Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Pedestal is a Prison

Gloria Steinem once said "Don't put me up on a pedestal.  A pedestal is a prison, like any other small space."  When we idolize someone or some entity or some thing we confine it.  When we, say, idolize a football team, we put that entity up on a pedestal and when they break out of that prison in our mind's eye, the only place to go is down.

For years I have been an avid fan of the University of Texas Longhorn football program.  When we moved back to Texas in 1986 one of the first things I did was purchase season tickets to the Longhorn football games.  We have attended nearly every home game for 26 years and have had a huge tailgate set-up for over 15 years, celebrating with friends and family over BBQ and margaritas on the "40 Acres" on game day.  We have been members of the Longhorn Foundation, a student/athlete support group since its inception.  I follow the team in the news and hang on every word written about them.  As a younger man, my week would be made or shattered by either a win or loss, respectively. It does not affect me quite that much anymore, but I do hate to see them lose.

The Texas Longhorns have had a marvelously successful athletic program over the years; excelling in all sports from football to golf, swimming to track, baseball to basketball, volleyball to gymnastics with both men and women's teams.  The coaches of these teams are legends in their own time; Darrell Royal, Abe Lemons, Augie Gurrido, Rick Barnes, Jody Conradt, Cliff Gufstafson and Mack Brown, just to name a few.  The Longhorn football team, in particular, is one of the most respected and successful college programs of all time.  It has been ranked in the Top 25 in the country, with few exceptions, every year since I can remember.  It is the second winningest program in college football history behind only the Michigan Wolverines.  It is one of the most financially successful teams in the nation and proceeds from its program fund practically every other sport at the University.  In 2012 the Texas Longhorn Football Program was acknowledged as the most valuable program in the nation, estimated at $ 805 million dollars!  That is more than many NFL teams.

In addition to competitive and financial success, the Texas Longhorn football program has achieved a high level of integrity over the years.  It has never been investigated or sanctioned by the NCAA for any infractions, let alone banned like Ohio State or Penn State.  And it graduates a relatively high percentage of its players in an era when the NFL can snap up the top talent after their sophomore year.

So, is it any wonder that hundreds of thousands of loyal fans routinely put UT football up on a pedestal?  Ah, but then, when you escape the pedestal....the fall can be great.

Texas plays Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl tonight.  On Thursday night, two of the Texas players violated curfew and were embroiled in an incident which shocked the Longhorn nation.  Accused of rape, Case McCoy, quarterback and brother of NFL quarterback and Longhorn great, Colt McCoy, and linebacker Jordan Hicks, have been suspended from the team and sent home.  At this writing, no arrests have been made or charges filed.  The alleged rape was made by a 21-year old woman who reported she invited the boys back to her hotel room after an evening of drinking and claims she was violated by one while the other boy watched.

Currently, the detail of this sordid story are sketchy, but Mack Brown took swift action in suspending the players involved pending a complete investigation, even though not having his back-up quarterback and star linebacker for this important bowl game will hurt the team.  The action is exactly what a good coach, a coach with integrity, would do even though a loss tonight and a verification of his players alleged wrong-doing will probably cost him his job.

It is a sad moment in UT history, whichever way it ends up, and one more reason why it is not wise to put anyone, any entity or any thing up on a pedestal.


Friday, December 28, 2012

An American Hero Falls

Last time we spoke I was lamenting the decline of leadership in our country.  Well, of the few that are left, we lost one of our great leaders and true American heroes yesterday, General Norman Schwartzkopf.  "Stormin' Norman" came into the limelight and our living rooms as the voice and face of the first Persian Gulf War while serving as Commander of U.S. Central Command in Desert Storm.  He became the star of the first 24-hour news cycle war, fostered by the cable news networks, and a man who commanded respect wherever he appeared and whenever he spoke. 

Most people had never heard of General Schwartkopf before he commanded the U.S.-led international coalition troops who pushed Saddam Hussein's supposedly-elite Republican Guard from Kuwait City back to Iraq with their tails between their legs in 1991.  After that brilliant victory, his became a household name and our fighting troops regained the respect of all Americans that had been lost during the Vietnam war.

Schwartzkopf was a hero in Vietnam, rescuing an entire platoon caught in a mine-field by personally leading them to safety.  For this action and many more he was the recipient of a Purple Heart, the Silver Star, a Bronze Star medal and many Commendation Medals, just to name a few.  He was a man of strength, courage and valor.  He was a man of integrity and determination.  He was a visionary leader and his leadership will be missed.

