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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ebola: And It Goes Like This

Doctor, Doctor help me please, I know you'll understand
There's a time device inside of me, I'm a self-destructin' man

There's a Red, under my bed
And there's a little green man in my head
And he said, "you're not goin' crazy, you're just a bit sad
'Cause there's a man in ya, gnawin' ya, tearin' ya into two."

-
Destroyer, The Kinks, 1981
   Give the People Want They Want

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

We Americans sure are a fearful people, aren’t we?

We’re always terrified of something.

If there’s one thing that epitomizes the American spirit, it’s fear.

We’re always pissing our collective pants over something.  We’re always terrified of one boogeyman or another.  We live in a perpetual state of constant pants wetting, we Americans.

We’re addicted to it. Fear. We just can’t get enough of being afraid.

It’s the emotion that defines modern America, fear.  Knee knocking, spine tingled, sphincter loosening, pants wetting fear. 

That’s us.

When we don’t have something to be afraid of, we make something up. 

We’re afraid of enemies foreign and domestic and everything in between. Clinical paranoia has got nothing on us as a nation, we see enemies everywhere. We’re afraid we’ll get invaded. We’re afraid we’re being invaded right now. Hell, we’re afraid we’ve already been invaded.  We’re afraid of the Chinese and the Russians and Mexico. We’re afraid of foreigners and we’re afraid of our neighbors. We’re afraid of conservatives and we’re afraid of liberals. We’re afraid of the young and we’re afraid of the old, we’re afraid of the rich and we’re utterly terrified by the poor. We’re afraid of terrorism and we’re afraid to fly and we’re afraid of the TSA.  We’re afraid of Nazis, and communists, and European style socialism.  We’re afraid of wind turbines and fracking and solar panels and electric cars, we’re desperately afraid somebody is going to come take away our giant trucks, and we’re afraid we’re going to run out of oil. We’re afraid to go to the store unarmed and we’re afraid of people with guns, we’re afraid we don’t have enough guns and we’re afraid that we might have too many. We’re afraid of the white cops and brown gangbangers and the yellow horde.  We’re afraid of kids with saggy pants and we’re afraid of that rock & roll music and we’re afraid of the establishment.  We’re afraid the government isn’t doing enough to keep us safe and we’re afraid the government is going to do too much. We’re afraid our kids are uneducated idiots and we’re afraid of education. We’re afraid of disease and we’re afraid of vaccines. We’re afraid of religion and we’re afraid of evolution and we’re afraid of climate change and we’re afraid of industrial disease. 

We’re afraid of death and we’re afraid of taxes.

We’re afraid of our past, and we’re afraid of the present, and we’re utterly terrified of the future.

Last week it was the Islamic State.

The week before it was … something. I forget. IRS? Benghazi? FEMA death camps? Illegal immigration? The Ukraine? The National Debt, the Deficit? Gay Marriage? The Arab Spring? Chemtrails? 2012? Fluoridation? The Rapture? Bird Flu? Missing airliners? Obama? Bush? The Reds? I’m afraid I just can’t remember any more, we’ve been afraid for so long that it all just runs together.

What it comes down to is that last week we were afraid of this week and this week we’re afraid of last week.

 

And now? Today? Today we’re afraid of Ebola.

 

There’s an old military adage popularized by Herman Wouk’s classic tale of paranoia and fear, The Caine Mutiny. And it goes like this:

When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!

That should be America’s motto.

E pluribus unum? Out of many, one? Obviously we don’t believe in that, do we?

No we don’t. Out of many one? Why that just smacks of things we’re afraid of, socialism and communists and illegal immigration. In fact, that E pluribus unum stuff just plain terrifies us, doesn’t it?

So we replaced it with In God We Trust.

But that’s complete bullshit too, isn’t it?

And In God We Trust? Trust? In God? Don’t make me snort chocolate milk through my nose.

If there’s one thing we don’t trust, it’s God. God has serious anger issues. That crazy bastard once wiped out the entire world in a fit of pique, right? And that’s the guy you trust? Really? Hell, the most pious believer doesn’t really trust God, does he? If anything, that’s what believers fear most, their God. They’re terrified he’s going to do something crazy. That’s the defining criteria of religion, don’t make God angry. Lightning bolts and poison toads from the sky. Plague. Flood. Famine. Rivers of blood. That’s what they tell us, isn’t it? Oh, you’d better not make God mad, or he’ll smite us all.  For them, God is like a Mafia protection racket, better pay up and be respectful while you’re doing it, or else God will burn your house down and cast you into the pit. 

Yeah, let’s trust that guy.

And it’s pretty obvious that religious Americans really don’t trust their God to keep them safe, from Ebola or terrorists or anything else, otherwise they wouldn’t go around armed and demanding that we seal our borders.  Q.E.D, Folks, just saying.

No, if there’s any motto that describes America today, it’s Herman Wouk: Run in circles, scream and shout.

Be afraid, be very very afraid.

We should put that on the money.

We demand fear as our right, we Americans.

Over the last month, we’ve been talking about Ebola on my Facebook page a lot. Now, the thousands of people who make up my Facebook audience are, as a general rule, a reasonable and fairly sane bunch of people – this isn’t an accident, I’m careful who I let into my playground.  But a month ago when I first mentioned the disease and suggested that compared to measles and the flu and AIDS/HIV, Ebola wasn’t exactly something Americans should be panicking over, I had to unfriend a number of folks who became obnoxious and almost literally demanded that I wasn’t afraid enough to suit them.  A week ago when I said that, as an American, you’re far more likely to trip over your cat and take a fatal header down the stairs than you are of dying from Ebola, the same thing happened. And, yesterday, when I again pointed out that, especially as an American, you’re a whole lot more likely to die from random gun violence at the mall than you are of contracting Ebola, I immediately started getting letters from frightened angry people, some hoping I get the disease and die a slow painful death, presumably so that they can feel justified in their pants-wetting fear, and many again telling me that I need to be afraid of the coming plague. Many of the messages were outraged that I had the effrontery to counsel calm and reason instead of fear and panic. Because not being terrified is just plain unAmerican.

And it’s not just me, is it?

That’s one of the chief complaints about Obama. How dare the president be calm and rational? How dare he tell Americans not to panic? 

“That’s a paradox of a president in a crisis,” says Jeremy Mayer, a political scientist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. “If he seems to be taking it too seriously, he’ll encourage a panic. But if he doesn’t take it seriously enough, he’s seen as lackadaisical.”

That’s the complaint, Obama isn’t emotional enough. He approaches a crisis like a law professor, calm, rational, let’s solve the problem. But, we don’t want that,we want an angry emotional rant about fear.  We want the President to declare war! Yes! War On Ebola! That’s what we Americans want, another war! You’re either with us or against us! Stand the Navy out to sea, launch the stealth bombers, open the missile silos! To the Bunkers, America! We start bombing at dawn!

First we were afraid that Obama wasn’t going to appoint an “Ebola Czar.” Now we’re afraid that he did.

No matter what, we’re determined to be afraid. Panic, it’s our right as Americans, it doesn’t really matter what Obama says or does, Americans are determined to panic no matter what.

We’re conditioned to it. When the bell rings, we drool.

In fact, if Obama tells you there’s no reason to panic, that’s a reason to panic!

"The U.S. must immediately stop all flights from Ebola infected countries or the plague will start and spread inside our 'borders.' Act fast!" screamed Donald Trump.

Nations have done this in the past, restricted travel. Quarantine. It doesn’t work. Viruses don’t care about borders.

Hiding from the disease won’t cure it.

And really? You’re listening to Donald Trump? About disease? Okay, sure, if he was maybe talking about catching a case of the Clap, but Ebola? C’mon.

"Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning," worries Georgia Congressman Phil Gingrey.

There are no, repeat no, cases of Ebola crossing the border in such a manner. None. The only “reports” of such are made up fever dreams manufactured whole cloth by those who profit from peddling fear to a terrified America. In fact, due to the nature of the disease and the process of illegal immigration itself, it would be almost impossible for someone infected with Ebola to enter the US in this way.

But then, a Southern Conservative painting brown people from Central America as dirty diseased vermin isn’t really anything new, is it?

Ebola just gives the old fearful racism a convenient cover.

"I don't know, but I think this Ebola epidemic is a form of population control. Shit is getting crazy bruh," tweeted rapper Chris Brown.

I don’t know. But I’m afraid anyway. I don’t know. But I’m sure they’re coming to get us. I don’t know. I don’t know.  But I’m scared, it’s getting crazy!

But then again, maybe Brown has a point:

 

That’s Todd Kincannon, former head of South Carolina's GOP, rabid pro-lifer, and morally superior right-wing God-warrior.

Kill ‘em all, let God sort it out.  Ain’t nothing more American than that kind of compassionate conservatism, eh?

Sorry about the napalm, Brown People, but we’ve got to look out for ourselves. You know how it is.

