Monday, May 29, 2000

Week of 05/29/2000

What They Died For
- by David Matthews 2

This week Americans celebrate Memorial Day, the day when we are to remember the lives of those lost in the service of their country during wartime.

It is said that there can be no greater honor than to die in the service of your country. In America, what greater sacrifice could be made than to give your life to preserve that which America stands for.

But some people are now wondering what those lives were lost for. They look at the state of the nation ask themselves was it really worth it?

They watch as the highest office in the land is fraught with scandals and shame. Of a man who lies to the people who put him in office, who insults their intelligence, and claims that there is too much freedom in America and that there isn’t a problem that can’t be solved with more government.

They watch as a body of legislators break their promises to voluntarily serve a limited number of terms, and give themselves huge pay raises. Of men and women who promise to curb the excesses of campaign financing, but only as long as they themselves can rake in as much campaign cash as possible. Of men and women who criticize society for their moral weaknesses, only to later admit to their own equal failings.

They watch with horror as flag burning and sex on television are accepted in the courts, and feel the bile in the belly when their personal religion can’t be instilled in government.

Some wonder is it worth it? Is it worth fighting and dying for America so people can burn the flag? It is worth fighting and dying for your country so politicians can be corrupt and dishonest?

Well let’s get brutally honest here… Yes. It is. Because what they died for is something far greater than that.

Our men and women of the armed service did not give their lives up for corrupt politicians, or for flag burning, or for sex on television. What they sacrificed their lives for was the freedom that America was founded upon.

Oh sure, it would be nice to say that those lives were lost to sustain some clean and sanitized dream of America. Of Main Streets and polite children playing. Of workers who paused from their hard labors and took a minute and said thanks to those servicemen. Of parades and floats and Miss Wildflower on the back of some convertible waving and smiling. Of the local barber shop and the old fashioned soda fountains. It would be nice to say that THAT was what our servicemen and women died for.

But let’s face it.. that vision is just that, a vision. Something that doesn’t exist. Oh, sure, there are still some places in America where there are Main streets, and parades, and the local barber shop, and Miss Wildflower, but these are inventions of a more modern day; symbols of a more modern dream. These were not the visions of the Civil War, when the Memorial Day was first founded. Certainly these were not the visions of the servicemen who died in the War of 1812. And most certainly these were not the visions of the men who died in order for our founding fathers to create America.

What they fought and died for was for something that transcended the inventions of the day and the symbols of the time. Indeed, they fought for the freedom that helped make those things possible.

When one fights and dies for freedom, they are not sacrificing their lives to keep a corrupt politician in office, or for some radical protester to burn the flag. Politicians come and go. Today’s radical protester could very well be tomorrow’s statist. Even the very flag that is burned is but a piece of cloth, symbolizing something that cannot be burned.

When one fights for freedom, they are fighting for the means of people to control their own lives. If those in power are corrupt, it is up to the people to remove that corruption. One may not like seeing someone burn a flag, or to know that there are channels on cable television that churn their stomachs, but at least there are options as diverse as that. Freedom GIVES us those options. It is up to us to decide which course to take.

Many people have given us that subtle dig about never forgetting the men and women who have sacrificed their lives in the service of America. I would go one step further than that. I would also hope that people never forget what it is that those servicemen and women died for; for the cause is most certainly as important as those who give up their lives for it.

Monday, May 22, 2000

Week of 05/22/2000

Gunning For Battle
- by David Matthews 2

"From my cold dead hands!"

Those words were uttered by Charlton Heston at last weekend’s annual convention of the National Rifle Association as he prepared to take the reigns of the NRA for an unprecedented third term.

The image itself was striking. Heston, in front of the NRA’s logo, wielding a huge antique musket rifle, uttering the final half of a quote from one of the NRA’s founders that has so described the rebellious tone of that organization: "The only way they will take this gun is from my cold, dead hands!" It was a scene that only Heston could do, in a booming voice of authority that only Heston could make.

Clearly the NRA is preparing to go to war… or at least war in the political sense. But against who?

Well, obviously those in government, and those who need government to do their bidding.

Now normally defending the right to bear arms is not my strong suit. Free speech has been under the attack much longer than the right to bear arms, and can be taken away much faster by people who carry guns. That is not the case when the odds are even.

