Saturday, January 14, 2012

From the Ranch to the Vatican

A ride with Ronald Reagan and his first ambassador to the Holy See, Bill Wilson.
If you ever find yourself in Ronald Reagan's bathroom, you may notice something peculiar about it. There's nothing all that unusual about the facilities themselves. It's a plain old bathroom. But one decoration stands out.

Hanging on the wall above a towel rack is an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Christ child. I suppose a bathroom wall isn't a typical place to hang such an icon, but it is rather curious that it would be hanging in a so-called Protestant bathroom (not that I have any clue what a "Protestant bathroom" ought to look like).

The icon was a gift from the Reagans' longtime friends William and Betty Wilson. Bill, himself a convert to Roman Catholicism, presented the icon to President Reagan while serving as the country's first Ambassador to the Holy See. On this week's 28th anniversary of his nomination to the post, it might be suitable to commemorate the late Ambassador's enduring relationship with our 40th President.

Ronald met his friend Bill through Nancy, who was a close friend of Bill's wife, Betty. From dinner parties to buying houses, the couples did nearly everything together. The latter activity helped change the world.

Edmund Morris, Reagan's official, controversial biographer had this to say about his subject in Dutch: "Go to the Ranch. That's where you'll find his soul."

Rancho del Cielo, as Reagan would never hesitate to say, was found by Bill Wilson. The Wilsons had lived on an avocado ranch just down the mountainside north of Santa Barbara, California, and knew that Ronald would fall in love with the property.

Indeed he did. Reagan would often refer to it as his "open Cathedral." It was where he retreated from the Washington gridlock and where he gathered his strength. It represented his vision of America: its vastness, fertility, potential, and life.

Wilson was Reagan's ranch sidekick. They both found solace in riding the boundless horse trails. It was a deeply personal and spiritual activity the two men did together. One that seemed to steel their backbones in the war against the Evil Empire. Without the Ranch, Reagan's son Michael once said, "the [Berlin] Wall still stands."

And without Bill Wilson, the United States would still be stuck in 1867, the year Congress repealed funds for diplomatic relations with the Vatican. That didn't stop Reagan from appointing his friend Bill as a Personal Representative of the President to the Holy See in February of 1981. He even complained in his diary that the State Department was too slow in processing the appointment and suggested that someone ought to "get off his ass" and get this done.

Reagan then maneuvered his way through a Democratic Congress to establish full diplomatic relations with the Holy See and elevated Wilson to Ambassador.

Reagan was anxious to meet the newly elected Pope John Paul II and wanted Wilson to help develop a historical relationship. In June of 1982, Reagan and the Pope sat alone in the Vatican Library for almost an hour discussing their "divine mission." Reagan said to the Pope of their surviving assassination attempts: "Look how the evil forces were put in our way and how Providence intervened."

As Paul Kengor explains in his spiritual biography God and Ronald Reagan, "Reagan and the Pope translated their divine mission into a practical mission to maintain Solidarity." A close Cardinal to the Pope admitted that "the Holy Father and the President committed themselves and the institutions of the church and America to such a goal." Reagan and Wilson sought, and received, the Vatican's invaluable participation in assigning the Soviet Union to the ash heap of history.

Even though Wilson resigned from his post in 1986 amid some controversy, he remained close to his old friend. As compiled in Reagan: A Life in Letters, Wilson wrote Reagan in February of 1987 to tell of a troubling meeting he had with William Cardinal Baum. The Cardinal expressed concern that Europe is "beginning to experience a spiritual fatigue leading to a moral fatigue."

Reagan wrote back agreeing that secularism "is so prevalent today," especially in public education. He concluded by reminding his friend that churches that "stick closely to the Bible are showing an increase in followers. Maybe there is a clue there for all of us" -- Catholic and Protestant alike.

Ron Paul beckons GOP to Fortress America

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
January 13, 2012

In the 2010 election the New Hampshire Republican Party took 298 out of 400 House seats, 19 out of 24 state Senate seats, and all five seats on the Executive Council. A little over a year later, in the state's presidential primary, the same (more or less) electorate gave over 56 percent of its votes to a couple of moneyed "moderates," one of whom served in the Obama administration and the other of whom left no trace in office other than the pilot program for Obamacare. Another 23 percent voted for Ron Paul. Supporters of the three other "major" candidates in the race argue that, if only the other two fellows would clear off, a viable conservative alternative to Mitt Romney would emerge. In fact, even if you combine Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum's share of the vote, it adds up to a mere 19.5 percent: Were Bain Capital to come in and restructure the "conservative" candidates into one streamlined and efficient Newt Perrtorum, this unstoppable force would be competitive with Jon Huntsman.

According to George Mason University's annual survey of Freedom in the 50 States, New Hampshire is the freest state in the union, so one would expect there to be takers for Ron Paul's message. On the other hand, facing a very different electorate in Iowa, Paul pulled pretty much an identical share of the poll. It may be time for those of us on the right to consider whether it's not so much the conservative vote that's split but whether conservativism itself is fracturing.

