bureaucracybusters

FROM “CREDIBILITY GAP” TO “ORWELL LAND”: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on September 28, 2016 at 12:09 am

“Credibility gap” is a term that came into use during the mid-1960s to describe public and journalistic distrust of President Lyndon B. Johnson. In particular, the term was applied to his administration’s conduct of the Vietnam war.

It was, in short, a euphemism for accusing government officials of outright lying.

An example of the credibility gap in full swing appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1987 Vietnam war movie, Full Metal Jacket

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Vietnam was a war where military and political officials spewed a gung-ho version of constant American progress against a tough enemy.

And where civilian reporters like David Halberstam and Walter Cronkite saw–and labeled–the war as a brutal, wasteful and ultimately doomed effort. 

Midway through the film, there’s an editorial meeting of The Sea Tiger, the official Marine newspaper.

Lieutenant Lockhart is presiding–and he is determined to give his superiors an endless stream of “all-systems-go” propaganda reports. He reads a series of stories that have been published:

Story #1: DIPLOMATS IN DUNGAREES–MARINE ENGINEERS LEND A HELPING HAND REBUILDING DONG PHUC VILLAGES.

LOCKHART: “Chili, “if we move Vietnamese, they are evacuees. If they come to us to be evacuated, they are refugees.”

Story #2: N.V.A. SOLDIER DESERTS AFTER READING PAMPHLETS.

LOCKHART: “A young North Vietnamese Army regular, who realized his side could not win the war, deserted from his unit after reading Open Arms program pamphlets.”

Story #3: NOT WHILE WE’RE EATING: N.V.A. LEARN MARINES ON A SEARCH AND DESTROY MISSION DON’T LIKE TO BE INTERRUPTED WHILE EATING CHOW.

LOCKHART: “‘Search and destroy.’  Uh, we have a new directive on this. In the future, in place of ‘search and destroy,’ substitute the phrase ‘sweep and clear.’ Got it?” 

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Lt. Lockhart, editor of The Sea Tiger 

LOCKHART:  “And, Joker–where’s the weenie?”

JOKER:  “Sir?”

LOCKHART  “The Kill, Joker. I mean, all that fire, the grunts must’ve hit something.”

JOKER:  “Didn’t see ’em.”

LOCKHART:  “Joker, I’ve told you, we run two basic stories here: Grunts who give half their pay to buy gooks toothbrushes and deodorants–winning of hearts and Minds–okay? And combat action that results in a kill–Winning the War. Now you must have seen blood trails … drag marks?”

JOKER:  “It was raining, sir.”

LOCKHART:  “Well, that’s why God passed the law of probability. Now rewrite it and give it a happy ending–say, uh, one kill. Make it a sapper or an officer. Grunts like reading about dead officers.”

JOKER:  “Okay, an officer. How about a general?”

LOCKHART:  “Joker, maybe you’d like our guys to read the paper and feel bad. I mean, in case you didn’t know it, this is not a particularly popular war. Now, it is our job to report the news that these why-are-we-here civilian newsmen ignore.”

So great became the divide between truth and lies during military “press briefings” that reporters started calling them “The Five O’clock Follies.” And even some soldiers took to wearing buttons that said: “Ambushed at Credibility Gap.”

Reporters who dared to write truthfully about the military’s crimes and failures–like David Halberstam of the New York Times and Peter Arnett of the Associated Press–were regarded as traitors by military and political officials.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy became enraged by Halberstam’s reporting on the corruption of the South Vietnamese government. He pressured New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger to transfer Halberstam to another locale. Sulzberger politely refused–and then extended Halberstam’s stay in Vietnam another six months.

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David Halberstam

In 1965, when CBS Correspondent Morley Safer filmed Marines setting fire to the village of Cam Ne with Zippo lighters, President Lyndon B. Johnson was similarly outraged.

He placed an early-morning call to CBS News President Frank Stanton and shouted: “Your boys shat on the American flag!”

The trail of deceit and attempted censorship continued right up to the end of the war–in April, 1975. That was when North Vietnamese forces invaded the South and quickly overwhelmed the incompetent defenses arrayed against them.

And while America was still bogged down in Vietnam, the Watergate scandal erupted on June 17, 1972.

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Watergate Hotel

Members of the Nixon administrations secret “Plumbers Unit” burglarized the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel.

Obsessed with re-electing Richard Nixon, they sought incriminating information to discredit U.S. Senator George McGovern, the Democrats’ nominee for President.

When the burglars were caught, President Richard M. Nixon and his topmost officials lied and stonewalled both reporters and investigators seeking the truth.

