Thursday, March 29, 2012

Earl Scruggs, Bluegrass Pioneer, Dies at 88

The New York Times
March 29, 2012

In this June 10, 2005 file photo, Earl Scruggs, performs at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. (AP2005)

Earl Scruggs, the bluegrass banjo player whose hard-driving picking style influenced a generation of players and helped shape the sound of 20th-century country music, died on Wednesday in Nashville. He was 88.

His son Gary said his father died at a hospital of natural causes.

Mr. Scruggs was probably best known for performing alongside the guitar-playing Lester Flatt with the Foggy Mountain Boys. Among their signature songs were “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” which was used as the getaway music in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde,” and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme song of the 1960s television sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Mr. Scruggs began developing his picking style at an early age. Born on a North Carolina farm to a large family of musicians, he took up the banjo at age 4, about the time his father, who also played the banjo, died. He also learned to play guitar, modeling his style after Mother Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family.

With little else to do but chores on a Depression-era farm, he became obsessed with the banjo. He depended mainly on a two-fingered picking style until he was about 10. Then one day, alone in his bedroom and brooding about an argument he had just had with an older brother, he found himself picking a song called “Lonesome Reuben” (or “Reuben’s Train”) using three fingers instead of two — the thumb, index and middle finger. It was a style, indigenous to North Carolina, that he had been trying to learn.

By tuning his banjo in different keys, he found he could play any tune, but the notes sounded undifferentiated at first. “I can’t hear the melody,” his mother would tell him, he said. So he learned to emphasize melody by plucking it with his strong thumb in syncopation with harmonic notes picked with his first two fingers. The sound was like thumbtacks plinking rhythmically on a tin roof.

The technique lent a harder edge to the bluegrass sound — named after Bill Monroe’s band, the Blue Grass Boys — which Jon Pareles, writing in The New York Times, characterized as “a fusion of American music: gospel harmony and Celtic fiddling, blues and folk songs, Tin Pan Alley pop and jazz-tinged improvisations.”

Earl Eugene Scruggs was born on Jan. 6, 1924, in Flint Hill, near Shelby, N.C., to George Elam Scruggs, a farmer and bookkeeper, and the former Georgia Lula Ruppe, who played the pump organ in church. He attended high school in Boiling Springs, N.C.

As Earl’s mastery of the banjo grew, the demands for his performance increased, and he soon found himself playing at dances and on radio shows in the Carolinas with various bands, among them Lost John Miller and His Allied Kentuckians.

In December 1945, after Mr. Miller’s group disbanded, Mr. Scruggs quit school and took the first major step of his career by joining the Blue Grass Boys for $50 a week plus $10 extra if he worked on Sundays. Besides Mr. Scruggs, the band came to include Mr. Monroe on the mandolin and singing; Mr. Flatt playing guitar and singing duets with Monroe; Howard Watts (a k a Cedric Rainwater) on bass, and Chubby Wise on fiddle.

With them Mr. Scruggs helped the group achieve the hard-driving “high, lonesome sound” that Monroe, called by many “the father of bluegrass,” was striving to achieve. When Mr. Scruggs stepped up to the microphone to play an instrumental break, “listeners would physically come out of their seats in excitement,” Richard Smith wrote in “Can’t You Hear Me Calling: The Life of Bill Monroe.”

Mr. Scruggs stayed with the Blue Grass Boys for two years as they starred on the “Grand Ole Opry” radio show and recorded classics like “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Blue Grass Breakdown” and “Molly and Tenbrooks (The Race Horse Song)” for Columbia Records. He also sang baritone in the group’s gospel quartet.

Early in 1948, he and Mr. Flatt, weary of the low pay and exhausting travel, decided to strike out on their own, despite Monroe’s pleas to stay. In a famous feud, he did not speak to them for 20 years.

Although the two said they hadn’t planned to get together when they quit, they ended up forming a band called the Foggy Mountain Boys, after the Carter Family song “Foggy Mountain Top,” which they took as their theme song. With other musicians joining them, they moved bluegrass away from Monroe’s stronghold in Kentucky and central Tennessee to North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and Virginia.

Aided by the former Louise Certain, whom Earl had married in 1948 and who acted as the group’s manager and booking agent, and by the corporate sponsorship of Martha White Mills, they not only survived the onset of Elvis Presley and rock ’n’ roll but also surpassed Monroe in popularity. In 1954 they traveled to New York to appear in a Broadway show, “Hayride,” and Mr. Scruggs’s banjo-picking style began to spread among young folk musicians.

In 1955 they finally joined the “Grand Ole Opry,” thanks to pressure from Martha White Mills. In 1959 the group appeared at the first Newport Folk Festival, an offshoot of the Newport Jazz Festival. The Foggy Mountain Boys entered the folk-music revival, and the band began to play the college folk-festival circuit. As Mr. Scruggs broadened his musical interests he began to work with his growing sons, Gary Eugene, Randy Lynn and, during school vacations, Steve Earl, and to record material by Bob Dylan and other folk-rockers.

Mr. Flatt, by contrast, disliked the new music and felt it was alienating the band’s grass-roots fans. In 1969 the two broke up. Mr. Scruggs formed the Earl Scruggs Revue, a mostly acoustic group with drums and electric bass, which further broadened its repertory to include rock and touches of modern jazz, sometimes combining genres in a single number. The group stayed together for the remainder of Mr. Scruggs’s career, during which he performed at Carnegie Hall and at the Wembley Festival in London as well as in films and on television specials.

Mr. Flatt died in 1979. Mr. Scruggs’ wife, Louise, died in 2006; his son, Steve, died in 1992. Besides his sons Gary and Randy, his survivors include five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Bluegrass banjo great Earl Scruggs dies at 88

By Thomas Goldsmith -
The News & Observer
March 29, 2012

Earl Scruggs, the quiet farm boy from North Carolina who grew up to transform acoustic music with his fiery five-string banjo style, died Wednesday at 88 at a Nashville hospital, his family said.

A native of Shelby, Scruggs won international fame initially as the duet partner of guitarist Lester Flatt between 1948 and 1969. The duet and their band, the Foggy Mountain Boys, lived briefly in Raleigh in 1952 while playing on radio station WPTF.

Scruggs was known nationally and internationally for intricate tunes such as “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” made famous in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde,” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” theme. He attracted fans all over the world and admirers as diverse as comedian Steve Martin, actress Angelina Jolie and pop-rocker Elton John.

At the time Scruggs achieved stardom, the banjo was an instrument most closely associated with the cornball humor and rowdy songs of traveling medicine shows. In later years, the New York Times famously dubbed him the Paganini of the banjo, a reference to the famed violinist.

Triangle resident and award-winning banjo man Jim Mills spoke for acoustic music fans everywhere Wednesday night when he lauded Scruggs as the man most responsible for the creation of the blues-tinged, quicksilver bluegrass style.

“His contribution to bluegrass music cannot be overstated,” said Mills, for years a sideman to fellow Scruggs acolyte and country star Ricky Skaggs. “There would be no bluegrass music without the playing of Earl Scruggs.

“He’s known the world over and in all types of music. He was very happy to be with anyone playing good music.”

Scruggs had been in poor health for months; his family said his death came as a result of “natural causes.” In January, likely aware of Scruggs’ fragile state, Martin wrote a eulogistic piece for The New Yorker praising the performer who heavily influenced Martin’s own banjo style.

Genius with a quick style

“In 1945, when he first stood on the stage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and played banjo the way no one had ever heard before, the audience responded with shouts, whoops, and ovations,” Martin wrote. “He performed tunes he wrote as well as songs they knew, with clarity and speed like no one could imagine, except him.”

Scruggs, a soft-spoken, modest person who generally found time to give an ear to the fans who wanted just a word with the legendary figure, won virtually every award that popular music could present. From membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame to three Grammy awards to performances at the White House, he was recognized widely as a genius of folk music.

Born Jan. 6, 1924, Scruggs worked around the family farm and in area mills as he developed a more sophisticated, revved-up version of the area’s three-finger banjo style. While in his early 20s, he earned a place, along with Flatt, in the band of Kentucky singer and mandolin master Bill Monroe, another giant figure in the formation of bluegrass.

