Saturday, September 29, 2012

President of the future

By Mark Steyn
September 29, 2012

One of the reasons why Barack Obama is regarded as the greatest orator of our age is that he’s always banging on about some other age yet to come — e.g., the Future! A future of whose contours he is remarkably certain and boundlessly confident: The future will belong to nations that invest in education because the children are our future, but the future will not belong to nations that do not invest in green-energy projects because solar-powered prompters are our future, and most of all the future will belong to people who look back at the Obama era and marvel that there was a courageous far-sighted man willing to take on the tough task of slowing the rise of the oceans because the future will belong to people on viable land masses. This futuristic shtick is a cheap’n’cheesy rhetorical device (I speak as the author of a book called “After America,” whose title is less futuristic than you might think) but it seems to play well with the impressionable Obammysoxers of the press corps.

And so it was with President Obama’s usual visionary, inspiring, historic, etc., address to the U.N. General Assembly the other day: “The future must not belong to those who bully women,” he told the world, in a reference either to Egyptian clitoridectomists or the Republican party, according to taste. “The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians,” he added. You mean those Muslim guys? Whoa, don’t jump to conclusions. “The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam,” he declared, introducing to U.S. jurisprudence the novel concept of being able to slander a bloke who’s been dead for getting on a millennium and a half now. If I understand correctly the cumulative vision of the speech, the future will belong to gay feminist ecumenical Muslims. You can take that to the bank. But make no mistake, as he would say, and in fact did: “We face a choice between the promise of the future or the prisons of the past, and we cannot afford to get it wrong.” Because if we do, we could spend our future living in the prisons of the past, which we forgot to demolish in the present for breach of wheelchair-accessibility codes.

And the crowd went wild! Well, okay, they didn’t. They’re transnational bureaucrats on expense accounts, so they clapped politely, and then nipped out for a bathroom break before the president of Serbia. But, if I’d been one of the globetrotting bigwigs fortunate enough to get an invite — the prime minister of Azerbaijan, say, or the deputy tourism minister of Equatorial Guinea — I would have responded: Well, maybe the future will belong to those who empower women and don’t diss Mohammed. But maybe it’ll belong to albino midgets who wear pink thongs. Who knows? Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see. But one thing we can say for certain is that the future will not belong to broke losers. You’re the brokest guy in the room, you’re the president of Brokistan. You’ve got to pay back $16 trillion just to get back to having nothing, nada, zip. Who the hell are you to tell us who the future’s going to belong to?

The excitable lads around the globe torching American embassies with impunity seem to have figured this out, even if the striped-pants crowd at Turtle Bay are too polite to mention it.  Obama is not the president of the Future. He is president right now, and one occasionally wishes the great visionary would take his eye off the far-distant horizon where educated women and fire-breathing imams frolic and gambol side by side around their Chevy Volts, to focus on the humdrum present where the rest of us have the misfortune to live.

In the America over which Barack Obama has the tedious chore of actually presiding, second-quarter GDP growth was revised down from 1.7 percent to 1.3 percent — or, in layman’s terms, from “barely detectable” to “comatose.” Orders of durable goods fell by 13.2 percent — or, as Obama would say, the future must not belong to people who own household appliances. Growth of capital stock (which basically measures investment in new equipment and software — or, as Obama would put it, investment in “the future”) is at its lowest since records began. There are 261,000 fewer payroll jobs than when Obama took office — in a nation where (officially) 100,000 immigrants arrive every month. A few weeks ago, an analysis of government employment data by the nation’s oldest outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, discovered that, of the 4,319,000 new American jobs created since January 2010, 2,998,000 — or about 70 percent — went to people aged 55 or older. This is a remarkable statistic, even in a land of 31-year-old schoolgirls like Sandra Fluke. You’d almost begin to get the vague, unsettling feeling that the future does not belong to Americans aged 54 and younger.
No doubt living in Obama’s future will be peachy. But in the meantime we have to live in his present — the one he’s nominally in charge of, the only one available. It is tempting to compare him to a great magician, artfully producing flags of many lands from his breast pocket while misdirecting the audience. In fact, Obama’s misdirection isn’t even that good: In essence, he’s promising to perform spectacular tricks at some unspecified point in the future even as he stands on stage with an empty top hat, and the girl in spangled tights he sawed in half is bleeding all over the floor.
Two weeks ago in this space, I wrote that, in striking contrast to the official line, the Benghazi slaughter was not a spontaneous movie review that got a little out of hand but a catastrophic security breach and humiliating fiasco for the United States. Even more extraordinary, on September 14, fewer than two-dozen inbred, illiterate goatherds pulled off the biggest single destruction of U.S. airpower since the Tet Offensive in 1968, breaking into Camp Bastion (an unfortunate choice of name) in Afghanistan, killing Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Raible, and blowing up a squadron’s worth of Harriers. And, even though it was the third international humiliation for the United States in as many days, it didn’t even make the papers. Because the court eunuchs at the media are too busy drooling over Obama’s appearance as what he calls “eye candy” on the couch between Barbara and Whoopi.
Eye candy is in the eye of the beholder. And to the baying mob from Tunis to Jakarta those dead Americans and al-Qaeda flags over U.S. embassies and an entire USMC air squadron reduced to charred ruins are a veritable Willie Wonka production line of eye candy. To the president, they’re just “bumps in the road” to the sunlit uplands of “the future.” Forward! Obama has lived on “the promise of the future” all his life — Most Promising Columbia Grad of 1983, Most Promising Community Organizer of 1988, Most Promising Fake Memoirist of 1995, Most Promising Presidential Candidate of 2008 . . . The rest of us, alas, have to live in the present that he has made, which is noticeably short of promise. The Chinese Politburo get it, Czar Putin in the Kremlin gets it, and even the nutters doing the “Death to the Great Satan!” dance on the streets of Cairo and Lahore get it. On November 6, we will find out whether the American people do.
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2012 Mark Steyn