No candidate is ideal, and we conservatives are always enjoined not to make the perfect the enemy of the good – or in this case the enemy of the mediocre: sitting next to me last Tuesday on Fox News, the pollster Frank Luntz said that Romney in his victory speech was now starting to use words that resonate with the American people. The main word he used was "America." On Tuesday night Romney told us he wants to restore America to an America where millions of Americans believe in the American ideal of a strong America for millions of Americans. Which is more than your average Belgian can say. The crowd responded appreciatively. An hour later a weird goofy gnome in a baggy suit two sizes too big came out and started yakking about the Federal Reserve, fiat money and monetary policy "throughout all of history." And the crowd went bananas!

It's traditional at this point for non-Paulites to say that, while broadly sympathetic to his views on individual liberty, they deplore his neo-isolationism on foreign policy. But deploring it is an inadequate response to a faction that is likely to emerge with the second-highest number of delegates at the GOP convention. In the end, Newt represents Newt, and Huntsman represents Huntsman, but Ron Paul represents a view of America's role in the world, and one for which there are more and more takers after a decade of expensive but inconclusive war. President Obama has called for cuts of half a trillion dollars from the military budget. In response, too many of my friends on the right are demanding business as usual – that the Pentagon's way of doing things must continue in perpetuity. It cannot.

America is responsible for about 43 percent of the planet's military expenditure. This is partly a reflection of the diminished military budgets of everyone else. As Britain and the other European powers learned very quickly in the decades after the Second World War, when it comes to a choice between unsustainable welfare programs or a military of global reach, the latter is always easier to cut. It is, needless to say, a false choice. By mid-decade the Pentagon's huge bloated budget will be less than the mere interest payments on U.S. debt. Much of which goes to bankrolling the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Nevertheless, faced with reducing funding for China's military or our own, the latter will be the easier choice for Washington.

So the assumptions of the last 60 years are over – and not just because of the cost. If America's responsible for 43 percent of global military expenditure, why doesn't it feel like that? Why does the United States get so little bang for the buck? It is two-thirds of a century since this country won a war (and please don't bother writing in to say: What about Grenada? Or Panama?). In the days after 9/11, many Bush administration officials assured us that this time it would be different, and even liberals believed them. A decade later, Washington can't wait to get the hell out of the Hindu Kush, and the day after they do it will be as if they never set foot on that benighted sod. Illiterate goatherds with string and fertilizer have tied down the hyperpower for twice as long as it took America to win the Second World War. Something is wrong with this picture.

Ron Paul says he would pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan "as quickly as the ships could get there." Afghanistan is a land-locked country, but hey, that's just the kind of boring foreign trivia we won't need to bother with once we're safely holed up in Fortress America. To those who dissent from this easy and affordable solution to America's woes, the Paul campaign likes to point out that it receives more money from America's men in uniform than anybody else. According to the Federal Election Commission, in the second quarter of 2011, Ron Paul got more donations from service personnel than all other Republican candidates combined, plus President Obama. Not unreasonably, serving soldiers are weary of unwon wars – of going to war with everything except war aims and strategic clarity. I would hazard that the recent video of U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses is a coarser comment on the same psychosis, and the folly of fighting a determined and murderous enemy by distributing to your officers bulk orders of that charlatan's best-seller "Three Cups of Tea." There is a logical progression from three cups of sweet tea to those acts of micturition that the Pentagon would do well to ponder.

That said, the isolationists are delusional. Two centuries ago, when Napoleon sold a constrained Appalachian republic the port of New Orleans, he crowed, "I have given England a maritime rival who sooner or later will humble her pride." Instead, a young America enjoyed (excepting one or two hiccups) the blessings of the Pax Britannica for over a century. It's relatively easy to be a romantic isolationist republic when the Royal Navy's out there enforcing global order. Likewise, after 1945, Britain's imperial decline was cushioned by Washington's assumption of the old lion's role as order maker. But the notion that America can retain all the comforts and prosperity of global dominance while shrugging off all the responsibilities is fantasy. "Fortress America" is less a fortress than a state of denial, yet it's one with increasing appeal to many Republican voters.

With characteristic timidity, Mitt Romney says that as commander-in-chief his Afghan strategy would be determined by the "commanders in the field." More tea and sympathy! But a lazy deference to the inviolability of the present arrangements for another two-thirds of a century of unwon wars will not suffice. I am in favor of a leaner, meaner military – emphasis on both adjectives. A broke America will perforce wind up with the first. But, if we want the second, the foreign-policy right will have to make a better case than it has this primary season.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Today's Tune: The Horrible Crowes - Joey


By Ann Coulter
January 11, 2012

Earlier this week, Mitt Romney got into trouble for saying, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." To comprehend why the political class reacted as if Romney had just praised Hitler, you must understand that his critics live in a world in which no one can ever be fired -- a world known as "the government."

(And a tip for you Washington types: Just because a person became rich without working for government doesn't mean he is "Wall Street." A venture capital firm in Boston that tries to rescue businesses headed for bankruptcy, for example, is not "Wall Street.")

Romney's statement about being able to fire people was an arrow directed straight to the heart of Obamacare. (By the way, arrows to the heart are not covered by Obamacare.)

Talking about insurance providers, he said:

"I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don't like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn't give me a good service that I need, I want to say I'm going to go get someone else to provide that service to me."

Obamacare, you will recall, will be administered by the same people who run the Department of Motor Vehicles. They will operate under the same self-paced, self-evaluated work rules that have made government offices the envy of efficiency specialists everywhere.

And no one will be able to fire them -- unless they're caught doing something truly vile and criminal, such as stealing from patients in nursing homes.

