Obama's Ironic Legacy Might be That He Continued an Unconstitutional Act

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            The U.S. House of Representatives this week did something it should have done years ago—it blocked the continuation of three of the more controversial parts of the PATRIOT Act. The vote was 277–148 to continue the Act, but a 2/3 majority (284 of those voting) was necessary for the bill to move forward. The PATRIOT Act sections are scheduled to expire Feb. 28 unless further action is taken by Congress.

            The Republican leadership had placed the bill on an expedited agenda, believing it had the necessary votes. It didn't count on a loose coalition of liberals and extreme conservatives to oppose the Act. Twenty-six Republicans, including seven who are allied with the Tea Party, voted against the bill. Had those seven Tea Party members voted for the continuation, the bill would have passed.

            The PATRIOT Act was passed about six weeks after the 9/11 attacks. The 342-page bill was drafted in secret by the Bush Administration, had minimal discussion, and most members of Congress hadn't even read it when they voted for it. Only one of 100 senators and 66 of 435 representatives voted against it, claiming that it sacrificed Constitutional protections in order to give Americans a false sense of security. Most of the Act is non-controversial, an umbrella for previous federal law; the controversial parts taint the entire document.

            The PATRIOT Act's "sunset" clause required 16 of the most controversial parts to expire unless Congress renewed them before December 31, 2005. However, in July 2005, Congress voted to extend the entire law.

            The PATRIOT Act butts against the protections of six Constitutional amendments: the 1st (freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances), 4th (freedom from unreasonable searches), 5th (right against self-incrimination and due process), 6th (due process, the right to counsel, a speedy trial, and the right to a fair and public trial by an impartial jury), 8th (reasonable bail and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment), and 14th (equal protection guarantee for both citizens and non-citizens).

            The PATRIOT Act also violates Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to petition the courts to issue a writ of habeas corpus to require the government to produce a prisoner or suspect in order to determine the legality of the detention. Only Congress may order a suspension of the right of the writ, and then only in “Cases of Rebellion or Invasion.” Congress did not suspend this right; nothing during or subsequent to the 9/11 attack indicated either a rebellion or invasion under terms of the Constitution.

            Among the provisions of the PATRIOT Act, which 277 House members apparently believe is necessary for American security, is Section 215, which allows the government to seize all library records of any individual. Apparently, the government believes that reading is just another part of a wide terrorist conspiracy. A white-haired grandmother who checks out murder mysteries from the library could be a serial killer, according to the government's logic.

            Several federal court cases, including decisions by the Supreme Court, with most of its members politically conservative, ruled that provisions of the PATRIOT Act are unconstitutional. Implementation of those rulings are slow or under appeal.

              Among organizations that oppose the PATRIOT Act are the ACLU, American Bar Association, American Booksellers Association, American Library Association, and the National Council of Churches.  Among liberals who have led opposition to the Act are Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). Among conservatives opposing the Act are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), who had been a U.S. attorney, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Among conservative organizations that oppose the PATRIOT Act are the American Conservative Union, Free Congress Foundation, and the Second Amendment Foundation.

            Some of society's denser citizens have claimed that not only must the nation sacrifice some of its civil liberties in order to defeat terrorism, but that they personally have never had their own rights suppressed. Nevertheless, there are hundreds of cases of persons whose civil liberties have been threatened. In only the first three years after the PATRIOT Act was placed into law, there were about 360 arrests, with only 39 convictions, half resulting in jail sentences of less than 11 months, indicating minor infractions. Reports from the inspector general of the Department of Justice revealed that the government had consistently exceeded its authority to investigate and prosecute civilians under guise of the PATRIOT Act. Numerous arrests for non-terrorist activity include a couple aboard a flight who were charged as terrorists for having engaged in "overt sexual activity," and a woman who was jailed three months in 2007 as a terrorist for raising her voice to a flight attendant.

            In March 2010, President Obama signed a one-year extension on the Act, and now says he wants the Act to continue through 2013.

            And that may be the worst part of the President's legacy. The constitutional law scholar and professor, who has strong beliefs for human rights but who has not been forceful in speaking out against the Act's most heinous sections, is now a leading proponent to extend the very document that conflicts with his principles and the nation's Bill of Rights.

 

[Dr. Brasch is author of the critically-acclaimed America's Unpatriotic Acts, the first book to look in-depth at the PATRIOT Act and its effect upon American citizens. The book is available through amazon.com, as are his 15 other books, most on history and contemporary social issues.]

 

 

'Following Orders' Never a Defense for Immoral Acts

 

by Walter Brasch

              A man who killed 100 sled dogs has received not a prison sentence but workers' compensation from a British Columbia agency. The man successfully proved he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after he claimed he was ordered to kill the dogs. "It was the worst experience [he] could ever imagine, his lawyer told CKNW, Vancouver, which had obtained the government document and then contacted the Humane Society.

            Howling Dog Tours Whistler, a division of Outdoor Adventures Whistler (OAW), had added hundreds of dogs prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics, anticipating a significant increase in tourists who wanted to experience sled dog racing. Its advertising claimed that for $169 tourists could experience "a once in a lifetime experience [with] your team of energetic and loveable Alaskan Racing Huskies." However, the tourism interest, combined with a lack of seasonal snow, collapsed after the Olympics.

