John Wayne is the Duke. Elvis is the King.

John Wayne's Holster: January 2006
John Wayne's Holster
Visit my main blog at Monkey Wrench Revival. Visit my birdwatching blog at The Birding Nerd.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

John Walker Lindh, American Taliban or Scapegoat?

I am sure we all remember John Walker Lindh, aka “The American Taliban”. Lindh was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in supporting the Taliban government against the United States. But were Lindh's actions really treasonous? Did he get a fair deal from the Justice Department? Or was he the scapegoat for a frustrated and angry nation?

For the record, I personally support President Bush's efforts to overthrow the Taliban and capture bin Laden. That being said, I find it hard to believe that anyone who looks at the facts of John walker Lindh's case (not what the media and the Justice Dept tell you) would think that his sentence was fair.

Lindh grew up in Marin County CA, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. When he was teenager, he converted to Islam, and traveled to Yemen where he learned Arabic and pursued his studies of the Koran. He then enrolled at a madrassa (religious school) in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier region. While there, he encountered many of the locals who told him of the long-running civil war between the Taliban and the Russian-backed Northern Alliance – part of the mess left from the Soviet-Afghan War.

According to Lindh’s own statement that he gave to a CNN reporter, “I lived in a region in the northwestern province -- the people there in general have a great love for the Taliban, so I started to read some of the literature of the scholars and the history of the movement. And my heart became attached to them. I wanted to help them one way or another.

So he did. He crossed the border into Afghanistan and volunteered to fight in the Afghan civil war. According to a statement Lindh later gave to a Newsweek reporter, he did so "to help the Islamic government... because the Taliban are the only government that actually provides Islamic law."

All this happened BEFORE 9/11!

After 9/11, things obviously changed. The US wanted bin Laden. The Taliban were safeguarding him. The US then joined forces with the Northern Alliance (who they previously fought against) in an effort to overthrow the Taliban (who they previously supported).

In mid-October of 2001, during the battle of Konduz, Northern Alliance troops captured a group of several hundered Afghan soldiers (including Lindh). Under the terms of the surrender, Afghan soldiers would be given safe passage home if they would give up their weapons. They did, and were subsequently led to a garrison near Mazar-e Sharif. There they were interrogated by the Northern Alliance and US CIA operatives. Lindh was questioned by CIA operative Mike Spann, but was unresponsive. At some point during the interrogation, an uprising takes place and many are killed, including Spann.

Lindh took a bullet to the leg, but survived the uprising. He was turned over to the Red Cross and taken to a prison hospital in Sheberghan. It was at the hospital where he was interviewed by a freelance journalist working for CNN. During that interview, Lindh stated that he had attended a training camp funded by Osama bin Laden.

The media had a field day with that statement. They played on the public’s anger and their thirst for revenge. Somebody was going to pay for 9/11 - and now they had one of “bin Laden’s lackeys” in custody. Attorney General Ashcroft even went so far as to accuse Lindh of complicity in the September 11 attacks, stating that the filing of criminal charges against Lindh was compelled "by the inescapable fact of September the 11th. We cannot overlook attacks on America when they come from United States citizens.

Lindh had no connection whatsoever to 9/11! He was a religious ideologue who wanted to fight to create an Islamic state. His was involved in a civil war that pitted muslims against other muslims. There were not even US troops on the ground in the battle Lindh was involved in.

Attorney General Ashcroft charged Lindh with 10 felony counts, including conspiracy to murder United States nationals. If convicted, he would face multiple life sentences. The trial was set to coincide with the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and was to take place in Alexandria VA, just a few miles from the Pentagon. I don't know about you, but that doesn't exactly sound like an impartial jury to me.

Holding these charges over Lindh’s head, the prosecuting attorney coerced Lindh into a plea. Under the terms of the plea, Lindh acknowledged that by serving as a soldier in Afghanistan he had violated the anti-Taliban economic sanctions that had been imposed during the Clinton administration. In addition, Lindh had to waive his right to any appeals, and was placed under a gag order not to communicate any of the circumstances of his case to anyone. Lindh was sentenced to 20 years with no chance for parole.

At the time Lindh was sentenced, most American’s (including me) thought he got what he deserved or he got off too easily. However, those opinions are based on misinformation and the vilification of Lindh by both the media and the Justice Department. Now we have had the opportunity to step back and examine the events surrounding 9/11 and the subsequent war in Afghanistan more carefully. It seems clear to me (and many others) that Lindh has not gotten a fair shake.

