Friday, March 23, 2012

Today's Tune: Tom Russell - The Sky Above, The Mud Below

Gradual insolvency about to speed up

Including the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare, the United States owes 911 percent of gross domestic product, more than even Greece.

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
March 23, 2012

I was in Australia earlier this month, and there, as elsewhere on my recent travels, the consensus among the politicians I met (at least in private) was that Washington lacked the will for meaningful course correction, and that, therefore, the trick was to ensure that, when the behemoth goes over the cliff, you're not dragged down with it. It is faintly surreal to be sitting in paneled offices lined by formal portraits listening to eminent persons who assume the collapse of the dominant global power is a fait accompli. "I don't feel America is quite a First World country anymore," a robustly pro-American Aussie told me, with a sigh of regret.

Well, what does some rinky-dink 'roo-infested didgeridoo mill on the other side of the planet know about anything? Fair enough. But Australia was the only major Western nation not to go into recession after 2008. And in the past decade the U.S. dollar has fallen by half against the Oz buck: That's to say, in 2002, one greenback bought you a buck-ninety Down Under; now it buys you 95 cents. More of that a bit later.

I have now returned from Oz to the Emerald City, where everything is built with borrowed green. President Obama has run up more debt in three years than President Bush did in eight, and he plans to run up more still – from ten trillion in 2008 to fifteen-and-a-half trillion now to 20 trillion and beyond. Onward and upward! The president doesn't see this as a problem, nor do his party, and nor do at least fortysomething percent of the American people. The Democrats' plan is to have no plan, and their budget is not to budget at all. "We don't need to bring a budget," said Harry Reid. Why tie yourself down? "We're not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution," the Treasury Secretary told House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan. "What we do know is we don't like yours."

Nor do some of Ryan's fellow conservatives. Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, for whom I have a high regard, was among those representatives who appeared at the Heritage Foundation to express misgivings regarding the Ryan plan's timidity. They're not wrong on that: the alleged terrorizer of widows and orphans does not propose to balance the budget of the Government of the United States until the year 2040. That would be 27 years after Congressman Ryan's current term of office expires. Who knows what could throw a wrench in those numbers? Suppose Beijing decides to seize Taiwan. The U.S. is obligated to defend it militarily. But U.S. taxpayers would be funding both sides of the war – the home team, via the Pentagon budget, and the Chinese military, through the interest payments on the debt. (We'll be bankrolling the entire People's Liberation Army by some point this decade.) A Beijing-Taipei conflict would be, in budget terms, a U.S. civil war relocated to the straits of Taiwan. Which is why plans for midcentury are of limited value. When the most notorious extreme callous budget-slasher of the age cannot foresee the government living within its means within the next three decades, you begin to appreciate why foreign observers doubt whether there'll be a 2040, not for anything recognizable as "the United States."

Yet it's widely agreed that Ryan's plan is about as far as you can push it while retaining minimal political viability. A second-term Obama would roar full throttle to the cliff edge, while a President Romney would be unlikely to do much more than ease off to third gear. At this point, it's traditional for pundits to warn that if we don't change course we're going to wind up like Greece. Presumably they mean that, right now, our national debt, which crossed the Rubicon of 100 percent of GDP just before Christmas, is not as bad as that of Athens, although it's worse than Britain, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, and every other European nation except Portugal, Ireland and Italy. Or perhaps they mean that America's current deficit-to-GDP ratio is not quite as bad as Greece's, although it's worse than that of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and every other European nation except Ireland.

But these comparisons tend to understate the insolvency of America, failing as they do to take into account state and municipal debts and public pension liabilities. When Morgan Stanley ran those numbers in 2009, the debt-to-revenue ratio in Greece was 312 percent; in the United States it was 358 percent. If Greece has been knocking back the ouzo, we're facedown in the vat. Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute calculates that, if you take into account unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare versus their European equivalents, Greece owes 875 percent of GDP; the United States owes 911 percent – or getting on for twice as much as the second-most insolvent Continental: France at 549 percent.

And if you're thinking, wow, all these percentages are making my head hurt, forget 'em: When you're spending on the scale Washington does, what matters is the hard dollar numbers. Greece's total debt is a few rinky-dink billions, a rounding error in the average Obama budget. Only America is spending trillions. The 2011 budget deficit, for example, is about the size of the entire Russian economy. By 2010, the Obama administration was issuing about a hundred billion dollars of Treasury bonds every month – or, to put it another way, Washington is dependent on the bond markets being willing to absorb an increase of U.S. debt equivalent to the GDP of Canada or India – every year. And those numbers don't take into account the huge levels of personal debt run up by Americans. College debt alone is over a trillion dollars, or the equivalent of the entire South Korean economy – tied up just in one small boutique niche market of debt which barely exists in most other developed nations.

"We are headed for the most predictable economic crisis in history," says Paul Ryan. And he's right. But precisely because it's so predictable the political class has already discounted it. Which is why a plan for pie now and spinach later, maybe even two decades later, is the only real menu on the table. There's a famous exchange in Hemingway's "A Place In The Sun." Someone asks Mike Campbell, "How did you go bankrupt?" "Two ways," he replies. "Gradually, then suddenly." We've been going through the gradual phase so long, we're kinda used to it. But it's coming to an end, and what happens next will be the second way: sudden, and very bad.

By the way, that decline in the U.S./Australian exchange isn't the only one. Ten years ago the U.S. dollar was worth 1.6 Canadian; now it's at par. A decade ago, the dollar was worth over 10 Swedish Kroner, now 6.7; 1.8 Singapore dollars, now 1.2. I get asked with distressing frequency by Americans where I would recommend fleeing to. The reality is, given the dollar's decline over the past decade, that most Americans can no longer afford to flee to any place worth fleeing to. What's left is the non-flee option: taking a stand here, stopping the spendaholism, closing federal agencies, privatizing departments, block-granting to the states – not in 2040, but now. "Suddenly" is about to show up.


Bill Ayers' Semi-Fictional Black Surrogates

By Jack Cashill
March 23, 2012

In this much ballyhooed season of "vetting," please allow me to zero in anew on Barack Obama's Achilles heel -- namely, his willingness to take credit for a book that he did not write in any meaningful way. This would be the book on which his genius myth is founded: his 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father.

From early on, I have argued that terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers, a skilled writer and editor, is the primary craftsman behind Dreams. Thanks to the video interview of mailman Allen Hulton by WND's Jerome Corsi, we have a clearer picture of why Ayers would have invested so much time in this project and how he might have been reimbursed.
Say what one will about the sanity of Ayers' educational philosophy, there is no denying his sincerity. He has been plugging away at educational reform his entire adult life. Dreams, I will argue, gave him the opportunity to address the one great obstacle to the reform of Chicago schools -- namely, an obstructionist black educational bureaucracy. To make his case in the book, Ayers employs three semi-fictional African American surrogates, the third of whom easily being the least fictional and most useful.

To be sure, there is much other evidence to believe that Ayers crafted Dreams: the comprehensive postmodern patois that Obama and Ayers share, the matching 50 or so nautical metaphors, the shared use of the Conrad-like triple-parallels, the nearly fetishistic eye and eyebrow metaphors, the three stunning parallel stories, the four matching errors, the same weary '60s worldview, the borrowed Ayers girlfriend in Dreams, the inarguably similar Homeric openings, the dramatically inferior writings of Obama before and after Dreams, and more. It is Ayers' strategic use of black surrogates, however, that will tell us why he involved himself in Dreams.

