Former Megachurch Pastor Reflects on Battle With Lou Gehrig's Disease

By Eryn Sun , Christian Post Reporter
February 28, 2012

When Ed Dobson was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, he thought his life was over.

Given only two to five more years to live, the former megachurch pastor, who fully understood the disease's degenerative symptoms, began to slowly give up on his life, which was once busy and populated, opting instead to isolate himself in bed. That is, until one day God spoke to him in a high pitched New York accent.

More specifically, God used his friend Billy, the actual one with the accent, to speak to him and wake him up from his depression.

"[Billy] said, 'Ay, you need to be a Yogi Berra Christian,'" Dobson recalled in the first of his seven-part film series produced by Flannel, the makers of Francis Chan's BASIC videos and Rob Bell's NOOMA series.

"I have no clue what he's talking about ... so I ask him what does that mean? And he says, 'It ain't over till it's over.'"

Finding profound truth in the simple statement made by his friend, who experienced the "worst of the worst" and yet still remained hopeful each day, the Michigan preacher finally began living again in spite of the disease.

"I had considered my life as over," Dobson stated. "But it wasn't. The doctors gave me two to five years. That was over 10 years ago. If I'd given up and laid down to die, I would have missed walking my daughter down the aisle, I would have missed the birth of all five grandchildren. I would say Billy's phone call was God speaking to me with a New York accent."

As a sufferer of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a form of Motor Neuron Disease that is characterized by rapidly progressive weakness, muscle atrophy, inability to control all voluntary movement, and eventual death, the former executive of the Moral Majority had difficulty performing basic functions like brushing his teeth, putting on his clothes and eating.

"When I would be thinking about the future, about my kids, my grandkids, my wife, my job, all of which would be taken away, I would sink in the darkness," he revealed in his second short film "Consider the Birds."

"When I can't button my shirt or even do up the Velcro, it's a reminder that I'm on the downward spiral ... I'm afraid of tomorrow."

But reflecting on God's words in the Bible, particularly the verses found in the book of Hebrews, chapter 13, the Northern Ireland native stopped worrying about tomorrow and found comfort and peace.

"God has said 'Never will I leave you never will I forsake you so we say with confidence the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid."

Those verses, which he wrote on a blue index card early on during his journey with ALS, were a reminder not only for him but also for his son Daniel, who previously served in Iraq, that God was with them.

"Giving Daniel to God and giving my disease to God is something I had to do every day and many times a day," Dobson noted. "It's not something you do and get on with your life. I was reminded of Jesus' teaching who says don't worry about tomorrow and he says look at the birds of the air, they don't sow or reap or store barns yet your father takes care of them."

The former pastor of Calvary Church, where he served for 18 years before his disease forced him to an early retirement, believes that when people are worried about the future, like he was, it is hard to find God.

But when Christians begin to live in the moment, they find that God is "right there" with them.

Though his journey with ALS has been long and filled with suffering, there have been many blessings that Dobson has discovered along the way, like newfound friendships with fellow victims of ALS.

During his last few days at Calvary, an emotional and incredibly difficult time for Dobson, he met and befriended J.J., a man who approached him at church telling him he too was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease.

"J.J. and I had not met until that Sunday at Calvary and within a week, because we were pilgrims on the same journey, he became one of my best friends," Dobson revealed.

J.J. had difficulty speaking and swallowing due to his "bulbar onset" ALS, which made his speech slurred and nasal in character. Eventually, he lost all ability to speak.

Shortly after J.J. was diagnosed with the disease, he bought a Corvette and decided to drive route 66 to California with 13 of his friends. He also asked Dobson to come along with him and they took an unforgettable journey across the states.

The pastor commended J.J. for facing death with "courage, dignity and grace," something he hoped to mirror and pass along to others in similar circumstances as well.

When J.J. passed away, he left the Corvette to Dobson in his will.

"I would have gladly given the Corvette back to have J.J. still here," he said in his short film. "If J.J. were here, he would say I encouraged him a whole lot more than he encouraged me but the truth is I found great courage in knowing J.J. and yes, I feel an obligation to pass that on to as many people as possible."

"Everyone I meet is on a pilgrimage or a journey and in the providence of God, our paths crossed and I think they crossed so we can mutually encourage each other. In retrospect, the random meeting of J.J. was a reminder that God was with me even on the worst of days."

Not only has Dobson forged new relationships with his ALS "pilgrims," but he has also learned to be an encouragement to everyone he meets, investing in one-on-one relationships as opposed to his former days mentoring thousands behind his pulpit on Sundays.

"When I was at Calvary, I preached to thousands of people every week," Dobson stated. "Today, it's one-on-one primarily and my struggle is you would think that influencing thousands is more important than influencing one. But I'm gradually learning that influencing one-on-one is way more important."

Like Adam and Eve were told to take care of their own garden, Dobson finds that he too must tend to his own appointed "garden" as well by meeting with individual people and helping them on their journey.

He has restored many broken relationships with those whom he wronged or those who wronged him in the past, and is able to now see the value in relationships and the futility of pride.

"I think forgiveness is a great idea until you have someone to forgive," he admitted. "And then it's very difficult. You have to humble yourself, you have to admit you were wrong, you have to look at the person in the eyeballs and all of that is intimidating."

Despite the initial reservations, however, once he began to forgive and be forgiven, he saw that he was now much slower to judge and quicker to listen.

His unexpected disease gave him wisdom, perspective, and also reminded him of what was important in life.

"I think humans have the capacity to think they'll live forever," Dobson commented. "You ain't living forever."

Once people begin to realize that their lives are coming to an end, they begin to realize how fragile life is and prioritize their day-to-day activities.

"One day it will be over but it's not about how long I have left, it's about how I spend the time I do have."

Dobson now continues to invest in new and old relationships, and encourages everyone he meets with his story, which has been told through his books like When Facing a Life-Threatening Illness and The Year of Living Like Jesus, as well as through his ongoing short film series.

Five of seven short films have been produced so far, with the last two films about thanksgiving and healing to be released soon.

"Ed's story is ... real," Steve Carr, executive director of Flannel, told The Christian Post. "A real individual dealing with real issues."

Unscripted and put together as a response to real questions, Flannel's film series about hope featuring Dobson is a beautiful reflection of his reaction to everyday life and death issues.

The idea for the series began several years ago after Dobson had written his book about his journey with ALS. When he sent a copy to his son Daniel who was serving in the military in Iraq, he told his father he should share his stories on film as well.

Dobson and his son eventually approached Flannel to ask them if they would be interested in turning his story into a film.

"I was amazed with and personally inspired by Ed's ability not only to deal with the circumstances, but to inspire others," Carr said. He too, knew what it felt like to face mortality, having been diagnosed with Leukemia.

"To show others the hope that only can come from Jesus is inspiring, to show them while you are facing a disease such as ALS is beyond inspiring," he added. "I am humbled and honored that we are able to help Ed share his message of hope."

His organization's goal for "Ed's Story" is simple: to share hope with a world that is desperately searching for some.

"At Flannel, we serve as a catalyst for creative communicators who share in our desire to tell the way of Jesus to the world. Ed used to do that from the pulpit, now he simply demonstrates every day. The hope he has is contagious!"

To learn more about the Dobson's series or any of the other shorts produced by Flannel, click here.

The first five films of "Ed's Story" can be downloaded or purchased on DVD.

Dobson currently lives in Grand Rapids with his wife Lorna and children. He serves as a consulting editor for Leadership magazine.


Sex trafficking trial unusual in scope

As many as 23 will face jury simultaneously

By Brandon Gee
The Tennessean
February 28, 2012

John Morton, right, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, speaks at a press conference on Monday, Nov. 8, 2010, in Nashville, Tenn., concerning arrests in Tennessee and Minnesota on charges that include sex trafficking. Twenty-nine people have been indicted in a sex trafficking ring in which Somali gangs in Minneapolis allegedly forced girls under age 14 into prostitution in at least three states, according to an indictment unsealed Monday. With Mr. Morton are Assistant U. S. Attorney Van Vincent, left, and U. S. Attorney Jerry Martin, center. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Nearly two dozen defendants accused of participating in an interstate sex trafficking ring are scheduled to go before a federal jury next month in what is shaping up to be one of the biggest — and most unusual — trials in Middle Tennessee history.

In an era when limited resources and risk aversion have resulted in a dramatic rise in the number of cases that end in plea agreements rather than jury trials, not even one of the 30 defendants in the case has agreed to plead guilty, setting the stage for a massive trial in downtown Nashville that is raising a variety of issues both legal and logistical.

