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Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part IV

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Good news this morning for those who depend on EpiPens.

Well, not good news good news, but better news than yesterday anyway.

Mylan, the pharmaceutical company which manufactures the EpiPen epinephrine autoinjector, announced today that they are (not really) lowering the prices of the medical device. Mylan is also expanding its voucher program for low income/uninsured patients to provide access to the devices more or less free of charge.

The prices are still significantly higher than they were a year ago, but much better than they were last week.

This comes after weeks of public outcry over Mylan’s drastic price increases for the lifesaving device.

Over the last few years users of the Epipen saw their out-of-pocket costs increase by more than 500% in some cases, meaning that for many their costs increased from $120 per set of two EpiPens to anywhere between $400 and $700. Many severe allergy sufferers might need as many as six to eight Epipens per year depending.

It’s doesn’t take a Wall Street Pharma Bro to do that kind of math.

That’s one hell of a burden on one hell of a lot of people.

Naturally, predictably, rightfully, many Americans were outraged.

The price increases meant that for many, the EpiPen was no longer an option. And for a significant number of people, that meant a radical change in their lives. Some of the people I spoke to told me they simply couldn’t risk going outside until winter, because if they were stung by a bee they would die. They couldn’t risk letting their kids go to school because exposure to a single peanut might kill them without an EpiPen immediately available.

Now, for those who don’t suffer severe allergies, this kind of paranoia might seem overly dramatic.

It’s not.

People die.

Children die. Adults die. It happens. They always have, usually at young ages, you just never heard much about it. We chalked it up to poisoning or crib death or any of various maladies. But people have always died from severe allergic reactions. In the past many of those folks didn’t know they were allergic until they were choking to death. But now with increased awareness and education (much of it sponsored by Mylan and other Big Pharma), advancing medical technology and better diagnostic tools, many of these people are aware of their sensitivities and with devices such as the EpiPen readily available they can live normal lives.

For those not familiar, the EpiPen is a drug autoinjector – basically an automatic hypodermic needle anybody can use. You pop off the safety cap, press the tip against muscle tissue and push, a spring-loaded needle stabs into your flesh and a measured dose of a drug (in this case Epinephrine (adrenalin)) is forcefully injected directly into the muscle tissue. It sounds violent and painful and it is, it leaves a hell of a bruise (trust me on this), but you get to live which is always nice. Use of the EpiPen requires minimal training and can be used in seconds. And this matters because while epinephrine is used to treat a variety of conditions, in this case it’s being use to prevent anaphylaxis – i.e. a severe allergic reaction where breathing tissues – i.e. your throat! – can swell closed, which typically results in death via asphyxiation unless there’s somebody right there who knows how to perform a tracheotomy with a pocket knife and an ink pen. 

Having your windpipe close up is generally considered a pretty terrible way to go.

People with severe allergies, peanuts, bee stings, shellfish, etc, depend on the EpiPen for their very lives. Many carry the pen on their person at all times because should they suffer an allergic reaction there simply isn’t enough time to wait for medical personnel. Some severely affected people can literally suffocate in minutes. This is especially true in the case of children.

Overly dramatic? The ironic thing is that’s usually the opinion of the same people who think they have to have a gun immediately at the ready because it takes too long for the police to arrive.  I digress.

While there are other devices available, from other manufactures and including Mylan itself, the generic versions are cheaper but are more difficult to operate. And that difficulty is the problem. You see, the Epipen autoinjector is the standard – by design and intent.  It’s what first responders and emergency room personnel and patients themselves are all trained to use.

I myself have been taught to use the Epipen. I have trained many others. (No, I don’t suffer from allergies, more on that later). 

The generic devices work differently. And those differences can take minutes to figure out – when you don’t have minutes.

Moreover in many states, because these are medical devices, doctors have to write the prescriptions specifically for the generic version or the pharmacist can’t issue them and insurance won’t cover them (sometimes insurance won’t cover them even if the doctor does write a prescription specifically for the generic. The rules governing this are complex and difficult to understand even for medical professionals and it varies by state).

It’s complicated and frustrating and downright frightening for a lot of people who could find themselves choking to death while reading this essay.

 

A number of readers, those dependent on Mylan's Epipen either for themselves or for their loved ones, wrote asking why I hadn't posted anything on this subject either here or on my Facebook page.

 

I was waiting.

I was waiting for this, for Mylan to lower their prices.

As I said to those readers in private correspondence, I expected it to take about a week. And here we are.

Companies who depend on public approval for their stock returns don't do well when they come across to the public as greedy evil bastards willing to kill sick people for for a buck. Not unless they're defense contractors with billion dollar government contracts that is. Mylan isn’t that.  And I digress. Again.

Nor is Mylan run by a Wall Street pharma-bro like Martin Shkreli – not exactly anyway – though that comparison is so ubiquitous now I’ll be hard pressed to convince you otherwise.

But it’s true.

You see, Shkreli is an opportunistic douchebag perfectly willing to profit off the misery of sick people. He honestly doesn’t care if people die, so long as he turns a profit and he’s said so and grinned into the cameras while doing it. The man is purposely vile, he knows it and revels in his reputation. That’s nothing new for people like Martin Shkreli. He’s a hedge-fund manager, not a pharmacist, and he acts like one – absolutely no different than those greedy opportunistic Wall Street investment bankers who crashed the world economy for their own selfish ends.

The difference between Shkreli and Mylan is that his company, Turing, was by design a one-hit wonder.

Turing Pharmaceuticals owned the patent on a single critical drug, Daraprim, which is why Shkreli bought it. He knew what would happen when he jacked up the price and he didn't care – in fact public outrage was very likely his goal. Being hated made Shkreli famous. Being called the most hated man in America was the Holy Grail for Martin Shkreli.  Your hate meant everything to him because Shkreli wasn’t interested in running a drug company, he only wanted the money he could squeeze out of it before dumping it and moving on.  He wasn’t making money from those dying of AIDS/HIV, he was making money from hedging the investment. This is a well-greased Wall Street model, it's how business is done every day in America. It's just that most of the time you don't hear about it because it doesn't blatantly turn people dying of a hideous disease into Soylent Green.

Mylan is different.

Mylan is vast global pharmaceutical company registered in the Netherlands and headquartered out of Great Britain. Most of what they make is generic drugs – the less expensive formulas of name brands used by millions of low income and uninsured people all over the world.  That’s right. Without Mylan poor people would be paying a hell of a lot more for routine drugs.  

Mylan also holds the patents on certain specialty devices, such as the Epipen.

Now, Mylan has the a right to make a profit, just as Shkreli did.

Yes, I can hear you screaming. Go on and get it out your system.

But it’s true. The company has a right to make a profit. The morality of making a profit off sick people is a topic for another time and I’m not going to go into it here. It is how it is at the moment and it’s not going to change without a radical restructuring of our civilization. Deal with it.  

Unlike Shkreli, however, Mylan’s bottom-line very much depends on public opinion*. Once their stock started tanking, their response was perfectly predictable.

(*Note: The criminal case against Shkreli is still in progress, but it seems likely based on the charges and his track record that he was involved in a complex scam to manipulate the market in order to short his own investments -- basically betting against himself. If that was the case then the greater the outrage and the worse public opinion, the better his profits. It’s shady as hell and often illegal and depending on how his trial goes, maybe worth a long prison sentence. Welcome to Wall Street).

The primary difference between Mylan and Shkreli is that Mylan (like most pharmaceutical companies) has every reason to keep their customers alive, heathy*, and happy.  Dead people don’t buy Epipens.

Shkreli had no such interest.

(*Note: please don’t start in with the “Big Pharma wants you sick so they can sell drugs” nonsense.  That’s a ridiculous conspiracy theory, easily proven false as many times as you care to run the experiment. Big Pharma isn’t evil and without the drugs they produce every single day, many of you wouldn’t be here or would suffer a vastly worse quality of life. People get sick. They get injured. They have allergies. Diseases evolve, new ones emerge every day. Big Pharma profits far more from making you happy, healthy, and a satisfied customer than they ever would by keeping you sick. So just don’t**)

(**Note: Yes, I realize you will now brand me as a shill for Big Pharma and add me to the conspiracy to keep you sick. Go on. Feel free. Just do me a favor and keep it to yourself and out of my comments section. Thanks. Also, if you see my huge check from Big Pharma, please pass it along because I sure could use it)

 

All of that said, this is a damned good example of what's wrong with the American healthcare system.

 

Under this story on The Hill, commenters are waging a full out war with liberals on one side and conservatives on the other. Neither seems to have much understanding of the actual situation.

For example, commenter Scott declares:

"Regardless of who's paying (taking ACA out of the picture) they have jacked the price for pure and utter greed."

To which one Daniel Gray responded:

"THEY are the ones that invented the drug and the ability to dispense it, so THEY have the right to decide how much to charge for it. Using your logic, if you invented something that people found out later that they needed it I then suspect that you would be ok with the Government or someone else coming in and telling you that you had to sell them for $.03 each and eat the cost of developing the drug and the dispensing system that cost you close to a couple hundred million dollars, as well as the pay of all the employees and so on. These companies just cant win with people like you. If they make something you dont want them to be able to get their money back from what they spent on it, and if they do what you want and then have to lay off people because they dont have money to pay them, then you go after them for that. Stop buying into the left wing BS. Your invention, YOU set the price, not some cubical critter in DC."

Both commenters are wrong in varying degrees.

Shkreli jacked up his prices out of unvarnished greed. He gleefully admitted as much – it's why he bought the expired Daraprim patent in the first place and founded Turing Pharmaceuticals. Greed was his entire business model. But again, he’s a hedge fund manager, this is what they do. This is why Wall Street needs to be regulated – a topic we’ll come back to in a bit.

Mylan increased prices for profit, certainly, because they have to make a profit for their shareholders and they have every right to do so, but that wasn't the only reason. Scott says “taking the ACA out of the picture,” but the thing is you can’t take the ACA out of the picture. Complex economic factors and unexpected market pressures driven by implementation of the Affordable Care Act factor directly into the price increase – and that is entirely on Congress who has repeatedly and emphatically failed to act.  And to a certain extent on the President who has not made this flaw (and others) in his signature legislation a national issue and publicly demanded Congress stop screwing around and get on it.