The first of the surrogates readers of Dreams know as "Frank." In real life, of course, he was poet, pornographer, and Communist Party member Frank Marshall Davis. Despite his influential role as mentor to the teenage Obama and his talents as a writer, Davis remains unknown to 99 percent of Obama supporters. The media are queasy about the "Communist" part.

In Dreams, Frank tells the college-bound Obama, "Understand something, boy. You're not going to college to get educated. You're going there to get trained." He continues, "They'll train you to forget what it is that you already know. They'll train you so good, you'll start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that shit."

Not surprisingly, Ayers too has strong opinions about "education" on the one hand and "training" on the other. "Education is for self-activating explorers of life, for those who would challenge fate, for doers and activists, for citizens," he writes in his 1993 book To Teach. "Training," on the other hand, "is for slaves, for loyal subjects, for tractable employees, for willing consumers, for obedient soldiers." Adds Ayers, "What we call education is usually no more than training. We are so busy operating schools that we have lost sight of learning."

Just as Ayers makes the case that students are often stripped of their ethnic identity and "taught to be like whites," Frank argues that university expectations include "leaving your race at the door." I call Frank "semi-fictional" because Ayers used him to voice an educational philosophy that was not Davis's own.

As Davis makes clear in his own memoir, Livin' the Blues, he loved college! He was the rare African-American to get a college education in the 1920s, and he savored every minute of it. The years he spent at Kansas State University proved particularly rewarding. The campus was "beautiful," the students "usually agreeable," and his journalism department "excellent." It was here that he discovered his gift for poetry, a gift that was praised and nurtured by his uniformly white professors. In fact, he dedicated his second book of poetry to Charles Elkin Rogers, the department head with whom he shared "a fine friendship."

Throughout his memoir, Davis meets fellow black writers and cites their college backgrounds approvingly. He also meets open-minded white college students, whom he sees as the hope for America's racial future. His college poetry-reading tours on the mainland in 1973 and 1974 are huge successes. They fill him with hope and confidence. The "Frank" who speaks ill of university life is pure Ayers sock-puppet.

The second semi-fictional surrogate in Dreams goes by the phonied-up name "Asante Moran," likely a knowing tip of the hat to the Afrocentric educator Molefi Kete Asante. In Dreams, Moran lectures Obama and his pal "Johnnie" on the nature of public education:
"The first thing you have to realize," he said, looking at Johnnie and me in turn, "is that the public school system is not about educating black children. Never has been. Inner-city schools are about social control. Period."
"Social control" is an Ayers obsession. "The message to Black people was that at any moment and for any reason whatsoever your life or the lives of your loved ones could be randomly snuffed out," he writes in his 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days. "The intention was social control through random intimidation and unpredictable violence."

In Dreams, Moran elaborates on the fate of the black student: "From day one, what's he learning about? Someone else's history. Someone else's culture. Not only that, this culture he's supposed to learn is the same culture that's systematically rejected him, denied his humanity."

Precociously Afrocentric, especially for a white guy, Ayers has been making the same case since he first got involved in education. In 1968, as the 23-year-old director of an alternative school in Ann Arbor, he told the Toledo Blade:
The public schools' idea of integration is racist. They put Negro children into school and demand that they give up their Negro culture. Negro children are forced to speak, behave, and react according to middle-class standards.
The third and most important semi-fictional Ayers surrogate is Barack Obama himself. Again, I say semi-fictional because the thoughts the Obama of Dreams voices about educational reform are no more his own than Moran's or Frank's are. What is more, these thoughts happen to match point by point those spelled out by Bill Ayers in a 1994 essay, the same year Ayers would have been polishing up Dreams.

The essay by Ayers and his nominal co-author, former New Communist Movement leader Michael Klonsky, has the kind of title one would expect from a former merchant seaman fond of nautical metaphors: "Navigating a restless sea: The continuing struggle to achieve a decent education for African American youngsters in Chicago." The "Obama" excerpts are all from Dreams. The Ayers excerpts come from "Navigating."
  • Obama: Chicago's schools "remained in a state of perpetual crisis."
  • Ayers: Chicago schools remained in a "perpetual state of conflict, paralysis, and stagnation."

  • Obama: Problems include a "bloated bureaucracy" and "a teachers' union that went out on strike at least once every two years" as another.
  • Ayers: The "bureaucracy has grown steadily in the past decade." Ayers also confirms "Dreams" math, citing a "ninth walkout in 18 years."

  • Obama: "Self-interest" is at the heart of the bureaucratic mess.
  • Ayers: "Survivalist bureaucracies" struggle for power "to protect their narrow, self-interested positions against any common, public purpose."

  • Obama: Educators "defend the status quo" and blame problems on "impossible" children and their "bad parents."
  • Ayers: An educator serves as "apologist for the status quo" and "place[s] the blame for school failure on children and families."

  • Obama: One problem is "an indifferent state legislature."
  • Ayers: One problem is an "unwillingness on [the legislature's] part to adequately fund Chicago schools."

  • Obama: "School reform" is the only solution.
  • Ayers: The only solution is "reforming Chicago's schools."
There is, however, one critical point of difference in the way Ayers and the Obama of Dreams saw educational reform. Over the years, the Chicago educational bureaucracy had morphed, as Ayers notes in "Navigating," from being a bastion of "White political patronage and racism" to being "a source of Black professional jobs, contracts, and, yes, patronage."

For reasons both ideological and practical, Ayers did not wish to confront this bureaucracy. In none of his writing, in fact, can he bring himself to challenge black leadership, however flawed. He inevitably traces Chicago school problems to white people: Mayor Daley, Chicago businessmen, unnamed "professionals," Reagan education secretary William Bennett, even "right-wing academic Chester Finn." In "Navigating," he disingenuously affirms the black activists who gripe that assaults on the bureaucracy were based not "on hopes for educational change, but on simple Chicago race politics."

On this racially tender issue, not so strangely, Dreams tells a different story. Obama openly chides the black "teachers, principals, and district superintendents" who "knew too much" to send their own children to public school. "The biggest source of resistance was rarely talked about," Obama continues -- namely, that these educators "would defend the status quo with the same skill and vigor as their white counterparts of two decades before."

Black obstructionism was "rarely talked about" because white people who did would almost invariably be called racist, and blacks feared blowback from the bureaucracy. Ayers himself would not talk about it, at least not publicly. In the Obama of Dreams, however, Ayers finally had someone black who could voice his own private opinions publicly.

As to the claims of these educators, affirmed in "Navigating," that "cutbacks in the bureaucracy "were part of a white effort to wrest back control," the author of Dreams says teasingly, "not so true." Not so true? In these three words one can anticipate Obama's potential return on Ayers' investment.

Bill Ayers surely recognized this. Tom Ayers likely did, too. Dreams was a careful book, one written to launch the career of a deeply indebted and highly malleable Chicago politician, maybe even a mayor -- one who saw the world through white eyes, as the Ayers family did, but one who could articulate the city's real problems in words that only an African-American could access.

In 1994, however, Obama was still struggling with a book commissioned three years earlier. He had already blown one advance and was struggling with a second. As Ayers surely knew, a published author -- indeed, the author of "the best memoir ever produced by an American politician" according to Time Magazine -- had a much better political future than a failed writer with a contract hanging over his head.

In retrospect, the completion of the book by Ayers seems part of a calculated launch. With Ayers' help, Obama assumed the chairmanship of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC) in February 1995. The Annenberg Foundation had breathed the CAC to life that same year with a $50-million grant to be matched by $100 million from other sources. The money was to fund educational reform projects.