With Flatt and Scruggs to spur him to new musical heights, Monroe created tremendous musical excitement as the band played regular engagements on the Grand Ole Opry and crisscrossed the South playing auditoriums, country churches and schoolhouses.

In 1948, Flatt and Scruggs went on their own to create a band that would surpass Monroe’s in popularity, both with their original songs and their blazing-fast, intricate picking.

“He was so far ahead of his time, that so many players today are still trying to figure out the little things he did 60 years ago,” Mills said.

Scruggs was the behind-the-scenes business force of the act, working in concert with his business-savvy wife, Louise, who died in 2006. The group toured constantly, moving around the South to bases such as Bristol, Tenn., and Raleigh, where son Randy was born in 1952.

Adventurous music

With such famed sidemen as North Carolinian Curly Seckler, singer Mac Wiseman, fiddler Johnny Warren and Dobro man Josh Graves, Flatt and Scruggs achieved greater peaks of popularity when moving to the far-reaching radio show the Grand Ole Opry in 1955. The folk boom of the 1960s brought even greater rewards to the act, as they started performing songs by Bob Dylan and other rock artists, a direction that Scruggs approved and Flatt disliked.

Always a more adventurous musician than Flatt, Scruggs parted ways with the guitarist in 1969 and started a band with sons Randy, Gary and Steve. They perfected a country-rock sound that brought them widespread acceptance in the burgeoning youth culture of the day.

Scruggs was plagued by injuries and left the Earl Scruggs Revue to issue solo records beginning in the 1980s. He and Louise were famous as hosts of picking parties where bold-face names such Chet Atkins and Vince Gill rubbed elbows with new pickers in town and hosts of family members.

Scruggs always remembered North Carolina fondly. His home area is repaying the favor with the development of the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby as a monument to the farm boy who brought fame to the banjo, even as it brought fame to him.

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

Today's Tune: Bruce Sprinsgteen - Talk To Me (Live 2012)

The Hunger Games: A Prophecy?

When I was a junior in high school, I read Shirley Jackson’s great short story “The Lottery,” and I will confess that her narrative still haunts me. You might remember the plot. The townspeople of a village in the American heartland are gathering on a beautiful summer day in late June for a festival. There is good food, lively conversation, and upbeat music. It becomes clear that the focus for this celebration is the annual lottery, and the reader naturally assumes that the winner of the lottery will receive a prize of some kind. But when the choice is made, the “winner” shrinks away in fear, protesting the injustice of it all, while her fellow citizens close in on her, rocks and stones in hand. As the story ends, they are upon her.
In medieval Mexico, the Aztecs would choose a particularly handsome and brave warrior from a rival tribe. For a year, they would wine and dine him, provide entertainment for him, and treat him like a celebrity. Then, at the close of the year, they would lead him to the top of a tall pyramid and rip his still-beating heart from his chest, and offer it to the gods.

In the arenas of ancient Rome — most famously in the Colosseum — young gladiators would engage in mortal combat for the entertainment of blood-thirsty mobs, and emperors would use these spectacles for cynical political purposes.

In the mythological story of Theseus and the Minotaur, we hear that the king of Crete obligated the king of Athens every year to send seven young men and seven young women to battle the Minotaur, who was hidden in a devilishly complex maze. No one survived the ordeal, until Theseus managed to outwit the monster and escape from the maze.

All of these examples of human sacrifice — both fictional and non-fictional — swirled through my head as I watched the much-anticipated film The Hunger Games, based on the wildly popular series of novels. As in Jackson’s story, a lottery results in the choice of sacrificial victims from each “district” of a post-apocalyptic North American nation state. These youngsters — they must be teenagers — are then taken to the capital city and, like the Aztecs’ prisoners, they are pampered, made-up, and treated as celebrities for an extended period. Next, they are compelled to engage in mortal combat, so that, of the 24 participants, only one will survive. Like the Roman crowds of old, the people of the nation watch this process unfold and find it deeply entertaining, while the leadership manipulates the games (and the people’s feelings) for their own political ends. Finally, two of the participants in the Hunger Games (they changed the rules a bit) play the role of Theseus and manage to survive their ordeal and thus call into question the games themselves.

The really interesting question is this: Why has this motif of the sacrificial victim played such a large role in the human imagination for so long? Why do we keep acting out this scenario, both in reality and in our literature? The contemporary literary theorist Rene Girard has speculated that practically every human community is grounded in what he calls “the scapegoating mechanism.” This is the process by which we discharge our societal tensions onto a victim whom we have decided, collectively, to punish. In this, we effectively (at least for a time) manage to bring some peace and stability to our always volatile communities — which goes a long way toward explaining why the scapegoat dynamic is so popular with governments and why it is usually given a quasi-religious sanction.

If you doubt Girard on this score, I would invite you to take a good, long look at what Hitler accomplished through his scapegoating of Jews — and at what most of us accomplish through gossip and back-stabbing. As a wag once put it: “wherever two or three are gathered, look for victims.”
Girard discovered something else, which, despite his Catholic up-bringing, took him quite by surprise. He found that Christianity was the one religion, philosophy, or ideology that both unmasked this scapegoat mechanism and showed a way out. For at the heart of Christian revelation is God’s utter identification, not with the perpetrators of violence, but with the scapegoated victim. The crucified Jesus is hence the undermining of the dynamic that has undergirded most civilizations and that continues to beguile the human imagination to this day. If we find stories like The Lottery and The Hunger Games disturbing, it is due to our at least implicitly Christian formation. Human sacrifice flourished in the midst of some of the most sophisticated and intellectually advanced civilizations in history. It is demonstrably the case, and not just a matter of speculation, that what brought it to an end in both the Roman and Aztec contexts was nothing other than the influence of Christianity, the religion centered on a crucified Lord.

What haunted me as I watched The Hunger Games was that the instinct for human sacrifice is never far from the surface and that it could easily exist alongside of tremendous cultural and technological sophistication. I suspect that this film is disturbingly prophetic. We might comfort ourselves with the thought that such things could never happen here, but as we in the West enter increasingly into a secular, post-Christian cultural space, we place ourselves in danger of reverting to wicked forms of behavior and social organization.

— 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 the creator of a ten-episode documentary series called Catholicism.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Anderson Cooper 360: Bounty put on Trayvon Martin shooter

His Worst Mistake: Obama Surrenders to Vladimir

Aiding the rebirth of the USSR.

By Kim Zigfel
March 27, 2012

President Obama spoke with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia in Seoul on Monday. (Pool photo by Ekaterina Shtukina)

Barack Obama went to South Korea and met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. Huddled tête-à-tête with Medvedev, when he thought nobody was listening [1] he told Medvedev the he would be able to sell out U.S. security interests and allies in Europe on the missile defense issue once he had his reelection in the bag. The purpose: he’d like the Russians to shut up and stop criticizing him because he needs his Russian “reset” to appear valid until then.

“I understand,” Medvedev whispered. “I transmit this information to Vladimir.”

Fortunately for American voters, Obama was oblivious to the active microphone that recorded and broadcast his every word.

Even more fortunately, the Republicans were not asleep at the switch on Russia, as they usually are. Mitt Romney pounced [2]. The Republican presumptive nominee for president stated of Russia [3]:
This is without question our number one geopolitical foe, they fight for every cause for the world’s worst actors. The idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed.
Romney got it exactly right. Now, he must make sure to finish what he has started.

He should remind U.S. voters that one important reason [4] their gasoline prices are soaring is Russia’s determined effort to support dictatorship in the Middle East. Every time Russia speaks out in support of rogue regimes, it makes the oil markets think protracted war rather than peaceful democratic transition is likely. That makes them nervous, and prices skyrocket.

And if the “world’s worst actors” happen to kill a few Americans with terrorism, so much the better as far as Vladimir Putin is concerned.

Romney should remind U.S. voters that, though Obama may not know it even though Medvedev told him so in so many words, Russia isn’t ruled by its “president” and never has been. Ever since the late 1990s, it’s been ruled by a proud KGB spy who spent his entire life learning how to hate and destroy America. A man who believes the collapse of the USSR was a tragedy, who has brought back the Soviet national anthem, who rigs elections and murders or jails political opponents.