Twenty-nine people, mostly Somalis from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, were charged in November 2010 with running a prostitution ring that sold Somali girls as young as 12 years of age in cities including Nashville. A 30th defendant was indicted in May 2011. In addition to sex trafficking and conspiracy, the defendants also are accused of alleged crimes such as credit card fraud and burglary.

Seven defendants — including two who have not yet been apprehended — have been severed from the trial scheduled to begin March 20 and will be tried later. Even so, longtime prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee said it is shaping up to be the largest number of defendants to go to trial at once in federal court in Nashville, if not U.S., history.

“I’ve been here in this office for 21 years now, and there’s never been that number of defendants go to trial simultaneously,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Van Vincent, the lead prosecutor on the case.

Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman with the Department of Justice in Washington, said she could not confirm or deny the claim because it “would require canvassing all 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and asking them for knowledge of every case ever prosecuted in their office.”

Observers are chalking up the lack of plea agreements in the case to a number of factors.

Why no plea deals?

“The Somalis have a cultural thing about testifying against each other,” said former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Ed Yarbrough, who agreed that the trial is on course to be the largest, in terms of the number of defendants, in Nashville history. “I think it’s cultural. That’s what I’ve been told.”

For a comparison to a more typical scenario, one can look at the case of 32 defendants charged with racketeering, murder and other crimes in connection with an alleged plot by the Bloods gang to take over the local drug trade. Federal prosecutors say the gang used Galaxy Star, an anti-gang nonprofit in East Nashville, as a meeting spot. The nonprofit has since closed.

The case will go to trial, for just two of the defendants, beginning today. Twenty-nine other defendants already have pleaded guilty. The final remains at large.

Speaking in general from his experience with federal prosecutions, Murfreesboro attorney Jerry Gonzalez said that, in conspiracy cases like this one, the government tries to indict enough people in hopes that “the lower rung will flip on the higher rung.”

“It is very unusual,” said Gonzalez, who represents Dahir Nor Abraham in the case. “I think it would be safe to say that the prosecution is disappointed no one has flipped yet.”

While the lack of plea agreements is surprising to some, Minneapolis Police Department Officer Jeanine Brudenell said it’s not unusual when dealing with Somali defendants. The Twin Cities are home to the largest Somali population in North America, and Brudenell is her department’s designated “East African community engagement officer.”

“There is a slim possibility that some people would take plea agreements, but it wouldn’t be until last minute,” Brudenell said. “Most of the time, they will probably go through the trial process.”

Having immigrated from a country with no functional government, many Somalis are accustomed to resolving problems within small communities, Brudenell said, and that mindset colors the way they approach the American justice system.

“Our system of government is very slow; they want a quicker process,” Brudenell said. “They certainly don’t have control of (the legal process), and it’s outside their system.

“They truly think they can come to the resolution they’re looking for through negotiations outside of the system. I think in the past, but not necessarily in federal prosecutions, there has been success with witness tampering. But law enforcement and the courts are much more aware of the potential for it now.”

Tampering alleged

There has been at least one alleged incident of witness tampering in the case proceeding toward trial in Nashville. Three Twin Cities women — Hawo Osman Ahmed, Ifrah Abdi Yassin and Hamdi Ahmed Mohamud — were charged in June in a five-count indictment that includes charges of “conspiracy to retaliate against a witness, victim or informant.”

The three women threatened a witness identified only by the initials “MA” and then attacked her in her Minnesota apartment building elevator, according to the charges.

Cultural reasons aside, Franklin attorney John Cauley also noted that many of the defendants are facing a minimum 15-year prison sentence if convicted, which reduces the incentive to negotiate with prosecutors. Cauley represents Abdifitah Jama Adan in the case.

Finally, noting their defendants’ presumed innocence before trial, many of the defense attorneys said there may be a far simpler reason none of the defendants reached plea agreements: They didn’t do it.

“They maintain their innocence,” said Nashville lawyer Patrick Frogge, who represents Haji Osman Salad in the case. “I think a lot of the defendants are looking forward to their day in court.”

That day is going to come a lot faster for the defendants in this case than it has in other local federal prosecutions featuring multiple defendants and complex conspiracy. The lack of plea negotiations is contributing to the fast pace of the case. So has U.S. District Judge William J. Haynes Jr.’s steadfastness in rejecting any requests to continue the trial due to the difficulty of shuffling dozens of attorneys’ schedules. And at a recent hearing, all defendants in attendance said they would oppose any continuance.

“Several individuals are probably not guilty,” Gonzalez said. “If you’re sitting in jail on pretrial detention, you can’t go to trial fast enough. They want to go to trial.”

The trial, expected to last months, will require modifications of Haynes’ courtroom to ensure there is enough space for the defendants and attorneys. The judge also has granted the defendants’ request to take breaks consistent with Muslim prayer times.

Contact Brandon Gee at 615-726-5982 or Follow him on Twitter at @bsgee.

Obama’s Infanticide Votes

Newt wasn’t 100 percent right — but he was about 95 percent right.

By Patrick Brennan
February 29, 2012

In last Wednesday’s debate, when the Republican candidates were asked about their positions on birth control, Newt Gingrich parried with one of his usual tactics, a fusillade against the mainstream media. He told CNN’s John King, “You did not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide. If we’re going to have a debate about who is the extremist on these issues, it is President Obama, who, as a state senator, voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion.”

Two points of Gingrich’s barrage warrant assessment. First, did Barack Obama, as a state senator, vote “in favor of legalizing infanticide,” by voting “to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion”? And second, has no one in the elite media ever discussed his record on the issue? Yes; and no, but essentially yes.

Gingrich’s assertion rests on then–State Senator Obama’s opposition, in 2001, 2002, and 2003, to successive versions of the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, an Illinois bill that was meant to provide protection for babies born alive after attempted abortions. The bill gave them protection as legal persons and required physicians to provide them with care, rather than allowing doctors to deal with them as they would, literally, with medical waste. In 2008, Obama’s campaign repeatedly claimed that he opposed the bill because it was unnecessary, since Illinois law already provided protection for infants born alive. However, as Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out on NRO at the time, this extended only to babies whom physicians deemed to have “sustainable survivability.” Thus infants who were not expected to survive could be killed or left unattended to die. Obama, Ponnuru wrote, “did not want the gap filled.” (The National Right to Life Committee has a report on Obama, Illinois’s legal loophole, and its horrific consequences here.)

Obama maintained at the time, with support from Planned Parenthood of Illinois, that the bill wasn’t really about protecting infants’ lives or mitigating their suffering, but was in fact a backdoor attempt to restrict abortion. The argument (which is constitutionally dubious, anyway) goes that, by providing legal protection and “recognition as a human person” for a pre-viable infant, the law could be used to threaten Roe v. Wade. Thus, at the time of Obama’s votes, and then during the course of the 2008 campaign, Obama claimed that he would have supported a law like the 2002 federal born-alive statute, which stated explicitly that it could not be used to dispute the legal status of fetuses prior to their birth.
In committee in 2003, however, Obama voted against a version of the Illinois bill that contained the same protection included in the federal bill (which passed 98–0 in the U.S. Senate). Thus, Obama’s tenuous constitutional argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

One other excuse for Obama’s opposition to the Illinois bill has been proffered: that the final version of the bill was coupled with another piece of legislation that imposed criminal or civil consequences for doctors who did not properly treat infants who were covered by the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. Obama and others deemed this second bill unacceptable. However, this doesn’t begin to defend Obama’s vote on the first bill.

As Ponnuru pointed out back in 2008, and PolitiFact admitted the above facts as such, but have disputed whether they constitute “legalizing infanticide”; FactCheck argued that that question remains a value judgment. Since the Illinois bill would have provided legal protection for born-alive infants who had not been protected before, by opposing it, Obama voted to continue to make it legal to kill them. Thus, the only question remaining in order to determine whether it was “infanticide” is: Were the subjects of the bill fetuses or were they infants? In order for them not to be considered infants, one would have to contend that an unviable prematurely born baby is not an infant — a claim few would be willing to make. And yet, Obama’s votes, three times over the course of three years, indicate that he believes that fetuses who have been born alive, but have not yet reached the age of viability, are not human persons worthy of protection by our laws. Such a position on abortion is, to say the least, extreme, and deserves attention.

Which leads to the second question Gingrich raised: Have the media questioned Obama’s position on the Illinois infanticide bill? Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple has turned up a few media references to President Obama’s extreme abortion stances from the 2008 campaign: two CNN segments discussing his record, including the Illinois legislation specifically; one instance in a debate, where John McCain raised the question of Obama’s record, and he defended his position on the Illinois bill; and one interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, in which Obama was queried on partial-birth abortion, though not the Illinois legislation specifically.

