Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Daqduq Dilemma

He is an enemy combatant, so treat him as one.

By Andrew C. McCarthy
July 23, 2011

U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner speaks during a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, July 2, 2007. Iran is using the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah as a "proxy" to arm Shiite militants in Iraq and Tehran's elite Quds force helped militants carry out a January attack in Karbala in which five Americans were killed, Bergner said Monday. On screen and at left is the image of a senior Lebanese Hezbollah operative, Ali Mussa Daqduq, who was captured March 20, 2007, in southern Iraq.

An Iran-backed Hezbollah commander who killed American soldiers in cold blood has been in U.S. custody for four years. Most Americans would see this as a good thing. For the Obama administration, it is a vexing dilemma. This highlights, yet again, why the country can’t afford a second Obama administration.

Ali Mussa Daqduq has been a Hezbollah operative for almost 30 years. He is the hardcore. When he joined back in 1983, the “Party of God” (hizb Allah) was just getting its start as Iran’s forward militia in Lebanon, announcing its allegiance to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and killing hundreds of Americans in bombings, abductions, and hijackings that targeted U.S. military personnel, intelligence agents, and civilians. Daqduq quickly climbed the ranks, becoming a top terrorist trainer in an organization so adept that al-Qaeda began taking its instruction in the early 1990s. He rose to command Hezbollah’s most lethal cells and even ran the security detail for its leader, “secretary general” Hassan al-Nasrallah.

It was only natural, then, that Iran turned to Daqduq in 2005 when the mullahs decided to reprise in Iraq the strategy that had worked so well in Lebanon. He was tasked with building an Iraqi version of Hezbollah: a jihadist network that would first use terrorist attacks to sap America’s will to remain in the region and then be poised to seize de facto control of the country — to run Iraq as an Iranian satellite.

It worked like a charm. As Bill Roggio recounts at The Long War Journal, Daqduq partnered with Iran’s deadly special-operations unit, the Quds Force, to set up an intricate web of Shiite terror cells.

Battalions of 20 to 60 recruits were brought to Iranian bases for schooling in close combat tactics, kidnapping, and intelligence collection, while also learning to use explosively formed penetrators, mortars, rockets, and sniper rifles. When their training was complete, they were loosed on Iraq. Fueled by Iranian supplies, they targeted and killed American and allied forces. Most notoriously, they carried out the January 2007 Karbala massacre, in which five American soldiers were killed, four of them as captives, handcuffed and shot before U.S. rescue teams could close in.

Daqduq was captured by American forces two months later. He has been in the custody of our military in Iraq ever since. He is not a defendant. He is not a capo in some Iranian Cosa Nostra family. He is a terrorist enemy of the United States, who has committed atrocities against American soldiers during a war authorized by Congress. Compared with him, most al-Qaeda jihadists are pikers. Hezbollah is as bad as it gets, and Daqduq is as bad as Hezbollah gets.

If one accepts that the object of war is to defeat the enemy, there is no doubt about what must happen here. Under the laws of war, Daqduq is an enemy combatant: He may be detained until the conclusion of hostilities, subjected to trial by military commission, and put to death — or, at the very least, imprisoned for the rest of his life.

These laws of war are codified in American statutes. Candidate Obama may have pined for a return to the law-enforcement approach to counterterrorism (i.e., treating alien enemies as mere defendants entitled U.S. constitutional protections and civilian trials), but President Obama has grudgingly accepted — at least on paper — the need to maintain combatant detention and trial by military commission. In 2009, he signed a cosmetic revamping of the Military Commissions Act (MCA). Under it, unlawful enemy combatants — who are now called “unprivileged enemy belligerents,” lest the use of Bush terminology betray the adoption of Bush methods — may be detained by our armed forces and tried by commission if they have “engaged in” or “purposefully and materially supported” “hostilities against the United States.” The definition fits Duqdaq to a tee.

In saner times, this one would be easy. Daqduq should be transferred to Guantanamo Bay. Once the military determines he is no longer of use for intelligence purposes (we’re told Daqduq talked after originally pretending to be a deaf mute), he should be given a commission trial for war crimes and, upon conviction, executed. If there is a lack of sufficient admissible evidence to try him — if, for example, our knowledge of his atrocities comes from intelligence sources or confessions that can’t be used in a trial — he should be detained indefinitely. Case closed.

But for an administration that has politicized justice more than any in history, nothing is that simple. Displaying his familiar penchant for taking one position in public while unleashing the faceless bureaucracy to undermine it, Obama agreed to military commissions strictly for electoral purposes. By signing the MCA, he pandered to a public strongly opposed to civilian trials for enemy combatants; behind the scenes, though, the Lawyer Left that staffs Obama’s Justice and State Departments works to ensure that commissions will not actually be used — or, at least, that they will be used only when public outcry forces the administration’s hand, as it did in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the 9/11 plotters.

With their water carriers in the legacy press cooperatively mum, administration officials figure few cases will get the kind of attention paid to KSM. They’re right. Rather than authorize a commission trial, Obama released al-Qaeda terrorist Binyam Mohammed to Britain, where he is free. There was nary a peep, even though Mohammed had plotted with convicted terrorist Jose Padilla to carry out a second wave of post-9/11 attacks. Similarly, the Qazali brothers, two of the top Iraqi terrorists trained by Daqduq, were released, even though they were complicit in the Karbala massacre.

Enemy combatants sprung from Gitmo return to the jihad at a very high rate, but administration officials shrug their shoulders and bleat that criminals recidivate all the time. And right now, little is reported about the Obama Justice Department’s efforts to cut the 23-year sentence of Abdurrahman Alamoudi, a Hezbollah and Hamas supporter who financed terrorist organizations and plotted with the Qaddafi regime to kill Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. As long as the Obamedia averts its eyes, the president can chest-beat as the fierce, anti-terrorist slayer of Osama bin Laden, while his minions quietly slip jihadis out the back door.

Daqduq is supposed to be no exception. The Obama administration does not want to transfer him or anyone else to Gitmo, because the president and his base ludicrously claim that the existence of Gitmo causes terrorism.

Similarly, the administration doesn’t want to give him a military commission — after all, the president ran against commissions, and successful military prosecutions would create more public pressure to use the commission system, infuriating Obama’s base. Some administration officials, particularly in the Justice Department, would like to transfer Daqduq to the United States for a civilian trial. They know, however, that Americans would react angrily, as they did when Attorney General Eric Holder tried to orchestrate a Manhattan trial for KSM. With the 2012 election looming, the administration realizes this is not the best time to remind people that the last time DOJ whisked an enemy combatant into Manhattan — Ahmed Ghailani, who helped bomb the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania — a jury acquitted him on 284 out of 285 counts.

In short, the administration is ensnared in a web of its own making. It has politicized terrorist trials just as it has politicized terrorist detention. The latter lunacy means our forces now kill enemy terrorists we’d be better off capturing and interrogating. The former is leading the administration to opt for releasing enemy terrorists — even killers of American troops — so Obama won’t have to hand-wring over whether they get civilian or military prosecution.

The plan was to transfer Daqduq to the Iraqi regime as early as yesterday — without fanfare, the administration hoped, the debt ceiling crisis having saturated news coverage on a mid-summer Friday. But the Associated Press got wind of the transfer, and its brief report provoked outrage. Senate Republicans, joined by independent Joe Lieberman, fired off a letter to secretary of defense Leon Panetta, ballistic at the notion that the United States would surrender “the highest ranking Hezbollah operative currently in our custody.” Inevitably, the senators observed, Daqduq would return to the jihad “to harm and kill more American servicemen and women” when Iraq releases him, as these new “allies” of ours have done with other terrorists.

The unexpected blowback caused the administration to retreat on its release plan . . . at least for the moment. Nevertheless, under the security agreement the Bush administration negotiated with Iraq’s Maliki government, our military will no longer be permitted to detain prisoners in Iraq after the end of this year. Obama cannot vote present on this one: He’ll need to decide whether Daqduq gets military detention and trial outside Iraq, civilian prosecution inside the United States (which would require ignoring the will of Congress, including laws excluding known terrorists from our country), or the release for which Iraq has been clamoring under intense pressure from our Iranian enemy.

For an American president committed to American national interests, this would be a no-brainer. For Obama, it’s a cliffhanger. From how many more cliffs can we afford to hang with this guy?

