Friday, June 30, 2006

What Are They Thinking?

The Supremes are on a roll! In an ideologically aligned decision yesterday, the court ruled (with Chief Justice Roberts on the sidelines) that the executive branch has exceeded its authority in seeking to try detained terrorists before military tribunals.

I’ve often bemoaned the increasingly small minority of major government functionaries with military experience, ex-Marine John Murtha not withstanding. While the volunteer force has become increasingly professional and technologically competent, the lack of integration with the totality of American society makes it more and more likely that pundits and politicos will spout drivel with regard to the military and no one will be there to challenge it.

All Supreme Court decisions have nuance and some even have understandability. Typically they will uphold someone’s deeply held convictions while over-ruling someone else’s. Beyond that there is always the underlying hope that common sense and an obligation to “do what is right” for the country will factor into the opinion. That’s why this business is so appalling.

Here are a few things that come to my formerly military mind as I listen to the dissection of the decision.

First, there is the issue of the Geneva Conventions. During my 23 years on active duty we had periodic training on the provisions of the conventions. There were some basics that we learned. The US is a signatory to them. Many nations are signatory. Some nations are not. Those who are not signers are not required to comply. (That seems pretty basic when written here, but apparently the Supremes didn’t notice.) Recognized nations can sign. Unrecognized transnational terrorist groups need not apply.

Second, to gain the protections of the Conventions, it is necessary to be a member of an organized military with a command structure, uniforms and prominently displayed rank insignia. You are required to carry identification which offers evidence beyond your visible military uniform and rank that you are a member of a complying government’s military. The military ID card serves that purpose and for many years a second “Geneva Convention Card” was also required. The internees at Guantanamo don’t fill that requirement. They don’t wear uniforms, they don’t have rank, they aren’t military and they don’t operate under the leadership of a national command structure. Rights to protections are forfeit.

Third, the Uniform Code of Military Justice applies to members of the US military. It is, by definition, extra-Constitutional. The protections afforded to our citizens by the Constitution are not extended to members of the military under the UCMJ. Strange, but true—those of us who sacrifice the most to defend the Constitution are not protected by it while doing that duty. The UCMJ does not apply to terrorist internees.

Fourth, Constitutional protections afforded citizens of the US are only extended in very limited fashion to non-citizens. The internees are neither citizens nor in the USA. While some protection is granted, it isn’t to the extent of that provided citizens.

Fifth, it would be patently ludicrous to bring these terrorists into a civil courtroom under the laws of the US. They do not deserve the forum for their hatred of America and they do not merit the consideration of our courts. They are trying to kill us.

What really escapes me in this whole business is how the American left is trying to spin this as some sort of “rule of law” issue and how they can possibly think that defending the bodyguard of Usama bin Laden over the interests of American security from terrorism can gain them votes in November. What are they thinking?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Constitutional Effrontery

Well, the votes were cast yesterday and apparently in the midst of this political silly season, the Senate still has a few folks with some sense—even if they are predominantly members of the party I seldom agree with! The senior circuit of silliness couldn’t muster the necessary two-thirds vote to propose a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting desecration of the American Flag. It missed by only one vote, but a miss is as good as a mile in this instance.

This summary of the various posturings tells quite a bit: WSJ Best of the Web

Maybe the most frightening item in that collection is the piece about the political science “professor” who somehow imbued the Supreme Court with the power to declare parts of the Constitution un-Constitutional. As the editor of the collection at the link points out, it becomes easier to see how the ignorance in our society gets propagated. While the Supremes can over-rule the legislature and the executive in matters of statute and regulation, they can’t reach so far as to specifically overturn part of the Constitution—in spite of considerable evidence that they can certainly convolute the document.

But, the basic issue remains an emotional one and we should admit up front that emotion trumps reason in almost every instance. Should we tolerate burning of that flag which represents our nation and which has been defended with the blood and honor of so many patriots? The answer remains yes.

The core of the First Amendment is freedom of speech and that freedom wasn’t delineated because we want to have porn on the Internet or gangsta rap on the radio. It was spelled out because it is essential to our republic that people can express their political will. When we restrict speech in any of its various forms, we restrict input of individuals to the political process. The unfortunate problem with that freedom is that more than occasionally the expression will be one that we disagree with.