Oops, I take that back: Government employees who rob the elderly also can't be fired.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that, after a spate of burglaries at a veterans hospital in California several years ago, authorities set up video cameras to catch the perpetrators. In short order, nurse's aide Linda Riccitelli was videotaped sneaking into the room of 93-year-old Raymond Germain as he slept, sticking her hand into his dresser drawer and stealing the bait money that had been left there.

Riccitelli was fired and a burglary prosecution initiated. A few years later, the California Personnel Board rescinded her firing and awarded her three-years back pay. The board dismissed the videotape of Riccitelli stealing the money as "circumstantial." (The criminal prosecution was also dropped after Germain died.)

But surely we'll be able to fire a government employee who commits a physical assault on a mentally disturbed patient? No, wrong again.

Psychiatric technician Gregory Powell was working at a government center for the mentally retarded when he hit a severely disturbed individual with a shoe so hard that the impression of the shoe's sole was visible on the victim three hours later. A psychologist who witnessed the attack said the patient was cowering on the couch before being struck.

Powell was fired, but, again, the California Personnel Board ordered him rehired.

Now, let's turn to New York City and look for any clues about why it might be the highest-taxed city in the nation.

For years, the New York City school budget included $35 million to $65 million a year to place hundreds of teachers in "rubber rooms," after they had committed such serious offenses that they were barred from classrooms. Teachers accused of raping students sat in rooms doing no work all day, still collecting government paychecks because they couldn't be fired.

After an uproar over the rubber rooms a few years ago, Michael Bloomberg got rid of the rooms. But the teachers still can't be fired.

Wherever there is government, there is malfeasance and criminality -- and government employees who can never be fired.

In 2010, 33 employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission -- half making $100,000 to $200,000 per year -- were found to have spent most of their workdays downloading Internet pornography over a five-year period. (Thank goodness there were no financial shenanigans going on then, so the SEC guys had plenty of time on their hands.)

One, a senior lawyer at SEC headquarters in Washington, D.C., admitted to spending eight hours a day looking at Internet pornography, sometimes even "working" through his lunch hour. Another admitted watching up to five hours a day of pornography in his office. (Would that Bernie Madoff had posted naked photos of himself online!)

Not one of the porn-surfing employees of the SEC was fired.

In 2009, the inspector general of the National Science Foundation was forced to abandon an investigation of grant fraud when he stumbled across dozens of NSF employees, including senior management, surfing pornographic websites on government computers during working hours.

A senior official who had spent 331 workdays talking to fully or partially nude women online was allowed to resign (but was not fired). I hope they gave him his computer as a parting gift.

The others kept their jobs -- including an NSF employee who had downloaded hundreds of pornographic videos and pictures and even developed pornographic PowerPoint slide shows. (And you thought PowerPoint presentations were always boring.)

They weren't fired or even embarrassed. One appealed his 10-day suspension, complaining that it was too severe. The government refused to release any of their names.

These are the people who are going to be controlling your access to medical services if Obamacare isn't repealed. There will be only one insurance provider, and you won't be able to switch, even if the service is lousy (and it will be).

Obamacare employees will spend their days surfing pornography, instead of approving your heart operation. They can steal from you and even physically assault you. And they can never be fired.

That's one gargantuan difference with "Romneycare" right there: If you don't like what your insurer is doing in Massachusetts, you can get a new one.

Now, wouldn't you like to be able to fire people who provide services to you?


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Defined by a Smile and a Drawl

By Jeremy Egner
The New York Times
January 5, 2012

IN the premiere of the new season of “Justified,” beginning Jan. 17, a dashing psychopath makes a casual reference to this Kentucky crime drama’s signature prop, the Stetson worn by the protagonist, United States Marshal Raylan Givens.

“Not much call for cowboys these days,” the thug says in a syrupy, menacing drawl.

The lawman responds, “You would be surprised.”

The line is an in-joke, a reference to the baroque backwoods adventures that Raylan, a sort of 21st-century Gary Cooper with a dry wit, has endured during two acclaimed seasons of this FX drama. But the exchange also functions as a career appraisal for the man who plays him. Timothy Olyphant, 43, has worked steadily since the 1990s, but in this easygoing, volatile marshal he has found his defining role. Not that he’s willing to admit it.

“The bottom line is, someone gave me a television show and I figured I’d make the most of it,” he said during a recent visit to New York. “The words do all the work for you.”

Based on stories by Elmore Leonard, “Justified” captures his darkly funny, morally murky tone and spikes the traditional crime procedural with hooch and Oxycontin, tracking its hero’s attempts to thwart colorful drug dealers and gunrunners and negotiate his own fractured relationships. The series unspools in an oddly captivating alternate South peopled by whimsically twisted archetypes and marked by sudden shifts between folksy black comedy and graphic violence. (The thug in the premiere is known as the Ice Pick.)

Last year the series won a Peabody Award, and its second season was among the most lauded of 2011, netting four Emmy nominations, including a first for Mr. Olyphant and a supporting actress win for Margo Martindale, who played a crime matriarch. Ratings for Season 2 increased 15 percent in total viewers, and an average of just under 2.2 million watch each new episode on Tuesday nights, an audience that grows to nearly 4 million each week when it includes DVR viewers, though they still lag behind those of FX dramas like “Sons of Anarchy” and “American Horror Story.” The challenge for the show’s producers is to build on the series’s momentum from last season and transform from critical favorite into critically acclaimed hit.

