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Monday, January 26, 2015

Fool’s Gold

Color.

That's what they call it when you find traces of gold in a stream.

In the old days here in Alaska, the sourdoughs would pan the streams and rivers looking for that golden telltale, that glittering hint of treasure in the bottom of the pan. Color itself isn't worth much, just a thin thread of brightness among the mud and sand - but see, that color was a clue to greater things, a treasure map.

They'd follow the color upstream, through the twisting rivers and washes, to the source. The mother lode.

Color, that's what we're seeing now, we miners of political gold.

We're still far downstream from the mother lode of 2016, but already the mud in our pans is bordered in bright yellow.

And then there are the nuggets.

Things must change for our government. Look at it! It isn’t too big to fail. It’s too big to succeed! It's too big to succeed, so we can afford no retreads or nothing will change with the same people and same policies that got us into the status quo, another Latin word, status quo, and it stands for, “Man, the middle-class everyday Americans are really gettin’ taken for a ride!” That's status quo, and GOP leaders, by the way, y'know the man can only ride ya when your back is bent, so strengthen it, then the man can't ride ya, America won't be taken for a ride, because so much is at stake and we can't afford politicians playing games like nothing more is at stake than, oh, maybe just the next standing of theirs in the next election.

Jesus Jumping Christ!  I was a Navy codebreaker, an intelligence officer, I've had professional training and decades of experience, and I can't parse that gibberish.

 

Yes, I know. It's been killing you. Hasn't it?

 

For the last week, my inbox has been choked with queries, wondering why I haven't said anything.

I haven't said anything because last week when Sarah Palin declared her "interest" in running for president in 2016, it was just political color.  And you don’t get excited about color.

I was waiting for Iowa, that’s where you find the first real nuggets.

Speaking at the Iowa "Freedom" Summit, the Sourdough Shill didn't disappoint, did she? It's too big to succeed or fail with the retreads for changing Latino men riding other men because we won't be taken for a ride! America!  She contemptuously dismissed the President as “a little boy” and then sneeringly declared liberals and democrats are racists and sexists. It’s the same tune she’s been singing since John McCain took her to the prom and got his ass beat by the star basketball player.

I've read that paragraph two dozen times now, it's pure buttery yellow Palin. It's ... beautiful.

I have no idea what it means, but it’s wonderful.

I'm a skilled writer, I'm even more skilled at mockery, and there is nothing I could have penned that would have come close to that golden horde of ... well, hell, you can't call it word salad, it's more like finely ground mulch. Compost.

Edit:  No in retrospect, mulch and compost are the wrong words.  "Word salad" is pitifully inadequate. It’s more like Word Coleslaw.  Wordslaw!

Palin’s speech was so bizarre, so utterly incomprehensible, that the Democratic National Committee issued only a two word response via their communications director: “Thank you.”

See, apparently, Palin’s teleprompter froze.

And she had to speak off the cuff, and that gibberish above is what came out.

Her teleprompter froze. Teleprompter.

And it’s like the jokes just write themselves. Lame jokes. Old tired jokes that have been told a hundred time before, but nevertheless…

Sarah Palin is the Zsa Zsa Gabor of American politics.

She’s a diva. She got where she is on, well, to use her own words, her rack. It sure wasn’t her brains. She had a few bit parts and she’s got her fans. She plies the talk show circuit as the queen of glitter – along with the same old cast of characters – and nobody can understand a goddamned thing she says. She’s good for a few laughs on Late Night, but nowadays she’s mostly famous for being famous and ain’t nobody offering her a part in their movie.

She’s grifter, a political con artist. This is her MO. She sort of maybe hints she might be maybe interested in possibly maybe running. The chumps flood her PAC with their cigarette money. Then she tours the country in her Patriotic Juggernaut of Patriotic Flag Humping Freedom, signing books and giving speeches composed entirely of disjointed Tea Party sound bites and utterly devoid of any originality whatsoever.

And then?

Nothing.

She doesn’t have the chops to go all the way, or even part of the way.

At best she’s color, a little excitement in the pan as we plod upstream to the real treasure.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Fears Of Small Men

Capt. Jerome, USMC: It seems quite obvious, I would think, sir. We must seize the government and make our own negotiations!
Gummere: Seize the government?
Capt. Jerome: At bayonet point!
Gummere:  Well, I certainly would like to see that old son-of-a-bitch at bayonet point, huh? But it's ridiculous! It's outrageous! It's lunatic!
Adm. Chadwick: Yes, isn't it though? I think Teddy should love it.
Gummere: But, what about the French? The Germans? The British? Why we're in the shadow of Gibraltar!
Adm. Chadwick: DAMN THE LEGATIONS!
Gummere: You realize, of course, that if we fail in even the slightest way, we'll all be killed?
Adm. Chadwick: Yes, and the whole world will probably go to war.
Capt. Jerome: Gentlemen, if we fail and are killed, I certainly hope the world does go to war!

The men raise their glasses in salute.

Adm. Chadwick: The world at war!
Gummere: A world war. Now that would be something to go out on...
     - The Wind And The Lion, 1975

 

Spot the problem.

This morning Senator Ted Cruz (R-Jesusland) posted this to his Twitter account:

 

image

Do you see it?

I mean, can you spot the problem other than our nation is being run by idiots.

Cruz says we must preempt any efforts of those [Americans] who fight with terrorists to reenter the United States and launch terrorist attacks.

I don’t often agreed with Sweaty Teddy, but sure, okay. I might have said we should do our best to capture these people and bring them to justice, rather than just keep them out of our own country and let somebody else deal with them, but okay, sure. 

But then we get to this part:

"We must protect our homeland by declaring that Americans that go fight with radical Islamic terrorists have renounced their citizenship."

Ah.

I see.

Take away their citizenship.

Make them, what? Stateless? Force them to become citizens of some other nation, is that it?

Sounds good right? ‘Merica! and all that patriotic flag waving dreck.  Sure. Shithead American goes to Terrorist Summer Camp, joins ISIS or ISIL or whatever the current bogeyman is, then tries to come back to America and attack us where we live.

I think we can all agree that’s not a good thing.

So, Senator Cruz suggests we start revoking American citizenship. Why we’ll make them no longer Americans! The dirty Muslim bastards, that'll fix ‘em! That’ll fix ‘em good!

 

Not to be a wet blanket or anything but before we start revoking citizenship, I have a couple of questions.

 

First, how big of a problem is this, really?

Sure, there have been a handful of cases where Americans have gone over to the other side, nobody says there haven’t, but how big of a problem is this?

Last year, two American converts to radical Islam, Troy Kastigar and Douglas McArthur McCain, declared Jihad and went to fight with the Islamic State. Both were killed. Now, I suppose you could take away their citizenship, you could take up the court’s time and pay the clerks and banish their ghosts to Jahannam.  But, really, they’re dead. As such, they’re unlikely to return to the US and engage in terrorism. The vast majority of Americans have never heard of these two assholes.

So why then does the party of fiscal conservatism want to spend money on an empty gesture?

Anwar al-Awlaki was an America Muslim who became a militant Islamist. He joined al-Qaeda and was killed along with his son, also a US citizen, by an Obama authorized drone strike in the Yemeni desert. A rather large number of Americans, both liberal and conservative, lost their goddamned minds over it. I wrote about that incident, in exhaustive detail, here, in one of the most popular essays I’ve ever penned.  Again, the guy is dead. He’s not coming back. We jammed a couple of Hellfire missiles up his colon, is sending a final Fuck You really that important at this point?

