Saturday, December 08, 2012

Review: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band in Anaheim

By Randy Lewis
Los Angeles Times
December 5, 2012

This post has been updated. See note below for details.

When Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s Wrecking Ball tour hit Kansas City, Mo.,  last month, they opened with Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City.” Two nights later in Denver, it was Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver” that got the show rolling.
As for the song Springsteen chose to open with in Anaheim on Tuesday night:  "Land of Hope and Dreams."
Who would have guessed?
But one of the defining aspects of any Springsteen concert is the way his music encourages listeners everywhere to connect with their own hometowns -- both celebrating their gifts and acknowledging their limitations -- thus making any and every town potentially a “Land of Hope and Dreams.”
On the flip side, his attention to how people deal when those hopes dwindle or those dreams go unrealized is what has turned Springsteen’s concerts into religious experiences for many.

Bruce Springsteen: In the Dec. 6 Calendar section, a review of Bruce Springsteen's concert Tuesday in Anaheim said that the line "It's a town full of losers, I'm pulling out of here to win" is from the song "Born to Run." It is from "Thunder Road."

And the theme of loss has taken on a greater role in Springsteen’s life, and by turn in his music, playing a central part in Tuesday’s rich 3½-hour marathon. The show was part of his Wrecking Ball tour, which visited Los Angeles last spring.
Springsteen and the E Streeters have weathered a double shot, to borrow his phrase from “The E Street Shuffle,” which they resurrected Tuesday. There was the death last year of saxophonist Clarence Clemons and more recently, as with millions of others on the Eastern seaboard, the destruction inflicted on their hometowns by Superstorm Sandy.
Both were acknowledged during the show, not as passing references amid business as usual but as key elements of a new reality for them.
The 63-year-old rocker talked of the frustration of watching his adopted town of Asbury Park, N.J.,  struggle economically before experiencing a revitalization in the last decade, only to have much of its progress wiped away by Sandy.
That’s no reason, he told the sold-out crowd of 16,000 that packed the Honda Center to the rafters, to abandon hope. He used the story as his intro to “Wrecking Ball,” in which he defiantly challenges the forces of destruction:  “Bring on your wrecking ball/Come on and take your best shot/Let me see what you’ve got.”
It was part of a four-song set he’s been doing most nights of the tour since Sandy hit that weaves together songs about community: “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Wrecking Ball,” “Death to My Hometown” and “My City of Ruins.”
Perhaps the more daunting loss to contend with is that of Clemons, his physically, musically and spiritually imposing right-hand man.It says something about the place Clemons holds in E Street lore that it takes five new musicians to fill his mighty shoes: the E Street Horns, an instrumental squadron consisting of two saxophonists, two trumpeters and a trombonist led by Clemons’ nephew Jake Clemons. The latter did journeyman's work in the unenviable task of re-creating his uncle’s greatest solos in “Born to Run,” “Badlands” and the rarely revisited epic “Jungleland.”
The transition into a new era of the E Street Band demonstrated two things: A great band truly is more than the sum of its parts, and a great musician can create an imprint that will long outlast his or her time on Earth.
Early on, during "My City of Ruins," Springsteen interpolated the line from “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” -- “a change was made uptown” -- in reference to Clemons long before he played the latter at the show's close. The line telegraphed his personal struggle with losing a brother and acknowledged the loss fans experienced with him.
It was one of many lines, some from songs, some extrapolated exhortations, he used as he shifted into preacher mode to drive home his sermons: “Are you ready to be transformed?” he asked repeatedly at the start; “Rise up!” he exhorted at another point in the show, and   “Can you feel the spirit?” and “Take me higher” in others.
The power-packed finale of the 28-song show included “Born to Run,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “Freeze Out.”  Guest appearances by Southland rock heroes Tom Morello and Social Distortion’s Mike Ness (who sang his band’s “Bad Luck”) added adrenaline to the set.
But a 3½-hour Springsteen show circa 2012 has a decidedly different feel than those he delivered in the 1970s or '80s.
The visceral energy of long-gone youth is supplanted nowadays by the reflective, even meditative, aspects of grown-up life. That brought more multifaceted emotion to the de rigueur sing-along sections of “Thunder Road” (“It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win”) and “Badlands” (“I believe in the faith that could save me/I believe in the hope and I pray that some day it will raise me”).
The result is an experience equally and potentially more powerful than this force of nature conjured in his days of yore.
Who would have guessed?

First thoughts from new Rock Hall chief Greg Harris
E! to air special before Rolling Stones' pay-per-view concert

Boyens: Del Toro's 'Hobbit' would've been 'amazing'