Ayers was the co-founder and guiding force behind this massive slush fund. Ayers' own radical projects received enough funding to raise eyebrows even within the CAC. As a chairman more than a little indebted to Ayers, Obama seemed indifferent to possible conflicts of interest as he happily signed off on Ayers' adventures.

In June of 1995, Dreams was published, and in September 1995, Ayers hosted a campaign kick-off for Obama at Ayers' home. In November 2008, Ayers had the nerve to tell the audience of ABC's Good Morning America, "I think he was probably in 20 homes that day as far as I know. But that was the first time I really met him."

This background makes sense of Ayers' decision to rescue Dreams from an Obama whose sluggish work ethic and sophomoric writing style were betraying their shared ambitions. Having been called in to rescue a few books myself, I have a good sense of the effort Ayers put into the project. It was considerable. If Tom Ayers were indeed behind the Obama launch, as the mailman suggests, he could have made it worth Bill's while. Someone apparently did.

Book details bond shared by Yankee legends Berra, Guidry

By Steve Gardner, USA TODAY
March 15, 2012

TAMPA -- In baseball, spring training is all about the rhythm of the daily routine.

For the active players, everything is geared toward getting ready for the regular season. But for former players, spring training may be the only chance they get to put on the old uniform.

A new book by New York Times columnist Harvey Araton chronicles a cross-generational friendship between former New York Yankees Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry that is renewed every spring when the two icons become almost inseparable both on and off the field.

Driving Mr. Yogi details how Guidry, who won 170 games in 14 seasons for the Yankees and was serving as a spring training instructor, volunteered to pick up the Hall of Fame catcher at the airport in March of 1999 when Berra famously ended his 14-year boycott of the franchise.

That simple act developed over the years into much more than a spring training ritual.

It's a story about baseball, yes. But it's also a story about a friendship. And it's a story about caring for and respecting those of an earlier generation.

The book hits store shelves on April 3, the day before the 2012 season opens.

Araton says Guidry's unquestioned devotion to Berra was a story that needed to be told. "After spending one day with him (last May in Louisiana), I was able to get a sense of the depth of feeling he has for Yogi just by the way he spoke about him in an emotional way," the author says.

For each of the past 14 years, Guidry drives his pickup truck from Louisiana to Florida while Berra arrives on a flight from his home in New Jersey. And they spend just about all of the following month together.

For his part, Guidry doesn't feel he's doing anything special by picking Berra up every day and driving him to the park, looking after him at camp and then going out to dinner each night -- among other duties.

"Even though it's routine ... it's always been fun. I'm not doing it for any particular purpose, he's just my best friend. He's one of my heroes," Guidry says.

The deep friendship with Berra is readily apparent. Asked why he continues t0 go to such lengths, it seems appropriate that Guidry would sum it all up his own Yogi-ism: "Who wouldn't want to do what I'm doing? And I'm not doing nothing!"

For Berra and Guidry, It Happens Every Spring

The New York Times
February 23, 2011

When Yogi Berra arrived on Tuesday afternoon at Tampa International Airport, Ron Guidry was waiting for him. (Edward Linsmier for The New York Times)

TAMPA, Fla. — With all the yearly changes made by the Yankees, Yogi Berra’s arrival at their spring training base adds a timeless quality to baseball’s most historic franchise.       
Berra, the catching legend and pop culture icon, slips back into the uniform with the famous and familiar No. 8. He checks into the same hotel in the vicinity of George M. Steinbrenner Field and requests the same room. He plans his days methodically — wake up at 6 a.m., breakfast at 6:30, depart for the complex by 7 — and steps outside to be greeted by the same driver he has had for the past dozen years.

The driver has a rather famous name, and nickname, as well.

“It’s like I’m the valet,” said Ron Guidry, the former star pitcher known around the Yankees as Gator for his Louisiana roots. “Actually, I am the valet.”

When Berra arrived on Tuesday afternoon from New Jersey for his three- to four-week stay, Guidry, as always, was waiting for him at Tampa International Airport. Since Berra forgave George Steinbrenner in 1999 for firing him as the manager in 1985 through a subordinate and ended a 14-year boycott of the team, Guidry has been his faithful friend and loyal shepherd.

Guidry had a custom-made cap to certify his proud standing. The inscription reads, “Driving Mr. Yogi.”

“He’s a good guy,” Berra, the Yankees’ 85-year-old honorary patriarch, said during an interview at his museum in Little Falls, N.J. “We hang out together in spring training.”

By “hanging out,” Berra means being in uniform with the Yankees by day and having dinner with Guidry by night. That is, until Guidry, who loves to cook and rents a two-bedroom apartment across the road from where Berra stays, demands a break from their spring training rotation of the five restaurants that meet Berra’s approval.

“See, I really love the old man, but because of what we share — which is something very special — I can treat him more as a friend and I can say, ‘Get your butt in my truck or you’re staying,’ ” Guidry said. “He likes that kind of camaraderie, wants to be treated like everybody else, but because of who he is, that’s not how everybody around here treats him.

“So I’ll say, ‘Yogi, tonight we’re going to Fleming’s, then to Lee Roy Selmon’s tomorrow, and then the night after that you stay in your damn room, have a ham sandwich or whatever, because the world doesn’t revolve around you and I’m taking a night off.’ ”       
Berra played 18 years for the Yankees, from 1946 to 1963, and was part of 10 World Series champions. Guidry pitched from the mid-1970s through 1988, played on two World Series winners and was a Cy Young Award winner in 1978, when he was 25-3 with a 1.74 earned run average.

While Guidry was blossoming into one of baseball’s premier left-handers, Berra was a coach on Manager Billy Martin’s staff (and later became Guidry’s manager). They dressed at adjacent stalls in the clubhouse of the old Yankee Stadium. Eager to learn, Guidry would pepper Berra with questions about what he, as a former catcher, thought of hitters.

Berra would say, “You got a great catcher right over there,” nodding in the direction of Thurman Munson. But Guidry persisted, and their bond was formed.

During Berra’s self-imposed absence, Guidry saw him only on occasion, at card-signing shows and at Berra’s charity golf tournament near his home in Montclair, N.J. When Berra returned, the retired players he knew best were no longer part of the spring training instructional staff.

“There was really nobody else that he had to sit and talk with, to be around after the day at the ballpark,” Guidry said. “So I just told him, ‘I’ll pick you up, we’ll go out to supper,’ and that’s how it started. It wasn’t like I planned it. It just developed.”

In offering his companionship, Guidry discovered that he was the luckier side of the partnership spanning generations of Yankees greatness.

“I never got to pitch against Ted Williams, for example,” Guidry said. “I’d say, ‘Yogi, when you guys had to go to Boston and you had to face Williams, how did you work him?’ You know, he’s like an encyclopedia, and that’s what I loved, all the stories and just being with him. If he’s not the most beloved man in America, I don’t know who is.”

Berra’s wife, Carmen, typically joins her husband in Tampa during spring training, but charity and family obligations generally limit her time here to a few days. Guidry, she said, has been “so special to Yogi, like a member of the family.”

He has asked Berra to stay with him in his apartment, but Berra prefers the hotel.

“I mean, the only time we’re really not together is when he’s asleep,” Guidry said. “But you can’t get him out of there because that’s how it’s been. You can’t change him. When he does it one day, it’s going to be that way for the next 1,000 days.”

