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Friday, January 5, 2018

It’s That Time Again

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, writer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believe me.

It takes a certain degree of masochism to do it.

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

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

And that’s okay.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s work.

Goddamn is it work.

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

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

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

I don’t like this.

But it’s necessary.

And it’s to your advantage.

Yes, donating to me is to your advantage.

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

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

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

But it only works if you provide support.

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

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

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

Here’s how I’m doing it this time:

The donation drive runs from January 1 to February 15, 2018.

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

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

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

You may do both.

Winners will be announced February 20th, 2018.


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thank you for your support.


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

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

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Fortunate Son


“I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it. If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
-- President Lyndon Johnson, as recorded by staffer Bill Moyers, 1964, while campaigning for the Civil Rights Act


Your privilege is showing

That’s what she said.

I was talking about optimism on Twitter and she cut me off. Your privilege is showing, she said.

Yes, I agreed. My point being that … and she dismissed anything else I had to say and blocked me to prevent any further conversation. And that, as they say, was the end of that.

And that was her privilege, I guess.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.


Your privilege is showing.

Fair enough, I suppose.

I mean, it’s true. I am privileged. I’m white, male, and straight. And more.

What? You think I don’t know that?

Heh heh. Right.

Right.

Let me tell it long, since that’s what I’m best at anyway.

My mom is a child of The Great Depression. And this begins there, in that time.

My mom’s dad kept a journal. Every day of his life, my grandfather would enter at least one line in his journal, the weather, any money that he’d made, jobs he’d done, people he’d met. Unlike his grandson, he wasn’t long-winded. He typically wrote just that one line each day, a brief summary and no more. They don’t say much, each of those entries individually, but taken together they speak volumes. Literally. He left behind a dozen diaries at the end of his long life.

Those journals were passed down to his children when he died. My mother – the family historian – has gone through those books, carefully, years, decades, one line at a time. Scanning them into electronic format, inserting them into the family history. Of course, she lived though much of the events described in those books so there’s not much in there that is news to her.  Rather, the entries serve as prods, reminders, and provide actual numbers, dates, figures, context, a skeleton to hang her memories on.

You see, my grandfather, he didn’t have much in the way of education. He never made it past elementary school, he never had the opportunity.  Grandpa was, well, charitably speaking, strong willed. He knew what he knew and he never had much use for those with fancy educations. Paradoxically, he wanted his own kids to go to school, but then he dismissed anything they learned when it conflicted with his own worldview – a trait that’s hardly unique as such things go, but still aggravates at least one of his daughters many decades later.  When the Great Depression came along, Grandpa had three young children and a wife and not much else. Without an education, or a trade, he was what the history books call a “laborer.” And unfortunately for him, the world was suddenly filled with unskilled and unemployed laborers. All of them with hungry, homeless families of their own.

So, Grandpa did whatever he could. He delivered milk for local farmers. He borrowed teams of horses and tilled fields. He picked apples and dug potatoes. He plowed snow. He did odd jobs, carpentry, digging ditches, whatever he could find. Most times, if he was lucky, he’d get paid in kind. My mom said that the wages for a week’s worth of backbreaking work might be a bushel of potatoes, and that was a good week.

And this is where those journals come in. He logged every bushel of potatoes or basket of beans or peck of apples or whatever bit of money he might bring home.

And so we don’t have to guess about certain things that happened 80 years ago, because he wrote them down.

In 1938, a First Class stamp cost 3 cents, a gallon of gas was a dime, and a movie ticket would run you a quarter.

The average income in 1938 was $1,731 per year. If you were lucky to have a job.

Grandpa? He made $8o that year.

But here’s the funny thing: he was one of the lucky ones.

Oh yes.

He was lucky, even down there on the bottom end of the income scale. Poor. Impoverished. As lean as it was, they made it. They got by. Grandpa didn’t have to leave home and ride the rails to find work like so many others. He was there, home most nights with his family. They had a place to live, with relatives, but they had a place. My grandparents lost a child. My mom and her siblings had to go out back to the outhouse in the Midwestern winter, they didn’t have much to eat, they were cold a lot, but they got by.

They survived the Great Depression.

But they were lucky in another way too.

One day, my mom brought home a friend from school, like kids do.

The friend wasn’t white.

I honestly don’t remember what ethnicity the friend was, not African American, but not white either.

My grandparents were scrupulously polite to their guest. But after she’d left, my mother was given strict instructions to never, ever, bring home such a person again.

And the reason?

My God, what would the neighbors think?

What would the neighbors think?

See, even there, at the bottom of the economic ladder, living hand to mouth, day by day, one precious bushel of potatoes to the next, in the midst of The Great Depression, they still had … that.

They were white.

That moment, seven or eight decades on now, is still vivid to my mom. She tells me that story and she’s still outraged by it. But, it’s instructive. It says much about how our society, the one we live in now, came to be. This wasn’t the Segregated South. This was Michigan. And those attitudes weren’t unique to my grandparents, they were quite common.


You don’t think I know that I’m privileged? You think my own history doesn’t remind me of that?


War followed The Great Depression.

I had an uncle who was a Navy corpsman on the beaches at Normandy, and another who was a Seabee at Midway.

They were just ordinary men, ordinary Americans, who went to fight for their country when called.

They fought alongside black men, African-Americans, who were also ordinary men who also went to fight for their country when called.

My uncles came home to parades and a newly burgeoning middle class, to opportunity and good jobs, brand new homes in the newly created suburbs. The privations of the Depression and war were behind them. Hollywood made movies about them, and up on the screen John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Red Buttons, Eddie Albert and Richard Burton immortalized their heroic actions in the Pacific and on the beaches of Europe.

But the men they’d fought beside? The African-Americans of the 92nd Infantry Division, the Tuskegee Airmen, the cooks and stewards on every navy warship? Those men came home to second class citizenship, to Jim Crow, to discrimination in nearly every facet of their lives. Nobody made movies about them. It never even occurred to anybody do so. Not back then.

Then came the Fifties.

That wonderful decade. That single moment in American history, right? When everything was perfect.

No?

You’re going to tell me about Korea and McCarthyism and Segregation?

I’ll do you one better. I’ll give you a time machine and let you sample the 1950s directly for yourself.

Ever watch Grit? The TV Channel, “TV with backbone.” There are a number of similar cable channels. Here you will find Death Valley Days in perpetual rerun. Laramie, Gunsmoke, Tales of Wells Fargo, Have Gun Will Travel, Stories of the Century, The Rifleman, Rawhide, Wagon Train, and, of course, Bonanza. In between, the movies: High Noon, Shane, The Gunfighter, The Man from Laramie, The Big Country, Bend in the River, Bad Day at Black Rock, Broken Arrow, Hondo, Rio Bravo, Forty Guns, and the classic Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

What do the 1850s have to do with the 1950s?

Well, you see, my mother-in-law lives with us. She grew up back when those shows were popular. She doesn’t process modern material very well, but she remembers Miss Kitty and Marshal Matt Dillon and Jess Harper  and The Virginian well enough. And so we keep the big TV in the living room on the Grit channel, and for much of the day she enjoys the old shows. And if she loses the plot, well, most of those episodes were similar enough that if you miss part of one and pick up another, it doesn’t really ruin the story, even if they are different shows.

What’s this got to do with privilege?

Watch.

Take a day, take a week, and watch. Watch the 1950s.

