GOP, Pandemic, Politics

They’ve Given Up…

Often in American politics, politicians are defined, retained or defeated on the basis of how well they handle a crisis.

By the verdict of history, John Kennedy handled the crisis of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962 brilliantly, preventing the very real possibility of an unwinnable nuclear exchange and insuring that the offending missiles were removed.

George W. Bush so bungled the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a giant storm that claimed 1,200 lives, that the photo of Bush flying high above the devastation in Air Force One became one of the signature images of his presidency. It didn’t help that Bush praised his incompetent FEMA director – “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of job” – when everyone knew that Michael Brown was doing an awful job. Brown resigned ten days after Bush praised his efforts.

George W. Bush looks down from Air Force One on the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005

Governors are no less graded on crisis response. So, imagine for a moment what any governor in any state in the nation would do when faced with a crisis, say a catastrophic wildfire situation. Assume the fire was raging out of control, threatening to engulf a city of significant size, and sure to threaten lives. What would any governor do?

The response would be something like this:

Declare an emergency. Mobilize the National Guard and all available state resources. Call on the White House for federal emergency assistance. Synchronize public communication with all levels of government, making sure citizens received regular, reliable, actionable information. A governor might establish a 24-hour command post and issue regular updates on efforts to control the crisis. The governor would be hands on, all day every day.

A governor would empower local officials to make immediate, life-saving decisions. A governor would back those local officials and praise their willingness to make tough decisions to save lives.

A governor would visit frontline first responders on a daily basis, extolling their bravery and sacrifice and highlighting their heroic efforts to contain and end the disaster. And, of course, the TV cameras would be there to document the effort, showing political leadership and showcasing the responders. Would the governor tolerate criticism of first responders? No way.

Would a governor lay down the law about why and how the entire state must respond to the crisis? Of course, including making the moral case that every individual’s actions can contribute to the greater good of the community. A governor might say, “If we don’t behave like we are all in this together our community will suffer huge and unacceptable losses. Every citizen simply must do their duty.” 

Would a governor order the use of chemical retardant, or permit a stand of private timber to be bulldozed to construct a fire line to contain the crisis? Without hesitation.

Almost certainly a governor would order an mandatory evacuation of citizens from their homes in order to protect lives, and then enforce an evacuation order, if necessary, with law enforcement intervention. Assume someone in the affected area objected to being ordered out of their home, it would be an affront to their freedom after all. Would a governor concerned about saving lives broker such an argument? Not a chance.

Would a governor worry that a politician who wanted his job was using the disaster to attempt to position to challenge him in the next election? A governor responding this kind of crisis would say: “I’ve had more than enough of my opponent’s nonsense and denial of the extent of this crisis. If you are listening to her, you are simply denying what you can see with your own eyes. Ignore the deniers. Protect yourself, your family, your community.”

And a governor would repeat that message over and over again. And a governor would take the heat from those who criticized and would not try to deflect responsibility for the response to the disaster. “The buck stops here,” a governor might say. “I’m the responsible officer of the government,” a leader might say.

Political leadership at this intense level in a catastrophic wildfire situation would hardly be remarkable. Indeed, it would be standard. Expected. Failure would not be an option.

Yet, in Republican states from Mississippi to Idaho governors have given up – or in most cases never really started – fighting against a natural disaster that has now headed toward claiming 700,000 American lives. Why?

GOP governors have made a simple calculation. They can’t reason with their followers about vaccines and preventive message, so they don’t try. They early on lost – or never tried to claim – the narrative about what they and their constituents faced as we edge toward the second year of COVID. They cut and ran from pushing back on efforts that have largely been successful to delegitimize local health officials. They let the lies and crass political calculations get in the way of saving lives.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves was left fumbling and speechless when questioned recently about his response to COVID by CNN’s Jake Tapper

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves recently couldn’t – or wouldn’t – answer the question as to why school children in his state had to be vaccinated for a host of diseases in order to go to school, but he opposes requiring vaccinations against COVID for teachers. His state is in crisis, with more deaths per capita than any place in the world with the exception of Peru.

Idaho’s Governor Brad Little, a re-election looming, is apparently willing to go to court to oppose a federal plan to vaccinate workers at large businesses, even though many businesses support a mandate. He ought to be embracing vaccine mandates, but Little has made his political calculation: he’s given up on efforts to fight pandemic misinformation and quietly decided that the COVID-infected unvaccinated are expendable in his quest for a second term.

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte has muzzled local health officials, refused to impose any sensible controls and now faces a cratering hospital system. The largest hospital in Billings is at 160% of its ICU capacity and is using hallways to care for COVID patients, almost all unvaccinated. “The problem is,” said Brad Von Bergen, the Billing Clinic’s ER manager, “we are running out of hallways.”

In the face of hospital systems in collapse and bodies stacking like cord wood, GOP governors have made the morally reprehensible decision to play politics to try to ensure their own future political viability rather than do what is required to save lives. It is a response of craven indifference, unlike any other in anyone’s lifetime. “It’s like we’re seeing the de-evolution of humanity, right in front of our eyes,” said Chris Roth, the CEO of Idaho’s St. Luke’s Health System told the Idaho Capitol Sun, as he surveyed the wreckage attendant to operating under crisis care standards. Roth is right.

The question for Republican governors is as simple as their callousness is obvious: amid so much death and suffering how do they manage to live with themselves?

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Additional Reading:

From my reading list to yours…a few suggestions this week

Anthony Doerr: ‘Rather than write what I know, I write what I want to know’

Happy to say I know the Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Doerr and he’s just as nice a guy as you can imagine. His new book – Cloud Cuckoo Land – is out later this month and The Guardian has a fun Q-A.

“I’d been researching the history of defensive walls to write All the Light We Cannot See, particularly Hitler’s Trump-like dream of a wall from Sweden to Portugal, and everything I read would mention Constantinople, whose walls withstood 23 sieges over 1,100 years. I was like, Constantinople? We didn’t learn about it at school for one second. But rather than write what I know, I write what I want to know, which was how those walls protected Byzantine book culture.”

Here’s the link:


The Supreme Court has overturned precedent dozens of times in the past 60 years

All eyes will be here

Does the Supreme Court respect judicial precedent? It depends. The question has come front and center given the recent passage of extremely restrictive abortion legislation in Texas, and the Court’s willingness to let it stand, at least so far.

“Beginning with the Rehnquist court, justices have become more willing to reject precedents they think were badly reasoned, simply wrong, or inconsistent with their own senses of the constitutional framers’ intentions. Justice Clarence Thomas has taken this position on abortion. Justice Amy Coney Barrett during her Senate confirmation hearing argued that Roe is not a so-called superprecedent, a decision so important or foundational that it cannot be overturned.”

A good primer of what will be in the news for a long time to come.


Nick Kristof: Oregon Governor?

I’m generally skeptical of folks who assume going from the private sector to political life is an easy move. It does happen, of course, but rarely, and rarely successfully. It’s looking more and more like New York Times columnist Nick Kristof is going to make the play.

“Beyond speculation about Kristof’s motivation lies a bigger question: Does he even stand a chance? With Governor Kate Brown term-limited, the Democratic primary is wide open, giving an outsider like Kristof an opportunity to enter the political fray. ‘Today, what you have is probably a Democratic Party which is becoming more progressive in recognizable terms nationally—a deeper blue—but the class composition of it is mixed,’ says Joseph Lowndes, a political science professor at the University of Oregon. ‘As the Republican Party has become more conservative, it has lost some of its membership to Democrats more comfortable in center-Democrat kind of politics,’ he said, and one could ‘see Kristof appealing to a moderate or reform sentiment’” now in the party.

We’ll see, as they say, we’ll see:


Can the Martini-on-the-Rocks Make a Comeback?

I confess I didn’t think it had ever gone away…

“Indeed, the Martini/Manhattan on the rocks is a generational thing, a habit picked up by those Americans who came of age in the years following World War II. Adam Platt, restaurant critic at New York magazine, told me that, while his grandfather took his Martinis straight up, with a good amount of vermouth, his father preferred them dry and with ‘plenty of ice.'”

Pull up a chair and pour a cold, cold one.


Many thanks for reading. Be careful out there.

Conspiracy, GOP

Anatomy of a Conspiracy

During a career devoted to little more than climbing the political ladder, Idaho Senator James E. Risch has been defined by a handful of moments when his outrageous behavior made news.

Risch’s greatest hits include the time he sprinted around the gallery of the Idaho state senate ordering state police officers to arrest demonstrators who had the audacity to object to something the then legislative leader was involved in.

Risch brought the U.S. Senate to a prolonged late-night halt in 2018 when he objected to a provision in a spending bill to name a central Idaho wilderness after a political rival, former governor Cecil D. Andrus. Risch threw a “temper tantrum” during which the Idaho Statesman editorial board called “a petty and embarrassing episode.” Andrus, who disliked few people made an exception for Risch, and the former governor had been dead for months when Risch displayed his pique.

The Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune ran a classic headline about the scene: “Risch picks fight with dead man, loses.”

When the Senate debated whether to impeach Donald Trump for his shakedown of the Ukrainian president, Risch fell asleep. A sketch artist captured the diminutive ultra conservative napping, head in hands. Spokesman Review columnist Shawn Vestal noted, correctly: “Nothing so clearly represents the nothing-matters, say-anything nature of the GOP response to impeachment, the collective, cynical shrug in the face of a slam-dunk case, as Sleeping Beauty Risch.”

Artist version of Risch napping during Trump impeachment trial

In contrast to his embarrassments, Risch’s accomplishments rarely make news for the simple reason he doesn’t do politics that way. He’s a partisan striver, always touching the right conservative talking points, always on the attack, but never doing the hard work of actually addressing an issue that might be important to his constituents. But that MO is good enough anymore to get a replacement level Republican elected and re-elected in Idaho. And Risch has been elected time and again – with one notable exception – since the 1970’s.

