Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bill Maher and Tim Tebow: Why are so so many offended by the quarterback’s faith?

The Washington Post
December 30, 2011

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 24: Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos throws a pass against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo won 40-14. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

If God is liable to smite anybody around here, it’s me. When it’s smiting time, I duck, because I don’t believe in any religion that requires a building and loan payments. Nevertheless, I’m having a hard time seeing anything wrong with Tim Tebow taking a prayer knee in public. The knee seems a pretty plain and graceful statement, and it’s tiresome to see it so willfully misinterpreted. It’s the preachers from the top of Mount Idiot like Bill Maher who are hard to understand.

If you want to know Maher’s overriding philosophy on anything, you have to go back to high school and the stoner in the last row, surrounded by sycophants as he makes ugly cracks about his betters. That was the vein of the tweet that Maher chucked at Tebow on Christmas Eve, after the Broncos quarterback was intercepted three times in a loss to the Buffalo Bills. Maher wrote, “Wow, Jesus just [expletive] Tim Tebow bad! And on Xmas Eve! Somewhere in hell Satan is Tebowing, saying to Hitler, ‘Hey, Buffalo’s killing them.’”

Set aside the intriguing question of whether Maher would have the nerve if Tebow were Muslim. Or whether he’s funny. (He’s not, really. Monty Python is.) What’s more interesting is why Maher, and other political commentators from Bill Press to David Shuster, feel compelled to rip on Tebow simply for kneeling. “I’m tired of hearing Tim Tebow and all this Jesus talk,” Press said, adding a profane suggestion that Tebow should shut up. They act like he’s trying to personally strip them of their religious liberty, manipulate the markets, and take over our strategic oil transport routes.

What is so threatening about Tebow? It can’t be his views. Tebow has never once suggested God cares about football. Quite the opposite. It’s Maher and company who stupidly suggest a Tebow touchdown scores one for Evangelicals whereas an interception somehow chalks one up for atheism. Anyone who listens to Tebow knows he doesn’t do Jesus Talk, he’s mostly show and no tell. His idea of proselytizing is to tweet an abbreviated Bible citation. Mark 8:36. He leaves it up to you whether to look it up. When he takes a knee, it’s perfectly obvious that it’s an expression of humility. He’s crediting his perceived source, telling himself, don’t forget where you came from. On the whole, it’s more restrained than most end zone shimmies.

So why does Tebow’s expression of faith make people so silly-crazy? Why do they care what he does?

Because he emphasizes the aspect of his talent that is given, not earned.

And that makes people nervous. The reactions to Tebow seem to fall under the category of what theologian Michael J. Murray calls “Theo-phobia.” In his essay “Who’s Afraid of Religion?” Murray argues we’re ill at ease with intrusions of personal faith. We fear they could lead to oppression, or mania, or even prove us wrong. We prefer to keep religion at the abstract distance of historical or socio-cultural discussion, the safe range described by historian George Marsden, “like grandparents in an upwardly mobile family, tolerated and sometimes respected because of their service in the past. . . but otherwise expected either to be supportive or to stay out of the way and not say anything embarrassing.”

When Tebow kneels on the field, his religion becomes challengingly present. Tebow doesn’t have to get into a bunch of Jesus Talk to put you or me in an uncomfortable state of mind. It’s more subtle than that. Murray suggests, if I have a reaction to The Knee, it’s because Tebow implies “that there is something in the universe over and above the natural which deserves my attention, allegiance, or honor and I find that distasteful or irritating.”

Just when you’re trying to mindlessly surrender to an afternoon of pleasure, Tebow begs the question, what if faith actually, well, works? Regardless of whether you believe Tebow’s athletic talent is random and indiscriminate, or bestowed and directed, when you watch his fourth-quarter comebacks it is impossible not to notice that faith is an undeniable performance enhancer, at least as powerful as any drug. For whatever reason.

Tebow isn’t the first athlete to be lifted above his apparent capacities by his beliefs. The phenomenon is hardly restricted to Evangelicals. Back in 2005 a Pakistani cricket batsman named Yousuf Youhana converted from Catholicism to Islam. The next season his batting average soared to 83.06 from 47.30. Whenever he scored 100 runs, he kneeled in the direction of Mecca and prostrated himself to Allah. He broke the world record for most test runs in a calendar year.

When asked the difference in his play, he replied that he had simply become a better man. But not everyone was comfortable with his transformation into Mohammad Yousuf, and his Mecca gazing. The Pakistani government, in an effort to curb what it saw as Islamic overzealousness, ordered the chairman of the cricket board to forbid extreme religious displays. It was interpreted as an attempt to de-Islamify the squad. In their next match, the Pakistanis lost by 51 runs.

I’ve been trying to think of other public figures who disconcerted their audience with displays of faith. Then one came to me: George Harrison. On the recent anniversary of Harrison’s death, writer Andrew Ferguson described seeing Harrison during his solo tour of the States, making 40,000 roaring people suddenly uncomfortable simply by singing about his Hinduism. “I still marvel at the nerve it must have taken, singing about God, of all things, in front of kids thumping for rock ’n’ roll, not to mention the wised-up musicians and the cynics and pedants of the concert-reviewing press,” Ferguson wrote. Plenty of people complained about Harrison’s dragging Hinduism into concert halls, but, “Because George insisted, some of us felt obliged, for the first time in our lives, to take the idea (at least) of God seriously.”

Belittle Tebow if you must. But the trouble with shouting down Tebow’s religion, never mind the sheer offensiveness, is the same trouble with shouting down any other form of inspired expression. Do that, and you also shout down mystery, possibility, surprise. And some perfectly good questions. You drown out an awful lot that’s of interest, whether you agree with it or not.

Related: Tim Tebow ripped by Bill Maher after loss

Poll: Do Tebow’s expressions of faith bother you?

Tebow’s popularity soars

On Faith: Tim Tebow and the Second Coming

Obama Recruits Qaradawi

The administration is working with a Muslim Brotherhood jurist.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
December 31, 2011

The surrender is complete now. The Hindu reports that the Obama administration has turned to Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leading jurist, to mediate secret negotiations between the United States and the Taliban.

I wrote about Qaradawi at length in The Grand Jihad and, here at NRO, have regularly catalogued his activities (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, and here; see also Andrew Bostom’s “Qaradawi’s Odious Vision”). For those who may be unfamiliar with him, he is the most influential Sunni Islamist in the world, thanks to such ventures as his al-Jazeera TV program (Sharia and Life) and website ( In 2003, he issued a fatwa calling for the killing of American troops in Iraq. As he put it,
Those killed fighting the American forces are martyrs given their good intentions since they consider these invading troops an enemy within their territories but without their will. . . . Although they are seen by some as being wrong, those defending against attempts to control Islamic countries have the intention of jihad and bear a spirit of the defense of their homeland.
Qaradawi urges that Islam must dominate the world, under a global caliphate governed by sharia. He maintains that Islam “will conquer Europe [and] will conquer America.” He sometimes qualifies that the conquering will be done “not through the sword but through da’wa,” but the qualification is a feint.

Da’wa sounds harmless — it refers to missionary work to spread Islam. Islam, however, is not like other religions. The idea is not to spread a set of spiritual principles but incrementally to impose a full-scale social system with its own authoritarian legal code, covering all aspects of life and instituting a caste system in which women and non-Muslims are subjugated. Nor is da’wa like other missionary work; it is the use of all available means of pressure — political campaigns, lawfare, infiltration of the media, control of the education system, etc. — to advance (a) the acceptance of Islamic principles and (b) the evisceration of principles (e.g., free speech, economic liberty) that undergird competitors, in particular, Western civilization. Moreover, the claim that da’wa is non-violent is frivolous. Much of the mission of da’wa is to rationalize terrorism as divinely mandated self-defense.

Thus does Sheikh Qaradawi champion Hamas, mass-murder attacks, and suicide bombings. “They are not suicide operations,” he brays. “These are heroic martyrdom operations.” Indeed, he elaborates, “The martyr operations is [sic] the greatest of all sorts of jihad in the cause of Allah.”

Thus does Qaradawi urge the destruction of Israel, rebuking clerics who dare counsel against killing civilians. “I am astonished,” he inveighs, “that some sheikhs deliver fatwas that betray the mujahideen, instead of supporting them and urging them to sacrifice and martyrdom.” As the Investigative Project on Terrorism recounts, when the imam of Mecca’s Grand Mosque issued guidance against the killing of civilians, Qaradawi upbraided him: “It is unfortunate to hear that the grand imam has said it was not permissible to kill civilians in any country or state, even in Israel.”

