Saturday, July 28, 2012

Blowing the whistle on the federal Leviathan

The Washington Post
July 27, 2012

Nancy Black (right) navigates the Sea Wolf II while Tony Lorenz keeps a lookout for whales in the open waters.  Photo: Chad Ziemendorf, The Chronicle / SF

The huge humpback whale whose friendliness precipitated a surreal seven-year — so far — federal hunt for criminality surely did not feel put upon. Nevertheless, our unhinged government, with an obsession like that of Melville’s Ahab, has crippled Nancy Black’s scientific career, cost her more than $100,000 in legal fees — so far — and might sentence her to 20 years in prison. This Kafkaesque burlesque of law enforcement began when someone whistled.

Black, 50, a marine biologist who also captains a whale-watching ship, was with some watchers in Monterey Bay in 2005 when a member of her crew whistled at the humpback that had approached her boat, hoping to entice the whale to linger. Back on land, another of her employees called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to ask if the whistling constituted “harassment” of a marine mammal, which is an “environmental crime.” NOAA requested a video of the episode, which Black sent after editing it slightly to highlight the whistling. NOAA found no harassment — but got her indicted for editing the tape, calling this a “material false statement” to federal investigators, which is a felony under the 1863 False Claims Act, intended to punish suppliers defrauding the government during the Civil War.

A year after this bizarre charge — that she lied about the interaction with the humpback that produced no charges — more than a dozen federal agents, led by one from NOAA, raided her home. They removed her scientific photos, business files and computers. Call this a fishing expedition.

She has also been charged with the crime of feeding killer whales when she and two aides were in a dinghy observing them feeding on strips of blubber torn from their prey — a gray whale.

To facilitate photographing the killers’ feeding habits, she cut a hole in one of the floating slabs of blubber and, through the hole, attached a rope to stabilize the slab while a camera on a pole recorded the whales’ underwater eating.

So she is charged with “feeding” killer whales that were already feeding on a gray whale they had killed. She could more plausibly be accused of interfering with the feeding.

Never mind. This pursuit of Black seems to have become a matter of institutional momentum, an agent-driven case. Perhaps NOAA, or the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, has its version of Victor Hugo’s obsessed Inspector Javert.

In any event, some of the federal government’s crime-busters seem to know little about whales — hence the “whistle-as-harassment” nonsense.

Six years ago, NOAA agents, who evidently consider the First Amendment a dispensable nuisance, told Black’s scientific colleagues not to talk to her and to inform them if they were contacted by her or her lawyers. Since then she has not spoken with one of her best friends.

To finance her defense she has cashed out her life’s savings, which otherwise might have purchased a bigger boat. The government probably has spent millions. It delivered an administrative subpoena to her accountant, although no charge against her has anything to do with finances.

In 1980, federal statutes specified 3,000 criminal offenses; by 2007, 4,450. They continue to multiply. Often, as in Black’s case, they are untethered from the common-law tradition of mens rea, which holds that a crime must involve a criminal intent — a guilty mind. Legions of government lawyers inundate targets like Black with discovery demands, producing financial burdens that compel the innocent to surrender in order to survive.

The protracted and pointless tormenting of Black illustrates the thesis of Harvey Silverglate’s invaluable 2009 book, “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.” Silverglate, a civil liberties lawyer in Boston, chillingly demonstrates how the mad proliferation of federal criminal laws — which often are too vague to give fair notice of what behavior is proscribed or prescribed — means that “our normal daily activities expose us to potential prosecution at the whim of a government official.” Such laws, which enable government zealots to accuse almost anyone of committing three felonies in a day, do not just enable government misconduct, they incite prosecutors to intimidate decent people who never had culpable intentions. And to inflict punishments without crimes.

By showing that Kafka was a realist, Black’s misfortune may improve the nation: The more Americans learn about their government’s abuse of criminal law for capricious bullying, the more likely they are to recoil in a libertarian direction and put Leviathan on a short leash.

Huma Abedin’s Brotherhood Ties Are Not Just a Family Affair

By Andrew C. McCarthy
July 27, 2012

Senator John McCain’s claim that concerns about Huma Abedin (pictured above) are a smear based on “a few unspecified and unsubstantiated associations” proves more embarrassing by the day. In fact, to the extent it addressed Ms. Abedin, the letter sent to the State Department’s inspector general by five House conservatives actually understated the case.

The letter averred that Abedin “has three family members — her late father, her mother and her brother — connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations.” It turns out, however, that Abedin herself is directly connected to Abdullah Omar Naseef, a major Muslim Brotherhood figure involved in the financing of al-Qaeda. Abedin worked for a number of years at the Institute for Muslim Minority Affairs as assistant editor of its journal. The IMMA was founded by Naseef, who remained active in it for decades, overlapping for several years with Abedin. Naseef was also secretary general of the Muslim World League in Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most significant Muslim Brotherhood organization in the world. In that connection, he founded the Rabita Trust, which is formally designated as a foreign terrorist organization under American law due to its support of al-Qaeda.

You ought to be able to stop right there.

A person is not required to have done anything wrong to be denied a high-ranking government position, or more immediately, the security clearance allowing access to classified information that is necessary to function in such a job. There simply need be associations, allegiances, or interests that establish a potential conflict of interest.

Government jobs and access to the nation’s secrets are privileges, not rights. That is why the potential conflict needn’t stem from one’s own associations with hostile foreign countries, organizations, or persons. Vicarious associations, such as one’s parents’ connections to troublesome persons and organizations, are sufficient to create a potential conflict.

In this instance, however, before you even start probing the extensive, disturbing Brotherhood ties of her family members, Huma Abedin should have been ineligible for any significant government position based on her own personal and longstanding connection to Naseef’s organization.

Specifically, Ms. Abedeen was affiliated with the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, where she was assistant editor of the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. The journal was the IMMA’s raison d’etre. Abedin held the position of assistant editor from 1996 through 2008 — from when she began working as an intern in the Clinton White House until shortly before she took her current position as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff.

The IMMA was founded in the late 1970s by Abdullah Omar Naseef, who was then the vice president of the prestigious King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. The IMMA’s chief product was to be its journal. For the important position of managing editor, Naseef recruited his fellow academic Zyed Abedin, who had been a visiting professor at the university in the early 1970s.
To join the IMMA, Dr. Abedin moved his family, including infant daughter Huma (born in 1976), to Saudi Arabia from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Zyed’s wife, Saleha Mahmood Abedin (Huma’s mother), is also an academic and worked for the journal from its inception. She would eventually take it over after her husband died in 1993, and she remains its editor to this day. Huma Abedin’s brother Hassan, another academic, is an associate editor at the journal.

The journal began publishing in 1979. For its initial edition, Abdullah Omar Naseef — identified in the masthead as “Chairman, Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs” — penned a brief introduction relating the IMMA’s vision for the journal. Zyed Abedin appeared as managing editor in the journal’s second edition in 1979, proclaiming in a short introduction his “deep appreciation to H.E. Dr. Abdullah O. Naseef, President, King Abdulaziz University, for his continued guidance, support, and encouragement.” (I am indebted to the Center for Security Policy, which obtained some copies of the journal, going back many years.)

Not long after the journal started, Naseef became the secretary general of the Muslim World League, the Saudi-financed global propagation enterprise by which the Muslim Brotherhood’s virulently anti-Western brand of Islamist ideology is seeded throughout the world, very much including in the United States.

We are not talking here about some random imam in the dizzying alphabet soup of Islamist entities. In the pantheon of Islamic supremacism, there are few positions more critical than secretary general of the Muslim World League. In fact, one of the MWL’s founders was Sa’id Ramadan, the right-hand and son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna, the Brotherhood’s legendary founder.

The MWL manages the “civilization jihad” — the Brotherhood’s commitment to destroy the West from within, and to “conquer” it by sharia proselytism (or dawa), as Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s top sharia jurist, puts it.

Nevertheless, the MWL has a long history of deep involvement in violent jihad as well.

It was under MWL auspices in 1988 that Naseef created a “charity” called the Rabita Trust. The scare-quotes around “charity” are intentional. To direct the Rabita Trust, Naseef selected Wael Hamza Jalaidan. A few years earlier, Jalaidan had joined with Osama bin Laden to form al-Qaeda.
This would surprise you only if you waste your time listening to John McCain, Version 2012 — as opposed to John McCain, Version 2011, who professed himself “unalterably opposed” to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Under the Brotherhood’s interpretation of sharia, which is explained in such works as Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, all Muslims are supposed to donate a portion of their income. This obligation, known as zakat, is usually referred to as “charity” by Islamists and their Western pom-pom waivers. But it is not charity; it is fortification of the ummah – the notional global community of Muslims.

