2014: The Year of Flying Dangerously

December 31, 2014

By Avi Davis

The news for the airline industry does not appear to be good. Three major airline crashes  – and one a disappearance without any trace – attracted worldwide attention this year and have made travelers nervous.



Indeed the global record this year would seem to present an alarming trend:  if are no survivors on the AirAsia Airbus 320 jet  flying from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore, 2014 will have been the worst year for air travel since 2005. Asia has borne the brunt, with 537 people lost on two Malaysia Airlines flights – MH370 , which disappeared on March 8, and MH17, shot down by a missile over Ukraine on July 17. A Transasia Airways crash in Taiwan on July 23 claimed another 48 lives.  While there are more than 50,000 flights around the world each day, with no report of malfunction or distress for any of them, it might appear that things are getting worse for airline travel, not better.

Is it then safe to travel on airplanes?

Dr. Arnold Barnett, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has done extensive research in the field of commercial flight safety. He found that over the 35 years between 1975 and 2010, the death risk per flight was one in seven million. This statistic is the probability that someone who randomly selected one of the airline’s flights over the 19-year study period would be killed in route. That means that any time you board a flight on a major carrier in this country, your chance of being in a fatal accident is one in seven million. It doesn’t matter whether you fly once every three years or every day of the year.

In fact, based on this incredible safety record, if you did fly every day of your life, probability indicates that it would take you nineteen thousand years before you would succumb to a fatal accident.

Perhaps you have occasionally taken the train for your travels, believing that it would be safer. Think again. Based on train accidents over the past twenty years, your chances of dying on a transcontinental train journey are one in a million. Those are great odds, mind you. But flying coast-to-coast is ten times safer than making the trip by train.

How about driving, our typical form of transportation? There are approximately one hundred and thirty people killed daily in auto accidents. That’s every day — yesterday, today and tomorrow. And that’s forty-seven thousand killed per year.

In 1990, five hundred million airline passengers were transported an average distance of eight hundred miles, through more than seven million takeoffs and landings, in all kinds of weather conditions, with a loss of only thirty-nine lives. During that same year the National Transportation Safety Board’s report shows that over forty-six thousand people were killed in auto accidents. A sold-out 727 jet would have to crash every day of the week, with no survivors, to equal the highway deaths per year in this country.

Dr. Barnett of MIT compared the chance of dying from an airline accident versus a driving accident, after accounting for the greater number of people who drive each day. Can you guess what he found? You are nineteen times safer in a plane than in a car. Every single time you step on a plane, no matter how many times you fly, you arenineteen times less likely to die than in your car.

The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 permitted the airlines to be competitive both in the routes they flew and the fares they charged. When the price of air travel decreased, the number who flew increased. In 1977, two hundred and seventy million passengers flew on U.S. scheduled airlines. In 1987 four hundred and fifty million flew. For passengers, that resulted in the frustration of crowded terminals and delayed boardings and takeoffs. But did deregulation cause safety to be compromised? Definitely not!

Accident statistics provided by the National Transportation Safety Board show that — despite a fifty percent increase in passengers during the ten years after deregulation — there was a forty percent decrease in the number of fatal accidents and a twenty-five percent decrease in the number of fatalities, compared to the ten years before deregulation.

If you are going to worry about dying, there are many more probable ways to die than on a commercial jet. Take a look at the chart below, which shows the chance of fatalities on a commercial flight compared to other causes of death in the United States. Notice that you are more likely to die from a bee sting than from a commercial flight. The number one killer in the United States is cardiovascular disease, with about eight hundred and eighty-five thousand deaths per year. Each of us has about a fifty percent (50%) chance of dying of cardiovascular disease. Whenever we fly, we have a one one-hundred-thousandth of one percent (.000014%) chance of dying



  • Cardiovascular disease: 1 in 2
  • Smoking (by/before age 35): 1 in 600
  • Car trip, coast-to-coast: 1 in 14,000
  • Bicycle accident: 1 in 88,000
  • Tornado: 1 in 450,000
  • Train, coast-to-coast: 1 in 1,000,000
  • Lightning: 1 in 1.9 million
  • Bee sting: 1 in 5.5 million
  • U.S. commercial jet airline: 1 in 7 million

Sources: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California at Berkeley

How about accidental deaths? In the chart below you can compare the average number of airline fatalities per year (not including commuter airlines) from 1981 to 1994 with the most recent figures for other forms of accidental death. Again, you can see that flying is relatively insignificant compared to other causes of death.

Number of Accidental Deaths Per Year By Cause

  • 100 on commercial flight
  • 850 by electrical current
  • 1000 on a bicycle
  • 1452 by accidental gunfire
  • 3000 by complications to medical procedures
  • 3600 by inhaling or ingesting objects
  • 5000 by fire
  • 5000 by drowning
  • 5300 by accidental poisoning
  • 8000 as pedestrians
  • 11,000 at work
  • 12,000 by falls
  • 22,500 at home
  • 46,000 in auto accidents

SOURCES: Bureau of Safety Statistics, National Transportation Safety Board

I’m not trying to encourage you to become afraid of your bicycle or of walking down the stairs in your home. My most important point is that no one can anticipate all of your questions about flight safety and the airline industry. You may have specific questions about maintenance or security or pilot error that are not simple to address. Regardless of your worries, you are putting your life in the hands of an industry with a record of dedicating its creative intelligence to your safety. And the Federal Aviation Administration, the air traffic controllers, the airline companies, the pilots, the flight attendants, the mechanics, the manufacturers have striven every year to make flight safer  than the year before.

And that’s not by accident: The airline industry has continued to improve safety standards for both planes and broader flight protocols, ensuring that we almost always get from point A to point B without any real trouble, much less danger. You have a one-in-11 million chance of being killed in an airplane crash, meaning you’re much more likely to be eaten by a shark, or as some airline executives claim, more likely to die in the airport — and certainly while driving there — than on the plane itself.

None of this is a comfort to those who lost loved ones in the major airline disasters of this year. Fate had singled them out to be on a particular plane at a  particular time and there was nothing they or their family could have done to alter what became of them.  Yet, we would be foolish to begin regarding airplane travel as unsafe or prone to fatal accidents.  It is simply not the case and rather than demonstrating this nervousness we should be extolling this remarkable industry whose record of safety has enabled us to see countries and experience pleasures not dreamed of by our ancestors.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone


The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein: A Review

December 30, 2014


by Avi Davis

At a parent-teacher conference for one of my children several years ago, I asked my son’s science teacher what he taught our child about global warming.  The teacher, who was a deeply respected school veteran, responded that his instruction was that global warming was real and that it was caused by man’s over reliance on fossil fuels.

I wasn’t startled by the answer.  I had come to expect it.   But I did raise an objection and asked why he didn’t offer an alternative view point.  He look at me a little baffled, murmuring that he didn’t realize there was an alternative viewpoint. The other parents in the room shifted nervously in their seats and one even whispered to me to drop it.

After the conference, I approached the teacher to let him know that there is a whole range of countervailing science which suggests that the question of anthropogenic global warming is not at all settled and that the use of ‘ dirty’ fossil fuels might actually be good for our environment and for our world in general.  He looked at me incredulously and then shook his head, thought for a moment and then muttered:

” Well, you know, I just feel bad for the polar bears.”

That answer almost defines the deep divide between contemporary conservationists and modern environmentalists over the standard of value we should employ when deciding the best use of the Earth’s resources.  For the conservationist, the standard of value is how human happiness can be enhanced though the employment of the earth’s resources.  For the environmentalist the primary concern is the environment’s own needs and its future; For the conservationist, our environment serves human needs. For the environmentalist, human beings serve the Earth.

Alex Epstein is used to entertaining debates of this nature.  As the founder of a for profit think-tank The Center for Industrial Progress in Southern California, Mr. Epstein has invested a great deal of his intellectual energy into challenging those who seem so fixated on the greatest of perceived modern evils- fossil fuels.  He has sought to address the claim of environmentalists who argue that human beings are destroying the earth and ruining any prospects for our future with their addiction to oil, coal  and natural gas.

The only problem with this scenario is that fossil fuels are not ruining anything at all.  Quite the opposite.  Over the course of the past 300 years they have actually enabled the greatest expansion of  prosperity the world has  known and the broadest growth of free enterprise and individual liberty ever experienced by mankind.

