Friday, January 13, 2006

Colt's coach Dungy preaches what he practices

Friday, January 13, 2006
By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS -- The inextinguishable, everlasting memory is not of a coach but of a man. A man at the pulpit. Tony Dungy seems so at home on such a platform. Because he is. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers no longer required his services, he considered a career path in prison ministry. When a football card was fashioned in his coaching image, the inscription on the back spoke about how far greater to him than the pursuit of a Super Bowl was the quest for eternal life.

There he was Dec. 27, between the altar of the Idlewild Baptist Church in suburban Tampa, Fla., and the pews packed with his former Steelers teammates, players from his former Buccaneers and current Indianapolis Colts, along with team co-workers, friends, family, more. It was the most solemn, most heartrending occasion a parent could face, the funeral of his own child, the Dungys' oldest son, James, 18. And the father drew on his moment at the pulpit to preach.
He urged his 1,500 fellow mourners never to take family for granted. Hug your kids each chance you get. Spread your love, for you never know when it might be the last chance to express it.

He implored the players present -- among them Atlanta's Warrick Dunn, Denver's John Lynch, Tampa Bay's Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber and Mike Alstott, Oakland's Warren Sapp, and the Colts who were part of a 200-member group that flew south from Indianapolis two days after Christmas -- to grab every opportunity to be exemplary men. Use your pulpit on NFL Sundays and your public ministry the rest of your days to spread a sense of manhood, fatherhood, brotherhood. If anything, be bolder in who you are.

The man once known as Mean Joe Greene nearly gasped.

"When Tony came up, when it was his time to talk at the service, he said, 'It's a pleasure for me to be here,' " recalled Greene, a former teammate and fellow assistant, a longtime friend, and this week something of a foe, with the Steelers -- for whom Greene is a special assistant -- playing against Dungy's Colts in the AFC divisional playoffs Sunday. "He said, 'Well, let me explain that under these circumstances.' Then he quoted from a scripture from the Bible, Saul, how he was running for his life and he took the opportunity to give glory to his Lord. And that was powerful. Powerful.

"But that also gave him a forum to tell everybody who was listening and everybody who plays in the National Football League that these guys are role models. The point he was making is that it's difficult for young men today to understand what manhood is. That they were getting mixed messages. The role models they should look up to is men. And I thought that was a great moment to tell that. A great message to everybody who is listening."

"The things he reminded us at the funeral -- character, being a role model ..." linebacker David Thornton said. "We were there to support him, but, in the end, he supported us."
"Inspirational?" Colts defensive tackle Montae Reagor continued. "It would probably be an understatement."

It's a family thing

Coach Dungy, as no less a light in the football firmament than Peyton Manning calls him, stood at a lectern yesterday in the Union Federal Football Center, the Colts' west-side training complex. He smiled. He joked.

How his Colts, his dutiful congregants, can square the man at the pulpit Dec. 27 with the coach standing before them daily is indeed puzzling to an outsider, to a disbeliever. Yet he is Coach, he is friend Tony, he is a man -- if not The Man -- to whom they abide, even more so, if that's possible, since the Florida funeral of James Dungy. His death, in the hours after their first defeat following a 13-0 start, was ruled a suicide. Loss? They've experienced that tenfold in a 14-2 season.

Perhaps above all, what Dungy instills in his football team is a feeling of family, a unity of spirit, be it religious or otherwise. James used to stand on the football-complex sidelines at practices and on the RCA Dome sidelines on game days. They felt such a kinship. Doris Harris -- the Sewickley woman who is mother to Tony Dungy's wife Lauren and grandmother to Tiara, Jade, Eric and Jordan Dungy -- described the players as "grieving and crying and feeling the loss themselves." Seventeen days later, as they embark on only the second second-round playoff in the franchise's 22 seasons in Indianapolis, Thornton said they are still mourning, still grieving.

"James is as much a part of our family as his family," Thornton said, purposefully speaking in the present tense. "He's in the back of our minds. We know this is a special season. We have J.D. on the back of our helmets to remember. And it's important to go out and play the caliber of football [Dungy] wants us to."

Dungy, 50, is a father in both respects of the word. A paternal leader whom Thornton talks about following anywhere. A religious figure commanding their attention, respect, hearts, minds. In no way does Dungy ask them to win for James, for the family, for him.

"To win one for the city of Indianapolis and our organization and [owner] Jim Irsay, that's what it's all about," he said. "Our team is very close, and these guys are close to me, and we shared some special moments. But that's not what the playoffs are all about. With my son's situation and our family, it puts it all into perspective. I always thought that the playoffs are great and the Super Bowl's great, but it's not the most important thing in the world."

"There's nothing that prepared our team for what happened to our coach and his family," Manning said. "That was a true life-changing event, a true tragedy."

Yet Dungy prodded them, preached to them, coached them at his worst of personal times. They contend that it raised their already high admiration and respect for the man who pointed them to a 48-16 record and three consecutive AFC South titles in his four Indianapolis seasons, the man who coaxed a 58-32 mark in his last five seasons with the heretofore woebegone Buccaneers, although he was fired in 2001 for perpetually failing to reach the Super Bowl that successor Jon Gruden attained the next season without coming close since. Just the same, there are no records kept for funerals, for life-altering days such as those after Christmas.

To other Colts, such as middle linebacker Gary Brackett, the quintessential moment came Dec. 28, the day after the funeral and four days before the Arizona regular-season finale, when Dungy returned to his team. The man walked through the complex door "with the same pep in his step as before, maybe even more," Brackett said. It's still there this week. "He really doesn't have to say anything. We can see it in his expression, how energized he is coming back to work."

"He did as a husband and a father would do: He was supportive to his wife and family. He felt the loss himself. He gave his proper time," said Harris, his mother-in-law. "He wouldn't let football get in the way of his obligations as a father, a husband and a man. But he knew he had to get himself back together for his team; he couldn't let his team down. They worked so hard getting to where they are now, he wouldn't desert them at this point."

Finding his faith and way

Before finding his faith anew in -- of all places -- Bonaventure Hall at St. Vincent College during Steelers training camp 1978, before venturing in whatever direction football would take him, Anthony Kevin Dungy was the son of academicians and the big brother in an athletic family from Jackson, Mich. Their father, Wilbur, was the first African-American professor at Jackson Community College and later taught physiology at Delta (Mich.) College. Their mother, Cleomae, taught high-school English for more than 30 years.

Eldest Sherrilyn became a nurse. Younger twins Lyndon and Lauren became a dentist and obstetrician. And skinny Tony ...

"I think Tony always liked basketball more," said Lauren Dungy-Poythress, who lives in Indianapolis close enough to her brother that their children often get together. "When Tony went to Minnesota, he was on the basketball team for a year; but it's my understanding that they sort of asked him not to play so he wouldn't hurt himself for football."

The star Golden Gophers quarterback wound up a free-agent safety with the Steelers, learning defense, learning how to tackle, learning everything. Yet, as Professor and Mrs. Dungy had ingrained in him, he was forever the student. Minnesota coaches gave him an office key of his own so he could study without them.

In 1977, he distinguished himself by becoming the emergency Steelers quarterback against Houston, establishing a dubious mark by both throwing and catching an interception in the same game. "We didn't win the game, but he probably kept us from getting slaughtered," Greene said. Before the next season, Dungy toiled so hard to prepare, he reported to Latrobe with mononucleosis. He sat there day after day with roommate Donnie Shell, who told him: "The Lord always has a plan for your life; maybe now it's to rest."

