Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bruce Springsteen - The Boss is cross

When Bruce Springsteen has something to say, the world listens. A new album from the New Jersey giant, almost 40 years after his first, is still a huge deal - demonstrated by the three coaches waiting yesterday outside Sony Records' Paris headquarters to take journalists from as far afield as Denmark and Australia to a special listening event. Even next month's advance airing of Madonna's latest album will be more low-key than this.

By David Smyth
London Evening Standard
17 Feb 2012

The gilded Théâtre Marigny, just off the Champs-Élysées, was the venue for the first European airing of Wrecking Ball, 62-year-old Springsteen's 17th album and his first to address America's current financial situation.

"You tend to do your best work when there's something you can really push against," he told the writers once the album's 11 tracks had played through.

Blasted loud in the darkness, with its cutting lines about bankers and fat cats displayed on a cinema screen, the songs broadcast a fury that showed him once again to be his country's musical conscience, the good angel perched on the shoulder of a conflicted nation that has seen better days.

The discussion (chaired, somewhat bizarrely to British eyes, by Antoine de Caunes of saucy Channel 4 show Eurotrash) moved quickly away from the music, which is as breast-beating and anthemic as we have come to expect, to the songwriter's views on everything from Barack Obama's achievements to last year's Norwegian massacre.

A political career would surely come naturally to this voice of the working people if he ever shaved off that silly miniature beard below his lip but Springsteen still professes to know his place: "I could never be a politician - I just don't have the skills. I have no interest in any other job."

Yet he voices the thoughts of the masses as adeptly as any professional speechwriter. He doesn't deny that there are big ideas behind his songs.

"My work has always been about judging the distance between reality and the American Dream," he says. "It's often claimed by different political groups because there is a strand of patriotism underneath but it's a critical, questioning, often angry form of patriotism."

That voice is heard most clearly on the new album's first single, We Take Care of Our Own. Over strident guitars and bold marching drums he repeats: "We take care of our own/Wherever this flag's flown".

Since its release last month its reception has recalled the confused response to Springsteen's biggest hit, Born in the USA - released in 1984 and famous for sounding like a rabble-rousing new national anthem to those who wilfully ignored the bitter lyrics about a soldier returning from Vietnam in the verses.

The LA Times has called the new song "an affirmation of national glory" but lines that explicitly reference the nation's slow response to Hurricane Katrina ("From the shotgun shack to the Super Dome/There ain't no help, the cavalry stayed home") suggest the opposite of taking care.

Springsteen clarifies from his stool on the stage: "The song asks the question that the rest of the record tries to answer which is, 'Do we?' - we often don't." He disputes the idea that songs such as this and Born in the USA, with a bright hummable tune and an apparently positive chorus, are open to misinterpretation. "I write carefully and precisely and I believe clearly. If you're missing it you're not quite thinking hard enough."

In any case, there's no mistaking the righteous ire in many of the album's other tracks. Shackled and Drawn has an upbeat and downhome feel but its toe-tapping sounds give false positivity to lines about "trudging through the dark in a world gone wrong".

It paints a picture of the working man versus the "gamblers", proclaiming: "It's still fat and easy up on banker's hill". On Jack of All Trades, a tale of an everyman figure adapting to survive, the simple piano melody and mournful horns give voice to a man who is both resigned and angry: "The banking man grows fat, working man grows thin/ It's all happened before and it'll happen again." He becomes more incensed as the song progresses: "If I had me a gun I'd find the bastards and shoot 'em on sight."

Death to my Hometown has a military feel, with its martial drum patterns and even bagpipes. It's as catchy as anything he's written and supremely uplifting, despite painting a picture of a town that's been ravaged even though there hasn't been a war. "They destroyed our families, factories, then they took our homes," Springsteen sings. "Send the robber barons straight to hell."

Perhaps he shies from a political career because he knows he doesn't have the answers, and he doesn't offer many here. But in Wrecking Ball's second half, what he does provide is hope - gallons of the stuff. The title track swells inspirationally, doubling the pace to a busy strum halfway through as the horns burst in. "Take your best shot, let me see what you've got," he urges in a song about rebuilding that could easily be addressing Obama himself.

By the time he gets to Rocky Ground he's using Biblical language over a church organ and gospel backing vocals: "Rise up, shepherd, rise up/Your flock has roamed far from the hill". Then there's Land of Hope and Dreams, an overwhelmingly rousing giant of a song that will work wonders when The E Street Band reaches Britain's football stadiums and festival fields this summer.

It roars into a vast chorus on a note of high optimism: "Leave behind your sorrows, let this day be the last/Tomorrow there'll be sunshine, and all this darkness past". It's the only song to feature the saxophone of Clarence Clemons, who died in June last year, and it's more than worthy of his mighty notes. "Losing Clarence was like losing something elemental. It was like losing air," Springsteen said.

Although The E Street Band are joining him on tour (with Clemons's nephew Jake handed the torch on saxophone duties) this is essentially a solo Springsteen record. A new producer, Ron Aniello, has pushed him into the occasional unusual corner.

"We used quite a lot of looping techniques," says Springsteen of the smatterings of electronic drums that dot the album. Keyboard atmospherics are often present and there's even a female voice rapping briefly on Rocky Ground. But he still begins writing every song on an acoustic guitar, so there's little here to frighten away long-term fans.

The closing track, We Are Alive, has a folksy feel reminiscent of his work with the Seeger Sessions band. Going one step beyond his being the voice of the people, it's sung from the perspective of the dead who have risen again.

That's a miracle way beyond this man who confesses to being steeped in Catholicism but it won't stop his followers from looking to him once again for something far more than catchy tunes. The People's President is addressing the nation again.

Wrecking Ball is released on March 5 on Columbia. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park on July 14 (08444 999 990,

Handing out condoms on the Titanic

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
February 17, 2012

Have you seen the official White House version of what the New York Times headline writers call "A Responsible Budget"? My favorite bit is Chart 5-1 on Page 58 of their 500-page appendix on "Analytical Perspectives." This is entitled "Publicly Held Debt Under 2013 Budget Policy Projections." It's a straight line going straight up before disappearing off the top right hand corner of the graph in the year 2084 and continuing northeast straight through your eye socket, out the back of your skull and zooming up to rendezvous with Newt's space colony on the moon circa 2100. Just to emphasize, this isn't the doom-laden dystopian fancy of a right-wing apocalyptic loon like me; it's the official Oval Office version of where America's headed. In the New York Times-approved "responsible budget" there is no attempt even to pretend to bend the debt curve into something approaching re-entry with reality.

As for us doom-mongers, at the House Budget Committee on Thursday, Chairman Paul Ryan produced another chart, this time from the Congressional Budget Office, with an even steeper straight line showing debt rising to 900 percent of GDP and rocketing off the graph circa 2075. America's Treasury Secretary, Timmy Geithner the TurboTax Kid, thought the chart would have been even more hilarious if they'd run the numbers into the next millennium: "You could have taken it out to 3000 or to 4000" he chortled, to supportive titters from his aides. Has total societal collapse ever been such a nonstop laugh riot?

"Yeah, right." replied Ryan. "We cut it off at the end of the century because the economy, according to the CBO, shuts down in 2027 on this path."

The U.S. economy shuts down in 2027? Had you heard about that? It's like the ultimate President's Day Sale: Everything must go – literally! At such a moment, it may seem odd to find the political class embroiled in a bitter argument about the Obama administration's determination to force Catholic institutions (and, indeed, my company and your company, if you're foolish enough still to be in business in the United States) to provide free prophylactics to its employees. The received wisdom among media cynics is that Obama has engaged in an ingenious bit of misdirection by seizing on a pop-culture caricature of Republicans and inviting them to live up to it: Those uptight squares with the hang-ups about fornication have decided to force you to lead the same cheerless sex lives as them. I notice that in their coverage NPR and the evening news shows generally refer to the controversy as being about "contraception," discreetly avoiding mention of sterilization and pharmacological abortion, as if the GOP have finally jumped the shark in order to prevent you jumping anything at all.