It is easy to tolerate free speech when it is consistent with our own positions. It gets a whole lot tougher when the speaker is disagreeing with us. It really gets tough when the disagreement is one that is totally repugnant to everything we hold dear. Yet, we shouldn’t find it difficult to recognize that the very essence of free speech is that extreme degree of tolerance.

The facts of the matter are that flag desecration is an uncommon act. It isn’t something that one encounters very often. In fact, I would note that probably none of us have ever seen the act in person. We see news coverage when some loony makes a bid for attention by burning a flag. We see lots of foreign rabble burning homemade flags and effigies of Uncle Sam. But, we don’t see people on street corners lighting up flags with any degree of regularity. It’s a non-problem.

There is a certain element of risk in many parts of our nation for flag-desecrators. They might get talked to fairly aggressively, followed by a punch in the nose. But they are doing it for that very attention-seeking reason. They are expressing a political opinion and they seek observation of that protest. A huge majority disagrees with them and most viewers find the act unacceptable when it occurs. But, the First Amendment offers these miscreants the privilege.

Some day, in the not too distant future, the political panderers of our legislature will muster the two-thirds majorities in both houses to put the flag-burning amendment before the people. Then, I won’t be surprised if three-quarters of the minor league political panderers in the legislatures of the states will ratify it. That will be a dark day for political expression and the First Amendment. My prediction is that shortly thereafter flag-desecration will become a national pastime for the morons of the nation.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Feeling Secure?

We’ve got ten or eleven million illegal immigrants in this country. We’ve got what can charitably be called a “porous” border. Tomorrow, here in Texas, we’ll be executing one of those illegal immigrants who came here, not for a job and a future, but to conduct a series of brutal killings several years ago with whatever instrument came first to hand including such weapons as clubs, axes, shovels and hammers. He’s appealing, of course, but I expect that the Big Sleep is imminent. Securing our borders is an important task that needs competence now.

In this sort of atmosphere, we’ve got this headline: Hard Rush Hindered?

Wow, I feel a whole lot better now knowing that the customs and immigration folks are combing Rush Limbaugh’s private jet for possible prescription violations. Commercial jets are landing nearby disgorging hundreds of passengers hourly from off-shore points and they’ve got the time and inclination to be reading labels on prescription bottles? Is Viagra a drug of abuse? Seems unlikely as I encounter a minimum of four or five email solicitations each morning to order a supply online at discount without more than a superficial consultation with a real doctor. Are we more secure from terrorist attack if Rush is thwarted in his amorous encounters? I wonder if Bob Dole had this sort of problem?

But, probably more revealing is the question of how doctors dispense medication to each and every one of us. Have you ever visited your family physician and after discussion of a problem had the doctor offer you a supply of some medication which he has in the office provided to him by the manufacturer on a trial basis? It happens regularly. And, I’m willing to bet that the pills you take home don’t have a label with your name on the bottle indicating to the customs officer that you are legally entitled to possess it. Why, you might be planning to dump it into the Palm Beach water supply and set the entire community off on a sex-fueled orgy of conservative political excess. Be careful when traveling or the Gestapo might get you for illegal Cialis possession.

This may be the most egregious example of bureaucratic fascism in months.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Wisdom of Santayana

We’ve all learned some paraphrase of the Santayana dictum: “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history will be condemned to repeat them.” Instinctively we know that we should learn from experience. The “School of Hard Knocks” is one we have all attended. That’s why in this mid-term election year we should keep the past in mind. We should try to recall what has been said and done so that we don’t have to suffer taking the course over. Even as we work at the convoluted process of re-electing our incumbent Congress-critters, we should watch carefully the comments and posturing of the Presidential hopefuls.

