By Chrissie Dickinson
The Chicago Tribune
September 17, 2012
It's not every day we get to talk to a country music icon who waxes poetic about agape love, quotes John Lennon and collaborates with Beck. This would be the singular Dwight Yoakam, a post-modern cowboy with a steel-trap mind who easily recalls his video shoot in Chicago more than two decades ago.
Yoakam is on the phone, reminiscing about his 1986 music video for his early hit "Guitars, Cadillacs." Watch the video and you'll see a shot of the storied ballroom in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, the Aragon, with the marquee advertising Yoakam on a bill with the Violent Femmes. You'll also see footage of the young Yoakam, guitar in hand, standing in front of Sharon's Hillbilly Heaven, the late, lamented country dive that once stood across the street from the Aragon and had a jukebox packed with Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn and Johnny Paycheck.
"Sharon's Hillbilly Heaven," Yoakam says. "There's a shot of me and these Native American kids walking by me. Sherman Halsey was the director on that. He shot that video all the way up from Texas to Chicago and that was some of the final footage."
Today, Sharon's Hillbilly Heaven is gone, but the Aragon still thrives. As does Yoakam, 55, who releases his smart new album, "3 Pears" (Warner Bros. Records) on Tuesday.
The release is his first all-new studio album in seven years, and it finds the singer-songwriter back on his original major label. The CD is produced by Yoakam, with Beck co-producing on two tracks. Kid Rock turns up as a co-writer on a song.
Through it all is Yoakam's unmistakable voice, a distinctive instrument filled with cutting twang, melancholy tones and the occasional rockabilly hiccup and blue yodel. The CD is classic Dwight and continues his reputation as a country artist with deep roots who has also effortlessly absorbed a number of styles, from string-laden pop to cowpunk to first-wave rock 'n' roll. "3 Pears" finds Yoakam moving from the pulsing beat and precisely stinging electric guitars of "Take Hold of My Hand" to the mournful love song "Trying" to a muscular, modernized raveup of the classic "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)."
"He's always been a sponge as far as soaking up influences," says veteran music critic Don McLeese, a journalism professor at the University of Iowa and author of the recently published "Dwight Yoakam: A Thousand Miles From Nowhere" (University of Texas Press). "His first two albums were hard-core honky-tonk, but after that he's been throwing curveball after curveball. And I think most of the material is very strong on this album. It all holds together. Even though people like Beck and Kid Rock are involved, I don't think any of that seems exploitative. It all sounds like Dwight."
Beginning with his major label debut in 1986, Yoakam managed a nearly singular feat as a country artist: His appeal has ranged across the board demographically, from mainstream country fans to bikers to alt-country hipsters to straight-up rock fans who otherwise have no taste for twang.
"There's always been a rock dynamic to what he does, but it's always been rooted in really traditional twang and country," McLeese says. "I think he's been able to appeal to both constituencies without compromising."
Yoakam is a thoughtful and skilled songwriter. He speaks of the artistic process in spiritual terms, his language as heady as it is sincere. "I believe we're born knowing a lot more than we remember and we're taught to forget (for) the rest of our lives. That's what songwriting is to me — a momentary touchstone of remembering on some small scale what we've been taught to forget."
Yoakam grows expansive on the subject. "To me, it's almost as if (the songs) are already there. I think it's like the approach to sculpting where you're just trying to chip away to the existing sculpture that is already there underneath the rest of the rock. That's what I am always continuing to learn to do with songs. It's a process of discovery for me. The song is there, waiting to be discovered."
He quotes Lennon: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Yoakam talks about universal love in terms similar to the late Beatle.
"As bad as it is, or as failed as moments can be in life, in my heart I still believe that love ... " he says, pausing to collect his thoughts. "It's that universal sense that somewhere in existence is the agape version of love. We share something in common with the fabric of the whole universe that connects us."
Yoakam has also made a second career for himself as a respected character actor with indelible performances in such films as "Red Rock West," "Sling Blade" and "Panic Room."
He's come a long way from home. Yoakam was born in Kentucky, raised in Ohio and lit out for California at 2. So how, exactly, did this country kid manage to attain the dream?
"I think the willingness to live outside the reach of self-doubt was one of my strengths," Yoakam says. "However you arrive at the ability to ignore self-doubt — if you can acquire it or possess it or find it or discover it — move beyond self-doubt."
