Sunday, April 30, 2017

Book Review: 'Reagan Rising' by Craig Shirley

Reagan in the Wilderness
Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976–1980, by Craig Shirley (Broadside, 432 pp., $29.99)
By Clark S. Judge — April 17, 2017, Issue
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Thucydides had a great advantage over later historians in telling his tale of the Peloponnesian War: As a general in the Greek army, he had been there. Craig Shirley, who is emerging as the most prolific and, in some respects, most insightful chronicler of Ronald Reagan’s political rise, shares that advantage. He was there.

As a young political operative, in roles ranging from press secretary for the surprise winner of a long-shot U.S. Senate bid to a similar position with a prominent governor to heading up a pivotal independent-expenditure committee backing Reagan in 1980, again and again Shirley was perfectly placed to see and understand all that went into one of the most remarkable — and, once in office, successful — political careers in American history.

In earlier volumes, Shirley detailed Reagan’s failed 1976 run for the presidency, his successful bid four years later, and his twilight years after leaving the nation’s highest office following two terms comparable in achievement only to those of Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. Now Shirley has taken on the 40th president’s equivalent of Winston Churchill’s “wilderness years” — the time out of office, when many doubted his ability to return in any serious way to the stage, much less take center stage. This was the period when Reagan’s culminating run for the presidency was born.

While it revolves around Reagan, Shirley’s story also focuses on three other men — Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush.

It is widely forgotten now how bitter the division between the Ford and Reagan forces was in the mid 1970s. Shirley takes readers through a compressed account of the 1976 campaign for the GOP nomination — “the tightest two-way race for a major-party nomination in modern political history,” Newsweek (quoted by Shirley) called it — and the fall campaign that followed. Some thought that after Reagan’s strong challenge, Ford should offer him second spot on the ticket. Such was the personal animosity that Ford refused.

With his brilliant, semi-extemporaneous speech on the convention’s last night and impressive appearances before state delegations over the previous week, Reagan emerged as, in the words of prominent columnist Jack Germond, the GOP’s “heir apparent.”

Yet Ford was far from out of the game. He disliked Reagan, who represented a rising but, in the view of moderates, dysfunctional part of the party, and he felt that Reagan had not given his full energies to the general-election campaign, facilitating Carter’s victory. Reagan in turn was disgusted at Ford’s hardball tactics during the nomination fight and opposed Ford’s moderate-Republican approach to the Soviets, the economy, and much else. The rivalry hung over the Republican party even into the 1980 GOP national convention in Detroit. As Shirley tells it, on Carter’s inauguration day, as Ford “jetted off to California” after the ceremonies, he “told a reporter, after dining on shrimp and steak and a couple of dry martinis on the 707 that had been designated Air Force One when he was president, that he was game for another try at the White House in 1980 and that ‘I don’t want anyone to preempt the Republican presidential nomination.’” “Anyone” meant Reagan.

Shirley is surprisingly sympathetic to Carter, who, like Reagan, was cut from populist cloth. As he explains:
Rural populism had sprung up in Carter’s South and Reagan’s Midwest in the 1890s, and was mostly focused on the power of moneyed eastern interests, especially large banks, railroads, and manufacturers. . . . Big government was also a focus of populists’ ire, which Carter acknowledged. . . . Though some racists were involved in the populist movement in its earlier years, both Carter and Reagan abhorred racism.
Shirley highlights another similarity between Carter and his successor. Washington, he says,
did not understand how close Carter was to his wife, Rosalynn. They underestimated this steel magnolia, and for the oft-divorced sophisticates who made up the Washington intelligentsia, such personal closeness between married couples was deemed peculiar. . . . A cultural rift was developing between the uncomplicated Georgians and the unctuous Georgetowners, who would bedevil Carter all through [his presidency].
But though, in cultural respects, they were more like each other than like the establishment of the federal city, Reagan and Carter could not have been more unlike in politics or political ability. Reagan celebrated the American spirit and the American character and looked to restore vibrancy to an economy that was increasingly enmeshed in stagnation and inflation. Carter was soon looking to impose a heavy tax on gasoline, halt dozens of western water projects, and embrace an era of limits. Within months of Carter’s inauguration, columnist George Will would write that he had “opened a multi-front war on numerous American practices, habits, and mores.”

At about the same time, Carter, who had suggested during his campaign that Nixon’s détente policy was too weak-kneed, lectured Notre Dame’s commencement audience to beware of what he called an “inordinate fear of Communism.” Soon he was calling for normalization of relations with China, Cuba, and Vietnam, even as he was cracking down on authoritarian regimes that were, nevertheless, American allies.

Reagan bristled at all of this, but it was Carter’s signing of the treaty (largely negotiated under the Ford administration) turning control of the Panama Canal over to the Panamanian government that gave him an opportunity to act. Almost alone among major American political figures, he opposed the pact and campaigned against it — and though the pro-treaty forces prevailed in the Senate, Reagan won in the country. The nation had seen a man unafraid to take on all comers in defense of what he saw as right.

