Buttigieg's McKinsey work included the financial carnage at Blue Cross and Blue Shield

It is going to be quite interesting to see how long Buttigieg survives in the presidential race (or continues to have a political career at all) now that he’s released the names of his clients at the evil empire of corporate consulting and progressive boogeyman, McKinsey & Co.

Buttigieg was always a bit of a laughable candidate, kind of like Beto 2.0. He’s the mayor of a city about the same size of the small beach town we live in, and he suddenly wants to be leader of the free world. From debating landscape designs for street medians to dealing with Iran. Good times.

He’s also the first presidential candidate that goes around bragging about his six-figure student loan debt and low (negative?) net worth. If it weren’t for the fact that he’s sharing the stage with someone who pretended to be a person of color for 70 years, a senator who ate a salad with her plastic hair comb to shame a staffer for not bringing her a fork, an old dude who likes to sniff women’s hair, and a billionaire who wears the same plaid tie every day as a matter of principle, he’d seem like the strangest candidate up there.

The Atlantic was quick out the gate tonight with a fawning article trying to put lipstick on the McKinsey pig. But it’s not going to work. In fact, knowing the clients he worked with, Buttigieg is now probably the most unelectable candidate of the entire batshit lot, including Fauxcahontas.

Top on his list is Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Michigan. In the Atlantic piece, Buttigieg explains that his work for the company was just “math.” As if math in financial analysis is some abstraction like the blackboard scratching of theoretical physicists, which may or may not have import in the real world. He worked on nebulous things like “efficiency” and “cutting costs.” Hmm, what costs organizations money? Especially a health insurer? Oh, right, jobs and people who make heavy claims on their insurance. What’s another term for what those people have? Oh right, pre-existing conditions. And how do you get an insurer to have more money on hand? Oh, right, by jacking up premiums. Do you think that is what Buttigieg’s team recommended?

The work of Buttigieg’s team at McKinsey was actually the subject of a report by the Michigan Attorney General, which you can see here: Profits Over People: The Drive to Privatize and Destroy the Social Mission of Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Remember that this guy is running on fixing health care policy. It’s literally the only public policy issue that he has a track record in for voters to consider, and that track record was brutal for ordinary people in a state struggling with the catastrophic loss of its manufacturing industry.

A former (reformed?) health care executive went on the following rant about what McKinsey did with Blue Cross and Blue Shield:

BREAKING: As a former corporate exec who worked with McKinsey, I may be able to shed light on one of @petebuttigieg’s unnamed McKinsey clients, and why it’s very significant in this campaign.
(Note: I have not endorsed anyone in this race, nor do I intend to) 1/13

When I was a health insurance exec, my CFO had McKinsey on retainer. Every year or so, especially when one division or another wasn’t making enough profit, McKinsey would be brought in to “assess” current operations. (2/13)

Those of us who knew about McKinsey’s involvement at our insurance corporation knew it would lead to “cost cutting.” That’s consultant talk for laying off workers, offshoring, and hiking rates. The McKinsey efforts would have code names because it had to be kept secret. (3/13)

Now what does this have to do with @petebuttigieg? In his description of his McKinsey work, he says he worked in Michigan at a “health insurance provider… performing analytical work… identifying savings in administration and overhead costs.” 4/13
 https://medium.com/the-moment-by-pete-for-america/my-time-at-mckinsey-466f058e9401 …

To an old health insurance exec, those are code words that translate roughly to cutting costs through layoffs, restructuring, and potentially denying health coverage to those in need. 5/13

Important: You’ll notice @petebuttigieg describes his McKinsey insurance client as “a nonprofit” insurer. So that means it was a different kind of company, right? No. “Nonprofit” insurers behave just like “for-profits.” In fact, you might not be able to tell them apart (6/13)

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is a “non-profit” health insurer, that fits the description of the @petebuttigieg client. Its financials in 2007 were not great, which is when execs call in firms like McKinsey to come up with tactics to right the ship. 7/13

Based on this article below, BCBS laid off hundreds of people and increased premiums dramatically not long after. Those premium increases likely led to a lot of people losing their insurance. (8/13)
 https://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20090118/SUB01/901190322/blue-cross-seeks-double-digit-rate-hikes-layoffs …

If indeed the @petebuttigieg client was Blue Cross, this report by the Attorney General of Michigan in 2007 has a lot to offer. The title: “Profits over People: The Drive to Privatize and Destroy the Social Mission of Blue Cross and Blue Shield” (9/13)
 https://www.michigan.gov/documents/ag/Blue_Cross_11.29.07_217273_7.pdf …

If it wasn’t Blue Cross, it would have to be another big insurer to be able to afford McKinsey. They don’t come cheap. As I recall, my company paid them a monthly retainer of $50K. And paid more for big special projects with code names. (10/13)

Why is this relevant to 2020? I’ll leave analysis of @petebuttigieg’s transparency, or his potential role in rate hikes and layoffs, to political experts. What I can speak to is how this experience might lead him to defend and protect health insurance companies now. (11/13)

Pete is fighting to preserve the role & profits of health insurance companies, spending huge sums on ads slamming plans to rein them in. I’ll be watching to see if my former insurance colleagues send him big campaign checks. He’s probably one of their favorite candidates (12/13)

As I know firsthand, insurers intentionally deny coverage to Americans, to hoard their profits. The result is people dying and millions in medical bankruptcy. Pete’s plan protects and preserves this very system. Now we may know why. (13/13)

This is just one of his clients. Crikey.

I’ve joked for a while that the Democratic primary has been like the children’s song… “take one down, pass it around.” There is no person who clearly deserves to be a front-runner, so the electorate keeps trying available candidates on for size. Usually the momentum of the current darling lasts for a few weeks, but fear Buttigieg has now been passed around. This was faster than folks discovering that Kamala Harris put many undeserving people in prison. (They didn’t even get to the crime lab that falsified data to get convictions before her candidacy was effectively over.)

