Archive for March, 2016

Poll shows American voters are done trying to bring democracy to the Middle East

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Originally published at Rare

A poll released by Rasmussen this week indicates that likely American voters are wary of projects to spread democracy in the Middle East.

“Only 28% of likely U.S. voters think the United States should do more to encourage the growth of democracy in the Islamic world,” reports Rasmussen. Further, “Fifty-eight percent…say the United States should leave things alone. Fourteen percent…are undecided.”

Though a majority of voters reject nation building, that doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned over terrorism. In fact, a Gallup poll found that after the attacks in Paris, terrorism skyrocketed to the number one political concern among Americans. Typically, the economy occupies that spot.

Voters clearly want to address and stop terrorism. But they don’t believe that long-term occupations with the goal of spreading democracy help achieve that goal. And given the destabilization that helped fuel the spread of ISIS in countries like Iraq, Libya, and Syria after Western military operations, they seem to have a point.

As for the presidential race, this anti-occupation sentiment could explain at least some of the appeal held by Donald Trump.

While Trump hasn’t put forth a coherent foreign policy and struggles with important concepts such as nuclear proliferation and what NATO’s function is, he has managed to tap into a portion of the electorate concerned that our government isn’t putting American interests first.

In my view, it’s too bad voters rejected the one presidential candidate who advocated an intelligent and pragmatic non-interventionist foreign policy: Senator Rand Paul.

Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to know that, while fighting terrorism is a priority for the public, “spreading democracy” isn’t the way to address the issue.

As Rand Paul said during a Republican presidential debate in December:

There are often variations of evil on both sides of a war. What we have to decide is whether or not regime change is a good idea. It’s what the neoconservatives have wanted. It’s what the vast majority of those on the stage want. They still want regime change. They want it in Syria. They wanted it in Iraq. They wanted it in Libya. It has not worked. Out of regime change you get chaos. From the chaos you have seen repeatedly the rise of radical Islam. So we get this profession of, oh, my goodness, they want to do something about terrorism. And yet they’re the problem, because they allow terrorism to arise out of that chaos.

According to the data, a majority of Americans are on his side.

America’s Opioid Crisis is Finally Being Addressed, But Some Communities Feel Rightfully Slighted

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Originally published at EveryJoe

The long-brewing American opioid abuse crisis has reached epidemic levels. 2014 saw 29,000 opioid related deaths, the highest on record. And in 2013, drug overdoses were the leading cause of death in the United States. This issue stems in part from increased societal dependence on prescription painkillers, which if unchecked, can lead to life threatening addictions, some of which spiral into heroin use.

As the New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer recently reported, “The drug emergency has become increasingly pervasive, and in places rarely associated with issues like opioid addiction. An epidemic of abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin, often abused when the prescription drugs run out, has swept the United States, with overdose deaths quadrupling since the late 1990s.” This has led to a panicked but arguably necessary response from the federal government, culminating in a recent Senate bill that enjoyed rare near-unanimous bipartisan support.

“The [Senate] measure authorizes money for various treatment and prevention programs for a broad spectrum of addicts, including those in jail. It also strengthens prescription drug monitoring programs to help states and expands the availability of the drug naloxone, which helps reverse overdoses, to law enforcement agencies,” wrote Steinhauer. And as she added, “It also increases disposal sites for prescription medications that are often abused by teenagers and others.”

President Obama has taken this issue up as well, with his work culminating in a policy proposal he presented to attendees of the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit this week in Atlanta. He noted that for too long, drug addiction has been treated like a law enforcement issue rather than a public health one, and proposed an additional $1.1 billion on top of what the Senate passed. The basic goal of Obama’s program is to fund state level projects aimed at expanding medical treatment for drug addiction.

As a national response to the glaring opioid crisis the nation faces finally takes shape, there are several questions. From my libertarian perspective, there’s always the question of whether the federal level is the best place to address these matters. In a utopian world, the answer is no, this shouldn’t be up to the Feds. But as far as steps in the right direction go, I’m happy to see a shift from the longstanding War on Drugs mentality to one that looks at drug use as medical rather than legal. Insofar as there are resources to be allocated federally, I’ll take the option that doesn’t end in prison for nonviolent offenders.

It’s important to note however that for many communities this attitude shift, while representative of policy progress, is bittersweet. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who voted for the aforementioned Senate bill, has long noted that the War on Drugs has a disproportionate impact on communities of color; a point that garnered him attention from constituencies not generally associated with the Republican Party. It’s an issue he’s long promote in the Senate, and was something he focused on in his presidential campaign as well.

