Covid Vaccine and the Christian Message

Why are some so staunchly critical?

Jerry LeClaireSep 3

I was brought up as a mainline Protestant in the United Methodist Church in Wisconsin. Even as a teenager I was aware of a church hierarchy, a governing structure above the individual church congregation level that exerted at least some control over the conduct and preaching of pastors of Methodist Churches. This governing structure is what makes the United Methodist Church one of the mainline Protestant “denominations.” In contrast, “non-denominational” Christian churches characteristically have no such oversight. A preacher in many a non-denomination setting is free to lead based on his or her own emphasis and interpretation of scripture. Such a preacher is limited only by his or her charisma, his or her ability to convince followers of the biblical truth of what they have to say. Most mainline Protestants would be startled to listen to some of the preaching in these churches, preaching that bears little resemblance to anything recognizable as a Christian message, preaching with an emphasis, for example, on the importance of the Second Amendment. (I don’t recall Jesus recommending the bearing of arms.) Two such churches that stand out for me are the Covenant Church on the the near north side of Spokane and the Candlelight Christian Fellowship in Coeur d’Alene, both of which have been active and vocal in the anti-vaccination/anti-mask movement during the Covid pandemic. 

The article copied below was written by John Fea, an Associate Professor of History at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. I found Professor Fea’s article enlightening about the linkage of Fundamentalist, non-denominational Christianity and the anti-vaccination movement. 

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry

Jesus is My Vaccine

by John Fea

September 2, 2021

Recently someone close to me, a devout evangelical Christian, texted to explain why he was not getting the COVID-19 vaccine. “Jesus went around healing lepers and touched them without fear of getting leprosy,” he said. And if this reference to Luke 17:11-19 was not enough to convince me that followers of Jesus were immune to COVID-19, he added St. Paul’s words in Romans 8:2 to his biblical argument against vaccination: “The law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

These are not the only Bible verses I have seen and heard evangelical Christians use to justify their anti-vaccine convictions. Other popular passages include Psalm 30:2 (“Lord, I called to you for help, and you healed me.”); 1 Corinthians 6:19 (“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?”); and Leviticus 17:11 (“For the life of a creature is in the blood.”).

What is going on here?

Earlier this week I was talking to a reporter who covers the public health beat. He was working on an article about American Catholics seeking religious exemptions to vaccine mandates issued by their school districts and places of employment. Many of these exemption-seekers are asking local Catholic priests to write letters on their behalf, not unlike students who show up to class following an absence with notes from their doctors. (Most Catholic archdioceses are refusing to provide such letters.)

The reporter asked me if evangelicals were also seeking exemption letters from their pastors. The question gave me an opportunity to explain some basic differences between Catholic and evangelical approaches to biblical interpretation.

Unlike Roman Catholicism, with its ecclesiastical hierarchy and official doctrinal pronouncements emanating from the Vatican, evangelicalism has no such organizational structure. As Calvin University historian Ronald Wells once quipped, “I wanted to resign from evangelicalism. But I didn’t know where to send the letter.”  

Indeed, American evangelicals resist most forms of organizational control. How does one coral the Holy Spirit when it moves in the hearts of God’s people? The New Birth cannot be contained—it is a spiritual experience that transcends man-made religious institutions. Why listen to a bishop over the direct voice of God?

When it comes to the use of the Bible in public life, evangelical Christians take the Protestant Reformation to its logical conclusion. In the sixteenth century, Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther translated the Vulgate, a Latin version of the Old and New Testaments that only educated men (mostly priests) could read, into the language of the common people. As ordinary Europeans read the Bible—many for the first time—they inevitably began to interpret it as well. 

Although Protestant communities in the immediate wake of the Reformation proved successful in shaping the way their members understood the scriptures, in the early United States biblical interpretation became more free-wheeling, individualistic, and unhinged from such communities. Small differences over how to interpret the Bible often resulted in the creation of new sects. 

As the United States grew more democratic, Protestant men and women brought their ever-expanding freedoms to bear on their reading of the Bible. The Pope, they argued, required his followers to abide by authoritative readings of the sacred text, but Protestants had the liberty to read and interpret the Bible for themselves, using little more than their own common sense. Protestantism, and especially the evangelical brand of Protestantism sweeping the country through the religious revival that historians have called the Second Great Awakening, was a religion of freedom.

I told this reporter that while Catholics turn to priests to explain their faith to health officials, school administrators, and employers, evangelicals need no such mediators. All they have to do is pick a few Bible verses, manipulate those verses so that they speak directly to the subject of COVID-19 vaccination, and then reference the novel interpretations on a religious exemption form. 

But even evangelicals do not develop their religious arguments against the vaccine, or anything else for that matter, in isolation. Throughout United States history they have turned, almost in cult-like fashion, to charismatic celebrities who build their followings by baptizing the political or cultural propaganda they promote in a sea of random Bible verses. Like the early Corinthian church, some evangelicals follow Paul, others follow Apollos, others follow Cephas, and still others claim to follow Christ (I Corinthians 3:12). Without an ecclesiastical hierarchy to reign them in, these evangelical pied pipers have little accountability. 

Megachurch pastors, televangelists, conservative media commentators, and social media influencers have far more power over ordinary evangelical Christians than their local pastors, many of whom feel powerless when they try to encourage their congregations to consider that God works through science. 

When I ask evangelical anti-vaxxers how they come to their conclusions, they all seem to cite the same sources: Fox News (especially prime-time hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham), Grace Community Church pastor John MacArthur, Salem Radio host and author Eric Metaxas, Tennessee megachurch leader Greg Locke, or a host of fringe media personalities whom they watch on cable television or Facebook.

Of course, modern American evangelicals have always used the Bible to defend views that are out of the mainstream. Today they oppose vaccines. Ten years ago they insisted that Barack Obama was the Antichrist and claimed that Jesus was going to return on May 21, 2011. Back then we dismissed them as cranks or at most objects of curiosity worthy of a news story or two before reason banished them to the fringes of American life. But this is no longer true.

Social media allows evangelical conspiracy theorists to become influential through their scripture-laden, anti-vaxxer rants. By catering to these evangelical celebrities in an attempt to garner their votes, the Trump presidency empowered them and their irresponsible uses of the Bible.  

We are now seeing the dark side of Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura. When the Bible is placed in the hands of the people, void of any kind of authoritative community to guide them in their proper understanding of the text, the people can make it say anything they want it to say. 

Jesus is my vaccine!

John Fea is Executive Editor at Current.

Why are some so staunchly critical?

Jerry LeClaireSep 3

I was brought up as a mainline Protestant in the United Methodist Church in Wisconsin. Even as a teenager I was aware of a church hierarchy, a governing structure above the individual church congregation level that exerted at least some control over the conduct and preaching of pastors of Methodist Churches. This governing structure is what makes the United Methodist Church one of the mainline Protestant “denominations.” In contrast, “non-denominational” Christian churches characteristically have no such oversight. A preacher in many a non-denomination setting is free to lead based on his or her own emphasis and interpretation of scripture. Such a preacher is limited only by his or her charisma, his or her ability to convince followers of the biblical truth of what they have to say. Most mainline Protestants would be startled to listen to some of the preaching in these churches, preaching that bears little resemblance to anything recognizable as a Christian message, preaching with an emphasis, for example, on the importance of the Second Amendment. (I don’t recall Jesus recommending the bearing of arms.) Two such churches that stand out for me are the Covenant Church on the the near north side of Spokane and the Candlelight Christian Fellowship in Coeur d’Alene, both of which have been active and vocal in the anti-vaccination/anti-mask movement during the Covid pandemic. 

The article copied below was written by John Fea, an Associate Professor of History at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. I found Professor Fea’s article enlightening about the linkage of Fundamentalist, non-denominational Christianity and the anti-vaccination movement. 

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry

Jesus is My Vaccine

by John Fea

September 2, 2021

Recently someone close to me, a devout evangelical Christian, texted to explain why he was not getting the COVID-19 vaccine. “Jesus went around healing lepers and touched them without fear of getting leprosy,” he said. And if this reference to Luke 17:11-19 was not enough to convince me that followers of Jesus were immune to COVID-19, he added St. Paul’s words in Romans 8:2 to his biblical argument against vaccination: “The law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

These are not the only Bible verses I have seen and heard evangelical Christians use to justify their anti-vaccine convictions. Other popular passages include Psalm 30:2 (“Lord, I called to you for help, and you healed me.”); 1 Corinthians 6:19 (“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?”); and Leviticus 17:11 (“For the life of a creature is in the blood.”).

What is going on here?

Earlier this week I was talking to a reporter who covers the public health beat. He was working on an article about American Catholics seeking religious exemptions to vaccine mandates issued by their school districts and places of employment. Many of these exemption-seekers are asking local Catholic priests to write letters on their behalf, not unlike students who show up to class following an absence with notes from their doctors. (Most Catholic archdioceses are refusing to provide such letters.)

