Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On the other side from civilisation

By Melanie Phillips
Tuesday, 30th December 2008

When Ed Husain famously renounced Islamism there were some who warned that, despite his denunciation of Hizb ut Tahrir and Islamist ideology, he remained dangerously confused and should not be treated as a serious reformer. I thought this was too harsh. He had, after all, bravely taken an enormous step out of the darkness; surely he had to be given time and encouragement to adjust properly to the light. Surely it was a good thing that he was encouraging young British Muslims to turn away from Islamic radicalism. The extreme importance of that task was such that, even when he wrote a stupid and ignorant piece about Zionism, I hoped that if he was now told the truth about the history of Israel and the Jewish people, he would realise the error of his thinking on that particular issue. So I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

I was wrong.

With first this press release from the Quilliam Foundation soon after the start of the current Israeli operation in Gaza, and now his poisonous piece on the Guardian’s Comment is Free today, Ed Husain has shown that in the great battle to defend civilisation against barbarism he is on the wrong side.

Ed Husain

Disgustingly, he draws a moral equivalence between Palestinian human bomb attacks and Israel’s operation in Gaza, which he calls

Israel’s massacre of innocent Palestinians

But this is totally untrue. The vast majority of Gazans who have been killed were Hamas terrorists. According to today’s UN figures, 364 have been killed of whom only 62 were civilians. Israel has been targeting only the Hamas infrastructure and its terror-masters, as detailed here. While some civilian casualties are unfortunately inevitable, Israel is clearly attempting to minimise them. It is Hamas which deliberately targets Israeli civilians when it fires its rockets and detonates its human bombs specifically at Israeli civilian targets. It is Hamas which deliberately turns its own civilians into targets by siting its rockets and other military equipment under apartment blocks and in centres of densely crowded population. Hamas tries to kill as many Israeli innocents as possible; Israel’s military operation is conducted solely to defend its people against such attack and is designed to minimise the loss of civilian life in Gaza. To draw an equivalence between the two is obscene.

Ed Husain argues that this war will strengthen Hamas in Gaza and radicalise yet more Muslims. It is surely rather more likely that many Palestinians, who have themselves been terrorised by Hamas, will blame Hamas for the current situation, just as Fatah and Egypt have done. Moreover, since any measure Israel takes to defend itself against mass murder – and for that matter, any and every military action in defence of the west by Britain or America -- is used to radicalise Muslims, he is in effect saying that Israel should never take any military action to defend itself, even after being attacked by 5000 rockets in three years.

Indeed, since the very existence of Israel is used to radicalise Muslims, it also implies that Israel should cease to exist at all. Which is implicitly to endorse a second genocide of the Jews. But then Ed Husain comes perilously close to doing just that in this article. Having declared

I’ve spoken out in support of Israel’s right to exist

-- big deal! – he vitiates even this by saying he is now having second thoughts:

But Israel's cold, politically timed killing of more than 300 Palestinians makes me, and millions more, rethink our attitude towards Israel.

‘Cold politically timed killings’? But Israel only launched this offensive because -- as Mahmoud Abbas has said -- Hamas ended its ‘truce’ and started lobbing dozens of rockets at Israel. And the fact that he can even apparently entertain the idea that Israel might no longer have ‘the right to exist’ puts him outside the moral pale altogether. Does he say China has no right to exist on account of Tibet? Syria on account of the thousands it killed in Hama in one weekend in 1982? Iran on account of its barbaric killings of women, gays and political dissidents? No, of course not – only Israel. He goes on:

Israel’s calculated killing and attempts at deception cannot be overlooked. How can the children of Holocaust survivors become such brutal killers? And during the Sabbath?

This takes the blood libel onto another plane still. The implication that the victims of brutal killing have themselves become brutal killers – when all they are doing is trying to prevent another Holocaust, explicitly threatened in the foundational charter of the people against whose genocidal onslaught Israel is merely defending itself – is unconscionable. And the dig at Jewish religious practice is as ignorant as it is gratuitous. Wars of self-defence, as this one is, to save innocent lives threatened by murderous aggression, take precedence in Judaism over sabbath observance. How telling that Ed Husain, ostensibly condemning Israel over the conduct of a war, cannot resist having a sly poke at Judaism itself.

An Israeli soldier walks past a tank at a staging area on the Israel-Gaza border Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008.
(AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Then there’s his lamentable historical illiteracy. He writes:

I’ve sat in homes of poor, hospitable Palestinians who still yearn to return to their homeland, taken by force from them in the turmoil after Britain hurriedly left Palestine in 1948...At schools across the Arab world children are taught about the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916. Here in Britain, we might want to forget this imperial past, but ask any Arab and they will reel off these dates and confirm Britain's involvement in creating Israel. As a country, we have a moral duty to right our historical wrongs. We helped create Israel. We must now help create a Palestine.

For goodness sake! To repeat for the nth time: Israel was never the Palestinians’ ‘homeland’. It was never taken from them ‘by force’. On the contrary, they tried to take the Jews’ homeland from them by force – and are still trying. It was the Jews alone for whom historically ‘Palestine’ was ever their national homeland. On account of that history and the inalienable right to the land that it conferred, Britain was given a mandate to re-establish that national home and establish accordingly ‘close settlement’ of the Jews within the whole of Palestine – which included what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. To appease Arab violence, the Arabs who lived there were offered their own state around the areas where they were concentrated. But they refused and, backed by neighbouring Arab states, went to war to destroy at birth the Jewish state established by the UN under international law – a war that has continued uninterrupted to this day.

There is only one way to de-radicalise people who are being brainwashed by murderous lies, and that is to tell them the truth. If Ed Husain were really interested in de-radicalising Britain’s Muslims, he would tell them that they have been fed a diet of incendiary lies and blood libels about Israel and the Jews, and that justice demands they are taught instead the truth. But instead, he has now adopted the very narrative and rhetoric that are driving Muslims to mass murder.

The issue of Israel sits at the very apex of the fight to defend civilisation. Those who wish to destroy western civilisation need to destroy the Jews, whose moral precepts formed its foundation stones. The deranged hatred of the Jews lies at the core of the Islamists’ hatred of America, the ‘infidel’ west and modernity, and is the reason why they wish to destroy Israel. Unless people in the west understand that Israel’s fight is their own fight, they will be on the wrong side of the war to defend not just the west but civilisation in general.

The British government has invested huge hopes in Ed Husain as an attractive and plausible antidote to Islamist extremism in Britain. But how can anyone now believe anything he has ever said when he promulgates such a gross libel as the canard of Israel’s ‘massacre’ of hundreds of ‘innocent' Gazans? How can the government believe that Ed Husain will de-radicalise British Muslims when through articles such as this one he is inciting them to yet more hatred of Israel, the west’s forward salient against Islamist aggression?

Of course, his arguments are -- tragically, appallingly -- replicated in large measure amongst the British intelligentsia, media and indeed members of the government itself and the broad political class. Indeed, this is a far, far wider problem than one not-so-reformed-after-all Islamic extremist. It is a profound moral corruption that has infected the British body politic. The fact that so many among Britain’s educated class think like this means that they too are on the wrong side in the great battle to defend civilisation. And it’s not just Israel that in their moral confusion they are thus preparing to throw to the Islamist wolves. It is their own society too.

Today's Tune: Bob Dylan - Political World

(Click on title to play video)

We live in a political world,
Love don't have any place.
We're living in times where men commit crimes
And crime don't have a face

We live in a political world,
Icicles hanging down,
Wedding bells ring and angels sing,
clouds cover up the ground.

We live in a political world,
Wisdom is thrown into jail,
It rots in a cell, is misguided as hell
Leaving no one to pick up a trail.

We live in a political world
Where mercy walks the plank,
Life is in mirrors, death disappears
Up the steps into the nearest bank.

We live in a political world
Where courage is a thing of the past
Houses are haunted, children are unwanted
The next day could be your last.

We live in a political world.
The one we can see and can feel
But there's no one to check, it's all a stacked deck,
We all know for sure that it's real.

We live in a political world
In the cities of lonesome fear,
Little by little you turn in the middle
But you're never why you're here.

We live in a political world
Under the microscope,
You can travel anywhere and hang yourself there
You always got more than enough rope.

We live in a political world
Turning and a'thrashing about,
As soon as you're awake, you're trained to take
What looks like the easy way out.

We live in a political world
Where peace is not welcome at all,
It's turned away from the door to wander some more
Or put up against the wall.

We live in a political world
Everything is hers or his,
Climb into the frame and shout God's name
But you're never sure what it is.

Unsurprising Bigotry

Streetcar Line

By Quin Hillyer on 12.31.08 @ 6:08AM
The American Spectator

Far too many members of the establishment media seem to wish for a world where it is always winter but never Christmas.

