Cuba and the Yanqui Dollar

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Now that the United States has restored diplomatic relations with Cuba, the communist government is insisting that the US pay reparations for the gigantic economic losses allegedly caused by America’s long refusal to trade with the island state. Undoubtedly the Obama administration is hard at work figuring out how to provide disguised subsidies to the communist regime and to crony capitalists who would like to make money on “free trade” with the kleptocracy. “I feel very much at home here. . . . We wish each other well,” proclaimed John Kerry, at his August 14 lovefest in Havana. When American officials say things like that, communists and their capitalist shills hear cash registers starting to ring.

It’s highly unlikely that “reparations” will be openly paid. Nevertheless, the demand for reparations illustrates some of the global Left’s most mesmerizing fallacies. These fallacies have nothing to do with the interesting question of whether economic embargoes ever “work,” in the sense of penalizing those whom they’re supposed to penalize. That’s a matter for empirical research, which no ideologue can bear to do, except to “prove” some pre-existing notion. I’m talking about the perennial war of faith — faith in the state — against logic.

Of course, it’s always helpful to have someone else to blame for this morally stimulating poverty.

Every communist state has initially justified itself as an economic enterprise. That’s the point of communism, isn’t it? It’s an economic philosophy designed to deliver economic prosperity. Soon, however, there comes a surprise. Who woulda thunk it — communism turns out to be economically disastrous! But, this having been established, the communist state doesn’t slink off to the side and wither, demoralized by its failure to do what it proposed to do. Instead, it loudly justifies itself on opposite principles — heroic endurance of poverty, disdainful rejection of the good life, the prosperous society.

Of course, it’s always helpful to have someone else to blame for this morally stimulating poverty. For Cuban communists and their sympathizers around the world, and for many unthinking noncommunists as well, the United States is the one to blame. First the US was to blame for ruthlessly exploiting Cuba, by trading with it and investing in it; then, and still worse, the US was to blame for ruthlessly refusing to trade with it or invest in it.

It’s useless to say that you can’t have it both ways. Of course you can, if you refuse to think. In fact, if you’re an American leftist, you can even have it four ways: Cuba is prosperous; Cuba is impoverished; isolation from capitalism made Cuba prosperous; isolation from capitalism made Cuba poor. With these comforting thoughts packed away in all relevant heads, pity for Cuban communism and outrage over US imperialism can continue, with no reduction of self-righteousness. They will come in handy whenever the New York Times notices that post-embargo Cuba is cursed (like pre-embargo Cuba) with that worst of all evils, income Inequality. Again we will witness the catastrophic effects of exploitative free enterprise.




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Argo F*** Yourself

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One part compelling documentary, two parts zany Hollywood comedy, and three parts suspenseful spy thriller, Argo is one hundred percent excellence in filmmaking.

Although the events depicted in Argo occurred 33 years ago, they could not be more timely. In 1979 we had a likable but inept president whose policies could not avert double-digit interest rates, double-digit inflation, and the doubling of gas and oil prices; today we have a likable but inept president whose policies have led to stagnant growth, high unemployment, doubling of the national debt, and another doubling of gas prices. Both presidents dealt with turmoil and crisis in the Middle East as they campaigned for reelection.

When Ben Affleck set out to dramatize a recently declassified covert operation that took place within the context of the Iranian hostage crisis over 30 years ago, he could not have known that a similar crisis would erupt in the same part of the world exactly one month before his film was released. Watching hostages in Argo quake with fear as they are blindfolded by their tormentors and dragged before a firing squad, viewers cannot help but think of Ambassador Chris Stevens being dragged through the streets of Benghazi on his way to a horrifying death just last month. This unintended melding of the two stories adds to the suspense created in this well-made film.

Argo begins with a brisk montage of historic photos, film footage, and newspaper headlines taken from the days and weeks of the Iranian hostage crisis that began November 4, 1979. A young Walter Cronkite and an even younger Ted Koppel report the news from old-fashioned television screens. Many people have forgotten that ABC's “Nightline” began as a temporary nightly update about the hostage crisis; 444 days later, when the hostages were released (on the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration), the news show had become so entrenched that it stayed on as a serious alternative to NBC’s “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and the CBS “Late Movie,” which eventually gave way to Letterman's “Late Show.” Ted Koppel earned his stripes reporting the Iranian hostage crisis and paved the way for all-news cable shows.

As the crisis begins, embassy personnel are busy doing other things: processing visas, filing reports, and interviewing local Iranians who wait patiently in the outer rooms. When angry mobs threaten to storm the building, embassy workers rush to shred documents, burn files, break metal plates used for counterfeiting documents, and destroy computers. Ignoring threats to their own lives, they focus intensely on eliminating all sensitive material that could lead to the torture and death of Americans and local residents who are friendly to Americans. This is absolutely essential for national security and for the safety of regional operatives (local spies) in Iran.

