Thursday, September 29, 2016

Glass houses

This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers, who has said that women don't deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men
-- Hillary Clinton


I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, I can't do it. I just can't do it. It's inappropriate. It's not nice
-- Donald Trump, discussing his performance on CNN after the debate


- Mr. Trump has never treated women the way Hillary Clinton and her husband did when they actively worked to destroy Bill Clinton's accusers
- Hillary Clinton bullied and smeared women like Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky
- Are you blaming Hillary for Bill's infidelities? No, however, she's been an active participant in trying to destroy the women who has come forward with a claim
Talking points circulated by the Trump Campaign this week, advising supporters on how to bring up former president Bill Clinton’s sex scandals in the wake of Trump’s failure to do so during the first Trump/Clinton Debate


Donald Trump bragged about his “restraint.”

His restraint, he says.


Trump boasted of his restraint.

Out loud. Trump actually claimed great restraint, as if that’s a trait he actually has.


You’ll pardon me for a moment?


OK. Sorry about that. I think I’ve got it under control.

So, Donald Trump says he showed great restraint by not bringing up Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs during last Monday’s debate.

I mean, he would have, he wanted to, but he managed to restrain himself.

Because it was the the right thing to do.

Because dignity and class and like that, those are the traits Trump is known for.

That’s Donald Trump for you, restrained and modest. Everybody says so. You betcha.  

I …


What? Oh, now you need a moment? Sure. It’s a new rug, don’t want any accidents. Take all the time you need.


Good? OK.

Now where was I?

Oh, yes, so then, naturally, Trump being Trump he’s spent the last three days telling everybody he can about his heroic manly restraint (it’s huge, folks, YUGE) and openly encouraging his supporters to bring up Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs.

This is nothing particularly new for Trump. He’s the guy who encouraged Russia to hack Clinton’s email – jokingly, of course, joking, we’re just joking – and coyly suggested gun nuts might win the race for conservatives if they were to, you know, provide some Second Amendment solutions with regards to Hillary Clinton, wink wink, kidding again of course, kidding, because there just isn’t anything funnier than jokes about murdering a woman who annoys you. Especially when you’re trying to prove how you’re not a rampaging hard-on of a misogynist.

Of course he’s also the guy who hid from military service in some rich kid prep school while he encouraged others to go fight and die in a foreign land. 

Prompting his fans to do his dirty work instead of soiling his own hands is pretty much his whole brand.

I digress.

So, Trump boasted of his restraint.

And, being Donald Trump, he then spent three days lamenting that he didn't go after Hillary Clinton by bringing up Bill Clinton's infidelities during the debate. Because Clinton "ambushed" him with Alicia Machado – the former Miss Universe who Trump called "Miss Piggy" for her weight gain.

Trump says he was taking the high road.

But he’s acting like the oafish jock who thinks up a lame comeback … a day after he got humiliated in public by the class brainiac and keeps trying to find a conversation where he can use it. Yeah, why don’t you make like a tree and get out of here? Huh?

Trump was taking the high road by not throwing Bill Clinton’s infidelities in Hillary Clinton’s face? 

Not exactly a bold move from a guy who cheated on his first wife with his second wife and cheated on his second wife with his third wife.

He also seems to think that fat shaming women is OK, so long as you do it in volume and as such he’s spent the last three days publically naming a list of women he considers fat and unattractive as justification for calling a woman fat and unattractive.


One day in the distant future students of logic will refer to this as the Trump Tautology.  


In the days since the debate, prominent republicans have rushed to Trump's support.

Men such as Newt Gingrich.

Newton Leroy Gingrich, a man who married his high school geometry teacher when he was 18 (and really, no creepy factor there, right, Conservatives? Nooo), then cheated on her (while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer) with the woman who would become his second wife. Then cheated on his second wife with his third wife – while at the same time attempting to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about having an extramarital affair. All of which, somehow says something bad about Hillary Clinton’s character, I guess. Apparently. Nothing to see here, move along, move along.

This tactic was so successful for Newt that it got him booted from office and made Bill Clinton into one of the most popular presidents in recent history.

But, yeah, Trump should listen to this guy, because Newt, he’s what Republicans nowadays consider an intellectual.

And in to further cement his intellectual credentials, Newt just had to weigh in on fat chicks. Last night during the annual Republican Spirit of Lincoln Dinner, SPIRIT OF LINCOLN DINNER BAWAHAHAH …


Sorry, won’t happen again.


… Newt opined publicly Trump was right about Miss Universe, Alicia Machado. Seems she really was a fatty and Trump had every right to fire her for being a huge giant enormous fat pig. Oink Oink.

But hey, that’s just Newt being Newt – the guy who ditched his older wife dying of cancer for a fresh perky newer model.

It’s not like all of Trump’s …



Oh. Of course.

Today, Rudy Giuliani chimed in, saying the Bill Clinton “disgraced” the country with his affairs.

Rudy Giuliani, the man who "accidentally" married his cousin despite knowing her his entire life and then petitioned the Roman Catholic Church for a divorce while he was cheating on her with his second wife.  And then – Goddamn but these people are so predictable – Rudy cheated on his second wife with his third wife. But only after having an affair with his communications director in an apartment maintained at New York City taxpayer expense.


Maybe it's just me.


Gingrich yesterday floated a new conspiracy theory, one that is now raging out of control on social media and in the press, spread by conservatives desperate to salvage something, anything, from Trump's miserable performance on Monday night.

According to Gingrich, the Clinton Campaign for months planned the "Machado Trap."

Yes, that’s right, the Machado Trap.

See according to the theory, during the debate, Trump – classy gentleman that he is – was taking the high road of intellect and reason, going easy on the girl, considerate of her health I guess. Trump was shocked, given his restraint, when Clinton desperate and on the ropes from Trump's well reasoned and deliberate performance sprung her ambush at the last minute. Trump, according to the conspiracy theory, restrained gentleman that he is, was so shocked by Clinton’s unfair sucker punch that it tricked him into accidentally blurting out Rosie O'Donnell's name instead of Monica Lewinsky.

Or something like that.

The details are a little hazy, but the long and short of it is: Clinton tricked Trump into acting like a loutish misogynist.

Newt didn’t describe how his theory accounts for Trump’s “restraint” first inviting and then disinviting Gennifer Flowers to the debate.  You know, if he wasn’t gong to bring it up.


But let’s not let details ruin a good conspiracy theory or derail Newt’s promising political comeback, shall we?



Given Hillary Clinton's aggressive take no prisoners performance, the Trump camp should be damned glad he didn't bring up Bill Clinton's infidelity.

Oh, yes, they should give thanks for his “restraint” indeed.

First, because it was Bill's infidelity and not Hillary's.

And when you're the guy who's got a string of affairs and broken marriages in your wake and who spends a lot of time calling women fat pigs, it might be a tactical mistake to attack a woman for her husband's infidelity. Especially when your campaign already spends a significant fraction of its time telling everybody you’re not a howling misogynist, really truly you’re not.

Second, Clinton would have eaten him alive.

Look how she handled his comments about her email. That was supposed to be Trump’s big moment, his gotcha moment all the pundits would be talking about for days. But instead she brushed his comments aside with the practiced ease of somebody who faced down a congressional witch hunt without breaking a sweat or even raising her voice. And in three days since, nobody has mentioned Trump’s big moment. Nobody. Just as nobody buys into the nonsense Trump somehow wasn’t really a birther, but was engaged in masterful brinksmanship – even his friends think that’s pretty lame.

So, Bill Clinton screwed around?

What? Does Trump honestly think mention of it would, what? reduce Hillary Clinton to a puddle of sobbing lady tears?


No, of course not. Just as in that list of talking points above, Trump’s Campaign hopes to use Bill Clinton’s infidelity and Hillary’s subsequent decision to salvage her marriage as evidence that Hillary Clinton is some kind of traitor to her sex.


Gentlemen, as a fellow man I would suggest to you that might be a bad tactic.


And really, don't you think for one damned second Hillary Clinton – Hillary Rodham Goddamned Clinton – wasn't ready for that?

Hell, how could she not be?

Trump thinks he is some master poker player, but you don’t advertise your trump card by inviting it to sit in the front row.

What, you think Clinton didn’t notice the Gennifer Flowers bit?

C’mon. You strain my already sprained credulity.  

Hell, based on the evidence, I'd say she was hoping Trump would bring it up and, like a matador twitching her cape to enrage the dumb bull, she was very likely holding her sword just out of sight.

She’s had twenty years to prepare for that exact attack. She was goading him into it and smiling all the while.

Trump can snort and paw at the ground, but he is lucky, damned lucky, he didn't make the final charge considering his own history.

Clinton would have brought him down like a bad side of beef, bank on it.

But let's say it's true.

Let's say Newt is right. Sure. Let’s give Newt this one. He’s had a shitty couple of decades since he was thrown out of office, let’s be generous.

Let's say Clinton planned that ambush.

Let's say the Clinton campaign looked at Trump, analyzed his weaknesses, his bluster and bravado, his utter inability to ignore a barb or a taunt, his inability to control his ego or his temper or his mouth, his weakness around women, his infidelities.

Let’s say they then designed the Machado Trap with malice aforethought.

And he fell for it.

Even Gingrich admits Trump fell right into it.

Trump as much as admits it himself.  

He fell for it. And for the last three days he’s kept falling for it.


Now, can you imagine this guy, a man so easily led into ambush, leading America?


In the end, this is what we have:

An unprepared amateur who substitutes bluster and bombast for actual substance and preparation.

Or a professional of intellect and wit who’s been preparing for this moment her entire life.

Those are your choices.

Make of them what you will.


