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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Danger Close

Representative Denny Heck (D-WA): "Is it okay for a president to pressure a foreign government for help to win an election?"
Director of National Intelligence (acting) Joseph Maguire: "It is unwarranted. It is unwelcome. It is bad for the nation."


We are at a very, very dangerous moment in history.

Trump is mad. Mad angry. Not mad insane – though that works too.

Goddamn, is he mad.

He’s so mad, he’s literally sputtering – something that I thought was mostly just a creative turn of phrase.

He stepped off Air Force One on Friday fuming, red faced, seething, sputtering mad, and yelled at reporters that he might try to file some sort of legal action to stop his impeachment.

What these guys are doing, Democrats, what they’re doing to this country, is a disgrace and it shouldn’t be allowed! There should be a way of stopping it. Maybe legally through the courts. But they’re gonna tie up our country. I mean we can’t talk about gun regulation we can’t talk about … anything. Because frankly they’re so tied up, they’re so screwed up, nothing gets done except for when I do it!

Shouldn’t be allowed!

There should be a way of stopping it!

Maybe legally though the courts.

And maybe not.

Maybe not. That’s the implication here, isn’t it? That maybe not part.

The day before, when Trump was at the United Nations, in a meeting with his staff he raged:

"They're almost a spy! Who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that's close to a spy."

I mean, you do see it, don’t you?

The sense of outrage. Outrage that anyone should question Donald Trump.

But the very word “whistleblower” exists for a reason.

Because it is a legally protected check on power, on abuse, on greed, on crime, on government.

Our laws, our entire nation is based on this idea.

Our Constitution was designed around this very idea: that power should be limited. That power should be checked, should be called out, should be held accountable at every turn. And that those who would blow that whistle should be protected to the full measure of the law.

Because without those willing to stand up, to speak truth to power, to sound the alarm, liberty dies.

This was the reason for the First Amendment, so that the people would have the power to speak freely in criticism of their government, not just as a right, but as a duty; so that the press would have the ability to hold all of us but most especially government to account; so that the people might assemble in protest and face down government power with their own; so that government would be required to give redress of wrongs against its own citizens.

If conservatives are correct in their interpretation of the Second Amendment, then its entire purpose is so ordinary citizens might hold government to the ultimate account.

And yet here they are.

Ironically, hypocritically, suggesting that the those who call out suspected government abuse are somehow traitors.

That it shouldn’t be allowed.

That there should be a way of stopping it, perhaps legally and perhaps … not.

We are at a very, very dangerous moment in history.

Trump has always tended to see himself as a superior specimen misunderstood by the common rabble.

He believes himself special. Above the laws which bind the common man.

When he’s held to those same laws, be they natural or manmade, he’s offended. He feels demeaned, lessened, diminished.

Public office amplifies his sense of martyrdom and he's becoming overtly, obviously, paranoid and publicly unstable. The term “siege mentality” might have been coined just for him. Worse, he surrounds himself with fringe nuts like Sebastian Gorka, political extremists like Stephen Miller and Steve Mnuchin, disgraced fanatics like General Mike Flynn, and an endless host of incompetent amateurs from Betsy DeVos to his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and it shows.

These people, not one of them, has any idea how to run a Republic.

These people have no idea how to deal with the world on an equal basis – because they do not see the world a place of equality. Far from it. They expect to give orders and have them obeyed. They expect the universe to bow down, to bend to their desires. Because it always has. No one questions the wealthy. No one criticizes a general. No one holds the privileged to account. Not to their faces. They are accustomed to subservience, not accountability.

The rules don't apply to these people.

Not on social media, not in the courts, not in the military, not in the boardroom, not on Wall Street, not in politics, not in the Media, not anywhere.

This isn’t my opinion, this is theirs in their own words:

I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful. I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything.

You can do anything.

They believe themselves entitled to this unquestioned power as their due.

They believe themselves better. Better than you. Better than me. Better than everyone.

This is how aristocracy is born, right here.

And if it's not stopped now, here in this moment, then in a few generations they will be lords and princes and kings, born to power.

And we will be their serfs.

This is a very, very dangerous moment in history.

Impeachment doesn't just threaten Trump, or his office.

It threatens the very self image of the privileged, who see themselves as the elite, as better, as born to power and above criticism or accountability, beyond the law and beyond reproach.

If Trump can be removed from power, so can they.

That terrifies them. You joke about guillotines, but you’d better goddamned believe they’re not laughing. They know. They remember. And they’re terrified that one day they’ll find their own heads on the block.

It’s too close now.

This is a very dangerous time. For us, but more so for them. And they know it.

That’s what they mean when they say Make America Great Again.

Great like when Robber Barons ruled America and the peasants paid for the privilege of eating out of their garbage cans. Great before the time of social safety nets and social programs, of unions and public education, before the common people claimed power for themselves, when profit was all and no one – no one – dared threaten their power. Like the Kings and the aristocracy who ruled over colonial America before the Revolution, there is nothing these modern elites fear more than the radical idea that power rests not with the privileged, not with those born to it, but with the ordinary citizen.

And because they are afraid, afraid of you – and they are indeed afraid of you – and because they will do anything to hold on to power, to their image of themselves as superior, they have become very, very dangerous.

Impeachment of one of their own directly threatens their power structure.

Whether it successfully removes the president from office or not, impeachment sets the very example they are most afraid of.

There's an old saying, apocryphally attributed to Thomas Jefferson and ironically used as a rallying cry by those who would point to the Second Amendment as a proof their right to burn down the government and yet who right now directly support these very elites. It goes like this:

When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.

Of course, Thomas Jefferson never said this. And likely never would. Because Jefferson of all the Founders understood the dynamics of wealth, privilege, power, and fear.

Because when government fears the people, and when people fear their government in turn, what you get is chaos, what you get is civilization falling into war, revolution, and violent, bloody murder as each seeks to destroy the other.

When the privileged feel their power threatened by those they see as their inferiors, that’s when you get tyranny.

When government fears its citizens, that’s when the boot comes down on your throat. Every. Time.

Worse, there will always be those on the bottom rungs of the ladder who see government falling into absolutism not as tyranny, but as opportunity.

And they will cheerfully throw in with the powerful, hoping for a few scraps from the table, hoping to save themselves at the expense of their fellows. Hoping for that moment, finally, when they can shoot down their despised neighbors in an orgy of blood and rage. They'll willingly sell their souls, hoping that they themselves will be given some measure of power and privilege over those they – there on the bottom rung of the ladder – see as inferior, if only by a fraction, to themselves.

This is a very dangerous time.

Impeachment isn't just a threat to Trump, but to all of those who align themselves with him, and who benefit from his hate and fear, and who would be nothing without their privilege and sense of superiority, the brawlers and the wealthy alike.

They are terrified that the dam has been breached, that more whistleblowers will come forward. They don’t trust you, but they for damned sure can’t trust each other, not when the only way to save themselves might be to sell out their fellows. There is no honor among thieves and there is no loyalty among those who see integrity as a roadblock to power and wealth.

And they will not go quietly.

They've said so.

They will change the laws to give themselves power.

They intend to spill blood, your blood, if necessary to keep that power.

They will ally themselves with America's enemies against you if necessary.

They will lie, cheat, steal, and murder. These are people who put children in cages and see nothing wrong with it and they'll do whatever they must to hold onto that power.

You look at the White House, you look at who Trump surrounds himself with, who he's given power to, who has access to that power, who benefits from Trump's increasing megalomania – from Exxon to Russia – and you'd better believe the danger is real.

But here’s the thing: we can face down that danger, return our nation to sanity without blood in the streets and bring that power to heel.

We can.

It’s possible.

It would have been a hell of a lot easier, safer, a few years ago, when there was more of a margin, but you didn't believe the danger was real then.

I hope you believe it now.

Now that we stand on the very precipice with the pit yawning beneath our feet, I hope you can see the danger now.

I hope it's finally real to you. Because if you don't show up this time, no matter what – no matter what – then you’re not going to get another chance.

