History

Misusing History, Missing the Point…

Weird things happen in Texas: the Astros cheat in the World Series, the state runs its own power grid that crashes during a rough winter storm leaving millions in the cold and dark, the state has had more Covid deaths than most medium sized countries. The state has created a bounty system to allow Texans – or anyone else – to hunt women who have an abortion, and get paid for it.

Austin, the Texas state capitol, has adopted the slogan: Keep Austin Weird. It works.

Two weeks ago in Southlake, Texas, a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth, a curriculum director at the local school district told teachers something truly weird. “Just try to remember the concepts of [Texas House Bill] 3979,” the director said. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”

House Bill 3979 is a reference to the legislation passed in Texas – similar to legislation in many other Republican dominated states – that attempts to prescribe how history is taught. The idea is to apparently make certain “controversial” subjects are presented in a “on the one hand and then on the other hand” fashion.

Holocaust survivors stand behind a barbed wire fence after the liberation of Nazi German death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945 in Nazi-occupied Poland. Surveys have shown that many younger Americans know next to nothing about this history.

Unless you seek to deny that it happened there is no on the other hand regarding the Holocaust, the planned, systematic effort by Nazi Germany to exterminate European Jews in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The mere idea that there is a both sides to the great crime underscores the absurdity of playing partisan political games with history.

Texas has another law going into effect in December that seeks to outlaw the teaching of critical race theory (CRT), which is not taught in high schools. But no matter. Outlawing CRT has become a talking point on the political right, a way to structure history to deny or eliminate the uncomfortable parts. The Texas political history monitors are very prescriptive about what is acceptable history and what is off limits.

As Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson recently noted the Texas history standards eliminated any of “Frederick Douglass’s writings, the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that forced Indigenous Americans off their southeastern lands, and Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists defending the separation of church and state. The standards lost ‘historical documents related to the civic accomplishments of marginalized populations’ including documents related to the Chicano movement, women’s suffrage and equal rights, the civil rights movement, Indigenous rights, and the American labor movement.”

What Texas and other conservative states want to teach isn’t really history, but rather scrubbed, sanitized mythology. Or another word for it would be lies.

Understanding the courageous history of the American Revolution, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, is fundamental to the American story. But so is the fact that the Constitution treated millions of Black Americans, held in slavery, as three-fifths of a person, devoid of basic human rights let alone political rights.

Jefferson’s soaring words in the Declaration must be studied and examined but cannot be understood without also grappling with the fact that Jefferson, and many others of the Founding generation, lived contrary to their words. They owned other humans, believing them to be inferior, and were determined to exploit human capital for economic gain.

Americans cannot understand the current raging debate over voting rights without understanding that for millions of American these basic rights were won – or not – in spite of violence, intimidation and systematic efforts to prevent certain Americans from casting a ballot. Congress struggled for years to pass civil rights and voting rights legislation that was resisted at every turn by white politicians who embraced white supremacy.

You cannot fully understand the ongoing debate about efforts to prevent the extinction of Northwest salmon without grappling with the importance of the iconic fish to indigenous Americans, the first Americans whose land was stolen by whites and whose culture continues to be disrespected and marginalized.

This is not comfortable information, but it happens to be true. You can, if you chose, actually study these stories and come away with a deeper appreciation of the long path our country has been on since 1776, or even since 1619. It is a bumpy, often tragic path. But that is what history is. As the conservative writer Michael Gerson said recently, “The discipline of history teaches us to engage with discomforting, distressing ideas without fearing them.’

Here is an example of how history works – and should work – ripped from the headlines. A man many Americans rightly consider an American hero, general and former secretary of state Colin Powell, lived an important and, yes, controversial life.

Not his best moment. Colin Powell makes the case for the Iraq War before the United Nations

Powell’s recent death spawned a host of tributes and assessments. The heroic versions featured the classic American story of Powell’s rise to the pinnacles of power as the child of Jamaican immigrants. Powell might have been president. I for one wish he would have run since a Colin Powell presidency might have altered the awful trajectory of the modern Republican Party. That he didn’t run is history.

But there is more to Powell’s story. He carried the water for the fable that weapons of mass destruction required a foolish and tragic military misadventure in Iraq, a war he might well have prevented. Powell was a brave and decorated soldier, but his role in investigating the massacre of as many as 500 civilians at Mai Lai during the Vietnam War is still in some dispute. Powell was by all accounts a strong and principled leader, but he also came out on the short end of many bureaucratic fights that, had they been exposed at the time, might well have altered history.