Every character is white. There isn’t a person of color anywhere in that uniquely American narrative, I know, I’ve looked for them. Every once in a while you’ll get a movie set near the Civil War, then perhaps there will be a black face or two among the cast. Caricatures, either Mammy or Stepin Fetchit. And Native Americans fared even worse. At least the black characters were played by black actors, the Injuns were always white men in loincloths and rouge. Or sombreros and cork, depending on how close to the border things were. And for comic relief, there was always Ching, or Chang, or whatever the lone Asian character in every western laundry was named (I looked up the role in John Wayne’s 1963 vanity project McClintock! Ching, played by H.W. Gim wasn’t even credited, despite having a fairly large speaking role for an Asian actor at that time. Veddy Funnie! Veddy Funnie!). Every stereotype exists on the lone prairie of the 1950s, from wise native sidekick to the endless white women who got themselves raped to death by rutting bucks on the warpath. And those women, a more helpless lot of pearl clutchers there never were. Thank the White Christian God there were all those manly men to keep them safe. Every problem is resolved with a gun or a sound thrashing. Or both. Every week the savages are routed again, and handsome white men saved the day with their trusty six-shooters or that weird sawed-off saddle-gun Steve McQueen carried in Wanted: Dead Or Alive.  If the woman’s man was killed, he was a weak sissy anyway, and by the end of the episode she’d found herself a better one to keep her safe.

Want to guess how many LGBT people you might see? Or disabled? Or Non-Christian?

Decades later, black cowboys appeared, alongside actual Native American actors, maybe even a few strong female characters. But not back then, not in the 1950s, that perfect decade of America.

You watch those shows, in endless rotation, you can see it.

You can see the attitudes and the not-so hidden forces that shaped modern America’s outlook.

The 50s were perfect. If you were white.

If you weren’t, you were invisible. Uncredited.


You don’t think I see it? That the heroes of all of those shows, the heroic narrative that still underlies America to this day and shaped my parents’ generation, you don’t think I noticed that those men all look just like me?


I grew up in the Midwest not far from where my own parents were born.

It was the 1960s by then, Vietnam, Civil Rights, the world was coming apart at the seams.

But not for me.

I lived in a small safe modern town. One of those new suburbs, built in the 50s after the war. I grew up in a new house, one my parents had built. We weren’t rich, not by any stretch of the imagination, far from it. I think everybody in town was better off than us. My parents had some hard times, but we got by. Somehow, like their parents before, they always found a way to make it through. I’m pretty sure my mom went without lunch a few times, so that we kids had enough to eat. I remember a few nights when we ate pancakes, because that’s all there was. But we got through.

And war was a long way away. I had a cousin serving over there, but then who didn’t? The protests in Washington and LA and New York didn’t touch us other than as stories on the news.

More, the race riots in Detroit, Newark, Memphis, and Los Angeles passed us by. It would have been hard for black people to raise a riot in my town. Mostly because for all intents and purposes, there were no black people.  I didn’t know any. There were no black students in my elementary school, none in Jr High, maybe one – a exchange student I think – in high school.

Let me tell you about the first time I encountered a black man.

It was at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Not the new one, but the fabulous old art deco building on Jefferson Avenue, designed by Roger Allen and built by the WPA back in the 1940s. I don’t know how old I was, not very. Five, six maybe. We’d gone on a field trip from school, dozens of screaming First Graders having a wonderful adventure under the bones of the museum’s famous blue whale skeleton in the main gallery. There were other schools there, of course, including at least one black one. Those children were as strange and alien to me as the exhibits. But like us, they were all running to and fro, as the teachers tried desperately to corral us all into our proper groups for return to the buses and our boring old lives back in the suburbs. As I dodged around a display, a huge hand suddenly grasped me by the shoulder and pulled me up short and I looked up startled to see a black man on the other end of that arm. He wasn’t looking at me, he was just grabbing children, trying to gather up his own flock no doubt and I’d gotten snagged by accident.

He had several other children, dark skinned with wide white eyes staring at me, the alien now. He held them by the collars with his other hand and he was shouting to for the rest of the class.

He glanced down …

… and his hand opened in shock, releasing me.

It’s been a long, long time, fifty years or near enough, but I can still remember the look on his face.

He was afraid.

Of me.

Chastised, I scampered over to my teacher. I remember the look they exchanged, white teacher and black. The look on his face while he waited to see what would happen next. There was a nod, mutual understanding, and then we were all headed for the buses.

I don’t know if he ever thought about that moment again, but me? I’ve often wondered about that man, in the years since.

I can still see him. I’m sure I would recognize him today.

I never forgot the look on his face.

A black man who’d accidentally grabbed a white child in a public place in 1967.

While not far away Detroit burned.


You don’t think I know? You don’t think that even as a kid, I knew?


I was a lousy student.

My parent weren’t rich, or even modestly well off.

Everybody I knew went off to college, got married, got jobs, became something.

Not me. I stuck out a few classes at the local Junior College for a few years, worked a few factory jobs, worked in a few restaurants, had a girlfriend or two. But I wasn’t going anywhere.

So I joined the military.

I was able-bodied enough to do so. I had the aptitude they needed.  I didn’t have any better prospects. So I enlisted. Why not?

But it was more than that.

Looking back, I had the luxury of being a lousy student. My grandparents never had that option. A bushel of potatoes was important to them, they would never have squandered a chance at education, a chance to get ahead.  My uncles, in that war, they didn’t get the option. They signed up because the country needed them. Those invisible people in the movies of the fifties, the comic relief, the stereotypes, the caricatures in those old movies, they never had the luxury of not working. They took whatever came along, because they had to, no matter how demeaning. That black man from the museum, did he serve? Did he join up? Back when doing so wasn’t an adventure, but a chance at getting killed while peeling potatoes and washing the white soldiers’ laundry?

I don’t know.

But I was good at it.

I joined up as a nobody – like everybody else. Twenty years later I was an officer, with a wife and son and a college degree, the experience of having led men and women in war, and having served with and for men, women, black and white, gay and straight, and with a much, much broader understanding of the world and the people in it. Having walked the soil of six continents, having seen oppression and hate and bigotry and injustice in every corner of the globe – most at the hands of men who looked just like me.

I retired as a Chief Warrant Officer. In the navy, that’s something. People tend to scamper out of your way pretty goddamned quick indeed.  You tend to get only the shittiest of missions, but it’s because those are the jobs only someone like you can do. That’s what they pay you for. The rank commands enormous respect. Uniquely so. And only a small handful ever pin on those bars.

How did I make it so far, when others didn’t?

Was it skill? Experience? Aptitude? Determination? I’d like to think so.

But the military is still to this day overwhelmingly a white man’s world.


You think I don’t know? You think I don’t wonder?


And now, here I am.

Somehow, in some way that I’m not quite sure, I’m here.

Somehow, I became a successful writer.

And I am successful. A hell of a lot more successful than most.  A quarter of a million people read me damned near every day across multiple platforms. I’ve got a loyal fan base that stalks me at conventions and asks for my autograph. They wear T-shirts with my likeness and clutch pens with my logo stamped on the shaft and I can’t make either fast enough. I churn out words, and they get shared (or stolen), across Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and a dozen other platforms before I can finish correcting the typos. Editors and publishers contact me and ask for contributions to their various projects or ask me to give up what I do and join their organization. I know writers who’ve penned a dozen best-sellers, books that have been turned into Hollywood blockbusters, who post comments online and nobody reads them. I post a picture of my goddamned cat, and it’s shared a thousand times.

I often feel like an impostor.

Which is not at all unusual for a writer.

But authors that I’ve read and admired for years, decades in some cases, come to me for help, for advice, for promotion – and I think, goddamn, I should be asking you for advice, and sometimes I do, and they give it and that ain’t nothing because a writer’s time is the thing they have the least of. They do it because we are friends, colleagues, and how in the hell did that happen? I fuck around on Facebook, they write real books. They are writers, I’m a blogger, at best a columnist. And yet, my endorsement can make a book a best seller. And my ire can destroy a person, when a hundred thousand flying monkeys descent on some hapless miscreant who had the temerity to cross me online. And I’ve used that power for both things, sometimes to my shame. I’ve also used it to get a rescue team and a planeload of supplies to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and to raise $15,000 in one night for a family who had lost their father, and for a number of other causes that you don’t need to know about. It evens out.

I worked to get here.

Ten years it took. Of writing every day. It turned into fame of a sort. And into a real job, one that takes all of my time, 14, 18 hours a day, seven days a week sometimes. It pays well enough. Well enough that I could pay for my son’s college tuition (who is a far, far better student than I ever was), well enough that my wife could give up her career and everything she’d worked for and we could move cross-continent to take care of her ailing mother. Well enough that I can help others when the opportunity arises.

