Friday, May 11, 2018


A Church-bashing Catholic whitewashes the Qur'an.

May 11, 2018
Image result for garry wills quran
Now in his early eighties, Garry Wills has been a fixture in American culture for no fewer than fifty years, during which he has written no fewer than fifty books. Some of them, such as Nixon Agonistes (1970), Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence (1978), Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment (1984), Reagan's America (1987), and Lincoln at Gettysburg (1992), have been about American history and American presidents. Others, including Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit (2000), Why Priests? (2013)and The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis (2015), plus no fewer than eight books on Saint Augustine, have focused either on early Christianity or on contemporary Catholicism. Wills has also written books, such as Under God: Religion and American Politics (1990) and Head and Heart: American Christianities (2007), that bring together religion and politics. 
Though he began his writing career in his early twenties at National Review – having spent a brief time as a Jesuit – Wills has spent most of career as an ornament of the establishment left, turning up frequently in the New York Review of Books and, along the way, winning two National Book Critics Circle Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. In recent years he has published a series of reader-friendly little books about the origins of Christianity – What Jesus Meant (142 pages, 2006), What Paul Meant (192 pages, 2006),What the Gospels Meant (209 pages, 2008). This series has now been expanded. In design and scale, the new volume is identical to the books about Jesus and Paul and the Gospels. Its topic, however, is not Christianity but Islam. Its title: What the Qur'an Meant – And Why It Matters (212 pages). 
This Islam book is a dramatic departure for Wills. Deeply learned about Christian scripture, theology, and history, and fluent in Greek and Latin, Wills identifies as a devout but highly critical Catholic. Indeed, the whole thrust of his best-known books about the Church has been to lambaste it – to give the papacy, the Vatican, and the whole worldwideecclesia a series of kicks in the cassock. OK, fine – he's the Catholic, I'm not. But it seems curious that while the principal goal of his writings about his own Church is to find fault at every turn, the point of his primer on the Qur'an (which I usually write as Koran, though this time around, for consistency's sake, I'll go with his spelling) is to whitewash. Consistently. Shamelessly.
By the end of the first page of What the Qur'an Meant, he's made his position clear: Islamic terrorists “have departed from the book they say they believe in.” At the same time, critics of Islam “tell us blatant lies” about that same book. And what's amazing is – get this! – the terrorists' take on the Qur'an is identical to that of Islam's critics! Incredible, no? You or I might view the Qur'an as having inspired countless acts of violence over the centuries; but Wills corrects that misapprehension, explaining that the Qur'an itself is the real victim – a subject of endless misinterpretation by both terrorists and Islamophobes. 
For Wills, the bad guys are the “78 percent of Trump supporters” who told pollsters in 2016 “that Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage terrorist acts.” Wills contrasts these bigoted yahoos with the “93 percent of Muslims” who, according to Gallup, “opposed the 9/11 attacks.” Wills waves these numbers at us as if they prove something positive about Islam and negative about its critics. Excuse me, but if 93 percent of Muslims claim to have disapproved of the 9/11 attacks, that means seven percent openly approved, right? And if seven percent were willing to tell a pollster that they supported those acts, how many more felt the same way but wouldn't own up to it? And if upwards of seven percent of Muslims did indeed give 9/11 a thumbs-up, what does that say about those Trump supporters who consider Islam “more likely than other religions to engage in terrorist acts”? Does Wills believe, or expect us to believe, that anything close to seven percent of Christians or Jews support terrorism in the name of their religion? (Other polls, by the way, have shown considerably higher levels of Muslim support for terrorism.) Wills actually states that there's a “mountain of evidence that the religion of Islam favors peace over violence.” One question: if Islam is really peaceful, and jihadist terror is a result of a mass misunderstanding of the Qur'an, how come the planet isn't overrun with Hindu terrorists who've misread the Vedas, or Buddhist terrorists who've incorrectly interpreted the Tripitaka?
Wills serves up all the above balderdash, note well, before even getting around to the Qur'an itself.  In one of his first sentences that are explicitly about the Muslim holy book, he admits, with colossal understatement, that “[s]ome things” in it “are off-putting – slavery, patriarchal attitudes toward women, religious militarism.” His next move, predictably, is to say that “the same can be said of the biblical Torah.” What he fails to acknowledge is that Jews today don't hold slaves or force women into burkas. The Torah's more inhumane edicts have long since ceased to be considered binding; Muslims are still exhorted to accept every bit of the Qur'an as the word of Allah.
