Paul Ryan

If you are at all like me, then you probably check Politifact.com on a regular basis. Recently, Politifact announced their “Lie of the Year”: Republicans voted to end Medicare. Sadly, the site’s “Lie of the Year” was not a lie at all. I was quite perturbed by this. I was not alone. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote a brief op-ed on this subject. And it has been all over the Daily Kos. The pundits on msnbc have been all over this story, too. David Weigel, over at Slate, gave Politifact quite the thrashing. To add my voice to the choir, I e-mailed the Politifact staff. You can do the same here: truthometer@politifact.com

Below is my e-mail:

To the Politifact Staff,

Generally speaking, I have held your site in high regard. While I haven’t always agreed with your findings, I could always find that the reasons and research those findings were predicated on were solid. 
Not so this time.
I know you’ve gotten an e-mail full of complaints from people like me, so I’ll try to be brief. My e-mail is just one of thousands crowding your inbox, I’m sure. But here’s the problem with your self-defense: I’m not in the echo-chamber. True, I do check the liberal blogs, and I do watch msnbc. However, I also watch Fox News on a daily basis. And though it makes my brain hurt, I try to listen to Rush and Beck almost daily. I also read a multitude of newspapers. I consume more news from a variety of sources than anyone I know. So, to toss me in with the rest of the liberals caught in an “echo-chamber” really pisses me off, pardon my French. The facts are the facts, I’m afraid, and you’ve simply gotten them wrong. Big time.
I will agree that Democrats may have been a bit too eager to demagogue and jump on the Ryan plan in order to win the special election in New York and to improve their odds in the House for this upcoming election. The video that shows “grandma” being wheeled off a cliff is a perfect example of the hysteria that you correctly identified.
However, you have equated that hysteria to a lie– the lie of the year, in fact. The demagoguery was over the line, to be sure, but it was rooted in the fact that Paul Ryan’s plan did end Medicare as we know it.
Let’s start by asking ourselves, “What is Medicare?” Well, Medicare is single-payer government health insurance, which is guaranteed to any American over the age of 65. For those who have paid into it all of their working life, most services under Part A are free. For Part B, there is a nominal monthly premium. Medicare pays doctors and hospitals directly on a fee-for-service basis. There are gaps, unfortunately, in Medicare, which means that sometimes seniors have to pay out of pocket. Medicare, like Social Security, has been a life-saver for poor seniors, who might otherwise have died prematurely as a consequence of inadequate access to health care services.
So, what then did Paul Ryan’s plan do to Medicare? In short: it ended Medicare as we know it.
Even in your own analysis of the Ryan plan you essentially make the case that Medicare as we know it will cease to exist, instead becoming a privatized venture. Paul Ryan’s plan removes the federal government from playing a role in providing health insurance and replaces it with private health insurers. Seniors would receive a voucher, hardly generous, with which they could go into the insurance market and purchase health care. And because under the Ryan plan the vouchers do not keep up with inflation, seniors end up paying more for their health care than under the current plan. By 2022, a fact you know well and have reported, Seniors would have paid $12,500 more per year for health care services. Whether you want to admit it or not, this might make it so that some seniors are left uninsured. What is neglected by you and by Ryan is the fact that the administrative costs of private insurers would actually contribute to higher health care costs, which means seniors will end up paying more money out of pocket. Obviously, Ryan is willing to sacrifice the poor in order to shrink government and slash the budget. Ryan’s plan effectively robs Peter in order to pay Paul. In other words, in order to save the federal government some money, Ryan’s plan would take money out of Medicare and shift health care costs onto seniors.  Seniors would shoulder the burden of finding a private insurer, paying more money out of pocket because the vouchers would not be sufficient to meet their health care costs, and they would be beholden to the whims of the private health insurance market. This is not Medicare, not matter how you try to rationalize it, folks.
What Paul Ryan does is destroy Medicare in order to protect it. It does not make sense– it is indefensible. Sure, you can call the Ryan plan “Medicare”, which is basically the heart of your claim that Democrats have made the lie of the year, but the plan really is not Medicare. You can call it a ham sandwich if you like, but it is not Medicare as we know it. So, you can take some measure of comfort in adhering to some bizarre parsing of semantics, but for senior citizens in this country and for people who look to the federal government to protect those who are the most vulnerable the Ryan plan is not Medicare. It creates a Medicare zombie: sure, that might be the corpse of your loved one walking about, looking for brains, but it is no longer that same warm, caring, protective person that you knew. I know it is a crude metaphor, but it holds true.
I know you won’t change your minds, especially now, but you should be aware that you are wrong and that there are people fact checking you and holding your feet to the fire.
Thank you,
Jose Rodriguez
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The following is an article from Haaretz. Of all the coverage of the former President’s remarks, this was one of the best:

Bill Clinton: Netanyahu isn’t interested in Mideast peace deal

Former U.S. President says a cynical perspective of Prime Minister’s calls for negotiations ‘means that he’s just not going to give up the West Bank’.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is responsible for the inability to reach a peace deal that would end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said on Thursday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York, the former U.S. president was quoted by Foreign Policy magazine as claiming that Netanyahu lost interest in the peace process as soon as two basic Israelis demands seemed to come into reach: a viable Palestinian leadership and the possibility of normalizing ties with the Arab world.

“The Israelis always wanted two things that once it turned out they had, it didn’t seem so appealing to Mr. Netanyahu,” Clinton said, adding that Israel wanted “to believe they had a partner for peace in a Palestinian government, and there’s no question — and the Netanyahu government has said — that this is the finest Palestinian government they’ve ever had in the West Bank.”

