Saturday, April 10, 2010

True North strong not free

Strange that the more Canada congratulates itself on its ‘tolerance’ the less it’s prepared to tolerate

by Mark Steyn
April 8, 2010

Well, Ann Coulter is no longer in Canada, but 30 million Canadians are. So, for the sake of argument, let us take as read the frankly rather boring observation of the northern punditocracy that the whole brouhaha worked to her advantage, and consider instead whether the Canada on display during her 96-hour layover actually works to Canadians’ advantage. Which was the claim advanced by the eminent Canadian “feminist” Susan Cole appearing on U.S. TV to support the protesters’ shutdown of Miss Coulter’s Ottawa speech:

“We don’t have a First Amendment, we don’t have a religion of free speech,” she explained patiently. “Students sign off on all kinds of agreements as to how they’ll behave on campus, in order to respect diversity, equity, all of the values that Canadians really care about. Those are the things that drive our political culture. Not freedoms, not rugged individualism, not free speech. It’s different, and for us, it works.”

Photograph by Chris Bolin

Does it? You rarely hear it put quite that bluntly—“Freedoms”? Ha! Who needs ’em?—but there was a lot of similarly self-regarding blather in Coulter Week euphemizing a stultifying, enforced conformism as “respect” and “diversity” and whatnot. “I therefore ask you, while you are a guest on our campus, to weigh your words with respect and civility in mind,” wrote François Houle, the provost of the University of Ottawa, addressing Miss Coulter in the smug, condescending, preening tone that comes so naturally to your taxpayer-funded, tenured mediocrity. “There is a strong tradition in Canada, including at this university, of restraint, respect and consideration in expressing even provocative and controversial opinions and urge you [sic] to respect that Canadian tradition.”

Because, after all, nothing says “restraint” and “respect” and “civility” more than a snarling mob using the threat of violence to shut down those it dislikes—and all for that beloved “Canadian tradition.” Strange that the more Canada congratulates itself on its “tolerance” the less it’s prepared to tolerate. “If any Canadian spoke like Ann Coulter,” wrote Denise Cooke-Browne, “he’d be jailed.” And she says that like it’s a good thing. And she also says it as a former investigator for the Newfoundland “Human Rights” Commission. In Denise Cooke-Browne’s Canada, there are now not unfashionable or dissenting or wrong opinions, but criminal opinions.
What are the grounds for jailing Miss Coulter? In her letter to the National Post, Ms. Cooke-Browne cited only the following:

“Remember, she has said that Canada is lucky that the United States let us exist on the same continent.”

I think this is what less enlightened societies would call a “joke.” But, of course, since becoming a beacon of “restraint” and “civility,” Canada now prosecutes jokes. The British Columbia “Human Rights” Tribunal, under the same commissar who presided over a lengthy analysis of the “tone” of my own jokes, is currently trying stand-up comedian Guy Earle for his allegedly “homophobic” put-down of a heckler. Mr. Earle isn’t a right-wing hater like me and Miss Coulter. Until he fell afoul of his Sapphic heckler, he appears to have held conventionally Trudeaupian views. Left to his own devices, he would be more likely to essay an anti-Bush gag than one of Miss Coulter’s camel jests. But he’s wound up in court anyway, having lost three years of his life and facing $20,000 in punitive damages for a remark he made in the course of a stage act for which he received a $50 bar tab. The B.C. Supreme Court advised the tribunal against proceeding with their show trial on the grounds that it was not clear they had jurisdiction. So the tribunal went ahead anyway. Susan Cole’s Canada doesn’t “work” for Guy Earle. In fact, it’s destroyed him. “You better hope and pray that you aren’t next,” he writes. “And yet no one cares.”

Very true. Canada is now a land that prosecutes comedians for their jokes. You’d think that Mr. Earle’s fellow comics might be a little disturbed about where this leads. Yet the fellows who pride themselves on their “edgy,” “transgressive” comedy are remarkably silent on what’s happening in Vancouver. So are the organizers of Juste Pour Rire, who presumably will be sending out form letters of that François Houle email, advising any visiting “edgy” “transgressive” comics from down south that here in Canada we have a strong tradition of restrained and civil comedy, and why not try something on the lines of:

“Who was that lady I saw you with last night?”

“Oh, that was my drunken lesbian heckler. Isn’t she marvellously restrained?”

Ms. Cooke-Browne makes explicit the reality—that “diversity” and “equity” and “respect” are merely the fashionable cloaks for muscle. As readers well know, I personally would rather Ann Coulter were free to tell her camel jokes than Denise Cooke-Browne were empowered to prevent her from doing so. The cure is worse than the disease. For the corrosive effects of “diversity,” look no further than three critical societal institutions: the education system, law enforcement and the media.

Photograph by Etienne Ranger/Le Droit/CP

Remember Allan Rock? Oh, come on, he was all the rage for 20 minutes back in the nineties. Was it only a decade ago that he was briefly a rising star among Liberal cabinet ministers and that week’s prime-minister-in-waiting? Having drunk from the poisoned chalice M. Chrétien reserved for his many putative successors, Mr. Rock landed with his bottom in the butter and, for not entirely obvious reasons, is now president of the University of Ottawa. After M. Houle’s Houligans had gone to work, president Rock felt obliged to defend his institution. “We have a long history of hosting contentious and controversial speakers on our campus.”

That’s good to know. By “long history,” you mean 50, 70 years ago? Because the speakers hosted in recent seasons seem to be the usual parade of dreary publicly funded identity-group ward-heelers living high off the hog of diversity. Anyone else has a tougher time wiggling through. The howling gang of rent-a-leftists that greeted Miss Coulter at Ottawa is the natural product of this shrivelled, desiccated environment. I don’t suppose M. Houle gave his email much thought, other than that it would impress the many colleagues to whom he copied it: what a man! Speaking truth to power blond! But most of the diversity-peddling faculty are old enough to have some residual acquaintanceship with the inheritance they affect to revile. Whatever bollocks they spout in class, they have no wish to live anywhere other than an advanced Western society: for one thing, it’s the only place you can make a living selling fatuous pap about diversity; in that and many other ways, multiculturalism is a unicultural phenomenon. In some deep unacknowledged sense, they understand they’re engaged in a pantomime.

But their students are another matter. If you’re born circa 1990, you have been raised entirely in a François Houle world: this is all you know; it’s the air that you breathe. It’s like the difference between the first generation of rock ’n’ rollers and those nineties gangsta rappers. Elvis sang, “If you’re looking for trouble, you’ve come to the right place / If you’re looking for trouble, look right in my face.” But when you did, as the novelist Tony Parsons noted, you couldn’t help noticing he was wearing a little too much mascara. Whereas when you looked into Snoop Dogg’s or the Notorious B.I.G.’s face, you really were looking for trouble. Asinine ham-fisted clods like Houle are play revolutionaries; I’m not so sure about his young charges. When he threatened criminal charges against Miss Coulter, it was a cheap rhetorical sneer. To his students, it was a call to arms. One was struck in news reports of the riot at the complete worthlessness of the “disciplines” the protesters are “studying”: “Sameena Topan, 26, a conflict studies and human rights major.” Twenty-six, huh?

As for Ottawa’s coppers, they certainly demonstrated that famously Canadian “restraint.” Faced with a law-abiding group engaging in legal activity and a bunch of thugs trying to prevent it, the police declined to maintain order. As George Jonas wrote, “Ottawa’s finest exemplified Canada’s definition of moral leadership by observing neutrality between lawful and lawless.” Allan Rock’s weasels attempted to defend themselves by pointing out that it was not the university but the organizers who cancelled the event. They did so because the police said they could not “guarantee security.” You’re certainly free to proceed, but, as David Warren pointed out, your liability insurance will decline to cover any damage if you go ahead against the coppers’ advice.

There seems to be rather a lot of this in the True North restrained and civil. I’m not just referring to obvious surrenders such as Caledonia, but to the bizarre episode of TVO’s The Agenda broadcast from the Munk Centre last week. No Ann Coulter around, only the finance minister of Ontario. But a Coulteresque mob rushed the stage, and the host Steve Paikin had to insert himself between protesters and the minister. “Regardless of what you thought of yesterday’s budget,” wrote Paikin, “I don’t believe guests who agree to appear on The Agenda ought to get beaten up.”

Oh, c’mon, you pussy. Where’s your commitment to social justice? As in Ottawa, law enforcement declined to enforce the law, the OPP remaining in the wings as thugs rushed the stage. “The police, I’m told, were urged not to intervene,” Paikin explained, “lest pictures of demonstrators being hauled off by the cops show up all over YouTube.”

True. You might haul off a Muslim or a lesbian and find yourself in “human rights” hell. Better just to linger nonchalantly by the side until it’s all over: O Canada, we stand around for thee. Her Majesty’s Constabulary seem to be sending the message that violence pays—at least for approved identity groups. That doesn’t seem a prudent strategy.