Norman Schwartzkopf was the kind of man we need in Washington.  We need his kind of leadership in the White House and in the Congress.  What we have instead are, for the most part, a bunch of self-serving, egotistical, even borderline narcissistic men and women who put the needs of American people and our future second to everything else, especially their own re-elections.  The only way for us to fix that is to vote those who do not represent us and who do not exhibit the courage to make the hard decisions to solve the difficult problems we face today out of office.  Someone once said that all politicians are like baby diapers, they need to be changed often and for the same reason.  Well, it is time to change the stinks!

Like the General, however, who would never have asked his troops to do anything he wasn't either willing to do or had not already done himself, we ALL have to make certain sacrifices.  To get out of this massive budget deficit, we are ALL going to have to pay more taxes.  We are ALL going to have to do with fewer services, fewer entitlements, fewer hand-outs.  We are ALL going to have to tighten our belts and learn to live with less....not just the super rich (all those "millionaires and billionaires" the President keeps demonizing) but every American citizen.  Those who incurred the debt need to pay the debt. It is the only way to keep from mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren. 

In my opinion, neither political party has a flawless strategy or a clear plan to turn our economy around and set America back on the path to prosperity.  Neither has the perfect solution to our problems nor the backbone to stand for what is needed and what is right.  Neither has the leadership skills of a Norman Schwartzkopf and, for that, our nation should mourn all the more. 


Thursday, December 27, 2012

USA Went Over the Cliff Years Ago

Here is hoping all my readers had a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah this year and that each of you will experience a healthy, prosperous New Year.  The operative words in the last sentence, "healthy" and  "prosperous", are so very important.  One is quite possible.  A new round of New Year's resolutions, a little will-power, judicious exercise, the willingness to watch Dr. Oz and give up white flour and sugar can contribute significantly to the former.  Only a unified Congress and a supportive Chief Executive can ensure the latter.  Which do you think is harder?

Some say individual prosperity in our country next year will be defined by the fiscal cliff.  Unfortunately, this Congress seems to lack the intelligence to find the unity necessary to avoid financial disaster.  Hell, if our country goes over the cliff, plunging to our fiscal doom, this Congress couldn't even remember what number to dial to reach 911 for help.  And as far as the "Leader of the Strongest Nation in the World" is concerned, he couldn't find the edge of the fiscal cliff or his rear-end with two hands and a flashlight.  BUT, it doesn't matter.  The United States went over the cliff years ago and we have been in free-fall ever since.

O.K., so you say, Smith, aren't you being a bit harsh?  You tell me.  Our collective debt is $ 17 trillion dollars.  Too big a number to even fathom, well look at it this way.  Every man, woman and child in this country owes right at $ 49,000.00 to cover their portion of the current debt.  Each one.  My youngest granddaughter is only 2 years old.  That is a heck of a big tab for her to pay and she doesn't pay taxes yet let alone even have an allowance.  But the cliff I am talking about the U.S. going over years ago isn't of a fiscal nature.

The cliff I am referring to has to do with leadership, or more precisely, a lack thereof.  In my opinion we have not had a President with any kind of vision for this country since Ronald Reagan and he wasn't perfect.  These days we don't even have that much vision going on.  No one measures up....certainly no Bushes or bush chasers and certainly no one named Barrack.  Where are the Washington's, Hamilton's and Jefferson's of our day?  And that is only part of the problem.  Our congressional leaders have been just as sadly lacking.  Aside from a few stalwarts in the most recent 20 years whose time is now past, are you telling me that John Boehner and Harry Reid are the best and brightest our country has to offer?  If we don't climb out of this abyss and find some men and women who have vision and the fortitude to make the hard decisions needed for our country to turn itself around, our plunge over the leadership cliff will make this coming fiscal one look like a speed bump. 


Jud Smith

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gun Control - The Impossible Dream

As the mayor of Newtown said yesterday, "Evil visited our community today".  A nation mourns as the state of Connecticut is added to the growing list of states which have experienced a tragic mass murder perpetrated by a lone gunman.  This time 26 innocent lives were lost, including 20 young children, ages 7-10, at an elementary school situated in this upper-middle class town, population under 2,000.  When I was 7 I lived in the neighboring village of Brookfield Center, barely 5 miles from Newtown, both bedroom communities for Danbury, CT and less than an hours train ride from New York City.

Collectively, as a nation of basically caring people our hearts grieve when these things happen.  They grieve for the senseless loss of life of innocent people.  They grieve for the parents, family and friends of the victims.  And before the mourning is over our thoughts turn to how in the world we can prevent this from ever happening again.  Our anger and outrage search for the easy, permanent solution and we want our leaders and elected representatives to fix it and fix it now.  Since this massacre involved handguns, the outcry for "gun control" increases to a fever pitch and people line up on either side to debate the issue.