The only charges the Justice Department could stick on him were the violation of economic sanction charges. And those charges are trumped up at best. Around the same time that Lindh joined the Afghan army, Colin Powell was announcing the $20 million aide package sent to the Taliban to help them eradicate the opium trade. UNICAL was working with the Taliban to build an oil pipeline through Afghanistan. I have not heard of any charges being brought against them.

As his attorney James Brosnahan points out, “Lindh traveled to Afghanistan months before 9/11 happened; [he] never came into contact with U.S. troops prior to his capture by the Northern Alliance; never fought against Americans in any way, shape, or form; and never participated in any terrorist activities against this nation or any other country.

It is time for the Justice Department to step forward and correct an injustice by commuting Lindh’s sentence.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

To Be or Not To Be…For the Troops

I recently saw this Op-Ed piece in the LA Times called Warriors and Wusses, written by Joel Stein. The thesis of the article is that one can not support the troops if he/she is opposed to the war in Iraq.

As Stein states in the article, he is against the war, and therefore does not support the troops. Stein further explains the rationale underlying his position with the following statement, “Blindly lending support to our soldiers…will keep them overseas longer by giving soft acquiescence to the hawks who sent them there”. Stein contends that the real reason people who are against the war support the troops is to “ease some of the guilt [they] feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices [themselves]”.

On the surface, it would appear that there are shades of truth in Stein’s thesis. Logic is short-circuited when one simultaneously holds opposing positions on the same issue. How can one be for something that they are against? Obviously they can’t! And that is why Stein is trying to beguile the public into believing that support for the troops is the same as supporting the war. He is trying to create a sense of conflict in your subconscience. It is his attempt to undermine the war - which he is opposed to.

I realize that not everyone shares my position and supports the war in Iraq. That is their right. However, contrary to what Mr. Stein will have you believe, it is not untenable to be opposed to the war while supporting the troops. In reality, the two positions are not contradictory and, in fact, coexist quite well.

Regardless of where one stands on the war, no reasonable person with a trace of humanity wants to see any harm come to either our soldiers or innocent Iraqi civilians. We want our military to complete their mission with minimal casualties and come home safely. Many of us would like to see the Iraqis step up and take a larger role in the conflict so that our soldiers can get home sooner.

That is kind of support that most people opposed to the war have for the troops. And there is nothing contradictory or illogical about that position!

In fact, Mr. Stein doesn't even beleive what he says himself, for he too shows that he supports the troops. Why else would he call for more “body armor and…a USO show by the cast of ‘Laguna Beach’ ”. It seems that his sense of human decency has not been smothered by his ideology or his desire to be accepted by the "left coast crowd". Apparently, his attempt at brainwahing himself was rejected by his subconscience.

So be for the war or be against it, but always be for the troops!

Send the troops a care package.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

SCOTUS Confirmation Hearings = Pointless

What is the purpose of the Confirmation Hearings for Supreme Court nominees?

Nominees for the SCOTUS were not always brought before the Senate for public confirmation hearings. Initially, nominations were sent directly to the floor of the Senate for a debate. The first nominee to be brought forward for "hearings" was Harlan Fiske Stone in 1925. The Stone “hearings” were not really hearings at all, but rather a payback for an indictment he pushed forward against a colleague of a rival Senator.

Bona fide hearings did not take place until the nomination by FDR of Felix Frankfurter in 1939, but they were not made a permanent part of the nomination process. The Confirmation Hearings did not become a standard practice after after the Brown v. Board of Education Ruling in 1954, which outlawed racial segregation. Following this landmark ruling, segregationists in the Senate pushed to have hearings to make sure future nominees shared their “ideological vision”. The hearings have been a mainstay ever since.

Another event that played a major role in shaping the current format of the SCOTUS confirmation hearings was the hearings of Judge Robert Bork in 1987. Bork, a strong ideological conservative, represented a potential swing vote on a closely divided court. That fact did not escape the attention of left-leaning political interest groups. Senators opposed to Bork’s confirmation employed campaign-style tactics to attack his character, painting him as an out-of-touch judge harboring a warped judicial philosophy. Ultimately, Bork was rejected, and the character of the hearings was changed from that point on.

The hearings should be a forum in which Senators determine whether nominees possess the necessary qualifications and vision to serve on the SCOTUS. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Heeding the lessons from the Bork hearings, nominees now are careful not to reveal too much, if anything at all. Nominees all seemingly give the same rehearsed responses about how they “respect precedent”, will “keep an open mind”, and will decide cases according to the "rule of law”. Specific answers to direct questions are side-stepped by raising the potential that the issue in question may the focus of a future case – making it improper to state an opinion on the matter.