Dungy, whom Shell invited into a Bible Study group with Hall of Famer John Stallworth, linemen Jon Kolb and Larry Brown plus cornerback J.T. Thomas, relaxed and renewed his faith with zeal. Perhaps, it was no coincidence that he returned to health and topped the team in interceptions, his six outranking Hall of Famers Mel Blount and Jack Ham, even tying for second in the AFC that season. He won a Super Bowl ring with those Steelers. He earned enough cash that he gave to the twins his 1968 Buick LeSabre -- that Three Rivers Stadium security refused to allow entrance because they figured no pro would drive such a jalopy -- and bought himself a Thunderbird. Later, he gave that car to Lyndon and bought one for Lauren.

What drove Dungy? He played a season after being traded to San Francisco and was released the next year by the New York Giants, then returned at Chuck Noll's request to Pittsburgh in 1981 as the youngest NFL assistant back then, the club's new secondary coach at 25. He tutored such vets as Blount, Thomas and Shell. In 1984, he rose to defensive coordinator, again the NFL's youngest at 28.

"When we were roommates, he used to keep me awake studying film; I used to scream, 'Shut that projector off,' " remembered Shell, now the Carolina Panthers' player development director. "I'd say, 'What do you want to do, what do you want to be?' " 'A coach.' So I'd say, 'OK, you can keep that projector on.'

"As a coach, he never had a plan of defeat. He always put us in position to make plays. I loved it."

It was about that time Dungy met and fell in love with Lauren Harris, a teacher at her Quaker Valley High alma mater. The Rev. John Guest introduced him to Lauren after the young Steelers assistant gave a breakfast speech at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Sewickley.

"Actually, I was in the room most of the time because Lauren wasn't sure of him," said her mother. "You know, the reputation of football players. ... But she found out he was what he said he was: He was a Christian and a man who happened to be a football coach." Guest married them barely a year later. Doris Harris continued: "Tony has never changed, except to grow. He has grown stronger as a coach, stronger as a Christian, stronger as a father, man ... and son-in-law."

Faith, family, football, in that order. Those form the foundation of a coach who spent three seasons in Kansas City and four in Minnesota as Dennis Green's defensive coordinator before being entrusted a team of his own. Those three facets form the basis of the homilies he presents to his players, including the current and former Buccaneers who confided to Harris at the funeral that their teams' sense of family was never the same after they were separated from Dungy in 2001. He wound up not a prison minister, but the Colts' coach in Indianapolis, where his sister, the doctor, had moved six months earlier to start a new practice. Said she, "I think it was Divine Intervention, actually; it was a blessing that we ended up in the same location."

Those three components are what continue to bring him through the ultimate loss.

"He's going to put God first in whatever he does, his family, then football. He has it in order," Shell said.

"I agree people should be impressed by him," Dungy-Proythess said of the respect she sees her brother garner around Indianapolis, around the NFL. "But they have no idea why they should be impressed. It's when you personally know him that you should be impressed."

Greene added: "You see Tony, and you realize the quality of the guy when there are distractions and distress. Panic never sets in. You would never hear it in his voice or see it in his demeanor. I think he got a lot of that from Chuck, but he probably brought a lot of that on his own, too."

"We have a journey to go down together and things to accomplish," concluded Reagor, one of Dungy's Colts congregants. "This is just starting."

(Chuck Finder can be reached at or 412-263-1724.)

Charles Krauthammer: Terrorists Win in "Munich"

January 13, 2006
The Washington Post
Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON -- If Steven Spielberg had made a fictional movie about the psychological disintegration of a revenge assassin, that would have been fine. Instead, he decided to call this fiction "Munich'' and root it in a real historical event: the 1972 massacre by Palestinian terrorists of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Once you've done that -- evoked the actual killing of innocents who but for Palestinian murderers would today be not much older than Spielberg himself -- you have an obligation to get the story right.

The only true part of the story is the few minutes spent on the actual massacre. The rest is invention, as Spielberg delicately puts it in the opening credits, "inspired by real events.''

By real events? Rubbish. Inspired by Tony Kushner's belief (he co-wrote the screenplay) that the founding of Israel was a "historical, moral, political calamity'' for the Jewish people.

It is an axiom of filmmaking that you can only care about a character you know. In "Munich,'' the Israeli athletes are not only theatrical but historical extras, stick figures. Spielberg dutifully gives us their names -- Spielberg's List -- and nothing more: no history, no context, no relationships, nothing. They are there to die.

The Palestinians who plan the massacre and are hunted down by Israel are given -- with the concision of the gifted cinematic craftsman -- texture, humanity, depth, history. The first Palestinian we meet is the erudite poet giving a public reading, then acting kindly toward his Italian shopkeeper -- before he is brutally shot in cold blood by the Jews.

Then there is the elderly PLO man who dotes on his 7-year-old daughter before being blown to bits. Not one of these plotters is ever shown plotting Munich, or any other atrocity for that matter. They are shown in the full flower of their humanity, savagely extinguished by the Jews.

But the most shocking Israeli brutality involves the Dutch prostitute -- apolitical, beautiful, pathetic -- shot to death, naked, of course, by the now half-crazed Israelis settling private business. The Israeli way, I suppose.

Even more egregious than the manipulation by character is the propaganda by dialogue. The Palestinian case is made forthrightly: the Jews stole our land and we're going to kill any Israeli we can to get it back. Those who are supposedly making the Israeli case say ... the same thing. The hero's mother, the pitiless committed Zionist, says: We needed the refuge. We seized it. Whatever it takes to secure it. Then she ticks off members of their family lost in the Holocaust.

Spielberg makes the Holocaust the engine of Zionism, and its justification. Which, of course, is the Palestinian narrative. Indeed, it is the classic narrative for anti-Zionists, most recently the president of Iran, who says that Israel should be wiped off the map. And why not? If Israel is nothing more than Europe's guilt trip for the Holocaust, then why should Muslims have to suffer a Jewish state in their midst?

It takes a Hollywood ignoramus to give flesh to the argument of a radical anti-Semitic Iranian. Jewish history did not begin with Kristallnacht. The first Zionist Congress occurred in 1897. The Jews fought for and received recognition for the right to establish a "Jewish national home in Palestine'' from Britain in 1917 and from the League of Nations in 1922, two decades before the Holocaust.

But the Jewish claim is far more ancient. Israel was their ancestral home, site of the first two Jewish Commonwealths for a thousand years -- long before Arabs, long before Islam, long before the Holocaust. The Roman destructions of 70 A.D and 135 A.D. extinguished Jewish independence but never the Jewish claim and vow to return to their home. The Jews' miraculous return 2,000 years later was tragic because others had settled in the land and had a legitimate competing claim. Which is why the Jews have for three generations offered to partition the house. The Arab response in every generation has been rejection, war and terror.

And Munich. Munich, the massacre, had only modest success in launching the Palestinian cause with the blood of 11 Jews. "Munich,'' the movie, has now made that success complete 33 years later. "Munich'' now enjoys high cinematic production values and the imprimatur of Steven Spielberg, no less, carrying the original terrorists' intended message to every theater in the world.