“It’s coming off one of the best seasons any series put forth last year, and that’s a really tough act to follow,” said John Landgraf, the president of FX. “But when you have a virtually ideal central character and central performance, audiences are going to find it.”

As the face of the series Mr. Olyphant has perhaps the most impact on whether the show will continue to succeed. By all accounts it’s a job he takes most seriously, playing an active role behind the scenes as well. Mr. Leonard himself calls the actor’s performance the best screen adaptation ever of a Leonard hero, a category that includes names like George Clooney and John Travolta.

“He played Raylan exactly like I heard him when I was writing him,” said Mr. Leonard, an executive producer of the series. (“Raylan,” a new novel by Mr. Leonard about the character, comes out on Jan. 17 as well.)

Mr. Olyphant expressed appreciation for that appraisal but inserted a note of pragmatism. “If George Clooney was starring right now in a big Elmore Leonard thing, I bet Elmore would be very complimentary of George as well,” he said, laughing.

An actor of rangy grace and wolfish good looks — his easy grin seems designed to induce swoons and suspicion in equal measure — Mr. Olyphant has carved out the career of a man Hollywood isn’t quite sure how to use. He has seesawed between charismatic criminals in films like “Go” and “Live Free or Die Hard,” and checkered heroes in projects like the FX legal thriller “Damages” and HBO’s Shakespearean western “Deadwood.” (Another hat role, it was Mr. Olyphant’s most notable performance before “Justified.”)

“People just like him, and yet there is something a little dangerous there,” said Graham Yost, the creator of “Justified.” “So he gets the combination of the good-guy, bad-guy thing.”

Walton Goggins, who plays Boyd Crowder, Raylan’s longtime friend and nemesis, added, “Tim’s hat is never entirely white.”

Such shades of gray are right at home in the Kentucky of “Justified.” The same sharp-edged nonchalance that makes Mr. Olyphant something of a square peg in a conventional blockbuster is well suited for a place where smooth-talking cops and robbers trade both barbs and gunfire with something like affection.

“In the world of Elmore Leonard, people are defined not by good and bad but by whether you’re a jerk or not,” Mr. Olyphant said.

He expounded upon that world from a perch about as far removed from it as possible. At an airy ninth-floor restaurant in the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan, he sipped a cappuccino as he looked out toward the bristly gray winter canopy of Central Park.

A laconic presence on “Justified,” Mr. Olyphant is affable in person and projects less a lawman swagger than the ease of a former athlete; he swam competitively at the University of Southern California. His face is striking, if unconventional — all smooth, wide planes and chiseled edges. His hair is more brown than gray, but the gray is climbing from both sideburns. A wispy array of white whiskers curls around his chin like smoke.

“The camera does not hate the dude,” said Natalie Zea, who plays his ex-wife and current love interest on “Justified.”

Neither did the nearby patrons who sneaked glances over the rims of their coffee cups. Mr. Olyphant professed a delighted but measured attitude about the recognition that has come from “Justified.”

“You see a bus drive by with your picture on it, and you think, ‘That’s cool, that’s new,’ ” he said. “I try to embrace all that comes with it and at the same time know that most of that stuff has nothing to do with me. It’s just part of the job.”

The museum was his idea. Mr. Olyphant majored in fine art at U.S.C. and was a frequent visitor to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1990s, when he lived in New York with his wife of 20 years, Alexis. (They have three children.) Of his artistic output now, Mr. Olyphant grinned and said, “I can doodle with the best of them.”

It was a moment of wry, Raylanesque self-deprecation in a day spent mostly trying to convince a reporter that he was nothing like the character. But ask nearly anyone involved in “Justified” about Mr. Olyphant, and before long it comes out: The reason Mr. Olyphant works as Raylan is because in various ways he is Raylan. His colleagues point to his sharp sense of humor and casual verbosity, a gift of gab common to Leonard characters. (He also has a Leonardian flair for profanity, as exemplified by an unprintable reaction to an outré Korean art installation at the museum.)

Most often they mention a charged quality that Mr. Olyphant shares with the character, an understated intensity that animated previous projects like “Deadwood” but has “reached its sort of apotheosis in Raylan,” said Mr. Landgraf, who first proposed him for “Justified.” As David Milch, the creator of “Deadwood,” put it: “I think Tim is a guy that doesn’t let himself be known easily. It’s what allows him to continue to do such interesting work.”

Mr. Olyphant, who grew up in Modesto, Calif., began acting in New York in the mid-1990s with roles in short-lived television projects and brief appearances in movies like “The First Wives Club.” Larger roles followed. He was a killer in “Scream 2,” a boy-toy in an episode of “Sex and the City.” As a sardonic drug dealer in “Go,” from 1999, a frenetic cult comedy about young night crawlers in Los Angeles, he showed off his comic chops with a caustic riff on “The Family Circus.”
“There have been roles that, had the movies been bigger, would have probably changed my life,” Mr. Olyphant said. “If ‘Go’ had been a huge box office success, I would have had tons of opportunities, I imagine.”

Instead, it was followed by mostly forgettable films until Mr. Olyphant joined “Deadwood” in 2004 as the conflicted sheriff Seth Bullock, the simmering straight man to Ian McShane’s silver-tongued rogue. The role revealed in Mr. Olyphant a capacity for explosive, nuanced performance barely suggested by earlier roles.