            According to the British Columbia review decision, issued Jan. 25, the man, unidentified by name in the document but later revealed to be Robert Fawcett, general manager and founder of Howling Dog Tours Whistler, "was tasked to cull the employer's herd by approximately 100 dogs." OAW denies it issued any such orders. Fawcett claims he was under orders to significantly improve the financial performance, and that killing about one-third of the pack was the last resort. However, a statement posted on the OAW website says "there were no instructions given to Mr. Fawcett as to the manner of euthanizing dogs on this occasion, and Mr. Fawcett was known to have very humanely euthanized dogs on previous occasions." Thus, it seems entirely plausible that OAW expected Fawcett to eliminate about one-third of the pack. OAW has suspended all dog sled operations.

            According to the Review Board, Fawcett claimed he made extraordinary efforts to adopt out the dogs, but told the Board there was only limited success. He said he contacted a veterinarian to humanely euthanize the dogs, but the veterinarian refused to kill healthy animals.

            In a summary of testimony, the Compensation Board noted that Fawcett previously "euthanized dogs due to old age, illness, injury and where there were unwanted puppies." Killing dogs for population control is not acceptable, according to Mush With PRIDE, an industry-wide organization for dog sled owners. The Review Board noted Fawcett experienced stress in previous kills, many done by gunshot, but did not experience PTSD until after the killings in April 2010.

            Peter Fricker of the Vancouver Humane Society, said that his experience "in every case where people use animals to make money and when there are financial difficulties the animals’ lives are put at risk.”

            On April 21, 2010, Fawcett began the executions, using a shotgun, rifle, and knife to kill 55 dogs. Two days later, he killed 45. Most of the kills were not "clean." The workers' compensation board reported that dogs suffered as much as 20 minutes after first being shot before dying, and that some were shot and put alive into a mass grave.  The dogs were forced to watch others being killed before they, too, would be killed. In panic and fear, they began to attack their executioner who wrapped his arms in foam to prevent his own injuries. By the end of each day of killing, Fawcett was covered by the blood of his victims.

            The compensation board noted Fawcett's family physician "indicated that [following the mass killings] the worker [complained] of poor appetite, inability to cope, poor memory and concentration, agitation, anger and hopelessness after the mass culling." A psychologist, according to the board's report, "noted that he [Fawcett] complained of panic attacks, nightmares, sleeps disturbance, anger, irritability and depressed mood."

            Almost all references to the killings—by official documents and on the OAW website—use the word "euthanized" to describe what happened to the dogs and not the more accurate, "murdered."

             The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Vancouver Humane Society are now investigating the killings, and criminal charges may be filed.

            Fawcett may believe he was ordered to get rid of the animals to improve cost effectiveness. He may also believe he had no other option but to kill them to meet financial demands of his employer. But, there is always an option, and nothing can excuse what he did or how he carried out the executions.

            The "Superior Orders Doctrine," informally known as the "I was only following orders" defense, is no defense at all. The first time it was recorded was probably in 1476 when Pietro diHagenbach, a knight in the Holy Roman Empire, claimed that atrocities and torture committed under his direction, but not personally conducted by him, was ordered by his superior, the Duke of Burgandy. For allowing such heinous crimes, DiHagenbach was beheaded.

            The Nuremberg Defense by Nazis following World War II that they couldn't be held accountable for the Holocaust and its atrocities because they were only following orders was dismissed by the court. The Nuremberg Principle IV is clear: "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."

            In U.S. v. Keenan (1969) a Marine private claimed he was not guilty of a war crime when he killed an unarmed elderly Vietnamese civilian because he was following the direct order of his superior. However, the Court of Military Appeals ruled "the justification for acts done pursuant to orders does not exist if the order was of such a nature that a man of ordinary sense and understanding would know it to be illegal." The rejection of the "following orders defense" to commit illegal and immoral acts in a non-military setting, when the terror of war isn't imminent, is even more appalling and inexcusable when a person's life isn't in jeopardy.

            Robert Fawcett may actually be experiencing PTSD as a result of the torture and murder of 100 huskies. He may need long-term physical and mental care. But, by he also cruelly and brutally killed animals, for whatever reason he thought he had to do so. For that alone, there can, and should be, no defense.

 

 

Of Football Teams, Fraternities, and Other Important Intellectual Concerns

 

                                   by Walter Brasch

 

            The $50 million Burton Family Football Complex at the University of Connecticut may be nameless soon. Robert G. Burton, who had donated about $3 million to help fund the stadium, wants his money back and his family's name erased from UConn football. He also informed UConn he will cancel his $50,000 a season suite in the stadium.

            What upset Burton, who had donated about $7 million to UConn, mostly for its football program, was that the selection committee for a new football coach didn't take his suggestion. Not long after Burton's tirade, the chairman of the Board of Trustees reached out to "mend fences" to keep money where it belongs—in the football program.

            While athletics drives many universities, a few consider sports as supplemental to the academic mission. I believe this is how a conversation went at one college located somewhere in America, where the accreditors were questioning the president.

            "How did your football team do this year?" asked the chairman of the accrediting team.

            "We were 3-and-6, and very proud of our team," said a beaming president.

            "This is serious. What steps have you taken to replace your coach?"

            "We hadn't thought about it," said the president, mystified by the inquiry. "Coach Samuels is one of the nation's most respected organic chemists, teaches a full load of courses, then works out the team an hour or two in the evenings."

            "An hour or two?" said the accreditor, mockingly. "No wonder your school has such a dismal record! Most colleges have twice-a-day drills for two or three hours at a time. The students don't even go to class in the Fall. Your coaching staff must be lazy."

