Time To Extinguish Liberty’s Torch?

The European response – especially that of the Germans – to mass migration from the Middle East and Southwest Asia stands in stark contrast to the immigration policies of the US. What makes this all the more remarkable is that Germany had relatively little to do with events that led to the crisis. On the other hand, the refugee crisis is almost certainly a direct result of US misadventures in the Middle East – most notably the Bush-led invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the US has steadfastly refused to help those who were dislocated as a result of our meddling. Likewise, many of our so-called allies in the region have refused to help.

This is not the first time we have turned our backs on those fleeing violence and poverty caused by our actions.

Just last summer, we saw thousands of women and children flood our southern border seeking refuge from the violence and poverty in Honduras and El Salvador – violence for which we bear much of the responsibility. And how did we greet the dispossessed? We herded them into makeshift prisons. Conservatives confronted their buses screaming obscenities and making it abundantly clear that they were not welcome here. If they had no families or relatives in the US, we sent them home to certain poverty and almost certain death.

This is how America welcomes immigrants today.

Where we once welcomed the tired, the poor, the streaming masses yearning to breathe free, we now turn them away. We vilify them and blame them for all of our nation’s ills. We treat them as something less than human. We call them names, order them to speak American, then hire them for all the jobs we consider too distasteful to do ourselves. We underpay them and cheat them. And we applaud people like Sheriff Joe Arpaio for arresting them.

This is America today. A political atmosphere driven by the “We’ve got ours. You can’t have yours” crowd; by the Trumps, the Palins, the McCains and the Cheneys. An America dominated by the loudest, most angry and most heavily armed; where a feeble and compliant press reports only the most sensational statements made by a group of boorish loud-mouths who have little compassion for the poor and disadvantaged. They may claim to be religious, but their only religion is money. And they refuse to share it.

Instead of seeing those who have suffered only because they were born in the wrong place and time, these arrogant buffoons see only “takers” – people they believe only come here to suckle off of the government teats.

Based on all of this, maybe it’s time to send Lady Liberty packing. Maybe we should send her back to Europe where she came from; a place where she will likely feel more at home.

Trading “Terrorists” For A “Deserter.”

The US, Israel and other countries have long said, “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.” But that’s not exactly true. After all, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. And there have been many exceptions to that rule. For example, Israel once exchanged more than a thousand “terrorists” for one of its soldiers. And, of course, there is the most recent exception in which the US exchanged five Taliban leaders for US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

Where this case gets murky is the fact that the Taliban is considered a military enemy, not a terrorist organization. The US has recognized the role of the Afghan Taliban since the Clinton administration and has negotiated with the Taliban going back to the early days of the Bush administration. Officially, Taliban captives at Guantanamo are POWs. Not terrorists.

Further complicating the issue is that the Taliban prisoners had a “sell by date.” Once the US ceases the combat role of our military in Afghanistan beginning in 2015, the prisoners will have to be released under the Geneva Conventions anyway. If we were ever to get anything in return for the prisoners, we would have to do it this year. It’s clear that the administration engineered the best deal for Bergdahl’s return that it could get. The prisoners we exchanged will be monitored closely by the Qatar government and they will not be allowed to leave Qatar or participate in any military planning for one year. By that time, our combat role in Afghanistan will have ended.

Of course, the president is once again being accused of being an imperialist and a lawless dictator for authorizing the deal without consulting Congress. Yes, Congress had passed a law requiring the president to seek permission for releasing prisoners from Guantanamo at least 30 days in advance. The law was pushed by conservatives in order to prevent President Obama from following through on his campaign promise of closing Gitmo (an internationally-despised prison on land claimed by the US in a country with which we have no formal relations). But that law is clearly unconstitutional. It violates the separation of powers and the president’s authority as Commander-In-Chief. While Congress has sole authority for declaring war, once we send our troops into battle, the president has final authority over any military decisions. That has been true since George Washington was president.

Then there is the controversy over the actions of Bergdahl. No one knows why then Private Bergdahl had walked away from his unit the night of his capture, but it wasn’t the first time he had done so. As a result, he was not guilty of desertion or treason. He was AWOL. A military investigation into the matter following his disappearance never mentioned desertion. In fact, the report raised many questions about the lack of discipline in his unit.

Further adding to the confusion are charges that the search for Bergdahl resulted in the deaths of six American soldiers. Those charges are in dispute. Once the evidence revealed that no one was killed as a direct result of the search, those making the claim changed their story to say that, had Bergdahl not disappeared, the soldiers killed would no longer have been in the area. Only the military command knows the truth and we’re unlikely to learn the facts until later.

