Saturday, September 28, 2019

‘The Irishman’ review: Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci triumph

By Johnny Oleksinski
September 27, 2019

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Martin Scorsese needs to de-age me now that I’ve seen “The Irishman,” his epic that had its world premiere Friday at the New York Film Festival.
At 3 ¹/₂ hours, the Frank Sheeran-Jimmy Hoffa biopic is not only the longest film of Scorsese’s career, but the longest studio movie of the decade.
Well, chug a 5-hour Energy, because the terrific “Irishman” deserves your full, un-fatigued attention.
The buzz around the movie until now has not been about how this is Scorsese’s first collaboration with Al Pacino, or that it’s the director’s grand return to the mafia genre after 1995’s “Casino.” What the people are going crazy over are the digital face-lifts. That’s right — Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Pacino are given the Joan Rivers treatment with the help of CGI.
We watch Sheeran (De Niro), a truck-driver-turned-mob-fixer age back-and-forth from his 30s to his 80s and many years in between. The pricey special effect is cool, if occasionally creepy. In the youthful scenes, De Niro looks less 30 and more Gumby, with expressionless eyes and face only a Martian could love. But as the actors move closer to their natural ages, the subtle, computerized wrinkle cream works wonders.
The first part of the movie is a lot like “Goodfellas.” There’s voiceover narration provided by Sheeran from a retirement home and a nostalgic origin story set to “In the Still of the Night.” He starts off in the 1950s as a union driver and soon winds up doing favors for the Philly-based Bufalino crime family, headed by Russell Bufalino (Pesci).
Pesci’s iconic turns are so rammed in our minds that it’s easy to forget he retired and hasn’t made a movie in almost a decade. But in this genre, Pesci’s the Most Valuable Paisan. The 76-year-old actor brings all his scrappy idiosyncrasies, but is also more tender and introspective than usual.
“The Irishman” breaks from the mobster flick formula when Hoffa (Pacino) enters the picture in the 1960s. A pal of the Bufalinos, the powerful union boss needs protection, so they enlist Sheeran. The pair become friends, and the fixer’s questions of loyalty, love and family intensify.
This has a different tone than your average gangster film. Plenty of marks are shot in the forehead, yes, and a lot of wine is poured in the corner booths of dimly lit Italian restaurants, but it’s also knock-down, drag-out-into-the-river funny. The best line belongs to De Niro: “Usually three people can keep a secret,” he says. “When two of them are dead.” And Pacino is a ham as Hoffa, wildly gesturing like a coked-up cheerleader and bickering with everybody.
Speaking of Jimmy, the movie is based on the 2004 biography of Sheeran called “I Heard You Paint Houses,” and so we see his version of what happened to Hoffa, who went missing in 1975 and was never found. I won’t tell you what that story is, but it sure ain’t vague.
Five decades is a lot of history to hold together, and it could have easily crumbled. Remember “Gotti”? But Scorsese is at the top of his game here. His film is never boring, and it explores some unexpectedly deep themes for mafiosos. Witness De Niro coming alive as his character crawls toward death: friendless, ailing and with only a priest to talk to.
The director’s mindset has, thankfully, not been de-aged. When Scorsese was 47, he made a movie in which his main character said he “always wanted to be a gangster.” At 76, Scorsese would rather focus on a guy who just wants his daughter to call back.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Understanding the Impeachment Charade

By Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel
September 27, 2019

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Washington scandals are moving at a record pace. It was only a week ago that The New York Times launched its unfair hit piece on Brett Kavanaugh. This is the Trump-era news cycle. Scandals that used to go on for months now seem to end in hours. Nothing illustrates this better than the bizarre Ukraine story we're all living through. A week ago, no one had even heard of it. Then we were on the brink of impeachment because of it, and now it seems it may be over already.

The same angry news anchors who brought you Stormy Daniels and the Russia hoax now want you to know Big Orange's days in the White House are over. Why? Because Donald Trump, they say, threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless Ukraine did something bad to Joe Biden and his family. Supposedly, Trump was finished.

Once again, the mob turned out to be wrong. The administration released a transcript of the president's phone call with the Ukrainian head of state, and it says none of the things the news anchors claimed it would. Read it for yourself. It's online. Try to find the extortion in there. There isn't any. Trump never even mentions military aid. There's certainly something unseemly about a president asking a foreign government to investigate an American citizen, but it's not illegal, and it's not all that different from three Democratic senators' writing a letter to Ukraine just last year demanding investigations into Trump.

Now that the call turns out to be nothing like what the media told us it would be, some on the left have started a conspiracy theory that the transcript can't be real; it must be doctored. These conspiracies aren't confined to weird corners of the internet. Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Adam Schiff have already questioned the trustworthiness of the transcript, despite the fact that there's no evidence of wrongdoing. Numerous career national security officials -- many not fans of our president -- have access to the original call and would have to be in on any conspiracy.

What's driving all this insanity? Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, has been more honest about it than most. Green admitted it straight up: "I'm concerned that if we don't impeach this president, he will get reelected."

Lots of Democrats, including many of today's party leaders, stood up when Bill Clinton was impeached to give impassioned speeches about the perils of taking away the American people's choice. Here's today's impeachment ringleader, Rep. Jerry Nadler, in 1998:

"The impeachment of a president is an undoing of a national election. And one of the reasons we all feel so angry about what they are doing is that they are ripping asunder our votes. They are telling us that our votes don't count."

