Doctors Without Borders and War Without End

October 8, 2015

I heard an interview with John McCain this morning that was troubling. He was being asked about the situation in Afghanistan, and specifically about the bombing of a hospital staffed by Doctors Without Borders. Although the details of the incident are still unclear, some things are known, and it does not reflect well on our efforts there. The hospital was specifically targeted, and not the result of an errant bomb or miscalculation. The airstrike was requested by Afghan forces not receiving immediate fire from the hospital compound, and no American troops were being fired upon.

When asked about the incident, McCain responded that there were Taliban firing on troops “in the vicinity,” and when pressed for how close the fighting was taking place he simply said “they were in the city.” McCain denounced the description of the unjustified hospital bombing as a “war crime,” saying that if the Taliban had not entered Kunduz, then this “tragic event” would have never happened. His solution was sending more American troops to help train and assist Afghan government troops. When confronted with the fact that we had tens of thousands of troops training the Afghan army for over 12 years, and asked if the troops could ever be trained given the lack of success so far, he only responded that there may be a need for a permanent troop presence akin to what we have done in Post-WWII Europe.
I know men who have served in Afghanistan, two in particular who have served three or more deployments there. They tell me that Afghan troops (unlike Iraqi troops) do have a will to fight, but they are constrained by units segregated by ethnic and tribal identities. This creates mixed loyalties when these units are deployed in rival tribal areas. They are just as anxious to fight rival tribes as they are the Taliban. Speculation is that Afghan soldiers targeted the hospital to eliminate leaders of a rival clan, much the same as Gitmo was populated in part by innocent men who were falsely identified as Taliban by their ethnic rivals.
There is an even more compelling reason to doubt that any Afghan government, let alone army, could survive a U.S. withdrawal, and it is related to how the Taliban were able to capture Kunduz in the first place. The corruption of the Afghan government is so pervasive that residents of the city either stood by, or actually assisted the Taliban. It’s not that they want the Taliban as much as they want order and an end to corruption. Drug trade, sex trade, arms trade and demand for bribes for even the most trivial transactions is widespread. In other words, like Iraq and our long history of supporting many other unpopular and corrupt governments (e.g. Viet Nam, Nicaragua), we are on the wrong side of popular support. The widespread presence of American troops restrained the corruption of Afghan officials, just as we did in the post-Sadaam, Shia’ led Iraq. As the U.S. troops leave, corruption and ethnic violence becomes endemic.
In one sense, the nonsense of McCain did led to a valid point: without a permanent, significant American presence in Afghanistan, the country will collapse just as Iraq has. Only the most intransigent Neo-Con would advocate for a permanent presence, requiring an endless drain of resources and even more tragically, an endless stream of dead Americans not so much fighting terrorists, but supporting a corrupt, unpopular government.

The Pope and the Politicians

September 29, 2015

You have to be somewhat amused at the response of the “devout Catholics” among the GOP presidential candidates to the things that Pope Francis has been saying. Men who have made appeals to the religious right for decades for support based on their “deeply religious” belief in the “sanctity of life” or the “sanctity of marriage” (among other social issues), are now in the uncomfortable position of distancing themselves from the teachings of the Pope. Here are a few exquisite examples:

Capitalism. The Pope has said that unbridled Capitalism is evil and the cause of mush suffering and injustice in societies. The big boys in the Conservative movement really didn’t like that. Even George Will, the “devoutly Catholic” apologist for Conservatives went apoplectic, suggesting that Pope Francis was radically altering Catholic teaching. In fact, Francis has been giving a more moderate tone to Catholic teaching on Capitalism. Consider for example, the words of Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 Encyclical that the right to hold private property does not exceed the right of the poor to take it to survive. Or the similar teachings of Popes John XXIII or Pope Paul VI.

Immigration. The Pope’s words are a direct rebuke to both the tone and policy of Conservatives regarding immigration. His invoking the historical fact of our origin as a nation of immigrants, the “Golden Rule” and admonition to think of immigrants and refugees not as numbers but as human beings with needs and dreams (a.k.a. “Dreamers”) is quite a contrast to the rhetoric of those devout Catholic right-wing politicians.  

Climate Change. Forget about the comments of Bush, Santorum and others that the Pope should leave climate change to the scientists, especially since the issue has long been resolved in the scientific community. How does the Pope not have a right to teach on creation? Why shouldn’t they also leave climate change to the scientists? They want to say that the Pope should not address policy on climate change, even though the Church has been teaching about the responsibility of Christians to protect the environment since at least 1225 (see teachings of St. Francis adopted by Pope Gregory IX).