As Sen. Paul told CNN nearly two years ago, “Three out of four people in prison are black or brown for nonviolent drug use. However, when you do surveys, white kids are doing drugs at an equal rate, and they are a much bigger part of the population. So, why are the prisons full of black and brown kids? It is easier to arrest them. It is easier to convict them. They don’t get as good of attorneys. And, frankly, they live in the city in a much more collected fashion than in the suburbs, and so the police are patrolling the city more. But it is unfair. The War on Drugs has had a racial outcome, unintentionally, but it has a racial outcome. And I want to try to fix it.”

And it’s exactly the racial outcome Sen. Paul rightly described that now has many communities of color feeling perhaps newfound sympathy in response to the opioid problem, while good, should have been extended to the black community when they were castigated as thugs for the late 20th century crack epidemic.

In the wake of President Obama’s recent proposal, PBS interviewed Ekow Yankah, a professor at New York’s Cardozo School of Law. He made several interesting points. As he noted, “Thirty years ago, America was facing a similar wave of addiction, death and crime, and the response could not have been more different. Television brought us endless images of thin, black, ravaged bodies, always with desperate, dried lips. We learned the words crack baby.”

“Back then, when addiction was a black problem, there was no wave of national compassion,” he added. “Instead, we were warned of super predators, young, faceless black men wearing bandannas and sagging jeans. African-Americans were cast as pathological. Their plight was evidence of collective moral failure, of welfare mothers and rock-slinging thugs and a reason to cut off all help. Blacks would just have to pull themselves out of the crack epidemic. Until then, the only answer lay in cordoning off the wreckage with militarized policing.”

This certainly does invoke an image of a racially biased understanding, rife with evidence of how people in power are able to compartmentalize issues such as these – until the tragedy starts affecting their own communities – or even families. As Yankah added, “Today, police chiefs facing heroin addiction are responding not by invoking war, but by trying to save lives and get people into rehab. Suddenly, crime is understood as a sign of underlying addiction, rather than a scourge to be eradicated.”

While the racial biases are unsettling and should, as Sen. Paul and others have noted, be addressed on a systemic level, it’s good to see that at the very least, public policy is moving in the right direction. While it apparently took white people dying at the hands of opioid addiction to create a shift in attitude, the shift is positive. But it shows that so much more needs to be done on a cultural level to prove that addiction isn’t a moral failing present only in communities of color; it’s something that impacts all Americans. We can only hope that from here on out, the lesson has been learned on a broad enough basis that demilitarization around drug use will happen in all communities. The time to end the failed War on Drugs has long passed.

A heartwarming new approach to helping veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress

Monday, March 21st, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Cole Lyle is a 26-year-old veteran of the War in Afghanistan. Upon returning home to Texas, he faced what so many of his fellow soldiers contend with: Unrelenting bouts of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTS) that upended the life he’d known before his deployment.

Burdened with the weight of carrying his experiences and being thrown back into civilian life without his Marine support system, Cole found himself in a dark place. The counseling and medications provided by the Veterans Administration (VA) weren’t quelling his nightmares or anxiety.

But Kaya, a service dog he eventually obtained, worked wonders.

Kaya helped Cole channel his despair into a constructive force, but it took countless hours of self-reflection and grueling work. Last week, the legislation Cole poured his heart and soul into for over two years was finally made a reality when the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act was introduced in Congress.

The bill, filed by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fl.) has 19 original bipartisan co-sponsors. It would create a five year pilot program at the cost of $10 million – a drop in the bucket compared to what’s spent on other VA approved therapies, many of which fail veterans.

The legislation would allow the VA to partner with organizations that already provide service dogs to veterans, giving them the resources to match Assistance Dog International (ADI) certified animals with those in need.

Regarding the bill, Rep. DeSantis said, “As we face an epidemic of veteran suicides, we must make sure that all of our returning servicemembers are honored and taken care of, no matter the wounds they bear.”

Cole’s path toward obtaining Kaya, who inspired him to pursue the PAWS Act, wasn’t an easy one.

In his darkest post-deployment hours, Cole struggled to find his purpose. He opened up about his experiences to Rare, saying, “I knew I’d reached, to channel Reagan, a time for choosing in my own life.”

As he explained, “When they were in the military, veterans had a purpose, had a mission. They get out, and it all gets ripped away from them. And that’s where I found myself.” Said Cole, “I didn’t have my Marine friends to lean on anymore. I got divorced. I didn’t have a job at the time. I had to take a hard look at myself.”

“This sounds crazy,” he explained, “But I locked myself in a room for a day with a Bible and a notepad. I said I’m not going to leave the room until I figure out what I want to do long term and have a reasonable plan to achieve it.”

“What I came up with was public service,” he said.

This led Cole both to Washington D.C., and to Kaya: A perfect pairing that inspired the PAWS Act, and provided him with a mission focused on helping his fellow veterans.

As Cole explained to Rare, after he decided to pursue public service, he also focused on making some other life changes. “I decided that I didn’t want to take pills anymore. I was going to try to seek alternative therapy,” he said. “I asked around. I talked to psychiatrists. I talked to a of number people. They said I should try a service dog, but the VA doesn’t provide them.”

