Thursday, March 8, 2018

Bang Bang Crazy, Part 12: Excuses, Excuses

Every right has its responsibilities. Like the right itself, these responsibilities stem from no man-made law, but from the very nature of man and society. The security, progress and welfare of one group is measured finally in the security, progress and welfare of all mankind.
-- Lewis B. Schwellenbach (1894-1948), American lawyer, politician, and judge.

Headline: 17-year-old Girl Killed In Accidental Shooting at Alabama School.

How many times have you seen a similar headline?

How many? A dozen times? A hundred? A thousand times over the years?


An accidental shooting.

Gun advocates like to say guns don’t shoot people by themselves. Guns don’t point themselves. Guns don’t just go off and kill people by accident.

People kill people. It’s not the guns.

That’s what they tell us.

And yet, every single time something like this happens, it’s an “accident.” The gun accidentally fired. It was an accidental shooting.

Nobody is responsible, it was an accident.

An accident.


The Associated Press tweeted out their headline: Another young person killed by another accidental shooting. And someone who follows me on Twitter responded to the AP by quoting a point from my (this) Bang Bang Crazy series:


As @Stonekettle has so aptly put it, 'There are no accidents with guns. There. Are. No. Accidents. It's a killing machine. You're responsible. Period No exceptions.

That’s a correct quote. Those who follow me here, those who were trained in firearms and combat arms by me on the range and in the classroom, have heard me say this many times. There are no accidents with guns.

There are no accidents with guns.

Guns are killing machines. When you pick one up, you and you alone are responsible for happens next. No excuses. No exceptions.

And if you don’t understand that in your bones, then you will never be allowed on my range or at my back. Ever.

There are no accidents with guns.

Of course, it didn't take long for the first ammosexual to arrive:


So when someone is cleaning their rifle but they forgot to check the chamber...it goes off and kills him...that wasn't an accident?

Because they quoted me and used my Twitter handle in the exchange, I saw the conversation in my feed. So I answered Mr. Loomis.


That’s what I said. Simple. Direct.

That’s not an accident. No. 

That’s negligence.

Brad’s comment isn’t a counter argument, it’s an excuse.

There are no accidents with guns.

No matter what the training, no matter whose rules, police, military, Boy Scouts, 4-H, NRA, civilian shooting range, the very first cardinal rule of safe weapons handling is this: ALWAYS ASSUME THE GUN IS LOADED AND TREAT IT AS SUCH.

Always treat a gun as if it is loaded. All subsequent gun rules depend from this basic primary rule.

No excuses. No exceptions. You always assume the gun is loaded. Always.

And thus by extension, the corollary: Assume all weapons are loaded until you yourself have personally checked and cleared the firearm. Every single time. No exceptions.

What this means is that even if I witness you unload the weapon in front of me, I will still assume that the weapon is loaded when you hand it to me – until I personally check it clear and safe myself

You check the weapon every single time you pick it up.

Every time.

Every. Single. Goddamned. Time.

Every time.

You. You personally. You’re responsible. YOU. Nobody else.

The order of the remaining rules vary depending on where you're getting your training, but they always include the following: Keep the weapon pointed in a safe direction, Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire, Keep the weapon unloaded until ready to use, Always check to ensure the weapon is in proper operating order.

"So when someone is cleaning their rifle but they forgot to check the chamber...it goes off and kills him...that wasn't an accident?"

No. It’s not an accident.

It's negligence.

We don't have a legal term for negligent suicide or manslaughter resulting in your own death, but that's what this is.

Brad's hypothetical dead man (and not so hypothetical, since this happens with alarming frequency) died specifically because he disregarded the cardinal rules of safe gun handling.

That's not an accident.

When a child finds a gun and picks it up and kills another child with it, that's not an accident.

That's negligent homicide and should be treated as such. No, not the child who found the weapon, the person who left the gun loaded, unattended, unlocked, unsecured, and accessible to a child. It’s your gun. YOU’RE responsible. YOU. Nobody else. If you leave a gun where an unauthorized person can get ahold of it, especially a child, then you are responsible for what happens after that. And you should be tried for negligent homicide and child endangerment and sent to prison and never, ever, under any circumstances be allowed to handle firearms again.

There are no accidents with guns.

You are responsible, no exceptions.

Now, I know what you’re going to say: it is possible for a weapon to malfunction and fire inadvertently.

It is possible. Yes. No matter how careful you are, for unforeseen things to happen. Sure, your hunting dog knocks over your rifle that you leaned up against a tree while taking a piss.

You drop your loaded pistol while pulling it out of the holster to unload it.

You can throw "what abouts" at me all day. But if you follow the rules of safe gun handling, then an inadvertent discharge only sends the bullet in a safe direction. Your dog knocked over your weapon, but because you'd cleared the chamber and took the gun out of battery before setting it down, all that happened was your scope got knocked out of alignment. Because you maintain your weapon in good operating condition and keep the safeties engaged when holstered, dropping the weapon onto concrete did nothing more than scratch the finish. And so on.

Calling negligence an accident is an excuse.

It's an excuse gun nuts like Brad use to dismiss responsibility and nothing more.

Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.
-- John F. Kennedy

If you have any doubt about what I'm saying, when confronted with his nonsense, like all gun nuts, Brad moved the goalposts rather than accept responsibility:


Yet hammers kill more people annually...you all are a special kind of dense.

Ignoring that last bit where Brad quotes some Old West hanging judge as if he was pronouncing an execution, this a standard NRA canard. A standard response used to dismiss responsibility. Hammers kill more people than guns.

No they don’t.

This is easily proven wrong. And not just wrong, but pitifully wrong. Massively wrong. Utterly wrong. The FBI maintains data on violent deaths by cause. In 2013, for example, 8,454 Americans were murdered by firearms. Four hundred and twenty-eight were murdered by blunt objects (including hammers). You can look at statistics for other years, it’s about the same ratio. 8,454 to 428. About 20 to 1. Roughly twenty people are murdered with a gun for every person murdered by blunt force trauma.

When confronted with that fact, Brad predictably again attempted to avoid taking responsibility for his own statement, for his own obviously wrong information, for his own argument:


Yeah, late and you all jump because I misspoke. Now...if we just banned abortion in cases not involving rape, incest, or if the mothers life is in imminent danger, we would be saving way more lives than guns in total take…

Of course.

The go-to trump card of the pro-gun, pro-life fanatic.

Abortion, ha HA!

He tried to shift the argument to some controversial subject, figuring everyone would jump into that screaming match and just forget all about his nonsensical statements. He helpfully included a graph showing more murders are committed with knives than "assault weapons." Your basic non sequitur logical fallacy.

This is what happens when you use NRA talking points and shallow arguments traded among gun nuts instead of actually understanding the subject in any depth.

He tried to move the goalposts.

He tried to change the subject by diverting the conversation into a kneejerk shitfight over abortion or the definition of "assault weapons" or anything but taking responsibility for his own statements, his own actions, his own ideology.

But what he’s really doing here is literally attempting to excuse willful violation of every primary rule of safe gun handling resulting in death. And he’s trying to do that by dismissing it as an "accident."

This is why gun "accidents" continue to happen.

This guy, this reasoning, this dismissal of responsibility, right here.

I would not allow this guy on my range. Ever.

I would not allow this guy to handle a firearm anywhere near me or mine. Ever.

He’s not willing to accept responsibility for his own words, how could he accept responsibility for a gun?

You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.
-- Jim Rohn (1930-2009), writer, speaker, entrepreneur.

Brad was (heh heh) hammered for hours by my Twitter followers.

He tried insults.

He tried moving the goalposts.

He tried playing the martyr.

He tried playing the victim.

He tried playing the patriot.

He tried everything except for taking responsibility.

In the end, he couldn't shoot his way out of the corner he'd painted himself into and he didn't have the moral courage to admit he was wrong, and so he retreated and locked his account. That way he didn't have to face his own bullshit, he didn't have to admit his errors, and he could again avoid responsibility.

Why Brad?

Why pick on Brad Loomis, pro-golfer, regular Joe, gun advocate?

Because Brad chose to make an example of himself.

Because Brad is a metaphor for a larger problem. Because, in thumbnail, this is the entire problem with guns in America.

This, right here, is the entire problem with the Second Amendment.

The utter failure to take responsibility.

And that, my friends, is no accident.

That’s negligence on a national scale.

