Friday, December 14, 2012

Marine Held in Mexican Prison, State Department Does Nothing

By Katie Pavlich
December 14, 2012

Jon Hammar, a former Marine who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, is being held in a notorious Mexican prison where Zetas gang members hold power. His crime? Declaring an antique shotgun to Mexican officials after registering the gun with U.S. Customs Agents on his way to Costa Rica. Hammar has been in a prison in Mexico for months now and this week, his parents got an extortion call demanding they wire thousands of dollars to the prison. Hammar spoke to his parents on the phone, saying he thought he was going to be killed. Hammar has been tortured during his time in the prison. He's been beaten and chained to a bed. Mexican officials have justified Hammar's arrest, saying it came in accordance with gun laws in the country, have no plans to release him and the State Department has done nothing to get Hammar released. He could face as many as 15 years in prison. More from NY Daily News:
The father of an ex-Marine jailed in Mexico after trying to declare an antique gun at the border says his son is concerned the attention his case has received could make him a target in his notorious lockup.

Jon Hammar, 27, was able to make a brief phone call Wednesday night to his father, Jon Hammar Sr., from his cell at the CEDES prison in Matamoros, Mexico.

“He’s just very concerned,” Hammar told the Daily News. “There’s a lot of activity (in the prison) because we’ve gone public,” his father said.

The younger Hammar, who spent four years in Iraq and Afghanistan, is worried he might be seen as a troublemaker as his family and lawmakers put pressure on the Mexican government to drop his four-month-old case.

Calling it a Catch-22, Hammar’s father said the support of lawmakers and the public for his son’s case could be instrumental in his release. But the publicity inside the jail could make the veteran American Marine unpopular.

“Some of the guards are saying ‘why are these people on TV about you? What’s going on?’” Hammar told his father.

CEDES, where Hammar is held, is one of the most notorious prisons in Mexico. Its population includes criminals linked to Mexico’s dangerous drug cartels. They are also widely believed to influence what goes on in the facility.
Hammer was told as long as he declared his shot gun to Mexican customs authorities that carrying the gun to Costa Rica was legal. Apparently that wasn't the case however considering Mexican authorities, including Mexican President Felipe Calderon, encourage their citizens to break U.S. law on a daily basis with illegal immigration and rock throwing at U.S. Border Patrol Agents, Hammer should be released immediately.
More from Hannity last night:

Katie Pavlich

Katie Pavlich is the News Editor at Follow her on Twitter @katiepavlich. She is also the author of Fast and Furious: Barack Obama's Bloodiest Scandal and the Shameless Cover-Up.“ABSOLUTELY DEVASTATING! Intrepid investigative journalist Katie Pavlich rips the lid off Team Obama’s murderous corruption and anti-Second Amendment zealotry"says Michelle Malkin.
"Katie Pavlich draws back the curtain on a radical administration that put Mexican and American lives at risk for no discernible reason other than to advance an ideological agenda." - David Limbaugh
Buy Katie's book today and help us keep the pressure on Obama and his attorney general Eric Holder and expose the cover-up.

The right-to-work dilemma

By Published: December 13

The Washington Post

For all the fury and fistfights outside the Lansing Capitol, what happened in Michigan this week was a simple accommodation to reality. The most famously unionized state, birthplace of the United Auto Workers, royalty of the American working class, became right-to-work.
It’s shocking, except that it was inevitable. Indiana went that way earlier this year. The entire Rust Belt will eventually follow because the heyday of the sovereign private-sector union is gone. Globalization has made splendid isolation impossible.
The nostalgics look back to the immediate postwar years when the UAW was all-powerful, the auto companies were highly profitable and the world was flooded with American cars. In that Golden Age, the UAW won wages, benefits and protections that were the envy of the world.
Today’s angry protesters demand a return to that norm. Except that it was not a norm but a historical anomaly. America, alone among the great industrial powers, emerged unscathed from World War II. Japan was a cinder, Germany rubble and the allies — beginning with Britain and France — an exhausted shell of their former imperial selves.
For a generation, America had the run of the world. Then the others recovered. Soon global competition — from Volkswagen to Samsung — began to overtake American industry that was saddled with protected, inflated, relatively uncompetitive wages, benefits and work rules.
There’s a reason Detroit went bankrupt while the southern auto transplants did not. This is not to exonerate incompetent overpaid management that contributed to the fall. But clearly the wage, benefit and work-rule gap between the unionized North and the right-to-work South was a major factor.
President Obama railed against the Michigan legislation, calling right-to-work “giving you the right to work for less money.” Well, there is a principle at stake here: A free country should allow its workers to choose whether to join a union. Moreover, it is more than slightly ironic that Democrats, the fiercely pro-choice party, reserve free choice for aborting a fetus while denying it for such matters as choosing your child’s school or joining a union.
Principle and hypocrisy aside, however, the president’s statement has some validity. Let’s be honest: Right-to-work laws do weaken unions. And de-unionization can lead to lower wages.
But there is another factor at play: having a job in the first place. In right-to-work states, the average wage is about 10 percent lower. But in right-to-work states, unemployment also is about 10 percent lower.
Higher wages or lower unemployment? It is a wrenching choice. Although, you would think that liberals would be more inclined to spread the wealth — i.e., the jobs — around, preferring somewhat lower pay in order to leave fewer fellow workers mired in unemployment.
Think of the moral calculus. Lower wages cause an incremental decline in one’s well-being. No doubt. But for the unemployed, the decline is categorical, sometimes catastrophic — a loss not just of income but of independence and dignity.
Nor does protectionism offer escape from this dilemma. Shutting out China and the others deprives less well-off Americans of access to the kinds of goods once reserved for the upper classes: quality clothing, furnishings, electronics, durable goods — from the Taiwanese-manufactured smartphone to the affordable, highly functional Kia.
Globalization taketh away. But it giveth more. The net benefit of free trade has been known since, oh, 1817. (See David Ricardo and the Law of Comparative Advantage.) There is no easy parachute from reality.
Obama calls this a race to the bottom. No, it’s a race to a new equilibrium that tries to maintain employment levels, albeit at the price of some modest wage decline. It is a choice not to be despised.
I have great admiration for the dignity and protections trade unionism has brought to American workers. I have no great desire to see the private-sector unions defenestrated. (Like FDR, Fiorello La Guardia and George Meany, however, I don’t extend that sympathy to public-sector unions.)
But rigidity and nostalgia have a price. The industrial Midwest is littered with the resulting wreckage. Michigan most notably, where its formerly great metropolis of Detroit is reduced to boarded-up bankruptcy by its inability and unwillingness to adapt to global change.
It’s easy to understand why a state such as Michigan would seek to recover its competitiveness by emulating the success of Indiana. One can sympathize with those who pine for the union glory days, while at the same time welcoming the new realism that promises not an impossible restoration but desperately needed — and doable — recalibration and recovery.
More on this debate: E.J. Dionne Jr.: Which path for the right? Harold Meyerson: The Lansing-Beijing connection Rachel Manteuffel: Readers respond to Meyerson’s column Erik Wemple: Are the media ignoring union thuggery in Michigan?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Aristotle, curiosity and the mainstream media