As for the media, they’ve long been too cowed by political correctness to do even elementary research. It took the blogger Blazing Cat Fur to discover that Fatima Al Dhaher, the poor wee thing traumatized by Ann Coulter’s camel joke at the University of Western Ontario, was a member of a Facebook group called “It’s Called Palestine Not Israel,” committed to the elimination of the Jewish state and regarding its present occupants as “subhuman” “zionazis/kikeroaches.” I have no objection to Miss Al Dhaher pursuing her extracurricular enthusiasms, but she would seem, even for Canada, too parodic a poster gal for “restraint” and “civility.”

Photograph by Chris Bolin

Still, they liked the cut of her jib over at Bernie Farber’s Canadian Jewish Congress. The CJC declared:

“Remember that old childhood adage, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’?

“Well, it wasn’t true then and it’s not true now. Name-calling does hurt…Attacks against an individual’s—or a group’s—sexuality, ethnicity, religion or culture can cut to the quick, demoralizing victims and inflicting wounds that can last a lifetime.”

You mean like “kikeroaches”? Oh, perish the thought. The CJC continued:

“Students at the University of Ottawa this week made their intolerance for intolerant attitudes quite clear when they demonstrated against scheduled speaker Ann Coulter, an American right-winger with an apparent axe to grind against just about anyone who’s not a middle-class white American.”

Actually, that’s not true. She’s a great defender of the state of Israel, for example. Whereas the students the CJC praised for shutting her down are the same crowd who organized “Israeli Apartheid Week.” Given a choice between a steadfast friend of Israel and the new and ubiquitous campus Judenhass, the CJC characteristically chose the latter. For years, Bernie Farber’s CJC has never met a state censor it didn’t like. Now, it’s extolling the virtues of mob rule. By the “Israeli Apartheid” gang. Granted that the only plausible explanation for the CJC is that it’s an Islamist front organization, you surely don’t want to make it too obvious.

That seems an appropriately logical reductio for multiculturalism: the subhuman zionazis and the Riot Against Israeli Apartheid executive committee united by their opposition to Ann Coulter. Celebrate diversity! Thus, the new Canada: intolerance is “tolerance”; mob rule is “restraint”; “kike­roaches” is “civility”; law enforcement is optional; jokes are actionable; up is down; black is white; “conflict studies” majors are rioting; Steve Paikin interviewing the Ontario finance minister on public television makes Jerry Springer interviewing transsexuals who date their ex-wives’ dads look like Jack Paar hosting Kitty Carlisle Hart; and sticks and stones may break your bones, but Rocks like Allan will issue a soothing press release. What an Olympic opening ceremony it would make.

Categories: Mark Steyn, Opinion

If We Europeanize, Europe Is in Trouble

We can’t become Europe unless someone else is willing to become America.

By Jonah Goldberg
April 9, 2010 12:00 A.M.

By now you may have heard: America is on its way to becoming another European country.

Now, by that I do not mean that we’re moving our tectonic plate off the coast of France or anything, but rather that a century-long dream of American progressives is finally looking like it might become a reality. The recently passed health-care legislation is the cornerstone of the Europeanization of America. And to pay for it, the White House is now floating the idea of imposing a value-added tax (VAT) like the ones they have throughout most of Europe.

In the egghead-o-sphere, there’s been an ongoing debate about whether America should become more like Europe. The battle lines are split almost perfectly along left-right lines ideologically. Liberals like Europe’s welfare states, unionized workforces (in and out of government), generous benefits, long vacations, etc. Conservatives like America’s economic growth, its dynamism and innovation.

From what I can tell, everyone agrees that you can’t have Europeanization without European-size governments. Hence, America’s government outlays (pre-Obama) have tended to hover around 20 percent of GDP (the average of the last 50 years), while Europe’s are often more than twice that. In France, government outlays are nearly 55 percent of GDP. In 2009, the bailout and the Obama budget sent America’s government outlays to 28 percent of GDP, but that should decline a bit over the next decade, unless Democrats have something else in mind.

To be fair, liberals insist conservatives are wrong to think that Europeanizing America will necessarily come at any significant cost. New York Times columnist and Princeton economist Paul Krugman says that, in exchange for only a tiny bit less growth, Europeans buy a whole lot of security and comfort. Economists such as Stanford’s Michael Boskin say Europeans have a standard of living about 30 percent lower than ours and are stagnating. Others note that the structural unemployment rate in Europe, particularly for young people (it’s over 20 percent in many countries), is socially devastating.

Obviously, I’m in the conservative camp. But I think the debate misses something. We can’t become Europe unless someone else is willing to become America.

Look at it this way. My seven-year-old daughter has a great lifestyle. She has all of her clothes and food bought for her. She goes on great vacations. She has plenty of leisure time. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t look at her and feel envious of how good she’s got it compared to me. But here’s the problem: If I decide to live like her, who’s going to take my place?

Europe is a free-rider. It can only afford to be Europe because we can afford to be America.

The most obvious and most cited illustration of this fact is national defense. Europe’s defense budgets have been miniscule because Europeans can count on Uncle Sam to protect them. Britain, which has the most credible military in NATO after ours, has funded its butter account with its gun account. As Mark Steyn recently noted in National Review, from 1951 to 1997 the share of British government expenditure devoted to defense fell from 24 percent to 7 percent, while the share spent on health and welfare increased from 22 percent to 53 percent. And that was before New Labour started rolling back Thatcherism. If America Europeanizes, who’s going to protect Europe? Who’s going to keep the sea lanes open? Who’s going to contain Iran — China? Okay, maybe. But then who’s going to contain China?

But that’s not the only way in which Europeans are free-riders. America invents a lot of stuff. When was the last time you used a Portuguese electronic device? How often does Europe come out with a breakthrough drug? Not often, and when they do, it’s usually because companies like Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline increasingly conduct their research here. Indeed, the top five U.S. hospitals conduct more clinical trials than all the hospitals in any other single country combined. We nearly monopolize the Nobel Prize in medicine, and we create stuff at a rate Europe hasn’t seen since da Vinci was in his workshop.

If America truly Europeanized, where would the innovations come from?

Europhiles hate this sort of talk. They say there’s no reason to expect America to lose its edge just because we have a more “compassionate” government. Americans are an innovative, economically driven people. That’s true. But so were the Europeans — once. Then they adopted the policies they have today and that liberals want us to have tomorrow.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Income tax payer an endangered species

The Orange County Register
2010-04-09 10:09:50

We are nearing the climax of "tax season." That's the problem right there, by the way: Summer should have a season, and baseball should have a season, but not tax. Happily, like candy canes and Christmas tree lights on Dec. 26, the TurboTax boxes will soon be disappearing from the display racks until the nights start drawing in, and the leaves fall from the trees and tax season begins anew in seven or eight months' time.

In this April 5, 2010 file photo, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas Shulman gestures while speaking at the National Press Club in Washington. Tax Day is a dreaded symbol of civic responsibility for millions of taxpayers, but for nearly half of all U.S. households, it's simply somebody else's problem. About 47 percent of U.S. households will pay no federal income taxes for 2009, either because their incomes were too low or because they qualified for enough credits and deductions to eliminate their tax liability, according to projections by a private research group. (AP)

And yet, for an increasing number of Americans, tax season is like baseball season: It's a spectator sport. According to the Tax Policy Center, for the year 2009 47 percent of U.S. households will pay no federal income tax. Obviously, many of them pay other kinds of taxes – state tax, property tax, cigarette tax. But at a time of massive increases in federal spending, half the country is effectively making no contribution to it, whether it's national defense or vital stimulus funding to pump monkeys in North Carolina full of cocaine (true, seriously, but don't ask me why). Half a decade back, it was just under 40 percent who paid no federal income tax; now it's just under 50 percent. By 2012, America could be holding the first federal election in which a majority of the population will be able to vote themselves more government lollipops paid for by the ever-shrinking minority of the population still dumb enough to be net contributors to the federal treasury. In less than a quarter-millennium, the American Revolution will have evolved from "No taxation without representation" to representation without taxation. We have bigger government, bigger bureaucracy, bigger spending, bigger deficits, bigger debt, and yet an ever smaller proportion of citizens paying for it.

The top 5 percent of taxpayers contribute 60 percent of revenue. The top 10 percent provide 75 percent. Another two-fifths make up the rest. And half are exempt. This isn't redistribution – a "leveling" to address the "mal-distribution" of income, as Sen. Max Baucus, D-Kleptocristan, put it the other day. It isn't even "spreading the wealth around," as then Sen. Barack Obama put it in an unfortunate off-the-prompter moment during the 2008 campaign. Rather, it's an assault on the moral legitimacy of the system. If you accept the principle of a tax on income, it might seem reasonable to exclude the very poor from having to contribute to it. But in no meaningful sense of the term can half the country be considered "poor." United States income tax is becoming the 21st century equivalent of the "jizya" – the punitive tax levied by Muslim states on their non-Muslim citizens: In return for funding the Islamic imperium, the infidels were permitted to carry on practicing their faith. Likewise, under the American jizya, in return for funding Big Government, the nonbelievers are permitted to carry on practicing their faith in capitalism, small business, economic activity and the other primitive belief systems to which they cling so touchingly.

