Thursday, December 11, 2008

Aqsa Parvez rests in numbered gravesite

Strangled teen dared to be different

Last Updated: 10th December 2008, 9:35am

One year to the day Aqsa Parvez was stolen from this world -- allegedly by two members of her family. And her gravesite to show she even existed? Section 17, plot number 774, in the Meadowvale Cemetery in Brampton, to be precise. No name, no date of birth, no date of death. No nothing.

But resting here is a girl who dared to be Canadian.

Aqsa Parvez

She was strangled Dec. 10, 2007 inside her family's Longhorn Trail home. Her father and brother will be in court next week to answer to charges of first-degree murder.

At Parvez's gravesite, one would never know the 16-year-old Grade 11 Applewood Heights Secondary School student was buried here. You would never know anybody was buried here.

"If not for a couple of her girlfriends, who put some flowers there, there would be nothing," says a disgusted Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress and author of Chasing a Mirage, The Tragic illusion of an Islamic State. "It's disgraceful."

"That girl was not a number," adds Imam Syed Soharwardy, of the Al-Mamadinah Islamic Centre in Calgary and national president of Islamic Supreme Council of Canada. "She had a name and a life. It makes me sick."

Her friends describe Pakistan-born Aqsa as a happy teen who loved photography and loved to dance. Who knows where she would be if she had not, one year ago this morning, gone back to the family home from which she was estranged?

Her friends expected her at school. Instead, a 911 call was made saying she had been killed.The preliminary hearing for her father Muhammad Parvez, 58, and brother Waqas, 27, is to begin Dec. 17. Evidence is expected to show family disagreements over cultural issues and religious rules, including the wearing of the traditional hijab.

"A planned and deliberate act," is how Peel Regional Police's head of homicide, Insp. Norm English, was last year describing this murder.

Recently, he refused an interview request saying, "two people are charged with first-degree murder and we have not said very much because they are entitled to their day in court where we will present a very strong case."

It will be a packed courtroom and time will tell how this will turn out legally. It's not known whether Aqsa's killing was an honor killing. The honor killing tag is given to those victims who were killed as an illustration to peers that their shamed family has washed their hands of the embarrassment to their radical form of Islam with their disgraced family member's blood.

It's a barbaric act, often with agreement of other family members, that sadly occurs in some Muslim countries.

Speaking in general terms, Fatah says, "a victim of an honor killing is always left in an unmarked grave. Imagine caring more about your faith than your child? When this happens, it shows they don't give a damn about her and the fact a family has chosen to not put the name on a grave proves the point that they are embarrassed and gives an insight into honor killings."

Soharwardy knows of "100 graves of women" killed because their families felt their actions brought disrespect upon them and their extreme version if Islam. And anybody "telling you" it is Islamic tradition to bury a person in an unnamed grave, says Soharwardy, is out-and-out "wrong."

In fact, he says, "marking a grave is one of the highest recommendations of tradition by the Prophet Mohammed."

"Taj Mahal is the quintessential symbol of a tribute for a Muslim woman," Fatah says of the famous Indian shrine built for Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631, by her grieving Mughal Emperor husband Shah Jahan. "In Islam, for a woman, you build the grandest structure in the world. I know of some in several countries which have stood for 1,000 years."

Aqsa Parvez's grave is the polar opposite. Its as chilling standing there as chilling as was her death. Disturbing.

For $580, the cemetery can put a flat marker there -- with her name, date of birth and death, and at least people can find her if they want to come and pay their respects. A cemetery employee said there is no problem if others want to place a flat memorial there but it would be removed if the family were to demand that.

As we wait for the court to decide the murder case, Aqsa lays, not so honourably, in grave 774.

[For an account of Aqsa Parvez's murder, click here.]

Joe Warmington is a columnist for the Toronto Sun. He can be contacted at

Newsweek Comes Out of the Closet. . . as a magazine with a political agenda.

By Mark Hemingway
December 10, 2008, 7:00 a.m.

The cover story in this week’s Newsweek, which makes “the religious case for gay marriage,” has come under fire from a large swath of the religious community. Newsweek’s own blog has been keeping track of the controversy, with religious heavyweights such as Albert Mohler, Ralph Reed, and Richard Land criticizing the article. The Politico devoted an entire article to cataloging the backlash, The Weekly Standard called it a “dire mess,” and countless blogs commented unfavorably. (Not to mention that the piece was not popular in the Hemingway household.)

While there is certainly a religious debate to be had over the validity of gay marriage, most of the criticism of the article sidestepped the main issue to comment on how the author, religion reporter Lisa Miller, wrote the article. Aside from making numerous basic factual errors, the author insisted — before the end of the first paragraph — that biblical views of marriage are déclassé: “Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple — who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love — turn to the Bible as a how-to script?”

Of course, religious Americans are more than used to shoddy coverage of theological debates. So what else is new? Criticism that a Newsweek cover story serves a left-of-center political worldview is almost, well, a weekly occurrence. What is remarkable about this week’s cover story was how Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham, has handled the backlash. He hasn’t defended the piece as a matter of opinion or part of a public debate. Rather, Newsweek has apparently come out of the closet as an explicitly ideological magazine editorially endorsing the article’s viewpoint.

In Meacham’s editor’s note in this week’s issue, he defends the cover story, fully cognizant of the fact that his general-interest magazine has staked out a clear theological and political position. This would seem to run counter to the supposedly objective standards of a news magazine. Meacham writes that to “resort to Biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism”: “Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt — it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition.” This, says Meacham, has had pernicious consequences in the past: “Christians . . . long cited scriptural authority to justify and perpetuate slavery with the same certitude that some now use to point to certain passages in the Bible to condemn homosexuality.” (While it’s true some people used Biblical arguments to justify slavery, it was Biblical arguments against slavery employed by abolitionists that won out and largely ended the practice in the Western world.)

Meacham self-righteously refuses to admit that there’s even a place at the table for a religious (or, Heaven forbid, secular) voice opposing gay marriage: “Religious conservatives will say that the liberal media are once again seeking to impose their values (or their ‘agenda,’ a favorite term to describe the views of those who disagree with you) on a God-fearing nation. Let the letters and e-mails come. History and demographics are on the side of those who favor inclusion over exclusion.”

A good journalistic institution with a national following could do a lot to facilitate that debate on this controversial issue. If Meacham’s so convinced he is right, he should open up his pages to those who oppose gay marriage, confident that the right ideas and values will win out. The reality is that the Bible contains uncomfortable truths for people on both sides of the issue: It doesn’t just condemn homosexuality, it also preaches the need for tolerance and forgiveness to those who rush to condemn gay Americans and encourage their victimization.

But why delve into such complex matters when you can use your journalistic perch to declare the debate over? Meacham should change the name of his magazine to Opinionweek and stop scolding other people for correctly pointing out that he has an agenda.

Laws against gay marriage have passed at the ballot box in 30 states, most recently in California. It’s not “religious conservatives” against gay marriage — it’s a clear majority of the country. Which helps explain why Newsweek is in a big slump. According to a story in Folio yesterday, “Sources say that the magazine is considering slashing up to 1.6 million copies from Newsweek’s current rate base of 2.6 million, which would put the magazine’s rate base at 1 million. Newsweek declined to comment.”

Odd that Newsweek would have so much to say about the inherent correctness of gay marriage this week — opposing views be damned — but nothing to say about their rapidly diminishing circulation. Perhaps they don’t want to consider that these two developments might be related. In that sense, Meacham may have a point about inclusion and demographics: If Newsweek doesn’t want to be inclusive when it comes to debating controversial issues, they’re that much more likely to become history.

— Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.


By Ann Coulter
December 10, 2008

What is the point of having a hand recount of ballots in the Minnesota Senate race if the Democratic secretary of state is going to use the election night totals in precincts where it will benefit Democrat Al Franken?

Al Franken

Either the hand recount produces a better, more accurate count, or there was no point to the state spending roughly $100,000 to conduct the hand recount in the first place.

But that is exactly what the George Soros-supported secretary of state has agreed to do in the case of a Dinkytown precinct near the University of Minnesota. The hand recount of the liberal precinct produced 133 fewer ballots than the original count on election night and, more important, 46 fewer votes for Franken.

So he's proposing to defer to the election night total over the recount tally.

There are no "missing" ballots in Dinkytown. Ballots were run through the voting machines twice on election night. Last week, Minneapolis elections director Cindy Reichert explained they already knew for a fact that 129 ballots had been run through machines twice on election night, which pretty closely matched the 133 allegedly "missing" ballots.