Look up “career politician” in the dictionary and you’ll find a photo of Jim Risch.

Risch has clearly reached the zenith of his political career. After a short run as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Risch is now the ranking Republican on what once was considered the most prestigious committee in the Senate. This week the junior senator from Idaho used that position to advance a right-wing conspiracy theory growing faster than Pinocchio’s nose.

For weeks there has been a constant drumbeat of conspiracy to the effect that President Joe Biden is a tottering idiot, not in command of the government let alone himself. You can see this lie promoted daily on Fox, OANN, at Breitbart, and the Rupert Murdoch owned New York Post. Trump himself suggested this week that former president Barack Obama “is probably running the government now anyway, according to many.”

Many people are saying this is head slapping, crazy-town nonsense, but Risch fanned this silliness during a Senate hearing this week, repeatedly asking Secretary of State Antony Blinken about a “mute” button that some unnamed official in the White House allegedly uses to cut off Biden, presumably to keep him from blurting out, like Risch, something silly. Blinken said, repeatedly, it was nonsense.

As reporter Amber Phillips noted: “The senator’s line of questioning seemed derived from conservative media. Fox News commentators were questioning the same thing that same morning, noted Daily Best media report Justin Baragona.”

Assessing Risch’s descent down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole Dana Milbank wrote, “The episode is worth unpacking because it shows, in miniature, how misinformation infects the Republican Party, rapidly spreads through partisan media and contaminates elected GOP leaders — who amplify and defend the falsehood, even when it’s shown to be wrong. This is how lies are born.”

Short story: when Biden was in Boise early in the week he met with Idaho’s governor and wildland fire officials at the National Interagency Fire Center. As is typical with the White House – any White House – a press “pool” is allowed to “spray” the gathering and then is ushered out. This is what happened in Boise. Biden’s mic wasn’t cut. The pool coverage of the event ended. It’s routine. It’s not a conspiracy.

(Some Idaho reporters were miffed that they had limited access to Biden, which I understand, but that is a separate issue. The White House – any White House – typically tightly controls this kind of access. Maybe they shouldn’t, but they do.)

Risch took this little non-issue, subsequently amplified by a Republican National Committee social media posting and a New York Post article and made a federal case of it. More importantly, Risch used almost half his time during a hearing where Blinken was on the hot seat about the clearly badly handled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan talking about a make-believe White House “mute” button. None of his questions were designed to illicit real information. It was all a performance for the cameras.

If there is a better example of how unserious American politics on the political right has become, I don’t want to see it. But Risch’s motivation was as clear as his questions were crazy. He was angling to land on Fox News, and of course he did the obligatory “hit” with Bret Baier.

Risch is, by the way, 78-years old, the same age as the president he attacks for being too old for the job.

But one suspects there is even more to Risch’s motivation for raising his phony issue with the secretary of state, and in the process channeling a Trumpish conspiracy. There are no coincidences in politics and often cause and effect.

Less than a month ago, conservative Idaho firebrand Bryan Smith excoriated Risch in a newspaper op-ed for his vote in favor of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure proposal. Smith, a leading figure in the ongoing effort to push the Idaho GOP to the rightwing edge of the earth, said Risch’s vote – and Senator Mike Crapo’s – was proof that the Republican senators have been in office too long.

“The fact is that the longer Risch and Crapo serve in Washington, the more they become like the liberal swamp they claim they are fighting against,” Smith wrote, attempting to make the case that Idaho’s senators are closet liberals.

Risch has always been a purely transactional politician, so what better way to shut down attacks from the flat earth right than to embrace a favorite conspiracy theory of the flat earth right. You can’t reason with them, might as well fully join them.

It would be tempting to treat Jim Risch’s latest embarrassment as just another example in the long history of his blatantly ill-natured partisanship, a part of his life-long effort to protect his hard right flank, but unfortunately it is more than that. Risch’s performance is now the Republican brand: conspiracy, conceit and contempt for truth.

Idaho voters should have muted him a long, long time ago.

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Additional Reading:

A few other items worth your time…

9/11 was a test. The books of the last two decades show how America failed

Great piece in The Washington Post on the books of the last two decades that explore the events of September 11 and the aftermath.

“Rather than exemplify the nation’s highest values, the official response to 9/11 unleashed some of its worst qualities: deception, brutality, arrogance, ignorance, delusion, overreach and carelessness. This conclusion is laid bare in the sprawling literature to emerge from 9/11 over the past two decades — the works of investigation, memoir and narrative by journalists and former officials that have charted the path to that day, revealed the heroism and confusion of the early response, chronicled the battles in and about Afghanistan and Iraq, and uncovered the excesses of the war on terror. Reading or rereading a collection of such books today is like watching an old movie that feels more anguishing and frustrating than you remember.”

Here is the link:


Trump-Era Corruption Eclipses Even Teapot Dome

Good piece in The Bulwark where the author argues – I agree – the corruption in the recent Trump Administration makes Warren Harding’s corruption seem pretty tame.

Trump corruption worse than Teapot Dome

“The Teapot Dome saga began in 1921, in the first months of Warren Harding’s administration. At the center of the scandal loomed Albert Fall, a lawyer from New Mexico who was in his second term in the U.S. Senate when his close friend Harding tapped him to be secretary of the interior. Harding’s first choice for the job—the oilman whose money had done much to win Harding the Republican nomination—died after being shot by his mistress. Harding knew Fall, an anti-conservationist, would be amenable to using the office to pay back the oil interests.”

I like the piece, but do have one nitpick historical correction. The author mentions Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana as at one point leading the Teapot Dome investigation. It’s a mistake repeated many times and I have never understood why. Wheeler was an investigator of the Harding Administration, but his focus was on the Justice Department and Attorney General Harry Daugherty. Wheeler’s Montana colleague, Senator Tom Walsh, was the lead investigator of the oil leasing scandal.

Shameless plug: I wrote a book about Wheeler and all this.

In any event…it’s still a good piece. Link here:


100mph fastball? 450ft home run? Why that’s no problem for Shohei Ohtani

And a great baseball story. The Japanese ballplayer who pitches as well as he hits, or is it the other way around.

“As his fourth season concludes, Shohei Ohtani showed he can do more than acclimate himself to a new culture or put himself in position to be the American League’s Most Valuable Player. At 27, Ohtani is beginning to assert the kind of multidimensional dominance that few athletes have displayed.”

From The Guardian:


Thanks for following along. Stay safe.

Idaho Politics, Pandemic

When Political Leaders Fail…

In 1968, journalist Tom Wicker – he covered politics and wrote a column for the New York Timesproduced a little book about the diverse personalities he observed during the presidencies of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Wicker was an observer, not a partisan, and he had a sharp eye for detail. I stumbled across the book recently and was surprised to find it remains a compelling read – an insightful account of when political leadership works and when it fails. One passage stays with me.

“The first and most fundamental task of the American politician ought to be that of public education,” Wicker wrote, “the enlightenment of the electorate he represents, a constituency that in the nature of the case and in the process of its own busines will not have the time, opportunity, or inclination that he had to inform itself about the realities of an ever more complex and shrinking world.”

Imagine that: the chief job of a politician ought to be educating his/her constituents.

As northern Idaho plugged into the dank and dangerous waters of a health care system in breakdown it is worth pausing for a moment to consider how one entire state has reached the point where it’s first-world health care system is in chaos. Ten Idaho hospitals and health care systems are now dealing with rationing health care because their facilities are overrun with unvaccinated patients and lacking adequate staff. Republicans, it seems, have finally found their “death panels.”

The simple answer to the question of how Idaho got here is, of course, a deadly strain of virus – the Delta variant of COVID-19 – but the deeper and even more troubling answer relates to propaganda, misinformation, political manipulation, and a rank inability by many of our fellow citizens to think critically and act responsibly during a crisis.  

The Idaho Capitol Sun presented a remarkable example of all this earlier this week in an interview with a physician in the mountain town of McCall, Idaho. Dr. Patrick Kinney is at the end of understanding.

“We just don’t understand why people have trusted us for years,” Kinney told reporter Audrey Dutton, “and they’ve gone through all manner of uncomfortable things on our recommendation. Right? Like every 10 years, they’ve agreed to letting us put a 6-foot camera up their butt for a colonoscopy. Every year or three years or five years … they’ll get up in the stirrups, get a cold metal speculum put in their vagina for a Pap smear. And, you know, get a flu shot and get a pneumonia shot, get a shingles shot.”

Yet, Kinney said, with this deadly virus it’s different. “It’s like you just say the words ‘COVID vaccine,’ and their faces change, their eyes glaze over,” Kinney said. “They somehow feel like they’ve got better information than we do. And I don’t understand it, I really don’t. I don’t get it.”

Here’s the cultural and political reality: the origin story of where Idaho began to change – go off the rails – goes back to when the state became the exclusive reserve of one political party that has increasingly found itself playing to the most extreme elements in that party. Idaho has become a case study of what happens to a state where political leaders, over an extended period of time, systematically underfunded education, denied science, debased expertise, and lied to supporters about a host of issues.

The breakdown in basic trust of public institutions – hospitals, doctors, health districts, scientists – the near total disdain for education and the rejection of expertise are all aspects of a political system that seeks to appease its most far out members rather than lead them. Little wonder Idaho’s vaccination rates are among the worst in the country.

Consider one example. Earlier this year, the overwhelmingly Republican Idaho Legislature voted to strip the power of local public health districts issuing orders related to public health. Only partisan county commissioners – most of whom have refused to act or embraced conspiracy and misinformation – were left with any meaningful role in dealing with the kind of public health emergency that has now taken Idaho hospitals to the edge.

“Listening to experts to set policy is an elitist approach,” Republican state senator Steven Thayn declared, as he perfectly summarized the deadly incoherence of the GOP’s governing elite. “I’m also fearful that it leads to totalitarianism,” Thayn said, “especially when you say well, we’re doing it for the public good.”

