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          Joel Stein, the little sitcom writer who has a weekly political column on the L.A. Times op-ed page(!), needs to resign or be fired.
          This is the only way the Times editorial pages can maintain the slightest veneer of dignity, if not credibility. In the past few years, the pages have schizophrenically gone from namby-pamby middle-of-the-road to Michael Kinsley-left to namby-pamby conservative.     
          With Little Joey, they have gone namby-Pampers.
          For non-L.A. readers, Stein wrote a Jan 24. column in which he said that he does not “support the troops” in Iraq. That unlike pacifist wusses, (his thoughtful words), he has the guts to come out and admit it. Here, so help me, is an excerpt:
          “And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken — and they're wussy by definition. It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward.”
          To his credit, he did not end this august reflection with “nah nah nah nanny goat.”
          Stein needs to vacate the Times not because he does not “support the troops.” He is free to declare whatever he likes until "President" Bush dictates otherwise, and apparently, he is free to declare it on the op-ed page of one of the nation’s leading fourth estate voices.
          That’s the problem. The Times has hired and touted a person whose skills at analyzing, judging, evaluating major issues would get him an A-plus on any high school newspaper in the country. And in a lot of trouble with the principal.
          Well, that’s just part of the problem. The other part is that Stein has a reputation, at least in some quarters, for being a venal, self-promoting provocateur huckster. Instead of shedding light, he merely wants it shed on him. As in spotlight. Here is the salient comment from L.A. blogger Tabloid Baby:
          “But Stein is an old person’s idea of young person’s point of view, so he managed to get a spot in Time magazine, and when Michael Kinsley took over and tried to “hip up” the L.A. Times editorial pages, a Sunday column there. It was the most useless, irrelevant and, well, “snarky,” LA Times column since Chicago sports writer Mike Downey temporarily moved to, then lost, the coveted page 2 spot....
          “The reaction has been scripted and played out many times before....He writes the columns, the right wing dunderheads stand on their bully pulpits and denounce him, the paper is flooded with letters, calls and emails and subscriptions are canceled, and Joel Stein gets to report that he’s received death threats. He’ll show up on TV, he’ll get on the lecture circuit-- heck, he might even sell a script in Hollywood.”

          I don’t know Stein, I am delighted to say, but I believe every bit of Tabloid Baby’s characterization. It isn’t hard, considering the transparent gimmickry of Stein’s puerile “I don’t support the troops” column. Has he been on “Larry King Live” yet?
          But let's assume that this thirtysomething (he's that old?) really means everything he blurted, and “examine” some of his “points.”
          First, it is beyond this man’s imagination that someone might oppose the Iraq war and still have good wishes for the men and women who are fighting it on behalf of this government. This is just the prevalent kind of black-and-white, right-or-wrong, us-vs.-them thinking that has reduced discourse entirely to dissing. It sells.
          Well, I oppose the war, and support the troops. I hope every one of those people comes home without a scratch. I say this for reasons of compassion and pragmatism---and even patriotism. They have been hired to do a job, and I want them ready, willing, and able to do it. Call me an old-fashioned wuss, instead of a pacifist one, but I still think that countries need those silly old armies and navies and air forces to protect them. That includes protecting Stein, in order that he may roam around in search of sitcom-writing jobs, the lecture circuit, his own talk show. Or even to write snot-nosed commentaries denouncing “the troops.”
          So I support every poor damn middle-aged National Guard soldier who should not even be in Iraq, as he or she hands out toys and books to kids in schools. Every shaved headed Army cracker listening to System of a Down at night and waking up to prowl 120-degree bombed-out streets in search of “insurgents.” Every amputee getting shafted by the government, rotting at home somewhere, wondering what in the hell happened. I don’t support those who commit atrocities, but who does? These things are part of every war.
          But not “supporting the troops” is really the least grating part of Stein’s bush league (pun intended) polemic. He does not merely suggest that they should not be spat upon when returning home (his generous words), he---get this---blames them for the entire Iraq mess:
          “But blaming the president is a little too easy,” he types. “The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying.”