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.
-- Abraham Lincoln

Addendum 1:  Every time I write one of these, I hope it's the last. But it never is, there's always another massacre. Always.
The Seven Stages of Gun Violence

The Bang Bang Crazy Series:
Part 1, What we need, see, are more guns, big fucking guns
Part 2, Gun violence isn't the exception in America, it's who we are
Part 3, Sandy Hook, the NRA, and a gun in every school
Part 4, More dead kids and why we have laws
Part 5, Gun control and a polite society
Part 6, The Christopher Donner rampage, they needed killin'
Part 7, Still more dead kids and let's print our own guns!
Part 8, Let's try blaming the victim, shall we?
Part 9, Armed soldiers on post, sure, nothing to go wrong there.
Part 10, Big Damned Heroes!
Part 11, Two in the Bush

What do we do about it? How do we change our culture of gun violence? Bang Bang Sanity

Addendum 2: As noted elsewhere, I’ve  been around guns my entire life. My dad taught me to shoot when I was a kid – in fact the very first gun I ever fired was my dad’s prized black powder .75 caliber smooth bore Civil War trench piece when I was about four years old. I still own my very first gun, bought from Meijer’s Thrifty Acres in Jenison, Michigan, for me by my dad when I was fourteen years old – a lever action Winchester 30-30. I got my first deer with that gun.  I grew up shooting, at home, in the Boy Scouts, hunting, target shooting, plinking, with friends and with family.  Thirty years ago I joined the military and spent my entire life there. I know more than a little about guns. I’m a graduate of the Smith & Wesson Rangemaster Academy, the nation’s premier firearms instructor school. I’m a certified armorer and gunsmith. I’ve attended pretty much every boarding officer and gun school the military has. I hold both the Expert Pistol and Expert Rifle Medals. I’ve taught small arms and combat arms to both military and civilians for nearly thirty years now. I’ve fired damned near everything the US military owns, from the old .38 revolver to a US Navy Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser’s 5” main battery – and everything in between. I can still field strip a Colt .45 M-1911 pistol and put it back together in under a minute, blindfolded – I happen to own several of them, along with numerous other semi-auto pistols and a number of revolvers. I used to shoot professionally and in competition. I helped to design, test, field, and fire in combat US Military weapons systems. I’ve spent my entire life in places where gun usage is extremely, extremely, common. I have a Concealed Carry Permit. I spent much of my life in Alaska and I typically carry a gun in the bush on a regular basis. I am neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, a gun is a tool, nothing more. If you feel that I’m ignorant of guns, or that I’m anti-gun, or unAmerican, well, you’re welcome to speak your piece – just so long as you can live with what comes after.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Caveat Emptor

Whether the mask is labeled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains the apparatus – the bureaucracy, the police, the military. Not the one facing us across the frontier of the battle lines, which is not so much our enemy as our brothers' enemy, but the one that calls itself our protector and makes us its slaves. No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this apparatus and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.
Simone Weil


"We will have a military like we've never had before."

What does that mean?

No. No. Stop. Don't wave your hands and make vague noises.

Don't roll your eyes and sigh.

Stop and think about it.

Answer the question.

I mean, it sounds good. Make American Great Again. We'll have a military like we’ve never had before. Sure. Sure. Who wouldn’t want that? What patriotic American wouldn’t want a … um, well, whatever kind of military he’s talking about? It must be better than the one we have now. Right? Must be. Sure. Let’s get us some of that. Got to be better. Bigger. More powerful. Shinier. Yeah! USA! USA!


I mean, right?

But, well, not to be unpatriotic and all, but better … how, exactly?

You did notice that Trump never actually tells you this. Ever.

There’s a reason for that.

You see, the Long Con is based on simple human nature. A confidence game that plays on greed, pride, desperation, fear, hope. Which is why religion is often so very successful at it. It takes skill and commitment to pull off a long-con, weeks, months, years even, to groom the suckers, until the mark finally hands over his money of his own free will. And the most skilled confidence man can fool a mark over and over, convincing him again and again to hand over his money. And the best part is that once, if, the mark ever twigs to the fact that he’s been fooled, robbed by his own greed and gullibility, well, he’s often too embarrassed to do anything about it.

As General Smedley Butler once said, war is a racket.

And the military industrial complex and their shills have been playing this game for a very long time.

The key to this con is greed, pride, desperation, and fear. Or in simpler terms: the refuge of the scoundrel, patriotism.

"We will have a military like we've never had before."

The key to a successful con is letting the mark convince himself. Ohhhhh, yes, like we’ve never had before! You bet. We gotta get us some of that, America!

Never give him too many details, too much information. Let him create those things in his head. Let him build it up in his mind, let him imagine how for just a few dollars down he’ll make a fortune. How many of those Spanish Prisoner scams have you seen? The Nigerian Banker with the fortune in British Pounds Sterling sitting in an African bank and all you need do is hand over a small processing fee for your share of the fortune. Crude and clumsy, and yet thousands fall for such cons every year. You laugh at the suckers, meanwhile the CEOs of Northrup-Grumman and General Dynamics, the politicians, and the media pundits tell you that you need a shiny new warship and a fleet of brand new invisible planes. Pride, you want to be proud of your military don’t you? You don’t want another country to have a better military, do you? No, of course not! Our prestige is on the line. And what about all those threats? ISIS for example! Yes, ISIS. If we don’t fight them over there, we’ll have to fight them over here! You’re gonna need a fleet of shiny new warships to defeat ISIS, folks. How much is freedom worth, they’re cheap at that price. What are you, a liberal fool? Do you want them to murder your children? Don’t you love your children? We’ve got to have this new military! One like we’ve never seen before! Yes, yes!

But what does that mean in detail?

Trump never explains anything, any of his genius ideas, in any detail.

He constantly makes vague pronouncements like this one. And no one ever calls him on it.  Not the press. Not the people. Certainly not Congress.

Trump says we need a big beautiful Wall.

And the masses nod or rage depending on their inclination, but what does that mean?

Big! Yes! Yes! Beautiful! Oh, God yes!

Big and beautiful. Beautiful and big.

But what's the goal? Stop illegal immigration? Stop terrorism? Stop drugs? How? What terrorists? What drugs? Which immigrants? What's the plan? What studies and hard data is the plan based on? What are the counter arguments? What other options do we have? Have we looked for any other solution? Where are the studies weighing those options against each other? Where is the cost benefit analysis of each one? The environment impact statements? What are the objectives of this wall? How will you measure if the objectives are being met and what's the backup plan if they aren't? How much will it cost? To build? To maintain over its lifespan? How long is that lifespan? How will we pay for it? Who will build it? How long will it take? Will construction stretch into the next administration? What happens if that administration elects not to continue? Do we get our money back? Who will maintain it? Who will patrol it? How long will it be? How high? How is it better than what we have now?



And etcetera.

He never answers any of these questions. He never explains anything. Not only because he doesn’t know, but because he’s conning us. 

Trump claims to be a genius. Of course we have only his word for that and he’s a little short on the details of who certified his intellect. We’re just supposed to take him at his word. Stable genius. Sure.

But have you ever actually listened to a real genius?

Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds who has ever existed. He studies time itself. Time. Try to define that. Go ahead. Try to explain time. Time is … what? Hawking studies things that most mundanes can't even put into words in even a general sense, let alone comprehend in any detail. And yet – and yet – what Hawking is most noted for is his ability to patiently explain that very complexity to ordinary people. He wrote a famous best selling book on it. He gives sellout lectures on it, like some kind of rock star. Even though doing something as ordinary as speaking is horribly difficult for him.

Ever watch Elon Musk describing his plans for the future of humankind? This guy is so many steps ahead of the human race that there is legitimate reason to wonder if he's maybe an alien in disguise, sent here from some advanced civilization out there beyond the stars. Musk can describe the most complex machines – like his Falcon Heavy – the most complex ideas, and why they are so very important for our future, in terms that anyone can understand. All while cracking sly jokes and sending his own car into orbit around the sun.


Trump claims similar genius, yet he can never describe his plans in even the vaguest of terms.

"We will have a military like we've never had before."

What does that mean?

What the hell does that mean?

The United States spends on average 20% of its entire federal budget on the military – and that does NOT include the Veterans Administration or money spent on veterans after they leave the service.

54% of federal discretionary spending is on the military.

4.5% of the Gross Domestic Product is spent on the military, that’s 700 BILLION dollars as of this year.

And Trump and conservatives in Congress tell us that we must increase that expenditure.

We have to.

We have to, right? Don’t you want a military like we’ve never seen before? Sure you do.

But … why?

Why do we need to spend more on the military?

No. NO. That's not a rhetorical question. Why do we need to spend more on the military?

Why? The answer to that question, the ability to answer that question in any detail, is the whole goddamned point here.

We spend on average right now a bit over 4% of the Gross Domestic Product on ... well, I was going to say Defense, but that's not really accurate, is it? War. Military hardware. Weapons. Invasion. Power projection. Occupation of foreign nations. Empire building. Whatever the hell you call it, it's not really defense anymore. Department of Preemptive Mayhem and Wanton Destruction maybe. War, Inc.

Whatever we call it, we spend roughly 4% of our GDP on it.

For comparison, during the height of WWII, spending on the military peaked at 41% of GDP.

Forty-one percent.

