’trade’n’tax’n’regulate you even more.

But the demographic death spiral? That’s just a fact of life, to question which puts you beyond political viability. The new Vermont prefers poseur politics and solutions for non-problems. A couple of years back, Gov. Jim Douglas, one of those famously moderate GOP New Englanders, finally noticed something was wrong in Green Mountain schoolhouses. So he acted decisively, signing legislation to protect the environment by forbidding school buses to run their engines while waiting for children to board.

Tough on the kids: On many buses, there are too few students to generate much in the way of body heat. But you’ve gotta be able to prioritize: “This is a great step forward for our state,” declared the governor. The wheels are coming off the Vermont bus, but at least its engine won’t be running as the thing falls apart.

Totalitarian Sentimentality

The Pursuit of Knowledge

By Roger Scruton from the December 2009-January 2010 issue of The American Spectator

Conservatives recognize that social order is hard to achieve and easy to destroy, that it is held in place by discipline and sacrifice, and that the indulgence of criminality and vice is not an act of kindness but an injustice for which all of us will pay. Conservatives therefore maintain severe and -- to many people -- unattractive attitudes. They favor retributive punishment in the criminal law; they uphold traditional marriage and the sacrifices that it requires; they believe in discipline in schools and the value of hard work and military service. They believe in the family and think that the father is an essential part in it. They see welfare provisions as necessary, but also as a potential threat to genuine charity, and a way both of rewarding antisocial conduct and creating a culture of dependency. They value the hard-won legal and constitutional inheritance of their country and believe that immigrants must also value it if they are to be allowed to settle here. Conservatives do not think that war is caused by military strength, but on the contrary by military weakness, of a kind that tempts adventurers and tyrants. And a properly ordered society must be prepared to fight wars -- even wars in foreign parts -- if it is to enjoy a lasting peace in its homeland. In short conservatives are a hard and unfriendly bunch who, in the world in which we live, must steel themselves to be reviled and despised by all people who make compassion into the cornerstone of the moral life.

Liberals are of course very different. They see criminals as victims of social hierarchy and unequal power, people who should be cured by kindness and not threatened with punishment. They wish all privileges to be shared by everyone, the privileges of marriage included. And if marriage can be reformed so as to remove the cost of it, so much the better. Children should be allowed to play and express their love of life; the last thing they need is discipline. Learning comes -- didn't Dewey prove as much? -- from self-expression; and as for sex education, which gives the heebie-jeebies to social conservatives, no better way has ever been found of liberating children from the grip of the family and teaching them to enjoy their bodily rights. Immigrants are just migrants, victims of economic necessity, and if they are forced to come here illegally that only increases their claim on our compassion. Welfare provisions are not rewards to those who receive them, but costs to those who give -- something that we owe to those less fortunate than ourselves. As for the legal and constitutional inheritance of the country, this is certainly to be respected -- but it must "adapt" to new situations, so as to extend its protection to the new victim class. Wars are caused by military strength, by "boys with their toys," who cannot resist the desire to flex their muscles, once they have acquired them. The way to peace is to get rid of the weapons, to reduce the army, and to educate children in the ways of soft power. In the world in which we live liberals are self-evidently lovable -- emphasizing in all their words and gestures that, unlike the social conservatives, they are in every issue on the side of those who need protecting, and against the hierarchies that oppress them.

Those two portraits are familiar to everyone, and I have no doubt on which side the readers of this magazine will stand. What all conservatives know, however, is that it is they who are motivated by compassion, and that their cold-heartedness is only apparent. They are the ones who have taken up the cause of society, and who are prepared to pay the cost of upholding the principles on which we all -- liberals included -- depend. To be known as a social conservative is to lose all hope of an academic career; it is to be denied any chance of those prestigious prizes, from the MacArthur to the Nobel Peace Prize, which liberals confer only on each other. For an intellectual it is to throw away the prospect of a favorable review -- or any review at all -- in the New York Times or the New York Review of Books. Only someone with a conscience could possibly wish to expose himself to the inevitable vilification that attends such an "enemy of the people." And this proves that the conservative conscience is governed not by self-interest but by a concern for the public good. Why else would anyone express it?

By contrast, as conservatives also know, the compassion displayed by the liberal is precisely that -- compassion displayed, though not necessarily felt. The liberal knows in his heart that his "compassionating zeal," as Rousseau described it, is a privilege for which he must thank the social order that sustains him. He knows that his emotion toward the victim class is (these days at least) more or less cost-free, that the few sacrifices he might have to make by way of proving his sincerity are nothing compared to the warm glow of approval by which he will be surrounded by declaring his sympathies. His compassion is a profoundly motivated state of mind, not the painful result of a conscience that will not be silenced, but the costless ticket to popular acclaim.

