Saturday, December 01, 2012

David Stern stumbles again in his failed culture war against the Spurs, fines franchise $250K

By Adrian Wojnarowski
Yahoo! Sports
November 30, 2012

NBA commissioner David Stern has awarded Spurs coach Gregg Popovich four title rings. (Getty Images)
Before the emperor of the NBA leaves his Olympic Tower office, this is the holy war that those within the San Antonio Spurs' extended family expected David Stern to eventually wage on Gregg Popovich and his program's culture. The commissioner burped that terse, threatening statement promising "substantial sanctions" to the rogue state of his totalitarian nation on Thursday night. This has been a long time coming out of the commissioner's office.
And yet, once more, Stern's tossed a temper tantrum that left everyone around him embarrassed, humiliated and wondering why he insisted on staying until February of 2014. All these years, Stern and his underlings privately complained and moaned that no one wanted to watch the Spurs, that they destroyed his TV ratings, that they were uninteresting, unappealing and impossible to market to the masses.
And now, this act of condemnation for Popovich – which resulted in a $250,000 fine for San Antoniohanded down by the league office Friday evening – would be bathed in the ultimate of twisted irony: Without the Spurs' stars, Stern was selling that the NBA logo had been desecrated, that a public trust had been betrayed.
Suddenly, Stern had to issue an apology to NBA fans because Popovich sent his stars home to San Antonio at the end of a long road trip. No one in Miami bought a ticket to watch Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, because those players are relevant to no one in Miami. Mostly, they come to watch LeBron and D-Wade, or they don't come at all. Few people watch the Spurs on national television – unless they're playing the Heat or the Los Angeles Lakers – and that's because the Spurs never deliver the dysfunction and self-destructive bents that fuel the sport's storylines.
Stern once declared that his fantasy NBA Finals would be the Lakers vs. the Lakers, and no one laughed in San Antonio because they understood Stern was stone-cold serious. And well, if there was a little "Bleep You" out of Popovich toward Stern after shipping his players back to San Antonio after five games in seven nights, it was beyond understandable.
Back in the Spurs' glory days, it was one disrespectful act after another out of Stern.
The Spurs don't forget how the NBA's vice president of operations, Stu Jackson, directly called Bruce Bowen to warn him about how he was playing defense and threaten him with future punishments. Jackson didn't show the respect of reaching out to Spurs officials before communicating with Bowen, but bypassed them and got into the heads of one of their most important players. Phil Jackson himself couldn't have orchestrated it better on behalf of the Lakers' Western Conference championship chances.
They don't forget how one of Stern's top public-relations officials went out of her way to try to dissuade an NBA team owner from hiring a well-regarded Spurs executive as general manager. And they don't forget that once that executive got the job, she went out of her way to try to undermine his operation.
They don't forget how Stern wanted to infiltrate the inner sanctum of the Spurs with TV cameras and microphones, with the kind of phony, superficial behind-the-scenes access that went against how the franchise conducted its basketball business and kept its edge. The Spurs have been a model of efficiency and innovation that has been an immense resource for the operations of small- and big-market franchises, but the commissioner can't leverage that on TNT with Ernie, Kenny and Charles.
Popovich had Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker skip the Spurs' game in Miami. (AP)They don't forget how Stern stood by as USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo publicly embarrassed Popovich. Colangelo went out of his way to insist his close friend Mike Krzyzewski was chosen as Olympic coach because, in part: "I think [Popovich] had a bad taste in his mouth regarding his most recent experiences with USA Basketball, some bitterness, and that came out in my conversation with him. He seemed burned out by it. … He just wasn't as enthusiastic as Mike."
There's a double-standard to how this league operates under Stern, and it won't change until Adam Silver takes over and makes it a priority to do so. When Yahoo! Sports uncovered a pattern of deliberate predraft rules violations that benefited the New York Knicks and penalized the rest of the teams, Stern did little. Brandon Rush blew out his knee in an illegal workout, Wilson Chandler was stashed for weeks in Atlanta so no one else could get access to him before the draft, and Stern fined that Cablevision empire essentially lunch money for a weekend shindig in the Hamptons with the Dolans.
Teams had talked about these violations for years and complained to Jackson's office. Brandon Rush said the NBA had never once contacted him before the Y! Sports' investigation. For two years, the charges went uninvestigated. Had the Spurs been caught doing this, there likely would've been a loss of draft picks, suspensions and millions in fines. And rightly so for the Knicks, Spurs, or anyone who tried to get away with those things. That's the double-standard that Stern runs in the NBA.
In that instance, here's a possible reason for the way the NBA never acted dutifully on its flagship franchise. The scout responsible for running those workouts? Rodney Heard. How did Heard get into the NBA? Jackson, as general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies, hired him. Rival teams were always suspicious Heard conducted those illicit workouts on the Grizzlies payroll, too. If Rush told me about blowing out his knee as a Kansas undergraduate with the Knicks conducting an illegal workout – and then hiding it – wouldn't he have also told league investigators the same had they pulled him into their Manhattan offices and demanded the truth?
Stern never apologized to the paying public about allowing his franchise with the most resources to get away for years with this behavior. He fined them $200,000 – $50,000 less than he fined the Spurs for sitting their players – fined Heard $25,000, but never made an example out of them. The Knicks affected competitive balance, and it didn't matter that New York remained horrible. No one gets a lighter sentence for robbing a bank and dropping the money on the way to the getaway car.
Stern doesn't care about the realities of his league, just the appearances. To him, the appearance on Thursday night was that Popovich had tried to embarrass him on national television and that's why the commissioner tossed that tantrum. Apologize to the fans? In a league where the mere appearance of players on the floor doesn't guarantee preparation and effort, the Spurs never cheat the public. They're honest, in a way so few are honest. When too many others wear the uniform and yet still take the night off, the Spurs come to play – or they don't come at all.
Stern plans to retire as NBA commissioner on Feb. 1, 2014. (AP)In every way, Popovich let his players be the stars. He never self-promoted. He's never done endorsements. Stern wanted a players' league, and Popovich gave him the ultimate players' program. It was team, team, team. Only, Stern couldn't market it. He hated it. Four times they reached the NBA Finals, and Stern didn't like the TV ratings of those series.
For all of his so-called marketing genius, Stern could never sell the global appeal of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. They brought the NBA to the corners of the world, glamorized basketball over soccer, and somehow it was Popovich's failure that Stern couldn't market this to people. The NBA failed the Spurs, far more than the Spurs ever failed the NBA. After his fourth championship, I asked Popovich why he never cashed in on all the trappings that come to the immortal coaches.
"Listen," Popovich told me, "it's a player's league. I think it's very important for a coach to make sure that his players believe 100 percent – and not with lip service – that it's about them. Coaches are going to do everything they can to create that environment for them. It's not about creating an environment for us. It's a privilege to be able to coach these guys. We make enough money."
When Pat Riley scored the greatest free-agent coup in NBA history, no one called to congratulate him – except Popovich. This was the kind of power play that should've served to put him out of the championship business in San Antonio, but, still, Popovich admired it. He respected that Riles played to his strengths, Popovich played to his own, and together they would compete for the title. Popovich never tells people that his way would work for them, but it works for him and the Spurs.
Against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, against Chris Bosh and Ray Allen, what the Spurs did in a 105-100 loss wasn't an embarrassment to the NBA, but a celebration of it. This is how a franchise ought to be run, how winning is of foremost importance. Popovich empowered his bench to hang with the defending champion Heat, and gave his group even greater confidence and belief for when they're called upon again. What happened was one of the most compelling Spurs' regular-season games, and easily the most mesmerizing game of this season.
This was a testament to the Spurs' great scouting and player development, the great coaching and discipline. This was the ultimate testament to the Spurs' way, and it didn't repulse the paying public – it inspired them.
When David Stern issued that belligerent, foreboding statement before tipoff, it was clear he believed the Spurs would get blown out and make his case for him. He never imagined San Antonio would hold the lead into the final minute.
Stern could've waited until Friday, delivered his substantial sanctions – a naval blockade on the Riverwalk, a ban on Napa Valley imports for Popovich, whatever – but he couldn't help himself. He wanted to embarrass Popovich throughout that national TV game, and wouldn't you know it: Popovich embarrassed Stern because the Spurs coach has a complete understanding of his realm, his team, his players, in a way that Stern has lost touch with that with which he lords over.
The emperor of the NBA wasn't standing up for the fan on Thursday night, but settling an old score on his way out of office, on his way to a February 1, 2014, retirement date that suddenly seems so far away. Even within a league that would've never imagined the core of the Spurs dynasty could stay on top longer than the commissioner who wished them away, the expiration date on the emperor still feels so far away. Nevertheless, make no mistake: David Stern wanted these players gone all the way until Thursday night, all the way until they became convenient devices for his failed culture war on the San Antonio Spurs.

