Monday, May 24, 2010

Bad Character, Bad Policy

In his National Review (11/23/2009) tribute to Charles Krauthammer, Jay Nordlinger wrote,

...he has been a brilliant critic of President Obama: a persistent, fearless, profound critic of Obama. Indeed, many conservatives, and some liberals as well, consider him the critic-in-chief.

On policy, this is true. Krauthammer has a unique ability to recognize the significant aspects and far reaching ramifications of poor policy decisions. (And good ones too, but this is Obama we're talking about). Krauthammer's critiques of those decisions are consistently forceful and elegant. (an example below).

For exposing the emptiness of Obama's character - his ethical, spiritual, and indeed, intellectual deficiencies - there's Mark Steyn.

Steyn's latest thrashing of Obama for his recent remarks about murdered WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl is a good illustration. Steyn hits Obama on multiple fronts - his rhetorical ineffectiveness, his moral passivity, his lack of imagination and his inability to comprehend the salient issue at hand.

Barack Obama’s remarkable powers of oratory are well known: In support of Chicago’s Olympic bid, he flew into Copenhagen to give a heartwarming speech about himself, and they gave the games to Rio. He flew into Boston to support Martha Coakley’s bid for the U.S. Senate, and Massachusetts voters gave Ted Kennedy’s seat to a Republican. In the first year of his presidency, he gave a gazillion speeches on health-care “reform” and drove support for his proposals to basement level, leaving Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to ram it down the throats of the American people through sheer parliamentary muscle.

Like a lot of guys who’ve been told they’re brilliant one time too often, President Obama gets a little lazy, and doesn’t always choose his words with care. And so it was that he came to say a few words about Daniel Pearl, upon signing the “Daniel Pearl Press Freedom Act.”

Pearl was decapitated on video by jihadist Muslims in Karachi on Feb. 1, 2002. That’s how I’d put it.

This is what the president of the United States said: “Obviously, the loss of Daniel Pearl was one of those moments that captured the world’s imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is.”

Now Obama’s off the prompter, when his silver-tongued rhetoric invariably turns to sludge. But he’s talking about a dead man here, a guy murdered in public for all the world to see. Furthermore, the deceased’s family is standing all around him. And, even for a busy president, it’s the work of moments to come up with a sentence that would be respectful, moving, and true. Indeed, for Obama, it’s the work of seconds, because he has a taxpayer-funded staff sitting around all day with nothing to do but provide him with that sentence.

Instead, he delivered the one above. Which, in its clumsiness and insipidness, is most revealing. First of all, note the passivity: “The loss of Daniel Pearl.” He wasn’t “lost.” He was kidnapped and beheaded. He was murdered on a snuff video. He was specifically targeted, seized as a trophy, a high-value scalp. And the circumstances of his “loss” merit some vigor in the prose. Yet Obama can muster none.

There's much more along these lines from Steyn including his scorn for Obama's claim that Pearl's death "captured the world's imagination." This "one-worldism" fantasy of Obama's took a hit as countless jihadists celebrated Pearl's death. And Steyn derides Obama's misconstrual of "press freedom" as the key, much less sole, issue at stake. Talking up the legislation was the lesser of Obama's tasks. To honor Pearl's memory, the circumstances and true reason for his death needed elucidation. Pearl was murdered for who he was, not because of his occupation as a journalist. This was made clear by Pearl's murderer, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who, as quoted by Steyn, boasted, “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi.” This is the same KSM, by the way, who has leftists wringing their hands over his waterboarding.

Obama's egregious character flaws could be overlooked if they did not contribute to his egregious policy failures. Predictably, they do. Steyn writes,

This week’s pictures of the leaders of Brazil and Turkey clasping hands with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are also monuments to American passivity.
That photo was also noted in Krauthammer's analysis of Obama's latest diplomatic fiasco with Iran.

The real news is that already notorious photo: the president of Brazil, our largest ally in Latin America, and the prime minister of Turkey, for more than half a century the Muslim anchor of NATO, raising hands together with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the most virulently anti-American leader in the world.

That picture — a defiant, triumphant “take that” to Uncle Sam — is a crushing verdict on the Obama foreign policy. It demonstrates how rising powers, traditional American allies, having watched this administration in action, have decided that there’s no cost to lining up with America’s enemies and no profit in lining up with a U.S. president given to apologies and appeasement.
(My emphasis).

They’ve watched President Obama’s humiliating attempts to appease Iran, as every rejected overture is met with abjectly renewed U.S. negotiating offers. American acquiescence reached such a point that the president was late, hesitant, and flaccid in expressing even rhetorical support for democracy demonstrators who were being brutally suppressed and whose call for regime change offered the potential for the most significant U.S. strategic advance in the region in 30 years.

In his interview on NRO's "Uncommon Knowledge" (see my link - May 15) Fouad Ajami asserts that Obama's entire Iran policy is based on a faulty assumption - that the regime was seeking an accomodation with the U.S. and was frustrated to that end only by President Bush's cowboy diplomacy. Ajami believes that Iran never had an interest in such an accomodation. It knew that it could survive any sanctions by turning to a nations like Japan, Italy, China, Russia, Venezuela and others, including now, Brazil and Turkey. The regime sees a far greater advantage in becoming a nuclear power and demonizing (literally) the U.S. as the Great Satan with its diametrically opposed ideology, than engaging it as a diplomatic and trading partner.