Hospitals in northern Idaho, overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, are now rationing health care

It was then totally predictable that the health district serving Idaho’s capitol city would act recently to appoint to its board a patently unqualified, COVID denying pathologist. That doctor, Ryan Cole, immediately began dispensing policy advice, the kind of advice that is apparently OK in Idaho since it conforms with what the most fevered Republican voters want to hear.

“I think we need to be prudent and say it’s time to let children be children, Delta is going to spread, we cannot stop it,” Dr. Cole told the board of a local charter school. “Everybody’s essentially going to get it.” In short: ignore science, let them die.

Cole’s advice, of course, contradicts vast expert opinion about how to control the pandemic, and completely ignores the deaths that can be prevented. Southern Idaho is almost certainly now headed toward the level of hospital crisis already overwhelming the north.

Yet, no Idaho Republican of standing – the governor, statewide elected officials, the congressional delegation, the party’s legislative leadership – has had a word to say about the lies and misinformation. Doing so, let’s be honest, would subject them to instant abuse, perhaps physical threats, and certain political challenge.

The impacts of the wholesale political manipulation of conservative voters we are seeing now has been a long time coming. The serial Republican lies – tax cuts pay for themselves, Marxists runs higher education, climate change is a hoax, liberal judges are the activists, immigrants and refugees present a danger to America, an election was stolen – and the fears these lies spawn have swamped the political right for decades. Little wonder people began to believe them.

Republican elected officials, the handful who really know better, know they have lost any ability to educate and reason with many of their followers. They stood by in silence while Fox News polluted cable television, while the crackpots at the Idaho Freedom Foundation defined the party’s agenda, while a corrupt con man took over their party, and while lies and misinformation kill thousands.  

To those who harbor a belief that this will change, that reason and enlightenment will one day seep back into conservative politics, I say – get over it. Most Republicans aren’t even trying to educate and inform their electorate. They are afraid of what will happen if they suddenly begin to speak the truth. We should all be afraid of what will continue to happen now that they have quit trying.

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Additional Reading:

A few items I came across this week that I hope will be of interest…

Jimmy Carter and Afghanistan

There are two excellent new biographies of President Jimmy Carter, including The Outlier by Kai Bird.

Bird had a piece recently in The Washington Monthly charting Carter’s connection to the long U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. It’s good history, and a reminder of why hot takes on current events often miss the long backstory.

“If you think America’s exit from this Central Asian country concluded a 20-year war, think again. Some forgotten history goes a long way to explaining how we got where we are. The United States first intervened in Afghanistan in the summer of 1979—six full months before the Soviet Union’s land invasion—when Carter was president. Prodded by his hawkish national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter reluctantly agreed to authorize a small covert action program to provide aid to a motley group of mujahideen guerrilla forces challenging the central government in Kabul. Take note: These mujahideen were extreme Sunni Muslim fundamentalists, and more than a decade later they would morph into the Taliban. But they were anti-communists—and for Brzezinski, who viewed the world with Cold War blinders, that’s all that mattered.”

A helpful reminder of how we got mired down in a place we didn’t understand and still don’t. Here’s the link:


George W. Bush’s Wars are Now Over. He Retreated a While Ago.

This Washington Post story is in the same category. Fearless prediction: the eventual verdict of history will not be kind to the president – George W. Bush – who initiated a war in Afghanistan and then got diverted to a war in Iraq.

It didn’t go quite to plan…

“Bush’s own popularity has clearly benefited from his time out of office. Irrelevance proved to be a disinfectant. In 2018, a poll from CNN found that Bush was viewed favorably by about 6 in 10 Americans. It got to the point where another familiar face had to come out from retirement to stage an intervention.

“‘I just wanted to address my fellow Americans tonight, and remind you guys that I was really bad,’ Will Ferrell said, reprising his role as Bush for an SNL guest spot in 2018 year. ‘Like, historically not-good.’”

Tough, but nasty, too.


How to Make a Netflix-Style Documentary

I have to say – I’m a big fan of Netflix. And a fan of documentaries like the kind that you find all the time on the streaming service. Heck, I even made a couple documentaries back in the days of black and white TV.

So, this is fun.

“In this short video, YouTuber Paul E.T. shows how you can make a Netflix-style true crime documentary about anything. Even stolen toast. The equipment needs are pretty minimal – a good camera, a couple of lenses, some lighting, and a decent mic. The magic is in the editing.”

It’s short…and funny. The link:


Thanks much for reading. Stay safe.

Pandemic

The Personal Responsibility Myth…

Our hearts go out to folks in Louisiana – and now in New York – who have been battered again by a deadly hurricane. Hurricane Ida was one of the most powerful storms to hit the region in memory. Earlier this week more than a million people were without electricity, and the outages could last for weeks. At least one person died. The property damage will be in the billions.

By most accounts, Louisianans in the path of the awful storm obeyed mandatory evacuation orders issued by local and state government agencies. People getting out of the way of the storm almost certainly saved countless lives.

Terrebonne Parish in extreme southern Louisiana was one place where residents weren’t given a choice: leave your homes, leave most of your belongings and get the heck out.

Thousands fled, under “mandatory” evacuation orders, from a deadly storm. But we can’t wear a mask or get a free drug to help end a deadly pandemic?

“Terrebonne Parish is as prepared for the impacts of this storm as we can be,” said the top official in the parish. “Nevertheless, given the projected strength and storm surge of Hurricane Ida, we must ask residents to evacuate for their safety. We will continue to monitor the situation during the storm and provide critical information concerning developments that impact the parish and public safety during the storm.” 

As of this writing a curfew remains in effect in Terrebonne and residents are barred from returning to their homes. In neighboring Lafourche Parish, the sheriff was imploring evacuees not to return home. In a statement, the sheriff’s office said “deputies have been deployed in full force today responding to emergencies, searching for those who need help, and helping clear roads. Curfew remains in effect and will be STRICTLY enforced.”

So, a deadly, destructive hurricane comes crashing ashore in one of the most politically conservative states in the country and the government there tells people that in order to save lives they must abandon their homes and cannot return under threat of police action.

This must surely count as an impressive example of people under stress and facing great danger exercising a remarkable level of individual responsibility. People in Louisiana, no doubt many preferring to stay put and ride out a huge storm, chose instead to protect themselves and opted not to put more stress on law enforcement and disaster responders.

Meanwhile, the government, in order to control a deadly virus that has claimed 640,000 American lives – nearly six times the population of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana – has encouraged – not mandated, but encouraged – our fellow Americans to avail themselves of life-saving vaccine. In Louisiana barely 41% of the population has been vaccinated.

We know that the vast majority of those rejecting the vaccine live in areas where the former president of the United States commanded a majority. These folks are almost all conservatives, self-styled rugged individuals who claim to be smart enough to take care of themselves and who embrace the old Reagan Era mantra of “personal responsibility.”

Frankly, that is a crock and in fact the opposite is true. Republicans have become the party of personal irresponsibility.

As the writer David Litt noted recently: “In this new, topsy-turvy definition of individual liberty, some Americans are free to put their neighbors at risk, while other Americans are barred by the government from trying to keep their own employees, customers, and even children safe. Deciding whether to get the vaccine or remain unvaccinated is technically still a choice – but the Republican party is doing everything it can to make choosing the latter easier than choosing the former.”

Almost all of the unvaccinated say it’s a matter of their personal choice to ignore a free, safe and lifesaving medicine. Their excuses for refusing to protect themselves and the rest of us vary, but essentially it comes down to “you can’t make me.”

Appeals to common sense don’t work because common sense requires critical thinking. Some of these people would rather take a livestock dewormer, gag down vast amounts of vitamin D or spray themselves with chlorine than accept a proven treatment. The Mississippi health department, a state run wild with COVID hospitalizations, the vast majority among unvaccinated people, has been warning against the use of the horse medicine, ivermectin, because people who have ingested it have suffered “rash, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, neurological disorders, and potentially severe hepatitis requiring hospitalization.”

You can almost hear the conversation at the breakfast table. “Hey, Helen, let’s try some of this horse paste for our COVID. I read about it on the Internet. Gotta be better than some vaccine developed by a bunch of silly ol’ scientists.”

If people in Louisiana can follow a directive to flee from a deadly storm, we all ought to be able to reason our way to the use of a medicine that only does one thing: saves lives.

Here’s some personal responsibility for you.

Quit listening to bloviating television talk show hosts and politicians bent on division about science and medicine. Take personal responsibility for seeking out honest, factual information about COVID and vaccines.

The misinformation – out right lies – on Fox and other right wing outlets is appalling, and deadly

Stop placing your own personal interests in the way of kids going back to school and health care workers returning to something approaching normal. You simply can’t argue with the numbers: more than 98% of people currently sick enough to be in the hospital with COVID are not vaccinated. You may be ignorant enough to kill yourself in some misbegotten pursuit of your own personal freedom, but you are also selfishly ignoring your personal responsibility to the rest of society.

Embrace real citizenship. The world is not arrayed against you. Bill Gates isn’t trying to track you with some tiny little chip in a vaccine dose. Quit playing the victim card. Your rights aren’t being trampled. Your freedom isn’t at risk. It’s all a con by a lot of people who preach responsibility but live with little or no consideration for their fellow citizens. Selfish, uncaring nitwittery is really unbecoming.

The real victims here are the people dying every day from a disease that we can only end by getting more people vaccinated.

You got a better idea? Let’s hear it.

If not, I got some horse dewormer to sell you.

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Additional Reading:

Some suggestions for other good reads…

The Chair Is Netflix’s Best Drama in Years

I really enjoyed this six-episode series about an English Department in a stumbling “lesser Ivy” university. Great cast, great writing, great for the moment.

“In the first episode, Ji-Yoon Kim (played by Sandra Oh) has finally reached a lofty career peak as the chair of the Pembroke English department. Apprehensive and endearingly awkward in a duffel coat, she walks into her new office, unwraps a gift (a nameplate for her desk that reads fucker in charge of you fucking fucks), and sinks into her new desk chair, which promptly breaks beneath her. The pratfall is also an omen: More than the furniture is rotten at Pembroke.”

