Friday, December 16, 2011

EULOGY FOR OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM

By all accounts, 23-year-old David Hickman (below, left) from Greensboro, N.C. was pretty excited about coming home for Christmas. It is widely reported that he called his mother on November 13 to say so, but that would be their last conversation. On November 14, Hickman, an infantryman, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Critics of the Obama administration contend the president should never have announced in October that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by Christmas. According to some, Obama’s pronouncement only served to make the Iraqi insurgents step up their quest to knock off as many Americans as possible before the deadline. They may be right, and Hickman may be the unfortunate consequence of Obama’s grandstanding.

This week marked the official end of U.S. troop involvement in Iraq. It has been nine years since the U.S. involved itself in the ill-conceived “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Many Americans believe it was not this country’s responsibility to ensure democracy in Iraq. It is now well known that the U.S. entered the war with faulty intelligence and under less than noble circumstances. It is known that President George W. Bush's aggressive stance toward Iraq after 9/11 was a knee jerk reaction that proved ill-fated and fatal for many Americans.

As usual, the numbers tell the story. According to the government’s own figures, here is the human toll: U.S. Troop Casualties - 4,486 US troops; 98% male. 91% non-officers; 82% active duty, 11% National Guard; 74% Caucasian, 9% African-American, 11% Latino. 19% killed by non-hostile causes. 54% of US casualties were under 25 years old. 72% were from the US Army.

Here is the ongoing human toll: US Troops Wounded - 32,226, 20% of which are serious brain or spinal injuries. (Total excludes psychological injuries.) US Troops with Serious Mental Health Problems - 30% of US troops develop serious mental health problems within 3 to 4 months of returning home.

We learned from the Vietnam War that the human toll exacts consequences that transcend generations. Vets who are mentally or psychologically disabled try to re-acculturate and live somewhat normal lives, but their injuries and psychological wounds affect spouses, children, co-workers and most anyone with whom they interact. We know anecdotally that marriages crumble, domestic abuse skyrockets and child abuse intensifies among many vets.

And so there was little celebration this week, and there won’t be ticker tape parades or victory services at the National Cathedral or anything to truly mark the end of this war. That is because we know that people who were 20-something when they lost their eyes or their arms or legs or sanity will spend decades trying to right themselves. And we know that many of those 4,486 US troop casualties had children that will never know their parent(s). And we know that people like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell who actively engaged the U.S. in this war will not be held legally accountable for their misguided decisions.

It is from the vets themselves that we learn the most about how bad decisions in Washington wreak havoc in lives from coast to coast. Watch and listen to vets recap their own experiences in a CNN report:
The war in Iraq was one of the most significant mistakes I've ever witnessed the American government make. With no weapons of mass destruction, and no evidentiary connection between Iraq and 9/11, 4,486 men and women were ordered to their deaths for absolutely no reason. That is how history will see the Iraq debacle.

It is critical that we recognize now the enormity of the error that was Iraq. I am hoping that our collective realization of the vulnerability and poor judgment of our government officials puts a kink in our blind trust of them. Every reasonable American knows now that we should never have gone to Iraq. If something similar happens in the future, we Americans are likely going to demand far more accountability from the president on down.

Like Vietnam, American history has nothing to be proud of with the Iraq war. Not a thing. And that, all by itself, should tell us Americans to become more engaged with the political process, to more carefully choose who will govern and to clearly convey to them what we expect.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

DELUSIONS OF THE DONALD

Some years ago when I first walked into Trump Tower in Manhattan I remember thinking, “This guy thinks big – and shiny.” Those were the days when real estate developer Donald Trump was married to Ivana Trump, and together they had turned the Plaza Hotel into the showplace it was always meant to be. Those were glamorous times for the Trumps. The unapologetically ostentatious 1980s. It was a moment when the name Trump was synonymous with the good life, especially when compared to their arch rivals in the hotel business, the Helmsleys. Remember wicked witch hotel baroness Leona Helmsley and her increasingly infirm and senile husband, Harry? They were certainly no match for the beautiful Trumps.

Today one would be hard pressed to associate the word “beautiful” with Donald Trump. The years have not been kind to the Donald. His ego inflated involuntarily to the point where he believes he can either become the next President of the United States, or mightily influence who ever ascends. Trump is a showman. He is a circus ringmaster. He says outrageous things and he often inaccurately insinuates himself into the upper echelons of every cultural stratum. For example, in his latest book, “Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again,” he writes of superstar Lady Gaga, “"Maybe she became a star because I put her on the Miss Universe Pageant. It’s very possible, who knows what would have happened without it, because she caused a sensation.” Further into the book, in an equally ungrammatical fashion, he claims he warned Jeff Zucker of NBC not to move Jay Leno to a different time slot; it was a moment one might think of the Donald not as a real estate magnate, but rather as instant network programming executive. Trump can’t get enough of Trump’s magnificence.

But…you know that. The big news today is Donald Trump, presidential debate moderator. As it turns out it would be a debate between GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich and GOP homophobe loser-in-residence Rick Santorum. Everybody else has declined the invitation to participate in the Dec. 27 debate produced by Newsmax and to air on the ION network. Let’s see if we can picture this: Newt can talk about the social merits of having first graders clean toilets in their schools while Santorum can talk about the evil gay agenda that threatens the fabric of our culture. And Trump can interrupt frequently and talk about Trump.

By the weekend, Trump was reportedly considering canceling the debate. One can only hope. Of course we know it would be cancelled because of lack of participation among the candidates. But Trump put the spin on the potential cancellation by saying it may be necessary because he is still considering running as an independent candidate, and it may be a conflict of interest for him to host a debate.

The political process is sullied by Trump’s Barnum and Bailey sideshow. We are talking about determining who may be the next leader of the free world. Whether you like them or not, most of the GOP candidates have worked their way up through the system to take the giant hopeful leap towards the presidency. Most of them probably do not have the intellect, chutzpah and finances to go the distance, but they each had a steady trajectory. They climbed. Trump, on the other hand, took an express elevator of his own making. He is tailor made for the American pop culture, famous for being famous. Who else can you think of that develops real estate and ends up with his own network reality show, his own beauty pageant, A-list Hollywood connections and now, his own presidential debate?

Still, does the emperor have even a stitch of clothing? One wonders what on earth, other than ego, convinced Trump he has a place in presidential politics. Would he have the first clue what to do as commander-in-chief of America’s armed forces? Would he know even where to begin to navigate his way through a hostile legislative branch of our government? With absolutely no legal training, no legislative experience and no Washington cache, how could he remotely expect other world leaders to assign him a modicum of credibility? It is quite a fantasy leap from TV personality to Chief Executive of the United States of America.

About that ego; this week Trump told CNN host Piers Morgan that he believes he is the one American who should be sent to negotiate trade deals with foreign nations. He told Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “The Situation Room” that he was surprised Romney turned down the invitation to the debate because he claims Romney is clamoring for Trump’s endorsement. Rather than owning up to the fact that the candidates are not participating in his debate because it has no value, Trump told radio host Don Imus that they are not coming because "some of them don't have the courage to do it. A couple of them called me and told me, 'Donald, I'm just too nervous to do it.'"

