November 28, 2013

Texas DA who prosecuted Tom DeLay has mud on face again

In Travis County, legal sophistry and crackpot testimony sent two day-care owners to prison for 21 years 

Originally published at The American Thinker blog

By David Paulin

Ronnie Earle's problematic record as Travis County District Attorney is coming back to haunt him – yet again. Earle, a Democrat, made a name for himself with some cleaver legal sophistry: specifically, he convinced a gullible jury in liberal Travis County, Texas, that former Republican House Speaker Tom DeLay was guilty of “money laundering” related to his funneling of campaign contributions to Republican candidates. A Texas Appeals Court recently dismissed the charges, ruling DeLay had broken no laws. Delay had called the prosecution the criminalization of politics.

Now, another case overseen by Earle in the liberal enclave of Travis County has come back to haunt the flamboyant district attorney. It concerns the case of Fran and Dan Keller, former day-care owners in Austin whom prosecutors claimed had engaged in outrageous satanic rituals and sexual abuse with the children entrusted to their care. The married couple had always maintained their innocence. On Tuesday, Mrs. Keller, 63, was released after 21 years in prison when the case against her fell apart. Her husband Dan, who turns 72 on Friday, is expected to be released within days, said defense lawyer Keith Hampton. Both were serving 48 years sentences.

The case, like California's Martin preschool trial and others, was part of a national hysteria over alleged sexual abuse with Satanic overtones in the 1980s and early 1990s. Psychologists and therapists were subsequently criticized for having implanted the bizarre allegations into the minds of children.

“For those who believed in the prevalence of ritual abuse, the allegations were powerful proof that secret societies and dangerous cults — often protected by top politicians, business leaders and law officers — engaged in depraved attacks on children who could be dominated and indoctrinated through pain, humiliation and terror,” observed the Austin American-Statesman. In this sense, the arguments of prosecutors were not dissimilar from  left-wing conspiracy theories that have gained currency in recent years -- from crackpot storylines from Hollywood regarding the JFK assassination to claims that President George W. Bush dynamited the levies in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in order to clear blacks out of the city.

The sensational trial must have been a rollicking good time for the publicity-hungry Ronnie Earle. As the Statesman explained:

The case began Aug. 15, 1991, when a 3-year-old girl told her mother that Dan Keller had hurt her. The mother and daughter were on their way to a scheduled appointment with the girl’s therapist, who drew out details that included Keller defecating on her head and sexually assaulting her with a pen. In the following weeks, two other children from the day care offered similar accusations. 
By the time of the Kellers’ six-day trial in November 1992, the list of atrocities had grown.
According to the children, the couple served blood-laced Kool-Aid and forced them to have videotaped sex with adults and other children. The Kellers, they said, sometimes wore white robes and lit candles before hurting them. 
The children also accused the Kellers of forcing them to watch or participate in the killing and dismemberment of cats, dogs and a crying baby. Bodies were unearthed in cemeteries and new holes dug to hide freshly killed animals and, once, an adult passer-by who was shot and dismembered with a chain saw. The children recalled several plane trips, including one to Mexico, where they were sexually abused by soldiers before returning to Austin in time to meet their parents at the day care.

As for physical evidence, there was damning testimony from Dr. Michael Mouw, an emergency room physician, who'd examined the 3-year-old girl on the night she'd first accused Dan Keller of sexual abuse. He “found two tears in the girl’s hymen consistent with sexual abuse and determined that the injuries were less than 24 hours old,” noted the Statesman. But during a hearing on the Kellers' appeal last August, Dr. Mouw said he'd changed his mind – all due to an epiphany he'd had while attending a medical seminar years after the trial. “Mouw said a slide presentation on 'normal' pediatric hymens included a photo that was identical to what he had observed in the girl,” the Statesman said.

“Sometimes it takes time to figure out what y'ou don’t know. I was mistaken,” the physician admitted.

Hampton, the defense lawer, told the Associated Press: "He testified extensively to his mistake and there is now no physical evidence that anything happened to these children."

Hampton also criticized the testimony of clinical psychologist Randy Noblitt, who he described as a crackpot and charlatan.

“A 21st century court ought to be able to recognize a 20th century witch-hunt and render justice accordingly,” Hampton argued in his appeal. He has vowed to work to completely exonerate the Kellers.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg -- who helped to prosecute Tom DeLay and has vowed to pursue charges against him – issued a statement saying that the Kellers would be released because of Dr. Mouw's testimony.

