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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

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

As a Catholic I am embarrassed and ashamed.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has come out in opposition to President Obama’s health care reform efforts, despite its long-standing support for health care reform. In fact, the USCCB has long supported health care reform that includes a single-payer system to cover the uninsured, the poor, and illegal immigrants. Yet, in the last couple of months, the USCCB has come out against the current health care reform bill.

The USCCB has aligned itself with Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, and Hannity by asserting that the current health care reform efforts would encourage euthanasia of the elderly, deny health care to the disabled, and would force tax payers to pay for elective abortions and bar doctors from invoking the conscience clause. The accusations read as though they were copy and pasted from Sarah Palin’s facebook page. They are advancing paranoid arguments against what is inarguably the most important health care legislation in the last fifty years. But why?

One can only speculate, but it might be partisan, it could be ignorance (they have not read the bills), or it could be any number of things.

This is tragic, as far as I’m concerned. I have been proud of my church’s stance on science (particularly evolution), Global Climate Change, the poor, and advocating for a more just and fair global economy. Universal health care was another issue my Church supported, which made me proud to call myself a Catholic. However, the USCCB’s current mental status has me quite concerned.

But the USCCB, which does not have any authority whatsoever, has come under fire from Bishops from around the globe. An editorial on a Catholic British website has chastised Bishops in the U.S. for their failure to stand up for a basic pro-life issue: universal health care. The Tablet editorial argues that the Bishops in the United States are wasting an opportunity where they “could play a central role in salvaging Mr Obama’s health-care programme.” Instead, the U.S. Bishops are trying to advance an anti-abortion agenda when everyone has agreed that the bill should be neutral on this issue, “rather than the more general principle of the common good.” As the editorial notes, nearly 50 million Americans are without health care, and this tragedy is only likely to worsen, as the health care industry is “[sensing] a threat to their profits” and are spending 1.5 million dollars a day to kill health care reform. Rather than attend to the poor, the USCCB has decided that they would rather turn this reform effort into a battle over abortion. The Tablet editorial makes a great point, however: the “National Health Service, one of the great forward strides for social justice, had no Catholic blessing,” yet is one of the most enduring and popular government programs in England.

This is clearly a dereliction of duty.

It has been clearly documented that the current health care reform effort does not force tax payers to fund (directly or indirectly) elective abortions. Nor are there any death panels for the elderly or disabled.

I can’t believe that the USCCB actually believes this! All they have to do is read the bill! Again are the Bishops lazy? Are they politically motivated? Are they this ignorant? What is the deal?

Republicans have come to the conclusion that Americans want health care reform, and they have come to the conclusion that a majority of Americans and American doctors support the public option. Despite months of promoting lies, and encouraging people to attend and disrupt town hall meetings in order to create the impression that a majority of Americans oppose any health care reform, 73% of doctors support either a single-payer system (10%) or a mostly private system that includes a public option (63%), and 77% of Americans support a public option. And I know what you’re thinking: “How can that be? What was the poll question?” Well, here was what SurveyUSA asked: “In any health care proposal, how important do you feel it is to give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance–extremely important, quite important, not that important, or not at all important?”

So, faced with overwhelming support for health care reform (including the public option) from Americans and doctors, Republicans have started arguing that the health care bill will pay for elective abortions. There is not a single grain of truth to this argument, which apparently does not matter to the USCCB.

Let’s deconstruct this nonsense…

In an op-ed for National Review (an ultra-Conservative publication), on July 23, 2009, Minority Leader John Boehner wrote that President Obama was trying to expand abortion by sneaking it through his health care reform effort and would force American tax-payers to fund abortions. Boehner also accused the President of trying to undermine organizations (like the Catholic Church) that do not support or perform abortions by making it illegal for them to deny abortion services. The biggest lie (which he labels a “fact”) is this: “This public plan, like all plans, will be required to classify abortion as an “essential benefit,” forcing American citizens to directly subsidize abortion-on-demand with their tax dollars.”