Furthermore, the former U.S. president is quoted by Foreign Policy as saying that Israel was also on the verge of being recognized by Arab nations adding that the “king of Saudi Arabia started lining up all the Arab countries to say to the Israelis, ‘if you work it out with the Palestinians … we will give you immediately not only recognition but a political, economic, and security partnership.”

“This is huge…. It’s a heck of a deal,” Clinton said, adding: “That’s what happened. Every American needs to know this. That’s how we got to where we are.”

“The real cynics believe that the Netanyahu’s government’s continued call for negotiations over borders and such means that he’s just not going to give up the West Bank,” he added.

Clinton also said he felt the Palestinians would accept the deal rejected by former PA President Yasser Arafat in 2000 negotiations with then Prime Minister Ehud Barak, saying that Palestinian leaders “have explicitly said on more than one occasion that if [Netanyahu] put up the deal that was offered to them before — my deal — that they would take it.”

“For reasons that even after all these years I still don’t know for sure, Arafat turned down the deal I put together that Barak accepted,” he was quoted by Foreign Policy as saying. “But they also had an Israeli government that was willing to give them East Jerusalem as the capital of the new state of Palestine.”

Clinton also added, as to the chances of Mideast peace being achievable in the foreseeable future, in light of past failures, saying that the “two great tragedies in modern Middle Eastern politics, which make you wonder if God wants Middle East peace or not, were [Yitzhak] Rabin’s assassination and [Ariel] Sharon’s stroke.”

Clinton’s comments come as a Palestinian delegation headed by Abbas is planned to officially submit its statehood bid to the United Nations later Friday, with both Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu scheduled to address the General Assembly.

Despite heavy pressure from the West, Abbas remained determined to formally apply for UN recognition of a Palestinian state Friday.

U.S. President Barack Obama met with Abbas Thursday night in an effort to convince him not to seek Security Council recognition, warning that the U.S. would use its veto power to block it. Lower-level American officials also met with Abbas several times, but to no avail.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reiterated on Thursdays that Abbas’ statehood bid will not contribute to the peace process and will merely delay the start of negotiations – which, she added, are the only way the Palestinians can actually achieve independence.

American officials also continued their effort to mobilize enough Security Council votes to defeat the statehood bid without a U.S. veto. Germany has already announced it won’t vote yes, and Rice said she is convinced other countries will do the same. America, she said, is not the only country to realize that the UN gambit is unproductive.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640

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Today, I watched Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Meet the Press. Speaking to David Gregory, he claimed that the Palestinians are the obstacle to peace, and Gregory never once stopped him and said, “Hey, you’re factually wrong.” The Palestinians have in fact recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state for about three decades. The Israelis have not recognized Palestinians’ right to exist even once. In the Occupied Territories, the Palestinian security forces have never had a tighter grip on security, thus making Israeli’s safe from potential attacks from terrorists who do not want peace. Furthermore, both President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have gone above and beyond in structuring a functional government in the West Bank. So, the Palestinians have done their part, but Israel has failed to move an inch toward peace. Instead, Netanyahu lazily claims (lies) that Palestinians have not accepted peace or recognized Israel, both factually incorrect, but also not refuted by people like David Gregory. Netanyahu has also continued to build settlements, even during the period of time there was a so-called “moratorium” on settlement construction. This is why Abbas circumvented the Israelis and went straight to the international community. Netanyahu has simply not been a good-faith partner, so it would be a waste of time to return to the negotiating table until he stops the construction of all settlements. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, unfortunately.

By Jose Antonio Rodriguez 

“The Tea Party acted like terrorists in threatening to blow up the economy,” said Vice President Joe Biden, according to Politico, during a two-hour meeting with angry House Democrats. In a CBS interview, the Vice President denied using the “terrorism word”. Kendra Barkoff, Biden’s spokesperson, added further clarification: “The word was used by several members of Congress. The vice president does not believe it’s an appropriate term in political discourse.” The closed-door caucus meeting took place amidst the scramble to pass a deal to raise the debt limit before the August 2nd deadline, a deal that some Democrats called a “Satan sandwich”.

The perpetually thin-skinned Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Alaska and John McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate during the 2008 election, immediately took offense to the comment. “To be called a terrorist because of our beliefs from the vice president, it’s quite appalling, it’s quite vile,” she said during a Fox News interview. Of course, she herself is quite famous for casually throwing around the “terrorism word”. During the 2008 election, Palin famously accused then-Senator Barack Obama of “pallin’ around” with terrorists, a reference to the fact that Obama sat onChicagoeducation boards with a former member of the Weather Underground named Bill Ayers. Indeed, Palin resurrected those allegations, saying, “He didn’t have a problem palling around with Bill Ayers back in the day when he kicked off his political career in Bill Ayers’ apartment… You know, shaking hands with Chavez and saying he doesn’t need any preconditions with dictators… wanting to read U.S. Miranda rights to alleged, suspected foreign terrorists.” She added that, if she and her ilk were actually terrorists, “heck, shoot, President Obama would be wanting to pal around with us, wouldn’t he?”

It should be added that Paul O’Neil, a Treasury Secretary for President George W. Bush, made remarks similar to the ones that House Democrats made during the meeting with Vice President Biden: “[The] people who are threatening not to pass the debt ceiling are our version of al Qaeda terrorists. Really — they’re really putting our whole society at risk by threatening to round up 50 percent of the members of the Congress, who are loony, who would put our credit at risk.”

But how far off the mark are Paul O’Neil and the angry Democrats? Not that far.

