font-family: 'Arizonia', cursive; Michael Stichauf - "As I understand it now...'til it changes": May 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


The Chicago Sun-Times had a timely article today about the current Chicago Blackhawks, which spurred me to write my take on the regime, Here's the link to the article;

All Chicago hockey fans owe The current Blackhawk "brain-trust" a HUGE round of applause. When "Dollar Bill" Wirtz died (previous Wirtz owner of the Hawks) died, his sons split the Wirtz empire between them, one son took the lucrative liquor business and the other, Rocky, took the spiraling, downhill hockey team, the Blackhawks. At the time, no one realized just how fortunate Hawk fans would be in the coming years. 

One of the first things that Rocky did was hire John McDonough away from the Chicago Cubs to be the Blackhawks President. Brilliant move. Since this hire, the Hawks have been on the move. Initially, there were some people who wondered whether he was the correct choice when they fired Denis Savard, the then, head coach. Well, Joel Quenneville was Savard's replacement- 'nuff said. As it stands now, Quenneville is soon to be the second winningest coach in N.H.L. history!

Another brilliant move that Rocky and McDonough made was to bring back the ex-Blackhawk players who were shunned by Rocky's Dad. Actually, they were turned off by "Dollar Bill's" cheap contracts and lack of interest in making the Hawks a winning team. Players such as Bobby Hull were asked to come back to the team in one form or fashion as a sign of good will and, probably, a way to bring some revenue into the team's coffers. Hull and Stan Mikita were constant T.V. presences as the Hawks made their first run at the Stanley Cup in 2010.

1971 Hawks- B. Hull-9, Chico Maki-16
Bill White-2, Lou Angotti-6
I, for one, have been a Hawk fan from as far back as I can remember. In 1971, I can remember watching the highlights of each of the Stanley Cup games on T.V. For Chicagoans of my generation, the obvious names of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito are the guys everyone remembers. But at the time, if you were really a Hawk fan, you also remembered names such as; Chico Maki, "Whitey" Stapleton, Jim Pappin, Keith Magnuson (who supplemented his income in the off-season by showing up at Little League Baseball trophy nights in Chicago), Pit Martin and Bill White. Let us not forget, though, the men who made those games come to life for us kids and adults alike. Lloyd Pettit, Jim West and Lou Angotti were such greats of the Hockey game, also.

For most of us, that was the "Golden Age" of Chicago Hockey. Until now, as Mark Lazerus so eloquently put it today in the Sun-Times. The current Blackhawk "brain-trust" has put together a team that, considering the league as it is today, better all around than any we've ever seen on the ice in Chicago Blackhawk sweaters. The kids who watch now-a-days will, of course, remember the names of Jonothan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith. Yet, they will also remember those other players who probably won't be household names outside of Chicago. Guys like; Sharp, Crawford, Hjalmarsson, Shaw and Saad will also live on in their memories because this is The Golden Age of Hockey in Chicago (again, maybe?) Thank you to the whole Chicago Blackhawk franchise.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Where's the change, Mr. President?

That's right, I said it! Where's the change, Mr. President? President Obama, you campaigned on a promise of CHANGE. "Change You Can Believe In" was your chief campaign slogan. For the last few months now, I've been looking for it. I've looked at the financial markets. I've looked at the way our government works, or doesn't work, actually. I've looked for the bankers who should be in jail now. Nothing! Okay, maybe I've got to look in other places, "change" could be hiding on me. I've looked in the park. I've looked under rocks. Nope, not there either. I've run out of places to look. I CAN"T FIND THE CHANGE! And it ABSOLUTELY KILLS ME TO SAY THAT!!
It doesn't kill me to say that because it would mean that I was wrong. Those of you who know me know that I don't have a problem admitting when I'm wrong. It kills me to say that because I had such high hopes. It kills me to say that because I can't find the change. 

Before I go any further, for those of you who don't know my political leanings, let me tell you. I'm basically a Democrat. I lean to the left, a little. I seriously mean that, too. I don't do the "big McGaff" to the left like some Dems (and there's nothing wrong with the big lefties- they don't even come close to the far right wing nut-jobs). I even have some Republican leanings, too. Yet, for the most part, I'm a Democrat.

I've been a big supporter of President Obama since the beginning, voted for him and talked him up. I believed in his campaign slogan, "Change you can believe in". I don't just mean that I liked the idea, I actually thought that the man could do some changing. I actually thought that HE thought that he could make changes. I do believe that he thought so, too. Unfortunately, I can't see the changes. 