"I agreed that there is a reasonable likelihood that his false testimony affected the judgment of the jury," said Lehmberg, who has recently been in the news due to a drunk-driven conviction for which she served jail time. "The Court of Criminal Appeals will review both cases. No further action or decisions on the case will be made until that review is finalized," she said.

The sensational turn-of-events comes on the heels of another miscarriage of justice in the area that sent Michael Morton to jail for 25 years for killing his wife. He was innocent, as DNA evidence revealed a number of months ago. Judge Ken Anderson in nearby Williamson County, who's prosecuted Morton as district attorney, recently gave up his law license and served a stint in jail – part of a plea bargain for having withheld evidence during the trial. Morton was subsequently exonerated, and DNA evidence linked another man to the murder of his wife and another woman, Debra Masters Baker.

Ronnie Earl has yet to make a public comment about the Kellers release, but the disgrace over this and the Tom DeLay prosecution will serve as a black mark on his career.

November 26, 2013

Media Blackout of the 'Knockout Game'

By David Paulin
It's an infuriating example of political correctness: Most of New York City's media outlets have sanitized the nature of a spate of unprovoked attacks upon hapless pedestrians -- all recent victims of the so-called "knockout game." There have been injuries and several deaths among men, women, and youngsters, as they suffered walloping “sucker punches” by roving black youths in New York City and elsewhere.
The knockout game involves an unmentionable subject for most in the mainstream media: black-on-white violence. To a lesser extent, Asians and Hispanics have been targeted as well. They're white enough, it seems, for black youths playing the knockout game.
For those unfamiliar with the knockout game, it's how some black youths amuse themselves, especially in urban settings. The goal: use a single devastating punch to knock a hapless victim unconscious. And when they succeed, they invariably react with merriment and laughter, as videos capturing the mayhem have revealed. Could racism be motivating these black youths? Nobody in the mainstream media dares suggest that this might be fueling the black mob violence in what President Obama said would be a post-racial era.
The knockout game, to be sure, has been around a few years. It has been mostly ignored by the mainstream media, which generally airbrushes out the black-on-white nature of the mayhem. The knockout game, however, was the subject of a lengthy American Thinker article by John T. Bennett way back on July 14, 2011. Now, in light of the spate of recent attacks in New York City and nearby cities, some media outlets are belatedly acknowledging that the knockout game is indeed a growing trend – though they still tiptoe around the fact that the attackers are black.
In Brooklyn, some recent victims of the knockout game were Jews, which is finally prompting New York City police officials to state that "hate crimes" may have occurred.
Hate crimes? That must have shocked some at the New York Daily News, which on Monday ran an article that failed to note the generally black-on-white nature of the knockout game. Reporter Michael Walsh merely wrote that, "This disturbing game is a hit with goons" and is an "emerging trend among unhinged teens."
And on Fox's "The Real Story" on Tuesday, two “experts” opined during a panel discussion that the black youths playing the knockout game were possibly influenced by violent video games or raised in troubled homes. "This is about parenting at the core," chimed in blond-haired moderator Gretchen Carlson.
All about parenting, huh? Fair enough. But that also raises the question of just what some black parents are teaching their little darlings, given that they prefer to attack mostly whites. It’s safe to say that the media would readily cry "racism" if the knockout game involved roving gangs of white youths attacking blacks and to a lesser extent Asians and Hispanics.
Fox's Greta Van Susteren, for her part, gets it, unlike some of her colleagues at Fox News, which is the news channel that I usually watch. In her "On the Record" segment, Susteren raised alarm bells about the knockout game.
"Take a close look," she said, referring to a video clip showing black youths playing the knockout game. "Do you know what is going on? That is young African-American teenagers viciously and gratuitously attacking a random victim, a teacher, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania."
"This knockout game crime is a trend," she added. "We've had two incidents in the last few days right here in D.C. I know this is a very touchy topic because the game is regrettably popular amongst unsupervised African-American teens. No one wants to get near the topic of race. We also can't run from this one."
She concluded: "I beg of Reverend Jesse Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton and even President Obama to step up right now and speak out. Your silence will speak volumes, but your voice could make a big difference. Don't wait. Be leaders, they need you. We need you."
Unfortunately, it would be out of character for these black leaders to speak out against the knockout game. They prefer to shame whites -- not blacks -- in order to achieve their left-leaning visions of social justice and score political points.
To its credit, the New York Post did run a piece on Tuesday exposing the unpleasant truths about the knockout game -- and how the recent incidents in New York City and elsewhere underscore the pathologies of black thug culture. But that no-holds-barred article ("Thugs Target Jews in Sick Knockout Game") wasn't written by a New York Post reporter but by Thomas Sowell, an African-American and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the conservative think tank.