The point is: Powell’s history and ours is complicated, nuanced. There is no one way to look at Powell’s story – or the American story – the truth is in the sifting, the understanding, the effort to place in context. That is history.

As the great Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan has written: “As they look at the past, historians learn to behave rather like the examining magistrate of the French judicial system. What happened and why? the historian asks. History demands that we treat evidence seriously … history does not produce definitive answers for all time. It is a process.”

Never has it been more important to grapple with the American story, the strengths and weaknesses of our democratic system, and its fragile nature. Truth be told, if we don’t handle our history better and ignore the cranks and mythmakers the last chapter of the American story is going to be written as tragedy.

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Additional Reading:

If you are inclined…a few good items:


Facebook’s Historian: Professor Heather Cox Richardson

I know many readers follow the amazing work of HCR, who I quoted in my essay this week. I came across this piece from 2018 with lots of information on the professor’s rise to near cult status as an interpreter of our history.

Heather Cox Richardson

“On Nov. 21, 2016, two years after publishing her most recent book, a conservative group by the name of Turning Point USA launched a new website called Professor Watchlist, on which it listed close to 200 college professors who it claimed had, ‘…records of targeting students for their viewpoints, forcing students to adopt a certain perspective, and/or abuse or harm students in any way for standing up for their beliefs.’

“Richardson, who was briefly included on the list, was more annoyed than upset—that her hard work was dismissed as leftist propaganda, that her credibility was in-question, and, most of all, that the forum of academic debate was shamed and discouraged from its pursuit of truth.”

Here is a link to the piece that appeared in the Boston College magazine.


Is Trump running in 2024? The Claremont Institute hopes so

Regular readers know I’m a fan of The Bulwark, a news and opinion site founded by conservative Charlie Sykes and some other refugees from the modern conservative movement.

Charlie has a great daily newsletter, a podcast and contributes to MSNBC, among other outlets. He is always worth reading. A recent piece on the transformation of the Claremont Institute caught my attention.

“Once one of the most prestigious bastions of conservative thought, Claremont now spends its time putting lipstick on the Trumpian wildebeest.

“Trumpism is, of course, less an idea or set of principles than it is a cult of personality and series of angry impulses. But even the ugliest movements have their pseudo-philosophers and their rationalizers.

“And this where Claremont comes in: It is attempting to put a veneer of intellectual respectability on some of the darkest impulses of the right. It’s not at all surprising that Claremont was at the center of the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election.”

Charlie Sykes on Claremont. Wow.


Writing from Home: Lessons from a Novelist-Slash-Small-Town Newspaper Columnist

I love this piece from the novelist Nickolas Butler on writing as an act of service and the power of local news.

“When my wife and I moved our family back to our hometown after fifteen years away, one of the first things we did was subscribe to the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. And when the delivery-driver pounded a heavy steel stake beside our mailbox and hung an orange newspaper-box along our rural road, I felt a sense of community, yes. I was buying into something that didn’t necessarily make sense, but that was surely bigger than me, or my family. This was another kind of stake—an investment—in local journalism, in local journalists, in our place.”

Pretty good take on the importance of small-town journalism.


Thanks, as always, for following along. All the best.

Journalism

The Great Erosion

By one accounting, more than 2,100 U.S. newspapers closed between 2005 and 2020.

We’ve all heard the stories, many pretty bleak.

Smaller newspapers are purchased by large chains, which cannibalize newsrooms in order to squeeze the last cents – and sense – out of “the product.” Hedge funds with track records of slashing costs – meaning jobs – and maximizing returns for a handful of already really wealthy people are buying up newspapers.

Alden Global Capital is one such hedge fund. The group recently purchased the Tribune Company, owner of the venerable Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun and the New York Daily News, among other papers.

“The purchase of Tribune reaffirms our commitment to the newspaper industry and our focus on getting publications to a place where they can operate sustainably over the long term,” said Heath Freeman, the president of Alden. Separately it was reported that at least ten percent of already depleted newsroom staffs at Tribune were taking financially slim buyouts, while senior top editors were replaced.