It may well be that the Democrats succeed in establishing this narrative. But anyone who falls for it is a sap. In fact, these two issues – the Obama condoms-for-clunkers giveaway and a debt-to-GDP ratio of 900 percent by 2075 – are not unconnected. In Greece, 100 grandparents have 42 grandchildren – i.e., an upside-down family tree. As I wrote a few weeks ago, "If 100 geezers run up a bazillion dollars' worth of debt, is it likely that 42 youngsters will ever be able to pay it off?" Most analysts know the answer to that question: Greece is demographically insolvent. So it's looking to Germany to continue bankrolling its First World lifestyle.

But the Germans are also demographically exhausted: they have the highest proportion of childless women in Europe. One in three fräulein have checked out of the motherhood business entirely. A nation that did without having kids of its own is in no mood to maintain Greece as the ingrate slacker who never moves out of the house. As the European debt crisis staggers on, these two countries loathe each other ever more nakedly: The Greek president brings up his war record against the German bullies, and Athenian commentators warn of the new Fourth Reich. The Germans, for their part, would rather cut the Greeks loose. In a post-prosperity West, social solidarity – i.e., socio-economic fictions such as "Europe" – are the first to disappear.

The United States faces a mildly less-daunting arithmetic. Nevertheless, the Baby Boomers did not have enough children to maintain mid-20th century social programs. As a result, the children they did have will end their lives in a poorer, uglier, sicker, more divided and more violent society. How to avert this fate? In 2009 Nancy Pelosi called for free contraceptives as a form of economic stimulus. Ten thousand Americans retire every day, and leave insufficient progeny to pick up the slack. In effect, Nancy has rolled a giant condom over the entire American economy.

Testifying before Congress, Timmy Geithner referred only to "demographic challenges" – an oblique allusion to the fact that the U.S. economy is about to be terminally clobbered by $100 trillion of entitlement obligations it can never meet. And, as Chart 5-1 on page 58 of the official Obama budget "Analytical Perspectives" makes plain, your feckless, decadent rulers have no plans to do anything about it. Instead, the Democrats shriek, ooh, Republican prudes who can't get any action want to shut down your sex life! According to CBO projections, by midcentury mere interest payments on the debt will exceed federal revenue. For purposes of comparison, By 1788, Louis XVI's government in France was spending a mere 60 percent of revenue on debt service, and we know how that worked out for His Majesty shortly thereafter. Not to worry, says Barry Antoinette. Let them eat condoms.

This is a very curious priority for a dying republic. "Birth control" is accessible, indeed, ubiquitous, and, by comparison with anything from a gallon of gas to basic cable, one of the cheapest expenses in the average budget. Not even Rick Santorum, that notorious scourge of the sexually liberated, wishes to restrain the individual right to contraception.

But where is the compelling societal interest in the state prioritizing and subsidizing it? Especially when you're already the Brokest Nation in History. Elsewhere around the developed world, prudent politicians are advocating natalist policies designed to restock their empty maternity wards. A few years ago, announcing tax incentives for three-child families, Peter Costello, formerly Timmy Geithner's counterpart Down Under, put this way: "Have one for Mum, one for Dad, and one for Australia." But in America, an oblivious political class, led by a president who characterizes young motherhood as a "punishment," prefers to offer solutions to problems that don't exist rather than the ones that are all too real. I think this is what they call handing out condoms on the Titanic.

Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, distills the current hysteria thus: "It's as if we passed a law requiring mosques to sell bacon and then, when people objected, responded by saying 'What's wrong with bacon? You're trying to ban bacon!!!!'"

Americans foolish enough to fall for the Democrats' crude bit of misdirection can hardly complain about their rendezvous with the sharp end of that page 58 budget graph. People are free to buy bacon, and free to buy condoms. But the state has no compelling interest to force either down your throat. The notion that an all-powerful government would distract from its looming bankruptcy by introducing a universal contraceptive mandate would strike most novelists as almost too pat in its symbolism. It's like something out of "Brave New World." Except that it's cowardly, and, like so much else about the sexual revolution, very old and wrinkled.


Friday, February 17, 2012

The New Blacklist

by Patrick J. Buchanan

My days as a political analyst at MSNBC have come to an end.

After 10 enjoyable years, I am departing, after an incessant clamor from the left that to permit me continued access to the microphones of MSNBC would be an outrage against decency, and dangerous.

The calls for my firing began almost immediately with the Oct. 18 publication of "Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?"

A group called Color of Change, whose mission statement says that it "exists to strengthen Black America's political voice," claimed that my book espouses a "white supremacist ideology." Color of Change took particular umbrage at the title of Chapter 4, "The End of White America."

Media Matters parroted the party line: He has blasphemed!

A Human Rights Campaign that bills itself as America's leading voice for lesbians, bisexuals, gays and transgendered people said that Buchanan's "extremist ideas are incredibly harmful to millions of LBGT people around the world."

Their rage was triggered by a remark to NPR's Diane Rehm -- that I believe homosexual acts to be "unnatural and immoral."

On Nov. 2, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, who has sought to have me censored for 22 years, piled on.

"Buchanan has shown himself, time and again, to be a racist and an anti-Semite," said Foxman. Buchanan "bemoans the destruction of white Christian America" and says America's shrinking Jewish population is due to the "collective decision of Jews themselves."

Well, yes, I do bemoan what Newsweek's 2009 cover called "The Decline and Fall of Christian America" and editor Jon Meacham described as "The End of Christian America." After all, I am a Christian.

And what else explains the shrinkage of the U.S. Jewish population by 6 percent in the 1990s and its projected decline by another 50 percent by 2050, if not the "collective decision of Jews themselves"?

Let error be tolerated, said Thomas Jefferson, "so long as reason is left free to combat it." What Foxman and ADL are about in demanding that my voice be silenced is, in the Jeffersonian sense, intrinsically un-American.

Consider what it is these people are saying.

They are saying that a respected publisher, St. Martin's, colluded with me to produce a racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic book, and CNN, Fox News, C-SPAN, Fox Business News and the 150 radio shows on which I appeared failed to detect its evil and helped to promote a moral atrocity.

If my book is racist and anti-Semitic, how did Sean Hannity, Erin Burnett, Judge Andrew Napolitano, Megyn Kelly, Lou Dobbs and Ralph Nader miss that? How did Charles Payne, African-American host on Fox radio, who has interviewed me three times, fail to detect its racism?

How did Michael Medved miss its anti-Semitism?

In a 2009 cover story in the Atlantic, "The End of White America?" from which my chapter title was taken, professor Hua Hsu revels in the passing of America's white majority. At Portland State, President Clinton got a huge ovation when he told students that white Americans will be a minority in 2050.

Is this writer alone forbidden to broach the subject?

That homosexual acts are unnatural and immoral has been doctrine in the Catholic Church for 2,000 years.

Is it now hate speech to restate traditional Catholic beliefs?

Documented in the 488 pages and 1,500 footnotes of "Suicide of a Superpower" is my thesis that America is Balkanizing, breaking down along the lines of religion, race, ethnicity, culture and ideology, and that Western peoples are facing demographic death by century's end.

Are such subjects taboo? Are they unfit for national debate?

So it would seem. MSNBC President Phil Griffin told reporters, "I don't think the ideas that (Buchanan) put forth (in his book) are appropriate for the national dialogue, much less on MSNBC."

In the 10 years I have been at MSNBC, the network has taken heat for what I have written, and faithfully honored our contract.

Yet my four-months' absence from MSNBC and now my departure represent an undeniable victory for the blacklisters.

The modus operandi of these thought police at Color of Change and ADL is to brand as racists and anti-Semites any writer who dares to venture outside the narrow corral in which they seek to confine debate.

All the while prattling about their love of dissent and devotion to the First Amendment, they seek systematically to silence and censor dissent.

Without a hearing, they smear and stigmatize as racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic any who contradict what George Orwell once called their "smelly little orthodoxies." They then demand that the heretic recant, grovel, apologize, and pledge to go forth and sin no more.

Defy them, and they will go after the network where you work, the newspapers that carry your column, the conventions that invite you to speak. If all else fails, they go after the advertisers.

I know these blacklisters. They operate behind closed doors, with phone calls, mailed threats and off-the-record meetings. They work in the dark because, as Al Smith said, nothing un-American can live in the sunlight.

- Patrick J. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, The Death of the West, The Great Betrayal, A Republic, Not an Empire,Where the Right Went Wrong, and most recently Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?

You can also follow Mr. Buchanan and Human Events on FACEBOOK.