Krauthammer, continuing –

They’ve watched America acquiesce to Russia’s reexerting sway over Eastern Europe, over Ukraine (pressured last month into extending for 25 years Russia’s lease of the Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol), and over Georgia (Russia’s de facto annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is no longer an issue under the Obama “reset” policy).

They’ve observed the administration’s gratuitous slap at Britain over the Falklands, its contemptuous treatment of Israel, its undercutting of the Czech Republic and Poland, and its indifference to Lebanon and Georgia. And in Latin America, they see more than mere passivity from the U.S. as Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez organizes his anti-American “Bolivarian” coalition while deepening military and commercial ties with Iran and Russia. They saw active U.S. support in Honduras for a pro-Chávez would-be dictator seeking unconstitutional powers in defiance of the democratic institutions of that country.

This is not just an America in decline. This is an America in retreat — accepting, ratifying, and declaring its decline, and inviting rising powers to fill the vacuum.

Not mentioned in Krauthammer's column was the sinking of a South Korean vessel by North Korean torpedoes - an act of war that will surely go unpunished. Another act of war - Iran's support of the forces fighting the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan - continues to be overlooked. On a Fox News panel, Krauthammer did mention the North Korean attack and he made the point that it was a direct consequence of an evil regime obtaining nuclear weapons. Expect Iran to make similar provocations in the powder keg of the Middle East once it goes nuclear. And expect all rogue states to continue to test the limits of the seemingly limitless stores of submissiveness of this administration.



Sunday, May 23, 2010

Parasitic Public Unions

When liberals bring up the topics of corruption and greed it's usually to castigate corporations, banks, "Wall Street" and the like. Private concerns are always targeted. Off limits is corruption in the public sector (unless Republicans are involved), or, perish the thought, corruption involving unions. The left certainly showed no concern over the fact that Andy Stern, the former head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), was the White House's most frequent guest last year with 22 visits. Imagine the outrage if the CEO of Halliburton had visited the Bush White House 22 times in one year.

A prevelant circumstance today for many state and local governments is that contracts are negotiated by (overwhelmingly Democratic) politicians whose campaigns have been heavily funded by unions. Needless to say it's in these officials best interests to provide generous benefits to their donors at their constituents expense. In a WSJ op-ed (5/21), Mortimer Zuckerman examines the pernicious effects of government corrupted by union payoffs.

What we suffer is a ruinously expensive collaboration between elected officials and unionized state and local workers, purchased with taxpayer money.

Zuckerman writes that this collaboration is bankrupting state and local governments, most notably in California, New York and New Jersey. It's also driving private firms from those states and causing disproportionately high unemployment.

It is galling for private-sector workers to see so many public-sector workers thriving because of the power their unions exercise. Take California. Investigative journalist Steve Malanga points out in the City Journal that California's schoolteachers are the nation's highest paid; its prison guards can make six-figure salaries; many state workers retire at 55 with pensions that are higher than the base pay they got most of their working lives.

All this when California endures an unemployment rate steeper than the nation's. It will get worse. There's an exodus of firms that want to escape California's high taxes, stifling regulations, and recurring budget crises.

...City government was developed to serve its citizens. Today the citizenry is working in large part to serve the government.

Zuckerman points out that more than one third of the "stimulus" package was directed toward support of public service employees. Mr. Stern's visits bearing fruit.

Update - 5/24
A letter to the editor in today's WSJ:

Ms. (Randi) Weingarten is president of the AFT and most of its members are government employees with tenure and job security. They have an employer-provided pension plan. They have employer-provided benefits. They get several vacations and summers off.

My wife and I are both self-employed. We are not members of a union. We have no tenure and no job security. We have no employer-provided pension plan. We have no employer-provided benefits. We can't afford to turn down whatever work we may find in order to take a vacation.

I'm not belittling teachers or the work they do. But it is a bit difficult for me to watch folks who are much better off than I am asking for $23 billion more than they already have, especially when that money comes from my (rising) taxes.

Robert Allan Schwartz

Lexington, Mass.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hauser's Law Redux

It was exactly two years ago that David Ranson's editorial extolling Hauser's Law appeared in the Wall Street Journal (5/20/2008). And with Democrats talking recently, even more so than usual, about the need to raise taxes on the "rich" in order to increase revenues and reduce the deficit, I thought the timing was right to re-examine Hauser's remarkable observation.

That observation - that there is absolutely no correlation between the top marginal tax rate (TMTR) and revenue as a percentage of GDP - was made by economist W. Kurt Hauser in 1993. Coined Hauser's Law by Ranson, it is similar to, yet more powerful than (Arthur Laffer's) Laffer Curve since the former is based on actual empirical evidence.

Graphical Depiction of Hauser's Law

The Laffer Curve - Should probably be skewed toward the bottom - i.e. - Making the peak of the curve much closer to 0% than 100%.