Revisiting 'Marie Marie' by The Blasters

By Easy Ed
No Depression
November 29, 2012

Back in the early eighties when I ran a record store on Wilshire in Santa Monica, my morning ritual for a couple years was to drop the needle on side one of this album at full volume as I turned the key and opened the doors. There was no other way to better start off my day than the opening chords of "Marie, Marie", as distinctive use of guitar as the Beatles' start of "A Hard Days Night". And that voice....Phil Alvin singing the lyrics of his brother Dave:

Marie Marie
Playing guitar on the back porch
I sit in my car
While she sings so sad
Marie Marie

Marie Marie
It's so lonely in these farmlands
Please come with me
To the bright lights downtown
Marie Marie

I said, "Hey, pretty girl
Don't you understand
I just want to be your lovin' man"

Marie Marie
The sun is down in the corn fields
The evening is dark
And you sing so sad
Marie Marie

Marie Marie
I got two weeks in back pay
There's gas in my car
And your folks say I must go
Marie Marie

I said, "Hey, pretty girl
Don't you understand
I just want to be your lovin' man"

Marie Marie
Playing guitar on the back porch
I leave in my car
While you sing so sad
Marie Marie

I'm choosing this morning to not do what I might normally do...give you a brief but thorough history of the band from Downey California. There are just so many places on the interwebs to easily get really good information. Here is the link to their first Blasters News Letter from 1994 which features the first installment of Billy Davis' extensive history of the band. If you like that, work your way back to the archive index for the rest of them. And our own NoDep archives have some fine reviews available for you. Probably hands down my most favorite Blasters piece is an interview from 2006 with Phil Alvin with a woman named Jenny Angel. It's located here and if you choose to read just one of these, go for this.

In my digital library I have all of Dave Alvins'  solo work, some Phil Alvin and no Blasters. Its one of those things where I've just heard it so much and so often that I figured I didn't need to hear it again. But my kid who devours music like slices of Sal's Pizza from Mamaroneck, threw the 2002 Complete Slash Recordings into my Drop Box and said "you need to listen to this again". And I did and he was right. Lurking around You Tube I discovered a video from January of this year at McCabes in Santa Monica. Just a few blocks south of where my old record store once stood. Long gone now of course.
For the past couple of years, Phil has been performing "Marie, Marie"  in Spanish. He does it with the Blasters minus Dave, and also with the Blasters when Dave is with them. So it's not something new or different he pulled out of his hat on this particular night. But I want you to watch this video and look at Dave. The first time I watched it I thought he was surprised, but now after repeated views I think its something else. It begins as amusement; Phil twisting it up and turning it into the San Joaquin Valley song it was meant to be. But then I think the feeling in Dave is pride and love. Both in the song, but more so in his brother. Am I reaching here? I don't believe so. It's a special moment. But you tell me if you feel it too.
If you made it to the very end, you heard Dave jump in and sing a verse in English. Almost as if he wanted to give the audience a reminder that "yeah...we were the Blasters...that was us". No need really, I think they knew.
I have no time today to get into this, but I'd like to leave y'all with a thought. The quintessential music "California Story" has always been that of the Wilsons...Brian, his brothers, cousin and friend. But there are more than just that one. Buck Owens has a story. Chris Hillman has a great one. Woody and Lefty Lou. Johnny Otis and his son. But the Blasters, they have an amazing musical journey. I hope you take the time to read some of those links.
They made American music. They're an American band. The original "Marie, Marie."