You know how right Romney was from the ferocity of the Kremlin’s response. Medvedev fired back [5]:
I would recommend all U.S. presidential candidates to do two things. First, when phrasing their position one needs to use one’s head, one’s good reason, which would not do harm to a presidential candidate. Also, [one needs to] look at his watch: we are in 2012 and not the mid-1970s.
It’s hard to know what Medvedev bases his opinion on. Opposition parties and local government authority have been liquidated, history texts are politicized and controlled by the Kremlin, and the denizens of the Kremlin are firing off vicious personal attacks which seem oblivious of the facts — just like they did in the 1970s.

And there’s more. The House Foreign Affairs Committee recently heard testimony [6] documenting chapter and verse the horrific rise of a neo-Soviet state in Russia under Putin. The president of Freedom House told the Committee:
Putin oversees a regime that shows utter disregard for the human rights of its own people or for those in other countries, as evidenced most recently by its continued arms sales to the murderous Assad regime in Syria.
The Kremlin is arresting anyone [7] who appears on Red Square wearing a white protest ribbon, supporting democracy. Welcome back to the USSR.

Obama isn’t listening to such facts, of course, but Romney is, and he should make sure American voters are doing so as well. Instead of standing up for American values where Russia is concerned — in the manner of Ronald Reagan (who defeated one-term incumbent Jimmy Carter) — Obama is acting like Neville Chamberlain.

Obama is, just for instance, aggressively seeking to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment’s demand that Russia act like a civilized state before being treated like one. He doesn’t know history, so he likely doesn’t know Natan Sharansky warned [8]: “You can only talk with the Kremlin in the language of sanctions.” A Russian blogger wrote of Jackson-Vanik:
As long as it is not repealed, it hangs like Damocles’ sword over the heads of the crooks in power, since the moratorium might be lifted at any moment if the human rights situation in Russia gets worse.
In contrast, once it is repealed Putin can proclaim to the world that his government has been officially vindicated by the West. This will give him all the cover he needs to pursue a vicious crackdown, already well underway, as he consolidates his position as president for life.

Obama’s claims about trying to support American business by repealing Jackson-Vanik so as to promote market access in Russia are pure fabrications. Russia has had a waiver from Jackson-Vanik every year Obama has been president, and every year our trade deficit with Russia has become larger.
Romney should call Obama out on this lie: Obama wants to repeal it simply to make the Kremlin happy. His “plan” for Russia: give the Kremlin whatever it wants and hope that Russia, out of the goodness of its heart, will not stand in the way if Iran goes postal. This type of “plan” didn’t work with Hitler, it didn’t work with Stalin, and it won’t work with Putin.

But Obama doesn’t care what happens to Russian civil society, nor does he care what happens to Syrian women and children butchered by Russian weapons and diplomatic cover. All Obama cares about is pretending before American voters that he has made Russia into a reliable friend, just long enough to get himself reelected. As Obama told Medvedev: once he is back in office he can do whatever he likes, with nothing more to lose.

Just look into the faces of the Kremlin’s “little girl soldiers [9].” Romney should challenge U.S. voters, and ask us if this is a country Obama should be pursuing a partnership with, a nation with whose leader he should be whispering in corners.

Obama is right that nothing will get better where Russia is concerned until the next U.S. presidential election is over. Romney should make sure American voters understand why.

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[5] fired back:

The war on Wisconsin

By Michelle Malkin
March 28, 2012

Now is the time for all good tea partiers to come to the aid of Wisconsin. Fiscally conservative leaders in the Badger State are under coordinated siege from Big Labor, the White House, the liberal media and the judiciary. The yearlong campaign of union thuggery, family harassment and intimidation of Republican donors and businesses is about to escalate even further. This is the price the Right pays for doing the right thing.

The most visible target is Gov. Scott Walker, who faces recall on June 5 over his tough package of state budget and public employee union reforms. Three state GOP legislators — Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Sen. Van Wanggaard and Sen. Terry Moulton — also face recall. A fourth target, staunch union reformer and Second Amendment advocate Sen. Pam Galloway, announced she was stepping down last week — leaving the legislature deadlocked and Democratic strategists salivating.

Walker and the GOP majority ended the union compulsory dues racket, allowed workers to choose whether to join a union, curtailed costly bargaining rights and enacted pension and health contribution requirements to bring the government in line with private-sector practices. The Walker reform law helped prevent massive layoffs in public education by saving tens of millions of dollars in bloated benefits bills. Ending the state union monopoly on teachers’ health insurance plans allowed dozens of school districts to switch their coverage to more competitive bidders.

The free-market MacIver Institute reports that at least 25 school districts did so, saving the districts more than $200 per student. Hundreds of millions more in savings are in the works as school districts and local governments turn deficits to surpluses. And Walker’s actions have nearly wiped out the nearly $3.6 billion deficit he inherited from his free-spending predecessors.

New poll data released on Tuesday show two potential Democratic rivals neck and neck with Walker. Wisconsin politicos tell me his national name recognition has bolstered public awareness and fundraising efforts. He’s currently sitting on a $5 million war chest. Walker supporters believe the Big Labor-fueled fight will be dirty, but with vigilant backing, he’ll survive.

The outlook for the unhinged Left’s secondary targets, however, is not so bright. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, a tea party candidate who is not part of the GOP establishment, is being treated as collateral damage by the party. Outside of Wisconsin, most conservative activists are not even aware that she may be booted from office for simply doing her job. Kleefisch told me that on a recent fundraising swing in D.C., national GOP leaders were shocked to learn of her plight.

While Democratic femme-a-gogues continue their plaintive wailing about a “war on women,” Kleefisch has battled vile misogyny from liberal detractors. When lefty Wisconsin radio host John “Sly” Sylvester accused Kleefisch of performing “fellatio on all the talk-show hosts in Milwaukee” and sneered that she had “pulled a train” (a crude phrase for gang sex), feminists remained silent. A former television anchor, small businesswoman and mother of two, Kleefisch’s quiet work on economic development has reaped untold dividends for the state. But if conservatives who preach the gospel of fiscal conservatism do not act, the profligate progressives’ vendetta against Wisconsin may result in the first-ever recall of a lieutenant governor in American history.

Kleefisch, a 36-year-old colon cancer survivor, is a fighter who points to her two young daughters when I ask why she’s in the political arena. What message would it send to young tea party moms across the country if Walker survived but Kleefisch was hung out to dry? Will Beltway Republican strategists and donors who constantly harp about the need to diversify the party step up to the plate? [Donate to Kleefisch's defense here.]

President Obama, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME and left-wing operatives know that Wisconsin is Ground Zero in their battle against limited-government activists. Their demagogic propaganda war against Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, who is leading entitlement reform and budget discipline efforts in Washington, is of a piece with the campaign to overturn the popular elections that put Walker, Kleefisch and the GOP majority in place. If they can chill fiscal responsibility and free market-based reforms in Wisconsin, they can chill it everywhere. Will movement conservatives let them?

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The Left Resumes Its War on History

Among the Intellectualoids

Did you know Che Guevara was at heart an Irish freedom fighter?

The American Spectator
March 28, 2012

An artist's impression of the Che Guevara monument on Salthill Promenade.

What does an Argentine-born Cuban Communist revolutionary executed in the Bolivian jungle 45 years ago have in common with a small town on Ireland's west coast? Apart from tenuous ancestral connections, the answer is nothing. Recent attempts, however, to manufacture such an association have provided yet another illustration of the left's on-going determination to whitewash history.

In February this year, Galway City Council announced plans to build a statute of Che Guevara to "honor one of its own" (one of Che 's grandmothers was born in Galway). It wasn't long, however, before several Irish business leaders, journalists, and eventually theChairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee vented their outrage about the council's decision. Why, they asked, would Galway erect a monument to someone who had personally killed several people without even the pretense of trials? Why would they honor a man who oversaw one of the Castro regime's most brutal periods of oppression -- including arbitrary imprisonments and summary executions?

The Irish left's initial reaction was to deny these facts and launch ad hominem attacks. When that failed, they produced extraordinary rationalizations which bordered on the absurd. One columnist, for example, wrote: "Yes, Che was ruthless and fanatical and sometimes murderous. But was he a murderer? No, not in the sense of a serial killer or gangland assassin. He was one of those rare people who are prepared to push past ethical constraints, even their own conscience, and bring about a greater good by doing terrible things."

Apparently murder isn't really murder if it's justified by "a greater good."

