Saturday, April 09, 2011

Today's Tune: The Troggs - Love is All Around

We’re There to Help

And they’re there to kill us.

by Andrew C. McCarthy
April 9, 2011 4:00 A.M.

Last week in the northern province of Faryab, two more American soldiers were murdered by one of the police officers they are in Afghanistan to train. As my friend Diana West calculates, that brings to 17 the number of U.S. troops killed in just the last four months by the Afghan security forces they are mentoring.[1] The total climbs to 22 when the killings of other Western troops are factored in.

None of this is new. It is just an uptick. This is how it is in a tribal, fundamentalist Muslim society that regards nothing with such hostility as another civilization’s attempt to assert and imprint itself — just ask the Soviets. If our Afghan expedition seems all the more pointless now, nearly a decade after the U.S. invasion, it is because we long ago stopped pursuing the American interests that brought us to that hellhole. We came to dismantle al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts. We’ve stayed — and stayed, and stayed — to make life better for a population that despises us.

The mounting military casualties do not account for at least seven humanitarian-aid workers also murdered in recent days by rampaging Afghan Muslims — if one may use that double redundancy. The throng of assailants stormed the victims’ U.N. compound in Mazar-e-Sharif after being whipped into the familiar frenzy at Friday prayers. The dead, just like the American soldiers, came to Afghanistan to make life better for Muslims. For their trouble, they were savagely slaughtered, with two treated to decapitation, a jihadist signature.

“When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield,” instructs Allah, “strike off their heads.” That is from Sura 47:4 of the Koran — or what is so preciously called “the Holy Qur’an” by Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan. To underscore the point, Sura 8:12 of this same Holy Qur’an finds Allah assuring that if Muslims would just “smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them,” it would help Him “instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers.”

You’ve got to hand it to Allah: All that smiting and instilling terror works. General Petraeus is so terrified of what rampaging Afghan Muslims might do next that he could not bring himself to utter a word of criticism for their barbarity. Instead, as he offered condolences to the victims’ families, his wrath was targeted at Terry Jones.

Jones is the pastor of an obscure Christian congregation in Gainseville, Fla., where he ceremonially burned a Koran last month. Mind you, it is standard practice to torch Bibles in Muslim countries, where apostasy from Islam is a capital offense and where proselytism of any creed other than Islam is forbidden. About that noxious practice, General Petreaus hasn’t made a peep — which goes a long way toward explaining why our military itself actually confiscated and destroyed Bibles in Afghanistan last year.[2] It’s not Bible burning and Muslim rampage that get our commander’s goat. It’s Terry Jones. “We condemn, in particular, the action of an individual in the United States who recently burned the Holy Qur’an,” Petraeus thundered in a statement issued jointly with Mark Sedwell, the Obama administration’s ambassador to NATO.

Of course, it wasn’t Jones who butchered and beheaded the U.N. workers. It was Afghan Muslims, stoked by the same Islamist ideology that has Afghan security forces killing the Westerners who struggle to civilize them — the ideology that is the mainstream in this cradle of al-Qaeda. In fact, it is not even accurate to say that Jones incited the Afghans. His Koran-torching stunt took place on March 20. The murderous riot did not occur until nearly two weeks later — only after the natives were whipped up not just by the fire-breathing Friday imams but by the inflammatory rhetoric of Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Karzai is no fool. The U.S.-backed corruptocrat has surveyed the field and found that the only hope for clinging to power in a rabidly anti-American country is to bash Americans. He has no intention of finding himself tossed under Obama’s bus along with former “valuable allies” like Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Qaddafi. Better to be a “reformer,” the title reverently bestowed on Syria’s ruthless dictator, Basher Assad, by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. If you want the promise of President Obama’s “mutual respect” and coveted platforms like Columbia University, better to lead the “Death to America” chorus like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That way, your share of the “mutual” respect never has to be paid.

Karzai also knows he has the perfect foil in Petraeus. The general is reliably mum on the nexus between Juma prayers and Juma decapitations, between mainstream Islamic teachings and jihadist attacks on Western forces. He is captive to the progressive fantasy that such atrocities are inherently anti-Islamic, that the Koran couldn’t possibly mean what it says, that mainstream clerics who tout its combustible suras couldn’t possibly be right, and therefore that Muslim savagery must be rooted in some other cause, such as Gitmo — which the general has called a “lingering reminder” of the many American “missteps or mistakes in our activity since 9/11.”[3]

When Petraeus rushed to follow the bien-pensant crowd in absurdly citing an American’s burning of a book as the cause of, rather than a pretext for, the Mazar-e-Sharif massacre, it wasn’t the first time. In June 2009, as his new commander-in-chief was announcing “a new beginning” in America’s relationship with the ummah, Petraeus was right there to help with the spadework. On cue, he chimed that the Bush-era United States had taken “steps that have violated the Geneva Conventions.” It was now “important again to live our values.”

Except they’re not “our values.” They’re the pieties of the “international community” with which the general identifies. Swallowing whole its narrative — a narrative that recent Middle East unrest has left in tatters — Petraeus next blamed America’s problems in the region on “enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors” and the “anti-American sentiment” created by “a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel.”[4] The message was clear: Let’s not choose sides between an authentic Western-style democracy that has been a faithful friend to the United States and the virulently anti-Western sharia-philes bent on Israel’s destruction. God forbid our values should bear some vague resemblance to our principles.

General Petraeus is the standard-bearer of what critics — myself included — have alternatively called the Islamic “democracy project” and “nation building.” Both labels are misnomers, though. The exercise in Afghanistan is actually post-nation building, and it’s got little to do with democracy in the Western sense. To the contrary, the final product is meant to reflect the image of its midwife, the craven, morally vacant international community. For principled democracies to form a community with totalitarians and rogues, they have to check their principles at the door. Once that decision is made, how easy it becomes to betray those principles — freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, economic liberty, personal privacy, equality before the law — in a culturally neutral indulgence of Islamist depravity.

So, the architects build a post-nation where Islamists — who want to replace nation-states with a global caliphate — declare Islam the dominant religion and install freedom-killing sharia as their fundamental law. They frame the West, its bygone principles, and the pursuit of its interests as affronts to the international community. That community’s vanguard, like the Islamist vanguard with which it partners, has little use for the nation-state, aspiring to replace national sovereignty with international humanitarian law — an organic, increasingly sharia-friendly corpus that is said to override any mere nation’s constitution and democratically enacted laws. It is for the Islamist post-nation that American soldiers die while American taxpayers foot the bill.

General Petraeus and Ambassador Sedwell ended their castigation of Terry Jones with the inevitable please-love-us entreaty: “We further hope the Afghan people understand that the actions of a small number of individuals, who have been extremely disrespectful to the Holy Qur’an, are not representative of any of the countries in the international community who are in Afghanistan to help the Afghan people.”

No, by no means let us be disrespectful toward the “Holy Qur’an,” which is so kindly disposed toward us. And surely, with Petraeus’s predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, having pronounced that Afghanistan is not our war[5], and with the Obama administration now paying tens of millions of dollars to underwrite Karzai’s peace talks with the Taliban (the enemy we were told we needed to escalate troops to repel)[6], it is abundantly clear that our troops are in Afghanistan primarily “to help the Afghan people.”

But that raises two questions. First, why should we give a damn about the Afghan people? And second, why are we sacrificing American blood and American treasure to build an Islamist post-nation that hates America?

— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.








Friday, April 08, 2011

Today's Tune: Jakob Dylan - Nothing but the Whole Wide World

Ending Medicare, or ending America?

by Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
April 8, 2011

Hey, it's the weekend, and everyone's singing the same maddeningly catchy refrain! Rebecca Black's "Friday"? Nah, that was last week's moronic sing-along. This week's is even perkier! "Paul Ryan proposes to end Medicare as we know it," sings former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta. "It would end Medicare as we know it," sings Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. "It's going to end Medicare as we know it," sings Nadeam Elshami, communications director for Nancy Pelosi. "It does end Medicare as we know it," sings Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. "I drove all night to watch Paul Ryan e-e-end Me-edi-ica-a-are as we-e kno-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-w it," sing all 24 semifinalists on the CĂ©line Dion round of "American Idol."

Sadly, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, incoming chair of the Democratic National Committee, lost the sheet music and was forced to improvise. "This plan would literally be a death trap for seniors," she ululated. Close enough!

Ending Medicare as we know it? Say it ain't so! Medicare, we hardly knew ye! It's an open question whether Americans will fall for one more chorus of the same old song from Baucus, Harkin, Podesta and the other members of America's wrinkliest boy band. But, if this is the level on which the feckless patronizing spendaholics of the permanent governing class want to conduct the debate, bring it on:

Paul Ryan's plan would "end Medicare as we know it".

The Democrats' "plan" – business as usual – will end America as we know it.

Literally, as Rep. Wasserman-Schultz would say. One way or another, Medicare as we know it is going to end. So, if you think an unsustainable 1960s welfare program is as permanent a feature as the earth and sky, you're in for a shock. It's just a question of whether, after the shock, what's left looks like Japan or looks like Haiti.