This is hardly surprising, considering that "Munich's'' case for the moral bankruptcy of the Israeli cause -- not just the campaign to assassinate Munich's planners but the entire enterprise of Israel itself -- is so thorough that the movie concludes with the lead Mossad assassin, seared by his experience, abandoning Israel forever. Where does the hero resettle? In the only true home for the Jew of conscience, sensitivity and authenticity: Brooklyn.

© 2005, Washington Post Writers Group

Ann Coulter- Democrats: The Hook-Up Party

January 12, 2006

I'm not sure Sen. John Cornyn was helping with that lengthy presentation attempting to establish the many similarities between Samuel Alito and Sandra Day O'Connor.

It doesn't matter. Liberals are being routed. They can change the lineup, the manager, the coach, but the losing streak never ends. By and large, Republicans aren't even bothering to send in their A team anymore. Alito can start wearing his iPod to the hearings. By the end of the hearings, he'll be addressing the senators as "dude."

For fun, we ought to replace all the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee with "American Idol" contestants (assuming they wouldn't object to serving on a committee that includes a degenerate like Teddy Kennedy). Democrats would still not be able to persuade a single normal American that Sam Alito is "out of the mainstream."

With all their hysteria about Valerie Plame, I had nearly forgotten what the Democratic Party stands for. It's good to be reminded that the sole item on the Democrats' agenda is abortion.

According to Dianne Feinstein, Roe v. Wade is critically important because "women all over America have come to depend on it." At its most majestic, this precious right that women "have come to depend on" is the right to have sex with men they don't want to have children with.

There's a stirring principle! Leave aside the part of this precious constitutional right that involves (1) not allowing Americans to vote on the matter, and (2) suctioning brains out of half-born babies. The right to have sex with men you don't want to have children with is not exactly "Give me liberty, or give me death."

In the history of the nation, there has never been a political party so ridiculous as today's Democrats. It's as if all the brain-damaged people in America got together and formed a voting bloc.

The Federalists drafted the greatest political philosophy ever written by man and created the first constitutional republic. The anti-Federalists -- or "pre-Democrats, as I call them -- were formed to oppose the Constitution, which, to a great extent, remains their position today.

Andrew Jackson, the father of the Democratic Party, may have had some unpalatable goals, but at least they were big ideas. Wipe out the Indians, kill off the national bank and institute a spoils system. Love him or hate him, he never said, "I'll be announcing my platform sometime early next year." The Whigs were formed in opposition to everything Jackson stood for.

The Republican Party emerged from the Whigs when the Whigs waffled on slavery. (They were "pro-choice" on slavery.) The Republican Party was founded expressly as the anti-slavery party, which to a great extent remains their position today.

Having won that one, today's Republican Party stands for life, limited government and national defense. And today's Democratic Party stands for ... the right of women to have unprotected sex with men they don't especially like. We're the Blacks-Aren't-Property/Don't-Kill-Babies party.
They're the Hook-Up party.

Leave aside any moral questions about baby-killing -- a term I have come to understand the baby-killing party dislikes. Smoking is fun too, but even I wouldn't support a political party whose sole raison d'etre was to eliminate non-smoking sections across the nation. That's not exactly the Magna Carta.

This week's conventional wisdom is that the Democrats weren't even trying to nail Alito at the confirmation hearings. Au contraire! The Democrats were tigers! They proved exactly what they set out to prove.

In fact, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-Hillary's state, was so deft in his questioning, he even has me convinced that Alito is going to vote to overrule Roe v. Wade. (And just when I thought I couldn't be more enthusiastic about the nomination!)

I'll go out on a limb and bet that, after the Democrats' expert cross-examination, Judge Alito has lost the support of every single member of NARAL.

The problem for the Democrats is: NARAL members aren't like most people. "Give me liberty or give me the right to have unprotected sex with men I don't want to have a child with" just isn't that attractive a principle in the light of day.

Copyright 2005 Ann Coulter

Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Robert Spencer: The Economist's Surrender

The Economist's Surrender
By Robert Spencer
January 12, 2006

Several weeks ago I wrote about how some cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper became an international incident. At stake is much more than some cartoons; this matter has become a test case for the continued viability of freedom of speech in Western countries. And now The Economist has written about the story in a way that reveals the biases and false assumptions so prevalent in the public discourse today.

As Islamic terrorism and jihad violence spread all over the globe, The Economist has doggedly maintained its tone of blame-the-West-first dhimmitude. Instead of seeing the cartoon controversy as another threat to freedom of speech in the West, it places the onus all on Danish racism and xenophobia. The spin starts in the lead sentence: “For much of last year, various squabbles have simmered over several prominent Danes' rude comments about Islam.”

Imagine you are a writer for The Economist, sitting down to write your story about the cartoon controversy. What is this story about? You could start it with a reference to the Van Gogh murder and the chill on free speech about Islam in Europe. Or you could refer to one of the many anti-Christian broadsides lauded in European art museums and on its airwaves, and the stout defenses of freedom of speech that the likes of The Economist published in the face of any Christian protest. You could refer to the menacing rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, and to increasing intimidation by Islamic thugs.

Or you could cast the whole thing all as being about "rude comments about Islam." Yes, of course! That's it! How could non-Western non-Christians, largely non-white, be anything but victims!

And so The Economist story got its proper lead. Then it follows with this: “Now a schoolboy prank...” Oh, so that's what it was. Not a trial balloon to see if free speech still existed in Europe. Not an attempt to defend it against attack. Just a schoolboy prank. Those idiotic schoolboys at Jyllands-Posten! Don't they realize they're playing with fire? “Now a schoolboy prank by a newspaper has landed the prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in the biggest diplomatic dispute of his tenure in office.”

True, but it also showed him, at least initially, to be one of the few European statesmen with a clear understanding just how deep and serious was the cultural challenge presented by the cartoon protests and other instances of Muslim indignation. But as far as The Economist is concerned, all that matters here is that a schoolboy prank ended up embarrassing the Prime Minister.

The Danish paper that printed the cartoons should evidently be embarrassed too: “The paper insists that it meant no offence: it was merely protesting against the self-censorship of some cartoonists who had refused to illustrate a children's book about Muhammad for fear of reprisals.” Using the word "insist" implies a defensiveness: in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, the paper insists...In other words, The Economist is fairly sure that the paper was up to some racist no-good. But its journalistic integrity requires it to note that they "insist" the contrary. The Economist story continues:

Louise Arbour, the United Nations human-rights commissioner, said she was "alarmed" by such an "unacceptable disregard for the beliefs of others". Similar condemnations came from the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the Arab League. The affair has led to protest marches in Copenhagen and Karachi, and a wave of disapproving e-mails to Danish embassies. The cartoons were even condemned by many in Denmark's liberal-minded intelligentsia, not because they favour censorship but because they see the drawings as part of an increasingly xenophobic tone that has infected all Danish dealings with foreigners.

Do you consider yourself liberal-minded? Like to think of yourself as part of the intelligentsia, or at least in tune with what the knowing people know? Then you better pile on and condemn these cartoons, along with all the right-thinking folks and forward-looking institutions.

The Economist makes sure you know that Denmark is not right-thinking: “In a country where a member of parliament can liken Muslims to "cancer tumours" and still not lose her seat, unfettered public debate is seen as normal.” Ah, see, Denmark is just sort of unhinged, you see. They have mad members of Parliament and schoolboy pranksters running newspapers. Really, they need to rein themselves in a little. “Danes, like most people, cherish their freedom of speech. But their secular society may have blinded them to some people's religious sensitivities. Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, a former foreign minister, laments his country's lack of manners.” Is that what it was – lack of manners? Well, no one wants to be unmannerly. Danish secularism has gotten out of hand, you see, that's all. The Danes just have to recover their manners. Did The Economist pontificate about manners and religious sensitivities during the Piss Christ controversy? Somehow I rather think it didn't.