Most Americans have long forgotten John Walker Lindt – or Abu Sulayman al-Irlandi as he now calls himself. Lindt is currently rotting in the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana. He pled guilty to joining the Taliban and fighting against American forces in Afghanistan.  Now, he’s in a SuperMax prison, in solitary confinement, for the next 20 years without the possibility of parole. His lawyers petitioned the government to have his sentence reduced and that was denied by President Bush on his last day in office.  He hates the United States and prays for its destruction every day. So, what? You’re going to take away his citizenship? I’m sure he’ll be all broken up over that. But here’s my real question: And then what? When Lindt gets out of prison ten years from now, and he’s not a US Citizen, what are we going to do with him? He can’t stay here. He can’t go anywhere else because he’s not a citizen of any country. So, once again, the party of fiscal conservatism will have to spend money to negotiate his transfer to … where? Are we going to dump him into Gitmo and just keep him “detained” forever at our expense and in defiance of our law? Or are we going to ship him  off to another country. And are we going to keep an eye on him after he’s released, because that would be a whole lot easier (and cheaper) here in the US than in Pakistan or Qatar or the UAE.

There are others. A few each year. But it’s hardly an overwhelming tide.

American airports aren’t full of eager Muslim converts headed out to join the Islamic State.

So, you’ve got to ask yourself, how come the poster child for smaller government and fewer laws and less regulations and reduced spending is proposing another law? One that would apply in only a few cases per year.

One that will cost us unnecessary money.

And one that does nothing.

Worse than nothing actually.

Say today the CIA becomes aware of another John Walker Lindt, another Troy Kastigar, or another Douglas McArthur McCain. 

Some white-bread American boy who got a case of the disgruntled Muhammad and went to North Africa or Pakistan and got himself all radicalized.

If you take away his citizenship, then should he attempt to return to the US he'll be forced to use a false identity.

Which bypasses all the intelligence flags attached to his real identity.

So, you’re going to have to hope that the CIA and the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are able to equate the real identity of some heretofore unknown bit player to a brand new false identity created by professionals, and you’re going to have to hope they do in time to flag him at customs. But don’t worry, as history shows, the US Intelligence community is really good at this, right? Probably nothing to worry about. Naw.

But it does sort of make you wonder about the whole point of that no-fly list and all the security apparatus we've had to live with for the last goddamned decade.

Now, certainly, there's nothing to prevent this theoretical homegrown terrorist from using a false identity even if you don't take away his citizenship, but by revoking his citizenship you've closed the door on the easy option, the low hanging fruit, and made it just that much harder for Immigration/Homeland Security to pick this guy out of the crowd.

The better bet is to pretend you aren't watching him and let him believe he's safe.  That's basic intelligence work.  If you’re a cop on stakeout, you don’t sit in front of the suspect’s house in a black&white with the flashers on and the siren going.

And while we’re on the subject: if you make this guy not-American, what are you going to do if he doesn’t come home?

Ah, didn’t think about that, did you?

Al-Awlaki, Lindt, Kastigar, McCain, these guys, none of them tried to come home. Now, I’m not saying they might not have attempted to return in the future, but they all were caught or killed fighting overseas.

Three of them, Lindt, Kastigar, and McCain, were killed or captured in active warzones.

But al-Awlaki wasn’t.

It's one thing to drone-zap an American citizen engaged in  terrorist activities in the middle of a Yemeni desert - sure, the legalities are open to some debate, but you can take those secret clauses in the various patriot acts and the fact that the foreign government asked us to clean up our own mess and roll them right up into a get out of jail free card.  You will note that despite all the various protestations regarding the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki by the US government on foreign soil, there's been no legal action by us or by foreign nations or by the international court.

Because it was legal.

Because al-Awlaki was an American.

And he was our responsibility.

But it's an act of war to kill a non-US citizen on foreign soil outside a combat zone.

If the target isn’t an American, and he's not in a combat zone, and he's not actively engaged in terrorism right at that very moment, and America drops a Hellfire on his head on foreign soil, then we're breaking all kinds of international treaties.

Remember the international and domestic outcry about this very thing when we went after Osama bin Laden inside the borders of one of our allies? And that was Osama bin Laden. And it was sort of kind of in the warzone - sort of, if you squint your eyes. And it has caused us all kinds of grief since, particularly in Pakistan.

But so? So what? Right? We're America. We can damned well kill whoever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want, right? Damn the legalities! Damn the treaties! Damn the legations!

You're probably going to need to rethink using the term "rogue state" though.

But what if we don’t catch up to him?

What if somebody else does?

Say this guy, this former-American, this terrorist, is captured by foreign forces. Alive.

How you going to extradite him? He's not an American anymore.

If he didn't commit a crime on US soil or against US assets, what's your legal standing in international law to bring him back here to face justice?

Or are we Americans just going to shrug and say, hey, not our problem, he’s not an American anymore, you deal with it. 

Is that the kind of people we’ve become? The kind of asshole whose dog craps in somebody else’s yard and we pretend it’s not our responsibility?

But all this is just window dressing.

image

Have you figured out the real problem with Senator Cruz’s statement?

No?

Well then I’ll tell you: The problem is that a Harvard educated lawyer who is now charged with making the laws of our country and who bleats endlessly about the Holy Constitution, doesn’t seem to know very much about the goddamned law.

While it is possible for a naturalized U.S. citizen to have his or her citizenship revoked through a process called "denaturalization," a natural-born U.S. citizen may not have their citizenship revoked against their will. 

May not.

The government does not have that authority.

A natural born US citizen may renounce their citizenship, but the government cannot, repeat can not, force someone to renounce their citizenship or do it for them in their absence.

More than that, suggesting that the US Federal Government should be able to revoke citizenship from an American is the ultimate hypocrisy for an outspoken advocate of individual rights, liberty, freedom, and small government.

Cruz  seems to be suggesting that the government should have the power to revoke citizenship.

Think about that. Think about it real hard.

Who decides? The Court? The Military? Homeland Security? The Senate? The President? Is this a power you really want the government to have? The ability to make you a non-citizen? Really?

So, do we vote on it?  Because, hey, no mob mentality or room for error there, oh no. Especially when it comes to terrorism, right? Just go ask Richard Jewel.

And where exactly does this end?

First we revoke the citizenship of radical Muslim terrorists, right? Sure that’s okay, we hate those sons of bitches and who doesn’t?

Then maybe less-radical Muslims. Cruz said “preempt” did he not? We’ve got to get ahead of terrorism. Deport ‘em before they become radical radical. Because really, radical, less-radical, they’re all terrorists aren’t they? Isn’t that what people like Ted Cruz have been telling us? Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim. Right? Right?

Then maybe other religions we don’t like. We’ll get rid of the Sikhs next, can’t tell them from Muslims anyway. And the cults, sure.  Oh, and the Jews! Heck, there’s even a precedent for making Jews non-citizens, isn’t there? Hmmm, give me a minute, I’ll remember the details, something about America for Americans and all that, dontcha know.  And the Jews can hardly complain, after all if you check in with the modern Jewish state, you can find a precedent for making Muslims non-citizens too, so there’s that. Fair’s fair, I guess. And hey, at least Jews have a homeland they can fuck off to.

Who’s next? Political ideologies? Sure, it’s not like Ted Cruz and his political party haven’t been accusing the rest of us of being shitty Americans – but no, now I’m just being silly, no way rational people like Ted Cruz would abuse this power to banish liberals and progressives and conservatives who don’t toe the party line. Nooooo, that would never happen.

Gays? No gay people, no gay marriage. How about the poor? We’ll use the Hawaii model and just export them somewhere else. Problem solved! No more welfare, no more food stamps. It’ll be a Koch Brothers paradise!

And the sick, don’t forget the sick, we can banish them too and why not?

Oooh, wait, I know! How about people who are only half American?

Yeah! You know, say like they were born in Canada?

 

Too far?

 

Silly?

Hysterical?

Perhaps.

But, look out there. Look out into the world. Look into the past. Genocide. Atrocity. Totalitarianism. Disenfranchisement. Terrorism. All the horrors of our past.

People always ask, how could it happen?

How could it happen? Well you see, it begins just like this.

Very small.

And with the best of intentions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

State Of Disunion

Presented to this Congress are great opportunities. With them come great responsibilities. The power confided to us increases the weight of our obligations to the people, and we must be profoundly sensible of them as we contemplate the new and grave problems which confront us. Aiming only at the public good, we cannot err.
William McKinley, State of the Union, 1899 

 

We should do away with the State of the Union address.