And here's Nancy Pelosi in 1998 on the hatred behind the Clinton impeachment push:

"Today, the Republican majority is not judging the president with fairness but impeaching him with a vengeance ... We are here today because the Republicans in the House are paralyzed with hatred of President Clinton. And until the Republicans free themselves of this hatred, our country will suffer."

Sadly, Nadler and Pelosi were right in 1998. Republicans should not have impeached Clinton, and they paid the price. Democrats today hate Trump. It's not about justice or truth. What they care about is winning the 2020 presidential election. Democratic leaders have decided that impeaching Trump is essential if they're going to win next year. So they're staking everything on this bizarre, flimsy scandal that the rest of us can barely understand.

Personal attacks on Trump have proven ineffective. If calling him a racist or a traitor actually worked, Hillary Clinton would be running for reelection right about now. That's not going to work. If you want to beat Trump, make a case on the issues. He won on the issues. So make a countercase. But the geniuses can't figure that out.

In the end, the loser in this impeachment nonsense is likely to be Biden, who, you will recall, is the apparent front-runner. He's supposed to be the safe choice, the guy who's going to reenergize the Obama coalition and win back the White House. Yet Democrats have now in effect demanded that we spend the next six months talking about Biden and his son's alleged corruption. That's what's at the core of this Ukraine story.

The issues aren't really complicated. Why in the world would a Ukrainian company pay Hunter Biden $50,000 a month? We still haven't heard an answer. If we're talking about Ukraine and impeachment, we're talking about Biden's alleged corruption. That can't help his campaign for president. In fact, it's likely to tank it. It looks like sabotage, really. They must have gamed this up. Or maybe Democrats have just become so obsessed with destroying Trump that they're accidentally destroying themselves.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Book Review: 'That All Shall Be Saved' by David Bentley Hart

By Thomas Talbott, Ph.D.
September 3, 2019

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Part I: Some Introductory Remarks
At a time when a good many books have been written, some by academics and others by non-academics, on the topic of Christian universalism, David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation stands out in several ways. Its author is, first and foremost, an accomplished classicist and expert in the Greek language, one whose previous publications include an important translation of the New Testament. And one of his purposes in this translation was to restore “certain ambiguities” that, so he believes, are “present in the original texts” but have been lost in later translations. He thus writes, “I am firmly convinced that two millennia of dogmatic tradition have created in the minds of most of us a fundamentally misleading picture of the claims made in Christian scripture” (p. 3). He traces much of that misleading picture, most notably the doctrines of limited election and limited atonement, “back to the late Augustine—a towering genius whose inability to read Greek and consequent reliance on defective Latin translations turned out to be the single most consequential case of linguistic incompetence in Christian history” (p. 49). As this quotation already illustrates, Hart pulls few of his punches in this book; and that very fact, whatever else one might think about it, contributes a lot to the book’s rhetorical power.
Hart relentlessly opposes, secondly, the whole idea of unending punishment and any other conception of a final separation from God; he rejects all such ideas as “manifestly absurd” even when they do not rest upon a morally offensive doctrine of limited election. For even “the gentlest, the most morally delicate, the most judiciously reluctant” conceptions of a final separation from God “all start . . . on the far side of a prior existential decision to accept an obviously ludicrous premise” (p. 202). So just what is this ludicrous premise, according to Hart? It is essentially the premise that divine justice, divine love, and divine goodness are compatible with God’s having created someone whose final fate he always knew would consist of everlasting misery and torment. For how could that even be possible? “If ‘justice’ means anything at all,” Hart protests, “it cannot be that; if ‘love’ means anything at all, it cannot be that; if ‘goodness’ means anything at all, it cannot be that” (p. 203). Hart also notes how glibly some speak of eternal conscious torment without seriously considering what such a destiny would truly mean. “Can we [even] imagine,” he asks, “that someone still in torment after a trillion years, or then a trillion trillion, or then a trillion vigintillion, is in any meaningful sense the same agent who contracted some measurable quantity of personal guilt in that tiny, ever more vanishingly insubstantial gleam of an instant that constituted his or her terrestrial life?” (pp. 203-204).
A third unique feature of this book is the extent to which its author refuses to apologize for the hard-hitting nature of his personal manifesto against the “infernalist orthodoxy,” as he calls it. He thus writes:
Custom dictates and prudence advises that here, in closing, I wax gracefully disingenuous and declare that . . . I entirely understand the views of those that take the opposite side of the argument, and that I fully respect contrary opinions on these matters. . . . [But] I believe that I am obeying my conscience with a special rigor in rejecting the majority view that there is a hell of eternal torment, since I am fairly sure that it must be a wicked thing to give one’s intellectual assent to something that one cannot help but find morally repugnant. . . . I make no apologies whatsoever for rejecting the late Augustinian tradition . . . [and] that tradition’s sheer moral wretchedness as a vision of the gospel . . . I have [also] rejected every version of the infernalist orthodoxy, no matter which Christian tradition may have produced it, and no matter how tenderhearted the reasoning that informs it. To have done otherwise would have been dishonest on my part. (pp. 199-200)
Although he rejects this “infernalist orthodoxy,” sometimes in exceedingly harsh terms, as morally intolerable, biblically untenable, and philosophically confused, Hart nonetheless acknowledges that the book he has written “is at odds with a body of received opinion so invincibly well-established” that he “cannot reasonably expect to persuade anyone of anything,” with the possible exception of persuading some of his own sincerity (p. 4). At the same time, however, he laments having written a book that “ought never have needed to be written in the first place” because “the doctrine of eternal hell is prima facie nonsen­sical” (p. 202). And herein lies an insight into his rhetorical strategy, which will, I suspect, make this book difficult for evangelicals and other self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy simply to ignore. Hart himself describes his effort as “a logical and rhetorical experiment” and explains this in the following way:
There is, at the very least, something liberating about knowing that I have probably lost the rhetorical contest before it has even begun. It spares me the effort of feigning tentativeness or moderation or judicious doubt . . . and allows me instead to advance my claims in as unconstrained a manner as possible . . . [I]f nothing else, this book may provide the champions of the dominant view an occasion for honest reflection and scrupulous cerebration and serious analysis (and a whole host of other bracing intellectual virtues of that sort). (p. 4)