Ellemann-Jensen says: "We have a right to speak our minds, not an obligation to do so," he says. What on earth does that mean? We are not forced to say what we think? There are circumstances in which speaking our minds is not called for? That is true on an individual level. But if on a society-wide basis the Danes are prevented from saying what they think for fear of reprisal or even of giving offense to some group, then they no longer actually have the right to speak their minds.

Even worse is what The Economist does to the Danish Prime Minister:
“Mr Fogh Rasmussen has tried to defuse the row mostly by ignoring it. After he had rejected a request for a meeting with 11 ambassadors from Islamic countries to Copenhagen, he was lashed by 22 former Danish ambassadors to the Muslim world, who deplored his ignorance of diplomatic niceties. After several more weeks of dithering, the prime minister at last tackled the matter in his new year's speech, condemning any attempts ‘to demonise groups of people on the basis of their religion or ethnic background’. But although he alluded to ‘a few unacceptably offensive’ instances, he did not mention Jyllands-Posten by name. And he also insisted that the general tone of the Danish debate was ‘civilised and fair’.”

How viciously unfair to Rasmussen. In fact, he didn't ignore the problem or dither. He stood up stoutly for freedom of speech, saying: "This is a matter of principle. I won’t meet with them because it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so.” He added: “I will never accept that respect for a religious stance leads to the curtailment of criticism, humour and satire in the press.” The matter, he said, was beyond his authority: “As prime minister I have no tool whatsoever to take actions against the media and I don’t want that kind of tool.”

The Economist just happened not to notice that he said all that? Or did it all just not fit their paradigm? They were, after all, much more concerned with the Muslims whose feelings were hurt by the cartoons: “For many Muslims, this is too little, too late….In a sign that the row may have some time still to run, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, a 57-strong group of countries, has also announced a boycott of "Images of the Middle East", an exhibition due to be held in Denmark this summer. What should have been a celebration of Denmark's cultural links with the Islamic world now looks like falling victim to Danish free speech.”

Not "falling victim to Islamic intransigence and inability to accept the parameters of a free society."

And so the readers of The Economist, and most Westerners in general who get their news solely from such sources, continue on blissfully ignorant of just how severely threatened their free societies really are.

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Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of five books, seven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). He is also an Adjunct Fellow with the Free Congress Foundation.

Daniel Pipes: Ahmadinejad's Mission and Mysticism

January 12, 2006

Thanks to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, a new word has entered the political vocabulary: mahdaviat.

Not surprisingly, it's a technical religious term. Mahdaviat derives from mahdi, Arabic for "rightly-guided one," a major figure in Islamic eschatology. He is, explains the Encyclopedia of Islam, "the restorer of religion and justice who will rule before the end of the world."

The concept originated in the earliest years of Islam and, over time, became particularly identified with the Shi'ite branch. Whereas "it never became an essential part of Sunni religious doctrine," continues the encyclopedia, "Belief in the coming of the Mahdi of the Family of the Prophet became a central aspect of the faith in radical Shi'ism," where it is also known as the return of the Twelfth Imam.

Mahdaviat means "belief in and efforts to prepare for the Mahdi."

In a fine piece of reporting, Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor shows the centrality of mahdaviat in Ahmadinejad's outlook and explores its implications for his policies.

When he was still mayor of Teheran in 2004, for example, Ahmadinejad appears to have secretly instructed the city council to build a grand avenue to prepare for the Mahdi. A year later, as president, he allocated $17 million for a bluetiled mosque closely associated with mahdaviat in Jamkaran, south of the capital. He has instigated the building of a direct Teheran-Jamkaran railroad line. He had a list of his proposed cabinet members dropped into a well adjacent to the Jamkaran mosque, it is said, to benefit from its purported divine connection.

He often raises the topic, and not just to Muslims. When addressing the United Nations in September, Ahmadinejad flummoxed his audience of world political leaders by concluding his address with a prayer for the Mahdi's appearance: "O mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the Promised One, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace."

On returning to Iran from New York, Ahmadinejad recalled the effect of his UN speech:

One of our group told me that when I started to say "In the name of God the almighty and merciful," he saw a light around me, and I was placed inside this aura. I felt it myself. I felt the atmosphere suddenly change, and for those 27 or 28 minutes, the leaders of the world did not blink... And they were rapt. It seemed as if a hand was holding them there and had opened their eyes to receive the message from the Islamic republic.

WHAT PETERSON calls the "presidential obsession" with mahdaviat leads Ahmadinejad to "a certitude that leaves little room for compromise. From redressing the gulf between rich and poor in Iran to challenging the United States and Israel and enhancing Iran's power with nuclear programs, every issue is designed to lay the foundation for the Mahdi's return."

"Mahdaviat is a code for [Iran's Islamic] revolution, and is the spirit of the revolution," says the head of an institute dedicated to studying and speeding the Mahdi's appearance. "This kind of mentality makes you very strong," observes the political editor of Resalat newspaper, Amir Mohebian. "If I think the Mahdi will come in two, three, or four years, why should I be soft? Now is the time to stand strong, to be hard."

Some Iranians, reports PBS, "worry that their new president has no fear of international turmoil, may think it's just a sign from God."

Mahdaviat has direct and ominous implications for the US-Iran confrontation, says an Ahmadinejad supporter, Hamidreza Taraghi of Iran's hard-line Islamic Coalition Society. It implies seeing Washington as the rival to Teheran, and even as a false Mahdi.

For Ahmadinejad, the top priority is to challenge America, and specifically to create a powerful model state based on "Islamic democracy" by which to oppose it. Taraghi predicts trouble ahead unless Americans fundamentally change their ways.

I'd reverse that formulation. The most dangerous leaders in modern history are those (like Hitler) equipped with a totalitarian ideology and a mystical belief in their own mission. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fulfills both these criteria, as revealed by his UN comments. That combined with his expected nuclear arsenal make him an adversary who must be stopped, and urgently.

Mr. Pipes ( is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).

Thomas Sowell- Education: Then and Now

January 12, 2006
Thomas Sowell

Recent news that school children in Charlotte, North Carolina, had the highest test scores among children in big cities across the country had a special impact on me. Back in the late 1930s, I went to school in Charlotte and, while I don't know what the test scores were then, I do know that we were far behind the children going to school in New York.

That became painfully clear when my family moved north and I enrolled in a school in Harlem in 1939. From being the top student in my class down in North Carolina I was suddenly the bottom student in my class in Harlem -- and struggling to try to catch up.

Decades later, my research turned up the fact that the kids I couldn't keep up with in that school back then had an average IQ of 84. Contrary to fashionable beliefs, it was not the racial segregation that made the education inferior in Charlotte, since the school in Harlem was also a black school.

It was common in those days for a kid from the South to be set back a full year when he entered school in New York. The difference in educational standards was that great.

I had somehow persuaded the principal to let me be an exception. It was a mistake on his part and mine. I was clearly a year behind the kids who had gone to school in Harlem.

Three years later, I had caught up and pulled ahead, and was now assigned to a class for advanced students, where the average IQ was over 120.