Now, don't get me wrong, everyone knew that the President couldn't turn Washington upside-down but what I thought,
"I'm telling you, the Civil War was about
States' Rights, NOT Slavery"
and others thought also, was that the President would do some changing. I understand that he's got a congress that won't work with him. I understand, and let's put this on the table right now, that there are a lot of people in those "hallowed halls" who can't stand him because of his skin color. Hell, Congress is just like the rest of America in the sense that they've got their prejudices too. No, I'm not going to say that the Senators and the Congressmen are a smaller representation of America itself because that would be ridiculous! The percentage of Senators and Congressmen who are a part of the 1% doesn't come close to the percentage in the real world but they have their prejudices just like America, on the whole, does. So, to start with, the President never stood a chance. 

The earliest example is the team of financial advisers who he had during his 2008 run for the White House. Those guys were some different "cats" than the ones who'd been advising previous Presidents. The President had been given some great advice about what to do to "fix" the bankers and their corrupt bunch before he was elected but, during the interregnum, the Washington insiders got to him and he dropped the bunch of 'em- dropped 'em like "bad habits"! I'm not going to go into specifics with this but the stories were out there when it happened. He had to change the face of his financial team and I remember thinking, "Uh-oh"! That was the first inkling that I, and others had, that this wasn't going to go as planned.

Soon enough, the President slipped into that "go along to get along" posture. Everyone knows the problems he's had with the Congress and everyone knew that it wasn't going to be easy but no one seems to care that it doesn't even look like he's put up a fight. 

Now we have this "Net Neutrality" issue in front of us. It's
Cable's Brain Trust-
Can you trust them not
to screw the consumer?
been brought to the fore by the recent hearings about the Comcast/TimeWarner merger that's going on as we speak. Yet, if anyone had been paying attention, we would have realized that the Internet and Neutrality weren't going to be living on the same planet together the moment that President Obama's appointee to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) revealed his thinking about a few things. Mr. Wheeler feels that it's really no problem for the FCC to 

"forbid ISPs to block any legal websites or services, but allow them to favor some traffic under "commercially reasonable" arrangements, to be reviewed by the FCC on a case-by-case basis. A deal Netflix recently reached with Comcast to ensure that the video company's content appears bright and sharp on Comcast customers' iPads and TVs – one that Netflix suggests it signed only because it had no alternative – would probably fall well within the rules." 
Without re-hashing my last post about this issue, it's just another case of "Corporatism" style capitalism. Please see my post; The Monopolistic Threat to Net Neutrality. The post talks about how ISP's (Internet service Providers) would be able to charge content providers more money for better access to the consumer's t.v. This would cut out the new or smaller companies, who don't have the billions of dollars that the select few have, and screw the consumer. This is what I'm talking about. More of the same- "Crony Capitalism"! Watch this recent episode of "The Rubin Report" with Dave Rubin. Rubin and his guests talk about the "Net Neutrality" issue and Obama's inability to make change happen.

Like I've stated, I was, and still am a supporter of President Obama. That's why this whole issue upsets me so much. Sure, he's made some great headway and improvements to the economy. I know there are some right wing nut-jobs who will say that they're not really his achievements to own but they're wrong, they are his to own and champion. The progress has happened on his watch. That's the way this all works, whoever is in the White House takes the credit AND the blame, the good AND the bad and it all gets heaped on them. Why? Because they are at the helm. Now, just a couple of his achievements since he's been in the White House;

  • The Affordable Care Act- Over 10 Million Americans now have coverage.
  • Just today (May 15, 2014) it was announced that the unemployment rate is at it's lowest in seven years. That's since before the debacle that happened on Bush's watch!
  • He's cut the deficit in half!
This is great stuff but there's a difference in these achievements and the "Change you can believe in" stuff. He explicitly said that we needed to change the culture in Washington. Well, I don't think anyone is going to change the culture, totally, in Washington until we get money out of politics. Yet, something needs to be done in regards to the corrupt bankers who, darn near, brought down our economy and our nation. Not anywhere near the number of bankers ever ended up in jail. Okay, Bernie (Madoff) did and so did a couple of Enron guys but this kind of stuff has been going on for decades now! The Savings and Loan scandal of the early eighties is an example of how long these guys have been getting away with it. A couple of those guys went away too, A COUPLE. The Banking community gets in trouble and they offer up a sacrificial lamb to quell the desire for vengeance and it's over until another disaster hits. By the way, these guys get away with theft for years and the only reason we find out about it is when there is a disaster. Watch this great "Ted Talks" episode called How to Rob a Bank From the Inside- William Black. He really spells it out. 