By Andrew C. McCarthy
September 22, 2012
If they lie, you can’t trust them. That’s a fairly straightforward rule. It is certainly the one that trial lawyers bank on.
It is not a hard and fast rule. A person may shade the truth for various reasons: vanity, personal allegiances, financial incentives, etc. Usually, once you figure out the relevant motivation, you can sort out on what matters he is probably credible and what he is prone to lie about. Sometimes, though, the story is so unbelievable, so insulting to the intelligence, that a rational juror knows it is best to discount all of the testimony — or, worse, to conclude that the truth is likely the opposite of the witness’s desperate version.
Of course, all the world’s a stage, not a courtroom. I am reminded of this when, as now, I happen to have a book out (Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy) that speaks to events currently roiling the world. I am reminded, that is, that I am no longer a trial lawyer making arguments to a jury. Now I am a writer who makes his arguments to the public and, at book-publication times like these, through the prism of the mainstream media. So it was that, in a few interviews this week, I have been asked about two currently raging symptoms of “Spring Fever,” the Libya attacks and the Blind Sheikh.
Today’s journalists do not resemble jurors. The interviews proceed in a now-familiar pattern. We go through the events of last week’s atrocity in Libya, where U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were murdered in Benghazi. Again and again, Obama-administration officials insisted that the killings were the result of spontaneous rioting over an obscure movie casting Islam’s prophet in an unflattering light — a movie from months ago, a movie virtually no one knew about, much less saw, a production so cockamamie that calling it a “movie” fails the straight-face test.
As the administration well knew, this was a coordinated jihadist attack led by al-Qaeda-affiliated forces, clearly well-trained and equipped with sophisticated weapons. One of the participants was a former Gitmo prisoner, detained there for years because it was patent that, given the chance, he’d go back to the jihad. There appears to have been forewarning about likely trouble on the 9/11 anniversary.
Did anyone really need in-depth intelligence to recognize these dangers? Part of the reason the United States struck up an alliance with Qaddafi’s despicable regime was his intelligence cooperation: Per capita, Libya sent more jihadists to Iraq to fight against American troops than any other country. The only difference between then and now is that, with Obama having toppled Qaddafi in a war the U.S. launched without provocation and on the side of al-Qaeda, the rabidly anti-American Islamists of Benghazi now have access to high-powered weaponry previously unavailable to them. A movie? Before the president ever got to his unseemly Vegas fundraiser, with the nation still mourning its dead, it was pluperfectly obvious that we’d been subjected to a terrorist strike that had nothing to do with a moronic movie.
Yet our U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, repeated the farcical Obama-admnistration line with a straight face. It was insulting, and even reporters for whom Obama can do no wrong could not take it seriously. In some of my interviews there has been nervous laughter — not over the situation, which is so deadly serious, but over the administration’s line, which has been ludicrous.
But then we get to the Blind Sheikh. I prosecuted Omar Abdel Rahman back in my former trial-lawyer life. He is less than 20 years into his life sentence for terrorism convictions. During his time in prison, he nevertheless managed to issue the fatwa Osama bin Laden credited as the required sharia green-light for the 9/11 attacks. So I have been asked often this week about reports that he may be transferred to his native Egypt. There, as Spring Fever demonstrates, the populace is overwhelmingly adherent to the supremacist Islam that dominates the Middle East. There, his war against America makes him a hero, and he would be welcomed, triumphantly, as such.
Could that possibly happen? “You bet it could,” I’ve told my interlocutors, “it could and it will.” Watch for the frightening weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day, when, no matter who wins the election, Barack Obama will retain all the awesome power of the presidency without any of the accountability of an impending election.
“But wait,” I’m admonished. “They’ve denied it. The Justice Department has denied it. So has the State Department, and at least one member of the National Security Council. How much clearer can they be?”
I don’t know. How much clearer could they have been about Libya?
The Obama administration is the witness whose testimony a jury would discount out of hand. We trust jurors to decide important questions because they bring to the task the common sense of the community. After Libya, the sensible person says, “Never again.” The sensible person does not even see the point of asking Obama officials for information.
Not the media, though. Whether it is Libya, the “practically complete fence” along the Mexican border, the Obamacare tax that is not a tax, the indignant denial of gun-running, cutting the deficit in half by the end of the first term, the composite girlfriend, the “most transparent administration in history,” and so on — the media compartmentalizes from lie to lie, assessing the next as if the last had never happened.