            "We have only two assistant coaches. One teaches sociology, the other is a speech pathologist."

            "Most colleges have a dozen coaches," said the accreditor. "How can you not have assistant coaches for ends, backs, and nose guards?"

            "We have a good staff in our anatomy and physiology labs," said the president, adding that with additional assistant directors in Music and Theatre, the college  produces some professional-class musical comedies.

            "Who cares? How many of your athletes went on to professional NFL careers?"  The president diverted the question, and excitedly told the accreditor about alumni who went into the creative arts, others who are leaders in social work and environmental science, and of graduates who are among the nation's leaders in almost every field of scientific research.

            "Business!" roared the Chairman. "How many of your graduates are in high paying business jobs!"

            The president thought hard, but could think of only three of his recent graduates who went into corporate business, and then only because they couldn't get any other job. "Of course," said the president, "a few dozen of our graduates enter law and med school every year."

            The accreditor's face finally lit up. "Oh, so you do have wealthy alumni! Why didn't you say so!"

            The president shook his head. "Most of our alumni lawyers are into consumer law, and our med school graduates usually become family physicians or work with the poor."

            "Not a good sign. Not a good sign at all." Also not a good sign was the social atmosphere on campus. "I didn't see any fraternity or sorority houses on campus. In fact, hardly anyone even knows where the nightly parties are."

            "I guess that isn't helping our cause for reaccreditation, is it?" asked the president. He didn't have to ask since the accreditor was now writing furiously.

            "Your building fund? Any new recreation or student union buildings?"

            "We're planning a new building to house our community service programs." The accreditor hardly looked up he was so disgusted. "We had two Rhodes Scholars and one Danforth fellowship last year! One of our profs just won a Pulitzer. Ninety percent of our faculty hold the doctorate!"

            "Any of them all-Americans?"

            "Our Intercollegiate Debate Team was national champion last year! The Student Social Welfare Club led the fight against conversion of apartments into condos!"

            "Redeem yourself with committees," shouted the accreditor. "Do you have more committees than scholarships?"

            "We believe most committees are wastes of time that encourage their members to act in irrational and arrogant manners."

            The accreditor's aide calmed him down long enough so he could ask a final question. "How much of your budget is spent on sending your administrators and faculty to phony academic conferences to pat each other's behinds?"

            "None," wept the president, "most of our budget keeps students and faculty current in their fields."

            The accreditor slammed his notebook shut and walked away. The president called after him, "When will we know whether we have been reaccredited?"

            The accreditor stopped a moment, turned around, and shouted back, "When you become a real educational institution."

 

            [You may contact Walter Brasch, recently paroled from a long term confinement as a university professor, at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

 

 

 

Breaking China--Legally

 

by Walter Brasch

 

        Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States this past week has been met by both praise and political posturing. Hu, an intellectual with a strong sense of culture, hopes he is leading what he wishes to be "a Harmonious Society" with peaceful development. To that end, Hu said his government was prepared to “engage in dialogue and exchanges with the United States on the basis of mutual respect and the principle of noninterference in each other's internal affairs” on human rights questions. Although it seems as if Hu is saying that he wants each nation to continue to conduct its business without interference, he also acknowledged that “A lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights."

           But, some politicians, apparently feeling a need to make sure their home base knows they aren't weak on Communism, have called him a dictator, gangster, and emperor. Very few have spoken out about American-owned companies downsizing and outsourcing everything to China from toys and clothing to book printing and building materials.

           Although China is the world's second largest economic power behind the U.S. and this country's largest creditor, there is no need to fear either its economy or its military power. It has already sown the seeds of its own destruction.

           In 1996, there were almost no lawyers in China. By 2000, there were 110,000. There are now almost 200,000.

           With a society of lawyers, China is likely to collapse. Let's take an example. Ling Chou is riding his bicycle on Chairman Mao Boulevard. He starts to turn left, but is hit by a bicycle being ridden by Chang Liu. Under the principles of Confucianism, before there were lawyers, the two would see if each other was hurt, help out if necessary, and apologize profusely. If a bicycle was dented, the other person would fix it. If there weren't injuries or dents, they would shake hands and go their own ways. With lawyers, you don't do that. Ling grabs his lawyers; Chang grabs his own lawyers. It takes six inches of paperwork, a preliminary hearing before a magistrate, and two, maybe three continuances before the case comes before a judge. Then there are the bailiffs, marshals, clerks, typists, stenographers, and court reporters. After a three-day trial—during which three doctors from each side testify, and get paid very well for their conflicting opinions about back injuries and mental trauma—the judge decides the case. The whole thing takes a year. Maybe two.

           Now, let's look at the criminal side of law. In the past, Chinese citizens could walk down any street late at night and wouldn't even worry about a "Boo!" Now, with lawyers, you have to have criminals. So, the crime statistics go up. More lawyers show up. Some to prosecute. Some to defend. Before lawyers, China had work camps. Now there will be guards and wardens and rehabilitative counselors and parole boards and committees for prisoner rights, followed by committees for victim rights.

           With everyone suing, defending themselves from criminals, or being criminals, the Chinese won't have time to sew cheap coats or launch any wars.

           However, in the past couple of years, President Hu's government has gotten wise to the proliferation of lawyers. The licensing tests have become harder—only about one-fifth of the applicants pass them; and the annual fees have increased significantly.