The spectacular Tribune Tower in Chicago, once home to a great newspaper, is now converted to condos

Freeman, the hedge fund guy, is doing great, however. He recently plunked down $19 million for a modest little six bed, six bath joint in an exclusive neighborhood in Miami.

More is at stake here than the survival of the local paper. As local news has been crushed under a variety of burdens from declining ad revenue to non-discerning readers and viewers who gravitate only to “news” outlets that serve only to confirm own ideological opinions, democracy has taken a hit, as well.

The non-profit Niskanen Center, a think tank doing first-rate, deeply researched work on a range of public policy issues, has produced an important new report on the links between local news and the health of American democracy.

“As local news has withered,” the authors of the new report noted, “so too has citizens’ ability to monitor the effectiveness of state and local officials. This has been a key driver in the ‘nationalization’ of politics, which refers to voters only drawing on preferences regarding national politics to evaluate politicians and policy at all levels of the federal system.”

Or put another way, as we increasingly frame all our thoughts about politics at every level around a question of “Biden or Trump” we ignore many of the really vital issues in our own communities. When the local newspaper shrinks or goes away this reality becomes even more pronounced.

As dire as the local journalism situation seems – and it is dire – there are some flickering signs of hope out there.

States Newsroom, a non-profit, now offers free online and first-rate coverage of state capitol and other news in 22 states. In every state with a States Newsroom – Idaho, Montana and Oregon have such outlets – the newsroom leader is a veteran “local” journalist doing superb work.

The non-profit news outlets under the banner States Newsroom represent a truly positive development

The Daily Montanan recently broke a blockbuster story, reported by Keila Szapaller, about sexual harassment at the University of Montana law school. The expose forced the resignation of the school’s dean and his deputy.

The Idaho Capital Sun and reporter Audrey Dutton have provided the very best statewide coverage of the state’s pitifully inadequate response to Covid-19. (Full disclosure: I have contributed opinion pieces to both organizations.)

In Arizona, as another example, the Arizona Mirror, reported this week on Congressman Paul Gosar’s recent trafficking in neo-Nazi and white supremacy images. A story larger news organizations missed.

Another potentially promising local news development is the union of legacy news organizations with public broadcasters. This type of union is unfolding in Chicago where WBEZ, the local public broadcast outlet, is fixing to acquire the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper. Initial plans contemplate no layoffs, but instead the addition of more staff.

Authors of the Niskanen Center report offer another intriguing idea: “Political donors could redirect their financial support to local media.” A deep pocketed contributor to political campaigns might spend thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a candidate or cause never knowing if the contribution had any real impact. By contrast, the same amount of cash supporting a hyper-local news gathering effort could produce immediate and obvious results, and “could be a better return on investment for those who are alarmed by the state of our politics.”

A proposal in Congress contemplates creation of a national endowment for local journalism, something akin to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or the long-established national endowments for the arts and humanities. The effort might be limited to “non-profit” news organizations and supported by individual taxpayers choosing a “check off” on their tax returns in the same way that millions of American provide public funds for presidential elections.

There are many reasons for the troubled state of American democracy – toxic cable television shouting matches that feed on fear and division, bald faced lies and conspiracy theories elevated by candidates, and a demonizing of legitimate news organizations and their reporters as “enemies of the people.” By any measure, the drastic decline of local journalism in so many communities, and the companion inability to focus on real and important local issues has to be part of the cause, as well.

We need to get on with addressing this.

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “it expects what never was and never will be.” It’s worth remembering in light of our fractured, tribal politics that Jefferson champion a free and critical press even as he was often viciously attacked in print by his political opponents.

“For most of American history, localism came naturally,” the Niskanen Center report says. “But that’s no longer the case in our age of national and international connectivity. And while much has been gained in this changed environment, that connection to the local that our political system takes as a given has been severely undermined. Recapturing that type of community connection would help America’s political institutions function as intended. And a robust local media landscape is a prerequisite for a reinvigorated localism.”

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Additional Reading:

A few more suggestions from my reading file…

The January 6th Investigation is Ramping Up … Will it Matter?

A deep dive into the congressional probe of Donald Trump’s attempted coup from Lawfare.

“The committee has an enormous pile of information to dig into—some of it of potentially dubious value—and no end of questions to pursue about what happened on Jan. 6 and in the days, weeks, and years before. In doing so, it is likely to run into legal disputes over its ability to obtain information from recalcitrant witnesses close to former President Trump—along with information that Trump might object to releasing on the grounds of executive privilege.”