The reporter asked me if evangelicals were also seeking exemption letters from their pastors. The question gave me an opportunity to explain some basic differences between Catholic and evangelical approaches to biblical interpretation.

Unlike Roman Catholicism, with its ecclesiastical hierarchy and official doctrinal pronouncements emanating from the Vatican, evangelicalism has no such organizational structure. As Calvin University historian Ronald Wells once quipped, “I wanted to resign from evangelicalism. But I didn’t know where to send the letter.”  

Indeed, American evangelicals resist most forms of organizational control. How does one coral the Holy Spirit when it moves in the hearts of God’s people? The New Birth cannot be contained—it is a spiritual experience that transcends man-made religious institutions. Why listen to a bishop over the direct voice of God?

When it comes to the use of the Bible in public life, evangelical Christians take the Protestant Reformation to its logical conclusion. In the sixteenth century, Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther translated the Vulgate, a Latin version of the Old and New Testaments that only educated men (mostly priests) could read, into the language of the common people. As ordinary Europeans read the Bible—many for the first time—they inevitably began to interpret it as well. 

Although Protestant communities in the immediate wake of the Reformation proved successful in shaping the way their members understood the scriptures, in the early United States biblical interpretation became more free-wheeling, individualistic, and unhinged from such communities. Small differences over how to interpret the Bible often resulted in the creation of new sects. 

As the United States grew more democratic, Protestant men and women brought their ever-expanding freedoms to bear on their reading of the Bible. The Pope, they argued, required his followers to abide by authoritative readings of the sacred text, but Protestants had the liberty to read and interpret the Bible for themselves, using little more than their own common sense. Protestantism, and especially the evangelical brand of Protestantism sweeping the country through the religious revival that historians have called the Second Great Awakening, was a religion of freedom.

I told this reporter that while Catholics turn to priests to explain their faith to health officials, school administrators, and employers, evangelicals need no such mediators. All they have to do is pick a few Bible verses, manipulate those verses so that they speak directly to the subject of COVID-19 vaccination, and then reference the novel interpretations on a religious exemption form. 

But even evangelicals do not develop their religious arguments against the vaccine, or anything else for that matter, in isolation. Throughout United States history they have turned, almost in cult-like fashion, to charismatic celebrities who build their followings by baptizing the political or cultural propaganda they promote in a sea of random Bible verses. Like the early Corinthian church, some evangelicals follow Paul, others follow Apollos, others follow Cephas, and still others claim to follow Christ (I Corinthians 3:12). Without an ecclesiastical hierarchy to reign them in, these evangelical pied pipers have little accountability. 

Megachurch pastors, televangelists, conservative media commentators, and social media influencers have far more power over ordinary evangelical Christians than their local pastors, many of whom feel powerless when they try to encourage their congregations to consider that God works through science. 

When I ask evangelical anti-vaxxers how they come to their conclusions, they all seem to cite the same sources: Fox News (especially prime-time hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham), Grace Community Church pastor John MacArthur, Salem Radio host and author Eric Metaxas, Tennessee megachurch leader Greg Locke, or a host of fringe media personalities whom they watch on cable television or Facebook.

Of course, modern American evangelicals have always used the Bible to defend views that are out of the mainstream. Today they oppose vaccines. Ten years ago they insisted that Barack Obama was the Antichrist and claimed that Jesus was going to return on May 21, 2011. Back then we dismissed them as cranks or at most objects of curiosity worthy of a news story or two before reason banished them to the fringes of American life. But this is no longer true.

Social media allows evangelical conspiracy theorists to become influential through their scripture-laden, anti-vaxxer rants. By catering to these evangelical celebrities in an attempt to garner their votes, the Trump presidency empowered them and their irresponsible uses of the Bible.  

We are now seeing the dark side of Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura. When the Bible is placed in the hands of the people, void of any kind of authoritative community to guide them in their proper understanding of the text, the people can make it say anything they want it to say. 

Jesus is my vaccine!

John Fea is Executive Editor at Current.

Republican Pandemic Fiscal Profligacy

So much for being fiscally responsible

Jerry LeClaireSep 1
Found circulating as a text message

Local Republican elected officials (Rep. Rob Chase, for example) and local far right Republican agitators (former Rep. Matt Shea and Caleb Collier) have been busy spreading harebrained arguments and declarations against mask and vaccination mandates. These folks and other Republicans preach fiscal responsibility. Fiscal responsibility is still one their leading arguments against both of the infrastructure bills currently before the U.S. Congress. What about fiscal responsibility in dealing with the Covid pandemic?

Overwhelmingly, it is the unvaccinated (and often the unmasked) who are showing up for treatment of Covid pneumonia. Local hospitals and emergency rooms are cancelling elective procedures and scrambling to gather staff, drugs, and equipment to treat these people. A stay in a hospital Intensive Care Unit for Covid pneumonia, whether ending in death, disability, or a cure, typically runs well over $100,000. And that ignores the personal and societal financial costs of disability, long Covid, and death. The two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines that would have prevented or greatly lessened the severity of Covid illness cost the U.S. government about $40. That same $100,000 medical expense invested in vaccination would have protected 2500 people. 

We pay those $100,000 bills collectively. We pay them collectively through insurance—or through medical bankruptcy. Insurance is, after all, a collective enterprise. We pay a monthly fee that frees us (to some small degree) from the fear of a bill that might bankrupt us. It is out of those monthly fees that we all, ultimately, pay the Covid-19 hospital bills. (Yes, that’s even true of Medicare. It’s just that the Medicare insurance premiums are taken out of your paycheck during your working life.) If your insurance falls short and your own funds are inadequate, you face medical bankruptcy. In a bankruptcy all the people and institutions to whom you owe money have to settle for less. Seen a slightly different way, all those people and institutions share in paying a legally prescribed portion of your medical bill. 

Fiscal responsibility would be to strongly encourage people to get vaccinated—including financial and societal incentives. A logical financial incentive might include a discount in monthly health insurance premium for those with proof of vaccination. After all, it will cost more, on average, to pay the medical bills of an unvaccinated person. Shouldn’t I be offered the “freedom” to not have to pay their medical bills with my health care insurance premiums? Doesn’t “freedom” include accepting the fiscal consequences of one’s choices? Insurance companies of all types carve out exceptions in every policy. That’s how insurance companies make money: they balance risk versus premiums collected and reap a percentage of the transaction.

I am not in favor of a governmental mandate requiring everyone to be vaccinated, but I am in favor of fiscal prudence, a virtue that Republicans have abandoned in their drive to garner the votes of those who put the fiscal burden of their vaccination decisions on the rest of us. “Freedom” cuts many ways. 

Republicans ought to be in favor of the “freedom” of restaurant owners, a concert venue, and other businesses to require vaccination of their customers. After all, such a requirement could be a straightforward business decision. I’m certainly more likely to go inside a business where I’m assured that everyone is vaccinated. This is free enterprise, another supposed Republican value. After all, Republicans and their Religious Right celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision that freed a Colorado businessman, a baker, from requiring him to serve a gay couple by baking a wedding cake. Perhaps the baker thought this a wise business decision that would attract a certain type of customer to his shop. The Supremes said he was free to make that choice. Freedom to require vaccination is more compelling. It not only a business choice, but a choice with positive health consequences.

Keep to the high ground,

Jerry

P.S. The theme for this post came from an article by Syndicated Columnist Froma Harrop that appeared in the Spokesman in the electron-only Saturday, August 28 edition. Harrop’s column is worth reading for its concentration on the national scene of pandemic fiscal policy. 

P.P.S. For Republican distorted fiscal reasoning there is no better example than the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. Last month by executive order he banned both vaccine mandates and mask mandates for his state. He went unmasked to a Republican fundraiser (where most of the participants were also unmasked) on Monday, August 16. The next day it was reported that Abbott tested positive for Covid on a routine test. That in itself is interesting. The rest of us don’t get daily Covid tests, but the rest of the story is even more interesting. Abbott not only was vaccinated AND got an off label booster shot, but he, being a man of great privilege I suppose, received a dose of Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment, the same expensive treatment that may have saved Trump’s life. Note that the price tag of Regeneron’s treatment is $2100 and the treatment is meant for “people at considerable risk of developing severe Covid symptoms, including millions of Americans with compromised immune systems.” Abbott, according to news accounts, had no symptoms at all. I wonder how many parents of Covid infected, unmasked children will come down with a severe case of the disease thanks to Abbott’s mandate, while the governor affords himself lavish protection. How many of those infected parents won’t have been vaccinated on account of ban of mandates and how many of them will have the fiscal wherewithal get an expensive preventative treatment? How much will will we all pay in order to treat these people AND to afford Abbott with the very best medical care?