Despite numerous hints and feints over the next two years, Ford never entered the 1980 race. Instead former congressman, ambassador, Republican National Committee chairman, and CIA chief George H. W. Bush emerged from a crowded field to become Reagan’s chief rival. In 1979, Bush campaigned vigorously and effectively while Reagan stayed off the campaign trail, skipping major events and sticking to his radio commentary, columns, and paid appearances. The reason for this reticence was John Sears, Reagan’s 1976 campaign manager and the man initially in charge of the 1980 run. Shirley is highly critical of Sears’s strategy of aloofness, which came within a breath of killing Reagan’s candidacy.

Across the nation and particularly in Iowa, Bush and his impressive and equally energetic family were everywhere, with the result that Bush won the Iowa caucuses. The next big prize was New Hampshire, five weeks after Iowa. Losing patience with Sears, Reagan took control of his organization and campaigned even more intensively in the Granite State than Bush. Then, the Saturday before the primary, in a showdown debate with Bush, Reagan displayed the same steel and fire that had marked his Panama Canal advocacy. As a local newspaper editor, who was the debate’s moderator, tried to turn off his microphone over a dispute about the role in the debate of other candidates, Reagan, who was sponsoring the forum himself, sternly stopped him with the now famous remark, “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green.” By Tuesday night, the nomination was all but in Reagan’s hands.

As he concludes, Shirley offers this assessment of his subject:
Reagan remains one of the most fascinating figures of history and the American presidency, in part because he was a constantly evolving individual. His worldview in 1964 was not his worldview in 1980. His conservatism had changed, from being simply against the intrusion of big government to the more positive advance of individual freedom.
Reading Craig Shirley has become essential for any Ronald Reagan student. Reagan Rising strengthens his already high standing among Reagan biographers.

– Mr. Judge is the managing director of the White House Writers Group and the chairman of the Pacific Research Institute.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Book Review: 'Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World' by Thomas F. Madden

A Megacity Old and New
Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World, by Thomas F. Madden (Viking, 400 pp., $32)
By Claire Berlinski — December 31, 2016, Issue
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Historian Thomas F. Madden begins his story in 667 b.c. or thereabouts, when, legend has it, Megaran colonists under the command of King Byzas sailed from the Bosporus into the world’s largest natural harbor, an estuary they were to call the Golden Horn. They were ravished by their discovery: There was a verdant peninsula from which Asia and Europe could be seen, with natural defenses of hills and water. The promontory allowed them to survey and dominate the strait that linked two continents and the Black and Mediterranean Seas. The climate was temperate, the water so abundant with fish they could catch them with their hands. Just beyond was the fertile soil of Thrace. It was the ideal site for a trading city.

Byzantium has been known by at least ten other names. (“Istanbul” is a Turkish corruption of the Greek for “to or of the city,” in the local dialect — with the p in “polis” pronounced as a b.) The Megarans could not have imagined their city’s future. In 1203, a dumbfounded Crusader, Robert de Clari, tried to describe the size and splendor of Constantinople and its treasures to Western audiences but at last gave up: “If anyone should recount to you the hundredth part of the richness and the beauty and the nobility that was found . . . in the city, it would seem like a lie and you would not believe it.”

Istanbul remains a city beyond superlatives and beyond Westerners’ imaginations: ancient and modern, magnificent and mad in equal measure. The ghosts of marauding Crusaders, marching janissaries, and conspiratorial Young Turks still haunt its soot-streaked alleyways. Everywhere, writes Madden, there is evidence of the city’s prior incarnations as “a den of debauchery, a city of saints, a smoldering ruin, and a glistening capital of two empires.” But unlike Venice, the subject of one of Madden’s previous books, Istanbul is not an urban museum. It is rather a cacophonous megacity. The Bosporus is still the world’s most critical maritime artery; and construction noise, car horns, and the shouts of street hawkers play a constant counterpoint to the call of the muezzin.

The city’s history long antedates Byzantium, in fact. I was there throughout most of the drama of the construction of its $4 billion subway beneath the Bosporus. In 2005 (to the abject horror of the city’s budget planners), engineers discovered, beneath the proposed main transit station, the lost, a.d. fourth century Byzantine port of Theodosius. The project screeched to a halt while platoons of excited archaeologists descended upon it. They then unearthed 8,000-year-old clothes, urns, ashes, and utensils, forcing historians to completely revise their understanding of the city’s age and origins. The subway was not completed until 2014. Discoveries such as these pose terrible dilemmas to archaeologists: Excavating the top layer can damage the one below it, and vice versa. So which of the many cities below the surface should be conserved? (And how can any of them be made safe from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the army of commercial developers who, with basically the same motives as the Megaran colonists, long to replace it all with high-rises, neo-Ottoman kitsch, and multistory parking lots?)

Madden is a medieval and Renaissance historian. The history of Istanbul is his vehicle for telling many other stories: those of antiquity, of the doomed Byzantine Empire, of Christianity and Islam, of trade throughout the ages, of warfare, and of the many empires of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. His use of a single city as the narrative device by which he recounts these overlapping histories works remarkably well, and surely no city could be more fit for the use of this conceit. If Istanbul’s unique blessing is its geography, which makes it a natural crossroads for trade, this is also its curse: It is an irresistible target for conquest, and conquered it was, by most every empire in history — from the Macedonians to the Romans, Persians, Avars, Arabs, Russians, and even Hungarians, and then finally the Ottomans.

