Tom Tancredo's Blog
September 24, 2004 (most current entry)
(Note: I cannot overstate the importance of reading this. It contains several topics that you need to know, and every word of it is written from the heart and soul of someone that truly cares. Please read this; then consider sharing it through forwarding and/or printing copies of, with many others. It is that important.)
Friday Morning to Saturday Morning - Flying into Moscow
"Overwhelmed" seems to be the word that comes to my mind and lips more often now. It is how I felt the night I was driving home and as I passed Columbine High School, the radio reported that there was shooting and bombs were going off in the school in Beslan. Every horrible memory of our community's own day of horror came back with a vengeance.
It was not long after that I decided to come here and, as the Bible says, "weep with those who weep."
I was overwhelmed again last Thursday when I went over to Columbine High School to pick up the poster, some 20 feet in length, that the kids had put up in the cafeteria for all to sign and express their condolences for the people of Beslan. We talked to the student leaders and several were eloquent in their relating their well wishes for folks half way around the world.
Once again, as I read the briefing papers on the plane I felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of evil that reared its ugly head that fall morning in Beslan as parents and their children were excitedly gathering at the school on opening day. Children were shot in the back as they fled from the bombs and fire. Earlier when a negotiator arranged to have some hostages released, mothers were forced to make a "Sophie's choice" regarding which child they would save and which would be left behind -- to face almost certain death. Several times, I closed the folder in utter exhaustion -- overwhelmed with grief.
Saturday Afternoon to Sunday Morning - Moscow
We were surprised with the monumental changes that have taken place in the city of Moscow. Unlike the dreary Soviet city of the past, today's Moscow is sort of a combination of Times Square and Las Vegas. New buildings are architecturally designed to fit into the mode of the older and more beautiful buildings of the czarist era. The city is actually beginning to take on the look of a cosmopolitan metropolis.
The ride from the airport revealed that not everything has changed in this city since our first trip here with the Russian language students my wife was teaching. That was 1979 and although there are far more cars on the road today, they are still being driven at break neck speeds, even in the city.
As our van and security cars provided by the Embassy weave in and out of lanes of traffic at speeds often reaching 80-90 miles per hour, the Ambassador calmly continues his briefing regarding the political developments here in Russia since the events in Beslan. Remember that the massacre in Beslan where the death toll has reached 400, is only the latest in a series of brutal terrorist acts perpetrated by Islamic Chechen separatists in the last several weeks. On August 24, two Russian jet liners on domestic flights were brought down by suicide bombers. On August 31 another Chechen suicide bomber killed 9 and wounded 50 outside a crowded Moscow subway station. And of course, on September 1, a group of armed Chechens stormed a school in the neighboring North Ossetia and a human tragedy of catastrophic proportions unfolded that shocked even the most callous observer.
President Putin, who was head of the KGB for 16 years, is using these events to roll back democratic reforms and reinstitute Stalinist-era controls. He has sacked elected officials, replaced them with his appointees and is proposing to eliminate political party selection of candidates. Although there are voices of dissent, they are relatively few in number and their ranks are thinning with every new attack. Russians have always been willing to trade liberty for security. The war against radical Islam is forcing western civilization to grapple with the same dilemma. The ongoing debate over certain components of the Patriot Act is America's iteration of this challenge.
We have been interviewed by the press and last night went on national radio and television to discuss our trip. Time after time, we had to redirect the discussion to our purpose in coming to Russia -- that being to deliver condolences and messages of hope from the people of America, and specifically from the Columbine community. But the media always gravitated back toward the discussion of President Bush's comments regarding the danger of Putin's reaction to the terrorist attacks. The U.S. is being accused of a "double standard" for criticizing Putin's hard line approach while America vigorously pursues the war on terror. The Russians are not keen on making distinctions between Chechen separatists who happen to be Muslims and Osama Bin Laden's jihad against the West.
When we laid a wreath at the subway station where the where a suicide bomber killed 9 Muscovites today, there were lots of cameras and media on hand. I again explained our purpose for being here, and the questions have become less hostile. Perhaps the message is getting through.
JOURNAL ENTRY 2
Sunday Afternoon - Hospital Visit in Moscow
Today was hard, tomorrow will be harder. Today we visited two hospitals in Moscow where many of the survivors were being treated after being triaged out of Beslan. Room after room is filled with children with their broken bodies and damaged minds. In every room there is a parent, aunt, brother or grandma keeping watch -- waiting for the wounds to heal.