Why am I repeating those elementary truths, you ask? The answer is simple. The USA has descended from its special position as the principled guardian of Western civilization and joined the club of sentimentalists who have until now depended on American power. In the administration of President Obama we see the very same totalitarian sentimentality that has been at work in Europe, and which has replaced civil society with the state, the family with the adoption agency, work with welfare, and patriotic duty with universal "rights." The lesson of postwar Europe is that it is easy to flaunt compassion, but harder to bear the cost of it. Far preferable to the hard life in which disciplined teaching, costly charity, and responsible attachment are the ruling principles is the life of sentimental display, in which others are encouraged to admire you for virtues you do not possess. This life of phony compassion is a life of transferred costs. Liberals who wax lyrical on the sufferings of the poor do not, on the whole, give their time and money to helping those less fortunate than themselves. On the contrary, they campaign for the state to assume the burden. The inevitable result of their sentimental approach to suffering is the expansion of the state and the increase in its power both to tax us and to control our lives.

As the state takes charge of our needs, and relieves people of the burdens that should rightly be theirs -- the burdens that come from charity and neighborliness -- serious feeling retreats. In place of it comes an aggressive sentimentality that seeks to dominate the public square. I call this sentimentality "totalitarian" since -- like totalitarian government -- it seeks out opposition and carefully extinguishes it, in all the places where opposition might form. Its goal is to "solve" our social problems, by imposing burdens on responsible citizens, and lifting burdens from the "victims," who have a "right" to state support. The result is to replace old social problems, which might have been relieved by private charity, with the new and intransigent problems fostered by the state: for example, mass illegitimacy, the decline of the indigenous birthrate, and the emergence of the gang culture among the fatherless youth. We have seen this everywhere in Europe, whose situation is made worse by the pressure of mass immigration, subsidized by the state. The citizens whose taxes pay for the flood of incoming "victims" cannot protest, since the sentimentalists have succeeded in passing "hate speech" laws and in inventing crimes like "Islamophobia" which place their actions beyond discussion. This is just one example of a legislative tendency that can be observed in every area of social life: family, school, sexual relations, social initiatives, even the military -- all are being deprived of their authority and brought under the control of the "soft power" that rules from above.

This is how we should understand the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. To his credit he has made clear that he does not deserve it -- though I assume he deserves it every bit as much as Al Gore. The prize is an endorsement from the European elite, a sigh of collective relief that America has at last taken the decisive step toward the modern consensus, by exchanging real for fake emotion, hard power for soft power, and truth for lies. What matters in Europe is the great fiction that things will stay in place forever, that peace will be permanent and society stable, just so long as everybody is "nice." Under President Bush (who was, of course, no exemplary president, and certainly not nice) America maintained its old image, of national self-confidence and belligerent assertion of the right to be successful. Bush was the voice of a property-owning democracy, in which hard work and family values still achieved a public endorsement. As a result he was hated by the European elites, and hated all the more because Europe needs America and knows that, without America, it will die. Obama is welcomed as a savior: the American president for whom the Europeans have been hoping -- the one who will rescue them from the truth.

How America itself will respond to this, however, remains doubtful. I suspect, from my neighbors in rural Virginia, that totalitarian sentimentality has no great appeal to them, and that they will be prepared to resist a government that seeks to destroy their savings and their social capital, for the sake of a compassion that it does not really feel.

- Roger Scruton, the writer and philosopher, is most recently the author of Gentle Regrets: Thoughts From a Life (Continuum).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

For Penn State’s Volleyball Coach, the Streak Is Beside the Point

The New York Times
December 8, 2009

Mark Selders/Penn State Athletic Communications

The Nittany Lions are in for the 29th straight year with Coach Russ Rose, center.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — It can sometimes be difficult to determine just who is coaching the Penn State women’s volleyball team to this seemingly endless string of victories. During matches, when most coaches are pacing and shouting instructions, Russ Rose is usually sitting quietly, scribbling into a notebook.

Plenty of others track numbers, too, feeding them into a computer until they spit out of a printer as official N.C.A.A. statistics. Rose’s numbers and notes go into blue three-ring binders that few others ever see.

“My decisions in coaching are based on these statistics,” Rose said.

He pointed to shelves in his office lined with binders, filled with decades of handwritten scribbles and diarylike entries. Then he held up a computer printout from a recent match.

“Not these,” he said.

In 31 seasons at Penn State, Rose, 56, has always done things different from most, reflected in his droll, straight-faced sarcasm and his penchant for sweats, swear words and cigars.

“He’s like that black-sheep uncle,” said Adam Jarrett, a volunteer assistant for the program for 13 years.

But Rose’s success is registered in numbers, not quirks.

In the late 1970s, Rose wrote his master’s thesis on volleyball statistics. Today, he has a higher career winning percentage (.862) than any Division I women’s volleyball coach in history — and more than 100 points higher than the .751 of Joe Paterno, the far more famous football coach of the Nittany Lions. Rose’s top-ranked team is in the N.C.A.A. tournament for the 29th year in a row, on to the regionals, hoping to win its third consecutive national title this month.

Yet the number garnering the most attention is 98. And counting.

