Saturday, December 15, 2018

Weekly Standard, RIP

December 14, 2018
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Bill Kristol
The Weekly Standard is no more. Its parent company is shutting the magazine down after 23 years. It is hard to imagine that the magazine that was the home to such greats such as Andrew Ferguson, Matt Labash, and Christopher Caldwell no longer exists. Those are the times in which we live. That’s quite a “Merry Christmas” from owner Philip Anschutz, a conservative Evangelical worth over $10 billion.
Last week, when word got out that this was probably about to happen, my old boss Daniel McCarthy, who was TAC’s editor for years, published a thoughtful analysis of the magazine’s demise. You may not know that the Standard began as a Rupert Murdoch product, and was sold after a while to the Colorado billionaire Anschutz. This business model is different from the one behind National Review and TAC, as McCarthy explains. Excerpts:
The Weekly Standard’s value lay in the fact that it was an insider magazine. It was a top-down product — there was never an independent mass audience clamoring for a second National Review or for a specifically neoconservative publication. (Commentary, as a monthly, already served that market as far as demand could justify.) What was important was that the magazine be read not by a mass market but by Republican officials and their staff and various other influential persons, primarily in Washington, D.C. If officialdom read the Weekly Standard, then it was worth continuing to spend millions on it. In business terms as well as ideologically and literarily, the Weekly Standard had a lot in common with the New Republic, which for decades was dependent upon Marty Peretz’s singular financial support as owner of a magazine that touted itself during the Clinton years as the ‘inflight magazine of Air Force One.’
In Trump’s Washington, a conservative magazine that is robustly anti-Trump loses its practical value. Along these lines:
Beyond that, however, think about the brand itself: in the public mind, the name Weekly Standard is associated with one thing that’s unpopular with almost everyone (the Iraq War), and another that’s unpopular with its formerly intended audience of conservatives (opposition to Trump). The person most identified with the brand is Kristol, by far. He stepped down as editor at the end of 2016, but his public persona still defines the magazine: his bitter, flippant, or sarcastic tweets about Trump and Trump supporters are the Weekly Standard’s brand in the public’s eye. Few people look at the masthead of a magazine closely enough to realize when a prominent editor such as Kristol has been replaced by a less prominent once such as Steve Hayes — and because Kristol remains on the masthead as editor-at-large, ordinary readers have even more cause for confusion. (‘Editor-at-large’ sounds a lot like ‘editor’ to most people, but in fact usually means ‘ex-editor.’)
Fairly or not, Bill Kristol is the brand.
That’s simply the truth — and when Kristol did ugly, indefensible things, like accusing Tucker Carlson of defending slavery, it reflected on the magazine, even though he was no longer its editor. National Review even published a cover story denouncing Trump during the 2016 GOP primaries, but it has continued to thrive, in part because of its business model, and in part because it doesn’t have the branding challenge that the Standard has, or had.
I’ve read online some paleocon gloating over the Standard‘s end. You won’t find me doing that. Though I no longer share the magazine’s politics — the Bush years, especially the Iraq War, broke me of that — I retain affection for the Standard and its writers. Being away from the East Coast for so long has given me a spirit of genial ecumenism with regard to other conservative publications, even if I don’t agree with them on all things.
Besides, it is almost never a good thing for a little opinion magazine to go away.  If you work for a magazine like this, whether on the left or the right, you know well how difficult it is to make the damn thing happen at all. I don’t know how they did it at the Standard, but every time I visit TAC’s headquarters in DC, I always think that I wish our donors could see how it works at the Mothership. It is a very lean operation; their money really does go into the production of the magazine. I remember making my first visit to National Review‘s New York office back in 2001. I expected to see the decorative equivalent of Bill Buckley (oak-panelled chambers, the faint aroma of dusty books and sherry, etc.). What a shock to discover that the place, bathed in fluorescent lighting, looked like a public interest law firm!
The point is, magazines like ours are a lot cheaper to run than you’d think, given the splash their writers and editors can make. (When I was living and working in NYC, I would show up on cable TV a fair bit, which caused a lot of folks to think I was getting rich — oh, if only!) Some years back, I was present in a conversation in which Bill Kristol talked about what it was like going to the annual retreat of senior editors of Murdoch media properties. The Standard was an asterisk on the annual News Corp balance sheet, but because it mattered in Republican Washington, Kristol and the team he represented punched far, far above their weight.
As John Podhoretz, one of the magazine’s founders, points out in his angry obituary for the Standard:
To be sure, it has never made money. Magazines like it never make money. But its circulation has always been extraordinarily healthy in opinion-journal terms. And within the giant corporations run by the wealthy men who started the Standard and then bought it—Rupert Murdoch and then Anschutz—its annual losses were a rounding error, akin to the budget for the catering on one of their blockbuster movie productions. But if Anschutz had been motivated by an unwillingness to bear the cost any longer, he could have sold the Standard. He chose not to. He chose to kill it.
As McCarthy points out, killing the magazine was arguably necessary to boost the prospects of the Washington Examiner, which Anschutz is expanding to a national audience. Nevertheless, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to grieve the losses of “business decisions.” Then again, I’m the kind of guy who, if I became a billionaire, would be happy to lose money on publishing a magazine that was home to good writers. That’s probably why I’ll never be a billionaire, actually.
In 1995, when Podhoretz, Kristol, and Fred Barnes were staffing up the new magazine prior to launch, they called me over at The Washington Times and asked me to come in for a job interview. I was incredibly nervous about it. I had only been in Washington for a handful of years, and every single day had to fight off my personal demons telling me that I was a fraud who ought to just get back to the bayou and never presume to think that I had a place in national journalism.
I went over to the magazine’s offices, met Podhoretz and Barnes, and sat with them for about 45 minutes. I have no memory at all of the meeting. I just wanted to get out of there without wetting my pants, such was my anxiety. I didn’t get a job offer, and ended up moving to south Florida to get back into arts journalism. Three years later, Podhoretz, who was at that time a top editor at the New York Post, asked me to apply for a film critic’s slot at that newspaper. I did, and got the job; Pod became a good friend — and more than a friend; my career has been enabled by a number of generous people along the way, but none have been more important than John Podhoretz, to whom I owe a debt I can never repay. To be honest, I mostly feel bad today about the Standard‘s fate because I know how much he’s hurting, and I don’t want my friend to hurt.
Anyway, Pod asked me around that time if I remembered my job interview at the Standard. Lord no, I said; I was so nervous that I just wanted to be done with it. He told me that I spent 45 minutes explaining to him and Fred Barnes why I ought not be hired, because I was not good enough to work there.
I had to laugh. Of course I did! In those days, my insecurity more than once led me to self-sabotage. Happily for me, I grew up.
Today, in light of this sad news from Washington, I count it as one of the highlights of my professional life that I was once thought to be a good enough writer to work for the Weekly Standard. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Film Review: The Mule