Every election period has these short-lived sideshows. Last time it was Sarah Palin. Some years before that it was Ross Perot. Remember him? This time it’s Trump. Who’s lying in wait for 2016? Snooki, maybe? Justin Bieber? Listen, this too shall pass, or should I say, Trump, too, shall pass. We need to get laser-focused on the critical issues at hand – economy, poverty, social equality, employment, housing, global threats and regaining America’s traditional standing on the world stage. Trump is a blip on the radar screen, but one that is diverting attention from all that really matters. If he truly wants to serve his country, rather than himself, he will take a giant step back and allow the process to proceed as it should.

Friday, December 9, 2011

IT IS TIME FOR RICK PERRY TO DISAPPEAR


If Rick Perry hadn’t already sealed his unfortunate political fate, his latest campaign ad should put a cap on his candidacy. Watch:


At this point, knowing as we do that Perry is not going to represent the Republican party in next year’s election, this ad has broader implications. Look to your left on this blog and you will see the story of Jonah Mowry, the young boy who is tortured by other children who belittle him because of his sexuality. If Jonah Mowry turns on the TV and watches the ad you just watched, how will that affect his own personal development? Here he sees the Governor of Texas, a GOP presidential hopeful, essentially telling him that he is worthless, and telling him that people of “faith” would never be able to validate him as a human being, because he’s gay. That’s what Rick Perry accomplishes with this video. Ostensibly he made the video to bolster his chances of being president, but its effect on the culture around him is anything but presidential. The ad will go down in this year’s campaign history on the same level as Herman Cain’s cigarette smoking ad and last year’s Christine O’Donnell “I’m Not a Witch ad.” The difference this time is that the damage from this ad is already done.

Someone should have told Rick Perry, in the lyrics of the Broadway play, “Into the Woods”… Careful the things you say; Children will listen. It was irresponsible and borderline cruel of Rick Perry to approve of the ad and to tape it and allow it to be distributed. Trusting in the general reasonableness of the American people, as I do, I believe this ad will backfire on Perry. Within hours of the ad’s release, video parodies had hit the web in force. Rick Perry impersonators appeared in settings similar to the one in the ad, starting their messages out with statements like, “I’m not afraid to admit I’m an atheist,” or “I’m not afraid to admit I’m an asshole.” Sophomoric humor to be sure, but remember humor is often just the stylized expression of rage. I think Perry’s ad elicits feelings of rage among many of us.

The number of gay children and young people who have taken their own lives in the past few years because society messaged them that they were inadequate human beings has skyrocketed. The Jonah Mowrys of the world are numerous and often desperate. Rick Perry’s actions fuel the fires of their discontent in a way that could invite further fatalities. If I could ask Perry one question now it would be this: How can you defend your contention that you want to strengthen the country when through your own words you marginalize and attempt to weaken entire segments of the U.S. population?

Perry’s blanket dismissal of the rights of gay American service men and women is arrogance personified. Perhaps he has forgotten about people like U.S. Army Major Alan Rogers,(left) a gay service member who died while on patrol in Iraq in January, 2008. Would Perry diminish the fact that Rogers sacrificed his life for a country that made him hide his homosexuality in order to fight for it? I wonder how his dismissive attitude would go over with the family of Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, reportedly the first U.S. soldier to be killed in Afghanistan after President Obama’s repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Both Rogers and Wilfahrt were blown up by IED’s. Blown up, while serving their country. And somehow, in an ill-conceived 30-second campaign spot, Rick Perry equates the human rights of these young men with an issue of holiday celebrations in grade schools. It is disgusting.

The political process has gone awry, fixating on issues that are not germane to the public interest. The public is served by a focus on dignity, in the form of respect as citizens, the right to work for a living and the privilege of owning a home in America. The public is further served by presidential candidates who understand that one’s sexuality does not define him or her. Alan Rogers and the hundreds of other gay soldiers who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom were there with the same patriotic intentions of all other service men and women. When Andrew Wilfahrt’s (right) body exploded he felt the same terror and ripping apart of his flesh that any other soldier feels at the moment of impact. All who loved them felt the same flood of grief that befalls any other dead soldier’s survivors. Rick Perry is obviously not enough of an evolved human being to comprehend this.

It is time for Rick Perry and others in this GOP race who share his limited, bigoted mindset to step down from this race and quietly disappear into the masses. We don’t need them, and we most certainly do not need anyone to lead this country who cannot understand their responsibility to respect all American citizens, regardless of their biological makeup.

Monday, December 5, 2011

THE BAD, BAD BOYS OF 2011

You have to hand it to a guy who resigns from his candidacy for President of the United States by quoting a Pokemon movie. Herman Cain appeared in front of his would-be new campaign headquarters on Saturday, to announce that he will “suspend” his campaign. Then he steps down from the stage with Motown music playing in the background. There was barbecued food and general revelry, as if it were Cain announcing his candidacy, rather than ending it amidst various allegations of sexual wrongdoing.

Cain’s timing is perfect: His hijinks become the closing bookend for a year when bad boys around the globe were hogging the headlines with their own sexual junior highisms. I mean come on: Congressman Anthony Weiner was sexting women from the gym, while considering a run for Mayor of New York City, just as his wife found out she’s pregnant. And his antics were tame compared to bad boys like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund who stands accused of forcing a New York hotel housekeeper to have sex with him.

Bad boys are just bad boys, no matter what they do for a living or how much power they crave in their professional lives. And their egos generally somehow enable them to maintain their high profile public personas, convincing themselves that nobody will ever know about their duplicitous lifestyles. It really is stunning how not one of them seems to understand that privacy in public life is now history. It does not exist. A half century ago, JFK and his brother Bobby Kennedy could each take their turns having sex with Marilyn Monroe, and even the reporters who knew about it wouldn’t dare reveal it. But that was then.

Fast forward to 2011 and we’re still waiting for justice to be served in the case of John Edwards (below, right), the sleazebag scandal monger from the last presidential campaign. Edwards, you will recall, allegedly funneled money from his campaign to one Rielle Hunter, his secret squeeze who actually bore their daughter. While the wheels of justice turn as slowly as possible, we’ve also had to live through the very public battle over the sex tape he and Rielle made during the campaign. Sex tape. Presidential candidate. Welcome to 21st century America.

But 2011’s main scandal players were not limited to the U.S. Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time prime minister of Italy finally resigned a few weeks ago. His departure follows various periods where his name was attached to words like mafia, prostitution, tax fraud, perjury and embezzlement. But our favorite Silvio charge has to do with his alleged sex for cash scandal with an underage Moroccan dancer named Ruby Rubicouri (you simply cannot make this stuff up). Miss Ruby met the Prime Minister when she was working as a dental hygienist and he was being treated after being attacked with a marble statue by a disgruntled citizen.

All of it begs the obvious question: Are men innately pigs? Edwards was married to a woman who was fighting stage four breast cancer when he got Rielle Hunter pregnant. One of Cain’s accusers claims they were in a car headed for his corporate headquarters, when he pulled over and ran his hand up her skirt – kind of like a junior high boy might do to live out his masturbatory fantasy. I guess it depends on your definition of “pig.” Was John Edwards simply a pig disguised in matinee idol’s good looks and great suits? Was Silvio Berlusconi (below, left) an Italian pig whose reported multi-billions caused him to believe he was invincible? The Italian version of Teflon Don, you might say.