Does the president rate the benefit of the doubt at this point? Seriously?
No way this administration would spring a notorious terrorist? Are you kidding?
The president has already released the terrorists responsible for murdering our five soldiers in Karbala. In his last go-round at Justice, Eric Holder orchestrated pardons for convicted FALN terrorists — pardons signed off on by President Clinton, who went on to release two convicted Weather Underground terrorists on his way out the Oval Office door.
There is nothing new here. Reports that the State Department was discussing a transfer of the Blind Sheikh back to Egypt surfaced months ago, in the context of a potential swap for democracy activists the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was then detaining. The administration then issued a visa to Hani Nour Eldin, a member of the Islamic Group — the Blind Sheikh’s terrorist organization, to which it is a felony to provide material assistance. The purpose was to invite Eldin to, yes, the White House, for consultations with top American national-security officials on prospective relations between the United States and the new, Islamist Egypt. As the administration had to know he would do, he pressed his top agenda item: The United States must return the Blind Sheikh as a “gift to the revolution.”
Eldin obviously felt very comfortable making the demand. We do not know exactly what he was told or what message he took back to Egypt. We do know that shortly afterward, as soon as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was announced as winner of the July presidential election, Morsi publicly vowed to pressure the United States to transfer the Blind Sheikh back home.
Did the Obama administration express outrage? Did the president tell Morsi, “Not in a million years”? No, he dispatched Secretary of State Clinton to Cairo for a friendly face-to-face meeting with Morsi — right after she paid a visit to the ruling generals, squeezing them to surrender power to the popularly elected Brotherhood regime. Then the Obama administration got about the business of planning both more billions in aid for Egypt and a red-carpet welcome for Morsi at the White House — the kind of meeting our actual ally, Israel, asked for but can’t seem to get as our busy commander-in-chief bounces from David Letterman to Jay-Z.
But don’t worry: Obama would never send the Blind Sheikh back to Egypt after the election, when the wrath of voters is no longer a concern for him. After all, administration officials have sworn otherwise, and we know we can take that to the bank, right?
When it comes to the minute details of his career, Chris Knight leaves it to the professionals. The singer-songwriter worries about really matters: the music. His songs are born from experience and his every day life in tiny Slaughters, Ky., population 200. His latest album, Little Victories, is a broad depiction of that life, emblazoned with the hopes, fears and spirit of the American dream. Themes of building something from nothing, and holding on to what you've got, are strung throughout the record, delivered with conviction. The Boot sat down with the iconic tunesmith to talk about some of the real stories behind the songs and working with his musical hero on the title track.
How did having John Prine sing on "Little Victories" -- which is such a positive song about coping with hard times -- come about?
I'd opened a couple of shows (for John) a few years ago and sang backup on his encore, "Paradise." His bass player, Dave Jacques, used to play with me, too. Then, I got to working with (producer) Ray Kennedy, and he said, "I might try to get John Prine to come over here and sing on this." He just sent the song and let him listen to it, and I guess he liked it because he came down and sang on it.
Did you get to be in the studio at the same time or did they record your vocals at different times?
They cleared everybody out of the studio. No, I'm kidding. I was there. I was real glad to have him come down and it, because he was a big influence on me. I learned to finger pick listening to John Prine records. Except a handful of Jackson Browne and Dan Fogelbergsongs, I played mostly John Prine songs up until I started writing my own stuff. I'm not anybody to get starstruck. I was fairly quiet, and didn't ask him stuff I really wanted to ask him because I didn't want to bug him. We talked, and he's just like you'd think he would be from watching his shows.
You can really hear his influence in your phrasing, but you've got your own, very visual way of telling stories.
I've got a big family. My grandmother lived a couple months shy of 100. I used to talk to her all the time. She told me enough stories that I could write my next 10 albums just about my family. I grew up in a real rural area, small town, so that's where it all came from. As far as being visual, I wish I could write a song that didn't have to be so visual and make it work, but it's always easier for me if I paint a picture, like a movie or a short story.
A lot of songs on the album talk about being self-sustaining and taking care of your own. What's a normal day at home like for you?