          Oh, I see. All the dead overgrown kids from East L.A., Newark, St. Paul---yes, they are responsible. All the grandfathers in the National Guard being blown up by car bombs, all the gung-ho high school grads from the Midwest who couldn’t get jobs and joined the Marines, and yes, all the dedicated career soldiers---they’re to blame, not Bush. Not Cheney. Not Rumsfeld. Not the Pentagon.
          It was all those farm kids from Indiana who decided to invade Iraq.
          Oh my, oh my, oh my. How does the Times justify even printing such nonsense?
          Tell me: how can one be “ultimately responsible” when one is following an order that one has sworn to obey? This is like blaming the men who dropped the atomic bomb for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not Harry Truman. No Truman, no bomb drop. No Bush and Cheney, no Iraq invasion. The fact that I am explaining something so dirt-simple is evidence alone that the L.A. Times needs to not support Joel Stein.
          “An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient,” he pronounces.
          Now there’s a sentence that any 11th grade government teacher would be glad to see. It would earn a “provocative thought!” in the margin. An army of people making individual moral choices is not an army at all, Joey. It is chaos. Military morality is pre-fab, ready-made, designed by leaders. That's how it works. And gee whiz, I think that soldiers do make moral choices, don't they? Not all soldiers who went to Vietnam participated in the My Lai Massacre. Not every soldier in Iraq played naked human pyramid torture bingo at Abu Ghraib. Some even informed on their colleagues.
          “An army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying,” continues the sophomore---make that freshman---who apparently is so intimately acquainted with our fighting forces that he knows their morality thoroughly enough to conclude that each soldier is acting amorally, if not immorally. Yes, Joel Stein, sitcom writer, has written in a major metropolitan newspaper that our military forces should place “morality” (which he employs as an objective, not relative, concept) ahead of following orders. Yet he admits that this would be “inefficient.”
          Right. It might just inefficient you out of existence.
          I know it's difficult, but let's address just a few more of this little fellow's assertions:
          “The real purpose of those(yellow) ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices other than enduring two Wolf Blitzer shows a day. Though there should be a ribbon for that.”
          (Ho ho.)
          Not only does Stein again use the “morality” trick, employing the term as if its definition is universally agreed upon, but now he adds the presumptive “we.” Stein, you do not speak for me here, and as far as I know, you do not speak for all American citizens, so who this “we” might be is a mystery. And for the record, I didn’t vote to send these troops to war, so I feel no guilt about it. Here’s more:
          “I understand the guilt. We know we're sending recruits to do our dirty work, and we want to seem grateful.”
          Sorry. I actually am grateful to these people, and I pity them for being sent to do the dirty work of cynical megalomaniacs fronting for corporate tyranny and Israel, all the while claiming to promulgate “freedom” and “democracy.”
          “After we've decided that we made a mistake,” meanders Stein, “we don't want to blame the soldiers who were ordered to fight. Or even our representatives, who were deceived by false intelligence. And certainly not ourselves, who failed to object to a war we barely understood.”
          The only false intelligence at issue here is Stein's. It is very clear that the “false intelligence” about Iraq WMD was deliberately manipulated by the Bush administration in order to create a pretext for going to war. This was clear even before the war was begun, to anyone who was paying attention. There are few who dispute it today, beginning with former U.S. ambassador to Gabon Joseph Wilson, who exposed trumped-up “yellowcake” uranium data touted threateningly by Bush, Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice.
          As for “failing to object to a war we barely understood,” it seems that Stein does not read the papers, including his own. Many, many people understood all too well exactly what this war was about, also long before it was begun. One of them was Stein's  venerable predecessor, Robert Scheer, who was dismissed by the Times after 30 years because of this very understanding (!). Many others wrote at great length about it, and organized the largest demonstrations in world history opposing it.
          Enough. Refuting this column point by point is just taking the bait, I realize. Generating response is Stein’s self-aggrandizing goal, and I am reluctantly aiding him in that pursuit. I can only hope some of that impact is undercut by my observations here, and by one of his own:
          “I know this is all easy to say,” wrote Little Joey Stein, “for a guy who grew up with money, did well in school and hasn't so much as served on jury duty for his country.”
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