By Roger Kimball
PJ Media
December 12, 2012

This week, I went to the 2012 “Mightier Pen Award” at a semi-secure widely publicized location in New York. Sponsored by the indispensable Center For Security Policy, the award “recognizes journalists who promote the need for robust US national security policies.” This year’s recipient was the great Monica Crowley, author (most recently) ofWhat the (Bleep) Just Happened?: The Happy Warrior’s Guide to the Great American Comeback.
Before Ms. Crowley’s luncheon talk, the Center had organized two panels on the media and the 2012 election.  The first panel, “Beyond Bias: The Mainstream Media,” dilated on the role the mainstream media played in securing the election for Barack Obama.  Speakers were my fellow PJM columnist Andrew McCarthy, Washington Times columnist Bill Geertz, and Forbes columnist (and PJM alumnus) Richard Miniter.  The second panel, encouragingly titled “To the Rescue: The New Media,” featured  Tiffany Gabbay from The Blaze, Peter Schweizer from the Hoover Institution, and John Nolte from Breitbart’s Big Hollywood.
It was a memorable event, a cathartic post-election moment at which little jewels of clarity and resolution were proffered and gratefully accepted by an audience most of whom were still suffering from PESS, post-election stress syndrome.
I’d like to share two points from the event. One concerns my title. Cardinal Newman once observed that, about most matters, to think like Aristotle was to think correctly.  I believe that is true. Aristotle went wrong in a few areas—biology is a conspicuous example—but by and large his anthropology is spot on.  It was with some chagrin, then, that I found myself disagreeing with a central Aristotelian observation in the light of Andrew McCarthy’s presentation.  At the beginning of the Metaphysics, Aristotle says that “All men by nature desire to know.”  Curiosity, he suggests, is native to the human animal.  That is why were are so clever (that and the opposable thumb). But consider these questions Andy articulated about Obama and Benghazi:
  1. Who told the president about the siege on our consulate in that Libyan hell hole?
  2. When did Obama learn about the siege that left four Americans, including his official representative to Libya, dead?
  3. What were his orders about dealing with the siege?
Who, when, what.  In the normal course of events, you would think that the men and women whose whole professional life is, or is supposed to be, driven by the desire to answer such questions would be busy as terriers digging for the truth about this extraordinary event. Four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador, murdered on the anniversary of 9/11 by offshoots of al-Qaeda. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that every Pulitzer Prize-craving journalist in the country would be all over this one.
Sniff the air.  What do you smell? I smell scandal, a bug juicy scandal emanating from an administration that watched the seven and a half hour siege unfold in real time while U.S. military assets stood by nary an hour away and did . . .  nothing. What happened in Benghazi contravened the official narrative about the beneficent “Arab Spring” that was breaking out all over, therefore it didn’t happen. Or rather, it happened because some dodgy character in California disseminated a cartoon-like melodrama about Mohammed. Did anyone—anyone—believe that?  Where are the watch dogs of the fourth estate? Why is it that The New York TimesThe Washington Post, MSNBC, and CNN have stood by in mute, simian idiocy, seeing, hearing, speaking no evil? Why? What happened to the desire to know? Who first told the president, the commander in chief, the man whose first responsibility is to provide for the national security of the United States, who first told him about the siege on our sovereign property in Libya?  When did they tell him? It had to have been within minutes of that day-long siege beginning. And what was his response? What orders did he issue—or fail to issue—to safeguard those American citizens?
In 1850, Palmerston sent British warships to the Aegean to recompense and protect a Gibraltar-born British citizen whose house had been burnt by the Greeks.  In 2012, Barack Obama stands by while four Americans are murdered by terrorists in Libya and then blames the event on an internet video. Who? When? What? Where are the contemporary Woodwards and Bernsteins hot on the trail on this pullulating story? Why aren’t scores of journalists running this one to earth, badgering their sources, burrowing into the interstices of this story? Watergate was a pathetic little burglary. No one suffered a scratch. Benghazi is, or should be, an international incident. Four Americans were murdered by terrorists on the anniversary of the biggest terrorist attack on the United States in history. The president and his minions, ever mindful of protecting their pacific narrative about the Arab Spring (to say nothing of their vigilant protection of their prospects for reelection), stand by in supine inactivity while a few hundred RPG-equipped hordes batter our consulate, finally, after seven and a half hours, overcoming their valiant resistance. Our drones were in the air, capturing the event in real time. We had an AC130 airship in the vicinity that was not called on. A squadron of F18s, less than an hour away in Italy, were not scrambled. Why? Why were those Americans left to die? Who told the president? When did he learn about the attack? What were his orders?  Why don’t we have the answers to those questions? Why aren’t those questions printed daily on the front pages of The New York Times?
Even to ask those questions is to answer them, sort of. We know the answer. It is “politics,” political expedience. It would not serve the Leftist agenda, therefore Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues had to die and we had to pretend it was no big deal, or if it was a big deal it was all the fault of an obscure internet video about a medieval warlord who may or may not have existed.
“All men by nature desire to know”—except if they work for The New York TimesThe Washington Post, etc., and the subject of inquiry is politically inconvenient. “All the news that fits our agenda,” that’s the real, if unstated, motto of The New York Times and its kindred “news” organizations.
Which brings me to my second point. Richard Miniter, in that morning panel, outlined how it was that big stories became big stories, how thinly sourced they often were, and how they required the active involvement of a handful of editors and organs like the Times and and The Washington Post. Over the course of this past election, one heard—and I was among those proclaiming—that alternatives to the (formerly) mainstream media were much more prominent now than in 2008 and that therefore organs like the Times, the Post, etc., now had real competition.  They no longer set the agenda, but, powerful though those teetering enterprises were, they were merely one voice among many.
The first proposition is true.  Internet entities, prominently including PJ Media, do offer real and increasing competition to those legacy outlets.  But the second proposition, alas, is not true: a tiny handful of organs, conspicuously including the Times, still sets the agenda for what is news. The idea that “new media” has emerged as a serious rival is, as Miniter said, “a myth.”
I do not say this gladly. I wish Miniter were wrong.  But my observation of what just happened in this election, and what has not happened in the (non) coverage of Benghazi, convinces me that he is correct. So I can take scant consolation from John Nolte’s insistence that “new media” made a big difference in the election. True, he acknowledged, we didn’t win—but our loss would have been larger had there not been internet sites from Breitbart and Drudge to PJ Media and Red State purveying “the rest of the story.” Maybe so.  Nolte admitted that “new media” could not—not yet—set the agenda, but it was, he argued, a potent weapon in shooting down false narratives. Again, maybe so. But the biggest false narrative of this past election was that Mitt Romney was an insensitive plutocrat out of touch with the common man.  The whole “Bain-Capital-is-Evil” meme was tirelessly and successful pursued by the Obama campaign. It was less than ridiculous. It was a patent, malevolent lie.  Romney never managed to counter it, and neither did we.  So much the worse for us, and for the country.