Condensing Istanbul’s history in a single volume is a daunting challenge; the book is a great success, and one with no lack of drama. Madden evokes vividly, for example, the horror of the winter of a.d. 196, when, under siege by Roman forces, Byzantines succumbed to disease and starvation, eating corpses and fleeing in desperation by sea on overloaded boats that quickly sank, capsized in the storm or rammed by Roman galleys. As Madden explains, historians are unsure why the Byzantines resisted so fiercely: No one else did. When at last they surrendered, the surviving soldiers and officials were executed and the rest of the people lost their property; many of them were sold into slavery. (How brutal was the ancient world — and how strangely like our own, with Aleppo under siege, desperate refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, and the vanquished executed and sold into slavery.)

The city was renamed Antoniniana, after the emperor’s son. Madden’s brief history of Rome — told in support of the central narrative — is surprisingly clear. I would not have thought it could be so compressed without becoming gibberish.

Madden tells the stories of all of Istanbul’s incarnations skillfully, but he runs out of energy in 1453. After the Muslim conquest, he races toward the end (and who could blame him; Istanbul’s is a long history). He might argue that in the big scheme of things, the Ottoman and Turkish Republican periods are short chapters of Istanbul’s history — and he would be right — but only in these last chapters does the book feel rushed. He describes the Ottomans as vividly as he does the city’s earlier inhabitants (his treatment of the Sultanate of Women is particularly interesting), but given their significance, he might have dwelled longer on them with profit.

The book could also have done with footnotes. There is little by way of scholarly apparatus, presumably because an editor insisted that it would doom the book’s commercial prospects, but this is regrettable. One trusts Madden’s scholarship — he is highly regarded among medievalists — but curious readers naturally want to know how, exactly, we know what he tells us. Even a few judicious notes, or an annotated bibliography of the kind he furnished in his Concise History of the Crusades, would have gone a long way. Better proofreading would also have done him no harm; the inconsistent Turkish transliterations are annoying.

But these are quibbles. Madden is especially good when he tells us what the city looked like in its different incarnations. I had had no sense, for example, of what I might have seen had I walked down one of the main streets of Constantinople, having seen only the ruins, which smell of moss, decay, and damp. It had never occurred to me to imagine the streets “flanked with long rows of monumental columns, stretching two stories in the air and topped by ornate wooden roofs to keep out the sun and rain.” These were lavishly decorated with statues, fountains, and bright tapestries, we learn; they were not avenues, but forums that stretched on for miles, designed to be the centers of civic life.

The book is, inescapably, elegiac. Like all the port cities of the eastern Mediterranean, Istanbul’s is now a story of vanished cosmopolitanism. The end of the Ottoman Empire, and its replacement by the nationalist successor states, has mostly been a tragedy; and Istanbul itself is now heavy with an omnipresent sense of ancient eclipsed glory.

If Istanbul’s vanished cosmopolitanism is a tragedy, so too is ours. From the publicist’s blurb that accompanies the book: “Given the recent terror attacks in highly touristed parts of Turkey’s capital,” it says, it is “critically important to understand the complex history of one of the world’s most important cities.” Could any commendation be more solipsistic? Would it otherwise be unimportant to understand this history? It is dismaying to imagine readers so dull-witted that terrorists must be invoked to compel their curiosity about the city that was Byzantium, Constantinople, New Rome, and the seat of the Ottoman Empire.

Madden is not to be blamed for his publicist, of course. To the contrary, the careful reader will, indeed, learn much in this book about the fate of incurious and self-absorbed empires. Even the careless reader will be much enlightened by the book, as good an introduction to Istanbul and its splendors as one could hope to have.

– Claire Berlinski is the author of Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis Is America’s, Too. She is now crowdfunding a new book about Europe titled “Brave Old World.