My comrade Jonah Goldberg compares America's present situation to that of a plane with one engine out, belching smoke. But, if anything, he understates the crisis. Air America doesn't need a busted engine because it's pre-programmed to crash. Our biggest problem is Medicare and other "entitlements": They're the automatic pilot of Big Government. Whoever's in the captain's seat makes no difference: The flight is preprogrammed to hit the iceberg, if you'll forgive me switching mass-transit metaphors in midstream.

For some reason, Obama, Reid, Pelosi, Harkin & Co. don't seem to mind this. If you recall the smile on the face of the "automatic pilot" in the movie "Airplane!" as he's being inflated, that's pretty much the Democrats' attitude to binge-spending as a permanent fact of life.

For a sense of Democrat insouciance to American decline, let us turn to the president himself. The other day Barack Obama was in the oddly apt town of Fairless Hills, Pa., at what the White House billed as one of those ersatz "town hall" discussions into which republican government has degenerated. He was asked a question by a citizen of the United States. The cost of a gallon of gas has doubled on Obama's watch, and this gentleman asked, "Is there a chance of the price being lowered again?"

As the Associated Press reported it, the president responded "laughingly": "I know some of these big guys, they're all still driving their big SUVs. You know, they got their big monster trucks and everything. ... If you're complaining about the price of gas, and you're only getting eight miles a gallon – (laughter)..."

That's how the official White House transcript reported it: Laughter. Big yuks. "So, like I said, if you're getting eight miles a gallon you may want to think about a trade-in. You can get a great deal."

Hey, thanks! You've been a great audience. I'll be here all year. Don't forget to tip your Democrat hat-check girl on the way out: At four bucks a gallon, it's getting harder for volunteers to drive elderly voters from the cemetery to the polling station. Relax, I'm just jerking your crank, buddy! And it's not four bucks per, it's only three-ninety-eight. That's change you can believe in!

Message: It's your fault. The same day as the president was doing his moribund-economy shtick, my hairdresser told me that she'd bought her midsize sedan second-hand in 2004. She'd also like to ask the president if there's a chance of gas prices being lowered again. But he'd have the same answer: Buy a hybrid. Wait till the high-speed rail-link is built between Dead Skunk Junction and Hickburg Falls. Climb into the fishnets and the come-hither smile and hitch.

America, 2011: A man gets driven in a motorcade to sneer at a man who has to drive himself to work. A guy who has never generated a dime of wealth, never had to make payroll, never worked at any job other than his own tireless self-promotion literally cannot comprehend that out there, beyond the far fringes of the motorcade outriders, are people who drive a long distance to jobs whose economic viability is greatly diminished when getting there costs twice as much as the buck-eighty-per-gallon it cost back at the dawn of the Hopeychangey Era.

So what? Your fault. Should have gone to Columbia and Harvard and become a community organizer.

Another 10 years of this, and large tracts of America will be Third World. Not Somalia-scale Third World, but certainly the more decrepit parts of Latin America. There will still be men with motorcades, but they'll have heavier security and the compounds they shuttle between will be more heavily protected. For them and their cronies, the guys plugged in, the guys who still know who to call to figure out a workaround through the bureaucratic sclerosis, life will be manageable, and they'll still be wondering why you loser schlubs are forever whining about gas prices, and electricity prices and food prices.

What's about to hit America is not a "shock." It's not an earthquake, it's not a tsunami, it's what Paul Ryan calls "the most predictable crisis in the history of our country." It has one cause: Spending. The spending of the class that laughs at the class that drives to work to maintain President Obama, Sen. Reid, Sen. Baucus, Sen. Harkin and Minority Leader Pelosi's "communications director" in their comforts and complacency.

The Democrats' solution to the problem is to deny there is one. Unsustainable binge-spending is, as the computer wallahs say, not a bug but a feature: We'll stimulate the economy with a stimulus grant for a Stimulus Grant-Writing Community Outreach Permit Co-ordinator regulated by the Federal Department of Community-Organizer Grant Applications. What's to worry about?

I said the Democrats' plan is to "end America as we know it," but even that has been outsourced to others. The choice is between letting Paul Ryan end Medicare as we know it, or letting our foreign lenders determine the moment to end America as we know it. I would not presume to know Chinese or Russian or Saudi or even European inclinations in this respect, although certain shifts in the ratio between short-term and long-term debt holdings suggest foreign governments give more thought to the implications of U.S. government spending than the U.S. government does. But I do know their interests are not ours, and that there will come a day when Beijing and others, in the words of King Barack to his lowly subject, "may want to think about a trade-in."

Now there's a slogan for 2012.


After Ryan’s leap, a rush of deficit demagoguery

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
April 8, 2011

In 1983, the British Labor Party under the hard-left Michael Foot issued a 700-page manifesto so radical that one colleague called it “the longest suicide note in history.” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has just released a recklessly bold, 73-page, 10-year budget plan. At 37 footnotes, it might be the most annotated suicide note in history.

That depends on whether (a) President Obama counters with a deficit-
reduction plan of equal seriousness, rather than just demagoguing the Ryan plan till next Election Day, (b) there are any Republicans beyond the measured, super-wonky Ryan who can explain and defend a plan of such daunting scope and complexity, and (c) Americans are serious people.

My guesses: No. Not really. And I hope so (we will find out definitively in November 2012).

The conventional line of attack on Ryan’s plan is already taking shape: It cuts poverty programs and “privatizes” Medicare in order to cut taxes for the rich.

Major demagoguery on all three counts.

(1) The reforms of the poverty programs are meant to change an incentive structure that today perversely encourages states to inflate the number of dependents (because the states then get more “free” federal matching money) and also encourages individuals to stay on the dole. The 1996 welfare reform was similarly designed to reverse that entitlement’s powerful incentives to dependency. Ryan’s idea is to extend the same logic of rewarding work to the non-cash parts of the poverty program — from food stamps to public housing.

When you hear this being denounced as throwing the poor in the snow, remember that these same charges were hurled with equal fury in 1996. President Clinton’s own assistant health and human services secretary, Peter Edelman, resigned in protest, predicting that abolishing welfare would throw a million children into poverty. On the contrary. Within five years child poverty had declined by more than 2.5 million — one of the reasons the 1996 welfare reform is considered one of the social policy successes of our time.

(2) Critics are describing Ryan’s Medicare reform as privatization, a deliberately loaded term designed to instantly discredit the idea. Yet the idea is essentially to apply to all of Medicare the system under which Medicare Part D has been such a success: a guaranteed insurance subsidy. Thus instead of paying the health provider directly (fee-for-service), Medicare would give seniors about $15,000 of “premium support,” letting the recipient choose among a menu of approved health insurance plans.

Call this privatization if you like, but then would you call the Part D prescription benefit “privatized”? If so, there’s a lot to be said for it. Part D is both popular and successful. It actually beat its cost projections — a near miraculous exception to just about every health-care program known to man.

Under Ryan’s plan, everyone 55 and over is unaffected. Younger workers get the insurance subsidy starting in 2022. By eventually ending the current fee-for-service system that drives up demand and therefore prices, this reform is far more likely to ensure the survival of Medicare than the current near-insolvent system.

(3) The final charge — cutting taxes for the rich — is the most scurrilous. That would be the same as calling the Ronald Reagan-Bill Bradley 1986 tax reform “cutting taxes for the rich.” In fact, it was designed for revenue neutrality. It cut rates — and for everyone — by eliminating loopholes, including corrupt exemptions and economically counterproductive tax expenditures, to yield what is generally considered by left and right an extraordinarily successful piece of economic legislation.

Ryan’s plan is classic tax reform — which even Obama says the country needs: It broadens the tax base by eliminating loopholes that, in turn, provide the revenue for reducing rates. Tax reform is one of those rare public policies that produce social fairness and economic efficiency at the same time. For both corporate and individual taxes, Ryan’s plan performs the desperately needed task of cleaning out the myriad of accumulated cutouts and loopholes that have choked the tax code since 1986.

Ryan’s overall plan tilts at every windmill imaginable, including corporate welfare and agricultural subsidies. The only thing left out is Social Security. Which proves only that Ryan is not completely suicidal.

But the blueprint is brave and profoundly forward-looking. It seeks nothing less than to adapt the currently unsustainable welfare state to the demographic realities of the 21st century. Will it survive the inevitable barrage of mindless, election-driven, 30-second attack ads (see above)? Alternate question: Does Obama have half of Ryan’s courage?

I think not (on both counts). But let’s hope so.

Complaints About Budget Plan Veer Off Path

Democrats prefer to crash into a mountain of debt.

by Jonah Goldberg
April 8, 2011 12:00 A.M.

Republicans want to “end Medicare as we know it.”

Cue cat shriek!

This “end Medicare as we know it” line — and many like it (“end Medicaid as we know it,” “end carbon-based life as we know it,” etc.) — is the lead-off talking point for the entire Democratic party in response to Rep. Paul Ryan’s just-released budget proposal, “The Path to Prosperity.”

Here’s the thing: Of course he wants to end Medicare as we know it. You know why? Because the way we know it right now, the program is barreling toward insolvency.

