Saturday, June 26, 2021

Why do so many people think the Government is lying to them? A 50-year review

By Aula Minerva
Spy Archivist

The dispatches from the latest United States military debacle grow more alarming by the day:

After 20 years and unknown trillions of dollars, our brave pro-democracy Afghan allies are still stealing their troops' pay? No wonder the troops are throwing away their U.S.-supplied weapons and melting into the hills.  According to The New York Times, the situation has approached its inevitable end:

In the last 24 hours, around a dozen districts have fallen to the Taliban — mostly in the country’s north. Since May 1, when U.S. forces officially began their withdrawal from the country, the Taliban — through local mediation, military offensives and government retreats — have taken more than 50 districts, . . .

Only a small number of districts have been retaken by government forces as the defeats have forced Afghan commanders to consider what territory they can hold following the American departure. . . .

The current situation does not bode well for government forces and militias under the command of northern Afghanistan’s power brokers, some of whom are notorious warlords who have held onto power since the country’s civil war in the 1990s and the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Where have we read this story before?  Here's a dispatch printed in the Spy in April 1975 (shown here as it originally appeared in the Times:)

We'll just pick out a couple of, um, highlights:

Five divisions vanished?  Hundreds of millions of U.S. supplied equipment lost?  Three quarters of the country abandoned? No point in going to war?  Maybe someone should have told Americans that before they sent 50,000 of them into a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people and inflicted grievous lifelong injury on millions more for – nothing.

We were thinking about the parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam when we, and all other print subscribers, received a whole special section of the paper Times recalling the 50th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers:


You young whippersnappers may not know this but the Pentagon Papers was the massive study that proved that the entire Vietnam War was sold and waged on the basis of lies.  It was for this reason that the Republican criminal then serving as President, Dick Nixon, fought so hard to suppress the truth, aided and abetted by pillars of the legal establishment like Erwin Griswold, that sterling lion of the Bar who as Dean of Harvard Law School told Ruth Bader Ginsburg that she was taking a slot that could have been given to a man who wouldn't get pregnant and abandon the law.  Like, let's see, Cancun Ted Cruz.

The Times' report summed up this aspect of the terrible history of the Vietnam War:

Brandishing a captured Chinese machine gun, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara appeared at a televised news conference in the spring of 1965. The United States had just sent its first combat troops to South Vietnam, and the new push, he boasted, was further wearing down the beleaguered Vietcong.

“In the past four and one-half years, the Vietcong, the Communists, have lost 89,000 men,” he said. “You can see the heavy drain.”

That was a lie. From confidential reports, McNamara knew the situation was “bad and deteriorating” in the South. “The VC have the initiative,” the information said. “Defeatism is gaining among the rural population, somewhat in the cities, and even among the soldiers.”

Lies like McNamara’s were the rule, not the exception, throughout America’s involvement in Vietnam. The lies were repeated to the public, to Congress, in closed-door hearings, in speeches and to the press. The real story might have remained unknown if, in 1967, McNamara had not commissioned a secret history based on classified documents — which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. 

You may be reading us thinking: well, so what? Of course our government lies to us 24/7. But the lovable innocents who entered adulthood during and after the New Deal and the thumping victory of World War II had a different view: you could trust FDR, Ike, and all the other men who brought us miracles like interstate highways and DDT.  

Or at least the while male ones thought that.  Black people trapped in what looked like an impregnable fortress of racism had a different view and affluent white women staring at the bennies in their fists knew something was wrong but couldn't quite put their fingers on it.

(As 55% of white women voted for the Former Loser Grifter less than a year ago, we suspect that white women are still having trouble with reality.)

The Times report sums it up pretty adroitly:

The lies revealed in the papers were of a generational scale, and, for much of the American public, this grand deception seeded a suspicion of government that is even more widespread today. 

Since that time, Americans, often admittedly influenced by white supremacy, fear of losing unearned privilege, and other stuff not actually related to the Vietnam debacle, have applied the supposed lesson of the lies that they were fed to justify Vietnam to phenomena that really have nothing to do with it.