I live way out in the country. I have 40 acres of land, a horse. I don't play all day, I don't have four wheelers. If the yard needs mowing, I mow the yard. Trash needs hauling, I do it. I have a barn I'm finishing up. We heat with wood, as much as we can. I make sure bills are paid and get the kids where they need to be. All summer long, I was at the ballpark every Monday and Thursday night, because I had three kids playing all on different teams.
About two years ago, your part of Kentucky was paralyzed by an ice storm, leaving your home without power for a month. You can hear reference to it in multiple songs. Did you write a lot during that time?
I had a lot of ideas. I wrote "In the Mean Time" right after that. I didn't have much time to sit around and play my guitar while the power was down, but I did get a lot of ideas out of that. "Little Victories" was one, "Nothing on Me," "Mean Time" and "You Can't Trust No One."
"You Can't Trust No One" is one of the more political songs on the album, calling everyone to "live as one" even though you're "not sure what that means." It sounds like a plea for unity, but recognizing there may not be a direct path.
I've always thought that. I remember telling people 20 years ago, and they'd be like, "Oh, no. Nothing like that could ever happen over here." It absolutely can happen over here and probably will one of these days. The economy is collapsing. There's no way a war will ever happen over here? Well, I hope not, but why not? They've been everywhere else. That may have been where I was going with that, I don't know. It was a fun song to write.
The narrator of "Nothing on Me" sounds like he's had a gritty life -- being shot in a bar fight and pulling out the bullet himself, walking 20 miles in a blizzard, bonding with a three-legged dog ... but the chorus, which speaks to making it against the odds, sounds autobiographical. Is it?
It sounds autobiographical, but it's more something me and Craig Wiseman put together around that hook. I'd actually written another song that had that chorus, and that song became another song. So I still had that chorus and that hook, "ain't got nothing on me," so I played it for Craig. The dog part, I've had dogs all my life. I've got a one, he doesn't have three legs but he's got one he holds up -- so there's the three-legged dog.
You've said that when you asked why the album was coming out on 9/11, you were told that it because it was a Tuesday. However, your second album was released on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks. What was that like?
It was a little spooky actually. I was on the road the next day. People were spooked. Crowds were small. Some of the clubs didn't know if they wanted to have music or not, thought about cancelling. It was pretty somber. We went ahead and did it, though.
Chris Knight's 2012 CD, Little Victories. Photo courtesy of Drifter's Church Productions.
Drawing inspiration from the blue-collar struggles of his hometown, Slaughters, Ky., Chris Knight’s eighth studio album, Little Victories, is a gritty and unflinching look at the troubles facing small town America. There’s a desperate tension running through the 11-song set, due in stores September 11, as the portrait here is often bleak. Yet, through Chris’ mesmerizing growl and vivid storytelling comes a message of self-reliance and strength.
Working with Producer Ray Kennedy (Steve Earle, Todd Snider, Reckless Kelly), Little Victories was recorded mostly live – with amps seemingly turned to 11. The production is raw. Distortion buzzes and drums pound. Just like the hard economic truths that many Americans are facing, there’s no polish. With the pure sounds of acoustic notes and mandolin paired with guttural electric guitar, the album-opener “In The Meantime” ignites the lyrical firestorm. I’m pretty sure that the government ain’t gonna save you, he sings while advocating taking up arms for survival. Chris’ rough voice sounds like a Southern, Rust BeltJohn Mellencamp, while Americana hero Buddy Miller assists with harmonies here and on the following song, “Missing You.” All I know is tough times, Chris sings on hard-charging “Missing You” as desperation looms heavy.
The working man’s struggle and looking out for number one seep from most every song. The melodic “Nothing On Me” begins with Chris digging out a bullet from his own leg after being shot trying to stop a bar fight. I’m a bring-it-on, git-r-done, don’t run, S.O.B., he sings with tough-as-nails sincerity through the rolling chorus. The ¾ time “Out Of This Hole” uses only voice and acoustic guitar when examining the strength that comes from within. Earnest lines like, My mind is sharp and my back is strong, are insightful and humble. On the harmonica-laden title-track, “Little Victories,” that work ethic is put to use with some help from the legendary John Prine, who splits a verse with Chris. I know I ain’t settin’ the world on fire, but I think I got it pretty good, he sings after devising and executing plans to make a couple extra bucks.