What Hauser's Law recognizes is that revenue has consistently remained at roughly 19.5% of GDP whether the TMTR was greater than 90%, less than 30%, or anywhere in between. This fact makes it obvious, as Ranson points out, that to increase revenue, what needs bolstering is not tax rates, but GDP. And one sure way to raise GDP is by lowering tax rates. Ranson writes,

As Hauser said, “Raising taxes encourages taxpayers to shift, hide, and underreport income. . . Higher taxes reduce the incentives to work, produce, invest and save, thereby dampening overall economic activity and job creation.”
Putting it a different way, capital migrates away from regimes in which it is treated harshly and toward regimes in which it is free to be invested profitably and safely. In this regard, the capital controlled by our richest citizens is especially tax intolerant.

Disregarding the available evidence, President Obama and Democratic leaders continue to promote tax increases for revenue enhancement. To be sure, there's ignorance and stupidity involved here, but more important is the ideological imperative. "Spreading the wealth" is the paramount goal, even if it results in less overall wealth, a weaker economy, lower revenue, higher unemployment and persistent poverty. The less well-off, who thoughtlessly submit their allegiance to the Democratic Party with its soothing and deceptive rhetoric, are those who are most shamefully exploited and harmed.

Ranson's WSJ op-ed as reprinted on the Hoover Institution website.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Recent Commentary Of Interest

While others look away, Mark Steyn continues to shine a light on the West's appeasement of radical Islam.

Last week, the American Association of Pediatricians noted that certain, ahem, “immigrant communities” were shipping their daughters overseas to undergo “female genital mutilation.” So, in a spirit of multicultural compromise, they decided to amend their previous opposition to the practice: They’re not (for the moment) advocating full-scale clitoridectomies, but they are suggesting federal and state laws be changed to permit them to give a “ritual nick” to young girls.

A few years back, I thought even fainthearted Western liberals might draw the line at “FGM.” After all, it’s a key pillar of institutional misogyny in Islam: Its entire purpose is to deny women sexual pleasure. True, many of us hapless Western men find we deny women sexual pleasure without even trying, but we don’t demand genital mutilation to guarantee it. On such slender distinctions does civilization rest.

Steyn, in an earlier column, had made the following observation.

America is so un-Islamophobic that at Ground Zero they’re building a 13-story mosque — on the site of an old Burlington Coat Factory damaged by airplane debris that Tuesday morning.

So, in the ruins of a building reduced to rubble in the name of Islam, a temple to Islam will arise.

Communism is an ideology even more murderous than radical Islam (at least by the latest count - we'll see what happens if/when jihadists get hold of WMDs). It has also been treated with, if not deference, then either justification, unconcern, disinterest, tolerance, or some combination of these. A sympathetic view of communism is generally considered a (sometimes charming) foible, not the morally obtuse character flaw it is.
In its "Notable and Quotable" feature today, the WSJ excerpts the following by Claire Berlinski writing for the spring issue of the City Journal.

In the world's collective consciousness, the word "Nazi" is synonymous with evil. It is widely understood that the Nazis' ideology—nationalism, anti-Semitism, the autarkic ethnic state, the Führer principle—led directly to the furnaces of Auschwitz. It is not nearly as well understood that Communism led just as inexorably, everywhere on the globe where it was applied, to starvation, torture, and slave-labor camps. Nor is it widely acknowledged that Communism was responsible for the deaths of some 150 million human beings during the twentieth century. The world remains inexplicably indifferent and uncurious about the deadliest ideology in history.

For evidence of this indifference, consider the unread Soviet archives. Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London, has on his computer 50,000 unpublished, untranslated, top-secret Kremlin documents, mostly dating from the close of the Cold War. He stole them in 2003 and fled Russia. Within living memory, they would have been worth millions to the CIA; they surely tell a story about Communism and its collapse that the world needs to know. Yet he can't get anyone to house them in a reputable library, publish them, or fund their translation. In fact, he can't get anyone to take much interest in them at all. . . .

One personality of interest in Stroilov's documents is former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, a darling of the left. Leftist mythology holds that Gorbachev "ended" the cold war. The obvious truth is that the cold war didn't "end". It was won by the U.S. and its allies and those most responsible for the victory were named Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul 2. Anyway, Berlinski notes that the documents reveal Gorbachev's true character.

...the documents cast Gorbachev in a far darker light than the one in which he is generally regarded. In one document, he laughs with the Politburo about the USSR's downing of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983—a crime that was not only monstrous but brought the world very near to nuclear Armageddon. These minutes from a Politburo meeting on October 4, 1989, are similarly disturbing:

Lukyanov reports that the real number of casualties on Tiananmen Square was 3,000.

Gorbachev: We must be realists. They, like us, have to defend themselves. Three thousands . . . So what?

Conrad Black (NRO) sounding like his fellow Canadian, Mark Steyn -

The Western world’s greatest problem is the Euro death wish. Apart from perhaps the Poles, the whole continent has lost the energy to work hard or even procreate. It is torpid, flaccid, without serious leaders, and the historic nationalities are all shrinking as they try to replace the unborn with inassimilable immigration. Barely a third of Europeans work and the rest are family or welfare dependents. It is all coming apart at the seams.

And this is the system that Obama and the Democrats are trying to get us to emulate.

