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Monday, September 01, 2014

A Great Movie Featuring the Greatest Movie Speech Ever Made

For the 75th Anniversary of the Start of the World War II and the 100th Anniversary of the Start of World War I …

The Great Dictator from TheMelancholia on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

SAUDI KING WARNS OF FITNA AS ISIS ADVANCES IN IRAQ

Jihadist Monster Originally Backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey Now Threatens Kingdom, Entire Region

By Clare M. Lopez


As the annual Muslim holy month of Ramadan drew to a close in late July 2014, Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud addressed a meeting of senior Saudi leadership figures and religious scholars in Jeddah. The Saudi monarch, who turned 90 on 1 August, spoke during the Eid al-Fitr celebrations to an audience of his closest supporters. While an official statement aimed at the overall international community had been read out on his behalf on Saudi state television on Friday 25 July 2014 in which he called the Israeli Operation Protective Edge in Gaza as "a war crime against humanity," at the Jeddah meeting, Abdullah returned to a theme that apparently concerns the Saudi royals even more than Gaza these days. He called it fitna, meaning civil strife among fellow Muslims, but what he really meant was the seemingly unstoppable advance of the Islamic State (IS) that now threatens the borders of the Saudi kingdom.

Back in the 2011-2013 timeframe, the Saudis, along with the Qataris and Turks, had been among the early supporters of what was then known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), when the hard-core Salafi militia was seen as the best chance for ousting the Iranian-backed regime of Syria's Bashar al-Assad. But after al-Qa'eda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri officially broke ties with the group in February 2013 because its Iraqi leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, refused to confine his activities to Iraq, ISIS began a savage rampage across Syria that eventually in June 2014 drove southward into Iraq as well. The speed of the ISIS advance spread shock and alarm throughout the region. Division after division of the Iraqi army, trained and equipped by the U.S., collapsed and fled, abandoning large quantities of top-of-the-line tanks, vehicles, and weapons to ISIS. On 29 June 2014, with an ever-expanding swath of territory now fallen to his forces, al-Baghdadi proclaimed the establishment of a Caliphate (The Islamic State – IS). Shariah and the so-called 'Conditions of Umar' (the dhimma conditions) are brutally enforced everywhere under its control, sending hundreds of thousands of Christians, Shi'ites, Yazidis, and other minorities fleeing IS's merciless demands to "convert, pay the jizya, or die." Atrocities not seen on such a scale for many decades include the Islamic hudud punishments of amputations, crucifixions, flogging, and stoning, plus beheadings (even of children), sexual enslavement of captured women and the wholesale slaughter of prisoners.

It was against this backdrop that King Abdullah convened some of his closest supporters for the Jeddah speech, in which he cited key Qur'anic passages to condemn in the bluntest terms the "tumult and oppression" that IS is spreading:

Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.

And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.

But if they cease, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

And fight them on until there is no more Tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression. (Qur'an 2:190 – 193)

Understandably shaken (and with good reason, given the thoroughly un-Islamic lifestyles enjoyed by many Saudi royals), the Saudi King directed his message at the Muslim community as a whole, but called specifically upon "Muslim leaders and scholars of the Islamic nation to carry out their duty towards Allah Almighty and stand in the face of those trying to hijack Islam and [present] it to the world as a religion of extremism, hatred and terrorism."

While Abdullah included a passing mention of "the blood of our brothers in Palestine," at least in this speech he did not call out Israel or Jews specifically by name, apparently more focused instead on the immediate crisis of IS on his doorstep. His call to other Sunni states ("those who fail to carry out their historic responsibilities against terrorism…will be its first victims tomorrow") rings as both condemnation of IS-supporting regimes in Qatar and Turkey and plaintive appeal to fellow Sunni regimes for support against the IS juggernaut—ironic of course, given that Saudis were among the original sponsors of an entire spectrum of jihadi militias in Syria, among them Jabhat al-Nusra and the Muslim Brotherhood as well as ISIS. The notable inclusion among the King's invited guests in Jeddah of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who has just returned to Lebanon after several years of self-imposed exile in Paris, further indicates Saudi alarm at the spread of IS influence, that now threatens to plunge that troubled nation back into chaos as well.