That’s a lot. We had to give up a lot of other things to fund the military at 41% of the GDP. But that's back when we were literally fighting for survival, fighting a total war, globally, against two different enemies -- enemies that were a vast alliance of nation states -- simultaneously over literally millions of square miles of the planet. We were fighting in the air, on every sea, and over the land on six continents. Nearly every ship, every plane, every base, entire armies, new technologies, doctrine, plans, alliances, all of it, had to be built from scratch. All of America had to sacrifice, they gave up consumer goods, they rationed food and essentials such as gasoline – hell, it was illegal to own a spare tire for your car, that rubber went to the war. They scrounged for metals, they went to work in the factories, they volunteered for the military, they instituted a draft, they bought war bonds. That’s what it took, and more, to fund the military to 41% of the GDP. They could never have sustained it, if the war went on as long as the current one has.

During the Cold War we spent on average about 10% of the GDP on the military. That was to maintain a global presence and go toe-to-toe with the Soviet Union, with the literal end of the world hanging in the balance every day.

During World War II, during the Cold War, our enemies could have wiped us out. Taken us over, destroyed civilization in a dozen different ways. Now? We face some pissant terrorists and a handful of Third World dictators. They can harm us, certainly. Some of them might even have the power to destroy a city. I won't argue that. They might certainly wreak terrible damage.

But they can't destroy the United States.

They can't end the world.

They can’t topple civilization.

Meanwhile, Between 2001 and 2014, 440,095 Americans died from gun violence on US soil.

Four-hundred thousand.

You know how many Americans died in World War II? 416,500. 

For comparison and lest you think I’m picking on gun violence unfairly, between 2001 and 2014, 534,601 Americans died in car accidents.

Again, for comparison, in the same amount of time, 13 years or so, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam.

Between 2001 and 2014, the total number of Americans killed overseas by terrorism (as the government defines it) was 369.

Three-hundred and sixty-nine. Total. That’s it. Killed by terrorist overseas.

Inside the US, the number of Americans killed by terrorism during that same period was 3,043 – a tenth of the guns deaths in America that year.

Three-thousand and forty-three. That’s a lot right? Yes it is. But that figure includes the attacks of September 11th, 2001. With the exception of that extraordinary and terrible event, the annual deaths from domestic terrorism (as the government officially defines it) is much, much lower, averaging <10 per year. 

Note: as the government defines terrorism. You can't have it both ways. If the government doesn't define a white Christian man with a modified semi-auto assault rifle firing from a hotel window into the crowd as terrorism for the purposes of gun violence, then they can't count it as terrorism for national defense purposes either. Make your bed and lie in it.

That's the threat we face today. Opioid abuse. Gun violence. Car accidents. These things are what kill Americans today. And while, certainly, terrorist states and rogue nations are a threat, comparatively speaking they’re fairly minor when plotted against the things that are actually killing Americans in large numbers right now.

Quick, what percentage of the federal budget is spent on gun violence?

What percentage on car accidents?

What percentage on drug deaths?

We spend 4% and more of our GDP, 20% of the federal budget, on our military and almost nothing on the actual threats that are actually killing Americans. 

The politicians and the pundits and the defense industry would have you convinced that our enemies are massed outside the gate and tunneling under the walls. But, fear not, America, for the low, low price of $700 Billion, we can defend you! And most of America is too damned scared to stop and question anything. $700 Billion? What a bargain for our safety, plus, super cool military! USA! USA!

Let me give you an example, one of many: 4,486 American service personnel died in the most recent Iraq War. 2,345 American military personnel have so far died in Afghanistan. More than a million have been wounded.

Now, how many of those deaths were due to enemy airpower?

How many of those 6,831 dead Americans were killed as a direct result of enemy airpower?

Need a hint? It’s none.

Over 17 years of war, no American in that conflict was killed or wounded by enemy aircraft. They were killed by IEDS in infinite variation, RPGs, mortar fire, snipers, small arms fire, suicide bombers, but not one was killed by enemy air superiority.

In fact, how many Americans have been killed by enemy air power since Vietnam?

And yet, we’re spending $1.5 Trillion to build the F-35, because we just gotta have it. And this was the cheap one, the single seater, compared to the F-22, the air superiority fighter, which we also just had to have. Now, sure, technological superiority is great and all, but again, it’s not technological superiority that’s killing our people or threatening our country. Hell, 19 shitheads with boxcutters killed 2,996 of us on 911. All the super invisible fighter jets in the world couldn’t have stopped it. Just as they can’t stop a fanatic with a suicide vest. But, the generals, the defense contractors, the politicians and the pundits have convinced you that the real threat is enemy airpower. Or enemy ships on the high seas. Or enemy tanks. So we’ve got to have new planes and new ships and new tanks.

And yet, ISIS can’t destroy us. North Korea can’t destroy us. They can bring down a building. Blow up a city. Sure, and we need to deal with that threat, I’m not saying we don’t. I’m certainly not saying that any building, any city, is expendable. But they can’t destroy us.

And the things we need to fight ISIS, or even North Korea, well, those things aren’t sexy and they don’t keep multi-billion dollar defense contractors in business. So we buy trillion dollar fighter jets to fight terrorists.

It’s a racket. That’s why you never hear about the details.

The generals, the defense contractors, the pundits, the politicians, they never spell it out. They don’t want you thinking about it, asking questions, getting suspicious that you’re being conned.

Ask yourself something: Where's the upper limit?

At what point do we max out, percentage wise? 10% of GDP? 41% like WWII? And what are we willing to give up to achieve that level of military spending? Nylons and spare tires? Will you buy war bonds and ration gasoline and butter? Will you send your children off to fight a preemptive war somewhere in the world?

How is this military Trump plans to create unlike any we've seen before? What will it do that the current one can’t? How will it be better? Who decided that? What did they base that decision on? How much will it cost? How much will it cost to maintain? How long will it last? What do we have to give up? What are the long term consequences? Ronald Reagan created a massive military, unlike any we'd seen in recent history. We activated WWII battleships and built nuclear cruisers and bought new fighter jets and new tanks. We recruited new soldiers and marched out smartly to show the world our might.

It put us into massive debt and couldn't be maintained.

We had to cut back.

Meanwhile, there was the Soviet Union. They too built a massive military at the expense of everything else in their society. They loved to parade it through Red Square to show the world. Their mighty ships patrolled the high seas and their bombers cruised the skies.

And combined with endless war, eventually that military bankrupted the USSR.

The entire country collapsed overnight without so much as a whimper, and disappeared into history.

Right now, North Korea is building bombs and rockets while their people go hungry. We mock them for this, just as we laughed at Soviets standing in endless lines for bread and toilet paper while their government churned out tanks and nuclear cruisers that they couldn’t afford.

These things should be cautionary tales, not examples to emulate.

"We will have a military like we've never had before."

How come conservatives like Trump never say, “We will have an education system like we’ve never had before.”

We’re going to have healthcare coverage like we’ve never had before.

We’re going to advance science like we’ve never done before.

We’re going to help people we’ve never helped before, feed people we’ve never fed before, spread civil rights to those who’ve never had them before, bring freedom and equality and justice to all like we’ve never done before, give a leg up to every member of our society like we’ve never done, work towards making war less likely and work on lasting peace and prosperity like we’ve never done before.

We’re going to see that everybody has a boat and that the tide raises all of those boats together! Goddamned right, that’s what we’re going to do.

They don’t say it, because they don’t believe it.

Because they are amoral bastards who don’t believe in anything but enriching themselves. They’ve been running this con for a long time. They’ll take your last dime and they don’t give a damn what happens to you.

But here’s the thing: the con doesn’t work unless the victim plays along.

Greed. Pride. Envy. Fear. These are the human traits that make this con profitable.

As such, the countermeasure should then be obvious.

You must ask the questions and demand the answers. You must look past fear and greed and pride and mindless unthinking patriotism.

You must hold this administration, every administration, accountable. Every Congressman. Every Senator. Every general. Every CEO who takes taxpayer money. Every political party. Every media outlet. Every journalist. Ask the questions and demand the answers. Never stop. Show up for every election, no matter how minor. Educate yourself on the candidates and the issues before the election.

When government is of the people, by the people, and for the people, the people – you – are the weakest link.

In the end, as always, if you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Friday, February 9, 2018



Someone asked, "What would you say to someone considering joining the military right now?"

My answer?


Flip, I suppose. Terse, certainly. But that’s my recommendation nonetheless.  Don’t.

It doesn’t need to be any more elaborate than that, if you understand what you’re asking.

It doesn’t require any more words than that, if you understand what you’re asking.

If you understand what you’re asking.


Simple as that.

But, of course, it’s not that simple.

And, of course, it didn’t end there.

How could it?

I mean, if you had to ask, well…

Those you who follow me on Twitter, you saw the responses.


Many seemed shocked, surprised, as if they expected a career veteran like me to have answered differently.