Here’s the link:


Ryan Zinke is Running for Office Again in Montana. On Instagram, He’s Often in Santa Barbara

I’m so old that I remember when being forced to resign in the midst of an ethics investigation would be disqualifying for future political office, but not so apparently for former congressman and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

You may recall Zinke as the guy photographed with his fly rod rigged all wrong...

Zinke is trying to go back to the House of Representatives, but Politico checked out where the self-proclaimed cowboy spends most of his time. Spoiler alert: it’s not in Cut Bank.

Miranda Green went looking for Zinke in Montana.

“But Zinke wasn’t in town.His campaign consultant had not responded to requests to make him available for an interview in his home state. I eventually learned from his wife’s Instagram account that the Zinkes were on a beach vacation in Bodrum, Turkey. (Lolita has family ties to Turkey, and the Zinkes travel there often, including at least three separate trips documented on Lolita’s Instagram account in 2019.)”

The Instagram account also documents how much time the guy spends in southern California, just like ever real Montanan.

Here’s a link to pretty interesting story:


Meet the man who pulled nearly 100 snakes from under an SF Bay Area home

Eeww…

I’m with Indiana Jones when it comes to snakes. I’m not a fan. A women in California had a nest under her home.

“”This lady wasn’t afraid of them,” the snake removal guy said. “She doesn’t mind having them there. There were just a couple too many.”

Well, right. There are pictures. Slither right to this one:


Thanks for reading. Be careful out there.

Insurrection, Politics, Trump, Uncategorized

Our Constitutional Crisis…

Raising the federal debt limit so our government can pay the bills it has already rung up ought to be the political equivalent of an uncontested lay-up in basketball.

Senate Republicans, willing to force the U.S. economy to the brink of insolvency and crater the recovery from a deadly pandemic by filibustering the issue, are forcing Senate Democrats to save the game by effectively making a half-court desperation shot at the buzzer.

If what nihilistic Republicans are doing weren’t so economically irresponsible, indeed potentially catastrophic, it would be cause for a laughable case of hypocritical cynicism. After all, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, the guy orchestrating this bit of potentially fatal political theater, has voted 32 times for a debt ceiling increase during his time in Washington.

There ought to be a Mt. Rushmore for cynics like the Kentucky senator, but no block of granite exists large enough to feature all the worthy cynics. (Any monument would surely have to make room for Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, a world-class enabler of federal debt with repeated votes to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and one who now refuses to pay the very bills he created.)

Yet, while this cliffhanger dominates the news, underscoring how broken our politics continues to be, an existential crisis of democracy is unfolding in real time. Tragically, this crisis remains out of sight and out of mind for most Americans. Our constitutional crisis is under the daily radar screen for two reasons: Republican officeholders are ignoring it and too many Americans have grown comfortable with the undemocratic, authoritarian, insurrectionist politics of the political right.

Let’s briefly review the path to constitutional crisis:

Months before the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump began to raise doubts among his supporters that the election would be conducted fairly. Unlike any presidential candidate before, Trump said in so many words: if I lose, the election was rigged. He repeated this fable over and over – for months.

As election day drew closer, Trump ramped up the lies about election integrity, advancing bogus arguments about mail in ballots or dead people voting. On election night – trailing in key states – Trump declared victory and began turning up the heat on local election officials to find some way to turn the outcome in his favor. Trump’s pressure on election officials in Georgia is still the subject of criminal review.

Next, and in advance of state-level certification of the election, came the lies about vote counts from Pennsylvania to Arizona. Trump lawyers went to court in several states to try to stop certification, or to advance election fraud claims. In not one single case in a dozen states has any remotely creditable evidence been presented to a court supporting the former president’s case. Nothing has surfaced because there is nothing there.

Still, the lies, aided by the silence, or even worse actively abetted by Republican elected officials, took hold. Public opinion polling indicates a majority of Republicans have now bought the lies, which Trump repeated again this week.

The lies, beyond the clear damage to the legitimacy of American democracy, have had other real consequences. Election officials in numerous states have been on the receiving end of harassment and even death threats. A group of Republican crackpots in Arizona, egged on by their lying leader, convened, as the Arizona Republic reported, their “own group of fake electors who promptly voted to throw Arizona’s vote to Donald Trump? Turns out they weren’t engaged in meaningless wishful thinking or yet another wild PR stunt to play to the base. They were involved in an actual plan to stage a coup.”