These baseless accusations have energized anti-abortion advocates, like the Catholic Church, into opposing what is an essential and basic pro-life issue.

It is important to remember that the Hyde Amendment (passed in 1976) bans the use of federal funds for elective abortions. This law does not apply in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in mortal danger. So, before any substantive discussion can begin, we must remember that it is against the law to do what John Boehner is suggesting President Obama wants to do. President Obama, who has admitted that he is pro-choice and has a 100% rating with NARAL, has said that he thinks “we… have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government-funded health care.” This statement, though it goes against his own personal beliefs, is consistent with the law and consistent with
public opinion. In a recent Rasmussen poll, 48% of Americans do not want tax dollars to pay for elective abortions, while only 13% think that any health care bill should use tax-payer funds to cover abortion. 32% of Americans believe that there should not be a requirement either way.

What Minority leader John Boehner (and the USCCB) does not understand is that most private health insurance policies already cover abortion, whether or not people realize it. This would not change under any health care reform bill, thus making it abortion-neutral. But there’s more.

While there are five different health care bills in Congress right now, H.R. 3200 is the most talked about. H.R. 3200, for instance, has an amendment authored by Lois Capps (D-Ca), which specifically prohibits tax-payer funds from being used to pay for abortions. The bill is only seven pages long, and it is triple spaced, so it should not take long to read, however, no one cares to read it. And those who have, have consciously twisted her language to fit their narrow view.

The Capps Amendment would not require abortion coverage to be part of the minimum benefits package, as many claim it would. It would be up to the insurer whether or not the plan covers abortion… as it stands now. I will simply quote the bill:

“The Health Benefits Advisory Committee may not recommend under section 123 (b) and the Secretary may not adopt in standards under section 124(b), the services described in paragraph (4)(A) or (4) (B) as part of the essential benefits package and the Commissioner may not require such services for qualified health benefits plans to participate in the Health Insurance Exchange.”

This seems pretty straightforward, but, again, there are people who want to twist and fabricate. The bill clearly states that abortion coverage is not required for the minimum benefits package in order to “participate in the Health Insurance Exchange.” In section two, Capps goes further: “VOLUNTARY CHOICE OF COVERAGE BY PLAN.-In the case of a qualified health benefits plan, the plan is not required (or prohibited) under this Act from providing coverage of services described in paragraph (4) (A) or (4)(B) and the QHBP offering entity shall determine whether such coverage is provided.”

The amendment authored by Lois Capps is straightforward (again) in preventing tax-payer funds from being used to cover elective abortions. The Capps amendment requires insurers to segregate the cost of abortion coverage from the premiums, which would be paid for by the insured, not tax-payers. The public option may or may not include abortion coverage, but, again, the cost of that would be paid out of the pocket of the insured, not the tax-payers. Again, here are the words from the amendment:

“(T)he plan shall provide assurances satisfactory to the Commissioner that- (A) any affordability credits provided under subtitle C of title II are not used for purposes of paying for such services; and (B) only premium amounts attributable to the actuarial value described in section 113(b) are used for such purpose.”

The Capps amendment also defers to the Hyde amendment, which prohibits tax-payer funds from being used to pay for abortion services. It clearly states, in no uncertain terms, that the bill would have “No EFFECT ON FEDERAL LAWS REGARDING ABORTION.” Um… that includes the Hyde amendment, in case you are a Republican or an American Catholic Bishop.

Despite the concerns of the USCCB (raised by John Boehner in his op-ed), the health care proposals would not make it illegal to deny abortion services. The Capps amendment makes this point clearly, if they would only take five minutes to read the damn bill:

“Nothing in this Act shall be construed to have any effect on Federal laws regardin- (A) conscience protection; (B) willingness or refusal to provide abortion; and (C) discrimination on the basis of the willingness or refusal to provide, pay for, cover, or refer for abortion or to provide or participate in training to provide abortion.”