The NRA has been leading a pretty strong fight against those who would take guns away from private individuals. They have to, because unlike any other constitutional right, they do not get much help from the American Civil Liberties Union. In fact, you might say they don’t get ANY help from the ACLU in preserving the Second Amendment. Oh, the members of the ACLU will give lip service about the "proper" interpretation of the Second Amendment, but they would much rather spend their efforts protecting hardened criminals than to the right to defend oneself from those hardened criminals.

Sad, really, if you think about it. The one group that is pledged to protect the US Constitution turns their backs on the one amendment that keeps all the others in check. If they used the same rationality towards the First and Fourth Amendments as they do for the Second, the USA would be known as the Socialist States of America.

Let’s think about WHY the Second Amendment was created. The Amendment says, and I quote: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Now a lot of people will say that the Amendment applies only to the maintenance of a state-run Militia. Certainly the federal courts have interpreted that much. But if that is the case, can anyone explain why the right was given to "the people" instead of "the state"? Of course, the state was already given that right in the Constitution. It doesn’t need a second reminder that it holds that power. So why give it to "the people"?

There is only one reason why that right was given to "the people" and not to the state, and that is for the people to be able to defend themselves against an intrusive force.

Bear in mind I did not say an "invading" force. That implies an outside force invading America. The federal government is responsible for preventing that from happening. No, I said an "intrusive" force; those that would lay claim to an individual’s property, to their freedom, to their very lives.

That intrusive force could be a criminal, and indeed, the right to defend yourself or your family against people who would seek to do harm is a given in most societies.

Now gun control advocates would claim that the right to defend yourself and your family has been more or less rendered moot with the advent of the police. Under highly optimal conditions, I might agree with that theory.

However, despite the claims of law enforcement, the police cannot adequately defend the individual against a criminal. The police cannot, for instance, protect you from someone breaking into your home unless they are watching your house when it happens. The very motto "to protect and to serve" implies a task that the police by their lack of numbers cannot comply with.

In most instances, the police can only respond after the crime has happened. If they are lucky, they can nail down the person responsible. If they are close enough to the crime when it is reported, they can possibly apprehend the perpetrator while still in the area. Other than that, all they can do is avenge the victim, not protect them. That burden, unfortunately, still rests with the individual.

But there is another intrusive force that the Second Amendment is designed to protect. One that few people talk about with any credibility. That intrusive force is the government itself.

Now let’s get brutally honest here… is America in desperate danger of its own government? Must the people be forced to take arms and, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, "throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future Security"? Have we really fallen down the same path that led us to the Civil War?

No… at least not yet.

But we are coming pretty close to it.

We are witnessing the very foundations of George Orwell’s Big Brother being forged in the state and federal governments. Governments that want to create databases on every human activity. Governments that want to tax every human action and interaction. Governments that have turned your Social Security number into what the federal government now refers to as your "Tax Identification Number". Governments that have passed laws in the dead of night, with little publicity if any, that have a direct impact on the individual. Governments that have been, and continue to do everything in their power to erode the very Constitutional protections the public has been given. The same bodies of government that smile and say, in a tone that only the most naïve will believe, "Trust us."

Given all that, it is no wonder why folks in the NRA fight so hard for the Second Amendment. Because of these measures, membership in the NRA has skyrocketed this past year. Those new members have seen the warning signs, and they do not want to be left unarmed.

Now I am not one that believes that any old armament would do. I do believe that individuals have the right to bear arms, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the right to stockpile more arms than most third world countries. However, I seriously doubt there could be a credible and meaningful discussion on how much armament is enough, given the current players in this game.

For starters, you have the Clinton Regime and their endless drivel about wanting to enact "common sense" laws. Coming from a president that once asked what the definition of "is" is, one has to seriously question Clinton’s use of the words "common sense."

Bill Clinton’s definition of "common sense" legislation includes barring gun show dealers from selling guns until their customers pass a background check conducted within three business days. But let’s use some of that "common sense" for a minute. Three business days are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Most gun shows happen on Saturday and Sunday. Under Clinton’s proposal, most gun show dealers would not be able to sell their guns at all.

Tell you what… when the liberals and gun control advocates start proposing some real "common sense" ideas, maybe then the gun rights advocates will start listening to them.

