Politics Is Too Important To Be Taken Seriously.Mon, 30 Sep 2019 04:03:14 +0000en-US
1 https://spectator.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/cropped-favicon-150×150.pngThe American Spectatorhttps://spectator.org
3232Senate Shouldn’t Dignify Impeachment Parody With a Trialhttps://spectator.org/senate-shouldnt-dignify-impeachment-parody-with-a-trial/
https://spectator.org/senate-shouldnt-dignify-impeachment-parody-with-a-trial/#respondMon, 30 Sep 2019 04:03:14 +0000https://spectator.org/?p=403178Mitch McConnell told NPR last Friday that, if the House impeaches President Trump, “the Senate immediately goes into a trial.” This is music to Democratic ears, despite the infinitesimal chance of conviction, because they desperately need the sordid spectacle into which impeachment trials inevitably devolve. The Senate, however, isn’t required to try the President. That chamber possesses the “sole power to try all impeachments,” but is under no constitutional obligation to do so. The Democrats ignored House precedent and longstanding tradition to launch their “impeachment inquiry.” Why should Senate Republicans consider themselves bound by precedent and procedural rules where the trial is concerned?
The GOP can no longer afford to be timid about such niceties. The Democrats have long since declared war on Trump, the Republican Party, and the “deplorable” voters who support them. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) pointed out on the floor of the Senate last week that the Democrats began making plans for President Trump’s impeachment well before he was inaugurated. She noted that in December of 2016 the Democrats were already at work on a Senate bill whose sole purpose was to enable Democrats to exploit spurious conflict of interest allegations involving President-elect Trump’s business dealings and his official duties. The legislation was specifically conceived as an impeachment weapon:
The bill was tailor-made to transform conflict allegations into impeachable crimes. Keep in mind this bill was conceived before President Trump became President Trump. It was the beginning of a mission toward impeachment, even if they had to fabricate the means to get there. And let me tell you, they were determined to make it happen.… Yesterday, House Democrats, supported by their friends in the Senate, gathered to announce their intention to begin formal impeachment inquiries against President Trump.
This kind of skullduggery continues apace. The secret elimination of a requirement that whistleblowers provide first-hand knowledge of alleged wrongdoings was clearly carried out so hearsay could be used to launch investigations into “scandals” like Trump’s July conversation with the Ukrainian president. Last week we all watched as Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, waved the transcript of that conversation in the air while he literally looked into the cameras and fabricated an excerpt. This is the man who will lead the impeachment inquiry. Must the Senate take his findings seriously? Bob Bauer, former White House Counsel in the Obama administration, thinks not:
The Constitution does not by its express terms direct the Senate to try an impeachment. In fact, it confers on the Senate “the sole power to try,” which is a conferral of exclusive constitutional authority and not a procedural command. The Constitution couches the power to impeach in the same terms.… The House may choose to impeach or not, and one can imagine an argument that the Senate is just as free, in the exercise of its own “sole power,” to decline to try any impeachment that the House elects to vote.
Moreover, his NPR interview notwithstanding, Majority Leader McConnell has enough constitutional flexibility to reject impeachment charges that the majority of the senators find baseless. And McConnell is none too impressed with the latest Democratic charges involving the Ukraine kerfuffle: “I’ve read the summary of the call. If this is the ‘launching point’ for House Democrats’ impeachment process, they’ve already overplayed their hand. It’s clear there is no quid pro quo that the Democrats were desperately praying for.” Keith E. Whittington, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton University, describes how the Republican majority may handle a frivolous impeachment resolution:
The Senate could entertain a motion to dismiss the charges at the outset of a trial on the grounds that the allegations did not meet the constitutional standard of impeachable offenses, and a majority of the Senate could send the House packing without ever hearing a witness or seeing evidence. If a majority of the senators thought the House was abusing the impeachment power … there is no reason why the Senate would have to pay obeisance to the House by going through the motions of a pointless trial.
It goes without saying that there are dissenting voices. The respected legal scholars of Twitter pounded out countless retweets of an unsourced HuffPost article claiming, “The Republican leadership issued a memo Saturday clarifying that the Senate must take action if the House of Representatives approves articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.” No link to the memo was provided, of course. Bloomberg found a “Republican Senate leadership aide” willing to cite a 1986 memo from then-Parliamentarian Robert Dove, who advised that “both the rules and the precedents argue for a rapid disposition of any impeachment trial in the United States Senate.” Oddly, no link was provided to this memo either.
The latest Democratic impeachment parody is pathetic. If Democrats ever manage to produce articles of impeachment, the Senate shouldn’t dignify them with a trial. Conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds majority and the GOP would begin the process with a majority of 53-47. That means 20 Republicans would have to defect. Thus, the only purpose served by a trial would be to smear President Trump while generating enough sound and fury to convince the increasingly unhinged Democratic base that its “representatives” are actually accomplishing something. It would dignify the Democrats’ destructive agenda, their low regard for the voters, and their willingness to waste the Senate’s time on a tawdry circus.
]]>https://spectator.org/senate-shouldnt-dignify-impeachment-parody-with-a-trial/feed/0Five Reasons Why Tom Brady Is Overratedhttps://spectator.org/five-reasons-why-tom-brady-is-overrated/
https://spectator.org/five-reasons-why-tom-brady-is-overrated/#respondMon, 30 Sep 2019 04:02:27 +0000https://spectator.org/?p=403166I have published articles on many controversial topics: Trump, border walls, religion, politics, terrorism, Tim Tebow, and, heck, even one on dodgeball. But this may be my most controversial subject yet. Here goes:
Tom Brady is overrated.
Now, before the lynch mobs from Boston can reach my house, hear me out. I’ll make my case as I stack furniture against my door, pull the blinds, and kill the lights.
Tom Brady is unquestionably a great quarterback and among the greatest of all time. He has led the Patriots to an unprecedented nine Super Bowls (and a 10th seems likely). He has been named MVP of that game four times, and he owns no less than 54 NFL records. Brady’s accomplishments are beyond dispute.
So when I say that he is overrated I don’t mean that he is not good or that he is average. No, he is, as I have said, great. But I am having trouble with the “G.O.A.T.” label — that is, “Greatest of All Time” — and I think there are several reasons why we should, in the words of Keith Jackson, say “Whoa, Nelly!” to this careless sports talk.
1. What is a G.O.A.T.?
First of all, as someone who writes and constructs arguments for a living, I find myself a bit frustrated by the lack of clarity on what sportswriters and commentators mean when they say that Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T. Best passer? Best athlete? The most skilled person to ever play that position? When you listen to their arguments, it becomes clear that almost no one believes he’s any of those things. No, it usually boils down to the fact that Brady has six Super Bowl rings. The implication is that those with rings are better than those without rings, and he who has the most rings is the G.O.A.T. It’s a simple and tempting measurement of greatness. But by that logic, Trent Dilfer was better than Dan Marino, and Brad Johnson was better than Jim Kelly. Does anyone really believe that?
2. This isn’t Olympic sprinting
Usain Bolt has been called “the greatest sprinter that ever lived.” Because his is a sport where individual performance alone determines the outcome, this title has greater merit than Brady’s “greatest” label. After all, we have objective data to support Bolt’s claim: his 100-meter sprint time smashed all previous records. But even Bolt’s G.O.A.T.* label needs an asterisk. That’s because his record is only the fastest since such records have been kept with hyper-accurate clocks that use photoelectric cells. Football is nothing like sprinting, tennis, or bowling, in which individual performance and statistics tell the tale. It’s not even like baseball, in which the pitcher and batter are engaged in a one-on-one contest and the other players on the field are largely irrelevant until the ball is in play. Football is a team sport like no other. A quarterback’s performance is dependent upon several factors that are beyond his control: his coaching, his offensive line, the skill of his receivers, his team’s ability to run the ball, and so on. For roughly half of every game the quarterback isn’t even on the field. That other half — the defense — has been fantastic for Brady (talkin’ about you, Malcolm Butler) over the course of his career. During the Belichick–Brady championships run, the Patriots have put together one of the greatest defensive dynasties in NFL history. Only three times in the last 17 years has the Patriots defense ranked outside of the league’s top 10. During that same period, more than half the NFL’s defenses have allowed more points than the worst Patriots defense. That’s dominance.
3. Pax Kraftica
Roman philosopher, Seneca, spoke of something called Pax Romana in reference to a period of prolonged stability and prosperity during Rome’s long history. Well, Brady has enjoyed something we might call Pax Kraftica. The Robert Kraft–Bill Belichick partnership has produced an extraordinary era of stability. It is no coincidence that every quarterback but one (Peyton Manning) who has multiple Super Bowl rings had that kind of stability, too: Bart Starr, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Jim Plunkett, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, John Elway, Ben Roethlisberger, and Eli Manning won their Super Bowls with the same historically stable franchises. Of the 12 quarterbacks with more than one Super Bowl championship, only Montana, Aikman, Roethlisberger, and Peyton Manning won Super Bowls with different coaches, and students of the sport would agree that Montana’s and Aikman’s last championships came with teams built by the coaches with whom they had won their first championships. The 49ers’ George Seifert and the Cowboys’ Barry Switzer were inheritors of teams they were smart enough not to screw up. Peyton Manning alone has won Super Bowls with both different coaches and different franchises. By contrast, Tom Brady has enjoyed an extraordinary period of ownership stability with one of the sport’s greatest defensive minds guiding the ship the whole way. One suspects many mediocre quarterbacks would have won a Super Bowl or two under Belichick, but what about a Dan Marino or a Philip Rivers?