           This has caused even greater problems. When lawyers get tired of being lawyers, they become politicians, just as in the U.S. And, as in the U.S., it isn't scientists, social workers, teachers, and other decent people who are running our government. Imagine what will happen when the lawyers finally take over the Chinese government. In a country with four times America's population there will be four times as many mortgage crises scandals, four times as many morals scandals, and four times the number of self-serving statements that they weren't responsible for whatever it was that went wrong in the country.

           More important, there will no longer be just one Communist Party, but at least two, each one screaming at the other one, fighting meaningless battles, and filling radio, television, and the Internet with equally meaningless blather. It'll only be a short time until the lawyer-led political system paralyzes a 4,000-year-old civilization that has given us great literature, music, sculpture, fashion, architecture, cuisine, and the use of martial arts for peaceful reasons.

           With the rise of lawyers and political parties, even America's corporations wouldn't outsource their products to a nation like that—not for all the tea (parties) in China.

 

[Walter Brasch is a multiple award-winning humor and general/politics columnist in competition sponsored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Society of Professional Journalists, National Federation of Press Women, Pennsylvania Press Club, and Pennsylvania Women's Press Association. social issues columnist and He is the author of 17 books, most of which are available through amazon.com. You may contact him at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

 

 

The Politics of Hate--and Hate Speech

           Just about anything that could be said about the murders in Tucson have been said.

            We know that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was holding a "Congress on the Corner" meeting outside a Safeway grocery store.

            We know that a 22-year-old named Jared Lee Loughner is in FBI custody, and has been charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the United States and two counts of intent to kill employees of the United States. We know that six people are dead, that 14 were wounded, several of whom were in grave or critical condition. We know there will be additional state charges filed against Loughner.

            We know that among the dead are John Roll, a Republican and the senior federal judge in Arizona, who had come by the rally to support his friend, the Democratic representative; and Christina-Taylor Green, a nine-year-old who was born on 9/11, and died on another day of violence. We have heard the names of George Morris, one of those shot, who tried to protect his wife, Dorothy, who didn't survive; of Dorwin Stoddard, 76, who was killed while trying to protect his wife, Mary; of Phyllis Schneck, a 79-year-old widow who lived in  Tucson eight months a year to avoid the snows of her native New Jersey; and of Gabe Zimmerman, 30, Giffords' outreach director.

            We know that Loughner was rejected by the Army, withdrew from a community college prior to being suspended, became more abusive the past year, and that many, even before the shootings, have called him mentally unstable.

            We know the shooter used a Glock 19 9-mm. semi-automatic weapon, with a 33-bullet magazine, which he purchased legally. We know that Congress did not renew the assault weapons ban, which allowed civilians to own pistols but with only a 10-bullet magazine capacity. And, we also know that sales of Glock pistols following the murders, in a nation steeped in a gun culture, increased by 60 percent in Arizona and 5 percent nationally.

            We know that Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, a conservative in his 30th year in office, called Arizona a "mecca of prejudice and bigotry," and condemned the "the kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh," whom he called "irresponsible" and who bases his talk show upon partial and wrong information to inflame his listeners. Three months earlier, the sheriff, possibly the most respected law enforcement officer in Arizona, said the Tea Party "brings out the worst in America," and implied that the atmosphere of hate was partially responsible for the resulting murders.

            While most Tea Partiers are White, middle-aged or senior citizens who are angry but not violent, whenever there is violence, whenever there is racism, discrimination, or homophobia, there are Tea Party sympathizers present.

            We know that armed citizens, some carrying signs that advocate violence, attend Tea Party rallies, and speak of the overthrow of government, while apparently not understanding that their actions border on sedition.

            We know that numerous members of Congress, including Rep. Giffords, had received death threats after they voted for health care reform. We know that some Tea Party leaders openly urged their followers to throw bricks through the windows of those who supported health care reform, and that several offices were vandalized.

            We know that during the 2010 mid-term elections, Sarah Palin had targeted 20 Democratic representatives, including Rep, Giffords, by placing cross-hairs targets on their districts on a map of the United States. "When people do that," said Giffords at the time, "they have to realize that there are consequences to that action,” We know Palin frequently uses gun analogies and has called for her supporters to "take up arms," exhorting them not to retreat but to rearm. After the murders, Palin claimed the cross-hairs weren't really targets but surveyors' marks.

            We know that Eric Fuller, a 63-year-old disabled veteran who was one of those shot in Tucson, lashed out against hate speech. "If you are going to scream hatred and preach hatred, you're going to sow it after a while if you've got a soap box like they've got," said Fuller.

            We also know there are liberals who have threatened others, and that the rhetoric of the Radicals of the 1960s, with limited media, may have been close to the rhetoric of the Reactionaries of the 21st century. But, the instances of liberal threats pale in comparison to those launched by the extreme right-wing, which is adept at full use of the newer social media, as well as near-monopolies on radio and television talk shows.

            We also know the extreme right-wing, usually without facts or bending facts to their own purposes, fired back at Sheriff Dupnik and others.

            Rush Limbaugh, with absolutely no evidence, not only claimed the sheriff is a "fool," but that the Democratic party "seeks to profit" from the shootings, but that Loughner knows he has "the full support" of the Democrats.

            We know that Glenn Beck, two days after the murders, finally spoke out, extending sympathies—and condemning those who argued that a climate of hate was partially responsible for the tragedy. This is the same Glenn Beck who in June erroneously claimed that the media and those in Washington "believe and have called for a revolution. You’re going to have to shoot them in the head." This is the same Glenn Beck who, on his website, posted a picture of him holding a pistol. And, we also know he defended Sarah Palin, stupidly charging that attacks on her following the tragedy could somehow destroy the republic.