National Review Online runs a video program called "Uncommon Knowledge" hosted by former George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson. (Robinson wrote Reagan's "Tear down this wall..." speech). The program's format is an interview divided into five segments featuring writers, commentators, politicians, and other public figures. Robinson's most recent guests were (separately) Mark Steyn and Fouad Ajami. Steyn was questioned about his book, "America Alone" and he expounded on his pet theory of the West's demographically driven, civilizational decline.
Ajami weighed in with his considerable expertise about Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Middle East and radical Islam. A great admirer of George W. Bush and the Iraq project, he is far more sanguine about the prospects for Iraq than Afghanistan. He also took issue with Steyn's blanket condemnation of Islam as a radical ideology.
One drawback to these otherwise interesting programs is that Robinson, though articulate and knowledgeable, is somewhat full of himself, preening, and at times, taking too long to frame his questions.

Uncommon Knowledge with Steyn (part 1 - link to other parts from here)

Uncommon Knowledge with Ajami (part 1 - link to other parts from here)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Foreclosure Induced Madness

Joe Queenan is a free lance writer specializing in parody. His irony is so subtle at times that his byline in the Wall Street Journal is accompanied by a warning that he is a satirist. The Journal always provides the occupations (or ex-occupations) of its op-ed contributors, but only Queenan is deemed deserving of having his style described.
Queenan's latest WSJ op-ed in last Saturday's issue (5/8) is not especially subtle. It is, however, very funny. He lampoons the recent suggestions that the would be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was driven to commit his act because of foreclosure proceedings on his home. Noting that the most infamous tyrants in history were compelled to great violence because of personal humiliations they suffered, Queenan writes,

Hitler, it is widely known, was so devastated by his failure to win acceptance to art school that he drifted into fascism and ultimately mass murder. Stalin, with his peasant roots and comically rustic accent, never really felt part of the Soviet in-crowd, which may have accounted for his otherwise puzzling decision to butcher 50 million of his countrymen. Napoleon, a short foreigner from Franco-Podunk was saddled with a coarse Corsican accent, strange hair and very poor orthographic skills. Many psychologists believed that he waged his lifelong war against the English merely to avenge a youthful slight, when the Brits turned him down for a position in the Royal Navy upon his graduation from military school.

Queenan then turns to historical figures that may have turned to terror because of real-estate deals gone bad.

Obviously, the inept Shahzad's crime pales in comparison with those of the totalitarian fiends of the 20th century. Yet it doesn't take a whole lot to unleash the evil that forever lies slumbering in the deepest recesses of the human heart. And in an astonishing number of cases, a real-estate deal that went south is the cause of all the trouble.

On this point, the historical record is clear. Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, roommates in medical school, only became bloodthirsty revolutionaries after the title-search company handling their lease-purchase of a Mexico City duplex ran off with their deposit, taking their life's savings.

Lee Harvey Oswald's decision to assassinate John F. Kennedy was almost certainly triggered by a $30,000 beating he took on the sale of his suburban Dallas condo.

Augusto Pinochet, who presided over Chile from 1974 until 1990, decided to depose his rival Salvador Allende after a Santiago-based Real Estate Investment Trust went belly-up. Recalls a retired junta member: "Augusto was a klutz when it came to real estate. When that REIT blew up, he just went ballistic."

The library of Alexandria, with a collection that included scores of irreplaceable Aeschylus manuscripts, was burned to the ground in A.D. 642 by eight silent partners in a downtown Luxor redevelopment project that imploded.

The sack of Rome, in A.D. 476, was ordered by a barbarian named Odoacer, who had squandered the inheritance left him by his grandfather Attila on a Helvetian buy-leaseback garrison conversion deal brokered by a cabal of shady Brigantes.

And the assassination of Julius Caesar was almost certainly triggered by Brutus's getting scammed on a Transalpine Gaul timeshare deal by Marc Antony. As Cicero said at the time: "This is a reminder that foreclosures generate an enormous amount of misery and anxiety and depression that can tip people into all sorts of dangerous behaviors that don't make headlines but do ruin lives. The evil that men do dies with them. The crummy real-estate deals live on for centuries."

Mark Steyn also weighed in on the foreclosure as motive silliness.

Incidentally, one way of falling behind with your house payments is to take half a year off to go to Pakistan and train in a terrorist camp. Perhaps Congress could pass some sort of jihadist housing credit?

Steyn doesn't mention it but airfare costs alone for Shahzad's thirteen trips to Pakistan would certainly have wreaked havoc on his ability to make mortgage payments. Steyn also comments on the danger inherent in the government's politically correct squeamishness in disregarding the true source of terrorism. Or its view of the (would be or actual) perpetrators as belonging to the "lone wolf" or incompetent terrorist category.

Last year, not one but two “terrorism task forces” discovered that U.S. Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan was in regular e-mail contact with the American-born, Yemeni-based cleric Ayman al-Awlaki but concluded that this was consistent with the major’s “research interests,” so there was nothing to worry about. A few months later, Major Hasan gunned down dozens of his comrades while standing on a table shouting “Allahu Akbar!” That was also consistent with his “research interests,” by the way. A policy of relying on stupid jihadists to screw it up every time will inevitably allow one or two to wiggle through. Hopefully not on a nuclear scale.