We now know that Trump enlisted the help of a conservative lawyer from California to concoct a legal rationale for a coup. The theory held that then-vice president Mike Pence could, on his own motion, reject the Electoral College votes of several states that Trump lost.

The lawyer, John Eastman, meet with Trump at the White House on January 5, 2021, the day before Congress was scheduled to certify, as a purely procedural matter, the presidential election.

As a violent mob chanting “hangMike Pence” attacked the Capitol on January 6th, Pence, somewhat amazingly given his fealty to Trump, followed the Constitution.

We also know that General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, convened a meeting of his top staff in this period to remind them of the military’s duty to the Constitution. Milley also spoke with his Chinese counterpart to ensure him that the U.S. was not about to launch a war. There are other reports that Milley observed that Trump was unstable and capable of precipitating a “wag the dog” type incident to hold on to power.

The incident Trump and supporters planned for and encouraged happened, of course, on January 6th on the steps and inside the United States Capitol.





On January 6, then-president Donald Trump speaks to the crowd that later attacked the U.S. Capitol

If this weren’t recent American history staring us square in the face it would be a good plot line for a second rate made for TV movie, and perhaps that is why it’s easy for some to dismiss the lying, scheming and the threats. This kind of crazy, undemocratic action just doesn’t happen in our county. Right.

But dismissal of lies about election fraud, a coup plot and a deadly insurrection is a profoundly dangerous response to this web of treason. The worst is likely yet to come. By 2024, amateurish “Stop the Steal” stunts will be professionalized. Trump will run again. The election will be close. And the reaction – almost certainly chaos and crisis.

As Robert Kagan, no squishy liberal, wrote recently in the Washington Post: “As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may ‘revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election’ by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed ‘technical infractions,’ including obstructing the view of poll watchers.”

As Kagan correctly notes, many, many Trump supporters see the web he has woven “as a patriotic defense of the nation,” and therefore “there is every reason to expect more such episodes.”

Europeans all too easily slipped the bonds of democracy less than one hundred years ago to follow charismatic, authoritarian leaders into fascism and dictatorship.

It’s often said: “But, it can’t happen here.” Are you sure about that?

Better yet, what are you doing about it?

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Additional Reading:

A few additional items that you may find of interest…

The foul-mouthed farmer sticking his neck out for Democrats’ agenda

From Politico, a great profile of Montana Senator Jon Tester. (Personal opinion: we could use some more like him.)

Montana Senator Jon Tester

“There’s no one in the Senate like Tester these days, both physically and politically. He’s a hulking presence as he ambles through the chamber’s marble halls, dispensing plainspoken wisdom and pushing what he calls ‘positive vibes.’ When he sips a bottle of beer, he cradles it in between his pinky finger and thumb — a necessary habit since he lost three fingers in a meat grinder as a child.”

If Democrats hope to ever build a working majority in Congress, and particularly in the Senate, they are going to have to embrace candidates like Jon Tester in rural western states.

Here’s a link to the full profile:


Vaccine Mandates are Working

This really shouldn’t be a huge surprise.

“Coronavirus vaccine mandates imposed by employers seem to be working so far, suggesting that most vaccine holdouts would rather get the shot than lose their job.”

Here’s the link:


The MAGA Trashiest Police Report in History

When you have been around politics and politicians long enough you develop a kind of radar about those individuals who are phony or incompetent or just creepy. Campaigns have a way of attracting some of the best and worst people. Trump’s campaigns were an exception. They seemed to have attracted only the worse, including Cory Lewandowski.

Tim Miller in The Bulwark dishes the goods about Lewandowski’s evening in Vegas with a woman from Idaho named, wait for it, Trashelle.

“My most sacred maxim for assessing what is happening in politics: “When in doubt it’s Veep, not House of Cards.

“But after I saw the full statement provided to authorities by Trashelle Odom, I realized that at long last we may have found the point at which this maxim breaks down.

“Because the Lewandowski Affair wasn’t a binary choice between Veep or House of Cards. It’s Veep and House of Cards. The singularity had been achieved.”

