Thursday, April 03, 2014

Book Review: 'The Heart of Everything That Is' by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

Drawing on original documents, including Red Cloud’s own autobiography – missing for 100 years – the authors paint a full and vivid picture of the Oglala Sioux leader.
By Chuck Haga
December 28, 2013
Of all the Indian leaders who resisted white encroachment, only the Oglala Sioux Red Cloud could claim victory over the U.S. Army in a war, a war that ended on terms he dictated.
The treaty signed on Nov. 6, 1868, followed Red Cloud’s annihilation of troops sent out from forts encroaching on his Powder River territory. It forced the United States to concede 740,000 square miles, from the Canadian border to Colorado, from western Minnesota to Idaho, including the Black Hills, called by the Sioux Paha Sapa — the heart of everything that is.
It would not last, of course.
The story of Red Cloud is presented here with all the tension and excitement of a good Western novel, with sketches of greater and lesser Indian fighters, mountain man Jim Bridger, the Pony Express and the Oregon trail, diminishing buffalo herds and spreading cholera. The authors show how the U.S. Civil War affected how the military dealt with Indians, and how broken promises and massacres of Indian women and children hardened many Indians and encouraged them to see unified resistance under Red Cloud as their last best hope for cultural survival.
The narrative is gripping but not sentimental, and it is well-sourced, drawing, for example, on Red Cloud’s autobiography, lost for nearly a century, and the papers of many others who knew Red Cloud’s War.
It tells of the migration of the tribes that would become known as the western Sioux, from eastern woodlands to the prairies and beyond. And it tells the remarkable story of a boy who, shamed by an alcoholic father and forced to build his status among his people himself, by age 4 “was sitting at council fires emulating the gravity of his elders.”
Sioux who rode with Red Cloud recalled in later life that he was brutal in war but walked and rode with the grace of a panther. He built a coalition of the often fractious Sioux plus Cheyenne, Arapaho, Shoshone and other tribes, holding Crazy Horse and other young, impetuous braves together with older, more cautious warriors.
Red Cloud’s diplomatic history is as remarkable as his military achievements, but the results were as ephemeral. In June 1870, he visited Washington, where he met with President Ulysses S. Grant. In New York, he spoke at the Cooper Institute, and the New York Times covered the speech, describing him as “a man of brains, a good ruler, an eloquent speaker, an able general and a fair diplomat.”
Red Cloud made several more trips to Washington, the last in 1897, when he was 76, to plead for better conditions for his people, especially the young. He had vowed not to fight anymore, but in language that still haunts, he lamented the “dry, dusty, infertile soil” of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where his people had been assigned. “I have the same feelings as all the white men have for their families; they love their children, as I do mine, and I would like to raise my children well.”
Chuck Haga is a former Star Tribune reporter who now lives and writes in North Dakota.

Why You Should Watch 'Noah'

