Wednesday, January 26, 2011

We Should Leave Afghanistan Now!

Last evening the President delivered his State of the Union address and briefly, very briefly, mentioned the now ten-year war in Afghanistan which he proposes to continue for three more years at a cost -- if we project current data -- of $150 billion and 1500 American lives.

We Americans simply will not learn from history - even our own history.  Winston Churchill a great fan of America once said “You can count on America to do the right thing, after it tries everything else”.

We won our independence with a Revolution in which the British, at one time or another over eight years, controlled every major population center in the colonies.  But we fought on and we won. And I am proud that many of my ancestors fought in that Revolutionary War.

We held our own in the War of 1812 even though the British burned our capital.

We evidently learned nothing from years of fighting Filipino rebels at the turn of the 20th century -- a war that only ended when President Woodrow Wilson promised the Phillippines it’s independence (which took another 25+ years).

And clearly todays leaders have not learned from Vietnam - that we cannot impose our political system on a people whose culture doesn’t share our basic underlying concepts and whose nationhood is either problematic or compromised by decades of colonial status.. 

So for ten years now we battle in Afghanistan - over 5,000 American men and women have lost their lives and many soldiers of allied nations and Afghans have died.  Initially the war was to make it impossible for Al Qaeda to use Afghanistan as a safe haven to plot terrorist attacks against the US and the west.  That was accomplished by 2003 - Al Qaeda today is based in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Then we took our eye off Afghanistan and fought the war in Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing weapons of mass destruction which the Iranians developed while we were fighting in Iraq.

Now we are in Afghanistan nation building - something Americans have not been good at except in the case of their own nation (which by the way has been true of most cultures and countries).  We are supporting a corrupt fraudulently elected regime against the evil Taliban rebels.  We wouldn’t allow the Afghan tribal leaders to bring back the King - no America knows best Afghanistan needs an elected President. And that “elected” President has to be propped up no matter what the cost including $2 billion and 500 fatalities annually.

The rebellion in Afghanistan poses no threat to the security of the United States.  Certainly not compared to what is happening in Iran, North Korea and even the instability in the Middle East caused by Syria in Lebanon and the potential problems in South America and the Caribbean fomented by Venezuela’s erratic dictator.

Afghanistan is called the graveyard of empires because Alexander the Great ended his world conquest there and turned back; the British never really could control the Khyber Pass; and, the Soviet Union began unraveling as its’ people died and its’ economy drained due to its’ invasion of Afghanistan.  We are spending billions of dollars that we are borrowing from China increasing our national debt to finance this unnecessary war - we are loosing thousands of young lives. Some of our nations leaders would have us stay there ten more maybe fifty more years. 

Why?  Are we doomed to watch the demise of the United States of America - “the last best hope of mankind” in the Afghan deserts and mountains.?   It need not be.  We should do as Sen. Aiken of Vermont advised LBJ about Vietnam - Declare Victory and Come Home.  NOW  


Thursday, January 20, 2011


Fifty years ago today (Jan.20th) was cold and snowy.  In fact where I lived in a neighborhood called Ridgewood in the borough of Queens in New York City there was so much snow n the ground that school was canceled.  I attended Grover Cleveland High School named after the only Democratic President between the Civil War and WWI.  He had been a Governor of New York State.  The even better news than school closing was that I could watch the inauguration of President Kennedy on TV.  Not in color and not on a large screen but then that was 1961.

I had participated in my first political debate when in high School in the fall of 1960 I debated for JFK against a Nixon spokesperson.  As a youngster I had heard Eisenhower on TV but only folks older than me like my parents had heard FDR.  So Kennedy was a vigorous and vibrant speaker to us.  He punctuated every line orally.  The inaugural address reads well but it sounds even better.  Of course he looked younger than most of the old white men who populated the inaugural ceremony stand and the proceedings.  But Kennedy had a flare for the historic.  So the song was from Marian Anderson who was renowned for among other things here concert on the Mall in the 1930's.

The address was thrilling.  So many lines that we now remember and repeat.  “Let us never fear to negotiate but let us never negotiate in fear” “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” and of course “Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country” They were heady days -- we thought we could do anything even land a man on the moon (As Kennedy pledged we would do that decade).  There was a great deal of hope that we could solve some of the problems like racial discrimination that we had left unresolved as we ignored social problems during the fifties.

The thousand days of the Kennedy administration were filled with dramatic events. There was the building of the Berlin Wall (now down), the Cuban Missile Crisis (now seemingly anachronistic with the demise of the Soviet Union) and the stirrings of the great Civil Rights movement with tempered support – but significant support – from  the  President and Attorney General Robert F Kennedy.  There were the Peace Corps and the Alianza Para Progreso.  And there was the hesitant but eventually settled American policy shift from support of European colonial powers to the right of all peoples to self determination and independence.  Unfortunately due in large measure to the Cold War preoccupation with the perceived threat of  Soviet communism there was the initial involvement in the Vietnam War.