This situation, and dozens more like it, could have been avoided, if Congress would do its goddamned job and start fixing the Affordable Healthcare Act – or even replace it with something better as Republicans have been promising for eight years now but have as yet failed to produce a single legislative improvement despite majorities in both houses. And without the ACA, the costs would be even higher and 20 million more people would be uninsured.

Congress could fix this.  

That’s their job.

No legislation is perfect, it can’t be. The world is simply too complex. Legislation is too complex. Social Security, Medicare, the National Highway Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Anti-Trust Act, every major piece of legislation was flawed in some fashion. There are always unforeseen side effects. That’s Congress’s job, to fix those things and to keep fixing them as new problems emerge.

But they won’t.

And they won’t because just like Martin Shkreli, they’re more interested in their own selfish satisfaction than they are in keeping the rest of us alive.

Congress has always fixed the problems with various laws, in fact that’s about 80% of what they do. Right up until President Obama came along, when petulant childish obstructionism became more important than your life.

Congress would rather let you choke to death than give one inch to President Obama.

Then there’s the other side of the argument:

“THEY are the ones that invented the drug and the ability to dispense it…”

Wrong.

Wrong on both counts.

Epinephrine is a compound produced by the adrenal gland. It was first isolated by a guy named Jokichi Takamine, a Japanese chemist who immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s. Takamine’s 1901 patent for “Process of Making Diastatic Enzyme,” US Patent #525,823, was the very first patent ever granted for a glandular hormone. Synthetic versions were later developed and patented. Most of those patents have long expired.

Mylan didn’t “invent” epinephrine.

And they don’t own it. Nobody does.

The amount of epinephrine per typical dose is at most a few cents. Combined with other compounds to increase the effectiveness of the drug and decrease side effects (variations of which are how you make generics), each injection costs around $1.00US.

But what Mylan does own is the patent on the EpiPen autoinjector – the device that allows somebody going into anaphylactic shock to self-inject themselves with epinephrine. Or allows a bystander, any bystander trained or not, to do the same.

That’s what they’re charging you for.

But see, here’s the funny part: they didn’t invent that either.

The EpiPen was developed by Merck Pharmaceuticals from the Mark I NAAK ComboPen,

Remember I told you I was trained in the use of the autoinjector? It was the Mark I.

NAAK stands for “Nerve Agent Antidote Kit” in case you were wondering. 

Military folks, particularly those who serve on the front lines, are intimately familiar with this beast or the newer version called the ATNAA (Antidote Treatment Nerve Agent Auto-Injector).  It was designed by the US government during the Cold War specifically to help military people survive a nerve agent attack. The drugs injected are not epinephrine (atropine sulfate and pralidoxime chloride and anybody who took my class better still be able to spell pralidoxime chloride in their sleep), but the device and method of use are almost exactly the same as the EpiPen.

Mylan acquired the various patents for the EpiPen and other autoinjectors from Merck when the company bought Merck’s generic drug division in 2007.

Now, pay attention: Merck never did much with the EpiPen. It was around, people could buy it, those with allergies knew about it and bought the device or one of the various other models available, but it wasn’t common. It was fairly cheap, but a lot of people who could have benefitted from wider availability didn’t have access to it. There were several versions on the market, there was no standard, and it was hit or miss which type you might come across.

Mylan’s CEO, Heather Bresch, the woman people are right now comparing to Martin Shkreli, set about making the-easy-to-use EpiPen available to everybody.

Her plan was to make the EpiPen ubiquitous. Simple, easy to use, and available everywhere. She undertook a program to increase awareness of the dangers of anaphylaxis and severe food allergies – which is why so many people actually know about them today. She successfully lobbied the FDA to approve the EpiPen for use in treating those conditions. And she successfully lobbied Congress for legislation and funding that makes EpiPens available the same way defibrillators are – and in fact she hired the same people who designed defibrillator legislation to design the EpiPen legislation. She started programs to help uninsured and underinsured people get access to the EpiPen. She got EpiPens into ambulances and first aid kits and schools and restaurants.

These efforts have directly and provably saved many lives.

So, what am I saying here? Bresch is some kind of hero? That Bresch did all of this out of the goodness of her heart. That she isn’t out to make a profit? No, of course not. Don’t be stupid. Bresch saw an opportunity, she saw how an obscure device could be used to seize the majority of the market-share in the area of emergency allergy first aid. And she took it and pushed that idea all the way. As a result, her vison and leadership increased profits for Mylan in this one area from about $200M in 2007 to over $1.5B in 2015.

Of course she did it for profit. Of course she did. But she saved a lot of lives along the way.

That, that right there, is what a good CEO does.

Heather Bresch is no Martin Shkreli and Mylan isn’t Turing.

 

Yes, I hear you there in the back, screaming in outrage. Yes, I know. Mylan is a tax inverter. Bresch took advantage of corporate tax loopholes to cut Mylan’s tax burden and increase profits (though their shareholders are likely to get a hefty capital gains whammy this year).  Yep. And it was all perfectly legal. And frankly if I was the CEO of Mylan, I’d have done the same thing. If I could save my company millions and increase stockholder returns, I’d be negligent in my duties not to do so. That’s what they pay CEOs for. Bear with me for a bit, we’ll come back to this.

 

Now, a side effect of this increase in availability, combined with unforeseen side effects with the ACA, resulted in massive price increases for the EpiPen. Some of which was deliberate on the part of Mylan, but not all.

And so here we are caught between the rock of capitalism and the hard spot of our obligation to those in need.

And it’s not as simple as greed.

And it’s not as simple as need.

“… if you invented something that people found out later that they needed it I then suspect that you would be ok with the Government or someone else coming in and telling you that you had to sell them for $.03 each and eat the cost of developing the drug and the dispensing system that cost you close to a couple hundred million dollars, as well as the pay of all the employees and so on. These companies just cant win with people like you. If they make something you dont want them to be able to get their money back from what they spent on it, and if they do what you want and then have to lay off people because they dont have money to pay them, then you go after them for that. Stop buying into the left wing BS. Your invention, YOU set the price, not some cubical critter in DC."

None of that is true.

Mylan didn’t develop either the drug or the device.

They did have to pay for acquisition of it however. It cost them about $6.7 Billion in fact. They have to make that back – and hopefully a lot more, otherwise it was a bad deal by definition and it’ll be bad not only for Mylan, but for everybody else too.  

Now, leaving aside Mylan’s obligation to its shareholders, does the government have a right to decide what a company can charge for their product?

Should the government have that power?

What happens when government sets the prices of goods? Anybody? There’s a name for that type of government, you know. And historically speaking, how does that typically work out? I’ll leave the answer as an exercise for the reader.

The commenter above doesn’t think government should be able to regulate prices – though one suspects he might have a different outlook if he had to buy EpiPens out his own pocket to keep his kid alive.

Then again, maybe not – and I’m digressing yet again.

But – but – here’s the thing the commenter is missing: The US taxpayer paid for the original design. 

That’s right.

The US government paid for the development and design and manufacture of the Mark I NAAK ComboPen.

Now, why shouldn’t the people who paid for that design have some say, via their government, in how that device is made available to the public?

We regulate prices for all kinds of products critical to the public good, either directly or through anti-trust laws.

Electricity is a good example here. We regulate utility prices specifically because in the modern world most people can’t do without electricity, and because electricity in many areas is a monopoly.  Without regulation that monopoly could raise prices to any level they wished and people would have to pay up or learn to do without.

Mylan – by deliberate design of their CEO – owns what is essentially a monopoly on the autoinjector market.

People die without it.

The same people who paid for its design through their tax dollars.

Tax dollars that Mylan has found a way not to pay.

So why shouldn’t those people have a say in how that the device is regulated and sold?

Look here: Mylan isn’t a villain. Mylan has a right to make a profit, as much as they can so long as its legal. Mylan has a right to take advantage of the tax loopholes, they’d be fools not to. Mylan’s CEO has every right to set her salary at whatever the shareholders will accept. And if we are to be truthful with ourselves, Mylan and companies like them do a lot of good – far more good than bad and our modern lives would be radically lesser without them and in fact if it wasn’t for people like Heather Bresch, we wouldn’t be having this argument because most of you would never even have heard of the EpiPen.

Without the incentive of capitalism, this situation wouldn’t even exist and hundreds, maybe thousands, of people would be dying every year of anaphylaxis.  

But Mylan’s interests are not ours.

And you’re a fool if you expect altruism from corporations.

It is the government’s job to balance capitalism against the needs of the citizenry via regulation.

And that responsibility rests squarely on Congress.

Congress has traded away your health and safety – and your tax dollars – in their mad vendetta against the President.

They are all, each and every one, responsible. And any death that results is squarely upon those sorry sons of bitches.

Congress could fix this. They could rewrite the tax laws to eliminate the loopholes, they could set fair regulation of critical medical devices including the EpiPen – regulations that are fair both to industry and fair to the citizens who need them – and they could use the resulting increase in federal money to subsidize in various degree EpiPens and other healthcare for all citizens exactly as the president intended eight years ago. They could do all of this today, right now. But they will not.

Mylan and the EpiPen is but one of a thousand similar problems that directly affect the quality of life for people all over the world. Every. Single. Day.

Those problems could be solved if the people responsible would only do the job they were elected and paid to do.

But they will not.

They will not.

 

Look, let’s get something straight here: I have no intention of being an apologist for the pharmaceutical industry. Or for capitalism itself.  But this is the world we live in and if you’re expecting altruism from Wall Street at the shareholders’ expense you are a fool. It’s not going to happen, ever – even if the company’s motto is “Do No Evil” because evil, like ethics and altruism, is subjective.

The only way to make this better for all of us is via the mechanism put in place by our Founders.

In the end, you hold the power.

Come this November, remember this betrayal. Remember this petulant, childish eight year long tantrum. These lousy sons of bitches would let your child choke to death before they cooperate with each other or the president and there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe they will change in the future.

Remember that when you go to the polls to elect a new congress and a new president.

If you want a better nation, be better citizens.

