|4:40 PM, Dec 17, 2014 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
It’s difficult to tell whether the North Korean regime has anything to with the hack attack on Sony Pictures, or the subsequent terrorist threats against movie theaters planning to screen The Interview. The forthcoming Sony film centers around an assassination plot against North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. (Those terrorist threats have worked, by the way: Five major movie chains have just cancelled plans to screen the James Franco and Seth Rogen comedy.)
But I’m not so sure that Kim should be so quick to condemn the movie–even if it does include a scene in which his head blows up. I’m reminded of an astute argument that Ron Rosenbaum made in the New York Observer some years ago, in which he argued that in Charlie Chaplin’s classic comedy The Great Dictator, "Hitler became merely Chaplinesque: a figure to be mocked more than feared, a comic villain whose pretensions would collapse of his own disproportionate weight like the Little Tramp collapsing on his cane. Someone to be ridiculed rather than resisted.”
Rosenbaum continued, “Given a chance to take on Hitler, to do something genuinely scathing, something that might cut deep (as, for instance, the brilliant satires on Hitler penned by the brave, doomed anti-Hitler Munich editor Fritz Gerlich) he took the lazy clown’s way out. His Hitler is a harmless schlemiel who falls down stairs. No need to resist someone who will probably collapse of his own accord.”
And now watch the trailer for The Interview. Kim Jong-un—a murdering sociopath who imprisons 200,000 people in labor camps and develops nuclear weapons, when he’s not executing members of his own family–is presented as nothing but a ridiculous clown, with his affection for Katy Perry and preposterous dance moves. Or go back and watch Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s (admittedly clever) Team America: World Police, which similarly depicted the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il as a comic buffoon on par with Austin Powers's Dr. Evil. Yes, just hilarious: The man starved four million of his own people to death, but he had such a goofy accent!
At home, Kim Jong-un operates under the governing assumption that it is better to terrorize than to amuse. But on the global stage, the opposite is almost certainly true. A figure of fun, after all, hardly needs to be sanctioned or shunned or attacked. The Interview, however perversely, may have served Kim’s foreign policy interests. Perhaps it's better fewer people will be able to see it now.
4:22 PM, Dec 17, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Jeb Bush is considering running for president in 2016, but he might have run in 2008 if not for the reasonable belief the country wouldn't elect brothers to the White House successively.
In 2006, Fred Barnes wrote about Jeb as America's "governor in chief"—a popular, conservative reformer who could lay claim to the title of best governor in the country. Here's an excerpt:
If only his last name were Smith. He'd not only attract national attention as the popular and successful governor of a difficult-to-govern state. He'd be viewed sympathetically as a leader who had dealt with family issues--his wife's aversion to politics, his daughter's bouts with drug addiction--without losing his grip on the governorship. And he'd be the prohibitive frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
But his last name is Bush. So Jeb Bush, nearing the end of his eight years as governor of Florida, has to settle for being the best governor in America. Not proclaimed the best governor by the media and the political community. But recognized as the best by a smaller group: governors who served with him and experts and think-tank and conservative policy wonks who regard state government as something other than a machine for taxing and spending.
Why is Jeb Bush the best? It's very simple. His record is the best. No other governor, Republican or Democrat, comes close. Donna Arduin, perhaps the most respected state budget expert in the country, has worked for four big-state Republican governors--John Engler of Michigan, George Pataki of New York, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, and Bush. Even while she worked for Schwarzenegger, she told me Bush is "absolutely" the nation's premier governor. "He's principled, brilliant, willing to ignore his pollsters, and say no to his friends," she says.
Read the whole article from our archives here.
1:35 PM, Dec 17, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Republican senator Marco Rubio said a top State Department official was "dishonest" about the Obama administration's plans to change its policy on Cuba. Tony Blinken, the newly confirmed deputy secretary of State, told the Florida senator at his confirmation hearing in November that the administration would not unilaterally change its Cuba policy without "full consultation" with Congress. That consultation, Rubio says, never happened to his knowledge.