As Reichert said, "There are human errors that are made on Election Day." According to an article in the Dec. 2, 2008, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Reichert was "confident that that's what happened" and that "we have all the ballot envelopes here."

But after relentless badgering by the Franken campaign, now Reichert isn't so sure anymore. So the new plan is for Minneapolis to submit both the election night total from Dinkytown -- which gives Franken an extra 46 votes -- and the meticulous hand recount total, which does not, and allow the canvassing board to decide which to use.

The 129 ballots that Reichert said were run through the machines twice on election night could end up being counted twice.

In all other precincts, the initial tallies from election night are treated as highly unreliable rough approximations of the actual vote, while the results from the hand recount are regarded as the absolute truth.

Only in the Dinkytown precinct, where the election night total gave Franken an additional 46 votes, does the state treat the hand recount as an error-prone joke compared to the highly accurate election night vote.

The Soros-supported Secretary of State Mark Ritchie explains that there is "precedent" for counting election night totals rather than the recount totals. If so, how about using the election night tally from some of the precincts that gave Coleman more votes on election night?

Highly implausible, post-election "corrections" in just three Democratic precincts -- Two Harbors, Mountain Iron and Partridge Township -- cost Coleman 446 votes. But I note that Ritchie doesn't propose deferring to the election night totals there.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune attributed the 436-vote "correction" in Franken's favor to "exhausted county officials." Were they more exhausted in those three precincts than in Dinkytown?

Either the post-election tally is better than the election night tally or it isn't. Cherry-picking only those election night results Ritchie likes isn't an attempt to get an accurate vote-count; it's an attempt to get a Democrat in the U.S. Senate.

If Minnesota is going to accept the election night tally from Dinkytown, why not from any of these precincts where Coleman lost votes under far more suspicious circumstances? And why are guys named "Al" always caught trying to steal elections?

Wholly apart from the outrageous inconsistency of deciding that some election night tallies trump the hand recount and some don't, Franken's miraculous acquisition of more than 500 votes from heavily Democratic precincts in post-election "corrections" wasn't believable on its face -- and that's even accounting for the fact that Franken voters tend to be stupider than average and therefore more likely to fill out their ballots incorrectly.

Corrections in all other 2008 races combined led to only 482 changes in the entire state of Minnesota. The idea that typo "corrections" in one single contest from only three precincts, out of more than 4,000 precincts, could lead to 436 "corrections" benefiting Franken is manifestly absurd.

Ritchie's proposal to accept the election night count from one precinct is a stunning admission that even he doesn't believe a hand recount is any more accurate than the original election night tally.

To be sure, endlessly recounting ballots doesn't yield more accurate results, it just creates different results. There is no reason to think a tabulation is more accurate because it occurred later in time.

But then why have a recount at all? If the state of Minnesota is going to spend $100,000 and endless man-hours to conduct a meticulous hand recount on the grounds that it is more accurate, the state ought to at least pretend to believe in its own recount.

Election recounts are never intended to get more accurate results. They are simply opportunities for Democrats to manufacture new votes and steal elections.

And once again, Republicans are asleep at the wheel while another close election is being openly stolen by the man whose contributions to western civilization include the "Planet of The Enormous Hooters" sketch on "SNL."

Obama Was Mute on Illinois Corruption


The president-elect could use his bully pulpit to drive a clean-up.

The Wall Street Journal
DECEMBER 11, 2008

This week Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on charges that he conspired to sell Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat, among other misdeeds. At first the president-elect tried to distance himself from the issue: "It is a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that, I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment." But it quickly became clear that Mr. Obama would have to say more, and yesterday he called for Mr. Blagojevich to resign and for a special election to fill the vacant Senate seat.

What remains to be seen is whether this episode will put an end to what Chicago Tribune political columnist John Kass calls the national media's "almost willful" fantasy that Mr. Obama and Chicago's political culture have little to do with each other. Mr. Kass notes that the media devoted a lot more time and energy to investigating the inner workings of Sarah Palin's Wasilla, Alaska, than it has looking at Mr. Obama's Chicago connections.

To date, Mr. Obama's approach to Illinois corruption has been to congratulate himself for dodging association with it. "I think I have done a good job in rising politically in this environment without being entangled in some of the traditional problems of Chicago politics," he told the Chicago Tribune last spring. At the time, Mr. Obama was being grilled over news that he bought his house through a land deal involving Tony Rezko, a political fixer who was later convicted on 16 corruption counts. Rezko is mentioned dozens of times in the 76-page criminal complaint against Mr. Blagojevich.

Mr. Obama has an ambiguous reputation among those trying to clean up Illinois politics. "We have a sick political culture, and that's the environment Barack Obama came from," Jay Stewart, executive director of the Chicago Better Government Association, told ABC News months ago. Though Mr. Obama did support ethics reforms as a state senator, Mr. Stewart noted that he's "been noticeably silent on the issue of corruption here in his home state including, at this point, mostly Democratic politicians."

One reason for Mr. Obama's reticence may be his close relationship with the powerful Illinois senate president Emil Jones. Mr. Jones was a force in Mr. Obama's rise. In 2003, the two men talked about the state's soon-to-be vacant U.S. Senate seat. As Mr. Jones has recounted the conversation, Mr. Obama told him "You can make the next U.S. senator." Mr. Jones replied, "Got anybody in mind?" "Yes," Mr. Obama said. "Me."

Starting in 2003, Mr. Jones worked to burnish Mr. Obama's credentials by making him lead sponsor of bills including a watered-down ban on gifts to lawmakers. Most of Mr. Obama's legislative accomplishments came as result of his association with Mr. Jones.

In 2002, Mr. Obama turned up to help Mr. Blagojevich, a staunch ally of Mr. Jones, win the governor's mansion. Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama's incoming White House chief of staff, told The New Yorker earlier this year that six years ago he and Mr. Obama "participated in a small group that met weekly when Rod was running for governor. We basically laid out the general election, Barack and I and these two [other participants]."

Mr. Blagojevich won, but before long, problems surfaced. In 2004, Zalwaynaka Scott, the governor's inspector general, said his administration's efforts to evade merit-selection laws exposed "not merely an ignorance of the law, but complete and utter contempt for the law." Nonetheless, Mr. Obama endorsed Mr. Blagojevich's re-election in 2006.

This spring, many Democrats were so disgusted with Mr. Blagojevich that state House Speaker Michael Madigan drafted a memo on why Democrats should impeach Mr. Blagojevich. Mr. Madigan's "talking points" compared the corruption going on in the state to a tumor that must be removed.

But Mr. Madigan's move drew a rebuke from Mr. Jones. The Chicago Sun-Times story at the time quoted Mr. Jones saying he thought it was wrong for the speaker to "promote the impeachment of a Democratic Governor. . . Impeachment is unwarranted in my opinion, and should not be used as a political tool."

Many people were curious who Mr. Obama would side with in the dispute. Would it be with those Democrats who wanted to move aggressively against an apparently corrupt governor or with his old Chicago ally, Mr. Jones, who preferred to wait? Mr. Obama did neither. He kept silent. (I emailed the Obama campaign about Mr. Blagojevich's problems in June, but my question was ignored.)

To his credit, Mr. Obama did call Mr. Jones in September to urge passage of an ethics bill banning some office holders from accepting money from a business that has a $50,000 or larger contract with the state. The bill passed and takes effect on Jan. 1.

Mr. Obama has spoken out forcefully against corruption outside Illinois. Kathy Tate-Bradish, a Chicago teacher active in education in Africa, gushed on Mr. Obama's campaign blog during his visit to Kenya last year about his "amazing" speech against corruption during his visit there.

"Corruption is the single biggest thing keeping not only Kenyans, but all Africans, down," she wrote. "Corruption is just killing them but nobody has been able to speak out against it because they fear for their own security. Barack spoke out against it, publicly, in Kenya. I honestly think the speech he gave will be one of the major factors that turns the tide against corruption."

Mr. Obama says he plans to return often to Chicago as president. "Our friends are here. Our family is here. And so we are going to try to come back here as often as possible," he told the Los Angeles Times this month. Perhaps during one of those trips he could find time to forthrightly address the corruption issues that the state will be sorting through in the weeks and months ahead. A president has a powerful bully pulpit. A few words from Mr. Obama could force real and lasting change in Illinois.

Mr. Fund is a columnist for

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Today's Tune: Chris Isaak - Heart Full of Soul (Live)

(Click on title to play video)

A Day in the Life of Chicago

Psst! Wanna buy a Senate seat?

By David Freddoso
December 10, 2008, 1:10 a.m.