I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. You know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be President.
-- Hillary Clinton

Monday, September 26, 2016



If you go back and look at some of the arrests that were made, I can about say probably 70 percent of those had out-of-state IDs." 
-- Todd Walther, spokesman for the North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police, describing those arrested during the protests in Charlotte last week.

Seventy percent were from out of state.

Seventy percent of those protesting in Charlotte are outside agitators.

Seventy percent.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, September 22, 2016, police spokesman Todd Walther said with confidence seventy percent of those arrested during the violence in Charlotte, North Carolina this week were “instigators that are coming in from the outside.”

The violence in Charlotte was instigated by agitators coming from outside the state.

Not by people who actually live there.

Outside instigators.

The implication being, as it was after Ferguson, the violence isn’t a legitimate expression of rage and frustration by a population fed up with the perception of police brutality and abuse of power. That statement automatically delegitimizes the protests themselves, as indeed it was designed to do. Walther’s statement delegitimizes not the violence – or rather not just the violence, which may or may not be a legitimate and necessary expression of protest depending on your point of view – but the entire idea of black people protesting altogether.  The idea that the vast majority of those arrested are confirmed to be in reality outside actors, agents provocateur, immediately taints the entire protest itself and confirms for many whites that those black people rioting in the streets of Charlotte aren’t really yelling about civil rights at all – instead they’re smashing things and lighting shit on fire because, you know, that’s what black people do.

That’s why the police have to shoot them in the first place.


There’s just one problem with Walther’s statement: it’s completely and totally false.



Oh, right. You’re right, of course. There are many things wrong with Walther’s statement beyond its falseness. You’re right and we’ll get to that. Bear with me for a bit.

Walther made that statement on Thursday.

On Friday he was – in the vernacular of our times – forced to “walk it back.”

In more precise terms: he lied.

Walther acting as the official spokesman for the North Carolina police union was completely wrong, deliberately so. He lied.  In reality, a full seventy-nine percent of those arrested since the violence began in Charlotte were in point of fact residents of Charlotte and all of the remainder were from surrounding areas in North Carolina. None of those arrested were from out of state. Not one.

The official spokesman for the North Carolina police union, a man you are supposed to be able to trust, lied. 

During an interview with the Charlotte Observer on Friday, Walther was forced to admit his comments were “inaccurate and merely based on speculation.”

“I didn’t quote facts,” said Walther. “It’s speculation. That’s all it was.”

Speculation. Well, that part is the truth.

But then he lied again, because that’s not all it was and he knows it – or he wouldn’t have made the original statement in the first place.

Walther knew his statement was speculation when he made it, yet he made it anyway and deliberately didn’t caveat it with the part where it wasn’t based on factual information. That is a lie by omission.

Why make the statement, that particular statement, in the first place?

We hear this statement, this particular statement, in nearly every case where black people take to the street following a police shooting. It was outside instigators. Agents provocateur.

Why make that particular statement?

Walther’s comment as the official spokesman for the police of North Carolina is a clear indicator of institutional bias. It’s an indicator of the fear and contempt the police hold for the people they are supposed to protect. It’s a dog whistle directed at a specific population. Walther was, in point of fact, telling white people what they wanted to hear: this isn’t about racism or inequality or abuse of power, no, instead the protests were mostly caused by black thugs who just wanted to smash things and light shit on fire. Exactly what most of those white people believe in the first place.

It’s deliberate confirmation bias, otherwise there was no point whatsoever in saying it in the first place.

And the message is this: the police were completely justified in shooting Keith Lamont Scott because you just can’t trust black men not to resort to violence. Nothing to see here, move along.

And, by Walther’s own admission, that was a deliberate lie.

And so the question at this point is this: how do you know?

How can you trust the police? How can you trust the police when their own spokesman by his own admission is engaged in speculation and not facts? If he lied about the simple things, if he lied to reinforce stereotypes, to favor one part of the population and delegitimize another, then how can you believe him when he tells you his officers were justified in killing a citizen?

He might be right, those officers might have been justified, but how would you know?


After two days of protests and violence in Charlotte I wrote a number of Facebook posts.

One began with this headline:

 North Carolina Governor Declares State of Emergency After Another Night of Violence.

The post ridiculed the idea that it took two days of violence to get North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s attention.  It took two days of violence and then instead of actually addressing the cause of the violence, the old white men did what old white men always do when faced with angry people in the streets: they declared a state of emergency and called in the military.

I suggested that the entire state of emergency could have been avoided if only those supposed leaders like Governor McCrory had declared an emergency after Michael Brown was shot to death in Ferguson (or Trayvon Martin, or Dontre Hamilton, or Eric Garner, or John Crawford III, or Ezell Ford, or Dante Parker, or Tanisha Anderson, or Akai Gurley, or Tamir Rice, or Rumain Brisbon, or Jerame Reid, or Tony Robinson, or Phillip White, or Eric Harris, or Walter Scott, or Freddie Gray, or etcetera and there are many etceteras going all the way back to Selma, Alabama), if only McCrory and those like him had taken action at any of those pivotal moments, if only they’d declared a state of emergency then, and taken the steps necessary to rein in and retrain the forces under their command, taken steps to address the reason for the protests in the first place, then perhaps Charlotte might never have happened.

But then what would you expect of a governor who has worked deliberately and systematically with North Carolina’s legislature to pass laws disenfranchising and marginalizing those they dislike – in particular people of color?  

I also mentioned that after two nights of violence, another black man, Justin Carr, lay dead in the street (he had been shot in the head and later died at a hospital).

I ended that post with this:

Sometimes your only reason for existence is to serve as a metaphor for larger things.

I asked my readers on Facebook to think on that carefully.

Now I rarely use words by accident.

I rarely write things that are only what they appear, one layer deep, and nothing more (yes, including the jokes and the humor pieces and even the bits about my cats). I rarely write things that are not part of some larger context.

Earlier in the week I wrote about choice.

I wrote a Facebook post that went viral where I talked about being forced to take sides. You can find the full text of that essay here on American News X, but the heart of that post leads off with

When you attack my friends for their sex or sexual orientation or their identity or their race or the color of their skin or who they love, then you force me to take a side. You or them.

and that’s the larger context I was working within when I asked my readers to think about Charlotte.

That’s the context I was working within, knowing that not everybody who read the later posts would be aware of that context or bother to go looking for it – and yet would respond with confidence anyway.

As I said, my post are rarely only as they seem.

And so I asked my Facebook audience to think about Charlotte as part of history with the implication being that the violence there is just the latest step in a march which stretches all the way back to 1965 and Bloody Sunday.

Naturally, I got mail.

[…] there's not a whole lot of credible information available right now. Family says Scott had a book, cops say he had a gun. […] The guy [Justin Carr]shot at the protests last night? People in the area say it was cops that did it […] cops say it was gang violence, or a personal beef, or whatever [..] it’s just as reasonable- to believe that the police shot and killed Mr. Scott because he was black as it is to think that he was killed because he pointed a gun at the officers on the scene. […]Now for all of us in Charlotte, you could also be forgiven for having not a clue that anything was going on last night.

Scott’s family says it was a book.

Cops say it was a gun.

People say it was cops who shot Carr.

Cops say it was gang violence or a personal dispute.

Maybe I believe the cops shot both men because they were black. Maybe I don’t.

Maybe I don’t have a clue as to what happened in Charlotte.

Perhaps this correspondent is right about everything, but how do you know?

How do you know?


Jim, it saddens me to see this post from you. I enjoy your banter most of the time, but you sir are now ranking yourself among other ignorant people. Did you not read your own news link? Or any others? The man [Keith Lamont Scott] was armed, a 2 time felon and the only witnesses to say otherwise were his family members, hmm. Video is being released to his family and other leaders of the community. Doesn't exactley [sic]sound like the moves of a coverup [sic]. ALSO, the man shot last night [Justin Carr], is not dead yet, but in critical condition, shot at an ATM by another civilian, please get your facts straight. Otherwise you are just being another part of the problem by misinforming people. Thanks, probably won't even read this of consider what I've said, but the truth is out there, promote that!

The truth is out there.

Scott’s family said he had a book.

The police say he had a gun.

Scott was a “second time” felon – but how would the cops have known that at the time, they hadn’t even identified him when he was shot. How would they know?

Hmmm, indeed.

And again, maybe this correspondent is right.

But how do you know?

The burden of proof is on the police, isn’t it?

I mean shouldn’t the burden of proof, of trust, be on the people who killed a man?

Shouldn’t it?

So what would make you trust the police?

No, the more precise question is: Why should you trust the police? 

Why should you trust the police?  Given that the Thin Blue Line always closes ranks around situations like this, given that the police control all of the evidence, given the history of shootings like this one, given that list of dead black men above, why should you trust the police?

No. Stop. Don’t roll your eyes and dismiss the question.

Don’t resort to politics and don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean. If you’re a conservative, the police are right. If you’re a liberal, the family of the dead black man are right. Don’t do that. Have the moral courage to put your politics aside for one goddamned minute and answer the question, coldly and logically: why should you trust the police? Why should any citizen trust the police?

In general, why should you trust the police?

In the specifics, why should people of color trust the police?

What untainted, uninvolved, unbiased mechanisms exist to provide us with factual data?

What leaders, what politicians, what legislatures, exist that we can all trust to police those who police us?

What history exists which demonstrate the police are trustworthy in cases such as this one? What history demonstrates to people of color that they can expect justice or even the same level of scrutiny normal in the death of a white citizen?

What power structure exists that we can turn to for consistent and unvarnished truth, for unbiased judgement, for an honest and just investigation of the events? One that we can all trust to be honest and just without question, every time.

What source of information can we find regarding this event, or the one before, a source without an agenda and free of manipulation, one that provides detailed facts without accidental or deliberate distortion, and one that is so consistent in its duty as the watchdog of the republic for all citizens equally that we all can believe it every time?