This kind of shifty move is typical of Wills. His dishonesty is breathtaking. He points out that certain features of contemporary terrorist ideology (such as the bit about the seventy-two virgins) are nowhere to be found in the Qur'an – but he doesn't add that (hello!) they're in the hadith, the collected canonical sayings of Muhammed. He says there's nothing in the Qur'an about “the duty to kill infidels” – which is pretty much as big a whopper as you could come possibly up with. Here are just a few of many quranic exhortations on this score: 
And slay them [infidels] wherever you come upon them.... (2:191)
They [infidels] wish that you should disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them, until they emigrate in the way of Allah; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and slay them wherever you find them; take not to yourselves any one of them as friend or helper. (4:89)
...slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush.... (9:5) 
O believers, fight the unbelievers who are near to you.... (9:123)
When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks.... (4:74)
Instead of quoting such nasty stuff, Wills cherry-picks benign passages from the Qur'an, implying thatt this is what the whole book is like. He devotes a whole chapter to harmless lines that focus on water, associating H²O with the divine and reminding us that the Qur'an is a book by and for a desert people; in another chapter he plucks out innocuous sentences that depict the earth and sky as suffused with God's glory; in yet another chapter he stresses the Qur'an's likenesses with (i.e., borrowings from) the Bible, notably its references to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. It's all very pretty. 
That's not all. He whitewashes the Islamic death penalty for apostasy. He holds up for admiration the fact that Muslims are allowed to marry Jews or Christians – but omits to mention that this goes only for Muslim men marrying non-Muslim womenHe spends a whole chapter arguing that jihad means something other than holy war. As for sharia, he again takes the we're-no-better-than-they-are line: “the harsh physical punishments proclaimed in the seventh-century Qur'an are not more gory than those imposed in sixteenth-century England.” So what? News flash: we're not living in sixteenth-century England. We're living in the twenty—first century, when sharia law still applies, in full, in at least eight Muslim countries and, in part, in at least a dozen more. Wills contends that “[b]oth the Muslim terrorists and some Western foes think of Shari'ah law mainly in terms of the penal code, even though that is a very minor aspect of the Qur'an.” Well, it's “very minor” until you're the apostate or rape victim being stoned to death or the gay guy being pushed off a roof. Wills actually tries to sell sharia as being principally about forgiveness. “This spirit of forgiveness is like that of the prophet Jesus,” he asserts. Disgusting.
Wills's book closes with three chapters on women in Islam, in which his duplicity, if possible, reaches even greater heights. He writes about Muslim polygamy as if it were a historical curiosity rather than a worldwide present reality. He even tries to explain away Muhammed's marriage to six-year-old Aisha. It's impossible for a decent human being to read these pages without being outraged on behalf of all Muslim women whose parents forced them into marriage and whose husbands compel them to wear hijab, forbid them to have jobs, and rape and beat them at will. Wills writes as if such women don't exist.
One of Wills's main sources is a creature named John Esposito. In early 1999, when I discovered Amsterdam's Muslim community, I went to the library in search of a book about Islam in Europe. What I found was Esposito's The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? – which assured me that the West had nothing whatsoever to fear from the Religion of Peace. Two and half years later came 9/11. Instead of being discredited forever as an authority on the topic, Esposito – founder of the Saudi-financed Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University – continued to be treated by the mainstream media as a reliable source on the Religion of Peace. My own view of Esposito is that he's a cynical operator who knowingly sells lies about Islam for the money. Wills is different. He, too, is knowingly selling lies about Islam, but I think he's doing it because he believes he's serving a noble cause. Didn't at least some Jesuits used to argue that it's defensible to withhold potentially damaging truths in the name of some higher good? That the end justifies the means? That there's such a thing as a virtuous fabrication? As his entire oeuvre shows, Wills is one of those Western leftists who consider it ethical – apparently, in his case, at least partly in the cause of Christian self-abnegation – to relentlessly pummel one's own civilization and its defining institutions and values while eulogizing other cultures far beyond the point of radical distortion. Yes, Islam may be an ideology of hate, but Garry Wills apparently sees it as his role to lie about it in the name of brotherly love.