            We know that four days after the murders in Tucson, four volunteer officials of the Arizona Republican party resigned, citing the threat of violence by the Tea Party faction. Anthony Miller, chairman of Legislative District 20, a heavy Republican area near Phoenix, told the Arizona Republic that during his re-election campaign, Tea Party members threatened him, some making hand gestures imitating a gun. Many resorted to racial hatred, calling Miller "McCain's boy." Miller, an Afro-American, was on John McCain's paid campaign staff in 2010. McCain's opponent for Senate was a Tea Party sympathizer, with heavy support of controversial and racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Phoenix.

            We know that 27,000 people of almost every American demographic and political belief attended a memorial service at the University of Arizona. We know that President Obama told that audience and the nation that Americans, in honor of those who gave their lives, need to be civil, that we should "use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together."

            We know that the day of the memorial service, Palin, on her Facebook page, launched an eight-minute video, defensive and accusatory, in which she claimed she and the extreme right-wing, not the 20 hit by gunfire, were true victims. She refused to acknowledge that a climate of hate could have been a part of what surrounded the killer. In that video, Palin called media criticism of extreme right-wing rhetoric and hate speech "blood libel," a phrase associated with extreme anti-Semitism. The term refers to accusations that Jews use the blood of Christian children in the making of matzos for Passover and other rituals. Giffords is a Jew. Gabriel Zimmerman was a Jew.

            Two days after President Obama's speech and Sarah Palin's whining defense, in a daily newspaper in northeastern Pennsylvania appeared a letter to the editor, written by one of the leaders of an organization allied with the Tea Party movement. In that letter, the writer incredulously, and with no knowledge, blamed the Pima County sheriff for "his official inactions/failures" and college professors. She wrote that Loughner was a "left-wing philosophy professor's PERFECT STUDENT. . . . [who was] subjected to listening to liberal ideology." Although she never attended college, she blamed "the politics of our liberal universities where our young people are being taunted and challenged to be violent in the name of 'social justice.'"

            We know that it isn't liberals, most of whom fully understand not just the words but the meaning of the First Amendment, who are the ones who try to shout down opposing views. And, while incensed at the violence that often comes from hate speech, liberals don't demand that the government shut down free expression, only that persons recognize there may be a correlation.

            Yes, we know a lot. But, one thing we don't know is why these "super patriots" of the Reactionary Right who believe they and no one else has truth or knowledge of how to improve the nation, can advocate violence and, thus, destroy the principles of reasoned discussion advocated by our Founding Fathers.

 

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, and author of 17 books, most of which can be found on amazon.com and other sites.]

 

 

 

 

 

Frat Boys and Navy Officers

 

by Walter Brasch

 

        When the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot two weeks ago published on its internet page three videos made four years ago by the executive officer of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise, it unleashed a firestorm that would sink the career of a decorated officer.

          The Navy's actions to relieve Capt. Owen Honors of command of the Enterprise—he had been twice promoted after the videos were made—appears to be little more than a desperate attempt at damage control.

          Honors, a Naval Academy graduate and Top Gun pilot with more than 3,400 hours flight time and 700 carrier landings, produced and starred in the videos, which were transmitted on the Enterprise's Closed Circuit Television System (CCTV). Those videos included scenes of sexual innuendo, homophobic jokes, and fraternity boy bathroom humor. None of the videos, while suggestive, sank into the depths of pornography. At the time, Honors, and most of the 4,800-person crew, believed the videos, broadcast while the ship was in combat operations, was a morale booster.

          On Facebook, Twitter, and in the other media, even before the Navy made its decision on Honors' career, thousands called the videos disgusting and inappropriate.

          Honors now  acknowledges the videos showed "extremely poor judgment" on his part. Adm. John Harvey Jr., commander of the U.S. Fleet forces, said the reason he reassigned Honors to desk duty, effectively ending his career, was because he "lost confidence in Capt. Honors' ability to lead effectively."

          However, thousands of sailors and former sailors have come to Honors' defense. A "support" page on Facebook includes about 27,000 individuals. Among those who support the captain are those who argue not only is Honors an excellent officer, but that the videos did what they were intended to do—raise crew morale during combat.

          Although the Navy had ordered Honors to stop producing the videos, it took no other disciplinary action. Only after publication did the Navy take official action, attempting to stop the flood of attacks by closing the hatch on a distinguished military career.

          If such actions by Honors were acceptable in 2006 and 2007, why were they now not acceptable? And, if they were not acceptable in 2006 and 2007, why was nothing done by the Navy to discipline one of its senior officers? Is Adm. Harvey's actions the result of a media firestorm or because Honors truly is not fit for command?

          But there is something else that needs to be understood, and it may be because the Navy has a bipolar Jekyll–Hyde history.

          The Jekyll part is a Navy that has rigorous physical and educational standards for those in several of its services—SEALS, the nuclear Navy (both undersea and surface), and Naval aviation.

          The Hyde part is a correlation between the Navy (as well as most military branches) and college fraternities. The enlisted ranks are filled with persons the same age as college students, with many of the same school boy values and beliefs, including a penchant for partying, bathroom humor, and tasteless jokes. Junior officers are usually recent college graduates. Both the military and fraternities, not unlike the general population, also have long histories of discrimination, sexism, and homophobia, parts of which appear in the videos.  