There are those who say both politics and sex are all about power. Nothing more. Nothing less. Maybe rich and powerful men simply cheat more richly and powerfully than their average Joe counterparts. But interestingly, they only get away with it until they don’t get away with it. The other day a female comic on TV said, “When was the last time we heard rumors like the ones we’re hearing about Herman Cain that did not turn out to be true?” Where there’s smoke and all that, you know. She’s right. There isn’t much you could say to me that would convince me that Herman Cain is not a pig. A more respectable pig would come forward and say, “I did it and I’m bowing out of the race.” Instead, Cain came forward and said ‘I didn’t do it, but I’m bowing out of the race for my family’s sake.’ And he said all this just as people who are close to his family have come forward to reveal the Cains are not exactly the Cleavers.

Cain, Edwards, Weiner (below, right), Berlusconi and their Hollywood counterparts such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ashton Kutcher are simply high profile examples of arrogance personified. Memo to all of the above: We citizens out here are not going to get real involved in your behind-closed-door dalliances unless you throw it in our face. And every time you start to feel a bit cocky about how much you are getting away with, you need to remember that you’re not getting away with it. We may as well be seated theatre style in your bedroom. Why is it that we get that but you don’t? And why is it that you can’t simply study the legacy of people like David Vitter, Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer to truly know that it’s only a matter of time until things come tumbling down? Way down.

Listen, combine one part predatory mass media with one part puritanical American consciousness with one part “Gotcha” and you’re nothing more than Herman Cain – powerless, jobless and without the adulation you crave so mightily. It’s a predictable recipe for public humiliation and ultimate dreaded anonymity. It is more about arrogance than ignorance. And it repeatedly leads to men who are in the prime of their careers predictably and rapidly disappearing. Just ask John Edwards who these days kicks around his South Carolina mansion worrying about whether he will go to jail. It’s a slippery slope boys.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

UC DAVIS: A PORTRAIT IN OVER-REACTION

By now the photos of the campus cop at UC Davis pepper spraying passive, seated students has made its way around the world. Most people agree (with the exception of predictably obstinate cable talking head Bill O’Reilly) that the incident was uncalled for and unduly aggressive on the part of the campus police. Rational humans know not to spray chemicals in the faces of students seated in an outdoor area on their own campus. And those same rational people wonder now why the campus police showed up in full riot gear when there was clearly no indication of violence or anything but peaceful protest.

Close up photos of the still unidentified cop show an average looking guy, probably in his 40s. He’s not old enough to have the images burned into his memory of cops in the 1960s South spraying civil rights demonstrators with fire hoses.
He probably wasn’t around when students at Kent State were fired upon with live ammunition by the National Guard. It is likely he has no knowledge of dioxon-contaminated herbicide Agent Orange being routinely sprayed during the Vietnam War, reportedly resulting in hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese suffering health issues, not to mention American veterans who have suffered lifelong effects from the chemical. Would it have made any difference to the unidentified campus cop if he had these frames of reference? Hard to say. But did we as a society learn nothing from the above-mentioned incidents? It is inhumane for one human to spray another human with anything, when the intention is humiliation or bodily harm.

What is clear is the absolute violation of the students’ constitutional rights. As a gentle reminder, here is the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Were not free speech and free assembly rights abridged here? It’s tough to validate the campus police actions when you watch carefully what really happened here. Watch for yourself:

Notice the campus cop hold the canister up and present it to the crowd before he sprays the protestors. One might say he was showboating, exercising a level of power he does not really have. Now, after the fact, one wonders why it took the university administration fully three days to suspend him from his duties. And why is it that the Chancellor, who reportedly directed the campus police to disperse the protesting crowd, did not address the student body until Monday, when the spraying occurred on Friday. Further, since the students were not exercising aggression or violence, why are none of them or their parents speaking up about the violation of their civil rights?

Throughout the U.S. in recent weeks there have been reports of police brutality, unjustifiable arrests, unreasonable use of force on the part of law enforcement and poorly executed crowd control. The job of police in urban areas is not to function as physical or ideological adversaries to the citizenry. Yet that is what we are seeing coast to coast. On college campuses, for the first time in decades there are signs of true student activism. Where better to protest governmental missteps and ill-advised decisions than on campuses where ideas are the foundation of the institutions? Yet at UC Davis it appears ideas are being challenged, rather than welcomed, and administrators somehow feel threatened by a few kids seated on a sidewalk.

The still unidentified cop should be fired, and with him should go his superiors. If Chancellor Linda Katehi (below, left) ordered or approved of the use of force she overstepped her authority. The message all of them sent to their students is simply that in America one cannot peacefully protest that which he or she deems unacceptable.
Somebody forgot to tell Katehi and her police force that if there is one place in America where the free exchange and expression of ideas should be encouraged – popular or not – it should be our universities. Have UC’s administrators become so caught up in the business end of education that they have lost sight of the importance of student’s questioning the status quo?

It appears the pepper-spraying campus cop did not break any laws by using chemical dispersants. Still, how many unwritten moral laws were ignored in that one momentary act? Did the university administration not have an ethical obligation to allow or even encourage its student population to exercise their first amendment rights? Rights. Plural. Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

In fairness, and to her credit, Katehi addressed the students on Monday and apologized on behalf of the university. She spoke of not wanting to be a chancellor in a university that conducts itself as UC did on Friday. She said she wants to get to know the students. Her short address seemed heartfelt, but at this writing, the cops involved in this injustice are still on the payroll, although suspended. And why is it that it took this heinous act on the part of an over-zealous campus cop to cause the chancellor to finally want to get to know her students? Was there no reason to get to know them when all was calm and orderly?

The higher ups at UC Davis have a lot of explaining and apologizing to do. And the students who participated in the demonstration must learn to continually stand up – or sit down – for their beliefs. It is about passion, commitment and justice. One wonders how the adults at UC Davis forgot that last Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A VERY VICKY MOMENT

You may recall a couple of weeks back I posted a video of sort-of comedienne Victoria Jackson visiting Occupy Wall Street in NYC. Jackson, much better known these days as a neo-conservative talking head often struggling to be heard, has come up with a whole new way of pontificating. Jackson and three other women now have a new web-only show called "PolitiChicks," which you might do well to think of as "The Anti-View." Her three co-talkers are pro-life activist Jannique Stewart, The Patriot Update's Ann-Marie Murrell and editor and activist Jennie Jones. This is episode one -- today's topics -- the evils of Islam and the very evil evils of gay marriage. Oy. Watch:

Monday, November 14, 2011

THE LONG HELD SECRETS OF HAPPY VALLEY, PA

I had a brief back and forth with a guy from State College, PA, home of Joe Paterno. He said in State College, Paterno is thought of “as a king.” It was the idolatry that I found so stunning. I doubt that many of us outside of that Central Pennsylvania borough can relate to living in a town that is often referred to as “Happy Valley.” And most of us knew little about it or its small town America, football-dominated culture. After all, just the name of the place conjures Frank Capra movies. One expects Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson to come dancing down Main Street.