 But at this point, I fear, Hart may find himself subjected to an ad hominem argument of the following kind: the criticism that he just regards himself as morally superior to his infernalist opponents. It is a criticism that sort of goes with the territory. After publishing a scathing critique of the Reformed doctrine of reprobation several decades ago, one in which I labeled it “a respectable blasphemy” against God, I understandably received many harsh criticisms in return. The only criticism that touched my heart, however, was exceedingly gentle. It happened when the wife of my best friend in the Reformed church that my wife and I were then attending—a dear woman with some serious physical challenges—hesitantly expressed the worry that I might be regarding myself as more loving than others in the church. That was startling indeed, because I knew without question that others in the church were far more loving in their personal lives than I tend to be in my own. None of us, after all, are fully consistent in our moral lives. So in the end I found myself saying, or at least thinking to myself, things like, “Virtually all Calvinists I have known are far better than the theology they have embraced, even as I am far worse than the theology I have embraced.” But Hart’s own attempt to forestall similar criticisms may be better than my own. “Really,” he asks concerning the infernalist orthodoxy, “could we truly believe it apart from either profound personal fear or profound personal cruelty? Which is why, again, I do not believe that most Christians truly believe what they believe they believe” (p. 204). Some may find such a view counterintuitive, but I do not. For over the course of my own life, I have observed more than a few instances where people have sincerely thought they believed certain things about God only to have some tragic event—such as a husband dying “in unbelief” or a teenage daughter committing suicide—prove that they did not truly believe what they previously had sincerely thought they believed.

In any case, I have found no major theological claim in this book with which to disagree. It would be truly remarkable, of course, were I to agree with every detail of every argument presented therein. But I am prepared to endorse every major theological claim contained in the book, starting with this one, which I take to be the main thesis of the book: “if Christianity taken as a whole is indeed an entirely coherent and credible system of belief, then the universalist understanding of its message is the only one possible” (p. 3—my emphasis). Not even many of those who sympathize with the universalist message are so bold as to declare that, given the New Testament understanding of God, the very idea of someone being lost forever represents a logical (or metaphysical) impossibility. Most find it sufficient to endorse a so-called “hopeful universalism,” even as they acknowledge that an eternal hell is at least logically possible. But I disagree with that, even as Hart does; and the reason we both reject even the logical possibility of an eternal hell should emerge in subsequent installments of this review.
Dr Thomas Talbott is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Willamette University and author of the celebrated book on the greater hope, The Inescapable Love of God. He is the author of numerous philosophical articles, as well as a piece published on this blog: “How to Read the Bible from a Universalist Perspective.”

Is This Bruce Springsteen’s Single Greatest Live Moment?

By Andy Greene
September 24, 2019

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The Capitol Theater, Passaic New Jersey (Arlen Schumer)

Bruce Springsteen has played somewhere in the ballpark of 2,600 concerts since signing to Columbia Records in 1972. Many of the ones before Born to Run came out in 1975 have been lost to history, but the vast majority since have been bootlegged and traded within fan circles. Five years ago, Springsteen’s team made the wise decision to eliminate the need for bootlegs of his current shows by offering fans the chance to download every one them in pristine sound quality.
With all of this in mind, naming his single greatest concert is a very difficult task. And zooming in even further to pick out his best performance of a singular song is just absurd. After all, he’s played “Born to Run” 1,744 times, “Thunder Road” 1,424 times, and “The Promised Land” 1,375 times. Hell, he’s even done the 1984 B side “Shut Out the Light” 35 times, and “Jump” by Van Halen” twice. One time he even did Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine,” though nobody is going to pick that one.
But in honor of the man’s 70th birthday yesterday, we’re going to go ahead and pick our choice for his best live performance anyway. It was “Prove It All Night” at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, on September 19th, 1978. The show was broadcast on the radio and released as the famous Pièce De Résistance bootleg that Springsteen fans have cherished for years. Springsteen finally released it himself earlier this month as an official download. The Capitol Theatre also had a camera running and you can watch the whole thing right here.
It begins with a four-minute piano and guitar duel between Springsteen and E Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan before the vocals kick in. The version of the song that follows makes the “Prove It All Night” on Darkness on the Edge of Town sound like a limp, lifeless demo by comparison. The group had been touring the album for four months at this point and were in absolute peak form as a live band.
To be fair, there were 115 shows on the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour and only a tiny handful survive in crystal-clear audio like this show. Even fewer were caught on film. It’s quite possible that other shows had a “Prove It All Night” even better than 9/19/78. It’s actually quite likely. But based on what we have access to at the moment, we stand by our choice.
Springsteen kept “Prove It All Night” in his live repertoire after 1978, but the extended version from the Darkness tour vanished. The fans never gave up on hearing it again, though, and one even managed to ask Springsteen about it during a 2010 appearance on E Street Radio. “You’re one of the ’78 piano intro guys!” Springsteen said. “There are clones of you in various places throughout the United States. … It was just a device that worked nicely at the time. If you’d like to hear it again, that’ll probably never occur, my friend. But it was good while it lasted.”
Just two years later, however, he revived it at a show in Barcelona and then did it again a handful of times throughout the tour. The fans were ecstatic, but it never quite reached the highs of 1978 or, more specifically, the high of September 19th, 1978. Feel free to disagree with us, though. And if you pick “Backstreets” from a 1978 show with a long “Sad Eyes” interlude, you might have a decent case to make.

