Saturday, October 22, 2011

Today's Tune: Warren Zevon - Searching for a Heart (Live)

Fears and Smears

Islamophobia is not an irrational fear, nor is it the fear of Islam.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
October 22, 2011

"From a purely academic point of view, this translation is superior to anything produced by orientalists in the way of translations of major Islamic works.” Taha Jabir al-Alwani was writing about Reliance of the Traveller, the English version of Umdat al-Salik, the classic manual of sharia (“Islamic Sacred Law,” as the cover of Reliance puts it). Alwani is no lightweight in these matters. His specialty is fiqh — Islamic jurisprudence. In fact, he has been a member of the Islamic Fiqh Academy in Saudi Arabia and is renowned among orientalist scholars in the West as president of the Fiqh Council of North America.

More significant, he was writing in his capacity as president of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). Headquartered in Virginia, IIIT is an Islamist think tank created by the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s.

I was reminded of Dr. Alwani when reading the latest hit job against my friends David Horowitz and Robert Spencer, authored by the Center for American Progress. Directed by Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta, CAP is a lushly financed leftist think tank that profoundly influences the Obama administration — indeed, Podesta oversaw the Obama transition after the 2008 election. CAP’s sugar daddy, George Soros, has made a cottage industry out of whitewashing Islamist ideology. This enterprise has lately produced a lengthy ad hominem rant called “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.”

Islamophobia is a neologism coined by the Muslim Brotherhood, which is as practiced at the art of deception as any organization on Earth. It should come as no surprise, then, that Islamophobia is a smear, intended to discredit a phenomenon that, in truth, is neither a phobia — i.e., an irrational fear — nor concerned about Islam in general. The phenomenon, instead, is a quite rational disquiet about Islamists – fundamentalist Muslims, some of whom are violent jihadists and some stealth jihadists. They seek incrementally to implant sharia principles in the West.

Islamist organizations abound in the United States. Like IIIT, many of them are affiliated with the Brotherhood and collaborate regularly with leftist organizations such as CAP. Reciprocally, CAP, like many in the Obama administration, advocates the Brotherhood’s acceptance as a legitimate political party.

The Islamist groups purport to speak for the broader American Muslim community, but this is about as true as the claim that Occupy Wall Street speaks for 99 percent of Americans. Nevertheless, Islamist groups punch way above their weight, because they are lavishly financed, and they get red-carpet treatment from government officials — a bad habit the Obama administration has exacerbated but certainly did not originate.

As I outlined in The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America, the Muslim Brotherhood is engaged in a “civilizational jihad” against America, Europe, and Israel. There is no need to take my word for it: Islamists are quite blunt about this fact when they speak among themselves. The title of my book, in fact, is drawn from the words of an internal Brotherhood communiqué seized by the FBI, a memo in which the Brothers describe their work in America as a “grand jihad” aimed at “eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.”

It is no secret that the Brothers intend, as their leading jurisprudent, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, puts it, to “conquer America” and “conquer Europe.” Moreover, they believe this can be done mostly without violence, through a sedulous campaign of voluntary apartheid (integrating with but not assimilating into the West) and the infiltration of sharia principles into our law and our institutions. One need only open one’s eyes to see that Islamists are acting on these intentions, and one need only glance at Europe to know that their strategy can work.

There is nothing phobic about being concerned over this. And although Islamist ideology is undeniably a mainstream interpretation of Islam in many Islamic countries, that is not the case in the United States — or, for that matter, in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world by population. Contrary to the Brotherhood smear that the Left blithely retails, justifiable anxiety over the Brotherhood’s designs is not a generalized fear of Muslims.

Naturally, this does not stop the CAP report from liberally applying the “Islamophobe” smear to Horowitz, Spencer, and other conservative commentators. I’m also mentioned in the report, something I learned about only a couple of days ago, when the castigation of Horowitz and Spencer was brought to my attention. Ordinarily, I’d sit through an Obama speech on Solyndra’s solar-bright future before I’d waste my time reading a Soros-funded report about a Soros hobby-horse. But David and Robert did read it, and responded forcefully. That prompted a reply from CAP’s Matthew Duss, a co-author of the “Fear, Inc.” report.

Duss’s screed is the CAP report in small compass: long on character assassination, short on substance, disingenuous in relating its targets’ position on Islam (as opposed to Islamist ideology), and woefully incomplete on Islamic scripture. That’s to be expected, and I’m sure it will be a big hit at the many confabs where Islamists and leftists gather. More offensive is CAP’s plea that National Review go lefty and turn Horowitz and Spencer into non-persons. CAP is basically the Obama administration’s brain — where could NR and the Right possibly get more well-meaning advice about who should have credibility in our movement?

As precedent, Duss purports to rely on Bill Buckley’s famed ejection of the Birchers. The comparison is noxious, but typical. It was only a few years ago that a CAP offshoot (“Campus Progress”) absurdly slandered Horowitz as a racist because he, like the vast majority of Americans, was opposed to the notion that Americans who had nothing to do with slavery should pay slavery reparations to people who were never slaves, 137 years after the abolition of slavery. (CAP might have considered stepping up to the plate for those still living in slavery in Saudi Arabia and Sudan, Islamic countries where the Koran’s express approval of slavery enables the institution to endure.)

Horowitz, of course, is a former radical leftist who became a conservative of singular eloquence. With his intimate knowledge of how the progressive project works, David is his era’s most consequential detractor of the Left, which has only slightly less contempt for its apostates than does Islam (on which more momentarily). Spencer, the longtime director of the invaluable Jihad Watch, is a scholar of sharia who works tirelessly to expose the global Islamist threat and to track the sundry collaborations of Islamists and leftists. To equate their carefully documented, amply supported critiques of Islamism to Robert Welch’s lunatic claim that Dwight Eisenhower was a closet Communist is contemptible.