Your government, the wealthy, the powerful, they aren’t just afraid of you, they’re terrified.

And they damned well should be.

But that makes them very, very dangerous – as are all cornered animals.

Now, right now, is the time to hold these sons of bitches to account and show them who and what America is supposed to be.

Yes, this is a dangerous moment in history.

But then it always is.



[Update]

A day after I wrote this, Trump posted this to Twitter:



This is the president of the United States right here suggesting that his political enemies be arrested for "treason."

This is the same definition -- the very same definition -- of "treason" used by dictators the world over: I.e. anyone who criticizes the state, and the state being me.

You look at that.

Look at it.

I don't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat, EVERY American should feel the hair standing up on the back of their necks right now. This cannot go on. Because arrests for "treason" WILL come next, followed by show trials. Followed by everything else. THIS is how it happens, right here.

Trump needs to be removed from office.


[end edit]



Impeachment is dangerous. And that danger – that very danger right there, the very nature of it -- is why it must be done. And it is in the crucible of crisis, facing the greatest of dangers, when true, authentic greatness is forged.

Now is the time.

If you want a better nation, be better citizens.

I would not be understood my dear Marquis to speak of consequences which may be produced, in the revolution of ages, by corruption of morals, profligacy of manners, and listlessness for the preservation of the natural and unalienable rights of mankind; nor of the successful usurpations that may be established at such an unpropitious juncture, upon the ruins of liberty, however providently guarded and secured, as these are contingencies against which no human prudence can effectually provide. It will at least be a recommendation to the proposed Constitution that it is provided with more checks and barriers against the introduction of Tyranny, and those of a nature less liable to be surmounted, than any Government hitherto instituted among mortals, hath possessed. We are not to expect perfection in this world; but mankind, in modern times, have apparently made some progress in the science of government. Should that which is now offered to the People of America, be found on experiment less perfect than it can be made, a Constitutional door is left open for its amelioration.

-- George Washington, Letter to Lafayette, February 7, 1788

Saturday, September 21, 2019

No Fate But What We Tweet


John Connor: We're not gonna make it, are we? People, I mean.
The Terminator: It's in your nature to destroy yourselves.
John Connor: Yeah. Major drag, huh?
  -- Terminator: Judgement Day, TriStar Pictures, 1991


I took a few days off.

Watching the world go to hell is damned depressing sometimes.

I mean, you can see it. You can actually see it happening.

Bit by bit, inch by inch: the long slow slide into authoritarianism.

Picking up speed as we rush faster and faster towards fascism and oppression and war.

Disaster and ruin waiting at the bottom like shit-smeared punji sticks waiting to impale us.

Every morning you get up and you can see it rushing towards us and you think, goddammit, just stop.

Just … stop.

Change course.

Right? I mean, you can see it. And if you can see it, like an iceberg looming massive and deadly on the horizon, then you could at least try to steer around it.

But instead, every day, flank speed! Full steam! Straight ahead! Aim for that son of bitch!

I am daily reminded of Governor Nix  from the movie Tomorrowland:

The probability of wide-spread annihilation kept going up. The only way to stop it was to show it. To scare people straight. Because, what reasonable human being wouldn't be galvanized by the potential destruction of everything they've ever known or loved? To save civilization, I would show its collapse. But, how do you think this vision was received? How do you think people responded to the prospect of imminent doom? They gobbled it up like a chocolate ├ęclair! They didn't fear their demise, they re-packaged it so it could be enjoyed as video-games! As TV shows! Books! Movies! The entire world wholeheartedly embraced the apocalypse and sprinted towards it with gleeful abandon. Meanwhile, your Earth was crumbling all around you. You've got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation. Explain that one! Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you. Won't. Take. The. Hint! In every moment there is the possibility of a better future, but you people won't believe it. And because you won't believe it you won't do what is necessary to make it a reality. So, you dwell on this terrible future. You resign yourselves to it for one reason: because that future does not ask anything of you today.

You can literally see it happening.

Those who could change this, stop it, won’t.

Those who can see the danger, they shout warning! But it’s futile. Because those alarms fall on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world gleefully shovels more fuel on to the fire, deliberately making things worse, deliberately stoking fear, inflaming hate, pushing for conflict and destruction. Why? Because it’s profitable. Or because they think it’s funny and that they will never have to suffer the consequences. Or just because they’re obsessed with some silly, irrelevant thing and can’t break out of that loop long enough to see it all going to hell.

Every day, you can see the critical go/no-go points, the places where we could avoid  this fate, where we could divert onto another, better path -- but every time we choose the worst possible course. Every time.

As I said, it’s damned depressing sometimes.

And so I periodically look for reminders that not everything is terrible.

I try remind my audience of that. But such is the state of the world that even pictures of beauty draw hate and insanity and endless conspiracy nowadays.

Of course, this isn’t new.

Humans are the their own worst enemies. Sometimes I wonder how the species has survived this long.

Sometimes, for your own mental health, you need a break.

So I took one.

Turned off the internet. Locked the office. Didn’t bother to give notice. Walked away whistling.

I did. I turned it all off and went outside. Went to do some things that I enjoy for a change, while I still can.

Four days later, I looked back in.

I should have stayed on vacation.

Because nothing has changed.

Nothing.

Now, of course, I didn’t actually expect it to. But still, here we are again: Oh look, The president of the United States committed another crime, another abuse of power, another perversion of the Office.

This isn’t in doubt. Here he is, this very morning, right now, admitting it for all to see:

Meanwhile Congress … tweets.

We are literally looking at yet another impeachable offense.

The President of the United States of America is literally asking foreign nations to attack his political rivals. He isn’t just hoping a foreign power interferes in our elections, he is again openly soliciting it just as he did in the last election.

He’s not trying to hide it, he’s tweeting about it in the open.

And this is what? How many similar or worse offenses has he committed while in office?

We careen towards disaster, screaming like lunatics, and those with the power to change our course do … nothing.

Continue to do nothing.

Tweet. That’s it.

And the truly astounding part to me is this belief among a significant fraction of the population that congress does nothing because despite all evidence to the contrary there’s some secret plan, some “long game” that our elected representatives must be playing.

Every day I am confronted by this bizarre idea that if we can just hold out another year, why, the very same people who did nothing the last time will somehow, in some way, do something the next time. Defeat Trump at the ballot box, I guess, and in such staggering numbers that this time the Electoral Collage won’t just keep us right on the same course to disaster anyway.

The very same people who daily shout at me about how their vote doesn’t count, about gerrymandering and disenfranchisement, about lousy voter turn out, about rigged election machines, about Russian interference in our elections, about how democracy has failed, those very same people are now telling me, well, you know, we should wait for the elections because, yeah, um, there’s a secret plan, bro, sure. A unicorn will appear at the last second and save us! I mean, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that we worked to elect a House that would do something, that would confront Trump, that would put Trump in check, that would act on the Mueller Report, that would investigate this president and hold him to account in the name of the people, only to say, well, you know, ha ha, let’s not be hasty. Let’s wait. Another year. It’ll be fine. You’ll see.

And that’s the thing, you know.

In the movie Tomorrowland, that paragraph I quoted up above, Nix had the power to change things but he’d grown bitter and disillusioned with the human race and had finally decided to leave them to their fate – because over and over he watched the world brought to the edge of disaster by those who daily could have chosen a different path and just never did.

They just never did.

And that’s the thing. That’s it, right there.

That bitterness.

That disillusionment.

It made Nix the bad guy in a movie about hope, but he wasn’t necessarily wrong to give up – just human.

Ask yourself this: what happens when those who fought so damned hard last time, who showed up and did the grunt work of democracy because they were promised if they did, then those they put in power would then take action, would change our fate, and yet, here we are?

Every day that goes by without checks and balances, every day that goes past without action from those who have the power to stop this, Trump grows bolder.

The racists, the misogynists, the religious fanatics and the Klan and the Confederates and those haters daily encouraged and applauded by Trump grow ever bolder.