The case is made forcefully in Epstein’s The Moral Case of Fossil Fuels – possibly the most lucid and cogently argued work on the subject you will ever need to read.  For the author makes the argument, through the employment of graphs, comparative studies and statistical analyses that a cheap, abundant, reliable and scalable energy source has always been the key to the growth of human prosperity as well as the spread of human liberty over the past half century.  That energy source has been oil and natural gas whose benefits have redounded, not necessarily to the rich and powerful in human civilization but to ordinary people who could not dream of  owning or using such things as a motor vehicle, ready to wear clothes, fast, efficient forms of public transportation, central heating or air conditioning even 100 years ago.  All of these advances were made possible by the extraction of a fossil fuel that have appeared so abundant that it is as if  it has been secretly left it in the ground for us by a benevolent donor, only awaiting our, discovery, extraction and use.  “Oil,” argues Mr. Epstein, “is the fuel of freedom, – the fuel that liberated Americans to go where they want. Economically oil is the fuel  of trade. Our entire standard of living depends of specialization – on people doing what they do best – wherever they are – and then being able to cheaply move  those products to those who most need them.”

Fossil fuels such as oil have also helped solve world hunger.   When Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb in 1968, he predicted that the world would exhaust its food resources by the year 1980, the world population was 3. 6 billion.  But over the past 45 years, not only has world’s population grown to more than 7 billion but the ability of nations to feed these burgeoning populations has taken an exponential leap with world hunger reduced from 22% of the world’s population in 1968 to only 9% today. This has been made possible by oil powered mechanization which has increased the amount of farmland that can  be cultivated per worker and the much wider availability of efficient transportation making it possible to reach and export to markets from formerly remote area   The great achievement of plant geneticists such as Norman Bourlang, what is widely known as the Green Revolution,  were made possible only because high powered machines have replaced physical labor – machines that run on fossil fuels.

The central complaint of the environmentalist movement is that all of this development has come at a tragic cost – and that is the pollution of our planet.  That is to say that fossil fuels are ‘dirty’ and their CO2 emissions now threaten our future.  No one doubts that the burning of fossil fuels emit a residue of CO2 which can then escape into the atmosphere. But have CO2 concentrations accumulated to the point where they have been the singular contributor to catastrophic climate change that now threatens the Earth’s future, to the point where, according to those involved in the production of the recent film Interstellar, some day in the not too distant future, human beings might actually need to abandon the planet?

The question of course revolves around the impact of the well known Greenhouse Effect – which states that the introduction of more CO2 into the atmosphere can make the molecules inthe atmosphere more heat absorbent,  which they will then reflect back at the Earth, much as occurs in a greenhouse.  The scientific question which needs answerING is whether CO2 is is the overwhelming driver of the global climate system and thus that its warming impact is predictable over time?

One way to determine  this is to construct climate computer models and feed data  that would indicate whether our continuing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere at the present rate will result in greater global temperatures.   That has been done, over and over again- but most famously by former NASA scientist James Hansen in 1988, but the models have proved spectacularly wrong and we have now reached a general scientific consensus that  no global warming has been reported for at least 17 years.  If, claims the author,  a climate production model can’t predict climate, it is then not a valid model – and the predictions made on the basis of such a model are not scientific.

So too regarding extreme weather – another so called barometer of anthropogenic global warming and climate change. If the climate computer models have failed ( and they have done so almost certainly because predicting climate is an enormously complex undertaking fraught with pitfalls)  there is really nothing much to hang a scientific understanding of extreme weather on except very unscientific guess work.

In this regard,  the author actually offers a full page of headlines of climate catastrophe, but the headlines (eg;  “Antarctic Heat Wave: Explorers Puzzled But Pleased” or “Death’s Toll Mounts to 60 in U.S. Storms”)  derive , not from our present day but from the  year 1934 – before significant CO2 emissions began.   The point is that our climate is a combination of so many factors – the moon’s gravitational pull, the sun’s level of radiation and even the position and rotation of other planets in our solar system, that is almost impossible to predict climate – just as it is impossible to attach severe weather in any given period to a general pattern of  rapid climate change.

Epstein refers briefly to the overt politicization of climate science (although this subject surely deserves another book from him) by pointing out how the figure 97% is bandied around to describe the consensus among scientists about man made global warming.    The figure  goes back to a survey by John Cook who runs a website called skepticalscience.com and who completed a  survey in which he found that 97% of the papers he studied endorsed the view that man made greenhouse gases were the main cause of global warming.  But the category he chose did not state whether each or any of the scientists selected 1% or 100% as the percentage contribution of man to global warming.  A number of the scientists who were quoted by Cook as confirming his preferred view, vehemently protested.

Finally Epstein dwells on the opposite  of the Greenhouse Effect –  the Fertilizer Effect – the theory that worldwide increases in plant growth over the past 50 years are attributable, at least in part,  to the increases in CO2 in the atmosphere. Although the theory has gained considerable ground among horticulturalists and certain climatologists, Epstein uses it to ask the question what if  there  is, contrary to the doomsayers, a positive impact to our carbon footprint?  Most climate change activists scoff at such a notion  – but their rejection of the argument is not scientific, it is political.

And what of  the alternative technologies – wind and solar and ethanol – ballyhooed as replacements for the fossil fuels to which we have become so presumably addicted? They, argues the author, are nowhere near ready for prime time and being dependent on the weather, are still notoriously unreliable.   And not only are they expensive, they are environmentally hazardous, consuming vast quantities of chemicals and raw materials for the manufacture of their panels and turbines.

Mr. Epstein provides a chilling  account from reporter Simon Parry of a visit to a huge waste dump lake in China where he describes

“a hissing cauldron of chemicals where several million tons of rare earth have been mined. Standing  on the brink of the lake for just a few seconds and my eyes water and a powerful, acrid stench fills my lungs.  People in the nearby village were having their teeth fall out and their hair prematurely turn white and suffered from severe skin and respiratory illnesses.” 

This site is revealed to be, not the toxic dump of a nuclear station or the slag heaps of a nearby coal mine as you might think, but a mining pit for rare earth, a material vital for building wind turbines.  And that’s just some of the collateral damage of shifting from oil to expensive, unreliable and non scalable alternative energies.

Because of their unreliability ( ‘only when the sun shines and the wind blows’) alternative sources of energy require a reliable back up – and guess what that is?   You can’t run huge metropolises, now or in the forseeable future on the kind of wind and solar energy technologies presently available, without a dependable reserve energy.  Without such a back up our cities would come to a standstill.  To pretend otherwise, is  consign ourselves to a future where our central heating may stop functioning in the middle of winter or our cars will cease to operate in the middle of our highways.

The image of a solitary polar bear, floating away on a tiny ice floe has become an iconic symbol of both the global warming movement and of mankind’s degradation of the earth – made even more poignant by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.  Leave alone the fact the polar bear population of Antarctica is larger than it has ever been and has never faced extinction, we should be taking a much harder look at the facts, figures and arguments supplied by the environmental movement and understand it for what it truly is – a determined, dogmatic ideology for which actual facts and science are only niggling secondary concerns on the road to an alternative (and less free) global life style.

But before we leave this issue, lets not forget the polar bears entirely.