Berra was 73 when he rejoined the Yankees family, but his rigid need for routines had little to do with his age, said Carmen Berra, his wife of 62 years.

“That’s always been Yogi,” she said. “If the doctor tells him to take a pill at 9 a.m., the bottle is open at 5 of 9.”

That is why Guidry considers his supreme achievement in their dozen years as the Yankees’ odd couple to be the day — he guessed it was five years ago — that he persuaded Berra to try a Cajun culinary staple.

Every spring, Guidry brings from his home near Lafayette, La., about 200 frog legs and a flour mix to fry them. One day, he took a batch to the clubhouse to share with the former pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, turned to Berra and said, “Try these.”

Berra shook his head, as if Guidry were offering him tofu.

Guidry told him, “You don’t try it, we’re not going out to supper tonight.”

Berra relented, and soon a dinner of frog legs, green beans wrapped in bacon and a sweet potato at Guidry’s apartment — usually timed to a weekend of N.C.A.A. basketball tournament games — became as much a rite of spring as pitchers and catchers.

“He calls me at home this year to remind me about the frogs’ legs — ‘Did you get ’em yet?’ ” Guidry said. “I said, ‘Yogi, it’s freaking January, calm down.’ ”

Though Berra often calls Guidry during the off-season, he has never visited him in Louisiana. “He lives in the swamps, you know,” Berra said.

When Guidry was the Yankees’ pitching coach in 2006 and 2007, Berra could count on him being in spring training. Now Guidry must receive an invitation from the Yankees, which he and Berra anxiously await.       
During exhibition games, they sit on the bench together, in the corner by the water cooler, studying the game. “Every once in a while, Yogi will see something about a guy and think that he can help,” Guidry said.

Last season, Berra noticed that pitchers were getting Nick Swisher out with breaking balls and mentioned to Guidry that he thought Swisher might try moving up in the batter’s box to attack the pitch sooner.

“Tell him, not me,” Guidry said.

“Nah, I don’t want to bother him,” Berra said.

After Swisher grounded out, he walked past Guidry and Berra in the dugout. Guidry stood up, pointed at Berra. “He wants to talk to you,” Guidry said. Swisher sat down, heard Berra out and doubled off the wall in his next at-bat. After he scored, he returned to the dugout and parked himself alongside Berra.

“For Yogi, that meant everything,” Guidry said. “Now who knows if that had anything to do with the great season Swisher had? But in Yogi’s mind, he made a friend and he felt, ‘O.K., that justifies me being here,’ even though everybody loves having him here anyway.

“But that’s the thing — for Yogi, spring training is his last hold on baseball,” Guidry added. “When he walks through that door in the clubhouse, sits at the locker, puts on his uniform, talks to everybody, jokes around, watches batting practice, goes back in, has something to eat, and then he and I will go on the bench and watch the game, believe me, I know how much he really looks forward to it.”

Since taking a fall outside his home last summer that required hospitalization and a period of inactivity, Berra has slowed. His voice is softer. His words seem to be sparser.

“I know Carmen feels he’s going to be fine and occupied because I’m around,” Guidry said. “But this year may be harder than the rest because of what happened. I’m just going to have to watch a little more closely to see what he can do.”       
The first item on Berra’s agenda, he said, would be to go shopping.

“He buys his roast beef, I buy my bottle of vodka,” Berra said, with a twinkle in his eye. “We get along real good.”

Obamacare: The reckoning

The Washington Post
March 23, 2012

Obamacare dominated the 2010 midterms, driving its Democratic authors to a historic electoral shellacking. But since then, the issue has slipped quietly underground.

Now it’s back, summoned to the national stage by the confluence of three disparate events: the release of new Congressional Budget Office cost estimates, the approach of Supreme Court hearings on the law’s constitutionality and the issuance of a compulsory contraception mandate.


Obamacare was carefully constructed to manipulate the standard 10-year cost projections of the CBO. Because benefits would not fully kick in for four years, President Obama could trumpet 10-year gross costs of less than $1 trillion — $938 billion to be exact.

But now that the near-costless years 2010 and 2011 have elapsed, the true 10-year price tag comes into focus. From 2013 through 2022, the CBO reports, the costs of Obamacare come to $1.76 trillion — almost twice the phony original number.

It gets worse. Annual gross costs after 2021 are more than a quarter of $1 trillion every year — until the end of time. That, for a new entitlement in a country already drowning in $16 trillion of debt.


Beginning Monday, the Supreme Court will hear challenges to the law. The American people, by an astonishing two-thirds majority, want the law and/or the individual mandate tossed out by the court. In practice, however, questions this momentous are generally decided 5 to 4 — i.e., they depend on whatever side of the bed Justice Anthony Kennedy gets out of that morning.

Ultimately, the question will hinge on whether the Commerce Clause has any limits. If the federal government can compel a private citizen, under threat of a federally imposed penalty, to engage in a private contract with a private entity (to buy health insurance), is there anything the federal government cannot compel the citizen to do?

If Obamacare is upheld, it fundamentally changes the nature of the American social contract. It means the effective end of a government of enumerated powers — i.e., finite, delineated powers beyond which the government may not go, beyond which lies the free realm of the people and their voluntary institutions. The new post-Obamacare dispensation is a central government of unlimited power from which citizen and civil society struggle to carve out and maintain spheres of autonomy.

Figure becomes ground; ground becomes figure. The stakes could not be higher.


Serendipitously, the recently issued regulation on contraceptive coverage has allowed us to see exactly how this new power works. All institutions — excepting only churches, but not excepting church-run charities, hospitals, etc. — will be required to offer health care that must include free contraception, sterilization and drugs that cause abortion.

Consider the cascade of arbitrary bureaucratic decisions that resulted in this edict:

(1) Contraception, sterilization and abortion pills are classified as medical prevention. On whose authority? The secretary of health and human services, invoking the Institute of Medicine. But surely categorizing pregnancy as a disease equivalent is a value decision disguised as science. If contraception is prevention, what are fertility clinics? Disease inducers? And if contraception is prevention because it lessens morbidity and saves money, by that logic, mass sterilization would be the greatest boon to public health since the pasteurization of milk.

(2) This type of prevention is free — no co-pay. Why? Is contraception morally superior to or more socially vital than — and thus more of a “right” than — penicillin for a child with pneumonia?

(3) “Religious” exemptions to this edict extend only to churches, places where the faithful worship God, and not to church-run hospitals and charities, places where the faithful do God’s work. Who promulgated this definition, so stunningly ignorant of the very idea of religious vocation? The almighty HHS secretary.

Today, it’s the Catholic Church whose free-exercise powers are under assault from this cascade of diktats sanctioned by — indeed required by — Obamacare. Tomorrow it will be the turn of other institutions of civil society that dare stand between unfettered state and atomized citizen.

Rarely has one law so exemplified the worst of the Leviathan state — grotesque cost, questionable constitutionality and arbitrary bureaucratic coerciveness. Little wonder the president barely mentioned it in his latest State of the Union address. He wants to be reelected. He’d rather talk about other things.

But there’s no escaping it now. Oral arguments begin Monday at 10 a.m.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

French shooting suspect was recruiting boys for jihad: report

Paul Koring
Globe and Mail Update
22 March 2012

This undated and unlocated frame grab provided Wednesday, March 21, 2012, by French TV station France 2 shows the suspect in the killing of 3 paratroopers, 3 children and a rabbi in recent days, Mohamed Merah. French police were preparing to storm an apartment building in Toulouse on Wednesday to arrest a holed-up gunman who is suspected in seven killings and claiming allegiance to al-Qaeda, a top police official said.