All the usual pundits, from Rush Limbaugh to Glenn Beck to Anne Coulter to Michael Savage have declared their firm belief that President Obama is going to deliberately infect the United States with Ebola in order to do … something something terrible death camps kill Whitey revenge something something OH NOES!  They’re not alone, Larry Klayman, conservative nutbar extraordinaire, filed a lawsuit against President Obama last week for “providing material support and aid to international terrorism and facilitating terrorism” by not implementing a travel ban on people from countries facing an Ebola outbreak.  Klayman is the non-veteran who led the “Million Veteran March” to the White House last year under the banner of the Confederate Battle Flag and demanded Obama’s surrender and trial by a self-appointed Citizen’s Grand Jury for something something terrible death camps kill Whitey revenge something something. 

If you’re terrified of being ebolanated, look around, these are the people you’re standing with.

Think about it.

You can disagree with the President, but if you believe even slightly that Obama is planning on infecting white people with Ebola in revenge for slavery so he can herd them into FEMA camps and turn America into Africa then you. Are. Fucking. Crazy.  You’re beyond booger eating stupid. You are a drooling racist moron so eaten up with fear that you’ve lost all ability to reason.  If you give people like Beck, Limbaugh, Coulter, Klayman, or the sorry excuse for what passes as news media nowadays any credence whatsoever, then you are nuts. You’re a paranoid frightened little pants wetter who can’t seem to understand that these people are literally fear-mongers in that they profit hugely from making you afraid, making America afraid. Fear. Paranoia. That’s their stock in trade. If you weren’t afraid, these people would have to get real jobs.

Here’s what it comes down to, Folks, this right here: There is always going to be some crisis. Always.

There is always going to be some crisis. That’s the nature of the world. 

There are always challenges to face.

There are always puzzles to solve.

There are always problems to overcome.  And when you solve them, there will be another, and another, and another. Forever.

That’s the nature of life.

The test of character is how you face those problems. 

The true test of character, for people, for nations, for civilization itself, is how you rise to the occasion.

Ebola isn’t the end of the world.

Ebola isn’t even an actual crisis, at least it doesn’t have to be.

Ebola is just another problem to solve.  And when we solve, there will be another disease. And another after that.  There are a million things that may kill us, that’s just how it is.

We’ve faced far worse diseases, far worse problems, far worse threats, and we have risen to far greater challenges.

We are the United States of America. We’re Canada. We’re the United Kingdom. We’re France. We’re Germany. We’re Spain. We’re Mexico. We’re Russia.  

We’re ten thousand years of scientific advance. 

We’re the human race.

We are the species that makes other species extinct.

And it’s about time we remembered that.

You shouldn’t be afraid of Ebola, Ebola should be afraid of us.

We can beat Ebola.

And we will.

We can wipe it from the face of the earth, just like polio and small pox – diseases I’ll remind you that once killed far, far, far more people than Ebola ever has.  Those diseases are gone, or beaten into submission, we remain.

In this regard Ebola is a metaphor for larger, far more important things.

We can solve all the problems we face, disease, poverty, food, energy, all of it. And we don’t need divine intervention to do it.

We just have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

We just have to stop being afraid all of the time.

 

Silly boy ya' self-destroyer!
Paranoia, the destroyer!
Self-destroyer, wreck your health
Destroy friends, destroy yourself
The time device of self-destruction
Light the fuse and start eruption
(Yea, it goes like this, here it goes)
Paranoia, the destroyer
(Here's to paranoia)
Paranoia, the destroyer
(Hey hey, here it goes)
Paranoia, the destroyer
(And it goes like this)
Paranoia, the destroyer
(And it goes like THIS!)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Whitewash

 

Here's what I don't get: Pluto.

More specifically, I don't get the argument over what to call it.

I’ve seen people nearly come to blows over Pluto.

And I just don’t get it.

Planet, minor planet, Kuiper Belt object, whatever.

I mean, if you're not an astronomer – that is: a vitamin D deficient long-hair who spends all night staring at a computer monitor filled with mathematical gibberish instead of watching reality TV like normal people – why do you care?

No, really, why do you care?

Go outside, look up. Where’s Pluto? You have no goddamned idea, do you?

It’s not something you need to deal with on a daily basis. Hell, it's not even in the bible, is it?

And let’s be honest, shall we? The closest most Americans get to astronomy is watching Dancing With The Stars and giggling over the pronunciation of Uranus.

So, I’ll ask again: why does anybody care what the hell science calls the damned rock?

Hell, Clyde Tombaugh could have just made the whole thing up...

 

What?

 

Clyde. Clyde Tombaugh. American astronomer. The guy who “discovered” Pluto back in 1930. You know, Clyde Tombaugh. I mean, you're all over the whole Pluto thing, right? Probably have Clyde's swimsuit poster on your bedroom wall. Oh, sure, Clyde. Clyde Tombaugh. Big fan. Saw the movie with Brad Pitt as the Tomster, that’s the one with the sparkly vampire zombie Nazis, right?

Right.

Tombaugh could have made it up. Sure he could have.  And how would you know? Pluto, it’s just a spot on a photographic plate. I'm mean, who verified this? Other astronomers? Oh, and we believe them, do we? We won't take science's word for for evolution, climate change, Bigfoot, oh hell no – but Pluto? Science, totally real, Dude, totally.

A couple years back the little world, which Americans can’t see and never think about, was demoted from planet to not-planet.

And we lost our shit over it.

What? They demoted Pluto? Oh, now it’s on!

It’s a wonder astronomers weren’t dragged from the universities and burned alive.

Politicians and pundits weighed in with ponderous gravity. Congress milled about in various orbits of outrage and actually considered a bill mandating the little frozen ice ball be declared a Full Planet in law if not in fact. Ironic, I guess, that we can’t agree people are equal, but, man, we’re all about civil rights for planets, Goddamnit – I mean, think about it, what if Pluto turns out to be black? Or gay? Would you still want it to marry your sister? I mean, come on, folks, think it through, it’s not rocket science … ur, okay, maybe it is, but I think I’ve made my point here.

The web was aflame with pitched battles. People were all, "Oh I've always been a huge Pluto fan! Favorite planet ever, man, love how they named it after the Disney character, yo!"

And it's still going on.

Somebody asked me about it just the other day: say, Jim, where do you come down on this whole Pluto demotion issue? I sure hope you're not one of them "minor world" guys.

Hey now, I replied, some of my best friends are dwarf planets…

Here in the nation of the perpetually outraged and offended, Pluto’s status is just another thing to be outraged and offended about. What? What's that? They've demoted Pluto? Why those dirty SONS OF BITCHES! In my day we had nine planets! Nine! But now? Everything is going to shit. Thanks, Obama!

As if we're all somehow diminished as human beings, as Americans, if Pluto isn't a planet.

Eight? Eight planets? Just eight planets? But, but, but, what if other solar systems have MORE THAN US? WHAT THEN? WE CAN'T HAVE LESS PLANETS THAN ALPHA CENTAURI FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, WE'LL BE THE LAUGHING STOCK OF THE UNIVERSE! ALIENS WILL THINK WE’VE GOT LITTLE DICKS! WE'VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING!

Honestly, what's next? We gonna put some big chrome stacks on Jupiter and hang a giant pair of Truck Nutz on Neptune?

 

You’re wondering where I’m going with this, aren’t you?

 

Columbus Day.

That’s where I’m going. Columbus Day.

Pluto. Columbus Day. How could you not see that coming?

Honestly, it’s like you people don’t know me at all.

Today is Columbus Day in America.

It’s a bullshit minor holiday that’s mostly just an excuse for federal employees to get a paid day off.

Because, you know, that’s what we need, another reason for Congress to take a long weekend. Not like there’s a big backlog of legislation or anything, right?

I mean, what exactly are the ancient traditions associated with this holiday?

Look, I’m not unpatriotic, I know my American history, sure, I know the part about going to Wal-Mart for “Columbus Day Blow Out Deals.” I’m not a total Philistine. But I’m a little hazy on the religious aspects. Do we gather together at Grandma’s house, she’ll make her famous deep fried ham stuffed with firecrackers and syphilis, the kids will carve a Plymouth Rock from gingerbread while Uncle Phil gets plastered and manages to light his balls on fire again from shooting bottle-rockets out of his ass in the backyard, we’ll watch the big Macy’s Columbus Day parade in new york where men dressed as Conquistadors wade ashore from floats that look like Spanish galleons in search of gold and slaves under the baleful copper gaze of Lady Liberty, then we’ll all meet down at the church for the traditional Columbus Day Prayer Of Peace and Togetherness? Are there little construction paper war bonnets? Fireworks? Do we get to nail somebody to a cross? Is there a gift exchange? Tell me there’s at least going to be a giant male rabbit who shits foil covered chocolate eggs. Something.

But, of course, there’s none of that.

So far as I can tell, the primary Columbus Day tradition involves shouting variations of the phrase:  “Oh what the fuck? Why is the post office closed?

Folks, Columbus Day is the Pluto of American holidays.