It’s a classic:


OK, enough fun for one day. Be careful out there. Thanks for reading.

Afghanistan, Foreign Policy, U.S. Senate

Afghanistan as Metaphor

The 20 years of American misadventure in Afghanistan, and the deadly, messy departure from that misadventure, is an apt metaphor for our broken, unserious politics.

The congressional hearings this week about the American withdrawal offer a window into the barren soul of not just American foreign policy, but those who pretend to make and influence it. We seemed to have learned almost nothing from two decades of death, destruction, delusion and debt, but assigning blame, as was the purpose of congressional hearings this week, sure makes for a great video clip.

In the period between when a Republican president warned that putting troops and treasure into Afghanistan would mean a long slog to when another Republican president made an ill-considered deal with the Taliban to withdraw, congressional Republicans rarely said a peep about our policy or priorities.

The former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, never once conducted a hearing on the Afghan withdrawal when he chaired the committee. This week he assigned all the blame to a Democratic administration that has been in office for less than a year, because, well, American foreign policy has become all about assigning blame.

Congressional Democrats have an only marginally better record since all but one Democrat who is still in Congress voted to launch the Afghan/Iraq misadventure in the first place.

“We must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target,” California congresswoman Barbara Lee said in 2001 when the House voted to give George W. Bush his blank check for war. “There must be some of us who say: Let’s step back for a moment and think through the implications of our actions today. I do not want to see this spiral out of control.”

Congresswoman Barbara Lee

The gentlewoman from California had it right. And she knew her history, equating the open-ended authorization to allow every subsequent president to wage war wherever they wanted to Lyndon Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964 that paved the path to the American misadventure in South Vietnam.

Afghanistan was and is a manifest, bipartisan failure: a failure of congressional acquiescence to presidential power; a failure to recognize America’s catastrophic inability to shape cultures we don’t understand into western style democracies; a failure that imagines the country’s bloated military establishment, propping up a bloated military-industrial complex, can exercise its will at will; and ultimately a failure of American voters to take any of this even remotely seriously.

One of the few bright spots in this week’s performative soundbite trolling on Capitol Hill was the evidence that the current president actually had the backbone to override the advice of his military advisers, who apparently to a man argued to keep American forces in Afghanistan indefinitely.

Republicans, who once won elections on the question of who most supported the military, attacked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs – by one account “assassinated his character and impugned his patriotism” – for his failure to resign when his advice was rejected. General Mark Milley then schooled the odious senator from Arkansas, Tom Cotton, about the critical importance of civilian control of the military. The general might have reminded the senator that American presidents are often at their best when they reject the conventional wisdom of men in uniform, but that may be expecting too much from a military that still cannot imagine its limitations.

Lincoln replaced generals repeatedly, even popular ones. Harry Truman rejected Douglas MacArthur’s advice to bomb China during the Korean War and then sacked the strutting mandarin for insubordination. John Kennedy rejected the advice of his military advisers when they wanted to invade Cuba in 1962. Barack Obama fired another egocentric general for popping off to a journalist. You might argue that civilian deference to gold braid has been out of balance since Vietnam, but to examine that thought you would need a level of discernment and self-awareness impossible for most politicians today.

Afghanistan, with all its mistakes, missteps and misfortunate, cries out for the kind of sober and reasoned debate and review that we seem incapable of mustering.

It is not just Afghanistan, of course, but the failure of our too partisan, too trivial, too odious political class to deal with almost everything. Pick your issue: immigration, infrastructure, income inequality, domestic terrorism, climate, debt, health care – we’re treading water at best, floundering at worst.

And it really is our fault – individually and collectively. We send small people, with small minds and outsized opinions of themselves to do adult work.

“The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves…”

History often celebrates, too late, the naysayers who are prophets, the Barbara Lee’s and the Wayne Morse’s.

Morse, an Oregon senator, was an irascible, pedantic gadfly – a “sanctimonious bore” by one account – and also the kind of politician indispensable in a democracy. Morse early on saw where American involvement in southeast Asia would lead. He was one of two votes in the Senate against LBJ’s Tonkin Gulf resolution, and he also correctly diagnosed where American politics were headed.

“Having abandoned its responsibilities for the big things,” Morse said in 1964, “Congress falls back on making the most of the small things. Frustrated members who fear to question the Pentagon brass, the State Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency, concentrate on the full exercise of more petty powers … having swallowed the camel, Congress strains at the gnats.”