We shouldn't, however, be surprised by such responses. They reflect a pattern. Getting contemporary French left-wing intellectuals, for example, to acknowledge the ideological genocide unleashed in the Vendée by the French Revolution in the 1790s is almost impossible. In present-day America, any mention of Planned Parenthood's early association with the eugenics movement invariably results in stone-walling and, eventually, lame explanations that its founder Margaret Sanger was a "child of her time." The same approach shows up in most American liberals' studied refusal to discuss slurs employed by the likes of Bill Maher to describe conservative women.

But it's when the left is confronted with the history of Communism that the denials, ad hominem vitriol, sullen silences, and feeble excuses really get going. Back in 1997, several French intellectuals, many with left-wing backgrounds, published The Black Book of Communism. This text exhaustively detailed how Communist movements and regimes had imprisoned, tortured, starved, experimented upon, enslaved, and exterminated millions across the globe throughout the 20th century.

Though a few brave lefty souls conceded the book's damning evidence, the left's general response followed the usual playbook: attacks on the authors' credibility; arcane disputation of precise numbers killed (as if a million-less here-or-there made any meaningful difference to the overall thesis); claims that Stalin represented a "distortion" of Marxism; and even bizarre suggestions that such crimes shouldn't distract us from Communism's "genuine achievements."

Overall, the left has been remarkably successful in distorting people's knowledge of Communism's track-record. Everyone today knows about the Nazis' unspeakable crimes. Yet does anyone doubt that far fewer know much about the atrocities ordered by the likes of Lenin, Castro, Mao, and Pol Pot? Do those Occupy Wall Street protesters waving red hammer-and-sickle flags actually understand what such symbols mean for those who endured Communism?

But while the left's response to such awkward queries won't likely change, the unanswered question is why so many left-inclined politicians and intellectuals play these games.

Part of the answer is the very human reluctance of anyone to acknowledge the dark side of movements with which they have some empathy. Even today, for example, there are Latin Americans inclined to make excuses for the right-wing death-squads -- the infamous Escuadrón de la Muerte -- that wrought havoc in Central America throughout the 1970s and '80s.

The sheer scale of denial among progressivists, however, suggests something else is going on. I think it owes much to the left's claim to a monopoly of moral high-mindedness.

Anyone who reads progressivists' writings soon discovers they usually assert to be working to liberate the rest of us from all sorts of oppression. Normally, the end-goal is to usher some secular utopia. Karl Marx, for instance, described his particular end of history as a world in which it would be possible for everyone "to do one thing today and another tomorrow; to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, breed cattle in the evening and criticize after dinner, just as I please."

Claiming the moral high-ground, of course, allows the left to dismiss its critics as unethical, disingenuous, or dangerous. In many instances, the same self-righteousness has been invoked to justify the left's use of ferocious measures against its opponents, real and imaginary.

Seeking, for example, to legitimize the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, its architect Maximilian Robespierre claimed: "The spring of… government during a revolution is virtue combined with terror.… Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue."

Unfortunately for progressivists, the lengths to which some leftists have gone to realize their objectives cast into extreme doubt their claims to moral authority. After all, who in their right mind would associate virtue with the guillotine in thePlace de la Révolution? Isn't it supposed to be reactionaries who do such appalling things? Could it really be that Saint Che himself once actually said: "To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail.… a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate."

As a rule, conservatives generally aren't into utopias. Since Edmund Burke's time, they've underscored human fallibility and the folly -- not to mention hubris -- of trying to create heaven-on-earth.

For the left, however, any recognition of such hum-drum truths about the human condition severely compromises theirraison d'être. That same self-understanding also means they must wage a war of rejection and rationalization against whatever contradicts their mythologies, such as some very unromantic facts about not-so-angelic figures like Che .

Ultimately, historical truth usually triumphs over mere ideology. Lies have a way of disintegrating from within. But as Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote, "When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness." Conservatives forget that advice at their peril.

- Samuel Gregg is Research Director at the Acton Institute. He has authored several books including On Ordered Liberty, his prize-winning The Commercial Society, and Wilhelm Röpke's Political Economy.

It’s Not About "Stand Your Ground"

We should reserve judgment, but it seems that Zimmerman acted lawfully.

By John R. Lott Jr.
March 28, 2012

President Obama, Jesse Jackson, and others have chosen to personalize the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., highlighting the racial issues by expressing concern for people who look like they do or live where “blacks are under attack.” Many conservatives and liberals have also already concluded that the shooter committed a crime. All of these reactions are premature.

In response to the shooting, Florida governor Rick Scott has set up a commission to review the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Gun-control organizations, including the Brady Campaign, have gone beyond this and even more drastically called for the end of right-to-carry laws.

But such outrage should be restrained until we have all of the facts. Zimmerman’s call to the police, which has been heard over and over again, does not appear to tell the whole story. There is other information that appears to back up the shooter’s account. That evidence, rather than racism, might well be the reason that police chose not to arrest the shooter. Fox 35 in Orlando spoke to one eyewitness, identified as “John,” the day after the shooting. He explained: “The guy on the bottom who had a red sweater on was yelling to me: ‘Help, help’ . . . and I told him to stop and I was calling 9-1-1.”

The witness further indicated that it was the guy on top who was doing the hitting, and that the shot occurred while that attack was taking place. The man who shot Martin, George Zimmerman, was the man in the red jacket. The police report corroborates the witness’s account: “While I was in such close contact with Zimmerman, I could observe that his back appeared to be wet and was covered in grass, as if he had been laying on his back on the ground. Zimmerman was also bleeding from the nose and back of his head.” Zimmerman told the police, “I was yelling for someone to help me, but no one would help me.”

Zimmerman and his neighbors seem to have had reason for forming a neighborhood-watch group: During the past year, the Miami Herald reports, eight burglaries, nine thefts, and one shooting occurred in their gated community. And Zimmerman had even caught at least one thief himself.

Prior to the spread of “Stand Your Ground” and “Castle Doctrine” laws, citizens who wanted to defend themselves from a criminal had to retreat as far as possible and then announce to the criminal that they were going to shoot. But obvious problems arise: Forcing a victim to take time to retreat can put their life in jeopardy, and a prosecutor might argue that a victim didn’t retreat sufficiently. There have been many cases where victims have been chased and knocked down a couple of times before firing in self-defense, and yet prosecutors claimed that the victim still could have done more to retreat before firing their gun.

The Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine laws replaced the original requirement to retreat to a “reasonable person’s” standard, instead stating that lethal force is justified when a reasonable person would believe that a criminal intends to inflict serious bodily harm or death. These laws do not protect those who shoot fleeing criminals in the back, provoke attacks, or use lethal force in the absence of a threat to life or limb.

The difference between the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws is where they apply: The Castle Doctrine applies in a person’s home, and Stand Your Ground extends the right to any place the defender has a right to have a gun. Forty-one states now have these laws in some form, though most have adopted them in the last decade, and the statutes haven’t caused any problems at all. By case law, six other states protect victims from having to retreat before using deadly force.

Allowing victims to defend themselves not only protects the lives of victims who come under attack, but deters criminals from attacking to begin with. I have myself conducted the only published refereed academic study on these laws, and I found that states adopting Castle Doctrine laws reduced murder rates by 9 percent and overall violent crime by 8 percent.

But Martin’s shooting has raised a lot of confusion over what the Florida law would allow. Irrespective of the Stand Your Ground law, Zimmerman did indeed have the right to investigate a strange person in his neighborhood. And when, before any confrontation, Zimmerman informed the police operator that he was following Martin, the operator’s advice that “we don’t need you to do that” was suggestive, not compulsory. By itself, investigating someone who is a stranger in the neighborhood does not imply a provocation. In addition, Zimmerman claims that Martin attacked him from behind.

If it turns out that the police report and witness are wrong, and Zimmerman was the aggressor, he certainly deserves to be punished. But if Zimmerman was attacked, pummeled, and bloodied by Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman had justification to shoot in self-defense. So far it looks as if the police made the right decision.

John R. Lott Jr. is the author of the third edition of More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2010). He previously served as the chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. He is also a co-author of the newly released book Debacle: Obama’s War on Jobs and Growth and What We Can Do Now to Regain Our Future (John Wiley & Sons, 2012).