The film deftly portrays the rising panic among security personnel inside the building while angry young men climb the walls and breach the compound. “We need some security, and you’re responsible!” one man screams into a phone, presumably to someone in the State Department. During a security briefing another man warns, “Don’t shoot anyone. Don’t be the one to start a war. If you shoot one person, they will kill everyone in here.” As a result, security personnel seem afraid to act. They hold their guns, but they don’t use them. One goes outside to try reasoning with the mob, but of course that just feeds the frenzy. In short, the fear of being responsible for diplomatic consequences is crippling.

During this confusion, six Americans slip out a back door and run for safety. But in a country overpowered by anti-American sentiment and energized for a fight, where might safety be found? Several embassies turn them away before the Canadian ambassador and his wife (Victor Garber and Page Leong) agree to take them in. But they are still far from being free, or even safe. Forced to hide in a room beneath the floorboards, they cannot leave the ambassador’s residence. They live in constant fear that local domestic workers will reveal their presence to Iranian insurgents, putting Canadian embassy personnel in danger as well. The scene is reminiscent of Jews hidden in attics and basements by friendly neighbors during the Holocaust. Spiriting these six unexpected hostages out of Iran becomes an even stickier problem for the US State Department than negotiating for the 52 publicized hostages.

Evidently saving face is more important than saving victims, at least to these State Department officials.

This is where the zany Hollywood comedy comes in. State Department officials come up with such solutions as providing the six Americans with bicycles so they can ride to the border (300 miles away) or pretending that they are part of an agricultural team investigating crops (even though it is winter) or that they are volunteer teachers (even though all Western teachers have been withdrawn from the country). After dismissing these ideas, seasoned CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) suggests pretending they are members of a film crew doing a site inspection for a science fiction flick called Argo.

Mendez turns to makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) to act as director and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to act as producer on this bogus film, and together they select a script from among genuine screenwriter submissions. Goodman and Arkin ham up their scenes with insider jokes about Hollywood while also demonstrating that they understand the gravity of the situation. Human lives are at stake, and they know it. They also impishly create a tagline with more zing than "Who is John Galt," a phrase that is reflected in the title of this review.

But the real story of this film takes place in Iran, where Mendez must first convince the six hostages that the plan will work, and then teach them how to play their roles as set designer, director, cinematographer, etc., all in a matter of two days. Tension mounts as time draws near. They must act their parts convincingly and be prepared to answer any question that might come up as they go through airport security. If one person blows it, they all go down. Audience members have to be thinking, “Could I do this? Could I make it through this intense scrutiny?” and this adds to the tension of the film.

Mendez must also convince the State Department not to give up on the plan. At one point a State official says pragmatically, “Six Americans executed at the Canadian embassy is an international incident; six Americans caught playing filmmakers with a CIA spy is an embarrassment.” Evidently saving face is more important than saving victims, at least to these State Department officials. I'd like to think they were concerned that CIA involvement would lead to retaliation against the remaining hostages. Mendez, however, refuses to leave without the people he has come to rescue.

To avert retaliation against the American hostages still held in Iran, Canada received all the credit for masterminding the rescue. Now that the case has been declassified, the true story of CIA agent Tony Mendez's daring plan for spiriting the six hostages from the Canadian embassy and onto a plane leaving Iran can be revealed. But this should not detract from the gratitude afforded the Canadian ambassador and his wife. They risked their own lives and gave up their residence to help these American strangers.


Editor's Note: Review of "Argo," directed by Ben Affleck. Warner Brothers, 2012, 120 minutes.



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Negligence of the Inept

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Most people, including many Obama supporters, were stunned when the Obama administration blamed the Innocence of Muslims video for the 9/11 attack on our Benghazi consulate. With his recent swagger ("bin Laden is dead" and "Al Qaeda is on the path to defeat"), Mr. Obama seemed to be telling us that his conciliatory diplomacy was winning the day. Surely no one could have predicted that an obscure internet video, based on an obscurer film, would cause the murders of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans. But that was the administration’s explanation for the shattering of its Middle Eastern policy.

As for the film: all of us should have been stunned by the administration's betrayal of our First Amendment. Instead of defending free speech, Hillary Clinton denounced the film as "disgusting and reprehensible." Many liberals, of all people, condemned the producer, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, for the violence he allegedly incited — the equivalent of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Nakoula is, by all accounts, a sleazy character. But if a third-rate, 14-minute trailer can thrust thousands of Muslims into a barbaric, murderous rage, then "Fire!" is precisely what should be shouted; the theater is already in flames.

Tiny Denmark defended the free speech of Jyllands-Posten, publisher of the Muhammad cartoons, doing so in the face of violent threats by Islamic extremists. America didn't have the spine to do; we apologized for the film, asked Google to remove it, and arrested the filmmaker.

A conflicted Google defended free speech in refusing to remove the video in the West, but caved to White House pressure in pulling it from several Arab-Muslim countries. A confused Nakoula was arrested in a disgraceful, groveling attempt to appease the Islamic world. When it comes to politically incorrect films, Muslims everywhere can now look to America for intolerence rivaling their own.

The foreign policy ineptitude of the Obama administration was exposed by its use of both the film and the arrest: the former as a pretense for causing the attack; the latter as a pretense for calming Muslims sympathetic to the attackers. White House and State Department officials were no doubt heartened by the spectacle of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department taking Nakoula from his home, perhaps hoping that it would quench post-Arab Spring hatred of Americans. But the true spectacle was ironic: the number of law enforcement officials hustling Nakoula off to jail in the US exceeded the number of security guards protecting the four Americans murdered in Libya.