Clint Eastwood's Unforgettable Curtain Call

By Kyle Smith
December 13, 2018

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At 88, Clint Eastwood seldom appears on screen anymore and last acted in a movie in 2012’s mediocre Trouble with the Curve. So the final images of The Mule may be the last we see of him at the movies. If so, what an exit: understated perfection, with a playful hint of subverting his screen image.

The Mule is an oddly endearing, kind of wonderful little picture in which Clint plays an isotope of his cranky old bastard Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino, and once again he’s getting mixed up with gang members. This time, though, he’s working for them. Huh?
Eastwood’s Earl Stone, the kind of old cuss who refers to a Latino’s car as a “taco wagon,” is a stand-in for every absentee dad in the land. A career traveling salesman, he’s spent his life on the road, but nowadays prefers to grow lilies in solitude. His ex-wife (Dianne Wiest) and daughter (Eastwood’s real-life daughter Alison) want nothing to do with him. He’s boozing it up with some fellow horticulturists when he remembers it’s his daughter’s wedding day. A flash of recognition comes over his face, but then he just . . . keeps on drinking.
That’s bad enough. But then, with hardly a second thought, Earl (whose house is in foreclosure and whose truck looks like he bought it from the Joad family) drifts into becoming a major drug trafficker. At first, he seems oblivious to what’s happening when some fine gentlemen wielding military-grade rifles tell him to run a package across state lines. But gradually it sets in that Earl, who is based on a real drug runner of similar age profiled in a magazine article, just doesn’t care that he’s an employee of some of the worst people in the hemisphere. And the script, by Gran Torino writer Nick Schenk, plays his escapades for laughs: Who would suspect a dotty old man of having hundreds of pounds of cocaine in the bed of his pickup? The ultimate head of the cartel, the drug lord played by Andy Garcia, advises his operatives to give the old coot plenty of leeway to do things the way he wants; he’s become an essential part of the operation. (Any movie that includes this particular actor in this particular role is really missing an opportunity if it isn’t called “Bring Me the Head of Andy Garcia,” but I’ll let that go.)
Earl is so invisible that he can have breakfast with one of the DEA agents (Bradley Cooper) on his trail and inspire no suspicion whatsoever. He just keeps driving his load from Texas to the upper Midwest as though he’s delivering jellybeans, singing along to Dean Martin on the stereo. Silently I was shouting, “What are you doing, Earl? These guys are killers! Don’t take their blood money!”
But this Methuselah of Meth (okay, coke, whatever) just wears you down with his roguish nonchalance. So this is the end point of all those legendary Eastwood tough guys, the Dirty Harrys and the Philo Beddoes and the Blondies (actually, now that I think about it, two of those names don’t sound very tough after all). Though the script never states it, Earl is so close to death that nothing else can possibly faze him. He’s the ultimate nothing-left-to-lose hard case. Stick a pistol in his chest if you want. What does he care? Life is a ride, and he’s just going to bump along until it stops. Also, he’s funny. “Who do you have to kill to get a place like this?” he asks the cartel boss at the latter’s hacienda.
In effect, the movie is the second half of a double feature to accompany September’s The Old Man and the Gun, which Robert Redford has said (might) be his last movie and is also about a merry old criminal, in Redford’s case a bank robber. The earlier movie is nicely done, but The Mule drills deeper: that Earl (like Redford’s character) does some good deeds with his ill-gotten loot is incidental. He’s a deeply flawed figure even before he becomes a drug runner. He has no justification for the many times he has let his family down. Much is simply left out of the script, which is what I like about it. We all know people like Earl in real life. They cause a lot of chaos and misery and rarely do they get redefined via a heartwarming third-act reveal so we can forgive all before the credits roll. Earl is who he is. He isn’t a great guy underneath it all.
This waspish quality, though, is why a late scene that draws the movie together carries so much weight. When Earl is told, “You were the love of my life, and the pain of my life,” those words resonate the way “Go ahead, make my day” once did. So does Earl’s conclusion that “all you need is your family. You don’t need all that other sh**.” Eastwood’s own domestic history has been a bit tangled; CNN reported he has had eight children by six different women, although accounts differ. So The Mule has the feel of a late confession from an imperfect patriarch. What’s more compelling is to consider how many Earls there must be out there, how many people who were the love, and the pain, of someone’s life.
KYLE SMITH — Kyle Smith is National Review’s critic-at-large.

Does the Unfortunate 20th Century Foretell a Worse 21st?