During the Senate Confirmation hearing for Samuel Alito, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) suggested to the media that the hearings served little purpose and should be abandoned. I think he makes a valid point that is worth considering. Alternatively, the format of the hearings must be dramatically altered so that they serve their intended purpose – determining whether of not a nominee is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. Currently, the hearings are nothing more that an opportunity for grandstanding by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The hearings have become an empty ritual!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Why I Fly the Confederate Battle Flag!

I have a large replica of the Confederate Battle Flag on the wall of my study room. During a recent visit to my home, a colleague of mine seem surprised and confused. Conflicting thoughts seemed to be going through his head. How could I embrace such a “hateful” symbol? Was I a racist? Did I hate people who were not white?

Apparently he and I view the flag quite differently. He associates the flag with slavery and racially motivated hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan. I view it as a symbol of national heritage. It is not a symbol of hate. And for the record, I am not a racist, and I embrace people from all cultures and races. People like my wife!

For starters, what we currently call the Confederate Flag most closely resembles the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, and is one of several flags used at various times to represent the Confederate States of America. Contrary to what some in the media claim, the Civil War was not fought over the issue of slavery! It was about taxes and tariffs and state’s rights. This is not to say that the Civil War had absolutely nothing to do with slavery. But the War had much more to do with the Morrill Tariff of 1861 than it did with any issue connected to slavery. It should also be pointed out that over 90% of the soldiers who fought and died for the Confederate army were not slave owners, and were not fighting for the big plantations. Rather, they were fighting for their lawful right to secede and govern themselves. The Confederate flag symbolized their struggle for independence and state’s rights.

The flag represents those same values today!

The confusion over what the Confederate Flag stands for has more to do with the misuse of the flag than it does with the flag itself. The flag has been co-opted by racially motivated groups during the 1940’s and 50’s, such as Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrat party and other segregationists. Today it is misused by hate groups like the Klan and the Neo-Nazis. The Confederate Flag unfortunately becomes associated in some people’s minds with the rhetoric and beliefs of these radical groups.

The fact that some may be offended by the flag is not a legitimate reason for banning it. If we do that, just about every symbol will be banned because it surely will offend someone. Should Buddhists be banned from displaying the swastika just because the Nazi’s adopted it as their symbol? Should we stop flying the American Flag because of the atrocities inflicted upon Native Americans by the US Government? Should the flying of the Rainbow Flag be banned just because some on the religious right are offended by homosexuality?

The misuse of the Confederate Flag by radical groups is not a legitimate reason to ban displaying it in public. To many, the flag is a symbol of pride and heritage, and should be viewed with the same reverence as men such as Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson.

I will continue to display it as such.

Monday, January 09, 2006

NOW Is Shameless

Paterno Is Fired-Up

The National Organization for Women (NOW) wants Penn State football coach Joe Paterno to step-down because of remarks he made about an alleged sexual assault by a football player from another university.

Paterno was in Florida last week for the Orange Bowl. During a press conference the day before the game, a reporter asked Paterno for his thoughts on a Florida State player who was sent home by FSU coach Bobby Bowden for his alleged involvement in a sexual assault. Paterno responded, “…there's so many people gravitating to these kids. He may not have even known what he was getting into. They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do? Geez. I hope - thank God they don't knock on my door because I'd refer them to a couple of other rooms," Paterno continued. "But that's too bad. You hate to see that. I really do. You like to see a kid end up his football career. He's a heck of a football player, by the way; he's a really good football player. And it's just too bad."

Joanne Tosti-Vasey, president of the National Organization for Women in Pennsylvania, issued a news release calling for Paterno to step down as coach. In the press release, Tosti-Vasey stated that "Making light of sexual assault sends the message that rape is something to be expected and accepted." The organization is calling for Paterno to step down.

In my opinion, NOW should choose it’s battles more carefully. Coach Paterno was not making light of a sexual assault. And NOW knows it. NOW is trying to intimidate Penn State’s athletic department. Those of us who live in State College (home of Penn State Universtiy) know what is going on.

There is currently some controversy involving women’s basketball coach Rene Portland. Coach Portland recently kicked a player off the basketball team for poor academic standing and claims that the player engaged in "disrespectful, profane and belligerent behavior toward coaches and teammates". The woman, who is straight, claims that Portland really kicked her off the team because she mistakenly thought she was a lesbian. The National Center for Lesbian Rights wants Portland to step down. She won't. And the University is standing behind Portland.