We have lost the human ties to the Kennedy years with the deaths of Robert Kennedy, Sen. Ted Kennedy, young John, and now Sargent Shriver. Of course looking back now everything is tempered by Dallas in Nov. 1963 when bullets shattered the dream.   Daniel Moynihan, who was Assistant Secretary of Labor in the Kennedy administration, wrote in a piece shortly after, that the Kennedy years were a time of Laughter and Youth.  He said then “we shall laugh again but we shall never be young again”.  He did not know how prescient he was.

I guess that was one of the things that made the Obama campaign of 2008 so exciting.  To my generation it was literally the passing again of the torch (personified by Caroline and Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama) and to those younger it was like feeling and hearing what we felt and heard in 1961.

We look back now and realize what those years were.  In the words of one of Pres. Kennedy’s favorites songs “Don’t let it be forgot ..that once there was a spot..that for one brief shining moment..was known as Camelot.” Our Camelot was all too brief but it was Shining!


Monday, January 17, 2011

HEALTH CARE - THE SEQUEL The House Votes on Repeal

Americans do not like to dwell on subjects, especially of a political nature, for any length of time. Health Care reform was excruciatingly discussed and debated even the processes, remember reconciliation, for almost a year and a half.  Now with everyone having agreed on only one conclusion about the midterm 2010 elections, to wit: the economy caused voters to want change, the Republicans have decided to spend this week on a repeal of the Health Care Reform Law.  There is much of that law which I think could have been stronger.  In fact Health Care for all became Health Insurance for All.  There are some parts of the Law that most people agree with, e.g. allowing children to remain on family plans until age 26 and ending the exclusions due to preexisting conditions.  But the Republicans, catering to their Tea Party base, are adopting a simple one page repeal.  Then they claim they will address the specific issues. Good luck -- they didn’t address any of them when they controlled every branch of government from 2001-2006.

And when it comes to process -- they repeal with the same no amendments rule they blasted the Democrats for using when they repassed the original Senate version

This is a great country - the greatest free society on the planet. And we have good health care if you can afford it or afford insurance.  I believe access to that health care should be a right and as a practical matter it is since anyone can get treatment in an emergency room.  I also believe it should be a responsibility to society to get insurance if you can find and afford it so you reduce the fiscal  burden of your health care on the entire community.  That’s what the Health Care Reform bill tries to do.  We should allow it and all its’ component parts to take effect and then revise and reform it where needed.

And while we’re revisiting Health Care let’s again focus on end of life care.  I lost my wife to lung cancer a few months back.  She passed away at home benefiting from Hospice Care provided by Chester Keystone Home Health Services, which her oncologist first informed us of and consulted with us on along with health care directives; and, a Hospice Care specialist also talked with her.  I assume between our family health insurance and her Medicare they were reimbursed for those consultations and they should have been.  And that is all the end of life provisions/regulations would have done: reimburse physicians for discussing these matters with their patients.  It was such a good idea that a Republican Senator from Georgia (Isakson) first introduced it in 2007.  Obama put it in his original Health Care reform bill.  Then Palin and the right wingers lionized by Fox News siezed on it as a Death Panel.  Outright falsehood on their part!  A death panel is a body of individuals who decide what and when a terminally ill patient gets care.  Nothing about that in the bill or last months proposed regulations.  Actually it’s closer to what the Republicans who run the state of Arizona are -- doing denying some Medicaid patients transplants and okaying others. 

But, because today we have a politics of anything goes and anything is to be believed, the professionals who know best were ignored and the administration gave up, so the type of counseling my wife received will not be reimbursed by Medicare.  Fortunately we live in a country where many physicians will care enough about their patients to discuss these matters with them regardless of eligibility for reimbursement.

  But unfortunately we live in a country where are our politics is now dominatedby those who shout the loudest (or tweet the most often).  We must hope that ultimately Ronald Reagan’s admonition “Facts are Stubborn Things” will be borne out.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Guns -- Ammo -- Mental Health: Time for some Common Sense

With the attempted assassination of Cong. Gabby Giffords and the massacre in Tucson, there has been much written and said about toning down the rhetoric of political discourse and there has been too much finger pointing and blaming (although I applaud the Sheriff of Pima Co. Arizona for standing tall and telling it like it was the day of the shooting).

But surely now we can at least find some common ground on things that might prevent future such incidents or at least reduce their severity. 