Those are just a few examples, but what is interesting to me is that the Pope’s reaching on climate change and the duty of Christians has been attacked by these devout Catholics as not a teaching of infallibility. Infallibility has been declared on doctrinal issues very rarely in history. In fact, the teachings on abortion, birth control, celibacy and women ordination are all teachings declared the same way as climate change (i.e. an Encyclical). So, I suppose if hypocrites like Santorum or Bush want to say they are not obligated to follow the teachings on Climate Change, they are also telling their base that they have a similar option on abortion rights. I doubt we will hear those comments.

Now, I am not a Catholic [my children are though], but it does seem to me that one of the more interesting aspects of Pope Francis is that he has exposed the hypocrisy of right wing Catholic Conservatives in the GOP. That’s what happens when a genuine faith is present among the false prophets.      

Trumped II

September 29, 2015

A few weeks ago we talked about the possibility that the prevailing theory on why Donald Trump was continuing to lead all GOP candidates was NOT that the American electorate was angry at the political establishment, as the media speculates, but rather due to the possibility that a substantial part of the GOP is populated by people who subscribe to the same bigoted and ignorant beliefs espoused by The Donald. The ascendency of Ben Carson seems to support my idea. Carson, a man who is undoubtedly a gifted neuro-surgeon and religious wing nut, has expanded on Trump’s venue of social scapegoating and has consequently risen in the polls to the number two position. After a week of speculating that scientific theories are inspired by the devil (e.g. evolution and climate change), and dismissing the constitutional rights of Muslim-Americans, he has emerged as the spokesperson for the religious right of the GOP, peeling away some support from the equally bigoted, but essentially secular Trump.

How does one tell a Muslim-American soldier or Marine risking their lives in combat that they are not fit to be given all of the rights guaranteed by the constitution? Or a third generation Muslim girl saying the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school that the faith of the family makes her unfit for political office?

The GOP race at this stage makes me think that this next election is, from a social perspective, even more important than the first Obama election. It is almost as if the sight of an African-American as President has driven a substantial part of American society crazy and lanced a hatred that had been driven inward. Some of these Republicans just simply lapsed into a psychotic denial of the event and they still run around claiming President Obama is not a citizen. Others have the delusion that he is a secret Muslim and seeks to take their guns away and destroy the nation. Others channel their hate into trying to assure his failure by blocking every single initiative he proposed, even when proposing the same legislation they had supported previously.

Such irrational opposition made it very hard on us who have been disappointed in his performance on certain issues. But now the thin veneer of civility has been shattered and you can see open, unapologetic hatred being spewed and rewarded by Republicans.

Years ago I wrote about the emergence of the religious right in the GOP as the historical equivalent of the Huns at the gates of Rome, except this time they were at the gates of the Country Club. They took over the House of Representatives, and Congress has not functioned since then. This election will show how much America has degenerated.  Should these people actually be successful in their quest for the presidency we are likely to see a new American society more akin to, the worst of the Middle East. Yikes!

Duggan Comes Through

September 28, 2015

When Mayor Duggan and Vice President Biden announced a program to repair and expand on bus services in Detroit, I was impressed. Mass transit has long been neglected, deliberately neglected, in Detroit and it has always been an obstacle to employment for Detroit’s poorest residents.

Along with the rail lines being built along the Woodward corridor, the reliable and expanded bus lines will not only enable poor and unemployed residents to find jobs, it will also be good for business in the city. It is the right priority and Mayor Duggan deserves recognition for acting on it and for having the political relationships to get it funded and done. Many of us were concerned that with his past history in the Wayne County bureaucracy that Detroit would be put up for sale to corporate interests at the expense of Detroiters.

Many have expressed a concern about the deference being given to the Gilbert real-estate juggernaut, but his developments on the whole have greatly benefitted Downtown Detroit (the Ilitch developments, however, are much more self-serving). On the whole, Mayor Duggan deserves praise and support.

Trumped Up

September 19, 2015

During the most recent GOP “debate” Donald Trump used a phrase that seemed revealing to me. Several times he said that his “ratings” were the highest among all the candidates. He was referring to polls, but the Freudian slip revealed a significant aspect of what Trump is actually doing.

Ratings are germaine to television shows, not political campaigns. Trump is not running a political campaign as much as he is doing what may be the ultimate reality show. A combination of “House of Cards” and “All in the Family,” the Donald is like a Machiavellian Archie Bunker bouncing from one bigoted or misogynistic comment to the next, identifying one social scapegoat after another.

