THE AFGHANISTAN DEBACLE –WILL WE EVER LEARN? (Posted December 5, 2009)
The so-called “war on terror” took another unfortunate turn this week with President Obama’s decision to increase our troop presence in Afghanistan.
For some unknown reason, politicians can’t seem to face up to a lost cause, despite such painful reminders as Vietnam, Iraq, etc. Moreover, since 2001, our efforts to deal with the “enemy” have taken on an almost comical aspect.
In the beginning, we were attacked by some folks from Afghanistan; we went to Afghanistan, the bad guy went to Pakistan. What did we do? RIGHT — we went to Iraq! Now we are going back in ever-increasing numbers to Afghanistan. But the bad guy is still in Pakistan!! Say what???
So who the hell are we fighting in Afghanistan? A bunch of locals called the Taliban, who do not represent a threat to us and who, by the way, seem more and more to be favored by the Afghan people, largely because ordinary people there don’t trust the government in Kabul—and we keep on killing innocent civilians.
But the big issue from my perspective is the way we are choosing to deal with the terrorist threat – for any number of reasons. First of all I think the big, modern conventional army is utterly incapable of dealing with guerrilla warfare—and Vietnam certainly proved this. So fighting the way we are in Afghanistan only does one thing—it “takes our eye off the ball” and, instead of making us more secure, it makes us much less so.
Why? Because the little, tiny insurgencies like the ones we are dealing with in Afghanistan are not the issue—the bad guys plotting in places like Pakistan (Waziristan) are the ones we really need to be concerned about. Furthermore, if we succeed in making Afghanistan inhospitable to them Al Qaida can always go elsewhere—places like Somalia and/or Yemen would be quite accommodating. And they could also decide to stay in Pakistan inasmuch as they are not being bothered there too much and—this is the BIGGIE – they are much nearer to the source of what they really want—NUKES!
So how do we deal with them? I think enhancing our intelligence capabilities is key; we need to know where the bad guys are and what they are doing. Improved human intelligence-gathering is critical to our ability to do this; when we find out where they are we need a quick, surgical strike force to go after them, killing them and/or bringing them to trial. Beyond that we need to be able to prevent their ability to move around easily and to interrupt their supply lines—meaning their logistical (weapons) gathering activities and their funding sources. In this way, we don’t care where they live, as long as we know what they are up to.
I think that the President understands this, and the decision this week has been made to buy time. At least I hope this is the case. Otherwise he looks like just another bankrupt POL who typically cannot “think outside the box” in order to solve this nation’s very complex problems.
And I had hoped for more.
THE CASE FOR PREVENTION (Posted September 1, 2009)
The issue of Preventive Health Care has been given little attention in the current debate about reforming the American medical/insurance system. Moreover, as many recent columns on this subject show, the discussion we have heard to-date tends to mislead and discount the importance of prevention. Examples:
An article appeared on September 1, 2009 in the Washington Post by Lori Montgomery, entitled “Study Raises Questions About Cost Savings From Preventive Care” that questioned the cost effectiveness of preventive care. In an August 14, 2009 article, Charles Krauthammer also argued that preventive efforts do not save money. As with the Montgomery article, he fails to consider the full savings potential amid the range of preventive activities that are possible. Further, on August 24, 2009, columnist Thomas Sowell cited obesity as a health-care problem “that doctors cannot do much about”, reflecting once again an egregious lack of understanding of the importance of prevention and the role that a comprehensive national health care policy must play in dealing with that condition.
Lori Montgomery’s article speaks to the key point – at the very end: that the biggest savings potential can be realized through early intervention initiatives, i.e., by administering the preventive care in the youngest group, those aged 24-30. The fundamental lesson here is: the earlier we offer preventive care the greater the savings. Regrettably, our current medical system has yet to recognize this.
The reality is that in America we have a remedial medical system. The system is procedure oriented, i.e., waiting for the onset of sickness then reacting by conducting tests and administering medication. Mr. Krauthammer bases his entire argument on the testing that is done in the current system. The sources in Ms. Montgomery’s article reflect the same bias.