Middle-Earth Wizard’s Not-So-Silent Partner

By Brooks Barnes
The New York Times
December 1, 2012

“I CAN take you to see Fran now.”
At Stone Street Studios here, an expansive complex where the “Lord of the Rings” movies were made — and where Peter Jackson has spent the last two years deep in production on his “Hobbit” pictures — this is the equivalent of being invited behind the curtain to meet the Wizard of Oz.
Fran Walsh, a seven-time Academy Award nominee and three-time winner, was a co-writer of 12 of Mr. Jackson’s movies, including the blockbuster “Rings” trilogy, which sold almost $3 billion in tickets, and forthcoming “Hobbit” series. “Heavenly Creatures,” his breakthrough 1994 drama, was her idea. Warm and witty, Ms. Walsh — who is Mr. Jackson’s life partner — also produces his films and writes music for them. She has even directed scenes when Mr. Jackson was needed elsewhere.
“It’s impossible to overstate her importance,” said Andy Serkis, who returns as the craven creature Gollum in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which arrives in theaters on Dec. 14.
But Ms. Walsh, 53, is also one of Hollywood’s biggest living mysteries. She rarely grants interviews and refuses to sit for a photograph. Forget walking a red carpet alongside Mr. Jackson. Ms. Walsh has not even allowed her face to be shown on camera when contributing DVD commentary. She stayed home when Mr. Jackson visited the fan convention Comic-Con International in July.
Just who is this wildly important yet intensely private woman?
Ms. Walsh and her protective staff do not make answering that question easy. During a two-day visit to the “Hobbit” set last summer I largely roamed without supervision, watching as elves marched their perfect hair into battle and catching Ian McKellen, in costume as Gandalf, take a catnap on a cot between scenes. But Ms. Walsh was off limits. No, sorry, you can’t meet her.
Polite persistence won an off-the-record “handshake.” Dressed in black, Ms. Walsh had her hair piled on top of her head — a little like Helena Bonham Carter but without the practiced eccentricity — and was working in a windowless space at Stone Street near Mr. Jackson’s nestlike office. “She doesn’t suffer fools,” multiple people in her orbit had warned, an admonishment that came true when I slipped and referred to Mr. Jackson as her “husband.”
Her laughing retort was one she uses frequently, according to people who have interacted with her over the years: “He’s not my husband. He’s never asked me, and if he did, I probably wouldn’t say yes.”
Five months later Ms. Walsh was on the phone, having agreed to spend 30 minutes discussing how she collaborated with Philippa Boyens to adapt J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Hobbit” for the screen. (Mr. Jackson and Guillermo del Toro also have writing credits.) Ms. Boyens, who is Ms. Walsh’s best friend and neighbor and has produced six of Mr. Jackson’s films (and helped write eight), was also on the line.
“Destroyed, ruined creatures” — along the lines of Tolkien’s Gollum or Shelob, a spider — is how Ms. Walsh jokingly described herself and Ms. Boyens, who have toiled for more than a decade on the “Rings” and “Hobbit” movies. They were in a good mood, perhaps a little punch drunk from having just finished “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
Ms. Walsh: “Phil is definitely Shelob, with the hairy legs.”
Ms. Boyens: “Don’t hold back, Fran. Tell him what you really think.”
Ms. Walsh: “We started out extremely sensitive to the other person’s feelings. Now we don’t worry about it.”
Ms. Boyens: “We do disagree about things. It’s part of how we work off each other.” She paused for a moment, and added, “This is going to sound bad, but we collaborate in bed.”
Ms. Walsh: “In our jammies.”
Ms. Boyens: “Surrounded by dogs. We gave up going to the office.”
Ms. Walsh: “It just seemed like one more thing to do.”
Unlike the dark and dense “Lord of the Rings” books, “The Hobbit,” first published in 1937, is essentially a children’s fantasy — a bright quest by Bilbo Baggins, a hairy little humanoid critter, and the wizard Gandalf to find treasure protected by a fearsome dragon named Smaug and reclaim a dwarf kingdom. The novel, which has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, is heavy on episodic action but light on back story.
How do you make one full cinematic meal out of that, let alone three? Complicating that task even further, the screenwriters did not have the rights to Tolkien’s posthumously published “Silmarillion,” an early draft of which was written as a follow-up to “The Hobbit.” “Part of the screenwriting challenge was establishing the somewhat lighter mood of ‘The Hobbit’ while still infusing it with the tone and spirit of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy,” said Toby Emmerich, who, as president of New Line Cinema, played a vital role in bringing the “Hobbit” series to fruition.
Ms. Walsh and Ms. Boyens, a former teacher and hard-core Tolkien fan, said part of the solution came from Tolkien’s appendices to“The Lord of the Rings.” Those materials helped the writers create a bigger part for Gollum, a fan favorite, and explain the relationship between Gandalf and Thorin, an exiled king played by the British actor Richard Armitage.
But that only got them so far. In Tolkien’s largely female-free “Hobbit,” Ms. Boyens said, “The lack of feminine energy becomes very evident.”
“And oppressive,” Ms. Walsh added.
To work toward a solution they added a “Lord of the Rings” character — the ethereal elf Galadriel, played by Cate Blanchett — to the “Hobbit” story. The move prompted a dust-up among some Tolkien fans, but Ms. Walsh and Ms. Boyens said it was important to them, both as storytellers and as women, to add a female character who could bring more emotional depth to the spectacle.
“That’s really important if you are going to touch the audience in a meaningful way,” Ms. Boyens said.
Length, Ms. Walsh added, is generally not a problem because they err on the side of overwriting. “We tend to write our way into a scene and write our way out,” she said. Mr. Jackson “will then revise us,” she added. “And he always makes it shorter.”
Mr. Jackson, Ms. Walsh and Ms. Boyens rewrite on the fly, sometimes for multiple units filming at once, and modify scenes and dialogue as they discover holes or need to play up or tone down characters to make the story more compelling and coherent.