Read a review in The Atlantic:


In William Maxwell’s Fiction, a Vivid, Varied Tableau of Midwestern Life

A.O. Scott’s essays on American writers are always worthwhile. His recent piece on William Maxwell is no exception.

The novelist and editor William Maxwell

“Part of what makes Maxwell a fictional historian — as opposed to a writer of historical fiction — is a resistance to ambiguity for its own sake. Motives may not be fully rational, and reasons may not be completely knowable, but even extreme or capricious varieties of human behavior have observable patterns and causes. Maxwell spent more than a year undergoing psychoanalysis with Theodore Reik, and while his fictions are hardly Freudian case studies, they are nonetheless profoundly analytical, propelled by a spirit of inquiry more than by the mechanics of plot, and animated by a belief in overdetermination. Everything happens for so many different reasons!”

If you haven’t read Maxwell, well it’s not too late to start. This essay is a great introduction.


The Man Who Swam The Seine

Great story from GQ.

“On the morning of June 6th, 19-year-old Arthur Germain arrived at the rural town of Source-Seine, in between two national forests in northeast France, and said goodbye to his girlfriend, his parents, the town’s mayor, some journalists, and a small group of onlookers as a guitar player strummed a classically French song in the background. Then Germain disappeared into a grove of sycamores and began looking for water. He was embarking on a journey that had, to his knowledge, never been attempted, much less completed: swimming the entire length of the Seine River, all 480 miles of it, from where it begins as little more than a trickling creek just north of Burgundy all the way to the coastal town of Le Havre, in Normandy, where it meets the Atlantic.”

Read the entire piece:


The Quiet American

I’ve been re-reading The Quiet American, the 1955 novel by Graham Greene. The book, of course, is set in Vietnam nearly a decade before America’s misadventure escalated there. It has a strange – almost mystical – relevance to our time – think Afghanistan.

“You must read The Quiet American, I tell my friends, because it explains our past, in Southeast Asia, trains light on our present in many places, and perhaps foreshadows our future if we don’t take heed. It spins a heartrending romance and tale of friendship against a backdrop of murder, all the while unfolding a scary political parable. And most of all, it refuses the easy answer: The unquiet Englishman isn’t as tough as he seems, and the blundering American not quite so terrible — or so innocent.”

I went looking for some analysis of the book and found this piece. Very good.


Be careful out there. Thanks for reading.

Andrus, Politics

Our Unserious Politics…

This week marks what would have been both the 90th birthday of former Idaho governor and secretary of the interior Cecil D. Andrus, and the fourth anniversary of his death in 2017.

For more than 30 years, Andrus stood astride the state’s politics like a colossus, a bigger than life character to many Idahoans, and arguably both the best pure politician the state has ever produced and the most successful. It’s hard to believe now, given the wacky worm hole of incompetent craziness that has sucked the life and seriousness out of Idaho’s dominant Republican party, that Andrus once consistently won elections and legislative victories against real conservatives. He even occasionally brought them along for real progress. No other Idahoan has been elected governor four times, let alone a Democrat. It was no accident.

Idaho’s longest serving governor Cecil D. Andrus

Andrus is remembered, by those old enough to remember, for his sharp wit and his sharp elbows. He was a champion of political give and take. He picked his enemies as carefully as he picked his friends, and while he certainly had an ego – and a record to justify it – he rarely took himself too seriously.

He delighted in telling stories that poked fun at himself. A favorite he appropriated from his friend Arizona Congressman Mo Udall and used often. Andrus would say to a political crowd, usually in an election year, that he had been campaigning in some Idaho community where his popularity was in doubt – say Twin Falls or Rexburg – and had gone into a barber shop to secure the vote of the town barber. In and of itself that was a funny set up, since Andrus had been follically challenged from his 20’s.

Andrus would then recount his conversation with barber. “Hi, I’m Cece Andrus and I’m running for governor,” Andrus would say. Then he’d relate the barber’s response: “Yup, we were just laughing about that this morning.”

It takes style, humor and confidence to tell a joke on yourself, but it also takes one thing that Andrus had an abundance of that is so sorely missing among so many of today’s political empty suits: seriousness. Andrus would often follow his “laughing about that” story with the substance of why he loved being governor – he wanted to do things. He consistently championed a better Idaho education system. He stood up for schoolteachers. He was elected the first time on a pledge to improve Idaho’s north-south highway and protect Castle Peak in central Idaho, and he did.

He stood up to the Department of Energy on the fed’s plan to dump nuclear waste in Idaho and stopped them cold. He passed the first land use and stream channel protection laws. He created kindergartens. He appointed the first women to the state’s highest courts and when the closet bigots sought to deny a holiday celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrus made it a priority.

That is political substance, what seriousness of purpose looks like. Pause a moment and think of a current politician and then try to remember what they have done to move their community, their state, their nation forward. In most cases you’ll find a pretty empty frame. Political substance is as endangered as Northwest salmon.

While I could easily make the case that the political substance problem is asymmetrical – a lot more Republican inanity that Democratic – I’ll give in to whataboutism and make this bipartisan.

Seth Moulton, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, spent a few hours in Kabul this week, engaged in what can only be described as a political stunt. (Moulton took a Republican with him just to make the pointless stunt transparently bipartisan.) The trip only complicated security in the chaos of the American withdrawal. It had no point beyond generating attention. Will Moulton’s visit change the arc of the story line in Afghanistan? Of course not. He was engaged only in political theatre. No substance, period.

And there’s New York’s now former governor Andrew Cuomo, a disgraced serial sexual harasser who was forced to resign to avoid being impeached. Cuomo, a Democrat once considered a contender for things beyond Albany, went down whining. Cuomo could have chosen to just leave, but he left as he governed: boorish, defiant, boastful. No real apology. No self-awareness. No substance just a brooding, angry white guy whose only real purpose in politics was to wield power.

New York’s disgraced former governor Andrew Cuomo

Columnist Paul Waldman recently noted that for some politicians “pandering comes naturally.” He cited the reprehensible, substance free Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who, Waldman wrote “couldn’t tell you what time it is without sounding creepily insincere.”

All true, but you have to go some distance to top the insincere political pandering of Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance in Ohio. Most of us who read Vance’s memoir – Hillbilly Elegy – gave the young man the benefit of the doubt about what appeared to be his genuine effort to understand the despair and disillusion of so many folks in rural America. Vance initially rejected Trumpish nationalism, immigrant blaming and boastful bluster in favor of a real effort to address the opioid epidemic and the economic hollowing out of middle America. That was then.

Now Vance is a candidate, a Fox New hero, an immigrant basher – particularly Afghans – and he cleaned up his social media feed to purge evidence of his once and never again anti-Trumpism. Vance is the perfect candidate for our substance free politics. Do anything, say anything and hope the rubes won’t notice your vacuousness.

And then there is Jim Jordan. You’ve no doubt seen the bloviating Ohio congressman on cable TV, shouting at a congressional hearing or egging on the January 6 insurrectionists. “Jordan’s impact on broadcast and social media is extraordinary,” the website Just Security reported recently, where he has never – not once – peddled substance. Jordan is a serial fabulist who exists in national politics not because of his intelligence or accomplishment, but because he is a loud and skilled purveyor of garbage, conspiracy theories and misinformation. For Jordan substance is as lacking as the suit jacket he refuses to wear.

In a more serious country with more serious politics, these clowns and charlatans, and countless others like them, would be relegated to political purgatory, hooted out of office – or never elected in the first place – for the same reason you couldn’t stand the guy in high school who cared about nothing but himself. They are empty vessels. When the country cries out for the kind of principled, pragmatic leadership a Cece Andrus once provided, we get pygmies and pretenders.

We can do better. We have done better. But it won’t get better unless we demand it. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some items that I think you might find of interest…

The Rolling Stone profile of Stanley McChrystal that changed history

Amid the chaos – and tragedy – of the U.S. endgame in Afghanistan, this Rolling Stone piece from 2010 by Michael Hastings popped into my timeline. It is worth re-reading how the cashiering of a top general forecast so much about where we find ourselves.

Barack Obama sacked General Stanley McCrystal and the story still resonates

“Last fall, with his top general calling for more troops, Obama launched a three-month review to re-evaluate the strategy in Afghanistan. ‘I found that time painful,’ McChrystal tells me in one of several lengthy interviews. ‘I was selling an unsellable position.’ For the general, it was a crash course in Beltway politics – a battle that pitted him against experienced Washington insiders like Vice President Biden, who argued that a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan would plunge America into a military quagmire without weakening international terrorist networks. ‘The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,’ says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. ‘The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.'”

Here’s the link:

And there is this from ProPublica about one of the multi-million dollar boondoggles in Afghanistan.


Shipwrecked: A Shocking Tale of Love, Loss, and Survival in the Deep Blue Sea

A harrowing tale of death, sharks and rescue in the Atlantic.

“After a while, the storm settled into a predictable pattern: The boat would ride up a wave, tilt slightly to port-side and then ride down the wave, and right itself for a moment of stillness and quiet, sheltered from the wind in the valley between mountains of water. Cavanagh began to relax, but then the boat rose over another wave, tilted hard, and never righted itself. Watching the dark waters of the Atlantic approach with terrifying speed through the window in front of him, Cavanagh braced for impact. An instant later, water shattered the window and began rushing into the boat.”

A true life story – frightening and compelling.


The incredible story of Ray Caldwell, the MLB pitcher who survived a lightning strike to finish a game

And for something completely different. A wild baseball story.

“Five seconds after the bolt hits the ground, everybody looks around. The eight Indians position players are OK, but their newest teammate is not. Caldwell is on his back, arms spread wide, out cold on the mound. The lightning strike had hit him directly.

“Players rush to Caldwell, but the first man who touches him leaps in the air, saying he’d been zapped by Caldwell’s prone body.