April 2, 2014
Darren Aronofsky's cinematic re-telling of the story of Noah has certainly stirred people up. While quite a few reviewers, both religious and non-religious, have given the film high marks, many Christians, both Evangelical and Catholic, have registered a far less than enthusiastic reaction.
One prominent Catholic blogger and movie reviewer opined that Noah is "embarrassingly awful" and "the stupidest film in years." Most of the religious critics have complained that the film plays fast and loose with the Genesis account, adding all sorts of distracting and fantastic elements to the well-known story. In the midst of all of this -- and no doubt in part because of it -- Noah took in $44 million on its opening weekend.
Noah is best interpreted, I think, as a modern cinematic midrash on the Biblical tale. The midrashim -- extremely popular in ancient Israel -- were imaginative elaborations of the often spare Scriptural narratives. They typically explored the psychological motivations of the major players in the stories and added creative plot lines, new characters, etc. In the midrashic manner, Aronofsky's film presents any number of extra-Biblical elements, including a conversation between Noah and his grandfather Methuselah, an army of angry men eager to force their way onto the ark, a kind of incense that lulls the animals to sleep on the ship, and most famously (or infamously), a race of fallen angels who have become incarnate as stone monsters.
These latter characters are not really as fantastic or arbitrary as they might seem at first blush. Genesis tells us that the Noah story unfolds during the time of the Nephilim, a term that literally means "the fallen" and that is usually rendered as "giants." Moreover, in the extra-Biblical book of Enoch, the Nephilim are called "the watchers," a usage reflected in the great hymn "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones." In Aronofsky's Noah, the stone giants are referred to by the same name.
What is most important is that this contemporary midrash successfully articulates the characteristically Biblical logic of the story of Noah. First, it speaks unambiguously of God: every major character refers to "the Creator." Secondly, this Creator God is not presented as a distant force, nor is he blandly identified with Nature. Rather, he is personal, active, provident, and intimately involved in the affairs of the world that he has made. Thirdly, human beings are portrayed as fallen with their sin producing much of the suffering in the world. Some of the religious critics of Noah have sniffed out a secularist and environmentalist ideology behind this supposed demonization of humanity, but Genesis itself remains pretty down on the way human beings operate -- read the stories of Cain and Abel and the Tower of Babel for the details. And Noah's portrayal of the rape of nature caused by industrialization is nowhere near as vivid as Tolkien's portrayal of the same theme in The Lord of the Rings. Fourthly, the hero of the film consistently eschews his own comfort and personal inclination and seeks to know and follow the will of God.
At the emotional climax of the movie (spoiler alert), Noah moves to kill his own granddaughters, convinced that it is God's will that the human race be obliterated, but he relents when it becomes clear to him that God in fact wills for humanity to be renewed. What is significant is that Noah remains utterly focused throughout, not on his own freedom, but on the desire and purpose of God. God, creation, providence, sin, obedience, salvation: not bad for a major Hollywood movie!
There is a minor scene in the film which depicts some members of Noah's family administering the sleep-inducing smoke to the animals. They look, for all the world, like priests swinging thuribles of incense around a cathedral. I'm quite sure that this was far from the mind of the filmmakers, but it suggested to me the strong patristic theme that Noah's Ark is symbolic of the Church. During a time of moral and spiritual chaos, when the primal watery chaos out of which God created the world returned with a vengeance, the Creator sent a rescue operation, a great boat on which a microcosm of God's good order would be preserved. For the Church Fathers, this is precisely the purpose and meaning of the Church: to be a safe haven where, in the midst of a sinful world, God's word is proclaimed, where God is properly worshipped, and where a rightly ordered humanity lives in justice and non-violence. Just as Noah's Ark carried the seeds of a new creation, so the Church is meant to let out the life that it preserves for the renewal of the world.
If Aronofsky's Noah can, even subliminally, suggest this truth, it is well worth the watching.
Father Robert Barron is the founder of the global ministry, Word on Fire, and the Rector/President of Mundelein Seminary.

Climate Activists Uncaged

Gawker’s Adam Weinstein suggests arresting those on the “wrong side” of the climate-change debate. 

Finally, someone has come up with a way to settle the debate over climate change: Put the people on the wrong side of the argument in cages.

A writer for the website Gawker recently penned a self-described “rant” on the pressing need to arrest, charge, and imprison people who “deny” global warming. In fairness, Adam Weinstein (pictured above) doesn’t want mass arrests. (Besides, in a country where only 44 percent of Americans say there is “solid evidence” of global warming and it’s mostly due to human activity, you can’t round up every dissenter.) Fact-checking scientists are spared. So is “the man on the street who thinks Rush Limbaugh is right. . . . You all know that man. That man is an idiot. He is too stupid to do anything other than choke the earth’s atmosphere a little more with his Mr. Pibb burps and his F-150’s gassy exhaust.”

But Weinstein’s magnanimity ends there. Someone must pay. Weinstein suggests the government simply try the troublemakers and spokespeople. You know, the usual suspects. People like Limbaugh himself as well as ringleaders of political organizations and businesses that refuse to toe the line. “Those malcontents must be punished and stopped.”

Weinstein says that this “is an argument that’s just being discussed seriously in some circles.” He credits Rochester Institute of Technology philosophy professor Lawrence Torcello for getting the ball rolling. Last month, Torcello argued that America should follow Italy’s lead. In 2009, six seismologists were convicted of poorly communicating the risks of a major earthquake. When one struck, the scientists were sentenced to six years in jail for downplaying the risks. Torcello and Weinstein want a similar approach for climate change.