Overreach: Obamacare vs. the Constitution

The Washington Post
February 17, 2012

Give him points for cleverness. President Obama’s birth control “accommodation” was as politically successful as it was morally meaningless. It was nothing but an accounting trick that still forces Catholic (and other religious) institutions to provide medical insurance that guarantees free birth control, tubal ligation and morning-after abortifacients — all of which violate church doctrine on the sanctity of life.

The trick is that these birth control/abortion services will supposedly be provided independently and free of charge by the religious institution’s insurance company. But this changes none of the moral calculus. Holy Cross Hospital, for example, is still required by law to engage an insurance company that is required by law to provide these doctrinally proscribed services to all Holy Cross employees.

Nonetheless, the accounting device worked politically. It took only a handful of compliant Catholic groups — Obamacare cheerleaders dying to return to the fold — to hail the alleged compromise and hand Obama a major political victory.

Before, Obama’s coalition had been split. His birth control mandate was fiercely opposed by such stalwart friends as former Virginia governor Tim Kaine and pastor Rick Warren (Obama’s choice to give the invocation at his inauguration), who declared he would rather go to jail than abide by the regulation. After the “accommodation,” it was the (mostly) Catholic opposition that fractured. The mainstream media then bought the compromise as substantive, and the issue was defused.

A brilliant sleight of hand. But let’s for a moment accept the president on his own terms. Let’s accept his contention that this “accommodation” is a real shift of responsibility to the insurer. Has anyone considered the import of this new mandate? The president of the United States has just ordered private companies to give away for free a service that his own health and human services secretary has repeatedly called a major financial burden.

On what authority? Where does it say that the president can unilaterally order a private company to provide an allegedly free-standing service at no cost to certain select beneficiaries?

This is government by presidential fiat. In Venezuela, that’s done all the time. Perhaps we should call Obama’s “accommodation” Presidential Decree No. 1.

Consider the constitutional wreckage left by Obamacare:

First, the assault on the free exercise of religion. Only churches themselves are left alone. Beyond the churchyard gate, religious autonomy disappears. Every other religious institution must bow to the state because, by this administration’s regulatory definition, church schools, hospitals and charities are not “religious” and thus have no right to the free exercise of religion — no protection from being forced into doctrinal violations commanded by the state.

Second, the assault on free enterprise. To solve his own political problem, the president presumes to order a private company to enter into a contract for the provision of certain services — all of which must be without charge. And yet, this breathtaking arrogation of power is simply the logical extension of Washington’s takeover of the private system of medical care — a system Obama farcically pretends to be maintaining.

Under Obamacare, the state treats private insurers the way it does government-regulated monopolies and utilities. It determines everything of importance. Insurers, by definition, set premiums according to risk. Not anymore. The risk ratios (for age, gender, smoking, etc.) are decreed by Washington. This is nationalization in all but name. The insurer is turned into a middleman, subject to state control — and presidential whim.

Third, the assault on individual autonomy. Every citizen without insurance is ordered to buy it, again under penalty of law. This so-called individual mandate is now before the Supreme Court — because never before has the already hypertrophied Commerce Clause been used to compel a citizen to enter into a private contract with a private company by mere fact of his existence.

This constitutional trifecta — the state invading the autonomy of religious institutions, private companies and the individual citizen — should not surprise. It is what happens when the state takes over one-sixth of the economy.

In 2010, when all this lay hazily in the future, the sheer arrogance of Obamacare energized a popular resistance powerful enough to deliver an electoral shellacking to Obama. Yet two years later, as the consequences of that overreach materialize before our eyes, the issue is fading. This constitutes a huge failing of the opposition party whose responsibility it is to make the opposition argument.

Every presidential challenger says that he will repeal Obamacare on Day One. Well, yes. But is any of them making the case for why?

Gary Carter, the light of the Mets

By Tom Verducci
February 16, 2012

The Hall of Famer takes a cut against the Cubs on Aug. 6, 1986. Carter was 4-for-10 during the doubleheader at Wrigley Field. (Heinz Kluetmeier/SI)

Try as I might as a witness to his five years in New York as a catcher for the Mets, I cannot conjure a single image of Gary Carter with anything but a smile on his face. I have no recollection of a gloomy Carter, not even as his knees began to announce a slow surrender, his bat grew slow and weary or as his teammates, renowned masters of the dark arts, chided him for his well-displayed rectitude.

In those days in the mid- and late-1980s, you could stand in the middle of the Mets' clubhouse with a blindfold, be spun around three times, stagger off in any direction and chances are you would hit a locker that was host to some sort of mayhem or outrageousness. Those Mets, with near bloodthirstiness, wanted to destroy other teams and pillage their cities, claiming whatever women and alcohol happened to be in the way.

"What I remember," pitcher Dwight Gooden told me in 1995 in Sports Illustrated, "is we'd be on the road and we'd come back into the clubhouse after batting practice and we'd be saying, 'Yeah, let's kick some ass and then go out and show everyone we own this town.' Whether it was Montreal or St. Louis or whatever, we wanted people to know it, like we were taking over the place."

On the field, such will of these barbarians in spikes helped fuel the 1986 Mets into not just one of the most dominating teams of all time, but also one of the toughest. They won four times in that postseason in the last at-bat, including three times when they were down to their last out or two. The Mets were ferocious competitors, and they became world champions.

Carter provided much of that championship fiber, only without the demons and debauchery that came to be associated with many of his teammates. He was "Kid" from Sunny Hills High in Fullerton, Calif., a former star quarterback with a Pepsodent smile, golden curls, a beautiful family and strong faith. Teammates in Montreal and New York would come to resent how overtly he displayed such goodness -- if not, out of their own insecurities, the very goodness itself.

But I can tell you this about the guy known as Teeth or Camera Carter by the insecure: He was as genuine a person and as tough a ballplayer as you would ever want to come across.

The light that was Gary Edmund Carter has been extinguished. Kid is dead, and far too soon at age 57 because of the evil of inoperable brain tumors. This world, not just this little game, is less sunny without him.

There was, despite resentment from inside his clubhouses, nothing phony about Carter, and nothing given easily to him. He was the same off camera as on: optimistic, faithful, kind-hearted, philanthropic. It drove some people nuts that Carter played every day with the joy as if it were the opening day of Little League. Even that nickname, "Kid, " was minted with some derisiveness by jaded Expos veterans when Carter, in his first spring training camp, in 1973, had the nerve to run hard on every sprint and bring enthusiasm to every drill.

"Kid," they'd bark without looking up from their clubhouse card-playing, "go get us some ice cream."

When Carter took Berlitz classes to better fit in Montreal and when endorsements came his way, teammates cringed, including an influential faction that included outfielders Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and Warren Cromartie.

In his 1987 book, A Dream Season, written with John Hough Jr., Carter wrote, "My enthusiasm for my family -- and for baseball, and other things, too -- strikes some people as a bit too much. My happiness crowds people a little."

It was all genuine, though. Kid really did love God, his wife, Sandy, his three children, Christy, Kimmy and D.J., and baseball. Those Mets once scorned a teammate (not Carter) for having the audacity to bring his wife into a hotel bar on the road. Carter was the kind of guy who argued for the Mets to let wives fly with the team during the 1986 postseason, and wrote, "If I could, I'd take Sandy, my beautiful and beloved wife of 12 years, on every road trip."

Carter sometimes was ridiculed for such fidelity, especially on the back of planes and buses by Darryl Strawberry. Mets trainer Steve Garland told me in 1995, "There was a lack of respect for Gary Carter. He was clearly an overwhelming minority -- or I should say an underwhelming minority."

He was too religious, too good, too square -- Tim Tebow with more talent and without social media.

The late writer Jim Murray once wrote, "Gary Carter is the type of guy who, if he saved a child from drowning, the mother would look at him and say, 'Where's his hat?' "

Carter, though, was brutally competitive despite appearances. He had signed a letter of intent to play quarterback at UCLA before the Expos drafted him, and had once wrecked his knee on the football field. Originally an outfielder, he had to learn how to catch as a minor leaguer -- and wound up catching more than 2,000 games and setting records for putouts and chances.

Carter played the position with extreme tenacity. Over an 11-year period (1977-87), Carter averaged 139 games behind the plate -- and that includes the strike-shortened 1981 season. And yet his bat stayed potent enough to join Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk as the only catchers with 300 homers, 2,000 hits, 1,000 RBIs and 1,000 runs. And incredibly, his best month over his career was the last; he posted an .820 OPS in September/October games.