But no one is dancing in Happy Valley today. The king has been dethroned and his minions have been cuffed and booked. Former minion Jerry Sandusky is charged with 40 counts of child abuse. Coach Mike McQueary has been sidelined indefinitely after receiving threats for his part in the cover up of Sandusky’s multiple rapes of children. University President Graham Spanier has been fired, and as the holiday season approaches there is no peace in the Valley.

The guy I communicated with on Facebook said this: “Growing up there, Penn State football was everything and Joe Paterno (left) was our king.” He talked about how “heartbreaking” it is to see his idol destroyed. And he referred me to an article called “Growing Up Penn State,” by Michael Weinreb. Weinreb writes, “Sometimes we were guilty of regarding him as more deity than man, as if he presided over us in mythological stand-up form."

It is the worshipping of Paterno – affectionately called Joe Pa in Happy Valley – that so astounds those of us out here in the real world. At 84, after coaching Penn State for 46 seasons, Paterno broke his silence last week, saying “I should have done more.” Some might hear remorse in that statement, but I hear between the lines Paterno really saying, ‘I never thought anyone would find out.’ To many of us who do not have the emotional ties (read “obsession”) with Joe Pa or the Penn State over-the-top football culture, Paterno’s laissez-faire approach to Sandusky’s (above, right) crimes seem quite ominous. It appears State College, PA was a town built almost exclusively on college football, and it seems Paterno was intent on protecting the institution and the game. And it seems clear he intended to protect the school to the detriment of 10-year-old boys who were raped by one of his coaches.

We are a nation built on paternalism and egalitarianism. Those kids who Sandusky raped were supposed to be protected by somebody. If not Sandusky, then McQueary,(below, left) who witnessed Sandusky actually having anal intercourse with a 10-year-old boy in the locker room showers. Since McQueary was reportedly so distraught he ran out of the room and called his father, then perhaps his father could have immediately called the police, but he did not. His father reported the incident to Paterno, who reported the incident to university officials, but he and they chose not to call the police. All the grownups, including Joe Pa, chose to put a lid on it -- for 13 years.

Talk radio is fully abuzz with this story, and from the radio I learned of something called The Clery Act. It is this piece of federal legislation that may be the ultimate undoing of Penn State. The Clery Act requires universities that receive federal financial aid to fully report and disclose crimes that occur on or near their campuses. With regard to crimes of a sexual nature, the Clery Act clearly states that incidences reported to campus security of “sex offenses, forcible or nonforcible” must be disclosed. If morality were not an issue with Penn State, perhaps their ties with governmental financial aid should have been. If Penn State is found in clear violation of The Clery Act, they may lose all access to student financial aid.

On Nov. 9, the U.S. Department of Education notified Penn State that an investigation has been initiated into Penn State’s alleged coverup of Jerry Sandusky’ s sexual crimes. If found in clear violation of the Act, Penn State will at a minimum be fined $27,500 per violation, but due to the heinous nature of what happened in Happy Valley, one might expect the Department of Education to impose much stiffer penalties.

Having worked many years in the corporate system and then many more years in higher education, I have observed that these types of things do not escape the rumor mill. My guess is that many, many people knew what happened in that shower and beyond. So it was with great interest that I read the words of former Oklahoma University and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer (above, left), who said in an interview with the Daily Oklahoman newspaper, “Having been in this profession a long time and knowing how close coaching staffs are, I knew that this was a secret that was kept secret. Everyone on that had to have known, the ones that had been around a long time.” Switzer should know of what he speaks. His own team had its share of clandestine, illegal secrets, although none were sexual in nature.

The judicial system will accommodate some of the justice that needs to be done here. But just some. Others, who have not been charged with a crime will serve their own inevitable sentences. When night falls in Happy Valley, and Joe Pa and McQueary and every other person who knew of Sandusky’s rapes of children close their eyes, they have to live inside themselves knowing what they did. They enabled Sandusky to permanently scar children – chances run high that we’ll never really know how many men are out there who were overpowered mentally and physically by Sandusky. Those who knew can never really escape what they let happen – over and over again. I’d call that imprisonment – wouldn’t you?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

WHAT I WOULD ASK HERMAN CAIN

What could finally do Herman Cain in is the fact that none of his accusers have tried to sell their stories or profit in any way with their information. Today, Cain held a press conference to make all the predictable denials: “I don’t remember that woman”; “I’ve been married 43 years”; “My wife said ‘that doesn’t even sound like something you’d do”; “The accusations are just plain not true;” Yada, yada, yada.

Cain’s denials are beginning to take on a more desperate tone, particularly since the second of four women accusers of sexual misconduct has now been identified and quoted, alleging behavior on his part that made women uncomfortable. Watching the press conference today, I was waiting for somebody – anybody – to ask these questions, but nobody did:
• Of the leading candidates for the 2012 GOP nomination, you are the only one who has had sexual harassment charges leveled against you. If these accusations were the work of Democratic operatives or clandestine actions of opposing campaigns, why wouldn’t they try to similarly discredit Mitt Romney, since he has consistently been in the lead?
• Regarding the most recent accuser, Sharon Bialek has come under intense media scrutiny since coming forward. It has been revealed that she has filed for bankruptcy twice, had multiple liens brought against her and was involved in a nasty child custody case. She is not asking for any money or trying to parlay her appearances into anything more than an opportunity to tell her story. If there were no truth to her accusations, what would motivate her to put herself under such a harsh spotlight?
• Four women have now come forward with some allegations of sexual misconduct. Is it your opinion that all four women are lying? If so, why did you wait until Sharon Bialek came forward to hold a press conference to deny all of the accusations?
• Why do you always refer to yourself in the third person?
NOTE: If you missed Cain's press conference you can watch it here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

WHO IS (or isn't) READY FOR THEIR CLOSEUP?

Have you ever wondered what campaign season would have been like back in the 1950s if the candidates had their P.R. gurus producing TV commercials? How would the public have perceived the not-so-television-ready Harry Truman in candid shots from the campaign trail mixed with slickly produced sound bites from his speeches? Truman was the guy who once said, “All my life, whenever it comes time to make a decision, I make it and forget about it.” You can just see the campaign marketing team going pale and starting to sweat.

If there is one thing that the creative team on a campaign doesn’t want the public to see it is anything authentic to the candidate’s persona. Come on. Do you think even one person on the Rick Perry campaign would have authorized release of the video of his recent dinner speech? You know, the one where he was evidently either drunk or high. One could posit that in that video we voters saw the real Rick Perry for the first time. Reality can be so humiliating sometimes, right? Oh…you didn’t see it? Watch:

We are in the early stages of a year long, fully-produced deluge of campaign propaganda films and sharply-edited television ads. All are aimed at convincing us of the integrity, ethical stability and approachable gravitas of the presidential hopefuls. Couple that with some scripted, coached charisma and some hyper-patriotic background music and there you have it – the U.S. version of political campaigning. It is the political version of musical theatre – it has all the elements – except maybe dancing. But think about it: political campaign TV ads and musical theatre compel you to pay attention by appealing to your emotions, your passion and your love of a happy ending. Is a Herman Cain campaign ad really all that different than your typical Broadway protagonist – the age-old story of an unknown everyman who comes from behind and steps into the spotlight? Remember Ruby Keeler in “42nd Street?” Get the parallels? And yes, I just went there – I compared Herman Cain to Ruby Keeler.