The authoritarians, the fascists, those who lust after power and who who would put jackboots on the throat of liberty, our liberty, here and abroad, enabled and befriended by Trump, grow ever bolder.

Those who would despoil the planet, who would pollute the water we drink and the very air we breathe, who would fill the warming oceans with plastic and garbage while the rainforests burn, who would rape and pillage our children’s future, those rapacious sons of bitches grow ever bolder.

The fools and the fops and the ignorant fringe who rise to power on Trump’s coattails, they grow ever bolder.

The wealthy, the greedy and the selfish, who profit from Trump grow ever bolder.

Every day we rush faster and faster towards disaster, you can see it coming.

And the House … tweets.

And so, tell me, why should anybody show up this time?

Why should those who put their faith in me when I told them they could make a difference show up?

Why should those who believed in the Republic, in democracy, the power of the people, show up again?

Why should those who trusted the promises of the politicians who said they would do something, and have not, show up?

Why? Why should those people show up yet again?

In every moment there exists the possibility of a better future, but we won’t take the actions necessary to make that better future a reality.

It’s not that we can’t. We just won’t. And we resign ourselves to the worst present, the worst possible future.

And we do it because that future does not ask anything of us today.

And that – that right there – that cowardice, that’s the whole goddamned point.

You want a better future?

Do you?

Well, then that better future asks everything of us.

That better future demands blood and sweat and risk.

That better future demands that we put the things that matter most to us on the line.

That  better future asks that we show up yet again, and again, and again, and as many times as is necessary.

I don’t give a goddamn about some shitty politician’s reelection prospects.

I don’t give a goddamn about some political party.

I care about the nation.

I care about the future.

I care about the world we’re leaving to our children. My children. Your children.

I don’t owe any politician anything. I don’t owe any political party or any political ideology anything.  And neither do you, Citizen.

And if that better future means the politicians who demanded our trust, our support, our future are unable or unwilling to choose that better path, unwilling to risk their own safety or their careers or their political party, to save that future, then to hell with them.

To hell with them.

It’s long past time to take back our fate from those who are determined to drive us to ruin for their profit and from those who are too fucking cowardly to stop them.

It’s long past time to hold our leaders to account. Throw them out, drag them from office if need be and run them them out of town on a rail.

THAT’S why you should show up.

That right there.

Because if you don’t, then you are complicit.

If you want a better nation, a better future, a better fate, then you have to start being better citizens.


The whole thing goes: The future's not set. There's no fate but what we make for ourselves.
-- John Connor, Terminator: Judgement Day, 1991

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Gravedigger

Dear Mr. President, I hereby resign, effective immediately, as assistant to the president for national security affairs. Thank you for having afforded me this opportunity to serve our country.
  
-- Sincerely, John R. Bolton

Bolton is out.

Another National Security Advisor down.

Bolton claims he quit. Trump claims he was fired. In the end, I don’t suppose it matters much.

Reportedly, Bolton was fired, or quit, after a furious argument with Trump over Iran.

Or maybe it was North Korea.

Or Afghanistan.

According to news reports – which Trump will no doubt decry as “fake news” any minute now – Bolton disagreed with Trump and Trump’s inner circle on nearly every aspect of the President’s … well, I suppose we have to call it “foreign policy,” though that implies some sort of coherent strategy beyond random tweets and the evidence really doesn’t support that.

And you know, it’s a damned bizarre world we’re living in when the slavering jingoist with a dead wharf rat glued to his upper lip is the sanest one in the room. 

Bolton has been vocally opposed to Trump’s repeated attempts to cozy up to Kim Jong Un, something the President seems determined to do for no discernable reason other than he just likes dictators. Likewise, Bolton has also been publicly critical of Trump’s repeated dismissal of Russian aggression, both against its neighbor and against the United States. Again, there’s no logical reason for Trump’s position. The same is true of nearly every other National Security issue from Syria to Afghanistan – especially Afghanistan. And we’ll come back to that in a minute. So, ultimately, it’s not really surprising that the same guy who is so utterly insecure he would order the Secretary of Commerce to threaten National Weather Service personnel over a mistake he made would fire the only guy in his inner circle who disagreed with him on a regular basis.

Now, before I go any further, understand something here: I’ll shed no tears for John Bolton.

Bolton’s entire worldview is based on the idea that might makes right, that force is the ultimate moral authority, that war is how the future should be shaped.

It’s difficult to understand just how terrible John Bolton is and just how much his influence on our government has shaped all the worst aspects of our nation today.

Bolton began as an intern in Spiro Agnew’s office. He was a vocal supporter of the Vietnam War – but, like many conservatives, actively avoided going to war himself, saying, "I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the war in Vietnam already lost." He later explained his comments by suggesting that he would have gone to Vietnam if only liberals hadn’t “made certain we would not prevail and I had no great interest in going there to have Teddy Kennedy give it back to the people I might die to take it away from. ” Eventually Bolton wormed his way into the Reagan Administration and was involved in everything from the “War on Drugs” to Iran-Contra. And like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and all the other foul distillate from those years, Bolton returned when George W. Bush took office and he was right back to the same old tricks.

Then came 9-11.

That was the moment he’d been waiting for and Bolton milked the horror for all it was worth. He was there at every turn, on every channel, in every meeting, demanding war.

And he got it.

He finally got his war – with no danger of being drafted to actually go fight in this one.

And even after it turned out Bolton was wrong about everything from Yellowcake uranium to Saddam’s involvement in 9-11, he stood steadfast in his support of that war and said the “only mistake that the United States did with regard to Iraq” was to not leave earlier. Bolton said the US should have pulled out after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and told the Iraqis "Here's a copy of the Federalist Papers. Good luck.”

Bolton is the very worst of the Neocon hawks, a xenophobic warmongering jingoist who has been an influence on American policy in all the wrong ways for far, far too long. Good riddance and the only part of his departure from government service that saddens me is that it didn’t end with him being hauled away by grim faced men in dark suits and stuffed into a cold dirty cage on the Southern border. May his moustache be ever infested with syphilitic fleas and the ghosts of all the dead killed in all the wars he started howl forever in his ears. May we never hear his name again. I hope he dies alone after a long period of suffering, destitute, and in some hilariously embarrassing fashion.

Fuck John Bolton. 

But, as much as I despise Bolton – and despite the above paragraphs you really have no idea how much as an Iraq Veteran I despise John Bolton – I was in some ways glad he was there, a contrary gadfly among the simpering toadies and ass-licking sycophants of Trump’s administration. I’m opposed to nearly everything Bolton stands for, but if he daily threw sand into the gears of Trump’s ambitions then perhaps he served a useful purpose.

The Ironic part is that Trump fired Bolton not so much for being contrary, but for being right – well, on a few things anyway.

Bolton at least operated from cold calculation. His advice to Trump not to meet with terrorists at Camp David wasn’t so much because John Bolton doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, because he does, but because he’s a shrewd political operator and he knew both that the Taliban would betray any promises made and what it would look like to the American people.

Trump operates from his gut. And Trump’s instincts – driven by his ego and his all consuming insecurity and his overwhelming need to be seen as important – are almost always wrong.

But it’s ironic that the final break should come, at least in part, over Afghanistan.

Maybe irony isn’t a strong enough word here.

Trump claims he’s always been opposed to the US invasion of Afghanistan. Twitter doesn’t go back that far, but maybe it’s even true. Maybe Trump was always opposed to war. His tweets and comments beginning in 2009 certainly seem to suggest so, he complained all through the Obama Administration that the US should just get out of Afghanistan – though his concern seems to always have been less about the staggering human cost and more about the money:

Afghanistan is a total disaster. We don't know what we are doing. They are, in addition to everything else, robbing us blind.
--
Donald J. Trump, March 12, 2012

Trump campaigned on pulling the US out of Afghanistan – famously claiming “I know more about ISIS than the generals do.”

And so it’s ironic indeed that he should have nominated John Bolton, one of the principal architects of that very war, as his National Security Advisor.