"Certainly physically he's the strongest catcher I've seen," former catcher Alan Ashby once said.

Pitchers loved throwing to Carter. Despite his creaky knees and his strong physique, Carter was renowned by them for his target and his ability to frame pitchers. He seemed to ball himself up behind his glove, so that the pitcher has this great, round pillow of a target with no extraneous movement.

The physical strength of Carter was exceeded by his mental strength. His mother had died of leukemia when she was 37; Carter was just 12 when he lost his mom. Raised Presbyterian, Carter saw his Christian faith grow under the guidance of a teammate in Montreal, John Boccabella, a Catholic who helped him make sense of his mother's passing. He tirelessly raised funds to support leukemia research.

By the time he was traded to the Mets following the 1984 season, with Montreal owner Charles Bronfman souring on him and money paid to star players, Carter was not just ready for New York -- which was a Mets town then -- but wanted it. In his first game in New York, Carter hit a walk-off homer at Shea Stadium, which practically invented the New York curtain calls that opponents came to despise as excessive. He became the last piece to what in another year would be not just a championship team, but also the best National League team since the dawn of free agency.

Above all, there is one moment that forever will define Gary Carter and his inner strength. On Saturday night, Oct. 25, 1986, after Keith Hernandez made the second out of the bottom of the 10th inning of World Series Game 6 with Boston leading the Mets 5-3, the videoboard at Shea Stadium briefly flashed this message: "Congratulations, 1986 World Champions, Boston Red Sox."

There was one problem. The Red Sox would have to go through Kid to get that championship.

Five years earlier with Montreal, Carter came to the plate in the decisive Game 5 of the 1981 National League Championship Series with the Expos down 2-1 and down to their last out against Dodgers ace Fernando Valenzuela. Carter refused to make the last out. He grinded out a seven-pitch walk that knocked Valenzuela from the game -- only to have Bob Welch end it with one relief pitch.

This time the World Series was on the line, not to mention those 108 regular-season wins by the Mets that would be left without validation. Red Sox closer Calvin Schiraldi was on the mound, pitching with the bases empty and a two-run lead in need of only one more out for Boston's first championship since 1918.

Such are the moments that define the fortitude of a ballplayer -- not the endorsements or the nicknames or the camera time. And Carter, this man of unshakable faith and self-assuredness, was comfortable in such a revelatory spot.

"I was our last hope," he wrote, "and as I took my place and looked out at Schiraldi, all sounds shrank back, and I felt a presence in me, or perhaps besides me, a calming certainty that I wasn't alone. I was not alone, and I was not, so help me, going to make the last out of the World Series. I felt certain of that."

So confident and ready was Carter that he lashed at the first pitch, a fastball -- and fouled it back. Schiraldi threw two more pitches that would skirt the strike zone. Carter was comfortable enough to let them pass. On the fourth pitch, Carter, who had tied the game in the eighth when the Mets were down to their last five outs, lashed a single into left field.

With that one swing under ultimate duress, Carter provided the first light of hope to what would be one of the greatest rallies in baseball history. Within four batters the Mets would score three times without an extra-base hit to win the game.

Set aside the hit. Imagine the strength it took for Carter to stand there and be "certain" he was not going to make the last out. Such sangfroid is what defines Carter as a man, not just a ballplayer, of supreme conviction.

Wrote Carter even soon after the moment of a lifetime, "I'll always be grateful for the dream season of 1986. In a corner of my mind I will stand forever with my bat cocked, waiting for the two-one pitch from Calvin Schiraldi."

The Kid

By Joe Posnanski
February 17, 2012

The Padres' mascot pretends to be an umpire calling a strike as Carter looks on at the second of his 11 career All-Star game appearances in 1979. (Neal Preston/Corbis)

There have been more than a dozen big league baseball players through the years who were called Kid … but I suspect that the name didn’t fit any of them quite the way “Kid” fit Gary Carter.

He got the Kid nickname the way most young ballplayers get nicknames … from veteran players, and complete with derision and sarcasm. Carter was in spring training in 1974, barely out of Sunny Hills High School — really, just a kid — and he was running sprints like mad and acting like each drill was more important than the national debt. He was responsible for getting ice cream for teammates, and he did this happily. They started calling him Kid. Well, sure they did.

“Hey, settle down there, Kid.”

“It’s a long season, Kid.”

“Watch out, the Kid’s going to take your job.”

“You don’t want to hurt yourself on your first day, Kid.”

That’s how it began, but here was the difference: Gary Carter really never stopped being Kid. Sure, they called Ted Williams Kid, but that really never fit and it eventually sounded so ridiculous that they gave him a bunch of other nicknames — Thumper, Splendid Splinter, Teddy Ballgame and all that. They called Ken Griffey Jr. Kid, but that too wore off after a while, after the years had taken their toll, after playing baseball no longer seemed to be as much fun. Kid Gleason, Kid Nichols, Billy DeMars … as they grew older the nickname seemed ironic. That’s how it goes. Kids grow up.

But Gary Carter didn’t grow up. Oh, he got older, that was noticeable. His body changed. His swing changed. His game changed. But he didn’t grow up. He never seemed to lose his enthusiasm, his zeal. He seemed to love playing baseball to the end — and not love it in some vague, distant way, but love it the way a kid does, all out, like it was the first day of spring training. He called his book ‘Still a Kid At Heart.” That seemed right.

He had never expected this baseball journey. He was the younger brother of a baseball phenom. Gordon Carter was a remarkable high school baseball player, and the Angels took him in the second round of the 1968 draft. He spurned them to go play for Southern California — this was in the time of Vietnam — and soon after that he was drafted in the secondary draft by the Giants. “You’ll be back for my kid brother,” he told the scout who signed him.

The scout did come back, but not with any real hope. Everyone assumed that Gary Carter was going to play college football. He had twice been a Punt, Pass and Kick finalist — he would always say that he should have won the second time, but he slipped on the ice in the bitter cold of Green Bay — and he had a scholarship waiting for him at UCLA. He looked the part of the star quarterback; he would say that his dream was to be the next Joe Namath.

But legendary scout Bob Zuk — who had signed Willie Stargell and Darrell Evans and so many others — saw Gary Carter play baseball. He was blown away. It wasn’t just the talent; anyone could see Carter’s strong arm and hitting power. Zuk was an old-time scout, the sort who believed that he could see beyond talent, beyond tools and peer deep into a player’s soul. Carter’s soul was there on the surface — he played baseball with so much energy and life and excitement. Zuk told the Montreal Expos management that they had to see this guy. The Expos drafted him in the third round. Soon after he went to spring training and was called Kid. Soon after that, he finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting. And in time, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Carter was a fabulous player in Montreal, and a very good good one for a while in New York. He hit with power — nine times he hit between 20 and 32 homers, this in times where those home run numbers meant something. He was a smart, tough catcher who could really throw — three times he led the league in caught-stealing percentage. He might have been the best player in the National League in 1982. He led the league in RBIs in 1984. He made every All-Star Game for 10 years. And, of course, he refused to make the last out of the 1986 World Series, and was one of the key players in one of the most jolting and memorable comebacks in the history of the game.

But for some reason, it always seemed to me, he was never quite as big a star as he should have been. The Montreal teams he played on seemed to underachieve annually — he took blame for that. His clean-cut image and personality did not quite fit in with those wild New York Mets teams — he took blame for that too. He played years past his prime — and for four different teams in his last four years — which probably led people to forget and undervalue his greatness. His relatively low batting averages (Carter never hit .300 for a full season) played its role too.

Then there was just this too-good-to-be-true thing going with Gary Carter — he didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, seemed to be happily married to the same woman, studied the Bible, gave good quotes, smiled for the camera, smiled for everybody, reached down to pick up garbage he happened to see anywhere near the field. Teammates, many of them, just didn’t quite get him. Strangers, many of them, were suspicious. There he was, in late August, still smiling while their bodies ached, still going full speed when the temperature was scorching 100, still the Kid long after most of the others had grown up.