Cole was connected with nonprofits that provide the dogs. But they had wait times of up to a year-and-a-half, and the dogs could cost up to $20,000 each. He knew that was too long of a timeframe, so he took action on his own. Cole ultimately acquired Kaya through a breeder that provides dogs for the nonprofits that do this work. He got her ADI certified. He paid for all of her vet and training bills. This cost him $10,000 of his own money.

But according to Cole, it was well worth it.

“I got Kaya and started utilizing her on a day to day basis in May of 2015,” he said. “Around that time, I saw an immediate decline in symptoms. I’d already had her for a few months before she went to her official training. And even then, before she was trained, I could see there was an improvement.”

“Once Kaya had been trained to wake me up from nightmares, and I could trust that she was there and I had peace of mind that there was somebody to be with me when I was struggling with these symptoms, I saw these symptoms subside,” said Cole.

Amazingly, Kaya was able to help Cole when VA approved medication and therapy didn’t. This experience translated into a passion. And as fate would have it, Cole’s focus on public service and self-improvement culminated in what is now the PAWS Act.

As Cole explained, he was walking with Kaya on Capitol Hill one day, when a Senator noticed and approached them. “He asked me why I had Kaya,” said Cole. “I told him I was a veteran and that she helps me with my PTS.”

Cole went on to describe how he had to pay for her out of pocket. “The Senator told me, in no uncertain terms, that this was crap, and invited me to his office so we could draft a policy solution.”

This set Cole on the path that has become his unrelenting passion. “This is a bipartisan issue. It really doesn’t matter where you are on the ideological spectrum. Everybody agrees that taking care of veterans is an obligation of a congress that sends them to fight,” said Cole.

As Cole has explained to every politician he’s spoken with, “If Kaya has helped me so much so quickly, when other treatments failed, why is it not the VA’s responsibility to give this option to other veterans that are struggling?”

Cole also noted that, based on data from the VA’s own study, 22 veterans a day commit suicide. And this study was only performed in 21 states. The full number is tragically, likely much higher.

It’s also true that many veterans fall victim to addictions that can spiral into dangerous behavior. As a study from the Citizens Commission on Human Rights International noted, “One in 6 service members were taking a psychoactive drug in 2010. Researchers identified 25 psychiatric drugs as proportionately associated with violence.”

Given these disturbing facts, isn’t it the VA’s obligation to explore all treatment alternatives? This is what Cole is focused on as he walks the streets of Washington with Kaya at his side. He’s a living testament to the benefits a therapy dog can provide to PTS sufferers. And he’s doing everything he can to share his story, inspiring others along the way.

As Cole said, “I’m not trying to take away other options like medication. But we want to make sure veterans have a wide swathe of options so they have different ways of healing available to them for mental health issues.”

Whether the PAWS Act will gain immediate traction is yet to be seen, but Cole has just begun to fight. He’s working to set up meetings with any member of Congress willing to listen. As Cole told Rare, “ I don’t deal with my symptoms as often anymore because have Kaya. I just want other veterans to have this opportunity.”

“I want to veterans to focus on getting a sense of purpose back. And a dog, on a small, simple level, forces you to wake up in the morning. They need to go outside. They need exercise. It gives you a sense of purpose because it gives you something to love and something to take care of. And that’s something that pills or therapy will just never do,” said Cole.

For more information on the PAWS Act and advocacy around it, you can visit www.PAWSAct.com.

After being “Against Trump,” this famous conservative magazine has made an endorsement

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

National Review made waves earlier this year when they dedicated an entire edition of their magazine to opposing the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. Twenty-two conservative writers produced essays explaining why they are, as the issue was titled, “Against Trump.” This helped spark the #NeverTrump campaign, that has taken hold in many corners of conservative social media.

Now, National Review is endorsing Ted Cruz for president.

As the magazine’s editors explained, “Conservatives have had difficulty choosing a champion in the presidential race in part because it has featured so many candidates with very good claims on our support. As their number has dwindled, the right choice has become clear …”

While this helps Cruz, there’s a deeper story about how it’s disappointing for Senator Marco Rubio, who continues to underperform electorally and so poorly that it’s hard to see a path to victory for him.

As of this writing, Trump has 458 delegates, Cruz has 359, and Rubio has only 151. A candidate needs 1,237 delegates to win the nomination. National Review’s editors, some of whom seemed more inclined to support Rubio, are likely seeing the writing on the wall as the 2016 primary season unfolds.

Rubio’s home state of Florida votes on March 15th. Delegate-wise, it’s a winner-take-all contest, and a do-or-die moment for the junior senator. Real Clear Politics’ polling average for Florida puts Rubio behind Trump at 39.9 percent versus 25.2 percent, with Cruz in third place at 18.2 percent.