The attention was most intense in August of 2008, after the NRLC managed to generate national debate about Obama’s position on the Illinois bill. Obama was asked about it during an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, where he offered a thoroughly deceptive response to the question, saying, “Here’s a situation where folks are lying” about his position. However, Obama was the one lying: He told the interviewer, David Brody, that he opposed the bill because of its threat to Roe v. Wade, and that existing Illinois law already protected infants who were born alive. As we have seen, the first assertion is implausible; the second is just plain false.

This seems to be the one instance in which a journalist asked candidate Obama directly about his support for the bill, and he was unfortunately let off, even by a conservative reporter, with his mendacious explanation.

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times reported on the controversy, noting the points the NRLC had raised about Obama’s inconsistent and extreme positions. The Times, citing sources on both sides, explored Obama’s claim that he opposed the final Illinois bill because of its unacceptable companion bill. However, Obama’s claim has no solid legal basis: Two different bills are two different bills.

Thus, while one cannot say, as Gingrich did, that the media have literally never questioned Obama’s extreme record on abortion, we can certainly say that there has not been a sufficiently revealing discussion of his views. An honest appraisal would depict him as having voted repeatedly to keep a form of infanticide illegal. Instead, the media have willingly accepted explanations that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

And they deserve scrutiny, for two reasons. First, as explained above, Obama has offered deceptive explanations of his own pro-abortion legislative work, while simultaneously accusing his pro-life opponents of being dishonest. More important, Obama’s record as a state senator was not merely pro-choice, but radically pro-abortion. His voting record indicates that he does not believe infants deserve protection even once they have emerged from the womb if they are deemed to be below the age of viability, and he did in fact, three times, vote to keep a form of infanticide legal.

— Patrick Brennan is the 2011 William F. Buckley Fellow at National Review.

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - This Depression

Rape, They Cried

About the proposed ultrasound legislation in Virginia, a most pernicious lie.

By Kathryn Jean Lopez
February 28, 2012

An abortion rights activist speaks before the Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee on Thursday. Following a protest outside the state capitol and criticism from moderates in his own party, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell asked for revisions to a bill requiring an invasive ultrasound before an abortion. (Steve Helber / AP)

This is absolutely out of control.

But it was a brilliant strategy that Planned Parenthood and friends used to defeat a bill in Virginia that would have required pre-abortion ultrasounds: Get as many people as possible to repeat the word “transvaginal” in news and commentary, in order to accomplish two things: defeat the legislation at hand and make your opposition look like a freak show.

At one protest against the legislation, “Molly Vick of Richmond said it was her first time to take part in a protest, but the issue was too infuriating and compelling,” the Washington Post reported. Ms. Vick wore a sticker on her shirt that insisted: “Say No to State-Mandated Rape.” Instead of a belt on her jeans, she wore yellow tape that warned: “Private Property: Keep Out.”

Infuriating? What’s infuriating is that we can’t have an honest debate about anything that might happen to involve women, because it might make Planned Parenthood or any of the political or business wings of the abortion industry uncomfortable. This is the new bra-burning America, and it’s just as delusional and duplicitous as the old one. These protesters aren’t anti-establishment; they are the establishment. Don’t let the gal with the yellow tape fool you.

In recent days (weeks and years, too), media coverage of just about all things regarding women have taken on new frenzied proportions. George Orwell would be impressed — even Saturday Night Live got into the messaging.

Go ahead and read the bill that caused the “rape” cries. The word “transvaginal” never appears in it.

The bill was an update on Virginia’s informed-consent law, and didn’t require a particular kind of ultrasound, but mandated that the “standard medical practice in the community” for an ultrasound be followed. So doctors on site, not the governor or the house of delegates or the legendary exorcist Rick Santorum, would be making the calls about exactly what kind of ultrasound would be best for a particular woman. Planned Parenthood clinics already do ultrasounds (it helps with the pricing of abortions, among other things). The law wasn’t meant to do anything but make sure no women fell through the cracks.

And, frankly, even if the bill did mandate an invasive form of ultrasound — sometimes gestational age or other factors will make these the most accurate methods — let’s be honest about it and “women’s health”: It wouldn’t have been state-sponsored rape, as it was being characterized. It’s standard medical care. All things in the OB-GYN world tend to be invasive. Are routine exams rape, too? Can we just drop the nonsense already?

Apparently not. Not when those who resort to the most shameless rhetoric tend to win. The chattering class is fully engaged in a self-righteous spin cycle about those right-wing hypocrites who claim to be about small government and freedom but who instead are “literally trying to insert themselves into women’s bodies,” as one talking head explained.

It’s hard to make sense of the whole ugly Virginia “transvaginal” incident other than to note that critics of the bill simply, as a matter of principle, don’t want anyone to be reminded what exactly is done in an abortion clinic. No one went into a demonizing overdrive because of ultrasound per se; they’re already routinely done. The real kick was that women would be offered the chance to look at the ultrasound. If they did, they would see the beating of a tiny human heart. And that’s a threat to the abortion industry. A glimpse of this fight shows that, while these critics of the bill talk about women’s health, they don’t really have the interests of either patient in mind.

This issue is so much broader, but the debate has created a dark and pernicious fog. One that keeps us from facing the truth about what we’re debating at a given time, and what’s best for our own lives and those who we most naturally love.

Just rewind a few weeks to what happened when the Susan G. Komen Foundation dared to make a management decision and cut off grants to Planned Parenthood, not only because the relationship increasingly distracted from Komen’s primary mission, ending breast cancer, but also because more efficient grant-making opportunities were possible. According to former Komen vice president Karen Handel, Komen’s sensible plan was betrayed by Planned Parenthood’s leadership, who leaked the defunding story to the press and launched their “well-orchestrated, vicious campaign.” And the “sisterhood” is not done yet, as Komen knows, and we can see, even on Saturday-night television.

The late John Paul II, calling on all men and women of mercy to build a culture of life, described the struggle in which we are engaged as a “war of the powerful against the weak.” We are seeing this culture of death strengthen its foundations when we let bullies have their way with public policy and nonprofits and their corporate sponsors, and when the federal government tells religious Americans they must comply with a radical ideology or be fined — and mercilessly ridiculed, dismissed, or discredited, whatever the facts.

However well-intentioned some members of this “pro-women” movement may be, instead of contributing to the discussion, the movement has become a manipulative crusade. Don’t buy the spin. Humanity is a lot more complicated, sensitive, and discerning than those insulting them with one brand of invective or another appreciate.

The SNL skit lampooning the Virginia ultrasound bill ended by proclaiming, “Don’t tell me what to do.” My sentiments exactly. Or how to think, or talk. In pursuit of faux freedom, don’t resort to the kind of dishonest rhetoric that tramples on the very reason for our Founding.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.

Why Bruce Springsteen is the Boss for life

Singers come and singers go, but for Sarfraz Manzoor Bruce Springsteen has been the man to follow ever since he first heard him 25 years ago.

By Safraz Manzoor
The Telegraph
25 Feb 2012

It was the autumn of 1987; the year Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister for the third time, the year of Wall Street and Dirty Dancing, and it was the year I turned 16. I was a bored, restless and frustrated teenager. My father, a first generation immigrant from Pakistan, had spent years working on a production line at the Vauxhall car factory before being made redundant. My own future prospects were not promising: kids from my background – working class, comprehensive educated, Asian – weren’t visible in the popular culture and the assumption was that after an education I would settle into a solid, unexciting job and eventually marry a solid, unexciting woman. I aspired to more but the life I dreamt about seemed impossibly out of reach.

It was into this world that Bruce Springsteen entered when I started sixth-form college and met a boy called Amolak who told me that Springsteen’s music contained the secrets to the most profound questions about life and love. Initially, I was not convinced, and I countered with the criticism that even now the ignorant and foolish level at Springsteen: that he was a rich man making money by singing about the poor. Fortunately my friend convinced me to set aside my prejudices and listen to the music. It turned out that he was right.

Music can serve different purposes: it can make you dance, it can make you think and, sometimes, it can make you change your life. Bruce Springsteen’s music inspired me because it offered not empty escapism but a route map of how to transcend the constrained world I lived in. Unlike Bob Dylan – whom I also revered – Springsteen’s songs were located in a recognisable world where people lived in towns they wanted to leave, in jobs that left them unfulfilled, in relationships that left them unsatisfied.

Unlike Morrissey – whose very English rendering of alienation appeared arch and whining – Springsteen was always able to find some hope amid the desolation. There was always, to quote the title of one song, a reason to believe. In my fervour, I created a Bruce Springsteen folder into which I put articles on him and photocopied song lyrics that I studied with the intensity usually reserved for religious texts. People laughed; they thought it amusing to see an Asian teenager so pathologically drawn to the music of this almost hyper-American artist.

