Sunday, May 24, 2009

the boy scouts

Recently I came across an article about the Boy Scouts of America. They have a new badge that they are offering for the law enforcement exploring program. Scouts are learning about antiterrorism tactics. It seems that these young boys and a few girls here and there are learning how to raid marijuana fields, use weapons to liberate hostages, and even deal with a gunman on a university campus. Is it just me or did the Boy Scouts just take a turn into local, state, and federal law enforcement territory? There is a hierarchy of law enforcement that does not include the Boy Scouts of America. Even two equivalent local agencies have to sign a mutual-aid agreement to act in each other's jurisdictions. The article does mention that these scouts are only supposed to use this training during supervised activities. In fairness, the Learning for Life organization does express it's frustration with the way the Law Enforcement program was portrayed.

There is a place for mentoring or teaching some of the skills of law enforcement. I can see where visiting offices, jails, precincts, and border stations could be useful teaching tools. But have you ever encountered the rent-a-cop who is WAY too serious about his authority? Have you encountered the community crime patrol attempting to arrest and detain someone without the legal right afforded a peace officer? This seems problematic on so many levels. It makes sense that personal safety should be learned. Self defense is good. Self awareness and awareness of one's surroundings is important. Helping people is need is a terrific character attribute for a fine young man. But hostage rescue? Maybe I am missing something, but these are boys as young as 14. Even the high end of the age spectrum is 21 years old. Impulsiveness and the delusion that one will live forever is part of the reason we all pay high car insurance premiums, right? It will never happen to me. I am immune from the gunman's bullets. It's the stuff of comic books. Have you been to a college campus lately? Who are we kidding? Most part-time jobs require the 18-year-old to run the fry maker or the meat slicer. Many of these kids torment their younger siblings in the back seat of the family SUV, but we would start training them for hostage negotiation?

All levels of law enforcement spend years, even decades, training, retraining, certifying, qualifying, and becoming better at their jobs. They train and work every day at great peril and personal risk. They also are entrusted with public safety. At the end of the day, they are authorized to use deadly force if necessary to save the life of an innocent, the lives of fellow officers, or his or her own life. Are those the kinds of powers we want to give to kids who still think that farting is hilarious? Do we really want a room full of independent junior G-men deciding what to do when a gunman enters a classroom?

Every time a student dies in a car crash, our local schools call in the grief counselors. They all talk about things for days. There are tributes, assemblies, and candlelight vigils. What happens when one of the gunmen is the bad guy, but the good kid shoots him? That's a scenario that a child or young adult may not be capable of handling. And it's a dynamic that a school would not want, either in law suit form or in a rash of vigilante copycats.

Most law enforcement would admit that there is a certain amount of the job that is intuitive and instinctual. Similar to the priesthood or rabbinical school, it's a calling. It's not what you do. It's who you are. Those instincts for defensive driving, talking down a jumper, negotiating a hostage release, or knowing when to use deadly force are not really taught. Handling the pressure and stress, managing the emotional toll, and carving out a life in the margins of police work is tough business. I know many boys who tailspin at the mention that they have a zit.

And maybe I am just a little jealous. I am going to pull out the gender card and say that Girl Scouts were NEVER this exciting. We weren't even allowed to weekend camp until 3rd grade. We didn't know what we were missing! I didn't know I could have learned how to guard the Mexican border. I remember as a Girl Scout leader many years ago, we had to have seatbelts, permission slips, all sorts of training. I had to renew my CPR card every four years. I had continual training in safety and first aid. I can't imagine that the Girl Scouts would permit me to train a kid to fight illegal immigration on the Mexican border, permission slip signed or not. Pinewood derby, anyone?

the bank stress tests

As an average American, I have a difficult time understanding the state of our economy and the need for bailouts. Auto manufacturers, AIG, banks, stimulus, so what's a citizen to think? Apparently I am supposed to be grateful that tax-dodging brainy folks are in charge. Instead of feeling reassured, all I have are gut-level reactions that remind me of a slimy lying blind date. I have a pretty good radar for slime. I can't help but think that "it's going to be ok" is going to bite me later. Possibly the biggest bite will be saved for my yet-to-be-conceived grandchildren.

After months of bailouts and federal money, 18 of the 19 banks have now passed the "stress test". But the banks are still losing money. Apparently it is possible that more than $600 billion could be lost due to consumer default in the next two years. Now the governmental leaders are stepping in and requiring a new hoop. Ten of the banks are now required to release stocks for investors to purchase. Those 10 banks have 6 months to raise investors or else the treasury will become a shareholder. More government intervention. More government control. More uneasy feelings.