In every room there is a story of heartbreak. In the first visit we meet a 16-year-old boy who lies in very serious condition. This young man had the courage to grab the gun of a terrorist who had been shot and proceeded to kill another terrorist who was shooting at fleeing children. He then placed his body over a small girl for protection from the onslaught of bullets and shrapnel meant for her.
In the next room, two sisters ages 8 and 10 lay in good spirits -- It's the 8-year-old's birthday today, and my wife sings happy birthday to her in Russian. The little girl smiled, and lit up the room. Her aunt was sitting in the back of the room, and began to cry. I wish I could say the woman's tears were for joy from the little girl's smile. However, they were tears because she knew of the pain yet awaiting both girls.
They had lost both parents in the tragedy, but did not know it yet.
It became more difficult as we made the move from room to room to hear the stories of these children's bravery, and got to know these survivors and their families personally. We met the mother of a 12-year-old girl who lies quietly as she unfolded a piece of gauze to show the ball bearing that the doctors took out of her daughter's lung. Apparently the terrorists had packed the bombs with ball bearings to add to the shrapnel's effect.
My wife Jackie goes from child to child talking to them, comforting them as best she can, explaining who we are and what help we are bringing to them. We both tried our best to hold back our tears until we got out into the hallway. It didn't always work. We shared our experience with Columbine and explained how the kids there had sent them the hand written cards we were handing out. We told them that people all over the world were praying for them, and we prayed with them also. Some were able to talk about their wounds, while others would only stare at us or the ceiling, still trying to make sense of awful experience they had just endured.
When we got back to our hotel, we both felt as though we had been wrung through a ringer. I am going to Beslan tomorrow, but sending Jackie home tonight. She was so great at the hospital. I was so proud of her. I know how her heart was breaking with each story. I don't want her to go to Beslan. It's dangerous, and it's taxing. As we were leaving the hospital, a nurse pointed to several children who were injured and sat in very serious condition and said to me, "some day soon, they will smile again."
God this was a tough day.
Monday Morning - Beslan Bound
Even before we left America, we were having a difficult time with the Russian Ministry. They did not want us to go to Beslan, and explained their reasons were mostly security related. That may have been the case, however it's always difficult to tell here. Certainly we recognize we provide tempting targets, and I can't say that I am not apprehensive. It's not just a security issue, it's the fact that I know what we will see there.
I've been in communications with my friend Pastor Porter who has been in Beslan for several days now. He has graciously offered transportation and a place to sleep in their ministry compound if we could get down there. We had tried everything that we could think of, but hitting stone walls until the night before last when we did a talk radio show on Russian radio. It's apparently a wildly popular program that covers all of Russia, including Beslan. It's run by one of the few remaining semi-independently operated media outlets. We told the audience about how difficult the government was being about getting us to Beslan. I told them about the purpose of our trip and explained the Columbine connection. This had a much more positive effect than I could have ever expected as the next morning came and the foreign minister dropped all objections to the trip.
We made reservations on the next plane out. A task not as easy as it sounds as there is only one flight a day to Beslan from Moscow on good old Air Siberia.
Currently we are down to four travelers, an embassy representative, our navy control officer, a staffer from the International Relations Committee and me. This means an extra day in the country and probably some sleepless nights.
We are wheels up for Beslan now and flight attendants here still pass out hard candy as you take off and land. We used to joke that this was a substitute for pressurized cabins. We should be there in a couple of hours.
I am asking God to watch over us.
JOURNAL ENTRY 3
Monday Afternoon - Beslan
As we land in Beslan I can see the armored UN vehicles on the tarmac, and military personnel are omnipresent.
Leaving the plane, we are whisked away after brief introductions to city officials and local members of the Duma and head for the school. The day is sunny and the surrounding landscape tranquil. How deceiving. This place is a powder keg of ethnic hatred and political intrigue. Now after the massacre, the locals are turning their rage toward the Russian government that they feel mishandled the situation. Of course they also harbor deep resentment for their neighboring Republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia from which the terrorists came.
As we arrived at the school -- or what is left of it -- we see thousands of water bottles and pieces of bread all over the grounds as memorials, because the kids were held for three days without food or water. There are perhaps 75-100 people milling around but not a word can be heard -- just sobbing.
Townspeople begin to gather to see who we are and they follow us to the burnt-out remnants of the gym where we place a wreath from the people of the United States. After a moment of silence we put the banner from Columbine High School on the wall. This was a moment I will never forget. The local officials surrounding us were visibly moved by this display of friendship and compassion from kids so far away who, unfortunately could relate in some small way to the horror of the events in Beslan.