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

Obama the man without a plan

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
July 22, 2011

Earlier this month, Moody's downgraded Irish government debt to junk. Which left the Irish somewhat peeved. The Department of Finance pointed out that it had met all the "quantitative fiscal targets" imposed by the European Union, and the National Treasury Management Agency said that Ireland was sufficiently flush "to cover all its financing requirements until the end of 2013."

Which is more than the government of the United States can say.

That's not the only difference between the auld sod and America. In Europe, austerity is in the air, and in the headlines: "Italy Fast-Tracks Austerity Vote." "Greek Minister Urges Austerity Consensus." "Portugal To Speed Austerity Measures." "Even Queen Faces Funding Squeeze In Austerity Britain." The word has become so instantly ubiquitous that Leftie deadbeats are already opposed to it: "Austerity Protest Takes Place In Dublin." For the rentamob types, "austerity" is to this decade what "Bush" and "Iraq War" were to the last. It can't be long before grizzled old rockers are organizing some all-star Rock Against Austerity gala.

By contrast, nobody seems minded to "speed austerity measures" over here. The word isn't part of the conversation – even though we're broke on a scale way beyond what Ireland or Portugal could ever dream of. The entire Western world is operating on an unsustainable business model: If it were Borders or Blockbuster, it would be hoping to close the Greek and Portuguese branches but maybe hold on to the Norwegian one. In hard reality, like Borders only the other day, it would probably wind up shuttering them all. The problem is structural: Not enough people do not enough work for not enough of their lives. Developed nations have 30-year-old students and 50-year old retirees, and then wonder why the shrunken rump of a "working" population in between can't make the math add up.

By the way, demographically speaking, these categories – "adolescents" and "retirees" – are an invention of our own time: They didn't exist a century ago. You were a kid till 13 or so. Then you worked. Then you died. As Obama made plain in his threat to Gran'ma last week that the August checks might not go out, funding nonproductivity is now the principal purpose of the modern state. Good luck with that at a time when every appliance in your home is manufactured in Asia.

As I said, these are structural problems. In theory, they can be fixed. But, when you look at the nature of them, you've got to wonder whether they ever will be this side of societal collapse. Blockbuster went bankrupt because it was wedded to a 1980s technology and distribution system. In government, being merely a quarter-century obsolete would be a major achievement. The ruling party in Washington is wedded to the principle that an 80-year-old social program is inviolable: That's like Blockbuster insisting in 2011 that there's no problem with its business model for rentals of silent movies with live orchestral accompaniment. To be sure, there are some problems parking the musicians' bus in residential streets, but nothing that can't be worked out.

But "political reality" operates to different rules from humdrum real reality. Thus, the "debt ceiling" debate is regarded by most Democrats and a fair few Republicans as some sort of ghastly social faux pas by boorish conservatives: Why, everyone knows ye olde debt-limit vote is merely a bit of traditional ceremonial, like the Lord Chancellor walking backwards with the Cap of Maintenance and Black Rod shouting "Hats off, strangers!" at Britain's Opening of Parliament. You hit the debt ceiling, you jack it up a couple trillion, and life goes on – or so it did until these GOP yahoos came along and decided to treat the vote as if it actually meant something.

Obama has done his best to pretend to take them seriously. He claimed to have a $4 trillion deficit-reduction plan. The court eunuchs of the press corps were impressed, and went off to file pieces hailing the president as "the grown-up in the room." There is, in fact, no plan. No plan at all. No plan whatsoever, either for a deficit reduction of $4 trillion or $4.73. As is the way in Washington, merely announcing that he had a plan absolved him of the need to have one. So the president's staff got out the extra-wide teleprompter and wrote a really large number on it, and simply by reading out the really large number the president was deemed to have produced a serious blueprint for trillions of dollars in savings. For his next trick, he'll walk out on to the stage of Carnegie Hall, announce that he's going to play Haydn's Cello Concerto No 2, and, even though there's no cello in sight, and Obama immediately climbs back in his golf cart to head for the links, music critics will hail it as one of the most moving performances they've ever heard.

The only "plan" Barack Obama has put on paper is his February budget. Were there trillions and trillions of savings in that? Er, no. It increased spending and doubled the federal debt.

How about Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader? Has he got a plan? No. The Democratic Senate has shown no interest in producing a budget for two-and-a-half years. Unlike the president, Sen. Reid can't even be bothered pretending he's interested in spending reductions. But he is interested in spending, and, if that's your bag, boring things like budgets only get in the way.

It seems reasonable to conclude from the planlessness and budgetlessness of the Obama/Reid Democrats that their only plan is to carry on spending without limit. Otherwise, someone somewhere would surely have written something down on a piece of paper by now. But no, apparently the Department of Writing Down Plans is the only federal expense the president is willing to cut. You begin to see why the Europeans are a little miffed. They're passing austerity budgets so austere they've spawned an instant anti-austerity movement rioting in the street – and yet they're still getting downgraded by the ratings agencies. In Washington, by contrast, the ruling party of the Brokest Nation in History has no spending plan other than to plan to spend even more – and nobody's downgrading them.

Well, don't worry. It's coming. The domestic media coverage of this story has been almost laughably fraudulent: To the court eunuchs, a failure to raise the debt ceiling by a couple of trillion would signal to the world that American government was embarrassingly dysfunctional. In reality, raising the debt ceiling by a couple of trillion without any spending cuts would confirm to the world that American government is terminally dysfunctional.

In the debt-ridden treasuries of Europe, they're talking "austerity." In the debt-ridden treasury of Washington, they're talking about more spending (Kathleen Sebelius is touting new women's health programs to be made available "without cost.") At the risk (in Samuel Johnson's words) of settling the precedence between a louse and a flea, I think Europe's political discourse is marginally less deranged than ours. The president is said to be "the adult in the room" because he is reported to be in favor of raising the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67.

By the year 2036.

If that's the best offer, there isn't going to be a 2036, not for America. As the Europeans are beginning to grasp, eventually "political reality" collides with real reality. The message from a delusional Washington these last weeks is that it won't be a gentle bump.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Fatal Flaws of Keynesian Economics

By Ron Ross on 7.22.11
The American Spectator

It's now clear that the federal government's massive stimulus spending has not achieved its objectives. Why hasn't it? It's important that we have answers to that question.

The stimulus was premised on the economic model known as Keynesianism: the intellectual legacy of the late English economist John Maynard Keynes . Keynesianism doesn't work, never has worked, and never will work. Without a clear understanding of why Keynesianism cannot work we will be forever doomed to pursuing the impossible.

There's no real mystery about why Keynesianism fails. There are numerous reasons why and they've been known for decades. Keynesians have an unrealistic and unsupportable view of how the economy works and how people make decisions.

Short-Run Focus

Keynesian policy advocates focus primarily on the short run -- with no regard for the future implications of current events -- and they assume that all economic decision-makers do the same. Consider the following quote by John Maynard Keynes: "But the long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean will be flat again."

After passage of the stimulus package, Lawrence Summers , Obama's chief economic advisor at the time, often said that the spending should be "timely, targeted, and temporary." Although those sound like desirable objectives, they illustrate the Keynesian focus on the short term. Sure it would be convenient if you could just spend a bunch of money and make the economy get well, but it's not that simple.

The implication of a Keynesian perspective is that you can hit the economy a few times with a cattle prod and get society back to full employment. Remember that so-called "cash-for-clunkers" program? Maybe it accelerated some new car sales by a month or two, but it had no lasting impact.

The "Chicago School" is the primary source of serious research and analysis related to the Keynesian model. Two Chicago School conclusions, in particular, make it clear where Keynesian policies run aground. The two theories are the "permanent income hypothesis" and the theory of "rational expectations."

The "permanent income hypothesis" was how Milton Friedman termed the findings of his research on the spending behavior of consumers. The MIT Dictionary of Economics defines the permanent income hypothesis as "The hypothesis that the consumption of the individual (or household) depends on his (or its) permanent income. Permanent income may be thought of as the income an individual expects to derive from his work and holdings of wealth during his lifetime."

Whether consumers and investors focus mostly on the short run or the long run is basically an "empirical question." A convincing theoretical case can be made either way. To find out which focus actually conforms closer to reality, you have to gather evidence.

Not Evidence-Based

Much of the difference between the two schools of thought can be explained by differences in their methodologies. Keynes was not known for his research or empirical efforts. Keynesianism is definitely not an evidence-based model of how the economy works. So far as I know, Keynes did no empirical studies. Friedman was a far more diligent researcher and data collector than was Keynes. Friedman fit the theory to the data, rather than vice versa.