How can this be any clearer? Notice that it says, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed,” yet that is exactly what Boehner, the GOP, and the USCCB are doing: CONSTRUING!

Another point of concern for the GOP and the USCCB is that Obama is creating “death panels.” This has been refuted time and time again, yet there is this persistent element in our society who refuses to accept… oh, I don’t know, facts? The elderly and the disabled will not be subjected to any “death panel.” It’s as pure and simple as that.

The section that has been mis-represent by Sarah Palin, the GOP, and the USCCB, is on the establishment of a Comparative Effectiveness Research Center, which will “conduct, support, and synthesize research” that looks at “outcomes, effectiveness, and appropriateness of health care services and procedures in order to identify the manner in which diseases, disorders, and other health conditions can most effectively and appropriately be prevented, diagnosed, treated, and managed clinically.” This is no death panel. This is not a scheme to promote euthanasia for the elderly or disabled. Instead, the CERC will study which treatments are the most effective, thus providing patients and doctors better information and tools for sustaining and extending life, not ending it ASAP. Beyond that, the CERC would only make recommendations about the best methods, not make requirements. The bill makes that absolutely clear: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit the Commission or the Center to mandate coverage, reimbursement, or other policies for any public or private payer.” Again, there is that word “construed.” Does the USCCB or GOP not have access to a dictionary?

The bill also allows seniors to have end-of-life counseling with their doctor, which would be tax-payer funded. Despite the ridiculous claims made by Sarah Palin, these would be voluntary sessions, not mandatory. “It turns out that I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, etc.,” Obama said. “So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they’re ready on their own terms. It wasn’t forcing anybody to do anything.”

The “Advanced Care Planning Consultation” in Section 1233 is not a scheme to encourage patients to pull their own “plug”. It is actually supported by AARP, which is a group that advocates for senior citizens. On the AARP site, they devote a page to debunk the absurd notion that end of life counseling is a back-door for euthanasia. They write that “Several studies in recent years have found that when doctors have end-of-life discussions with patients and families, patients have less anxiety.” The study found that “Less aggressive care and earlier hospice referrals were associated with better patient quality of life near death,” whereas those who failed to engage in those discussions “experienced worse quality of life, more regret, and were at higher risk of developing a major depressive disorder.” In other words, as people age it becomes increasingly important to know the available options. One doctor even expressed that it is in the best interest of the doctor to keep the patient alive in order to avoid lawsuits. So, for those who cannot comprehend morality, there are also financial reasons to extend the life of patients.

But beyond the needs of the patient, the counseling is also important for the family, who often argue or agonize over what their loved one would want, in the event that they are incapacitated. Having a clearly defined living will prevents the hand-wringing and guilt: the will of the patient is clear and decisive, even if it means a kidney transplant for an unconscious 89 year old man.

At this point, it is hardly worth debating with the lunatic/ paranoid fringe, with which the USCCB has aligned itself. All the facts are known, they are out there, but they choose to expose themselves to conspiracy theories, which only serve to support their fears. In an excellent editorial in today’s LA Times, Gregory Rodriguez argues that it might not be useful to try to educate people who cling to conspiracy theories. He cites a study in which conservatives, when presented with information proving that there were no WMDs in Iraq, believed even more strongly that there were WMDs in Iraq. Instead of putting down these buyers of misinformation and rumors, Rodriguez writes: “Rumors and conspiracy theories often supply simplified, easily digestible explanations (and enemies) to sum up complex situations. However crass, they’re both fueled by a desire to make sense of the world.”

He may very well be right.

I am heartened, however, to see that not all Catholics have given themselves over to madness.