Not long after the Vietnam War ended in defeat and ignominy, a jolly criminal Republican President (sensing a pattern here?) canonized now as St. Ronald of Bitburg pushed the lie that government can't do anything to help people.  Someone tell that to the hundreds of government employees today working in rain, heat, and danger to rescue victims of the Surfside building collapse.  

Today we are in danger of being ruled by lies, like the stolen 2020 election or the supposed massive conspiracy to enslave America by, wait for it, protecting them from a frightening disease that has claimed the lives of 600,000 Americans in just a year.

We don't want to excuse white racism as the motivation for the propagation of these lies, but we can't let the 50th anniversary of the exposé of the lies that animated the Vietnam tragedy pass without nothing that it was those lies that led all of us to lose our faith in the truth of what our leaders were telling us.

Of course we need to be skeptical about what comes out of Washington, but at some point we also need to understand that drinking bleach is not the appropriate response.

The final irony of the Pentagon Papers was, as noted by the late great David Halberstam in The Best and The Brightest, that the top-tier liars were mostly Democrats (or supposedly nonpartisan generals):

Machismo, says Halberstam, “was no small part of it.” Johnson “had always been haunted by the idea that he would be judged as being insufficiently manly for the job, that he would lack courage at a crucial moment.” Westmoreland and McNamara are guilty because of their misplaced confidence in ground troops. L.B.J. was the real war criminal when he deceived the American people in July, 1965, by deciding to send over 100,000 to 125,000 troops, but telling the American people that it was only 50,000 and that it “does not imply any change in policy whatever” In fact, notes Halberstam, “it was the beginning of an entirely new policy which would see what was the South Vietnamese war become primarily an American war.” Dean Rusk (“color him neutral or color him hardline. Which side was he on?...”) ought to take the rap because he never spoke up; he never fought; he let McNamara take over State.

President Kennedy: Democrat

President Johnson: Democrat

Rusk and McNamara: Democrats.

Plenty of Republicans lied their asses off too, including many distinguished Harvard professors, like McGeorge Bundy and Henry “the Mad Bomber” Kissinger, but the crucial irrevocable damage was done by the party of Richard Russell and John Stennis.

The lesson, to paraphrase Graham Greene, is that having embarked on a journey of lies, our government is having a hard time getting a passport for a return trip.

Maybe,  just maybe, that if those in power try telling the truth, next time we won't lose 600,000 lives because the President was a corrupt rapist stooge who lied about COVID, and our planet will stop boiling because we were lied to about climate change, and persons of color will not suffer from embedded structural racism because we were lied to about the persistence of that racism.   

On the other hand, this headline from the dying days of South Vietnam may be eerily prescient:

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Facts: What are they good for? Republicans: Absolutely nothing

By Emma Goldman
Social Policy Correspondent
with A.J. Liebling, Meta-Content Generator

We are hearing a lot about the effort to cancel the teaching of what is known as “Critical Race Theory.” Surely Bari Weiss will swoop down from her Substack lair any minute now to defend free and open intellectual inquiry, as is her wont.

While we are waiting for her to zoom out of Weiss Manor in her Barimobile (a 1997 Subaru Outback wagon), we thought we'd take a look at what's going on to the best of our measly ability.

If you watch Fox “News,” you'll be subjected to an endless assortment of supposedly typical moms and dads, who also just happen to be Trumpublican hatchet men and women (a fact not worthy of mention on Fox), fighting valiantly to protect their innocent babes from being subject to the evil that is “Critical Race Theory:”  


Of course, Fox also has no time in its 24/7 broadcast schedule to tell us what “Critical Race Theory” is.  It's an academic theory taught in graduate and law schools

focused on recognizing the effects slavery and institutional racism continue to have on the U.S. Critical race theory is an intellectual framework for analyzing American history introduced by legal scholars as a way to recognize the effects that racism has had on the U.S. . . .  Critical race theory has been applied to examine how the history of racism in the U.S. has affected multiple areas of society, such as discriminatory labor practices, access to education, bank lending, and housing segregation, as well as a host of microaggressions. One of the founders of critical race theory, KimberlĂ© Crenshaw, described it as “an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what's in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it.”