This is a great standard for free speech in America. Let’s just agree that the First Amendment reads, “Nothing in this clause shall be considered binding if it contradicts legal practices in the Abruzzo region of Italy.”

The truth is this isn’t as new an outlook as Weinstein suggests. For instance, in 2009, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman insisted that “deniers” in Congress who opposed the Waxman–Markey climate-change bill were committing “treason” while explaining their opposition on the House floor. (That same year, Krugman’s fellow Times man Thomas Friedman wrote that China’s authoritarian system was preferable to ours, in part, because it lets “enlightened” leaders deal with climate change.)

“The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected,” Krugman insisted. How fast the earth is changing is open to all kinds of debate, but short of an asteroid strike it won’t change as fast as the global-warming pessimists have claimed. For example, in 2008, Al Gore predicted that the North Pole ice cap would be ice-free by 2013. Arctic ice, which never came close to disappearing, has actually been making a bit of comeback lately.

Gore’s prediction — echoed by then-Senator John Kerry and countless others — was always ridiculous hyperbole. But even the most serious, non-hyperbolic, computer-modeled predictions have overestimated the amount of warming we’ve experienced. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has had to retract several histrionic predictions, such as its erroneous prophecy that the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035.

Its new report, out this past Monday, contains a new raft of dire prophecies requiring trillions in new spending. If I greet it with skepticism, shall I pack a toothbrush for my trip to jail?

Climate-change activists insist that in science, revisions are routine, and that such corrections prove the good faith of scientists. Even if that’s true, one might still note that incentives are unhealthily arranged so that even well-intentioned researchers are encouraged to exaggerate the dangers of climate change and discouraged from criticizing hyperbole. Moreover, were it not for the skeptics and deniers, many such corrections would never have been brought to light. (My own view is that man plays some role in warming, but the threat is overblown and the popular remedies range from trivial to unaffordable to ridiculous.)

The real problem is that political activists and many leading institutions, particularly in the news media and academia, are determined to demonize any kind of skepticism — about the extent of the threat or the efficacy of proposed solutions — as illegitimate idiocy.

That attitude is unscientific and undemocratic enough. But it sure beats calling for your opponents to be thrown in the gulag for disagreeing with you.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback. You can write to him by e-mail at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

My favourite TV show: The Office

For those of us who were teenagers when Ricky Gervais' sitcom arrived, The Office was more than just a great comedy – David Brent and his colleagues formed the basis for the way we relate to each other
By Edward Tew
1 April 2014
The Office is a television programme that people actually take with them when they go on holiday. It's true. Not only have I come across – and watched – The Office box set on a coach in Thailand, I've also seen it played by young-ish travellers in a restaurant in India and at a hostel in continental Europe. It's the next item on a traveller's list behind those musky blue towels and eight unopened packets of condoms because, well, there is no more ubiquitous piece of popular culture than a BBC2 mockumentary about a provincial paper merchant. In the 1960s, it would have been a ragged copy of Catch-22.
For people old enough to have worked in an office when the first episode aired in the summer of 2001, The Office is simply a very funny and influential sitcom. For people like me, who were only just teenagers, it's a lot more than that. When you grow up with something you love it starts to rub off on you. You can hear it in the way people speak. The intonations, the one word sentences and phrases like "big time". Obviously people said "big time" before Ricky Gervais but now everyone says it likeGervais. It's that mock-boastful way you sometimes hear when people start discussing plans for a night out.
I really started to notice the impact The Office was having on popular culture around five years after it came out. I was at university and Brentlemania was in full swing. In those first few weeks in halls, it became the common ground over which nervous friendships were forged and, ironically, any awkward silences – there were many – were filled with quotes from the show and a surprising number of references to Winnersh and Yately. One afternoon, God help us, we thought it might be a good idea to film a recreation of the opening scene from the second series, when they sing the Muppets' Mahna Mahna song. We really were that coolio. But perhaps what was most surprising was that a comedy set in the average workplace appealed so much to us – people too young to have spent much time in one. It proved good comedy is universal and eternal.
For me, the thing that really makes The Office so great is its subtlety. The characters themselves – bar Tim – aren't even particularly funny; what's funny is their fumbling, berkish slog through mundane life. Real people don't look like the cast of Friends and neither did anyone in The Office. Real people say the wrong thing, boast and pretend to be a little cooler than they really are. And so David Brent wasn't a freak, just an exaggerated version of us – albeit with slightly better dance moves.
But the real heart of the series – and the reason why I think it remains such a treasured programme around the world – is, of course, Dawn and Tim. Their relationship, constrained as it is by a documentary camera, became almost Austenesque in its heightened frustrations, every glance significant and every touch a moment of real intimacy. By the end, when they finally kiss for the first time, The Office became a sitcom that could bring you to tears.
It just feels more fully formed than many other similarly treasured sitcoms like Fawlty Towers or Yes, Minister because it has more heart. In The Office the tragic clown does get a reprieve. In the final episode, after hours of relentless humiliations, Brent finally stands up to his big enemy, Chris Finch, and tells him to f-off. And the shiver that runs down your spine as he says it reminds of just how much you like and relate to the annoying little man with the rubbish goatee – in a way that you never could with Basil Fawlty or Jim Hacker. In what was virtually the final shot of the series – when they take a last group photo – the laugh that Brent finally manages to elicit is an exquisite release. Years of sadness vanish in one moment of real laughter.
The Office didn't invent the comedy of awkwardness or realism but it finessed and polished it into something approaching high art. And, like high art, it will age well. Brent elucidating on the myriad qualities of Ian Botham – or Beefy – will always be funny. I think when Gervais andStephen Merchant sat down in a broom cupboard at the BBC all those years ago, they might have grazed genius – big time.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Today's Tune: Johnny Cash - The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