“So everybody steps back and just stares. Caldwell’s chest is smoldering from where the bolt burned it. They’re terrified to touch him, and nobody does.

“All of them wonder: Is Ray Caldwell dead?

Read the whole thing:


Thanks for reading. All the best. Be safe.

Afghanistan, Foreign Policy, Politics

This Is On Us …

In his first book, published in 1898, the solider, politician, historian and future British prime minister Winston Churchill wrote about The Malakand Field Force, a military unit that fought native tribes in the wild region along the Indian-Afghanistan border. As junior cavalry officer in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, Churchill was a first-hand observer of the campaign.

With words that ring down through the years, Churchill, very definitely a proper English gentleman, wrote: “The difficult language, and peculiar characteristics of the tribesmen are the study of a lifetime.” To operate in this place, Churchill suggested, required mastery of the local conditions, the role played by the tribal power brokers in every village and region, and “the general history and traditions of the country.”

Winston Churchill about the time he wrote The Story of the Malakand Field Force

“Men are needed who understand the whole question,” Churchill wrote, “and all the details of the quarrel, between the natives and the Government, and who can in some measure appreciate both points of view. I do not believe that such are to be found in an army.”

Re-read that last sentence as you think about sorting through the debris of 20-years of American military intervention in Afghanistan. Then consider the words of John Sopko, the special inspector general at the Pentagon, who just released what can only be termed a scathing report on the American misadventure.

Among the inspector general’s conclusions: Not only did the United States – both militarily and diplomatically – lack a coherent strategy in Afghanistan – another way of saying we didn’t know what we were trying to accomplish – but the entire $145 billion effort was crippled by the lack of “a detailed understanding of the country’s social, economic, and political dynamics … U.S. officials [were] consistently operating in the dark, often because of the difficulty of collecting the necessary information.”

Nearly the same words Sir Winston penned at the end of the 19th Century.

The recriminations and blame assigning are in full flower, a typical if wholly ineffective Washington, D.C. reaction to a military and diplomatic failure. American politicians are terrific at hyperbole and denial, not so good at solutions.

Idaho’s Jim Risch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to cite just one example, helpfully noted this week: “We cannot treat [the Taliban] or its leaders as a legitimate government.” Risch went on to assign all the blame to the current occupant of the White House, who has lived there for eight months. “President Biden and his administration must answer for this disaster,” Risch said. “It didn’t have to be this way.”

Taliban fighters in control of Kabul…and all of Afghanistan

But of course, Risch offered no real policy ideas. What would he do not to have it this way? When Risch chaired the Foreign Relations Committee for two years during the Trump Administration not once did he hold a public hearing on American policy in Afghanistan. He could have summoned any “expert” in the world to testify. He didn’t, and only one time did Risch succeed in getting the secretary of state before his committee, and that hearing was almost entirely devoted to the department’s budget and Mike Pompeo’s ethics, or lack thereof.

You’ll search in vain for any Risch concern about the Trump negotiated deal that released 5,000 Taliban fighters and effectively did recognize the Taliban as “a legitimate government.” In June, Risch was meeting in Washington with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, who it is now reported fled the country with bags filled with millions of U.S. dollars.

Risch said at the time, “there are options in-between departing Afghanistan entirely or remaining there forever.” Risch did not – and still has not – spelled out what he meant by that. One suspects because what he said sounds better in theory than in practice.

To be sure, Risch is not alone in embracing the attitude of “don’t do anything, fail to suggest any workable approach, but keep you options open to complain.” It’s the modus operandi for official Washington. Risch is a good example, however, if only because he is so blatantly obvious about playing the game.

Let’s stipulate at least two things: Joe Biden is the responsible party. He made the call and set the timeline, but he also inherited a colossal mess that has bedeviled four presidents, two from each party.

Second, the Americans who fought, were injured and died in Afghanistan deserve our respect, admiration and thanks, even as we must hold to account those who sent them and commanded them; those who lived for 20 years in a la la land of self-delusion.

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius has consistently offered some of the most important insights into our Afghan debacle. “The hard truth is that this failure is shared by a generation of military commanders and policymakers,” Ignatius wrote this week, “who let occasional tactical successes in a counterterrorism mission become a proxy for a strategy that never was. And it was subtly abetted by journalists who were scratching our heads wondering if it would work, but let the senior officials continue their magical thinking.”

In his narrative of “magical thinking,” Ignatius quotes Admiral Mike Mullen, the former Joint Chief’s chairman, during one particularly rough patch in the long history of rough patches in Afghanistan. “We need to tell our story,” Mullen tells a group of military and diplomatic officials during a video conference, to which Ignatius remarks: “With all due respect to Mullen: The problem isn’t with the story. It’s with the reality.”

Here are two big realities in the wake for the chaotic U.S. departure from Kabul:

Americans who say they venerate our military must quit asking those soldiers to do impossible things in our names, while we largely ignore the reality of their sacrifice and steadfastly refuse to focus on serious issues. Truth be told many Americans couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map. We autopiloted this catastrophe, handing it over to a bunch of petty partisans like the junior senator from Idaho and then fell back on our tribal divisions.

Next week it we’ll be on to something else because, as Tom Nichols wrote in The Atlantic, we are unserious people governed by unserious politicians. By huge margins we originally embraced the effort in Afghanistan only to lose interest and then ignore things, at least until this week.

Unless we wise up, we’ll do it all again, and again. 

“But before we move on, before we head back to the mall,” Nichols wrote, “before we resume posting memes, and before we return to bickering with each other about whether we should have to mask up at Starbucks, let us remember that this day came about for one reason, and one reason only. Because it is what we wanted.”

Next time you’re tempted to thank a veteran for his or her service, ask yourself whether you’ve exercised your responsibilities as well as they have.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Searching high and low on the World Wide Web to bring you a few good reads…

Blame the Army, Not Biden

Kevin Drum with a provocative take.

“For partisan reasons, Republicans will blame Biden. Even some Democrats and policy experts will do the same. But it just isn’t so. Nobody wants to say this out loud, but the real blame lies with the US military.”

Short and to the point. Read it all here.


The Civil Rights Leader Who Thinks America Is “In Many Ways Worse Off Than It Was Then”

Andrew Young with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jonathan Alter talks to Andrew Young, a conversation from the Washington Monthly.

“People have every reason to be deeply concerned. This country is in many ways worse off than it was then. We don’t have a strategy for combating voter subversion. We have to depend on Congress or the Supreme Court and both are long shots now, though I haven’t given up on the Supreme Court.”

Andy Young on our present moment.


Bill Murray is Playing Golf in Ireland

I am a passionate follower of all things Irish – football, whiskey, politics. I love The Irish Times, which had this story this week about the actor Bill Murray swinging his way through the Olde Sod.

“The wires are alive with the news that Bill Murray is in Ireland to play golf. He will hack his way through courses such as Druids Glen, Rosapenna and Ballybunion for a YouTube series called The Links Life.”

Here is the link:


Nanci Griffith

The folk and country music singer/songwriter died recently at age 68 – too, too young – and what a charming, talented artist.

Nanci Griffith, 1953-2021

I’ve been playing her songs over and over this week. Including one of the classics.

“Love at the Five and Dime.”

Rita was sixteen years
Hazel eyes and chestnut hair
She made the Woolworth counter shine

And Eddie was a sweet romancer
And a darn good dancer
And they waltzed the aisles of the five and dime

Here’s a video of Nanci singing that fabulous song.


Be well, friends. Write when you get work…all the best.

Afghanistan, Foreign Policy, John Kennedy, Johnson, Obama, Vietnam

We Never Learn …

Unless you served or protested, the ignominious end of America’s tragic experience in Vietnam, a war driven by myth, hubris, political calculation and ignorance, is at best a distant memory for most of us. It’s no memory at all for Americans born after 1975, even if our history books remind us that more than 58,000 of our fellow citizens paid the ultimate price for a mistake.

America’s role in Vietnam directly bedeviled and haunted five presidents, ultimately driving two – Johnson and Nixon – from office. Every president since, whether they admit it or not, lives with the Vietnam legacy.

Lyndon Johnson was a political product of a vast, injurious and phony debate over “who lost Red China” to Communism in the 1950’s. When Johnson reached the Oval Office in 1963, he was determined not to be judged as having “lost Vietnam.”

Johnson won a landslide election in 1964 against a candidate – Barry Goldwater – who spoke casually of using nuclear weapons to win a jungle war in Southeast Asia. After that election, Johnson began the long and tragic slog to make a Vietnamese war, that had once been a French war, into an American war.

Lyndon Johnson’s presidency – and legacy – were and are haunted by the American war in Vietnam

The complicated, crass, brilliant Texan oozed cornpone, but he lived and breathed what he called “that bitch of a war,” a years-long struggle that derailed his Great Society and has permanently defined his legacy.

The great economist John Kenneth Galbraith once remarked that a friend told him had it not been for Vietnam, Johnson would be considered a great president. Galbraith replied: “If it weren’t for the Alps, Switzerland would be a flat country.” That war sticks to LBJ like Texas barbecue sauce sticks to a napkin.

Most Americans would say that Nixon was forced from the White House by the crimes of Watergate, which, of course, is correct. But those Watergate crimes had roots in Nixon’s reaction to the Pentagon Papers, an exhaustive account of the American involvement in Vietnam that was leaked to the New York Times in 1971. The papers were a damning indictment of the mendacity, political maneuvering and American delusion that led Dwight Eisenhower, then John Kennedy and finally Johnson to burrow ever deeper into a futile “land war in Asia.”

Had Nixon been as smart a political operative as he thought himself to be he would have used the evidence contained in the leaked Pentagon Papers to discredit the two previous Democratic administrations. The papers were not critical of him, after all. He had inherited the mess. But Nixon was Nixon.