Most Americans have no idea where this stupid “holiday” came from and most of the time they couldn’t care less.  Columbus, he’s the guy who discovered America, right? He was like the first American … or was that George Jefferson? I forget, anyway, off to Wal-Mart, gotta make a beer run before Dancin’ Wit Da Starz comes on.

I mean, come on.

Columbus day? Really?

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.
A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go.
Ninety sailors were on board;
Some men worked while others snored.
Then the workers went to sleep;
And others watched the ocean deep.
Day after day they looked for land;
They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.
October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!
"Indians!  Indians!"  Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.
But "India" the land was not;
It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.
The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.
Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he'd been told.
He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.
The first American?  No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

Except it turns out almost all of that is, literally, whitewashed bullshit.

Columbus was an asshole, even his friends thought so – what few friends he had.  He routinely screwed his own crew out of money that he’d promised them and gloated about it, rubbing their faces in it. When his men threatened to mutiny (which happened repeatedly because Columbus was a shitty leader), he handed out pre-pubescent native girls as compensation, after enslaving their parents. He justified genocide by reasoning that so long as he didn’t let anybody convert the natives, he wasn’t killing Christians so God had to be good with it.  They used to say you could navigate between Europe and the New World without a compass, all you had to do was follow the trail of dead Indians floating behind Columbus’ ships.  He ruled Hispaniola as a brutal tyrant, see, Columbus wasn’t exactly keen on democracy and liberty – though he was a big fan of gold. 

Christopher Columbus didn’t discover the United States. He wasn’t even close to the first European to reach the shores of the New World. And he certainly wasn’t an American, he was an Italian sailing under a Spanish flag. He never set foot on what is nowadays American soil.  He made his voyages nearly 300 years before the United States even existed.

Most Americans couldn’t tell you much of anything about Christopher Columbus beyond the silly fairytale of that child’s nursery rhyme  – let alone anything about the actual man who called himself Cristóbal Colón.

What? What’s that you say? Oh, c’mon now, Jim? What are you, some kind of America hater? Why Christopher Columbus was a genuine American hero. You’re just repeating liberal lies. Besides, who really knows what happened back then?

Yeah, except for the part where Columbus himself documented his atrocities in his own logs and diaries in full detail – and it’s not me who whitewashed history.

In fact, Columbus Day as a federal holiday is a relatively recent invention created whole cloth by people who are largely ignorant of and tone-deaf to actual American history.

But just like Pluto, bring up demoting Columbus’ place in the Pantheon of American Fairytales and watch the spittle start to fly – as if we, as Americans, will somehow be diminished if we don’t have a largely ignored holiday named after a genocidal tyrant who died two and half centuries before our country was even founded.

And you want to know what the really funny part is?

Do you?

Because I’ll tell you.  See, the people most adamant about the sanctity of Columbus Day? Yeah, those Americans? They’re the very same people, the very same people almost name for name, who want English declared the official language of the United States and who demand that the southern border be secured with a wall a hundred feet high specifically to keep out Christopher Columbus’ Spanish speaking descendants.

Now, how’s that for irony?

Listen, you know what will happen to America if Pluto is allowed to remain a minor planet?

Nothing.

Likewise, you know what will happen to our nation if we dump Columbus Day?

Nothing.

Listen to me, you want a day off in October?

Then how about a holiday that includes us all?

How about a day that celebrates our great accomplishments as a nation? How about history and events we don’t have to whitewash? 

How about a holiday where we Americans celebrate our great accomplishments, our moments of exploration and discovery?

We can talk about the first peoples to arrive here chasing wooly mammoths 25,000 years ago. We can celebrate the native cultures that once dominated this continent – the ones we name our rivers and states and sports teams after. We can talk about the Viking longships that explored our shores long before Columbus – and hell, we can even talk about The Great Navigator himself, if we want. Then let us celebrate and remember those moments in time where we Americans, all of us, came together in wonder and awe. Let us remember our voyages of discovery and exploration and hope. From the Nome Serum Run to the California Gold Rush, from Kitty Hawk to the footprints in Mare Tranquilities, Columbia and Challenger and Apollo One, to Voyager and Curiosity and beyond.

We’ll open the museums and the history books and teach our children what it is to be an American - and maybe one day we will again became a nation and a people who look outward instead of staring into our own festering bellybuttons.

Let’s call it Clyde Tombaugh Day.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Self Abuse

 

image

 

Freedom.

Liberty.

Inalienable rights.

We Americans are big on these things, aren’t we?

We like to thump our fleshy chests and proclaim our superiority over other, lesser nations.  Oh, well, sure, yes, you might have higher standards of living, longer average lifespans, lower infant mortality rates, a higher percentage of education, higher median income, universal healthcare, a functioning government, insignificant gun violence, a drastically lower percentage of incarceration, okay, sure, you’ve got those things, fine, but America has freeeeeeeeedom! And that makes us exceptional – not that any significant fraction of us can spell exceptionalism or find the United States on a map, but trust me, we’ve got you beat.

And you know why? Freedom, that’s why.

See, freedom in America is different from freedom elsewhere.

In America, freedom means rights without responsibility. 

In America, freedom means the right to the most vile of hate speech without consequence or penalty.

In America, freedom means the right to publish provable falsehoods and gibbering panic and drooling conspiracy theories as fact for profit.

In America, freedom means the right to utterly ignore science and just substitute in whatever magic fairy dust you like regardless of the consequences to future generations.

In America, freedom means the right to violent religious extremism without restriction of any kind, tax free in fact.

In America, freedom means the right to beat the drums of war without having to go yourself, or send your children.

In America, freedom means the right to gather together under the guise of political assembly and openly plot to take away the freedoms and the liberty of those with different political beliefs, or religions, or skin colors, or sexual orientations.

In America, freedom means the right to profit hugely without taxation, to take without return, to destroy entire industries without a second thought, to pollute the environment without personal consequence, to grow wealthy beyond dreams while impoverishing millions of your fellows, to benefit enormously from the nation’s protection and prestige without having to give back in any way.

Why, here in America we are so free that we can openly engage in war against our own nation.

That’s right.

We can wallow in our sullen liberty like fat feral hogs in the mud while complaining bitterly that we don’t have enough.

In America, that’s what we call freedom.

Why, here in America, we can actually point guns at our own government and threaten to shoot down our neighbors, and we can do it free of any consequence … and others will inevitably rally to our cause in the name of liberty.

Here in America we can publicly declare war on our own nation, engage in open sedition and treason writ large, offer a reward for the capture and execution of our own democratically elected president, publicly promote the overthrow of the very Constitution which guarantees our freedoms, and loudly declare our intention for violent installation of a religious theocracy made of up of extremists who would execute and imprison any American who does not subscribe to this murderous lunacy.

We Americans put up with a lot of nonsense in the supposed name of liberty.

We put up with raging hate, blatant bigotry,  threats of violence, obvious insanity, and foamy spittle-flecked ignorant stupidity - all because we're afraid that if we restrict those things in even the slightest way, if we hold the perpetrators to account to even the smallest degree, well then we won't know where to draw the line and then we'll end up under the jackboot of tyranny.

By way of example, meet the Christian Taliban of the Facebook Group Reward For Capture of Obama.

The group, founded by one Reverend Everest Wilhelmsen, is your standard issue howling mob of frothy Birthers, stubbornly clinging to their guns and bibles and thoroughly discredited conspiracy theories. More, Wilhelmsen is openly using social media to solicit donations for the overthrow of the government of the United States. The group openly, publicly, offers a reward for the “capture” and “arrest” of President Obama.

These people, led by Everest Wilhelmsen, have declared war on the United States.

For all practical purposes, Wilhelmsen is indistinguishable from the Ayatollahs who burned down their country’s legitimate government and set about arresting and executing those that didn’t agree with their particular murderous fanaticism.

If you want to know what America under the control of Evangelical Christianity will look like, you need look no further than Iran – change the names and the God, and the bloody intolerant rest remains the same.

This week, Wilhelmsen added a caveat to his group page, asking people not to post overtly racists comments – despite the fact that the entire page is a study in unhinged xenophobia writ large and designed specifically to pander directly to racists, bigots, haters, and fanatics.

A rather large number of people, including myself, have complained to Facebook about Reward for Capture Of Obama. I specifically reported the group for hate speech. Reward For Capture of Obama is not freedom of speech, it is abuse of the 1st Amendment and it is sedition. These people are not just talking, they are actively soliciting funds for the stated purpose of overthrowing the government. This group is hate for hate’s sake and nothing more – and I would point out that I would respond in exactly the same way if Wilhelmsen was calling for the capture and arrest of George W. Bush.

Facebook responded to my complaint via the boilerplate above.

“Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment.”

A what now? A safe and welcoming environment, you say? Oh, so is that what Reward For Capture of Obama is? Safe and welcoming?

“…and we found that it doesn’t violate our community standards.”

Racism. Xenophobia. Bigotry. Sedition. These things don’t violate our standards.

But a picture of a mother breastfeeding? That does, right? Facebook will take that down in a second and suspend your account. But proclaim your intention to overthrow the US government by force of arms and violent revolution and kill the president? And Facebook is good. Freedom, you know.

