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.

 

“And Here We Have Idaho, Winning Her Way to Fame . . .”

Idaho is a wonderful state, with many good people working together to overcome the anger and division of our time and to promote love, respect and compassion for others.

When I decided to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016, I met with friends in New York City.

“What are you going to do about those Idaho Neo-Nazis?” my friend Jon asked.

He was thinking of the Aryan Nation that once held a hateful compound near Coeur d’Alene.

“They were driven from Idaho long ago,” I stammered, surprised by the stain on our state that lingers after almost two decades.

Unfortunately, deserved or not, Idaho’s reputation for hate was reinforced on Tuesday last week with news of a 24/7 Wall Street report ranking Idaho second in the country, after Montana, for hate.

http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/state/idaho/article167378712.html

The Idaho “Hate Index” is based on our low population (1.7 million), the number of “hate groups” active here (12), and the percentage of the Idaho population that self-identifies as “white” (91.7%).

Based on these statistics, there are 7.1 hate groups per million people in Idaho.  Number one, Montana, has 9.6 hate groups per million.  Just behind (or ahead?) at number 3, Mississippi has 6.0 per million.  Virginia is on the list at number 8 with 4.6.

This is damnable and damning calculus.  Damnable because, whether or not accurate, it has been advertised to the nation (and world) that Idaho is a frightening, hateful state.  This unjustified ranking has ramifications:  among other things, it brings more haters and hate groups to Idaho and turns companies, investors and tourists away.

Want jobs?  Stop hate.

Damning because even one hate group is too many and 7.1 per million suggests by comparison to Virginia that a Charlottesville is more likely to happen here.

The horrifying Charlottesville weekend should be a reminder of the urgency of constant and on-going vigilance.  We must stave off hate  learning, communication, empathy and increased advocacy for human rights.

Happily, among the many individuals and organizations engaged in such efforts in Idaho, two were especially active last week in the aftermath of Charlottesville.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Tuesday last, as images of Charlottesville and stumbling political leaders filled the news, Idahoans gathered at the Anne Frank Memorial to celebrate its fifteenth anniversary and to break ground for the Marilyn Shuler Classroom for Human Rights to continue Marilyn’s inspiring legacy of teaching respect for others.

The Anne Frank Memorial is a peaceful and profound human-rights teaching park maintained by the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights, appropriately named after Bill Wassmuth who, even after his home was bombed, did not shrink from the effort to peacefully drive the Aryans from our state.

“Idaho is too great for hate!” Dan Prinzing, the Executive Director of the Wassmuth Center, declared from the podium during the ceremony at the Memorial.

idahoblackhistorymuseumOn Thursday, the Black History Museum, led by its director Phillip Thompson, hosted a cathartic post-Charlottesville community forum to discuss issues of race and strategies to overcome prejudice and bias.

The museum hall was packed, with a standing room only crowd.  The image of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. hung prominently over our heads.  The crowded room warmed quickly and the air was heavy with post-Charlottesville anguish.  The discussion was highly-inclusive and animated.  When it was over and as we filed out of the building into the cool of the night, we felt comforted and inspired.

Organizations and events like these speak well of Idaho and the vast majority of Idahoans who love and respect others, regardless of color, race, gender, sexual orientation or economic status.  The majority who are willing to focus what makes us the same—our shared humanity, values and purpose–rather than on what makes us different.

Sadly, since November 2016 election, both the Black History Museum and the Anne Frank Memorial have been targets of racist and anti-Semitic vandalism.  Closer to home evidence of the need for vigilance.

We will fight these forces of darkness and exercise the muscles of our better nature by participating with and supporting the Wassmuth Center, the Black History Museum and the many other organizations and groups in Idaho, sectarian and non-sectarian, promoting love, respect and compassion for others.

Thank you, Dan.  Thank you, Phil.  With your help, for human rights, Idaho will win her way to fame.

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.]

. . . .

 

People of Good Will Unite!

We must overwhelm the attitudes of white supremacy, nationalism and insularity that take us backward and harm us all.

David Duke, KKK Imperial Wizard was correct in his weekend Tweet to @realDonald Trump:  White Americans put Donald Trump in office.

david duke
KKK’s David Duke in Charlottesville, Virginia -August 12, 2017

By “White Americans,” though, he surely refers to members of a distinct minority for whom whiteness and white privilege is essential to identity.  They cling to it desperately as they watch their whiteness diluted and dismissed as cultural and historic artifact.

Charlottesville is evidence of this virulent white minority and the sad fact that the fight for civil rights in America is not over.  As hard as it is to imagine in this modern era, there are young, khaki-clad white Americans, wearing MAGA hats, who cling to a past of confederate white supremacy, anti-Semitism, slavery and segregation.

Don’t they see their mindset holds them and the rest of our society back?  Overcoming such attitudes and practices has been essential to cultural and economic progress.  Watch the movie Hidden Figures and wonder if we could have been first in space and sooner to the moon if American society had not committed the crimes of slavery and post-slavery segregation.

Even the Neanderthals intermingled with Homo sapiens and gave up their “big brow” identities.

Charlottesville was an odious clash between progress and those willing to do violence for their identities of color, race, religion and nationality.  For what purpose?

Return to slavery?  Segregation?  Closed borders?  Travel bans?  Trade wars?  All these hobble progress and diminish economic activity.  The only modern hypothetical I can think of is a Walmart closing its doors to customers and allowing only its employees to do business within its walls.  Its “economy” would shrink and failure would loom quickly.

Historic examples include the many failed “utopian” experiments where groups of people walled themselves away from the of rest society, “drank the Kool-Aid” and otherwise spiraled into dysfunction and self-destruction.

Diversity, acceptance, inclusiveness, respect, open doors:  These are not just long-accepted American values, they are essential to American economic progress and prosperity.

Add smart investments in education, job growth and upward mobility, and the economy can soar—for the benefit of everyone.

 

Coming Soon:  Dragging the Anchors of Economic Inequality

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.