Not surprisingly, then, the sheikh is also wont to invoke what the West refuses to acknowledge: the Jew-hatred that is endemic in Islam because it is rooted in scripture — not in modern grievances that could be satisfied if only the West changed its policies and Israel had the good grace to disappear. As Qaradawi puts it, echoing the charter of Hamas (the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch):
This is what is told in the Hadith of Ibn-Omar and the Hadith of Abu-Hurairah: “You shall continue to fight the Jews and they will fight you, until the Muslims will kill them. And the Jew will hide behind the stone and the tree, and the stone and the tree will say: ‘Oh servant of Allah, Oh Muslim, this is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him!’ The resurrection will not come before this happens.” This is a text from the good omens in which we believe.
Qaradawi uses his al-Jazeera platform to preach this message to the Muslim masses. As the Middle East Media Research Institute and Robert Spencer document, in one memorable Friday “sermon” broadcast in 2009, he prayed that Allah would kill all Jews: “Oh Allah, take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers and kill them, down to the very last one.” He added that throughout history, Allah had imposed upon Jews “people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Adolph Hitler.”

After thousands of young Americans have laid down their lives to protect the United States from jihadist terror, President Obama apparently seeks to end the war by asking Qaradawi, a jihad-stoking enemy of the United States, to help him strike a deal that will install our Taliban enemies as part of the sharia state we have been building in Afghanistan. If the Hindu report is accurate, the price tag will include the release of Taliban prisoners from Gitmo — an element of the deal Reuters has also reported. The administration will also agree to the lifting of U.N. sanctions against the Taliban, and recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political party (yes, just like the Muslim Brotherhood!). In return, the Taliban will pretend to forswear violence, to sever ties with al-Qaeda, and to cooperate with the rival Karzai regime.

It would mark one of the most shameful chapters in American history.

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

Today's Tune: Chris Isaak - Gone Ridin'

Puncture the cocoon of denial

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
December 30, 2011

Ring out the new, ring in the old. No, hang on, that should be the other way around, shouldn't it? Not as far as 2011 was concerned. The year began with a tea-powered Republican caucus taking control of the House of Representatives and pledging to rein in spendaholic government. It ended with President Obama making a pro forma request for a mere $1.2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling. This will raise government debt to $16.4 trillion – a new world record! If only until he demands the next debt-ceiling increase in three months' time.

At the end of 2011, America, like much of the rest of the Western world, has dug deeper into a cocoon of denial. Tens of millions of Americans remain unaware that this nation is broke – broker than any nation has ever been. A few days before Christmas, we sailed across the psychological Rubicon and joined the club of nations whose government debt now exceeds their total GDP. It barely raised a murmur – and those who took the trouble to address the issue noted complacently that our 100 percent debt-to-GDP ratio is a mere two-thirds of Greece's. That's true, but at a certain point per capita comparisons are less relevant than the sheer hard dollar sums: Greece owes a few rinky-dink billions; America owes more money than anyone has ever owed anybody ever.

Public debt has increased by 67 percent over the past three years, and too many Americans refuse even to see it as a problem. For most of us, "$16.4 trillion" has no real meaning, any more than "$17.9 trillion" or "$28.3 trillion" or "$147.8 bazillion." It doesn't even have much meaning for the guys spending the dough: Look into the eyes of Barack Obama or Harry Reid or Barney Frank, and you realize that, even as they're borrowing all this money, they have no serious intention of paying any of it back. That's to say, there is no politically plausible scenario under which the 16.4 trillion is reduced to 13.7 trillion, and then 7.9 trillion and, eventually, 173 dollars and 48 cents. At the deepest levels within our governing structures, we are committed to living beyond our means on a scale no civilization has ever done.

Our most enlightened citizens think it's rather vulgar and boorish to obsess about debt. The urbane, educated, Western progressive would rather "save the planet," a cause which offers the grandiose narcissism that, say, reforming Medicare lacks. So, for example, a pipeline delivering Canadian energy from Alberta to Texas is blocked by the president on no grounds whatsoever except that the very thought of it is an aesthetic affront to the moneyed Sierra Club types who infest his fundraisers. The offending energy, of course, does not simply get mothballed in the Canadian attic: The Dominion's Prime Minister has already pointed out that they'll sell it to the Chinese, whose Politburo lacks our exquisitely refined revulsion at economic dynamism and, indeed, seems increasingly amused by it. Pace the ecopalyptics, the planet will be just fine: Would it kill you to try saving your country, or state or municipality?

Last January, the BBC's Brian Milligan inaugurated the New Year by driving an electric Mini from London to Edinburgh, taking advantage of the many government-subsidized charge posts en route. It took him four days, which works out to an average speed of 6 miles per hour – or longer than it would have taken on a stagecoach in the mid-19 century. This was hailed as a great triumph by the environmentalists. I mean, c'mon, what's the hurry?

What indeed? In September, the 10th anniversary of a murderous strike at the heart of America's most glittering city was commemorated at a building site: the Empire State Building was finished in 18 months during a depression, but in the 21st century the global superpower cannot put up two replacement skyscrapers within a decade. The 9/11 memorial museum was supposed to open on the 11th anniversary, this coming September. On Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg announced that there is "no chance of it being open on time." No big deal. What's one more endlessly delayed, inefficient, over-bureaucratized construction project in a sclerotic republic?

Barely had the 9/11 observances ended than America's gilded if somewhat long-in-the-tooth youth took to the streets of Lower Manhattan to launch "Occupy Wall Street." The young certainly should be mad about something: After all, it's their future that got looted to bribe the present. As things stand, they'll end their days in an impoverished, violent, disease-ridden swamp of dysfunction that would be all but unrecognizable to Americans of the mid-20th century – and, if that's not reason to take to the streets, what is? Alas, our somnolent youth are also laboring under the misapprehension that advanced Western societies still have somebody to stick it to. The total combined wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans is $1.5 trillion. So, if you confiscated the lot, it would barely cover one Obama debt-ceiling increase. Nevertheless, America's student princes' main demand was that someone else should pick up the six-figure tab for their leisurely half-decade varsity of Social Justice studies. Lest sticking it to the Man by demanding the Man write them a large check sound insufficiently idealistic, they also wanted a trillion dollars for "ecological restoration." Hey, why not? What difference is another lousy trill gonna make?

Underneath the patchouli and pneumatic drumming, the starry-eyed young share the same cobwebbed parochial assumptions of permanence as their grandparents: we're gayer, greener, and groovier, but other than that it's still 1950, and we've got more money than anybody else on the planet, so why get hung up about a few trillion here and a few trillion there? In a mere half-century, the richest nation on Earth became the brokest nation in history, but the attitudes and assumptions of half the population and 90 percent of the ruling class remain unchanged.

Auld acquaintance can be forgot, for awhile. But eventually even the most complacent and myopic societies get re-acquainted with reality. For anyone who cares about the future of America and the broader West, the most important task in 2012 is to puncture the cocoon of denial. Instead, the governing class obsesses on trivia: Just to pluck at random from recent California legislative proposals, a ban on nonfitted sheets in motels, mandatory gay history for first-graders, car seats for children up to the age of 8. Why not up to the age of 38? Just to be on the safe side. And all this in an ever more insolvent jurisdiction that every year drives ever more of its productive class to flee its borders.

Tens of millions of Americans have yet to understand that the can no longer can be kicked down the road, because we're all out of road. The pavement ends, and there's just a long drop into the abyss. And, even in a state-compliant car seat, you'll land with a bump. At this stage in a critical election cycle, we ought to be arguing about how many government departments to close, how many government programs to end, how many millions of government regulations to do away with. Instead, one party remains committed to encrusting even more barnacles to America's rusting hulk, while the other is far too wary of harshing the electorate's mellow.

The sooner we recognize the 20th century entitlement state is over, the sooner we can ring in something new. The longer we delay ringing out the old, the worse it will be. Happy New Year?


Friday, December 30, 2011

Thatcher vs. Decline

We’re not as badly off as Britain in 1979, but we can still learn from the Iron Lady.

By Rich Lowry
December 30, 2011

Margaret Thatcher is on the cover of Newsweek, or — the next best thing — Meryl Streep is on the cover as the former British prime minister in a new biopic.

Thatcher is a rich theme. If the types who expound on such things didn’t so hate her politics, she’d launch a thousand dissertations on those inexhaustible academic themes of class and gender. As the daughter of a grocer, she was looked down upon as the personification of, in the words of one highfalutin critic, “the worst of the lower-middle-class.” As a woman in a man’s world, she was venomously attacked by her opponents as a “bitch” or “the bag.”

At this moment in our history, though, it is Thatcher’s central purpose that is most important: her unyielding rejection of British decline. She rejected it with every bone in her middle-class body, even though sophisticates scoffed at such a naïve nationalism. She rejected it even though the grandees of her own party said it was inevitable. She rejected it even though she knew reversing it meant forcing a wrenching political and economic crisis.