          The most serious recent incident occurred in September 1991 at a convention in Las Vegas. About 100 Navy and Marine pilots were accused of sexual assault on more than 80 women. In a "boys will be boys" attitude, condoned by senior flag officers in attendance, the first investigation was a whitewash. A subsequent investigation, demanded by the female assistant secretary of the Navy, detailed criminal conduct that would scuttle the careers of more than 300 individuals, both civilian and military.

          Thus, it is not unusual that in a climate that condones fraternity-boy attitudes, complete with hazing at all levels, a decorated senior officer with extraordinary high fitness reports, may have believed what he did to boost morale would not be a problem.

          The Navy's lack of response in 2007 may have been far too lenient. However, its current actions are similar to what college administrators do to fraternities and sororities that cause embarrassment. College administrations spend a lot of time telling fraternities and sororities they must adhere to certain standards of conduct, but usually enforce those standards only when actions—including public drunkenness, hazing, sexism, and homophobia—becomes public.  It's then the college administration, like the Navy, declare such actions are unacceptable and, trying to stem public anger, overkill the response.

 

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, author of 17 books, and a former newspaper and magazine writer/editor and tenured full professor of mass communications. You may contact him at walterbrasch@gmail.com.]

 

 

Boosting the Economy--One Big Screen TV at a Time

 

by Walter Brasch

 

          Even the most casual observers would believe that the U.S. is making an economic recovery if they saw the hordes descend upon retail stores on Black Friday.

           Americans began lining up four hours before the stores opened as early as midnight. And they weren't shopping just for necessities. Sale of large-screen TVs and video games were up significantly from two years ago. The consumer Electronics Association predicts a 4.1 percent increase in sales over a year ago.

           About a third of all American adults shopped on Black Friday, up from slightly more than one-fourth of all Americans a year ago, according to analysts from Goldman Sachs.

           About 80 million Americans went into retail stores on Black Friday, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). These Americans spent about $10.7 billion in retail stores, slightly more than last year, according to research analysts at ShopperTrak. For the three-day weekend, sales were about $20.5 billion. Not included in the ShopperTrak data were sales from major retail discounters, including Walmart and Target. Walmart reported sales up 30 percent from last year.

           Sales were pushed by online purchases. PayPal reports online sales increased 27 percent on Black Friday from a year ago. FirstData says sales from credit and debit cards rose 8.6 percent from last year. Overall, retail and cyber sales are expected to increase 2.3 percent from 2009, to $688.9 billion this year, according to data from the NRF.

           But, Black Friday spending isn't the only indicator of a recovering economy. The non-partisan and impartial Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports that the Recession that began in 2007 probably ended late last year.

           Overall, the economy is up 2.8 percent in 2010, according to the CBO. Bloomberg, Wells Fargo, and Morgan Stanley, plus dozens of others who track the economy also show at least a 2 percent increase this year, with at least a 3 percent increase next year. Even the conservative Wall Street Journal points out the economy is up 2.5 percent, with a 2.8 percent increase predicted for 2011. The National Association for Business Economics, analyzing data collected by 51 professional economists, notes the gross domestic product grew about 2.7 percent this year, and will rise 2.6 percent next year.

           In related data, the Dow Jones average, which plunged at the end of the Bush–Cheney years, is up about 10.5 percent in the past six months. The CBO reports that although unemployment is hovering at 9.6 percent, without the Obama Administration's stimulus plan, unemployment would be between 10.4 and 11.6 percent.  By the end of 2011, unemployment is expected to drop to 8.7 to 9 percent, according to several major analysts, including the Wall Street Journal.

           Since December 2009, employment in the private sector has risen

by 1.1 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 2.5 million jobs are expected to be added in 2011, according to the American Bankers Association’s Economic Advisory Committee  Unemployment, according to the ABA, should decline to about 8.5 percent.

           But, there are still almost 15 million unemployed, most of whom saw their companies downsize or send jobs overseas. At the same time that Congressional Republicans blocked extending unemployment benefits, they have protected the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Under the Obama plan, individuals earning less than $200,000 a year would continue to receive the Bush-era tax cuts. The cost to protect the rich would be more than $3 trillion over 10 years. It appears that President Obama, under heavy political fire, will yield to the Republicans, who campaigned heavily on a promise to cut spending—except for their own special interests, of course.

           Related to the unemployment problem, more than a million Americans, will lose their homes to foreclosures. The sub-prime mortgage crisis began when government regulators and the Bush–Cheney Administration disregarded numerous warnings and then fell asleep while financial institutions became even more greedy between 2006 and 2009, and lured millions into a false sense of security.

           Overall, America is slowly on the path to recovery. But, to those who lost their jobs and then their homes, it just doesn't seem that way.

  

Fairness and the Bristol Stomp

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            Almost all children hear a set of conflicting statements from their parents, relatives, and friends. They're told if they study hard, if they work hard, they can achieve whatever they want. It's the "American Dream." But they're also told that life isn't always fair.

            Looking for internships or jobs, America's children learn that no matter how much they studied or worked, it was the boss's niece or a boss's friend's son who was hired. Sometimes, the reason for rejection could be as simple as the boss thought the best candidate was intellectually superior or that the applicant had curly black hair and he liked only blondes.

            Later, on another job, while the boss bought yet another vacation home, the worker was one of dozens laid off, their jobs going to Mexico, China, or Pakistan.

            It's not fair that reality TV "stars" and pro athletes make 10 to more than 100 times the salaries of social workers and firefighters. But Americans seldom protest.