Comprehensive prevention strategies do much more. Some examples:
-nutrition/weight management/fitness guidance
-smoker cessation classes
-drug and alcohol abuse counseling
-parenting assistance programs
None of these require testing, thus refuting the notion that testing is the only option for prevention. In addition, many preventive strategies are accomplished in group settings, which establishes a significant multiplier effect for the derived benefits.
Kaiser Permanente, my HMO, has implemented a comprehensive program of prevention as part of its health-care delivery system. Under their plan members pay a monthly premium which is key to Kaiser’s ability to promote wellness while maintaining profitability. The organization is highly motivated to keep people healthy, thus reducing the number of visits to doctors and hospitals. A visit to any of the Kaiser locations will reflect their commitment to prevention. The main entrances are adorned with fliers and announcements about many of the prevention-oriented activities described above that the organization provides for its members, all of which provide dramatic opportunities to save precious health care dollars.
As regards the obesity issue, nutrition classes and counseling enable families to avoid obesity and related diseases such as diabetes; parenting assistance classes offer pre-natal care and teach new/young parents about nutrition and medical care for infants. Smoker cessation/drug abuse counseling programs help folks “kick the habit” and focus on leading more healthy life styles.
Crime is considered a public health crisis, and preventive care can have an appreciable impact on crime. My own experience of losing a daughter to homicide affirms this. Renée Rondeau was murdered by two people who were allowed to “fall through the cracks”. They became ill early in life and this hindered their ability to learn. They subsequently dropped out of school and turned to lives of crime and violence. This began with a lack of health care early in life and represents a pattern that is all too familiar here in America.
Further, crime has a direct effect of the cost of health care. Consider the effect of 30+ million crimes a year on emergency room use – or on the medical expenses incurred by the victims of those crimes –every year!
Comprehensive preventive services must be a part of any change that we make to our system of health care. If we do this we can assuredly expect both lower costs and better overall outcomes.
Health care should be available to every American. A single-payer, national health system is the best way to achieve this. The current approach cannot accomplish the twin goals of increasing quality while reducing the financial burden to our nation. The reason: the fee-based system is antithetical to our ability to control cost and the success of the insurance based approach, perversely, is dependent on the extent to which care can be denied.
In expressing opposition to change, the extent that people are making their judgments based on their own circumstances and not on what is best for the nation should be a concern for all of us. If health reform fails, we are likely to see a continuation of the great American saga: people dying for lack of health care and families forced into bankruptcy because of medical costs beyond their ability to pay.
Continuing this travesty offends my sense of what it means to be an American. It is time to do what all other industrialized nations have done: make health care a right for every American.
We should accept nothing less.
THE DEMISE OF THE GOP REDUX (Posted July 5, 2009)
I just can’t help myself–I have to keep on harping about this.
Sarah Palin’s “big” announcement this week reminded me of the moment of clarity I experienced last fall as I listened to her acceptance speech at the Republican national convention.
About 30 seconds into the speech I realized that her effort was essentially “content-free” and began to consider how else I might spend my time. I became somewhat engrossed in the camera panning the audience as Sarah Barracuda was feeding her red meat to the rabid partisans in the audience and suddenly realized exactly what the Republican Party had become – a collection of people who are mostly old, white, male and southern.
Thus we have experienced the consequence of the “southern strategy”, initiated by Richard Nixon and pushed to its illogical conclusion by Ronald Reagan. The party was looking for a home for its “limited” government philosophy and what better place to plant the seed than in the south, an area that has been under the Federal thumb since the civil war and where the passions about “too much government” run high.
So what do we have now? A party whose appeal is restricted mostly to the south and a few pockets elsewhere in the country. Put that together with its undeniable inclination to promote a states-rights philosophy while continuing to talk about secession and what do you have – the CONFEDERACY!
These boys need all the help they can get!
HOW FAR CAN THE REPUBLICAN PARTY FALL??? (Posted July 4, 2009)
First Ensign, then Sanford, now Palin. The three top GOP candidates for 2012—GONE!
How to explain the sudden demise of the party’s supposed “brightest and best”?