Election won't prevent pension crash

By Amity Schlaes
The Orange County Register
September 29, 2012

It's a taxpayer divide. That's the takeaway since the videotape was leaked of Mitt Romney referring to the 47 percent of citizens who don't pay income taxes.
The Republican presidential nominee described a large political gap between those who pay the tax and those who don't, and those who wouldn't vote for him, "no matter what." This line was perceived as cold, and his campaign has been apologizing ever since.
But the fuss obscures a reality. The tax gap isn't the deepest divide in America. The deepest gap is the pension divide, between those few who have a guaranteed cushion in the form of defined-benefit pensions, which promise a fixed annuity at retirement, and those who don't. How the candidates address this divide, cultural as well as political, is crucial, far beyond November.
To understand the current mindset, it helps to consider the pension culture of the past. In the early 1980s, many companies, as well as governments, offered employees a defined-pension benefit when they retired. Thirty years ago, about 62 percent of American workers were covered by some kind of plan like this.
Even then, however, companies routinely siphoned off the funds' surpluses for purposes other than pensions. Pension returns themselves looked modest relative to the incredible interest rates offered in the money market. But federal law prevented workers in private plans from pouring their pension money into tax-deferred vehicles. A defined-benefit pension felt like a prison.
The power of this sentiment becomes clear when you recall what happened in January 1982, when lawmakers opened what seemed, at the time, a small window in that prison. The law changed so that private-pension employees might place cash in tax-deferred vehicles for retirement.
"A barrage of advertisements is stirring public interest in the new program of tax-deferred retirement plans, known as the individual retirement accounts, or IRAs," wrote New York Times reporter Karen Arenson. Brokerage houses couldn't answer the phones fast enough. One firm, T. Rowe Price Group Inc. of Baltimore, reported receiving 1,500 inquiries a day.
In short, Americans busted right through that prison window and made it a big door to a new heaven, that of defined-contribution pensions that you managed yourself. In January 1982, the 18-month fixed rate at Chemical Bank was 14.25 percent on a minimum investment of $250. Even teachers could get in on the bargain. At the Nassau Educators Federal Credit Union, the variable rate was 15 percent, with no minimum investment. It was no surprise that 401(k) plans and IRAs grew quickly. "Heck, we are just diversifying," the new investors told themselves. After all, they did have a fallback: the sure annuity of Social Security.
Of course, some people chose jobs with old-fashioned annuity pensions, such as teacher or fire fighter. But the defined-contribution crowd took the steady-as-you-go crowd for fools. For many years, market circumstances conspired to support their assumption. Money rates were never as high again. As it happened, 1982 also marked the beginning of the great stock-market rally, and the defined-contribution crowd eventually shifted blithely to equities.
Over time, companies got out of the defined-benefit model, and the truism that it was for government employees became true. By 2009, the last year for which data are available, only 16 percent of private-sector workers were active participants in defined-benefit plans, compared with 74 percent of public-sector workers, according to Sylvester Schieber, the author of "The Predictable Surprise," a recent book on pensions.
Today, it is the teachers who laugh and the defined-contribution crowd who feel like fools or prisoners. The high interest rates that made IRAs sizzle in the early 1980s are gone.
The snapshot stock returns that brokers and indexes get often elude individuals. Current public employees seem fairly confident they will receive those pensions, and that confidence is not lost on the rest of a shaken electorate. Everyone else covets what those police officers have. The pension check that government staffers will get is all the more attractive because Social Security, the one fallback for those without a defined-benefit plan, is expected to suffer a shortfall of trillions.
The great perversity here is that the promises of the defined-benefit plans from states and towns aren't part of the market economy. In 2010, the gap between state assets and what they owed in pensions was $757 billion. The public-pension funds can bet on high-risk investments, because if the gamble pays off, great, but if it bombs, the taxpayer – who has no defined-benefit plan – has to make up the difference anyway.
Meanwhile, Illinois has floated bonds to pay its pensions, which Schieber likens to "using your credit card to pay your mortgage."
Yet the darker the future, the stronger the denial. For all these reasons, the tension between defined-benefit folks and everyone else only grows. The IRA and 401(k) people are talking breakup, as in the Taylor Swift song: "We are never ever ever getting back together." They are angry because they believe the public-sector unions have it too easy.
The reality is that a big public-pension crash, which eventually will occur no matter who wins the election, will make clear that the government employees won't get what is promised. It will reveal the truth: We are all in the same boat fiscally and even financially. President Barack Obama's strategy is to keep up the denial until Election Day. The main hope Romney has is to showcase this reality before the election. Of course, he can't do that, if he is too busy apologizing.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Film Review: 'The Master'

Sail Away

By Anthony Lane
The New Yorker
September 17, 2012

Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a film by Paul Thomas Anderson.
Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a film by Paul Thomas Anderson.
There is nothing like a dame. That’s what the lusty sailors sang, in “South Pacific,” going nuts in paradise. The servicemen in “The Master” are in much the same place, and the same plight. The Second World War is drawing to its exhausted close, but these young Americans still seem to be doing battle with themselves, and, rather than expressing their quandary in song, they carve a woman out of sand on the beach. One of them, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), climbs onto her and can hardly tear himself away. More than once, we will see him, in flashback, gazing at her granular breasts. She may be nothing like a dame, but Freddie, equally likely to crumble and collapse, isn’t much of a man.
The tale of his dissolution, which consumes the first portion of the movie, casts a spell as bewitching, but also as controlled, as anything that the writer and director, Paul Thomas Anderson, has wrought before. (For the first time, for extra glory and precision, he is shooting in 65mm.) We see short chapters, sliced from Freddie’s time after the Navy, showing what it meant to be knocked aside, rather than swept up, in the nation’s postwar boom. Freddie becomes a photographer in a department store, making out with a model in his darkroom, where he brews a cocktail in a chemical beaker, and then, in one extraordinary passage, taking offense at a customer—a robust and portly type, who wants his picture taken—and laying into him, as though ignited by envy at such unattainable well-being. The colors here burn with the soft, civilized half-glare that we associate with the heyday of Kodachrome—a matchless example of Anderson’s period detail being driven less by fussiness than by his unfading avidity for anything that will saturate the real.
More startling still is the sudden cut to hard, unglamorous gray-greens, and the sight of Freddie hacking the heads off cabbages in a California field. We sense that he is drifting not because jobs are scarce but because no regular slot can hold him or stop him exploding from within; hence the catch-your-breath sequence that sees Freddie bursting through a dark doorway, which is framed like the final shot of John Ford’s “The Searchers,” and then sprinting and panting across the brown ridges of plowed earth, the camera travelling beside him at a pace that would have left Ford in the dust. And so the Anderson patterns, familiar to fans of “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights,” reassert themselves: elegy followed by convulsion, stasis interrupted by the chronic need for speed, nerves no sooner gathered than lost. Where, we ask ourselves, will Freddie Quell find rest?
The answer comes, as so often in this movie, on the water. Some enchanted evening, in 1950, Freddie wanders past a wharf, where a fancy yacht is moored, lit like a Christmas tree. Having nothing better in mind, he hops on board, and the ship sails off, beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, with the Stars and Stripes, at its stern, barely visible under a dying sky. Next morning, the stowaway is introduced to a fellow who describes himself, in the first of many questionable statements, as “the commander” of the vessel—and then, for good measure, as a writer, a doctor, a theoretical philosopher, and a nuclear physicist. “But, above all, I am a man,” he adds, instantly hitting the pure note of solemn, self-persuading bull. The same is true of the pose in which Freddie initially sees him: pooled in light, brow clutched, pencil in hand, one careful comma of blond hair dangling down, as if posing for the portrait of a thinker. This is Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the founder and magnetic core of the Cause—a cluster of folk who believe, among other things, that our souls, which predate the foundation of the Earth, are no more than temporary residents of our frail bodily housing. Any relation to persons living, dead, or Scientological is, of course, entirely coincidental.
Dodd warms without ado to Freddie, and you spend the rest of this fretful, elegant movie wondering why. The current that flows between them is far more pedagogic than erotic, as the title would suggest, yet the clinginess of it seems to embarrass and perplex not just the people who surround them—led by Dodd’s wife, Peggy (Amy Adams), and his son, Val (Jesse Plemons)—but the two men themselves. Their first point of contact is booze. Freddie still makes a mean hell-brew, pouring in whatever takes his fancy, including paint thinner, and Dodd develops a taste for it, and thus for the risky, id-laced flavor of Freddie’s whole spirit. They sit alone, in shadow, belowdecks. “Would you care for some informal processing?” Dodd asks, like a waiter offering cream and sugar. He is referring to the method whereby recruits to the Cause can be cleansed of whatever faults and stains continue to foul their existence—nagging Freddie about his “past failures” and calling him a “silly animal.” Freddie is told not to blink, a vein bulges and beats in his forehead, and he slaps himself hard, three times, as if trying to awake from the bad dream of being who he is, or was. The session subsides. “Close your eyes,” Dodd says.
Three things must be said about this. One, the scene picks up on a simple but potent refrain that has rung through Anderson’s work from the beginning. The first sequence, in his first feature, “Hard Eight” (1997), consists of Philip Baker Hall giving coffee and a cigarette to John C. Reilly, in a diner, and making him an offer he can’t refuse. Whether it was a scam, or a path to salvation, was left beautifully suspended, like smoke, and the same uncertainty lingers in the air of “The Master.” This leads to the second point: namely, that we are watching not a scalding exposé of a particular cult but something far more delicate. Dodd has, whatever the backdrop of nonsense behind his ideas, brought some respite and relief to Freddie, and—to judge by the mood, if not the vocabulary—we could be attending any encounter between shrink and patient, in the therapeutic wave that swelled, à la mode, through the society of that time.
Last, and most worrying: Is this introductory mixture of our heroes, like Freddie’s homemade hooch, just too strong for its own good? Where can the movie possibly go from here? In terms of dramatic logic, not far: Freddie has met his antithesis, the servant has fused with the master, and the synthesis is complete. And so, for the rest of the film, we get variations on a theme. Freddie carries on drinking, and lashing out—loyally beating up those who question Dodd’s grand designs, or his grasp of evolutionary history. Dodd, in turn, keeps welcoming Freddie—part apostle, part prodigal son—back into the fold. True, this has spectacular results, notably when both men are hauled off to jail, Dodd for embezzling funds, and his sidekick for assaulting the cops. The screen is divided between their two cells: in one, Hoffman stands, relaxed, and leaning on his elbow, while in the other Phoenix whacks his skull on the bunk and stomps a toilet into bone-white shards. The composition alone is open to all manner of symbolic readings, yet somehow, though dazzling, it fails to surprise. We know these men well by now, and we could have foretold their reactions to a cage. The film never drags, but it hangs fire.
So where does this leave “The Master” on the Anderson landscape, that oddly populated terrain? Few modern films have been as crowded as “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia,” and few have been more lonely than “There Will Be Blood.” The new work sways toward the latter. I kept expecting, and even hoping, that Dodd would acquire a tinge of Elmer Gantry—that he might start to muster large throngs to the Cause, with Freddie employed as the muscle to keep the mob in line. But the scale of the story, for all Dodd’s swagger, remains compact, and the plot slowly condenses into a blend of character studies. Look at Amy Adams in closeup, for instance, all the scarier for being so perky and correct, her features filling the screen as she quizzes the reprobate. Or look at Phoenix, lifting his head high and proud, as Brando used to do, with an added, cranky stiffness that comes from having, or being, a serious pain in the neck. The eyes narrow and the mouth is awry, one corner twisting into an Elvis curl, though it looks too sour for seduction, let alone song.
Here is frustration made flesh, with fearsome results; would it be heretical or ungrateful to say that there are times, when Phoenix is in full spate, and when Hoffman is revealing similar ruptures of rage in Dodd’s more genial façade, when there is just too much acting going on, perhaps with a capital “A”? Or that Jonny Greenwood’s rich and inventive score is used with such unceasing fervor that you almost want it, now and then, to take a break and leave the action in peace? On reflection, and despite these cavils, we should bow to “The Master,” because it gives us so much to revere, starting with the image that opens the film and recurs right up to the end—the turbid, blue-white wake of a ship. There goes the past, receding and not always redeemable, and here comes the future, waiting to churn us up. 