That does not mean that IQs don't matter. It means that I had a lot of work to do to get my act together in the meantime, in order to overcome the disadvantage of an inferior education in North Carolina.

Fast forward a few more years. I am now in the Marine Corps, going through boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. When the mental test results from my platoon were tabulated, the man in charge expressed amazement at how many high scores there were.

"Where are you guys from?" he asked. "New York? Pennsylvania?"

We were from New York -- and the high quality of our schools at that time was undoubtedly a factor in the high test scores we made.

No one in those days would have thought that Charlotte schools would end up turning out better educated students than the schools in New York. I don't know what has happened in Charlotte but I do know what has happened in New York.

Some years ago, when I looked at the math textbooks that my nieces in Harlem were using, I discovered that they were being taught in the 11th grade what I had been taught in the 9th grade. Even if they were the best students around, they would still be two years behind -- with their chances in life correspondingly reduced.

New York City has two kinds of high school diplomas -- its own locally recognized diploma, that is not recognized by the state or by many colleges, and the state's Regents' diploma for high school graduates who have scored above a given level on the Regents' exam.

The Regents diploma is for students who are serious about going on to a good college. Only 9 percent of black students and 10 percent of Latino students receive Regents diplomas.

That a Southern city's school children would now top the list of big city test scores may be due to the fact that the South has not jumped on the bandwagon of the latest fads in education to the same extent as avant garde places like New York City, where spending per pupil is about 50 percent above the national average.

These fads now include the dogma that racial "diversity" improves education, as does emphasis on racial "identity." In reality, a recent study shows that black students who perform well in racially integrated schools are unpopular with their black classmates. They are accused of "acting white," a charge that can bring anything from ostracism to outright violence.

The same is not true to the same extent among blacks attending all-black schools. Hispanic students' popularity likewise falls off sharply -- even more so than among blacks -- as their grade-point average rises.

Is it surprising that white and Asian American children do better without these self-inflicted handicaps to academic achievement? Is it surprising that New York City schools are now paying the price for avant garde educational dogmas?

Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate

John Keegan: We should be very worried about Iran

The Daily Telegraph
(Filed: 12/01/2006)

I supported the Iraq war as, with reservations, I still do. Its opponents have a great deal of self-justification to do, all the more as the details of Saddam Hussein's iniquities unfold in the Baghdad courtroom where he is being tried.

A true Machiavellian would use the trial to argue, however, that the West's mistake was to make an enemy of Saddam when he could have been a useful ally. Indeed, during the 1980s, when he was fighting a war almost to the death against Iran, he was a useful ally. How useful, at this time when Iran has blatantly announced its resumption of its nuclear weapons programme, is becoming apparent.

Saddam merely pretended to have weapons of mass destruction, largely to feed his own fantasies of power. Iran is actually turning itself into a nuclear weapons state, a fact disputed by none of the players on the international scene. Iran, moreover, does not seek such weapons for psychological reasons. It wants them for practical purposes, including, according to a statement by its new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former revolutionary guard, to "wipe Israel from the map". Islamic extremists are, of course, given to blood-curdling rhetoric. Nevertheless, Iran's record must cause not only the West but all Iran's neighbours to take the threat seriously.
Fortunately, Iran's opponents still have a little time in hand. It has not yet developed a nuclear weapon. At present, it is proceeding with the necessary preliminaries, particularly the enrichment of nuclear fuels to weapons grade. Nevertheless, informed opinion is that, within three years, Iran will have acquired a nuclear capability, a prospect undesirable and terrifying in the extreme. How can Teheran be stopped?

The current policy of the United States, and the EU3 group, Britain, France and Germany, is to report Iran to the Security Council, through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN agency responsible for enforcing the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Yet neither the IAEA nor the Security Council has the power to enforce the NPT. That depends on the will and capability of UN member states. It demonstrates the weakness of the Security Council that the failure so far to report Iran is due to an international reluctance to offend Russia, which is Iran's most important international supporter. It is necessary to abandon such hesitation very promptly. Diplomatic sensitivity is a minor consideration when the aggressive tendencies of Iran's ayatollahs are driving its nuclear policies.

The pressing question is, indeed, what is to be done when a report to the Security Council fails to bring Iran to desist from nuclear enrichment? Economic and other sanctions are widely cited as a means to restrain Iran; and it is certainly true that the interruption of trade and the supply of technical equipment would cause its government serious inconvenience.

It is much more doubtful whether sanctions would make Iran change its policy. The ayatollahs do not suppose they are popular abroad, nor do they much care. Sanctions would interfere with the Western lifestyle of Iran's educated young people. The ayatollahs, however, have little interest in supporting that lifestyle, indeed, rather the opposite, while Iran's educated youth have given heavy proofs that their national pride weighs heavier than their access to Western luxuries.

America and the EU3 must therefore consider other, harsher methods to restrain Iran. The fact that the United States at present deploys a large army in Iraq is a factor that must give the ayatollahs pause. To stage a second war in the Middle East would not be a desirable initiative at present for America and would certainly be highly unpopular at home and among its allies.
Moreover, Iran, as the possessor of the second largest oil reserves in the world and occupier of a strategic position athwart the sea routes delivering oil to most of the consuming world, has its own means of retaliation ready to hand.

Which brings us, as always in the geopolitics of the Middle East, to Israel. Israel makes no attempt to conceal that it has considered and undoubtedly is now considering its ability to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities by military action. However, what it did easily against Iraq in 1981 is much more difficult against Iran. For one thing, its current domestic politics may rob it of the necessary power of decision. For another, Iran's nuclear installations are much farther away than Iraq's were when Israel destroyed the Osirak reactor.

Nevertheless, the West cannot simply let things drift. Military action by whatever agency cannot be written out, but will be a last resort. In the meantime, all means short of military action, including economic and political ostracism and economic sanctions, must be tried, together with the building of alternative oil pipelines to bypass the current routes of oil supply down the Gulf. And, of course, the intensification of anti-terrorist measures.

For if the West is considering military action, so are the ayatollahs. They are the sponsors of much of the insurgency in Iraq and suppliers of the insurgents' weapons. They also have intimate links with most of the world's worst terrorist organisations, including al-Qa'eda and Hezbollah. Iranians may well be the missing link for which MI5 is searching behind the July 7 bombings in London.

Moreover, while Iran has its own armoury of medium-range missiles suitable for nuclear delivery, the ayatollahs are also known to favour the placing of nuclear warheads in target cities by terrorists travelling by car or public transport. This is a bad and worrying time in world affairs.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Michael Medved: 'Munich' Distorts History

Posted 1/10/2006 8:39 PM
USA Today

In the midst of ferocious competition for this year's Oscar nominations (to be announced Jan. 31), Steven Spielberg insists that his contender Munich counts as more than a movie. In a Time magazine interview, the director described his project as a "prayer for peace," suggesting it might even point the way to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this context, voters of the Academy of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will inevitably weigh the film's messages along with its camera work, acting and dramatic impact.

In fictionalizing the Israeli response to the murder of 11 members of its Olympic team in 1972, Munich deliberately blurs distinctions between those who commit terrorism and those who combat it.

"A response to a response doesn't really solve anything," the director declares — indicating that he somehow views the slaughter of unarmed athletes by Black September terrorists as "a response." A response to what, one might inquire? Israel's very existence, or its determination to resist bloodthirsty calls in 1948 and 1967 to "push all the Jews into the sea"?