I tried to explain the parallels – that Springsteen was also once a working-class kid from a motor town, that he too had endured a conflicted relationship with his father and that his music was more subtle and complex than the fist pumping stereotype suggested.

Songs like "Factory" evoked the drudgery of the sort of work my own father had done and which I was determined not to follow; "Thunder Road" with its rousing final words of “it’s a town full of losers and I’m pulling out of here to win” summed up how I felt about living in a town that seemed too small for my dreams; "Independence Day", a song about fathers and sons was where I turned when I grew frustrated with my dad, and "Bobby Jean" was the song that described my friendship with Amolak: “Now you hung with me when all the others turned away, turned away, turned up their nose, we liked the same music, we liked the same bands, we liked the same clothes.” As if the words were not enough, they were underscored by music that could be gloriously anthemic or starkly spare: Clarence Clemons’s saxophone solo in "Jungleland", Roy Bittan’s haunting piano on "Racing in the Street", Danny Federici’s spectral keyboards on "Wreck on the Highway" and Springsteen’s searing guitar solo on "Prove it All Night".

It was a heady brew which is why I did not mind the abuse: I preferred to be laughed at for my music taste than for the colour of my skin. My racial, religious and class identities had been imposed on me and so I relished the fact that my identity as a Springsteen fan was one I had freely chosen. I didn’t so much listen to "Thunder Road", "The River" and "Born to Run" as mainline them directly into my heart. His songs gave me the shot of confidence I needed to believe that my destiny was not shaped by my past.

It worked. I am no longer the 16-year-old teenager dreaming of better days but a 40-year-old man blessed with a job as a writer and broadcaster that I love hugely and a wife and daughter I love even more. I have always credited Bruce Springsteen for inspiring me to aim higher than was expected of me and in an effort to convince others of both his greatness and his influence in my life I wrote a childhood memoir Greetings from Bury Park, which describes growing up in the Eighties and having my life transformed by Springsteen.

I wrote it partly to thank him for what he had meant to me but although I have been fortunate enough to meet him a number of times, I had no idea if he had even heard of my book. You can imagine my shock and delight then when I met him at a BFI party and he came up to me to say that not only had he read my book but he had loved it. Such are the privileges of my present life.

As the years have passed, so my relationship with Springsteen’s music has necessarily evolved. In my twenties and early thirties, I hurtled around the globe for the sake of Bruce. I flew to the United States to see him in New Jersey and New York, and I travelled to Europe to see him in Spain, France and Sweden. When he played six nights at Wembley Arena in the summer of 1992, I slept outside the venue for two nights to ensure I had front row seats for all six nights. In more recent years, I have spent rather less time sleeping on concrete but Springsteen’s music continues to occupy a special place in my life. I am currently writing a feature film screenplay based on my book which Gurinder Chadha – of Bend It Like Beckham fame – is hoping to direct.

My life has changed hugely from when I first stumbled on to him but listening to Springsteen is about more than a misty-eyed longing for glory days – indeed he has arguably more to say today than ever before. Consider his latest record, Wrecking Ball, released next month and reviewed above right. It is possibly the angriest and most politically direct album he has ever made. The songs were inspired by the financial crisis of 2008 and its impact on ordinary people. The new record is the latest in a series of albums that include Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad and The Rising that amount to state-of-the-nation dispatches from an artist fully engaged with the times.

His nickname is The Boss but I prefer to think of Bruce Springsteen as rock music’s head of state: the people’s president. Contrast that with an artist like Madonna – a fellow Eighties icon who also has a new album out this spring – but who is so obsessed with remaining current she can’t help but appear dated. Springsteen may have rarely been hip but he also has never been embarrassing – he hasn’t acted in any dodgy films, nor has he published any children’s books or launched a fashion line or a range of his beauty products.

That partly explains why he commands such devotion among his fans. His later records may not always scale the titanic heights of his greatest works but he has held on to his integrity and, on stage, he remains utterly compelling: the greatest live performer in rock. His concerts have the ecstatic air of a revivalist gathering and one of the most invigorating aspects of seeing Springsteen on tour is realising that there are others – hundreds of thousands of others – who feel the same way about him as you do.

When I first saw Springsteen at Wembley Stadium in 1988 I was one of the youngest in the crowd; I recall meeting people who had seen him on his mythic debut British show at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1975. They seemed so worldly and grizzled to me even though they were probably only in their thirties. Now when I see him I am one of the veterans who can bore others for hours with tales of the Tom Joad tour and seeing Springsteen play a tiny venue in Asbury Park.

In recent years, Springsteen has gained a new generation of fans, some of whom were not even born when I first saw him and who have come to him through artists such as Arcade Fire, the Gaslight Anthem and the Killers who have all openly admitted their debt to his music. Once you get on the Springsteen train you rarely disembark, which is why his fans have grown older with him. Since he has always written to his age he is not like, say, Mick Jagger, condemned to prance on stage, the eternal priapic Jumping Jack Flash. When you are young the songs of Born to Run appeal with their widescreen cinematic idealism and then as life coats that romanticism with heartbreak and disappointment, the bruised love songs on Tunnel of Love start to make sense. Working on a Dream, released three years ago when he was 60, swirls with references to death and mortality, themes which evidently mean more to him today – following the deaths of Federici and Clemons – than they did in the past, and more to me now than they did when I was 16.

In the years that I have been listening to Springsteen, his music has been a source of wisdom as I fought to find my own place in this world and have a life where work was rewarding and love was real. Springsteen and the E Street Band start their world tour next month and it reaches Hyde Park in July. Among those in the audience will be Amolak, his wife and baby son, as well as me, my wife, Bridget, and my daughter Laila who will then be 11 months old. Laila is only in this world because I found the courage to defy expectations, a courage that was strengthened by listening to Springsteen. And that is why, after 25 years, Springsteen’s music remains so special to me: it is an eloquent reminder of the journey I have taken in my life and it is a wise guide for the road ahead.

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Today’s Bruce Springsteen is a Pale Imitation of the Real Thing

David Hajdu

The New Republic
February 24, 2012

Bruce Springsteen in action at the 2012 Grammys. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Before Bruce Springsteen put together the first incarnation of the E Street Band, forty years ago, he had a scrappy little bar band called Steel Mill, which played at my friend Doug Mendini’s eighth-grade graduation party. Like Springsteen, Doug and I were both literary-minded products of New Jersey factory towns (I worked for the summer before my first year of college in a steel foundry, on the late shift with my father), and a tenuous early sense of kinship with Springsteen has given me a weakness for his work. Doug, after eighth grade, went on to become a fine poet and playwright; I took up nonfiction; and Springsteen found a way to bring his adolescent ambition to be “a author” (as he later recalled his youth in the language of anti-intellectualism) together with his hunger for rock stardom.

With his new album, Wrecking Ball, Springsteen has matched my weakness for his work with the weakness of his work. Granted, he’s aging; five years older than me, Springsteen is sixty-one now. Still, age is a limited defense for having released an album as wan and shallow as Wrecking Ball. If he’s tired, as he has every right to be, his job as a author of songs is to make something of that tiredness in his music—to make pop-music art out of what he knows and feels, as Leonard Cohen (at age 77) has done this year with his lyrically autumnal new album, Old Ideas, or as Paul Simon, at 69, did last year with his So Beautiful or So What. Instead, Springsteen has avoided the hard work of vividly, intimately evoking the human experience in favor of platitudes and sloganeering in quasi-jingoistic bromides like “We Take Care of Our Own.”

The album is more polemical than emotive—and confusedly, half-heartedly so. The ideas are ones Springsteen has dealt with far more effectively before. “Death to My Hometown,” for instance, simply takes the thesis of his lacerating old “Youngstown”—avaricious corporations do more damage than warring tyrants (an idea Springsteen found in the journalist Dale Maharidge’s book Journey to Nowhere, by the way)—and applies it to the setting of his bittersweet old “My Hometown.” Line to line, too, the writing on Wrecking Ball feels tossed off and unfinished. In “We Take Care of Our Own,” for instance, Springsteen sings, solemnly, “The road of good intentions has gone dry as a bone.” Well, okay. But since when is a road supposed to be wet? Or did he not put enough effort into the lyric to come up with the word “river”?

On the cover of the album, Springsteen looks buff and grim, clutching the road-battered Fender Esquire electric guitar that has served as his rock-workhorse symbol since it swung on his shoulders on the jacket of Born to Run. Several years ago, Springsteen donated the instrument to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, where it remains a major attraction. My enduring weakness for Springsteen is such that I want to think of his guitar as the only museum piece on the cover of his new album.

Why Apologize to Afghanistan?

The reaction to an accidental Koran-burning was inexcusable.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
February 25, 2012

We have officially lost our minds.