The acrid whiff of decline is in the air in America, in the enduringly weak employment picture, in the spiraling debt, in the persistent pessimism about our prospects, and in the intellectual preparation for a “post-American world.” Part of the volatility in the Republican presidential field is the unfulfilled hunger for a Thatcher-like figure. She had the urgency of an emergency-room surgeon, the rhetorical subtlety of a blowtorch, and the conviction of a desert monk. Tory MP John Biffen called her “a tigress surrounded by hamsters.” But she matched her fearlessness with sound judgment and a positively Prussian work ethic. Needless to say, Thatchers aren’t often on offer.

The country she wanted to save was, by the late 1970s, an embarrassing wreck. After World War II, Britain’s leaders had run the ship of state aground on the shoals of socialism. The country was broke and beset by maliciously powerful unions. Humiliatingly, it had to go to the International Monetary Fund for a loan. In 1975, Henry Kissinger told President Ford, “Britain is a tragedy — it has sunk to begging, borrowing, stealing.”

Claire Berlinski, author of the book-length study of Thatcher titled There Is No Alternative, quotes Michael Howard, a subsequent leader of the Tory party: “The air of defeatism which was the prevailing climate of the time was the economic and social equivalent of Munich.”

It took considerable moral courage for Thatcher to insist that practically everyone else was wrong — including the accommodationists in her own party — and that Britain could take an entirely different path. In 1979 she ran on a party manifesto that excoriated declinism. “She had been elected to reverse Britain’s decline,” writes John O’Sullivan, the former Thatcher aide and author of The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister, “not to explain it smoothly away like virtually every other political leader.”

It wasn’t enough to rage against Britain’s fate without correctly diagnosing the source of its sickness. As Berlinski notes, Thatcher made an unsparing and comprehensive case against socialism. “In the end,” she thundered, “the real case against socialism is not its economic inefficiency, though on all sides there is evidence of that. Much more fundamental is its basic immorality.”

Bold but never reckless, Thatcher as prime minister undertook a comprehensive free-market program to tame inflation, restrain spending, cut taxes, privatize industries, bring unions to heel, and deregulate the financial industry. At one point, her approval rating dipped to 23 percent, but her vindication was a sustained return to dynamism and growth. Her victory in the Falklands War represented a turning point in national pride. She was Ronald Reagan’s partner in defeating the Soviets. By the end of her career, she had accomplished what Britain’s consensus had once deemed impossible.

In today’s America, the circumstances are very different, but the basic challenge is profoundly the same. Thatcher’s lesson is that decline is inevitable only if its self-fulfilling prophets prevail.

― Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: © 2011 by King Features Syndicate

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Today's Tune: The Gaslight Anthem & Bruce Springsteen - American Slang (Live)

Child Slavery on the Arabian Peninsula

By Stephen Brown
December 29, 2011

It is perhaps the most pernicious of evils. The words “child slavery” would cause most people nowadays to recoil in horror, but in the oil-rich countries of the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, it apparently still doesn’t.

The most recent and revolting incident shedding light on the continued existence of this murky and most heinous of crimes involves a thirty-five-year-old Pakistani mother who bravely refused to sell her two boys to a slaver in Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates. But this heroine, whose name, Azim Mai, deserves to be mentioned, paid a high price for her courageous stand. Her husband, angry at her refusal to condemn her sons to such a cruel fate, threw acid in Mai’s face, seriously disfiguring her.

But there are still many other parents among Pakistan’s large, poverty-stricken population willing to sell their male offspring into the Persian Gulf. Boys as young as three are bought from poor parents, and sometimes simply kidnapped from the street, principally in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and sent as slaves to these oil-rich states for one purpose only: to win camel races for their new Arab masters. The boys are expected to do this after being trained as riders under very brutal conditions for what is a very popular sport in that region.

“As many as 6,000 camel jockeys …languished in hidden slavery on ouzbah farms where their masters beat them and starved them to keep their weight down,” wrote E. Benjamin Skinner in his book, A Crime So Monstrous, before the use of boy camel jockeys was officially banned due to international pressure in 2005. A 2004 documentary about the boys’ plight, shown on HBO, was chiefly responsible for making Americans aware of this modern-day barbarism.

Great fanfare was made at the time about replacing the child jockeys with robots. But humanitarian organizations, like the Ansar Burney Trust, never believed all racing camel owners stopped using slave boy jockeys after abolition. Such a law, they say, would never affect the rich and powerful in the Emirates, especially members of the different Gulf royal families. The races, in which children are still made to ride, simply went underground.

As evidence, the Ansar Burney Trust cites the fact that of the estimated 6,000 camel jockeys at the time of the so-called abolition, one thousand are still missing. And even then, some of the ones repatriated back to their countries were resold and resent to the Persian Gulf to race camels again, while still others wound up in the madrassas of Islamic extremist organizations in their home countries.

The unfortunate boys kept on an “ousbah,” an isolated camel farm, are caught up in a nightmare of hellish proportions. After experiencing the trauma of suddenly being separated from their families, they are made to work 18-hour days. A camel jockey-in-training is also starved, beaten and sometimes sexually abused.
Serious injury, even death, is a fate that also awaits many of the child riders, some as young as five, when training or racing over distances between four and 10 kilometres atop of 800-900 pound animals that can run as fast as 40 miles per hour. Even if the rider does not fall, damaged genitals is one of the serious wounds the slave boys often suffer.

“They used to wake us at two or three in the morning. If we didn’t get up or thought we were lazy, they would beat us with sticks,” one former child camel jockey told a British newspaper. “We had to clean up the camel dung with our hands.”
Another boy, Zufiqar, 10, said that race day represented the worst time due to the injuries and deaths he saw the camel jockeys suffer when thrown from their fast-moving mounts. And if the camel was also injured, Zufiqar stated “They always look after the camel first.”
The reason for this is that the camel may have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars while the slave boy may only have cost a few hundred. Also for this reason, there are camel hospitals, and a Dubai prince was reported by an American paper to even have a swimming pool for his racing camels.

Along with the boys, young girls from South Asia and other impoverished countries are also trafficked to the Arabian Peninsula but for the sinister purpose of sexual exploitation. In the book Princess Sultana’s Circle, a sensitive and modern-thinking princess of the Saudi royal family gave American authoress Jean Sasson damning testimony concerning this evil.

During a social visit to the home of another Saudi royal prince, the princess discovered a harem of young, captive slave girls. The girls had been purchased in South Asian and South-East Asian countries and were forced to provide sexual services for the prince and his friends. The princess had wanted to free them but was unable to do so. The Saudi princess was even more horrified when she later came upon three male members of her own family, all Saudi royal princes, brutally raping a young Pakistani girl one of them had bought and brought back to Saudi Arabia.

Traffickers have also sometimes been caught at Third World airports leaving for the Arabian Peninsula with their human cargo. In 2007, one was caught in Karachi with both a boy and a young, pregnant woman. He was headed for Oman where he planned to sell the boy as a camel jockey and the girl as a sex slave. Her unborn baby was also destined to become a camel jockey or a sex slave, according to Pakistani police, who claim pregnant women are being trafficked for the purpose of producing future slaves.

African-American author Samuel Cotton also stumbled upon the slave trade to the Arabian Peninsula in the 1990s when investigating slavery at the other end of the Islamic world in Mauritania. In his book Silent Terror: A Journey Into Contemporary African Slavery, Cotton was told by Mauritanian anti-slavery activists that there was “still a huge trafficking in slaves going on between Mauritania and the United Arab Emirates.” Cotton was also stunned to discover that black African children playing alone would be kidnapped by Arabs travelling on camels with big baskets, in which the children were placed. The children, he was told, are sometimes later found “hundreds of miles away as slaves.”

Unfortunately for its innocent victims, both present and future, the eradication of slavery on the Arabian Peninsula will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. It is an ingrained, centuries-old institution. And despite it being officially banned since the early 1960s, many fundamentalist Muslims there still view destroying innocent young lives as their legal right. Under sharia law, which governs Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, Muslims are legally allowed to own slaves. Bernard Lewis, the eminent scholar of Islam, writes “…the institution of slavery is not only recognised but is elaborately regulated by Sharia law.” Another reason for this inhuman sense of entitlement is that the prophet Muhammad was also a slave owner, setting the example for the fundamentalists.

Another problem that hinders eradication is that highly-placed officials responsible for enforcing the laws in Arabian countries probably own slaves themselves. One former black African slave girl, Mender Nazer, who escaped from slavery in London, England, belonged to a highly-placed official in the Sudanese embassy. Nazer was the second slave to escape from her Arab master’s household in the British capital and wrote an account of her years in bondage in Slave: My True Story.