As a brilliant new podcast – “Nixon at War” explains, “Nixon’s long festering paranoia and indignation zeroe(d) in on two of his most despised ‘enemies’ – the press, for publishing the government’s closely held secrets, and the leakers within his own deep state, now personified by Daniel Ellsberg, for the growing threat he believes they pose to his own buried secrets.”

Nixon ordered his political spies to break into Ellsberg’s – the leaker – psychiatrist office in search of dirt. Viola! The seeds of the Watergate break in are planted, the fate of Nixon cast. Were it not for the break ins … well, you know.

Wise voices warning of American folly in Vietnam were everywhere to be found in the 1950’s and 1960’s. During the Eisenhower Administration, Montana Senator Mike Mansfield foresaw that only the Vietnamese could create a stable, democratic government, and they certainly couldn’t accomplish that if millions of Vietnamese thought the United States was merely a colonial substitute for the French, who retreated after their own dismal Vietnam failure.

Others like Idaho’s Frank Church, Oregon’s Mark Hatfield and South Dakota’s George McGovern saw clearly where American hubris was headed. The diplomat George Kennan testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1966 – back when the committee actually had serious hearings about American foreign policy – and declared that the United States was deluded if it thought it had legitimate national security interests in Vietnam. We should get out, Kennan said.

Vermont Republican Senator George Aiken, a flinty New Englander not given to mincing words, had a blunt suggestion: declare victory and leave. We didn’t, until it was too late.

Now, a generation and more on, we have a new reckoning with the curious American belief that our arms and money and good intentions can shape a country far away for a people who have very different ideas. Our longest war – another American war of hubris – is winding down in Afghanistan, and if history is not precisely repeating it is certainly rhyming.

Helicopters carrying U.S. Army soldiers from the 1-320 Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, take off from Combat Outpost Terra Nova as the soldiers head home following a 10-month deployment in the Arghandab Valley north of Kandahar April 23, 2011. REUTERS/Bob Strong

As the Washington Post reported this week on a new secret account of the Afghan War. Ironically the Post kept printing the Pentagon Papers when the Times was enjoined from doing so, further fueling Nixon’s paranoia. The document reeks of the same stench of fabrication and dishonesty that marks the American experience in Vietnam.

Among the revelations are details of a heretofore unknown suicide bomber attack, aimed at then vice-president Dick Cheney. The Pentagon and Bush Administration flat out lied about the attack, and “how close the insurgents had come to harming Cheney.” In the wake of this lying came more lying, and “the U.S. military sank deeper into a pattern of deceiving the public about many facets of the war, from discrete events to the big picture. What began as selective, self-serving disclosures after the 2001 invasion gradually hardened into willful distortions and, eventually, flat-out fabrications.”

The Afghan Papers will be published in book form soon. The Post said in a preview: “The interviews and documents, many of them previously unpublished, show how the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump hid the truth for two decades: They were slowly losing a war that Americans once overwhelmingly supported. Instead, political and military leaders chose to bury their mistakes and let the war drift, culminating in President Biden’s decision this year to withdraw from Afghanistan, with the Taliban more powerful than at any point since the 2001 invasion.”

To Joe Biden’s credit, he made the tough call to finally end a war that America should not have fought and could not win.

Now, there will be an awful reckoning on the ground in Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires. The murderous Taliban will control most of the country, thousands of lives, many of them American, and billions in American treasure will have been squandered. It was all inevitable.

We think we can bomb and purchase our way to democracy in a country that has never had democracy and may not be capable of creating it. We try again and again to re-create the world we want only to fail.

You might think we’d learn. But we never do.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some additional items you may find of interest…

How The Pandemic Now Ends

A must read from The Atlantic’s Ed Yong.

“In simple terms, many people who caught the original virus didn’t pass it to anyone, but most people who catch Delta create clusters of infection. That partly explains why cases have risen so explosively. It also means that the virus will almost certainly be a permanent part of our lives, even as vaccines blunt its ability to cause death and severe disease.”

Yong won great recognition for his reporting on the pandemic. This piece is well worth your time.

And here is related piece by Scott Galloway that I found very interesting.


How a Trail in Rural Oregon Became a Target for Far Right Extremists

Another great piece of reporting from Leah Sottile in High Country News about how a trail has divided an Oregon community.

“In a state where politics is dominated by the urban-rural divide, it’s as if the proposed Yamhill County trail is the actual place — the exact line — where that divide begins.”

Read the entire piece:


Press Secretary Jen Psaki is Good At Mending Fences. Just Don’t Call Her Nice

The best political job I ever had was the five years I spent as press secretary to candidate and then Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus. The job, at least with the right boss, puts one daily in the midst of big events. You deal with interesting people – reporters, too. (Inside joke.) You travel with the politician. You may even have a chance to influence policy.

I’ve made an informal study of people who have been or are press secretaries. I’m convinced that Jan Psaki, the current White House press secretary, is one of the very best to ever hold the position.

White House press secretary Jan Psaki

“When Psaki first appeared in the press briefing room, in January 2021, there was a collective swoon from roughly half the country. This was largely due to what she was not doing: berating the assembled reporters, griping about CNN’s coverage of a presidential tweet, or spouting flagrant, easily disprovable lies. Like her boss, Psaki was being graded on a curve. The New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb tweeted, ‘I really should not be impressed with a calm, professional, and factual press briefing, but I am where I am.'”

Here’s the link to the piece in Vogue:


Brett Kavanaugh Without Tears

Journalist Jackie Calmes has a new book that revisits the story of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. You might have thought you knew everything there was to know about him – of perhaps everything you wanted to know.

I found this excerpt both fascinating and infuriating.

“Kavanaugh emerged from Yale Law School, two appellate clerkships, an internship with the Solicitor General, and a third clerkship at the Supreme Court as a deeply conservative but not especially partisan young man. That changed after the Solicitor General Kavanaugh worked for, Ken Starr, was appointed independent counsel to investigate the Clintons and an Arkansas real estate investment called Whitewater. In 1994, Starr invited Kavanaugh to join him for what he promised would be a short gig. It lasted nearly four years.”

From The Washington Monthly:


Giants? World Series, Anyone?

I sure hope this doesn’t jinks my favorite baseball team, but...Dieter Kurtenbach writes in the San Jose Mercury News what I’ve been thinking, but can’t bring myself to say out loud.

Buster Posey, the catcher, is the heart of a pretty amazing team

I kind of checked out of following the great game last summer, but this San Francisco Giants team has been something else.

“Now, I wish I knew exactly what it was that makes the Giants a true contender,” Kurtenbach wrote this week. “Call it gumption, togetherness, a never-say-never-ness — there’s something special about this team.”

Let’s end with a good news story.

Thanks, as always, for following along. Stay well.

Great Depression, History, World War II

We’re In This Together…

My dad was not quite 17 years old when the stock market crashed in October 1929, the unofficial starting bell of the Great Depression. As a result, he never went to college. He had no professional training beyond the self-education that comes from knowing how to operate at the business end of every kind of tool.

Yet, he always maintained he was a lucky fellow and never really had to worry, as many of his Nebraska neighbors did, about where the next meal or next mortgage payment was coming from.

In his narrative account of The Great Depression – The Hungry Years – historian T.H. Watkins relates the story of one Nebraskan, Theresa Von Baum, who worked her 80-acre farm with only the help of her sons after her husband’s death. By October 1932, three years into the depression, Mrs. Von Baum had apparently reached the end. She couldn’t make a payment on the $442 mortgage on her farm.

A farm foreclosure sale in Iowa in the 1930’s

The local bank, the carrier of the mortgage, tried to carry her for a while, but the bank failed, and a receiver showed up announcing he was there to organize a sale of the farm, the equipment and the livestock.

Then something amazing happened. As Watkins wrote, “2,500 farmers showed up.” The men surrounded the fellow now holding Mrs. Von Baum’s debt and announced, “We’ll give you $100 for that mortgage. We don’t intend to have that woman sold out.”

After first resisting and declaring that he would re-schedule the sale, the receiver finally backed down. The farmers set about holding their own auction. Cows went for 35 cents apiece. Six horses sold for a total of $5.60. Plows, a hay binder and corn planter brought a few cents. Those measly assets were combined with what the farmers collected among themselves, a total of $101.02. The animals and equipment were immediately returned to Mrs. Von Baum.

Then the farmers “handed the money to the receiver,” Watkins writes. “Probably counting heads and coming to the conclusion that forcing the issue was not likely to get him a cent more – and might get him a broken nose, or worse – he accepted the money as payment in full for the mortgage, got in his car, a drove back to town.”

It’s a small story that makes a large point. Over and over again in the face of financial disaster, genuine despair and what can only be described as the real prospect of societal collapse, Americans found a way – never perfect by any means – to get through the calamity of the worst economic decade in American history. These events, never as dramatic for my parents as for people like Theresa Von Baum, nevertheless helped define my parent’s generation.

My mother never threw away a half serving of leftover mashed potatoes, sure that she would use them somehow, and besides you don’t waste anything. My dad never left a room without switching off a light. He often told the story of his own father, owner of a farm implement dealership that he miraculously kept solvent during the worst hard times, always having an extra dime or two in his pocket for the fellows he met who needed, but couldn’t afford, a cup of coffee and a sandwich.

This generation then went off to war, a war that until the attack on Pearl Harbor, most Americans desperately hoped we would avoid. They went anyway and defeated fascism and then positioned the United States has the most powerful economic and military power on the planet.

Extensive rationing was a fixture of American life during World War II

When we think of these times, if indeed we think of them at all, it is to remember, as the historian David Kennedy has noted, that the global victory over totalitarianism, preceded by awful economic depredation, brought my parent’s generation “as far as imagination could reach, from the ordeal of the Great Depression and had opened apparently infinite vistas to the future … and inaugurated a quarter century of the most robust economic growth in the nation’s history – an era of the very grandest expectations.”

The very grandest expectations. What has happened to this America?