Islamizing Britain’s Schools

Posted By Bruce Bawer On April 1, 2014 @ 12:35 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 48 Comments

Littleton Green Community School, Huntington, England

“Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man.“ 
– Jesuit aphorism

Real Muslims understand the critical importance of teaching the young. The critical importance, that is, of teaching them the “right” things and not teaching them the “wrong” things. The most important single element of stealth Islamization is the effort to convert Western schools from centers of secular education into hubs of Islamic indoctrination. Fortunately, there are plenty of dhimmi teachers and school administrators eager to help out, convinced that they’re serving the interests of multicultural peace and harmony. These days, for some reason, this form of dhimmitude seems to be most prevalent – and to take its acutest form – in England.  

Take, for example, Lynn Small, headmistress of a state elementary school in Huntington, England, who last November wrote a letter to parents of fourth- and sixth-grade students warning that if they didn’t let their children attend an “Explore Islam” workshop at Staffordshire University, a “Racial Discrimination” note would be placed in the kids’ permanent records. Fortunately, parents kicked up a fuss, and the media took notice, and Small backtracked – kind of – while still insisting that since some of the school’s “pupils and teachers…belong to the Islam faith,” it was only “right for the children to understand and appreciate their faith as well as their own.”

Obviously, Small realized she’d miscalculated. Slightly. Apparently there were no repercussions for her. She still has her job, and there’s no indication that school authorities even put a note in her permanent record chiding her for making Stalinist-type threats against parents. No, her heart was plainly in the right place, as far as the British educational establishment is concerned – she just went about things the wrong way, confronting parents directly instead of taking a more crafty approach.

In any event, Small, it turns out, is decidedly small-time. In the last couple of weeks, investigations by the Telegraph and Daily Mail have uncovered something far more serious than Small’s little workshop: namely, a long-term, broad-based conspiracy to Islamize schools in the city of Birmingham. The conspiracy is so widespread, and involves so many high-level people in the school system and the Muslim community, that – well, put it this way: if you were to suggest to a typical European multiculturalist that any such plot were brewing anywhere in the Western world, you’d be mocked and reviled, accused of racism, paranoia, and sheer unadulterated foolishness.

Yet the facts are there. As revealed in a series of articles, there’s “an organised group of Muslim teachers, education consultants, school governors and activists” who are involved in what they themselves call a “Trojan Horse” campaign to further an “Islamising agenda” by “remov[ing] secular head teachers and install[ing] Islamic practices in Birmingham state schools.” The participants’ ongoing discussions of this campaign have taken place on a private online message board, whose contents have been seen by the Telegraph. Among the conspirators’ short-term objectives is to install Muslim worship in the schools; their explicit long-term goal, as they have made clear in postings on the message board, is the total Islamization of Britain.