4. History, history, history
I maintain that Bo Jackson is the greatest running back of all time. By that I mean that he is the most skilled person to ever play that position. His statistics do not make him the most accomplished and he won’t make the Hall of Fame because his career was so short, but I have never seen anyone run like he did. My father, however, always said that the only reason I think that is because I never saw Gale Sayers or Jim Brown, two players of his generation that he believed were better than any he ever saw. He had a point. Our memories are short. He never saw Jim Thorpe or Red Grange. Many modern football fans never saw Montana, much less Bradshaw or Namath.
5. Evolution is true
Perhaps the strongest argument against labeling any quarterback the G.O.A.T. is that the sports world goes back eons, and the game and its rules have evolved radically. To feed fan appetites for more scoring in the manner of a Madden video game, the rules have been radically altered since the ’90s, tilting in favor of offenses in general and quarterbacks in particular. As a consequence, to compare the statistics of Bart Starr with those of Brett Favre is like comparing Neanderthals to modern man — it’s a meaningless comparison. The game is played much differently. Furthermore, quarterbacks today enjoy Endangered Species Status. Thomas Hobbes described the natural state of man as “nasty, brutish, and short.” So it was back in football’s Ice Age, thanks to guys like Ray Nitschke, Dick Butkus, and Jack Tatum — otherwise known as homo neanderthalensis — who destroyed quarterbacks and were both rewarded and celebrated for doing it. Watch those old NFL films and you’ll see what I mean. Yikes. The violence of the (perfectly legal at the time) hits absorbed by Unitas, Jurgensen, Stabler, and Tarkenton are shocking if you haven’t seen such hits in a while. Were Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady to take hits like these, refs wouldn’t simply throw a flag or the league fine the perpetrator, they would put him in jail. Modern players who endeavor to play as defensive players once did (Vontaze Burfict and Ndamukong Suh come to mind) are pariahs in today’s league. As a result of these changes to the rules, today’s quarterbacks have massive advantages over their predecessors.
But he’s also underrated …
Where Brady is, perhaps, underrated is that he is among the smartest quarterbacks to play the game, and this is, I think, the secret to his greatness. This season has already seen a plethora of quarterbacks suffer season-altering injuries if not season-ending ones. Brady has the good sense to avoid unnecessary hits when he can. He feels no need to prove how tough he is by dropping his shoulder and running head-on into a linebacker or a defensive back as his one-time back-up Jimmy Garoppolo did last season. Brady also takes nutrition to a whole new level: fish, fruits, an extraordinary amount of water, and a diet that is 80 percent vegetables. These things undoubtedly contribute to his longevity. And, in an ego-driven league in which athletes squeeze owners for every penny they can get, Brady has sacrificed as much as $60 million in salary so that the team could retain or attract key free agents, thus making the team better.
The Lord of the Rings
So what is Brady if not the G.O.A.T.? Well, he is definitely the L.O.T.R. — “Lord of the Rings” — which is another way of saying that he is the most accomplished quarterback of all time.
I see the faint glimmer of torches carried by a mob with distinctly Bostonian accents. Gotta run!
Larry Alex Taunton is the executive director of the Fixed Point Foundation and freelance columnist contributing to USA Today, First Things, The Atlantic, CNN, and The American Spectator. He is also the author of The Grace Effect and The Gospel Coalition Book of the Year The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. You can subscribe to his blog at larryalextaunton.com.
]]>https://spectator.org/five-reasons-why-tom-brady-is-overrated/feed/0The Left’s Temperature Tantrumhttps://spectator.org/the-lefts-temperature-tantrum/
https://spectator.org/the-lefts-temperature-tantrum/#respondMon, 30 Sep 2019 04:01:37 +0000https://spectator.org/?p=403160Like swallows to Capistrano, last Monday the loons returned to Washington; as usual, they arrived from the left. Ostensibly, their purpose was to raise awareness of climate change. In reality, it provided further evidence of how far the Left has migrated from reality.
On September 23, a loose coalition of 14 environmental and social justice groups operating under the name “Shut Down DC” descended to accomplish their goal. On their website they stated, “We will block key infrastructure to stop business-as-usual, bringing the whole city to a gridlocked standstill.”
Spokesman Mike Golash said, “We hope with by our actions on Monday, we can raise public awareness on this issue and understand it’s just not going to be taken as business as usual, that we need some drastic action on climate change issues in the near future.”
There is irony bordering on the sublime that in a city known for its political gridlock, protesters intended to bring physical gridlock in order to break through that political gridlock. It would be like bringing coals to Newcastle, except that the activists would need to find a non-carbon-emitting replacement.
Civil disobedience was not the protest’s byproduct; it was the purpose. Event organizer Kathleen Brophy said, “We will not have permits. We will be engaging in civil disobedience. We are withholding our obedience from a system we do not agree with.”
The protest coincided with the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations General Assembly. Of course, that was in New York City, 225 miles to the north — a four-hour drive away, and considerably longer if you walk or bike instead.
According to organizers, as many as 2,000 took part in blocking 22 intersections. There were 26 arrests. By noon, the “gridlocked standstill” was over.
According to one organizer, “People of power are going to deal with the disruption, too.” How many “people of power” actually did was unclear.
While Washington is an extremely self-important town (though not to a level approaching the protesters’ stratospheric level) and many D.C. denizens would be loath to admit they were not “people of power,” the most powerful “people of power” were not stuck in the protesters’ gridlock. They were not in town at all.
The president was in New York (one person “of power”). The House of Representatives (435 “people of power”) was not in session. Finally, the Senate (another 100 “people of power”) did not have votes until late afternoon — hours after the protest ended.
This is not to say that people, regardless of their power attributes, did not have to “deal with the disruption.” They did. Rhey were, however, “people without power” — at least as far as it went in regards to avoiding the traffic jams.
So there they sat in their cars. Idling their engines. Burning gas. For hours. As a result of a protest to stop global warming.
If the immediate result of the protesters’ effort was at best mixed, their methods for inflicting gridlock varied even more. Protesters sat in crosswalks (or “cross-sits” for a few hours) with signs. The more artistic danced and played drums. The less creative held banners — “Which side are you on?” — or passed out leaflets. One man, wearing a child’s plush toy hat (of undetermined animal likeness), placed a ladder in the street and climbed it. The most visible — and assuredly the most nautical — obstruction was a large pink and yellow sailboat towed into an intersection and crewed by protesters who chained themselves to it. Emblazoned “Rebel for Life,” this cruise over concrete presumably one-upped Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, whose zero-emission sailboat traversed only the waters of the Atlantic. A crewmember said, “We put up a roadblock to disrupt business as usual.”
If there was one thing about the protest that was less than mixed, it was its reception. While one sailboat crewmember described her voyage into D.C. as “pretty fun, honestly,” the protest was decidedly less so for those it impeded.
Many unintended “people without power” were “stood still” by the standstill. Probably most were unhappy about it. This also likely included many who were actually sympathetic to addressing climate change.
In a town based on lobbying to get “people of power” to listen to their concerns and then act sympathetically on them, alienating people and making them angry is a novel approach. Of course, that is because it is a counterproductive one.
Even protest participants questioned its productive impact. Azani Creeks said, “I don’t think this action will convince people one way or another, but at least they’ll know that we care and are doing something about it.” Even if that “something” is counterproductive.
Looking back on the protest, it is impossible to escape the obvious: Its means were dubious (if not counterproductive); it missed its ostensible targets (“people of power”); it hit hardest the people who organizers ostensibly were intending to help (“people without power”); its short-term result was the opposite of its long-term goal (masses of vehicles expending excessive emissions waiting for the protest to end); and its long-term result made few (if any) more receptive to the cause (and many possibly less so). All in all, this lobbying-in-reverse exercise was not a good morning’s work if judged by rational standards.
What it really amounted to was a temperature tantrum by the Left. Really, “the cause” was not what the protest was about at all. The protest was about the protesters and making them feel good about themselves.
Yet if the protest failed on all fronts — except raising the protesters’ smugness to potentially dangerous levels — it did unwittingly accomplish something valuable. It was an eloquent reminder of the Left’s inanity and ineptitude.
Start first with the media. Not only did its coverage of the protest not accentuate any of its numerous failures and outright contradictions but also virtually none of it bothered to cover any of the people affected by it — despite the fact that affecting people was the reason behind the protest.
On the other side, there was no shortage of coverage of the protesters themselves. This allowed the protesters ample additional opportunity to disseminate more of their muddled message.
Yet despite there being a far greater number of people affected by the protests than participated in it, they had effectively no voice.
The reason for this biased coverage is perfectly clear. The media is sympathetic to the protesters’ goals and was uninterested in doing anything to undermine them by covering the protest objectively. So, they simply ignored the rest — and actually the larger part — of the story. Without inconvenienced people, there was no effect — and hence, no story.
When the Weather Channel covered Dorian, it did not interview the hurricane. What goes for natural disasters should apply to unnatural ones too.
As for the protest itself, it reminds us that the Left is adept at identifying problems but particularly inept at solving them. If anything, the Left is more likely to exacerbate a problem — the greater the means at its disposal, the greater the mess it generally makes of it.
This certainly includes the environment. Communist countries were, and are, ecological hellholes. The continuum to environmental cleanliness runs thus: The cleaner the environment, the richer the country; and the richest countries are those that embrace capitalism.
The Left’s failures are hardly limited to the environment, though. Name the issue, attach the Left to it, and you know the outcome. The Left’s policies only appear to work when subsidized by others. When the subsidies run out, the Left’s policies grind to a halt.
“Shut Down DC” was not about the climate, changing or otherwise. It was about the Left, which is decidedly unchanging. The sole productive outcome of the shutdown was to serve as a reminder of its failure.
