Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Who's Really Supporting the Troops?

As public sentiment against the war grows, war hawks have escalated their assertion that protesting the war is tantamount to disrespecting our troops. They claim that our soldiers are disheartened that so many people believe they have failed. This is a cowardly tactic employed by the shameless people who have engaged this country in an unjust war.

If the soldiers feel that the public has lost faith in them it is only because these same people are telling them as much…Lying to them. Unlike Vietnam, where public resentment was projected on the men and women who served, those who oppose this war have been extraordinarily cautious in their rhetoric. Nobody wants our troops to feel disrespected.

Some of the Democrats in Congress clamored to cut funding for the war but the Bush Administration quickly characterized that as an attack on the troops. The idea of cutting funding was intended to give Bush no other option but to bring our forces home. Even though that intent was clearly explained, war hawks immediately began waving yellow ribbons. Talk about disrespectful.

Those opposed to the war haven’t lied to the American people. They didn’t stage the Jessica Lynch rescue nor did they make a mockery of Pat Tillman’s death. It’s the war hawks who have attacked individuals, like Cindy Sheehan, and made matters personal.

There are soldiers, active and retired, who are convinced that victory is the only option. They insist that withdrawing now means that the terrorists won but withdrawing forces now is not really surrendering. Sometimes withdrawing from a bad course of action to regroup and develop a more efficient plan is how to win a war. There’s a difference between battles and wars.

The notion that we can’t abandon what can only be described as a bad decision is the same imperialistic philosophy that made it possible for Colonial forces to upset the superior British military. British commanders refused to concede failure in their plan and eventually lost the war. They were trained to fight big, so the Colonists made themselves small.

Like Britain, the US has spread itself too thin to manage an unconventional war on an unfamiliar battlefield. During the Revolutionary War, Britain bolstered its forces with mercenaries from Germany known as Hessians. These soldiers were effective in traditional warfare, but as the battle wore on the Hessians lacked the passion to finish the job. They were there for the money.

In Iraq, the Bush Administration has contracted its own Hessians in the form of international security companies that employ mercenaries. Many of the mercenaries are former US soldiers who get paid 10 times the salary our regular troops receive. Furthermore, these mercenaries happily convey the disparity to our soldiers in order to help these security forms recruit more talent. That damages morale far more than people at home demanding an exit strategy.

Iraq is and, aside from the 15 years Saddam held sway, has always been a chaotic mess. The problem is the nomadic nature of the culture. Even though the tiny tribes have consolidated their power into larger units, Iraq is a fractured culture. In addition to the religious conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims you also have disputes between Arabs, Persians, Kurds and Turks. Even if the religious issue is resolved, the ethnic clashes will continue. And yet, we’re still supposed to believe that victory is attainable.

Of course victory has not even been defined. Bush seems intent on fighting until we win but he has never addressed how we will know when we’ve won. Even the most passionate soldier has to be discouraged by the intangibility of Bush’s goal. As difficult as any mission would be in an area as complex as Iraq, victory anywhere is impossible if it is not specifically defined. Technically speaking, we aren’t even fighting a war right now. We aren’t even certain who are enemy is.

The public is aware of this. An Iraqi government has been installed but it clearly has no power. Extremists from all sides are able to undermine any authority the government has which makes it seem likely that this government wasn’t really approved by the people so much as it was favored by US officials. Bush has indicated that the US will stand down when the Iraqi government stands up but we have no idea when that will happen or if it is possible. The government is secular, as any government most be if it will successfully serve people of different creeds, but most of the country wants a theocracy. The problem is that those who want a theocracy can’t agree. War isn’t the answer. The fundamentalists feed on war and chaos. War frightens people and drives them to extremism.

It’s unfortunate that Bush and his cronies didn’t heed the advice of his own father. Removing a tyrant like Saddam without understanding the complicated issues haunting Iraq was a terrible idea. Many of the war hawks are resigned to agree. However, they insist that we can’t turn back the clock and our only option it to stay the course and see this thing through.

That’s ridiculous. You don’t keep paddling full force down a river if you think there might be a waterfall ahead. You don’t keep driving down the highway when you realize you’re heading into oncoming traffic. Successful military leaders throughout history have been known to withdraw from hopeless battles rather than incur too many losses, but giving up a battle doesn’t concede the war. Great leaders aren’t afraid to retreat, revise and redeploy. Unfortunately our military doesn’t promote great leaders. Advancement in our military is based on one’s ability to say yes.

Recruitment figures are down. The military has been forced to extended tours and exploit all sorts of little fine print tricks to force people into servitude. Stop loss measures have been enacted that prevent weary troops from being discharged and the inactive ready reserve has been called into action, surprising many people who had long since been discharged. National Guard forces have been thrown into heavy combat situations with inadequate training, outmoded equipment and a half-baked plan of action.