For I once felt bad for them too. But I was a child then. It is a pity, if not an intellectual disgrace, that so much of what we are told by the climate change activists and the alternative energy gurus seems to be the stuff of children’s dreams and not grounded in real world science.  Epstein’s lucid and carefully researched book should make anyone who reads it understand that to plan for a grown up future we cannot allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by juvenile illusions and false promises.  That is not the road to progress and human happiness. It is the road back to the 16th Century, a place very few of us would want to visit and even fewer would wish to live.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone

George P. Mitchell: Person of the Year

December 29, 2014
 by Avi Davis
This week TIME, as it has customarily done every December since 1927, announced its Person of the Year – a designation for the man, woman, organization or ‘thing’ which has most influenced the world over the past twelve months.  The nod this year fell to the Ebola Fighters – the doctors, nurses and administrators who battled the deadly virus in West Africa, in some cases contracting the pathogen themselves.
While the Ebola fighters are certainly worthy of recognition, can it really be said that they, more than any other humans of earth, influenced the course of events on Planet Earth? The fight against Ebola was limited to a rather small of the planet ( perhaps, indeed, due to the ability of these individuals to contain its spread) but it cannot be claimed  that either the outbreak of the virus nor its containment had a significant impact on our lives.
But there is one phenomenon that certainly did.   The year 2014 marked the first time the fracking revolution in the United States sent economic and political shock waves around the world, causing world oil prices to plummet and rogue nations such as Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba to tremble. It was felt in one way or another by every man, woman and child and its swelling impact may be felt for centuries into the future.
For should we fail to remember:  gas prices in the United States at the pump  dropped in some places by close to 30%, a result of  the world wide price of oil itself dropping by nearly a half from a high of  $120 a barrel to $65.  This unleashed a consumer windfall providing a tremendous stimulant to an anemic U.S.economic recovery;  the oil glut which resulted made certain oil and natural gas producers such as Venezuela and Russia almost redundant as they witnessed a dramatic slowdown in revenue, so much so that only a few weeks ago the Russian rouble lost nearly 20% of its value.  Meanwhile the United States became the leading supplier of oil and natural gas in the world and is certain to become energy independent by 2020.
As the New York Times has noted:  “Fracking and other unconventional techniques have doubled North American natural gas reserves to three quadrillion cubic feet — the rough equivalent of 500 billion barrels of oil, or almost double Saudi Arabia’s crude inventory. The increase came after four decades of decline.”
How did this happen?
It happened because one man had the tenacity and vision to stick to developing a controversial technology to drill for oil. It happened because he never gave up and when he succeeded, he gave the inspiration to hundreds of others  to follow in his footsteps.
George P. Mitchell, who died at the age of 94 in July this year, was the son of a Greek immigrant who ran a dry cleaning business and the chief pioneer of hydraulic fracturing, the now common industry process known as fracking that uses chemicals with water under high pressure to crack open rock formations and release oil and natural gas.
Over the course of his career, he participated in drilling some 10,000 wells, including more than 1,000 wildcats — wells drilled away from known fields. His company, Mitchell Energy & Development, was credited with more than 200 oil and 350 natural gas discoveries.

The firm spent nearly two decades developing hydraulic fracturing, finally finding success in North Texas’ Barnett Shale formation in the 1990s.

Hydraulic fracturing has been around since the late 1940s but until only very recently was at all profitable. That profitability came as a result of Mitchell’s far sighted vision and the application of new, risky technologies aimed at extracting oil from shale deposits that even his own employees had cast doubt as likely to ever produce a profit.

In 2014,the results of this persistence had world wide ramifications.  U.S. oil production ballooned from 850,000 barrels a day to 1.2 million, making  the country the  largest oil producer in the world.

The added competition on world markets caused a rapid drop in price per barrel of crude from $120 a barrel to $65 a barrel.  This in turned had a seismic impact on such countries as Russia, Venezuela and Iran, three countries which have used their oil wealth to mount geo-political challenges to the United States and as actual economic leverage against the West in multiple ways.

One can imagine that if this revolution continues, the United States will not only become oil independent (for the first time since the 1920s), will not only re-energize it’s faltering economy, but re establish a sway over international relations that it has lost over the pas six years.  The dominance over energy markets and the booming economy that it is likely to produce will return more investment into R&D, encouraging the development of even more efficient, clean technologies for mining oil and natural gas.  This boom, all other potential offsetting matters aside, could carry the United States through the remainder of this century as the world’s undisputed leader.   It could mean the broader spread of democracy, of free enterprise and of individual liberty than  we have ever seen.

And all this from the vision of one man whose dreams at one time  90% of his own work force and managerial staff thought untenable.

To appreciate George P. Mitchell the oil baron, we need to understand George Mitchell the man.  Married for 67 years, he was the father of 10 children, a devout Christian who gave of his time to hundreds and was his home town Galveston’s most prominent philanthropist.

Mitchell graduated first in his class of 1940 at Texas A&M University with degrees in petrochemical engineering and geology. He helped pay for his school costs by running a tailoring and laundry business in College Station and selling candy and stationery to his fellow students .

He spent four years in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. Afterward, he struck out on his own with a brother and a partner as a wildcatter operation.

Over the years, he spent tens of millions rebuilding his hometown of Galveston, resurrecting a long-dormant annual Mardi Gras celebration and singlehandedly providing money helping to restore the city.

He donated the land for Texas A&M University at Galveston.

“To say he was a great man with foresight and generosity isn’t enough,” Adm. Robert Smith III, the school’s president, said. “His contributions to this university literally made this institution possible.”

His Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, founded in 1979, has made more than $400 million in gifts.

Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst both called Mitchell a true Texas legend.

“George Mitchell was a pioneer in the energy industry and was admired by many around the world for his entrepreneurial spirit,” Dewhurst said.

In the early 1970s, Mitchell began developing The Woodlands, a suburban Houston master-planned community designed as a place for mixed-income residential development with jobs and amenities nearby while preserving the East Texas forest and other natural resources that covered the 27,000 acres. He later would call it his most satisfying achievement.

The Woodlands is now home to about 100,000 people and one of the nation’s busiest outdoor performing arts and entertainment venues there carries his wife’s name, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

“His ambition and success have transformed our region,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said. “He was a visionary, and showed his love for Houston through his work and hometown pride>”

George Mitchell did not invent hydraulic fracturing, or fracking;  but he popularized it and made it profitable.  He did not intend to begin a revolution that would challenge rogue regimes and restore U..S. energy dominance, but his ‘can-do’ philosophy, so quintessentially American, made it possible.
It is instructive that in the same issue that TIME Magazine announced it’s Person of the Year, reviewing all the candidates who may have influenced world events, not one mention is made of the fracking revolution or the man who inspired it.  Nor in its special edition, The Year in Review, do we see any reference to these fast moving, extraordinary changes which we can see occurring all around us.  Is it not astonishing how prejudice and a purblind, narrow perspective can shutter the imaginations of even our most reputedly insightful observers?
Others might lay claim to having a more media friendly set of achievements.  But for sheer influence on world events and as the likely progenitor of even greater ones to come, my vote for Person of the Year in 2014 goes to the late, great American entrepreneur, George Phydias Mitchell.

Castro Brothers Will Be The Only Winners From U.S.- Cuban Rapproachement

December 28, 2014

by Avi Davis

Christopher Columbus did not discover America.  At least not North America.  On October 12, 1492  –  the day we celebrate as Columbus Day – he instead landed at one of the thousand islands that make up the Bahamas Archipelago.   The closest he got to North America was two weeks later, when he set anchor on the north-east coast of what today we know as  Cuba.  Although Columbus would make landings in his later voyages on the Central American coast and the northern coast of South America, he did not step one foot on the coast of the land mass that would one day constitute the territory of the  United States of America.

While other Spanish explorers would land, 20 years later, on the north-east coast of La Florida and name it for the Spanish crown, neither the Spaniards nor the Portuguese would show much interest in colonizing the continent until at least 170 years passed, when the first Spanish Jesuit mission was established in California.

This is quite significant because since Columbus’ time, it was Cuba and the nearby Hispaniola, respectively only only 90  and 170 miles south of the southern most Florida key, which became the center of the New World administration for Spain.  And since that time Cuba never sought to be claimed as part of the North American continent and has jealousy guarded its Spanish heritage.  While the United States might  have dominated the island economically for the 300 years prior to the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and extended military rule there for several years following the conclusion of the Spanish- American War in the early 20th Century, Cuba did not become an American protectorate like Puerto Rico or Guam and had its independence recognized by the U.S. as long ago as 1902.  Annexation has been expressly forbidden in Congress by the Teller Amendment of 1898.

While relations post independence were rocky, the Cuban government generally showed deference to the U.S. since it was almost wholly dependent on trade with its northern neighbor.  The Castro Revolution in 1959 altered that completely when the communist leader began the nationalization of both American owned businesses and land holdings while developing  a political alignment with the Soviet Union.  The imposition of a U.S. economic embargo was soon followed by the severing of diplomatic relations.  A cold war has existed between Cuba and the United States ever since.

Barack Obama’s decision last week, however, to open diplomatic relations with the Castro regime,is a volte face which will bring with it a host of new problems.


U.S. President Barack Obama (L) greets Cuba's President Raul Castro before giving his speech at the memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg in this December 10, 2013 file photo.