This situation is made even worse with the constant bantering by politicians and members of the media. Every tragedy is met with yet another subtle dig about gun control. Every life lost by guns met with cameras shining on some pork-laden politician who is eager to show up at the scene and babble on for more legislation and more government bureaucracy. Despite the fact that they appear to hate such scenes, in the back of their poll-driven minds they relish such tragedies, because it gives them more camera exposure. Those in government DO allow a certain level of loss in order to further boost their political careers. Former NRA chairman Wayne La Pierre was right in that regard.

There is a term used to describe these PR parasites that should be uttered whenever they show their faces at these sad scenes: tragedy whores.

The double standard in the media regarding gun use is well documented. For every story of a criminal using a gun, or a student who brings a gun to school, there is a story that does not make the news of a life saved because the potential victim used a gun to defend himself or herself. It is understandable why the media would be quiet about these stories. After all, what kind of message does that send to the public? That people can defend themselves instead of being cowardly little sheep waiting for Big Government to protect them.

Then there is the pervasive argument by the gun control advocates and members of government that it is not really the fault of individuals for their actions, but rather because of an inanimate object in their possession. They want to blame the gun for the evils that men do, not the person wielding that gun. They choose the coward’s way of assessing responsibility for truly tragic incidents.

Blaming the object is just one step away from having the government take control of that object. After all, people have rights. Property does not.

Given these factions, it is no wonder why the NRA believes they are preparing for battle. The sides are more polarized than Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in The War Of the Roses.

Yet somewhere in the rhetoric, there is room for a middle ground. Some real, legitimate, common sense solutions that try to make the world around us a little bit safer, while at the same time preserving the Second Amendment.

The key point is properly assessing where the blame lies for gun-related deaths. If the gun control advocates really want some meaningful solutions to the problems with guns in America, they must first stop trying to blame the gun for the evils of the person wielding that gun. That is a lesson that crusaders against drunk driving have had to grudgingly admit to. It is how the object is used that should be the issue, not the object.

Next, stop trying to turn to government at every opportunity for new laws. There are literally thousands of laws already on the books across America. Instead, hold the politicians to doing everything in their power to enforce those laws.

It probably would also help if the police weren’t so burdened with enforcing victimless crimes, and enforcing some puritanical thug’s twisted definition of right and wrong. Maybe if we shut down the so-called "vice" departments there would be more cops out on the streets doing the job that the gun control advocates claim they should be doing, namely protecting the public.

Both sides on this issue can also afford to give up a little bit of the political rhetoric. To the gun control advocates, recognize that guns are here to stay, and that the best way to deal with them is not to stick your heads in the sand, but rather to show people – especially children – how to use them properly. To the gun rights people, how about laying off the desire for high-caliber military weapons? Yes, an M-18 with grenade launcher and mounted bayonet would look great in your display case, especially with the 50-round ammunition clip. But it is also very hard to explain that having one is for home security… unless, that is, if your home is in the middle of an Eastern European war zone.

I’ll let you gun control advocates in on a little secret… I have no doubt that many members of the NRA would also live for the day when those initial stand for "Not Relevant Anymore." With the exception of those who yearn for the limelight, most people involved in political activism would much rather do other things. They don’t like licking envelopes and making phone calls to their congressman any more than you do. They would much rather spend their time and energies with their families, safe and secure in the belief that their lives and their property would be protected. They don’t seek to make the world any more dangerous than it already is. Quite the contrary. They look forward to the day when they don’t need their weapons.

Until that day happens, though, both sides on this issue will be preparing for a battle that neither side can afford to lose… nor can they afford to win.

Monday, May 15, 2000

Week of 05/15/2000

What’s In A Number?
- by David Matthews 2

"There is apparently no surer way of turning a thing into its opposite than by exaggerating it." - Eric Hoffer

As I am putting keys to the keyboard, the MILLION Mom March is going on in Washington DC. Well, it won’t exactly be ONE MILLION mothers. In fact, even the organizers of the march say that at best there will be two hundred thousand mothers participating.

But let’s face it.. which sounds more impressive to the sound-byte members of the media? Saying you will have one million mothers, or simply two hundred thousand? It’s not like anyone will be keeping count, right? Besides, when C-Span covers the show, even a thousand people looks like a million.

