Remember the John Ford Noonan Play – “A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking” in 1980? It launched the careers of Susan Sarandon and JoBeth Williams. Let’s hope that the 10 white guys sitting around pontificating last night will launch no careers as President of the United States.
Quite frankly this is a scary group of men with the exception of Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) who at least speaks the truth about the idiocy of invading Iraq. But there are a number of issues where I was reminded why I just cannot wrap my head around the GOP. Not only Iraq, Iran and the “war on terror”, but gays in the military, immigration, healthcare and “right to life” are issues that make me feel that the GOP is arrogant, is the arbiter of a frightening brand of moral superiority, is out of touch with real people, is reliant on scaring the American people to grasp power, and plays to the worst forms of bigotry.
1. Let’s take their “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” stance.
One word to describe this is appalling and as far as candidates like Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani – who have both supported gay issues before and openly courted the gay vote in Massachusetts and New York City respectively they are repugnant political hacks with no real moral compass who would probably sell their own mothers into white slavery if it meant that they might ascend to the presidency. Mr. Giuliani should remember that it was a gay couple who took him in after his divorce.
But all of the candidates said that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is working. The financial costs to the U.S. military for discharging and replacing gay service members under the nation’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy are nearly twice what the government estimated last year, with taxpayers covering at least $364 million in associated funds over the policy’s first decade, according to a University of California report.
Members of a UC-Santa Barbara group examining the cost of the policy found that a Government Accountability Office study last year underestimated the costs of firing approximately 9,500 service members between 1994 and 2003 for homosexuality. The GAO, which acknowledged difficulties in coming up with its number, estimated a cost of at least $190.5 million for the same time period. The new estimate is 91 percent higher.
In a New York Times editorial on January 2, 2007, John M. Shalikashvili, a retired army general who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1993 to 1997. He stated that he “believe[s] that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces. Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.”
General Shalikashvili met with gay soldiers and marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq, and an openly gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew. These conversations showed him, according to his opnion piece, just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers.
This perception is supported by a Zogby poll of more than 500 service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, three quarters of whom said they were comfortable interacting with gay people. And 24 foreign nations, including Israel, Britain and other allies in the fight against terrorism, let gays serve openly, with none reporting morale or recruitment problems.
Recently nine Army linguists, including six trained to speak Arabic, have been dismissed from the military because they are gay. The soldiers’ dismissals come at a time when the military is facing a critical shortage of translators and interpreters for the “war on terrorism”. Seven of the soldiers were discharged after telling superiors they are gay, and the two others got in trouble when they were caught together after curfew, said Steve Ralls, spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that defends gays and lesbians in the military. One of the discharged linguists said the military’s policy on gays is hurting its cause. “It’s not a gay-rights issue. I’m arguing military proficiency issues – they’re throwing out good, quality people,” said Alastair Gamble, a former Army specialist. So explain how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is working?
2. Let’s move next to their stance on immigration reform.
Thankfully most of the gang of ten distanced themselves from whackado Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) when he called for a ban on all immigration- “illegal” or “legal”. But in all honesty, with the exception of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) the racism behind their stance on this issue was palpable. When asked about English as the official language of the United States with the exception of Mr. McCain they all stated that this was an imperative. When this question arose in the Democratic debate- Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) explained well that there is a huge difference between a “national” language and an “official” language.
Making English an “official” language would bar translation services from any government sponsored programs including the judicial system. Whatever happened to the right to assist in your own defense and to understand your own trial if you do not have a good command of the English language? This is a problem. Sure in order to succeed in this country speaking English seems to be a vital skill but should folks who do not speak English be punished? What about the waves of immigrants from Germany or Italy- they didn’t speak English right away— would our “English Only” advocates have a problem with services available in these languages- or is it only a problem when folks speak languages of current non-white populations?
Mr. McCain was eloquent about the importance of Hispanic culture to his state of Arizona and reminded all present that they were speaking Spanish in Arizona long before they were speaking English. This is true in my state of California too. He also made points when he reminded folks of the sovereignty of Native American tribes. Let’s take that idea—- if the “English Only” crowd strictly interpreted their own arguments, we should all be speaking Wampanoag- the language of the natives that were present when the undocumented Pilgrims arrived on our shores.
And what about that fence that most of the Republican candidates are talking about? Do they really think that we are going to install turnstiles and fencing along our ENTIRE southern border? The feasibility is absurdly unlikely and the fact that the Republican candidates continue to flaunt this as a goal is misleading and disingenuous at best. The cost of building and maintaining a double set of steel fences along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border could be five to 25 times greater than congressional leaders forecast last year, or as much as $49 billion over the expected 25-year life span of the fence, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
A little-noticed study the research service released in December 2006 notes that even the $49 billion does not include the expense of acquiring private land along hundreds of miles of border or the cost of labor if the job is done by private contractors — both of which could drive the price billions of dollars higher. The Congressional Research Service also questioned the effectiveness of a fence in preventing people from crossing the border illegally, especially if it does not span the entire 1,952-mile border. Secure fencing of some kind already exists along 106 miles of border, mostly in short stretches around cities.