If this was your father, your brother, your son, dead at the hands of police, where do you go for the truth? Truth you can trust?

While the protests raged in Charlotte, out in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Officer Betty Shelby shot another unarmed black man, Terence Crutcher, to death during a routine traffic stop. Shelby claimed she was in fear of her life – in fact she said she’d never been so afraid. And yet, video of the shooting clearly shows Crutcher with his hands up and his back to Shelby when she shot him. Granted Crutcher was not complying with Officer Shelby’s orders, but he also clearly wasn’t menacing her – and even the authorities were forced to admit this.

Shelby was arrested and charged with manslaughter.

So again, why should you trust the police?

How can you trust the word of an officer who is so terrified of a black man that she shot him in the back?  

Without that video it would be the officer’s word against a dead man’s.  The Thin Blue Line closes around her, the investigation is conducted by the police, the forensic evidence is all gathered and processed by the police. And without that video, there would be nothing, nothing, to dispute the officer’s story.

And that is true in far, far too many such cases.

Conversely, or perhaps as an aside, far too often if there is video it’s not clear and provides no proof either way – or it’s subject to erasure or manipulation or “malfunction.”

So, how do you know?

How do you as a citizen know?

No. I said stop it. Don’t roll your eyes and dismiss the question. Have the courage to face it head on. How. Do. You. Know? As an American, as a citizen, how do you know?

What, specifically, gives you reason to trust the word of the police?

Spell it out. List the reasons, line by line, one after the other.

Answer the question without politics. Without race. Just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts. Why should should Americans trust their police? Why? Name ten indisputable reasons based on fact. Go.




Can’t do it, can you?

And doesn’t that bother you?

Doesn’t that bother you as a citizen? Regardless of race, regardless of political party, doesn’t it concern you that you don’t have any real way to know?

Doesn’t that bother you as a cop? As a cop don’t you want to be trusted? Taken at your word? Held to a higher standard? Part of a trusted cadre, a brotherhood of justice and truth, just like in the comic books? Doesn’t it bother you that I can’t take you at your word? That I am forced to doubt you every single time I see a black man bleeding in the street? Well?  

Doesn’t bother you as a politician? As a leader? As a governor? As a mayor? As a lawmaker? As the town council? Doesn’t it bother you that the citizens of your community – that people of color – can’t trust your police force?

Or don’t you care?

Are you comfortable with the “truth” being whatever your gut tells you based on skin color and political party?

Are you comfortable with the current state of affairs? Riot and violence? Protest? Another citizen of whatever color dead in the street? If you believe black lives matter, blue lives matter, all lives matter, then doesn’t this bother you?

Doesn’t the hypocrisy bother you?

I mean, let’s be honest here, shall we? Those who hate and fear the government most, those who tell us the government cannot be trusted, those who sneer and dismiss every single word the government says as a lie, are the ones right now telling me to believe the police without question.

Ironic, that, wouldn’t you say?

Especially ironic, given that many police officers themselves are conservatives who tell me that I can’t trust the government.

Why should I trust the police when I can’t even trust the spokesman for the police union not to lie, not to engage in fact free speculation and deliberate falsehoods? Why should I trust the authority of the police when they themselves don’t trust governmental authority? And, again, isn’t it ironic that those who hate unions most of all are the ones telling me to trust the police union?  I digress.

Politics isn’t proof.

So what then?

The press? You believe in the accuracy of the press? What in recent years has given you reason to trust the press? Be specific. Show your work.

The politicians? The man on the street? The mob? Me?

How do you know?


The truth of the matter is that we don’t know.

We have no way of knowing.

And we should.

In that example above, I didn’t ask my readers to take a side. But they did anyway.

Because in the absence of proof, in the absence of trust, in the absence of justice, they have little option. They must take a side, we must all take a side. And even if you chose to ignore the situation, even if you go blithely on with your life pretending dead black men in the street don’t concern you, you’ve still made a choice.

And that choice is not based on fact or truth or rightness, but because we have been forced to take a side in a political war.

Those we should be able to trust, the police, the press, our leaders, are the least trustworthy, the least reliable.

Until we start holding these agencies to higher standards, until we hold our leaders and our guardians to account, until we demand proof, until we demand liberty and justice for all, until we hold ourselves to higher standards as citizens, until then, our cities will burn.

This is not a black and white issue.

This is not liberal or conservative issue.

This is not a black lives matter issue or a blue lives matter issue.

This is not a Republican or Democratic Party issue.

This is an issue of justice for each and every one of us.

It’s a matter of trust.


Up above I said something many of you walked right on past without a second glance.

But others of you caught it. Some of you saw a single word and it pulled you up short.  That word made you raise an eyebrow and frown. That word made you open your mouth … and then close it on a hard straight line. That word has you even now reaching for your keyboard in protest. 

That word is perception.

“…the perception of police brutality and abuse of power.”

Because we see the death of Keith Lamont Scott through the eyes of our particular politics instead of in the cold hard light of truth, many of you didn’t give that line a second glance.

But some of you are outraged.

Outraged that I might be insinuating the protests and the anger on the streets of Charlotte (and Ferguson, and Los Angeles, and New York, and Detroit, and Baltimore, and Tulsa, and Madison, and Brighton, and Cleveland, and Milwaukee, and all of those places back to Selma itself) might somehow be invalid, somehow nothing more than a perception of police abuse where none really exists.

And it may be so.

But how can you know?   

I used that word on purpose.

Because that’s what this is about. Perception. Keith Lamont Scott, lying dead in the street is about perception. His death is a metaphor for larger things, for how we see each other and most especially how we see our protectors, our leaders, and our nation.

This is about trust. And trust is about perception.

The police – and the press and our politicians – must not only be worthy of trust, they themselves should want our trust as citizens above all. For our society to survive, for our cities to remain unburned, we must perceive them as trustworthy.

But trust, like respect, cannot be forced at the muzzle of a gun.

Trust must be earned. By every action, by every word.

To be trusted, you must be worthy of trust.

For trust, there must be justice.

And if you are not, if you are not worthy of trust as police, as leaders, as the press, then you must be held to account by those whose confidence you have betrayed.

And thus it falls to us, you and me.

If we want a better nation, we have to be better citizens.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Greatness, Again

You know, a long time ago being crazy meant something. Nowadays everybody's crazy.
-- Charlie Manson

I saw George Wallace speak once.

Yes, that George Wallace.

George Corley Wallace, Jr. the infamous governor of Alabama.

Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever! That George Wallace.

It was 1972. I was ten years old. Wallace was once again running for President of the United States, this time as a Democrat.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This really begins four years previous, in 1968.

You nowadays hear people talking about the current election as the worst they’ve ever seen, the worst in American history.

But 2016 has nothing on 1968.

I was very young then, of course. And while a child, even one as bright and perceptive as yours truly (heh heh), can’t understand the complexities of the world around him in any great detail, that child can and does feel the emotional currents. A child might not understand why men are rioting in the streets, why buildings are burning and people are dying, but that child can see the uncertainty in the faces of his parents at the dinner table every night. He can sense the undercurrent of fear on the evening news even if he doesn’t have the maturity to understand why the screen is filled with burning helicopters and falling bombs and hard-eyed soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam. That child can feel the tension in the world because it’s everywhere like a foul miasma of nameless, shapeless dread.

And I remember it, the simmering fear and the rage of that time.

It was everywhere.

Though America didn’t yet know it, the 1968 Paris Peace Talks were about to collapse and as such we had only reached the middle of the Vietnam conflict and the worst years were still to come. Nguyễn Văn Lém was summarily executed by the South Vietnamese National Police Chief, Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, shot in the head at point blank range and the picture of that moment – the exact moment when the bullet tore through a human head – was plastered across every TV screen and newspaper in the world and won war photographer Eddie Adams the Pulitzer Prize. That was the moment when America was suddenly confronted for the first time with the real horror of what was actually going on over there. 1968 was the battle of Khe Sanh, the Tet Offensive, and the My Lai Massacre.  1968 was also the year Americans learned they’d been fighting a secret war in Laos. By 1968, 30,000 Americans had died in the rice paddies and the jungles of Southeast Asia.

20,000 more would follow by the time I saw Wallace speak in 1972.

In 1968, half of America was on fire. North Korea had seized the US Navy electronic spy ship USS Pueblo and was holding her crew as prisoners of war and there wasn’t a damned thing America could do about it. USS Scorpion went to the bottom taking 99 American Sailors with it and no one knew why. That was also the year the Pentagon announced it was sending more than 24,000 mostly conscripted troops back to Vietnam for an involuntary second tour and a hell of a lot of young Americans decided they’d rather live in Canada. Those who didn’t burned their draft cards and joined student war protestors occupying college campuses across the country.  Others detonated bombs and robbed banks and fought it out with The Pigs and The Establishment whenever and wherever they could. Others tuned in, turned on, and dropped acid. The counter-culture was in full frontal assault mode against the stodgy culture of their square parents. Out in California, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson picked up two female hitchhikers and set in motion a chain of events that would eventually end in Helter Skelter – one of the most infamous murder sprees in US history. That was the year Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Race riots immediately followed. Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, and Washington D.C. burned outright, but no American city was left untouched. In Oakland, Black Panthers shot it out with police in a bloody firefight reminiscent of Vietnam. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover declared the Panthers to be “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and directed the Bureau to begin “neutralization” of Black Power organizations. But neither COINTELPRO nor bullets and tear gas could stop the Civil Rights movement. Black Americans had finally had enough of second-class citizenship and they would not be silenced. And so 1968 also became the year President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act (AKA The Civil Rights Act of 1968) into law, following up the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) – unleashing yet more riots and mayhem, this time by whites and personified by none other than George Corley Wallace, Jr. 