The U.S. Department of Defense defines terrorism as: “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” The TEA Party backed freshmen in the House, elected in 2010, have threatened to shut down the government and throw it into default. More recently, they have shut down the Federal Aviation Agency, resulting in the furlough of 74,000 people, the halting of about 200 construction jobs, and causing the federal government to lose out on roughly $30 million a day in revenue. In every instance, these TEA Party backed members of the House have held the American people hostage, threatening to inflict economic violence if their narrow political, ideological demands are not met. Their efforts have supporters in conservative corners and from the Facebook page of the former Mayor of Wasilla. “Don’t retreat,” Sarah Palin routinely reminds her supporters. “Reload.” Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, had this to say about the tactics of the House Republicans: “If you hold one-half of one-third of the reins of power in Washington, and are willing to use and maintain that kind of discipline even if you will bring the entire temple down around your own head, there is a pretty good chance that you are going to get your way.”

This is not the first time our government has been threatened by right-wing zealots, however.

In the elections of 1994, Republicans took control of the House and Senate. Led by Newt Gingrich and motivated by his “Contract with America”—or, as Democrats termed it, the Contract on America—right-wing ideologues in Congress sought to reshape the government by gutting programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency, and programs for the poor, such as Head Start, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. The Contract withAmerica also outlined an ambitious agenda, which included legislation for a balanced budget amendment and term limits.  Gingrich, the new Speaker of the House, even threatened to not raise the debt ceiling. These right-wing freshmen were operating on two assumptions: (1) that the American people had provided them with an historic mandate to carry out their agenda and (2) that President Bill Clinton would cave in to their demands.  After all, the American people just overwhelmingly swept the Republicans into power for the first time in over forty years. On the second point, they believed that President Clinton was politically weakened by scandals, which were manufactured by ultra-conservative Clinton-haters and fueled by a pliant media; they also believed that he was without convictions of any kind and lacked moral fortitude. By the end of 1995, they would be proved wrong on both fronts.

On the night of November 13, 1995, hours away from an impending government shut down, Republican leaders of Congress met with President Clinton in order to craft a last minute budget deal. Just a few days earlier, the Republican controlled Congress sent the President a budget that inflicted draconian cuts to entitlements and programs that millions of Americans depended upon. They also sent him a bill to raise the debt ceiling for another thirty days. The President, much to the surprise of the Republican leadership, vetoed both bills. During the tense, last minute negotiations in the White House, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and Speaker Gingrich made conciliatory statements, while the zealous Dick Armey (now the leader of the TEA Party group Freedomworks) verbally attacked the President. Armey accused the President of fear-mongering, saying that he “could hardly get” his mother-in-law “into a nursing home, you guys have scared her so much.” President Clinton, who still nursed resentment over Armey’s claim that Hillary Clinton was a Marxist, lashed out at Armey: “I don’t know about your mother-in-law, but let me tell you, there are a lot of older women who are going to do pretty darn bad under your budget.” The President was feeling his blood boil. “So don’t expect any pity from me.” Armey, in a moment of petulance, retorted that the Republicans would shut down the government and effectively endClinton’s presidency. “If you want to pass your budget,” the President said with a glance to Bob Dole, who was planning to run for the presidency in 1996, “you will have to put somebody else in this chair!” As if to signal that the meeting was now over, the President declared that he didn’t “care if I go to five percent in the polls. I am not going to sign your budget. It is wrong. It is wrong for the country.”

At midnight, the government shut down began. Nearly 800,000 federal employees were furloughed and the lives of millions of Americans were inconvenienced. In order to prevent default, Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin borrowed $61 billion from retirement funds and employed some financial gimmicks, a move that elicited cries for his impeachment from Republicans who preferred that the country be thrown into default. Briefly, the government shut down ended, and it appeared that there would be a budget deal. But the Republican lead Congress continued to send the President bills that unnecessarily inflicted economic pain on the most vulnerable Americans. So, it was not to be, and the government was shut down for a second time. The American people were angry. The poll numbers for Republicans (and Gingrich in particular) plummeted, while the President’s poll numbers skyrocketed. In some polls, his numbers were almost 70% among likely voters over the age of 50. The American people rejected the extremism of the right-wing ideologues and supported President Clinton’s defense of programs that helped millions of Americans keep their heads above water. They rewarded him for not caving in to the demands of over-zealous Republicans, who were holding the American people and the economy hostage. In early January 1996, a contrite Gingrich apologized toClinton, saying, “We made a mistake. We thought you would cave.” On January 6, the government was back in business.

It is difficult not to look back over the last year and see that President Obama has, time and time again, been rolled by House Republicans, lead by Speaker of the House John Boehner. He has caved in to the demands of the TEA-orists, who have threatened to wreak economic violence if their demands are not met. In the wake of the recent debt limit deal, Speaker Boehner has boasted that he got 98% of what he wanted. Emboldened, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hinted that his party would continue the tactics that have allowed them to cut spending and risk government default. “I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting. Most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this— it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming.” The deal allows the debt ceiling to be raised until early 2013, but it cuts nearly a trillion dollars in discretionary spending over the next ten years and creates a bipartisan committee, which will be tasked with cutting an additional 1.5 trillion dollars.  The TEA Partiers have thrown sanity into the wind. Though they brought the nation to the brink of economic devastation, many refused to vote for the deal that provided them with virtually everything they wanted and virtually nothing that the President wanted. These are people who will not take yes for an answer.