And of course, this would not be the first time the numbers are fudged for publicity’s sake. How about the so-called "Million" Man March a few years ago? Well, at least the organizers there tried to get a million African-American men to come to Washington. So they were off by a few hundred… Doesn’t really matter, right? It’s the fact that they were THERE that mattered, right?

In the world of politics, numbers are important. When reason and logic cannot be used to gain political support, numbers are used. In a democratically-elected government, where the majority often rules, politicians often vote not by political philosophy as much as whatever can ensure the highest number of votes come election time. That is why some politicians are heavily addicted to polls. They want to feel like they are following the wishes of the people… even if "the people" is maybe 55% of a sample segment of the populace.

This was true when it came to the so-called "Moral Majority" - the gang of highly religious moralistic thugs led by Reverend Jerry Falwell, who tried to run roughshod through the political world and over our constitutional rights in the 1980’s. In truth, though, the so-called "Moral Majority" was hardly a majority. It was, as with most gangs of moralist thugs, simply a very vocal minority. However, the name alone gave the illusion to politicians and to members of the media that they were much larger than they really were.

Politicians also fudge the numbers when it comes to the budget. Both Democrats and Republicans love to boast of "cutting" the budget while at the same time spending even more money than the previous year. How is this done? Simple. Let’s say an imaginary federal department watching widgets wants to increase their budget by $5 million for next year. The politicians overseeing the funding for the Department of Widgets asks if they could operate at $3 million over this year’s spending. The Secretary of Widget-Watching does his or her prerequisite teeth-gnashing, sighs, and then says they can operate at $3 million over this year’s spending. The politicians then claim that they just cut the budget by $2 million.

The truth, of course, is that the Department of Widgets is going to spend $3 million more than they did last year. However, in the world of politics, that $3 million is actually a $2 million "budget cut." See how that works?

Of course, budget numbers are not the only things fudged in the federal government. Military numbers are as well. Remember Vietnam? According to the number of battles we supposedly "won", Saigon should never have fallen to the North Vietnamese. That was our excuse to pull out of that conflict.. we "won" a certain number of battles, game over.

How our government taxes us is also a matter that is easily quibbled over. When Bill Clinton was running for President of the United States in 1992, he made a vow to cut taxes. A few months after he was sworn into office, Clinton went in front of the cameras and told America that he would have to renege on that promise, but "according to the numbers" his tax hikes would actually become a tax cut for middle-class families. The operative words, of course, are "according to the numbers." In truth, everyone got soaked with Bill Clinton’s tax hike.

Let’s get brutally honest here.. politicians love to fudge numbers. After all, who else would try to claim that fifty-one percent of the populace is considered a "mandate from the people"? Once upon a time a so-called "mandate" was when a politician won with the support of three-fourths of the voting populace.

It is, of course, another form of lying. Not as dramatic as, say, "Read my lips, no new taxes"… or as bold as "I did not have sexual relations with that woman"… but it is lying nonetheless.

Worse yet, this is a kind of lie that destroys the credibility of any organization. The message that is presented is that the organization cares more about appearance than the cause they support. In other words, they value symbolism over substance.

It is one thing to give an approximate number to someone. The organizers of the Million Man March can say that approximately one million African-American men showed up in Washington DC. However, the organizers of the so-called "Million" Mom March didn’t even attempt to live up to their name. Instead, they relied on the name and their political agenda to skirt their little lie past the American public.

We expect our elected officials to be honest with us, but how can that happen when we don’t live up to our own level of honesty? If the founders of the so-called "Million" Mom March wanted to make a statement, they could have easily used a more honest name for their day of protest. Calling the event "Mother’s March For Peace", for instance, sounds just as impressive and more honest than trying to baffle people with exaggerated numbers.

Thomas Jefferson once said that "It is error alone which needs the support of government." Clearly the people behind the so-called "Million" Mom March organized their demonstration for purely political reasons, and that in itself is sad; because all they appear to be interested in, then, is to get government to pass laws instead of making real changes in society.

Real societal changes do not come from government, and they do not come from symbolic gestures fraught with over-exaggerations. Rather, they come from credible arguments and sound reasoning and persistence. The changes do not happen overnight, but they do happen, and without the need of legislation.. or rallies, for that matter.

Monday, May 8, 2000

Week of 05/08/2000

Zero Tolerance, Zero Intelligence
- by David Matthews 2

"Every extreme attitude is a flight from the self." - Eric Hoffer

Zero Tolerance!