In the Islamic world, the infidel tax base eventually wised up. You can see it literally in the landscape in rural parts of the Balkans: Christian tradesmen got fed up paying the jizya and moved out of the towns up into remote hills far from the shakedown crowd. In less mountainous terrain where it's harder to lie low, non-Muslims found it easier to convert. That's partly what drove Islamic expansion. Once Araby was all-Muslim, it was necessary to move on to the Levant, and to Persia, and to Central Asia and North Africa and India and Europe – in search of new infidels to mug. Don't worry, I'm not so invested in my analogy that I'm suggesting the Obama-Reid-Pelosi shakedown racket will be forced to invade Canada and Scandinavia. For one thing, pretty much everywhere else got with the Big Government program well ahead of America and long ago figured out all the angles: Two-thirds of French imams are on the dole. In the Stockholm suburb of Tensta, 20 percent of women in their late 40s collect disability benefits. In the United Kingdom, 5 million people – a 10th of the adult population – have not done a day's work since the New Labour government took office in 1997.

America has a ways to go to catch up with those enlightened jurisdictions, but it's on its way. Congressman Paul Ryan pointed out recently that, by 2004, 20 percent of U.S. households were getting about 75 percent of their income from the federal government. As a matter of practical politics, how receptive would they be to a pitch for lower taxes, which they don't pay, or lower government spending, of which they are such fortunate beneficiaries? How receptive would another fifth of households, who receive about 40 percent of their income from federal programs, be to such a pitch?

And what's to stop this trend? Democracy decays easily into the tyranny of the majority, in which 51 percent of voters can empty the pockets of the other 49 percent. That's why a country on the fast track to a $20 trillion national debt exempts half the population from making an even modest contribution to reducing it. And it's also why the remorseless shriveling of the tax rolls is a cancer at the heart of republican citizenship.

Pace Max Baucus, this isn't about correcting the "mal-distribution" of income. What Mal Max is up to is increasing dependency. In the newspeak of Big Government, "tax cuts" now invariably mean not reductions in the rate of income seizure but a "tax credit" reimbursed from the seizure in return for living your life the way the government wants you to. With Obamacare, we've now advanced to the next stage – "tax debits," or additional punitive confiscation if you decline to live your life in accordance with government fiat. Obamacare requires you, upon penalty of law, to make provisions for your health care that meet the approval of the state commissars. Unfortunately, as they discovered after passing it, the bill didn't provide for any enforcement mechanisms. But not to worry. The other day Douglas Shulman, commissioner for the Internal Revenue Service, announced that, if you fail to purchase the mandated health insurance, he'll simply confiscate any tax refund due to you in from your previous 12 months' employment withholding.

We are now not merely disincentivizing economic energy but actively waging war on it. If 51 percent can vote themselves government lollipops from the other 49 percent, soon, 60 percent will be shaking down the remaining 40 percent, and then 70 percent will be sticking it to the remaining 30 percent. How low can it go? When you think about it, that 53 percent of American households prop up not just this country but half the planet: They effectively pick up the defense tab for our wealthiest allies, so that Germany, Japan and others can maintain minimal militaries and lavish the savings on cradle-to-grave entitlements. A relatively tiny group of people is writing the check for the entire global order. What proportion of them would need to figure out the game's no longer worth it to bring the whole system crashing down?


Friday, April 09, 2010

Today's Tune: Drive by Truckers - Let There Be Rock

(Click on title to play video)

The Drive-By Truckers Are Not Making This Up

The Big To-Do continues their mastery of current Southern affairs

By Stephen Deusner
The Village Voice
Tuesday, Mar 16 2010

For longer than most bands have been nursing calluses on their fingers, the Drive-By Truckers have spun strange yarns about the modern South, sharpening their detailed and empathetic storytelling to bring local depth, specificity, and complexity to figures you may only know from headlines and history books, including Ronnie Van Zant, Sam Phillips, Iraq vets, and even their own kin. The centerpiece of their latest album, The Big To-Do, is "The Wig He Made Her Wear," a true-crime saga that might just be the quintessential Truckers song: straightforward on the surface, yet much like the region they evoke, squirrelly and smarter than you might expect underneath.

The song is set in the small town of Selmer, Tennessee, located about 90 miles east of Memphis and essentially no different from any other community in the region. But it's got the neighbors beat on lurid legends: Selmer is the old stomping grounds of Sheriff Buford T. Pusser, subject of three Walking Tall movies in the '70s (plus one '04 remake set in Washington State) and a three-song suite by the Truckers on 2005's The Dirty South. More recently, though, the town hosted one of the most confounding domestic crimes in recent memory. In March 2006, Matthew Winkler, the young pastor at the Fourth Street Church of Christ, was found dead on his bedroom floor, shot in the back at close range. His wife, Mary, and their three young daughters were missing. The crime startled the town and especially the congregation, who knew Matthew as an amiable family man; eventually, it came out that Mary had shot him during an argument over money (she had reportedly lost a chunk of savings to a Nigerian Internet scam) and fled with the kids to the Gulf Coast.

On "The Wig He Made Her Wear," Truckers co-frontman Patterson Hood relates this grisly tale with a subdued melody that has no use for a chorus and lyrics that are surprisingly literal, as if he's sharing lunchtime gossip over slugburgers at Pat's Café. More than just a convincing summation of facts, the song offers a moment of true Southern storytelling: As it proceeds, it becomes wilder, darker, and more outrageous, just like the Winkler trial itself. While the band hammers out a tense kudzu-noir soundtrack—full of urgent snare clicks and bent, barely contained guitar licks—Hood explains that Matthew "made her dress real slutty before they had sex," describing, in a careful deadpan, the moment when Mary's defense attorney plunked the platinum-blonde wig and hooker heels on the witness box for the whole town to see. Mary gets a suspended sentence—time served and her kids back. Savoring your shock and stealing a fry off your plate, Hood asks, Can you believe it?

The point of all this is that he's not making it up. As Southern-rock stalwarts too grittily anthropological for the success Kings of Leon currently enjoy, the Truckers have persistently pursued true stories on all their albums, stretching themselves to see the world through the eyes of people just trying to get by, whether it's a friend who committed suicide, a family member who jilted his fiancée, or Redneck Underground musician Gregory Dean Smalley playing as many shows as he can before he dies of AIDS. Their songs are a form of creative nonfiction, a craft they most famously and elegantly displayed on their 2001 double album Southern Rock Opera, which starred Lynyrd Skynyrd and former Alabama governor George Wallace.

The true strength of the Truckers' music lies in its empathy. On "The Wig"—perhaps the band's most audaciously accurate nonfiction to date—Hood never takes a side. He's less concerned with Matthew's proclivities or Mary's crimes than with the small town they hid their secrets from. He gets the specifics just right, just as he does throughout The Big To-Do, whether he's binging through "The Fourth Night of My Drinking" or listing the cities and coliseums where "The Flying Wallendas" soared toward their deaths.

It's significant that Hood is only one of three songwriters in the Truckers; Mike Cooley is more sparing with his details, but no less persuasive. His best songs here bristle with local particulars: "Birthday Boy" manages the feat of adopting a stripper's point of view without sounding patronizing or salacious, while on "Get Downtown," he play-acts the back-and-forth bickering between a woman and her shiftless, jobless husband. And though bassist Shonna Tucker may not share Hood or Cooley's lyrical sensibilities, she proves a much more stylistically sophisticated composer, dotting her two songs with hints of Detroit girl-groups and placeless noise. The South as the Truckers document and reimagine it can't be explained away with easy stereotypes, but rather emerges at the intersection of these multiple perspectives, local voices, and musical sensibilities. So order a couple more slugburgers and settle in. The Truckers have a lot more stories to tell.

The Drive-By Truckers play Webster Hall April 1

Drive-by Truckers: Reinvented again

For a band that's been around for more than a decade, there sure is a lot of new around the Drive-by Truckers.

The Athens Banner-Herald
Published Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Patterson Hood and company have a new record deal, a new keyboard player and a new space in Athens to call their own.

Even the Truckers' new album, "The Big To-Do," which comes out today, gives a new, fresh sound to a band that continues to reinvent itself.

But don't be afraid of change, Hood says. This album rocks harder than the Truckers have rocked for years.

"I think it's our most rocking album since the second act in 'Southern Rock Opera (in 2002)," said Hood, sitting deep in a leather couch inside his band's new space.

The space is a warehouse-type building in Athens where old stage backdrops hang from the ceiling. The band used it as a place to practice a little for the album and their three-night stand at the 40 Watt in January.

They never had a place to practice before here, Hood said.

"When we're putting out a new record, we get together and play it through a few times," he said. "We spent a good week or so learning the songs."

Practice isn't something DBT does often, and it probably isn't necessary. Most of the recordings on "The Big To-Do" were first or second takes with all six band members playing together.

Like the albums before it, the newest offering is produced by David Barbe using old school roll-to-roll tape. The old way still produces the best sound, Hood believes, and the live playing produces plenty of accidents that turn into something beautiful.

Hood, Mike Cooley and John Neff take turns playing lead guitar with Shonna Tucker backing them with bass. Tucker, who debuted as a singer on DBT's 2008 album, "Brighter Than Creation's Dark," also wrote and sings two songs on the new record.