The Keynesian disregard for evidence is reflected in their advocacy for more stimulus spending even in the face of the obvious failure of the what's already been spent. At a minimum, we are due an explanation of why it hasn't worked. (Don't expect that to be forthcoming, however).

Failure to Consider Incentives

Another of the Chicago School's broadsides against Keynesianism is the theory of "rational expectations." It's a theory for which the 1995 Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago. As economic theories go, it is relatively straightforward. It essentially states that "individuals use all the available and relevant information when taking a view about the future." (MIT Dictionary of Modern Economics) The rational expectations hypothesis is the simple assertion that individuals take into account their best guesses about the future when they make decisions. That seemingly simple concept has profound implications.

The Chicago School's research led them to conclude that individuals are relatively deliberate and sophisticated in how they make economic choices. Keynesians and their liberal followers apparently think individuals are short-sighted and simple-minded.

An elemental but too often overlooked reality about our economy is that it is based on voluntary exchange. Voluntary exchange is an even more fundamental feature of our economy than is the market. A market is any arrangement that brings buyers and sellers together. In other words, the primary purpose of a market is to make voluntary exchange possible.

Voluntary exchange leaves large amounts of control in the hands of private individuals and businesses. The market relies on carrots rather than sticks, rewards rather than punishment. The actors, therefore, need to be induced to move in certain desired directions rather than simply commanded to do so. This is the basic reason why incentives are such an important part of economics. If not for voluntary exchange, incentives wouldn't much matter.

In designing economic policy in the context of a market economy it becomes important to take into account what actually motivates people and how they make choices. If you want to change behavior in a voluntary exchange economy, you have to change incentives. Keynesian policies do not take that essential step.

The federal government's share of GDP has gone from 19 percent to 24 percent during Obama's time in the White House. A larger government share of GDP ultimately necessitates higher taxes or more debt. In and of themselves, higher taxes retard economic growth because of their impact on incentives. The disincentive effect of higher taxes illustrates why big government is far costlier than it first appears.

It's no accident that Keynesianism is so popular with liberals. It blends well with their unquenchable thirst for expansive government. It doesn't work for the economy but it works for them. The obvious failure of Keynesianism is further evidence of the bankruptcy of liberalism.

Keynesianism is essentially all the Democrats have. It's a one-trick pony. That one trick hasn't worked and now Dems are floundering with nothing more to offer.

All but one member of the president's original economic team has exited. According to liberal columnist Ezra Klein , "Lawrence Summers and Christina Romer were two of the most influential Keynesians in the country. Obama didn't just have a team of Keynesians. He had a Keynesian all-star team."

Now the president has a Keynesian all-gone team. It will be a brighter day for the country when Keynesianism itself is gone for good.

Ron Ross Ph.D. is an economist who lives in Arcata, California. He is the author of The Unbeatable Market. Reach him at

Review: Let’s Hear It for ‘Captain America’

by Mark Tapson
July 22, 2011

A year ago Big Hollywood’s John Nolte expressed his “predictable heartbreak,” and I did likewise, over disappointing interview comments by Captain America: The First Avenger director Joe Johnston. They seemed desperately designed to reassure his patriotism-hating peers in Hollywood that his superhero “wants to serve his country, but he’s not this sort of jingoistic American flag-waver. He’s just a good person.”

As recently as last week, the film’s star Chris Evans chimed in with more apologies about his intrinsically patriotic character. “He might wear the red, white and blue, but I don’t think this is all about America. It is what America stands for. It could be called ‘Captain Good.’” You read that right. Captain Good.

The Los Angeles Times echoed the hand-wringing that a film with “America” in the title and a protagonist swathed in red, white, and blue might not be groveling enough to suit their leftist self-loathing:
Of course, setting ‘Captain America’ in the storied past [WWII] helps avoid some of the more charged political questions that accompany releasing a patriotically themed production around the world at a time when the U.S. is perceived in certain places as somewhat less than heroic.
As I settled in my seat for a screening of Captain America (next to my esteemed Big Hollywood colleague Alex Marlow, who posted his own review yesterday), my expectations – based on all the preemptive apologies from the filmmakers and critics – was that I was about to witness Hollywood’s ruination of the most iconic of American comic book heroes.

I’m not a fanboy steeped enough in the Marvel mythology to judge whether or not Captain America betrays the comic-book purists in the audience, so I’ll leave that aspect to other reviewers. My only interest was in answering what Big Hollywood readers’ inquiring minds want to know: Is Captain America a stirring action flick or a dud? Can conservatives enjoy it without reservation, or is it spring-loaded with the usual anti-American sucker punches we document so often on this site?

Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, a 90-lb. asthmatic whose 4F physical status prevents him from fulfilling his driving desire to help combat the Nazi menace. “There are men laying down their lives. I can’t do any less,” says the selfless, determined son of a dead war hero. Then a defected German scientist (Stanley Tucci) selects Rogers for an experimental serum that transforms him into an insanely buff secret weapon – but the powers that be don’t quite know what to do with him. So Rogers ends up instead in tights as “the Star-Spangled Man” on a humiliating USO tour at home and abroad, peddling war bonds.

After he proves his mettle by seizing the opportunity to rescue hundreds of American POWs, he’s suited up in a battle-ready version of his USO outfit with an impenetrable Star-Spangled shield. He sets forth to confront the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), a Nazi megalomaniac with even bigger ambitions than Hitler, and who has acquired a mysterious power that threatens to lay waste to American cities. Big action ensues.

Enough synopsis, you say – does the film get a thumbs-up or not? I think this dismissive description from The Hollywood Reporter unwittingly says it best:
Sticking to its simplistic, patriotic origins, where a muscular red, white and blue GI slugging Adolf Hitler in the jaw is all that’s required, Captain America trafficks in red-blooded heroes, dastardly villains, classy dames and war-weary military officers.
Indeed it does. And hooray for that. As I alluded to above, perhaps Johnston’s and Evans’ apologetic comments were intended to deflect the scorn of their peers; in any case, the end result is a straightforward tale of heroes, villains, and dames that is action-packed, fun, visually stylish, and about as patriotic as Hollywood is currently capable of.
And I believe that’s what accounts for the tepid response of some critics thus far. Some, for example, are complaining that Evans doesn’t deliver, or is incapable of, a multi-layered performance. But he more than convincingly handles what the material requires – a square-jawed, unconflicted hero, and that is precisely what irks reviewers like the one at The Hollywood Reporter, who complains that “there is no ambiguity here. Nor does any superhero question his powers.”

Though they certainly don’t think of it this way, the Left loves to see the world entirely in shades of gray because it justifies their moral relativism. They use condescending coded language like “simplistic” or “not nuanced” or “no ambiguity” when confronted with the more conservative world view of moral standards. In an article I wish I’d written, Big Hollywood’s John Nolte really gets it right about the Left’s sneering resentment toward “simplistic” values like patriotism and bravery:
What the Left despises about themes that lift the human spirit is that they’re more often than not, conservative themes — themes of self-sacrifice, selflessness, fidelity, manhood, bravery, and nobility.
Exactly. And all those qualities are not only present in Captain America, they’re celebrated. And that rubs left-leaning reviewers the wrong way. THR and their ilk may prefer their protagonists to be more “complex,” by which they mean morally murky, nihilistic anti-heroes, but I think it’s refreshing to see an heroic lead who isn’t riddled with moral self-doubt or reluctant to wield his power for Good against unambiguous Evil.

And yet the point is that Rogers is no superhero. “What makes you so special?” the Red Skull wonders about his unflinching adversary. “Nothing,” Cap replies. “I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.” In other words, I’m just an ordinary American – we’re all like this, or at least all capable of this. And indeed, Cap’s not the only hero here. Every American soldier in the film – and yes, as Marlow notes, they come in all colors – is a rip-roaring, hard-drinking, Nazi-ass-kicking hero in his own right. One of the most stirring moments in the film comes when Captain America comes over the horizon leading 400 escaped American POWs, all of whom fought their way out alongside Cap, every one of them marching back to camp with head held high and ready to go back into action. There may not be any flags visible in that scene, but it speaks volumes about American soldiers and the undeniable, indomitable American spirit.
My Big Hollywood teammate Alex Marlow felt that the filmmakers injected mini-sucker punches that subvert any patriotism or belief in American exceptionalism. For example, he writes that the line that best sums up the movie comes when Tucci’s character asks Steve Rogers, “Do you want to kill Nazis?” And Rogers replies, “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies.” But standing up to bullies, Marlow writes, is not a specifically American characteristic.

