Anti-vaxxers get COVID-19: Serves them right
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I entertained bad thoughts about other people. Not only that, I wished bad things would happen to them, and rejoiced when it did. I know it's wrong, but I can't help myself.
No doubt, you've heard about some of the people I'm talking about. They're all anti-vaxxers. I never met any of them in person, you probably didn't either. Four of them, like me, were radio talk show hosts. But all four of them, unlike me, downplayed the danger of the coronavirus and urged their listeners not to wear a mask or get vaccinated.
Phil Valentine, king of Nashville's Super Talk 99.7 WTN, spent a year and a half telling listeners not to take COVID-19 seriously or get vaccinated. Until he was diagnosed with the coronavirus on July 12. By late July, he was telling friends and family he regretted his decision. Too late. He died of COVID-19 on August 21 at the age of 61.
Same story with Florida talk show host Dick Farrel, known as "the other Rush Limbaugh." A vocal opponent of Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom he called a "power-tripping lying freak," Farrel, too, dismissed the importance of the vaccine until he came down with COVID-19 in late July, when he texted a friend: "I wish I had gotten it." Again, too late. He died of COVID-19 on August 4.
No such second thoughts for Tennessee talker Jimmy DeYoung, who compared the vaccine to the "mark of the beast" in Revelation 13: 16-17, or for Florida's Mark Bernier, who called government officials urging people to get vaccinated "Nazis." Neither was vaccinated, both got COVID-19, and both died of COVID-19 last month.
Those four talk show hosts are hardly alone. Every day we hear of more COVID-deniers brought down by the disease. Add to the list: Scott Apley, member of the executive committee of the Texas Republican Party, who insisted that "vaccines don't work." Dead of COVID on August 25 at age 45. And Caleb Wallace, leader of an anti-mask "Freedom Rally" in Texas on July 4. He came down with COVID symptoms on July 26, was hospitalized on July 30, and languished in the ICU before dying of COVID-19 on August 28 at age 30, leaving behind a wife pregnant with their fourth child.
Health officials report countless cases of unvaccinated people being admitted to the hospital with very serious COVID-19 infections. "One of the last things they do before they're intubated is beg for the vaccine," Alabama physician Brytney Cobia told the New York Times. "I hold their hand and tell them I'm sorry, but it's too late."
It's too bad. I know they've all left behind family and friends, spouses and children. As a Christian, I know I'm supposed to feel sorry for them. But the truth is: I don't. I don't shed any tears for them. Instead, I resent the harm that they've done.
By rejecting science, they've not only written their own death sentence they've deliberately endangered the lives of their spouses, children, family, friends, co-workers, and fellow citizens. Anybody who comes into contact with them.
At the same time, they've put an incredible strain on the American economy: driving up the cost of health care; straining the capacity of clinics and hospitals; delaying elective surgery for millions; forcing large and small businesses to adopt special practices to protect their customers; drastically slashing business on airlines and cruise ships; wreaking havoc on public schools; and making it impossible to put the coronavirus pandemic behind us.
And all because these people refuse to get a simple shot in the arm. There's no action more selfish, greedy, thoughtless, or uncaring. And, worst of all, they claim to do so in the name of "freedom." Hogwash! Freedom does not include the right to kill your neighbor. Freedom does not include the right to infect your loved ones with a fatal disease.
It's time we stopped tolerating the indifference and irresponsibility of anti-vaxxers. Yes, they can choose not to get vaccinated. But if that's their choice, they should be banned from all places where they interact with the public: offices, work sites, buses, trains, planes, retail stores, restaurants, coffee shops, schools, gyms, stadiums, movie theaters, or public parks. Ban them from all human contact.
My own final word to anti-vaxxers: If you refuse to get vaccinated and come down with COVID-19, don't expect any sympathy from me. You asked for it. You got it. You deserve it.
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
If you can't win fair and square, cheat
On Sept. 14, millions of Californians will march to the polls -- if they haven't already mailed in their ballots -- to vote in one of the most ridiculous and unnecessary elections in the state's history: whether or not to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Here's how insane this is. One, under terms of the recall, a governor elected by a margin of nearly 3 million votes in 2018 could be tossed out of office for no apparent reason. The only issue driving the recall against Newsom is that Republicans don't like him because he's a Democrat. Two, if recalled, Newsom could be replaced by a total nobody with no political or business credentials -- to lead the world's fifth-largest economy.
