The thrill of living in the new Dark Age
By Brian J. Karem
Disinformation and misinformation, as subtly different as the two terms may be, are teaming up to subtly destroy us.
Misinformation is false information spread regardless of intent to mislead. It is often just plain stupidity - of which there is plenty in this fine land. Misinformation can explain why someone who walks around with an I-phone and an Apple watch believes the government inserted microchips in coronavirus vaccines to track us.
Misinformation is a daily occurrence. Human beings are imperfect and often spread misinformation without meaning to do so. Indeed, often convinced they are not.
Disinformation on the other hand is the subversive attempt with willful intent to misinform the public. The rumor about microchips could’ve begun as a disinformation campaign that is now spreading through misinformation. Those who don’t know any better are spreading lies for those who do.
These two conditions are equally dangerous.
Joe Friday and "Just the Facts Ma'am" is the vaccine to take against both variants. But provable facts remain rarer than an anti-vax worshipper getting the vaccine - even if the FDA approves the vaccine.
Millions who refused to get vaccinated despite demonstrable facts that it will help them help themselves are just the tip of the iceberg when we consider our problem in recognizing and dealing with facts.
Nothing underscores this situation better than our problems in Afghanistan. Some of us are purposely misleading the rest of us about the conditions in Afghanistan and some of us are merely misinformed and spreading the virus to the rest of us based on what we hear in the “echo chambers” of today’s social and corporate media. The politicians are the worst of course. Senator Lindsey Graham claimed on television of Biden's troop withdrawal "This is the most dishonorable thing a commander in chief has done, maybe, in modern times."
He wants to impeach Biden for getting us out of a conflict no one wanted and said that Biden ruined our chances to make war in the future.
All of this has left a nation Dazed and Confused without Wooderson screaming “All right. All right. All right.” But, to Just Keep Living, you’ve got to understand the context of every argument.
The United States has been in Afghanistan keeping the peace for 20 years. It began with George W. Bush who claimed we were there to make the world safe for democracy and destroy the terrorist cells behind the World Trade Center bombings. Most of those terrorists had connections to Saudi Arabia, but never mind. Afghanistan was a training ground or a surrogate for all of our misguided fears of Muslims, terrorists and the Middle-East rolled into one. The fact Russia got mired in an Afghanistan conflict that the Western media called “Russia’s Vietnam” was a deterrent to some and an enticement to others for going into the country.
If we had a legitimate reason for being there, then after Osama Bin Laden met his fate at the business end of Seal Team Six during Operation Neptune Spear, in . . . wait for it, Pakistan, one would think we had ample reason to leave neighboring Afghanistan. But President Obama kept us there. Trump said enough and decided we should pull out - after two generations of American soldiers fought there and more than 2,440 died there. Thousands more were injured by makeshift bombs - courtesy of the Taliban who often have the morality of medieval torture experts, the attitude of a ferret on Benzedrine and all the fighting spirit, tactics and weapons of many inner city youth gangs. Now they run a country and are seeking legitimacy.
If you want to put the death toll in context - at the battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War there were close to 50,000 casualties in just three days. More than 6,000 casualties occurred in the Wheatfield in a couple of hours during that battle. Or, if you prefer during the Normandy invasion in World War II America confirmed almost twice the number of dead soldiers, 4400, during the landings as were lost in the 20 years occupying Afghanistan.
Republicans who cannot stand Biden, including but not limited to the Trumplicans, are actively engaged in a disinformation campaign to convince you Biden is weak, his decisions were shit and the nation is imperiled by the way we are leaving Afghanistan - despite the many thousands of people who've already successfully been airlifted out of the country. Of course, Trump wanted to get us out and that fact is twisted by the Trumplicans into a “Well, he wanted to get out, but not ‘THAT WAY.’” - as if Trump had a magical way of doing it. This is perhaps the clearest example of disinformation and it boils down to this simple fact: According to Trumplicans whatever Biden does is shit - even if he does what Trump would’ve done. Only Trump, according to this mindset, can do what is right - no matter what he does. Even, they reason, if what he does is treasonous, authoritarian or smacks of fascism.
It is the worst sort of disinformation. Facts do not matter. Everything is a quicksand. Only the will of the leader of the party matters.