As Reliance instructs, zakat can only be given to Muslims, and one-eighth of it is supposed to be donated to “those fighting for Allah, meaning people engaged in Islamic military operations for whom no salary has been allotted in the army roster.” Remember that the next time you hear the ubiquitous claim that Muslim charities are being misused as “fronts” for terrorism. This is not a “misuse” and they are not “fronts.” Under sharia, the streaming of donations to violent jihadists is quite intentional.

A month after the 9/11 attacks, Naseef’s Rabitah Trust was formally designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States government. Ultimately, branches of the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and the International Islamic Relief Organization – other “charities” with roots in the MWL — were also designated as foreign terrorist organizations under federal law. This, too, should have not been a surprise. In 2003, in connection with a terrorism prosecution in Chicago, the Justice Department proffered that Osama bin Laden had told his aide Jamal al-Fadl that the Muslim World League was one of al-Qaeda’s three top funding sources. (Fadl later renounced al-Qaeda and cooperated with federal prosecutors.)

Throughout the time that he ran the MWL and the Rabita Trust, Naseef kept his hand in at the IMMA. In fact, he continued to be listed on the masthead as a member of the “advisory editorial board” at the IMMA’s journal until 2003. We might hazard a guess why his name disappeared after that: in 2004, he was named as a defendant in the civil case brought by victims of the 9/11 atrocities. (In 2010, a federal court dropped him from the suit — not because he was found uninvolved, but because a judge reasoned the American court lacked personal jurisdiction over him.)

Huma Abedin was affiliated with the IMMA’s journal for a dozen years, from 1996 through 2008. She overlapped with its founder, Naseef, for at least seven years — it could be more, but I am assuming for argument’s sake that Naseef had no further involvement in his institute once his name was removed from the masthead.

The case against Ms. Abedin’s suitability for a high-level position with access to the nation’s secrets gets much worse if you add in her family ties.

To summarize what I’ve already outlined here at Ordered Liberty: her parents were recruited by Naseef to head up the IMMA; her mother is an active member of Muslim Brotherhood organizations — including the Muslim Sisterhood and two entities that are part of Sheikh Qaradawi’s Union of Good, another designated terrorist organization; there is persuasive evidence that her father was a member of the Brotherhood — e.g., the intimate tie to Naseef and his widow’s membership in the Muslim Sisterhood (which is substantially comprised of wives and female relatives of prominent Muslim Brothers); her mother is a tireless advocate of sharia law as preached by Qaradawi and the Brotherhood; and her brother, who is also affiliated with the IMMA’s journal, was a fellow at an Islamist institute (the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies) on whose board sat both Naseef and Qaradawi.

Nevertheless, the family ties to the Brotherhood only further elucidate what is already patent: Huma Abedin’s connection to Abdullah Omar Naseef, by itself, would have been more than enough justification to deny her a security clearance. That would have made it inconceivable that she could serve as deputy chief of staff to the secretary of state.

Ms. Abedin has very disturbing connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. Though she is not a policymaker, she is an important adviser, and during her three-year tenure, federal government policy has radically shifted in the Brotherhood’s favor, to the point that the Obama administration is not only embracing the previously shunned Brotherhood but issuing visas to members of formally designated terrorist organizations.

The question is not whether the five House conservatives were off-base in asking for an investigation into ties between administration officials and Islamist organizations. The question is why the other 430 members of the House haven’t joined them — and why John McCain, John Boehner, and other Republican establishment luminaries are championing the Muslim Brotherhood’s side of the dispute.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Don't cross the forces of tolerance

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
July 27, 2012

To modify Lord Acton, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, but aldermanic power corrupts all der more manically. Proco "Joe" Moreno is Alderman of the First Ward of Chicago, and last week, in a city with an Aurora-size body count every weekend, his priority was to take the municipal tire-iron to the owners of a chain of fast-food restaurants. "Because of this man's ignorance," said Alderman Moreno, "I will now be denying Chick-fil-A's permit to open a restaurant in the First Ward."

"This man's ignorance"? You mean, of the City of Chicago permit process? Zoning regulations? Health and safety ordinances? No, Alderman Moreno means "this man's ignorance" of the approved position on same-sex marriage. "This man" is Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, and a few days earlier he had remarked that "we are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives" – which last part suggests he is as antipathetic to no-fault divorce and other heterosexual assaults on matrimony as he is to more recent novelties such as gay marriage. But no matter. Alderman Moreno does not allege that Chick-fil-A discriminates in its hiring practices or in its customer service. Nor does he argue that business owners should not be entitled to hold opinions: The Muppets, for example, have reacted to Mr. Cathy's observations by announcing that they're severing all ties with Chick-fil-A. Did you know that the Muppet Corporation has a position on gay marriage?
Well, they do. But Miss Piggy and the Swedish Chef would be permitted to open a business in the First Ward of Chicago because their opinion on gay marriage happens to coincide with Alderman Moreno's. It's his ward, you just live in it. When it comes to lunch options, he's the chicken supremo, and don't you forget it.

The city's mayor, Rahm Emanuel, agrees with the Alderman: Chick-fil-A does not represent "Chicago values" – which is true if by "Chicago values" you mean machine politics, AIDS-conspiracy-peddling pastors and industrial-scale black youth homicide rates. But, before he was mayor, Rahm Emanuel was President Obama's chief of staff. Until the president's recent "evolution," the Obama administration held the same position on gay marriage as Chick-fil-A. Would Alderman Moreno have denied Barack Obama the right to open a chicken restaurant in the First Ward? Did Rahm Emanuel quit the Obama administration on principle? Don't be ridiculous. Mayor Emanuel is a former ballet dancer, and when it's politically necessary he can twirl on a dime.

Meanwhile, fellow mayor Tom Menino announced that Chick-fil-A would not be opening in his burg anytime soon. "If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult," said His Honor. If you've just wandered in in the middle of the column, this guy Menino isn't the mayor of Soviet Novosibirsk or Kampong Cham under the Khmer Rouge, but of Boston, Mass. Nevertheless, he shares the commissars' view that in order to operate even a modest and politically inconsequential business it is necessary to demonstrate that one is in full ideological compliance with party orthodoxy. "There is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail," Mayor Menino thundered in his letter to Mr. Cathy, "and no place for your company alongside it." No, sir. On Boston's Freedom Trail, you're free to march in ideological lockstep with the city authorities – or else. Hard as it is to believe, there was a time when Massachusetts was a beacon of liberty: the shot heard round the world, and all that. Now it fires Bureau of Compliance permit-rejection letters round the world.

Mayor Menino subsequently backed down and claimed the severed rooster's head left in Mr. Cathy's bed was all just a misunderstanding. Yet, when it comes to fighting homophobia on Boston's Freedom Trail, His Honor is highly selective. As the Boston Herald's Michael Graham pointed out, Menino is happy to hand out municipal licenses to groups whose most prominent figures call for gays to be put to death. The mayor couldn't have been more accommodating (including giving them $1.8 million of municipal land) of the new mosque of the Islamic Society of Boston, whose IRS returns listed as one of their seven trustees Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Like President Obama, Imam Qaradawi's position on gays is in a state of "evolution": He can't decide whether to burn them or toss 'em off a cliff. "Some say we should throw them from a high place," he told Al-Jazeera. "Some say we should burn them, and so on. There is disagreement ... . The important thing is to treat this act as a crime." Unlike the deplorable Mr. Cathy, Imam Qaradawi is admirably open-minded: There are so many ways to kill homosexuals, why restrict yourself to just one? In Mayor Menino's Boston, if you take the same view of marriage as President Obama did from 2009 to 2012, he'll run your homophobic ass out of town. But, if you want to toss those godless sodomites off the John Hancock Tower, he'll officiate at your ribbon-cutting ceremony.

This inconsistency is very telling. The forces of "tolerance" and "diversity" are ever more intolerant of anything less than total ideological homogeneity. Earlier this year, the Susan G. Komen Foundation – the group that gave us those pink "awareness raising" ribbons for breast cancer – decided to end its funding of Planned Parenthood on the grounds that, whatever its other charms, Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with curing breast cancer. Within hours, the Komen Foundation's Nancy Brinker had been jumped by her fellow liberals and was strapped to a chair under a light bulb in the basement with her head clamped between two mammogram plates until she recanted. A few weeks back, Mark Regnerus, a sociology professor who "says he's never voted for a Republican presidential candidate," published a paper in the journal Social Science Research whose findings, alas, did not conform to the party line on gay parenting. Immediately, the party of science set about ending his career, demanding that he be investigated for "scientific misconduct" and calling on mainstream TV and radio networks to ban him from their airwaves.