Personally, if I were on a plane that had one engine out and was belching smoke, I would certainly hope somebody with some judgment and competence might calmly remove his oxygen mask long enough to suggest “ending this flight as we know it.”

I should back up. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and a would-be green-eyeshaded savior of the Republic, has come out with a 2012 budget proposal that actually averts what Ryan rightly calls the “most predictable crisis in the history of our country.”

In brief, he proposes:

● Turning Medicaid into a block grant to the states — the way we did for the immensely successful welfare reform of the 1990s — in order to allow for more flexibility and experimentation.

● Transforming Medicare into a defined-contribution plan similar to what government employees and congressmen already have. Seniors will get a direct subsidy to buy insurance for themselves (along the lines of the popular prescription-drug benefit enacted under George W. Bush). The hope is that seniors will help drive cost savings in the medical sector if they actually care about the price of services.

● Closing out various tax loopholes and corporate welfare — like ethanol subsidies — in order to lower tax rates and streamline the tax code without losing revenue.

● Freezing spending below 2008 levels for five years.

In response, Democrats have come unglued like wallpaper in an un-air-conditioned Saigon motel in August.

The Ryan plan is “a path to poverty for America’s seniors & children and a road to riches for big oil,” Nancy Pelosi announced on Twitter. Meanwhile, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) proclaimed the Ryan plan a “war on seniors,” even though current seniors — and anyone 55 or older — are entirely exempt from Ryan’s Medicare proposal.

Let me say that again: No one who is currently elderly or who will be elderly within the next 10 years will see their Medicare change — at all, ever — according to Ryan’s plan.

You can hardly say the same thing about the president’s plan, or the congressional Democrats’ plan (since they don’t have one), or, most importantly, the status quo — because under them, our metaphorical plane will crash into a mountainside of insurmountable debt. That’s why Ryan’s plan is not an attempt to destroy the social safety net, it’s an attempt to mend it.

(Oh, and since only Republican talking points are subject to strict scrutiny from the “objective” press, let me quickly rebut Nancy Pelosi & Co.’s nonsense about “big oil.” Oil companies get the same business tax breaks as every other company. These are mostly what Democrats mean when they talk about giveaways to big oil. The Ryan plan would rightly eliminate many such breaks, while lowering the corporate-tax rate to a level competitive with other industrialized nations. The only “road to riches” for the oil companies in the Ryan plan is its call to allow more oil drilling on American soil, which, yes, would generate profits for oil companies — and tax revenues for the government and jobs for Americans and lower gas prices, too. The villains.)

But, but, but, sputter Ryan’s detractors, we can’t rewrite the social contract between the government and our seniors. Again, we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about revising the arrangement between the government and people who will be seniors more than a decade from now.

Regardless, let’s talk about this solemn promise in a bit more detail. Democrats sound a little like the passenger on the failing plane who complains, “You can’t end this flight as we know it! The airline promised we could get to Cincinnati!”

I’ll give you a hint what’s wrong with this. The correct response to such complaints isn’t, “Oh, they promised? Well, let me tell the captain to stick to his original flight plan. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to violate the laws of physics in order to honor that promise.”

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Would Ike Have Gone to Libya?

American foreign policy has come to favor action over moderation.

The Wall Street Journal
APRIL 8, 2011

Thick histories may well be written about how President Obama—a Democrat from the leftward wing of his party, a use-of-force skeptic who campaigned against Iraq as a war of choice—came to involve the U.S. in a third Mideastern war. Much will be made of the regrets of a generation of party leaders that the U.S. did not move in 1994 in Rwanda, but that nation's experience raises as many questions as it answers. Rwanda was a real and actual genocide in which, in the Human Rights Watch estimate, 800,000 people were killed. Some say it was a million. Libya, in contrast, was a civil war with a dictator only threatening brutality toward his myriad foes. And a great nation's foreign policy can't be built on regrets, it can't be built only on emotion, it has to be more steely-eyed than that, more responsive to immediate and long-term strategic needs.

Three weeks in, Libya seems sunk in stalemate. Der Spiegel reports the country continues split between government troops and rebels, the "seemingly rudderless attacking and fleeing" of the latter "causing the Western allies to despair." Last week, NATO bombs killed 13 rebels by mistake. This week, the Washington Post reports, air strikes hit rebel forces near Ajdabiya, though it's unclear whether the strikes were the work of NATO or the Gadhafi government, whose warplanes aren't supposed to be able to fly in the no-fly zone. Al-Jazeera notes that "territory keeps changing hands," casualties continue, and civilians are packing their bags. The Christian Science Monitor reports Libyans fleeing the war are contributing to an "immigrant crisis" in Italy. And the price of crude oil Thursday hit $110 a barrel for the first time in 2½ years.

What a mess. And the White House, immersed in the daily drama of the budget crisis, doesn't look particularly beset. They look grateful for the change of subject.

But let's stay on the subject.

It's still worthwhile to consider some of the dynamics surrounding the U.S. decision. The influence of the media is one—a million microphones clamoring for action will tend to force action. The administration no doubt feared grim pictures from Benghazi and the damage those pictures could do to the president's reputation and standing. Another dynamic, I suspect, is a change in presidential leadership style the past few decades, toward a bias for dramatic or physical action, toward the seemingly bold move. The other night I was with an old Reagan hand who noted that Ronald Reagan broke ground by speaking truth to and about the Soviets, by holding up his hand and saying "Stop," by taking tough diplomatic actions, by working closely with the Soviets' great foes, Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher. But he didn't break ground by literally breaking ground! He didn't invade Eastern Europe. He was judicious about the use of military might.

Now "energy in the executive" is supposed by many to involve or include a quickness to consider military options or answers, accompanied by an assumption that American military power is endless.

But of course it's not endless, and must be well-tended, and you're not tending it when you're spending it, which is what armed conflict is, a spending of power and resources.

We could use, in both parties and among all our foreign-affairs thinkers, a new or renewed respect for an old leadership style, one that involves prudential restraint.

Political operatives are sort of embarrassed by caution and judiciousness now, as if they are an indicator of weakness (the Democrats' traditional worry) or a lack of idealism and compassion (the Republicans' worry.) But carefulness in a leader is a beautiful thing. That is the message of "Eisenhower 1956," David A. Nichols's history of how Ike, the old hero of World War II, resisted great pressure to commit U.S. forces in the Suez Crisis and, later, the rebellion in Hungary. The whole book is a celebration of restraint. "Eisenhower the military man was not militaristic," writes Mr. Nichols. "He did not think that there were military solutions to many problems." He was happy to use his personal "military credibility" in deterring the Soviets but viewed war with them "as a last, not a first resort" and often talked about disarmament.

Eisenhower was no isolationist—James Reston noted in the New York Times that in his first inaugural, 41 of the 48 paragraphs were devoted to foreign affairs. But he knew how to read the lay of the land the needs of the moment, and he could not see why America, despite the pleas of his old comrades in arms in Britain and France, should join them, and spend its blood or treasure, in an attempted invasion of Egypt. In his memoir, he wrote: "I believed that it would be undesirable and impracticable for the British to retain sizable forces permanently in the territory of a jealous and resentful government amid an openly hostile population."

Eisenhower's actions in 1956 have never received the attention they deserve. In America, applause for the moderate will be moderate, approval for the restrained will be restrained. But Ike was at his greatest when he wasn't waging war.

Two closing thoughts on the modern impulse toward US international activism. The past 10 years, as a nation, we have lost sight to some degree of the idea of Beaconism—that it is our role, job and even delight to be an example of freedom, a symbol of it, a beacon, but not necessarily a bringer of it or an insister on it for others. Two long, messy, unending wars suggest this change in attitude has not worked so well. Maybe we could discuss this in the coming presidential campaign.

And this, too. Visiting Afghanistan last month, I saw the flood of money, the gushing pipeline of dollars, we are spending to win the love and support, and foster the peaceableness, of the people of Afghanistan. I was told of and saw pictures of the newly opened health-care centers and schools. I'd think: "This is very nice, very kind, but Camden, N.J., could use a clinic. Camden could use a new school." We have such budget problems, a brutalizing tax system, an incoherent American culture. Don't these things need our attention?

And when I returned, I didn't think of seminars, debates and extracts in foreign policy magazines. I thought of Charles Dickens. Of Mrs. Jellyby from "Bleak House," that little tornado of conceit and self-righteousness who set herself to rehabilitating the world as she neglected her own family. Mrs. Jellyby "devoted herself to an extensive variety of public subjects, at various times, and is at present (until something else attracts her) devoted to the subject of Africa," the narrator tells us.

One of her children has his head caught between metal railings. "I made my way to the poor child, who was one of the dirtiest little unfortunates I ever saw, and found him very hot and frightened and crying loudly." Another of Mrs. Jellyby's children fell down a flight of stairs and had no one to tend to or comfort him. But Mrs. Jellyby barely noticed and wasn't disturbed. Her eyes seemed to look "a long way off," as if "they could see nothing but Africa!"

Is there something of Mrs. Jellyby in our foreign policy?