The exchange of ambassadors and the opening of Cuba to American tourism will not change that much in the dynamic between the two countries.  Cuba already has a solid (if illicit)  U.S. tourist industry and tacit diplomatic exchanges have been going on for years.  It has been argued that the opening of full diplomatic relations will allow modern American freedoms to sweep into Havana and that the Internet will have a galvanizing impact on the local hunger for freedom.  In this regard, the President said that “our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe.”   Yet we have seen how ruthlessly other authoritarian regimes in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea have sought to control the Internet as well as the exit of their citizens, even for vacations abroad. And it seems to ignore one other salient point:  the Castro brothers control all aspects of Cuban life, and have, until now, effectively blocked the Internet for domestic use and show little interest in relaxing their stand.

The argument made by the President – that Cuba is isolated (read that as  ‘desperate’) and needs American investment – is not true.  Cuba has thousands of investors –  European, Latin American and Asian  – all over the island but the country is still  poor. Why?  Because the profits of local Cubans flow into the Cuban Treasury and are used to enrich the current oligarchy which controls everything from the means of production to the country’s retail infrastructure.

And we shouldn’t be so sanguine about the likely rush of American businesses into Cuba.  In order to do business there companies will almost certainly need to partner with the Cuban government or the Cuban military – if business relations with other Communist and post Communist countries worldwide are to provide any guide.


Foreigners also won’t have such an easy time moving around Havana.  As the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady commented  last week:

“The isolation is caused by the police state, which controls and surveils foreigners’ movements, herding most visitors into resort enclaves. Foreign journalists who vocally oppose the Communist Party line are not allowed into the country.  More visitors won’t do anything to reduce Cuban poverty. The regime pockets the hard currency that they leave behind and pays workers in worthless pesos. Foreigners who decide to reward good workers without state approval can face prison.”

The most serious issue of normalization however centers around the 53-year-old  U.S. economic embargo and whether it should be lifted.  When the embargo was first imposed in 1961, the Castro Government looked to its communist allies for trade  and then where it found markets and resources among fellow South American countries with it shared a Spanish legacy. In the past 15 years one of the main economic partners was Venezuela which provided both oil, food stuffs and subsidies to the perennially poor island nation. But now that source of funding is drying up as the Venezuelan economy continues to collapse due to reduced demand  for its oil. It can no longer do much for Cuba.

All of which might provide enough incentive, it is argued, for the Castros to relax their iron grip on the country and permit  both economic and political reforms.

But before any one gets too excited and  thinks of dismantling the embargo, there are a few questions the Castro government should answer.

One is a question about compensation for the $1.8 billion in American assets confiscated in 1960 when Fidel Castro nationalized the economy, which adjusted for 2014 values represents approximately $7 billion today.  Some of these assets were the vacation homes and bank accounts of wealthy individuals. But the lion’s share of the confiscated property was sugar factories, mines, oil refineries, and other business operations belonging to American corporations, among them the Coca-Cola Co., Exxon, and the First National Bank of Boston.

A 2009 article in the Inter-American Law Review described Castro’s nationalization of U.S. assets as the “largest uncompensated taking of American property by a foreign government in history.”

Today, there are nearly 6,000 property claims still active – even though some of the original claimants have died and many of the corporations which had business interests on the island no longer exist.   Federal law, under the 1996 Helms Burton Act , actually mandates that any attempted normalization of relations be preceded by a resolution of these claims.

Which poses just a few problems.   For one thing, Cuba is unlikely to ever have enough cash on hand to fully compensate the claimants, especially while the embargo is still in place; and secondly, sorting out who owns what after 53 years could prove something of an intense legal bottleneck for a Cuban justice system ill-equipped to deal with extensive land ownership issues.

There are also many outstanding personal human rights claims against the Cuban government stemming from its mistreatment of POWs following the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961 which involved both U.S. and  Cuban nationals.

Cuban agents who committed torture of American POWs in Vietnam are also still at large.  At a holding pen in North Vietnam known as ” The Zoo” between August 1967 and August 1968, 19 American servicemen were brutally beaten by interrogators assessed to be Cuban agents working under orders from Hanoi.   The torture and the known identities of some of these Cuban agents were made public in testimony before the Senate Committee on International Relations on November 4, 1999.

This is not to mention the thousands of people who attempted to flee Cuba over the past 50 years by air or boat (among them U.S. citizens) and who were either killed or abandoned by merciless Cuban coastguards.

An accounting should be demanded.

The Cuban embargo has been dismissed as a limp holdover from the Cold War, lacking relevance to our contemporary world.  That is a mistake.  The Castro regime committed significant crimes against American citizens and corporations over a number of years.  Normalization of relations does not make them any less criminal and we would be foolish to simply shrug our shoulders and embrace our new friends in Havana, as if they never happened.   To do otherwise will make the Castro Brothers the only true winners of the detente Obama is proposing  –  resulting in not only a miscarriage of justice, but setting a poor example of how to deal with other rogue regimes who are likely, over the next several years, to suffer Cuba’s ignominious fate.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and the editor of The Intermediate Zone


*  For a fascinating review of the reality of modern day Cuba, please see Allan Wall’s travelogue  Cuba’s National Question and Ours 

** For an excellent piece on the outcome of the Obama declaration on Cuba please see this article:  Obama and Cuba in  the American Thinker

Exodus: Gods and Kings: A Review

December 27, 2014


by Avi Davis


Director: Ridley Scott

Featuring: Christian Bale, John Turturo,  Signourey Weaver, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul

Length: 150 minutes.

Release Date: December 12, 2014

Review Date: December 27, 2014

One has to marvel at the current Hollywood penchant for repeatedly mining the Bible for its entertainment value.  In the past twelve months alone there has been Noah, The Red Tent and the three part mini-series The Bible.  When you think of it though, it should not be so surprising.  The stories of the Bible have everything needed to make for good movie fare: strong characters, dramatic plots, unexplained, serendipitous miracles, heroes who must overcome impossible odds and lots of evil guys who are trying to get in their way.

But on all counts, Exodus: Gods and Kings fails in its attempts to meet any of this criteria. Part Spartacus, part Arthurian legend, part Robin Hood, it leaves its audience scratching its heads as to which part was left over for the actual Biblical narrative.

Moses (Christian Bale) the favored prince and most trusted general of Pharaoh Seti, is the Egyptian equivalent of a rock star, striding around Memphis in his black armor and swinging pendants with a Tom Cruise haircut and a James Dean swagger. Forget the meek, mild mannered Moses of Bible fame, who stutters and is riven with self-doubt.  Not this guy. He is as comfortable stabbing grapes on his plate as he is gleefully impaling Hittites with his Excalibur-like sword.

Moses’ counterpart is the feckless son of Seti, Ramses, (Joel Edgerton) who competes with Egypt’s favorite hero for his father’s attention. Ramses amuses himself by playing with his father’s pet pythons whose venom he uses to enhance his martial prowess.   They are sent off together to join battle with the invading Hittites whom they dispatch rather quickly, but not before Moses saves the life of the stupefied Ramses who freezes in combat.  Everything swings along hummingly in Ancient Egypt until Moses, out of town on a royal mission to inspect the building projects at Pithom, is slipped a note by a Hebrew slave to meet with the Tribal elders. There he is informed that he is not an Egyptian at all, but, gasp, the son of a Hebrew slave. Why he should believe this, particularly since he does not have any outward physical attributes of Hebraic character – neither a Jew-fro, short stature nor the pronounced schnozz ( although we know nothing of the give away evidence which might be dangling beneath his tunic) is left unanswered.

The only hint we have that Moses has been questioning his identity is when Jewish elder Nun (Ben Kingsley) reminds him that he has always felt there was something wrong. Huh? Its the first time that this ancient Egyptian is revealed to have had any qualms at all about his charmed existence as a much venerated Egyptian icon.   But the revelation nevertheless seems to gnaw at him for at least a few seconds since soon after stepping outside Nun’s door he feels compelled to murder a couple of Egyptian guards.

Unfortunately for Moses the whole episode is overheard by two Jewish informers and news travels quickly to the Court.  Thereafter there is a rather rapid downfall as Ramses sentences his foster brother to an ignominious exile. Moses is briefly reunited with his real mother and sister before setting off into the wilderness. Eventually he comes across a Midianite community whose daughters he saves at a well from harassing goat herders.  There, after marrying the demure Tzipporah and after nine bucolic years as a shepherd, he meets up, in the pouring rain on a mountain top with the burning bush and through the agency of an eleven-year- old  messenger from G’d,  receives his instructions to return to Egypt in order to liberate his people from bondage.