Book Review: 'The Holocaust: A New History' by Laurence Rees

By Nikolaus Wachsmann
26 January 2017

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In 1955, 10 years after his liberation from Auschwitz, Primo Levi published an anguished article about the “gigantic death-dealing machine” the Nazis had built to wipe out Jews such as himself. Levi was mainly concerned with the 1950s, however, not the recent past. He feared that the greatest crime imaginable, still so vivid in the minds of survivors, was in danger of being forgotten by the wider public. Levi railed against the “silence of the civilised world”, which regarded any mention of Nazi extermination camps as in bad taste.
How things have changed. Far from being forgotten, the murder of European Jewry has become a global benchmark for judging inhumanity. Levi’s own memoir of Auschwitz, If This Is a Man, which was initially met with indifference, has been recognised as one of the “truly necessary books” (Philip Roth), and every year sees a stream of works by survivors and historians, philosophers and novelists. The question is no longer: “Is this silence justified?”, as Levi asked rhetorically back in 1955. It is now: “Which of the countless studies should we read?”
Laurence Rees’s The Holocaust: A New History is puffed on its inside cover as “the first accessible and authoritative account of the Holocaust in more than three decades”. Such PR bluster does the book no favours. For there really is no shortage of important recent works, among them Saul Friedländer’s unsurpassed surveyThe Years of Extermination, which won the Pulitzer prize; Timothy Snyder’s bold reinterpretation Black Earth; and the late David Cesarani’s deeply researched and highly readable study Final Solution, which appeared only last year.
Yet look beyond the hype and you will find a fine book. Rees skilfully charts the development of Nazi antisemitic measures, from segregation and discrimination in the years before the second world war to ghettoisation and deportation during the war, culminating in the systematic extermination of around six million Jews. As a former head of BBC TV history programmes, Rees has produced some of the most thoughtful documentaries about Nazi Germany, and he tells this story through a mix of closeups and wide shots of the historical landscape. The latter provides crucial context, connecting anti-Jewish policy to the changing fortunes of the war and the dynamics of Nazi rule. Rees also explains how the perpetrators learned from earlier attacks on other “community aliens”, such as the disabled – the first victims of mass gassings in the Third Reich, who were murdered in “euthanasia” centres equipped with fake showers.
The author tackles some persistent myths along the way. He shows that there was plenty of defiance by the victims, contrary to postwar claims that they followed their killers “like sheep”. Some even got their hands on weapons and turned them against Germans. One example is Marek Edelman, who fought in the doomed Warsaw ghetto uprising. “The first few days were our victory,” he recalled. “We were used to being the ones who ran away from the Germans. They had no expectation of Jews fighting like that.”
Rees also shows that the Nazi machinery of mass murder was far from impersonal or antiseptic, highlighting the sadistic violence of some killers, the carnage in death camps overflowing with corpses, and the unspeakable suffering of the doomed: when children were dragged away from their parents in the Łódź ghetto, one survivor remembered, “their screams reached the sky”.
At the centre stands the question of how the Holocaust happened. For Rees, there was nothing inevitable about it. While Hitler was an exceptionally vicious antisemite from the start of his political career – calling for the “uncompromising removal” of Jews as early as 1919 – he had no master plan for murder. Nazi policy followed a twisted road, with plenty of stops, starts and turns, before heading towards mass extermination. And even then, there was no single order from the top. Hitler set the direction, to be sure, but he left his underlings to devise ever more extreme measures to realise his vision. There were great variations across Europe, depending on local circumstances, leading the Nazis to implement the Holocaust “in radically different ways in different countries”.
These are not novel conclusions; they reflect the current historical consensus. In that sense, there is little new about this “new history”. What distinguishes it is not an original interpretation, but its approach. Rees is a gifted educator, who can tell a complex story with compassion and clarity, without sacrificing all nuances. It is this quality that makes his book one of the best general introductions to the Holocaust.
Above all, it comes alive through the voices of victims, killers and bystanders. Rees draws on interviews collected over the years for his TV programmes, often previously unpublished. Like a documentary, the book frequently cuts from the narrator to eyewitnesses, adding immediacy and poignancy (though one would like to learn more about some of the individuals).
We meet ordinary Germans who fell in line with a regime that promised them peace and prosperity. Interviewed decades after the destruction of the Third Reich, some still looked back wistfully to the days before the war. “You saw the unemployed disappearing from the streets,” recalled Erna Krantz from Bavaria. “There was order and discipline … It was, I thought, a better time”.
We meet callous perpetrators such as Wolfgang Horn, a soldier who did not think twice about burning down a Russian village, because the locals were “too primitive for us”, and foreign collaborators such as Michal Kabáč, a Slovak guard who stole from Jews and forced them on to deportation trains: “We had a good salary, accommodation and canteen. We could not complain.”
And we meet Jews from across Europe, each with their own heartbreaking story to tell. Take Eva Votavová, who was deported to Auschwitz with her family in summer 1942. She last saw her father, looking “sad and hopeless”, after the SS separated men and women on arrival. Sometime later, she found a pair of glasses amid a pile of remains, and began to cry. “I knew they were my mother’s.” Eva herself fell ill with typhoid fever, and lost the glasses she had hidden. “That is how I lost the last memory of my mother.” Rees helps to recover this memory, and the memories of other victims, survivors of “a crime of singular horror in the history of the human race”.
 Nikolaus Wachsmann’s KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps is published in paperback by Abacus. The Holocaust: A New History is published by Viking. To order a copy for £21.25 (RRP £25) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

Why can't House repeal Obamacare? Because a lot of Republicans don't want to

April 27, 2017
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House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks to the media on repealing the Affordable Care Act

