Beware of Greeks Returning Gifts

January 26, 2015

by Avi Davis

On Monday morning, the Greek people awoke to find themselves confronted by a new reality.



In a landslide, the anti -austerity party, Syriza, won a decisive victory in national elections, positioning its tough-talking leader, Alex Tsipras, to become the next prime minister.

Appearing before a throng of supporters outside Athens University late Sunday, Mr. Tsipras, 40, declared  the era of austerity over and promised to revive the economy.

He also said his government would not allow Greece’s creditors to strangle the country.

Such a victory was hardly unexpected.  Since  Germany and other northern European countries had forced Greece to swallow the bitter pill of austerity in 2011,

the country has groaned under the dramatic cuts in government spending, the loss of public sector jobs ( at one time the public sector made up nearly 45% of the workforce)

and the evaporation of the once booming housing market.  The Greeks could not become accustomed to a situation in which  their future was controlled by other countries

and  there has been increasingly loud rallies calling for an end to the Euro mandated austerity regime.

But Tsipras’ plans to end austerity and grow the economy quickly will immediately encounter some insurmountable hurdles to which  the economists

in his party have not given sufficient attention.

For lets be clear about one thing:  Greeks economic pain is not due to the austerity measures forced upon it by the Eurozone.  It came about because of years of profligate

spending, irresponsible budgets, a debt to GDP ratio that was the highest in Europe and a country that failed to produce anything much at all that the rest of the world wanted.

Greece joined the Eurozone in 1999  flush with the expectation that the high valued Euro would bring with it a rush of international investment

which would power the economy into the 21st Century and contribute to widespread prosperity.

But in those giddy years, the people of Greece neglected to affirm the one value that they would need to enshrine in order to grasp their new golden egg:

they still needed to work and work hard.

That was not to be.  Given to years of lassitude, the Greeks, and most Europeans have no stomach for the kind of effort it takes to sustain a modern economy.

Profligacy, social welfare, neoptism, corruption and a vibrant, fairly open black market, has produced a country where people don’t work much, retire young

and take long vacations. Add to this severe institutional problems – such as the fact that a third of the country doesn’t pay tax and a quarter of the economy operates

under the table and you have a recipe for economic catastrophe.

Corruption, venality of office, an over loaded and under-worked bureaucracy and the fact that there is no history of accommodation between the political classes

and labor unions at all, have all added to the sense of hopelessness.


The Greek model actually describes the bulk of Europe, where the work ethic has given way to the pleasure ethic and the

lambent idea that government can always be counted on to bail out failed enterprises.  But what happens when the government has no money to bail out anybody

and the source that it must rely on – namely foreign investment, remains skittish and uncertain about the country’s future?  What happens when no one – not the European Union,

not the United States and not China – is prepared to say we believe in your future and we will continue to fund your debt?

That is exactly what  the new prime minister will face in the coming days and weeks when  the EU stands its ground and tells the Greeks that if they

welsh on their commitments then their debt will be called – leading to a pain unlike the people of Greece have ever known before.


For the EU, Greece and the austerity regime imposed upon it has represented the plug that has prevented them from hearing that flushing sound as the wealth of Europe

gurgles down the drain and empties into the Aegean Sea.

Would detaching Greece from the Euro and letting it drift back into the drachma bring great pain to the heart of Europe?  Almost certainly, but it is not fatal.

Will the Greek revolt  against austerity encourage other countries under the same austerity regime – Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy – to follow their example and

buck their benefactors?  Almost certainly not.  The difference is that these countries have mature statesmen who have been able to convince

their populations that a  temporary belt tightening and fiscal discipline could lead to a far more prosperous future.

Unfortunately in Greece that kind of leadership has been absent and that absence is now even more pronounced with the ascension of  anew leader who eschews

the kinds of sacrifices the Greeks have needed to make for years


In 2011 The European Union – and most particularly its wealthier countries in Germany and France – handed Greece a gift.   Now the Greeks wish to

return that gift with contempt, thinking that the EU has more to lose than they do.  They could not be more mistaken. The Northern European countries

will let Greece sink into the Aegean rather than open the floodgates to other fragile economies demanding the same accommodation.


A titanic  tussle is about to take place.  But lets set in perspective:   In this Olympian wrestle for dominance,

it is the Europeans who hold the Greeks by their vulnerable parts and not the other way around.


Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone

Rolling Stone Rues Not Getting “the Other Side of the Story”

December 9, 2014


A rare event occurred in our galaxy last week, something I believed I would never see nor read about in my lifetime.  Rolling Stone Magazine,  the venerable chronicle of modern American nihilism, issued an apology for getting a story wrong.

The story A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA appeared in the Magazine’s November 19th edition and  revolved around  investigative piece by    involving a woman solely identified as “Jackie.”

The 9,000-word story recounted a horrific attack on the  U.Va. freshman on September 28th, 2012 in an upstairs room of the university’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. Crude comments attributed to fraternity members suggested the attack was part of an initiation.   The gruesome details of the story recounted how the girl was raped over a shattered table with shards of glass jamming into her back.  She alleged she had been raped over several hours by seven different individuals.


The Academical Village at U.Va.



The piece portrayed U.Va.’s response as tepid, reporting that students who cheat on exams are routinely expelled for violations of U.Va.’s Honor Code, but none has ever been expelled for rape.