But why? They asked. Why would you tell people not to join the military? You did. You spent 20 years and more in the military, why would you, you of all people, tell others not to join up? Are you one of them? One of those disgruntled vets, all sour and angry and ashamed of your service?


No, I’m not one of them.

Not at all.

I’m proud of my service. I’m glad I served. Even when the war was unjust and ill-conceived and based on lies, my service, and that of those who served beside me and under my command, was honorable. I’m proud of my service and those I served with. I am neither bitter nor angry nor ashamed of it. Just the opposite and I’ve written enough about my career here that such should be obvious.

But this world, this America today, is not the same nation it was when I signed up.

I was no idealist. I joined up for a number of reasons, some good, some dumb, some I’ve told you about in other articles and some that are none of your business, but idealism wasn’t one of those reasons. I knew what I was getting into. I joined the military in the first years of the Reagan Administration. Back then, agree with the president or not, the Cold War was very real and you could at least see the very explicit threat America faced every day. We didn’t have to go looking for it. We didn’t have to provoke it with bombast and juvenile posturing on Social Media – even if such had existed back then. And while I wasn't so foolish as to believe everything the government told me, I believed that the majority of those in our government wanted to make the world a better place. Reagan, whatever his faults, whatever his ideology, was trying to make nuclear war less likely, not start one to prove his manhood.

I don’t idolize Ronald Reagan, far from it. And I am well, well aware of his myriad faults and I despise the path he set American politics on, the path that has led thirty years later to this very point. But I was willing to sign up and serve under his command because I believed he truly wanted to make the world a better place for all of us. Reagan tried to tear down walls, not build new ones.

I don’t expect you to agree with me about that. I expect you and I see that time differently. That’s okay.

But I think we can agree that the world, and America, was a very, very different place and Reagan aside, back before the rise of the 24/7 news cycle and hate TV and 9-11, I believed the majority of Americans wanted to make the world a better place. We certainly didn’t agree on how, and maybe many of those Americans never thought beyond winning the Cold War, but in large part most of our country wanted to make the world a better place.

I could support that.

I could be part of that.

Even if I didn’t agree with the various administrations over the years, or the methodology, or how we were used, I could be part of that.

Fast forward to the present:

Joining the military is (so far) still a personal decision.

If you're considering it, then you should understand in detail what that decision implies.

You're going to swear a binding oath to obey the orders of the President. This President. If you don’t understand what that means now, well, you could find yourself later in the same jail cell Chelsea Manning just vacated.

You need to understand that oath and what it means before you sign up.

Oh sure, the orders must be lawful.

But you’re going to find out, sooner or later, that there is a hell of a lot of wiggle room in lawful. Using that above example: nothing that Manning disclosed, not one of the things she couldn’t live with, none of them were unlawful. Immoral maybe. Unethical. Horrible. But not unlawful.

And here's the real rub: what is and is not lawful, well, that’s decided by Congress and the President.

This Congress.

This President.

You? Once you swear that oath, you don't get to decide what is and is not lawful, but you will be held responsible for it anyway -- and they will not.

So, before you hold up your right hand and swear your oath, you need to think about what that could mean for you personally.

Particularly under this Congress and this president.

And you need to think about it in detail. Hard. All the way through. And if you can't live with what it very well might come to, if you can’t see what it might very well come to, then don't swear that oath.

Because once you do, you're part of it.

All the way.

Once you swear that oath, you're part of this administration. Part of its agenda. And you’ll be held responsible, at least in part, by history for it. If you sign up during this administration, you're saying you're good with all of that – or if not good per se, then at least you can live with it. Whatever it might come to. You won't have an excuse. You volunteered. You're in, all the way, whatever might come, to the bitter end.

And you damned well better understand that in your bones.

Me? I spent more than 20 years in the military. I served under Republicans and Democrats with equal fidelity. I had to do some pretty shitty things in some pretty awful places. I don't regret that, because I made my peace with it before I swore my oath the first time and again when I became a Chief and then an Officer and was put into a position were I would surely have to order others to do terrible things in the name of my country.

I can live with it.

I can live with it, even if I didn't agree with the government, or the president of the moment, or the war. I did my duty because I believed we were right. Because I believed we weren't sacrificing our lives for nothing. Because I believed the majority of Americans wanted to make the world a better place.

I no longer believe this to be true of America.

You see, my word, once given is good. No exceptions.

So I don't give it lightly. And as such, I could not in good conscience swear to obey the orders of this President, even lawful ones – not when he is enabled, encouraged, and unchecked by this Congress and an America who put these rotten faithless sons of bitches in power. I could not in good conscience follow the orders of this feckless fool of a President unrestrained by this small-minded hateful Congress. I do not believe they want to make the world a better place for anyone but themselves.

I do not trust these people not to waste lives, mine, yours, the lives of my troops, the lives of our children, or the lives of those caught in the middle.

In point of fact, many in this government have made it abundantly clear that they regard the lives of those they deem unAmerican to be unworthy of any further consideration. This is not acceptable to me. I would not pledge my life to those who see me as expendable to further their own selfish ends.

Yes, but what about the Coast Guard, someone asked. What about the National Guard, asked several others.


Hell no.

Those services most especially.

Why? Well, see, the Coast Guard is a military service under the cognizance of the Department of Homeland Security.

Think about that.

Think about why it is that way.

You want to think carefully about what that implies nowadays in the context of, oh say immigration, or drug enforcement, or national security, and how those things have grossly distorted the Coast Guard's traditional mission in this paranoid, nationalist, post-911 America. And then you want to remember that the Coast Guard is specifically not under the Department of Defense because it is, primarily, a law enforcement agency who unlike the rest of the military, can enforce the government's will directly on Americans without regard to the Posse Comitatus Act or other niceties.

The same is true of the National Guard when under the command of State Governors, and I wouldn't trust those fascist bastards not to abuse that power nor this federal government to hold them in check.

Nor would I want to be the instrument of it.

How likely do I think that danger is?

I don’t know. And that’s the problem.

So, if you're thinking of joining, think on that very carefully.

Remember, you asked me what I would do.

Back in the early part of the last century, there were those Germans who signed up. They weren’t Nazis. They weren’t terrible people. They were serving their country long before the fascists came along. They were decent people who hailed from a tradition of service in a nation that valued their sacrifice. They were professionals. And when Hitler came to power, well, at first they were glad to see their military restored to priority in that society.

But when it all went to hell, when the horror became apparent, it was too late. They were part of it then. All the way. To the bitter end.

Those men, they didn’t know, not at first, not like those who joined up after the truth was obvious, but in the end they had become monsters just the same.


In this world?

In this America?

I would not join up, because I know in detail what that oath means.

The oath is power. Service is power. Not for you, but for those who command it.

And I know that the restraints and the reason that were once placed on that power no longer exist in America.

I won’t be a part of that. And I am not willing to risk becoming a monster even by accident.


Well, that's your decision.

And you’ll have to make it.

But if you’re asking for advice, then my answer is this: Don't.

If you don't like my advice, then you shouldn't have asked for it.

Then again, if you’re asking, you really don’t understand the question.

And you really, really should.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Damned Lies

America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?
-- US President Donald J. Trump, State of the Union speech, 1/30/2018

America is a nation of builders.

We built the Empire State Building in just one year.

Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years – ten years! – just to get a minor permit for a simple road?

If I had to pick one line from Trump’s State of the Union speech, one line that summarizes today everything wrong with America, that would be the line. That one right there: America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?

Begin at the beginning: America is a nation of builders.

What does that mean?

No. I’m serious. What does that mean?

“Builders” implies building things. What things? Houses? Skyscrapers? Bridges? Roads? That’s the context, isn’t it? That’s what Trump was talking about. Infrastructure. It sounds good, but what does it mean? All nations build those things. What identifies us as a “nation of builders” different from other nations who build things?

And I strongly suspect that those nations, such as Iraq, who have been on the receiving end of our artillery and missiles for the last decade and a half would argue this boast. For them, we are destroyers not builders. But I digress.

What does he mean, a nation of builders?

This is not a rhetorical question. Trump routinely makes statements of fact, that upon examination are anything but. This was supposed to be a Constitutionally mandated report on the state of the union, a summary of fact. So, who’s doing the building? When he says, “a nation of builders,” what exactly is he talking about? Public projects funded by the government?  Commercial construction financed by business and industry? Private homes? What? I mean, there’s a big damned difference indeed between the new 400 million dollar Pensacola Bay Bridge currently being built between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze by the State of Florida and the new Trump Hotel currently building in Cleveland, Mississippi, under Trump’s Scion brand managed by Eric and Donald Trump Jr.

That’s the very crux of this part: We built the Empire State Building in just one year.


We who?

The Empire State Building was constructed beginning in 1930 by a group of wealthy investors, known as Empire State Inc. These people were accountable only to themselves and their investors. They intended to build a building on a two-acre plot in Manhattan, a city made of buildings and an area specifically zoned for buildings. Unsurprisingly, there was little resistance from the city or much need for public input. And in fact, the city and the public, in the grip of the Great Depression, were quite enthusiastic about building a big building on a site zoned for buildings in a city full of buildings using private money. So it didn’t take very long to get the permits needed to begin construction.