On the recall ballot, California voters are presented with two items. First, "Shall Gavin Newsom be recalled from the office of governor?" Yes or no? Second, "Candidates to succeed Gavin Newsom as governor if he is recalled," followed by a list of 46 candidates -- all self-appointed, none nominated by any party, most of whom nobody has ever heard of.
They range from politicians such as former gubernatorial candidate John Cox and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; to media celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner and radio talk show host Larry Elder; to a posse of average Joe and Jills: real estate agents, car dealers, pastors, teachers and hair stylists; to billboard celebrity Angelyne, always scantily dressed in shocking pink, whose slogan is "We've had Gray and Brown (Jerry Brown and Gray Davis), what about blonde and pink?"
While I wouldn't vote for him, my "favorite" candidate is Adam Papagan, a celebrity home tour guide in Los Angeles, who's running because he says he's "curious how government works." Which might have been a good thing to find out before running for governor.
But here's what's really wrong about the recall. It's not only a waste of taxpayer dollars, it's fundamentally undemocratic. To escape the recall, Newsom must get at least 50.1 percent of the vote. If he does not, whoever polls highest among the 46 self-declared candidates automatically becomes governor - even if he or she gets only 25% or less of the votes. It's virtually certain that if Newsom is recalled, he will still get far more votes -- maybe twice as many -- than whoever would replace him.
That violates all the basic notions of democracy, but Republican organizers don't care. That's the entire point of the recall. Having shrunk to only 24% of the state's electorate, California Republicans know they could never win the governorship in a fair two-party matchup. So they've cooked up the phony recall as an end run around traditional politics, trying to unseat Newsom in 2021 via a rigged election because they know they could never defeat him outright when he's up for reelection in 2022.
The California recall election is a direct assault on democracy. But it hardly stands alone. It's only the latest manifestation of an organized, concerted effort by Republicans nationwide to undermine the democratic process. Faced with the reality that the Republican Party base is growing older and getting smaller, Republican leaders have dug in their heels. Rather than change their policies to attract more Republican voters, they've decided to rewrite the rules instead, in order to disenfranchise more Democratic voters.
Their anti-democratic efforts can be seen on several fronts. According to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, more than a dozen GOP-led states have already enacted more than 30 laws this year making it harder to vote, especially for traditionally Democratic voters: eliminating or shrinking early voting; banning or severely limiting vote-by-mail; ending same-day voter registration; requiring college students to vote in their home precinct and not on campus.
Republican state legislators in Arizona forced a recount, now delayed, of 2020 returns in Maricopa County, even though the secretary of state had already certified the election for Joe Biden. GOP legislators are now trying to launch similar recounts in Georgia and Wisconsin. Republicans in at least 14 states have introduced legislation that would seize power from local election officials and allow the state legislature to overturn election results and appoint their own group of presidential electors. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress block passage of any voter reform legislation.
It's all part of the Republican Party's new election strategy: If you can't win fair and square ... cheat! The California recall does not stand alone. It's part of a nationwide, Republican Party-led, anti-democratic crusade. It's not just Gavin Newsom who's on the ballot. It's democracy itself.
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Afghanistan: Biden got it wrong - and right!
When it comes to Afghanistan, it's hard to believe how President Biden could get it so right and so wrong at the same time. I'm talking about two issues: the war in Afghanistan, and how it ended. Most of the media has been - wrongly, I believe - focused on the second.
On that point, no doubt about it. Biden ended this war in the worst possible way: badly underestimating the Taliban's strength to take over; trusting the corrupt Afghan government to show at least a little resistance; having no plan in place to extricate thousands of American diplomats and contractors and Afghan civilians who worked with American troops; and showing little regret or empathy when things went south.