French police were warned nearly two years ago that Mohammed Merah, the Islamic radical suspected of murdering Jewish children and French soldiers, was recruiting boys for jihad – or holy war – according to Le Télégramme, a French newspaper.

The mother of a 15-year-old boy lured by Mr. Merah to his apartment where he was shown videos of beheadings, given a Koran and al-Qaeda indoctrination materials said she twice filed complaints with the police.

In an interview published by Le Télégramme, the woman identified only by a pseudonym Aisha, who said she lived in the same neighbourhood as Mr. Merah, blamed the police for failing to take her warnings seriously.

“I am appalled. It took all these people [to be] killed for Mohammed Merah [to be] finally stopped,” she said. “The police knew all about the danger of this individual and his radicalism.”

She said her son was forced to watch “unspeakable” videos of women being executed with shots to the head as well as beheadings.

“In his apartment, there was a huge Koran in his living room and several large swords hanging on the wall,” Aisha said.

She said her son telephoned her and she went to Mr. Merah’s apartment to bring him home at midnight.

Mr. Merah was apparently aware that she filed a complaint. He threatened the family and tried to seize the son. His sister intervened and, according to Aisha, was beaten by Mr. Merah. He warned that the family would pay, like “all French atheists.”

“He threatened us with death. He made the sign of the slaughter,” she said. Her lawyer, who appeared at the interview, produced a copy of the police complaint dated June 25, 2010, to substantiate her claims.

The mother filed a complaint with the police, which according to her, caused Mr. Merah to become upset. “He came to the front of our home, threatened me and hit me. He said that I was an atheist and that I must pay like all the rest of France’s citizens,” she said.

More related to this story

More related to this story

‘Destroy All the Churches’

Is it not news when the leading Saudi religious authority says that to terrorists?

By Clifford D. May
March 22, 2012

Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh / Reuters

Imagine if Pat Robertson called for the demolition of all the mosques in America. It would be front-page news. It would be on every network and cable-news program. There would be a demand for Christians to denounce him, and denounce him they would — in the harshest terms. The president of the United States and other world leaders would weigh in, too. Rightly so.

So why is it that when Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah Al al-Sheikh, the grand mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, declares that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula,” the major media do not see this as even worth reporting? And no one, to the best of my knowledge, has noted that he said this to the members of a terrorist group.

Here are the facts: Some members of the Kuwaiti parliament have been seeking to demolish churches or at least prohibit the construction of new ones within that country’s borders. So the question arose: What does sharia, Islamic law, have to say about this issue?

A delegation from Kuwait asked the Saudi grand mufti for guidance. He replied that Kuwait is part of the Arabian Peninsula — and that any churches on the Arabian Peninsula should indeed be destroyed, because the alternative would be to approve of them. The grand mufti explained: “The Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded us, ‘Two religions shall not coexist in the Arabian Peninsula,’ so building [churches] in the first place is not valid because this peninsula must be free from [any other religion].” In Saudi Arabia, of course, non-Islamic houses of worship were banned long ago, and non-Muslims are prohibited from setting foot in Mecca and Medina.

There’s more: The inquiring Kuwaitis were from the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS). That sounds innocent enough, but a little digging by Steve Miller, a researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, revealed that ten years ago the RIHS branches in Afghanistan and Pakistan were designated by the United Nations as associates of — and providers of funds and weapons to — “Al-Qaida, Usama bin Laden or the Taliban.”

The U.S. government has gone farther, also designating RIHS headquarters in Kuwait as “providing financial and material support to al Qaida and al Qaida affiliates, including Lashkar e-Tayyiba” which was “implicated in the July 2006 attack on multiple Mumbai commuter trains, and in the December 2001 attack against the Indian Parliament.” Such activities have caused RIHS offices to be “closed or raided by the governments of Albania, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, and Russia.”

This should be emphasized: Al al-Sheikh is not the Arabian equivalent of some backwoods Florida pastor. He is the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, where there is no separation of mosque and state, and the state religion is the ultra-orthodox/fundamentalist reading of Islam known as Wahhabism. He also is a member of the country’s leading religious family.

In other words, his pronouncements represent the official position of Saudi Arabia — a country that, we have been told time and again, changed course after 9/11 and is now our ally and solidly in the anti-terrorism camp.

None of this might have come to light at all had it not been for Raymond Ibrahim, the Shillman fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum. He was the first to call attention to the grand mufti’s remarks, based on reports from three Arabic-language websites, Mideast Christian News, Linga Christian Service, and Asrare, also a Christian outlet. It occurred to me that perhaps these not entirely disinterested sources had misunderstood or exaggerated. So I asked Miller, who reads Arabic, to do a little more digging. Calls to the State Department’s Saudi desk and the Saudi embassy proved fruitless, but he did find the mufti’s comments reported in a well-known Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Anba, on March 11.

All this stands out against the backdrop of the most significant news story the mainstream media insist on ignoring: the spreading and intensifying persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries (an issue I’ve written about before, here for example, and which Ibrahim has written about, most recently here). Churches have been burned or bombed in Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The ancient Christian communities of Gaza and the West Bank are shrinking. In Pakistan, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, is facing the death penalty for allegedly “insulting” Islam. In Iran, Youcef Nadarkhani, sits on death row for the “crime” of choosing Christianity over Islam.

This week, as Nina Shea reported, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 14th annual report identifying the world’s worst persecutors. Of the 16 countries named, twelve have Muslim majorities or pluralities.

Why are the reporters covering the State Department and the White House not asking administration officials whether they are troubled by Saudi Arabia’s senior religious authority meeting with supporters of al-Qaeda and telling them that, yes, Christian churches should be demolished? Why have reporters covering the U.N. decided these issues are of no concern to the so-called international community? How about the centers for “Islamic-Christian understanding” that have been established — with Saudi money — at such universities as Harvard and Georgetown? Do they suppose there is nothing here to understand — no need for any academic scrutiny of the Saudi/Wahhabi perspective on church-burning and relations with terrorist groups?

My guess is that all of the above have persuaded themselves that there are more pressing issues to worry about, such as the worldwide epidemic of “Islamophobia” and the need to impose serious penalties on those responsible. I understand. I really do.

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Obama’s algae racket

By Michelle Malkin
March 21, 2012

Pond scum stinks. And so do the Obama administration’s enormous, taxpayer-funded “investments” in politically connected biofuel companies. While the president embarks on a green rehabilitation tour this week to quell growing public outrage about big green boondoggles, the White House continues to cultivate a cozy algae racket.

Obama’s promotion of algae as a fuel source at a campaign speech in Miami last month caught the nation’s attention. But algae companies have been banking on administration support from Day One. In December 2008, when the White House announced the nomination of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the CEO of Florida-based biofuels startup Algenol, Paul Woods, exulted to Time magazine: “You see this smile on my face? It’s not going away. Everyone is really excited by this.”

The next year, Woods and Algenol — dubbed “Obama’s favorite algae company” by Forbes magazine — racked up $25 million in federal stimulus grants from Chu. Say cheese.