Tyler LeMasters, Legitimate Candidate?

The law vs. what it’s trying to accomplish.

Jerry LeClaireAug 30

Last week, candidate Tyler LeMasters was struck from the November general election ballot by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Annette Plese. Mr. LeMasters was trying to step in to challenge Betsy Wilkerson for the District 2, Position 2 (South Hill) seat on the City of Spokane City Council. Judge Plese ruled that Mr. LeMasters had not fulfilled the residency requirement to be a candidate for City Council. The residency requirement is set forth in the City Charter, Article II, Section 6, A:

A person must be a qualified voter of the City of Spokane and have been a resident of the city, and of the appropriate council district, for the one year immediately preceding the time of filing as a candidate for, or the time of appointment to, the office of mayor, council president, or council member.

Mr. LeMasters missed the mark by months. He filed his candidacy with the Washington Secretary of State on May 18, 2021, after moving to Spokane in November of 2020 from Virginia. He had lived in Virginia from July 2019 to November 2020 and worked for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodger (R-CD5, eastern Washington) in Washington, D.C.

The Spokesman article on Judge Plese’ ruling, written by Colin Tiernan dove into the legal definitions of resident, civil servant, public servant, and businessman. Click and read the article for more detail on the legal arguments. 

An in-District residency requirement of only a year is low bar for candidacy to represent the citizens of that District to the City Council, but the reason for the requirement is clear. The District’s voters deserve to be presented with candidates who have been directly and recently involved in the issues of the District, not someone swooping in from afar equipped with a philosophy but lacking direct experience with the District’s issues and citizens. 

Marshall Casey, the former law partner of Matt Shea and the attorney representing Mr. LeMasters, lamented in the Spokesman article:

“I think this removes a choice for the voters. I think people who are serving their community should not be uneligible. Running for office is extremely hard.”

Casey’s “serving their community” is disingenuous. Mr. LeMaster’s has been serving Rep. McMorris Rodgers as a “policy portfolio specialist.” That is serving the political interests of McMorris Rodgers while living 2500 miles away from the City of Spokane’s District 2 (South Hill) community. 

Even if Judge Plese had accepted Marshall Casey’s definitional arguments, Mr. LeMasters violated the intent of the City Council’s residency requirement.

Leaving aside Mr. LeMasters trying to bend the City Charter’s candidacy rules, we have not seen the end of his efforts to gain a foothold in public office. McMorris Rodgers’ office has been an incubator for budding Republican politicians for years. (Think U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-WA CD3, SW WA). That LeMasters left his post in McMorris’ D.C. office to set up housekeeping in Spokane last November was no accident—it was just a few months late. He and his backers certainly understood the likelihood of his winning a seat on the Spokane City Council from District 2 was slim to none. After all, Spokane’s South Hill is the bluest area in eastern Washington. However, the Republican Party (and McMorris Rodgers’ people) understand that getting one’s name in front of the voters is a necessary step to eventually winning elections. (It is worth noting that Republicans have been far more diligent and successful at fielding new candidates than local Democrats have in the last few decades.) 

Although this is technically a non-partisan race, LeMasters’ Republican bonafides are glaringly obvious. Like McMorris Rodgers, LeMasters’ graduated high school from a relatively rural area (Medical Lake) and went on to college at a Christian fundamentalist institution, Azusa Pacific University on the outskirts of Los Angeles, from where he graduated with a degree in Biblical Studies. He dutifully filled out WeBelieveWeVote’s questionnaire. His answers shine some light on his underpinnings in a way that his campaign website does not. Based on his responses to the survey, LeMasters received the lowest rating of any candidate who responded to it. His moderate-looking “alignment rating” of 56% was earned by declaring some of the most revealing litmus test questions as “primarily state issues” and declining to answer them. That tactic is vintage McMorris Rodgers: be sure to offer just enough alignment to garner the vote of the WeBelieveWeVote crowd while avoiding truthful answers that might be seen as toxic by other voters. 

Mounting a campaign against a popular incumbent with substantial financial backing seems quixotic, but that characterization misses the point. Mr. LeMasters was set (or sent?) on a diversionary mission. His short term goals were 1) to make sure that he was on the ballot in case something completely unforeseen happened to his opponent’s candidacy, 2) to keep pounding the Republican message (just visit his glitzy, short-on-details, but long-on-provocative-photos campaign website), and 3) to make sure that his opponent’s campaign and extensive campaign contributions weren’t entirely free for deployment in support of other candidates. As yet one more realtor/developer type seeking or holding public office (think Rob Chase, Mary Kuney, and Al French) LeMasters might look forward to considerable financial support from the “independent” PAC of the Washington State realtors in future election efforts. 

This candidacy is just one step in this 30 year old’s electoral aspirations. Like his employer and likely mentor, McMorris Rodgers, when LeMasters re-appears as a candidate his formal education and political training may well prevent him from even comprehending issues like global warming, much less voting to mitigate its effects. 

Judge Plese’ ruling against LeMasters’ candidacy is just a minor pothole in his road. Watch.

Keep to the high ground,

Jerry

The law vs. what it’s trying to accomplish.

Jerry LeClaireAug 30

Last week, candidate Tyler LeMasters was struck from the November general election ballot by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Annette Plese. Mr. LeMasters was trying to step in to challenge Betsy Wilkerson for the District 2, Position 2 (South Hill) seat on the City of Spokane City Council. Judge Plese ruled that Mr. LeMasters had not fulfilled the residency requirement to be a candidate for City Council. The residency requirement is set forth in the City Charter, Article II, Section 6, A:

A person must be a qualified voter of the City of Spokane and have been a resident of the city, and of the appropriate council district, for the one year immediately preceding the time of filing as a candidate for, or the time of appointment to, the office of mayor, council president, or council member.

Mr. LeMasters missed the mark by months. He filed his candidacy with the Washington Secretary of State on May 18, 2021, after moving to Spokane in November of 2020 from Virginia. He had lived in Virginia from July 2019 to November 2020 and worked for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodger (R-CD5, eastern Washington) in Washington, D.C.

The Spokesman article on Judge Plese’ ruling, written by Colin Tiernan dove into the legal definitions of resident, civil servant, public servant, and businessman. Click and read the article for more detail on the legal arguments. 

An in-District residency requirement of only a year is low bar for candidacy to represent the citizens of that District to the City Council, but the reason for the requirement is clear. The District’s voters deserve to be presented with candidates who have been directly and recently involved in the issues of the District, not someone swooping in from afar equipped with a philosophy but lacking direct experience with the District’s issues and citizens. 

Marshall Casey, the former law partner of Matt Shea and the attorney representing Mr. LeMasters, lamented in the Spokesman article:

“I think this removes a choice for the voters. I think people who are serving their community should not be uneligible. Running for office is extremely hard.”

Casey’s “serving their community” is disingenuous. Mr. LeMaster’s has been serving Rep. McMorris Rodgers as a “policy portfolio specialist.” That is serving the political interests of McMorris Rodgers while living 2500 miles away from the City of Spokane’s District 2 (South Hill) community. 

Even if Judge Plese had accepted Marshall Casey’s definitional arguments, Mr. LeMasters violated the intent of the City Council’s residency requirement.

Leaving aside Mr. LeMasters trying to bend the City Charter’s candidacy rules, we have not seen the end of his efforts to gain a foothold in public office. McMorris Rodgers’ office has been an incubator for budding Republican politicians for years. (Think U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-WA CD3, SW WA). That LeMasters left his post in McMorris’ D.C. office to set up housekeeping in Spokane last November was no accident—it was just a few months late. He and his backers certainly understood the likelihood of his winning a seat on the Spokane City Council from District 2 was slim to none. After all, Spokane’s South Hill is the bluest area in eastern Washington. However, the Republican Party (and McMorris Rodgers’ people) understand that getting one’s name in front of the voters is a necessary step to eventually winning elections. (It is worth noting that Republicans have been far more diligent and successful at fielding new candidates than local Democrats have in the last few decades.) 

Although this is technically a non-partisan race, LeMasters’ Republican bonafides are glaringly obvious. Like McMorris Rodgers, LeMasters’ graduated high school from a relatively rural area (Medical Lake) and went on to college at a Christian fundamentalist institution, Azusa Pacific University on the outskirts of Los Angeles, from where he graduated with a degree in Biblical Studies. He dutifully filled out WeBelieveWeVote’s questionnaire. His answers shine some light on his underpinnings in a way that his campaign website does not. Based on his responses to the survey, LeMasters received the lowest rating of any candidate who responded to it. His moderate-looking “alignment rating” of 56% was earned by declaring some of the most revealing litmus test questions as “primarily state issues” and declining to answer them. That tactic is vintage McMorris Rodgers: be sure to offer just enough alignment to garner the vote of the WeBelieveWeVote crowd while avoiding truthful answers that might be seen as toxic by other voters. 