December 13, 2018
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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. (Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images)
On the centenary of his birth, we see that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was right, not once but twice.
In appearance he was more akin to an Old Testament prophet—Jeremiah, say—than a Nobel Prize-winning Russian dissident writer, a man who had emerged from his long captivity in the Soviet Union only to find the supposedly superior West wanting as well. Honored as the author of The Gulag Archipelago, which finally persuaded even the most diehard of the Stalinist apologists that the USSR left something to be desired in the human rights department, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn came to be feared in his adopted homeland of America for his coruscating indictment of materialism and its handmaiden, atheism.
Solzhenitsyn, who died in 2008 in Moscow—he outlasted the regime that had seized control of Mother Russia by more than a decade—brought the same gimlet eye to the United States that had landed him the gulag. The West, he said, was every bit in as much danger of losing its soul as the Russians had been after the Bolshevik revolution, and he foresaw much the same fate for us as occurred under Marxism. Worse, we will have deserved it, because we embraced the diabolical tenets of materialism freely, rather than having them forced upon us by a murderous band of psychopathic ideologues.
The author gave full voice to these sentiments in several speeches, including a 1978 commencement address at Harvard (“A World Split Apart”) that rocked listeners with its frank criticism of Western values, as well as in his Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion speech in London in 1983. Of the Harvard speech, he later reflected:
Western society in principle is based on a legal level that is far lower than the true moral yardstick, and besides, this legal way of thinking has a tendency to ossify. In principle, moral imperatives are not adhered to in politics, and often not in public life either. The notion of freedom has been diverted to unbridled passion, in other words, in the direction of the forces of evil (so that nobody’s “freedom” would be limited!). A sense of responsibility before God and society has fallen away. “Human rights” have been so exalted that the rights of society are being oppressed and destroyed.
And above all, the press, not elected by anyone, acts high-handedly and has amassed more power than the legislative, executive, or judicial power. And in this free press itself, it is not true freedom of opinion that dominates, but the dictates of the political fashion of the moment, which lead to a surprising uniformity of opinion . . . . The reigning ideology, that prosperity and the accumulation of material riches are to be valued above all else, is leading to a weakening of character in the West, and also to a massive decline in courage and the will to defend itself, as was clearly seen in the Vietnam War, not to mention a perplexity in the face of terror. But the roots of this social condition spring from the Enlightenment, from rationalist humanism, from the notion that man is the center of all that exists, and that there is no Higher Power above him. And these roots of irreligious humanism are common to the current Western world and to Communism, and that is what has led the Western intelligentsia to such strong and dogged sympathy for Communism.
Strong medicine, and one that was not swallowed easily. Nor would it be today. Pinning the decline of morality—really, a loss of the sense of the transcendent—on the Enlightenment was a bold stroke, and a controversial one, since the modern democratic West traces its lineage directly to the 17th and 18th centuries. But it was in the Templeton speech that the Russian Orthodox Christian really let loose, warning the West of the dangers of its progressive, secular, and atheistic politics:
More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened . . . ”
And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire 20th century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: “Men have forgotten God.” The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century. The first of these was World War I, and much of our present predicament can be traced back to it. It was a war (the memory of which seems to be fading) when Europe, bursting with health and abundance, fell into a rage of self-mutilation which could not but sap its strength for a century or more, and perhaps forever. The only possible explanation for this war is a mental eclipse among the leaders of Europe due to their lost awareness of a Supreme Power above them.