Magic Johnson is perfect fit for Dodgers

Former Lakers great is the perfect guy to help reestablish bond between the fans and the franchise.

By Bill Plaschke
Los Angeles Times
March 28, 2012

A group led by Lakers great Magic Johnson has been selected as the next owners of the Dodgers. (Kathy Willens / Associated Press / March 28, 2012)

Just like that, the Dodgers are credible again, promising again, connected to their city again.

Just like that, it's Magic.

Go ahead, Los Angeles, dig out that dusty Dodgers cap and unwrinkle that Dodger Stadium seating chart and shout yourself blue again. Go ahead, it's safe now, after two years in hell your city's most enduring sports team has just been placed in the giant hands of its most enduring sports star.

A group headed by Magic Johnson has just purchased the Dodgers from Frank McCourt for $2 billion, ending a prolonged nightmare with a soaring slam dunk.

Mark Walter, chief executive of the $126-billion Guggenheim Partners financial company based in Chicago, will be the controlling owner of a group that will be led by Johnson and directed by longtime respected baseball executive Stan Kasten.

McCourt sold the Dodgers to Johnson's group Tuesday just five hours after Major League Baseball approved three finalists for an auction. As I wrote in a column that appeared on the Internet an hour before the news broke, Johnson's group was the obvious and best choice over out-of-town billionaires Steve Cohen and Stan Kroenke.

After successfully boycotting Dodger Stadium enough to convince MLB to run McCourt out of town, Dodgers fans are distrusting and disillusioned, and Johnson's group is the only one with the credibility to quickly bring them back.

Johnson, whose business acumen equals his former Lakers court sense, will become a full-time team executive with an office in Dodger Stadium and a giant welcoming reach that will stretch to every corner of the disaffected Dodgers nation. Kasten, a traditional baseball guy who built the perennially contending Atlanta Braves from scratch and help shape the surging Washington Nationals, was interested in the Dodgers before McCourt bought the team in 2004 and has long held a dream of restoring them to greatness.

When I interviewed Johnson in December when The Times broke the news of his decision to pursue the team, he said, "The Dodgers are my next big thing. This is not just millions of my money, this is dear to my heart. This is bringing back the brand for the people of Los Angeles."

At the time, Johnson said his goal would be to bring the Dodgers back to the popularity level currently enjoyed by his former team.

"When I first got to town [in 1979], the Dodgers were on Page 1 of the L.A. Times and the Lakers were on Page 3," Johnson said. "I've seen how the Dodgers can be as big as the Lakers, and I want that to happen again."

We know little about Walter and the Guggenheim folks, who will fund their majority contribution from out-of-state insurance companes, but we know that they have convinced Johnson and Kasten that it's not about real estate or television, but baseball.

In that same December interview, Johnson said he auditioned six prospective bidders before deciding on the Guggenheim group for winning reasons.

"The first thing I asked Walter was, 'Do you want to win, and do you want to put money in?" Johnson said at the time. "He said, 'Absolutely.'"

Johnson said the future Dodgers owner says the things you hear from championship owners.

"Listening to Walter talk about winning, it was like listening to Jerry Buss," Johnson said. "He told me three times, 'All I want to do is get to the World Series.' I know great owners, and this guy can be a great owner."

Of course, once the initial love fest ends, the tough stuff begins.

The new owners know that Dodgers fans are not a bunch of poor saps on a deserted beach standing around an "SOS" rock formation and waiting desperately for the first ship to save them. They know that Dodgers fans are, instead, huddled and hidden in a clump of trees in the middle of the island, defiant, distrustful, and willing to remain out of sight until somebody shows up with enough smarts and savvy and charm to coax them back home.

Two billion dollars will buy the new owners no love or respect or even 30,000 folks on a school night in September. Two billion dollars will only buy them two billion questions from the toughest crowd they've ever faced.

Those hundreds of thousands of Dodgers fans who abandoned Chavez Ravine will need more than simple answers. They will need action, they will need explanation, they will need a group that can proactively reestablish the bonds of this city's most enduring yet most abused connection with a sports franchise.

In my opinion, they needed Magic.

On Tuesday night, they got him, and the fastbreak is on.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Canada: Muslim Book Sanctions Wife-Beating

By Robert Spencer
March 27, 2012

A book discovered in a Toronto Islamic bookstore is causing an Internet uproar: A Gift for the Muslim Couple by the Islamic scholar Hazrat Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi advises Muslim men that “it might be necessary to restrain” their wives “with strength or even to threaten” them. It says that a Muslim wife is forbidden to leave her husband’s house “without his permission,” and that she has a responsibility to “fulfil his desires.” If she disobeys, he may “beat [her] by hand or stick” or “pull (her) by the ears,” but should “refrain from beating her excessively.” The only surprising thing about all this is that this book surprises anyone.

Nonetheless, the uproar is understandable, since so many Muslim authorities assure us that there is no sanction for wife-beating in Islam. “There is no basis in Islamic theology to support domestic abuse of any kind,” declared Qanta A. Ahmed, author of In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom, in May 2009. However, the Qur’an tells men to beat their disobedient wives after first warning them and then sending them to sleep in separate beds – a punishment that suggests that the Koran regards women as sexually insatiable and needing to be kept under control (4:34). This is, of course, an extremely controversial verse, so it is worth noting how several translators render the key word here, waidriboohunna.

Pickthall: “and scourge them”

Yusuf Ali: “(And last) beat them (lightly)”

Al-Hilali/Khan: “(and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful)”

Shakir: “and beat them”

Sher Ali: “and chastise them”

Khalifa: “then you may (as a last alternative) beat them”

Arberry: “and beat them”

Rodwell: “and scourge them”

Sale: “and chastise them”

Asad: “then beat them”

Dawood: “and beat them”

This would not even be a point of controversy were it not for the fact that Muslim feminist Laleh Bakhtiar, in a new translation that has received wide publicity, translates it as “go away from them.” In light of this unanimity among the translators, both Muslim and non-Muslim, this seems difficult to sustain – it is hard to believe that all of these authorities on Qur’anic Arabic, spanning several centuries, got the passage wrong until Bakhtiar.

Still, her impulse to mitigate the brute force of this verse is understandable, as many Muslims today regard this verse with acute embarrassment. The convert from Judaism and Islamic scholar Mohammed Asad adduces numerous traditions in which Muhammad “forbade the beating of any woman,” concluding that wife-beating is “barely permissible, and should preferably be avoided.”

Unfortunately, however, this is not a unanimous view. Sheikh Syed Mahmud Allusi in his Qur’anic commentary Ruhul Ma’ani gives four reasons that a man may beat his wife: “if she refuses to beautify herself for him,” if she refuses sex when he asks for it, if she refuses to pray or perform ritual ablutions, and “if she goes out of the house without a valid excuse.”

What’s more, the propriety of wife-beating is reinforced in the hadith. Western apologists for Islam like to point to a hadith in which Muhammad held up a toothbrush in response to a question from his followers about the proper implement to use to beat one’s wife (he was brushing his teeth when they approached him). In practice, however, Muhammad himself didn’t always counsel such gentleness, and the early Muslims didn’t practice it. His favorite wife, Aisha, said it herself: “I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women.” Muhammad was once told that “women have become emboldened towards their husbands,” whereupon he “gave permission to beat them.” He was unhappy with the women who complained, not with their husbands who beat them.

Also, Aisha reports that Muhammad struck her – and remember, Muhammad’s example is normative for Muslims, since he is an “excellent example of conduct” (33:21). Once he went out at night after he thought she was asleep, and she followed him surreptitiously. Muhammad saw her, and, as Aisha recounts: “He struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you?”

Many influential Muslims in modern times take all this seriously. In Spring 2005, when the East African nation of Chad tried to institute a new family law that would outlaw wife beating, Muslim clerics led resistance to the measure as un-Islamic. A 2007 survey of hospital workers in Turkey found 69% of the women and 84.7% of the men agreed that under some circumstances a husband was justified in beating his wife. Among the acceptable circumstances were “criticising the male.” As many as twenty percent of women even in the reputedly moderate land of Tunisia are victims of spousal abuse.