The New York Times reports that President Obama has sent a formal letter of apology to Afghanistan’s ingrate president, Hamid Karzai, for the burning of Korans at a U.S. military base. The only upside of the apology is that it appears (based on the Times account) to be couched as coming personally from our blindly Islamophilic president — “I wish to express my deep regret for the reported incident. . . . I extend to you and the Afghani people my sincere apologies.” It is not couched as an apology from the American people, whose frame of mind will be outrage, not contrition, as the facts become more widely known.
The facts are that the Korans were seized at a jail because jihadists imprisoned there were using them not for prayer but to communicate incendiary messages. The soldiers dispatched to burn refuse from the jail were not the officials who had seized the books, had no idea they were burning Korans, and tried desperately to retrieve the books when the situation was brought to their attention.

Of course, these facts may not become widely known, because no one is supposed to mention the main significance of what has happened here. First, as usual, Muslims — not al-Qaeda terrorists, but ordinary, mainstream Muslims — are rioting and murdering over the burning (indeed, the inadvertent burning) of a book. Yes, it’s the Koran, but it’s a book all the same — and one that, moderate Muslims never tire of telling us, doesn’t really mean everything it says anyhow.

Muslim leaders and their leftist apologists are also forever lecturing the United States about “proportionality” in our war-fighting. Yet when it comes to Muslim proportionality, Americans are supposed to shrug meekly and accept the “you burn books, we kill people” law of the jungle. Disgustingly, the Times would inure us to this moral equivalence by rationalizing that “Afghans are fiercely protective of their Islamic faith.” Well then, I guess that makes it all right, huh?

Then there’s the second not-to-be-uttered truth: Defiling the Koran becomes an issue for Muslims only when it has been done by non-Muslims. Observe that the unintentional burning would not have occurred if these “fiercely protective of their Islamic faith” Afghans had not defiled the Korans in the first place. They were Muslim prisoners who annotated the “holy” pages with what a U.S. military official described as “extremist inscriptions” in covert messages sent back and forth, just as the jihadists held at Gitmo have been known to do (notwithstanding that Muslim prisoners get their Korans courtesy of the American taxpayers they construe the book to justify killing).

Do you know why you are supposed to stay mum about the intentional Muslim sacrilege but plead to be forgiven for the accidental American offense? Because you would otherwise have to observe that the Koran and other Islamic scriptures instruct Muslims that they are in a civilizational jihad against non-Muslims, and that it is therefore permissible for them to do whatever is necessary — including scrawl militant graffiti on their holy book — if it advances the cause. Abdul Sattar Khawasi — not a member of al-Qaeda but a member in good standing of the Afghan government for which our troops are inexplicably fighting and dying — put it this way: “Americans are invaders, and jihad against the Americans is an obligation.”

Because exploiting America’s hyper-sensitivity to things Islamic advances the jihad, the ostensible abuse of the Koran by using it for secret communiqués is to be overlooked. Actionable abuse occurs only when the book is touched by the bare hands of, or otherwise maltreated by, an infidel.

As our great Iraqi ally Ayatollah Ali Sistani teaches, touching a kafir (“one who does not believe in Allah and His Oneness”) is to be avoided, because Islamic scripture categorizes infidels as equivalent to “urine, feces, semen, dead bodies, blood, dogs, pigs, alcoholic liquors,” and “the sweat of an animal who persistently eats filth.” That is what influential clerics — not al-Qaeda but revered scholars of Islamic law — inculcate in rank-and-file Muslims.

And they are not making it up. Sistani came upon this view after decades of dedicated scriptural study. In fact, to take just one telling example (we could list many, many others), the “holy” Koran we non-Muslims are supposed to honor proclaims (in Sura 9:28), “Truly the pagans are unclean . . . so let them not . . . approach the sacred mosque.” It is because of this injunction from Allah that non-Muslims are barred — not by al-Qaeda but by the Saudi Arabian government — from entering Mecca and Medina. Kafirs are deemed unfit to set their infidel feet on the ground of these ancient cities. You don’t like that? Too bad — grin and bear it . . . and, while you’re at it, surge up a few thousand more American troops to improve life in Kandahar.

Understand this: Muslims are killing Muslims all the time. Sunnis attack Shiites, Shiites attack Sunnis. Ahmadi Muslims are attacked in sundry Islamic countries. Often, these Muslim-on-Muslim atrocities involve not only murder but also the torching of the other sect’s homes and mosques — necessarily meaning Muslims are burning Korans, and with far more mens rea than the American personnel had in Afghanistan. None of these atrocities incite global Islamic rioting — it is just Muslim-on-Muslim violence, the numbing familiarity of which calls for no comment, except perhaps to mumble that it must have something to do with how “fiercely protective of their Islamic faith” Muslims are. (Actually, it has to do with Muslims’ deeming the perceived heresies of other Muslims to be apostasy, for which sharia prescribes the death penalty.)

Also understand this: In sharia societies, non-Muslim religious articles are confiscated and destroyed every single day as a matter of policy. In Saudi Arabia, where sharia is the law of the land, where Mecca and Medina are closed to non-Muslims, government guidelines prohibit Jews and Christians from bringing Bibles, crucifixes, Stars of David, and similar artifacts emblematic of their faith into the country. When that prohibition is violated, the offending items are seized and burned or otherwise destroyed. Moreover, though Saudis deny having an official policy that bans Jews from entering the country at all, reports are rampant of travelers’ being denied visas either because they are Jewish or because their passports bear stamps indicative of prior travel to Israel.

In spite of this shameful, conscious, systematic abuse of non-Muslims and their religious articles, King Abdullah has yet to send a letter of apology to Obama. All the presidential bowing in the world will not change this, not when Muslim supremacism is the irreducible core of mainstream Islam — not al-Qaeda Islam, mainstream Islam. And where is Mr. Karzai’s apology over the Afghan soldier who just killed two Americans? That is only the latest incident in a largely unreported epidemic: our “allies” turning their weapons on their Western trainers.

On second thought, who cares if Karzai apologizes? Our troops do not belong in Afghanistan. They have given more than enough, way more. So has our country.

If our government believes the Taliban and other factions are our enemies, allied with al-Qaeda to kill Americans, then we should unleash our military to destroy them. This should not be an endless counterinsurgency experiment that prioritizes the protection of Afghan civilians and the construction of Afghan civil society; it should be a war that our vast might enables us to win rapidly and decisively.

But our government has repeatedly professed that the Taliban are not our enemies. If that is true, we lack not only the will but the cause for waging war. We should leave — now. It is immoral to keep our young men and women there as sitting ducks in a place where the people hate Americans but we are not trying to vanquish them. We routed al-Qaeda years ago. We don’t need to defeat the Taliban or waste time negotiating with them, Karzai, the warlords, and the rest. Let them have their Korans and work it out for themselves with the compassion that has been such a Religion of Peace hallmark for the last 14 centuries.

That, however, cannot be the end of it. If, according to the president, we need to apologize to Muslims because we must accept that they have such an innate, extraordinary ardor for their religion that barbaric reactions to trivial slights are inevitable, then they should not be invited to enter a civilized country. At the very least, our immigration laws should exclude entry from Muslim-majority countries unless and until those countries expressly repeal repressive sharia laws (e.g., the death penalty for apostates) and adopt American standards of non-discrimination against, tolerance of, and protection for religious minorities.

If you really want to promote freedom in Islamic countries, an immigration policy based on civil-rights reciprocity would be a lot more effective, and a lot less expensive, than dispatching tens of thousands of troops to build sharia “democracies.” It would also protect Americans from people whose countries and cultures have not prepared them for the obligations of citizenship in a free society.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.

The all-you-can-eat-salad bar of rights

Perversion of the concept of rights is killing the Western world.\

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
February 24, 2012

CNN's John King did his best the other night, producing a question from one of his viewers:

"Since birth control is the latest hot topic, which candidate believes in birth control, and if not, why?"

To their credit, no Republican candidate was inclined to accept the premise of the question. King might have done better to put the issue to Danica Patrick. For some reason, Michelle Fields of The Daily Caller sought the views of the NASCAR driver and Sports Illustrated swimwear model about "the Obama administration's dictate that religious employers provide health care plans that cover contraceptives." Miss Patrick, a practicing Catholic, gave the perfect citizen's response for the Age of Obama:

"I leave it up to the government to make good decisions for Americans."

That's the real "hot topic" here – whether a majority of citizens, in America as elsewhere in the West, is willing to "leave it up to the government" to make decisions on everything that matters. On the face of it, the choice between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church should not be a tough one. On the one hand, we have the plain language of the First Amendment as stated in the U.S. Constitution since 1791:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

On the other, we have a regulation invented by executive order under the vast powers given to Kathleen Sebelius under a 2,500-page catalogue of statist enforcement passed into law by a government party that didn't even bother to read it.