Philippa Boyens is one of the writers of Peter Jackson’s new J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” and a longtime collaborator with Jackson and his creative and life partner Fran Walsh. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Mary McNamara
Los Angeles Times
December 7, 2012
“There and Back Again” is the subtitle of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” and it would certainly serve handily for a biography of many of those involved in taking the book to film, though none perhaps as well as Philippa Boyens.
Asked one day in 1997 if, as a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, she might have any interest in helping out friends and fellow New Zealanders Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh adapt “The Lord of the Rings” for film, Boyens, a former teacher and then executive director of the New Zealand Writers Guild, shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?”
“I figured it would last a couple of weeks,” she says now, laughing at the memory, “maybe a month.”
Instead she, like so many Tolkien characters, was swept away on a life-changing adventure, down roads long and sometimes perilous. Fifteen years later, she is an Oscar-winning screenwriter and producer, part of one of the most successful collaborations in film history and proof that a third wheel (Walsh and Jackson are also life partners) is a good thing to have if you’re going to wander over terrain as varied as the “Lord of the Rings” franchise, “King Kong,” “The Lovely Bones” and now “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which arrives in theaters Friday.
Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” (New Line Cinema / MGM / Warner Bros.)
When New Line and Warner Bros. initially decided to make two films from Tolkien’s first book — a child’s tale that turned out to be the prelude to the author’s three-book epic — Guillermo del Toro signed on as director. Boyens, along with Walsh and Jackson, took up their staffs, cloaks and keyboards, returning to Middle-earth as co-writers and producers.
The four began outlining Del Toro’s vision for the book, but after waiting almost two years for rights issues to be resolved, Del Toro left the project. Jackson eventually accepted the director’s chair, and he, Walsh and Boyens began again.
“I would love to have seen the films Guillermo would have made,” Boyens says frankly. “It would have been amazing. And he certainly helped us by bringing fresh eyes to the Middle-earth because, of course, the biggest issue was making sure we weren’t remaking ‘Lord of the Rings.’
“In some ways it was easier, though, starting again for Pete. We work in a different way, very fluid, very flexible.”
She and Walsh do most of the preliminary writing, although as with “Lord of the Rings,” scenes are rewritten even as they are being shot or sometimes after. “Pete incorporates new ideas from everyone, he likes to work with the actors, it was all quite familiar.”
But, as Boyens says, familiarity was as much an obstacle as a boon. “If we hadn’t made ‘Lord of the Rings,” she says, “this would probably be a different film — the book is aimed at a much younger audience. But this world now exists, people are familiar with it so, as Pete put it, we were going back on location to Middle-earth.”
Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” (New Line Cinema / MGM / Warner Bros.)
The landscape isn’t the only thing that’s familiar; audiences now also have a certain expectation from the inhabitants — hobbits and dwarfs, wizards and elves, and above all, Gandalf, played now, as then, by Ian McKellen.
The ultimate decision to make three films of the relatively slender tale was in large part because of the writers’ decision to follow Gandalf on the mysterious journey he takes in the middle of “The Hobbit.”
“In the book, Gandalf just disappears, you know,” Boyens says. “And at the time it was written, you don’t know what he does or where he goes. But now we know, the audience knows. It’s a wonderful story, and we have such a powerful character in Gandalf it was a no-brainer to tell it. And any day you spend working with Sir Ian is a good day.”
Indeed, despite having spent years writing and prepping for filming of “The Hobbit,” Boyens wasn’t quite prepared for the emotional nature of her return to Middle-earth until she met with McKellen for a costume fitting.
“There was really nothing much new, a different scarf or something, and I wasn’t really thinking about it and I rounded a corner and there was Gandalf peering at me from under the brim of his hat,” she says. “I hadn’t seen him in 10 years, you know, and it really hit me. We’re back.”
The young Bilbo Baggins of “The Hobbit” is played by Martin Freeman rather than Ian Holm, who portrayed the older version of the character in “Lord of the Rings,” but McKellen isn’t the only actor joining the reunion; Holm is too, setting up the story in flashback.
As with the three films of “Lord of the Rings,” the writers dipped into Tolkien’s lengthy appendixes to smooth or flesh out the cinematic narrative. And so in this now three-film version of “The Hobbit,” Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugh Weaving) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) appear, as do Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Gollum (Andy Serkis).
“Talk about someone who hasn’t aged,” Boyens says with a laugh, “Cate Blanchett is even more beautiful than she was, and Orlando looks younger somehow. It’s totally unfair.”
With Jackson “bouncing around in regular form,” there was a certain déjà vu to the set at times, she says, but there were plenty of new faces; in addition to Freeman’s Bilbo, there are 13 dwarfs, including Richard Armitage as the impressive and at times imperious Thorin Oakenshield.
“Thorin is a very powerful character in the film,” Boyens says, “and a very difficult one because he is so complicated.”
Everyone was aware of the essential challenge — to revisit a familiar land but at a slightly earlier time and to tell a very different sort of story.
“A lot of it came down to casting the right person for Bilbo,” she says. “Because there’s a whimsy to ‘The Hobbit’ that is not easily translatable.”
Then there’s the structure of the story, which is so episodic it could have easily felt like a TV miniseries and doesn’t have the sense of higher purpose required by an epic, which if you’re going to make three films, “The Hobbit” had to become.
“It’s not a noble quest to begin with,” Boyens says, “it’s a quest for treasure. And Bilbo is not a traditional hero — he doesn’t kill the dragon, some guy from out of nowhere does. Bilbo is heroic but not in that way.”
She says the first part of the trilogy hews close to the book, though with a darker tone that will then carry on to the other films. Liberties are taken, but the three writers have learned that though they will never be able to satisfy the Tolkien purists, most fans understand that the films are versions of the books and judge them as such. (It remains to be seen how audiences will respond to the new 48-frames-per-second technology that Jackson employed for the shoot, which is designed to create a hyper-real look.)
Which isn’t to say that Boyens doesn’t have a few bones to pick with final edits. In the case of “Lord of the Rings,” she went nine rounds trying to figure out how keep the character Tom Bombadil in the film (she couldn’t), and in “The Hobbit” there is at least one scene she “just loves” that she is pretty sure won’t make the final cut.
“I would love to have seen the films Guillermo [del Toro] would have made,” Boyens says. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Even her youngest child’s film debut hit the cutting-room floor fairly early. In the “Lord of the Rings” films, the Jackson and Boyens children all had small roles, as hobbits and children of Rohan and Gondor. In “The Hobbit,” Boyens’ daughter plays a dwarf.
Her now-3-year-old son, Isaac, also played “the cutest little hobbit baby you’ve ever seen,” but, alas, his big moment came in a scene Jackson did not think was crucial.
“My child got cut,” Boyens says, a note of good-humored outrage in her voice, “by his own godfather.”
– Mary McNamara
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The Economy isn't doing so great after all