In September 2007, the Islamic cleric Muhammad Al-‘Arifi explained on Saudi and Kuwaiti television, in line with the three-tiered approach counseled by Qur’an 4:34: “Admonish them – once, twice, three times, four times, ten times. If this doesn’t help, refuse to share their beds.” And if that doesn’t work? Al-‘Arifi asked his audience; one young man replied, “Beat them.”

“That’s right,” Al-‘Arifi responded.

Then he explained the parameters: “Beating in the face is forbidden, even when it comes to animals. Even if you want your camel or donkey to start walking, you are not allowed to beat it in the face. If this is true for animals, it is all the more true when it comes to humans. So beatings should be light and not in the face….If he beats her, the beatings must be light and must not make her face ugly. He must beat her where it will not leave marks. He should not beat her on the hand… He should beat her in some places where it will not cause any damage. He should not beat her like he would beat an animal or a child — slapping them right and left.”

In January 2009, Australian Islamic cleric Samir Abu Hamza likewise echoed the Qur’anic injunction: “First of all advise them. You beat them … but this is the last resort. After you have advised them (not to be disobedient) for a long, long time then you smack them, you beat them and, please, brothers, calm down, the beating the Mohammed showed is like the toothbrush that you use to brush your teeth. You are not allowed to bruise them, you are not allowed to make them bleed.”

Unfortunately, a light beating is often in the eye of the beholder. Sanctioning the beating of women in the first place will inevitably lead to abuse.

A prominent American Muslim leader, Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), has said that “in some cases a husband may use some light disciplinary action in order to correct the moral infraction of his wife…The Qur’an is very clear on this issue.”

Indeed it is. So why should Hazrat Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi’s advice in A Gift for the Muslim Couple come as a shock to anyone?

Still the Alinsky Playbook

From the March 19, 2012, issue of National Review

By John Fund
March 27, 2012

Forty years after his death, Saul Alinsky — the father of the community-organizing model that inspired both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — is more politically relevant than ever.

Leading conservatives attempt to tie the Obama administration to Alinsky’s radicalism, with Newt Gingrich declaring that Obama draws his “understanding of America” from “Saul Alinsky, radical left-wingers, and people who don’t like the classical America.” For their part, liberals have scrambled to minimize Obama’s affinity for Alinsky and to sand over Alinsky’s sharp edges. A blogger at Britain’s Guardian newspaper claims that Alinsky was merely “what passes for a left-wing radical in American politics, agitating for better living conditions for the poor.” (Liberals have also largely ignored the fact that the subtitle of Hillary Clinton’s honors thesis at Wellesley was “An Analysis of the Alinsky Model.”)

Somewhere between Gingrich’s exaggerations and the Left’s whitewash of Alinsky is an explanation of why so many followers of Barack Obama — along with the president himself — draw inspiration from a long-dead radical.

Born in 1909, Alinsky was a left-wing activist with a streak of ruthless political realism. After studying criminology at the University of Chicago, he went into union organizing, and found it too tame. His “approach to social justice,” in the words of the Washington Post, would come to rely instead on “generating conflict to mobilize the dispossessed.” His first big conflict came in 1939, when he helped lead workers in cleaning up the Back of the Yards, the festering slum area of the Chicago meatpacking district. That led to a major grant from department-store heir Marshall Field III, whose generosity enabled Alinsky to found the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nonprofit at which he invented “community organizing.”

This new approach was distinctive. He deployed pickets to the homes of slumlords and used megaphones to hurl insults at them; he dumped trash on the front step of a local alderman to demand better garbage collection; he flooded stockholder meetings with raucous protesters, a tactic Occupy Wall Street is emulating; and he tied up bank lines with people who exchanged loads of pennies for $100 bills and vice versa.

He boasted that knowledge of his tactics often led to preemptive surrender by local officials or businesses. He was able to abandon plans to flood a department store with protesters who would order merchandise to be delivered that they had no intention of paying for; he also never had protesters occupy every bathroom stall for hours at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. In both cases, the mere threat of such action won important concessions from his targets.

Alinsky himself disdained the chaotic tactics of 1960s student radicals. He eschewed violence in favor of planting radical seeds. While students were rioting at the 1968 Democratic convention, former left-wing radical David Horowitz recalls, “Alinsky’s organizers were insinuating themselves into [Lyndon] Johnson’s War on Poverty program and directing federal funds into their own organizations and causes.”

His most enduring influence may have been to inspire the National Education Association to become a political powerhouse. Sam Lambert, the executive secretary of the NEA in 1967, when it hired Alinsky as a political trainer, boasted that it would “become a political power second to no other special interest.” The NEA delivered on that promise. Between 1963 and 1993, the number of teachers belonging to unions grew to 3.1 million, up from only 963,720.

Alinsky didn’t live to see that, or a number of other fruits of his labors. But just before his death in 1972, he synthesized the lessons he had learned into a book called Rules for Radicals, in which he urged radicals to make common cause with anyone to further their ends. The book was even dedicated, presumably tongue in cheek, to Lucifer, “the very first radical,” who “rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom.”

Alinsky argued for moral relativism in fighting the establishment: “In war the end justifies almost any means. . . . The practical revolutionary will understand [that] in action, one does not always enjoy the luxury of a decision that is consistent both with one’s individual conscience and the good of mankind.”

Where did Alinsky get this amorality? Clues can be found in a Playboy magazine interview he gave in 1972, just before his death. In the closest thing to a memoir Alinsky left, he told how he decided to do his (never-completed) doctoral dissertation in the 1930s on the Al Capone mob, and to do it as “an inside job.” He caught the eye of Big Ed Stash, the mob’s top executioner, and convinced him he could be trusted as a sort of mob mascot who would interpret its methods to the outside world. “He introduced me to Frank Nitti, known as the Enforcer, Capone’s number-two man,” Alinsky told Playboy. “Nitti took me under his wing. I called him the Professor and I became his student. Nitti’s boys took me everywhere.”

Alinsky recalled that he “learned a hell of a lot about the uses and abuses of power from the mob,” and that he applied that knowledge “later on, when I was organizing.” The Playboy interviewer asked, “Didn’t you have any compunction about consorting with — if not actually assisting — murderers?” Alinsky replied: “None at all, since there was nothing I could do to stop them from murdering. . . . I was a nonparticipating observer in their professional activities, although I joined their social life of food, drink, and women. Boy, I sure participated in that side of things — it was heaven.”

Unlike the mob members he hung out with, Alinsky never coveted great wealth. “He was essentially a thrill-seeker who admitted he was easily bored and always had to stir things up,” says Lee Stranahan, who was a blogger for the Huffington Post until last year, when his research into Alinsky-inspired groups soured him on the Left. “His followers are even more ideological and relentless than he was.”

Alinsky’s tactics of intimidation are a case in point. His most oft-quoted rule is “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. . . . One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other.”

Obama’s White House has honed that tactic to perfection. In 2009, then– communications director Anita Dunn sneered that Fox News “really is not a news network at this point.” President Obama himself has, in the spirit of Alinsky, gone out of his way to lambaste “fat-cat bankers” and greedy health insurers.

“[The administration has] shown they’ll go after anybody or any organization that they think is standing in their way,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said in a February speech. “You know the drill. Expose these folks to public view, release the liberal thugs on them, and then hope the public pressure or the unwanted attention scares them from supporting similar causes down the road.”

What exactly are the connections between Obama and Saul Alinsky’s thought? In 1985, the 24-year-old Obama answered a want ad from the Calumet Community Religious Conference, run by Alinsky’s Chicago disciples. Obama was profoundly influenced by his years as a community organizer in Chicago, even if he ultimately rejected Alinsky’s disdain for electoral politics and, like Hillary Clinton, chose to work within the system. “Obama embraced many of Alinsky’s tactics and recently said his years as an organizer gave him the best education of his life,” wrote Peter Slevin of the Washington Post in 2007. That same year, The New Republic’s Ryan Lizza found Obama still “at home talking Alinskian jargon about ‘agitation’” and fondly recalling organizing workshops where he had learned Alinsky concepts such as “being predisposed to other people’s power.”

In 1992, after Obama returned to Chicago from Harvard Law School, he ran a voter-registration drive for Project Vote, an ACORN affiliate set up by Alinsky acolytes. The purportedly non-partisan effort registered 135,000 new voters and was integral to the election of Carol Moseley Braun to the Senate. Obama then moonlighted as a top trainer for ACORN.