            The owner of a mid-sized carpentry shop loses a contract to a large corporation, not because of a lack of quality work but because the corporation cut deals with suppliers. It's not fair; it's just reality.

            One person driving 65 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone is stopped by police; another, doing 80, speeds along. It's not fair. But it happens.

            It probably wasn't fair that Bristol Palin, 20-year-old unwed mother with no discernible job skills, was selected over thousands of other celebrities for ABC-TV's "Dancing With the Stars." It had nothing to do with fairness or her ability; it had everything to do with a reality that Palin's presence on DWTS would bring in ratings, and ratings bring in advertising income. The first show brought in 21 million viewers who watched 30-second commercials from companies that paid almost $190,000 each, among the highest on all television—broadcast or cable.

            To assure that Palin had  a chance to stay on the show for at least a couple of weeks, the producers gave her a special advantage—her professional dance partner was Mark Ballas, DWTS champion twice in the previous 10 seasons.

            Even with one of the best professional ballroom dancers as her partner and coach, Palin was still at the bottom of the judges' ranking four times, and near the bottom most of the other times. According to the scoring system, each of three judges give each contestant pair—a celebrity and a professional—a score of 1 to 10. A perfect score is 30. But, viewers can vote by phone, website, or by texting. Their vote is worth half the total score. Neither Sarah nor Bristol Palin made any special requests of the viewers that we know about. They didn't have to. Hundreds of conservative blogs and talk show hosts did it for them, urging their flocks to vote. Many may have even scammed the system. At least one viewer told the Washington Post he not only had used fake emails to vote hundreds of times, he also told others how to do it.

            Willing accomplices and accessories, of course, were the producers who made sure that Mama Palin was seen on several shows—sometimes with speaking roles, sometimes with as many as nine cutaway shots. The audience did as they were told. For nine weeks, Bristol Palin, one of the weakest dancers in the show's 11-season history, defeated celebrity teams who had near-perfect and perfect scores.

            The week before the finals, it finally seemed destined that Bristol Palin would be off the show, having again placed at the bottom of the judges' scores. But, it was Brandy and professional dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who had done near-perfect routines, who were voted off. Shocked, the audience began booing. It didn't matter. Palin was now one of three celebrity finalists.

            The first of a two-part final the following week drew an audience of 23.7 million, highest for any entertainment program this season. However, this time, it was Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough, who had finished at the top of the judges' lists several times, who finally won. Second were actor Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer; Palin and Ballas finished third.

            It makes little difference if numerous celebrities weren't selected for Dancing With the Stars because the producers gave the slot to the less talented Bristol Palin. It doesn't even matter that more talented celebrities were eliminated from the show because a cult of the home audience voted for Bristol Palin. In the American election system, the best candidate, for any of a thousand reasons, including blatant lies and distortion by the opposition, often doesn't win an election.

            It doesn't seem fair. It's just the way it is.

 

 

 

The Irreverent Frog

 

 

                                                              by Walter Brasch

 

             The First Sometimes United Church decided last week not to ordain any frogs. To find out why, I visited the Rev. Matthew Mark Johnson.

            I approached him as he finished blessing the ceremonial offerings plate. "Rev. Johnson," I asked, "the frogs-rights groups are upset with your Board's decision. What are your reasons?"

            "The Bible tells us that frogs are nothing but problems."

            "The Bible tells you that?" I asked suspiciously.

            "Right there in Exodus. God said he'd smite all of Egypt with frogs if the Pharaoh didn't let the Jews be free. It proves that God was so ticked off he had to find the most loathsome creature he could to punish the Pharaoh. Do you know how bad it must be to be smited by, of all things, frogs?"

            "But God used the frogs to help the Jews. It's not that the frogs did anything God didn't want to be done."

            "Bad is bad," said the Rev. Mr. Johnson. "Turn to Revelations," he commanded. "John says that he saw three unclean spirits that looked like frogs come from the mouth of the dragon. That proves it! Not only are frogs loathsome creatures, they're also unclean." I tried to interrupt, but the anti-frog minister wasn't about to let another view meddle in his logic. "Even Shakespeare hated frogs. Right there in Macbeth. The witches brewed the most horrible concoction they could. What do you think was in it?! Eye of newt and toe of frog!"

            "This is ridiculous," I said. "Are you sure there's nothing deeper to your decision to ban frogs from the ministry?"

            The Rev. Mr. Johnson cleared his throat, looked at me carefully, then somberly explained—"They're green."

            "They're green?" I asked incredulously. "That's it? Because they're green!"

            "Green conflicts with our basic color scheme. It's not as if we're the only religion not to like color. For the longest time, a lot of churches didn't allow anyone who's black to be ordained, let alone be a member, so I guess that green is just as good a reason as any." He thought a moment, and then added, "Of course, I guess there might be another reason."

            "I thought so!" I said, now writing furiously in my note pad.

            "Frogs also have webbed feet. It's against the laws of God for ordained ministers to have webbed feet."

            I stopped writing. "Let me get this straight. You don't want to ordain frogs because they're green and they have webbed feet?"

            "That's right. Webbed feet is not God's wish for humanity. Webbed feet is a sign of breaking with God's world of five-toed feet. It's a sign of willful rebellion. It results from living in a sinful world."

            "Shouldn't the Church recognize that even frogs have faith?" I asked.

            "The Bible tells us to love all creatures, and that we are all part of the Lord. But, nowhere does it say that frogs should be ordained."