Not everyone is thrilled about the deal. Obviously, Democrats are enraged. Some progressive groups, such as MoveOn.org and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, are threatening to withhold support for the President’s 2012 campaign. Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, has described the debt deal as an economic “disaster”, warning that it will make our deficit problem worse and “takeAmericaa long way down the road to banana-republic status.” Lawrence Summers, a former economic advisor to President Obama, said that there is a “one in three chance” that there will be a double-dip recession. Standard & Poor, a major credit rating agency, has also responded to the debt deal by downgradingAmerica’s top credit rating. In a statement following the downgrade, S&P cited a dysfunctional political system and a failure to produce a credible, balanced plan. “The majority of Republicans in Congress,” a representative from S&P said, “continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act.” The American people, according to recent polls, also strongly dislike the deal. According to a CNN poll, 52% of Americans disapprove of the debt deal. The poll also found that three out of four Americans would describe elected officials as “spoiled children”. A New York Times/CBS News poll, for example, has Congress’s approval rating at a dismal 14%. Speaker Boehner’s disapproval rating is at 57%, ten points higher than the President’s. Public approval of the TEA Party is at a mere 20%. There are signs of hope for the White House in the polls, however. According to the latter poll, the American people trust President Obama over the Republicans with economic issues. They also blame Republicans for the crisis, believing that they refused to compromise. Despite all the drama, President Obama still stands with a 48% approval rating.

 

At some point, President Obama is going to have to take a stand and draw a line in the sand.  During the debt ceiling negotiations, he warned Rep. Eric Cantor: “Don’t call my bluff.” Yet, when they called his bluff, President Obama caved. In 1995, President Clinton demonstrated that he had conviction and moral fortitude. He held firm, risking his political career, and refused to be rolled by the right-wing zealots who were trying to gut government programs and remake the country in their image. When the dust settled, President Clinton not only succeeded in his 1996 election, but his fiscal discipline resulted in a balanced budget and a projected surplus in the trillions of dollars. Today, President Obama faces an equally fanatical and nihilistic group of TEA Party backed Republican freshmen who are willing to blow up the economy. Unfortunately, the TEA-orists have learned that they can get their way if they take hostages. This is a fundamental fight for the future of our country. President Obama needs to decide if he has the conviction to risk his poll numbers and his Presidency in order to preserve our way of life and win the future.

President Obama will announce a drawdown of 10,000 U.S.forces fromAfghanistanin a speech tomorrow evening. According to White House officials, the withdrawal will consist of 5,000 troops this summer and another 5,000 troops after the summer fighting season ends. They plan to withdrawal 30,000 troops within 12 months. 

Yesterday, in an interview on CNN, Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated that the U.S.will continue to have a strong presence in Afghanistan, but conceded that political realities necessitated a beginning of “credible” troop withdrawals. These political realities are a major reason for Gates’ decision to leave his post. “[Frankly] I can’t imagine being part of a nation, part of a government … that’s being forced to dramatically scale back our engagement with the rest of the world.” This startling statement, told to Newsweek writers John Barry and  Tara McKelvey, reflected his concern that economic and political strife have diminished the ability of the United States to continue being the indispensable nation of the world.

 The political pressure on President Obama is coming from both the left and the right. With the economy slowly recovering and an unemployment rate over 9%, both political parties have been arguing that the war is simply too costly. The war cost the U.S. $128 billion dollars last year. It is estimated that the war has a monthly price tag of $8 billion. However, the cost of the war is only one line of attack.

 Isolationism is becoming the hot new trend among Republicans who seem to be pushing their views rightward, closer to Ron Paul’s brand of Libertarianism. This trend has concerned Reagan Republicans like John McCain: “This is isolationism. There’s always been an isolation strain in the Republican Party… but now it seems to have moved more center stage, so to speak.” The GOP presidential hopefuls find themselves opposing everything President Obama stands for, even if it is continuing a war that was started by the last Republican President– George W. Bush. Strangely enough, these GOP presidential hopefuls find themselves in bed with liberals who also oppose the war.

 Liberals oppose the war, too, but this opposition is a vestige of their opposition to Bush’s wars. But now, with a Democratic President in the White House, they have replaced Bush bashing with Obama bashing.  Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com, for example, has spent the last two years equating President Obama with President Bush. Recently, he wrote that President Obama’s legal lawyers were worse than President Bush’s. Much of their complaints are rooted in claims that the President is trying to win a losing battle– a battle with objectives that he has not clearly defined. Today, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) sent President Obama a letter in which he wrote : “After 10 years and $443 billion, I believe it is time [to] focus our resources on rebuildingAmerica, not on rebuildingAfghanistan… It is time for the Afghan people to decide their destiny and take responsibility for governing themselves. … It is my hope that by redefining the mission inAfghanistan away from nation-building, you will pursue significant troop reductions immediately and end the scope of our current mission well before the 2014 deadline.”

 Both parties feel completely free to attack the President on this issue because the American public has also turned against the war. In a recent Pew Poll, 56% of Americans said that they wanted to bring the troops home, a record number. Only 39% believed that troops should  stay and continue their mission. These sentiments have been reflected in many other polls conducted in the last few months.

 But here is the problem: Americans do not understand the mission inAfghanistan, which is why the American public wants us to leave. This is the fault of Presidents Bush and Obama. But President Obama is doing the right thing by pursuing a responsible withdrawal, rather than a rush to exit. If people would actually study what is happening inAfghanistan, learn the country’s history, and look carefully at what our political and military leaders have said about our mission there, then they would be less eager to see the troop abandonAfghanistanso quickly. As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, the consequences of leavingAfghanistantoo quickly would be more dangerous than the consequences of theU.S.continuing its mission and pursing a responsible withdrawal. All one has to do is look at the two times that theU.S.abandonedAfghanistan. The first time was just after the Soviets fled Afghanistan, and we left the Afghans to a bloody civil war that resulted in nearly half a million people being killed and created a power vacuum that allowed the Taliban to come to power. The second time was in our rush to invade another country:Iraq. We ignoredAfghanistanand allowed the Taliban to regroup, train, and retake many parts of the country. Unfortunately, Americans are war weary and they do not care about any of this.