A Detailed Account of America’s Greatest Political Scandal

By Julie Kelly
September 24, 2019

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In early 2017, as the shocking story of how the Obama Administration weaponized the world’s most powerful agencies against Donald Trump began to unfold, very few journalists were willing to confront that scandal amid the cacophony of Trump-Russia collusion. Andrew McCarthy was one of them.
From the pages of National Review to the set of Fox News, McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, explained complex legal procedures in layman’s terms. Americans unfamiliar with FBI counterintelligence probes or the workings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or Special Counsel rules were educated by McCarthy in a way that made it easy for the non-lawyer to grasp. McCarthy, a humble, humorous, and gracious man by nature, offered his expertise without the self-gratifying puffery ingrained in so many prosecutors. (Think James Comey.)
His new bookBall of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency, includes and expands on this crucial work. In careful detail, McCarthy deconstructs the Trump-Russia collusion ruse; the wind-up of Crossfire Hurricane, the unprecedented investigation into a U.S. presidential campaign; and the ramifications of one of the biggest political scandals in American history. In addition to his knowledge and insight, McCarthy knows many of the players involved personally, including former FBI Director James Comey, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney.
Further, McCarthy is no fawning booster of the president so his coverage of the scandal was not in the service of protecting Trump, his family, or his presidency. In fact, McCarthy contributed to the infamous “Against Trump” issue published by National Review in February 2016. “The threat against us has metastasized in our eighth year under a president who quite consciously appeases the enemy,” McCarthy wrote. “But the remedy is not a president oblivious of the enemy.”
The ball of collusion, as McCarthy describes at the end of his 456-page book, is “counterintelligence as a pretext for criminal investigation in search of a crime; a criminal investigation as a pretext for impeachment without an impeachable offense; an impeachment inquiry as a pretext for barring Donald Trump from reelection; and all of it designed as a straightjacket around his presidency.” (Don’t let the number of pages scare you out of reading it; the author’s writing takes up about 350 pages.)
The book’s 18 chapters cover a range of central and corollary subjects. The biggest takeaway is how this entire scandal fused the competing interests of the nation’s biggest egos—some of whom clearly suffer from narcissistic personality disorder. This list includes the president, former president Obama, Comey, Mueller, former CIA director John Brennan, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, and the collective Messiah complex of the Washington bureaucratic establishment and the national news media. McCarthy exposes the “small world” of partisan operatives, sycophants, apparatchiks, and deep pockets that populate the Acela Corridor and fuel the day-to-day turbulence of the American political climate.

Clinton Connections

For the last three years, Americans have been tormented by a dangerous power struggle waged by this claque of political actors who will use any means necessary in order to prevail. It is a black mark in history that will fascinate future historians; those historians undoubtedly will draw heavily from McCarthy’s book as a comprehensive account of what happened between 2016 and 2019, when Robert Mueller finally had to admit there was no evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin to influence the stunning outcome of the 2016 presidential election. As someone who has covered this scandal closely, I learned important new information from McCarthy about the timeline and the culprits involved.
McCarthy offers crucial background about the financial and political ties between Russia and the Clintons—yet somehow Hillary Clinton’s troubling past related to Russia did not provoke any FBI investigation. “Candidate Clinton and her husband had disturbing Russia ties, too,” McCarthy explained in the book’s introduction. “The Clinton campaign had not just Russia contacts; it had Bill Clinton meeting with Putin and taking a huge payment while Russia had important business before the State Department run by his wife,” McCarthy outlines in chapter 10. “It had Russian money pouring into the Clinton Foundation; its chairman, John Podesta, sat on the board of . . . a company into which Putin’s venture capital firm invested $35 million.”
But Carter Page gave a speech in Moscow.