The author went on to arraign the post-World War II peace in Europe which, sheltered by the American nuclear umbrella, was lulled into a false sense of its own secular security, untethered to human reality. We can see the effects of this sensibility today, when the countries of western Europe—Britain, France, Germany, have ceased to prize their own cultural uniqueness, mistake citizenship for nationality, and are admitting hordes of non-western, non-Christian aliens in the belief that they, too, will become “Britons,” “Frenchmen,” and “Germans.”
It was Dostoevsky, once again, who drew from the French Revolution and its seeming hatred of the Church the lesson that “revolution must necessarily begin with atheism.” That is absolutely true. But the world had never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized, and tenaciously malevolent as that practiced by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin, and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot. To achieve its diabolical ends. Communism needs to control a population devoid of religious and national feeling, and this entails the destruction of faith and nationhood.
The West has yet to experience a Communist invasion; religion here remains free. But the West’s own historical evolution has been such that today it too is experiencing a drying up of religious consciousness. It too has witnessed racking schisms, bloody religious wars, and rancor, to say nothing of the tide of secularism that, from the late Middle Ages onward, has progressively inundated the West. This gradual sapping of strength from within is a threat to faith that is perhaps even more dangerous than any attempt to assault religion violently from without.
Imperceptibly, through decades of gradual erosion, the meaning of life in the West has ceased to be seen as anything more lofty than the “pursuit of happiness,” a goal that has even been solemnly guaranteed by constitutions. The concepts of good and evil have been ridiculed for several centuries; banished from common use, they have been replaced by political or class considerations of short-lived value. It has become embarrassing to state that evil makes its home in the individual human heart before it enters a political system. Yet it is not considered shameful to make daily concessions to an integral evil. Judging by the continuing landslide of concessions made before the eyes of our very own generation, the West is ineluctably slipping toward the abyss.
At the time, these words were received with some disbelief; of all the nations of the West, America was the most solidly religious. How could we fall into the abyss? And yet the same forces that began as secular humanism in Europe—Settembrini, one of the two principal influences on Hans Castorp in Thomas Mann’s masterpiece, The Magic Mountain, is its very oleaginous embodiment—and then turned to militant atheism have also been at work here, with the result that one of our two major political parties have become, in effect, the atheist party, happily willing to boo God.
The prophet did not live long enough to see his words about the West come true; he didn’t have to. He knew the truth whereof he spoke, having seen it occur in Russia. But he left us with a solution, one which we seem presently disinclined to adopt: “To the ill-considered hopes of the last two centuries . . . we can propose only a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently spurned. Only in this way can our eyes be opened to the errors of this unfortunate 20th century . . . But it is during trials such as these that the highest gifts of the human spirit are manifested. If we perish and lose this world, the fault will be ours alone.”
Will the 21st century be even more unfortunate than its predecessor? With the West abandoning its centuries-old faith, just as one almost as old rises up to challenge and extinguish it, what do we propose to substitute? Secular humanism is no match for jihad. The end result of moral nihilism, as the Soviets demonstrated, is death and destruction on an industrial scale; if man is the sole measure of all things, we are in bigger trouble than we know—because, God knows, left to our own devices, we’re just not up to the task.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Today's Tune: Kurt Vile - Loading Zones

Dear Parents: Resist the Madness of Organized Children’s Sports

By Heather Wilhelm
December 13, 2018

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Brace yourself, parents of America, for I’m about to drop an uncomfortable truth bomb: If you’re stressed out, overscheduled, and fun-starved — and if none of these three problems relate to your job, your finances, your health, or the fact that you’re constantly forced to move between various mysterious small towns because you’re hiding in the federal witness-protection program — the odds are that organized children’s sports might be ruining your life.

