Current Affairs

Afghanistan- A Lesson in Nation-Building

Afghanistan- A Lesson in Nation-Building                                                                                                                                                                                Robert A. Levine

Afghanistan was a series of blunders right from the beginning. Our goal in invading this primitive Islamic nation, or rather a conglomeration of Islamic tribes, was to hunt down Osama Bin Laden and members of Al Qaeda to punish them for 9/11. We also wanted to make certain that Afghanistan would no longer be a sanctuary for extremist Islamic Groups intent on damaging America and killing Americans. At the onset, there was little thought of transforming this anarchic undeveloped country into a modern Western liberal democracy with universal education and equal rights for women. After Bin Laden was killed, we should have left Afghanistan

However, somewhere along the way our objective changed and our leadership decided that Afghanistan was ripe for conversion to a modern nation that subscribed to Western ideals. What a mistake that was. In addition to being a society where people’s major allegiance was to clan and tribe rather than a central government, corruption and payoffs were rampant at every level. To get a job, one had to give kick-backs to the person hiring, whether it was in the government or private businesses.

Salaries in the government and in the military were often not paid or only partially paid to lower level workers or enlisted men. In fact, many of the fighting men often went hungry because the purveyors of food may not have been paid, with the money kept by high-ranking officers or government officials. In addition, ammunition for Afghan Army weapons were frequently minimal or unavailable, with payment again stolen by higher-ups. Sometimes, ammunition and weapons were sold by these higher-ups directly to the Talaban or through intermediaries for cash. Fuel for vehicles was also in short supply at times. Yet the American military expected the Afghan soldiers to fight the Talaban to the death when they were not being paid and necessary supplies were lacking.

Leaders of the military were also incompetent, usually obtaining their jobs through family or political connections, most unwilling to put their lives in danger when leading their men. Many of these officers knew nothing or little about military strategy or tactics. When American soldiers joined the Afghan soldiers in battle, it provided the latter with backbone that their leaders could not or would not provide. American air support was another factor that bolstered Afghan soldiers, knowing that drones or planes would come and aid them whenever they ran into trouble in battles with the Talaban.

Government corruption was ubiquitous and any project that would benefit the populace had to pay bribes to officials at all levels. Education was available for both boys and girls, but the quality of the teachers and administrators was variable because of the low salaries and the necessity of kickbacks.

Besides the Talaban, warlords and bandits put up roadblocks on the roads or the streets of the cities, making travelers and shopkeepers pay for protection and safe passage. And most Afghanis were wedded to their traditional ways of life and did not necessarily favor modernization. Though they were happy to have and use cellphones and running water and even television, they did not want their way of life changed by ideas of equality of men and women, or women working at more prestigious jobs than men. Society was governed by a strong patriarchy where wives and daughters followed a husband or fathers’ orders and only men were barely literate and allowed to go to school.

So notwithstanding the messages of progress sent to Washington by the top military and diplomatic brass, the complete collapse of the Afghan army in just days and its unwillingness to fight should not have been surprising. Hunger, lack of supplies, unpaid salaries, lack of leadership and the absence of Americans and their air support made collapse a foregone conclusion. The speed with which the Afghan government and army disintegrated was not expected, but it should have been. When the president of the country cuts and runs instead of trying to rally his forces, you know that there never was any hope of building a strong modern society, even after twenty years of effort.                                                                                                  www.robertlevinebooks.com                                                                                                                                                                                                   Buy The Uninformed Voter on Amazon and Barnes and Noble


Voter Suppression- Who Wins

Voter Suppression- Who Wins

            Robert A. Levine

If the Republicans cannot win fairly, they will do anything to suppress groups of voters who tend to support the Democrats. This is short term thinking for down the road, the minority groups whose votes they are trying to eliminate will be in the majority and will vote regularly for the Democrats. At the moment, many minority voters are mixing their votes and some are backing Republicans. This is not the time to alienate minorities and drive them to the Democratic Party which voter suppression will do.

Currently, in state legislatures across the land that are controlled by Republicans, hundreds of laws are being introduced to suppress voting by minority groups that provide support for Democrats more than Republicans. But this support of Democrats was starting to change in the 2020 elections where Latino men and women and Black men gave significant percentages of their votes to Republicans. Suppressing the votes of these groups by making it increasingly difficult for them to vote is not going to endear the GOP in the minds of these voters and in the long run will probably dissuade Democratic voters from switching.

In addition to blatant gerrymandering expected after the census results are released, Republican state legislatures are shortening the time devoted to early voting, eliminating absentee and mail-in voting without a good excuse and proof of a problem, demanding accurate IDs when voting in person and limiting what can be used, cutting down on the boxes where absentee votes can be dropped off, comparing signatures very carefully on IDs versus forms that allowing voting, shortening the hours on voting day, cutting down on the number of places to vote, situating voting stations in white neighborhoods that are difficult for minorities to reach, preventing people from collecting the ballots of older or disabled individuals (ballot harvesting) because it is difficult for these voters to hand in their ballots. Any measures that will cut down on minority voting will be considered by GOP controlled legislatures.