France sets 75% tax rate on 'super rich'

By Doug Powers
September 28, 2012

Alternate headline: Francois Hollande on the verge of ensuring Warren Buffett, some of his rich friends and select celebrities who are begging pay higher taxes willnever move to France:

President Francois Hollande's Socialist government unveiled sharp tax hikes on business and the rich on Friday in a 2013 budget aimed at showing France has the fiscal rigor to remain at the core of the euro zone.

The package will recoup 30 billion euros ($39 billion) for the public purse with a goal of narrowing the deficit to 3.0 percent of national output next year from 4.5 percent this year - France's toughest single belt-tightening in 30 years.

But with record unemployment and a barrage of data pointing to economic stagnation, there are fears the deficit target will slip as France falls short of the modest 0.8 percent economic growth rate on which it is banking for next year.
To the dismay of business leaders who fear an exodus of top talent, the government confirmed a temporary 75 percent super-tax rate for earnings over one million euros and a new 45 percent band for revenues over 150,000 euros.

Together, those two measures are predicted to bring in around half a billion euros. Higher tax rates on dividends and other investments, plus cuts to existing tax breaks are seen bringing in several billion more.

They're counting their chickens before they've crossed the road into other countries. Those tax haul estimates are provided the "super rich" and businesses don't flee to more welcoming tax climes -- which won't be difficult:

If you have a US passport then you are subject to US taxation (you might not have to pay any because of a low income, but you’re still subject to those tax laws). It doesn’t matter where you live in the world you still cough up to Uncle Sam. The only way out of this, the only way to “avoid” such US taxation is to give up your US citizenship. At which point the Feds will charge you all of the tax you would ever have paid anyway. So avoiding US taxation by leaving the country isn’t really an option: there is no “exit” possibility as the economists like to say. This will clearly and obviously lower that e2 value, the amount of avoidance that anyone can do in the face of higher tax rates.

However, the French tax system is, indeed all of the EU tax systems individually are, based upon residence. If today you live in Lille then you pay French tax. If tomorrow you move to London then you are subject to UK tax laws, not those of France. You do not have to change citizenship, do not require a permit or permission to do this, you just buy a train ticket and 90 minutes or so later there you are. Free of the French tax system. The value of e2 is going to be rather different in such circumstances. When there is an easy and simple exit from the entire system available at the cost of perhaps 90 euros.

France is already losing its richest person over this, and more will follow.

Hollande has said the 75 percent upper tax rate would last "around two years." The vague, open-ended expiration date isn't likely to convince the wealthy who are on the verge of moving to stick it out and "take one for the team" for an unspecified amount of time.

Obama weaves a web of lies

By Michael Graham
Boston Herald
September 28, 2012

A week after U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi, President Barack Obama sent U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice out to tell us, “What happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction . . . as a consequence of the video, that people gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent.”

Actually, Mr. President . . . no. There was no “spontaneous reaction.” It was a terrorist attack, and nothing but a terrorist attack.

For two weeks, Obama’s spokesman told us that this deadly attack was just a movie review gone wrong. As Jay Carney said on Sept. 18, “We saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack.”

Actually, Mr. President . . . no. Multiple sources confirm that your administration knew it was a “preplanned,” “premeditated attack” within 24 hours. Far from having “no evidence,” your administration had already identified a possible target for retaliation within a day of Stevens’ murder.

Last week, Obama sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton out to say the FBI was on top of the investigation in Libya. FBI Associate Deputy Director Kevin Perkins told Congress on Sept. 19 that an investigation was underway.

Actually, Mr. President . . . no. As of this writing, no FBI agent has even arrived in Benghazi. CNN reports the “crime scene” has yet to even be secured.

And on Tuesday, Mr. President, you gave a speech at the United Nations about the violence against America, in which you mentioned YouTube a half-dozen times, but didn’t use the word “terrorist” or “terrorism” once.

Actually, Mr. President . . . that’s just pathetic.

Karl Rove just said “Mr. Obama has taken ordinary political differences beyond anything we’ve seen.”

I’m with Rove. I’ve seen “spin,” I’ve seen parsing “the definition of ‘is,’ ” but I’ve never seen anything like this avalanche of outright lies.

An Obama TV ad now claims “chances are you pay a higher tax rate than Mitt Romney.”

Actually, Mr. President . . . no.

Romney’s tax rate is a matter of record: 14.1 percent, well above the 9.1 percent effective rate of the average American. How do I know Romney’s rate? Because it’s reported — in the ad!

Given that Romney is in the top 20 percent of taxpayers, there’s an 80 percent chance you don’t pay as high a rate as he does. This isn’t “spin” or a math loophole. It’s yet another lie.

A politician who lacks the courage to keep his word is old news. What makes Obama different is that you can’t trust the words coming out of his mouth right now.

What happened in Ben-ghazi happened. What Obama told us about it, just 48 hours ago, was simply not true.

And he wants us to trust him with four more years?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Obama, 'The Prophet of Islam' and Slander

By Andrew G. Bostom
September 27, 2012


During his speech to the UN General Assembly yesterday (Tuesday, 9/25/12) Mr. Obama proclaimed,
The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.
He rapidly cloaked this bold statement regarding Islam, alone, with a pretense of ecumenism, by adding
But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.
This latter statement rings hollow. Mr. Obama and his State Department have never condemned, let alone actively sought to preclude—in real time and with specificity—the ongoing Muslim jihadist ravages against Christians and other non-Muslims across the length and breadth of Islamdom, often perpetrated by so-called US “Muslim allies,” and/or purveyors of “moderate Islam.”  Even on the domestic front, onestill awaits any Obama administration commentary on the “Piss Christ” revival, an exhibit originally funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts—particularly in light of their endless condemnation of the previously marginal, amateurish video, “Innocence of Muslims.”