Let's see – it's a theory that purports to explain current social conditions. Therefore, it could be tested by seeing whether it is consistent with various facts about American life, e.g. George Floyd being murdered in cold blood by a white policeman on the streets of Minneapolis, the net worth of persons of color in Boston averaging $8, etc., and whether it helps explain those facts or is in fact falsified by them. That sounds like more hard work than we had in mind for a warm summer day, so we'll leave that to others, preferably those who can get tenure by writing about it.

But in any event, why is it a threat?  Either it's true or false, and unlike false theories about drinking bleach to prevent COVID, it's unlikely to be responsible for the deaths of 600,000 people.

Lumped together with but entirely separate from Critical Race Theory is the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones's path-breaking effort to put the experience of Black Americans at the center of American history, right up there with Robert E. Lee's heroic horse Traveler and George Washington's festive plantation at Mount Vernon.

It too has generated an enormous amount of what we used to call “white backlash” from thoughtful commentators like the Russian stooge sex offender who was in fact President of the United States (this is true), and the usual chorus of Republican rabble-rousers.

It even cost Prof. Hannah-Jones a tenured position at the University of North Carolina when a rich man who held the purse strings objected:

The Assembly reported that the board experienced some high-placed lobbying against Hannah-Jones’s appointment, in the form of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s biggest donor, school namesake and Arkansas media mogul Walter Hussman Jr.

“I worry about the controversy of tying the UNC journalism school to the 1619 project,” Hussman reportedly wrote in a now-ironic December message to Guskiewicz and at least one board member. “I find myself more in agreement with Pulitzer prize winning historians like James McPherson and Gordon Wood than I do Nikole Hannah-Jones.” [The James McPherson who has written that the sole cause of the Civil War was the South's demand to expand slavery into new territories?  That guy? – Ed.]

Asked if he agreed that racism ended in 1964,
Trayvon Martin declined to comment
Hussman reportedly wrote in another email to administrators that he didn’t like Hannah-Jones’s contention that Black Americans fought the civil rights battle largely alone, as “long before” Hannah-Jones won her Pulitzer, “courageous white southerners risking their lives standing up for the rights of blacks were winning Pulitzer prizes, too.”

Hussman has since said that he did not think he was pressuring Chapel Hill to act a certain way regarding Hannah-Jones, who was ultimately offered a five-year contract without tenure as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.

But that’s apparently how it felt, at least to Susan King, dean of the journalism school. She told The Assembly that “I felt worried enough about Walter’s repeated questions challenging our hiring of Nikole Hannah-Jones as Knight Chair and his subsequent call to at least one other donor that I asked for help from others in the administration.”
. . .

If Hannah-Jones does get tenured and join Chapel Hill, she’d be just one of 32 tenured Black women professors out of 1,384 tenured professors total, according to federal data from 2019, the most recent year for which these figures are available.

Less than 3% of tenured professors at a flagship university located in the Old Confederacy are Black women?  Gee, if only there was a theory that might explain why that is.  Also that theory might explain why a university that lets Mr. Moneybags dictate tenure decisions gets to keep its accreditation.

Fortunately, you don't have to take the word of a rich fragile white man of what's in the 1619 Project.  You can see for yourself the curriculum that it offers to your impressionable children.  The lesson plan starts with that well-known subversive anti-white document, the Declaration of Independence:

Wow, the anti-American vitriol just steams off the page.

But wait there's more:

Why do I think Hannah-Jones refers to Monticello as a “forced-labor camp?” Because it was!  But others may disagree.  If you do, show your work, or at least your $25 million bankroll.

