Monday, November 30, 2009

The Tiger Beatdown

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Beat em' when they're down and beat em' again for good measure before they can get up. The beat down supposedly is not the American way of dealing with those who are down. The ground rules radically changed the moment Tiger Woods did life threatening damage to a tree and a fire hydrant. With that the beat down started with a vengeance. No matter that the only body damage done was to Woods. There was no allegation or hint of drugs or alcohol. No matter that the law did not compel Woods to talk to police just to provide his license, registration and proof on insurance. No matter that he publicly accepted responsibility for whatever damage he caused, called the gossip “malicious,” and pleaded for the media and public to respect his privacy.
None of this has mattered. It’s irrelevant not because a sex, celebrity gossip, rumor and innuendo starved and obsessed mainstream media salivates at the prospect of scandal and titillation at the mishaps of celebrities. Nor have Woods’ pleadings that the accident is a non-issue been sloughed off because he is one of the sports world’s most bankable, best known noblesse oblige goody two shoes role model for the sporting world.
The truth is that the Tiger Woods beatdown began ages ago. The whispers, innuendoes, and back biting began the instant that he exploded on the golf scene. He wasn’t black enough. He was too black. He was too arrogant. He was too aloof. He was too selfish. The more green Masters Tournament winners jackets that he donned and world class tournaments he won, and the fatter his bank account grew, the undertow of carping about him continued unabated. There have even been personal and race tinged digs and cracks that golfer Fuzzy Zoeller (“fried chicken”) and Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman (“lynch him”) made about him.
Woods graciously and diplomatically shrugged off the inanities and kept doing what he does best and that’s win tournaments. It didn’t stop the gossip mongers. Woods was simply too big, too good, and too rich for the tastes of a wide swath of the public and the celebrity crazed media.

Despite Woods careful and cautious downplay of race, for another swath of the public he was still a black sports icon who dominated what for decades was a gentlemanly, high brow, near sport of kings, white man’s game. The price a black sports icon pays for resting on that high perch can be steep. One misstep and he or she can become the instant poster child for all that's allegedly wrong with celebriity, sport and society.
There are two reasons for that. When Woods tore up the greens he became the gatekeeper for the storehouse of fantasies and delusions of a sports crazed public as well as advertisers, sportswriters, and TV executives in desperate need of vicarious escape, titillation, excitement, and profits. Woods was the ultimate in the sports hero who fulfilled that empty need.
He was expected to move in the rarified air above the fray of human problems while raising society's expectation of what's good and wholesome. He’s been handsomely rewarded for fulfilling that fantasy even though as he admitted in his statement about the accident on his website, he is only human. He reminded the world the obvious. He has the same flaws and foibles as anyone else, and that certainly includes sports icons.
The other reason for the Woods beat down is his fame and fortune. Black super stars cause much media and public hurt when they supposedly betray the collective self delusion of sport as pure and pristine. That stirs even greater jealousy and resentment. That's evident in the constant fan and sportswriter carping about how spoiled, pampered and over paid Woods and black athletes supposedly are. The first hint of any bad behavior by them ignites a torrent of self-righteous columns and commentary on the supposed arrogant, above the law black athlete.

Woods has not had nor will he have a day in court. He hasn’t done anything to warrant one. But he squirms on the hook in the other court, the court of public opinion. Many in that court have tried, convicted and sentenced him. His sentence is cruel. That is having to cancel golf tournaments, hearing whispers from sponsors and ad persons about his image, and of course, the drumbeat tabloid gossip. But given who he is the sentence is not unusual. It's called the Tiger beat down.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It’s Official: Afghanistan Is Now Obama’s Baby

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

There was never doubt the moment General Stanley McChrystal flatly told President Obama last summer that the US must deploy up to 45,000 more troops in Afghanistan that’d he heed his command. The Pentagon had officially spoken through McChrystal. With the rare exception of JFK’s pushback against the generals during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the Pentagon speaks presidents listen. It’s been a costly listen. Vietnam, Somalia, Lebanon, Iraq, and now Afghanistan has cost countless America lives, squandered billions, frayed relations with the European allies, and reinforced the US’s global reputation as a swaggering, bombs and bullets first bully. Afghanistan is no exception.