I must disagree. What other country in the world has always been counted on to stand up to bullies? China? Paraguay? Denmark? Zimbabwe? What has been the hallmark of American history, internationally speaking, from our very inception if not standing up to bullies? I think there is a different line that best sums up the movie, one that greatly surprised me in light of director Johnston’s previous assurances that Cap’s not a flag-waver. It comes when Cap and his nemesis are facing off, and the Red Skull says, “I have seen the future – there are no flags.” “Not in my future,” Cap retorts.

Why have that exchange of dialogue if not to assert Captain America’s pride in and devotion to the Stars and Stripes? Cap may not run around waving an American flag, but there’s no escaping the red, white and blue of his shield, a symbol crucial to Cap’s very identity, and essentially his sole weapon apart from his fists. Every time he uses that shield to ward off bullets or flame, every time he slams or slices an enemy with it, it’s an unmistakable reminder that he’s wielding American power in the service of Good against Evil.

The supporting cast is almost uniformly strong. Weaving, perhaps best known as the eerie and relentless Agent Smith in The Matrix, is charismatic – and yes, as uncomplicated as Rogers – as the evil visionary with an accent that hisses like a snake. Voluptuous British actress Haley Atwell is ideally cast as Rogers’ romantic interest Peggy Carter for this period piece; a strong ‘40s-style dame, she’s equally comfortable busting a loudmouth soldier’s jaw and busting out of a show-stopping red dress. Tommy Lee Jones hits perfect comic notes as the grizzled warrior who doesn’t want to give the scrawny Steve Rogers a chance or Peggy Carter a break.

The costuming and set design are simultaneously retro and futuristic, which works more often than not, particularly in the military design of Cap’s uniform.

Not that the film doesn’t have problems. Evans’ hair stays impossibly un-mussed. The normally fine actor Stanley Tucci is unconvincing as both a scientist and a German – his accent is embarrassing compared to Weaving’s. The shift from the WWII era into contemporary times broke the spell for me. And tragically, Atwell’s red dress is featured in only one scene.

If you’re looking for nuance and a protagonist with an agonized dark side, there are other choices out there. But if you want to enjoy a rousing, fast-paced movie that features some exciting action, red-blooded American heroes, dastardly villains, classy dames and war-weary military officers, then, to quote Steve Rogers’ best friend Bucky, “Let’s hear it for Captain America!”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

U2's 360° tour dazzles Meadowlands crowd

The Bergen County Record
July 21, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JULY 20: (L-R) U2 bass player Adam Clayton, guitar player The Edge and lead singer Bono perform at the New Meadowlands Stadium on July 20, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.(Getty Images)

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper, folded in quarters. Someone handed it to Bono before the show. It was a copy of an old U2 set list, he said, a set list that dated back 30 years.

“A club called the Fast Lane,” Bono told the crowd. “I don’t know if it’s still there? Is it gone?”

Someone shouted an answer from the floor.

“It’s gone?” Bono asked. “OK. Well, we’re still here.”

He unfolded the piece of paper and began to rattle off the list of songs

“This won’t take long,” he said. “It wasn’t many songs.”

The tour is 360° — a reference to the shape of the stage — but 180° would be a better fit. U2’s Wednesday night show at New Meadowlands Stadium was a reminder of the distance a band can travel in 30 years. As much as Bono tried to dip his fingers in the pleasant waters of nostalgia, this show was a 180-degree shift from that three-decades-old night on the Jersey Shore.

Less like a concert, more like a planetarium show, U2 put on a spectacle unlike any Exit 16W has ever seen. The stage had bridges, and both guitarists used those bridges. The stage had a ring that encircled it, and the lead singer ran laps around it. The set had lights, and wow, did they use those lights.

Visually, the show was a masterpiece. A more polished performance than the band’s last trip through here (Giants Stadium, 2009), the special effects wizards clearly picked up a few new tricks.

A few examples:

•During the band’s first song, “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” the mixture of smoke and red lights made the top of the stage look like a lighthouse and made the band look even more towering.

•During the band’s second song, “The Fly,” the stage looked like an experiment in stop-motion photography.

•During the band’s fourth song, “Until the End of the World,” spotlights followed Bono, the Edge and Adam Clayton as they walked around the stage.

How big has this band become? The group even had a commander from the International Space Station tailor a message specifically for this night, this crowd, before he introduced “Beautiful Day” on the big screen.

Musically, there were bright spots and blips.

Some songs — like “Mysterious Ways” — took a detour from the album version. Other songs — like the newer but equally entertaining “Magnificent” — were more like replicas from the album. Both worked.

But there were times that the guitars sounded screechy (“The Fly,” for instance). And just before “Stay,” Bono interrupted a conversation with the crowd to switch outfits. Odd. Seconds later, the Edge confessed that he had to retune his guitar. Even odder.

Other moments made up for it. Bono, ever the performer, prowled the stage and sounded like a spoken-word poet during “Mysterious Ways.” He even poked fun at himself.

“As for me, I haven’t changed much,” Bono told the crowd during one break. “Just 200 trucks, 400 tons of equipment and 95,000 people and I’m happy.”

The band closed with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Walk On” before returning to the stage and kicking off the encore with “One,” a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

Delayed a year, this show was originally penciled in for last summer, before Bono’s creaky back forced the band to scrap a season of stadium shows.

A gargantuan tour by every measure — revenue, stage size, musicianship and ego — the U2 360 degrees tour is finally inching toward its conclusion. The band has gigs in Minneapolis and Pittsburgh before wrapping up its road run at the Magnetic Hill Music Festival in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Interpol opened for U2, playing about 10 songs, including “Narc,” “The Heinrich Maneuver” and “C’mere.” The band has a knack for piecing together inviting opening lines — “How are things on the West Coast?” — that prime the crowd for the songs that follow.


Set list

Even Better Than the Real Thing
The Fly
Mysterious Ways
Until the End of the World
I Will Follow
Get on Your Boots
Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Beautiful Day
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Miss Sarajevo
City of Blinding Light
I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk On


Where the Streets Have No Name

Second encore

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender
Out of Control

This Is No Time for Games

Ronald Reagan wouldn’t be playing ‘Targeted Catastrophe.’

By Peggy Noonan
The Wall Street Journal
July 15, 2011

Looked at one way, it shouldn’t be hard. Both parties in Washington have every reason to want to prove they possess the baseline political competence to meet the government’s central and pending crisis, which is the spending crisis. Both parties should be eager to reach a debt ceiling agreement, if only to prove the system isn’t broken. Because really, they are the system. If it’s broken, they’re broken, and if they’re broken, who needs them?

So you’d think the hangman’s noose would have concentrated their minds. Instead, of course, it’s a battle. As this is written, the president seems to have the edge. But if he wins—whatever winning looks like—he’ll likely pay a price for his political victory. He usually does. He won on health care, which ruined his first two years in office and sharply accelerated the decline in his popularity.


The issues of spending and taxes should be decoupled. The spending crisis is what’s going on and demands attention now; it’s because of out-of-control spending that we are up against the debt ceiling. Taxes—whether to raise them on the wealthy, whether to reform the tax code and how—can’t be satisfyingly dealt with in the next few weeks. It is gameful of the White House to obscure the central crisis by focusing on a secondary one. The American people have very interesting thoughts and views on taxes, and in no way is it certain that this issue will always favor the Republicans. There’s an election in 2012, we can argue it through from now to then.

A central problem for Republicans is that they’re trying to do everything—cut spending, fight off tax increases, win national support—from the House. The House is probably not enough to win a fight like this. In the words of a conservative strategist, Republicans have one bullet and the Democrats have three: the presidency, the Senate, and a mainstream media generally willing to accept the idea that the president is the moderate in the fight.

The president is in the better position, and he knows it. Majority Leader Eric Cantor reports Mr. Obama went into enough-is-enough mode during White House talks this week, warned Mr. Cantor not to call his bluff, and ended the meeting saying: “Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting here?” I’m glad Reagan is his model for how presidents should comport themselves, but he should know Reagan never tried to scare people into doing things his way. Instead he tried to encourage support, and with a light touch. When locked in battle with a Democratic Congress he didn’t go on TV and make threats. He didn’t say, “Congress needs to know we must rebuild our defense system, and if they don’t, your children will die in a fiery hail of Soviet bullets.”