Why am I successful at this when so many other more talented writers are not? Is it my skill? My experience? My background? Luck? Happenstance? Right time, right place, just as the world of writing changed?

Why did this new medium, this new publishing model, allow me to jump over writers who’ve been busting their collective asses since before I was born? That’s a privilege I bet you didn’t see coming, but I think about it nearly every day.

Why?

I don’t honestly know.

But you have to wonder if I would have been this successful if I’d been black. Or gay. Or female. Or less than able-bodied. Or less privileged in some way.

You have to wonder if doors opened for me, because of who I am, that would have been locked for others.

I don’t honestly know. Because I’m not those people and I never lived their lives.

I’m white.

I’m male.

I’m straight.

I’m still mostly able-bodied and nimble of mind.

I’m at an age where men become dignified, and women get discarded for a younger model.

I’m certainly not rich and I don’t dare stop working for even a minute, but in nearly every other way, I benefit from this society simply because I am who I am.


You think I don’t know that?


Do you honestly think I don’t know?

The best I can do, is be aware – woke, in the popular parlance of our time – and acknowledge that privilege exists and I more than most benefit from it.


No. No.


Wait.


Wait. No. That’s wrong. Scratch that. That’s not the best I can do.


We were talking about optimism.

A few weeks back, before Christmas as congress went in to vote on the Republican tax reform bill, someone asked me on Twitter, “What can we do!”

Nothing, I answered.

Not a goddamned thing.

It’s too late. The time to have done something was in 2010, when you gave up the House.

The time to have done something was in 2014, when you gave up the Senate.

The time to have done something was a year ago, when you couldn’t bring yourself to vote for the “lesser of evils.”

Now? Now there’s not a goddamned thing you can do. The opportunity, the opportunities plural, have passed.

Please, don’t. I’m not attacking you. Don’t take it personally. I’m sure you did something. My comments were directed at a momentary audience, at a passing situation on social media. They were made as a general statement about a particular situation. So unclench, push away the keyboard, let me finish. Please.

Please.

Your privilege is showing, someone sneered.

How dare you, straight, white, able-bodied man, tell anyone who to vote for? How to be a citizen? How to anything?

How dare you lay this pessimism on us?

That’s what the initial anger was about, they’d taken my pragmatic comment as pessimism.

I’m not certain pragmatism is privilege. But OK. perhaps.

But that didn’t change the fact that men of privilege, those elected to power, were about to pass a law and there was not one goddamned thing any of us could do about it.

But they wanted me to come up with something, and they were outraged when I didn’t. When I produced … pragmatism.

So, that’s it?

Depression, Stonekettle? You’ve given up? There’s no hope?

Hang on, no, I answered. No. You misunderstand. There’s no hope about the tax bill, they are going to pass that. It’s inevitable. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for the future. That doesn’t mean this course can’t be reversed – and by course I don’t just mean tax giveaways to billionaires, I mean the whole thing. Civil rights. LGBT rights. Healthcare. The courts. Social safety nets. Peace. All of the damage this horrible administration is doing to our future.

But it’s going to be hard. We’re going to go backwards first.

There’s no escaping it now.

What you mistake for depression is pragmatism.

And you’re going to have to face it.

But, there is always hope. Of course there is. We’ll recover. We’ll take back our society. We’ll prevail.

That’s what I said.


And if you think they were mad about depression, they were outraged by optimism.


How dare you?

How dare you tell us it will be OK, they said. Fuck you, Cis White Man, ableist, your privilege is showing.

Your privilege is showing.

Well … yeah.

Of course my privilege is showing.

There’s no way to hide it, even if I was so inclined. Which I am not.

I’m not going to lie about who I am. I’m not going to dismiss it, or pretend that it doesn’t exist.

And so, the best I can do is to use that privilege to help others. To write about it. To call it out whenever and wherever. To get it out in front of half a million people. To get the supplies where they need to go.  To raise the funds. To lend a voice. To listen. To be an ally. To be a general if need be.

To be pragmatic when necessary.

Like my grandfather, perhaps my role in the coming fight is to record it, line by line, day by day, so that future generations will know that we were here.

Maybe you’ll cut off conversation and walk away.

Maybe you don’t need me.

But I volunteer just the same.

Why?

Because it’s what I’m good at.

And because optimism must never, ever be solely the privilege of a few.

It should be the birthright of us all.


Cassian Andor: The temple's been destroyed, but she'll be there waiting. We'll give her your name and hope that gets us a meeting with Saw.
Jyn Erso: Hope?
Andor: Yeah. Rebellions are built on hope.
-- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Lemonade


This election was lost four and six years ago, not this year. They [Republicans] didn’t start thinking of the old common fellow till just as they started out on the election tour. The money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes that it would trickle down to the needy. Mr. Hoover was an engineer. He knew that water trickles down. Put it uphill and let it go and it will reach the driest little spot. But he didn’t know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellows hands. They saved the big banks, but the little ones went up the flue.
--
Will Rogers, Column 518: And Here’s How It All Happened, The Tulsa Daily World, 12/5/1932



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Rich people create jobs.

That’s what the man said.

Give rich people more money, and they create more jobs.

This guy, Shane Porter, was responding to a comment I made yesterday on Twitter, which itself was a response to an article in The Hill which lamented a probable Republican loss in the House and Senate in coming elections.

 

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The article says Republicans are worried that they will lose both the House and Senate in the next election.

I suspect this is a likely scenario, given Republicans’ record low popularity and the direction of recent elections in Virginia and Alabama.

But I’m not convinced congressional Republicans are as concerned about this possibility as The Hill makes them out to be.

You see, a lot of these power brokers, old white men like Mitch McConnell, are getting long in the tooth. And as I noted in my tweet, they are very much aware of their poll numbers.

They’ve had years to do something about it.

And they haven’t.

Ipso facto: they don’t care.

They don’t care, because they’ve gotten what they wanted: A huge cash payout.

Sure.

Look here, they’re going to lose power sooner or later. They know this. That’s how it works.

Even in good times, Americans are pissed off. Americans are always pissed off.  We’ve got it better than anybody else on the planet, but we’re still mad. Whether it be a legitimate problem or whether it’s outrage manufactured by politicians and the media, Americans are always mad about something. And whoever happens to be in power gets the blame, rightly or wrongly. And so, every few years, we toss the old bums out and install new bums. And the government goes back and forth like a kid petulantly flipping a light-switch up and down. Click. Click. Click. Click. You yell at the kid, stop it! and as soon as you turn your back, click! Click! Click!

So, Republicans know they’re going to be out of power soon, 2018, 2020, they’re history. Until the next time. Click. Click. Click.

Mitch McConnell is far, far too savvy a politician not to know this.  He might or might not keep his seat, but he’s not going to be Senate Majority Leader much longer.

So he and the rest of his cronies are cashing out while they still have the chance.

And really, loss of power is a hell of a lot easier to stomach when you’re sitting on millions. Kinda takes the sting out of it, if you know what I mean.

And when it all falls apart – and it will – well, then the other guys are in power and they get stuck with both the blame and the responsibility for cleaning up the mess.

Repeat as necessary. This is the basic GOP formula since Nixon. This is the mindset of modern business, of wealth. They’re not interested in building a better world in perpetuity. They’re not interested in leaving anything behind. These aren’t the industrialists of old. This is modern business, run by the MBAs. They run the country the same way they run business: swoop in, liquidate, boost the stock, cash out to millions. Move on. They don’t care what happens to the company when they’re done with it, they don’t care about customers, or products, or employees. They’re not builders, they’re predators.

They don’t care about the consequences and they don’t care about tomorrow.

They care about stockholders – and their stock in particular.

They care about one thing and one thing only, money.

That was the gist of my snarky response to The Hill.

Which apparently struck a nerve with my audience, who spread it on social media.