The "Crony Capitalism" is another thing that needs to be addressed. I look at the divide that we have in this country and it's ridiculous. America was proud of the fact that we were the "Great Middle-Class Nation". We aren't anymore. In a New York Times report from April 22, 2014, statistics show that America is no longer the wealthiest "middle-class" nation. In fact, while six other countries "middle-class' income" has grown since 2000, the United States' "middle-class' income" has dropped .3%.

I'm not saying that we must rig the game in favor of the little guy. I'm saying the little guy, at least, needs a level playing field and the things that are going on in Congress these days, and years gone by, slant that playing field towards the big corporations. I don't have the specific answers on how to do this but that's why we elected Barak Obama to the Presidency, so he could get the people on board who could make the changes that are necessary.

Mr. President, your administration started with such promise. You are the first African-American President voted
Election Night
into office by a nation still struggling with racism. I know that's some heady stuff, but you can't tell me that any of that "racism" has been a hurdle that's too high for you. I know you don't believe that it's been a hindrance. Yes, it's there, but I know you haven't let it be a problem. You still have some time left in your term to rally the nation and create some "change you can believe in". Let's marshal the forces that you have at your command and get some things done to get our middle-class on an upward course instead of the slow decline that we've been on. A country is only as good as it's middle-class and ours needs some help. These are the people who catapulted you to the highest, most powerful office in the world! Let's return the favor and give them something to believe in because you are starting to lose them. We need to continue with this idea of "CHANGE", the stability of our country depends upon it. Why don't you get the ball rolling again with something that will make our politicians work for us. The Young Turks host, Cenk Uygur, has started " It's a campaign to get a Constitutional Amendment to rid our political campaigns of the corrupt money that is killing the middle-class. Let's do something about the regulations that allow the bankers to get away, scot-free, with theft! Years before the catastrophe of 2008, an S.E.C. (Security Exchange Commission) regulator was screaming to high heaven about the "crash" that the "Credit Default Swaps" market was going to bring. Bankers started freaking out when they realized that she was going to put an end to their "Golden Goose". As a result, they put so much pressure on the Bush administration to get rid of her that, not only did they fire her, they totally discredited her. They did it in a public way to serve notice to the rest of the regulator community, "Don't even think about threatening us or we'll ruin you". Unfortunately, two years later, she was right! "CRASH" went the economy! 

So, as I end my diatribe, I'll ask the question that I opened with, "Where's the change, Mr. President?" Although our belief in you is fading, we still have that hope that you can do something to leave a lasting legacy. We're pulling for you! "Your Legacy", that's a powerful motivator, isn't it? Every President must get consumed by it. As an administration comes to an end, they all have struggled with starting to shape their "Legacy" into something they could be proud of. Some, such as Dubya, must try to craft, or invent, something that they can say was a positive "Legacy" but that's kind of hard to do when everyone, finally, realizes that he brought this nation into a war through a pack of lies about W.M.D.'s (Weapons of Mass Destruction). People from his administration don't even try to continue with the lie anymore. They know everyone has come to believe it was a lie! Mr. President, give us something to be proud of. Give yourself something to be proud of. Give yourself a "Legacy" of "Change you can believe in".

And that's, "As I Understand It Now...'til it changes".
Thanks for reading.
Michael K. Stichauf.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Monopolistic Threat to Net Neutrality

I just read an article that my friend Mark Thomas from "History as Prologue" posted called "Net Neutrality's Death Could Spark Populist Revolt" by Ron Fournier of the National Journal. It's a very compelling article that poses some serious problems and questions. Here's the link; National Journal- Net Neutrality's Death Could Spark Populist Revolt

I know there are large swaths of the internet community who dearly miss the intoxicating days of the early internet. A time when no one worried about their content being examined by anyone and an era which provoked great experimentation. The internet certainly has come a long way from those days. Nowadays, the internet is basically run by big corporations who charge money just for you to get online, let alone watch whatever it is that others are offering to the masses.