Facebook is so afraid of offending the religious right, and likely with good reason, that they will turn a blind eye to open sedition.

 

And that, right there, is the perfect metaphor for America.

 

We’re willing to put up with any degree of rage, hate, and insanity, up to and including allowing crazy people to buy guns and use them to shoot down our children in their own homes and theaters and schools, we will stand by and let raging madmen like Everest Wilhelmsen openly call for the destruction of our nation, just to prove we’ve got more freeeeeedom than everybody else.

 

 

In the name of freedom, we allow the racist haters of the KKK and the Neo-Nazis to march down the middle of our streets and terrorize our citizens.

In the name of liberty, we allow the insane fanatics of Westboro Baptist Church to scream their twisted hatred at the funerals of our loved ones and our fallen soldiers.

In the name of democracy we allow the ideologues and the political fanatics in Congress to deadlock our government, repeatedly bring our nation to a standstill, refuse to do their jobs, and threaten the entire world economy, all in the name of soundly debunked conspiracy theories and rabid unhinged yellow-eyed hate.

In the name of the Constitution, we allow the traitorous dishonorable scumbags of the Oath Keepers to march on the White House flying that goddamned Confederate Battle Flag, the very symbol of racism and the ensign of those who vigorously tried to destroy the United States, and we listen while they demand the president be dragged from the Oval Office and hung before a kangaroo court.

Within our own Capital Building, Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, has openly admitted to sedition.

He not only admits it, he’s proud of it.

Lamborn, in his own words proudly revealed that he and his fellow Republicans are attempting to turn the US military against their own Commander in Chief,

“A lot of us are talking to the generals behind the scenes, saying, ‘Hey, if you disagree with the policy that the White House has given you, let’s have a resignation.’”

Think about that, really think about that.

You have a sitting US Congressman – along with “a lot of us” – actively encouraging mutiny within the ranks of our military.

Lamborn and those unnamed republicans he refers to are openly encouraging nothing less than the defection of senior officers during time of war

Lamborn says he wants America’s generals to “go out in a blaze of glory.”

Lamborn specifically says he encouraged military officers to resign in protest of the orders from their civilian leadership.  To quit instead of obeying the president as they are sworn to do – as I, a commissioned officer, swore to do.  Do you, as Americans, understand what that means? Can you fully grasp the implications of Lamborn’s treason? In America, the elected civilian Executive commands the military for very, very good reasons, reasons fundamental to the very fabric of our nation

Lamborn would turn the generals of America into the political wannabe emperor Generals of Rome – and he is either too goddamned stupid to realize what he’s saying or he is a traitor to everything this country stands for.

This is not, repeat not, the actions of the loyal opposition.

There is nothing loyal about it.

Lamborn is a traitor.

Should the generals actually follow his exhortations to abdicate their sworn duty, then Lamborn is giving aid and comfort to the enemy, he is deliberately providing the enemy a strategic advantage by dividing the American military against itself solely to profit his political party.

Congressman Lamborn is a fucking traitor. A seditious scumbag. A dishonorable conniving coward whose own sworn oath is worth about as much as the Republican Contract with America.

Lamborn is a traitor.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Lamborn’s own words, his own free admission, by definition, is sedition.

Naturally, when his mutinous remarks were made public, Lamborn did what all those of his pusillanimous ilk do when cornered, he claimed his treason was taken “out of context.”

And you’ll note he didn’t resign.

And that, right there, is the very epitome of these cowards.

They’ll rage and rant for others to give up their lives in the name of some cause, but they piss their pants at the thought of having to make good themselves. Every. Single. Time.

Lamborn is a traitor.

Lamborn is a coward.

Lamborn is an utter disgrace to the very institution he is sworn to uphold.

Folks, there is no context, none, in which Congressman Lamborn’s admission is not that of a coward, a traitor, and a seditious mutineer.

In any other nation, he would be jailed at the very least and tried for his seditious actions, in many places he would be dragged out back and he’d have a bullet put through his skull without a trial.

But in America? Well, open sedition from a sitting US Congressman in time of war, sowing discord and disloyalty in the ranks for political ideology? In America that’s what we call liberty.

Meanwhile, yet another of these “patriots,” former congressman Tom Tancredo, Republican from Colorado, called again for House Republicans to impeach the President. 

Because, yeah, we just aren’t getting the part where Republicans hate Obama. 

In an OpEd last weekend in (where else?) World Net Daily, Tancredo opined that the GOP should “call the White House’s bluff and proceed with impeachment.”

Republicans, those Great Americans* who claim to revere the Constitution as holy writ handed down by God Himself, eschew the actual requirements spelled out in that same document and instead define the criteria for impeachment as “anybody not a member of our ideology – and maybe even some of those too.”

The conservative definition of democracy is increasingly indistinguishable from the kind of “democracy” practiced in the old Soviet Union and nowadays in North Korea – i.e. you can vote for whoever you like, so long as it’s us. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Tancredo warns that if Republicans are afraid to impeach Obama, then “the war is already lost and we should all stock our ammunition shelves and join a militia.”

Like Wilhelmsen, like Lamborn, like far, far too many conservatives today, Tancredo believes that democracy is when if you don’t get your way, you just get to shoot down the people you don’t like and install your own government by forcing people to vote for your party, your candidate, the people you approve of.  That’s the kind of America they think they want.

But you see, freedom doesn't come free of responsibility.

In the end, one way or the other, there is always an accounting.

It’s long past time we, as a nation, as a people, stopped tolerating this nonsense.

These lunatics need to be held accountable for their unending mindless hate, for their willful and contagious insanity, for their seditious attempts to turn this country into a xenophobic religious theocracy, and for abusing the rights our ancestors gave their very lives for.

I believe in freedom of speech as much as the next guy. I served my country for over twenty years in uniform, I fought her wars and defended her shores because I believe in that freedom along with all the others we Americans take for granted every day.

But I believe rights have limits.

I believe freedom comes with responsibility.

I believe we are a nation, a society, a civilization. We are not a howling mob.

These people are not patriots.

They are not the loyal opposition.

They are cowards and traitors and anarchists.

They are the barbarians at the gate, who would burn down civilization and shit gleefully in the ruins.

The Constitution may require the government to tolerate this cancer in our midst, but we, we rational and sane Americans, we do not have to put up with it.

And it’s long past time we start holding this madness to account.

 

And you can start doing exactly that come this November.



* The term “Great American” is used in this context in a manner identical to the term “Great Russian” in the old Soviet Union.  And yes, I mean it to be exactly as insulting as it sounds. // Jim

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Promises, Promises

This morning on Twitter, Speaker of the House John Boehner was reliving past glories:

"#OnThisDay in 1994, I joined House Republicans in signing A Contract With America."

Ohhhhh, right, it must be election time.

Christmas, you put up a tree and tinsel.  Halloween, it’s ghosts and ghouls. Thanksgiving, it’s pumpkins and construction paper turkeys. Election Season? Republicans start dragging out A Contract with America.

Thanks for reminding us, John.

A Contract With America. You recall this, right?

Twenty years ago today, Newt Gingrich unveiled A Contract with America. It was six weeks before the election and Republicans solemnly promised America that when they took over Congress, well, they'd do a bunch of stuff. Fix things. Make America better.

They made a pact, they did. 

Inside their little Heritage Foundation tree fort, they donned pirate hats made from cleverly folded Wall Street Journals, and the gang all swore blood oaths with their little pinkies hooked together.

And then they made a big show of signing the Contract with America in front of the TV cameras, with John Boehner front and center – and why not? He was one of the guys who wrote it.  Newt Gingrich usually gets credit, but back then John Boehner was the young Paul Ryan Whiz Kid who was going to change things, man, change America.  If you wonder what Ryan will look like in 20 years, well, there you go – maybe a little less orange, but Boehner is Ryan all grown up, old and leathery and cynical.

As contracts go, it was pretty straight forward. Republicans pledged on their solemn honor to reduce the size of government and make the tiny remainder accountable to the people. Boy it sure sounded good, that Contract with America. Republicans were going to clean up corruption in Congress, reform tort law, and reduce the welfare rolls.

But it was a trick. For you see, they had no honor – solemn or otherwise.

Twenty years later, let’s just take a look at how it all worked out:

1) The Contract promised that republicans would ensure all laws that apply to the rest of the country would also apply to Congress. 

Now, now, don’t laugh.

This one was the crown jewel of the contract. Number one on the list.

It didn't even make it out of committee.

Today, under John Boehner, there are laws for us, and laws (snort) for them. And so it goes.

2) The Contract declared Republicans would hire a well known major independent non-partisan auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud, and abuse.

Uh Huh.

1994, what's that? 20 years ago now? Has anybody seen that report?

See, it turned out, surprise surprise, that nobody in Congress, and especially republicans and their pals in the defense industry and on Wall Street, wanted that audit.

Because, seriously, heh heh, you’re kidding, right? 