Nixon’s press secretary, Ronald Ziegler, repeatedly slandered the integrity of The Washington Post for its coverage of the mushrooming Watergate scandal.  He called the Watergate break-in “a third-rate burglary” and attacked the Post for “shabby journalism.”

Finally, on April 17, 1973, Ziegler, announced at a press conference: “This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.”

In short: We’ve been lying to you for the last 10 months.  But now we’re telling the truth.

Like Vietnam, the Watergate scandal destroyed the reputations of many of its chief architects. Forty government officials were indicted or jailed.

Vietnam and Watergate were seminal events for Americans coming of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They taught an entire generation: Don’t trust the government.  Its officials routinely lie, and their lies can be deadly.

SPHERES OF INFLUENCE: OURS AND THEIRS

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 27, 2016 at 12:05 am

It didn’t take much for American Right-wingers to start salivating–and celebrating.

All it took was for Russia to move troops into its neighboring territories of Ukraine and Crimea.

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the American Right felt dejected. Accusing Democrats of being “terrorist-lovers” just hadn’t been as profitable as accusing them of being “Communists.”

The torch had barely gone out at the much-ballyhooed 2014 Sochi Olympics when Russian President Vladimir Putin began menacing the Ukraine. 

Even while the Olympics played out on television, Ukrainians had rioted in Kiev and evicted their corrupt, luxury-loving president, Victor Yanukovych. 

And this, of course, didn’t sit well with his “sponsor”–Putin.

Yanukovych had rejected a pending European Union association agreement. He had chosen instead to pursue a Russian loan bailout and closer ties with Russia.

And that had sat well with Putin.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Putin had yearned for a reestablishment of the same.  He had called that breakup “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.”

So it was almost a certainty that, when his chosen puppet, Yanukovych, was sent packing, Putin would find some way to retaliate.

And since late February, 2014, he has done so, gradually moving Russian troops into Ukraine and its autonomous republic, Crimea.

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Vladimir Putin

By late March, it was clear that Russia had sufficient forces in both Ukraine and Crimea to wreak any amount of destruction Putin may wish to inflict.

And where there is activity by Russians, there are American Rightists eager–in Shakespeare’s word–to “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”

Or at least to use such events to their own political advantage.

Right-wingers such as Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachussetts who lost the 2012 Presidential election by a wide margin to Barack Obama.

“There’s no question but that the president’s naiveté with regards to Russia,” said Romney on March 23, 2014.

“And unfortunately, not having anticipated Russia’s intentions, the president wasn’t able to shape the kinds of events that may have been able to prevent the kinds of circumstances that you’re seeing in the Ukraine, as well as the things that you’re seeing in Syria.”

All of which overlooks a number of brutal political truths. 

First, all great powers have spheres of interest–and jealously guard them.

For the United States, it’s Latin and Central America, as established by the Monroe Doctrine.

And just what is the Monroe Doctrine?

It’s a statement made by President James Monroe in his 1823 annual message to Congress, which warned European powers not to interfere in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere.

It has no other legitimacy than the willingness of the United States to use armed force to back it up. When the United States no longer has the will or resources to enforce the Doctrine, it will cease to have meaning.

For the Soviet Union, its spheres of influence include the Ukraine. Long known as “the breadbasket of Russia,” in 2011, it was the world’s third-largest grain exporter.

Russia will no more give up access to that breadbasket than the United States would part with the rich farming states of the Midwest. 

Second, spheres of influence often prove disastrous to those smaller countries affected.

Throughout Latin and Central America, the United States remains highly unpopular for its brutal use of “gunboat diplomacy” during the 20th century.

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American gunboat

Among those countries invaded or controlled by America: Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Columbia, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

The resulting anger has led many Latin and Central Americans to support Communist Cuba, even though its political oppression and economic failure are universally apparent.

Similarly, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) forced many nations–such as Poland, Hungary and Czechoslavakia–to submit to the will of Moscow.

The alternative? The threat of Soviet invasion–as occurred in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Third, even “great powers” are not all-powerful.

In 1949, after a long civil war, the forces of Mao Tse-tung defeated the Nationalist armies of Chaing Kai-Shek, who withdrew to Taiwan.

China had never been a territory of the United States. Nor could the United States have prevented Mao from defeating the corrupt, ineptly-led Nationalist forces.

Even so, Republican Senators and Representatives such as Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy eagerly blamed President Harry S. Truman and the Democrats for “losing China.”

The fear of being accused of “losing” another country led Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon to tragically commit the United States to “roll back” Communism in Cuba and Vietnam.

Now Republicans–who claim the United States can’t afford to provide healthcare for its poorest citizens–want to turn the national budget over to the Pentagon.

They want the United States to “intervene” in Syria–even though this civil war pits Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, two of America’s greatest enemies, against each other.