Film Review: 'Win Win'

Riding the Wave of Life’s Indignities

The New York Times
March 17, 2011

Paul Giamatti, left, with Alex Shaffer in “Win Win,” directed by Tom McCarthy from his screenplay.(Kimberly Wright/Fox Searchlight Pictures)

There are actors who suffer nobly, with tragic and stoical reserve. Then there is Paul Giamatti. Squirrel cheeked and beetle browed, with rounded shoulders and a scratchy voice, he is a virtuoso of exasperation, a maestro of disappointment, an intrepid navigator through squalls of frustration and failure. Who else could have played John Adams, the most misunderestimated of the founding fathers, a great man and also a petty one, possessed of an outsize sense of grievance? Or Harvey Pekar, the Cleveland file clerk who wrung deadpan, misanthropic comic-book masterpieces from the grind of daily existence?

Mike Flaherty, the New Jersey burgher Mr. Giamatti plays in “Win Win,” Tom McCarthy’s funny and warmhearted new film, is cut from more modest cloth. A lawyer with a struggling storefront practice who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach, Mike lives a life of suburban contentment shadowed by the usual material and moral anxieties. Married — to Amy Ryan, as his and the audience’s luck would have it — with two young daughters, Mike is beleaguered by small indignities that threaten to add up to something big and scary. His wrestlers can’t win a match. The boiler at his office is broken. Business is drying up in a grim economy. Nothing catastrophic, but if he could just catch a little break, things would sure be easier.

The break arrives, and of course things get complicated. One of Mike’s clients is an old man named Leo (Burt Young), who is slipping into senility with no family to care for him. Mike persuades a judge to name him Leo’s guardian, figuring there will not be any harm done if he pockets the monthly stipend and installs his ward in a nursing home. And this initial win-win situation pays a surprising dividend when Leo’s teenage grandson shows up, on the run from an unhappy domestic situation in Ohio. The boy, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), who seems a little threatening at first, turns out to be not only a nice kid but also a remarkably talented wrestler. He comes to live with Mike’s family, enrolls at the high school and for a while allows Mike to bask in the kind of all-American self-satisfaction that won Sandra Bullock an Oscar for “The Blind Side.”

Mr. McCarthy neatly sets up the elements that will bring about Mike’s self-deluding rise, his near-calamitous fall and his eventual redemption. There are no real surprises, but this is not to say that “Win Win” is rote or formulaic. Quite the opposite. Mr. McCarthy, who has written and directed two other features — and who is a first-rate character actor specializing in second-rate characters — has a deep and nuanced understanding of the rules of comedy, which is at once the most rigorous and the most elastic of narrative genres. He also possesses a sharp wit and a generous spirit, mocking his characters without meanness and lampooning their social circumstances without condescension.

New Jersey, lately travestied as an inferno of vulgar hedonism on MTV, is here shown to be if not quite an earthly paradise, then at least a garden of reasonable middle-class delights. (It was also the setting of “The Station Agent,” Mr. McCarthy’s quiet and quirky directorial debut.) The spirit of the place is not so much Bruce Springsteen — or even Bon Jovi, name-checked by Ms. Ryan — as Frank Bascombe, the decent and world-weary hero of Richard Ford’s great “Sportswriter” trilogy. No melodrama, no great claims of world-historical significance: just the daily business of trying to get ahead and do what’s right.

The promise of this film’s title — which can be taken both ironically and sincerely — is that those two things can go together, that success and virtue can walk hand in hand. This is close to a definition of the American Dream, and while Mr. McCarthy treats it with a raised eyebrow, he forgoes easy cynicism or knowing satire. This means that “Win Win” goes a bit soft in places, protecting its characters from serious danger or tough moral reckoning. But the film’s niceness is also central to its appeal, because nearly all of the characters are people you enjoy spending time with.

And they do seem like real people. Mr. McCarthy is in no hurry to push the story forward, preferring to give his cast members room to explore one another and their curious, ordinary surroundings. Some of the best scenes involve Mr. Giamatti and Bobby Cannavale, who plays Mike’s best friend, Terry. Terry is not essential to the plot — his own briefly glimpsed troubles would make for a funny-sad indie comedy in their own right — but he does yeoman work as Mike’s foil, second banana and partner in foolishness. When Jeffrey Tambor shows up (playing Mike’s coaching assistant and office mate), it’s like watching a master class in offbeat comic brilliance, as the three actors try to top one another at self-effacement.

Ms. Ryan has her chance as well, as does the ever-reliable Mr. Young. Mr. Shaffer, a first-time actor and an accomplished high school wrestler, is as diffident and puzzling as a real teenager. The only character denied a full measure of human complexity is Kyle’s mother, Cindy (Melanie Lynskey), who shows up to add a dose of melodrama and to symbolize the bad stuff that exists just beyond the horizon of the Flahertys’ comfort zone.

“Win Win” does not leave that cozy realm, but it finds enough to work with there. It is in no way challenging or provocative, but it is never dull or obvious. It’s a good movie about trying to be good.

“Win Win” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Language familiar to anyone who has driven in New Jersey.


Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed and written by Tom McCarthy; based on a story by Mr. McCarthy and Joe Tiboni; director of photography, Oliver Bokelberg; edited by Tom McArdle; music by Lyle Workman; production design by John Paino; costumes by Melissa Toth; produced by Mary Jane Skalski, Michael London, Lisa Maria Falcone and Mr. McCarthy; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes.

WITH: Paul Giamatti (Mike Flaherty), Amy Ryan (Jackie Flaherty), Bobby Cannavale (Terry Delfino), Jeffrey Tambor (Stephen Vigman), Burt Young (Leo Poplar), Melanie Lynskey (Cindy), Alex Shaffer (Kyle), Margo Martindale (Eleanor) and David Thompson (Stemler).

Just Like the Good Old Days in the Ring

The New York Times
March 18, 2011

Amy Ryan, left, Paul Giamatti, Burt Young, Bobby Cannavale and Alex Shaffer in “Win Win.”(Kimberly Wright/Twentieth Century Fox)

DURING their childhood in New Providence, N.J., sports were not the strong suit of Tom McCarthy and his friend Joe Tiboni.

“One of the first times we met was trying out for the basketball team,” said Mr. McCarthy, now a film director and writer. “The coach was our next-door neighbor. He cut both of us, and then he had to drive us home.”

Mr. Tiboni added, “This was the church team, by the way.”

High school wrestling was an even uglier affair. “I was average,” said Mr. McCarthy, 45, who clocked in at 101 pounds back then. “Joe was below average.”

Mr. Tiboni, 44, more or less agreed, recalling a match in which he was initially winning 13 to 1 but ended up being defeated 14 to 15. “The coach threw a garbage can,” he said over lunch at an Italian restaurant on the Bowery. Yet all this losing led to “Win Win,” the wrestling dramedy Mr. McCarthy (“The Visitor,” “The Station Agent”) wrote with Mr. Tiboni, who is an elder-care lawyer in their hometown. Paul Giamatti’s character in the film has the same job as Mr. Tiboni and is drawn into a complicated family crisis when he agrees to become the legal guardian of one of his clients. At the center of that drama is Kyle, the client’s grandson, who skips town to search for his grandfather when his mother goes to rehab. Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale also appear in the movie, which was to open Friday.

“I just called Joe and said, ‘Let’s develop a movie based on New Providence wrestling,’ ” Mr. McCarthy said. He had been encouraging Mr. Tiboni to write for years, and for this project, he needed his friend’s perspective. “I’ve never raised a family,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Joe gave me insight into that world. We wanted to represent it without either condescending to it or sentimentalizing it.”

Mr. McCarthy also wanted the wrestling to look extremely authentic. Almost as soon as the friends decided to make the movie (while eating sandwiches on the back deck of Mr. McCarthy’s parents’ house, “just like when we were 13,” Mr. McCarthy said), they knew it would have to include actual wrestlers.

They held an open call. The ad asked for wrestlers in the weight range of 112 to 125 pounds, “no acting experience required.” Plenty of young athletes were interested, and all the members of the on-screen squad are real-life wrestlers.

Casting one part was a more crucial decision than the rest. Mr. McCarthy had written a role for a troubled teenage boy who turns out to be a wrestling sensation. Obviously superior wrestling technique was a must for the character, Kyle. But so were serious acting chops. In a film with so many formidable classically trained actors, you might suspect that the boy’s role would be on the skimpy side. But he’s in nearly every scene.

“If Kyle doesn’t work, the movie doesn’t work,” Mr. McCarthy said. But the wrestling’s authenticity was so important that he decided to take a risk: cast an athlete, teach him to act, and hope he pulls it off.

Enter 17-year-old Alex Shaffer — in purple and green flannel pajama bottoms. “My friend texted me and said, ‘Dude, there’s an article in the paper, there’s a casting call for wrestlers,’ ” Mr. Shaffer said by phone while eating lunch at McDonald’s.