We are taken around the building and shown where most of the children and their parents died. The "gym" where they were herded into is about 40 by 80 feet. There were 1,030 people stuffed into this space for 58 hours. Then we move to an area where a group of terrorists held out until a Russian tank put three shells into the room. We visit another location where two women terrorists blew themselves up as the shooting started.
Our guides then show us where one terrorist was captured by the townspeople and was beaten to death, and his body hung; thirty-three dead terrorists have been identified. We are told one more terrorist is being held. They are not sure how many there were in total as some escaped.
Then they gave us the shocking news that there are upwards of 200 people still unaccounted for. That would increase the already grim death toll to almost 600. Many bodies are still unidentified.
We leave for the cemetery and the 600 newly-dug graves. Most are filled. Imagine what it's like in a town of 25,000 people to be burying six hundred of their friends, neighbors, relatives and families.
After a moment of silence, it is back to the armored vehicles. The security people are getting nervous as our presence creates concern -- not so much because of the target we pose for terrorists who they believe would not have had time to prepare an attack on the delegation because we came on short notice. Their real angst is created by kidnappers who have perfected this crime to an art form. They are as well armed and organized as the militia and act more spontaneously.
As we head back to the airport, we discussed the various versions of how the chain of events that I doubt if we will ever be able to know all the facts. What we know is that an event of unimaginable horror took place here and the scars will last for generations. This is a land of vendetta. The violence is far from over.
We strain to think of what possible good could come out of this calamity. Perhaps it will be the catalyst so desperately needed to reform fundamentalist Islam, and lead to less support for terrorist organizations throughout the world. One has to hope that some stars will begin to appear in what today looks to me a very black sky.
All I can think about right now is getting home to embrace my own family, and especially my grandchildren.
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Ben Stein's Last Column - 8/23/04 2:47 pm
For many years Ben Stein -- author, business analyst, comedian, actor (the Visine commercial) -- has written a biweekly column for the online website called "Monday Night At Morton's."
Now, Ben is terminating the column to move on to other things in his life. Reading his final column is worth a few minutes of your time because it praises the most unselfish among us; our military personnel and others who protect us daily and portrays a valuable lesson learned in his life.
Ben Stein's Last Column...
How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?
As I begin to write this, I "slug" it, as we writers say, which means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is "eonlineFINAL," and it gives me a shiver to write it.
I have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started. I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end. It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world's change have overtaken it.
On a small scale, Morton's, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars.
I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie. But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was, though it probably will be again.
Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to.
How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a "star" we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model?
Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do their nails.
They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer.
A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets.
Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world. A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him.
A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station.
He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.
The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.
We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.
I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at Morton's is a big subject.
There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament ... the policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive, the orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery, the teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children, the kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards. Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse.
Now you have my idea of a real hero. We are not responsible for the operation of the universe, and what happens to us is not terribly important.
God is real, not a fiction, and when we turn over our lives to Him, He takes far better care of us than we could ever do for ourselves.
In a word, we make ourselves sane when we fire ourselves as the directors of the movie of our lives and turn the power over to Him.
I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters. This is my highest and best use as a human.
I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin.... or Martin Mull or Fred Willard -- or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them.
But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me.
This came to be my main task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's help).
I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.
This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York.
I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path.
This is my highest and best use as a human.
By Ben Stein
Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will.
Immigration is About People, Not Corn or Cameras - 07/06/04 2:45 pm
July 6, 2004
It is not like Jack Kemp to enter an argument without having a command of the facts, so I was surprised and disappointed to see him do just that in his recent syndicated column.
Kemp attacked me and the 148 Republican Members of Congress who voted in June to restrict funds to cities that refuse to cooperate with the Immigration laws our country. No? He didn't attack all 148 Republican Members of Congress? Yes, he did: his sweeping attack shows he is sadly ignorant of the concerns of fellow Republicans regarding illegal immigration.
Kemp says correctly that the real solution to the immigration flood from Mexico is to help Mexico build a strong economy that offers economic opportunities to its people. I agree, and I support those efforts. Mexico needs to root out corruption, privatize state-run monopolies, and open up to foreign investment. But that will take a decade or longer at the current pace. In the meantime, we have to deal with concrete problems created by our porous borders.
Kemp would probably not call for an end to all port-of-entry security checks for the millions of tourists and visitors coming through our airports, seaports, and border checkpoints. Nor would he suggest that the 50,000-plus commercial trucks coming from Mexico and Canada should enter without inspections. Then why should over one million people be allowed to cross our borders in the dark of night and then be given safe harbor in our cities?