That is how many consecutive matches Penn State has won, dating to September 2007. It is the longest winning streak in N.C.A.A. Division I women’s sports history, and the second longest over all, trailing only the Miami men’s tennis program, winner of 137 straight from 1957 to 1964.

In recent weeks, Penn State volleyball passed, among others, the 88-game winning streak of John Wooden’s U.C.L.A. men’s basketball teams from 1971 to ’74, and the North Carolina women’s soccer program, which won 92 in a row from 1990 to 1994.

Count Rose as one person not keeping close track.

“The statistics that I’m interested in are performance-related, not historical,” Rose said. “The streak is historical.”

Rose says he considers each season’s team distinctly different and largely unrelated to earlier teams. By his calculation, there are three winning streaks: one of 26 matches in 2007, after two early losses; the 38-0 season of 2008; and this season’s 34-0 record heading into Friday’s Round of 16 match against Florida in Gainesville, Fla.

“I’ve heard people say that maybe we’d be better served had we lost,” Rose said. “I was kind of wondering what profession they were in. I wouldn’t want a lawyer representing me to think like that. I wouldn’t want a doctor operating on me to think like that.”

His office windows were open to a brisk afternoon. Rose was trying to clear the air of the smell of cigars sitting on the desk. (“Cuban contraband,” he called them.) He usually smokes them on the plaza outside Rec Hall, an old brick gym where thousands fill the bleachers for each volleyball match. He says he does not know if that is allowed and does not seem to care.

Rose, who arrived at Penn State in 1979 with bushy dark hair and a Tom Selleck mustache, now has close-cropped gray hair and glasses. He usually wears a blue sweater to matches — a well-worn blue sweater, occasionally mended by his wife. He has a closet full of sweaters that people give him. They share space with suits that Rose avoids wearing.

He prefers shorts and sweats. This day, he wore a sweatshirt and sweatpants.

Raised in Chicago, Rose does not believe in schmoozing or sugarcoating. (Several players, asked to describe their coach, used one word: honest.) He rarely rants and yells, teaching instead in whispers, smirks and knowing glances. He swears in casual conversation. His players seem unfazed by it.

“My grandmother might be a little upset if she came to practice,” Blair Brown, a junior and one of four all-Americans who returned from last year’s team, said with a smile and a shrug. “But it’s Coach. You can’t ask to change who he is. It’s working.”

Mark Selders/Penn State Athletic Communications

Alisha Glass, left, and Arielle Wilson blocking for Penn State in the N.C.A.A. tournament.

Administrators ask Rose to watch his language at matches. Rose will sometimes lift his notepad in front of his face and bark an expletive into it. Before a televised match recently, he spotted a courtside microphone near the Penn State bench. He unplugged it.

Rose thought he would be a gym teacher, maybe a basketball coach. But at George Williams College, he began playing volleyball under Jim Coleman, a former Olympic team coach and a future volleyball Hall of Famer. Coleman is credited with creating the modern volleyball statistics system, among other innovations.

Rose then spent two years at Nebraska, where his master’s thesis examined the skills most associated with winning. (“Passing predicts the level of play,” Rose said of his conclusion. “Hitting and blocking are most correlated with winning.”)

Official statistics have always bothered him. Most sports tally what the player did, not what he or she failed to do. He sees that as only half the equation. What about the rebound the basketball player should have had? Or the ground ball the shortstop did not reach? Or the dig that the volleyball player blew?

“On that sheet,” Rose said, pointing to a match’s official N.C.A.A score sheet, “if you don’t hit the ball, you don’t get a statistic. On mine, you do. You didn’t hit the ball.”

Most of his scribbles in the notebook reflect missed opportunities, what his players call “error control.” Rose grades each play, too, on a scale — not just whether the serve was in, for example, but how good the serve was.

“He keeps stats and gets stats of every play,” said Kaleena Davidson, a former player at Penn State who is in her first season as one of Rose’s assistants. “He knows everything you’d want to know. And everything you don’t want him to know.”

During matches, Rose will coax with sarcasm and freshly computed numbers.

“He’ll say, ‘You’re hitting negative right now,’ ” said the all-American setter Alisha Glass, meaning that a player has more errors than kills. “ ‘You might want to do something about that.’ ”

Glass said that “it’s all about the numbers” for Rose.

“His degree is in volleyball statistics or something,” she said.

“It is?” outside hitter Megan Hodge, widely considered the best player in the country, asked with wide eyes. “That explains a lot.”

Rose’s coaching strategy is largely one of playing devil’s advocate, a lonely role when thousands of fans see his team as unbeatable.

Since the winning streak began on Sept. 21, 2007 — after a loss to Stanford six days earlier — the Nittany Lions have won all 98 of their best-of-three-sets matches. They have won 294 sets; opponents have won 15.

Those numbers are not in any of Rose’s scribbled notebooks.

“I have my own stats,” Rose said. “Because I want to win.”