'Chasing the Scream' poses provocative questions about America's 'war on drugs'

January 27, 2015

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In 1938, an American doctor wrote a book that predicted America’s war on drugs would create a $5-billion smuggling industry within 50 years. The logic was simple: Making drugs illegal grants a monopoly to criminals willing to sell them. And the evidence was persuasive: The chief drug prohibition officer in California was actually being paid by a Chinese drug dealer. The dealer wanted anti-drug laws enforced. When clinics, pharmacies, and other dealers were prosecuted or scared out of selling, the Chinese dealer would acquire a whole new set of customers.
Though estimates of profitability vary, drug trafficking is now a multibillion-dollar business. But was the doctor right to attribute the massive growth of this illegal sector to America’s drug policies? This is the central question of the British journalist Johann Hari’s ambitious and powerful new book,Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.
Hari’s story opens in the first decade of the 20th century, long before the drug war had assumed anything close to its current proportions. American pharmacies sold many products made from the same ingredients as heroin and cocaine (including Coca-Cola). But this widespread availability coexisted uneasily with a racially-tinged hysteria about the dangers drugs posed to the purity of white America. Opium was presented as a sign of “oriental ruthlessness,” and mobs afraid of Chinese influence burned and lynched 21 Chinese people in Los Angeles. The New York Times ran stories with headlines like this: NEGRO COCAINE “FIENDS” NEW SOUTHERN MENACE.
The 1914 Harrison Act outlawed heroin and cocaine. But it granted doctors the right to prescribe these drugs as they saw fit, a loophole intended to help addicts quit slowly and safely. In the late 1920s, an employee of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics named Harry Anslinger began warning of the “unspeakable sexual depravity” and lust for white women that drugs would unleash. He claimed that marijuana produced violent and permanent insanity in every user. Even as the criminalization of alcohol was failing – it drove vast profits into the hands of bootleggers and caused dramatic spikes in violence as gangsters battled for market share – racial paranoia and public misinformation campaigns helped Anslinger convince politicians to fund stricter enforcement of drug prohibition. (Though many white singers and celebrities used drugs, he relentlessly tried to prosecute Billie Holiday).
The legacy of the racist claims that helped launch the drug war still persists in differential enforcement of drug laws. One study found that while 19% of drug dealers were African-American, they comprised 64% of those arrested for dealing. But even if racial disparities in enforcement disappeared, the example of Prohibition suggests that a deeper problem might be the laws themselves, not just inconsistent enforcement.
Before Prohibition consumers could walk into a bar and request a particular type of alcohol with reasonable confidence in its potency and quality. Making alcohol illegal removed regulation of production and often reduced the range of options. The result was that people drank whatever they could get, no matter how unsafe the product. Similar dynamics characterize illegal drug use: Consumers have no assurance of quality and simply buy whatever is available. This not only leads to overdoses, it also tends to push people toward harder drugs. Beer was the most popular drink in America before Prohibition. Once alcohol was illegal, smugglers quickly realized that transporting beer was not worth the risk. A truck of beer might supply 100 people, but packed with gin or whiskey the same truck could supply drinks to many more. Beer regained its dominance only after alcohol became legal again in 1934.
Prohibition not only endangered those who drank alcohol; the battles between organized crime and the authorities made many major cities likeChicago into chaotic and violent places. Successful raids against bootleggers did not reduce crime or alcohol consumption; if the leader of one gang was imprisoned, more violence erupted as rival successors fought to fill the position of their former boss. Homicide rates soared.
Hari makes a convincing case that this same cycle has engulfed large swaths of modern Mexico. Because drugs are illegal, criminal gangs control their production and distribution. Unable to settle disputes in court, rival cartels fight viciously at the slightest provocation and struggle to monopolize the immensely profitable industry. One of the people Hari interviews is a teenager imprisoned in Texas who once worked as an assassin for a Mexican drug cartel. His stories are terrifying.
Many argue, however, that legalizing drugs would only lead to chaos and crime and widespread addiction. Hari addresses this argument in two broad ways. First, he points to successful examples of decriminalization. Addiction rates actually fell in Portugal after drugs were no longer illegal. Overdoses and HIV transmission declined quite rapidly in Switzerland and the Netherlands after those countries allowed doctors to prescribe drugs to addicts. Money that was once spent on law enforcement was suddenly available to invest in rehabilitation programs and drug education campaigns.
Hari’s second reply to skeptics reverses the conventional wisdom that drugs cause crime. He argues that the criminalization of drugs – not drugs themselves – is responsible for much of the crime associated with drugs. Making drugs illegal allows criminal organizations to control prices. These organizations invariably establish a monopoly and charge as much as possible, which artificially inflates prices and creates an incentive for many users to become dealers to fund their addiction. These dealers then fight one another for territory, and the losers often turn to crimes like armed robbery as a source of income.
From Brooklyn to Mexico to Arizona, Hari shows the same depressing dynamics at work. But in Switzerland, Portugal, Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington, he finds hopeful evidence that legalizing – or at least decriminalizing – drugs decreases crime, increases the safety of users, and does not lead to the widespread addiction that many fear. His reporting is balanced and comprehensive; he interviews police and prisoners, addicts and dealers, politicians and activists. He also delves into different historical periods as case studies on the costs and benefits of the drug war. His book should be required reading for anyone involved in the drug war, and a glance at the national budget shows that anyone who pays taxes is involved in the drug war.
One of the most surprising of the many revelations in Hari’s book is that substance addiction is not exclusively or even primarily a chemical phenomenon. He cites one study that found that heroin users continued to use a product they believed was heroin even when it contained absolutely no heroin. They felt only minor symptoms of withdrawal. Another study found that only around 17% of cigarette smokers were able to quit with the help of a nicotine patch. If addiction were entirely chemical, the rate should have been much higher. Something psychological makes it hard for addicts to abandon their lifestyle.
Even a commonly cited study about rats and morphine turns out to be misleading. When isolated and given an unlimited supply, rats will consume staggering and often deadly doses of morphine and other drugs. The chemical theory of addiction would explain this behavior by saying the rats are in the grips of compulsive cravings that make it impossible for them to act otherwise. But once the rats were given a social and engaging environment with other rats, good food, and interesting games and activities, the amount of morphine they consumed dropped fivefold. They suddenly had more interesting things to do.
The same logic applies to humans. Portugal tries to help addicts with a holistic approach that re-integrates them into society by helping them find work, develop friendships, and build a varied and full life. In America it’s much harder for someone with a drug conviction to find work, housing, and community. Imprisoning addicts ensures that they remain marginalized and stigmatized, and this makes them more vulnerable to addiction.
Hari debunks many myths and fallacies surrounding addiction and the drug wars. But this book is also an eloquent reminder of an easily forgotten truth, one that the doctor in 1938 used as the title of his own book: "Drug Addicts Are Human Beings".