Finally there is the issue of the northern border with Canada- an issue no one has talked about on the Republican side. The Democrats wisely brought up the concern about the tuberculosis patient that was waved through the Canadian border by a border security agent because the patient “didn’t look sick”. What about a terrorist who “doesn’t look like a terrorist”? Will they be welcomed with open arms? This just shines a bright light onto the racism that is present in this debate and exacerbated by the Republican rhetoric.
3. Let’s look at the issues of “whole life” –as defined by Senator Brownback and healthcare.
Former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) who is also a Baptist minister and served as president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention from 1989 to 1991 was poignant when he said that pro-life meant that he cared about the person from conception through death and that it didn’t mean only supporting life in the womb but meant supporting individuals through adversity and poverty during their lives. Senator Brownback (R-KS) continued that vein when he said “I am pushing a pro-life – whole life philosophy. We must stand for the child in the womb and also the child in Darfur, for the person in poverty or the man suffering from AIDS.”
How noble, but how wildly insincere. – The United States is the richest country in the world, but there were 37 million people, or 7.7 million families, living in poverty in 2005, accounting for 12.6 percent of total U.S. population, which means that one out of eight Americans was living in poverty. 34.8 million Americans did not have enough money or other resources to buy food. The number of American people without health insurance coverage rose to 46.6 million in 2005, accounting for 15.9 percent of the total population and up 1.3 million over 2004.
The day after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, exposing much of the public to the tragic conditions of poverty in America, the Census Bureau quietly released its annual report entitled, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States.” In some respects, it provided a demonstrable backdrop to the pockets of poverty common to New Orleans and other cities. It also explained why, despite President Bush’s assertion last month that, “Americans have more money in their pockets,” many people aren’t faring as well as they once did.
The report indicates that in 2004 there was no increase in average annual household incomes for black, white, or Hispanic families. In fact, this marks the first time since the Census Bureau began keeping records that household incomes failed to increase for five consecutive years. Since President Bush took office, the average annual household family income has declined by $2,572, approximately 4.8 percent.
Interestingly enough, as the Economic Policy Institute notes in their analysis of the Census Bureau’s report, not all families did poorly last in 2004. Although the portion of the total national income going to the bottom 60 percent of families did not increase last year, the portion going to the wealthiest five percent of families rose by 0.4 percent. And while the average inflation-adjusted family income of middle-class Americans declined by 0.7 percent in 2004, the wealthiest five percent of families enjoyed a 1.7 percent increase.
Not surprisingly, the report revealed that poverty increased last year. There were 37 million (12.7 percent) people living in poverty, an increase of 1.1 million people since 2003. This was the fourth consecutive year in which poverty has increased. In fact, since President Bush took office, 5.4 million more people, including 1.4 million children, have found themselves living in poverty.
There were 7.9 million families living below the poverty level in 2004, an increase of 300,000 families since 2003.
Supply side economics is not just a Bush idea it was the hallmark of the President Ronald Reagan and every Republican since. If the goal is making the rich richer than supply side economics work. If the goal is to ensure every American has a stake in the economy and has the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty it is a failure – as witnessed by these statistics.
Then of course there is healthcare. The Census Bureau report also demonstrated that health insurance coverage remains elusive for many Americans. Those covered by employer-sponsored health insurance declined from 60.4 percent in 2003 to 59.8 percent in 2004. Approximately 800,000 more workers found themselves without health insurance last year. The percentage of people covered by governmental health programs in 2004 rose to 27.2 percent, in part because as poverty increased, more Americans were forced to seek coverage through Medicaid. The percentage of the public with Medicaid coverage rose by 0.5 percent in 2004.
2005 was the fourth consecutive year in which employer-sponsored health insurance coverage declined. A total of 45.8 million Americans are now without health insurance.
The Republicans have absolutely no plan to deal with the realities of the health coverage crisis. Their solutions are health savings accounts and other policies that are quite frankly out of reach for many of the uninsured especially those that have dropped into poverty. Here only former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson (R-WI) even broached the concept that healthcare in this country was broken but really didn’t address the issue.
Senators Obama, Clinton and former Senator Edwards have some interesting plans to deal with the health coverage crisis. So again- how can Republicans say that they care about life after leaving the womb? Their track record and their plans do not match their rhetoric.
Finally there is Iran, Iraq and the “War on Terror”.