“They are all so involved together in every layer and detail of their productions that sometimes it’s hard to distinguish whose voice you’re hearing in a particular scene or moment,” said Ken Kamins, a Hollywood manager who has represented Mr. Jackson and Ms. Walsh for two decades and who also works with Ms. Boyens. “They are perfectly blended.”
To boil it down: Ms. Walsh has a knack for conveying emotion, Ms. Boyens excels at structure (and line readings), and Mr. Jackson is the visual genius.
Everyone agrees, however, that credit for one of the most well-known scenes in the “Rings” trilogy goes to Ms. Walsh. She had a “eureka moment,” as Ms. Boyens put it, while working on “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and suggested at the last minute that Gollum, a character who started out as a type of Hobbit but becomes mad and addicted to the ring and its power, should have a conversation with himself. The idea was to crystallize how different parts of his mind battle each other and the pain it causes him.
“It’s a universal moment for people,” Ms. Walsh said. “We all have that voice inside: You’re not good enough and you never will be and you’re a failure. I certainly do.”
Ms. Walsh was born to an Irish family in Wellington. Her grandmother’s sister lived three doors down from the house where Mr. Jackson grew up in nearby Pukerua Bay. “We must have passed each other on that street in our pushchairs,” Ms. Walsh is quoted as saying in Brian Sibley’s 2006 biography “Peter Jackson: A Film-Maker’s Journey.”
As a teenager Ms. Walsh set out to become a fashion designer but quickly learned that sewing wasn’t her forte. She decided to focus on music by joining a punk band called the Wallsockets. She wrote songs, played electric guitar and did some singing. She also performed with Naked Spots Dance, another punk band.
(It was probably good practice for what “Rings” fans know as the “Nazgul scream,” a high-pitched screech made by Tolkien’s evil Ringwraiths and performed by Ms. Walsh. “I’m a very good screamer,” she said by telephone. “It’s not that I scream at people. But I can scream. I went into the room with the mike and let out all the stress and the horror and the terror of making those movies.”)
After earning a degree in English literature from Victoria University, Ms. Walsh found her calling in screenwriting, working on TV programs like “Worzel Gummidge Down Under,” centered on a walking, talking (and creepy looking) scarecrow. It was on the set for that series in 1986 that Mr. Jackson, then just getting started as a movie director, first met her.
“I noticed a pretty young woman sitting in the corner of a greenhouse talking about the script,” he says in Mr. Sibley’s book. “I’ll always remember the fact that she made a striking impression on me, with her long black hair.” Ms. Walsh, who was dating a screenwriter named Stephen Sinclair at the time, recalled Mr. Jackson as having “sallow” skin. “Frankly, I didn’t quite know what to make of him, although I immediately took a liking to him,” Mr. Sibley quotes her as saying. “There wasn’t any pretense of any kind, no duplicity and no agendas.”
At the time Mr. Jackson was just finishing his first feature film, a comedy-horror-science fiction mash-up called “Bad Taste,” about aliens who need human flesh to serve at an intergalactic fast-food chain. Ms. Walsh and Mr. Sinclair, working from Ms. Walsh’s cramped apartment above a Chinese restaurant, then began to help Mr. Jackson with “Meet the Feebles,” a bizarre puppet movie from 1989 that is sometimes described as the Muppets on acid.
By the early 1990s Ms. Walsh had ended her relationship with Mr. Sinclair (amicably, he returned to collaborate on the “Rings” movies), and was pestering Mr. Jackson, with whom she was now romantically tied, to make what would turn out to be “Heavenly Creatures.” Her idea was to make a movie about two teenage girls who developed an obsessive relationship with each other that ended in murder, a true crime story that had gripped New Zealand in the 1950s. Mr. Jackson wasn’t thrilled with the idea. But Ms. Walsh didn’t give up, and he slowly decided to make “Heavenly Creatures.” “There were times they felt like co-directors to me,” said Melanie Lynskey, who Ms. Walsh discovered at a New Zealand high school and cast as the co-star. Ms. Lynksey, now known for her peculiar neighbor on the TV series “Two and a Half Men,” added: “Fran instantly conveys two things to you. You’re safe — protected — and you had better deliver.”
Ms. Walsh and Mr. Jackson, who have two teenage children, Billy and Katie, work in Wellington’s windy Miramar district and live five minutes away in Seatoun, a seaside neighborhood, commuting in understated black Mercedes sedans. They also have a home in the Wairarapa wine region north of Wellington; they saved the Bag End Hobbit home set from the “Rings” movies and reconstructed it here as a guest cottage.
She is not a recluse, people around her say. She made a decision with Mr. Jackson some years ago to avoid the spotlight as a way to preserve a normal life for their children. The couple wanted at least one parent to be able to take the kids to a park or shopping without being mobbed. But Ms. Walsh is also shy.
“I don’t like positive attention,” she said by telephone. (Whether she was joking or serious is difficult to say. Probably a little of both.) “I’m always slightly disappointed when somebody says, ‘Aren’t you that lady?’ Oh, God, bugger.”
People in Wellington refer to them as P. J. and Fran and note their civic good deeds. In 2007 they spent an estimated $10 million to save a church from demolition. They also swooped in to save the Bats Theater, a 84-seat nonprofit theater that has long been an incubator for Kiwi playwrights and actors. Ms. Walsh helped get the ball rolling for “West of Memphis,” a documentary about three men who were wrongly convicted of the 1993 murders of three Arkansas boys. (It opens in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 25.)
But as “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” rolls out in theaters, Ms. Walsh will be consumed with little else, helping to manage the publicity operation — from behind the scenes. What is the one thing that she wants people to know about the first “Hobbit” installment?
“But wait — there’s more,” she said dryly. Ms. Boyens said, “Fran!”
Ms. Walsh: “And more.”