And today? Well today, the Citizens United decision upheld by a Republican SCOTUS makes Congress significantly less accountable in every single way imaginable.  A vast, nearly unimaginable amount of untraceable money flows like wine through Congress and prominent members of the Republican party have openly admitted that they work for the Billionaires and Big Money.

And just last month, Senate Republicans filibustered an attempt to overturn Citizens United via Constitutional Amendment.

In the House, Boehner won’t even allow the subject to come to the floor for debate.

So much for that audit.

3. The Contract promised to reduce the number of House Committees, and cut the remaining committee staff by one-third.

Heh heh.

The first thing Gingrich’s new conservative majority did was to form more committees and hire more staff to examine how to reduce the number of committees and staff.

Most of those committees and staffers are still around twenty years later – they long outlasted the guy who promised to get rid of them. In fact, today the number of house committees is even more bloated than it was back in 1994 – and that includes the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi (Yes, that’s the actual name) and all its endless subcommittees, which despite spending tens of thousands of man-hours and millions in taxpayer dollars has found exactly … dick.

4. The Contract promised to Limit Committee Chair terms.

This one Gingrich actually followed through on, despite the fact that he and Boehner couldn't figure out how to limit terms for Democrats without also limiting terms for Republicans.

5. The Contract said that republicans would ban proxy votes in Committee.

Gingrich made good on this one too – specifically because it punished Democrats.

Now that Republicans have the majority, there’s been talk of changing the rule back to proxy voting.

6. The Contract with America promised to open House committee meetings to the public.

Not only didn't this happen, with the implementation of the Protect America Act and Patriot Act, a large number of committee meetings became classified in the name of national security and off-limits to not just the public and press, but even GAO oversight. Hell, in some cases, even the sanitized minutes of those meetings are classified.

Want to guess who was the big push behind this move to closed meetings? Liberals or Conservatives? Come on, guess. Come on.

7. Republicans were going to lower taxes and require a three-fifths majority to pass a tax increase.

They tried to amend the Constitution, because that’s what it would take. The bill passed the House, but was rejected by the Senate. So Republicans wrote a law instead, despite knowing there were specific provisions in the Constitution against it – which was why they tried for an Amendment in the first place. The statute passed both houses and was signed into law by Clinton who didn’t have the votes to prevent a veto override – and was promptly struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional when the State of New York sued the federal government.

Not only did Boehner and Co. not keep this provision of the contract, they ended up costing taxpayers billions when the government sued itself for passing a law that it knew in advance wouldn't stand up in court. Because, fiscal conservatives, right? Gonna make those tax dollars count.

8. And finally, the Contract was supposed to guarantee realistic accounting – realistic accounting forsooth – of the Federal Budget through the implementation of something called zero baseline budgeting.

You've heard of this, right?

Sure. Realistic accounting. Zero baseline budgeting. Uh huh. How realistic do you think accounting of the Federal Budget is today?

The Contract with America was the Republican Party’s very specific promise to reduce the size of federal government, reduce taxes, increase entrepreneurial enterprise, provide tort reform, balance the budget, and overhaul welfare. 

Of those promises, Republicans cut taxes. Yes they did, and then massively increased the size of the federal government after starting two wars.  Then they relaxed the rules on Wall Street and gave us the Great Recession.

Then they sent the bill to the next administration and blamed Obama for not fixing it fast enough.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

By the time Republicans lost control of the House and Senate, the cost of the programs the Contract with America promised to fix or eliminate completely had increased by more than 25%.

Four years ago, Republicans led by John Boehner rolled out A Pledge To America, sort of A Contract With America Lite.

"The federal government is too big, it spends too much, and it's out of control," said then House Minority Leader John Boehner. “The current federal government isn't listening and doesn't get it."

The current federal government?

If this was a court room and an actual contract, that would be the part when John Boehner incriminated himself. Right there.

“Our government has failed us," Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) agreed. "The land of opportunity has become the land of shrinking prosperity. People are outraged."

Oh, people were outraged all right, I know I certainly was.

You see, the Pledge these two simpering jackasses were presenting promised the same thing the Contract did, but it was long on promise and short on details.  The Contract had at least contained a roadmap and some specific details (none workable, but still), the Pledge was mostly sound bites and vague hand waving. Republicans didn’t need details, they had Obama. All they had to do was publicly hate him and the rest just sort of followed.

When pressed about The Contract With America and the failure to live up to his end of the contract, Boehner smiled his orange orange smile and said, hey, we only promised to “bring to the House Floor the following bills… .” We did not say we would actually do any of those things.

And so, like 1994, republicans took the House in 2010 and John Boehner became Speaker of Bullshit.

And the Pledge to America?

Like the Contract, it just sort of faded away, quickly forgotten – it was only four years ago, and I bet you’ve never even heard of The Pledge To America, have you?

The only part of their pledge Republicans made good on was hating Obama and obstructing every possible bit of progress since.

Back in 2010, as I watched John Boehner unveil his Pledge, I said in an editorial that “after November, no matter who wins, this Pledge like the Contract before it will quietly disappear. The weasel words have been carefully crafted and the plan is already in motion. This contract isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, just like the last one. And somewhere, there are a bunch of Native Americans shaking their heads and laughing. Contract with America? Heh heh. Hey! Maybe they'll offer you a land deal next!”

For more than 20 years, John Boehner has been making the same bullshit promises. Twenty years.

He doesn’t deny it, he Tweets about it.

Middle-class families in Southwest #Ohio are being squeezed. When does Washington get the same treatment?

That’s what Boehner said this morning on Twitter.

When does Washington get the same treatment? Seriously? I mean seriously?

John Boehner is Washington.

He’s been Washington for nearly 30 years!

When is Washington going to get the same treatment? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Republicans can blame the president all they like, but John Boehner and his cronies have been making empty promises and shilling the same con game long, long before Barack Obama came along.

And now, here we are, six weeks out from the election and what’s Boehner doing?

Why he’s making the same old promises, the same old pledge, the same old contract.

As I pointed out back then: Contracts, real contracts, are legal instruments entered into by both parties – not something drafted up by one side and foisted on the other.

Here’s the thing, so pay attention: we already have a contract with Congress. A legal and binding contract.

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.“

That, my fellow Americans, is the contract our leaders have with us. That right there, nothing more and nothing less.

For the last five years, Congressional Republicans together and separately have refused, utterly refused, to live up to the one contract that matters. They have not faithfully discharged their duties, and far from being ashamed of it, John Boehner revels in it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again as many times as it takes:  If these people, these disingenuous, dishonest, despicable sons of bitches take the Senate next month, it will not be because they’ve kept their promises or lived up to their contract with the people of the United States of America – it will be because you are too goddamned lazy to get off your ass and hold them to account.

Republicans are confident that they will hold on to the House and that they will take the Senate in November.

They are positive they will win and win big.

But, then, that’s what they thought about the White House last time around.

Prove them wrong.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dominos

Well, I got my window shield so filled
With flags I couldn't see
So, I ran the car upside a curb
And right into a tree
By the time they got a doctor down
I was already dead
And I'll never understand why the man
Standing in the Pearly Gates said:

Your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more
We're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more…
- Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore, John Prine, 1971

 

Vietnam.

That’s the bottom end of the scale, right? Vietnam.

The pinnacle of America’s military prowess, is, of course, World War II.

Sure. The Greatest Generation, that’s what they call themselves. The Great Ones. America kicked some serious ass in WWII.  By Jiminy, that’s how war should be, isn’t it? Glory. Heroism. For God and Country. Four, maybe five, years and whamo! enemies utterly destroyed and their countries rebuilt as allies, peace for everybody, and home to parades and cheering and a golden age of wealth and prosperity, right?

Sure.

That’s what they tell us anyway.

But it’s been mostly downhill ever since.

And the low point? The antipode? That’s Vietnam, isn’t it?

That’s the one America doesn’t want to talk about. ‘Nam. Couldn’t win, couldn’t leave. Quagmire.

Vietnam. We’re always worried the next one will be Vietnam.

Nobody says, “hey, this one is going to be World War II all over again! Kickin’ ass and takin’ names! We roll through <insert name of Third World Country here> just like Patton chewing through Italy! Woohoo and hi-yo Silver! 

Nobody says that. No, it’s always going to be Vietnam again.

And right from the start, right from that first night of the invasion on March 19th, 2003, the Iraq War has been compared to Vietnam.

Mark my words, boy, we never learn, it’ll be another quagmire, another Vietnam!

I’m leery of any such comparison, just as I am when people compare every politician they don’t like to Hitler.

But certainly there are parallels, aren’t there?

There are obvious lessons to be learned by looking at Vietnam.

And less obvious lessons, including one really big one, the one staring us right in the face. The most important one.

We’ll come back to that.

The current popular version of history says that America got involved in Vietnam over a lie, an unprovoked attack on US forces that never actually happened, the so-called Gulf Of Tonkin Incident – which became the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which then became the Vietnam Conflict, which was eventually relabeled properly as The Vietnam War. Whether description of that supposed attack was a deliberate lie or just the fog of war combined with political opportunism, I can’t say. Just as I can’t say with any certainty that the men who sent me into Iraq were deliberate liars or just criminally misguided.

