Sunday, July 13, 2008

Prisoners of War

The debate over staying in Iraq continues in the middle of a tumultuous election year. Even though there seems to be at least two sides to the debate over the war - stay or go - there is a lot of commonality. No one wants to see American soldiers die; no one wants to give terrorism any advantage; everyone is concerned about the economy with loss of jobs and homes and increased pricing on everything. Beyond those points, we can agree to disagree.

Facts and figures are floating around as American soldiers continue to face numerous hardships. Among their strifes are multiple tours of duty. Not only are troops spending long periods of time in Iraq, they come back to the United States for a short time only to return again - not just once, but two and three times! As one seasoned veteran noted, "We don't even have a draft - these soldiers are enlisting voluntarily and are being treated like this!" Enlisted personnel are returning stateside with post-traumatic stress syndrome and bodily injuries. With advancements in medical treatments, wounds that used to cause death can now be healed but with greater ongoing needs for the patient.

U.S. Government leaders are pouring lives and money into a seemingly bottomless pit while Americans watch with disbelief and inaction. Perhaps alternatives need to be considered - alternatives that could save funds and valuable lives. Instead of recruiters telling blatant lies to entice new recruits, prison sentences should incorporate clear statements warning offenders that instead of jail time, they will have war time.

Audible wails can be heard from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, anti-violence groups, death row opponents, and other prisoner advocates. Still there are a number of logical arguments for the move to use prisoners as troops:

No more idol threats and long appeals. A guilty verdict that commands a sentence of more than six weeks is an automatic sentence to boot camp. Military camps are guarded, supervised, provide food and shelter, exercise, organization and routine. All of these elements would provide discipline and continuity to a population that is recognized as unruly.

Budget savings for Department of Defense and Department of Corrections. Less prisoners incarcerated in jails will lessen the budget for food, shelter, medical needs, as well as address over-crowding. The DOD will gain recruits but will not have to pay salaries. As long as prisoners' basic needs are being met with food, shelter and clothing, they should not receive a salary like their volunteer counterparts.

Reduction of crime. Knowing that crimes are punishable by active military duty will cause many to think twice before committing violence. "Boyz 'n da hood" may fight war on the streets but the potential of facing war in Iraq may lead them to find peace in the middle east-side.

Built-in Rehabilitation. On-the-job training is more economical and would give prisoners actual experience rather than skills learned behind bars. Society's outcasts would also gain fitness training and better potential for drug and alcohol recovery. Prisoner advocates declare that many criminals are misguided, feel useless, powerless, and are acting out their anger. Putting them in the military will give them the tools needed to create purpose in their lives.

Currently, felons can not enter the military. Law states they can not carry or own guns. If these laws were changed, prisoners could be armed and sent to attack the enemy instead of released to the streets to harm innocent citizens. Redirect their anger and their skills through rehabilitation and let them protect America instead of violate her.

Many would argue against such a preposterous proposal:
What would keep these prisoners from harming innocent recruits? Prisoners would be delegated to specific units. Based on good behavior, they could be integrated into standard units and even apply for specific areas of service. Imagine these prisoners actually learning and gaining self-esteem to the point they want to serve!

What if they were wrongly accused of their crime? Appeals would be possible but the months and years between court dates and hearing could be filled with serving their country.

How can we justify risking the lives of prisoners? If America can justify over-crowded prisons, violence behind bars, lethargy, lack of exercise and perpetrating negative energy for the incarcerated, justification of turning them into productive soldiers will be a breeze.

What about veteran's benefits? Serving sentencing in active duty would only gain the prisoner life skills learned on the job and perhaps a stipend to start anew upon release. If they choose to re-enlist, then prior time served could be added to future years of duty for accumulation of regular VA benefits.