I remember something someone once wrote about the late Johnny Carson — that everyone thinks they know Carson, but we really don’t. We know the persona of Johnny Carson, the comedian, the improviser, the late night host with impeccable timing and the unique ability to express warmth through a television screen. But, the author wrote, that isn’t the REAL Johnny Carson, who was very private and distant, married four times, had few friends and all that.

The point was forceful, but I’m not sure it was entirely right. The author assumed that the private Johnny Carson was the real Johnny Carson, and the public Johnny Carson was fake. Maybe that’s true. Then again, maybe it isn’t.

During his playing days, I remember, people in and around the game often wondered who was the REAL Gary Carter. There would be a lot of talk about that around the game. I saw him live his last year — I was still a kid reporter, and the Expos had come to Atlanta — and he went 0 for 4 and looked old and everybody talked about him. No, there was never a shortage of people who wondered what was in the heart of this person who seemingly never stopped smiling, never had bad days, never stopped playing baseball with all that fire and devotion.

Maybe we saw a little bit of that real Gary Carter in the last few months, when he courageously faced the brain tumors that would kill him. He was there for Opening Day for the Palm Beach Atlantic college team he coached. He told people not to feel sorry for him. He stayed close to his family. I remember watching my friend Dan Quisenberry die of brain cancer, and how strong he was in the last months. Gary Carter was like that. He died on Thursday. He was three months from his 58th birthday.

And, so, what is real? Of course, the people who knew Gary Carter — his family, his friends, his teammates — knew a Gary Carter that we didn’t know. But over the years I probably watched at least part of a couple hundred games of Gary Carter’s career on television or in ballparks, maybe more. I saw him doing something that he so obviously loved to do. I saw him throw out base runners, and I saw him hit home runs, and I saw him lash that single off Calvin Schiraldi with the World Series on the brink. I saw him play with such apparent joy, all the time. He was infectious and alive, and so many times he made my day just a little bit better. He was the Kid. That Gary Carter was real too.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

For Vince Flynn, a new book and new sense of mortality

By Caryn Sullivan
St. Paul Pioneer Press
February 9, 2012

Vince Flynn made his mark writing about counter terrorism operative Mitch Rapp, who lives on the edge, undertakes seemingly insurmountable challenges and eludes death. Yet, until this past year, the local novelist spent little time contemplating his own mortality.

In November 2010, Flynn returned to Minnesota after a grueling promotional tour of his 12th novel, "American Assassin". He had been plagued by pain in his hip but attributed it to old sports injuries. In fact, the 44-year-old had Stage 3 metastatic prostate cancer, a disease that commonly afflicts men older than 65.

While the initial diagnosis was grim, he was soon told it was not a death sentence. Today, after undergoing dozens of radiation treatments and hormone therapy, he has a positive attitude, an optimistic prognosis and a lot of resolve.

Flynn publishes a novel each fall, and he was determined to do so in 2011. But pain and fatigue became so debilitating he couldn't write enough to meet his deadline. He postponed his publication date to this week and decided against his customary book tour.

His trademark has been his prescient ability to write fictional accounts that mirror contemporary events. But like "American Assassin", his new book, "Kill Shot", focuses on the early days of Rapp's career with the CIA. Written as a tribute to author Robert Ludlum, it's more character-driven and less action-packed than some of his earlier work. However, it provides a context for readers to understand

who would become an American assassin - and why, Flynn said. He plans to write a third prequel eventually, but his next novel will be set in the present day.

Though we met to talk about the book, our conversation lingered on cancer and life's challenges. "As you know, the word 'cancer' will strike the fear of God into anyone, and if it doesn't it's because they've never had to sit in a doctor's room and be told they have it," he said. "Once it happens, you cannot help but think of your own mortality. I've never been a person who has spent a great deal of time thinking about my own death, but it's unavoidable."

While he loves to write, his family is foremost on his mind. "Where it gets difficult is when you start to think about your children and your wife and the people you could potentially leave behind, especially if you are the kind of person who hates to disappoint," he said. "So the trick is rather than become clinically depressed over that idea, you have to turn around and use it as a source of motivation. You're going to give it your all, beat it and stay alive, because you want to see your kids graduate, you want to see your kids get married and you want to meet your grandkids some day, and it doesn't do you any good to sit around imagining your own funeral and feeling sorry for yourself."

And everything is relative. Speaking of the military he champions, he said, "Eighteen-year-old soldiers go overseas and never come back, get married or have a child....One of the keys for me dealing with this has always been an attitude I've carried through my whole life, which is I don't care how bad you think you have it, somebody else has it worse than you do."

That's not to say it has been easy. The hormone treatment carries significant side effects. "I've always had good control over my emotions and faculties. The first couple of months it was like having an out-of-body experience," he said. "You spend your whole life being a man and all of a sudden noises are bothering you and your short-term memory has gone to hell. That was hard."

He credits phenomenal medical care, faith, family and friends for helping him to feel better than he has in years, now that the treatment has eliminated his chronic pain. Yet, his professional training played a role, too.

"My career as a writer has really prepared me for this battle with cancer. Writing a book is the longest sales cycle on the planet. You have to get up every day and you have to write; you have to continue to write; you have to throw another pebble on top of the pile and at the end of the year you have your 400 pages and you have a completed novel. Nothing happens fast. Just to get published, you have to overcome odds that are worse than beating cancer, and you can't take your eye off the end game, which is to get published and then to work really hard to make sure that your book sells and you tour and you market and you bust your ass and then finally 10 years later you've established yourself."

"I think cancer is the same way," he continued. "You can't wake up and decide 'a month from now, I'm going to be cancer free.' It's a long sales cycle. It's, 'I'm going to get up today and I'm going to take one step forward and put myself in the best possible position to be cancer free.' You can't quit."

- Caryn Sullivan of Mendota Heights is a contributing columnist for the Pioneer Press. Her website is Her email address is carynsullivan


By Ann Coulter
February 15, 2012

President Barack Obama is joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius while making a statement in the briefing room at the White House on February 10, 2012 in Washington, DC. (February 9, 2012 - Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America)

One theory for why Barack Obama pushed the contraception mandate right now is that it helps Rick Santorum. Others theorize it's because Obama is an anti-religious bigot with a left-wing agenda. Reasonable minds can disagree on this.

But it may end up helping Mitt Romney by reminding people that the "individual mandate" is the least of the problems with ObamaCare. (The "individual mandate" is simply the legal argument for why ObamaCare is unconstitutional in a country that has accepted Social Security and Medicare as constitutional.)

This isn't a Catholic issue or even a religious issue. Conservatives are falling into the Democrats' trap by denouncing it as such. It's a freedom issue. (Or, as Democrats call it, "the F-word.")

If liberals like it, it's subsidized; if they don't, it's prohibited. And now they can impose their left-wing authoritarianism on the entire country by calling their mandates and prohibitions "insurance."

Liberal fundamentalists say: I don't see why anyone needs to hunt; I don't know why anyone needs to eat meat; I don't see why anyone needs to bathe every day; I don't know why anyone minds looking at urine in a low-flow toilet; I don't know why anyone needs an incandescent light bulb ...

Screw you, liberals. I don't know why anyone needs an abortion, free contraception, crap-ass "art" with photos of vaginas on the Virgin Mary, non-farming farmers or a $1 million pension for Anthony Weiner.

But I'm forced to subsidize all of that.

And now we're all going to be forced to subsidize the entire wish list of the Berkeley City Council, recast as "health insurance."

Insurance is not supposed to be for normal expenses in the ordinary course of events, such as multivitamins, house painting or oil changes. Insurance is for unexpected catastrophes: fires, accidents, cancer.

The basic idea is to spread the risk of unforeseen disasters. Filling up your gas tank, for example, is not an unforeseen disaster (though it's getting to be under Obama).

So why is birth control covered by insurance? Birth control pills aren't that expensive -- generics are about $20 a month -- nor is the need for them a bolt out of the blue. Why not have health insurance cover manicures, back massages, carrot cake and nannies?

Liberals huffily ask why it's so important to the Catholic Church not to pay for insurance plans that cover birth control, but the better question is: Why is it so important to liberals to force them to? (Wait until they have to buy coverage for vibrating butt-plugs!)

The answer is: They want the government giving official sanction to birth control and, later, abortion. That comes next. They want it for same reason gays want gay marriage -- it's purely symbolic.