Morsi's Maneuver

Dec 1, 2012 
By Andrew C. McCarthy
Phase II of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s declaration of sweeping dictatorial powers was completed on Thursday night. That is when the “constituent assembly” hastily completed a draft constitution that would enshrine sharia principles as fundamental law.
Morsi grabbed the reins with a shrewd caveat: His dictatorship would end once the draft constitution was approved by Egyptians in a national referendum — which is to say, once the dictatorship had served its purpose. Nearly three months ago, in my e-book Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy (which is about to be published in paperback), I explained that Morsi’s agglomeration of power — which was already underway only weeks after his election — was just a placeholder. He is an Islamic-supremacist hardliner whose ultimate goal has always been to impose sharia, the realdictatorship.
Remember the Brotherhood’s notorious motto, which includes the proclamation “the Koran is our law.” It is about to be. In effect, Morsi has used the West’s democracy fetish to put a gun to his population’s head: Either democratically approve anti-democratic sharia or accept the sharia-compliant rule of your democratically elected Islamist despot. Some choice.
Naturally, secularists and religious minorities are grousing. This has the Western media, once again, in full spring-fever flush. For our intelligentsia, the Middle East is a wonderland where Islamists are imagined to be “moderate” (even “largely secular”!) and — to hedge their bets, on the off chance that the Islamists turn out to be, well, Islamists — the population is imagined to be teeming with freedom-loving Jamal al-Madisons who crave American-style civil rights. In reality, supremacist Islam is the predominant ideology of the region. The Muslim Brotherhood is strong because it is the avant-garde of the Islamic masses. Non-Islamist democrats are a decided minority.
Of course, in a place like Egypt, with its population of 80 million people, a decided minority can easily be masqueraded as the majority. The West’s progressive media is good at that — ignoring tea-party throngs while lavishing coverage on five-person Occupy protests as if they were a groundswell. But, you see, the hocus-pocus works here only because we’ve ceded all the leading institutions of opinion to progressives for a half-century. Conditioned to see what they’ve been told to believe, half of our population no longer sees through the smoke and mirrors.
In contrast, the Islamists control and otherwise intimidate Egyptian society’s influential institutions by vigorously enforcing sharia’s repression of discussion and dissent. The public knows the tune is called by the likes of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s powerhouse jurist, not by Wael Ghonim and the young, tech-savvy progressives beloved of theNew York Times. In Egypt, the conspiracy theories run against the progressives. The public won’t be snookered into seeing an Islamist uprising as a “democratic” upheaval. They’ll leave that to us.
The Times and the Brotherhood-smitten Obama administration won’t tell you, but Spring Feverwill: The constitution was always the prize. That is why the Brothers pursued it with their signature mendacity. The story goes back to the weeks immediately after Mubarak’s fall in early 2011 — back to the most tellingly underreported and willfully misreported event in the “Arab Spring” saga: Egypt’s first-ever free election.
With the trillion-plus dollars U.S. taxpayers have expended to promote “Islamic democracy” and its companion fantasy that elections equal democracy, you’d think you might have heard a bit more about the maiden voyage in Arabia’s most important country. But no, the story barely registered. That is because the Islamists crushed the secular democrats. To grasp what happened on Thursday night, you need to understand why. That first election, zealously contested in sectarian terms, was precisely about Egypt’s future constitution.
Technically, the referendum concerned amendments to the constitution in effect during Mubarak’s reign. Despite the “Arab Spring” paeans you were hearing from Washington, Egyptian democrats knew they were weak. To have any hope of competing with the Brotherhood’s vast, long-established, highly disciplined organization, they would need time. So they argued that before parliamentary and presidential elections could take place, a new constitution should be written. That would take a while and would put voting off into the distant future. The idea was that as long as no one had been elected yet — as long as the Islamists could not claim a popular mandate — the democrats would be in a better position both to influence the content of the constitution and to buy the time necessary to build party organizations that might contest elections effectively.
The Brothers are no fools. They realized that rapidly held elections would favor them, and if they won big, they’d have a hammerlock on the constituent assembly that would write the constitution. They also grasped the disdain in which the West, under progressive regimes, holds military governments. They’d watched how their Islamist ally, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had leveraged American and European pressure to beat down his military — the pro-Western opposition to his anti-Western Islamic supremacism. The Brotherhood knew the U.S. and the EU would be similarly — and self-destructively — supportive of a call for quick elections that would pressure Egypt’s reigning military junta to cede authority to a “democratic” civilian government.
Consequently, the Brothers insisted that parliamentary and presidential elections could proceed promptly if the public just approved a handful of amendments to the current constitution, with a new constitution to be drafted afterwards.
As is its wont, the Brotherhood was deceitful about its intentions. To arm their Western apologists and assuage those Egyptians who might think a new government’s constitution should be in place before the new government is elected, the Brothers swore up and down that they understood constitutions are different from ordinary legislation. To be legitimate, they soothingly agreed, a nation’s fundamental law must reflect a consensus of the whole society — guaranteeing the rights of women and religious minorities. Beyond that, though, the Islamist campaign over the referendum portrayed secular democratic opponents of the amendments as “enemies of Islam” and “enemies of the revolution” who secretly supported the old regime and its Zionist allies.
When the votes were counted, it was a rout. The Brotherhood’s amendments were adopted by a margin of 78 to 22 percent. With the handwriting on the wall that the referendum would blow the cheery “Arab Spring” narrative to smithereens, the Western media ignored it. Once the numbers were in, they dismissed it. The historic vote, we were told, was just a hyper-technical matter to determine when elections would be scheduled — move along, nothing else to see here. But in fact, the amendments referendum foreshadowed today’s Islamist Winter. It exactly tracked the nearly four-to-one margin by which the Brotherhood and its Salafist allies would swamp the secular democrats in the parliamentary elections that followed.
The Brothers being the Brothers, they lied at each stage of the game. In the amendments referendum, they lied about their commitment to societal “consensus”; upon winning, they elbowed the democrats aside and infused the draft constitution with sharia principles. When they got their quick elections, they lied about how many seats they would seek in parliament, again to assuage those worried about Islamist control of the government. In going back on that commitment, they promised that they would not field a candidate for president. But once overwhelming control of parliament was secured, they reneged on that promise, too — announcing the candidacy of their charismatic leader, Khairat al-Shater.
Mind you, all of that happened before you ever heard of Mohamed Morsi. He is an afterthought: the Plan B the Brothers came up with when Shater — Morsi’s mentor and patron — was elbowed out of the race in the panicked military junta’s last gasp. While Morsi basks in the spotlight, you should know that Shater is the power behind the throne because he is the avatar of sharia. He is the author of the Brotherhood’s announced “Islamic Renaissance” plan, which the Western media continue to ignore. As Spring Fever recounts, however, here is how Shater proclaimed the Brotherhood’s objective in April 2011, right after the Islamist victory in the amendments referendum:
You all know that our main and overall mission as Muslim Brothers is to empower God’s religion on earth, to organize our life and the lives of the people on the basis of Islam, to establish the Nahda [i.e., the Renaissance] of the ummah [i.e., the notional global Muslim nation] and its civilization on the basis of Islam, and to subjugate people to God on earth.
Morsi accidentally happened into notoriety because he is a true believer and a faithful Shater servant. In fact, before Shater was excluded from presidential contention, Morsi was a constant presence at his side, introduced at rallies as an “architect” of Shater’s “Renaissance” plan. His principal task as president has been to get a new sharia constitution across the finish line.
That is why he claimed dictatorial powers last week: not to aggrandize himself further but to shield the constituent assembly from being de-commissioned by judges. Unlike Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey for a decade, Morsi has not yet been in power long enough to change the complexion of Egypt’s judiciary. It is still filled with Mubarak-era appointees and, to the extent the minority secular democrats have any toehold in Egypt, it is in the courts. So Morsi issued his “sovereign” decree, denying the judiciary any power to invalidate the draft constitution, as the non-Islamists have petitioned it to do. That means the draft constitution will be submitted to the public for an up-or-down vote.
Consistent with the Arab Spring fable to which they continue clinging, Western commentators are enthralled by the new round of Tahrir Square protests against Morsi’s power grab. But they are a pale imitation of the anti-Mubarak uprising, because the Islamists now side with the dictator. They are the zealots who gave the original Tahrir protests their fearsome edge. Morsi is not backing down, because he is doing what he was put there to do and he has little to fear. He has already faced down the remnants of Mubarak’s armed forces and replaced them with Brotherhood loyalists — a ragtag collection of Facebook malcontents does not faze him. He also knows the national referendum on the new constitution will go the same way as the original referendum on constitutional amendments: Sharia will win going away.
Deep down, the Western media know it too. Desperate to preserve its narrative about moderate, modernizing Islamists, Reuters was quick to suggest that the Brotherhood-dominated constituent assembly had not really Islamized the new constitution. Sure, it provides that “principles of sharia” are the main source of legislation, but that, the report crowed, is the same thing the Mubarak-era constitution said — the Islamists did not alter it. You are supposed to conclude from this that “principles of sharia” are not as repressive as plain old “sharia” (the formulation preferred by Salafists) would have been.  
Yet, the new constitution actually goes much farther. Not only does it add provisions that make clear “principles of sharia” means “sharia”; it also installs the scholars of al-Azhar University as official expert consultants on all sharia-related matters — a longtime Morsi goal. Egypt thus becomes the Sunni version of Iran’s totalitarian regime, in which Shiite mullahs exercise ultimate authority.
And how exactly is sharia interpreted by the scholars of al-Azhar, whose alumni include such jihadist eminences as Sheikh Qaradawi and the Blind Sheikh? Not to wear you out with Spring Fever, but as it outlines (with citations to the Azhar-approved, Brotherhood-certified sharia manual, Reliance of the Traveller), they interpret it to call for: death to apostates from Islam; “charitable” contributions to those fighting jihad (expressly defined as “war against non-Muslims”); discrimination against women; discrimination against non-Muslims; death to homosexuals; death to those who spy against Muslims; death by stoning for adulterers; and so on.
It is going to be a long, cold spring.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the executive director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, which was published by Encounter Books.

