Saturday, January 21, 2012

Etta James: 10 classic performances

Richard Williams remembers the great blues and soul singer at her absolute finest

The Guardian
20 January 2012
Etta James
Soul legend … Etta James. Photograph: Eamonn Mccabe

Etta James was born in Los Angeles and spent some of the key years of her professional life in San Francisco and Chicago, but there have been few more convincing interpreters of soul music associated with the southern states. Many of her classics were indeed cut in Muscle Shoals and Memphis, but it didn't really matter where she was standing at the time. In LA or the Windy City, Etta could dig out the heart of a good song and present it raw, with the blood still running red. So this list of 10 personal favourite Etta James tracks contains a preponderance of deep-soul ballads with a southern accent.

1. Let's Burn Down the Cornfield (1974)

Etta turns Randy Newman's great song into an epic portrait of sexual conspiracy. Gabriel Meckler's restrained production sets her suplhurous voice against Lowell George's slide guitar, which takes centre-stage for a piercing solo that ends with a gorgeous dying fall. From the album Come a Little Closer.

2. Almost Persuaded (1968)

Co-written by Billy Sherrill, produced by Rick Hall at the Fame studios in Muscle Shoals, this is a piece of prime late-60s Memphis soul: a black singer taking a country song and turning it inside out. Etta meets a man at a party, and they take a shine to each other. They drink and talk. He puts his hand on hers. Come away with me, he says. Then she looks into his soft brown eyes, and sees the reflection of her wedding ring. "I was almost persuaded …" One of her finest 45s.

3. Damn Your Eyes (1988)

Another country song taken for a walk through the shadows on the other side of town. This one is by Barbara Wyrick and Steve Bogard, and comes from the album Seven Year Itch, its title referring to her prolonged absence from the recording scene. Produced by Barry Beckett in Muscle Shoals, it features Reggie Young's guitar. Etta could shout the blues with the best of them, but she could also under-sing when necessary, and she pitches this one perfectly. Impossible to play just once.

4. Pushover (1963)

A playful slice of pre-Beatles black pop, co-written (with Roquel Davis) by Tony Clark, a Northern Soul hero ("Ain't Love Good Ain't Love Proud", "Landslide", "The Entertainer"). "Pushover" itself was an early favourite with that audience, and demonstrates Etta's versatility.

5. I'd Rather Go Blind (1968)

In her 1995 autobiography, Rage to Survive, Etta wrote that she heard an early version of this song from its writer, her friend Ellington Jordan, before helping him to complete it. Recorded with Rick Hall at FAME, it ended up on the B-side of "Tell Mama". A year later Christine Perfect sang it with Fleetwood Mac, paving the way for countless cover versions. The original is still the greatest, by a country mile.

6. Misty Blue (2011)

Bob Montgomery, Buddy Holly's songwriting partner, wrote this yearning ballad in 1966 for Brenda Lee, who wasn't interested. Ten years later Dorothy Moore gave it the soul treatment and had a huge worldwide hit. This heartfelt version comes from The Dreamer, Etta's final album, sensitively produced by her sons Donto and Sametto – long a part of her road band, on drums and bass respectively – to minimise the limitations of a voice losing its range and flexibility but none of its intelligence and interpretive power. "Listen to me good," she urges.

7. If I Can't Have You (1960)

After her initial run of hits dried up, Etta signed with the Chess brothers in Chicago. This wailing duet with Harvey Fuqua takes its place in a tradition running from Brook Benton and Dinah Washington to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

8. Lovin' Arms (1975)

Tom Jans was a folk singer from southern California who toured and recorded with Mimi Farina, Joan Baez's sister, and died of an overdose in 1984, aged 35, a year after a serious motorbike crash. He left this wonderful song, which exists in powerful versions by Elvis Presley and Millie Jackson but also drew the best out of Etta, even though she insists on changing "Looking back and longing for the freedom of my chains" – the key line – to "Looking back and hoping for the freedom of my chains".

9. I Worship the Ground You Walk On (1968)

Written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, in the grand tradition of their majestic country-soul ballads ("Out of Left Field", "Dark End of the Street" and so on). Produced by Rick Hall and released as the B-side of Etta's cover of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You, Babe".

10. In the Evening (2011)

Another track from The Dreamer, this stately and perfectly understated version of the old Ray Charles song goes deep into Etta's heritage, with an excellent band purring through the altered 12-bar changes as she meditates on the most basic verities of the blues: in the evening, when the sun goes down, and your good lover is not around … No more to be said.

Etta James dies at 73; acclaimed blues and R&B singer

Etta James, perhaps the quintessential R&B diva, was equally at home singing unadulterated blues, searing R&B and sophisticated jazz. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and her biggest hit, 'At Last,' has been enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

By Randy Lewis
Los Angeles Times
January 20, 2012

Muhammad Ali chats with Etta James at the piano at the Kinshasa Hotel in Zaire in September 1974. James and other African American musicians were in the country to perform at the Zaire 74 music festival. The concert was organized as a promotional event to coincide with the heavyweight championship boxing match between Ali and George Foreman. (Horst Faas / Associated Press)

Etta James, the earthy blues and R&B singer whose anguished vocals convinced generations of listeners that she would rather go blind than see her love leave, then communicated her joy upon finding that love at last, died Friday. She was 73.

She died at Parkview Community Hospital in Riverside, said her sons, Donto and Sametto James. The cause was complications from leukemia, according to her personal physician.

James had been in failing health for years. Court records in the singer's probate case show she also suffered from dementia and kidney failure. Her two sons had battled their stepfather for control of her $1-million estate but in December agreed to allow him to remain as conservator.

James spent time in a detox facility for addiction to painkillers and over-the-counter medications, Donto told Reuters in 2010. And she had wrestled with complications since undergoing gastric bypass surgery in 2002 to remedy a lifelong struggle with her weight.

After that procedure, which actress Roseanne Barr had recommended to her, James lost 200 pounds. Before the surgery, her weight had gone past 400 pounds. When she performed, she often had to be escorted on and off the stage in a wheelchair. "I was constantly worried that I was going to have a heart attack," she told Ebony magazine in 2003.

Perhaps the quintessential R&B diva, James, who was born and lived much of her life in Los Angeles, was equally at home singing unadulterated blues, searing R&B and sophisticated jazz, the latter receiving special attention in her recordings over the last decade. Her dusky voice, which could stretch from a sultry whisper to an aching roar, influenced generations of singers who came after, from Tina Turner to Bonnie Raitt to Christina Aguilera. And pop-R&B singer Beyonce carefully studied James before portraying her in the loosely historical 2008 film "Cadillac Records."

"Etta James was one of the greatest vocalists of our time," Beyonce said in a statement on her website. "Her musical contributions will last a lifetime. Playing Etta James taught me so much about myself, and singing her music inspired me to be a stronger artist. When she effortlessly opened her mouth, you could hear her pain and triumph. Her deeply emotional way of delivering a song told her story with no filter. She was fearless, and had guts."

Multiple Grammy-winner Raitt said Friday: "I don't know that there's ever been a singer that knocked me out as much as Etta. The mark she made was setting the bar so high for the depths someone can sing from. The ache and the pain and the ferocity and the soul and the sexiness — it all came through in the space of one three-minute song."

Despite her early commercial success, James wrestled for much of her life with her weight, addictions to drugs and alcohol and with her tumultuous relationship with her mother, who was just 14 when she gave birth to Jamesetta Hawkins on Jan. 25, 1938.

She was adored by rock's elite, including the Rolling Stones, who drafted her as an opening act on their 1978 U.S. tour, and voters at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who inducted her in 1993.

"Etta James was a pioneer," said Terry Stewart, president and chief executive of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "Her ever-changing sound has influenced rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues, pop, soul and jazz artists, marking her place as one of the most important female artists of our time. From Janis Joplin to Joss Stone, an incredible number of performers owe their debts to her. There is no mistaking the voice of Etta James, and it will live forever."

James' six-decade recording career began at the top of the R&B charts when her bawdy 1955 single "The Wallflower," better known as "Roll With Me Henry," quickly made her a national star.

In the rollicking early days of rock 'n' roll, James' saucy song answered Hank Ballard's then-recent hit "Work With Me Annie," a ribald, thinly veiled invitation to a woman to have sex. James' response, in which she assertively put forth the same offer on her own terms, was wildly popular but equally controversial coming from a 17-year-old girl long before the sexual revolution of the '60s upended traditional sex roles.