Obama even became ACORN’s attorney in 1995, when he sued on its behalf to implement the “Motor Voter” law — a loose system of postcard voter registration that has proven to be a bonanza for vote fraudsters — in Illinois. Later, while on the board of the liberal Woods Fund, Obama saw to it that the group gave substantial grants to ACORN.

His 2008 presidential campaign quietly hired ACORN affiliates to handle get-out-the-vote efforts in Ohio and Pennsylvania, improperly concealing their activities in Federal Election Commission reports as being for “staging and lighting.” Obviously, Team Obama was eager to distance itself from ACORN’s reckless record in voter-registration-fraud scandals. Indeed, since then ACORN has gone into bankruptcy following the surfacing of undercover videos showing its employees offering advice on setting up a whorehouse for underage illegal aliens.

Obama’s 2008 campaign showcased many Alinsky methods. “Obama learned his lesson well,” David Alinsky, the son of Saul Alinsky, wrote in the Boston Globe in 2008. “The Democratic National Convention had all the elements of the perfectly organized event, Saul Alinsky style. Barack Obama’s training in Chicago by the great community organizers is showing its effectiveness. It is an amazingly powerful format, and the method of my late father always works to get the message out and get the supporters on board.”

In her new book on Obama, New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor lifted a bit of the curtain on his past. She told the Texas Book Festival: “The Obamas often don’t mingle freely — they often just stand behind the rope and reach out to shake hands — but he sees Jerry Kellman, his old community-organizing boss, and he is so happy to see him he reaches across and pulls him in. And Obama says, ‘I’m still organizing.’ It was a stunning moment and when [Kellman] told me the story, it had echoes of what Valerie Jarrett had told me once: ‘The senator still thinks of himself as a community organizer.’ . . . I think that plays into what will happen in the 2012 race.”

You can expect that the Obama 2012 campaign and allied groups will be filled with people deeply steeped in Rules for Radicals. That is good reason for conservatives to spend time studying Saul Alinsky. It also explains why liberals are so anxious to sugarcoat Alinsky and soft-pedal his influence on Team Obama.

Mr. Fund, a writer based in New York, is the author of Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy. This article appears in the February 20, 2012, issue of National Review.

Today's Tune: Blue Murder - No One Stands Alone

Monday, March 26, 2012

Why Manipulate the Tragedy of Trayvon Martin?

March 25, 2012  12:05 pm
The fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last month by a neighborhood-watch volunteer was a sickening and — unless new facts come to light — unjustified loss of an innocent life. Unless Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, had reason to believe that Martin was armed, shooting him was a grossly disproportionate response to a fistfight, even leaving aside the fact that Zimmerman had initiated the encounter. If such a shooting is justified under Florida’s broad self-defense law, that law has licensed violence that goes far beyond legitimate self-defense. Every American shares the despair of Martin’s family over this heartbreaking tragedy and supports a fuller investigation (though the entrance of the Feds at this point is premature, absent evidence of Florida’s incapacity to conduct a fair inquiry).

But is the Martin shooting emblematic of a larger problem? Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the mainstream media here and abroad certainly are portraying it as such. That larger problem, of course, is lethal white racism and a criminal-justice system allegedly indifferent to the killing of blacks. At a rally Thursday night in Sanford, Sharpton said that “Trayvon represents a reckless disregard for our lives that we’ve seen for too long,” and warned that “they,” presumably whites, would try to trick black protesters into violence by “send[ing] in provocateurs.” “Blacks are under attack,” said Jesse Jackson on Friday from Chicago. “Targeting, arresting, convicting blacks, and ultimately killing us is big business.” MSNBC analyst Karen Finney claimed that “racist rhetoric” used by Rush Limbaugh and several Republican presidential candidates was responsible for Martin’s death.

So determined has the New York Times been to fit the shooting into its favored racial story line that it has been referring to the Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic,” contrary to its usual practice of referring to Hispanics without any additional racial characterization. The fact that Zimmerman’s father is white does not explain this departure from the Times’s racial protocols; the Times’s one-drop rule still applies to Barack Obama, who is, according to the Times and every other media outlet, America’s “first black president.” (The Grey Lady referred to Zimmerman for the first time on Friday simply as “Hispanic.”)

Times columnist Charles Blow dealt with the complicating factor of Zimmerman’s ethnicity with a simple duality: “Trayvon is black. Zimmerman is not,” he wrote last Saturday, presumably conferring on Zimmerman putative white status. The Rainbow Coalition has apparently broken down.

Blow went on to claim that it is the “the burden of black boys in America” to be at high risk of being shot by non-blacks: “This is the fear that seizes me whenever my boys are out in the world: that a man with a gun and an itchy finger will find them ‘suspicious.’”

Blow is right about one thing: Black boys do face a much higher chance than non-blacks that they will be shot when they are “out in the world.” Black males between the ages of 14 and 24 were seven times more likely to die of homicide in 2007 than white and Hispanic males of the same age group combined. But the danger they face comes overwhelmingly from other black males, whose homicide offending rate in the 14 to 24 age category was nearly ten times higher than that of young white and Hispanic males combined. (The federal government’s crime data puts Hispanics and whites in a single category of “white,” thus overstating the non-Hispanic white offending and victimization rates). Most homicides are intraracial, but the chance of a black being killed by a white or Hispanic is much lower than the chance that a white or Hispanic will be killed by a black. Seventeen percent of what the FBI calls “white” homicide victims in 2009 were killed by blacks, compared to 8 percent of black homicide victims who were killed by “whites.” There were two and a half times as many white and Hispanic victims of black killers in 2009 as there were black victims of white and Hispanic killers, even though the black population is one-sixth that of whites and Hispanics combined. If Hispanics were removed from the category of “white” killers of blacks, the percentage of blacks killed by Anglo whites would plummet, since a significant percentage of what the FBI calls “white”-on-black killings represent gang warfare between Hispanic and black gangs. (Needless to say, there is no reason to think that racism plays a more frequent role in white-on-black killings than in black-on-white killings.)

Blow’s fear that his children will be blown away by a white is particularly ludicrous in New York City. Blacks commit 80 percent of all shootings in the city — as reported by the victims of and witnesses to those shootings — though they are but 23 percent of the population; whites commit 1.4 percent of all shootings, though they are 35 percent of the population. Add Hispanic shootings to the black tally, and you account for 98 percent of all of the city’s gun violence. In New York, as in big cities across the country, the face of violence is overwhelmingly black and Hispanic.

No evidence has yet surfaced to support the charge that the failure of the Sanford police to arrest Zimmerman results from racial bias, as opposed to ambiguities in the application of Florida’s self-defense law and the absence of eye-witnesses to the killing. But if such evidence of racial indifference does emerge, it would be not only shameful but also a great exception to the practice of police departments across the country. Far from showing a “reckless disregard for [black] lives,” in Sharpton’s words, it is the police and prosecutors who are the most reliable responders to black victimization, trying relentlessly to put together a case even when the witnesses to crime refuse to cooperate. Most police chiefs will say that they could solve every inner-city killing if the people who saw the crime or know the perpetrators came forward, instead of obeying the “no snitching” code.

And it is the concerted efforts of police departments across the country to bring safety to urban neighborhoods that have played a central role in the 50 percent drop in the black homicide victimization rate from 1991 to 2008. In New York City, over 10,000 minority males are alive today who would have been killed had homicide rates remained at their early 1990s highs; the largest cause of that crime drop is the New York Police Department’s policing revolution, which has created an unprecedented sense of urgency about protecting lives. The NYPD’s weekly meetings at police headquarters, known as Compstat, focus relentlessly on one overriding question: How can we save more people — overwhelmingly minorities — from being victimized by crime? Many an NYPD commander has lost his post because he has not had an adequate answer to that question.

The protesters in Florida and across the country are right to demand an explanation for the decision not to charge Zimmerman. A critical examination of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is absolutely warranted. But the racial storyline that has been imposed on the shooting does not fairly represent contemporary America. That storyline is not just wrong, it is dangerous, because it only feeds black alienation and anger. Family breakdown, not white racism, is the biggest impediment facing blacks today, producing such casualties as the 18-year-old gangbanger who fatally shot a 34-year-old mother picking up her child from school in Brownsville, Brooklyn, last October. Sharpton and the national media didn’t show up for that killing, just as they don’t for the thousands of other black-on-black killings each year. By all means, demand justice for Trayvon Martin. But when that justice comes, as it most surely will, perhaps some small part of the energy devoted to securing it could be redirected towards stigmatizing black criminals and revalorizing the role of fathers in families.