Which brings us to back ‘round to Shane’s comment

Tell me whiny Einstein, who creates jobs in this country, the rich or the poor? The answer to that question is a fact of life. The more money the people who own the companies make the more likely they are to hire more employees, this is how you create jobs in a capitalist society

Who creates jobs? The rich or the poor?

Obviously from the context, Shane is pretty sure the answer must be: rich people.

And thus it follows that if rich people create jobs, then richer people must create more jobs. Right?

If rich people are richer, they’ll hire more employees. This, opines Shane, is how you create jobs in a capitalist society. And there it is: The Cardiff Giant, Reaganomics, AKA trickle-down economics, AKA the second-coming of supply-side economics. Now, Shane didn't get that from any basic economics class – or rather if he did, he slept through the rest of the semester (or got his degree from Trump University, whatever).

So where did he get it from? Who told him this?

Who keeps telling America this?

Who?

Rich people, that’s who.


If you give us more money, it’ll be good for you. Eventually.


That is literally the hook of trickle-down economics. You give us more money and somehow, eventually, down the road, it’ll be good for you.

Ironically, this is exactly how most religions work.

And most confidence games.

This is the same old warm piss wealthy conservatives have been peddling as lemonade since long before Reagan came along, since the 1930s in fact as pointed out in the Will Rogers quote that led off this article and that gives trickle down economics its name.

This is the same long con the wealthy have been pulling since the end of The Great Depression.

And it works. For them. Because there’s a sucker born every minute.

There’s a sucker born every minute.

You’ve heard this right? There’s a sucker born every minute. P.T. Barnum, yes?

Well, no. David Hannum actually. Though the quote is most often misattributed to old P.T.

And that is damned ironic. It is.

What does this have to do with trickle-down economics? Bear with me, you’ll see.

In 1869, a guy named George Hull, an atheist, created something called the Cardiff Giant after an argument with a bunch of Methodists regarding Nephilim, the supposed giants of Genesis in the Christian Bible.

Hull figured to put one over one the Christians. So he had a huge block of soft gypsum secretly carved into the likeness of a giant man (complete with enormous penis, for some reason that I’m sure Hull found hilarious). He used various chemicals and dyes to “age” his newly created petrified giant. Then he had it secretly buried on his cousin’s farm.  He waited a year, for Hull knew the secret to a good prank was patience. After sufficient time, Hull’s cousin, William Newell, who was obviously in on the scam, hired some men to dig a well. And surprise, of course, they “found” the buried giant right where Newell wanted his new well dug.

Word got around fast.  And Hull saw possibilities beyond putting one over on some gullible bible thumpers.

The cousin set up a tent and started charging admission and people came from far and wide to see a genuine petrified giant from the Bible.

Of course, it didn’t take long for science of the time, primitive as it was, to declare the Cardiff Giant a giant fake.

But predictably the preachers and the holy men and the religious nuts and the sensationalists dismissed science, just as they do today, and claimed the Cardiff Giant proof of whatever con they were using to bilk the wide-eyed suckers.

People didn’t care. They came and plunked down 50 cents apiece, which was a damned steep admission price in those days (the average wage was about $15 per month for unskilled labor in that part of the country, and remember most households were single income). 50 cents was a lot of money.

Eventually George Hull sold the giant to one David Hannum for what today would be half a million dollars.

Hannum moved the giant to Syracuse and started advertising. The resulting crowds – and profits – were so huge that it caught the attention of P.T. Barnum all the way over in New York City.

So, Barnum offered Hannum what today would be almost a million dollars for his giant.

Both men knew the giant was a hoax. But they were showman, and they considered this scam no more or less immoral than the Feejee Mermaid, the Bearded Lady, General Tom Thumb, and Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy, who were staples of Barnum’s American Museum.

Hannum refused to sell, so Barnum copied the Cardiff Giant in wax and had his own artisans fashion a copy. Which he promptly put on display in New York and which he declared the authentic giant and started telling everybody who would listen that Hannum’s original giant was a … well, a hoax. And given that it was indeed a hoax, Hannum couldn’t exactly prove it was an authentic giant, could he?

Hannum was none too pleased by this and retaliated by calling Barnum’s hoax a hoax, and saying of the crowds filing past Barnum’s giant, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

This being America, eventually the matter ended up in court, where both giants were revealed to be fakes – and to add insult into injury, Hannum’s quote is often attributed to Barnum. So Barnum stole not only Hunnam’s con, but his words about the theft too. That’s business.

Even after both giants were revealed to be fakes, the crowds still came and paid their hard earned money to see the hoax – and the holy men persisted in declaring the fake plaster giants proof of their particular theology. And, in fact, you can still see both giants to this very day, the original is displayed in the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, New York, and Barnum’s copy at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

That’s right, more than a hundred years later, people are still paying to see a hoax.

The original crowds, they had a pretty good idea they were being swindled, but they wanted to believe. They wanted the giant to be real. They wanted science to be wrong. And that’s why the hoax worked. Because there is indeed a sucker born every minute. And by the time the crowds wised up, Hull, Barnum, and Hannum had each cashed out with their fortunes.

And that’s why the hoax of trickle-down economics works.

Because it sounds plausible, providing you don’t look too closely. Because people want to believe even though all the experts are telling them that it doesn’t work. But the difference, you see, is that rich people like Barnum and Hannum know they're pushing a hoax and they also know most people are too goddamned stupid and gullible to realize it. And even if the marks do suspect a con, they still want to believe.

There’s a sucker born every minute.

But it’s not real. Trickle down economics does not work. At least not for you. Trickle down economics only works for the wealthy. And that’s by design, because these ruthless rich sons of bitches are the ones who came up with it back in the last century. And their rich descendants are the ones pushing it now.

Trickle-down economics works for them.

For a short time, anyway.

But that’s all they need. That brief moment, when all the gullible suckers hand over their money.

It's like an injection of nitrous oxide into an internal combustion engine. There's a brief burst of power, the machine surges ahead across the finish line. You’ve seen Fast and Furious, you know how this works. But that burst of power is not without cost. Nitrous can literally blow the engine apart. And nitrous is an oxidant, making it highly corrosive. That's why race car engines don't last long and why the average person doesn't have a nitrous-injected car in the family garage.


When you give rich people more money, rich people have more money.


That’s it.

That’s the whole thing.

Because the entire premise of trickle-down economics is predicated on one ridiculous idea: that greedy rich sons of bitches will use their money to improve the lot of those below them on the economic ladder solely because it’s somehow the right thing to do.

This idea is absolutely ludicrous on the face of it.

Rich people don’t reach down the ladder to help those below, they pull the ladder up after themselves and slam the door. Most of them anyway.

Rich people being richer does not create jobs. Quod Erat Demonstrandum. This is true no matter how many times you care to run the experiment and after Reagan this should be obvious to even the most obtuse, like my friend Shane up above.

But, of course, it's not.

When you give rich people more money, rich people have more money. That's it. That's the whole thing, right there. Most of them put that money in high interest investments, i.e. the kind of thing that makes them richer. But when the bubble bursts, you have to pay for it, not them. Rich people park their money in tax-havens, or otherwise lock it up where it does you no good. You can look this up for yourself, you don't have to take my word for it.

Watch for it.

Go on. Watch for it.

Every time old rich white men bring up the idea of trickle-down economics, or whatever they call this scam nowadays, the one question that never gets asked is this: Why?

Why would rich people create jobs?

Why? Why would rich people take their billions and create jobs? Because they’re what? Feeling generous all of a sudden?

Why?

Take the Walton family, their wealth is nearly unimaginable. The amount they’ll reap from this tax cut is astronomical. But they already can’t spend what they have, even if they live another thousand years. And they don’t spend their personal fortune on building new Walmarts anyway, that’s what investors are for. And if they did, well, there’s nothing stopping them from doing so now, without a tax cut, they’ve got plenty of money. But they don’t. Why? They could use their personal fortune to improve the lot of their employees, but they don’t. They could use their fortune to give their employees a living wage, healthcare, benefits, overtime. But they don’t. Why? Why should they? What’s in it for them? What’s the incentive? Altruism?  Ha ha! Hilarious.