Fans of C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" series will immediately recognize that phrase -- "always winter but never Christmas" -- as the situation that prevailed in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (henceforth LWW) before the return to the land of Narnia of Aslan, the great lion-Christ. But consider the phrase more broadly and metaphorically. The establishment media continues to give copious evidence of ignorance of, and often outright hostility to, Western religion and to the moral values shaped by it. Their ignorance and hostility is unprofessional, and it is despicable. A reader could be excused for often getting the impression that, like the White Witch, the establishment media would love to turn all believers to stone and keep us from ever celebrating Christmas -- or Easter, or (for that matter) any Jewish observance, either, unless treated as merely a cultural observance rather than a true religious celebration.

C.S. Lewis

This column topic suggested itself when the December 14 Washington Post contained not one but two cultural articles at least somewhat offensive to traditionalist sensibilities. The first was a glowing book review called "Saving C.S. Lewis." Written by foreign desk editor Elizabeth Ward, also described in the byline as "a longtime reviewer of children's books," the review assessed a new literary endeavor by a woman named Laura Miller called The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia.

According to Ward, Miller was an especially devoted Narnia fan as a child, but felt a "sense of betrayal" when she realized in her early teens that the Narnia series contained not only wonderful fairy tales but also "really just the doctrines of the Church in disguise." Raised a Catholic but turned off by what she considered the church's "guilt-mongering," Miller was so upset by what she now considered to be "appallingly transfigured" stories that she then wanted nothing to do with the books. That decision changed again, though, when a reading assignment as an adult helped her discover that Lewis's series remained radiant apart from its subtext as Christian apologetics.

Oh, the joy! The sheer joy to find out that Narnia wasn't utterly ruined by its Christianity! Miller responded by writing this learned, 311-page discourse on all things Narnia and their roots in other literature and other realms of culture -- or at least all things not polluted by their Christian context.

Not having read Miller's book itself, one might be accused of snarkiness for noting, first, that Miller must not have been terribly sharp as a Catholic child if it took her until her teens to realize that Narnia involved Christian allegory. (I once read LWW to a six-year-old who, two minutes after hearing the resurrection scene, smiled and pointed to the sky and said Aslan was "like Jesus.") Or for noting, second, that it seems almost a psychological deficiency among so many literati when they find faith not just unconvincing or unimportant personally, but actually an affront even when in the form of a relatively gentle faith allegory. It is a peculiar mindset that takes umbrage at something that brings joy to others but demands no tribute from the unbeliever. After all, we do not see Miller or the establishment media take offense at The Iliad and The Odyssey because Greek gods play huge roles in those stories -- do we?

NEVERTHELESS, THE PROBLEM HERE is not Miller, who is of course entitled to her views. The problem is with the reviewer, Ward. Ward, as a reviewer in a "mainstream" journal, embraces wholeheartedly the decidedly anti-Christian bias she describes in Miller's book. It is Ward, not Miller, who blasts LWW co-producer Disney because its "unsubtle blockbuster movie in 2005 left the whole series more or less hijacked by Christian fundamentalists." One can almost see the scorn for "Christian fundamentalists" dripping, like rancid buttermilk, from Ward's pen. And her over-sensitivity to the Christian element of the movie itself is remarkable; literally at random, I googled Los Angeles Times reviewer Carina Chocano's contemporary reaction to the movie, which far more accurately noted as follows: "The Christian allegory embedded at its chewy center serves less as evangelical cudgel than a primer on morality and the myths we create to explain it…. If it weren't for Lewis' stated intention to write a fantastical story to make the dogma go down, it might even come across as a liberal humanist parable about myth and its function in society, especially during times of trouble."

That sure doesn't sound like a movie "hijacked by fundamentalists."

But Ward doesn't stop there. The whole tone of her review in the Post is that of agreeing that the Christian elements of Narnia are decidedly disagreeable. The last paragraph approvingly asserts that "Miller largely succeeds in rescuing the Narnia series from the narrow Christian box into which it has been crammed." Note the language: rescued. And narrow Christian box.

Yes, that's it: Lewis's storytelling was so good that it rescues his tales from their obnoxious Christian undertones. Right. That's like saying that Jefferson's prose was so inspirational that it rescued the Declaration of Independence from its obnoxious themes celebrating liberty and life. And wasn't it a shame, too, that Martin Luther King had to pollute his quest for racial equality with his narrow Christian superstructure?

If the Washington Post's editors can't understand how insulting Ward's review is to anybody of traditional faith, their ignorance is astonishing.

BUT THE POST'S OFFENSIVENESS didn't stop there. That same day, the Sunday Washington Post Magazine contained a curious essay by an "M. Lynn Miller," supposedly her "first published piece," charmingly called "My Mom, the Adulteress." It's all about her mother's 35-year, on-again, off-again romance (through the course of two of her mother's own marriages) with a married man. The tenor of the essay is captured in a few sentences of the last paragraph: "I am happy for her. There are a few great loves out there, and my mom found one. He says that he'll leave his wife this time.…"

Okay, maybe from a certain angle this strange little essay can be seen to be, uh, touching, almost sweet: a daughter writing about her concern for her mother's happiness. But what the heck is it doing in a daily newspaper? What's the news value, or the point? Seen objectively, the piece offends the basic standards of decency still adhered to by most Americans. Somehow, it's just not right for a daughter to write touchingly, indeed somewhat approvingly, in a general forum, about her mother's adultery. There's both an immorality factor and, well, an ick factor. Perhaps the essay might be worthwhile in a literary magazine, but not a broad-circulation daily deliberately written to be accessible to teenagers as well. Indeed, the Sunday magazine is one of the sections most accessible, most attractive, to younger readers. This particular Sunday magazine was especially a lure to teens; its cover illustration, with two figures drawn like comic-book heroes, advertised the lead story about "the brutal odds of making it in the comic book business!"

With such a cover, even an 8-year-old would be likely to pick up the magazine, start thumbing through it… and find himself reading a story whose first paragraph reads: "My mother is a really, really good person…. And she's having sex with a married man."

While this weird essay contains no direct insult to any particular faith by name, its whole subject matter, in such a forum, amounts to a deliberate flouting of the morals important to just about every faith tradition on earth. How a newspaper editor approved it is beyond belief. The deliberate nose-thumbing at social and religious mores is astonishing.

But, as has been shown by a spate of post-election columns even by nominal "conservatives" blasting the "religious right" without even evincing the slightest understanding of who the religious right's adherents are or what they actually believe, this sort of thing is par for the course in the establishment media. When the media isn't obliviously offending traditionalists, it is outright sneering at them, insulting them, or even describing them in terms usually reserved for evildoers like the Red Brigades or the Gestapo.

NINE DAYS AFTER the Post's one-two punch, the Wall Street Journal ran a book review by Vincent Carroll of the Rocky Mountain News of a book called Blind Spot, a collection of essays well described by the book's subtitle: "When Journalists Don't Get Religion." Carroll cites a number of the book's examples of journalists treating faith and religion with about the same level of understanding as an ordinary American would show for Egyptian hieroglyphics. When jihadist terrorists, for example, target Jewish centers or kill Christian hostages while sparing Muslim ones, news outlets such as the New York Times or CNN International proclaim that the terrorists' motives were unclear.

As an example of missing the obvious, that's akin to reporting that it is unclear why Red Sox fans boo when a Yankee star steps to the plate. But for the establishment media, it's a common occurrence. The media not only fails to understand basic things about religions and the motives of various religiously driven newsmakers, but doesn't even appear to want to understand.

As Carroll concludes in his review, the result isn't merely a snubbing of the faithful, but a failure of basic standards of journalistic competence. Failure at least to understand religion and to take it seriously means, Carroll writes, that "the news media will continue to miss a vast dimension of mankind's story."

This state of affairs is nothing new, of course, but the problem seems to have become even worse, if possible, than it was in 1993 when the Post infamously described Evangelicals as being overwhelmingly "poor, uneducated and easy to command." It was in the same year, I believe (my files have gotten misplaced, but the quotation is seared in my memory), that one of the major new magazines (I think Newsweek) featured a lengthy article well summed up by its subtitle: "The Surprising Unsecularity of the American Public." Note that "secularity" is seen as the norm (despite the fact that 90 percent or so of Americans continually call themselves at least somewhat religious), so that the magazine felt compelled to invent the ungainly word "unsecularity" rather than use a perfectly good, and more accurate, word such as "faithfulness" or even "religiosity."