“I was always secretly interested in acting, so I came in and auditioned,” he said. “I was very surprised they liked me. But I knew they did when the casting girl was like, ‘This isn’t your first time doing this, is it?’ I was like, ‘Nah, dude.’ ”

It wasn’t, technically. Mr. Shaffer had played Samuel in “Pirates of Penzance” in sixth grade. But whatever stage-swashbuckling skills he had picked up back then weren’t what caught Mr. McCarthy’s eye.

“Alex has his own rhythm, and this surfer affect that’s almost like an accent,” Mr. McCarthy said. “My editor was like, ‘Where’s this kid from?’ And I said, ‘Jersey, like me.’ ”

There was something more, though, beneath the audition’s mellow vibe. “A lot of teenagers I know are like this,” Mr. McCarthy said. “They’re deadpan, disinterested. But beneath that veneer of coolness there’s a real personality, and you feel lucky if you get to see it.”

Tom McCarthy, the director of the wrestling movie “Win Win,” on a mat with Alex Shaffer, 17.(Kimberly Wright/Twentieth Century Fox)

The clincher: Mr. Shaffer, who was attending Hunterdon Central High School at the time, was New Jersey’s wrestling state champion in the 119-pound weight class.

Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Tiboni started going to Mr. Shaffer’s matches. “Wrestling’s a lot more enjoyable when you’re not worried about getting killed,” Mr. McCarthy said. At the same time they “auditioned the hell out of Alex.”

“He came in seven, eight, nine times,” Mr. McCarthy said. “I had to extrapolate where his ability was going to get to. He wasn’t always getting it, but he was always trying.”

Ms. Ryan was impressed by his persistence. “Alex didn’t want to be good for his ego,” said Ms. Ryan, who plays Mr. Giamatti’s wife in the film. “He wanted to be good because he wanted to figure it out. I think he just understands, from wrestling, what it’s like to be thrown into the ring with people potentially better than him.”

He also knew how to work hard. “A lot of it was just discipline,” Mr. Shaffer said. “With wrestling I’d be running till 2 or 3 in the morning to lose five pounds. With the movie I’d be up til 2 or 3 in the morning trying to memorize my lines.”

While he worked doggedly to make his performance authentic, Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Tiboni worked to get the portrayal of their hometown and its high school wrestling right.

Because of tax credits, they shot on Long Island rather than in New Providence. But they scouted locations tirelessly, most notably the office and home that Mr. Giamatti’s character shuttles between. “That office is literally exactly my office,” Mr. Tiboni said of the bare-bones, carpeted space. “And the house looks so much like mine, my neighbors thought it was mine. They thought their houses had just been Photoshopped out.”

Though the locations might have been fudged, the filmmakers kept New Providence High School in the film by using its banners, uniforms and wrestling mats, an effort facilitated by one of their former classmates, who’s now the school’s principal. Mr. Tiboni remembered one gym detail very well: a ceiling flag emblazoned with “If you can read this, you’re pinned.” A stunt coordinator with wrestling experience was hired to choreograph the teenage actors’ scenes.

The meticulous attention to detail paid off. Mr. McCarthy knew he’d gotten it right when, after a screening, his star approached him. “Alex just said, ‘The wrestling looks legit,’ ” Mr. McCarthy said. “That’s when I knew I’d got it.”

True, Mr. Shaffer is relieved “Win Win” didn’t butcher his art. “I didn’t want to see another ‘Vision Quest,’ ” he said.

What Mr. Shaffer didn’t realize when he signed up to help legitimize “Win Win” was that real-life wrestling, for him, would be over soon. He recently injured his L5 vertebrae, which has ended his career.

He has clearly gained some perspective on what must be a devastating loss. “Sadly, I cannot wrestle anymore,” Mr. Shaffer said. “But I accomplished my goal for senior year sophomore year. And I’m really grateful I got the role in this movie, because I want to keep going.”

He added: “Acting is something, I’ll tell you what.”

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Today's Laugh Track: Louie Anderson

Ryan steals march on Obama as fiscal crisis looms.

by Michael Barone
The Washington Examiner
April 6, 2011

‘My worst experience was the financial crisis of September 2008,” responded House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan yesterday to a reporter’s question about Democrats’ attacks on the budget he unveiled earlier in the day.

“What if the president and your representative saw it coming and could have prevented it from happening?” Ryan said. “What would you think of them if they didn’t?” A hush came over the audience at the American Enterprise Institute (where I am a resident fellow).

It was Ryan’s way of saying that the financial meltdown arrived largely without warning, while the impending fiscal crunch is like a runaway freight train.

“This is the most predictable crisis in the history of our country,” he went on. “We are on our path to a debt crisis” like those we’ve seen recently in Europe, with the national debt as a percentage of gross domestic product rising, under Barack Obama’s budget, past the 90 percent danger point on its way to 800 percent.

At some point in between, as Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff explains in the Financial Times, interest rates spike upward and the government is forced to make draconian cuts.

Those Social Security checks? They can be scratched at any time, as the Supreme Court held in Flemming v. Nestor in 1960. Congress can do that just as quickly as it voted $700 billion to bail out the banks in fall 2008.

Ryan’s budget attempts to prevent that by restructuring taxes and spending programs so that the national debt as a percentage of GDP will start sliding down.

Tax rates would be lowered and the tax base broadened, much as Congress did in 1986. Federal spending would revert to 2008 levels and be frozen for five years.

Corporate-welfare programs, including green energy, would be ended. Defense spending would be at the levels recommended by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Medicaid would be converted into block grants to the states, which would give them new incentives to hold down costs.

Medicare would be converted, for those now under 55, to a program like federal employees’ health-benefit plans and the Medicare prescription-drug program. Seniors would have a choice of plans and would receive “premium support,” federal supplements varying in size depending on income and health.

As Ryan says, this resembles welfare reform in the 1990s — one of the great public-policy successes of recent times.

Ryan’s budget is a brave attempt to reverse the Obama Democrats’ vast increase in the size and scope of government. The premise of their policies was that people can’t make rational choices to take care of themselves and are better off depending on centralized experts to limit those choices.

Ryan’s budget is based on the idea that people are capable of making decisions for themselves. And that the cumulative result of all those decisions, made by millions of people, will be greater productivity, creativity, and protection than can ever be achieved by a few experts through centralized command and control.

This is not an approach recommended by campaign consultants. Their conventional wisdom says that you never, ever recommend any changes in programs like Medicare.

Such advice has been heeded by the former community organizer now in the White House. “Hope and change” was a nice theme for an out-party candidate in 2008. But the status quo and fear-mongering seems to be the approach for the in-party candidate who this week announced the beginning of his 2012 campaign.

In the short term, Ryan’s budget resolution will likely be adopted in the Republican-controlled House and not even considered in the Democratic-majority Senate. Most of it will probably not become law this year.

But it’s also likely to shape the economic platform for the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. None of the current potential candidates has come up with anything so comprehensive. Some have already stepped up and praised Ryan’s plan.

But the political risk may be greater for the other side. “To be in a secure place for re-election,” writes Mark Penn, a key strategist for Bill Clinton in 1996, “President Obama has some tasks ahead of him that will give him the edge when (the Republican) field is narrowed.”

The first task, Penn writes, is to “take over leadership of the budget fight to turn it into a win for him and fiscal sanity.”

It seems that Penn agrees with Ryan that American voters realize that we are headed to fiscal Armageddon and that major changes must be made while we have time. What will they think of a president who disagrees?

— Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2011 The Washington Examiner.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Instead of a coronation, dismal NCAA title game was a culmination of bad habits

By John Feinstein, Tuesday, April , 3:04 PM
The Washington Post

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04: Head coach Jim Calhoun of the Connecticut Huskies celebrate with his team and the trophy after defeating the Butler Bulldogs to win the National Championship Game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament by a score of 53-41 at Reliant Stadium on April 4, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)


This was the message of Monday night’s NCAA national championship game: You reap what you sow.

This is where basketball has come after years of the powers-that-be fiddling while the sport has burned.

It is not news that the level of play — from youth basketball to the NBA — has been dropping like a stone for a good long while now, but Connecticut’s unwatchable 53-41 victory over Butler put that fact into focus on the game’s biggest stage.

There’s no doubt these were the two teams that deserved to play for the championship. Connecticut had won 10 consecutive games to get to the title game; Butler had won 14 in a row. Each had survived scares by making big plays late, and both had that little bit of luck that most national champions need.

And then they both no-showed on Monday night, except that Butler out-no-showed U-Conn. Were the Huskies the best team? Let’s put it this way: They were less bad than everyone else in the (too many) 68-team field.

Please — please — let’s not go down the “that was great defense” road. Let’s agree that the defenses were good while acknowledging that the offenses were god-awful. Butler couldn’t make a layup or an open jump shot. Matt Howard, who is as admirable a player as has ever played in the tournament, had a night that will keep him awake for years to come.

Steve Kerr, who brought some sensibility to the see-no-evil CBS telecast, can counsel Howard on what it is going to be like. Kerr had a great senior year at Arizona and played a key role in getting the Wildcats to the 1988 Final Four. But in the semifinals against Oklahoma he made only 2 of 13 shots, just a shade better than Howard’s 1-of-13 nightmare. He went on to play on five NBA championship teams.