Fortunately we do have serious thinkers who understand and are willing to investigate and explain the true nature of the threat. The Weekly Standard's dynamic duo of terrorism reporting - Steve Hayes and Tom Joscelyn - wade through the evidence of Shahzad's recruitment and training by the Taliban in Pakistan. (link below)

And in a WSJ op-ed today, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey warns that treating Shahzad and other jihadists as common criminals reverts back to the pre-9/11 anti-terror model that failed so miserably. He also admonishes those who feel they have the right and/or the responsibility to expose anti-terror intelligence efforts. The following excerpt indicts the notorious periodical that inspires Ann Coulter's fitting epithet, "The Treason Times".

The Shahzad case provides a reminder of the permanent harm leaks of any kind can cause. An Associated Press story citing unnamed law enforcement sources reported that investigators were on the trail of a "courier" who had helped provide financing to Shahzad.

A courier would seem oddly out of place in the contemporary world where money can be transferred with the click of a mouse—that is, until one recalls that in 2006 the New York Times disclosed on its front page a highly classified government program for monitoring electronic international money transfers through what is known as the Swift system.

That monitoring violated no law but was leaked and reported as what an intelligence lawyer of my acquaintance referred to as "intelliporn"—intelligence information that is disclosed for no better reason than that it is fun to read about, and without regard for the harm it causes. Of course, terrorists around the world took note, and resorted to "couriers," making it much harder to trace terrorist financing.



Hayes, Joscelyn


Saturday, May 8, 2010

It Was Forty Years Ago Today

Yet another reminder of life’s brevity. It’s already been forty years since the National Basketball Association’s New York Knicks won its first ever championship. On May 8, 1970, the Knicks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 113-99, winning the best of seven series four games to three. Three years later New York repeated the accomplishment, beating LA, four games to one. They’ve had no championships since.

For the first 23 years of its existence the NBA had great teams and great players but garnered attention only from a relatively small segment of the sports minded American public. Even college basketball was much more popular. The 1969-70 New York Knicks helped to change that, sparking a surge of interest in pro basketball that continues to this day. How? Well for one, the team got off to a sensational start, winning 23 of its first 24 games, including 18 in a row, a record at the time. There was (premature) talk of the Knicks being the best team ever. Its success and celebrity were derived from its style of play – unselfishness, crisp passing, good shooting and tough defense. At their best, which that year was often, the Knicks were a joy to watch. And, of course, being a New York team, there was abundant media attention. There had been good Knick teams in the early 50s but not this good. Or this visible. Televised pro games were rare in the 50s, less so in 1969.

The teamwork part was important, but the Knicks were also composed of very talented players. Cazzie Russell – (a personal favorite of mine and my brother's), a flashy small forward, former all-American from Michigan. (Crisler arena in Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines play, is known as the house that Cazzie built); Mike Riordan, a hard working defensive specialist; Dave Stallworth - a lanky, athletic forward who had rejoined the team after suffering a heart attack; Dick Barnett – a veteran shooting guard and former Laker, who had a most unique jump shooting style; Bill Bradley – a celebrated college player and Rhodes scholar, he became a vital cog in the Knick machine (and later a U.S. Senator from New Jersey); Dave DeBusschere – a tough defensive forward and rebounder who could also score; Walt (“Clyde") Frazier, a stylish (on the court and off) superstar guard who made stealing the ball an art form; And Willis Reed, the team leader and for a time, arguably the league’s best player. (A description that could have applied to Frazier as well). Individually, all of them were good. But together they were better than the sum of their parts.

Some history. The Knicks had a 22-58 record in the 1963-64 season. They drafted Reed in 1964 and gradually improved to become a championship caliber team over the next five years. Aside from the continuous upgrading of talent, two events figured prominently in propelling the team to elite status. One was the 1967 replacement of Dick McGuire as coach with Red Holzman. That year, under McGuire, the Knicks were 15-22 and headed for its ninth consecutive sub .500 season. After Holzman took over, the team went 28-17, finishing at 43-39. Holzman's insistence on tough defense and disciplined play made all the difference. In his early games as coach, before the Knicks had gotten the message, his loud, raspy voice could be heard in the background of radio broadcasts, "See the ball! See the ball!"

The other key event in the Knicks ascendancy was the December, 1968 trade which sent Walt Bellamy and Howard Komives to Detroit for DeBusschere. Bellamy, a 6'11" center, was a very good scorer and rebounder. Komives was a good jumpshooter and a decent defensive player despite his small (6'1") size. On its face, the transaction appeared, if anything, to marginally favor Detroit. But, not obvious, except to those in the know, like Holzman and GM Eddie Donovan, the trade would profoundly restructure New York's lineup for the better. With DeBusschere, it had gotten one of the two best defensive forwards in the league. (Gus Johnson of the Baltimore Bullets was the other). At 6'6", he could score from inside or outside, and he was a good rebounder, passer and ball handler. In addition, he had coached the Pistons for a time while playing with them and his teaching specialty was offense.* Much of the Knicks' offensive strategy was developed by DeBusschere. In this way he complemented Holzman's genius for defense.
As for the periferal effects of the trade, the removal of Bellamy allowed Reed to return to his natural position at center. Willis had never been comfortable with his move to forward after the Knicks had obtained Bellamy in a trade. The quality of his play had suffered as a result. Back at center, Reed became one of the league's top players. As did Frazier, who was the beneficiary of increased playing time with Komives gone.
So, to sum up the ramifications of the trade - DeBusschere was a better forward than Reed, Reed was a better center than Bellamy and Frazier was a (much) better guard than Komives. The Knicks went from good to great.
(*Aside from playing in the NBA, DeBusschere had been a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. As an inducement to concentrate on basketball, the Pistons offered him the coaching job though he was only 24 at the time).