It would be interesting to know if the knockout game is being played in cities and states with high numbers of concealed carry permits. But the answer to that might not square with the mainstream media's anti-gun agenda.
As New York's newspapers and online sites tiptoe around race in their coverage of the knockout game, news channels are presenting a more honest picture of what's happening due to the visual nature of their medium -- as is underscored by this segment from a New York news channel.

Originally published at The American Thinker and FrontPage Magazine 



November 13, 2013

Hugo Chávez's successor takes bread-and-circuses socialism to new heights

President Nicolás Maduro's "economic war" on retailers comes amid the detention of a Miami Herald reporter and mysterious downing of a Mexican business jet

Originally published at The American Thinker and FrontPage Magazine

By David Paulin

Hugo Chávez must be rolling over in his grave -- convulsed with laughter. Bread-and-circuses socialism has hit new heights in Venezuela as Chávez's hand-picked successor Nicolás Maduro ordered the military occupation of electronic chain stores – and forced them to offer "fair prices.” Prices had been rising, but not anymore.

Under President Chávez, bread-and-circuses populism also was the rage: nationwide stores were set up to sell food at below-market prices – an effort that, ironically, led to food shortages. Now, Maduro is taking Venezuela's entitlement culture a step further -- putting government-set prices on things like plasma television sets, refrigerators, and washing machines.

Venezuelans are overjoyed.

Since Saturday, thousands have been mobbing electronic stores to get a bargain. Prices are so low that even anti-government opponents have joined the mob that's enjoying the temporary fruits of Chávez so-called "21st Century socialism." A number of store managers and owners have been arrested, accused by Maduro of illegal price gouging, speculating, and unfair lending. "We're doing this for the good of the nation," said Maduro. “Let nothing remain in stock …We're going to comb the whole nation in the next few days. This robbery of the people has to stop."

Critics called it "state sponsored looting." Store shelves were cleaned out. But Maduro, who faces make-or-break municipal elections in a month amid a deteriorating economy, vented his fury at Venezuela's allegedly unscrupulous retailers – the "parasitic bourgeoisie” as he called them, and lumped them together with Yankee imperialists and his political opposition.
It was right out of Chavez playbook, but taken to new heights – or lows. Bread-and-circuses populism, to be sure, has existed in Venezuela long before Hugo Chavez, along with ample amounts of authoritarianism, statism, and corruption.

The chaos among bargain hunters – caught on the YouTube clips below -- continued through Monday; and so the government sent out thousands of members of its security forces and civilian militia to ensure crowd control at electronics shops – those not already cleaned out or, in some cases, looted by shoppers who didn't want to pay even the government's dirt-cheap prices. Next on Maduro's hit list are clothing stores and automobile dealerships.
Editor: insert YouTube clip, below.

Venezuela is an oil-rich yet impoverished country. But it wasn't always poor. During the 1970s, it was dubbed “Saudi Venezuela” as oil prices soared and petro-dollars trickled down to most everybody. Those days are long gone -- yet many Venezuelans persist in their belief that oil wealth ought to make them rich; and so they're quick to accept Maduro's conspiracy theories about why consumer goods are unaffordable. To them, dirt-cheap electronics and appliances are part of their birthright by virtue of their oil wealth.

Venezuela's rising prices and food shortages reflect the economic realities of Venezuela’s command-and-control economy – a 54 percent inflation rate and shortages of dollars caused by draconian currency exchange controls.

Dollars, of course, are needed to import goods, but they're hard to come by. On the currency black market, a greenback sells for nearly 10 times the official rate. Mismanagement and currency controls are blamed for the shortages of basic goods, including toilet paper and cooking oil.

Venezuela's slide into mob rule has been brewing for years. Early into President Chávez's first term, 14 years ago, he had suggested that people who rob could be excused; they were only hungry and poor, after all. And then there were a number of instances of squatters occupying empty apartment buildings, with tacit government approval. The concept of private property, the cornerstone of a vibrant economy, was whittled way little by little – from squatters taking over apartment complexes to Chávez's nationalizations of large swaths of the economy, after declaring himself a socialist.