Some suggest it’s a matter of hubris, others say it’s for the lack of a consistent message. I say “consistency” may have a bearing but in a somewhat different context. Let’s look at the record:
The party of “NO” has made a big issue of GOD-inspired family values, yet their party front-runners more often than not have had multiple marriages – and, of course, of late they seem to be far more likely to commit adultery.
Republicans also claim to be the “PRO-LIFE” party, yet their record here is as abysmal as their claims of marital fidelity. Consider that, more often than not, the pro-lifers 1) support the death penalty and applaud the murder of abortionists, 2) supported Bush’s utterly immoral war-of-choice in Iraq wherein we caused the wanton slaughter of perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians and 3) support the NRA’s position on guns, despite the fact that the USA leads the industrialized world in rates of homicide, almost three quarters of which are caused by guns in the wrong hands.
So consistency is certainly an issue. But hypocrisy is a much better, more relevant description of today’s Republican Party. This may well explain its predicament.
HURTING MARRIAGE (Posted June 26, 2009)
The institution of marriage was blasphemed again this past week when two political stalwarts, Senator John Ensign(R-NV) and Governor Mark Sanford(R-SC), revealed that they had been unfaithful to their wives.
Both men, born-again Christians, revealed their consummate hypocrisy in the sort of rambling, disjointed press conferences where they offered little in the way of comfort to their families.
So what are we to make of this continuing denigration of one of our most cherished and important institutions? Equally important, what messages are we conveying to our children — and what can we do to remedy the situation?
The first step is to insist that both men resign immediately and if they fail to do so they should be impeached. In that way we can convey a very emphatic message to everyone: that we do not want this brand of degeneracy to be the standard for our children— not from politicians or from anyone else.
There is nothing more critical to crime prevention than stable, happy marriages. Every delinquency situation can be traced to problems at home. IT ALL STARTS IN THE HOME!
GAY MARRIAGE–MYTHS AND REALITIES (Posted 6/25/09)
The far right-wing evangelical community is engaged in a massive, well-financed effort to prevent gay people from marrying. There are two things that are especially troubling about this. First, we are engaged once again in an effort to DENY rights to a minority of citizens (didn’t we try this once before?). Second, we are doing so under the guise of “protecting the institution of marriage”. What a joke.
In the first place, the reality is that the heterosexual community is doing far more to hurt the institution, as suggested by the recent episodes involving Governor Mark Sanford(R-SC and Senator John Ensign(R-NV), both of whom are “born-again” Christians. Thus the next time we hear one of those hyper-religious blowhards fulminate about the evils of gay marriage, let’s reflect on the Ensign/Sanford experiences. In light of these, we should establish whether there might be credible research showing that gay marriages are more stable than the heterosexual version — and are thereby helping to STRENGTHEN THE INSTITUTION.
It seems reasonable that a progressive society would want to encourage stable families wherein any two people, willing to commit to a relationship that is based on love and respect, are allowed to pursue their dreams and be happy and fulfilled in doing so. This would logically be accomplished BY CONFERRING THE BENEFITS OF MARRIAGE to them unconditionally.
Furthermore, the 14th amendment requires “equal treatment under the law”. Thus the religious extremists notwithstanding, I don’t think there is any legal way we can prevent it. We need to find a way to bring the measure before the US Supreme Court, because I don’t think that even the morons the Bushes put there will be able to deny this one.
SOLVING AMERICA’S HEALTH-CARE PROBLEMS (Posted June 24, 2008)
A great many people are offering ideas about health care these days. Most of it involves just tinkering around the edges – as usual. No one wants to look at the real issue here – indeed, everyone is ignoring the proverbial “elephant in the room”.
In reality, the insurance-based system of health delivery in the USA is a non-starter. It has never worked and can’t be made to work–primarily because 1) the fee-for-service philosophy that guides the system is antithetical to our ability to control costs and 2) the success (read: PROFITABILITY) of the system depends, perversely, on the extent to which coverage can be DENIED.
The only answer is a national health or single-payer system–a hard pill to swallow but we’ll get there. We’ll be healthier and, interestingly, safer because a healthier childhood means less likelihood of becoming a school dropout which in turn leads to delinquency.