But as they say: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Truer words were never spoken and nobody does that better than America.

The reality of the matter, if that word has any meaning here, is that we were involved in Indochina long, long before the Gulf of Tonkin. That’s why American ships were in the Gulf of Tonkin that night in the first place.  We were just looking for an excuse and if it wasn’t an attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats on US Navy destroyers, well, it would have been something else. Almost anything would do, political forces in the US were determined to have a war and they were going to get it, one way or the other.

You see, those men were terrified of communism.

They were certain that America and the rest of the so-called Free World were in imminent danger. They’d fought in World War II and they were fighting in Korea and they were facing the Red Scare at home and they were convinced, utterly convinced, that the communists were coming for them.

Americans were told to be afraid.

And so they were.

And so we went into Vietnam on the pretext of “the domino theory.” That is, America was told that they had to contain communism because if one country fell to the Red Menace, others would too, like dominos one after the other until the Russians and the Chinese came to kill us in our own houses.

"Burma, Thailand, India, Japan, the Philippines and obviously Laos and Cambodia are among those whose security would be threatened if the Red Tide of Communism overflowed into Vietnam."
-
US Senator John F. Kennedy addressing the American Friends of Vietnam, 1955

The Red Tide of Communism. That’s it, right there. That’s what they were worried about.

So certain were they of this domino effect, that the Eisenhower Administration actually considered dropping nuclear weapons on Vietnam and Cambodia – in the 1950s, long before American forces were on the ground there. 

Think about that for a minute.

Think about it in the context of the 1950s.

There was no internet in those days. TV and broadcast media were in their infancy, there was no satellite relays, no live streaming cable news from remote corners of the world. No Google Earth. No History Channel. Hell there weren’t even any Vietnamese restaurants in America. There were no Vietnamese Americans. No Laotians. No Hmong neighborhoods. Asians in the United States lived in Chinatown and most of white America didn’t even speak to black people let alone Asians.  America was barely a decade out of World War II. Vietnam? We’re talking about a former French colony in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Vietnam? Nobody went to Vietnam for spring break. Americans didn’t buy anything from Vietnam. We didn’t sell them anything worth noting. There were no Americans in Vietnam, not in any significant number.

99.9% of Americans had never heard of Vietnam and had no idea where on the globe it was – nor did they care.

And yet … Eisenhower was thinking about nuking them?

Imagine just how scared you have to be in order to find yourself considering that option.

The Vietnam War required us to emphasize the national interest rather than abstract principles. What President Nixon and I tried to do was unnatural. And that is why we didn't make it.
- Henry A. Kissinger

By the time the 1960s arrived, our full involvement was nearly inevitable.

And so we went into Vietnam.

It was supposed to be quick, they were just peasants with pointy sticks after all.  And we were Americans, Goddamnit, we had a modern military and nuclear weapons and Aircraft carriers. We’d train them to speak English, how to fight, and they’d beat back the commies.

And America would be safe again.

A police action and military advisors quickly turned into actual war and more than a decade of bloody combat. 

And we couldn’t get out.

We won every battle, but we couldn’t win the war.  We couldn’t get out. No matter how many we killed, no matter how high the body count, them, us, they just kept coming and we couldn’t get out.  We kept sending in more, more troops, more guns, more planes, more ships. Liberal president. Conservative president. Republicans. Democrats. It didn’t matter, we couldn’t get out. So we just kept throwing our children at them because we couldn’t think of anything better to do. Back home, the country tore itself apart. There were protests and riots and Watergate and bombings and mass murder and social upheaval and cults and counterculture and police brutality and military action against civilians.

And it just went on and on and on.

Every night the news was full of body counts and pictures of dead soldiers. The newspapers and magazines were filled with Pulitzer Prize winning pictures of burned and maimed children, atrocities, mass graves, burning villages, and bloody battlefields. Our streets were filled with hippies and ragged veterans, the airwave sang protest songs, and the VA waiting rooms were stuffed to bursting with shattered men.

And we couldn’t get out.

But we had to do it.

We had to.

Sure we did. We had to because if we didn’t, well, sir, the communists were certain to take over the world. If Vietnam fell, if Cambodia fell, then the Red Tide would flood all of Indochina and spill over into Asia, the Pacific, Europe, and then, inevitably, America.

By the time we did get out we’d been there for twenty years, from 1955 to 1975 and America had been changed nearly beyond recognition. But for some, it wasn’t enough, they were convinced we could still “win,” that we could remake Vietnam into America.  And they might have convinced us to go back, but public support for the conflict was long, long gone and so we finally left Vietnam once and for all.

Nobody really knows how many Vietnamese died. Most Americans don’t really care.

But 58,000 Americans died in that jungle.

Some of them are still dying.

For nothing.

The war didn’t make America any safer. The war didn’t make Vietnam any safer. The war didn’t end the slaughter. It didn’t stop communism.

Those 58,000 Americans died for nothing.

And here we are.

We’ve been at war, again, for a decade. More. We went into Iraq because they told us we had to, because they told us Iraq had attacked us – I know, I was there. We went into Iraq because we were told that if we didn’t fight them there, we’d have to fight them here. Loud voices back home had been shouting for war and if it wasn’t 911, it would have been something else. We just needed an excuse. In the years since, hundreds of thousands have died, nobody really knows exactly how many. Most Americans don’t care. And we can’t get out. Every night for the last fourteen years, since 911 our TV screens have been filled with the dead and dying, the burning villages, the horrors, the atrocities, the machines of war. And we can’t get out. Our country continues to cut at itself, our streets are filled with protests and riots, cults and militia grow like cancers, we hate and fear our government and our own neighbors. And we can’t get out. Conservative president. Liberal president. Republicans. Democrats. And we can’t get out. Our streets are full of ragged veterans, our VA waiting rooms are filled with shattered soldiers. And we can’t get out.

Vietnam, they say. Quagmire.

We thought it was over, we thought it was done. We thought, we thought, we’d done a better job this time. We won the battles, we won the war. We left Iraq on our own schedule, a schedule set by a republican and executed by a democrat. This time there were no pictures of overloaded helicopters lifting desperate Americans from the roof of our embassy as enemy troops smashed through the walls below. 

After ten long, brutal years – twenty really, and more – we thought it was finally over.

But now Iraq is falling apart, along with Syria.

See? The warhawks crow. Told ya! We should have stayed, we should have kept fighting! We should go back!

Last week, Fox News’ Eric Bolling openly declared that America needed to put fighting forces into Iraq and Syria to combat “terrorism.”

Fox’s Jonathan Hoenig agreed, “We have enemies, and they’re the ones who are declaring war on America and slicing journalists’ heads off.” Hoenig then explained that there were no more Japanese kamikazes or attacks from the Nazis because the United States wiped out both those threats in World War II.

“I honestly wonder if our current administration would have won World War II. I think we would have lost it.”

Why stop there?

If Obama was president during the Indian Wars, why we might have lost the Great Plains! America would be confined to a thin slice of North America east of the Appalachians. What if Obama was in charge during the Spanish American War? Who then would have freed Cuba to become communists? And what if Obama was in charge during the Civil War? Why we might still have secessionists and Tea Party racists waving Confederate flags … Okay, that’s a bad example, let’s just move on.

It’s not enough to address what’s actually happening, it’s not enough for a supposed news source to report the actual news, no, they have to imagine what might happen in some alternate universe. See, what if Obama went back in time and replaced Franklin Roosevelt as president? My God, can you imagine a liberal in charge during World War II? A liberal? Why Obama would have lost the whole damned thing and we’d have been fighting Nazis, goddamned Nazis, in the streets of America! Thank Holy Jesus, Roosevelt was a socialism-hatin’ small government conse… Okay, again, bad example, but I think I’ve made my point here.

We’ve got to go back. We need boots on the ground. Air strikes. Cruise missiles. Nuke ‘em from orbit!

If we don’t kill them over there, why, we’ll have to kill them over here!

And it all just sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? Like the steady beat of the drum or the click click click of dominos falling, one after the other.

“To destroy ISIL, you have to kill or capture their leaders, take back their territory, cut off the finances and destroy the capability to regenerate. This is a war we’re fighting not a counter terrorism operation. This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home!
- Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC

Oh no! Not back here at home! Not that!

Predictably, Graham went on to compare the Islamic State in Syria to the Nazis, because, well, Goddamned Nazis, you know.  We need boots on the ground Graham said, in Syria. We need to send the Army back to Iraq. Or else the dominos will fall, one by one, click click click, until Islam comes for America.

This,” Graham declared, “is ISIL versus mankind!”

Mankind.

ISIL versus Mankind no less.

Wow. All of Mankind. Just like the commies. Click click click.

The world’s bestest conservative, Ted Nugent, who himself managed to infamously avoid serving in Vietnam, declared that Americans would absolutely positively be fighting Islam in the streets of their hometowns, door to door and hand to hand, on September 11. That would be September 11th, two weeks ago. You remember, right? Big battle. Slaughter in the streets. How many of them did you have to kill?