She is best known for "At Last," the powerhouse ballad that became a hit in 1961 and which has been enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Bending and stretching the notes of the bluesy melody to reflect the hard-won realization of a lifelong desire, and channeling a sense of joy that sounded as though the gates of heaven had just opened to welcome her in, James sang: "At last, my love has come along/My lonely days are over/My life is like a song."

The other song with which she became inextricably connected was "I'd Rather Go Blind," which she said she co-wrote in 1968 with her friend Ellington Jordan while he was in prison. He outlined the song and James finished it, but for tax reasons she gave the co-writing credit to Medallions singer Billy Foster, to whom she was briefly married. It conveys the desperation of a woman who prefers losing her sight to seeing her man with someone else. Rolling Stone critic Dave Marsh included it in his 1999 book "The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made." It was subsequently recorded by artists including Rod Stewart, B.B. King, Koko Taylor and Beyonce in "Cadillac Records," but it remains most closely associated with James.

Etta James performs at L.A.'s Cocoanut Grove nightclub in 1976. Despite her early commercial success, she struggled for much of her life with her weight, with addictions to heroin, cocaine and alcohol and with her tumultuous relationship with her mother, who was just 14 when she gave birth to Jamesetta Hawkins on Jan. 25, 1938. (Los Angeles Times)

James, the child of a single teenage mother growing up in South Los Angeles during World War II, never knew her father but remained convinced throughout her life that he was pool shark Minnesota Fats.

With her blond curls and light complexion, she stood out in the African American community, and she started to make a mark singing in the choir of St. Paul Baptist Church. The church's music minister, a prominent figure in gospel circles known as Professor James Earle Hines, quickly singled her out for solos when she was just 5 or 6, said David Ritz, who collaborated on her 1995 autobiography "Rage to Survive."

The church was frequented by Hollywood stars such as Lana Turner and Robert Mitchum and had a weekly radio broadcast that helped spread word of the girl's talents. James' mother left her to be raised by foster parents, but when her foster mother died when James was about 12, she was reunited with her biological mother and they lived for a time in San Francisco.

"One of the peculiar things about Etta's story — one that's a twist on the idea of the reverend-preacher who doesn't want his child to sing rhythm and blues — is that her prostitute mother, the sophisticated prostitute mother, didn't want her to sing raunchy rhythm and blues, but wanted her to sing jazz like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan," Ritz said.

As a teen, James formed a trio called the Peaches, which was discovered by R&B musician and promoter Johnny Otis (who, coincidentally, died Tuesday at age 90). Soon, she was in a duo called Etta & Harvey with Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows, the R&B group behind the 1955 hit "Sincerely."

Early on, she toured with Johnny Guitar Watson, the Texas singer, songwriter and guitarist, in an association that figured prominently in her approach to music for the rest of her life.

"Her real role model was not a woman, it was Johnny Guitar Watson," said Ritz. "Johnny also could do all three things: blues, R&B and jazz. ... Where he really influenced her was in his vocals. He would sing standards and then kind of bluesify them. Just as Nancy Wilson modeled herself on Little Jimmy Scott — a man — Etta James modeled herself on Johnny. ... He had an enormously healthy and rich influence on her."

She also fell under the positive and negative influences of musicians she revered, such as Billie Holiday, as well as some with whom she crossed paths on the road, including Ray Charles and Chet Baker, all of whom struggled with addiction.

"All of my role models at that time, the ones I looked up to most, were heroin addicts," she told The Times in 1993. "I think subconsciously I thought that was a cool thing."

In the mid-1970s, after getting caught writing bad checks to support her drug habit, James was offered a choice between prison or rehab. She chose the latter and kicked heroin, but she started using cocaine a few years later. A spiritual epiphany led her to give up cocaine and alcohol, and in the 1980s she began a personal and professional renaissance, reestablishing her credibility in the music world.

She coaxed esteemed R&B producer Jerry Wexler, who had been pivotal in the careers of Aretha Franklin, Ruth Brown, Otis Redding and many others, out of retirement to oversee her 1992 album "The Right Time."

At the time, Wexler said, "I've never done anything better, and I've done a lot of records."

In 1994, James saluted Holiday with an album of jazz standards called "Mystery Lady," which yielded the first Grammy Award of her career, for jazz vocal performance. She collected two more Grammys: for the 2003 contemporary blues album "Let's Roll," and 2004's "Blues to the Bone," named best traditional blues album.

Those works became family affairs when she enlisted her two sons as co-producers. The family moved to Riverside in the 1980s because James said she had had enough of gang violence and other troubles in South Los Angeles. She lived in a simple ranch-style home.

In addition to her two sons, James is survived by Artis Mills, her husband of 42 years;and several grandchildren.

Her sons were unaware of the scope of their mother's fame until seeing her perform at the 1983 Grammys. Donto, then a young teen, was sitting next to members of rap group Run-DMC, and they went wild when James took the stage.

"That's when I realized my mother was truly a star," he said.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Phil Willon contributed to this report.

Today's Tune: Etta James - Something's Got A Hold On Me

No more ‘women and children first'

When Western civilization hits the iceberg, will the response be more like that of the crew on the Titanic or that on the Costa Concordia?

The Orange County Register
January 20, 2012

Abe Greenwald of Commentary magazine tweets:

"Is there any chance that Mark Steyn won't use the Italian captain fleeing the sinking ship as the lead metaphor in a column on EU collapse?"

Oh, dear. You've got to get up early in the morning to beat me to civilizational-collapse metaphors. Been there, done that. See page 185 of my most recent book, where I contrast the orderly, dignified and moving behavior of those on the Titanic (the ship, not the mendacious Hollywood blockbuster) with that manifested in more recent disasters. There was no orderly evacuation from the Costa Concordia, just chaos punctuated by individual acts of courage from, for example, an Hungarian violinist in the orchestra and a ship's entertainer in a Spiderman costume, both of whom helped children to safety, the former paying with his life.

The miserable Captain Schettino, by contrast, is presently under house arrest, charged with manslaughter and abandoning ship. His explanation is that, when the vessel listed suddenly, he fell into a lifeboat and was unable to climb out. Seriously. Could happen to anyone, slippery decks and all that. Next thing you know, he was safe on shore, leaving his passengers all at sea. On the other hand, the audio of him being ordered by Coast Guard officers to return to his ship and refusing to do so is not helpful to this version of events.

In the centenary year of the most famous of all maritime disasters, we would do well to consider honestly the tale of the Titanic. When James Cameron made his movie, he was interested in everything except what the story was actually about. I confess I have very little memory of the film except for Kate Winslet's lush full breasts and some tedious sub-Riverdance prancing in the hold, but what I do recall traduced the memory of honorable men: In my book, I cite First Officer William Murdoch. In real life, he threw deckchairs to passengers drowning in the water to give them something to cling to, and then he went down with the ship – the dull, decent thing, all very British, with no fuss. In Cameron's movie, Murdoch takes a bribe and murders a third-class passenger. The director subsequently apologized to the First Officer's hometown in Scotland and offered £5,000 toward a memorial, which, converted into Hollywood dollars, equals rather less than what Cameron and his family paid for dinner after the Oscars.

On the Titanic, the male passengers gave their lives for the women and would never have considered doing otherwise. On the Costa Concordia, in the words of a female passenger, "There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboat." After similar scenes on the MV Estonia a few years ago, Roger Kohen of the International Maritime Organization told Time magazine: "There is no law that says women and children first. That is something from the age of chivalry."

If, by "the age of chivalry," you mean our great-grandparents' time.

In fact, "women and children first" can be dated very precisely. On Feb. 26, 1852, HMS Birkenhead was wrecked off the coast of Cape Town while transporting British troops to South Africa. There were, as on the Titanic, insufficient lifeboats. The women and children were escorted to the ship's cutter. The men mustered on deck. They were ordered not to dive in the water lest they risk endangering the ladies and their young charges by swamping the boats. So they stood stiffly at their posts as the ship disappeared beneath the waves. As Kipling wrote:

"We're most of us liars, we're 'arf of us thieves, an' the rest of us rank as can be,

But once in a while we can finish in style (which I 'ope it won't 'appen to me)."