Be careful what you ask for

Elise has been consumed this evening with making a Christmas list. I saw her staring at a blank page and asked her what was on her mind. Was she trying to figure out what toy she wanted most?

Elise: The problem is that I already have a lot of toys. It’s difficult to come up with something I want that I don’t already have.

Me: Well, that’s an awfully nice problem to have, don’t you think?

Elise: You aren’t helping.

Me: Well, perhaps instead of toys, you might consider experiences that you want to have. Places you would like to go, or whatever.

Elise: How is Santa going to leave an “experience” for me under the tree? An experience is not a thing.

Me: I don’t know. I hear Santa is pretty creative. I’m sure he’ll come up with something.

So here’s her list:

  1. A real breathing baby dragon.
  2. Ninja course
  3. The chance to train a wolf.

Me: I think it’s probably going to be hard for Santa to find a real baby dragon, considering that dragons aren’t real. [Tries not to laugh at the irony.]

Elise: He has flying reindeer. He probably knows where to find dragons too.

Me: Hard to argue with that. Um, “the chance to train a wolf.”

Elise: You told me to think of an experience I would like to have. Training a wolf would be a great experience.

Me: Sure, why not. [Ponders whether the ninja course is for her or the wolf.]

Nothing prepares you for children.

Do you hear what I hear?

Folks who know me know that I have a deep love of Greek and Roman literature. Lately, I have been on something of a Plutarch kick, and I am working my way through his Essays (Penguin Classics). I forgot how wonderful they are.

Plutarch, much like Montaigne, was gifted at communicating impressive ideas in a simple, succinct form. I think that is one of the things I love most about classical literature – seeing how phenomenally intelligent our human race was even thousands of years ago. Of course, to have that sense, you either have to have an excellent translator or be able to read Latin and Greek. Hence, I am teaching our young daughter to read Latin, and hopefully Greek will follow.

Today, I have been re-reading Plutarch’s essay On Listening. If you have never read it, you should. And Robin Waterfield is such a brilliant translator, for those who care.

For Plutarch (as I read him, anyway), being an excellent listener has two components.

One involves the art of listening to someone who intends to persuade you on some point. This means being able to follow reason (and not necessarily the person who intends to persuade you). To Plutarch, the ability to reason is a divine gift. To follow God and to follow reason are one and the same, he explains.

The other involves allowing someone to articulate a complete thought. This means showing proper respect to someone who is trying to make a point and can make it well, even if you do not agree with them. When I was younger, this would have been called collegiality (a word of medieval origin, taken from the Latin collegium, a community, society, or guild).

Both, really, are totally lost in modern American society. Though, to be fair, trying to be polite to a parrot is an exercise in madness.

I love this passage:

It goes without saying that a young man who is denied all instruction and never tastes any rational discourse not only remains barren and unproductive of virtue, but also might become marred and perverted toward vice, producing plentiful mental weeds from his unturned and unworked soil, as it were…

There are, in short, no exceptions to the rule that for a young man silence is undoubtedly an adornment; and never more so than if he listens to someone else without getting worked up and barking out a riposte but – even if the comments are distinctly unwelcome – puts up with them and waits for the speaker to finish and, once the speaker has finished, instead of immediately answering back, leaves an interval, as Aeschines says, to see if the speaker wants to add anything else to what he has already said, or to make any changes or to take something back. Immediately to lash out in retaliation, however, and neither to listen nor be listened to, but to speak while being spoken to, is scandalous; on the other hand, anyone who has acquired the ability to listen in a self-controlled and respectful fashion is receptive and retentive of any remarks that are useful, while any that are useless or false are quite transparent to him and easily detectable, because he is – as is obvious – aiming at the truth rather than winning an argument, and does not pitch in head first for a fight.

Can you believe that this was written in the first century? Yet this is the exact behavior social media (and the news media) conditions people against developing.

Unlike Plutarch’s generation, people are not especially interested in being persuasive anymore. There are basically three styles of argumentation being taught/learned nowadays: (1) if someone disagrees with you, insult their character, background, or livelihood; (2) shout louder than someone; (3) parrot corporate media talking points until your interlocutor is reduced to a coma. Even the people who pass as eloquent in American society are not gifted listeners, but more subtle bullies. They certainly aren’t aiming at truth or dispensing wisdom.

Of course, there are times when calling into question someone’s intentions is necessary. But it should not be a default.

Sometimes I wonder if the art of being persuasive even works nowadays. Plutarch’s time was dominated by virtue ethics. That does not seem to exist much anymore, except within certain religious communities and institutions.

Instead most forums are dominated by people with what one might call “therapeutic” ideals. They respond well to confessional storytelling and hierarchies of grievances. That is definitely not something the Greeks and Romans would understand or support. Being persuasive assumes you have worked to achieve some position of strength. People who fail are not persuasive. There’s a reason the ancients taught science and logic before rhetoric. Logic is not taught in K-12 public schools, but identity politics is. And our discourse reflects that.

A person who is trained in logic can attempt to reason someone through their thinking nowadays, but that generally makes their interlocutor cling to the position they have staked out publicly even harder. You are, in short, wasting your time.

This is absolutely true in talking about politics, government, and economics these days. I have given up try to persuade anyone who gets into how they “feel” about public policy. They don’t seem to want to work out a practical solution to problems, which involves caring about details like how resources are limited or laws on the books already. They just want to emote. They don’t want a good argument from you, either. They just want to pass judgment on whether you have “proper” emotions too.

I don’t want open borders but I also don’t want there to be punishments for people who come into the country illegally, because that seems mean.

I don’t want to spend yet another decade and another trillion dollars in Afghanistan, but I also want there to be a government in Afghanistan that is fair by western ideals and respects the rights of women and the LGBTQ community.