It is not my burden to refute what Duss has said about Horowitz and Spencer. As one would expect, they have done that ably, here and here. Nor is there benefit in spending much time on what Duss claims is “the actual argument made in ‘Fear, Inc.,’ which is that they, along with a small cadre of self-appointed experts and activists, promote the idea that religiously inspired terrorism represents true Islam.” I have said any number of times that I do not presume to say what “true Islam” is, or even if there is a single true Islam. What the true Islam may be is irrelevant to U.S. national security; what matters is that Islamist ideology — which fuels both the terrorist threat and the Muslim Brotherhood’s multi-faceted civilizational jihad — is a mainstream construction of Islam to which many millions of Muslims adhere. If they believe it and act on it, it is a threat regardless of whether it is an authentic expression of “true Islam.”

I’ve pointedly and repeatedly observed that our government could not have thwarted terrorist attacks without the assistance of patriotic Muslims who’ve worked against the violent jihadists. And, like Horowitz and Spencer, I regularly use the term “Islamist” rather than “Islam” to draw a distinction between the ideology of the enemy and Islam as it is practiced by most American Muslims, and by millions of Muslims throughout the world. We can make a sober concession that Islamist ideology draws on Islamic scripture without leaping to the conclusion that it is the only legitimate interpretation of Islamic scripture.

The most risible aspect of CAP’s Islamophobia smear is that it cavalierly sells out the Muslims it pretends to defend. As the commentators CAP vilifies are wont to point out, among the most persecuted victims of Islamist ideology are Muslim women, Muslim homosexuals, and patriotic American Muslims who, in the tradition of E Pluribus Unum, want to empower their fellow Muslims to assimilate and enjoy Western civil-rights norms — in sharp contrast to Islamists, who regard encouraging Muslims to assimilate in the West as a “crime against humanity.” Duss, however, tells us not to worry about sharia’s compatibility with “a modern society,” because its more unsavory features are not reflected in the practice of Islam by most American Muslims, whom Duss describes as “Sharia-adherent.”

Of course, the problem is that American Muslims are being encouraged (and in some cases, coerced) into fundamentalist sharia — to which most of them are certainly not adherent — by Muslim Brotherhood organizations such as IIIT, which CAP is abetting, whether knowingly or not. (See, e.g., the signatures of IIIT and CAP, along with various other organizations, on this 2009 letter advising President Obama on democracy promotion in the Middle East, also available on the Muslim Brotherhood website, here.) That brings us back to Dr. Alwani and the English translation of Reliance of the Traveller.

The IIIT president’s lavish praise for the translation, which he called an “eminent work of Islamic jurisprudence,” was not idle. It was written in an IIIT report that is included in the preface of Reliance as an endorsement of the manual’s rendering of sharia. The purpose of the translation, Alwani explained, is to make this faithful interpretation of sharia “accessible” to English speakers who are not fluent in the original Arabic. “The book will be of great use,” he elaborated, “in America, Britain, and Canada,” among other countries. Echoing IIIT’s commendation is the certification that immediately follows from the Islamic Research Academy at al-Azhar University in Cairo, the ancient and profoundly influential seat of Sunni learning.

The manual is startling. To take just a few of its innumerable bracing instructions, it pronounces that:
  • Apostasy from Islam is “the ugliest form of unbelief” for which the penalty is death (“When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed”)
  • Apostasy occurs not only when a Muslim renounces Islam but also, among other things, when a Muslim appears to worship an idol, when he is heard “to speak words that imply unbelief,” when he makes statements that appear to deny or revile Allah or the prophet Mohammed, when he is heard “to deny the obligatory character of something which by consensus of Muslims is part of Islam,” and when he is heard “to be sarcastic about any ruling of the Sacred Law”
  • “Jihad means to war against non-Muslims”
  • Non-Muslims are permitted to live in an Islamic state only if they follow the rules of Islam, pay the non-Muslim poll tax, and comply with various adhesive conditions designed to remind them that they have been subdued (such as wearing distinctive clothing, keeping to one side of the street, not being greeted with “Peace be with you” (“as-Salamu alaykum”), not being permitted to build as high as or higher than Muslims, and being forbidden to build new churches, recite prayers aloud, “or make public displays of their funerals or feastdays”
  • Offenses committed against Muslims (including murder) are more serious than offenses committed against non-Muslims
  • The penalty for spying against Muslims is death
  • The penalty for fornication is to be stoned to death, unless one is without the “capacity to remain chaste,” in which case the penalty is “being scourged one hundred stripes and banished to a distance of at least 81 km./50mi. for one year”
  • The penalty for homosexual activity (“sodomy and lesbianism”) is death
  • A Muslim woman may only marry a Muslim man; a Muslim man may marry up to four women, who may be Muslim, Christian, or Jewish (but no apostates from Islam)
  • A woman is required to be obedient to her husband and is prohibited from leaving the marital home without permission; if permitted to go out, she must conceal her figure or alter it “to a form unlikely to draw looks from men or attract them”
  • A non-Muslim may not be awarded custody of a Muslim child
  • The penalty for theft is amputation of the right hand
  • The penalty for drinking alcohol is “to be scourged forty stripes”
  • The penalty for accepting interest (“usurious gain”) is death (i.e., to be considered in a state of war against Allah)
  • The testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man
  • If a case involves an allegation of fornication (including rape), “then it requires four male witnesses”
  • The establishment of a caliphate is obligatory, and the caliph must be Muslim and male

The IIIT was established by Muslim Brotherhood figures in 1980. Its mission is the Islamization of knowledge — “a new synthesis of all knowledge in an Islamic epistemological framework,” as recounted in an important study, “The Muslim Brotherhood in the United States,” authored by the Hudson Institute’s Center on Islam, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World. As I’ve previously explained, the Brotherhood expressly identified the IIIT as being among “our organizations and the organizations of our friends” in internal memoranda seized by the FBI and admitted in evidence at the Hamas-financing trial. It shares common leaders with the Islamic Society of North America, another Brotherhood affiliate that was shown to be complicit in the Hamas-financing conspiracy. And Dr. Alwani himself was cited as an unindicted coconspirator in the Justice Department’s prosecution against Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Sami al-Arian, who ultimately pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge.