A Multi-Pronged Plot

McCarthy provides an in-depth analysis of Washington’s unsettling relationship with Russia and Ukraine. Chapter four is a must-read: McCarthy explains how the Obama Administration manipulated intelligence for political purposes—yet another egregious example of how the Obama White House got away with bad behavior while their lapdogs in the media either ignored it or covered it up.
“No administration in American history was more practiced in the dark arts of politicizing intelligence than President Obama’s,” McCarthy writes. “Examples are legion.” This unchecked malfeasance led to the creation of the fabricated collusion ruse and the empowerment of ego-maniacs such as Brennan and Comey.
The next several chapters delve into the multi-pronged plot to sabotage the Trump campaign and derail Trump’s presidency. McCarthy confirms that—contrary to dubious claims by the New York Times and faithfully regurgitated by Trump foes—the FBI investigation was not initiated by an alleged drunken conversation between Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and an Australian diplomat in the spring of 2016.
That ruse—which McCarthy calls an “unlikely story”—was an attempt to camouflage the way the dossier compiled by British political operative Christopher Steele, who was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee, supplied the probable cause to launch Crossfire Hurricane, the official name of the counterintelligence probe into four Trump associates, three of whom are named in the dossier. (A document filled with still-unproven accusations.)
“Steele’s project was not intelligence-gathering,” McCarthy explains. “It was the crafting of a campaign narrative about a traitorous Trump-Russia espionage conspiracy. That’s why Steele and [Fusion GPS chief Glenn] Simpson peddled the information to the media at the same time Steele was feeding it to the FBI and the Justice Department. The Clinton campaign’s Steele dossier was the sheer political spinning of rank rumor.”

“This Should Never Happen”

McCarthy profiles the various spies deployed to infiltrate and monitor the Trump campaign, easily debunking another faux media narrative that the Obama Administration didn’t spy on Trump.
“The indignant anger over questions about the Crossfire Hurricane undercover operations . . . is misplaced,” he writes in Chapter 12.
The book’s chapter on the FISA warrant against Carter Page offers a crucial primer in advance of the anticipated report by Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s Inspector General, on how Comey’s FBI manipulated the secret court to get an order to spy on Page for a year. McCarthy admits his own miscalculation about how FISA might be abused after procedures were loosened following the 9/11 terror attacks.
“Back then, it seemed ridiculous to believe the FBI and the Justice Department would resort to FISA pretextually,” he concedes. “I was wrong. What I didn’t factor in was the possibility that, for political reasons, the upper ranks of the FBI and the Justice Department might decide to do an investigation by themselves. This should never happen.”
But in Trump’s case, of course, it did.
Comey’s “weasel moves” (that he insists he didn’t make but did repeatedly make when it came to Donald Trump) led to his ouster in May 2017. McCarthy is critical of the president’s handling of Comey’s firing, an assessment which is up for dispute. I strongly disagree that Comey was undeserving of his humiliating public dismissal because he “had served the United States well in many capacities over many years.” Comey will be—and should be—remembered for how he defiled the world’s most powerful law enforcement agency to gratify Barack Obama’s contempt for Donald Trump and the Republican Party. The inspector general recommended three criminal charges against Comey in his latest report; it’s very likely Comey will be implicated in more abuses as investigations into his conduct continue. But McCarthy does give an otherwise fair description of one of the most bitter president-FBI director relationships of all time.
The final chapter pores over the stretch of time between Comey’s firing and the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which Comey successfully prompted by leaking one of his memos documenting a private conversation with Trump to the New York Times.
“The collusion narrative had served its purpose,” McCarthy concludes. “The collusion narrative, seeded by the Obama administration, tilted by intelligence leaks and tended by constant media care accomplished its objectives. A special counsel . . . was imposed, despite the absence of criminal predicate, to monitor the Trump presidency.”

The Scandal Is Far from Over

If there is any criticism of McCarthy’s book, it is that he gives short shrift to the insidious role played by the anti-Trump news media. While McCarthy offers some examples of how news organizations such as the Times, CNN and the Washington Post eagerly reported classified information to fuel the collusion plotline, the destructive conduct of the media—including reporters, columnists, editors, cable news hosts, and various contributors on both sides of the Trump-hating political aisle—warranted more coverage. For example, MSNBC, which served as a nonstop organ of the collusion deception, only received three mentions in the book.
To his credit, however, McCarthy generously commends other journalists such as The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, Tablet Magazine’s Lee Smith, the Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross, and the Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel for their invaluable reporting on the scandal.
Even though the Mueller investigation is complete, this scandal is far from over. The public impatiently awaits the results of pending inspector general reports; criminal inquiries into McCabe and former FBI General Counsel James Baker; and an expansive investigation launched by Attorney General William Barr into what the Obama Administration did in 2016 and 2017 to try to destroy Donald Trump.
My guess is that McCarthy will have a chance to write a follow-up to this exceptional book.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

How identity politics drove the world mad

By Roger Scruton
September 2019

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We thrive on disagreement, but only if we do not also feel threatened by it. In every period of history, therefore, there have been opinions and customs that are dangerous to question, since they provide the firm foundations on which our disagreements rest. Whether religious or political, these established ways of thinking and acting have been protected by law, and embedded in the educational curriculum and the daily customs of the people.