Still, there’s no sugarcoating any of the realities on Little Victories. “You Can’t Trust No One” offers a pretty pessimistic view of mankind. Everybody pack your picnic lunch and everybody pack your guns, Chris sings, wishing for a day when we can all get along. Driven by a circular chord progression and some grinding power chords, “Low Down Ramblin’ Blues” employs a seedy character to tell a story of self-inflicted wounds. You party ‘til you wake up, break down and cry, comes the biting line. One of the collection’s most impactful pieces, the downtempo “Hard Edges,” moves slowly to fiddle and banjo as a sad story of emotional neglect takes its toll.
Chris’ remarkable storytelling remains the album’s focus. On the outlaw getaway “Jack Loved Jesse” and the alienated “The Lonesome Way,” sharp writing illustrates the flaws in human nature. “You Lie When You Call My Name,” which was co-written with Lee Ann Womack, details tormented love with a visceral delivery. This type of vivid insight and craft has long been part of his repertoire, and on Little Victories, Chris’ captivating songwriting acknowledges the harsh realities while also offering hope for survival.
Key Tracks – “Nothing On Me,” “Hard Edges,” “You Can’t Trust No One,” “Low Down Ramblin’ Blues”
By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
September 21, 2012
I see the Obama campaign has redesigned the American flag, and very attractive it is, too. Replacing the 50 stars of a federal republic is the single "O" logo symbolizing the great gaping maw of spendaholic centralization. And where the stripes used to be are a handful of red daubs, eerily mimicking the bloody finger streaks left on the pillars of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi as its staff were dragged out by a mob of savages to be tortured and killed. What better symbol could one have of American foreign policy? Who says the slick, hollow, vapid marketing of the Obama campaign doesn't occasionally intersect with reality?
On the latter point, after a week and a half of peddling an utterly false narrative of what happened in Libya, the United States government is apparently beginning to discern that there are limits to what even Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice can say with a straight face. The official line – that the slaughter of American officials was some sort of improvised movie review that got a little out of hand – is now in the process of modification to something bearing a less patently absurd relationship to what actually happened. That should not make any more forgivable the grotesque damage that the administration has done to the bedrock principle of civilized society: freedom of speech.
The more that U.S. government officials talk about the so-called film "Innocence Of Muslims" (which is actually merely a YouTube trailer) the more they confirm the mob's belief that works of "art" are the proper responsibility of government. Obama and Clinton are currently starring as the Siskel & Ebert of Pakistani TV, giving two thumbs-down to "Innocence Of Muslims" in hopes that it will dissuade local movie-goers from giving two heads-off to consular officials. "The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video," says Hillary Clinton. "We absolutely reject its content, and message." "We reject the efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others," adds Barack Obama. There follows the official State Department seal of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.
Fellow government-funded film critics call "Innocence Of Muslims" "hateful and offensive" (Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations) and "reprehensible and disgusting" (Jay Carney, White House press secretary). Gen. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Senior Pentagon Advisor to Variety, has taken to telephoning personally those few movie fans who claim to enjoy the film. He called up Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who apparently thinks "Innocence Of Muslims" is the perfect date movie, to tell him the official position of the United States military is they'd be grateful if he could ease up on the five-star reviews.
Obama and Clinton's two-on-the-aisle act cost $70,000 of taxpayers' money. That may not sound much in the 16 trillion-dollar sinkhole of Washington, but it's a pretty big ad buy in Islamabad, and an improper use of public monies. If government functionaries want to do movie reviews, they should have a PBS fundraiser, offering a "Barack & Hill At The Movies" logo-ed burqa for pledges of over $100, and a complimentary clitoridectomy for pledges over $500. I fought a long battle for freedom of expression north of the border when the Canadian Islamic Congress attempted to criminalize my writing, and I'm proud to say I played a modest role in getting Parliament to strike down a shameful law and restore a semblance of free speech to a country that should never have lost it. So I know a little about how the Western world is shuffling into a psychological bondage of its own making, and it's no small thing when the First Amendment gets swallowed up by the vacuum of American foreign policy.
What other entertainments have senior U.S. officials reviewed lately? Last year Hillary Clinton went to see the Broadway musical "Book of Mormon." "We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others"? The Book of Mormon's big showstopper is "Hasa Diga Eebowai," which apparently translates as "F*** You, God." The U.S. Secretary of State stood and cheered.