"He was dishonest," Rubio told THE WEEKLY STANDARD Wednesday. "He was clearly evasive."
President Obama announced Wednesday a shift in U.S. policy on Cuba, the Caribbean island country under control of the communist dictatorship of Fidel Castro and his brother Raul for more than half a century. The policy change includes allowing some American travel to Cuba, opening up some trade channels, and reestablishing diplomatic relationships with Havana.
At a press conference in the Capitol, Rubio said he only became aware of the changes late Tuesday night, though he said he had "long suspected" a change in policy.
"I was not consulted by anyone in the administration until 10 am this morning," Rubio said. He said Secretary of State John Kerry called him Wednesday, just hours before President Obama's announcement. Rubio says he expressed his disagreements with the new policy.
A Miami native, Rubio's parents were among the thousands of Cubans who left their home country but were unable to return after Castro's revolution in 1958. "I know firsthand how this regime manipulates family," Rubio said. The potential 2016 presidential candidate said he supports normalization of relations. "When Cuba is normal," he said.
Asked if Rubio would push to block funding for an American embassy in Havana in the next Congress, the Republican said, "I am committed to doing anything I can to unravel these changes."
In November, Rubio had a back-and-forth with Blinken over the question of a change in Cuba policy. Olivier Knox of Yahoo News covered the line of questions:
“Do you anticipate, during the rest of the president’s term, that there will be any unilateral change” to sanctions on Cuba absent democratic reforms, asked Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, whose parents emigrated from Cuba to the U.S.
“Anything that might be done on Cuba will have to be consistent with the law,” Blinken replied. He added, “Anything that in the future might be done on Cuba would be done in full consultation” with Congress.
Rubio tried again, noting “chatter” that Obama could try to change relations with Cuba unilaterally before leaving the White House in January 2017.
“The president has views on how to try to move, help move Cuba in a democratic direction, to help support people moving in that direction, and, you know, if he has an opportunity I’m sure that’s something he would want to pursue,” Blinken said. “But it depends on Cuba and the actions that they take.”
1:18 PM, Dec 17, 2014 • By CLAUDIA ANDERSON
To see how NPR, activist scholars, and the Justice Department set the stage for the latest eruption of hysteria over alleged campus rape, watch here:
12:01 PM, Dec 17, 2014 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
Imagine for a moment that you are a Saudi, Emirati, Jordanian, or Israeli. Your main national security worry these days is Iran—Iran’s rise, its nuclear program, its troops fighting in Iraq and Syria, its growing influence from Yemen through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.
Your main ally against Iran for the past decades has been the United States. Naturally you worry about American policy. You remember President Obama’s outreach to Iran in 2009, and his failure to back the Iranian people’s protests in June of that year after the stolen election. You wonder if the United States can be relied on, or will one day announce a major policy shift.
What shift? A rapprochement with Iran that ends the sanctions, throws an economic lifeline to the regime, re-establishes diplomatic relations with it—in exchange for nothing. That is, the Islamic Republic would make no concessions about its foreign or domestic policies. And the change in U.S. policy would show that in the long struggle between the United States and Iran since 1979, the Americans have finally blinked.
And now, you turn on the TV and see the announcement about the change in American policy in Cuba. Re-establishment of diplomatic relations. Lots of changes in the embargo that will mean plenty more cash for the Castros. A change in the whole American official position vis-à-vis Cuba. In exchange, the Castro brothers have pledged to let 53 political prisoners out, free one American spy, and free the American hostage Alan Gross. As to real changes in the regime—changes in its foreign or domestic policies—none. Zero. Zip. So, you conclude that in the long struggle between the United States and the Castro regime since 1959, the Americans have finally blinked.
Your conclusion about Iran is inevitable: that the Obama administration cannot be relied upon and is quite likely to abandon America’s Iran policy as well. Your only hope is, of course, the Ayatollah Khamenei, who appears to oppose and to fear a rapprochement with the Americans. Perhaps you are safe as long as he is alive, and now you start hoping that the old man outlives the Obama administration.