And why is learning facts about Thomas Jefferson's career as a slaveholder and Abraham Lincoln's early willingness to promote Black emigration so dangerous to young minds?  Are these facts false?  Are they utterly irrelevant to a balanced view of Jefferson and Lincoln (who eventually paid with his life to end slavery)?  Why is this all so threatening to rich white men who believe that their wealth entitles them to determine what is taught about America's sordid racist past and present?

We suspect two answers: first, white defenders of white supremacy don't like to be told that they are, wait for it, defending white supremacy.

Second, and related, it's all a crock, as Mr. Paul Waldman is happy to explain:

At least they won't be devastated when they learn
that Jefferson owned slaves

On one level, this is all a backlash to the national debate about race that emerged after George Floyd’s murder last year. That debate, which featured lots of institutions and people trying to grapple with the persistence of racism, left conservatives feeling intensely alienated, even threatened — feelings which were ripe for exploitation by right-wing political and media figures.

But it goes deeper, into the broader cultural alienation conservatives have been experiencing for years.

The idea that your own children will be taught something you disagree with has long been a potent weapon to rile people up, particularly conservatives who already feel their children are growing up in a world that rejects their values, and adopting ideas about race and sexuality and gender that are far more liberal than theirs.

They may even grasp that the large societal forces that fill them with anxiety — perhaps none more than the steady racial, ethnic and religious diversification of America — are out of their control. They can elect a xenophobic bigot as president, but immigrants will continue to arrive and he’ll fail in his project to make America white again.

That’s enough to make you despair. But you can pass a measure at your local school board or a law in the state legislature and say, “We banned critical race theory from the classroom! Victory is ours!” That’s the nice thing about imaginary enemies: They’re not hard to defeat. 

The not nice thing about imaginary enemies though is that Republican rabble-rousers will always pull another one out of the blowholes as part of their endless and thus far remarkably successful effort to stir up white anger and resentment with the goal of preventing lots of poor white folks (hello, West Virginia!) from noticing that the plutocrats who fund all this nonsense have been picking their pockets for half a century.

Oh, and, before we forget, Happy Juneteenth.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Now what?

The Spy's Report from Washington

By Isidore F. Stone
Spy Washington Bureau

To the surprise of virtually no one, the Republicans are executing the same playbook they used successfully for the two previous Democratic Presidents:

1.  Oppose everything

2.  Drag everything out by engaging in sham negotiations that either break down or result in legislation so bad (tax increases at the gas pump) that voters will be repelled.

3.  Claim somehow that the Democratic President lacks legitimacy because Jewish space lasers changed votes, or something.

4.  When nothing happens, allow media to push the fraudulent both-sides gridlock-in-Washington narrative

5.  Go to the midterms knowing that Democratic turnout will be suppressed because nothing much happened in Washington.

6.  Stir up white racist resentment by claiming that some boogeyman (this year, it's . . . the academic works of Kimberlé Crenshaw?) is coming to take away your pickup truck and replace it with a solar-powered scooter.

7.  While no one's looking use their gerrymandered state legislative majorities to suppress Democratic votes.

The Democratic response runs the gamut from pretending that nothing's wrong (the White House view) to sending really tough Tweets to whining about Sen. Joe Manchin (D – Koch Industries).

We're going to go two millimeters out on the limb and say none of this bodes well for the midterm election.

What can be done given the reality of razor-thin Democratic majorities in both Houses?  

Well, now that you've asked . . .

Let's start with the leading example of the Republican bad-faith playbook: infrastructure spending.  Here's something that's popular with all voters and produces short-term results, at least in terms of pictures of white men leaning on shiny shovels.

President Biden, following the Democratic playbook of proposing sound, sensible legislation, proposed $2.2 trillion in new infrastructure spending, fully paid for by rolling back the ridiculous tax cuts for the rich and corporations rammed through on a zero-bipartisan basis by the Trumpublicans in 2017.