Giving rich people more money just gives rich people more money.

Giving rich people more money doesn’t create jobs. And it doesn’t encourage rich people to make lousy jobs better. That’s not how it works.

And the only people telling you this horseshit are … rich people.

Demand creates jobs.

See: build a better mousetrap et al.

The Waltons don’t build new Walmarts just to build new stores so as to make jobs for poor people, because they’re feeling generous. They only build new stores (and thus create new shitty low-paying jobs) if there’s a demand for one in a particular area. I.e. they can make money on it. Make money, not spend money.

Demand creates jobs...

... but not necessarily in the US of A.

If you build a better (or cheaper, anyway) mousetrap, people will beat a path to your door. Or rather you can wholesale your traps to Walmart and people will beat a path there. And then you'll need to produce a whole bunch of mousetraps, which you can do a hell of a lot cheaper if you don't have to pay your employees a living wage. So you build your mousetraps with child labor in Bangladesh. Or India. Or China. Or Vietnam. That’s where the jobs are, not here. And they are shitty jobs.

And rich people could have brought those jobs back to America long ago and paid their workers a living wage.

But they didn’t.

And they won’t.

Because there’s not one goddamned thing in it for them.


But … that’s not even the real scam. No.


Jobs.

Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.

Right? That's what The Man said. The Big Giant Orange Leader, that's his trumpet call, jobs, jobs, jobs.

That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?

Except, funny thing…

…unemployment is currently 4.1% and falling.

In December of 2007, right before the mortgage industry tanked taking the economy down with it, unemployment was … what?

5.0%

And it had been at 5% or slightly lower for the previous thirty months.

And nobody was talking jobs jobs jobs. Unemployment didn’t send America into a recession and crash the global economy. There were plenty of jobs.

Just as there are plenty of jobs now.

Jobs are not the problem.

The problem is a living wage. One of the problems, anyway.

Those jobs don’t pay enough. They don’t include benefits. They don’t include enough hours. You can’t possibly make enough from those jobs to get ahead, to buy your way out of working poverty, out of the Middle Class. And why should they?

Donald Trump himself doesn’t even hire American workers unless he has to. The entire wait staff of Mar-A-Lago is foreign workers. You don’t have to take my word for it, you can look up their work visas on the State Department website.

Why?

Because the rich son of a bitch talking about jobs jobs jobs won’t pay enough to make it worth your while, unless you’re from some Third World country in Central America. That’s why.

This way to the giant! Just 50 cents, folks, step right up.

The rich don’t give up a single cent they don’t have to. Because they’re cold, greedy, ruthless bastards. That’s why they’re rich, most of them anyway. If they weren’t, if they weren’t cold ruthless greedy sons of bitches, we wouldn’t need environmental laws to keep them from dumping toxic waste from their factories into the rivers. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t need banking regulations to keep them from robbing us of every penny. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t need occupational safety regulations so they didn’t work us to death – or a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting outright slavery for that matter. We wouldn’t need unions. We wouldn’t need a minimum wage. We wouldn’t need to test food and medicine and toys for toxins and fraud. We wouldn’t have to specify they put enough fucking lifeboats on the ship for everybody, not just the passengers in First Class.

If you could trust these goddamned people to do what was right, well, you wouldn’t need the Second Amendment, now would you?

Ironic, isn’t it? The very same people, like Shane up above, who trust the wealthy to trickle down largess like manna from heaven, are the very same people who think they needs guns to protect themselves from … rich people in government.

And the real problem is that every single time the bubble bursts, the rich lose nothing. And the middle class? Well, the middle class and the poor lose everything.

The problem is that the profits are privatized, the risks are socialized. That’s the actual problem right there. When the bubble bursts, the working poor and the middle class have no choice but to prop up the rich, lest it all collapses and we all face another Great Depression. And that, ladies and gentlemen, in point of fact, is the lesson of the Great Depression. That's what the rich learned, the ones that survived. Socialize the risks, privatize the profits. Never, ever, risk your own money.

And that – that right there – that is exactly what trickle-down economics is.

This is the exact – the same exact – scam the mortgage industry pulled on you in 2007.  Interest only mortgages, you remember. You pay the interest up front, the bank makes huge profits, and hey, don’t worry about it because you won’t have to pay off the balance for, well, don’t worry about that, it’s way in the future. You remember, right? And you remember what came next. It all fell apart, you lost everything, and they made millions.

We take all the risk. We risk our jobs, our savings, our homes, our retirements, everything, and the rich get all the profits.

Trickle down economics does not work, not for you.

It never has.

It’s a scam.

All it does is give a brief momentary burst of wealth to the already wealthy.

It gives the illusion of economic power.

For a while. For a few.

But that injection of money has to come from somewhere.

The huge tax windfall Republicans just gave to the wealthy, where did that money come from?

It doesn’t come from the rich.

It doesn’t come from industry or Wall Street.

Those are the people we’re giving money to. Right?

The government doesn’t just have it lying around, you know that?

And we’re already twenty trillion dollars in debt.

So, where does the money come from?

The costs to the government don’t go down.

The bills don’t go away. We’re still at war. So where does the money come from?

Where does the money come from?


It comes from the future.


That’s right. It comes from the future.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Because it’s the same bullshit Countrywide was telling you back in 2007.

The money comes from your future, you, the middle class, the working poor.

When the bill comes due – and it will – then the money has to come from somewhere. So it comes from infrastructure, from healthcare, from Social Security, from foreign loans and a debt that your grandchildren will have to pay. 

And pay.

And pay.

The rich in that future aren’t going to pay for it. You are.

And if there is a war between now and the day that bill comes due, if the stock market bubble goes bust again, if there is another hurricane or terrorist attack or other unforeseen disaster, well, then it all falls apart. And you’ve once again traded your jobs, your homes, your retirements, your college savings plans, everything, to give the wealthy more money.  And it’s brilliant, it is, because they’ve privatized the profit and socialized the risk and sold the chumps on the idea. And you? You’re trapped. Every avenue of getting ahead is cut off, better jobs, higher wages, education, you’ll be lucky to keep your head above water while they row away in the lifeboats. The lifeboats you paid for.

You think I’m wrong?

Look at this GOP tax plan, look at who it rewards most. Not you. Not the people who lost everything in 2007. No, it rewards the very people who destroyed the economy and precipitated a global financial crisis. It rewards the very people who destroyed your retirement and college funds. It rewards the very people who repossessed your house after they imploded the company you worked for and sent your jobs overseas. It rewards the very people you had to bail out with your tax dollars. Don’t take my word for it, look up the names. Look up who helmed Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, AIG. Look who led the charge on foreclosures in 2008 and 2009. Hint, it wasn’t just Countrywide (a unit of, that’s right, Bank of America). Look up who was running General Motors. Look up John Thane and his role in a disaster it took more than a decade to clean up. A decade of your sacrifice and not his.

While you were trying to figure out how the hell you were going to feed you kids, John Thane was buying a golden toilet for his office.

THOSE are the people this tax bill most rewards.

And those people, like Barnum and Hunnum, they’re going to reap millions from this scam.

And you?

What are you going to get?

You’re going to get what you always get.

And you’re going to get it good and hard.

Sure must be a great consolation to the poor people who lost their stock in the late crash to know that it has fallen into the hands of Mr. Rockefeller, who will take care of it and see it has a good home and never be allowed to wander around unprotected again. There is one rule that works in every calamity. Be it pestilence, war, or famine, the rich get richer and poor get poorer. The poor even help arrange it.
--
Will Rogers, Daily Telegram #1019, 10/31/1929

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part VI


I don't often agree with Mitch McConnell.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for an immediate ethics review of Senator Al Franken in light of allegations that Franken committed sexual assault.

I don’t often agree with McConnell, but he’s right.

For all the wrong reasons, of course. But, still the allegations against Franken should be investigated.

