Things Not Learned from Vietnam

In this particularly strange and dangerous time, we should revisit the history of the Vietnam War. It is surprising how much we have not yet learned.

I finished watching all 18 hours of Ken Burn’s and Lynn Novick’s film on the Vietnam War.   If you have not seen it, you can still stream it from or buy it at the PBS website. http://www.pbs.org/show/vietnam-war/

It is truly impressive, informative and alarming.

Born on the heels of the Korean conflict, I was too young to have been exposed to the full horror of that war.

The Cold War, however, was in full chill, and U.S. engagement to combat the threat of Communism in Vietnam was escalating.

As a young child, before JFK waded into Vietnam, I remember wondering at people digging bomb shelters in their backyards.  By age six, I knew about nuclear annihilation.

When Kennedy was assassinated, our kickball game against the wall of Harrison Elementary halted and we stood in stunned silence, trembling and weeping for fear of unknown threats happening beyond the boundaries of our playground.

As Vietnam unfolded under LBJ and then Nixon, the black and white basement TV screen nightly carried grainy images and horrifying reports of escalating violence, showing dead bodies, body counts, constant bombing.

One seventh grade football practice, a teammate, Charlie, was summoned away by news of his older brother, who, while serving in Vietnam, had been maimed and blinded by a land mine.

After high school, as anti-war sentiment raged, we registered for the draft and submitted to the last lottery before American withdrawal.

These memories have been resurrected and now placed in the historical narrative of the Burns/Novick documentary.   Certain lessons are now clear.

Arrogance.  American leadership at the time arrogantly believed the war in Vietnam could be won with overwhelming air power and young men and women with superior weaponry.  This hubris led to a horrific waste of lives and materiel.

Ignorance.  Blinded by this arrogance, U.S. leadership (and voters) failed to understand Vietnamese history and culture; supported authoritarian and unpopular South Vietnamese regimes; and, chronically underestimated North Vietnamese motivation and capability.

The late Sam Wilson–a former Army counter-intelligence expert and President Emeritus of Hampden-Sydney College–one of the many veteran voices included in the documentary, summarized this fateful intersection of arrogance and ignorance:

“It is very, very difficult to dispel ignorance if you retain arrogance.”

Making Enemies.  Because of arrogance and ignorance, the Vietnam strategy had the effect to firming the North’s anti-American resolve, losing support in the rural areas of the South and enabling Viet Cong recruitment.  America thus strengthened its enemies and alienated its allies.

Divisiveness.  At the same time, Vietnam drove deepening division in our own country, giving rise to consequent hatred and extremism.  The country was so divided and angry Americans even shot fellow-Americans (as at, for example, at Kent State).

Corrupt Leadership.  Add to all the above stunning examples of corruption, especially of Richard Nixon, who lied about the contraction and expansion of the war and propagandized a “silent majority” (his “base”) who blindly accepted his lip service to freedom, American exceptionalism and Communist threat.

Illegal Campaign Activity; Illegitimate Presidency.  Before Nixon’s first election, and to improve his prospects of winning, he made illegal contact with North Vietnamese peace negotiators and told them to back away from the peace table — this, to advantage his presidential campaign and secure his election victory.  In sum, the U.S. elected a President based on misinformation and illegal political activity, someone willing to perpetuate war and sacrifice American lives for his own political gain.

I wish we could say such arrogance, ignorance, falsehood, propagandizing, hate-mongering and division could never happen again in America.  That we have learned the lessons of history.  Sadly, we cannot.

Our current and ongoing dysfunction arises from a noisome combination of historical ignorance, national wounds still unhealed, politicians willing to exploit division and fear, failure of educational processes and the rising gullibility of a fearsome conservative “base” unwilling to accept factual evidence or engage in critical thinking.

We can and must resist this downward national spiral, by educating ourselves and others, speaking up, getting involved, maintaining resistance and voting for change.

 

For historical learning, the Burns and Novick documentary is a must watch.  Reading of books also helps.  Would someone please tell the President?

Surprise! Over the Weekend, Graham-Cassidy Went from Bad to Worse!!

It’s hard to believe this Zombie bill could get any worse. But it did.

Last night Politico received a leaked copy of a revised Graham-Cassidy bill.  I presume the “leak” was by someone who recognizes this effort as so ill-conceived and harmful that the country should know about it ASAP.  In good time, at the eleventh hour, before this terrible legislation is put to a vote.

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/24/obamacare-graham-cassidy-repeal-243079

Thank you, dear leaker, whoever you are.  You have exposed this last-ditch Republican effort to undo Obamacare.  Instead of getting better, Graham-Cassidy has gone from bad to absurd, which might be laughable if it were not so cravenly cruel.