As an exercise in sheer political muscle, it's impressive. But, if you're a feminist or a gay or any of the other house pets in the Democratic menagerie, you might want to look at Rahm Emanuel's pirouette, and Menino's coziness with Islamic homophobia. These guys are about power, and right now your cause happens to coincide with their political advantage. But political winds shift. Once upon a time, Massachusetts burned witches. Now it grills chicken-sandwich homophobes. One day it'll be something else. Already in Europe, in previously gay-friendly cities like Amsterdam, demographically surging Muslim populations have muted Leftie politicians' commitment to gay rights, feminism and much else. It's easy to cheer on the thugs when they're thuggish in your name. What happens when Emanuel's political needs change?

Americans talk more about liberty than citizens of other Western nations, but, underneath the rhetorical swagger, liberty bleeds. When Mayor Menino and Alderman Moreno openly threaten to deny business licenses because of ideological apostasy, they're declaring their unfitness for public office. It's not about marriage, it's not about gays, it's about a basic understanding that a free society requires a decent respect for a wide range of opinion without penalty by the state. In Menino's Boston, the Freedom Trail is heavy on the Trail, way too light on the Freedom.


‘Military-Style Weapons’

Function, not cosmetics, should govern gun policy.

By John R. Lott Jr.
July 27, 2012

Semiautomatic AK-47 variant designed for civilian use

"AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not on the streets of our cities,” President Obama told the National Urban League on Wednesday. After the deadly attack in Colorado last Friday, the president’s concern is understandable. However, even — or perhaps especially — at such a time, distinctions need to be made.

The police in Aurora, Colo., reported that the killer used a Smith & Wesson M&P 15. This weapon bears a cosmetic resemblance to the M-16, which has been used by the U.S. military since the Vietnam War. The call has frequently been made that there is “no reason” for such “military-style weapons” to be available to civilians.

Yes, the M&P 15 and the AK-47 are “military-style weapons.” But the key word is “style” — they are similar to military guns in their aesthetics, not in the way they actually operate. The guns covered by the federal assault-weapons ban (which was enacted in 1994 and expired ten year later) were not the fully automatic machine guns used by the military but semi-automatic versions of those guns.

The civilian version of the AK-47 uses essentially the same sorts of bullets as deer-hunting rifles, fires at the same rapidity (one bullet per pull of the trigger), and does the same damage. The M&P 15 is similar, though it fires a much smaller bullet — .223 inches in diameter, as opposed to the .30-inch rounds used by the AK-47.

The Aurora killer’s large-capacity ammunition magazines are also misunderstood. The common perception that so-called “assault weapons” can hold larger magazines than hunting rifles is simply wrong. Any gun that can hold a magazine can hold one of any size. That is true for handguns as well as rifles. A magazine, which is basically a metal box with a spring, is also trivially easy to make and virtually impossible to stop criminals from obtaining.

Further, the guns in a couple of recent mass shootings (including the one in Aurora) have jammed because of the large magazines that were used. The reason is simple physics. Large magazines require very strong springs, but the springs cannot be too strong, or it becomes impossible to load the magazines. Over time, the springs wear out, and when a spring loses its ability to push bullets into the chamber properly, the gun jams. With large springs, even a small amount of fatigue can cause jams.
If Obama wants to campaign against semi-automatic guns based on their function, he should go after all semi-automatic guns. After all, in 1998, as an Illinois state senator, he supported just such a ban – a ban that would eliminate most of the guns in the United States.

But despite Obama’s frightening image of military weapons on America’s streets, it is pretty hard to seriously argue that a new ban on “assault weapons” would reduce crime in the United States. Even research done for the Clinton administration didn’t find that the federal assault-weapons ban reduced crime.

Indeed, banning guns on the basis of how they look, and not how they operate, shouldn’t be expected to make any difference. And there are no published academic studies by economists or criminologists that find the original federal assault-weapons ban to have reduced murder or violent crime generally. There is no evidence that the state assault-weapons bans reduced murder or violent-crime rates either.
Since the federal ban expired in September 2004, murder and overall violent-crime rates have actually fallen. In 2003, the last full year before the law expired, the U.S. murder rate was 5.7 per 100,000 people. Preliminary numbers for 2011 show that the murder rate has fallen to 4.7 per 100,000 people.

In fact, murder rates fell immediately after September 2004, and they fell more in the states without assault-weapons bans than in the states with them.

Nevertheless, the fears at the time were significant. An Associated Press headline warned, “Gun shops and police officers brace for end of assault weapons ban.” It was even part of the presidential campaign that year: “Kerry blasts lapse of assault weapons ban.” An Internet search turned up more than 560 news stories in the first two weeks of September 2004 that expressed fear about ending the ban. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fact that murder and other violent crime declined after the ban ended was hardly covered in the media.

If we finally want to deal seriously with multiple-victim public shootings, it is about time that we acknowledge a common feature of these attacks: With just a single exception, the attack in Tucson last year, every public shooting in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed since at least 1950 has occurred in a place where citizens are not allowed to carry their own firearms. The Cinemark movie theater in Aurora, like others run by the chain around the country, displayed warning signs that it was prohibited to carry guns into the theater.

So President Obama wants to keep guns like the AK-47 “in the hands of soldiers.” But these are not military weapons. No self-respecting military in the world would use them, and it is time for Obama to stop scaring the American people.

John R. Lott Jr. is a contributor. He is an economist and the author of More Guns, Less Crime, published in a greatly expanded third edition by the University of Chicago Press (2010).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Syria's chemical weapons arsenal

By Melanie Phillips
The Daily Mail
25 July 2012

Syrian General Ali Abdullah Ayub, right, is pictured meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus (Getty Images)

There is a degree of panic, and rightly so, over whether the Syrian tyrant Basher al Assad will use chemical weapons against either his own people or foreign attackers. His regime has this week threatened to do the latter, thus finally confirming what was long suspected but never openly admitted, that Syria possesses chemical weapons. It is believed to have mustard gas as well as nerve agents such as tabun, sarin and VX. The fear is either that the Assad regime uses them or that they fall into the hands of Hezbollah, al Qaeda or other Islamic terrorist groups. Either prospect is utterly nightmarish. Even Russia says it has told Syria it is unacceptable to threaten to use them.

In the last few days, this has been much discussed. What has not been raised, however, is the question of how Syria managed to develop such a chemical weapons stockpile in the first place. No-one in the western media seems remotely curious about how Syria has managed to arm itself to the teeth with them beneath the radar of international scrutiny.

Dr Danny Shoham, at the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, is an expert in chemical and biological warfare. In a Middle East Quarterly article in 2002, Guile, Gas and Germs: Syria's Ultimate Weapons, he set out the extraordinary history of Syria’s chemical weapons programme.

It first received chemical weapons from Egypt, he says, as far back as 1973. By the late eighties, it was saying it possessed an ‘answer to Israel’s nuclear threat’; people who read between the lines understood this meant Syria now possessed non-conventional weapons. In 1992, Syria refused to commit itself to the elimination of chemical weapons. From the 1970s onwards, wrote Shoham, Syria covertly developed a chemical weapons programme, aided by a wide variety of European and Asian suppliers including the Soviet Union, West Germany and middlemen and brokers located in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Britain, and Austria.

Shoham concluded:

‘Syria now possesses the most formidable CBW capabilities of any Arab state. Its arsenal probably even exceeds that of Iran in quantity and quality. Yet in building it from scratch, under the rule of Hafiz al-Asad, Syria has always managed to stay just outside the spotlight of international scrutiny. It did so by diffusing its efforts, and by playing its political cards with supreme skill—entering (and exiting) the Arab-Israeli "peace process" at just the right times, joining the Kuwait war coalition, cutting back at the last moment on its support for Kurdish separatism in Turkey, and so on. The West has always had some reason not to include Syria on its blackest list. Other regional problems have also drawn attention away from Syria. The United States is still preoccupied with Iraq and Iran, alongside which Syria appears benign.

But at this moment in time, it is a fact: Syria has more destructive capabilities than either of them. The West is often accused of a double standard—of tolerating Israel's possession of WMD, while preventing those same weapons from coming into the hands of Arabs or Muslims. But if there is such a double standard, then how does one explain the West's silence, if not complicity, in the building of Syria's CBW capabilities? A simple explanation would be to say that Syria outwitted the world. But that explanation may be too simple. Many parties profited from the Syrian build-up, and foreign strategists thought that a strong Syrian deterrent might give Hafiz al-Asad the confidence to make peace.'