The publication of Erdeley’s article generated campus protests and vandalism of the fraternity’s property. It prompted U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan to suspend the activities of the university’s more than 60 Greek organizations. The school’s Board of Visitors adopted a zero-tolerance position on sexual assault. Police began an investigation.

However, after a Washington Post investigation called Jackie’s account into question, pointing out that there was no Phi  Kappa Psi  event on September 28, 2012, no PKP brothers with the nick names “Armpit”and “Blanket”, no back stair access through which she escaped her ordeal, Rolling Stone was forced to submit an apology:

In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,”  the Magazine commented on its website last Thursday.

Rolling Stone Managing Editor, Will Dana, tweeted later that day that “the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story.”

The apology itself aroused a storm of protest as the Magazine seemed to be blaming the victim for the story’s unreliability when  the onus should have been on the reporter herself  who failed to obtain any corroboration of the woman’s allegations.

Thereafter the Magazine published a second apology in which it shifted the blame for the story’s inaccuracies onto its own shoulders:

“We published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate. Given all of these reports, however, we have come to the conclusion that we were mistaken in honoring Jackie’s request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. In trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault, we made a judgment – the kind of judgment reporters and editors make every day. We should have not made this agreement with Jackie and we should have worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story. These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie. We apologize to anyone who was affected by the story and we will continue to investigate the events of that evening.”

It is of course a good thing that the the Magazine, nearing 50 years old, has admitted that there are sometimes “other sides” to stories that are worth considering.   However that is not  an admission  you will ever find when the Magazine launches its vitriolic attacks on the Koch Brothers, Tea Party groups, big business and Climate Change critics.   But since Rolling Stone is now in the mood for a little self-examination, perhaps it might want to revisit some of these old stories for how ell its examined  ” the other side”: .

Take for instance an article by environmental activist Bill McKibben in the August 16, 2012 edition  of the magazine titled The Arctic Ice Crisis

In his piece McKibben offers a report from Jason Box, a scientist at the Byrd Polar Research Center in Greenland who contends that large sections of Greenland are just falling off the continent:

“Box had conservatively predicted that it might take up to a decade before the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet melted all at once. That it actually happened in just a few weeks only underscores how consistently cautious ice scientists have been in forecasting the threat posed by global warming. Now, however, that caution is being replaced by well-founded alarm. “Greenland is a sleeping giant that’s waking,” says Box. “In this new climate, the ice sheet is going to keep shrinking – the only question is how fast.”

But in the same year, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, which is co-funded by NASA  – together with the Danish Meterological Institute, both revealed that the Arctic Ice Cap had actually grown.

In fact today the National Snow and Ice Data Center reveals an increase of 1.71 million square kilometers over the past two years –  which is an an impressive 43% while the Danes, using a different measure, have found a 63% increase!  We can debate how much global warming is responsible for changes in our climate.  But maybe Mr. McKibben’s reporting on the issue might have benefited from a discussion with  Dr. Ed Hawkins from  the U.K.’s Reading University who observed that year that the decline seen in the years leading up to 2102 was not caused only by global warming.  “It was,”  he said, “intensified by ‘natural variability’ – shifts in factors such as the temperature of the oceans. This has happened before, such as in the 1920s and 1930s, when there was likely some sea ice retreat.”  Like many scientists, Dr Hawkins has averred that these natural processes may be cyclical. If and when they go into reverse, they will cool, not warm, the Arctic, in which case, he said, ‘a decade with no declining trend’ in ice cover would be ‘entirely plausible’.

Did McKibben not know of the contradictory evidence and views or did he just decide exclude it?

Or take this September 24, 2014 attack on the Koch Brothers by investigative journalist Tim Dickinson.  His beef with the Koch Brothers seems to be largely that they are rich and successful, that they trade in oil and support right wing political causes   – all cardinal crimes against humanity in his and Rolling Stone’s world view

Among the many allegations made by Dickinson are that  the Koch Brothers are that they are unreformed toxic polluters, financial manipulators, Machiavellian political schemers and treacherous partners.

Here is how he sums them up at the end of his 5,000 word story:

“Koch has profited precisely by dumping billions of pounds of pollutants into our waters and skies – essentially for free. It racks up enormous profits from speculative trades lacking economic value that drive up costs for consumers and create risks for our economy.

The Koch brothers get richer as the costs of what Koch destroys are foisted on the rest of us – in the form of ill health, foul water and a climate crisis that threatens life as we know it on this planet. Now nearing 80 – owning a large chunk of the Alberta tar sands and using his billions to transform

the modern Republican Party into a protection racket for Koch Industries’ profits – Charles Koch is not about to see the light.”

In a long response to the multiple slurs, untruths and outright deceptions in the Dickinson piece, Koch Industries who had opened themselves to Dickinson’s inquiries  and had been assured by him that  he was attempting to engage in ” a good faith discussion”, they pointed out that of the 3,200 word response they offered Dickinson in response to his written questions, he only chose to quote 99.  There was barely a mention of the 900 awards for safety, environmental excellence, and community stewardship Koch has received since 2009 alone or that  the EPA has repeatedly praised Koch for a productive and collaborative approach to environmental protection. The article falsely claims that Koch’s petroleum coke business at its KCBX North facility in Chicago is endangering the “health of South Side residents,” despite the fact that they provided Dickinson with the Congressional Research Service research, findings from the city of Chicago that “there are no known illnesses or health effects associated with pet coke dust,” and EPA’s own conclusion that “petroleum coke itself has a low level of toxicity and that there is no evidence of carcinogenicity.” Nor does Dickinson note that KCBX was honored with the Good Neighbor award from the Southeast Environmental Task Force in 2001 and again in 2005.