Leverage is something that Illinois’s Democratic governor Rod Blagojevich understands. He does not understand restraint.

That is the impression one gets from his indictment, which was released Monday [PDF]. The 76-page document portrays Blagojevich as more than simply another man in public office seeking to “monetize” his relationships — to prepare for a cushy, well-paid future after leaving government. Most politicians do that, and nearly all of them do it in Illinois. Blagojevich is a special case simply because of his ambition. He had gotten totally out of control.

In this June 20, 2005 file photo, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., speaks as Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., listens during a news conference in St. Louis.
(AP Photo/James A. Finley, File)

In the months leading up to his arrest yesterday, Gov. Blagojevich appears to have been a frantic and desperate man, fretting over his personal finances and his legal situation, as he was already under federal investigation. He was shaking down anyone and everyone who sought or needed something from government: Contractors. Sick children. The Chicago Cubs. Candidates for Senate. Even President-Elect Barack Obama.

“Nobody was surprised that Gov. Blagojevich would be indicted,” Republican state senate leader Christine Radogno told National Review Online. “But people are just scratching their heads at the arrogance of this, at the idea that he would talk so freely, with abandon, about selling a Senate seat when he knew the feds were all over him.”

Blagojevich’s attempt to sell Obama back his old Senate seat is the most unusual of his alleged crimes, but also the easiest. For the decision on Obama’s successor was the governor’s alone to make.

The Senate seat, left vacant by Obama’s post-election resignation, would be shopped around, as Blagojevich explained with shocking candor in his taped telephone conversations. He would sell it to the highest bidder, whether that was Obama (who had his own favored candidate) or any of four other potential senators. As Blagojevich put it himself, the Senate seat was “a f***ing valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.” The governor claimed he had one offer for campaign cash (from Senate Candidate Number Five).

As late as November 11, Blagojevich felt that Obama’s people were “not willing to give me anything except appreciation. F*** them.” The following day, he discussed another scheme involving Obama with an official from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). He would appoint Obama’s choice to the seat in exchange for help from Obama’s “Warren Buffett types” in raising “$10, $15 million” so that he could leave office and land himself a lucrative job with a union-backed non-profit group. Blagojevich was eager to run this idea past an Obama advisor (from the context, it appears to be Rahm Emanuel, the President-Elect’s chief of staff).

It is unclear what sort of reception this offer got from Obama’s staff, if any. But Blagojevich also had a Plan B — to make himself a senator. “I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain,” he said. “You hear what I’m saying. And if I don’t get what I want and I’m not satisfied with it, then I’ll just take the Senate seat myself.”

There is far more to the indictment than the sale of a Senate seat. The indictment tells other recent tales of alleged political extortion as well. For example, Blagojevich was angered by a Chicago Tribune editorial in late September that called for his impeachment. At the urging of his wife, Blagojevich instructed his chief of staff, John Harris (who was also indicted) to solve the problem by threatening the owner of the Tribune Company with the loss of a public financing option in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field (the Tribune owns and is trying to sell the Chicago Cubs). The Tribune Company’s owner, Blagojevich said, could make things right by firing the members of the editorial board who had criticized him.

Blagojevich is also accused in the indictment of threatening to rescind an $8 million state grant for Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago because one of the institution’s executives would not give a political contribution.

The 76-page criminal complaint against Blagojevich is strewn with the governor’s profanity from multiple taped conversations with aides, advisers, and others — all of them within the last year. Blagojevich comes off as a delusional man who believed, despite his already-ubiquitous reputation for corruption, that he could perhaps run for president in 2016.

Obama has categorically denied any contact with the governor on this topic. As many have noted, his account was contradicted weeks ago in a television interview by David Axelrod. But even so, there is nothing in the indictment or elsewhere to indicate that Obama was ever privy to the crooked deal for the Senate seat personally. As throughout his entire career, Obama has only been guilty of selling Illinoisans on crooked leaders like Blagojevich — as he has done for Cook County President Todd Stroger, for Mayor Richard M. Daley, and for a variety of minor figures in Chicago’s sordid political culture of self-dealing and corruption.

Obama and Emanuel in fact played major roles as top advisers to Blagojevich’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign. In 2006, Obama endorsed the governor for reelection with kind words that ring as hollow as his promises to change Washington: “We’ve got a governor in Rod Blagojevich who has delivered consistently on behalf of the people of Illinois,” Obama had said.

Given his willingness to crawl into bed with so many unsavory figures, it was only a matter of time before another one of Obama’s political allies would emerge as an embarrassment. And as long as Patrick Fitzgerald remains the U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Illinois, it is only a matter of time before another such embarrassment surfaces.

— David Freddoso is a National Review Online staff reporter and author of The Case Against Barack Obama.

Mexico's bloody drug war

The drug violence in Mexico rivals death tolls in Iraq.

By David Danelo
Los Angeles Times
December 10, 2008

Complete series

On Nov. 3, the day before Americans elected Barack Obama president, drug cartel henchmen murdered 58 people in Mexico. It was the highest number killed in one day since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006. By comparison, on average 26 people -- Americans and Iraqis combined -- died daily in Iraq in 2008. Mexico's casualty list on Nov. 3 included a man beheaded in Ciudad Juarez whose bloody corpse was suspended along an overpass for hours. No one had the courage to remove the body until dark.

Mexican soldiers stand guard on a street in Juarez (Reuters: Henry Romero, file photo)

The death toll from terrorist attacks in Mumbai two weeks ago, although horrible, approaches the average weekly body count in Mexico's war. Three weeks ago in Juarez, which is just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, telephone messages and banners threatened teachers that if they failed to pay protection money to cartels, their students would suffer brutal consequences. Local authorities responded by assigning 350 teenage police cadets to the city's 900 schools. If organized criminals wish to extract tribute from teachers, businessmen, tourists or anyone else, there is nothing the Mexican government can do to stop them. For its part, the United States has become numb to this norm.

As part of my ongoing research into border issues, I have visited Juarez six times over the last two years. Each time I return, I see a populace under greater siege. Residents possess a mentality that increasingly resembles the one I witnessed as a Marine officer in Baghdad, Fallouja and Ramadi.

"The police are nothing," a forlorn cab driver told me in September. "They cannot protect anyone. We can go nowhere else. We live in fear."

An official in El Paso estimated that up to 100,000 dual U.S.-Mexican citizens, mostly upper middle class, have fled north from Juarez to his city this year. Only those lacking means to escape remain.

At the same time, with the U.S. economy in free fall, many illegal immigrants are returning south. So illegal immigration -- the only border issue that seems to stir the masses -- made no splash in this year's elections. Mexico's chaos never surfaced as a topic in either the foreign or domestic policy presidential debates.

Despite the gravity of the crisis, our closest neighbor has fallen off our political radar. Heaven help you if you bring up the border violence at a Washington dinner party. Nobody -- Republican or Democrat -- wants to approach this thorny discussion.

Mexico, our second-largest trading partner, is a fragmenting state that may spiral toward failure as the recession and drug violence worsen. Remittances to Mexico from immigrant labor have fallen almost 20% in 2008. Following oil, tourism and remittances, drugs are the leading income stream in the Mexican economy.

While the bottom is dropping out of the oil and tourism markets, the American street price of every narcotic has skyrocketed, in part because of recent drug interdiction successes along the U.S. border.

Unfortunately, this toxic economic cocktail also stuffs the cartels' coffers. Substitute tribal clans for drug cartels, and Mexico starts to look disturbingly similar to Afghanistan, whose economy is fueled by the heroin-based poppy trade.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Obama's pick for Homeland Security director, has argued for permanently stationing National Guard troops along the border. That response alone will do little to assuage American border citizens. To them, talk of "violence bleeding over" is political pabulum while they watch their southern neighbors bleed.

If Napolitano wishes to stabilize the border, she will have to persuade the Pentagon and the State Department to take a greater interest in Mexico. Despite Calderon's commendable efforts to fight both the cartels and police corruption, this struggle shows no signs of slowing. When 45,000 federal troops are outgunned and outspent by opponents of uncertain but robust size, the state's legitimacy quickly deteriorates.

The Mexican state has not faced this grave a challenge to its authority since the Mexican revolution nearly a century ago.

If you want to see what Mexico will look like if this pattern continues, visit a border city like Tijuana, where nine beheaded bodies were discovered in plastic bags 10 days ago. Inhale the stench of decay. Inspect the fear on the faces. And then ask yourself how the United States is prepared to respond as Mexico's crisis increasingly becomes our own.