Moreover, Mr. Obama, as is his (and his administration’s) wont, ignored altogether the virulent Muslim Jew-hatred borne of canonical Islam, that is both endemic and epidemic within Islamdom, and has nothing to do with “Holocaust denial.”  For example, when Mr. Obama delivered his June 4, 2009 Cairo speech, he opened by lavishly praising Al-Azhar University’s “thousand years” as “a beacon of Islamic learning.” Yet just 6-months earlier, a front page New York Times story (published 1/10/ 2009), included extracts from the Friday (1/9/2009) Al Azhar mosque sermon at this same pinnacle of Sunni Islamic religious education, pronounced by Egyptian-government appointed cleric Sheik Eid Abdel Hamid Youssef. Referencing well-established Antisemitic motifs from the Koran (citations provided, below), Sheikh Youssef intoned,
Muslim brothers, God has inflicted the Muslim nation with a people whom God has become angry at [Koran 1:7] and whom he cursed [Koran 5:78] so he made monkeys and pigs [Koran 5:60] out of them. They killed prophets and messengers [Koran2:61 / 3:112] and sowed corruption on Earth. [Koran 5:33 /5:64] They are the most evil on Earth. [5:62  /63]
Sheikh Youssef’s sermon was redolent with the canonical Islamic Jew-hatred that punctuated the 14-year tenure (1996 to March, 2010) of late Al-Azhar Grand Imam—Sunni Islam’s Papal equivalent—the late Muhammd Sayyid Tantawi. Tantawi’s 700 page academic magnum opus, Jews in the Koran and the Traditions, includes these words rationalizing Muslim Jew-hatred:
[The] Koran describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate characteristics, i.e. killing the prophets of Allah [Koran2:613:112], [see Al-Azhar  Sheikh Saqr’s Koranic citations] corrupting His words by putting them in the wrong places, consuming the people’s wealth frivolously, refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do, and other ugly characteristics caused by their deep-rooted lasciviousness…only a minority of the Jews keep their word…[A]ll Jews are not the same. The good ones become Muslims [Koran 3:113], the bad ones do not….[T]he Jews always remain maleficent deniers….they should desist from their negative denial…some Jews went way overboard in their denying hostility, so gentle persuasion can do no good with them, so use force with them and treat them in the way you see as effective in ridding them of their evil. One may go so far as to ban their religion, their persons, their wealth, and their villages.
Tantawi (in April 2002) also reiterated the Koranic depiction of  Jews as “enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs,” and sanctioned the legitimacy of homicide bombing of Jews.
Consistent with this ugly, if widespread phenomenon, writing at the Muslim Brotherhood’s website in 2009 (identified extracts translated by the Investigative Project on Terrorism), current Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi expressed the same Koranic Jew-hatred, decrying “the herd of Zionists, descendants of apes and pigs,” who were ostensibly usurping so-called Islamic land, i.e., Jerusalem—which Morsi viewed as  a grave offense to Islam. With apparent relish, Morsi further predicted Israel’s destruction.
In the end the peoples will remain and the regimes disappear sooner or later, and the usurping intruding Zionist entity will disappear with them.
This hateful Muslim rhetoric and the murderous behaviors it inspires (and inspired earlier, across space and time), originated with Muhammad, “the prophet of Islam,” whose putative “slander” Mr. Obama warned does not augur a viable future for the “slanderer.”  Thus, just before subduing the Medinan Jewish tribe Banu Qurayza and orchestrating the mass execution of their adult males, Muhammad invoked perhaps the most striking Koranic motif for the Jews debasement — he addressed these Jews, with hateful disparagement, as “You brothers of apes.”
Muhammad’s failures or incomplete successes were consistently recompensed by murderous attacks on the Jews. The Muslim prophet-warrior developed apenchant for assassinating individual Jews, and destroying Jewish communities — by expropriation and expulsion (Banu Quaynuqa and B. Nadir), or massacring their men and enslaving their women and children (Banu Qurayza). Subsequently, in the case of the Khaybar Jews, Muhammad had the male leadership killed and plundered their riches. The terrorized Khaybar survivors — industrious Jewish farmers — became prototype subjugated dhimmis whose productivity was extracted by the Muslims as a form of permanent booty. (And according to the Muslim sources, even this tenuous vassalage was arbitrarily terminated within a decade of Muhammad’s death when Caliph Umar expelled the Jews of Khaybar.) Accordingly, Maimonides (d. 1203), the renowned Talmudist, philosopher, astronomer, and physician, as noted by historian Salo Baron, emphasizes the bellicose “madness” of Muhammad and his quest for political control. Muhammad’s mindset and the actions it engendered, had immediate and long-term tragic consequences for Jews — from his massacring up to 24,000 Jews to their chronic oppression — as described in the Islamic sources, by Muslims themselves.
Muhammad’s brutal conquest and subjugation of the Medinan and Khaybar Jews and their subsequent expulsion by one of his companions, the (second) “Rightly Guided” Caliph Umar, epitomize permanent, archetypal behavior patterns Islamic Law deemed appropriate to Muslim interactions with Jews. George Vajda’s seminal analysis of the anti-Jewish motifs in the hadith remains the definitive work on this subject. Vajda concluded that according to the hadith stubborn malevolence is the Jews defining worldly characteristic: rejecting Muhammad and refusing to convert to Islam out of jealousy, envy, and even selfish personal interest led them to acts of treachery, in keeping with their inveterate nature: “… sorcery, poisoning, assassination held no scruples for them.” These archetypes sanction Muslim hatred towards the Jews, and the admonition to at best, “subject [the Jews] to Muslim domination,” as dhimmis, treated “with contempt” under certain “humiliating arrangements.”
A century later, notwithstanding Mr. Obama’s hagiographic sentiments, the persistent consequences of Muhammad’s status as “a good [even ‘beautiful’] example of conduct” (Koran 33:21), across a continuum of nearly 14 centuries, remain glaringly evident. Invoked by contemporary Muslim clerics, governments, journalists and jihadists alike, Muhammad’s sacralized behaviors continue to result in: exploited child brides and general misogyny, sanctioned by law; Draconian, mutilating punishments such as stoning for adultery and amputation for theft; jihad violence against non-Muslims and Sharia (Islamic Law)-sanctioned oppression of non-Muslims under Muslim rule.
The great Orientalist David S. Margoliouth’s 1905 biography of Islam’s prophet recognized Muhammad as “ . . . a great man, who solved a political problem of appalling difficulty—the construction of a state and empire out of the Arab tribes.” Margoliouth recounted this accomplishment without “apology” or “indictment,” summarizing faithfully the images of Muhammad that emerge in the earliest and most authoritative pious Muslim biography of the Muslim prophet by Ibn Ishaq (d. 761/767)
In order to gain his ends he recoils from no expedient, and he approves of similar unscrupulousness on the part of his adherents, when exercised in his interest. He profits to the utmost from the chivalry of the Meccans, but rarely requites it with the like. He organizes assassinations and wholesale massacres.
His career as tyrant of Medina is that of a robber chief, whose political economy consists in securing and dividing plunder . . . He is himself an unbridled libertine and encourages the same passion in his followers. For whatever he does he is prepared to plead the express authorization of the deity. It is, however, impossible to find any doctrine which he is not prepared to abandon in order to secure a political end…This is a disagreeable picture for the founder of a religion, and it cannot be pleaded that it is a picture drawn by an enemy…
Would Mr. Obama choose to ignore all the evidence of Muhammad’s “beautiful example of conduct” adduced herein, and condemn Professor Margoliouth, posthumously, for slandering “the prophet of Islam?”
Writing as president of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), a think tank created by the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, Taha Jabir Alwani opined, regarding a (then) new English translation of the classic Shafiite manual of Islamic jurisprudence Reliance of the Traveller“from a purely academic point of view, this translation is superior to anything produced by orientalists in the way of translations of major Islamic works.” The Reliance of the Traveller (or ‘Umdat al-Salik’) maintains that slander (ghiba) includes the mention of anything concerning a person [i.e., a Muslim] “that he would dislike.”  This discussion also cites a canonical hadith which contains the following account:
“Do you know what slander is?” They answered, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He said, “It is to mention of your brother that which he would dislike.” Someone asked, “What if he is as I say?” And he replied, “If he is as you say, you have slandered him, and if not, you have calumniated him.”
Is this the absurdly elastic—and anti-intellectual, anti-Western—“standard” Mr. Obama has in mind? If so, Mr. Obama has declared himself a willing accomplice to the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s relentless campaign to impose universal Sharia-compliant blasphemy law, and the destruction of America’s bedrock freedom, freedom of speech.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why 'The Hobbit' isn't just for kids