Myth on Golda Meir

In the movie, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir authorizes the Israeli "response" with a line prominently featured in promotional materials: "Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values." Meir never made such a statement because she explicitly viewed striking back at terror as upholding — not compromising — civilized values.

The primary purpose of the undercover hit squads sent out against the terrorist leadership wasn't punishment, but protection. On Sept. 12, 1972, a week after the Munich massacre, Meir spoke to the Israeli Knesset. "From the blood-drenched history of the Jewish nation, we learn that violence which begins with the murder of Jews, ends with the spread of violence and danger to all people, in all nations," she explained. "We have no choice but to strike at the terrorist organizations wherever we can reach them. That is our obligation to ourselves and to peace."

The leader of the hard-line opposition, Menachem Begin, spoke even more directly of the need to move beyond ancient concepts of blood-for-blood. "Retaliation no longer suffices," he told parliament. "We demand a prolonged, open-ended assault against the murderers and their bases. ... We need to run these criminals and murderers off the face of the earth, to render them fearful, no longer able to initiate violence. If we need a special unit to do this, then now is the time to build it."

Spielberg and his screenwriter (Marxist playwright Tony "Angels in America" Kushner) not only ignore but also distort this crucial context. Instead, they traffic in the hoariest anti-Semitic stereotypes, showing the coldly calculating Jews computing the cost of their operation in dollars ($352,000 for an assassination in Rome) as they demand their eye-for-an-eye, their pound of flesh, to balance the crimes of Munich. The filmmakers remain so focused on their violence-begets-violence formula, they suggest that Israeli killing of Black September leaders produced even more brutal reactions; "I think they're trying to talk to us," says a member of the Israeli hit team, scanning headlines of some new Palestinian outrage.

The historical record shows, though, that tough responses to terrorist provocation sharply reduce violence. In Striking Back, a new book about the real Israeli reaction to Munich, Aaron Klein (of Time's Jerusalem bureau) reports that pursuing terrorists after 1972 led to dramatic declines in attacks on Israelis. If nothing else, aggressive tactics against murderous plotters keep them busy trying to stay alive, making it harder to develop plots. Recently, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's resolute reply to the latest Palestinian intifada, including targeted killings and construction of an anti-terrorism barrier, served to bring that uprising to an end and to produce dramatically enhanced security in Israel. Similarly, most Americans understand that efforts to kill or capture Osama bin Laden serve to protect all of us, not just gratify a desire for revenge.

Jewish outrage

The widespread criticism of Spielberg's film by Israelis (including the consul general in Los Angeles) and friends of Israel raises serious questions about its prospects for Oscar nominations. Hollywood Jews make up a significant segment of the Academy's membership, so their reaction to the movie's much-debated themes might impact its chances. After all, perceived anti-Semitic elements in last year's The Passion of the Christ helped ensure that Mel Gibson's successful release received only three minor technical Oscar nominations. While The Passion drew criticism for unflattering portrayals of Judean religious authorities 2,000 years ago, Munich slurs current day Israelis and (in a totally fictitious slam) even shows its main character so disgusted with his homeland that he refuses to return.

If, as expected, Munich wins major Oscar nods, it will reveal far more about the nature of Hollywood than it will about the movie. Despite prominence of Jews in the entertainment establishment, Munich represents the first big-budget, big-studio release centered on the Jewish state since Cast a Giant Shadow 40 years ago. This in itself should rebut the tired mantra that "Jews control Hollywood," but nominations for Spielberg's "prayer for peace" will do even more to show the distance between the thinking of today's Tinseltown and traditional Zionism.
The readiness to embrace a leftist message movie such as Munich— with its implicit critique of the Bush administration's harsh, violent response to terrorism — indicates that it's utopian liberalism, rather than any form of Jewish commitment, represents the reigning faith of the entertainment elite.

Syndicated talk radio host and film critic Michael Medved is the author of Right Turns and a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

P. David Hornik: Against the 'Sharon Cult'

P. David Hornik
January 10, 2006

Ariel Sharon’s medical emergency has unleashed a wave of media-impelled groupthink in Israel and much of the world. The official line is that he was “the only Israeli leader who could make peace,” and that his loss gravely imperils the “peace process.” The underlying axiom is that his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and part of the northern West Bank was a wise, courageous step, and a path he would have continued when reelected next March 28.

Even the assumption of Sharon’s popularity in Israel is exaggerated. According to polls taken still three months before the elections, a Sharon-led Kadima Party would have won 40 seats. To begin with, Israeli polls are notoriously inaccurate. For instance, they wrongly predicted a handy victory by Shimon Peres over Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1996 elections, and, even more mistakenly, an easy win for Sharon’s disengagement plan in the Likud referendum in May 2004.

But even if Kadima under Sharon had won 40 seats in March, soundly defeating both Labor and Likud, 40 seats is still only one-third of Israel’s 120-member, multiparty Knesset. In other words, Kadima would have won by a solid plurality but no more. And a Kadima that would have garnered—more likely—30-35 seats would have had, merely, a not-so-impressive plurality. In fact, the talkbacks on Israeli Hebrew news sites gives a much more mixed picture regarding Sharon’s alleged great popularity.

Nor is it warranted to assume that Sharon would have carried out further disengagements, when last September 29 he said exactly the opposite. Granted, Sharon did not have a track record of great consistency and honesty; but it is just as plausible that his old, security-conscious self would have revived (or already had) and refused to hand further launching pads, gratis, to Hamas, the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, Al-Qaeda and the rest.

Nevertheless, Sharon is being lionized like Yitzhak Rabin before him as “the Israeli who could have made peace,” even as the Palestinian Authority and the Middle East in general sink further and further into Islamist hatred and belligerency. The reasons for the great popularity of Israeli territorial withdrawals—which mean transferring land, and populations, from the control of a pro-Western democracy to that of Islamist terror organizations, with demonstrably harmful effects for both Palestinians and Israelis—lie partly in the realm of psychology. On the mundane level, though, it is possible to correct the destructive groupthink myths about Sharon, which encourage those Israelis who are most delusional and least able to cope with Middle Eastern realities.

The aim is not disrespect for an ailing leader, but respect for the truth. A more fact-based view of Sharon, then, reveals:

1. Corruption.
As detailed by Nehemia Strasler in a January 5 Haaretz oped, Sharon initially positioned himself to become prime minister by winning the Likud primaries in 1999. A campaign spending limit of 830,000 shekels was honored by his two rivals, Ehud Olmert and Meir Sheetrit, whereas Sharon, with the help of his son Omri—now facing a jail sentence for major election fraud—mobilized a sum of 5.5 million shekels, over six times the permitted amount, and won the primaries. Two days before Sharon’s major stroke, the Israeli media reported that the police had uncovered evidence of his accepting a $3 million bribe from Austrian businessmen, in part to help him repay the illegal campaign contributions, the rest pocketed by him and his sons. The police were preparing an indictment.

Sharon used further shenanigans to best Netanyahu as the Likud’s prime ministerial candidate for both 2001 and 2003. As Caroline Glick details:

“By conspiring with Shimon Peres in 2000 to prevent the holding of general elections, Sharon effectively barred Netanyahu from running for office—thus paving his own path to succeed [Ehud] Barak while preventing the collapse of the political Left at the polls. . . . In November 2002, by padding the Likud’s voter rolls with kibbutz members and refugees from the South Lebanon Army . . . Sharon defeated Netanyahu in the Likud primaries.”