"Shonna's brought a lot of soulfulness to the table; she's one of the most soulful bass players we've ever known," Hood said. "Now that she's writing and singing her songs, it's even better."

Athens local Jay Gonzales is the newest member of the band, taking over the piano-playing duties from DBT part-timer Spooner Oldham. But after playing a benefit show with him years ago, Hood knew he'd be a Trucker.

"We needed someone to be our guy, and he's incredible" Hood said. "It was just the natural thing to happen."

Perhaps it was just natural progression for DBT to swing back into full rock 'n' roll mode on "The Big To-Do." It's a step away from the swampier "Brighter Than Creation's Dark," although the trademark tales of murder, crazy relationships, drinking and dying still are prevalent.

The sound is familiar, even if the record label is new. After releasing a live and rarities album with New West in 2009, the Truckers left the Austin label for New York's ATO Records.

But don't expect any big changes in the band to please the music industry, Hood said.

"We're a very independent-minded band," he said. "We didn't get in this for the business or to get famous.

"We have our own way of doing things, and now we're doing better than the music business."

The Truckers' way may be paying off. Each record since 2004's "The Dirty South" has peaked higher on the Billboard album charts than the one before it.

"The Big To-Do" could keep that trend alive. All Hood wants is for people to hear it.

"Give it a chance," Hood said. "Listen to it, loud, maybe twice. We're an acquired taste.

"A lot of my favorite records were ones that grew on me. I think that quality's preventing us from having a quick breakthrough, but it's given us longevity."

Drive By Truckers add recession to list of woes on ATO Records' 'The Big To-Do'

Jim Farber
The Daily News
Tuesday, March 16th 2010, 4:00 AM

Drive By Truckers' new release, ATO Records' 'The Big To-Do,' adds recession to band's list of woes.

Alcoholism, murder, and everyday abuse: These are a few of the Drive By Truckers favorite things.

Yet, for this great and morbid Southern band's latest CD, "The Big To-Do," they've added a topical new woe: the lousy economy.

In a song pithily titled "This F--king Job," a guy curses his daily grind, until he gets canned and realizes that even the most soul-destroying work isn't as bad as starving to death. In "Get Downtown" a woman badgers her boyfriend about trying to get a job, while he argues back that there aren't any since they shipped them all off to places where people will work for a pittance. In "After The Scene Dies" a band has to give up its youthful dream of stardom to find any work that offers the boring necessity of health insurance.

Call these pieces "Songs of New Recession," but they hardly needed anything so au currant to seem relevant. Over the last 15 years, the Alabama-based Truckers have matched vivid, character-based tales of Southern frustration to music that mixes the snaggle-toothed grunge of Neil Young's Crazy Horse with the roiling boogie of Lynyrd Skynyrd. In fact, the Truckers' best known work (2001's "Southern Rock Opera") toasted the power and tragedy of that last named '70s band.

For "The Big To-Do," leader Paterson Hood set himself, and the band, a Dickensian task: to record 25 songs in as many days. The result gave the music both efficiency and urgency. The songs seem as fast and dirty as blogs. Yet, there's an unself-conscious poetry to them that these guys can probably tap in their sleep. It helps that, in the '60s tradition, they've got three ace singer/songwriters, including (besides Hood), Mike Cooley and Shoona Tucker.

Tucker tends to be the most terse. Her two songs center on short phrases meant to nag as well as resonate. Cooley shares Hood's interest in the kind of simple language that seems erudite by accident, as well as characters trapped by circumstance as much as their own limitations. Cooley's "Birthday Boy" details the cynical and riotous musings of a bored prostitute, while his "Eyes Like Glue" eerily mirrors Hood's "Daddy Learned To Fly." The latter, which opens the disc, takes a kid's point of view, commenting on his dad, who left the family rather than lose his soul. The former song, which closes the CD, introduces an apologetic father who knows he's screwing up his son despite his best intentions.

In between, the group make good use of their taste for blood. "Drag The Lake, Charlie" shows us a serial killer and his wife in mid-spree, while "The Wig He Made Her Wear," addresses a sexually manipulated woman who murders her preacher husband and sort of gets away with it.

It doesn't get more Southern Gothic than that. But the Truckers' art shouldn't be reduced to that cliche. Their songwriting has a universal heart, and a specificity that makes you see and feel every wound.

Nuclear Posturing, Obama Style

There is no greater spur to hyperproliferation than the furling of the American nuclear umbrella.

By Charles Krauthammer
April 9, 2010 12:00 A.M.

Nuclear doctrine consists of thinking the unthinkable. It involves making threats and promising retaliation that is cruel and destructive beyond imagining. But it has its purpose: to prevent war in the first place.

During the Cold War, we let the Russians know that if they dared use their huge conventional military advantage and invaded Western Europe, they risked massive U.S. nuclear retaliation. Goodbye Moscow.

Was this credible? Would we have done it? Who knows? No one’s ever been there. A nuclear posture is just that — a declaratory policy designed to make the other guy think twice.

Our policies did. The result was called deterrence. For half a century, it held. The Soviets never invaded. We never used nukes. That’s why nuclear doctrine is important.

The Obama administration has just issued a new one that “includes significant changes to the U.S. nuclear posture,” said Defense Secretary Bob Gates. First among these involves the U.S. response to being attacked with biological or chemical weapons.

Under the old doctrine, supported by every president of both parties for decades, any aggressor ran the risk of a cataclysmic U.S. nuclear response that would leave the attacking nation a cinder and a memory.

Again: Credible? Doable? No one knows. But the threat was very effective.

Under President Obama’s new policy, however, if the state that has just attacked us with biological or chemical weapons is “in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),” explained Gates, then “the U.S. pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against it.”

Imagine the scenario: Hundreds of thousands are lying dead in the streets of Boston after a massive anthrax or nerve-gas attack. The president immediately calls in the lawyers to determine whether the attacking state is in compliance with the NPT. If it turns out that the attacker is up to date with its latest IAEA inspections, well, it gets immunity from nuclear retaliation. Our response is then restricted to bullets, bombs, and other conventional munitions.

However, if the lawyers tell the president that the attacking state is NPT noncompliant, we are free to blow the bastards to nuclear kingdom come.

This is quite insane. It’s like saying that if a terrorist deliberately uses his car to mow down a hundred people waiting at a bus stop, the decision as to whether he gets (a) hanged or (b) 100 hours of community service hinges entirely on whether his car had passed emissions inspections.

Apart from being morally bizarre, the Obama policy is strategically loopy. Does anyone believe that North Korea or Iran will be more persuaded to abjure nuclear weapons because they could then carry out a biological or chemical attack on the U.S. without fear of nuclear retaliation?

The naïveté is stunning. Similarly stunning is the Obama pledge to forswear development of any new nuclear warheads — indeed, to permit no replacement of aging nuclear components without the authorization of the president himself. This under the theory that our moral example will move other countries to eschew nukes.

On the contrary. The last quarter-century — the time of greatest superpower nuclear-arms reduction — is precisely when Iran and North Korea went hellbent into the development of nuclear weapons.

It gets worse. The administration’s Nuclear Posture Review declares U.S. determination to “continue to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks.” The ultimate aim is to get to a blanket doctrine of no first use.

This is deeply worrying to the many small nations that for half a century relied on the extended U.S. nuclear umbrella to keep them from being attacked or overrun by far more powerful neighbors. When smaller allies see the United States determined to move inexorably away from that posture — and for them it’s not posture, but existential protection — what are they to think?

Fend for yourself. Get yourself your own WMDs. Go nuclear if you have to. Do you imagine they are not thinking that in the Persian Gulf?

This administration seems to believe that by restricting retaliatory threats and by downplaying our reliance on nuclear weapons, it is discouraging proliferation.

But the opposite is true. Since World War II, smaller countries have agreed to forgo the acquisition of deterrent forces — nuclear, biological, and chemical — precisely because they placed their trust in the firmness, power, and reliability of the American deterrent.

Seeing America retreat, they will rethink. And some will arm. There is no greater spur to hyperproliferation than the furling of the American nuclear umbrella.

— Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2010, The Washington Post Writers Group.

Is Wilders Wrong About Islam?

Posted by Moorthy Muthuswamy on Apr 9th, 2010

The recent criticism of Geert Wilders’ views on Islam by the leading lights of the conservative movement has created much indignation and surprise in certain quarters.

If conservative analysts with strong national security credentials couldn’t be convinced of Islam’s threat, getting the point across to the centrist politicians who define and execute policy will indeed be even tougher.

In a particularly striking criticism of Wilders, conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer asserts that “What he [Geert Wilders] says is extreme, radical, and wrong. He basically is arguing that Islam is the same as Islamism. Islamism is an ideology of a small minority which holds that the essence of Islam is jihad, conquest, forcing people into accepting a certain very narrow interpretation [of Islam]. The untruth of that is obvious.”

Without commenting on the merits of Dr. Krauthammer’s critique, it is pertinent to note that it is his opinion. This is true of Geert Wilder’s reasoned views on Islam as well. After all, both have not quoted any scientific study to back their assertions.