And so here we are, three years later. There’s the part where Trump pulled the US out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the so-called Iran Agreement, largely on the advice of his National Security Advisor because Bolton has openly advocated for war with Iran for more than 30 years now, but now it’s Trump who wants to secretly meet with Iran’s leaders and hash out some sort of peace deal.  Meanwhile it’s Bolton, the guy who was mad at Ted Kennedy for not staying the course in Vietnam but who then wanted to just walk away from Iraq, screw it, good luck, who thinks we need to stay in Afghanistan. And it’s Trump who thinks we should just pull out, walk away, screw it, good luck, because we shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

You could get whiplash.

But that’s just it, isn’t it?

That irony, right there.


I’m reminded of that scene in the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, where the characters are trapped in an ancient ruined underground city, destroyed by war and filled with endless enemies, and among the skeletons of the previous owners, Gandalf finds a journal and begins to read the final entry: They have taken the bridge and the second hall. We have barred the gates but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes, drums, drums in the deep! We cannot get out. A shadow lurks in the dark. We can not get out. They are coming.


That’s Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires.

Trump wants to cut and run.

Bolton wants to stay and kill some more.

Both are rotten options and with inevitable consequences.

If we run, more Americans will die. There will be more death, more destruction, more terrorism. It’s inevitable. Leaving the country ruined and in the hands of warlords, religious fanatics, and terrorists will, without doubt, one day come back to kill us.

Because it always does. Always. Every time.

If we stay, it’s more of the same. It’s just a continuation of the last 19 years. More war, more money, more dead, more terror. ‘Round and round without end.

We can’t get out.

We can’t safely retreat.

We can’t win. No matter what we do, we lose. Sooner or later, we’ll lose.

We can’t win in Afghanistan for one very good reason.

Because we never defined what winning is.

And again, ironically, for two guys who so vehemently disagree, the single trait that defines both Trump and Bolton is that very lack of definition.

Bolton has been involved in America’s wars since Vietnam – but he has never once, not one time, ever defined what “winning” any of those wars would look like.

Trump never defines anything. He’s the king of vague, undefined statements. Winning! We’re winning again! Make America great! And never, not once, not one time, has he ever defined what he means by “winning.”

Now, to be fair – and you have no idea how little interest I have in being fair to either of these two – it’s not just this administration.

This has been America’s foreign policy since 1945.

That’s what you think of when somebody says “win the war,” isn’t it? 1945. Sure. Simple. Bomb the enemy into submission. March into his capital. Make him sign the instruments of surrender. And, hey, war’s over! Now we’re all friends! Freedom and democracy magically spring from the ashes and we get a couple of new overseas bases granted in perpetuity. Johnny comes marching home again a hero and we have a big parade and that’s it. Over. Done.

Victory.

Except that hasn’t happened since 1945. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and all the little wars in between from Beirut to Somalia, we have no idea what the end state looks like. None. It sure as hell doesn’t look like 1945.

What is victory in Afghanistan?

No. Don’t look away. Don’t roll your eyes. Answer the question, what is victory in Afghanistan? What does winning look like?

Trump says he could achieve victory in a week – but then again he knows more than the generals.

“If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I would win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill ten million people. Does that make sense to you?”

I could win that war in a week. That’s what Trump said.

By killing ten million people.

Pretty obvious what he’s talking about. Nukes. Burn the country down to the bedrock under a rain of radioactive fire.

Is that victory?

Is that winning?

Literally vaporizing an entire nation off the planet. Wage nuclear war against a third world country. Commit genocide on a scale to dwarf Hitler’s best efforts?

Do you really think the war would end there?

Do you?

Do you think the survivors of that nuclear bombardment would then just roll over? March down to the harbor and sign an unconditional surrender on the deck of a US warship. Do you really?

No?

No, I suppose not even John Bolton would call that winning.

So what is?

What is winning in Afghanistan? Or Iraq? Or Vietnam? Or…well, let’s just stick to one problem at a time for now.

What is winning in Afghanistan?

What’s the end state?

You notice that in nearly twenty years of war, no one, not Bush, not Obama, and certainly not Trump, has told you what it is that we are fighting for. What the end state is. What victory is.

Is it a functioning government? A stable civilization? Is that the end state we want?

Is it?

What kind of government? Do we even care so long as the resulting nation is stable and no threat to the rest of the world? Then find the meanest, most ruthless son of a bitch and put him in charge. Give him guns and tanks and let him conquer the country, root out the terrorists, get the population in line. What skin is it off our ass if the Afghanis are crushed under oppression so long as they’re no threat to us? I mean, right?

What’s that?

We can’t do that?

But why not?

That’s Russia’s basic strategy in Syria, you say?

Huh.

Well, okay, sure. And far be it from me to point out that was the same basic policy we used with Marcos and The Shah and Batista and Saddam and Noriega and …

Fine. I’ll stop. Okay. That’s bad. Don’t do that. Got it.

So, then what?

If not a ruthless dictatorship, what kind of government? Democracy? A republic? Sounds good.

How?

How do you build that from the ruins of Afghanistan? Representative republics are built on a foundation of existing civilization, they don’t sprout fully formed from nothing. In Germany and Japan, there had been functioning civilizations before the war, before those nations were bombed to rubble. The people there had experience with government, with civilization, they were essentially unified as a people. Germans. Japanese. But Afghanistan? There has been war and ruin in Afghanistan for so long that we are now generations removed from a functioning nation and no one there has any experience in building a republic from the ground up nor does the population have any such desire, and they are far, far from unified as a people.

And when I say this to Americans, they all respond with the same thing: Well, duh, they’ve been fighting there for 1200 years!

And again, it’s ironic.

Yesterday in America was the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. 3000 people died. A terrible day.

And yesterday the message from our leaders was this: never forget.

Never forget.

Never. Forget.

Never.

Never forget the horror.

Never forget the fear.

Never forget the pain.

Never forget that we were attacked.

Never forget that we were wronged.

Never forget those who died.

Never forget who the enemy is.

Never forget.

Never forget. As I said, ironic, because that’s Afghanistan. That’s the people of Afghanistan. Proud. Fierce. Vengeful. They never forget. They never forget who did them wrong, who their enemies are, the slights and insults of the past, the dead, the wars, the invaders.

In our nation we shout NEVER FORGET! 

In Afghanistan, you see the devastation all around you of a people who never forget.

Never forget, we shout here in America. Never forget. And yet we expect others, those we attacked to forget. To forgive. To let it go and come together and build civilization from the ruins – not for their sake, but to make America safer.

Maybe not so much ironic as hypocritical, now that I think about it.

And to do that, to build that nation, that democracy, that republic, the one that puts aside its terrible past, you’ll need at least two generations. You’ll need stability, long term education, infrastructure, a functioning method of discourse, and a thousand other things – none of which are the skillset of militaries. If you want to build that nation, from scratch, it’s going to take decades, and it’s going to cost trillions, and it’s going to take a lot more than just dropping bombs on people.

And we don’t have the stomach for that.

We can’t even commit that sort of effort to our own nation, let alone Afghanistan.

We can’t forget, not for a generation or two at least, and neither can they and that’s how long it would take. 

We don’t have the fortitude for nation building, we can’t just walk away.  What’s left? Nuke ‘em? Meet with the terrorists at Camp David and hope for the best?

Here we are.  Donald Trump has now arrived at exactly the same place Barack Obama and George W. Bush did before him: Trapped.

Trapped by John Bolton and those who pushed America into this war for their own selfish ideology.

I don’t know what the answer is at this point, but I know for goddamned certain Donald Trump isn’t equipped to find it.


No one who surrounds himself with only those who tell him what he wants to hear will ever be so equipped.


We can’t get out.

We can’t get out.

History calls Afghanistan the graveyard of empires.

And John Bolton is the man who buried us.

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains
and the women come out to cut up what remains
jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
and go to your Gawd like a soldier
 
-- Rudyard Kipling

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Scabs


"I mean, 40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually before the World Trade Center the tallest, and then when they built the World Trade Center it became known as the second-tallest, and now it's the tallest. "
-- Donald J. Trump


Fuck 9-11.