And for anybody who has spent more than about three months in these United States to find our level of faith "surprising" is for that person not just to be so unobservant as to be wholly unsuited for reporting, but to be almost willfully blind and deaf to the religious dimension of the lives most Americans lead.

Such willful blindness amounts either to a fundamental dishonesty or to a fundamental failure of both the imagination and the empirical skill-set any journalist should boast -- or to a combination of all three of those fundamental flaws.

Such flaws amount to failures of character or training, or both. On the training side, the establishment media today increasingly reserves its jobs for highly degreed graduates of famous colleges. Indeed, in Deborah Howell's farewell column as the Washington Post's ombudsman last Sunday, she acknowledged a growing problem: "Now journalists are highly trained, mobile and, especially in Washington, more elite. We make a lot more money, drive better cars and have nicer homes. Some of us think we're just a little more special than some of the folks we want to buy the paper or read us online."

That superciliousness, that false feeling of superiority, ought not be what is produced by a liberal education. And it raises a deceptively probing question. It was a question asked several times in LWW by the old professor who was amazed that some of the Pevensie children refused to believe the reality of magic occurring almost under their noses.

"Bless me," said the Professor, "what do they teach them at these schools?"

- Quin Hillyer is an associate editor at the Washington Examiner and a senior editor of The American Spectator. He can be reached at

The UAW's Money-Squandering Corruptocracy

By Michelle Malkin
December 30, 2008
Michelle Malkin Archive

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. The UAW golfed. While carmakers soak up $17 billion in taxpayer bailout funds and demand more for their ailing industry, United Auto Workers bosses have wasted tens of millions of their workers' dues on gold-plated resorts and rotten investments. The labor organization's money-losing golf compound is just the tip of the iceberg.

Last week on my blog I noted that the UAW owns and operates Black Lake Golf Course—a "championship caliber" course opened in 2000 that's part of a larger "family education center" and retreat nestled in 1,000 acres of property in Onaway, Mich. Spearheaded by former UAW president Steve Yokich, the resort also includes "a beautiful gym with two full-sized basketball courts, an Olympic-size indoor pool, exercise and weight room, table-tennis and pool tables, a sauna, beaches, walking and bike trails, softball and soccer fields and a boat launch ramp." Like everything else we're subsidizing these days, the UAW's playground is a money pit. The Detroit Free Press reported earlier this year that the golf course (valued at $6 million) and education center (valued at $27 million) have together lost $23 million over the past five years. While membership in the union has plummeted, the UAW retains assets worth $1.2 billion.

Curious about how the UAW will be spending my money and yours, I sifted through the union's most recent annual report filed with the U.S. Department of Labor (which you can find at Who knew hitting the links was so central to the business of making cars?

In May and November 2007, the UAW forked over nearly $53,000 for union staff meetings at the Thousand Hills Golf Resort in Branson, Mo. In September 2007, the UAW dropped another $5,000 at the Lakes of Taylor Golf Club in Taylor, Mich., and another $9,000 at the Thunderbird Hills Golf Club in Huron, Ohio. Another bill for $5,772 showed up for the Branson, Mo., golf resort. On Oct. 26, 2007, the union spent $5,000 on another "golf outing" in Detroit. In May and June 2007, UAW bosses spent nearly $11,000 on a golf tournament and related expenses at the Hawthorne Hill Country Club in Lima, Ohio. And in April 2007, the UAW spent $12,000 for a charity golf sponsorship in Dearborn, Mich. In August 2007, the UAW paid nearly $10,000 to its for-profit Black Lake golf course operator, UBG, for something itemized as "Golf 2007 Summer School." UBG had nearly $4.4 million worth of outstanding loans from the union. Another for-profit entity that runs the education center, UBE, had nearly $20 million in outstanding loans from the union.

Perhaps, the union bosses might argue, they need all this fresh air and exercise to clear their heads in order to make wise financial decisions on behalf of their workers. If only. UAW management has proven to be a money-squandering corruptocracy with faux blue-collar trim. Former UAW head Yokich, who built the Black Lake black hole, is also responsible for bidding $9.75 million of workers' funds in a botched bid to purchase the gated La Mancha Resort Village in Palm Springs. The 100-room walled resort with spas, poolside massages and a "croquet lawn lit for night use" was on the verge of bankruptcy with $5.2 million in debt. Despite outrage from rank-and-file union members who thought one gold-plated golf resort was quite enough, leaders defended the La Mancha bid because, as union spokesman Paul Krell put it, "You can never tell if you are going to become snowbound." Always putting the workers first!

That deal didn't go through, but the UAW's quixotic dalliance with a failed airline did. In February 2000, the union poured $14.7 million into Pro Air, a Detroit start-up airline that, well, didn't get off the ground. Plagued by safety problems, the feds shuttered the company less than a year later. The union didn't fare much better in its venture with a liberal radio network. In 1996, union heavies got the bright idea to invest $5 million in United Broadcasting Network, a left-wing precursor to Air America that the UAW hoped to use to spread its corporate-bashing propaganda. They shelled out for a $2 million, state-of-the-art studio in Detroit and incurred years of losses of a reported $75,000 a month before closing the network down in 2003.

And while the UAW and carmakers cry poor, they've operated massive joint funds for years that have paid for lavish items such as multi-million-dollar NASCAR racer sponsorships and Las Vegas junkets. The dire economic downturn hasn't changed the behavior of profligate union bigs at the front office or the shop floor. Local Detroit TV station WDIV recently caught local UAW bosses Ron Seroka and Jim Modzelewski—both of whom make six-figure salaries—on tape squandering thousands of hours of overtime on such important labor security matters as on-the-clock beer runs and bowling tournaments.

At least the groveling Big Three CEOs gave up their corporate jets. Where's the public flogging for the greed-infested UAW fat cats reaching into our pockets to keep them afloat?


- Michelle Malkin [email her] is author of Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores. Click here for Peter Brimelow’s review. Click here for Michelle Malkin's website. Michelle Malkin's latest book is Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.

Cuba today

50 years of Castro's reign

Carlos M. Gutierrez
The Washington Times
Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fifty years ago on Jan 1, 1959, Fidel Castro's rebels marched into Havana overthrowing the Batista dictatorship and promising the people of Cuba a revolution based on democracy, prosperity and social justice. Instead, the Cuban people have been abused and repressed for half a century. The prosperity Castro promised was never realized as the economy stagnated under the weight of communism. Those who dared to criticize Castro's government were executed, imprisoned, or forced to flee their country.

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Raul Castro (right) succeeded his ailing brother Fidel (left).

The "revolutionary" promises never materialized. Instead, the Cuban people have experienced the most tyrannical regime in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere, with the same political elite in power for the past 50 years.

Today, the average Cuban lives on $20 a month and relies on government ration cards. There are shortages of basic foodstuffs and supplies such as cooking oil and soap. It is illegal for Cubans to open their own businesses to provide for their families.

If Cubans speak out against the government, corruption, or their lack of food, they face intimidation, violence, and imprisonment. If they decide to emigrate, they lose their jobs and are harassed. The Cuban government is currently holding at least 240 political prisoners whose only crime is that they spoke out against the injustice of the system.

The question I am always asked is: "When will the United States change its policy towards Cuba?" The real question should be: "When will the Cuban government change its policy towards its people?"

One must understand that Castro is first and foremost anti-American. His regime has maintained power for 50 years by blaming the United States for the hardships of the Cuban people. Whenever the Cuban government has had surplus resources, ordinary Cubans have never benefited. Instead, resources were used to finance Cuban adventurism abroad by sending money, soldiers, and arms to support insurgencies in Africa and Latin America.

Like the nine administrations before it, the Bush administration has pressed Cuba to respect its citizens' fundamental human rights, release its political prisoners, and hold free and fair elections. Over the past 50 years, the Cuban government has made it close to impossible to improve relations between our two countries. This can be easily confirmed with a review of history over the past half century.

In 1959, after Castro traveled to the United States, he instructed his ministers to reject U.S. aid. In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he urged the Soviet Union to launch a preemptive nuclear strike on the United States. In 1977, President Carter sought to improve relations by opening a U.S. interests section in Cuba. The Cuban government responded by including dangerous prisoners and patients from its jails and mental health facilities in the Mariel Boatlift. In the mid-1990s, President Clinton eased restrictions on travel and remittances. Havana responded by creating a migration crisis and shooting down two U.S. civilian planes over international waters.

This year, Cuba was ravaged by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The United States offered five humanitarian aid packages, without conditions, but the Cuban government refused, once again putting politics above the welfare of its people.

Those who hold power in Cuba are determined to maintain their positions of privilege even if it means the people of Cuba must continue to suffer. The communist regime of Cuba has made no secret that it is a staunch enemy of the United States. The regime's disdain for human rights is appalling, yet the United States is criticized for its policies towards Cuba.