The apparent tussle between Obama and the Pentagon over a massive new troop build-up was never anything more than a game of political timing and numbers. It was simply bad politics to dump nearly 50,000 more troops in the country at a time when polls showed the American public has overwhelmingly soured on the war, and the majority of his base, liberal Democrats and progressives, scream for a withdrawal. With the GOP counterinsurgency gathering a head of steam Obama also cast a nervous eye on the recent off year elections. There was too much uncertainty about how Democrats would fare in state elections A double down on troops at a cost of billions more, and the almost certainty of bigger casualties demanded delay.

But there was no doubt that Obama would up the Afghan ante. This has as much to do with the Pentagon’s relentless demand to escalate as with his unshakeable belief that the war can actually be won, no matter the cost.

Obama was willing to stake the credibility of his administration on that even before taking office. In his August 2009 speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars at their convention, Obama sounded his it’s the right time, right place and right war mantra line. “This is not a war of choice. “This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again.”

There are of course better options to fight terrorism than a big, costly, and controversial Afghan occupation. Vice President Joe Biden for one urged a drastic scale back of the troop commitment in the country and to concentrate on targeted attacks against Al Qaeda wherever it was found. Biden’s pitch for a less costly, more rationale approach to achieving Obama’s aims was for the most part ignored.
Obama’s buzz words are reforms, and anti-corruption measures, exit strategies, Afghan government, tight afghan security forces, and NATO partnerships. This is part fawn hope and part political script to sell the massive troop build-up to fight an unpopular war. The US hasn’t come anywhere close to achieving any of these goals. Pouring 30 to 50,000 more troops in the country won’t change that.

Aghanistan is a near impossible war to wage let alone win for reasons that go beyond simply finding a democratic government and shoring up a stable, corruption free governnment. It blends religious fanaticism, medieval beliefs, territorial imperative, and deeply flawed political assumptions about terrorism into a nightmare cauldron. Afghans, whether fighting the British a century ago and later the Russians, waged the wars spurred by a rigid, uncompromising Islamic fundamentalism that reached way beyond the tenets of traditional Islam. God was always on their side.

Even if there were any validity to the fantasy that Afghanistan could be cleared of the Taliban by military action alone, that would hardly end the threat of terrorist attacks. Terrorist groups can easily regroup in a host of other safe havens in places such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, the Sudan, Lebanon, and Iran and continue to receive financial backing through drugs, illicit arms sales, and covert state government backing. Then there are the terror targets themselves.

A study of suicide attacks by Robert Pape of the Chicago Project in 2005, found that almost all terror attacks and targets are aimed at getting the occupying forces to pull their troops out of a disputed territory whether it’s Iraq, the West Bank, Israel, or Afghanistan. A bigger US occupation far from diminishing the prospect of more terror attacks assures that there will be more of them with US forces being in the terrorist bulls eye.

Military analysts seem genuinely surprised that the US build-up hadn’t achieved the goal of reducing the influence and numbers of Taliban fighters and supporters within Afghanistan and Pakistan and by extension diminishing the threat of more terror attacks. Yet, there is a direct inverse correlation between the military ramp up in rural areas and the ramp up in support for the radicals. The obvious conclusion is that thousands more US troops will stir even greater resistance.

Obama declares that he will finish the job in Afghanistan. But thirty thousand more troops won’t guarantee a finish, just a bigger bill, more lives at risk, and a potential political disaster. No matter, Obama’s made it official, Afghanistan is now his baby.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

America Must Join the Civilized World on Teen Life Sentences

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

In 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court took a huge step toward joining nearly all nations on the globe when it banned teen executions. But it was only a step. The U.S. still locks up more juveniles for life without the possibility of parole than all nations combined. The High Court will rule on two Florida cases where juvenile offenders got no-parole life sentences. In those cases as well as tens of others, the juvenile offenders received life without parole sentences for crimes that did not involve murder. The offenders ranged in age from 13 to 16 years old. There are about 100 juvenile offenders incarcerated for life in eight states with no chance for parole. Nineteen states in all still have no-parole sentences for juveniles on their books.
The 100 offenders who are serving the draconian no-parole sentences though are only the tip of a more terrifying iceberg. A year ago Human Rights Watch found that more than 2,000 juvenile offenders are serving life without possibility of parole sentences. A significant number of the juveniles sentenced to no-parole sentences did not actually commit murder but were participants in a robbery or were at the scene of the crime when the death occurred. The majority of the teens slapped with the sentence had no prior convictions, and a substantial number were age 15 or under.