With Venezuela's economy in a tail spin, the government has become increasingly paranoid, as underscored by the recent detention of Miami Herald Jim Wyss whom the National Guard and military intelligence held for three days. His crime: asking questions about chronic food shortages and upcoming municipal elections. He was released on Saturday as Venezuela drifted into mob rule. 

What's next for Venezuela? Cuba at one point had an answer on how to rev up its cash-strapped economy: drug trafficking. Those days appear to be over thanks to the Reagan administration's vigilance; but drug trafficking has also been a source of revenue for Venezuela, enriching Venezuelan narco-generals, high-ranking officials, and in particular Lebanese-born businessman Walid Makled, who ultimately had a falling out with the Chávez administration and is now in a Venezuelan prison.

Venezuela's government has never demonstrated a great interest in stopping drug trafficking within its border; and so the recent destruction of 13 civilian airplanes, allegedly for drug smuggling, suggest that corrupt Venezuelan military men and officials may be waging a turf war for control of Venezuela's drug trade; the country is a transshipment point for Colombian cocaine. Reports vary as to whether the planes were shot down on destroyed on the ground after being forced down; and that includes the fate of a Mexican business jet whose recent destruction has drawn protests from Mexico's government. Venezuela claimed the Hawker 25 was loaded with cocaine.

In the go-go days of high oil prices, Venezuela was considered a beacon of democracy for the region. Caracas was a charming place -- the "city of red roofs." Venezuela's long decline has accelerated under socialism and anti-Americanism. The worst is yet to come; or as Venezuelan economist Jose Guerra said in a tweet: “Food today, hunger tomorrow."

November 5, 2013

Celebrating A Movie the Critics Hated

"Somewhere in Time" was derided by critics and bombed at the box office -- yet the 1980 movie about time travel and eternal love has become a cult classic 

Originally published on October 6 at The American Thinker

By David Paulin

Message to high-brow movie critics and cultural elites: Stay away from the Grand Hotel on Michigan's Mackinac Island this weekend. No cynicism allowed! Not among the nearly 800 "time travelers" who arrived on Friday at the historic Grand Hotel -- the start of a three-day gathering during which they'll dress up in period garb and (in their minds) transport themselves back to 1912. The fanciful journey has been an annual ritual for 23 years now, bringing together incurable romantics from all over the country, and even abroad. It's a celebration of the 1980 movie "Somewhere in Time"-- a bittersweet love story involving time travel and shot mostly in and around the majestic 126-year-old 

Grand Hotel.

The film's message: love is eternal.

Critics hated "Somewhere in Time." Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times that the film had the year's highest "giggle content," and "does for time-travel what the Hindenburg did for dirigibles." Deriding the film's "romantic idealism," Roger Ebert asked in the Chicago Sun-Times whether it wasn't "a little futile to travel 68 years backward into time for a one-night stand."

Yet "Somewhere in Time" is now a beloved cult classic -- all of which underscores the amusing perception gap that often exists between ordinary movie audiences and cultural elites (and especially movie critics). But that's not news to Jo Addie, an antiques dealer in the Chicago area, who is president of the "Somewhere in Time" fan club and editor of its quarterly magazine. "You could hardly imagine a critic putting words to paper saying they truly love a movie like "Somewhere in Time," she wrote in an e-mail message. "It would have them losing their 'credibility' or their 'edge'. "Somewhere in Time" is not for the jaded or cynical."

Released nationwide in early October, 1980, "Somewhere in Time" ran for three short weeks. It flopped at box offices, a fate attributed not only to bad reviews, but to bad marketing and bad luck. Among other things: an actors strike was underway. This prevented its actors from promoting it, for doing so would have violated the Screen Actors Guild's work rules. Universal Studios, for its part, never really believed in the film, having whittled down director Jeannot Szwarc's budget to a bare-bones $5.1 million.

Cult Following

Yet over the years cable television reruns and video rentals have elevated "Somewhere in Time" to the status of a cult classic in America and abroad. It's especially popular in Asia. A devoted fan club sprung up in 1990: "The International Network of Somewhere In Time Enthusiasts." Known by the acronym INSITE, it has been headed by Addie since 1999. Above all, INSITE says it strives to "celebrate the message of timeless love that "Somewhere in Time" represents."

And so during the first weekend of October, as Mackinac Island's tourism season winds down, aficionados of "Somewhere in Time" - mostly married couples in their 50s - dress up in period attire; go to screenings of the film; and meet with cast and crew members to discuss the fine points of the movie's production. (Christopher Reeve, Jean Seymour, and screenwriter Richard Matheson are among many who have attended.) There is a costume promenade and visits to film locations. And Mackinac Island is the perfect place to get into a time-traveling mood: Motor vehicles are banned there -- only bicycles and horse-drawn carriages are allowed, thank you.