I hate this day.

I hate this anniversary, all the things it represents, the terror, the wars, the endless dead, the mindless furious patriotism, and most especially I hate what it did to the country I once pledged my life to serve.

You need an example?

A few years ago, when I’d finally had enough of this bloody memory, I made a Facebook post about 9-11.

It went viral.

And many people were offended. Goddamn, were they offended.

Those who beat their fleshy chests and wave the flag in righteous unending fury and bleat most bitterly about “Freedom” and “Liberty” and “Patriotism” were the most offended. Because aren’t they always?

Aren’t they?

They were so offended, they attempted to hack my Facebook account.

When that didn’t work, they complained to Facebook in righteous anger, furiously waving their little flags, shouting their rage and how aggrieved they were.

Because that’s what you do when you love “Freedom” and “Liberty” and “Patriotism” -- not the real freedom and liberty and patriotism but the jack-booted goose-stepping version where everybody is lined up and made to salute the flag with a gun to the back of their necks.  The kind of “Freedom” that’s administered by serious men of pure Aryan descent with death’s heads and lightning bolts glittering on their collars. And eventually these righteous patriots succeeded in convincing Facebook’s idiot mechanical brain to remove my post for “violation of community standards” – even though nothing I wrote violates Facebook’s community standards in any way.

They got the post removed and got me suspended for a few days until Facebook’s support staff figured out what was going on and restored both my original post and my account.

Now, I was not particularly vexed by this.

I’m not.

I mean, it’s not often that you get confirmation of your position in such a succinct manner and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t amuse me.

By getting my post pulled down they confirmed everything I said.

They always do, these patriots, predictable as the next rank of goose-stepping Nazis parading down the road.

What was it I said that was deserving of censorship and death threats?

This:

You're expecting some kind of obligatory 9-11 post, aren't you?

Here it is, but you're not gonna like it.

15 years ago today 19 shitheads attacked America.

They killed 3000 of us.

And then ... America got its revenge for 9-11.

Yes we did. Many times over. We killed them. We killed them all. We killed their families. We killed their wives and their kids and all their neighbors. We killed whole nations that weren't even involved just to make goddamned sure. We bombed their cities into rubble. We burned down their countries.

They killed 3000 of us, we killed 300,000 of them or more.

8000 of us came home in body bags, but we got our revenge. Yes we did.

We're still here. They aren't.

We win. USA! USA! USA!

Right?

You goddamned right. We. Win.

Except...

Every year on this day we bathe in the blood of that day yet again. We watch the towers fall over and over. It's been 15 goddamned years, but we just can't get enough. We've just got to watch it again and again.

It's funny how we never show those videos of the bombs falling on Baghdad today. Or the dead in the streets of Afghanistan. We got our revenge, but we never talk about that today. No, we just sit and watch the towers fall yet again.

Somewhere out there on the bottom of the sea are the rotting remains of the evil son of bitch who masterminded the attack. It took a decade, but we hunted him down and put a bullet in his brain. Sure. We got him. Right? That's what we wanted. that's what our leaders promised us, 15 years ago today.

And today those howling the loudest for revenge shrug and say, well, yeah, that. That doesn't matter, because, um, yeah, the guy in the White House, um, see, well, he's not an American, he's the enemy see? He's not doing enough. So, whatever. What about that over there? And that? And...

Yeah.

15 years ago our leaders, left and right, stood on the steps of the Capitol and gave us their solemn promise to work together, to stand as one, for all Americans.

How'd that promise work out?

How much are their words worth? Today, 15 years later?

It's 15 years later and we're STILL afraid. We're still terrorized. Still wallowing in conspiracy theories and peering suspiciously out of our bunkers at our neighbors. Sure we won. Sure we did. We became a nation that tortures our enemies -- and our own citizens for that matter. We're a nation of warrantless wiretaps and rendition and we've gotten used to being strip searched in our own airports. And how is the world a better place for it all?

And now we're talking about more war, more blood.

But, yeah, we won. Sure. You bet.

Frankly, I have had enough of 9-11. Fuck 9-11. I'm not going to watch the shows. I'm not going to any of the memorials. I'm not going to the 9-11 sales at Wal-Mart. I don't want to hear about 9-11. I for damned sure am not interested in watching politicians of either party try to out 9-11 each other. I'm tired of this national 9-11 PTSD. I did my bit for revenge, I went to war, I'll remember the dead in my own time in my own way.

I'm not going to shed a damned tear today.

We got our revenge. Many times over, for whatever good it did us.

I'm going to go to a picnic and enjoy my day. Enjoy this victory we've won.

I suggest you do the same.

Horrible, yes?

Unamerican, no doubt. How unpatriotic that I should suggest we stop wallowing in this misery, that we stop allowing ourselves to be terrorized by men long dead.

Yes indeed, how terrible.

That was three years ago I wrote that. Every year on this date, I say again, Fuck 9-11. I’m tired of wallowing in the blood of that day and what came after. We’ve won. Haven’t we? Look around, surely we won. Let us live our lives, enjoy our bitter victory.

And every year, the supposed patriots who love freedom and liberty show up and get my various social media accounts suspended.

Because for them, it will never be enough.

There will never be enough misery.

There can never been enough death.

There can never been enough blood.

There can never be enough hate.

We simply cannot kill enough people to sate our need for revenge.

Entire countries were laid waste in revenge for 9-11. We did that. I know, I was there, I was one of those who went to war for a lie and helped to kill hundreds of thousands in revenge for something they never did.

It’s been almost 20 years now, and in those decades since 911 we Americans have become 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. Fuck them. 

We became a nation that tortures people and disappears people and detains people, including our own 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 decades 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.

We have become a nation where parents buy bulletproof backpacks for their children as part of their school supplies.

We have become a nation that turns away the desperate and the needy, a nation that puts children in cages and lets women sit in their own menstrual blood because we don’t even have the minimum empathy to provide sanitary napkins or even flu shots to sick children.

We have become a nation that would build our own prison walls and surround ourselves in barbed wire and machine guns and call it freedom. 

Nearly two decades on and we have a become a nation so filled with hate, so filled with rage, so fearful and so terrorized, that we are now deporting the very veterans who fought for America in the terrible days after 9-11.

That’s who we are.


And I have no desire to celebrate that at all.


The day after 9-11, 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 decades 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 decades 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.

9-11 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 decades 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.

Of course we should.

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 boggle 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 decades 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 scarred over.

Today, the president will once again lie about his feats of heroism in the days after the attack. He’ll once again use this anniversary to attack his political enemies and to divide America still further. Because that is what he does.

Today, pundits and politicians will use this anniversary to drive us further apart, to reopen the wounds, for their own selfish agendas for clicks and likes and social media accolades, 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 decades 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.


Fuck 9-11.

Fuck this is anniversary.

I’m going to log off and enjoy the day with those I love.

I suggest you do the same.


Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.”
-- Barack Obama

Monday, September 2, 2019

Labor Day 2019

If you appreciate 40-hour work weeks, safe working conditions, higher wages, weekends, and a day off today—thank the labor movement. #LaborDay
-- Hillary Clinton, Labor Day, 2019

Happy Labor Day.

That was Donald Trump a year ago. That was his Labor Day message.

Our Country is doing better than ever before with unemployment setting record lows.

The U.S. has tremendous upside potential as we go about fixing some of the worst Trade Deals ever made by any country in the world.

Big progress being made.

Big progress.

That’s what the President of the United States said a year ago today: “Happy Labor Day! Our country is doing better than ever before with unemployment setting record lows. The U.S. has tremendous upside potential as we go about fixing some of the worst Trade Deals ever made by any country in the world. Big progress being made!”

Big progress.

Big. Progress.

Back then, Trump thought Labor Day was really Business Day.

Or maybe he thought it was CEO Day, or Stockholder Day. Trade Deal Day. Gross Domestic Product Day. Wall Street Day.

Back then, Donald Trump didn’t really seem to understand that Labor Day was about … well, Labor.

Not profits. Not trade deals. Not the stock market. But Labor.