 Perhaps they will keep this in mind the next time they decide to rush into war all jacked up on patriotic zeal… but I seriously doubt it.

 

As July approaches, so too does the beginning of a withdrawal from Afghanistan. This has sparked some measure of debate in this country. Unfortunately, much of the debate around the future of our involvement in Afghanistan and the region is ill-informed. The most annoying debate is whether or not we should abandon counter-insurgency and embrace counter-terrorism. Allow me to simplify the effects of both strategies: The latter will result in prolonged war, while the former will bring about a negotiated settlement. But listening to the pundits, politicians, or reading the newspaper (or blog) writers, one would come away with the idea that counter-insurgency has failed and that counter-terrorism is the best strategy as we go forward. If we are to leave Afghanistan with some semblance of security, then we must continue the counter-insurgency strategy that has been in place for a year-and-a-half. Failing to do so will result in prolonged conflict. 

Conventional wisdom says that the killing of Osama bin Laden has boosted the argument for pursuing a counter-terrorism strategy. The detailed account of helicopters swooping down on a compound, with armed commandos rappelling down onto unsuspecting terrorists, has captured the imagination of Americans everywhere. It seemed so effective; indeed, bin Laden has a bullet in his head and chest to attest to the effectiveness of SEAL Team 6. Unfortunately, this is not exactly how counter-terrorism works. And if it did, it would require much more energy and money.

 Vice President Joe Biden is the White House’s biggest advocate of counter-terrorism. During the White House’s long internal discussion over what to do in Afghanistan, he pushed for a counter-terrorism strategy. In his view, a smaller footprint would yield better results, particularly if U.S. military forces went after Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. The larger footprint required by counter-insurgency would only create more terrorists, he argued. Biden also described counter-insurgency as nation-building. Throughout the internal debate, Biden sought to undermine the arguments of General David Petraeus and General Stanley McChrystal, the military brass. In the end, the President did not fully embrace the counter-terrorism strategy. He agreed to the strategy proposed by the military: counter-insurgency.  

The military, during the internal debate, argued that the Taliban was effectively winning the war. The momentum was on their side. But, in their view, the Taliban had an ally in Hamid Karzai. Karzai was corrupt and did not have the trust of the Afghans. A lack of security was also driving factor in allowing the Taliban insurgency to flourish. The only way to improve security and governance, they argued, was to add more troops on the ground and adopt a counter-insurgency strategy. They hoped for 40,000 more troops, but the President only approved 30,000 troops. Believing that the military was trying to box him in, the President dictated five pages of memorandum that were meant to straightjacket the military. He feared that they were pushing him into the trap of mission creep.

 Counter-terrorism sounds good on paper, which is why there were some vigorous supporters of CT in the White House. But the debate inside the White House (which is going on now in the public square) ignored the fact that insurgency is different from terrorism, and therefore require different approaches. This misunderstanding can be attributed to the Bush administration’s failure to accurately explain the post-9/11 challenge. By invading Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States created a power vacuum, which was the perfect environment for an insurgency. Salafist and takfiri Islamic militants were seeking to overthrow the governments established by the U.S. through the use of terrorism as a tactic. The Bush administration mislabeled the insurgents as “terrorists,” and that became the term everyone used to describe the enemies we faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are major differences between the two, which should inform our military strategy in Afghanistan.

 When talking about terrorists, it is imperative to note that these are generally acts of violence that are committed by individuals with radical goals. They and their goals are not representative of their social group. They use terrorism as a means to shock both the public and government into accepting the demands of the terrorists. These are criminal acts of violence. Counter-terrorism is a form of law enforcement, whereby the terrorists are captured (or killed) and brought to justice. This is what recently happened to Osama bin Laden. 

Insurgents are different in most respects, though terrorism is a popular tactic among insurgents. But here is the deeper issue: insurgents are representative of their social group, and their goals or grievances are widely shared within that social group. In other words, the insurgents are representative of deeply rooted problems in society. The way to counter an insurgency is through a whole-of-government approach that marginalizes the grievances through a compromise or reform. The Arab Spring is an example of a non-violent insurgency.

 Now we come to the crux of the matter. 

There is no way to kill our way out of Afghanistan or the region. We cannot simply capture or detain our way out either. These are the methods of counter-terrorism. Furthermore, the region is crippled by deeply rooted problems that have allowed militant Islamic fundamentalists to gain influence and threaten the stability of governments in the region. These are not simply terrorists that we can seek out and arrest or kill, as counter-terrorism would have us do. The way to defeat these insurgents is through a counter-insurgency strategy that protects the public, increases government responsiveness and transparency, and addresses the deeply rooted grievances of the public. This will undoubtedly require some sort of compromise with the Taliban. All of this will require time and patience, something the public lacks, which is why they are now hoping to pursue a CT strategy. If we are serious about getting out and leaving behind a secure Afghanistan that we will not have to re-invade some time in the future (I’m not talking about winning, mind you), then a COIN strategy is our only hope.

 But I hate to leave the impression that we should do a purely COIN strategy. Certainly, that should be our guiding strategy in Afghanistan. However, there is a need for CT. We are doing that in some areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan right now with our have drones policing the skies. And obviously we just took out Osama bin Laden using CT. A hybrid strategy is useful. But this talk about ending COIN and adopting a purely CT approach is not only silly, it is irresponsible. 