Cost for this year's time-traveling experience: $1,000 to $1,300 per couple. To be sure, more than a few single people attend, including "twenty-somethings," Addie said. "The film is about 'finding the one', and while many films have that as their theme, this one goes further -- it gives people hope. If they have not yet found the one, it gives them hope that they still will. If they have found the one, it gives them hope it will last forever."

And sometimes, time travelers actually do find "the one"...among fellow time travelers at the Grand Hotel! "It's a fine place to become engaged. That happens every year, and some even marry during "Somewhere in Time Weekend," said Addie, who's been married 37 years. Her husband Jim, an audio engineer and consultant, helps with INSITE and was an extra in the film (for one evening), while she was an extra, at age 23, for what she calls "three glorious weeks." This year's "Somewhere in Time Weekend" is sold out.

"Is time travel possible?" Young playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) puts that question to his former college philosophy professor in the opening scenes of "Somewhere in Time." The answer, as Collier discovers, is yes; and shortly thereafter he wakes up in the Grand Hotel, having traveled back from 1980 to June 27, 1912. Soon, he meets the beautiful and famous stage actress Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour).

They've met before, he realizes: She was the mysterious elderly woman (Susan French) who had placed a pocket watch in his hand eight years earlier. "Come back to me," she says.

Richard and Elise fall madly in love. They are suddenly separated, briefly reunited, and then, tragically, Collier suffers an absurd time-traveling mishap: He dissolves in front of a horrified Elise and is transported -- against his will -- back to 1980. The movie ends with the couple reunited in death, while bathed in a lovely white light.

Perception Gap

Yes, the critics had some things right: "Somewhere in Time" was implausible, contrived, overly sentimental; and there of course was no nifty time machine; no dazzling special effects or gadgetry. Instead, Richard Collier embarks on his time-traveling journey through an elaborate bit of self-hypnosis. Yet for audiences, the movie had a special something. Critics laughed and sneered; yet audiences were moved to tears. How to explain this?

Critics and audiences inhabit different worlds: the former sit at free private screenings, the later pay for a box-office ticket, enjoy a "group experience" and want to be entertained: So says Hollywood screenwriter Robert Avrech, whose thriller "Body Double" (1984) was panned by many critics yet got a glowing review from Roger Ebert, who praised it as "an exhilarating exercise in pure filmmaking, a thriller in the Hitchcock tradition." "Body Double" is now a cult classic. "Critics are cultural commissars who have no connection to the market place of movies," Avrech explained in an e-mail. "Audiences just want to sit in the dark and become engrossed in a ripping good yarn."

"Somewhere in Time" combines love with time travel, a wonderful combination," he explained. "I know, I won an Emmy Award for my film "The Devil's Arithmetic" (1999) which is a time travel story and, yup, a love story. Like Marcel Proust's Madeleine, we are all aware of the limits and ravages of time. And yet we like to imagine, we want to believe, that love is bound by neither time or space."

"Somewhere in Time" was a labor of love for its cast and crew. Addie recalls only upbeat experiences as an extra. Because of the tight budget, Christopher Reeve worked for a reduced fee because he believed so strongly in Richard Matheson's screenplay. Reeve was interested in moving on from "Superman" (to his agent's dismay) to play more complex roles. Composer John Barry, a four-time Academy Award winner, also loved the script that friend Jane Seymour had sent him; and so he worked for less than he could have gotten elsewhere to produce his highly acclaimed score.

Richard Matheson's screenplay was based on his 1975 science fiction novel "Bid Time Return." Baby boomers are no strangers to his influential works, now shining ornaments of American popular culture: "The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957); "What Dreams May Come" (1998); and sixteen memorable "Twilight Zone" episodes, including "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," "Nick of Time," and "Little Girl Lost."

To be sure, it wasn't just movie critics who hated "Somewhere in Time." So did Hollywood elites. In 1981, "Somewhere in Time" was nominated for only one Academy Award -- Best Costume Design -- but lost out to Roman Polanski's "Tess." Best Picture award went to "Ordinary People," a movie the critics adored; it dealt with a dysfunctional upper-middle class family in Lake Forrest, Illinois. Today, however, DVDs of "Ordinary People" gather dust at video stores, while videos of "Somewhere in Time" are rented over and over again. Which perhaps underscores how Hollywood over the years has become increasingly out of touch with mainstream America. It's a subject Avrech has tackled at his personal blog, Seraphic Secret. For him, movies like "Ordinary People" are part of the problem.