So here’s the conundrum: Those who hate this president…who suffer from Obama Derangement Syndrome…are certain that our administration traded dangerous terrorists for a deserter. They not only believe that Bergdahl should have been left to rot in Taliban captivity. They believe that his parents are Taliban sympathizers and Muslims simply because Bergdahl’s father grew a long beard and learned the Pashto language in hopes of obtaining the release of his son. The Bergdahls have received death threats as a result. And the Bergdahls’ hometown has been forced to call off an event celebrating Bowe Bergdahl’s release.

So that’s what defines treason and patriotism in the minds of the far right these days?

If growing a long beard makes one a terrorist and a Taliban sympathizer, then why haven’t Phil Robertson and the entire cast of Duck Dynasty received death threats? Why haven’t the stars of Mountain Men been vilified? More to the point, why haven’t the very real terrorists who populate the Hells Angels, Mongols and other biker gangs not been labeled Muslims and Islamist fanatics?

In reality, the exchange of prisoners for Bergdahl was some necessary housekeeping in preparation for the end of combat in Afghanistan. The deal had been under consideration since 2011 and, for years, conservatives had been accusing the president of dragging his feet in attempts to free an American soldier. Indeed, there have been unconfirmed reports that 500,000 protest signs were found by sanitation workers next to dumpsters behind Republican National Committee headquarters. The signs read, “Impeach Obama For Leaving An American Behind In Afghanistan.”

McCain Goes Maverick With The Truth Again!

Having worked with two US Senators on behalf of a friend who had been denied military benefits after being exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, I know how responsive most senators are with regard to veterans’ issues. That’s why it is particularly puzzling that a senator, who is a veteran himself, would not know that the VA hospital located within sight of his office was falsifying wait times.

Did Sen. McCain not receive complaints from his constituents? I find that exceedingly difficult to believe, especially when it is alleged that 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments. Why did McCain not respond to a detailed letter from the doctor who became a whistleblower? One of his staff members acknowledged receipt of the letter, but McCain did nothing. Then, when the excrement hit the rotating air movement device, McCain demanded answers. He called for investigations. He demanded the resignation of General Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Given the circumstances and his almost certain knowledge of the problems, McCain should have offered his own resignation. That would have been more appropriate than the resignation of Shinseki.

Now McCain is outraged…OUTRAGED…over the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl. He says that these are “the five most dangerous people on the planet,” and that their release will almost certainly cause the deaths of more Americans. I remember no such outrage when the Bush administration released al-Qaeda members from Gitmo…30 percent of whom re-entered the fight against the US. What I do remember is that Teapublican senators and congressmen have long accused the Obama administration of dragging its collective feet in negotiating for Bergdahl’s release.

I also remember that the US paid a high price to have McCain and other prisoners of war released from Vietnam. And, as for allegations of Bergdahl’s desertion, we should all leave that up to our military leaders. But I do recall allegations that McCain was shot down over Vietnam as a result of disobeying his orders.

More and more, it seems that McCain has become an angry old man who has lost touch with reality. He once earned a reputation as a maverick for working across the aisle in order to serve his country. Now it seems that he is content to play along with the highly partisan leadership of the Republican Party. He has excelled at making immigrants scapegoats for our economic problems. He has embraced the anger and divisiveness of Tea Party politics. He is living up to his childhood nickname…McNasty. And when it comes to the truth…lets just say that, for McCain, it has become an increasingly long distance relationship.

20 Things President Obama Should Do After The Mid-Terms.

In no particular order of importance:

  1. Normalize relations with Cuba.
  2. Support Palestine for UN membership.
  3. End the War on Drugs and begin the process of decriminalization.
  4. Renew calls for a Public Option as part of the Affordable Care Act.
  5. Negotiate pharmaceutical prices as all other industrialized nations have done.
  6. Rally Americans to aggressively deal with Climate Change.
  7. Push for an end to mandatory sentences for non-violent criminals.
  8. Order the Justice Department to aggressively pursue criminal charges against the banksters who collapsed our economy in 2008.
  9. Order the Justice Department to aggressively pursue charges of war crimes against those involved in the CIA’s torture program.
  10. Deny permission for TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
  11. Push for changes to the tax code to prevent the use of offshore tax havens by individuals and corporations.
  12. Push the IRS to prevent 501c3s and 501c4s from engaging in politics.
  13. Aggressively push for immigration reform.
  14. End drone assassinations except as an absolute last resort to deal with terrorist leaders and increase transparency.
  15. Order the removal of ALL American troops from Afghanistan.
  16. Offer government-backed, interest-free college loans based on need.
  17. Demand that Congress pass common-sense gun control measures, including universal background checks and a ban on large ammo clips.
  18. Order the Justice Department to create uniform voting rights across all states.
  19. Aggressively push for an end to human trafficking.
  20. Order the Department of Defense to reduce its reliance on private contractors.