Using prisoners can save American tax dollars on the home front and abroad while providing rehabilitation to society's outcasts. As the war continues and volunteers become scarcer, the potential for drafting young men and women increases. The process of herding troops baaaaack into action is abominable. Americans can no longer stand sheepishly aside while assuming the government will solve the criminal and military problems that abound. Alleviate the burden of the few and proud and distribute the dirty work to the under-utilized.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

News Views

Producers and editors decide what to show in the news and without question the public dutifully absorbs whatever tidbits they are thrown. The stories may be about hostages and wildfires but viewers and readers rarely complain about being held hostage by their televisions while being fried at the flanks.

We have 24-hour news services but they only run the same stories repeatedly. And anyone in a hurry has the option of a 24-hour headline channel! Instead of digging for news and offering stories in ways that might present a broader scope of issues, the media has gotten tunnel vision focusing on the almighty dollar.

Recent coverage focused on the rescue of hostages in Columbia. Reports revealed a simplistic plan: locate the hostages, fly a helicopter in and take the hostages out. The helicopter was an old one previously used by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). Oddly enough, when the chopper landed, and the rescuers pretended to be part of FARC saying, "We're moving the hostages" the real FARC didn't think about the fact that they no longer use helicopters!

This leaves lots of questions but the media will probably never pursue the answers. Why would rescuers risk using an old unused chopper? Why did it take the Colombian military more than five years to come up with this brilliant idea? Hollywood comes up with movies like this all the time! These wonderfully quick news stories also obscured details such as a total of 15 people were rescued. The blurbs mainly talked about the three Americans and Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian political candidate. What about other hostage situations in the world? They happen yet the media doesn't seem to dwell on these incidents unless it is a media person or someone that is a high profile victim. Even then, if there is no activity for a few days, the media moves on.

Years ago, news reports actually had a running count of days the Iranian hostages were held. Each day something was announced regarding the atrocity. How unfortunate for the Colombian hostages that this form of publicity was forgotten. Perhaps with the media continually asking for status reports the rescuing governments would have to focus more on their strategies and the hostage takers would either have opportunity to tell their side or have the world enlightened to their guerrilla tactics.

As for the almighty dollar, the media has fallen victim to the pressures of advertisers and board room antics. The bottom line must be in black with significant cushion for the executives. In the meantime, reporters, like the rest of the general public, are forced to produce more with less. No one has the time to investigate the potential stories. Budgets are tightened, resources reduced and salaries held low. The reporter is forced to grab what flashes in front of him. Much like the search for lightning bugs on a hot summer evening, the ones that fly closest and brightest are more likely to end up caught and placed in the soda bottle. If the thumb doesn't remain tight on the bottle neck, then a story might escape. Eventually, the bottle comes inside for the contents to be examined, dissected and capped. Without enough breathing room and nutrition, the stories die overnight, just like the poor firefly. No one notices the dead ones though because they will be tossed quietly and replaced with a whole new batch that will light up the next evening's sky.

As world citizens, the public must demand more from their media services. No one should be happy just watching a flickering bug on occasion. Instead, our news sky needs to be lit up, making constellations out of the connections that can be made. Create a quick map of the world showing hostage situations, who is involved and why. Show the acreage that is being lost to arson, careless campers and lightening strikes by mother nature. The country should be shown ablaze like the map of Bonanza, after all a picture is always worth 1,000 words. Quit repeating stories every 10 minutes. Set schedules with headlines at the top of the hour followed by a tour of the world with news stories. After an hour around the world, go back to the headlines.

Part of the problem with the media is a lack of employees with critical thinking skills. Perhaps this is the problem with the world in general. Reporters don't always know what to ask, as though they are already supposed to have the answers. They find it easier to nod their heads and take notes rather than stopping the speaker for clarity. Some may ask questions but skew the answers because they don't understand the intent. If a child comes running in screaming that Little Timmy had his leg cut off by a car, the average adult would go investigate before assuming the story were correct. The outcome would probably reveal Timmy got a minor gash on the knee when cycling into a car bumper. Why, then, would anyone accept at face value a news story that is full of holes?

Viewers and readers need to demonstrate the importance of getting complete and accurate news. Demand clarity and praise intensity. Whatever you do, don't just sit baaaaack and aaaaaaccept mediocrity.