David J. Danelo is the author of "The Border: Exploring the U.S.-Mexican Divide" and "Blood Stripes: The Grunt's View of the War in Iraq."

9/11 Defendants Claim Divine Praise While Pleading Guilty

by (more by this author)
Posted 12/10/2008 ET

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, has suddenly pled guilty along with four co-defendants. In court Monday, Army Colonel Stephen Henley, military judge at Guantanamo, read a letter from the five jihadists saying that “the accused in this case had decided that they wished to withdraw all [defense] motions... and wished to enter pleas in what was termed as confessions in this case.”

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

In a blow to those who still think George W. Bush and Dick Cheney planned the 9/11 attacks, Mohammed stated in 2007: “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z. I was the operational director for Sheikh Usama bin Laden for the organizing, planning, follow-up and execution of the 9/11 operation.” Monday’s letter said that Mohammed and his co-defendants had come to their decision to plead guilty “without being under any kind of pressure, threat, intimidations or promise from any party.”

The finality of that statement, however, didn’t mollify the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero. “It is absurd,” he said Monday, “to accept a guilty plea from people who were tortured and waterboarded.” (Mohammed was the most famous recipient of the waterboarding technique.) He called into question the legitimacy of the whole proceeding, saying: “The question for us is whether we want to lend a patina of legitimacy to this legal farce.” If Henley accepts the guilty pleas, however, there might not be much room left for the ACLU to maneuver: Romero told the Washington Post that acceptance of the pleas would make it extremely difficult for the Obama administration to move the case to federal court.

“I understand we are in a big drama,” Mohammed said Monday, but with the guilty pleas it could be drawing to a close. This “big drama” has encompassed so many of the highlights of the political landscape of the new century -- not only 9/11 itself, but also the controversies over Guantanamo, waterboarding, and even the American presence in Iraq: on Monday also Muhammad dismissed his military lawyer, who had served for six months in Iraq. Mohammed explained that he could not accept the services of someone who had been involved in “killing our brothers and sisters in Iraq.”

Meanwhile, one less noted but no less important aspect of the case was the ideological foundation of the 9/11 attacks. The defendants made that abundantly clear in their Monday statement: “Our success,” they declared, “is the greatest praise of the Lord.”

The idea that God would praise the mass murderers of 9/11 was disputed this week by Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, himself a Muslim, who declared in the wake of the Mumbai jihad terror attacks that “there’s nothing Islamic about terrorism. I am a Muslim, I read the Koran, but nowhere in the holy text does it say you can get ‘jannat’ (paradise) from ‘jihad.’”

Perhaps not; but while it doesn’t use the word “jihad” in this precise context, the Koran does guarantee Paradise to those who “kill and are killed” for Allah (9:111). Those whom Khalid Sheikh Mohammed sent to destroy the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 9/11 hoped to lay claim to that promise, just as Mohammed and his fellow defendants also hope now to gain the status of Islamic martyrs by being executed by the forces of the Great Satan.

The disagreement between Khan’s assertion and Mohammed’s actions is absolute. Yet while the politically correct media (both liberal and conservative) accepts unquestioningly the dogma that Islam is a religion of peace and Khan is correct that “there’s nothing Islamic about terrorism,” those who share the ideology of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow 9/11 plotters continue to gain recruits around the Islamic world for their jihad.

The continued insistence of Mohammed and his fellow defendants on the Islamic correctness of their actions ought to be a wake-up call to Western authorities that they need to formulate a way to deal with the Islamic political and theological concepts that provide the foundation for modern-day Islamic terrorism, or there will certainly be more terror attacks. And even as Mohammed moves closer to the martyrdom he craves, no one in Washington seems to be making that a high priority.

- Mr. Spencer is director of Jihad Watch and author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)", "The Truth About Muhammad" and "Stealth Jihad" (all from Regnery -- a HUMAN EVENTS sister company).

He's the clown, but joke's on us

Blagojevich Arrested

John Kass
Chicago Tribune
December 10, 2008

Now that Gov. Dead Meat has been arrested at his home and charged with selling Illinois by the pound—and Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat by the slice—let's just savor the aroma.

I love the smell of meat over coals in the morning.

It smells like . . . victory.

(AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais / December 2, 2008)

President-elect Barack Obama greets Illinois Gov. Rob Blagojevich at the Bipartisan meeting of the National Governor's Association at Congress Hall in Philadelphia, Pa.

The people of Illinois needed some good news and they got it. Former Republican Gov. George Ryan is in prison, and the arrest of his successor, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, surely means that the Illinois Combine that runs this state can stop with the rumors that U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald will be leaving town.

And, as Blagojevich most likely prepares to be Ryan's bunkmate, let's not forget the scores of other politicos, of all parties, who've gone down on corruption charges—including some of Mayor Richard Daley's guys who helped rebuild that Democratic machine the mayor says doesn't exist.

At a news conference in the federal building in Chicago, authorities were asked about Illinois corruption.

"If it isn't the most corrupt state in the United States, it's certainly one hell of a competitor," said Robert Grant, special agent in charge of the FBI's Chicago office.

Grant had the privilege of standing outside Blagojevich's home about 6 a.m. Tuesday and calling the sleepy governor to say federal agents were outside, waiting to arrest him quietly.

"I could tell I woke him up," Grant said. "And the first thing he said was, 'Is this a joke?' "

No, but standing before a federal judge wearing jogging pants, sneakers and a powder blue fleece sort of made the governor of Illinois look like a jester. Or a joker.

Political corruption in the state that has made corruption an art form isn't funny, like a clown. The joke is on all of us, everyone who lives in Illinois. Because Blagojevich was elected governor on the reform ticket, promising to clean up the state and end business as usual.

Chicagoans aren't really surprised. This is the state run by the Combine, with the Democratic machine on one side and the Republican insiders on the other, and the Chicago Outfit forming the base. That is the real iron triangle.

Blagojevich was supported by the machine and by the now-indicted Republican power broker Big Bill Cellini. If that's not reform, what is?

The governor is alleged to have tried to sell Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder, used his leverage in attempts to oust Tribune editorial writers who didn't play ball, and schemed to shake down the chief executive officer of Children's Memorial Hospital for campaign cash in exchange for a state grant.

So though Illinois isn't surprised—this is after all the home of the Chicago Way—the national media must be shocked.

They've been clinging to the ridiculous notion that Chicago is Camelot for months now, cleaving to the idea with the willfulness of stubborn children. It must help them see Obama as some pristine creature, perhaps a gentle faun of a magic forest, unstained by our grubby politics, a bedtime story for grown-ups who insist upon fairy tales. But now the national media may finally be forced to confront reality.

(Tribune photo by Jose More / January 9, 2007)

Gov. Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, dance at the inaugural ball.

Even national pundits with tingles running up their legs can't ignore the tape recordings in which Blagojevich speculated how he'd get the gold for picking Obama's successor.

"I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain," Blagojevich allegedly said on tape. "You hear what I'm saying? And if I don't get what I want, and I'm not satisfied with it, then I'll just take the Senate seat myself."

Obama's Senate seat, Blagojevich allegedly said, "is a [expletive] valuable thing. You don't just give it away for nothing."

Then, on Nov. 5, he allegedly said, "I've got this thing, and it's [expletive] golden and, uh, I'm just not going to give it up for [expletive] nothing. I'm not gonna do it. And I can always use it, I can parachute me there."

Parachute me?

If a jury hears that tape, it's [expletive] over.

I figure Blagojevich most likely will start talking to the feds, blabbing about everyone he knows, in order to cut down his time, because what's on the federal tapes is devastating.

Once he starts, the feds will have to slap him to shut him up.

Naturally, Obama didn't have much to say.

Obama said he never talked to Blagojevich about the Senate seat. In this, his hands are clean.

But he also didn't want to get involved, much like last week, when he didn't want to get involved in the Democratic push led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Big Jim) to get Ryan out of prison.

"I had no contact with the governor or his office and so I was not aware of what was happening," Obama told reporters at his transition office in Chicago. "It's a sad day for Illinois; beyond that, I don't think it's appropriate to comment."

I don't think Obama would ever countenance paying Blagojevich for a Senate seat or allow others close to him to even consider it. I'm not saying Obama is corrupt here. He's busy with all the great issues of the day, but at some point the president-elect must address the stench in his home state.

Because this is no fairy tale. This isn't Camelot.

This is Chicago.