CONTRADICTIONS IN AMERICA (Posted May 16, 2009)
Looking at the headlines these past few weeks makes one wonder about our values. Two examples:
First, the recent flap about House Speaker Pelosi’s differing versions of what she was told by the CIA obscure the fact of the torture policies implemented by the Bush administration. The reality is that we broke both US and international law in doing so and smeared our nation’s reputation in the eyes of many around the world.
Yet the current hubbub about Pelosi’s memory lapses seems to take precedence, and we have seen little focus on the larger, more important issue. Could this be by design? I wonder.
Then we have the flap at Notre Dame over President Obama’s address at the school’s upcoming graduation. As usual, the matter of abortion is behind the ruckus.
I just wish that we could get the “pro-life” forces to focus on some of the real “life” issues we face today. This country initiated an unnecessary war which has caused the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians and another 4 million of them to be displaced from their homes. Not a word from the “pro-life” community. Further, this country has perhaps the worst record of infant mortality in the industrialized world; yet, again, not a peep from the “pro-life” folks.
All the ruckus in South Bend this week about abortion obscures totally these other more important, real-life matters.
This and the Pelosi issue it is all being done in the name of political convenience and is a record about which we should be ashamed.
THE END OF THE TWO-PARTY SYSTEM (Posted April 30, 2009)
As a registered Republican, I have become quite concerned about the state of my party’s wellbeing and the impact of its demise on our political system.
We need two dynamic, highly energized parties to give meaning to the American system of government. Alas, the Republican party seems to have fallen on hard times, controlled as it is by a cadre of vitriolic (Ann Coulter wing), religious extremists (Falwell wing).
At this critical time, the nation needs our elected representatives to work together to overcome the problems the nation is facing. Instead we have the current Republican leadership, bereft of ideas, saying NO to everything while offering nothing in the way of solutions.
Further, we hear the same, tired rhetoric – government is not the answer, let the market work, etc. We hear most inane, contradictory musings imaginable in support of this nonsense, such as when the Texas governor talked of secession one day and then asked (the next day!) the Federal government for more doses of Tamiflu to combat the flu epidemic in his state.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at the results of the last election and conclude that the American public just isn’t buying into the current Republican philosophy. To be sure, the party is still strong in certain areas—Sarah Palin and her ilk are still revered in the South and a few isolated pockets around the country. But if the party ever gets up the nerve to look at itself in the mirror, it will see what many of us disaffected, long-time party stalwarts can see: a party that is mostly OLD, MALE, WHITE AND SOUTHERN.
Put that together with its undeniable inclination to promote a states-rights philosophy while continuing to talk about secession and what do you have – the CONFEDERACY!
Not exactly a ticket to success.
DITTO HEADS IN THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION (Posted March 21, 2009)
I understand that my newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), is searching for a new “conservative” columnist to replace Jim Wooten. I’m not sure why and I do not believe that it would be in the interest of either the AJC or its readers to do so.
Two recent columns by the paper’s conservative writers, Jim Wooten and Charles Krauthammer present a classic display of the kind of mindless, repetitive demagoguery inherent in neo-conservative philosophy. Each writer tries to make a point about the Obama administration’s decision to terminate a Bush-era project allowing a small group of trucks into the USA. Messrs. Wooten and Krauthammer take great umbrage at the decision, citing the inevitable trade wars that will ensue and inferring, incorrectly, that the Mexican government retaliated by increasing tariffs on selected goods from the U.S.
First of all, the ban has to be viewed in the context of what is happening on the US-Mexican border; violence is raging, arms flow into Mexico/drugs and illegals come this way, the Mexican government is on the verge of collapse and our border is under siege from a lawless, dangerous frontier. Implementing the ban at this time only makes sense until we can get our border under control.
Second, both the timing and the rationale seem not at all original to the writers. In fact, one wonders if they are simply spouting a set of prepared talking points provided by the Republican leadership (RUSH?). Not much in evidence of a spirit of creative penmanship by either man.