Why have we seemingly lost any sense of collective national will to conquer the challenges of our generation? Why have we selfishly and dangerously divided into warring tribes unable to ask and answer the most basic questions: What do we want for our children? Why do we value democracy? What is my individual responsibility to contribute to a better, more secure, stable society?

My parent’s generation struggled and survived through economic collapse and the most destructive war in human history. We are too selfish, so sure of our opinions, that we can’t unite with national and individual purpose to defeat a deadly pandemic.

One of the legacies of World War II was the beginning of the emergence of a Black middle class in America. Soldiers who fought for their country, seen France or Italy, returned to a country where they were still barely even second-class citizens. It would take another generation, and another for these Americans to begin to overcome the institutional racism of Jim Crow and poll taxes and redlining. Now, we can’t come together to admit that this American story is as much a part of our history as is the tale of that woman farmer in Nebraska.

American GIs marched down the Champs-Élysées to make Paris a free city, captured Mussolini’s Rome and liberated the Nazi death camps, yet there is nothing approaching such resolve when it comes to addressing – let alone admitting – climate change. The GI Bill educated a generation. We saddle a new generation with crushing debt. A refugee crisis on the Mexican border isn’t cause for a national strategy to understand and address why thousands of desperate people from Central America desire to come to the United States. Rather the border is just another polarizing flashpoint to score political points and foster more division.

One could argue – correctly – that America has always been divided, caught in a perpetual tug of war between our best intentions and worst impulses, a country both elevated and crippled by our history. Yet, when America has succeeded, and it has often succeeded, it was because of a shared vision that frequently required sacrifice in service to something greater than oneself.

Those Nebraska farmers who saved Mrs. Von Baum’s little plot in 1932 risked something to help others. They weren’t selfish and self-interested. Today’s America is defined by a mind-numbingly ignorant, selfish and deadly debate about whether it’s a violation of personal freedom to get free medicine to help you and your neighbors defeat a disease that has already killed 615,000 of our fellow citizens.

We can do better because we have done better. We can re-write the current story of division and discord to reflect the values of those long-ago Nebraska farmers – community, caring, sacrifice, others before self. We really are in this together. We can choose to value the future of our country more than we celebrate the self-centered impulses of the moment.

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Additional Reading:

If you are in the market for some additional reading, I have some suggestions…

The Myth of the Golden Years

I always try to read Tom Nichols, a sometimes prickly conservative, who always makes me think. He has a new book – Our Own Worst Enemy: The Assault from Within Our Modern Democracy – and an excerpt appeared in The Atlantic.

Nichols sticks a pin in our embrace of a nostalgic past, among other things. Trust me – it’s worth your time.

“The ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s are remembered now with sepia-toned nostalgia, but mostly by people who could not possibly remember any of it at all. Younger Americans hear tales from aging relatives of affordable homes and safe streets in Los Angeles, or of guaranteed union jobs waiting in Youngstown or Gary, but these are now like legends passed down through the generations. Not many Americans want to think very much about what it would actually mean in social or economic terms to go back and live in those Kodachrome moments in their minds.”

Here is the link:


Cooling Off the Senate

As a writer who has produced two books on U.S. Senate history (and who is working on a third) I have developed enormous respect for the work and people of the Senate Historical Office. The office was established in the 1970’s to preserve the history of the Senate, and obviously to help historians like me. The office produces great material, including a recent wonderful little essay about how the Senate came to have air conditioning.

“There is one complaint lodged against Washington, D.C., however, that has not changed since it was designated as the U.S. capital more than 200 years ago: the summer heat. How to handle Washington’s often stifling heat and humidity has been a perennial challenge for the U.S. Senate.”

Cooling Off the Senate…the link:


Remembering Bob Moses, 1935–2021

Bob Moses, who died recently at 86, was an immensely influential civil rights leader, but so much more. Northeastern University professor Margaret Burnham knew Moses well and she wrote a moving tribute that appeared in The Nation.

Portrait of American Civil Rights activist Robert Parris Moses, New York, 1964.
(Photo by Robert Elfstrom/Villon Films/Getty Images)

“The Harlemite who went to Mississippi in 1960 was not obviously destined to become one of our country’s most creative civil rights leaders. At that time, the aesthetic of Black political leadership required voice, and Bob’s was small and quiet. It required an announced religiosity, and Bob’s was also small and quiet. It required sharp elbows, and a sizable ego, and again, Bob’s was small and quiet. It was leadership as “high art” performance that was at the same time “authentic,” and Bob eschewed performance.”

A great and fitting tribute:


Best race ever? Warholm wins record-setting hurdles race

Norwegian hurdler Karsten Warholm

One of the greatest stories out of the Tokyo Olympics has been the astounding men’s 400 meter hurdles. Norwegian hurdler Karsten Warholm won the Gold, but as the Associated Press put it, also “a world record, a masterpiece and slice of history. It also might have been one of the best races ever run.”

Here is a link to the AP story:

And if you haven’t seen the race, watch it here. Or better yet watch it again. Remarkable.


As always, thanks for following along. Stay safe out there.

GOP, Insurrection

Some Legacy…

No politician ever admits to caring about a “legacy.” It’s a lie. They all want to be remembered, to be memorialized in some way for their good works or brave deeds.

They all wonder what the third paragraph of their obituary will say about them. “Senator Snort led the defense of Social Security when the program was under attack.” Or “Congressman Cleverton engineered the federal funding for Cleverton Dam, the massive concrete structure that bears his name.”

Or will the legacy be, as was the case with Congressman Charles E. Wiggins when he died in March 2000, a fact the gentleman from California would rather we forget?

California Congressman Charles E. Wiggins in 1974. He’s seen with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Peter Rodino, of New Jersey during the impeachment hearings for Richard Nixon

“As a congressman, Mr. Wiggins was considered one of [Richard] Nixon’s staunchest defenders. Along with two other members of the House Judiciary Committee, he led the president’s defense when the Watergate hearings began in the summer of 1974. The strategy was to construe the evidence as narrowly as possible, require ironclad proof and propose benign explanations of information damaging to the president.”

In fairness to the memory of Mr. Wiggins – he later became a federal judge – he eventually decided Nixon was a crook and came around to support his impeachment. As the New York Times reported, in order to change his mind, Wiggins had to hold in his hands the transcript of the taped conversation where Nixon committed to obstructing justice. Wiggins had to read the actual words of presidential betrayal to believe what he had been defending was a lie.

I thought about the long-forgotten Charles Wiggins when earlier this week, a burly, bearded Capitol Police officer, Harry Dunn, recounted for a congressional committee his experiences during the January 6 insurrection. Dunn was graphic, detailed and totally believable. He laid bare the lie that the riot of Donald Trump supporters was no big deal, as well as the fiction that Trump had not helped instigate the attack on American democracy.

“This n—– voted for Joe Biden!” Officer Dunn said a rioter screamed at him, prompting the crowd to turn on him with shouts of “Boo! F—— n—–!”

Later, Dunn implored elected members of Congress to uncover the full extent of Trump’s role.

Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn

“There was an attack on January 6, and a hit man sent them,” the police officer said. “I want you to get to the bottom of that.”

Imagine being, as old Charles Wiggins was in 1974, among the last to call into question the actions of a president in the face of such obvious and total depredation of democracy?

Imagine, for example, being Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, who first attempted to turn a bipartisan investigation into a clown show and then refused to participate at all. McCarthy couldn’t be bothered to watch Officer Dunn’s testimony this week. Too busy, perhaps, working on denial of his own role on January 6. We know McCarthy spoke to Trump that day. What do you suppose they talked about?

Or imagine being Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale, an election denier, who expressed his disappointment with the words of fellow Republican Liz Cheney, one of the few Republicans who has called for a reckoning with Trump and his incitement of insurrection. Cheney, who is in perpetual GOP purgatory for her embrace of the truth, urged lawmakers to find out “what happened every minute of that day in the White House” on January 6. “Every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during and after the attack.”

“We did not have an armed invasion of the Capitol,” Rosendale said in response. “We had a breach in security.” Try telling that to the Capitol Police officer who testified under oath that one Trump supporter tried to gouge his eye out. Or the story of another officer caught in a scrum where one attacker shouted to get his gun and kill him with it.

Or imagine being Idaho Senator Jim Risch or Wyoming’s John Barasso or Montana’s Steve Daines, all of whom opposed an independent, bipartisan investigation of January 6, and near as I can tell had no reaction to the officer’s testimony this week. What the three senators were outraged about was a letter written more than 30 years ago by a college environmental activist who warned that trees in a proposed Forest Service timber sale had been spiked. Tracy Stone-Manning will be the next director of the Bureau of Land Management, but Risch, a little man in high performance dudgeon, called her a “terrorist” and a “criminal.”

Risch and Barasso and Daines have been on this attack line for several weeks but have nothing significant to say about an attack on the Capitol that put their own lives are risk. They have gladly enlarged the January 6 memory hole of denial and deflection; the modern characteristics of what it takes to be a leader of the Republican Party. And let us not let Senator Mike Crapo continue to skate away in silence. Crapo voted against an independent investigation and now sits on his hands awaiting a re-election he demonstrably does not deserve.

What perverse level of political sycophancy, what degree of moral depravity has overtaken these people and dunked them in the turgid water of Trumpland?

The conservative writer Mona Charen has it right. It’s easy to blame it all on the far-right “base” of the Republican Party, the deplorables who have hijacked conservatism in fealty to conspiracy, science denial, and the anti-democratic Trump cult. But Charen argues the base excuse is a cop out, pardon the pun.

“We have seen the end of 160 years of the peaceful transfer of power,” Charen wrote in The Bulwark. “We’ve seen the majestic United States Capitol turned into a scene from a dystopian fantasy; an armed mob attempting to subvert an election. They smashed and tortured and caused deaths. They erected a gallows and hunted for the speaker of the House and for the vice president. And Republicans, almost to a man and woman, are excusing, downplaying, or whitewashing what happened. An entire political party has abandoned commitment to the rule of law.”