On the face of it, the allegations are highly credible. There is photographic evidence and Franken himself has admitted that at least part of the accusation is true. The incident in question happened before Franken took office and while he was working as an entertainer on a USO tour and may in fact have no bearing on his office.

I don’t know. That’s why it should be looked into.

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What?

Did somebody have a question? Hello?

Ah, yes, I see you there in the back. Put your hand down. Let me finish before you start yelling.


Senator Franken should be investigated by the Ethics committee.

He’s a Senator. He’s a representative of the people. He should be held to higher standards.

Look here, I’m not a Democrat. I’m not a Republican. I don’t owe any politician any slack whatsoever. I’m a citizen of the United States and it's not my job to make excuses for shitty behavior by politicians of any party. Even if I was so inclined – which I emphatically am not.

Senator Franken will have to answer for his shitty behavior and accept whatever consequences result.

I don’t know how it will shake out for Franken, but that said, for Mitch McConnell of all people to make this statement while blithely ignoring Trump's massive laundry list of admitted sexual assaults is ...


What?

You again? What now?

Oh, right. Yes. I know. Please, hang on for a damned minute. Let me finish.


Sexual assault isn't relative.

Franken's shitty behavior isn't made less by Donald Trump's shitty behavior.

There may be degrees of heinousness, but sexual assault isn't a game of comparison.

But that is exactly what happens when politics are involved.

It’s human nature. We all have a tendency to diminish the failings of our own by pointing out the egregious actions of those we don’t like. It’s not a liberal or conservative thing.


No. No. Just sit down. Let me finish.


Both sides do it. We all do it.

I see liberals right now doing it.

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Well, yes. That’s true.

Comparing what Franken supposedly did to what Judge Roy Moore (or Donald Trump) allegedly did is a false equivalency.

Because there is no comparison.

But that doesn’t in any way excuse Franken. Or Trump. Or any of the Hollywood creeps that have been recently outed.

But there’s more to it than that. And it does no good whatsoever to identify a logical fallacy and then use that same error in reasoning to make another – i.e. to diminish sexual assault by attempting to quantify it in relation to other heinous behavior.

But that's exactly what's happening here.

Because that’s what always happens.

Take Fox News conservative pundit Sean Hannity today:

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"Liberal media finally sees Bill Clinton for what he is, 20 years too late."

Hannity is course predictably dredging up William Jefferson Clinton and his infamous reputation as a horn dog.

Now here's the problem:

I can point out to all of you that

  • Liberals never excused Bill Clinton's sexual misconduct or tried to use the Bible to justify it.
  • She (plural, because there were many) wasn't 14
  • Bill Clinton was held to account. He was. He was held to account in court and paid nearly a million dollars to settle the case. And he was impeached for his behavior – even if he wasn't convicted in the Senate (Yes, he was impeached for perjury, not sexual misconduct. But you're just arguing semantics here. If there wasn't any sexual misconduct, there wouldn't have been any perjury).
  • He's not running for office

I can point all that out to you, to Hannity and his followers (and did, on Twitter to the predictable result), but it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because it's a dodge.

It doesn't matter if what I say is true.

Hell, it doesn't even matter if what Sean Hannity says is true.

Because the whole thing is a non sequitur. Bill Clinton's shitty behavior has nothing to do with Roy Moore's or Donald Trump's shitty behavior (Yes, yes, I see you back there. I am deliberately setting aside, for the moment, the larger context of a culture that promotes, excuses, enables, and turns a blind eye to sexual assault in general. Yes. Hang on).

And while liberals' behavior regarding Clinton sure as hell isn't without fault – particularly the trashing of his accusers – the Left has always known who Bill Clinton is. What they did or did not do about it, is, well, part of the point here.

In a better world, if the Left had done more to condemn Clinton’s behavior back in the day, their condemnations of Moore and Trump et all would be virtually unassailable today.

In a better world.

But, of course, that’s not how it works and Whataboutism is a lousy argument no matter if you’re standing hip deep in the swamp or holding the moral high ground.

As I've previously noted here and elsewhere: the act of sexual assault has nothing to do with political parties.

Sexual assault isn't political. It’s not a Left, Right, Republican, Democrat, Liberal or Conservative thing. Sexual assault spans the spectrum. The ranks of both sides have more than their share of scumbags. And there are plenty of apologists to go around.

So, pointing to sexual assault by members of the other side to justify, excuse, or diminish sexual assault by members of your own side is not only a logical fallacy, it's just plain bullshit.

Whataboutism is a lousy argument.

Each individual case of sexual assault must be judged on its own merits (merits in the legal sense, not that sexual assault itself has any merit).

The damage done to the victims isn't lessened because something terrible happened to somebody else.

Those that survive rape, their pain and trauma isn’t diminished because somebody else was raped even more violently. The goddamned dumbest thing you can say to a sexual assault survivor is, “Hey, it could have been worse. Just look at…”

That’s not how it works.

Sexual assault isn't relative.

No matter the behavior of Al Franken, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Louis CK, et al, if the allegations against Roy Moore are true then he is unfit for office because of his own actions.  His own actions and nobody else’s.

Donald Trump is unfit for office because of his (admitted) actions and his alone.

And perhaps Franken is too. I don’t know.

The only way to find out is to look.

So, McConnell is right – even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.

And yes, before you ignore everything I just said and pull a butwaddaabout in my comments section, I do think Bill Clinton is unfit for office – and if he was running I would be opposed to him exactly as I am Roy Moore and Donald Trump and for the same reasons (the same reasons of sexual misconduct. I’m opposed to Moore and Trump for other reasons as well).

How our society regards sexual assault shouldn't be about counting coup.

It shouldn't be about balancing some political book.

It shouldn't be about comparison.

Sexual assault isn’t relative.

This should be about the behavior itself and holding each individual accountable for their actions regardless of what anybody else has done.

This should be the one thing we all – left and right, Republican and Democrat, liberal and Conservative – all people of good conscience and intent, can agree on.

But, of course, it’s not.

Of course not.

And unfortunately, regarding the world as it should be instead of as it is can also be a cognitive bias and while the act of sexual assault itself isn't dependent on political party, how we often deal with it most certainly is.

And so here we are.

Senator Franken should be investigated for ethic violations.

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Democrats should be held to high standards.

In fact, they should be held to higher standards than they are right now.

AND. SO. SHOULD. REPUBLICANS.

So should the president. So should the Judges. So should every Congressman and Senator. So should every office holder. So should every cop and Priest and dog catcher. 

So should we all.

You want a better nation? A better world? Then you have to be better citizens.

It starts right here.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Veteran’s Day 2017

The […] novel sucked. Even when I liked Heinlein I saw right through that Rah Rah Military is Awesome bullshit.
  - Facebook Comment

I met a man who despised me.

He called me fascist, murderer, and a dumb blunt tool.

I didn’t take it personally – though a younger me might have.

I didn’t meet him in the flesh, like most of my social interactions these days I encountered him online. He surfaced on a well known author’s Facebook page during a conversation regarding a certain well known classic science fiction novel.

The novel was, of course, Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

But really it doesn’t matter which author or what novel or exactly where the conversation took place. The conversation and the novel which inspired it aren’t relevant to this essay, other than as a starting point. Suffice it to say the novel and the reputation of its author is such that fully six decades after it was written it still has the unerring ability to generate violent conflict and powerful emotions. Mention it in any conversation about government and/or military service and the sparks will fly.

It’s one of those books you either love or hate.

Very few who are familiar with the work find middle ground between those poles – including those who haven’t actually read it and are familiar with the writer and the novel only by second-hand heresy (yes, heresy, the book is nearly an article of faith to many) and a terrible Hollywood adaption.

It’s one of those stories where your opinion depends very much on your age and experience, and as such your opinion with regards to the story tends to change and temper over time.

To me, well, that’s what makes it a truly great work.

Love it, hate it, it is a coming of age story and it endures as a lightning rod, as a jumping off point for exploration of the human condition, of government, of service, of duty, of war and conflict, of why we fight and why we should – or should not.