That, however, was back in 2002. In 2003 the US, Britain and others went to war in Iraq to make the world safe from Saddam Hussein and his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Ever since, however, we have been told that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the proof of that is that none was ever found – surely one of the most profoundly illogical and imbecilic formulations ever to have fallen from human lips.

At the time, however, there were a number of reports that enormous truck movements across the border from Iraq into Syria suggested that some of these WMD had been moved there. Saddam’s Air Vice-Marshal Georges Sada, whom I interviewed, said he was absolutely certain that WMD had been moved from Iraq to Syria. All of this was however brushed aside for, as the bien pensant world has never stopped intoning with positively religious fervour, ‘we were taken to war in Iraq on a lie’.

But now we know that Syria possesses an arsenal of chemical weapons. So could any of this have come from Saddam’s Iraq, just as it was transferred from Egypt two decades previously?

In a more recent paper published in 2006 in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence , An Antithesis on the Fate of Iraq’s Chemical and Biological Weapons, Dr Shoham wrote that the two official reports – Duelfer and Carnegie in 2004 – that supposedly exonerated Saddam of still having WMD by the outbreak of war ignored much information that indicated the smuggling of chemical and biological weapons from Iraq into Syria. Although the most knowledgeable and experienced individuals tracking Iraq’s WMD were members of UNSCOM, they were largely excluded by the US intelligence community. Ill-trained soldiers would go to a site, find something suspicious, return 48 hours later and find it had disappeared.

In October 2003, the US intelligence community publicly pointed for the first time to transfers of WMD from Iraq to Syria. The Director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, James Clapper, said it linked the disappearance of Iraqi WMD with the huge number of Iraqi trucks entering Syria before and during the US invasion; based on satellite imagery, it assessed that these trucks contained missiles and WMD components. Shipments to Syria were supervised by Saddam’s most loyal intelligence agents. Once the shipments were made, these agents would leave and the regular border guards resumed their posts.

Moreover, captured Iraqi documents record that the Russian ‘spetsnaz’ moved many of Saddam’s weapons and related goods, including chemicals used to make chemical weapons plus missile components and MIG jet parts, out of Iraq and into Syria in the weeks before the 2003 invasion.

In 2004 Nizar Najoef, a Syrian journalist who defected from Syria to Europe, claimed he had received information from contacts in Syrian intelligence that:

  • Tunnels dug under al Baida near Hama in northern Syria were an integral part of an underground factory, built by the North Koreans, for producing Syrian Scud missiles. Iraqi chemical weapons and long range missiles were stored there;
  • Vital parts of Iraq’s WMD were stored in the village of Tal Snan, north of Salamija where there was a big Syrian air force camp;
  • Iraqi WMD was also stored in the city of Sjinsjar on Syria’s border with Lebanon.

Shoham concluded:

‘Apparently, then, the prevailing perception of the “failure” to find Iraq’s CBW arsenal ought to be rethought...Strategically, Iraq’s enduring arsenal may affect Syria’s CBW capabilities, provided that the transfer did in fact take place...’

Might some of Basher al Assad’s chemical (and possibly biological) arsenal have Saddam Hussein’s name on it?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Huma Abedin’s Muslim Brotherhood Ties

Michele Bachmann has every right to ask questions.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
July 25, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton receives a note from her aide Huma Abedin as she testifies about the State Department's fiscal year 2012 budget during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 10, 2011. (Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images)

Despite mounting evidence of close ties between the Muslim Brotherhood and Huma Abedin, Secretary of State Clinton’s close aide, Republican congressional leaders — particularly Senator John McCain and House Speaker John Boehner — continue to target their ire not at the State Department but at Representative Michele Bachmann.

Representative Bachmann is one of five House conservatives who have raised concerns about Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of our government. Glenn Beck reported Tuesday that GOP leadership is trying to extort an apology out of Bachmann by threatening to boot her from the House Intelligence Committee if she fails to submit.

That got me to wondering: Any chance Speaker Boehner might take just a couple of minutes out of his busy jihad against Bachmann to focus on how the State Department — during Ms. Abedin’s tenure — has cozied up to Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief sharia jurist?

Sheikh Qaradawi is a promoter of jihadist terror. His fatwas endorse terrorist attacks against American personnel in Iraq as well as suicide bombing — by both men and women — against Israel. He is a leading supporter of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch. He also runs an umbrella organization called the Union for Good (sometimes referred to as the “Union of Good”), which is formally designated a terrorist organization under American law. The Union for Good was behind the “Peace Flotilla” that attempted to break our ally Israel’s blockade of the terrorist organization Hamas (the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch) in 2010.

That’s rather interesting — at least to me, though apparently not to Speaker Boehner — because Huma Abedin’s mother, Saleha, who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s female division (the “Muslim Sisterhood”), is a major figure in not one but two Union for Good components. The first is the International Islamic Council for Dawa and Relief (IICDR). It is banned in Israel for supporting Hamas under the auspices of the Union for Good. Then there’s the International Islamic Committee for Woman and Child (IICWC) — an organization that Dr. Saleha Abedin has long headed. Dr. Abedin’s IICWC describes itself as part of the IICDR. And wouldn’t you know it, the IICWC charter was written by none other than . . . Sheikh Qaradawi, in conjunction with several self-proclaimed members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In McCainWorld, these are what are known as “a few unspecified and unsubstantiated associations.” But I digress. Clearly, these significant Muslim Brotherhood connections are of scant interest to Speaker Boehner, who has decided the problem is not the Brotherhood connections but the people who are shedding light on the Brotherhood connections. Nevertheless, since Boehner purports to be all about cracking down on wasteful government spending, at least when he’s not signing off on deals to extend President Obama’s credit card by another trillion or three, I thought I might ask whether the State Department’s Fulbright Scholar Program aroused his curiosity ever so slightly.

Fulbright, by its own account, is “the government’s flagship program in international educational exchange,” promoting “mutual understanding” between the U.S. and other countries. In the 2010–2011 academic year — the year of the Union for Good’s “Freedom Flotilla,” if you need a time marker — one Fulbright scholarship was awarded to a lucky chemistry student from Qatar. Her name is Siham al-Qaradawi, and she just happens to be the daughter of Sheikh Qaradawi.

Now, besides despising America and having lots of global academic connections (at least in countries where he’s not banned), the sheikh happens to be a very wealthy man — the sharia-advisory business can be very profitable. And while the sheikh’s daughter is said to be an exceptional chemist, the world is full of exceptional chemists. How is it that Qaradawi’s daughter gets the State Department prize? I’m just wondering, and wondering if Speaker Boehner is wondering.

Oh, one last thing. Obviously, Huma Abedin does not make Obama-administration or State Department policy. Policy is made by President Obama and Secretary Clinton, and they hardly needed Ms. Abedin in order to have pro-Islamist leanings.

Nevertheless, since Secretary Clinton’s tenure began, with Huma Abedin serving as a top adviser, the United States has aligned itself with the Muslim Brotherhood in myriad ways. To name just a few (the list is by no means exhaustive): Our government reversed the policy against formal contacts with the Brotherhood; funded Hamas; continued funding Egypt even after the Brotherhood won the elections; dropped an investigation of Brotherhood organizations in the U.S. that were previously identified as co-conspirators in the case of the Holy Land Foundation financing Hamas; hosted Brotherhood delegations in the United States; issued a visa to a member of the Islamic Group (a designated terrorist organization) and hosted him in Washington because he is part of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary coalition in Egypt; announced that Israel should go back to its indefensible 1967 borders; excluded Israel, the world’s leading target of terrorism, from a counterterrorism forum in which the State Department sought to “partner” with Islamist governments that do not regard attacks on Israel as terrorism; and pressured Egypt’s pro-American military government to surrender power to the anti-American Muslim Brotherhood parliament and president just elected by Egypt’s predominantly anti-American population.

So I was hoping maybe the speaker could explain to us: Hypothetically, if Huma Abedin did have a bias in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, and if she were actually acting on that bias to try to tilt American policy in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, what exactly would the State Department be doing differently?

— Andrew C. McCarthy is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.

