Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hero or villain?

It's been interesting to see the commentary on the Internet today about the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy. There are some on the right fringe who can focus only on his past troubles with the bottle and his role in the death of a girl 40 years ago. There are some on the left who act as if he's a saint we all should be worshipping. I'm more in the middle. I saw a flawed man who seemed to sincerely care about his fellow man, particularly the less fortunate among us. While I'm certainly not ready to nominate him for sainthood, I think, on balance, he was a person who did much more good than harm in his life.

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Will you watch?

Tomorrow night, Michael Vick will be taking his first snaps as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Are you interested in watching to see how he performs? Will you refuse to watch Eagles games because he's a member of the team? I'm in the latter camp. If on a particular Thursday or Saturday or Sunday or Monday this coming season, the Eagles game is the only one on the tube, I'll watch something else. The problem is, every time I see Vick, all I can think of are the horrifying images of the violence and death he perpetrated against innocent animals. Sure, there are plenty of other people playing in the NFL who carry baggage, some of it criminal, but no one else in my memory carried out such a long-term, sickening assault on fellow living beings. And it's not like Vick is some solid citizen who just had a fall from grace. He was a known scumbag before any of this dog-fighting mess came to light. I don't think he should be banned from playing, but I don't have to watch it. Unless, of course, they guarantee that I'll see something like what’s portrayed in the photo above.

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Smoke 'em if you got 'em

Folks like me who heard the above phrase frequently during our military training are most likely stunned by a story out today that says the Pentagon is weighing the possibility of making the armed forces smoke free at some point down the road. Images of soldiers catching a smoke on the front lines are as old as photography itself, and studies show that military people smoke at a higher rate than civilians. Staff Sgt. Jerry Benson, who is serving with the Army in Afghanistan, doesn't like the idea of a ban. He told the AP, "Your nerves get all rattled, and you need something to calm you down." Benson needn't worry, however, unless he's planning a very long career in the military. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has no plan to impose such a ban. The idea stems from a study commissioned by the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration, and the authors of the report were looking toward a ban perhaps 20 years down the road. Certainly, there are costs associated with smoking, primarily for treating illnesses linked to lighting up. But where do we stop in legislating or commanding healthy living? Will superior officers someday have to follow their men and women home to make sure they're not using too much butter on their rolls? Will they ban beer drinking by the troops? Good luck with that. These are battles that the military probably shouldn't be fighting.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Good for you, Barney

Finally, after weeks of listening to blithering idiots shriek like spoiled children at town halls across the country, a member of Congress had the guts to say enough's enough. At a Massachusetts public meeting on health reform, Rep. Barney Frank had the misfortune of dealing with a woman who was carrying a sign of President Obama made to look like Hitler and asking why Frank was supporting "Nazi policies." You can check out the video here: Frank replied, "Ma’am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it." At another point, he asked her, "On what planet to you spend most of your time?" Good for him. For too many days now, the so-called debate on health-care reform has been dominated by goofuses who not only don't know what they're talking about (I'm guessing some of them need help matching socks), but insist on doing so at the top of their lungs, the better to drown out any real discussion. In some cases, they start reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or singing "God Bless America," the clear implication being that they're "real Americans" who love their country, while those who favor a reform of our clearly sick health-care system are some sort of commies. Well, Barney Frank gave them the figurative middle finger, and it's about damn time. If you oppose the elements of the president's health reform proposal, by all means say so, but let's deal with facts, not hysterical claptrap, and let's have a reasoned conversation about it. The Republicans have made it clear that they have no interest in crafting a bipartisan, compromise piece of legislation. Their prime interest is clearly in taking down the president as many pegs as possible. So, it seems wise that the Democrats are turning their attention to crafting legislation that is acceptable to most members of their party in the House and Senate, and moving on with it. In the meantime, the Democratic game plan should be to follow Barney Frank's lead and tell the ill-informed, delusional, keening town hall toolsheds to step off.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Consider this scenario: A married man with five children who works with young people, some as young as 17 or 18, has sex with a woman in a restaurant after a night of drinking and later antes up $3,000 so she can have an abortion. Do you think he'd be likely to lose his job? Not if he is ultra-successful Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino. The coach has admitted that he had sex at a restaurant table after hours with Karen Sypher, a woman now accused of trying to extort money from Pitino after the sordid affair. A couple of weeks later, she came to him, said she was pregnant, expressed an interest in getting an abortion but said she didn't have health insurance to cover the procedure. Pitino coughed up $3,000. At a news conference Wednesday, he said he wasn't specifically paying for an abortion, just for health coverage for Sypher. Riiiight. It was just a coincidence that the health insurance was used to abort an allegedly Pitino-fertilized egg. While some allegations might be debatable, and others may be in dispute, the image Pitino is projecting now is that of an alcohol-fueled, scheming, abortion-buying adulterer. Is this the person you want leading the young men on a college basketball team? At Lousville, based on the statements of college leaders, that answer is a resounding "Yes!" This despite the fact that Pitino's contract has a morals clause that allows dismissal if the coach is guilty of moral depravity or puts the school in a bad public light. He's lucky there's not a clause regarding hypocrisy, because Pitino has always portrayed himself as a devout Catholic who even took a priest friend along on road trips as a spiritual adviser. But the "good folks" at Louisville are turning a blind eye to the coach's transgressions and figuratively wiping their behinds with the page of Pitino's contract that involves morality and common decency. After all, he wins lots of games and brings in big money to the school. And in college basketball, where elite players are gone almost as quickly as they arrive on campus, big-name coaches are the stars. If this were a second-year coach with a so-so win-loss record, he'd be gone quicker than you could say Jack Robinson. It would be ever-so-convenient for the powers to be at Louisville to send an underachieving coach packing without having to pay the rest of his contract while wringing their hands and lamenting his unconscionable moral failings. In America, we typically believe in giving our fellow man second chances. But some actions, by some people, are not forgivable, or shouldn't be. If an apprentice carpenter crafts a bad window frame, he deserves another chance. If you're a bank teller, and your cash drawer comes up short $50 one day, you deserve another chance. But if you're a newspaper reporter who deliberately submits a false story, you should be canned immediately. If you’re a county treasurer who pockets tax money, you should be fired and put on trial. And if you're a married father of five, and you engage in morally repugnant behavior with a stranger after a night of drinking, and then pay thousands of dollars to "clean up" your little mess, you should no longer be leading young people. We all fall short of leading the lives we should be leading, but certain jobs carry expectations of a higher standard of integrity and upstanding behavior. There are lines that cannot be crossed, behaviors that cannot be forgiven. Pitino has failed miserably in meeting those standards. But we are now a nation in which egregious crimes against morality that once brought harsh indignation are met with a shrug.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tough questions