Saudi, Jordanian, and Gulf leaderships that a short while ago feared above all the rising hegemony of a nuclear-capable Shi'ite power in Tehran are reeling at the sudden emergence of a far more immediate threat—a Sunni one that they themselves helped to birth. Speculation persists about a possible Iranian role that allowed ISIS to survive and expand in Syria, where its internecine campaigns against other rebels, including the Syrian Free Army, were at least as ferocious as anything it mounted against Damascus. Even now, with the Qods Force and its vaunted commander, Qassem Suleimani, in Baghdad ostensibly to repel the IS blitzkrieg, aggressive offensive moves against IS have not yet materialized.

The U.S. was drawn back into the Iraqi theater in early August 2014 to mount air strikes against IS forces threatening genocide against some 40,000 Christians and Yazidis trapped without food, water, or shelter atop Mt. Sinjar in northern Iraq and perhaps moving as well on Kurdish-held Irbil (where the U.S. has a consulate). The Obama administration is floundering badly, responding only in haphazard fashion after public outcry about women and children dying on the mountain prodded it into action. But that action—limited for now, but in obvious danger of succumbing to mission creep—is no substitute for a coherent policy that outlines compelling U.S. national security interests and then implements an effective strategy to defend them.

The savagery that has torn Iraq and Syria apart is an intra-Islamic sectarian fight for dominance between Shi'ites and Sunnis that grew out of the Syrian civil war but has roots that date to the first century of Islam itself. More recently, the origins of IS date to the mid-2000s in Iraq, when al-Qa'eda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi plunged the country—and American and Coalition troops—into years of vicious sectarian conflict. Then, as now, the Iranian regime manipulated forces behind the scenes. While al-Zarqawi ostensibly loathed Shi'ites, his closest collaborator in Iraq was the Iranian Qods Force. Likewise, al-Baghdadi and his Caliphate have taken aim at Shi'ites, whom they term rafidah ("rejecters' – that is, of "true Islam"), while the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei returned the sentiment in his own Eid al-Fitr speech, in which he called IS "a tumor" that needed to be excised (language usually reserved for Israel). And yet, even as these two rivals face off over leadership of the Muslim world and jihad movement, Suleimani thus far has given no indication of taking the fight to IS or doing any more than necessary to prevent the fall of Baghdad and what's left of a rump Iraqi state comprised largely of its Shi'ite population.

U.S. national security interests demand recognition, first and foremost, that both sides in this Islamic rivalry seek global dominance for Islam to rule in a resurgent Caliphate (or Imamate) where shariah is imposed forcibly on one and all. At issue here is only who gets to be on top. As such, it makes no sense for the U.S. to do anything that would tip the advantage to either one. Shi'ite or Sunni, the agenda is the same: jihad and shariah.

That doesn't mean we have no national interests in the region at all. To the contrary, it is imperative that U.S. leadership recognize the threat posed by the jihadist agenda, whether from IS or Iran, to U.S. regional interests directly, to friends and allies and those who ought to be, and eventually, to the homeland itself. This sort of understanding demands a sharp reversal of existing policy that refuses even to acknowledge the Islamic ideology that animates this enemy's threat doctrine. Only once that basic professional responsibility is met can an overall strategic policy that makes any sense be formulated and implemented.

Core U.S. interests in Iraq, Syria, and the Persian Gulf region would then dictate the following policy priorities:

  • American personnel and facilities at the American Embassy in Baghdad and the Irbil and Basra consulates must be secured; if this is not possible without calling in airstrikes off an aircraft carrier, they should be evacuated.
  • The U.S. must stand by allies and partners in the region, especially Israel and Jordan. It is long past time that the U.S. also reaches out to those pro-Western ethnic and religious minorities who yearn to be part of the free world, especially the Kurds, and offer them support in their struggle to survive. For the Kurds in particular, this means diplomatic support, intelligence, logistics, and modern weapons that will at least allow them parity with the U.S. arsenal that IS has captured.
  • It is right that we provide as much humanitarian aid as possible to beleaguered minorities facing genocide, as well as to friendly countries like Jordan that are burdened with overwhelming economic demands to care for millions of refugees.
  • Finally, the U.S. should maintain—or create, as the case may be—a robust intelligence capability and deploy a Special Forces capability to the region that will provide early warning of threats to U.S. interests and the ability to project power and influence as required.