Film Review: 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'

Ring Cycle

By Anthony Lane
The New Yorker
December 17, 2012

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gollum in Jackson
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gollum in Jackson’s latest Tolkien adaptation. Illustration by Ron Kurniawan.
The subtitle of “The Hobbit,” written by J. R. R. Tolkien and published in 1937, is “There and Back Again.” Crisp, decisive, and comforting, like the book. The first part of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit”—a three-part screen adaptation—is subtitled “An Unexpected Journey,” though that does little justice to the result. Had Jackson been more accurate, he would have called it “Not Quite There Yet,” or “Still Some Way to Go.”
The story has the simplicity of folklore, but the straightness of the narrative keeps arriving at moral crossroads. Thus, when Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellen) turns up at the house of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the hobbit in question, and returns the next day with thirteen dwarves, who invite Bilbo to come and steal gold—or, as they believe, reclaim it—from a dragon far, far away, and to receive a share of the plunder, our hero is faced with an elemental choice: stay or go? Rest in the consolatory rhythms of hearth and home, marked out by meals and seasons, or break the pattern and take the unknowable risk? As Gandalf says to Bilbo, “The world is not in your books and maps. It’s out there!”—a sly gibe, which casts an eye not just on hobbitry but on Tolkien, who had fought and seen comrades die in the First World War, and who, from 1926, preferred to ensconce himself in North Oxford, amid the book-lined walls of his own head. The world was in there.
Bilbo, of course, takes the plunge, and the merry band sets forth, toward the obstacle course of dangers that Tolkien devised. There is a trio of loutish trolls, cannibalistic by choice, but as vulnerable as vampires to the light of day; a huge subterranean fiefdom of goblins, although that is a word we hardly hear in the film, which settles on “orcs,” a less Hogwartian term; and a company of wargs—half wolves, half paparazzi—that crouch and bay at the foot of a pine tree, upon whose boughs the treasure-hunters perch. And there, more or less, the film concludes. If anything, I would have preferred Jackson—who, however noisy his films, has a dash of silent-movie showmanship about him—to be even more unabashed in his melodrama, leaving Bilbo to teeter on the brink. After all, Tolkien himself was a surprising master of brinksmanship, and “The Hobbit,” being infinitely brisker than “The Lord of the Rings,” measures out its plot in narrow squeaks. It is populated largely by child-size men: an ideal conceit, allowing child readers to dream of manly deeds and adult readers to recall, however dimly, what it once meant to have a pulse that raced like a child’s.
But there was more to the novel than that—something that squirmed in the murk of its motivations. In “The Lord of the Rings,” the errand of Frodo, though epic in execution, was plain enough: to destroy what would, in the wrong hands, cause irreversible harm. It was like stopping the Nazis from building an atomic bomb. But what the dwarves want, in the pages of “The Hobbit,” is gold, and their lust for it corrodes the quest and tarnishes its valor. That is what lusts do. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, who deplored the vanishing of the Latin Mass, believed in the existence of evil and in the struggle to be delivered from its claws. It is there in every shimmering scale of Smaug, the dragon; deprived by a mouse-quiet Bilbo of a single precious cup, he falls, Tolkien writes, into “the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but never used or wanted.” Ouch. The dwarves, in their small way, are no less possessed, and the joke is that a hobbit, who wishes nobody ill, should help to lead them into temptation. So many twists of the spirit, in such little space. In my old paperback, Tolkien gets the whole thing done in two hundred and eighty pages, nineteen chapters in all. And how far has Jackson travelled, after almost three hours of cinema? The end of Chapter 6. The corrosion has yet to bite.
There is much to relish here. Martin Freeman, compact and affable, is a snug fit in the difficult role of Bilbo. He is especially adept at hesitation, cocking his head like a sparrow and speaking hurriedly to others, as if trying an idea out on himself. This makes him an excellent foil—better and less wide-eyed than Elijah Wood was, in “The Lord of the Rings”—to McKellen’s Gandalf, with whose lengthy, growling vowels we are already familiar. No less welcome is Richard Armitage, scarcely known here, although he has throbbed hearts on a regular basis on British TV; he now pulls off the task, deemed impossible by every expert on Middle-Earth, of making a dwarf seductive. To be honest, the dwarves come across as a jumble of Brueghel faces, lit with grins, scrunched by scowls, and fronted by bulbous conks; only Armitage, as Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the pack, earns consistent dramatic attention, and he brings the rumpus of the early scenes to a beautiful halt as he pauses to croon, in a yearning baritone, an anthem of dwarf-desire—“Far over the misty mountains cold.” Not before time, it must be said; Jackson has allowed one tea party to linger like a five-course meal, and such blithe elastication is the root of the movie’s fault.
No one could quarrel with Jackson’s scheme to transform the three volumes of “The Lord of the Rings” into a trilogy of films. It was an obvious arrangement, crowned by “The Return of the King” and its eleven Academy Awards—“One for each ending,” in the words of Billy Crystal, our host on Oscar night. If Jackson couldn’t bring himself to bid the franchise farewell, his problem, with “The Hobbit,” is the opposite: how to get going? Like George Lucas, with “The Phantom Menace,” he is constructing a six-film saga in peculiar order. We thus begin not with backstory but, this being Tolkien, with backmyth—the legend of Smaug and the devastation that he wrought long ago. From here, we pass to the aging Bilbo (Ian Holm), and to his recitation of what befell him sixty years before; and from there, at last, we reach the point at which the novel starts. In all, it is three-quarters of an hour before the youthful Bilbo departs, adventure-bound. Because of that delay, there is something doughy and whimsical about the proceedings, as if we were present at the spinning of a yarn.
Still to come, and interrupting the flow, is a layover in Rivendell, the stronghold of the Elves; an aery cameo by Cate Blanchett, as Galadriel (who is not in the book); and a dreadful, unfunny diversion into the doings of another wizard, Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), who drives a rabbit-powered sled and goes cross-eyed when he scores a hit of Gandalf’s bong. Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” had the air of an urgent report, borne in desperation from a distant land. His “Hobbit” has many thrills, and rather too many spills, but it never sheds its bouquet of mere moonshine.