]]>https://spectator.org/the-lefts-temperature-tantrum/feed/0Trump Impeachment: Inevitablehttps://spectator.org/trump-impeachment-inevitable/
https://spectator.org/trump-impeachment-inevitable/#respondSun, 29 Sep 2019 04:03:00 +0000https://spectator.org/?p=403134Washington
I covered President Bill Clinton’s House impeachment and the Senate’s vote not to convict him. I thought the House was right to impeach and the Senate right not to convict. Clinton’s lying under oath was serious enough to merit censure, but it was not so serious as to overturn an election.
The country would have been better served if Congress had followed Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s call for Clinton to be censured; the California Democrat sponsored a resolution that never made it to the Senate floor.
No doubt aware of how bloodthirsty the Right appeared in impeaching Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has posed as a reluctant supporter who got dragged into this mess against her instincts. But it’s been clear for months that her House would impeach President Donald Trump and she would be at the head of the posse.
When Pelosi announced Tuesday she would call for a formal impeachment process, the House Judiciary Committee had already conducted what Chairman Jerry Nadler referred to as its first impeachment hearing.
Besides, if Pelosi were truly reluctant, she might have waited for the pending release of the transcript of the July 25 phone conversation between President Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Problem: Democrats waited two years for special counsel Robert Mueller to prove the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives in 2016. But he didn’t.
They were wrong. They believed every rumor without waiting for evidence. So now they’re not going to wait for proof, as Thursday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing that put acting director Joseph Maguire on the hot seat demonstrated.
In their world, every accusation (against Trump, anyway) is righteous and true, while every accuser — excuse me, whistleblower — is a hero. Hearsay is irrefutable evidence, and every national security leak is an opportunity. They’re going straight for the kill.
For the Left, it’s impeach or die.
Of course, Republicans will be appalled, including those who aren’t big Trump fans, because Democrats have been rabid in trying to destroy this president and everyone around him. Their lack of fundamental fairness was used to destroy the reputation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and now some Democratic candidates want to impeach him, too.
They’re so overboard conservatives may feel inclined to ignore Trump’s role in his situation. The president of the United States handed his critics a stick when he tried to coax a vulnerable Eastern European ally in need of U.S. military aid to do his campaign’s dirty work for him.
Once again, Trump’s disregard for institutional boundaries gets him into trouble. He treats world leaders as if they’re campaign retainers and his private attorney, Rudy Giuliani, as if he’s a top U.S. emissary.
As the most powerful man in the world, Trump really ought to have better things to do than scheme about how to embarrass a potential 2020 rival and enlist a foreign president to help him. But he can’t help himself.
He doesn’t seem to care that his disregard for the consequences of giving into his lesser impulses hinders his ability to get things done — or about the stress it places on his staff and political allies.
Last week, as the Ukraine phone call story popped, Trump tweeted that, knowing many U.S. officials listen in on his phone calls, “Is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call”?
Nancy Pelosi was always going to impeach Donald Trump, and he was always going to make it easy for her.
Contact Debra J. Saunders at [email protected] or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.
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]]>https://spectator.org/trump-impeachment-inevitable/feed/0Monsignor Walter Rossi’s Connection to Louis DeNaples, the Scrantonian Billionaire Indicted for Mob Tieshttps://spectator.org/monsignor-walter-rossis-connection-to-louis-denaples-the-scrantonian-billionaire-indicted-for-mob-ties/
https://spectator.org/monsignor-walter-rossis-connection-to-louis-denaples-the-scrantonian-billionaire-indicted-for-mob-ties/#respondSun, 29 Sep 2019 04:02:33 +0000https://spectator.org/?p=403153I’ve written previously about Monsignor Walter Rossi’s ties to the gay mafia in the Church. He has long enjoyed the patronage and protection of powerful gay prelates. The gay predator Bishop Michael Bransfield groomed Rossi to succeed him as rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. (Rossi was Bransfield’s director of pilgrimages.) The gay molester Theodore McCarrick, the now laicized former cardinal, elevated Rossi to the Shrine’s top job after Bransfield left for his lucrative and licentious racket in West Virginia. The disgraced Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who falsely denied any knowledge of McCarrick’s predations, then kept Rossi as the head of the National Shrine. Rossi and Wuerl had a symbiotic relationship in which the two concealed and defended each other’s corruption. (One small example of that relationship is that Rossi had me originally barred from the Shrine for nothing more than writing critical articles about Wuerl.) Meanwhile, Rossi’s immediate superior Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Rossi was ordained as a priest, gave Rossi a ludicrously wide berth, despite complaints from his priests and concerned Catholics upset by Rossi’s gay and opulent lifestyle. It wasn’t until recently, in mid-August, that Bambera reluctantly authorized an investigation into Rossi’s long-rumored misconduct.
In June, the former papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, corroborated my year-long reporting on Rossi, saying that he too had received reports of Rossi preying upon Catholic University students. “He is without a doubt a member of the gay mafia,” said Viganò. “You can read about him online at the American Spectator website.”
But in the course of researching Rossi’s connection to sinister gay mafia figures, I kept hearing stories about his ties to another mafia — the Italian one. The ostensible invincibility of Rossi, multiple sources told me, derived not only from the protection he received from the McCarricks and Bransfields but also from a suspected mobster named Louis DeNaples, for whom Rossi’s father, Robert, worked as bookkeeper and accountant.
I’ve mentioned this connection previously, but I felt that the subject deserved greater treatment. Toward that end, I drove out this last week to Scranton to find out more about the Rossi-DeNaples tie.
DeNaples, everyone agrees, is an immensely powerful and reclusive figure in Scranton and Pennsylvania. He owns the state’s largest landfill business, has made a fortune in used parts, owns at least one bank (probably more), invests heavily in real estate (both in and out of the state; he is said to own a great deal of property in Florida), and has run countless side businesses (in busing, trash collection, and so on), some of them headquartered over the years at Robert Rossi’s accounting firm, say multiple sources.
DeNaples is also famous for his unsuccessful attempt to own a casino in the Poconos. He was denied the gaming license for the Mount Airy Casino Resort, owing to his ties to Russell Bufalino, the head of a northeastern Pennsylvania crime family. (Bufalino, incidentally, is one of the subjects of the upcoming movie The Irishman; Joe Pesci plays him.) DeNaples had to transfer his interests in the casino to his daughter Lisa.
To say that Walter Rossi’s father has been central to the DeNaples empire is an understatement. “He is a very creative accountant,” said one source. “Rossi had one primary client, DeNaples, and it made him an unusually wealthy accountant.”
DeNaples, who is in his late 70s, is widely described as a billionaire, “one of the 10 most wealthy people in Pennsylvania,” says a long-time observer of DeNaples. “He doesn’t want any publicity, but his tentacles go everywhere. He gives money to Democrats and Republicans; he has had everyone from Ed Rendell to Arlen Specter in his pocket. He has had judges in his pocket for years, too, who have made sure to keep him out of trouble.”
DeNaples’s legal troubles over the years have been complicated: in 1978, he pleaded no contest to defrauding the federal government in a matter related to the cleanup of Scranton after Hurricane Agnes; in 2001, federal gambling investigators found informants who said that DeNaples paid protection money to the Bufalino crime family; in 2008, he was indicted for perjury after he told state gambling investigators that he didn’t know Russell Bufalino, despite ample evidence to the contrary. He was convicted, but the conviction, I am told, was held up by judges in the pocket of DeNaples who got prosecutors to cut a deal with DeNaples to bow out of the Mount Airy casino in exchange for an overturned conviction; in 2012, officials at the Federal Reserve demanded DeNaples resign as chairman of his bank in light of his previous mob-related perjury charges — an order that was later blocked by three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals.
“He is the great white whale,” says Scranton Times-Tribune columnist Chris Kelly, who is one of the few Pennsylvania journalists to take on DeNaples. “But everyone knows he is dirty.” Another rare critic of DeNaples is Matt Birkbeck, author of The Quiet Don, a book about Russell Bufalino. Birkbeck told me that he was so fascinated by the mafia ties of DeNaples that he ended up devoting “half the book to him.” I told Birkbeck about the investigation into Monsignor Rossi. In all likelihood, DeNaples will try and derail it, Birkbeck conjectured. As the son of DeNaples’s accountant, “Rossi would be protected,” he said.
I had heard from several sources that DeNaples attends 6:30 a.m. daily Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral. So on a gamble, I got up Wednesday morning and went over to the cathedral to see if I could ask him some questions about his relationship with Rossi. I was told that DeNaples attends Mass in the company of two bodyguards.
I got to the Mass late and searched a sea of white hair for DeNaples. At Communion, I finally saw him. He was on the right side of the church. He took Communion, but he didn’t return to his pew. He went to the back and waited for the priest’s dismissal. I went outside and waited by the exit from which he was likely to leave. He popped out, way ahead of his bodyguard, and I asked him about Rossi. (See the video below.) He lied and said that he didn’t know him, before saying something about having “heard the name.” I then asked him if Robert Rossi had been his accountant. He went completely silent and looked at me. I asked again and he walked away.
“What a ludicrous lie,” said a Scrantonian to me after I recounted the conversation. “He of course knows Walter Rossi. Rossi is the well-known son of one of his most important associates. Plus, Rossi came out of St. Rocco’s, the church in Scranton that DeNaples has pretty much single-handedly paid for.”
A month or so ago, I had asked a source with access to the files at the National Shrine to see how much money DeNaples has donated to it. My source scoured the donors’ list and found next to the name of Louis DeNaples a designation dubbed “Rossi Restricted,” a designation indicating that Rossi has a personal relationship with that person.