While some recent polls indicate that Rubio is on an upward swing in Florida, it may not be enough for him to eke out a crucial victory in what some believe should be a slam dunk contest for him.

This is largely why, despite many Republicans’ reservations about Cruz, many are beginning to see him as the only candidate capable of stopping Trump. Even Senator Lindsey Graham, who ran unsuccessfully for president this cycle and eventually endorsed Jeb Bush, has softened his anti-Cruz stance. This has become more common as a desperate Republican establishment scrambles to find a Trump alternative. For example, just this week, Jeb Bush’s brother Neil joined the Cruz finance team.

Of Cruz’s conservative credentials, National Review’s editors write:

“We supported Cruz’s campaign in 2012 because we saw in him what conservatives nationwide have come to see as well. Cruz is a brilliant and articulate exponent of our views on the full spectrum of issues. Other Republicans say we should protect the Constitution. Cruz has actually done it; indeed, it has been the animating passion of his career. He is a strong believer in the liberating power of free markets, including free trade (notwithstanding the usual rhetorical hedges). His skepticism about ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ is leading him to a realism about the impact of immigration that has been missing from our policymaking and debate. He favors a foreign policy based on a hard-headed assessment of American interests, one that seeks to strengthen our power but is mindful of its limits. He forthrightly defends religious liberty, the right to life of unborn children, and the role of marriage in connecting children to their parents — causes that reduce too many other Republicans to mumbling.”

The editors did hedge their bet slightly though, adding that, “He has sometimes made tactical errors [in the Senate], in our judgment; but conflicts have also arisen because his colleagues have lacked direction, clarity, and urgency.” They also noted that, “No politician is perfect, and Senator Cruz will find that our endorsement comes with friendly and ongoing criticism.” They then cited issues with his tax plan, lack of clarity as to what he’d replace Obamacare with, and questioned his strategy for mobilizing conservatives in a general election.

Nevertheless, National Review has concluded that Cruz is currently the best candidate to stop Trump, to the extent that it’s even possible.

The March 15th primaries promise to determine what’s possible. If Trump does in fact win Florida and Ohio, both winner-take-all states, the efforts of National Review and the #NeverTrump crowd may have been in vain.

 

How Rand Paul plans to stop the sale of U.S. weapons to Pakistan

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Senator Rand Paul is about to introduce a creative resolution that would halt U.S. arms sales to the government of Pakistan.

“This power hasn’t been used since the Reagan administration,” Paul told Rare, citing a 1986 push to stop arms salesto Saudi Arabia.

Sen. Paul said it’s dangerous for the U.S. government to continue arming that country, with its long history of human rights violations, particularly against Christians.

He plans to take advantage of a little-known procedural maneuver that allows senators to object to arms sales. “I object to continuing to feed the arms race in that area of the world,” Paul said. “Once we give planes to one side, the other side will need more planes,” he added.

Paul noted Pakistan’s holding of Asia Bibi, a Christian, is troubling. “[Bibi] is on death row for supposedly criticizing the state religion. I think that’s a human rights violation to such a degree that we shouldn’t be subsidizing arm sales to a country that is persecuting any Christians,” Paul said.

Bibi has been jailed by Pakistan for five years for breaking that country’s blasphemy laws.

Paul also noted his opposition to U.S. taxpayers subsidizing this endeavor to the tune of at least $4 billion. Paul says he’s concerned because Pakistan’s behavior hasn’t been reliable.

Rare asked Sen. Paul what he believes those who support arming Pakistan expect to get from it. He explained that, “They say it’s a way to fight terrorism. But frankly, Pakistan has been an uncertain ally as far as the War on Terrorism goes.”

“There are some allegations that the ten years Osama bin Laden spent in Pakistan, that could have almost never have occurred without their knowledge,” Paul noted.

The senator noted that some politicians believe the United States influences Pakistan’s behavior by giving them weapons. Paul doesn’t buy it.

“Not only is Pakistan’s imprisonment of Asia Bibi wrong, they imprisoned Dr. Shakil Afridi, who helped us get bin Laden,” said Paul.

“Until they release those [two prisoners], I will be forcing votes on any arm sales to Pakistan,” the senator insisted.

For Sen. Paul, who since leaving the presidential race has been focusing on reelection in his home state of Kentucky, the issue also comes down to a matter of priorities.

“As I’m traveling around Kentucky and I see the looks on the faces of people who are out of work, and we have a lot of people who have lost their jobs in the coalmines, it saddens me to think of where they are, and their situations. Yet then we’re sending money to Pakistan.” Paul said.

“We don’t even have enough money take care of our people at home,” he added. “We have no business sending hundreds of millions of dollars overseas, and fueling an arms race at the same time.”

Sen. Paul said that he expects that his objection to arming Pakistan will be heard on the Senate floor during the week of March 7th.