Chris Korzen of Catholics United has come out strong against the USCCB, Stop the Abortion Mandate, Family Research Council, and the Catholic League, who have been promoting lies and misinformation, not to mention misrepresenting Catholic teachings. Korzen, on the Catholics United site, writes “The Family Research Council’s continued effort to distort the facts leads one to wonder whether the group’s true intent is to derail health care reform,” said Korzen. “Instead of issuing misleading attacks and inciting fear, the Family Research Council would do better to support efforts aimed at implementing abortion-neutral policies in health care reform legislation.” Catholic Charities, a non-profit Catholic organization that provides food and clothing to the poor, has been fully committed to health care reform saying “Health care reform: We can’t wait!” Though it maintains that it will not support any bill that extends abortion rights, it seems to enthusiastically support the current reform efforts, implying that it does not support the wild accusations of the USCCB.

There is also some indication that there is a schism between U.S. Bishops. Bishop Michael Sheehan told the National Catholic Reporter that the anger against Obama among U.S. Bishops comes mostly from a small minority, but the majority of centrist Bishops do not want a public fight over health care, so they have not spoken up. The Catholic News Service also reported that U.S. Bishops were glad to hear from President Obama, in his speech before a joint session of Congress, that his proposal would not allow for tax-payer funded abortions. “We were gratified to hear that federal funds would not be used for abortions and that conscience protections would be maintained,” Sister Carol Keehan said. “We were pleased to hear him say we were going to move on now. There are too many people … who need this kind of (health care) assistance. We believe it is long overdue. It is a moral and economic imperative and we were pleased to hear him put it in those terms.”

This was not an easy blog to write. I love my Church. I am pained to see what is happening from conservative Catholics in the hierarchy, who are using their position to advance their own personal, partisan beliefs. But it makes me angry, too. I am pro-life. I oppose abortion, I oppose the death penalty, I support the environment, and I support social justice. But you know what? I also support the truth. I do not support lies or fabrications, no matter who is telling them.

I pray that they come out of their intellectual darkness, and into the light of truth.


By Jose Rodriguez

President Barack Obama spoke today to at the United Nations. His speech urged the world to take stronger action on the threat of Global Climate Change; he insisted that the United States is no longer beholden to the “go it alone” mentality that dominated the Bush administration; and he reminded that all nations must be aggressive in their economic policies in order to prevent a backslide into economic ruin.

He also spoke firmly on the issue of Middle-East peace. He affirmed that he would continue to work for a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. He called on Palestine to rein in their militants, while reminding Israel that their settlements were not legitimate in the eyes of the United States. While aware that the peace process would be difficult, and that it would require Israel to recognize Palestinians have legitimate claims, and that it would require Palestinians to recognize that Israel has a right to exist.

There came a moment when the President reminded the UN body that we are “all God’s children.” He stressed that we all have the right to live in dignity, and that it was not acceptable for Gazans to have to live without clean drinking water. It was a not so subtle reminder that there is a moral component in bringing about a lasting peace to the people who live in the Holy Land.

The President of the United States has my full support on this issue.

On Tuesday, the President met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As acknowledged in the speech, the President knew that it would be difficult to forge a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This was demonstrated on Tuesday when Netanyahu refused to halt all settlement construction in the West Bank, only agreeing to a time- limited freeze. Mahmoud Abbas, who had refused to meet with Netanyahu until he halted all settlement building, allowed himself to be photographed shaking hands with Netanyahu, though that was a moment of embarrassment for him. They see Obama as even-handed, something they have not seen from previous Presidents, so Abbas (as a token of goodwill) agreed to the photo-op.

The President, after meeting both leaders, demonstrated his annoyance and impatience : “It is past time to stop talking about starting negotiations; it is time to move forward… Permanent status negotiations must begin and begin soon. So my message to these two leaders is clear: despite all the obstacles, all the history, all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward.” The way forward will be difficult as Netanyahu and Abbas have different goals: Abbas wants complete independence and statehood, whereas Netanyahu wants to maintain the occupation with limited Palestinian self-rule.