“Rossi is rich and protected because of DeNaples,” says an observer. “Why do you think Monsignor Rossi has had beach condos in Florida and Atlantic City? Why do you think he could afford apartments on Dupont Circle and elsewhere? The fruit doesn’t fall from the tree. Rossi’s wealth must come from family money — and that money came from DeNaples, who paid Rossi’s father a huge salary.”
Rossi, as I have previously reported, was on the short list to become bishop of Scranton in 2009, a plan hatched by the gay mafia that was scuttled after reports of his misconduct emerged during the vetting process. Indeed, as Viganò has reported, the papal nuncio to the U.S. at the time, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, was so appalled by Rossi’s misconduct that he personally intervened to make sure that Rossi didn’t get that elevation.
Sources tell me that Rossi’s chances were initially buoyed by his relationship with DeNaples. “It didn’t hurt,” says one observer, “that his father was an intimate of this mobster who just happens to be the biggest donor to the diocese of Scranton.” DeNaples, I am told, has given millions of dollars to the Church over the years, financing everything from the altar at the cathedral to the Jesuit University of Scranton (where a building has been dedicated to his parents) to Jesuit Scranton Prep (where he sent his seven kids). Some Scranton priests believe DeNaples makes up the difference when the bishop’s annual appeal fails to meet its goal. “He is buying his way to heaven,” says the columnist Chris Kelly.
Scrantonians speak of DeNaples in hushed tones and treat him as a taboo subject. But when pressed and guaranteed anonymity, they acknowledge he is a baffling admixture of conscientious Catholic and ruthless operator. “It is pretty embarrassing that one of the biggest benefactors to the Scranton diocese has mob ties,” says one source. “That the diocese of Scranton holds fundraisers at the casino owned by his daughter is disgraceful. The place gives off evil airs.”
I visited that casino to get a better sense of DeNaples, a visit that illuminated his strange concoction of Catholicism and seedy business. What immediately jumped out at me was that right next to the casino is a Catholic retreat house, the Villa of Our Lady. I went over to it and knocked on the door and out came a habitless nun. I asked her about the retreat house’s relationship with DeNaples. She hemmed and hawed, but finally admitted to one: “He cuts our grass and picks up our trash.” Alas, that quaint line doesn’t quite capture the relationship. I have been told that DeNaples cut a deal with the nuns to stay if they gave up part of their property to the casino. And how the DeNaples family makes its money at the casino is far from quaint: not only from gambling on “Playboy slots” and the like, but also from “barely legal” and aberrant pornography in the rooms, pornography with such titles as “She is Fresh out of High School,” “Shemale Stepsisters,” and “Gay: Stepdad 3somes.”
Another Monsignor Rossi tie to DeNaples is through Father Joseph Sica, who is called the “personal priest to Louis DeNaples.” Some Scrantonians say Sica, who packs heat, has also served DeNaples at times as a “bodyguard.”
Well-placed sources have told me that “Rossi and Sica are related by blood.”
Despite his indictment for perjury — Sica committed it by denying ties to the Bufalino crime family in the same gaming license investigation that ensnared DeNaples — Sica continues to serves as an active priest in the Scranton diocese. He is an associate pastor at Immaculate Conception parish. (My attempt to reach him was unsuccessful.) Sica is a colorful figure, who, upon his arrest in 2008, “was found with a gun in one pocket, $30,000 in the other, and he made his first call to ‘Uncle Louie,’ ” says a long-time Scrantonian. Later it came out that DeNaples had given Sica over $200,000 in loans. Sica and DeNaples have been pictured together at various events, including the opening of the Mount Airy Casino.
“It really is a disgrace that Sica is still at a parish in Scranton,” says one priest. “Our diocese is so unbelievably corrupt. Some of this stuff is so crazy you couldn’t even make it up. Truth is truly stranger than fiction.”
I talked to Bishop Bambera’s spokesman, Eric Deabill, about DeNaples, and all I could get out of him was an agreement that DeNaples is a prominent Catholic in the diocese. He declined to answer any questions about specific donations and simply laughed when I asked if I could speak with Bambera about DeNaples and other matters.
Will “Bambi,” as Bambera is nicknamed, allow an honest investigation into Rossi? That remains to be seen. But it is clear that, heretofore, Rossi has benefited from the immunity extended to friends of the gay mafia and the real one. As a young priest in 1989, sometime before he left for Washington, D.C., he got into a hit-and-run incident in Scranton. As I have reported previously, Rossi got drunk, hit a bunch of parked cars, kept going, fled into his rectory, and pretended to be asleep until the police arrived. What I didn’t know but learned during my time in Scranton was that his drunken wreck should have landed him in jail, at least for a few nights. (An article in the Scranton Times-Tribune bears this out.) But it didn’t. Why did he only get his license suspended?
In a sense, said one source, Rossi is a “made man,” both through his gay and familial associations. In other words, if you are the local district attorney, you don’t throw the son of Louis DeNaples’s accountant into the clink.
]]>https://spectator.org/monsignor-walter-rossis-connection-to-louis-denaples-the-scrantonian-billionaire-indicted-for-mob-ties/feed/0Islamic Modernism: Reality or Illusion?https://spectator.org/islamic-modernism-reality-or-illusion/
https://spectator.org/islamic-modernism-reality-or-illusion/#respondSun, 29 Sep 2019 04:01:52 +0000https://spectator.org/?p=402386
Our women are now seen as serving no useful purpose to mankind other than having children; they are considered simply as serving for pleasure, like musical instruments or jewels. But they constitute half and perhaps more than half of our species…. Women are not inferior to men in their intellectual and physical capacities. In the ancient times women shared in all men’s activities, including even war…. The reason why women among us are thus deprived is the perception that they are totally ignorant and know nothing of right and duty, benefit and harm. Many evil consequences result from this position of women …
— English translation from A Middle East Mosaic: Fragments of Life, Letters and History, edited by Bernard Lewis (Random House, 2000), p.192.
Ever since the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, and the Islamist terrorist incidents that followed, Islam has become the subject of debate. People in the West wonder if Islam can ever be harmonious with the Western norms of liberty, equality, and secular democracy. Some argue that Islam should undergo a similar process of reformation to that of Christianity in the 16th century. Others argue that Islam can never be reformed.
I believe it is wrong to expect Islam to follow the trajectory of Christianity because despite possessing some similarities, the two faiths differ greatly. First, the Reformation posed a challenge to the religious and political legitimacy of the Roman Catholic Church and to papal authority. In Islam, there is no church and therefore no notion of the papacy or priestly intermediation between the believer and the Maker. One, therefore, should not expect a similar kind of reformation in Islam.
Second, unlike the Old and New Testament, a collection of books by multiple authors that extend over a long period of time, the Quran is a single book promulgated at one time by one man, Mohammad, and deemed by Muslims as the actual word of God.
Then, thirdly, there is also a difference in the very structure of the two religions. For instance, Christ instructed his followers in Matthew 22:21, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
This statement marked the distinction between the religious and political authority or, in other words, between church and state. For many centuries, until the Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the fourth century, Christianity remained a persecuted religion. During the course of this struggle, Christians formulated a distinctive institution: the church, which possesses its own unique laws and its own hierarchy. Throughout Christian history, Church and state continued to exist side by side as separate institutions. There were times in Christendom when priests exercised temporal power or when kings claimed divine right over the church. But these were aberrations from Christian norm.
In contrast, in Judaism and Islam, God is Caesar, and there is no corresponding distinction between religious and state affairs. Therefore, both these faiths lack a native secularism.
So, the question that arises is, despite such inherent obstructions, can Islam still be reformed to co-exist peacefully with the modern state?
Many of my secularist counterparts believe that Islam cannot be reformed and that the Quran does not provide any room for any possible alteration since it claims to be the literal word of God valid until the very end of time. It is true that the Quran claims to be the literal word of God and that the coeternity of the Quran is regarded as a vital part of Islamic doctrine. But, despite this claim, it still relies on people for its interpretations, and people can interpret it differently depending on their requirements.
From the 19th century on, and beginning before that, Islam has changed in many ways. One may argue that since the 19th century it has only gotten worse despite attempts at modernization by some courageous people. Who they were and why they did they not succeed is the main emphasis of this article.
The opening quotation is not an utterance of a contemporary Muslim reformist or secularist but of the 19th-century Ottoman writer and patriot Namik Kemal. It was originally published in the newspaper Tasvir-i Efkar in 1867.
Kemal was one of the leaders of the Young Ottomans, a secret group formed by Turkish intellectuals who felt discontented with the reforms brought by the Ottoman Empire under the “Tanzimat” program. Tanzimat (Reorganization) were a series of reforms enacted in the Ottoman empire between 1839 and 1876. These reforms were influenced deeply by European ideas and developments and sought to alter the nature of the empire from an outdated system based solely on religious principles to that of a modern state.
Tanzimat promised, among many other things:
- Equality of all the citizens regardless of race and religion. That meant that Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities were to be deemed as equal citizens of the empire.
- The decriminalization of homosexuality.
- Abolition of slavery and the slave trade.
For nationalists like Kemal, these reforms were promulgated simply to please the foreign powers, particularly the French and the British. The western powers, being clearly victorious over the Muslim empires after centuries of confrontation, did pressurize them to introduce new reforms. The British, for instance, sought to persuade the Ottomans to abolish the traffic in Black slaves from Africa[ii]. Western powers also demanded that the Ottomans treat the Christian citizens of their empire with more dignity and grant them more rights. In this case, the Christians were the intended beneficiaries and Jews the accidental ones.