Of course I do not want to see Iran develop a nuclear weapon but am I the only one who was awestruck that the Republicans were talking about the option of using tactical nuclear weapons to ensure that Iran doesn’t develop nuclear weapons? Does this sound like something that Dr. Strangelove might have suggested? Truth is much more disturbing than fiction sometimes.
And of course there is the War on Terror and Iraq. If terrorists have made Iraq a terrorist training ground- it is because we created chaos in the country that allowed for this to occur. I have written so many thousands of words about how Mr. Bush has made the world less safe due to his neo-conservative folly in Iraq that I will refer you to the many pieces on this blog that deal with that subject rather than regurgitating them here.
But I will briefly address the criticism from Republicans last night of John Edwards’ statement that the war on terror is not really a war but instead is a bumper sticker.
The fact that Al Qaeda-type terrorists have rebuilt their haven in Afghanistan and the border region of Pakistan—combined with the fact that a new failed state has emerged in parts of Iraq—is the most powerful evidence to date that the Bush administration may have misconceived the “war on terror.” Al Qaeda was always a transnational movement, one rooted in failed states and in uncontrolled areas like those in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
What’s now become clear is that the real center of gravity in the global war on terror was not “state sponsors” like Saddam (or the Iranians for that matter). Based on the evidence, these states were little more than interested observers, perhaps supplying some help or encouragement or looking the other way, but that’s about it.
There was only one fully committed state sponsor: Afghanistan’s Taliban government, a movement bought and paid for by Osama bin Laden’s money. And we must now conclude that Bush’s critical diversion of attention and resources away from that fight cost us the death blow the United States might have delivered to both Al Qaeda and the Taliban had we stayed focused on Central Asia- just ask Gary Bernsten, the CIA officer in charge of the “Jawbreaker” operation at Tora Bora, who implored Rumsfeld in vain for more U.S. special forces while the trapped bin Laden escaped and the Pentagon began to turn its attention to Iraq. Just as bad, the invasion of Iraq gave the Al Qaeda chieftain a new lease on life by vindicating his argument about the peril of the “far enemy,” as the United States was known in his group’s rhetoric.
On the eve of 9/11, according to documents obtained from Al Qaeda’s seized computers, bin Laden and his top aide, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had difficulty persuading their fellow jihadis that it was wise to take on the distant superpower. (One of them even compared bin Laden’s grandiose war against America to “tilting at windmills.”) Bush ended that debate in bin Laden’s favor when he turned the U.S. into the “near enemy”—again, Al Qaeda rhetoric—in the Arab world by invading Iraq.
Yes terrorism exists. A 1988 study by the US Army counted 109 definitions of terrorism that covered a total of 22 different definitional elements. Terrorism expert Walter Laqueur in 1999 also has counted over 100 definitions and concludes that the “only general characteristic generally agreed upon is that terrorism involves violence and the threat of violence”.
Common principles amongst legal definitions of terrorism provide an emerging consensus as to meaning and also foster cooperation between law enforcement personnel in different countries. Among these definitions, several do not recognize the possibility of the legitimate use of violence by civilians against an invader in an occupied country, and would thus label all resistance movements as terrorist groups. Others make a distinction between lawful and unlawful use of violence. Russia for example includes in their terrorist list only those organizations which represent the greatest threat to their own security. Ultimately, the distinction is a political judgment
It has also been argued that the political use of violent force and weapons that deliberately target or involve civilians, and do not focus mainly on military or government targets, is a common militant, terrorist, or guerilla tactic, and a main defining feature of these kinds of people.
As terrorism ultimately involves the use or threat of violence with the aim of creating fear not only to the victims but among a wide audience, it is fear which distinguishes terrorism from both conventional and guerrilla warfare. While both conventional military forces may engage in psychological warfare and guerrilla forces may engage in acts of terror and other forms of propaganda, they both aim at military victory. Terrorism on the other hand aims to achieve political or other goals, when direct military victory is not possible. This has resulted in some social scientists referring to guerrilla warfare as the “weapon of the weak” and terrorism as the “weapon of the weakest”.
Terrorism is hard to define and it seems that we have never been good at looking at the root causes of it today mostly because we do not understand the dynamics in the Middle East. Mr. Bush’s war has increased the capabilities for Al-Qada and other groups to recruit dienfranchised populations who feel that the United States has bullied itself into the Middle East and is raping the areas resources or respecting local traditions.
It seems clear to me that all the Republican candidates would deliver more of the same and thus we would not only be entrenched in Iraq for a generation but we would be less safe given the realites of the havoc we have wrought thus far.
The Republican candidates are a scary group and they don’t seem to learn from history and they seem out of touch with the concerns of average Americans. From protecting the United States, to healthcare, to immigration, to nearly every policy position the Republican candidates take they would indeed take the country in the wrong direction.