They provided a summation of the absence of journalistic integrity, fairness and balance in Dickinson’s  piece:

‘”Any reasonable reader will conclude that this article is nothing more than a thinly veiled “hit piece.” We believe that Rolling Stone readers would have benefitted from an open and honest discussion of the issues Mr. Dickinson decided to write about. We are confident that if the true facts had been presented, Rolling Stone readers might have learned something about us that was contrary to the misinformation that Rolling Stone and other media have rehashed and regurgitated over the years. Apparently Rolling Stone and Mr. Dickinson do not trust or respect their readers enough to provide them with balanced information and an objective narrative, nor do they want their readers to make up their own minds.”

Balance and fairness – providing a wide perspective on controversial issues – is what we should expect from our journalists.   But how little editorial oversight there is of so many contributing writers to Rolling Stone.  The magazine regularly accepts hit pieces, just like the one above,  presenting opinion as if it is fact, excluding information which does not fit within its own political narrative and resorting to name calling and epithet slinging against all those who disagree with its polemical approach.  The absence of journalistic integrity puts Rolling Stone in the vanguard of the decline in standards we have seen in the U.S. over the past 30 years in both reportage and investigative journalism.

Maybe the failures of   to adequately corroborate her story will hasten a broad review of the magazine’s journalistic practices.   But don’t count on any real change until Rolling stone is hit hard by the a declining subscriber base and perhaps even the fall off of advertising revenue due to its abandonment of proper journalistic practices and its preferences for ideology over truth.


Neil Young Still Trips Down that Ol’ Hippie Highway

November 24, 2014

I have to admit that being a Neil Young fan has its challenges.  Yes, there is lots of new music to listen to (eight albums, including live releases, in the past four years); plenty to read (two auto-biographies in the same time period) and even some new audio hardware ( the PONO, whose development Mr. Young led).  But after a while it does get a bit much.  Some of the albums are true stinkers ( A Letter Home and Le Noise are almost unlistenable); the books endlessly focused on cars, drugs, booze and more cars  and Young’s obsession for improving technology a bit self aggrandizing.

Now we can add an overweening desire to sermonize as part of the problem.

Back in 2005 Young issued an album titled  Living With War – a barbed, venomous attack on President George W. Bush and the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars over which he was then presiding.   The album was choc-a- block with political screed.  With song titles such  as Let’s Impeach the President; Shock and Awe and Looking for a Leader, Young could not be mistaken for anything but that frayed-jeaned Woodstock warrior who is still so certain that the era of  peace, love and anti-militarism (read draft dodging)  still holds the answers for our future happiness and prosperity.

Granted, Young has always been something of renegade, even against his own audience ( for a brief timE in the 1980s he was a supporter of Ronald Reagan).  But his turn to chic liberal political causes in recent years has truly augmented his image as something  of a throwback, unwilling to examine in any depth the sagacity of the movements to which he attaches his name and driven as much my ideology than common sense.

His latest support for the anti- Keystone XL pipeline  campaign is a case in point.  Drawn into the fight to prevent the pipeline’s construction by his paramour, uber-environmentalist Darryl Hannah, Young has seemed to agree with  NASA Scientist and all round global warming Cassandra, James Hansen, that  the construction of the pipeline will mean  “game over ” in the battle to save our planet from the poisons of carbon dioxide.  Hansen’S May 12, 2o12 New York Times editorial sent Young into a flurry of activity about our environmental future and he has now pledged himself to its rescue.  And so we can expect many more Young albums which bristle with indignation against oil companies, multinational corporations and well paid CEOs (of which , of course, he is virtually one).

It is quite amusing to see very rich men pretending that they are still just money scrounging buskers panhandling on the streets of  Toronto.  Young, now 68 – and looking very much  his age – still wears torn, patched jeans; baseball caps worn backwards ( a habit I thought outlawed in the 1990s) and drives one of his dozens of 50s era vintage cars. He recently ditched his wife of 36 years  (with whom he struggled to raise two children stricken with cerebral palsy) to take up with actress Hannah and has suffered health problems, including an aneurysm.

It all seems to fuel his output, which, for an artist of his age, is prodigious.

But one almost has to laugh at the irony of an artist who doesn’t seem to recognize how his own lyrics designed to skewer one president, are finding an even more fitting target in his successor:

Take for instance  the lyrics  for Lets Impeach the President:

“Lets impeach the President for spyin’

On citizens in their own homes 

Breaking every law in the country

Tapping our computers and telephones”


Or how about  these  words from Looking for a Leader:


“Yeah we got our election

But corruption has a chance

We got to have a clean win

To give us confidence

America is beautiful 

But she has an ugly side”

Spoken like the Canadian he is, a man who has lived in the United States for 40 years and yet to take out American citizenship.    But don’t you have to wonder whether this seeker of truth and promoter of justice will one day turn his muse to the clear violations of law and constitutional protections orchestrated by the very leader he once painted as a savior?

I await that album with much anticipation.

In the meantime, I am still almost certain to still indulge myself in Neil Young music.  Why?  I guess  there are some adolescent  habits you just can’t kick.  Yet, I am going to be on the look out, along that ol’ hippie highway, for that sudden sting of reality that  jolts Neil from the dreamland of 1969 to the present day suppressions and  legal violations which occur daily in Barack Obama’s America.