Kemal, however, envisaged something very different for Istanbul: an autonomous, elected body, a real parliament. An ardent Muslim who translated the Quran into Turkish, Kemal sought to justify his quest for constitutionalism from an Islamic point of view. In this regard, he referred to the third chapter of the Quran, verse 159, where Mohammad was urged by God to make consul with his followers while making a decision. Kemal quoted this verse to demonstrate the congruity between Islam and the principles of consultation. Many Muslim scholars had decried the institution of parliament as an “innovation” and perversion of faith, but Kemal remarked that it was no more an illegal innovation than steamships: “Should the Ottoman Empire then not buy steamships, and let the Greeks capture Crete with their little lemon boats?”[iii].
Kemal found nothing in the Sharia against a republican government. Given the traditions of the Ottoman Empire, he felt that a constitutional monarchy would be best suited and suggested the British constitutional monarchy, which he admired, as a model. He opposed the Western intervention, but he also gloried in the achievements of the West. Turkish nationalism as it developed in the following years remained deeply indebted to Kemal and others like him. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern state of Turkey, was also influenced by Namik Kemal’s ideas.
Like Turkey, Egypt also produced reformists of Kemal’s stature ever since the arrival of Napoleon and his troops in the country in 1798. One of them was Qasim Amin, a young Egyptian lawyer who studied in Paris and seems to have been influenced by the developments he witnessed there. He wrote a book in Arabic, entitled The Liberation of Woman, in which he argued for more women’s rights in Muslim societies. In particular, he proposed to interdict the veil and to reinterpret the Quranic provisions that had usually been understood as authorizing polygamy and concubinage. He believed that only by freeing women could Muslim society be truly free, since a free society is one in which all members of society are free. He was chided in traditional circles for his iconoclastic views, but the book was read by many and was also translated into Turkish[iv].
But the reforms in Egypt were largely spearheaded by Sheikh Muhammad Abduh (1849–1905), a trained cleric versed in classical Islam. He was an acolyte of Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, another important Islamic figure of the 19th century, but unlike his mentor he did not loathe the Western imperialists. He was allowed re-entry into Egypt by the British de facto ruler of the country, Lord Cromer. A cordial relationship began between the two. While Abduh criticized the British occupiers, he nevertheless maintained a healthy relationship with them. Cromer proved instrumental in mainstreaming Abduh’s modernist views and providing them more public attention.
Abduh delivered a series of lectures that were later compiled and published as a book called The Theology of Unity. In this manifesto of modernist Islam, Abduh argued in favor of the followers of the 10th-century figure Abu al-Hassan al-Ashari, called the Asharites, whose doctrine was a rational one based on the laws of the universe. Abduh deeply regretted that obscurantists had gained the upper hand and destroyed whatever rational fabric Islam possessed.
In time, he became the preeminent clerical voice not only in Egypt but also in Iran and Turkey, where his work inspired Taqizadeh and Gökalp, two scholars leading the movement for reform in their respective countries. Abduh’s and his followers also attempted to re-open the doors of ijtihad — independent reasoning — which had been slammed shut in the 16th century by Ottoman jurists.
Abduh as a mufti (an Islamic scholar authorized to issue religious decrees) not only denounced traditionalist Islamic practices such as taqlid (imitating an established Islamic authority) but also revived the old and forgotten Mutazilite idea that the Quran was not coeternal. This view meant that it could be interpreted differently in different times and could also contain errors introduced by humans. He spoke out against the already decaying institution of polygamy and debated against the notion of predestination. He also adopted evolution into his corpus of natural law[v].
But Abduh’s best-known interventions in the lives of Muslims were his fatwas: opinions issued by a cleric that carry adequate legitimacy to overturn existing Islamic interpretations and propose alternative ones. For instance, in 1901, he authorized property insurance, hitherto forbidden because it was considered a kind of gambling. He also allowed Muslims to eat meat slaughtered by Christians and others, a practice that does not comply with the Islamic guideline of slitting the animal’s throat. He was perhaps the greatest conciliator between Islam and liberalism.
Reading this, one may quite naturally be tempted to ask why, if there have been modernists and reformists in the Muslim societies since at least the 19th century, the Muslim world in general lags so far behind in terms of incorporating modern ideas.
The answer is that just as there have been modernists who have tried to harmonize Islam with liberal ideas, there have been others who have opposed such modernization. For the larger part of Islamic history, up until now, the modernists have mostly lost.
But why have the reformists lost? For many centuries after its inception, Islam remained the world’s greatest civilization. Muslims were the main torch-bearers of literature, arts, science, governance, and the military. Being a Muslim implied being an adherent of a victorious faith.
After the 16th century, however, things began to change. Europe, which had previously relied heavily upon Muslims’ scientific achievements, started to thrive on her own. Muslim armies were defeated first on land, then on the seas, and later in scholarship and other fields. Europe, which most Muslims regarded as barbaric and as the land of the infidels, was now carving out the new leading civilization.
European advancements in various areas had far-reaching influence, including in the Muslim territories. Ottomans had started to introduce changes in their military and administrative systems after the Treaty of Karlowitz was signed in 1699, marking the Ottomans’ loss of the Great Turkish War. This treaty meant the end of Ottoman control in much of Central Europe.
The decline of the Muslim world and the rise of Christian Europe cultivated two types of responses in Muslim society. One response was admitting one’s defeat and displaying openness to European ideas. The adherents of this class were the reformists. Often reformists such as those mentioned above tried to rationalize their attempts from within an Islamic perspective, by reinterpreting the Islamic injunctions in a way that reconciled with modern developments, while others, like Atatürk, opted for more secularist stances. The fact that they were open to foreign ideas does not mean they admired the foreign powers, however, as evidenced by the emphasis on nationalism in Kemal’s work. But they did acknowledge that changing needs and changing times required changing rules, as well.
Others admitted defeat but displayed utter disdain and hate toward European principles. The partisans of this view did not believe that the Muslim world declined because it failed to address the changing times; they believed it deteriorated because it had simply stopped adhering to the correct teachings of Islam or perverted its true doctrine. They prescribed going back to the instructions of Islam. Out of this school, emerged the Wahhabi movement of Hejaz (now Saudi Arabia) and puritanical movements elsewhere in the Islamic world. The Islamists, responsible for most of the religiously inspired terrorism in the present world, emerged out of this strain of thought.
Bernard Lewis, a celebrated historian on Islam and the Middle East, aptly characterized the two positions. He believed that the earlier group posed the question “What did we do wrong?” while the latter asked, “Who did this to us?”
While the first group campaigned for finding flaws within itself, the second favored looking for scapegoats. Sometimes, the scapegoats were the Jews, sometimes Christians, and sometimes — in fact, most of the time — they were people within Muslim societies: the reformists condemned by the radicals as traitors and deemed as deserving punishment for leaving their roots and adopting foreign principles.
This position can be easily seen in a famous sentence from a widely circulated booklet by Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj, the ideological guide of the group that murdered President Anwar Sadat of Egypt: “Fighting the near enemy is more important than fighting the distant enemy”[vi].
Here the near enemy implies native secularizers (even if some of them were not truly secular) like Atatürk of Turkey, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran, Hafez al-Assad of Syria, and Saddam Hussein of Iraq, along with Islamic modernist thinkers who try to bridge secularism and Islam.
Another major impediment to the emergence of a modernized Islam is Islam’s lack of institutional authority. Many Muslim reformists advocate liberal views, but they speak only for themselves and carry no institutional power. And whereas reformists need to rely upon contextual analysis of the Quran in lieu of taking the text literally, the extremists simply have to cite clear verses from the text to demonstrate their views and prevail over the reformists.
This is perhaps one of the negative consequences of the end of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman ruler was not simply a governor of a specific state; he was also widely recognized as the caliph, the head of all Sunni Islam. The caliphate remained a potent symbol of Muslim unity and identity. Many Muslims viewed the caliph as the religious and political head of Islam. This was perhaps the only institution in Islam, though mostly political in nature, that could have accelerated the quest for a modern Islam, and the above-mentioned policies of the late Ottoman period showed that the caliphate had this sort of potential. Its fall gave others, notably the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, the opportunity to claim the same authority for themselves. It is also worth noting that when the Ottomans decided to abolish slavery, the most vocal religious opposition came from the scholars of Hejaz, who declared: “With such proposals the Turks have become infidels. Their blood is forfeit and it is lawful to make their children slaves”[vii].
Sadly, the reformists lost the battle in the last century, and the fundamentalists have had a much bigger impact. Even though most Muslims do not follow either the hardcore teachings of Wahhabi doctrine or the Jihadist views of Islamists, the two latter positions still have exerted more influence worldwide due to their greater mobility and more coherent ideology. These two views have been more successful in convincing Muslim youths to follow them. The reason for that is quite simple: people naturally look toward scapegoats and very often chose to escape reality and their own inherent flaws.
But the pendulum could swing the opposite way in our time. A growing number of people around the world are developing a very genuine and rational fear of Islam, a fear that also contributes to the development of grudges against Muslims. Many Muslims find themselves defending the picture of their religion and dissociating their faith from the horrors of ISIS and al-Qaida. The reformists finally may gain the upper hand if they can convince Muslims that the only way to save their faith, and even themselves, is by adapting to modernity and making their views compatible with those of the contemporary civilized world.
[ii] B.Lewis, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (UK:2002), p.97-98.
[iii] Davison, Reform in the Ottoman Empire, p.224.
[iv] Kasim Amin, Liberation of Woman (Cairo:1899). The book was rendered into English by Samiha Sidhom Peterson in Cairo in 2000.
[v] Christopher De Bellaigue, The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern struggle between Faith and Reason(London: 2017), p.284.
[vi] Johannes J. G. Jansen, The Neglected Duty: The Creed of Sadat’s Assassins and Islamic Resurgence in the Middle East (New York and London: 1986), Chapter I.