Well, maybe not. I mean that last web-only ad with the campaign manager smoking the cigarette and Cain smiling that sort of shit eating grin for a few seconds too long at the end? If ever somebody needed a Mike Nichols – or even a Mel Brooks – it’s poor Herman Cain. Cain may be the one candidate most in need of producing and directing assistance of any candidate in recent history. When confronted by aggressive media reporters about his alleged sexual harassment struggles in the late 1990s, Cain scolded the reporters and told them he was not going to discuss it. Watch:

Oh Herman. Don’t you know? Hasn’t the guy with the cigarette told you? The more you piss off the press the more predatory it becomes. And the next thing you know, Herman, the stories of your peccadillos trump policies in your media coverage.

Somebody seriously forgot to tell people like Cain and Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum that running for president in the 21st century is all about packaging. Anything you try to hide behind the package -- like a husband of questionable sexuality who runs a clinic that tries to pray the gay away (Bachmann)—will find a headline somewhere, which will go viral in about two seconds, which can undo all the hard work you’ve done so far to put forth a squeaky clean image. And any history you have of spreading extreme rhetoric that runs counter to majority thinking – like Santorum’s crazy rantings about homosexuality being akin to adultery and incest – will find the wrong kind of headlines and fully unravel your meticulously crafted all-American, family man image.

This is the first presidential election in the history of the U.S. that has this much media and technology chronicling its every millisecond. This current crop of GOP would-be-chief execs appears to be trying to play the presidential campaign game by old media rules. What none of them seem to grasp is that these days if you say something truly stupid or ill-conceived or wildly inaccurate at dinner in Palm Beach, everybody in Palm Springs will know about it by dessert.

That leads to two trends that work directly against us voters: First, it means that the smartest image-makers among the campaigns will script everything so tightly that we will not ever have an opportunity to truly know who the candidate is or where he or she stands on the most divisive issues; and second, it will further cause the candidates to speak in made-for-TV/web sound bites intended for viral dissemination. In short, we get less reality than ever before because of the mass paranoia among the campaigners that their words will be mis-interpreted or worse – fully understood by the masses.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that extremists like Bachmann, Santorum and a couple of others will be voted off the island any minute now. Cain may linger for a while. After all, his antics are entertaining, if not exactly presidential material. Hard to say. And Perry? Maybe fewer cocktails before the next after-dinner speech may be
in order for him. The GOP hopeful who becomes the nominee this time is the one who understands the pervasiveness and power of traditional and new media. This time the one who Tweets right, Facebooks compellingly and who understands the real impact of inevitable and constant visibility will be the one who survives and takes center stage at the GOP convention August 27 in Tampa, FL. Along the way, the winning candidate will probably have to succumb to photo ops with the likes of Snooki, interviews with reporters with their own agendas and late night repartee with the Leno/Letterman/Fallon/Kimmel types.

Is it simple show biz or is it a race to see who will be the next leader of the free world? You be the judge.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

REALITY BITES

If you live long enough you come to find out that when things get really out of hand, the only thing that can get them back on track is one watershed event. You know, like Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries getting divorced after 72 days of marriage, even though they fashioned their union as the American version of the royal wedding. Listen, it matters. You want to know why? Because “reality" television is so far off track from what it could have been that something had to shake it back into true reality.

Ask yourself this and see what you come up with: Why do we even know there is such a thing as a Kim Kardashian? What has this person contributed to our culture, our social welfare, our society, our future? Yes, yes, I now, there’s always been a Kim Kardashian. In the 1950s it was called Zsa Zsa (left). In the early 2000s it was called Paris Hilton. It is a concept, as much as it is a single human being. There’s nothing particularly real about it, but it plays itself out as an American story of privilege, wealth, glamour and creature comfort. It’s usually a story that happens on the West coast, and it usually has some sort of hyper-sexual component. It’s captivating, if just for its moment in time.

But back in the 1990s, along came reality TV. That amped up the uber-wealthy California sun princess syndrome to the enth degree. Reality TV relies on two common elements: Extremes and humiliation. Think about it: Every reality TV show that hits the bigtime features extreme personalities and situations, and usually ends up in someone being roundly humiliated. But like anything else extreme in life, there are plateaus. So, for example, in the 1960s surfing might have been considered an extreme sport. Fast forward a few years later and extreme sports are activities more like sky surfing, in which the participants skydives, surfs on a board attached to his feet before he opens the chute. It’s just that whenever somebody gets to a mountaintop in life, we’re looking for them to find a bigger mountaintop.

Such is the case with reality television. Watching somebody on “Survivor” eat worms in a jungle doesn’t capture much of an audience share anymore. Likewise, watching our modern day Zsa Zsas go through one man after another and rake in more and more money for doing nothing doesn’t compel us the way it might have in the mid-20th century. So, comes Kim Kardashian, who realizes the value of televised extremes, and who finds herself a Minnesota boy who was the big (6’9” tall, 235 lbs) man on campus in Minnetonka, MN (population a whopping 51,000). Realizing that reality TV shows about people who do not much in life have limited shelf lives, Kim marries her NBA big boy in a lavish ceremony that costs somewhere between $10 and 20 million, depending on who’s counting. Then, still considering her looming expiration date as a TV star, she divorces him in a media-lavish fashion that garners headlines globally. Kim’s extreme act garners a huge audience, and the reportedly “blindsided” basketballer groom is publicly humiliated. Wah-lah. Reality gold.

Until Kim and her similarly unaccomplished sisters hit TV bigtime, she was generally known for three things: dating good looking athletes, making money, and a sex tape she made with moderately successful singer Ray-J. That tape was “leaked” somehow, which led to a lawsuit in which Kim reportedly walked off with $5 million. Like I said, the girl knows how to cash in. But it was really her reality show that made her a figure on the world stage, which she remains today. In fact, just hours after she filed for divorce she jetted off to Australia to promote her line of handbags. Reached for comment there by Australian media, Kim said simply, “I married for love.”

Look, we can criticize Ms. K and her seemingly endless array of siblings as much as we please, but the truth is that we made her what she is. We needed a Zsa Zsa for our times and she filled the bill. We thought for a while that Paris Hilton could be our Zsa Zsa, but she just wasn’t quite savvy enough to stretch her 15 minutes into something bigger. Kim somehow knows the critical importance of perfect hair and makeup even when dashing through the L.A. airport in the throes of post-divorce despair. Kim knows the value of having her step daddy, former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner (left), photographed by TMZ leaving her home after a visit to console her. She knows the importance of letting her momager, Kris Jenner, do the media interview circuit and saying just the right things like, “Who am I to judge Kim?” But I must remind you again – we made the Kardashians. Just like we made Anna Nicole Smith, and Snooki, and Lindsay Lohan, and all the others who maybe would have been better off in the long term if we had paid a little less attention to them.

Consider our American priorities: On the same day that Occupy Oakland citizens are hurling beer bottles at cops and cops are tossing tear gas cannisters back at them, we’re asking if Kim is going to return her wedding gifts. Just weeks after Gadaffi is killed following a bloody uprising and revolt in Libya, we’re asking if Kim is going to give the 20.5 carat ring back. Right in the heat of the GOP foodfight for the presidential nomination, we’re more interested in whether Kris Humphries is going to get his share of the profits from the highly televised wedding to Kim.