And a governor is on the grill.,0,7674669.column

The Democratic Culture of Corruption

By Michelle Malkin
December 9, 2008

Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi can stop clucking now. For the last three years, Democratic leaders cheered GOP ethics woes. Dean accused Republicans of making "their culture of corruption the norm." Pelosi touted cleanliness as a liberal virtue. But with the eye-popping pay-for-play and bribery case against Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich topping a year of nationwide Democratic scandals, the corruption chickens are coming home to roost.

In this Aug. 17, 2005, file photo Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, left, laughs with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich during Governor's Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, Ill. Blagojevich was roused from bed and arrested Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008, after prosecutors said he was caught on wiretaps audaciously scheming to sell now President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat for cash or a plum job for himself in the new administration.
(AP Photo/Randy Squires, File)

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called the breadth and depth of charges against Blagojevich and his Democratic Chief of Staff John Harris "staggering." That's an understatement. Anything that breathed was a potential shakedown target. It's the Chicago way. Democrat Blago's so dirty he'd hit up a children's hospital for money. Oh, wait. He's accused of doing that, too.

Democrat Blago allegedly conspired to use his power to appoint President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat as a bargaining chip for financial payment. He explored trading on that authority for an appointment as Health and Human Services secretary or as an ambassador or for installment in a cushy union position. (He discussed his trading scheme with an unnamed "SEIU (Service Employees International Union) official" and unnamed "various consultants" in Washington.) [See documentation at The Smoking Gun website]

According to the criminal complaint released yesterday, [PDF]he also tried to leverage his influence over the sale of Wrigley Field (owned by Tribune media company) in an attempt to get Chicago Tribune editorial writers who called for his impeachment fired—which illustrates the very perils of media/government entanglements I warned about in my newspaper bailout column last week. His wife, Patricia Blagojevich, was apparently in on the thuggery, too. Taking a break from her first lady duties advocating "on behalf of women and children," she is heard in taped discussions about the Chicago Tribune/Wrigley Field deal telling a governor's aide "to hold up that f**king Cubs sh*t. … F**k them."

Pelosi, champion of women as political cleaner-uppers, was unavailable for comment.

Fitzgerald says President-elect Obama was not implicated in the plethora of charges against Democrats Blago and Harris. The national media went out of their way to absolve him, too. But declaring Team Obama's hands clean—especially with Blago crony and indicted Obama donor Tony Rezko in the middle of it all—is premature. (And if you're wondering why I keep putting "Democrat" in front of the accused corruptocrats, it's because the mainstream newspapers can't seem to remember to identify their party prominently the way they do when Republicans are nabbed.)

Chicago's Fox affiliate reports that Obama Chief of Staff and Chicago hometown heavy Rahm Emanuel was the catalyst for the Blago takedown and suggests Rahm-bo tipped off the feds. If so, this raises more questions than it answers about who on the transition team may have talked to Blago and his shakedown artists about what and when. Needless to say, if it were the Republican Bush administration tied to the Blago bust, the White House press corps would be frothing like a pack of Michael Vick's pit bulls.

Democrats and the media can no longer rest on the old rationalization that Blago is an exception to the "we're cleaner than thou" rule. 2008 was the year of Democratic Reps. William "Cold Cash" Jefferson, Charlie "Sweetheart Deals" Rangel, and former Detroit Mayor Kwame "Text Me" Kilpatrick. It was the year Democratic Massachusetts State Senator Dianne Wilkerson got caught stuffing bribes from an FBI informant down her shirt. It was the year 12 Democratic leaders and staffers in Pennsylvania's state Capitol were stung in a massive corruption scandal involving cash, sex and abuse of public office. And it was the year of multimillion-dollar embezzlement scandals at Democratic satellite offices of ACORN and the SEIU.

The Democrats have met the culture of corruption, and it looks like it ain't just elephants among the jackasses soiling public office.

- 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.

Bill Ayers Whitewashes History, Again

posted by Katha Pollitt on 12/08/2008 @ 3:46pm

It couldn't have been easy for Bill Ayers to keep quiet while the McCain campaign tarred him as the Obama's best friend, the terrorist. Unfortunately, the silence was too good to last. On Saturday's New York Times op-ed page, he announced that "it's finally time to tell my true story." Like his memoir, Fugitive Days , "The Real Bill Ayers" is a sentimentalized, self-justifying whitewash of his role in the weirdo violent fringe of the 1960s-70s antiwar left.

Bill Ayers at the 2007 MDS Convergence [ Chicago ] (Photo: Thomas Good / Next Left Notes)

"I never killed or injured anyone, "Ayers writes. "In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village." Right. Those people belonged to Weatherman, as did Ayers himself and Bernardine Dohrn, now his wife. Weatherman, Weather Underground, completely different! And never mind either that that "accidental explosion" was caused by the making of a nail bomb intended for a dance at Fort Dix.

Ayers writes that Weather Underground bombings were "symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam War." That no one was killed or injured was a monumental stroke of luck-- an unrelated bombing at the University of Wisconsin unintentionally killed a researcher and seriously injured four people. But if the point was to symbolize outrage, why not just spraypaint graffiti on government buildings or pour blood on military documents?

Spectacular violence, and creating fear of it, was the point. Along with beating people up and ridiculous escapades like running naked through white-working-class high schools shouting "Jailbreak!" It was what the Weatherpeople were all about.

"Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war," Ayers writes. " So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends." I'm not so sure that terrorism necessarily involves intentional attacks on people, but okay, let's say Ayers wasn't a terrorist. How about thuggish? Vainglorious? Egomaniacal? Staggeringly irresponsible? And illogical, don't forget illogical: as Hilzoy points out, the idea that because "peaceful protest" hadn't ended the war, bombs would is missing a couple of links. It's like a doctor saying, Well, chemo didn't cure your brain tumor, so I'll have to amputate your leg. It's not as if there was nothing else to try, after all. While Ayers and Dohrn were conveying their outrage, other people were doing the kind of organizing work that the Weather Underground despised as wimpy. Today Ayers blends himself into that broader movement, the "we-- the broad we" that "wrote letters, marched, talked to young men at inductions centers" etc., but at the time, Weatherpeople had nothing but contempt for the rest of the antiwar left. Writing letters? Off the pig! you might as well... become a community organizer!

I realize this is ancient history. As a friend who doesn't see why I am raking this all up argues, it's not as if today's left is bristling with macho streetfighters. It's hard to imagine anyone now applauding the Manson murders, as Dohrn notoriously did in l969, or dedicating a manifesto to, among others, Sirhan Sirhan. But just because it's ancient history doesn't mean you get to rewrite it to make yourself look good, just another idealistic young person upset about the war and racism. We were all upset about the war and racism. I knew people in the Progressive Labor Party who were so upset they joined the army to radicalize the troops. A freshman in my dorm was so upset she quit college, joined the October League, and went to organize in an auto-parts factory, where last I heard maybe a decade ago, she was still at work. Of the many thousands of people involved in the movement one way or another, only a handful thought the thing to do was to form a tiny sect and blow things up in the service of a ludicrous fantasy : ie, creating a white-youth fighting force that would join up with black nationalists, end the war and overthrow capitalism. Oh, and anyone who didn't see why that was the right,necessary and indeed only possible course of action was a sellout and a coward.

I wish Ayers would make a real apology for the harm he did to the antiwar movement and the left. Not another "regrets, I've had a few," "we were all young once," "don't forget there was a war on" exercise in self-promotion, but one that showed he actually gets it. I'd like him to say he's sorry for his part in the destruction of Students for a Democratic Society. He's sorry he helped Nixon make the antiwar movement look like the enemy of ordinary people. He's sorry for his more-radical-than-thou posturing, and the climate of apocalyptic nuttiness he helped fuel to disastrous results, of which the fatal Brinks robbery, committed by erstwhile comrades who became even crazier than Ayers' crew, was only the most notorious.

True, the damage wrought by the Weatherpeople is trivial compared with the war itself and has arguably been more thoroughly denounced. After all, John McCain most likely killed civilians while bombing Vietnam, and he got to run for president as a war hero. Henry Kissinger is fawned upon wherever he goes. I'd be happy to forget all about the Weatherpeople, many of whom have done good things with their lives since. But if we're going to talk about them-- and Ayers can't leave it alone-- let's tell the truth. Of all the sectarian groups from that era , Weather, in all its permutations, was the least effective and the most destructive to the movement. It was all about the romance of itself. And it still is.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

ACORN, meet RICO: Let the prosecution begin


By Peter J. Parisi
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The hotly contested presidential race in 2000 was effectively decided by 537 votes in Florida. The 2004 Washington state governor's race was settled by 133 votes. Closer to home, the 2005 state attorney general's race in Virginia was won by 323 votes out of 1.94 million cast.