If you want a better nation, you have to elect a better government.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Wishful Thinking

Jim, what happens if Trump quits the race?

What if Trump quits the race?

What if Trump craps out and goes home?

That question in various configurations is currently trending at about 90% of my inbox.

What if he quits?

There's a margin of error on that percentage in that I quit. I quit reading this morning after about 200 messages and went to play with the cat and watch it rain for a while. The number could be more or less, but let's go with 90% for dramatic effect. OK?

Good.

What if Trump quits the race?

Well ...

Okay. Sure. Why not? In a year of goddamned things, what’s one more goddamned thing? Right?

Right.

This morning Politico reports more than 70% of Republican leaders want Trump to drop out (but still support him). I have no idea what the percentage of democrats who want Trump to quit is, but it’s likely similar or higher. Maybe a lot higher.

Sure.

Folks, first, Trump is not going to quit the race.

He’s not.

The man is pathologically incapable of such an act.

If history is any guide to his pathology, Trump honestly doesn’t believe he can lose – not without some kind of flimflam. Confident of victory to the bitter end, he'll go down in flames raging all the way and blame either incompetent minions or some nebulous conspiracy for his defeat. Guys like this, well, the last time one of these people took over a modern country it ended with him blowing his own brains out in a bunker under the burning ruins of his capital city. That guy believed he could win too, right up until the moment he pulled the trigger.

Trump is not going to quit the race.

Democrats (who've been appalled from the start) and Republicans (who are just now realizing the scope of the disaster they face) are likewise both engaged in wishful thinking.

There's more than a bit of Schadenfreude on the part of liberals. Trump is the personification and the natural end result of everything they've been saying about the GOP since Reagan. Watching the monster Republicans themselves created ripping the GOP limb from limb is a pretty sweet I Fucking Told You So indeed.

But

…the problem with monsters is that they make for lousy revenge.

Monsters by definition are unpredictable and uncontrollable and not particularly discriminating when it comes to victims. They rampage through the village savaging the innocent along with the deserving just as soon as they're done decorating the walls of the castle with their creator's intestines.

Trump's not going to quit the race.

Why should he?

What possible motivation does Trump have to drop out?

That’s what liberals want.

That’s what the GOP establishment wants.

Trump can’t give them that victory, the shame would be unbearable. He’ll blow his own brains out first.

Trump, whatever his other motivations might be, is an attention whore. That is the very core of his being. For all his wealth and fame and success, he’s still just an insecure little teenager who craves popularity and approval. You see it in his every comment, in his every response to even the smallest criticism. If you point out that he never served in the military, he puffs out his chest and says that his prep school experience was even more difficult than actual military service and his toadies all nod, it’s true, it’s true. If you suggest that Trump is “only” a millionaire, he pulls out his wallet and brags about his supposed billions. If you make a joke about his small hands – a joke anybody else would laugh off or ignore because it’s just so utterly idiotic – Trump becomes dangerously enraged in the same manner a high school jock does when somebody questions his sexuality. When Trump is criticized by the father of a fallen soldier – something any other politician would wisely ignore – Trump doesn’t just respond, he attacks, he turns the soldier’s family into terrorists, enemies of America, Fifth Columnists, he attacks their religion, their integrity, their honor, their grief, their patriotism. Trump goes after the fallen soldier himself – a man who gave his life in the service to the country and is no longer able to defend himself – smearing the dead man’s reputation, questioning his service and sacrifice. And his toadies all nod, it’s true, it’s all true! Yeah, you tell ‘em, Mr. Trump! You tell ‘em!

Trump is all the worst aspects of American culture. He’s Super Sized. His entire life is a dick measuring contest. He has to be the smartest, the richest, he has to have the biggest cock, the hottest girl, the best car, the tallest building. Anything less is a personal insult. Anything less makes him feel small and insecure.

This? This presidential race? This was tailor-made for his ego.

If he wins, he gets everything he ever wanted, power, fame, riches, attention, access, the ability to shake the world.  If he wins he finally gets the things his money and fame can’t buy.

If he loses, he becomes a martyr, the victim of both liberal and conservative conspiracies brought down by evil unseen forces.

Either way, he’ll bask in the resulting attention for the rest of his life.

But if he quits of his own accord he becomes just another forgotten loser.

 

Given what you know of Donald Trump, now why would he do that?

 

Trump is not going to quit the race.

But what if he did?

What if Trump kicks over the board and goes home?

What if one day he suddenly realizes that the path to true political immortality is to be the one guy – the one guy – who in the entire history of the United States becomes the first major party’s candidate to drop out. Screw it. Leaving the Republican Party holding the bag.

He’d throw America into absolute chaos and his place in history would be assured.

He doesn’t care that history would see him as a villain, hell, he’d love it!

What if he wakes up to this idea?

What then?

What if Trump quits?

That’s an interesting question.

And there’s no real answer … or rather there is, but you’re not going to like it.

First of all, it won’t be Mike Pence.

At least it won’t automatically be Mike Pence.

A number of folks seem to be under the impression that the Constitution somehow applies here and if Trump drops out then his running mate steps in to replace him. But that’s not how it works. Trump hasn’t been elected to office, he’s just a the GOP candidate. The Constitution doesn’t govern how political parties nominate their candidates and doesn’t dictate order of succession in the event a candidate craps out before the election – in fact the Constitution doesn’t say anything about political parties at all.

It would be up to the Republican National Committee, the party itself, to replace Trump should he drop out. There’s a Republican Party rule for this, Republican National Committee Rule No. 9, Filling Vacancies in Nominations. If Trump were to drop out (or blow his brains out, or otherwise be unable to fulfil his obligation as the Party’s nominee), then the RNC can employ one of two methods to select a new candidate. The RNC can itself vote on a new candidate where each state would be given the same number of votes as they had at the last national convention – or – the party can reconvene the national convention and go through the entire process all over again.

There are obvious problems with both methods, but either way it’s a fairly straightforward process…

…that would likely result in chaos, massive uncontrolled infighting, and an implosion of the party.

The first method would simply toss the ball back into the hands of the very people who nominated Trump in the first place.

In a practical sense, it would be a logistical impossibility.

And why would the establishment RNC, the very people who’ve been fighting Trump, go along with this option? The Ted Cruz supporters think obstruction is a dandy idea and it’s likely the RNC would deadlock just trying to figure out what to do next.

The second method would be not only a logistical nightmare, but a financial disaster as well. The RNC would have to pay for a whole new convention. With no notice. Hell, just renting the convention hall would be damned near impossible given the timeline – they’d end up having it in a cow pasture and be grateful for that.

Imagine throwing together a national political convention with a week’s notice. Go on.

They couldn’t do it. Which means they’d have to go with the first method, the one that elected Trump in the first place. Which nobody would want. Which means they’d want to do the second option, but they can’t, so they go ‘round and ‘round and by the time the infighting stops the GOP as a national force is a footnote in political history.

But that’s the easy part.

The hard part is who?

Who would they nominate? The also-rans would have to relight their campaigns after quitting. Jeb Bush. Ted Cruz. Ben Carson. Mitt Romney. There are legal and political issues. Money. National support. Staffing. They’d hit the ground months behind Clinton’s Juggernaut and never catch up. Not to mention they all lost to Donald Trump. And the candidate has to be approved by a majority vote, which would be almost impossible for an extremist such as Cruz or an unpopular unlikable wishy-washy nebbish like Jeb.

Could they nominate Mike Pence? You mean the guy coupled to Trump, who (in this fantasy) just quit and screwed over the entire Republican Party? That Mike Pence? Sure. I would rate the likelihood of that happening about the same as the RNC nominating Chelsea Clinton, but it could happen.

The obvious choice for the RNC is to draft Paul Ryan – assuming the committee could agree and Ryan was dumb enough to accept a job as pinch-hitter for a nomination that’s almost sure to be a soup sandwich of legendary proportions. And which would throw the House back into chaos. Ryan might be better off crunching his fake tooth and sucking down the cyanide while laughing manically and waving his middle fingers at the entire country. Later, Loooosers!

The bottom line is whatever method the RNC used, the replacement candidate would be a last minute panic selection by a party in utter disarray.

Not exactly a recipe for success.

And the real hard part is when.

If Trump drops out now, right now, then there’s still time to hold a convention and nominate a new candidate and get him (or her, since we’re talking Republican fantasy here) onto the various state ballots.

But only if Trump drops out now.

The closer to November we get, the more impossible it becomes.

Once states start printing ballots – and mailing out absentee ballots – all bets are off. How each state deals with this situation is largely up to the various states and a tangled myriad of obscure, rarely used and in many cases untested state and federal laws. This is how dead people get elected to office.  I would guess the resulting legal challenges alone would be enough to throw the entire election – and thus the country – into anarchy.

 

It’s an appealing fantasy for a lot of people, Trump crapping out.

But at this point, as insane as it may sound, the best thing for the nation’s future is that Trump stick it out to the bitter end.

 

Then again, you know…

There are those on both sides of the political divide who are desperately hoping Hillary Clinton will soon be indicted for (something something gazpacho!).

Imagine it.

Both Clinton and Trump suddenly out of the race at the last minute.

The nation left without a viable major party candidate, Republican or Democratic.

The power of political parties finally broken and a return to a more democratic republic as first envisioned by the Founding Fathers…

As long as we’re playing this game, I mean.

What?

No, I suppose not.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Decider

So, it's Tim Kaine.

You know, that's a fascinating choice.

Hillary Clinton announced today that her running mate will be Virginia senator Tim Kaine.

That is a fantastic choice.

More, it’s a testament to her character and it says a great deal about how Hillary Clinton not only sees the world, but Americans in general.

In particular the choice of Tim Kaine tells you what Hillary Clinton thinks of her supporters.

 

And it’s a hell of a compliment.

 

You see, Donald Trump picked Mike Pence specifically because Pence appeals viscerally to the worst elements of the Republican base.

It’s obvious.

There's nothing even vaguely complicated or nuanced about Mike Pence at all.

There's no risk whatsoever for Trump in Pence.

Pence was the safe choice.