I would suggest that the less real reality TV became, and the more its fully contrived plotlines unfolded, the more we bought into it. When something truly real happens in reality tv – such as one of the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” husbands hanging himself – we move on from it pretty quickly. But when something fully produced, such as the entire Kardashian family comes along, we’re all up in it. The real issue is what that says about us, the television audience. The Kardashians are said to have grossed $65 million last year from their handbags and Hollywood hijinks. God bless ‘em, huh? They did that by artfully manipulating us into believing something about them was authentic. Most of us did not earn a fraction of what they made last year, so I ask you: What’s wrong with this picture?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

THE IMAGINARY BULLYING OF RICK SANTORUM

Who knew? GOP presidential candidate and arbiter of all things pure and holy Rick Santorum watches NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” How do we know this? Because this week, Santorum said this about an October 16, 2011 SNL sketch spoofing a GOP debate, in which Santorum was portrayed in a San Francisco gay bar: "The left, unfortunately, participates in bullying more than the right does. They say that they’re tolerant, and they’re anything but tolerant of people who disagree with them and support traditional values." He said this in response to a question from New Hampshire radio station WGIR.

The headline here is that Santorum evidently feels bullied. Somebody forgot to tell him that cutting political satire is part of the ‘running for president package.’ On television it goes all the way back to the 1960s and a show called “That Was the Week that Was.” The show only ran for two seasons, but it managed to skewer everybody from Nikita Kruschev to Richard Nixon. But SNL? Well, SNL is now in its 36th season and making fun of politicians is its stock in trade. But you knew that, Rick, now didn’t you?

Santorum claiming he is bullied is akin to Pamela Anderson complaining about men looking at her breasts. The former Pennsylvania senator (1995-2007) and flailing, yet naive 2012 presidential hopeful needs to get a grip. Politics is tough territory and many of Santorum’s actions, causes he supports, judgmental statements he makes and socio/political stances have invited raw satire. Santorum is, after all, the man who once said, “The reason Social Security is in big trouble is we don’t have enough workers to support the retirees. Well, a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion, because one in three pregnancies ends in abortion." Let me see; I think Santorum is trying to tell us that our social security fund would be more socially secure if we would outlaw abortion. Is it me, or is this twisted thinking?

Santorum needs to stop whining and sink slowly back into the private sector. He should do that because he is muddying the national conversation about issues that truly matter – issues like jobs, home foreclosures, poverty, hunger, equal pay for equal work, underfunded public school systems and healthcare. His issues are what he considers moral causes. He is unabashedly anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality, anti-pre-marital sex, anti-birth control (or “artificial” birth control, as he calls it), and most vehemently anti-homosexuality. Santorum has been in the game long enough to know that politics is dirty – real dirty. It is not a moralistic endeavor. It’s a power enterprise. Santorum has been in the public eye long enough to know that majority public opinion does not favor his stance on most of his causes. He has also been around long enough to know that in this country we’re really not allowing legislators in our private bedrooms any longer. We’re just not.

And we’re tired of hearing his declarative statements about large population groups. Example: After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Santorum decried the masses of New Orleans citizens who did not leave the city after being warned of the impending storm. “I mean people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings [...] There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving," he said. Santorum’s frequent ignorance was never so blatant. The truth is that thousands of people in the city had no transportation options to get them out of the city. They didn’t stay by choice. Essentially, Santorum was suggesting punishing people who were trapped.

About women who have abortions, Santorum declared: “This was tried once before in America, when the liberty and happiness rights of the slaveholder were put over the life and liberty rights of the slave. But unlike abortion today, in most states even the slaveholder did not have unlimited right to kill his slave.” This was just before he said that any doctor who performs an abortion (even legally) should be criminally charged.

The term “neo-con” doesn’t begin to describe Rick Santorum. The term “extremist” does. America does not elect extremists to the presidency. We just don’t. And we most certainly do not knowlingly elect bigots, which Santorum has clearly shown that he is. This most obvious in his comments regarding gay Americans. And we do not elect hypocrites. Santorum repeatedly behaves in contrast to his rhetoric. When his buddy, former Republican Senator John Ensign (left, shown resigning) was involved in a sex scandal, the husband of the woman Ensign was seeing alerted Santorum that he was about to inform the media about Ensign’s assignation. Instead of encouraging Ensign to do the right thing and resign, what did Santorum do? He gave Ensign a heads up so that Ensign could proactively neutralize the situation. A couple of years later when Democrat Anthony Weiner had his own sex scandal, Santorum was quick to go on television and encourage him to “do the right thing” and resign.

And there’s more. Santorum, who has seven children, lived most of the year in Virginia during his Senate years, although he represented Pennsylvania. Many of his kids were old enough to be in school, so what did Santorum do? He enrolled them in a cyber charter school in Pennsylvania, which was paid for the by public school district in the state, even though he and the children did not reside in the state. The school district demanded to be reimbursed when it was revealed the children did not live in the district. Santorum refused. (The children withdrew from the school and are reportedly now home-schooled.)

One would think a man of reasonable intelligence, like Santorum, would know that his over-the-top takes on contemporary culture will not play well in America. He is not taken seriously any longer if he ever was. Since 2003, writer/activist Dan Savage has waged a campaign against Santorum, resulting in a high traffic website, "Spreading Santorum" that has turned the candidate's last name into a profane sex term. Another site, Santorum Exposed is dedicated to publicizing Santorum's failed policies and inane public statements. And now, SNL has turned him into something of a cartoon character. Rick Santorum has become a national punchline.

Santorum’s efforts to legislate morality (his version of morality) and to decide for the masses what contemporary society will deem ethically acceptable are old news. But his attempt to parlay his biases into the American presidency is dangerously unacceptable. What I know for sure is that the American voter is smart, and not susceptible to rantings like Santorum’s. Best evidence? The latest CNN Poll of Polls, which reflected surveys taken between Oct. 3-10, showed a mere 2 percent of Republican voters backing Santorum. Now…Rick…head on back to your gated community, your lily white suburban life, your mansion next door to your wife’s parents, your comfy corporate law job—and surround yourself with those who believe in your exclusionary vision of America. We, the majority of Americans do not believe as you do and we are speaking en masse with our lack of political support for your candidacy.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

VICKI DOES WALL STREET

Remember Victoria Jackson? No? Jackson was a "Not Ready for Prime Time Player" on NBC's Saturday Night Live way back in 1986. Since then, Jackson has become not-so-widely known as a Bible-thumping, tea partying, arguably crazy conservative. Since completing her six-year stint on SNL, Jackson has done interviews in which she says things like FOX's "GLEE" is trying to recruit gay people, that Obama reminds her of "Castro in Cuba or that guy in China," and that she has learned the most in her life from Glen Beck. Jackson has also recorded songs like "There's a Communist Living in the White House." But this week, Jackson was smack dab in the middle of Occupy Wall Street. Oh boy. Watch:

Friday, October 7, 2011

MAD AS HELL...