Ironically, 1968 was also the year Star Trek episode Plato’s Stepchildren aired and William Shatner embraced Nichelle Nichols in what is widely considered the first interracial kiss between a white man and a black woman broadcast on public television causing widespread outrage.

1968 is also the year Saddam Hussein began his rise to power following a coup d'état in Iraq and it’s a small world sometimes, isn’t it?

And so, in 1968 it seemed the superpowers were on the brink of nuclear annihilation and the United States itself was coming apart at the seams. The economy was collapsing, energy costs were soaring, people were out of work, war raged, social structures disintegrated and were discarded whole cloth, and it seemed the world was falling into chaos, fear, and darkness.

People were frightened.

Naturally the politicians and pundits took full advantage of that fear.

And no one did it better than George Wallace.

Wallace wasn’t just popular in the Old South. Or with just the John Birch Society and the KKK. In my home state of Michigan tens of thousands turned out to hear him thunder his message of small government, law and order, and walling off brown skinned people from white America – because a lot of Michiganders were terrified of the dark faces looking out from Detroit and Flint.  Wallace hated the liberal hippies almost as much as he hated people of color, saying the only four letter words they didn’t know were “soap” and “work.” He swore to run over liberals with his car (that’s right, liberals. Because in those days Democrats from the South were anything but liberal). He was brash and outspoken and his supporters loved that he said what he meant without regard for his opponent’s feelings.  Wallace always put on a hell of a show and his message resonated with those who felt their country, their America, was being stolen out from under them.

When asked what he considered to be the biggest domestic issue of 1968, Wallace often responded:

What are the Real issues that exist today in these United States? It is the trend of the pseudo-intellectual government, where a select, elite group have written guidelines in bureaus and court decisions, have spoken from some pulpits, some college campuses, some newspaper offices, looking down their noses at the average man on the street.

And who would bat an eye to hear that in a speech from Mike Pence today?

Oh how the world has turned.


What does any of this have to do with that fact that I saw Wallace speak in 1972?



You see, Wallace won five states in 1968 as an independent. Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. He won 13.53% of all the votes cast in that election and took 45 Electoral College votes – nearly enough to throw the election into the House of Representatives, where he stood a reasonable chance of becoming President by legislation.

Instead, Richard Nixon won and Wallace went back to Alabama in defeat.

And somewhere in there the world, America, began to change. See that comment about Mike Pence, up above. This, right here, this time is where that began.

Which brings us to 1972.

This time Wallace was running as a Democrat.

Wallace was one of a dozen Democrats fighting his way through the primaries.

But in the four years between 1968 and 1972 the world had turned. Not much, but enough. 

Wallace was still popular in the South and in Michigan and during the first months of the election season he did extremely well and the pundits and prognosticators predicted he would clinch the Democratic nomination easily. But the Vietnam war was winding down and America was coming to grips with the idea that people of color should be viewed as equal citizens – the country wasn’t there yet (still isn’t there yet) but four years had changed things irrevocably.  The Democratic Party itself was changing and Wallace was forced by circumstance and changing attitudes to distance himself from segregation and adopt a moderate view of racial relations in America. In fact, so far had the pendulum swung Wallace declared that he’d always been a “moderate” regarding race – despite the irrefutable evidence of history and the more things change, right?

On May 15, 1972, during a rally at a shopping center in Laurel, Maryland, Arthur Bremer shot Wallace five times.

Bremer wasn’t looking to make a political statement on race or anything else.

He just wanted to be famous.

And so he was, briefly, the most famous man in America. He was the man who took George Wallace’s legs.

One of Bremer’s bullets had lodged in Wallace’s spine and left him permanently paralyzed. 

Wallace spent a month in the hospital and several more weeks recovering and then returned to the campaign trail. But it was over for him. People showed up out of idle curiosity or sympathy or pity. But Wallace’s campaign was as moribund as his legs. In 1968 and the opening months of 1972, Wallace commanded huge crowds when he came to Michigan. Now his supporters had to bus in old folks and school kids and the party faithful just to fill out a reasonably sized parking lot.

And that’s how I saw George Wallace.

I asked my mother last week if I was remembering it right. She laughed. Her memories and mine matched up. She told me how the local authorities packed all the school kids they could find onto buses and drove us out to the airport.  We were kids, what did we know of the burning world? We cheered when they told us to and clapped in glee. It was a grand adventure. A fieldtrip to see American Democracy in action, that’s how they sold it to our folks and I suppose it was even true.  And it certainly beat the heck out of sitting in a classroom learning long division or how to diagram a sentence.  I’d never been to an airport before and I had nothing to compare the dinky little backwater Kent Country Airport to.  It was, to me, a spaceport filled with shining rocket ships and I couldn’t have cared less about the angry red-faced man up on the stage, or long division for that matter.

But then the crowd parted and … I remember that wheelchair.

I remember it now four decades later clear as a bell.

I remember a cold cloudy gray fall day in 1972 and a withered man in a wheelchair shouting about desegregation and bussing and commies at a parking lot mostly full of bemused school children.


And now, many, many year later I realize I was witness to history: the very moment when the Democratic Party hit bottom.


As Conservatives are so fond of pointing out, once upon a time Democrats were the party of John Birch and the Ku Klux Klan, of racists and bigots and Confederates.

And conservatives are of course right – no pun intended.

But all of that changed on that day in 1972.

The party had been changing slowly for decades, but it began in earnest when Democrat Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 – ushering in desegregation and Affirmative Action and effectively ending Southern apartheid with the stroke of a pen. Many Southern conservatives saw Johnson’s action, himself a Southern Democrat, as treason.  They began to leave the Democratic Party. Many became Independents, and thus supported Wallace’s run in 1968.  By 1972 that trend was in full charge and even Wallace’s run as a Democrat couldn’t pull them back into the fold. And the party’s nomination that year ended up being the liberal “hippy candidate,” George McGovern – which turned the trickle of defection into a flood.

Nixon’s campaign strategy in 1972 was in part to woo these disaffected conservatives and he was largely successful at it. Exactly how this happened is subject to some debate, but while Nixon didn’t invent the political term “Southern Strategy” it was his campaign that began the polarization of American politics into Democrat/Liberal – Republican/Conservative. By the time Ronald Reagan came along all he had to do was play up the perception of conservative white victimization with terms like “welfare queens” and “states rights” and everybody knew what he meant and former Southern Democrats flocked to his banner. This was done by deliberate design. The guy behind it was Lee Atwater, the Reagan campaign’s deputy director. Atwater gave an interview after Reagan was elected (anonymously, but his name was later revealed as the quote’s source) in which he said:

Atwater: As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry Dent and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now he [Reagan] doesn't have to do that. All you have to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues he's campaigned on since 1964. And that's fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster.

Questioner: But the fact is, isn't it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps?

Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger.” That hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like “forced busing,” “states' rights” and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me? Because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."

And so here we are 30 years later in 2016.

I could write another hundred thousand words on how we got from “nigger nigger nigger” to here.

I could spend hours explaining how the Democrats went from the party of John Birchers and old white Southern racists to what it is today. Or how the Republicans woke up one morning to find themselves staring in horror at the Klan and the Neo-Nazis and the dimwitted droolers shouting for segregation and walls and war from the front ranks of last night’s Trump rally. We could talk about how the GOP went from serious men in white shirts, scientists and engineers and doctors who once built and flew the ships that took us to the moon and brought us home again, to the party of creationists and science deniers.  Millions of words have been devoted to this subject by people far smarter on the subject than I am and so I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to flesh out the bare bones outlined above.

What matters is that moment in 1972.

What matters is that ruined man in his wheel chair.

What matters is that moment when Democrats hit bottom.

Sometimes that’s what it takes, you know. Hitting bottom.

My dad was a recovered alcoholic. He knew all there was to know about it. He used to tell me this: Nobody can make you quit drinking. Nobody. You can see it. You can see what the booze is doing to you, to your family, to those around you. None of that will make you stop, that’s what addiction is. You have to want to quit drinking. You have to want to. Not others. You.  You have to want to and that want has to be stronger than the addiction. And sometimes, too many times, you have to hit rock bottom. You have to lose it all, you have to destroy your life and stand right on the very edge, the very edge, before not drinking becomes more important to you than the next sip.  For my dad, it was a little kid. He hit a kid with his car while blackout drunk. That was his rock bottom. That’s what finally got through to him, that’s what was finally stronger than the addiction. It took a long time and the help of many friends, but he beat the disease – because at long last he himself wanted to change.  And when he died, more than 40 years later, after 40 years of sobriety, hundreds came to his funeral. You see, my dad wasn’t a great man in the sense of some single great achievement. They didn’t build monuments to him or raise up buildings with his name on the front in great gold letters. No, rather my dad was great in a thousand small ways. He was admired and respected and loved by hundreds, thousands, of people whose lives he’d touched for the better. Because he chose to be that person, because he’d seen rock bottom and was determined not to again.

And that brings me at long last to the point.


The Grand Old Party has reached its George Wallace moment.


The Republican party has reached bottom and in their few moments of sobriety, conservatives know it.

Republicans began as the anti-slavery party in direct and vocal opposition to Southern Racism and the Know Nothings. They fought a civil war in order to change the world for the better.

Today it is the Klan and the John Birch Society cheering the Republican candidate on. 

The first Republican president was Abraham Lincoln who gave his life to hold the Union together with the power of the Federal government.

Today Republicans talk openly of secession and burning Washington to the ground.

The Republican Party began with one of the greatest orators in American history, a man whose words continue to ring down through history sharp and pure as ruby laser light, Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…. I don’t even have to look it up. Like many Americans I know the words by heart and more than a century after they were first spoken on the field at Gettysburg they still resonate with raw power and the promise of a better world.