Why does Secretary Clinton regard "F*** You, God" as a fun toe-tapper for all the family but "F***, You Allah" as "disgusting and reprehensible"? The obvious answer is that, if you sing the latter, you'll find a far more motivated crowd waiting for you at the stage door. So the "Leader of the Free World" and "the most powerful man in the world" (to revive two cobwebbed phrases nobody seems to apply anymore to the president of the United States) is telling the planet that the way to ensure your beliefs command his "respect" is to be willing to burn and bomb and kill. You Mormons need to get with the program.
Meanwhile, this past week has seen the publication of two controversial magazines in France: One, called Closer, showed Prince William's lovely bride, the Duchess of Cambridge, without her bikini top on. The other, the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, showed some bloke who died in the seventh century without his bikini top on. In response, a kosher grocery store was firebombed, injuring four people. Which group was responsible? Yes, frenzied Anglicans defending the honor of the wife of the future Supreme Governor of the Church of England rampaged through Jewish grocery stores, yelling, "Behead the enemies of the House of Windsor!" The embassy-burning mobs well understand the fraudulence of Obama and Clinton's professions of generalized "respect" for "all faiths." As a headline in the Karachi Express-Tribune puts it:
"Ultimatum To U.S.: Criminalize Blasphemy Or Lose Consulate."
The Assistant Attorney General of the United States has said he does not rule out a law against blasphemy, so that's good news, isn't it? Once we've got government commissars regulating movies, and cartoons, and teddy bears and children's piggy-banks and Burger King ice-cream tubs and inflatable sex-shop dolls and non-Sharia-compliant mustaches (just to round up a few of the innumerable grievances of Islam), all the bad stuff will go away, right?
If you'll forgive a book plug before Gen. Dempsey calls me up and asks me to withdraw it from publication, the paperback of my latest, "After America," has just come out. On page 297, I speculate on how future generations will look back on our time from a decade or two hence:
"In the Middle East, Islam had always been beyond criticism. It was only natural that, as their numbers grew in Europe, North America and Australia, observant Muslims would seek the same protections in their new lands. But they could not have foreseen how eager Western leaders would be to serve as their enablers. ... As the more cynical Islamic imperialists occasionally reflected, how quickly the supposed defenders of liberal, pluralist, Western values came to sound as if they were competing to be Islam's lead prison bitch."
Gee, that'd make a pretty funny number for "Quran: The Musical," next time Secretary Clinton wants a night out on Broadway, wouldn't it?
In the meantime, spare a thought for Abdullah Ismail, one of 10,000 Pakistanis who participated in a protest in Lahore the other day. He died after "feeling unwell from the smoke from U.S. flags burnt at the rally." But don't worry: I'm sure the new Obama flag is far less toxic, and there's no risk of keeling over in midchant of "Death to America!"
By Hans A. Von Spakovsky
September 21, 2012
It’s an odd feeling to see your name on the list of individuals targeted by the Justice Department. Especially when you used to work there.
The DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs appears to have enlisted Media Matters to serve as its unofficial PR wing — the one responsible for running smear campaigns too dirty for the Department to risk leaving fingerprints.
Media Matters is, of course, a far-left advocacy group that masquerades as a nonpartisan truth-teller and media watchdog. I am not sure whether to feel honored that my critical reporting on the Justice Department’s misdeeds and rank politicalization attracted such attention, or upset that my taxpayer dollars have been used to attack me personally and professionally. But there is no question that taxpayers and Congress should be upset over unethical conduct by Justice Department employees who use government resources to abuse private citizens and journalists guilty only of reporting on the department’s malfeasance.
Matthew Boyle of The Daily Caller discovered the smoking gun through a Freedom of Information Act request for DOJ emails. The department, of course, dragged its feet, taking nine months to respond to the request, even though the law requires a response within 20 days. But it was worth the wait.
The recovered e-mails document communications between Tracy Schmaler, the director of the DOJ Office of Public Affairs, and “reporters” at Media Matters. In dozens of emails, Schmaler enlists Media Matters and provides information “to attack reporters covering DOJ scandals,” in Boyle’s words. In addition to me, Schmaler solicited attacks on other former Justice Department lawyers such as J. Christian Adams, NRO contributor Andy McCarthy, and Christopher Coates; bloggers and journalists such as Mike Vanderboegh and William LaJeunesse of Fox News; and even members of Congress such as Darrell Issa. Schmaler also sought an article from Media Matters attacking Judson Phillips, one of the founders of Tea Party Nation.