Don't get me wrong, these big corporations have certainly added to the incredible popularity and versatility of the internet. No doubt about it. So many of us would be lost without the ability to, in a couple of quick clicks, call up whatever information we need or our favorite T.V. show. These corporations have opened up whole worlds to people who, sans the net, would never be able to visit them. Just the information and videos that "The Smithsonian Institute" now offers gives kids, and adults alike, the ability to view whatever it is that they want to learn about. Without these corporations, the internet would be a totally different place.

So, just what is "Net Neutrality"? Wikipedia's nice simple definition is; "Net neutrality (also network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment and modes of communication." Another explanation is from the article; "Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers can't discriminate among content providers trying to reach you online- they can't block websites or services, or degrade their signal, slow their traffic or, conversely, provide a better traffic lane for some rather than others." 

As it is now, although the ISPs (Internet service providers) have to adhere to the above definitions, they are starting to "bang the drums" for less regulations that would allow them to dictate who sees "what", how they see that "what", and how fast they deliver that "what". The big corporations want to flex their muscles, now that they have the power to do so, to begin to tear down these regulations so they can begin to dictate terms to content providers and consequently, to the public. Whomever controls the access gets to dictate the terms and right now government regulations are the only thing standing in the way of these service providers. 

Advocates and early Internet proponents initially wanted the government to keeps their hands off the Internet. One of their arguments against the government having any regulation over the net was that the net would "police" itself. The Internet didn't need anybody to restrict or regulate the content being "broadcast", if people didn't want to see or watch it, they didn't have to. This is the same theory held by "anti-regulation" economists who believe that Capitalism doesn't need any regulations, the less the better. They believe that Capitalism is, and always will be a self-regulating system and if we just left well enough alone, the economy will always self-correct. In a perfect, Utopian society, that may be true. We don't live in that type of world. The world will always have people who are ready, willing and able, to take advantage of people and situations in order to get an advantage. All we have to do is look back at the Great Depression or the recent financial debacle of 2008 to see that great catastrophes can happen when there are people willing to do illegal or immoral things in order to gain an advantage.

Now, at the heart of this desire to roll-back regulations is money. Actually, it's money and monopolization. Monopolies seek to control their industries from top to bottom. When that happens they stifle competition and when they stifle competition a number of things happen. 

When a corporation, or a scant few corporations, control a whole industry, innovation is one of the things that takes a big hit. It's really just human nature. When there is no reason to continually better oneself, we human beings don't seem to have the initiative to better ourselves. When corporations don't have the worry about some upstart company, with fresh ideas, coming into their industry and threatening their position of power, they have no reason to continually change and grow. There's no need for them to put money into their R & D (research and development) departments. After all, R & D costs can be enormous. The theory is; everything is going along swimmingly, why change it. We control this industry and there's no need to make waves. Competition is paramount for progress in ANY industry. 

Another problem that occurs in a monopolized industry is in the area of price. It's simple economics. When companies don't have to worry about another company starting up and charging lower prices for the same services, they don't need to be competitive in their pricing. For years, companies such as Comcast have fought hard to keep other companies from offering cable services. Comcast has had a virtual monopoly for years in the cable field. It wasn't until the government said enough, that other companies were able to compete and prices dropped. 

So, as you can see, profit and money are at the forefront of this issue. There still is a danger in this industry for the consumer though. Even though there is now what we call competition, there is still the danger of collusion in this business. Collusion is when two or more companies get together and "fix" the prices for their industry instead of the market creating the price point. It's a practice that happens when there are a scant few companies that make up an industry. More than just a few companies makes it extremely difficult to get everyone on board for their collusive actions. It's similar to the law of averages. Eventually, someone with some "moral backbone" speaks up and cries, "Foul"!

On Thursday, May 8, 2014, the House Judiciary Sub-Committee on Regulatory Reform and Anti-Trust Law met and held a hearing on the Comcast-Time Warner Merger deal. You can view the hearing at this link; House Judiciary Sub Committee on Regulatory Reform and Anti-Trust Laws  A couple of interesting facts came out. Mathew Polka, CEO of American Cable Association stated that he's "not convinced that this merger will lower costs". As Mr Polka wasn't allowed to expand on his point, if it's not certain that this deal would lower costs, it shouldn't be allowed to go through. Cogent Communications CEO, Dave Schaeffer stated that "Comcast Cable has refused to upgrade their connections." Of course, no competition, no need to upgrade (innovate). This is a perfect example of the whole "monopolies stifling innovation" point that is so detrimental to the industry and consequently, the public, who are what these Anti-Trust laws are made for. I understand that whether a merger should be allowed doesn't depend upon the sole issue of, "will it lower costs" but that sole issue is the bottom line to the whole Anti-Trust laws of our country. Theodore Roosevelt, the "Trust busting" President went after the Trusts because of the bottom line to consumers- PRICE.