With Rice, Benghazi only the start of the problem

By Andrew C. McCarthy
PJ Media
November 30, 2012

As we awaken to the spectacle of yesterday’s Palestinian coup in the General Assembly — symptomatic of a colossal failure of American leadership — it is worth underscoring the important op-ed authored by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Touro Institute’s Anne Bayefsky in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal.
The piece recounts Susan Rice’s unsavory record as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Ms. Rice, of course, has recently gained notoriety — infamy, really — for her appalling performance as megaphone for the Obama administration’s effort to mislead the country into believing that a protest over an obscure video about Islam’s prophet Mohammed somehow led to the September 11 Benghazi massacre of four Americans, including Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
In reality — as the administration well knew when Rice was dispatched to misinform Americans five days after the slaughter — there was no protest. The atrocity was a coordinated terrorist attack, a siege of seven-plus hours during which the commander-in-chief failed to deploy readily available military assets to protect Americans.
It was politically expedient to lie because Obama’s Libya policy created the conditions for a jihadist assault on our personnel. It was also expedient to lie because the attack, by al-Qaeda-connected terrorists, contradicted the Obama campaign theme that the president’s order to kill Osama bin Laden had decimated al-Qaeda.
The ambitious Amb. Rice agreed to do the campaign’s dirty work.
The incident in and of itself should be disqualifying for Rice’s quest to become secretary of State — imagine telling your boss right after the worst malfeasance of a checkered career that you deserved a big promotion. Judge Mukasey and Ms. Bayefsky, however, do the yeoman’s work of marshaling for us, and for the senators who could be asked to confirm Ms. Rice, the facts of that checkered career.
There is her remarkable propensity not to show up at work, including in crucial moments like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly on Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons — a powerful signal of Obama’s distancing of our government from a beleaguered ally, a signal communicating the emptiness of the administration’s occasional lip service about “having Israel’s back.”
When she is not absenting herself, there is what the authors aptly call her “inconsequential presence” — of which yesterday’s lopsided U.S. defeat, with several European nations joining the Islamic bloc in granting the Palestinians UN observer status, is only the latest indicator. Under Rice’s stewardship, the U.S. has joined the atrocious UN Human Rights Council and abided its doubling down on its obsessive condemnations of Israel. Even Rice’s grudging votes in favor of Israel on the Security Council have been laced with demagogic Islamist talking points about Israel’s alleged international law violations. And she has been ineffective, at best, in mounting international support for sanctions against Iran.
Moreover, to get back to Benghazi, Mukasey and Bayefsky point out that Rice is on the Security Council’s “Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee.” That body has expressly acknowledged the jihadist terror network’s operations in eastern Libya. Yet, knowing what she knows, she still energetically mouthed the administration’s “Mohammed movie” line on the massacre.
To be sure, Rice is not her own person. She is doing at the UN exactly what President Obama wants done — as are Eric Holder at the Justice Department, Hillary Clinton at State, Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security, and so on.
That, though, is not an excuse to confirm her if she is nominated. It is an additional powerful reason to oppose her. She deserves to be defeated on her own demerits, but more significantly she deserves to be defeated as an admonition that the world should not confuse Barack Obama’s reelection with popular support for Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

Friday, November 30, 2012

America not paying its fair share

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
November 30, 2013

Previously on "The Perils of Pauline":
Last year, our plucky heroine, the wholesome apple-cheeked American republic, was trapped in an express elevator hurtling out of control toward the debt ceiling. Would she crash into it? Or would she make some miraculous escape?
Yes! At the very last minute of her white-knuckle thrill ride to her rendezvous with destiny, she was rescued by Congress' decision to set up... a Super Committee! Those who can, do. Those who can't, form a committee. Those who really can't, form a Super Committee – and then put John Kerry on it for good measure. The bipartisan Super Committee of Super Friends was supposed to find $1.2 trillion of deficit reduction by last Thanksgiving, or plucky little America would wind up trussed like a turkey and carved up by "automatic sequestration."
Sequestration sounds like castration, only more so: it would chop off everything in sight. It would be so savage in its dismemberment of poor helpless America that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that, over the course of a decade, the sequestration cuts would reduce the federal debt by $153 billion. Sorry, I meant to put on my Dr. Evil voice for that: ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY THREE BILLION DOLLARS!!! Which is about what the United States government currently borrows every month. No sane person could willingly countenance brutally saving a month's worth of debt over the course of a decade.