The 1970 final series was memorable. It matched the two best teams in the league from the two biggest cities in the country. The Lakers boasted three of the greatest players who ever lived – Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West and a solid supporting cast. Some felt that West should have received the league’s MVP award which instead went to Reed.

The Knicks, after compiling the league’s best record of 60-22, barely survived the first round playoffs against the Baltimore Bullets, winning four games to three. The up and coming Milwaukee Bucks with rookie Lew Alcindor, (soon to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), were then dispatched four games to one.

In those days, Madison Square Garden sold playoff tickets in four game sets. By waiting in line on the day the second set went on sale, I (along with my brother) were lucky enough to procure two of these sets at $5 per ticket. So, for $40 we watched from the blue (cheap) seats, all three home games against the Bucks and then the first game of the Laker series, all victories. Without my brother and me in the crowd the Knicks lost the second game of the final series by two points.

Game three of the series was famous for West’s 60 foot shot at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. In the movie, “Three Men and a Baby”, the Tom Selleck character calls the shot the greatest in basketball history. Given the dramatic situation, and the shot’s distance, he had a good argument. Had the three point rule been in effect at the time, the Lakers would have won the game. But West’s shot shouldn’t have counted at all as the replay showed that Chamberlain had not stepped out of bounds before “inbounding” the ball. No matter. The Knicks won the game in overtime.

There are a couple of other interesting things to note about that sequence. Dave DeBusschere had hit a very tough eighteen footer to put the Knicks ahead by two points with three seconds to go. Instead of standing around celebrating what appeared to be the game winning shot, he raced down the court and was standing under the basket as West’s shot went in. DeBusschere collapsed to the floor in disbelief. West himself was coolly nonchalant after he made the shot. Basketball then was blessedly free of the chest thumping and trash talking infesting today’s game.

The Lakers won the fourth game, needing another overtime to do it. After four hard fought games, including two that had gone into overtime, the series was tied 2-2. Then the real drama began.

Early in Game 5 with the Knicks already down by ten points, their best player and league MVP, Willis Reed, tore a hip muscle while driving to the basket. Things went from bad to worse as the Knicks fell behind by as much as 16 points (51-35) just before the end of the first half. In the second half they staged a remarkable, scintillating comeback. Playing without Reed, New York went with a small, quick lineup – three forwards and two guards. Utilizing their trademark strengths - tight defense, superior outside shooting, and great passing and backed by a frenzied home crowd, the Knicks won going away, 107-100. Bench players Cazzie Russell and Dave Stallworth made critically important contributions. Bill Bradley made two crucial shots, the one that tied the game and the one that put the Knicks ahead. The Lakers were hurt by their inability to adjust to the Knicks altered style of play, its sagging defense around Chamberlain. The next day, a reporter, noting that West had previously said that his team wasn’t the smartest he’d ever played on, quipped, “they couldn’t have passed a test on Sesame Street last night.”

As Reed sat out Game 6, the Lakers regrouped on their home court and demolished the Knicks by 22 points. Chamberlain, facing minimal resistance, scored 45 points and grabbed 27 rebounds. Questionable was whether Reed would play in Game 7, whether he would be at all effective if he did, and whether it all would matter anyway if Chamberlain was going to be the same dominant force he was in Game 6.

Game 7 is famous for Reed’s delayed entrance onto the court just before game time. The team doctor was waiting as long as possible before giving him a cortisone shot in his hip. The crowd roared as Reed came out and hit his warm up shots. It went berserk as he hit his first two shots once the game began. Those were the only baskets he made, but his real value to the team was his physical presence defending against Chamberlain. By all rights, Reed’s injury should have kept him bed-ridden, but instead he was going up against the greatest scorer in NBA history (at that time).

The other Knicks played well in Game 7 – especially DeBusschere, Bradley, and Barnett, but the real star of the game was Frazier who tallied 36 points, passed for 19 assists (a playoff record at the time) and pulled down 7 rebounds. A great clutch performance. New York totally dominated as the final margin of 14 points wasn’t indicative of the lopsidedness of the game. At halftime the Knicks led by 27 points and their lead was greater than 20 points for most of the second half.

We are (at least I am) indebted to someone who calls himself WiltatKansas for uploading on You Tube literally hundreds of classic old basketball videos. (Kansas was Wilt's alma mater). Some of the videos date back to the 1940s. The entire 1970 NBA Finals Game 7 is available, albeit with the dreary ABC announcing duo of Chris Schenkel and Jack Twyman. The site has highlights from Game 5 and the DeBusschere-West shot sequence in Game 3. I would really like to see uploaded the entire Game 5 and Game 7 with the Marv Albert play by play substituted for ABC’s. Albert was the long time radio voice of the Knicks before he became just another NBA TV announcer. To truly appreciate just how great Albert is, it’s necessary to hear him doing radio broadcasts.

I'll stop here for now. I could go on at book length. Which, maybe someday I will.

Here are links to just some of the many old Knicks videos available on You Tube.