This Anti Trust hearing isn't the only hope consumers have in helping to keep Net Neutrality. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) oversees the industry. Unfortunately, President Obama's appointee to head the FCC. Tom Wheeler, isn't someone the consumer should place their hopes in. According to Michael Hiltzik of the "Los Angeles Times", Ron Fournier writes in his article that, Wheeler seems to favor the monopolist point of view. Hiltzik writes, 
His proposal would forbid ISPs to block any legal websites or services, but allow them to favor some traffic under "commercially reasonable" arrangements, to be reviewed by the FCC on a case-by-case basis. A deal Netflix recently reached with Comcast to ensure that the video company's content appears bright and sharp on Comcast customers' iPads and TVs – one that Netflix suggests it signed only because it had no alternative – would probably fall well within the rules. 
Arrangements such as this would give some companies an advantage over others, the very thing that consumers expect the FCC to forbid. 

Another practice that needs to be watched is one pointed out by Lawrence Lessig, an advocate of Net Neutrality. Lessig contends that we must not let the broadband providers use their "last mile" infrastructure to block content or competitors. Whether the FCC allows the broadband providers to use this "last mile" as a weapon or they allow providers to charge extra money for better quality transmission, the consumer loses out. It allows the big corporations all the power in the internet world that they can muster to charge more money and higher prices, thus enlarging their bottom line.  

If the FCC allows either of these practices, smaller companies or start-up internet broadcasters won't have the money to compete. A perfect example of this is "The Young Turks" and their new media internet broadcast. "The Young Turks" was started by Cenk Uygur and others when they became frustrated with the pressure from media companies such as MSNBC, who wanted their on air personalities to "toe the Administration line". Fed-up with this pressure, Mr. Uygur started "The Young Turks" network with viewer donations. It is a small start-up network that now has over a billion viewers daily. If these cable monopolies are allowed to charge more for better transmission or block a network such as "The Young Turks", who refuse to "toe ANY Administration's line", they have the power to dictate what they decide they want the viewer to see not what the viewer wants through his own volition. 

The Internet has come a long way since the days when Al Gore started it (What? You're kidding? He didn't?). Okay, since the beginning. Unfortunately, the days of no regulation are over. People might consider that a tragedy, and it is. When you boil it down, in a literal sense, ANY regulation puts a damper on our First Amendment Rights (if you are a purist). Yet, when the consumer sees what the companies that they MUST deal with are willing to do to make more and more money at the consumer's expense, they have NO CHOICE but to scream for Government oversight. That is also a tragedy. Sadly though, that's what it's come to, the consumer NEEDING the Government to protect them from the "Big Bad Cable Monopolies". As I watched the inter-action between the Cable big-wigs and the members of the House sub-committee, it dawned on me... the consumer doesn't HAVE A CHANCE IN HELL of the committee putting the "smack-down" on this deal! I hope I'm wrong!

And that's, "As I Understand it Now...'til it Changes"
Michael K. Stichauf- Writer.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Our American Soldiers

I haven't written anything for a while. I'm not sure whether it was that I had nothing to say or whether nothing grabbed my fancy. Maybe it's just the mood I've been in. Summer can't get here soon enough. Maybe, winter can't end soon enough. Spring would be nice. Any hint of anything over 50 degrees would be great! For me, it's these simple things that are required for my "winter hibernation depression" (I put this condition in parenthesis because I decided that I've just coined the name for said condition) to finally end. I'm lucky, or I should say, when I choose to realize that these are simple things that I'm going through, then I realize that I'm lucky. Unfortunately, our brave American service men/women don't have these "simple" changes to rely upon for their moods to change. Their's is quite a different existence than what it is that I have to "stuggle" through.

Consequently, I've been thinking about our service people lately. I've just finished watching a "Frontline" episode from PBS. It was entitled, "Bad Voodoo's War". "Bad Voodoo's War"- Frontline It was a terrific episode about a group of soldiers, a platoon, who were going back to Irag in 2007, some of these guys were doing their fourth, fifth, seventh tour of duty.