The goal of U.S. policy must remain focused on helping the Cuban people transition to a free society, while denying Castro resources. That has always been the endgame. But, there are those today who would accept less. To suggest unconditional dialogue with the Castro brothers would only signal that the conditions in Cuba are acceptable. If the United States does not continue to stand for the ideals of freedom and human rights and against the many guises of tyranny and oppression, who will?

Carlos M. Gutierrez is U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

For sheer brazenness, nobody surpasses Rod

By John Kass
Chicago Tribune
December 31, 2008

Since he was federally charged with trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been wrongly caricatured as some kind of hapless jester prancing on the edge of madness.

Jesters hold rattles with a likeness of their heads on the end of a stick, and they hop off into a corner, prattling to themselves. That's what jesters do.

Jesters don't pick up the race card in a nationally televised news conference and slam it into the face of every Democrat in the U.S. Senate, a palm heel strike to the tip of the nose, leaving all of them watery-eyed, their lips stinging.

(Tribune photo by Phil Velasquez / December 30, 2008)

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., steps forward to address reporters after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (left), selected former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris (right), to succeed President-elect Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.

Yet that's what Blagojevich—aided by former Black Panther-turned-Daley-machine-functionary Bobby Rush—did at that stupendous news conference in Chicago on Tuesday. That's when the governor appointed Democratic empty suit Roland Burris, an African-American, to fill the Senate seat vacated by Obama.

"Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man," said Blagojevich.

It was a brazen move, and a smart one, and though the race card was ugly, there was no passion in it. There was no lunacy involved.

"This is not about Roland, this is about Rod," said savvy political consultant Thom Serafin when I called him while watching the circus of the politically bizarre. Serafin correctly predicted weeks ago that it would be Burris, shortly after Blagojevich was arrested and most other Senate hopefuls pulled out lest they be infected by the governor's dilemma.

"This is Rod telling the political class that he's still active, that he's still around, that he's still the governor," Serafin said. "And how do they deny Roland Burris? They can't."

On TV, Burris was chattering amiably, saying nothing as usual, and this time he forgot to mention several key facts about himself: That he's waited his turn and now it's his turn; that he's had his gravestone carved with all his political titles but he left room for more, and that he helped elect Blagojevich by running in the Democratic primary for governor and pulling African-American votes from Blagojevich's strongest challenger, former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas.

It's that kind of arithmetic that politicians find impossible to deny.

"Let me just remind you that there is presently no African-American in the Senate," said Rush, the U.S. representative of the 1st Congressional District, whom the young Obama challenged years ago and got trounced by, teaching Obama to embrace the realities of Chicago politics: Go along and get along.

On Tuesday, Rush was obviously quite ill, but he was not mentally unstable. He was certainly strong enough to use the angry race language of the 1960s as he stood next to Burris and Blagojevich. Rush warned that no sitting Democrat would go on record for long to bar an African-American from taking the seat.

"I would ask you to not hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer. Roland Burris is worthy," Rush said.

Hang? Lynch?

Isn't that the old politics of race that Obama was to have transcended for us?

But there it was, out in the open again, the images of young men hanging from trees in old black-and-white photos offered up easily by Rush, who has himself cozied up to Mayor Richard Daley and for a time was in charge of a Daley political fund.

"And I don't think any senators want to go on the record to deny an African-American from taking a seat in the U.S. Senate," Rush said, ominously.

Grown-ups have seen such theater before. The only things missing were cameo performances by those two prolific race card players, Al Sharpton and Chicago's own Rev. Jesse Jackson.

But Sharpton was preoccupied, giving photo ops to Caroline Kennedy for her New York Senate campaign. That video clip of the two having a cozy lunch, chatting amiably like old friends as they spear their vegetables, continues to run endlessly on cable TV news. While Sharpton might think the Kennedy lunch was expensive, she will no doubt consider it cheap at the price.

Meanwhile, Jackson has his own issues. His son, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Bud Light), is mentioned in the Blagojevich federal criminal complaint as Senate Candidate 5, whose emissaries reportedly promised Blagojevich $1 million in campaign cash in exchange for his appointment. Congressman Jackson has denied making any such arrangement.

Senate Democrats are talking tough now, saying they won't seat Burris, but that won't hold. The debate has been framed. The only African-American in the Senate leaves for the White House, another African-American is appointed to fill that spot, and Democratic politicians know they owe their livelihoods to African-American voters.

That talk about transcending race was just talk. Skin pigment trumps ideas, and Blagojevich, who may be facing a jury soon, wants all the friends he can get.

Of course, Tuesday's fiasco could have been avoided. Democrats in the state legislature could have stripped Blagojevich of his appointment powers and imposed a special election. Obama also could have demanded it. But as he has done so often in his career, Obama avoided a confrontation and looked the other way.

Democrats tried to finesse this, and they allowed Blagojevich the opening he needed, to hold that news conference and defy everybody. And so I'm forced to tip my hat to Gov. Dead Meat on this one, for sheer brazenness.

He's no jester. And it takes guts to keep a straight face while Democrats about you are losing theirs.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mark Steyn: The Limits

Steyn on the World

Tuesday, 30 December 2008
from National Review

My personal chronology of the Bush years is simple enough:

For the first eight months, I did shtick. We all did. In April of 2001, he went to Quebec for the Summit of the Americas and was greeted by the then Canadian Prime Minister, whose name escapes me, as I trust it does you. “Bienvenue,” he said to Dubya. “That means ‘Welcome’.” Ha-ha. What fun we had. There were the usual riots, of course, led by that French farmer famous for destroying his local McDonald’s on the grounds that “the free market is violence”. He was accompanied by various weekending trustafarians who’d motored up from the Ivy League, plus large numbers of Canadian students who’d had their exams postponed and were given $300,000 of taxpayers’ money in order to enable them to get to Quebec City and smash the place up. I forget what the Summit was about, although I had plenty of one-on-one face-time with lonely Latin American foreign ministers who couldn’t find anyone else to talk to, and I may even have filed a couple of widely unread thumbsuckers on the lines of: “The Guatemalan Deputy Trade Minister gets it. Why don’t we?” In the end, the Summit wasn’t really “about” anything. Not a lot was in those days.

Then came a Tuesday morning in September. And “Steyn butched up”, as a Canadian columnist recently put it. There was a lot of that about. Even mild-mannered coves like the State Department’s Richard Armitage were getting General Musharraf on the phone and threatening to bomb his country back to the Stone Age. The Taliban fell, and Mullah Omar scuttled out of town, hitching up his skirts and pausing only to put a false beard over his real beard, with no time to pack even the Rod Stewart cassettes subsequently found in the compound of the man who famously banned music throughout the land. (The old “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Rod, not the namby-pamby Rod Stewart Slays The Great American Songbook stuff.) When the troops got to Tora Bora, they discovered our enemies really did live in caves – and not the Bond-villain underground lairs the CNN graphics department mocked up, vast inverted Trump Towers burrowing deep into the earth with Osama stroking a Persian as he plotted world domination from the upside-down penthouse in Sub-Basement Level 43; but just regular caves – as in a smelly hole in the ground with a carelessly demarcated communal latrine at the back.

And then, with the Taliban gone and the world’s slowest “rush to war” with Iraq just getting underway, I made the mistake of going to Europe to visit the famous banlieues of Paris and other Muslim quartiers of the Continent. And at that point I started to get the queasy feeling the bewildered investigator does when he’s standing in the strange indentation at the edge of town and, just as he works out it’s a giant left-foot print, he glances up to see Godzilla’s right foot totaling his Honda Civic. I began to see that it’s not really about angry young men in caves in the Hindu Kush; it’s not even about angry young men in the fast growing Muslim populations of the west – although that’s certainly part of the seven-eighths of the iceberg bobbing just below the surface of 9/11. But the bulk of that iceberg is the profound and perhaps fatal weakness of the civilization that built the modern world. We’re witnessing the early stages of what the United Nations Population Division calls a “global upheaval” that’s “without parallel in human history”. Demographically and psychologically, Europeans have chosen to commit societal suicide, and their principal heir and beneficiary will be Islam.

And once I’d stumbled on that even the thought of Mullah Omar prancing round the room to Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” couldn’t cheer me up.

When I go hither and yon doing my apocalyptic vaudeville, I’m often asked a variant of the following: If what you say is true – that Islam is likely, if only by default, to take over much of the west in a generation or two - why would it be so dumb as to jump the gun on 9/11? After all, before that Tuesday morning, few of us gave any thought to the subject.