With Friends Like These…

The Karzai government in Afghanistan was put in place with the help of the US. Since the government is a supposed ally, we have spent more than $100 billion to rebuild the country that the Soviets and we destroyed – more than we spent to rebuild Japan or Germany after World War II; more than we spent to rebuild South Korea; even more than we spent to rebuild Iraq. Most of the money has been wasted. Indeed, much of it has found its way into the hands of the Taliban and Pakistanis. It has been used to prop up the most corrupt government in the world…a government that has accepted our money and redirected much of it into the pockets of Karzai, his associates and family members.

In truth, the Afghan government cannot and likely will not be able to survive on its own. It exists only because of our military forces and our taxpayer money. Indeed, the government’s entire annual revenue totals only $2 billion per year. Yet it costs more than $4 billion per year just to support the Afghan military. Without our financial aid, it has no money to pay for roads, schools, an electric grid, safe water supplies, waste treatment, emergency services and health care. Despite that fact, Karzai refuses to agree to a sustainable level of US military advisors following our pullout at the end of the year. This almost guarantees that much of the country will fall back into Taliban control.

Of course, that likely won’t mean a stop to the waste of our foreign aid. We are committed to funding the Afghan government at the same levels until at least 2017. There are simply too many military leaders, weapons manufacturers and private contractors who profit from our taxpayers’ largess to allow the flow of money to end.

And there are more long-standing recipients of our military aid. For example, we have been providing financial support to Israel for more than 60 years. Despite the fact that the Israeli standard of living and Human Development Index roughly equal ours, we send them more than $3 billion a year. And how do they repay us for our support? They bluster and threaten their neighbors. They continue to expand housing developments onto Palestinian lands. They ignore our attempts to broker a long-term settlement with Palestine and the rest of their neighbors. They have sent operatives to spy on our military and our government. They meddle in our politics. They have even sold some of our most secret military technologies to Russia and other nations.

Yet, because of the power of the Israeli-American lobby, no American politician dare complain.

Is Muslim Extremism A US Export?

As sensational as that may seem, it’s a reasonable question. Here’s why: When the USSR invaded Afghanistan, the US moved to counter the invasion with Operation Cyclone which was portrayed in the movie, Charlie Wilson’s War starring Tom Hanks. The operation consisted of the US providing weapons, military aid and training to the mujahedeen, a ragtag group of guerrilla fighters based in Pakistan.

But it turns out there was one aspect of “assistance” not covered in Charlie Wilson’s War. I only recently learned about propaganda funded by USAID and created by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Afghanistan Studies. According to the UNO website, the Center “organized more than 1,300 educational sites in Afghanistan and Pakistan and reached 130,000 Afghan refugees with K-12 textbooks and basic education services.” What the UNO website fails to mention is that those textbooks included images of dead Soviet soldiers, tanks, missiles, and AK47s. The books taught reading and math. They also included propaganda to turn Afghan children against the USSR and Afghan communist government. They incorporated Islamic verses from the Quran, as well as calls for jihad against the infidels.

For example, the books taught Afghan children the Pashtu language through two fictional characters named Maqbool and Basheer intended to be the Afghan equivalent of our Dick and Jane. An estimated 15 million of the textbooks were published in the Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu from the early 1980’s to 1994.

In an article that appeared in the March 23, 2002 Washington Post, Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway wrote “An aid worker in the region reviewed an unrevised 100-page book and counted 43 pages containing violent images or passages.” They quoted Ahmad Fahim Hakim, an Afghan educator saying, “The pictures [in] the texts are horrendous to school students, but the texts are even much worse.”

Following the end of the Soviet occupation, many of the violent images were removed from the books, but much of the jihadist language remained unchanged. And many of the original books are still in use today throughout Afghanistan and western Pakistan. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that the anti-Soviet messages can be used as calls to action against Americans and our allies. Indeed, the books are more than likely used in the most extreme madrassas in the region, many of which are funded by Saudis exporting their extremist wahhabi form of Islam.

UNO is unapologetic for its role in the publication of the books. According to a 2007 article by Matthew Hansen from the Lincoln JournalStar.com, “To the center’s longtime director, the textbooks are byproducts of a dark era when Russian bombs killed Afghan schoolchildren and rebel forces fought to save their country. ‘I won’t apologize…for something done in 1988,’ Thomas Gouttierre says. ‘At the time, Afghans were being killed.’”

Of course, many others have been killed since then, including thousands of Americans.