The American collapse with respect to Cuba will have repercussions in the Middle East and elsewhere—in Asia, for the nations facing a rising China, and in Europe, for those near Putin’s newly aggressive Russia. What are American guarantees and promises worth if a fifty-year-old policy followed by Democrats like Johnson, Carter, and Clinton can be discarded overnight? In more than a few chanceries the question that will be asked as this year ends is “who is next to find that America is today more interested in propitiating its enemies than in protecting its allies?”
11:29 AM, Dec 17, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
The Obama administration is embarking on a “policy shift” to normalize diplomatic and economic relations between the United States and Cuba, according to senior administration officials who spoke with reporters on background Wednesday morning. One official described the current Cuban policy as “past its expiration date.”
The administration officials said the shift, which will include reestablishing an American embassy in Havana and opening up some trade, is the “most significant change to our Cuban policy in nearly 50 years.” The government will be licensing travel by Americans to Cuba, though it will not be lifting the travel ban, which administration officials say will require legislation from Congress. Cuban cigars will not be available for commercial importation, though the officials noted Americans traveling to Cuba will be allowed to bring back to the U.S. up to $100 of alcohol or tobacco products.
Many members of Congress, including Democratic senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Republican senator Marco Rubio of Florida—both Cuban Americans and among Congress's harshest critics of the Castro regime—condemned the Obama administration's actions. Rubio made a point of pushing the possible normalization of Cuban relations during the confirmation hearings of Tony Blinken to the number-two spot at the State Department earlier this year. Blinken, who was confirmed Tuesday by the Senate, did not rule out the administration might act on Cuba.
“Anything that in the future might be done on Cuba would be done in full consultation" with Congress, Blinken said. It's not clear if Congress was consulted, and administration officials only said that President Obama "has had a number of conversations with members of Congress…leading up to this [policy change]."
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama spoke with Raúl Castro, the communist president of Cuba and brother of aging former dictator Fidel Castro, for around an hour, the first interaction between heads of states of the two nations since the U.S. cut off diplomatic relations in 1961. Administration officials said Obama explained to Castro the forthcoming policy changes as well as the details of Wednesday’s return of convicted Cuban spies imprisoned in the U.S. in exchange for a jailed American intelligence asset. An American contract worker imprisoned for 5 years in Cuba, Alan Gross, was also released Wednesday on what the administration refers to as “humanitarian grounds.”
One official noted that the current U.S. policy toward the communist nation has been a “severe problem” because of the disapproval of other nations in the region.
10:21 AM, Dec 17, 2014 • By DENNIS P. HALPIN
Alarm bells have gone off in Beijing, in Moscow, and even among some so-called “realists” in the West. They caution that the pending U.N. General Assembly consideration of an EU-Japan joint resolution on North Korean human rights violations, scheduled for December 18-19, could push Pyongyang over the edge. Publicly censuring North Korea for its crimes against humanity, they warn, might lead to a fourth nuclear test and even potentially trigger another military confrontation on the Korean peninsula. These voices, as a result, advocate continued silence despite overwhelming evidence of massive human rights violations, about which the U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) report wrote the following: “The gravity, scale, and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the modern world.”
Discussion will also likely take place in the Security Council in the near future. In response to the COI report, Reuters noted on December 5 that “two-thirds of the U.N. Security Council's members pushed . . . for the human rights situation in North Korea to be added to the council's agenda and for a formal meeting to be held this month, a move that cannot be blocked by Pyongyang ally China.” So it seems that Pyongyang will no longer be able to escape international attention being paid to its long-standing, comprehensive abuses of its people.
The naysayers, in wanting to shield Pyongyang, have sought to ignore one of the original purposes for the establishment of the United Nations, as specified in the preamble of its Charter: “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” They also have conveniently forgotten the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by a newly organized General Assembly on December 10, 1948, as a manifestation by the international community of universal revulsion over the atrocities, including genocide, carried out during the Second World War.