Sixty years later, the men on the Titanic – liars and thieves, wealthy and powerful, poor and obscure – found themselves called upon to "finish in style," and did so. They had barely an hour to kiss their wives goodbye, watch them clamber into the lifeboats, and sail off without them. They, too, 'ope'd it wouldn't 'appen to them, but, when it did, the social norm of "women and children first" held up under pressure and across all classes.

Today there is no social norm, so it's every man for himself – operative word "man," although not many of the chaps on the Titanic would recognize those on the Costa Concordia as "men." From a grandmother on the latter: "I was standing by the lifeboats and men, big men, were banging into me and knocking the girls."

Whenever I write about these subjects, I receive a lot of mail from men along the lines of this correspondent:

"The feminists wanted a gender-neutral society. Now they've got it. So what are you complaining about?"

And so the manly virtues (if you'll forgive a quaint phrase) shrivel away to the so-called "man caves," those sad little redoubts of beer and premium cable sports networks.

We are beyond social norms these days. A woman can be a soldier. A man can be a woman. A 7-year-old cross-dressing boy can join the Girl Scouts in Colorado because he "identifies" as a girl. It all adds to life's rich tapestry, no doubt. But I can't help wondering, when the ship hits the fan, how many of us will still be willing to identify as a man.

A day or two after the cruise wreck, I read the obituary of a man called Ian Bryce, who found himself at Dunkirk in 1940, when an ad hoc flotilla of English fishing boats, pleasure cruisers and other "little ships" evacuated Allied troops cut off by the advancing Germans. Young Bryce, a 17-year-old midshipman, singlehandedly rescued 109 British soldiers, eight Belgian officers, two Frenchmen and two Jewish refugees in multiple trips in a motor boat under Luftwaffe fire. Nobody asked Captain Schettino to do anything extraordinary, only his duty.

Abe Greenwald isn't thinking big enough. The Costa Concordia isn't merely a metaphor for EU collapse but – here it comes down the slipway – the fragility of civilization. Like every ship, the Concordia had its emergency procedures – the lifeboat drills that all crew and passengers are obliged to go through before sailing. As with the security theater at airports, the rituals give the illusion of security – and then, as the ship tips and the lights fail and the icy black water rushes in, we discover we're on our own: from dancing and dining, showgirls and saunas, to the inky depths in a matter of moments.

Today the wealthiest nations in human history build cruise ships rather than battleships, vast floating palaces dedicated to the good life Рto the proposition that, in the plump and complacent West, life itself is a cruise, sailing (as the Concordia's name suggests) on a placid lake of peace and harmony. Since the economic downturn of 2008, the Titanic metaphor Рof a Western world steaming for the iceberg but unable to correct course Рhas become a little overworked, the easiest clich̩ for any politician attempting to project urgency. But let's assume they're correct, and we're heading full steam for the big 'berg. When we hit, what's the likelihood? That our response will be as ordered and civilized as those on the Titanic? Or that we will descend into the hell of the Concordia?

The contempt for "women and children first" is not a small loss. For soft cultures in good times, dispensing with social norms is easy. In hard times, you may have need of them.


Friday, January 20, 2012

The Land of Obama Make-Believe

By Michelle Malkin
January 20, 2012     

U.S. President Barack Obama unveils a strategy aimed at boosting tourism and travel in front of Cinderella's Castle at Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Orlando January 19, 2012.

Where did President Obama go after killing off thousands of Keystone XL pipeline construction and manufacturing jobs? Why, Disney World, of course. Sabotaging work is hard work for Goofy and his pals.

And where’d he head after that? Why, up to Manhattan for more high-priced campaign fundraisers charging up to $38,500 per partier. The business of wining and dining politically connected donors ain’t child’s play, you know.

Obama touted a White House foreign tourism initiative on Thursday with Cinderella’s castle as his backdrop. “America is open for business,” he proclaimed chirpily to the rest of the globe.

Tell that to the Keystone managers in Canada whom Obama and his State Department rebuffed — after years of planning and review — in order to appease militant environmentalists and Hollywood celebs. The Animatronic Divider robotically lambasted Republicans for pushing him to make a decision this week. But Senate and House Democrats issued the sharpest rebukes to White House obstructionism:

“President Obama’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline is a major setback for the American economy, American workers, and America’s energy independence,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., said.

“The rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline permit is a missed opportunity to drastically turn this economy around. This pipeline would have created thousands of new jobs and helped to ensure our energy independence,” Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., lamented.

“This delay is just playing politics with American jobs and American energy security,” Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, pointed out.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle scratched their heads as the job-snuffer-in-chief bolted to Orlando’s fantasyland to promote economic growth. But there’s no more fitting place on Earth for the man whose escapist administration occupies the land of make-believe and no consequences. (Bonus moment: Obama got to shake hands with Mickey Mouse, who infamously turned up on a Florida ACORN voter registration form in 2008. Constituent outreach at its most surreal.)

On the very same day he quashed Keystone, Obama released his first campaign ad of 2012 — hyping his stellar record on energy jobs. It’s Opposite Day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, 365 days a year. Even more comically, the ad touted his exemplary ethics record by quoting a moldy three-year-old endorsement from left-leaning Politifact. And as bipartisan Capitol Hill outrage over the half-billion-dollar Solyndra solar stimulus bust mounts, Obama had the nerve to sprinkle his inaugural campaign spot with — wait for it — solar panels.

Instead of supporting new infrastructure jobs in America through an energy independence-enhancing project that has bipartisan legislative support on Capitol Hill, the president flew to Disney World to peddle looser visa restrictions in China and Brazil by executive order. He also will expand the Visa Waiver Program (a security loophole-ridden program that was suspended temporarily after the 9/11 terrorist attacks) to speed foreign travel.

In case anyone needs reminding, it was the relentless drive of the tourism industry and kowtowing State Department bureaucrats that led to the Bush-era Visa Express Program, which relaxed visa policies, eliminated in-person consulate interviews and opened the door to the 9/11 hijackers. Brazil is just the latest base for al-Qaida and other Islamic jihadi groups. It does not consider Hezbollah or Hamas terrorist groups, and it disbanded its anti-terrorism force in 2009.

The Visa Waiver Program and other efforts to expedite the tourist visa process also pose continuing security risks because — as the Government Accountability Office itself admitted last year — there is still no comprehensive, systematic way to track the 70 million-plus foreign visitors who enter the country on tourist and other short-term visas. Indeed, half of the nation’s estimated 20 million illegal aliens are visa overstayers.

How many of the new Disney foreign tourists whom Obama is touting as America’s economic salvation will fail to return to their home countries after their Obama World visas expire? We’ll likely never know. And Team Obama doesn’t care.

In his opening campaign ad salvo, Obama accuses his opponents of being “untethered to facts.” But this is an administration that believes lowering visa standards and risking homeland security to pump up Disney foreign tourism is a better path to economic recovery than supporting direct American job creation and enhancing energy security. Like the Disney characters he posed with this week, our cartoonish president is wholly untethered to reality.

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He Wrote the Book on Raylan Givens

But FX’s Justified understands Elmore Leonard’s greatest character better than Leonard does.

January 17, 2012

How good is FX’s Justified, returning for its third season tonight? Some TV series inspire conventions, cosplay, and speculative fiction from their fans. Justified may be the first show to inspire fanfic from its creator. Elmore Leonard introduced U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in the novel Pronto, but hadn’t revisited the character since “Fire in the Hole,” the 2001 novella which became the basis for Justified. The show reignited his interest, and Leonard’s new novel Raylan—so inextricable from Justified that the cover image is of actor Timothy Olyphant in character—is out this week.