It’s right there in the name: Labor Day.

And it’s Labor Day for a reason.  It’s about labor, it’s about the American worker, it’s about history, because a century ago, those who labored in this country lived radically different, and far worse, lives.

In 1919, the United States was in the middle of the Second Industrial Revolution.

It was a time of war, and wonder, and ever advancing technology.

It began with steel, the Bessemer process to be specific, a cheap and easy way to mass produce strong and reasonably lightweight metals.  Strong lightweight steel was the skeleton of the modern age, the core of everything from the new cars to steamships and oil rigs to utensils and lunchboxes, to the machines that manufactured the future.  A few years before, in 1911, a tall skinny fellow by the name of Eugene Ely landed a Curtiss #2 Pusher on the deck of USS Pennsylvania and took off again – and thus was born naval aviation, a profound moment that would change the very way wars were fought and thus change almost everything else too and the effects of which are still being felt to this very day.  Steel built those ships, the industrial revolution built those airplanes, labor built that mighty military.

If you were moderately wealthy, you could buy a Cadillac with an electric starter.

If you weren’t, you could still maybe afford a Model T. Despite the fact that there were still plenty of horses out there on the roads, the car had become so ubiquitous and affordable that Michigan created the first modern roads when the state started painting white lines down the middle of the more heavily traveled avenues.

Though many factories were still powered by steam, electricity was no longer a novelty.  The first modern public elevator began operation in London, England, and soon became common everywhere – leading directly to the modern city skyline.  America was booming. Her factories were churning out new products at a record pace. The western frontier had all but disappeared – oh, there were still a few bandits and cattle rustlers out there, but the wild woolly west was long gone.  The gold rushes, the boom towns and gun fights were long over.  Hell, by 1919 Wyatt Earp was living in Hollywood and working as a consultant for the new movie industry.

It was certainly a marvelous time.

If you could afford it.

If you lived through it.

See, those churning factories were horrible places.

In 1919, most were still powered by a massive central steam engine which drove an enormous flywheel, which in turn powered shafts and belts and pulleys, which finally powered the machines.  And though, as noted above, electricity was becoming increasingly common, most of those factories were dark and poorly lit – typically illumination was sunlight through skylights and banks of single pane glazed windows.  Often boiling hellholes in the summer and freezing dungeons in the winter – both air conditioning and central heating were still decades away and all those single pane windows didn’t do much to keep out either the cold or the heat. Those factories were filled with smoke and poisonous fumes from the various manufacturing processes, lead vapor, heavy metals, acids, chlorine, bleaches, all were common.  Normal working hours were from dawn to dusk, typically anywhere from twelve to fourteen hours a day, sixty and seventy hours per week for wages that would barely pay the rent and put food on a factory worker’s table.

Child labor was common, especially in the textile industry, though in some states there were supposed to be laws regulating it.  The kids toiled right alongside their parents.  The children typically worked the same hours as adults, but for a quarter, or less, of the pay.  Pictures of the time show children working barefoot among the machines, ragged sleeves flapping near the flying belts and spinning pulleys.  Whole families hired out to the factories, the men doing the heavy labor, the women and children doing the more delicate tasks.

Towns sprang up around the mills, often controlled by the factory owners. Company towns, where workers very often became little more than indentured servants.  Though life in a company town was often better than the alternative on the streets of places like Hell’s Kitchen or out in the hellishly hot cotton and peanut fields of the South. Company towns gave workers a higher standard of living than they would otherwise be able to afford. But the running joke was that while your soul might belong to God, your ass belonged to the company.  Mill towns and mining towns and factory towns and logging towns were common across America, places where the company owned everything from your house to your job to the church you prayed in to the store you bought your food from. And prices were whatever made the company the most profit and in many places there were laws that prevented you from renting or buying outside the company town.  The company might pay you a decent wage for the time, but they got a lot of it back too.  Get crosswise of the company and you lost it all.  Get injured on the job and could no longer work, and you lost it all. Get sick, and you could lose it all.  Get killed, and your family was out on the street.  There was no workman’s comp. No insurance. No retirement but what you managed to save – and since you probably owed a significant debt to the company store, your savings were unlikely to go very far.

Of course, you could always take a pass on factory work and return to the land.

In 1919, millions of Americans were farmers.  Farming was hard backbreaking work (it still is, just in a different way) – so hard that seventy hours a week in a smoke filled factory with a high probability of getting maimed or killed looked pretty good in comparison.  Most of those farmers, especially in the South, didn’t own their fields. They were sharecroppers, living in conditions little better than slavery or the serfdom of the Dark Ages.  Of the small farmers who did own their own land or rather owed the bank for their own land, more than half lived in abject poverty.  In the coming decade, the decade of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, most would lose everything.

Most of America was powered by coal in those days and if there was anything that would make life in a factory town or in the sweltering fields look good, it was working in a West Virginia coal mining town.  It was a race to see what would kill you first, explosion, cave-in, or the black lung.  And just like in the fields and factories, children worked alongside their parents – if they had parents, orphanages were also common. And orphan labor was even cheaper than the average child laborer, both in life and in pay. Renting out orphan labor was a good gig, if you could get it.

In September of 1919, Americans were coming home from Europe, WWI was finally over and the streets were filled with maimed veterans and why does that seem so familiar a century later?

You could always become a merchant seaman, though life at sea was damned rough.

You could move west and become a logger, though you’d probably live longer in the mines of West Virginia or on the ocean.

You could still be a cowboy, or a cop, or carpenter, none which paid worth a good Goddamn, or offered any benefits, or much in the way of a future.

Since people got sick and injured a lot, and most couldn’t afford even rudimentary medical care, many turned to patent medicines.  The pharmaceutical industry was only loosely regulated, but by 1919 there were some few laws in a handful of states regulating the more outrageous claims for the various elixirs. The big medicine shows were gone, but there were still plenty of drug store shelves stocked with hundreds of varieties of patent medicines. Some were mostly benign, like Coca-Cola. And some were downright toxic, like Radithor, made from water and radioactive radium.  As late as 1917, The Rattlesnake King, Clark Stanley, was still making Stanley’s Snake Oil, a worthless mixture of mineral oil, turpentine, and red pepper, and fleecing sick people out of their money and making them yet sicker (hell, as late as the 1960’s TV’s commercials touted the benefits of smoking for sore throats. And, as late as 1970 there were still X-ray foot measuring devices that would give you cancer, in use in a handful of shoe stores across America).

In 1919, only a few states mandated that your kids attend school, and then only through elementary.

In the South segregation and Jim Crow Laws were in full force and civil rights were decades away. Lynching was as common as sharecropping.

Women could actually vote in six states.

In 1919, maybe three out of ten Americans could ever expect to own a home, most would pay a landlord their whole lives. Middleclass suburbia was a generation and another War World away. Few had any rights in those relationships either, you paid the owner and you lived with what you got or you got thrown out.

In 1919, a lot of Americans were hungry. More than fifty percent of seniors lived in poverty, but then the average lifespan was only about fifty-five, maybe sixty if you hadn’t been breathing coal dust or lead vapor all your life.  Few of those seniors had pensions, most lived on the charity of their families – if they were lucky enough to have families.  Sanatoriums were a common place for the aged and infirm to spend their brief final years, stacked like cordwood, forgotten, warehoused.

In 1919, if you had ten kids, you might expect six of them to survive to adulthood.  If you were lucky. Polio, tuberculosis, measles, mumps, pneumonia, whooping cough, hard labor in the mines and factories and fields, lack of social safety nets, lack of proper nutrition, lead paint, food poisoning, poverty, orphaned by parents killed by the same, would probably claim at least four of those kids. Likely more.

Ironically, people from that generation always wax nostalgic for The Good Old Days.

And then they immediately proceed to tell you why life was so much harder and more miserable back then.