As General David Petraeus has said many times, we cannot win this war. There will never be a time when we can have a ticker-tape parade and see al Qaeda and the Taliban sign a document to end the war. We may never live in a world that is free of either organization. So, the goal is to ensure that the people of the region are satisfied with their government, have hope for their future, and feel secure… at least enough so that we can leave and the Afghan government can continue what we started. The Arab Spring is showing us that the people in this region are taking it upon themselves to bring about change. Let’s hope they succeed so that we do not have to pursue a COIN or CT strategy.

And just because it made me smile…

 

 

 

 

Sounds bad. It is bad. But it is also a misleading headline.

The Washington Post reports that there was a 20% increase in civilian casualties. This headline is somewhat misleading, as I said. Civilian casualties attributable to US/ISAF forces dropped 18% (to 742), while civilian casualties attributable to the Taliban have risen by 25% (4,738). This is the direct result of Gen. David Petraeus’ population-centric counter-insurgency strategy.

Here is the Washington Post article from today:

Number of civilian casualties in Afghan war rises 20%, U.N. report shows
   

The top U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, said as the world body released its latest quarterly report that insurgents are likely to stage high-profile attacks in the months ahead.

“Before it gets better, it may get worse,” he said.

The report concluded that the number of civilian casualties attributable to insurgents increased by 25 percent during the 10-month period. It said insurgent groups were responsible for killing or injuring 4,738 civilians during that period, while 742 were killed or wounded by Afghan and international troops – a drop of 18 percent.

In a statement Thursday on its Web site, the Taliban called the civilian casualty figures in the report “a propaganda stint aimed at concealing American brutalities.”

U.S. airstrikes, long controversial in Afghanistan because of the high incidence of civilian casualties associated with them, were the leading cause of civilian deaths by NATO forces, the report said. At least 162 civilians were killed in airstrikes and 120 were wounded during the 10-month period.

On Thursday, NATO said it was investigating reports that one of its units had mistakenly killed two Afghans in northwestern Faryab province.

The grim statistics come as U.S. military officials are claiming some success in their effort to halt the Taliban’s momentum as the war enters its 10th year.

De Mistura said insurgent groups are likely to try to undermine NATO’s sense of traction by staging spectacular attacks in the near future.

“We should be ready, I’m afraid, for the next few months, for some tense security environment,” he said.

The quarterly report said the period between July and October saw a 66 percent spike in security incidents compared with the same time frame last year. Assassinations reached an all-time high in August, it said, with most attacks targeting civilians and Afghan police. Suicide attacks occurred an average of three times a week, most of them directed at NATO troops, police and Afghan government officials.

Five civilians were wounded in a suicide bombing Thursday in Kunduz City, in northern Afghanistan, NATO said in a statement.

The number of NATO troops killed this year also reached a new high, according to a tally kept by the Web site icasualties.org. At least 705 international troops were killed here this year, far more than the 521 killed in 2009, the previous record.

The report also said the United Nations “welcomes the spirit” of President Hamid Karzai’s attempt to oust private security companies from Afghanistan, which he says have operated here with impunity for years. But it also expressed concern that the firms’ disbandment “before security could be assured by Afghan authorities” would lead to “a withdrawal of many development projects and activities.”

KABUL – The number of civilians killed or wounded in the Afghan war increased by 20 percent during the first 10 months of this year, compared with the same period last year, according to a U.N. report issued this week.

Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 23, 2010; 5:45 PM


 

 

 

By Jose Rodriguez

 

  

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, out of 11 potential options for Congress, rated unemployment extension as the most likely to stimulate the economy. The least likely: extending the Bush tax cuts, especially for the wealthy. Furthermore, the CBO estimates that every dollar spent on unemployment benefits will generate up to $1.90 in economic activity. Others, such as the Labor Department, argue that there is $2.00 worth of economic activity for every spent dollar. It is a basic fact that people who are unemployed spend every dollar in unemployment insurance that they receive, which fuels economic activity. Conversely, tax cuts for the rich tend to only generate somewhere between 10 and 40 cents of economic activity for every dollar, because the rich tend to save their money, not spend it.

            Not extending unemployment benefits would have a deleterious impact on the already slow pace of economic recovery. With current low demand and excess supply, failure to extend unemployment benefits would further contract the economy and make it even more difficult for employers to hire new workers. The CBO estimates that the economy could see a 1% decline in GDP growth and up to one million additional people could lose their jobs. It goes without saying that we would have hundreds of thousands of people fall into poverty. A recent report by the Census Bureau found that over one out of three people cannot “make ends meet” at a basic level. Not extending unemployment insurance to Americans suffering from unemployment during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression would be a moral outrage.

 

 

The suggestion, posited by many conservatives, that people are simply too lazy to get a job would be laughable were it not so incredibly offensive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report last August that indicated that there were five job seekers for every job listing. More specifically, there were 14.6 million people who were unemployed, but only 2.9 million job openings. Those numbers have shifted somewhat in recent months, but the ratio is constant. The misconception that the unemployed are simply lazy reflects a world view that suggests Americans are spoiled and feel entitled. The reality, in this economic crisis, is that Americans are struggling to keep their heads above water. They are struggling to survive. So, the notion that cutting off aid to lazy, spoiled Americans will get them back to work is completely false. Americans want to work, but there are simply not enough jobs.