Paul Krugman’s Indefensible Defense of Barack Obama

October 24, 2014
Readers of Rolling Stone Magazine have long known what to expect from the bi-weekly’s acidulous commentaries:  anarchist screeds from the rather unbalanced Matt Taibbi; thinly researched and often specious investigative pieces from Tim Dickinson;  alarmist jeremiads from environmentalist hound dog Jeff Goodell and apoplectic harangues against Republicans, Tea Party groups and anyone else who espouses a right wing cause.  
The question, for those who regularly read genuinely powerful and well balanced commentary from other sources (from either the left OR right)  is: why bother with this stuff?  The unrepentant hippie-chic publication bathed in its love and peace- at-any-cost ethos, is in truth a hate mongering platform of the first order and in its advertising and feature articles on modern music and musicians often betrays a penchant for what used to be known as soft porn.  Can anyone really believe that this chronicle of modern nihilism has anything of importance to say about our national priorities?
You better believe it.   Rolling Stone’s influence today is far greater than any conservative gives it credit for and rather than being the standard bearer for long dormant 1960’s agitprop is in fact a mainstream publication, representing the views of a sizeable community within our intellectual classes. 
The magazine’s clout was ratcheted up several notches in 2010 when an article spotlighting Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal unveiled his antagonism to the Vice-President and several other senior members of the Obama Administration which in turn resulted in the General’s summary firing.  Since then the words of  such luminaries as Al Gore ( yes, but the man WAS Vice- President of the United States) and best selling authors such as Sebastian Junger and Stephen King have graced the magazine’s pages.  
Now comes an article by Nobel Laureate and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, which is proudly announced as a defense of Barack Obama. Not content with actually defending Obama’s record, Krugman in the body of his article goes a step further announcing: “Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.”
Hmm. Pretty bold stuff.  After all, this would have Barack Obama one day sipping martinis and chomping cigars with some of the greatest in American history. 
But can Barack Obama truly be spoken of in the same breath  as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln?
Perhaps so, but you would not actually know it from the arguments presented by Paul Krugman.  What you would learn instead  is that Barack Obama is a middling president who did the best he could with the cards he was played; that he was buffeted by an uncooperative Congress but  that he passed revolutionary health care reform legislation anyway- a remarkable success which will leave a lasting imprint on the nation. Then, after a cursory examination of  the President’s record on financial reform, the economy, the environment, national security and social change he concludes, almost with a sigh,  that” the extent of his partial success ranges from the pretty good to the not-so-bad to the ugly.”  In other words, although he might have received an overall “C” on his report card,  it was really not as bad a presidency as it could have been and it really could have been a lot worse.  Not exactly the exalted encomium we had been expecting but, hey, this is Paul Krugman – and when this modern day Oracle declares you mediocre  perhaps it actually means you are destined for greatness.  Mount Rushmore sculptors take heed:  Krugman has spoken; Prepare the mountain for its next great historical retrofit.
No one should mistake Krugman for an objective observer   – although he  has indeed been highly critical of the President in the past, mostly for not being radical enough!   But that doesn’t excuse or explain the crassness of this particular contribution or give anyone confidence that the President is destined to be remembered as the savior of his people.
For now lets bare the truth on this truly execrable piece of writing:  that it is so amatuerly written that it could have been cobbled together by a high school student with only a rudimentary understanding of economics, environmental policy and the social dynamics of a highly complex nation;  that its very self impressed author fails entirely to address foreign relations where Obama’s meandering policies have resulted in disaster upon diplomatic disaster;  that he significantly sidesteps the incessant rise of Islamic terrorism in places where the President only a year before had  declared them snuffed out;  that he refuses to engage in any discussion of  the mounting scandals – the Benghazi sacrifice of an ambassador; the IRS debacle, wherein one of the most important public institutions in the country was revealed to have been thoroughly corrupted by politics; or the Fast and Furious campaign which placed American firearms in the hands of terrorists and gangsters. Also absent from the pen of our Nobel laureate is any commentary on the enormous expansion of executive power which has torn a  deep unconstitutional gash in the fabric of the Presidency;  Nothing on the Administration’s failure  to address our collapsed border and the threat this poses to the lives and livelihoods of millions of citizens in our southern states;  Or on our ballooning national debt – four times the size it stood under George W. Bush; or on immigration, race relations and out-of -control  tortious litigation  – all of which have taken a turn for the worse during the past six years.   And finally no word on Obama’s grandest promise of them all – that he was going to become a consensus president, bridging differences between left and right, black and white, rich and poor  and that he  would exercise his well honed skills in the arts of persuasion. 
These are all missing from the piece because Krugman reveals himself to be quite uninterested in any of them.  For him,  “high office shouldn’t be about putting points on the electoral scoreboard, it should be about changing the country for the better. “
Ah, there it is:   The raw, thumping heart of liberal orthodoxy.   The idea of changing the country, of converting it into something different, something purer and something approximating that great utopian vision of armchair socialists over the centuries, drips through Krugman’s analysis, making it abundantly clear why he avoids uncomfortable topics.  For Krugman  – an economically equitable society, drained of all prejudice and bigotry, where man pays obeisance to Nature and where its abundant resources are distributed equally amongst the world’s citizens – should apparently be the goal of our presidents.  Open borders, multilateralism, military retrenchment, the punishment of successful entrepreneurs, pan-sexuality,  the cosseting of tyrants and campaigns to end the expansion of land use or the excavation of fossil fuels – are all elements that might fit snugly into such a vision. 
One wonders how the three presidents with whom our current  chief executive will one day (in Krugman’s estimation) share the same pantheon might have reacted to the mandate to “change the country.”  Washington, after all, fought to establish it;  Jefferson worked to consolidate it and Lincoln struggled to save it – all worthy enough endeavors for any modern day president.  Changing the country, one would think, requires a level of consensus building coupled with a consistent articulation of a shared vision – skills that even our finest Presidents have experienced some difficulty in mastering.  Abraham Lincoln, after all, did not begin his presidency with the idea of outlawing slavery;  he deflected the issue, fearful of its incendiary potential – and was only led to it by the realization that his nation could not survive without that institution’s eradication.  His genius as a leader was to tap into the vein of righteousness within the citizenry  and to pump that rich resource for all its corpuscular abundance into the heated campaign which produced the Emancipation Proclamation.
Barak Obama, in contrast, has never cast himself as a president who cares all that much about what the citizenry, at its very bedrock, either thinks or feels. He is actually one of the most insular presidents in living memory, whose policies and decisions have been largely driven by superficial poll numbers and a creaking, weathered leftist ideology, rather than an instinctive  grip on the nation’s pulse.  Images of the President’s aloofness are so plentiful as to be embarrassing:  the Presidential motorcade, speeding through the arterial roads of our major cities, delivering the Commander-in-Chief to yet another fundraising event; the photographed fist bump with golfing buddies  just moments after delivering a particularly somber response to the beheading of an American journalist; the constant hobnobbing with the glitterati who gush over his every pronouncement;  and of course the maintenance of a very deliberate distance from  the members of Congress, whom he seems to regard with a singular contempt.  The best that might be said of his feel for the American people is his familiarity with national sports as well as an impressive knowledge of the plot lines of such cable TV series as Homeland and Breaking Bad . The demonstration of that kind of indifference  puts him in league with such 1850s presidents  as Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, both of whom would undoubtedly welcome him to their lonely outposts as the Presidents, who like Sergeant Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes, both knew nothing and saw nothing.
At his two inaugurations, Barak Obama took an oath of office  specified in Article TwoSection OneClause Eight of the United States Constitution:

 “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

How different would  Krugman’s assessment  have been had he used  that oath to measure Barak Obama’s presidential performance?  Maybe the author will soon recognize the empty spaces he left so glaringly open on the pages of his article and submit a more nuanced view of this presidency. Unlikely, perhaps. But if and when this revised version ever sees the light of day, the last place you can ever expect to find it is in the glossy, celebrity filled pages of Rolling Stone Magazine.   

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and blogs at The Intermediate Zone

This article first appeared, in an edited version, in the American Thinker

This article  first appeared, in an edited version in the American Thinker

An Acknowledgement of Evil

January 13, 2011

President Barack Obama made an eloquent appeal in Tucson yesterday for civility and communal healing following the horrific shooting in that city last Saturday. One of the more interesting things he said was the following:

” Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world and terrible things happen that defy human understanding”

It is notable that this is actually the second time, to my knowledge, that Obama during his presidency  has used the word evil.  The first was in the delivery of his Nobel acceptance speech in December, 2009.   There he said:

‘” I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

At the time I saw it as a signal of his recognition of certain realities in life and his willingness to identify the existence of absolute moral standards.  Unfortunately the subsequent twelve months did little to buttress that belief.

His comments in Tuscon, which underscored an apparent belief that Jared Lee Loughner’s actions were the result of a manifest evil which had gripped the young man – and not only a consequence of mental illness, political extremism or social alienation, is evidence ( if thin) of  a  moral maturity that has noticeably lacking in this President.  Too many in his own party and on the left are willing to see gray areas where the evidence suggests stark black and white distinctions.  This is of course most relevant to the seething hatred poised against the United States from Islam and the Arabic world.  We should never ignore that the evil which drove 19 young men to fly planes into the Twin Towers 10 years ago is of the same character which made Jared  Loughner pull the trigger over and over again in Tucson on Saturday afternoon.

Lets hope this president indeed continues to face the world as it is and grasp that, as he states in his own words, ” evil really does exist in the world”  and that he, of all people, cannot stand idle in the face of it.

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Jenny McCarthy Gets Her Comeuppance

January 10, 2011

For nearly 14 years, many parents in the Western world have been wringing their hands about what to do about vaccinations – a formality taken for granted over the past half century.   Measles, mumps, chicken pox and small pox- killers of children in past centuries, were nearly wiped out in the latter half of the 20th Century by the advent of preventative vaccinations which injected antibodies  that impeded the spread of the diseases.

That was until an unfortunate article appeared in the U.K’s premiere medical journal The Lancet in July 1998.  A study then published by Dr. Andrew Wakefield concluded that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine—a mainstay of public-health disease prevention efforts around the world—was linked to autism and gastrointestinal disorders in young children.

The study led to a highly charged campaign, led by such celebrities as former Playboy centerfold and television personality Jenny McCarthy, that called for the end of vaccinations.   At the same time, a parallel campaign was led by medical researchers who claimed that the original study had been based on a fraudulent and inaccurate data.