But our situation in Western democracies today is a novel one. There is no shared religion, and the old customs have been torn asunder by a culture of repudiation, which encourages people to shape their lives according to an “identity” of their own. Socialisation no longer means joining or obeying, but “becoming who you are”, regardless of the surrounding norms. This novel situation, which advertises itself as a kind of liberation, has instead produced in my lifetime a totally new kind of censorship and intimidation.
Thirty years ago I naively assumed that, with the collapse of communism, we would no longer see the persecution of dissidents or the imposition of official doctrines, and so I have been as astonished as everyone else by the mass denunciations and targeted character assassinations that enforce prevailing orthodoxies today. They seem as frequent and comprehensive here in Britain as they ever were in the world of totalitarian government.
True, you don’t go to the Gulag for your opinions; nor are there show-trials of “deviationists”, Zionists or the running dogs of capitalism. Nevertheless, you have to be careful what you say, and the punishments for saying, thinking or implying the wrong thing, even if administered by private enterprise and social media rather than by the state, are real, serious and largely impossible to deflect.
The archive of your crimes is stored in cyberspace, and however much you may have confessed to them and sworn to change, they will pursue you for the rest of your life, just as long as someone has an interest in drawing attention to them. And when the mob turns on you, it is with a pitiless intensity that bears no relation to the objective seriousness of your fault. A word out of place, a hasty judgment, a slip of the tongue — whatever the fault might be, it is sufficient, once picked upon, to put you beyond the pale of human sympathy.
As Douglas Murray shows in his impressive and lively survey, The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, the emerging world of censorship is a world without forgiveness, in which people are condemned for what they are rather than what they do, and in which the real virtues and vices that govern our conduct are ignored altogether as irrelevant.
The crimes for which we are judged are existential crimes: through speaking in the wrong way you display one of the phobias or isms that show you to be beyond acceptable humanity. You are a homophobe, an Islamophobe, a white supremacist or a racist, and no argument can refute these accusations once they have been made.
You might, in your private life, have worked for the integration and acceptance of your local Muslim community, or for a wider understanding of the roots of Islamic philosophy. This will be irrelevant when it comes to rebutting a charge of Islamophobia, just as your record in promoting minorities in the workplace will do nothing to clear you of the charge of racism, once the crucial words are out.
For your accusers are not interested in your deeds; they are interested in you, and in the crucial fact about you, which is whether or not you are “one of us”. Your faults cannot be overcome by voluntary action, since they adhere to the kind of thing that you are. And you reveal what you are in the words that define you.
These words may be taken out of context, even doctored to mean the opposite of what you said — as happened recently to me in an interview given to the New Statesman — but this will not affect the verdict, since there is no objective trial, no “case for the defence”, no due process. You are accused by the mob, examined by the mob and condemned by the mob, and if you have brought this on yourself, then you have only yourself to blame. For the mob is by nature innocent: it washes its own conscience in a flow of collective indignation, and by joining it you make yourself safe.
Such is the situation that the brave Murray confronts in his latest book, the title of which (taken from a previous anatomy of human folly by Charles Mackay) implies that it is crowd hysteria, rather than ignorance, that is largely to blame. But, as Murray goes on to show, that suggestion is also too simple. With admirable attention to detail he explores the ways in which the spirit of the mob has entered not only the language of public debate but also the sources of information and the institutions of decision making.
Censorship begins in the media themselves, with the silicon valley elite introducing “machine learning fairness” designed to eliminate “hate speech”, and programmed to recognise as “hate” all those expressions of opinion that violate some norm of political correctness. What Orwell so vividly foresaw — the manipulation of language so as to make heresy inexpressible — is now routine practice.
The result, however, is not a culture of gentle conformity, in which “niceness” is the norm. On the contrary, the clamour for recognition involves a constant assault on those who are assumed to be preventing it. These purveyors of “hate” are given no leeway on social media, and the practice of mass denunciation on grounds of race, tribe, class or social milieu is now an accepted weapon in the identity wars.
Murray gives riveting examples of the way in which whiteness has become a moral fault in the eyes of identity warriors on the American campus. It is, for example, now legitimate to condemn people for the colour of their skin, leading some to try to apologise for being white.
Various devices facilitate the emergence of the censorship culture. Three in particular come to the surface in Murray’s carefully constructed argument. First, there is the art of taking offence. Whole sections of the university curriculum are devoted to explaining to students that words, arguments, comparisons, even questions, are “offensive”, regardless of the intention with which they are used.
Invariably, the offence is given by the old majority culture, and is taken on behalf of some privileged minority. Current concerns about Islamophobia are relevant here: it is offensive, for example, to make jokes about the burqa, but not offensive to appear in public with your face entirely covered, even though the face-to-face encounter is at the root of our shared way of life, as important in showing respect as taking off your shoes when entering a mosque.
More important, from the intellectual point of view, is the attempt to rewrite hardware as software. As Murray shows, identity politics, which insists that everything relevant to our sense of self lies within our power, so that nothing can be imposed on us without our consent, is at odds with the facts of biology. To get round this problem, sex has been re-written as gender, and gender defined as a social construct. In this way, hardware becomes software, and fate becomes choice.
And the result is the “trans” lobby, determined to make all those areas where one sex was hitherto privileged (for example, female sports or female bathrooms) available to whoever wishes to appropriate that sex as his own. The hardware/software confusion has now penetrated the culture, and Murray shows the devastating effect that it has had on our understanding of human difference.
Finally there is the new scourge of “intersectionality”, which encourages people to explore all the ways in which they have lost out in the pursuit of advantage, and to construct their identity accordingly. A kind of reverse hierarchy of privilege emerges, as you come to see that you are disadvantaged as gay man, and then as a black man, and then as a Muslim man, and so on. The result of this scramble for “virtuous disadvantages” occupies Murray over many partly amusing, partly distressing pages.
As he abundantly shows, the attempt to derive a positive philosophy from this assemblage of negatives leads to absurdity and contradiction at every turn. The problem, however, is that contradiction is not regarded by the mob as an obstacle, but merely as further proof of the great conspiracy by which we are surrounded — the conspiracy enshrined in the old majority culture, which told us that we must accept human nature, find our fulfilment within its bounds, and not engage in a futile metaphysical rebellion.
Murray’s comprehensive survey of the prevailing madness will not persuade every reader. But it raises the real questions of our times, which are these: can we reject the idea of a benevolent God and still hold on to our inherited morality, founded on respect for the other and the absolute authority of truth? Can we adopt the posture of forgiveness that Murray is so keen to advocate, without turning to the supreme example that was once given to us?
Can we re-learn the habits of polite disagreement, and address each other as rational beings, capable of forming real communities in which differences are respected and decencies honoured? I want to answer yes to those questions. But as someone who has suffered more than most from the prevailing madness I have my doubts.
My own solution — which is to ignore social media and to address, in my writings, only the interest in the true and the false, rather than in the permitted and the offensive — confines me within a circle that is considerably narrower than the Twittersphere. But here and there in this circle, there are people who do not merely see the point of truthful discourse, but who are also eager to engage with it. And I cling to the view that that is enough, as it was for the Irish monks who kept the lamp of learning alight during the Dark Ages. They may have thought they were losing, but they won in the end.
Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity is published by Bloomsbury Continuum