Mounting a campaign against a popular incumbent with substantial financial backing seems quixotic, but that characterization misses the point. Mr. LeMasters was set (or sent?) on a diversionary mission. His short term goals were 1) to make sure that he was on the ballot in case something completely unforeseen happened to his opponent’s candidacy, 2) to keep pounding the Republican message (just visit his glitzy, short-on-details, but long-on-provocative-photos campaign website), and 3) to make sure that his opponent’s campaign and extensive campaign contributions weren’t entirely free for deployment in support of other candidates. As yet one more realtor/developer type seeking or holding public office (think Rob Chase, Mary Kuney, and Al French) LeMasters might look forward to considerable financial support from the “independent” PAC of the Washington State realtors in future election efforts. 

This candidacy is just one step in this 30 year old’s electoral aspirations. Like his employer and likely mentor, McMorris Rodgers, when LeMasters re-appears as a candidate his formal education and political training may well prevent him from even comprehending issues like global warming, much less voting to mitigate its effects. 

Judge Plese’ ruling against LeMasters’ candidacy is just a minor pothole in his road. Watch.

Keep to the high ground,

Jerry

Afghanistan, Biden, and the Media

A vast right wing conspiracy or human nature?

Jerry LeClaireAug 27

In the last two weeks the media has been in a collective feeding frenzy criticizing the process of leaving Afghanistan. Writers for mainstream, liberal, and conservative media all have developed total amnesia around the history leading us to this point in this seemingly endless war. Instead, they focus on every reason we should stay even longer or how we should have done this or that differently and somehow that would have made it all perfect. Personal stories about people abandoned in our pullout fill the papers and the airwaves. The media effect is so pervasive that it is tempting to imagine a great orchestrated right wing conspiracy to criticize the Biden administration for finally doing what needed to be done for at least fifteen years. (The origins of the collapse in Trump’s direct deal with the Taliban while cutting out the Afghan government were conveniently and systematically scrubbed and downplayed on right wing media as these outlets turned to task at hand: blaming Joe Biden—but that’s just what one would expect of hyper-partisan media. It doesn’t require a vast conspiracy.) It would be appealing to pin the critical frenzy occurring on mainstream and liberal media on some right wing boogyman, the way the right (both here and abroad) has set up the name “George Soros” (without evidence) as convenient shorthand for an all-pervasive liberal puppet master. (It is convenient to project evil to a face. Humans have given evil a face to hate and fear for millennia. Think Beelzebub, the devil, the face of evil.) But human nature being what it is we don’t need a boogyman or a vast conspiracy to understand what is going on in the media around the Afghanistan pullout. 

One of the hardest things we humans do is to admit when we are wrong, especially when we, in being wrong, have produced more harm than good. It is easier to be angry or critical of others than it is to be sad, contrite, and own some of the blame… Add the real faces of those we’ve harmed to that mix and it is entirely natural to wish (and to imagine) that if this or that had been done differently everything would have turned out alright. 

The best explication of how this media frenzy is not an organized media conspiracy comes from a brilliant post by Doug Muder on August 23 in his Weekly Sift article, “Afghanistan, Biden, and the Media.” I highly recommend subscribing to Muder’s Monday email posts, but, because electrons are free, I have also pasted it below. 

Keep to the high ground,

Jerry

Afghanistan, Biden, and the Media

by weeklysift

https://www.ajc.com/opinion/mike-luckovich-blog/818-mike-luckovich-clumsy-withdrawal/POF33YQUYFDGFEPLRLXVOVEA74/

This was a bad, pointless war, and I’m glad the US will soon be out of it. No number of talking heads will convince me otherwise. 


Last Monday afternoon, President Biden committed an unforgivable sin: He didn’t apologize for his decision to leave Afghanistan.

The choice I had to make, as your President, was either to follow through on [the Trump administration’s] agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season.

There would have been no ceasefire after May 1. There was no agreement protecting our forces after May 1. There was no status quo of stability without American casualties after May 1.

There was only the cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, lurching into the third decade of conflict.

I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.

That speech led to what TPM’s Josh Marshall called “peak screech” from the DC media. In Tuesday’s morning newsletter from Politico, Marshall elaborates, “A sort of primal scream of ‘WTF, JOE BIDEN?!?!?!!?!’ virtually bleeds through the copy.”

Immediately after Biden’s speech, MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace offered this blunt assessment of a mainstream that her show itself was often swimming in: 

Ninety-five percent of the American people will agree with everything [Biden] just said. Ninety-five percent of the press covering this White House will disagree.

Her numbers were exaggerated, but the overall point was dead-on: I can’t remember the last time the media was so unified and so intent on talking me out of my opinion.

This was not a question of facts that they knew and I didn’t. The mainstream media has been equally unified in combating misinformation about the Covid vaccines, say, or in batting aside Trump’s self-serving bullshit about election fraud. But in each of those cases, there is a fact of the matter: The vaccines work. Fraud did not decide the election.

But Afghanistan is different. The belief that our troops should have stayed in Afghanistan a little bit longer (or a lot longer or forever) is an opinion about what might happen in the unknowable future. It’s also a value judgment about the significance of Afghanistan to American security compared to the ongoing cost in lives and money. Reasonable people can disagree about such things.

But apparently not on TV. The Popular Information blog talked to “a veteran communications professional who has been trying to place prominent voices supportive of the withdrawal on television and in print”.

I’ve been in political media for over two decades, and I have never experienced something like this before. Not only can I not get people booked on shows, but I can’t even get TV bookers who frequently book my guests to give me a call back…

I’ve fed sources to reporters, who end up not quoting the sources, but do quote multiple voices who are critical of the president and/or put the withdrawal in a negative light.

I turn on TV and watch CNN and, frankly, a lot of MSNBC shows, and they’re presenting it as if there’s not a voice out there willing to defend the president and his decision to withdraw. But I offered those very shows those voices, and the shows purposely decided to shut them out.

In so many ways this feels like Iraq and 2003 all over again. The media has coalesced around a narrative, and any threat to that narrative needs to be shut out.

Paul Waldman noticed the same thing:

As we have watched the rapid dissolution of the Afghan government, the takeover of the country by the Taliban and the desperate effort of so many Afghans to flee, the U.S. media have asked themselves a question: What do the people who were wrong about Afghanistan all along have to say about all this? 

That’s not literally what TV bookers and journalists have said, of course. But if you’ve been watching the debate, it almost seems that way.

So Condoleezza Rice, of all people, was given an opportunity to weigh in. (She said the 20-year war needed “more time”.) The Wall Street Journal wanted to hear from David Petraeus, who “valued, even cherished, the fallen Afghan government”. Liz Cheney, whose father did more to create this debacle than just about anyone, charged that Biden “ignored the advice of his military leaders“, as if that advice had been fabulous for the last 20 years.

A parade of retired generals, military contractors, and think-tank talking heads were given a platform to explain how Biden had made a “terrible mistake“, that was “worse than Saigon“, and that pushed his presidency past “the point of no return“. Afghanistan has ruined the Biden administration’s image of competence and empathy, and it will “never be the same“. 

As we saw with the beginning of these wars in 2001-2003, these moments of unanimity allow a lot of dubious ideas to sneak in to the conversation. Let’s examine a few of them.

Yes, this was a “forever war”. One false idea I keep hearing is that Afghanistan had settled down to the point where a minimal US commitment could have held it steady: maybe 2-3 thousand troops that would rarely take any casualties. Jeff Jacoby was one of many pushing this point:

Yes, the United States has been involved in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, but the last time American forces suffered any combat casualties was Feb. 8, 2020, when Sgt. Javier Gutierrez and Sgt. Antonio Rodriguez were ambushed and killed. Their sacrifice was heroic and selfless. But it makes little sense to speak of a “forever war” in which there are no fatalities for a year and a half. Nor does it make sense to apply that label to a mission involving just 2,500 troops, which was the tiny size to which the US footprint in Afghanistan had shrunk by the time Biden took office.

And The Washington Post made space for Rory Stewart to claim:

When he became president, Biden took over a relatively low-cost, low-risk presence in Afghanistan that was nevertheless capable of protecting the achievements of the previous 20 years.

But you know what else happened in February of 2020? Trump’s peace agreement with the Taliban. Once Trump agreed to totally withdraw, the Taliban stopped targeting US troops. The “low-cost, low-risk” presence depended on the Taliban believing our promise to leave. If Biden had suddenly said, “Never mind, we’re keeping 2,500 troops in place from now on.”, we’d soon start seeing body bags again, and realizing that 2,500 troops weren’t enough. Biden was right: “There was no status quo of stability without American casualties after May 1.”