While it is likely these moves may decrease minority voting temporarily, there are groups that have formed that will transport these voters to the places where they can vote. They are also being helped to fill out the necessary forms. Voters have long memories and as minorities attain majority status, they will remember how the Republicans used underhanded methods to lessen the importance of their votes or made it difficult for them to vote at all. In the long run, the GOP will pay for their actions.

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Creating a Third Party of the Center

Creating A Third Party of the Center

Robert A. Levine

            “It must be realized that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more uncertain of success, or more dangerous to manage than the establishment of a new order of government; for he who introduces it makes enemies of all those who derived advantage from the old order.”

            Niccolo Machiavelli- The Prince [i]

            The time has come for a seismic shake-up of America’s political system. The nation’s current political parties are corrupt and self-serving, tethered to lobbyists, special interests and their own partisan bases, and unable to govern productively. To bring about change, a permanent third party of the center is necessary to recalibrate the political equation and start the country on the road to reform. This party must not be dependent on PAC financing but derive direct funding from its supporters. The Republican Party is already splitting three ways, with supporters of Trump, true conservatives and moderates. Trumpists have even considered forming their own third party. The Democrats are split between leftists and moderates.                       

The idea of a permanent third party for America is not new, the reasons that argue for its creation having existed for many decades. Indeed, there have been a number of unsuccessful attempts at gestation, resulting in stillbirths or early demises in infancy. Currently, disillusionment with the government and dismay about the ability of the established political parties to fix matters remain at a high level. Unless the nation is able to accomplish a meaningful revision in the way it is governed, the United States is destined to decline. To effect the required metamorphosis, a permanent third party is needed that values moderation, pragmatism and compromise.

Though revolutionary changes in political systems and mass social movements are usually initiated by the left or the right, this revolution should arise from the center, a protest against America’s two entrenched parties. John Avlon in his book Independent Nation remarked- “Centrism frees voters from the false dichotomies that dominate American politics by offering them a third choice between the rigid extremes of the left and right, a commonsense path that acknowledges the inevitability of change while never straying far from fundamental American values or founding principles… Centrism is the most effective means for achieving the classic mission of politics: the peaceful reconciliation of competing interests. Extremists and ideological purists on either side of the political aisle condemn compromise. But inflexibility either creates deadlock or dooms a cause to irrelevance.” 

A Pew Poll in May of 2019 had 38 percent of Americans identifying as politically independent. An NBC News poll in 2013 had 51 percent of Americans considering themselves as moderates, independents or centrists. Most surveys have the percentage of independents between these two numbers. But voters are accustomed to voting for either Democrats or Republicans and starting a new centrist party that is competitive will not be easy. With the current parties holding a duopoly of power, state and federal laws place barriers in the path of any upstart that might challenge their control. And aside from the legal obstacles, there are also emotional impediments that must be overcome in America’s citizenry to allow a new third party to gain traction. But a new permanent third party of the center can be viable, with the opportunity to realize its goals and win both local and national elections. There are new tools and transformative technologies available for an interloper to level the playing field with the two established behemoths, even though their deep pockets are constantly being refilled by the lobbyists and special interests.

The main asset this new entity will have in its favor is the dissatisfaction of Americans with the political climate. There is a vast body of citizens in America who do not participate in the political process or vote in elections because they feel their votes are inconsequential. Some of these men and women can form the base of a new party, along with independents and centrist Republicans and Democrats who hold their noses when they go to the polls, casting ballots because they feel it is their obligation as citizens. These people might flock to the banner of a political organization that pledged to run incorruptible candidates and would try to end the ideological bickering that has precluded action on so much necessary legislation. To be successful in this insurrection, the new party must persuade Americans that it is a real alternative to Republicans and Democrats, will have staying power and will not fold after one election cycle. It must be able to convince average citizens that it is worthwhile for them to cast their ballots for an untested political upstart that has a vision for a new way of governing. And if it is able to gain credibility among the electorate, it will make centrist politicians who are on the fence more willing to commit themselves to this intriguing new player.

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New People, New Parties, New Infrastructure

New People, New Parties, New Infrastructure

                        Robert A. Levine

America is in crisis and undergoing a steep de­cline. Covid has taken the lives of half a million people and battered the economy. Budget deficits and national debt are climbing. The nation’s infrastructure is old and crumbling while much of Europe and Asia enjoy modern highways and bridges, bullet trains connecting their main cities, gleaming new airports, and broadband connections to all sectors of their population. If America is to compete in this world and maintain its position at the top, its citizens will have to acknowl­edge the need for sacrifice and pain, will have to accept higher taxes on the wealthy and more spending on infrastructure. Americans will have to study harder and work longer, knowing that their struggles will allow democracy to flourish and that their chil­dren and grandchildren will reap the rewards. 