Billy Jo wants this bridge fixed

From the wailing that arose from Republicans, you would have though that Biden was proposing shaking down every storefront on Main Street for whatever was in the till.  So began the search for the Golden Bipartisan Compromise.

Fake Republican offer #1: $257 billion in new spending, paid for by raiding previously approved (and now allocated) COVID relief.  In other words, jack s***.

As usual, bad-faith negotiations followed, with Biden shaving $500 billion from his ask and Republicans in response offering a bucket of warm p***.

After that farce ended, a second round of bad-faith nonsense ensued, resulting in a supposed “bipartisan” deal of about $580 billion in new spending over eight years, paid for not by returning tax rates to their Obama Administration levels (which corresponded with six years of economic recovery from the Bush Recession), but with a mysterious pay-for that can only be an increase in the gas tax.

Sure, that'll work.  You don't have to be as talented a Republican hatchet man as those now doing business as the ever-so-pious Licoln Project to write the attack ad: “Biden and Democrats promised they wouldn't increase your taxes.  Now they're sending your gas tax through the roof.  They lied; you pay.”

If you're running in say Northwest Georgia or the Florida Panhandle, that's got to work better than “My sex partners were all over 18.”

What to do?

It's time to put the question.  It's clear that Republicans will always oppose new infrastrucutre spending until they are forced to pay a political price for it.  Put the $1.7 trillion in spending on the floor, strip out the tax increases, and make every Republican go on the record: Do you want to fix the Tallahatchee Bridge?  If not, run ads appealing to Billy Jo McAllister.

The point is to win the midterms. If the midterms are about gridlock in Washington and why Kamala Harris won't go for a boat ride on the Rio Grande, Democrats will lose.  If they're about who wants to fix the bridges and give you broadband, and who stood in the way, that's gotta work better.

The same path should be followed on voting rights.  There's endless wasted effort on the two vital voting bills, HR 1, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, simply reauthorizing the 1965 bill and immunizing it from fact-free attacks by John “I don't see any racism at the Metropolitan Club” Roberts '76, and HR 4, the For the People Act that would do a whole bunch of good things.

As 50 Republican Senators are content to hide behind the shell of Moscow Mitch McConnell, Democrats have focused on trying to persuade Manchin to approve the bill by suspending the filibuster.

There's only one flaw in this strategy: as long as there are no consequences to doing nothing, Republicans will do nothing.

Instead, let's have a summer of fun!  Every day this summer Schumer should put on the floor (1) the John Lewis bill, and (2) a separate provision of the For the People Act.  Each day each Republican can go on the record as blocking action on voting rights.  Talk about stimulating midterm turnout!

Why won't Harris investigate the Mexican border?
The For the People Act can be easily disassembled into its many provisions:

If the measure passed, Democrats could effectively overpower the states by putting in place new national mandates that they set up automatic voter registration, hold regular no-excuse early and mail-in voting, and restore the franchise to felons who have served their terms. The legislation would also end partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, restructure the Federal Election Commission and require super PACs to disclose their big donors.

In fact the bill contains scores of separate provisions relating to protecting and enhancing the right to vote, each of which can be voted on separately.  Does Sen. Wilfred M. “Profiles in Courage” Romney want to vote against a provision requiring Presidential candidates to release their tax returns?  Why not?  Does Sen. Susan “Disappointed” Collins want to vote against imposing minimal ethics standards on Supreme Court Justices, including the rapey ones?  Let's find out!

Some of the provisions, like public financing, are likely to go down the tubes, but let's see if Republicans are willing to block each and every change.  If so, each no vote is a ready-made attack ad and a reminder to the Democratic base on what could happen if they actually get off their asses and vote, as they did not in 2010 and 2014.

What's the down side?  Right now, all Democratic priorities are on a road to nowhere.  At the very least, let's make it clear who's to blame, and fight the midterms on these terms, not on Cancun Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham doing a summer-stock version of “Deliverance” on the Rio Grande.