The Killers Rock From Deep Within the Uncanny Valley at Webster Hall

By Andy Greenwald
July 24, 2012

The most celebrated rock band of 2012, at least critically, is Japandroids, a Canadian duo that, in the words of Chuck Klosterman during a recent B.S. Report, “synthesize[s] the best parts of classic rock and makes it the whole song.” It’s a sped-up style perfectly suited to our short attention span times, an era in which the very idea of seeding an album with “difficult” deep cuts seems almost as fossilized as the idea of an album. But Japandroids are neither the first nor the best purveyors of Fast Forward Rock. That distinction goes to the Killers, the glittery Las Vegas quartet that returned to the stage last night in New York City.

Kicking off promotion for September’s Battle Born — their first release since the last time America cared about Michael Phelps — the grandiose group downsized themselves to the relatively modest Webster Hall for an evening, the better to connect with their synth-starved fan base (and the Amex execs huddled over VIP tables in the balcony). Amid a hyperactive light show, the band emerged with “Runaways,” their strident new single. At once it was everything great about the Killers: overstuffed and overconfident, unable — or merely unwilling — to distinguish between cliché and ambition. With its big-screen bombast, “Runaways” — like “When You Were Young” before it — is already being compared to Bruce Springsteen, but this is, of course, wildly inaccurate. First, the Boss rarely gave in so completely to a hook this huge. But, really, even with its talk of “blonde hair blowing in a summer wind” and nights that “get wild,” “Runaways” sounds nothing like Bruce Springsteen. Rather, it sounds like what someone staying up all night reading about Bruce Springsteen on Wikipedia might imagine Bruce Springsteen sounds. It’s buffed up and shiny, a perfectly constructed delivery system for all the fist-pumping parts of Born in the USA you think you remember and none of the grouchy Realpolitik you’ve been trying to forget. It takes Bruce’s blue-collar heroes and airlifts them to the popped-collar fantasyland of the Strip; all of the glory, none of the daze.

And this is, I think, the key to the Killers. Their best songs exist — no, thrive — in this uncanny valley between reality and nostalgia, between ham and cheese. Like all great rock stars, these guys are totally self-made outsiders, but their success is even more surprising: They’re a bunch of goofy Mormons from the middle of the desert. The skyline they grew up in the shadow of wasn’t Manhattan — it was New York, New York. They understand gambling like the locals: Even when you’re down, success is only a roll of the dice away. So that’s probably why their set last night felt like one long hot streak. No one had to wait long for the hits — all of the songs were hits. After “Runaways,” singer Brandon Flowers — who, perhaps in a nod to turning 30, has swapped the mascara for a tight-fitting guayabera — slid effortlessly into “Somebody Told Me” and “Smile Like You Mean It,” megajams from 2004, back when wanting to be the biggest band on MTV was both attainable and desirable. Then he paused and addressed the crowd for the first time: “We’re gonna pick it up a little bit.” The band launched into the ecstatically dippy “Spaceman” and Flowers emerged from behind the blinking backward lightning bolt that had been soldered to his Casio and preened; a big fish tossing $1,000 chips away like birdseed. Critics had a field day with the mangled Esperanto chorus of “Human” — “are we human / or are we dancer?” — but no one in the audience seemed to mind, as they tossed back shots of Ron Ron juice and beat up the beat with suburban abandon. “I hope our next album is as shitty as Day & Age,” Flowers sneered at one point, his business savvy smearing into his ego.

Even the new songs sounded like radio staples. A slow jam by autobahn standards, “Miss Atomic Bomb” seemed to melt away midway through as shaggy guitarist Dave Keuning picked out the melodic threads of “Mr. Brightside.” I was ready to give the group credit for stagecraft — Seamlessly transitioning into a crowd favorite! What a way to sugar the pill! — before I realized the band was merely quoting itself. Such self-imagining is central to The Killers' story, of course. Flowers wanted to be in a band before it was clear to anyone that he could sing, and even the group’s name is a winking nod to the impossibility of authenticity: “The Killers” were a fake band playing in the background of a New Order video. (And not even good New Order! Late period, “Hey, kids, please get back on our lawn” New Order!)

There’s a line in “This Is Your Life,” a great, stomping song from the aforementioned Day & Age, that goes, “You gotta be stronger than the stories,” and this is something The Killers figured out years ago. But it seems particularly relevant now. There’s no such thing as rock radio anymore; the biggest movement in music is primarily about glow-sticks, not moving units. The Killers have always wanted to be legendary, but, more important, they never stopped believing in the legends: You know, the one about the small-town kids who conquered the world or the one about the guitar-based band that sold more than 200,000 copies in 2012. God bless ’em. They’ll keep giving the people want they want, even if it’s not clear anyone wants it anymore.

NCAA hammers Penn State, but victims still haunt program

By Mitch Albom
Detroit Free Press
July 24, 2012

Penn State football players leave the Lasch Football Buliding following a team meeting after the announcement of the NCAA penalties and sanctions on the Penn State campus in State College, Pa., July 23. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

As penalties go, it felt like a guillotine.

That was the idea.

Here is what the NCAA's ruling does to Penn State. It costs it $60 million, plus mountains of scholarships and any bowls for the next four years. It wipes out every football victory since 1998. It officially shrinks Joe Paterno's legacy and his place in college football's record books.

It also lets the NCAA feel righteous about attacking a "sports is everything" mentality -- even if that's the same mentality it spends most of its time cultivating.

Here is what the ruling does not do.

It does not remove a single victim's nightmare.

It does not give them back years of private anger, depression or embarrassed silence.

It does not aid those who pleaded for help while the horrors were happening.

And it does not give much thought to the thousands of football players who honestly and honorably busted their hides for the glory of old PSU -- with no idea what Jerry Sandusky was doing -- and who now, in the record books, never won a single game.

Nor does it make life easy for players currently on the team, partway through degrees, who have a choice of uprooting to another school or staying and playing for a shell of a program.

So it does not fix everything. But that's because there are two trains running here, on two different tracks. The one labeled "college sports" just blew its horn loudly, but the one labeled "life's tragedies" kept on going straight.

NCAA's new brand of justice

"We needed to act," Oregon State president Ed Ray, the chair of the NCAA's executive committee, told reporters in Indianapolis announcing the punishment Monday, "and we needed to act quickly and effectively."

Most people applaud that statement. The Penn State saga is so morally offensive that just speaking about it brings blood to the eyes.

But that can make it hard to see. We all desire to punish those who destroy children's innocence. We call for their heads. We want no mercy. But there's no denying the NCAA leapfrogged its usual authority here, and so swiftly and viciously swung the bat into Penn State's gut that it will be years before we know the precedents that have been set.

If it's $60 million and all victories for pedophilia, what happens, for example, if a future coaching staff member commits rape -- and it's covered up? What if coaches get involved in a drug ring? These are crimes, too. How do you determine which are more heinous? And when does the NCAA jump in -- and how fast?

Normally, this is why we have a court system. And that court system will be used plenty in the victims' future suits against Penn State. But the NCAA, heretofore charged with determining fairness and level playing fields, recruiting issues, competition infractions, has now slapped on a new badge.

What exactly is it the sheriff of now?

The collateral damage

Please understand, none of this questions the seriousness of Sandusky's actions, and the unforgivable silence that Paterno and his staff chose in their wake. And maybe that's why the NCAA itself admitted it had never done anything like this before, but was doing it now.

NCAA president Mark Emmert previously had said he had "never seen anything as egregious" as Sandusky's crimes and the subsequent cover-up. This was why he dismissed the usual, long committee and referral process and went right for the gavel. And all of us agree, the crimes were horrific. Who doesn't want fast justice?

But the perpetrators of those crimes are already gone. Paterno is dead, unable to even speak for himself. Sandusky, convicted, likely will be in prison for the rest of his life. The president, vice president and athletic director are disgraced and dismissed, and the latter two are facing perjury charges and failing to report child abuse.

Meanwhile, this tidal wave of punishment will bury the institution, but it also will drown innocent parties who bear no ties to the bad guys except the color of their sweatshirts. It is often the problem with NCAA punishment. It is particularly acute when the punishment comes for moral behavior that, as heinous as it was, arguably had no effect on victories.

The money machine

Now. The easy thing would be to shout "Hooray." Even easier would be to scream "Not enough!" Who would argue with you? No one wants to appear soft on pedophile behavior -- even though the actual number of kids molested every year that goes unreported is staggering. And the Nittany Lions playing in September with no action taken was a disturbing thought to many fans.

But the Penn State saga should not just be about the easy. For one thing, this same NCAA that is decrying how large sports have become is the very organization that makes them huge. Who do you think negotiates the billion-dollar TV deals for college sports? Who, if not the college presidents, lords over the gargantuan Final Four and the upcoming college football playoffs? I don't see the NCAA or the presidents telling networks and advertisers, "Sorry, we need to keep things in perspective. Too much money might drive some of our teams to do bad things in a desperation to win."