Thankfully, after three days of chaos, the situation has improved. American troops control both Kabul airports. Commercial and military flights are leaving around the clock, jammed with refugees. Thousands have already been rescued, and the Taliban has been warned not to interfere until the evacuation is complete. But Biden still gets the blame for not acting sooner. It happened on his watch. As he admitted in his address to the nation, "The buck stops with me."
Without absolving him of blame for getting the exit from Afghanistan so wrong, you must admit Biden was dealt two bad hands: one, by Donald Trump; the other, by U.S. intelligence agencies. It was Trump who legitimized the Taliban by signing a deal with them in February 2020, without involving the Afghan government.
Under terms of that agreement, Trump promised to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. It was "time for someone else to do the work," Trump declared, "and it will be the Taliban." He even floated the idea of inviting the Taliban to Camp David! Once that deal was made, Afghan tribal leaders knew U.S. forces would soon be gone, and they started making deals with the Taliban. From then on, the fall of the Afghan government was inevitable.
Biden was also undermined by U.S. intelligence agencies. According to sources I spoke with, the CIA warned that the Taliban was stronger than we realized and urged getting Americans out of the country immediately. Meanwhile, Pentagon generals insisted they'd have weeks to organize an orderly withdrawal. Unfortunately, Biden believed the generals, leading directly to the mess that happened.
But here's what's getting lost in all the hand-wringing over the disaster at Kabul airport. And here's what's more important: While nobody can defend how Biden ended the war, nobody can dispute this central fact: He was absolutely right to pull the plug.
The war in Afghanistan lasted too long, almost 20 years. It cost too much, over $2 trillion. It took too many lives, almost 2,500 Americans and some 200,000 or more Afghan casualties. And it accomplished absolutely nothing. The Taliban were in charge when we arrived in Afghanistan; they're back in charge today.
The fact is, we should have ended the war in Afghanistan in six months, once our initial mission of routing al-Qaida was accomplished. Instead, having learned nothing from history, and in a classic case of American hubris, we launched a fruitless exercise to build a strong central government in a country that's never known or wanted one.
Forget those Monday morning quarterbacks who now argue: "If Only." If only we'd kept troops there for another five months or a year. Nonsense! The Pentagon's been making that same argument for 20 years. There's no way that staying any longer in Afghanistan would have changed the outcome, especially when the Afghan military showed no willingness to defend their own country.
We gave it our best. Twenty years! But the cold, hard truth is: We can't fight for a country that refuses to fight for itself. It's immoral to send any more of our sons and daughters to do so.
Again, as fun as it is to cast blame - and there's plenty of blame to go around: from the Afghan government and military to Trump, our own intelligence agencies, and Biden himself - let's not lose sight of what's most important. Here's the good news: America's longest war is finally over! Now we can divert the resources we've so long wasted in building Afghanistan into rebuilding America.
The overwhelming majority of Americans don't want this war. Three presidents promised to end it, but didn't. Joe Biden did. And in the end, that's what counts. History will remember that Joe Biden ended the war in Afghanistan. History will not remember two days of chaos at the Kabul airport.
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Breaking News: Senate Gets Something Done
You'd never know it from the flood of media coverage, but the resignation of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wasn't the only big news this week. YES, Cuomo got all the headlines. But something else even more important happened: For the first time in years, the Senate actually did its job and passed a bill. Cuomo deserved less attention; the Senate deserved more.
Which is not to discount the significance of Cuomo's pulling the plug. What a stunning fall from the adulation Cuomo was basking in just a year ago. And there are at least a couple of lessons to be learned from it.
Lesson number one: Don't give any politician a third term in office. No matter how much you like them. No matter how well they do in their first two terms, they're bound to mess up in their third. Make two terms the limit. And stick to it.
Next. Look at the recent history of New York politicians. Gov. Eliot Spitzer, "Client Number 9," resigned in disgrace in 2008 after being linked to a prostitution ring. Congressman Anthony Weiner stepped down in 2011 after admitting exchanging sexually explicit texts with underage girls. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman quit in 2018 after being accused of sexual abuse. And now there's Cuomo. What do they all have in common? They're all men.