Thereafter Moses the warrior prince transforms into Moses the guerrilla leader.  He is seen training his brigades in all manner of shooting arrows from horseback and they are given to acts of sabotage that would make a good day’s work for the French Underground. But none of this has much impact on Ramses; nor does it  impress the eleven-year-old messenger.  Moses is told to sit back and watch as  G’d , with his ten plagues, decisively finishes the job.  Gruesome suffering is unloaded on the hapless Egyptians as the final plague – the killing of the first born , ends Ramses’ cloying noodling of his infant son, whom he loves in extremis because, as we are informed repeatedly, his own father didn’t give him enough love.



The Israelites win permission to leave. Ramses decides to give chase and his army follows. Ramses loses most of that army when it falls over a cliff. But he presses on to see the Israelities crossing the Red Sea which has miraculously receded just prior to the onset of a Tsunami. The Egyptian army follows across the suprisingly unsodden landscape in hot pursuit only to realize the rise of the Tsunami wave is upon them.  The Israelites make it to the other side but Pharaoh and his cohorts are predictably swept away. Both Pharaoh and Moses stagger to their respective shores as the Hebrews stare in blank disbelief and the dead Egyptians, washed up on the shore, are picked apart by carrion.



The last scenes have Moses chipping away at the Ten Commandments under the messenger’s instructions as he is given the option( finally!) to end the whole  thing – and go back, I guess, to his rarefied life as Egyptian cynosure.  Moses prefers life in the cave with the tablets and the boy messenger.  The last we see of him,  he is bouncing  along over the desert in a horse drawn cart , already quite aged, with a curious expression on his face – which could be wonder at how and why this movie was ever made.

Now for some of the more perplexing aspects of the film’s lead characters:

Ramses is a befuddled leader who even in peace time can’t seem to get a handle on his role as ruler of the world’s greatest civilization and stumbles around his palace po-faced and uncertain of what to say next.  Joe Edgerton appears to be particularly bored and embarrassed to be playing this rather helpless monarch and despite the devastating plagues visited against Egypt, adds quite a bit of weight as the movie progresses (not to mention hair) – perhaps a means of dealing with his boredom.   Though, as is seemingly de rigeur with most Hollywood portrayals of villains these days, we are exposed to his affecting humanity in his role as a father, a husband and martyr to his cause.

John Turturo plays the rather fey Seti I, father to Ramses and surrogate father to Moses, who seems to be dying  from pink lipstick poisoning since he wears it with relish even on his deathbed. His heavy British accent makes you feel as if you are watching a Monty Python parody of Pharaoh in which the lipsed line ” Do you have a problem with the name Biggus Dickus? ” would not be entirely out of place.

The Hebrew slaves are, for the most part, hairy stoic mutes who more resemble the Morlocks from the 1960 version of H.G. Wells’  The Time Machine, than the embittered,quarrelsome and rather garrulous peons of the Biblical narrative.

The Royal Palace of Memphis seems to be open for business at all hours – open, that is, to the invading locusts, lice, frogs and other assorted plagues as well as to would-be assassins like the fugitive Moses and his accomplices who sneak in completely unnoticed and surprise the sleepwalking, unguarded Pharaoh who is astonishingly wandering around the palace in his pajamas.

Moses’ love interest, the fetching, lip-tattooed shepherdess Tzipporah, offers one of the few limited roles for any woman in the movie. Her heart is apparently won over when Moses capably shears a goat in her presence.  They are united under the canopy in an exchange of vows  that sounds like it was cribbed from a new age wedding script at the Esalen Institute.   It is so corny that you half expect them to break out into the Ancient Egyptian song version of I Must Have Done Something Good  from The Sound of Music.  

Of course the imaginative king hit of this movie is the casting of an eleven- year -old boy to play G’d – or G’d’s messenger.  Isaac Andrews plays a pouty, cynical go-between who appears before the burning bush to instruct Moses in his new mission. G’d’s motivations are somewhat obscure.   He does seem rather curiously vengeful toward the Egyptians, considering they have enslaved his people, but on his own watch,  for 400 years.  Why, the audience might ask, just as rabbinic commentators have questioned for a few thousands  years, does He get so animated about the issue now?   No answer from the director.

The relationship between the messenger and  the benighted liberator never gets much beyond mutual distrust, and they behave more like two squabbling siblings than accommodating partners, which in turn  makes you wonder why Moses even bothers.   Yet it is all worth while  since the boy messenger repays all Moses’ hard earned efforts in fleeing Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, enduring enormous privation and generally securing the liberation of his people by brewing him a cup of tea as he chisels away at the Ten Commandments.  The moment is so touching that you would think they were a long married couple, pleasantly sliding together into old age.

The babble of accents in the film can be disconcerting.  One minute the Royal Pharonic court is debating a range of options to how to deal with the plagues  – and their British accents make them sound like a gathering of  Winston Churchill’s War Council, when Queen Mother Tuya (Signourey Weaver) abruptly interrupts them with her brash East Coast American accent.  They all seem to pivot and stare at her in wonder, amazed that the casting director could have let this spoiler enter the room.  The accents that tumble off the screen include Spanish, Lebanese, Irish, Italian and Australian – anything but convincingly Egyptian.

The biggest question that the movie leaves unanswered is why was the liberation necessary at all.  The Hebrew slaves are not all that much different than any other slaves we have seen in recent movies (eg: Twelve Years a Slave).  According to the narrator, whose voice over opens the movie, the one thing that distinguishes them from the Egyptians is that they believe in one God and not multiple deities.  But there is no background to their story; no real sense of their origins, how they became slaves and why they feel the need to return to Canaan. The individuality of the Israelites that morally and ideologically sets them apart , not just from the Egyptians, but from all other peoples of the world, is entirely glossed over.

As is the actual purpose of their journey across the desert to the Red Sea and into Sinai.  In the Bible, Moses makes clear, in his petition to Pharaoh, that the purpose of their exodus is to travel three days into the desert to worship G’d and then to return.  As we learn later in the Biblical narrative, that purpose became a little more firmly focused when the Children of Israel were presented with the Ten Commandments.  But the Ten Commandments themselves are given short shrift in Exodus: Gods and Kings, not even five minutes of screen time.  They had become the center of Cecil B. de Mille’s 1956 epic and  the great denouement of the DreamWorks animated 1998 remake, The Prince of Egypt.  An explanation might be that the director’s oft stated agnoticism gave the Ten Commandments little role in his own epic as he was more concerned with the action drama of liberation than with the purpose of that liberation. But this makes Scott’s epic morally hollow and teleologically flat.

And another matter:  Who, exactly, are the Gods and Kings referred to in the movie’s title?  The Egyptian  Gods are largely AWOL and not even really mentioned by name.  Pharaoh pronounces himself a God but if so, he is a rather lack luster deity and a disempowered one at that – who does not rely on his own abilities to stanch the strings of  disasters visited upon Egypt but instead hands the job over to his ingratiating but useless magicians.

And missing from the film entirely is one of the most quizzical elements of the entire  Exodus story – G’ds decision to harden the heart of Pharaoh making it impossible for him to make amends  even if he desires to do so. This issue is philosophically central to an understanding of  the relationship between G’d and man and is an opening to a discussion about human free will, which lies at the heart of Judaism and most monotheistic religions.  A real argument between Moses and  G’d/the messenger on this subject would have been of greater interest than the spat between the two over tactics.

Hollywood directors, in their use of creative license, often produce several endings for their movies, with only one eventually chosen.

For a movie which strays so far from its original source material there could be several alternative endings, right?

So why not this one?:

Pharaoh staggers ashore – but unfortunately for him, it is the same shore as Moses where the Israelites are waiting for him with their swords drawn.  Realizing that the jig is up, he confesses the error of his ways, gives up his royal life and his chariot and decides to join the Israelites on their 40 year trek through the desert. In the process he becomes chief Israelite cook, invents the bagel, discovers lox and after some experimentation founds the exotic chain of famous delicatessens known in ancient times as  ‘Rami’s Deli?’