The corruption of Sharon and his sons Omri and Gilad is legendary in Israel and widely acknowledged. The fact that Sharon remained popular is more connected to pathology—a decline toward Third World standards and desperate clinging to a leader-cult—than to rationality.

2. The trampling of democratic norms.
In spring 2003 Sharon ran for a second term as prime minister against Labor candidate Amram Mitzna, whose cri de couer was a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Sharon explicitly opposed such a step as dangerous and unnecessary, and won in a landslide. But later that same year, in a stunning reversal, Sharon announced his disengagement plan whose centerpiece was the pullback from Gaza. In 2005 Israeli journalists Ofer Shelach and Raviv Drucker published a book alleging that the plan was dreamed up by Sharon’s spin doctor, Eyal Arad, as a way of saving Sharon from legal hot water over the 1999 campaign-financing scandal. Given the timing and Sharon’s total rejection of such a move until that point, the charges were more than plausible.

Accused of defrauding his voters, however, Sharon agreed to submit the plan to a referendum of Likud Party members, and to abide by the results. When the plan was defeated in another landslide, Sharon simply ignored the verdict and went ahead with it. When the plan encountered further opposition in his cabinet, he “solved” the problem by simply firing the ministers—elected representatives of constituencies—who opposed it.

Citizens of other democracies, even if inclined to admire Sharon, should ask themselves if they would consider such tactics acceptable in their own country, and if a leader who engaged in them deserves the adulation of much of the democratic world.

3. The worsening of Israeli security.
In spring 2001, having prevented a right-wing government led by Netanyahu from taking office, Sharon formed a government with Labor, making Oslo architect Shimon Peres (“It was right to give Arafat the Nobel Peace Prize”) his foreign minister and another Laborite, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (“there is no military solution to terrorism”), his defense minister. The result was unprecedented numbers of Israelis slaughtered and injured in the streets, with the government not allowing the IDF even to begin fighting back until the Park Hotel massacre in Netanya in March 2002.

Natan Sharansky, who was a minister in this government, gave this account of it in The Case for Democracy (with Ron Dermer, Public Affairs, 2004, p. 229):

“Sharon cobbled together a national unity government and made Shimon Peres his foreign minister. . . . The sea change in Israeli public opinion... was not reflected inside Israel’s parliament, and this was especially true inside Israel’s Labor party. Most of the leading Labor ministers did not change their pro-Oslo views. They remained convinced that Arafat and the PA were the only alternatives and that nothing should be done to weaken them. Rather than meet the escalation of Palestinian terror with a firm response, they counseled restraint.”

The outcome was grisly.

In spring 2003, when the Israeli people were at last allowed to elect a right-wing government, Sharon replaced Ben Eliezer with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who worked together with a talented chief of staff and head of the General Security Service to fight terror more effectively, though still with high Israeli casualties. But since then the disengagement plan has nullified the gains. Hamas, while mostly observing an obviously temporary cease-fire, is rebuilding itself at will in Gaza as terrorists and weapons pour across a border that Sharon left, in effect, totally unguarded. Kassams are making life unlivable in the Western Negev and have already reached the town of Ashkelon with its major power installations. Meanwhile, the settlers hastily evicted from Gaza and the northern West Bank have been shamefully treated by Sharon’s government, with a new report “paint[ing] a grim picture of the evacuees’ economic, emotional and family situations.”

Last December 30, the deteriorating security situation prompted Haaretz’s left-of-center military analyst Zeev Schiff to acknowledge that “Escalation Is Inevitable.”

Ariel Sharon had a long military and political career, and his achievements and failures in both areas will be debated for a long time to come. But a look at his record as prime minister since 2001 reveals damage to Israeli democratic norms, an appalling toll of dead and wounded, the abandonment of Gaza to Islamist terror without viable security arrangements, and the further vitalization of terror by showing again that it forces Israel into capitulations. Replacing the Oslo Syndrome with the Arik Syndrome keeps Israel confused and endangered.

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P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Jerusalem who has contributed recently to The Jerusalem Post, The American Spectator Online, and Israeli news-views websites.He can be reached at

Rich Lowry: The Abramoff Case is a Republican Scandal

January 10, 2006, 8:16 a.m.
The Abramoff Scandal (R., Beltway)
It’s the Republicans, stupid.

Republicans are looking for "their" John McCain. The popular Arizona maverick is already a Republican, of course. But the GOP needs a McCain in the "Keating Five" sense. Back in 1990, Senate Democrats roped McCain into the scandal over savings and loan kingpin Charles Keating on tenuous grounds, just so not all the senators involved would be Democrats.

The GOP now craves such bipartisan cover in the Jack Abramoff scandal. Republicans trumpet every Democratic connection to Abramoff in the hope that something resonates. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), took more than $60,000 from Abramoff clients! North Dakota Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan used Abramoff's skybox! It is true that any Washington influence peddler is going to spread cash and favors as widely as possible, and 210 members of Congress have received Abramoff-connected dollars. But this is, in its essence, a Republican scandal, and any attempt to portray it otherwise is a misdirection.

Abramoff is a Republican who worked closely with two of the country's most prominent conservative activists, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed. Top aides to the most important Republican in Congress, Tom DeLay (R., Tex.) were party to his sleazy schemes. The only people referred to directly in Abramoff's recent plea agreement are a Republican congressmen and two former Republican congressional aides. The GOP members can make a case that the scandal reflects more the way Washington works than the unique perfidy of their party, but even this is self-defeating, since Republicans run Washington.

Republicans must take the scandal seriously and work to clean up in its wake. The first step was the permanent ouster of Tom DeLay as House Republican majority leader, a recognition that he is unfit to lead as long as he is underneath the Abramoff cloud. The behavior of the right in this matter contrasts sharply with the left's lickspittle loyalty to Bill Clinton, whose maintenance in power many liberals put above any of their principles. Next, Republicans will have to show they can again embrace the spirit of reform that swept them to power in 1994.

To this end, GOP lawmakers are rushing to introduce lobbying reform. Anything that increases transparency is welcome. But lobbying reform's animating pretense is that lawmakers are all upstanding — until they come under the corruptive spell of lobbyists. In every transaction, however, there has to be a willing buyer and seller.

There are two deeply rooted sources of corruption in Washington. One is that many members of Congress believe that they would be making much more than their $160,000-a-year salaries if they were in some other line of work. This sense is compounded when they watch their former 30-year-old aides go to work on K Street for $300,000 a year. This is how someone like Tom DeLay — otherwise a conviction politician — justifies playing the best golf courses in the world on someone else's dime and getting special interests to funnel easy money to his wife.

It will be a sign that Congress has learned something if it bans all privately funded travel. If a trip is truly educational and necessary, the public should fund it; if, on the other hand, a member of Congress wants to enjoy fine resorts, he should quit, practice law (or whatever), and earn the income to support his desired lifestyle.

The other problem is that Washington makes obscure decisions that enrich small groups of people. Most everyone in Washington supports making these decisions because it increases his or her power. But if Congress really wants to lessen the malign influence of lobbyists, it should reform the inherently corruptible process whereby the Interior Department recognizes new Native American tribes so they can mint money by opening casinos, and end the practice of "earmarking" federal dollars for local and special-interest projects. It's no accident that Abramoff saw the business potential in both of these processes.