If Islam is a threat as some claim, what would it take to persuade that certain fundamental attributes of Islam enshrine it a violent ideology of conquest? The key to settling what Islam stands for is to let science, not opinion, dictate the debate. This is reality crystallized by an analogy:
There was a time when a male lion was seen as an embodiment of a great and dominant hunter of a pride. This perception reflected the majority of opinions at a certain time. However, various studies conducted in ensuing years told a different story: that female lions were the real hunters of a pride. That is, statistics of female lions hunting for their pride dominated the overall hunting pattern of a pride. These statistics put to rest the specific question of who hunted the most in a pride. In fact, these statistics form the definitive scientific basis of these studies.

More than a few Muslims have claimed that they engage in jihad (a religious war waged to advance the cause of Islam at the expense of unbelievers) because Islamic scriptures command them to do so. Even nations representing Muslim communities—Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran—have taken to sponsoring jihad worldwide, on the basis of the scriptures. There are widely varying opinions on the root cause of this—the dominant one is that the relevant Islamic scriptures have been misinterpreted. As with the discussion of the lions, a corresponding scientific query would be to find out the extent or the statistics of dislike of unbelievers and their conquest in the Islamic doctrines.

Recently, Bill Warner of the Center for the Study of Political Islam has carried out a groundbreaking statistical analysis of Islamic doctrines. I summarize his studies by noting that about sixty-one percent of the contents of the Koran are found to speak ill of unbelievers or call for their violent conquest; at best only 2.6 percent of the verses of the Koran are noted to show goodwill toward humanity. Moreover, about seventy five percent of Muhammad’s biography (Sira) consists of jihad waged on unbelievers.

While there might be some subjectivity to the above analysis, the overwhelming thrust of the inferences should be noted. This overall thrust exposes the sheer absurdity of excusing the Koran-inspired terror on the so-called “selective interpretation” of the Muslim holy book or its “verses being taken out of context.”

The burden of scientific or statistical evidence suggests that Islam is an intolerant religion that drives its followers toward a violent conquest of unbelievers. If such is the thrust of the Islamic doctrines, their propagation would lead to increased violence directed at non-Muslims. Indeed, rise in Muslim extremism of the past decades is directly correlated with hundreds of billions of dollars spent by government-linked Saudi charities to “propagate” Islam worldwide.

Not surprisingly, even in the modern context, manifestations of Islamic supremacy and conquest are the norm, rather than the exception. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden outlined a condition for terror attacks against America to cease: “I invite you to embrace Islam.” During the past sixty years most non-Muslim minorities—tens of millions—in all Muslim-majority regions of South Asia were terrorized into leaving for nearby non-Muslim-majority lands. All of this points to conquering land and people for Islam.

America’s policy approach to the Muslim world has been clouded by misrepresentations of Islam’s character. For instance, in one of the most important foreign policy initiatives of his presidency, in the now-famous Cairo speech, Obama observed that “[America and Islam] overlap, and share common principles—principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

We are left with the grim reality that at the fundamental level America’s policies toward the Muslim world are based on false premises—and hence, are untenable. This reality must be acknowledged widely before alternate policies can be devised.

We live in the era of science that has brought unprecedented security, development, health and prosperity. Yet, we have allowed opinions to dictate debate and policy on an existential threat. The importance of letting science drive policy couldn’t be clearer on the subject of Islamic radicalism.

The writer is a U.S.-based nuclear physicist and author of the book Defeating Political Islam: The New Cold War. His email is

Thursday, April 08, 2010

POTUS Says: Jihad Is Only a Figment of Our Imagination

By Phyllis Chesler
April 7th, 2010 3:32 pm

Earlier today, Matt Apuzzo, of the Associated Press, led me straight down the rabbit-hole when he wrote that:

“President Barack Obama’s advisers will remove religious terms such as ‘Islamic extremism’ from the central document outlining the U.S. national security strategy and will use the rewritten document to emphasize that the United States does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terror, counterterrorism officials said.”

Say what?

Hasn’t the American State Department learned that we are not at war with “terrorism,” but with “political Islam”? Which is not just a religion, but is also a political, economic, social, and military game plan?

Alright, trying to turn a diplomatic corner, trying a different approach, is understandable as long as we carefully distinguish “Islamism” from Islam. If this document utterly sugar-coats reality then we are, indeed, in deep and lasting trouble. I know that many activists believe that Islam is rotten at the core; that it is, by nature, militantly jihadic, expansionist, xenophobic, and barbaric. But I also know many Muslims who, whether they are secular or religious, describe another kind of Islam entirely, one that is spiritual, ethical, and essentially peaceful. These people believe that their version, or their own lived experience of Islam, has been hijacked, perverted, by “Islamists.” And that Westerners have collaborated with Islamists, have allowed them to become “gatekeepers” who keep the Muslim moderates out of the State Department, for example, and who alone certify who can become a Muslim chaplain in the American military.

I’ve been reading an excellent and important book on this very subject, just out, edited by Dr. Zeyno Baran: The Other Muslims. Moderate and Secular. Many of the contributors carefully distinguish between “Islamism” and Islam, and indeed, describe chilling and important examples of how the Muslim Brotherhood, increasingly funded by Saudi Wahhabi-Salafi oil money, has penetrated the West and has managed to silence the moderate Muslims. The original articles have been written by Muslim scholars, physicians, lawyers, and feminist activists, who grew up in Algeria, Iran, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Turkey and who now live in Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, and the United States.

They know what they are talking about.

It is crucial to name reality properly. Otherwise, nothing exists, everything is the same, everything is no-thing.

Yes, our State Department wants to reach out to moderates in Muslim countries. However, it will find that many outspoken moderates are living in exile in the West. They will find others in jail, under siege, or censored, in Muslim countries. My suggestion: I urge President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to start cultivating truly moderate and anti-Islamist Muslims as advisors. And to stop relying upon Islamists for advice.

The End of History and the Last Pope

By on 4.8.10 @ 6:09AM
The American Spectator

Post-Enlightenment liberalism has long regarded the Catholic Church as the last obstacle to its final triumph. The Enlightenment-era French dilettante Denis Diderot spoke of strangling the last priest with the "guts of the last king."

The ceaseless attacks on Pope Benedict XVI over the last few weeks form the most recent scene in this historical drama. Unlike Napoleon, today's forces of secularization can't imprison a pope. Well, at least not yet; Christopher Hitchens is working on this, calling for the European Union to seize Benedict's traveling papers. But they can strangle him politically and culturally. That his popularity poll numbers have apparently dipped below those of the most inane and rancid celebrities testifies to this perverse power.

Bill Keller, New York Times Executive Editor

The children of Diderot at the New York Times understand the secularist Enlightenment project very well. Its executive editor, Bill Keller, telegraphed this in a 2002 column.

Since he wrote the column before he was promoted to editor, he didn't bother to hide his anti-Catholic bigotry with circumspect throat-clearing. He described himself as a "collapsed Catholic" -- "well beyond lapsed." He affected a false modesty about this, saying that for this reason he claims "no voice in whom the church ordains or how it prays or what it chooses to call a sin." But of course he does claim that voice -- and thinks all should obey it.

He made it clear that he was rooting for "reforms" that would reduce Catholicism to a captive of modern liberalism: "…the struggle within the church is interesting as part of a larger struggle within the human race, between the forces of tolerance and absolutism."

In that one sentence lies the whole subtext to the paper's campaign against Pope Benedict in the last few weeks. The Holy Father represents for Keller and Dowd and Goodstein the hated "forces of absolutism" that the tolerant and enlightened think themselves called by history to stop.

For an elite drunk on its own enlightenment, the ends will always justify the means against religion. So what, Keller figured, if my reporters could only come up with straining, half-baked pieces that cast fragments of information about Benedict in the worst possible light? Let's run them anyways, so that the forces of tolerance can triumph over the forces of absolutism!

And if it turns out that the forces of tolerance are largely responsible for mishandling these abuse cases (the ousted homosexual Archbishop Rembert Weakland, the subject of flattering profiles over the years in the New Yorker and New York Times, is the person most responsible for dereliction in the Milwaukee case the Times claims to find so outrageous), well, let's blame it on Benedict anyways. He could have done more!

In that 2002 column, Keller oozed contempt for the Church, speaking of the hierarchy as "aging celibates" (imagine Keller ever writing an equivalent sentence about imams) who refused to embrace the "equality of women, abortion on demand, and gay rights."

Keller had little use for Pope John Paul II, whom he likened to an authoritarian Communist:

One paradox of the Polish pope is that while he is rightly revered for helping bring down the godless Communists, he has replicated something very like the old Communist Party in his church. Karol Wojtyla has shaped a hierarchy that is intolerant of dissent, unaccountable to its members, secretive in the extreme and willfully clueless about how people live. The Communists mouthed pieties about ''social justice'' and the rule of the working class while creating a corrupt dictatorship of bureaucrats….

…like the Communists, John Paul has carefully constructed a Kremlin that will be inhospitable to a reformer. He has strengthened the Vatican equivalent of the party Central Committee, called the Curia, and populated it with reactionaries. He has put a stamp of papal infallibility on the issue of ordaining women, making it more difficult for a successor to come to terms with the issue. He has trained bishops that the path of advancement is obsequious obedience to himself. Alarmed by priests who showed too much populist sympathy for their parishioners, the pope, according to the Notre Dame historian R. Scott Appleby, has turned seminaries into factories of conformity, begetting a generation of inflexible young priests who have no idea how to talk to real-life Catholics.