Great mosque, Paris

The short answer is that Islam is not monolithic, and that it’s perfectly understandable for Osama bin Laden to play bad cop to the radical Muslim lobby group’s good cop, granted that they share the same aim: the wish to annex the crusader lands to the House of Islam.

The longer answer is that, even if 9/11 was a strictly unnecessary provocation, it was still a useful revelation of the limits of the Great Satan’s resolve. Or to look at it another way: A couple of years back, over in The Corner at National Review Online, some of the more bloodthirsty lads were demanding to know why Bush didn’t do this and why Bush didn’t do that. I forget what it was now - knock off Assad, freeze Saudi bank accounts, whatever. John Podhoretz responded that we were missing the point, which was this: Bush was as good as it was going to get.

The electors have made a bet that we can return to that happy capering playground at the Summit of the Americas where all the great questions have been settled and indulgent governments can subsidize their own anarchists. If 9/11 ultimately revealed America’s self-imposed constraints, November 4th is already understood as a comprehensive repudiation even of that qualified resolve. Like I said: for America's enemies, that’s useful to know.

Groundhog day for the fifth column of malice

By Melanie Phillips
Monday, 29th December 2008

So there is indeed now a war. In Gaza. Actually, there are two wars going on: one involving rockets and warplanes, and the other involving the media, as Barry Rubin notes:

Nothing is clearer than Hamas’s strategy. It gives Israel the choice between rockets and media, and Hamas thinks it is a situation of, ‘We win or you lose.’...The smug smiles are wiped off the faces of Hamas leaders. Yet they have one more weapon, their reserves, they call up the media. Those arrogant, heroic, macho victors of yesterday--literally yesterday as the process takes only a few hours--are transformed into pitiful victims. Casualty figures are announced by Hamas, and accepted by reporters who are not on the spot. Everyone hit is, of course, a civilian. No soldiers here. And the casualties are disproportionate: Hamas has arranged it that way. If necessary, sympathetic photographers take pictures of children who pretend to be injured, and once they are published in Western newspapers these claims become fact.

Israeli soldiers stand near armoured military vehicles at a staging area just outside the northern Gaza Strip December 29, 2008.
(Baz Ratner/Reuters)

All too predictable – and going to plan, with assistance from the Club of Terror (aka the UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who condemned ‘excessive use of force leading to the killing and injuring of civilians’, and Navi Pillay, the ludicrous UN High Commissioner for ‘Human Rights’, who ‘strongly condemned Israel’s disproportionate use of force.’ Of course, the Club of Terror (aka the UN) has been silent about the actual violations of international law by the Palestinians, as pointed out here by Justus Reid Weiner and Avi Bell:

The Palestinian attacks violate one of the most basic rules of international humanitarian law: the rule of distinction, which requires combatants to aim all their attacks at legitimate targets - enemy combatants or objects that contribute to enemy military actions. Violations of the rule of distinction - attacks deliberately aimed at civilians or protected objects as such - are war crimes.

Furthermore, say Weiner and Bell, Israel actually has a legal duty to take action against Hamas under the Genocide Convention:

In carrying out their attacks on Israeli Jews as part of a larger aim to kill Jews, as demonstrated by the Hamas Covenant, many of the Palestinian terrorists are also violating the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Under Article 1 of the Genocide Convention, Israel and other signatories are required to ‘prevent and punish’ not only persons who carry out such genocidal acts, but those who conspire with them, incite them to kill and are complicit with their actions. The Convention thus requires Israel to prevent and punish the terrorists themselves, as well as leading figures that have publicly supported the Palestinian attacks. Article 2 of the Convention defines any killing with intent ‘to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such’ as an act of genocide.

But for exercising its legal duty in accordance with international law, Israel is condemned and told to stop by politicians such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband. The moral inversion is staggering. Miliband has called for an immediate ceasefire by Israel. The implication is that Israel should suffer the Palestinian rockets attacks indefinitely.

If anything has been ‘disproportionate’, it’s been Israel’s refusal to take such action during the years when its southern citizens have been terrorised by rockets and other missiles raining down on them from Gaza. No other country in the world would have sat on its hands for so long in such circumstances. But whenever Israel defends itself militarily, its response is said to be ‘disproportionate’. The malice, ignorance and sheer idiocy of this claim is refuted here comprehensively by Dore Gold, who points out that Israel’s actions in Gaza are wholly in accordance with international law. This permits Israel to launch such an operation to prevent itself from being further attacked. Moreover, it defines ‘disproportionate’ force as when

force becomes excessive if it is employed for another purpose, like causing unnecessary harm to civilians.

But Israel has demonstrably not been targeting civilians but Hamas terrorists. Despite the wicked impression given by the media, most of the casualties in this operation have been Hamas operatives. Even Hamas itself has admitted that the vast majority of sites Israel has hit were part of their military infrastructure. UNRWA officials in the Gaza Strip have put the number of deaths at 310, of whom 51 were civilians. The rest were Hamas terrorists.

Certainly, some civilian casualties are regrettably inevitable in any such situation – but particularly so in Gaza, since Hamas has deliberately sited its terrorist infrastructure amongst the civilian population.

Those who scream ‘disproportionate’ think – grotesquely -- that not enough Israelis have been killed. But that’s in part because Israel cares enough about human life to construct air raid shelters where its beleaguered civilians take cover; Hamas deliberately stores its rockets and other apparatus of mass murder below apartment blocks and in centres of population in order to get as many of its own people killed as possible as a propaganda weapon. Hamas is thus guilty of war crimes not just against Israelis but against the Palestinian people. Yet on this there is – fantastically, surreally – almost total silence in the west, which blames Israel instead. Historical resonances, anyone?

In any event, if by ‘disproportionate’ is meant merely an imbalance in the numbers who are killed on either side, this is actually inescapable if the infrastructure of aggression is to be defeated. Many more died in Afghanistan than in the 9/11 attacks; yet that war was necessary to destroy the Taleban. Many more died in Nazi Germany or Japan than in Britain or America during World War Two. Yet the scale of the Allied offensive was necessary to defeat Nazism and prevent yet more carnage amongst its designated victims.

Protesters demonstrate in front of the Israeli embassy in Vienna December 30, 2008, against Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip.
REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader (AUSTRIA)

The disgusting fifth column in the Gaza conflict, however, is – as ever – the western media. It was telling to witness the sight of British TV camera crews heading out to Israel on Saturday night. The point was that they weren’t already there – because their editors had not thought it necessary to send them to cover the resumed rocket attacks on southern Israel. Indeed, hardly anyone in Britain is aware that Israel is only now finally responding to some 6000 rocket attacks since 2001, with a fifty per cent increase after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. British journalists were only dispatched to the battle zone when Israel finally retaliated – because, appallingly, it is only Jewish violence that is ever the story.

As a result, Israel is painted – wholly unjustly and untruthfully -- as the aggressor. The ineffable BBC reported in radio bulletins on Saturday that Israel’s attack had ‘put back the chance of peace in the region’. Most sane people would think that the reason peace in the region had been put back was that Hamas was continuing to wage aggressive war. And indeed, even now it is still firing rockets at Israel, including Katyushas and Iranian Grads which are reaching as far as Ashkelon and Ashdod. Today they killed another Israeli in Ashkelon and injured many more -- including several Israeli Arabs.

If the media have mentioned the attacks on Israel at all, they have done so as an afterthought. The main story is ‘disproportionate’ Israeli violence. As far as I can see, there has been no mention of the extraordinary fact that on the day prior to the start of the Israeli operation, a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip was admitted to hospital in Israel for medical treatment for a severe wound -- inflicted upon him by a stray Hamas rocket which had been fired at Israel.

What other country would treat its enemies in its own hospitals – which Israel does routinely with Palestinians from Gaza -- even when they are wounded as a direct consequence of their own side trying to murder yet more Israelis? What other country would provide or enable the supply of electricity, gas and other essentials to people who use such facilities to continue trying to murder as many of its cititzens as possible? On Sunday, for instance, as Ha’aretz reported, the Kerem Shalom crossing was opened to let through 26 trucks carrying food and medical equipment. Today it was opened again and about 40 trucks had entered with food and medical supplies by midday. Yet organizations such as Amnesty International have condemned Israel's imposition of all ‘blockades’ on the Gaza Strip as ‘collective punishment’, and Jeremy Hobbs, Director of Oxfam International, has called on Israel ‘immediately [to] lift its inhumane and illegal siege’.