But perhaps the greatest obstacle to abolishing slavery in places like the Arabian Peninsula and Mauritania is the mindset. In these countries, enslaving non-Arab human beings, including children, is simply viewed as the natural order of things. Concerning Mauritania, Cotton wrote: “The problem is that Mauritania’s Arabs sincerely believe that blacks are inferior and are born to be slaves.” Without a doubt, the same kind of Arab supremacist thinking prevails in the Arabian Peninsula. In his book The Arabs As Master Slavers, author John Laffin probably comes closest to the truth about the reason for the continued existence of slavery in some Arab countries when he wrote “…there does exist in Arabs a need to dominate a subservient class…”
Victims of child slavery also cannot look to the United Nations Human Rights Council for help. It contains despots and tyrants whose human rights records are just as bad as Mauritania’s and Saudi Arabia’s, as well as Islamic countries that bribe them and may be practising slavery themselves.

American and European leftists, who worked themselves into paroxysms of moral outrage over Mohammed al-Dura, the 12-year-old boy they claim was shot dead by Israeli soldiers, also have yet to exhibit the same level of empathy for child victims of the Arab slave trade. The reason they haven’t so far is that they want to maintain the image they have carefully constructed that Israel and America are the only oppressors in the Middle East and Arabs the victims. Admitting that Arabs are enslaving children would only undermine their propaganda campaign. The left also wants to keep the focus on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It has always been a useful weapon to use against the Untied States.

In the 1990s, Cotton called “the ignorance and apathy of America’s black leaders” shameful in regard to the Arab slave trade. Tragically for today’s child victims, this can be said about many other leaders outside America’s black community. It is a pity they do not possess even half the courage or resolve of an Azim Mai.

New Film Reminds Us We Could Use a Dose of Margaret Thatcher Today

By Bernie Reeves
December 29, 2011

Take pride in being British, the Iron Lady said with vehemence. What a tonic it would be for Americans to believe that today about ourselves. But we are led by a febrile hologram, not a person of character like Margaret Thatcher, who prevented the once-mighty British from sliding into third-world status by ascending to 10 Downing Street in 1979. She served until 1990 -- becoming the longest-serving prime minister since the office was created 300 years ago.

As if a cosmic strand of DNA entwined Helen Mirren to replicate Elizabeth II in the convincing and informative film The Queen, Meryl Streep -- though American -- slides into the fiery persona of Maggie Thatcher in the film The Iron Lady as if she had been predestined to play the role. The movie has some annoying aspects. Scenes are arranged in the present day that include the ghost of husband Dennis, who died in 2003. But in the flashbacks, Baroness Thatcher's indomitable personality shines through the muddle in some quite good enactments of her career.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, with a little help from Mikhail Gorbachev, actually saved the world by applying qualities both cultures once admired -- and appeared to have forgotten after the cultural chaos of the 1960s and the ensuing disintegration of the values that made both nations great. The two leaders resurrected the word "principle," manifested in action by doing what is "right" when confronted with wrong.

Reagan said "tear down this Wall," and Thatcher was his key ally in the successful strategy that ended the existence of the USSR in 1991, causing the Soviet press to name her the Iron Lady. What is sadly not known is the role of KGB Colonel Oleg Gordeivsky, who began working as a double-agent on behalf of Britain in 1968. No one knew then that Gordeivsky was supplying Thatcher -- who shared the data with Reagan -- information on Soviet weakness and internal strife that pushed Gorbachev to close down the communist regime in Russia. (For reference, read KGB: The Inside Story by Gordeivsky and Cambridge intelligence scholar Christopher Andrew.)

But it was a much smaller global confrontation that saved Thatcher's position and elevated her to superstar status: the attack by Argentina to capture the miniscule Falkland Islands in 1982. When asked by the decadent and defeatist press how the U.K., diminished since the loss of empire and sinking into socialist atrophy, could dare to stand up to the Argentines, Thatcher replied that "it is a matter of honor." She called the aggressors a "fascist gang" who stole what belonged to Britain. "I want them back," she added in her best schoolmarm majesty.

As the only columnist and editor in the U.S. who backed Britain and Thatcher in their determination to fight ("a matter of principle," said Thatcher), it amazes me today that the U.S. did not support its greatest ally in this moment of need. Even U.S. Senator Jesse Helms,Thatcher's great friend and fellow conservative, publicly backed the Argentine junta, motivated by his role as chairman of the subcommittee on Latin America of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The film leaves out this insult by America, but there is a scene depicting an emergency meeting with Thatcher and U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who flew to London to attempt to bring Maggie to her senses. He failed when she calmly stared him down and said, "Hawaii was thousands of miles from the U.S. when it was attacked by the Japanese, and yet you declared war. So have I."

Another side story, one of the dozens omitted from the film, involves the actions of Reagan's Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who used back-channel methods to supply Britain with Sidewinder missiles to attach to their Harrier jump-jets that were proving ineffective against Argentine French-made Mirage jets armed with Exocets. Weinberger was later honored with a knighthood for his crucial contributions to the British victory. (Read Weinberger's Fighting For Peace for more.)

The Falklands win saved Thatcher's job, endangered during her first three years by overpowering opposition, especially the particularly virulent British Trades Unions. The arrogant labor leaders called for strike after strike to counter Thatcher's philosophy of small business virtues and the need for workers to stand on their own initiative rather than rely on organized labor's insistence on higher wages for less work.

The Labour Party in U.K. was exactly that back then, a trades union affair that lost influence at the polls by insisting on Article 4 of the Party constitution that called for the ownership of goods and services to be placed in their hands -- what we call communism, or at least the "syndicalist" variety. (Tony Blair was able to have Clause 4 deleted, creating the New Labour Party that won a majority in Parliament in 1997 by defeating Thatcher's successor, John Major.)

But in the early 1980s, the unions held the U.K. hostage with a series of violent strikes. Trash bins lined the streets, coal miners tried to freeze out homes, and businesses and public transportation were regularly closed down. Thatcher refused to budge in her insistence that inflated wages must come to ground as a key dimension in her policy to place a tourniquet on public spending.

Labour governments -- back as far as 1945, at war's end, when Winston Churchill was replaced with the socialist Clement Atlee -- created the welfare state, the National Health Service, and devastating policies allowing immigrants from former British colonies and dominions to enter the country. Government deficits swelled, and capitalist initiative was nearly terminated by high taxes and government regulation. Before Thatcher, the "Great" was fading from the term Great Britain -- as Maggie so well put it.

Compounding the battles with unions, during the 1979 election, Lord Mountbatten -- a member of the royal family, a revered naval hero, and the last Viceroy of India before partition in 1947 -- was killed with five others (including 14-year-old twin boys of the family and a 15-year-old local boy) by the Irish Republican Army in a bomb-attack on his cabin cruiser, the Shadow 5, running off the West coast of the Republic of Ireland. Thatcher's close associate and MP Airy Neave was the victim of an IRA car bomb in London later in the year. The carnage by the IRA was intended to take down the Thatcher government. In 1984, Thatcher herself and her husband Dennis nearly died when an IRA bomb was set off at the Conservative Party conference in Brighton.

The IRA and its various mutant terrorist cadres ceased their violent bombing campaigns only in 2005, in reaction to the 9-11 attacks on the U.S. News reports said they saw themselves in the mirror when gazing at Muslim terrorism. In 2010, the book Defend The Realm was published, drawing on access to all the secret files of MI5, the British security service (again, written by Christopher Andrew) revealing that the IRA had been financed from the 1960s by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Moammar Gaddafi, and Irish-Americans.

Thatcher, the grocer's daughter, grasped her iconic pocketbook and stood up to the unions and the IRA. And with the Falklands wind at her back, she led Great Britain into a new era of self-confidence and economic health. She also had the foresight to keep distance from European Union monetary policy, a decision that should be receiving praise today in Britain. But praise for Thatcher came rarely. The medicine she made the country swallow was hard to take, even if it cured the maladies and revived the patient.

Even during her time as PM, she was continually the victim of backbiting and condescending innuendo by the press, the opposition benches, and members of her own party and cabinet. The gravest insult came from Oxford, her own university, which refused her an honorary degree -- the first time a prime minister had been denied the accolade.

She called her enemies within her own party the "wets," announcing at a Cabinet meeting that if they didn't agree with her spending and tax cuts, they could move across the Channel to Calais and pay the French government 85% of their earnings. When asked by the press what she did when her close advisers thwarted her policies, she answered simply: "I withdraw my love."