This latest effort amounts “bribery” of the “swing senators” from Arizona, Alaska and Kentucky, with more block grant monies promised to each of their states.  However, as the Politico article points out, this masks the overall slash-and-burn assault on Medicaid.

So, promising more money to the “swing states,” is less like a bribe and more like a mugger telling you to be grateful to be mugged because you can keep your watch.

Another retrograde revision tries to win over Senators Cruz and Lee by effectively removing federal regulation of health insurers in favor of the states.

Among other things, this would lift existing caps on out of pocket costs and lead to the unwinding of protections for individuals (like my hard-working diabetic daughter) who have “pre-existing conditions.”

On this point, Politico quotes Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation:

“This revised bill is tantamount to federal deregulation of the insurance market.  If there were any doubt that people with pre-existing [conditions] are at risk of being priced out of individual insurance, this bill removes them.”

It’s high time to put aside political differences and mend the problems of the Affordable Care Act.  While Congress continues to battle over health care, with perennial waste of time and money, people are dying.

Americans should demand congressional collaboration and cooperation and an end to this hyper-partisan nonsense.

[Check out my March 15, 2017 blog post:  https://jerrysturgill.blog/2017/03/15/fix-obamacare-stop-wasting-time-and-money-tearing-it-down]

Meanwhile, you have probably seen news of our own Idaho Senators’ willingness to vote for Graham-Cassidy.  (Which makes me wonder why they didn’t try to be hold out votes too, to attract more hush-up, block-grant money to Idaho and make the proposed Medicaid mugging less bad.  Oh well.)

Whether or not Graham-Cassidy passes, Messrs. Risch and Crapo should be held accountable–now and at future ballot boxes–for their cowardly toeing of the far-right party line and their abject failure to help make health care available and affordable for more Idahoans.

 

Graham-Cassidy-oppose

 

Another Zombie Health Care Bill

We hoped it was dead!  But it still isn’t.  Repeal and replace has risen again.  A Senate vote is expected next week.

Senators Graham (R-SC) and Cassidy (R-LA) have proposed a last ditch budget amendment.  Apparently, they think the news cycle is so saturated with natural disasters we will not be paying attention to a man-made one.

cemetery hand

However, we MUST pay attention, especially here in Idaho.  We should pummel our Idaho U.S. Senators with demands to vote against this terrible, zombie bill, before next week’s vote.

There is so much wrong with this process, even before you get to the relative badness of the bill.  Like prior attempts at repeal and replace, Senators Graham and Cassidy, with alarming Senate and White House support, are trying to avoid the deliberative process of the Senate (remember, that failure of “regular order,” about which Senator McCain so passionately spoke in the last round).

The political subterfuge of this “rush job” is obvious and represents hyper-partisanship at its absolute worst.

The proposed process for Graham-Cassidy is even more compressed than before, and is intended to avoid exposure to political and public scrutiny.

It will squash the budding potential for bipartisan collaboration and cooperation and is a violation of democratic process.  As a result, we will careen from one half-supported half-baked result to another.

Because of the short deadline, no scoring will be done by the Congressional Budget Office before a vote.  Even so, the Republicans appear ready to hurry ahead, no doubt because the CBO fueled criticism of their last repeal and replace efforts.

This is like prescribing medicine before the test results are back and a proper diagnosis can be made.

As for the badness of the bill, the Graham-Cassidy amendment is clearly worse than previous repeal and replace efforts.  Suffice it to say that, if passed, it would have a massive negative impact on Idaho and the rest of the country.

The insurance markets, now relatively stable, would be turned upside down.  Even more people (32 million) would lose health insurance.  Federal protection for people with pre-existing conditions would disappear.  Planned Parenthood would be defunded.  Medicaid would be crippled and ultimately disappear.

The whole idea is to kick-the-can-down-the-road to the states with block grants, shifting the burden of fixing health care to disparate state legislative and executive bodies.

The result will be an uneven system of health care “haves” and “have-nots,” with hugely damaging economic and social consequences, especially for thinly-populated, heavily-rural states like ours.

Given the poor performance of the Idaho state legislature on health care generally, Idahoans especially should be screaming “foul.”

Call our Senators, today, and every day, until next week’s vote.  Senator Crapo’s number in D.C. is (202) 224-6142, and Senator Risch’s is (202) 224-2752.  Call Senators McCain (202) 224-2235, Murkowski (202) 224-6665 and Collins (202) 224-2523) too, if you have time.

 

Alt-transcript of Yesterday’s Alt-reality Press Conference at the Alt-White House, Trump Tower

President Trump has an uncanny ability to spot moral equivalence, as demonstrated in this alternative transcript of yesterday’s press conference.