That’s where the lack of support is. Lies, half truths and sneaky contracts undermine the resolve of our soldiers. The people calling for an end to this war want to bring them home safe and sound. Unfortunately the soldiers are being told that we think they’re failures. That’s not true. The soldiers didn’t let anybody down. They failure begins and ends with the Bush Administration. Everybody else is a victim of a combination of incompetence and treachery.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Learn From Tragedy

The shootings that took place on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg Virginia can only be described as awful. More than 50 people fell victim to what we can only describe as a deranged shooter and 33 people, including that shooter, ended up dead.

Leave it to the news reporters, particularly the talking heads on the networks, to guide the story into the realm of blame. With the shooter dead by his own volition, we don't have an object to project our outrage upon so the press has opted to question the actions of the university, the police and gun control laws.

Over the coming weeks we'll see the police second guessed for failing to lock down the sprawling campus. University administrators will be condemned for not beefing up security measures. Government officials will be questioned on what they are doing to protect our universities from such a terror and of course we'll have to bang on the gun control drum again. In fact much of this has already happened. Deep down inside we know that the only person to blame for this tragedy is the shooter. Life isn't safe. Bad things happen to innocent people every day. We're all going to die and not all of us by natural causes.

If we're going to start doling out blame we need to be fair. Instead of asking the campus police why they didn't lock down the campus after what appeared to be an isolated shooting we should be asking why so many people allowed themselves to become victims. Ultimately our survival depends on our abilities as individuals and as individuals we must be ready to take action to defend ourselves against those who would do us harm.

Granted this was a man who was well-armed, not a terrorist with a box cutter but still at some point you have to realize that this guy is shooting everybody in sight. We all have that fight or flight chip imbedded in our programming as does every other animal on the face of the earth. When confronted by a superior foe every living thing has the innate desire to run but if the option of fleeing has been removed the tiniest animal will bare its teeth and fight to survive.

Humans have that instinct but we program ourselves to resist it. For years the so-called experts have told us to cooperate with bad guys and wait for help to arrive. The problem is that those bad guys don't tend to follow the same rules. Women have been encouraged to resist attackers who intend to rape them because FBI studies reveal that every second of resistance increases the chances of survival by 30%. Law enforcement officials have revised their advice to potential victims. Instead of cooperating and remaining calm, people are being instructed to scream, fight or run like hell because too many cooperating victims have been rewarded with a bullet in the face. Your chances are better if you fight back.

What happened at Virginia Tech was not a rape or a mugging. This was a madman on a suicide mission, but at some point you have to realize that your best chance of surviving is to fight back. Nearly 60 people took a bullet and many more rounds were fired. At some point this shooter had to stop and reload. Why didn't somebody charge him as he changed out clips?

Maybe it's not fair to second guess the victims. Most of us would be paralyzed with fear if we faced a similar situation, but that's exactly the problem. Instead of preparing ourselves for defense we want to rely on security officers and policemen to save us from the bad men. We program ourselves to be victims hoping that we can endure being victimized long enough for a hero to rescue us.

It's time for that mentality to go. Whenever something like this happens we are soon regaled with stories of how woefully unprepared our security forces, be they police officers or unarmed security guards, are to handle such a situation. The fact of the matter is that most police are better equipped to write traffic tickets. Even though they receive training there just aren't enough opportunities to put that training to work on a daily basis. It's not that the police are incompetent; we simply set our expectations too high. Most cops aren't superheroes.

It's not practical to have a sniper hiding in every closet waiting for a rogue gunman to show up. We can't have an armed Air Marshall on every flight because some fundamentalist might try to set his shoe on fire. There's no feasible way to eliminate every dangerous situation so we have to accept risk and prepare ourselves to take ownership of our own survival.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Imus reveals deeper problem

The outrage over Dom Imus is misplaced. It's no surprise the aging "shock jock" said something off color. Imus' entire career is based on his own stupidity. He's a boorish loser who couldn't hold down a job, then stumbled into radio, almost by default, and found an audience who enjoyed listening to him make an ass of himself. He got on the air and proceeded to see if he could get fired. Everything escalated from there.

Don Imus probably isn't very sincere in his apology. There is a hint of indignation in his explanation when he mentions that there are some groups who can't be made fun of. The implication is that the people who are angry simply can't take a joke. Sadly what isn't resonating with Imus is the fact that he is not funny. He really hasn't been all that funny since he decided to hijack Howard Stern's career after Stern essentially bitch slapped him in the ratings.

It's not even outrageous that Imus hasn't been fired yet. Granted, plenty of people have been shown the door for much less offensive comments, but Imus has been encouraged to push those buttons all along. Nobody called him to the carpet when he was reported as using the dreaded "N" word behind the scenes during 60 Minutes interview. Imus and his cohorts have a long history of making inexcusable comments on the air.