Yet it is Hamas that is refusing wounded Gazans access into Egypt for treatment -- and indeed the Egyptians even opened fire on them. So where are the screams about Egyptian and Hamas brutality? Where are Amnesty and Oxfam’s condemnation of Hamas and Egypt? And might all those from the Foreign Secretary down screaming about a ‘humanitarian disaster’ in Gaza pause for one second and look at the well-fed, healthy Gazans parading across their TV screens? If that’s a ‘humanitarian disaster’ – with supplies constantly pouring through the illegal tunnels from Egypt, along with billions of dollars-worth of missiles with which to commit mass murder -- what do they call what’s happening in Zimbabwe, which for some unaccountable reason inspires among the high-minded merely indifference?

Such bigotry and malice are not confined to British media and NGOs. On Salon, Glenn Greenwald whines about

America’s one-sided support for whatever Israel does from our political class, and one-sided condemnation of Israel's enemies (who are, ipso facto, American enemies) -- all of it, as usual, sharply divergent from the consensus in much of the rest of the world.

Oh really? Well, Hamas has been blamed for this war by Mahmoud Abbas, who said Hamas could have avoided this attack if it had prolonged its ‘cease-fire’. It has been blamed for this war by Egypt; and Arab states which are terrified of Islamism in general and Iran in particular are privately rooting for Israel to wipe Hamas out. Even the Israeli left is supporting this operation. The only people taking the side of the genocidal terrorists of Hamas are the western media, parroting their propaganda and thus inciting yet more to join the murderous rampage against Israel as well as ratcheting up the pressure on world leaders to force Israel to stop before Hamas is destroyed.

Isn’t there a case for legal action against these media outlets on account of their blood libels, for indirectly aiding the perpetrators of attempted genocide?

The Films Are for Him. Got That?

The New York Times
December 14, 2008

Kevin Scanlon for The New York Times

CARMEL, Calif.- Being introduced to Clint Eastwood is something like seeing a California redwood for the first time. The difference is that this redwood, even at the age of 78, reaches out to shake your hand with a firmness that still intimidates no matter how much time you spent preparing your grip (for the record: three days).

He arrived for the interview at the Mission Ranch restaurant here as if he owned the place, and it didn’t make any difference that, in this case, he does. He had his first legal drink in the bar while he was stationed at the nearby Army base in the late 1940s. In 1986 he bought the property and rebuilt it to his taste, with a piano bar, heart-stopping views of the ocean spray on Point Lobos and plenty of meat on the menu. Despite what you might have read on Wikipedia, Mr. Eastwood is not a vegan, and he looked slightly aghast when told exactly what a vegan is. “I never look at the Internet for just that reason,” he said.

It’s been 20 years since Mr. Eastwood was mayor of Carmel, but clearly he’s still the king around here. Unlike the taciturn characters he plays on screen, he’s voluble, chatting and laughing with his staff with a sharpness and enthusiasm that make him seem far younger than his age. After showing me around the property, he insisted I come back that evening for a steak dinner. “We’ve got good chow,” he said. Go on: you tell him you’ve made other plans.

Mr. Eastwood’s on familiar ground in another way. It’s coming up on the Oscars, and he has two films in contention, “Changeling,” with Angelina Jolie, and his newest, “Gran Torino,” which he finished shooting only this summer and which began appearing in theaters on Friday.

In “Gran Torino” Mr. Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran, retired Ford line worker and full-time bigot who stews on his porch in Detroit watching his block being taken over by Hmong immigrants from Southeast Asia. When a gang pressures a teenager living next door (played by Bee Vang) into trying to steal Walt’s vintage Gran Torino, the aging veteran gets pulled reluctantly, then violently, into the lives of his neighbors.

Mr. Eastwood has already won the best actor prize for “Gran Torino” from the National Board of Review, and the Oscar talk — he has never won as an actor — is running high. He claims not to care deeply about awards. When asked whom he makes films for, Mr. Eastwood said, “You’re looking at him.” Calculated or not — those films do have a habit of showing up (sometimes unexpectedly) in prime Oscar campaigning season — that stance seems to charm the voters some 300 miles to the south in Los Angeles, who have rewarded his movies richly in the past 15 years, including two best-picture awards. Mr. Eastwood has become the George Washington of the awards season: if called, he will serve. But he doesn’t seem to believe in term limits.

“Gran Torino” is the 29th full-length movie Mr. Eastwood has directed — more than Scorsese, more even than Spielberg — so perhaps it’s an accident of memory that his name first conjures up the impression of the squinty guy on a horse. Starting in the mid-1980s he began to change some minds by pushing the boundaries of his cowboys-and-cops image with films like “Honkytonk Man” and “Tightrope,” but he said about his reputation, “If that’s how people want to pigeonhole me, that’s fine.”

If anything, his directing pace has picked up in the past five years.

The script for “Gran Torino” had been kicking around Hollywood for a while before Mr. Eastwood read it. The writer, Nick Schenk, who worked in a Ford plant years ago, based the character of Walt on the men he met there, many of them Korean War veterans. “I’d talk a lot to these guys, and they’d tell me stuff they wouldn’t tell their wife and kids,” Mr. Schenk said.

Some directors are known as an actor’s best friend. Mr. Eastwood may be the writer’s. “He didn’t change a word,” Mr. Schenk said. “That never happens.”

Mr. Eastwood said he learned his lesson after making extensive revisions on the script for “Unforgiven,” then calling up the writer, David Peoples, and announcing he was returning to the first draft. “I’m emasculating this thing,” he told Mr. Peoples.

There was one major disappointment for Mr. Schenk: the setting of “Gran Torino” was shifted from Minneapolis to Detroit, the original home of Ford and, not coincidentally, the home of 42 percent tax credits for films made there. (That helped make it easy for Warner Brothers to sign off on bankrolling the movie, something that hasn’t always been a given in the studio’s relationship with the director.)

Mr. Eastwood bought the script in February, then shot the movie over the summer at a guerrilla filmmaker’s pace, finishing in 32 days. The fast clip, Mr. Eastwood said, helped him with the Hmong members of the cast, most of whom had never acted and many of whom didn’t speak English. “I’d give them little pointers along the way, Acting 101,” he said. “And I move along at a rate that doesn’t give them too much of a chance to think.”

It also doesn’t give Mr. Eastwood too much time to worry about Hollywood. After shooting, he returned to Carmel, where he lives with his wife, Dina Ruiz, and manages his investments, including an ownership stake in the Pebble Beach golf course company. He set up a bay and worked with his two film editors in an 1862 farmhouse on the Mission property for a week or so. Between sessions he sat at the piano and picked out a score: he has written music, including full scores, for many of his films. He even sings one of his own melodies over the film’s final credits, his voice burned down to a whisper. (Mr. Eastwood himself refuses to call it singing because that conjures up memories of “Paint Your Wagon,” the misbegotten 1969 musical. “I vowed I’d never do that again,” he said.)

Like “Million Dollar Baby” and “Mystic River” before it, “Gran Torino” is a modern story that feels anachronistic. Walt’s neighborhood is every bit as bounded and knowable as the town of Lago in “High Plains Drifter,” and the confrontations with the Hmong gang members build methodically, as if in a town square. But when the film threatens to descend into a vigilante picture — the last guy who actually thought he could solve Detroit’s problems with his fists was Gordie Howe — “Gran Torino” takes some unexpected turns.

Anthony Michael Rivetti

Scene from “Gran Torino,” in which Clint Eastwood plays a character fond of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Before filming there had been gossip (again, the Internet) that Mr. Eastwood was making another “Dirty Harry” sequel. What “Gran Torino” does share with the “Dirty Harry” movies is the sheer force of its incorrectness. Walt, who stokes his resentment with cigarettes, beef jerky and Pabst Blue Ribbon, expresses his disgust for the Hmong and just about every other racial group in a steady stream of obscenities. Robert Lorenz, Eastwood’s frequent producing partner, said that what he appreciated about Mr. Schenk’s dialogue was that “he didn’t hold back.”

“It was left really raw,” he said. “It sounded like those people you know, or your uncle saying something really bad at a wedding.”

Brian Grazer, a producer of “Changeling,” sees this kind of directness as a strength. “What most interested me about Clint Eastwood as a director is the honesty and intensity he injects into the movies that he directs,” he said. “He is so confident as a director that he will allow the sometimes ugliness of life to live inside the scenes of his movies.”

For Mr. Eastwood the raw language is central to Walt’s story. “If he comes in and just befriends these people and doesn’t have any hurdles — any personal hurdles to overcome — that doesn’t make for a very interesting character,” he said. But Mr. Eastwood, who last spring had a verbal run-in with Spike Lee over the lack of black soldiers in the Eastwood film “Flags of Our Fathers,” also confesses to some sympathy for Walt’s choice of words in a way sure to irk the Hollywood types who have finally embraced him despite his libertarian politics.