[vii] Cevdet, Tezakir, p.111.
]]>https://spectator.org/islamic-modernism-reality-or-illusion/feed/0The Fed Becomes the Repo Manhttps://spectator.org/the-fed-becomes-the-repo-man/
https://spectator.org/the-fed-becomes-the-repo-man/#respondSat, 28 Sep 2019 04:05:48 +0000https://spectator.org/?p=403128The Federal Reserve sold another $75 billion in overnight repurchase agreements (repos) on Wednesday, with demand dramatically overwhelming supply. And by the end of the day, the New York Fed announced increasing the overnight repos available from it to $100 billon and the 14-day repos from $30 billion to $60 billion.
By Friday, as CNBC reports, supply exceeded demand. Borrowers undersubscribed both the overnight and 14-day repos.
But what happened to spark the Fed to inject itself in the repo market?
With quarterly taxes due, companies vacuumed cash out of the market. The demand for immediate cash butting heads with a decreased supply sent rates more than doubling from last Monday to Tuesday. Some rates reached 10 percent — more than quadruple the norm.
Many interpreted the Fed intervening in the repo market as a canary in the coal mine. Rates doubling or even quadrupling indicates something ominous. Rates should trade at the Fed funds rate (2 percent to 2.25 percent). And the Fed normally does not involve itself in this market. The last time the Fed injected itself in the repo market came in 2008. This coincided with the financial crisis. The injection of funds into the repo market either strikes as a wise move to avert another such crises or foreboding of another such collapse.
“Repo is a corner of the financial markets that is obscure to most people,” CNBC explains. “It is where institutions go when they need short term cash, exchanging some collateral, like Treasurys or mortgage securities, for a short term loan. It is considered the plumbing of Wall Street, and the worry is if it doesn’t work or shows stress, then it could lead to real stress in the financial system.”
Bank of America economists interpreted the intervention thusly: “For all intents and purposes, this will be equivalent to QE [quantitative easing], with scheduled purchases of securities. We estimate that over the first year, the Fed would need to buy roughly $400bn of Treasury securities to achieve an appropriate level of reserves, plus a buffer.”
The billions injected in the repo market by the Fed may be a signal that the trillion-dollar U.S. deficit does matter. Germany boasts a balanced budget, and German 10-year bonds trade at a negative 0.5 percent rate. U.S. 10-year bonds trade at 1.5 percent, a full 2 percent more than German bonds. German bonds pay in euros, but the U.S. dollar has been trending higher against the euro. The percent differential is another sign that the president and Congress may be forced to reduce spending.
A deficit exceeding $1 trillion in 2019 and for the foreseeable future both limits the government response to any coming crisis and ensures a heavier weight on the post-recovery economy tasked with emerging from under a weightier debt. As it stands, the national debt exceeds $23 trillion within a few months — greater than the annual U.S. gross domestic product. What would another crisis along the lines of 2008 mean? Deficits exceeding $2 trillion? A debt exceeding $30 trillion once the storm passes?
Though borrowers undersubscribed the Fed’s $100 billion for overnight repos and the $60 billion for 14-day repos available for Friday, this particular storm lingers. As the third quarter ends early next week, institutions may seek added funds and banks may limit funds available to prop up balance sheets. Will the Fed’s $160 billion prove sufficient to stave off ballooning rates on the private market? More importantly, will this underreported venture into another round of quantitative easing prove sufficient to prevent the economy from tanking?
]]>https://spectator.org/the-fed-becomes-the-repo-man/feed/0Clearing the Air on Climate Changehttps://spectator.org/clearing-the-air-on-climate-change/
https://spectator.org/clearing-the-air-on-climate-change/#respondSat, 28 Sep 2019 04:05:25 +0000https://spectator.org/?p=403126Now that a Swedish teenager has testified before Congress and school children across the globe have walked out of classes in protest of lack of action on climate change, I’m sure we all have a much better understanding of climate science. Indeed, with all the recent talk from Democratic presidential candidates and stories in the news media, it is astonishing how few real facts are ever discussed. Instead, we are treated to the fiction that any prediction of doom is based on “the science” and any skepticism of any such scenarios comes solely from ignorant “deniers.”
Of course, many will say we don’t even need to discuss this because it is “case closed” — 97 percent of scientists believe global warming is a serious man-made problem, right? No, that’s documented drivel. It is based on what John Cook surmised was the view of authors of papers his team chose to review. The papers (and authors) were not necessarily representative, nor did the majority of the papers in question actually make any such claim. In fact, when the details behind this “study” were revealed, many scientists who were lumped into the “97 percent” cried foul. If one is really interested in polls, an actual 2012 survey of members of the American Meteorological Society indicated only 52 percent agreed that global warming was mostly man-made, and little more than one-third believed that without significant action, warming will have “very harmful” consequences in the next 100 years. But making conclusions on the validity of science based on surveys and polls is rather silly, so let’s look at some factual data instead.
A good place to start would be looking at global temperatures. Our two primary data sources are ground and sea-based instruments and satellite measurements. Ground-based measurements have been somewhat higher than the satellite data (and are the more often reported in the press). There are well-documented issues with the ground-based system, but satellite data, though having better coverage, is also open to some criticism. It is important to keep in mind that both are estimates containing significant extrapolation, so debates over ranking various years as the hottest or third hottest or sixth hottest based on variances of hundredths of a degree Celsius are rather ridiculous. We can say, however, that both types of measurement agree on a long-term trend, and that is that the Earth has been warming. This is not “denied” by most “skeptics.”
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global temperatures in the decade 2006–15 were approximately 0.87 degrees Celsius (about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than during the last half of the 19th century (which the IPCC refers to as the pre-industrial baseline). Since the 1960s, global temperatures have risen probably somewhere between 0.5 and 0.8 degrees Celsius, depending on measurement methodology. That’s a rate of somewhere between 0.1 and 0.2 degrees per decade.
This contrasts significantly from the prediction of the most influential climate model (James Hansen’s 1988 model), which, based on greenhouse gas emissions, predicted a temperature rise roughly double what we have witnessed. The rate of increase actually decreased (to near zero) over the 2006–15 decade, yet the current IPCC projections assume that the rate will quickly accelerate and that temperatures could rise by another 0.6 to 0.7 degrees Celsius in as little as 25 years. At that level, the IPCC — which is dominated by scientists in the “climate change is a man-made crisis” camp — is also predicting serious (but far from apocalyptic) consequences.
So, it is not clear where “Beto” O’Rourke and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez come up with the idea that unless we take dramatic action today, akin to what is proposed in the so-called “Green New Deal,” that life as we know it will end in 10 or 15 years. But it certainly doesn’t come from “the science.”
Is the observed warming primarily the result of human activity (anthropogenic global warming or “AGW”), or is it mostly natural from solar activity, the El Niño Southern Oscillation, volcanic activity, and other factors? Skeptics of AGW believe the majority of the observed warming over the past 150 years is part of a natural warming cycle that started at the end of the “little ice age” in the 19th century. They point to the historical record of past warming periods, including the “Medieval warming period” of approximately 900–1300, which, at its peak, may have seen temperatures slightly warmer than we have today. This is supported by a robust history of studies including tree ring analysis and ice core samples as well as historical and archeological evidence that, for instance, show the Vikings were farming areas in Greenland that are still too cold to be arable and trees growing at higher altitudes in Alpine regions of Europe. Indeed, this history used to be supported by the IPCC until it adopted the so-called “hockey stick” graph that nearly eliminated the Medieval warming period and the equally well-documented “little ice age” that followed (more on this later).
The presumed primary human sources of global warming are “greenhouse” gases — primarily CO2, but also methane and other gases. CO2 emissions have been mostly driven by energy production. The world’s largest producer (by far) of greenhouse gases, accounting for approximately 26.83 percent of all emissions, is China. The United States produces about 14.36 percent, and the EU about 9.66 percent. Since 2005, greenhouse emissions from China have skyrocketed, whereas for the U.S. and the EU they have fallen (by about 13 percent and 16.5 percent, respectively). Despite not signing the Paris Climate Accords, the U.S. outperformed the EU in 2017 with emissions falling 0.5 percent from 2016, whereas the EU’s rose 0.6 percent. The projection for both the U.S. and EU is that emissions will continue to fall gradually with just the policies already in place.
With the U.S. only producing about 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, what, exactly, is the $5 to $16 trillion that most of the leading Democratic presidential candidates want us to spend over the next decade to fight global warming really going to be buying us? We’re not going to get to zero emissions and still preserve life as we know it (such as a reliable 24/7 power grid and being able to consume meat and dairy products). But even if we can reduce our 14 percent by 90 percent, what would that actually mean in terms of global temperature, and would the presumed benefits be worth anywhere near the financial cost (let alone reduced living standards and personal freedom)? What is the value of any plan that does not address China’s emissions — or that as a consequence shifts more production to China and its far dirtier power grid?
Another thing to ponder based on these facts is why capitalism is so often made out as the villain of the “climate crisis.” Capitalism has certainly been responsible for much greater industrial activity and production, which has resulted in an explosion of wealth and advancement of living conditions all over the world over the past 300 years. But it has also been responsible for the development of technologies to produce more efficiently and to harness cleaner sources of energy, as well as creating the wealth to allow for their application. Free economies excel at innovation; command economies do not. The biggest environmental abusers over the past century have not been capitalist countries but socialist ones. Witness the environmental messes exposed in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. And, again, the biggest producer of greenhouse gases today, by far, is communist China. Capitalism is the only system that provides the benefits of industrialization along with the ability to evolve systems of production in a more environmentally friendly direction. The only other real alternative is to go back to a pre-industrial world, and I don’t think even woke millennials are willing to do that.