Following Betty Friedan, gender feminists believe the pill is so central to what we are as a nation that it must be paid for by all, i.e. by insurance. The argument for fully subsidized abortions will be: We don't vote on a basic human right!

Whether or not it's a "right," it's not an area for "insurance." Abortion is an elective procedure. No families are going bankrupt because they had to pay for an abortion -- which costs about as much as a haircut for John Edwards or Bill Clinton. Can't we limit the health insurance we are all required by federal law to purchase to financially ruinous, actual medical problems?

No, that is not in the cards. Just as liberals have turned the Constitution into a vehicle for achieving all the left-wing policies they could never get Americans to vote for, now they are going to use "insurance" for the same purpose. Their new method doesn't even require them to get votes from five justices on the Supreme Court.

The secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, will do it all on her own.

Anything close to the beating heart of feminism is about to become a mandatory part of insurance coverage: fertility treatments, chemical sensitivities, a year's leave of absence for fathers after the birth of a child, attention deficit disorder, massages, aromatherapy, watching MSNBC, sex change operations, gender reassignment surgery, gender re-reassignment surgery.

And then, once every single insurance plan in the country is required by federal law to cover one million liberal causes having nothing to do with medical problems, Democrats will be happy to let us purchase health insurance across state lines. Sure, buy your insurance from Utah or Kentucky. Every insurance plan in the country, by federal law, will be identical.

The contraception diktat is only the beginning of the government controlling your life under ObamaCare. There are approximately 100,000 more decisions the HHS Secretary will have to make under ObamaCare that you will not be able to appeal.

The bill should have been called "Kathleen Sebelius' Dream Journal."

As we have seen, Sebelius is not a go-with-the-flow kind of secretary. She is a doctrinaire feminist who thinks it's important to make a statement by ordering something that has only a tangential connection to health care but will have the effect of costing everyone more money.

Are you getting why this isn't a Catholic issue? So what if some "compromise" is reached that makes the Catholic bishops happy? They supported ObamaCare to begin with! They ought to be forced to live with the consequences of the totalitarian regime they helped foist on the rest of us.

Maybe they'll get a waiver from the contraception mandate on religious grounds -- just like unions and Obama-friendly corporations got waivers on the grounds that they realized ObamaCare would suck and they didn't want to be a part of it.

What about the rest of us? You know, the ones who didn't support ObamaCare? We still have to live under the thumb of a nutcase gender-feminist with unlimited authority to ban whatever she doesn't like, subsidize whatever she does like and call it "insurance."

If Obama is re-elected this November and ObamaCare is not repealed, Republicans' only option will be to make Rick Santorum the head of HHS under the next Republican president (if we ever have one).

He can prohibit insurance companies from covering anything related to contraception, AIDS and substance abuse, and mandate that insurance plans pay subsidies to stay-at-home mothers, tuition for home-schooled kids and cover the purchase of his book, "It Takes a Family."

Those particular lifestyle choices have as much to do with "insurance" as contraceptives do.


The Little Sisters of Limousine Liberalism

How much is Sr. Carol Keehan worth to the pro-Obamacare Catholic Health Association? Answer: $962,467.

The American Spectator
February 16, 2012

Sr. Carol Keehan, CHA president and CEO, (right) looks on as Vice President Joseph Biden speaks at a White House event on July 8, 2009 to announce an agreement between hospitals, Senate leaders and the Administration on health care reform. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (left) was also in attendance as were representatives of the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals. (CHAUSA)

I called up the Catholic Health Association (CHA) yesterday. I wanted to nail down the exact compensation figures for some of its executives, including the salary and benefits of Sister Obamacare, also known as Daughter of Charity nun Carol Keehan, who last week helped Barack Obama engineer his latest con job -- the bogus conscience "compromise" designed to hoodwink Catholics into voting for his reelection.

As it has been widely reported, Obama conferred with Sister Keehan before his announcement last Friday. Then, lo and behold, she praised his revision as an inspiring resolution to the thorny issue of "religious freedom" soon after the sham event concluded.

So let's get down to brass tacks. How much is Sister Keehan worth for such political interventions? The checkered Catholic hospitals Keehan represents as chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association stand to receive gobs and gobs of cash from the federal government if Obamacare holds up past 2012. Consequently, the members of the association are more than happy to pony up huge salaries to executives skilled at manipulating the Catholic electorate for Obama.

Keehan is worth $962,467 to them in total salary and benefits, according to the Schedule J (Form 990) 2010 document sent to me by CHA. Theoretically, this is paid to the nun's order, though CHA adds an intriguing caveat to its compensation figures:

The descriptions below provide an overview of the composition of the five compensation figure columns (B, C, D, E and F). Note that for Sisters Carol Keehan and Patricia Talone and for Father Tom Nairn, all amounts in column B, except for certain fringe benefits included in column (B)(iii), were paid to their respective orders.

In other words, not all the money goes to their religious orders. What are these "certain fringe benefits" to which the caveat refers? I didn't get a comprehensible answer from CHA. But its spokesman assured me that these "certain fringe benefits" weren't large. Maybe the Wall Street Journal should drill down into the numbers.

According to the form, base compensation for "Daughters of Charity for Sr. Keehan" in 2009 was $682,982. "Bonus and incentive compensation" was $136,000. "Other reportable compensation" -- which is the (B)(iii) to which the caveat refers -- was $131,888. Nontaxable benefits were $11,597. All this adds up to salary and benefits totaling $962,467.

Presumably, her 2011 salary and benefits will exceed $1 million, if the past is any measure. (Her 2009 salary and benefits fell in the $850,000 range.)

It turns out that left-wing "Catholic Social Justice" is a good career move. Sister Talone, to which the caveat refers above, pulls down for the Sisters of Mercy "$416,623" in total compensation, while Fr. Nairn's order, the Franciscan Friars, snatched $194,947.

Who knew that lobbying for the corporal works of mercy paid so well? Of course, the dirty little secret of secularized "non-profit" Catholic hospitals is that they rake in enormous profits. Hence, some of its executives garner salaries/benefits north of $9 million. Obamacare will release another avalanche of federal government cash with which to feather their nests.

"For where your treasure is, your heart will be also," said Jesus Christ. A pedestrian reduction of the Son of God's saying is: Follow the money.

But say this at least for Sister Obamacare: she displays gumption that the waffling U.S. bishops lack. She still wears the pants in the clerical family.

She spun Obama's "compromise" effortlessly, while the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was caught flatfooted. In his tiresomely inane and people-pleasing way, USCCB president Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan initially praised Obama's con job as a first "step in the right direction." This gave the White House nearly a day of good publicity with which to confuse Catholics.

"Encouraging" words from the USCCB, declared CNN's Wolf Blitzer last Friday. Other networks and newspapers soon followed with rosy reports that blared, "USCCB: Obama compromise a 'step in the right direction.'"

Later that Friday, the USCCB issued a new statement pronouncing Obama's revision "unacceptable." But the damage was already done.

Keehan must chuckle at the cluelessness and doctrinal timidity of the bishops. The USCCB still can't decide if "Catholic" pols whipping the Church in America on issues like abortion and gay marriage should be denied Communion. This is too tough a call for the USCCB, so no uniform policy exists. (In a typical comment from the USCCB crowd, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. has said that he won't withhold Communion from Nancy Pelosi, as that "style" of confrontation makes him uncomfortable.)

While the bishops dither, Keehan ruthlessly organizes the Little Sisters of Leftism for Obama's reelection. Her task is a little trickier this year but she could still pull it off.

In 2008, many bishops, priests, and nuns voted for Obama and they probably will again. At the end of the day, they are Democrats first and Catholics second. Besides, they agree with Obama on issues like birth control. They, too, view the Church's teachings as passé.

Indeed, Saul Alinsky couldn't have organized Obama's Fifth Column within the Church any better than Sister Keehan and company.

"Obama is not a pro-abortion president," Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of L'Osservatore Romano, said a while back, while former papal household theologian Cardinal Georges Cottier congratulated Obama for his "humble realism."

Catholic Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who got Keehan's memo and is back on the team (not that he was ever off it) after Obama's "compromise," enjoys seeing traditional Catholics in America get their wires crossed with ostensible allies at the USCCB and Vatican. The "Vatican clearly views Obama through a broader prism," said Dionne after the remarks of Vian and Cottier.