Now, compare that to similar public works of that time.

Public works such as the Hoover Dam. Construction of the dam began in 1931, but it took more than 30 years of speculation, design, review, regulation, planning, public meetings, litigation, acquisition of land via purchase and Eminent Domain, and legislation to get there.  Construction would create thousands of jobs, but if the dam failed, hundreds of thousands of lives would be at risk. Billions of taxpayer dollars would be lost. Environmental damage would be catastrophic and would likely alter the very geography of the region permanently. The dam would change the political balance of the Southwest and determine both electrical power and water rights (and thus everything else from industrialization to agriculture to raising up entire cities to things as prosaic as golf courses) for the next thousand years. In the face of that, 30 years of development doesn’t seem all that unreasonable.

It took six years to build the dam, two years less than originally planned, in harsh remote terrain far from any support.

The Hoover Dam went into operation in 1936. That same year, the Empire State Building was losing more than $1 million dollars per year and there was no public elevator service above the 45th floor because the building was empty between the 41st floor and 81st. As a matter of fact, the Empire State Building didn’t even start to break even, profit wise, until the mid-1950s. And that’s fine, when it’s private investor money they’re losing. It’s a whole different ballgame when it’s a public facility funded by tax dollars.

Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road.

No. It’s not.

And it’s utterly disingenuous, not to mention a logical fallacy, to compare construction of a private building to the permitting process for public works, especially across the span of a century.

Moreover, a “simple road” doesn’t typically take anywhere near a decade to get approved. And “simple roads” are rarely constructed by the federal government, those are usually state and local projects. For example, here in my area – the small Florida Panhandle town of Milton – a developer purchased several acres of land along my morning bike path and began the construction of a dozen houses. That developer got permits to build what will become public road through the housing development, connecting to existing roads. Now, obviously, a study needed to be done. Basic things: who would pay for maintenance and upkeep of the new road? The city? The state? How? Via new tax dollars from the new houses? A millage? How often will it have to be paved? Will this new road need lights, signals, signs, culverts, etc. You can’t just add new roads without some sort of planning, not if you expect the city and state to maintain the infrastructure. Not if you expect taxpayers to foot the bill. Not if you expect the city and state planners to be able to put together a budget. Not if you expect the police to patrol it. And the postal service to deliver mail. And the electrical co-op and Water & Sewage to run utilities. And so on. I looked it up, from the time the developer began purchasing the land to the time ground was broken for the first house was less than six months, including permits for that “simple road.” Hardly “ten years.”

This is true in large part all across the country.

But we’re not really talking about “simple roads,” are we? And neither was Trump.

We’re talking about major projects, public works. Like the Pensacola Bay Bridge mentioned up above.

That bridge, when completed, will replace the current bridge which is 60 years old. It will be more than three miles long and will carry more than 60,000 vehicles per day, in addition to bicycle and foot traffic. It will have to stand up to Category 5 hurricanes – and it is the major evacuation route for hundreds of thousands of people. It will have to last more than 50 years and it will have to support a growing population, not to mention vehicles and traffic we can’t even envision yet. If it fails, it will be catastrophic. If it damages the environment, it will be a disaster for the local tourist and fishing industries. If it can’t meet the needs of the future, it will be a chokehold on business, on populations, and on development. If it’s poorly designed, if it can’t stand up to the environment, it will be an endless drain on public money. And it has to be built around the existing bridge without impacting traffic, business, emergency evacuation routes, or sea traffic on the inland waterway.

Now, I submit to you that might take some study.

It requires extensive planning, design, public input, permitting, and review. And that may take years.

If Trump’s hotel goes bust, or burns down, or stays empty because he planned poorly, he can go bankrupt and stick it to his investors.

But perhaps a decade isn’t really all that long for development when you’re talking about a public project that costs $400,000,000, impacts the lives of 60,000 drivers per day not to mention the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands in the surrounding communities, and is going to be with us for most of the next century.

Let me give you an example of what happens when you don’t do due diligence, when you rush things.

A few years before construction started on the Hoover Dam, there was another dam.

You might, or might not, have heard of it.

It was a large concrete gravity dam, about 40 miles north of Los Angeles, built in 1926 by a guy named William Mulholland, a self-taught engineer, for the Los Angeles Bureau of Water Works and Supply.

Now, in 1926, at the height of the roaring 20s, the economy was booming. The stock market was at an all time high. The city of Los Angeles was likewise booming, the population nearly doubling from 1910. The city had planned to build a dam in Big Tujunga Canyon, but Mulholland was incensed by the prices owners in that area were demanding for their land. He considered it robbery, extortion, and an attempt to derail progress, and said so, loudly. 

This period was also known as the California Water Wars, with cities and ranchers fighting armed battles over water rights and land – much like today’s conservative libertarians fighting the federal government over use of federal properties.

Rather than accede to the land owners’ demands, Mulholland chose the San Francisquito Canyon in the Sierra Pelona Mountains and named his project The St. Francis Dam.

Construction began quietly, so as not to attract public notice. Despite some rather troublesome problems with the local geology, the dam was completed quickly and ahead of schedule and began to fill on March 12th, 1926.

Problems began almost immediately. Leaks. Cracks. Armed ranchers.

Over the next two years, the dam slowly filled, until it was at capacity, 38,000 acre feet of water, rising nearly 180 feet above the valley floor.

Cracks kept appearing at an increasing rate and the soil around the dam became saturated with water. Mulholland and his engineers were called repeatedly by the dam keeper for each new problem, but they dismissed the concerns and ordered various drains and patches.

On March 12, 1928, exactly two years from the day the reservoir began to fill, the St Francis Dam failed. Catastrophically. No witnesses survived the actual event. The dam failed so completely and so suddenly that the entire reservoir, 38,000 acre feet – that’s something in the neighborhood of 12 billion gallons – emptied in less than 70 minutes. A flood 140 feet high killed the dam keeper’s family a mile below the dam. Five minutes later, the deluge, still 120 feet high, destroyed the power stations and killed the electricians and their families who lived in a small town nearby. The flood roared downstream, wiping out ranches and electrical workers and the towns of Fillmore, Bardsdale, and Santa Paula, before pouring into the Pacific Ocean. Bodies were found as far away as Mexico. 431 people died. Tens of thousands were displaced. The environmental damage was catastrophic, as was the damage to property and infrastructure. The monetary loss was in the billions, in 1928 dollars.

Now, before you tell me that engineering has advanced greatly since then, try to remember that the Hoover Dam was built only 4 years later. And in fact, many of the nation’s great works stem from that time, dams, highways, bridges, and etc. 

That said, you don’t have to do much digging to find similar catastrophes, dam failures, bridge collapses, and so on. Hell, there are cable TV programs nightly showing an endless parade of engineering disasters.

One of the reasons permitting takes longer these days is because we, supposedly, have learned from our mistakes, learned from the past. For example: If you were paying attention up above, you saw where I wrote “self-taught engineer” after William Mulholland’s name. We don’t allow that any more either, engineers in every state must meet the requirements and accreditation set forth by their state board of engineers. In California, licensing of engineers began specifically because of Mulholland’s spectacular failure.

Yes, we are a nation of builders.

But nowadays, our buildings, our bridges, our roads, must carry a volume greater than any previous. More, they must anticipate what is to come. And now we must design skyscrapers to withstand the deliberate impact of a jetliner full of fuel, something our ancestors never had to worry about.

Still, our buildings, dams, bridges, and roads are safer than any project built in previous decades. And while jobs are a nice side effect of such works, they aren’t the reason for them. These projects are designed to serve the public, to benefit the nation, to advance future generations. And if they are to withstand the test of ages, then we must not only take the time to build them right, but take the time to ensure they best serve not only the current public interest and that of future generations as well.

America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?

Every major media outlet in the world has spent thousands of hours over the last two days analyzing Trump’s State of the Union Speech. I’m not going to repeat their work.

It’s just wasted motion.

There is no point in analyzing every statement from Trump’s State of the Union address.

Every point, every single one, is the same as this, empty statements wrapped around logical fallacies that say essentially nothing upon examination.  Each point of Trump’s address serves only to demonstrate Trump’s profound ignorance of history and the basic functions of both civilization and good government.

More, it demonstrates the shallow mindless unthinking patriotism of those who would cheer him.

And in that regard, ironically, Trump’s address is indeed a testament to the sorry state of our union.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Dirty Tricks

You must pursue this investigation of Watergate even if it leads to the president. I'm innocent. You've got to believe I'm innocent. If you don't, take my job.
-- Richard Nixon

What do you think about this memo, Jim? You think there's anything to it?

A rather large amount of my email this week concerns The Memo.