A lot of people who clearly don’t know what they are talking about have been invoking “the science” in an attempt to portray their eminently assailable positions as unassailable and as proof of a “crisis” that requires the surrender of personal liberties, and tax dollars, that people would not normally be willing to surrender. Some of these people may be sincere, but it is important to note that many of the biggest promoters of radical action to solve the “climate crisis” are people whose political ideologies also require the vast expansion of government power and reduction of individual freedom for reasons having nothing to do with environmental concerns.
The hallmark of scientific research should be openness about data and methodology. That is what is necessary for the scientific method to work. Yet the recent history of many of the top AGW researchers is rife with scientific obstruction. Phil Jones and Tom Wigley of the University of East Anglia, keepers of much original ground-based temperature “unadjusted” raw data, refused to release the data to another researcher, with Jones saying, “Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try to find something wrong with it[?]” Then he claimed the data was no longer available anyway because it had been erased due to lack of computer hard drive space. You would think that anyone concerned about “the science” would find this a sacrilege, but there wasn’t a peep of censure coming from any of their AGW research colleagues.
And then there is the infamous history of Michael Mann and his previously mentioned “hockey stick” graph. Again, the most glaring problem with the theory that global temperatures are strongly correlated with human greenhouse gas emissions and that natural phenomena are incidental was the inconvenient truth of the Medieval warming period and subsequent cooling. These events obviously were not linked to human greenhouse gas emissions. In 1999, Mann and a couple other researchers came up with the “hockey stick” graph, which purported to show that the Medieval warming period and the little ice age were small blips. Temperatures supposedly varied little until widespread industrialization in the late 19th century.
Upon closer scrutiny, this study had numerous problems, including cherry-picked data. Some researchers believed this analysis to have a structural bias, and for some reason Mann refused (and still refuses) to release details on parts of his methodology and his regression calculations, claiming they are his personal intellectual property. Supporters of Mann have countered that his secrecy and previous errors are no longer relevant since new studies have supported his main conclusions — though these studies are largely reliant on Mann’s data. The uncertainty range in these studies (including Mann’s) for these distant year reconstructions are also so great that, even if they are fundamentally sound, they still suggest a reasonable probability that temperatures during the Medieval warming period reached, if not current levels, about where we were in the 1980s or 1990s. So even using these reconstructions, it is not unreasonable to postulate that natural factors may be as, or more, important in determining global temperature than human greenhouse gas emissions.
The behavior of the likes of John Cook, Phil Jones, Tom Wigley, and Michael Mann, and of all their colleagues who so readily excuse it, reduces the credibility of scientists who express such certainty in their conclusions on climate change and who insist that anyone who dares to challenge their assertions is a quack. By all means, let’s look at “the science.” But let’s do it without all the secrets, without the hype, and without the propaganda stunts.
]]>https://spectator.org/clearing-the-air-on-climate-change/feed/0Pelosi’s Six-Committee Impeachment Investigationhttps://spectator.org/pelosis-six-committee-impeachment-investigation/
https://spectator.org/pelosis-six-committee-impeachment-investigation/#respondSat, 28 Sep 2019 04:04:31 +0000https://spectator.org/?p=403118So, Nancy Pelosi got spooked by rumors about a suppressed whistleblower complaint and may have jumped the gun, announcing the beginning of an equally undefined impeachment investigation by six House committees. Talk about a shotgun response!
The real issue, at least for political junkies with a sense of history, is whether or not this will turn out to be an “action-forcing event” equivalent to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre (or even to revelations about Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky).
On the surface, the impeachment investigations of Nixon and Trump are quite similar. In each case, the president was already under immense pressure, with a partisan media in full pursuit. When each story broke, there was dominating, explosive coverage — with every talking head predicting imminent disaster — that goaded the Congress into taking immediate, forceful action. Of course, with Nixon in particular, the stories seemed to pan out. As things now stand, that does not appear to be the case with Trump.
First, the Saturday Night Massacre, in which President Nixon ordered the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, triggering resignations of his attorney general and deputy attorney general, who were unwilling to carry out his orders. Robert Bork, as solicitor general the third in line at the Department of Justice, did carry out the president’s order — forever ruining any chance of his being confirmed as an associate justice on the Supreme Court.
The media reacted as one, describing the action as a totalitarian coup by a president eager to stop investigation of his own wrongdoing. The outcome was characterized by Alexander Haig, Nixon’s chief of staff, as a “firestorm of protest” over Columbus Day weekend, causing Nixon to reverse course entirely and agree not only to turn over the first batch of White House tapes but also to maintain the Watergate Special Prosecution Force (WSPF) as an independent entity under a newly recruited special prosecutor.
As it developed, Nixon may not have been entirely at fault. While there are certainly other versions, the most interesting back story is found in Al Haig’s later memoirs, Inner Circles (1992), in which he admits to having assured the president that Attorney General Elliot Richardson was prepared to fire Cox if he didn’t agree to the Stennis Compromise. The fight was over access to the White House tapes, which Cox had subpoenaed — and the legal battle was between the confidentiality of Oval Office conversations versus access to possible evidence of criminal conduct.
With the outcome uncertain, a possible compromise, suggested by Cox himself, was some version of “third party authentication”: a respected, independent reviewer would compare White House-prepared written tape transcripts with the actual recordings and certify the transcripts as being true and correct. The approach might satisfy both sides: the tapes themselves would remain confidential, but their transcripts would enable the special prosecutor to know what had actually been said. The White House initially had rejected Cox’s suggestion, but it was re-raised after the D.C. Circuit had ruled the tapes themselves had to be turned over.
The difficulty was that they picked Sen. John Stennis of Mississippi as the independent authenticator. Stennis was easily among the Senate’s most respected members — and a man of towering integrity. But at 73, he was both quite elderly and still recovering from being shot during a robbery attempt.
Shortly after the Stennis Compromise was officially announced on October 19, 1973, Cox indicated his disinclination to go along — and Richardson, in spite of what Haig claimed were his assurances that he was prepared to dismiss Cox, chose to resign instead. Cox was fired on October 20, and the White House’s reversal the following week hardly calmed things down. On Tuesday, October 23, a landslide of resolutions calling for Nixon’s impeachment, launching an impeachment investigation or appointing a special prosecutor were introduced. On October 30, the House Judiciary Committee (HJC) formally undertook its investigation. The vote to do so was strictly along party lines: 21-17.
The formal House vote did not occur until just over three months later, February 6, 1974, giving formal authority for the HJC to launch an impeachment inquiry. By this time, there was a huge bipartisan consensus: the vote was 410-4.
The most interesting “insider’s” description of what went down during HJC Chairman Peter Rodino’s impeachment inquiry comes from a book written by its long-time majority counsel, Jerry Zeifman: Without Honor: Crimes of Camelot and the Impeachment of President Nixon (1995). In reading Zeifman, however, it is important to appreciate the somewhat different circumstances. Zeifman hated Richard Nixon with a passion and thought he ought to be impeached forthwith. He chafed under the slowed pace of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s allies, who felt (no doubt correctly) that stretching out HJC’s Nixon investigation would not only savage other Republican officeholders but also facilitate Sen. Kennedy’s expected 1976 run for president.
Thus, Zeifman is highly critical of Special Counsel John Doar, who had been specifically recruited to run the investigation and who, according to Zeifman, was taking direction from Yale Professor Burke Marshall, Doar’s former boss in the Kennedy administration’s Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice — and said to be EMK’s attorney general in waiting. Marshall’s views and suggestions were conveyed through his protégé, Hillary Rodham, whom he had arranged for Doar to hire on to his impeachment inquiry staff.
It is instructive to review their timetable. The HJC began its impeachment inquiry on October 30, 1972, but the committee didn’t get around to hiring Doar until December 20, following a two-month search. While he assembled an investigatory team of some 45 lawyers, most of them were relegated to the job of assembling press clippings from stories that were critical of the Nixon administration. Ultimately, these totaled 36 notebooks of material. Amazingly, Doar’s inquiry staff undertook no investigation of its own: no witnesses were interviewed, no evidence was gathered. Instead, their intent from the very outset was to rely on pre-existing investigations by other congressional committees, most notably the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (the Ervin Committee). That Committee, as Zeifman points out, was specifically prohibited by its charter from investigating President Nixon himself — so Doar’s impeachment inquiry — after months of supposed effort — had nothing to show for its efforts.
Indeed, the committee did not issue its own subpoena for White House tapes until April 11, 1974, some nine months after their existence become known. (The courts declined to enforce this subpoena in any event, due to the “separation of powers” structure of our Constitution).
A second $1 million was appropriated, but staff activity was kept so confidential that even committee members themselves were unaware of the lack of any real investigation. Once the infamous “Road Map” was forwarded by the Watergate grand jury on March 1, 1974 (and Nixon named an unindicted co-conspirator in the cover-up), Doar was forced to act — which is why he so quickly welcomed the work done by the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. Significantly, even the Road Map itself was held so closely that only the chairman and ranking member, along with two staffers, had access to the full document.
Thus, it was not until May 11, 1974, that Doar relented and the committee undertook six weeks of closed-door hearings to receive actual evidence. Even then, it was not until July 2 that the committee began hearing from its first of 11 live witnesses (which included Alex Butterfield, John Dean, Fred LaRue and John Mitchell). Televised live debates by committee members, preceding their actual votes on the Articles of Impeachment, began on July 24 — definitely a slow-moving train.
Zeifman singled out for special distain both Hillary Rodham and her supervisor Bernie Nussbaum (who later became counsel to the president under Bill Clinton but was forced to resign over alleged ethical violations). Zeifman says Rodham wrote a memo concluding that President Nixon could not be represented by counsel during the committee’s impeachment investigations. While actually given serious consideration, this assertion was particularly difficult to maintain since counsel was allowed to participate in 1970, when Republicans were attempting to impeach Supreme Court Justice William Douglas.