The IIIT’s sharia — the one it labors to make more “accessible” — is not the form of Islam that American Muslims appear to desire. In fact, its gradual adoption, which the publication of Reliance was designed to facilitate, would make life incalculably worse for American Muslims. That is a fact of the sort that, for years, David Horowitz and Robert Spencer have taken many a sling and arrow to expose. It is a fact the Center for American Progress prefers to obscure. I doubt that factophobia will prove a winning strategy, either for American Muslims or for American national security.

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.

U.S. schools teach how to do less with more

As in so many other areas, the problem with public education is not lack of money but that so much money is utterly wasted.

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
October 21, 2011

Vice President Joe Biden takes questions from a fourth grade class at the Goode Elementary School in York, Pa. , Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011, during a stop to highlight the American Job Act.(AP)

In one of those inspired innovations designed to keep American classrooms on the cutting edge of educational excellence, the administration has been sending Joe Biden out to talk to schoolchildren. Last week, it was the Fourth Grade at Alexander B. Goode Elementary School in York, Pennsylvania, that found itself on the receiving end of the vice president's wisdom:

"Here in this school, your school, you've had a lot of teachers who used to work here, but because there's no money for them in the city, they're not working. And so what happens is, when that occurs, each of the teachers that stays have more kids to teach. And they don't get to spend as much time with you as they did when your classes were smaller. We think the federal government in Washington, D.C., should say to the cities and states, look, we're going to give you some money so that you can hire back all those people. And the way we're going to do it, we're going to ask people who have a lot of money to pay just a little bit more in taxes."

Who knew it was that easy?

So let's see if I follow the vice president's thinking:

The school laid off these teachers because "there's no money for them in the city." That's true. York City School District is broke. It has a $14 million budget deficit.

So instead Washington, D.C., is going to "give you some money" to hire these teachers back.

So, unlike York, Pennsylvania, presumably Washington, D.C., has "money for them"?

No, not technically. Washington, D.C., is also broke – way broker than York City School District. In fact, the government of the United States is broker than any entity has ever been in the history of the planet. Officially, Washington has to return 15,000,000,000,000 dollars just to get back to having nothing at all. And that 15,000,000,000,000 dollars is a very lowball figure that conveniently ignores another $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities that the government, unlike private businesses, is able to keep off the books.

So how come the Brokest Jurisdiction in History is able to "give you some money" to hire back those teachers that had to be laid off?

No problem, says the vice president. We're going to "ask" people who have "a lot of money" to "pay just a little bit more" in taxes.

Where are these people? Evidently, not in York, Pennsylvania. But they're out there somewhere. Who has "a lot of money"? According to President Obama, if your combined household income is over $250,000 a year you have "a lot of money." Back in March, my National Review colleague Kevin Williamson pointed out that, in order to balance the budget of the United States, you would have to increase the taxes of people earning more than $250,000 a year by $500,000 a year.

OK, OK, maybe that $250K definition of "bloated plutocrat" is a bit off. After all, the quarter-mil-a-year category includes not only bankers and other mustache-twirling robber barons, but also at least 50 school superintendents in the state of New York and many other mustache-twirling selfless public servants.

So how about people earning a million dollars a year? That's "a lot of money" by anybody's definition. As Kevin Williamson also pointed out, to balance the budget of the United States on the backs of millionaires you would have to increase the taxes of those earning more than $1 million a year by $6 million a year.

Not only is there "no money in the city" of York, Pennsylvania, and no money in Washington, D.C., there's no money anywhere else in America – not for spending on the Obama/Biden scale. Come to that, there's no money anywhere on the planet: Last year, John Kitchen of the U.S. Treasury and Menzie Chinn of the University of Wisconsin published a study called "Financing U.S. Debt: Is There Enough Money In The World – And At What Cost?"

Don't worry, it's a book with a happy ending! U.S. government spending is sustainable as long as by 2020 the rest of the planet is willing to sink 19 percent of its GDP into U.S. Treasury debt. And why wouldn't they? After all, if you're a Chinese politburo member or a Saudi prince or a Russian kleptocrat or a Somali pirate, and you switched on CNN International and chanced to catch Joe Biden's Fourth Grade Economics class, why wouldn't you cheerily dump a fifth of your GDP into a business model with such a bright future?

Since 1970, public school employment has increased 10 times faster than public school enrollment. In 2008, the United States spent more per student on K-12 education than any other developed nation except Switzerland – and at least the Swiss have something to show for it. In 2008, York City School District spent $12,691 per pupil – or about a third more than the Swiss. Slovakia's total per student cost is less than York City's current per student deficit – and the Slovak kids beat the United States at mathematics, which may explain why their budget arithmetic still has a passing acquaintanceship with reality. As in so many other areas of American life, the problem is not the lack of money but the fact that so much of the money is utterly wasted.