Now They Tell Us
Posted By Tom Blumer On December 8, 2012 @ 12:00 am In Column,Elections 2012 | 20 Comments
PJ Media
Now that Barack Obama is safely ensconced in the White House for another four years, several items which should have been noticed or revealed before Election Day have come to the fore. Collectively, they tell us two things: that the pre-election economy was worse than voters were led to believe, and that the prospects for meaningful improvement under the current regime are bleak at best. Additionally, in at least one instance, economic activity itself was likely manipulated.
The probable gamesmanship occurred at Government/General Motors, which is still effectively under Obama administration control, still on track to saddle U.S. taxpayers with a loss of $25 billion or more [1], and still losing market share [2].
Despite already-bloated inventories at its dealers, GM’s production lines ran full throttle during September and October. Thanks to that ramp-up and unimpressive sales growth, retail inventories grew by an astonishing 99,000 in October and November. Dealers received five vehicles for every four they sold during those two months, bringing their on-hand stocks from an already unsustainable 689,000 in September to an absolutely ridiculous 788,000. GM estimates that its dealers have a 4-1/2 month supply [3] of full-size pickups — if the economy doesn’t tank.
It seems all too likely that a presidential campaign which used “GM is alive, Osama is dead” [4] as its campaign theme ordered or pressured GM executives to keep the assembly lines running all-out regardless of the business consequences. The campaign of challenger Mitt Romney should have been paying closer attention, as half of GM’s inventory spike occurred and was reported before Election Day. But instead, it let itself get distracted [5] by mostly irrelevant noise about Chrysler’s plans for its Jeep brand in China. It even missed touting Chrysler parent Fiat’s announcement that it plans to manufacture a new Jeep model [6] for the North American market in Italy.
Earlier this week, almost a month removed from election-related visibility, the Wall Street Journal reported [7] that the company “is taking steps to cut excess production,” specifically citing a plant in the critical swing state of Ohio, and “signaled there may be more to come.” Imagine that. If the economy sputters badly, layoffs could easily begin occurring at GM and throughout its supply chain.
News in the housing market, particularly concerning sales of new single-family homes, suddenly went from pre-election exuberance to post-election bleakness. The Census Bureau’s final pre-election report told us that new-home sales had reached a seasonally adjusted annual level of 389,000. The administration’s press apparatchiks dutifully reported that figure as the highest in 2-1/2 years. The Associated Press, aka the Administration’s Press [8]told readers [9] and subscribing outlets that the news was “further evidence of a sustained housing recovery that could help lift the lackluster economy.”
Oops. The bureau’s post-Thanksgiving release [10] revised September’s number down by over 5 percent to 369,000 and also reported a slight October decline. Overall, it showed that the housing market has gone nowhere [11] during the past eight reported months. Actual monthly sales during the past five months have badly trailed 2009, when most observers thought that things were already as bad as they could get. Those who believed that clearly underestimated the Obama administration’s ability to perpetuate misery throughout a sector which would have long since recovered if it had simply been left alone. The AP’s still overoptimistic reaction to the September revision was to insist [12] that “the housing market (is) starting to recover more than five years after the bubble burst,” and to push a large portion of the blame for October onto Superstorm Sandy.
Readers are going to be seeing a lot of Sandy-related excuse-making during the next several months, and — who knows? — maybe even the next several years. Already, Sandy is being peddled as the reason why the ADP-Moody’s November private-sector employment report came in with only 118,000 jobs added [13]. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, claimed that the number would have been 86,000 higher if it weren’t for Sandy. Logically then, the December catch-up added to a supposedly typical month with 200,000 jobs added should cause the next ADP-Moody’s report to show a gain of almost 300,000. Wanna bet, Mark? November’s jobs report [14] from the government released on Friday, though presented as pretty decent by the press, really wasn’t [15].
Now even the press is turning dour [16] on the economy, as if lousy conditions totally invisible before November 6 have suddenly (and of course, “unexpectedly [17]“) appeared to ruin things. But so are Obama and Democratic legislators, who while demanding economy-retarding, job-killing pound-of-flesh tax increases and insisting that entitlement spending stay off the table for another ten years [18]want to add [19] “tens of billions of dollars of … stimulus measures” to any deal to prevent the January 1 “fiscal cliff.”
The only things which seem likely to arise out of all of this are trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, continued lackluster or worse economic growth, and indefinitely higher than acceptable levels of unemployment and under-employment. Oh, and one more thing, courtesy of Howard Dean and despite the administration’s insistence to the contrary: tax increases for everyone [20].

More: 73% of Jobs Created in Last 5 Months Have Been Government Jobs [21]