Good luck finding a Wooten replacement.
THE IRRELEVANCE OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (Posted March 9, 2009)
Pope Benedict has recently punctuated the Catholic Church’s utter irrelevance to our time.
He recently made a trip to Africa and, as one might expect, he spoke insistently about the importance of abstinence. He even insists that Catholics should not use contraceptives, which most in the medical profession believe helps to prevent disease. He seems to not understand that African society is a bit different than the German society from which he comes.
One has to evaluate his posturing on this subject in the context of the AIDS epidemic. Let’s consider an example: traditional African societies allow – and indeed encourage – polygamy. Imagine the likelihood of a man taking a wife – his fourth, just to use an example – and she, unbeknownst to him, is infected with the AIDS virus (HIV). If he wants to remain true to his Catholic faith, the man will not want to disobey the church’s teaching and will have unprotected sex with his other wives. It will not take long before the entire family is infected. One can easily see how and why the disease is rampant in Africa.
What amazes me is that we have a disease, AIDS, that threatens the entire human race, yet the Church continues to espouse the “old ways” of thinking. You cannot abort a child you don’t want and cannot support, yet you cannot take any precautions against both an unwanted pregnancy and/or a disease that threatens the very existence of humankind.
Add to all this the fact that most Catholics are quite likely making their own rules about abortion and contraception.
Who needs a (Catholic) church?
CAPITALISM AT ITS WORST (Posted February 28, 2009)
The AIG situation is enough to make event the most ardent free marketer sickened.
Here we have an organization that has utterly failed—its employees, stockholders, the nation and the world. It has begged for help from the government and accepted 180 billion or so of our tax dollars.
Despite all of this, it has displayed a consummately TIN EAR when it comes to what it can and should be doing in light of its predicament.
Examples: It has absolutely refused to provide details on how it has used the money LOANED to it; it spent tons of (our) money sending employees on boondoggles to Europe and around the country; and now it insists that it has to pay huge bonuses to the very morons who created the derivatives mess it now finds itself in and which, by the way, has infected the whole world.
So how do we get out of this mess? Where to begin?
First of all, it seems to me that bonuses should be paid as an incentive to succeed, not to reward failure. Second, you also might want to pay bonuses to GOOD people to cause them to stay with the company; but to insist that, in order to save the company, AIG needs to keep the same boneheads around who screwed up in the first place does not give me any confidence that the company will survive.
I think the better answer is to start over — get rid of the idiots whose greed was the only motivation and start over. AIG has to go – I know there will be pain, but we’ll be far ahead by allowing ourselves the luxury of a fresh start.
Ditto with GM, Ford and Chrysler. We are better of without them as well.
SHOULD WE APOLOGIZE TO THE MUSLIM WORLD? (Posted January 31, 2009)
Charles Krauthammer, in a January 30 Editorial, waxes indignant over what he feels were President Obama’s “needlessly defensive and apologetic” remarks to the Muslim world in his inaugural address. So it is appropriate to examine the record:
We chose to invade a sovereign Muslim nation without any prior provocation whatsoever, causing the wanton slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians and, as a direct consequence of the invasion and subsequent upheaval, upwards of 4 million additional Iraqis have been forced from their homes. Add to that, if one considers the matter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not once have we agreed with or even acknowledged the rights and interests of the Palestinian people; still further, we have occupied — militarily — sacred Muslim lands (Saudi Arabia), thus displaying an enormous lack of sensitivity toward people of the Muslim faith.
So, Mr. Krauthammer, need we apologize, given the above record? Of course not — as everybody knows, we’ve become much too arrogant for that.
RECLAIMING AMERICA’S GOOD NAME (Posted January 21, 2009)
Should we prosecute George W. Bush for some of his administration’s missteps? Let’s examine the record:
He has invaded a sovereign nation without any basis for doing so, caused the deaths of several hundred thousand innocent Iraqi citizens, forced nearly 4 million Iraqis from their homes and to become refugees and engaged in torture in a blatant violation of the Geneva conventions. Clearly, he has abrogated the rule of law and, in order to safeguard and preserve this nation’s system of laws, we should hold him fully accountable for his actions. That’s our system, the way it is supposed to work. We cannot be selective either about which laws to enforce or which individuals to prosecute. To do so would risk America’s becoming not a nation of laws, but a nation of outlaws, ala Somalia.