Save Greta

By Brendan O'Neill
24 September 2019

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(Associated Press)

Any adult who cheered Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN yesterday should be ashamed of themselves. Her emotional rant was a deeply disturbing spectacle. It revealed a young woman, a girl, in essence, who is in the grip of terror, of a morbid, debilitating belief that life as we know it is coming to an end. You could not have asked for firmer proof that the green ideology is seriously screwing up the next generation by pumping them with fear and panic and a deranged belief that the end of the world is nigh. It isn’t the planet that needs saving – it’s Greta. She needs to be saved from the death cult of eco-alarmism.
It was a truly sad sight. Greta, 16, spoke through tears. And her tears were understandable given she believes life on Earth is being suffocated and murdered by greedy, marauding mankind. She berated the gathered heads of state. ‘You have stolen my dreams and my childhood… People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?’ With each nightmarish word, with each unhinged dystopian prediction of doom, her voice wobbled and her emotions span out of control. It was a public meltdown. And of course the politicians applauded it – perversely, they love nothing more than being told how awful they are by a petrified, disorientated girl.

Who did this to Greta? Who turned a bright and curious 16-year-old schoolgirl into a prophet of horror, into a young woman who admits to feeling terror and who believes the Earth is on fire? Adults did. The green-infused educational, political and cultural elites did. The people who have been feeding kids a narrative of eco-fear for years did this. Their secular Armageddonism, their wilful exaggeration of every problem mankind faces, their marshalling of the politics of fear to try to force people to change their allegedly wicked, eco-harmful behaviour – all of this has convinced many young people that the future is dark, mankind is doomed, and there is no point even going to school, far less planning one’s life, because we will all be dead soon. They did this to Greta, and to others, and it is unforgivable.
The extent to which adults have indoctrinated kids with eco-nihilistic fear was made clear in the words of the UN general-secretary Antonio Guterres. Opening the UN Climate Action Summit yesterday, at which Greta made her frazzled, tragic speech, he said: ‘Nature is angry.’ What is this superstition? It is positively pre-modern. This anthropomorphising of nature is central to the eco-alarmist outlook. It presents everything from forest fires to floods as punishment for humankind’s sins, as nature’s payback to the pox that is humanity and our ‘fairytales of eternal economic growth’, as Greta describes it. In Biblical times, freak weather and plagues of locusts were viewed as God’s punishment of human beings’ sinful behaviour; now we hear talk of ‘weather of mass destruction’ and ‘angry’ natural events that are apparently Gaia’s punishment of us for committing the sin of economic growth. The words change, but the backwardness and hysteria are eerily similar.
Greta Thunberg is admirable in many ways. She is driven and articulate. But it is patently clear now that she is being exploited. She is being pushed to the forefront of the most fearful and superstitious movement of our times. She has been turned into the chief spokesperson for doom, the mouthpiece of eco-misanthropy, a soothsayer of the horrors humankind will allegedly bring upon itself. The aim seems to be to make environmentalism an unquestionable, untouchable ideology. Witness how anyone who raises even a peep of criticism of eco-nonsense will now be asked: ‘How dare you criticise Greta and the other brave climate-striking children?’ These kids are being used as moral shields by adults to protect the increasingly bizarre politics of environmentalism from interrogation and criticism. It is dizzying in its cynicism.
And it is destructive, too. Destructive of public debate, destructive of critical discussion, and destructive of the kids who are being dragged into this terrifying, miserabilist worldview to play the role of a stage army to adult society’s own loss of faith in mankind and in economic growth. Enough. Set Greta free. Stop instructing her in the cult of fear and let her go back to school and to a normal youthful life. If you really must have a child speaking at the UN, how about a teenager from Africa or India who believes economic growth is not a fairytale but absolutely essential to their liberation from poverty? We’ve all heard more than enough from middle-class Westerners who think economic growth is oh-so-horrible. Let’s hear from someone in the teeming billions around the world who profoundly disagree with this downbeat, anti-human, Western-centric crap.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast,The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