All of this conduct is reprehensible. But the attacks that Schmaler engineered on Christopher Coates were particularly unethical and unprofessional. At the time, Coates was a DOJ employee, detailed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina to prosecute criminal cases. Coates was a career lawyer, the former chief of the Voting Section and an experienced civil-rights attorney.
But Coates had upset DOJ’s political hacks when he complied with a lawfully issued subpoena for his testimony from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Political appointees at DOJ had instructed him to defy the law and not comply with the subpoena. His testimony before the Commission was crucial to explaining DOJ’s unjustified dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case and the Obama administration’s implementation of a policy against race-neutral enforcement of the law. Coates testified that he was told that the law would not be enforced against minority defendants, no matter how egregious their conduct.
Thus, the e-mails reveal that the DOJ Office of Public Affairs was directing attacks by an outside group on one of its own employees. Schmaler was clandestinely providing false information to her chosen media source to attack him while he was prosecuting cases for DOJ. This is the kind of behavior one expects from dictatorships and banana republics, not from the chief law-enforcement agency of the U.S. government.
Schmaler was also potentially violating the federal law that bars retaliation against whistleblowers like Adams and Coates. She should resign, and the inspector general should investigate her flagrant misbehavior
If she does not resign or is not terminated, it will be a sign that Eric Holder approves of such abuses and sees nothing wrong with using government resources to attack his own employees as well as reporters, ordinary citizens, and others doing their jobs or exercising their right to report or criticize the conduct (and misconduct) of the Justice Department.
By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
September 21, 2012
In the week following 9/11/12 something big happened: the collapse of the Cairo Doctrine, the centerpiece of President Obama’s foreign policy. It was to reset the very course of post-9/11 America, creating, after the (allegedly) brutal depredations of the Bush years, a profound rapprochement with the Islamic world.
Never lacking ambition or self-regard, Obama promised in Cairo, June 4, 2009, “a new beginning”offering Muslims “mutual respect,” unsubtly implying previous disrespect. Curious, as over the previous 20 years, America had six times committed its military forces on behalf of oppressed Muslims, three times for reasons of pure humanitarianism (Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo), where no U.S. interests were at stake.
But no matter. Obama had come to remonstrate and restrain the hyperpower that, by his telling, had lost its way after 9/11, creating Guantanamo, practicing torture, imposing its will with arrogance and presumption.
First, he would cleanse by confession. Then he would heal. Why, given the unique sensitivities of his background — “my sister is half-Indonesian,” he proudly told an interviewer in 2007, amplifying on his exquisite appreciation of Islam — his very election would revolutionize relations.
And his policies of accommodation and concession would consolidate the gains: an outstretched hand to Iran’s mullahs, a first-time presidential admission of the U.S. role in a 1953 coup, a studied and stunning turning away from the Green Revolution; withdrawal from Iraq with no residual presence or influence; a fixed timetable for leaving Afghanistan; returning our ambassador to Damascus (with kind words for Bashar al-Assad — “a reformer,” suggested the secretary of state); deliberately creating distance between the United States and Israel.
These measures would raise our standing in the region, restore affection and respect for the United States and elicit new cooperation from Muslim lands.
It’s now three years since the Cairo speech. Look around. The Islamic world is convulsed with an explosion of anti-Americanism. From Tunisiato Lebanon, American schools, businesses and diplomatic facilities set ablaze. A U.S. ambassador and three others murdered in Benghazi. The black flag of Salafism, of which al-Qaeda is a prominent element, raised over our embassies in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Sudan.
The administration, staggered and confused, blames it all on a 14-minute trailer for a film no one has seen and may not even exist.
What else can it say? Admit that its doctrinal premises were supremely naive and its policies deeply corrosive to American influence?
Religious provocations are endless. (Ask Salman Rushdie.) Resentment about the five-century decline of the Islamic world is a constant. What’s new — the crucial variable — is the unmistakable sound of a superpower in retreat. Ever since Henry Kissinger flipped Egypt from the Soviet to the American camp in the early 1970s, the United States had dominated the region. No longer.