. . . .

Reporter: Senator McCain said that the alt-right is behind these attacks, and he linked that same group to those who perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville.

Trump: Well, I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I’m sure Senator McCain must know what he’s talking about. But when you say the alt-right…uh, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead.

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: No, define it for me. Come on, let’s go.

Reporter: Senator McCain defined them as the same groups.

Trump: OK. What about the alt-left that came charging at-

[Indistinct.]

Trump:  You know what?  Listen.  Last night I decided to do my own historical research.  So, I watched the History Channel.  You may not know about this, fake news, but there was a war.  Not so very long ago.  The alt-right was occupying France.  There they were, the alt-right, minding their own business and you what?  You know what? The alt-left came charging at them across the English Channel and attacked them.  Surprise attack.  Very violent.  Very violent.

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: Excuse me, what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right. Do they have any semblance of guilt?

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: Wait a minute. I’m not finished. I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day.

Reporter: Is it the same level as the Nazis?

Trump: I will tell you something. I watch TV very closely, much more closely than you people watch it, and you have- You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group, you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, or visas, and they were very, very violent.

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Reporter: Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and alt-right on the same moral plane?

Trump: I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane.

[Stunned silence.]

. . . .

 

Charlottesville: Shadows of Darkness

The eclipse came early.  The insanity abroad has been eclipsed by insanity at home.  White nationalists invaded Charlottesville this weekend and the country is bathed in darkness.

When the president attributed blame for Charlottesville to “many sides,” he demonstrated an alarming moral emptiness and intellectual vacuity.

We need presidential resolve and encouragement at such a moment of national crisis.

Much has been said about this overnight, including a retributory Tweet from the “Grand Wizard” himself, David Duke.  Among all the critiques, this one is perhaps the most gut wrenching.

duke

Duke attacks the President for his ambiguity, for being an ingrate to the White Nationalists “taking back America” in Charlottesville, for his failure to take their side and for failing to condemn instead the counter-demonstrators who opposed their efforts to “preserve” White History, White Culture and White Identity.

And it was not just about color, these white boys flew and wore both Confederate and Nazi symbols, spewed anti-Semitism, pulled down rainbow flags and rejected every individual and collective quality of a diverse, pluralistic society.

This is White Darkness indeed.  It expects to be unleashed from “political correctness” and “in control” with the license and leadership of a bouffant-blond, Aryan-looking White President.

These defenders of White History are the “spiritual” and intellectual descendants of the white American immigrants who, among other things, robbed the indigenous peoples of their land, killed them off with guns and disease, stole Africans from their homes, pressed them into the holds of ships to be transported like animals from Africa, and precipitated the death of millions in a civil war fought over the abominable practice of slavery.  They evoke the Nazi crimes of World War II, defend the Holocaust and justify other nationalist horrors of the modern era.

Yes, Mr. President, please do look in your mirror.  These people voted for you, echoed your words this weekend and proudly wore your absurd MAGA hats while they hissed their hate and wreaked their havoc.  You have enabled them and by your example and, by your silence, you have left them unshackled.

I hope these White Americans represent just a small number of the white Americans who voted for you.  But every white American who did, should also look in the mirror, especially the mirror of history.

My July 4th Letter to Senator Crapo. About Health Care, Of Course.

There is good reason for skepticism about our federal delegation. Even so, today I have mailed and emailed this urgent letter to Senator
Crapo.

Dear Senator Crapo,

On election night, when I called to congratulate you on your victory, you were gracious, told me of your working with and listening to both sides of the aisle and accepted my offer to be in touch for moments and matters of importance to Idahoans

This is one of those moments.  The matter is health care.

H.R. 1628 “The Better Care Reconciliation Act” currently before the Senate will have a devastating impact on many Idahoans.  I respectfully implore you to oppose it.

The predicted problems with this legislation are compounded for Idaho in the fact that 78,000 Idahoans already have suffered for years without health care coverage, in large part because the Idaho State Government refused Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Idaho’s Coverage Gap will grow and access to health care will become even more unattainable with the Medicaid contraction and rising premiums predicted by the CBO.

I recently received this note from someone already in the Idaho Coverage Gap:

“Jerry, it’s a sad state of affairs. I am one of the 78,000 here in Idaho. I don’t want something for nothing, but just can’t do the premiums. And it is obviously going to get worse.”

You and I have both served as Bishops in our church.  My ward is unusual in that it takes in the downtown area of Boise and the largest concentration of emergency housing for the homeless in Idaho.  Our ward also has a large swath of Section 8 housing.