Not if you think that Christian Bale’s swashbuckling prince presents an accurate portrait of the Biblical Moses or that one of the greatest civilizations the world has known could be run by such blithering idiots.

In Cecil B. de Mille’s 1956 take on the Exodus story, the defeated Pharaoh (Yul Brynner) returns to the royal palace and is confronted by his wife who bates him about his failure to kill Moses. He turns on her and declares ” His God is G-D.”  It is hard to imagine such an admission from almost any major Hollywood director today;  yet in case either they or we have forgotten, it is almost the entire point of the Exodus narrative.  That “story”, as rich as the material it might have provided for entertainment vehicles since the advent of moving pictures, has offered the inspiration for man’s quest for liberty for over 3,500 years and is remembered by the Jewish people ever since as the most significant event in their nation’s long history.   Establishing the existence of one God, cementing the bond between that Deity and the Jewish people and framing the latter’s role as the moral leaders of mankind, would  provide – one might think-  just as interesting a focus as the highlighting of a distracting sibling rivalry and a mere Spartacus-styled slave rebellion.

What a shame the director of this movie misses them entirely.


Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and the editor of The Intermediate Zone

Honor Thy Father and Mother

December 26, 2014
by Avi Davis

December 15th was my mother’s 76th birthday.   Being a bit of a sentimentalist and, I would hope, a loyal son, I never forget this date.   It is the time at least once a year, although there are many other occasions as well, to honor my parents and I do so with a phone call, flowers and any other gift which I know will bring them joy.

But in Jewish law, this is not truly honoring them.

The Hebrew word kavod in Exodus 20:12 , where the commandment to honor one’s parents first appears – does not really mean honor, which is a poor English translation.  A better translation would be dignity.

How do we know this?

Often to understand the meaning of one word in the Torah , we need to make reference to the same word used in a different context in another part of it.

In this instance, the Hebrew word for “honor” (ka-ved) consists of the same letters as the Hebrew word for “heavy” (ka-bed). The only difference is a dot in the second letter.

This could be said to mean, that “honor” should be understood as treating  one’s parents with the gravity (heaviness) that their position demands. It is interesting to note that, the Hebrew  opposite of “honor” is “kalel.” The word is always translated as “to curse,” but its literal meaning is to make light of (from the Hebrew “kal,” light). One curses one’s parents not only if one directs curses at them, but, indeed, if one treats them lightly.

In a Talmudic commentary this same word is used to state that human dignity is extremely important. Therefore, in Jewish law the true meaning of the word kavod is associated with dignity rather than honor. Thus, the commandment is to dignify one’s father and mother – or to keep their dignity – as in feeding them, clothing them, and helping them come in and out of their homes, outweighs what in English we would know as ‘honor.’

But this is not the only reference to treat our parents with dignity in the Torah. In Leviticus 19: 3 there is the verse ” You shall fear  your mother and your father.”  In the Talmud  “Fear” is defined as not sitting or standing

hand in hand

in a parent’s designated place and not contradicting a parent, while they are speaking.  This akin to what we would refer to in English as respect.

Dignity and respect.  Not quite the same understanding of honor we generally attach to the word.

It is of course interesting that the Torah teaches us to ‘honor/ dignify/respect our parents but not to ‘love’ our parents. Unusual, because other commandments admonish us to ” Love thy neighbor as thyself,” “Love the stranger,” “Love God with all your heart …”

Why no love for parents?

The answer is that love for a parent cannot be commanded.  It is instinctive, as we witness anytime we see a child with his or her  mother.   G’d has built that instinct into our genes – there is no need to think about the rightness or wrongness of love for a parent.  There is therefore no need to ‘command’ love.

That love flows instinctively from a child to his or her parent is exampled by the early life of Winston Churchill.  Churchill’s life from his birth until almost his 18th year  was spent in the care of nannies or at boarding schools.  His parents, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Randolph Churchill and his bon vivant socialite wife Jennie, paid him almost no attention and saw both their children as little as possible since they were seen as  hindrances to their upward social mobility.

Yet Churchill maintained an adoration for his missing parents which defies almost all explanation.  In his 30s he wrote a glowing biography of his father extolling his virtues while mentioning none of his many faults  and came to see his flighty mother as his most important adviser and confidante in his developing political career.

But while most children instinctively love their parents, that instinct can be diminished over time.  Some parents have been cruel to their children, some have abused them, some have done things in their own lives that makes a child ashamed. Love that might be instinctive can also be crushed by experience.

I was reminded of this by two encounters I had  on the very same day I celebrated my mother’s birthday.

On that day I spoke with two friends who shared with me the reality of their own family lives.  Both had fathers who had recently passed away. In the first instance, the father had gone through a bitter divorce with the mother many years before, splitting the family in two. My friend told me that her father hadn’t spoken to either her brother or sister for 20 years and they, when notified of his passing, demonstrated no sign of grief.  She too had not spoken to either of her siblings for the same length of time. The family had effectively ceased to exist.

My other friend told me that he was the only one of his three siblings who had maintained a relationship with his father who had similarly divorced their mother three decades before. When he died they had no interest in attending the funeral or dealing with any other details regarding him.  My friend was left alone to deal with the estate and tidy up his father’s personal affairs.

I had to think of the early lives of these rebellious progeny who so despised their parent(s) that that they could not bring themselves to say goodbye or even attend their funerals.    There is no doubt in my mind that they did not always feel this way and that their natural instincts for love had in some way been smothered.

It is doubtful that any commandment could have made these children now love their parents.

So it is here that the commandment to dignify and respect the parent, particularly in old age, when they are infirm and cannot fend for themselves, has its purpose and fills in where love is no longer possible.

This was certainly the case of my two friends who reached out, unlike their siblings, to their fathers in their old age, lending forgiveness for whatever sins they had perpetrated, and offering solace in their last days.

The notion that human beings are imperfect and can make ruinous mistakes is central to Judaism.  It dovetails with the notion of gratitude -an acknowledgement that we owe our very existence to a force outside our own beings  – and to two forces in particular who united to form us.

Therefore we acknowledge that for whatever our parents’ sins, whatever their errors, whatever their failings, we must, in the end, attempt to forgive them in order to help them in their infirmity and through their final days.   For they are responsible for having granted us the greatest gift of all – the gift of life.   We may no longer all have the capacity to love them, but we can dignify and respect our parents and prevent them from passing out of life forgotten.

While many quote the fifth commandment as an admonition to honor parents, they forget or ignore the second part of the same commandment –  “so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”   We should note that this is the first commandment to appear with a promise attached.  It is further emphasis that our lives are not separate from our parents’ lives but a continuum.  It suggests that in this continuum in which we, ourselves, would wish for a long life, so we must wish it for those who gave us life.
In this respect ‘ Honor Thy Father and Mother’ stands as not just a  commandment for cementing the bond between a parent and a child, but for securing the very survival of the human race itself.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and blogs at The Intermediate Zone


Sony Made the Wrong Decision

December 25, 2014

By Avi Davis

It is easy enough for those who have no stake in the matter to target Sony’s weakness and servility in cancelling ***the release of  the Seth Rogen/ James Franco  vehicle, The Interview last week. But when you have major theater chains declaring that they won’t screen the film after receiving unambiguous threats targeting screening cinemas, who could really blame them?  Although there is no credible evidence that the same hackers who mounted a successful cyber attack on the Sony computer network could replicate that same kind of assault as a physical act on a cinema, it is clear that the liability of both the distributors and the screening facilities themselves would be enormous if such an attack eventuated.


'The Interview'


Yet, there was a more important issue at stake in this matter.  By every measure, the Guardians of Peace cyberattack was a phenomenal success.  It demonstrated the very real vulnerabilities and exposure of global corporations to cyberattack.  The apparent ease with which the attackers were able to sift through and make off with hundreds of thousands of documents, the exposure of which have proved deeply embarrassing to the multimedia conglomerate, has given corporations all over America cause for deep concern on not only how it guards its information but how, in fact, they do business. The attack proved that with very little effort, a rogue cyber terrorist operation can bring a company to its knees, forcing it to pay a ransom for its stolen documents and embarrassing it before the world.  If the cyber terrorists can do this to such a large corporation as Sony, what might they also be capable of doing to our  electrical grid, our water supply and even our homeland defense systems?