 The American economy is a consumer driven economy. And right now, Americans do not have the money to consume as much as they used to, which has driven demand downward. Now, corporations are sitting on $1.8 trillion. They claim that they have not invested that money for two reasons: there are excess supplies of goods, so there is no need to invest; and their confidence in the economic outlook is keeping them from making any risks in future investments. Others, such as myself, believe that there is a political dynamic, as well. Corporate America has not been happy with the Obama administration’s attempts to regulate the economy, or his desire to end the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Under President Bush, regulations were ignored, regulators were in bed (in some cases literally) with the people they were supposed to be monitoring, and corporations could count on President Bush to side with them. Fareed Zakaria, in a Washington Post column, made this case, as well. In discussions with business leaders, he found that most of them complained more about President Obama than their economic or financial concerns. He found that most of them felt similarly: “… [President Obama] has almost no private-sector experience, that he’s made clear he thinks government and nonprofit work are superior to the private sector. It all added up to a profound sense of distrust.”

It is an agreed fact that during periods of economic booms generous unemployment benefits reduce the incentives for people to find employment. However, we are not currently in a period of economic success. We are crawling out of the bowels of an economic crash. In 2003, in testimony before the Joint Economic Committee, Alan Greenspan made comments about unemployment benefits which can be applied to today’s debate about the issue: “Unemployment insurance is essentially restrictive because it’s been our perception that we don’t want to create incentives for people not to take jobs. But when you’re in a period of job weakness, where it is not a choice on the part of people whether they’re employed or unemployed, then obviously you want to be temporarily generous. We ought to be temporarily generous. And I think that’s what we have done in the past and it has worked well. [...]I think that because it is stringent in normal periods, that one should recognize that people who lose jobs not because they did anything and can’t find new ones, you have a different form of problem, which means that you have to allow the unemployment system to be much broader and, indeed, that’s what we need to do.” People who now find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own should not be left out to dry. Not only is it morally indefensible, it is economically unsound.

                                              

 

 

 

By Jose Rodriguez

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and scum-bag who asked his ex-wife for a divorce while she was in a hospital undergoing cancer treatment, is hoping to run for president in 2012.

 Asked by the Richmond Times-Dispatch about a possible run in 2012, Gingrich replied, “Callista and I will look seriously and we’ll probably get our family totally engaged, including our two grandchildren, probably in January, 2011.” While he mulls over a presidential bid with his… what? Third wife?… Newt might want to check out the polls. According to a November Quinnipiac poll, he is polling at 15%, which places him behind Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee.

Meanwhile, Newt might need to see a doctor, because he is suffering from a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease.

During the controversy over the so-called Ground Zero mosque, Newt compared the construction of a mosque several minutes and blocks from Ground Zero to the construction of a Nazi sign outside of the Holocaust museum: “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington… there is no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.”

Before that regrettable (to decent people) comment, Gingrich described Sonia Sotomayor (President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court) as a racist. He even recommended that President Obama withdraw her name from nomination. The accusation came from a mischaracterization of a speech she gave, during which she used the words “wise Latina woman.” Though he later apologized for using that term, he nevertheless continued to believe the sentiment: “My initial reaction was strong and direct — perhaps too strong and too direct. … Since then, some who want to have an open and honest consideration of Judge Sotomayor’s fitness to serve on the nation’s highest court have been critical of my word choice. … The word ‘racist’ should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable.”

More recently, Newt bought into a ludicrous article by Dinesh D’Souza, which suggested that President Obama is heavily influenced by his father’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview (since when was being anti-colonial a bad thing?). He went on to say, “This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.” According to David Frum, a former Bush aide and speechwriter, Newt’s comments were an example of race-baiting, as well as an attempt to trump his extremist credentials for the radical right-wingers in the TEA Party: “When last was there such a brazen outburst of race-baiting in the service of partisan politics at the national level? George Wallace took more care to sound race-neutral.”

It is not surprising then to hear that Newt blames our economic woes on the lazy unemployed. At a South Carolina event, attended by 250 Republican activists, Newt said, “I’m opposed to giving people money for doing nothing.” What is even sadder is the fact that the audience cheered loudly. In his view, the nation wasted $134 billion dollars on people who “do nothing for 99 weeks” and “got nothing for it.”

Yup. That’s Newt.

So, let’s evaluate his assertion that we “got nothing” for extending unemployment benefits for people out of work.

Let’s first dispel the notion that the unemployed are lazy people who could easily find a job in no time. According to data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is roughly one job for every five unemployed people. There are simply not enough jobs and there are simply too many people looking for work. It is shameful and immoral for anyone to suggest that the unemployed are simply lazy.

Secondly, let’s look at the claim that we “got nothing” for our $134 billion extension of unemployment benefits. According to the non-partisan  Congressional Budget Office, every dollar spent on unemployment insurance generates up to $1.90 in economic growth. From a list of 11 options for stimulating the economy, extending unemployment benefits was at number one. Last? Extending the Bush tax cuts, which, according to CBO Director Doug Elmendorf, “would worsen the fiscal outlook” of our economy.

 

All I can say is this: Good luck, Newt. If comments like the ones you have made over the last year will characterize your presidential campaign, then I will enjoy watching you battle Sarah Palin for the Republican nomination.

It’ll be fun to watch. And, for President Barack Obama, it will be a cake walk to re-election.


By Jose Rodriguez

Last week, the Obama administration released its much anticipated assessment of the war in Afghanistan.

After seven years of neglect, President Obama made Afghanistan a top foreign policy priority. By the end of 2009, a strategic policy for Afghanistan was decided, which resulted in a surge of 30,000 additional troops. However, it was not until summer 2010 when all of the troops were in the country, bringing the total number of American troops to 97,000. The counter-insurgency strategy, therefore, has had roughly three months to operate at full capacity, a point mostly neglected in the mainstream media.