In past times, Americans were willing to sacrifice for the good of the nation and the generations that would follow. Sacrifice is again needed. But we need something more. The two-party system has not been working as the parties collude to maintain their hold on power, reinforcing the need for a permanent third party. This could come from the right but is needed from the center with the extreme left and extremists on the right kept at bay. The moderate Democrats and centrist Republicans should join together to give citizens a better option when they cast their ballots.

In America’s formative years, professional politicians were not involved in the creation of its defining documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, nor responsible for governing. These duties were managed admirably by public-spirited citizens: farmers, lawyers, and businessmen, physicians), who wanted to participate in the noble experiment of democracy. Perhaps what America needs now are fewer career politicians and more ordinary citizens like our Founding Fathers to become en­gaged in the processes of government and democracy. When lobbyists and special interests subvert this rela­tionship and the people’s desires are ignored, the system is failing. New parties and new participants are needed.

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What Does Trump Truly Believe

What Does Trump Believe?

                        Robert A. Levine, M.D.

The question that needed to be answered which the impeachment proceedings did not do, was whether Trump truly believed that he won the election, notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary. If he actually believed this fantasy he should not have been impeached on the basis of his being mentally incompetent. A person shown to be crazy cannot stand trial of any sort, given his or her lack of understanding.

On the other hand, if Trump realized that he lost the election and was claiming otherwise to arouse his base, generate support and financial resources, then he was indeed a candidate for impeachment, having used the bully pulpit of the presidency to spread this outrageous lie that inspired treasonous actions. And Trump himself was guilty of treason along with the people who stormed the capital on his behalf.

In either case, Trump is unfit to run for office again. Either he is crazy or guilty of treason in claiming that he won the presidential election. Both of these states should keep him from any position of responsibility in the government or otherwise. Unfortunately, as mentioned, the impeachment hearing did not provide an answer as to Trump’s state of mind in claiming that he won the election.

The Democrats and Republicans assumed that Trump was mentally competent and aware that he lost the election. But how do we know this for certain. Before Trump’s impeachment, he should have had a thorough examination by a panel of psychiatrists to determine whether he truly believed he won the election or that he is claiming that he won for his own political ends.

The determination of his mental state is of utmost importance and his impeachment trial should have been delayed until a psychiatric evaluation was complete. Given its importance, a panel of top psychiatrists should be involved in the mental evaluation of Trump rather than a single psychiatrist.

Of course it is possible that Trump could deceive even a multitude of psychiatrists for certain reasons, either acting consciously or unconsciously. However, would Trump want his supporters to consider him insane or a traitor?

It is somewhat surprising that the House impeachment managers did not address this dilemma and ask for a psychiatric evaluation prior to starting the impeachment proceedings. It is quite possible that Trump would have refused psychiatric consultation, insisting that he was fully mentally competent. If that is the case, then it would appear that he knows that he lost the election and was trying to overturn the results by fomenting an insurrection. In other words, he would have to be considered a traitor.

There may be reasons in Trump’s mind on both sides of the equation to either claim that he was the winner or express the realization that he lost.  The nation deserves to know Trump’s state of mind on the issue of whether he won or lost the presidential election. Prior to any further criminal or civil proceedings regarding Trump’s incitement of the capitol insurrection, Trump should have a psychiatric evaluation to assess whether or not he is mentally competent.

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The Deep Chasm in American Politics

The Deep Chasm in American Politics

                        Robert A. Levine

The current political divide in America is greater than at any time since the Civil War. In the presidential election of November 2020, Joe Biden received over 81 million votes with Trump accumulating over 74 million. Since the election however, Trump has insisted that he won by a landslide and that Biden stole the election from him. There were over sixty court rulings that declared Trump’s claims invalid, including two unanimously by the Supreme Court where he had appointed three of the nine members.

Trump also went to various state legislatures where the state’s citizens had favored Biden, trying to get the legislatures to overturn the results. No success anywhere. Trump begged and threatened Georgia’s attorney general to find eleven thousand plus votes for him so that he would win Georgia. But the Attorney General Brad Raffensperger insisted that the vote count was correct and could not be changed.

Bill Barr, the Federal Attorney General before he resigned, told Trump as well that the results of the election were right and could not be overturned. When Barr resigned, the acting Attorney General at the Department of Justice also refused to honor Trump’s requests to disqualify enough of Biden’s votes to make Trump the winner. And Vice President Pence declared to Trump that he could not change the vote totals when they were confirmed at the Capitol.