The key figure in this scheme is Razwan Faraz, a deputy head teacher at a Birmingham school who, in the days before the Telegraph exposé, had made something of a name for himself by vociferously denying that any such effort was underway. Faraz has another claim to fame, as it happens: his brother, Ahmed Faraz, was the owner of a shop in Birmingham, since closed by police, that “distributed extremist literature to many involved in terror plots, including one of the 7/7 bombers.” Ahmed was himself jailed in 2011 “for multiple terror-related offences.” Razwan assailed his brother’s incarceration as “an attack on free speech.”

Among Faraz’s collaborators are a number of Muslims in positions of local power. Many belong to the Muslim Parents Association and/or the al-Hijrah Trust, groups that work actively, and openly, to increase the Islamic influence in British schools. A leading member of the conspiracy, Tahir Alam, is a senior figure at the Muslim Council of Britain and is vice-chair of the Association of Muslim Schools – and that’s not all. If parents’ complaints about the efforts to Islamize their kids’ schools have been ignored repeatedly, it may be at least in part because Alam is also an official school inspector for Ofsted (the government agency responsible for such matters) as well as a “specialist in school governance” for the Birmingham city council (whose leader, a fellow named Sir Albert Bore, has rejected the “Trojan Horse” charges as “defamatory” and insists that Birmingham schools are doing just fine).

The conspirators appear to be a patient lot. About a newly appointed Muslim school head, one participant in the message board wrote: “Please don’t pressurise her to start the Islamising agenda first. That will be a lot easier when she is respected as leader. She has to establish herself with minimum controversy for the first six months, and lead the people to believe in her before they believe in her policies.”

The results of these people’s efforts speak for themselves. At one school, Park View, which has been praised by Prime Minister David Cameron for its purported “educational excellence, a senior teacher who publicly eulogized terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki is now in the running to become head teacher. “Extremist preachers” have addressed school assemblies; girls have been pressured to cover their hair; £70,000 was spent on loudspeakers to summon students to Friday prayer. “It felt like a faith school. Islam permeated everything,” one source “close to the investigation” told the Telegraph. “All the citizenship teaching was about being a good Muslim.” All this, mind you, at a nominally secular state school.

Then there’s Oldknow, a primary school where an excellent, non-Muslim head teacher was driven out “by a concerted campaign to remove her and Islamise her school.” Oldknow now has Muslim prayers every Friday and has organized at least three taxpayer-funded school trips to Mecca. Arabic classes are compulsory for all pupils. The school even has its own madrassah. Teachers engage in “blatant belittling of Christianity.” Sources spoke about teachers who introduce religion into “every lesson” and whose insistence that music is sinful has led some children to refuse to take music classes. Last December, the school’s traditional Christmas tree and pantomime were cancelled because they were adjudged “un-Islamic,” and a teacher gave a talk at which he led students in a chant: “Do we believe in Christmas? No! Do we give out Christmas cards? No! The seven days of Christmas, they [Christians] can’t even count!”
Things aren’t as far along yet at another school, Springfield, where the non-Muslim head teacher, according to his colleagues, is “under ‘non-stop attack’ by radical members of the governing body” and has received anonymous death threats and had his tires slashed. Meanwhile, at a fourth school, Anderton Park, where the governing body recently voted to “Islamize” collective worship, “the lives of successive non-Muslim head teachers have been made a ‘misery’ by radical religious governors and parents determined to stop the teaching of PE and music, regarded as sinful by hardline Muslims.” At Anderdon Park, there were also several “assaults on staff” (no details provided).

In response to the accounts of the “Trojan Horse” conspiracy laid out in the Telegraph and Daily Mail, Alam complained that he was – what else? – the target of an Islamophobic witch hunt. For his part, Michael White, a former teacher at Park View, had blistering words for the British government and for the Birmingham city council, saying that both were so “afraid to upset communities” that they chose “to sweep things under the carpet.” (Note that even White felt a need to avoid spelling out which “communities” the authorities were loath to offend.)