Popular Information points out the hidden cost to the Afghans of our “light footprint”:

With few troops on the ground, the military increasingly relied on air power to keep the Taliban at bay. This kept U.S. fatalities low but resulted in a massive increase in civilian casualties. A Brown University study found that between 2016 and 2019 the “number of civilians killed by international airstrikes increased about 330 percent.” In October 2020 “212 civilians were killed.”

Jacoby invokes the example of Germany, where we have kept far more than 2,500 troops for far longer than 20 years. “Should we call that a forever war, too?” No, because Germany has no war. If Nazi partisans were still hiding in the Bavarian mountains, which we regularly pounded with air power, and if we worried about them overthrowing the Bundesrepublik as soon as our troops left, that would be a forever war in Germany. Is that really so hard to grasp?

Actually, no one saw this coming. Much has been made of the few intelligence reports that warned of the Afghan government falling soon after we left. But if that had actually happened, we’d have been OK — or at least better off than we are.

What did happen, though, is that the Afghan army dissolved and the leaders fled Kabul before we were done leaving. That’s why we’re having the problems we’re having. And literally no one — certainly not the “experts” who are denouncing Biden on TV — predicted that.

Evacuating our people sooner wouldn’t have avoided the problem. Imagine you’ve spent the evening in the city, and as you go through the subway turnstile you see the last train home vanishing down the tunnel. Naturally, you think “I should have left the party sooner.”

Commentators are thinking like that now, but the metaphor doesn’t work. In the metaphor, you and the train are independent processes. If you’d arrived at the station five minutes earlier, the train would have been waiting and you’d have gotten home.

The fall of Saigon in 1975 was exactly like a train leaving: It took time for the North Vietnamese/Viet Cong forces to fight their way to Saigon. If you didn’t get out before they arrived, you should have started leaving sooner.

But the Taliban didn’t fight their way to Kabul; the Afghan army we had so lavishly equipped simply dissolved in front of them, in accordance with surrender deals previously worked out. And the signal that started the surrender was the Americans beginning to leave. Nobody wanted to be the last person to wave the white flag, so when they saw Americans evacuating, it was time.

In other words: Afghanistan is more like the train operator being in contact with someone at the party, so that he could start pushing off as soon as you were on your way. 

So yes, Biden could have started pulling out a month or two sooner. And the collapse would have happened a month or two sooner. Again, Biden nailed it: There was never a good time to leave Afghanistan.

Imagine if Biden had foreseen everything and been transparent about it. So in June or July he goes on TV and says, “The Afghan Army isn’t going to fight, so the government going to fall very suddenly. If you want to be part of the evacuation, start off for the airport now.”

Not only would the collapse have begun immediately, but all the Liz Cheney and David Petraeus types would claim that Biden had stabbed the Afghans in the back. Biden’s lack of faith, they would claim, and not the Afghan government’s failings, would have been to blame.

And now picture what happens to the politics of welcoming the Afghan refugees. Tucker Carlson and the other nativist voices are already claiming the Afghan rescue is part of the massive Democratic plot to replace White Americans with immigrants. “First we invade, then we’re invaded.” Laura Ingraham echoed that concern: 

All day, we’ve heard phrases like “We promised them.” Well, who did? Did you?

How much more weight would this immigration conspiracy theory have, if the first visible sign of collapse had been Biden expressing his lack of faith in the Afghan government? Clearly, replacement theorists would argue, Biden wanted Afghanistan to collapse so that he could bring in more immigrants — possibly “millions” of them, as Carlson has already warned.

The war, and not the end of the war, is what lowered America’s standing in the world. I can’t put this better than David Rothkopf already did when he listed “the top 30 things that have really harmed our standing”. His list is more Trump-centered than mine would be — I’d give a prominent place to the Bush administration’s torture policy — but we agree on this: Having things go badly for a few weeks while we’re trying to do the right thing is not on it.

Spending 20 years, thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars fighting a war that, in the end, accomplished little — that lowers our standing in the world. Ending that war doesn’t.

So what explains the “peak screech”? I’m sure someone in the comments will argue that the DC press corps is part of the corrupt military-industrial complex that has been profiting from the continuing war, but I’m not going there. (In general, I am leery of the assumption that the people who disagree with me are corrupt. That assumption gives up too easily on democracy, which requires good-faith exchanges of ideas between disagreeing parties. I’m not saying there is no corruption and bad-faith arguing, but I have to be driven to that conclusion. I’m not going there first.)

Josh Marshall offers a two-fold explanation, which rings true for me. First, the major foreign policy reporters have personal connections to a lot of the people who are at risk in Afghanistan, or to people just like them in other shaky countries. If you reported from Afghanistan, you had a driver, you had an interpreter. Maybe your cameraman was Afghan. You depended on those people, spent a lot of downtime with them, and maybe even met their families. Maybe their street smarts got you out of a few difficult situations. Will they now be killed because they helped you? You never committed to bring them to America, which was always beyond your power anyway. But you can’t be objective about their situation.

Second is a phenomenon sometimes described as “source capture”. A big part of being a reporter is cultivating well-placed sources. For war reporters, that means sources in the Pentagon or the State Department, or commanders in the field, or officials in the Afghan government or military. Even if you have no specific deal with these sources, you always understand the situation: If you make them look bad, they’ll stop talking to you. 

Over time, as you go back to your sources again and again, you start to internalize that understanding, particularly with the ones who consistently give you reliable information. You identify with them. You stop thinking of them as your sources and start to think of yourself as their voice. If they are invested in a project like the Afghanistan war, you start to feel invested in it too. 

Marshall sums up:

[W]hat I’m describing isn’t a flag-waving, America’s never wrong, “pro-war” mindset. It’s more varied and critical, capable of seeing the collateral damage of these engagements, the toll on American service members post combat, the corruption endemic in occupation-backed governments. And yet it is still very bought-in. You see this in a different way in some of the country’s most accomplished longform magazine writers, many of whom have spent ample time in these warzones. Again, not at all militarists or gungho armchair warriors but people capable of capturing the subtleties and discontents of these missions and the individuals caught up in their storms. And yet they are still very bought-in. And it is from these voices that we are hearing many of the most anguished accusations of betrayal and abandonment. It is harrowing to process years or decades of denial in hours or days.

What we see in so many reactions, claims of disgrace and betrayal are no more than people who have been deeply bought into these endeavors suddenly forced to confront how much of it was simply an illusion.

If the last two weeks have revealed anything, it’s exactly how much of an illusion our “nation-building” in Afghanistan always was. Real countries, with real governments and real armies, don’t evaporate overnight. 

People who have been living in denial typically react with anger when their bubble pops. They ought to be angry at the people who duped them, or at themselves for being gullible. But that’s not usually where the anger goes, at least not at first. The first target is the person who popped the bubble.

So damn that Joe Biden. If he’d just kept a few thousand troops deployed and kept the money spigot open, we could all still be happy.

A vast right wing conspiracy or human nature?

Jerry LeClaireAug 27

In the last two weeks the media has been in a collective feeding frenzy criticizing the process of leaving Afghanistan. Writers for mainstream, liberal, and conservative media all have developed total amnesia around the history leading us to this point in this seemingly endless war. Instead, they focus on every reason we should stay even longer or how we should have done this or that differently and somehow that would have made it all perfect. Personal stories about people abandoned in our pullout fill the papers and the airwaves. The media effect is so pervasive that it is tempting to imagine a great orchestrated right wing conspiracy to criticize the Biden administration for finally doing what needed to be done for at least fifteen years. (The origins of the collapse in Trump’s direct deal with the Taliban while cutting out the Afghan government were conveniently and systematically scrubbed and downplayed on right wing media as these outlets turned to task at hand: blaming Joe Biden—but that’s just what one would expect of hyper-partisan media. It doesn’t require a vast conspiracy.) It would be appealing to pin the critical frenzy occurring on mainstream and liberal media on some right wing boogyman, the way the right (both here and abroad) has set up the name “George Soros” (without evidence) as convenient shorthand for an all-pervasive liberal puppet master. (It is convenient to project evil to a face. Humans have given evil a face to hate and fear for millennia. Think Beelzebub, the devil, the face of evil.) But human nature being what it is we don’t need a boogyman or a vast conspiracy to understand what is going on in the media around the Afghanistan pullout. 

One of the hardest things we humans do is to admit when we are wrong, especially when we, in being wrong, have produced more harm than good. It is easier to be angry or critical of others than it is to be sad, contrite, and own some of the blame… Add the real faces of those we’ve harmed to that mix and it is entirely natural to wish (and to imagine) that if this or that had been done differently everything would have turned out alright. 

The best explication of how this media frenzy is not an organized media conspiracy comes from a brilliant post by Doug Muder on August 23 in his Weekly Sift article, “Afghanistan, Biden, and the Media.” I highly recommend subscribing to Muder’s Monday email posts, but, because electrons are free, I have also pasted it below. 