Just get rid of it altogether.

No speeches. No rebuttals. No letters. Nothing.

It would take a Constitutional Amendment, sure, but I think we'd be healthier for it.

As I said yesterday on social media this address is the vermiform appendix of our republic. It’s a vestigial leftover organ from a more primitive democracy, back when congress really did represent the people.

Nowadays, the State of the Union address does little and serves mostly as a source of swollen inflammation ready to burst apart into full blown infection at any moment.

The original intention of the address was for the president to inform congress of the actual no kidding state of the union, the problems and the challenges, what was going well and what wasn't, and to in essence suggest the legislative agenda for the coming year. Here are the issues, get me some bills to address them, and I'll sign ‘em into law and we can get on with the business of running our country.

Back then, congress wasn't a full time job. Politician wasn't a career. There were no think-tanks and SuperPACs and no ‘round the clock news cycle.  The men who made up congress were part time lawmakers. Most of the year they were farmers and industrialists and printers and brewers and lawyers and doctors spread across a vast new country in a time when the fastest form of communication was hand written letters carried in a sack on the back of a mule. And so they needed a periodic update from the nation’s full time leader.

Today? Congress is not only a full time job, it’s practically royalty.

Some senators and representatives have been there for more than forty years, they’ll likely die in office, and they spend far more time in Washington than they do among the people they're supposed to represent. They might as well be dukes and earls and barons. They are surrounded by a sea of minions, fops, toadies, and hangers-on, there are lawyers and lobbyists, clerks and secretaries, a multitude of assistants and a plethora of interns. They're plugged into a vast, vast political machine and an array of entrenched “expertise” coupled to think-tanks and political action committees and various institutes for “strategic studies.” They're immersed in the global information grid so deeply that they might as well be wired directly into the servers with fiber-optic cable.

Like I said last night, if congress doesn't already know the state of the country, an hour of listening to the president sure isn't going to bring them up to speed.

The first State of the Union address was given by George Washington, it was a grand total of 833 words and consisted mostly of ideas for building post roads and Navy ships.  Thomas Jefferson didn't bother with a speech, he sent a brief letter to Congress, which was read by a clerk to the assembly – and that started a tradition which lasted for more than a century until Woodrow Wilson came along. Since Wilson, every president has given an annual speech, which in recent decades has predictably devolved into simple political theater. They all put on their best designer duds, the president gets up there and tells America that everything is great but it could be better while the Speaker of the House sits behind him rolling his eyes and making faces like a four-year old in a starched collar stuck in the middle of Sunday sermon, congress claps politely, everybody shakes hands, then they all go outside to talk to the press and get their pictures taken. The next day the press devotes a hundred thousand words to the detailed analysis of the First Lady’s dress.

Then it’s back to doing whatever it was they were doing until next year.

The State of the Union is basically the Golden Globes Award Show of American politics.

Well, that is, until Barack Obama came along, that’s when the State of the Union address became the Republican Grand High Holy Day of Booger Eating Insanity. 

Nothing the president said last night was in any way unexpected or out of the ordinary for any president or any State of the Union speech.  Economy blah blah Education blah blah Infrastructure blah blah Taxes yadda yadda thanks for coming everybody and don't forget, T-shirts are for sale in the lobby!

What is new, however, is that this congress has decided its mission is to scream in hysterical outrage and shout conspiracy theories in response to everything the president says.

Obama could say, "Hey, you know what? Screw it, you're right. On second thought, I've decided to get rid of Obamacare" and republicans would squint their eyes in suspicious patriotic outrage, furiously wave their little flags, and demand a national single payer healthcare program free to illegal immigrants with one bonus abortion and a deluxe box of Day-Glo pleasure-ribbed cherry-flavored condoms for each preschooler.

They had their rebuttal all set to go – though “rebuttal” is probably the wrong word since it had nothing whatsoever to do with the president’s actual speech and didn’t actually rebut anything he said – same as last year, and the year before, and the year before that.  And just like last year they picked the most hardcore nutcase they could find to read it and the most amusing part of this morning's media summaries are those attempting to making some kind of sense from Joni Ernst’s corn-fueled Bachmannesque performance.

Obama said “economy, education, infrastructure, taxes” … and republicans heard “big government anti-Jesus is a comin' fer our little white babies and our guns with his Atomic Negro Ray of Smooth Chocolate Mojo OMFG! Ook! Ook! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, EVERYBODY!”

Today they’re all pissing blood and declaring in various degrees of pumped up patriotic rage their refusal to compromise or cooperate in any way whatsoever.

 

And that right there – that, right there – is indeed the state of our Union.

 

For better or for worse, our government is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

It is a reflection of us, we the people of the United States of America.

And the state of our union is thus: we have become a nation of screeching chimps, capering about, teeth bared in fury, throwing handfuls of our own shit at each other.

And I didn’t need either the president or congress to tell me that.

See you next year. Same place. Same time.

President Washington began this tradition in 1790 after reminding the Nation that the destiny of self-government and the ‘preservation of the sacred fire of liberty’ is ‘finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.’ For our friends in the press, who place a high premium on accuracy, let me say: I did not actually hear George Washington say that.
- Ronald Reagan, State of the Union, 1982

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How The Heroes Die

Please don't thank me for my "service." I was in the military, not the "Service." Service is doing something good. Service is what the person does who fixes your car.  When the word "service" is applied to the military, it helps to justify violence as a method for conflict resolution. Like "defending our freedom," or "bringing democracy," the word "service" is used to lower the barriers of aggression. The military solution to conflict is death and destruction. That's not "service." Call it what it is - the military. If you have to hurt someone to solve a problem, you are the Problem.
- Arnold Stieber, US Army Veteran, 1970

 

I didn’t go to war so that my son could follow.

I didn’t go to war to be thanked for it.

And I certainly didn’t go to war so that I could be called a hero.

Last week, a reader on Facebook asked how I felt about exactly that, being thanked for my military service.

Specifically, I was asked if I agreed with Arnie Stieber, the Vietnam veteran quoted above.

I do.

And I don’t.

Stieber’s experience was not mine.

His time was not my time. His war was not my war. His military was not my military.

The United States and the US military have changed greatly since Vietnam – due in no small part to the efforts and activism of veterans like Arnold Stieber.  While I don’t entirely agree with his position I don’t disagree with it either. I understand completely where he is coming from and I can sympathize with his point of view and I can unreservedly grant that he earned it.

He's entitled to his position, but his position is not mine.

Not exactly.

I don't feel disrespected or diminished if my own service goes unacknowledged.

I don’t feel proud and heroic if it is.

I mostly don’t care if others acknowledge my veteran status or not.

Unlike Stieber and many of his fellows, I wasn’t compelled to serve. I had a choice, Stieber didn’t. War was my profession for more than two decades, I served as both enlisted and as an officer, I joined the military and stayed of my own volition – and that makes all the difference.

As I said in reply to the question, I don't advertise my military service but I don’t try to hide it either. 

I served in peace and in war, I wish for the former and despise the latter. 

Like Stieber, I have little use for those who glorify and promote war as a way to solve the world’s problems.

Unlike Stieber I pragmatically acknowledge that sometimes war is necessary. 

I don't march in parades and I don't go to protests. I don’t wave the flag and I rarely attend reunions. I’m proud of my service, I treasure my experience, I miss the men and women I served with. I was damned good at what I did and there are days I wish I was still out there doing it – and there are days I’m damned glad I’m not. 

No sane man prays for war.

No moral man hopes for death and destruction, not even for his enemies.

Nowadays I’m certain that my haircut and bearing broadcast my status to those paying attention - along with the fact that I often wear the ratty fading sweatshirts from my former commands and so it’s no secret that I’m a veteran. But I emphatically do not feel entitled to thanks from Americans for my military service – or whatever you call it, I’m not inclined to argue the semantics of it.  I went of my own free will and for my own reasons, America owes me nothing for it. I’d like to think America will make good on what I was promised, but I don’t expect it – and more on that in just a minute.

I do not demand respect as my right nor gratitude for my service.