That is the political fallout  and should send both the U.S. government and  U.S. corporations scrambling  for cyber retrofits.  But the other side of the fall out is the weakness it betrays about democracies capitulating, without a shot fired in retaliation, to this brazen act of piracy.  How is it possible that the most powerful country on earth is seen  surrendering to a rogue regime, that is incapable of feeding its own people and given to one of the cruelest and most despotic polities on earth?  Because, as everyone now realizes, the attack was not really against Sony which sort to lampoon the North Korean leader, but against the U.S. and other democratic nations –   a warning to anyone considering allowing its movie makers, satirists and assorted media  to indulge in comedy at the expense of the dictator.

But in response Sony made the wrong decision.  Instead of withdrawing the movie from distribution, it should have consulted with the White House, with Congress and the news media to discover  a means of giving the film wide availability to as broad a cross section  of viewers across the Internet as possible.  Perhaps it would have been difficult to monetize this form of distribution but the movie was already going back into the vault  and was being written off as a loss.  The Wall Street Journal proposed last week that perhaps the U.S. government could purchase the rights to the film and seek to distribute it free in the United States and Asia.  A good idea, but the United States government is not in the business of distributing Hollywood movies.  Better, it would seem, for the U.S. to coordinate among the many strands of business required to produce, distribute and screen a movie to allow The Interview to see the light of day and provide a stoic, united response to this act of aggression from the North Koreans.

And one further matter.  The true damage wrought by this attack was in the release of sensitive data including emails, memos and details of salaries and other personal matters which became available to the public on the Internet in a huge trove.  Nothing can be done about individuals mining this date for juicy bits of gossip.  But those media outlets which took advantage of this availability became instantly complicit in the North Korean crime and we should not hesitate to excoriate and boycott them for their flagrant opportunism and disregard for national security.   If the Sony episode has taught us has anything, it is that when things like this occur, we are all in it together. For if North Korea can hack Sony, they can can certainly hack all of us.  And then perhaps no one is truly safe from their reach.

Avi Davis is the President 0f the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone

*** as this article goes to print, news has arrived that Sony does intend to make the movie available in a release on Christmas Day (today).   The release is a welcome statement of resolve on the part of the movie studio, although much damage was already done by the former decision to cancel.  Lets hope that, as bad as the movie might prove to be, Americans throng to see it, giving notice to a brutal dictator that they won’t be cowed by his cyber terrorist operatives.

Two Cops Dead in New York

December 24, 2014

by Avi Davis

It was no real act of disloyalty which caused policemen, guarding the hospital where two New York policemen lay dead, to turn their backs on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio when he arrived to visit this week.  The policemen were protesting, in the most emphatic way the law would allow them,  the aggressive stance the mayor has taken against his own police force and his apparent support for the rowdy protests which have raged around the city.  The protests, some of which turned violent, came in the wake of several verdicts which had exonerated white police officers in killings of black men suspected of crimes.

But the assassinations of officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu by an assailant while merely sitting in their patrol car, has left a dark stain seeping deeply into de Blasio’s  administration and a crucial  indictment of his leadership.  The President of the New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, gave voice to these misgivings when he was quoted describing  de Blasio as having the officers’ blood on his hands.

That indictment is not without substance.  Since assuming office in December last year, de Blasio has launched  a venomous campaign against the New York City Police, who over the past twenty years, under both MayorsMichael Bloomberg and Rudi Guiliani, transformed New York from one of the most dangerous large cities in the western world into one of the safest.  The key was the institution of the broken windows policy of policing which holds that maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from occurring.  Applied in practice the policy had  New York police walking their beats, stopping to check  the ID of would be miscreants and investigating petty theft. It also involved targeting certain neighborhoods where crime was likely to occur.

De Blasio had raged against the practice during his mayoral campaign, characterizing it as prejudicial to blacks and he vowed to end it.  In this manner he came into direct conflict with William Bratton, the NYPD chief whose views stood firmly by the successful policy.

But in October this year, in the wake of the Eric Garner/Michael Brown protests which erupted  in New York , Oakland and Ferguson, his stance became even more radical.  He ostensibly praised the protests, declaring them understandable and his sympathy even extended to voicing concern about excessive police action to prevent damage to stores      When some of the protesters attacked policemen on the Brooklyn Bridge, his skeptical response, asserting that the attacks were only ‘alleged’ and not proven,  seemed to place himself unequivocally on the side of the protesters and not that of his own police force, or the citizenry he had been elected to protect.

In case we forget, metropolitan police forces came into being in 1820s England when ever expanding cities gave birth to a consistent wave of crime.  Frightened by this threat to their businesses, shipping merchants on the Thames lobbied for Parliament for an established force which would patrol the boroughs of London and maintain law and order. It is interesting to note that a generation earlier when  British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger had sought to introduce a bill which would establish exactly such a force, it was met with instant Parliamentary opposition, the belief being  that a police force would be used to suffocate individual liberty by spying on citizens and orchestrating the incarceration of individuals without trial – much like the Gendarmes in pre-revolutionary France had done.

As we have industrialized and the focus of national life has moved from the countryside to our cities, it has become increasingly important for the citizenry to maintain confidence in its police force, assured that it is not a unit committed to spying on the people or protecting special interests but a force determined to maintain law and order.  There was never a sense in which the police force would stand aside while law and order was undermined.

That , however, is precisely the impression de Blasio will give the people of New York if he continues to suggest that the black population of his city, from which most crime of New York springs forth, are victims who deserve prioritized protection while the mostly white police and Hispanic force are characterized as their persecutors.  New York citizens will eventually come to believe that  there is a special class of citizen in their city who can literally get away with murder because they are labelled by the mayor as the true and only victims of racial intolerance.

If this does happen then it is likely that New Yorkers may take matters into their own hands, creating their own armed watch dog groups and even urban militias, much as happened in the early 1800s  when the Thames merchants started a private police force designed to patrol and guarantee the safety and security of the waterfront. By 1820, this force had been so successful in the “clean-up” of the crime-infested waterfront that the City felt it had to emulate it by creating a force of its own.

Reinventing the the New York Police Department, one of the toughest and most efficient police forces in the world, should never have been necessary. De Blasio can only blame himself when the maintenance of law and order – one of his most important roles as mayor of New York City, begins to break down on his watch, undermining his progressive agenda.

That might provide a certain measure of poetic justice.   But for the people of New York it will only mean a return to the bad old days of the 1970s and 80s when to live in New York City was to live in a state of constant fear.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and the editor of  The Intermediate Zone.

Russia’s New Potemkin Village

December 23, 2014

by Avi Davis

In 1787 , Empress Catherine II ( known as ” the Great”)  was planning a trip to the Crimea to inspect her imperial territory.  According to legend, Prince Grigory Potemkin, her first minister of state, in order to impress his accomplishments upon his monarch ( and lover)  erected a series of fake settlements along the banks of the Dnieper River so as to fool her into believing that the Southern Crimea was actually far more prosperous than anyone had accounted.



Although the story might be exaggerated or even mythical – the images of dressing up a dowdy place to make it look spectacular has come down through history as a sleight of  hand designed to hoodwink the unwary.

Apocryphal or not, Russian leaders have used the Potemkin method quite successfully ever since.  Following the Government sanctioned pogroms which raged through the Jewish Pale of Settlement in  the early 1880s – in which thousands of Jews were either murdered or robbed of their possessions, Czar Alexander II, fearing Western retribution, ordered villages to be hastily erected  in which Jews would be imported and be seen to be living happy, prosperous lives.

Stalin, in the midst of the Ukrainian famine, was able to dupe British intellectuals such as George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and Sydney and Beatrice Webb into believing that the Soviet Union had become a paradise on earth where hunger, destitution and extreme poverty had been erased  by taking them only to places where model communities has been established.


Modern day Russian leaders have become similarly adept at presenting facades which mask some pretty awful realities.  If you visit Moscow today, you might be dazzled by the apparent hipness of the place –  European fashion stores lining malls together with expensive car dealerships and chic foreign restaurants.  It all  lends an aura of cosmopolitanism to the city which can have you leaving it thinking that Moscow  was the equal of any Western city.