I have read this novel many, many times.

I read it as a teenaged boy before I joined the military.

I read it again at various points throughout my military career, as an enlisted man and as an officer – and in fact it is required reading for students at a number of military academies.

I read it the day the author himself died, and raised a glass to yet another lost shipmate while stationed at a far distant outpost.

I’ve read it a number of times since I hung up my sword. I may, in fact, read it again today.

I don’t know that it influenced my decision to join up. I don’t know that it didn’t. The author, in this work and many others, certainly had some impact on my worldview. I do know that this novel did influence what kind of military man I ultimately became and that there were times, very difficult times, black days, moments when I didn’t know what to do next and lives depended on my decision, when I heard the words of Robert Heinlein whispering in my head, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

The ideals of that book, and the veteran who wrote it, those ideals spoke to me in a very personal way.

And they still do.

As a writer of politics and military subjects, I encounter this book and discussions of its author often and I watch the resulting battles with some amusement. I’ve read hundreds of treatises on this book and its long dead author, detailed analyses from bloggers, columnists, best selling writers, noted scientists of various specialties, politicians, academics, and of course, military professionals.

All, every one, miss one fundamental thing.

And that is this: The reason six decades later this novel still generates love and hate and violent emotion is because the protagonist, Johnny Rico, a man very much like me, finds a home in the military.

War is his profession and he embraces it willingly and without regret.


And that, that right there, is the novel’s great sin.


That’s the criticism most often leveled at both the book and its author, they are pro war, pro military, and therefore somehow fascist and un-American.

To me this is like saying a fireman, one who runs towards the inferno, who is willing to brave the flames to save others, is somehow pro-arson.

There is no one who knows the terrible cost of war more than a veteran. There are few more anti-war than a combat veteran. Just as there is no one who knows the terrible toll of fire more than those who fight it. And yet, both still serve, because that is who they are. 

It’s okay in our society, at the moment, to love the soldier, to tell the story of war.

It wasn’t always so. When I was growing up, society openly despised the soldier.

But somewhere in the intervening 50 years, the circle has come full around and now again it is not only okay to love those who do violence in our names, it is nearly mandatory.

But it must be done in a certain way, you see.

It’s okay to write about war, to set novels among the conflagration and tell tales of glory and honor and sacrifice, so long as those who are caught up in its horror resent their own service. So long as they despise the conflict and the government and the utter ridiculous stupidity which sent them into the meat grinder. It’s okay to tell stories of war and conflict so long as the hero is serving only out of duty and will return to civilian life once the war ends – or die heroically, or tragically, or foolishly, depending on what kind of story you’re telling.

But to tell a story of those who serve when they don’t have to?

To write of those who find a home in the military?

That is a sin.

Those people, you see, they’re the losers. Honor, courage, duty, ethics, the morality of war, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in trace to your country, well, these things are for suckers, wannabe fascists, murderers, dumb blunt tools with nothing better to do.

This is the difference between Full Metal Jacket and The Green Berets.

This, this right here, is the difference between The Forever War and Starship Troopers.


This is the difference between the man I met up above … and me.


Today we honor those who served in peace and in war.

We honor those who came of their own free will and those who came only because they were called.

We honor those who came of age in bloody conflict, those who like me, like the protagonist of that novel, found a life, who found ourselves, in the military.

And we honor those who resented every goddamned miserable senseless minute of it.

Today wreaths will be laid. Flags will be raised to the truck and lowered to half-mast and there they’ll fly, cracking in the cold breeze, the symbol we fought and bled and died for, while below words of patriotism, duty, honor, courage, service, and sacrifice will be spoken.

The trumpets will sound their terrible call and the tears will flow – as they are down my face even as I write this.

Because, you see, I remember.

I remember those who trained and led me. I remember those I served alongside. I remember those I trained and led myself. I remember those men and women, every one of them, the good and the bad, the faithful and the faithless, the leaders and the followers, the admirable and the shitheads, those who came before me and those who came after, those who still live and serve and fight out there every day in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, those who have hung up their swords, and most of all I remember those who have given the last full measure – I remember them, each and every single one, each and every single day.

They are always with me, because they are the people who made me what I am.


Perhaps we are nothing more than blunt instruments. Perhaps we are fools. Today I am disinclined to argue the point.


Perhaps we are.

Because after the wreaths are laid, and the flags are lowered, and the trumpets sound their final mournful call, then the politicians will return to the same old divisions, the tax bill, the latest pork barrel project, or how the other party is a bunch of unpatriotic un-American bastards.

Tomorrow they’ll remember us not at all – or at best, only as a way to further their own selfish agendas.

The talk show hosts will cry their crocodile tears, and wax self-righteous and angrily demand that their listeners honor veterans. They'll take people to task for not wearing an American Flag pin, or for not having a yellow ribbon on their cars, or for not serving in uniform, all the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none.

And tomorrow, as always, they’ll forget all about us and go back to telling Americans to hate each other.

The Great Patriots, those Americans who think love of country is a contest and who wave the flag as if it were the cheap symbol of their favorite football team, are going to drink a lot of beer and discount liquor and pontificate drunkenly at great length about how the country is going to hell in a hand-basket because of that son of a bitch in [insert: Congress, the White House, Wall Street, et cetera here] and how we should be doing better by our “Heroes.” All the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none.

And tomorrow, they’ll nurse their sullen hung-over resentment and go back to fearing that the men and women they honor today will knock on their door to take away their freedoms and liberties and guns.

Meanwhile today a lot of folks who don't think much about patriotism are going to go to parades and wave little flags and quietly give thanks for those who bought their freedom at such terrible cost. Some will stand ramrod straight even though many can barely stand at all, like me they limp, or they roll, bent but unbroken, they’ll place their hands over their hearts as the American flag passes, and in their eyes you can see horrible memories of Saipan and Iwo Jima, Normandy, the Rhine, the black Ardennes forest, The Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Tet, Al Basrah, Anbar, and Bagram.

They won't talk about honoring veterans, they are veterans.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives in the service will raise a flag in their front yard, just as they do every day - and pray that those same loved ones get home alive and whole, just as they do every day.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers who have fallen in the service will visit graveyards, they'll bring fresh flowers, and fresh flags, and fresh tears.

Today, some just won’t give a good goddamn. They'll get a day off from work. They'll picnic, or party, or go boating, or hiking, or to the track. They'll paint the house, or do chores around the yard, they’ll haul trash to the dump if it's open or take the dog for a walk. Or maybe they won't, maybe today will be just like any other day. Kids still go to school, here in Florida. Teachers still teach. Stores, restaurants, car lots are all open with blowout sales. And it may be that these people most honor veterans, by simply going on with their lives, by living without having to remember the dead on some far distant battlefield, without having to worry about their security.

Without having to thank anybody.

And today, some will protest. Protest war, the military, the government. They'll use this day to burn the flag, they’ll take to Facebook and Twitter to call us fascists and murderers and dumb blunt tools. They’ll use this day to march and to demonstrate and it may be that these people are paying the highest compliment to veterans – even though that is the least of their intentions. Because, you see, it was veterans who bought them their right to despise us.

We are not heroes.

We are not heroes. Most of us anyway, we are simply people like any other, doing the best we can with what we have under difficult circumstance. We came when called and did our duty, each for our own reasons. You don’t have to understand why, just as you may not understand why a fireman would run into a burning building instead in the other direction. Just as you may never understand why Heinlein wrote what he wrote.

In our country, in a free society, the soldier should be no more revered than any other citizen.

We should respect the warrior, but we should never worship him.

There is no glory in war.

It is a horrible, brutal business and make no mistake about it.

We can wish it otherwise. We can rail against the utter stupidity and the phenomenal waste and the bloody obscenity of it all. We can declare and decry war’s terrible necessity and its terrible cost. Be that as it may, given human nature, for now war must often be done and our nation, our world, needs those who would fight, who would stand rough and ready to do violence in their name. It is a duty, a profession, a job, and a calling that must be done.