Mind you, what a shine. “An Unexpected Journey” was shot in 3-D and filmed at forty-eight frames per second, as opposed to the standard twenty-four. This sounds miraculous, and you will indeed notice and marvel at the difference, but only if you happen to be a snowy owl who likes watching voles from a hundred and fifty yards. The rest of us will be reminded of high-definition television—better known, in my household, as a reason to avoid viewing films on TV, unless they contain characters named Woody and Buzz. HD has the unfortunate effect of turning every film into what appears to be a documentary about a film set, not just warts-and-all but carefully supplying extra warts where a wart has no right to be. There is something awry in the idea that Tolkien’s wondrous inventions—an entire history and landscape, plus trees of unknown languages, grown from one man’s fancy—should be transmitted through a medium newly and utterly bent on realism. When the imaginary is presented as fact, hard and hypervisible, right down to the popping buttons of a waistcoat, does the magic not drop off?
For pathos, though, we still have Gollum, the damned and slimy soul (voiced again by Andy Serkis), who lurks in the dark and loses what he loves. Bilbo finds it: “His hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel.” That is the account given by Tolkien, who knew that turning points were all the more momentous for being unadorned, but Jackson, with so much room to spare, cannot dare to underplay the crux. Instead, before Bilbo stumbles upon the ring, we see it slip from Gollum’s safekeeping, tumble in refulgent slow motion, and, on impact, give a resounding clang. (If Jackson ever films “Othello,” wait for Desdemona’s handkerchief to hit the ground like a sheet of tin.) “All good stories deserve embellishment,” Gandalf says to Bilbo before they set off, and one has to ask whether the weight of embellishment, on this occasion, makes the journey drag, and why it leaves us more astounded than moved. And yet, on balance, honor has been done to Tolkien, not least in the famous riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum, and some of the exploits to come—dwarf-wrapping spiders, a battle of five armies, and the man who turns into a bear—will surely lighten the load. As Bilbo says, nearing the end of the book, “Roads go ever ever on.” Tell me about it. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Freedom From Union Compulsion

By Jeff Jacoby
December 12, 2012

To everything there is a season, the Good Book says, and in Michigan workplaces the season of freedom is arriving at last.
Republican legislators voted Tuesday to make Michigan the 24th state in the nation to protect an essential civil liberty: the right to work for a living without being required to join or pay money to a labor union. Governor Rick Snyder signed the new laws – one dealing with private-sector employees, one covering government employment – a few hours later, hailing them as "pro-worker and pro-Michigan."
Big Labor and its allies, of course, are furiously denouncing this as "union busting" and worse.President Obama told union members at a Michigan engine plant on Monday that "so-called right to work laws" are an attempt "to take away your rights to bargain for better wages or working conditions." Democratic congressman Sander Levin fumed on PBS that backers of right-to-work laws want "to snuff out the voice in the workplace, to destroy collective bargaining." Thousands of union activists descended on the state Capitol in Lansing, feverishly protesting what the United Auto Workers hyperbolically labels "the worst anti-worker legislation Michigan has ever seen."
But fewer and fewer people are swayed by such over-the-top rhetoric. Even in Michigan, where the UAW was launched 75 years ago and which has long been thought of as an organized-labor stronghold, unions' strong-arm tactics no longer compel the deference they once did. On Election Day, Michigan voters comfortably backed Obama over Mitt Romney, while simultaneouslyspurning – by a 15-point margin – a union-promoted measure that would have cemented collective bargaining into the state constitution.
Labor unions commanded greater public affection back when they relied more on the power of persuasion than on the persuasion of power. In a 1957 Gallup Poll, 75 percent of Americans said they approved of unions. Today union approval stands at just 52 percent, while a plurality of Americans says that unions should have less influence, not more. Michigan may be America's fifth-most unionized state, but even there most residents want little to do with organized labor. Union members account for just 17.5 percent of Michigan's workforce.
It isn't hard to understand the appeal of right-to-work laws: Employees would rather choose for themselves whether to join a union, just as they choose for themselves whether to participate in their company's 401(k) plan or dental coverage or United Way campaign. Unions claim that forcing unwilling members to kick back part of each paycheck to a labor organization is the only way to prevent "free riders" – otherwise employees could enjoy all the benefits of a union contract without paying dues to support the union. But coercing workers to pay for representation they don't want and can't refuse is not a benefit. It's extortion.
Besides, unions aren't obliged to represent everyone in a workplace: That exclusive bargaining power is something they demand – and then insist everyone must pay for. It's as if a taxi you didn't order showed up at your door every day, driven by a cabbie who demanded to be paid for his trouble – or else. And the "or else" isn't theoretical. In states without right-to-work protections, unions have gotten employees fired for failing to fork over union fees.
The advantage of right-to-work laws is hard to miss. As analyst F. Vincent Vernuccio of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a market-oriented Michigan think tank, notes, workers "vote with their feet." Since 1970, the population of right-to-work states has doubled, while in states that allow compulsory unionism, the population has only grown by one-third. "The exodus route is clear," Vernuccio writes.
Between 2000 and 2010, there has been a net domestic migration of nearly 5 million people from states that lack right-to-work protection to states that confer them. Is it sheer coincidence that over the last decade, inflation-adjusted compensation in right-to-work states grew by almost 12 percent compared to just 3 percent in non-right-to-work states? Or that in CNBC'slatest ranking of the "Top States for Business," all but two of the top 15 are right-to-work states?
To witness the growth a right-to-work environment makes possible, Michigan legislators need gaze no farther than neighboring Indiana, which banned compulsory unionism early in 2012. Since January, the Hoosier State has added 43,300 jobs. Michigan has lost 4,200.
But the economic gains are secondary. The essential issue is liberty. Every American worker should have the right to join a labor union. And also the right not to.