Sajeel Shaid and the Ad-Deen Primary School

Birmingham, of course, isn’t the only locality in Britain where children are being subjected to Islamic indoctrination in the guise of education. The other day the Daily Mail reported that one Sajeel Shahid, who has trained terrorists – including “the ringleader of the 7/7 terrorist bombings” and four persons who tried to blow up a Kent shopping center and a London nightclub – has for several years been running the Ad-Deen Primary School, a Muslim institution in Essex, whose pupils are between three and eleven years old. Because he ran the school under a pseudonym, inspectors didn’t see anything fishy about the version of Islam being taught to his charges, and accordingly gave the school passing grades. Of course they did: the only difference between the version of Islam taught at approved Islamic schools and the version preached by Islamic terrorists is the terrorism itself.

British parents owe a debt of gratitude to the Telegraph and Daily Mail for uncovering these repulsive stories – and owe no debt at all to their spineless elected officials, both national and local, or to school authorities, who, if it were up to them, would presumably have been content to see Islam overrun the country’s classrooms, all the while ridiculing the very concept of stealth Islamization as hysterical bigotry.

Then there’s the Guardian, the proud flagship of the British left. On March 7, over a week before the Telegraph began to report the results of its investigation, the Guardian, which had come into possession of a letter outlining the Trojan Horse conspirators’ activities, summed up the whole business in an article whose headline led with the word “alleged,” whose subhead focused on Alam’s characterization of the charges as “a malicious fabrication and completely untrue,” and whose final sentences were devoted to a condemnation of the “alleged plot” by longtime Islamic activist Inayat Bunglawala, whom the Guardian carefully identified as “chair of Muslims4UK, a group which aims to promote active Muslim engagement in British society.”

Unlike the Telegraph, however, the Guardian apparently didn’t proceed to investigate the charges. Instead, it dutifully noted that the police and school officials were looking into them. And that was that. Perusing the Guardian‘s coverage, one cannot avoid the conclusion that its chief concern was to cast doubt on the allegations and to underscore that, whether they were true or not, mainstream Muslim leaders like Bunglawala are, of course, utterly opposed to such shady subterfuges. There was no mention that Bunglawala, this supposed stalwart of “Muslim engagement in British society,” had in fact called Osama bin Laden a “freedom fighter” and Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman “courageous”; no mention that he’d passionately campaigned to get Yusuf al-Qaradawi a British visa; no mention that, in addition to being head of Muslims4UK, he’s the longtime media secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, the same group of which Alam is a leading member. In short, Bungalawala’s brand of “engagement in British society” is not really significantly different from that of the Birmingham conspirators. By pretending that there exists appreciable ideological distance between the likes of Bunglawala and Birmingham’s Trojan Horses, the Guardian isn’t just misleading its readers – it’s participating itself in the whole nefarious ruse to which these creeps are committed. But what else is new?

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Radio Silence on Leland Yee

He stands accused of conspiring to arm the Mafia, but the media won’t say it. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Jeremiah Denton for the Ages

Remembering an exceptionally courageous POW and an American hero. 

Jeremiah Denton, the Vietnam War POW who has died at age 89, uttered one of the great statements of defiance in American history.

In 1965, he was shot down in his A-6 during a bombing run over North Vietnam. He became a captive for more than seven years and endured an unimaginable regime of torture, humiliation, and isolation, managing to retain his dignity and spirit even as his captors went to hideous lengths to snuff them out.

Soon after his capture, a young North Vietnamese solider signaled to him to bow down and, when he refused, pressed a gun to his head so hard it created a welt. Denton quickly learned that this would be mild treatment. He was taken to Hoa Lo Prison, or the Hanoi Hilton, where he led the resistance to the North Vietnamese efforts to extract propaganda confessions from their prisoners.

As Denton related in his book, When Hell Was in Session, they tried to starve one out of him. After days, he began to hallucinate, but he still refused. They took him to what was called the Meathook Room and beat him. Then, they twisted his arms with ropes and relented just enough to keep him from passing out. They rolled an iron bar onto his legs and jumped up and down on it. For hours.

He agreed finally to give them a little of what they wanted, but at first his hands were too weak to write and his voice too weak to speak. He hadn’t recovered from this ordeal when the Vietnamese told him he would appear at a press conference.