Leonard has explained that he wrote the book to give Justified producer Graham Yost more story ideas for the second season and seasons to come. Given that the writers of Justified wear bracelets reading WWED (What Would Elmore Do?), you might think they’d slavishly followed Leonard’s lead. But Raylan, surprisingly, reads like an alternate-universe version of Justified, Season 2, with tantalizing possibilities for Season 3. The changes Yost made, in fact, led to a much better story. It’s possible that the writers of Justified understand Elmore Leonard’s best character better than Elmore Leonard does.
First of all, if Yost and the Justified writers had followed Leonard’s blueprint exactly, viewers would have been cheated out of the series’ best character and juiciest storyline. Mags Bennett is not even a character in Raylan; in the book, the crime-bossing parent of hapless nitwits Coover and Dickie is their dad, one Pervis Crowe. For the show, of course, Yost crafted a rich yet tragic story for Mags (Margo Martindale, who won an Emmy for the role), the alternately diabolical and soft-hearted criminal mastermind who contrived a way to steal the daughter she always wanted.
Leonard is known for his laconic style, and in Raylan, little space is given over to the hero’s reflection upon his own motivations. But the author’s reluctance to devote much of his work to describing a look, or a pause, or the tension of a moment—all three of which are trademarks of Olyphant’s Raylan—requires Leonard to ... make his Raylan talk. Book Raylan is taciturn by any reasonable measure, but compared to TV Raylan, he’s a chatterbox. Right from the book’s first chapter, this essential difference is inescapable. “Give me his name,” Raylan asks a victim whose kidneys have been stolen and are being held for ransom. “I swear on my star you won’t have to pay for either one.” “I swear on my star”? Try to imagine Olyphant’s Raylan saying anything so melodramatic. I sure can’t.
Leonard’s economy of prose does help to give Raylan the same propulsive pace fans enjoy on Justified. That said, when one subplot puts Raylan in the compromising position of facing down a perp while wearing only cowboy boots, some readers might wish Leonard would, you know, slow down just a little and paint more of a picture. Sure, one of the conspirators does take a moment to admire the figure Raylan cuts when he’s unconscious and naked and lying vulnerable and exposed in a bathtub, but since the book jacket has already put Olyphant’s likeness in some readers’ heads, if Leonard devoted more detail to the scene, some readers probably wouldn’t complain. This scene didn’t appear in Season 2—trust me, you’d remember—but Leonard’s told an interviewer it might be used in the show, so … those readers who’d enjoy seeing Olyphant play it out can hope that Yost will make it happen.
My own prurient preferences aside, Raylan offers Justified producers plenty of story ideas that could lend themselves to TV, like a grabby subplot that revolves around a trio of bank-robbing strippers. There’s also a 23-year-old woman putting herself through Butler University with the proceeds from her poker winnings; her plotline culminates—as all poker stories must—with a climactic showdown at the gaming table.
If Justified producers do pluck those characters from Raylan, though, it won’t be right away; the explosive Season 2 finale left numerous messes that will need to be cleaned up in the early episodes of Season 3. Coming off the shootout of “Bloody Harlan,” the Season 2 finale, Raylan and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) are still in an uneasy truce—that is, until the season 3 premiere, “The Gunfighter.” Harsh words between Raylan and Boyd quickly escalate to a physical fight—and as tends to be the case when Boyd is concerned, his anger is not what it seems. Still, both the exchange and its outcome neatly lay out both the conflict between these two characters and the ways their shared Harlan background continues to inform their lives into the present. All this is to say that there’s plenty on Justified’s plate before it trots out the felonious gyrators.
What’s the best evidence that, at least right now, Yost and the Justified writers have Raylan Givens and his world pegged in a way even Leonard can’t match? It wasn’t Leonard who wrote a storyline bringing the awesome Karen Sisco to Kentucky. Oh, sure, she’s named Karen Goodall when she appears in episode 2, and mentions a name change following a brief marriage, but given that she’s played by Carla Gugino, it’s clear she’s meant to be the heroine of Gugino’s sadly short-lived ABC series Karen Sisco. (Though Leonard created Sisco, who was also played by Jennifer Lopez in the movie Out of Sight, interviews suggest they’ve changed her name for legal reasons.)
Anyway: Regardless of her maiden name, Gugino’s Karen is an intriguing addition to the show. In both Raylan and Justfied, Raylan’s (justified) shooting of gangster Tommy Bucks (Peter Greene) didn’t just catalyze Raylan’s return to Kentucky; it’s become a kind of legend that precedes Raylan everywhere he goes. Every crook whose path he crosses has heard about it. Karen’s return into Raylan’s life suggests the possibility that we could learn more about what else happened to Raylan in the time between his leaving Harlan and his return. Plus, Karen’s just a great character, with both coolness under pressure and fire smoldering under the surface to match Raylan’s. Bringing her to Justified is a fantastic idea, and it’s Yost who made it happen.
There are hints that Raylan and Karen shared A History when they were both posted to Miami—a development which could the Justified door to any number of indelible Leonard characters—but the start of Season 3 finds Raylan still planning a future with Winona (Natalie Zea) and their unborn baby. But while Leonard’s Raylan ends with the hero (somewhat implausibly) finding a measure of happiness and peace, the story isn’t near over for the Raylan of Justified—which means Yost will be able to continue borrowing from Leonard’s plots, and continue improving upon them.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

'Abortion Is as American as Apple Pie'

Meet abortion provider Merle Hoffman, who has her own way of marking the Roe v. Wade anniversary.

The American Spectator
January 19, 2012

Merle Hoffman: "Abortion is as American as apple pie."

In 2004, Planned Parenthood began selling T-shirts emblazoned with the declaration, "I Had An Abortion." This was part of its campaign to "demystify and destigmatize" the practice. Prominent abortion advocates felt at the time that their movement had grown too timid.

Alexander Sanger, the grandson of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, argued that feminists needed to go beyond the rhetoric of "choice," jargon he regarded as cowardly and vague. They should celebrate abortion directly and unapologetically, he said. After all, the unborn child, as an annoying interloper, deserves to die. "The unborn child is not just an innocent life," he wrote, but a "liability, a threat, and a danger to the mother and to the other members of the family."

Amidst such comments, the website sprung up. The founders of the site explained that it "was created for the purpose of showing women that exercising their legal right to terminate their pregnancy is not the blood-splattered guilt trip so many make it out to be." Space was provided on it for women to post testimonials expressing their "relief" and "joy" after an abortion.

Ron Fitzsimmons, president of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, also found "choice" rhetoric insipid. "We have nothing to hide," he said to the press. "The work we're doing is good. We are there to help women, and it's important to talk about abortion so that it's not a stigma."

Abortion, he said, is more than just a choice. It is a good choice: "We can no longer respond to [pro-life arguments] with 'it's your right to choose.' We need to recapture the notion that abortion is a difficult moral choice for women, but one that is, in fact, a moral choice."

These days abortion advocates are considerably more circumspect, returning to the "safe, legal, and rare" formula that Bill Clinton popularized. But a few still hunger for raw honesty. In apparent anticipation of the upcoming Roe v. Wade anniversary, Salon interviewed one of them on Monday. Merle Hoffman, a New York "abortion provider," told the online publication that the "pro-choice movement is uncomfortable with itself," as it still treats abortion as a regrettable act. "I've always said that, and I've always believed that," she said. "We're not comfortable with the banner we're under."

This makes no sense to Hoffman, given the large number of Americans implicated in abortion. "You know how many women have had abortions?" she said. "Abortion is as American as apple pie. I think it's one in three. But we'll go on TV and say, 'I just had my tits done or had a bikini wax,' but not had an abortion. If you could see that constituency rise up at one point in time -- but they don't, because there's this cloud."

Hoffman bluntly acknowledged that abortion involves killing an unborn child: "In the beginning [pro-lifers] were calling it a baby. We were saying it was only blood and tissue. Let's agree this is a life form, a potential life; you're terminating it. You don't have to argue that abortion stops a beating heart. It does." Nor does she insist that abortion is a minor medical procedure: "I can't say it's just like an appendectomy. It isn't. It's a very powerful and loaded decision."

Like Alexander Sanger, Hoffman sees abortion as a laudable act of self-defense against the encroaching unborn child. Referring to her own abortion, Hoffman writes in a soon-to-be-released memoir, Intimate Wars: "With my choice I was fighting for the right of all women to define abortion as an act of love: love for the family one already has, and just as important, love for oneself. I was fighting to reclaim abortion as a mother's act. It was an act of solidarity as significant as any other I had committed."

Hoffman's career as a founder and owner of an abortion clinic has been lucrative. Salon describes her as a bejeweled millionaire: "Impeccably coiffed -- signaling more Upper East Side doyenne than die-hard boomer activist -- she wears an enormous glittering ring she designed with the symbol of Choices, combining the caduceus and infinity symbols." The "Choices" to which the ring refers is the euphemistic name of the abortion clinic Hoffman runs. So her brutal honesty evidently has limits.

The subtitle of her memoir is: "The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Board Room." Last January, abortion advocates marked the anniversary of Roe more mutely, as they dealt with fallout from the life and times of a man who brought abortion from the back alley to main street Philadelphia. Remember Kermit Gosnell? Shortly before the nostalgic remembrances of the Roe ruling were set to begin, a grand jury in Pennsylvania charged the longtime Philadelphia abortionist with seven acts of infanticide and the killing of one adult.