Thursday, May 10, 2018

For Trump, the End of the Beginning

May 10, 2018

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Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Barack Obama’s fantasy “Iran deal” brings a much-needed dose of realpolitik to a fossilized Washington foreign-policy establishment that has operated for far too long on “consensus” and an inflated reliance on the estimation of others, especially those hostile to the American experiment.
What the novice president understands, in a way that none of his predecessors since Ronald Reagan has, is that (as the Declaration puts it) “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” does not mean to sacrifice control of America’s self-interest on the altar of cultural-Marxist shibboleths like political correctness, “fairness,” “tolerance,” “diversity,” or “white privilege.”
The president and his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, were undoubtedly emboldened to flout the conventional wisdom of Foggy Bottom and its amen chorus in the press corps by their success (caveat: so far) in handling North Korea. Just a few months ago, the usual worrywarts and chin-pullers were fretting that the madman in Washington was about to provoke the only slightly less mad Kim Jong-un into a nuclear exchange in the international equivalent of a dick-measuring contest. Meanwhile, the same Wise Men were thrilled with the “success” of their beloved Obama’s giveaways to the mullahs in Tehran.
And then, suddenly, there was Li’l Kim in South Korea; after nearly 70 years of a state of war between the two Koreas, talk of peace—if not actual reunification—is in the air. As it turns out, neither Trump nor Kim were quite as mad as the press made them out to be. Each man, acting on behalf of his nation and in his own prudent self-interest, understood that clarity of intent is sometimes worth far more than all the diplomatic niceties in the world. That North Korea had nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by provoking the United States, only made it that much easier for Kim to come to the table.
For decades—since the Iranian revolution, in fact—it has paid for lesser nations to ruffle the eagle’s feathers. Rather than bite back, American presidents from George H. W. Bush to Obama have turned the other cheek to near-continuous provocation; indeed, it took the enormity of 9/11 for George W. Bush to rouse the nation to action, and even then it was largely wasted on “nation-building” projects in places like Afghanistan and Iraq that were never really nations in the first place.
What should have been a punitive expedition against recrudescent Islam, several orders of magnitude greater than that of Kitchener at Omdurman, has since morphed into the Endless War—one that gives military procurers, Army lawyers, and the striped-pants set permanent employment, even as our capabilities have been degraded, our capital squandered, our young people killed and maimed, and “diplomats” like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have racked up air mileage at public expense and accomplishing exactly nothing.
That this disgrace has been allowed to continue through both Republican and Democratic administrations tells you that it is not accidental, but intentional. The NeverTrump crew of conservative poseurs never really wanted to win the 2016 election , out of fear that it would force them put up or shut up. Similarly, the foreign policy establishment, which includes not only the diplomats but the institutional think tanks and the journalists who spin the revolving doors of both, has a vested interest in what George H.W. Bush unapologetically called the “new world order”—a totalitarian phrase that should have chilled every heart at the time he uttered it, but did not.
In a speech to a joint session Congress in 1991, the architect of the first Gulf War said:
What is at stake is more than one small country; it is a big idea:a new world order, where diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind—peace and security, freedom, and the rule of law. Such is a world worthy of our struggle and worthy of our children’s future.
And now here we are, 27 years later, with the world having become a far more dangerous and less worthy place thanks to the Bushes and the Clintons and Obama, until finally the voters said enough to these people and their ilk. They rolled the dice on an ofttimes-boorish political novice whose salient virtue was that he paid absolutely no attention to the Washington establishment, and dared to call out its pooh-bahs for being stark naked and at the same time flaccid and impotent.
So the end of the Iran deal will have ramifications and repercussions far beyond this nation’s dealings with Iran itself. Certainly, the excitable Iranians must now understand their bluff has been called, there will be no further rollovers from Uncle Sam, and that their long-accruing butcher’s bill, outstanding since 1979, is now due and payable. The Iranian regime is on shaky ground, its youthful population restive, and it might well have fallen during the Obama Administration had we supported the Green Revolution with just the slightest gesture. The abrogation of the “deal” will now doom them, irrevocably.
Why didn’t it fall nine years ago? Because the congenitally duplicitous Obama wanted the nuclear deal, and was willing to sacrifice any number of Iranian lives to get his fig leaf—a “deal” that actually furthered Iran’s nuclear program and paid them to do it. As Eli Lake wrote at the time:
There is no guarantee that an Obama intervention would have been able to topple Khamenei back in 2009, when his people flooded the streets to protest an election the American president wouldn’t say was stolen. But it was worth a try . . .  Perhaps then a nuclear deal could have brought about a real peace. Instead, Obama spent his presidency misunderstanding Iran’s dictator, assuring the supreme leader America wouldn’t aid his citizens when they tried to change the regime that oppresses them to this day.
No wonder those responsible for this deal are howling so loud in protest this week. The Iran deal is one of the last props to fall in the Potemkin presidency of Barack Hussein Obama. As the Mueller “investigation” collapses, Stormy Daniels blows her way out to sea, and even CNN comes to realize that Trump will be president at least until January 2021, the first explicitly anti-American presidential administration in history has been unmasked.
Expect more, and worse, to follow. A great reckoning is at hand.