In fact, I recently did a search of politicians accused of sexual misconduct in the last decade. They include Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. But guess what they all have in common? They're all men! So, lesson number two. Isn't it obvious? Elect more women to high office. Female politicians consider winning elections as a way to get things done, not as a free pass for sexual abuse. They don't view political power as penis power.
But again, as newsworthy as Cuomo's resignation was, something far more significant happened this week. Something we haven't seen in a long time. The Senate actually passed a major piece of legislation: the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, delivering the biggest upgrade to the nation's roads, bridges, pipes, ports and broadband in decades.
Make no mistake about it. This is a big deal that will touch on almost every aspect of American life. Its reach is stunning. With $550 billion in new federal spending, the bill's fix-it list includes: $110 billion for building new roads and bridges; $73 billion for modernizing the electric grid; $65 billion for expanding broadband access; $66 billion for improving rail service; $55 billion for new water treatment plants; $47 billion for cybersecurity and climate change mitigation; $39 billion for public transit; $25 billion for airport improvements; $7.5 billion for electric car charging stations; and $7.5 billion for new, zero-emission school buses.
What's even more stunning is that the infrastructure package passed 69-30, with bipartisan support. 19 Republicans actually voted for it, including Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who'd earlier pledged to block President Biden from achieving any legislative victory. And, most noteworthy of all, 19 Republicans voted for the bill even though former president Donald Trump begged them not to.
There's no exaggerating the importance of that Senate vote. It proves that, with the right amount of patience, determination, and willingness to compromise, government can work again. It proves bipartisanship is not dead. It proves that Donald Trump's grip on the Republican Party is starting to slip. It's a tribute to the band of Democratic and Republican senators who worked so long and hard to make a deal. And it's a big win for Biden, who was scoffed at for giving bipartisanship a chance, and delivered.
And that's not all. Approval of the infrastructure bill was soon followed by passage, strictly along party lines, of a $3.5 trillion budget plan, containing almost everything progressives ever fought for, including: extended family and medical leave; expansion of Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing; universal pre-K; and continuation of the $300/month child tax credit enacted during the pandemic. Which represents, says Senator Bernie Sanders, "the most consequential piece of legislation for working people, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor since FDR and the New Deal of the 1930's."
Granted, there's a lot of work between now and the finish line. Neither bill's final passage is guaranteed. My point is simply this: After complaining so long that the Senate was doing NOTHING, we should applaud the moment when they finally accomplished SOMETHING. Those new roads and bridges will be around long after Andrew Cuomo's forgotten.
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Sexual Assault: Only Democrats Take it Seriously
Nobody feels sorry for Andrew Cuomo, and nobody defends him. We knew the final report into allegations of sexual assault against him would be bad. We didn't know it'd be such a disaster: explicit details of sexual harassment and assault against 11 women over several years. Given that documented barrage of unacceptable and, most likely, illegal behavior, there's no way Cuomo can continue as governor. He should resign immediately - or become only the second governor in New York's history to be impeached.
But notice the chorus of voices demanding the Democratic governor's resignation: New York attorney general, Democrat Tish James; speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi; Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, Democrat Chuck Schumer; every Democratic member of the New York congressional delegation; and president of the United States, Democrat Joe Biden.
What a contrast with the way Republicans handle accusations of sexual assault. The difference is clear: Democrats take sexual assault seriously; Republicans do not. Democrats are quick to condemn the actions of one of their own; Republicans are quick to defend their own. Democrats cast sexual predators out. Republicans elevate them to the highest levels of government: the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Oval Office itself.
Consider Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz. He's under criminal investigation by the Justice Department for alleged sex trafficking, recruiting women online and offering them lavish gifts in exchange for sex, including sex with a 17-year-old girl. His associate Joel Greenberg has already pleaded guilty to the same charges and is reportedly cooperating with authorities in the Gaetz investigation.
Sex trafficking. Lavish gifts for sex. Sex with a minor. Serious stuff. But have you heard any leading Republican demand that Matt Gaetz resign? No way. Instead, he's out there with GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy's blessing, holding frequent news conferences, as one of the most outspoken Members of Congress downplaying the insurrection of January 6 and defending terrorists who attacked the Capitol as "patriots."