The stock argument against a blanket ban on no-parole sentences is that violence is violence no matter the age of the perpetrator, and that punishment must be severe to deter crime. Prosecutors and courts in the states that convict and impose no-parole life sentences on juvenile offenders have vigorously rejected challenges that teen no-parole sentences are a violation of the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Hollywood movie sensationalism and media-driven myths about rampaging youth not to mention the very real horror stories of gang violence and young persons who do commit horrendous crimes also reinforce the popular notion that juveniles are violent predators. This has done much to damp down public sentiment that juvenile offenders can be helped with treatment and rehabilitation and deserve a second chance rather than a prison cell for life.
This is not to minimize the pain, suffering and trauma, juvenile offenders cause to their victims and their loved ones with their crimes. However, a society that slaps the irrevocable punishment of life without parole on juvenile offenders sends the terrible message that it has thrown in the towel on turning the lives of young offenders around. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Kennedy hinted at just that in his majority opinion that scrapped teen executions. Kennedy noted that, "the punishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is itself a severe sanction, in particular for a young person."

Kennedy acknowledged, as have legions of child violence experts, that juveniles don't have the same maturity, judgment, or emotional development as adults. Child experts agree that children are not natural-born predators and that if given proper treatment, counseling, skills training and education, most juvenile offenders can be turned into productive adults.
In a report on juveniles and the death penalty, Amnesty International found that a number of child offenders sentenced to death suffered severe physical or sexual abuse. Many others were alcohol or drug impaired, or suffered from acute mental illness or brain damage. Nearly all were below average intelligence. Some of the juvenile offenders were goaded, intimidated, or threatened with violence by adults who committed their violent crimes and forced them to be their accomplices.

Then there’s the issue of race. The no-parole sentences are hardly race neutral. Black teens are 10 times more likely to receive a no-parole life sentence than white youths. They are even more likely to get those sentences when their victims are white. This was the case in the two Florida cases the Supreme Court will look at. They are often tried by all-white or mostly-white juries. Those same juries seldom consider their age as a mitigating factor. The racial gap between black and white juvenile offenders is vast and troubling. The rush to toss the key on black juveniles has had terrible consequences in black communities. It has increased poverty, fractured families, and further criminalized a generation of young black men.
The Supreme Court in its decision to ban juvenile executions recognized that a civilized nation can’t call itself that if it executes its very young. The Supreme Court should recognize that a nation that locks up its very young and tosses the key away on them also can’t be called a civilized nation. It should scrap the no-parole life sentences for juveniles.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Pentagon’s Hasan Nightmare

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The following item that appeared in the April 22, 2009 edition of Army Times was about as routine as can be when it comes to Army business. It read “Orders authorizing May promotions for the following active-component commissioned officers and warrant officers have been issued by Human Resources Command.” The name buried among the dozens who got promotions was newly commissioned Major Nidal Malik Hasan. From the promotion, it seemed that Hasan was moving up the army food chain.
So the always tormenting question in the aftermath of a murder rampage is why did the alleged shooter snap? The question is even more tormenting when the alleged shooter is an officer and an educated professional who to all outward purposes seemed to have found a stable home in the army. The one answer so far is that Hasan didn’t like American war involvement and was scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan.

The war opposition and the prospect of being dumped on a battleground thousands of miles away may well have triggered Hasan’s alleged violent, deranged, whacked out moment of mass murder. His alleged mass murder spree is a deadly aberration. The stress that may have ignited it isn’t. US Army men and women are killing themselves at a skyrocketing rate.

At Ft. Hood, seventy five service persons have killed themselves since the Iraq war began in 2003. This year nine so far have killed themselves. In 2008 the military suicide numbers went through the roof. More soldiers killed themselves than at any time since the Pentagon began tracking suicide deaths nearly thirty years ago. The twenty plus suicides of soldiers last January topped the number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan that month.

The single greatest factor in the mounting self-induced soldier body count is the wars, and the stress of either fighting them, the prospect of fighting them, and the miserable lack of support service personnel often receive before and after their tour of duty. The military brass has only belatedly recognized the problem of stress related violence as a deadly problem that can wreck the morale of fighting men and women and pose a deadly threat to other service personnel. The Army’s answer is to shoot or pump the legions of on edge service personnel with pills, shots, scatter shot counseling and therapy, and piece meal officer training. The Army is in the midst of a five year study with the revealing label, Battlemind to identify factors that affect the mental and behavioral well being of soldiers. None of the Pentagon’s efforts has stemmed the rising tide of soldiers murdering themselves. And now as Hasan has allegedly shown, an off the edge soldier murdering other American soldiers. The army’s main concern as always is to keep the bodies moving as quickly as possible to bases, new assignments, deployments, and, of course, the battlefields. Hasan was one of those bodies.