Today's Tune: Frank Sinatra - Lady Is A Tramp (Live At The Spectrum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania / October 7, 1974)

The mob ticket heist that may have produced an incredible Frank Sinatra show at the Spectrum

by , For the Inquirer
May 3, 2018

Image result for frank sinatra standing room only

No, Frank Sinatra never commissioned Kander and Ebb to “start spreading the news” or paid Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen to write a musical homage to our kind of ring-a-ding rocking town.

But listening to the first authorized concert recording of Sinatra captured locally at the Spectrum — part of the three-show package dubbed Standing Room Only (Universal Music — it’s clear that Philadelphians held a special place in the pop icon’s heart. Back atcha, fella. On Oct. 7, 1974, the collective South Philly crowd cheered for his overtured entry so intensely, “we physically felt it, the sonic pressure pushing us back like a strong headwind,” remembers Sid Mark, the veteran — 61 years! — host of Sinatra radio shows (now Sunday morning/mid-day on WPHT 1210-AM), who walked Frank up the ramp to the Spectrum stage that evening.

And that roar wouldn’t quit. You’ll then hear Frank’s lavish 40-piece orchestra — Woody Herman’s Young Thundering Herd — vamping through the opening intro to “Tramp” (a.k.a. “The Lady is a Tramp”) a crazy six times over. Finally, the singer finds an opening to jump in with his swinging homage to that free-spirited scamp who never “dishes the dirt” or “bothers with people she hates.”

That was just for starters. The level of excitement and fevered response is equally palpable and unprecedented around Sinatra performances of the jazzy, finger-snapping “My Kind of Town” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Even more so when he takes on grand ballads that show off his pop-operatic flair. Like on the “not heard much” anymore “Ol’ Man River” and almost as demanding “Send in the Clowns.” It all underscored that the artist, then 58, hadn’t lost of speck of his skill set or his empathy for the downtrodden and brokenhearted.

Several times over, Sinatra pauses to remark about “the great love in the room” and declares, “This is the most fantastic welcome. We’ve been playing other towns and I can tell you, with all due respect, they’re marvelous in other towns, but they’re like a cookie sale. When you holler, you really holler here. I’m telling you something … [they’re] nothing like this.” And while Sinatra is often exuding the brash and mercurial playboy persona who has all the answers — slamming the press “bums” (Rex Reed, Rona Barrett) and comically squelching a chatterbox — there’s one moment during the Philly date where the veneer breaks, emotion gets the better of him. The man’s on the verge of verklempt.