But it is a facade which hides an increasingly desperate reality.  In his new book Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, documentary film maker Peter Pomerantsev  portrays Russia as one big reality TV show, with Vladimir Putin  as its permanent star.   Russia today, he shows us, is all about hierarchy and connections, where laws count for nothing and corruption at the highest levels of government is understood and accepted.   Citizens  are alternately terrorized by the Government but then uplifted by heroic stories of national achievement and their leader’s hubris and temerity in challenging the West. The elite, in collusion with the government, rip off as much money as possible and sock it away in London and Switzerland and elsewhere maintaining bulging bank accounts, multiple homes, yachts and expensive boarding schools for their children.

But in the past week it has become clear that this new Potemkin Village is beginning to see its paint rapidly flake and its brilliant luster fade.

In one extraordinary day last week  the value of the ruble dropped as much as 19 percent in 24 hours, the worst single-day drop for the currency in 16 years. Now Russians are reportedly bum-rushing malls to swap cash for washing machines, TVs, or laptops—anything that seems as if it might hold value better than paper money, whose worth is evaporating in real time. .

Russia’s economy has been hurt by two big things: the falling price of oil and continuing economic sanctions.  The oil and gas industry generates about half of Russia’s revenue, so when a combination of the shale boom in the U.S. and weaker demand worldwide pushed the price from $110 per barrel earlier this year to $65, Russia buckled under the strain. The sanctions imposed by Europe and the U.S., designed to punish Russia’s companies for President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine, have only poured acid on the wound.

The response of the Russian Central Bank last week was to raise interest rates to crushingly high levels – around 17% – which may only result in a temporary brake on the rouble’s free fall.  Putin’s political response was predictably to lash out against the West and to pinpoint the sanctions as the cause of this latest episode in Russian misery.

But the reality is that Russian economy very much floats on a cloud of natural gas, which proves a particularly unstable and ephemeral vehicle of transit when the winds blow in the wrong direction. In  the past ten years Putin has quashed the development of free enterprise, failing to encourage the growth of Russian industry so that the country has nothing much of substance to offer its major trading partners other than its natural resources.

It places Putin in a very delicate position because his popularity has been built on his ability to sustain muscular economic growth during the years where Russian gas was needed by everyone.  If the U.S. fracking boom continues and its domestic oil and natural gas supplies skyrocket, Putin faces a popular backlash which, even his hidebound personality and talent for silencing his opposition will be unable to stem.  Don’t be surprised then, that with the collapse of the rouble will come the imposition of martial law and a return to the bad old days of Soviet food lines and rationing.

For the  West this might portend a return to the Cold War template of an increasingly desperate Russian elite using domestic repression at home and foreign adventurism abroad to maintain leverage over real and perceived enemies.


Mr Putin cannot allow himself to believe that the Kremlin's favoured strongmen in former Soviet Republics are actually unpopular

But it is a different world today.  Russia in 2014 is not the Soviet Union of 1980, dominating a quarter of the world’s land mass and commanding unlimited human and natural resources. its population is now more sophisticated and more knowledgeable about what the rest of the world is like.    The Russian population, having tasted something of Western luxuries, will not go back readily to the deprivations of yesteryear. And the West, confident in its ability to do without  Russian oil and gas could well stand by idly and watch Putin’s Russia thrash around in wild death throes before throwing it a life line –  but not without forcing it to cough up the Crimea, the Ukraine  and the bits of Georgia it has ingested  – while requiring it to behave like a grown up state.

One thing does seem certain:  the building of  beautiful facades can no longer hide some very ugly facts of life about modern day Russia.  A contemporary Potemkin village will only stand as long as the political winds blow in the right direction. Coming from behind, as they are now, they will soon have the whole edifice crashing down around their architects’ feet.


The Retrogressive Progressives of New York

December 21, 2014

by Avi Davis

Andrew Cuomo, Governor of the State of New York, announced on Wednesday that  he will ban all forms of hydraulic fracturing in his state until further information can be obtain about health and environmental risks of the oil drilling process.  The announcement came on exactly the same day that Russia announced emergency measures to shore up the ruble and to prevent the Russian economy tail spinning into collapse; as well as the day that it was announced  that Cuba and the United States will re-commence diplomatic relations after a 53  year lull.  Both of the latter events can be tied directly to the impact the fracking boom has had on the United States.   The ruble has lost 20% of its value against the dollar after prices for oil collapsed under the weight of the global oil glut.  Cuba, reliant on Venezuela for its energy needs and economic subsidies, faces consequences in the near future as the Venezuelan economy buckles  as its oil fetches lower prices and the American market is saturated with domestic supplies of crude. Adrift, Cuba had little choice but to seek rapprochement with the United States.




But just as Cuomo was self righteously patting himself on the back for having stood up to the oil industry, there were  dozens of newly minted millionaires in formerly lowly North Dakota cashing their checks at the bank ; and in nearby Pennsylvania there are farmers and ordinary landowners who are buying themselves mansions;   The ordinary American citizen has not been passed by either.  He has watched,  astonished, as the cost of a tank of gas has plummeted by up to 30% over the past 12 months.  Throughout the world the fracking revolution, which began only five years ago, is not only reviving the world economy; it is challenging the very economic viability of long term U.S. adversaries such as Russia, Venezuela and, yes, Cuba.

But nobody in the heart of Progressive  America would seem to know any of this.  For it seems that liberal elites in the  State of New York, who have placed inordinate pressure on the Governor to thwart the fracking boom, this extraordinary progress and the optimism it has generated –  opening the world to the idea that the oil resources of the Earth may be limitless – is all a chimera. They are certain that fracking is dangerous for the environment and costly to the health of anyone living  near the vicinity of its wells.

Or are they?

For surely they know that hydraulic fracturing has been proven again and again to be safe – with no adverse health affects in the regions of the country in which it has been applied and at no significant environmental cost.  And some of these reports come from the reliably skeptical Environmental Protection Agency itself.  So as the fracking revolution rolls over the United  States, reviving a moribund economy and injecting a much needed rush of adrenaline into our downcast national mood, the progressives of New York State don’t seem to be too happy about  this  unquestionable form of human progress.  Rather they are quite determined to stand steadfast  against it.


But surely they must know this: New York state sits astride the Marcellus Shale Formation, which contains one of the potentially richest sources of natural gas in the country – a resource that could power the state for several hundred years and provide employment to hundreds of thousands.   Cuomo’s ban will be particularly devastating for poor New Yorkers, who can now be expected to struggle with high home heating bills due to expensive imported gas.  If Cuomo and his progressive friends would like an idea of exactly how drilling for natural gas using fracking procedures could help the economy of New York State, perhaps they should should look no further than nearby Pennsylvania.   There they will find, according to the American Petroleum Institute,  energy companies who have generated more than $2.1 billion in state and local taxes since the fracking boom began.  And according to state data, energy employment has more than doubled from 13,059 jobs in the first quarter of 2014  to 28, 229 in early 2014.  The average salary for those jobs is $93,000 per year, which is $40,000 higher than the national average.

And then there are other benefits of the fracking boom.  The United States has seen dramatic reductions in national carbon dioxide emissions, over the past six years –  largely as a result of hydraulic fracturing, which allowed natural gas to become cheap and abundant, and mostly displacing dirtier, higher-emission coal in the generation mix.  And lets not forget  that hydraulic fracturing, and the similar techniques used for “tight oil” drilling, have actually allowed the United States to become the world’s leading oil producer in 2014 and will allow it to become completely oil independent by 2020  – which only strengthens the nation’s geo-political position.

Given this information there are few other conclusions at which to arrive other than the fact New York does not want more natural gas, because it does not want more energy; and it does not want more energy because it fears humans will use it to build more industry; and it does not want more industry because it does not want – wait for it –  more human progress.

For you see more progress means more human development, which means more human intrusion on the natural environment.  And that is the red line which our environmentalists and their progressive allies will not allow us to cross.  Of course you will not hear the Sierra Club propound this philosophy out loud.  But it is written all over their rather limp reasoning for an absolute ban on fracking.

So there you have it.  The retrogressive progressives, determined, at any cost, to resist the juggernaut of fracking that is proving not only good for our economy, good for the environment but also good for maintaining U.S. dominance of the energy markets of the world.  If the U.S. maintains this dominant position, this will be indeed be, not the century of American decline – as so often predicted by the liberal media –  but potentially the greatest  century of American achievement in history where the country reaches its economic zenith.

Its really just too bad that New York State will not be along for the ride.

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