The Lancet finally withdrew the article in January of last year after concluding that “several elements” of the paper were incorrect. But the journal didn’t describe any of the discrepancies as fraud. A British regulator stripped Dr. Wakefield of his medical license last May, citing “serious professional misconduct” in the way he handled the research.

An article, published  a few days ago by journalist Brian Deer, found that important details of the cases of each of 12 children reported in the original study either misrepresented or altered the actual experiences of the children, the journal said. “In no single case could the medical records be fully reconciled with the descriptions, diagnoses, or histories published in the journal,” the editorial said. It called the study “an elaborate fraud.”

The damage done by the original article and the irresponsible advocacy of people like Jenny McCarthy and the organization Talk About Curing Autism is incalculable.   Hundreds of thousands of children in the West are now exposed to diseases that were already but wiped out by the mid 1960s. Much like the scare over DDT, fraudulently declared toxic to human beings by Rachel Carson in the mid- 1960s ( despite practically having wiped out malaria), the scare over vaccinations has proved again how politics has crept into science and how political correctness  has been used to assault the truth.

Jenny McCarthy and her supporters steadfastly cling to their version of the truth.   But her pseudo-science now deserves out right condemnation and a public backlash against her irresponsible advocacy and that of her claque  should be exposed as the posturing of a know nothing celebrity completely out of her depth.

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Goodbye Arnold

January 3, 2011

Today Arnold Schwarzenegger leaves office as governor of perhaps the worst performing state economy in this country.  It is indeed a deep irony that the movie star who came to take control of California’s fortunes after a recall of  his (by comparison) surprisingly competent predecessor Gray Davis, has left this state in a far worse condition than in which he found it:  A ballooning state debt , now slated to reach $25 billion by 2014; a gridlocked legislature;  an unrepentant and emboldened union culture;  environmental policies totally out of control and a bureaucracy that has swelled beyond reasonable imagination over the past seven years.

Schwarzenegger was the first governor since the Great Depression to issue IOUs to state employees and vendors after he was confronted with a $90 billion shortfall in 2009.  He raised taxes ( violating a campaign promise) and curtailed spending on education.  In my own neighborhood,  public libraries were forced to substantially reduce  hours of operation;  the District Court would not stay open longer than 4: 30 pm because the supervisors feared having to pay overtime and the Department of Motor Vehicles slashed an entire work day from their branches’ operating schedules.

But you would barely know that Schwarzenegger retires as a failed governor. In most accounts of his stewardship, he is still the action hero who strode into office with great promise but was unfortunately dealt a bad deck of cards.   The press seems loathe to truly take him to task for his maladroit performance and his abject failure of leadership.   Pat Morrison’s fawning interview in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times is a good example.  Rarely does Morrison,one of the paper’s leading columnists, go much beyond the giddy fan worship you would expect to find the paper’s Calendar section.  No question about the Golden State’s embarrassing economic slide;  no discussion about the State’s likely bankruptcy and nothing about the way in which government unions increasingly gained influence and  control over state policy.

The failure of many media commentators and editorialists to savage Schwarzenegger for his limp performance is perhaps a symptom of a society that lives  in thrall to celebrity. There is no doubt  Schwarzenegger is a consummately charming man, possessed of  a wicked sense of humor and a certain measure of self deprecation, which have all served him well in dealing with a combative public.  But the convincing explanation of the press’ hero worship is that Schwarzenegger actually swapped parties while still in office.   His volte face in  October, 2005 after he was defeated on all eight special  election initiatives he had proposed for dealing with some of California’s endemic economic problems, transformed  him from a moderate Republican into a progressive Democrat who was prepared to embrace a host of  hot button liberal agenda issues such as  gay marriage,  fixed emission controls for California industry and increased taxation.

This transformation left us with the odor of a man of few fixed convictions or principles and who was open to changing them as the political winds dictated.  In the end Arnold Schwarzenegger’s seven year term of office differed little from his movie career.  In both cases he regularly adopted differing personas to suit the script.  The difference is that playing The Terminator never had dire implications for the future of California.  Sadly, we are now reminded of how fantasy figures bear little resemblance to real life characters, who may turn out to  have no good ideas about  how to deal with the harsh realities of  governing a fractious state.

What John Lennon Failed to Imagine

October 10, 2010

Its a landmark event for Beatledom.  John Lennon, dead these 30 years, would have turned 70-years-old today.

For many 60’s survivors who grew up in thrall to the Fab Four, the idea that such an important symbol of the youth culture had arrived at the threshold of old age (if such a category still exists in our teen obsessed culture) must be profoundly unsettling.

It is as if that entire generation had finally found itself washed up at the very doorstep of senility.

There can be no doubt Lennon, in his partnership with the brilliant tunesmith Paul McCartney, did craft some of the most memorable pop tunes of the 20th Century. That might be reason enough to celebrate his life. Yet the failure to complete his life’s journey has frozen his memory in perpetual mid-life. There he presides as the guru of peace and love, an unfazed and unrepentant hippie whose vision for world peace remains unfettered by reality or subsequent historical events.

Forgotten, or perhaps conveniently overlooked, is that Lennon’s solo work in his ten post-Beatles years was far inferior to anything he did as a member of the group and was weak even by comparison to the output of his fellow Beatles ( and yes, I include Ringo Starr in that assessment). His coda, the cloying and maudlin Double Fantasy (1980) was an embarrassment for such a great talent, and evidence that perhaps his muse had permanently fled.