And today, at age 86 -- styled Baroness Thatcher and a member of the House of Lords -- controversy has arisen over plans to provide the Iron Lady with a state funeral. As if to regenerate the controversy she caused within her own party, the Conservative Daily Telegraph newspaper objects to the honor. The paper states that only royal family members (above politics, you know), military heroes, and a scant four PMs have been so elevated, including Churchill as leader during World War 2. But did not Thatcher play a key role in winning the Cold War? Did she not defeat the Argentines in the Falklands? Save Britain from certain economic decline? Restore national pride?

Ah, say her detractors, she was divisive and irritated union thugs and Tory toffs and so should not receive a state funeral. But she is more deserving than anyone since Churchill because she did what she thought was right for Britain -- and succeeded, no matter if people disagreed with her decisions.

But the Baroness realizes that people "spend too much time feeling and not thinking." And as for political leaders, too many "want to be something rather than do something." She thought hard about how to save her nation -- and she did it.

Bernie Reeves is editor & publisher, Raleigh Metro Magazine, and founder, Raleigh Spy Conference.

Iran and al-Qaeda

Many say Shia Iran and Sunni al-Qaeda can’t work together. They are wrong.

By Clifford D. May
December 29, 2011

Late last week, the State Department announced a $10 million reward for information leading to the capture of Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, a.k.a. Yasin al-Suri — Yasin the Syrian. Serious students of terrorism and counterterrorism saw this as big news for two reasons.

The first is tactical: Never before has a reward been offered for the capture of a terrorist financier. But the money men are vital links in the terrorist chain, so targeting them makes sense. Also unusual is the amount: Only Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has been trying to fill Osama bin Laden’s shoes at al-Qaeda’s main office, commands a larger bounty ($25 million).

The second reason is strategic: According to U.S. officials, al-Suri is an al-Qaeda operative who, since 2005, has been living in Iran and working in collaboration with the theocratic regime. “Under an agreement between al-Qaeda and the government of Iran, Yasin al-Suri has helped move money and recruits through Iran to al-Qaeda leaders in neighboring countries in the region,” Robert Hartung, the State Department’s assistant director for threat investigations and analysis, told reporters. “He is a dedicated terrorist working in support of al-Qaeda with the support of the government of Iran, which the Department of State has designated a state sponsor of terrorism.”

Those are stunning words. Within the foreign-policy establishment, the prevailing orthodoxy has long maintained that Iran’s Shia rulers despise the Sunnis of al-Qaeda; that the enmity is mutual; and that operational cooperation between them is therefore inconceivable. It also has been a longstanding article of faith that the terrorist groups threatening America are “non-state” actors, groups limited in their capabilities because they do not enjoy the support of national rulers with all the resources those rulers can bring to the table.

Dissenting from that paradigm have been such analysts as Michael Ledeen and Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard. They have argued that Iran and al-Qaeda collaborate despite theological/ideological differences; that many, if not most, of the Islamist groups waging war against the West are linked like strands of a spider’s web; and that Iran is the “terrorist master.”

Ties between Iran and al-Qaeda trace back to the early 1990s, when Hasan al-Turabi, the leader of Sudan’s National Islamic Front, made it his mission to encourage Sunni–Shia reconciliation. Al-Turabi facilitated a series of meetings between bin Laden, who was then living in Khartoum, and envoys from Tehran. It did not take long for Iran and al-Qaeda to reach an informal agreement: Iran would provide training, intelligence, and explosives; al-Qaeda would make good use of these services and products against common enemies.

The 9/11 Commission Report has a section titled: “Assistance from Hezbollah and Iran to Al Qaeda.” It notes that what had begun in Sudan continued: “Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior Al-Qaeda figures after Bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan. . . . Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with Al Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole.”

The report also found “strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of Al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.” And there is reason to believe that Imad Mugniyah — who, until he was killed in 2008, was both the military chief of Hezbollah and an agent of Iran — helped with preparations for the 9/11 attacks. In May of this year, the New York Times reported that two defectors from Iran’s intelligence service “testified that Iranian officials had ‘foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks’” and that one of them “claimed that Iran was involved in planning the attacks.”

There’s more. A year ago, Hayes and Joscelyn wrote: “Nearly a decade after the 9/11 attacks, not only do we have abundant evidence that Iran, the world’s foremost state sponsor of terror, supports al-Qaeda. We also have evidence that Iran actively assists terrorists and insurgents targeting our soldiers and diplomats” in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

In November, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia concluded that “the government of Iran aided, abetted and conspired with Hezbollah, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda to launch large-scale bombing attacks” against two American embassies in Africa in 1998. That should have come as no surprise: In 1998, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York unsealed an indictment of bin Laden. It included the charge that al-Qaeda had “allied itself with Sudan, Iran, and Hezbollah.”

The conclusion to which all this leads is that Iran and al-Qaeda, despite their differences, can and do cooperate to wage what they see as a Great Jihad against America and its allies. They are not enemies. Rather, they are rivals who work together when it suits their common interests.

It would be an historic abdication of responsibility if American and other Western leaders, ignoring these facts, were to allow Iran’s rulers to acquire nuclear weapons that, odds are, sooner or later, they would use — or give to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, or other terrorist groups to use.

In an interview last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that if Iranian rulers “proceed and we get intelligence that they are proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon then we will take whatever steps [are] necessary to stop it.” Was he bluffing? Or has there been a paradigm shift — a fundamental change in how senior members of the Obama administration understand who America’s enemies are and how they operate? Or is this still an ongoing debate within the administration? I suspect we’ll find out sometime in the New Year.

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shock Horror: Saudi Textbooks Teach Islam!

By Robert Spencer
December 28, 2011

Catherine Herridge of Fox News reported last week that “despite Saudi Arabia’s promises to clean up textbooks in the kingdom, recent editions continue to raise alarms in the West over jihadist language.” The story of the Saudis’ supposed duplicity has been circulating widely, but what is more surprising than the contents of the Saudi textbooks is that anyone would be surprised by them. The Saudi textbooks teach Islam. What else did anyone expect?

Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, correctly pointed out that “this is where terrorism starts, in the education system.” He stated, quite rightly, that “if you teach 6 million children in these important years of their lives, if you install that in their brain, no wonder we have so many Saudi suicide bombers.”

But there is nothing in the least unusual about what the Saudis are teaching given the fact that the official religion of the Kingdom is Islam. For example, Al-Ahmed explained that tenth-grade textbooks “show students how to cut [the] hand and the feet of a thief.”

Why not? The Qur’an says: “As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise” (5:38). Is the problem that tenth graders are too young to learn this sort of thing? But why should anyone be too young to learn the ins and outs of the eternal and perfect law designed by the supreme being for all human societies in all times and places?

Al-Ahmed also noted that a ninth-grade text called on Muslims to kill Jews in order to bring about the hour of judgment: “The hour [of judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. … There is a Jew behind me come and kill him.”

Here again, why is anyone surprised? The hadith collection that Muslims consider most reliable, Sahih Bukhari, quotes Muhammad saying this: “Allah’s Apostle said, The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him’” (4.52.177).

Should Saudi ninth graders not be learning about what they must do in order to bring about the blessed day and hour in which all things will be consummated and the golden age will dawn? Yes, it’s genocidal, anti-Semitic and monstrous, but then again, so is the original statement attributed to Muhammad. To condemn the Saudi textbooks is to condemn Muhammad and Islam. Yet the mainstream media stories that wrung their hands over the Saudi textbooks never pointed out that the noxious elements of those textbooks came straight from the Qur’an and the Islamic prophet.

Instead, the media reports pretended that the Saudis had cooked all this up themselves. That would certainly be a comforting thought, for then the problem could – at least theoretically – be isolated and contained, and one would hope that cooler heads would prevail in Riyadh and genuine reform ultimately undertaken. Reality is much less comforting, because of one central fact that no one wishes to acknowledge or consider in its implications: anywhere and everywhere Islam is taught, this kind of hatred and violence could be taught.

And it is being taught, not just in Saudi Arabia but also right here in the United States. In 1998, Sheikh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, a Sufi leader, visited 114 mosques in the United States. Then he gave testimony before a State Department Open Forum in January 1999, and asserted that 80% of American mosques taught the “extremist ideology.”

Then there was the Center for Religious Freedom’s 2005 study, and the Mapping Sharia Project’s 2008 study. Each independently showed that upwards of 80% of mosques in America were preaching hatred of Jews and Christians and the necessity ultimately to impose Islamic rule.

And in the summer of 2011 came another study showing that only 19% of mosques in U.S. don’t teach jihad violence and/or Islamic supremacism.

So why should anyone expect that Saudi schools would be any different?