An investigator carries a box of evidence seized from the ACORN office in Las Vegas on Oct. 7. The raid was part of a voter-fraud probe. (Associated Press)

And yet, in an editorial that ran on Oct. 25, a scant 10 days before the presidential election, The Washington Post's attitude toward voter fraud perpetrated by the left-wing activist Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, seemed to be "Don't worry; be happy."

The Post's editorial, "The ACORN Storm: From John McCain, hyperbole about potential voter fraud," blithely dismissed concerns that ACORN, which was and is under investigation by the FBI in at least a dozen states, had registered hundreds of thousands of new voters - untold tens of thousands of which have been found to be invalid.

Despite those numbers being far greater than the margins of victory in any of the examples cited above, concerns for electoral integrity were "unwarranted," according to The Post.

It's highly doubtful that Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, who clung to a slender 215-vote lead over his Democratic challenger, Al Franken, out of 2.9 million cast going into a recount shares that sentiment - especially when you consider that ACORN filed more than 43,000 new registrations in Minnesota, or about three-quarters of all new registrations prior to the election in the Gopher State, according to

It's not clear whether Minnesota is one of the states where ACORN's practices are being probed; neither the FBI nor the Justice Department would say. But with Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a hyperpartisan Democrat who was endorsed by ACORN in his 2006 election, as one of five people overseeing the recount, Mr. Coleman should rightly be afraid, very afraid of having the election stolen out from under him.

Mr. Ritchie - like President-elect Barack Obama, a former community organizer - gained office with the help of the Secretary of State Project, an independent 527 group co-founded by one-time MoveOn.orgleader James Rucker. SOS is based in San Francisco and funded in part by left-wing kingmakers such as billionaire George Soros, according to Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten. And what is the chief responsibility of most secretaries of state? Overseeing the election process. (How does the Left rig elections? Let me count the ways: early voting; suddenly discovered uncounted ballots; selective, partial recounts; same-day registration; and unchecked immigration, dubbed by talk-show host Mark Levin as "importing Democrats," among others.)

But I digress. Leaving aside the question of whether The Post would have been equally dismissive of voter-fraud concerns if ACORN was a conservative group that had been working to elect Mr. McCain president, rather than a liberal organization with long and deep ties to Mr. Obama, it's hardly "hyperbole" to be alarmed at ACORN's long track record of questionable (at best) voter-registration practices.

That's why the Justice Department should bring a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) prosecution against ACORN nationally, and shut it down permanently before it can taint any more elections by delivering its legions of multiply (or otherwise fraudulently) registered "voters" to the polls. (And remember, too, that while high-profile contests like the ones cited above make the headlines, there's no way of knowing how many closely contested down-ballot races - from city council members and county commissioners to state representatives and senators - ACORN may affect the outcomes of with its suspect electioneering.)

RICO, enacted as part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 in October of that year, was intended to make it easier to prosecute organized crime figures, but G. Robert Blakey, who drafted the legislation, said Congress never intended it to apply only to mafiosi. He once told Time magazine: "We don't want one set of rules for people whose collars are blue or whose names end in vowels, and another set for those whose collars are white and have Ivy League diplomas."

RICO provides for extended penalties for criminal acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. Under the RICO law, there are 35 state and federal crimes that fall under the heading of racketeering activity; for the purposes of prosecuting ACORN, at least two - fraud and bribery - would seem to apply. Further, RICO-related charges are considered easy to prove in court, as the focus is on patterns of illicit behavior, as opposed to criminal acts, and ACORN has nothing if not a pattern of such behavior.

In mid-September, a group of 39 Republican congressman called on the Justice Department to investigate ACORN for what Rep. Tom Feeney of Florida has called the group's "vandalism of electoral integrity," noting that "every vote cast illegally cancels out the vote of an American citizen."

With a scant six weeks left in this administration, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey should promptly initiate a review of a possible RICO prosecution, because President Obama - with ties to ACORN dating back to at least 1995 - certainly will have no incentive, let alone desire, to bring charges. (At the same time, Congress should rescind the millions of dollars in federal funds going to the ACORN Housing Corp., its tax-exempt affiliate, which receives 40 percent of its funding from taxpayers, and should investigate whether any of that money is being diverted to financing the voter fraud.)

Finally, if the Bush Justice Department declines to prosecute, the RICO statute also permits private parties harmed by the actions of an ongoing "criminal enterprise" to file civil suits in either state or federal court; if successful, the plaintiffs can collect treble damages.

Are you listening, Republican National Committee?

• Peter J. Parisi is an editor at The Washington Times.

The Beatles - Twist and Shout (Live 1963)

(Click on title to play video)

Che’s Useful Idiot

By Humberto Fontova
Tuesday, December 09, 2008

“I’d like to dedicate this to the man himself, Che Guevara!” announced Benicio del Toro this May, as he received a “best actor” award for his starring role in Che, a reverent new film about the communist revolutionary. As the crowd at the Cannes Film Festival erupted in thunderous ovation, the Puerto Rico-born actor gushed that “I wouldn't be here without Che Guevara, and through all the awards the movie gets you'll have to pay your respects to the man!"

Benicio del Toro as Che Guevara

But some stubbornly refuse to pay their respects. Thus, the actor received a much cooler reception when Che, directed by Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh, had a private screening in Miami Beach this past Thursday. Cuban-Americans, including the mayor of Miami Beach, protested the 4-and-a-half hour glorification of the man they consider a Stalinist mass-murderer.

Miami's media proved equally unwelcoming. At a press conference after the screening in Miami Beach's Byron Carlyle Theater, Marlene Gonzalez of the Spanish language America TeVe network asked del Toro about some glaring omissions in the movie. What of Che’s role in ordering the executions of ordinary Cubans? And why no mention of the forced-labor camps established on the guerilla fighter’s orders? A suddenly hurried Del Toro denied that Che bore any culpability for these horrors. He refused even to admit Che’s bitter falling out with Fidel Castro, claiming that, to the contrary, the two always got along splendidly and that Castro was genuinely heartbroken when Che was captured and killed after fighting to his last bullet.

The contrast made for a moving scene. As protestors outside the Carlyle Theater brandished pictures of relatives murdered by Che Guevara, del Toro paid tribute to their murderer. Questions about Che’s brutalities – meticulously recorded in books like Exposing the Real Che Guevara – he brushed aside as the embittered fabrications of Cuban exiles.

The following day, del Toro flew to Havana to present his film at the Havana Film Festival and hob-knob with Castro regime officials. Che was billed as the highlight of the festival and the Stalinist regime rolled out the carpet for their honored guest. “It's a privilege to be here!” effused del Toro. “I'm grateful that the Cuban people can see this movie!”

And why shouldn't Castro's subjects be allowed to view his movie? Weren't Stalin's subjects allowed to watch The Battleship Potemkin? Weren't Hitler's subjects allowed to watch Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of Will? Both were produced at the direction of the propaganda ministries of totalitarian regimes, to be sure, but then the same might well be said of Che. The screenplay was based on Che Guevara's diaries, which were published by Cuba's propaganda ministry; the diaries’ forward was written by Fidel Castro himself. The film includes several Communist Cuban actors, while other Latin American actors spent months in Cuba being prepped for their roles by members of Cuba's “Che Guevara Institute.”

The Cuban Film Institute is an arm of Stalinist Cuba's propaganda ministry. On December 7, Castro’s own press ministry announced that “Actor Benicio del Toro presented the film (at Havana’s Karl Marx Theater) as he thanked the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) for its assistance during the shooting of the film, which was the result of a seven-year research work in Cuba.”

That del Toro considers the Cuban regime a reliable source for the film is telling. Consider that the Castro government has jailed more political prisoners as a percentage of population than Stalin's and executed more people (out of a population of 6.4 million) in its first three years in power than Hitler's executed (out of a population of 70 million) in it's first six. These figures come from the human rights group Freedom House and from the Black Book of Communism, authored by French scholars and translated into English by Harvard University Press, not exactly headquarters for the vast-right wing conspiracy.

The irony is that del Toro himself is a noted advocate of artistic freedom and an outspoken opponent of the “armed struggle” that Che Guevara led, to such disastrous effect, in Cuba. But not only has he starred in a film glorifying the communist killer, but he has just deigned to be feted as guest of honor at Havana's Film Festival by a totalitarian regime that, for half a century, has jailed and tortured any Cuban movie director who strayed from Stalinist dictator's party line. Del Toro needn’t look to Cuban exiles to undermine his convictions. He has done well enough on his own.