The secret memo drafted by House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, which allegedly describes some kind of chicanery at the FBI, particularly within the Russia Investigation. The Memo was supposedly written by Nunes and his staff, and is supposedly based on "highly classified" information that only a select group of House lawmakers have access to.

Now, naturally the various and assorted frothy conservatives have seized on this supposed memo as "evidence" of some "deep state" which is somehow in some way doing something something gazpacho to undermine Trump – and therefore America.

This memo, because of its supposed high level of classification, can't be released to the public.

Thus the problem: We are so far just required to take Devin Nunes word for it.

Apparently the memo is so classified, it can't even be shown to members of the Senate. Which is currently pissing off Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr to no end. And in addition to the Senate, Nunes has apparently rejected requests from the Federal Bureau of Investigation itself and the Justice Department to view the document.

Which is damned curious.

Because it would appear a large number of Republican congressman have seen this supposedly classified memo and, like my own idiot representative Matt Gaetz from the festering carbuncle that is Florida’s District 1, they are on every talk show in the country describing how it’s finally going to take down all of their political enemies and vindicate every suspicion they ever had about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.


Gaetz isn’t on the House Intelligence Committee. Yet it would appear that he is familiar with “every bit” of this classified memo. 

In fact, a lot of Republican congressmen who aren’t on the House Intelligence Committee have, in their own words, seen this memo.


Hell, even former White House Deputy Assistant to the President, Seb Gorka, has apparently seen this memo. Emphasis on former.


Gorky Park here doesn’t work for the US Government any more.

Which makes me wonder how a guy who doesn’t have a clearance, got a look at this supposedly highly classified document and why we’re not investigating this blatant breach of security. It also makes me wonder why if Nunes can show this memo to Gaetz and Meadows and Gorka and any random hobo sleeping off a drunk on the Washington Mall, why he won’t show it to the Senate or the Justice Department or us, for that matter.

But I digress. Also, apologies for that crack about hobos, that was just mean to Steve Bannon for no reason.


Given my own background, my mail is unsurprisingly full of questions.

Do I think there’s anything to this memo?

I do.

I do think there’s something to it.

But probably not in the manner you imagine.


What do I think?

I think the memo is bullshit, through and through.

I think the memo is bullshit written by a guy who is literally (yes, literally) an expert in shoveling bullshit. We’ll come back to that.

Oh, I'm sure there's a memo.

And I'm sure it's all kinds of damning to the FBI.

And I'm sure that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton feature prominently as villains.

And I’m sure that it says everything Republicans want it to say and more.

But I suspect that this memo is just about as reality free as any random episode of Hannity.

Let’s start here, I want you to ask yourself something: what intelligence?

What intelligence?

Ask yourself what every alleged journalist in the country should be asking Devin Nunes right now: what intelligence?

Ask yourself what every Congressman and every Senator should be openly demanding from Devin Nunes right now: what intelligence?

The memo is supposedly based on "highly classified" intelligence. What intelligence?

Where did this intelligence come from? What agency produced this intelligence?

No, that’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a damned important one and everything starts here. What agency?

What agency is tasked and empowered to investigate the FBI?

And not only investigate the FBI, but an active and ongoing FBI investigation.

Who is that?

I mean, it's not the CIA or DIA or NSA or any other federal intelligence agency. That's not their job. Their job is foreign intelligence.  They work for the Department of Defense. They don't investigate domestic law enforcement, and certainly not an agency under the Department of Justice. In fact, there are a couple of very specific laws preventing them from doing so for very good reason.

Those laws exist because once upon a time, a president used national intelligence agencies to target his political enemies. We called that Watergate. And after Nixon’s abuse of the National Security Agency, among others, laws were put in place to prevent that kind of abuse in the future.

This is that future.

So, who investigated the FBI?

The Secret Service doesn't do this kind of work.

So, who does that leave? The Department of Justice Inspector General?

Well yes, that should be the correct answer. The DOJ IG would be the only agency empowered to investigate the FBI.

But the DOJ IG answers to Jeff Sessions and ultimately to Donald Trump.

So, why would the Office of the DOJ’s Inspector General, a member of the Executive Branch turn over the results of such an investigation, assuming they actually conducted one, to the House Intelligence Committee? Who authorized that? I mean, by definition that authorization has to come from the Attorney General. So, why would Jeff Sessions have to ask Devin Nunes to see this memo? Doesn’t he already have access to the underlying intelligence? Doesn’t Trump?

And the IG is an investigatory organ, not an intelligence agency.

The only way this makes sense is if the DOJ IG wasn’t the entity who produced the intelligence.

So, where does that leave us?

Well, see, there is a difference between The Memo and the underlying intelligence that it is supposedly based on.

And there’s a difference between intelligence collection and an investigation. And so it is possible that one or more of those aforementioned national intelligence agencies did indeed produce the underlying information that Nunes used to then write his memo.

In point of fact, that’s the only possible way this information could have been produced, assuming it is in fact legitimate.

But this then becomes even more problematic and raises all kinds of red flags.

See, according to Nunes, the intelligence is highly classified. Not just the information, but how it was obtained. What the intelligence community calls method and means. Capability.

Now, any physical investigation of the FBI, by whatever agency, would have been public knowledge. Somebody would have had to authorize it. Warrants would have to be issued. And if there were inspectors interviewing FBI agents and carrying files out of FBI Headquarters, somebody would have noticed. Somebody would have said something. There would be no way to hide it. But there's been no report of any such thing, not even rumors of such.  Nor would there be any reason to classify such an investigation, because the methodology for conducting it isn’t a secret.

You starting to understand?

So, this intelligence that Nunes is protecting, information gathering of this nature would, perforce, have to be clandestine and hands-off. The FBI couldn’t know about it. The public couldn’t know about it. The method and means used to gather the information would have to be covert.

That doesn't leave a lot of options.

Either the House Intelligence Committee has a mole in the FBI's Russia investigation feeding them information (which would be illegal) …

    …OR they have access to the tools and expertise and collection capability of a certain US military intelligence agency.

One that specializes in electronic surveillance, signals and communications intelligence.

And that agency, ipso facto, would have to have the ability to monitor phone calls, emails, texts, and the internal communications of not only the FBI, but an ongoing, classified, investigation into possible government collusion with a foreign power.

And there’s only one US intelligence agency with that capability and that’s the National Security Agency, NSA.

And not only does NSA have this capability, but if what Nunes and other Republican congressmen are saying is true about the intelligence underlying this memo, then they used it.

Against the FBI.

Now, you’re going to want to think about that, take some time, and think it through all the way.

The implications are pretty damned ugly indeed.

First, who authorized this?

Who authorized a US military intelligence agency to spy on the FBI?

Somebody had to. So, who authorized NSA to monitor FBI communications?

There are only two options:

a) Either NSA was specifically tasked with monitoring the FBI, or

b) they were already doing it as part of a larger domestic collection effort.

Each option generates dozens of questions. And not one of those questions has a good answer.

Was there a FISA warrant? If so, what was it based on? Because FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Foreign. And the only way to get a FISA warrant to monitor Americans would be if you had reliable information indicating those Americas were colluding with a foreign target. Meaning in this case, you’d have to have evidence that the FBI, specifically somebody in the Mueller investigation, was communicating with Russia. Or was this done (if it was done) under some secret provision of the Patriot Act or similar such law? Or did they just bypass the law altogether? Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is true no matter how many times you care to run the experiment. Worse, the intelligence cycle in America has been essentially broken and nonexistent since the end of the Cold War. Intelligence agencies have gone from being a supporting function which gathers information in direct response to a specific need to self-licking ice cream cones which gather information for the sake of gathering information based on their own internal tasking. And I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. This is an incredibly dangerous situation. No intelligence agency should be able to generate its own targets, that tasking should always come from an outside consumer. Because the power these agencies command is beyond anything you can imagine, the potential for abuse is almost astronomical, and the only thing holding them in check is that they must answer to higher authority. Since the end of the Cold War, that authority has become increasingly detached.

If the FBI – the FBI! – was a target of domestic spying, what other government departments are under surveillance?

When did it begin? With Bush after 9-11? With Obama? With Trump? Is this intelligence gathering against the US government by US Intelligence assets still ongoing?

What is the scope of this effort? Is monitoring of government communications part of a larger operation? One that monitors us all?

Who is the intelligence consumer? Intelligence isn’t generated in a vacuum. This kind of collection is expensive. It has to be funded. Meaning there has to be congressional appropriations. Meaning there is review and oversight (more or less, often the latter). Meaning there has to be a reason for it. Meaning there has to be a requirement. Meaning that requirement is set by a consumer. Who is that consumer? The President? Congress? NSA itself? Who? Because this very much matters.

How is the information stored? For how long? Who has access to it? What are the protocols for ensuring that it isn’t corrupted or manipulated or edited or sold to Wikileaks? 