Keep to the high ground,

Jerry

Afghanistan, Biden, and the Media

by weeklysift

https://www.ajc.com/opinion/mike-luckovich-blog/818-mike-luckovich-clumsy-withdrawal/POF33YQUYFDGFEPLRLXVOVEA74/

This was a bad, pointless war, and I’m glad the US will soon be out of it. No number of talking heads will convince me otherwise. 


Last Monday afternoon, President Biden committed an unforgivable sin: He didn’t apologize for his decision to leave Afghanistan.

The choice I had to make, as your President, was either to follow through on [the Trump administration’s] agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season.

There would have been no ceasefire after May 1. There was no agreement protecting our forces after May 1. There was no status quo of stability without American casualties after May 1.

There was only the cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, lurching into the third decade of conflict.

I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.

That speech led to what TPM’s Josh Marshall called “peak screech” from the DC media. In Tuesday’s morning newsletter from Politico, Marshall elaborates, “A sort of primal scream of ‘WTF, JOE BIDEN?!?!?!!?!’ virtually bleeds through the copy.”

Immediately after Biden’s speech, MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace offered this blunt assessment of a mainstream that her show itself was often swimming in: 

Ninety-five percent of the American people will agree with everything [Biden] just said. Ninety-five percent of the press covering this White House will disagree.

Her numbers were exaggerated, but the overall point was dead-on: I can’t remember the last time the media was so unified and so intent on talking me out of my opinion.

This was not a question of facts that they knew and I didn’t. The mainstream media has been equally unified in combating misinformation about the Covid vaccines, say, or in batting aside Trump’s self-serving bullshit about election fraud. But in each of those cases, there is a fact of the matter: The vaccines work. Fraud did not decide the election.

But Afghanistan is different. The belief that our troops should have stayed in Afghanistan a little bit longer (or a lot longer or forever) is an opinion about what might happen in the unknowable future. It’s also a value judgment about the significance of Afghanistan to American security compared to the ongoing cost in lives and money. Reasonable people can disagree about such things.

But apparently not on TV. The Popular Information blog talked to “a veteran communications professional who has been trying to place prominent voices supportive of the withdrawal on television and in print”.

I’ve been in political media for over two decades, and I have never experienced something like this before. Not only can I not get people booked on shows, but I can’t even get TV bookers who frequently book my guests to give me a call back…

I’ve fed sources to reporters, who end up not quoting the sources, but do quote multiple voices who are critical of the president and/or put the withdrawal in a negative light.

I turn on TV and watch CNN and, frankly, a lot of MSNBC shows, and they’re presenting it as if there’s not a voice out there willing to defend the president and his decision to withdraw. But I offered those very shows those voices, and the shows purposely decided to shut them out.

In so many ways this feels like Iraq and 2003 all over again. The media has coalesced around a narrative, and any threat to that narrative needs to be shut out.

Paul Waldman noticed the same thing:

As we have watched the rapid dissolution of the Afghan government, the takeover of the country by the Taliban and the desperate effort of so many Afghans to flee, the U.S. media have asked themselves a question: What do the people who were wrong about Afghanistan all along have to say about all this? 

That’s not literally what TV bookers and journalists have said, of course. But if you’ve been watching the debate, it almost seems that way.

So Condoleezza Rice, of all people, was given an opportunity to weigh in. (She said the 20-year war needed “more time”.) The Wall Street Journal wanted to hear from David Petraeus, who “valued, even cherished, the fallen Afghan government”. Liz Cheney, whose father did more to create this debacle than just about anyone, charged that Biden “ignored the advice of his military leaders“, as if that advice had been fabulous for the last 20 years.

A parade of retired generals, military contractors, and think-tank talking heads were given a platform to explain how Biden had made a “terrible mistake“, that was “worse than Saigon“, and that pushed his presidency past “the point of no return“. Afghanistan has ruined the Biden administration’s image of competence and empathy, and it will “never be the same“. 

As we saw with the beginning of these wars in 2001-2003, these moments of unanimity allow a lot of dubious ideas to sneak in to the conversation. Let’s examine a few of them.

Yes, this was a “forever war”. One false idea I keep hearing is that Afghanistan had settled down to the point where a minimal US commitment could have held it steady: maybe 2-3 thousand troops that would rarely take any casualties. Jeff Jacoby was one of many pushing this point:

Yes, the United States has been involved in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, but the last time American forces suffered any combat casualties was Feb. 8, 2020, when Sgt. Javier Gutierrez and Sgt. Antonio Rodriguez were ambushed and killed. Their sacrifice was heroic and selfless. But it makes little sense to speak of a “forever war” in which there are no fatalities for a year and a half. Nor does it make sense to apply that label to a mission involving just 2,500 troops, which was the tiny size to which the US footprint in Afghanistan had shrunk by the time Biden took office.

And The Washington Post made space for Rory Stewart to claim:

When he became president, Biden took over a relatively low-cost, low-risk presence in Afghanistan that was nevertheless capable of protecting the achievements of the previous 20 years.

But you know what else happened in February of 2020? Trump’s peace agreement with the Taliban. Once Trump agreed to totally withdraw, the Taliban stopped targeting US troops. The “low-cost, low-risk” presence depended on the Taliban believing our promise to leave. If Biden had suddenly said, “Never mind, we’re keeping 2,500 troops in place from now on.”, we’d soon start seeing body bags again, and realizing that 2,500 troops weren’t enough. Biden was right: “There was no status quo of stability without American casualties after May 1.”

Popular Information points out the hidden cost to the Afghans of our “light footprint”:

With few troops on the ground, the military increasingly relied on air power to keep the Taliban at bay. This kept U.S. fatalities low but resulted in a massive increase in civilian casualties. A Brown University study found that between 2016 and 2019 the “number of civilians killed by international airstrikes increased about 330 percent.” In October 2020 “212 civilians were killed.”

Jacoby invokes the example of Germany, where we have kept far more than 2,500 troops for far longer than 20 years. “Should we call that a forever war, too?” No, because Germany has no war. If Nazi partisans were still hiding in the Bavarian mountains, which we regularly pounded with air power, and if we worried about them overthrowing the Bundesrepublik as soon as our troops left, that would be a forever war in Germany. Is that really so hard to grasp?

Actually, no one saw this coming. Much has been made of the few intelligence reports that warned of the Afghan government falling soon after we left. But if that had actually happened, we’d have been OK — or at least better off than we are.

What did happen, though, is that the Afghan army dissolved and the leaders fled Kabul before we were done leaving. That’s why we’re having the problems we’re having. And literally no one — certainly not the “experts” who are denouncing Biden on TV — predicted that.

Evacuating our people sooner wouldn’t have avoided the problem. Imagine you’ve spent the evening in the city, and as you go through the subway turnstile you see the last train home vanishing down the tunnel. Naturally, you think “I should have left the party sooner.”

Commentators are thinking like that now, but the metaphor doesn’t work. In the metaphor, you and the train are independent processes. If you’d arrived at the station five minutes earlier, the train would have been waiting and you’d have gotten home.

The fall of Saigon in 1975 was exactly like a train leaving: It took time for the North Vietnamese/Viet Cong forces to fight their way to Saigon. If you didn’t get out before they arrived, you should have started leaving sooner.

But the Taliban didn’t fight their way to Kabul; the Afghan army we had so lavishly equipped simply dissolved in front of them, in accordance with surrender deals previously worked out. And the signal that started the surrender was the Americans beginning to leave. Nobody wanted to be the last person to wave the white flag, so when they saw Americans evacuating, it was time.

In other words: Afghanistan is more like the train operator being in contact with someone at the party, so that he could start pushing off as soon as you were on your way. 

So yes, Biden could have started pulling out a month or two sooner. And the collapse would have happened a month or two sooner. Again, Biden nailed it: There was never a good time to leave Afghanistan.

Imagine if Biden had foreseen everything and been transparent about it. So in June or July he goes on TV and says, “The Afghan Army isn’t going to fight, so the government going to fall very suddenly. If you want to be part of the evacuation, start off for the airport now.”

Not only would the collapse have begun immediately, but all the Liz Cheney and David Petraeus types would claim that Biden had stabbed the Afghans in the back. Biden’s lack of faith, they would claim, and not the Afghan government’s failings, would have been to blame.

And now picture what happens to the politics of welcoming the Afghan refugees. Tucker Carlson and the other nativist voices are already claiming the Afghan rescue is part of the massive Democratic plot to replace White Americans with immigrants. “First we invade, then we’re invaded.” Laura Ingraham echoed that concern: 

All day, we’ve heard phrases like “We promised them.” Well, who did? Did you?

How much more weight would this immigration conspiracy theory have, if the first visible sign of collapse had been Biden expressing his lack of faith in the Afghan government? Clearly, replacement theorists would argue, Biden wanted Afghanistan to collapse so that he could bring in more immigrants — possibly “millions” of them, as Carlson has already warned.