Blah blah blah. You can listen politely all you want, but the fact is you are talking to an irrational person who hasn’t and won’t invest any serious thought into a real-world solution to these problems. You aren’t going to give them the civic education they never received,even though they likely have an undergraduate degree. That ship has sailed. The Greeks and the Romans, however, were absolutely obsessed with civic education.

Virtue (of the sort that has a metaphysical foundation) has been replaced with attention as a form of social capital, and squawking and bullying is an easier way to get attention than trying to persuade someone. Of course, you will never bully someone into believing something that they did not believe already. No one in the history of mankind has been publicly shamed into a new perspective. But that’s increasingly not the point of discourse. For a not insignificant portion of society, silencing someone is as much of a victory as persuading them. Because that’s the best you can achieve when all you have is an arsenal of emotions.

Democrats want to adopt Trump's policies while portraying him as an immediate threat to the country

Yesterday, during the House impeachment hearings, Americans were treated to Democratic lawyers representing one committee questioning Democratic lawyers representing another committee. Democrats can’t provide anything of substance, Ukrainian officials are doing interviews now saying Democrats are spreading false information, and most of their testimony was hearsay of a call that Americans could read for themselves. So now they are just having their staffers stage fake conversations with each other as if they were witnesses in these events. And no one stopped them and said, hey, don’t you sort of worry about the optics of this?

One of their lawyers played both the person asking the questions and the person answering the questions in these fake interrogations. Nadler swore the guy in to be treated like a witness, then had him physically get up and leave the committee room and return before Republicans could question him. When he returned, Nadler explained that the lawyer had ceased to be a witness after he left the room and returned merely as committee staff.

This is a totally serious enterprise, y’all.

Republicans were mostly sitting there in what-the-actual-fuck mode, though Representative Gaetz did have fun with one of the committee’s lawyers, pointing out that had he donated over $100,000 to Democratic candidates like his counterpart, the committee might let him ask and answer questions simultaneously too. (Said attorney had only donated around $30,000 to Democratic candidates. It’s a wonder they even bother getting a law degree.)

Then Democrats ran around taking a “victory lap” in the media because the Inspector General issued a scathing report saying he had no evidence that Obama’s Justice Department was politically biased, but 500 pages single-spaced of evidence that Obama’s Justice Department and FBI was catastrophically incompetent and malicious-for-unknown-reasons at literally every level of government. They only falsified evidence, made a series of misrepresentations to the FISA court, and submitted a fictitious dossier paid for by the Clinton campaign as justification for wiretapping someone, and outright lied to the court about the author’s credibility. Something to be proud of! Pat yourselves on the back!

But it continues.

Today, Democrats introduced two articles of impeachment tied to Ukraine and then within an hour announced that they had finally decided to vote on Trump’s new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, which Democrats have been stonewalling for months.

So they hate the president, think he is such an immediate threat to the country that he should be removed from office in the middle of an election cycle, he’s betrayed the country with treasonous acts, but his economic policy is brilliant, let’s get that done. Can you imagine being the trade negotiators in the White House trying to keep policy decisions on track while working with this epic group of idiots?

I say this all the time, but it’s is remarkable our country has managed to be prosperous given Democrats trying to jam a stick in the spokes of government on a daily basis. They are so irrelevant to how the country operates (for the time being, at least) that the stock market doesn’t even sell off over their drama. Yawn, the children are at it again.

Of course, the impeachment circus now has the Democrats deeply underwater in polls in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. (And that’s in a Trump – Biden match-up, not a Trump – Socialism match-up.) Florida’s Republican governor, who is an extremely vocal Trump supporter, has the highest approval rating in the country.

Letting the trade deal expire would have certainly handed Republicans the House of Representatives. And after impeachment, that might be likely already. Unlike midterms, Republicans are not facing a mountain of retirements, and dozens of Democrats in the House are in districts that voted for Trump. We shall see.

I don’t even know what to say to people who still support these folks at this point. It’s like Democrats are holding Americans hostage with an endless parade of increasingly ridiculous tantrums because they have been incapable of producing a likable, let alone electable, candidate for two election cycles now.

Buttigieg changed his fundraising policy after getting spanked by a teenager

I can’t stop laughing at this. So Buttigieg is at a campaign event talking to teenagers with the maddening track of Panic! At the Disco’s “High Hopes” cranked to 11 in the background because some focus group told him that if he says “hope” enough people might start to associate him with Obama and not the physical manifestation of Alfred E. Neuman.

Then he makes the mistake of taking a question from this kid. Kid asks Buttigieg if taking money out of politics means not doing private fundraisers with billionaires…. And Buttigieg curtly says no and walks away.

Buttigieg’s peeps have since explained that he’s still taking dough from rich and powerful people, but he’s going to let the press into his fundraisers so you can finally see who his rich and powerful supporters are. That video has since been viewed 3 million times, though 50,000 of those are probably Elizabeth Warren.

At this point, I am genuinely starting to wonder if this race is going to come down to Bernie Sanders and Nanny Bloomberg.

Horror stories from Buttigieg's favorite abortionist

I recently came across the most disturbing article from the local newspaper in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Ulrich Klopfer. Folks will remember that Klopfer is the abortionist who had the remains of 2,246 babies from the abortions he performed stored in his house, with another 165 remains found in the trunk of one of his cars at a storage unit.

Klopfer operated a handful of abortion clinics, with a large and active one in South Bend, also known as the small town (population ~ 100,000) that presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is mayor of. Buttigieg is a passionate supporter of late-term abortion and advocated for Klopfer’s practice, putting up administrative roadblocks for Catholic ministries to erect counseling facilities nearby.

Of course, Buttigieg’s support for late-term abortion is a non-issue in the Democratic primary, as the majority of Democratic voters are not religious. But it will likely be a serious source of opposition research in the general election. I digress.