“He seemed to understand the contradictions in the character as well as his most fundamental purposes, and that’s a terrific mix,” Mr. Milch said.

But the show’s sudden end after three seasons cast him back into the wilderness of the working actor. The period that followed included some high-profile roles — he was a nefarious super-hacker in “Live Free or Die Hard” in 2007 — but not much fulfillment. Mr. Olyphant finally reached a sort of breaking point during the shooting of a film he declined to identify, when, he said, he found himself in some Eastern European country doing risible junk. “And you think, ‘How did I end up here?’ ”

(It’s perhaps worth noting that “Hitman,” a 2007 action film starring Mr. Olyphant that was based on a video game, was filmed largely in Bulgaria.)

“You go from working with David Milch to just doing stuff to pay some bills,” he said. “You think, ‘There’s got to be a way to bring these two things together.’ ”

The answer, he decided, was to play a larger role in shaping the projects he acted in, beginning with “Damages” on FX. “Justified” brought his first producer credit.

“Often on shows that really doesn’t mean much,” Mr. Yost said. “On this show it actually doesn’t reflect the depth of his involvement, which would be an even bigger credit.”

Mr. Olyphant’s co-stars joke that he leaves no scene unturned during filming, constantly proposing new angles and questioning whether a piece of action or dialogue is true to the show’s founding sensibility. He comes to the set on his off days to coach guest stars and admitted that anyone not willing to really dig into the material is “of absolutely no use to me.”

Mr. Goggins said: “Tim is the biggest reminder for everyone that we’re in the Elmore Leonard world. And that it needs to be funny and dark and twisted, and it needs to speak with all of those voices at the same time.”

Mr. Olyphant can be evangelical about Mr. Leonard’s stories, praising the specificity that breathes believability into gonzo characters and situations. But he predictably plays down his behind-the-scenes contributions to “Justified,” even as he allows that his own deep involvement has helped to reinvigorate a career that felt as if it had gone awry.

In that respect the show has gotten Mr. Olyphant back on track toward the deceptively simple goal he set when he began acting nearly 20 years ago.

“What I hoped is that it would be something I could do for a long time and would want to do for a long time,” he said. “So — so far, so good.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Terror in Tampa

By Jacob Laksin
January 11, 2012

Earlier this week, the FBI announced the arrest of Sami Osmakac, a 25-year-old Muslim man from the former Yugoslavia. In the process, the agency thwarted what might have been a horrific terror spree targeting populous civilian and commercial areas in Tampa, Florida.

According to the FBI’s criminal complaint, Osmakac, a naturalized American citizen, had been planning a massive terror attack targeting everything from businesses to nightclubs and bridges with the aim of killing and injuring as many people as possible. As part of the attack, he intended to set off a weapon of mass destruction planted in a parked car, then capping off the attack by detonating a suicide belt. Instead, Osmakac’s plans were foiled by a masterful FBI sting operation. Undercover agents tracked the would-be terrorist for months, monitoring his every move and even supplying him with the (secretly non-functional) weapons that he had planned to use before moving in this week to make a decisive arrest.

But what should be an open-and-shut counter-terror success is now being called into question by groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and further obfuscated by academic apologists for Islamic radicalism. No sooner was Osmakac in handcuffs than CAIR spokesman Hassan Shibly suggested that the FBI was more culpable in the case than the jihadist in their custody. “The weapons and explosives were provided by the government. Was he just a troubled individual, or did he pose a real threat?” asked Shibly, before expressing his “concern about a perception of entrapment.”

A closer look at the facts of the case shows this perception to be wholly unfounded. While it’s true that the FBI provided the weapons, the fact remains that it was Osmakac, an al-Qaeda-sympathizer, who had sought them out. Moreover, according to an FBI affidavit, the undercover FBI agent who sold Osmakac his non-working arms had repeatedly tried to convince him to give up his plans and seek a normal life. In one recorded conversation, the agent urged Osmakac to consider getting married and having a family rather than going ahead with his plan. That is the opposite of entrapment. In the event, Osmakac refused, insisting that he would be rewarded by Allah in paradise for carrying out his attack. Given his intention of doing just that, it’s to the FBI’s great credit that the agency made sure Osmakac never had access to anything but defective arms.

Osmakac’s clearly expressed conviction that Allah required him to commit terrorism points up another emerging and equally misguided assessment of the case – namely, that religion had nothing to do with Osmakac’s motives. “I don’t think his Islamic religion has anything to do with what’s going on,” claimed Dr. Barbara DeGeorge, identified by local Florida media as an “Islamic studies expert,” following the arrest. Even the FBI made a concession to political correctness, with the head of the agency’s Tampa Bay division assuring the press that Osmakac’s case “is not about the Muslim religion.”

All the available evidence indicates otherwise. In an eight-minute video laying out his intentions, Osmakac declared that he felt no compunction about killing innocents because non-Muslim “blood” was less valuable than that of Muslims. Osmakac also had a message for non-believers: “My message is if you don’t accept Islam you’re going to hell.”