Pence is anti-everything. He's Anti-immigrant (including birthright citizenship), Anti-Federal Reserve (and all the Glenn Beck conspiracy nuts cheered), Anti-tax (he's a flat-tax guy and the conservative libertarians just wet themselves in glee), Anti-Education, Anti-EPA and a climate change denier, Anti-renewable energy (fossil fuels all the way and drill baby drill), Anti-Iran Deal, Anti-healthcare, Anti-abortion, Anti-stem cell research, Anti-evolution, Anti-Science, Anti-sex education, Anti-LGBT.

About the only thing Mike Pence is for is God, Guns, and War and not necessarily in that order.

Mike Pence wasn't a complicated decision, there’s nothing subtle or nuanced about his selection. Which figures, given that Trump is about as subtle and nuanced as a drunk at a frat party dancing on the table with a bra on his head.

Mike Pence is the clanking mechanical heart of the Party of No.

Trump picked Pence specifically because when he looks out at the chanting crowd Trump sees a simple, uncomplicated black and white world, us and them.

There are Stormtrumpers and there are enemies and there ain’t nothing else.

He picked Pence specifically because he doesn't think very much of his supporters' ability to grasp complex issues.

They're the howling mob, they’re the people who think Celebrity Apprentice is highbrow entertainment. Trump knows it’s not. He knows what kind of people watch his TV shows and visit his casinos and golf clubs. Those people are cash cows, marks, not his friends.

Trump’s base understands one thing: no. No. No. No. No immigrants. No abortion. No evolution. No big government. No Taxes. No deals with Iran or Russia. No liberals. No compromise.

They understand single syllable words, wall, war, gun, God and not necessarily in that order.

And Mike Pence is that guy.

Donald Trump picked Mike Pence specifically because he is that guy.

He is that guy. No. No. And no.

He's a more dignified (if that word has any meaning here) and well spoken version of Sarah Palin and he was picked for the same reason, because he appeals viscerally and emotionally to the very worst and most extreme elements of the Republican Party.

Trump isn't stupid, he just plays stupid on TV because that's the demographic he's aiming for. That’s who he thinks his supporters are.

And Tim Kaine?

Kaine is the anti-Pence.

Tim Kaine is why you should vote for Hillary Clinton – even if you hate her. Even if you hate everything about her.

You see, the Presidency is about choice.

The Office of the President, more than anything else, is about decisions.

 

George W. Bush was right, he was The Decider.

 

He just made shitty decisions.

The President is the decider.

And choice of running mate is a potential president’s very first major decision.

Who a candidate chooses tells you a lot of what you need to know right up front.

Trump’s selection of Mike Pence shows you exactly how his future decisions will go. They’ll be simple. Us and them. Black and white. You’re either with us or you’re against us. And made specifically because they appeal to the people keeping President Trump in power and for no other reason. There’s nothing else behind his decision. Nothing. He’s a guy who rose to fame on popularity and he doesn’t have any other move. None.

Now, take a minute and extrapolate…

…to the Supreme Court

…to foreign relations

…to the economy

…to healthcare, education, religion

…to war and peace.

 

You are unlikely in the extreme to see the reasoned and careful decisions of the last eight years under a Trump Administration.

 

Which brings us to Tim Kaine.

Unlike Pence, Tim Kaine is many shades of grey.

His choice as running mate shows careful, in-depth, strategic analysis on Clinton's part.

The kind of careful, deliberate, in-depth, strategic analysis you want from a president.

Kaine is a democratic Senator from Virginia. A state of military bases and conservative ideals. Think about that, think about what it takes to get elected as a democrat in Virginia. Kaine has a reputation as a decent forthright honest upstanding guy, bi-partisan, willing to work with conservatives and liberals with equal enthusiasm – those traits make Kaine well liked by his colleagues in the Senate, on both sides of the aisle.

And that is a damned rare thing nowadays.

Imagine a Senate, a Congress made up of guys like Kaine. Imagine how different our world would be today. How much better.

Strategically, Kaine is from Virginia. If Clinton wins the White House, Virginia’s democratic governor will appoint Kaine’s replacement in the Senate. If Clinton had chosen Elizabeth Warren or Sherrod Brown, their replacements would have been Republicans – in a Senate with a Republican majority. Did you think about that? It’s not enough to win the White House, not if you really want to do all those things Bernie talked about. You have to win back Congress too and starting out another point down isn’t the smartest way to go about that.

Clinton and her team are playing the long game, making strategic decisions that will win the war, not just the current dust up. She could have picked Warren or Sherrod or even Bernie Sanders. But she didn’t. Leadership isn’t about giving people what they want, it’s about doing the right thing for the right reasons.

Tim Kaine is the right thing. For all the right reasons.

This morning I’m seeing Bernie supporters saying things like, “Guess Hillary doesn’t want our votes after all, screw her.”

I’m seeing progressives saying the same thing. They’re telling me, hey, look at this, see? Tim Kaine is pro-bank deregulation and supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership and, holy shit, he’s a Catholic and therefore he’s obviously anti-abortion!

And I can see their point of view. I can.

But Tim Kaine is not Mike Pence.

And you have to look beyond the surface.

Kaine has spent his entire professional and political life fighting for civil rights.

In a lot of ways he’s done the things Bernie Sanders has only talked about.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not bashing Sanders. I’m not. I’m asking you to look a little deeper, hell, a lot deeper.

What I’m saying is if you actually look at Kaine in depth, as Clinton obviously did, you’ll see that she is very much listening. Perhaps that’s why Bernie Sanders himself endorsed her.

Maybe, if you look at Tim Kaine, you’ll see Bernie didn’t sell you out after all. Maybe, just maybe, you were right about him all along.

Look here, as a lawyer, Kaine spent two decades representing poor people who had been discriminated against in housing and employment based on race and disability. He won landmark cases and changed the law regarding fair housing, employment, and representation for minorities – and a lot of that was pro bono.

That’s the kind of thing Sanders talks about regularly, isn’t it? Kaine didn’t just talk about it, he did it.

He changed the world for the better.

He made the world a better place for a hell of a lot of people. Down in the trenches and the tenements where it counts.

Kaine took that experience and taught others. Literally. He taught legal ethics at the University of Richmond School of Law for six years. He was a founding member of the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness. Again, these are very things Bernie talks about. Kaine is out there doing them.

As Mayor of Richmond Kaine was the first white man in that position in more than ten years, chosen by the majority black city council in no small part for his record fighting for equality and civil rights. Because Kaine didn’t just talk about civil rights and equality and race, he leads on all fronts by example – as Bernie does. Kaine turned Richmond around, he renovated schools in poor neighborhoods and built new ones, he gave tax breaks to projects that directly benefited the city and opposed tax increases that didn’t, he brought back business and jobs, and his policies reduced gun crimes by more than 55%. Under Kaine, Richmond went from poverty and crime to being named one of the 10 Best Cities in America to do Business by Forbes – and the key to all of that was Kaine’s commitment to and leadership on racial reconciliation.

Tell me, is that not something Bernie Sanders would enthusiastically support?

You know what the biggest controversy of Kaine’s tenure as Mayor of Richmond was?

He spent $6,000 in public funds on buses to send citizens to the Million Mom March against Gun Violence in Washington D.C.

When pro-gun elements funded by the National Rifle Association tried to make something of it, Kaine raised money privately and paid the city back with interest for use of the buses and took the wind right out of the NRA’s sails. That’s right, Kaine himself paid to send citizens concerned about gun violence to Washington so their voices would be heard. Sounds like something Bernie would do, doesn’t it? And for all the right reasons.

As governor of Virginia, one of the largest and oldest tobacco producing states, Kaine banned smoking in public venues – Making Virginia the first Southern state to do so.

Now you think about that.

This guy faced down the NRA and the Tobacco Lobby on their own home turf and won.

Kaine isn’t a guy who does a thing because it’s popular, he does it because it’s the right thing to do.  Who’s that remind you of?

And then Kaine went to the Senate.

And one of his very first acts on Capitol Hill was to deliver a speech on the Senate floor in support of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" immigration bill. Kaine gave the speech entirely in Spanish. The first time in the history of the United States that a speech was given by a Senator on the Floor in any language other than English. 

As a senator Kaine has spoken out strongly against Citizen’s United. He supports strong regulation of the financial industry and he supports Dodd-Frank – while at the same time acknowledging banking industry concerns and suggesting that a vibrant economy requires balance. He’s a vocal supporter of immigration and has been one of President Obama’s biggest supporters in this area.

And then there’s abortion:

"I have a traditional Catholic personal position, but I am very strongly supportive that women should make these decisions and government shouldn't intrude. I'm a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade and women being able to make these decisions. In government, we have enough things to worry about. We don't need to make people's reproductive decisions for them."

Here’s a man who, for religious reasons, cannot himself support abortion, but who believes – and openly says so – that his beliefs should not be forced upon others. This is a man who believes in actual liberty, the actual right to choose, and actual freedom of religion.

This is an example for every American to aspire to.

On nearly every topic near and dear to liberal and progressive hearts, and many moderate conservative ones as well, Tim Kaine sets the example. Gay rights, war, the economy, the environment, energy, climate, education, civil rights, gun violence and gun rights, crime, taxes, this guy leads the way in every case.

Yes, Kaine has expressed pro-business and pro-trade ideas. Business and trade are part of America and as an American you should want both to be strong and vibrant. But if you look at Kaine’s statements in detail you’ll see that the difference between Kaine’s pro-business stance and that of Trump/Pence is that he doesn’t believe business should come at the expense of people and his record in every detail proves that all the way back to Richmond. Liberals, Progressives, Conservatives, and Libertarians can all find something to agree on in there.

Hell, if Tim Kaine was running for President instead of Clinton or Trump, I’d vote for him.

 

Kaine is the anti-Pence.

 

Tim Kaine is a brilliant choice by Hillary Clinton.

Tim Kaine shows you that she is listening to your concerns.

She is listening to Bernie supporters and taking them seriously, but she’s also the kind of leader who is going to make the right choice for the right reasons and not because it panders to popularity. And that matters.

She’s also listening to conservatives who hate and despise Trump and Pence and she’s going to have to win over those people not only to win the White House but because it’s the only way to move the country forward again.