Egypt's predictable unraveling

By Andrew C. McCarthy
December 8, 2012

As Egypt under the heel of Mohamed Morsi unravels, here’s the late-breaking news: The Muslim Brotherhood is the enemy of democracy.
This has always been obvious to anyone who took the time to look into it. Nevertheless, it has not been an easy point to make lo these many years. Even as the Justice Department proved beyond any doubt in court that the Brotherhood’s major goal in America and Europe — its self-professed “grand jihad” — is “eliminating and destroying Western civilization,” to have the temerity to point this out is to be smeared as an “Islamophobe.” That’s the Islamophilic Left’s code for “racist.”
Nor is it just the Left. Like the transnational progressives who hold sway in Democratic circles, many of the neoconservative thinkers who have captured Republican foreign-policy making encourage “outreach” to “moderate Islamists” — a ludicrously self-contradictory term. The idea is to collaborate in the construction of “Islamic democracies.” That’s another nonsensical term — to borrow Michael Rubin’s quote of a moderate Muslim academic piqued by the encroachments of Turkey’s ruling Islamists, “We are a democracy. Islam has nothing to do with it.” That is clearly right. Yet, to argue the chimerical folly of the sharia-democracy experiment is to be demagogued as an “isolationist.” It is as if the Right can no longer fathom an engaged foreign policy that concentrates solely on vital U.S. interests and treats America’s enemies as, well, enemies.
Of course, it is neither Islamophobic nor isolationist to observe that Islamic supremacism is derived from literal Muslim scripture; that it is a mainstream interpretation of Islam whose adherents, far from being limited to a “violent extremist” fringe, number in the hundreds of millions and include many of Islam’s most influential thinkers and institutions. These are simply facts. Nor is it Islamophobic or isolationist to contend that any sensible engagement with Islamic supremacists — very much including the Muslim Brotherhood — ought to be aimed at their marginalization and defeat, not their cultivation and empowerment. This is not a popular view; opinions amply supported by unpleasant facts are rarely popular. But following it would strengthen pro-Western Muslims while promoting an American global engagement that is essential, effective, and affordable. That is the very antithesis of Islamophobia and isolationism.
The central contention here has been that the Muslim Brotherhood is an innately, incorrigibly Islamic-supremacist outfit. Wherever it establishes a presence, it seeks — as gradually as indigenous conditions require, and as rapidly as they allow — to implement its repressive construction of sharia. Wherever it gets the opportunity to rule, it uses its power to impose this sharia, despite resistance from the society’s non-Islamist factions.
This is not a mere theory. Egypt, the world’s most important Arab country, is violently convulsing before our eyes in direct reaction to the suffocation that is Islamist rule. So, will we finally take the lesson? Will we finally come to understand why democracy and Islamic supremacism cannot coexist?
Western democracy has Judeo-Christian underpinnings. At its core is the equal dignity of every person. This sacred commitment, ironically, enables our bedrock secular guarantee: freedom of conscience. It is anathema to the Brotherhood. As their guiding jurist, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, teaches: “Secularism can never enjoy general acceptance in an Islamic society.” This is because “the acceptance of secularism means abandonment of sharia.”
Now, maybe you doubt this. Maybe you think “Islamic democracy” enthusiasts like Hillary Clinton, edified by her trusty aide Huma Abedin, know more about sharia than Sheikh Qaradawi does. But let’s just say I doubt it — and I am quite certain that the ummah would laugh, and then probably riot, at such a suggestion.
The Brothers really do believe what they say. They especially believe what Qaradawi says.
Obama officials tirelessly portray the Brotherhood as a normal, “largely secular” organization. Other Western progressives nod their heads in unison. Even with Egypt aflame over Morsi’s aggressive constitution gambit — the fulfillment of his campaign promise of a constitution that would reflect “the sharia, then the sharia, and finally the sharia” — New York Times Cairo bureau chief David Kirkpatrick assures Hugh Hewitt’s listeners that the Brotherhood is a “moderate, regular old political force” that “just want[s] to win elections.” The Brothers, you are to conclude, are just an Islamic analogue to Europe’s Christian Democrats.
This is worse than lunacy. It is the most irresponsible brand of willful blindness. Mr. Kirkpatrick, in fact, amplifies his see-no-sharia analysis with a whopper: You oughtn’t render harsh judgments about the Brothers’ intentions because, “you know, you don’t know what their ultimate vision of . . . the good life looks like.”
Actually, they could not have made themselves clearer on that subject. Perhaps you’ve heard: “Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” Islam, in this ultimate vision, cannot tolerate secular democracy because sharia — the “Koran is our law” part of the equation — will not abide it.
Sharia, Qaradawi elaborates, is a “comprehensive system” of “legislation” derived directly from “Allah’s injunctions.” Our notion of secularism, in which sovereignty belongs to the people, is for Qaradawi a “denial of the divine guidance.”
Imposition of the divine guidance is the Brotherhood’s raison d’être. As explained after Mubarak’s fall by Khairat al-Shater, the Brothers’ strategic leader and Morsi’s patron, “to subjugate people to God on earth” — “to organize our life and the lives of the people on the basis of Islam” — is “our main and overall mission as Muslim Brothers.”
The draft constitution the Brothers are currently trying to force on Egyptians elucidates their idea of the “basis of Islam” to which people must be subjugated. The Hudson Institute’s Samuel Tadros expertly analyzed it this week on the Corner. The Brothers make the “principles of sharia” the cornerstone of law; squelch authentic moderate reformers by stipulating that “principles” are limited to the four established Sunni jurisprudential schools (which consider all questions to have been settled by the tenth century); and vest in the fundamentalist scholars of ancient al-Azhar University a dispositive role in interpreting sharia — similar to the mullahs of Shiite Iran.
There is more. The new constitution tellingly strikes the old constitution’s reference to “citizenship” — a term that implied equality between Muslims and non-Muslims — as the basis for Egypt’s political order. It empowers the Islamist state to “entrench . . . moral values” in society by enforcing the Islamist ideal of “family values.” It denies freedom of conscience by refusing many religious minorities the right to worship. Although Christianity is not outlawed, the finances of Christian churches are placed under government control — enabling the creation of a Communist-style national church, subject to Islamist domination. It denies freedom of expression by adopting sharia’s repressive blasphemy laws, under which any criticism of Islam is brutally punished. It deletes the former constitution’s express guarantee of equality for women “in the fields of political, social, cultural, and economic life.”
Phony “teachable moments” abound in the era of Obama moralizing, but this one is worth our attention: Egypt is the Brotherhood unleashed. This week’s despotic bloodletting is the natural, logical, entirely predictable end of the Brotherhood’s machinations — not just in Egypt but everyplace the Brothers operate. That includes the United States, where our government takes their counsel, invites them to shape our national-security policy, and gives them a veto over the content of materials used to train our law-enforcement, military, and intelligence agents.
It is long past time to realize that this is not a game. The Brothers are playing for keeps.
— 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.

Friday, December 07, 2012

William & Kate have nothing on Obama

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
December 7, 2012

From the New York Daily News:
"Snooki Gives Kate Middleton Advice On Being A New Parent."