How about Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan? According to USports, eight members of the Ohio State University wrestling team in the '80s have reported that they informed Jordan, then an assistant coach at OSU, of sexual abuse by team physician Richard Strauss - but that Jordan did nothing about it. It's the same charge of cover-up that brought down Penn State's legendary Joe Paterno.
But Jordan's still riding high. As ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Jordan's one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress. Donald Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And Leader McCarthy tried to make him a member of the Select Committee on January 6.
And we'll never forget the way Republicans rallied behind Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Shortly after his nomination, Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, later telling the Senate Judiciary Committee how a drunken young Kavanaugh had pinned her down on a bed, groped her, and tried to remove her clothes at a high school party. Two other women came forward with similar complaints of sexual assault.
In response, the FBI spent one week in a perfunctory investigation of the charges, during which they later admitted receiving over 4,500 tips, which they dutifully relayed to the Trump White House, Kavanaugh's principal backer! After receiving the FBI's non-conclusive report, the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh 50-48. Every Republican senator (and one Democrat, Joe Manchin) voted to confirm him.
The worst case is the Republican Party's embrace of serial sexual predator Donald Trump. Let's not forget. Donald Trump was accused of far worse crimes than Andrew Cuomo - and by twice as many women. On the "Access Hollywood" tape, Trump even bragged about assaulting women, insisting he could get away with grabbing their private parts because he was a celebrity. And it's not over. To this day, two different sexual abuse lawsuits against Trump, filed by E. Jean Carroll and Summer Zervos, are still underway in New York courts.
And yet, rather than reject sexual predator Trump, Republicans accepted his behavior, nominated him for president, defended him for four years, and now even want him to run for re-election. They make a mockery of the entire #MeToo movement.
Of course, Republicans talk a good game. They're quick to condemn every allegation of sexual assault - as long as it's directed against a Democrat. But on this issue of such paramount importance, the respectful treatment of women, Republicans have zero credibility - until they stop putting their own predators on a pedestal.
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
On Team USA: Give Nancy Pelosi a Gold Medal!
Even without crowds in the stands, it's still exciting to watch the Summer Olympics. Despite disappointments like in women's gymnastics, at least we've seen intense competition. Unlike Washington, D.C.
Take the House of Representatives. In the Summer Games between House Republicans and Democrats, there's zero competition. And it all boils down to this: Nancy Pelosi is the smartest leader in the history of the House. And Kevin McCarthy is the dumbest. Absolutely. Amazingly. Frighteningly. Dumb as a fence post. It's hard to imagine how McCarthy could have mucked up the Republicans' response to January 6 worse than he has. Is he really the best the Republican Party has to offer?
From the moment polls closed on November 3, 2020, McCarthy decided that the best bet for Republicans would be to put loyalty to Trump over loyalty to democracy. On Thursday, November 5, like the Trump puppy dog he is, McCarthy went on Fox News to declare: "President Trump won this election, so everyone who's listening, do not be quiet."
He then led 126 House Republicans in supporting the Texas attorney general's zany request that the Supreme Court invalidate the electoral votes of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and Wisconsin. And on January 6, even after Trump's armed mob had forced McCarthy, along with every other member of Congress, to run for his life, he nevertheless voted to decertify Arizona's electoral votes and overturn the election.
Immediately after the insurrection, a shaken McCarthy lashed out. "The President bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters," he said at the time, in a rare moment of sanity. But within days, doubtlessly after a tongue-lashing by Trump, McCarthy was back to his subservient self. "I don't believe Trump provoked, if you listened to what he said at the rally," McCarthy told reporters on January 21.
Again, albeit so briefly, McCarthy rallied, supporting a bipartisan, September 11-like commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol. He appointed New York Republican John Katko to hammer out a deal with Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the Homeland Security Committee. But even after Katko got everything the Republican leader demanded, McCarthy - no doubt after checking in again with Trump - made his most stupid mistake of all. He pulled the rug out from under Katko and refused to participate in a bipartisan investigation - thereby giving up any power he once held and handing the entire matter over to Speaker Pelosi.