‘Rambo: Last Blood’ Review: Sylvester Stallone Tells a Vital Truth the Media Won’t

By John Nolte
September 20. 2019

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When history looks back at the abominable behavior of the establishment news media in the first two decades of the 21st century, there will of course be condemnations for the breathtaking lies and a full-blown coup attempt against a sitting president. But let’s not forget the media’s unforgivable sins of omission, especially their ongoing cover up of the ravages that come with our wide-open southern border.
The media themselves are not harmed by these ravages. Illegal reporters are not flooding the country to take media jobs,  and those who control the media live in high-rise apartments and will never feel the effects of the crime spawned by an open border.
No, the only people who feel these ravages are the people the media most hate: everyday Americans. Yes, the flood of cheap labor depresses their wages and steals their jobs, but it’s the violence — my God, the violence.
All throughout our country, illegal aliens who should have never gained entry, and many who would have been deported were it not for Democrat-run sanctuary cities, commit the most heinous crimes imaginable, including rape and murder.
What’s more, our open border is also a haven for Mexican drug cartels to traffic their poison and their sex slaves, almost all of them young girls from Mexico, and…
Those young Mexican girls are another group the American media do not care about, a story they dare not tell because it interferes with their desire for the open border that will turn Texas blue. The media’s attitude is, Not gunna let some brown sex slaves get in the way of winning an election!
So here we sit in a country with an open border responsible for atrocity after atrocity after atrocity, and a media that enables those atrocities through a conspiracy of silence.
Enter Sylvester Stallone…
You can laugh at the fact that Last Blood is an 89-minute genre film, the fifth chapter in a nearly 40-year-old franchise starring a geriatric who just turned 73: Oh, this is dumb. It’s just a movie. A disposable throwaway.
Sorry, but that’s not how pop culture works. Movies matter, and Last Blood matters… Untold million will eventually see this, will see The Truth through the most powerful propaganda tool there is: a story — not a news story, not a cable TV segment — but a story-story told with sound and picture.
And Last Blood is a fantastic story, deceptively simple, beautifully structured, thoroughly engrossing, and ridiculously satisfying.
Better still it is a truth told in the most effective way there is, through wish-fulfillment. Rambo is finally doing something about an injustice. It feels good to see something being done, and dammit I want something done!
In the 70s, genre movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish opened our eyes to a criminal justice system that forgot about the victims. On the political flip-side, movies like The China Syndrome and Silkwood opened our eyes to the dangers of nuclear power. And now, in 2019,  Last Blood courageously seeks to open our eyes about the dangers of an open border.
And I say “courageous,” because in modern-day America it takes moral courage to tell a truth when the telling means you will be  slandered as a racist — something that hasalready happened to Stallone.
But I would never tell anyone to see a movie because the politics are “correct,” just as I would never pan a movie for “incorrect” politics. A good movie is a good movie, and Last Blood is more than worth your time and money.
When we last met John Rambo a full 11 years ago (man, those 11 years went fast!), he had finally worked through what he needed to work through enough to return home, stateside to the family farm.
And life was good during those 11 years — what you might call rocking-chair-on-a-porch-good. Rambo still suffers from PTSD, but he “keeps a lid on” with prescription drugs and by fighting a war he hopes will never come. When not training horses, Rambo maintains an endless series of tunnels he dug under his farm, which includes a workshop where he forges  — God bless him — weapons of war.
With the help of his old friend Maria (Adrianna Barraza) he’s also raising 17-year-old Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), whose good-for-nothing father took off after her mother died of cancer. But now that Gabrielle knows where her dad is, she wants to see him, and it’s just a short drive from the farm in Arizona to Mexico.
Uncle John tries to explain the facts of life to her, what he knows about the “black hearts of men,” but she’s 17, which means she’s smarter than everyone else, so when no one’s looking, off she goes…
The scenes involving Gabrielle’s sex slavery are unbelievably harrowing. Director Adrian Grunberg and co-writer Stallone refuse to turn away from this truth. Our nose is rubbed in it, as it should be.
Naturally, Rambo throws away his pills and goes to war  — “Cops can’t cross the border, and down there they don’t do shit.” — and let’s just say that when John J. Rambo says he’s going to blow your head off and rip your heart out, that ain’t no figure of speech.
Along the way, Rambo receives courageous help from Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega) an “independent journalist,” because Last Blood wants to remind us that establishment journalists want nothing to do with this truth.
We also get a dispiriting look at our ridiculously inept border fencing, which elicited laughter in the audience, and there’s one brief moment where I thought I caught Rambo smiling — and it was glorious.
“I want revenge. I want them to know death is coming.” And so it does, wrapped in truth.
This one’s for the Angel Moms … on both sides of the border.
P.S. Make sure to sit through the closing montage and then rent Jennifer Garner’s Peppermint. 
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNCFollow his Facebook Page here.