“The only game I played in that I ever think about is the Oklahoma game,” Kerr said recently. “I can still see the shots I missed that night.”

Howard and his teammates will see their remarkable string of misses in their waking dreams for years. There is no getting around the fact that 12-of-64 shooting is horrific; it was the first time in history a team shot worse than 20 percent from the field in a championship game. Connecticut was better, but 19 of 55 is nothing to write home about — unless it is good enough to win a national championship, in which case everyone at home will be delighted to hear from you.

The larger issue isn’t that one ultimate game was a dud. This was the culmination of years of neglect by everyone responsible for running the game.

The NBA copped out a few years back with the one-and-done rule. It isn’t just that top players don’t ever go to class — lots of players don’t go to class, especially in March — it’s that their focus is on where they think they might go in that spring’s draft, not on trying to get better.

Many college coaches call this the “AAUization” of the game. Stars are coddled from the very beginning; no one tells them they have to play defense, no one teaches them fundamentals and no one gets on them if they don’t play hard. Why? Because if a star gets yelled at by one coach, he goes and finds a new coach. That’s why it is now common for players to go to three or four high schools and play on a different AAU team every summer. Then they come to college knowing they hold all the cards with their coach: They only have to deal with him for one year, so why put up with him if he makes unreasonable demands such as “Would you please try on defense?”

When the NBA and the players’ union get through with all their saber-rattling the next few months, they need to create a sensible rule for underclassmen. The one in place for baseball would be close to ideal: If you are a high school superstar and think you are the next Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, have at it.

But once you enroll in college, you can’t go back into the draft for three years. It’s simple, it will stand up in court if collectively bargained and it is good for players, for college basketball and for the NBA.

There’s more: The three-point line is still way too close, even after it was moved back slightly a few years ago. The NCAA needs to move it back to the NBA distance at all levels and force teams to work harder to get good shots. The fact that Butler couldn’t make a two-point shot on Monday night is another example of how dependent on the three teams have become.

The NCAA is culpable in a lot of this.

For one thing, the brilliant idea of playing only in the most massive domes it can find — and placing the court in the middle of the football field so that shooters have absolutely no background — is never going to be conducive to good basketball. In the nine games played since the new system began in Detroit in 2009, the cumulative shooting percentage of the teams is 38.6 percent. In the nine Final Four games that preceded the switch, teams shot 43.2 percent.

Monday night wasn’t an anomaly, it was a culmination.

There is also the continuing issue of what everyone who cares about college athletics has known to be true for years: cheating pays. The team that just won the national championship is on probation for major rules violations.

The Hall of Fame coach who just joined John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight as the only coaches to win at least three national titles will be suspended for his team’s first three conference games next winter because of a “lack of compliance” with NCAA rules.

In English, a lack of compliance means you cheated. (Of course, you wouldn’t know that if you were watching CBS last night).

Calhoun is a great coach and a good man but the fact is he screwed up and the punishment didn’t fit the crime. It never does in NCAA-world. Or CBS-world, where we were continually told on Saturday that John Calipari had taken three teams to the Final Four with no mention of the fact that the first two no longer exist in the record book — except a brief mention saying that Calipari was never found culpable. Pure as the driven snow, no doubt.

In the end, the NCAA cares about none of this. Its new president is a pompous blowhard who brags about “student-athletes,” knowing that almost none of the kids playing in Houston has seen a classroom in the last month.

He talks about “transparency” while running a super-secret society and won’t even answer a simple question such as “How much are you paid?” while the NCAA rolls in the TV billions for which it has sold its soul.

What saves the tournament are the games, because even though they aren’t played nearly as well as in the past, they are still extraordinarily competitive and full of compelling story lines. Butler and VCU made this tournament a joy for most of three weeks.

But the championship game ended it with a thud. Sadly, that is exactly what those running the sport deserved.

For more by the author, visit his blog at

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Carter Charms the Castro Brothers

by Humberto Fontova
April 5, 2011

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn pose for a picture with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro during a meeting in Havana March 30, 2011. Picture taken March 30, 2011.(Reuters)

Embracing a recent invitation by the Castro brothers, Jimmy Carter visited Cuba this past week.

“We greeted each other as old friends,” gushed Carter regarding his meeting with Fidel Castro.

“In 2002, we received him warmly,” reciprocated Castro. “Now, I reiterated to him our respect and esteem.”

“Jimmy Carter was the best of all U.S. Presdients,” pronounced Raul Castro, while seeing his American guest off personally and jovially.

Jimmy Carter earned all this warmth and joviality from Cuba’s Stalinist rulers by doing everything within his power to dismantle the so-called embargo against them. “The embargo of Cuba is the stupidest law ever passed in the US,” Carter remarked in 2002. And yet, President Jimmy Carter imposed more economic sanctions against more nations than any American president in modern history. These sanctions were against Chile, Iran, Rhodesia, Nicaragua, South Africa, Paraguay and Uruguay. President Carter was extremely selective in imposing his sanctions, let’s give him that. He was careful to punish only US allies.

In Cuba, Carter also took time to visit and console some bereaved Cuban families. According to the Black Book of Communism (no outpost of the vast-right wing conspiracy), Carter’s Cuban hosts murdered 12-14,000 Cubans by firing squad. According to Freedom House, over half a million Cubans have suffered in Castro’s various Gulags, dungeons, and torture chambers, an incarceration rate higher than Stalin’s. According to the scholars and researchers at the Cuba Archive, the Castro regime’s total death toll—from torture, prison beatings, firing squads, machine gunning of escapees, drownings, etc.—approaches 100,000.[1]

So, President Carter would seem to have little trouble in finding bereaved Cuban families to meet. And he did meet the grieving families of some Cuban-born prisoners. But these prisoners were serving time in US prisons, after conviction by US juries for espionage against the nation that elected Jimmy Carter president and for conspiracy to murder his fellow citizens. These Cubans, you see, are the ones who tugged at Carter’s heartstrings.

Some background: On September 14, 1998, the FBI uncovered a Castro spy ring in Miami and arrested ten of them. Five were convicted by US juries (from which Cuban-Americans were scrupulously excluded) and became known as “The Cuban Five” in Castroite parlance. According to the FBI’s affidavit, these Castro agents were engaged in, among other acts:

•Gathering intelligence against the Boca Chica Air Naval Station in Key West, the McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, and the headquarters of the US Southern Command in Homestead, Fla.

•Compiling the names, home addresses, and medical files of the US Southern Command’s top officers, along with those of hundreds of other officers stationed at Boca Chica.

•Infiltrating the headquarters of the US Southern Command.

•Sending letter bombs to Cuban-Americans.

•Spying on McDill Air Force Base, the US armed forces’ worldwide headquarters for fighting “low-intensity” conflicts.

•Locating entry points into Florida for smuggling explosive material.

One of these Castro agents, Gerardo Hernandez, also infiltrated the Cuban-exile group Brothers to the Rescue, who flew unarmed Cessnas to rescue Cuban rafters in the Florida straits, also known as “the cemetery without crosses.” The estimates of the number of Cubans dying horribly in the “cemetery without crosses” run from 30,000-50,000. Brothers to the Rescue would often drop flowers into the sea for those they’d been unable to rescue.

These pilots risked their lives almost daily, flying over the straits, alerting and guiding the Coast Guard to any balseros, and saving thousands of these desperate people from joining that terrible tally. (Prior to Castro’s Revolution, by the way, Cuba was deluged with more immigrants per-capita than the US.)

In Feb. 1996, Castro agent Gerardo Hernandez fulfilled his mission by passing the flight plan for one of the Brothers’ humanitarian flights to Castro. With this information in hand, Cuba’s Top Guns saluted and sprang to action. They jumped into their MIGs, took off and valiantly blasted apart (in international air space) the lumbering and utterly defenseless Cessnas. Four members of the humanitarian flights were thus murdered in cold blood. MIGs against Cessnas; cannons and rockets against flowers.

Three of these murdered men were US citizens, one a decorated Viet-Nam vet. The other was a legal US resident. No record exists of Jimmy Carter ever meeting with their families. But in Havana, Jimmy Carter smilingly met with the families of the man convicted in US courts of helping murder them, and with Raul Castro himself, who personally gave the order to shoot down the defenseless Cessnas.

“I had the opportunity to meet the families of the five Cuban patriots,” said Carter during an interview with Castro media apparatchik this week (Hernandez, among them). “[W]ith their wives and with their mothers…..I’m well aware of the shortcomings of the US judicial system, but hope that President Obama will grant their pardon. He knows my opinion on this matter, that the trial of the Cuban Five was very dubious, that many norms were violated.” Apparently, Carter is less familiar with the shortcomings of the Cuban judicial system, if one can call it that.

In Castro’s fiefdom, people are sent to the firing squad and prison based on Che Guevara’s famous legal dictum: “Judicial evidence is an archaic bourgeois detail. We prosecute and execute from revolutionary conviction!” Again, this system jailed political prisoners at a higher rate than Stalin’s.

So, during an interview with a Castro apparatchik in Havana on Wednesday, Jimmy Carter saw fit to castigate “the shortcomings of the U.S. judicial system,” and hailed Castro’s KGB- trained and US convicted spies as “patriots.”