This mindset gets traction because Democrats are engaged in their own disinformation or are misinformed themselves - not an easy fact to accept and many will argue the point. But governments rarely are honest with those who are governed about anything. For that we usually rely on the Media. But today the media are so divided, few if any of us look upon reporters and the Fourth Estate as being any more than a part of the misinformation/disinformation problem. At best we think reporters are merely being duped - lost balls in the high weeds of life. At worst, we believe the media "are in on it."
The Biden administration, ever mindful of the hateful rhetoric from the Trumplicans, has tried to downplay the chaos in Kabul while asserting the rightness of leaving the area;
Biden explained this in a recent address from the East Room of the White House just prior to pulling out of the region:
I judged that it was not in the national interest of the United States of America to continue fighting this war indefinitely. . . . Nearly twenty years of experience has shown us that the current security situation only confirms that “just one more year” of fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution but a recipe for being there indefinitely. It’s up to Afghans to make the decision about the future of their country.
Biden’s biggest mistake was that he made it clear that he did not believe that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was inevitable:
The Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped—as well-equipped as any army in the world—and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable. . . I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped, and more competent in terms of conducting war.
Did Biden receive bad intelligence on the strength and/or will of the government trained forces, or did he ignore the intelligence reports because he didn’t or didn’t want to believe them? He accepted the responsibility of his decision time and again, but he was either misinformed, or his administration was actively involved in a disinformation campaign to downplay the risk of leaving to the general public.
As for how he is leaving Afghanistan - Biden defended the tactical and strategic plans in doing so - but those who’ve never been to a war zone and those who have access to the internet and any questionable pundit without direct knowledge seem to know better. Some have called it an "Unmitigated Disaster."
Networks and individual pundits (what is a pundit? Merely an idiot with an opinion mostly) have compared the Afghanistan conflict to the Vietnam War and the withdrawal of our forces from Kabul have been compared to the airlift out of Saigon in the Spring of 1975. Both comparisons are mostly false and meritless. They are - at the heart of it - either an inept misinformation campaign, or a purposeful disinformation campaign.
What the two events share in common is airlifts out of a foreign country at the end of a long military conflict. But the similarities are superficial. A closer look shows the historical ignorance and sheer feckless futility in drawing deeper parallels between the two conflicts. Either members of the press know this and are purposely engaged in lying to us, or they are unaware and unintentionally spreading misinformation.
One more important example that came to light recently underscores our national problem with facts.
The Biden administration has struggled to come to terms with the expiration of the eviction moratorium put in place to assist those suffering financially from the pandemic. This all began because of a Supreme Court decision and one Supreme Court Justice, former party-boy “I still like beer” Brett Kavanaugh who tossed a monkey wrench into Biden’s efforts to continue to extend the moratorium.
The Supreme court passed by a slim 5-4 majority last month, a move to allow the eviction ban to continue through the end of July. One of those in the majority, Justice Kavanaugh, made clear he would block any additional extensions unless there was “clear and specific congressional authorization.”
The Biden administration has twice allocated emergency rental assistance totaling $41.6 billion under the American Rescue Plan.
But part of the American Rescue Plan included funds that could be distributed by state and local governments to assist landlords and tenants for past rent owed. So, even if the moratorium on evictions was lifted, there still existed funds that could potentially keep millions of Americans away from the threat of eviction. The problem - some jurisdictions created paperwork roadblocks that has kept landlords and tenants from the funds.
Recently Press Secretary Jen Psaki released this statement about that:
“The Administration has provided States and local governments with the flexibility to get funds out efficiently without burdensome documentation; to use funds to help those who are homeless or in need of new housing; and to use American Rescue Plan State and local funds to expand any effort to help those whose housing is at risk due to the pandemic.”
And Psaki’s statement came with a warning:
“If your government is backing your mortgage or providing you housing tax relief, you should not be choosing eviction over the Emergency Rental Assistance we have provided to make you whole and keep your tenants and their families safely housed.”
However, not many people who face eviction, of the dozens I spoke with during the last month about potentially losing their home, even knew about this - and when they did they said they were told by local and state officials that the money was too hard to get and the Biden administration was keeping them from it - sometimes by creating “mountains of paperwork” no reasonable person could fill out in an expedited fashion.