It’s a dramatic statement, but it is also true. The havoc wreaked by children’s sports upon the lives and happiness of people who should simply be hanging out and doing nothing on Saturdays is impossible to measure, but it is surely close to the sum of all the heartless and bloody rampages portrayed in every Godzilla movie ever made.
Most Americans intuitively know, for example, that soccer can ruin lives. No offense to four-year-olds, who are frequently delightful people, but who wants to spend their Friday night watching four-year-olds play soccer? Actually, to be fair, no four-year-old is actually playing soccer. Instead, the children are simply running around in spirals or half-heartedly staring into middle distance or cheerfully poking giant, dangerous-looking ant piles with their cleats. They don’t want to be there either! They could be poking dangerous-looking ant piles at home.
Moreover, if your child turns out to eventually be good at soccer, the “reward” involves spending each Saturday for the next ten years of your life driving said child to four separate same-day soccer tournaments held in four different towns each two hours from each other, with the first tournament starting at 5:45 a.m. When viewed from space, these interconnected tournament towns may or may not form the shape of an evil-looking goat sporting an inverted pentagram tattoo, or perhaps even a coded message translating into What if I told you that ruining your weekends would not get your child into Stanford, foolish mortals, ha ha ho ho ha?”
Don’t worry, things get worse — especially as we move up the age scale. Just last night, I was talking to a dear friend who informed me that it costs $2,500 for eleven-year-old girls to join the local volleyball league. If your name is not Colonel Baron Von Oligarch McMoneybags, you likely recognize that this is deranged. (Actually, even Colonel McMoneybags would recognize that this is deranged. How do you think he got so rich? It certainly wasn’t from wasting capital on overpriced volleyball leagues for fifth graders!)
“Across the nation, kids of all skill levels, in virtually every team sport, are getting swept up by a youth-sports economy that increasingly resembles the pros at early ages,” Time reported last year. This phenomenon presents a host of problems, including the sad fact that kids from lower income levels are often shut out of a beloved tradition that frequently no longer exists: The low-key, low-cost, “We won’t try to turn you into a harried and jaded athletic professional at the age of eight” kids’ sports league.
Don’t get me wrong: I like sports! I like playing sports. I like watching sports, as long as they are not soccer. I think organized sports for kids are fine, at least in moderation — but moderation, it seems, is not the American way. One should not be attending 13 lacrosse practices a week.
James Breakwell, the author of the funny new book Bare Minimum Parenting: The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child, sees today’s amped-up children’s sports for what they are: “The only things in the universe besides black holes that can literally destroy time.” As an aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Breakwell’s book, even though I did not agree with everything in it. For instance, you should not “let your kids use screens as much as they want,” because that would destroy their lives and melt their brain. Furthermore, you should not give your child a candy bar when they whine, as Breakwell advises. Instead, at the first hint of whining, you should imperiously declare “Whining Does Not Get You What You Want” and move on with your day.
Regardless, these are small quibbles, and Breakwell’s book is entertaining and lighthearted and fun, making it a ray of light in a world where many writers take themselves so dreadfully seriously I get embarrassed for them just thinking about it. With that in mind, let’s get back to the true genius of Bare Minimum Parenting, which is of course where Breakwell agrees with me: the topic of organized children’s sports.
“If you’re a sports parent, don’t take all this as a personal attack on you,” Breakwell writes, after listing the myriad problems that sprout from today’s crazed, over-the-top sports leagues. “I’m not here to destroy your life. You’re doing a good enough job of that on your own. I’m merely trying to give you the greatest gift one parent can bestow upon another: your weekends back.”
Here I will suggest the greatest gift you might possibly give yourself and your children this holiday season, particularly if you are stressed out, overscheduled, and overwhelmed: The gift of doing nothing. Try it for a semester! Try it for a month! It might just change your life. Maybe you could go out to breakfast. Maybe you could sleep in. Maybe you could take a hike. Maybe you could have a family dinner! And if you feel weak, just remember one helpful chart found in Bare Minimum Parenting, helpfully entitled “Number of Soccer Games Attended by the Parents of Famous Historical Figures.” The answer, of course, is zero. Doing nothing, it turns out, has been hot for a long time.

Strasbourg 'Gangster-Jihadist' Makes Nancy and Chuck Seem Clueless

December 12, 2018

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Chérif Chekatt (AP)

One wonders if Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have any concept how pathetic and clueless their politically motivated, anti- border wall clichés look in light of the latest terror attack in Strasbourg. Their insistence, in Tuesday's meeting with Trump, that the wall by itself would not be a panacea--whoever said it was?--and that we don't have the Islamist threat the Israelis or even the Europeans do to justify its construction now seems extraordinarily simple-minded.