That was—how to put it?—not his style. It’s not any president’s style. But it’s what Mr. Obama was doing when he told CBS’s Scott Pelley that he isn’t sure there will be “money in the coffers” to send out Social Security checks. Soon he may be saying there won’t be money in the coffers to let students return to college or to pay servicemen. The president is playing Targeted Catastrophe. He’s attempting to agitate and frighten people into calling their congressmen and saying Don’t Cut Anything, Raise Taxes on Millionaires.

Three weeks of Targeted Catastrophe could be pretty effective. But if the president wins this way, there will be residual costs. He will have scared America and shook it up, all for a political victory. That will not add to affection or regard for the president. Centrists and independents, however they react in terms of support, will not think more highly of him.

Which gets me, briefly, to the latest poll on whether Americans think we’re on the right track or wrong track as a nation. The wrong-track number hit 63% this month, up from 60% last month, according to Reuters/Ipsos, which laid the increase to pessimism about the economy and “prolonged gridlock in Washington.”

Fair enough. But there’s more to be said about the nation the president seems to be busy agitating. It’s always assumed the right track/wrong track numbers are about the economy, which makes sense because economic facts are always in the forefronts of everyone’s minds. Will I get laid off, can I pay the bills, can my business survive?

But there are other reasons for American unease, and in a way some are deeper and more pervasive. Some are cultural. Here are only two. Pretty much everyone over 50 in America feels on some level like a refugee. That’s because they were born in one place—the old America—and live now in another. We’re like immigrants, whether we literally are or not. One of the reasons America has always celebrated immigrants is a natural, shared knowledge that they left behind everything they knew to enter a place that was different—different language, different ways and manners, different food and habits, different tempo. This took courage. They missed the old country. There’s a line in a Bernard Shaw play, “Mrs. Warren’s Profession”: “I kept myself lonely for you!” That is the unspoken sentence of all immigrants toward their children—I made myself long for an old world so you could have a better one.

But everyone over 50 in America feels a certain cultural longing now. They hear the new culture out of the radio, the TV, the billboard, the movie, the talk show. It is so violent, so sexualized, so politicized, so rough. They miss the old America they were born into, 50 to 70 years ago. And they fear, deep down, that this new culture, the one their children live in, isn’t going to make it. Because it is, in essence, an assaultive culture, from the pop music coming out of the rental car radio to the TSA agent with her hands on your kids’ buttocks. We are increasingly strangers here, and we fear for the future. There are, by the way, 100 million Americans over 50. A third of the nation. That’s a lot of displaced people. They are part of the wrong-track numbers.

So is this. In the Old America there were a lot of bad parents. There always are, because being a parent is hard, and not everyone has the ability or even the desire. But in the old America you knew it wasn’t so bad, because the culture could bring the kids up. Inadequate parents could sort of say, “Go outside and play in the culture,” and the culture—relatively innocent, and boring—could be more or less trusted to bring the kids up. Popular songs, the messages in movies—all of it was pretty hopeful, and, to use a corny old word, wholesome. Grown-ups now know you can’t send the kids out to play in the culture, because the culture will leave them distorted and disturbed. And there isn’t less bad parenting now than there used to be. There may be more.

There is so much unease and yearning and sadness in America. So much good, too, so much energy and genius. But it isn’t a country anyone should be playing games with, and adding to the general sense of loss.


Mark Steyn on the World
Wednesday, 20 July 2011

from National Review

The other day, Abdul Qadir Fitrat, the governor of Afghanistan’s central bank, fled the country. The only wonder is that there aren’t more fleeing. Not Afghans; central bankers. I mean, you gotta figure that throughout the G-20 there are more than a few with the vague but growing feeling that the jig’s up big time.

Round about the time the Afghan central banker was heading for the hills, the Greek central banker ventured some rare criticisms of his government. “Piling more taxes on taxpayers has reached its limit,” said Giorgos Provopoulos. The alleged austerity measures do not “place enough emphasis on the containment of spending.”

Members of Communist Party of Greece (KKE) protest on the Acropolis hill against the IMF bailout, and its associated austerity measures. Photograph: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images (May 2010)

All very sensible. Prudent and measured. Outside, in the streets of Athens, strikers struck, rioters rioted, and an already shrunken tourism industry dwindled down to an international press corps anxious to get on with societal collapse. “We don’t want your money, Europe,” declared a protesting “youth,” Iamando, 36. “Leave us alone — please, please, please.”

I would bet that, somewhere not too deep down, Giorgos Provopoulos understands that the problem is not the Greek economy or the Greek government but the Greek people. Many years ago in this space, I quoted the line Gerald Ford liked to use when trying to ingratiate himself with conservative audiences: “A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.” And I suggested there was an intermediate stage: A government big enough to give you everything you want isn’t big enough to get you to give any of it back. That’s the stage Greece is at and so, to one degree or another, is the rest of the Western world. In the United States, our democracy is trending as Athenian as the rest: We’re the Brokest Nation in History, but, as those Medicare polls suggest, getting enough people to give enough of it back isn’t going to be any easier than it is in Greece. From Athens to Madison, Wis., too many people have gotten used to a level of comfort and ease they haven’t earned.

It’s not a green-eyeshade issue. The inability to balance the books is a symptom of more profound structural imbalances. Over on the Mediterranean, the only question that matters is: Are the Greek people ready to get real? Most of us, including Mr. Provopoulos, have figured out the answer to that.

Since Obama took office, it’s been fashionable to quote Mrs. Thatcher’s great line: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” But we’re way beyond that. That’s a droll quip when you’re on mid-20th-century European fertility rates, but we’ve advanced to the next stage: We’ve run out of other people, period. Hyper-rationalist technocrats introduced at remarkable speed a range of transformative innovations — welfare, feminism, mass college education, abortion — whose cumulative effect a few decades on is that the developed world has developed to breaking point: Not enough people do not enough work for not enough of their lives. In the course of so doing, they have fewer children later. And the few they do have leave childhood ever later — Obamacare’s much heralded “right” for a 26-year old to remain on his parents’ health insurance being merely a belated attempt to catch up with the Europeans, and one sure to be bid up further.

A society of 25-year-old “children” whiling away the years till early middle age in desultory pseudo-education has no desire to fund its prolonged adolescence by any kind of physical labor, so huge numbers of unskilled Third World immigrants from the swollen favelas of Latin America or (in Europe) the shanty megalopolises of the Muslim world are imported to cook, clean, wash, build, do. On the Continent, the shifting rationale for mass immigration may not illuminate much about the immigrants but it certainly tells you something about the natives: Originally, European leaders said, we needed immigrants to work in the mills and factories. But the mills and factories closed. So the new rationale was that we needed young immigrants to keep the welfare state solvent. But in Germany the Turks retire even younger than the Krauts do, and in France 65 percent of imams are on the dole. So the surviving rationale is that a dependence on mass immigration is not a structural flaw but a sign of moral virtue. The evolving justification for post-war immigration policy — from manufacturing to welfare to moral narcissism — is itself a perfect shorthand for Western decay.

Most of the above doesn’t sound terribly “fiscal,” because it’s not. The ruinous debt is a symptom of our decline, not the cause. As Angela Merkel well understands every time she switches on the TV and sees a news report from Greece, culture trumps economics. I had a faintly surreal conversation with two Hollywood liberal pals not so long ago: One moment they were bemoaning all those right-wing racists like Pat Buchanan who’d made such a big deal about the crowd cheering for the Mexican team and booing the Americans at a U.S.–Mexico soccer match in Pasadena, and deploring the way the U.S. goalie had complained that the post-match ceremony was conducted entirely in Spanish. Ten minutes later they were sighing that nothing in Los Angeles seemed to work quite as well as it did when they first came out west over 40 years ago.

And it never occurred to them that these two conversational topics might somehow be connected.

Meanwhile, at Redwood Heights Elementary in Oakland, Californian kindergartners are put through “Gender Spectrum Diversity Training” in order to teach them that there are “more than two genders.”

The social capital of a nation is built up over centuries but squandered in a generation or two. With blithe self-confidence, the post-war West changed too much too fast. We changed everything, and yet we’ll still wonder why everything’s changed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


By Ann Coulter
July 20, 2011

In December 1996, a Florida couple, John and Alice Martin, who sounded suspiciously like union goons, claimed to have inadvertently tapped into a phone conversation between then House Speaker Newt Gingrich and House Republican leadership.