Perhaps in some distant future we will have put it behind us, perhaps we will have made war and the warrior long obsolete.  We can certainly hope that it shall be so. We can and should and must strive to make it so.

Perhaps some day we will set aside a day to honor the peacemakers and study war no more.

Perhaps.

But I wouldn’t count on it.


I don’t know. I don’t particularly care. I won’t live long enough to see such a day if it ever comes.


You see, I didn’t do it for you.

I didn’t do it for you and you owe me nothing. Neither thanks nor pity.

I’ve said it before, I’ll likely say it again: If you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens. And me? I joined the military for myself. To prove something to myself. To be that better citizen in my own way.

I joined for myself, but I stayed for them.

I stayed for my comrades in arms, for those I served beside. I did it for them. I did it for all the things I found in that novel, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

I did it because like the protagonist of that book, that is my sin, I found a life there among friends.

I met a man who despised me.

He despised me for who I am, a veteran.

And you know what? That, that right there, is the highest compliment I could be paid.

That, that right there, is what we were doing out there in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, defending his right to hold us in utter contempt.

I met a man who despised me.

He called me and those like me fascist, murderer, dumb blunt tools.

I can live with that.

And I wear his contempt as a badge of honor.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Giving Us The Business

You know the last eight years, they borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country. So they borrowed more than $10 trillion, right? And yet, we picked up 5.2 trillion just in the stock market. Possibly picked up the whole thing in terms of the first nine months, in terms of value. So you could say, in one sense, we’re really increasing values. And maybe in a sense we’re reducing debt. But we’re very honored by it. And we’re very, very happy with what’s happening on Wall Street.
- President Donald J. Trump, Hannity, Oct 12, 2017


This is how billionaires think.

image


A surging stock market is great for billionaires, sure it is. You’ll get no argument from me on that.


image


A rising stock market sure is good for Donald Trump.

And what’s good for Trump is good for business, because Trump is business, isn’t he?, I mean that’s why he was elected. Business. He’s a businessman. Americans were tired of business as usual. Trump was going to run America like a business. And so he is. And so he is. Really giving us the business. 

And what’s good for business must be good for you, good for jobs, good for the national debt, good for the world.

Sure.

I mean, right?

What’s good for business is good for you.

Isn’t it?

Well? Isn’t it?

Right?

It’s not just Trump.

That’s what conservatives have been telling us for decades. That’s essentially the foundation of the Republican platform. If we create a country that’s good for business, well, it’ll automatically be good for all the rest of us. This is the fundamental message of the GOP. What’s good for business is good for you. This is modern conservatism. This is, at least in part, libertarianism, sure it is. Government is bad. Get government out of the way, kill government, drown it in a bathtub, and that’s good for freedom, good for America, good for business. And what's good for business is good for you.

Trickle-down economics, the same warm piss disguised as lemonade Republicans have been peddling since before Reagan.

And how’s that worked out for you?

What's good for business is good for you.

Seems intuitive, doesn't it? Seems logical. Seems to follow. Good for business, good for me.

Well, mostly…

[Pregnancy is] a wonderful thing for the woman, it's a wonderful thing for the husband, it's certainly an inconvenience for a business. And whether people want to say that or not, the fact is, it is an inconvenience for a person that is running a business.
--
Donald J. Trump

Sure, a rising stock market is better than a falling one (Caveat: unless you’re attempting to short your stock, but just go with me for a minute), but is that really good for the average American? 

Is it?

Maybe.

Or maybe not. Or maybe both.

See, the things that are good for business aren't necessarily good for people. Sometimes they are, yes, but not always.

Take John Thain, for example.

John Thain was the last CEO of Merrill Lynch. He made billions upon billions for the stock market. Literally.

Now what’s good for the stock market must be good for you, right?That’s Trump’s whole message this morning.

And John Thain was great for business, great for the stock market.

Oh yes. Yes, he was.

Until he destroyed everything.

Until that ballooning stock market he helped create imploded and precipitated a global financial collapse that vaporized literally trillions of dollars, destroyed century-old too-big-to-fail companies and brand new mom & pop businesses alike, zeroed millions of retirement accounts, destroyed the life savings of millions, and left hundreds of thousands jobless, hungry, and out on the street all over the globe.

How was that?

Was that good for you?

Max Belfort: What kind of a hooker takes credit cards?
Donnie Azoff: A rich one!
-- The Wolf of Wall Street,
2013.

No?

It was pretty fucking great for John Thain though. He made millions, literally. The company he destroyed paid him more than $80,000,000. Then Bank of America hired him for millions more to preside over the carcass of the company he destroyed (BOA acquired the wreckage of Merril-Lynch after it collapsed).

That's good work if you can get it.

After that, Thain headed up Citigroup, making millions more. Then he retired. With his fortune intact.

And how'd that work out for you? How's your retirement account? Recovered from Thain’s recession?

No?

Oh well.

Martin Shkreli made millions for the stock market by driving up the prices of certain critical drugs.

That was really great for investors.

And in fact, that was the whole point. Shkreli wasn’t a pharmacist, he was a hedge fund manager. The entire reason he got into the drug business was to make money. Which was a pretty sweet gig while it lasted. Great for stocks.

Kinda sucked if you were dying from AIDS and needed a Daraprim prescription though.

Was that good for you?

Mylan raised the price of the EpiPen to levels that literally killed people with allergies.

Mylan made billions. The company’s CEO became a millionaire. And the stockholders were overjoyed.

Was that good for you?

See, business raises its stock by becoming more profitable, i.e. by creating a monopoly like Shkreli, by creating a market and limiting availability like Mylan, by tricking people into investing by creating buzz for products that don't actually exist (see Silicon Valley et al), by risking other people’s money like Thain, by offshoring their manufacturing, by outsourcing, by rightsizing, by downsizing, by hiring cheap foreign labor on temp visas like, oh, let's say Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago for example.

That’s good for business.

That’s good for the stock market.

But is that good for you?

Maybe.

If you're invested in those companies.

Not so great if you're poor and your kid is allergic to bees though.

If any of my competitors were drowning, I'd stick a hose in their mouth and turn on the water. It is ridiculous to call this an industry. This is not. This is rat eat rat, dog eat dog. I'll kill 'em, and I'm going to kill 'em before they kill me. You're talking about the American way – of survival of the fittest.
-- Ray Kroc, American businessman, founder of McDonalds

You know what's good for business? Strip mining. Polluting. High oil prices. Shady deals. The 2006-07 US Housing Bubble was great for the stock market, really really great. Right up until it destroyed all your jobs, your retirement, and left you homeless.

You know what's good for business? Cancer.

You know what's good for business? War.

A surging stock market always benefits the wealthy. Always.

But it's the middle class and the poor who always pay the price when it fails. Always. Every time.

And the wealthy are fine with this.

Of course they are.

This was their idea.

This is how billionaires like Trump go bankrupt over and over without losing a penny of their wealth.

Sure, every once in a while the good guys win one and people like Martin Shkreli and Bernie Madoff go to jail…

..but, Donald Trump didn't lose his home when the bubble burst last time.

And John Thain made millions destroying your life.

And Martin Shkreli still has $70 million waiting for him when he gets out.

These people, their business model is simple: rape and pillage, rape and pillage, squeeze the suckers for all the market can bear plus ten percent. Then, when it all falls apart, demand those very same victims – the poor and middle-class – bail them out or suffer even worse. And if called on it, deny all responsibility and place the blame on the very same victims with a smug Martin Shkreli sneer and a supercilious caveat emptor.

And yesterday Republicans voted to make it illegal to sue these people when they blow up the economy and steal your money.

Which they most certainly will do again.


Using the stock market as the sole measure of economic "greatness" is disingenuous at best – and dangerously fatal at worst. Fatal for you.


If you elect wealthy business people to run the country, well, then you're going to get the business.

That's the one thing you can count on.

Every. Single. Time.

I love money more than the things it can buy. But what I love more than money is other people's money.
-- Lawrence Garfield, Other People’s Money, 1991