The local paper interviewed five women who received abortions from Klopfer, including in South Bend, and their stories are absolutely horrific. The youngest woman they interviewed received an abortion at the age of 13:

When the news of the fetal remains collection surfaced, former patients, associates, and lawmakers came out to publicly share experiences they had with the doctor.

Jessica Bowen, who got an abortion from Klopfer’s Fort Wayne clinic in 2013 at age 18, vividly remembers her encounter.

“It was excruciating,” she said. “It was so painful.”

She was already feeling anxious about her decision to get an abortion, but Klopfer’s bedside manner she didn’t see coming.

“I begged him and asked to stop,” Bowen continued. “I started screaming and crying and I said, ‘please stop, I don’t want to do this anymore,’ and he looked at the nurse and told her to keep me quiet because I was going to scare the other patients.”

She said the nurse then covered her mouth.

“At one point I was crying and screaming because of the pain and the trauma and he told me to shut up and stop crying,” said Abby Whitt, who went to Klopfer’s South Bend clinic in 2013 at the age of 18. “I just remember being scared of him. I don’t think he cared about the patients at all.”

Kelly Bowker, who underwent an abortion from Klopfer at 17-years-old, was also surprised by his demeanor.

“He was very quick about it,” she said of her 1992 procedure visit in Fort Wayne. “He didn’t want to know your name. He didn’t want to offer any kind of advice or council. He just came in, did what he wanted to do, and then he left.”

Serena Dyksen said after being raped by someone close to her, she had an abortion appointment at Klopfer’s South Bend clinic at just 13-years-old.

I was so weak,” she said of her state after the abortion procedure. “When I stood up blood just went everywhere. So My dad had to carry me out. I was so weak and I was so busted, and I was 13.”

She said she was traumatized by the experience.

“It was a horrible, horrible pain,” she continued. “He yelled at me because I was yelling in pain and there was just no care, no compassion at all. He was just a very nasty man. Even afterwards when I went to recover I ended up hemorrhaging everywhere and he never came back in to even check on me. He just sent me home.”

In one of the most tragic stories, Klopfer left pieces of fetus inside a patient who was about 20-years-old. Her name remains anonymous. She would’ve died, if not for a doctor in town that performed an emergency procedure on her. Geoff Cly testified before the Indiana state senate about his life-saving procedure and would eventually commit to being Klopfer’s emergency backup doctor for the sake of helping women such as this one.

“She was so sick and her uterus was so infected with bacteria with pieces of the tissue of baby left inside that the antibiotics didn’t work,” Cly explained. “We had to do surgery eventually and we had to take her uterus out. So this young woman could never have children anymore. So I was as a doctor, I was upset.”

I just can’t get over all the stories coming out about Klopfer that involve the girls’ PARENTS taking them to see him for “health care.” Imagine putting your child into the hands of this man.

Buttigieg’s support for Klopfer was not an accident. Klopfer was a prolific abortionist, having performed as many as 50,000 abortions in the region, and was thus treated as a celebrity in left-leaning circles. Even as he was butchering his female clients. As the influence of labor unions have waned, Planned Parenthood has stepped in to become the major donor to Democratic causes. Along with this financial influence comes politicians sucking up to serial killers.

Klopfer’s behavior, horrific as it is, is not unusual in the abortion industry (and it is an industry – you don’t stay poor performing 50,000 abortions at several hundred dollars a pop). As I have written about before, there are a number of abortionists who have collected trophies of their work (Gosnell, among others). And every time they are found out, there is a parade of victims explaining unsanitary conditions and violent procedures.

These situations are created by an industry that fights any and all regulatory restrictions on what they do and who can become an abortionist. There are very few licensed OB-GYNs who are willing to refer someone for an abortion, let alone perform ones themselves. It’s a lucrative business with low economic barriers to entry because you have to be something of a sicko psychologically to want to dismember babies for a living.

That’s sort of the irony of abortion in the United States. Whenever you start talking about regulating it, proponents explode about coat hangers and alleys. But their heroes like Klopfer and Gosnell are not very far off from coat hangers.

Bush and Obama lied non-stop to Americans about Afghanistan

When Trump announced that he intended to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, the press and foreign policy establishment lit their hair on fire. Trump ran on fixing the economy and getting the United States out of unwinnable foreign wars that have cost taxpayers several trillion dollars, so the fact that this news caught anyone off guard is, frankly, kind of hilarious. But that’s all these folks do nowadays – light their hair on fire every time Trump says something that’s obvious to anyone who is sane. Putin probably told Trump to get out of Afghanistan, you know.

This screed in The HillTrump is in danger of giving the Taliban exactly what they want – from former State Department official and Obama foreign policy adviser David Tafuri is fairly representative of the freak-out the Washington consultant class had over the potential end of the war. The war must continue until ideal conditions prevail in the Middle East. We’ll get there any day now, we promise. [insert more taxpayer money here]

I don’t know if it’s because my own father was drafted to fight in Vietnam and the experience of combat there scarred him for life (seriously, he still has nightmares about combat over 50 years after his tour of duty ended), but this report – Confidential documents reveal US officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan – from the Washington Post makes me want to break things.

I mean, on some level we all knew the government was lying to the public on a grand scale about the various conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. But seeing military insiders vent about the manipulation of statistics and how Congress expects them to distribute $3 million in financial aid in a single county every day and whatnot is still stunning.

Let that wash over you for a second. We are spending millions of dollars a day on nation-building in Afghanistan while lawmakers shed crocodile tears over the unaffordability of health care and child care in the United States.

From the report (emphasis mine):

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

The documents were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.

The U.S. government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The Post won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle.

In the interviews, more than 400 insiders offered unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan and how the United States became mired in nearly two decades of warfare.