Yet in response to the new revelations, predictably enough, a Saudi spokesman billowed out clouds of obfuscation. After all, deception is religiously sanctioned in Islam as well as warfare against unbelievers and their subjugation (cf. Qur’an 3:28). And so it was no more a surprise than the textbooks themselves when Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah Al-Saud, the Saudi government official with responsibility for the textbooks, responded this way when asked about the hatred and violence in the books: “I always say to people, please come. Come, try to see us. But come without a preconceived idea. … Especially when you want to raise the future, no one is going to introduce violence. Violence is absolutely against – I think this is, I don’t know who put in those ideas.” When a reporter offered to show the Prince quotes from the textbooks, Faisal replied with the Zen-like “There are many quotes.” Then he hurried away.

Prince Faisal could have done nothing else, short of saying, “Of course the textbooks teach hatred of and warfare against the filthy kuffar. What did you expect?” But no Islamic spokesmen, with the notable exception of Anjem Choudary and a few others, are so brutally frank. And why should they be? The kuffar are ever credulous, ever eager to swallow their smooth, smiling deceptions. So it will be in this case: the Saudis will promise yet again to clean up their textbooks, and as soon as this present firestorm blows over, they will go back to raising up the next generation of jihadis.

And the fat, foolish West will never see them coming.

Obama’s Scandals — and Scandal Deniers

For every outrageous misuse of power, there’s a sycophant to downplay it.

By Michelle Malkin
December 28, 2011

With 2011 drawing to a close, it is time to take account. As an early-and-often chronicler of Chicago-on-the-Potomac, I am amazed at the stubborn and clingy persistence of Pres. Barack Obama’s snowblowers in the media. See no scandal, hear no scandal, speak no scandal.

Dartmouth College professor Brendan Nyhan asserted in May — while Operation Fast and Furious subpoenas were flying on Capitol Hill — that “one of the least remarked upon aspects of the Obama presidency has been the lack of scandals.” Conveniently, he defines scandal as a “widespread elite perception of wrongdoing.”
So as long as left-wing Ivy League scribes refuse to perceive something to be a scandal — never mind the actual suffering endured by the family of murdered Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, whose death came at the hands of a Mexican cartel thug wielding a Fast and Furious gun walked across the southern border under Attorney General Eric Holder’s watch — there is no scandal!
Self-serving much?
Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum likewise proclaimed: “Obama’s presidency has so far been almost completely free of scandal.”
This after the year kicked off in January with the departure of lying eco-radical czar Carol Browner. In backroom negotiations, she infamously bullied auto execs to “put nothing in writing, ever.” The previous fall, the White House’s own oil-spill panel had singled out Browner for misleading the public about the scientific evidence for the administration’s draconian drilling moratorium and “contributing to the perception that the government’s findings were more exact than they actually were.”
The Interior Department inspector general and federal judges likewise blasted drilling-ban book-cooking by Browner and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who falsely rewrote the White House drilling-ban report to doctor the Obama-appointed panel’s own overwhelming scientific objections to the job-killing edict.
In February, federal judge Martin Feldman in Louisiana excoriated the Obama Interior Department for defying his May 2010 order to lift its fraudulent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in the Gulf. He called out the administration’s culture of contempt and “determined disregard” for the law.
This spring saw rising public anger over the preferential Obamacare waiver process (which I first reported on in September 2010). Some 2,000 lucky golden-ticket winners were freed from the costly federal mandates — including a handful of fancy restaurants in Aloha Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district, the entire state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Nevada, and scores of local, state, and national Big Labor organizations, from the Service Employees International Union and Teamsters on down. Meanwhile, as The Hill reported last month, other not-so-lucky Republican-led states seeking waivers, such as Indiana and Louisiana, were rejected.
But it wasn’t just Republicans objecting to the president’s arbitrary Obamacare fiats. In July, congressional Democrats turned on the monstrous federal health bureaucracy known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board. The constitutionally suspect panel — freed from normal public-notice, public-comment, and public-review rules — would have unprecedented authority over health-care spending and an expanding jurisdiction of private health-care payment rates.
Obama’s health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, faced separate legal questions over her overseer role in a hair-raising document-shredding case when she served as governor of Kansas. In October, a district judge in the Sunflower State suspended court proceedings in a high-profile criminal case against the abortion racketeers of Planned Parenthood. Bombshell court filings showed that Kansas health officials “shredded documents related to felony charges the abortion giant faces” and failed to disclose it for six years.
That same month, Bloomberg News columnist Jonathan Alter gushed: “There is zero evidence . . . of corruption. Where is it?”
Alter’s declaration of the “Obama Miracle” came just weeks after the politically driven half-billion-dollar Solyndra stimulus “investment” went bankrupt, prompting an FBI raid and ongoing criminal and congressional probes of the solar company funded by top White House bundler and visitor George Kaiser.
As Solyndra and an avalanche of other ongoing green-subsidy scams erupted, so did the LightSquared debacle — a federal broadband boondoggle involving billionaire hedge-fund managers and Obama donors Philip Falcone and George Soros. In September, two high-ranking witnesses — William Shelton, the four-star general who heads the Air Force Space Command, and Anthony Russo, director of the National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing — exposed how the White House had pressured them to alter their congressional testimony and play down concerns about LightSquared’s interference threat to military communications.
The White House continues to block efforts to gain information about the Federal Communications Commission’s approval of a special waiver for the company, even as new government tests this month showed that the company’s “signals caused harmful interference to the majority of . . . general purpose GPS receivers.”
The Obama White House closed out the year with Democratic senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri demanding a probe of the smelly $443 million no-bid smallpox-antiviral-pill contract with Siga Technologies — controlled by big lefty donor Ron Perelman. Then there was the small matter of massive voter fraud in Indiana, where a Democratic official resigned amid allegations that “dozens, if not hundreds,” of signatures were faked to get Obama on the state primary ballot in 2008. And while Americans busied themselves with the holidays, White House and Democratic campaign officials were dumping more than $70,000 in contributions from another deep-pocketed contributor — scandal-plagued pal and former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, who oversaw the collapse of MF Global.
All this — and so much more — yet erstwhile “conservative” journalist Andrew Sullivan of Newsweek/The Daily Beast scoffed, “Where are all the scandals promised by Michelle Malkin?”
There’s none so blind as those who will not see.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Conversation: Andrew Graham-Dixon, Author of 'Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane'

Posted by Jeffrey Brown , December 2, 2011

Michelangelo Caravaggio was one of the great painters in the history of Western art. He also remains one of the most mysterious and elusive of artistic geniuses. A new biography wrestles with the man, his times and his work.

"Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane" is by Andrew Graham-Dixon, an art critic, historian and television host of documentaries on art for the BBC. I spoke to him recently about his new book:

A transcript is after the jump.

JEFFREY BROWN: Welcome to Art Beat again. I'm Jeffrey Brown. Michelangelo Caravaggio was one of the great painters in the history of Western art. He also remains one of the most mysterious and elusive of artistic geniuses. A new biography wrestles with the man, his times and his work. It's titled "Caravaggio: a Life Sacred and Profane," and author Andrew Graham-Dixon is with us. He's an art critic and historian and also a television host of documentaries on art for the BBC.

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: That's absolutely right.

JEFFREY BROWN: Welcome to you.


JEFFREY BROWN: I guess the first question is, why another book about Caravaggio? Partly it was based on new research and scholarship?

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: That was the reason. Strange though it may seem, you have this figure who in art is perhaps as famous and as well-known as William Shakespeare, and yet over the last 10 years, perhaps 15, so much new material has come out about his life. It's almost as if a depth charge has gone off on the bottom of the waters of Caravaggio's scholarship, and I just looked at this stuff and I thought, Well how many times in your life would you get the chance to actually completely write a new life of someone as famous as that, actually to bring his life to the attention in its true detail.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, now, it's funny you say famous as William Shakespeare, because William Shakespeare is so famous and yet so many of the details of his life are still picked over and controversial.

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: The thing with Caravaggio, as you probably know, in the case of Shakespeare the archive doesn't exist. The fire of London; it's just not there, the documents aren't there. We know almost nothing. In the case of Caravaggio we know a huge amount, and a huge amount has been found out. It's there in the archive in Rome. But the thing is this dynamite material, it concerns his pimps, the men and the women who were his lovers, the man whom he killed, what was going on between them. We can now piece this together. I've been able to piece this together.

JEFFREY BROWN: You just said pimps, the man he killed. For those who don't know a little bit about Caravaggio, it is a violent, it's a fascinating life, it's the streets of Rome and about a man on the run, a man in trouble all the time.