Yet another algae-based biofuels developer, Sapphire Energy, has absorbed $105 million in stimulus funds and loan guarantees even as doubts about the practicality, efficiency and viability of pond-scum fuels multiply. Sapphire’s CEO, Jason Pyle, has donated exclusively to Democratic campaigns, candidates and committees — and his company’s website reads like a satellite White House communications office:

– “President Obama Announces $14 Million Funding Opportunity To Develop Transportation Fuels from Algae”;

– “President Obama’s Secure Energy Blueprint — Industry Reaction”;

– “Obama Defends Energy Policy, Hitting Back At Presidential Candidates.”

Another prominent DOE recipient in the world of blue-green sludge? San Francisco-based Solazyme. The manufacturer of algae-based renewable fuels has scooped up more than $21 million in federal stimulus grants and contracts. Solazyme’s ties to the White House and the Democratic establishment in Washington are myriad. As blogger J.E. Dyer at (which I founded in 2006 and sold in 2010) reported in December, Solazyme’s “strategic advisers” include TJ Glauthier — a member of the Obama presidential transition team who just happened to work “on the energy-sector portion of the 2009 stimulus bill.”

Andrew Stiles of the Washington Free Beacon writes that Glauthier:

“serves on the board of EnerNOC Inc., a company that provides demand-response services to electric utility firms. EnerNOC won a $10 million contract with the Department of Energy Resources in 2010 despite being underbid by competitors, the Boston Herald reported. Glauthier also served on the board of SunRun, a solar financing company that received a $6.7 million federal grant in 2010.”

And in total, Glauthier adds, “Solazyme officials including Glauthier have contributed at least $360,000 to Democrats since 2007.”

Wait, that’s not all. The head of Solazyme’s Washington lobbying office is Drew Littman, former chief of staff for Democratic Sen. Al Franken. Littman’s old pal, entrenched D.C. lobbyist and Obama appointee Michael Meehan, feted Littman earlier this year and bragged that “we couldn’t be more thrilled to be working on a daily basis with Drew and the Solazyme team.”

Thanks to one of President Obama’s executive orders, Solazyme secured a $12 million contract with the U.S. Navy to unload hundreds of thousands of gallons of biofuel — priced at an estimated four to seven times the normal cost of regular jet fuel.

This self-sustaining crony ecosystem, powered by administrative fiat and wealth redistribution, gives new meaning to the phrase “green crude.”

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Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen brings the 'Wrecking Ball' to Greensboro

How does the new material fit in with the classics?

Let me start off by saying I’ve never seen Bruce Springsteen give a bad show in the close to 40 times that I have seen him over a 30-year period. There are merely gradations from good to great to breathtaking to transcendent. I should also admit that I consider being inside an arena at a Springsteen show, surrounded by my Springsteen community, to be one of my happiest places on earth.

This would mean I’m hardly objective when it comes to reviewing a Springsteen show and I judge it on a different level than the casual fan. Even with that caveat, last night’s show at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum displayed a level of polish that was astonishing considering it was only the official second night of the “Wrecking Ball” tour (he played warm-up gigs at the Apollo Theater and SXSW). While never reaching transcendence (and, really, how realistic an expectation is that every time?), the show was far better than the second night should be, especially given the number of Springsteen newbies on stage.

Longtime fans are now familiar with the drill: the first leg of a Springsteen tour immediately following the release of a new album is intensely focused on the new material and this outing is no exception: he played nine of the 11 songs from “Wrecking Ball.”

But, of course, the mandate is as it has been for 40 years. As he told a worshipful Greensboro crowd, even though there are some new members, along with the remaining old members, “The E Street Band’s mission remains the same. To take the glorious power of music and shoot it straight into your heart tonight.” By the end, Springsteen vowed that if he and the band did their job right, they’d leave us with “your feet hurting, your hands hurting, your voice hurting and your sexual organs stimulated.” He may have cleaned up that last part since his daughter, who goes to college in the area, was in the audience.

Much of the new material fits beautifully into the Springsteen musical spectrum to create magical juxtapositions in concert: “Jack of All Trades,” the searing, sorrowful tale from “Wrecking Ball” of a man who is desperately trying to find a way to feed his family for one more day segued into a ferocious, full-throttled version of “Seeds,” a song that first appeared on “Live 1975-1985” about a man also trying to feed his family as they are reduced to sleeping in their car. In “Jack,” he cries “If I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot them on sight” (a line that got a rousing audience response); in “Seeds, he declares “Well, I swear if I could spare the spit/I’d lay one on your shiny chrome.” Separated by more than 25 years, the protagonists are kindred spirits, victims of the corporate jackals that keep their boots on the necks of the downtrodden.

Similarly, “The Rising” into “Wrecking Ball’s” “We Are Alive,” perhaps the most life-affirming song ever told from a dead man’s perspective, provided an uplifting, spiritual wallop on top of a show that already had plenty such moments.

Much of the audience seemed very familiar with the new material, even though “Wrecking Ball,” which sits at No. 1 on the Billboard charts (read our review here), has been out for only two weeks. But Springsteen wasn’t taking any chances. He sold the new material hard, bringing verve, brio, sheer craftsmanship, and determination to each of the new tunes, as if he was willing us to like them. But that has always been one of his most admirable traits: he plays every show as if it could be his last and, despite his iconic status, he has to earn our respect and love all over again each time.

At 62, Springsteen is in better shape than ever. He’s a chiseled bundle of energy who still effortlessly drops to his knees and then pops back up into a backbend during the intro to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” (and this is after playing for close to three hours) But the last few years have showed him, and all of us, how fragile we all are and that fragility gave the concert an added aura of poignancy. None of us are guaranteed that next show.

The spirits of departed E Street saxophonist Clarence Clemons and keyboardist Danny Federici felt as if they were never far away, especially when Springsteen decreed, “if you’re here, and we’re here, they’re here.” It was jarring to see Soozie Tyrell now positioned stage left, down from Nils Logfren, in Clemons’ old spot. But when Clemons’ nephew, Jake Clemons, stepped up for the first time— to play the solo in “Badlands,” the third song in the set—the crowd roared as if they felt the direct bloodline between the two and were rooting for the excellent Clemons, but also saluting his uncle. It was also a gut-punching, heartbreaking reminder that The Big Man is really gone.

Jake Clemons is part of a newly extended E Street Family. Now, along with the E Street Band, there’s the E Street Horns and the E Street Singers; some of whom have played on previous tours and many of whom have not. They all add up to 17 musicians/singers on stage and, perhaps, represent the next era of E Street. While the usual, fun interplay between Springsteen and sidekick Steve Van Zandt was scant, and Lofgren only got in one incandescent, jaw-dropping solo (on “Because The Night”), it felt right. Heaven knows, it does take a whole horn section, complete with tuba, to replace the Big Man, and the expanded vocals give Springsteen flexibility to try new things, such as a flawless group a capella version of The Temptations’ “The Way You Do The Things You Do” into “634-5789” that ended with Springsteen crowd surfing in the pit.

Speaking of vocals, much of “Wrecking Ball” is challenging stuff that requires Springsteen to sing full out, as if he’s conjuring up old field hollers, and he proved well worthy of the task. Although some of the instruments sounded muddied in Greensboro (or maybe there's just too much going on with that many musicians on stage), his vocals were way up in the mix above the fray and his voice was amazingly strong and resonant-- especially given that it was only the second night of the tour.

Relying so heavily on “Wrecking Ball” material did provide some pacing challenges. There were times that the arc of the show felt like a screamer, such as “Adam Raised A Cain” was needed to keep up the energy, but instead, Springsteen would delve into another tune from the new album. Some of that will be fixed as fans become more familiar with the nascent material and some of it will also be solved as Springsteen travels further down the “Wrecking Ball” tour road.