The Republicans, as we know, hold the Presidency and both Houses of the legislature. That would seem to bestow upon them the burden of performance for virtually all aspects of our American governance. The Democrats have been languishing as the minority party for several years with only the slightest twinge of control when one lonely Senator in a misguided moment changed allegiance in the dark of night and brought the upper house the slimmest of liberal majorities. It is tough to be in the minority and lose control of all of those committee chairmanships. It is difficult to be cast in the oxymoronic role of “loyal opposition.” It is a bitter pill to be always chasing the policy initiatives of the incumbents. That’s why there’s so much blather about retaking the legislature come this November. And that’s why a prudent voter should be paying attention to history.

Here’s a great chunk of James Taranto’s “Best of the Web” blog: Lessons of History: Condensed Version

Within a few minutes of reading, you’ll get a snapshot of the “new and improved”, much more centrist, Hillary (Rodham-or-not) Clinton. She suffers the slings and arrows of her far left base by suggesting bravely that telling your enemy a date certain for quitting is probably not a good strategy. Wow, Sun-Tzu take note!

Then there is a chronological recap of wish-I-was-a-hero-again Senator John Kerry trying to make a firm position for himself as being firmly for surrender in Iraq. Makes one wonder suddenly if the al-Qaeda crowd can get a short term rental of the battleship Missouri for an unconditional document signing photo-op. Who would be the Mullah-in-charge of the ceremony? If one needed any wake-up calls about lessons of history with regard to how Kerry views America, the American military, and the position of the world’s sole superpower as a force for global progress, this should be mandatory reading.

Follow those two glimpses of presidential hopefuls with a few gratuitous shots of how some party leaders in the left think they need to proceed to succeed in the fall election. Imagine Nancy Pelosi finally conceding that they’ve been beating a rather broken drum for the past two years and that maybe they need some real policy initiatives. Is that rocket science? You mean the Dems won’t get elected by simply being “not-Bush”?

Here are some ideas for pols in both parties. They won’t be noticed or adopted, but I’ll feel better for having offered them. Not necessarily in priority order:

1.) Recognize that we are increasingly (and irretrievably) globalized. What happens in Europe, Asia, Africa, S. America and the Middle East impacts us, our economy and our security. Fortress America is not a possibility.

2.) Get serious and stop pandering with regard to immigration reform. We must get a handle on who is in our country. We must penalize employers who don’t document workers. We must drastically increase border security. We can’t send the illegals already here back.

3.) Stop trying to buy votes. Communism is a failed concept. Socialism is only slightly less onerous. Redistribution of wealth is not a substitute for a free market, improved education, individual responsibility and entrepreneurial opportunity. Social safety nets are necessary, but welfare is not and should not be a way-of-life.

4.) Clean house over at the IRS. Nobody, absolutely nobody, can understand the tax laws. Incentives, deductions, exemptions, exclusions, and who-knows-what good ol’ boy paybacks need to be eliminated. One flat rate, possibly slightly graduated to impose a small level of social responsibility on those with more, for all people. Understandability is mandatory.

5.) Resurrect the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. Anything that is not expressly delegated to the Federal Government or prohibited from the States/Individual is reserved for the States/Individual.

6.) Start being positive in politics. The issue is not how bad the other guy is, but how good you can be for the nation. Suspend the name-calling, innuendo, witch-hunting and trash-talking. We don’t need it and the only result is continuing deterioration of the political process.

There’s more, but these might be a good start.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Actions Have Consequences

When children misbehave the enlightened parenting approach is not to resort to physical punishment. Beyond the obvious fact that beating your kids is against the law there is the essential truth that you will get better training/socialization results by using positive reinforcement. Sure there’s a bit of instant gratification by descending to the Neanderthal response and whapping the incorrigible brat into submission. But, for the long term it is better to demonstrate that the adult is smarter, more civilized, more rational and a better role model than the child or the child’s peers. Reason with the little menace.

My wife, who has worked in schools for many years as both a special needs teacher and a speech/language pathologist, continually refines my understanding of behavior modification. She counsels that the child should be given alternatives. The alternatives let the kid select behavior, knowing in advance what the outcomes will be. Careful selection of the behaviors offered will help the parent to minimize the disruption and aid the training of the child. “If you eat your vegetables now you can watch television afterwards or you can leave the table now and go to bed.” It reminds me of the old cartoon character who weighed alternatives and got something like, “if I do this, I get a cookie, and if I do that I get a lickin”…inevitably, for cartoon effect, the choice was always the one resulting in the “lickin.’”