And she’s listening to herself. To reason. To strategy. To long term goals. To doing what’s right instead of what’s popular.

Trump listens only to the cheers of the mob.

 

The Supreme Court.  

Foreign relations.  

The economy, healthcare, education, religion, civil rights, war and peace, the role of government, the role of religion, race, gender, identity, climate, science, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Those are the things in play here.

With the Supreme Court alone, the next president will decide the nature of America for decades to come.

With Kaine, Clinton has shown you what kind of Decider she’ll be.

With Pence, Trump has shown you the very same thing.

The choices – and the consequences – could not be more clear.

It is now time for you to decide for yourself what kind of Decider you are.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Latter Days Of A Better Nation, Part III

"GAME OVER, MAN! GAME OVER!"

You know, it's one thing watching the great Bill Paxton in the movie Aliens.

Paxton as Pvt Hudson, face all screwed up in fear and horror, spittle flying from his mouth:

“That's it, man. Game over, man. Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?

That’s acting.

That’s entertainment.

That’s why Paxton is a star. That’s why people remember his every performance.

But it's another thing entirely when it's your political philosophy.

“Presidential elections are won by a few million votes. If Hillary wins, we’re going to be overwhelmed with refugees, with immigrants. That’s it. It’s lights out America.”

It's lights out America.

LIGHTS OUT, AMERICA! LIGHTS OUT! WE’RE IN SOME REAL PRETTY SHIT NOW, AREN’T WE! WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO?!

That was Ann Coulter this morning. Once again predicting the fall of America and the End of the World.

With these people it's always lights out, America.

Always.

GAME OVER, MAN! GAME OVER!

Everything is a worst case scenario. Fear. Terror. Panic. Fire and flood, invasion, war, plague and famine, chaos in the life support system. And if that's not enough, their mean spoiled little shithead of a God is always about to send in a hurricane or an earthquake or a flood or a Wall Street crash because he's pissed off and throwing a tantrum about some goddamned thing. Ebola. Iran. Vladimir Putin. Gay marriage. Transgenders in the bathrooms. The shambling 50-years-dead ghost of Saul Alinsky. United Nations troops marching on Texas. Black people in the streets. Islam in the schools. They're coming for our daughters, they're coming for our healthcare, they're coming for our Jesus, Oh My GOD they're coming for our guns! They hate us for our freedom, they hate us for our exceptionalism, they hate us because they anus.

It's always some goddamned thing with these people.

They crow about how great America is – this mythological magical exceptional America where everybody is either a straight white protestant who lives in a little house with a white picket fence and a giant H-1 Hummer SUV out front and farms the land from horseback with an American Flag and a Bible in one hand and an AR-15 Super Jesus Peacemaker in the other while the woman folk pop out little white Christian babies like Pez dispensers and God showers down Viagra from the sky in a rain of freedom and liberty Hallelujah and Amen or they're the fucking help and they know their place.

These people, they harp endlessly about the greatness of this nation, how their God has chosen us – us – over all others, our military might, our fabled Constitution ... while at the same time crying endlessly like Chicken Little about how it's all so fragile that if you don't do exactly as they say, why, it'll all come tumbling down. Lights out, America. GAME OVER, MAN, GAME OVER!

 

This is a symptom of a people who have no challenges. No goals. Other than keeping what they have.

 

This is a symptom of a people who live inside a castle surrounded by a moat and barbed wire, terrified every single day that the peasants are going to rise up out of the mud and the shit and their slavery and show up waving torches and pitchforks and demand the good life too.

This is a symptom of a diseased greedy religion, a religion of selfishness and intolerance, one where salvation is the promise of eternal happiness and smug satisfaction for you and yours while every single other person who has ever lived or will live burns forever in endless torment.

This is a symptom of a political process that intends to make a nation of immigrants "Great Again" by banning immigrants and building walls to keep refugees fleeing war and horror and starvation and small mean gods from getting in.

This is a symptom of a people who don't want to make the world a better place for everybody. And in point of fact, their satisfaction is utterly dependent on everybody else being worse off. They have to have the biggest house, the biggest gaudiest church, the biggest truck, the biggest flag, the biggest army, the mightiest ships, the most food, the best medicine, the most TV channels, the biggest gun. They see freedom, liberty, justice, as zero sums and if others get more then they are diminished. Lesser. Ashamed. Just like their religion, heaven isn't heaven if everybody gets to go. America is only great if everybody else isn't. America is the shining city on the hill, the one with the moat and the wall, and everybody else lives in the mud below.

They get to live in the Plantation house and everybody else gets to pick the cotton all the live long day.

This is a symptom of a bankrupt intolerant exclusionary morality.

This is the end result of a political ideology that values mammon over people just exactly as their own prophet warned them of.

This is a political party who has now spent four days spewing hate and fear and pissing its collective pants in terror, LIGHTS OUT, AMERICA! LIGHTS OUT! wallowing in small fears like a child crying in the dark.

This is a political party who has now spent four days telling each other who is NOT an American, who doesn't belong, but has not once – not one single time in four days – actually offered a single solution to any of the problems we face as a people.

 

I passed a sign yesterday. In front of a small rural Southern Baptist Church. The sign said, “Only prayer can save America now.”

 

Only prayer can save America now.

This sums up modern conservativism in six simple words.

Here’s a small church in the middle of nowhere, safe, protected, unburned, free to worship as they please, free to yell at the rest of us without consequence, protected by law in fact and in practice … and yet they feel persecuted. Under assault. Endangered. Doomed. The end is nigh and it’s game over, lights out, America. Oh woe, woe! Save us, Jesus!

And they feel that way solely because they have to live in a world with other people.

They feel like that because they are afraid every single goddamned day of their lives.

This horrible religion didn’t create that fear, their fear created it.

I have watched the messages that appear on that sign for years, decades now.

There’s never, not one time, been a message of peace or hope or tolerance or optimism.

It’s always about impending doom, any minute now.

And if America doesn’t end, they’ll take credit for it – even though they’ve done exactly nothing but shit their pants and hate their neighbors. They’ll give credit to their God instead of the people out there right now laboring every single day to hold civilization together. They’ll pat themselves on their own backs in smug righteousness. Wew, dodged another one. Good job, Everybody, but it’s not over because now God’s mad about this other thing over here. And there’s the ebola. And the gays. And the immigrants. And…

… and it just never ends with these people.

Just another group of angry bitter selfish assholes peering fearfully at the sky.

 

That’s what we’ve become, a nation of angry bitter selfish people. Pessimists. Staring out from the walls, worried somebody is going to come take it all away.

As I’ve said to you before, pessimists don’t build starships. Pessimists don’t build the future. People like Ann Coulter never inspired anybody to anything but fear and hate and pessimism.

Fear, hate, intolerance, guns and pessimism, those things don’t make nations great. Those things don’t make for a great people or even a good person.

Hope, tolerance, inclusion, inspiration, initiative, shared purpose, spirit, justice, liberty, optimism, those are the traits of a truly great nation, a great people, a great religion.

If you want a better nation, a better future, then you have to be better citizens.

And it starts by rejecting this philosophy of doom and selfishness.

You can choose, you know.

In the end, Hudson faced his fear, found his courage, and stood steadfast in the face of horror and gave his life so that others might live.

You can choose to be that Hudson.

But better yet, you can choose to be Ellen Ripley, who said memorably:

“Get away from her, you bitch!”

 


Previous editions in this series can be found here:
The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part I
The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part II

Monday, July 18, 2016

Donation Drive

Help Jim relocate from Alaska to Florida and win fabulous prizes!

Posting here has been a bit sporadic, because as I prepare to pick and move just about as far across the continent as it’s physically possible to go I find that I don’t have much time to write long essays.

For those that aren’t aware, I’m in the process of selling my house here in the Alaskan Matsu and in about 10 days the movers will arrive to pack up our stuff – including my workshop – into trucks for shipment to our house in Florida. My wife and I will bid a teary farewell to our son, who will remain here in Alaska where he has his own life now, and we will head down the Alaska-Canadian Highway south. Why are we moving to the Florida Panhandle, land of heat, humidity, and rednecks? Well, that’s a personal matter, but the short answer is we need to be closer to family and after long consideration, we’ve decided this is the best course of action. I can write and do artwork anywhere. And like I said, we own a house there and some property. Our son is now an adult. It’s time.

We expect to arrive and be settled and back in business mid-July. During the intervening period, posting here is likely to be catch as catch can, though I will likely post short updates, observations, and descriptions of our adventures to Facebook and Twitter as we journey 5000 miles across the continent with our cats. I have no idea what route we’ll take. We tend to ass backward into the unknown, life is more interesting that way – at the moment all I am certain of is that this trip will likely be a source of much material for future essays and social media posts.


Update:
I have now successfully reached Florida. Regular writing and new posts to Stonekettle Station will resume shortly – just as soon as my office furniture arrives and the local cable company can get broadband installed (at the moment, my “office” is a folding camp chair, a laptop, and tethered Bluetooth connection through my phone). Hopefully that will be this week. Then I can get back to work.


As previously noted, unless you’re Wil Wheaton, making a living from social media is an adventure and based on my evolving business model, every once in a while I need to ask for money.  

I don’t like this.

I don’t like asking for money.

Ideally, I write something and if you like it enough, you’ll kick in.  And thankfully, you do so often enough that I can mostly survive doing this. I’ll never get rich, but it beats writing advertising jingles or flipping burgers or getting shot at.

That said, I don’t like asking for money, it makes me very uncomfortable. So the last time I did this I found a way to assuage my conscience.

Any reader who donates any amount during the period of June 1st to July 30th will be put in the running to win one of my high-end handmade art pieces worth several hundred dollars. That means if you’ve already donated to Stonekettle Station this month, you’re already entered to win.

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

Winners will be selected August 1st, 2016 by Shopkat.

To donate, click on the “Donation” button on the upper right side of this screen and follow the directions.

Note: Those of you who already donate via an automatic monthly payment, you’ll be entered automatically in the drawing. 

Thank you all for your continued support. See you all in Florida!