The end result, in spite of Hillary’s efforts, was that when witnesses were called to testify, they were subject to cross-examination by Nixon’s own legal team, led by Boston trial lawyer James St. Clair.
In the end, on July 30, HJC members recommended the last of three Articles of Impeachment to the full House, while rejecting two others proposed by the impeachment inquiry staff. The committee’s formal impeachment process had taken a full eight months. One could argue that it took that long, even with extensive (and hugely negative) media coverage, to move public opinion toward acceptance of undoing Nixon’s sweeping 1972 reelection victory.
Now, let’s compare that timetable to what may lie ahead for Pelosi’s House of Representatives. While Jerry Nadler’s HJC claims to have been conducting an investigation to determine whether or not there should be an impeachment inquiry, Pelosi’s September 25 announcement is really the starting gun. Interestingly, however, she not only did not ask for a House vote but also muddied the water by saying she was relying on six committee chairmen to conduct the inquiry. There is little talk, at least at this point, of any appropriation or the hiring of any specifically tasked staff. Whether or not this is a back-handed way of throwing Nadler, whose HJC leadership has not been stellar, under the bus, Pelosi’s announced approach may turn out to be like a six-ring circus: lots of individual acts, but no single, consistent story.
Keep one other key difference in mind: In 1974, Nixon was already a lame-duck president, so any impeachment delay was seen as detrimental to the GOP. Today, Trump is not only running for reelection but many also feel he has a very good chance of winning — such that delay is not necessarily beneficial, and certainly not to members of Congress from districts that Trump is expected to carry in 2020.
It is little wonder there are stark differences among Democrats on whether or not to proceed with any form of impeachment investigation. And, once launched, any perceived delay is not at all likely to help build support for Trump’s impeachment — not after all the highly negative, but ineffective, coverage Trump has received to date.
Can Nadler ever catch up? His Judiciary Committee is, after all, the historically correct one to conduct such an inquiry. While it would be easy for him to get authorization, he’d then have to launch an inquiry, which might well entail hiring additional staff and holding focused hearings. Cross-examination of witnesses by committee staff would be far more serious than that done to date by committee members, but Nadler would then have to face the question of whether or not Trump’s lawyers get to participate, too. Here, the Nixon precedents are clearly in favor of their inclusion.
In the end, Nadler is also going to have to present a formal case for impeachment. Given all that we have been through so far, the American public is not going to stand for a handful of progressive law professors expressing their considered judgment that Trump has, indeed, engaged in “unpresidential conduct” or committed an obstruction of justice. No, it is going to require a whole lot more evidence than that — all being presented by witnesses under oath and subject to cross-examination by counsel for the president.
This much seems true: time and the tide of public opinion are simply not on Pelosi’s side, and her six-committee approach will confuse rather than educate. Ultimately, she’s going to have to circle back to Nadler, and this is just not his moment for glory. While primarily motivated by his own intense focus on April 28, 2020, the date of New York’s primary election (where Nadler faces a progressive challenge from the left), the American public is not waiting with bated breath for his committee to get going, especially when there is no likelihood of any Senate conviction.
Instead, the public is already focused on the 2020 presidential race. Most telling, no Democrat candidate is calling for Nadler’s committee to impeach Donald Trump. Their entire pitch is that they (and they alone) are the ideal candidate to beat Trump at the ballot box next November.
Geoff Shepard came to D.C. as a White House Fellow right after graduation from Harvard Law School and spent five years on Nixon’s White House staff, including being deputy counsel on his Watergate defense team. See more on his website: www.geoffshepard.com.
]]>https://spectator.org/pelosis-six-committee-impeachment-investigation/feed/0Reviving John Huston’s Moby Dickhttps://spectator.org/reviving-john-hustons-moby-dick/
https://spectator.org/reviving-john-hustons-moby-dick/#respondSat, 28 Sep 2019 04:03:52 +0000https://spectator.org/?p=403071Only a director mad as Ahab would try to make a Moby Dick movie — so John Huston had all the right qualifications.
The 6-foot-2, oak-throated director of The Maltese Falcon (1941) wanted throughout the 1940s and early ’50s to adapt Herman Melville’s 19th-century epic for the big screen. But he could never find actors worthy of the roles, a studio willing to risk a fortune on the project, or a screenwriter talented enough to tame the gargantuan work for a wide audience. And when he did manage to secure all three in 1955 — Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab, a generous budget from a conglomerate of studios, and a screenplay by the science fiction writer Ray Bradbury — almost everything went wrong.
“Moby Dick was the most difficult picture I ever made,” Huston wrote in 1980. “I lost so many battles during it that I even began to suspect that my assistant director was plotting against me. Then I realized it was only God.”
Last month marked Melville’s bicentennial — and today is his death day. Revisiting Huston’s Moby Dick (1956) is as frustrating (yet rewarding) as returning to its source. Like Melville’s novel, Huston’s Moby Dick is a hulking tale about the vengeance of an aggrieved sea captain. It plays like a sepia-washed battle with the Almighty. And of course, a fight with God is always a loss — neither Huston nor his audience was satisfied with it.
“Translating a work of this scope into a screenplay was a staggering proposition,” the director later said. “Looking back now, I wonder if it is possible to do justice to Moby Dick on film.”
It’s probably not possible, but Huston certainly matched Ahab’s monomania in trying. His madness ensued as soon as Bradbury showed up in Ireland for filming. Bradbury memorably told Huston that he was writing the screenplay blind, because he had “never been able to read the damned thing.” Huston told him not to worry; he would co-write as they filmed. Bradbury acquiesced, but the older man’s seemingly friendly gesture soon led to a struggle for script control and mutual resentment: Huston thought the Fahrenheit 451 author (1953) was a weak and uninteresting man.
“Highly original in his writing, from the idea itself to the very turn of a sentence, in casual intercourse Ray spoke entirely in clichés and platitudes,” Huston wrote in his memoir An Open Book (1980). “This man, who sent people on exploratory flights to the distant stars, was terrified of airplanes.”
For his own part, Bradbury found Huston’s mannerisms so overbearing and cruel that he dubbed the director the “Devil Himself” in Green Shadows, White Whale (1992), his memoir about writing the film’s screenplay.
But the worst enmity arose between Gregory Peck and Huston. Known at the time for playing mild-mannered heroes, Peck thought Ahab was an unsuitable role for himself. Huston convinced him to take it anyway, insisting that he was the only man for the part. This, Peck learned soon after arriving in Ireland, was not true: Warner Brothers had forced Huston to cast Peck as Ahab.
Once filming began, Huston started pranking Peck on set. During a scene near the end of the film, Huston pushed Peck “as close to death as I ever have been,” the actor recalled in 1989. The scene required Peck to play a dead Ahab lashed to a mechanical whale, which Huston operated remotely. The winter water in the Irish Sea was especially icy that day, and Huston decided to test Peck’s endurance. He submerged the whale and held Peck underwater.
“I was underwater maybe a minute, though it seemed like 10,” Peck said. “Just as I thought I’d had it he rolled me up again.”
Moments later, the whale’s tether broke, and Peck drifted off to sea. He shouted for help until Huston arrived in a rescue skiff.
“I didn’t waste any time jumping into the motor launch and giving Huston a piece of my mind,” Peck said.
Later in the shoot, the crew lost another a mechanical whale. The weather that winter was cruel, and the whale’s loss left only one of the three 90-foot-long leviathans constructed for chase sequences. Huston’s crew was afraid to operate it, so the director himself became Moby Dick.
“When we were down to our last whale, I knew that if I got inside it, they weren’t going to let it go, so I grabbed a bottle of Scotch and got inside the whale,” he told Playboy in 1985 about the filming of the final fight scenes.
Incidents like this endowed the film with a mythic quality that endured long after its release. At an awards ceremony in 1983, where Huston was presented a lifetime achievement award in filmmaking, his longtime friend Orson Welles — whose brief appearance in the film as a preacher earned him enough money to stage his own theatrical production of Moby Dick — recalled the whale incidents and laughed, joking that Huston had always been “a Renaissance Prince, a Regency rake, a Mississippi gambler, an epicurean, and an amiable Count Dracula.”
Even Bradbury was eventually able to look back fondly on the production. In 1980, he wrote a space opera called Leviathan ’99 — a sort of Moby Dick set in space — which he based off his and Huston’s screenplay. While promoting the opera in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, he called the film “one of the best things” he ever did.
Bradbury is right: through all the hardship that surrounded Huston’s Moby Dick, the film is a triumph. Unlike Melville, whose Ahab only declared the White Whale a “pasteboard mask,” not daring to guess what terror hid behind its whiteness, Huston puts a name to the peg-legged Captain’s enemy: “Ahab saw the White Whale as a mask worn by the Deity, and he saw the Deity as a malignant force,” he wrote. Melville’s Moby Dick is about man’s search for meaning; Huston’s film is about his rage when meaning eludes him.
Steven Spielberg understood Huston’s darkness, and when making Jaws (1975), he used Moby Dick as a guide. Spielberg admired the intensity of Ahab’s battle with the White Whale, and he based the obsessive shark hunter Quint largely on Peck’s portrayal of Ahab. The fledgling director even tried to include a scene in Jaws in which a cackling Quint disrupts a showing of Moby Dick in a movie theater.
The scene was shot and would have been included in the final cut of Jaws, if not for Peck, who owned the rights and still held a grudge against Huston — and who forbade that the White Whale should rise again.
Source: The American Spectator