As the Treasury positions itself to become a major shareholder in a bank here and there or an automaker, I am supposed to be reassured that this is a good move? I don't know if there is a positive correlation between government involvement in business and that business being a successful venture. Most often the government solution is bureaucracy, paperwork, and layers of inefficiency. Then the second tier of the government solution is a need for taxpayer funding. The largest social program at this time is Social Security. There is an enormously complicated bureaucracy, and a large IOU in the vault. When it comes to having a good credit rating, good solvency, and good debt-to-income ratio, it seems that the Treasury is not the best bet.

When is the "stress test" for the American taxpayer? Will someone come door-to-door and assess my ability to pay more, my ability to do with less, and my willingness to ignore my instincts? For now, I will just add another line item to our family budget called more. Right now that might be enough to buy a bag of Fritos, but somehow I think that they'll take it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

the memory of a child

When parenting toddlers, what is the first thing you figure out? They need constant reinforcement and repetition in order to remember. Put your shoes on. Put your coat on. Did you go to the bathroom? As kids get older and with enough reminders, they internalize those day-to-day things. Soon enough it's time to start teaching the "what ifs", and to address those things that they may not perceive as an outcome. Teaching kids to foresee consequences and to plan for possiblilities is by far the most challenging of tasks.

As a nation, it seems that we are stuck in toddler mode, unable to foresee consequences, and even in need of chronic repetition. How can we even have a discussion about complex ethical topics such as torture when we can't even remember as a nation that we are at war? After 9/11 it seems that there was a national mindset, not 100%, but as close as a republic can ever be. We had been attacked. Our innocent citizens were killed. There were unanimous and nearly unanimous votes in Congress. There was a national mandate to both have a war on terror and protect our nation from future attacks. Because we are toddlers, we forgot. After nearly 8 years, we have gone on to other things. We have forgotten our outrage. We have not only forgotten why we went to war, some of us want to prosecute those very people we charged with taking care of "the problem". We handed off the responsibility of tough decisions to others. Now we criticize. And now we accept what some Congressional leaders are saying about their stand on the issue years ago. They think that if they say, "I didn't know about waterboarding", that we will replace that in our memories as the accurate truth. Even though the truth of the time is that they fully knew about methods we used to get information. If they say it long enough, our toddler minds will be fixated.

As a toddler nation, we took our broken toy. We gave it to the repairman. We got it back fixed. Then we complained about how it was fixed. Too much glue. Too much time. No gratitude for those charged with fixing our toy. No memory of how upset we were at the broken toy. Americans suffer from a toddler's attention span. The only thing we remember about the last 7 to 8 years is what was repetitively told to us... "it's George Bush's fault"... and we remember the new definitions. We are too immature and short-sighted to look back at the old ones. The word "torture" is just the new word in a long list of words that we are supposed to redefine.

Maybe ask John McCain if intense interrogations in order to receive vital information to protect the innocent is the same as what truly was torture in the Hanoi Hilton.

If there is not a further step into maturity as a nation, we will spin in toddlerdom as long as someone has an advantage in keeping us there. We will be gullible to the whims of vacant leaders. We will swarm like 4-year-olds chasing the ball on a soccer field.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

the Mexican border and unemployment

Why not solve two problems at once? We have high unemployment among all age groups, particularly the college-aged kids. And we have a border that is as porous as a loufah. Why not have a reality show for young adults where they live in dormatory style housing, guard the borders in shifts, and party in shifts? Tequila is already available nearby. No weapons allowed, for sure. That doesn't mix well with partying young adults. Give them all of the technology from home... phones, computer, internet access, social networking. Which generation is better at texting, emailing, facebooking info around the world? We can have houses competing for prizes. The partying house v. the women-only house. The frat-boys v. the nerds. The preppies v. the emo kids. Heck, even have a sober house v. a stoner house. You never know, right? As a nation we have allowed Jerry Springer to thrive on the air dredging the trailer parks. Let's combine our voyeurism and our technology to solve some problems! Wouldn't the taxpayers of the border states be more willing to pay for dorms and booze? Most of us who have kids in college are already doing that! It would certainly be cheaper than the hemorrhage of money going to hospitals, schools, and social programs for the law-breaking border crossers. All that's needed is an ad campaign and a network.