In fact it always was. Under the radar and barely remarked upon by our media, that cross-border terror threat has already done something even worse than 9/11.  It has reduced the life expectancy of the American people.

But more of that in a moment. First, Strasbourg.  It has introduced a new term in the terror lexicon that can be instructive for all of us:
French investigators call them the “ gangster-jihadists” – young men, often from poor immigrant backgrounds, who start with petty crime, drug dealing and robbery and graduate to terrorism. 
The profile of Chérif Chekatt, who is being hunted by police in connection for the attacks in Strasbourg, is all too familiar in France. 
Chekatt was born in Strasbourg in February 1989, into a family with Moroccan roots, and appears to have fallen first into petty crime then gangster circles. The final stage, his apparent move into Islamic extremism, was reportedly sparked – or at least strengthened – during a spell in prison between 2013 and 2015.
French police believe there are about 12,000 of these "gangster-jihadists" in their country, far more, they admit, then they could possibly keep an eye on.

How many do we have? Well, we don't know--partly because Barack Obama made sure of that.
In its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States, according to a POLITICO investigation.
The campaign, dubbed Project Cassandra, was launched in 2008 after the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed evidence that Hezbollah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military and political organization into an international crime syndicate that some investigators believed was collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities.
Those are the first two graphs of "The secret story of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook" by Josh Meyer, in my book the best investigative journalism of 2018 and deserving of the Pulitzer, assuming that award were ever given to something that merited it.  If you haven't read the report, please do.

Besides being the mullahs' favorite terror army, Hezbollah has been known to be in league with the Mexican drug cartels from at least 2010, probably considerably earlier. That makes them easily classifiable as "gangster-jihadists" or "jihadist-gangsters," depending on your point of view.

Should this matter to us and affect our opinion about whether to build a wall, even if that only does part of the job, alas, alas, even if Nancy Pelosi is so terrified of her left flank that she doesn't dare support the border security she and Schumer both adamantly declared themselves to be in favor of but a few years ago, even if they can't stand the bright shining light of "transparency"?

Well, consider this: Despite all the miraculous advances in modern medicine, a large percentage of which emanate from American laboratories, the life expectancy of our citizens has declined for the second year in a row, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This is unprecedented in recent times.  Principle reason?  We all know it -- drugs. 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017 alone, up from 63,000 in 2016.

Is Hezbollah responsible for all of this?  Of course not. Some are coming over the Mexican border, some arriving from China and some from who knows where.  But Hezbollah has no doubt been involved with enough of the supply to give it credit for a death count way in excess of those who died in 9/11.  That was slightly less than three thousand people and certainly did not move the actuarial tables the way the opioid scandal does year in and year out, not even close.

So props to Barack Obama.  Not only did his Iran Deal enrich the mullahs' coffers so Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard could murder tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands in Syria, it primed the pumps for the Hezzies to keep on drugging Americans as well.

Will the wall cure this? Again, of course not, not by itself.  It will only do some as yet undetermined amount. And Hezbollah, as we are learning, has plenty of experience tunneling under walls -- though there are those who have experience dealing with those tunnelers.

Nevertheless, the objections to building a wall along our Southern border are ludicrous.  The five billion dollars, though large to us private citizens, is a trivial number in the federal budget, well worth the money if it saves even one life.  It will undoubtedly save a lot more than that.

Pelosi and Schumer must know that.  Well, maybe not.  They certainly don't act that way, on or off TV. They seem like blind political automatons. Desperation for partisan advantage is its own kind of Alzheimer's disease.

Roger L. Simon - co-founder and CEO Emeritus of PJ Media - is a prize-winning author and an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter.  His new novel will be published Spring 2019.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Power, control and legacy: Bob Knight's last days at IU