Part of this can be attributed to Lennon’s early 70s determination to make political statements rather than music.  Moving permanently to New York City in 1970, he and his wife Yoko Ono became lightening rods for radicals and far left causes. Feminists, Black Panthers, Yippies and peace movement activists, all pitched their tents under the Lennon/ Ono carapace to propagate their liberation politics. The recorded product of this eclectic jamboree, Sometime In New York City (1972), is a rather tuneless and bleak attempt to capture the radical zeitgeist. It bombed and is regarded universally as one of the worst post break up efforts by any of the Beatles.

While Lennon’s post-Beatles recordings, save for the very early ones, can be largely dismissed, what can’t be dismissed is his cultural influence. Lennon stands today as the most revered icon in the pantheon of the peace movement – a figure of such sainted majesty that he has been practically beatified by secular humanists. This reputation balances precariously on the foundation of just one song – the anthemic Imagine.

Imagine dredged up some half baked Romantic notions and presented a vision of a world free of conflict. Attached to an ethereal melody it seem to float in a sea of mysticism, painting a picture of a utopia that most Communist leaders in the 1970s would have recognized.

“Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…”

Would Lennon have matured intellectually as he aged – ultimately recognizing that this formula for world peace, written in a swishy mansion in the English countryside, far from the Communist despots and authoritarians who at that time imprisoned nearly half of humanity, could not work? Would he have understood that there was something a little skewed about attempting to denude the world of religion, governments, sovereignty and wealth?

Would he have finally understood that his adopted home, the United States, actually stood as the last best chance for humanity to preserve the liberty that had allowed him to pen such masterpieces such as Across the Universe and A Day In the Life….?

Probably not. Naivete is one of the great privileges of the rich and famous. Insulated from the hard realities of life, our pop icons are safe and free to make ignorant guesses about the world and pose solutions that suggest more, not less, misery for its human population. Once having made such a statement of principle, it is highly unlikely that Lennon would ever have retired his Imagine philosophy. Unlike McCartney, who has revealed himself to be comparatively sensible on a number of important security issues, Lennon, socially alienated as a child and conditioned to reject convention, would have continued to find some gratification in oppositional politics and ideologies. It is doubtful he could ever have written a song such as Freedom, which McCartney penned in outrage following the attacks of 9/11.

But his legacy remains and his Imagine vision continues to inspire the contemporary anti-war movement, a fact of which he would doubtless have been proud. Yet as the threat of a nuclear Iran grows and Islamic terrorism sets Western society in a state of constant alert, the notion that we can embrace those sworn to our destruction in a ‘brotherhood of man’ is a chimera reflecting nothing more than an irresponsible failure of imagination.

This article first appeared in The American Thinker.

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The Passing of Paul Conrad

September 6, 2010

Encomiums have poured in from around the world today for the celebrated former Los Angeles Times  cartoonist Paul Conrad.  The three time Pulitzer Prize winner, who died on Saturday at the age of 86, won renown as a political satirist, whose liberalism was worn as a badge of honor and who never shied away from confronting men and women in power.

But I can’t count myself as one of his admirers. While  Conrad, more than almost any other political cartoonist of modern times, gave the concept of the ” editorial cartoon” a certain elan, freeing it from its image as a misplaced comic, he also did considerable damage to the image of the journalist as  the objective reporter of truth.

The editorial cartoonist possesses great power.   Among us few remaining newspaper readers, with our  increasingly strained attention spans, there is a respect for the editorial cartoonist that stretches beyond his real powers of persuasion.  We readers might  scan images  such as photographs and photo-sketches to obtain our opinions on any given subject.   With one glance we believe we  can absorb the full import of an editorial position, which may well have some bearing in forming our own ideas.

But in this way, complex issues are often reduced to fairly simplistic statements, stripping the issue of a certain gravitas and balance that is achieved in good editorial writing.

The political cartoonist, who does not have many words with which to convey an opinion and is often consigned to a single panel of images,  must therefore be careful that his or her positions do not cross the line from commentary  into propaganda – a tempting option in such a  format.

Conrad rarely exercised this kind of restraint.   Inflamed by his liberal sense of injustice he railed at the big and mighty often simply because they were big and mighty.

No more was that the case when it came to the Arab- Israeli conflict.   He was unable to appreciate or understand Israel’s need for self defense and repeatedly made provocative comparisons between the IDF and Nazis.  After a particularly meaningful use of the Star of David in a cartoon depicting Soviet prisoners of conscience as the equivalent of Jewish prisoners of concentration camps ( September 24, 1972) , he rarely ever employed it again except as a symbol of hate, repression and violence.    His cartoon in the Los Angeles Times following the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon in 1982 ( where he arranged the Palestinian corpses in the shape of Star of David) was beyond the bounds of decency, considering that it was not the Israelis who had perpetrated the killings but the Christian Phalange.  As his comment on the Palestinian intifada of the late 80s , he drew a Star of David made of barbed wire and billy clubs.  He was a particularly vitriolic enemy of West Bank settlers, whom he often depicted as deranged gun-toting Messianists, bent on killing Palestinians and uprooting olive groves – an accusation which has absolutely no basis in reality.    He gave very little time to exploring the violence inherent in Arab society and the emergence of the suicide bomber as the Palestinian weapon of choice.