No serious person will make the claim that these illegal workers "only take jobs no one else wants." They take jobs in construction and many other fields besides agriculture. All economists understand the downward push on all wages created by this continual flow of cheap labor.
It is supremely ironic that the principal victims of this flow of cheap labor -- Hispanic and African-American workers in low-wage jobs -- are the people Kemp strives to "empower" through various reforms. Tragically, the greatest DISempowerment imaginable for these citizens is the open border policy Kemp champions.
Kemp and all open borders advocates need to recognize that there is a fundamental difference between the free flow of goods and services, which is called free trade, and the free flow of people, which is called chaos. Nations have immigration laws for a reason. Unless the open borders crowd is prepared to advocate the repeal of all immigration laws and the abolition of all barriers to entry to this country, they need to pay attention to the debate over illegal immigration. They need to join the debate, not hide from it.
Neither I nor the other advocates for immigration law enforcement are "anti-immigration." That is a smear and a smokescreen that open borders advocates use to avoid a debate about illegal immigration. Over 4,000,000 people are on waiting lists abroad to enter this country legally, and over 1,400,000 entered legally in 2003. How many immigrants can we absorb annually? That is a fair question and one that honorable men can disagree over. What we should not have to disagree over is that people should enter our country legally.
Our Heritage...Our Hope - 2/19/04 12:53 pm
February 19, 2004
I am often asked why I spend so much time and energy on the issue of immigration. It is because I believe that massive immigration (both legal and illegal) when combined with the detrimental effects of radical multiculturalism in our country will eventually determine not just what kind of a nation we are in the future -- it will determine whether we will be a nation at all.
Let me explain what I believe is happening to us and then tell you what I think we both need to do about it.
A few weeks ago I visited a public high school in my district and spoke to a couple of hundred students.
I was asked what I believed to be the biggest problem facing the country.
I responded by asking how many of them believed they lived in the best country on the planet and then how many were proud of their heritage which we call Western Civilization.
In both cases only a few dared raise their hands, while most looked as though the question made them very uncomfortable.
Their reaction was an indication of the a problem I believe to be the "biggest" our nation faces and I told them so.
Let me explain.
For decades our schools, the popular media, and even churches have preached the doctrine of multiculturalism.
I am not referring to the idea that we should accept and appreciate the many different cultures that enrich our lives and our nation.
I am referring to the "Cult of Multiculturalism" that has, as its goal, the elimination of the concept of America as a nation state. It is the cult that elevates "diversity" to the highest level of social attributes and believes it is the single one for which we should all strive.
This cult has influenced text book writers, college professors and political leaders -- and, most unfortunately, our children, so they now cower if asked to react positively to the nation and civilization of which they are a part.
The radical multiculturalists also encourage immigrants to refrain from integrating into an American mainstream. Immigrants are encouraged to retain their language and even their political connections to their country of origin. When combined with the fact that many of these folks are not coming here to become Americans so much as to exploit an economic opportunity, you can see why the combination of radical multiculturalism and massive immigration can have dangerous consequences.
So that brings me to the point of this message. On March 3rd I and several of my colleagues will introduce the attached resolution into the Congress of the United States. Simultaneously State Senator John Andrews (R - CO) and scores of state legislators around the country will be doing the same thing in their respective states. I would like you to take a similar resolution to your school board. The school board resolution is attached and we will provide as much supporting documentation as possible. The only difference between the resolutions is that the one designed for the school board is proscriptive while the others simply encourages schools to adopt curricula and teaching methods that so that all graduates will be able to articulate an appreciation for western civilization.
Concepts like the rule of law and the value of and individual, which stem from Judeo/Christian teaching, are worthy of our admiration. Children and immigrants need to be taught why they matter, how they affect the world in which we live and why how they distinguish us from other societies. Our kids need to be taught both the parts of our past which are regrettable AND those that have been the helped make us great. In short we need to educate children so that all would feel comfortable in saying "yes" to the questions I posed because they both believed and felt comfortable in defending the proposition. After all, they may be asked to risk life and limb for these ideals.
Please let us know by return email or phone if you are willing to accept this challenge and if so, what school district you will be working with and if you are willing to allow your name to be released to the media as we hope to have a packet ready with all this info at our press conference.
Whether or not any of our proposals are adopted, the debate should prove interesting.
Go to http://www.house.gov/tancredo/ohoh/ to view the resolutions.
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