Today republicans nod and cheer when their candidate says, We have to come up, and we can come up with many different plans, in fact, plans you don't even know about will be devised because we're going to come up with plans, health care plans, that will be so good.

Trump is no Lincoln. He’s no Ronald Reagan. Hell he’s not even George W. Bush.

This is the nadir of the Republican Party.

And this may be where it ends. This may be where the Republican Party finally drinks itself to death, a withered ruin in a wheelchair.




Perhaps this is the point, the bitter and terrible rock bottom, that finally turns things around.

This is the crucible in which greatness might be reborn.

America is not well served by the destruction of the Grand Old Party. 

Growth, innovation, ingenuity, vigor, are all the products of stimulating competition and intellectual challenge. America needs both conservatives and liberals of reason and intellect and a willingness to work together.

And it’s ironic indeed that those spitting blood right now over recent national outrages such as the flag and the pledge of allegiance forget that they themselves put the words “one nation” into those vows. If they don’t mean it, what the hell are they so mad about?

Here’s the bottom line: Republicans don’t need to take back America, for they never lost it.

Instead they need to take back their party.

The descendants of Abraham Lincoln do not need to make America great again, for America has never lost the greatness described by Lincoln’s words.

Instead America needs to make the Republican Party great again.

Not great in some grand gesture, some fantastic achievement, but instead great in a thousand small ways. Great in the ways which make America great for all of its citizens – indeed all the citizens of the world.

Now is the time for Republicans of good intention, of reason and moderation and compromise, to wrest back their party from the bigots and the fanatics and the lunatic fringe and send them back into the margins, isolated and powerless, where they belong.

In the end, even George Corley Wallace, Jr, himself came around.

Wallace made peace with his God and apologized sincerely to America and directly to people of color for his hate and bigotry. He said of the stand that made him infamous, Segregation Now! Segregation Tomorrow! Segregation Forever! “I was wrong. Those days are over, and they ought to be over.” He said that while he had once sought power and glory, he came finally to the realization that he had to ask for love and forgiveness of those he’d wronged. He openly and publicly recanted his racist beliefs, moreover his actions proved he was sincere. In his final years as governor of Alabama, Wallace set about making things right, he appointed a record number of black people to state positions including his own cabinet and did everything in his power to make permanent the gains of the movement born in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

George Wallace didn’t change things in any great way, but his final actions were great in a hundred small ways and they changed America and the Democratic Party forever.

Wallace spent his final years holding court in a rundown diner not far from the State Capitol in Montgomery.  In constant pain, he sat in his wheelchair and held forth on politics and The South and America. He died on September 13th, 1998 and thousands, black and white, came to his funeral.

For a man who couldn’t walk, he had come far since the day I saw him speak in 1972.

That’s the man I wish I’d met.

 I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.
-- Rosa Parks

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Renegade 911

Edit 3: Facebook has restored the original post and apologized. They are still looking into the details of what happened.

Edit 2: Comments on this post are now well over 200. If you want to see all of those comments, you have to go to the bottom of the page and click on “load more.” You may have to do this several times.

Edit: Addendum at the end of the post


I made a Facebook post about 9-11.

It went viral.

It wasn’t even the first viral post I wrote this week, or the first to offend a certain segment of America.

And many people were offended.

Oh, yes, they were offended.

Those who beat their fleshy chests and wave the flag in righteous unending fury and bleat most bitterly about “Freedom” and “Liberty” and “Patriotism” were the most offended.

Because aren’t they always?

Aren’t they?

They attempted to hack my Facebook account.

When that didn’t work, they complained to Facebook in righteous anger, furiously waving their little flags.

Because that’s what you do when you love “Freedom” and “Liberty” and “Patriotism” -- not the real freedom and liberty and patriotism but the jack-booted goose-stepping version where everybody is lined up and made to salute the flag with a gun to the back of their necks.  The kind of “Freedom” that’s administered by serious men of pure Aryan descent with death’s heads and lightning bolts on their collars.

Eventually these patriots  succeeded in convincing Facebook’s idiot mechanical brain to remove my post for “violation of community standards,” even though nothing I wrote violates Facebook’s community standards in any way.

Now, I’m not particularly vexed by this.

First, because this is the risk you take when you post to Facebook. You don’t own it. You don’t control it. You are entirely at the mercy of poorly coded algorithms and the arbitrary judgement of some 20 year old Frappuccino swilling douchebeard somewhere in the bowels of the Facebook cloud.

Facebook’s interests aren’t yours, even if like me you make them piles of money by pulling in 70,000 people every day.  I knew this when I signed up. It irritates me, what they did pulling down my post because a bunch of fascist right-wingers got their delicate little Hitler Under-Roos all in a bunch, but I’m not in anyway surprised by the behavior of either party. It’s right there in the EULA.

Second,  Because the people who complained confirm everything I said about them.


And I’d be lying if I said that didn’t amuse me.


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

They always do, these patriots, predictable as the next row of goose-stepping Nazis.

And what was it I said that was so terrible?

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


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

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

15 years ago today 19 shitheads attacked America.

They killed 3000 of us.

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

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

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

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

We're still here. They aren't.

We win. USA! USA! USA!


You goddamned right. We. Win.


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

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

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

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


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

How'd that promise work out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I suggest you do the same.

Horrible, yes?

How terrible that I should suggest we stop wallowing in this misery, that we stop allowing ourselves to be terrorized by men long dead.

Yes indeed, how terrible.

On Facebook, posts openly calling for the assassination of the president do not violate Facebook’s community standards.

Open racism doesn’t violate Facebook’s community standards.

Sexism and misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, bigotry of every stripe, none of these things violate Facebook’s community standards – or the community standards of supposed Christian Conservatives for that matter. 

Posts that directly call for armed insurrection, that call for militias and Sovereign Citizens to march on Washington and burn it to the ground, to hang the government from the nearest light poles,  don’t violate community standards.

You can use Facebook to organize Klan rallies and gather Neo-Nazis for Trump, to take over a bird sanctuary in Oregon or even to call down the wrath of your god upon everybody you hate.

You can openly call for the murder of a football player that you don’t think is patriotic enough.

All of these things are fine.

But don’t say you’re not going to celebrate 9-11.


Addendum:  I can see that I’ve attracted a certain element and that I have to explain things that would be obvious to those of normal intellect. Very well: If you read the above piece and came away with the idea that I – a retired US military officer who was on active duty on September 11th, 2001 and who willingly served in the resulting war – that I am somehow saying that the US shouldn’t have responded to the 9-11 attack (or Pearl Harbor for that matter, because apparently you’re all reading off the same crib notes) then you are too goddamned stupid to comment here. So don’t bother. As previously noted, I don’t mind having enemies, but I do require they meet certain levels of reading comprehension and reasoning ability.  If you think that a measured response against an identified enemy is the same as invading a country that had nothing to do with 9-11, then you don’t qualify and your comments will not post. // Jim

Thursday, September 8, 2016


“And what is Aleppo?”
  – Libertarian Party Candidate Gary Johnson


What's your plan to fight ISIS?

The plan, man! What’s the plan?

I am this morning reminded as I often am of that scene in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. 

You know the one.

Sure you do.

Max, Savannah Nix, and the Feral Kids have kidnapped Master and along with Pig Killer busted out of Bartertown's power plant dungeon. They're barreling madcap down the train tracks through the blasted wasteland in a ramshackle makeshift pig-shit powered steam locomotive. Max works his way up the side of the train, fighting Tina Turner's post-apocalyptic punk-metal roadies all the way and finally reaches Pig Killer at the controls of the engine.

"So, what's the plan?" Max shouts over the roar of the slipstream.

Pig Killer grins in unbelieving mirth. "Plan?" He laughs in delirious glee. "There ain't no PLAN! Hahahahahah...."

God, I love that scene.

I digress.

I'm not really sure what the point of last night's "Commander In Chief Forum" was, unless NBC wanted to publicly confirm how utterly incompetent Matt Lauer is as a journalist. It was 30 minutes of, "So, Scumbag Lying Hillary, tell us more about your criminal email scheme to destroy America," and 30 minutes of "Gee, Awesome Donald, you're so dreamy!" Lauer repeatedly cut Clinton off and repeatedly failed to follow up on Trump’s increasingly bizarre and ridiculous statements.

If they still teach forum moderation in Journalism School, this would be a good example of how not to do it.

Somewhere wedged in between Trump's gushing schoolgirl man-crush on Vladimir Putin (and honestly, was it just me or did anybody else expect Trump to go full on Tom Cruise couch jumping at that point? I LOVE HIM! I LOVE HIM! No? Just me then) and the ten billionth recounting of Clinton's email server, somebody in the audience asked Trump, "What's your plan to fight ISIS?"

What's your plan to fight ISIS.

The plan.

What’s the plan?

What’s your plan to fight ISIS?

That question shows just how little Americans, including a lot of veterans who ought to know better, actually understand about the Islamic State and the ongoing mess in the Middle East.

What's your plan?

Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan: Have we anything resembling a plan?
Herger the Joyous: Ride till we find them. Kill them all.
-- The Thirteenth Warrior, Touchstone Pictures, 1999

As if it's that simple.

As if “ISIS” is even the right label.

As if you could just sum up a solution to two thousand years of sectarian violence in a Tweet. I mean, think about it, Lauer wouldn’t give Clinton two minutes to explain her goddamned email, right? But Trump is going to give us the war plan in the same amount of time? Sure, why not.   

As if "ISIS" was just this one little unified group of easily identified shitheads confined to one little chunk of land instead of a vast nebulous entity spread across half a dozen countries and mixed in with millions of innocents.