"Bad Voodoo" is the name that they coined for themselves because their Sergeant's nickname is "Voodoo".The producers gave three or four of the men small hand-held cameras to capture their whole tour. That meant that when these guys where in their Humvees or their Strykers, they had one of these cameras on their dashboards. They also used the cameras to do interviews with eachother about how they were feeling during the tour. 
"...getting spit on and called "baby killers" wasn't what should have been happening to them." 

You know, when I think about it, I'm not a hawk. At the least, I don't feel that I'm a hawk. Yes, I understand that there are times when we need to send our soldiers off to do our country's bidding but all in all, my first thought isn't, "Bomb the hell out of them". I didn't think that we needed to be in Iraq. Afghanistan...ya, probably. Either way, no matter how you feel about our country's decision to go to war, it shouldn't affect they way you feel about our soldiers. America hasn't done a very good job with this particular issue over the years. Vietnam was the perfect example. The stories of soldiers getting off the airplanes, after they just finished their one year tour of duty and simply wanting to get home to their families, getting spit on and called "baby killers" wasn't what should have been happening to them. Most of these men were just doing what our government forced them to do when they were drafted. They fought for Uncle Sam.
They witnessed brutal, horrible things happen to their friends and the last thing that they needed was to be treated the way they were treated. Also, most of these soldiers came home with "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder", something our military really knew nothing about. Astounding, actually, considering it was only twenty to twenty-five years prior that we had come out of WW2 and Korea. In any event, the way our public treats our soldiers now, coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan is so much better that it used to be. 

I started to wonder though, why these men/women actually joined the armed services over the last forty years then. What was their motivation? We don't have a draft. No one's forcing them to go. Watching this and other documentaries about our two wars, you hear differing stories from these soldiers. Basically though, it's one of a couple reasons that they choose to join. They usually need the job. A lot of soldiers seem to come from small towns and the best way for them to get work, something that's going to actually give them a living, is the military. For a while, the military offered bonuses when a soldier signed. For some of these kids, coming out of high school, with no hope for a decent living in the town that they were from, this was their best option. The military knew that too. 

"Other soldiers joined as a way of getting out of trouble, starting their lives over because they realized that their lives weren't going the way that they finally figured out that they should go."

Another reason was to pay for college when they got out. College has gotten to be so expensive that so many of these kids can't afford to pay for it. They don't come from rich suburban families. Yes, there are grants and financial aid but most of the time those things still don't cover the cost. Everybody knows, too, how hard it is to get a job in whatever city or town the college of their choice is in. If you are going to a college with even 10,000- 15,000 students, you tell me how easy it would be to find a job, especially with the economy the way it is. Other soldiers joined as a way of getting out of trouble, starting their lives over because they realized that their lives weren't going the way that they finally figured out that they should go. The military would give them some structure. Some, some just wanted the adventure. 

When I think about these soldiers, these kids mostly, they simply surprise me. In the 80s and 90s, aside from that little blip on the radar, Gulf War 1, there really wasn't any reason to worry about having to go and die in some God-forsaken country. They'd sign-up, do their four years and get out and go to college.
World Trade Center Attack
But ever since the attack on "The Towers", we've had eighteen year old kids joining the military, knowing that they would eventually have to go to one of the two theaters of war and fight, and maybe even die. Just think about that for a minute. How many of us, as we live our lives right now, would put ourselves in harm's way, just for a few bucks. Ya, we've got police and firemen who do it but that's also a kind of special breed. I'm talking about every person who is sitting in their livingroom right now, maybe sipping a cold beer, having just eaten a filling meal. If someone said to you, here's a hundred bucks for the day, you can keep that if you go (I'll use my hometown of "Chiraq" as an example) to the westside of Chiraq (the nickname that the gangs have given to the west and southsides of Chicago) and just hangout for eight hours. I doubt that there would be many takers. Yet, when you think about it, this is exactly what these eighteen year old kids are signing up for and to be honest with you, "Chiraq" still doesn't match the danger that our newest warzones have to offer. I'm not sure if they really understand the seriousness of the situation when they sign on the dotted line.