Though President Obama agreed to 30,000 additional troops, it was still fewer than what the military had requested. General David Petraeus, Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), has therefore focused on a triage approach, which placed our forces in the major population centers, particularly in the Helmand and Kandahar provinces. These southern provinces have been the strongholds of the Taliban.

 Many in the media, from liberals on MSNBC, to conservatives like Joe Scarsborough and George Will, predicted total and complete failure in Afghanistan. Following the release of the assessment, the media has basked in the glory of its cynicism. Headlines, like the following, are ubiquitous: “Obama’s Afghanistan Report: Progress and Challenges”, and “Afghanistan Report Finds Progress ‘Fragile,’ Offers Few Details”. Even the language in the report suggests that the Obama administration is not impressed with the progress made thus far.

So, what does the report say?

The report highlights three areas of progress: disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda; Pakistan; and Afghanistan.

  

Al Qaeda’s senior leadership has been dwindled as a result of our attempts to hunt them down and kill them. Because of our intense efforts, they have been forced to find safe havens in more remote (and less secure) areas, making it more difficult for them to plan, prepare, and carry out acts of terrorism. Our efforts have been both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially since al Qaeda has been in hiding on the Pakistan side of the border. The report underscores our government’s concern that al Qaeda could threaten the stability of Pakistan, a nuclear armed nation.

Pakistan, in the last year, has been cooperating with US efforts to root out al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the FATA region. These efforts have had deadly consequences for Pakistan’s civilians and military. Nonetheless, Pakistan has to do more to develop the FATA region, which will do more to bring stability to the region. This will do more to deny al Qaeda and the Taliban safe havens than military action.

Afghanistan is also an area where there has been progress. The report neglects any discussion of Hamid Karzai and accusations of corruption, which has earned the report criticism. Regardless, the report highlights efforts by the US to begin transitioning all responsibility to the Afghans. Though the US military will be out of Afghanistan by 2014, the US will be there to assist Afghanistan for years to come. The surge of civilian resources has also had the benefit of improving the competence of the Afghan government and government programs. They have also been monitoring progress in combating corruption and emphasizing accountability. The most important progress has been demonstrated in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, where US forces have displaced the Taliban.

 

For seven years, the Bush administration neglected Afghanistan. During that time, all the energy, focus, and resources were diverted to Iraq. Afghanistan was forgotten and assumed to be a complete success. The Taliban took advantage of our situation in Iraq, and they re-established themselves in many parts of the country. Indeed, they set-up secret governments, which, in many respects, were more responsive to the civilian population. Since President Obama’s surge, the Taliban’s gains have been reversed. As we approach July 2011, the US will be evaluating the ability of Afghan security forces to competently assume full control over areas cleared and held by American and coalition forces.

The report also makes it clear that, while these improvements are crucial, they are also fragile and reversible.

But amid all the back-patting of the media and critics of the Afghanistan war, the ability of US forces to clear and hold the south is an important indication that we are indeed turning the corner. In places like Marjah and Nawa, the Taliban, who were once the dominant presence, have been completely displaced. Bazaars, restaurants, and businesses are open. The people are no longer concerned about Taliban intimidation, since they know that US forces are there to protect them. The counter-insurgency strategy is working, albeit slowly, and it needs time.

 

Richard Holbrooke, a legendary diplomat, famous for his efforts to end the Bosnian war, died on December 13th. He was the Obama administration’s lead diplomat to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Liberal critics of the war, especially on the Huffington Post, have latched onto his final words: “End the war in Afghanistan.” However, for those who knew Holbrooke best, his final words were not a death-bed plea, but part of jovial banter between himself and his family. Ever the obsessed and driven man, he was focused on bringing about a solution to the Afghan war, even on his death bed. His family and the doctors around him were trying to get him to calm down and rest, and they asked him what they could do to calm him down. He responded, “Stop this war.”

In the final analysis, this war will not be ended through military force, a fact everyone (including Holbrooke) understands. But there, unfortunately, has to be force. In order for there to be a political resolution to this conflict, the Taliban has to be brought to its knees. If the Taliban feels as though they have the ability to succeed over American and ISAF forces, they will not negotiate. If we pull out now, as critics have urged, the Taliban will undoubtedly successfully bring down the fragile Afghan government. Needless to say, al Qaeda will, once again, have the freedom to organize, plan, and export terrorism, just as they did before 9/11.

The United States has abandoned Afghanistan twice.

The last time we abandoned Afghanistan was in the early lead up to the war in Iraq. We allowed the Taliban to become resurgent, the government to become corrupt, and lost our legitimacy with the Afghan people. This abandonment has caused made it difficult to regain the trust of the Afghan people.

 

The first time we abandoned Afghanistan was after the Soviets withdrew their forces. We had been secretly supporting, funding, and arming the mujahedeen’s efforts to expel the Soviets. Once that conflict drew to a close, we stood back as Afghanistan fell into a bloody civil war. Over 400,000 Afghans were killed as a result. Also, more importantly, the Taliban were able to grab control of Afghanistan.

If we abandon Afghanistan again, then we will have blood on our hands. To be sure, there are no good options. To be sure, this is not a war we can win. But what we can do is bring stability to Afghanistan and allow them an opportunity to take control of their own future. For that to happen, we have to continue our efforts against the Taliban, deny al Qaeda sanctuary, and improve governance in Afghanistan. This will require time and patience.

Both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars provide an excellent lesson for the American people: do not support foolish military ventures that will be difficult to get out of. As the saying goes, “You break it, you bought it.” And now the American people are feeling buyer’s remorse.

Be sure to read my first post on the Afghan war: http://dissentiscool.wordpress.com/2009/03/30/whats-the-deal-with-afghanistan/

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