The Wall Street Journal
September 21, 2012

“The Hobbit” turns 75 today, an occasion likely to cause many thousands of people to reflect with fondness on their childhood memories of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins.
“The Hobbit” is a much loved and widely respected children’s book, but the work is too often overlooked by adults who relegate it to the nursery bookshelf and leave it for younger siblings or pack it away for the next generation. J.R.R. Tolkien was so successful at appealing to children through “The Hobbit” that it tends to remain locked into the category of “juvenile literature,” and even serious Tolkien fans sometimes neglect it when they grow up and move on to “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Silmarillion.”
Tolkien’s first published novel, however, is a much more artistically and intellectually sophisticated book than it often gets credit for, and it richly rewards adult re-reading.
Tolkien’s characters have a fascinating depth. Bilbo’s nature, in particular, presents a striking psychological study that steadfastly resists traditional cliches. Bilbo is a divided character who is caught between conflicting impulses: his love of comfort and safe, familiar surroundings and his latent desire for adventure, for the marvelous and unknown world that he has only encountered in stories. Tolkien associates these impulses with the two families he is related to, the staid Bagginses and the fabulous Tooks.
Bilbo’s Tookishness first rises up within him when he hears the dwarves sing their song of gold and dragons, and he soon finds himself unexpectedly volunteering to accompany the dwarves on their journey to recover their lost treasure. But Bilbo’s story is much more than just the development of an unlikely and reluctant hero. His Baggins side, which looks at times like mere parochialism and timidity, does not fade and disappear as he adjusts to the world of adventure. Instead, Tolkien maintains the balance of the two aspects of Bilbo’s character, showing how both together mature into courage and wisdom. Bilbo’s culminating act of heroism is not a bold rescue or the slaying of a monster, but his attempt to prevent a war between allies through an act of great self-sacrifice, and at the cost of being thought a traitor by his friends. It is an action which draws on the daring of his Took side and the wisdom and common sense of his Baggins side, both matured and augmenting each other.
One of the most consistently underappreciated elements of “The Hobbit” is Tolkien’s use of poetry and song throughout the book. Most readers skim over the poems or even skip them outright, but they miss out on some of Tolkien’s most thoughtful and compelling literary moments. The songs in “The Hobbit” are not merely verses embedded in the story; they are poems carefully designed to capture the voices and illustrate the attitudes of their singers.
The simple chant of the goblins when they first capture Bilbo and the dwarves, for instance, gives readers a stark insight into the goblin outlook on life in just the first few short lines: “Clap! Snap! the black crack! / Grip, grab! Pinch, nab!” The harsh, explosive consonants and the action-focused, verb-heavy monosyllables instantly immerse readers in the hard, violent world of the goblins, who take simple pleasure in acts of cruelty. The dwarves’ song in Bilbo’s kitchen, in which they cheerfully threaten to “Chip the glasses and crack the plates!” sounds similar, but reflects their comparative mildness and the domesticity of their (merely humorous) threats through the complexity of their phrasing and poetic lines. The Wood-elves also sing a monosyllabic song as they watch their barrels roll into the river, but their soft liquid consonants (“roll-roll-rolling down the hole!”) and their enjoyment of amusing sounds (“Heave ho! Splash plump!”) show that their simple pleasures are as innocent as the goblins’ are cruel. Tolkien’s poetry enriches and complements not only the plot of the story, but the development of his fictional world.
“The Hobbit” is a brilliantly constructed story unfolding themes that adult readers will still find compellingly relevant to the modern world: themes such as the nature of evil and the significance of human choice, or the corruptive power of greed and the ease with which good people can be drawn into destructive conflict. So this year, I would recommend celebrating “The Hobbit’s” 75th anniversary by dusting the book off and giving it a fresh read. I’m quite sure that if you do, you will discover much more than you remember finding there as a child.
Corey Olsen is an Assistant Professor of English at Washington College in Maryland and the president and founder of the Mythgard Institute, a new online teaching center for the study of Tolkien and other works of imaginative literature. His teaching website is The Tolkien Professor and his first book, “Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit,” was recently published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
[This article has been modified from its original version.]
Related: Christopher Farley has more on Lunch Break.

Obama's UN Speech

By Jennifer Rubin
Right Turn
The Washington Post
September 25, 2012

President Obama is so soaked in the State Department/Western European/ leftist intellectual goo of moral relativism and disdain for core American values that I doubt he understood how offensive were hisremarks at the United Nations today.
After fessing up that our embassy people were killed by terrorists (he doesn’t say what kind, however) and reciting that violence is never justified he then once again denounced the anti-Islam video. And he delivers this:
The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.
Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims and Shia pilgrims. It’s time to heed the words of Gandhi, “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.”
Together, we must work towards a work where we are strengthened by our differences, and not defined by them. That is what America embodies. That’s the vision we will support.
Where to begin?
Let’s start with the simple observation that he is the president and not the minister of religion. It is not necessary for him to select out one or another references to the Divine. (No “God of Moses”?). It sounds like blatant pandering and it is.

The fact that he embodies the U.N. mantra on defamation of religion (“slander”) is even more regrettable. This is, as informed watchers of the U.N. know, an invidious movement to control and suppress speech, to prevent criticism of Islamic extremists and to use the West’s legal system against itself.
Moreover, Obama is heading down a path to nowhere in which every statement of intolerance theoretically must be individually condemned by our government. But he doesn’t mean it. The hypocrisy is evident. He doesn’t and will never do this when Evangelical Christians are vilified, when art displays portray Jesus in offensive ways or when Broadway musicals jab at Mormons.
Moreover, the moral equivalence is downright appalling. Intolerant speech and insulting cartoons — that is free speech — is NOT the same as violence. And Holocaust denial by governments is not the same as boisterous, irreverent free speech exercised by free peoples.When he also concedes that the future should not belong to those “who target Coptic Christians in Egypt “ and “bully women” ( bullying is what he calls mutilation, honor killings and child marriages?) in the same patter in which he denounces those who “slander” Islam he suggests these are all equally heinous and all deserving of eradication.
The rest of his speech was equally disingenuous. A few examples: “Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on the prospect of peace.” Which party went to the U.N. to get a unilateral declaration, left bilateral negotiations and has made a pact with Hamas?
That and other sections, as John Bolton, former ambassador to the United Nations, told me, “were infused with the fallacy of moral equivalency. While Obama defended the First Amendment, he also said that we accepted that others didn’t. It’s no wonder Obama doesn’t understand the real threats to America in the Middle East.” Obama said the defense of free peoples reflects “universal values” but later concedes “I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech.”
On Syria: “In Syria, the future must not belong to a dictator who massacres his people. If there’s a cause that cries out for protests in the world today, peaceful protest, it is a regime that tortures children and shoots rockets in apartment buildings. And we must remain engaged to assure that what began with citizens demanding their rights does not end in a cycle of sectarian violence.” But what will he do, other than speak pretty words? Nothing.
The president’s policy is in deep disarray because his thinking is deeply misguided. When at the U.N., it would be appropriate for the president to say clearly and without caveats that the U.S. does not label obnoxious speech “slander” nor apologize for it. It defends liberty. Period. We are faced with a segment of Islamic extremists who are offended by the idea of freedom. They must be defeated, and the West must be defended. Unfortunately, this president will never be so clear. And his policy will forever be a muddled failure.
By   |  01:14 PM ET, 09/25/2012 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Obama's pricey gaffe that's worth talking about

By John Kass
Chicago Tribune
September 23, 2012

Under President Barack Obama, the national debt has ballooned past the $16 trillion mark — a number once inconceivable — and is growing by the second as the federal leviathan feeds on borrowed money.