Nor did he spare his co-religionists. “What’s the matter with you?” Osmakac demanded in the video. “Trying to follow their ways? Trying to go to nightclubs, like them? Trying to fornicate, like them? Trying to get with their women? . . . Submit to the rule of Allah.” Not least, Osmakac yearned for a death as a Muslim martyr, announcing that the authorities “can take me in five million pieces,” a reference to the suicide belt he planned to explode. Notwithstanding the apologists, it’s clear that, in Osmakac’s mind at least, the “Islamic religion” had everything to do with his planned attack.

Rather than pandering to political sensitivities, the FBI would be better served by touting the truly salutary aspect of the case: the crucial cooperation of the Tampa Muslim community in securing Osmakac’s arrest. An unidentified Muslim citizen, who became alarmed at Osmakac’s request for al-Qaeda flags when he visited his or her store, first tipped off the agency to his intentions. Thanks to that tip, the FBI was able to track Osmakac every step of the way. If the FBI truly wanted to bolster American Muslims’ image, it should focus on their commendable efforts in helping to stop an Islamic fanatic from killing in the name of his religion.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gehry’s Ghastly Eisenhower Memorial

An aesthetic and historical travesty

By George Weigel
January 10, 2012

Frank Gehry and members of the Memorial Commission view model of Gehry's Eisenhower proposal
Introducing his two-volume biography of the 34th president of the United States, Stephen Ambrose offered a simple, and accurate, judgment: “Dwight Eisenhower was a great and good man. He was one of the outstanding leaders of the Western world of [the 20th] century.”

He also spent more consecutive time at the center of national and international affairs than any other American of his time: longer than either of the Roosevelts, longer than Henry Stimson, longer than anyone. For 18 years — from the moment in November 1942 when he took command of the Allied Expeditionary Force whose invasion of North Africa began the defeat of Hitler’s Third Reich, until Jan. 20, 1961, when he handed the burden of the presidency to John F. Kennedy — Dwight David Eisenhower was in the cockpit of history. And it made a great difference that he was there.

He was supreme commander of the greatest political-military coalition in history, holding it together despite great centrifugal forces (both political and personal) until that coalition won what Eisenhower memorably called its “crusade in Europe” and the “Thousand-Year Reich” was no more. He led an Ivy League university; he helped forge NATO into one of the instruments that prevented another totalitarian power from dominating Europe; he helped keep the Republican party from drifting into the irrelevance of isolationism. Despite the criticisms of the nation’s high-cultural and journalistic tastemakers, he was a successful (and crafty) president, one of the few two-term chief executives who left the Oval Office a highly popular man. Americans, now and in the future, ought to know that this country can produce men of such accomplishment.

No one will learn any of this, however, from the Eisenhower Memorial that will soon be built in the heart of monumental Washington: unless, that is, Congress moves quickly to force a reconsideration of a historical and aesthetic travesty.

The present Eisenhower Memorial design, by postmodernist Frank Gehry, has virtually nothing to do with the Dwight David Eisenhower of history. Plans call for Ike to be memorialized in sculpture as a barefoot farmboy on the Great Plains: not the great wartime leader; not the soldier-diplomat; not the chief executive of the United States who presided over eight years of peace and prosperity. The Gehry conceit seems both obvious and entirely in tune with the postmodern deconstruction of history: There are no great men; there are no great virtues; there is no great striving; nor is there great accomplishment or great service to others. No one, visiting the Eisenhower Memorial as designed by Frank Gehry, would have the slightest reason to grasp the truth of the man himself, as Stephen Ambrose once described him:

As a soldier, he was, as George C. Marshall said at the end of the war, everything that the U.S. Army hoped for in its finest products — professionally competent, well versed in the history of war, decisive, well disciplined, courageous, dedicated, and popular with his men, his subordinates, and his superiors. His leadership qualities also included a high degree of intelligence, integrity, commitment to basic principles, dignity, organizational genius, tremendous energy, and diplomatic ability. As a man, he was good-looking, considerate of and concerned about others, loyal to friends and family, given to terrible rages (which he learned to control), ambitious, thin-skinned and sensitive to criticism, stubborn and inflexible about his habits, an avid sportsman and sports fan, modest (but never falsely so), almost embarrassingly unsophisticated in his musical, artistic, and literary tastes, intensely curious about people and places, often refreshingly naïve, fun-loving — in short, a wonderful man to know or be around. Nearly everyone who knew him liked him immensely, many — including some of the most powerful men in the world — to the point of adulation.

None of this is conveyed by the sculpture of a barefoot boy on the plains. None of it is conveyed by the other elements in the Gehry design: 80-foot-tall, nondescript cylindrical posts (they can’t even be properly described as pillars) holding up perforated metal “tapestries,” creating what Gehry himself once called a “theater for cars.” But what does a “theater for cars,” or any other kind of postmodernist knock-off of a Fifties drive-in, have to do with creating a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander who planned the invasion of Normandy, the president who ended the Korean War and who proposed “Open Skies” as a means to lower the temperature of the Cold War?

Nothing. And that, one is forced to conclude, is the idea: Visitors will be asked to admire a barefoot boy, one of many from the Kansas plains, not the unique and historic figure the barefoot boy became. No wonder that Eisenhower’s grandchildren now oppose the design of his memorial.