How Ben Affleck's 'Argo' screws history

By Andrew Klavan
PJ Media
December 10, 2012

The Mission Was Real. The History was Malarkey.
One of the better movies I’ve seen this season is Argo, directed by and starring the talented and appealing Ben Affleck. The movie tells a fictionalized version of the true story of how a CIA operative helped six Americans escape from Iran during the hostage crisis of the Carter administration.
I, of course, had no problem with the filmmakers adding fictional dollops of drama, danger and adventure to the story. But I did object very strongly to the rewriting of history purely for purposes of pro-Democrat propaganda. The running gag in the movie concerns a make-believe sci-fi film called Argo that the CIA uses as a cover story. The battle cry of the good guys is, “Ar, go, f*** yourself.” But, as so often in Hollywood, it’s the political truth that gets f***ed.
Bad enough that the entire hostage crisis was subtly and not-so-subtly blamed on America in the movie. Even worse is the fact that the Democrat president’s idealistic incompetence in withdrawing American support for the Shah is completely passed over. It was this bone-headed Carter play that opened the floodgates of Islamo-fascism, allowing Ayatollah Khomeini to come to power — a bone-head move that Obama stupidly repeated when he withdrew support from Mubarak in Egypt and essentially handed the place over to the Muslim Brotherhood. As the Wall Street Journal’sBret Stephens recently said, “In the middle east there are two kinds of regimes — those that could be worse, and those that couldn’t be worse.” Carter and Obama both opted to abandon the former and allow the latter.
Also smoothed over in the movie is the president’s fatal incompetence in allowing a poorly planned rescue operation. At one point in the film, Affleck’s CIA agent is told to ditch his mission because the White House is mounting a rescue of its own. This is a suspenseful moment because we know Carter’s Eagle Claw plan will be a fatal failure, leaving eight U.S. servicemen dead in the desert. But the disaster is never mentioned in the film. Why not? Guess.
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Finally, and most dishonestly, the picture ends with Carter’s voice telling us how all the hostages were eventually released and America came out of the incident with its values intact. Well, crap. The hostages were eventually released on the day Ronald Reagan took office, because the Iranians knew they could no longer depend on the puling, indecisive weakness of Carter, who let the humiliating hostage incident drag on for 444 days.
This sort of Democrats-do-no-wrong and Republicans-do-no-right propaganda is subtle but pervasive in Hollywood historical movies. Consider Charlie Wilson’s War, a strong Tom Hanks film that celebrated a Democrat’s role in the Cold War. In both the film and the book, the right wingers who made Wilson’s efforts possible are denigrated. And just the fact that Hollywood found practically the only 80′s Democrat who did anything to help Reagan defeat the Soviets — whereas they’ve never made a tribute to Reagan himself — is telling.
This is precisely what Conservatives have to learn to counter. The newspapers and history books may get it right — may — but it’s the movies people will remember. I’ve quoted him before, but I’ll do it again. When former Ambassador Joseph Wilson had his questionable actions rewritten as heroism in the dishonest film Fair Game, he said, “For people who have short memories or don’t read, this is the only way they will remember the period.”
The imagination is the only nation where Democrats get it right. We need to conquer that country.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Michelangelo, Religious Tolerance and the 500th Anniversary of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling

By Benjamin Blech
The Washington Post
December 5, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates baptisms in the Sistine Chapel on Jan. 9, 2011 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Pool via Getty Images)
Michelangelo’s genius as perhaps the greatest of all artists of Western civilization is universally recognized. His frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are assuredly the major reason why the Vatican Museums in Rome welcome more than 4 million visitors annually, making the site the most-visited museum complex on earth.