The most frightening thing about his alleged rampage is that he was not an army enlistee in his late teens or early twenties. He was a trained medical officer, a specialist, and a career officer. He’s now a frightening example of the army’s miserable failure to get a handle on the nightmare stress related violence that has claimed so many of its own. Add to the lengthening list of casualties the dozen killed and thirty or more wounded at Ft. Hood.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Bernice King Should Publicly Renounce Her Anti-Gay Bigotry

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Bernice King can make history in two ways. She made it first by becoming the first woman in the fifty two year history of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to take the organization’s reins. Now she can make history in another way. She should renounce the anti-gay bigotry of her recent past. That bigotry was on shameful and insulting display in December 2004 when she and thousands of marchers stood at the gravesite of her father, Martin Luther King, Jr., and denounced gay marriage. The implication was that King might well have stood with her and them in their protest against gay rights.

Nothing could be further from the truth. King’s fight against bigotry and discrimination, all bigotry and discrimination, was relentless and uncompromising. If anything that day, King would have been across the street from his gravesite with the hundred or so other counter-demonstrators. They loudly shouted that what Bernice and the marchers were doing at her father’s gravesite and in his name, was a travesty and a disgrace. King sullied her father’s name to show her enmity to gay marriage. She also sullied her mother’s too. A few years before Bernice’s gravesite antic, Coretta Scott King issued a public statement forcefully denouncing anti-gay bigotry and made it perfectly clear that her husband would be a champion of gay rights if he were alive.

Bernice King is an outspoken evangelical, and she and other black evangelicals have marched, protested, wrote letters and circulated petitions denouncing gay marriage. This is (?) her belief and she certainly has the right to express it. That is she has the right as a minister, evangelical, religious fundamentalist, and private citizen. Her anti-gay bias swims forcefully in the main current of conservative evangelical belief, thought, and expression. A significant number of blacks, and a majority of black evangelicals, like her also oppose gay marriage and even gay rights. They rail at the notion that the battle for gay marriage should in any way be called a civil rights fight. And certainly in King's day gay rights was invisible on America's public policy radarscope, and homosexuality, among blacks and whites, was hushed up. There's not a word in any of his speeches or writings about homosexuality or whether he believed the civil rights struggle was inclusive of gays. That’s only because it was not a visible and compelling issue of discrimination then. It is today. And Bernice King now heads up the organization, with her father’s name and stamp all over it, that was founded to fight against discrimination.

ML King, and the ministers, and many of the thousands who fervently believed in and marched with him in support of the ideals of the SCLC would without missing a beat march against gay marriage bans, the hate crime murders and assaults on gays, cheered Congress for ending its years of stalls, dodges, and foot drags to pass the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Hate Crimes Bill. The bill adds gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, to existing hate crimes laws. President Obama quickly signed it into law. King would have cheered loudly at its passage too. In fact, the SCC leadership, pre-King’s election as President, also lobbied for it and cheered its passage.

King almost certainly would have vigorously denounced California’s anti gay marriage amendment, Proposition 8, and all other similar initiatives and legislative acts that have encoded anti-gay marriage bans into law. He would have applauded court and state rulings that have upheld gay marriage. He would have pushed SCLC, including those doubting, wavering, and tradition bound ministers in the organization to do the same. This is not revisionism or after the decades fact speculation. King refused to buckle to FBI, and White House pressure, and the pressure from conservatives inside SCLC to dump his chief aid and the architect of the March on Washington, Bayard Rustin. He was avowedly gay. It took courage to resist their efforts to oust Rustin. But King deeply believed that embodied in the civil rights cause was a person's right to be whom and what he was. King may have even praised his daughter for having the courage and conviction to march for her beliefs, but that would not have changed his unyielding belief that bigotry is still bigotry, whether it's racial or sexual preference, and must be uncompromisingly opposed.
On its website SCLC clearly says “its mission is to challenge all people of good will, of every persuasion, who believe in the principles espoused by Martin Luther King, Jr. to join us.” Presumably that’s the mission of its new president. She can prove it is by publicly renouncing her anti-gay bigotry.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January, 2010.