The outrage is that he has an audience. The problem is not that Don Imus is a racist piece of redneck garbage or that he has a cadre of cackling Klansmen inserting insightful commentary into the morning drive. Don Imus has a constitutional right to be a jerk. We all do. It's just sad when people get paid for it.

The reason he has a national radio program is because there are people who happily listen to his show. They love the racist remarks. Howard Stern has an audience that enjoys crude humor and juvenile antics; Don Imus has an audience that appreciates anger and hate.

Imus might think that he turns everything he says into a joke by laughing afterwards, but when you laugh after saying something mean you're just being cruel. Imus appeals to a cruel audience. There's a big difference between being crude and being cruel. Don Imus illustrates what happens when a burned out old drunk tries to distinguish between the two. Howard Stern's mastery of this fine line is why he can buy and sell a clod like Imus.

That's what people should be upset over. Ignorance is a part of daily life. Stupid people are everywhere. We shouldn't be shocked when a couple of bigots get together to share their racial views. What should shock us is that enough people agree with those views to keep a hack like Imus on the air. People like Don Imus should be cleaning out port-a-potties all the while complaining that Zionist conspiracies are the reason they smell like feces. He should be sitting at the corner of a broken down bar with blue hands drinking Natty Lite muttering to himself, not hosting a syndicating radio program.

Don Imus is a jerk. That's not a crime. The fact that a moron like Imus is in the position to cause such a fuss isn't the crime…The fact that Imus is a profitable business venture is. Shame on the people who listen to him.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Freedom of Speech comes at a price

Freedom of speech is an inalienable right. In a country engineered to foster and protect personal civil liberty nobody should feel legally obligated to remain silent. The United States of America became a country for a number of reasons and not all of them were good. Clearly some of our revered Founding Fathers had ulterior motives for rebelling against England. Our political system was built upon a network of cronyism and a consolidation of power within the confines of an aristocratic society. To this day that consolidation of power is abundantly evident, particularly when you look at the last two presidential elections. Bush and Kerry not only attended the same expensive university (Yale) they belonged to a secret fraternity that has a long history of enlisting very rich and powerful people. The eerie possibility of a conspiracy aside, this country was still founded on some pretty important concepts that provide common people with a considerable amount of influence. The first amendment protects one of those concepts. The most important concept.

The Constitution essentially spells out the rules. It doesn’t establish the laws of the land but rather outlines the authority of the government. The Constitution doesn’t specifically address crimes but it does limit what can be interpreted as a crime. Murder is a crime because it involves one person infringing upon another’s right to life where as the issue of flag burning is widely debated because it can be argued that burning the flag is a form of expression which is an extension of the first amendment. Abortion is also a confounding subject because we have not been able to establish a legal standard to determine when a human life qualifies for constitutional rights. Everybody has an opinion but nobody has an answer.

Freedom of speech or, to be more accurate, expression is the cornerstone of liberty. If people are permitted to question and criticize their government, their government will have to address those grievances or face the consequences in the next election. This power was clearly demonstrated quite recently when the Republicans finally exhausted the patience of the voters. Without the first amendment the Bush administration could have quashed every story about Iraq, prevented public inquiries into corruption and avoided accountability for questionable actions. The great thing about the first amendment is that it applies to and empowers everybody.

The bad thing about the first amendment is that it applies to everybody regardless of sensibility. So you have gutter dwellers like Andrew Dice Clay making a career out of being a vulgar, less intelligent version of Don Rickles. Hickory, Dickory Dock… As offensive as his alleged comedy routine might be, he has a right to perform it. Fortunately the first amendment also provides puppets like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog the right to offer a much wittier version of this form of expression. It’s sad when you’re beaten at your own game by a rubber hand puppet, but Dice also has a constitutionally protected right to ignore the obvious and beat the dead horse that is his lackluster career. There is no law against being a bloated, washed up hack.

The first amendment allows people to peacefully assemble. That means that thousands of people can come together for a free concert to raise awareness for world hunger. Unfortunately it also means that the KKK can hold a rally on public property anywhere in the country. As morally corrupt as the KKK is to reasonable people, denying them the right to express themselves would be based on subjective reasoning and open the door to denying anybody that same right. There are plenty of examples where the first amendment has been compromised for good and bad intentions.

Tony Dungy recently exercised his first amendment rights when he spoke at a banquet hosted by the Indiana Family Group. IFG is an independent arm of Focus on the Family and Dungy touched a nerve when he stated that he whole-heartedly endorses the group’s position on gay marriage. Being a right wing faction of fundamentalist zealots, they are against it. Dungy later insisted he is not gay bashing, but that he believes in biblical scriptures and strongly supports the idea that a family is best served by a traditional Christian union between a man and a woman. It sparked a lot of criticism.