Commissar Sebelius says that she is trying to "strike the appropriate balance." But these two things – a core, bedrock, constitutional principle, and Section 47(e)viii of Micro-Regulation Four Bazillion And One issued by Leviathan's Bureau of Compliance – are not equal, and you can only "balance" them by massively increasing state power and massively diminishing the citizen's. Or, to put it more benignly, by "leaving it up to the government to make good decisions."

Some of us have been here before. For most of the last five years, I've been battling Canada's so-called "human rights" commissions, and similar thought police in Britain, Europe and elsewhere. As I write this, I'm in Australia, to talk up the cause of free speech, which is, alas, endangered even in that great land. In that sense, the "latest hot topic" – the clash between Obama and American Catholics – is, in fact, a perfect distillation of the broader struggle in the West today. When it comes to human rights, I go back to 1215 and Magna Carta – or, to give it its full name, Magna Carta Libertatum. My italics: I don't think they had them back in 1215. But they understood that "libertatum" is the word that matters. Back then, "human rights" were rights of humans, of individuals – and restraints upon the king: They're the rights that matter: limitations upon kingly power. Eight centuries later, we have entirely inverted the principle: "Rights" are now gifts that a benign king graciously showers upon his subjects – the right to "free" health care, to affordable housing, the "right of access to a free placement service" (to quote the European Constitution's "rights" for workers). The Democratic National Committee understands the new school of rights very well: In its recent video, Obama's bureaucratic edict is upgraded into the "right to contraception coverage at no additional cost." And, up against a "human right" as basic as that, how can such peripheral rights as freedom of conscience possibly compete?

The transformation of "human rights" from restraints upon state power into a pretext for state power is nicely encapsulated in the language of Article 14 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which states that everyone has the right "to receive free compulsory education." Got that? You have the human right to be forced to do something by the government.

Commissar Sebelius isn't the only one interested in "striking the appropriate balance" between individual liberty and state compulsion. Everyone talks like that these days. For Canada's Chief Censor, Jennifer Lynch, freedom of expression is just one menu item in the great all-you-can-eat salad bar of rights, so don't be surprised if we're occasionally out of stock. Instead, why not try one of our tasty nutritious rights du jour? Like the human right to a transsexual labiaplasty, or the human right of McDonald's employees not to have to wash their hands after visiting the bathroom. Commissar Lynch puts it this way:

"The modern conception of rights is that of a matrix with different rights and freedoms mutually reinforcing each other to build a strong and durable human rights system."

That would be a matrix as in some sort of intricate biological sequencing very few people can understand? Or a Matrix as in the illusory world created to maintain a supine citizenry by all-controlling government officials? The point is, with so many pseudo-"rights" bouncing around, you need a bigger and bigger state: Individual rights are less important than a "rights system" – i.e., a government bureaucracy.

This perversion of rights is killing the Western world. First, unlike real rights – to freedom of speech and freedom of religion – these new freedoms come with quite a price tag. All the free stuff is free in the sense of those offers that begin "You pay nothing now!" But you will eventually. No nation is rich enough to give you all this "free" stuff year in, year out. Spain's government debt works out to $18,000 per person, France's to $33,000, Greece's to $39,000. Thank God we're not Greece, huh? Er, in fact, according to the Senate Budget Committee, U.S. government debt is currently $44,215 per person. Going by the official Obama budget numbers, it will rise over the next 10 years to $75,000. As I say, that's per person: 75 grand in debt for every man, woman and child, not to mention every one of the ever swelling ranks of retirees and disabled Social Security recipients – or about $200,000 per household.

So maybe you're not interested in philosophical notions of liberty vs. statism – like Danica Patrick, tens of millions of people are happy to "leave it up to the government to make good decisions." Maybe you're relatively relaxed about the less theoretical encroachments of Big Government – the diversion of so much American energy into "professional services," all the lawyering and bookkeeping and paperwork shuffling necessary to keep you and your economic activity in full compliance with the Bureau of Compliance. But at some point, no matter how painless the seductions of statism, you run up against the hard math: As those debt per capita numbers make plain, all this "free" stuff is doing is mortgaging your liberty and lining up a future of serfdom.

I used to think that the U.S. Constitution would prove more resilient than the less-absolutist liberties of other Western nations. But the president has calculated that, with Obamacare, the First Amendment and much else will crumble before his will. And, given trends in U.S. jurisprudence, who's to say he won't get his way? That's the point about all this "free" stuff: Ultimately, it's not about your rights, but about his.


Did 'The Great Society' ruin society?

by Patrick J. Buchanan
February 24, 2012

Lyndon Johnson delivers "The Great Society" speech at Ann Arbor, Michigan on May 22, 1964.

"I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair, I'll fix it."

Thus did Mitt Romney supposedly commit the gaffe of the month -- for we are not to speak of the poor without unctuous empathy.

Yet, as Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation reports in "Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts About America's Poor," Mitt was more right about America's magnanimity than those who bewail her alleged indifference.

First, who are the poor?

To qualify, a family of four in 2010 needed to earn less than $22,314. Some 46 million Americans, 15 percent of the population, qualified.

And in what squalor were America's poor forced to live?

Well, 99 percent had a refrigerator and stove, two-thirds had a plasma TV, a DVD player and access to cable or satellite, 43 percent were on the Internet, half had a video game system like PlayStation or Xbox.

Three-fourths of the poor had a car or truck, nine in 10 a microwave, 80 percent had air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

America's poor enjoy amenities almost no one had in the 1950s, when John K. Galbraith described us as "The Affluent Society."

What about homelessness? Are not millions of America's poor on the street at night, or shivering in shelters or crowded tenements?

Well, actually, no. That is what we might call televised poverty. Of the real poor, fewer than 10 percent live in trailers, 40 percent live in apartments, and half live in townhouses or single-family homes.

Forty-one percent of poor families own their own home.

But are they not packed in like sardines, one on top of another?

Not exactly. The average poor person's home in America has 1,400 square feet -- more living space than do Europeans in 23 of the 25 wealthiest countries on the continent.

Two-thirds of America's poor have two rooms per person, while 94 percent have at least one room per person in the family dwelling.

Only one in 25 poor persons in America uses a homeless shelter, and only briefly, sometime during the year.

What about food? Do not America's poor suffer chronically from malnutrition and hunger?

Not so. The daily consumption of proteins, vitamins and minerals of poor children is roughly the same as that of the middle class, and the poor consume more meat than the upper middle class.

Some 84 percent of America's poor say they always have enough food to eat, while 13 percent say sometimes they do not, and less than 4 percent say they often do not have enough to eat.

Only 2.6 percent of poor children report stunted growth. Poor kids in America are, on average, an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the youth of the Greatest Generation that won World War II.

In fiscal year 2011, the U.S. government spent $910 billion on 70 means-tested programs, which comes to an average of $9,000 per year on every lower-income person in the United States.

Among the major programs from which the poor receive benefits are Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food program, Medicaid, public housing, low-income energy assistance and the Social Service Block Grant.

Children of the poor are educated free, K-12, and eligible for preschool Head Start, and Perkins Grants, Pell Grants and student loans for college.

Lyndon Johnson told us this was the way to build a Great Society.

Did we? Federal and state spending on social welfare is approaching $1 trillion a year, $17 trillion since the Great Society was launched, not to mention private charity. But we have witnessed a headlong descent into social decomposition.

Half of all children born to women under 30 in America now are illegitimate. Three in 10 white children are born out of wedlock, as are 53 percent of Hispanic babies and 73 percent of black babies.

Rising right along with the illegitimacy rate is the drug-use rate, the dropout rate, the crime rate and the incarceration rate.

The family, cinder block of society, is disintegrating, and along with it, society itself. Writes Rector, "The welfare system is more like a 'safety bog' than a safety net."

Heritage scholars William Beach and Patrick Tyrrell put Rector's numbers in perspective:

"Today ... 67.3 million Americans -- from college students to retirees to welfare beneficiaries -- depend on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid or other assistance. ... The United States reached another milestone in 2010. For the first time in history, half the population pays no federal income taxes."

The 19th century statesman John C. Calhoun warned against allowing government to divide us into "tax-payers and tax-consumers." This, he said, "would give rise to two parties and to violent conflicts and struggles between them, to obtain the control of the government."

We are there, Mr. Calhoun, we are there.

- Patrick J. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, The Death of the West, The Great Betrayal, A Republic, Not an Empire,Where the Right Went Wrong, and most recently Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? 

Herbert Hoover's Long-Awaited Magnum Opus

Our 31st President's secret history of World War II is now available.