Well, actions have consequences. If we do something, something else will result. That’s why this piece is hardly a surprise: Natural Consequences

I don’t listen to a lot of country music. When I do, I often like it. It’s still not my default choice, but occasionally it’s got some hooks that make it fun. I liked the Dixie Chicks the minute I heard them. I bought their first CD and when the second one came out, I bought it as well. Good music, lots of fun, easy to listen to.

Then, like so many performers, they succumbed to the belief that talent in one area imbues one with some sort of intellectual capacity in others. Because I can sing and play an instrument, I must also be a great neurosurgeon or possibly an interpreter of world political events. Clearly that might be possible, but in most instances isn’t true. Alec Baldwin is a great actor, Barbra Streisand could sing, and Jane Fonda could marry a string of directors and get great roles playing a whore. But none of them has demonstrated any depth of intellectual capacity in evaluating complex world events. The result is that all of them have first put their silk-shod foot in their mouth and then suffered economic repercussions as they offended large segments of their audience.

The Chicks didn’t learn from observation. Natalie Manes could still sing beautifully while pregnant and wearing some of the tackiest maternity outfits ever seen in public. No problem at all. But when she spouted off on foreign shores about her embarrassment as a Texan over the elected president of the US, she killed a lot of love. It registered with the fans of country music and the hundreds of outlets for that music around the country.

She weasel-worded a bit of an apology, but the damage was done. Now, she and her associates have generated another album and I’ve heard it is quite good in a Pete Seeger, Neil Young sort of self-indulgent lecturing style. But along the way to the mandatory concert tour, the Chicks have somehow forgotten that they need fans. In a series of unfortunate and ill-advised statements, they trashed country music lovers nationwide as ignorant if they don’t agree with Manes’ view of international relations. They’ve bitten the hand of “The View’s” collection of sympathetic women who would be eager to fawn over them. They’ve clearly said that they don’t care about their former fans that can’t quite get their position on defeatist politics.

So, now the fans aren’t breaking down the ticket window bars to get those seats and venues are filled with but a third of their capacity. Cancellations are happening and the Chicks are learning a valuable lesson about the consequences of poor choices.

On the one hand I’m saddened a bit. I liked their sound and their musical poetry. But, on the other hand I’m overjoyed that the heartland folks who are the meat and potatoes of country music aren’t all that reluctant to teach a lesson.

No cookies, no TV, no Xbox and no millions for the tour, honey. Now go to bed without your vegetables. It was your choice.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

It’s Called Cowardice

The media is going to be all over this like flies in the back of the barn. Here’s an Army officer standing up for what he believes in and refusing to support the “illegal and immoral” war. Why it’s just another example of the recognition throughout all levels of the military that the policy of the nation is flawed….yadayadayada.

The Kid's a Coward!

This protestation is a load of crap. This is simply self-serving cowardice. This young man is a commissioned officer. He chose to pursue that path knowing full well that the function of the U.S. military is to faithfully execute the lawful orders of those placed above them. He went to college and then accepted his commission. He trained and prepared himself for war. He was placed in a position of responsibility with subordinates depending upon him for leadership and superiors depending upon him to fulfill his obligations. That’s the way the system works.

But let’s put this in chronological order. He’s a Lieutenant. That means he’s been on active duty for less than four years. That means he took his commission after 9/11. That means he knew we were in Afghanistan. That means Iraq is no surprise. That means he’s been aware of his obligations and the percentages for quite a while. But, it’s only come to the forefront that his conscience bothers him upon receipt of movement orders to the big Sand Box.

That’s called cowardice. You won’t find that term in the papers or in the press in the coming days. This lout is going to be lionized for his “courage” and standing by his convictions. The fact of the matter is that he was more than happy to wear the uniform, accept the salutes and cash the paychecks for the last couple of years but now that he’s got to walk the real walk, he’d decided that the war isn’t nice.

It makes me gag.