Great! Maybe Kate could return the favor and give Snooki and her fellow Americans some advice. About fiscal prudence, for example. Say what you like about a high-living, big-spending, bloated, decadent parasitical, wastrel monarchy, but, compared to the citizen-executive of a republic of limited government, it's a bargain. So, while the lovely Duchess of Cambridge nurses her baby bump, the equally radiant President of the United States nurses his ever more swollen debt belly. He and his family are about to jet off on their Christmas vacation to watch America slide off the fiscal cliff from the luxury beach resort of Kailua. The cost to taxpayers of flying one man, his wife, two daughters and a dog to Hawaii is estimated at $3,639,622. For purposes of comparison, the total bill for flying the entire Royal Family (Queen, princes, dukes, the works) around the world for a year is £4.7 million – or about enough for two Obama vacations.
According to the USAF, in 2010 Air Force One cost American taxpayers $181,757 per flight hour. According to the Royal Canadian Air Force, in 2011 the CC-150 Polaris military transport that flew William and Kate from Vancouver to Los Angeles cost Her Majesty's Canadian subjects $15,505 per hour – or about 8/100ths of the cost.


Unlike a republic, monarchy in a democratic age means you can't go around queening it. That RCAF boneshaker has a shower the size of a phone booth, yet the Duchess of Cambridge looked almost as glamorous as Snooki when she emerged onto the steps at LAX. That's probably because Canada's 437 Squadron decided to splash out on new bedding for the royal tour. Amanda Heron was dispatched to the local mall in Trenton, Ontario, and returned with a pale blue and white comforter and matching pillows. Is there no end to the grotesque indulgence of these over-pampered royal deadbeats? "I found a beautiful set," said Master-Corporal Heron. "It was such a great price I bought one for myself."
Nevertheless, Canadian journalists and politicians bitched and whined about the cost of this disgusting jet-set lifestyle nonstop throughout the tour. At the conclusion of their official visit to California, Their Royal Highnesses flew on to Heathrow with their vast entourage of, er, seven people – and the ingrate whining Canadians passed the baton to their fellow ingrate whiners across the Atlantic. As the Daily Mail in London reported, "High Fliers: Prince William and his wife Kate spend an incredible £52,000 on the one-way flight from L.A. to London for themselves and their seven-strong entourage." Incredible! For £52,000, you couldn't take the president from Washington to a state visit to an ice cream parlor in a Maryland suburb. Obama flew Air Force One from Washington to Williamsburg, Va., requiring a wide-bodied transatlantic jet that holds 500 people to ferry him a distance of a little over 100 miles. And, unlike their British and Canadian counterparts, the American media are entirely at ease with it.
Just for the record, William and Kate actually spent an "incredible" £51,410 – or about $80,000 – for nine business-class tickets on British Airways to Heathrow. At the check-in desk at Los Angeles, BA graciously offered the Duke and Duchess an upgrade to first class. By now you're probably revolted by this glimpse of disgusting monarchical excess, so, if it's any consolation, halfway through the flight the cabin's entertainment consoles failed and, along with other first-class passengers, Their Highnesses were offered a £200 voucher toward the cost of their next flight, which they declined.
By contrast, in a republic governed by "we, the people," when the President of the United States wishes to watch a film, there are two full-time movie projectionists who live at the White House and are on call round the clock, in case he's overcome by a sudden urge to watch Esther Williams in "Dangerous When Wet" (1953) at two in the morning. Does one of them accompany the First Family on Air Force One? If the movie fails halfway across the Pacific, will the President and First Lady each be offered a two-million dollar voucher in compensation?
In his recent book "Presidential Perks Gone Royal," Robert Keith Gray, a former Eisenhower staffer, revealed that last year the U.S. presidency cost American taxpayers $1.4 billion. Over the same period, the entire Royal Family cost British taxpayers about $57 million. There's nothing "royal" about the current level of "presidential perks": the Obama family costs taxpayers more than every European royal house put together.
In the American republic, even the dogs cost more. The Queen is a famous corgi lover and has been breeding them since she was a young girl. Now in her late eighties she's slowing down and only keeps four. The president has one pooch, a photo-op accessory called Bo, who, unlike the corgis, requires a full-time handler. In contrast to the stingy remuneration offered by the Royal Household, the presidential dog-walker is one of 226 White House staff earning over $100,000 a year. For many centuries, the King had a courtier whose somewhat intimate duties were reflected in his title: the Groom of the Stool, a position abolished in 1559. Now, after two and a third centuries, the American Presidency has evolved to the point that it has a full-time six-figure Groom of the Canine Stool. Will he be accompanying the President on Air Force One to liaise with the Keeper of the Privy Flatscreen over screenings of "Lassie"?
In 2003, the advance team for President George W. Bush informed Buckingham Palace that he would only be able to stay there if they took out all the windows and replaced them with blast-proof glass. The Queen, keeping a straight face, politely refused, and the president was forced to spend three nights in an insecure palace. Happily, in Hawaii, the flood-the-zone "security' can proceed unimpeded by cheeseparing monarchs who feel the job of head of state entails assuming a modest amount of risk or at least a passing acquaintance with reality. So local residents who will never catch a glimpse of their hermetically sealed-off sultan are expected to put up with walled-off neighborhoods, closed beaches, and residential streets clogged by 40-car motorcades. The Secret Service is installed in luxury hotels, no doubt with their Colombian hookers, and their hookers' Colombian glaziers, fresh from installing bombproof windows on Bo's kennel.
The fish rots from the head down, and so do republics. A $1.4-billion president has a defense secretary with a private plane to fly him home every weekend, and a chair of the "White House Council on Women and Girls" with her own Secret Service detail, and all of them ever more detached from the rhythms of American life. In the wake of the Cartagena hooker scandal, the Secret Service with predictable obtuseness imposed a new rule prohibiting agents from having "foreign nationals" in their rooms. The salient fact surely wasn't that they were "foreign" but that they were hookers. Yet now, at the luxury Moana Surfrider resort, Obama staffers passing through the lobby and bumping into minor princesses and arch-duchesses staying in the cheap rooms on the lower floors won't even be able to ask them up to their federally mandated ocean-view suites for tips on deficit reduction. In the Brokest Nation in History, it would be unreasonable to expect the president to pretend to have a regular all-American family Christmas for less than five million bucks.
As Ben Franklin famously said: "A republic, if you can keep it in the style to which it's become accustomed."
© Copyright 2012 Freedom Communications. All Rights Reserved. 