By Heather Dinich
November 29, 2018
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Editor's note: "The Last Days of Knight," from ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series, can be seen Thursday, Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
It looked like a janitor's closet.
The inconspicuous gray door on the court level of Indiana University's Assembly Hall easily concealed the office where the titan of college basketball watched game film and did some of his deepest thinking.
On Sept. 7, 2000, it was Bob Knight's sanctuary. That was the day the legendary Hoosiers men's basketball coach was accused of grabbing freshman student Kent Harvey by the arm and breaking the zero-tolerance policy enacted by university president Myles Brand. Hordes of media were quickly gathering to hear from the embattled coach, but Knight had devised another game plan.
With his career on the brink, the Hall of Fame coach, who had three national championships, 11 Big Ten titles and more than 600 wins in his 29 seasons in Bloomington, opened the heavy door and introduced himself to a reporter for the Indiana Daily Student with a firm handshake.
"Don't be afraid, kid," he told me with a smile and a pat on the back, adding, "yet."
At that moment, Knight's longstanding grudge against the student newspaper ended, and my story with him began. Having run out of other options, and harboring a distrust for the national media, Knight struck a deal with a handful of eager student journalists. In exchange for providing a forum on campus to address the students and fans on his terms, Knight would agree to grant the IDS two days of exclusive interviews. They were conversations he thought he could control and manipulate, much in the way he exerted his authority on his basketball program for almost three decades.
Knight told me to get any other reporters from the school paper who should be there and we'd "have a little more [to the story] than anybody else will." He said he picked us to tell his side of the story because "some guy will ask an off-the-wall question" in the news conference upstairs "and that's all that will be written or talked about."
I was joined by two other student reporters in Knight's office -- otherwise known as "the cave" -- to question him about the incident involving Harvey. Knight leaned back in his chair, stretched his legs out, clasped his hands behind his head and downplayed the accusation.
Knight had been walking into Assembly Hall when the 19-year-old Harvey said, "Hey Knight, what's up?" The students who were walking with Harvey said Knight angrily grabbed Harvey by the arm, dragged him aside and said, "Show me some f---ing respect. I'm older than you."
Three days later, Brand fired Knight. His behavior at the end of his career, including physical and verbal abuse, culminated in a disgraceful exit for an iconic coach. I watched as Knight took an increasingly defiant stance in the final days of his tenure. Almost 20 years later, it's a reminder of how much influence and power college coaches can accumulate, if allowed, and the consequences they can face if it's abused. It's also a lesson in knowing when it's time to step aside or move on.
As unique as Knight's polarizing personality was, his stubbornness and arrogance remain among the most common characteristics of successful college coaches past and present -- traits that are simultaneously their biggest strength and, ultimately, their greatest weakness.
Both college football and college basketball have produced coaches who overstay their welcome and punctuate otherwise Hall of Fame careers with disappointing exits. Their power and egos grow alongside their winning percentages and salaries. Failure and conflict bring out the inherent competitive drive to fix problems their way, not walk away from them. There's also the human concern of quitting on everyone involved with the program, and the fear of stepping into a different life or a life without it.
"I think we all leave on different circumstances, but we all fight that battle. When? Now? No? Yes?" said 75-year-old former UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who missed the sport enough after retiring to return as head coach at Division III St. Joseph's. "It's not just a job. We don't do it, we live it."
And they become it.
Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams -- they all own their programs and their towns, their identities indistinguishable from the campuses where they work. They, along with past coaches such as Woody Hayes, Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno, are more recognizable than their own university presidents, more popular than their state officials. That fame and pride in what they built elicits a sense of entitlement that This Is Mine.
And when it's yours, you fight to keep it as long as you can.
"I have never been, from day one; I'm not the coach for this administration," Knight told the Indiana Daily Student in 2000. "But I'm the coach for our program and what we tried to do. The academic record we've established, the record for success after graduation we established, and I think my pride in that carried away my better instincts relative to whether I should stay here or look for employment somewhere else."
Knight refused to resign -- and has since refused to return to campus, telling Dan Patrick in 2017, "I have no interest in ever going back to that university." Knight, who declined comment for this story through his agency, didn't even show up for the 40-year anniversary celebration of his own 1976 undefeated national championship team. Current IU athletic director Fred Glass, who was hired in 2009, has sent Knight handwritten letters asking him to return, but to no avail.
While there are still former players and fans who remain steadfast in their loyalty to Knight, his legacy was determined by the tumultuous final years of his Indiana career. IU's administration was at its wit's end with his bullying behavior. Hurling a chair across the court paled in comparison to the disgusting ways in which he denigrated some of his players. Allegations had turned into evidence -- caught on camera and heard on tape -- including an incident in 1997, in which Knight choked player Neil Reed in practice.
The man who demanded discipline at every turn was unable to reel in his own emotions. That perception might have changed had he trusted his instincts and walked away from Indiana on his own.
But that's easier said than done.