Boy that sounds tough, doesn’t it?

Zero Tolerance!

You’re not going to take any gruff from anyone! No way, no how, no matter what! It’s your way or the highway!

Zero Tolerance!

No gray zones. No questions. No "varying degrees" of punishment. Quick, swift, and absolute! No method of appeals. No second chances. You get one shot, and if you blow it, you’re toast!

Zero Tolerance!

People like that, don’t they? Black-and-white, zero-sum, yes-or-no, right-or-wrong. People are comforted by some absolutes in their life. To know that there are explicit rules that one must follow, and that if you break those rules, you get punished, no questions asked.

Politicians love zero tolerance. It is the "double-dog dare" of political promises. You can’t get any stricter than that. What? You want to give a criminal THREE strikes before you throw the book at him? What a mealy-mouthed liberal wimp you must be! I’m going for zero tolerance.. the first infraction will be his last! Just like kids in the playground, the first politician who declares a "zero tolerance" policy wins.

Members of law enforcement love zero tolerance because it is the closest thing to running a totalitarian police state as they can get in a relatively free society. The slightest infraction is treated the same way as the most serious of offenses. They can even use the infamous "Nuremberg Defense" of "just following orders" when the people complain. Hey, it’s not their fault.. it’s the law.

School officials love zero tolerance because it takes away all discretion. They can’t be accused of "coddling" disruptive kids or being too lenient with them. Rules are rules, and if you break them, you pay the price.

Now let’s get past the political banter and take a close look at what a "zero tolerance" policy really means.

Zero tolerance is taking a rule to its absolute limit. If you’re on the highway, it means driving no faster than the posted speed limit. Simple, right? Some communities have become "speed trap" areas because they take zero tolerance of the speed limit so much to extreme that they can quite literally pay their own budget off of the speeding tickets generated from them.

But what happens when we talk about something a little more general, like a zero tolerance policy on drugs or violence?

Well, once again that no-brainer mentality in our authority figures kick in and says "no drugs.. and no violence… period. What part don’t you understand?"

Let’s ask Shannon Eierman about that. She was an honor roll student at Atholton High School. Supposedly she was on a school ski trip in Vermont when she picked up two cans of beer she had spotted and was in the process of dumping them out when she was spotted by one of the chaperones. Thanks to that area’s "zero tolerance" policy, she was suspended for five days, forced to undergo an alcohol treatment program, and she was suspended from all extracurricular activities for half the school year. All of that for emptying two cans of beers that were not even hers to begin with!

Zero tolerance on drugs has meant students have been suspended or expelled for bringing in aspirin. It has meant students being suspended for PRETENDING to be drug users, such as pretending to snort powdered Kool-Aid.

Zero tolerance on violence has produced even more freedom-busting rules. Students who have been suspended or expelled for bringing in plastic knives to cut their own lunches. Students who have been suspended or expelled for carrying nail clippers that contain a small fingernail file.

Even the inference of violence has been rewarded with strict punishment from school officials. When nine-year old Karl Bauman -- a fan of martial arts movies -- was asked to write up a fortune cookie message, he came up with "you will die an honorable death" and suspended from school for violating that school’s new "zero tolerance" rule of threatening messages. Charles Carithers was recently suspended from Boston Latin Academy for writing a horror story as part of his English assignment that was so vivid it scared his teacher. Two other students were recently suspended from school for playing "cops and robbers" on the playground, simply because they used their fingers to simulate guns!

But zero tolerance in schools have gotten even more tyrannical than that. Because of one school’s "zero tolerance" policy on crime, twenty-eight high school students in Virginia were strip-searched in a futile effort to find $100 that was reported missing by one student. A twelve-year old boy in Rhode Island was suspended for ten days simply because his name appeared on a list of students that were present during a shoving match. The boy supposedly did not take part in the shoving match, but was simply present, and thus was declared guilty by association. Kent McNew of Surry County High School in Virginia was suspended simply because he dyed his hair blue, apparently in violation of that school’s new zero tolerance of "unusual hair color" policy. Eleven students from Field High School in Brimfield, Ohio, were suspended because they contributed to a website that had gothic themes.

Even the protests of zero tolerance policies can be considered criminal. Jennifer Boccia in Allen, Texas, was suspended from school because she wore black armbands in protest of the school’s zero tolerance policies following the Columbine massacre in 1999.

