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 Times They Are A Changin’

November 5, 2008

Last night was such a beautiful affirmation of our country. Set in Grant Park, the place where, in 1968, the division and injustice of America was underscored, stood a real African-American who had just been elected the 44th President of the United States. Instead of a battle-zone with the lines of police and young people separated by flying rocks, bottles and tear-gas, there was a single, joyous crowd of over 500,000 people of every age, race and culture – a crowd so diverse that it could only happen in America.

Electing Barack Obama hasn’t changed anything (yet), but it has come to symbolize change and the unchangeable, the future and the past. It was a return to the past promise of an ideal of equality but left incomplete – “an uncashed check written in 1776” as Dr. Martin Luther King put it. It was a return to the past and future of promise as Barack Obama became the first to cash that check for all of us.

Last night was a return to the future because it not only re-affirmed national character, it also reaffirmed our future. The election results from last night were a sea change – a total repudiation of the politics of division and the empty promises of conservatives. We return to a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The true character of the American people, which had been obscured by the politics of fear and division, was rejected. Let me give you one example from my own State of Michigan.

Michigan citizens have suffered for years under a Supreme Court considered the worst in the Country. Elected with the massive monies provided secretly by corporations and funneled through the Chamber of Commerce, four judges, led by Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, repeatedly ruled against individuals in favor of their corporate sponsors; overturning jury verdicts, legal precedents and creating new laws [when Federalist judges do this they call it being a “Strict Constructionist”]. For the first time in Michigan history, a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (The “Sleeping Judge”) has been thrown out of office by the people he had victimized. Like voters in the national election, Michigan voters rejected the politics of fear and division. The new political road is one of unity and hope.

It’s good to be an American this morning.

History is being made all over the Country, by younger Americans, by a new America. Times are changing and like the old Bob Dylan song:

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.
Your old road is rapidly aging.
Please get out of the new one, if you can’t lend a hand,
For the times they are a changing.”

Singin’ Those Post Debate Blues

October 18, 2008

A couple of exchanges in the debate the other night caused me to think a bit more about other people and now I’m singing the post debate blues.

When John McCain began to discuss partial birth abortions and used his fingers to “quote” the phrase “women’s health” in a mocking way, it seemed unusually cruel, even for someone on the right. Making a “Sophie’s Choice” between your life and the life of your baby has to be the most horrible and traumatic experience imaginable. I can’t imagine the pain of this decision. To mock these women on national television and demean the reason for their choice is unconscionable. It really provides an insight into the judgmental and cruel nature of their hearts. It’s sad really, and McCain seemed so arrogant about his cruelty.

The second issue was during the attack on Obama’s economic policy as “wealth redistribution”. To me, it demonstrated how out of touch with reality McCain and the GOP are on the economic reality of the last 8 years. We just went through the largest wealth redistribution in our Country’s history. When the Republicans took office in 2000, 3% of Americans owned about 90% of the wealth. Today, 1% of Americans own 90% of the wealth. Both political Parties have economic policies that produce winners and losers. Under the Republicans, 99% of Americans lose wealth, while Democrats propose economic policies that spread the wealth a little bit more fairly.

I have been very blessed in my life. I have been able to help victims get justice against Big Government and Big Corporations and earn a very good living doing so. I have no problem with the idea that if I have been blessed more than others, then I can contribute more than others for the good of our Country. I accept the proverb that for those who have been given more, more is expected. I agree with Joe Biden, paying taxes is patriotic.

Monday Moanin’

August 25, 2008

It was 40 years ago this week that kids were getting their asses kicked by Mayor Daley & the Chicago police at the DNC for trying to stop a war. Déjà vu all over again… Except this time we are being beaten down by focus groups, excuses and Fox News.

As a former Democratic Party candidate for Governor of Michigan I am often asked questions about politics and the Democratic Party in particular. Running for Governor was the very first time I ever ran for any political office and while I won the nomination by defeating two establishment Democrats, I couldn’t beat the Democratic Establishment. Obama is an establishment candidate, which explains how he can be in a dead heat with McCain. As Will Rogers once said “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat. So as the Democratic Convention begins this week, this is what I wish the Democrats would say at some point:

Obama has been criticized for saying that as President he would talk with our adversaries under the right conditions and use diplomacy to avoid conflicts. What is McCain’s foreign policy? Dancing around on stage singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb. Bomb, bomb Iran.” to the Beach Boys tune of “Barbara Ann”?

Obama has been criticized for not being “American” enough, but he was raised by a single mom, lived with his grandparents, attended Public Schools, paid for his education with loans, has been married to the same woman, chose to help his community rather than go to Wall Street and has never been involved in any political scandals. McCain was raised in privilege, attended private schools, left his first wife and children and do we really need to talk about the “Keating Five”?

Obama has been criticized for being “elitist” and not understanding the situation of working class Americans. McCain believes the economy has made great progress and that the definition of rich is being worth $5 million or more.

Obama has been criticized for not approving of off-shore drilling to help ease the energy crisis. McCain helped create the energy crisis by supporting the Bush plan of allowing the oil industry to create our policy in secret. The same advisors who created the Bush plan are now advising McCain.

Obama has been criticized for being naïve about foreign policy because he would rely on diplomacy. McCain confuses the difference between Shia and Sunni, believes Afghanistan borders Iraq, Czechoslovakia still exists… well, this could go on for a while.

Obama has been criticized for not going to Iraq as often as McCain to talk to the “boots on the ground”. McCain stages a walk through an Iraqi market to show its safe, shakes hands with wounded soldiers on camera and votes against giving them increased V.A. benefits.

In other words, attack, attack, attack. Forget the focus-group crafted “end the war, rebuild the economy and energy independence”, which I am sure we will hear until we are sick. Democrats seem to be better at attacking each other than defending the working class or defending themselves from the Republican sleaze machine. One thing I have learned is that if you want to take on a bully, you have to go right at him. This how you win in the courtroom and how you win in politics.