"We're going to go when we have the votes," Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday when asked when the House will pass a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Lawmakers will not be constrained by any "artificial deadline," Ryan declared.
On March 24, when the Speaker pulled the GOP Obamacare bill before what would have been a sure defeat, he said, "We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future."
But why? Republicans have 238 seats in the House. Repealing Obamacare will require 217 votes. Even with unanimous Democratic opposition, Republicans could lose 21 votes and still prevail on repeal. Why haven't they done it?
By this time, it's becoming increasingly clear that Republicans have not repealed Obamacare because a lot of Republicans do not want to repeal Obamacare.
They don't even want to sorta repeal Obamacare. The bill currently on the table, like the bill pulled in March, falls far short of a full repeal of Obamacare. And yet Republicans still cannot agree on it.
About a week after the first Obamacare repeal failure, a House Republican, speaking privately, said the difficulty in passing the bill was not a parliamentary problem involving the complexities of the Senate and reconciliation. No, the lawmaker said, "It is a problem that we have members in the Republican conference that do not want Obamacare repealed, because of their district. That's the fundamental thing that we're seeing here."
"I thought we campaigned on repealing it," the lawmaker continued. "Now that it's our turn, I'm finding there's about 50 people who really don't want to repeal Obamacare. They want to keep it."
Other conservatives are saying similar things. In an email exchange Thursday afternoon, I asked one member where the latest bill stood. "We absolutely do not have the votes to repeal it," he answered. "The fact that some members are balking at even allowing states to waive out of some of Obamacare regulations is proof positive. We've gone from 'repeal it root-and-branch' to 'Mother-may-I opt out of some of Obamacare' — and we still are having trouble getting the votes."
In a phone conversation Thursday afternoon, another Republican, Rep. Steve King, quibbled a bit with the number of House Republicans who don't want to repeal Obamacare — he would put it in the 40s — but felt certain there are lots of Republicans who don't want to repeal. "If you don't want to get rid of federal mandates to health insurance, then it's pretty clear you don't want to get rid of Obamacare," King said.
"Whatever we come out with, it will say to the American people that a full repeal of Obamacare is no longer in the cards," King added.
Yet another Republican member, in an email exchange, estimated that there are 25 to 30 House Republicans "who don't want to be forced to make the repeal vote." Even that lower number would be enough to sink a repeal measure.
Other GOP lawmakers are openly conceding that whatever the House does — if it does anything — it won't actually repeal Obamacare. Large parts of Barack Obama's legacy legislation will remain standing, a fact that more Republicans are admitting as time goes by.
"It's not full repeal. I will be honest, it's not," Rep. Jim Jordan told Fox News on Wednesday. "But it's as good as we think we can get right now."
"We've given up on trying to get this bill repealed, basically," Rep. Louie Gohmert told Fox Business on Tuesday. "But we've been demanding at least let's repeal some of the provisions that we know will bring down rates."
Some Republicans remain optimistic, but in a much longer-term sense. "The process of removing a 2,300-page law with 20,000 pages of rules can't be done in one vote," says the member who estimated that 25 to 30 Republicans don't want to vote for repeal. "The process will take two years."
The Republican-controlled House and Senate both voted to repeal Obamacare in January 2016. In the House, 239 Republicans voted for repeal, while three voted against it and four did not vote. President Obama, of course, vetoed the bill.
Now, with a president who would sign an Obamacare repeal, there's no way Republicans could get as many votes as last year.
"A pure repeal would get less than 200 votes," said the second member quoted above. "It really is one of the biggest political shams in history — many of these members would not have been elected without promising repeal, and now they are wilting. Some are even complaining that [the Rep. Tom MacArthur amendment] pushes the bill too far right — even though is it far short of a full repeal."
When repeal first failed last month, a number of commentators blamed the conservative House Freedom Caucus. In the days since, caucus members have made the case, convincingly, that they have shown an enormous amount of flexibility in trying to reach agreement with the Tuesday Group, made up of House GOP centrists.
Now, the centrists — a number of Republicans refer to them as "the mods," for moderates — appear to be moving the goalposts, even as the conservatives offer concessions. Conservatives suspect the centrists were perfectly happy for conservatives to take the blame for killing the first bill, but now are showing their true colors by rejecting compromise on the second version. Whatever the circumstances, they don't want to vote to repeal Obamacare.
The reason is fear. When the lawmaker said colleagues don't want repeal "because of their district," that was another way of saying the members are all representatives, and the voters they represent don't want repeal. From The Hill on Thursday afternoon: "Many vulnerable Republicans are running scared. One moderate Republican was overheard in a House cafeteria this week telling an aide: 'If I vote for this healthcare bill, it will be the end of my career.'"
Whichever faction inside the Republican Party is to blame, it could well be that the conservatives' numbers are basically right: There are a lot of Republicans, say 40 to 50, who don't want to repeal Obamacare. Given unanimous Democratic opposition, that means that there are somewhere around 190, or maybe 195, House members who actually want to repeal Obamacare. That will never get the job done. Even a lower estimate, of 25 to 30 members who don't want repeal, would make success impossible. And if that is the case, the question is, why are Republicans trying?

Friday, April 28, 2017

E Street Band's Steven Van Zandt Announces First Solo LP in 18 Years

April 7, 2017

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(Photo: Jo Lopez)

E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt will release his first solo LP under the Little Steven moniker in nearly two decades when he unleashes Soulfire in May.