But that's no reason not to waste even more! So the President spent last week touring around in his weaponized Canadian bus telling Americans that Republicans were blocking plans to "put teachers back in the classroom." Well, where are they now? Not every schoolmarm is down at the Occupy Wall Street drum circle, is she? No, indeed. And, in that respect, York City is a most instructive example: Five years ago (the most recent breakdown I have), the district had 440 teachers but 295 administrative and support staff. If you're thinking that sounds a little out of whack, that just shows what a dummy you are: For every three teachers we "put back in the classroom," we need to hire two bureaucrats to put back in the bureaucracy to fill in the paperwork to access the federal funds to put teachers back in the classroom. One day it will be three educrats for every two teachers, and the system will operate even more effectively.

It's just about possible to foresee, say, Iceland or Ireland getting its spending under control. But, when a nation of 300 million people presumes to determine grade-school hiring and almost everything else through an ever more centralized bureaucracy, you're setting yourself up for waste on a scale unknown to history. For example, under the Obama "stimulus," U.S. taxpayers gave a $529 million loan guarantee to the company Fisker to build their Karma electric car. At a factory in Finland.

If you're wondering how giving half-a-billion dollars to a Finnish factory stimulates the U.S. economy, well, what's a lousy half-bil in a multitrillion-dollar sinkhole? Besides, in the 2009 global rankings, Finnish schoolkids placed sixth in math, third in reading and second in science, while suffering under the burden of a per-student budget half that of York City. By comparison, America placed 17th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in math. So the good news is that, by using U.S. government money to fund a factory in Finland, Fisker may be able to hire workers smart enough to figure out how to build an unwanted electric car that doesn't lose its entire U.S. taxpayer investment.

In a sane world, Joe Biden's remarks would be greeted by derisive laughter, even by fourth-graders. Certainly by Finnish fourth-graders.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Biden Sticks to the Playbook

The vice president is an ugly reflection of his boss.

By Jonah Goldberg
October 21, 2011

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden speaks at a rally for police officers, firefighters and teachers at the U.S. Capitol in Washington October 19, 2011. (REUTERS / Joshua Roberts)

‘I wish [critics of the administration’s jobs bill] had some notion of what it was like to be on the other side of a gun, or [to have] a 200-pound man standing over you, telling you to submit [to rape].” — Vice President Joe Biden, October 18, University of Pennsylvania

“ . . . at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do, it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” — Barack Obama, Jan. 12, 2011, Tucson, Ariz.

Joe Biden is not a big effing deal, as he might say.

In fairness, few vice presidents matter, and Biden suffers by comparison to his immediate predecessor, who mattered more than most.

As you know, the current vice president says dumb things, funny things, weird things. He talks like the sort of guy who sits right next to you on the bus even though there are plenty of empty seats — just so he can explain how squirrels aren’t mammals.

Indeed, in many respects, he’s as close as American politics gets to a wacky sitcom character who’s a couple fries short of a Happy Meal.

Remember when he told us how President Roosevelt went on TV to reassure America after the 1929 stock market crash? It wasn’t until later that someone reminded him that no one had TVs in 1929, and that FDR wasn’t president. Remember when he insisted that in Delaware, “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. . . . I’m not joking”?

He wasn’t joking then, and he’s not joking now when he says that if you oppose the president’s jobs bill — which currently enjoys bipartisan opposition in the Senate — you’re okay with more rapes and murders.

No wonder he thinks many Republicans acted like “terrorists” during the budget negotiations last summer.

And speaking of terrorists, my complaint about Biden has always been that he gets to behave like the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat. By that I mean Arafat got a free pass from many in the West because he would only say horrible things in Arabic while he would talk peace in English.

Biden’s double standard allows him to enjoy a kind of political immunity that only encourages asinine impunity.

When he says outrageous, idiotic, and reprehensible things, the mainstream press and the Democratic party shrug, even smile, and say, “Oh, that’s just Joe.” And if he says something nobody can ignore, he’s always allowed to take it back because everyone knows he has as much control over his mouth as Pakistan does over its tribal regions.

Biden may not matter much, but his boss does. And that’s why it’s worth pointing out that Biden isn’t simply freelancing out there.

Like all vice presidents, part of his job is to carry water for his boss, and he carries more water than Gunga Din. “In my wildest dreams,” he proclaimed of the stimulus, “I never thought it would work this well.”

Biden has repeated his insinuation that if you’re opposed to yet another stimulus to pay for municipal workers, you’re okay with the fact that “murder will continue to rise, rape will continue to rise, all crimes will continue to rise.”

When his boss doesn’t want him to repeat his crazy talk, Biden dutifully zips his yapper. Not this time. Why? Because this is part of the White House’s overall strategy to demonize the opposition. It’s from the same playbook that has Obama insisting that Republicans are for “dirtier air, dirtier water,” and are woefully deficient in decency and honesty. It is also the same playbook that makes an absolute mockery of the new politics Obama routinely calls for.

Joe Biden is Barack Obama’s loyal pet, and like even the most loyal dog, he sometimes has an accident on the carpet. But he still does his master’s bidding when asked.

And that is the one way Biden matters. He is a reflection of his boss, and an accurate one at that.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can reach him by e-mail at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2011, Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chris Isaak goes way back on 'Beyond the Sun'

By Marco R. della Cava, USA TODAY
October 18, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO – Bill's Place is Chris Isaak's kind of place. Great burgers, sinful fries and saucy waitresses.

There's something decidedly retro about the joint. Ditto the guy digging into his lunch out on the patio, given his, well, let's just say it, Elvis voice and looks.

"The '50s was a pretty wonderful time for people, it was hopeful," says Isaak, 55. "But I didn't record this new album out of nostalgia."