As if the "ISIS" of January when the new president is sworn in would still be the same "ISIS" of today, right now. As if the enemy is all, “Whoa, hang on, flag on the play. Let’s us just wait for the new guy over there in America. It’s only fair!” As if the tactical situation would be unchanged between then and now. The international situation unchanged – including no further actions by Trump’s beloved Putin between now and then. The terrain, the weather, the supply routes, the intelligence, the bases and strongholds, the available assets, all unchanged. Trump claims to be some genius real-estate mogul, but even real-estate doesn’t work like that. Is this guy really so naïve that he thinks the vastly more complex world of war and geopolitics remains static from day to day?  

As if you can formulate an actual workable plan to deal with a staggeringly complex problem without detailed information, without a full assessment of available assets, without the consultation of Congress (you know, the people who have to fund and authorize such an adventure), without some kind of actual national strategy which includes military and nation-building options and contingency plans for when the enemy doesn't roll over and cooperate.

As if you can do all of this by firing the nation’s top generals and running it all yourself from the Resolute Desk, apparently by using your vast Hitler-like military genius.

As if it was just "Okay, you military guys, listen up. Here’s what we’re gonna do: Bomb some shit. Yeah, bomb some shit. And, uh, some fighter jets! And Tanks! And SEALs! Yeah! Green Berets! Kill 'em. Kill 'em all. God Bless America! High fives all around! Profit!”

Crazy, right?

Yeah, but see, the worst part is this: that really is Trump’s whole damned plan:

“Part of the problem that we’ve had is we go in we defeat somebody and then we don’t know what we’re doing after that, we lose it, like, as an example you look at Iraq what happened how badly that was handled. And then when President Obama took over and likewise it was a disaster. It was actually somewhat stable I don’t think it could ever be very stable it’s a war we never should have gone into it in the first place but he came in and he said, “When we go out” and he took everybody out and really ISIS was formed. This was a terrible decision and frankly we never even got a shot. And if you really look at the aftermath of Iraq Iran is going to be taking over Iraq they’ve been doing it and it’s not a pretty picture. The, and, and I think you know, ‘cause you’ve been watching me I think for a long time I’ve always said shouldn’t be there! But if we’re gonna get out take the oil if we would have taken the oil you wouldn’t have ISIS because ISIS formed with the power and wealth of that oil.”

That, that right there was Trump’s actual answer to the question, “What’s your plan to fight ISIS?”

That rambling incoherent stream of unconscious, that goddamned gibberish, was his answer.  

What’s your plan, Commander?

Well, see we go in, right, and we defeat some people and then we don’t have a plan for after that. Sad.

Okay, thanks for the history lesson, Professor, but what’s your plan?

Well, Iraq, see, I supported it but I didn’t support it and we won and it was stable but also not stable. We shouldn’t have gone in but we shouldn’t have left. And that’s how Gazpacho is made!

Yes, yes. But what’s your plan?

Iran is taking over Iraq. Not pretty! Not pretty! They’re doing it. People tell me they’re doing it. Sad!

I got it. But again, what’s your goddamned plan?

Take the oil! We should take the oil. In Iraq. Because ISIS, which is the Islamic State in FUCKING SYRIA, somehow something something Iraq invasion vague hand waving Putin squirrel Assad.

Jesus H. Christ, man, what’s the plan?

Plan? There ain’t no plaaaan ahahahahahahaha!

It’s gibberish.

It’s just goddamned gibberish.

Trump is ramshackle makeshift train wreck carrying a cast of pig-shit covered lunatics down the tracks into a wasteland.

If you take Trump’s statement apart, line by line, and you get rid of all the digression and all the filler and the non sequiturs, the only coherent thing you can parse from his response is this: Kill ‘em all, take their stuff

Kill them all, take their stuff.


That’s not a plan for defeating the Islamic State, you lunatic! THAT’S THE ISLAMIC STATE’S PLAN.


Kill them all, take their stuff.

Trump isn’t talking about defeating ISIS, he’s talking about pillaging Iraq.

Trump is actually talking about invading a country and looting it.

No wonder this guy admires a Russian despot. Because that’s some shady Cossack shit right there.

How does this work?

No really, I’d like to hear the details.

We … take the oil? Right. Okay. How?

No, that’s not a rhetorical question. Trump disparaged Obama for not taking Iraq’s oil on the way out. But how would we do that? Do we drill new wells, build massive new pipelines, and then what? Pump the country’s entire oil supply to a fleet of giant supertankers waiting offshore? How long does that take? Who pays for the wells and the pipes and ships – do we maybe just enslave the Iraqis and make them build it?  And the other Gulf States are gonna what? Just watch us sail away with the booty, with enough oil to completely collapse the world market and completely destroy their economies? I guess we’ll have to fight our way out of the Gulf. Good thing giant lumbering tankers don’t make easy targets. No. What do we do with it? Billions upon billions of barrels of oil, where does it go? To refineries in America? They don’t have that kind of capacity. To storage tanks? Do we just park it offshore for a while? Who cashes out on this? Do Americans get a cut? Sure, we’ll all be Saudi Sheiks. Or do we just give it to Exxon? Here you go, fellas, Merry Christmas! Maybe we give it to Putin?

And what if the natives resist? Do we send in Colonel Quaritch and his fleet of flying tanks to burn down the big tree they all live in? Because it’s looking a lot like Trump got his entire plan from watching Avatar.

So, we take the oil from Iraq, we kill all the big blue natives, and somehow this magically ends the war in Syria and stops global terrorism.

I guess Trump never watched the end of the movie.

Maybe it’s just me.


Jake Sully: This is how it's done. When people are sittin' on shit that you want, you make 'em your enemy. Then you're justified in taking it.
-- Avatar, 20th Century Fox, 2009 (Director’s cut)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Downwind from Standing Rock


For the last few years Alaskans have been arguing over a hole in the ground.

Now, to be fair, this isn’t just any hole.

This hole is filled with a treasure vast beyond imagination.

It’s quite literally the stuff the future is made from. Gold. Silver. Copper. Molybdenum. Palladium. Rhenium. Thousands upon thousands of tons of it. It’s one of largest deposits of its kind ever identified – maybe the largest, we won’t really know until we get to the bottom of the hole.  If we ever do.

Wait, what? The stuff the future is made from? The future? Gold and silver, sure. Maybe copper. But what are those other things? Molibud a num? Moly bead enum? Moly … oh screw it. Palladium? Isn’t that what fueled Ironman’s comic book reactor? And rhenium sounds like a discount white wine from California what comes in a box.

Treasure you say?


Oh, yes. Treasure. Billions upon billions of dollars worth.

You see, these are the metals and rare earths that make our modern lives possible. Without these metals there would be no cell phones, no computers, no flat screen TVs, no satellite GPS, and your smart cars and smart refrigerators and increasingly smarter gadgets would be a whole lot dumber and more crude and dirty. Gold and silver aren’t just for jewelry, they’re integral to modern electronics, computer systems, and communications. Molybdenum and Rhenium are used in advanced super strong alloys like you need to build jet turbines, rocket combustion chambers, and turbo-pumps – all the stuff needed to launch the satellites that hold our civilization together. Palladium is used in catalytic converters turning poisonous exhaust gases into harmless vapor. These metals are used in everything from spaceships to medical technology.  Without these materials, you wouldn’t be reading this, because I wouldn’t have written it – I’m pretty good with a keyboard, but twenty years of military service left my hands damaged and writing longhand with a pen for more than a few lines is hideously painful for me. Without these metals and the technology which results from them, I’d have to find another line of work.

So, yes. Treasure. Vast and glittering.

To get at it will require an open-air strip mine two miles in diameter and nearly a mile deep along with tens, hundreds, of miles of underground tunnels and a vast processing infrastructure including an enormous workforce – eventually making the Pebble Mine one of the largest in the world. This mine, should it be approved would create thousands of jobs, more when you include the equipment makers, the millions of tons of supplies needed every year of its operation, the support staff, the regulators, the investment bankers, and all the industries that will eventually use the metals.

And since this is Alaska, pulling these metals from our soil makes the US safer because we are not dependent on foreign suppliers for these critical materials.

But there’s a catch.

And it’s a big one.

You see the gold and silver, the copper, the molybdenum and palladium and rhenium, are all mixed together with ten billion tons of ore.

And to get it out requires a number of very toxic technologies. Even under the strictest of environmental regulations, byproducts of the extraction process will produce billions upon billions of gallons of poisonous waste water and more than ten billion tons of toxic mine tailings. All of which will have to be contained permanently. And so the plan is to store this material in two very large lakes – one of those lakes, for example, would be over 740 feet deep (taller by 20 feet than the Hoover Dam) and more than four miles long. These lakes would be contained behind earthen dams. And that containment would have to be forever.

Yes, forever.

In the rugged, extreme, unpredictable climate of Alaska. In one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

That material can never escape. Ever. Not even a hundred years after the last of the ore has been mined.

It will have to remain contained behind those walls forever.

Because directly below the proposed mine site is Bristol Bay, one of the world’s largest and richest fisheries and one of the world’s most unique and delicate habitats. 

Any leak, any accident, any failure of any kind and the risk is devastation on a scale so massive that it can’t even be calculated. Entire ecosystems could be lost forever. Entire ways of life, ways of life that stretch back to roots ten thousand years old, could be lost forever. The cost to America in lost food stocks alone could be more than the value of all the metals pulled from the mine when calculated over long term timescales – and if that food doesn’t come from American waters it will have to come from foreign ones.

You see, when the metals are gone, they’re gone, and you’re left with a big hole in the ground. But the fish and other seafood that are harvested from Bristol Bay are an endlessly sustainable resource so long as there’s an environment to maintain the stocks.  If you destroy it, if you destroy that delicate life-system with acid and heavy metals and ten billion tons of contaminated sludge you’ll lose it all

If there’s a failure, the mine owners (which are almost entirely foreign firms) will still pocket the profit from the metals. Those people will go on as before. Whether they get rich or not, it’s not their way of life that is at risk because they don’t live in Alaska. They don’t depend on Bristol Bay for their very identity. If the dams fail, if contamination gets into the environment, they’ll pay their fines – or delay in the courts like Exxon before them – and go on as before.  They have no investment in Alaska beyond money. Once the metals are gone, they leave, they’ll move on to some other place, some other hole in the ground.