So now we have the latest cliffhanger: the Fiscal Cliff, below which lies a bottomless abyss of sequestration, tax-cut extension expiries, Alternative Minimum Tax adjustments, new Obamacare taxes, the expiry of the deferment of the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate, as well as the expiry of the deferment of the implementation of the adjustment of the correction of the extension of the reduction to the proposed increase of the Alternative Minimum Growth Sustainability Reduction Rate. They don't call it a yawning chasm for nothing.
As America hangs by its fingernails, wiggling its toesies over the vertiginous plummet to oblivion, what can save her now? An Even More Super Committee? A bipartisan agreement in which Republicans agree to cave, and Democrats agree not to laugh at them too much? That could be just the kind of farsighted reach-across-the-aisle compromise that rescues the nation until next week's thrill-packed episode when America's strapped into the driver's seat of a runaway Chevy Volt careering round the hairpin bends on full charge, or trapped in an abandoned subdivision overrun by foreclosure zombies.
I suppose it's possible to take this recurring melodrama seriously, but there's no reason to. The problem facing the United States government is that it spends over a trillion dollars a year that it doesn't have. If you want to make that number go away, you need either to reduce spending or increase revenue. With the best will in the world, you can't interpret the election result as a spectacular victory for less spending. Indeed, if nothing else, the unfortunate events of Nov. 6 should have performed the useful task of disabusing us poor conservatives that America is any kind of "center-right nation." A few months ago, I dined with a (pardon my English) French intellectual who, apropos Mitt Romney's stump-speech warnings that we were on a one-way ticket to Continental-sized dependency, chortled to me, "Americans love Big Government as much as Europeans. The only difference is that Americans refuse to admit it."
My Gallic charmer is on to something. According to the most recent (2009) OECD statistics: Government expenditures per person in France, $18,866.00; in the United States, $19,266.00. That's adjusted for purchasing-power parity, and, yes, no comparison is perfect, but did you ever think the difference between America and the cheese-eating surrender monkeys would come down to quibbling over the fine print? In that sense, the federal debt might be better understood as an American Self-Delusion Index, measuring the ever-widening gap between the national mythology (a republic of limited government and self-reliant citizens) and the reality (a 21st century cradle-to-grave nanny state in which, as the Democrats' Convention boasted, "government is the only thing we do together.").
Generally speaking, functioning societies make good-faith efforts to raise what they spend, subject to fluctuations in economic fortune: Government spending in Australia is 33.1 percent of GDP, and tax revenues are 27.1 percent. Likewise, government spending in Norway is 46.4 percent, and revenues are 41 percent – a shortfall but in the ballpark. Government spending in the United States is 42.2 percent, but revenues are 24 percent – the widest spending/taxing gulf in any major economy.
So all the agonizing over our annual trillion-plus deficits overlooks the obvious solution: Given that we're spending like Norwegians, why don't we just pay Norwegian tax rates?
No danger of that. If (in Milton Himmelfarb's famous formulation) Jews earn like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans, Americans are taxed like Puerto Ricans but vote like Scandinavians. We already have a more severely redistributive taxation system than Europe, in which the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans pay 70 percent of income tax while the poorest 20 percent shoulder just three-fifths of 1 percent. By comparison, the Norwegian tax burden is relatively equitably distributed. Yet Obama now wishes "the rich" to pay their "fair share" – presumably 80 percent or 90 percent. After all, as Warren Buffett pointed out in The New York Times this week, the Forbes 400 richest Americans have a combined wealth of $1.7 trillion. That sounds like a lot, and once upon a time it was. But today, if you confiscated every penny the Forbes 400 have, it would be enough to cover just over one year's federal deficit. And after that you're back to square one. It's not that "the rich" aren't paying their "fair share," it's that America isn't. A majority of the electorate has voted itself a size of government it's not willing to pay for.
A couple of years back, Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute calculated that, if Washington were to increase every single tax by 30 percent, it would be enough to balance the books – in 25 years. If you were to raise taxes by 50 percent, it would be enough to fund our entitlement liabilities – just our current ones, not our future liabilities, which would require further increases. This is the scale of course correction needed.
If you don't want that, you need to cut spending – like Harry Reid's been doing. "Now remember, we've already done more than a billion dollars' worth of cuts," he bragged the other day. "So we need to get some credit for that."
Wow! A billion dollars' worth of cuts! Washington borrows $188 million every hour. So, if Reid took over five hours to negotiate those "cuts," it was a complete waste of time. So are most of the "plans." In fact, any "debt reduction plan" that doesn't address at least $1.3 trillion a year is, in fact, a debt-increase plan.
So, given that the ruling party will not permit spending cuts, what should Republicans do? If I were John Boehner, I'd say: "Clearly there's no mandate for small government in the election results. So, if you milquetoast pantywaist sad-sack excuses for the sorriest bunch of so-called Americans who ever lived want to vote for Swede-sized statism, it's time to pony up."
OK, he might want to focus-group it first. But that fundamental dishonesty is the heart of the crisis. You cannot simultaneously enjoy American-sized taxes and European-sized government. One or the other has to go.