"They always say you'll know when it's time to get out, and I don't think you do," said former Texas football coach Mack Brown, who won a national championship and played for another, but didn't step down until he struggled through four seasons with at least four losses. "You don't ever want to get out if you love it."
Nobody is immune to circumstance or losing, and stature can only protect even the most powerful coaches for so long. Eventually, coaches like Krzyzewski, Boeheim and Saban will face this reality, if they haven't already.
"The way I look at it is, as long as I'm healthy and as long as I feel that I can do a good job, I want to keep doing it because I enjoy doing it," Saban told ESPN's Chris Low. "What I don't want to do is just stay forever, forever and forever and ride the program down where I'm not creating value. I would never want to do that, and I think I'm a long ways from doing that. I don't want to talk about anybody else, but there have been a couple of coaches where their legacy was tarnished by them maybe doing it longer than they should have. That won't be me."
Nobody thought it would be Woody Hayes, either.
Hayes won five national titles during his 28 seasons at Ohio State, but when he punched Clemson player Charlie Bauman in the 1978 Gator Bowl, he ended any chance he had of leaving on his own terms.
Larry Romanoff was Ohio State's head academic advisor at the time and was about 10 yards from the altercation. He began his Ohio State career as Hayes' student manager and still works for the Buckeyes' athletic department. He said the worst moment he has had in his 49 years around the Buckeyes program was when Hayes walked onto the team plane after the game.
"He takes the mic from the stewardess and goes, 'I'm no longer going to be your coach,'" said Romanoff. "Nobody said boo. Seriously, you could've heard a pin drop on the plane. And then it was like, 'Oh, my god, Coach, don't go.'"
When they got back to Columbus, Romanoff and two other employees went to Hayes' office and helped him pack.
Video of Hayes' punch was part of a television profile of Knight that aired on ABC during the 1984 Olympics, and Dick Schaap asked Knight if he had any fear of losing control like Hayes did.
"I don't think that you can ever say yes or no, and I honestly think when that happened with him, he should have just quit," Knight said, "right then, 'cause he really, he did lose it. ... I have always said to myself that if I got to that point, I would just quit.
"But I may get really upset because I think I am legitimately upset with either a poor play or a poor call or whatever it might be. But if I go beyond being legitimately upset because of the preparation that we have put into it, then I have got to get out of it, because it isn't worth it to anybody then."
It wasn't the last punch that doomed Hayes, though, just like it wasn't Knight's final run-in with a student that ended his career. Both men ran their programs with Jekyll and Hyde personalities, constantly flipping the switch from entertaining, even endearing, to threatening and demanding. Too often they crossed the line from teacher to tyrant, leaving their respective administrations little to no choice.
"There were a lot of things that happened before that that led me to believe that was it," Romanoff said of the Gator Bowl incident. " ... I'm sure he knew all this was crumbling down, all the great things. Not many people know that after the game, he had a diabetic reaction, and the doctors were working on him after the game. It was tough. I was hoping they'd let him go back and just retire. For all he'd done and all he'd created, all the traditions he created here and all the great people he sent out on his coaching tree is amazing. Even Bobby Knight learned a lot of his methods from the way Coach Hayes ran his organization."
The prism through which those coaching methods are viewed, though, depends a lot on one's perspective, or perhaps one's generation. Were they disciplinarians or bullies? Were their methods worth the madness? Some still chalk it up as tough love, old-school coaching that produced strong, young men and respectable graduation rates.
What many people remember about Hayes and Knight, though, is not how they won. It's how they lost everything in the end.
Former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops figured this out, retiring last spring with a team in position to contend for the national title. So did legendary Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, who was 60 at the time of his retirement, dealing with health problems, and had led the Cornhuskers to an undefeated record in his final season.
''I think it's important in this business,'' Osborne told the New York Times in December 1997, ''to walk away while you can still walk.''
Nearly three years later, in September 2000, after his firing, Knight sat at a wrought-iron table on his back porch with me and two other student reporters, and we were mad as hell because we knew we were trapped by his terms of the deal.
Knight had won.
We asked him all of the pressing questions about the incidents that led up to his firing, but it was futile. He refused to answer any of them until the second day of interviews, per the agreement he had made with the editors of the school paper. Instead, we spent a few hours listening to him talk about his glory days, wondering what we were going to write about.
Over the course of two days, I saw firsthand how he could switch from manipulative to entertaining in a matter of minutes. In the end, he did answer all of our questions.
Knight's wife, Karen, brought us sloppy joes and bags of potato chips in brown-paper lunch bags. There were times his booming voice shattered the peace of the nearby woods. ("You've got to be smart enough to figure that out!" he scolded me once.) Possibly the most personal thing he told us over those two days was that he knew he should have left Indiana sooner.
"I made two huge mistakes here," Knight said in the aftermath of his firing. "One was not leaving in May, and one was not leaving five years ago."
Surrounded on his back porch by some of his most staunch defenders -- local sportswriter Bob Hammel, former Hoosier and Detroit Piston Isiah Thomas and former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps -- Knight seemed to wrestle out loud with all of it.
"I woke up the other morning for the first time in 35 years, and I didn't have a team to coach," he said.
Knight sat there, though, in a position he put himself in.