The final couple of minutes of the Knicks’ 18th consecutive victory against the Cincinnati Royals, a game in which they trailed by 5 points with 16 seconds to play. At the end of the game, Willis Reed makes an uncharacteristically stupid play, taking an unnecessary shot while charging into a Royals player. Fortunately, time had run out. Reed must have lost track of the score.

1970 NBA Final Game 3 DeBusschere-West shot sequence

1970 NBA Final Game 5 Highlights (2 parts)

1970 NBA Final Complete Game 7 (In 12 parts – Part 1 link is below. Link to the others from there.)

A couple of other classic Knick games featured on You Tube.

A gem, if there ever was one - Bill Bradley’s professional debut, December 9, 1967 vs. the Pistons, a game which the Knicks lost. Played at the old Madison Square Garden at 8th Avenue and 50th Street, much of the game is shown (there are 5 parts) and it's accompanied by the Marv Albert radio broadcast. The video is fun to watch as rookies Walt Frazier and Phil Jackson get playing time. (Yes, that Phil Jackson. Jackson was technically a member of the 69-70 team but he missed the entire season with a broken foot. He's in the team picture above, number 18). A Piston star at the time, Dave Bing, is now mayor of Detroit. The principals of the big trade made the next season, are also in the game - Dave DeBusschere playing for the Pistons and Walt Bellamy and Howard Komives playing for the Knicks. Part 1 link below.

An incredible comeback. The Knicks trailed the Milwaukee Bucks by 18 points with 5:50 left in this November, 1972 game and scored the final 19 points to win. The Bucks with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson had been the 1970-71 NBA champs. The Knicks went on to win their only other championship in this, the 1972-73 season. The video picks up the game with the Knicks down by 11. The rally is led by Earl (The Pearl) Monroe, obtained in a trade for Dave Stallworth and Mike Riordan the previous season. Democrats will enjoy the included brief segment on the Watergate scandal, featuring an unflattering scene of a very nervous President Nixon.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Say What?

New York Magazine used to have a writing competition challenging readers to compose witty responses to various prompts. For example - Common Phrases Redefined. Competitors were asked to change one letter in a familiar non-English phrase and redefine it.

One reader's response was -
Harlez-vous francais?
(Can you drive a French motorcycle?).

Anyway, a suggested competition - Compose a sentence rendered silly and meaningless by the inclusion of an obvious redundancy.

I tried but I couldn't come up with anything approaching the elegant asininity of a recent MSNBC on-screen headline. Concerning Arizona's recently passed law requiring immigrants to carry documentation with them at all times, (also a Federal requirement by the way, signed into law by FDR more than half a century ago) the network proclaimed,

"The law makes it a crime to be an illegal immigrant."

From the Wall Street Journal yesterday -

Ezra Klein, writing Tuesday on his Washington Post blog about the fact that Faisal Shahzad was in the midst of a home foreclosure when he tried to bomb Times Square:

This guy is like string theory for the media: He brings together the seemingly incompatible stories that drove the past decade. That said, you of course don't want to speculate on why someone "really" did something. The hearts of men are opaque, and motives are complex. But it's a reminder that foreclosures generate an enormous amount of misery and anxiety and depression that can tip people into all sorts of dangerous behaviors that don't make headlines but do ruin lives. And for all that we've done to save the financial sector, we've not done nearly enough to help struggling homeowners.

Klein's remarks offer a revealing insight into the mind of a modern liberal. Klein ignores the obvious - Shahzad is a radical Pakistani Muslim who has been on a terror watch list since 1999. He became "Americanized" to reduce suspicion about his jihadist predelictions. The two stories - radical Islamic terrorism and home foreclosures - are "seemingly incompatible" because they are incompatible. Klein uses a news item - an attempted terror attack designed to murder civilians - to spout off about a totally unrelated liberal cause - the alleged need for additional subsidies for mortgage scofflaws. It's not enough that many of those deadbeats have already exploited ill-advised government largesse to the point of bringing ruin to the economy. Klein wants to continue to reward their irresponsibility.

Again in the WSJ (today).

Last Saturday at the University of Michigan, President Obama noted the importance of maintaining "a basic level of civility in our public debate." He added, "You can question somebody's views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism."

Obama calling for "civility in our public debate" is like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for equal rights for Jews, women and homosexuals. Adding to an already impressive list of "uncivil" comments, Obama lashed out yesterday at Senator Richard Shelby for proposing an amendment to the financial reform bill being debated in Congress.

"I will not allow amendments like this one written by Wall Street's lobbyists to pass for reform."

That was similar to Obama's attack a couple of weeks ago on Senate Republicans Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn when they attended a fact-finding meeting with the nation's leading bankers.

"The leader of the Senate Republicans and the chair of the Republican Senate campaign committee met with two dozen top Wall Street executives to talk about how to block progress on (the financial reform) issue.”

By all means Mr. President. Let's not question anyone's motives. Incidentally, ya think someone's advising Obama to utilize the derogatory adjective, "Wall Street" when talking about individuals and groups he wants to demonize? Ya think?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ah, Yes. Those Violent Right Wingers

Scary looking, aren't they? Notice the riot police in the background ready to repel these hateful reactionaries.