We can, as some are suggesting, ignore the crimes that may have been committed. Doing so, however, risks the possibility that someone else may take the initiative — through the International Criminal Court — and go after Mr. Bush. This would have the much less desired effect of further eroding our prestige in the world as a beacon of hope and adherence to the rule of law.
So we have a choice, ignore the obvious or live up to our ideals.
EVALUATING THE PRESIDENCY OF GEORGE W. BUSH (Posted January 11, 2009)
It’s been a long eight years and George W. Bush is, at last, GONE. Nonetheless it is entirely appropriate to evaluate as objectively as possible the impact that the Bush administration has had on life here in America.
A lot of people (perhaps MOST people) consider George W. Bush to be a (colossal) failure as president. I suggest it might well be exactly the opposite. Here’s why.
It has everything to do with RADICAL right-wing ideology. According to the current crop of neo-cons, government is no good and should be gotten out of our lives and off our backs. The way to do that is simple: STARVE THE BEAST – i.e., render the government broke & thus unable to do anything and this allows the “vested interests” to roam and play at will. You have to say that, in that respect, George Bush has done “a heckuva job”; not only has he rung up about 5 TRILLION dollars of debt to this point, he’s forcing the Obama administration to add trillions more just to dig us out of the hole he (Bush) himself has dug for us.
To make matters worse, his gross incompetence has further eroded the public’s trust in government. Starting with Ronald Reagan’s enunciation (“government is not the solution to problems, government is the problem”) of the inherent “badness” of government, we have seen a 28-year campaign to erode both the effectiveness of government and the demeaning of what should be government’s very critical role in our lives. George Bush has implemented that philosophy to a “T”. From Katrina to Iraq to his looking the other way as we foisted a giant pyramid scheme on the world’s financial markets, he has succeeded beyond Dutch Reagan’s wildest dreams at proving that government can do no good.
The President — or for that matter any politician– is but a reflection of the people who put him/her in office. You get what you vote for–and by voting this man in twice, we deserve everything we are now getting. And just think — the RADICAL right wing wanted to follow up the Bush legacy with that of another candidate of highly questionable competence –Sarah Palin, whose qualifications included a stint as a part-time mayor of a town of a few thousand people in Alaska. It just reflects on the RADICAL right wing’s absolute contempt for the American public.
The consequence of all this is that the influence of the RADICAL right wing in American politics has begun to wane and, sadly, the Republican party may well become little more than a regional party, its influence being mostly in small southern towns and a few pockets in other parts of the country.
The cause of all this is two-fold: extremism and vitriol. The party has, since the days of Nixon’s “southern strategy”, been taken over by “religionists” who have little tolerance for anyone who thinks – or even LOOKS – differently than they do. Atheists, minorities, people who hold religious beliefs other than Christian simply have no place in the Republican Party of today.
Then you have the self-styled spokespeople for conservatism as exemplified by the likes of Ann Coulter, the vicious, mean-spirited charlatan masquerading as a journalist/author. Unfortunately she has established a following in the ranks of the RADICAL right-wing, diminishing though it is. Is it any wonder that the last two elections have shown the door to more Republicans than at any time in recent memory? We should not be surprised that good, decent Republicans the likes of George Voinovich (OH), Sam Brownback (AR), Kay Bailey Hutchinson (TX) and Mel Martinez (FL) are abandoning the party in its moment of need.
The solution is to open the party up to people from differing backgrounds and circumstances. The reality is that, for far too long, Republicans have insisted on its members adhering to a very rigid ideology, based in large part on the influence of religious extremists. It has been quite intolerant of new ideas that might conflict with that ideology and has actually discouraged an exchange of new, fresh ideas from all sectors of American society — to the everlasting detriment of both the party AND our cherished two-party system. This has to change – and there isn’t much time left to do so.
The chickens, as they say, may “have come home to roost”.