What is far less known to Michelangelo’s countless admirers is the incredible courage of a man far ahead of his time, daring to introduce ideas considered heretical in his day into the holiest chapel in the Christian world, but ideas that have finally found a large measure of confirmation in our time. As we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the completion of his masterpiece this month, bringing Michelangelo’s convictions to light is long overdue.
Four and a half centuries before the Second Vatican Council rejected religious intolerance in the mid-1960s, before Pope John Paul II acknowledged Jews as Christianity’s “older brothers and sisters” and, in 2000, placed a prayer into the Western Wall in Jerusalem begging God to forgive the Catholic Church for its mistreatment of the Jews throughout the centuries, Michelangelo found ways to express his commitment to religious open-mindedness as well as to convey his profound horror at the abuse directed at the people who were nothing less than the ancestors of Jesus.
At the time that Michelangelo was toiling in the Sistine, the status of Jews in the Western world was at an all-time low. The Inquisition was churning at the height of its powers, having already despoiled and expelled the Jews from Spain, Portugal and Sicily. Jewish wisdom literature was being burned in public bonfires all over Europe, and sometimes the holy rabbis and sages who taught these texts were thrown to the flames as well. Jews and Christians were being driven apart by politics, prejudice and propaganda. The Jewish roots of Jesus and Christianity were being negated. In art, Jews were turned into diabolical caricatures, while Jesus, his family and his apostles were all visually “de-judaized.” In society, it became more and more difficult for Jews and Christians to be neighbors and friends; only three years after the Sistine ceiling frescoes were finished, the Jews of Venice were locked into the world’s first ghetto. Jews could not build or live where they wanted. Spreading the most ridiculous blood libels about Jews, assaulting Jews in public, accusing Jews of disloyalty to their host countries - all this became the norm. In short, Jews were considered as guilty of all of society’s ills in that era as they were of deicide in the distant past.
In the midst of this insane wave of prejudice and hatred, Michelangelo felt the need to go against the tide. He wanted to remind his world of its cultural, historical and spiritual roots in Judaism. Other artists before him had portrayed Jews, but always as evil hook-nosed tormentors of Jesus, or bearded, soulless, interchangeable packs of rabbis and prophets. Instead of such repulsive caricatures, Michelangelo’s portraits of the Jewish ancestors of Jesus are noble and sympathetic; his seven Hebrew prophets are all depicted with a grandeur usually reserved in art for classical heroes and philosophers.
Commissioned by Pope Julius II to create a work of art for the ceiling that would pay tribute to Jesus and the virgin Mary, Michelangelo ignored the demand of his patron and not only omitted Jesus and Mary entirely butfailed to include a single New Testament figure - preferring instead the Hebrew prophets and the stories of creation from the book of Genesis. The Christian calendar as it is today calculates its years from the birth of Jesus to imply that nothing before this seminal event has true significance. Michelangelo, however, daringly chose to portray scenes that illustrate the progenitors of all mankind - Adam and Eve and Noah and his family - to emphasize his humanistic embrace of the concept of universal brotherhood.
Although he remained a Christian his entire life, Michelangelo appreciated and respected the Jews and their clear contributions to Western civilization, at great risk to his career and even his life. Whenever he was faced with the choice of taking the easy path in his panels on the Sistine ceiling - portraying the standard, safe Christian narrative - or the dangerous path of depicting the Jewish point of view, he invariably opted to pay homage to the Judaic roots of his faith.
A striking example is an incredible detail that has come to light in the aftermath of the cleaning and restoration of the Sistine ceiling at the turn of this century. Near the end of his torturous years of frescoing, Michelangelo was painting right over the elevated area where the pope would sit on his gilded throne. There he placed a portrait of Aminadab, a seemingly strange choice since Aminadab was far from a major biblical hero. On Aminadab’s upper left arm one can now clearly see a bright yellow circle, a ring of cloth that has been sewn onto his garment. This is the exact badge of shame that the Fourth Lateran Council and the Inquisition had forced upon the Jews of Europe. Michelangelo placed this powerful illustration of anti-Semitism on Aminadab, whose name in Hebrew means “from my people, a prince.” To the church, “a prince from the Jews” means only one person – Jesus, the prince of peace. Yet, here, directly overhead of where the pope, the Vicar of Christ, would sit, Michelangelo pointed out exactly how the hatred and persecution of the Catholic Church was treating the very family of Christ in his day.
Michelangelo’s hidden agenda was to remind the church that its roots were grounded in the Bible given to the Jewish people, and that to ignore this truth was to falsify Jesus and his mission.
It is fascinating to realize how far Michelangelo’s insights half a millennium ago have finally found their way into contemporary theological thought. When Time Magazine featured in 2009 a cover story on “The 10 Ideas That Are Changing the World” - the 10 most powerful ideas that are changing the way we think and that have the most potential for impacting our future - it singled out the movement in current religious scholarship toward “Re-Judaizing Jesus.” Calling it a “seismic change” in today’s seminaries across the Christian spectrum, it identified the new trend towards acknowledging Jesus’ Judaism and recognizing the Jewish roots of their faith, the very ideas that Michelangelo so desperately sought to incorporate into his masterpiece on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
It seems almost providential that Michelangelo’s final resting place should offer a fitting tribute to his efforts to open the window of tolerance to the church of his time. Because Michelangelo was first buried disrespectfully in Rome, the residents of Florence hired the services of its two best burglars, who broke into the church and brought it back to that city for entombment inside the Church of Santa Croce. In the 1850s, almost 300 years after Michelangelo’s interment there, the church commissioned its magnificent new façade, designed by a Jewish architect, Nicolò Matas. When Matas was told that his name could not appear on the church, he insisted that at the very least a large Star of David be placed over the front door. That is why today, the church that houses the tomb of the artist who made it his mission to emphasize his belief in a universal God whose service requires love of all mankind bears a giant Mogen David.
Michelangelo had notably defined genius as “eternal patience.” The passage of 500 years since he completed his inspired vision on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a vision with the barely concealed message of religious tolerance and respect for the righteous of all faiths, leaves us filled with awe at his very contemporary liberal insight into true spirituality - and with hope for how much still remains to be accomplished in order to fulfill his dream for all of mankind.
Rabbi Benjamin Blech is a professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University and co-author, with Roy Doliner, of “The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages In The Heart Of The Vatican.