Those who carry guns had better gun & ammo up no matter where you go, carrying at least 10 spare mags or 10 spare speedloaders because the allahpukes are confident they will once again methodically slaughter walking cowering whining cryin helpless sitting ducks capable of zero resistance. To gullible naive embarrassing ill prepared targets, there is still time to firepower up ASAP. Head for cover but retain an attentiveness in order to identify the evildoers and dbl tap center mass, then two to the head. Then take cover and prepare your next evasive escape, taking dwn known jihadists to the best of your ability, Aim small miss small center mass & headshots, This is going to be the real deal & absolutely survivable against these 4th world allahpuke zombies. STAND! Go heavy, Only a–holes are outgunned, Dont be outgunned or out ammo’d. Goodluck. Be safe, Shoot straight & OFTEN, Godspeed, killemall

Helpless sitting ducks. In the streets of America. This is going to be the real deal, folks. We’ve got to armor up! Seek cover, shoot for the head!

Except September 11 came and went …

… and somehow the streets weren’t filled with Islamic fighters. 

It wasn’t the real deal.

There were no zombies.

No Nazis.

Americans remained safe in their beds.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Aisle, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) was cautiously satisfied with President Obama's plan. But then he went on to say that he strongly opposes any effort to use ground troops unless Congress authorized a war.

It’s not that he was willing to rule out war and invasion, he just wanted to have a hand in it this time.

"Every war I've been in Congress on has started out with advisers and no boots on the ground. And then..."

Every war I’ve been in Congress for? How many is that, exactly? And is it just me who finds that statement more than a little troubling, for a number of reasons?

Last Tuesday Rangel explained that if America did send troops back the Middle East, Congress would first have to declare war, and second … authorize a draft.

Advisors, then a declaration of war followed by boots on the ground.

And a draft.

Talk about Vietnam.

What’s next Charlie? We going to have Ted soil himself in public again, while we dig up the festering corpse of General Westmoreland to run the thing?

Vietnam.

If there is one man, one member of Congress who should understand the folly of an endless, unwinnable war, it’s John McCain.

If there is one man, one member of the American government, one war hero, one leader, who should understand the value of prudence and caution, it’s John McCain.

If there is one veteran who should understand reluctance to throw our children into the fire without specific goals, without well thought out plans, and without a unity of the national will, it’s John McCain.

If there is one man, one man, who should understand Vietnam, goddamn but it should be John McCain.

“Kill ‘em!”

Kill ‘em!

That was John McCain’s response to Greta Van Susteren on Fox News last Tuesday when she asked what our strategy should be.

Kill  ‘em!

She asked him to maybe provide a little more expansion on his plan, kill ‘em:

“They’ve got to be destroyed! And you’ve got to have a goal, the president does, and we have to have a strategy to fit that goal and policies that will implement it. We have none of the above.”

That’s what John McCain learned from Vietnam. Kill ‘em!

McCain used his interview with Susteren to push for war in both Iraq and Syria. He declared that the threat requires the “full weight of American air power” and “some more boots and support on the ground.”

“All this didn’t have to happen. We could have left a force behind in Iraq that would have stabilized Iraq. And we are paying an incredible price for the president’s leading from behind, whether it be in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya, or a number of countries in the Middle East. We are seeing the chickens coming home to roost.”

We could have left a force behind in Iraq, so says John McCain.

We could have. The obvious implication being that President John McCain certainly would have left American combat forces in Iraq.

McCain conveniently failed to mention that that force would be either an occupying force or a force subject to Islamic law.

McCain also conveniently failed to mention that putting American combat forces on the ground in either Iraq or Syria would be an act of open war. 

And that war would be a preemptive one. 

You see, while the Islamic State may certainly be a threat to American interests, they have not attacked us.  They killed an American hostage, yes, but we generally don’t start wars over one person. Do we? Especially ones that travel of their own free will to meet the enemy. The Islamic State is fighting the Iraqi and Syrian governments – one of which is a corrupt and unreliable ally and one of which is a self-declared enemy of the United States – not us.

Last time I checked, preemptive wars are illegal, a violation of both international law and our own.

And John McCain, of all people, should know that. What McCain demands is illegal, it’s against our law, international law, Iraqi law, Syrian law, and the wishes of our allies in the region.  And yet, he’s a prominent figure in the party who keeps saying that Obama doesn’t adhere to the law. Riiiight.

Neither the Iraqi government or most especially the Syrian government wants American troops on their territory. Syria’s hatred of America is well known and unchanged – especially since we are openly supporting the rebels fighting against the Syrian government. And Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said on Wednesday that foreign troops on Iraqi soil are "out of the question."

So, if we were to put “boots on the ground” as John McCain demands, it will be as an invasion. 

For us to put combat forces into Iraq and Syria, “boots on the ground,” it will have to be a full up declared war. There are no bases for American forces there, no safe havens, no allies. We will return as invaders, we will have to either topple the legal governments of both countries or take them hostage at bayonet point and force our will upon them – all while fighting both their militaries and the Islamic State.

You’ll note John McCain failed to mention that as well.

McCain also didn’t bother to mention what happens when you let politicians and their contractor pals run a war for profit – like Vietnam.

Take the Institute for the Study of War as an example.

Institute for the Study of War. Sounds ponderously official, doesn’t it? The Institute describes itself as a non-partisan think-tank, but it’s run by a bunch of civilian staffers/military hangers-on – Whiz Kids, to use the Vietnam era vernacular – and various former Army officers and funded almost entirely by defense contractors such as Raytheon and General Dynamics. 

Non-partisan. You’ll forgive my skeptical expression, won’t you?

Not entirely surprising, the Institute for the Study of War typically proposes more war as a solution for war.

Last week the Institute’s founder, Dr. Kimberly Kagan and the Institute’s director of research, Jessica Lewis, a former Army intel officer (who is careful not to include her former rank in her bio and who was one of those folks who won themselves a bronze star or two for non-combat related action, hoorah!), penned an official looking report that makes a case for, well, war.

It’s called “A strategy to Defeat the Islamic State” and it’s freely available to the public on the think-tank's website.

It’s an interesting read. It makes some good points and outlines some useful objectives.

But the part I really enjoyed was the last paragraph of the executive summary:

Though this strategy contains a high risk of failure and the near-certainty of U.S. troop casualties, the outcomes of ISIS retaining control of the territory it has seized, an escalated sectarian war, more foreign fighters, and the largest al-Qaeda safe haven it has ever known outweigh those risks.

A high risk of failure.

Near certainty of US casualties.

Gotta do it though. Fight ‘em there, or we’ll have to fight ‘em here. Dominos, boys, dominos.

Goddamn, if that isn’t pure Whiz Kid I don’t know what is.  I went back to see if the Ghost of Robert McNamara was on the Institute’s board of directors.

Listen to me, when you let the defense industry tell you when to go to war, you’re never going to have not war. Ever.

And it appears McCain learned nothing from Vietnam.

As did we all.

See, we never talk about what happened after.

Oh certainly we learned a few things in the years since 1975. Support the troops, don’t blame them for the sins of our political leadership.  See that they are properly equipped – we don’t do that, but we know that we should.  Have a plan, a solid strategy with measurable goals – we don’t do that, but we know that we should.  Have a plan for after the war, for rebuilding the nation, for winning hearts and minds – we don’t do that, but we know that we should.  Take care of veterans when they come home – we don’t do that either, of course, but we know that we should.

But we missed the big one.

When we left Vietnam, well, to be blunt, the domino toppled.

We left our former allies to their fates, to the killing fields and the mass executions and the reeducation camps and the atrocities of civil war. We left them to collective farms and economic collapse.

We left them to the communists. 

And the communists won.

And yet – and yet – Burma (now Myanmar), Thailand, India, Japan, the Philippines, those dominos didn’t topple.

Myanmar is a brutal repressive regime today, but that has nothing to do with our departure from Vietnam.  There was already a repressive government in the Philippines, one propped up by the United States and made worse by the flood of American forces pouring through the whorehouses and tattoo parlors outside of Subic Bay and Clark Air Force base. Since that time, since America left, the Philippines has become an actual democracy. Though I doubt anybody would say the country is perfect, things are far better for Filipinos today than they were back then. Thailand continues on as it always has, ditto Japan. And India is rapidly becoming a superpower. 

In point of fact, it seems that the domino theory was about as accurate as Ted Nugent.

In the forty years since Vietnam, the dominos that fell were mostly communist.

The Soviet Union withered and died, bankrupted by a war ironically in the very same region and against the very same people John McCain would have us return to fighting.

After two decades, reform came to Vietnam. The old guard was peacefully replaced, the collective farms were privatized, Soviet style economics became free-market reforms.

And Vietnam today?

The communists still hold power, true. Vietnam is one of the few remaining nations with a single party socialist government, but even that is slowly fading away. Vietnam is a vibrant country, a ripe target for American investment and economic growth.