With a bluntness rarely expressed in public, the interviews lay bare pent-up complaints, frustrations and confessions, along with second-guessing and backbiting.

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction … 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of U.S. military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain?”

Since 2001, more than 775,000 U.S. troops have deployed to Afghanistan, many repeatedly. Of those, 2,300 died there and 20,589 were wounded in action, according to Defense Department figures.

The interviews, through an extensive array of voices, bring into sharp relief the core failings of the war that persist to this day. They underscore how three presidents — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — and their military commanders have been unable to deliver on their promises to prevail in Afghanistan.

With most speaking on the assumption that their remarks would not become public, U.S. officials acknowledged that their warfighting strategies were fatally flawed and that Washington wasted enormous sums of money trying to remake Afghanistan into a modern nation.

The interviews also highlight the U.S. government’s botched attempts to curtail runaway corruption, build a competent Afghan army and police force, and put a dent in Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade.

The U.S. government has not carried out a comprehensive accounting of how much it has spent on the war in Afghanistan, but the costs are staggering.

Since 2001, the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

Those figures do not include money spent by other agencies such as the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for medical care for wounded veterans.

“What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. He added, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”

The documents also contradict a long chorus of public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting.

Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.

“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

John Sopko, the head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, acknowledged to The Post that the documents show “the American people have constantly been lied to.”

The interviews are the by-product of a project led by Sopko’s agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Known as SIGAR, the agency was created by Congress in 2008 to investigate waste and fraud in the war zone.

In 2014, at Sopko’s direction, SIGAR departed from its usual mission of performing audits and launched a side venture. Titled “Lessons Learned,” the $11 million project was meant to diagnose policy failures in Afghanistan so the United States would not repeat the mistakes the next time it invaded a country or tried to rebuild a shattered one.

The Lessons Learned staff interviewed more than 600 people with firsthand experience in the war. Most were Americans, but SIGAR analysts also traveled to London, Brussels and Berlin to interview NATO allies. In addition, they interviewed about 20 Afghan officials, discussing reconstruction and development programs.

Drawing partly on the interviews, as well as other government records and statistics, SIGAR has published seven Lessons Learned reports since 2016 that highlight problems in Afghanistan and recommend changes to stabilize the country.

But the reports, written in dense bureaucratic prose and focused on an alphabet soup of government initiatives, left out the harshest and most frank criticisms from the interviews.

“We found the stabilization strategy and the programs used to achieve it were not properly tailored to the Afghan context, and successes in stabilizing Afghan districts rarely lasted longer than the physical presence of coalition troops and civilians,” read the introduction to one report released in May 2018.

The reports also omitted the names of more than 90 percent of the people who were interviewed for the project. While a few officials agreed to speak on the record to SIGAR, the agency said it promised anonymity to everyone else it interviewed to avoid controversy over politically sensitive matters.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, The Post began seeking Lessons Learned interview records in August 2016. SIGAR refused, arguing that the documents were privileged and that the public had no right to see them.

The Post had to sue SIGAR in federal court — twice — to compel it to release the documents.

The agency eventually disclosed more than 2,000 pages of unpublished notes and transcripts from 428 of the interviews, as well as several audio recordings.

The documents identify 62 of the people who were interviewed, but SIGAR blacked out the names of 366 others. In legal briefs, the agency contended that those individuals should be seen as whistle-blowers and informants who might face humiliation, harassment, retaliation or physical harm if their names became public.

By cross-referencing dates and other details from the documents, The Post independently identified 33 other people who were interviewed, including several former ambassadors, generals and White House officials.

The Post has asked a federal judge to force SIGAR to disclose the names of everyone else interviewed, arguing that the public has a right to know which officials criticized the war and asserted that the government had misled the American people. The Post also argued the officials were not whistle-blowers or informants, because they were not interviewed as part of an investigation.

A decision by Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court in Washington has been pending since late September.

The Post is publishing the documents now, instead of waiting for a final ruling, to inform the public while the Trump administration is negotiating with the Taliban and considering whether to withdraw the 13,000 U.S. troops who remain in Afghanistan.

The Post attempted to contact for comment everyone whom it was able to identify as having given an interview to SIGAR. Their responses are compiled in a separate article.

Sopko, the inspector general, told The Post that he did not suppress the blistering criticisms and doubts about the war that officials raised in the Lessons Learned interviews. He said it took his office three years to release the records because he has a small staff and because other federal agencies had to review the documents to prevent government secrets from being disclosed.

“We didn’t sit on it,” he said. “We’re firm believers in openness and transparency, but we’ve got to follow the law. … I think of any inspector general, I’ve probably been the most forthcoming on information.”

The interview records are raw and unedited, and SIGAR’s Lessons Learned staff did not stitch them into a unified narrative. But they are packed with tough judgments from people who shaped or carried out U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

“We don’t invade poor countries to make them rich,” James Dobbins, a former senior U.S. diplomat who served as a special envoy to Afghanistan under Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. “We don’t invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic. We invade violent countries to make them peaceful and we clearly failed in Afghanistan.”

To augment the Lessons Learned interviews, The Post obtained hundreds of pages of previously classified memos about the Afghan war that were dictated by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld between 2001 and 2006.

Dubbed “snowflakes” by Rumsfeld and his staff, the memos are brief instructions or comments that the Pentagon boss dictated to his underlings, often several times a day.

Rumsfeld made a select number of his snowflakes public in 2011, posting them online in conjunction with his memoir, “Known and Unknown.” But most of his snowflake collection — an estimated 59,000 pages — remained secret.

In 2017, in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed by the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research institute based at George Washington University, the Defense Department began reviewing and releasing the remainder of Rumsfeld’s snowflakes on a rolling basis. The Archive shared them with The Post.

Together, the SIGAR interviews and the Rumsfeld memos pertaining to Afghanistan constitute a secret history of the war and an unsparing appraisal of 18 years of conflict.