But if thanks are given, I will gladly accept them in the spirit offered and return the compliment. If a business offers me a military discount, I will gratefully accept it. If they don't, that's perfectly fine too. Choice, freedom to choose, the right to decide to offer thanks or not, well, that's what we were doing out there, defending that. At least that’s what I was doing, others can speak for themselves.

And if you believe in liberty, if you're willing to give your life for it, then you must acknowledge people will use that freedom however they please. Some will use it to thank you for your service.

Personally I think you're a bit of a shitheel as a human being if your response to a simple thank you is a political screed and a lecture on semantics, then again that's your right. As I said, I don’t speak for other veterans.

But me? As I said, I take thanks in the spirit offered and return the compliment, one citizen to another, and it bothers me not at all.

 

But I draw that line at hero.

 

In the same conversation, a commenter proclaimed all veterans “heroes.”

She gushed on and on with glassy-eyed effluvious enthusiasm about “sacrifice” and “patriotism” and a dozen other clich├ęd platitudes and ended her comment by saying that her eyes well up with tears whenever she sees a military member out in public wearing a uniform. 

I asked her not to call me a hero, but I should have just walked away – and after she condescended to tell me what a “real” veteran is, I did because like Arnie Stieber, there are things I just cannot abide.

And hero worship is one of them.

We, most of us veterans, we’re not heroes.

I certainly am not.  Oh, sure, I’ve got a box of decorations upstairs in the back of my closet, we all do. Maybe I have a few more decorations than most, a few less than others. Maybe someday long after I’m gone my son will find that box and wonder at those bits of fading cloth and tarnished metal.  Maybe he’ll read the commendations and be proud of his old man, just as I once did.  But goddamn it, I’d far rather have him boggle in horror at the idea of war, I’d far rather have war be so long forgotten that those decorations are nothing but curiosities of a primitive and violent history, one that his generation has long moved beyond.

I didn’t go to war so that my son could follow.

We are not Spartans.

We are not Romans.

We are not Nazis.

We are not some military society who worships war and glorifies battle as some great heroic ideal and spawns generations of warriors. In America, mothers don’t tell their sons and husbands to come home with their shields or carried upon them.  Or a least they damned well shouldn’t.

We are a free people, we are Americans. For us there should be nothing glorious about war. 

We should honor the soldier, certainly, but we should honor the peacemakers to a far greater degree.

As I’ve said here and elsewhere more times than I can count: war is a dirty horrible business and make no mistake about it. War should be the last resort, when all else has failed and the very safety of liberty is endangered. 

War is hell. War is violent and terrible and immoral. Certainly there may be acts of heroism and valor in war, but there are also endless acts of craven cowardice and ignorant stupidity and wanton violence and vicious cruelty – just as in any other human endeavor.  War should always be a last resort, embarked upon only under the most dire of necessity and not some goddamned glorious spectacle.

We go to war because we have to, and for no other reason.

While it’s certainly true that, as Orwell and Churchill both said, the nation sleeps snug in its bed only because rough men stand ready to do violence on its behalf, to paint us all as generic “heroes” leaches the word of meaning and power and diminishes those acts that truly are heroic and worthy of great respect.

But it’s much, much worse than that.

To paint all veterans as heroes, superior above other citizens, worthy of worship and compulsory respect, gives lie to the equality of democracy and makes such status enviable.

That, right there, is why Stolen Valor is such a thriving business.

That, right there, is why our society is a brim with military fakers and ersatz war heroes.  They show up at every parade and hang out in front of the VA, they polish their stolen medals to a golden glow and tell stolen war stories replete with glorious battles that exist only in their minds, all with false aw shucks humility and grim steely-eyed false heroism.

And they lap it up, your wide eyed unquestioning admiration, because it feeds their empty souls.

These people are parasites, thriving on our mandatory respect and wide-eyed unconditional hero worship. They exist because of your admiration, without it they would wither and die. But the damage they do is limited and they are typically found out and shamed when their duplicity crosses that of a real veteran.

Far, far worse than the posers, this national hero worship compels the dull-witted and the small and mean to join up for all the wrong reasons.

There is little worse in the ranks, and nothing worse – absolutely nothing – in the officer corps, than those who want to be heroes.

We’ve all encountered them, those of us who served.  The commanders and the lieutenants and the majors who practice their Medal of Honor acceptance speech in front of the shaving mirror each morning, the one that begins, “Thank you Mr. President, I’m sorry all my men were killed, but I’m grateful to accept this award on their behalf…”  We’ve all served under the senior NCO who dreamed of a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart and the tales of glory he would tell to the doe-eyed girls back home who would then coo over his manly scars and jump ready and eager into bed with a hero.

Those are the kind of people who get other soldiers killed.

They’re not there to defend the country, the oath means nothing to them, they crave only glory and the admiration of a grateful nation.

Worst of all, writ large, this idea makes war itself desirable, for only in such a crucible can heroism be forged.

And then war becomes the norm instead of the exception.

But it’s all a lie, for you see heroes are not people.

Heroes are symbols, objects to be worshiped and admired and fawned over.

And then forgotten when new ones come along.

Heroes don’t make mistakes. Heroes don’t die from friendly fire. Heroes don’t bomb a wedding or a school. Heroes don’t get PTSD. Heroes don’t come home broken. Heroes don’t wake up screaming covered in sweat, night after night. Heroes don’t need help. Heroes don’t end up on the street. Heroes don’t wonder where their next meal is coming from, or how they’ll pay the mortgage. Heroes don’t end up addicted to booze and drugs trying to cope with the pain. Heroes don’t mind that you look at them with uneasy fear, wondering if, when, they’re going to snap – heroes don’t snap.

And, after the war, heroes don’t need education or retraining or help buying a house or easy access to VA medical care. In fact, heroes, well, they don’t need any of those things you promised back when you were terrified and desperate for rough men to do violence on your behalf.

Heroes just need a parade and the easy thanks of a yellow magnet stuck on the back of your car.

Calling us heroes taints your thinking, it biases your viewpoint no differently than painting all veterans as “baby killers” did a generation ago.

Mostly we veterans are just people who came when called and did our best under terrible circumstances.

If you truly wish to honor those who put their own precious selves between home and war’s desolation, then you wouldn’t call them heroes.

Instead you’d make them obsolete.

I didn’t go to war so that my son could follow.

If you want to honor veterans, try living up to the promises you made when you called us to war. That would be a start. Make good on the medical care. Make good on the education. Make good on the support for our families. Pay up and pay up promptly. Hold your elected leaders to account and make them do it or throw the cowardly sons of bitches out of office when they won’t. That would be better than all the empty thanks and the parades and the yellow ribbons.

If you truly wish to honor all the men and women who have served this nation, who have given their lives, who stood ready to do violence in your name, then you would do your utmost to keep our children, indeed all the generations who follow, from having to make the same bitter sacrifice.

Wars are caused by unbridled hate, by intolerant fanaticism, by selfish idealism, by religious extremism, by hunger and poverty and inequality, by bigotry and greed and fear.

If you wish to honor the warrior, truly honor the warrior, then you would do those things which make war less likely.

You would elect leaders who don’t see military action as the first option, or even the second, or the third.

You would elect leaders of reason and judgment, those who are loudly and forcefully reluctant to waste the lives of their fellows and the treasury of their nation.

You would elect leaders who set the example of citizenship, who are willing to listen to each other, to compromise and work together for the good of us all, who don’t go around spewing hate and fear and glassy-eyed fanatical jingoism and simple-minded patriotism.

Yes, you build a strong and well equipped military, of course you do, for defense. You don’t go around finding excuses to use it all the goddamned time. You don’t throw more lives away for political posturing, for imagined slights, for profit, for nothing.

More importantly you give equal or greater effort and resources towards those things that make war unnecessary. 

You feed the hungry, you clothe the poor, you heal the sick, you employ the able, you educate the next generation, you pay your taxes, you stop looking at your neighbors as the enemy, you give back, you invest in the future, you dream of the stars, and you remember we’re all in this together. 