- Humberto Fontova is the author of Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him. Visit

Monday, December 08, 2008

"Hail, Full of Grace": Mary, the Mother of Believers

By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
excerpt from Mary: The Church at the Source

"From henceforth all generations will call me blessed"–these words of the Mother of Jesus handed on for us by Luke (Lk 1:48) are at once a prophecy and a charge laid upon the Church of all times. This phrase from the Magnificat, the spirit-filled prayer of praise that Mary addresses to the living God, is thus one of the principal foundations of Christian devotion to her.

The Church invented nothing new of her own when she began to extol Mary; she did not plummet from the worship of the one God to the praise of man. The Church does what she must; she carries out the task assigned her from the beginning. At the time Luke was writing this text, the second generation of Christianity had already arrived, and the "family" of the Jews had been joined by that of the Gentiles, who had been incorporated into the Church of Jesus Christ. The expression "all generations, all families" was beginning to be filled with historical reality. The Evangelist would certainly not have transmitted Mary's prophecy if it had seemed to him an indifferent or obsolete item. He wished in his Gospel to record "with care" what "the eyewitnesses and ministers of the word" (Lk 1:2-3) had handed on from the beginning, in order to give the faith of Christianity, which was then striding onto the stage of world history, a reliable guide for its future course.

Mary's prophecy numbered among those elements he had "carefully" ascertained and considered important enough to transmit to posterity. This fact assumes that Mary's words were guaranteed by reality: the first two chapters of Luke's Gospel give evidence of a sphere of tradition in which the remembrance of Mary was cultivated and the Mother of the Lord was loved and praised. They presuppose that the still somewhat naive exclamation of the unnamed woman, "blessed is the womb that bore you" (Lk 11:27), had not entirely ceased to resound but, as Jesus was more deeply understood, had likewise attained a purer form that more adequately expressed its content. They presuppose that Elizabeth's greeting, "blessed are you among women" (Lk 1:42), which Luke characterizes as words spoken in the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:4 1), had not been a once-only episode.

The continued existence of such praise at least in one strand of early Christian tradition is the basis of Luke's infancy narrative. The recording of these words in the Gospel raises this veneration of Mary from historical fact to a commission laid upon the Church of all places and all times.

The Church neglects one of the duties enjoined upon her when she does not praise Mary. She deviates from the word of the Bible when her Marian devotion falls silent. When this happens, in fact, the Church no longer even glorifies God as she ought. For though we do know God by means of his creation–"Ever since the creation of the world [God's] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (Rom 1:20)–we also know him, and know him more intimately, through the history he has shared with man. just as the history of a man's life and the relationships he has formed reveal, what kind of person he is, God shows himself in a history, in men through whom his own character can be seen.

This is so true that he can be "named" through them and identified in them: the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. Through his relation with men, through the faces of men, God has made himself accessible and has shown his face. We cannot try to bypass these human faces in order to get to God alone, in his "pure form", as it were. This would lead us to a God of our own invention in. place of the real God; it would be an arrogant purism that regards its own ideas as more important than God's deeds. The above cited verse of the Magnificat shows us that Mary is one of the human beings who in an altogether special way belong to the name of God, so much so, in fact, that we cannot praise him rightly if we leave her out of account.

In doing so we forget something about him that must not be forgotten. What, exactly? Our first attempt at an answer could be his maternal side, which reveals itself more purely and more directly in the Son's Mother than anywhere else. But this is, of course, much too general. In order to praise Mary correctly and thus to glorify God correctly, we must listen to all that Scripture and tradition say concerning the Mother of the Lord and ponder it in our hearts. Thanks to the praise of "all generations" since the beginning, the abundant wealth of Mariology has become almost too vast to survey. In this brief meditation, I would like to help the reader reflect anew on just a few of the key words Saint Luke has placed in our hands in his inexhaustibly rich infancy narrative.

Mary, Daughter Zion–Mother of Believers

Let us begin with the angel's greeting to Mary. For Luke, this is the primordial cell of Mariology that God himself wished to present to us through his messenger, the Archangel Gabriel.

Translated literally, the greeting reads thus: "Rejoice, full of grace. The Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28). "Rejoice": At first sight, this word appears to be no more than the formulaic greeting current in the Greek-speaking world, and tradition has consistently translated it as "hail". But looked at against the background of the Old Testament, this formula of greeting takes on a more profound significance. Consider, in fact, that the same word used by Luke appears four times in the Septuagint, where in each case it is an announcement of messianic joy (Zeph 3:14; Joel 2:21; Zech 9:9; Lam 4:21).

This greeting marks the beginning of the Gospel in the strict sense; its first word is "joy", the new joy that comes from God and breaks through the world's ancient and interminable sadness. Mary is not merely greeted in some vague or indifferent way; that God greets her and, in her, greets expectant Israel and all of humanity is an invitation to rejoice from the innermost depth of our being. The reason for our sadness is the futility of our love, the overwhelming power of finitude, death, suffering, and falsehood. We are sad because we are left alone in a contradictory world where enigmatic signals of divine goodness pierce through the cracks yet are thrown in doubt by a power of darkness that is either God's responsibility or manifests his impotence.

"Rejoice"–what reason does Mary have to rejoice in such a world? The answer is: "The Lord is with you." In order to grasp the sense of this announcement, we must return once more to the Old Testament texts upon which it is based, in particular to Zephaniah. These texts invariably contain a double promise to the personification of Israel, daughter Zion: God will come to save, and he will come to dwell in her. The angel's dialogue with Mary reprises this promise and in so doing makes it concrete in two ways. What in the prophecy is said to daughter Zion is now directed to Mary: She is identified with daughter Zion, she is daughter Zion in person.

In a parallel manner, Jesus, whom Mary is permitted to bear, is identified with Yahweh, the living God. When Jesus comes, it is God himself who comes to dwell in her. He is the Savior–this is the meaning of the name Jesus, which thus becomes clear from the heart of the promise. René Laurentin has shown through painstaking textual analyses how Luke has used subtle word play to deepen the theme of God's indwelling. Even early traditions portray God as dwelling "in the womb" of Israel–in the Ark of the Covenant. This dwelling "in the womb" of Israel now becomes quite literally real in the Virgin of Nazareth. Mary herself thus becomes the true Ark of the Covenant in Israel, so that the symbol of the Ark gathers an incredibly realistic force: God in the flesh of a human being, which flesh now becomes his dwelling place in the midst of creation.

The angel's greeting–the center of Mariology not invented by the human mind–has led us to the theological foundation of this Mariology. Mary is identified with daughter Zion, with the bridal people of God. Everything said about the ecclesia in the Bible is true of her, and vice versa: the Church learns concretely what she is and is meant to be by looking at Mary. Mary is her mirror, the pure measure of her being, because Mary is wholly within the measure of Christ and of God, is through and through his habitation. And what other reason could the ecclesia have for existing than to become a dwelling for God in the world? God does not deal with abstractions. He is a person, and the Church is a person. The more that each one of us becomes a person, person in the sense of a fit habitation for God, daughter Zion, the more we become one, the more we are the Church, and the more the Church is herself.

The typological identification of Mary and Zion leads us, then, into the depths. This manner of connecting the Old and New Testaments is much more than an interesting historical construction by means of which the Evangelist links promise and fulfillment and reinterprets the Old Testament in the light of what has happened in Christ. Mary is Zion in person, which means that her life wholly embodies what is meant by "Zion". She does not construct a self-enclosed individuality whose principal concern is the originality of its own ego. She does not wish to be just this one human being who defends and protects her own ego. She does not regard life as a stock of goods of which everyone wants to get as much as possible for himself. Her life is such that she is transparent to God, "habitable" for him.

Title: Virgin and Child with Balaam the Prophet
Date: Late 2nd century.

Image of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome. It depicts her nursing the Infant Jesus. This is the earliest known image of Mary and the Infant Jesus independent of the Magi episode. The figure at the left appears to be the prophet Balaam pointing to a star (outside the frame). The star is from Numbers 24:17.

Her life is such that she is a place for God. Her life sinks her into the common measure of sacred history, so that what appears in her is, not the narrow and constricted ego of an isolated individual, but the whole, true Israel. This "typological identification" is a spiritual reality; it is life lived out of the spirit of Sacred Scripture; it is rootedness in the faith of the Fathers and at the same time expansion into the height and breadth of the coming promises. We understand why the Bible time and again compares the just man to the tree whose roots drink from the living waters of eternity and whose crown catches and synthesizes the light of heaven.