They want the United States to “intervene” in Ukraine–even though this would mean going to war with the only nuclear power capable of turning America into an atomic graveyard.

Before plunging into conflicts that don’t concern us and where there is absolutely nothing to “win,” Americans would do well to remember the above-stated lessons of history. And to learn from them.

WHY THE POOR VOTE REPUBLICAN: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 26, 2016 at 12:10 am

Republicans have long tried to prevent or eliminate programs that aid the poor and middle-class, including:

  • Social Security (since it began in 1935)
  • Medicare
  • National health insurance
  • Food stamps
  • WIC (Women, Infants, Children).

So why are so many poor Americans now flocking to this party’s banner?

Two reasons: Racism and greed. There are historical parallels for both.

First, race:

In 1999, historian Victor Davis Hanson noted the huge gap in wealth between the aristocratic, slave-owning minority of the pre-Civil War South and the vast majority of poor white Southerners.

Victor Davis Hanson

“Before the war in the counties Sherman would later ruin, the top 10% of the landowners controlled 40% of the assessed wealth.”

In contrast, “more than half of those who were lucky enough to own any property at all still possessed less than 15% of the area’s valuation.”

So Hanson asked: “Why did the millions of poor whites of the Confederacy fight at all?”

He supplied the answer in his brilliant work on military history, The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny.

One of those liberators was General William Tecumseh Sherman, who led 62,000 Union troops in a victorious “March to the Sea” through the Confederacy in 1864.

So why did so many poor Southern whites literally lay down their lives for the wealthy planter class, which despised them?

According to Hanson: “Behind the entire social fabric of the South lay slavery.

“If slavery eroded the economic position of the poor free citizens, if slavery encouraged a society of haves and have-nots…then it alone offered one promise to the free white man–poor, ignorant and dispirited–that he was at least not black and not a slave.”

And the planter class and its allies in government easily fobbed off their poor white countrymen with cheap flattery. Said Georgia Governor Joseph Brown:

“Among us the poor white laborer is respected as an equal. His family is treated with kindness, consideration, and respect. He does not belong to the menial class. The negro is in no sense his equal. He belongs to the only true aristocracy, the race of white men.”

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Arlington House and plantation, former home of Robert E. Lee

Similarly, poor whites now flock to the Republican Party–which holds them in equal contempt– in large part to protest the 2008 election of the first black President of the United States.

According to a Pew Research Center study released on July 22, 2011: “Notably, the GOP gains have occurred only among white voters; a 2-point Republican edge among whites in 2008 (46% to 44%) has widened to a 13-point lead today (52% to 39%).”

Since the 1960s, Republicans have pursued a campaign policy of “divide and rule”–divide the nation along racial lines and reap the benefits at election time.

  • Republicans opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Republicans opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • Republicans, with Richard Nixon as their Presidential candidate in 1968 and 1972, pursued what they called a “Southern strategy”: Use “code language” to stoke fear and hatred of blacks among whites.
  • Republicans have falsely identified welfare programs exclusively with non-whites. (Of the six million Americans receiving food stamps, about 42% are white, 32% are black, and 22% are Latino–with the growth fastest among whites during the recession.)

Thus, in voting Republican, many of these poor whites believe they are “striking a blow for the white race.”

And they can do so in a more socially acceptable way than joining a certified hate group such as the American Nazi Party or Ku Klux Klan.  

Since 2015, openly racist groups such as the Klan and the American Nazi Party have flocked to the banner of Presidential candidate mogul Donald Trump. By enthusiastically courting their support, the real estate mogul has made it possible for Republican candidates to openly display their own racism.

Now greed:

In the hit play, 1776, on the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence, there is a telling exchange between John Dickinson and John Hancock. It comes during the song, “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men.”

Dickinson, the delegate from Pennsylvania, urges Hancock, president of the Second Continental Congress, “to join us in our minuet.”

By “us” he means his fellow conservatives who fear losing their property and exalted status by supporting American independence from Great Britain.

John Dickinson

Hancock declines, saying: “Fortunately, there are not enough men of property in America to dictate policy.”

To which Dickinson replies:  “Perhaps not. But don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.  And that is why they will follow us.”

Today,  poor whites generally identify with the CEOs of powerful corporations. They believe the Republican gospel that they can attain such wealth–if only the government will “get out of my way.”

They forget–or ignore–the truth that government, for all its imperfections, is sometimes all that stands between them and a wide range of predators.

In return, the CEOs despise them as the privileged have always despised their social and economic “inferiors.”

Unless the Democratic Party can find ways to directly address these bitter, Politically Incorrect truths, it will continue its decline into insignificance.

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