At which point, Pelosi, again showing her leadership mastery, did what the times demanded. Named a select committee to investigate January 6, which she would control, but in which Republicans, now subject to her veto, were invited to participate. Again, she set a trap for the hapless McCarthy, who walked right into it by appointing Trump sycophants Jim Jordan and Jim Banks - whom Pelosi immediately vetoed. In their place, she nominated conservative truth-seekers Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL).
All of which led to this week's dramatic hearing, where four police officers related their horrific experience of being brutally assaulted, beaten, tased, and gassed in the Capitol on January 6 by armed Trump supporters wearing military gear and Trump campaign clothing, all insisting that they were invading the Capitol because Trump told them to.
Called "traitors" by the mob, the officers were lucky to survive. Yet every one of them said that, even worse than the physical abuse they suffered was the fact that so many of the people they put their lives at risk to defend are downplaying or outright denying what happened. "I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room," said Officer Michael Fanone, "but too many are now telling me that hell doesn't exist or that hell isn't that bad."
At the end of the day, Nancy Pelosi showed that Democrats were clearly embarked on a serious, historic, bipartisan effort to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6. Meanwhile, thanks to Kevin McCarthy, House Republicans were exposed as anti-police, anti-law and order, anti-learning the truth, and anti-democracy. With the exception of Cheney and Kinzinger, Republicans, who used to be the party of law and order, lined up against police officers and on the side of terrorists.
What can you say about a so-called leader who put Republicans in such a suicidal political position? Ask Speaker Pelosi. When asked her reaction to Kevin McCarthy's bizarre behavior, she said it best: "He's such a moron."
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
The Earth Burns While Billionaires Take a Joy Ride
Watching two billionaires blast off into space this month was both impressive and maddening. Impressive to see the perfect execution of Virgin Galactic's mission to near-space, with founder Richard Branson on board. And even more impressive, just a few days later, to witness Blue Origin's flawless leap into space, with founder Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man, along for the ride.
But it was also maddening to think of how much money the two missions cost and what good purpose those funds could have been used for back here on terra firma: paying off all student loans; providing housing for the homeless; finding a cure for cancer; or fueling the fight against climate change.
Before either mission launched, in fact, critics tried to shoot them down. Financial analyst Ken Herbert derided Virgin Galactic as "Disney for the 1 percent of the 1 percent." And Bezos was blamed for a giant ego trip that was nothing but a "joy ride for rich guys," - an image not helped when it was revealed that one fan had paid $28 million for a seat on the New Shepard space craft, only to bow out at the last minute over an unknown "scheduling conflict."
One thing for sure: It's a far cry from May 1961, when President John F. Kennedy challenged America to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade: a goal achieved by Astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1969. For decades thereafter, America's space program was government's finest achievement: led by the White House, carried out by NASA, and proudly supported and tax-funded by the American people. Today, NASA's no longer in the pilot's seat. Space travel is now a for-profit enterprise, led by three billionaires: Branson, Bezos, and Elon Musk, founder of Space X, where anybody can hitch a ride into outer space, as long as you have a spare $28 million.
All of which has renewed a lively debate, first raised in the '60s, on two big questions: Who should be leading America's space program, the government or the private sector? And how should America's wealth be spent, exploring space or improving life on planet Earth? That debate's stirred up a lot of controversy this week. Bezos, particularly, has come under criticism for spending more on leaving Earth than improving it. But, in truth, the debate's a phony one. Because the only answer to both questions is: "Both!"
Yes, government should have the primary role in space exploration. It always has, and always will. Neither Branson nor Bezos could have achieved so much, so fast, without the pioneering work in space exploration technology developed by NASA and military engineers - and paid for by American taxpayers. Regardless of the billionaires' success in space tourism, NASA will continue to lead America's space program with its dual mission of landing Americans on Mars and establishing a human colony on the moon in the next seven years.
Indeed, this is nothing new. In almost every endeavor, private enterprise has always led the way. European merchants paid for the first trade routes to Asia. As detailed by Andrea Pitzer in her new book "Icebound," Dutch investors bankrolled the first polar expeditions. Henry Ford made automobile travel affordable. Industrialist Henry Flagler built the Florida railroad. And, more fittingly, two bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio, pioneered today's vast world of commercial air travel. In many ways, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos are today's Orville and Wilbur Wright.