No wonder P.J. O’Rourke famously dubbed Jimmy Carter, “that most ‘ex-’ of America’s ex-presidents.”



Goldstone: You Cannot Undo a Slander

How could an eminent jurist not have known the relevant facts?

by Mona Charen
April 5, 2011 12:00 A.M.

Richard Goldstone at a 2009 hearing in Geneva discussing his controversial report on Israel's actions in Gaza.

Richard Goldstone, the formerly respected South African jurist who disgraced himself by lending his name to a sinister and libelous U.N. report condemning Israel for war crimes, has now issued a very public retraction. “If I had known then what I know now,” he wrote in the Washington Post, “the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”[1] New information has persuaded him, he said, “that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” by Israel.

While this recantation is better than none, it invites the question: How could Goldstone not have known the relevant facts? A ten-year-old could have known the relevant facts.

Goldstone was initially approached by the U.N. Human Rights Council and asked to preside over an “investigation” into “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power, Israel, against the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the current aggression.”

The very wording of the resolution contained enough information for a reasonable man — no less a judge — to recognize the utterly tendentious nature of the enterprise. The use of the term “occupied” to refer to Gaza might have tipped him off that something was amiss, since Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005. Had his eyes been open, he might also have been given pause by the words “current aggression.”

But asking only to broaden the mandate to include human-rights violations by Hamas, Goldstone agreed to be used. And let’s not kid ourselves. He was valuable to the baying hyenas at the U.N. because he is himself a Jew.

Beyond the verdict-before-the-trial wording, Goldstone might have considered the fact that one of the commission’s four members, Christine Chinkin, signed a public letter denouncing Israel for “war crimes” before the investigation got underway.

Or Goldstone might have considered the history of the Human Rights Council. Anne Bayefsky, of Eye on the UN, outlined its record between 2004 and 2009:

The council has passed more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than all other 191 U.N. members combined. The council has one (of only ten) formal agenda items dedicated to criticizing Israel. And one agenda item to consider the human rights of the remaining 99.9 percent of the world’s population . . . It has terminated human rights investigations on Belarus, Cuba, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And all investigations of ‘consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms in such states as Iran, Kyrgyzstan, the Maldives, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have been ‘discontinued.’

As for Hamas, which is never labeled a terrorist organization throughout the Goldstone report, there has been copious evidence since 1987 that this offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (and client of Iran) has engaged in massive human-rights violations, including deliberate targeting of civilians (Arabs as well as Israelis), kidnapping, torture, and hiding military equipment in mosques, hospitals, and schools. The Hamas Charter states that, “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through jihad.”

For the better part of four years, Israel suffered more than 10,000 missile attacks against its civilians from Gaza. When it finally used military force to stop the attacks, Israel, in the words of British colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare. Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.”

All of this was not just knowable when Goldstone signed on as front man for the U.N. lynch mob, it was known. The Goldstone Report was intended, and has since been employed, to stigmatize any Israeli self-defense as a war crime. In 2009, Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, cancelled a trip to London after learning of an arrest warrant. Just recently, Israeli president Shimon Peres was threatened with arrest in Switzerland.

Goldstone claims to be moved now by evidence that Israel has investigated more than 400 claims of misconduct against its armed forces whereas Hamas has done nothing to police itself. Rubbish. The aforementioned ten-year-old could have predicted that.

No, apparently Goldstone’s conscience troubled him. While that’s progress for him, the retraction cannot possibly correct his shameful contribution to lies, slander, and the moral perversion of the so-called “international community.”

— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2011 Creators Syndicate.



Butler Bulldogs have a lot to be proud of

By Bob Kravitz
The Indianapolis Star
April 5, 2011

Butler head coach Brad Stevens and team watch action against Connecticut during the second half of the men's NCAA Final Four college basketball championship game Monday, April 4, 2011, in Houston.(AP)

HOUSTON -- It was such a beautiful dream, and it lasted and lasted and seemed as if it might never end. One Butler Bulldogs victory after another, another buzzer-beater, another last-second slice of hoops heroism, another amazing comeback. It was a dream, for a second straight season, that had us all in its thrall, locally, nationally, even globally.

A beautiful dream . . . that turned, for one hideous evening, into a nightmare.

Connecticut 53, Butler 41.

They climbed basketball's Everest once again, which is remarkable in and of itself, only to stop a few breathless steps short of the summit. This doesn't often happen to basketball's pedigreed bluebloods, but for it to happen to Butler, the small school with the small budget and the humble facilities, was amazing, inspiring and redemptive.

"I feel fortunate to have been a part of this class and this whole team," Butler senior Matt Howard said later, blinking back the tears. "It's really hard to put that into words right now. We wanted a little bit more, but maybe at some point (we) can look back and be proud of what this group has accomplished."

He doesn't have to look back and be proud.

He can be proud now.

They all can.

"I don't love them any less because they lost," coach Brad Stevens said. "What they've done is remarkable."

In the end, it was a shame, a crying shame.

A crying shame for the program, which had done more with less than anybody in the country, representing the school and the state of Indiana with consummate grace and class.

A shame for Howard, who should have his jersey retired in the Hinkle Fieldhouse rafters after a model career in which he represented the best of The Butler Way. He is the ultimate scholar-athlete.

"I told him after the game," Stevens said, softly, "I don't have enough time now to tell him all the things he's meant to Butler."

And really, a crying shame for college basketball. What a marvelous moment it would have been, Butler's players and coaches standing there hoisting the trophy after a scandal-plagued year in college sports.

But wishing for the fairy-tale ending isn't enough to make it so. Especially not on a night when the opponent, Connecticut, plays as inspired a brand of defensive basketball as Butler does. Not on a night when Butler plays a historically awful brand of offensive basketball, unable to hit the few open shots it had (and there weren't many).

It's a simple game, really. You've got to make shots. Twelve-of-64 won't beat Youngstown State. It certainly won't beat UConn on the game's biggest stage. The Bulldogs' 41 points were the fewest scored in a national championship game since Oklahoma A&M had 36 in 1949.

Shelvin Mack never got loose to do damage. Howard had hands and bodies in his face all night. Andrew Smith had a game to forget (and it's fair to wonder where Stevens was hiding Khyle Marshall). UConn guarded the paint like it was fine china, dominating down low.

This game wasn't just ugly.

It had a lousy personality.

By midway through the second half, even Butler's brilliant coach was out of answers. He tried a zone -- and zones are not a part of the Butler DNA. He tried Chrishawn Hopkins. He tried every trick he had (short of Marshall).


Just miss after miss after miss.


"We kept telling each other, the shots are going to go in, it's going to be fine," Howard said. "That's the mind-set you have to have."

But, you know, we're not here to talk about the intricacies of the game, to break it all down. Really, there's not much to break down. They missed shots. End of story. And UConn had a lot to do with that.

In the end, this most recent Butler run was -- again -- remarkable and inspiring and downright fun. From that Horizon League Tournament championship victory in Milwaukee, to the last-second victory over Old Dominion to the crazy final seconds with Pittsburgh to the manhandling of Wisconsin to the comebacks against Florida and on into the Final Four.

In a state whose loyalties are often bisected into Indiana University and Purdue, Butler is the one thing everybody can agree upon: It's an absolute model of what a basketball program ought to be. The way the Bulldogs play, the way the coaches and players handle themselves, the humility and the grace with which they handled the good times and the bad, it all strikes the perfect chord.

One rough night doesn't diminish what they've accomplished these past two years.

Not at all. Not in the least.

They've done something that mid-majors are simply not supposed to do. They've come from a mid-major conference, worked with mid-major funds, and built a powerhouse that can compete with and beat the sport's pedigreed bluebloods.

Know who else lost back-to-back national finals?

The Fab Five, Michigan's vaunted great recruiting class in the early 1990s.

The Bulldogs fell one shot short against Duke, losing 61-59, last year.

And they fell way short -- painfully short -- against UConn.

History will not record that Butler was a national champion, but we will all remember this as a legendary group who made two noble assaults on the summit of college basketball.

After the game, Stevens was asked about the legacy of this group of players, who will always be remembered locally and in college basketball lore.

"That they were just good guys," Stevens said with a smile and a sigh. "Just good students, people at Butler really like them, not because they're basketball players but because they treat people right and they're engaging and smart and they're all going to be very successful. . . . It's what it's all about."

It would have made for a sweeter ending -- Butler: national champions -- but the best stories don't always get written.

Bob Kravitz is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star. Contact him at (317) 444-6643 or via email at You can also follow Bob on Twitter at @bkravitz.

Monday, April 04, 2011

UConn's Calhoun, Butler's Stevens as different as night and day

By Andy Staples
Inside College Basketball
April 4, 2011

Connecticut Huskies' head coach Jim Calhoun (L) and Butler Bulldogs' head coach Brad Stevens talk before a television interview about their teams' meeting in the NCAA Men's Final Four championship college basketball game in Houston, Texas, April 3, 2011.(Reuters)

HOUSTON -- Do not expect, in 35 years, to click on some future version of YouTube and find a clip titled "Brad Stevens likes the F-word" that features Butler coach Stevens verbally undressing a reporter who asked a somewhat silly question about a recruit who got away. If you'd like to see something like that now, simply insert that phrase into Google and replace "Brad Stevens" with "Jim Calhoun."