Vietnam is hardly a paradise. But it has become a peaceful nation and, predictably, an economic partner of the United States.

And the region is far more stable today for our lack of boots on the ground than it ever was as the pawns and proxies and colonies of the First World.

Fast forward 40 years and certainly we can not stand by and allow ISIS/ISIL to slaughter the innocents without protest. Morally we must do something, we must send aid, we must help our allies, no matter how unsavory. We must train and equip those willing to defend their own homes. Certainly, I don’t argue that.  If we are to call ourselves moral people, then we have a moral obligation.

Just as we have a moral obligation to rescue our people from the clutches of terrorists. Just as we have a moral obligation to hunt down and destroy those who would murder our people.

But boots on the ground? Invasion? War?

No.

Certainly the fanatics of the Islamic State may one day come for us. That is certainly a possibility.

Or they may not.

Certainly the fanatics of the Islamic State may one day threaten other nations in the Middle East.

Or they may not.

Or, perhaps, like Vietnam, forty years from now these people will find peace and civilization if left to their own devices.

Will they? What are the odds? Is it likely? Maybe not, probably not, but it for damned sure isn’t going to happen in a state of continuous invasion.

This threat exists because war and conflict have destabilized the region.

More war won’t fix that.

Just as throwing more and more of our children into Vietnam didn’t bring peace or stability there.

Most certainly we should be concerned. We should be outraged and appalled at the brutality and the horror. Absolutely we should be. Absolutely we should acknowledge our role in this mess and provide what support we can to aid those caught in the middle. With caution. With prudence. With an understanding that real peace and stability can’t be imposed at the muzzle of a gun or dropped from a bomb bay or by shouting Kill ‘em!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no pacifist – though I don’t care if you think I am.

I’m no Neville Chamberlain. I’m no isolationist. I spent my entire life in the military. I did my time in Iraq. But my oath was to defend the United States, not throw my life and the lives of the forces under my command away for political goals or because fearful men shake in terror at the thought of what might happen someday.

And that, right there, is the real lesson of Vietnam.

 

Yeah, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin'
I'm sitting here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation
Handful of senators don't pass legislation
And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return, it's the same old place
The poundin' of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace

And, tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don't believe we're on the eve of destruction
No no, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction
-
Barry McGuire, Eve of Destruction, 1965

Thursday, September 11, 2014

911: Thirteen Years On

Foreward: I wrote this essay on the morning of the 10th anniversary of 911.  Rereading it, I see little I would have said differently. // Jim Wright




It’s been ten years now.

A decade today.

And frankly, I think that’s about enough.

There comes a point where you have to stop reliving the horror over and over.

There comes a point where you have to say enough, this and no more.

I think a decade is enough time.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the events of September 11th, 2001 were traumatic on a national scale.  911 was a shock like no other in American history, hell, maybe even in world history.  The modern Information Age saw to that, bringing it right into our living rooms without any delay to soften the impact, live and in horrifying color. 

All of us remember where we were and what we were doing on that terrible morning, I know I certainly do

I’m not in any way saying that we should forget, but there comes a point where you have to allow history to become history.

There comes a point where you have to move on.

Today marks a decade now, since 911.  In that time, we went to war and seven thousand more Americans, some of our very best, died.  Tens of thousands more were maimed and scarred and damaged forever.  Hundreds of thousands of innocents died. 

Entire countries were laid waste.

In the decade since 911, we Americans have became a callous people who can look upon those devastated lands and say, well, you know they had it coming, all of those bastards had it coming including their goddamned children.

In the decade since 911, we became a nation that tortures people and disappears people and detains people, including our citizens, indefinitely without trial or recourse in abject repudiation of the very spirit of our nation’s own founding – and we are unashamed of that and unrepentant. 

In the decade since 911, we have become a nation where, as an American, you must put aside your freedom a dozen times a day. You must show your papers. You must submit to naked body scanners and you must allow unsmiling uniformed men with the force of secret laws behind them to grope the most intimate areas of your children and yourselves. Such has become the price of freedom in America. We have become a nation  where you – as an American – can be detained for a glance or a gesture or a careless word or for checking out the wrong book from the library or for worshipping the wrong God.  We have become a nation where the only acceptable response to uniformed authority is immediate and total submission. Talk back, question, stand pat on the rights of previous generations and you’ll be branded an enemy. We have become a nation that claims to revere liberty and justice, but believes those things can only be had when secret agencies monitor our every email and our every communication without warrant or probable cause. 

The day after 911, September 12th, 2001, Congress stood upon the steps of the Capitol with the smoke of the burning Pentagon still hanging in the air above their heads and solemnly pledged to the American people that they would put aside their partisanship and their personal agendas and work together for the sake of our nation.  

In the decade since that moment we have become a nation divided instead, a nation of partisan rancor writ large – and those who stubbornly proclaim their patriotism loudest are the very ones who would lead us into civil war and secession.  They would destroy what terrorists could not.

And yet, in the decade since 911, we have found those responsible, rooted them out, and ground them into dust.  It took ten years, but Osama bin Laden is dead at the hands of Americans.  So is his successor. So are hundreds of his lieutenants.  So are thousands of his foot soldiers.  

So are many, many others, including thousands of Americans.

But it has not brought us closure.

And it has certainly not brought us peace.

Nor has it healed us as a nation.

911 was horrifying. It was personal to us all, every single American. It left us scarred, as a nation, and traumatized.

And we keep using that horror, that trauma, as an excuse to lash out in a massive case of collective post traumatic stress disorder.

The wounds of that event run deep and are still raw a decade later – but those wounds will not heal so long as we keep picking at the scab over and over and over.

Today, we will relive the horror yet again – a fevered nightmare that simply won’t go away because we will not allow it to go away.  

Again, don’t get me wrong, we should always remember the events of September 11th, 2001, just as we remember Pearl Harbor or the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the hundred other events that shocked and traumatized our nation. But if we are to heal, if we are to move on, we have to stop reliving that horror over and over. 

Certainly we should build the memorials and lay the wreaths.

Of course we should always remember the names of the fallen and hold them sacred.

But we need to stop covering ourselves in the blood of that day.

Today, right now as I write this, hundreds of media channels will play the recordings of those trapped in the towers.  They’ll play those recordings over and over and over again. Recordings of the tortured calls to emergency services and the final calls to loved one.  And we’ll listen, yet again, to the intimate agony of those dying people.  They will play on endless loop the videos of those who jumped seventy stories to their death, lingering lovingly on their faces, speculating about their last moments, reveling in the horror. They interview those who witnessed the death and destruction and horror and they’ll beg, “Tell us what you were thinking. Tell us what you were feeling at that very moment.” We don’t need to know what they were feeling, what they were thinking, because we felt the same exact thing. We’re still feeling it. But we’ll listen anyway like a entire nation slowing down to goggle wide-eyed at a car wreck. 

We’ll watch the towers fall. Again.

We’ll see the Pentagon crumple and explode.  Again.

We’ll hear the tapes of the air traffic controllers, of the horrified confusion in the towers, and the phone calls of those Americans who fought back above the corn fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  

I hear those tortured voices, I see those dying faces, and I don’t feel hate. I don’t feel a need for revenge. I’ve had a decade of hate. I went to war in revenge. I’ve been covered in blood long enough.

Instead, I look at those pictures and I feel revulsion. 

There is something obscene about listening to 911 calls, any 911 call.  While those records may have value to history, it is nothing but a voyeuristic grotesquery to broadcast those intimate communications to a public jaded by reality TV and violent slasher flicks. 

It serves no purpose whatsoever but to keep open festering wounds that should be long scabbed over.

Today, pundits and politicians will use this anniversary to drive us further apart, to reopen the wounds, for their own selfish agendas, to further inflame partisan fervor and to brand their neighbors as enemies and un-American. 

And we will let them do it, because in the decade since 911 we’ve become a nation of cutters who hack at our own flesh with mean abandon.

Since 911, an entire generation has been born and grown to self-awareness.

Those young Americans have never known their nation at peace. 

They have never known a nation that is not divided.

They have never had a single day where they weren’t told to hate their neighbors and to report them if they don’t seem patriotic enough.

They have never lived a single day in a nation that wasn’t bent to the terrible business of revenge.

They have never known a nation that didn’t roil in fear and cringe in terror every single day.

They have never flown on an airplane without having been treated like a criminal.

They have never checked out a book from the library without having been subject to secret scrutiny.

They never sent an unmonitored email or made an unmonitored phone call.

They have never lived in a house that isn’t subject to unwarranted search.

They have never had the right to redress or legal challenge when their name is placed on secret lists – and in point of fact, they don’t even have the right to know if their name is on that list at all.

They have never lived in a nation where they have the right to confront their accuser and demand proof of more than just suspicion.

They have never lived without the threat, however unlikely, of being disappeared.

They have never lived in a nation that didn’t regard the torture of human beings as an acceptable option.

This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.

The terrorists didn’t do that.

We did it to them.