Denton told a fellow POW that his plan was to “blow it wide open.” He famously blinked T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse code during the interview, a message picked up by naval intelligence and the first definitive word of what the prisoners were being subjected to. When asked what he thought of his government’s war, Denton replied, “Whatever the position of my government is, I believe in it, yes sir. I’m a member of that government, and it’s my job to support it, and I will as long as I live.”

The legend is that under the pressure of the Inquisition, Galileo said of the Earth, “Yet, it moves.” That Martin Luther said, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

Denton’s words aren’t an embellishment. They were seen by millions when they were broadcast in the United States, and he almost immediately paid for them in torment so horrifying that he desperately prayed that he wouldn’t go insane.

For two years, he was confined in what was dubbed “Alcatraz,” reserved for the “darkest criminals who persist in inciting the other criminals to oppose the Camp Authority,” in the words of one of the guards. Alvin Townley, author of the bookDefiant, writes of the Alcatraz prisoners and their wives back in the States, “Together, they overcame more intense hardship over more years than any other group of servicemen and families in American history.”

When the American involvement in the war ended and the POWs finally were released, Denton made a brief statement on the tarmac upon his return, no less powerful for its simplicity and understatement: “We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances. We are profoundly grateful to our commander in chief and to our nation for this day. God bless America.”

A Roman Catholic, Denton told his family that he had forgiven his captors and, after recounting to them on his first night back what he had gone through, that he didn’t want to speak to them of it again. His son James says he often heard him say — with typical modesty — “That’s over. I don’t want to be a professional jailbird.”

He certainly wasn’t that. Denton went on to become a U.S. senator from Alabama. With his passing, we’ve lost a hero whose example of faithfulness and duty should be for the ages.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via © 2014 King Features Syndicate

Monday, March 31, 2014

Ron Brown's House of Cards

March 31, 2014

Former congressman Barney Frank does not much like the wickedly cynical series on Netflix, House of Cards. He has particular trouble believing that a charming Southern Democrat and his ice-queen wife could cheat and lie and murder their way to the White House.

“Preposterous” is how Frank describes the series’ lead character, Frank Underwood. “He has no political principles, either substantive or procedural,” whines Frank. “There is no issue about which he cares; no tactic he will not employ, no matter how unfair it is to others; and he is thoroughly dishonest.”

Frank would seem to have forgotten about Bill and Hillary Clinton, their 1995-1996 re-election campaign, and its ultimate victim, Clinton Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who died on a Croatian hillside eighteen years ago this Thursday.

In the way of recap, the Democrats lost both the House and the Senate in the 1994 midterms, the blame for which fell heavily on the Clintons. “I can tell you,” current Virginia governor and then Clinton fundraiser Terry McAuliffe admitted, “the political mood at the time clearly was that [Bill Clinton] had no chance of winning again.”

Like the Russians at Stalingrad, the Clintons had few options but to fight on. In early December 1994, in the White House treaty room, Bill and Hillary Clinton held a secret meeting with the one man who could possibly turn the tide of battle, political consultant Dick Morris.

The rules of the game, which had been only loosely followed to this point, were about to be scrapped altogether. In a more disciplined fashion than they had done anything else since coming to town, the Clintons were preparing to launch what Senator Fred Thompson would call “the most corrupt political campaign in modern history.”

Like the campaign in season two of House of Cards, “Millions of dollars were raised in illegal contributions, much of it from foreign sources.” The Thompson Committee report revealed this and much worse.

Ron Brown played a role in all of this that he would rather not have. Targeted by an independent counsel along with his son Michael and his confidante (and my source) Nolanda Butler Hill on unrelated charges, Brown desperately needed the Clintons’ help to keep himself, Hill, and especially Michael out of prison. In true Underwood fashion, the Clintons exploited Brown’s vulnerability by making him their international bagman.
As Hill tells it, Brown arranged a meeting with Clinton at the White House family quarters. It did not go well. When Clinton said there was nothing he could do for Michael, Brown resorted to his ultimate bargaining chip. If he had to, he told Clinton, he was prepared to reveal the president’s treasonous dealings with China, news of which had yet to break.

Next thing you know, Ron was on his final seat-selling trade mission, this one to Croatia to cut a deal between the neo-fascists who ran the country and the Enron Corporation. Yes, that Enron. He never got there. The Air Force plane that carried Brown, the military version of a Boeing 737, crashed into a hillside outside Dubrovnik. Brown and 34 others were killed.

