Monday, November 9, 2009

Obama's Afghanistan Surge Takes Ownership of Bush's War

The University of Maine does not observe Veterans’ Day, which is Wednesday, November 11. This is unfortunate, as it is not only disingenuous to those students and faculty who have served in the military, but also because veterans’ issues have taken on greater importance as the nation awaits President Barack Obama’s decision on whether or not to dramatically expand the war in Afghanistan. Obama is not expected to announce his decision for a few weeks, though most policy experts fully expect him to comply with whatever increased troop levels his generals in Afghanistan request.

Nearly everything I have read on the subject agrees it would be a tragic mistake for President Obama to escalate the conflict in Afghanistan.

The lead editorial in The Nation this week (“Obama’s Fateful Choice,” Nov. 9, 2009) warns the president, “The US experience in Afghanistan makes it clear that this is not a war of necessity. We have learned—or should have learned—that we can keep Americans safe from terrorism even if remnants of the Al Qaeda leadership continue to enjoy relative safe haven in Pakistan or parts of Afghanistan. Indeed, the greater danger today comes from a small and dispersed terrorist network that has at most a tangential connection to the region.”

Chris Hedges, writing for (“Opium, Rape and the American Way,” Nov. 2, 2009) agrees.

“War cannot be waged to instill any virtue, including democracy or the liberation of women,” Hedges writes. “War always empowers those who have a penchant for violence and access to weapons. War turns the moral order upside down and abolishes all discussions of human rights. War banishes the just and the decent to the margins of society. And the weapons of war do not separate the innocent and the damned.”

Indeed, President Obama and his advisors would do well to study the history of the country they are attempting to occupy. Even the Soviet Union could not successfully conquer the region. Just as in the Iraq war, U.S. military forces in Afghanistan find themselves fighting a clandestine, loosely organized enemy they do not truly know—attempting to win over a people and culture they do not understand.

In an October 25 interview with the Real News Network, former U.S. military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg concedes, “No victory lies ahead in Afghanistan… American troops, short of hundreds of thousands, will not achieve anything that can be called success in Afghanistan.”

Nearly half of Maine’s National Guard—more than 800 personnel—were recently deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. To date, the Maine National Guard has sent 2,300 men and women to both countries, where eight have been killed. The national numbers are far more striking: 4,362 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq; 916, in Afghanistan, and well over one million Iraqi civilians, including women and children.

My Veterans’ Day message therefore, is a simple one: Support our troops. Bring them all home. Now. Local and national protests for Obama’s expected escalation of forces in Afghanistan are currently being planned. Check back at this site for events in Maine.

Dennis Kucinich on Why he Voted Against the Healthcare Bill

Rep. Dennis Kucinich on Democracy Now! today, explaining why he voted against the House's health care bill.

Maine's Rep. Chellie Pingree promised months earlier to vote against a health care bill as bad as this one is. Yet, like many other Democrats, she gave it her vote anyway.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

House Passes Lousy Health Care Bill

The Associated Press is reporting the House of Representatives just passed the health care reform bill. Too bad the plan is so absolutely bad, it hardly seems to matter at this point. The House leadership abandoned plans yesterday, to hold a vote on Congressman Anthony Weiner's single-payer bill, and Dennis Kucinich removed his amendment to allow states the option to create their own single-payer system. This might be just as well, since the vote on both these amendments was more for show than anything else.

For more perspective into just how horribly flawed the Democrats' health care plan is, check out Bruce A. Dixon's latest blog, on Black Agenda Report. BAR has followed the health care debate (can you even call it a debate?) more extensively than any other online news site.

A Triumph for the Agents of Intolerance

Maine voters approved a state referendum vetoing the newly passed same-sex marriage law Tuesday, in a close election. The vote dealt a crushing defeat to gay-rights activists, not only in Maine, but throughout the nation. Had Maine voters rejected the referendum question, and preserved the same-sex marriage law Governor John Baldacci signed in May, it would have become the first state in the nation to do so. Instead, Maine followed in the footsteps of voters in California, who just one year ago, voted for “Proposition 8” which overturned the state’s same-sex marriage law.

While the vote was quite close (53% “Yes,” 47% “No”), it is worth noting Portland, and most of southern Maine primarily voted “No,” on the resolution, while it was the northern part of the state—and, the small, sparsely-populated towns in particular—that voted “Yes.” Another factor in “Yes” voters’ favor, according to the New York Times, was the underwhelming youth turnout—a disappointing contrast to the record-breaking number of college students and first-time voters who turned out in droves on Election Day, 2008.

Indeed, as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Maine, I was particularly frustrated at the number of college students who claimed to support gay marriage, but were not planning on voting on the referendum because “my vote does not matter,” or “I don’t have time to vote.” (The latter excuse, incidentally, is the same cop-out students give me for refusing to read a newspaper, or never getting involved in activism. UMaine students, as far as I can tell, have plenty of time for Facebook, underage drinking and the campus-wide, glorified game of tag-you’re-it, “Zombies vs. Humans.”)