According to these Democratic and union activists, they were just driving around with a police scanner in their car, picked up a random phone conversation and said to themselves, "Wait a minute! I could swear that's Dick Armey's voice!"

Luckily, they also had a tape recorder and cassette in their car, so they proceeded to illegally record the intercepted conversation and then turned the tape over to Democratic Rep. James McDermott -- the top Democrat on the Ethics Committee that was at that very moment investigating Gingrich.

Although they swore they had no idea that what they were doing was a crime, in their cover letter to McDermott, they requested immunity -- just as you probably do whenever you write somebody a letter. (They later pleaded guilty to a crime under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.)

McDermott promptly turned the tape over to The New York Times and other newspapers. The Times' headline on the story, "Gingrich Is Heard Urging Tactics in Ethics Case," might as well have been titled: "Tape Shows Gingrich Conspiring to Act Within the Law."

John Boehner, one of the participants in the Gingrich call, sued McDermott for violating his First Amendment rights, which resulted in a court ordering McDermott to pay Boehner more than $1 million.

And yet, more than a dozen news organizations, many of the same ones demanding the death penalty for Rupert Murdoch right now, filed amicus briefs defending McDermott's distribution of the pirated tape.

Needless to say, the Times ferociously defended its own publication of the hacked phone call, arguing that it would be unconstitutional to punish the publication of information, no matter how obtained.

So it's strange to see these defenders of the press's right to publish absolutely anything get on their high horses about British tabloid reporters, operating under a different culture and legal system, hacking into cell phones.

Not only that, but they are demanding that the CEO of the vast, multinational corporation that owned the tabloids be severely punished.

This is because the CEO is Rupert Murdoch and Murdoch owns Fox News.

The entire mainstream media are fixated on Murdoch's imagined role in the Fleet Street phone-hacking story -- the only topic more boring than the debt ceiling -- solely in order to pursue their petty vendetta against Fox News, which liberals hate with the hot, hot heat of a thousand suns.

Every guest on MSNBC is asked the same question: Is it possible to believe that Murdoch was unaware of what some reporters at News of the World were doing? How can a network that employs Chris Matthews be unfamiliar with the concept of a "rogue employee"?

In fact, it's quite easy to believe Murdoch was unaware of what News of the World reporters were doing -- particularly considering the striking absence of any evidence to the contrary.

Murdoch is an American who owns television networks, satellite operations and newspapers all over the world. As he said in his testimony this week, News Corp. has 53,000 employees and, until its recent demise, News of the World amounted to a grand total of 1 percent of News Corp.'s operations.

Why wasn't Les Moonves responsible for CBS anchor Dan Rather trying to throw the 2004 presidential election with phony National Guard documents one month before the election? Moonves was president, CEO and director of CBS, a company with half as many employees as News Corp. And his rogue employee constituted a much bigger part of CBS' business than News of the World did of the Murdoch empire.

And yet no one asked if Moonves was aware that his network was about to accuse a sitting president of shirking his National Guard duty. Moonves wasn't dragged before multiple congressional panels. Nor was MSNBC tracking his every bowel movement on live TV. No one remembers the biggest media scandal of the last 30 years as "The Les Moonves Scandal."

What about all the illegally obtained information regularly printed in the Times? Was Pinch Sulzberger unaware his newspaper was publishing classified government documents illegally obtained by Julian Assange?

Did he know that in 2006 the Times published illegally leaked classified documents concerning a government program following terrorists' financial transactions; that in 2005 it revealed illegally obtained information about a top-secret government program tracking phone calls connected to numbers found in Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's cell phone; and, that, in 1997, the paper published an illegally obtained phone call between Newt Gingrich and Republican leaders?

If only Murdoch's minions had hacked into the phones of George Bush, Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, liberals would be submitting his name to the pope for sainthood.

But now the rest of us have to watch while the mainstream media pursue their personal grudge against Rupert Murdoch for allowing Fox News to exist. They demand his head for owning a British tabloid where some reporters used illegally obtained information, something The New York Times does defiantly on a regular basis.


Rise of the Evangelical Catholic Bishops

Gospel without compromise, joyfully lived, replaces Catholic Lite.

By George Weigel
July 20, 2011 3:00 P.M.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput (Denver Post)

When Pope Benedict XVI appointed the archbishop of Denver, Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M.Cap., as the new archbishop of Philadelphia on July 19, the usual suspects were trotted out to say the usual things that the usual suspects say.

Thus David Clohessy of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, continued his nine-year rant against the Catholic Church by pronouncing Chaput’s record on abuse (which virtually everyone else finds admirable) “dismal.” But then David Clohessy would likely have found St. John Chrysostom, St. Charles Borromeo, or Chaput’s 19th-century predecessor in Philadelphia, St. John Neumann, “dismal,” because if you’re the New York Times’s go-to guy for anti-Catholic-hierarchy sexual-abuse soundbites, that’s what you say. As for Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., the former editor of America magazine made his own priorities rather clear in fretting to the Philadelphia Inquirer that Chaput would “be a real pain in the neck for the Democratic Party.” (Bob Casey the Less, you have been warned!)

Just about every story on the Chaput appointment identified the archbishop as a “conservative” (because he believes and teaches as true what the Catholic Church believes and teaches to be true); just about every story claimed that Chaput was a tough guy when it came to holding Catholic politicians accountable for their votes on abortion and the nature of marriage (while completely missing the fact that Chaput had consistently made genuinely public arguments, not uniquely Catholic theological claims, about the inalienable right to life and marriage rightly understood); and of course every story emphasized abuse, abuse, abuse (as if this were the only reality of Catholic life in America).

All of this is tiresome, if wholly predictable; both its tediousness and its predictability help explain why it’s the rare discerning reader who turns to the mainstream media for serious reportage about and analysis of the Catholic Church. In this case, however, the same-old-same-old also obscured what is truly important about the Chaput appointment — which is not the archbishop’s Potawatomi ancestry (interesting as that is) but his place as one of the most vigorous exponents of what might be called Evangelical Catholicism.

Archbishop Chaput put it best himself in an exclusive interview with Catholic News Agency: “The biggest challenge, not just in Philadelphia but everywhere, is to preach the Gospel. . . . We need to have confidence in the Gospel, we have to live it faithfully, and to live it without compromise and with great joy.”

That formulation — the Gospel without compromise, joyfully lived — captures the essence of the Evangelical Catholicism that is slowly but steadily replacing Counter-Reformation Catholicism in the United States. The usual suspects are living in an old Catholic paradigm: They’re stuck in the Counter-Reformation Church of institutional maintenance; they simply want an institution they can run with looser rules, closely aligned with the Democratic party on the political left — which is precisely why they’re of interest to their media megaphones. Archbishop Chaput, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, and other rising leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States are operating out of a very different paradigm — and in doing so, they’re the true heirs of both the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II.

The Council put the Gospel and its proclamation at the center of Catholic life. John Paul II, in his apostolic letter published at the end of the Great Jubilee of 2000, challenged the entire Church to leave the stagnant shallows of institutional maintenance and put out into the deep waters of post-modernity, preaching Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that is every human life. In his 1991 encyclical Redemptoris Missio [The Mission of the Redeemer], John Paul insisted that the Church doesn’t have a mission, as if “mission” were one among a dozen things the Catholic Church does. No, John Paul taught, the Church is a mission, such that everything and everyone in the Church ought to be measured by what the management types would call mission-effectiveness.

The old warhorses of the post–Vatican II debates, on either end of the Catholic spectrum, don’t get this; they’re still mud-wrestling within the old paradigm. But Archbishop Charles Chaput gets it, big time. That, and the effective work of his predecessor, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, is what has made the archdiocese of Denver what is arguably the model Evangelical Catholic diocese in the country: a Church brimming with excitement over the adventure of the Gospel, a Church attracting some of the sharpest young Catholics in America to its services, a Church fully engaged in public life while making genuinely public arguments about the first principles of democracy.

This is the vision that Archbishop Chaput is bringing to Philadelphia, and it has virtually nothing to do with “agendas” as the usual suspects understand agendas. Of course that vision includes addressing serious problems of sexual abuse. The old clericalism that protected perpetrators in various dioceses created serious legal problems for the institutional Church; but it was also, and even more importantly from an evangelical point of view, a terrible impediment to preaching the Gospel and attracting people to friendship with Jesus Christ. It’s his palpable commitment to the latter — to the project of unapologetic evangelism — that will give Archbishop Chaput credibility in cleaning up what needs cleaning up and in healing what can be healed in Philadelphia.