Beyond this, the latest round in the Islamic world's 1300 years of incessant chaos and warfare should be left to the belligerents to sort out. Regimes like Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey that play all sides of the jihadi games have enabled a monster in IS that they can no longer control. They should be allowed to reap what they've sown. U.S. leadership has proven incapable of sorting out who's who or who's backing whom—not that it's so simple, but rather that understanding who we are should probably come first, followed by some intensive thinking about a new national security strategy that prioritizes American interests.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

China Making Strategic Investments in Israel

Robert Hardy reports for the Globalist on China's deepening investments in Israel, including construction of a strategic freight rail line linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean:

China is expanding its economic interests in Israel. Its growing portfolio of holdings in high-tech startups, national infrastructure and core industries gives Beijing an expanded strategic presence in Israel. 
In Europe, a move is underway to respond to the Palestinian BDS strategy. Some EU companies have withdrawn from Israel’s government bidding process to build private ports. 
As to the United States, President Barack Obama warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his recent visit to Washington that, unless Israel stops building settlements and makes a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority, it will lose U.S. support. 
Finding new friends 
China has seized the opportunity to fill the void left by the withdrawal of European business from Israel and the gap resulting from the anticipated reduction in U.S. support. China has no moral qualms about investing in Israel and by doing so is increasing its strategic presence. With the support of Netanyahu, China is moving full speed ahead.

Read more.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Words of Wisdom: Washington's Farewell Address 1796

The Foreign Policy Portion of George Washington's Farewell Address … Sage Advice Sadly Unheeded by His Successors


Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it - It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Eli Wallach Dies at 98

A great American actor--who was first and foremost a great person--has passed away at age 98.

Read more. 

I
Interview: Eli Wallach, Actor from Reel 13 on Vimeo

Wanted: An Independent Agency to Rate US Film Schools

The Need Becomes More Obvious as Confusion and Costs Rise 



$182,000 in Student Debt for a Film Major?!?

That, incredibly, is the headline above a recent Time magazine article. Click here to read it; the author, Paula Bishop, is a Certified Public Accountant and financial aid adviser to families struggling with America's skyrocketing college tuition costs.

"Burdening a student with $182,000 debt upon graduation (and, most likely, monthly payment of $1,800 for 10 years) is intolerable," Bishop writes, adding, "This is too much borrowing! You can’t repay that kind of debt on a film major’s starting salary…."

The numbers are mind-numbing. A four-year undergraduate film school education in the United States can cost from just under $50,000 in the case of at least one public university to about $240,000 at an Ivy League university.

Even worse, a "starting salary"--in the film industry, at least--is far from guaranteed, given the dramatic differences in film school curricula. Some schools are purely academic; others, overly technical.

According to Wikipedia, a film school

is any educational institution dedicated to teaching aspects of filmmaking, including such subjects as film production, film theory, digital mediaproduction, and screenwriting. Film history courses and hands-on technical training are usually incorporated into most film school curricula. Technical training may include instruction in the use and operation of cameras, lighting equipment, film or video editing equipment and software, and other relevant equipment. Film schools may also include courses and training in such subjects as television production, broadcasting, audio engineering, and animation. 

In other words, buyers beware: there are all kinds of "film schools."

The Hollywood Reporter ranks the top 25 U.S. film schools every year. Click here for last year's list.

However, with the cost of a film school education only going in one direction--namely, north--there clearly is a leading role to play (pun intended) for a qualified, non-profit rating agency. Let the casting process begin!

The sooner the better.

Sunday, June 22, 2014