Isaak's new disc, Beyond the Sun, out Oct. 18, was recorded with his longtime band at Memphis' fabled Sun Studio, and includes both rock staples (from "Great Balls of Fire" to "Ring of Fire") and uptempo originals such as the album's first single, "Live It Up".

But in tackling this material, Isaak wasn't interested in lionizing an era ("The '50s had polio and racism, too," he says bluntly) but rather paying tribute to his modest childhood in scrappy Stockton, Calif.

A memorable serenade

Chris Isaak knew early on that something about Elvis Presley rocked his world. And it didn’t hurt that he could look and sound like The King with ease. “Elvis was my nickname when I was a boxer as a kid,” says Isaak, who in his 20s boxed as a light heavyweight for a university in Japan. “I was like, ‘OK, well, maybe.’ But I knew I didn’t want to be an impersonator.” Once he’d made a name for himself, Isaak felt more comfortable tackling Presley’s canon on stage. Which led to what he considers one of the most fantastically embarrassing moments of his life. I was playing the Greek Theatre (in Los Angeles) a few years back, and I walked into the crowd to sing a song,” he says. “I started in on "Love Me Tender" and looked around in the dark for someone to sing it to, kind of like a lounge singer would. So I turned to this woman and starting singing. And then I saw who it was. Priscilla Presley. “I just went, ‘Uh ... uh ...’ I forgot the words. I said, ‘Man, I didn’t mean to do that.’ And she gave me this smiling look like, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard this song before.’” "My mom and dad played this music all the time when I was growing up, so to me songs by Jerry Lee (Lewis) and Fats Domino are the classics, they're the best songs ever," says the man who sprung into the cultural mainstream in the early '90s with "Wicked Game".

"I write my own songs, and I only see their flaws," he says. "But 'It's Now or Never'? There's nothing ever wrong with that."

Isaak says that for years he shied away from covering his heroes for fear of being pigeonholed as a retro crooner. That was a wise move, says Alan Light, Rolling Stone contributing writer.

"He was smart to not do an album like this early in his career, but now he can," says Light. "The tricky thing is, how do you win in a head-to-head battle with those (legends)? You can't really advance a song like "I Walk the Line". But Isaak can easily pass the sincerity test, which makes his versions of these songs work."

Besides, adds Light, anything that "brings a spotlight to a place like Sun Studio is a good thing. (Studios such as) Stax and Hitsville are gone. But Sun remains."

The idea for Beyond the Sun came years ago, after Isaak read an interview with Sam Phillips, Sun Studio's monarch who crowned the careers of Elvis, Johnny Cash and Lewis, among others. In the article, Phillips cited Isaak as a personal favorite.

"Reading that brought tears to my eyes, because it was what Sam did that made me a musician," says Isaak, who was planning to meet Phillips when the legend died at 80 in July 2003. "I loved that he knew that I loved all that stuff."

Preparations for the album began at his home studio here. The woodshedding sessions went late into the night, fueled by pots of spaghetti cooked up by Isaak, who is Italian on his mother's side. ("And let's face it," he says with a laugh, "whatever your mother is, is what you are.")

Once prepared, the band made for Memphis. Setting up nightly just as the studio's public tours wound down, Isaak and his gang pounded through a few dozen classics, doing just one or two takes each, breaking only to get milkshakes from the diner next door.

"It was the most fun I've ever had," he says of the sessions. "We knew our stuff cold."

Sun Studio is a comically small place, considering its global impact; it's as if The Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Who had all recorded in the same small London building. So does it have an aura?

"I'm not a very spiritual guy when it comes to music," says Isaak. "I remember hearing Carlos Santana say that angels helped him write his songs. And I thought, 'Really, angels?'

"Well, Carlos was right. Now I get it. It's not like those guys were talking to me in that room, but you feel like you want to do your very best out of respect for them," he says. "It's like, Babe Ruth hit it out of the park. You know you're not going to be as good as Elvis or Jerry Lee, but I just wanted to go in there and hit a good one."

New album carries tunes Isaak heard growing up in Stockton

By Tony Sauro
Stockton Record Staff Writer
October 20, 2011 12:01 AM

Chris Isaak's dad "doesn't say much, you know."

This time he said it all about his son's new album.

Isaak's mom, Dorothy, played an advance copy of Chris' "Beyond the Sun" for her 83-year-old husband, Joe, a few weeks ago. His five-star response?

" 'That's the way I would have sung it,' " Chris said. He's proudly keeping the faith.

Isaak sings the songs on "Beyond the Sun," which was released Tuesday, very much the way he heard them being sung while growing up in Stockton.

On his parents' scratchy, "suitcase"-like record player. Or dad's tinny truck radio.

Living out a fantasy, Isaak recorded his 15th album at historic Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn.

That's where immortals who inspired the boyhood Isaak - Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley - forged country-western and rhythm-and-blues into rock 'n' roll. With the defiant guidance of rebellious Sam Phillips.

"These were all the records my dad knew growing up," Isaak, 55, said of the 14-song CD that's also available in a two-CD, 25-track version and as a vinyl LP. "I tried to make a blend. A bouquet of flowers. They're songs I sing all the time. Some of them, people will know right away. Some will be pretty new-sounding.

Isaak and his band (Silvertone) captured that old sound, too. Which is just what he wanted. They played live and stayed true to the sonic template and studio set-up Phillips used to transform his modest Memphis Recording Service into a rock 'n' roll temple: The home of Sun Records.

"It's awesome," said Isaak, who "cut" 40 songs for the album. "I guarantee you'll like it, though it'll probably sell 10 copies. Everything links together. Every artist is connected to Sam Phillips. It was probably the most fun of anything I've ever done. We just loved getting to play in that room."