A fitting tribute timed to the 20th anniversary of his passing at age 82, the Spectrum show release is bookended in this career-arcing package with a swinging, “I’ve just turned 50” 1966 show from Sinatra’s stronghold at the Sands Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas, backed by the walloping Count Basie Big Band, and conducted by Quincy Jones. On the other side, there’s a performance from Dallas in 1987, where The Voice shows weathering but the spirit remains strong. Even ragged notes are turned to dramatic advantage. The only technical/theatrical aids he’s needing are those still dazzling band charts, a serious sound system, and a low-slung teleprompter screen keeping song lyrics in his sights. Yeah, the man was slammed for bringing that cheatin’ TV tool to the stage. Today, virtually every arena artist uses a teleprompter as a security blanket.

But that middle-of-the-package Philly show is really one for the books — for reasons mostly, although not totally, grand. The recording captures Sinatra on the comeback trail with the Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back album and tour, marking his return after a cut-short retirement “to spend time with the family and paint” that “quickly drove the guy nuts,” mused Mark. “He missed the excitement, missed the music.”

And the fan base was now extra hot to fox-trot with the legend in concert. A marketing strategy milked by his national tour producer Jerry Weintraub and manager/attorney Mickey Rudin with a total of three ’74 shows in Philly. The first two in April (21-22)  were part of a tour ostensibly benefiting Variety International, an entertainers-founded charity for children (known locally for its summer camp) that had honored Sinatra as its Man of the Year. Then came the Oct. 7 show that was a warm-up (and backup recording date) for “The Main Event,” a televised Madison Square Garden concert that took place six nights later, famously pumped like a championship prize fight by show announcer Howard Cosell.

“I can’t believe we’re back here so soon, but here we are,” Sinatra told the crowd surrounding him with love at that October Spectrum show. That’s the utterance wherein he’s almost losing it. “Frank liked a center stage to get him closer to the crowd,” recalls another longtime local DJ pal, Jerry Blavat. “Plus, in the round, he could pack in more people and sell more ringside seats.”

At the time, this fledgling music critic/reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News believed there was another reason Frank Sinatra had returned here so quickly. Namely, as an apologetic “make-good” date for the devotees who had been first in line to buy tickets to the April shows but oddly wound up with distant seat locations. So maybe that’s why we hear the fans yelling so aggressively on this October night?

First whispered in my ear way back when by agitated principals in the Spectrum organization, the story was that self-proclaimed “friends” of Sinatra — classic tough guys — had shown up at the South Philly arena’s offices and forcefully demanded preferred status to buy the best seats in the house, weeks before the tickets were offered to the public. Not a few dozen ducats, not a few hundred, but several thousand, which they would then resell on the street and through ticket brokers at greatly marked-up prices.

My informants were reluctant to go on the record and name names or affiliations, fearing for their “health.” But their concerns were later verified when tickets went on sale and first-in-line-buyers called me to complain how they’d been stiffed, sold seats 20 rows back. Or worse.

Ever protective of the Sinatra legacy, Mark, 84, still says “I don’t believe that happened.” Blavat, 77, acknowledges “Mickey Rudin held back tickets for Frank’s friends to buy, but 50 or a hundred per show, at the most 500.” As for the thought that Mafia mobsters might have engaged in a major ticket heist, the Geator scoffs, “That’s BS. It was always rumored, but I was with him close to 30 years, and traveled with Junior [now deceased Frank Sinatra Jr.] for much of his life. There were no such people around.”

So then we got in touch with Larry Magid, the seasoned Philly promoter whose Electric Factory Concerts aligned with Weintraub to produce the local Sinatra dates. And he finally spilled the complete story, guarded for 44 years.

“Frankie Flowers [D’Alfonso] — a big-time bookmaker and florist who I casually knew — called and asked for tickets for ‘friends of Frank,’” Magid related. “I said I was willing to sell him four. I think the top price was $12.50. Maybe $15. Then that Saturday he came to my office with this other beefy guy who said he was with the Teamsters. ‘Four tickets won’t do, we want to buy 2,500,’ Frankie told me in a soft ‘good cop’ voice. I told him we couldn’t do this, that it would look bad to the public. And over the years we’d learned that if you say ‘no’ to mobsters when they try to shake you down, they usually back off.”