Of course, making these sort of changes would be painful. That's why it is tempting for Republicans to look for a John McCain instead.

— Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

'The Shield' Ponders Wages of Original Sin

By Kate O'Hare
Saturday, January 07, 2006
12:02 AM PT

Usually, Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), the volatile, ethically challenged LAPD detective at the heart of FX's edgy crime drama "The Shield," is the predator. But as season five opens on Tuesday, Jan. 10, he looks more like the prey.

Dedicated fans will remember that the show's pilot ended with Mackey shooting and killing fellow officer Terry Crowley (Reed Diamond) after discovering that he was a plant in Mackey's freewheeling Strike Force, assigned by his politically ambitious boss, Capt. David Aceveda (Benito Martinez), to find out if the squad was smuggling drugs.

Crowley's murder is a secret that Vic and best buddy Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) have kept ever since -- even from Strike Team members Ronnie Gardocki and Curtis Lemansky (David Rees Snell, Kenneth Johnson) -- and it's hardly been mentioned since a season-two flashback. Aceveda tried for several seasons to bring down Mackey, but now that task falls to Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker), the lead investigator from the Internal Affairs Division.

"I'm a good guy," Whitaker says during a break in filming on the show's sets in Los Angeles. "I'm very obsessed. I like to win, but what I want to do is take this bad cop off the street, who's harming people, killing people, extorting people's money, dealing drugs.
"For me, I get into the zone by any means necessary. When you get into that zone, other people question you, but you know what's most important is to get him off the street. If he's going to kill somebody else, it'll be my fault."

Chiklis, who is doing double duty as director on this day, says, "It's really interesting to go back to original sin and ask questions about crime and punishment. Do we ever really get away with anything, whether the justice system actually catches us at it, or whether it's a matter of conscience?"

In the scene currently being shot, the Strike Team is concocting a legal strategy to deal with Kavanaugh's investigation, which is slowly overtaking the converted church, called The Barn, that houses Mackey's precinct in the fictional Farmington district.
In one wordless scene, the Strike Team members stare up at Kavanaugh in the captain's office as he opens the blinds and stares right back down at them.

Chiklis believes that Whitaker, an accomplished actor, producer and director, brings a unique rhythm that offsets Vic's bulldog tenacity.

"He's got a phenomenal arrhythmic thing going on with this particular character," Chiklis says, "very syncopated. I hate to make a musical analogy, but I'm sort of a fat backbone, and he's coming with all this poly-rhythm, which is bringing a great new jazz energy to the whole thing."

Whitaker says that in some recent film roles -- including "The Last King of Scotland" in which he plays Ugandan dictator Idi Amin -- he had to concentrate very hard on accents and other specific details.

"I started to question, not that I'm harming my work," he says, "but I wanted to try something where it's more alive, where I can see what I can do naturally.

"If it's well-written, maybe I can just walk in there. But I want the character to have more and more edge, become more and more sharp, so I go through a physical transformation, a clothes transformation. I am doing certain things. I can't let it all go, you know what I mean?"

The pilot for "The Shield" was shocking enough, but to wait until the fifth season to address the murder of Crowley is daring. There's no word on whether this is the last season for the show, but it is an extended one. Twenty-one episodes (the previous longest season was 15) are being shot in two sections, with a short hiatus in between. This allows Chiklis to film the sequel to his hit movie "Fantastic 4" next summer without causing any major delays.

Since Whitaker currently is set to appear in only the first group of episodes, it looks doubtful that he'll succeed in taking Vic down. But it's very dangerous to assume anything on "The Shield." Either way, a little more than halfway through his run, Whitaker has definite ideas of what should happen to Mackey.

"I think he should be in jail," he says. "I think it would be the greatest end to the show if he actually was caught and put behind bars. It would blow people away. They'd never expect it, and rightfully so."

One way that Kavanaugh goes after Mackey is through Lemansky, a good-natured guy whose mixed feelings about the squad's antics have left him chugging Pepto-Bismol.
"I would not call him the weak link," Chiklis says. "I would call him the most plagued by conscience. It's not to say Vic doesn't have a conscience. If he were devoid of conscience, he'd be strictly villainous. He'd just be a villain, pure and simple, and there wouldn't be any discussion about it."

Kavanaugh tells Lemansky about Crowley's murder, which causes him to question Mackey's tactics and his own loyalty.
"This time around," Johnson says, "I get to confront him and try to find out for myself, more than anything, if we went that far. When I make the revelation, I don't want to know. I get very emotional.
"It's a soldier's loyalty; that's how I've always seen my guy. I want people to think maybe he could break. I don't want it to just be the obvious."

"As ever with 'The Shield,'" Chiklis says, "there are shifting alliances and shifting agendas. You never quite know who's going to side with whom."


FX Plays Peekaboo with 'Shield,' 'Rescue Me'
Jan 06, 2006
Hines, Harring Get Guest Passes at NBC, FX
Oct 21, 2005
Whitaker Picks Up 'Shield'
Sep 28, 2005
Spike TV Collars 'Shield' Reruns
Jul 18, 2005
'Shield' Finale Locks Up Big Ratings

Monday, January 09, 2006

Illegal killing of grizzly bears prompts worries

The Billings Gazette
Jan. 6, 2006
Associated Press

A federal grizzly bear expert contends wildlife managers desperately need more resources to monitor the threatened bears in northwestern Montana, where he says the 11 known illegal grizzly killings last year were the highest in recent memory.

"This is urgent, considering the number of illegal kills right now," Chris Servheen, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's grizzly bear coordinator, said Friday.

Limited resources to put tracking collars on bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem has hindered efforts to track how, where and why bears are dying, he said. The number of illegal kills in 2005 was likely higher than the 11 wildlife managers know about, he said.

Since 2004, 21 grizzlies in that part of northwestern Montana were recorded as known illegal kills, but it remains unclear whether that signifies a trend in a region where many people live close to or in bear territory.

Only about 30 of the estimated 500 bears in and near Glacier National Park have radio collars, and Servheen said he'd like to see that number double. The Yellowstone-area grizzly population, which the federal government late last year proposed removing from special protections under the Endangered Species Act, has between 60 and 80 collared bears in any one year, he said.

The cost for capturing, collaring and monitoring a bear, can run an average of $15,000, when factoring in such things as staff time, he said. Higher-tech collars that make use of global positioning to better track the bears can cost $4,100 alone, he said.

In all, 25 grizzlies were killed last year in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, he said. Besides those killed illegally, including one that appeared to have been poisoned, seven grizzlies were killed by wildlife managers after conflicts with people; two were killed in self defense; one was hit by a vehicle and four died as a result of "handling problems," including what may have been a rare, adverse reaction to the drug used in capturing bears, he said.
At least 10 of the 25 bears killed there last year were females.

The consequences of illegal killings may be dire, environmentalists say. They advocate adequate funding not only for improved monitoring of the bears but also to step up law enforcement.

"This is blood that can't be spilled without major consequences," said Louisa Willcox, of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Sierra Club's Heidi Godwin agrees, but fears the prospects for more money are slim, particularly on the federal level.

"I think they fight for every dime we currently see spent on wildlife, and that will only get tougher," she said.

Willcox also believes wildlife officials need to improve on existing efforts to reach educate homeowners about ways in which to reduce conflicts with bears.

"The population can't sustain such high losses without a decline," she said. "This should be setting off all sorts of alarm bells."