And as the debt grows, devouring future liberty, you might consider a future America transformed, into a plate of flaming Hellenic cheese. All that's left is for Obama to shout "Opah!" and we'll be Greece for sure.

The president doesn't talk about the debt, but neither do most of us. It's a number so huge we can't put our minds around it. Some might see our children and grandchildren — their backs stooped in mindless labor — carrying that debt forward upon their shoulders. But most of us would rather talk of political gaffes.

Gaffes are easy. They're fast, lively and entertaining. One tribe or the other feigns outrage and casts the other guy as its fool. So with the first presidential debate scheduled for Oct. 3, please let's talk of important things, like gaffes.

Republican Mitt Romney sure let loose a huge gaffe recently — when that fundraiser tape was released — saying 47 percent of voters will cast their ballots for Obama no matter what, because they feed on the government.

It was what it was, a bunch of rich guys complaining about folks on hard times.

"He just told all those Pennsylvania coal miners what he thought of them, that they're victims, whiners," a conservative Republican lawyer told me. "It was dumb."

What was worse was Romney's squirming immediately afterward, cementing the perception.

In that viral video from that fundraiser, Romney said that the 47 percent "believe they are victims. Who believe government has a responsibility to care for them. Who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. And that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what."

Confronted, Romney at first cringed, his default position. A conservative would have embraced it, to argue that government dependency is morally wrong, a way of buying voters, then subjugating them, like the Chicago machine has done for almost a century.

But Romney isn't a conservative. And while he complains about Obama's spending on social programs, he wants to spend an estimated trillion on the military.

Romney is a blue-state Republican establishment suit, just another rich guy in a parade of all those white-shoe moderate GOP Gumbies you see in Obama's Illinois. When Romney speaks conservative, it sounds forced, an odd foreign dialect tangling the man's tongue, as if it were a language he hated studying at school.

Let's admit it. Romney is a stiff, the guy in the Kohl's Father's Day catalog, the fellow with the hard grin and the hard crease in the pleated khakis.

Conservatives spent last week making wonderful arguments for Romney, but the fact is that they make a better case than he does. And so, going into the first debate, Romney is on defense, a one-legged man in a sprint.

With the continuing economic news, with millions and millions of Americans out of work or underemployed as the result of his policies, Obama should be trailing by 12 percent. But he's about even with Romney. Why? He's not a stiff. He's cool. People like him.

He sings. He laughs. He plays golf. He even held a fundraiser with the Middle East in turmoil and a U.S. ambassador killed and got away with it. After days of insisting the turmoil was the result of that stupid anti-Muslim video, the Obama White House finally admitted Ambassador Chris Stevens' death was the result of a planned terrorist attack Sept. 11.

But there was little immediate political cost. Why? Because Romney was on the defensive over that 47 percent crack, and because American journalists are still tingly about Obama.

How confident is the Obama campaign? Last week, with American embassies under siege in the Middle East, team Obama tweeted a remarkable 2009 White House photo. Obama was sitting and chatting with a man in a pirate costume. Yes, a pirate costume. It was a cool way to celebrate International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Romney couldn't get away with talking like a pirate. Obama? Yes he can.

And on Letterman last week, a bromance if ever there was one, Obama was asked about the debt when he took office.

Letterman: Do you remember what that number was? Was it $10 trillion?

Obama said he didn't remember. He added that we don't have to worry about it right now. Later, but not now.

But as a presidential candidate, Obama was horrified at the debt of then-President George W. Bush, charging that Bush had taken out a credit card from the Bank of China.

The first 42 presidents had driven the debt to $5 trillion, he said, but Bush "added $4 trillion by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back — $30,000 for every man, woman and child."

"That's irresponsible. It's unpatriotic," said candidate Obama.

Under Obama, in just over three years, the debt has ballooned to $16 trillion. He spends and spends. But he sure looked cool talking to the pirate.

Numbers don't cringe. Numbers don't have bromances with talk show hosts. Numbers don't make gaffes.

And all that $16 trillion debt does is grow.

Twitter @John_Kass

Even war and rumors of war can't save Chevy Volt

By John Ransom
September 25, 2012

A new Congressional Budget Office report tells Obama what the rest of us have known for some time: Your bet on electric cars wasn’t an investment, but a gamble; a dumb gamble.

And now you’ve just come up snake eyes.

“Despite the federal government pumping $7.5 billion into the electric vehicle industry in the United States through 2019,” writes, “overall national gasoline consumption is unlikely to be significantly affected, according to a report released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).”

The CBO says that even if Obama increased the amount of the subsidy, it would make little difference to the gasoline usage or emissions output because automakers would still be required to hit fuel efficiency targets. Instead, the CBO says that either a tax on gasoline or carbon is the only way to increase the attractiveness of electric cars to consumers.


That’s because electric cars don’t save gas, they don’t save money and they don’t save the “planet.” 
They are only a vanity-plumping, amenity purchase for the metro-testicled.

“Assuming that everything else is equal” saysthe CBO, “the larger an electric vehicle’s battery capacity, the greater its cost disadvantage relative to conventional vehicles—and thus the larger the tax credit needed to make it cost-competitive.”

It’s not like none of us pointed this out at the time Obama unveiled his plan to put a million electric vehicles on the road before he destabilized the Middle East.

Ok, so he didn’t tell us that last part.

Dr. Strange-Chu told us about that one.

“Somehow,” Strange-Chu said, “we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.”

Hey? How about a regional civil war? We could lob a few missiles at Libya?

But even with Middle East and North African disorders keeping oil prices high, electric vehicles are still not cost competitive- nor does the consumer seem to want them at any cost.       
General Motors essentially confirmed Obama’s bad bet when they admitted over the weekend that the recent rash of “viral” Chevy Volt sales have been stoked by discounts of as much as $10,000 off the MSRP of $40,000.

Two weeks ago industry insiders revealed that General Motors was taking a loss of around $50,000 per Chevy Volt sold. That was assuming a sales price without the new and improved $10k discount. If you add in the $7,500 government subsidy, the Volt’s cost to the consumer is around $22,500.
Cost to the taxpayers is much, much higher.

Before the discount, the Volt cost General Motors- a joint venture between Obama, Inc., and the United Auto Workers that was subsidized by your tax dollars- around $650 million just this year according to estimates by industry insiders. In August alone the discount bumped up the price to GM by another $28 million.

So far this year the company has sold around 13,000 Volts, compared to the 60,000 unit goal that they set at the beginning of the year.

"Let's face it, over $40,000 is asking a lot for a compact car," says Bob Lutz, who helped develop the Volt- and was present when GM was hurling toward bankruptcy.

"Its prime purpose was to introduce a new generation of technology," says the now-retired Lutz, according to CBSNews. "And at the same time ... demonstrate to the world that GM is way more technologically capable than the people give it credit for." 

Show- offs.
I never knew technology was capable of losing this much money so quickly.
I’m impressed.
And now so is the Congressional Budget Office. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Interview: Andrew C. McCarthy

Kathryn Jean Lopez
September 24, 2012

Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy is the new e-book from Andrew C. McCarthy, the prosecutor of the Blind Sheik and a National Review Online contributor. It’s meant to be “your antidote for the obsession that has become conventional American wisdom: the obdurate portrayal of the ‘Arab Spring’ as a triumph of freedom,” he writes. Andy talks with NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about the Fever

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Is there anything positive to say about the “Arab Spring”?
ANDREW C. MCCARTHY: It is a very clarifying chapter in the history of the Muslim Middle East. Given that the worst of the many bad problems we’ve had is making policy based on the region as we wish it were rather than as it is, anything that shakes the scales from people’s eyes is a positive.