Afterward, Netanyahu claimed that Abbas had given up his preconditions (an implicit self-congratulatory remark, since he did not have to stop all settlement construction) and agreed to negotiations; Abbas has said that negotiations must be on final status issues, including the refugee problem and the issue of Jerusalem. On this issue, Abbas has the full support of President Obama, who insists that negotiations will include the refugee problem, borders, Jerusalem, and guaranteed security for Israel. Netanyahu, like every one of his predecessors, would prefer to kick that can down the road and only speak about future topics for future final status negotiations.

While Netanyahu seems to have won this round of diplomacy, there are signs that the President’s patience is growing thin and that he will compel the Israelis to be honest participants in negotiations. According to aides within the Obama administration, the President reminded Abbas and Netanyahu that the upcoming negotiations will be based on past agreements, including Oslo and the Clinton parameters.

There are also rumors that President Obama will summon both leaders to Washington D.C. to begin final status negotiations. However, Netanyahu, who has seen his poll numbers rise as he has defied President Obama, may not be willing to play ball. The failure of any upcoming negotiations would only further erode Abbas’ authority, as his numbers have fallen due to a failure to bring about any concessions or promises from Israel in the last decade. That has happened because Israel has refused to make any significant movement toward peace, as President Bush was not particularly interested in peace in the Middle-East and he was content to just allow the Israeli government to do whatever it pleased.

In the end, it might very well be that the Obama administration will have to impose a settlement on both parties, whether they like it or not.


By Jose Rodriguez

Barack Obama ran for President promising to bring “change” to Washington D.C., which turned out to be a winning promise. Even though Americans elected him to bring that change, there has been a shrill and loud portion of our society, motivated by partisan hatred, who have stopped at nothing to block his efforts to bring the change that Americans elected him to enact. Change is a frightening prospect for this segment of society, who respond with scurrilous allegations: Obama is really a Muslim; he hates America; he’s a socialist; he was not really born in this country; he’s a Nazi; he wants to kill old people; and on and on and on. People, like Rep. Joe Wilson, want to engage in that form of demagoguery in order to uphold the status quo. They want to shout down the President during an important speech, calling him a liar or contradicting him.

But Joe Wilson is not the first Wilson to shout at a President advocating for change during a speech.

In late November 1995, President Bill Clinton became the first U.S. President to make an official visit to Northern Ireland. More so than any President before or since, Bill Clinton was heavily involved in the Irish peace process; Clinton even appointed former Maine Senator George Mitchell to be the first Special Envoy to Ireland (George Mitchell is now the Special Envoy to the Middle-East, where he hopes to broker a peace deal). The conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland seemed so intractable that no previous President wanted to expend any energy finding a solution. President Clinton, however, had made bold promises to the Irish community in the United States, and he intended to keep them. By going to Ireland, he hoped to jump start the failing negotiations between Catholics and Protestants, who had been locked in conflict (known as the Troubles) for decades. Before long, not only had Clinton fallen completely in love with the Irish, but the Irish fell head over-heels in love with the Clintons (Hillary benefited from this love during her Presidential run in 2008). That the leader of the free world would come and meet with Irish leaders and everyday people was an immense honor for them. Protestants and Catholics alike flocked by the thousands (culminating in a speech attended by 100,000 people in Dublin) to see and hear the President of the United States, who was there to advocate for change and peace.

While a majority of Irish on both sides of the conflict wanted change and peace in Northern Ireland, fringe elements within both communities wanted to uphold the status quo. They were the loudest and most violent, so they were successful, for decades, in prolonging the conflict. These people criticized the President’s visit, saying that he had no business being in Ireland, and that he certainly had no business interfering in the on-going negotiations.