"Ordinary People is, well, boring and depressing, and like a wading pool: You keep expecting it to get deeper and yet the water remains waist deep," said Avrech. "It's already an embarrassing cultural relic and every critic who crowed over such a pretentious movie should publicly admit that they were duped by so-called high-art. "Somewhere In Time" is charming, entertaining and optimistic, whereas "Ordinary People" takes cheap Freudian shots at mothers. Mary Tyler Moore's performance was praised to heaven. But look at it now and you feel like cringing. Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour deliver heartfelt performances that move -- excuse the pun -- ordinary people."

He added: "I like "Somewhere in Time." Is it one of my favorite movies? No. Not even close. But so what? I am touched by its vision of timeless love. The costumes are great and so are the locations. Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve are highly underrated actors."

In 1984, "Somewhere in Time" was released in Asia and became a major hit. Hong Kong's Palace Theater ran the film for 18 months before packed houses. How to explain this? Addie got the answer from a "Somewhere in Time" fan, an expert on Asian culture. "He explained that in all (Asian) cultural myths, there is a man on a noble quest that is seemingly impossible and unattainable (time travel); and he is seeking a goal that is totally pure and beautiful (Elise). He has to struggle against impossible odds and obstacles to reach his goal, and give up much, even sometimes his life, the ultimate sacrifice."

To be sure, the cult status of "Somewhere in Time" is international. "We have had attendees from Japan, Australia, Brazil, Peru, and many from the U.K. and European countries," said Addie. "Last year we had a 

couple from Ukraine."

And just for the record, she says, "Somewhere in Time" is not a 'chick flick.' Fifty percent of its devoted fans are men. It was written by a man; the fan society was founded by a man (Bill Shepard); and it is told entirely from a man's point of view -- it's Richard's story."

In 2000, Universal Studios released a 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD of "Somewhere in Time" that included bonus material about INSITE, including interviews with Jo Addie and Bill Shepard. And now, the timeless love story of Richard Collier and Elise McKenna may be heading to Broadway. A musical production of "Somewhere in Time" had a five-week run last May in Portland, Oregon, and New York theater producer Ken Davenport has his sights set on Broadway. Sadly, Richard Matheson didn't make it to the Portland opening, having died last June 23. "He was enthusiastically behind this new chapter for his story of Richard and Elise," said Addie.

Yes, critics may sneer, but as Addie explained: "Somewhere in Time" is for people who have old-fashioned values, believe in true love and commitment, are romantic at heart, and feel displaced in our violent and chaotic world, and wish for a better one."

She and fellow time travelers have a message for Hollywood: make more movies like "Somewhere in Time."

The INSITE official website is here.

Chavez’s Successor to Obama: ‘Yankee Go Home!’

Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro expels three top U.S. Embassy officials, blaming them for power blackouts and economic sabotage

Originally published at The American Thinker blog and FrontPage Magazine

By David Paulin

Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro has expelled three top U.S. Embassy officials, accusing them on Monday of fomenting economic sabotage, including all-too-frequent power blackouts, in the oil-rich yet impoverished South American nation. Maduro’s remarks were right out of Hugo Chavez’s anti-American playbook. They dashed Washington’s hope that Maduro, a former union leader and bus driver, would be more “pragmatic” than Chávez, the popular firebrand president who died last March. Maudro was apparently unimpressed with President Obama’s desire for a reset in relations with Venezuela.

“Get out of Venezuela! Yankee go home!” Maduro shouted on live television, during a celebration marking the bicentennial of a battle for independence from Spain. ”Enough of abuses against the dignity of a homeland that wants peace.”

The embassy officials were identified as chargé d’affaires Kelly Keiderling; political officer Elizabeth Hoffman; and vice consul David Moo. They have 48 hours to leave the country.

Maduro didn’t say whether the trio had anything to do with the dark side of Venezuela’s so-called “21st Century” socialism: toilet paper and food shortages; an annual inflation rate of more than 45 percent; epic levels of corruption; and Caracas’ status as the world’s murder capital. Power blackouts also have been a problem.

“We have detected a group of officials of the United States Embassy in Caracas, in Venezuela, and we have been tracking them for several months,” Maduro explained. ”These officials spend their time meeting with the Venezuelan extreme right wing, financing them and encouraging them to take actions to sabotage the electrical system, to sabotage the Venezuelan economy.”