Let me say up front, I am a gun owner.  I have three handguns, a large caliber hunting rifle, a small caliber target rifle and two shotguns.  I acquired these guns over the years from legitimate sources for the purpose of hunting and target shooting.  They are, by the way, safely locked in a gun cabinet at my office, not in my home, as we have young grandchildren who visit for long periods and there is no sense in tempting fate.  I will also admit I have been, although no longer, a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and was even one of their elite Golden Eagle members at one time in the past.  There, now you know the whole truth.  With this as a background, let me put forth the following argument which you have no doubt heard before.

Guns don't kill people, people kill people.  Some who commit homicide use guns, some knives, some use rat poison, some use crowbars, some use baseball bats, some use rocks.  Statistics show in 2011 there were 16,799 people in America who were killed by intentional gunshot.  That is 5.5 deaths per 100,000 population.  Gun homicides ranked # 15 on the list of causes of death.  So 14 other methods of homicide were employed more frequently than guns.

President Obama, in a heart-felt address to the nation yesterday said we must take "meaningful action" to ensure this kind tragedy does not happen again.  He did not specify what that might be but the implication is fairly clear he was referring to gun control.  Let's take a look at what kind of challenge that might be.

There were 35,900 deaths from automobile accidents, or 11.0 per 100,000 people.  Of those nearly 36,000 deaths, roughly 50 % involved alcohol on the part of the person causing the accident.  The death rate from automobile accidents has come down slowly as cars have been made safer and laws passed and enforced to help protect drivers and punish those who drive under the influence; however, the death rate has virtually plateaued for several years.  So over three times the number of deaths from cars versus from guns.

There are over 255 million privately registered vehicles in the U.S.  This means the government knows who owns them and, roughly, where they are at any given time.  On the other hand, there are estimated to be 310 million non-military firearms in the U.S.  A Gallup poll in 2007 showed that over 47 % of all Americans have at least one handgun in their home.  Over 40 % of those handguns are unregistered.  This means the government doesn't know who owns them or where they are at any given time.  You don't hear anyone clamoring for a ban on cars because of the deaths they cause.  It would be impossible.  And, people understand that cars don't kill people, people....well, you get the point.  Likewise, you don't hear anyone clamoring for a ban on alcohol, even though its inappropriate use is at the heart of more deaths every year than handguns and that is just when alcohol is mixed with driving.  

Attempting to ban handguns would be a wasteful and hugely expensive exercise in futility, much like Prohibition, and to even attempt it would mean overthrowing the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution not to mention getting over 165 million Americans to voluntarily give up their guns.  I have not fired any of my guns in over four years but I am not inclined to give them up and my bet is neither would my fellow gun owners, regardless of what Bob Costas thinks.

So why am I no longer a card carrying member of the NRA?  Because I disagree that a ban or certain controls on handguns and automatic weapons is a violation of my 2nd Amendment rights.  I don't believe, as they do, that any restriction on gun acquisition and ownership is bad.  Specifically, I believe that the sale and ownership of automatic weapons should be illegal with stiff penalties for violators, there should be a mandatory five-day waiting period for all handgun sales coupled with background checks and there should be a mandatory 25-year sentence (life for second offenders) for anyone using a gun in the commission of a felony.  I also believe we should enforce the laws already on the books as it relates to gun management.  However, focusing on gun control in the aftermath of a tragedy like the one in Newtown, CT is focusing on the wrong issue.

It has been reported that the alleged perpetrator of these murders was a 20-year old loner who possibly had Aspergers, a high functioning form of autism.  He is reported to be a past honors student but with no close friends.  He wasn't even on Facebook!  He had an older brother who hadn't spoken to him in two years. He was living at home with a single mother, and described by a fellow classmate as a goth.  For those of you who are not up on this particularly weird subculture in our society, it is person with a proclivity for the dark side of life and fascination with death.  Their attire is dark clothing, mostly black, known as deathrock, punk or Victorian, dark make-up, and favor music styles in the Gothic rock, death rock, post-punk and darkwave.  I mean, DUH!   Could it be this young man might be crying out for help or at least deserved some special attention?  This is where our focus needs to the home, in the neighborhood, in the schools and with an eye for individuals who might need help before it is too late.

The guns, as it turns out, were not his.  Apparently, the guns...two handguns and a semi-automatic weapon...belonged to his mother, a law abiding school teacher at the very same elementary school where her son wreaked havoc.  So in this case, a waiting period or a background check would not have prevented this.  But a gun ban would you say?  I'm sorry, proposing a ban on guns would be just as ridiculous as proposing a ban on cars, or knives, or crowbars or rocks.