The Stone Truth: Left-Wingers Are Boring
When, at long last, will people understand that the Left is boring?
The question came to mind as I was dipping in and out of Oliver Stone’s miasmic 700-plus-page tome. I’ll never read the whole thing, and not because it’s a left-wing screed full of slimy distortions about the evils of the United States (though that doesn’t help). It’s that it’s boring.
Stone and co-author Peter Kuznick call their book “The Untold History of the United States,” except, again, it isn’t. This story has been told countless times before. As the Daily Beast’s Michael Moynihan notes in a devastating review, Stone and Kuznick offer no new research, and much of the old research they rely on has been rendered moot by more recent discoveries since the Berlin Wall came down. 
Still, what vexes me about the book isn’t really the substance. What bothers me is the manufactured rebelliousness, the kitschy nostalgic play-acting of the thing. The 66-year-old Stone can be an original filmmaker, but he is a stale old Red when it comes to politics.
In a sense, that’s fine. We’re all entitled to our opinions, even to commit them to paper in book form. But spare me the radical pose. Among the hilarious blurbs is this encomium from the octogenarian radical Daniel Ellsberg. “Howard [Zinn] would have loved this ‘people’s history’ of the American Empire. It’s compulsive reading: brilliant, a masterpiece!”
Ellsberg is right about one thing: The late Howard Zinn, a wildly left-wing historian, probably would have loved it — in no small part because he wrote so much of it already in his decades-old and endlessly recycled A People’s History of the United States.
Zinn’s work, along with Noam Chomsky’s, Michael Moore’s, and, now, Stone’s, is seen as boldly transgressive and subversive. Intellectually, there’s some truth to that of course. If you’re dedicated to subverting the free-enterprise system and traditional patriotism, then you’re a subversive.
I guess what bothers me is the whole pretense that these people are bravely speaking truth to power in some way. Zinn has been on college syllabi for decades. Moore wins Academy Awards and is treated like royalty by the Democratic party (he sat in Jimmy Carter’s suite at the 2004 Democratic convention). Chomsky has been a fixture on the campus paid-lecture circuit since before I was born.
According to investigative reporter Peter Schweizer, Chomsky, the avowed hater of capitalism, set up a special trust to hide his millions in personal wealth from the taxman. This from the guy who inveighs against a tax code full of “complicated devices for ensuring that the poor — like 80 percent of the population — pay off the rich.”
Stone, a notorious booster of Cuban socialism, owns numerous properties around the world. During an interview at his Santa Barbara, Calif, Spanish colonial villa, Architectural Digest asked about the contradiction between his anti-capitalist schtick and his lifestyle, and he replied that he wouldn’t fall for the guilt trip. “That’s a Western Christian trip.”
The bowel-stewing hypocrisy notwithstanding, what’s amazing is how the same dreck is recycled as new, fresh, and courageous. Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the U.S. Constitution will be 100 years old next year. Its attack on the Founders as greedy white men was wrong then, but at least it was relatively original. Today, college kids regurgitate the same nonsense — and professors applaud their rebelliousness. Except what or whom are they rebelling against? Not the faculty or the administration.
Hackneyed left-wingery is not only treated with respect on campuses (though most mainstream academics aren’t as left-wing as Zinn or Stone), it is repackaged daily by Hollywood and celebrated by the mainstream media.
The self-styled rebels of Occupy Wall Street received overwhelmingly positive coverage in the mainstream media in no small part because the liberal press thinks authentic political expression for young people must be left-wing. The regurgitation of hackneyed ’60s slogans pleasing to the ears of aging, nostalgia-besotted baby boomers elicits squeals of delight. Meanwhile, tea-party protests were greeted as dangerous, odd, and deserving of hostile journalistic scrutiny.
And yet the kitsch of leftism still works its magic. In huge numbers, young people think they’re rebelling when all they’re doing is playing their assigned part and lending energy and, often, votes to a stale, regimented form of statist liberalism that often disappoints and never satisfies.
I don’t expect young people to become conservatives, though if you want to see a true rebel on campus, seek out the pro-life Christians. But is libertarianism really too much to ask? Championing economic liberty will tick off your professors, and you can still be a libertine on weekends. And if you get rich, you won’t be a hypocrite for defending your villa.
— 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 at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