Because of my experiences at Church and after the election, I joined the board of the Interfaith Sanctuary, one of the three large homeless shelters in Boise and the only one that accepts families.

ifs

In these roles, I have worked with (and conducted funerals for) the most vulnerable in our community and learned of the mental and physical problems that led to their homelessness and, like an iron boot, kept them there.

Access to health care through Medicaid is often the only thing that gives hope and the possibility of returning to productivity.

The coverage contractions and increasing premiums caused by the BCRA will only result in more homelessness, loss of hope and a growing social burden and responsibility.

In this divisive and individualistic political and cultural environment, I hope you will apply our shared values to encourage care for our poorer brothers and sisters.

The ACA was meant to do that, by spreading the risks and costs of health care to as many as possible. (We all share the costs and risks of driving with car insurance!  Why not health care?)

After strenuous and constant opposition, the ACA mandate is reportedly “hated,” but the fact is that without it (or increased taxes) more people will suffer the effects of poverty and the crushing unavailability of health care—at a cost to all of us.

Consider, for example, the statistics that show where Medicaid was expanded, the costs of emergency care went down.  Otherwise, the costs of emergency care must be spread with increased taxes and higher health care prices.

For these and other reasons, the AHCA and BCRA have been characterized as “Rich Care” for some Americans rather than “Better Care” for all Americans.  No surprise that recent polls show most Americans are against it.

This is not an area where deficit reduction or reducing taxes on the rich should be a consideration.  A healthier society will be a happier, more productive society.  Deficits and rich people will take of themselves.

Please vote against the BCRA and collaborate with both sides of the aisle to fix the ACA or otherwise spread risks and costs to make health care fair and affordable for all Idahoans and all Americans.

Thank you for your kind consideration and your continued service.

Sincerely,

JERRYSIG200

Jerry Sturgill

P.S.  Please feel free to share this message with Senator Risch.  I look forward to being in touch again on future topics, like tax reform, immigration, climate change and public lands.

Bodies Were Lying in the Street

One night in New York City, I happened upon a mafia hit, the result of competition for leadership of the Gambino crime family. Current events take me back to that night.

After law school I worked as a corporate finance lawyer at a prominent law firm and spent 10 years in the firm’s New York City office.

My wife and I had both grown up in the West and, to us, the East had always been distant and forbidding.

“It will be an adventure!” I said to her cheerfully. “We’ll spend a couple of years out there, and then move back West.” She glared at me.

I went out ahead to work and look for housing.  For a week or so, I wandered Manhattan in the evenings, searching for an affordable apartment.

On one of those nights, as I made my way back to my humble Lexington Avenue hotel, I passed Sparks Steak House on 46th Street, close to Third Avenue.

It was the night “Big Paulie” Castellano, head of the Gambino crime family, was gunned down on his way to dinner. Police tape closed off 46th street. Lights were flashing. Sirens blared. Bodies were still lying in the street, covered with sheets.

John Gotti, who had ordered the hit, would become head of the Gambino family. Guess he thought he could do a better job than Castellano.

“Better not tell my wife about this,” I thought, as I skirted the crime scene.

This was a dramatic introduction to an ugly part the City at that time. The mafia was distinctly present and projected an image of being above the law, cocky, arrogant and unrepentant.  Just look at this mug shot of John Gotti.

Gotti mug shot

At that time, some in the New York business world seemed to have inherited mafia-like arrogance, rudeness and winner-take-all attitudes. They showed little concern for relationship and trust. In negotiations, I experienced their blatant misrepresentations, threats, verbal abuse and crudeness.  This always injected stress, distrust and delay in the transactional process.

At law school, in my business negotiations class, I had learned that a negotiator will more quickly achieve optimal outcomes with a collaborative approach.  Humility, listening, honesty and respect build trust, foster cooperation and reach mutually beneficial outcomes.

In the face of the belligerent, bullying New York business style, I consistently applied what I had learned in school. My team succeeded in getting hard things done quickly and our practice grew.

This experience keeps coming back to mind (and you can probably guess where I am headed with the story).

I shudder watching from afar the negotiation style of our new President. So far, his lurching administration has left more bodies “lying in the street” than John Gotti.

This approach to “winning” shows little regard for the “other side,” or the greater good, and, with huge arrogance and a small attention span, fails to understand issues, details, process or people.  It is, to me, mafia-like and poisonous to the political setting.

Our governing institutions, with checks and balances, exist to reach collaborative solutions and achieve optimal outcomes for the whole country, without regard to political party, group identity, winners or losers.

As citizens, we must demand collaboration and resist the “me-first” attitudes promoted by the new administration and worse-than-ever partisanship.

Those attitudes are causing our country, and the world, to become more fearful, angry and divided—and more dangerous and dispirited than ever.