The 12-track album, due out May 19th and available to pre-order now, marks the rocker's first album since 1999's Born Again Savage.
Fans who pre-order will receive an instant download of "Saint Valentine's Day," a reworked version of a track Van Zandt wrote for Nancy Sinatra but ultimately recorded with the Cocktail Slippers.
Soulfire is inspired by the "soul horns-meet-rock & roll guitars" approach featured on Little Steven's work with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. A handful of Soulfire's tracks are new spins on those Southside Johnny songs, including "Love on the Wrong Side of Town," co-written by Bruce Springsteen.
"I've always been very thematic with my work, very conceptual," Van Zandt said of the album. "I need a big picture. I can't just do a collection of songs; that doesn't work for me. In this case, the concept became me. Who am I? I'm kind of my own genre at this point. So I tried to pick material that when you added it all up, really represented me. So there are a couple of covers, a couple of new songs, and some of what I feel are the best songs I've written and co-written over the years. This record is me doing me."
Soulfire developed out of live performances Van Zandt staged with the Disciples of Soul in 2016. After learning 22 songs for the concerts, Little Steven and his crew entered the studio, laying down a dozen covers and originals for Soulfire, including one track ("I Saw the Light") that Van Zandt co-wrote for Richie Sambora and Orianthi.
"I have very little interest in the modern world and I'm not in any way conflicted about that. I grew up in a renaissance period, a very lucky time when the greatest music ever made was also the most commercial. We'll never see that again so for me, there's only one criteria, which is greatness," Van Zandt said of the LP in a statement. "That's all I care about. Is what I'm doing reaching for greatness? Whether I achieve it or not, that is one hundred percent of my criteria."
Little Steven will announce a North American trek in support of Soulfire in the coming weeks; the guitarist and his band will also perform April 22nd at Asbury Park's Paramount Theatre.
Soulfire Track List
2. "I'm Coming Back"
3. "Blues Is My Business"
4. "I Saw The Light"
5. "Some Things Just Don't Change"
6. "Love On The Wrong Side of Town"
7. "The City Weeps Tonight"
8. "Down and Out in New York City"
9. "Standing in the Line of Fire"
10. "Saint Valentine's Day"
11. "I Don't Want To Go Home"
12. "Ride The Night Away" 

Today's Tune: Little Steven - Soulfire

Ann Coulter the Liberal

She believes in the efficacy of reason and in the free exchange of ideas; her enemies do not.

By Rich Lowry — April 28, 2017
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Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Because the California National Guard couldn’t be mobilized in time, Ann Coulter had to withdraw from giving a speech at Berkeley.

If you take it seriously, that’s the import of UC Berkeley’s decision to do everything it could to keep the conservative provocateur from speaking on campus over safety concerns.

“If somebody brings weapons, there’s no way to block off the site, or to screen them,” the chancellor of the university said of Coulter’s plan to go ahead and speak at an open-air forum after the school canceled a scheduled talk.

The administrator made it sound as if Coulter would have been about as safe at Berkeley as she would have been addressing a meeting of MS-13 — and he might have been right.

We have entered a new, much less metaphorical phase of the campus-speech wars. We’re beyond hissing, or disinviting. We’re no longer talking about the heckler’s veto, but the masked-thugs-who-will-burn-trash-cans-and-assault-you-and-your-entourage veto.

Coulter is a rhetorical bomb thrower, which is an entirely different thing than being a real bomb thrower. Coulter has never tried to shout down a speaker she doesn’t like. She hasn’t thrown rocks at cops. She isn’t an arsonist. She offers up provocations that she gamely defends in almost any setting with arguments that people are free to accept, or reject, or attempt to correct.
In other words, in the Berkeley context, she’s the liberal. She believes in the efficacy of reason and in the free exchange of ideas. Her enemies do not.

Indeed, the budding fascism that progressives feared in the Trump years is upon us, although not in the form they expected. It is represented by the black-clad shock troops of the “antifa” movement who are violent and intolerant, and easily could be mistaken for the street fighters of the extreme Right in 1930s Europe. That they call themselves anti-fascist speaks to a colossal lack of self-awareness.

It is incumbent on all responsible progressives to reject this movement, and — just as important — the broader effort to suppress controversial speech. This is why former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean’s comments about hate speech not being protected by the First Amendment were so alarming. In Dean’s defense, he had no idea what he was talking about, but he was effectively making himself the respectable voice of the rock throwers.

Dean’s view was that “Berkeley is within its rights to make the decision that it puts their campus in danger if they have her there.” This justification, advanced by the school itself, is profoundly wrongheaded.

It is an inherently discriminatory standard, since the Berkeley College Republicans aren’t given to smashing windows and throwing things when an extreme lefty shows up on campus, which is a near-daily occurrence.

It would deny Coulter something she has a right to do (speak her mind on the campus of a public university) in reaction to agitators doing things they don’t have a right to do (destroy property, among other acts of mayhem).

It would suppress an intellectual threat, i.e., a dissenting viewpoint, and reward a physical threat. 
This is perverse.

For now there is a consensus in favor of free speech in the country that is especially entrenched in the judiciary. The anti-fa and other agitators aren’t going to change that anytime soon. But they could effectively make it too burdensome for certain speakers to show up on campus, and over time more Democrats like Dean could rationalize this fact by arguing that so-called hate speech doesn’t deserve First Amendment protection.