During his 26-year career, the Stagg High School and University of the Pacific graduate's music has echoed with affectionate evocations of rock 'n' roll's roots.

Isaak includes an autobiographical essay in the liner notes that connects his Stockton roots to his musical passions and the fabled Sun story.

"I still remember, on Harding Way, the second-hand shop where I bought a 45 (-rpm vinyl record) of 'I'll Never Let You Go,' " he recently said of a song from Presley's debut album in 1956, the year Isaak was born.

"That was the start. 'Oh, my god, this is great.' "

Isaak's motivation intensified when he discovered a copy of Presley's "Sun Sessions" recording (1954) while studying in Tokyo: "It changed my life. I went from having a flat-top (haircut) on the boxing team to saying I'd still be a heavyweight only as long as I could have hair like Elvis (a duck-tail pompadour)."

Not surprisingly, nine of the 25 tunes on "Beyond the Sun" are associated with Presley. It's also no surprise that Phillips once praised Isaak by saying, "He's very talented ... his music is so honest. It's incredible."

Isaak, who produced the album, growls and glides on the fast-and-hard ones. He really soars on "Can't Help Falling in Love" (1961) and "It's Now or Never" (1960), a re-write of " 'O Sole Mio."

Isaak's take on "My Happiness" is suitably sweet. Presley recorded it at Phillips' studio, ostensibly for his mom Gladys, in 1953. Phillips' office manager later insisted he check out the young novice's voice. History was made. (Connie Francis' "My Happiness" became a top-10 single in 1958.)

Isaak and his band's joy and freewheeling, one-take spontaneity are evident everywhere. Parts of the album - Isaak's first for Vanguard Records after 14 at Warner/Reprise - were recorded in San Francisco, where Isaak lives, and Los Angeles. Respecting another old-school axiom, the double-CD clocks in at a concise 64 minutes.

Isaak really digs into Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman" (1964). There are devoted takes on Johnny Cash: His signature "Ring of Fire" (1964) and the low rumble of "I Walk the Line" (1956). Isaak frolics through Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" (1957) and greases Perkins' "Dixie Fried" (1956) just right.

Demonstrating his skill at writing them "that way," too, Isaak includes two original tunes: "Live It Up," a rockabilly romp, and "Lovely Loretta," a sprightly, yet sad, shuffle ("This whole world turned against me/You're the only friend I found").

Isaak also discovered the pleasure of working with Sun legends Jack "Cowboy" Clement and Roland James.

"We played 'til our fingers looked like baseball mitts," Isaak said. "I don't think there's a band that can touch us on this stuff."

It's "dedicated to my folks Joe & Dorothy." The double-CD concludes with a close-the-circle version of "That Lucky Old Sun" (1949). In Isaak's case, it's "that lucky old son," too.

Busy, busy, busy. ...

Isaak also harmonizes with Glenn Campbell on "Ghost on the Canvas," the 75-year-old singer-songwriter's impressive new recording.

Campbell, a "really, really nice guy," chit-chatted and performed on "The Chris Isaak Hour" TV show.

Isaak's version of "Crying Waiting Hoping" is one of the more-faithful interpretations on "Listen to Me: Buddy Holly," a 16-track tribute to the late rock 'n' roll pioneer who would've turned 75 on Sept. 7.

As a Turner Classic Movies host on Oct. 11, Isaak led into a version of Robert Penn Warren's novel by saying: "Shot in my hometown of Stockton, California, from 1949, 'All the King's Men.' "

To paraphrase the title of an Elvis tune on "Beyond the Sun": Isaak never forgets to remember.

Contact Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or Visit his blog at


Chris Isaak loves classics, but not old 55 -

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Obamacare’s Great Unraveling

It continues as the CLASS Act collides with accounting reality.

By Rich Lowry
October 18, 2011 12:00 A.M.

If only blinkered denial were a sound guide to policy. Then, Obamacare might be vindicating all the promises made on its behalf during the fevered push for its passage.

Alas, there’s no such place as the Big Rock Candy Mountain, where, as the hobo anthem has it, “the hens lay soft-boiled eggs” and “the handouts grow on bushes.”

One of the law’s more blatant gimmicks just died after the administration ran smack into the adamantine rules of basic accounting, and one of the law’s central provisions might be overturned by the Supreme Court. The Obama administration’s signature legislative accomplishment is a standing testament to the foolishness of saying and doing anything to pass a bill as complex and sensitive as one remaking the American health-care system.

The expiring budgetary gimmick is the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports, or CLASS, Act. This new entitlement for long-term care was going to collect premiums for five years before paying out benefits. In the highly theoretical bookkeeping of the Congressional Budget Office, this made it a deficit-reduction measure; the program would collect $70 billion over the first ten years of Obamacare, the window for CBO estimates. Thereafter, it would pay out benefits at an unsustainable clip.

Only in Washington could lighting a fuse on an exploding entitlement be considered an act of fiscal rectitude, but the CLASS Act accounted for almost half of the official deficit reduction of Obamacare. Everyone knew it was shameless legerdemain. In 2009, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee pronounced the CLASS Act a “Ponzi scheme of the first order.” The actuary for Medicare warned during the drafting of the program, “Thirty-six years of actuarial experience lead me to believe that this program would collapse in short order and require significant federal subsidies to continue.”

The Obama administration persisted anyway. The long-term-care program had been a cherished priority of the late Ted Kennedy, and besides, it helped with the numbers. Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services wrestled to make the program workable before giving up last week. An HHS official with a gift for understatement explained that putting the program on a sound actuarial footing during the next 75 years and implementing it as written were goals in “some tension.”