The NCAA never turned down a bigger spotlight. So when Emmert tells the media, "Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people," he's being, at best, naïve, and at worst, hypocritical.

But he and the other presidents have acted -- with unusual speed -- and few are sympathetic to Penn State these days.

Two trains running, two different tracks. There's football. There's life. The ruling was a giant warning to other schools, and, yes, it makes people feel that justice has been served, the way a guillotine once did.

But when it comes to the real crimes, the head already has been cut off. And the ghosts are still out there, haunting the victims.

Sadly, the NCAA can do little about that.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or His new novel, "The Time Keeper" (Hyperion, $24.99, 224 pages), will be released Sept. 4. Catch "The Mitch Albom Show" 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch "Monday Sports Albom" 7-8 p.m.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gaslight Anthem charts new territory

By ,QMI Agency
Toronto Sun
July 23, 2012

Joe Strummer said the future is unwritten. For The Gaslight Anthem, it’s Handwritten.

The New Jersey heartland punks’ fourth album marks some major turning points for the six-year-old band — and its title reflects how it was conceived and crafted, says frontman Brian Fallon.
“I really did write the lyrics in a notebook; they were all literally written by hand,” explains the 32-year-old singer-guitarist. “Around the time I started writing these songs, a friend of mine gave me a letter and a poem he wrote. And that just sparked me; what if a record was a letter sent straight to the listener? It hit me that it was the most heartfelt thing I could do.”

It’s just one example of how the critically respected band — which also includes guitarist Alex Rosamilia, bassist Alex Levine and Benny Horowitz — has become more hands-on and direct in both its music and career. With Handwritten due Tuesday July 24, there’s no better time for us to count the ways life had changed for The Gaslight Anthem lately:

1 | They wrote these songs together

On the band’s first three albums — Sink or Swim (2007), The '59 Sound (2008) and American Slang (2010) — Fallon was chief songwriter, bringing fully formed tunes to be fleshed out by the band. Not this time. “I refused to do that anymore,” he says.

“That is not how bands operate, and we’re a band. I had to say, ‘You guys need to start writing with me, or else it’s the Brian Fallon show, and that’s not what I want … Either we’re going to do this a new way or I’m out.’ ” The transition wasn’t easy — the band penned nearly 50 songs for Handwritten — but having everyone chip in paid off, he believes. “It sounds more unified. Not to say anything bad about our previous records, which I love. But at this time in my life, I need something different.”

2 | Fallon’s lyrics are more revealing

Along with asking more of his bandmates, Fallon also challenged himself, stepping out from behind the narratives and pop-culture references that usually characterize his lyrics. “There’s no guard this time — no more stories, no more characters, no more New Jersey, no more nothing. Whatever I feel in my heart is going straight on the page. Because that’s what matters to a kid who’s listening, and what matters to me when I’m singing it every night. So I’m throwing it all out there.” This transition was easy, he insists. “It’s really freeing. I feel like a weight has been lifted off. Because people compare us to other bands constantly, but my story is not anyone else’s story. So you can’t compare that to anything.”

3 | They worked with Brendan O’Brien

Speaking of comparisons: Fallon knows that hiring superstar studio whiz Brendan O’Brien — co-producer of four Bruce Springsteen albums — will only reinforce the belief that he’s got a serious Boss fixation. “Yeah, I knew people were going to say we did it because Bruce Springsteen did it; apparently I also eat eggs in the morning because Bruce does. That’s a total joke. I’m from New Jersey; I know the guy; I’m the Springsteen expert. I’ll tell you when I’m copying him and when I’m not.” Truth is, he was actually copying Pearl Jam. “I skipped class to go buy Vs. the day it came out in 1993,” he says. “This is a guy who shaped our lives when we were kids growing up listening to grunge. Plus he’s the best musician I ever met in my life.”
4 | They’re playing in the big leagues

Getting O’Brien is only one of the benefits of the band’s new major-label deal, which comes as the music biz implodes and artists trumpet DIY as the future. Fallon knows he’s swimming against the hipster tide.

His response: So what? “We’ve never cast ourselves as this DIY punk band. We’ve never championed that cause. We’ve always said we were a rock ’n’ roll band and if people like us and we get big, that’s awesome. I’m not going to say no because of what somebody thinks. And so far, we haven’t done anything we didn’t want to do.” So we won’t see him in a spangly jacket on American Idol? “No, I’m doing that next week,” he cracks. “When they brought that up, I said, ‘Spangly jacket? Yeah!’ Why wouldn’t I do that?”
For the record: That was sarcasm.

5 | They don’t care what you think

Fallon’s defiance mirrors the most crucial change to the GA’s MO: They’ve stopped paying attention to what anyone says. Fallon no longer reads interviews like this. He no longer lets his heroes influence his work. He doesn’t care how many online followers or friends he has.

“We’ve been a band for so long, and we spent so much time defining who we were and where we came from and blah blah blah,” he says. “Well, I’ve decided that my life is not going to be dictated to me by what’s going on outside of my world. I don’t do this for everybody else. I do this for the kids who listen to our band, and for us — mainly for us. This is something we’re chasing. So I’m just going to put my head down and keep moving forward.” Into the unwritten future.

New Music Review: The Gaslight Anthem's 'Handwritten' is best rock record of 2012

The Gaslight Anthem, "Handwritten." The Gaslight Anthem’s “Handwritten" is the best rock album of 2012, and it very well still could be at the top of the heap come December.
The New Jersey band isn’t doing anything it hasn’t done before. They’re still channeling Bruce Springsteen and their parents' 1960s and 1970s records through the punk rock of The Clash and the 1980s heartfelt rock ‘n’ roll of The Replacements -- a combination that yields sincere, anthemic working-class rock.

“Handwritten” is Gaslight Anthem’s Mercury Records debut after releasing two excellent albums, “The ‘59 Sound” and “American Slang,” on SideOne Dummy. The album is given major label polish by Brendan O’Brien, the studio pro who’s done records for Springsteen and Paul Westerberg as well as Lincoln’s own Matthew Sweet.

Lyrically, singer/writer Brian Fallon is telling stories set around the radio and 45s, which seem out of time in the Internet/digital download era. But they’re somehow in the right place today.

Fallon pours out his heart -- literally in his recurring references to blood, and, figuratively, to radio, where he hopes, I’m sure, some of these songs will end up. But they don’t sound calculated for airplay. Rather, they’re a natural extension of what has come before.

There’s no Celtic or Caribbean influence and far less soul influence this time around -- more of a return to 2008’s “The ‘59 Sound” than 2010’s “American Slang.”

“Handwritten” drops the needle with “45,” a fist-pumping ode to records, engines and heartbreak; sticks a grungy power ballad, “Too Much Blood,” smack in the middle of its 11 tracks; and slides off side two with the gorgeous acoustic and strings “National Anthem” that would fit on a Springsteen record.

In between are stick-in-the-ear hooks; the “oh sha la las” of “Here Come My Man"; a straight-ahead love song by a Jersey boy writing about “Mulholland Drive"; a look back with pain and regret in “Keepsake"; and the album’s gem, the ‘Mats-like “Howl,” a rockin’ meditation on what it means to grow up.

It remains to be seen whether “Handwritten” will attract the larger audience The Gaslight Anthem deserves. No matter what happens, they’ve made a fine rock record -- an increasingly rare occurrence these days. Grade: A

Reach L. Kent Wolgamott at 402-473-7244 or, or follow him on Twitter at

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why Michele Bachmann Is Right About Keith Ellison

By Robert Spencer
July 23, 2012

Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) was keynote speaker at the Muslim Youth Leadership Symposium, hosted by the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. (April 5, 2008).

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has accused Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) of having a “long record of being associated” with the Hamas-linked Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Evoking the days of McCarthyism, a common charge being leveled at Bachmann these days, Ellison responded: “I am not now, nor have I ever been, associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.” He accused Bachmann of religious bigotry:
“I think she has a very narrowly prescribed definition of who belongs and who doesn’t. And there’s a whole bloc of people she don’t like. I think she thinks that we’re evil because we don’t understand God the way she does….It’s also about marginalizing and alienating a certain group of Americans who she does not view are American enough.”
Not content with that, he accused her of petty attention-seeking:
“But you have to ask yourself, you know, why did she make this so public? Why did she seem to be seeking public attention for these allegations she was making? If she really had actionable intelligence, why wouldn’t she go to the agencies that investigate these things? I think the answer is clear that she wanted attention. That was her goal all along.”
The only problem with Ellison’s wounded-martyr stance toward Bachmann’s accusations is that what she said is true: Ellison really does have a “long record of being associated” with Hamas-linked CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood.