_________________

Disclaimer: To be clear, this is not a lottery or a raffle.  Donations are voluntary subscription fees specifically in support of this blog, i.e. 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 artwork, created and paid for by me.  As such I chose to randomly give them away to supporters, just as I gave away my custom pens to my fellow writers.

I’m simply using this month’s subscriptions as the pool to select from since I have no other way to determine who readers are. 

You are not paying 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.

Note: My store on Etsy is closed until 1 August, 2016.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Return of Tail Gunner Joe

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
-- Edmund Burke

 

Tell me, who decides?

Who decides what this nation will become?

Who decides what legacy we will leave our children?

Who decides how America will be remembered by history?

Who decides if we will be nation of tolerance and freedom, an example to the world, a shining city upon the hill…

… or whether we will be a nation of barbed wire and secret police?

Who decides that?

“We originally created the House Un-American Activities Committee to go after Nazis. We passed several laws in 1938 and 1939 to go after Nazis and we made it illegal to help the Nazis. We're going to presently have to go take the similar steps here."

We are going to have to take similar steps.

Similar steps as the House Un-American Activities Committee.

That was former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, who yesterday on Fox and Friends suggested without any trace of self-consciousness or shame, that the US resurrect one of the most vile and Un-American periods of its history.

Gingrich, commonly referred as the smartest guy in the Republican party, suggested in all candor on national television reestablishment of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The House Un-American Activities Committee.

This is what it's come down to. The House Un-American Activities Committee.

The presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States of America has made walls, barbed wire, guns, secret police, mass surveillance, mass deportation of undesirables based on religion, all, planks in his platform.

And he is cheered.

He is cheered.

He is cheered by the masses. And embraced, however fearfully, however reluctantly, by the cowed Republican establishment.

And now?

Now we are actually talking about these things as a nation as if this fascist Nazism isn't an ideology our grandparents gave their lives to wipe from the face of the earth.

And now?

Now one of those being considered for Trump's running mate is openly suggesting America go full on Tail Gunner Joe.

It was bad enough, McCarthyism, in the 1950's. Imagine it today. Go on, imagine a congressional "Un-American ‘Activities’ Committee" helmed by the likes of Trey Gowdy and armed with the tools of modern surveillance, unfettered by the FISA court, enabled by the Patriot Act, and  backed up with the vast invisible bottomless power of the National Security Agency.

Gingrich would make Hitler's Gestapo and Stalin's Cheka look like rank amateurs.

 

What's it going to take here? Actual goosesteps and the sound of fucking tanks in the streets?

 

Who decides?

Who decides what's Un-American? Donald Trump? Newt Gingrich? The howling Brownshirts who make up Trump rallies? Congress? Congress can't even agree on what to order for lunch, half of them believe the Earth is 6000 years old and their God gallivanted around the Sea of Galilee on a velociraptor handing out Glocks to the faithful. For fuck's sake, we're going to let these certifiable lunatics decide who is and who isn't an American?

Who decides?

Tell me, why is it that a religion which preaches intolerance every single day in the name of their deity, whose adherents embrace violent nationalism and daily wave their guns and clamor for the elimination of those not like them, who daily declares their intention to burn down the elected government of the United States and replace it with a religious theocracy more to their liking, why is that religion American simply because it's Christian?

What?

What's that?

Oh no. No. No. No. Don't you dare try to tell me that's not what a significant percentage of homegrown religious extremists are saying. That's exactly what they are saying. Every. Single. Day. All you have to do is look at their Facebook pages and their websites. All you have to do listen to the various militias. All you have to do is tune into Franklin Graham or Bryan Fischer, or drop by a Trump rally. Hell, a bunch of Mormon fanatics just took up arms against the rest of us in the name of their God while Christian extremists cheered them on and rallied to their defense -- or have you forgotten Malheur already? And as long as we’re on the subject, look up Nevada State Assemblywomen Michele Fiore.

Who decides?

Who decides what is and is not American? The fucking Bundys?

 

This guy, this asshole who murdered 49 people in Orlando? That guy? That guy was as American as it comes.

Oh yes he was.

He was born right here in America. He’s more a natural born American than Ted Cruz or John McCain.

He raged against gay people just exactly the same as every pinched faced conservative Christian preacher currently spewing hate and intolerance from his pulpit. No different than Pat Robertson or John Hagee. No different from the politicians currently rushing bathroom bills through the various state legislatures. No different than Kim Davis, conservative hero. There is no difference in rhetoric or the target of their hate whatsoever.

He loved guns. He saw guns as power, power over others, power to impose his will so that he didn't have to suffer those he despised. So he didn't have to compromise. Guns, for him, were freedom, liberty, and a final solution to his hatred. How is this different from those who took over Malheur? Who threaten daily to march on Washington with their guns in the name of their god? Because he pulled the trigger? Because he was actually willing to shoot down his fellow Americans? Look at any Christian militia Facebook page and tell me how they are any different. Go on, I'll wait.

You going to tell me this guy wasn’t an American?

Who decides? Who?

I am once again watching Fox News national security experts blame political correctness for the carnage. Over on Twitter disgraced spook John Schindler is beating the same drum. Schindler wasn't much of a spook, but like those of his ilk he's damned good at telling the brass what they want to hear – and today he's busy telling conservatives it was "political correctness" in the same tone and phrasing guys like him told Donald Rumsfeld about those weapons of mass destruction which were surely waiting for us in Iraq.

Political Correctness, that's why the FBI didn't do anything about the Orlando Shooter.

Political correctness is why we tolerate Muslim extremism in our own midst.

Sure. Why not? I'm hip.

When will we set aside this political correctness and call out religious extremism residing among us be it Islamic or Christian or Mormon or the National Rifle Association?

 

Who decides?

Who decides what is American and what is Un-American?

 

I'll tell you who decides: You.

You decide.

Each and every one of you. You Americans.

If you don't speak up, you decided.

If you turn a blind eye to hate and intolerance in your religion without public and vocal challenge, you decided.

If you allow attacks on your neighbors verbal or physical, you decided.

If you allow the politicians and the preachers to decide who can and cannot use the bathroom, who can get married, you decided.

If you allow 33,000 Americans to die every year from gun violence without protest, you've decided.

If you don't vote, for whatever reason, you've decided.

Who decides?

Who decides what this nation will become? Who decides what legacy we will leave our children? Who decides how America will be remembered by history? Who decides if we will be nation of tolerance and freedom, an example to the world, a shining beacon on the hill, or whether we will be a nation of barbed wire and secret police?

Who decides?

If you don't, then small fearful men like Newt Gingrich will.

 

If you want a better nation, then you must decide to be better citizens.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Seven Stages of Gun Violence

 

Forward:

It’s been two three four years since I first wrote this on the day after a madman stepped into a darkened movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and started killing people.  Since then more than ten twenty sixty thousand Americans have died from gun violence, three seven twenty times more than died on September 11th, 2001, more than all the military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than all the Americans killed in Vietnam. There have been so many mass shootings between the day I wrote this and now that I’ve lost track, one killing blurs into another and the bloody rampages seem to be our new national pastime.

I got a lot of email regarding this post over the years.

And a lot of people told me I was wrong, those people are fools.

I’ve updated the text and updated it and updated it again and again and again and have now updated it yet
again and moved the essay forward in the Stonekettle Station timeline. 

I left the original comments intact, but because those comments primarily address the Aurora Massacre (e.g. the original impetus for this essay) I’ve added a demarking comment dated April 3, 2014, for the first update and another for June 19, 2015, another for July 24, 2015, and now, today.  New comments will appear after that. The line of demarcation should be obvious

Anyway, before we get started, I just wanted to say: Way to go America. We can’t build spaceships any more, or ensure every American has access to healthcare and food and clean water and a warm place to sleep, but we’ve got the world beat in bloody murder.

Bang Bang Bang, fuck yeah, America!

  //Jim


 

It is easier for a crazy person to get an automatic weapon than healthcare in America.
                                            - Shannyn Moore, Moore Up North

 

 

So, America, déjà Vu.

Here we are yet again.

Another mass killing.

Another hellish scene of smoke and blood and murder.

Another day of death and pain, panic and terror.