All the risk is on those living downstream.

It’s their lives, those Alaskans, their way of life, that is at stake. 

If the containment fails in any way, ever, they lose. No matter what else happens, no matter who gets rich or who gets hurt, they lose. They lose it all. No apology, no amount of money, nothing, could ever give them back that way of life.

That’s the risk.

That is the risk, from the minute the first shovel-full is dug until forever.

There can never, ever, be an accident.


And what are the odds of that?


What are the odds that a lake of toxic sludge deeper than the Hoover Dam is tall won’t leak?

What are the odds an industrial operation two miles in diameter and a mile deep into the earth won’t have an accident?

What are the odds that somewhere in those hundreds of miles of tunnels, there won’t be a mistake?

What are the odds that ships carrying the chemicals to the mine won’t sink or the train from the harbor won’t derail?

What are the odds that the engineers and designers and Wall Street wizards have foreseen every possible scenario? Every possible disaster? Every failure? And adequately prepared for those eventualities?

What are the odds the EPA has foreseen every impact on the unique and fragile Alaskan ecosystem?

What are the odds that the company, or some other agency, won’t deliberately dump toxic waste into the environment through malice or negligence or sheer laziness and greed?

What are the odds Bristol Bay and that Alaskan way of life won’t be affected now or in the future?


The odds? Not very damned good, actually.


Lakes like the proposed Pebble Mine holding reservoirs fail, well, a lot. 

It’s not that the idea is entirely bad, it’s that the overall mining operation itself is already complicated and expensive. So, mining companies tend to focus on extracting the valuable ore and pay only the minimal required attention to ancillary functions – such as environmental containment.  For example: On August 4th, 2014, at a British Columbia mine very similar to the proposed Pebble Mine, a containment dam failed. Millions of gallons of toxic waste water and contaminated slurry poured through the breach at the Mount Polley Mine and into Polley Lake and then downstream into Quesnel Lake and into the Cariboo River. It took four days for the entire two mile long lake to drain almost completely and it couldn’t be stopped. The full extent of the environmental impact isn’t yet known, it’ll be years before it is. Now, the thing is this wasn’t a disaster in some Third World country with corrupt governments and non-existent regulations. This was Canada. Modern technology, some of the best mining engineers in the world, strong environmental regulations, and yet the dam failed. Why? Well, Imperial Metals, the company which owns the Mount Polley Mine had a history of over filling the tailings pond well beyond its designed capacity. They’d been doing it for years. Because they could. Because any failure would be cheaper in fines and damages than building a new containment system. Because all the risk was downstream.

In fact since 1960 there have been more than 100 major mine tailings dam failures worldwide, and thousands more minor incidents. The most recent happened just last month at a bauxite mine in Henan Province, China, where the failure of a containment dam released two million cubic meters (more than half a billion gallons) of toxic red mud which completely buried Dahegou village. Hundreds of villagers had to be evacuated and thousands of domestic farm animals and livestock were drowned. This happened in a place where the government executes company CEOs and Government officials for such failures – and yet it still happened.

But I’m not really talking about dams.

I’m talking about risk.

On March 24, 1989, Good Friday, the Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef and ruptured its hull. Eleven million gallons of heavy crude poured into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound for more than a week creating one of the most devastating environmental disasters in human history. The oil companies, the State of Alaska, and the federal government never anticipated such an accident and there was no plan to deal with it. Equipment, personnel, leadership, funding, and expertise were all woefully lacking.  Why? How could something like this happen? The Exxon Valdez was (then) a modern supertanker. Bligh Reef was noted on every chart and the navigation channel to the open sea through Prince William Sound was well mapped and a route tankers routinely transited hundreds of times.  The weather was good that night, or as good as it gets in Alaskan waters. So what happened? Human nature, that’s what happened. The most experienced man onboard was Captain Joseph Hazelwood, who it turned out was also a drunk.  Instead of being in the pilot house that day, he was below in his cabin sleeping off the previous night’s bender.  The vastly less experienced Third Mate was piloting the vessel through the most difficult part of its passage – the part where the Captain should have been on the bridge (and I say this as someone who has had the bridge myself during difficult passage).  Now the mate might have been able to make the passage without running the ship aground, despite his inexperience, if he’d had the proper tools at his disposal. The single most important piece of navigation equipment in this case would have been the RAYCAS (Raytheon Collision Avoidance System), a type of automated radar system which if it had been working would have set off an alarm when it detected the radar reflector mounted on top of the rocks of Bligh Reef – specifically for this purpose. But the RAYCAS hadn’t worked in more than a year because the company felt it was too expensive to maintain. The crew themselves were exhausted – ships don’t make money sitting in port, and companies don’t make money by hiring excessive hands, so tankers like the Valdez ran with the minimum number of crew possible (the Valdez’s 1989 crew was half the size it was designed for in 1977) and worked 12-14 hour watches plus overtime. And finally the Exxon Valdez, despite being a modern vessel, had only a single hull, not the double hulls designed to prevent exactly this type of accident. Why? You know why. You know the answer to all the questions above:  it was cheaper. Millions of dollars cheaper. So, exhausted crew. Failed equipment. No safety systems. Poor leadership. Utterly inadequate disaster plan. All in the name of profit.  And 1,300 miles of coastline and more than 11,000 square miles of ocean were contaminated as a result. Untold numbers of fish, sea otters, seals, and birds were killed. Entire industries were wiped out and never recovered. Today, nearly thirty years later, you can still turn over rocks along the coast of Prince William Sound and find oil from the Exxon Valdez – I’ve done it myself. 

Entire ways of life were lost forever.

But not for Exxon. The company was fined – and they fought that penalty for more than 30 years in Alaskan courts until they’d finally bought enough politicians and found themselves enough sympathetic judges to get the fine whittled down to practically nothing. Meanwhile they raked in enormous profits and made their shareholders rich and not one of the people responsible had to change their lives in any way – including Hazelwood, who kept right on drinking and who holds a Master’s license to this day.

It was the people of Prince William Sound who paid for Exxon’s risk. It was their lives that changed forever.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill was the largest environmental disaster of its kind right up until April 20, 2010.

That’s the day the Deepwater Horizon exploded.

Five thousand feet below the Gulf of Mexico, sub-standard materials (used to reduce costs), failed safety equipment (that wasn’t adequately maintained or routinely tested), human error, inadequate emergency protocols, and lackadaisical enforcement of regulations all came together in disaster. Methane under enormous pressure from the 18,000 foot deep bore hole surged upward into the Deepwater Horizon’s drilling room and exploded, tearing the rig apart and engulfing the wreckage in flames. The crew abandoned the platform, unable to fight the massive conflagration. Eleven men didn’t make it off and were never found, likely they died in the initial explosion. Support vessels unsuccessfully battled the flames for two days before the rig finally sank in 5100 feet of water.  But that was only the beginning of the disaster. Down below, the massive device that should have prevented this disaster in the first place and was designed specifically to cap the well in an emergency, the blowout preventer, had failed. Not one of its three redundant safety systems worked and oil was spewing uncontrolled from the ruptured well at rate of tens of thousands of barrels per day.  Once again the companies involved, British Petroleum, Anadarko, Transocean, and Halliburton had no plan for such an disaster. No one had foreseen having to cap a well 5000 feet below the surface of the ocean. The equipment didn’t exist. Plans and procedures were nothing more than than the vaguest of outlines. And while the experts worked feverishly to develop a solution, 4.9 million barrels of oil (about 210 million gallons) blew into the waters of the Gulf. The devastation was unfathomable. An untold number of marine life and sea birds died. Beaches and coastal wetlands from southern Florida to Texas saw oil wash ashore and 68,000 square miles of ocean waters were contaminated. The Gulf fishing industry across five states and Mexico was devastated. The Gulf Coast tourist industry collapsed. It took 87 days to cap the well, but it continued to leak oil into the Gulf into 2012.

And once again, in the end it was human nature, greed, laziness, and the willingness to risk other people’s lives and way of life that was the cause.

Again, it was the people of the Gulf who paid the price for corporate risk.

BP eventually agreed to pay one of the largest fines in history, but that money can’t bring back a way of life that died with a billion tons of marine life smothered in oil.

And once again those who made the decisions that led directly to this disaster remain unaffected, their lives, their way of life, continues.

I could go on. The list of similar disasters stretches back through history, from Love Canal to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, from the Castle Bravo nuclear test which despite the very best scientific minds of the time unexpectedly rendered a huge chunk of the South Pacific uninhabitable to the bombs which contaminated the Southwest from New Mexico all the way to the Mississippi and gave us the term “downwinders,” from Chernobyl to Bhopal to Three Mile Island and the Tokaimura Nuclear Plant, to just last week when a 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck Oklahoma – an area not prone to quakes until the advent of fracking wastewater injection wells – after a week of smaller temblors. 

The risk is always on those downstream, the downwinders, the ones who never agreed to take it and who rarely if ever profit from it.

This is true no matter how many times you care to run the experiment.