The Enron executives landed safely in their own jet just a few minutes earlier despite what the Clinton administration called “the worst storm in a decade.” As I learned in reading the 22-volume USAF report on the crash, it was not even raining at the time, and the sun was peeking through the clouds. I requested that report eight years after the crash. As far as I know, I was the first person in the media to request it, and the New York Times had a reporter on the plane.

At a June 1996 press conference, chief of staff of the Air Force, Ronald R. Fogleman, made a rather remarkable response to an unremarkable question. Asked whether a cockpit voice recorder -- there was said to be none on board -- would have clarified the cause of the crash, Fogleman replied, “It would help explain these apparently inexplicable actions such as flying the wrong course.”

“Inexplicable”? Yes, finally, inexplicable. For no firm reason that any official has been able to proffer, the plane veered nine degrees off course in the last four minutes of the flight and made a perfectly controlled descent into a mountainside nearly two miles northeast of the airport. According to the veteran airline pilots who reviewed the technical data from the USAF report, it seems altogether possible that a rogue beacon lured the plane to its demise.

Kathleen Janoski was the chief of the forensic photography team detailed to photograph the bodies of the deceased when they arrived back in Dover, Delaware. When ready, Janoski mounted a stepladder and began to photograph Brown’s body starting at the head.

She had scarcely begun when she saw something that took her breath away. “Look at the hole in Brown’s head,” she exclaimed. “It looks like a bullet hole.” Going public with that that observation would cost Janoski and three military pathologists their careers. Brown’s family was never informed of the hole. By order of the White House, there was no autopsy.

Janoski fared better than Niko Jerkuic, the man responsible for the airport’s aviation systems. Three days after the crash, a day he just happened to be off work, he was found with a bullet hole through his chest. The painfully incurious Times reported that a “failed romance” had left the forty-six-year-old bachelor despondent. The USAF had been scheduled to interview Jerkuic the next day.

In reviewing the USAF report, I came across one detail too rich even for House of Cards. When questioned, U.S. ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith observed that a Croatian-American woman named Zdenka Gast had arrived with the executives from Enron shortly before Brown’s scheduled arrival. At the time she was serving as liaison between Enron and the Croatian government.

Intriguingly, Gast had been scheduled to fly with Brown but thought better of it. Said Galbraith, “There were problems in -- in -- in this -- in concluding this deal where they wanted to sign a letter of intent, and so, rather than -- than go on the Brown trip, she stayed with the Inron [sic] people to do the final negotiations.”

“We’ve been looking for her,” volunteered Air Force Captain John Cairney. The Air Force obviously did not look too hard. Investigators conducted 148 witness interviews, but Gast was not among them. I found her in five minutes of searching. When I reached her contact person, I was told, “Don’t be surprised if she gets back to you in just a few minutes.” I am still waiting.

Inquiring into Gast’s background, I came across the Croatian-language magazine Gloria. The photo that graced this article leapt off the page at me. In the center of three smiling women, all linked arm in arm, was Gast, an attractive, full-figured redhead. On her left was the then Secretary of Labor, Alexis Herman. On her right was none other than Hillary Clinton. Gast was one of only forty guests at a 2000 White House wedding reception for Herman, the woman who dispatched Brown on his fatal trip. Most of the other guests the reader would recognize by name.

Without an autopsy, the prudent reader will accuse Bill or Hillary Clinton of nothing more sinister than dreading the unknown. For fear of what they might have found -- in this, the most desperate political season of their lives -- the Clintons chose not to look. The media have no such excuse. I discovered the Enron link when Enron was very much in the news. No one in the media wanted to know even about that, let alone the myriad other anomalies.

The Air Force was -- and is -- more willing to confront the facts.  When I initially balked at the four-figure price tag for the full report and the months-long delay in receiving it, a colonel intervened, waived the fee and sent it immediately from Germany. The Air Force has, after all, an abiding interest in the truth. An “inexplicable” plane crash needlessly ruined sixteen Air Force careers and ended six worthy Air Force lives.

Joining those six in death were 29 civilians, the most celebrated among them the uniquely vital Ron Brown. If his story is ever told in full, Mr. Frank, it will make House of Cards seem as innocent as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.