NOW, who supports lesbian rights, is merely trying to take advantage of coach Paterno’s popularity as a means of focusing attention on the University. In the process, they are besmerching the reputation of a good man. Coach Paterno has given so much of himself to Penn State Universtiy. He philanthropy has benefitted both men and women at the university. NOW apparently has no problem tarnishing a person's character to acheive their own short-sighted and narcissistic goals.

NOW should be ashamed!

Israel's Next Is Step A Critical One

With the recent series of strokes suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, it would appear that his political career is over. On a personal and humanitarian level, the recent downturn in Sharon’s health is a tragedy. On a political level, one must be concerned for how Israel emerges from this.

Politically, it would also appear that the future of his Kadima party will go down with Sharon. Likud (Sharon’s old party) would seem to have the most to gain, as most of the Kadima members were drawn from that party. As such, Benjamin Netanyahu will have an opportunity to regain power and restore a sense of normalcy – or at least a grasp of reality – to Israeli politics.

Although popular among some Israeli’s, many saw Sharon’s policies as unrealistic, even escapist. There are two imminent threats that Israel currently faces. The very future of Israel may depend on how or whether these threats are dealt with. Those two threats of course are the development of nuclear weapons by Iran and the emergence of Gaza as the most active terror base in the Arab world.

Unfortunately, the Israeli leadership currently has no coherent policy for dealing with these problems. With the collapse of Kadima looming, Israeli politics will likely revert to their pre-Kadima state. Hopefully a more realistic PM will take the reigns and deal with the threats facing Israel. Unfortunately, dealing with these threats may require military strikes against both Iran and terror bases in Gaza.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Eagles Will Win the NFC East in 2006

What a terrible year for the Eagles! I could not have imagined that they would go from four consecutive NFC Championship games and runner-up in the Super Bowl to 6-10 in the space of a year. Perhaps it was Super Bowl hang-over. Whatever happened, it now looks as if all is not gloomy for the Eagles.

Watching the rest of the NFC East throughout the year, and in this weekend’s playoffs has led me to the conclusion that the other teams are not that good. Yeah I know the Eagles were swept in their division this year, but it was just an anomaly. It won’t happen again. You can bank on thant! As for the rest of the division… The Redskins have no offense other than Portis, Giants turn to ball over too much, Dallas is inconsistent on both sides of the ball. While it is true that these teams have potential and are getting better, they are clearly not among the elite teams in the league and are still a few years away (with the possible exception of the Giants who have so much potential on offense). The Eagles on the other hand, are only one year removed from being the top team in their conference. They are poised to return to that spot next year. Here’s why!

While the Eagles demise this year has been shocking, closer examination suggests that it was only a temporary set-back. The Eagles lost one-third of their starters from the previous year to injuries (Donovan McNabb, Lito Shepherd, Hank Fraley, Todd Pinkston, Brian Westbrook), free-agency (Corey Simon, Derrick Burgess) or suspension (T.O.). The injured guys should be back next year. The lost free-agents and T.O. are another issue. There are also a few key positions where the Eagles need impact players. Fortunately they have more than $12 million in cap space, and will have mid-round draft picks due to their poor record this year. This is where the Eagles as an organization have to step up.

First, the Eagles need to replace Terrell Owens. Despite playing only a handful of games, TO still lead the Eagles in receiving. Reggie Brown played well his first year, but he still needs a little bit of work. T.O. may fetch a decent player during the draft, but the Eagles will not likely get equal value for him (IMO, the best receiver in the league). Second, the Eagles need a running back. Westbrook is great out of the back-field as a receiver, but he is not the capable of consistently gaining 4 yards per carry and is not big enough in short-yardage and goal-line situations. I am not sold on Ryan Moats, but I am optimistic. Buckhalter has been hampered with injuries the last two years, and should probably be released. There should be some good running backs available in the mid-first round such as Laurence Maroney (U. Minn) and LenDale White (USC). Third, the Eagles pass-rush and run defense suffered this year, mainly due to the absence of Simon and Burgess. Replacing these guys is a must for the Eagles. There are some good first rounders available (Tamba Hali, Penn State) if the Eagles pass on the RB’s, but it is more likely that they look to free agency here. Lastly, the Birds also desperately need a back-up QB. Koy Detmer and Mike McMahon are not cutting it.

The Eagles are also going to have to fill the loss of Brad Childress, their offensive coordinator who was recently hired by the Vikings. Apparently Marty Morningweg was promoted to offensive coordinator. Morningweg has been with the Eagles for a year or two, so hopefully their will not be much of an adjustment to his game plan.

To top if off, the Eagles should get a favorable schedule this year. They should be able to compete win the Giants for the NFC East title this year.