Barack Obama

No U.S. Military Strikes Against Syria

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It’s as if some of our political leaders, including President Barack Obama, have lived in a different universe over the last decade.

Didn’t our so-called “war” (or, in real terms, a military occupation) in Iraq, which the U.S. began in 2003, result in the deaths of more than 4,000 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians?. Isn’t the cost of the Iraq war approaching $900 billion dollars? Haven’t a majority of Americans been very clear in recent years our country got into the war based on misinformation and that it wasn’t worth it in the end?

Yet here we go again. On Tuesday, Obama is supposed to speak to the American people and make the case for a military strike against Syria. Obama and his administration claim that Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 attack on his own people, and this justifies American intervention.

Obama, it was reported, only wants a “limited” attack and will not send troops into the country, but this country has a terrible history of post-World War II escalating military actions. Does anyone remember the Vietnam War? What if the American action draws nearby Iran into the conflict? What will the U.S. do then? Just continue with its “limited” attack?

The entire question of whether chemical weapons are so much worse than conventional weapons becomes a ghoulish case of existential philosophy. Would you rather die from sarin gas or get blown to bits by a bomb? Both ways of dying are horrific and give evidence to mankind’s propensity for killing and cruelty. Either way is darkness. What’s so difficult to understand about that?

And, just like in 2003, there are international disputes over whether Assad ordered the gas attacks that apparently killed 1,400 people in a Damascus suburb? It’s a direct reminder of the failure of the American government to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after some experts and reporters disputed the claims. Have we not learned anything?

The support for bombing Syria and intervening in that country’s civil war has been tepid in the Congress. With historic hypocrisy, even some hawkish Republicans, such as U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, seem reluctant to sign off on the president’s plan, and progressive groups have already mobilized efforts to oppose it.

There’s no question that Syria is an important country simply because of its geographic position on the world map. Its close proximity to Iraq, Iran and Israel make it a country that deserves our attention and scrutiny. There could come a time when European countries, such as France and England, along with the U.S., might need to intervene in that country’s civil war, but the risks of our involvement now far outweigh any perceived benefit for the world community.

I was one of those people who publicly opposed the war in Iraq at the beginning, and I noted firsthand through the years the shift in mood by what I saw as a bloodthirsty American public seeking revenge for the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. What I argued even before 2003—the war was strategically unnecessary, world sanctions would have worked, there were no WMDs—became a conventional response among Democrats and many Republicans alike. It’s surreal to me that this is happening again with a different country only 10 years later. Will I, again, be considered the outlier? I don't think so.

By all means, let’s be ready to take out military targets in Syria and protect the interests of our allies in the area, including, of course, Israel. But let’s act with restraint and prudence this time. It would be a mistake for the U.S. to proceed with any military strikes against Syria right now.

But Insurance Prices Went Down In New York

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Hardly a week goes by without at least one editorial appearing in The Oklahoman that rails against the federal Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

The editorials are filled with half truths, sweeping generalizations and predictions over what MIGHT happen, not what IS happening. Their overall purpose seems more about demonizing President Barack Obama, now in his second term, than providing rational arguments against the legislation, which was signed into law in 2010. I remain unsure how demonizing a second-term Democratic president is going to help Republicans in the next presidential election, especially since many voters have become so desensitized to the constant criticism, but there’s no doubt that remains one of the major focuses of The Oklahoman editorial page and GOP political strategy.

On Saturday, in its weekly Scissor Tales editorial column, The Oklahoman railed against the amount of money, $1.7 million, the federal government is spending in Oklahoma to help people find an individual health insurance plan. The mini-editorial also declares decisively, “Under Obamacare, health insurance prices are increasing dramatically in the individual market” and “It's telling that Obamacare is so expensive and complicated that even its backers believe that people without insurance will choose not to get any — unless some federal worker prods them along.”

Well, like most anything published on the editorial page in The Oklahoman, such sweeping conclusions need vetting and context.

In fact, last week New York state officials announced that health insurance premiums this year for individuals will drop by 50 percent and some health experts credited the new health insurance exchange in that state created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

To be fair, which is something The Oklahoman editorial writers choose never to be, New York had some of the highest health insurance premiums in the country so the drop can’t necessarily be considered a nationwide phenomenon. But it’s also quite clear that the editorial’s sweeping statement about rising health insurance prices needs some clarification and context. The point is that we’re just now learning how new competition in the health insurance market will affect pricing throughout the country. Even if some markets end up with higher prices it doesn’t mean they will stay that way.

By resorting to snarky generalizations, The Oklahoman does a disservice to its readers, who, whether conservative or not, deserve truthful information and not just right-wing propaganda when it comes to medical issues. In the case of health matters, it could literally be a life or death situation for some people, but The Oklahoman editorial page lacks this basic, humane moral commitment to its readers.