It's nothing but a power play

By , Published: December 6

The Washington Post

Let’s understand President Obama’s strategy in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. It has nothing to do with economics or real fiscal reform. This is entirely about politics. It’s Phase 2 of the 2012 campaign. The election returned him to office. The fiscal cliff negotiations are designed to break the Republican opposition and grant him political supremacy, something he thinks he earned with his landslide 2.8-point victory margin on Election Day.
This is why he sent Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to the Republicans to convey not a negotiating offer but a demand for unconditional surrender. House Speaker John Boehner had made a peace offering of $800 billion in new revenue. Geithner pocketed Boehner’s $800 billion, doubled it to $1.6 trillion, offered risible cuts that in 2013 would actually be exceeded by new stimulus spending and then demanded that Congress turn over to the president all power over the debt ceiling.
Boehner was stunned. Mitch McConnell laughed out loud. In nobler days, they’d have offered Geithner a pistol and an early-morning appointment at Weehawken. Alas, Boehner gave again, coming back a week later with spending-cut suggestions — as demanded by Geithner — only to have them dismissed with a wave of the hand.
What’s going on here? Having taken Boehner’s sword, and then his shirt, Obama sent Geithner to demand Boehner’s trousers. Perhaps this is what Obama means by a balanced approach.
He pretends that Boehner’s offer to raise revenue by eliminating deductions rather than by raising rates is fiscally impossible.
But on July 22, 2011, Obama had said that “$1.2 trillion in additional revenues . . . could be accomplished without hiking tax rates, but could simply be accomplished by eliminating loopholes, eliminating some deductions and engaging in a tax reform process.” Which is exactly what the Republicans are offering today.
You’ve heard of situational ethics. This is situational mathematics.
As for the alleged curative effect on debt of Obama’s tax-rate demand — the full rate hike on the “rich” would have reduced the 2012 deficit from$1.10 trillion to $1.02 trillion.
That’s a joke, a rounding error.
Such nonsense abounds because Obama’s objective in these negotiations is not economic but political: not to solve the debt crisis but to fracture the Republican majority in the House. Get Boehner to cave, pass the tax hike with Democratic votes provided by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and let the Republican civil war begin.
It doesn’t even matter whether Boehner gets deposed as speaker. Either way, the Republican House would be neutered, giving Obama a free hand to dominate Washington and fashion the entitlement state of his liking.
This is partisan zero-sum politics. Nothing more. Obama has never shown interest in genuine debt reduction. He does nothing for two years, then spends the next two ignoring his own debt-reduction commission. In less than four years, he has increased U.S. public debt by a staggering 83 percent. As a percentage of gross domestic product, the real marker of national solvency, it has spiked from 45 percent to 70 percent.
Obama has never once publicly suggested a structural cut in entitlements. On the contrary, he created an entirely new entitlement — Obamacare — that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will increase spending by $1.7 trillion over 11 years.
What’s he thinking? Doesn’t Obama see looming ahead the real economic cliff — a European-like collapse under the burden of unsustainable debt? Perhaps, but he wants to complete his avowedly transformational social-democratic agenda first and let his successors — likely Republican — act as tax collectors on the middle class (where the real money is) and takers of subsidies from the mouths of babes.
Or possibly Obama will get fiscal religion and undertake tax and entitlement reform in his second term — but only after having destroyed the Republican opposition so that he can carry out the reformation on his own ideological terms.
What should Republicans do? Stop giving stuff away. If Obama remains intransigent, let him be the one to take us over the cliff. And then let the new House, which is sworn in weeks before the president, immediately introduce and pass a full across-the-board restoration of the George W. Bush tax cuts.
Obama will counter with the usual all-but-the-rich tax cut — as the markets gyrate and the economy begins to wobble under his feet.
Result? We’re back to square one, but with a more level playing field. The risk to Obama will be rising and the debt ceiling will be looming. Most important of all, however, Republicans will still be in possession of their unity, their self-respect — and their trousers.
Read more from The Washington Post: Robert Samuelson: The death of “tax reform” Dana Milbank: Republicans wave the white flag George Will: Bewitched by Obama E.J. Dionne: Republicans reboot Greg Sargent: Business leaders back Obama on debt ceiling Jennifer Rubin: Fiscal cliff antics

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Islamology 101

By Clifford D. May
December 6, 2012

Google “Islamist” and you’ll get more than 24 million hits. Google “jihadist” and you’ll get millions more. Yet I bet the average American could not tell you what it is that Islamists and jihadists believe. And those at the highest levels of the U.S. government refuse to do so.
Why? John Brennan, the top counterterrorism adviser in the White House, argues that it is “counterproductive” to describe America’s “enemy as ‘jihadists’ or ‘Islamists’ because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community, and there is nothing holy or legitimate or Islamic about murdering innocent men, women and children.” To describe terrorists using “religious terms,” he adds, would “play into the false perception” that the “murderers” waging unconventional war against the West are doing so in the name of a “holy cause.”
I get it. I understand why it would be useful to convince as many of the world’s more than a billion Muslims as possible that Americans are only attempting to defend themselves against “violent extremists.” By now, however, it should be obvious that this spin — one can hardly call it analysis — has spun out. The unpleasant fact is that there is an ideology called Islamism and, as Yale professor Charles Hill recently noted, it “has been on the rise for generations.”
So we need to understand it. We need to understand how Islamism has unfolded from Islam, and how it differs from traditional Islam as practiced in places as far-flung and diverse as Kuala Lumpur, Erbil, and Timbuktu. This is what Bassam Tibi attempts in his most recent book, published this year, Islamism and Islam. It has received nowhere near the attention it deserves.
A Koret Foundation Senior Fellow at Stanford University, Tibi describes himself as an “Arab-Muslim pro-democracy theorist and practitioner.” Raised in Damascus, he has “studied Islam and its civilization for four decades, working in the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and Africa.” His research has led him to this simple and stark conclusion: “Islamism is a totalitarian ideology.” And just as there cannot be “democratic totalitarianism,” so there cannot be “democratic Islamism.”
Brennan and other American and European officials are wrong, Tibi says, to fear that “fighting Islamism is tantamount to declaring all of Islam a violent enemy.” As for the Obama administration’s insistence that “the enemy is specifically, and only, al-Qaeda,” that, Tibi writes, “is far too reductive.”
Tibi also faults Noah Feldman, the young scholar who advised the Bush administration, and who insisted, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, that sharia, Islamic law, can be viewed as “Islamic constitutionalism.” Feldman failed to grasp the significance of the “Islamist claim to supremacy (siyadat al-Islam),” the conviction that Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists are inferior and that their inferiority should be reflected under the law and by government institutions.
Tibi makes this important distinction: All jihadists are Islamists, but not all Islamists are jihadists. In other words, not all Islamists are committed to violence, including terrorism, as the preferred means to achieve their goals. He asks: “Can we trust Islamists who forgo violence to participate in good faith within a pluralistic, democratic system?” He answers: “I believe we cannot.”
Chief among Islamist goals, Tibi writes, is al-hall al Islami, “the Islamic solution, a kind of magic answer for all of the problems — global and local, socio-economic or value-related — in the crisis-ridden world of Islam.” Islamists ignore the fact that such governance has been implemented, for example, in Iran for over more than 30 years, in Afghanistan under the Taliban, in Gaza under Hamas, and in Sudan. It has never delivered development, freedom, human rights, or democracy. As for Turkey, Tibi sees it as “not yet an Islamist state” but heading in that direction.
Tibi makes some arguments with which I’d quarrel. For example, he views Saudi religious/political doctrines as a “variety of Salafism (orthodox, traditional Islam) not Islamism.” I would counter that Salafism is a variant of Islamism, albeit one based not on the writings of Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, but on nostalgia for the glory days of the seventh century.
Nevertheless, the debate Tibi is attempting to initiate is necessary — and long overdue. During the Cold War there was a field of study known as Sovietology. It was taught in our most elite universities with strong U.S. government support.
Why isn’t Islamology — not Islamic theology, or “Muslim-Christian understanding,” or “Islamic thought” — a discipline today? For one, Tibi observes, because to “protect themselves against criticism, Islamists have invented the formula of ‘Islamophobia’ to defame their critics.” (How did Stalin not come up with Sovietophobia or Russophobia?) And of course if such slander fails to intimidate, there are other ways to shut people up: Tibi has “survived attempts on my life by jihadists.”
A second reason for the absence of Islamology: The U.S. government cannot back the study of an ideology it stubbornly insists does not exist. Finally, those who do fund anything to do with Islam on campus — for example, the Gulf petro-princes who have given tens of millions of dollars to Georgetown and Harvard — have a different agenda, one that does not include free and serious inquiry. We ignore what they are doing — and what Tibi is telling us — at great peril.
— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