So, it isn’t enough for schools like UC Berkeley to say that they value free speech, yet do nothing to punish disrupters and throw up their hands at the task of providing security for controversial speakers. If everyone else gets safe space at UC Berkeley, Coulter deserves one. 
If the anti-fa are willing to attack free speech through illegal force, the authorities should be willing to defend it by lawful force.

Heck, if necessary, call out the National Guard.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: © 2017 King Features Syndicate


Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Real Story Behind ESPN’s Wednesday Massacre

April 26, 2017
Image result for espn layoff
ESPN, the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports, became the worldwide leader in sports layoffs on Wednesday morning after news leaked that the cable network was in the process of laying off 100 staffers, most of whom are reported to be on-air talent.
The layoff reports came as no surprise to those who have followed ESPN and its on- and off-air struggles to profitably provide the kind of content that most sports fans want to watch. Shortly after the mass layoff reports were confirmed, the Internet hot takes began. ESPN is failing because of cord-cutting, because it has too much politics, because it has too little politics, because sports fans are racists, you name it.
So what’s the real reason the network felt forced to slash its payroll overnight? There is no one reason. There are a number of factors, each of which has been multiplied by poor strategic decisions. ESPN would have you believe that the network is a victim of circumstances, caught up in an industry whirlwind over which it has no control. Maybe, but that’s hardly the whole story. The real reasons aren’t all that complicated, but they’re not as simple as much of the social media hand-wringing would have you believe.
ESPN isn’t struggling because of one thing. It’s struggling because of a bunch of different things happening simultaneously. Some are outside of its control, and some are not. Here are the big reasons for these mass layoffs.

1) ESPN Overpaid for Broadcast Rights

In a nutshell, ESPN committed to paying massive long-term fixed costs for the right to air professional sports events, namely NFL and NBA games. Sports reporter Clay Travis of Outkick has been banging the drum on this score for quite some time, much to ESPN’s chagrin (Just last month Travis predicted Wednesday’s mass layoffs only to have ESPN sic its PR hounds on him and accuse him of making it all up).
In accounting terms, the network committed to high long-term fixed costs (broadcast rights) in exchange for declining variable revenues (cable subscription fees and advertising dollars). You don’t have to be a mathematician to see the problems with this formula for success. Even if ESPN is making decent money right now, the music is eventually going to stop, people are going to stop dancing, and somebody’s going to be stuck without a chair.
Here’s how Travis sums up the problem:
The simple truth of the matter is this — ESPN spent way too much on sports rights just as its cable and satellite subscriptions began to collapse. On track for $8 billion in programming costs in 2017, ESPN will rack up its 15 millionth lost subscriber since 2011. Every single day so far in 2017 over 10,000 people have left ESPN. The numbers are astonishing and the collapse is rapid. All those lost subscribers add up to big money — that’s over $1.3 billion a year in money that comes off ESPN’s books every year. And ESPN is on the hook for billions and billions a year for all the years ahead. That’s guaranteed payments to leagues that ESPN can’t escape no matter how many employees it fires.
As I’ve written before, if the current subscriber loss trajectory keeps up ESPN will begin losing money by 2021. And if the subscriber losses accelerate it will happen even sooner than that.
Rising fixed costs and risky, declining revenues are the root of all of ESPN’s problems. Overpriced broadcast rights are certainly the biggest piece in that financial puzzle, but they’re not the only one. Salaries are also a pretty heavy fixed cost, and one the network decided to slash. Will that decision improve the financial picture, at least on the costs side? Maybe. But ESPN could fire every single person on staff and still not make the numbers work. When your ship is sinking, tossing a few deck chairs over the side isn’t going to accomplish much.
We’ve identified and addressed ESPN’s main cost problem. But what about its revenue problems? What is causing those?

2) Cable Cord-Cutting

ESPN is hemorrhaging subscribers. There is no debate about this fact. In just the last six years, the Connecticut-based sports network has lost 12 million subscribers. At roughly $7 paid out monthly to ESPN per subscriber, that’s nearly $100 million in lost revenue each month going forward for eternity. The big question is: Why are those viewers no longer choosing to pay for cable, and by extension choosing to pay Disney for the privilege of having ESPN on their cable box? Is it because they’re tired of paying for cable, or because they’re tired of paying for ESPN?
ESPN and Disney executives will tell you it’s obviously the former and has nothing whatsoever to do with ESPN. The Internet has changed things, they’ll say, and services like Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix have made cable, and its exorbitant monthly fees, less necessary.
There’s clearly some truth to this. Cord-cutting is a sweeping dynamic, and ESPN just happens to be the biggest chunk getting pushed into the dustpan. But ESPN’s public rhetoric about cord-cutting having nothing to do with ESPN completely contradicts the corporation’s rhetoric about negotiating fees from and services to cable providers.
That’s because Disney, ESPN’s parent, uses the popularity of ESPN’s live sports programming to force cable companies into carrying and paying for a large swath of less popular Disney-owned networks. The message? If you want ESPN, then you’re not only going to pay Disney for it, you’re also going to pay for A&E and Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network and History and Freeform and Disney Junior and Disney XD and Vice. It doesn’t matter if you don’t plan to watch a second of any of those networks: if you want to watch college football for three months in the fall, you’re going to pay for the unrelated also-ran networks whether you like it or not.
ESPN knows people will pay for cable just to get ESPN, hence its near-extortion of cable companies into carrying myriad other Disney-owned channels. Given this fact, how can ESPN claim that cord-cutting has nothing to do with ESPN? If people are plugging the cord in just to get ESPN, then you can pretty much guarantee ESPN is very much a part of the cord-cutting conversation. ESPN can’t have it both ways.
Is a ton of cord-cutting happening regardless of what ESPN’s doing? Absolutely. Is the network a mere blameless bystander in the cord-cutting? Not at all. If ESPN wants to claim responsibility for bringing people into the cable fold, then it must also take responsibility when a diehard sports fan finally decides that ESPN’s just not worth the cost of cable anymore. This brings us to the next cause of these revenue problems.