It is not only history and aesthetics that are travestied in this fiasco. The Gehry design was chosen in a closed competition, which itself suggests that the fix was in for Frank Gehry from the beginning. Having seen his design for a new wing of the Corcoran Gallery of Art go unrealized, Gehry and his acolytes at the General Services Administration now seem determined to get a Gehry into monumental Washington, even if, in the process, they distort history with another postmodernist confection that speaks to no one outside their small, gnostic sect. Yet if the National Capital Planning Commission gives a favorable review to the Gehry design in February, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission may well seek to break ground immediately in order to create a fait accompli.

Congress will have a lot on its plate in the first weeks of 2012. But it should move quickly to stop the current Eisenhower Memorial process and order an inquiry into precisely how and why a design that says nothing about the great achievements of the man being memorialized was approved. And when the answer becomes clear — that this was a closed, opaque process unbefitting a democracy intent on honoring one of those who helped save democracy in an hour of peril — Congress should order the present design scrapped in favor of an open process of design competition and selection, like those that produced the World War II and Vietnam Veterans Memorials. Moreover, Congress should ensure that that process is not dominated by those determined to impose a postmodernist architectural vocabulary, irrespective of its distortion of history, on monumental Washington. Meanwhile, Congress would do well to put a hold on the funding for the Eisenhower Commission that was hastily approved as part of an end-of-the-year omnibus spending bill.

The memory of Dwight David Eisenhower deserves better than the travesty that has, to date, steamrollered through the federal bureaucracy. So does the country Eisenhower served so well, and the city where he lived as both soldier and statesman.

— George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center and is an adviser to the National Civic Art Society. The Society’s comprehensive critique of the Gehry design for the Eisenhower Memorial and the closed competition that led to its being chosen is available at

Monday, January 09, 2012

Billy Joe Shaver returns to Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom - Jan 13

By Julie Wenger Watson
The Current
January 2012 (Vol 9, No 1)

TULSA (OK) - Texas musician Billy Joe Shaver and his band are riding into Oklahoma this month. They will play Grady’s 66 Pub in Yukon on Thursday the 12th and the Cain’s Ballroom on lucky Friday the 13th. Book Smart Tulsa will also host a book signing with Shaver at Dwelling Spaces at 5:30 pm prior to the Cain’s concert. Shaver will read excerpts from and sign copies of his book Honky Tonk Hero, which will be available for purchase. In anticipation of this Oklahoma run, I recently spoke with Shaver.

The historic Cain’s Ballroom and this Outlaw Country icon would seem to be a match made in roadhouse heaven, and indeed, Shaver has played this venue before. “Oh, yes, many times,” he told me. “I wrote a song years and years ago called ‘Oklahoma Wind’ and I wrote it at the back of the Cain’s Ballroom. Yeah, I sat down in my truck and wrote it.”

He laughed and went on about his previous visits to the Cain’s, “Yeah, I was kind of shook up when I saw the floor kind of moving, and I thought ‘what in the world is going on?’, and it was that they had springs in the (dance) floor. Everybody had played there..Hank Williams and everybody, I guess. Yes, it’s quite a thing for me. I always thought it was great.”

Like a classic Country Western song, Shaver’s life has had its share of passion, heartbreak, hard times, and a close brush or two with the law. There’s even religion and redemption, if you’re looking for it. It’s easy to imagine that Shaver has never had to search too far for songwriting material. His own life has been one long honky tonk tune.

Shaver’s 2007 Grammy-nominated release, Everybody’s Brother, was produced by John Carter Cash. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and even Elvis Presley. “Yeah, I’ve been around a while. It just seems like a lot of stuff happens to me. I think I was born to be a songwriter. I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid...I don’t know, I guess I’m lucky, well, I know I’m lucky that I’ve been blessed with that ‘cause I’ve always got a job,” Shaver reflected.

Shaver’s talents aren’t limited to music. He’s met with success as an author and actor, as well. The autobiographical Honky Tonk Hero was published in 2005. “Bobby Duvall got after me. Robert Duvall, the actor, you know,” Shaver commented by way of explanation. “He and his wife Luciana (Pedraza), they just kept telling me I ought to be writing a book, so I finally started writing one. I wish I’d waited a little longer ‘cause a lot of crazy stuff happened to me after that, and now everybody is after me to write another one. I think I might do it because it seems like it might be more exciting than the first one.” Shaver paused and laughed, “The first one is pretty good. It ain’t bad.”

Shaver’s association with actor/producer Duvall has led to Shaver’s appearance in several movies, including The Apostle (1999) and Secondhand Lions (2003). Duvall and his wife Luciana Pedraza even produced and directed a documentary about Shaver’s life, The Portrait of Billy Joe (2004). Says Shaver of his friend Duvall, “He’s a really down to earth good guy. Just a regular fella. I enjoy being around him. Everybody else does, too.”

Shaver believes his experience as a musician helps with his acting. “I’ve done a lot of acting. Sometimes you have to do a lot of acting to entertain and keep from getting people down, ‘cause that’s the last thing you want to do is get anybody down.” The transition to film was a natural one for him. “It worked out good for me ‘cause I just had to be myself, which was really easy...The first thing Bobby (Duvall) told me...he said, ‘Billy, every chance you get, don’t act.’ I said, ‘Okay. I can handle that.’”