Santa Fe Archbishop Michael Sheehan told the openly heretical National Catholic Reporter that he supported Notre Dame's decision to confer an honorary degree upon Barack Obama and could not understand the "big scene" of protests about it. Asked by NCR if other bishops agreed with him, he replied, "Of course, the majority."

He declared that "we don't want to isolate ourselves from the rest of America by our strong views on abortion and the other things."

The rise of the Tea Party frankly scares these bishops. Nervous headlines they didn't dare run in their diocesan newspapers after the election of Barack Obama suddenly appeared after the House Dems got clocked in November of 2010. Catholic San Francisco ran a headline after the election that read: "Social Justice Agenda in Jeopardy in US."

America magazine, the Jesuit journal of dissent, also found the Tea Party-inspired results troubling. Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, wrote in a piece on its website that the Church's "years of efforts in America to support public policies that reflect its moral vision were dealt a blow Tuesday evening."

No doubt Obama will reassemble his "Catholic advisory committee" and continue to generate donations from Catholic colleges and universities. Last time around, the faculty at Jesuit Georgetown led all college faculties, religious and non-religious, in donations to Obama.

Several Jesuit schools joined Keehan in praising Obama for his HHS "compromise," which was awfully big of them since they never needed it in the first place, given that they already hand out condoms and contraceptives to their students.

Obama's 2008 Catholic advisory committee included such national co-chairs as Sr. Jamie Phelps, OP, professor of theology at Xavier University, and Sr. Catherine Pinkerton with the Congregation of St. Joseph. Surely, his 2012 one will be chaired by an even worthier champion -- Sister Keehan, the Daughter of Charity worth close to a million bucks a year.

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Preschooler’s Homemade Lunch Replaced with Cafeteria “Nuggets”

State agent inspects sack lunches, forces preschoolers to purchase cafeteria food instead

Feb. 14th, 2012

RAEFORD - A preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School ate three chicken nuggets for lunch Jan. 30 because a state employee told her the lunch her mother packed was not nutritious.

The girl's turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the agent who was inspecting all lunch boxes in her More at Four classroom that day.

The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs, including in-home day care centers, to meet USDA guidelines. That means lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables, even if the lunches are brought from home.

When home-packed lunches do not include all of the required items, child care providers must supplement them with the missing ones.

The girl's mother, who said she wishes to remain anonymous to protect her daughter from retaliation, said she received a note from the school stating that students who did not bring a "healthy lunch" would be offered the missing portions, which could result in a fee from the cafeteria, in her case $1.25.

"I don't feel that I should pay for a cafeteria lunch when I provide lunch for her from home," the mother wrote in a complaint to her state representative, Republican G.L. Pridgen of Robeson County.

The girl's grandmother, who sometimes helps pack her lunch, told Carolina Journal that she is a petite, picky 4-year-old who eats white whole wheat bread and is not big on vegetables.

"What got me so mad is, number one, don't tell my kid I'm not packing her lunch box properly," the girl's mother told CJ. "I pack her lunchbox according to what she eats. It always consists of a fruit. It never consists of a vegetable. She eats vegetables at home because I have to watch her because she doesn't really care for vegetables."

When the girl came home with her lunch untouched, her mother wanted to know what she ate instead. Three chicken nuggets, the girl answered. Everything else on her cafeteria tray went to waste.

"She came home with her whole sandwich I had packed, because she chose to eat the nuggets on the lunch tray, because they put it in front of her," her mother said. "You're telling a 4-year-old. Ôoh. your lunch isn't right,' and she's thinking there's something wrong with her food."

While the mother and grandmother thought the potato chips and lack of vegetable were what disqualified the lunch, a spokeswoman for the Division of Child Development said that should not have been a problem.

"With a turkey sandwich, that covers your protein, your grain, and if it had cheese on it, that's the dairy," said Jani Kozlowski, the fiscal and statutory policy manager for the division. "It sounds like the lunch itself would've met all of the standard." The lunch has to include a fruit or vegetable, but not both, she said.

There are no clear restrictions about what additional items, like potato chips, can be included in preschoolers' lunch boxes.

"If a parent sends their child with a Coke and a Twinkie, the child care provider is going to need to provide a balanced lunch for the child," Kozlowski said.

Ultimately, the child care provider can't take the Coke and Twinkie away from the child, but Kozlowski said she "would think the Pre-K provider would talk with the parent about that not being a healthy choice for their child."

It is unclear whether the school was allowed to charge for the cafeteria lunches they gave to every preschooler in the class that day.

The state regulation reads:

"Sites must provide breakfast and/or snacks and lunch meeting USDA requirements during the regular school day. The partial/full cost of meals may be charged when families do not qualify for free/reduced price meals.

"When children bring their own food for meals and snacks to the center, if the food does not meet the specified nutritional requirements, the center must provide additional food necessary to meet those requirements."

Still, Kozlowski said, the parents shouldn't have been charged.

"The school may have interpreted [the rule] to mean they felt like the lunch wasn't meeting the nutritional requirements and so they wanted the child to have the school lunch and then charged the parent," she said. "It sounds like maybe a technical assistance need for that school."

The school principal, Jackie Samuels, said he didn't "know anything about" parents being charged for the meals that day. "I know they eat in the cafeteria. Whether they pay or not, they eat in the cafeteria."

Pridgen's office is looking into the issue.

- Sara Burrows is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.

Rising black social pathology

by Walter E. Williams
February 15, 2012

The Philadelphia Inquirer's big story Feb. 4 was about how a budget crunch at the Philadelphia School District had caused the district to lay off 91 school police officers. Over the years, there's been no discussion of what has happened to our youth that makes a school police force necessary in the first place. The Inquirer's series "Assault on Learning" (March 2011) reported that in the 2010 school year, "690 teachers were assaulted; in the last five years, 4,000 were." The newspaper reported that in Philadelphia's 268 schools, "on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes. That doesn't even include thousands more who are extorted, threatened, or bullied in a school year."

I graduated from Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin High School in 1954. Franklin's students were from the poorest North Philadelphia neighborhoods -- such as the Richard Allen housing project, where I lived -- but there were no policemen patrolling the hallways. There were occasional after-school fights -- rumbles, we called them -- but within the school, there was order. Students didn't use foul language to teachers, much less assault them.

How might one explain the greater civility of Philadelphia and other big-city, predominantly black schools during earlier periods compared with today? Would anyone argue that during the '40s and '50s, back when Williams attended Philadelphia schools, there was less racial discrimination and poverty and there were greater opportunities for blacks and that's why academic performance was higher and there was greater civility? Or how about "in earlier periods, there was more funding for predominantly black schools"? Or how about "in earlier periods, black students had more black role models in the forms of black principals, teachers and guidance counselors"? If such arguments were to be made, it would be sheer lunacy. If white and black liberals and civil rights leaders want to make such arguments, they'd best wait until those of us who lived during the '40s and '50s have departed the scene.

Over the past couple of decades, I've attended neighborhood reunions. I've asked whether any of us recall classmates who couldn't read, write or perform simple calculations, and none of us does. Back in those days, most Philadelphia school principals, teachers and counselors were white. At Stoddart-Fleisher junior high school, where I attended, I recall that only one teacher was black, and at Benjamin Franklin, there might have been two. What does that say about the role model theory? By the way, Asian-Americans are at the top of the academic ladder, and, at least historically, they rarely experience an Asian-American teacher during their K-through-12 schooling.

Many black students are alien and hostile to the education process. They are permitted to make education impossible for other students. Their misbehavior and violence require schools to divert resources away from education and spend them on security, such as hiring school police and purchasing metal detectors, all of which does little for school safety. The violent school climate discourages the highest-skilled teachers from teaching at schools where they risk assaults, intimidation and theft. At a bare minimum, part of the solution to school violence and poor academic performance should be the expulsion of students who engage in assaults and disrespectful behavior. You say, "What's to be done for these students?" Even if we don't know what to do with them, how compassionate and intelligent is it to permit them to make education impossible for other students?

The fact that black parents, teachers, politicians and civil rights organizations tolerate and make excuses for the despicable and destructive behavior of so many young blacks is a gross betrayal of the memory, struggle, sacrifice, sweat and blood of our ancestors. The sorry and tragic state of black education is not going to be turned around until there's a change in what's acceptable and unacceptable behavior by young people. That change has to come from within the black community.