The news came down today that four more U.S. Marines were killed in Afghanistan. This time, a roadside bomb did the damage. And the AP reports that the pace of deaths, if it continues, will make August one of the deadliest months for American troops since that war began. We lost 44 of our people there last month. We all know the background. We went in and started kicking behinds after the 9/11 attacks, but we essentially abandoned the fight in Afghanistan in favor of an ill-conceived war in Iraq. After more than 4,000 of our troops were killed and tens of thousands more wounded in the Iraq war, we turned our attention back to Afghanistan. But in the meantime, the same evil elements who engineered the 9/11 attacks had regained their strength. Reuters reported this week that it had obtained a threat assessment map developed by Afghan and U.S. security officials that shows nearly half of Afghanistan is at high risk of an attack by Taliban or other insurgent forces, or is under "enemy control." And that map was developed BEFORE a major surge in violence ahead of this month’s Afghan elections. There’s even a growing insurgent presence right outside the capital, Kabul, which rebels hit with nine rockets earlier this week, the first such brazen attack in years. The U.S. has been pouring thousands more troops into Afghanistan in an attempt to make up for the neglect of the mission during the Iraq war, but we have to question whether this is reasonable and prudent. Certainly, the "surge" in Iraq would be considered a success, but that's still a short-term gain that is being maintained by a continuing presence of more than 130,000 American servicemen and women. And what happens when, under a U.S.-Iraq agreement, we withdraw the vast majority of those troops by 2011? Virtually no one disagreed with the original decision to invade Afghanistan. We were attacked, and we responded against those responsible. But cleaning up Afghanistan requires troops – lots of them, and for a long time. Simply bombing them back to the Stone Age isn't much of an option when they've barely progressed past that point anyway. So, at this point, the same questions that were asked about the Iraq war need to be asked in regard to Afghanistan. What are the prospects for lasting success? How long are we willing to have tens of thousands of our troops in Afghanistan? And, most importantly, how many of our people are we willing to see maimed and killed in the process?

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Proceed at your own risk

Former President Bill Clinton has been getting mostly good press for his mission to North Korea that won the release of wayward American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering the country. It might sound harsh, but I have to question why he bothered. Bush administration United Nations Ambassador John Bolton leapt into action to accuse Clinton of rewarding North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il by making the mission of mercy, but I really don't think that's the case. What is Kim going to do? Put up a sign that says "Bill Clinton slept here"? Heck, half the women in Arkansas could probably do that. But why should any effort have been extended? There are indications that the two women, who were working for a media outfit founded by Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, crossed deliberately into North Korea. Surely they knew they were dealing with a repressive military regime led by a raving lunatic. My feelings are the same regarding the three hikers who reportedly crossed accidentally into Iran and are now being held as spy suspects by Tehran. One could ask why the three – one of whom was a journalist – were hiking anywhere near the Iranian border. The kind of blatant disregard for personal safety and common sense displayed in both these cases leads me to think that the folks involved pretty much got what they were asking for. And they shouldn't have expected anyone to come running to bail them out.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

There's just no stopping it

As everyone has heard by now, a nut with a deep-seated hatred of women opened fire inside a Bridgeville fitness club Tuesday night, killing three women and wounding nine more before turning his gun on himself. This will no doubt spark a new round of hang-wringing by supporters of strict gun controls. Those calls to rid our streets of guns should be met with a strong dose of reality. Handguns will never be banned in this country. We can try to minimize the number of mass killings by putting limits on assault weapons or perhaps clip sizes, but as we saw Tuesday, a determined lunatic with a couple of handguns can wreak just as much deadly havoc. The bottom line is that when a sick individual hatches a hate-fueled plot of kill people, there's really not much that can be done to prevent it. No matter what type of controls you put on weapons, a determined psychopath will find a way to circumvent them. We are a nation of gun owners. We always will be. And one of the side effects of that is the occasional mass murder. It's horrible, but it's inevitable.

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