Shaver’s days of hard living and years on the road have taken their toll on his health, although the 72 year-old Shaver shrugs it off with good humor. “Yeah, I’m doing all right. I ain’t having much trouble. I’ve had a few stints and things put in and stuff like that. I’ve had shoulders that went out on me. Ahh, you don’t want to hear all this, “ he laughs. “I’m wired together, but I’m still getting around all right. You could jiggle me out, I guess, and get more than what I’m worth. I’ve had a lot of screws and bolts and things in me. Both shoulders and broke my neck three times and a heart attack and a four-way bypass, good lord, and got a new knee put in, and that helps. Yeah, it’s really pert near everybody that is a performer that’s been around for a while has a lot of pain. It helps you with the blues songs.”

As a genre now mainstream enough to justify its own satellite radio station, it’s hard to remember a time when “outlaw country” was rebel music. However, when Shaver and his contemporaries first bucked the Nashville trend with their scruffy appearance and raw-edged honky tonk, they were the counterculture. “Back in the day when (Waylon Jennings’) Honky Tonk Heroes came out, we were kind of like ‘outcasts’ more than anything up there in Nashville,” Shaver recalled. “More of the ‘outcasts’ than the ‘outlaws’. The way it just went against the grain. They had a big machine. It was sequin suits and stuff...It wasn’t working that good, but they didn’t realize it. We came in there just being ourselves, wearing blue jeans and playing, and all the guys that had anything to do with it were from Texas, really.” He paused a minute, then continued, “It just caught a hold. It caught a hold and changed things around. In a good way, ‘cause now they’re building on that foundation. It’s good for them.”

For tickets to the Cain’s show, go to For more on Shaver, including some great stories from his past, tune into Folk Salad Radio Show this Sunday January 8 at 7:00 pm on KWGS 89.5 FM.


Sunday, January 08, 2012

Government: The redistributionist behemoth

The Washington Post
January 6, 2012

Liberals have a rendezvous with regret. Their largest achievement is today’s redistributionist government. But such government is inherently regressive: It tends to distribute power and money to the strong, including itself.

Government becomes big by having big ambitions for supplanting markets as society’s primary allocator of wealth and opportunity. Therefore it becomes a magnet for factions muscular enough, in money or numbers or both, to bend government to their advantage.

The left’s centuries-old mission is to increase social harmony by decreasing antagonisms arising from disparities of wealth — to decrease inequality by increasing government’s redistributive activities. Such government constantly expands under the unending, indeed intensifying, pressures to correct what it disapproves of — the distribution of wealth produced by consensual market activities. But as government presumes to dictate the correct distribution of social rewards, the maelstrom of contemporary politics demonstrates that social strife, not solidarity, is generated by government transfer payments to preferred groups.

This includes generational strife. Most transfer payments redistribute wealth from workers to nonworkers in the form of pensions and medical care for retirees. The welfare state’s primary purpose is to subsidize the last years of Americans’ lives, and the elderly are, after a lifetime of accumulation, better off than most Americans: In 2009, the net worth of households headed by adults ages 65 and older was a record 47 times that of households headed by adults under the age of 35 — a wealth gap that doubled just since 2005.

The equalizing effects of redistributive transfer payments are less today than in 1979, when households in the lowest income quintile received 54 percent of such payments. In 2007, they received 36 percent.

Because Social Security and Medicare are not means-tested, the share of transfer payments going to middle- and upper-income households tends to increase, for several reasons. The retirement age is essentially fixed, but people are living longer. And because the welfare state is so good to them, the elderly are unusually diligent voters and are especially apt to vote on the basis of protecting their benefits.

Beyond transfer payments, redistributionist government is itself governed by the law of dispersed costs and concentrated benefits: For example, sugar import quotas confer substantial wealth on a small cohort of producers already wealthy enough to work the political levers of redistributive government. The increased cost of sugar substantially penalizes consumers as a group but not so noticeably that individuals protest.

The tax code, government’s favorite instrument for distributing wealth to favored factions, has been tweaked about 4,500 times in 10 years. Generally, the beneficiaries of these changes are interests sufficiently strong and sophisticated to practice rent-seeking.

Not only does redistributionist government direct wealth upward; in asserting a right to do so, it siphons power into itself. A puzzling aspect of our politically contentious era is how little contention there is about the ethics of coercive redistribution by progressive taxation and other government “corrections” of social outcomes it considers unethical or unaesthetic.

This reticence, in an age in which political reticence is rare, reflects the difficulty of articulating principled defenses of these practices. They go undefended because they are generally popular with a public that misunderstands their net effects and because the practices are the political class’s vocation today. The big winners from these practices are that class and the interests adept at collaborating with it.

Government uses redistribution to correct social outcomes that offend it. But government rarely explains, or perhaps even recognizes, the reasoning by which it decides why particular outcomes of consensual market activities are incorrect. When taxes are levied not to efficiently fund government but to impose this or that notion of distributive justice, remember: Taxes are always coerced contributions to government, which is always the first, and often the principal, beneficiary of them.

Try a thought experiment suggested decades ago by University of Chicago law professors Walter Blum and Harry Kalven in their 1952 essay “The Uneasy Case for Progressive Taxation,” published in their university’s law review. Suppose society’s wealth trebled overnight without any change in the relative distribution among individuals. Would the unchanged inequality at higher levels of affluence decrease concern about inequality?

Surely not: The issue of inequality has become more salient as affluence has increased. Which suggests two conclusions:

People are less dissatisfied by what they lack than by what others have. And when government engages in redistribution in order to maximize the happiness of citizens who become more envious as they become more comfortable, government becomes increasingly frenzied and futile.