A Big Name Fills Some Big Shoes

By Charles McGrath
The New York Times
December 9, 2012

JACK REACHER, the itinerant head-butting hero of Lee Child’s best-selling series of crime thrillers, has finally made it to the big screen. An adaptation of Mr. Child’s 2005 novel “One Shot,” retitled “Jack Reacher,” written and directed by Christopher McQuarrieand starring Tom Cruise, opens on Dec. 21.
What took them so long? The Reacher books have been appearing yearly since 1997, and if ever a literary property seemed a no-brainer for the movies, it’s this one. The books have a strong, original central character and taut, linear narratives, full of action and incident; they often feature strong female characters and are surprisingly popular among women; and there are lots of them — 17 titles so far, outnumbering even the original James Bond novels.
They are a franchise built around a former military policeman roaming the United States utterly without baggage, personal or otherwise, righting wrongs according to his own no-nonsense code of justice. Writing in The New York Times, Janet Maslin called Reacher “one of the most enduring action heroes on the American landscape.”
Mr. McQuarrie, who has worked on several Cruise-related projects (including “Valkyrie,” which he wrote with Nathan Alexander and produced, and “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” for which he did some revisions), knows his way around Hollywood and has a very simple explanation for why it took so long to get a Reacher film made. “There are no transforming robots,” he said in a telephone interview. “There is no paranormal activity.”
He added: “The problem is that Jack Reacher is not 22, and he doesn’t have superpowers. He appears in novels that are detective thrillers, and that’s a sort of movie they don’t make anymore. How do you market it?”
Mr. Child, who worked as a television director and producer in England before becoming a novelist, also knows his way around show business. Not long ago, stretching out his longs legs on a coffee table in the East Side apartment he uses as a writing studio, he leaned back in a chair, and, as if giving a PowerPoint presentation, suggested three reasons the Reacher books might be an awkward fit for the movies.
The first reason is — never mind, we’ll come back to the first reason. The second reason is that the books are less eventful — or less cinematically eventful — than they seem, because a lot of the action takes place inside Reacher’s head. “His thought processes, his quirks, his intuitions are what make him interesting,” Mr. Child said. “How do you get that out of his head and onto the screen?”
The third reason has to do with the stubborn nature of the character. “In Hollywood they have these unshakable conclusions,” he said. “And one of them is that a character must have an arc, must go for a journey and learn something, must be different at the end. But Reacher does none of that. He never changes. He doesn’t learn anything, because he knows it all from the beginning.”
Even so, there was no lack of Hollywood interest. The books have been under option to one studio or another since the first one was published 15 years ago. But nothing happened until Mr. Cruise and Paramount came along in 2005, after “One Shot” came out. Mr. Child said he was impressed by everyone involved, especially Mr. McQuarrie, whose screenplay he called “outstanding.” “I bet it’s the least altered first draft ever,” he said. “This is not starry eyes. I made my living amongst these wolves for years, and I can tell the good from the bad.”
Mr. McQuarrie pointed out that while he has had some success as a screenwriter (his script for “The Usual Suspects” won an Oscar in 1996), he was far from a sure bet as a director, and his budget was far from large. Until now he had made only one other film, “The Way of the Gun,” which came out in 2000 and, despite some good reviews, fizzled at the box office.
He began working on “Jack Reacher” without a lot of confidence that the movie would ever be made. “I didn’t think they were thinking, ‘Yes!’ ” he said. “I think they were thinking, ‘Good luck with that one.’ ”
He didn’t necessarily write the script with Mr. Cruise in mind, he added, but once Mr. Cruise decided to play Reacher, the project suddenly became “something they didn’t have a reason to say no to.”
This brings us back to Mr. Child’s Reason No. 1, which is the problem of casting a Reacher movie. As fictional characters go, Reacher is a little underspecified, which makes readers feel so proprietary about him: in our own heads, we help create the character. But the one thing everyone knows about Reacher is that he is big — 6 foot 5 and 250 pounds or so — and not bad looking, exactly, but a little intimidating. One of his many female friends in the books describes him as a condom stuffed with walnuts. When word got out that Mr. Cruise, who is neither tall nor walnutlike, had agreed to star in the movie, many of Mr. Child’s fans became apoplectic. “I know Jack Reacher, and Tom Cruise is no Jack Reacher,” one of them commented online.
Mr. Child said he understood his readers’ concerns and was grateful they cared so much. “That’s the gold standard for a writer — to create a character that inspires such passion,” he said, but he pointed out that Reacher wasn’t just about size. “There’s also the menace, the intelligence, the silent, contemplative nature,” he said. Mr. Child, whose real name is Jim Grant and who is himself 6 foot 5, laughed and added: “Besides, no one in Hollywood is tall. In that whole ZIP code they’re all small people. Even people you think are big are not big.”
Mr. McQuarrie agreed. “When has there ever been a 6-5, blond-haired, blue-eyed American actor?” he said. “He’s never existed, ever. So you’re out of the gate accepting compromise. There’s a very exclusive club of people who could play Jack Reacher, and a lot of them are playing characters like Jack Reacher.”
The list gets smaller, he went on, when you factor in some of Reacher’s other qualities, like his mental lightness and acuity, and narrows still more when you need an actor with the clout to get the movie made for a certain budget. “At the end there’s only one guy,” he said. “Without Tom you wouldn’t have the movie, and you wouldn’t have the movie the way you have it. Tom fiercely defended what makes Reacher Reacher, the brutality, the complexity — the things that usually fall victim in the first round of studio development.”
Speaking from England, where he was filming “All You Need Is Kill,” Mr. Cruise laughed when asked about his lack of resemblance to Reacher. “I just didn’t worry about it,” he said. “I looked at the book and I thought, ‘This is a character.’ What I liked is that he’s a sort of analog character in a digital world.”
He added: “The height, the size — those are characteristics, not a character. I was more worried about things like the fight scenes: How do we get the right style? How do I play that character?”
In the movie Mr. Child appears in a cameo as a police desk sergeant returning to Reacher his sole possession, a toothbrush, and he said he saw that scene as a symbolic passing of the baton — author handing off to actor. “You can say, ‘Oh you would say that, wouldn’t you?’ ” he said. “But I’m not that guy. If I didn’t like it, I would say so, loud and clear. If they screwed up, I would burn their house down.”
No one associated with “Jack Reacher” wants to talk too much about a sequel, for fear of jinxing things, but if this movie works, there will almost certainly be others, and Mr. Cruise said he was eager to appear in them.
“That’s the beauty of it,” Mr. McQuarrie said. “If it works, then they have to make more. Then we are the transforming robots.”