By & from the February 2012 issue of The American Spectator

Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover's Secret History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath
Edited with an introduction by George H. Nash
(Hoover Institution Press, cxx + 957 pages, $49.95)

"I have not got too far to go [in writing my Magnum Opus] and this is the most important job of my remaining years." Thus wrote former President Herbert Hoover in 1963, after almost 20 years of work on his secret history of World War II. During that war, Hoover watched in dismay as events unfolded; he went on a mission to collect the evidence to reveal the real story of the mishandled war—the mistakes of statesmanship, the lost opportunities for peace, and the disastrous consequences of this most devastating war in the history of the world. Yet, despite requests from eager publishers, Hoover never released his book during his lifetime, and neither would his family after his death. Until now.

We will analyze the contents of this remarkable book, but first, what is the story behind it? In 1933, Hoover left the White House, thrashed in his reelection bid by Franklin Roosevelt. Hoover, as a trained engineer in Stanford's first graduating class, had been a world traveler and a statesman of the first rank. He served as Food Administrator under Woodrow Wilson during World War I and Secretary of Commerce under Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Hoover was a major player on the world stage and a logical candidate for the Republicans to nominate for president in 1928. His easy victory in that election, however, was followed by stress, setbacks, and the Great Depression. Roosevelt's triumph four years later was hardly surprising, but Hoover did not leave quietly. After a year of silence, he wrote Challenge to Liberty, a sharp criticism of the growth of government under FDR. Six years later, rejected by Roosevelt and ignored by Republicans, Hoover watched as an "avoidable" second world war emerged, sucking in the U.S., and then eroding liberty and threatening to destroy the victors as well as the vanquished.

In 1944, Hoover began collecting documents that would help explain the causes and consequences of what he considered to be the mishandled war. He started with newspapers and, over time, added accounts of the war published by participants. Then came the secondary sources, books about Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins, Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, and Joseph Stalin. Hoover's Magnum Opus, as he called it, was more than a passive account of what happened, because Hoover himself was involved directly in the war relief of Finland and Poland. He also wrote letters to major players in the war and conducted interviews with them to discover the truth about how the war had originated and evolved. Hoover did not do archival research, but he knew key leaders throughout the world and tried to use their letters and conversations with him to fill in gaps. Thus, the book is unique—part primary source and part secondary source. Close to half of the book is a reprinting of documents and letters that Hoover assembled.

During the 1950s, when the world war was still a dominant topic, several publishers, such as Henry Regnery, eagerly sought to print Hoover's book, but he could not let it go. Interestingly, Hoover was a workaholic and published his memoirs and other books on topics ranging from politics to fishing. For his Magnum Opus, however, he hired a platoon of typists and researchers to do draft after draft, swelling the manuscript to 1,400 typed pages. But he never released it.

George Nash, the nation's foremost Hoover scholar, gingerly speculates that Hoover became a perfectionist, rewriting, editing, and adding new information on the war as it became available. Nash notes that Hoover, whose reputation was somewhat rehabilitated during the 1950s, may have been reluctant to suffer the almost certain negative reaction that would flow from the friends of FDR and intervention.

The fear of negative reaction probably did influence his heirs to pack the manuscript into storage in 1964, after Hoover's death that year. And maybe those fears haunted Hoover as well. During his career, we should note, he often suffered criticism willingly for what he thought was right. For example, in 1932, President Hoover confronted about 10,000 or so veterans who had descended on Washington, D.C., to lobby for a special federal subsidy for those who had served their country in war. Hoover, and the Senate, said no, and when many veterans remained, Hoover became alarmed at their protests. Then, concerned about violence because the veterans camped so close to the Capitol, Hoover dispatched General Douglas MacArthur with troops to remove the raucous veterans from the Capitol area. But Hoover explicitly told MacArthur to use diplomacy, not firepower. MacArthur, for whatever reason, did attack the veterans, injuring some, and chasing them with infantry and cavalry supported by six tanks all the way to Maryland. The press excoriated Hoover, but the president took full responsibility and was mum on MacArthur's disobedience. Duty prevailed over political self-interest. And that was in the midst of Hoover's reelection campaign. Roosevelt, when he heard about the slaughter of the veterans, reportedly announced to Felix Frankfurter, "Well, Felix, this will elect me."

The man who would suffer such criticism surely would not cave in to critics who would fault his history of World War II. But maybe he would. In 1952, with Hoover's reputation on the rise, he published a volume of his presidential memoirs and for the first time revealed MacArthur's duplicity. Hoover, historians would now have to write, was not to blame for the massacre of veterans. At almost the same time as Hoover tattled on MacArthur, he was refusing to publish his sensational, but controversial, history of World War II. Perhaps, as Hoover approached the age of eighty, his concern with posterity was outweighing his concern with wartime analysis.

WHATEVER THE CASE, the Hoover Institution has at last published Hoover's remarkable book. It was initially titled Lost Statesmanship, but Hoover changed it to Freedom Betrayed. George Nash has exquisitely edited the book and has provided a long and lucid introduction to it. Hoover organized his book chronologically into three "volumes." The first volume covered the breakout of war in Europe until the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The second volume centered on the war itself, with the focus on political negotiations and the conferences held by the Allies. The third volume includes case histories of Poland, China, Korea, and Germany during and after the war. At the end is an Appendix of selected documents related to Hoover's research and to the war itself.

Hoover's book is indeed controversial because most histories of World War II stress the positive—the fall of Hitler, the triumph of the Allies, and the creation of a United Nations afterward to preserve and enforce peace after the guns of war became silent. These historians call it "the good war": the U.S. finally grew up as a nation among nations, ceased its isolationism, and spearheaded the war effort, with the founding of the UN afterward. True, the peace proved to be fragile. The Russians aggressively marched into Eastern Europe, the Cold War emerged, and a new "limited war" erupted in Korea. But that was not the fault of FDR and others, who fought the good war, won it, and tried to give peace to the next generation.

Freedom Betrayed disputes this popular view on almost every point. Hoover argues that a major war may have been avoidable, and should have played out with much less damage. Hitler, of course, was a dangerous tyrant, but his ability to expand was limited. The U.S., in particular, was in no danger—if Hitler couldn't conquer Britain 22 miles across the English Channel, Hoover quipped, he certainly couldn't take his second-rate navy across the Atlantic to challenge North and South America. Even much of Europe would have been safe. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Hoover stressed, should never have guaranteed aid to Poland from German attack. Eventually Germany and Russia would have been the chief warring nations. "We should have let those two bastards annihilate themselves," Hoover said privately after the war.

Hoover singles out FDR for special blame. He became a war hawk in 1939 "to divert public attention from the failure of the New Deal.…" Then he pretended to be the candidate of peace in order to win a third term in 1940. But after he was safely reelected, "the tone changed; there was no more 'short of war' or promises to keep out. On the contrary, soon in 1941 there began a series of provocations and actions by the administration which amounted to an undeclared war upon Germany, and a few months later upon Japan." Specifically, FDR pushed Lend-Lease, which allowed him extra-constitutional powers to ship arms to England; soon, contrary to his promises, the president was convoying British ships to pick up and deliver loads of military equipment from the U.S. The president also provoked the Japanese by refusing to trade oil and scrap iron with them. Hoover believes that FDR bungled by allowing a devastating surprise attack at Pearl Harbor: by sending so many fighter planes and antiaircraft guns to foreign governments through Lend-Lease, Roosevelt left Hawaii without a means of adequate defense.

Hoover has special scorn for FDR's decision to give billions of dollars of Lend-Lease aid to the Soviet Union, "one of the bloodiest tyrannies and terrors ever erected in history." As Hoover said at the time, "Joining in a war alongside Stalin to impose freedom is a travesty." After the war, Stalin used American planes, guns, gas, and food to help conquer Eastern Europe. Furthermore, when Roosevelt endorsed "unconditional surrender" for the Germans, he gave them incentives to keep fighting to the death, extending the war unnecessarily and costing thousands of American lives.

HOOVER VIEWED NOT ONLY World War II but war in general very differently from Roosevelt. Hoover, for example, was appalled by war—and saw firsthand its devastating effects on everyone involved. Under President Wilson, Hoover visited Europe regularly during the First World War. He headed food and relief efforts throughout Europe, but was always saddened by war's devastation. Aside from the destruction of property and lives, and the "spiritual degradation" as well, Hoover studied the financial burdens. In the U.S., for example, national debt increased from $1.2 billion in 1916 to $24 billion in 1920. That included almost $10 billion in loans to European countries, almost none of which (except for Finland) was repaid. Tax rates on income skyrocketed from 7 percent in 1913 to 73 percent in 1921, when Hoover took office as secretary of commerce. "Those who would have us again go to war to save democracy," George Nash quotes Hoover as saying in 1938, "might give a little thought to the likelihood that we would come out of any such struggle a despotism ourselves."