Occupy Wall Street has rapidly become Occupy America, with demonstrations spreading from Sacramento to Portland to St. Louis to Chicago to New Orleans to Philadelphia and beyond. Although the goals of the protestors are still unclear, the issues about which they are concerned are universal. Joblessness, foreclosures, corporate greed and power and legislators out of touch with the average citizen - these are frontline reasons for the largely non-violent protests. Listen to the voices of Occupy Wall Street (from CBS News):

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

TAKIN' IT TO THE STREETS

Raise your hand if you’re over 50 and remember peaceful protests in the 1960s and 70s? Ah, I thought so – lots of you (okay,"us") skipped class and paraded around carrying signs that said things like, “Hell No, We Won’t Go,” and “America- Fix it or Fuck It!” or “We Shall Overcome.” In some instances, we sincerely had worthy causes worth fighting for, or demonstrating for. In other cases, we were just mad at something our universities or our government had done and we wanted to vent our anger. Either way – we know a little something about civil disobedience, don’t we? And that’s why as we watch the Occupy Wall Street protests, in some ways it’s “déjà vu all over again.”

As recently as last week many of us did not understand what Occupy Wall Street was about. Media wasn’t really picking up on it much, and outside of NYC the buzz was pretty quiet. What a difference a week can make. This week cities across the U.S. are starting to heed the “Occupy” call to reject corporate greed, to call on wealthy Americans to spread the wealth and to neutralize the influence that corporate lobbyists have on legislators. On its face, the basic tenets of the Occupy Wall Street movement seem valid to many Americans. However, much like some of those above mentioned protests from the absolute era of protest, Occupy Wall Street does not seem to have clear proposals for social or economic change. What the demonstrators do have is massive frustration with the American capitalist system.

Buoyed by participation from activist luminaries like Susan Sarandon and Michael Moore, the demonstrators have held steadfast to their own activism for about two weeks now. Here’s a report from ABC News:
video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player
The one thing we learned from our anti-everything protests from the 1960s and 70s is that anger may be a powerful catalyst, but until it is coupled with achievable goals, demonstrations are hollow. I am not an expert on social movements, but I’m an interested observer who learned the following over time:

1. Organize, organize, organize. The Occupy movement is certainly a grass roots effort, but even the most basic protests must have order. Anarchy only builds anarchy. Having a plan and some way to structure the movement often yields greater results. Best evidence? The Civil Rights movement
of the 1960s.

2. Have clear objectives. Nobody seems to have stated any goals with the Occupy Wall Street movement. What is the purpose of thousands of people showing up for a street demonstration if there aren’t any clear objectives? So far, what we know is that these people are dissatisfied with the current state of our economic system, our taxation laws and what they see as undue influence of corporate entities on legislation that affects all Americans. All valid, but if you ask them what they want instead of the current system, so far no one has come forward to outline the goals.

3. Who’s calling the shots? The best social change movements had great leaders – Dr. Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinem (below, left), Mario Savio, Susan B. Anthony.
This morning a New Orleans man, age 27, called in to a local talk radio show to talk about the Occupy New Orleans demonstration to be held Thursday. When asked who was in charge of the rally, he said, “Well, we don’t have a leader or anything like that. Everybody will just get together.” When asked what the objective of the demonstration will be, he said, “We’re protesting the inequality between classes in this country.” He never said what the group wants, or what alternative to the class system they would like to see. They need a leader.

So, about those “clear objectives” in number two above: The anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s clearly wanted out of Vietnam. The women’s movement of the 1970s clearly wanted gender equality and to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s clearly wanted an end to racial discrimination. Unfortunately, there is nothing clear about what the Occupy movement wants.

The frustration and anger expressed by the many young people on Wall Street these past couple of weeks is step one. It is that emotional fire that galvanizes large groups of people. But the recent media comparisons to Egypt’s Tahir Square (below, right) are a stretch. The Tahir Square demonstrators wanted democracy. So far, the Occupy movement demonstrators just seem to want to get something off their chest. I applaud their tenacity and their passion.That’s what we’re made of here in America, as opposed to say, Bahrain, where this week it was revealed that 26 anti government protestors are to be imprisoned, with sentences ranging from five to 15 years each. Here we can speak up, be heard and affect change. But looking into the faces of the young Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, I just wonder: What do you want to do about the issues that motivate you? We know you’re unemployed; we know you don’t have any health insurance and we know your college degree is not serving you as well as you hoped. Reminding us of all of that doesn’t really accomplish much. What do you want?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

BLOCKIN' OUT THE SCENERY, BREAKIN' MY MIND...

There is a quiet residential neighborhood in Uptown New Orleans that exploded into an in-your-face demonstration on Thursday night, all because of a sign showing President Obama in a diaper. For months, Timothy Reily, a homeowner with a corner lot and a self-described Tea Party member, has expressed his dissatisfaction in big, bold signs that he displays on the main street side of his property.

The diaper sign is not Reily's first display, but the current sign (above) pretty much tells Reily’s story. The visuals are important because until this week, Reily has refused all interview requests and has remained verbally silent, allowing his periodically changing signs to speak for him. I began to notice Reily’s signs several months ago because I often park on his block when I go to work closeby. Although the signs are irritating to me, for reasons I will explain later, finally I began to ignore them. Not so with this week's demonstrators. Some of them claim the sign is racist, while others are just upset that this quiet neighborhood has been upended by all the media attention. By the morning after the demonstration, national media had picked up the story.

New Orleans City Councilwoman Susan Guidry believes the signs are disruptive and perhaps not even legal. She went public with her disdain for Reily’s “art” earlier this week, and what followed were small gatherings of protestors in the street surrounding Reily’s corner lot, which ultimately led to the more chaotic scene describe above. Local TV news stations picked up on the controversy and what follows is a report from WWL-TV, New Orleans:


Racism? On some level, probably. First amendment issue? Yes, without a doubt. Guidry, a Democrat, met with Reiley in his home. Reportedly, it did not go very well. Reily claims she got in his face and threatened to find zoning laws that will force him to take the sign down. But then, guess who else shows up? Ray Nagin. Oy. Nagin, who thankfully hasn't been heard from much since he put out his crazy memoir that sold about three copies, also met with Reily. He tried to persuade Reily to take the sign down, and by all accounts the meeting was gentlemanly. The sign did not come down.

But for my money, Reily’s stunt is more telling than that. I look at his signs the same way I look at vanity license plates – you know the ones that have little messages on them. To me, these are the acts of individuals who somehow cannot seem to be otherwise heard. Why doesn’t Reily simply write op-ed pieces, or call in to talk radio, or organize community political meetings or galvanize his neighbors to support his cause? My guess is that one who takes the time to create signs with sarcastic, derogatory messages does so because he simply does not know how to become part of a healthier public discourse on the state of the nation. Unfortunately, these acts usually bring out the absolute worst in our American citizenry. And let’s face it, politics brings out the worst in Americans anyway, so once we get into “word art” – well it gets rough.

I’m not here to debate the relative merits or lack thereof of the Obama presidency. I would, however, really like to see the public’s mix of ideas elevated to a higher level of discussion. I’d like to hear from some true thinkers, rather than masses of reactionaries. Do we really need to see people carrying signs at rallies depicting the president of the United States as an aborigine, or a monkey, or a Nazi? I think not. Does it add anything at all to advance anybody’s cause to carry a sign that says “If Obama is president, do we still call it the ‘WHITE’ House?” How, I wonder, does this message contribute anything – “American taxpayers are Jews for Obama’s ovens”?