A little luck, a lot of perseverance led UNC to 22nd championship

By Andrew Carter
The News & Observer
December 4, 2012

 When she was about 8 years old, Caitlin Ball served as a ball girl at Fetzer Field for North Carolina women’s soccer games. She dreamed of one day running up and down that field, a member of the Tar Heels, and of becoming a part of perhaps the greatest dynasty in the history of college sports.
She dreamed of a scene that became reality on Sunday, when Ball and her UNC teammates celebrated the Tar Heels’ 22nd national championship, and first since 2009, after a 4-1 victory against Penn State at Torero Stadium at the University of San Diego. After traveling home through the night, Ball and her teammates returned here at 9 a.m. on Monday.
No campus celebration awaited them. No public spectacle. It was back to normal. Players were told to go to class. Ball spent part of the day waiting for the realization to register, waiting for some kind of moment that made what happened on Sunday seem real instead of like a fantasy.
“We were all just ecstatic,” said Ball, a sophomore defender who walked onto the team from East Chapel Hill High. “That’s the real feeling right now. I don’t think it’s really sunk in for any of us yet.”
For so long, coach Anson Dorrance and the UNC women’s soccer team made winning look easy. The Tar Heels won nine consecutive national championships between 1986 and 1994, and then won four consecutive national titles between 1996 and 2000.
During the 1990s, the Tar Heels compiled more national championships (eight) than losses (seven). Given the history of the program Dorrance built, what happened on Sunday might seem like just another championship in a long line of them. It wasn’t, though.
After a season filled with near-constant roster adjustments and injuries, Dorrance on Monday described this national championship as the most satisfying of his career. Never before had a team he coached accomplished so much after experiencing as much adversity.
He took special satisfaction in defeating Stanford, the 2011 national champion, in the NCAA tournament semifinals.
“The Stanford lineup was littered with our recruiting failures,” Dorrance said. “Even a couple of kids that originally committed to us and then jumped ship later. So losing these great players to them after they had committed to us was particularly painful. You can imagine the wonderful schadenfreude I was feeling when we won the game.”
UNC entered the NCAA tournament with five losses, which tied for the second-most in any season in school history. The Tar Heels began the tournament without victories in their past nine overtime games.
But they beat BYU in double overtime in the tournament quarterfinals, and then defeated Stanford in double overtime in the national semifinals. Before that, in their third-round game against Baylor, the Heels prevailed in a shootout after the teams ended regulation and two overtimes tied at 1.
Was there some intangible quality about these Tar Heels that allowed such success in overtime? Did UNC possess a certain level of toughness or heart that allowed it to advance in three consecutive overtime games?
“Actually, it’s even more mundane,” Dorrance said. “It’s called luck. We could have easily lost to Baylor. BYU had this great run by their superstar center back up the middle of our defense in [double overtime] and she beat the goal keeper off the dribble and all she had to do was slip it into an open yet.
“And when she shot, a kid [Brooke Elby] that was making a 60-yard sprint from the mid-stripe just got her body in the way of the shot, otherwise we would have been toast in that game. … But I certainly don’t detract from the commitment my kids made.”
Good to have luck 
Some of Dorrance’s teams didn’t need luck as much as this one did. Rarely did anything come easily for these Tar Heels.
When UNC began the season, three of the team’s best players were competing with the U.S. under-20 national team. Another, one of the Heels’ best freshmen, was playing for New Zealand’s under-20 national team.
The Heels lost one of their best defensive players, Megan Brigman, to an injury in the first four minutes of the first game of the season. Ball missed nine games in the middle of the season because of an injury.
“What it did, really, was it hardened a deeper roster,” Dorrance said. “Because there’s a whole collection of kids that played early as starters but then became reserves when the starters first came back. … These subs weren’t real subs.
“They were actually starting-caliber players that were on the bench because we’re so deep. Maybe appropriately, it was our adversity that shaped us and then allowed us to make such a deep run into the NCAA tournament.”
Dorrance has experienced more success than any coach in the history of his sport, but he hasn’t remained committed to the status quo. Entering the season, he made changes. For one, he turned over the organization of practices to Cindy Parlow Cone, a volunteer assistant who spent 10 seasons on the U.S. national team.
Cone played at UNC from 1995 through 1998, and twice won national player of the year honors. Dorrance said giving Cone responsibility over practices provided an “excellent way to maybe extend my coaching life because of the new energy that she brought.”
Another change Dorrance made was to adopt some of the training philosophies and methods of Raymond Verheijen, a Dutch soccer coach whom Dorrance described as “brilliant.” The Tar Heels this season were a better-conditioned, fitter team, and that, Ball said, showed during that grueling run of overtime games.
Ball said it wasn’t coincidental that UNC was often at its best during overtime in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re just really fit this year and very deep,” she said. “So we typically had worn other teams out by then. But it’s still nerve-racking.”
‘Kids nobody recruited’
Ball was one of three walk-ons, along with defender Hannah Gardner and goalkeeper Adelaide Gay, who played significantly in the back. Never before, Dorrance said, had the Tar Heels played three walk-ons at the same time during a national championship season.
The walk-ons, whom Dorrance described as “kids nobody recruited,” combined with the likes of Kealia Ohai and Satara Murray to deliver the most unlikely of the Tar Heels’ 22 national championships. Ohai, who led UNC with nine goals, was named the NCAA tournament’s most outstanding offensive player, while Murray was named the tournament’s most outstanding defensive player.
Weeks ago, none of this might have seemed possible. The Tar Heels suffered a 1-0 defeat to Virginia in the ACC tournament, and they entered the NCAA tournament with a No. 2 seed that Dorrance thought was too high.
Yet even then, after losing the same number of games in one season that UNC lost between 1986 and 1998, the Tar Heels believed their best was yet to come. They still had to beat three No. 1 seeds, win two games in double overtime and another on penalty kicks.
The game has changed since the most dominant days of his dynasty, Dorrance said. It’s more difficult now than it was. Which is why he’ll remember this unlikely championship run as the most satisfying he has experienced.
Carter: 919-829-8944