Of course, if John Paul II had been a real Communist like Alger Hiss or Van Jones, Keller wouldn't have talked about him so scathingly. But any stick would do at the time and the Communist analogy appealed to his imagination at the moment. Notice that these days the opportunistic complaint from the Keller-led Times is not that the Church is too authoritarian but that it is too lax. Apparently, it is not autocratic after all. The paper can't decide if Benedict is a Rottweiler or lap dog.

Upon his election, the Times called him "hard line" and "divisive." Now he is soft and clubby. But imagine if Benedict did govern the Church like the autocrat of Keller's imagination, sweeping down to sack every derelict bishop and corrupt priest across the globe, the Times would be the first to engage in ACLU-style whining about the lack of due process, etc., etc. In fact, when he issued his renewal of the Church's ban on the ordination of homosexuals in the first year of his pontificate -- a ban which the "forces of tolerance" within the Church had suspended for decades, a factor contributing greatly to the abuse scandal -- the Times was the first to object.

"How many divisions does the Pope have?" secularists, inspired by Stalin, used to scoff. The Pope, as they know, enjoys no such power, yet in recent weeks they have acted as if he had a military and police at his disposal which he simply refused to use against abusers.

It is the "forces of tolerance" which command the divisions, and they will continue to march through history, displaying all the tolerance of French Revolutionaries as they look forward to that final moment when the last priest can be strangled with the guts of the last pope.

topics: New York Times, Catholic Church

George Neumayr is editor of Catholic World Report and press critic for California Political Review.

GM's big turnaround at the federal trough

By George F. Will
The Washington Post
Thursday, April 8, 2010; A21

The times truly are out of joint when the most important IPO -- initial public offering -- of 2010 could come from what was American capitalism's iconic corporation for most of its 102 years. Andrew Bary, writing in Barron's, says General Motors "may go public in the second half of this year, and its stock-market value could top $50 billion, more than Ford's $40 billion." Italic

2010 Chevrolet Camaro

This is justice under today's state capitalism: Ford took on $23.6 billion in debt to avoid becoming dependent on Washington, whereas GM shed much of its debt by becoming dependent. Washington, Bary explains, turned most of its $50 billion loan to GM into 60.8 percent ownership, the United Auto Workers got 17.5 percent for forgoing a $20 billion health-care claim against the company, and Canada's government got an 11.7 percent stake for $9 billion.

Detroit's long drive down the crumbling road to disaster is chronicled in "Crash Course" by Paul Ingrassia, formerly of the Wall Street Journal. It is a story of the hubris of a corporate oligopoly and the myopia of a union monopoly.

When Henry Ford said people could have his cars in any color they wanted as long as it was black, the actual name of the color was, portentously, "Japan black enamel." But in 1927, GM hired Harley Earl, whose father designed custom cars for Hollywood stars, to head its Art and Color Section, a harbinger of Detroit's emphasis on cars as "visual entertainment" -- Earl's phrase -- rather than on the technological improvements Japanese automakers would come to emphasize.

Enchanted by stabilizer fins on World War II P-38 fighter planes, Earl put tail fins on 1948 Cadillacs. By 1959 the fins were almost as high as the car's roof. The chrome protrusions Earl put on Cadillacs' front bumpers were at first supposed to project power by resembling artillery shells. Soon, Ingrassia writes, they were nicknamed "dagmars," after the breasts of a television starlet.

But in 1959, an ad showing a Volkswagen Beetle in front of a suburban home asked, "What year car do the Jones drive?"

This, Ingrassia says, "took direct aim at annual styling changes, which lay at the very heart of Detroit's business model."

When Lee Iacocca ran Chrysler, it spent $2 million on gold-plated faucets and other trimmings at the company's suite at the Waldorf. Even in the late 1980s, GM had segregation by rank in the "salaried men's rest room" and the "hourly men's rest room." Still, the UAW hourly workers flourished.

In 1970, a 67-day strike against GM won, Ingrassia reports, "the company's 400,000 hourly workers (triple what the Big Three's combined total would be 40 years later) a 30 percent wage hike over the next three years." Soon thereafter, workers could retire at any age with a full pension after 30 years on the job. "If the retiree lived to be 79 or older," Ingrassia writes, "he or she would spend more years drawing a full pension than actually working."

Those still working did so under rules so complex that the table of contents of the contract was almost 20 pages long. Other autoworkers were unenthralled by such UAW triumphs: In 1986, the UAW abandoned its attempt to unionize Honda's Marysville, Ohio, plant by secret-ballot plebiscite. It did not have the votes. Today, organized labor wants "card check" organizing so it can dispense with secret ballots.

By the turn of this century, GM was being kept afloat by its financing arm, GMAC, which was deeply into subprime mortgages. Ingrassia dryly notes: "Some GM dealers in Southern California were taken aback when customers bristled at being asked to fill out a GMAC credit report for a car loan. They hadn't needed a detailed credit report to get a mortgage from GMAC on their new home."

Studebaker shut down in 1966, and American Motors was absorbed by Chrysler in 1987. But compassionate government has stopped the Darwinian culling of the herd.

When Washington bailed out Chrysler in the late 1970s, Alan Greenspan, then a Wall Street consultant, said the danger was not that the rescue would fail but that it would work, thereby whetting Washington's appetite for interventions. The bailout "worked" in that the government made money from it and Chrysler survived to be rescued 30 years later by an administration that, as a wit has said, can imagine the world without the internal combustion engine but not without Chrysler.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Karzai Fiasco

Echoes of Vietnam in a spat that only helps the Taliban.

The Wall Street Journal
APRIL 7, 2010

President Obama isn't faring too well at converting enemies to friends, but he does seem to have a talent for turning friends into enemies. The latest spectacle is the all-too-public and counterproductive war of words between the White House and our putative ally, Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The only winner so far in this spat is the Taliban.

The Obama Administration seems to have had it out for Mr. Karzai from the day it took office, amid multiple reports based on obvious U.S. leaks that Vice President Joe Biden or some other official had told the Afghan leader to shape up. The tension escalated after Mr. Karzai's tainted but ultimately recognized re-election victory last year, and it reached the name-calling stage late last month when President Obama met Mr. Karzai on a trip to Kabul and the White House let the world know that the American had lectured the Afghan about his governing obligations.

European Pressphoto Agency
Afghan President Hamid Karzai

The public rebuke was a major loss of face for Mr. Karzai, who later returned fire at the U.S., reportedly even saying at a private meeting that if the Americans kept it up, he might join the Taliban. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs kept up the schoolyard taunts yesterday by suggesting that Mr. Obama might not meet with Mr. Karzai as scheduled in Washington on May 12.

"We certainly would evaluate whatever continued or further remarks President Karzai makes, as to whether it is constructive to have that meeting," said Mr. Gibbs, in a show of disdain he typically reserves for House Republicans.

The kindest word for all of this is fiasco. American troops are risking their lives to implement a counterinsurgency strategy that requires winning popular support in Afghanistan, and the main message from America's Commander in Chief to the Afghan people is that their government can't be trusted. That ought to make it easier to win hearts and minds.

Mr. Karzai has been disappointing as a nation-builder, has tolerated corrupt officials and family members, and can be arrogant and crudely nationalistic. Presumably, however, Mr. Obama was well aware of these defects last year when he recognized the Afghan election results and then committed 20,000 more U.S. troops to the theater.

You go to war with the allies you have, and it's contrary to any diplomatic principle to believe that continuing public humiliation will make Mr. Karzai more likely to cooperate. On the evidence of the last week, such treatment has only given the Afghan leader more incentive to make a show of his political independence from the Americans.

All the more so given that Mr. Karzai has already heard Mr. Obama promise that U.S. troops will begin leaving Afghanistan as early as July 2011. This shouting spectacle will also embolden the Taliban, who after being run out of Marjah have every reason to tell the citizens of Kandahar that even the Americans don't like the Afghan government and are short-timers in any case.

This treatment of an ally eerily echoes the way the Kennedy Administration treated Ngo Dinh Diem, the President of South Vietnam in the early 1960s. On JFK's orders, U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge refused to meet with Diem, and when U.S. officials got word of a coup against Diem they let it be known they would not interfere. Diem was executed, and South Vietnam never again had a stable government.

By contrast, President George W. Bush decided to support and work closely with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during the 2007 U.S. military surge in Iraq. The Maliki government was sectarian and sometimes incompetent, and some of its officials were no doubt corrupt, but Mr. Bush understood that the larger goal was to defeat al Qaeda and to stabilize the country. From FDR to Reagan, Presidents of both parties have had to tolerate allied leaders of varying talents and unsavory qualities in the wartime pursuit of more important foreign-policy goals.