Worded in Rumsfeld’s brusque style, many of the snowflakes foreshadow problems that continue to haunt the U.S. military more than a decade later.

“I may be impatient. In fact I know I’m a bit impatient,” Rumsfeld wrote in one memo to several generals and senior aides. “We are never going to get the U.S. military out of Afghanistan unless we take care to see that there is something going on that will provide the stability that will be necessary for us to leave.”

“Help!” he wrote.

The memo was dated April 17, 2002 — six months after the war started.

With their forthright descriptions of how the United States became stuck in a faraway war, as well as the government’s determination to conceal them from the public, the cache of Lessons Learned interviews broadly resembles the Pentagon Papers, the Defense Department’s top-secret history of the Vietnam War.

When they were leaked in 1971, the Pentagon Papers caused a sensation by revealing the government had long misled the public about how the United States came to be embroiled in Vietnam.

Bound into 47 volumes, the 7,000-page study was based entirely on internal government documents — diplomatic cables, decision-making memos, intelligence reports. To preserve secrecy, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara issued an order prohibiting the authors from interviewing anyone.

SIGAR’s Lessons Learned project faced no such restrictions. Staffers carried out the interviews between 2014 and 2018, mostly with officials who served during the Bush and Obama years.

About 30 of the interview records are transcribed, word-for-word accounts. The rest are typed summaries of conversations: pages of notes and quotes from people with different vantage points in the conflict, from provincial outposts to the highest circles of power.

Some of the interviews are inexplicably short. The interview record with John Allen, the Marine general who commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, consists of five paragraphs.

In contrast, other influential figures, including former U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker, sat for two interviews that yielded 95 transcribed pages.

Unlike the Pentagon Papers, none of the Lessons Learned documents were originally classified as a government secret. Once The Post pushed to make them public, however, other federal agencies intervened and classified some material after the fact.

The State Department, for instance, asserted that releasing portions of certain interviews could jeopardize negotiations with the Taliban to end the war. The Defense Department and Drug Enforcement Administration also classified some interview excerpts.

The Lessons Learned interviews contain few revelations about military operations. But running throughout are torrents of criticism that refute the official narrative of the war, from its earliest days through the start of the Trump administration.

At the outset, for instance, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan had a clear, stated objective — to retaliate against al-Qaida and prevent a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Yet the interviews show that as the war dragged on, the goals and mission kept changing and a lack of faith in the U.S. strategy took root inside the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department.

Fundamental disagreements went unresolved. Some U.S. officials wanted to use the war to turn Afghanistan into a democracy. Others wanted to transform Afghan culture and elevate women’s rights. Still others wanted to reshape the regional balance of power among Pakistan, India, Iran and Russia.

“With the AfPak strategy there was a present under the Christmas tree for everyone,” an unidentified U.S. official told government interviewers in 2015. “By the time you were finished you had so many priorities and aspirations it was like no strategy at all.”

The Lessons Learned interviews also reveal how U.S. military commanders struggled to articulate who they were fighting, let alone why.

Was al-Qaida the enemy, or the Taliban? Was Pakistan a friend or an adversary? What about the Islamic State and the bewildering array of foreign jihadists, let alone the warlords on the CIA’s payroll? According to the documents, the U.S. government never settled on an answer.

As a result, in the field, U.S. troops often couldn’t tell friend from foe.

“They thought I was going to come to them with a map to show them where the good guys and bad guys live,” an unnamed former adviser to an Army Special Forces team told government interviewers in 2017. “It took several conversations for them to understand that I did not have that information in my hands. At first, they just kept asking: ‘But who are the bad guys, where are they?’ “

The view wasn’t any clearer from the Pentagon.

“I have no visibility into who the bad guys are,” Rumsfeld complained in a Sept. 8, 2003, snowflake. “We are woefully deficient in human intelligence.”

As commanders in chief, Bush, Obama and Trump all promised the public the same thing. They would avoid falling into the trap of “nation-building” in Afghanistan.

On that score, the presidents failed miserably. The United States has allocated more than $133 billion to build up Afghanistan — more than it spent, adjusted for inflation, to revive the whole of Western Europe with the Marshall Plan after World War II.

The Lessons Learned interviews show the grandiose nation-building project was marred from the start.

U.S. officials tried to create — from scratch — a democratic government in Kabul modeled after their own in Washington. It was a foreign concept to the Afghans, who were accustomed to tribalism, monarchism, communism and Islamic law.

“Our policy was to create a strong central government which was idiotic because Afghanistan does not have a history of a strong central government,” an unidentified former State Department official told government interviewers in 2015. “The time frame for creating a strong central government is 100 years, which we didn’t have.”

Meanwhile, the United States flooded the fragile country with far more aid than it could possibly absorb.

During the peak of the fighting, from 2009 to 2012, U.S. lawmakers and military commanders believed the more they spent on schools, bridges, canals and other civil-works projects, the faster security would improve. Aid workers told government interviewers it was a colossal misjudgment, akin to pumping kerosene on a dying campfire just to keep the flame alive.

One unnamed executive with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), guessed that 90 percent of what they spent was overkill: “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason.”

Many aid workers blamed Congress for what they saw as a mindless rush to spend.

One unidentified contractor told government interviewers he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home: “He said hell no. ‘Well, sir, that’s what you just obligated us to spend and I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.’ “

The gusher of aid that Washington spent on Afghanistan also gave rise to historic levels of corruption.

In public, U.S. officials insisted they had no tolerance for graft. But in the Lessons Learned interviews, they admitted the U.S. government looked the other way while Afghan power brokers — allies of Washington — plundered with impunity.

Christopher Kolenda, an Army colonel who deployed to Afghanistan several times and advised three U.S. generals in charge of the war, said that the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” by 2006 — and that U.S. officials failed to recognize the lethal threat it posed to their strategy.