And this is something else the usual suspects miss. The usual suspects’ answer to clerical sexual abuse has been, is, and seems likely to remain the transformation of Catholicism into Catholic Lite. But in situation after situation — Phoenix and Denver being two prime examples — it’s been the Gospel without compromise, joyfully lived, that has turned abuse disaster areas into vibrant Catholic centers where public confidence in the Church’s credibility has been restored. Where Catholic Lite has been adopted as the solution to the problems Catholic Lite helped cause — as in Boston — the meltdown that began in 2002 continues.

With the appointment of Charles J. Chaput as archbishop of Philadelphia, the deep reform of the Catholic Church in the United States — the reform that is giving birth to Evangelical Catholicism even as it leaves the old post–Vatican II arguments fading into the rear-view mirror — has been accelerated.

— George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. His weekly column, “The Catholic Difference,” is syndicated by the archdiocese of Denver.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Portrait of a Spy

By Elise Cooper
July 19, 2011

Many think of novels as being purely fictitious. Portrait of a Spy, Daniel Silva's latest, is a superb story. His goal is to write an entertaining book, yet one based on reality. This is an exciting, action-packed thriller that takes the reader on a journey through such locales as England, Paris, Washington DC, Saudi Arabia, and New York. It examines the important issues of the day that include terrorism, Islamic women's rights, and the two faces of Saudi Arabia. He discussed his book with American Thinker.

The first few chapters explore the potential terrorist strategy: multiple suicide bombings, with conventional weapons, that take place in different European cities, for the purpose of creating fear. Paris was chosen because the facial veil was banned; Copenhagen because of the cartoons depicting Mohammed; and London because it has become an easy target. The novel is based on reality: former CIA Director Michael Hayden remarked to American Thinker that the new terrorist strategy will be "less sophisticated, less well organized, less likely to be lethal, if they do succeed, more numerous."

In this book the characters definitely drive the plot. The main male character in Silva's last eleven novels is Gabriel Allon, named after the Archangel. He is a semi-retired Israeli operative that works closely with the American and British intelligence with a cover as an art restorer. This character is extremely well-developed and becomes a very likable figure through the understanding of his desires, fears, and apprehensions. On the surface the reader might think that an operative and art restorer are not compatible. However, Silva artfully combines the two by explaining in the book that Allon "believed it was the duty of a restorer to come and go without being seen, leaving no evidence of his presence ... standing before the easel, he had total control."

The main female character is a moderate Muslim, Nadia al-Bakari, who steps up to the plate to ensure that the extremists do not prevail. Silva explained that he created this character based on the "influence of the Christ story and pulled a lot from the Biblical text. I wanted to make her a Christ-like figure." Terrorism was only a backdrop in this plot, with the main story focusing on a very brave, courageous woman who wants to change the Islamic world. She is recruited by Allon as an operative to help bring down a Yemen Al Qaeda-like network led by an American cleric.

Anyone who is skeptical about Nadia's ability to change the landscape must think back to the 1990s where the Protestant and Catholic women took charge to forge a peace in Northern Ireland. The theme of the book is that change must come but it will come only from within the Islamic world, which is what Nadia represents. She is a moderating influence, a reformer, who is disgusted that Islamic women are denied basic human rights. Silva explained, "Women of the Arab Islamic world are the key to change since they represent more than half of the population. Yet, they sit on the sidelines, living under the veil." He hammered the point home by this quote in the book: "Nadia al-Bakari, one of the world's richest women, would have the rights of a camel. Fewer, she thought resentfully, for even a camel was permitted to show its face in public."

Anyone disgusted with the biased media will find Zoe Reed an interesting character. She is described in the book as an "orthodox left-wing journalist" who combats her core values with the realism of the world. Silva in a statement made by Allon, points out that being politically correct comes at a price: "Do you still think we should fight these monsters in ways that don't compromise your core values? Or would you like to return briefly to the real world and help us save innocent lives?"

The antagonist, an American cleric living in Yemen, Rashid al-Husseini, sounds very similar to Anwar al-Awlaki. Silva told American Thinker that he wanted his character to resemble the real Yemen cleric, al-Awlaki, who was "preaching in a Mosque five miles from my house. I looked at the record and in my mind there is no question that this guy was connected to 9/11. After 9/11 he was the voice of moderation and now he is this raging lunatic. I am sorry but I don't believe it; he was always like that and was lying to us earlier."

Furthermore, in this novel Rashid was being supported with Saudi money and the double game of Saudi intelligence that appears to be combating the jihadists while at the same time supporting them. When asked about the Saudi attitude, Silva replied that people should have "no illusions about Saudi Arabia. It is a classic straddling state just like Pakistan, but not quite as extreme. Saudi Arabia remains an ATM machine [sic] for Islamic extremists. A lot of money continues to flow to various strains of Islamic extremism. Its amazing to me that they view it as having no choice." A former operative thinks the problem, as mentioned in the novel, is with Saudi individual donors who give charity to dirty organizations. Fran Townsend, President Bush's Homeland Security Advisor, who was referred to in this book, commented to American Thinker that "the Saudi Government has made progress in the area of terrorist financing, with the help of the US Treasury Department, but there still remains a good deal of progress which has yet to be achieved."

Since Silva's main character is an Israeli operative, did he delve into another issue -- the US-Israel relationship? He responded that in the novel he tried to show that the relationship is very good between the two countries at the intelligence and military level, unlike the relationship at the political level. His sources, senior Israeli officials, emphasized that "Israeli and American intelligence really do operate quite closely together, which was brought about by President George W. Bush who really broke down the barriers of mistrust. He made it possible for the Israelis and Americans to operate jointly together."

His next novel will still have Allon and many of the same cast of characters. Unfortunately, Silva fans will have to wait a whole year to find out Gabriel Allon's new assignment. Silva gave a hint to American Thinker: "I have a great idea and I am very excited about it. I just got back from a three week trip to Italy and Israel, spending a great deal of time inside the Vatican."

Daniel Silva's latest novel, Portrait of a Spy, is a like a fine wine that should be savored to absorb all the details. It explores a lot of current issues through the well-developed character's eyes. Silva wanted the reader to get a sense of hope, "sticking a knife in the laps of the beasts to change the world. This novel is a play on real martyrdom as opposed to this crazy idea that you blow people up and you are considered a martyr. Playing off the famous Jihadist quote, Nadia believed in life, not death and destruction," which is exactly what this book portrays.

Gabriel Allon fights 'a forever war' in Daniel Silva's 'Portrait of a Spy'

By Carol Thomas
July 17, 2011

It is said that "a policeman’s lot is not a happy one." For Daniel Silva’s series protagonist Gabriel Allon, neither is that of a spy. Portrait of a Spy, the 11th book in the Gabriel Allon series, offers an unflinching depiction of an often glamorized profession. HarperCollins will release this novel the United States on July 19, 2011.

Gabriel Allon, who has spent much of his life as an agent for Israel’s Mossad, has announced his retirement from the spy game, intending to live a peaceful life in Cornwall pursing his profession as an art restorer. A suicide bomber who targets London’s Covent Garden alters that decision.

Aware of two deadly bombings that have already cost innocent lives in Paris and Copenhagen, Gabriel tries to stop a similar act in London. His heroic attempt fails, though, when police officers prevent him from shooting the terrorist.

Gabriel’s guilt over the subsequent tragedy makes him all the more susceptible to pleas from Ari Shamron, the legendary leader of Israeli Intelligence, to take on a new assignment in Washington. The CIA wants Gabriel to locate and eliminate Rashid al-Husseini, an American-born cleric living in Yemen who is considered the mastermind behind the recent attacks.

To succeed in this mission, Gabriel enlists an unlikely recruit to his cause. Nadia al-Bakari is the daughter of a Muslim extremist whom, years earlier, Gabriel had killed. Nadia, though, is more moderate in her own political beliefs. She has also inherited her father’s fortune and has added to it through her own financial skill.

Nadia’s wealth is pivotal to the plan Gabriel devises to locate Rashid. He wants Nadia to convince her father’s former associates that she is willing to continue his funding for their cause. Gabriel will then track the flow of money to its ultimate destination – which he is certain will be Rashid.

Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series differs significantly from other espionage novels in its insistence on showing the life of the spy as one of detailed planning and calculated risk rather than one of incessant intrigue and danger. This is evident in the care with which Gabriel gathers his crew to plan the operation against Rashid and the frustration he experiences when changes in the Washington political climate suddenly take control of the mission away from him.

Portrait of a Spy marks Silva’s return to the topic of Arab terrorism at a time when developments in the Middle East are undergoing rapid change. Yet part of the realism that underlies Portrait of a Spy comes in its recognition that these changes will not necessarily mark the end of hostilities. As Gabriel reminds a Washington official, what they are involved in is "a forever war."

Followers of this series will no doubt be pleased to learn that Universal has acquired the screen rights to Silva’s Gabriel Allon books. According to an April 1, 2011 article on Deadline New York Jeff Zucker will produce the future film and Silva himself will be executive producer.

7/20: Spy novelist Daniel Silva talks new book, in Phoenix

By Larry Rodgers
The Arizona Republic
July 14, 2011

Spy novelist Daniel Silva didn't expect art restorer and part-time secret agent Gabriel Allon to become a character who would make the New York Times' bestseller list an annual destination and earn him praise as one of his generation's masters of suspense.

"He was supposed to appear in one novel (2000's "The Kill Artist") and then sail off into the sunset," Silva recalled in a phone conversation from his home in Washington, D.C.

But Silva, a former journalist who says character development is just as important as a thrilling plot, has found himself watching Allon evolve through 11 books, including the new "Portrait of a Spy."

The book, which Silva will sign on Wednesday in Phoenix, finds the author using Allon's latest adventure to take stock of the global war on terrorism.

Silva, who covered politics and foreign affairs for the UPI news service and produced talk shows for CNN before changing careers, talked about spies, politicians and journalists during the call.

Question: You covered several presidential conventions as a reporter. Are you a political junkie?

Answer: I am an unrepentant political junkie at heart. I hate to confess this, but I work until 6:30 every night, and at the stroke of 6:30 I turn on the nightly news and then I just sit and watch all the political news on Fox and MSNBC. I love the dueling points of view. My wife ("Today" correspondent Jamie Gangel) works for NBC, and I have friends who are in the Senate, in Congress, and friends who have worked in various administrations.

Q: Given your longtime ambition to be a novelist, were you taking extra notes as you traveled the world as a journalist?

A: I don't think it works that way, but what being a journalist did was provide me with a unique opportunity to see various places in the world, particularly the Middle East . . . in a way that most people will never get a chance to. It had a great deal of influence on my work.

Q: Does your wife provide some ideas for you?

A: Absolutely. Most married writers that I know, their wives play an important role in the process, and that is certainly the case with myself. . . . She's always there, someone to bounce ideas off. She's the first person to read my manuscripts, and she's my most trusted editor. It's great to have someone like that in your corner.

Q: You have 14 books under your belt since you left CNN. Are there a few key things that you've learned?

A: (Laughing) I wish. The truth is that every year, you push that rock up the hill. In some respects, it gets harder as you go on in your career because you want to do something better, top yourself. I wish I could say that I had a process that I've used book in and book out to get it done, but I don't.

Q: Some have compared writing to having a homework assignment that never ends.

A: It is . . . and that's what it's like for eight, nine months a year. I'm living in two worlds - the real world and this other world that exists inside my head. I'm terribly preoccupied. I don't eat well. It gets ugly down here in my office. Then I emerge once a year to talk about it. It's a strange experience because it's so intensely private and personal when you're doing it, and then (I) go out on tour and discuss it with readers.

Q: Gabriel Allon has been compared to James Bond as an intriguing and appealing character. That's pretty flattering stuff.

A: It is. The funny thing about Gabriel is that he was never intended to be a continuing character. . . . No one is more surprised than me that this character that I created 12 years ago is at the top of the New York Times' best-seller list each year. It's been a pleasant surprise.

Q: Have you consciously developed Allon's character, or does that come naturally?

A: I think it comes naturally. The character has definitely evolved. . . . He is a much funnier character than he was early on. He's got a great sense of humor.

The characters and their personal lives and the way they intersect through Gabriel are really just as important to this series as the problems and adventures that they are confronting. . . . It's an 11-book soap opera in a lot of ways. These characters have . . . aged, changed jobs, grown, suffered tragedy, and I think that is what really draws my readers to the story.

Q: You had little art training in your younger days, yet Gabriel moves extensively through that world.

A: I have an immense library of art books and, more importantly, I have really smart people who I can call on when I need help. My art adviser insists that it be accurate because he knows that so many people in the art world read books. . . . He knows that among the (art) restoration community, Gabriel Allon is kind of a hero.

Q: What do you want readers to take away from "Portrait of a Spy"?

A: What I set out to do with this book was to take stock of where we are in this global war on terrorism 10 years after 9/11. . . .

Halfway through it, the Arab world awakened from this decade-long slumber, and the Arab Spring (a wave of protests against repressive regimes) began. I'm a writer who likes to try to catch history in the act, and it was an enormous challenge to write about this and not get dated or overtaken by events.

But it was also a great opportunity for me because I was able to craft a story that incorporates all these elements and poses the questions, "Where do we go now? Who is going to emerge victorious from this - is it going to be the forces of moderation or the forces of extremist Islam?"

We have a lot riding on the outcome in this country.

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-8043.

Daniel Silva book signing

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 20. Doors open 6 p.m.
Where: Arizona Biltmore, 2400 E. Missouri Ave., Phoenix.
Admission: Free. Books must be purchased from the event's host, the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale.
Details: 480-947-2974,

The Arab Spring and the return of Gabriel Allon

By Hugh Hewitt
The Washington Examiner

Gabriel Allon returns in a few days, and as hundreds of thousands of expectant fans snatch up "Portrait of a Spy," author Daniel Silva's timing and eye will once again astonish reviewers and his public.
The drama and the consequences of the Arab Spring and the future of al Qaeda confound the American public. Silva provides not just a riveting thriller full of his trademark tradecraft and compelling, detailed descriptions of post-Sept. 11 espionage and the highest end of the art world, but also a means to understanding the enormity of the events unfolding in real time.

And the stakes. The stakes are so incredibly high, but because the Arab world is so difficult to understand, Silva's great contribution isn't the extraordinarily high entertainment value of the amazing series of 11 Allon thrillers that began with "The Kill Artist" in 2000.

It is that Silva is explaining the realities of the world we live in through his fiction. A handful of novelists have been climbing this mountain in recent years: Alex Berenson, Robert Ferrigno, Vince Flynn, Brad Thor and others.

Some have created characters like Flynn's Mitch Rapp who embody the American hero who is every day on the front lines of this long war. Others try to communicate the possible consequences of a long war on national character and international relations as Steven Pressfield does in his new offering "The Profession."

Silva's great contribution, though, is to communicate Israel's situation and Israel's perspective. Allon is a great ambassador for the Jewish state, and Israel's real ambassador, the historian Michael Oren, would do well to keep boxed sets of the Allon novels close at hand for the Americans he finds uncommonly dense as to the way the world really works and how it is understood by -- and must be understood by -- the realists within Israel.

Few things annoy my friends as much as advance copies of the most sought-after novels that talk show hosts who read receive. My heavily annotated copy of "Portrait" has its own distribution list, with my friend Michelle the AP art history teacher first in line to discover which of the great masters Silva will introduce to his public next. (His first name is Tiziana.)

Gary the trial lawyer and Bud the contractor are next, and still others if those at the head of the line read fast enough to beat the publication date.

From this circle of trusted borrowers, I gather reactions that inform my annual interview with Silva. And from these readers I know that Allon has changed the way they understand the Middle East, the Arab world, jihadists, and, of course, Israel.

"Portrait" will update that understanding, layering in the enormity of changes brought about by the Arab Spring.

One evil character, a master motivator of terror, sums up the dangers of the time in which we live in one snarled warning to one of the protectors of the free peoples.

"[A] man such as yourself is not so naive to think that this great Arab awakening is going to produce Western-style democracy in the Middle East," he states.

"The revolt might have started with the students and the secularists, but the brothers will have the last word. We are the future."

Silva's Allon, and his colleagues across the civilized world and their allies within the Arab world -- especially women -- plan, act and risk to prevent that from happening. As does Silva and other serious artists in words, for which we should all be grateful -- especially those of us who love great reads.

Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at