Nor does spending on space conflict with spending to solve problems on Earth. Throughout history, civilizations have always felt the urge and recognized the need to explore the new frontier. Otherwise, there'd be no Straits of Magellan, no Northwest Passage, no discovery of America, no Lewis and Clark, no deep-sea exploration, no International Space Station. We are not built to remain static.
Shortly after returning to Earth from his 10-minute, 20-second taste of space, Bezos responded to critics for spending so much money on space when there are still so many problems at home. "They're largely right," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "We have lots of problems here on Earth and we need to work on those. And we always need to look to the future. We've always done that as a species, as a civilization. We have to do both."
Bezos is already putting money where his mouth is, recently giving $200 million to the Smithsonian and $100 million each to chef Jose Andres and activist Van Jones. That's a good start. Now if Bezos would only pay his fair share of taxes.
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
America Loses Another War
When it comes to war, we Americans can't seem to make up our minds. We say we don't like war yet cheer our troops in battle like a high school football team. We vote for presidents who vow to end wars, yet still re-elect them when they don't and rally behind them when they start another one. We don't like starting wars, but we never want to admit we lost one, either.
Stop right there. Whatever else you think of him, give Joe Biden a lot of credit for finally pulling the plug on the war in Afghanistan. It took guts. Biden had the courage to do what George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump did not: To recognize there was no way America was ever going to win the war in Afghanistan, to admit we'd lost the war - and to get the hell out.
If there were ever a war not worth fighting, it's the war in Afghanistan. Its initial mission was fine: to roust out Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, who'd planned and carried out the September 11 attacks against the United States. But that mission was over in weeks. In effect, we lost the war in Afghanistan once we didn't pull out right then and there. Everything after that was a disaster.
The war in Afghanistan dragged on for 20 years, longer than any war in our history. Longer than World War I, 1.6 years; World War II, 3.7 years; the Civil War, 4 years; the Revolutionary War, 8.4 years; and the war in Iraq, 8.9 years.
According to the Costs of War Project of Brown University, the war in Afghanistan cost $2.6 trillion, with no new taxes to pay for it, all added to the deficit. That does not include $1.8 trillion for health care and disability payments to veterans, nor $6.5 trillion in interest on that debt by 2050. By contrast, the entire Marshall Plan after World War II cost only $13 billion (over $100 billion in 2021 dollars), for which we gained a rebuilt Western Europe. For over $2 trillion in Afghanistan, we gained a weak, corrupt, central government that'll probably collapse within six months.
Finally, as calculated by Harvard's Kennedy School, the war in Afghanistan also cost the lives of 2,448 American military; 3,846 American contractors; 66,000 Afghan military; and 42,245 Afghan civilians. And what did we get for it? Nothing. It's tough to admit that American sons and daughters killed in Afghanistan died in vain, but they did.
In so many ways, the war in Afghanistan is a repeat of the war in Vietnam, the last war we lost. It's all spelled out in the Afghan Papers, a trove of 400 interviews of top officials in Afghanistan conducted by the Pentagon's Special Investigator from 2014 to 2018, but - like the Pentagon Papers - kept secret until published by the Washington Post in 2019.
The Post summed up 2,000 pages of documents in four points: (1) Year after year, U.S. officials failed to tell the public the truth about the war; (2) U.S. officials admitted the mission had no clear strategy; (3) Many years into the war, U.S. officials still did not understand Afghanistan; (4) the U.S. wasted vast sums of money trying to remake Afghanistan and bred corruption in the process. Sound familiar? Vietnam! Been there, done that.
No doubt, America's departure from Afghanistan will create problems. Afghan civilians who helped American troops could be targeted. Afghan women risk losing all the gains they've made. The Taliban could topple the weak central government. But to those who cite those factors as a reason to continue the war, President Biden asked the right question: "Let me ask those who want us to stay: "How many thousands more Americans, daughters and sons, were you willing to risk?" The answer is: None. It's just not worth it.