Regarding the Obama administration, Maduro said he “doesn’t care” about its response. “We’re not going to allow an imperial government to come and bring money to stop companies operating, (and) to take out the electricity to shut Venezuela down.”

“Señores gringos, imperialists, you have before you men and women of dignity that…will never kneel before your interests and we’re not afraid of you. We’ll confront you on all levels, the political, the diplomatic.”
Maduro’s rant underscores that things can only get  worse in Venezuela. Under Chávez and Maduro,

Venezuela’s old pathologies — Statism, bread-and-circus populism, and corruption – have grown to epic levels. But like Chávez, Maduro is clueless about what’s wrong; and so he finds it convenient to promote conspiracy theories and anti-Americanism. But this isn’t merely about political expediency and demagoguery, because Maduro no doubt really believes what’s he saying, as do many Venezuelans.

“Yankee go home!” Sadly, it’s an old story in Latin America and many parts of the world.

Titanic bandleader's violin auctioned for $1.45 million

Water-damaged violin a symbol of courage, duty, and religious faith 

Published October 20 at The American Thinker blog

By David Paulin

Within hours of the Titanic disaster a little over a century ago, members of the ship's orchestra were hailed as heroes. The eight men had continued playing to the very end. Bandleader Wallace Henry Hartley was the most famous of them. Days after the sinking, his body and violin were found floating in the icy North Atlantic. The violin had been a gift from his fiancée Maria.

On Saturday, Hartley's violin sold in a London auction for $1.45 million. It was the highest price ever paid for a Titanic artifact, its value having been driven up because Titanic aficionados saw it as symbol of Hartley's courage, duty, and religious faith.

There were, to be sure, many examples of bravery among the Titanic's crew and passengers, including the rich and famous. Benjamin Guggenheim, 46, the scion of the Guggenheim fortune, was overhead to say that he and other social elites had "dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen."

"Tell my wife, if it should happen that my secretary and I both go down, tell her I played the game out straight to the end," he said in a note passed along to a survivor. "No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward."

Yet it was the Titanic's orchestra -- playing on as the ship tilted and water rushed aboard -- that is the most enduring memory of the maritime disaster. Eyewitness said the musicians were stoic; that their music calmed passengers who were boarding lifeboats or -- as was the case with 1,517 of them -- resigning themselves to their impending deaths on April 15, 1912. Hartley and his fellow musicians exemplified courage as defined by author Ernest Hemingway: "grace under pressure."

An estimated 30,00-to-40,000 mourners lined the funeral route for Hartley when his body was returned to Britain. Hartley's fiancée would never marry.

Where did Hartley and his fellow musicians find the courage that kept them playing to the end? Playing songs that according to varying eyewitness accounts, possibly included the Christian hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee" but was more likely the then-popular waltz "Autumn Dream."

Hartley was raised a Methodist, and his religious faith and sense of duty influenced his conduct, according to music journalist Steve Turner, author of "The Band that Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic." "[Hartley's] moral character and his personal assurance that death was not the end must have stirred his bandsmen," he wrote. "Together as a band under Hartley's leadership, they transcended their personal limitations."

In an interview with the online magazine of the United Methodist Church, Turner elaborated"No one knows for sure why the band played. We do know that Wallace Hartley once told a friend about the power of music to prevent panic. My feeling is that he was a person of great moral authority as well as a born leader, and therefore his wish at that time was passed on to all the men."

The buyer of Hartley's violin, identified only as a "British collector of Titanic items," paid $1.7 million after taxes and commission. The spruce and maple violin is not playable, having been ruined by sea water.

Over the last few years, the violin had been displayed at museums in the United States and United Kingdom. 
Intriguingly, those who have held it say they've felt the power of the dead musician's sense of duty, courage, and religious faith. "In my 20 years as an auctioneer, I can honestly say I don't think any article has made people show as much emotion as this one," said Andrew Aldridge of Henry Aldridge & Son, which auctioned the violin and specializes in Titanic memorabilia. "People pick it up and start crying."

"It represents everything good about people -- that's the only explanation I can come up with for why it causes so much emotion."

Courage, duty, faith -- that these things live on in Hartley's violin suggests that these virtues do not belong to a bygone era, as cynics would have us believe.

November 1, 2013

Rioting Black Youths Stun Austin, Texas

Hip and liberal Austin, Texas, caught off guard by national trend -- black mob violence

Originally published at The American Thinker blog

By David Paulin

It was a spasm of violence that stunned residents: some 200 black youths raising hell -- what police called a full-blown riot -- in Austin, Texas.