Here’s a few highlights, America. Think of it as our country’s Greatest Hits. No no, don’t look away. Don’t roll your eyes. This is who you are, this right here, man up and face it: September 1999, Fort Worth, Texas, a gunman killed six people during a prayer service, then he committed suicide. October 2002, it was the Washington DC Sniper, ten dead. August 2003, Chicago, a gunman locked six of his former coworkers in a conference room and shot them dead, then he killed himself.  November 2004, Birchwood, Wisconsin, a hunter got into an argument with a group of sportsmen over a trespassing issue, the hunter ended the argument by killing six and wounding two. March 2005, Brookfield, Wisconsin, a man walked into a church and shot seven people dead, praise the Lord. October 2006, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, a disgruntled truck driver shot five Amish schoolgirls to death and wounded six others before taking his own life. April 2007, Virginia Tech, an angry former student set a record with the deadliest mass shooting in the US in recent years, he killed thirty-two people and wounded fifteen others. Go Team. August 2007, Delaware State University, three students were shot and killed execution style by a 28-year-old and two 15-year-old boys. A fourth student was shot and stabbed. And a month later, September 2007, on the same campus, a student shot and wounded two other students in a dining hall. December 2007, Omaha, Nebraska, a 20-year-old man killed nine people and wounded five others in a shopping mall.  A few days later,  on Christmas Eve, a woman and her boyfriend gunned down six members of her family in their house in Carnation, Washington. February 2008, Chicago, a gunman tied up and shot six women at a clothing store, five of them died. The gunman was never caught. February 2008, DeKalb, Illinois, a man opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University. He killed five students and wounded sixteen others. July 2008, Phoenix, Arizona, a former student shot three people in a computer lab at South Mountain Community College.  September 2008, Alger, Washington, a mentally ill man who was released from jail one month earlier shot eight people, six died. October 2008, University of Central Arkansas, gunmen shooting from a car in front of a student dormitory killed two students and wounded a third.  December 2008, Covina, California, a man dressed up like Santa Claus killed nine people at a family Christmas party, then he set the house on fire and shot himself. March 2009, Alabama, a 28-year-old drove through several towns randomly shooting people, he managed to kill ten. March 2009, North Carolina, a heavily-armed gunman stormed into a nursing home and killed eight elderly residents and wounded two more before police killed him. The object of his murderous rage, his estranged wife, was a nurse at the facility –  she escaped unharmed by hiding in the locked Alzheimer ward.  March 2009, Santa Clara, California, six people were shot dead in an apartment building. April 2009, Virginia, an 18-year-old former student followed a pizza deliveryman into his old dormitory, and shot the deliveryman, a dorm monitor, and then himself at Hampton University. April 2009, Binghamton, New York, a man shot thirteen people to death in a bloody rampage at the town civic center. July 2009, Houston, Texas, six people were shot in a drive-by shooting at a community rally on the campus of Texas Southern University. November 2009, Fort Hood, Texas, a U.S. army major opened  fire on his fellows in the middle of a crowded soldier processing center filled with troops preparing for deployment, he killed thirteen and wounded forty-two. February 2010, Alabama, a disgruntled professor opened fire during a staff meeting of the Biological Sciences Department faculty. She killed three and wounded three more. January 2011, Tucson, Arizona, a gunman opened fire at a public gathering outside a grocery store, he killed six people including a nine-year-old girl and wounded twelve more including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the head.  July 2012, Aurora, Colorado, a masked gunman storms into a packed movie theater and starts shooting, he killed twelve and wounded fifty-eight more. August 2012, Oak Creek, Wisconsin again,  a gunman kills six people at Sikh temple before being shot dead by police. September 2012, Minneapolis, a gunman kills six including himself and wounds five more inside a small sign company. December 2012, Newtown, Connecticut,  a 20-year old gunman with mental problems killed his mother and then shot his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School and started killing people. He killed twenty small children and six adults and then shot himself.  February 2013, a former Navy officer and Los Angeles policeman declared war on the LAPD, over a period of nine days he killed four people including three police officers and wounded three more before eventually committing suicide by cop.  March 2013, Herkimer, upstate New York, a 64-year old man lit his apartment on fire, then coolly walked into a local barber shop and started shooting. He killed two and wounded two more. Then he drove to another business and killed two more.  He killed a police dog and was subsequently gunned down by the canine’s human partners. June 2013, Santa Monica, California, a 23-year old man went on a killing spree that left six people dead and four wounded and ended when he was shot dead by police inside the Santa Monica College Library.  July 2013, Hialeah, Florida, a man living with his mother lit their apartment on fire and then went on a rampage throughout the living complex, he killed seven before police returned the favor.  Twelve more dead at the Washington Navy Yard.  Another murdered standing watching on a pier in Norfolk. Four more dead, including the shooter, again on Fort Hood, Texas. Charleston, South Carolina, a racist sat quietly for an hour among the congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, then without warning he  murdered nine people during prayer service and wounded a tenth – he was hoping to start a race war. Chattanooga, a self-declared Jihadist suffering from depression and drug use, mad at the US government, shot up a military recruiting center in a strip mall then drove to a local Navy operations support center and launched another attack, he killed four Marines and a Sailor and then died in a gunfight with law enforcement. Lafayette, Louisiana, a drifter with a gun fired thirteen rounds into a crowded movie theater. He killed two people, wounded nine, and then turned the gun on himself when police closed in.  Last time I updated this, it was a college campus in Oregon.

And now?

This morning it’s fifty dead. Fifty. Fifty. Fifty dead, killed by a single shooter armed with a military grade assault rifle…

What?

What’s that?

Oh, you want to argue about the term “assault weapon” do you? Don’t you NRA assholes ever get tired of being so reflexively predictable? Look here, fifty dead, killed by a single gunman in a few minutes, that isn’t the kind of weapon used for “hunting” or “home defense” – unless you live in Somalia. That’s an assault weapon. I spent my entire life in the military under arms,  I know a goddamned assault weapon when I see one. So you NRA assholes sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up. This is on you, you terrorist enabling sons of bitches, this is all on you.


Here we are, America. Here we are yet again. Bang, Bang, Bang.

 

Another massacre.

This one the worst since 911. That’s right, that’s how we measure it, compared to 911.

Friends, bereft families grieving with loss and concern, a nation left shaken with shock and outrage, left wondering why? How?

Another murderous lunatic with a gun in his hand and a score to settle.

Another excuse from the National Rifle Association. Another denial. Another bribe to their pets in Congress. Another unhinged rant from terrorist-enabling lunatics like Ted Nugent and Wayne Lapierre.

Another flurry of empty prayers and sound-bites from our legislature. Maybe if we renamed the place from Pulse to “The Benghazi Club” we could get Congress to at least form a committee and hold a couple of hearings.

This is the point where I used to type Another bloody horror.  But it’s not, is it? It’s a bloody slaughter, sure, but like soldiers on a battlefield, we’ve become numb to the horror. It’s a bloody slaughter, but it’s just another bloody slaughter.  It is no longer a surprise – and hasn’t been for a very long time.

Gun violence, mass slaughter, it’s just who we are.

 

This, this right here, this is the country we live in.

 

Bang, bang, bang. Welcome to America.

How many mass shootings since I first wrote this? A dozen? Two dozen? A hundred? How many? You’ve lost track haven’t you? Me too.

This slaughter, it’s the set up for a truly American joke, isn’t it? So, a racist, a terrorist, and a suicidal drifter walk into a public place and start murdering people, what do they all have in common?

The fabled gun battles of the American Old West have nothing on the modern slaughter. Gun fuelled mass murder isn’t the exception any longer, it’s as common and as American as, well, apple pie and happens on average about once twice three times a month now.

What’s that, you say? Oh yes, another grinning nut with a stupid haircut and a personal arsenal killed some people? Tsk tsk terrible isn’t it? Did they catch him this time, did he kill himself, or did the police shoot him down like the dog he was? People say he was a nice guy, quiet, kept to himself, kind of odd but, man, didn’t see this coming, no Sir.  Here’s a picture of him smiling like a crazy guy, look at those eyes, they’re crazy eyes, anybody could tell he was going to snap. He probably tortured small animals and has his grandmother’s head in the freezer. It’s the parents’ fault you know, for not raising him right.  It’s the atheists’ fault for taking Jesus out of the schools. It’s the doctors, why don’t they get crazy people off the street? It’s the goddamned police, they’re never around when you need them. It’s the government. He’s probably a veteran, you know, those guys are all on the edge.  Guns don’t kill people, you know, no Sir, they don’t. In fact a good guy with a gun is the only … Oops, gotta go, Duck Dynasty is on.

And now? Well, now we Americans will go through the same old oh so utterly predictable dance: 

 

Stage One, Confusion:

Mass killings are still news. I have no idea how much longer this will be so, Americans quickly grow bored with sequels. Unless the next act of mass murder is done by a guy in a Bruce Willis costume shooting a chain-gun from the back of a crashing stealth fighter in the middle of Times Square, I suspect that eventually we’ll just stop watching. 

Some guy went bonkers and killed a bunch of people? Yawn, I’ve seen worse. What’s the body count this time? Fifty? Worst since 911? Well, okay, I’ll tune in for that. Fifty.

So, for now, mass murder is still a news show money maker.

Problem is, there’s just not enough actual information about the event to fill up the airwaves.

Nobody really knows anything. 

But Americans aren’t interested in facts and they’re for damned sure not interested in waiting.

Americans want their news the same way they want their food, they don’t care if it’s good for them or not so long as it’s quick and it comes in SuperSize.  

So, over the next few days, until America loses interest, the news outlets will each issue at least three versions of the story, all different, all mutually contradictory. Accuracy doesn’t matter, being first is what matters. Blame, that’s what matters, we need to assign blame to somebody, Muslims, liberals, gays, commies, survivalists, the mentally ill, somebody is at fault and the sooner we assign the blame the sooner we can get back to our freedom and liberty and civilization. 

And besides, it’s not like those first false reports and poor reporting will be wasted, the conspiracy nuts will print those out and tape them up on their bulletin boards right next to pictures of that grassy knoll and WTC #7. False Flag! False Flag! They’ll shout gleefully and manufacture their own false information fresh from their fevered imaginations and within days the airwaves and the internet will be filled with their wild speculation.

You’ll get interviews with at least four witnesses who didn’t actually see anything, including at least one middle-aged hypochondriac who wasn’t actually there on the day of the massacre but once, way back when, happened to be in the same building, and so had to be hospitalized because she was so traumatized by the close call.

You’ll get interviews with at last three professional victims who weren’t there but were near similar events and whose stories are now somehow relevant.

You’ll get earnest opinions from two experts in fields completely unrelated to anything that actually transpired, and CNN will interview at least one former non-combatant Air Force Major who was stationed in Nevada during the Iraq invasion and now teaches law at a small Women’s college on the East Coast.

Eventually, each news outlet will trot out their one remaining gray haired genuine distinguished Newsman, and in dour solemn tones he’ll ponderously opine on the miserable state of journalism in this modern age – then he’ll condemn all the other stations for getting it wrong.

 

Stage Two, Speculation:

Since there isn’t any real information and by the time there actually is America will have completely lost interest, the important thing is to fill up the media channels with something.

The talking heads and paid conspiracy mongers will wax fat and feculent, they’ll condemn the president and talk about false flag operations, hiding their sly grins behind their plastic outrage while the money rolls in.

News anchors, talk shows, bloggers, pundits, and the endless ill-informed mouth-breathing Yahoo commenter will each and all put forward their opinion:

- The shooter is a liberal. It’s all part of a plot by the America-hating tree-hugging, New World Order to make peaceful, patriotic gun owners look bad, then the government will send Interpol in their sissy blue UN uniforms to take away our guns. Oh noes! To the bunkers!

- The shooter is a Muslim. Of course he is. You just can’t trust those people. They hate America. He probably thinks he’ll get forty virgins in Paradise for every American he killed. We should kill all the Muslims.

- The shooter is a member of the NRA. He’s a gun nut. Those guys are all crazy with their gun shows and gun magazines and gun clubs and guns. We should outlaw the NRA.