Now let’s get brutally honest here.. we all want safe schools and safe communities, but following rules to their extreme is not the answer. Granted "no weapons" or "no drugs" should mean just that, but does punishing students who play "cops and robbers" with their index fingers fall under the category of "threat"? Or the kids who were caught trying to "snort" powdered Kool Aid fall under the same category as a "drug user"? No, they weren’t; and suspending them for doing so just to teach a lesson is in itself a lesson in administrative overkill.

Zero tolerance rules may be considered a no-brainer in terms of what is covered, but when implemented as it is designed, it also eliminates the very discretion that administrators are supposed to use. Our leaders are not supposed to be mind-numbed robots, blindly implementing rules to their absolute extreme nature.

Indeed, a zero tolerance policy may also be considered a zero intelligence policy; a policy where administrators are expected to check their brains at the door. How ironic, then, that zero tolerance policies are happening in the schools, a place where young people are expected to develop and utilize the very intelligence that is lacking from their authority figures.

Ultimately, though, the fault rests not with our leaders as much as it is with the general public. We, as a society, fail to recognize that zero tolerance in its truest form is extremism. Instead, we fall prey to our own desire to feel safe and secure and blindly trust whatever policy our leaders and public officials provide as long as they can guarantee that safety and security. We must, if we truly cherish freedom -- for ourselves if not for our children -- be able to challenge that extremist mentality and keep it in check.

True leaders, be they school administrators or politicians, must be balanced and just in providing discipline. There is a profound difference between playing "cops and robbers" with pointed fingers and a student who contemplates going on a real-life killing spree with a real gun. If an administrator thinks he or she can treat those situations identically, then they have no business whatsoever being in that job.

True leadership is not based on how rigidly one can hold to a set of rules. That kind of a person is not an effective administrator, but rather a spineless bureaucrat.

Monday, May 1, 2000

Week of 05/01/2000

Cutting Through The Elian Hysteria
- by David Matthews 2

"It is doubtful if the oppressed ever fight for freedom. They fight for pride and power- power to oppress others. The oppressed want above all to imitate their oppressors; they want to retaliate." - Eric Hoffer

I had told myself once upon a time that I would not talk about the situation over Elian Gonzales again.

I had examined this issue back in January. I pointed out that everyone involved with this situation have used that six-year old boy as a tool for their own purposes. I mentioned how this issue has been so politicized that not even King Solomon could resolve it. And I mentioned that, as much as it galled me, I had to admit that the Clinton Regime had done the right thing by saying that the boy belonged with his father and not with his extended family.

Unfortunately, that was in January. What a difference a few months make!

What was once a matter between the Cuban exiles of Miami and Elian’s father has escalated into national controversy. What was once a matter that was going to be settled in the courts became a matter of violence and threats of violence and a televised raid by federal agents that angered and surprised everyone… except for at least one person.

Now let’s get brutally honest here.. I was not surprised at the fact that Attorney General Janet Reno would order agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to take Elian from the Miami home and reunite him with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzales. In fact, all of the hints that a raid was forthcoming were as plain as day.

First of all, there is the fact that one does not say no to the Clinton Regime without paying a price. Just ask Bill Gates and the executives of Microsoft. They said "no" to the Regime over censoring the Internet and over encryption, and they got rewarded with an antitrust lawsuit that could split the company in two. America Online eventually rolls over to the Regime, and they get to build a monopoly all their own that puts Microsoft’s dominance to shame.

The second sign that the raid in Miami was forthcoming was the triggering of Janet Reno’s panic button. As the events in Waco showed, Janet Reno has an incredible amount of reserve when it involves children. But once Janet Reno heard that children were being abused in the Branch Davidian compound, she changed her policy and allowed the FBI to begin the series of events that led to the fiery death of every man, woman, and child in that compound.

Even though Waco has served as a constant reminder of how abuse of power can go wrong, Reno’s hypersensitivity to the plight of children remained as her Achilles Heel. And it was that button that was pushed once reports were submitted to her office claiming that Elian was suffering from psychological abuse by his relatives over the media coverage of his life. The minute that report was made public, people should have prepared for Reno to act.