Gosnell's specialty was late-term abortions bordering on infanticide. He practiced his craft in the open. Prosecutors blamed the lack of investigation into his clinic on the "pro-choice" atmosphere in the state. Nail salons are more closely monitored than abortion clinics, they said. Indeed, local abortion advocates knew all about Gosnell, only badmouthing him in public after the indictment came down.
At his bail hearing, Gosnell appeared puzzled. He had performed the very late-term abortions pro-choicers urged George W. Bush not to ban. "Is it possible you could explain the seven counts?" he asked the judge. In a culture that lionizes late-term abortionists as bravely defiant, the answer to his question remains unclear. Perhaps he should have called his clinic "Choices."

- George Neumayr is a contributing editor to The American Spectator.

Ron Paul: Wrong on the Taliban

They protected al-Qaeda even at the cost of their own power.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
January 19, 2012

Republican presidential candidates (L-R) Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich listen to Rep. Ron Paul of Texas at Republican presidential candidates debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, January 16, 2012. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Ron Paul knows even less about the history of our enemies than he does about their proper treatment under the Constitution. He actually interrupted Monday night’s Republican candidates’ debate so he could interject the following:
I would like to point out one thing about the Taliban. The Taliban used to be our allies when we were fighting the Russians. So Taliban are people who want — their main goal is to keep foreigners off their land. It’s the al-Qaeda — you can’t mix the two. The al-Qaeda want to come here to kill us. The Taliban just says, “We don’t want foreigners.” We need to understand that, or we can’t resolve this problem in the Middle East. We are going to spend a lot of lives and a lot of money for a long time to come.
Everything in this statement is wrong. Everything. Let’s start with the most basic point. The Taliban most certainly were not “our allies when we were fighting the Russians.” How could they have been, considering that the Taliban did not exist at the time of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan?
I won’t belabor the point that it was not the United States but the Afghan mujahadeen, with the help of non-Afghan Muslims (mostly Arab), who did the actual fighting against the Soviets. We did, after all, fuel the anti-Soviet jihad with billions of dollars in materiel and other assistance — through our intermediary, Pakistani intelligence, with the Saudis matching our aid dollar-for-dollar. Presumably, this is what Representative Paul was talking about. Nevertheless, while a number of the Taliban’s eventual founders were veterans of the anti-Soviet jihad, the fact is that the Taliban was not established as an organization until 1994. That is five years after the Soviet Union skulked out of Afghanistan and three years after it collapsed.

Paul’s claim that the Taliban is just opposed to foreign interference in Afghanistan is patently absurd. To begin with, the Taliban’s creation was a direct result not of foreign invasion but of Afghanistan’s internecine tribal warfare after the Soviets left and the Americans lost interest. Its unabashed goal was to crush Afghan factions that impeded its establishment of a retrograde sharia state.

Moreover, the Taliban craves foreign interference, without which it would never have come to power. A Pashtun movement driven by Islamic scholars and spearheaded by Mullah Mohammed Omar in Kandahar, the Taliban owes its existence to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. These Muslim nations, two of the only three nations in the world to recognize the Taliban-led government in Kabul, nurtured, armed, and financed the Taliban in its origin. They did so precisely because the Taliban was an effective ally in their machinations against regional rivals — India for the Pakistanis and Iran for the Saudis. The alliance was also grounded in the Taliban’s espousal of Deobandism, an uncompromising construction of Islam propagated in Afghan madrassas built by the Saudis’ Muslim World League in conjunction with Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s supremacist Islamic movement.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Taliban willingly gave al-Qaeda safe haven, knowing full well that bin Laden’s network was engaged in a global jihad that targeted the United States as its primary enemy. Al-Qaeda struck American interests several times while it had sanctuary from the Taliban, attacking American embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole in Yemen before orchestrating the 9/11 attacks. By quite consciously accommodating and protecting an international terrorist organization that was at war with the United States, the Taliban joined al-Qaeda and became an enemy of the United States. It was thus every bit as much a part of al-Qaeda’s attacks on the U.S. as was al-Qaeda itself. That is not only how war works, it is a straightforward application of the criminal-law principles that Representative Paul claims to like so much — a conspirator and an aider-and-abettor is responsible for the actions of his confederates.

Speaking of the criminal law, it bears remembering that the American invasion of Afghanistan was not inevitable. Contrary to Paul’s offensive depiction of a ravenous, empire-building America ever on the prowl for the next military conquest, the Bush administration did not rush to war. As I’ve pointed out before, in the weeks after 9/11, even after Congress authorized the use of military force, President Bush pointedly asked the Taliban to hand bin Laden and his organization over to the United States so that they could be tried — bin Laden having been indicted years earlier by an American grand jury. The Taliban repeatedly refused. Our choice at that point was either to invade, overthrow the Taliban, and smash al-Qaeda, or to let it be known that the United States would tolerate a massive attack on our homeland. That was no choice at all.

Ron Paul is dangerously delusional about the Taliban’s Weltanschauung. To be fair, these are delusions he shares with leftists — including members of the Obama administrationwho insist that we must purge all references to Islam from our consideration of the threat we face.

The Taliban does not say, “We don’t want foreigners.” If you are an Arab jihadist, an operative of Pakistan’s heavily Islamist intelligence service, or a Saudi Wahhabist royal ready to build Afghanistan’s next-generation madrassas, the Taliban is delighted to have you in their country. It is non-Muslims they don’t want. And it is non-Muslim superpowers that they especially despise, since these they see as standing athwart their divine mission to subject the world to the rule of Islamic law.
That is why they protected al-Qaeda even at the cost of their own power. That is why negotiating with them is self-defeating and leaving them alone, as Paul would have us do, is suicidal. Of course we should avoid unnecessary wars. But when we find ourselves in necessary wars, we need to win them. To adopt the Paul rationalization that such wars are our own fault and that we can secure ourselves by shrinking from them is just as fatuous as rationalizing that democracy will tame the jihad.

— 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.

Bruce Springsteen's new album title revealed

Wrecking Ball, the Boss's 17th studio album, will be his first since the death of E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons

By Sean Michaels
The Guardian
January 19, 2012

Bruce Springsteen's manager has revealed new details of the singer's forthcoming album, Wrecking Ball, promising an "experimental" and "big-picture piece of work". The LP – described by Jon Landau, who has managed Springsteen since 1976, as having "social overtones" – includes contributions by Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, as well as members of the E Street Band.

"It's a rock record that combines elements of both Bruce's classic sound and his Seeger Sessions experience, with new textures and styles," Landau told Rolling Stone magazine. "It extends and deepens the vision that has animated all of Bruce's work." But according to a recent article in the Hollywood Reporter, the songs are more strident than usual: "[Bruce] gets into economic justice quite a bit," explained an "earwitness". "He feels it's the angriest album he's ever made."

This is Springsteen's first record with rock producer Ron Aniello, who has previously worked with Candlebox, Jars of Clay and the Barenaked Ladies. "Bruce and Ron used a wide variety of players to create something that both rocks and is very fresh," Landau said. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the arrangements include electronic loops and percussion, as well as hip-hop and Irish folk influences.

The album is Springsteen's first since the death in June 2011 of his long-time colleague Clarence Clemons. The E Street saxophonist is believed to appear on one new song, "Land of Hope and Dreams", which will be dedicated to him.

Wrecking Ball is due on 5 March. The single "We Take Care of Our Own" is out now.

The tracklisting for Wrecking Ball:

'We Take Care of Our Own'
'Easy Money'
'Shackled and Down'
'Jack of All Trades'
'Death to My Hometown'
'This Depression'
'Wrecking Ball'
'You've Got It'
'Rocky Ground'
'Land of Hope and Dreams'
'We Are Alive'
'Swallowed Up' (Bonus Track)
'American Land' (Bonus Track)

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - We Take Care of Our Own

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mark Levin: Egalitarianism Creates Hell on Earth

'Ameritopia' Explodes Into 2012 Campaign

Mark Levin's literary dynamite detonates in midst of GOP primaries.

Buy the Book

The American Spectator
January 17, 2012

And… BOOM!

Mark Levin has an uncanny knack for writing a book that isn't simply a popular bestseller. Levin's last book, Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, became a major political player in the 2010 elections. Literary dynamite, if you will, tossed into the political scene with the fuse lit.