            "But what about their knowledge of Scripture or whether frogs have the ability to lead people? Shouldn't that count for something?"

            "You think that frogs can lead people? Have you ever seen a frog walk? There's no one who's going to hop to church on Sunday mornings."

 

            "But, most frogs seem to be so much more respectful and honest than many of your own parishioners," I pleaded in the frogs' defense.

            "I agree," said the minister, "and the ministry should offer models of integrity, morality, and honesty—if at all possible. And, I do admit that some ministers do stray from the paths of righteousness on occasion. But, at least they're not green, they don't have webbed feet, and they never smited anyone!" He thought a moment, and then suggested, "Maybe instead of trying to ruin the ministry, he could join the military. They have amphibious vehicles and a whole darn SEAL team."

            "You know dang well the military doesn't allow frogs."

            "Not my problem."

            Forgetting my role as an objective reporter and lapsing into an impassion plea, I cried out, "Frogs are wonderful creatures who should be given a chance to preach the will of God!"

            The Rev. Matthew Mark Johnson looked at me sharply. "You ain't a frog in disguise are you, boy? You ain't trying to take over this here church, are you?"

            "Oh, no sir!" I said. "I'm just trying to find out why frogs can't be ordained if they have every other ability."

            "You're trying to cause us serious trouble," said the Rev. Mr. Johnson, "and I don't care to discuss this issue any more. Now, if you'll leave me alone, I have to go watch an important television show. Never miss it. Even better in re-runs than first time I saw it."

            "What show is that?" I asked.

            "The Muppets."

 

            (Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, and the author of 16 books, the most recent one Sex and the Single Beer Can, a look at the media and popular culture.)

 

New Book from Dances With Wolves Author

BOOK REVIEW:

 Title: Twelve: The King

 Author: Michael Blake

 Publisher: Perceval Press (Santa Monica, Calif.)

          www.percevalpress.com

 ISBN: 978-09819747-2-9

 Price: $14 softcover

 

          "I encountered an animal whose being was saturated with evidence that the Mystery's spirit was on earth." –MICHAEL BLAKE

           During the mid-1800s, more than two million wild horses freely roamed America's west. But, cattle ranchers—who had already seized land from the Indians and were in a land war with farmers and shepherds—saw horses as competition for unfenced grazing land. Aided by corporate interests and an unconcerned public, ranchers poisoned the water holes, shot the horses, or ran them over cliffs. It was legal.

           During the remainder of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, millions would be killed or sent to slaughter houses in Mexico to become dog food—or gourmet meats to be served in the finer European restaurants.

           A national campaign begun in the 1950s by Velma Johnston led Congress and the Nixon Administration in 1971 to give protection to the remaining horses and burros. By then, there were only about 60,000 left in 10 states. Three decades later, under the George W. Bush Administration, the Bureau of Land Management determined that even those wild horses and burros were too many. Congress and the Administration, still influenced by corporate interests, repealed most of the 1971 law. Apparently, the remaining 20,000 horses were taking up too much space and resources from the four million head of cattle. The BLM plan was to round up the "excess horses" and  place them in federal corrals.

           But, where the BLM placed the horses wasn't corrals but concentration camps, according to Michael Blake, author of Dances With Wolves. Blake's latest book, Twelve: The King, is a moving story of his love for wild horses, especially one, a black gelding with the number "1202" branded onto his left flank. Blake describes the first time he saw Twelve:

  

          "When [he] came into full view, everyone eyed his approach; it was as if we had all been tranquilized. He was floating down the pathway, his feet touching the ground as if it were a thick cloud . . . He came into the pen—it seemed as if he levitated in—and for a minute everyone just stared at him. Even the restless children watched him. He was something from another time or place."

 

           For more than two decades, Twelve had been the leader, the protector, of a herd of wild horses. Now, in 1991, he was confined to a small pen on federal land in Palomino Valley, Nevada, about 30 miles north of Reno. "There seemed to be an invisible barrier surrounding him, and none of the other horses, whether alone or in gangs, ever sniffed or touched or whinnied at him," Blake writes, condensing the recollection  of a government worker that once, "the entire population came together and circled their king in a massive surround that lasted several minutes."

           The BLM claimed Twelve was unadoptable because of his age and fiery independence. Blake saw something else. And so he paid $120 to adopt the unadoptable horse, one who wouldn't associate with Blake's domestic horses yet watch over them and be their protector. There was no way Blake would tame Twelve, not in their home near Los Angeles, nor at Wolf House, which became their home near Tucson. But with love and mutual respect, they would be companions for more than 15 years.

           Twelve is the story of that love, that companionship, the story of a writer and a horse, each of whom values not just the spirit of independence but also the land and all that live upon it. There are no flowery phrases, no sentimental dribble, no violent outbursts at mankind and the government, just simple declarative sentences that carry within them the power of love and life. Although it may have seemed that Blake was Twelve's protector, rescuing him from a government concentration camp, the truth is that Twelve, as he was for so many wild horses, was probably Blake's protector, a constant in a life that itself underwent so much turmoil.

           Twelve died Sept. 7, 2005. Michael Blake visits his grave almost every day, "driven not so much by grief as a sense of honor."

           The beauty and quality of production of the Perceval Press book, something not often seen in contemporary book publishing, complements  Blake's words and photos to make Twelve a powerful statement by one of America's best writers about the value of life and the environment.

 —WALTER M. BRASCH

                   

 

 

Diaries

Advertise Blogads