Yet with all the officials who told Trump that he lost the election, both Republicans and Democrats, he would not accept the outcome, insisting that the election was stolen. This led Trump to call his supporters to Washington and to have them march on the Capitol to prevent the voting totals from being confirmed. Tens of thousands of his base including militant white supremacists followed Trump’s instructions. They trashed the Capitol building in an insurrection, searching for members of Congress and Senators who they could kill because they would not make Trump president and looking to hang Mike Pence.

Perhaps it is not surprising that Trump’s most intense acolytes would come to Washington and follow his orders to break into the Capitol and hunt down his opponents. What is surprising is that Trump received 74 million votes in the election and even after he lost, most of his supporters believed that the election was stolen from him. The vast majority of these are not rational citizens, but members of a tribal cult, willing to accept anything that Trump says or does.

Not only are Trump supporters divided from the Democrats, but they are angry at establishment Republicans who they feel did not fight vigorously enough for Trump to remain president. And they want to primary the House members who voted with the Democrats to impeach Trump. These Trump acolytes are uninformed about the true results of the election and are willing to follow Trump wherever he leads, even if it means the end of democracy and the beginning of fascism in America. How do you change the minds of cultists who are uninformed and accept and obey their leader wherever he takes them? Unfortunately, democracy and freedom means nothing to them. They do not understand what Trump is offering.

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Trump Insurrection

Trump Insurrection

            Robert A. Levine

January 6th in Washington was shocking but not surprising. For months, President Trump had been stoking his supporters with claims that the presidential election in November was rigged and victory stolen from him. He provided no evidence to back up his claim, but repeating it over and over again in his speeches and tweets provided his assertion with credibility, particularly with his avid adherents. There was no question that millions of his supporters believed his declaration was real and that the election and the presidency had been stolen. In addition, there was affirmation from right-wing commentators and websites. Trump abandoned the tasks of his presidency for months while he tried to overturn the results of the election. The Covid pandemic was completely ignored by Trump while Americans died by the hundreds of thousands.

To the majority of Americans and the mainstream media it was clear that Biden had won the election handily- by over 7 million popular votes and the Electoral College 306 to 232. Yet a delusional and deranged President Trump continued to insist that he won the election by a landslide. In the two months after election Trump and his legal team lost over sixty lawsuits in various Courts contesting different facets of the election, including unanimously twice in the Supreme Court where he had appointed three of the justices. The Courts found nothing to suggest that anything illegal had occurred regarding the voting and that Biden had indeed won the election. Trump also tried to get Republican state Secretaries of State to “to find votes for him” so that he would win these states. No dice. And he blasted Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Raffensperger and Governor Kemp as stupid and corrupt because they would not help him.

Trump also went to several GOP controlled state legislatures to try and convince them to change the vote totals in their states, but was rebuffed in each case. He claimed as well that the voting machines had been illegally set to help Biden, but this path led nowhere. Thus he reached a point where his efforts appeared futile. His last chance was Congress. But VP Pence said there was nothing he could do when he directed the voting for Biden’s confirmation, as his role was purely ceremonial. A majority of GOP House members and as many as twelve Senators said that they would object to swing state voting totals, agreeing with Trump that he had won. It appeared that Trump and these Republican officials were living in an alternative reality, as it was clear to the press and to state officials, both Republican and Democratic, that Biden had won the election by a landslide.

But it was too late to change the minds of Trump’s radical base who had already been convinced that the election was stolen by Biden. The nadir of Trump’s presidency and the outcome of his alliance with white supremacy groups and conspiracy theorists occurred on January 6th 2021 when legions of Trump supporters at his urging stormed and took over the nation’s capital. Speaking to the tens of thousands of his cult who had gathered in Washington, some armed, others not, Trump, Don Jr and Rudy Guilliani exhorted the gathering to march to the Capitol and be strong. On social media during the previous week, plans were being hatched by right-wing nationalists and white supremacists to take over the Capitol, so it was no secret what was coming. But law enforcement, particularly the Capitol police were totally unprepared, with a mob of white nationalist insurrectionists invading the Capitol and gaining control of the building, looting and destroying property and various personal materials of members of Congress.

Intelligence agencies and law enforcement should not have been taken by surprise by the hordes of white supremacists, given their announcements on social media. There had been talk of assassinating various officials including Vice-President Pence and of keeping Trump in the presidency. Many of these groups wanted to start a civil war in the country and felt that their actions might light the fuse. Interestingly, the insurrectionists initially were treated with kid gloves by the police, unlike the Black Lives Matter protesters months before. Though Trump and various Republican officials tried to distance themselves from the violent behavior afterwards, it was too little and too late.

White supremacists and militia groups who believe themselves entitled to run the nation are a continuing danger to democracy in the United States, with their positions supported by a percentage of law-enforcement and the military. Whether anything will change after their assault on the Capitol remains to be seen. Trump will continue to be a menace to American democracy even after he leaves the presidency, unless he is charged with insurrection and other counts and goes to prison.

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