LOPEZ: Is there anything positive to say about the Obama administration’s policies toward Muslim countries?

MCCARTHY: Nothing positive springs to mind. But if we focus on violent jihadists operating within Muslim countries, then there are some positive things to say. As I maintained during the 2008 campaign, President Obama had a far superior position to John McCain on the question of attacking terrorist redoubts in countries that claim to be our allies but allow their territories to be used as platforms to launch attacks against us. My hesitation about Obama on that score lay in not believing he was serious — I figured he was just posing as a tough guy on Pakistan because he had been so weak on Iraq and so in favor of turning the clock back to the pre-9/11 criminal-justice paradigm of counterterrorism. But he proved me wrong: He can’t bring himself to say “jihadist,” but he certainly has attacked jihadist redoubts.
Still, his policy is ultimately a failure. Our forces now kill when they could capture and increase our intelligence base. Obama doesn’t want to capture terrorists overseas because he’d have to figure out what to do with them. All his demagoguery over Gitmo — the ideal, obvious place to detain and interrogate captured jihadists — has made a mess of combatant detention. Moreover, while the occasional drone strikes are a positive, they’re not enough to discourage and defeat the enemy, and, more significantly, they are overwhelmed by the negatives of his appeasement policies.
Obama’s “outreach” policy is based on a thoroughgoing fiction that imagines a sharp divide between “violent extremists” and “Islamists” — the former supposedly kill irrationally and wantonly; the latter are “moderates” committed to pursuing their agenda through regular politics. In reality, they are all Islamic supremacists. Terrorists — violent jihadists — kill very rationally. Their goal is exactly the same as that of other Islamists: They want sharia implemented because it is the necessary precondition to Islamizing a society. The “non-violent,” “moderate” Islamists are a figment of our bipartisan foreign-policy clerisy’s imagination: Their sharia agenda is extreme and they support terrorism strategically (e.g., Hamas is the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian faction; Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s leading jurist, calls for terrorism against American troops operating in Muslim countries). Consequently, by empowering Islamists and effectively legitimizing their ideology, Obama empowers their terrorist factions. It’s ironic to think of all his carping about how Gitmo “causes” terrorist recruitment, because Obama’s embrace of Islamists has done more for terrorist recruitment than almost anything else our government could have done — I mean, we’re now funding the Brotherhood in Egypt and the Palestinian territories. We’re working with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to which 57 Muslim states belong, to impose sharia speech-suppression standards and, in effect, to legitimize the theory that jihadist attacks against Israel are not terrorism but “resistance against an occupying power.”
If you couple the facilitation of Islamists with Obama’s policy of negotiating with terrorist organizations — with the Taliban, with the Iranian-backed terror networks that operate in Iraq, with the Blind Sheikh’s Islamic Group (whose operative was recently invited to the White House for consultations on the future of Egypt) — it more than undoes the good done by occasional drone strikes against jihadist targets.

LOPEZ: What does freedom mean anymore? Does this White House understand it differently than we have in the past? Are there different tiers of freedom depending on where you are or who you are?

MCCARTHY: I’m glad you asked that because it is a big theme of Spring Fever. There are two divides here: Islam versus the West, and progressives versus the Constitution.
On the first, the Islamic concept of “freedom” is virtually the opposite of ours. For us, freedom is liberty, self-determination, the right of each individual to chart his own course and maximize his own potential without any more interference from the state than what is minimally necessary to ensure the order we need to flourish. In Islamist-supremacist ideology, which is the dominant Islam of the Middle East, “freedom” means complete submission to Allah’s law — what Islamic scholars over the centuries have called “perfect slavery.”
Now, that will be called “Islamophobic” because I’m the one mentioning “submission” and “slavery.” But such things are commonly said by Muslim jurists — and it is more accurate for us to call them jurists than clerics. The supremacist interpretation of Islam aspires to be more than a set of spiritual principles; it’s a complete framework for how human life is to be lived, down to the minute details. Obviously, the jurists don’t mean their assertions as an insult, and neither do I. My disagreements with Islamists are intense, but they are substantive. I have enough respect for them to try to understand their point of view rather than pretend they are something they are not. Their point is that Allah has been beneficent enough to give mankind the gift of sharia, his “path” or prescription for how life is to be lived. To thumb one’s nose at this gift once one is aware of it is a profound affront. That is how they see it.
That is why Western democracy — real democracy, the culture of liberty, not mere procedures like voting — cannot mesh with their construction of sharia. Our fundamental premise is that the governed have a right to make law for themselves, irrespective of any belief system. Islamic supremacists deny the right to make law that contradicts sharia in any way. That divide cannot be bridged; it’s too basic.
On progressives versus the Constitution, Spring Fever explicates the concept of “totalitarian democracy,” which was developed by the much underappreciated political scientist Jacob Leib Talmon. Very much like Islamists, progressives believe they possess an exclusive truth and that the task of the state is to socialize citizens to accept that truth. Freedom, nonsensically, lies in accepting that truth — i.e., you can, as Rousseau put it, be “forced to be free” by the state. Meaning, capitulate and all will be well. Again, this is antithetical to the Constitution’s conception of freedom as the necessary requirement of individual liberty that the Constitution safeguards by limiting, not empowering, government. The Framers understood that government was necessary in some ways but had a propensity to devour liberty; the Left is seduced by this propensity, which rationalizes its seizure of your liberty as being for your own good.

LOPEZ: Did anything that happened over the last couple of weeks — the attacks on our diplomatic missions and the violent protests across the Muslim world — surprise you?

MCCARTHY: No. As the book explains, this was inevitable. The point of being an Islamic supremacist is to achieve supremacy.

LOPEZ: Is the anti-Islamic YouTube video that supposedly provoked the violence just an excuse?

MCCARTHY: Yes. So are the cartoons, the burning Korans, the teddy bears, Gitmo, our incarceration of the Blind Sheikh, Israeli “occupation,” and whatever they’ll be marauding about tomorrow. These are all just pretexts. The proximate cause is Islamic supremacist ideology. If you really want to find another material cause, it is American appeasement and fecklessness. When your main adversary, the obstacle to your ambitions, is desperate for you to love him rather than determined to show that there are red lines that can’t be crossed, you cause mayhem. We now have mayhem.

LOPEZ: Why is Turkey’s Erdogan such a bad actor by your account?

MCCARTHY: Because I am a pro-democracy — real democracy — Westerner and he is a highly effective Islamist enemy of the West. Using the Muslim Brotherhood’s ingenious, duplicitous tactics, he has — under the guise of democracy — taken a country that was a reasonably democratic ally of the West and flipped it back into the Islamist column, which is already having dire consequences for us.

LOPEZ: How is Erdogan the “power-politics soulmate” of Barack Obama?

MCCARTHY: Well, as far as “soulmate” is concerned, that’s based on the two men’s expressed affection for each other — Obama says they find themselves in agreement on most things, which Americans ought to find frightening. On power politics, Obama and Erdogan are extraordinarily similar — and so, as Spring Fever observes, are Alinskyites and the Brotherhood. They are both seeking “to fundamentally transform” their societies, to borrow Obama’s famous phrase, and they seek to do it by acquiring, using, and maintaining power in a very raw and often lawless way — “direct action,” as the community organizers put it. They use benign rhetoric and sleight-of-hand to appear unthreatening, to keep themselves politically viable, and to camouflage the radical nature of their agendas. Once in command of the levers of power, particularly the metastasizing bureaucracy, which is where the state’s real power in a society is brought to bear, they aggressively advance their ideologies in a way that ignores constitutions, statutes, and courts — it’s basically “I’ve got more power than you do, just try to stop me.” And, sadly, it works.

LOPEZ: How is freedom regressing in Turkey?