If you want to honor veterans, then don’t call them heroes. That’s the easy way out.

If you want to honor veterans, then live up to the ideals they fought to defend.

I didn’t go to war so that my son could follow.

I went with the hope he would never have to.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Soldier, General, President

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ass Backward Into The Unknown

The internet was supposed to liberate knowledge, but in fact it buried it, first under a vast sewer of ignorance, laziness, bigotry, superstition and filth and then beneath the cloak of political surveillance. Now...cyberspace exists exclusively to promote commerce, gossip and pornography. And of course to hunt down sedition. Only paper is safe. Books are the key. A book cannot be accessed from afar, you have to hold it, you have to read it.
Ben Elton, Blind Faith

I'm not a Luddite completely I believe in refrigerators to cool my martinis, and washing machines because I hate to see women smacking their laundry against a rock. When I hear about hardware, I think of pots and pans, and when I hear about software, I think of sheets and towels.
Studs Terkel


As many of you know, in addition to writing I’m also an artist and woodworker.

I have a very large studio woodshop and when I’m not in front of this keyboard, you can usually find me covered in sawdust with the little ShopKat draped around my neck and purring in my ear.

A few months back I quit consulting work for the government and began writing and woodworking full time.

So far I’m enjoying the heck out of it.

If I had a motto it would be this: Never buy shitty tools, either do without, or save your money until you can afford decent equipment.

I believe in buying only quality tools, a trait I acquired at the knee of my dad who was himself an accomplished woodworker among many other things. And my shop was already well equipped. If you name a woodworking tool, likely I own it – probably several versions of it in fact.  And so I was well situated to embark on this new career.  But if you’re going to make woodworking an actual paying job, then you have to be able to produce quality products in volume.  With that in mind, I bought a very high end CNC (computer numerical controller) milling machine to do much of my prepwork.  That machine was expensive, very much so, but it has paid for itself many times over in the months since it arrived. It’s like having a diligent assistant who willingly tackles any job no matter how tedious and works without break or complaint.

Based on my experience with the CNC machine, at the beginning of this week I purchased an automated laser cutting/engraving machine.

It's being shipped from the manufacturer in Nevada and I'm impatiently waiting for it to arrive.

The laser is a 5th generation machine with advanced 4 axis capability and will extend my existing abilities and complement the CNC machine.

In comparison: Where the CNC machine can mill large 3D objects to an accuracy of 1/2500th of an inch and can do things other machines can't, the laser is limited to a bit over a 1/4 inch cutting depth but it can cut/engrave with surgical precision to an order of magnitude beyond the CNC machine (think a laser printer running at 1000DPI vice the usual 300DPI of a standard machine). This will vastly extend my shop's capability and my options as an artist and woodworker.

As an example, the laser will allow me to engrave the hand-turned pens I make, both with my own signature trademark and logo, and with customer personalization. It will also allow me to make very small and highly detailed parts for various projects and to create artwork (such as inscribed  rims and patterns on the bowls I turn at the lathe). My artwork will still be handmade, but now they’ll be enhanced by tooling I could not achieve otherwise.

That’s great, Jim, I hear you say in that puzzled tone you use when you have no idea where I’m going, sure. Lasers and robot, who doesn’t like that? But we come here for political commentary, so what gives?

Good question.

See, I’m technophile, I love shiny things. I’ve got a couple of dusty degrees in technology and computer science and I spent most of my military career immersed in technology that would no doubt boggle your mind.  So when it comes to art and woodworking, well, I have no problem crossing the streams. My woodshop likely has more computers in it than your house, and in my house … well, yeah, never mind.

And so I was discussing this purchase, the laser, with somebody I know, another woodworker.

He was appalled.

My friend said that these types machines (semi-automatic computerized systems) "dehumanize" the art.

He also advanced the common idea that machines take away human jobs.

 

Ah, the light dawns for you, does it? See? I wouldn’t let you down, gentle reader, I know why you’re here.

 

Machines dehumanize art.

I don't agree.

In fact, I strongly disagree. 

First, these machines are tools, nothing more. No different from a pen or a paintbrush.

They don't make art. I make art.

The machines just do what I tell them to do, no more, no less. They extend and enhance my abilities as an artist in exactly the same fashion a word processor complements a writer – something else I have a bit of experience with.

Scribbling down your novel on parchment with a quill and inkpot might make you feel like a "real" writer, but you'd be hard pressed to convince me that you're producing any greater "art" than you would with a laptop and a copy of Microsoft Word.  In fact, I think it's just the opposite, without those modern tools, word processors and spell checkers and the infinite knowledge base of the Internet, I suspect you'd miss out on some pretty amazing writing. And it isn't just writing, go check out the Deviantart website sometime, there's a lot of crap there but there's one hell of a lot of utterly fantastic artwork too, stuff that would not exist without modern tools.

Ditto many modern movies, say whatever you like about James Cameron's Avatar as a story, it was an incredible piece of art like nothing that had ever been made before and it wouldn't have happened without computerized tools. Same with Cameron's Titanic. Does that dehumanize Casablanca? Don't make me snort chocolate milk through my nose. It doesn’t even dehumanize Avatar or Titanic, both of which were nothing if not about humanity.

These machines are tools. Nothing more.

Certainly they can be used to dehumanize art.

But then again, so can a quill and inkpot - if somebody chains you to a desk and makes you write 16 hours a day with nib and blotter. 

Certainly these types of machines can be used to churn out mass-produced crap, and obviously they do exactly that.  But automation also reduces costs to such a degree that a struggling artist can afford to buy the basic mass produced tools (such as an inexpensive laptop and particleboard Ikea desk) in order to make "real" art one painful word at a time – and hopefully be successful enough at it that they can afford better tools in the future as a result.

In my shop, these machines allow me to create things I could never do by hand. Even when I had full use of my left hand and my eyes weren't middle-aged, I doubt that I could create precise patterns at 1000DPI resolution with hand tools.  Do I really need to create things at that resolution? That’s for me to decide, as the artist.

These machines also allow me to make more things at greater speed with repeatable results, i.e. they allow me to produce quality products at affordable prices.  Just as a word processor allows me to churn out thousands of words a day - because I can assure you that if I had to hold a quill pen in my damaged left hand in order to write, you'd be seeing 10 words per day, tops, and that sentence would most likely be unreadable and consist entirely of profanity because it hurts me to use a pen.

Second, I call shenanigans on the idea that these machines take away human jobs. 

They take away some jobs ... and make many others.

Do you know what a farrier is? Or a cooper? Or a miller? Or any of the various flavors of woodwright? These were once common occupations, so common in fact that people like yours truly here nowadays have surnames directly derived from our ancestors’ profession.

Now certainly you can make the argument that automation cost workers their jobs. This is true. When robots took over the assembly lines in Detroit, many human autoworkers became obsolete. But the part you're missing is this: The invention of the automobile itself removed a need for buggy whip makers, but it created thousands of new occupations.  And automated manufacturing meant the cars got better - vastly better (anybody remember 12 month or 12,000 mile warranties? When I was growing up, cars didn't routinely last 100,000 miles. Nowadays most high end brake pads last that long. My jeep has nearly 400,000 miles on the odometer and has never even had a ring job or a head gasket replaced. Ever). Better cars, better machines, meant more people could afford them and afford to drive them for greater distances and at higher degrees of reliability. Which gave people more options.

The company that built my CNC machine was a small startup, a few engineers who got together and took advantage of the new technology to create an entirely new thing. They now employ hundreds people directly and indirectly and their machines allow people like me to start our own small businesses. Same thing with the company that made my laser, hell, they began as a Kickstarter - something that would have been utterly impossible without dozens of threads of technology created by hundreds of people merging in new ways. 

With the coming maturity of 3D printing technology, this new Maker civilization will become the Tinkers of science fiction.

Are there dangers?

Of course.  All technology has both benefit and bane.