As long ago as 2006, Ellison’s closeness to Nihad Awad, co-founder of Hamas-linked CAIR, was a matter of public record. Awad, who notoriously said in 1994 that he was “in support of the Hamas movement,” spoke at fundraisers for Ellison, raising considerable sums for his first Congressional race. According to investigative journalist Patrick Poole, Ellison has appeared frequently at CAIR events since then, despite the fact that CAIR is an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas terror funding case — so named by the Justice Department. CAIR operatives have repeatedly refused to denounce Hamas and Hizballah as terrorist groups. Several former CAIR officials have been convicted of various crimes related to jihad terror. CAIR’s cofounder and longtime Board chairman (Omar Ahmad), as well as its chief spokesman (Ibrahim Hooper), have made Islamic supremacist statements. Its California chapter distributed posters telling Muslims not to talk to the FBI.

Poole explains that “according to Justice Department, Awad is a longtime Hamas operative. Multiple statements made by federal prosecutors identify Awad as one of the attendees at a 1993 meeting of US Muslim Brotherhood Palestine Committee leaders in Philadelphia that was wiretapped by the FBI under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant. The topic of discussion during that 1993 meeting was how to help Hamas by working in the U.S. to help sabotage the Oslo Peace Accords.” But none of that fazed Ellison.

CAIR is also linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Awad and CAIR’s cofounder, Omar Ahmad, were officials of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) before founding CAIR. A captured internal Muslim Brotherhood document lists the IAP as one of the Brotherhood’s allied groups in the U.S.
And as for the Muslim Brotherhood itself, in 2008 Ellison accepted $13,350 from the Muslim American Society (MAS) to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. What is the Muslim American Society? The Muslim Brotherhood. “In recent years, the U.S. Brotherhood operated under the name Muslim American Society, according to documents and interviews. One of the nation’s major Islamic groups, it was incorporated in Illinois in 1993 after a contentious debate among Brotherhood members.” So reported the Chicago Tribune in 2004, in an article that is now carried on the Muslim Brotherhood’s English-language website, Ikhwanweb. The Muslim American Society, according to Steven Emerson, director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, “is the de facto arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S. The agenda of the MAS is to … impose Islamic law in the U.S., to undermine U.S. counterterrorism policy.”

Weirdly, Mahdi Bray, Executive Director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, denied that MAS had funded Ellison’s hajj: “Keith Ellison is a member of Congress who knows that congressmen don’t take trips sponsored by nonprofits. That would be a breach of congressional ethics.” Bray apparently failed to check with Ellison’s office before issuing this statement, as his office issued its own statement saying: “The trip, funded by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, was fully reviewed and approved in advance by the House Ethics Committee.”

Imagine if a conservative Congressman had taken a trip that had been paid for by a Christian group that was, according to one of its own internal documents, dedicated to “eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house” so that Christian law would replace the U.S. Constitution. I expect we would hear more of an outcry than we ever heard about Ellison’s Brotherhood-funded hajj.

Ellison has also retailed the Muslim Brotherhood-invented concept of “Islamophobia,” which was cooked up in a Brotherhood think tank, the International Institute of Islamic Thought, as a weapon to intimidate Americans into being afraid to resist jihad terror and Islamic supremacism. And in March 2011 he famously began weeping during Congressman Peter King’s (R-NY) first hearings on Islamic jihad terrorism, as he read what turned about to be a false report about a Muslim who went missing on 9/11 and was suspected of terror ties until he turned out to have been killed in the jihad attacks of that day. Ellison’s crocodile tears stole the show on that day, and successfully diverted media attention from what should have been the focus of the hearing: Islamic jihad activity in the United States.

Michele Bachmann is right: Keith Ellison’s Brotherhood ties should be investigated. That he and so many others on the Left have had such a furious reaction to her mere call for an investigation is only an indication that they have something to hide. John Boehner and the rest of the Republican Congressional leadership should be defending her and joining her call for investigations into Muslim Brotherhood influence in the Government. Instead, to their shame, they have joined Ellison in throwing her to the wolves, demonstrating that mainstream Republicans are no better than mainstream Democrats in confronting the threat of Islamic supremacism. And meanwhile, the Islamic supremacists continue to advance.

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NCAA fines Penn State $60 million, institutes four-year postseason ban
July 23, 2012

Penn State president Graham Spanier, left, and athletic director Tim Curley, center, celebrated coach Joe Paterno's 409th win.

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the NCAA has levied a $60 million fine on Penn State University on Monday as well as banning the team from the postseason for four years.

Along with the fine and postseason ban, the school must vacate all wins from 1998-2011, and scholarships will drop from 25 to 15 per year. The school will have a cap on scholarships at 65.

The school will be on probation for five years. The NCAA will have the power to continue investigating and impose further sanctions on individuals during that time.

“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said at Monday’s press conference.

Emmert said the fine is the amount of one year of the football program’s gross revenue. The money from the fine will go to “support programs around the nation that serve the victims of child sexual abuse and seek to prevent such abuse from happening.”

Penn State was not handed the “death penalty,” which would have suspended play for one season. Emmert declined to say he considered these penalties worse than the death penalty.

“If the death penalty were to be opposed… the executive committee and I would not have agreed to just the death penalty,” Emmert said. “It would have been other penalties as well.”

Penn State signed a consent decree with the NCAA and will not appeal the penalties.

With the vacated wins, former head coach Joe Paterno is no longer the most winningest head coach in NCAA football history. Of his 409 victories, Paterno has been stripped of 111 wins, putting him 12th on the all-time list with 298.

Bobby Bowden now becomes the Division-I leader while Eddie Robinson reclaims his position as the most winningest head coach in NCAA history.

The vacated wins date back to 1998, when the Freeh report shows leaders at Penn State were notified of Sandusky’s actions. The Freeh report states that leaders–including the president, vice president, athletic director and head football coach–did not act appropriately when they were alerted of possible child sexual abuse with the assistant head coach. Emmert referred to those violations as “perverse and unconscionable” on Monday.

In an effort to soften the penalties for current Penn State student-athletes, the NCAA is considering allowing a scholarship waiver for schools accepting future Penn State transfers. Also, the fine money cannot be drawn from non-revenue sports and will be paid in $12 million installments over a five-year period to an endowment for programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims.

“It is important to know we are entering a new chapter at Penn State and making necessary changes,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement. “We must create a culture in which people are not afraid to speak up, management is not compartmentalized, all are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical standards, and the operating philosophy is open, collegial, and collaborative.”

The Big Ten plans to announce its penalties for Penn State in a press conference at 11 a.m.

We Are Alive

Bruce Springsteen at sixty-two.

The New Yorker
July 30, 2012

Nearly half a century ago, when Elvis Presley was filming “Harum Scarum” and “Help!” was on the charts, a moody, father-haunted, yet uncannily charismatic Shore rat named Bruce Springsteen was building a small reputation around central Jersey as a guitar player in a band called the Castiles. The band was named for the lead singer’s favorite brand of soap. Its members were from Freehold, an industrial town half an hour inland from the boardwalk carnies and the sea. The Castiles performed at sweet sixteens and Elks-club dances, at drive-in movie theatres and ShopRite ribbon cuttings, at a mobile-home park in Farmingdale, at the Matawan-Keyport Rollerdrome. Once, they played for the patients at a psychiatric hospital, in Marlboro. A gentleman dressed in a suit came to the stage and, in an introductory speech that ran some twenty minutes, declared the Castiles “greater than the Beatles.” At which point a doctor intervened and escorted him back to his room.

One spring afternoon in 1966, the Castiles, with dreams of making it big and making it quick, drove to a studio at the Brick Mall Shopping Center and recorded two original songs, “Baby I” and “That’s What You Get.” Mainly, though, they played an array of covers, from Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” to the G-Clefs’ “I Understand.” They did Sonny and Cher, Sam and Dave, Don & Juan, the Who, the Kinks, the Stones, the Animals.