Which ultimately brings us to the question of why this information was given to Devin Nunes and the House Intelligence Committee in the first place and apparently not the President.

Because ultimately, the President is the executive agency for any such (assumed) intelligence program.

Which is damned curious indeed.

And it gets more damned curious the more you look at it.

The President is the Executive. Tasking for all the intelligence agencies is ultimately based on his authority.

The President tasks national intelligence, not Congress.

The President is the national classification authority. In accordance with US Code and Executive Order 12356, only the President, or his delegated subordinate authority, can classify or declassify information. Only the President or his delegated subordinate authority can authorize access to classified information.

By law, Devin Nunes cannot declassify or release this memo. Only the President or his delegated subordinate authority can do so.

Nor can Nunes declassify the underlying intelligence. Only the President can authorize that.

Nor can Nunes grant access to that information. Only the President can do that.

Nor can Nunes keep the memo from the President based on “classification,” the President is the classification authority, not Nunes. Nunes doesn’t decide who gets access to classified information, that’s the President’s job.

Which brings us back around to why Devin Nunes has access to classified intelligence information that the president, apparently, does not. Because otherwise why would the Justice Department, which works directly for the President, have to ask Nunes to see the information?

And why is Nunes giving his fellow Freedom Caucus members access to it?


Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you noticed a problem with that last sentence.

As I noted up above, there’s a difference between the intelligence and a memo based on that intelligence.

And there are many layers to intelligence.

First is the method and means used to obtain the raw information, which could be anything from phone taps to intercepting texts to the metadata encapsulating electronic communications (which is separate from the actual data itself) to watching people through a telephoto lens and so on. How the information is obtained is often more classified than the actual information itself.

Next is the raw intelligence, which often makes little or no sense to those not specifically trained in its analysis or without larger context.

And finally there is the finished intelligence product, the result of analysis and validation and weighting, tailored specifically to the consumer and sanitized of anything that consumer doesn’t need to know.

Now, here’s the thing: the consumer, despite all the various cautions that come with the finished product, can draw all sorts of conclusions from intelligence, some might even be accurate. Very often, they aren’t.

Let me give you a real-world example from my own personal experience: A few days before the Iraq War began, I led a security team onboard an Iraqi flagged vessel in the Persian Gulf. That vessel had once upon a time been a fishing trawler. Now, this is important because a trawler is a very specific type of vessel. A trawler is designed to drag a large net or nets behind itself, that net is called a trawl. There are many types of trawlers, depending on the species of sea creature they’re fishing for. This particular vessel was a stern trawler. Meaning it had a large ramp called a slipway and winch assembly in the stern. In short, the ship was designed to pull a large net behind itself, then when the net was full of fish, pull that net up the slipway onto the deck so it could be emptied. Now, it had been many years since this ship had gone to sea for fish. It was old and rusting and had passed through a dozen owners, each increasingly shadier. And it was in fact, a smuggler. Running contraband into and out of Iraq in defiance of UN Sanctions – and probably a dozen other countries around the Arabian Gulf. One of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such vessels in every size and shape; smuggling is an old and honored trade in the region. It’s illegal, but not immoral. My team inspected the ship, I spoke to the master, but they were outbound from Iraq and empty and so we let them go. So long as we didn’t catch them shipping oil or weapons or helping members of Saddam’s regime escape, they weren’t my problem.

A day later the war started.

I was a Navy intelligence officer, it was my job to pay attention to damned near everything going on. And so, between missions, I was reading through a stack of strike orders … and I saw the name of that fishing trawler come up. 

Someone had designated that ship as hostile and assigned an airstrike. And that airstrike was on the deck of the carrier preparing for launch. 

Looking at the justification for the strike, I saw that there were “reports” that the vessel was laying mines. Mines? How the hell could they be laying mines? I’d just inspected that vessel, myself, with my own eyes. There were no mines. They hadn’t returned to port. They hadn’t rendezvoused with any other vessel. So, where did they get these mines? This had to be wrong, I thought. But when I queried the strike commander, I was told there were pictures of this vessel laying mines. Well, shit. Can’t argue with hard intel like that. Okay, I thought. It’s my fault. I missed something. It was war. None of us had slept since 9-11, I think. I was running on bad coffee and catnaps. I was doing several missions a day by then and things were starting to blur together. I must have missed something. But I just couldn’t see how.

So I asked for the pictures.

Nobody could produce them.

Several senior commanders told me they’d personally seen these pictures. But when I asked for them, nobody had  a copy.

Now, we were about to kill 40 people, you’d think the intel that strike was based on would be right at the top of the queue. But it wasn’t.

And in fact, when I started pulling the thread, I could not find a source for this supposed intelligence at all.

With some considerable effort, I got the strike called off.

Instead of a bomb, we sent in a SEAL team. And instead of Saddam Fedayeen rolling mines down the stern chute and wishing death to America, they found a bunch of terrified smugglers sitting on a rusty old tub. They weren’t laying mines. They weren’t doing anything except trying desperately to stay the hell out of the line of fire.

So what happened?

What happened was that somebody read my intelligence report. They glossed over the part where we hadn’t found anything and grabbed onto the part where I’d described the vessel type: stern trawler.

Stern trawlers have slipways and winches.

Which might, maybe, sort of, somebody suggested, could be put to use for laying mines. And from there, the speculation grew among various staffers until that vessel ended up minutes away from being destroyed along with forty-three innocent (relatively speaking) Iraqi crewmen. 

It’s war. Shit happens. We were all tired and amped and we’d been told a bunch of garbage by Washington D.C, most of which turned out to be wrong. Sometimes the fog of war is made by your own people. I eventually got a commendation for saving those Iraqi lives, but that’s not the reason I tell you this story. I tell you this story in particular because it’s one of the few examples from my past that I actually can tell you about and because it so aptly illustrates how even trained military commanders can take intelligence information and filter it through their own bias and create hobgoblins where none really exist.

Now, here’s the thing: Devin Nunes doesn’t even have that. He has no intelligence training at all.

No one, not one single member, on the House Intelligence Committee is an actual intelligence expert of any kind. In fact, they're not even amateurs. Not one of them, Republican or Democrat, has any actual intelligence background, no training, no experience. Of the very few members of the committee that have served in the military, none of them served in any intelligence capacity whatsoever. Two were enlisted army grunts, one was a surgeon, one was a JAG, another was a bomber pilot.

Nunes never served in the military. He was never a civilian intelligence analyst of any kind. He certainly doesn't have any kind of degree in it. He has no intelligence background at all. 

Devin Nunes' degree, training, and experience is in agriculture. Specifically, cows.

He is quite literally an expert in bullshit.

You're going to want to think about this.

You're going to want to think about all of this.

Think about it in the context of the Constitution.

Think about it in the context of public perception.

Think about it in the context of government.

Think about it in the context of who has access to this kind of information and how that terrible power could be abused.

Think about it in the context of freedom and liberty and justice and ultimately what that means to the future of the Republic.

You're going to want to think about that, while bearing in mind the very government in question has recently taken to attacking itself, accusing various agencies of being part of some "Deep State.” Agencies such as the FBI. And suggesting that it be either dissolved or completely reorganized. Think about that in the context of this same government attacking the press, suggesting that it be shut down or even jailed for not saying what the President wants it to say.

This, this right here, is how agencies such as the Gestapo or the KGB are born and how information can be turned into a weapon to be used against a nation’s own citizens.

Which leads us to the final question, why isn’t the press asking these questions?

Why isn’t the press demanding answers to these questions?

There’s not much point in being the watchdog of freedom, if you’re going to sleep while burglars ransack liberty.

Until we have a better relationship between private performance and the public truth, as was demonstrated with Watergate, we as the public are absolutely right to remain suspicious, contemptuous even, of the secrecy and the misinformation which is the digest of our news.
-- John le Carre, British Intelligence expert, spy, author

Disclosure: I’m a retired US Navy intelligence officer. I worked in and around the National Security Agency and other various US and foreign intelligence agencies for more than 20 years. I still know many people who work for those various organizations, both civilian and military. Opinions and observations put forth in this essay are entirely my own. I would neither compromise the trust of my fellows nor betray my oath to protect my nation’s secrets. // Jim

Friday, January 5, 2018

It’s That Time Again

As previously noted, every once in a while I have to ask for money.

Having given up military consulting work and having shut down my woodworking business and art studio when I left Alaska, I subsist for the moment solely on income derived from my social media sites and this blog.

A few years back, I wouldn’t have believed this possible.

A few years back it wouldn’t have been possible.

But despite the sneering criticism of certain vocal critics, it is possible for a writer to make a reasonably decent living this way.

Yes, writer.

It used to be “writer” was defined as somebody who assembled words and ideas into books, short stories, articles, and perhaps screenplays, fact or fiction, and submitted those efforts via various means to editors at publishing houses or various presses or various media outlets, and then lived on cheese sandwiches hoping a check of some modest amount would come back. Traditionally the profession of “writer” meant you repeated this cycle without healthcare or adequate hygiene or presentable clothes until you died, or gave it up for a real job – both of which happened with distressing frequency.