The war, and not the end of the war, is what lowered America’s standing in the world. I can’t put this better than David Rothkopf already did when he listed “the top 30 things that have really harmed our standing”. His list is more Trump-centered than mine would be — I’d give a prominent place to the Bush administration’s torture policy — but we agree on this: Having things go badly for a few weeks while we’re trying to do the right thing is not on it.

Spending 20 years, thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars fighting a war that, in the end, accomplished little — that lowers our standing in the world. Ending that war doesn’t.

So what explains the “peak screech”? I’m sure someone in the comments will argue that the DC press corps is part of the corrupt military-industrial complex that has been profiting from the continuing war, but I’m not going there. (In general, I am leery of the assumption that the people who disagree with me are corrupt. That assumption gives up too easily on democracy, which requires good-faith exchanges of ideas between disagreeing parties. I’m not saying there is no corruption and bad-faith arguing, but I have to be driven to that conclusion. I’m not going there first.)

Josh Marshall offers a two-fold explanation, which rings true for me. First, the major foreign policy reporters have personal connections to a lot of the people who are at risk in Afghanistan, or to people just like them in other shaky countries. If you reported from Afghanistan, you had a driver, you had an interpreter. Maybe your cameraman was Afghan. You depended on those people, spent a lot of downtime with them, and maybe even met their families. Maybe their street smarts got you out of a few difficult situations. Will they now be killed because they helped you? You never committed to bring them to America, which was always beyond your power anyway. But you can’t be objective about their situation.

Second is a phenomenon sometimes described as “source capture”. A big part of being a reporter is cultivating well-placed sources. For war reporters, that means sources in the Pentagon or the State Department, or commanders in the field, or officials in the Afghan government or military. Even if you have no specific deal with these sources, you always understand the situation: If you make them look bad, they’ll stop talking to you. 

Over time, as you go back to your sources again and again, you start to internalize that understanding, particularly with the ones who consistently give you reliable information. You identify with them. You stop thinking of them as your sources and start to think of yourself as their voice. If they are invested in a project like the Afghanistan war, you start to feel invested in it too. 

Marshall sums up:

[W]hat I’m describing isn’t a flag-waving, America’s never wrong, “pro-war” mindset. It’s more varied and critical, capable of seeing the collateral damage of these engagements, the toll on American service members post combat, the corruption endemic in occupation-backed governments. And yet it is still very bought-in. You see this in a different way in some of the country’s most accomplished longform magazine writers, many of whom have spent ample time in these warzones. Again, not at all militarists or gungho armchair warriors but people capable of capturing the subtleties and discontents of these missions and the individuals caught up in their storms. And yet they are still very bought-in. And it is from these voices that we are hearing many of the most anguished accusations of betrayal and abandonment. It is harrowing to process years or decades of denial in hours or days.

What we see in so many reactions, claims of disgrace and betrayal are no more than people who have been deeply bought into these endeavors suddenly forced to confront how much of it was simply an illusion.

If the last two weeks have revealed anything, it’s exactly how much of an illusion our “nation-building” in Afghanistan always was. Real countries, with real governments and real armies, don’t evaporate overnight. 

People who have been living in denial typically react with anger when their bubble pops. They ought to be angry at the people who duped them, or at themselves for being gullible. But that’s not usually where the anger goes, at least not at first. The first target is the person who popped the bubble.

So damn that Joe Biden. If he’d just kept a few thousand troops deployed and kept the money spigot open, we could all still be happy.

Local Insurrectionists on Parade

The usual suspects leading their flock

Jerry LeClaireAug 25

An article by Nick Portuondo appeared in the August 21 Northwest Section of the Spokane. That’s the Saturday “paper” that is available only online. The title (in the “paper”) read, “HUNDREDS GATHER TO PROTEST INSLEE’S MASK MANDATE
‘FREEDOM, NOT COERCION’
”. They gathered at the Spokane Regional Health District building and marched across the Monroe Street Bridge to Spokane City Hall. 

One of the protesters, Mr. Joe Bodey, is quoted as saying, “The vaccine is not fully approved yet, it’s an experiment.” Three days later the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) robbed Mr. Bodey of his argument by granting official approval of the Pfizer mRNA-based vaccine. The Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines have been in use under an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA since early this year. 

As this group of whining anti-vaccination, anti-mask protestors wended their way through downtown Spokane, the local hospitals were filling up with patients hit hard by the delta variant of Covid-19, nearly all of them unvaccinated, with most of them younger and previously healthier than those hospitalized in last winter’s surge. The irony of the timing of their protest was no doubt lost on the protesters. 

Who organized this march? Caleb Collier and Matt Shea. Matt Shea, a former state representative from Legislative District 4, Spokane valley north to Mt. Spokane, is the author of “The Biblical Basis for War,” an outline in support of armed conflict essentially in the pursuit of establishing a theocratic state that sounds a whole lot like the “State of Liberty” Shea and company have been promoting for years. Shea was briefly the “pastor” of the Covenant Church on Spokane’s near north side, and, with many of the parishioners there, is an organizer and frequent flier with “The Church of Planned Parenthood.” Caleb Collier has also been on stage at Covenant. Collier is the “executive field coordinator for the John Birch Society” in the western states (and a former City Council person in the City of Spokane Valley). Both Shea and Collier are frequent promoters of their “right to bear arms.” I have listened to Shea pumping up an assault-weapon toting crowd at Franklin Park near the North Town Mall. It was a chilling spectacle. How many of Friday’s protested were packing heat? 

In light of that background and the events of January 6, Caleb Collier’s quote from the rally about vaccine mandates, “People have had it with their rights being infringed on, and they’re ready to do something about it,” takes on an ominous and threatening tone. 

Keep to the high ground,

Jerry

P.S. A friend sent me an article written by Daniel K. Williams, a professor of history at the University of West Georgia and the author of several books on religion and American politics. It is thoughtful and, for me, sheds some light on the relationship between this protest, Shea, Collier, and Ken Peter’s Covenant Church organization. The article is “‘Worldview’: No Substitute for Facts

P.P.S. It is unfortunate that the Nick Portuondo’s article on Friday’s protest does not offer more background on its two leaders (beyond Caleb Collier’s position in the John Birch Society). The reader can easily skip over the names of the two without grasping more than a whiff of their motivation and ideology.

Covid-19 Transmission

A Cautionary Tale

Jerry LeClaireAug 23

We are people—and people understand and remember stories far better than they remember (or understand) statistics, however reliable the statistics may be. What follows may serve as an instructive anecdote. 

A friend and his wife, we’ll call them John and Marti, had breakfast at a picnic table outside about two weeks ago with another couple. All four of them were fully vaccinated (two doses) early this year (about six months ago). Husband sat opposite husband and wife opposite wife. The husband of the second couple has trouble hearing, so some of the conversation was carried on fairly close face-to-face between the two men. Five days later the husband of the second couple called John to report that he had just tested positive for Covid-19 on a test performed preventively in anticipation of visiting a vulnerable relative. John and Marti promptly got tested (with a sensitive hospital-based PCR test). John’s test was positive for evidence of Covid-19 virus, Marti’s was negative. John went into quarantine, concerned that he might pass the virus on to someone vulnerable. 

The upshot? Both men (and their test-negative wives) remain entirely asymptomatic, both men have quarantined. Both, were it not for the initial requested test, might have spread Covid-19 to people vulnerable to becoming gravely ill or dying from the disease (unvaccinated people being much more vulnerable). 

Clearly, the virus that causes Covid-19 can be spread under some circumstances, even outdoors, from one fully vaccinated individual to another. But there’s more. John is an retired physician with an inquisitive scientific mind. He had acquired a box of home antibody tests months ago. John and Marti, soon after their second shot early this year, tested themselves for anti-Covid-19 antibodies. Both tests showed that John and Marti had made IgG antibodies in response to vaccination. John and Marti did another antibody test right after they found out their friend had tested positive. Marti’s test still was strongly positive for IgG antibodies to Covid-19; John’s test was only very weakly positive. (Bear this in mind, though: waning IgG does NOT mean that John’s immune system has no memory of vaccination. The immune system typically retains a biochemical memory of the immune response it once mounted and is able to ramp up antibody production much faster than a “virgin” immune system. Immune memory is like having the factory still there, but sitting idle, as opposed to having to build a whole new factory.) 

Like all good scientific data, this story raises more questions. Was John’s immune system just a bit less robust than Marti’s in maintaining IgG expression or had Marti gotten a “booster exposure” of virus since her vaccination to which her immune system ramped up IgG expression? Was John’s relative lack of IgG the reason the virus (presumably transmitted by his breakfast friend) could replicate in John’s nose? (We don’t really know whether or not there was sufficient virus replication in John’s nose to actually transmit the virus to someone else.)