"I want him occasionally to at least cuss or just do something out of line," UConn's Calhoun said Sunday when asked about Stevens.

As much as it may shock Calhoun and the rest of the basketball-watching world, Stevens -- the wholesome, eternally fresh-scrubbed Zionsville, Ind., native who looks like a college junior en route to a job interview -- has allowed the occasional George Carlin-approved, network television-banned word to pass his lips. "There are some," Butler guard Chase Stigall said, "but it's few and far between."

Calhoun embraces the F-word. Stevens doesn't. During games, Stevens criticizes his players' foibles with a verbal scalpel. During games, Calhoun criticizes his players' foibles with a verbal cruise missile. Calhoun, 68, is in the twilight of his career. Stevens, 34, stands near the dawn of his. Some of Stevens' players call him Brad. All of Calhoun's players call him Coach. Calhoun has been dinged by the NCAA, and depending on which story former Huskies recruit Nate Miles tells investigators when next he speaks to them, Calhoun could get sanctioned further. Stevens thinks he got grounded once or twice as a teen for being late coming home. (The smart money says the punishment was followed by someone saying "Ward, I think you were a little hard on the Brad.") Stevens rarely makes headlines with anything he says in a press conference. Once, when a reporter reminded Calhoun that he is Connecticut's highest paid state employee during a budget crunch, Calhoun didn't even let the guy finish his question before he roared "Not a dime back!"

If the two coaches in Monday's national title game were any more different, scientists probably would have to examine them to determine whether they belonged to the same species. But they do share at least one common trait. They win. A lot. In 39 seasons as a college head coach, Calhoun has won 851 games. He has two national titles, and he raised UConn from a cute little story to a name-brand powerhouse. In four seasons as a head coach, Stevens has won 117 games. He has led the Bulldogs to the national title game twice, and it appears that -- if he stays in Indianapolis -- he will raise Butler from a cute little story to a name-brand powerhouse.

The clash of styles should make for fascinating viewing, but Monday's matchup isn't a referendum on which coaching formula works better. Each man's method has its merits.

Calhoun took the more traditional route into the profession. After college, he worked as an assistant at alma mater American International College before departing to coach at three different high schools. In 1972, Calhoun was hired as Northeastern's head coach at age 29. Calhoun, who proudly describes himself as "an Irish guy from South Boston," subscribes to the theory that players will listen if the point is made at a high enough volume. His rants are not suitable for a family publication, but they do get his players' attention. Besides, UConn freshman point guard Shabazz Napier said, Calhoun's paint-peeling critiques come from the heart.

"To this day, he yells at me," Napier said. "But he does it out of love. No one really takes it as disrespect. We take it as great criticism from one of the best coaches in the world. If he's yelling at you, that means he's caring for you. He wants you to be one of the best players in the country."

Butler-UConn preview
Source: SISeth Davis, Maggie Gray and Greg Anthony break down the coaching matchup between Jim Calhoun and Brad Stevens and discuss the other x-factors for Monday's championship game. Calhoun's dry wit occasionally gets him in trouble. (See the "Not a dime back" quote, which began as a joke and turned serious as Calhoun got more perturbed with the line of questioning.) But he is consistently one of the nation's most hilarious coaches. He drew plenty of laughs Sunday. "That's good [that] God gave us two ears and one mouth," Calhoun said. "I don't subscribe to that theory, but for everybody else it's a good thing to have."

His program's recruiting practices also have gotten him in trouble. Calhoun was suspended for three games, and an assistant and UConn's director of basketball operations lost their jobs after the NCAA found a variety of violations in Miles' recruitment. Last week, Miles told The New York Times that Calhoun knew an agent was paying Miles during his recruitment. That contradicts what Miles told the NCAA last year, but if the accusation is found to be true, Calhoun could be subject to the same unethical conduct charge that recently cost Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl his job. Sunday, Calhoun declined to elaborate further on the Miles case, saying he considers the matter closed. He also said he isn't worried about the most recent allegations. "I've had three bouts with cancer," Calhoun said. "That's a lot more devastating."

With that controversy swirling, it would surprise no one if Calhoun hung up his whistle after Monday's title game. Sunday, he sounded like a man content with his career and the choices he has made. "One thing I'll guarantee you, I know who I am," Calhoun said. "I know what I've done in 39 years of coaching. You don't have to tell me, you don't have to write it, but I know who I am. Quite frankly, I'm pretty comfortable with who I am. Have I made mistakes? Yes. Do I have warts? Yeah, I do, like all of you. But I know who I am and I'm comfortable with what I've done."

Stevens seems equally comfortable in his own skin, but while Calhoun's seems like a hard-won peace, Stevens' self-confidence seems to radiate from his core like the warm glow of a campfire. Unlike Calhoun, Stevens didn't immediately enter the coaching ranks. Upon graduation from DePauw in 1999, Stevens took a job as a marketing associate at pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. The pay was good. The work was soul-crushing. So Stevens quit in 2000 and took a job as a volunteer assistant on Thad Matta's Butler staff. Stevens had planned to work as a server at Applebee's to help pay the bills, but a staff shakeup allowed Matta to offer Stevens a paying gig.

Stevens didn't last long in the business world, but in some ways he never left it. While most coaches tell recruits how soon they'll start and how quickly they'll reach the NBA, Stevens sells Butler's program like the CEO of a startup pitching to an angel investor. That's precisely how Stevens sounded to guard Ronald Nored after Stevens drove from Indianapolis to Birmingham, Ala., to offer a scholarship, sell the Butler Way and steal Nored away from Harvard. "That was his major," Nored said. "His first job was in that setting. That's just the way his mind works."

Stevens also occasionally takes a page -- or rather an E Ink screen -- from Phil Jackson's playbook. Nored said that when the Bulldogs traveled to Hawaii for a tournament, Stevens handed Nored his Kindle and asked him to read the chapter on Shane Battier in SI writer Chris Ballard's The Art of a Beautiful Game: The Thinking Fan's Tour of the NBA. Stevens, who had tapped Nored as his defensive stopper, wanted to inspire Nored with the tale of a player who has made millions ignoring traditional stats and embracing defense.

Speaking of millions, Stevens could cash in at any time on Butler's two trips to the title game. Large schools are willing to throw money at him hoping he can replicate that success under higher pressure to win. In this respect, the startup analogy remains appropriate. Stevens in 2011 is the basketball version of Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page at the turn of the century. Brin and Page faced a choice. They could cash in on their creation and sell to a larger company, or they could stay independent and possibly enjoy an exponentially larger payday. They chose to remain independent, and when they took Google public in 2004, they became billionaires.

Though there aren't as many zeroes involved, Stevens faces a similar choice. He can take the guaranteed payday of a BCS-conference job, or he can stay at Butler and try to build a power that annually goes deep into the NCAA tournament. Mark Few created that model at Gonzaga, and Butler already has surpassed Gonzaga in cachet thanks to Stevens. If Stevens wants to talk himself into either choice, he can consult his two former bosses at Butler. Matta has built an excellent program at Ohio State. He has reached the title game once. His Buckeyes were the No. 1 overall seed in this year's tournament and may start next season ranked in the top five. On the other side is Matta's successor, Todd Lickliter. Lickliter left Butler in 2007 for Iowa. He was fired by Iowa in 2010.

The choice will be up to Stevens, but after hearing him talk about the Butler Way -- his own personal business plan for the program -- it's difficult to imagine him leaving. "It's not rocket science," Stevens said. "It's a values-based organization driven by a mission and a vision like every other business in the world or every other collective group in the world. The key in any endeavor is adhering to those standards and trying to live up to those standards, not trying to worry about anything else. It's hard to do and easy to talk about ... The only way we address the 'Butler Way' with our team is in this regard: People know they've seen and felt something special. They just can't put their finger on it."

Calhoun is an old-school coach. Stevens is a cutting-edge CEO. Stevens belongs to the Nintendo generation. Calhoun came at the start of the Baby Boom. Calhoun screams. Stevens contemplates. Make them roommates, and you'd have a hit sitcom. Put them on opposite benches, and you have a must-watch title game.

But for all their differences, Stevens and Calhoun share a few common traits. Both are consumed by the desire to win. Most importantly, both love their players. Stevens once heard Calhoun speak at a clinic and came away impressed. "I really appreciated how he stood up for his guys no matter what," Stevens said. "You can see that in the way his team plays."

Calhoun spoke Sunday about two types of coaches -- the ones who have a lot of awards in their offices, and the ones who have a lot of pictures of former players in their offices. Calhoun is the latter, and though he doesn't have photographic proof, he's pretty sure Stevens is, too. "I watch his teams play," Calhoun said. "I can see that passion right there. It comes out of my team the same way. The instrument directing may be a little different, but the passion is there. ... If he's what college basketball is going to become, we're in good hands."

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