Hoover's fears were partly realized when America entered World War II. Franklin Roosevelt used the wartime emergency to become an imperial president; through executive orders, he gained the power to close any stock exchange, order the military to take over any land, disregard tariffs, and control radio stations. FDR's War Production Board (WPB) directed the allocation of raw materials and fuel during the war for all segments of the economy. Roosevelt also set up dozens of other regulatory agencies, and the American people generally went along with these intrusions on their liberties in the patriotic fervor of "let's win the war!"

Roosevelt also pushed to have Japanese Americans interned in relocation camps, even though J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI found the Japanese on the West Coast to be no threat to national security. FDR knew that he would gain votes in California and other states by such a move. In regard to taxes, Roosevelt expanded the federal income tax until 65 percent of Americans were paying into government coffers by 1943. Before World War II, only 5 percent of Americans had paid any income tax at all.

To Roosevelt, World War II was a unique and exciting chance to centralize authority and remake the world—quite a different view from that of Herbert Hoover. Roosevelt had no battlefield experience, and only viewed World War I sites after the war was over. As we point out in FDR Goes to War, Roosevelt exaggerated his accomplishments as assistant secretary of war under Wilson. When campaigning for Vice President in 1920, for example, he boasted to two audiences that he wrote the Haiti constitution—but he had never been to Haiti, or had any part in writing its constitution. As president, in 1942, he told Churchill that he (Roosevelt) could "personally handle Stalin better than either your Foreign Office or my State Department." That same year, as Hoover discovered, he told General John J. Pershing that he (Roosevelt) was better informed on war strategy than anyone in the Army "including you, General." Roosevelt believed he could charm Stalin, lead the Allies to victory, and then, with Stalin's help, set up the United Nations and establish world peace for a generation. Thus for Roosevelt, eagerly entering and then fighting World War II was a small price to pay for such a great reward.

Hoover, by contrast, saw carnage and destruction. Always a humanitarian, Hoover tried to help war refugees from the earliest days of World War II. In 1940, even before the U.S. entered the conflict, he drew attention to a plan to get food to the starving masses in Poland; his plan was rebuffed by the British and other powers, because such supplies would simply wind up in the hands of the Nazis. Hoover's plan showed that at times he could certainly be very naïve, but he also was more of a realist than Franklin Roosevelt about the ultimate cost of war. "I was opposed to the war and every step of policies in it," he wrote in Freedom Betrayed. He even opposed dropping atomic bombs on Japan to end the war. "I have no apologies, no regrets." He added, "The victors in modern war are in reality the vanquished."

NOW THAT WE ARE at a distance of seven decades since World War II, historians may be in position to take a more balanced view of both Herbert Hoover and FDR. During Hoover's lifetime, he was hamstrung by his failures to cope with the financial crisis that deepened into the Great Depression. Much of that was his own fault. For example, against the advice of one thousand economists, he signed into law the highly restrictive Smoot-Hawley Tariff. Nations all over Europe refused to buy American if the U.S. would not buy European. In fact, Smoot-Hawley, the highest tariff in U.S. history, gave England and France the perfect excuse to stall on repaying their debts to the U.S.: If Americans will not import our products, how can we gain the cash to repay what we owe them from World War I?

After a failed presidency, Hoover's views on both foreign and domestic policy were lumped together and ridiculed; FDR ignored him. When Truman assumed office, he met with Hoover and appointed him to lead with food relief for Europe. Hoover helped to feed millions of starving Europeans with free American food after the war. Historians, however, have painted Hoover as a cold, remote president, a far different picture from the humanitarian benefactor that he was after both world wars.

In the wake of the Cold War, which quickly followed World War II, and the U.S. lack of success in limited wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, the world may be readier for Hoover's Magnum Opus. Freedom Betrayed may not have improved with age, but Americans today may be more willing to believe it than they were during Hoover's last years.

About the Author

Burton Folsom, Jr. is professor of history at Hillsdale College and author of New Deal or Raw Deal? (Simon & Schuster, 2008). His new book, co-authored with Anita Folsom, is FDR Goes to War: How Expanded Executive Power, Spiraling National Debt, and Restricted Civil Liberties Shaped Wartime America (Simon & Schuster, 2011).

About the Author

Anita Folsom works at Hillsdale College and is co-author of FDR Goes to War: How Expanded Executive Power, Spiraling National Debt, and Restricted Civil Liberties Shaped Wartime America (Simon & Schuster, 2011).

Today's Tune: Justin Townes Earle - Turn Out My Lights (Live)

The high priests of eco-destruction

By Michelle Malkin
February 22, 2012

Rick Santorum is right. Pushing back against Democrats’ attempts to frame him as a religious menace, the GOP presidential candidate forcefully turned the tables on the White House: “When it comes to the management of the Earth, they are the anti-science ones.”

Scrutiny of the White House anti-science brigade couldn’t come at a better time (which is why Santorum’s detractors prefer to froth at the mouth about comments he made four years ago on the existence of Satan). It’s not just big-ticket scandals like the stimulus-subsidized Solyndra bankruptcy or the Keystone pipeline debacle bedeviling America. In every corner of the Obama administration, the radical green machinery is hard at work — destroying jobs, shredding truth and sacrificing our economic well-being at the altar of environmentalism.

–Take Obama’s head of the National Park Service, please. While serving as the Pacific West regional director of the NPS, Jon Jarvis was accused of at least 21 instances of scientific misconduct (pdf) by Dr. Corey Goodman, a high-ranking member of the National Academy of Sciences. Extensive information about Jarvis’ alleged role in cooking data about a California oyster farm’s impact on harbor seals at Point Reyes was withheld during the 2009 nomination process. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ignored complaints and follow-up from both Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republican Sens. James Inhofe and David Vitter.

The National Research Council determined that the NPS had “selectively” slanted its report on the oyster farm. The federal Marine Mammal Commission found that “the data and analyses are not sufficient to demonstrate a causal relationship” between the farm’s operations and harbor seal health. In a letter blasting the NPS for bullying the small oyster farm, Feinstein — normally a reliable eco-ally — concluded earlier this month that the “crux of the problem is that the Park Service manipulated science while building a case that the business should be shuttered.”

Given Salazar’s own role in manipulating science while building his case for the White House offshore drilling moratorium — actions for which several federal judges spanked Salazar in the past two years — it’s no wonder he’s looking the other way. Remember: Two years ago, Salazar and former Obama eco-czar Carol Browner falsely rewrote the White House drilling ban report to wholly manipulate the Obama-appointed panel’s own overwhelming scientific objections to the job-killing edict. Despite repeated judicial slaps for their “determined disregard” for the law, the Obama administration continues to suppress documents related to that junk science scandal. Last month, House Republicans threatened to subpoena the Interior Department for information. Call it a greenwash.

Water wars and the Delta smelt. The infamous, endangered three-inch fish and its environmental protectors continue to jeopardize the water supply of more than 25 million Californians. Federal restrictions have cut off some 81 billion gallons of water to farmers and consumers in Central and Southern California. Previous courts have ruled that the federal biological opinions used to justify the water cutoff were invalid and illegal. Last September, the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of California admonished two federal scientists for acting in “bad faith.” The judge’s blistering rebuke of the Obama administration scientists concluded that their slanted testimony about the delta smelt was “an attempt to mislead and to deceive the Court into accepting what is not only not the best science, it’s not science.”

GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, who represents the hard-hit San Joaquin Valley area, noted that Salazar recently “doubled down on the illegal policies of the Department of Interior and attacked critics as narrow minded and politically motivated. Ironically, these were the same basic criticisms levied against his department by the federal court.”

While Salazar manufactures a new biological opinion on the matter to get the courts off his back, unemployment and drought plague the Central Valley. And the White House stands by its “scientists.”
Dams in distress. In Siskiyou County, Ore., local officials and residents announced last week that it intends to sue Salazar and Team Obama over their potential removal of dams on the Klamath River. Once again, the administration’s systematic disregard for sound science and the rule of law is in the spotlight.

Salazar is expected to make a decision by the end of March on environmentalists’ demands that four private hydroelectric dams be demolished to protect salmon habitats and “create” demolition and habitat restoration jobs. Opponents say Salazar has already predetermined the outcome. Green activists blithely ignore the massive taxpayer costs (an estimated half-billion dollars) and downplay the environmental destruction the dam removals would impose. GOP Rep. Tom McClintock put it most charitably: “To tear down four perfectly good hydroelectric dams at enormous cost is insane.”
People of faith aren’t what’s bedeviling America. Blame the high voodoo priests of eco-destruction in Washington who have imposed a green theocracy on us all. Science be damned.

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