Of all crimes against humanity, those directed against the youngest and most vulnerable are certainly among the most emotionally devastating. One chamber at the concentration camp museum at Auschwitz is particularly disturbing. It contains the discarded clothing, tiny shoes, a broken doll, an abandoned toy, of little children. Similar crimes are being committed in North Korea today against the very young, including newborns.
Testimony provided at a COI hearing by witness Ms. Jee Heon-A, included the following:
9:08 AM, Dec 17, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
The White House announced President Obama will deliver remarks on Cuba later today.
In the afternoon, the President will deliver a statement on Cuba from the Cabinet Room at 12:01:30pm. There will be limited pool coverage.
12:01:30PM THE PRESIDENT delivers a statement on Cuba
The Cabinet Room
Limited Pool Coverage (Pre-set 9:00AM; Final Gather 11:00AM – Brady Press Briefing Room)
This comes after news broke about the release of American Alan Gross, who was being imprisoned in Cuba. ABC reports:
Held for five years in Cuba, 65-year-old American contractor Alan Gross has been released from prison and is en route to U.S. soil, ABC News has learned exclusively.
In a landmark humanitarian prisoner exchange to be announced by President Obama shortly at the White House, the agreement was reached following more than a year of secret back channel talks at the highest levels of both governments.
Today’s release of Gross, who is said to be in poor physical condition, represents a first step toward normalizing relations with the neighbor just 90-miles off the Florida coast.
8:40 AM, Dec 17, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
The Obamas talked with People magazine about dealing with their "own racist experiences," as the magazine described.
Michelle Obama told one story that recently took place, even as she was first lady of the United States.
"I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn't see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn't anything new," Michelle Obama, who is 5'11", said.
She also said that her husband, Barack Obama, was asked to get coffee when he was wearing a tux. "He was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee," she told People.
The president told his own experiences. "There's no black male my age, who's a professional, who hasn't come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn't hand them their car keys," Obama told the magazine.
Jihadist Moazzam Begg, the Gitmo snitch
8:01 AM, Dec 17, 2014 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Ex-Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg is back in the news this week. On Sunday, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria interviewed Begg to get his perspective on the recently released report, written by Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, concerning the CIA’s controversial interrogation program. Zakaria teased Begg’s segment at the beginning of his show, saying, “Moazzam Begg wants an apology. He was held in U.S. prisons and says he was abused and witnessed torture. What is his response to the report? I will ask him.” Zakaria treated Begg’s claims of abuse as credible and barely challenged the ex-Gitmo detainee on his well-known extremist views.
On Monday, the Washington Post published a front-page story centered on Begg. The Post’s piece, authored by the Post’s London bureau chief Griff Witte, portrayed Begg in sympathetic terms. The Post sees Begg as a legitimate critic of the abuses and practices outlined in the Feinstein report. Witte did not question Begg’s claims regarding his treatment in U.S. custody and only mentioned Begg’s “hard-line Islamist sympathies” in passing. Witte made sure to note that Begg “denied participating in violence or being affiliated with terrorist organizations,” but the Post reporter could not be bothered to check the copious documentation illustrating otherwise -- such as that included in, say, the Feinstein report. In addition to the front-page story, the Post gave extra space to Begg by publishing excerpts of his interview with Witte online.
Comedian, actor, and counterterrorism expert Russell Brand got into the act. Brand led off his own interview with Begg, which Brand eagerly tweeted to his nearly 9 million followers, and Begg of course tweeted as well, by asking the ex-Gitmo detainee about his connection to the events described in the Feinstein report. Begg recounted his story - America is horrible. Brand, a.k.a. @rustyrockets, added this pearl of wisdom in one of his Begg-related tweets: “The people who do ‘terror’ best are the people who decide what ‘terror’ is.”
Here is the problem: Zakaria, Witte, and Brand clearly did not read the parts of the Feinstein report dealing with Begg. Only in Brand’s case is this understandable. Journalists like Zakaria and Witte should know better.