Recall that these Republicans – Risch, Crapo and all the rest – who quake in fear of the authoritarian reality of their party and its leader could have done something. They did nothing. They knew he was a con and a crook, and they were against him before they weren’t any more.

“The great tragedy of this moment is not that Trump attempted what he did,” Mona Charen said, “but that so few Republicans tried to stop him when it would have made a difference.”

That is their legacy. And the country’s legacy, too.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some good reads culled this week from many sources…

The Beltway Can’t Stop Talking About Him. The Voters He Needs Barely Know Him

When J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy came out I read it with considerable interest. Many of us were trying to understand the heartland appeal of the former guy. Vance seemed like an interesting guy: up from poverty, stellar education, business success and perhaps a new kind of conservative, a populist with ideas. It also seemed like he totally saw through the Donald Trump appeal and saw the faux business tycoon as a conman.

JD Vance, the venture capitalist and author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” speaks with supporters after a rally Thursday, July 1, 2021, in Middletown, Ohio, where he announced he is joining the crowded Republican race for the Ohio U.S. Senate seat being left by Rob Portman. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

More and more the hype around the book and the follow on movie seems like it was manufactured to promote a political career, which Vance is now trying to launch. He’s a candidate for the U.S. Senate. He’s taken great pains to cleanse his anti-Trump views.

He may just be another opportunistic rich guy trying to get into elective office. And as this story makes clear, he has some work to do. From Politico.

“Vance has countered with an apology tour of sorts, scrubbing his old tweets and making the case, often and to anyone who will listen, that though he was at first skeptical of Trump himself, he bought into Trump’s ideology all along, and has since come around on the man too. Meanwhile, a super PAC supporting Vance, financed by $10 million from the tech investor Peter Thiel, has spent six figures on digital ads that emphasize Vance’s criticisms of Democrats and Big Tech, and his Hillbilly Elegy story.”

A story from Ohio that may leave you wondering – again – just how it is that the American conservative movement has fallen so far.


4 Reasons I’m Wearing a Mask Again

Some confusing, or maybe just unwelcome guidance out of the CDC this week about masks and the effort to control a still raging pandemic.

I think The Atlantic has done remarkable work covering this huge story. Here’s reporter Katherine J. Wu on why she’s gone back to wearing a mask.

“If I get infected, that affects more than just me. I worry about the strangers I encounter—many of them maskless—whose immune status I don’t know. I worry about the youngest kids in my social network, who aren’t yet eligible for shots, and the elderly and immunocompromised, whose defenses may be weaker than mine. I worry about the people in my community who have been structurally barred from accessing the vaccines, or who are reluctant to take the shots. My risk of getting COVID-19 is low. Theirs is very much not.”

Get the shot. Wear a mask indoors. Be smart. Be safe. Read the full story here:


ARE YOU ALLOWED TO CRITICIZE SIMONE BILES?: A DECISION TREE

The satirical site McSweeney’s has created a decision tree in response to the criticism of Simone Biles, the sensational gymnast who decided to end her participation in the Olympics. An, yes, I know there are big issues here about the rights of athletes, mental health, social media, etc.

This cuts through all that…funny.


Thanks for reading. Stay in touch.

History, Politics

Flood the Zone…

In his book about the modern history of tyranny the Yale historian Timothy Snyder writes that the founders of the American experiment were “concerned that the democratic republic they envisioned would collapse.” Those founders drew on history – Greek and Roman – to contemplate “the descent of ancient democracies and republics into oligarchy and empire.”

“History does not repeat,” Snyder writes, “but it does instruct.”

A highly recommended little book that is essential reading in our times

The worrying, dangerous signs are all about. Pick through the headlines and you’ll find, if you care to find, lots of evidence – issues and concerns both small and large – of democratic descent that presages collapse.

Yes, it can happen here. Consider:

A rich friend of the former, and he hopes future, president was indicted this week for using his access to the highest officials of our government to advance the interest of a foreign government. Federal prosecutors characterized what Donald Trump’s pal Tom Barrack did as “extremely serious offenses based on conduct that strikes at the very heart of our democracy.” Barrack is just one of many striking at the heart of democracy.

In Albany, Oregon, a community in the Willamette Valley south of Portland, the brand-new majority on a local school board took, as Oregon Public Broadcasting reported, “a dramatic step … summarily firing a superintendent who had received positive performance reviews and whose contract had just been renewed. Perhaps more strikingly, most of them won’t say why.”

The action was apparently stimulated by “political rifts over COVID-19 and racial equity that have played out nationally.” The campaigns of the majority members of the board who engineered the firing were funded largely by money outside the community. In short: another local school board has become a hot battleground in the raging culture wars that serve to divide Americans and breed a level of intolerance that can lead to something much worse than a debate over how to teach kinds about history.

A variety of indicators tell similar stories. Significant numbers of Americans actually favor breaking the country up. Sixty-six percent of southern Republicans, according to a new poll, support “leaving the U.S. and forming a new country. Those sentiments were shared by 50% of independents and 20% of Democrats.”

Some eastern and southern Oregonians are advancing the fantasy of a “greater Idaho” that would divide the mostly rural areas of Oregon from the allegedly out of touch radicals west of the Cascades.

A climate crisis is upon us that threatens vast disruption of world food supplies and a deepening of global inequality. A pandemic rages for which a proven vaccine exists, but millions of Americans refuse to accept the science and logic that can save them from severe illness and even death.

A huge fire burning for two weeks in southern Oregon is creating its own weather

But…but…in the midst of the division, chaos, controversy and cynicism of daily life it pays – believe me it pays – to live with someone who refuses to play the pessimism card, while still recognizing the perils we face. I’m lucky. So, taking a page from Professor Snyder’s rules for resisting tyranny – and with encouragement from the breakfast table – I offer my own six-part mini-survival guide for our troubled times.

  • Refuse to be a victim. Many of the defendants facing charges for the assault on the U.S. Capitol in January are invoking the defense that the mob made them do it. Nonsense. No one is forcing you to be a political victim. It’s a choice you make. Knock it off. Democracy doesn’t settle disputes by smashing things, but by elections and compromise. You got a grievance, don’t nurse it, use the political system to work for change. Anything less is a call for anarchy, the kind that has crippled effective response to real problems in cities like Portland. Being a victim is easy. Real, responsible political change is damn hard work.
  • Act on your frustrations. But do it responsibly. Give your time, treasure and talent to causes and people you agree with, but at all cost resist the comfortable impulse to support the dividers and the haters. Every town in America has a non-profit or ten that exists to feed the hungry, house the homeless, heal the sick or stimulate our souls. Get off the sidelines and get in the real game.
  • Check your priors, or better yet update them. We all come to adulthood with “priors,” beliefs, notions, ways of seeing things that may or may not be valuable or even correct. Self-awareness is a powerful thing. Most of us are never more certain of what we really don’t know much about.
  • Seek truth, not a validation of an opinion. This is a corollary to the previous thought. You really can find factual information if you want to. Sifting through the garbage is tiresome and demanding but remember as you search, history’s tyrants always seek to confuse and devalue objective reality. The loathsome Steve Bannon, a world-class purveyor of misinformation, said the quiet part out loud in 2018. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon said. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.” Don’t believe all the crap out there.
  • Remember that ethics and character count – always. In our tribal society we tend to believe my side can do no wrong and your side is evil. What is commonly missing from this formulation is the fundamental democratic requirement that demands that leaders always operate within widely accepted ethical boundaries, and that they have the character to not lie to your face, enrich themselves in office or abuse their power. Without ethics and character democracy dies.
  • Think about the future. We are all short timers here. What is our responsibility to the next generation and the next beyond that? Most of us won’t be remembered beyond family and friends, but let us live so as to not be remembered for making things worse, but for trying to make things better for a next generation of Americans.

A great challenge of our times is to prevent political and cultural cynicism from becoming self-fulfilling. “If you once believed that everything always turns out well in the end,” Timothy Snyder writes, “you can be persuaded that nothing turns out well in the end. If you once did nothing because you thought progress is inevitable, then you can continue to do nothing because you think times moves in repeating cycles.”

History is not destiny. It is a guide. Get off the sofa. Get in the game to preserve American democracy.

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Additional Reading:

Some things I stumbled across this week that you may find of interest…


Mr. Justice Marshall

Marshall argued and won the Brown v. Board of Education case and became the first Black justice of the Supreme Court in 1967

Stephen L. Carter, law professor, author of fiction and non-fiction, and law clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall, had a great piece in The New York Times Magazine about the late, great Supreme Court justice and civil rights legend.

“Marshall was among the great storytellers, heir to an American tradition stretching back to Lincoln and beyond. He told stories to teach lessons — and also like Lincoln, he never told the same story quite the same way twice. The message was what mattered.”

Great story. Read it here:


3 Tropes of White Victimhood

I thought this piece by historian Lawrence Glickman was really terrific. He writes about rightwing personalities who knowingly or not are using the same rhetoric around race that was employed by post-Civil War politicians.

“Kilmeade, Carlson, and Robertson all blamed critical race theory, a school of legal thought developed in the 1980s that has become the latest fixation of the conservative outrage machine. But the panic they expressed has a much longer history, with roots going back to white-supremacist rhetoric from before the Civil War—and particularly apparent during the attack on Reconstruction, America’s experiment in interracial democracy that lasted from 1865 until 1877.”

Really significant history here:


I Just Learned I Only Have Months to Live. This is What I Want to Say

And, man I couldn’t get through this without a few tears. From long-time Boston Globe journalist Jack Thomas.

“After a week of injections, blood tests, X-rays, and a CAT scan, I have been diagnosed with cancer. It’s inoperable. Doctors say it will kill me within a time they measure not in years, but months.

“As the saying goes, fate has dealt me one from the bottom of the deck, and I am now condemned to confront the question that has plagued me for years: How does a person spend what he knows are his final months of life?”

It is sad and uplifting at the same time. Here is the link:


Thanks…be well. Get the vaccine.