But my son will graduate from college in a few years with a business and engineering degree - paid for in no small part by the money I make writing on a word processor and doing woodwork with the help of advanced technology. He wants to make his own extreme sports equipment, he wants to start a company to do that. With the equipment in my shop he can realize that dream – at 22 years old. Could he have done it before the advent of affordable automation? Sure, people made hockey sticks and snowboards long before computerized systems were available. And people still do make art with a quill and inkpot. The world is a big place, there is room for infinite variation. But this technology gives our children options previous generations didn’t have.

These tools expand our ability, not detract from it. 

How we use them to shape our human future is up to us.

No, you can't just replace people with machines without regard for the consequences, but you can't stand still either.

The world changes, adapt or die.

How we face this change, in fear or with wonder, is in large part the basis for the political division that exists in America today.

 

... Luddites were those frenzied traditionalists of the early 19th century who toured England wrecking new weaving machines on the theory that if they were destroyed old jobs and old ways of life could be preserved. At certain times in his life each man is tempted to become a Luddite, for there is always something he would like to go back to. But to be against all change in the abstract is folly.
- James Albert Michener

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gone Fishing


Hawaii


I’m on vacation for the next couple of weeks.

I’d like to thank you all for following along, 2014 was a hell of a year. I’d especially like to thank those of you who donated to Stonekettle Station, you allowed me to call myself a full time professional writer at last – something I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid. Thank you all, sincerely, for making Stonekettle Station a going concern.

That said, I really needed a break. A Pacific island and a Mai Tai (or three) makes the Alaskan winter a bit more tolerable – and more, we promised my son a reward for high school graduation and for successfully completing his first semester of college. So, here we are. I’m not just goofing off however, I’m doing some research for upcoming pieces. And even here on the slow moving North Shore of Oahu, I’m still plugged into the internet and keeping my social media feeds updated. There may be a blog post or two from this tropical paradise, but unless I happen to run into the president, you probably shouldn’t count on it.

Stonekettle Station will resume mid January. 

And again, thank you all for your continued interest and support, I appreciate it more than I can say.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Negative Reinforcement

In training a dog it is never necessary to hit the animal… but sometimes you’ve got to smack that hardheaded fucker right across the nose to get its attention.
  - USN Chief Petty Officer, to me, right before he smacked me across the nose.
     He was right, it got my attention.

I may have been wrong about torture.

Upon further examination, it appears torture might be effective after all.

Oh, not effective at gathering reliable and actionable intelligence.  No, that’s a wash. Sure, you might be able to pull a few nuggets out of some terrorist, under the right conditions, but it’s nothing you can depend on.

Nor is torture an effective deterrent to our enemies. In point of fact it appears to spontaneously generate more enemies.  And it appears to make the ones we have already even more determined in their hatred of America.

But in at least one case, in one single aspect, torture appears to have been supremely effective:

“Frankly, this idea that somehow this is gonna make our enemies more likely to attack us, I don't think so. They're beheading Americans right now. So that part of it, I dismiss. But what we need to do is come clean. We move forward. And we vow never to do it again.”

That was Senator John McCain, Republican from Arizona and just about the only conservative politician in America against torture.

McCain spent six years in a Vietnamese prison and he was brutally tortured almost daily. It left him … damaged, in a number of ways.

And that experience, it would appear, seems to have effectively overridden his deeply embedded political programming and permanently rewired John McCain into a decent and compassionate human being. Again, in this one aspect only. 

On the face of things, it seems that six years of torture at the hands of his Vietnamese captors turned John McCain into a liberal America-hatin’ pussy. 

What?

Oh, that. Right. Liberal America-hating pussy, that’s what conservatives called me when I spoke out in opposition to torture as national policy. Logically I assume the same applies to John McCain.  The difference is I that came by my sense of morality naturally, John McCain, like most republicans and their sexual orientation, apparently had to choose his.

Funny, isn’t it? How being tortured made a die-hard right-wing conservative Republican like John McCain go against his own party and his own ideology and see torture for what it actually is? Brutal. Terrible. Immoral. Unethical. Illegal. Evil.  Dishonorable. Disgraceful. And a violation of everything the United States supposedly stands for. Ironic almost, isn’t it?

Goddamned funny that it took actually being tortured for a Republican to be against torture

Some of us, well, you know, we were actually able to get there without being locked in a sweatbox, without being water boarded, without being hung by our broken arms and beaten with bamboo canes, without having our nuts hooked up to a car battery.

But John McCain? The North Vietnamese Army, it took them six years to literally beat compassion and morality into that hard headed fucker.

And if they had not, if LT John McCain, USN, had not ended up in the brutal hands of the NVA, well, then he would be exactly – exactly – like the rest of his party.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

 

Which, you know, makes you wonder if maybe we should toss him back.

 

No, really, what kind of a man would John McCain be today if we’d maybe left in him that Vietnamese hellhole a bit longer?

Maybe a couple more years in a bamboo cage and John McCain would develop a complete conscience and sincere regard for other human beings. 

Maybe, just maybe, if McCain had been tortured a bit longer, had a couple more gallons of water poured up his nose, had a few more bones broken, had a few of his meals delivered via his puckered asshole, well then maybe he’d be less eager to go around bombing other countries all the time.  Heck, maybe he’d use some of his wealth to help feed the hungry and clothe the poor. Maybe he’d use his power and influence as a Senator to, you know, pass healthcare and education and immigration reforms that actually helped real human beings instead of lining the pockets of his rich friends.  Maybe, just maybe, he’d support life, liberty, and equality for all instead of just the people with his skin color and religion and sexual orientation and income bracket.

You know, it’s goddamned appalling that you actually have to torture a Republican to get them to act like a decent moral human being, to live up the morals and the ideals and the exceptionalism that we, the United States of America, that shining city on the hill, are supposed to represent.

John McCain the POW gets no credit from me for coming out against torture.

None.

You shouldn’t have to torture somebody to get them to see the immorality of torture.

You should already know that torture is wrong, un-American, illegal, immoral, and beneath the dignity of a free and just nation.

Just as you shouldn’t have to see hungry people to understand why allowing your fellows to go to bed with empty bellies each night in a nation literally overflowing with food from sea to shining sea is immoral.

Just as you shouldn’t have to see poor people sleeping on the streets and living in cold inequality surrounded by a nation wealthy beyond dreams is likewise wrong.

Just as you shouldn’t have to see millions without healthcare or access to the basic medical services that a majority of the civilized world takes for granted to know that as a people, as a nation, we have failed.

Just as you shouldn’t have to see people who love each other denied the right to marry, to work, to housing, to services, to the same respect and liberty as every single other American, just because they happen to be gay.

Just as you shouldn’t have to see yet another unarmed black youth shot dead in the street or another black man choked to death without consequence, without justice, before you realize that all lives matter – not just that of a fetus in a white liberal’s belly.

Just as you shouldn’t have to see millions in poverty and starvation and disease and slavery and oppression to understand why they want to come here, to America, despite the hatred and intolerance and bigotry of those conservatives shouting and waving signs outside the bus windows.

Just as you shouldn’t have to wait until the warm seas are lapping over our shores and the crops are withering in the fields and the lakes are rotting with dead fish and the air is choked with pollution and the oil is gone along with our hope for the future in order to stop pandering to selfish greed and fearful religion.

Just as you shouldn’t have to be threatened with eternal damnation and endless torture by your small and terrible deity in order not to go around raping and murdering and stealing and generally acting like an asshole.

Just as you shouldn’t have to look at the horror and misery and devastation inflicted upon billions by war after war after war to know that there must be a better way.

Just as you shouldn’t have to look upon the idiotic gridlock and infantile tantrums and incivility of Washington partisan politics to know that you are the goddamned problem.

You shouldn’t need to be tortured in order to understand that torture is wrong.

You shouldn’t have to be tortured in order to develop compassion for your fellow human beings.

You shouldn’t have to be tortured into doing the right thing for the right reasons.

You shouldn’t have to be tortured in order to understand basic morality.

You shouldn’t have to be tortured to become a decent person.

You shouldn’t have to be tortured in order to stand up and speak out.

And you damned well shouldn’t need to be tortured to understand what the United States is really all about.