No, It’s Not the Same Sharia Provision as in the Old Egyptian Constitution

By Andrew C. McCarthy
PJ Media
December 5, 2012

I’ve now been in a few debates about Egypt’s new draft constitution, which will be put to a vote next week — in fact, I debated Abbas Barzegar, an assistant professor of Islam at Georgia State University, on Sean Hannity’s radio show on Monday. As one would easily predict, it has become a key talking point of the constitution’s Islamist supporters that, in so far as concerns sharia (Islam’s societal framework and legal code), the new constitution marks no change. The new draft simply repeats, it is said, the old Sadat/Mubarak-era constitution’s stipulation that the “principles of sharia” govern.
This is an absurd claim. Of course, that won’t stop them from trying to make it fly … or stop the Western media, in the throes of spring fever, from repeating their assertions.
The new constitution’s provisions have been well summarized by Professor Rubin, whose post — which addresses this subject in addition to several other important ones — I highly recommend. I want to begin by stepping outside the substance of the constitution, though. Note that the non-Islamist factions resigned from the constituent assembly (the body tasked with drafting the new constitution) in explicit protest over its transparent Islamist character. Does anyone really think this would have happened if the new constitution were not a sharp turn toward Islamic supremacism and its attendant oppression of women, religious minorities, homosexuals, and other non-Islamists?
Now, back to substance. Yes, article 2 of the draft repeats the former constitution’s command that “Principles of Islamic Sharia are the principal source of legislation.” This repetition leads Islamists and their apologists to contend that adherence to sharia won’t be any more strict under Islamist rule than it was during Mubarak’s reign — notwithstanding that right now, even before the new constitution has been formally adopted, there is already far more sharia governance (and oppression) than there was before the old regime fell.
In reality, the new constitution’s repetition of article 2  is just the beginning of the discussion, not, as the Muslim Brotherhood’s apologists would have it, the end. From the premise of sharia principles as the core, the new constitution proceeds with three radical innovations.
First is the way the new constitution fleshes out what is meant by “principles.” The term will be governed by the four classical schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. These four schools consider virtually all questions to have been settled a millennium ago. This means Islamic reformers and modernizers will be foreclosed from effecting any softening of classical sharia’s adhesive provisions. To be sure, the Brotherhood may not reinstate the stoning of adulterers and other cruel hudud penalties tomorrow. But that will be based on a political calculation — as my friend David Goldman hasobserved, Egypt is a financial basket case and can’t afford to give irrevocable offense to its Western white knights (assuming they are still capable of being offended by anything Islamists do). The point is that there will be no legalretreat on classical sharia, and gradually it will become ever more repressive.
That is also the guaranteed outcome of the second innovation: The new constitution appoints al-Azhar University, the ancient seat of Sunni learning, as the final arbiter of what sharia means. This thrusts the scholars of that institution (whose alumni include Omar Abdel Rahman, the Blind Sheik of World Trade Center bombing fame, and Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s top jurist) into the full range of Egyptian life and affairs, since there is no aspect of human endeavor that sharia would not control.
Finally, there is Article 81, which follows the disingenuous scheme Islamists have previously adopted in the Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (also known as the “Cairo Declaration“) and in the constitutions of such other new “Islamic democracies” as Afghanistan and Iraq. That is, after a few soothing lines about how individual “rights and freedoms” are sacrosanct, not “subject to disruption or detraction,” the constitution goes on to say: “Such rights and freedoms shall be practiced in a manner not conflicting with the principles pertaining to State and society included in Part I of this Constitution.” And what are those “principles” in the “State and Society” section of the draft? Why, they are the ones that say principles of sharia govern all legislation — again, “principles” as construed by al-Azhar, using the ancient interpretations of the four classical Sunni schools of jurisprudence. Bottom line: Egyptians have only the rights and freedoms permitted under sharia.
When all the verbal camouflage is swept away, the new constitution delivers on what Mohamed Morsi, during the Egyptian presidential campaign, promised he would deliver: “The sharia, then the sharia, and finally the sharia.” As the now-dictator elaborated at the rally on the eve of the election (in a speech translated by MEMRI):
This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic sharia. I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the constitution]. … Allah willing, the text will truly reflect [the sharia], as will be agreed upon by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic scholars, and by legal and constitutional experts…. Rejoice and rest assured that this people will not accept a text that does not reflect the true meaning of the Islamic sharia as a text to be implemented and as a platform. The people will not agree to anything else.
The apologists who don’t see that as a change from Mubarak days are the same ones telling you that Morsi is a “moderate” and that the Brotherhood is a “largely secular” organization.