“I like to use a cancer analogy,” Kolenda told government interviewers. “Petty corruption is like skin cancer; there are ways to deal with it and you’ll probably be just fine. Corruption within the ministries, higher level, is like colon cancer; it’s worse, but if you catch it in time, you’re probably OK. Kleptocracy, however, is like brain cancer; it’s fatal.”

By allowing corruption to fester, U.S. officials told interviewers, they helped destroy the popular legitimacy of the wobbly Afghan government they were fighting to prop up. With judges and police chiefs and bureaucrats extorting bribes, many Afghans soured on democracy and turned to the Taliban to enforce order.

“Our biggest single project, sadly and inadvertently, of course, may have been the development of mass corruption,” Crocker, who served as the top U.S. diplomat in Kabul in 2002 and again from 2011 to 2012, told government interviewers. He added, “Once it gets to the level I saw, when I was out there, it’s somewhere between unbelievably hard and outright impossible to fix it.”

Year after year, U.S. generals have said in public they are making steady progress on the central plank of their strategy: to train a robust Afghan army and national police force that can defend the country without foreign help.

In the Lessons Learned interviews, however, U.S. military trainers described the Afghan security forces as incompetent, unmotivated and rife with deserters. They also accused Afghan commanders of pocketing salaries — paid by U.S. taxpayers — for tens of thousands of “ghost soldiers.”

None expressed confidence that the Afghan army and police could ever fend off, much less defeat, the Taliban on their own. More than 60,000 members of Afghan security forces have been killed, a casualty rate that U.S. commanders have called unsustainable.

One unidentified U.S. soldier said Special Forces teams “hated” the Afghan police whom they trained and worked with, calling them “awful — the bottom of the barrel in the country that is already at the bottom of the barrel.”

A U.S. military officer estimated that one-third of police recruits were “drug addicts or Taliban.” Yet another called them “stealing fools” who looted so much fuel from U.S. bases that they perpetually smelled of gasoline.

“Thinking we could build the military that fast and that well was insane,” an unnamed senior USAID official told government interviewers.

Meanwhile, as U.S. hopes for the Afghan security forces failed to materialize, Afghanistan became the world’s leading source of a growing scourge: opium.

The United States has spent about $9 billion to fight the problem over the past 18 years, but Afghan farmers are cultivating more opium poppies than ever. Last year, Afghanistan was responsible for 82 percent of global opium production, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

In the Lessons Learned interviews, former officials said almost everything they did to constrain opium farming backfired.

“We stated that our goal is to establish a ‘flourishing market economy,’ ” said Douglas Lute, the White House’s Afghan war czar from 2007 to 2013. “I thought we should have specified a flourishing drug trade — this is the only part of the market that’s working.”

From the beginning, Washington never really figured out how to incorporate a war on drugs into its war against al-Qaida. By 2006, U.S. officials feared that narco-traffickers had become stronger than the Afghan government and that money from the drug trade was powering the insurgency.

No single agency or country was in charge of the Afghan drug strategy for the entirety of the war, so the State Department, the DEA, the U.S. military, NATO allies and the Afghan government butted heads constantly.

“It was a dog’s breakfast with no chance of working,” an unnamed former senior British official told government interviewers.

The agencies and allies made things worse by embracing a dysfunctional muddle of programs, according to the interviews.

At first, Afghan poppy farmers were paid by the British to destroy their crops — which only encouraged them to grow more the next season. Later, the U.S. government eradicated poppy fields without compensation — which only infuriated farmers and encouraged them to side with the Taliban.

“It was sad to see so many people behave so stupidly,” one U.S. official told government interviewers.

he specter of Vietnam has hovered over Afghanistan from the start.

On Oct. 11, 2001, a few days after the United States started bombing the Taliban, a reporter asked Bush: “Can you avoid being drawn into a Vietnam-like quagmire in Afghanistan?”

“We learned some very important lessons in Vietnam,” Bush replied confidently. “People often ask me, ‘How long will this last?’ This particular battlefront will last as long as it takes to bring al-Qaida to justice. It may happen tomorrow, it may happen a month from now, it may take a year or two. But we will prevail.”

In those early days, other U.S. leaders mocked the notion that the nightmare of Vietnam might repeat itself in Afghanistan.

“All together now — quagmire!” Rumsfeld joked at a news conference on Nov. 27, 2001.

But throughout the Afghan war, documents show that U.S. military officials have resorted to an old tactic from Vietnam — manipulating public opinion.

In news conferences and other public appearances, those in charge of the war have followed the same talking points for 18 years. No matter how the war is going — and especially when it is going badly — they emphasize how they are making progress.

For example, some snowflakes that Rumsfeld released with his memoir show he had received a string of unusually dire warnings from the war zone in 2006.

After returning from a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan, Barry McCaffrey, a retired Army general, reported the Taliban had made an impressive comeback and predicted that “we will encounter some very unpleasant surprises in the coming 24 months.”

“The Afghan national leadership are collectively terrified that we will tiptoe out of Afghanistan in the coming few years — leaving NATO holding the bag — and the whole thing will collapse again into mayhem,” McCaffrey wrote in June 2006.

Two months later, Marin Strmecki, a civilian adviser to Rumsfeld, gave the Pentagon chief a classified, 40-page report loaded with more bad news. It said “enormous popular discontent is building” against the Afghan government because of its corruption and incompetence. It also said that the Taliban was growing stronger, thanks to support from Pakistan, a U.S. ally.

Yet with Rumsfeld’s personal blessing, the Pentagon buried the bleak warnings and told the public a very different story.

In October 2006, Rumsfeld’s speechwriters delivered a paper titled “Afghanistan: Five Years Later.” Brimming with optimism, it highlighted more than 50 promising facts and figures, from the number of Afghan women trained in “improved poultry management” (more than 19,000) to the “average speed on most roads” (up 300 percent).