Editor’s Note: This post has been amended since it was originally published.

Don’t Stay the Course

A response to McCain, Lieberman, and Graham

By Andrew C. McCarthy
March 24, 2012

He couldn’t name a single one.

In this tense campaign season, al-Qaeda is very much in the front of the Obama administration’s mind.

In fact, administration officials can’t remind you often enough that Barack rubbed out Osama — which you may see as a no-brainer, but which, to hear them tell it, was actually the greatest single act of executive courage in half a millennium. Yet, when ABC’s Jake Tapper recently asked White House press secretary Jay Carney, “When’s the last time U.S. troops in Afghanistan killed anybody associated with al-Qaeda?” Obama’s mouthpiece went mum.

This was not a concession that the Afghan mission is pointless. It was a powerful indication that the Afghan mission has already been accomplished.

The Carney-Tapper exchange was worth bearing in mind while perusing the fanciful op-ed published in the Washington Post this week by Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham. The senators insist that we must stay the course in Afghanistan.

In advertising, the disclaimer always warns that “past performance does not guarantee future results.”

From the senators’ perspective, let’s hope that’s true. Their last memorable joint op-ed, about how we could not allow Moammar Qaddafi “to consolidate his grip” on Libya, came hot on the heels of their joint support for U.S. aid that helped Qaddafi consolidate his grip on Libya. On that past performance, we’d expect to find the senators regaling us a year from now with another op-ed about how we suddenly need to “drop a bomb” on today’s favorite flavor, Hamid Karzai.

In Afghanistan, there are presently about 99,000 U.S. troops, the lion’s share of a 130,000-strong NATO contingent. Senators McCain, Lieberman, and Graham worry, for good reason, that American tolerance for that state of affairs has been exhausted by a series of atrocities that demonstrates Afghan contempt for the West. The senators gingerly describe these incidents as “examples of the few Afghan soldiers who despicably turned their weapons on Americans.”

Sorry, gentlemen: Quite apart from the murderous riots over accidental Koran burnings, American and coalition forces are the targets of an unrelenting assassination campaign by Afghan security forces. Michael Yon puts the number at 200 coalition members killed in nearly 50 documented incidents. That, moreover, does not count Mohammed Merah, the self-proclaimed al-Qaeda jihadist who killed seven people in Toulouse this week — after being sent back to France by U.S. forces who captured him in Afghanistan, where he’d naturally gone to hone his craft.

This is to be expected. Afghan “security” forces are rife with jihadists. Not just Taliban sympathizers, either: This is a fundamentalist-Islamic country, and its military and police would teem with Islamists even if there were no Taliban.

And about those security forces: The senators claim that “hundreds of thousands of Afghans fight every day as our faithful allies in a common battle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” The inference is that you need to put the deadly sabotage against our troops in perspective, but it is the senators who have lost theirs.

There are only about 170,000 soldiers in the whole Afghan army — not “hundreds of thousands.” Even if you inflate their numbers by throwing in about 130,000 Afghan police, the picture the senators paint of hordes of “Afghan patriots” is hyperbole — especially when their performance is factored in.

The security forces are said to be somewhat better than they once were, but drug use, absenteeism, and corruption are notoriously rampant — as is infiltration by Taliban and Haqqani forces, as well as a disturbing propensity to sell their weapons to the highest bidder when not pointing them at American soldiers. To mention the Afghans in the same sentence as our troops is absurd.

It is also part and parcel of a preposterous narrative. To listen to the senators is to think everything was just as placid as could be in and around the Hindu Kush until the Taliban came along, put out the welcome mat for al-Qaeda, and sent Afghanistan spiraling into civil war.

To the contrary, al-Qaeda was born in Afghanistan, during the pre-Taliban jihad against the Soviets. The nascent terrorist organization was nourished by powerful warlords like Gilbuddin Hekmatyar, who later became Afghan prime minister. Though a virulently anti-American Islamist, Hekmatyar got a sizable chunk of the $3 billion lavished on the mujahideen by the CIA (through our cut-out, the treacherous Pakistani intelligence service). Simultaneously, the Saudis matched that largesse, dollar-for-dollar, bankrolling up-and-comers like Osama bin Laden, who were summoning Muslims the world over to join the jihad.

When the humiliated Russians pulled out in 1989, so did the covert American operatives. What followed was years of anarchic, internecine barbarism — the default Afghan condition. The Taliban did not cause this infighting; they arose from it, in 1994. They are Islamic fundamentalists who prevailed because then, as now, they had very strong support, particularly among the dominant Pashtuns. They were also acclaimed by such widely respected figures as the Karzai family. “They were my buddies,” war correspondent Steve Coll recounts Hamid Karzai saying of the Taliban’s leaders. “They were good people.”

This is what Afghanistan is. We probably could not change that if we stuck around for a thankless century. That is not going to happen. According to Carney, President Obama thinks the “original objective” of our mission “should not have been to build a Jeffersonian democracy in Afghanistan” — and since Obama is not exactly a fan of Jeffersonian democracy in America, I’m willing to take him at his word on that one. The mission in 2001 was to defeat al-Qaeda after we were attacked.

We did that. Carney was unable to say when we last killed an al-Qaeda operative in Afghanistan — a problem he would not have with, say, Yemen, where without a single American soldier on the ground we’ve killed dozens in just the last few weeks. Furthermore, Obama’s spokesman did not dispute the assessment from two years ago by then–CIA director (and now defense secretary) Leon Panetta, that in all of Afghanistan, there are fewer than a hundred al-Qaeda operatives.

The senatorial trio talks about “our common [with the Afghans] battle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” The administration, however, tells us al-Qaeda is gone and, “critically,” that “the Taliban is not per se our enemy,” to quote Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks (later reaffirmed by Carney on Obama’s behalf). No one is trying to vanquish the Taliban — our government’s modest goal is now a negotiated settlement in which the Taliban are reconciled with their erstwhile “buddy,” Karzai.

Even if the Taliban were our enemy, the strength of its militant forces is pegged at 20,000. The Taliban punches above its weight because it is sponsored by elements of the Pakistani government, and because a sizable percentage of Afghans either like the Taliban or are cowed by it. The latter problem is a function of the contempt bred in the population by increasing familiarity with Karzai. But it has also been exacerbated by the continuing presence of U.S. troops. Non-Muslim occupying forces are anathema under sharia — the Islamic law that the Taliban exemplifies and that rules Afghanistan, no small thanks to the new constitution the State Department helped write.

I’m confident that even the State Department, clueless as it can be, did not want a sharia constitution for Afghanistan. They abided one, just as they did in Iraq, because Islam — a word the senators do not mention in their thousand-word op-ed — is the central fact of Afghan life. The people would have accepted nothing less.

Is it any wonder that Islamists are vastly more popular than we are in Afghanistan? That is not going to change — which is why the Afghan army’s 9:1 numerical advantage over Taliban forces, even compounded by 130,000 coalition troops and another 130,000 Afghan national police, is unable to win the day, despite the prohibitively costly decade our troops have spent struggling to train them.

Before or after American forces leave, the Taliban — whether by negotiated settlement or brute force — may take over the country. Or, more likely, the Afghan civil war, which neither we nor the Taliban started, will simply continue. The Taliban and Haqqani will go on vying with Karzai’s regime, Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami, and the rest of Afghanistan’s motley assortment of warlords and tribal rivals.

We do not need the Taliban to lose. We need those factions that capture territory to be deeply discouraged from inviting al-Qaeda to return, set up shop, and launch attacks against the United States. The senators are wrong to insist that this requires a continuing, weighty presence of American forces in a hostile place. We currently face this same challenge in several Islamic countries absent occupation by thousands of ground troops.

Can it really be that the United States — which with no ground forces helped defeat the Soviet empire in Afghanistan, and which with only 5,200 troops routed al-Qaeda there a decade ago — needs to have tens of thousands of forces in-country in order to intimidate a non-enemy into stiffing an enemy that has disappeared?

Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.