Let us return once more to the angel's greeting. Mary is called "full of grace". The Greek word for grace (charis) derives from the same root as the words joy and rejoice (chara, chairein). Thus, we see once more in a different form the same context to which we were led by our earlier comparison with the Old Testament. Joy comes from grace. One who is in the state of grace can rejoice with deep-going, constant joy. By the same token, grace is joy.

What is grace? This question thrusts itself upon our text. Our religious mentality has reified this concept much too much; it regards grace as a supernatural something we carry about in our soul. And since we perceive very little of it, or nothing at all, it has gradually become irrelevant to us, an empty word belonging to Christian jargon, which seems to have lost any relationship to the lived reality of our everyday life. In reality, grace is a relational term: it does not predicate something about an I, but something about a connection between I and Thou, between God and man. "Full of grace" could therefore also be translated as: "You are full of the Holy Spirit; your life is intimately connected with God." Peter Lombard, the author of what was the universal theological manual for approximately three centuries during the Middle Ages, propounded the thesis that grace and love are identical but that love "is the Holy Spirit".

Grace in the proper and deepest sense of the word is not some thing that comes from God; it is God himself. Redemption means that God, acting as God truly does, gives us nothing less than himself The gift of God is God–he who as the Holy Spirit is communion with us. "Full of grace" therefore means, once again, that Mary is a wholly open human being, one who has opened herself entirely, one who has placed herself in God's hands boldly, limitlessly, and without fear for her own fate. It means that she lives wholly by and in relation to God. She is a listener and a prayer, whose mind and soul are alive to the manifold ways in which the living God quietly calls to her. She is one who prays and stretches forth wholly to meet God; she is therefore a lover, who has the breadth and magnanimity of true love, but who has also its unerring powers of discernment and its readiness to suffer.

Luke has flooded this fact with the light of yet another round of motifs. In his subtle way he constructs a parallel between Abraham, the father of believers, and Mary, the mother of believers. To be in a state of grace means: to be a believer. Faith includes steadfastness, confidence, and devotion, but also obscurity. When man's relation to God, the soul's open availability for him, is characterized as "faith", this word expresses the fact that the infinite distance between Creator and creature is not blurred in the relation of the human I to the divine Thou. It means that the model of "partnership", which has become so dear to us, breaks down when it comes to God, because it cannot sufficiently express the majesty of God and the hiddenness of his working. It is precisely the man who has been opened up entirely into God who comes to accept God's otherness and the hiddenness of his will, which can pierce our will like a sword.

The parallel between Mary and Abraham begins in the joy of the promised son but continues apace until the dark hour when she must ascend Mount Moriah, that is, until the Crucifixion of Christ. Yet it does not end there; it also extends to the miracle of Isaac's rescue-the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Abraham, father of faith-this title describes the unique position of the patriarch in the piety of Israel and in the faith of the Church. But is it not wonderful that-without any revocation of the special status of Abraham–a "mother of believers" now stands at the beginning of the new people and that our faith again and again receives from her pure and high image its measure and its path?

[Excerpted from the chapter "'Hail, Full of Grace': Elements of Marian Piety According to the Bible", from Mary: The Church at the Source by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar, pp. 61-69. Footnotes have been omitted.]

Related Articles:

"Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary" Hans Urs von Balthasar
Immaculate Mary, Matchless in Grace John Saward
The Medieval Mary The Introduction to Mary in the Middle Ages by Luigi Gambero
Misgivings About Mary Dr. James Hitchcock
Mary in Feminist Theology: Mother of God or Domesticated Goddess? Fr. Manfred Hauke
Assumed Into Mother's Arms Carl E. Olson
The Disciple Contemplates the Mother Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis

Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was for over two decades the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II. He is a renowned theologian and author of numerous books. A mini-bio and full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press are available on his Author Page.

U.K. Greens’ Uncivil Disobedience

By Brendan O’Neill
Monday, December 08, 2008

Environmental activists from Plane Stupid protest at Stansted Airport, 40 miles (60 kilometers) from central London, Monday, Dec. 8, 2008. Dozens of environmental activists broke into a secure area of a London airport Monday, chaining themselves to each other and barricading themselves behind fencing in a protest against air-traffic pollution. The activists are opposed to a possible expansion of the airport. Police said that 57 activists were arrested, most on suspicion of trespassing.
(AP Photo/Chris Radburn/PA)

There could be no better snapshot of the elitism, killjoyism, and outright snobbery of the radical environmentalist movement than the protest taking place at Stansted Airport in London today.

Here we have an attempt by a tiny clique of well-to-do eco-protesters — with Middle-England names like Joss, Tamzin, and Lily — to prevent thousands of people from flying abroad, whether for fun, to meet loved ones, or, in one distraught woman’s case, to attend her father’s funeral in the Republic of Ireland. This is the very essence of environmentalism: an aloof effort to police and restrain the desires of the mass of the population.

Protesters from the youthful lobby group Plane Stupid (you said it) stormed the runway at Stansted at 3:15 GMT. They brought with them six-foot-high security fencing, and promptly chained themselves to it. Their aim, they say, is to “draw attention to CO2 emissions from the aviation industry.”

The group’s broader aims are to bring to a halt all airport expansion in the UK, end the “culture” of short-haul flights by demanding better government investment in the rail system, and get rid of “cheap flights” altogether by raising fuel taxes on flying.

This would price out the poorer sections of society, those who have only relatively recently discovered the joys of flying. But then, Plane Stupid and its supporters seem to view these “cheap flyers” — the unspeakable members of the lower orders — as the most noxious and destructive tourists of all. “Our ability to live on the earth is at stake, and for what? So people can have a stag night in Prague,” said Plane Stupid’s erstwhile spokesman Joss Garman, making an effortless link between the debauchery of working-class British lads and the end of the world as we know it.

Plane Stupid backer Caroline Lucas, Member of the European Parliament for the Green Party, has written of the “stratospheric cost of cheap flights” and says we need “an end to cheap stag nights in Riga.” Which is a bit rich coming from a woman who sits in a parliament that shifts itself from Brussels to Strasbourg once a month, involving the transportation of 732 MEPs, 2,000 parliamentary staff, and hundreds of other European officials hundreds of miles by bus, train, and plane at a cost of 209 million Euros each and every time.

The anti-flyers’ instinctive loathing for the holiday spirit, for free movement around the globe, for “cheap people” and their “cheap holidays,” has been on full display at Stansted.

Ryanair (that most despised facilitator of cheap flights) has had to cancel 52 flights as a result of the protest today. And guess what? Not all of Ryanair’s disappointed passengers were planning to indulge in that prurient middle-class eco-nightmare of bachelor parties abroad. One woman, Anita Kelleher, was due to the fly to Ireland for her father’s funeral. She missed it. “I am heartbroken,” she told the BBC.

The anti-flyers’ claim to be acting in the name of science — or “The Science,” as they inevitably describe it, with biblical reverence — does not add up. They conveniently ignore the fact that, according to a comprehensive survey published in The Economist, aviation’s contribution to total manmade emissions worldwide is around 3 percent. That is way behind electricity generation (33.9 percent), industry (18.8 percent), agriculture (7.6 percent), and everyday residential living (7.6 percent).

No, it is not “scientific fact” but a pernicious moralism and misanthropy that makes eco-activists so obsessed with flying. Manmade flight represents humanity’s most naked defiance of nature and its limits, where we take to the skies in the most unnatural way imaginable in order to conquer and explore the globe. And modern airports, with their no-frills airlines and bustling crowds of people thirsting to see the world, represent aspirant consumerism at its most explicit.

This is why the eco-poshos hate flying: it’s clever, arrogant, exploratory, and desirable. And at Stansted today, where 50-odd eco-worthies have prevented thousands from soaring through the skies, we can glimpse, in an undiluted form, a major battle of our times: that between green misanthropy and mass desire.

In response to the protest at Stansted, an environmental writer for the Guardian compared the Plane Stupid protesters to Rosa Parks. What a monumentally historic insult to the U.S. civil-rights movement. Where Parks refused to get out of her bus seat, and went on to organize a mass boycott of buses, in order to increase people’s rights and choices — to increase equal access for everyone to the transport system and beyond — the miserabilists at Stansted fundamentally want to restrict our freedom of movement and limit our choices. If they had been around in 1955, they would probably have started an activist group called “Bus Stop,” ejecting everyone — black and white — from the seats of dirty, polluting buses.

— Brendan O’Neill (a.k.a. Ethan Greenhart) is the editor of spiked and the author of Can I Recycle My Granny? And 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas.

12/08 12:15 PM