And that takes us to North Dakota and the Sioux People of Standing Rock Reservation


The proposed 1200 mile long Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) would transport crude oil from the oil rich Bakken Formation in North Dakota down through through South Dakota, Iowa, and into Illinois, where it would connect to other existing pipelines. The oil would then be transported to US refineries in the Midwest, East Coast, and the Gulf Coast. Most of the DAPL would be underground and is expected to move nearly half a million barrels of oil per day.  Dakota Access, the project’s lead developer, says that the pipeline would add an estimated $156 million to various state coffers and provide, temporarily, 8,000 to 12,000 constructions jobs.  Dakota Access claims the $3.7 billion project will "bring significant economic benefits to the region that it transverses” – though exactly what “significant” means after the pipeline is constructed and in operation is subject to broad interpretation. Since at that point there’s not a lot of effort required anywhere but at the ends of the pipeline (for example: The Alyeska Pipeline crosses 830 miles of Alaskan wilderness. Building it was a hell of a task. But nowadays all the action involves putting oil in one end and taking it out of the other and there’s not a lot of jobs in the middle).

But see, here’s the thing: part of the proposed pipeline would cross native American lands.

Some of that land is sacred to the Sioux – and before you get all dismissive of that, think of the outcry if Native Americans were demanding the right to bulldoze Christian churches and cemeteries to build an Indian Casino. We wouldn’t be having this discussion if the shoe was on the other foot.

In point of fact, the very land here, Dakota, is named for these people, the Lakota Sioux.  Their roots in this soil go back thousands of years and who are you to decide what is sacred and what is not to such a people?

Other portions of the pipeline cross the Missouri River – the source of water for the entire reservation, along with millions of others. If there is a failure, an accident, deliberate malice, unforeseen events, unanticipated faults, fire, flood, terrorism, any of the disasters listed above, then a people’s way of life could be lost forever.

Again, the risk here, the risk to sacred history, the risk to lives and ways of life, that risk is all downstream. If there is a failure, those who profit from the DAPL won’t have to change anything. They’ll go on as before in their offices in Sioux City and Houston and Washington and Wall Street. But the people who live on that land, whose ancestors are buried in that soil, will suffer the consequences. They take all the risk.

This last weekend, Energy Partners Inc. (a partnership of oil interests) turned dogs loose on peaceful Native American protesters – and they were protesting peacefully.  The dogs attacked people and horses which some of the Native Americans were riding. This wasn’t an accident, and it wasn’t the first time. It’s an attempt at intimidation, a deliberate attempt to silence the people who will have to bear the risk of the proposed pipeline against their will.

This last weekend, construction teams employed by Energy Partners Inc. bulldozed a two mile long, 150 foot wide path through land sacred to the Standing Rock Reservation tribe. Ancient native American cairns, prayer rings, and burial sites – some hundreds of years old – were deliberately destroyed. Remember the outcry from outraged Americans when Taliban forces destroyed ancient religious sites in Afghanistan? Those same people are curiously silent today.

The land in question is currently being contested in Federal Court. Native Americans are seeking a permanent injunction preventing the pipeline from passing under this land. Instead of waiting for the court’s ruling, the oil companies attempted a fait accompli by bulldozing a path through native lands. This is going on right now, native America people are once again fighting for their rights and their way of life, but you see very little of it in the media, because unlike those temples in Afghanistan it’s not a popular cause.


Well, you see, just as America needs those metals in Alaska, America needs the oil of North Dakota.

Our civilization, our way of life, depends on it.

Our way of life depends on it, our manifest destiny, and so the concerns of Native Americans are once again forfeit.

The risk is all on the Sioux.

The Sioux and every person living downstream on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

And what are the odds there will never be an accident? What are the odds there will never be a leak, a fire, an act of sabotage, or negligence? What are the odds the company will use only the highest grade materials, despite the cost? What are the odds that same company will develop, fund, and maintain an effective emergency plan – and keep equipment and personnel standing by just in case?


What are the odds that a company who would bulldoze sacred ground and turn dogs on Americans will be any more altruistic in the future?


Understand something here, I’m not opposed to progress.

I’m not opposed to pipelines out of hand.

I’m not reflexively opposed to offshore drilling in deep waters – even including the pristine waters of my beloved Alaska.

I’m not opposed to mining.

I’m not opposed to profit. I’m not opposed to capitalism. I’m not opposed to business.

I benefit from those things every single day and I like the modern world.

The Dakota Access pipeline is part of a larger conversation. We’ve talked much in recent years about energy independence and I think this is a good conversation to have. Without American money spent on Middle Eastern Oil, Osama bin Laden would have been just another Saudi. It was money from America’s need for oil that made his family rich and let him fund terrorism across the globe. One of the primary factors in the defeat of the Nazis in WWII was the Allies’ tactic of cutting Hitler off from oil, the Petroleum Campaign, and both Herman Goering and Albert Speer said after the war that the campaign contributed directly to the defeat of the Third Reich. The more energy we can find within our borders, the less vulnerable America is.

But it’s not my way of life that is immediately at risk here.

And the Sioux – and everybody living downstream of this pipeline on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers – shouldn’t to have to bear the entire risk for the rest of the country, for me.

It is long past time that these companies, and the government agencies charged with their oversight are required to share equal risk.

What do I mean?


During the Cold War, I was once stationed on the Island of Iceland.  The Icelanders didn’t want us there. You see, during WWII they were overrun by Allied servicemen, hundreds of thousands of them. More than the actual population of Iceland itself. Those troops, despite good intention, ravaged the island, destroying ecosystems and ways of life that stretched back to before the advent of Western Civilization. And when the war was over those troops left almost overnight, leaving behind an imploding economy, hollowed out jobs, and a whole bunch of pregnant Icelandic women.  By the time I arrived 60 years later the Icelanders had recovered. They’d learned their lesson, they reluctantly admitted they needed the protection of NATO and the US, being as they were without a military of their own and caught smack between Cold War superpowers, but it was on their terms not ours.

And the example which applies here is sheep.

Icelandic sheep are not cute furry little lambs like they are here in America. These creatures are massive and mean and they roam the island mostly free during much of the year. Icelandic wool is like nothing else in the world and for those who make a living from it each sheep is their life and livelihood. (Also, should you ever get to see a roundup and sorting during shearing season it’s well worth the trip to Iceland all by itself, though there are many other things to recommend the place).

As Americans, if we harmed one of those creatures in any way, say I hit one with the duty bus in the middle of a lava field because I couldn’t see the damned thing in a howling snowstorm in the middle of the seven month Icelandic winter, then we were responsible for paying not only for the value of the sheep itself, but for all the wool it might generate over its lifetime – and if it was female, all the offspring it could have potentially produced. The fines could be in the tens of thousands of dollars if you were unlucky enough to hit a young ewe with a decade of life ahead of her.  It made you very cautious, very respectful of Icelandic property and traditional ways of life. The Icelanders had found a way to share the risk, them for having us there, us for using their land. This approach, this practical Icelandic mindset, was common in the Status of Forces Agreement for things vastly more important than livestock and you were responsible for it before you were ever allowed to set foot on the island.

And it worked.

Projects like DAPL risk the lives of all the people in their shadows, they risk the fabric of the land – the legacy we intend for our children and future generations. Those that are to profit from these projects must be made to share equally, or more, in the risk. People who have had their way of life destroyed shouldn’t have to go hat in hand to the courts after a disaster, asking for satisfaction.  Projects like this, like the Pebble Mine in Alaska, or the Macando Prospect in the Gulf, or the Dakota Access Pipeline should be required to put up damages before the first shovelful of ore is dug or the first barrel of oil is pumped. A billion, $10 billion, $30 billion, $100 billion, whatever the worst case scenario is plus a margin of error.  Borrow it from the shareholders, or from the banks as a lien against the value of the company, or take it from quarterly profits. And a certain percentage should come from the taxpayer, whose representatives approved that project and are required to regulate it. Put that money into an escrow account with the signatories to include everybody downstream, every life, every job. If the project operates to completion without accident, or if there’s an accident and the company was aggressively prepared for it and dealt with it immediately and effectively, if after it’s done the cleanup and restoration meet with the satisfaction of those downstream, then the company and the taxpayer get their money back with interest – otherwise they forfeit it all. Every penny. That way those downstream get something even if the company files for bankruptcy – because the payout isn’t tied to the company’s ability to pay after the fact, but before.

That’s the risk. All or nothing.

Understand something, I’m not talking about damages here, I’m not talking about fines, I’m talking about risk.

Any fines or damages would be for the government to recover after the accident, same as now. The money in escrow would be for the people and lives affected. Not cleanup. Not mitigation. What I’m talking about is divorcing fines and penalties from personal settlements. I’m suggesting we put the settlement upfront, in advance, so that the risk might be shared by all parties with the majority burden where it belongs, on those who stand to profit the most.

I would suggest we need laws that hold company officer salaries and shareholder payouts forfeit in the event of an accident as well.

I can see a number of potential pitfalls right up front.

For example, what’s to keep somebody downstream from one day causing that accident? And then claiming his share of the resulting payout?

What’s to keep company officers from buying up interests downstream, then after they’ve extracted all they can from the project, allow it to fail. They then declare bankruptcy and quietly pocket the settlement money themselves. Then abandon both the worthless downstream properties and the remains of the company and move on – and now you know how to plot a John Grisham novel.

I can think of a dozen other ways off the top of my head to subvert this idea. And two dozen ways to prevent it. The details of how something like this would be administered fairly I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader and perhaps their congressional representatives.


How likely is any of this?

Somewhere between not very and no chance I would guess, but it’s an interesting mental exercise to imagine the world that would result if we all shared the risks of our society more equally.

In the end, this battle, the one being fought right now in North Dakota, affects far more than just a single Native American Tribe.

This affects us all, every single one of us.

We are all downstream.

We are all downwinders. 

We must have these metals, this oil, for those are the things from which our future is built. But we must have our past, our history, our sacred places, our way of life too, otherwise that future is hollow.

There must be balance.

This is each and every one of us our fight, our interest, our way of life, our sacred ground, our risk.

The people who stand to profit the most should willingly stand to risk the most.

The rest of us must stand with the Sioux.