As hardcore followers know, when/if Springsteen swings back around after the European summer dates, the show and set list will loosen up considerably. For example, on Monday night only two songs differed from the night before in Atlanta. After he’s done promoting “Wrecking Ball” so arduously, the number of “WB” songs will drop down to around four or so and the number of songs that vary from night to night will increase dramatically. Even though the tour will still be under the “Wrecking Ball” moniker, the tone will be completely different. Part of the fun of being an ardent fan is seeing how the show evolves over the life of a tour.

Springsteen closed the show with a four-pack of “Born To Run,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Rosalita” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” If there’s any more joyous way to end an evening than with that quartet of overabundant happiness, mere mortals have yet to discover it. As usual, Springsteen’s last words were “We’ll be seeing you.” And in these troubled times, they feel like so much more than a promise. For true believers like me, they feel like salvation.

Follow Melinda Newman on Twitter @HitFixMelinda

SET LIST, Greensboro Coliseum, March 19

We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
The E Street Shuffle
Jack of All Trades
Easy Money
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Apollo Medley
Shackled and Drawn
Because the Night
The Rising
We Are Alive
Thunder Road


Rocky Ground
Land of Hope and Dreams
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

NHL playoff-style, swallow-the-whistle hockey is back

And don’t just go blaming it all on the fights on Broadway

By Cam Cole, Vancouver Sun columnist
March 20, 2012

Not the best of friends. (Jim McIsaac/Newsday/MCT)

VANCOUVER — Let’s go out on a limb here and speculate that if a line brawl happened by design at the opening faceoff of a National Hockey League game in a Canadian city, the ensuing crapstorm would be more than the league could weather.

But when it occurs by mutual agreement at Madison Square Garden, mere blocks away from the commissioner’s office, not only isn’t it a cause for alarm, it’s a marketing bonanza.

Gangs of New York, lacking only Martin Scorsese directing.

True, the league has tried to get rid of staged fights before —- or at least add 10-minute misconducts to penalties for engaging in them — only to be shot down by the Players’ Association out of fear that an entire class of meatheads would be out of jobs. Publicly, the NHL deplores appointment brawls.

But what will you bet that, whether there be fines or just warnings arising from Monday’s stupidity, there are also high-ranking NHL staffers rubbing their hands together at the headlines generated by two New York-area teams — and best of all, one of them wasn’t the woebegone Islanders — who so clearly hate each other.

“Look at the fans. They love it!” Gary Bettman is surely saying to his top lieutenants, when six knuckle-draggers — three each from the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils — doff the gloves as soon as the puck drops to start the game on Monday night.

“We can’t buy this kind of advertising. And wait ... look at that camera shot. Scraping blood off the ice. Looks like a dozen strawberry snow-cones out there. That’s television magic, is what that is.”

It’s more than that. It’s “Slap Shot 4: The Empire Strikes Back.” In which the battlefield has moved from the Federal League to the NHL, now that the big league’s deep thinkers, after a few years of letting political correctness nearly ruin the game, have reclaimed the moral low ground.

Hooking, holding, interference? They’re all necessary to slow the game down. God knows, no one likes a fast game. Hits from behind? Everyone’s turning his back now, trying to draw a penalty. Little fake artists, most of them.

Boarding? We like to call it “finishing the check.”

And all this concussion talk? Enough, already. The league is in Year 5 of its 10-year feasibility study on dialling back the size and maiming capacity of equipment, but these things take time. We don’t want to rush into softer, smaller pads just because a few brittle-headed kids can’t keep their heads up. Change the pads, and sure, maybe you save some brains, but guys are going to start hurting their elbows and shoulders, and then how are they supposed to fight?

Besides, general managers have bent over backwards trying to stop concussions from ... what’s that? A blanket ban on head hits? What are you, some kind of communist? Let’s just accept concussions as the cost of doing business, and change the subject.

Yeah, penalties are down, power plays are down, scoring is down. But parity is up. You can’t trump parity.

And so, friends, playoff-style, swallow-the-whistle hockey is back. It made its return in the Stanley Cup final last year, and gave the vocal hawks little frissons of rapture, and thus was the NHL encouraged to begin its relaxation of the rules even earlier this season.

It’s true that the rookie senior VP of (cough, cough) player safety Brendan Shanahan proved harder to tame than originally expected, but he’s finally rolled over and figured out who his bosses are, so sanity has returned to supplemental discipline.

All in all, the world is back on its axis, to the point where fans at MSG and in Newark can buy their popcorn and enjoy a good three-ring circus without the lingering smell of elephant dung.

Three times this season alone — three — the Rangers and Devils have begun hockey games with brawls at the opening faceoff. That doesn’t just happen, it happens because coaches leave no doubt what they expect from their goons.

You’ll notice the fights didn’t start before the faceoff, because that would result in a $25,000 fine for each team, and if any player were fingered as an instigator before or after the game or any period, it’s a 10-game suspension. And a coach gets fined $10,000 if one of his players instigates a fight in the final five minutes of a game. So the timing has to be just right.

Can you say “orchestration”?

Monday’s donnybrook was inevitable as soon as Devils coach Pete DeBoer pencilled three fourth-liners into his starting lineup and John Tortorella was forced (by The Code, naturally) to start three hammerheads of his own, including defenceman Stu Bickel, who took the opening faceoff. Perhaps that was a clue.

As an added bonus, TV cameras caught Tortorella yelling at DeBoer across the benches even before the puck drop.

“High marks for those guys,” Tortorella said, of his thugs. “I’m thrilled how they responded. I see the juice in our team after that. Whether I agree with it or disagree with it, I like the way our team handled it.”

"I guess in John's world you can come into our building and start your tough guys, but we can't do the same in here. He's either got short-term memory loss or he's a hypocrite. So it's one or the other," the Devils coach said.

It’s the other, Pete. But he’s got plenty of company.

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© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Distorting Ike?

Jean Edward Smith's new Eisenhower In War and Peace has been widely praised, including by columnist George Will. Likely this latest biography about Ike as general and President has many virtues. But its inordinate attention to Ike's war-time chauffeur and fulsome portrayal of her as mistress based on almost no credibly presented evidence undermines the book's credibility.

Kay Summersby was an attractive British army officer who chauffeured Eisenhower for much of three years through London, in North Africa, and later in Europe, while also serving as a secretary. Her looks and constant proximity to Ike during the war raised some eyebrows but not sufficiently to inhibit his later political successes. He had virtually no contact with her after he returned to America at war's end. Her initial memoir about her work for Ike never claimed romance. But her ostensible second memoir published posthumously claimed physical intimacies with her war-time boss.

The index of Eisenhower in War and Peace allots more page mentions to Summersby than to five-star General Omar Bradley, Ike's close subordinate and a friend across 50 years starting at West Point. She also eclipses British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Ike's most important military ally and frequent nemesis. She's mentioned more often than Richard Nixon, Ike's vice president and political mentee. Likewise, Summersby gets more mentions than Eisenhower's only child and son, who graduated from West Point in time to serve in Europe, spending time with his commander and father, and who also worked for his father after the President's retirement to Gettysburg. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, arguably Ike's most influential cabinet member across seven years and whom he admired tremendously, similarly is overshadowed by Summersby, at least in page mentions.