The take home message is clear, however: At least some totally asymptomatic individuals vaccinated more than six months ago can carry and transmit the virus that causes Covid-19 (now most likely the delta variant). If John’s immune system hadn’t been forewarned by vaccination (i.e. his immune system were “virgin” to the virus) this unmasked, outdoor breakfast encounter might have had a grievous result. 

If you’re vaccinated you still need to be careful for the sake of others (and, at a lower statistical likelihood of severe disease, for your own sake). Wear a mask indoors and in selected outdoor settings. If you’re not vaccinated, GET IT DONE. If you think you’ve had or actually had a test-positive Covid infection already, get a vaccination anyway. There are increasing reports that vaccination offers much better protection against the delta variant than does natural infection with one of the earlier strains. 

Keep to the high ground,

Jerry

P.S. Booster vaccination is a topic for another day.

A Cautionary Tale

Jerry LeClaireAug 23

We are people—and people understand and remember stories far better than they remember (or understand) statistics, however reliable the statistics may be. What follows may serve as an instructive anecdote. 

A friend and his wife, we’ll call them John and Marti, had breakfast at a picnic table outside about two weeks ago with another couple. All four of them were fully vaccinated (two doses) early this year (about six months ago). Husband sat opposite husband and wife opposite wife. The husband of the second couple has trouble hearing, so some of the conversation was carried on fairly close face-to-face between the two men. Five days later the husband of the second couple called John to report that he had just tested positive for Covid-19 on a test performed preventively in anticipation of visiting a vulnerable relative. John and Marti promptly got tested (with a sensitive hospital-based PCR test). John’s test was positive for evidence of Covid-19 virus, Marti’s was negative. John went into quarantine, concerned that he might pass the virus on to someone vulnerable. 

The upshot? Both men (and their test-negative wives) remain entirely asymptomatic, both men have quarantined. Both, were it not for the initial requested test, might have spread Covid-19 to people vulnerable to becoming gravely ill or dying from the disease (unvaccinated people being much more vulnerable). 

Clearly, the virus that causes Covid-19 can be spread under some circumstances, even outdoors, from one fully vaccinated individual to another. But there’s more. John is an retired physician with an inquisitive scientific mind. He had acquired a box of home antibody tests months ago. John and Marti, soon after their second shot early this year, tested themselves for anti-Covid-19 antibodies. Both tests showed that John and Marti had made IgG antibodies in response to vaccination. John and Marti did another antibody test right after they found out their friend had tested positive. Marti’s test still was strongly positive for IgG antibodies to Covid-19; John’s test was only very weakly positive. (Bear this in mind, though: waning IgG does NOT mean that John’s immune system has no memory of vaccination. The immune system typically retains a biochemical memory of the immune response it once mounted and is able to ramp up antibody production much faster than a “virgin” immune system. Immune memory is like having the factory still there, but sitting idle, as opposed to having to build a whole new factory.) 

Like all good scientific data, this story raises more questions. Was John’s immune system just a bit less robust than Marti’s in maintaining IgG expression or had Marti gotten a “booster exposure” of virus since her vaccination to which her immune system ramped up IgG expression? Was John’s relative lack of IgG the reason the virus (presumably transmitted by his breakfast friend) could replicate in John’s nose? (We don’t really know whether or not there was sufficient virus replication in John’s nose to actually transmit the virus to someone else.)

The take home message is clear, however: At least some totally asymptomatic individuals vaccinated more than six months ago can carry and transmit the virus that causes Covid-19 (now most likely the delta variant). If John’s immune system hadn’t been forewarned by vaccination (i.e. his immune system were “virgin” to the virus) this unmasked, outdoor breakfast encounter might have had a grievous result. 

If you’re vaccinated you still need to be careful for the sake of others (and, at a lower statistical likelihood of severe disease, for your own sake). Wear a mask indoors and in selected outdoor settings. If you’re not vaccinated, GET IT DONE. If you think you’ve had or actually had a test-positive Covid infection already, get a vaccination anyway. There are increasing reports that vaccination offers much better protection against the delta variant than does natural infection with one of the earlier strains. 

Keep to the high ground,

Jerry

P.S. Booster vaccination is a topic for another day.

Afghanistan–Who Gets to Criticize?

Who is allowed to Assign Blame?

Jerry LeClaireAug 20

In the last week the news from Afghanistan, site of American’s longest war, has been disturbing, worrisome, and sad. Just last month 73% of Americans polled were in favor of the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Just two weeks ago I heard a pundit on NPR opine that, although the Taliban held sway in the countryside, the major cities in Afghanistan would be able to withstand the onslaught and that eventually there would be a negotiated settlement among the Afghans. Now news coverage of all types and stripes feeds us again and again the image of desperate Afghans clinging to or running alongside a giant airplane moving slowly down the runway at the Kabul airport, an image that cannot help but evoke the coverage of America’s desperate evacuation of Saigon at the the end of the Vietnam War. Our hearts rightly go out to the people of Afghanistan who believed in what the U.S. told them we to stand for, people who signed onto our effort to convert Afghanistan into a modern democracy, people we are now abandoning. 

Who is to blame? Whose opinion counts? The media, and not just the right wing media, seem united in amplifying only the voices of the hawks, folk who have been wrong again and again in their situation assessments during our twenty-year occupation. Orion Donovan-Smith, writing for The Spokesman, gets assigned a headline, “A Self-Inflicted Wound,” for an article that is essentially an opinion piece by one man, former ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker. Crocker is quoted as if he were the only person with standing to offer an assessment, an assessment he offers as a Monday morning quarterback from his retirement in Spokane Valley. Crocker’s opinion ends critically with:

“I’m left with some grave questions in my mind about his [Biden’s] ability to lead our nation as commander-in-chief.” 

Why is Crocker given standing? Where is Crocker’s pointed criticism of Trump’s deal with the Taliban in which Trump cut out the Afghan government we have expended so much blood and treasure trying to establish? As Judd Legum writes in an article, “The media’s systemic failure on Afghanistan”:

Like Panetta, Crocker also touted the Afghan military and police, saying in a 2012 speech to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that the security forces represented an “amazing achievement.” He described the group as a “capable” and “multifaceted,” and claimed they were “close to their maximum strength of 352,000.” Like Panetta, Crocker was wrong about their capability and size.

Crocker also touted the “courage and determination” of President Hamid Karzai. But Karzai had “won reelection after cronies stuffed thousands of ballot boxes.” After securing power, Karzai presided over a deeply corrupt and incompetent government. Kabul Bank, the country’s largest bank, nearly collapsed under the “weight of $1 billion in fraudulent loans.” Among the recipients was Karzai’s brother, Mahmoud Karzai. Crocker’s predecessor, Karl Eikenberry, pressed Karzai to take action in response to the Kabul Bank scandal. But when Crocker replaced Eikenberry in 2011 that ended. Crocker’s “attitude was to make the issue go away, bury it as deep as possible, and silence any voices within the embassy that wanted to make this an issue,” according to interviews conducted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. 

Crocker’s role in covering up the corruption of the Afghan government is not mentioned in Viser’s Washington Post article or the other outlets that quoted him for criticizing the withdrawal — NBC NewsThe HillAxios, and Fox News

Are the media engaged in a massive groupthink, an opportunity to be critical without regard for the history of the conflict or the background of the people they quote? Judd Legum weighed in again yesterday, August 19, with “Where are the anti-war voices?,” another article well worth reading. 

Once a society has committed lives and money to a conflict the media and our own pride make it hard to acknowledge to ourselves the false pretenses led us to war. It is hard to admit a mistake after a large investment. Like me, many of my readers are old enough to remember the same delusion that surrounded the Vietnam War. Thom Hartmann reminds us of the history of our immersion in Afghanistan and the false pretenses under which we the people of the United States were drawn in twenty years ago. Elements of the Taliban were sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, but Bin Laden was not a state actor, Bin Laden was a criminal. Avenging the crime of the events of September 11 did not require twenty years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and the collective frenzy fostered by complicit media enmeshed us in another misguided “nation-building” experiment. Much of what followed over the last twenty years was a doubling down on our initial illusion. 

The current media obsession with the last details of a withdrawal poorly initiated by the prior President loses track of our own history and societal delusion.

The media (and we) speak of “The Taliban” as if it were one individual with one voice and one intent. It is the same simplistic shorthand that others use to lump all of us U.S. citizens under the voice of whatever is the current administration. The reality is far, far more complicated both here and in Afghanistan. All the breathless bullshit from military, ambassadorial, and conservative pundits fails to capture the complexity and fluidity of a country in the midst of armed upheaval. Each pundit is like one of the blind men exploring an elephant, each with their own limited input, each with their prior bias, each guessing at the future. We have only to look at Vietnam for proof of how that turns out decades later…

Keep to the high ground,

Jerry