A senior administration official told me members of the GOP "are putting their political interests ahead of public health."
Not only about mask mandates, but saying they are engaged in creating “excessive paperwork” at the state and local level to make it more difficult for landlords and tenants to get federal funding.
"This really is a historic opportunity for states," said Josh Goodman, a state fiscal health policy expert with the Pew Charitable Trusts. "States don't generally have this amount of flexible money to work with” NPR recently reported
One GOP official NPR spoke with says that Republicans are concerned the Biden administration is using the pandemic to justify unrelated big government spending, and another GOP official told me the party is also concerned Biden will receive all the credit for a recovery, and that what Biden calls “excessive paper work” helps the GOP keep state spending under control. “We need to make sure we are equitable in dealing with these funds,” I was told.
That is where the Biden administration accuses the GOP of purposefully spreading disinformation.
And as the AP recently reported, “Nationwide, state leaders set aside at least $2.6 billion from the CARES Act’s Coronavirus Relief Fund to prop up struggling renters, but a year later more than $425 million of that — or 16% — hadn’t made it into the pockets of tenants or their landlords, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press.”
In North Carolina, housing advocates blamed inefficiency, but Sperling says it is far too late to accept that claim.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s database of rent relief programs in 2020, Georgia, West Virginia and Tennessee, all run by Republican governors, chose not to set up statewide rent-relief programs that year, despite having higher than average historic eviction rates. South Carolina allocated less than $14 per renter-occupied household.
Senior officials in the Biden administration see this as a political game, made to make the president look bad, and part of an overall disinformation campaign by their GOP colleagues.
It is a case of politicians putting their own needs - making the opposition look dangerous - ahead of helping their constituents. It is a tried and true GOP tactic. So I took the opportunity to try and set the record straight when I questioned Gene Sperling, one of Biden’s senior economic advisors, during a recent press briefing:
“Gene, is there any indication, or is it the contention of this administration, that the undistributed funds that the state and local governments haven’t distributed haven't been done so for political reasons? And if so, what's your reaction to that?” I asked.
“I understand the challenges they were facing, but right now, there's no excuse for somebody having a complicated application process. There's no excuse for somebody to have excessive documentation. Your government has told you that you can create very simple application processes, and you are able to see that your peers in other states and cities are successfully implementing this. And so, this is the time where we want to especially say: There's no excuses. If it works in some places, there's no reason it can't work in every place.”
The message was clear. Money is available. But Sperling also had a warning for those jurisdictions playing politics with the money:
We have given them enormous flexibility. They are seeing their peers, they're seeing other states and cities succeeding, and there's no excuse for them not doing so. I will say that, on September 30th, the one stick you have is that the Treasury Department is allowed to reallocate among places that have not used 65 percent of their - of the first $25 billion. So that is something the Deputy Secretary of Treasury has made clear.
This has gone mostly unnoticed as Biden and Congress have tried to keep an eviction moratorium in place. But a disinformation campaign by the GOP has put at risk those who face eviction, and further those same politicians by playing politics with the funds risk losing those funds and having them redistributed elsewhere beginning in October.
The statistics show that “blue” jurisdictions have been far more generous with the funds than several “red” jurisdictions who only want to convince constituents that Biden is incapable of handling the Covid crisis.
So, come October we risk a crisis of our own - or at least of some GOP politicians - making.
Red districts will have fewer funds to help out constituents there - fueling the belief that it is the Democrats fault. That fuels the growing split in our country and disaster awaits.
At the end of the day disinformation from a key few people fuels misinformation to the masses. This is a deadly combination that has many people denying science, facts and even common sense. Yes, Governor DeSantis. You. (Among others)
The overall lack of understanding when it comes to facts is enough to convince you we live in the modern equivalent of the Middle Ages - all of us serfs searching for a better way of life and unable to see how to obtain it.
Long after we are able to subdue the coronavirus we will have to find a way to inoculate ourselves from the political acrimony and divisiveness caused by misinformation and disinformation. It hurts us in international affairs - like the conflict in Afghanistan, and it is literally killing us as we try to deal with a global pandemic.
As it turns out, our inability to deal with facts may be far more dangerous to our survival than an actual virus.