Nothing gets Americans hotter under the collar than the months leading up to an election, especially when unemployment is at record highs, home foreclosures are off the map and the stock market is tanking. Understood. But taking to the streets – or in Reily’s case to the walls of his property – simply to vent one’s frustrations does not really affect change. It serves only to invite company into one’s misery, and to turn otherwise picturesque city streets into personal billboards. It also serves to further divide an already extremely divided electorate among racial, social and political lines. The morning after the above-mentioned street protest, local talk radio played a recording of a demonstrator telling a reporter that her aim was to find out what business Tim Reily is in and then organize a movement to put him out of business. I, for one, do not recognize that particular America. That's not what we're about.

I fully support Reily’s constitutional right to say what’s on his mind. If he wants to put it on a sign on his property, that’s his prerogative. I would, however, prefer he’d take the sign down. What if his neighbor decides to put up a sign that says “Tim Reily’s a racist pig”? What if somebody down the street erects her own sign that says “John Boehner’s a dickhead”? And then maybe her neighbor puts up a bigger sign that says, “Nancy Pelosi can kiss my ass”. Is this really how we Americans want to weigh in on our nation’s political structure? And what about the beauty of the neighborhoods? That matters, too.

To paraphrase one of my least favorite American presidents, I just want to say, “Tear down that sign, Mr. Reily.” Do it now. And then -- speak up. Every voice counts.

Friday, September 23, 2011

DIDN'T ASK...DIDN'T TELL...NOW WHAT?

Morning talk radio can be such white noise most of the time. But one recent morning as I drove to work, my ears perked up while I listened to an interview with Elaine Donnelly, founder and President of the Center for Military Readiness (CMR). CMR presents itself as an “organization formed to take a leadership role in promoting sound military personnel policies in the armed forces.” Sounds very patriotic and progressive, right? It’s not. CMR exists primarily for one purpose – to keep gay Americans out of the armed forces. The day I heard Donnelly pontificating on the radio was the first day that the old Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy no longer existed. Gay Americans could openly and proudly serve their country. Donnelly wasn’t having it.

When asked if she saw possibilities for positive contributions from gay service members, Donnelly (below, left) said she could not think of any. When asked what her main objection to gays in the military was, (other than the fact that they were gay), she said all it accomplishes is adding stress to all of the other military personnel. Donnelly calls the new military structure, post DADT, a “San Francisco military,” and “the president owns it from this day forward.” About the new laws supporting gays in the military, Donnelly says, “This is a political payoff on the part of the president to LGBT activist groups.” Donnelly’s take on the new military world? “There is nothing beneficial for the military here.”

Donnelly, who in the recent past has also suggested that gay men and women should not be allowed to teach in public schools, peppers her statements with terms like “gay agenda,” and “gay separatists.” To his credit, the interviewer speaking with Donnelly this week asked her repeatedly how military readiness would be affected by the inclusion of openly gay service members in the U.S. military. To Donnelly’s discredit, she never answered the question. Donnelly’s limited thinking is not confined to gays in the military. She has also suggested that the horrors of Abu Ghraib had much to do with allowing women in the military. Donnelly, whether she knows it or not, has fashioned herself into the 21st century Anita Bryant.

How odd that Donnelly, a woman of reasonable intelligence, does not realize that extremists with exclusionary causes like hers, do nothing more than galvanize the majority of fair, forward-thinking Americans to defeat discrimination. One has to wonder how Donnelly can establish an organization called “Center for Military Readiness” and not truly address the real issues threatening military readiness:

• In March, Congressman John Olver (D-MASS) expressed his own military readiness concerns. He pointed out that in 2010, in Afghanistan “one-third of deaths and casualties could have been avoided if proper body armor and vehicle armor had been provided from the start of the war.” Troops are still in danger and the current armor solutions are not adequately protecting them, Olver said. (Note to Elaine: Perhaps CMR needs to focus some of its attention and funding on properly outfitting our service members in war zones – including those who are gay).

• Sexual assault runs rampant in the U.S. military, overseas, according to the Pentagon’s own statistics. The numbers show there were more than 3,000 women sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2009, up 11 percent from the year before; among women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number rose 25%. When you look at the entire universe of female veterans, close to a third say they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving — twice the rate in the civilian population.” (Note to Elaine: These are heterosexual assaults mostly by male military personnel against female military personnel. Perhaps the CMR needs to work toward protecting victims of these assaults and look into the reasons the Code of Military Justice is not being routinely enforced). In its March 10, 2010 issue, TIME Magazine reports anecdotally, that many women overseas stop drinking water after 7PM, so they will not have to go to the bathroom after dark and run the risk of being raped.

• A 2010 U.S. Army report reveals 160 suicides by active-duty soldiers in 2009 and an additional 146 deaths resulted from risky behavior such as drug or prescription medication abuse. Seventy-four of those deaths were overdoses. There were 1,713 attempted suicides last year. Even more recent numbers: In July of this year, the U.S. Army reported a record 32 suspected suicides, the highest number in one month since the Army started keeping suicide records two years ago. (Note to Elaine: What are the deficiencies in the U.S. military that would create a higher suicide rate among military personnel than in the general population? Don’t depression, drug abuse, medication abuse and alcohol abuse threaten our military readiness? CMR might want to focus some efforts here).

• At Fort Hood, TX, the nation’s largest military post, in 2010 one in four service members sought mental health counseling for combat stress, substance abuse, broken marriages or other emotional problems, according to Army's vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli. If we’re really going to concentrate on military readiness, shouldn’t our efforts be put here, rather than on who’s sexually attracted to whom? Elaine? Are you listening?

• By now, it is common knowledge that the U.S. Army has employed questionable, if not downright unauthorized tactics in recruiting new service members. Improprieties include recruiting high school students under the age of 17, promising potential recruits job training that does not exist, promising educational benefits that far exceed what the military covers, recruiting in commercial areas or high school campuses where recruitment is not allowed and more. Elaine, I’m wondering: If the military is recruiting individuals who are not qualified to serve, and if recruiters’ superiors are turning a blind eye to fraudulent recruiting techniques, wouldn’t that somehow knock our military readiness down a notch or two? I’m just sayin.’

Military readiness is not about sex or sexuality. Let’s call this what it is – a non-issue. Gay service members have quietly been sharing quarters with straight service members forever. Everyone has co-existed relatively peacefully. Military readiness has more to do with how recruiters are persuading people to sign up, how military personnel are being treated once they’re in, what types of protection (or lack of such) is being afforded combat personnel, and how the military justice system is or is not dealing with clear violations of military law. Fringe group extremists like Donnelly accomplish nothing more than taking the necessary focus off of real issues that affect national security. Elaine, we’ve heard your rhetoric over and over again. It is meaningless, and to most of us it sounds like the rantings of a bitter person who has a personal anti-gay agenda. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is history and your attempts to spread paranoia were ineffective. If you truly want to serve your country as a private citizen, start using your resources and your energy to strengthen the existing military and to improve its reputation among other world powers (especially the 25 countries that already allow gays to serve openly in their military) who have come to view the current “gays in the military” debate as nothing more than tired, old American provincialism. Elaine, we Americans are bigger and better than that. If you are not, then you need to step out of the public spotlight, permanently.