Here’s a bit of information that I wrote about back in 2010 that proves that last point is more than hyperbole: The Oklahoma Publishing Company, or OPUBCO, which publishes The Oklahoman, actually participated in an early retiree health insurance program created by the ACA. I wrote about it here. In other words, it’s okay for the newspaper to take advantage of Obamacare while it claims—to use its own rhetorical tone—that the world is coming to an end because more people will have health insurance and access to medical care.

Too often, the Republican debate over Obamacare leaves out the moral component and only focuses on costs. In the contemporary world, all people should have a basic right to health care. The Oklahoman editorial page, judging from its growing anti-Obamacare canon, stands against that basic idea. It wants winners and losers, some who suffer, some who don’t, some who die, some who live. That’s how the free market works, right? Let’s argue about that issue, which is the one that really matters.

Hate’s Hangover: Will Obama Hysteria Fuel State Decline?

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I want to spend my last post of this week focusing once again on GOP extremism here in Oklahoma and how it continues to prevent rational discussion of issues important to both Republicans and Democrats.

I know it’s the third post in a row on this topic, and it might be a stale issue for some progressives here, but I can’t stress enough how discouraged I’ve become with the current political Oklahoma scene. It’s telling that even The Oklahoman editorial board, the ultra-conservative machine that keeps going and going, has come out against state GOP overreach here and here.

I fear that conservatives here will do much damage to the state before there’s a power shift, and, yes, eventually there will be a power shift, but those of us living here during this era will suffer a price, whether through lack of educational opportunities, shoddy infrastructure, poor medical access or neglect of many other practical, quality-of-life issues.

At the root of the conservative rage in Oklahoma seems to be the fictional, hate-filled mythology of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president. It’s generated constantly by the right-wing media, which includes Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and even The Oklahoman to some extent.

Obama does represent a changing country, one that’s slowly—far too slowly for me—becoming more diverse and open-minded. I recognize how change can be difficult. I get it. On the other hand, Obama has reached out to conservatives over and over again, and he has frustrated liberals and his party over and over again for his tendency to compromise. I’m in this group of liberals so Republican extremism here, such as the Obamacare nullification effort or the gun-obsession paranoia or the Agenda 21 nonsense, seems completely divorced from reality to me.

I wrote about the ”Obama effect” on Oklahoma back in October, 2009 in which I outlined how extreme conservative personal animosity against the president would dictate the state’s future political development, making it even more conservative and extreme. I was exactly right, which is not such a great achievement because it was so utterly predictable. The obsessed fixation on one person, elected by clear majorities for two terms, has distorted the political debate here and isolated the state from national trends as Republicans have grown their local legislative and executive power.

Is it racist? I’ve always contended that racism has played a part in the Obama hysteria here and elsewhere, but I’ve always conceded that many Republicans are genuinely fighting for a certain “vision” or, really, a primordial political urge to take the country back to a romanticized past that, in reality, I think they probably wouldn’t much like if it could even happen. I’ve also conceded many state Republicans, who are otherwise lifestyle liberal, simply like the winner-takes-all mentality of the market or, in broader terms, capitalism. They don’t spend too much time on the broader, global ramifications. What I can’t accept, however, is the proselytizing of right-wing religious folks in the legislature, who are dishonest about their intentions and hide behind disingenuous bills, such as the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimation Act or the anti-evolution bills proposed year after year.

But let’s return to Obama. It would be difficult to find a leading Republican politician more representative of misplaced Obama anger than Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who is 78 and plans to run for reelection in 2014. Inhofe relentlessly criticizes the president with sweeping generalizations. According to The Hill, Inhofe told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham what he thought about Obama’s recent outreach to Republicans for compromise:

This is the same guy [Obama] that is ... over-regulating all of our businesses, he has a war on fossil fuels, he is keeping us from being energy independent, he is defunding the military.”

So he's destroying this country, but yes he's charming.

Destroying the country? From one of our state’s United States Senators to the Oklahoma Legislature, it’s Obama-hate all the time, and it’s going to cost us. After all, Obama is only in the first year of his second term. Where does all this anger lead? How will it affect our quality of life as Oklahoma GOP legislators use the hate to easily pass legislation that ignores cultural reality and the state’s future?

Some national Republicans, as I’ve noted, want to rebrand and become more culturally progressive, but the Oklahoma GOP has doubled down on its Obama hate binge.

I urge leading state conservatives, including Gov. Mary Fallin, to separate their voter mandate, which I accept, from the craziness. Repair the state Capitol building, fund education, fix the roads, try to deal with the state’s mediocre medical outcomes, among just a few of many practical issues. By all means, push income tax reduction and worker’s compensation agendas, which I will no doubt oppose, but, please, think about what Oklahoma will be like in five, 10 or even 20 years when all this extremism will be but a blip in time.

Obama won’t be president then, and the hangover of hate could be brutal for us all, Republicans and Democrats alike.

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