However, as Clinton got out into the public, shook hands, hugged hundreds of people, shared stories, and even accepted a few beers (which the Secret Service quickly poured out), the Irish public were very warm and receptive to Clinton and his message of hope. The Irish flocked to Clinton by the droves, swarming him and enveloping him, wanting to touch him and be in his presence, as though they could be infused with his energy and power. In reality, it was the President who was feeding off their energy, driving him for nearly 48 hours with virtually no sleep. The Secret Service was alarmed by this obvious inability to maintain security, but the President was more than eager to drown himself in the sea of people. This was, as he put it, the happiest time of his life.

While in Ireland, President Clinton stopped at the Mackie factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was owned by a Protestant, but he employed Catholics and Protestants. This place was, ostensibly, a symbol for peace and co-existence, but many of the employees either belonged to the IRA or for Protestant para-militaries in their time off. Before Clinton spoke, two children gave speeches that told of their suffering, but also called for peace. After young Cathy Hamill brought the room to tears with the story of her father’s murder, Clinton took the stage.

President Clinton, wagging his finger and clenching his fist, proclaimed, “only you can decide between division and unity, between hard lives and high hopes. You must say to those who would still use violence for political objectives: ‘You are the past, your day is over!'” This was a bold statement, considering that those people were in the room with him. It was also an obvious play on the famous IRA slogan, which said “Our day will come.” Clinton was challenging these people to turn their backs on the past and to move forward toward change, toward peace.

Not everyone was receptive to his message of change.

Cedric Wilson, a Protestant leader of the Northern Ireland Unionist party, shouted, “Never!”

As Clinton promised to “walk with” them if they chose to “walk the path of peace,” Wilson continued to heckle President Clinton: “Never!” “Those who showed the courage to break with the past,” Clinton said, “are entitled to their stake in the future.” Again, Wilson shouted, “Never!” Clinton pointed out Wilson, the heckler, who stood for the past, not the future of Ireland.

“Peace must be waged with a warrior’s resolve– bravely, proudly, and relentlessly– secure in the knowledge of the single greatest difference between war and peace; in peace everybody can win.” The President received a standing ovation that seemed to last forever. The people of Ireland were resolute: they were rejecting the Wilsons of the world.

In the end, due to the tireless efforts of Clinton, Mitchell, and the interested parties in Ireland, there was a negotiated peace in Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement (April 10, 1998) was not only supported by the Irish governments and the British government, but it was also supported by the Irish people through a referendum. The people made a
choice for peace, rather than protracted violence and conflict. Though in recent years groups in Ireland have tried to re-ignite the Troubles, the people have held fast to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. Hillary Clinton has even appointed Declan Kelly to be the U.S. Special Envoy to Ireland, and she plans to visit Northern Ireland next month to review the peace process and to give a speech about the threat to peace posed by para-military groups in Ireland. This focus on Ireland is a break from the Bush administration, who largely ignored Ireland and left the U.S. participation in the peace process to the State Department. Had they continued Bill Clinton’s level of involvement, the situation in Ireland might be less perilous.

In the end, in a round-about sort of way, there are Wilsons in our world who shout “You lie!” or “Never!” to people who are interested in change, or in making progress. They are defenders of the status quo. As our country struggles to make sense of the health care bills in Congress (while continuing to be raped by insurance companies), we should all, at least, agree that we want to move forward– that we all want change and progress.

And we should all agree to ignore all the Wilsons of the world.

Feel My Twitter

  • Thank you, #PeytonManning for throwing that interception to give the #Cowboys that win. What happened, bro? 3 years ago
  • Troubled to watch the march to war. I hope the President is cognizant of mission creep. We need to reevaluate our middle-eastern policies. 3 years ago
  • I argued for years with conservatives about the PATRIOT Act, warning about the loss of rights and invasion of privacy. Now they care? #WSJ 3 years ago
  • Reading #Noonan in the #WSJ complain about #NSA & Obama. Um... Where were conservatives after 9/11? They loved the PATRIOT Act until Obama. 3 years ago
  • I love to hear ignorant people deny climate change & claim that CO2 is great. Top 3 reasons: God, gov't intervention, & impact on business. 4 years ago

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