Many musicians in their grizzled late maturity have an uncertain grasp on their earliest days on the bandstand. (Not a few have an uncertain grasp on last week.) But Springsteen, who is sixty-two and among the most durable musicians since B. B. King and Om Kalthoum, seems to remember every gaudy night, from the moment, in 1957, when he and his mother watched Elvis on “The Ed Sullivan Show”—“I looked at her and I said, ‘I wanna be just . . . like . . . that’ ”—to his most recent exploits as a multimillionaire populist rock star crowd-surfing the adoring masses. These days, he is the subject of historical exhibitions; at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, in Cleveland, and at the National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, his lyric sheets, old cars, and faded performing duds have been displayed like the snippets of the Shroud. But, unlike the Rolling Stones, say, who have not written a great song since the disco era and come together only to pad their fortunes as their own cover band, Springsteen refuses to be a mercenary curator of his past. He continues to evolve as an artist, filling one spiral notebook after another with ideas, quotations, questions, clippings, and, ultimately, new songs. His latest album, “Wrecking Ball,” is a melodic indictment of the recessionary moment, of income disparity, emasculated workers, and what he calls “the distance between the American reality and the American dream.” The work is remote from his early operettas of humid summer interludes and abandon out on the Turnpike. In his desire to extend a counter-tradition of political progressivism, Springsteen quotes from Irish rebel songs, Dust Bowl ballads, Civil War tunes, and chain-gang chants.

Early this year, Springsteen was leading rehearsals for a world tour at Fort Monmouth, an Army base that was shut down last year; it had been an outpost since the First World War of military communications and intelligence, and once employed Julius Rosenberg and thousands of militarized carrier pigeons. The twelve-hundred-acre property is now a ghost town inhabited only by steel dummies meant to scare off the ubiquitous Canada geese that squirt a carpet of green across middle Jersey. Driving to the far end of the base, I reached an unlovely theatre that Springsteen and Jon Landau, his longtime manager, had rented for the rehearsals. Springsteen had performed for officers’ children at the Fort Monmouth “teen club” (dancing, no liquor) with the Castiles, forty-seven years earlier.

The atmosphere inside was purposeful but easygoing. Musicians stood onstage noodling on their instruments with the languid air of outfielders warming up in the sun. Max Weinberg, the band’s volcanic drummer, wore the sort of generous jeans favored by dads at weekend barbecues. Steve Van Zandt, Springsteen’s childhood friend and guitarist-wingman, keeps up a brutal schedule as an actor and a d.j., and he seemed weary, his eyes drooping under a piratical purple head scarf. The bass player Garry Tal-lent, the organist Charlie Giordano, and the pianist Roy Bittan horsed around on a roller-rink tune while they waited. The guitarist Nils Lofgren was on the phone, trying to figure out flights to get back to his home, in Scottsdale, for the weekend.

Springsteen arrived and greeted everyone with a quick hello and his distinctive cackle. He is five-nine and walks with a rolling rodeo gait. When he takes in something new—a visitor, a thought, a passing car in the distance—his eyes narrow, as if in hard light, and his lower jaw protrudes a bit. His hairline is receding, and, if one had to guess, he has, over the years, in the face of high-def scrutiny and the fight against time, enjoined the expensive attentions of cosmetic and dental practitioners. He remains dispiritingly handsome, preposterously fit. (“He has practically the same waist size as when I met him, when we were fifteen,” says Steve Van Zandt, who does not.) Some of this has to do with his abstemious inclinations; Van Zandt says Springsteen is “the only guy I know—I think the only guy I know at all—who never did drugs.” He’s followed more or less the same exercise regimen for thirty years: he runs on a treadmill and, with a trainer, works out with weights. It has paid off. His muscle tone approximates a fresh tennis ball. And yet, with the tour a month away, he laughed at the idea that he was ready. “I’m not remotely close,” he said, slumping into a chair twenty rows back from the stage.

Preparing for a tour is a process far more involved than middle-aged workouts designed to stave off premature infarction. “Think of it this way: performing is like sprinting while screaming for three, four minutes,” Springsteen said. “And then you do it again. And then you do it again. And then you walk a little, shouting the whole time. And so on. Your adrenaline quickly overwhelms your conditioning.” His style in performance is joyously demonic, as close as a white man of Social Security age can get to James Brown circa 1962 without risking a herniated disk or a shattered pelvis.
Concerts last in excess of three hours, without a break, and he is constantly dancing, screaming, imploring, mugging, kicking, windmilling, crowd-surfing, climbing a drum riser, jumping on an amp, leaping off Roy Bittan’s piano. The display of energy and its depletion is part of what is expected of him. In return, the crowd participates in a display of communal adoration. Like pilgrims at a gigantic outdoor Mass—think John Paul II at Gdansk—they know their role: when to raise their hands, when to sway, when to sing, when to scream his name, when to bear his body, hand over hand, from the rear of the orchestra to the stage. (Van Zandt: “Messianic? Is that the word you’re looking for?”)

Springsteen came to glory in the age of Letterman, but he is anti-ironical. Keith Richards works at seeming not to give a shit. He makes you wonder if it is harder to play the riffs for “Street Fighting Man” or to dangle a cigarette from his lips by a single thread of spit. Springsteen is the opposite. He is all about flagrant exertion. There always comes a moment in a Springsteen concert, as there always did with James Brown, when he plays out a dumb show of the conflict between exhaustion and the urge to go on. Brown enacted it by dropping to his knees, awash in sweat, unable to dance another step, yet shooing away his cape bearer, the aide who would enrobe him and hustle him offstage. Springsteen slumps against the mike stand, spent and still, then, regaining consciousness, shakes off the sweat—No! It can’t be!—and calls on the band for another verse, another song. He leaves the stage soaked, as if he had swum around the arena in his clothes while being chased by barracudas. “I want an extreme experience,” he says. He wants his audience to leave the arena, as he commands them, “with your hands hurting, your feet hurting, your back hurting, your voice sore, and your sexual organs stimulated!

So the display of exuberance is critical. “For an adult, the world is constantly trying to clamp down on itself,” he says. “Routine, responsibility, decay of institutions, corruption: this is all the world closing in. Music, when it’s really great, pries that shit back open and lets people back in, it lets light in, and air in, and energy in, and sends people home with that and sends me back to the hotel with it. People carry that with them sometimes for a very long period of time.”

The band rehearses not so much to learn how to play particular songs as to see what songs work with other songs, to figure out a basic set list (with countless alternatives) that will fill all of Springsteen’s demands: to air the new work and his latest themes; to play the expected hits for the casual fans; to work up enough surprises and rarities for fans who have seen him hundreds of times; and, especially, to pace the show from frenzy to calm and back again. In the past several years, Springsteen has been taking requests from the crowd. He has never been stumped. “You can take the band out of the bar, but you can’t take the bar out of the band,” Van Zandt says.

The E Street Band members are not Springsteen’s equals. “This is not the Beatles,” as Weinberg puts it. They are salaried musicians; in 1989, they were fired en masse. They await his call to record, to tour, to rehearse. And so when Springsteen sprang out of his chair and said, “O.K., time to work,” they straightened up and watched for his cue.

Huh . . . two . . . three . . . four.

As the anthemic opener, “We Take Care of Our Own,” washed over the empty seats, I stood at the back of the hall next to the sound engineer, John Cooper, a rangy, unflappable Hoosier, who was monitoring a vast soundboard and a series of laptops. One hard drive contains the lyrics and keys for hundreds of songs, so that when Springsteen calls for something off the cuff the song quickly appears on TelePrompters within sight of him and his bandmates. (The crutch is hardly unique—Sinatra, in late career, used a TelePrompter, and so do the Stones and many other bands.) Although more than half the show will be the same from night to night, the rest is up for grabs.

“This is about the only live music left, with a few exceptions,” Cooper said. Lip-synchers are legion. Coldplay thickens its sound with heaps of pre-taped instruments and synthesizers. The one artificial sound in Springsteen’s act is a snare-drum sound in “We Take Care of Our Own” that seemed to elude easy reproduction.

That afternoon at Fort Monmouth, Springsteen was intent on nailing “the opening four,” the first songs, which come rapid fire. The band and the crew gave particular attention to those lingering seconds between songs when the keys modulate and the guitar techs pass different instruments to the musicians. It is intricate work; the technicians have to move with the precision of a Daytona pit crew.
Before the tour officially began, in Atlanta, there were a few smaller venues to play, including the Apollo Theatre, in Harlem. There are usually more African-Americans onstage than in the seats, but Springsteen is steeped in black music, and he was especially eager to play the date in Harlem. “All of our teachers stood on those boards at the Apollo,” he said. “The essence of the way this band moves is one of soul. It’s supposed to be overwhelming. You shouldn’t be able to catch your breath. That’s what being a front man is all about—the idea of having something supple underneath you, that machine that roars and can turn on a dime.”

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