American democracy is imperiled. We know it. Some of us welcome the chaos believing it benefits our tribe. But the fix, if there is one, is not more chaos, not more simple-minded, small-bore politicians focused on today’s soundbite rather than tomorrow’s substance. The fix is to commit to greater seriousness, more personal involvement in a civil and civic life, more engagement with the common good.

Wishing for it isn’t going to work. Electing better people might work, but time is short.

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Additional Reading:

Somethings you might find of interest…

The Constitutional Crisis is Here

The historian Robert Kagan authored the most talked about political essay of the season recently, arguing in the Washington Post that a second Donald Trump presidential candidacy is a near certainty, and also a huge threat to American democracy. It is sobering stuff.

Robert Kagan says we’re not done with him

“The world will look very different in 14 months if, as seems likely, the Republican zombie party wins control of the House. At that point, with the political winds clearly blowing in his favor, Trump is all but certain to announce his candidacy, and social media constraints on his speech are likely to be lifted, since Facebook and Twitter would have a hard time justifying censoring his campaign. With his megaphone back, Trump would once again dominate news coverage, as outlets prove unable to resist covering him around the clock if only for financial reasons.

“But this time, Trump would have advantages that he lacked in 2016 and 2020, including more loyal officials in state and local governments; the Republicans in Congress; and the backing of GOP donors, think tanks and journals of opinion. And he will have the Trump movement, including many who are armed and ready to be activated, again. Who is going to stop him then? On its current trajectory, the 2024 Republican Party will make the 2020 Republican Party seem positively defiant.”

I’ve taken to thinking of myself as (I hope) informed, but a pessimist. This piece made me really nervous.


Why I’m A Single Issue Voter

I’ve long considered Mona Charen among the most orthodox of conservatives – a columnist of the Reagan/Bush ilk. In a recent piece she argued that she’s voting for the Democratic candidate for governor in Virginia next month, because the only issue that matters right now is, well, truth.

“The Republican party, in Washington and nationally, has become a conspiracy of liars. As such, it threatens the stability of the republic. Even a seemingly inoffensive candidate like Glenn Youngkin has given aid and comfort to this sinister agenda by stressing ‘election integrity’ in his campaign. It doesn’t change a thing to reflect that he’s almost certainly insincere. He stopped talking about it after winning the primary, suggesting that all the “integrity” talk was just a sop to MAGA voters. Still, a victory for him will send a message that the Republican party is normal again, a party that good people can support.”

Charen’s tour of the current GOP is also pretty chilling.


Pro-slavery Senator John C. Calhoun Opposed Infrastructure Spending for a Reason.

A really interesting piece here from a historian of the Civil War era on slavery and infrastructure. Seriously.

Calhoun: He was for infrastructure before he was against it

“Calhoun is rarely thought of as a monetary theorist, but his comments on monetary architecture and government spending are surprisingly relevant. Though nearly two centuries old, they hold a lesson about the politics of austerity today, as Republicans oppose needed federal investment in green technology and infrastructure, climate change mitigation, pandemic preparedness, affordable housing, equitable broadband access, and low-cost, high-quality education from pre-K to college. To realize these goals, which are both popular and urgently necessary, federal, state, and local governments will have to deploy the full scope of their fiscal and monetary capacities. We who support those goals can expect Republicans (and corporate Democrats) to blow a lot of smoke in our eyes, generating word cloud after word cloud dominated by ‘deficits,’ ‘inflation,’ and ‘pay-fors.’ Calhoun can help clear the air. His ideas expose the conservative, hierarchical commitments that have always worked to thwart the promise of democratic governance.”

Worth your time.


Daniel Craig Will Now Take Your Questions

Sean Connery is still my ideal James Bond, but you have to admit Daniel Craig has filled the role of the Brit spy like few others. Something a bit lighter here, and pretty funny.

“At 53, Craig is cheerful and clever and friendly. He has bright blue eyes in a tanned and tired face. It is day five of six at the junket which may or may not decide the future of cinema, and he is about 36 hours off quitting Bond for ever. After 2015’s Spectre (most of which he filmed with a broken leg), Craig notoriously claimed he would rather slit his wrists than return to the role.”

From The Guardian, and some of the questions are great.


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.