The simple truth of the matter is nowadays we Americans live a pretty damned good life.  And we live that good life because since 1919 we’ve put systems and laws and regulations in place to improve life for all of us.  Programs like Social Security and Medicare have a direct and measurable effect on how long we live, and how well. Regulations governing working conditions and workplace safety have a direct and measurable effect on the probability that we’ll survive to retirement.  Laws that prevent the rich from owning a whole town, or abusing workers, or turning them into indentured servants, or hiring children at pauper’s wages to maintain the machines in their bare feet, have directly benefitted all but the most greedy few.

And those systems were put in place because Labor fought for them, sometimes, often, at the cost of their very lives.

It is a measure of just how far we’ve come, and just how big an impact that those laws, regulations, and social safety programs have had, that those who directly benefit the most can complain with full bellies just how terrible they have it.

It is a measure of how far we’ve come, and the danger of complacency, that those who don’t remember that history, who again work for less than a living wage, without benefit, without safety nets, without recourse, have been convinced by the wealthy, by business, by politicians, that they don’t need them.

Things like a 40 hour work week, Social Security, Medicare, Workman’s Compensation Insurance, The Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance, child labor laws, federal minimum wage, occupational health and safety standards, the Environmental Protection Agency, The Centers for Disease Control, The departments of Education and Health, Labor Unions and workers’ rights, and yes, even Welfare, all of these things were created for a reason. For a good reason. For compelling reasons.

But if you don’t remember history, then you’ll never know those reasons.

And you will be ever at the mercy of the powerful and greedy.

That’s what this day is supposed to be about.

Because, you see, these protections, those systems, those safety nets, they were created because when you leave it up to the church and charity to feed the hungry and clothe the poor and heal the sick, a hell of a lot of people go hungry and cold and ill.

It is really just that brutally simple.

These things were created because when you leave it up to charity and family to take care of old people, a hell of a lot of old people end up stacked like cordwood in institutions. The moldering remnants of such places are all around us.

These things were put in place because when you leave it up to devoutly righteous people who go to church every Sunday to decide what is right and proper and moral, you end up with lynchings and segregation and Jim Crow. And that is a Goddamned fact.

These things were created because when you leave it up to people to save for their retirement or a rainy day or for accident and infirmity, a hell of a lot of them don’t, or can’t, or won’t.

These things were put in place because when you leave it solely up to the market to weed out poor products and fake medicine and unsafe machines, the market doesn’t, or can’t, or won't, and it’s perfectly happy to go right on killing people for profit.

These things were put in place because when you leave it up to industrialists and share holders to treat their workers with dignity and respect and to pay them a living wage for their hard work, you get indentured servitude. Every. Time. Every single time.

These things were put in place because when you leave it up to the factory owners to decide wages and safety and working hours, you get this:

When you leave it solely up to bankers and the factory owners and the industrialists and the politicians, well, Sir, then what happens is they end up owning it all and you get the privilege of paying them to eat out of their garbage can.

And for most of history, right up until very recently, that’s exactly how it was.

Lately there are a lot of folks who think they want to live in 1919, rather than in 2019.

And that is because they have forgotten, or never knew, the history of Labor in this country.

And nowhere is this foolishness more evident than the White House. In the mindset that put this buffoon in the White House.

Happy Labor Day! Our country is doing better than ever before with unemployment setting record lows. The U.S. has tremendous upside potential as we go about fixing some of the worst Trade Deals ever made by any country in the world. Big progress being made!

A year ago, on this, Labor Day, Trump attacked Labor and crowed about profits.

But this day isn’t about profit.

And there is far more to labor than employment.

The worker in America is doing better than ever before, that’s what Trump said.

Define “better.”

Define “progress.”

It matters, those definitions.

It matters a great deal. It matters because there is an enormous difference in how the wealthy, in how a guy who was born rich and who has never labored a single day in his privileged life, defines “better” and “big progress” and how somebody who works 60 hours a week on the line without a living wage, without healthcare, without benefits, with a paycheck that has stayed flat for the last three decades while CEO salaries have increased more than 900% defines “better” and “big progress.”

Better, progress, those words are defined very, very differently by those who live in the manor house and to those who labor in the fields.

Trump has no idea what this day is about and he is utterly ignorant the history which led to it.

How do I know?

You wonder why I’m using Trump’s comment from a year ago in this post? You wonder why I didn’t use Trump’s Labor Day tweets from today?

Do you?

Well, that’s because Donald Trump didn’t make any comments about America’s workers today. He spent three hours this morning quoting Fox News, but had nothing to say himself. He again attacked labor unions, the very thing this day is was designed to honor…

… and then bragged about his own supposed accomplishments. That he attacked the press. It was only around noon that the White House twitter account finally managed to crank out a belated Labor Day post – in which they credited Labor’s accomplishments to a man who routinely doesn’t pay his laborers.

Then, he went golfing.

And why would he?

Why would Donald Trump bother honor Labor?

Why would Donald J. Trump know that history? Or care?

For him, for those like him, it’s right there in his own words, money, profit, business. That’s all that matters to the wealthy like him.

But this day was created to remind America of its history, to remember the security and safeties put in place – often at very, very high cost – specifically to protect labor from business, from unfettered greed, from the wealthy.

From those exactly like Donald Trump.

My grandfather once told me there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to be in the first group; there was much less competition.
  - Indira Gandhi

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part VI


A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.
-- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, “Fear God and Take Your Own Part,” 1916

A century ago, America had an articulate and educated president who understood the strategic necessity of sea power.

But then, that president was a graduate of the great educational institutions of America where he had studied in detail naval strategy and who as a student wrote a paper titled “The Naval War of 1812” that remains a full 100 years later an oft cited standard study of that war. Before he was president, Theodore Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy and his orders to the commander of the US Navy’s Asiatic Squadron, Admiral George Dewey, are credited by Dewey himself with victory at the Battle of Manila Bay. When a peaceful solution to conflict with Spain could not be found, Roosevelt gave up his office to become a cavalry officer of the US Volunteers and leader of the famous Rough Riders where he would win the Medal of Honor for his astounding heroism in battle.

Despite his many faults, and despite valid criticism of his actions and policies, Theodore Roosevelt remains one of America’s truly great leaders, a genuine cowboy, a war hero, a peacemaker, a diplomat, a scholar, a conservationist, a naturalist, a military strategist, a consummate politician, a humanitarian, and a president who truly understood the machinations of politics and the workings of power on a global scale.

More, Roosevelt, despite being born to privilege was always and ever aware of his responsibility as a leader to both the nation and to history.

Today … well, yes, today.



Today, America is being lectured on naval strategy by a guy who doesn’t know the difference between "straights" and "strait."

But then it gets better.

"China gets 91% of its Oil from the Straight [sic], Japan 62%, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey. We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world! The U.S. request for Iran is very simple - No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!"

If you need an example of a non sequitur logical fallacy, this is a pretty good one.

As usual, Trump begins as he always does: power is for profit.

Trump never reminds you that power comes with responsibility, because he doesn’t believe that. No, for Trump power is about one thing: money.

Specifically, Trump implies US sea power is something we do for profit and then, somehow, he ends up at Iranian nuclear ambitions via US domestic energy production.

As I said, a non sequitur logical fallacy in that one most assuredly does not follow the other.

But then, that is the hallmark of this administration.


Everyday with Trump is like that Calvin & Hobbes cartoon where Calvin is completely unprepared for Mrs. Wormwood's question and just starts shouting random answers: The Gettysburg Address! War of 1812! Lewis and Clark! Spaghetti!


Let us begin here then:  US strategic power isn't a business.

We do not profit from our military.

Other nations do not pay us for protection, nor should they.

We don't project sea power for the purpose of making a profit, but rather to secure the sea lanes for our own use and that of our allies.

The Strait of Hormuz is a strategic chokepoint, one of the most critical waterways in the world. Not just because it is the primary passage for Gulf state oil, or because it allows the US military access to our allies (and our enemies) and US commercial interests access to their markets, suppliers, and customers, but because what happens there to both our enemies and our allies affects the entire world.

This is the very purpose of sea power; something previous presidents have understood in detail.

The fact that other nations benefit from our military power is incidental.