- The shooter is a member of the Tea Party. The shooter is a member of the Occupy Movement. Sure. They hate everybody and they can’t wait to start killing us all and tearing down America.

- The shooter was just fed up. He was an Illegal alien. He was a member of Al Qaida. He was a Jew. He was abused as a child, born again, gay.

By the time the sad truth comes out, if it ever does, that he was just another hater eaten up with rage, listening to the voices only he could hear, nobody will care. The only thing Americans will remember is that he is yet another sterling example of whatever political point they’re trying to make at that particular moment.

 

Stage Three, Comparison:

The conservative channels will start running footage of Columbine, Fort Hood, and Waco. The liberal channels will start running footage of the Giffords shooting and Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook.  None of those incidents really has much to do with the current horror, but they are images of bodies and blood and bullets and that’s what counts when you’re explaining how this event is what happens when the End Times are nigh or civilization is on the brink of collapse.

It’s important to associate this mass murder with other horrible events in order to shape public perception in the proper manner regardless of the fact that there is little connection or comparison to be had.

All channels will talk about drugs and depression. There’s no indication as yet that the shooter was taking drugs, or was depressed, but then again there isn’t any indication that he wasn’t either.

And, of course, there’s the PTSD and, you know, we should expect more of this kind of thing as veterans start to come unscrewed. Especially if they were bullied as children. Or abused. Or into comic books, or video games, or porn. And, well, even if the guy had nothing to do with the military, it’s important to stress that returning veterans are murderously unstable and something should be done.

The simple truth of the matter is that you don’t walk into a crowd and start shooting people unless you’re, at least to some degree, insane.

But that’s just not enough for us, is it?

They can’t just be nuts, or rather they can be, nuts, but it has to mean something. Somehow. Even though the shooter might be completely insane, America will still demand a sane, rational, understandable reason for their behavior.

Which naturally will lead to endless arguments regarding the sorry state of mental health in this country.

Which, of course, will almost immediately devolve into a debate on Obamacare.

The thing is, all of these shootings, including the latest horror, have nothing in common.

Nothing in common, except for one thing.

They all have one thing and only one thing only in common.

Guns.

The shooters may all be crazy in some fashion or another, but the real insanity here is our continued inability to face reality.

 

 

Stage Four, Blame:

Let’s blame Hollywood. Violent movies and violent video games and rock and roll music. That’s what it is.

Let’s blame the families. It’s bad parenting, this guy’s folks should have their asses kicked for raising a psychopath.  But since we can’t do that, we'll punish the shooter’s family by having every single news agency in the world camp out on his mother’s front porch, and we’ll ask her important questions such as “what are you feeling right now?”

Let’s blame the Liberals with their liberalism, their political correctness, their communist Nazism, their coddling of criminals, their gun control and the gay agenda.

Let’s blame the Conservatives with their conservatism, their guns and their bibles and their callous disregard of the human condition. It’s their fault, of course it is.

Let’s blame it on the Me Generation, these selfish little bastards, always with their hands out, me me me. It’s social media, it’s Twitter and Facebook and those self centered bloggers looking for attention.

Let’s blame the Muslims and the godless goat humping atheists and Fast & Furious and bad teachers and Benghazi and Obama and the secret manipulations of the Illuminati.

The politicians and their supporters will all, each and every one, gleefully make hay. Oh they’ll all, each and every one, wax poetic over the dead (with the exception of certain predictable talk radio pundits who’ll insinuate that the dead had it coming for being unprepared and unarmed and ungodly), and they’ll even wipe away sorrowful bitter tears and pause for a moment in patriotic remembrance with their hands over their flinty black hearts with the flags waving and crackling in the cold breeze at just the right camera angle, and they’ll condemn the other guy for politicizing the tragedy, and then they will make just as much political hay out of this as they can because somebody is damned well to blame for this mess.  And it sure isn’t going to be them, no sir, it’s the other guy and his un-American agenda, vote for me!

Somebody is responsible.

The thing is, all of these shootings, including the latest horror, have nothing in common.

Nothing in common, except for one thing.

They all have one thing and only one thing only in common.

Guns.

Guns. Guns are the common denominator here. In every case, it’s guns.

You can’t have a mass shooting without guns.

It’s just that goddamned simple.

But we won’t face it.

We won’t do anything about it.

We’ll blame everything but the one single common denominator.

We just  keep on keeping on, expecting something different – and that right there is the very definition of insanity.

As a nation, we have gone insane.

 

 

Stage Five, Bang Bang Crazy:

And so, once again, inevitably, we circle around the wheel to the perennial American argument: 

Guns don’t kill people, crazy people with guns kill people who don’t have guns.

Therefore, we should ban all guns! No, wait, if we ban all guns then only people with guns will have guns so they’ll kill the people who don’t have the guns and then there will only be people with guns left and then they’ll kill each other because if you ban guns only people with guns will be criminals and when the government comes to get our guns only the criminals will be free because liberty equals guns! Also what about bears? OK, then we should give everybody guns! But if everybody has guns then even criminals will have guns and brown people and yellow people and illegal people and crazy people who don’t love Jesus will have guns and they will break into our houses to steal our guns and rape our women and eat our babies and take our liberty so then police and the military will need bigger guns to keep us safe from those people but then we’ll need even bigger guns because otherwise we won’t be safe from the cops who will use their guns to take our freedom! OK, well then how about a reasonable common sense compromise? We all agree that as Americans it’s our basic right to keep and own firearms. But also, some people really, really shouldn’t be allowed to own even a Nerf slingshot, let alone a machine that can punch a couple hundred fist sized holes in a room full of people in under a minute. How about we maybe talk about some kind of reasonable way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists, and crazy people? What! Communist! Nazi! How dare you? Second Amendment! Second Amendment! Every red-blooded true blue American has the God given right to own a fully automatic meat-grinding bone-shattering blood-spattering high capacity killing machine if they want to, the Founding Fathers said so! USA! USA! Dead kids? Mass murder? Blood in the streets? That’s the price you pay for freeeeeeeeedom! Besides if there had only been one, just one, god fearing patriot with his own concealed meat-grinding bone-shattering blood-spattering high-capacity peacemaker there at that massacre, why he’d have stood up in his genuine American made American Flag Shirt of Patriotic American By God Freedom and fired up his laser-sight and he would have put that animal down right goshdarned there! Remember, when seconds count the police are only minutes away and idiotic empty NRA platitudes have saved more lives than Charlton Heston did in all those bible movies. Booyah, Baby, give me a Glock Nine and an extended mag any day. Also, we need more Jesus. ‘Round and round in one long run-on paragraph of fury and hysteria and flag waving spittle flecked madness. America, Fuck ya!

 

Stage Six, Acceptance:

By the time it’s determined that the shooter’s bloody motivation was just plain incomprehensible to sane reasonable people, most Americans will have long since changed the channel and forgotten about it, lost in the bloody mayhem of the next gun fueled mass murder.

Meanwhile Congress, ever eager to do something, will yet again stage a mock vote to defund healthcare in America because they are completely unable to do anything that actually matters other than squabble amongst themselves like spoiled petulant children.

Nothing will be done about the real problem because nothing can be done.

That’s the price you pay for freeeeeeeeeeedom: murderous lunatics with guns.

 


Besides, it probably won’t happen again.



Stage Seven: Déjà Vu:

See Step One.

 

 


Afterword:

Nothing, and I mean nothing not even religion or abortion, generates the hate mail that any article on guns does.

As I’ve said here many, many, many times, and will obviously have to say many, many, many more times: I’ve spent my entire life around weapons, all kinds of weapons – some of which you can’t even imagine.

I know something about guns.

I’ll tell you something: the ignorant, illiterate, and cognitively challenged NRA nuts who troll this site every time I post something about guns are the very last people I would allow on my range or allow to handle weapons anywhere near me or mine. If you’re taking orders from Ted Nugent and Tom Selleck you are fucking insane. These people are every bit as insane as the murderous lunatics described in the text above who thought that guns were a solution for their own personal inadequacies.

These people have taken the Second Amendment and perverted it all out of recognition.

However, for the record, the post above does not, repeat does not, advocate for or against any additional laws, regulations, bans, or any other form of gun control.

What I actually said was that all the arguments were oh so tediously predictable. 

What I said was the usual folks would call for gun control.

What I said was then in response the usual folks would scream about Nazis and fascism and explain why nothing ever can work and how dead kids are just the price you pay for freedom.

What I said was that nothing, absolutely nothing, will change. The slaughter will continue. The argument will continue. And nothing will change because we will not let it change, we would rather die than allow a reasoned conversation to take place, let alone any action of any kind.

What I said was that we can’t even have the conversation.

And that is exactly what is happening, because that’s what always happens. Every. Single. Time.

Both sides are perfectly convinced that they are right. That’s it and that’s all. Period. No compromise. No no no. End of discussion and fuck you, Liberals. No, fuck you, Conservatives. 

You cannot reason with unreasonable people and the people on both sides of this ongoing monkey shitfest are profoundly unreasonable people.

People called me a cynic.

They said I was wrong.

But it’s been more than two three years since I wrote the original version of this essay. How many mass murders have happened in that time? How many Americans have died in front of a gun muzzle? Hell, we’re up to three mass murders a month now.

And nothing, not one goddamned thing, has changed.

I think I’m entitled to say: I told you sons of bitches so.

// Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

 


Addendum 1:  Every time I write one of these, I hope it's the last. But it never is, there's always another massacre. Always.
The Seven Stages of Gun Violence
The Bang Bang Crazy Series:
Part 1, What we need, see, are more guns, big fucking guns
Part 2, Gun violence isn't the exception in America, it's who we are
Part 3, Sandy Hook, the NRA, and a gun in every school
Part 4, More dead kids and why we have laws
Part 5, Gun control and a polite society
Part 6, The Christopher Donner rampage, they needed killin'
Part 7, Still more dead kids and let's print our own guns!
Part 8, Let's try blaming the victim, shall we?
Part 9, Armed soldiers on post, sure, nothing to go wrong there.
Part 10, Big Damned Heroes!
Part 11, Two in the Bush
What do we do about it? How do we change our culture of gun violence? Bang Bang Sanity


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


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