The phenomenon would make for a good reality show, except that this is reality where his open appeals to fear, prejudice and jingoism has real consequences. This is certainly a concern to people in other countries who are aghast at the phenomenon.

I have to confess that, at first, I was amused at the spectacle of Trump’s demolition of the GOP field, but after witnessing his pandering to a bigot during a post-debate in New Hampshire yesterday, I realized that Trump is generating some very hateful and dangerous sentiments that could translate into actions. He is doing more than puncturing the thin veneer of civility in American politics — he is revealing to the basest elements of American society.

Why Kim Davis is a Christian Hero

September 10, 2015

There is nothing unusual about the story of Kim Davis, the Kentucky County Clerk jailed for breaking the law, and latest heroine of the Christian Conservative Movement. She seems to represent everything Christians consider important in life. As County Clerk she has decided to use her authority to ban marriages she considers “sinful” because they violate her “conscience.”
Some people point to her long, sordid past history of casual sex and casual marriages. She has been married four times, had children conceived through an extra-marital affair (her second or third husband, I believe). Although the Jesus in my bible had a lot to say about divorce, Ms. Davis is considered a Christian role model. After having been forgiven the many acts of “sin” in her past, she is now representing God’s word on Holy Matrimony. (You get that sort of thing a lot with these types — lifelong histories of antisocial behavior washed away by their faith, only to return again when their anti-social impulses can’t be controlled).
Now she claims her faith is the law in Kentucky because “God’s Law” is more compelling than America’s law. Her faith also led this high school graduate to become a member of the State Board of Education in order to ban the word “evolution” from State Education Curricula. Her faith is the same that compels other Christians to crash the funerals of servicemen, telling grieving family members that their son or daughter died because “God Hates Fags.” Her faith is also the faith that justified laws allowing slavery, laws banning inter-racial marriages, laws restricting voting rights for African-Americans, and contemporary anti-immigration restrictions. It seems that the Jesus of these Christians hates a lot of people, for various reasons, at various times. That should make you worried when they get the cloak of government authority.
If you wonder how Islamic Fundamentalism can attract enough popular support and become the law of the land in the Middle East, then look to Kentucky. This is not an isolated event related to a hateful woman forcing her religious beliefs on others because she is acting as an agent of the government. There are significant numbers of these types in the “Bible Belt” and they have a political agenda. When your hear politicians announcing that this is a “Christian country” and that Christians are being subjected to anti-Christian laws, they are speaking code for the movement to force all of us to follow the law only as they define it. Just like the Taliban or Wahhabis. The fact that men running for President of the U.S. are visiting her and supporting her stand is a bright red warning light to those of us who love liberty. Huckabee and Cruz – both Christians – are doing their part to stoke the flames of hatred and fear by claiming that judges are at war with Christian values. They want the law of the country to be their personal faith.
This is not about whether or not Ms. Davis went to jail, or even if gay couples can get married in Kentucky. It’s not even about the fact that there are literally millions of “Christians” whose faith justifies hatred towards others. The real issue is that there are a significant number of political leaders who are seeking to gain power by fanning the flames of fear and hatred, and once in power seek to force us all to convert to their faith.

Kim Davis: Back to the Future

September 3, 2015

Kim Davis is the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who refuses to follow the law and issue marriage licenses to gay couples. After SCOTUS refused to hear the appeal to allow her to continue to violate the law, she continues to break the law. One gay couple confronted her about refusing to do her job by asking her by what authority she is refusing to issue them a marriage license and she responded “God’s authority,” and then went to hide in her office. One could hear the echoes of African-Americans trying to register to vote in 1965, and being told the same thing. Kim Davis is a prophet of doom. She is the face of the American Taliban: only she knows “God’s will” and she will force you to obey her faith.

Ms. Davis has a right to her “religious” beliefs, no matter how hateful they may be. She has a right to a job as well (as long as she follows the law.) However, she is no martyr. This issue is not about her faith or her right to practice her faith. It is about her using her position of authority to force others to follow her religion. If she had a real faith, then she would resign from the job and do something else. Her motive is not faith, but hatred. She wants to get the publicity. She wants to garner attention. She wants to be seen as a martyr and inspire other bigots to do the same. I have no issue with Ms. Davis as a “Christian.” I have a problem with her holding office in government and using that authority to force people to conform to her faith, in violation of the law. She is the poster child for the so-called “religious freedom” laws.


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