“It’s time,” declared Obama to wild applause of his convention, “to do some nation-building right here at home.” He’d already announced a strategic pivot from the Middle East to the Pacific. Made possible because “the tide of war is receding.”
Nonsense. From the massacres in Nigeria to the charnel house that is Syria, violence has, if anything, increased. What is receding is Obama’s America.
It’s as axiomatic in statecraft as in physics: Nature abhors a vacuum. Islamists rush in to fill the space and declare their ascendancy. America’s friends are bereft, confused, paralyzed.
Islamists rise across North Africa from Mali to Egypt. Iran repeatedly defies U.S. demands on nuclear enrichment, then, as a measure of its contempt for what America thinks, openly admits that its Revolutionary Guards are deployed in Syria. Russia, after arming Assad, warns America to stay out, while the secretary of state delivers vapid lectures about Assad “meeting” his international “obligations.” The Gulf states beg America to act on Iran; Obama strains mightily to restrain . . . Israel.
Sovereign U.S. territory is breached and U.S. interests are burned. And what is the official response? One administration denunciation after another — of a movie trailer! A request to Google to “review” the trailer’s presence on YouTube. And a sheriff’s deputies’ midnight “voluntary interview” with the suspected filmmaker. This in the land of the First Amendment.
What else can Obama do? At their convention, Democrats endlessly congratulated themselves on their one foreign policy success: killing Osama bin Laden. A week later, the Salafist flag flies over four American embassies, even as the mob chants, “Obama, Obama, there are still a billion Osamas.”
The Winnipeg Jets take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 7, 2012. (John Woods/Canadian Press)
Let's begin by pointing out that I'm a hockey fan. Always have been. Since Dick Duff was a Maple Leaf. And I do understand that the NHL lockout isn't entirely about millionaires and billionaires.
It affects thousands of people who work at NHL arenas, or at restaurants and even parking lots near them. And I certainly know how much CBC depends on Saturday night hockey games to make money.
But I find it difficult to get too excited about missing some regular season hockey games. The season is too long. There are too many games. In their quest for revenue, the NHL has made regular season games almost meaningless. I'm baffled about how anyone can look forward to a November game between the Leafs and say the Columbus Blue Jackets. Or the Jets and the Nashville Predators. Or just about any combination you can name.
The NHL is happy to play the games. In Toronto, you can pay up to $430.50 for the privilege of seeing a game. That's for one ticket. You can pay $48.50 for a standing room ticket. The Leafs have a flat fee on every ticket of $14.50 that they call a VIP fee. Yup, even if you're standing at the back of the arena, you're a VIP.
The league schedules 82 games for every team. They don't play those games to determine which team is the best.
Oh no. The Vancouver Canucks were the best team in the last regular season. All they got for their trouble was the privilege of playing five playoff games against the Los Angeles Kings, losing four of them, and watching the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs on TV, just like the rest of us.
Those Kings? They treated the regular season as a nuisance. They lost more games than they won. But they made it to the playoffs anyway. And then they won the only prize that counts, the Stanley Cup. So remind me again why they play a regular season.
16 of the NHL's 30 teams qualify for the playoffs. That means it takes six months and 1,230 games to determine that 14 teams have no chance of winning the Stanley Cup. Then it takes just two months and a maximum of 105 games to determine that 15 have no chance of winning the Stanley Cup. Does that make any sense?
To be sure, hockey isn't the only sport with a season that's too long. Major League baseball teams each play 162 games. You could justify that when the regular season was a real test. Only the best team in each league advanced to the World Series. But over time, that formula was diluted, and diluted again, until this year, 8 teams will qualify for what is now called the "post season."
In the Canadian Football League, six of the eight teams make the playoffs. So 72 games are played to eliminate just two teams from Grey Cup contention. That's plain silly.
But back to the NHL.
None of us is ever forced to watch a regular season game, either in person or on TV. So if the NHL can continue to get away with what it's doing, I guess the most appropriate response is a shrug of the shoulders and a shake of the head.
But we cover this lockout as if a day without NHL hockey is an unbearable burden. And yes, I know CBC is as guilty as every other media outlet.
Here's a prediction: If the lockout continues for a while, the league will begin to get questions about when it will decide to shut down for the year. At first, the commissioner will say it's too soon to even think about it. But in time, he'll say that it's a real concern. And that he's considering what the minimum number of regular season games can be before the season loses its "integrity."