General George Patton, Ike's flashiest subordinate, just barely gets more page mentions than Summersby. So does General Douglas MacArthur, for whom Ike worked before World War II. The few others who merit more attention than the chauffeur are Ike's wife of over 50 years who served as First Lady, President Franklin Roosevelt and General George Marshall, who together elevated Ike to greatness, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Ike's chief partner in the liberation of North Africa and Europe. Seemingly only these global figures are more important than Summersby in the life of Eisenhower.

No doubt Eisenhower appreciated Summersby's company across three tumultuous years, during which Ike chain-smoked and tersely plotted the destruction of the Third Reich. Possibly a tense and lonely Ike betrayed his wife and succumbed to her charms. But other biographers like Stephen Ambrose and Carlo D'Este have doubted it. So too have surviving members of Eisenhower's closest staff, who emphasize that he was almost never alone throughout the war, constantly surrounded by staff, fellow generals, and supplicants for his attention. Ike's war-time orderly recalled physically putting his commander to bed every night and getting him out of bed every morning, with no sign of Summersby. Eisenhower's son also rejected the claims of adultery, believing his father would never have embarrassed his only son by asking him to escort Summersby during his U.S. visit if she had been a mistress.

Smith liberally quotes from Summersby's purported 1975 memoir, Past Forgetting: My Love Affair with Dwight D. Eisenhower, without fully mentioning it was ghost-authored by a professional novelist and published after Summersby's death. The book admits the chauffeur was rarely alone with her boss but recalls quickly stolen intimacies in an affair that was never successfully consummated. Smith also quotes from Merle Miller'sPlain Speaking, a popular but ultimately discredited 1973 remembrance of interviewing former President Harry Truman more than a decade earlier for a television series that never aired. Miller claimed Truman told him of personally destroying or returning correspondence in which Ike supposedly told General Marshall he wanted to divorce his wife and marry Summersby, to which Marshall responded by threatening to kibosh Ike's career. The tapes of these interviews survive but there's no such conversation. Miller safely published his book right after Truman's death. But when he earlier sought permission from Truman to publish excerpts, Truman alleged "misstatements" and threatened litigation. Smith mentions no reasons for skepticism about Miller, himself a novelist.

In a more tortured fashion, Smith relates that an elderly professor told him of a since deceased colleague who, as a young naval intelligence officer, had supposedly perused Marshall's rebuke to Ike. Would the famously discrete and disciplined Marshall have put such a rebuke on paper and had it transmitted through channels for censorship review by a low ranking serviceman? And would Marshall have left such incendiary correspondence in Pentagon files, as Miller claimed, knowing they could be exploited by countless political hacks? No trace of such letters has ever surfaced in the Truman, Eisenhower, or Marshall archives. Smith also bases his assumption of an affair by Ike and Summersby with his longtime-acquaintance with General Lucius Clay, about whom he also wrote a biography. But he provides no supporting quotes from Clay, who died over 30 years ago, instead only noting that Clay "blushed" when asked about Summersby and changed the topic.

Smith even oddly cites Fawn Brodie's ridiculous 1974 psycho-babble "intimate biography" of Thomas Jefferson, which conjectured an affair between Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. Smith asserts Brodie's fictional speculations carry the "ring of reality," similar to the lore about Ike and Summersby. Somberly, Smith recounts Ike's "cold-blooded and ruthless" good-bye letter to Summersby at war's end. By comparison, he declares that FDR would have been "incapable" of writing such a thoughtless farewell. Although Smith has written a lengthy biography about Roosevelt, he seems to forget that the famously ruthless FDR, whose wife once wondered if he truly cared about anyone, coolly neglected his own secretary and sometimes alleged mistress of over 20 years after her stroke. She was devastated by his neglect. (In fairness to FDR, he was an ailing paraplegic leading a great war against two enemy empires with limited personal time and emotional energy.) Ike's letter to Summersby is only "cold" if she was in fact a mistress. If she was instead a trusted and close subordinate, the letter is in fact rather gracious, especially by Ike's detached standards.

Eisenhower in War and Peace mostly lauds Ike's leadership and accomplishments. As to the details of Ike's relations with Summersby, Eisenhower's son once likened it to the platonic, teasing and fatherly association between Ed Asner's Lou Grant and Mary Tyler Moore's character in Moore's popular 1970s sitcom. This comparison probably better and more succinctly captures the essence than Smith's nearly one column of index page mentions that mostly cite idle speculations.

- Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century.

The Sad Plight of Obama’s Edsel

People don’t want to buy the Volt.

By Rich Lowry
March 20, 2012

President Barack Obama says he wants to buy a Chevy Volt when he’s out of office in five years. If getting into a General Motors electric automobile means so much to him, he’d better hope he loses in November. What the president dubbed the “car of the future” in a visit to a Volt plant may not make it to January 2017.

The partially government-owned General Motors has suspended production of its government-approved miracle car and temporarily laid off 1,300 workers at a Detroit plant. The halt is the result of a piddling detail lost in the gushers of praise for a big, bad car company supposedly learning the error of its environment-destroying ways — people don’t want to buy the damn thing.

GM hoped to sell 10,000 Volts last year and sold only 7,500. It planned to sell 45,000 this year and is scaling back production to meet the real rather than the imaginary demand. The Volt is the Solyndra of automobiles, another Obama-touted recipient of government subsidies that was succeeding as a great paladin of the future in all the speeches and press releases until it ran into hard market realities.

The Volt is too expensive, too small, and too complicated to appeal to all but a tiny slice of what is already a tiny segment of the car market. Hybrids have never been more than about 3 percent of all U.S. sales. To buy a Volt, you need the money to splurge and the exquisite environmental consciousness to think plugging in your car will help save the planet, even though about half of electricity comes from coal. The Volt is as much affectation as car.

It costs more than $40,000. At that price, perhaps GM should have made it part of the Cadillac brand rather than Chevy. Most buyers dropping that much prefer to go all the way and buy something really nice — say, an Audi or a BMW.

According to GM, the average income of a Volt purchaser is $175,000 a year. These well-heeled buyers get a $7,500 tax credit for selecting a car out of reach of many Americans, a trickle-up redistribution toward the upper, politically correct end of the car market.

It’s not that the Volt isn’t a fine piece of machinery. It is a smooth ride and has been well-reviewed. It’s just not going “to make Big Oil sweat,” in the words of a smitten writer for the New York Times. Big Oil presumably has other things to worry about than a rounding error in the more than 12 million vehicles sold in the U.S. every year.

As Henry Payne of the Detroit News argues, the Chevy Volt is basically the electric version of the gas-powered Chevy Cruze. Despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s rating that the Volt gets 60 miles per gallon, as a practical matter it’s more like 35 (it can go less than 40 miles on battery alone and then needs to switch over to gas). That’s comparable to the Cruze, which costs half the amount, has greater range, seats more people, and is easier to operate since all it requires is a visit to the filling station. GM sells more than 200,000 Cruzes a year.

The Volt is looking like Obama’s Edsel. What the president so confidently deems “the future” when he talks of energy and cars is his ideological vision dressed up in the language of historical inevitability. If he had been told in 2009 that the real future of the car market would be trucks, SUVs, and the like, which again ticked above half of sales, he surely would have blanched. If he had been told that technological breakthroughs would bring a future of new oil production, he would have been no less insistent on funding the likes of Solyndra.

For all his smug confidence about his vision of the future, he doesn’t truly know what car he will be driving in five years. If he stays true to his word, it might have to be a secondhand Volt.

— Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail, © 2012 by King Features Syndicate.