Now comes the just released Ameritopia, making it plain Mark Levin has done it again. In fact, without doubt, Ameritopia should be considered the companion book to Liberty and Tyranny.

And yet again it is the historical rarity of a book as major political player -- this time at the very heart of the 2012 presidential election itself.

Liberty and Tyranny was a detailed reply to the liberal assault on the Constitution, a combined history lesson and tribute to cherished constitutional beliefs of individual freedom and liberty. Replete with a conservative "how to" manifesto suggesting ways to fight the Leviathan.

That book sold a stunning 1.3 million copies. To understand a fraction of the impact Levin's Liberty and Tyranny had on Americans, take a look at this video of a Levin book signing for L&T in Virginia, a mere glimpse of the striking phenomenon the book became in the onrush of the landmark 2010 congressional elections. The book quickly emerged, in the words of House Tea Party Caucus Chair Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, as the "intellectual balance and foundation" for the emerging Tea Party movement itself. The Tea Party -- the now famous political fuel that rocketed the GOP to that major success in the 2010 congressional elections.

Why will Ameritopia make such an explosive impact in 2012?

Because this time Levin gets to the core of what drives not just the American left in the Obama era but what has driven left-wingers through the millennia of human existence itself.

That would be?

Utopia, of course. Or, as Levin refits the word to describe the American version of utopia --Ameritopia.

Levin's analysis is deadly to liberalism. Deadly.

Once Ameritopia is read and understood, no cognizant person will not understand what is unfolding around them in 21st century America -- and for that matter what has been unfolding in spurts and stops right from the get go of humanity itself, not to mention America. Ameritopia is historical X-ray vision in book form.

Typically, Mark Levin has done his homework… a lot of it….and it shows. With apologies to J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, you might say Levin uncovers the philosopher's stone of American liberalism. Make that philosophers in the plural. And in doing so connects the dots from the likes of Plato, Thomas More, Thomas Hobbes, and Karl Marx straight to what every day Americans are experiencing not simply with life in the Obama-era but with the very essence of liberalism itself. A liberalism that is more properly called statism, a term Levin resurrected from the past that now increasingly floods the public dialogue surely as a direct result of the popularity of Liberty and Tyranny.

WHAT IN THE WORLD makes any of these people relevant to today?

Everything. Everything.

If you want to understand what's really at work with the mentality that has produced everything from Obamacare to the EPA, campaign finance reform, Roe v. Wade, gay marriage, the controversy over Mitt Romney's Bain Capital, the New Deal, the Great Society and Fannie Mae -- to name a small handful of historical political programs and controversies --Ameritopia is the "must read" of 2012. And beyond.

Plato as American political player in the 2012 campaign? While Levin notes that the famous Greek philosopher wasn't, even way back in 380 BC, the first to enthuse about a utopian society, he is surely among the most prominent. Plato's Republic was all about the construction of what Plato called an "ideal city" filled with "Guardians" -- Guardians, Levin notes, who will decide who gets what.
Stop right here.

Remember this line from the 2008 campaign?
Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment—this was the time—when we came together to remake this great nation…
In short, this is Obama as Plato. This vision is not the vision of the Founding Fathers. This is utopianism. Or, in its Americanized version, exactly what Levin calls it in his title: Ameritopia.

What Barack Obama is describing is a fantasy. A world where there is no imperfection. A world in which he personally --assuming the modern-day role of Plato's Guardian -- will see to it that every last one of a population of over 300 million has care when sick and always a good job. Like King Canute, Obama will be able to command the oceans when not busy healing the planet.

How will he do it? That's right. Obamacare. The stimulus. The EPA. Withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, cutting the military budget. And on… and on and on.

These are the modern signposts of utopia. If they are but done, Obamaites and statists insist, there will be utopia in America.

A concept Levin finds as laughable as it is dangerous, summing up the reality in Ameritopia's subtitle: "The Unmaking of America."

All of which makes the book Ameritopia not just a political player in 2012 but a very, very dangerous political player to Obama and his fellow statists.


Ameritopia rips the veil off of statism. In a precise, detailed, just-the-historical-facts ma'am fashion, Levin demonstrates that the Obama worldview -- indeed the entire worldview of the American left -- is now and has ever been nothing more than an ancient historical shell game. A sham from start to finish. Or, in the words of Plato, a "noble lie." Except, of course, as Levin documents repeatedly, there's nothing noble about the lie.

FROM PLATO, LEVIN MOVES on to Sir Thomas More's famous novel from 1516. That's right -- 1516, some 496 years ago. What was the title of More's novel? Right again. It was More's novel Utopia that gave title to the concept of a world where, as Levin notes, a society exists "in which every need is answered and every want is either met or made results in near-perfect existence."
Chillingly, More anticipated Obamacare by almost 500 years. In Thomas More's Utopia there is -- wait for it --free health care. Writes More:
For in the circuit of the city… have four hospitals, so big, so wide, so ample, and so large, that they may seem four little towns.… These hospitals are so well appointed, and with all things necessary to health so furnished… there is no sick person in all the city that had not rather lie there than at home in his own house.
And what happens in More's Utopia to those who are very ill? Writes Levin of More's idea:
Therefore, individuals who suffer from incurable diseases or fatal conditions, and who are no longer of use to the society in general are encouraged to commit suicide to ease their pain and alleviate the burden they represent to island civilization.
And then specifically quotes the great concept of health care in Utopia as written by More himself:
They that be persuaded finish their lives willingly, either with hunger, or else die in their sleep without any feeling of death.
In other words, Thomas More as an early enthusiast of what Sarah Palin called the "death panels" of ObamaCare.

Thus Barack Obama's philosophy at work in the 16th century.

LEVIN CONTINUES this devastating tour of various utopias and the always present authoritarian mindset. On through Thomas Hobbes and his Leviathan, and finally that most influential utopian of modern times -- Karl Marx and his utopian vision of class struggle: The Communist Manifesto.
Forget, if you can, the sheer evil, the mass murder, the totalitarianism that history now records in considerable detail as accompanying Marx's idea of utopia.

Focus on present-day America and one will understand why Mark Levin calls his book Ameritopia and exactly why this book is destined to attract the utter fury of today's utopians.

Take a look around your own home -- a good, long look (that is, if you haven't lost your home as a result of the utopian quest for homeownership for all). Take a good look. What do you see? Levin describes Ameritopia as it appears in your American home:
Inside the home, the federal government regulates washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, dishwasher detergents, microwave ovens, toilets, showerheads, heating and cooling systems, refrigerators, freezers, furnace fans and boilers, ceiling fans, dehumidifiers, lightbulbs, certain renovations, fitness equipment, clothing, baby cribs, pacifiers, rattles and toys, marbles, latex balloons, matchbooks, bunk beds, mattresses, mattress pads, televisions, radios, cell phones, iPods and other digital media devices, computer components, video recording devices, speakers, batteries, battery charges, power supplies, stereo equipment, garage door openers, lawn mowers, lawn darts, pool slides…toothpaste, deodorant, dentures…
In case this list hasn't staggered, Levin cites a report from the Heartland Institute that performs the same Ameritopia checklist on your automobile. Sure enough, in the land that has become Ameritopia the cumulative utopian list of mandates for your car includes standards for your car's
engines, bumpers, headrests, seat belts, door latches, brakes, fuel systems, and windshields" as well as side-door guard beams and energy absorbing steering columns…airbags, a centered/rear brake light and electronic stability control system…
And that doesn't even included the federal government standards the Cato Institute reports that require, Levin notes, "new car fleets to average 35.5 mpg by 2016."

Is it any wonder, then, that with Ameritopia so intimately woven into the fabric of your everyday life that the larger, more cosmic world of government policy is chock-a-block with the Ameritopia mindset?

Beginning with the famous entitlements of Social Security and Medicare, there is not an area of American life untouched by the unsatiable government mandates of Ameritopia. Levin points out a fraction of them:
Homebuilders must comply with the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.
And on it goes. And on and on it goes.

Is it any wonder than that Americans in 2012 are rebelling? Is it any wonder that Tea Partiers were waving Levin's Liberty and Tyranny in the air at their rallies?

One of the more interesting aspects of Liberty and Tyranny was Levin's ability to popularize a very old and practically vanished word: the "statist." Meaning someone who believes in the supremacy of the state -- which, of course, describes the modern American leftist perfectly.