MCCARTHY: Erdogan has systematically eroded the military and internal security apparatus, which was Ataturk’s guardian of the secular order, and he has seeded the courts and the bureaucracy with Islamist appointees. That has given Islamist supremacists a green light to impose sharia standards over large areas without Erdogan’s having to impose those standards formally. There was a big controversy over women’s wearing the veil, for example, which the Kemalists did not permit in the public square. The matter is still moving through the courts, but the legal outcome doesn’t matter any longer — women are wearing the veil in great numbers, some because they wish to, others because they are afraid not to. It’s a terrible time for women in Turkey: Employment is way down, while violence (including “honor killings”), sexual abuse, and illiteracy surge. Business people and government bureaucrats are adopting Islamist modes of dress and behavior because they know that, in Erdogan’s Turkey, if you want to advance, that’s what you must do. Increasingly, there is violence against religious minorities. And most obviously, Erdogan has exploited the executive’s police and prosecution powers to persecute dissenters, particularly in the press and the military.

LOPEZ: What’s the “democracy fetish” you refer to?

MCCARTHY: My contention is that the Islamic democracy project, which has been a feature of the last three presidential administrations even though it is popularly associated with Bush 43, has not so much promoted as fetishized democracy. It substitutes procedural aspects of democracy — most notably, elections — for real democratic culture. If we really wanted to promote democracy, we’d cut off assistance and minimize relations with the Saudis until they repealed repressive sharia; halted persecution of women, homosexuals, and religious minorities; stopped making it criminal to practice religions other than Islam; opened Mecca and Medina, which are generally closed to non-Muslims; and ceased the proselytism of Wahhabism and the funding of Islamists, particularly violent Islamists. That would be democracy promotion worth having, and if we had it, I’d be its biggest supporter. But instead, we consider the mere holding of elections and writing of constitutions to be democracy — even when the elections install anti-liberty Islamists and terrorists in power, and even when the constitutions enshrine sharia as fundamental law.

LOPEZ: Who is Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi?

MCCARTHY: Mohamed Morsi is an interesting character. For one thing, he is a testimony to the Muslim Brotherhood’s American infrastructure: He joined the organization while attending college in the United States — his gateway was the Muslim Students Association, as it is for many Islamists, including some notorious terrorists. He is a dyed-in-the-wool sharia activist who rose through the Brotherhood’s ranks because he believes in both supremacist ideology and the Brotherhood’s rigorous discipline and respect for hierarchy. He did brief stints in jail under Mubarak, was reliably anti-Western as a legislator, and despises Israel. He is not a charismatic figure; he has long been regarded as the smart, steady guy in the retinue of Khairat el-Shater, who is the dynamic leader of the Brotherhood. Shater would have been president if the military junta had not manufactured a bogus reason to take him off the ballot. Morsi was “Plan B” — the alternative if something happened to Shater. But Shater’s removal happened so late in the race, few gave Morsi a chance. His victory speaks volumes about the Brotherhood’s influence and political operation in Egyptian society.

LOPEZ: How bad has the Obama administration’s treatment of Israel been, and why should it matter to the American voter?

MCCARTHY: Obama’s treatment of Israel has been deplorable. He has seemingly gone out of his way to provoke the Israelis, most recently by excluding them from the State Department’s Counterterrorism Forum — in which we “partner” with Turkey (which now funds Hamas) and other Islamist countries — even though Israel is the world’s leading target of terrorism. He has implicitly endorsed the Islamist claim that violent attacks against Israel are “resistance,” not terrorism. He has colluded with Turkey and the Brotherhood despite their explicitly anti-Israeli posture. It should matter to voters because when it becomes dangerous to be America’s friend and advantageous to be an Islamist (Islamists by nature are anti-Western), the world is a lot less safe for Americans. We’ve seen a good deal of that in the last couple of weeks.

LOPEZ: You have a chapter titled “Culture Is Everything.” Didn’t that get Mitt Romney in trouble?

MCCARTHY: Well, if Romney is in trouble — and I happen to think the latest kerfuffle is way overblown — it will end up being because our culture has changed much more than we realized. I hope that’s not the case, but as I wrote in my weekend column a couple of weeks ago, we have lost about a third of the country from the culture of liberty that was the defining element of the American character. That’s an awful lot of people. My point about culture’s being everything is that we fixate on law and process. The Brotherhood homes in on culture — the Brothers grasp that once you control the culture, the law comes around in your favor, too.

LOPEZ: How quickly should we have gotten out of Afghanistan?

MCCARTHY: Probably as soon as we decimated al-Qaeda and toppled the Taliban. We should obviously maintain a presence (or a number of “presences”) in the region to be ready to strike at jihadist safe havens. But we were always ambivalent about the Taliban. After 9/11, Bush originally offered to let them be if they’d hand over al-Qaeda, and now, of course, we’re negotiating their return. We shouldn’t commit our forces unless we are committed to defeating our enemies. As it happens, the government was never clear on whether the Taliban was our enemy, and the public never had any interest in having our people in Afghanistan in order to construct a new Afghan society. So the mission is a mess — an ever more perilous one in which we are irresponsibly putting our men and women in grave danger toward no good end.

LOPEZ: Who is sharia a threat to? Have we helped lessen its threat at all?

MCCARTHY: Sharia is a threat to liberty. We can’t lessen its threat, because it is what it is. There are ways of interpreting it moderately, and many Muslims in the West do that. But the strong intellectual current in Islamic circles favors classical sharia, which is repressive. Don’t take my word for it. As I argue in Spring Fever, just read Reliance of the Traveller. It’s eye-poppingly repressive, and it bears the endorsements of the faculty at al-Azhar University and the Muslim Brotherhood’s American think tank, the International Institute of Islamic Thought.

LOPEZ: Is there reason to believe Mitt Romney would be an improvement? 

MCCARTHY: Obama is affirmatively advancing the position of our enemies. This is not willful blindness anymore, it’s being on the wrong side. He is making Israel’s position ever more perilous. He is telling the world that it’s better to be America’s enemy than America’s friend. He is helping the Islamists try to force their sharia speech-suppression standards into our law, against our Constitution. He makes policy in accordance with his sense of global interests (as the Left sees them), not American interests. Just getting Obama out would be an enormous improvement in the addition-by-subtraction sense. But I think Romney would be a positive improvement. He is an American first. Do I worry that he’ll fall into the trap of seeing our enemies as our friends, which is a failing of the Republican establishment? Sure — although he did say on that tape that the Palestinians don’t want peace with Israel, which was a refreshing bit of truth. In any event, I think he’s smart enough to have learned from some of the missteps of the last decade, and I’m also confident that he knows who our actual friends are, particularly Israel. That would be a vast improvement.

LOPEZ: Are there any good, realistic solutions for the Middle East and our relationship to it?

MCCARTHY: The Middle East is a very complex, difficult region, and anyone who pretends to have silver-bullet answers to what we should do is deluding himself and the rest of us. The best solution for us is to be realistic, not pretend enemies are friends, and forget about being loved, admired, or emulated because it’s not going to happen — not any time soon. I’m not an isolationist, and it is impractical to withdraw from a region where America has important interests. But we do not need to be nearly as involved as we are. We need to act forcefully, to lead, and, when it is necessary, to act. But when it is not in our interests to act, and particularly when, in acting, we may empower our enemies, we should stay our hand.

LOPEZ: Is there a way to support real democratic elements abroad?

MCCARTHY: Yes. Support our American principles of liberty and equality of opportunity, and unambiguously condemn sharia’s attempted suppression of speech. Real democratic elements are negligible now, and they are never going to thrive while we are empowering our enemies. No one in Egypt is more disappointed in the United States than real democrats who cannot believe that, under the guise of “democracy,” the U.S. has embraced the Muslim Brotherhood, which — if we’re talking about a culture of liberty — is about as undemocratic as it gets.

LOPEZ: What do you hope for this e-book?

MCCARTHY: I hope it will be an antidote to the “Arab Spring” narrative. And I hope it makes a contribution to the discussion about American national security and what a desirable “democracy project” would look like. Those are crucial issues, and discussion about them in the presidential campaign has been scant. I think that will change, though. In the end, national security is the reason we have a federal government, and the world has a way of reminding us of that fact.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online