Begg plays a significant role in the Feinstein report, but not because he was abused or tortured. The Feinstein report does not say that Begg was mistreated in any way. On the contrary, the Democrats cite Begg’s debriefings as an example of the valuable intelligence that was learned without using coercive interrogation measures.
In fact, the Democrats use the intelligence voluntarily given up by Begg as part of their attempt to undermine the CIA’s claims about the efficacy and necessity of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
10:24 PM, Dec 16, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
The New York Times reports the Obama administration relaxed immigration restrictions and did favors for a wealthy Ecuadorian family after some members of the family donated to Democratic campaigns. From the Times:
The Obama administration overturned a ban preventing a wealthy, politically connected Ecuadorean woman from entering the United States after her family gave tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns, according to finance records and government officials.
The woman, Estefanía Isaías, had been barred from coming to the United States after being caught fraudulently obtaining visas for her maids. But the ban was lifted at the request of the State Department under former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton so that Ms. Isaías could work for an Obama fund-raiser with close ties to the administration.
It was one of several favorable decisions the Obama administration made in recent years involving the Isaías family, which the government of Ecuador accuses of buying protection from Washington and living comfortably in Miami off the profits of a looted bank in Ecuador.
The family, which has been investigated by federal law enforcement agencies on suspicion of money laundering and immigration fraud, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to American political campaigns in recent years. During that time, it has repeatedly received favorable treatment from the highest levels of the American government, including from New Jersey’s senior senator and the State Department.
Read the whole story here, which also suggests Democratic senator Robert Menendez helped the Isaías family.
Hosted by Michael Graham.4:05 PM, Dec 16, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with staff writer Michael Warren on Jeb Bush's announcement.
This podcast can be downloaded here. Subscribe to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's iTunes podcast feed here.
3:37 PM, Dec 16, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
For the U.S. and NATO, Afghanistan is about withdrawing troops and ending their role in the fighting. For the Taliban, it is a different story with Reuters reporting that:
Taliban fighters killed at least five Afghan soldiers in a three-day offensive in a region near Pakistan, officials said on Tuesday, as fighting heats up on both sides of the border during the withdrawal of most foreign troops from Afghanistan.Fighters from both Pakistan and Afghanistan mounted the attack aimed at taking control of Kunar province's remote Dangam district, which is on the border, provincial governor Shuja-ul Mulk Jalala told Reuters.
"The fighting is intense and we have asked for additional forces but they haven't arrived yet," the governor said, adding that five Afghan soldiers and 18 Taliban fighters had been killed so far. An army officer said 40 Taliban had been killed.
Strongholds of the Taliban and other Islamist militants are under pressure from the Pakistani and Afghan armies as well as U.S. drone strikes, coinciding with the withdrawal of all but 12,500 foreign forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year … the militants have struck back, unleashing waves of suicide bombers and commando style attacks in Kabul and across Afghanistan, making 2014 the bloodiest year since the war started 13 years earlier.
2:43 PM, Dec 16, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
As if the plunging price of oil were not enough to doom the market for electric and hybrid automobiles, there is this from ABC News:
People who own all-electric cars where coal generates the power may think they are helping the environment. But a new study finds their vehicles actually make the air dirtier, worsening global warming. Ethanol isn't so green, either.
"It's kind of hard to beat gasoline" for public and environmental health, said study co-author Julian Marshall, an engineering professor at the University of Minnesota. "A lot of the technologies that we think of as being clean ... are not better than gasoline.”
There is, however, some good news for environmentalists in the oil glut. It may be the last nail in the coffin of the Keystone Pipeline. As Politico reports:
The same collapse in oil prices that is pumping dollars into motorists’ wallets also risks undermining the case for building the 1,179-mile pipeline in two crucial ways: It’s squeezing the western Canadian oil industry that has looked to Keystone as its most promising route to the Gulf Coast. And anti-pipeline activists hope that falling prices will make it politically safer for Obama to reject the project, despite the new Republican Congress’ pledges to put Keystone at the top of its 2015 energy agenda.
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