Coming on the heels of the U.S. public chastisement of Israel's government, the larger concern over the Karzai episode is what it reveals about Mr. Obama's diplomatic frame of mind. With adversaries, he is willing to show inordinate patience, to the point of muffling his objections when opposition blood ran in the streets of Tehran. With allies, on the other hand, the President is unforgiving and insists they follow his lead or face his public wrath. The result will be that our foes fear us less, and that we have fewer friends.

How Much Taxation Is Enough?

by Jonah Goldberg
April 7, 2010

Congratulations! This is your last week working for the man -- at least for this year. The Tax Foundation calculates that Tax Freedom Day for 2010 is April 9, which means that by Friday, Americans will have spent nearly 100 days working just to pay their taxes. If Democrats have their way, Tax Freedom Day will keep getting later and later.

Hold that thought. Imagine for a moment that Tax Freedom Day was Dec. 31. In other words, picture working 365 days a year for the government. Now, the government would "give" you a place to sleep, food to eat and clothes to wear, but all your income would really be Washington's income to allocate as it saw fit. Some romantics might call this sort of arrangement "socialism" or "communism." But another perfectly good word for it is "slavery," or, if you prefer, involuntary servitude.

No one is proposing any such arrangement. But it's an important point conceptually. A 100 percent tax rate would be tyrannical not just because you have a right to own what you create, but because the government would necessarily decide what you can and can't have. Reasonable people can of course differ about where a tax rate becomes tyrannical, and we're far from that line in historical terms. But any amount of taxation can be unjust if it is being used for bad reasons, is applied discriminatorily or if it's taken without representation. (That's how the American Revolution started, after all.)

Individual liberty is far from the only concern, either. The kind of country we want to be is deeply bound up in taxation. The Tax Foundation estimates that some 60 percent of American families already get more from the government than they pay in taxes (and the top 10 percent of earners pay more than 70 percent of the income taxes). If all of President Obama's plans are enacted, that percentage will increase. We are heading toward being a country where instead of the people deciding how much money the government should have, the government decides how much money the people should have.

Only after they passed "ObamaCare" did Democrats clarify that this was one of their motives. ObamaCare's appeal has less to do with saving money -- which it won't do -- and more to do with spreading the wealth around. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., recently admitted that alleviating the "maldistribution of income in America" from the haves to the have-nots is one of the legislation's real benefits.

Of course, this will fuel the national debt, which has soared on both parties' watches ($12 trillion now and heading for $20 trillion in a decade), choking liberty in another way. We are levying tax obligations for generations to come. Our grandchildren didn't have much representation in that taxation.

There's also the simple fact that taxes impede growth, and low economic growth curtails the pursuit of happiness for everyone. Democrats are increasingly skeptical about this transcendently obvious point because they have convinced themselves that since government is better than the private sector when it comes to spending money wisely, it only makes sense to take money from the dumb private sector and let the smart government sector decide what to do with it. Well, no matter how dumb America's wealth-creators might be, they're smart enough to respond to incentives and disincentives. Indeed, since 1950, no matter where their tax rates have been, from as low as 28 percent to as high as 91 percent, the government's take has held at about 19.5 percent of GDP, suggesting that squeezing taxpayers harder doesn't necessarily yield more juice.

Personally, I have never understood liberalism's blind spot for liberty when it comes to taxation. A 24-hour waiting period before a teenager can have an abortion is an allegedly grotesque violation of individual freedom, but a federal government that takes vast amounts of your money -- the means by which you exercise your every freedom -- to distribute as it sees fit is "progressive"? The USA Patriot Act, whose threat to privacy was somewhere between entirely theoretical and nonexistent for the overwhelming majority of Americans, shocked the liberal conscience. But our income tax system -- made idiotically complex by both parties -- that demands countless hours of preparation and requires law-abiding citizens to reveal (and document!) many of their most private decisions to government inspectors every year is "reasonable." Yet many liberals even think complaining about this is a sign of right-wing dementia.

Now, under ObamaCare, the IRS is going to branch out into the field of health care, enforcing mandates and collecting fees. Perhaps it's not entirely paranoid to fear that this will make the IRS's past intrusions of proctological exactitude even less metaphorical.

I bring this up because many in the Democratic Party and in the news media have a hard time understanding what the "Tea Party" crowd is talking about when it complains of incipient tyranny and intrusive government. This might be why much of the media keep making up motives for the tea partiers rather than taking them at their word (as when a CNN reporter told viewers that the tea parties were driven by "anti-CNN" passions). Again, reasonable people can disagree with where the line between necessary taxation and injustice lies. But the line exists. Tax Freedom Day is going to come later and later, no matter what. Maybe we should figure out now where on the calendar we should mark down that line.

- Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online.

The bad-nukes myth

New York Post
April 7, 2010

Nuclear weapons are not evil. Terrifying, yes. But their horrific capabilities prevented a Third World War. It all depends on whose finger is on the button.

Until yesterday's formal announcement of the administration's new Nuclear Posture Review, nukes also kept us safe from a range of threats short of a doomsday scenario: Our enemies risked going only so far. Nukes didn't prevent all wars -- but wars remained local.

Yesterday, we threw away a significant part of history's most successful deterrent.

This looks like an act of reckless vanity on the part of the administration, but let's allow that this weakening of our national defense is the result of misguided idealism. The important thing isn't the politics, but the practical consequences.

Summarizing the changes in a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates looked weary and chastened. The new posture emerged only after months of bitter argument between realists and activists. Without Gates, it would have been even worse.

Still, it must be painful to Gates -- a great American -- to accept that this policy went into effect on his watch.

Of all its malignant provisions, from accomodating Russian demands to preventing overdue updates for our arsenal, the most worrisome is the public declaration that, if the US suffers a biological, chemical or massive cyber attack, we will not respond with nukes.

This is a very real -- and unilateral -- weakening of our national security. In the past, our ambiguity made our enemies hesitate. The new policy guarantees that they'll intensify their pursuit of bugs, gas and weaponized computers.

Intending to halt a nuclear arms race, we've fired the starter pistol for a rush to develop alternative weapons of mass destruction.

Will this policy be the inspiration for an engineered plague that someday scythes through humankind? Chemical attacks are horrible, but local; cyber attacks are potentially devastating. But an innovative virus unleashed on the world could do what Cold War nuclear arsenals never did: Kill hundreds of millions.

This change leaves us far less safe. If a thug has a knife, but knows you're packing a gun, he's considerably less likely to attack you. Why promise him that you won't use the gun -- and might not use your knife?

Idealism has devolved into madness.

The left has never been willing to accept that deterrence works. In the left's world-view, hostile foreign actors aren't the problem. We are. If we disarm, surely they will . . .

This no-nukes obsession dates back to the early Cold War, when the Soviets used every available means, from dollars to earnest dupes, to persuade Western leftists that America's nuclear weapons were about to wipe out humanity. The USSR couldn't expand its European empire in the face of US nukes -- so the Soviets brilliantly portrayed us as the aggressors. (And the left praised Stalin as a man of peace.)

Massive ban-the-bomb demonstrations filled Western streets for decades (but not the streets behind the Iron Curtain). The left rejected deterrence as a security model.

The seeds sown by the deceased USSR put down durable roots. Pursuing a nuke-free world became a litmus test for the left.

Now we have a president who's taken on that goal as his personal grail. He's absolutely right that nukes have horrifying power -- but the paradox of deterrence is that, the more monstrous the weapons you possess, the less likely you are to ever need to employ them.

The new policy won't stop Iran and other rogue states from pursuing nukes (even though Iran and North Korea were singled out as policy exceptions). But it will accelerate the proliferation of other weapons of mass destruction. And it certainly won't reduce the probability of war.

It will also ensure that our aging arsenal will have to be content with a few Band-Aids; that we won't develop new, safer nuclear weapons -- and that we'll increasingly have to rely on the kindness of strangers.

Idealists just invited the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to ride a little closer.

Ralph Peters' new book is "Endless War."

Thoughts on Allies Gone By

[Victor Davis Hanson]
Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Whatever the protestations of the Obama administration, many in both Britain and Israel feel that 2009–10 marked a watershed, the beginning of an era in which America was no longer a special friend to either whether gauged by serial symbolic snubs or real policy differences on things like Jerusalem and the Falklands.

Why does this matter, other than that it is stupid for a country to treat old friends like belligerents and old belligerents like friends?

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in Quebec, Canada (September 12, 1944).

In the case of Britain, history resonates. Over the last century it was Britain that, sometimes alone, defended liberal constitutional government, whether from Prussian militarism or the hydra of fascism, Nazism, and Japanese militarism. It was always a reliable partner in the Cold War, and aside from normal periodic spats was a loyal ally in most of America’s postwar fights. We forget sometimes the courageous record of the British in Korea, or their lonely alliance with us in Iraq. Note that this is all apart from the British role in general in the shaping of Western liberal political history, and in particular the protocols and values that underlie so much of the American experiment, from a common language to a rich heritage of literature and thought. For an American president to be woefully ignorant of all that, and why it should count, is nothing short of unbelievable.

Obama is equally clueless about why, for a half-century at least, both Republican and Democratic presidents have forged a second special relationship, this one with Israel. There certainly were not always strategic advantages in doing so, given the Arab world’s vast petroleum reserves, its huge size and population in comparison to tiny Israel, and the global fear, first, of rampant Soviet-inspired Palestinian terrorism, and, subsequently, its radical Islamic epigone.