U.N. says 'Aye' to Palestinian terror state

By P. David Hornik
November 30, 2012

Late Thursday evening, Israel time, the UN General Assembly voted to confer nonmember statehood on the Palestinian Authority by a sweeping majority.
Even Israel’s hopes of putting together a “moral minority” of Western-country nays had crumbled, with France and Italy pronouncing themselves in favor of the Palestinian nonmember state and Britain and Germany abstaining. Israel, the United States, Canada, and the Czech Republic stood virtually alone in opposing the move by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.
The nonmoral majority of Western countries ratified Palestine (actively with ayes or passively with abstentions) even though doing so is a blatant violation of the Oslo Accords they had once piously sanctioned. And they did so even though last week and the week before, Gaza—where almost half of Palestinian Authority Palestinians live—had fired 1600 hundred rockets at civilian targets in Israel, every single firing a manifest war crime intended to kill and injure men, women, and children.
It is said that the Gaza eruption led some European countries to change their minds and vote in favor of the resolution (or abstain) so as to strengthen Abbas’s “diplomatic” approach over Hamas’s violence. Abbas’s diplomatic polish and peacemaking disposition were well in evidence when he addressed the General Assembly in September, saying among other things:
During the past months, attacks by terrorist militias of Israeli settlers have become a daily reality, with at least 535 attacks perpetrated since the beginning of this year. We are facing relentless waves of attacks against our people, our mosques, churches and monasteries, and our homes and schools; they are unleashing their venom against our trees, fields, crops and properties, and our people have become fixed targets for acts of killing and abuse with the complete collusion of the occupying forces and the Israeli government.
As Israel’s UN ambassador Ron Prosor noted in a stinging op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, “Many countries in the Assembly are taking an approach to Palestinian statehood that is…Pavlovian…. For decades, the body has rubber-stamped any Palestinian whim no matter how ill-advised, ill-conceived or illogical.”
Prosor went on to list some glaring shortcomings of the Palestinian Authority/Gaza that—seemingly by any normal calculus of Western countries—would disqualify it rather than qualify it for statehood, such as:
● Lack of control over territory, with Abbas’s Ramallah-based, official Palestinian Authority having had zero control over Gaza since Hamas seized power there in 2007. Prosor could have added the tenuousness of Abbas’s rule in the West Bank itself, where towns are run by clan-based extortion gangs and Israeli forces are all that prevents a Hamas takeover.
● The fact that Gaza is a terrorist state in every sense of the term, “a haven for global jihadist organizations like al Qaeda,” a beachhead for Iran in its ongoing war for Israel’s annihilation.
● The fact that democracy has not exactly flourished in Islamist Gaza or, for that matter, in the West Bank, where “journalists, bloggers and activists continue to be jailed and tortured…for crimes such as ‘extending their tongues against the Palestinian President’” (see reportshere and here).
● The fact that the Palestinian Authority is bankrupt, totally dependent on foreign aid, yet “devotes 6% of its annual budget to payments for imprisoned terrorists and the families of suicide bombers”—while using its educational autonomy to instill a culture of hatred of Israel.
And to all this Europe voted yes—or at best took refuge in a cowardly neutrality.
It has been widely observed that, while General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding and lack standing in international law, the promotion to “state” status will give the Palestinian Authority access to world bodies like the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where PA figures have already threatened to file claims against Israel for “war crimes,” “occupation of a sovereign country,” and the like.
Considering the authority’s dependence on Israel and the West both to stay solvent and keep from being swept away by Hamas, many believe these threats are just bluster and the weak, aging Abbas won’t really seek such confrontations. The Israeli leadership, for its part, is taking a wait-and-see approach. On Thursday night U.S. senators were already threatening to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority and the UN.
But even if the General Assembly vote remains on the symbolic plane for now, the Palestinian access to the ICC entails future dangers for Israel and constitutes a victory over it. Those wondering about Israel’s “right-wing” or “nationalistic” tendency these days can find some explanation in the cynicism displayed by almost all the world’s countries in the General Assembly on Thursday.
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Brain-lock inside the beltway

It’s at times like this I’m ashamed to admit I live inside the Beltway.
Well, that’s probably not specific enough, since I’m usually ashamed to admit I live inside the Beltway.
Still, the second you try to explain the stupidity of this “fiscal cliff” fiasco to a normal person, it makes William F. Buckley’s famous declaration that he’d rather be governed by the first few hundred people listed in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard seem all the more reasonable.
While there are some responsible politicians and policymakers in Washington, if you look at the whole place collectively, Uncle Sam starts to look like a junkie. The logic of addiction dictates that you make a deal that allows you to avoid all of your problems now and enjoy a quick high in exchange for a painful confrontation with reality down the road.
Almost exactly a year ago, during the famed debt-ceiling negotiations, Speaker of the House John Boehner boasted that he’d forced tough concessions from the Democrats, achieving the first real cut in government spending in ages. He claimed his “real, enforceable cut” amounted to $7 billion for fiscal year 2012. The Congressional Budget Office objected, saying the real savings were closer to $1 billion.
“Which of these numbers is accurate?” asked columnist Mark Steyn at the time. Answering his own question, he wrote: “The correct answer is: Who cares?”
And he was right. At the time, the U.S. was spending $188 million of largely borrowed money every hour of every day. So, going by the CBO number, if you started watching the official Godfather trilogy box set right after the deal was cut, the government would have burned through its “savings” before Fredo went on his last fishing trip. If you went by Boehner’s math, you could actually watch the whole trilogy about four times before the “savings” ran out.
America already has a more progressive tax system than Europe, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Democrats insist that the rich need to start paying their “fair share,” which means even more progressivity. The Republicans, meanwhile . . . agree! The difference is that the GOP wants to eliminate loopholes and exemptions while keeping rates where they are. Democrats would prefer simply raising the rates.
Now here’s a distinction that the first few hundred people in the Boston phone book would probably grasp better than the folks at Harvard (or in Congress): A tax increase is a tax increase. If I make the same amount of money as I did last year but pay more in taxes, then my taxes have gone up. If I pay less, my taxes have gone down. Whether the numbers moved this way or that because of closed loopholes or rejiggered tax rates, the result for me is the same. That doesn’t mean tax simplification doesn’t make sense, but dodging a rate hike isn’t the same as dodging a tax hike.
So the Republicans are, in fact, in favor of raising taxes by the rules of the real world. In exchange for doing this, they want the Democrats to deal with the real problem: spending. You could confiscate 100 percent of income over $1 million, and it would cover about a third of the deficit (and crush the economy in the process). You’d still have to deal with spending, particularly entitlement spending.
But the Democrats want to do . . . nothing. Or at least that’s the position they seemed to be taking this week.
The White House and the Democrats have been floating the idea that we can worry about entitlements later, if ever. The urgent thing is to raise taxes on the wealthy as soon as possible. When asked what he was prepared to cut, Senate majority leader Harry Reid said Wednesday, “Now remember, we’ve already done more than a billion dollars worth of cuts. We’ve already done that. So we need to get some credit for that.”
Okay, here’s the credit: That is about .09 percent of the deficit. Take .09 percent of a bow, Harry.
Meanwhile, the GOP seems to be obsessed with Talmudic interpretations of Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. You see, if the Bush tax cuts expire, we’ll all pay a lot more in taxes. But letting them expire wouldn’t violate the pledge, while voting for a smaller net tax increase would.
As Republicans sort all that out, the guy who actually won the election by claiming he had a better plan hasn’t proposed any plan at all. That’s life inside the Beltway for you.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.