And if you do?

Well then there’s nothing I can say to you, because you will never understand.

Today we are engaged in a deadly global struggle for those who would intimidate, torture, and murder people for exercising the most basic freedoms. If we are to win this struggle and spread those freedoms, we must keep our own moral compass pointed in a true direction.
- Barack Obama, President of the United States of America

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Road to Hell

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.
- William Shakespeare

 

It’s even worse than we thought.

It is, isn’t it?

If you’ve read the Senate Select Committee On Intelligence’s Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program, the executive summary of which was released yesterday, you know it’s even worse than we thought.

The torture, I mean.

Of course, we knew that our government tortured people. We knew that. That’s no secret. They told us. And we Americans? We let them do it and a lot of us cheered them on – certainly not all of us, maybe not even a majority, but enough.

And why not torture? No really, why the hell not?

After what our enemies did to us, after the crime they committed, after the carnage they wrought, were we not justified in any measure?

We wanted blood.

We wanted revenge and we had a right to that payback did we not?

We wanted to make them suffer, those filthy pig humping sons of bitches, the ones that dared attack the United States. The ones who killed our people.

We wanted them to grovel before our towering righteous wrath.

We wanted to grind their God into dust, to crush their primitive religion, to erase their murderous philosophy from the face of the earth. Our God, our religion, our philosophy, our way of life, is better is it not? Are we not exceptional, we Americans? Are we not morally superior? Well?

So why shouldn’t we torture the bastards? Why shouldn’t we destroy them? Is that not our duty? Didn’t our parents and grandparents go forth and hunt down the Nazis and the Bushido Warriors of the Rising Sun and wipe them out? Hell, our grandfathers vaporized two entire cities full of murderous terrorists, what’s a little torture compared to that? And do we not hail the people who dropped the bombs as The Greatest Generation? Can we do any less? Can we?

We wanted the people who attacked us to die, just as we had died when the towers fell, just as we had died in the wreckage of the burning Pentagon and in the cornfields outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

More than anything, we wanted them to be afraid.

Just like they had made us afraid.

They aren’t human, these enemies. That’s what we tell ourselves, isn’t it? They’re not human, they’re not men. That’s how we justified it. They’re pigs. Dogs. Towel heads. Camel jockeys. Ragheads. Hajis. Sand niggers. Vermin. They are terrorists and nothing more. So what does it matter if we torture them?

They deserve no mercy.

They are entitled to no rights.

But even then – even then – we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to admit what we were doing, could we?  We couldn’t quite admit what we Americans allowed to be done in our names. So we called it “enhanced interrogation” and “coercive methods” and “rendition” instead of “torture.” And we said those words in the same fashion that we Americans used to say “separate but equal” to describe our apartheid.

When Congress wrote the Patriot Act and the Protect America Act, when the President gave the order, when the Director of the CIA issued his directives, they couldn’t use euphemisms. They couldn’t hide from it, no, they had to spell it out in all its ugly truth.  That’s why they made those sections of the law, those orders and directives, classified. That’s why it’s taken more than a decade for this report.

 

When the Bush administration classified what we were actually doing, when they used the words “enhanced interrogation,” they did it not to hide torture from our enemies, but to hide it from us.

 

You might want to give that some thought.

You see, that’s why those interrogation tapes were destroyed by the CIA.

Because when you see a man being waterboarded, well then you just can’t hide from it anymore. When you see, really see, those images, well, there’s only one word for it.

When you stop hiding behind the euphemisms, you are faced with the brutal ugly dishonorable truth.

Torture.

That’s what we’re talking about here, torture, and make no mistake.

The United States of America is a nation that tortures its enemies, its prisoners, its own citizens, and the innocent – oh, yes, that’s correct, we tortured prisoners that later turned out to be innocent.  But then again, given our track record vis a vis the death penalty, I suppose nobody should be surprised.

We Americans, we knew what was going on, at least in broad strokes, sure we did.  And we were willing to turn a blind eye to it, reluctantly or enthusiastically, but we were. Yes, we were and don’t you think otherwise. Because the men who gave those orders, the men who tortured others, and the men who stood by and watched them do it without protest even though they knew it was wrong, well those men are all still walking around free, aren’t they? They’ve never, ever, been held to account in even the slightest way.

Some Americans even think they are heroes.

But, hang on a minute. Torture works. We got good actionable intelligence from torture.

Didn’t we?

No, no. Stop right there. That’s hokum. Torture doesn’t work. You can’t depend on any information you get using torture.

Right?

That’s what we’re arguing about today: whether or not torture works.

That’s the basis of today’s argument in Washington. That’s what the TV pundits and the politicians are arguing about. For a lot of Americans, that’s what it comes down to: whether or not torture works.

That’s the conservative argument, torture works, therefore it’s moral. It’s justified. So long as you call it “enhanced interrogation.”

That’s the liberal argument, torture doesn’t work, therefore it’s immoral. It’s not justified, no matter what you call it.

On one side you’ve got people like former vice-president Dick Cheney who is unapologetic in his unswerving support of torture.

Yes, conservatives say, torture is bad and ugly, but it’s necessary in defense of freedom. These guys, these terrorists, they’re hardcore. If we don’t use every means necessary, if we take any option off the table, the terrorists win.

They ask in dire tones: What if – what if – torture is the only way to prevent another 9/11, another Pearl Harbor, or worse.

Much, much worse.

What if the terrorists had a nuke? What then?

I’ve seen this argument a thousand times in the last decade, I’m sure you have too. Maybe you’ve even made it.

What if?

That’s the ultimate justification, that’s why we must keep torture on the table, that’s why we must get them to talk, that’s why we must get the information by any means necessary.

It always comes down to this trump card, the one nobody wants to argue with: What if?

“What if the terrorists had your family? What if they had an atom bomb hidden in a city with your family strapped to it and you caught one of those bastards and there was only an hour left and there was no time to evacuate and millions were going die? Including your family! Huh? What about that? Are you saying you wouldn’t do whatever was necessary to get that information? I bet you would!”

You’re right, I would.

I, me personally? I would do whatever it took, including torture, if that was the only way to save the city, if that was the only way to save my family, if that was the only way to save you. As a military officer, yes, I would. Absolutely. I wouldn’t order my men to do it, I’d do it myself. I shove a hose up the bastard’s nose and turn on the water. I’d shoot out his knees. I’d cut off his balls. You bet. If that’s what it took. I’d do it without hesitation.

And I’d do it knowing I was breaking the law, and I would expect to be tried for the crime and sent to prison.

I would.

Because even if I saved the day, I’d be wrong. 

Good intentions do not justify evil.

A just cause does not justify injustice. No more than if I donned a cape and tights and drove around Gotham in the night killing criminals without trial or due process.

Think about something: what if we let police search you and your property without a warrant? What if law enforcement was allowed to randomly come into your house or place of business and go through your closets and your hard drive and your car?  If you’re not doing anything wrong, you’ve really got nothing to worry about right? You can trust the cops not to abuse this power, can’t you? I mean, sure it would be inconvenient, but isn’t that a fair trade for the decrease in crime? Sure as hell, the cops would find drugs and porn and stolen goods and people who cheat on their taxes and abuse their spouses.

So why don’t we allow that?

No, think about it. Why do we require the police to get warrants before searching private property? Why did they put that into the Constitution?

Same thing.

If I tortured a terrorist, even if I saved the city, even if I was a hero, I’d still be wrong.

I’d still face trial, I’d likely go to jail.

And that is precisely what should happen.

The morality of this supposed situation is a choice for human beings. It is a moral choice for men, for women, for individuals.

The morality of nations is something else entirely.

Morality is a choice for people, not governments.

Torture, no matter how pure the motive is against everything this country stands for. Everything.

The men who founded this country, who designed our government, they knew this. But, they were not fools. They knew the pitfalls of absolutism and inflexible law.  They knew that they couldn’t make the Constitution too rigid, or the new United States would rapidly outgrow it. So they made it fairly general except in the areas that they knew needed rigid and specific limits, such as habeas corpus and individual rights.