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: Yeah, you couldn't make it up. One of the greatest artists who ever lived, and he has this life that you just cannot believe. My struggle was to try, try, try, try, don't make this read like a novel, because every time we found out something else, something new, it was like, this is weirder than fiction could ever have been. This is a man who as well as painting these great, great canvases, he's pimping, as well as reinventing the history of Western art, creating this new language of chiaroscuro, creating the possibility for someone like Rembrandt to exist. He's stabbing a man in the groin with a fencing sword, possibly in an attempt to emasculate him. This man is dying with gouts of blood spurting from his leg. Caravaggio is then going on the run, ending up in Malta where he creates another terrible crime, shoots someone in the leg, gets imprisoned in a high-security jail, like the rock-cut cell in which the serial murderer in the "Silence of the Lambs" confines his victim. He escapes, he climbs 200 feet down a precipice, he swims three miles around, he gets in a boat, he runs off to Sicily, and so it goes on.

JEFFREY BROWN: And this is all around, we're talking around 1600 here, right?

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: 1606 is the murder.

JEFFREY BROWN: And the've set this in -- it's the Counter-Reformation. There is a lot going on in which he's operating, right?

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: Yeah. Caravaggio has this reputation as being a mad outsider. He was certainly a very volatile man and he certainly had a lot of problems with authority. His entire male family was annihilated by the plague when he was 6 years old. I think that's where a lot of his problems with authority, his problems stem. He almost seems bound to transgress. It's almost like he cannot avoid transgressing. As soon as he's welcome by authority, welcomed by the pope, welcomed by the Knights of Malta, he has to do something to screw it up. It's almost like his fatal flaw. And yet what I've also tried to do is to portray him as a man living in violent times. And he's not just a lunatic. There's a logic, a strange logic, but almost all his actions are logical.

JEFFREY BROWN: Is that what surprised you? What did you surprise you most when you got to look at this new scholarship and look at the man?

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: Well, I took a detective's approach. And if we were to talk about my book, it's three books: It's a book about his world, it's a book about the events of his life and it's a book about his art. In terms of being a book that attempts to unpick the events of his life, I had to stop being an art historian and be a detective. And it's about trying to work out motive. It's about trying to understand the honor codes by which these people lived, which is similar in some ways to the kind of gang codes that you get in major urban cities today. In other words, if you insult my reputation, I will cut you in the face. If you insult my wife, I will attempt to castrate you with a fencing sword. If you are my landlady and you lock me out of my house and spread the word that I'm a bad guy, I'll go around to your house and I'll smash the shutters, because your house is your face, it's your honor. You've insulted my honor; I insult you. So it's piecing together that kind of thing.

JEFFREY BROWN: But somehow he was painting amidst all this.

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: I know. That's the incredible thing. In fact there's a wonderful description of Caravaggio written by a Flemish painter who says, There is this amazing artist called Caravaggio, you wouldn't believe it. He paints these huge, amazing, fantastic, wonderful pictures, but he does it in two weeks flat, and then he's off for a month with his friends, with his sword by his side, drinking, gambling, fighting. His art is made of light and dark. But he's a made of light and dark, too.

JEFFREY BROWN: So now come to the work itself, because that is what is known. What is it the essential character of it that you wanted to bring out.

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: That's the paradox of it. His work has been infected by his reputation, so people see him as a wild man, almost like as a wild man of art. So they focus -- his art is very dramatic -- but people just focus on the drama. What they've missed, I feel, is the intelligence and the beauty and the subtlety of it. There is a great, great painting of the conversion of Saul, St. Paul. As one of Caravaggio's critics said, he's removed the action from the story altogether; he's turned it into a drama of light and dark, Saul, at the moment of his conversion, to the way of Christ. It's permeated by this divine light. Caravaggio has brilliantly, subtlety, placed him in an environment that reminds you of the manger, the Nativity. That animal, which is his horse, in fact, in the story, but it makes you think of the Nativity. So there is Saul lying on the ground like the baby Jesus in the manger, but at the same time he's also like Christ on the cross, because his arms are out spread. So it's as if in his mind at the moment of his conversion, he's living through the whole life of Christ, from the beginning, Christ as baby to the end, Christ on the cross. So, yes, it's dramatic. Yes, it's immediate and yet it's also beautifully poetic and humane. It's a picture designed to bring poor people into the church. That's Caravaggio's great mission. He's a painter for the poor.

JEFFREY BROWN: A painter for the poor, and of the poor I gather, right?

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: That's right. There is a kind of argument going on at this time: Do we use art to impress people with the fact that the church is mighty and they are small? Or do we use art as a form of social control as well as a form of religious awe-inspiring machinery? Or do we use art to remind everybody that no matter how rich you are, if you are too rich, you aren't going to have light through the eye of a needle. And Caravaggio is on that side of the argument. He's as it were on the left wing side of the argument.

JEFFREY BROWN: I want to look at one more. A very dramatic and famous one, right? David with the head of Goliath.

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: He gave this picture, we know, because it's in the Borghese Gallery in Italy. Caravaggio kills the guy on the tennis court, has to run away. Bando capitale is issued. Bando capitale, that means that bring me the body of Caravaggio, but if you can't get the body, bring me the head, the head will be enough. That is issued by Scipione Borghese. Within a month of that being issued, Caravaggio is up in the hills.... He's run away and he sends this picture to Scipione Borghese.

JEFFREY BROWN: Here is the head.

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: Nominally it's David, which is Cecco, Caravaggio's painting boy and assistant, probably his lover. He's modeling for Goliath, and he holds this head, this screaming head of Goliath, but it's Caravaggio's head. The picture is a plea bargain. He's saying to Scipione Borghese, who loves art, and who loves Caravaggio's art, here is my head in painting, but let me keep my head in real life.

JEFFREY BROWN: I'll keep painting for you but let me go on.

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: Yeah, and that is eventually the deal that will enable Caravaggio to try to return to Rome, is indeed a result of this painting. It's a deal whereby he's going to back to Rome with a pardon, but Scipione Borghese wants all of his pictures. Doesn't work about, but...

JEFFREY BROWN: Is he, finally, because of all the drama and the mystery, still, and the work, is he more than others perhaps inevitably, I don't know, shaped by the times that look at him?

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: Well, I hope, you see, when you say mystery, I would hope that my book actually dispels the mystery. We now know who killed Caravaggio. We now know why --

JEFFREY BROWN: You want to tell us?

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: I want people to read the book! We now know who cut his face off. We now know who's boat -- I mean, I've managed to work out, which I couldn't believe, it sent a shiver down my spine, but I just suddenly realized that the last man who saw Caravaggio alive was the boatman. And when I re-read the account that's gone down in history I suddenly realized, this is all written in nautical terminology on the basis and documents I worked out. But the only guy that could have asked was the boatman. He's the only guy in Naples who knew what happened to Caravaggio. The pope is asking, What has happened Caravaggio? They guy in Naples writes back immediately, and they can only write back immediately if you've seen someone there who knows what happened and that's got to be the boatman. His boat that he takes Caravaggio to his death on is called Santa Maria di Porto Salvo. The boat is called St. Mary of the Safe Harbor, and Caravaggio dies tragically in this very unsafe harbor. So, as I say, you just can't make it up.

JEFFREY BROWN: It goes on and on.

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: It goes on. You can't make it up.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, the book is "Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane." Andrew Graham-Dixon, nice to talk to you.

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON: It's been a great pleasure. Thanks for having me on the show.

JEFFREY BROWN: Thanks. And thank you for joining us again on Art Beat. I'm Jeffrey Brown.

Film Reviews: "The Artist"

Sparkling, Swooning and Suffering Wordlessly

The New York Times
November 24, 2011

Remember the old days, when movies were glorious, magical and mute? Neither do I. But the passing of the silent era from memory into myth is what “The Artist,” Michel Hazanavicius’s dazzling cinematic objet d’art, is all about. This is not a work of film history but rather a generous, touching and slightly daffy expression of unbridled movie love. Though its protagonist mourns the arrival of sound, “The Artist” itself is more interested in celebrating the range and power of a medium that can sparkle, swoon and suffer so beautifully that it doesn’t really need to have anything to say.       

Strictly speaking Mr. Hazanavicius’s film is not a silent movie. There is a lot of music on the soundtrack and also a few strategic moments of onscreen noise that are both delightfully surprising and wildly illogical. The whole conceit of the picture is spun in willful disregard of the laws governing time, space and sound, an embrace of the preposterous that is perhaps more reminiscent of the spirit of early French cinema than of the old Hollywood where the action takes place.

In those days the sign up in the hills said HOLLYWOODLAND, and the screens were dominated by antic clowns, pale heroines and dashing lovers. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin, the star of the popular “OSS 117” series of French spy spoofs, also directed by Mr. Hazanavicius) undoubtedly belongs in that last category. With his shiny hair, radiant teeth and thin mustache — and a surname one vowel short of Valentino — George is a quintessential movie star. The public adores him, and he is far too gracious an entertainer to contradict them. A carefree narcissist, he bounces from the studio lot to the red carpet to the Beverly Hills mansion he shares with his devoted dog and less enchanted wife and co-star (Penelope Ann Miller), secure in the permanence of his glory.