In Ameritopia, Levin will do for John Locke and Charles de Montesquieu what he did for the term statist. Make them famous -- if famous again.


Because it is Locke, Montesquieu, and the always well-known Alexis de Tocqueville who have long ago recognized the threat of utopians and detailed the proper response.

It was the English philosopher and physician Locke, one of the most important thinkers of the Enlightenment, and the French philosopher Montesquieu, who together provided a considerable amount of the thinking that would later be used by the Founders as they carefully crafted the Constitution.

It was Locke who insisted on understanding the true nature of man, says Levin, as opposed to utopians and their lust for "insensate societies based on their own prejudices and fantasies." And that true nature is, among other things, imperfect. Utopia, is, then, unobtainable. Yesterday, today, tomorrow -- and forever.

LET'S GO BACK for a moment to but two examples of utopian imperfection that Levin provides in his book. Two examples that are well familiar to every American: the "entitlements" of Social Security and Medicare.

What, after all, was the real origin of these two programs aimed at the elderly and health care for the elderly? Who thought them up? If you are under the impression these programs were the work of assorted 20th century liberal intellectuals and politicians you would be wrong. Yes, Levin names the names of those involved in creating these programs. Columbia University professor Henry Rogers Seager came up with the modern idea of Social Security in his 1910 study Social Insurance: A Program of Social Reform. There is the later bread-crumb trail of American liberal politicians like Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and 1960s-era House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Wilbur Mills.

But, in the end, of course, the real origin of these twin modern problems was that each of these people (and more) were busily trying to create utopia in America.

And, oh by the way, there was that political side benefit of thinking this would elect fellow liberals through eternity.

What was the original utopian concept? Social insurance for seniors and medical care as well. What could possibly go wrong? What went wrong, of course, is the point Levin highlights throughout his book. In the quest for a perfect world, utopians time and again and always crash into the rocks of reality.

Says Levin of these two pillars ofAmeritopia:
… in 2010, the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] estimated that unfunded obligations for Medicare and Social Security are $25trillion and $21.4 trillion, respectively. Both programs are economically unviable.
In other words: Oops.

Or, as Ronald Reagan might say: There they go again.

Why is this happening to Social Security and Medicare? Why are they destined to crash on the rocks of economic unviability?

Because while on the surface these two programs were supposed to be dealing with social insurance and health care for seniors -- in fact what they were really were nothing more than 20th century efforts at bringing utopia to America. Establishing a country where, in complete violation of Locke's principles about the nature of man, nothing could go wrong. Benefiting politically from selling the whole thing to the gullible.

Now -- with the predictability of the sun rising in East -- economic disaster looms. Shocker!

SO. LET'S BRING THIS BACK where we started.

The idea of Ameritopia as a political player at the dead center of the 2012 presidential campaign.
What Mark Levin has done with this book -- exactly as he did with Liberty and Tyranny -- is shine a blinding spotlight on what's really going wrong in this country. (And the favorable reviews are already coming, as here at PJ Media.) He has illustrated in vivid terms the considerable danger posed by utopian masterminds who have led this country, by leaps and bounds when not by degrees, to what Levin accurately calls a "Post-Constitutional America."

With considerable hard work Levin has managed to pull together for modern consumption a serious understanding of what Americans are really hearing and seeing when they hear, say, Barack Obama go on and on about being a transformational president halting the rise of the oceans or Obamacare or the need for an almost trillion dollar government stimulus.

Discerning conservatives will have their own reasons to be discomfited when they hear Mitt Romney defend Romneycare or Newt Gingrich attack Bain Capital or Rick Santorum discuss why he supported earmarks.

In their own fashion, each and every one of these people, the presumed "great men" of our era, are looking for a slice of utopia. Looking, as Levin has noted elsewhere, "to create ideal societies." Ideal societies that can in fact never exist but inevitably wind up creating totalitarian regimes.

It also needs to be said here that Mark Levin is thoroughly establishing himself as a serious public intellectual -- a William Buckley, a Daniel Patrick Moynihan (a John Locke?) of today. Yes, yes, yes, the talk radio "get off the phone you big dope" persona is entertaining. But make no mistake here. Mark Levin is a considerably serious man, a serious thinker whose books matter.

What Mark Levin has accomplished here is to write a book that, figuratively speaking, blows up the whole, long on-going game centered around Plato's "noble lie." Thanks to Levin, John Locke, the "profound" influence on the Founders, is, finally, ready for his close-up.

Ameritopia is not just a book, it's a dangerous book. A serious political player. Dangerous to utopians from the White House to your neighbor's house who, in the eternal human quest for a perfection unobtainable by definition, are possessed in trying to construct a society that will -- can only -- lead to disaster and despotism.

It asks, in its author's words, the central question of campaign 2012 and beyond:

"So, my fellow countrymen, which do we choose --Ameritopia or America?"


Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at


Today's Tune: The Pierces - Glorious

Why the GOP Candidates Should Talk about Russia

By Daniel Vajdic
January 18, 2012

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, war veterans and cadets watch the military parade in Red Square (Photo: REUTERS)

There’s a tendency to emphasize the obvious when critiquing President Obama’s foreign policy. Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons continues unchecked. The Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to finding a solution that would ensure Israel’s security and establish a functional, responsible Palestinian state. Meanwhile, a complete U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq has unleashed sectarian tensions, perhaps bringing into question Iraq’s viability as a unified state, and creating the conditions for an expansion of Iranian influence.

But Obama’s Russia policy — the so-called “reset” — has gone largely unnoted. This is especially surprising given that the administration advertises the Russian reset as one of its principal foreign-policy triumphs. Most casual observers don’t seem to be aware that if the president were asked to rank his achievements in the realm of foreign relations, he would probably list an “improvement” in U.S.–Russia relations behind only Osama bin Laden’s death and perhaps the jumbled Libya operation.

Obama has boasted of a number of successes in the context of the reset. First among those is the New START nuclear-arms-reduction treaty, which caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arms at 1,550 warheads and limits each side’s deployed and nondeployed delivery vehicles. In Moscow, Obama negotiated an expansion of Russian supply routes to Afghanistan for nonlethal matériel. Moreover, since Obama announced the reset, Russia has agreed to an additional round of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Tehran and canceled a sale of its advanced S-300 air-defense system to Iran.

However, most of the reset’s supposed achievements are much less substantive than Obama claims, in some cases simply don’t exist, and, taken as a whole, represent nothing more than a well-devised marketing ploy to mask a scarcity of foreign-policy triumphs elsewhere. Unless unilateral U.S. disarmament is the underlying objective, New START should not be seen as an accomplishment. Russia was already below the new ceilings in both strategic nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles when the treaty came into force. The U.S. has had to reduce its stockpile as Russia increases its own.

Supply routes to Afghanistan via Russian territory — the northern portion of the Northern Distribution Network — have become increasingly important since Islamabad shut down transit corridors through Pakistan in late November. U.S. relations with Pakistan are arguably at a post-9/11 nadir.

Still, there are a few problems with the Russian option. First, Russia limits NATO to nonlethal equipment and only allows the alliance to ship supplies from the West to Afghanistan, not in the reverse direction. Second, the Kremlin may prove to be no less erratic than Pakistan. Moscow’s ambassador to NATO recently threatened to cut off Russian transit routes to Afghanistan unless the U.S. agrees to scale back its missile-defense plans in Europe. Finally, an expansion of the Russian route makes the U.S. even more reliant on the Kremlin, which may use its leverage to extract concessions in unrelated areas. In addition to missile defense, Russia’s demands could include reduced U.S. engagement with the countries of the former Soviet Union — Moscow’s “sphere of privileged interests” — and a diminution in U.S. criticism of what can mildly be called the Putin regime’s democratic shortcomings.

Moreover, to suggest that the Kremlin is cooperating over Afghanistan because of the reset is patently wrong. Perhaps more than any other country in the world save the U.S., Russia fears the return of the Taliban and the further diffusion of Islamic fundamentalism into Central Asia, which threatens its southern periphery. In the words of Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Moscow assists the U.S. in Afghanistan because “it serves our security interests.”

On Iran, the reset has not fundamentally altered Russia’s approach. As evidence to the contrary, the administration most often points to the Kremlin’s support for a fourth round of U.N. Security Council sanctions and its decision to scrap delivery of the S-300 air-defense system to Tehran. But none of this represents a real shift in policy. From 2006 to 2008, Russia backed three rounds of sanctions against Iran. Since the inception of the reset three years ago, however, Russia has supported only one set of multilateral sanctions.