Not this day. “Suddenly, the other guy threw himself across my desk, grabbed me by the throat, and started squeezing, choking, yelling he’s going to kill me if they don’t get the tickets,” Magid remembers with a bitter laugh. “So now I’m starting to figure out what ‘friends of Frank’ really means. Still, I told them that it wasn’t in my control to sell them that many tickets, as the distribution was under the Spectrum’s control, which is why they then went and paid a ‘social call’ to the Spectrum people and put the scare on them.“

But before blood was spilt, Sinatra’s consigliere Rudin got in on the act. He phoned Magid and repeated the mantra – “‘They’re Frank’s friends, just sell ’em the tickets to the April shows. Whatever they want, he wants.’ So finally, reluctantly, we did,” acknowledges the promoter. “And then, of course, took heat for it from the press and even on radio, surprisingly, from [WFIL DJ] Long John Wade.”

As for the wild exuberance of the crowd at that Oct. 7, 1974, Standing Room Only show, Mark has an alternative and equally plausible explanation. “The day before the concert, on my ‘Sunday with Sinatra’ radio show, I told listeners ‘If you’re going, I want you to be on your feet when the orchestra starts playing. Then I want to hear the loudest ovation ever, even before he sings the first note. Bless ’em, they all came through.”

Frank Sinatra, Standing Room Only

CD 1: The Sands, Las  Vegas — Jan. 28. 1966 (2nd show)

  1. Come Fly With Me.
  2. I’ve Got a Crush On You
  3. I’ve Got You Under My Skin
  4. The September Of My Years
  5. Street Of Dreams
  6. Angel Eyes
  7. Fly Me To The Moon
  8. “The Tea Break” (Monologue)
  9. You Make Me Feel So Young
  10. The Shadow Of Your Smile
  11. Luck Be a Lady
  12. It Was A Very Good Year
  13. Where Or When
  14. My King Of Town
  15. A Few Last Words (Monologue)
  16. My Kind Of Town (Reprise)

CD 2: The Spectrum, Philadelphia — Oct. 7, 1974

  1. Overture
  2. The Lady Is A Tramp
  3. I Get A Kick Out Of You
  4. Let Me Try Again
  5. My Kind Of Town
  6. Welcome
  7. Ol’ Man River
  8. Monologue
  9. I Get Along Without You Very Well
  10. I’ve Got You Under My Skin
  11. “The Tea Break” (Monologue)
  12. Send In the Clowns
  13. If
  14. You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
  15. What Are You Doing the Rest Of Your Life
  16. My Way
  17. Bows: My Way

CD 3: Reunion Arena, Dallas — Oct. 24, 1987

  1. Overture/Introduction
  2. You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
  3. What Now My Love
  4. My Heart Stood Still
  5. Moonlight In Vermont
  6. Summer Wind
  7. You Will Be My Music
  8. More Than You Know
  9. Mack The Knife
  10. Monologue
  11. What’s New?
  12. Bewitched
  13. Angel Eyes
  14. If
  15. When Joanna Loved Me
  16. For Once In My Life
  17. Lonely Town
  18. Theme from “New York New York”
  19. Bows: Theme from “New York, New York”
  20. Where Or When
  21. My Way
  22. Maybe This Time
  23. The Lady Is A Tramp
  24. Bows: You Are There

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Trump Dumps Iran Deal — Hallelujah!

By Andrew C. McCarthy
May 8, 2018

Image result for trump signing iran deal
President Trump shows a signed presidential memorandum reinstating US nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime on May 8, 2018. (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal is the greatest boost for American and global security in decades.
If you think that is an exaggeration, then you evidently think the Obama administration’s injection of well over a hundred billion dollars — some of it in the form of cash bribes — into the coffers of the world’s leading state sponsor of anti-American terrorism was either trivial or, more delusionally, a master-stroke of statecraft.
Of course, there’s a lot of delusion going around. After repeatedly vowing to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons (with signature “If you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance” candor), President Obama, and his trusty factotum John Kerry, made an agreement that guaranteed Iran would obtain a nuclear weapon.

They rationalized this dereliction with the nostrum that an unverifiable delay in nuclear-weapons development, coupled with Iran’s coup in reestablishing lucrative international trade relations, would tame the revolutionary jihadist regime, such that it would be a responsible government by the time the delay ended. Meantime, we would exercise an oh-so-sophisticated brand of “strategic patience” as the mullahs continued abetting terrorism, mass-murdering Syrians, menacing other neighbors, evolving ballistic missiles, crushing domestic dissent, and provoking American military forces — even abducting our sailors on the high seas.
And, of course, the most risible self-deception of all: The only alternative to this capitulation was war.