That model, that definition of writer, still very much exists.

And a lot of writers make varying degrees of living from it.

But there’s a new way to do things and that’s where I am. In that strange new middle ground.

I wanted to be a writer since I was kid. It’s a sickness, writing. A weird mental disorder that makes you sit in front of a keyboard for hours, daydreaming and playing with ideas and wondering why anybody would read the blather on the screen. But my grandmother gave me a Hardy Boys book (#8; The Mystery of Cabin Island) for Christmas one year when I was about 8 or 9. I’d been an indifferent reader up to that point, but that book captivated me and my lifelong obsession with words began right there. Somewhere shortly thereafter, in a staggering moment of epiphany, I realized there were actually people out there who got paid to sit in front of a keyboard and daydream and those people didn’t have to put on pants every day. Hell they might not even own actual pants – unless you consider pajamas legitimate work apparel.

I knew then that’s what I wanted to do.

I’d always intended to go the traditional route, cheese sandwiches and all.

I’d never intended to write about politics. But evidence would suggest that’s where my talent lies – if you’re charitable and agree that it is indeed an actual talent and not just something you could train a chimpanzee to do (they taught ‘em to fly spaceships, so I imagine political pundit wouldn’t be that difficult).

But by the time I was free to write what I wanted (upon my retirement from the military) and I started writing in earnest with the idea that someday somebody would give me actual money for it, the world had changed. How we connect to it had changed and continues to evolve at a rapid pace and a new type of “writer” became possible – well maybe not new new, but perhaps a more modern version of the political broadsides and pamphlets penned by the likes of Thomas Paine.

Ten years ago, hell five years ago, I would never have guessed that Facebook would become my primary platform for day to day short form.  Facebook is a horrible platform for the kinds of things I write. It’s a bastard cross between a blog and public forum and doesn’t do either very well. It’s subject to arbitrary and random censorship. There’s no protection for intellectual property at all. It lacks the most basic of editing tools and formatting functions, its search capability is ridiculous and all but useless. Facebook’s interface, timeline management, and display are one of the single most infuriatingly horrible experiences in an age of limitless customization – limitless to everybody but Facebook users that is. It’s impossible to get any kind of help from the operators and it’s subject to every kind of cyber-abuse from bullying to trolling to sexual assault.

And yet – and yet -- it does one thing very, very well.

It does one thing that other technology cannot do, that traditional publishing venues cannot do.

Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and other social media platforms connect writers to people in an organic, viral, geometrically expanding manner that is completely impossible anywhere else and that has never existed before.

Now, interacting with readers on a real time basis for hours upon hours every single goddamned day isn’t for every writer.

Believe me.

It takes a certain degree of masochism to do it.

In point of fact, a lot of writers become writers because they are anti-social bastards who enjoy living on moldy fake-cheese sandwiches and sitting around all day in dirty pajama pants and who tend to break out in a cold sweat when they actually have to put on pants and go outside where all the other people are.

So real time interaction with their audience isn’t something they consider a feature.

And that’s okay.

“Writer” is a loose enough definition that it accommodates the gregarious right alongside the smelly hermit.

But, if you write well, if you write the things people are interested in, and if you’re willing to interact with your audience directly and in real time, then social media makes it possible for your work to spread far beyond the size of audiences normally available to traditional writers. For example: a few years ago, when I started doing this full time, Stonekettle Station averaged maybe 20,000 visitors per month – and that was after 8 years of writing every single day.  Maybe 3,000 people followed me on Facebook. Two years later, with some considerable effort, my daily Facebook audience exceeds is coming up on 150,000 people and a single long form essay on Stonekettle Station can exceed 60,000 unique pageviews in a few hours.

Social media, for all its ills, has created new opportunity, an alternative to traditional writing models. Not a replacement, a supplement.

And that’s where I ended up. That’s where I exist.

I admit that in my case there is some degree of luck. I happened to be in the right place just as opportunity opened with the right experience and skillset and enough free time to take advantage of it.  It suits me. It’s not easy. Really it’s not. It sometimes (often) takes 14 to 18 hour days, research, writing, swearing at the screen, dealing with trolls and hatemail, it can be incredibly frustrating at times for reasons you never imagine or anticipate. It requires constant attention, a constant presence, and everything becomes grist for the mill, making much of your life public – something that is often less than thrilling to your spouse.

It’s work.

Goddamn is it work.

I’ve been invited to a number of writers’ conventions to talk about this with other writers – or those who want to become writers under this new paradigm. That’s something I’m happy to do. I’ve been pretty lucky and I’m glad to pay that forward. The world is a big place, there’s plenty of room for many, many more writers in this new arena and I’m happy to help get them started.

If every one of those quarter million daily readers signed up for Patreon and donated a buck a month, well, I’d be writing this from the deck of my personal yacht.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way and so every once in a while I need to ask for money.

I don’t like this.

But it’s necessary.

And it’s to your advantage.

Yes, donating to me is to your advantage.

Because this way I am independent. I don’t owe anybody, no business, no agenda, no political party or ideology, no boss, I don’t owe any of them a damned thing.  I write what I write, be it long form, short Facebook posts, or a simple Tweet, to the very best of my ability and as I see it – not as somebody else has directed me to see it. I maintain my social media sites, my Facebook page and the Stonekettle Facebook Group, my Twitter feed, as independent entities, managed by me and me alone to my standards and not some corporate agenda.

That seems to be important to you, dear reader, and I take that responsibility seriously.

By remaining independent, I owe only you, the readers, the very best work I can put out and that’s it.

But it only works if you provide support.

I doubt I’ll ever get used it, asking for money, and I’m not sure I want to.  That aversion always, every time, makes me more determined to improve, to work harder, to produce a better product for you and to expand opportunities for YOU to have your say, to interact, in a safe and intelligent forum. For example, I intended to start this subscription drive on the 1st, but I wouldn’t do it until I finished yesterday’s article, Fortunate Son, because I wanted you have content in this new year first.

So, here it is: I’m asking you to donate.

Because my business model is evolving, and because IRS regulations, state and federal laws, etc, all of these things impact this process, I tend to change things up every time.

Here’s how I’m doing it this time:

The donation drive runs from January 1 to February 20, 2018.

I’ll be giving away 20 coveted, one-time only, limited edition Stonekettle Station Pens. These pens will be handmade by me in my workshop and engraved in a manner specific to this particular fund drive. If you follow me on Facebook, or follow my Etsy store, you know how hard it is to get one of these, and how highly prized they are. Donate, and you get a chance at not only a Stonekettle Pen, but one of only 20 of this edition that will ever be made.

I will also be giving away five signed copies of Alternate Truths – the best-selling political anthology which contains my short story: Gettysburg, AND five copies of the sequel: More Alternative Truths, which contains my vignette Doctor Republican’s Monster and my collaborative short, Moses.  

Any subscriber who donates any amount via the PayPal DONATION BUTTON between those dates will be put in the running. Additionally, any subscriber who sets up a NEW reoccurring donation via either PAYPAL or PATREON will be put in the running for something extra (it’s a surprise).

You may do both.

Winners will be announced February 20th, 2018.

To donate, click on the “Donation” button, either embedded in the text below or on the upper right side of this screen and follow the directions.

You may enter more than once. Each donation will be counted as a unique subscription.

If you’ve already donated to Stonekettle Station this month, you’re already on the subscription list.

Those of you who already donate via an automatic monthly payment, you’ll be entered automatically in the giveaway. (See the footnote below for additional information regarding automatic reoccurring donations)

Legal Disclaimer: To be clear, this is not a lottery or a raffle.  Donations are voluntary subscription fees specifically in support of this blog and the associated social media feeds and conducted in accordance with state and federal law.

That is:  you’re paying for content not a chance to win something.

I am not claiming any tax-exempt status or charity. Donations are considered business income and I pay all applicable state and federal taxes on that income and I have the records to prove it.

The items I give away are my intellectual property, created and paid for by me.  As such I chose to randomly gift them to supporters, just as I give away my custom made pens to my fellow writers.  The giveaway list is generated randomly from voluntary subscriptions, since I have no other way to determine who readers are.  You are not donating for a chance to win a prize, you’re paying for the content of this blog and my associated social media feeds and I’m using this opportunity to give something back other than just my usual blog essays, Facebook posts, and Tweets.

As always, thank you for your support.

Reoccurring Payments: If you’ve set up a monthly donation via PayPal and you suddenly realize it’s been cancelled, that’s not me rejecting your money (because I would never do that. I need the money and I’m not too proud to say so). Likely it’s something to do with the PayPal process, usually your card has expired. I have no control over that.

Correction: I originally said “2017” in a several places. Because I’m still typing that by reflex. It’s fixed. 2018.