If a third-rate, 14-minute film trailer can thrust thousands of Muslims into a barbaric, murderous rage, then "Fire!" is precisely what should be shouted; the theater is already in flames.

In America, where inflammatory artwork such as Andres Serrano’s "Piss Christ" is celebrated, the moral enlightenment of the politically correct usually comes back to bite them in the ass. So it was with Hillary Clinton, who once pasionately defended the free speech right of "The Holy Virgin Mary," a painting by Chris Ofili that depicts a black Madonna smeared with elephant dung and surrounded by collaged pornographic images of female genitalia. That passion is now a distant, hypocritical memory. In the Obama era of apology and appeasement, Mrs. Clinton is embarassed by free speech. On Pakistan's “Day of Love for the Prophet,” she ran an ad featuring President Obama blathering about our tradition of religious tolerance, and herself, pleading that our government had nothing to do with The Innocence of Muslims.

The day of Muslims loving their prophet ended with 23 people killed in Pakistan alone and revealed the deep folly of Obama's Middle East policies. Violent anti-American protests spread throughout the hyper-senstitve, irony-challenged Muslim world. People burned American flags, ransacked American businesses, attacked American embassies, etc. It's hard to imagine that a more "disgusting and reprehensible" display would have happened, if Mrs. Clinton had run a free speech ad instead.

To the consternation of Barack Obama, the sons of men who hated, but respected, George Bush, have become men who both hate and disrespect him. Subsequent to the Benghazi attack, "Obama, Obama, We Are All Osama" became the chant of the new liberal Arab youth. To many, perhaps millions, of them, Obama's achievement is an abomination. He murdered bin Laden, the spiritual champion who lives in their hearts — hearts that will be inconsolably inflamed upon the release of Zero Dark Thirty, a movie celebrating the killing of their hero. That will be the day when Obama's "bin Laden is dead" mantra will come back to bite him in the ass.

And it is Obama's movie. According to documents obtained by Judicial Watch http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-obtains-4-to-5-inch-stack-of-overlooked-cia-records-detailing-meetings-with-bin-laden-filmmakers/, the White House worked closely with director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal to incorporate administration talking points and play up the president's role as the gutsy decision maker. To the dismay of Mrs. Clinton, our government is not innocent in the case of Zero Dark Thirty.

What, then, will the Obama administration do to prevent the rampant violence that this film will certainly incite? Pressure Sony to stop its distribution? Perp-walk Bigelow and Boal to jail? These steps may be unnecessary, if the administration succeeds in shifting blame to the intelligence community. Finally admitting that the Benghazi massacre was a terrorist attack, administration officials now tell us that they were unaware of terrorist threats converging on the consulate with the anniversary of 9/11. Had they known, measures would have been taken to protect the Americans stranded in Benghazi.

But, dashing hopes for an Obama Oscar (to go with his Nobel Peace Prize), they did know. There were numerous intelligence and DoD reports warning of the intense al Qaeda buildup in Libya during the six months prior to the Benghazi attack. According to reports such as “Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile” (released in August), al Qaeda terrorists were probably bumping into each other in Benghazi. Ansar al Sharia held a June demonstration at Liberation Square; 15 militias showed up. Recent news reports reveal that, contrary to its repeated claims of ignorance, the administration was well aware of 13 threats or attacks on western diplomats and officials in Libya during the period. This is where president Obama's "Al Qaeda is on the path to defeat" mantra comes back to bite him, viciously.

Not only was the Obama administration cognizant of the emerging al Qaeda threat, it was aware of repeated requests from Benghazi for additional security — requests that were denied. Moreover, as al Qaeda forces were advancing, US forces were being withdrawn. According to CBS News, the State Department removed three Mobile Security Deployment teams and a 16-member Site Security Team between February and August. In the sobering aftermath of such blunders, a stern Obama warned of the consequences to countries that fail to protect Americans: we will send the FBI three weeks later, after reporters have left, examine the crime scene for an hour, and write a nasty report condemning the murders (after the election).

Not only was the Obama administration cognizant of the emerging al Qaeda threat, it was aware of repeated requests from Benghazi for additional security — requests that were denied.

Audaciously taking credit for the death of bin Laden, Obama purposefully evades responsibility for the deaths of Ambassador Stevens and his three colleagues. It is a shameless coverup for monumental ineptitude. He conceals his failed conciliatory policies, his misreading of the Arab Awakening, and his lack of interest in actionable intelligence information. Calls to seek justice and form yet another investigatory panel ("We're still doing an investigation," said President Obama, yukking it up on “The View” while FBI agents fretted in Tripoli) merely hide the negligence that left four Americans stranded in a pathetically unprotected facility to die valiantly and alone, murdered by a horde of terrorist cowards. Negligence, and ineptitude — the ineptitude that has transformed America's "Don't Tread on Me" into Obama’s "Grin and Bear It."

quot;bin Laden is dead




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