“Five years on, there is a multitude of good news,” it read. “While it has become fashionable in some circles to call Afghanistan a forgotten war, or to say the United States has lost its focus, the facts belie the myths.”

Rumsfeld thought it was brilliant.

“This paper,” he wrote in a memo, “is an excellent piece. How do we use it? Should it be an article? An Op-ed piece? A handout? A press briefing? All of the above? I think it ought to get it to a lot of people.”

His staffers made sure it did. They circulated a version to reporters and posted it on Pentagon websites.

Since then, U.S. generals have almost always preached that the war is progressing well, no matter the reality on the battlefield.

“We’re making some steady progress,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, told reporters in September 2008, even as he and other U.S. commanders in Kabul were urgently requesting reinforcements to cope with a rising tide of Taliban fighters.

Two years later, as the casualty rate among U.S. and NATO troops climbed to another high, Army Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez held a news conference in Kabul.

“First, we are steadily making deliberate progress,” he said.

In March 2011, during congressional hearings, skeptical lawmakers pelted Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, with doubts that the U.S. strategy was working.

“The past eight months have seen important but hard-fought progress,” Petraeus responded.

One year later, during a visit to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stuck to the same script — even though he had just personally dodged a suicide attack.

“The campaign, as I’ve pointed out before, I think has made significant progress,” Panetta told reporters.

In July 2016, after a surge in Taliban attacks on major cities, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time, repeated the refrain.

“We are seeing some progress,” he told reporters.

uring Vietnam, U.S. military commanders relied on dubious measurements to persuade Americans that they were winning.

Most notoriously, the Pentagon highlighted “body counts,” or the number of enemy fighters killed, and inflated the figures as a measurement of success.

In Afghanistan, with occasional exceptions, the U.S. military has generally avoided publicizing body counts. But the Lessons Learned interviews contain numerous admissions that the government routinely touted statistics that officials knew were distorted, spurious or downright false.

A person identified only as a senior National Security Council official said there was constant pressure from the Obama White House and Pentagon to produce figures to show the troop surge of 2009 to 2011 was working, despite hard evidence to the contrary.

“It was impossible to create good metrics. We tried using troop numbers trained, violence levels, control of territory and none of it painted an accurate picture,” the senior NSC official told government interviewers in 2016. “The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

Even when casualty counts and other figures looked bad, the senior NSC official said, the White House and Pentagon would spin them to the point of absurdity. Suicide bombings in Kabul were portrayed as a sign of the Taliban’s desperation, that the insurgents were too weak to engage in direct combat. Meanwhile, a rise in U.S. troop deaths was cited as proof that American forces were taking the fight to the enemy.

“It was their explanations,” the senior NSC official said. “For example, attacks are getting worse? ‘That’s because there are more targets for them to fire at, so more attacks are a false indicator of instability.’ Then, three months later, attacks are still getting worse? ‘It’s because the Taliban are getting desperate, so it’s actually an indicator that we’re winning.’ ”

“And this went on and on for two reasons,” the senior NSC official said, “to make everyone involved look good, and to make it look like the troops and resources were having the kind of effect where removing them would cause the country to deteriorate.”

In other field reports sent up the chain of command, military officers and diplomats took the same line. Regardless of conditions on the ground, they claimed they were making progress.

“From the ambassadors down to the low level, [they all say] we are doing a great job,” Michael Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, told government interviewers in 2015. “Really? So if we are doing such a great job, why does it feel like we are losing?”

Upon arrival in Afghanistan, U.S. Army brigade and battalion commanders were given the same basic mission: to protect the population and defeat the enemy, according to Flynn, who served multiple tours in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer.

“So they all went in for whatever their rotation was, nine months or six months, and were given that mission, accepted that mission and executed that mission,” said Flynn, who later briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser, lost his job in a scandal and was convicted of lying to the FBI. “Then they all said, when they left, they accomplished that mission. Every single commander. Not one commander is going to leave Afghanistan … and say, ‘You know what, we didn’t accomplish our mission.’ “

He added: “So the next guy that shows up finds it [their area] screwed up … and then they come back and go, ‘Man this is really bad.’ “

Bob Crowley, the retired Army colonel who served as a counterinsurgency adviser in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers that “truth was rarely welcome” at military headquarters in Kabul.

“Bad news was often stifled,” he said. “There was more freedom to share bad news if it was small — we’re running over kids with our MRAPs [armored vehicles] — because those things could be changed with policy directives. But when we tried to air larger strategic concerns about the willingness, capacity or corruption of the Afghan government, it was clear it wasn’t welcome.”

John Garofano, a Naval War College strategist who advised Marines in Helmand Province in 2011, said military officials in the field devoted an inordinate amount of resources to churning out color-coded charts that heralded positive results.

“They had a really expensive machine that would print the really large pieces of paper like in a print shop,” he told government interviewers. “There would be a caveat that these are not actually scientific figures, or this is not a scientific process behind this.”

But Garofano said nobody dared to question whether the charts and numbers were credible or meaningful.

“There was not a willingness to answer questions such as, what is the meaning of this number of schools that you have built? How has that progressed you towards your goal?” he said. “How do you show this as evidence of success and not just evidence of effort or evidence of just doing a good thing?”

Other senior officials said they placed great importance on one statistic in particular, albeit one the U.S. government rarely likes to discuss in public.

“I do think the key benchmark is the one I’ve suggested, which is how many Afghans are getting killed,” James Dobbins, the former U.S. diplomat, told a Senate panel in 2009. “If the number’s going up, you’re losing. If the number’s going down, you’re winning. It’s as simple as that.”

Last year, 3,804 Afghan civilians were killed in the war, according to the United Nations.

That is the most in one year since the United Nations began tracking casualties a decade ago.