“A lot of people are bored of all the political correctness,” he said. “You’re showing a guy from a different generation. Show the way he talks. The country has come a long way in race relations, but the pendulum swings so far back. Everyone wants to be so” — here he paused and narrowed his eyes, like Dirty Harry drawing a bead on a perp — “sensitive.”

What we admire about heroes (and villains) like the ones Mr. Eastwood used to play isn’t their sensitivity, it’s their single-mindedness: they say what they’re going to do, then do it. Whether in Spain or in San Francisco, Mr. Eastwood’s heroes were never given the “kill one to save a thousand” liberal trapdoor of other Hollywood films. The violence of the “Dirty Harry” movies seems almost quaint now, but what Harry says — “Ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?” — still has the power to shock.

But if Mr. Eastwood shoulders some blame for every “Rambo” and “Die Hard” that followed, he should be given credit for looking at a more complicated transaction in the films he directs, one where people’s actions are at odds with their beliefs. What helps sell the contradiction in “Gran Torino” is Mr. Eastwood’s own physical presence. More so than any other leading man, he has been willing to play his real age. At 78 he is perhaps thinner than he once was, but in that sinewy way that reveals strength as much as diminishes it. After Walt beats up one gang member — hey, he’s still Clint Eastwood — the next scene shows him out of breath, struggling to open his front door.

To Mr. Eastwood being able to play 78 is just one of the benefits of a long career. “It’s ridiculous when you won’t play your own age,” he said. “You know when you’re young and you see a play in high school, and the guys all have gray in their hair and they’re trying to be old men and they have no idea what that’s like? It’s just that stupid the other way around.”

The other benefit is that, even after a great career in the movies, you can fashion another. “After ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,’ I walk down the street and everybody would whistle out” — here he sang the movie’s famous theme. “Then it became ‘Do I feel lucky?’ and ‘Make my day.’ But it’s progressed along. Whether it’s taken this turn on purpose, I can’t say.”

Walt Kowalski has a catchphrase too in “Gran Torino.” “This is what I do,” he tells the Hmong teenager before the film’s final act. “I finish things.” So does Mr. Eastwood, just not in the way anybody would have expected.

And he may not be done. There were reports — again on the Internet — that this would be his last role, a rumor he helped fuel but now says is not necessarily true.

“Somebody asked what I’d do next, and I said I didn’t know how many roles there are for 78-year-old guys,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with coming in to play the butler. But unless there’s a hurdle to get over, I’d rather just stay behind the camera.”

Filmography: Clint Eastwood
Trailer: 'Gran Torino'

Monday, December 29, 2008

Film Reviews: Gran Torino

In 'Torino,' Dirty Harry Rides Again

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 25, 2008;

A Scrooge for the 21st century has arrived just in time for Christmas, and wouldn't you know he's come back in the form of Dirty Harry? As the spitting, swearing, hate-spewing lead character of "Gran Torino," Clint Eastwood delivers a lacerating and hilarious valedictory of a career as America's most lovable vigilante. Here, he makes the ugly American a thing of almost primitive beauty, as an antihero worthy of Dickens.

"I finish things," says Walt Kowalski at one point in this often disarmingly funny melodrama. "That's what I do." Grim-faced, his voice reduced to a gravelly growl by boilermakers and cigarettes, Kowalski is a recently widowed holdout in his working-class Detroit neighborhood, one of the few white citizens within a growing community of Hmong immigrants. He despises his new neighbors, calling them "swamp rats," "slopes" and "gooks" (his rhetoric is a holdover from his days in the Korean War), but he doesn't have much use for anyone else either, whether it's the earnest young Catholic priest who continually tries to save his soul or his own grown sons and their vacant, spoiled kids.

Here's what Walt likes to do: sit on his tidy front porch with his yellow lab, knock back a few beers and look at his lovingly restored 1972 Gran Torino, which sits in the driveway as a pristine symbol of happier days, when he worked at the Ford plant, his wife was still alive and white men like him bestrode the world like giants.

Once in a while he casts a snarling glance at the Hmong grandmother taking the air next door, but he keeps his contact with her family to a minimum until her grandson Thao (Bee Vang) tries to steal Walt's beloved car. Walt's happy simply to let the kid off with a heavily armed warning (this is a man who seems to have a gun in every drawer), but when he scares off a gang that's intimidating Thao's family, he becomes their reluctant hero. Gradually, Walt finds himself befriending Thao and his sister Sue (Ahney Her), a cheerful, indefatigably spunky teenager who greets Walt's insults with a good-natured laugh or equally sarcastic riposte.

Much of the joy of "Gran Torino" -- which Eastwood directed from a script by Nick Schenk -- derives from watching Walt's deepening relationship with his newfound friends, whom he persists in giving names like "Yum Yum" and "Toad" even as he develops a surly affection for them. Like Archie Bunker before him, Walt is an equal-opportunity verbal bomb-thrower, as evidenced by the quick, unprintable way he dispatches one of Sue's white boyfriends when he sees the couple being threatened by a group of African American teenagers. (It's clear from this scene that there's only one epithet the unreconstructed racist considers off-limits.)

That Walt essentially means no harm is telegraphed when he visits his Italian barber, with whom he engages in a playfully escalating game of mutually assured defamation, their ethnic slurs and put-downs piling up like so much politically incorrect cordwood. One of the most surprising things about "Gran Torino" is how acidly funny it is, and viewers will no doubt find themselves breaking into increasingly disbelieving guffaws as Walt lands yet another oh-no-he-didn't zinger.

And in part they'll be laughing at Eastwood himself, as he takes the role he's best known for -- the outlaw with perfect aim and an unerring moral code -- and proves yet again that there's room for such a creature, even in this postmodern, multiculti age. His face is still handsome, even with his eyes creased into slits and his mouth straightened into a grim, unsmiling line. His body, even with the pants winched up to his sternum, is a tightly coiled instrument of misery and rage. The subtext of one of Walt's recurring gestures, wherein he forms his hand into an imaginary gun and pretends to shoot, is unmistakable. The man who brought Josey Wales and Dirty Harry to life doesn't even need a gun anymore. His withering contempt is fatal enough.

As its title suggests, "Gran Torino" is a nostalgia trip, in this case for the 1970s vigilante action pictures that Eastwood made his own. Anyone familiar with Eastwood as a director knows better than to expect gritty realism from one of his movies. Here, he revives the contours and lines of a pulp genre as lovingly as Walt restores his car, proffering the kind of heightened drama, starchy episodic structure and stock characters that, like those breathtaking epithets, perhaps only someone of his considerable capital can get away with.

And anyone familiar with Eastwood's movies, especially weepers like "Million Dollar Baby," will not be surprised at the tear-jerking streak that runs through "Gran Torino" like a broken yellow line. In this case, another "Camille"-like subplot ends not sentimentally as much as sacramentally, with a character splayed out in a symbolic crucifixion that, staged by any other filmmaker, would invite eye-rolling derision.

But "Gran Torino" isn't the work of just any filmmaker. It's a Clint Eastwood production, and as such it overcomes its only-in-the-movies conventions to exude its own undeniable, and uniquely potent, brand of authenticity. There's a gentle, elegiac grandeur to "Gran Torino," even at its most self-conscious and highly pitched, that befits Eastwood's transcendent place in American culture. Indeed, probably only someone of his symbolic vengeful power could deliver such a welcome seasonal message of tough, twisted redemption. So, Merry Christmas -- and Clint bless us, everyone.

Gran Torino (116 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for pervasive profanity and violence.

Review: Gran Torino
by John Nolte

(L-r) Thao (BEE VANG), Martin (JOHN CARROLL LYNCH) and Walt Kowalski (CLINT EASTWOOD) in Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures drama Gran Torino, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Clint Eastwood’s hinted that Gran Torino might be his last turn in front of the camera. If that’s true, he could not have chose for himself a more fitting farewell. Without a hint of the self-referential, Torino touches on the many iconic moments of both his best genre pictures and more serious fare. Most of all, he’s masterfully blended both into a hard-hitting, supremely satisfying story that carries big themes with a deft gentleness.

Working from a superb script by relative newcomer Nick Schenk, Gran Torino opens in just the kind of Catholic church you expect to see in an old Detroit suburb. Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is there to bury his beloved wife and to disapprove of the rest of his family. Having toughed his way through as a soldier in Korea and decades on the Ford assembly line, the strongest emotion he can summon for his spoiled kin is sarcastic disapproval with a side order of contempt. And they deserve it.

Walt growls. Not figuratively, literally. He growls at the belly-pierced granddaughter who queries him on what he’ll leave her in his will, he growls at his son (Brian Haley) who thinks he’s outgrown the old, simple man who is his father, and he growls at Father Janovich (Christopher Carley), a baby-faced Priest who refuses to go away because he promised a dying wife he’d get Walt to agree to take confession.