"I realized that there were lot of parallels between the early '90s and now, both in the feeling of economic dislocation, the level of uncertainty people felt, the rise of kind of identity politics, the rise of the militia movements and right-wing talk radio, with a lot of what's going on in the blogosphere now, and in the right-wing media," (Bill) Clinton said.

"A lot of the things that have been said, they create a climate in which people who are vulnerable to violence because they're disoriented, like Timothy McVeigh was, are more likely to act," he added.

Joining Clinton in warning of the violence potential of antigovernment protesters are liberal media types like Frank Rich, Joe Klein, and Paul Krugman.

Strangely, they voice no such concerns over the possibility of left wing political violence, such as that which occurred during this year's May Day festivities.

In Santa Cruz, California for instance.

Downtown business owners spent Sunday repairing shattered windows and doors after a May Day rally Saturday night turned into a riot with approximately 250 people marching along Pacific Avenue, some carrying makeshift torches, throwing large rocks and paint bombs, and spray-painting walls with graffiti.

At least 18 businesses suffered damage during the rally in honor of international workers that began at 9 p.m. and escalated into mayhem around 10:30 p.m., police said. Investigators estimated damage at $100,000, though some business owners said it could be more. No injuries were reported.

On Sunday, sea green-colored glass littered sidewalks where windows and glass doors had been smashed. Maintenance workers, many getting called in the middle of the night, boarded up windows with plywood until new sheets of glass could be installed.

The vandalized businesses included Urban Outfitters, Peet’s Coffee, Noah’s Bagels, Jamba Juice, Velvet Underground and Dell Williams Jewelers. The unoccupied Rittenhouse building also was damaged. A police car was vandalized with rocks and paint, department spokesman Zach Friend said.

And Asheville, North Carolina.

Last night around 10:45 p.m., vandals shattered glass at several businesses around the Battery Park Avenue area, including the Eye Center, Bella's, the Asheville Citizen-Times, the entrance to the Grove Arcade, Cucina 24, an RBC Centura ATM and the glass etching landmark across the street from the Arcade. Several cars in the area were also damaged. Reports at the time described around 20 people wearing dark clothing, breaking windows.
"The subjects were wearing masks and face coverings and are estimated to have damaged at least eight vehicles and five businesses," an announcement from the Asheville Police Department reads. "Officers from all districts responded, as well as a K-9 unit and Forensics staff."

So far, 11 people have been arrested by the APD.

The article goes on to mention that two of those arrested are anarchists, affiliated with known radical left-wing groups.

And of course, not to be outdone, there was New York City, as an eyewitness recounts.

About an hour later we were heading to a concert on the NYU campus, and started walking down Broadway toward Astor Place. We started hearing lots of police sirens all at once, and then looked straight ahead. There were young guys with baseball bats and Che signs pinned to their backpacks running down the street smashing store windows, all on the west side of Broadway. We stopped dead on a corner, because there were police cars coming from so many different directions the street lights were rendered meaningless. As soon as we stopped, about 6 NYPD units pulled up to our exact corner and the cops jumped out and tackled two of the vandals literally TWO FEET in front of me. Some other officers arrived, jumped out of their cars, and started a crazy foot pursuit of another guy who started running in zig-zags down the middle of Broadway. They tackled him as well, in the middle of the freakin’ street, as cars kept almost hitting everyone involved. It happened incredibly quickly. There were tons of eyewitnesses, and I even saw a few people videotaping, but of course I can’t find mention of this incident anywhere online or in the media. We had about five minutes to get to the concert, so stopping and gawking wasn’t an option. We just kept walking, tried to get away from the whole mess. But we could see and hear police interviewing plenty of witnesses, and heard people say “they just kept breaking windows”, and saw the perps with their faces in the pavement for ourselves.

Meanwhile, as they focus on conservative dissent as a potential source of violence, liberals continue to downplay the very real threat from radical Islam. This elicits some unintentionally funny speculation.
The NYC mayor on the attempted Times Square car bombing.

“There is no credible evidence so far that this attack was more than at least one person, the driver,” said Mayor Mike Bloomberg. “After that there is no evidence that anyone else was involved. It may be, but we can’t say that it is.”…
“If I had to guess, twenty five cents, this would be exactly that,” Bloomberg said. “Homegrown maybe a mentally deranged person or someone with a political agenda that doesn’t like the health care bill or something. It could be anything.”

Like someone mad about New York's public smoking ban. Or its war on trans fat.
Less wacky, but still the stuff of fantasy were these two remarks.

New York’s Democratic Senator Charles Schumer suggested, early on, “The odds are quite high that this was a lone wolf.”

Janet Napolitano, appeared on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” and said, “You know, at this point I have no information that it’s anything other than a one-off.”

A one-off? Hard to decide which is more fitting. Incompetano or Nincompoopitano.

Mark Steyn comments.

Whenever something goofy happens — bomb in Times Square, mass shootings at a US military base, etc. — there seem to be two kinds of reactions:

a) Some people go, "Hmm. I wonder if this involves some guy with a name like Mohammed who has e-mails from Yemen."

b) Other people go, "Don't worry, there's no connection to terrorism, and anyway, even if there is, it's all very amateurish, and besides he's most likely an isolated extremist or lone wolf."

Unfortunately, everyone in category (b) seems to work for the government.