Also, it should be noted since Trump himself specifically used the example: Japan does not have a navy.

Japan has a Maritime Self-Defense Force to protect their sovereignty and their interests in their own waters.

But the nation does not have a blue-water navy to protect their commerce on the high seas.

This is by design.

Our design.

Japan does not have a navy because the United States and her allies defeated Imperial Japan at the end of WWII and the agreements which ended that conflict and Japan's formal acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration dissolved Japan's military forces. When a new Japanese government was formed following the war, it specifically declared: "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes" and they put that in their new constitution verbatim as Article 9 in 1947. And what an example, and an admonishment, to the rest of us.

For the last 70 years, the US has provided protection, at least in part, for Japanese shipping on the high seas – as America does for all of its allies. Not for profit or for prestige or for conquest, but because it is in our best interest to ensure freedom of the seas for all nations, friend and foe alike.

Because when freedom of the sea lanes is not enforced for all, war follows. Always.

This is what Roosevelt meant when he said, A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.

As to China, do you believe it is in our best interests that the Chinese navy became the peacekeeping force in the Arabian Gulf? Or the Russian navy? Or the Indians? Really?


For some reason, I am suddenly reminded of the decline of the British Empire and how it ceded control of the seas to younger, more vital nations in the interests of saving itself a few pounds.


But I digress.

Trump’s assertion that "we don't need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy [sic] anywhere in the world!" demonstrates a profound ignorance of history, the purpose of US strategic power projection, and global energy production.

War in the Gulf is bad for the entire world, both now and into the future.

It is in our best interests to prevent that conflict and to keep that waterway open and free to passage of all vessels whether we get a single drop of oil from the Arabian Gulf or not.

Moreover, and beyond the geopolitics of the Strait of Hormuz, all energy is not the same.

All energy production is not equal.

And production of energy is not the same as the process of acquisition, refining, and distribution of the materials necessary for the production of that energy.

Nuclear energy, for example, requires materials and technologies far beyond the simple mining of uranium. And it is the same with oil or gas, wind or solar – or oxen pushing a cane-mill around and ‘round for that matter.

Trump's declaration that the US is the largest producer of energy in this context implies not only that all energy production is the same, but all forms of energy are interchangeable at all levels of our civilization and are produced at the same rate, for the same cost, and at same level of technology and purpose.

This is patently ridiculous in all regards.

Trump’s comment is a gross oversimplification of an incredibly complex subject.

For example, not all crude oil is the same.

Did you know that? Trump doesn’t seem to. The majority of our congressmen and Senators don’t seem to know this.

Not all oil is created equal. The oil from Saudi Arabi and the oil squeezed out of Canadian Tar Sands is not even vaguely similar.

Oil is graded by three factors, viscosity, volatility, and toxicity.

More viscous oil is thicker. What does that mean, thicker? Well, what it means in practical terms is that it takes more energy to move that oil, to pump it out of the ground, to transport it, to refine it.

And more energy means more cost.

Which means the final products made from that oil are more expensive.

More volatile oil contains the most desired light compounds, the kind of stuff you make gasoline from for example. But those compounds evaporate quickly, that’s what volatile means. It’s also much more flammable. And so this more volatile oil requires more advanced processing, safety, and transportation technologies to prevent it from evaporating, or exploding, during extraction from the ground, during pumping and transport, during refining. Meaning you can’t use just any tanker or any pipeline or run it through just any refinery.

Toxicity refers to how poisonous the oil is. What percentage of the oil is made up of toxic sulfur compounds for example. Oil heavy with sulfur compounds is very difficult to process, it's extremely expensive to refine it into lighter products -- such as gasoline or jet fuels. And that production produces huge amounts of toxic compounds that have to be disposed of. The majority of oil in the world is highly toxic, including much of the oil produced in North America.

With advances in recovery technology, yes, the US now pumps a huge amount of oil, or gets it from Canadian tar sands. But much of that oil is heavy, thick, toxic low volatility crude that can't be used for our most common energy requirement, i.e. transportation. Because that oil is thick toxic goo, i.e. heavy sour crude, we export it, mostly to Asia where it's used for bunker oils, heavy fuel oil, lubricants, industrial processes, plastics, and etc.

And we still have to import light sweet crude (low viscosity, volatile, low sulfur) oil to refine into gasoline, diesel, kerosene, heating oil, jet fuel, and so on.

So does the rest of the world.


But then there's the dismount.


“The U.S. request for Iran is very simple - No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!”

That’s what Trump said. That’s where he ended up. There.

And yet, literally, the sentence immediately prior to that is, “We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world!”

No nuclear weapons?

No sponsoring of terror?

Why?

Iran is far away. If the US did not maintain a presence in that region, then Iran would have no beef with us. Right? So why would they sponsor terrorism or wage nuclear war against us? Why then would we care what they do? 

What?

What’s that?

Israel, you say? What if Iran attacks Israel?

So?

So what?

According to Trump’s own statement, that’s not our problem.

I mean, we don’t make any profit from defending Israel, do we? We don’t get any energy from Israel. So who cares, right? Why is it our problem? Why don’t they just defend themselves?

You again? What now?

Oh, I see. That’s different.

Except, of course, it’s not. And I am being sarcastic and not actually suggesting we abandon our allies and the nations of that region simply because we might not directly profit from them.

We do need to be there.

Not just because of Israel. Or Saudi Arabia. Or Kuwait. Or our other allies such as the U.A.E and Bahrain. 

We do need to be there.

Not because we do or do not profit from the region but because securing the sea lanes for our own use and for that of both friend and foe alike is in our best interest.

We need to be there in the Middle East, because what happens there affects us all.

We need to be there because, like it or not, the United States cannot stand alone and because being an ally cuts both ways.

We need to be there because if we are not there to secure the sea lanes – and thus access to the Gulf – then someone else will be and that nation will control the global economy.

We need to be there because America is part of that global economy and what affects our allies – and our enemies – impacts us both directly and indirectly. Because our trade and production is global. Because if Japan and China and other nations that are a critical part of our economy are cut off from light sweet crude oil produced in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it will have a direct and immediate and unpleasant impact on our nation. 

Beyond that, money from oil is what powers the banks of the U.A.E and other Middle Eastern financial centers. Those banks in turn fund a huge amount of the global economy. If Saudi and Kuwaiti oil money stop flowing through those banks – because war closes the Strait of Hormuz for example – then very, very likely the global economy will collapse and fall into chaos the likes of which will make 2007 look like a bad day at the track. All the fracking wells punched into your water table, all the tar sands crude oil, and all the natural gas in the world, will do you not a goddamned bit of good when the critical parts you need to run your economy come from nations cut off from their energy sources and the global economy has imploded into massive recession. And, unless you own a Tesla, you can't run your car on it either, or transport goods over your highways or down your rail lines.

Trump's childish boast of America's energy production in this context is not only a non sequitur, it demonstrates a staggering lack of understanding of global economics.

Trump ranks every relationship by how it might profit him, the manifestation of a life of selfishness.

Donald Trump sees everything in terms of money. For him power is merely a means to profit, and profit means more power. But the world is far, far more complicated than that and Trump can’t even manage to string together two pitiful tweets and maintain a coherent train of thought between them.

Our president, like far too many American leaders, is an ignorant fool. He is the product of privilege without responsibility, of power without education or temper, of might without compassion or empathy.

A century ago, we had a president of vast intellectual curiosity, a scholar and a diplomat and a warrior, a man who won both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Medal of Honor, and a leader who understood in his very bones the complexity of global politics and the absolute responsibility of power and privilege. Statesman. Scholar. Soldier. Intellectual. Humanitarian of compassion, sympathy, and respect for his follows. In this regard, Roosevelt was not at all dissimilar to the men who founded the United States itself.

Over the last century, as the traits we demand of our leaders have diminished, so has our nation.


Force is never more operative than when it is known to exist but is not brandished.
-- Alfred Thayer Mahan, US naval strategist, “Armaments and Arbitration, Or, The Place of Force in the International Relations of States,” 1912