To work, the CLASS Act needed a mandate. Otherwise, young and healthy people wouldn’t sign up for it, and the cost of premiums would spiral out of control. This is why, more broadly, the individual mandate is so important to Obamacare. Without it, the health-insurance system will experience the same “death spiral” that prospectively doomed the CLASS Act.

As it happens, this indispensable piece of the law is of dubious constitutionality. When the bill passed, the administration and its supporters pooh-poohed constitutional challenges to the individual mandate. Now, the administration itself wants an expedited Supreme Court review and is hoping to squeak by on a 5–4 vote.

The promised wonders of the law are faring poorly. Premiums are up, and the CBO says Obamacare will not control costs over the long run. White House deputy chief of staff Nancy-Ann DeParle insists the president’s assurance that families will see their premiums reduced by $2,500 annually will indeed materialize — around 2019, three years after the end of an Obama second term.

Studies are showing that more employers than anticipated may stop offering their employees insurance, thus increasing costs to the federal government. In this connection, DeParle has added a caveat to the president’s oft-repeated assurance that people can keep the coverage they have. What he really meant, she says, is that people won’t be affirmatively forced out of their plans by government, which has a less reassuring ring.

Malcolm Muggeridge once said, “People do not believe lies because they have to, but because they want to.” It was in this spirit that Democrats wanted to believe in Obamacare. The CLASS Act is the first, but surely not the last, rude collision between their wishfulness and reality.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Three Policies That Gave Us the Jobs Economy

Capital gains tax cuts, deregulation to allow easier investment in growth companies, and the protection of intellectual property created a boom.

The Wall Street Journal
October 17, 2011

Sometimes two separate news events turn out to be related. That's the case with the Wall Street protesters and the extraordinary mourning at the death of Steve Jobs.

Some protesters have praised Jobs as the billionaire who was different—unlike the callous Wall Streeters, he was "beneficial to society." There's a second connection. More than anything else, the Wall Street protesters feel powerless, mere individuals against great banks. Maybe the mourning over the Apple founder is so intense precisely because Jobs gave individuals power. It's hard to think of a gift more empowering than your own personal computer.

Also fueling the grief is a more general suspicion that another Jobs won't come along soon. He was a creature of his times, the late 1970s, the 1980s and 1990s. There wasn't merely Jobs; there was also that economy in which he and other venture-capital recipients operated. Americans fear that the opportunities Jobs enjoyed won't come again.

It's worthwhile therefore to go back and look at what happened in those years, and then to look at how policy changes may have affected innovating firms that received venture capital.

The era didn't start well. The mid-1970s were a dead period. Then suddenly, from 1977 to 1978, new private capital devoted to venture capital increased by 15 times, to $570 million in 1978 from $39 million the year before.

In 1977, public underwritings of firms with a net worth of less than $5 million amounted to a meager $75 million. By 1980 that figure was $822 million, as Michael K. Evans, founder of Chase Econometrics, points out. The venture-capital boom continued down the decades, serving computing, technology, biotech and many other areas.

Over time, what we might call the Jobs Economy led to a jobs economy. In the past quarter-century, Apple and innovative companies like it yielded employment for a whole region, Silicon Valley; an improvement in America's standard of living with the creation of personal computing; and productivity gains throughout the economy.

But what caused this boom? Three policy changes. The first was a tax cut for which this newspaper campaigned.

In the late 1960s, Congress had raised the tax rate on capital gains dramatically, to 49%. The received wisdom behind the increase was that mainly wealthy people realized capital gains, and that, a la Warren Buffett, the wealthy ought to pay a larger share of social programs for lower earners. But venture capital dried up so much that by 1977-78 even the Carter administration nursed doubts about high rates.

Voices advocating a rate cut soon grew louder. The idea found a champion in 40-year-old Rep. William Steiger, whom Time magazine profiled as "a baby-faced Wisconsin Republican who has the gung-ho style of a JayCee president." Time worriedly reminded readers that in Steiger's capital gains tax-cut plan "the benefits go to people with incomes of $100,000 or more"—back then, the rich.

Steiger nonetheless found dozens of co-sponsors. He succeeded in getting Congress to pass the Steiger Amendment, which halved the capital gains rate, to an effective 25%.

Many wealthy people did indeed make more money as a result, including some of those less-lovable billionaires on Wall Street. But they then invested in companies like Apple. The revenues from the rich-man's rate cut were stronger than expected, so the federal government got more money to spend—more money than expected for those social programs.

A second policy change came in pension law. In 1974, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, known as Erisa, codified the common law prudent-man principle by warning pension investors that they might be neglecting their fiduciary responsibilities if they invested in risky projects like Apple. The pension funds and portfolio investors duly stayed away. That changed when the definitions were relaxed later in the 1970s, as Josh Lerner and Paul Alan Gompers have noted in "The Money of Invention." Pension funds could again tell themselves and their clients that they were acting responsibly when they invested in start-ups. The funds began to put more cash into venture capital.

A third factor, and one that ensured the boom would continue, was a law passed in 1980. Sponsored by Sens. Birch Bayh of Indiana and Bob Dole of Kansas, the measure clarified murky intellectual property rights so that universities and professors, especially, knew they owned their own ideas and could sell them. That knowledge gave professors and lab teams an enormous incentive to put to commercial use plans and ideas for inventions that they had long ago shelved in their minds and offices.

To these three advantages one might add a fourth. The advantage of a disadvantage: the poor performance and reduced expectations of the 1970s. New technology (telephones that showed the face of the person you were calling, linked networks of computers) had been around for years, but they languished in those university offices or in museum displays.