- Dr. Williams is a nationally syndicated columnist, former chairman of the economics department at George Mason University, and author of More Liberty Means Less Government.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Have you heard about the Saudi journalist who faces a potential death sentence under sharia?

You probably haven’t, at least if you’ve been watching FoxNews.
Hamza Kashgari (pictured above), as Nina Shea and yours truly have noted in recent days, is a Saudi journalist and blogger who took the occasion of Mohammed’s birthday to tweet some uncomplimentary things about Islam’s founding prophet. The Daily Beast recounts the three offending tweets:
“On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you,” he wrote in one tweet.
“On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more,” he wrote in a second.
“On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more,” he concluded in a third.
Doesn’t sound too terrible, especially if you compare it to the sort of things the Obama Left has been saying about faithful Christians. Yet, it is a profound sin under classical sharia law, which happens to be the law of Saudi Arabia. The 23-year-old’s tweets instantly touched off a firestorm. Kashgari desperately tried to delete the posts within six hours, but it was too late: the damage was done as Saudi clerics and thousands of Saudi citizens started baying for his blood.

Kashgari attempted to flee to New Zealand. But Saudi authorities issued a warrant for his arrest on blasphemy charges. In fact, the Daily Beast reports that the kingdom’s leading news site says the warrant was issued by King Abdullah himself. Reportedly with the assistance of Interpol, Kashgari was apprehended in Malaysia and swiftly extradited to Saudi Arabia. In an interview with the Daily Beast prior to his arrest, Kashgari explained, “I view my actions as part of a process toward freedom. I was demanding my right to practice the most basic human rights — freedom of expression and thought.” These rights may be unalienable in Western thought, but they are unrecognized in sharia. Kashgari could well be executed.

As I’ve related before, Reliance of the Traveller — A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, is an authoritative translation of sharia that has been endorsed by, among others, the Islamic Research Academy of al-Azhar University in Cairo (the ancient seat of Sunni jurisprudential scholarship) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought, an influential Muslim Brotherhood think-tank. The manual instructs that, under sharia, the penalty for apostasy from Islam is death. (See, e.g., Sec. o8.1, “When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed.) The apostasy section goes on to describe “Acts that Entail Leaving Islam” (Sec. o8.7), and these include, “to speak words that imply unbelief”; “to revile Allah or His messenger [viz., Mohammed]“; to mock or deny faith; or to deny “scholarly consensus.” In Islam, the consensus is that Mohammed is the perfect example whose life is to be emulated, not questioned or disparaged.

Mr. Kashgari’s tweets have thus placed him in grave peril under the Saudi sharia system. Given the palpable jeopardy this poses for free speech globally — particularly in light of Interpol’s reported involvement in issuing a “red notice” based on the Saudi blasphemy charge, and the Obama administration’s strange 2009 move to expand Interpol’s legal immunity (see here, here and here) — one would think his plight would be a big deal. But my friend Diana West has discovered that it is not a big deal on FoxNews. A word search for “Kashgari” on the Fox website turns up no hits.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, the number two shareholder at Fox (after NewsCorp) is Alwaleed bin Talal, a member of the Saudi royal family whose bottomless pockets back various American projects designed to cast sharia law in a favorable light — such as Islamic studies programs at Georgetown and Harvard. In 2006, Accuracy in Media reported that Prince bin Talal had pressured Fox into downplaying the Muslim role in rioting in France. And it just so happens that, late last year, bin Talal plunked down $300 million for a stake in Twitter, the social media service that published the tweets that have Mr. Kashgari in such dire straits.

Probably just a coincidence.

Today's Tune: Nils Lofgren - Valentine

Today's Tune: The Waterboys - The Pan Within (Live)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - We Take Care Of Our Own (Live 2012)

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No Room for Catholics in Obama Country

By Father Robert Barron
February 13, 2012

Some years ago, Holy Cross Father James Burtchaell published a seminal book entitled The Dying of the Light. The central thesis of this study was that hundreds of universities that began under religious auspices and for religious purposes -- the University of Chicago, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, to name just some of the most prominent -- have undergone so thorough an erosion of their original identities that now they are utterly secular in orientation.

A particularly interesting feature of Burtchaell's book was his analysis of the slow, subtle process by which the change from fervently religious to blandly secular took place: slight changes, little adjustments, tiny concessions barely noticed at the time, but all of them conducing finally toward the inevitable secularization. The Dying of the Light was meant to be a sobering lesson and a wake-up call to many Catholic universities today, which find themselves on a similar path to compromise.

I won't follow that part of Burtchaell's argument now (perhaps another time), but I bring up his book because it sheds a good deal of light on an analogous situation today.

Decades ago, priests, religious brothers and religious sisters were colorfully visible features of Catholic hospitals, serving as nurses, chaplains, business officers, and chief administrators. With the decline in vocations, this obviously religious leadership largely disappeared, but Catholic values, for the most part, still animated these institutions. What has begun to concern a number of observers is that, as today's medical personnel, staffers, and administrators at Catholic hospitals have accommodated themselves more and more to secularist assumptions, even those values are in danger of disappearing. And what exacerbates the situation is that the leaders of many Catholic health-care facilities feel obligated not to overstress their religious distinctiveness, precisely because they are so reliant upon government funding.

In short, the slow but steady creep toward secularization of Catholic health-care has already been, for some time, a reality. But now the process has been given a massive push by the Obama administration's recent mandate that all health-care agencies and institutions must pay for insurance that covers contraception, sterilization, and certain kinds of abortifacient drugs-all of which are repugnant to Catholic teaching.

Here is what is particularly worrisome: the state seems no longer satisfied with a slow but steady evolution toward secularity; it is aggressively forcing Catholic hospitals off the stage, for it is creating for them an impossible situation. If they cave in and provide insurance for these verboten procedures, they have effectively de-Catholicized themselves; and if they refuse to provide such insurance, they will be met with fines of millions of dollars, which they cannot possibly pay.

In either case, they are forced out of business as Catholic. And this seems, sadly, to be precisely what the Obama administration wants.

At the University of Notre Dame, on the occasion of his receiving (controversially enough) an honorary degree of laws, President Obama publicly and vociferously pledged that he would provide for a "conscience clause" for those who wanted, for religious reasons, to opt out of a policy they find objectionable. But with this recent mandate, he has utterly gone back on his word.

The secularist state recognizes that its principle enemy is the Church Catholic. Accordingly, it wants Catholicism off the public stage and relegated to a private realm where it cannot interfere with secularism's totalitarian agenda. I realize that in using that particular term, I'm dropping a rhetorical bomb, but I am not doing so casually.

There is a modality of secular liberalism that is not aggressive toward religion, but rather recognizes that religion makes an indispensable contribution to civil society. This more tolerant liberalism allows, not only for freedom of worship, but also for real freedom of religion, which is to say, the expression of religious values in the public square and the free play of religious ideas in the public conversation. Most of our founding fathers advocated just this type of liberalism.

But there is another modality of secularism -- sadly on display in the current administration -- that is actively aggressive toward religion, precisely because it sees religion as its primary rival in the public arena. Appreciating certain moral convictions as disvalues-think here especially of Catholic teachings concerning sexuality -- it seeks to eliminate religion or at the very least to privatize and hence marginalize it. In doing so, it indeed reveals itself as totalitarian, for it allows no room in the public space for anything but itself.

The reason that the Bill of Rights is so important is that it holds off the tendency, inherent in any government, toward totalitarianism, even if that means the totalitarianism of the majority. The very first amendment, of course, guarantees the free exercise of religion in our country. Our founders obviously feared that even a democratic system, predicated upon a repudiation of tyranny, could become so tyrannical itself that it would seek to intrude upon the sacred realm of the religious conscience.

As Jefferson, Toqueville, Lincoln and many others have seen, our democracy is especially healthy when it disallows a concentration of power -- political, economic, or cultural -- in any one place. I would hope that American Catholics would argue against the Obama administration move, not only because they are Catholics, but also because they are Americans.

Father Robert Barron is the founder of the global ministry Word on Fire and the Francis Cardinal George Professor of Faith and Culture at University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein. He is also the creator and host of a new ten episode documentary series called "Catholicism" and host of a weekly program on WGN America, Relevant Radio, EWTN and at