Finally, there was the public goading by Lazalo Gonzales --- Elian’s great-uncle, and the man who has been instrumental in turning this whole affair into a media circus. Was it the imagination of this commentator to see Lazalo get in front of the cameras at one point prior to the raid and tell the world that if Janet Reno wanted to get to Elian, she’d have to do it by force? You don’t make those kinds of statements to the media and expect members of the government to consider them as just idle boasting.

So the raid happened, almost exactly as this commentator had predicted it would.

And now we have the aftermath.

We have a Cuban community that is acting like a bunch of spoiled children that lost their scoop of ice cream. We have a mayor of Miami who is firing anyone within his grasp associated with the raid, and in the process acting very much like his tyrannical predecessor. We have a US Senator acting very much surprised that the President of the United States would go back on his word. (C’mon, didn’t "L’affair Lewinsky" teach the world to not trust Clinton?) We have conservatives throwing screaming fits until their faces turn red-white-and-blue, and Republican members of Congress demanding yet another investigation of the Department of Justice.

While our elected blowhards banter faux-patriotisim, let’s consider a few things here.

First let’s remember we’re talking about a six-year old boy here. A boy that mentally has no concept of what world politics is all about. He certainly is in no position to demand political asylum, and there is even a legal precedent here in America that says one must be at least twelve before political asylum could be considered. That means legally the responsibility defaults to the parents… or in Elian’s case, his father.

I’d like all of those parents out there who feel Juan Miguel Gonzales is just a tool for the Cuban government to picture this little scene: Imagine your child coming to you and saying that America is a repressive country, and that they would like to live in a country with a little more freedom. Maybe the Netherlands. Would you let your child claim political asylum? Of course not!

So here’s the question of the day for all of those "family values" conservatives out there.. why is it that parental responsibility - which you folks claim is the end-all, be-all in the world - does not apply to Juan Miguel Gonzales? Why are you people so eager to take away Juan Miguel’s rights as a father simply because he refuses to stay in America? Your hypocrisy in this matter could not be any plainer if you tattooed the scarlet letter "H" on your foreheads!

If Juan Miguel Gonzales freely decided to keep his family here in America, that would be one thing. But if, after staying here on American soil this long, he decides to take Elian and the rest of his family and go back to Cuba, we should respect that decision. We have no business forcing someone to stay in this country simply because we don’t like the leader of that country. The last time we forced a group of people against their will to live in this country, it was called slavery.

Then there was the amount of force used in the raid. Hey, I’ll be honest with you, you had a crowd of people ready to riot on a moment’s notice. If I was with that group of INS agents, I’d have asked to be armed and padded as well! I was actually surprised that the raid was conducted with so FEW members of law enforcement. I was expecting members of the military getting involved, much like they did in Waco.

Did the raid use excessive force? Of course. But unfortunately, there was little choice in the matter. All of the wrong buttons were pushed.

Could this matter have been resolved peacefully? Yes. Months ago when this whole matter started. Why wasn’t it? Because politics got involved. Too many people started waving flags and parading about faux-patriotic banners to prevent a peaceful solution to this whole matter.

So where does that leave us now?

Right now we’re stuck with a bunch of people throwing temper tantrums both in Miami and in Washington. There really isn’t much to do about the tantrum fits in Washington except to let them die out. But for the people in Miami, there is much that can be done.

If the Cuban people in Miami are really pissed off at this situation, why don’t they do something about it besides try to shut down their own community? Get some boats, get some guns, go back to Cuba and get rid of Castro! Don’t wait for the United States to do something. We did our part, remember? Bay of Pigs. And we did a half-assed job in the process! Don’t wait this time! Fidel doesn’t have the support of the Soviet Union anymore. If the Cuban community is really concerned about the kind of life Elian would be living in when he goes back to Cuba, they should be willing to go back to their homeland and make it a place they would once again be proud to call home.

And maybe it is time we washed our hands of this situation once and for all. The Cold War is dead, and it deserves to stay dead. We need to look beyond the pseudo-patriotic banners and flag-waving and public hysteria and really look at the big picture. If we truly cherish families, we must be willing to let parents make the decisions that they feel are in the best interests of their children. If we truly value freedom, we must also be willing to accept the decision of those who do not want our kind of freedom.

Free will is more than just being able to choose freedom over tyranny, but also to freely choose the opposite. Eliminate that choice, and we are the ones that become the puppets.