In fact, Russia now opposes sanctions, claiming that the option has been “exhausted,” and its intransigence on the issue has only grown in recent months. The Kremlin condemned an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report in November that provided further evidence of Iran’s ongoing efforts to weaponize its nuclear program. Meanwhile, Russia’s state nuclear-energy corporation, Rosatom, has expressed readiness to construct additional nuclear reactors in Iran.

The decision to cancel sale of the S-300 — an advanced air-defense system capable of guarding Iran’s nuclear installations — was certainly a positive step. However, rather than resulting from the reset, the move is simply an indication that the Kremlin adheres to some semblance of caution. It doesn’t want to see recently delivered Russian military equipment killing Israeli or American pilots in the event of a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. There’s also some evidence to suggest that Moscow had further interests in abandoning the the S-300 contract: Dropping it may have been part of a quid pro quo in which Israel agreed to sell drones to Russia in exchange for the Kremlin’s pledge to halt delivery of the S-300 to Iran and MiG-31s to Syria. Moreover, Russia’s commitment to sell other weapons to Tehran dilutes the significance of its S-300 reversal. Most recently, Russia sent Iran a set of sophisticated radar jammers.

In its categorical praise for the reset, the Obama administration also glosses over Russian threats to target U.S. missile-defense components in Europe, to station tactical ballistic missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave, and to develop new weaponry aimed at the U.S. and its allies. What’s more, Moscow has blocked sanctions against Syria and continues to sell arms to the Assad regime.

But the Republican candidates should raise the issue of Russia for reasons that go beyond President Obama’s misrepresentation of the reset. Last month’s massive protests in Moscow and other cities have shaken the Putin regime to its core. In September, Prime Minister Putin and his on-again-off-again rival, President Dmitry Medvedev, shamelessly announced that they would switch jobs after Russia’s March presidential election — and openly admitted that they had made this decision “years ago,” thus proving that Medvedev’s entire presidency was staged to give the illusion of competitive politics.

Putin’s brazen proclamation that he intends to reclaim the Kremlin was followed three months later by Russia’s December 4 parliamentary election, in which widespread ballot-box-stuffing allowed the United Russia party — Putin’s party — to fraudulently win a majority of seats. The second event coming so soon after the first roused many Russians from their state of political numbness. Since then, tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Moscow on two separate occasions. And more demonstrations are being planned in the coming weeks.

Even if these protests fizzle out, however, the underlying frustration with Putin’s rigid and increasingly ineffective governance will remain, and undoubtedly grow, in the absence of substantive reforms. The March presidential vote could become a flashpoint. An evidently rigged Putin victory, with 60 to 70 percent of the vote, coupled with the exclusion of genuine opposition candidates, would create the conditions for an explosive situation in which the regime may very well resort to violence.

For the first time in over a decade, Russia is on the verge of fundamental change, and the GOP candidates would be wise to voice support for the country’s burgeoning democratic movement. President Obama’s tendency to exaggerate and, in some cases, fabricate the reset’s achievements, and his refusal to acknowledge Russian misbehavior, shouldn’t be ignored in favor of criticizing the administration’s more obvious foreign-policy failures.

— Daniel Vajdic is a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I believe in Tim Tebow

By Rick Reilly
January 13, 2012

Tim Tebow with Jacob Rainey, one of the many people dealing with health problems Tebow hosted at Broncos games this season. (Tim Tebow Foundation)

I've come to believe in Tim Tebow, but not for what he does on a football field, which is still three parts Dr. Jekyll and two parts Mr. Hyde.

No, I've come to believe in Tim Tebow for what he does off a football field, which is represent the best parts of us, the parts I want to be and so rarely am.
Who among us is this selfless?

Every week, Tebow picks out someone who is suffering, or who is dying, or who is injured. He flies these people and their families to the Broncos game, rents them a car, puts them up in a nice hotel, buys them dinner (usually at a Dave & Buster's), gets them and their families pregame passes, visits with them just before kickoff (!), gets them 30-yard-line tickets down low, visits with them after the game (sometimes for an hour), has them walk him to his car, and sends them off with a basket of gifts.

Home or road, win or lose, hero or goat.

Remember last week, when the world was pulling its hair out in the hour after Tebow had stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers with an 80-yard OT touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in the playoffs? And Twitter was exploding with 9,420 tweets about Tebow per second? When an ESPN poll was naming him the most popular athlete in America?

Tebow was spending that hour talking to 16-year-old Bailey Knaub about her 73 surgeries so far and what TV shows she likes.

"Here he'd just played the game of his life," recalls Bailey's mother, Kathy, of Loveland, Colo., "and the first thing he does after his press conference is come find Bailey and ask, 'Did you get anything to eat?' He acted like what he'd just done wasn't anything, like it was all about Bailey."

More than that, Tebow kept corralling people into the room for Bailey to meet. Hey, Demaryius, come in here a minute. Hey, Mr. Elway. Hey, Coach Fox.

Even though sometimes-fatal Wegener's granulomatosis has left Bailey with only one lung, the attention took her breath away.

"It was the best day of my life," she emailed. "It was a bright star among very gloomy and difficult days. Tim Tebow gave me the greatest gift I could ever imagine. He gave me the strength for the future. I know now that I can face any obstacle placed in front of me. Tim taught me to never give up because at the end of the day, today might seem bleak but it can't rain forever and tomorrow is a new day, with new promises."

I read that email to Tebow, and he was honestly floored.

"Why me? Why should I inspire her?" he said. "I just don't feel, I don't know, adequate. Really, hearing her story inspires me."

It's not just NFL defenses that get Tebowed. It's high school girls who don't know whether they'll ever go to a prom. It's adults who can hardly stand. It's kids who will die soon.

For the game at Buffalo, it was Charlottesville, Va., blue-chip high school QB Jacob Rainey, who lost his leg after a freak tackle in a scrimmage. Tebow threw three interceptions in that Buffalo game and the Broncos were crushed 40-14.

"He walked in and took a big sigh and said, 'Well, that didn't go as planned,'" Rainey remembers. "Where I'm from, people wonder how sincere and genuine he is. But I think he's the most genuine person I've ever met."

There's not an ounce of artifice or phoniness or Hollywood in this kid Tebow, and I've looked everywhere for it.

Take 9-year-old Zac Taylor, a child who lives in constant pain. Immediately after Tebow shocked the Chicago Bears with a 13-10 comeback win, Tebow spent an hour with Zac and his family. At one point, Zac, who has 10 doctors, asked Tebow whether he has a secret prayer for hospital visits. Tebow whispered it in his ear. And because Tebow still needed to be checked out by the Broncos' team doctor, he took Zac in with him, but only after they had whispered it together.

And it's not always kids. Tom Driscoll, a 55-year-old who is dying of brain cancer at a hospice in Denver, was Tebow's guest for the Cincinnati game. "The doctors took some of my brain," Driscoll says, "so my short-term memory is kind of shot. But that day I'll never forget. Tim is such a good man."

This whole thing makes no football sense, of course. Most NFL players hardly talk to teammates before a game, much less visit with the sick and dying.

Isn't that a huge distraction?

"Just the opposite," Tebow says. "It's by far the best thing I do to get myself ready. Here you are, about to play a game that the world says is the most important thing in the world. Win and they praise you. Lose and they crush you. And here I have a chance to talk to the coolest, most courageous people. It puts it all into perspective. The game doesn't really matter. I mean, I'll give 100 percent of my heart to win it, but in the end, the thing I most want to do is not win championships or make a lot of money, it's to invest in people's lives, to make a difference."

So that's it. I've given up giving up on him. I'm a 100 percent believer. Not in his arm. Not in his skills. I believe in his heart, his there-will-definitely-be-a-pony-under-the-tree optimism, the way his love pours into people, right up to their eyeballs, until they believe they can master the hopeless comeback, too.

Remember the QB who lost his leg, Jacob Rainey? He got his prosthetic leg a few weeks ago, and he wants to play high school football next season. Yes, tackle football. He'd be the first to do that on an above-the-knee amputation.

Hmmm. Wonder where he got that crazy idea?

"Tim told me to keep fighting, no matter what," Rainey says. "I am."

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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "Monday Night Countdown," "SportsCenter," and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.

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