What lesson did we learn from Afghanistan? The same lesson we should have learned in Vietnam. Joe Cirincione, former head of the Ploughshares Fund, told me on my podcast this week: "We once again learned that America is not good at empire building, and that Afghanistan really is the place where empires go to die."
This week, President George W. Bush, who started the war 20 years ago, called Biden's Afghanistan pullout a "mistake." No, Mr. President. Your mistake was invading Afghanistan in the first place, with no clear mission and no clear timetable for getting out. For better or worse, only Afghans can determine their own future.
Latest GOP scare tactic: Critical race theory
It's one of the oldest, most cynical games in politics: When you're falling behind, make up some phony threat to change the subject and scare the bejesus out of people. Republicans are good at that.
A few years ago, to justify the outright racism of Trump's Muslim ban, Republicans raised the alarm of "sharia law." This extreme form of Islam, they warned, was sweeping the country, resulting in a flood of 200 anti-sharia bills in 40 states -- when, in effect, not one city or state had even proposed adopting sharia law. Within months, a nonexistent problem had been whipped into a national crisis.
Today, Republicans are doing the same thing with "critical race theory," or CRT, even though most people, including those sounding the alarm, have no idea what it is. Nonetheless, Republicans warn, if we don't immediately ban CRT, it'll poison white children's minds, make them ashamed of their race, join the Black Lives Matter Movement, burn the American flag, and refuse to stand for the national anthem. According to Media Matters, in the last 3.5 months, Fox News alone has broadcast 1,300 stories warning about the danger of teaching critical race theory in public schools.
And those scare tactics are working. Since 2020, when Donald Trump ordered OMB to cease federal funding for diversity training or critical race theory, legislation banning teaching CRT in grades K-12 has been introduced by Republican legislators in 22 states and already signed into law in Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. Some even propose requiring teachers to wear body cameras to make sure they don't say anything that might make white kids "feel bad about themselves." Another nonexistent problem whipped into a national frenzy.
Make no mistake about it. This whole critical race theory craze is a manufactured crisis. It's the latest manifestation of the white nationalist sentiment ignited and fueled by Donald Trump. It's one more desperate attempt by white supremacists to wrap their racism in the cloak of patriotism, which, as Samuel Johnson noted long ago, is "the last refuge of a scoundrel."
Relax. Critical race theory is no threat to anybody, young or old. For starters, it's not generally taught in elementary or high school. It's the study, first introduced in graduate schools some 40 years ago, of how racism has influenced and infiltrated American law and institutions from our very founding.
In other words, it's a critical history of the United States, warts and all. That the history of the United States actually began in 1619 with the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in colonial Virginia, not in 1620 with the arrival of the Pilgrims. That the Constitution, written by slave-owners, promised equality for all Americans, but only guaranteed the vote to white males. That the Civil War ended slavery, only to have it replaced by segregation, Jim Crow, and the brutality of the KKK. That, even today, Republican legislators are passing laws to make it more difficult for people of color to vote.
That history is indisputable. It's not un-American to teach it, it's simply acknowledging the truth. It doesn't say the United States is a bad country. It says we're an imperfect country, which we are. It doesn't say all white people are evil. It says that, from the beginning, some white Americans have deliberately used - and are still attempting to use -- the legal instruments of this country to deny equal rights to black Americans.
That's the truth about America. We can't deny it. Critical race theory shouldn't be banned. It should be taught in every classroom. Because the sooner we name it, say it, and acknowledge it, the better we are equipped to wipe out systemic racism in this country and move forward.
Republicans screaming about critical race theory are only further dividing this country. But let me add this: So are those Democrats dumping on America. I'm talking about Cori Bush, newly elected African American congresswoman from Missouri. On July 4, she tweeted: "When they say that the 4th of July is about American freedom, remember this: the freedom they're referring to is for white people. This land is stolen land and Black people still aren't free."
Sorry, Congresswoman, but you're dead wrong. July 4 is not for white people only. It's a day for all Americans, of every race and creed, to celebrate and rededicate ourselves to the goal of equality for all. And may I remind you, Congresswoman, you are a freely-elected Member of the United States Congress.
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