Angry black youths inexplicably converged by the Highland Mall, near an iconic haunted house attraction, and walked atop parked cars, fought among themselves, and hurled rocks at some 30 arriving police officers. Several people suffered minor injuries, including one police officer. Later, police said so many squad cars were needed that the department was unable to provide adequate 911 emergency coverage to the rest of Austin. 

There were no reports of black-on-white violence, to be sure, as has often occurred at similarly thuggish  gatherings across the country. The violence was unprecedented in hip and liberal Austin and, police later said, inexplicable.

From America's small towns to urban metropolises, black mob violence has been on the rise in recent years, despite President Barack Obama's pledge, as the first black president, to bring hope and change to a post-racial America. Some of the violence has involved rowdy black youths simply raising hell, coming together in threatening flash mobs or converging for events like Miami's Urban Beach Week; yet many gatherings of black mobs have involved vicious and unprovoked attacks on whites, such as one that recently occurred in Brooklyn, New York. Ten black youths blocked a white couple's car while shouting racial slurs, then beat up the husband and pulled the wife by hair onto the street.

Author and journalist Colin Flaherty has chronicled the trend of black mob violence in his book "White Girl Bleed a Lot: The Return of Racial Violence to America." Austin had escaped this trend until last Saturday night, when some 200 black youths rampaged near an iconic haunted-house attraction, the House of Torment, at the nearly empty Highland Mall. Video from an orbiting police helicopter revealed roving bands of youths walking around, with some occasionally engaging in fistfights among themselves. Some reportedly sported various gang colors.

 In their reporting on the riot, Austin's media outlets followed a widely accepted rule of mainstream journalism today: they failed to mention that the rioters were black. Yet many Austin residents surmised as much -- and their suspicions were confirmed when mug shots were published of four of at least five black youths whom police arrested. A police commander subsequently told local website CultureMap Austin that, yes, the rioters were mostly blacks.

One gang banger was Charles Robertson-Davis, 22, whom police charged with inciting a riot. He was "constantly at the front of the crowd, challenging officers and encouraging other subjects in the crowd not to comply with police commands," stated an arrest affidavit.

Interestingly, Robertson-Davis is no stranger to Texas law enforcement. He used to be on the state's 10-most wanted list. He had a $10,000 reward on his head until he was captured in mid-April. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Robertson-Davis is a member of the Bloods, a violent black gang, and has a long rap sheet: assault, arson, resisting arrest, retaliation, assault of a public servant, possession of marijuana and controlled substances, tampering with and fabricating evidence, unauthorized use of motor vehicle, and failing to identify himself as a fugitive. Who was the judge who let him out of jail?

The Highland Mall is undergoing remodeling to serve as a branch of Austin Community College. But in its heyday, it was a popular and upscale shopping mall - until becoming a gathering spot for sometimes rowdy black youths, especially during a track meet called the Texas Relays, known informally as "Black Mardi Gras." Retailers dreaded the event as hundreds of black youths roamed about yet bought little merchandise. (For a YouTube clip of what's been happening, click here.) Over the years, shoppers increasingly stayed away. Major retailers pulled out as the Highland Mall contended with an "image problem." The mall was eventually sold.

Austin's police are clueless about why the riot occurred in Austin -- a college town, hi-tech Mecca, and the state's capital. Police Chief Art Acevedo and his commanders need to read Thomas Sowell's recent article in the National Review, "Early Skirmishes in a Race War." Sowell, an African-American and senior fellow with the Hoover Institution, related how blacks and whites have become dangerously polarized in recent years, with the most troubling example of this being the ominous trend of "unprovoked physical attacks on whites by young black gangs in shopping malls, on beaches, and in other public places all across the country today."

"Initial skirmishes in that race war have already begun, and have in fact been going on for some years," he wrote. "But public officials pretend that it is not happening, and the mainstream media seldom publish it at all, except in ways that conceal what is really taking place."

 As officials grapple with Austin's first case of larger-scale mob violence by angry black youths, they're contending as well with the consequences of Austin's status as a sanctuary city: a school system
overwhelmed with poor Hispanic children, many from chaotic and impoverished homes of illegal immigrant families from Mexico and Central America.

Austin's political and cultural landscape is dominated by rabidly liberal Democrats. As the city's social problems mount, it's unlikely that many in Austin's political class will get mugged by reality.