Even viewers entirely innocent of film history — even the young, blockbuster-fed movie fans who find themselves dragged to and then transported by this minor marvel — will anticipate what happens next. George’s pride sets up a fall, first into a sweet, awkward infatuation with an aspiring actress named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), then into professional ruin brought about by his stubborn refusal to change with the times. Abandoned by his wife and shunned by the studio boss (a wonderfully boisterous John Goodman), with only the dog and his chauffeur (James Cromwell) standing by him, the star goes into eclipse. But even when threatened with the torments of obscurity, he refuses to speak.

The rise of the talkies has almost always been chronicled on film from the perspective of sound. It could hardly have been otherwise. “Singin’ in the Rain,” with its exuberant music and bright colors, does not so much revisit the old splendor of cinema silence as obliterate its memory, much as “Sunset Boulevard” unlocks a world of ghosts and shadows among the remnants of the faded Hollywood pantheon. “The Artist,” as aggressively entertaining as any musical, is measured in its mourning and eclectic in its nostalgia for old movies. There is a bit of music lifted from Bernard Herrmann’s “Vertigo” score, a breakfast-table montage inspired by “Citizen Kane” and a story line that makes “The Artist,” in essence, the latest (and also in a way the earliest, but surely not the last) remake of “A Star Is Born.”

All of this suggests a feast for antiquarian film geeks. It certainly is, and Mr. Hazanavicius’s skill in replicating some of the visual effects of early cinema is impressive. But he evokes the glamour and strangeness of silent movies without entirely capturing the full range of their power. His film is less a faithful reproduction than a tasteful updating, like a reconstituted classic roadster with a GPS device and a hybrid engine.

Still, it is a smooth and very exciting ride. If “The Artist” revels in gimmickry and occasionally oversells its charm, it also understands the deep and durable fascination of the art it embraces. Like Martin Scorsese in “Hugo,” another modern-day journey into a dream of the movie past, Mr. Hazanavicius knows that the audience’s pleasure arises at once from the complex displays of craft in the service of simple, direct effects. We like to be dazzled by the whirring, kinetic machinery, thrilled by the conjuring of what should be impossible and swept away on currents of pure and powerful feeling.

Mr. Hazanavicius accomplishes this with not only showy ambition but also a winning modesty that grows out of an appreciation that popular art is, above all, about the efficient and inventive delivery of fun. Its techniques are impressive and various, though its most persuasive special effects are Mr. Dujardin and Ms. Bejo, physically graceful performers with faces the camera cannot resist. He has a solid athleticism that meshes perfectly with her supple, long-limbed grace, and their features are at once iconic and lively, in the manner of the ancient movie stars to whom they pay tribute.

Thanks in no small part to their expressiveness and dexterity — they dance beautifully and also portray emotion with just the right blend of naturalism and melodramatic exaggeration — “The Artist” is more than a clever pastiche of antique amusements. It may be something less than a great movie, but it is an irresistible reminder of nearly everything that makes the movies great.

“The Artist” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). A few scary moments, an obscene gesture and a lot of smoking.


Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius; director of photography, Guillaume Schiffman; edited by Mr. Hazanavicius and Anne-Sophie Bion; music by Ludovic Bource; production design by Laurence Bennett; costumes by Mark Bridges; produced by Thomas Langmann; released by the Weinstein Company. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.

WITH: Jean Dujardin (George Valentin), Bérénice Bejo (Peppy Miller), James Cromwell (Clifton), Penelope Ann Miller (Doris), Malcolm McDowell (the Butler), Missi Pyle (Constance), Beth Grant (Peppy’s Maid), Ed Lauter (Peppy’s Butler), Joel Murray (Policeman), Ken Davitan (Pawnbroker), Uggie (the Dog) and John Goodman (Al Zimmer).

The Artist

By Anthony Lane
The New Yorker
November 21, 2011

What happens in “The Artist” is simple enough. A film star by the name of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) streaks across the Hollywood heavens in the late nineteen-twenties, and then, with the advent of sound, gutters and falls. Only the love of a good woman has the power to relight his fuse. To movie nuts reared on “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and “A Star Is Born,” this film could hardly be more welcome; I would wager that its writer and director, Michel Hazanavicius, represents the final word in nuthood. But here’s the rub, the sportive twist that prevents his work from being a mere rehash of twice-told tales: “The Artist” is not just about black-and-white silent pictures. It is a black-and-white silent picture. And it’s French.

Two principles are in play here. One, “The Artist” will cleave—far more loyally than Mel Brooks’s “Silent Movie” (1976) did—to the rules of the game, supplying not just printed titles but a breathless musical score, unblushing melodrama, a bouquet of sight gags, a girl with a kiss curl, and a corpulent cop. And, two, Hazanavicius will toy with those rules in the Frenchest possible manner. The very first thing we see, for example, is an open mouth, belonging to a man under interrogation. “I won’t talk. I won’t say a word,” he says. Yet those words themselves go unsaid, flashed up instead on a black screen. He couldn’t talk, even if he crumpled; everything in this world must be seen, not heard. I am tempted to reveal the brief and brilliant exceptions that Hazanavicius provides even to that stricture, but I, too, must keep quiet.

There are notable bit parts in “The Artist,” not least for John Goodman, as a harrumphing bull of a studio boss, and James Cromwell, as a faithful chauffeur and helpmeet, a sort of anti-Erich von Stroheim. Better still, we get Uggy, who plays Valentin’s no less constant mutt, a barking echo of Asta, the wirehaired genius of “The Thin Man,” “Bringing up Baby,” and “The Awful Truth.” It is Dujardin, though, in his portrait of the artist as a dashing mute, who best raises the ghost of an era. The two-second shot in which, on set, as the cameras roll, Valentin locks into a brooding frown—the standby of the questing smolderer—earns a laugh for sheer precision, and, behind such face-making, you sense a lot of homework. He has an oily dab of his compatriot Maurice Chevalier, plus a stronger dose of Douglas Fairbanks, including the neat yet unvillainous mustache and the elastic bonhomie, joshing with camera crews as he does with reverent fans. The most acute reference, however, is to John Gilbert—a top lion at M-G-M in the mid-twenties but dead within a decade, liquidated by drink and the lethal demands of speech.

A crux of “The Artist” finds Valentin toiling on a scene in which he must revolve between partners on a dance floor. One fellow-waltzer is played by Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a lithe young laugher into whom he has previously bumped. She is a nobody, a casual extra, except that, when they grasp each other en passant, and as take follows take, she becomes, imperceptibly, a somebody. From the crucible of this moment, indeed, she will glow into a leading light in Valentin’s heart, and a movie star in her own right. The gesture intended here, I think, is toward “Flesh and the Devil,” the silent romance that Gilbert made with Greta Garbo, in 1926. They, too, danced lightly but dangerously together, and the motion led them, as if hypnotized, into a garden, where they shared one of the fiercest and most fondant kisses in the history of movies, or of mouths. Gilbert and Garbo, like Valentin and Peppy, fell in love for real, or as real as Hollywood could allow. (“Flesh and the Devil” shows at Film Forum on November 28th, three days after “The Artist” is released. Try both, on a moonstruck night.)

Word of this tacit new film has spread since it showed at Cannes, in May, and much of its allure is due to the speed—eager and uncomplaining—with which you feel the audience, innocents as well as buffs, acclimatizing to its antiquated modes. Here is a crowd-pleaser that makes you glad to be part of the crowd, perhaps because—to adopt the classical viewpoint—silent cinema really was the purest and most binding incarnation of the medium, one from which we have torn ourselves, to our detriment, ever since. That is why “The Artist” seems instantly easy on the mind’s eye, and why we feel a natural tug of resistance when Peppy, the bright spark of sound, declares to an interviewer, “Make way for the young!” What Hazanavicius has wrought is damnably clever, but not cute; less like an arch conceit and more like the needle-sharp recollection of a dream. It is, above all, a Gallic specialty—the intellectual caprice that applies a surprising emotional jolt. One finds the same mixture in Cocteau’s “Orphée,” which transmitted Greek myths as if in a live broadcast, and in Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” which sought not so much to mimic Baroque musical form as to uncover a vitalizing force within the act of homage. When challenged over the seeming levity of the piece, Ravel replied, “The dead are sad enough, in their eternal silence,” and that will stand as a motto for “The Artist”—a spry monochrome comedy that is tinted with regret for the rackety noise and color, as far as we can hope to imagine them, of lost time. Make way for the old!