People countered the criticism Dungy received by citing the first amendment. Dungy has a right to express himself. So does Tim Hardaway who said that he hates gays. Dungy didn’t come out and bash gays the way Hardaway did but both men were simply exercising their right to express themselves. Dungy hit the first amendment trifecta by involving speech, press and religion. As was his right as an American.

However those who choose to criticize Dungy are also exercising their right to express themselves. Just because we are free to speak our minds doesn’t mean we are exempt for the consequences. How many coaches have lost their jobs for letting racially insensitive remarks slip? Dozens. And rightfully so. Sometimes an employee can express themselves in such a manner that the reputation of the company might suffer. This is especially true in high profile jobs. So when Howard Cosell said something about a monkey getting loose ABC had to fire him even though nobody believed Howard Cosell was a bigot.

That’s why the NBA was well within its rights to distance the league from Tim Hardaway. He’s no longer welcome in the NBA family and barred from attending events as a representative of the NBA. He might still have the right to purchase a ticket and watch the game like any other fan but he won’t be sitting in the owner’s box or appearing on television as a sanctioned member of the NBA.

Similarly the Colts would have been justified in firing Tony Dungy is they felt his comments might have a negative impact on the team. The NFL could have taken action as well. Neither organization is leaping to Dungy’s defense but both have distanced themselves from reprimanding Dungy on this matter. Dungy was speaking on behalf of Tony Dungy, not the Colts or the NFL. He made his bed.

Joe Lunchbox might not be held similarly accountable for his actions. People don’t always pay attention when the average person has something to say. So when Joe Lunchbox publishes a racially inflammatory blog he might not loose his job, but he still runs that risk. People are finding themselves in hot water over what they publish on the internet and those companies actions are being upheld in the courts. That’s why Klansmen wear sheets over their heads. They realize they are taking a socially unacceptable position and until they can convince the rest of society to embrace their views, or at least make a living spewing hate like David Duke, they remain anonymous.

Still, this right to free speech is interesting. In addition to affording people the right to express unpopular opinions while affording others the right to criticize or support those opinions, the first amendment also allows people to question the motives behind the comments. That’s more compelling. It’s not important to discuss whether or not the statement is right or wrong, opinions don’t have to be either. However it is important to consider the motivation behind those comments. Perhaps there’s more to the story and a discerning public has every right to explore it.

In Tim Hardaway’s case it’s quite likely that he is gay himself. There’s no proof of that but typically people who are so vocally homophobic are reacting to their own confused sexuality. Hardaway is probably terrified that he will be revealed as not only a homosexual, but a submissive one at that. He’s carefully tried to fashion himself as a man’s man but he knows the fa├žade is thin. In order to overcome the fancy clothes, expensive jewelry and unaccounted for late nights with “friends”, Hardaway has to seem so overly disgusted with homosexuality nobody could believe it. Sadly, he’s too stupid to know that we’ve been on to that

Tony Dungy didn’t seem insecure about homosexuality but it’s interesting that his concern on this subject is rooted in the health and welfare of the family unit. That’s very interesting. Given the tragic loss his family recently experienced, Dungy shouldn’t present himself as an authority on what makes for a healthy family. His son, James Dungy took his own life at the age of 18. Now all public accounts characterize Dungy as a great father and a dedicated husband but anytime a teenager takes his or her own life there’s always something amiss inside the family.

Is that a low blow? No. It’s a reasonable question. Dungy put himself in that position when he questioned the impact homosexual parents might have on children. Most kids stray from the ideal path as they try their wings. Underage drinking, drug experimentation, even minor brushes with the law are common but suicide is rare. Most suicide attempts aren’t even sincere, they’re just dramatic ploys for attention and sympathy. If Tony Dungy was such a great Christian father, why did James take his own life? More importantly, what makes Dungy feel he knows what’s in the best interests of a family? Could homosexual parents do much worse?

It could be argued that Dungy did everything right. Sometimes kids just screw up. That might be true if the child dies in a stupidity induced accident. If James Dungy had gotten drunk and fallen off a cliff it would be hard to point the finger at Dungy, but this wasn’t an accident. James Dungy took his own life and it wasn’t the first time he tried. The kid was clearly in pain and couldn’t face whatever was causing that pain. Maybe he was gay and unable to talk to his devout father. Maybe he was bipolar and Tony was too busy being a coach to get his son the help he needed. We’ll never know the real answer but there’s a good chance that Tony Dungy does.

And that doesn’t matter. Tony Dungy has to face those demons on his own but when he takes that public forum and goes on record with such a strong statement he forces people to question his credibility. Given the circumstances Tony Dungy is no authority on family. If Tony had spent a little more time with his family and a little less at all of those speaking engagements James Dungy might still be alive today. Whatever the case, people probably should consider the source before putting any stock in Dungy’s opinion.