At 78 (Eastwood plays his real age), Walt can live with this. He may not have made peace with his demons, but he is used to them and keeps life’s pleasures simple. Retired with a big old yellow dog for company, all Walt wants from life is his morning coffee, afternoon Pabst Blue Ribbon, a pack of filterless smokes and a quiet porch to enjoy them on.

Walt’s neighborhood, at least the one outside the time capsule Walt calls home, is changing. The area’s poorer, the street gangs cruise by and Hmong immigrants and refugees — or as Walt casually refers to them: gooks, fish heads, chinks – are moving in, including a large extended family right next door — so many that Walt wonders how all the ”zipperheads” fit. The only relationship Walt wants with his new neighbors is the one where he growls epithet’s under his breath and they in turn cuss him out in their native tongue. “She hates me,” Walt says to himself with genuine dismay as the old grandmother lashes out in more of a fury than usual.

It’s a merciless Asian gang that changes Walt’s comfortable neighbor-dynmic. For a gang initiation, Thao — the quiet teenage boy who lives next door — attempts to steal Walt’s prized possession: a cherry, 1972 Gran Torino. Thao isn’t interested or cut out for ganglife, but he is easily bullied and soon Walt grudgingly becomes both his and his family’s protector, mentor, and friend. But the gang’s not just going to go away and so they’re always there, a presence undermining the harmony – circling, waiting, willing to take this as far as they must to get what they want.

Many have compared Torino to Dirty Harry (1971), but The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) is more like it. Like Josey, Walt is a widower driven to violence, determined to remain alone, but in the end saddled with a ragtag family that humanizes him as he protects them. Better yet, like Josey, Walt likes to spit a little tobacco before letting things get “real f***ing ugly.” Torino’s themes of faith, mentoring, and an everyday man coming to terms with the winter of his years, however, are straight out of Million Dollar Baby (2004), and handled with the same beautiful and touching precision.

Most of the middle of Torino is taken up with Walt getting to know his Hmong neighbors and the taking of Thao under his wing. The pace is leisurely and pure Eastwood, but the script and Eastwood’s performance are so good that this is just as much fun as the tough stuff. Thankfully the film avoids political correctness like a plague. Certainly Walt changes, but not in a moment of false enlightenment after some heavy-handed lecture, but through the normal, human process of getting to know another. Walt’s words never change but the meaning behind them change completely.

Eastwood’s nothing short of marvelous playing this deceptively complicated and deep character. As an actor, he takes real chances with Walt’s growls and assorted tics. The characterization is performed on a knife edge. One degree this way or that and Eastwood’s making a fool of himself. But it never happens. Clint holds the line like a pro and creates a rarity on film anymore: a convincing, human character who’s larger-than-life.

Great films bring everything together in a final moment. When done right, the story, subplots and themes stay true for the climax but still surprise. This is where Torino most shines. After two hours your investment in the characters is complete, and in keeping with both the pulpier aspects of the genre and the story’s bigger ideas, Eastwood the performer and filmmaker brings together a perfect final moment that lingers for days and might even be the summation of a career made up of both genre grit and thoughtful, thematically-driven drama.

The moment is distilled Eastwood — the blend of hero, anti-hero and explorer of the dark human condition just within the grasp of salvation. For those of us who have never known life without the promise of another Clint Eastwood film, Gran Torino makes for a suitably tough and touching farewell.

Somewhere near the middle of the second act there’s a brief shot of Walt on his porch lighting a cigarette. Anyone who’s seen A Fistful of Dollars – the film that started it all and made Eastwood an international superstar in 1964 – will recognize Eastwood’s pose.

45-years just isn’t enough.

Posted Jan 10th 2009 at 10:22 am in Reviews

Today's Tune: Aretha Franklin - Chain Of Fools

(Click on title to play video)



By Ralph Peters
New York Post
December 29, 2008

Dead Jews aren't news, but killing terrorists outrages global activists. On Saturday, Israel struck back powerfully against its tormentors. Now Israel's the villain. Again.

How long will it be until the UN General Assembly passes a resolution creating an international Holocaust Appreciation Day?

Israel's airstrikes against confirmed Hamas terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip were overdue, discriminating and skillful. So far, this retaliatory campaign has been a superb example of how to employ postmodern airpower.

Propaganda: Activists around the world, like this woman in Spain, protested Israel's airstrikes.

Instead of bombing empty buildings in the dead of night in the hope of convincing bloodthirsty monsters to become peace-loving floral arrangers - the US Air Force version of "Shock and Awe" - the Israeli Defense Force aimed to kill terrorists.

Israel's attack aircraft appear to have accomplished that part of the mission. As I write, some 300 terrorist dead have been reported in Gaza, while the propaganda-savvy information office of Hamas has strug- gled to prove that 20 civilians died.

Given the fact that Hamas adheres to the terrorist practice of locating command sites, arsenals and training facilities in heavily populated areas, the results suggest that the IDF - supported by first-rate intelligence work - may have executed the most accurate wave of airstrikes in history, with a 15-to-1 terrorist-to-civilian kill ratio.

The bad news is that it still won't be enough. While Israel has delivered a painful blow against Hamas, it's still not a paralyzing hit. The only way to neuter such a terror threat - even temporarily - is to go in on the ground and scour every room, basement and underground tunnel in a region.

That would mean high Israeli casualties and, of course, condemnation of Israel's self-defense efforts by every self-righteous, corrupt and bigoted organization and government on earth, from Turtle Bay to Tehran.

What have been Israel's "crimes?" Not "stealing Palestinian land," but making that land productive, while exposing the incompetence and sloth of Arab culture.

Israel's crime isn't striking back at terror, but demonstrating, year after year, that a country in the Middle East can be governed without resort to terror. Israel's crime hasn't been denying Arab rights, but insisting on human rights for women and minorities.

Israel's crime has been making democracy work where tyranny prevailed for 5,000 years. Israel's crime has been survival against overwhelming odds, while legions of Arab nationalists, Islamist extremists and Western leftists want every Jew dead.

But Israel's greatest crime was to expose the global cult of victimhood, to prove that hard work, fortitude and courage could overcome even history's grimmest disaster.

Was it a crime to hand Gaza back to Palestinian authorities, to give peace a chance? Look what Israel received in return for trading land for peace.

Let us never forget the fundamental truth that, while Israel longs to live in peace with its neighbors, those neighbors openly profess the desire to eliminate Israel and exterminate its people.

Indeed, Arab and regional jealousy toward Israel is so all-consuming, so necessary to excuse the Arab art of failure, that even these judicious airstrikes will hardly make a dent in the terrorist threat.

Unless Israel sends in ground forces for the long haul - and thousands of IDF reservists are being mobilized - there will be, at best, a temporary respite from terror attacks. Even a new occupation of Gaza would not fully solve the problem.

A crucial point about interfaith and interethnic conflicts that we sheltered Americans refuse to understand is that, all too often, there's just no good solution - and not even a bad solution, short of acts of barbarism.

It's a rare conflict that results in an enduring peace. Unintended consequences abound. At times, you fight just to buy time, to gain breathing space - or merely to frustrate an enemy's designs for a limited period.

That's the situation Israel faces: No hope of an ultimate victory, but a constant fight to survive. Enemies who believe their god ordains their actions can't be placated. For faith-fueled terrorists, such as the core members of Hamas, the struggle with Israel's a zero-sum game. Compromise is, at most, an expedient tool, never an acceptable end state.

What will we see in the coming days? Much depends on Israel's resolve. The most probable scenario is that Hamas will continue launching terror rockets for a few weeks to salve its wounded vanity and maintain the image of "resistance," but will ultimately reduce its attacks against Israel - while it rebuilds its cadres and restocks its arsenal.

Israel will have bought time, not peace.

What might Israel have done better? It's essential to take out the top terrorist leaders. But Israel's government remains reluctant to target the cowardly Hamas leaders hiding in Damascus - or even the top terrorists remaining in Gaza.

For terrorist bosses, the rank-and-file are disposable and replaceable. You can't just kill the gunmen. You have to kill the names.

We may sympathize with the average Palestinian family, exploited by generations of corrupt leaders and now caught in yet another round of violence. But let us never forget that Israel hasn't fired thousands of blind rockets into Palestinian cities, that Israeli suicide bombers don't attack Arab restaurants and bus stops, and that Israel seeks to avoid harming civilians - while Hamas seeks to kill as many civilians as possible.

In a world where there are no good answers, Israel just answered as best it could. The world's response? "How dare Jews defend themselves."

Humanity doesn't progress. It just changes clothes.