Years ago I heard a prominent journalist bemoan the fact the journalists no longer seem as concerned with reporting objective truth as with seeing their own idiosyncratic form of justice achieved.  This agenda  Conrad embraced with gusto. “Don’t ever accuse me,” he once said, “of being objective.”

Given this position it is hard for me to agree that Paul Conrad was one of the giants of Western journalism in the last half of the 2oth Century.  His brand of “personal journalism” actually did far more damage to the practice of his craft than good.   His greatest legacy is not a fearless approach to confronting men and women in power, as much as it is a profound cynicism which now pervades his profession and has brought  it increasingly into disrepute.

The Humanitarians Who Turn Victims Into Victimizers

June 2, 2010

The brave sailors and passengers aboard the boat brace for what is about to happen.Off to starboard they can see a series of skiffs racing towards them, while a naval gunship announces emphatically by megaphones in English and Hebrew, that they must  stand down or else be boarded.   But the passengers of this particular craft have sailed too far and endured too much tragedy to be denied.   Within sight of their beloved coastline, these determined passengers are willing to risk capture and even death to reach it.    So when the first soldier places his boot on deck, all hell breaks loose.  In the melee shots are fired and bodies slump.  When the smoke clears, several passengers are dead and the cries of the wounded are heard everywhere.

Think you’ve seen this movie before?  No wonder.  It could have been a scene from any  combination of ships which attempted to run the British blockade of Palestine  from 1939 to 1947.  At that time fleeing Jewish refugees, denied entry to any other world port, sought sanctuary in Palestine where they suspected they would find safe harbor.

Recreating history to become the “21st Century’s Jews” the Palestinians have reversed engineered Jewish victimhood,  in the process becoming the very model of a brutally repressed and forgotten people.  From the self-designation of a national liberation movement (the mantle the PLO adopted in the 1960s) to the assertions of  dispossession to the claims of being the subjects of a  ” Holocaust ” and “genocide,” the Palestinians regularly invoke the images of the Jewish people’s own past, convincing the world that the Jews learned nothing from the centuries of vilification and hatred leveled against them and have become the mirror image of their own oppressors.

So it should come as no surprise that Palestinians and their humanitarian supporters have once again captured the limelight by drawing another historical parallel between themselves and the Jewish people.  The flotilla which sought to subvert the Israeli “blockade” of Gaza ( although no such thing truly exists)  was a carefully constructed pantomime, played out for the benefit of the world press under cover of a humanitarian mission.   In the furor that has met the deaths of the eleven passengers aboard the Turkish registered Marmara, the facts are completely neglected.  Overlooked is the reality that there is no shortage of food or medical supplies in Gaza; that those aboard the Marmara had no intention of staging a peaceful protest but had come armed with clubs and knives and were resolutely determined to take Israeli lives;  that Hamas terror and the incessant bombing of Israeli border towns has given Israel very good reason to interdict the passage of unchecked humanitarian aid , in the interests of preventing future weapons supply of Hamas terrorists.

None of it matters because the far better story –  and the ones the Palestinians and their supporters so earnestly cultivate, is that Jews have transformed into Nazis and their means are both nefarious and oppressive.  The alacrity with which not only the foreign press but supposedly friendly world governments have jumped to condemn the Israeli assault, even when the video footage clearly reveals the Israeli soldiers to have fired in self defense and only as a last resort, is evidence of the increasing willingness of the world to buy a Palestinian narrative of eternal victimhood which is twisted beyond all realities.

Maybe it would be a good idea to look into the provenance of these humanitarians.  The so called Freedom Flotilla maintains extensive terrorist ties.  For instance,  itss primary sponsor, the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH)has been  identified by the CIA as connected to al Qaeda and the millennium plot of 1999.

Also unknown to most people is that the humanitarian aid to Gaza could have been delivered by truck, as the Israelis had offered.  However  flotilla spokeswoman, Greta Berlin made it clear in a Agence- France interview in May that the ” mission, is not about delivering humanitarian supplies.  Its about breaking Israel’s siege. ”

Can’t get  much clearer than that.

The danger  of such willing gullibility and open hostility to a democratic government seeking to enforce measures to aid its own self defense are obvious.  The Israeli experience leaves all democracies open to similar forms of harassment as the press is cajoled and fooled into presenting images of the weak against the strong and the bona fides of any humanitarian effort, regardless of the ideologies and intentions of those who carry out the mission.

Thus the United States is increasing taken to task for its failures to uphold the human rights of  incarcerated terrorists, no matter their intentions; and the United Kingdom finds itself purloined by the attempts to stem the tide of  an unwanted and culturally devastating immigration, which continues under the guise of humanitarian openness and pluralism.

Meanwhile truly evil regimes  such as North Korea can torpedo a South Korean ship with the loss of 67  lives without a whimper from the West; a Sudanese dictator can carry on the world’s most devastating genocidal campaign and barely anyone reports it; 45,000 people a month can be murdered in the Congo without it registering on any one’s radar and Iran can continue to develop unimpeded the world’s most deadly and destabilizing weapons system.

It is, as British journalist Melanie Phillips has so powerfully written in her new book, a world truly turned upside down.  But it is only made possible by the West’s willingness to accept a spurious narrative which is divorced from reality.  The West’s  romance with humanitarians who turn victims into victimizers must therefore end before the veneration of “heroes”,  such as those aboard the Marmara, eventually castigate us all as Nazis and fascists.

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