Chicago's Nightmare

As I watched the "Frontline" documentary, I got a picture, from the soldiers who were interviewed, as to why they continue to fight. Why, once they've been through the firefights, the IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) explosions or one of their friends dying, why they continue on. Why is it that so many of them keep "re-upping' or simply just persevere. I understand that, once they're "in country", they have no other option. They can't tell their superiors, "Hey, OK, this isn't the adventure I signed up for, I'll just be getting on the next 'bird' flying out." No, so many of these guys continue on because now, after all these months of living with these other guys, training with them, fighting side by side and sometimes dying, side by side with them, they continue on because they won't leave their friends. They've been trained to be a team and now they are that team. Now, that guy who grew up fifteen hundred miles from the other one in a culture that's totally foreign to him is his buddy. He's become his brother. That's a bond that's hard to explain. I'm not sure you can explain it. It's something though, that psychologists, social scientists and psychiatrists have been studying since around the time of the Civil War- probably even further back.

In every war that I've studied and read about, there is this bond that develops between soldiers that's really something special. It's a bond that makes soldiers do things that they wouldn't normally do. My last post was about this very bond. Michael Stichauf- "As I understand it now... 'til it changes"- An Incredible Act of Courage It's a bond that makes soldiers not leave an injured brother behind. It's a bond that makes soldiers die protecting their brothers when it would have been easier to just take cover.

In the "Frontline" piece, Sgt. Nunn, the lead character in the piece, tells a story of courage that cost another Sgt./friend of his, his life. This Sgt. took eighteen rounds in his body in order to protect his soldiers and help them all get into cover in the Stryker that they were driving. This Hero ended up dying because he lost too much blood. So now, these soldiers who signed up to get money for college or maybe defend America from terrorists will tell you, "Hey, I'm fighting now for this guy next to me." That's good for America though. Sure, these soldiers are no longer fighting for "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and chevrolet. The reason they're fighting is because their brother is fighting and they've been taught that you fight for your brother. When you hear letters that are read from the Civil War and the other wars that we've had, invariably, they get around to talking about being afraid of letting down their buddies. The letters that are written by soldiers before their first combat tell of guys "not wanting to let the platoon down." They've grown to love the other soldiers in their group and are willing to die for them. In the long run, that's what matters to these guys and that's what benefits America. In the "Frontline" special, Sergeant Nunn tells another story of how one of the soldiers from his platoon was left off the list to go back to Irag. He couldn't stand not being there with his buddies and it was so bad that he called the Sgt. and asked him if he could get him on the list to go. He wanted to be with his buddies, didn't like the thought of them being in danger without him there to help. That's the kind of bond that develops between soldiers.

"Unless you're standing on a street corner in "Chiraq" yelling, "Rocks and Blows", you don't have to live your life like that."

Nowadays, when you watch the news, you don't see too many stories that end all too well. In Chicago here, as I said earlier, the gangs have started referring to the city as "Chiraq". We've got a lot of killing going on here. Yet, when I think of my problems, my coming out of winter depression, I think about the life that our soldiers are enduring in whichever theater of war that they happen to be serving in. Everyday, in the "Frontline" special, these guys go out on what they refer to as "Convoy Protection". The "rules of engagement" have changed. Now, if they feel that they are in danger, they can't go on the offensive to protect themselves. Everyday and night they are in a convoy where, at any point on the road, an IED could explode and kill any of their guys. Every moment is one of tension. Unless you're standing on a street corner in "Chiraq" yelling, "Rocks and Blows", you don't have to live your live like that. I remember watching another documentary about the aircraft carrier, "Ronald Reagan". The one thing that has stuck in my head, from the moment that I heard it, was a comment that a commanding officer made. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, "Don't tell me that we have a problem with the young people in America. This ship is run, from start to finish, day to night, by 4,500 eighteen and nineteen year old Americans." If we just gave our young, high school graduates the help they need, we'd really see a change in how we think about our young Americans.

I've been wanting to write something in support of "Our American Soldiers" and here it is. Unfortunately, there is another problem that so many of them have to deal with when they come home, whether they are physically injured or mentally and emotionally injured. The V.A. and their treatment of our soldiers is pitiful. Just last week we heard about a scandal with how they were jockeying the patients on their waiting lists to make it look like none of them had to wait longer than two weeks or so. Well, everyone knows that this is totally wrong. Our soldiers are waiting months and months to get treated. Please contact your Congressman and tell them that something needs to be done about the V.A. and their treatment of our soldiers.

And that's "As I understand it now...'til it changes.
Michael K. Stichauf- Writer.