3) Declining ESPN Ratings

ESPN isn’t just losing millions of cable subscribers, many of whom probably never even watched the network despite paying for it. It’s also losing viewers. According to Broadcast & Cable, a TV industry trade publication, ESPN’s ratings are down 7 percent this year, and ESPN2’s ratings are down a whopping 34 percent. What gives?
If you talk to sports fans and to people who have watched ESPN religiously for most of their lives, they’ll tell you the problem is the lack of sports and a surplus of shows featuring people screaming at each other. The near-universal sentiment of former ESPN addicts I’ve spoken to is that the content provider sidelined actual sports in favor of carnival barkers. Sure, you clicked over to ESPN to watch sports, but what you’re actually going to get are “Crossfire”-esque segments of non-athletes making dumb arguments about topics you don’t care about.
One industry insider told me that it’s as if network executives looked at the popularity of local and regional sports talk radio and decided that ESPN needed to replicate that model on television to be successful. If that’s what they actually thought, they were wrong.
Passively listening to a radio show while you’re at work or in your car and unable to watch a live game is a very different thing than wanting to watch some game highlights during the whopping 30 minutes of free time you have to do nothing at home each night. The two aren’t perfect substitutes for each other, yet ESPN’s programming decisions suggest the network thinks talking heads are as big a draw as actual athletes competing on the field. And all this after spending $8 billion to get the rights to air those competitions?
It’s madness. ESPN went from the worldwide leader in sports to yet another expensive network of dumb people yelling dumb things at other dumb people, all the while forgetting that the most popular entertainment form of people yelling about sports stuff for several hours a day — sports talk radio — is free. This brings us to the final major reason for ESPN’s current predicament.

4) Politics

With all this in mind, it’s not at all surprising that ESPN decided to retreat into the fever swamp of leftist politics to save itself. An obsession with politics didn’t doom ESPN, but it’s going to make it extremely difficult for ESPN to dig itself out.
The industry insider I spoke to said the focus on politics was a symptom, rather than a root cause, of all these current issues. According to this insider, ESPN executives saw the writing on the wall — higher costs, subscriber losses, lower ratings — and decided that it needed a bigger content pie to attract more content consumers. Sports is too small, so why not try for a real mass audience by broadening the network’s focus to include news and politics? If X number of people like sports, and Y number of people like politics, then surely combining sports and politics will lead to a much bigger audience, thereby solving the company’s financial dilemma.
This view, of course, ignores how people consume political news. The diehards who love political news don’t turn on the TV or open the laptop and navigate to sites with zero bias that just play it straight. Why? Because those kinds of political news and commentary providers don’t exist. Because that’s not what political junkies want. Liberals want news from liberals, and conservatives want news from conservatives. The Balkanization of political news and commentary didn’t happen by accident. People in this business know you have to pick a side. That works in political news. It doesn’t work if you have a bipartisan mass media audience.
Instead of expanding its pie by combining two types of mass media content, ESPN ended up communicating to half its audience that it didn’t respect them. How? By committing itself entirely not to political news, but to unceasing left-wing political commentary.
You want to watch the Lakers game? Okay, but first you’re going to hear about Caitlyn Jenner. Want some NFL highlights? We’ll get to those eventually, but coming up next will be a discussion about how North Carolina is run by racist, homophobic bigots. You want to see the box scores of today’s baseball games? You can watch those at the bottom of the hour, but right now some D-list network talent would like to lecture you about gun control. After that we’ll have a panel discussion about how much courage it takes to turn your back on the American flag.
The most interesting aspect of the mass layoffs on Wednesday isn’t that they happened, it’s who the network targeted. Not the high-priced carnival barkers and the know-nothing loudmouths doing their best to make Rachel Maddow proud. Nope. ESPN targeted sports reporters. In an effort to cut some fat from its bottom line, ESPN exchanged a scalpel for a chainsaw, skipped the fat entirely, and went straight to cutting out muscle.
If ESPN wants to once again be the worldwide leader in sports, it should refocus on covering sports, which used to be a refuge from politics and the news. America is politicized enough already, and if its citizens want political news, several cable outlets do political news far better than ESPN ever could. Instead of doing sports and politics poorly, perhaps the network could return to the thing that it used to do better than everyone else in the world: cover live sports.
Sean Davis is the co-founder of The Federalist.