Saturday, July 11, 2009

Talking Peace Not War

America's commanding general in Afghanistan is are already talking about more US troops for that effort which is coming to be known as Obama's Long War, a name first introduced as a replacement for the Global War on a Noun, by Donald Rumsfeld, I think, and unfortunately adopted by the Obama Administration as a reality of American foreign policy. Just in case you weren't paying attention, this means Obama intends to keep American forces in Afghanistan for a while. In a couple of years, the US will have been in-country there for as long as the Soviets, a dubious distinction. It also helps that our adversaries are not financed, armed and trained by a rival superpower.

All of which leads me to ask why the US is insisting on military force when the Taliban has put forth eminently reasonable terms for a cease-fire, transitional government determined by Afghans and withdrawal of foreign forces. I don't see anything objectionable in the terms and while I know that the devil is in the details, somehow working toward a settlement that incorporates non-violence and self-determination makes more sense than military force imposed by foreign forces.

All of which leads me to ask, once more, what the fuck we are accomplishing with our extended occupation of Afghanistan. The Taliban's peace plan addresses our concern about sanctuary for hostile attacks on the United States. What else? Nation building? That won't happen without the consent of the governed, including the Taliban. Womens' rights? That's a very hard sell in a traditional culture, a change that is more likely to come about from within, not at the point of our bayonets. Energy? Surely nothing that crass unless, of course, you understand the logic of military capitalism. So keep that in mind, all those billions of dollars and lives are an investment in this century's Great Game in central Asia.

Actually, a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan will not only spare lives and treasure. A stable government supported by all factions, which only Afghans can create, will go a long way toward whatever resource interests other nations may have in Afghanistan.

On a side note, I am pleased to see that Obama's national security advisor speaks of any additional resources for Afghanistan as an international responsibility. Whatever, concerns the US has in that nation are shared concerns. I hope Obama will remember that.

It's also interesting to note that General McChrystal, a long time special operations officer, wants to replace Navy and Air Force provisional reconstruction teams with Army special operations forces. the Navy and Air Force object to the change. After all, that leaves them out of the biggest national security effort this nation is making and could mean that the Army will get a bigger share of the budget. Can't let that happen.


Faithfully Oblivious

Americans put far too much faith in “the free market” to make economic decisions about important public matters. We prefer the so-called democracy of many free individuals making their own choices and thereby enhancing the public good. Far better that, to most American minds, than letting some government bureaucrat fuck it all up by making “one size fits all”, hidebound decisions that are rightly the province of the individual. It’s a nice story, so very much part of our national myth. As long as Americans believe it, this nation will see no fundamental change. Looking at the current economy, long-term finances, foreign policy and a host of quality of life issues, I see the need for fundamental change all around. I do not find the resistance to change at all comforting.

Case in point: reforming health care. The US has a system of private-for-profit health care that is capable of incredible feats yet does not serve the public interest. Despite our Best in the World Health Care, we have some of the most dismal public health indicators in the developed world. Indicators in some inner city neighborhoods are more like Third World nations. Costs are exorbitant—very few Americans would have any hope of paying out of pocket for a major procedure. The system still functions for many of us but that number lessens with each lost job.

So the solution is to fine people for not purchasing health insurance and require employers to pay for their employee’s health care, all the while preserving the profits of an industry rich enough to pour millions of dollars into lobbying and advertising to keep those profits in place. And they call it preserving “choice” for health care consumers. Fucking balderdash! Choice would be a single payer system divorced from employment status. Not only could the worker choose providers and services, he or she could choose to leave an abusive workplace without fear of jeopardizing their entire economic future. If you don’t trust a public single payer system to establish practice norms and pharmaceutical formularies, how is it you are willing to trust a for-profit insurance company to do the same? Single payer makes perfect sense.

And yet, single payer is off the table in the current debate. Even Obama, who recognizes the logic single payer, isn’t willing to spend political capital fighting for it. In the current political climate, the best we can hope for is a public option and even that idea has induced howls of outrage from the free marketeers. So we will get “health care reform” that fits our comforting American myth even as it ignores the state of our public health and our economy. Profits will be preserved, just like they were in 1993.


I wrote the above a few days ago. Today I see the chatter is about taxing the rich to pay for health care reform. That seems reasonable to me. I will gladly pay additional taxes on income over $250K if it means I can live in a society that ensures access to an important public good, just like we do with essential infrastructure and utilities. Another option would be to look at the incredibly bloated national security budget and think hard about much more costly an empire is than actual national defense.


Smarter Than the Average Capitalist

In these troubled times it's nice to see a company that is loyal to its employees. It helps the bottom line, too, but the gesture is distinctly different from the short-sighted bottom-line mentality of most business thinking.

Tell me again, why is it a good idea to link health care to employment?