Instead, the United States again, keen to both history and values took on the special defense of the Jewish state for a variety of principled considerations that went well beyond the concerns of Jewish Americans. We understood the long history of anti-Semitism and how, when freely expressed and practiced without objection, it devolves into pogroms and its ultimate nightmare in the Holocaust. We acknowledged the role of Judaism in the foundation of the Western Judaeo-Christian religious experience. And the American public was impressed that a tiny country without natural resources was able not only to survive in a sea of hostility, but to do so under the aegis of consensual government and an open society.

Last, such special consideration for Israel was predicated on some ugly realities. Most of the autocratic world, and some of the contemporary West, simply mask personal prejudice and realpolitik with a postmodern veneer of fashionable multicultural sympathy for the “other” despite the illiberal and often fascistic tendencies of both radical Islam and Arab dictatorship that so galvanize most of Israel’s Middle Eastern enemies. But when the U.S stood by Israel, there was a sort of equilibrium established.

The United Nations knew that nearly half of its resolutions aimed at Israel would come under fire from the United States. We would bite back in New York at the fiery speeches of an extremist like Arafat or Qaddafi. The Arab summits accepted that yet another pan-Arabic resolution damning the Jewish state would go nowhere in convincing the West to drop its alliance. And European triangulators accepted that their flagrant dislike of Israel would always encounter American resistance.

The net result, again, was that Israel’s front-line enemies, whether terrorists or state autocracies, accepted that it was futile to try to destroy Israel, and difficult to galvanize world opinion to turn it into a global pariah.

Now, however, the Obama administration through its symbolic snubs and choice of personnel, and through real policies concerning Jerusalem has sent a message to Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Iran, the United Nations, and the European Left that America is no longer particularly interested in playing its traditional role in defending Israel either intellectually or politically and thus perhaps soon not through military assistance either. That will only encourage new adventurism, as a mostly opportunistic world rushes to pile on, at first rhetorically, but soon through material action and global indifference to Israel’s fate.

The origins of Obama’s apparent distaste for both Britain and Israel have been explored, but why the party of Truman and JFK abetted his transformation of American foreign policy is a more complex, but equally disheartening, matter.

04/07 02:00 PM Share

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Lift Up Your Hearts

What Pope John Paul II taught the world.

By Newt Gingrich and Callista Gingrich
April 6, 2010 4:00 A.M.

Following Pope John Paul II’s death five years ago, the world prayerfully reflected on a life that had transformed the lives of millions of people worldwide.

Today, the world continues to reflect on the life of Pope John Paul II because his teaching and his actions point the way forward to building a future worthy of man.

How best to serve our fellow man? This is the timeless challenge of both political and religious leaders, but it was Pope John Paul II who most resolutely taught the world, religious and non-religious alike, that a future worthy of man must be rooted in recognition of the incomparable dignity of the human person and a commitment on behalf of the human person.

From his election in October 1978, Pope John Paul II constantly preached that it was only through an understanding of Jesus Christ that man could fully understand his great dignity — the dignity of the human person — and therefore no country anywhere in the world had a right to separate man from the pursuit of knowing and loving God.

This demand for freedom of faith had powerful social and political implications.

When the Pope preached this message in June 1979 in Warsaw’s Victory Square, on an altar with the backdrop of a 50-foot cross, 1 million of his fellow Poles responded in affirmation with 14 minutes of applause, interrupted by singing in one voice: “Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat” (“Christ Conquers, Christ Reigns, Christ Governs”). In an officially atheistic country, the Polish people dramatically bore witness that God, not the state, was sovereign.

Later in the same homily, when the Pope recalled the great sacrifices made by the Poles during the Warsaw Uprising, the people responded by singing an old Polish song, “We Want God.”

It became evident to us in working on our new documentary film about the Pope’s 1979 pilgrimage to Poland — Nine Days that Changed the World — that the Pope’s bedrock insistence on the freedom to pursue God, the freedom to “want God,” proved too much for the Communist system to bear.

Ten years later, the system slowly collapsed. It started on June 4, 1989, with the Polish elections that resulted in a Solidarity-led government. Then, on Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Finally, on Dec. 25, 1991, the Communist hammer-and-sickle flag was lowered over the Kremlin for the last time, signaling the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

But the history of the 1980s shows that the political freedom won by the Polish people was not due merely to the Poles’ expanded freedom to pursue God. No, it was also due to the Poles’ actual pursuit of God.

Freedom for faith was a necessary precondition, but the Polish people ultimately achieved freedom through faith, inspired by the courageous witness of Pope John Paul II and a countless number of his fellow Poles.

Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly on Oct. 5, 1995, Pope John Paul II reflected on what contributed to the revolutions of 1989:

A decisive factor in the success of those non-violent revolutions was the experience of social solidarity: In the face of regimes backed by the power of propaganda and terror, that solidarity was the moral core of the “power of the powerless,” a beacon of hope and an enduring reminder that it is possible for man’s historical journey to follow a path which is true to the finest aspirations of the human spirit.

This message of solidarity was given powerful voice by Pope John Paul II during his first pilgrimage to Poland in June 1979. In Victory Square, he said the Polish nation could not understand itself if it rejected its 1,000-year community rooted in Christ. He prayed that Christ would not cease to be an open book for the future life of Poland.

This prayer did not go unanswered, as Poland indeed became, in the words of the Pope, “the land of a particularly responsible witness” — with global repercussions.

Millions of Poles turned out to see the Pope in person during the 1979 pilgrimage and subsequent visits. Young people joined burgeoning Christian renewal movements like Oasis, which offered a needed island of resistance — a foundation of Christian community — against the desert of the Communist state. One by one, hearts were transformed. Millions of Poles made individual decisions that they would no longer make compromises with the daily lies of life under Communism. Oasis founder Father Franciszek Blachnicki urged Poles to overcome their fears and challenge the Communist regime by “living in the truth.”

A critical experience of solidarity occurred during the August 1980 strikes in Gdansk. At a very intense moment in the early days of the strike, workers arranged for a Mass to be said within the shipyard for the very first time. Zenon Kwoka recalled that day: “Permission for Mass in shipyard was breakthrough in my opinion. Something incredible happened, because all of the city arrived for that Mass and stood at the closed gate. The front of altar was directed to the shipyard and at its back was the shipyard’s main gate. Delegates and shipyard workers stood at one side, at the other side were people of Gdansk. All of the people sang religious songs and there was a kind of duet. There was an incredible feeling. I never experienced anything like that before. During Mass, that stress disappeared and many workers around me cried. During Mass, people got rid of fear.”

For some, the call to live a particularly responsible witness led to martyrdom. Father Jerzy Popieluszko was a Solidarity chaplain murdered by Polish Communist secret-service officers in October 1984 because he dared to remind his fellow Poles that their first duty is to God and not to the state. His challenge to Communist authority was too much for a totalitarian system that could not tolerate dissent.

In June 2009, 30 years after Pope John Paul II’s first pilgrimage to Poland, the mayor of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz — in the presence of the president of Poland, a company of soldiers, the archbishop of Warsaw, and thousands assembled — dedicated a 30-foot cross in the same square in commemoration of the Pope’s Mass there in 1979. The mayor described the impact of Pope John Paul II’s prayer for the renewal of Poland in this way:

The message of John Paul II met with our highest national and social aspirations. It poured hope into our hearts. Then, for the first time in decades, we saw how many of us are here. We felt what it meant to be together, free, and in community. Soon, August 1980 arrived and Solidarity was established. Then the tragedy [martial law] of December 1981, and thanks to those who went through that and did not reject hope, June 1989 arrived. . . . From this day forth in Warsaw, in the heart of Poland, opposite of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a symbol of bravery of Poles, there will be a Cross standing which is a symbol of faith, perseverance, and hope. . . . And living here and now we are taking responsibility not only for a free Poland, but also for the solidarity of all of Europe. This cross is a symbol that what is impossible becomes possible.

Just after the mayor unveiled the memorial cross, a recorded message of Pope John Paul II played: “Today, I look at the whole of Poland, from the Tatra Mountains to the Baltic Sea, and this cross says to whole of Poland, sursum corda, lift up your hearts.”

The cross, as carried by Pope John Paul II, not only lifted the hearts of the Poles, it also lifted the hearts of millions around the world. Italian senator and philosopher Marcello Pera says that it is important to remember not only John Paul’s II contributions to the political struggle against Communism, but also the way he went about it: “Against Communism he proposed the cross. And it was the cross as displayed by John Paul II that, according to me, was the decisive factor in the collapse of Communism in Poland and then elsewhere.”

In the 1980s, the world learned from John Paul II and the Polish people that tyrants and dictators are no match when millions of hearts are lifted high. This Polish experience of freedom through faith serves as a timeless warning to governments anywhere that threaten religious freedom, including those in democratic societies.

— Former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista, are hosts and executive producers of the documentary film Nine Days that Changed the World, which will premiere in the United States on April 9 and will be screened in Poland and Italy in June. This article first appeared in Wprost, a Polish weekly magazine.