In point of fact, war was not the alternative to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. War was theresult of the JCPOA.
Obama said the mullahs would use the windfall to rebuild their country (while Kerry grudgingly confessed that a slice would still be diverted to the jihad). Instead, billions of dollars poured into Iran by Obama’s deal promptly poured out to Syria, where it funded both sides of the war. Cash flowed to the Taliban, where it funded the war on the American-backed government. It flowed to Hamas and Hezbollah for the war on Israel. It flowed to Yemen, funding a proxy war against Saudi Arabia.
The JCPOA made Iran better at war than it has ever been — and that’s saying something.
The challenge of Iran has never been the specter of nukes. The challenge is the jihadist regime. But the JCPOA was a lifeline to a regime whose zeal to acquire mass-destruction weapons betrays its fear of internal revolt. The regime came to the bargaining table knowing Obama could be rolled, but it was driven to the table by a global economic-sanctions framework, principally constructed by the U.S. Congress. The sanctions choked the pariah regime, providing the great mass of Iranian dissenters with hope that their tormentors could be overthrown — hope that Obama had dashed in 2009, when he turned a deaf ear as the regime brutalized protesters.
The JCPOA empowered the totalitarians. Trump’s exit squeezes them.
The deal was a farce that literally obligated the United States not merely to accede to Iran’s enrichment of uranium but to help protect Iran’s nuclear facilities. (See JCPOA Article 10, Annex III, Sec. 10 (“Nuclear Security”): obliging the U.S. to help strengthen Iran’s ability to “prevent, protect and respond to nuclear security threats to nuclear facilities,” including “sabotage.”) As I’ve previously outlined, every time the president recertified the deal, as federal law required, he had to make two representations, neither of which was ever true: (a) that Iran was “transparently, verifiably, and fully implementing the agreement,” and (b) that continuing the JCPOA was “vital to the national security interests of the United States.” The Obama administration spared Iran from revealing the history of its nuclear program, which would have been necessary to establish a baseline for compliance purposes; it cut side deals — concealed from Congress — that made verification procedures an impenetrable private arrangement between Iran and the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency; and it agreed to limits on what IAEA was allowed to report about Iranian violations (see former longtime national-security official Fred Fleitz’s analysis, here).

For these and myriad other reasons, the JCPOA was a debacle. Yet Obama apologists posit two other objections to Trump’s cashiering of the former president’s legacy agreement: abandoning the deal (1) isolates the United States and (2) suggests that the United States cannot be trusted to keep its word.
What nonsense.
Far from isolating the United States, President Trump is proving that the United States is the indispensable nation. Nations will be put to a choice: You can have access to the U.S. economy or you can have commerce with Iran — not both. Our European allies know this is not a real choice: They can’t isolate us, they need us, our markets, and the umbrella of our protection. They’re angry because they’d like to pocket the benefits they get from us while cutting profitable deals with our enemies. That’s not “isolating us”; that’s a tantrum. They will get over it in short order if the president is steadfast about enforcement.
Moreover, the JCPOA did not represent America’s word, it represented Obama’s word. Our Constitution and our laws are no secret. Our European allies know full well that a president has no power unilaterally to bind the United States to an international agreement. We give our word when we enter a treaty or enact legislation that cements commitments. Obama did not seek to make his deal a treaty precisely because he knew America was not giving its word — the public did not support the deal, which would have been roundly defeated if subjected to the Constitution’s process for ratifying international commitments.
Finally, we must sound a cautionary note. These columnspleaded with Congress to reject the self-defeating Corker-Cardin legislation that helped Obama create the veneer of congressional approval. Corker-Cardin turned the Treaty Clause on its head: Instead of rejecting the deal unless a two-thirds supermajority of the Senate approved it, as the Constitution requires, it portrayed the deal as “not disapproved” unless two-thirds of both Houses voted it down — enabling Democrats to help Obama prevail.
This counter-constitutional charade never had the legal force to ratify the JCPOA (although it did provide fodder for Obama officials and foreign governments to claim that the agreement has binding status under international law). But there is a danger. Because Congress’s sanctions are statutory, they could be repealed by statute. Corker-Cardin is statutory law. As we warned, Obama Democrats, Iran, and transnational progressives everywhere will now contend that, even if it did not make the JCPOA legally binding, Corker-Cardin did have the effect of repealing the sanctions. If this is correct, the sanctions would not “snap back” into place; Congress would have to reenact them.
In our current legislative environment, that would be a steep mountain to climb. But the Trump administration must be ready with a strategy to combat this claim and rebuild (and strengthen) the sanctions — in addition to pressuring Tehran on other fronts.
That is tomorrow’s problem. For today, President Trump has reestablished that the United States and the world are more secure when we confront our enemies rather than fantasizing that they are suitable negotiating partners — even as they bray, “Death to America!”

ANDREW C. MCCARTHY — Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review