The US Supreme Court has settled the long debate over the 2nd Amendment.  It has held that it protects a citizens’ right to possess a gun and that through the 14th amendment that limits what state and local governments can do to regulate such ownership We Liberals need to accept that ruling as the law of the land and make clear that no one is advocating taking guns away from those with legitimate reasons to have them and the mental capacity to use them safely.

But gun owners and NRA supporters need now to accept that no one is threatening their gun ownership and seek common ground on some common sense matters. No legitimate gun owner needs extended ammo clips (unless for target practice and then they should purchase and use such clips at the gun target range).  We should outlaw the production and sale of such clips.  And we should restore the federal prohibition on the manufacture and sale of assault weapons.

If we cannot convince the gun supporters will not support the restoration of the assault weapon ban, surely they would agree that anyone seeking to buy such weapons or the ammunition for them should have some certification of mental competency.  We don’t give drivers licenses unless they can pass a vision exam.  We require a license for hunting and for marriage.  Why is it unreasonable to require a simple certification of mental stability from a licensed psychologist before you can buy an automatic weapon or an extended ammunition clip?

And that leads to the issue of mental health in the United States.  It is time to bring mental health issues out of the attic and recognize them for what they are - treatable health problems.  This country needs more mental health counseling centers.  And, we need a greater willingness to use those facilities and encourage family and friends to use them.  In 1972 a fine and decent Senator was literally driven off the Democratic ticket for Vice President because he had once been treated for depression.  Almost forty years later, listening to Congressional debates I think we could benefit from some of our elected officials feeling no stigma about seeking some psychological counseling.

We should use the tragedy in Tucson,  not to renew Democrat and Republican,  liberal and conservative ideological battles but as an opportunity to try to find some common ground with some common sense ideas.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What Being a Liberal Means to Me

The pundits are proclaiming the death of Liberalism and the triumph of the anti-intellectual Tea Partiers.   First let’s dismiss all that simplistic talk and get to what the 2010 mid-term election really told us.  Those elections told us that political parties have lost their meaning and their appeal to the voters.  Voters today respond to the candidates brand and not to the parties’.  How, otherwise do we explain the victory of anyone when the approval ratings of the two major parties are at historic lows.  In three-way races the major parties even managed to run third (Alaska Senate, R.I. Governor, and Florida Senate). 
Voters want concise answers to problems, and maybe not even answers just belief that the candidate they are voting for cares about the problem.  People want leaders who lead and they respect  firm action more than nuanced ideas.

I am a Liberal and a Democrat.  I always have been and nothing occurring these days has given me reason to change. But, unless Liberals change their way of relating to voters, and their actions when they win, this country will remain a nation prone to the right wing, which it has been since 1968.

The first thing Liberals have to do is to stop running away from the word LIBERAL.  Franklin Roosevelt rarely made a speech without using the L-word; now Democrats and Progressives do.  Little wonder that Liberal comes in third after Conservative and Moderate in most polls because we have allowed the denigration of a word proudly used by Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR.  We have allowed a generation of voters who grew up during the Reagan years to be clueless as to what the word and its’ values mean.   Liberals  have to reclaim those values and repeat them clearly and with the clarity of a bumper strip not a college lecture.

We Liberals need to be outspoken in our opposition to the Afghan war. – not only on fiscal grounds but on moral grounds.  We can lead the world by the example of our ideas (we do) not the force of our arms.  And we can fight terrorism without the incredibly expensive military budget that we needed to face down Communism.

We need to be assertive in our belief that the best thing we can do to create jobs is to invest in our country by rebuildng our infrastructure -our roads and facilities; and increase our middle class citizens’ access to higher education.  Liberals should find ways to alleviate the plight of our graduate students who face years of debt (so they can’t afford to buy homes if they could get the mortgages that the banks don’t give because they are too busy foreclosing on existing ones)    Liberals have never been the apologists for banks. When the current incarnation of the national Democratic Party began in 1832 we abolished the Bank of the US and under Wilson and FDR we reined them in - now we bail them out and let them not lend to small businesses.  So Liberals have two options: crack down on the banks or have the federal gov’t lend directly to small businesses.

Liberals shouldn’t be negotiating with themselves and business men to come up with complicated ideas like cap and trade so big business can make money for its’ CEO’s when firm and tough regulations can do the job.

And when Liberals get elected they need to take a page from the right wing book.  Use terms people can relate to.  Leaving Afghanistan is Putting America First.  Repealing DADT is Letting Every Patriot Serve.  We shouldn’t leave cute double speak to Rove and Bush.

Liberals need to be proud of their history, simplify their message and their agenda, stand up for government programs that work and improve the quality of life of our people.

I’m a Liberal.  That doesn’t mean I don’t share some conservative views on issues; perhaps even some that conservatives don’t hold true. Liberals should be open to all ideas, dismissing none because of the proponent.