The demand for this new technology, frustrated as it was, built and built. It meant that when someone like Jobs finally did deliver a gizmo, his market was a whole impatient generation of would-be gadget handlers, people who were delighted to have new technology and delighted to find new applications for it.

"Personal Computers are Becoming More Useful to Many Investors," wrote Journal editors in wonderment in 1980. It's not inconceivable that similar changes in policy today might yield a similar boom. When it comes to taxes, the 1970s takeaway is that taxes on capital should always be lowered, and dramatically. Cutting a rich man's tax can serve the lowliest citizens.

The second takeaway is that an administration's choices matter when editing, interpreting or enforcing statutes and regulation. The Erisas of today are Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley; subtle clarifications in their rules can affect the overall gross domestic product. A third is that property rights matter; today's Bayh-Dole should be patent reform.

But last of all there's the silver lining to our current cloud. It is that the economic mediocrity of the recent years constitutes someone's advantage. And that someone is young innovators. All this time, demand has once again been building. As soon as the economy feels reliable, people will go out and make the 2015 equivalent of the early PC.

Illustration: Chad Crowe

Miss Shlaes, author of the forthcoming "Coolidge" (HarperCollins), joined the George W. Bush Institute this week as director of its economic growth project.


By Mark Steyn

National Review's Happy Warrior
October 17, 2011

In 1853 or thereabouts, Czar Nicholas I described Turkey as the sick man of Europe. A century and a half later, Turkey is increasingly the strong man of the Middle East, and the sick man of Europe is Europe — or, rather, "Europe." The transformation of a geographical patchwork of nation-states into a single political entity has been the dominant Big Idea of the post-war era, the Big Idea the Continent's elites turned to after all the other Big Ideas — Fascism, Nazism, and eventually Communism — failed, spectacularly. The West's last Big Idea is now dying in the eurozone debt crisis. Although less obviously malign than the big totalitarian -isms, this particular idea has proved so insinuating and debilitating that the only question is whether most of the West dies with it.

"Europe" has a basic identity crisis: As the Germans have begun to figure out, just because the Greeks live in the same general neighborhood is no reason to open a joint checking account. And yet a decade ago, when it counted, everyone who mattered on the Continent assumed a common currency for nations with nothing in common was so obviously brilliant an idea it was barely worth explaining to the masses. In the absence of ethnic or cultural compatibility, the European Union offered Big Government as a substitute: The project was propped up by two pillars — social welfare and defense welfare. The former regulated Europe into economic sloth even as India, China, and Brazil began figuring out how this capitalism thing worked. The latter meant that the U.S. defense umbrella ensured once-lavish budgets for hussars and lancers could be reallocated to government health care and other lollipops — and it still wasn't enough. Whatever the individual merits of ever-more-leisurely education, 30-hour work weeks, six weeks' vacation, retirement at 50, the cumulative impact is that not enough people do not enough work for not enough of their lives. And once large numbers of people acquire the habits of a leisured class, there are not many easy ways back to reality.

Defense welfare does the same at a geopolitical level. In absolving the Continent of responsibility for its own defense, the United States not only enabled Europe to beat its swords into Ponzi shares but, in a subtle and profound way, helped enervate the survival instincts of some of the oldest nation-states on the planet. I tend to agree with John Keegan, the great military historian and my old Telegraph colleague, that a nation without a military is in a sense no longer a nation. One of the few remaining serious second-tier powers is now joining their ranks: Under the "Conservative" premiership of David Cameron, a nation that within living memory governed a fifth of the earth's surface and a quarter of its population and provided what global order there was for much of the rest will have a military incapable of independent force projection. Were the Argies to seize the Falklands today, Her Majesty's Government would have to content itself with going to the U.N. and getting a strong resolution. Were the toppling of Saddam to be attempted today, Britain would be incapable of reprising the role it played eight years ago — of holding down the lower third of Iraq all but singlehanded while the Yanks pressed on to Baghdad. But beyond that, in a more general sense, nations that abandon their militaries tend also to abandon their national interests: Increasingly, instead of policies, they have attitudes. "Global warming" — "saving" the planet — is the perfect preoccupation for the ever-more-refined sensibilities of the post-national nation.

While Europe slept in and slept around, new powers emerged. China and India, on course to be the world's top two economies within a couple of decades, both act as more or less conventional nation-states. So too do Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey — and many lesser players. We live on a planet in which the wealthiest societies in history, from Norway to New Zealand, are incapable of defending their own borders while basket cases like North Korea and Pakistan have gone nuclear, and Sudan and Somalia are anxious to follow. Whatever supple lies it may tell itself, a rich nation that cannot bother keeping up an army is retreating not only from imperialism and conquest but also from greatness. Continentals enjoy more paid leisure time than anybody else, yet they produce less and less great art, music, literature. A land of universal welfare invariably universalizes mediocrity.

Whether Greece defaults or gets bailed out one mo' time doesn't really matter: It's insolvent, and there isn't enough money in Germany to obscure that fact indefinitely. The longer "political reality" tries to dodge real reality, the bloodier the eventual reacquaintance will be. Europeans are going to have to relearn impulses three generations of Continentals have learned to regard as hopelessly vulgar. Can they do that? A land of 30-year-old students and 50-year-old retirees has so thoroughly diverted the great stream of life that it barely comprehends what's at stake. "Europe" as a geopolitical rather than geographical concept has been for half a century the most conventional of conventional wisdom. Those, like Britain's Euroskeptics, who dissented from it were derided as "swivel-eyed" "loony tunes." The loons were right, and the smart set — the political class, the universities, the BBC, Le Monde — were wrong. "Europe" was a blueprint for sclerosis and decline, and then a sudden, devastating fall. As the "loony tunes" could have told them, it ends with, "That's all, folks."