Of course, the religious institutions primarily fed the anti-gay marriage campaign. The insipid, demonstrably false “Yes on 1” advertisements that ran throughout the state the last month, attempted to conflate gay marriage with public schools teaching the “gay lifestyle.” All of my public schooling took place in Maine, and I do not recall once having a teacher lecture about marriage of any kind—straight or homosexual—in any mandatory class.

These religious institutions claimed their support for “Question 1” had “nothing to do with civil liberties,” and everything to do with the “definition of marriage.” Absurd. The major religious institutions cloak themselves in the teachings of Jesus, while promoting fear, hatred and bigotry.

I am, frankly, sick of otherwise intelligent people constantly making excuses for the Catholic and Christian churches that promote such hate. I am constantly told, “Not all Christians are like that. It is not fair to generalize.” But what, may I ask, are the supposedly “progressive” Christians doing to combat the bigotry of their peers? It is not enough to quietly disagree with the church’s opinions. Our government openly continues to torture people, and is waging two wars of aggression in the Middle East, slaughtering hundreds of innocents, and these “spiritual” people say and do nothing. Those Christians or Catholics of conscience who despise such atrocities should leave their religious institutions as a sign of protest against their tacit approval of them. This is what a true person of spiritual morality would do.

Despite the outcome, gay-rights activists vowed to fight-on. Last night, a large group of “No on 1” supporters stopped traffic in downtown Portland, marching and chanting for gay rights. The group briefly converged with an anti-war rally I happened to be attending, where speaker and progressive blogger, David Swanson, embraced the group as “brothers and sisters.” Swanson noted, correctly, that—whether the issue is ending wars of aggression, or expanding civil liberties to all—most citizens fighting for progressive change rarely see any in their lifetime. “Most who fought to end slavery never saw a black man freed,” Swanson told the crowd. “Most who fought for women to have the right to vote, never saw a woman cast a ballot.”

Change then, is slow and gradual. But it will come someday. While I am, of course, very disappointed in the outcome of Tuesday’s election, I know the citizens of Maine who care about civil rights (and there are many of us) will not go quietly into the night.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Two chances to see "Daybreak" author, David Swanson

Residents of Maine have two opportunities to hear author and progressive blogger, David Swanson speak about his new book, Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency, and Forming a More Perfect Union.

He will be at the University of Maine, Thursday, November 5, speaking at the Socialist/Marxist Lecture Series at 12:30. That evening, he will speak at the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine, 7 p.m.

And Friday, November 6, Swanson appears at Longfellow Bookstore, Monument Square in Portland. This event is preceded by an anti-war rally in Monument Square.

Click here,
and here, for additional information.

Bill Moyers calls for accountability in Washington's wars

Bill Moyers' excellent editorial from this week's Bill Moyers' Journal.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Healthcare Hypocrisy

The Democrats’ healthcare overhaul has been a ruse from Day One. This week, House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi all but declared victory in the months-long healthcare reform “debate,” with Thursday’s unveiling of the finalized plan. Yet, while the media jubilantly reported on the “historic” public-option-backed legislation—which looks likely to pass the House, at least—the truth is, the Democrats’ healthcare bill is little more than a Wall Street-style bailout for the health insurance industry.

If the bill passes, President Obama will get exactly what he wanted: A watered-down, slight re-organization of the healthcare industry, with a mandatory “public option” that, despite what you will read in mainstream newspapers, is a far cry from complete, government-run universal coverage. Such true, comprehensive coverage for every single American would require more than a mere re-working of our current system. It would require the dissolution of the entire healthcare industry—just as Michael Moore calls for in his film, Sicko (2007).

However, Obama (despite his support for single-payer healthcare as a senatorial candidate), made a decision early on in the healthcare discussion not to take on the healthcare system, claiming single-payer only made sense if we were developing our healthcare system “from scratch.” And, as a result of the president and the Democrats’ timidity, we will likely end up with a “reform” that still leaves hundreds of Americans without health insurance, and forces a mandatory plan on others who cannot afford it.

No wonder Ralph Nader, at a recent stop on his lecture/tour for his new book, Only the Super-Rich can Save Us!, decried President Obama as having an "excessively concessionary personality.”

Likewise, no wonder Bruce A. Dixon, writing for, admonishes the Congress, “The behavior of some leading Democrats on single payer is positively schizophrenic, poo-pooing, downplaying and dismissing single payer while they describe their incredibly complicated some-of-you-in and most-of-you-out versions of the public option and the ‘robust’ public option as Medicare For All in everything but name and unique American-ness.”

And, no wonder Democratic representative, Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) went so far as to call the public-option a bailout for the healthcare industry, on a recent appearance on the “Ed Show."

Americans need real, comprehensive healthcare reform that covers all citizens and single-payer is just that. Single-payer means everybody in, nobody out. It makes healthcare a guaranteed right in this country—not a privilege that only the well-off can afford. And yet, I talk to liberal colleagues on a regular basis who do not know what single-payer healthcare is. Certainly, one will not learn about it watching “liberal” news anchors like Keith Olbermann, or Rachael Maddow who, to my knowledge, have never once uttered the words “single-payer.”

The United States currently ranks 37th in overall quality of health, according to the World Health Organization and without real, comprehensive reform in the form of single-payer, or Medicare for all, this sad, easily improvable statistic is not likely to change anytime soon.