The Founders weren’t stupid, they were in fact brilliant, and they could play the “what if? game too.

So, they built in safeguards.

If I torture a terrorist into confessing the location of the bomb and I saved the city, I’d still be wrong. I’d expect to go to jail.

And that, my friends, is exactly what a presidential pardon is for.

It’s not to pardon corrupt politicians. It’s not to pardon the rich and connected. It’s not to clean the slates of hacks and flacks and flunkies and contributors and lobbyists. And it is most certainly not to pardon those who would turn us into our own enemies through abuse of power.

The Presidential Pardon is a safeguard built into the framework of our nation as a relief valve for exactly this type of situation.

While there may be times when brutal action might be justified by personal choice (that is the basis of most of our heroic action movies, isn’t it? And the source of that strawman nuclear bomb scenario above), the same should never be an option for government.

As I have written elsewhere, once the enemy becomes a prisoner and no longer has a means to resist, we become solely responsible for his or her life, well being, and treatment, both by our own code of conduct and by international agreement.

Now certainly it may be extremely difficult to treat a terrorist who tried to destroy your nation and your loved ones humanely.

Certainly. No sane person disputes that. I’ve taken prisoners in defense of my country, trust me on this, it’s goddamned hard.

However that, that right there, is the very definition of moral courage.

You cannot lay claim to the moral high ground if you engage in the same brutality as your enemies.

If the United States of America insists on calling itself exceptional, then it must be the exception.  And there is nothing exceptional about torture, it is all too horribly common in the world. The United States holds up as its greatest triumphs the defeat of tyranny great and small, from the Nazis and the Empire of Japan to Baby Doc Duvalier to Manuel Noriega to Saddam Hussein.  And those who rage and bellow, who invoke the name of their God and their sandaled prophet to decry the supposed moral decline of modern America, are the very ones who today cheer the immorality of torture most vigorously.

That’s something they might need to talk to their God about.

On the other side of the argument are those who decry torture as ineffective.

They’re wrong. Or rather they’re not right, not quite.

Torture isn’t one size fits all.  Some folks start talking the minute they’re captured. Some will resist to the bitter end. But all human beings have breaking points. Pour enough water up their noses, rip out enough fingernails, pump enough electricity through their testicles or vagina, rape them over and over, break their bones, shove a red hot poker up their ass, stack them in naked meat pyramids, lock them in a sensory deprivation tank until they go insane, shoot their kids in front of them, sooner or later they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear. 

The thing is, they have to believe you mean it.

You can’t just put an empty gun against their head and pull the trigger, they have to believe you’re fully willing to kill them. 

It’s not enough to pour water up their nose, they have to believe, believe, that you’re willing to let them drown to get what you want. Your enemies, the ones in your custody and the ones still out there, they have to believe that you’re willing to go all the way.

For torture to work, you can’t just pretend to be a torturer, you actually have to be a torturer.

For Americans, because we are who we are, torture is mostly an ineffective means of gathering information. Mostly. But not completely. And so there’s always the counter: we can’t take it off the table, because if it works, even once, when everything is on the line, well, then it’s justified.

And that’s the pitfall.

See, let’s just say that torture is a reliable and effective means of interrogation. It’s not, but for the sake of argument let’s say it is.

So?

Theft is an effective means of making a living.

Murder is an effective means of winning an argument.

Abortion is an effective means of ending a pregnancy. 

Terrorism is an effective means of conveying a political point.

Follow me? 

Again, if you’re going to lay claim to the moral high ground, then you’d better walk the walk or you’re nothing but a miserable hypocrite and no better than your enemies.  

In the days before we became torturers,  before September 11th, 2001, the CIA, the FBI, they had all the information necessary to stop that attack – and they got that information without torture, without compromising our values, without becoming our enemies. 

But they failed to act on it.

The problem wasn’t a lack of information, the problem was a failure of intelligence. We had the information, but our intelligence organizations refused to work together and to share that information – and they still do.

Torture won’t change that, in fact, the techniques and classification of information gained via torture ensures that the information will be tightly controlled and not shared among those who could make best use of it. Again, I was a professional intelligence officer, trust me on this, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Over and over and over.

The problem wasn’t that we couldn’t get our enemies to talk, the problem was that those in authority, congress, the Bush Administration, the intelligence community, refused to listen – and they still do.

The effectiveness or ineffectiveness of torture matters not at all. It’s a red herring.

It doesn’t matter if you're right or wrong about the effectiveness of torture.

It doesn’t matter if your motives are patriotic and your heart is pure.

It doesn’t matter if your cause is just.

It doesn’t matter how terrible your enemy.

Listen to me, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man of God, if you molest a child, you’re a goddamned child molester.

And it comes down to this: If you engage in torture, you're a torturer.

And you live in a country that tortures people.

It’s really just that simple.



“The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today. The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.’ Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”
-
Ronald Reagan, President of the United States, 1984
Address to the Nation upon signing the UN Convention On Torture

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Second Coming of Walter Winchell

“We know who this Saudi national is. We know who this man is and, listen to me carefully, we know he is a very bad, bad, bad man.”
- Glenn Beck, via The Blaze, May, 2013

 

Well, well, there’s a big surprise.

The self-appointed spokesman for libertarian personal responsibility fails to take responsibility for his own thoroughly debunked bullshit and the massive damage he did to another human being.

Then he tries to hide behind the protection of the government he despises.

Ain’t that just typical?

And, no, I did not in point of fact raise a surprised eyebrow at the news.

That’s exactly what I expect.

Exactly.

These people, they complain piteously about the sad state of journalistic integrity while spinning fantastic conspiracy theories solely in order to justify their own bitter insanity and their blatant bigotry and their yellow-eyed hate. 

They put responsibility for their own misery and bile on everybody but themselves.

They wave Atlas Shrugged as if it were Holy Writ instead of a poorly written long out-of-date science fiction novel penned by a deluded hack.

They claim the moral high ground and decry “takers” and “the lazy” and the “immoral” and the “irresponsible.” 

But – but – when shown beyond any shadow of a doubt that they are wrong, utterly wrong, wrong in every way it is possible to be wrong, they shrug off any responsibility and never admit error.

Then without fail and with 100% predictability they blame others for their own mistakes and their own false statements.

And then they shamelessly move right on to the next conspiracy.

And nobody is a better example of this staggering hypocrisy than Tea Party poster child Glenn Beck.

In the smoldering aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, investigators briefly looked at Saudi national Abdul Rahman al Harbi, who was near the finish line when the bombs went off.

Al Harbi was injured in the attack. His wounds were relatively minor and he was immediately available for questioning. Police spent nine hours interviewing Al Harbi in his hospital bed.  He cooperated fully and federal agents quickly dismissed him as a suspect in the terrorist attack.

Every single piece of evidence since that moment bears out Al Harbi's innocence.

Every single piece of evidence.

Every single piece.

Every one.

There is no question whatsoever that Abdul Rahman al Harbi is innocent of any involvement in the Boston Marathon Bombing.

Like any of a hundred thousand others that day, al Harbi was just another face in the crowd. He was just another bystander come to enjoy the day and who was caught up in the middle of a heinous crime.

But Glenn Beck didn't see it that way.

Glenn Beck, without access to any actual evidence of any kind, looked upon al Harbi’s olive skin and decided that the man must be a terrorist.

Beck declared that al Harbi was not only involved, but that he was the mastermind of the entire thing. A genuine Al Qaida terrorist and the guy who bankrolled the bombing.

Beck spun one conspiracy theory after another, each more sibilant and desperate than the last.

Beck used all the resources of his vast media empire to wage a personal assault against al Harbi.

Beck designated himself a qualified investigator with access to information only he could know. He became judge, jury, and America’s self-appointed executioner. And he sent his legion of mindless haters after al Harbi en masse.

Which is ironic, given Glenn Beck’s relentless and teary-eyed love for the US Constitution – you know, the document which forms the foundation of American law and in which is enshrined the ideal of justice and liberty and innocence until proven guilty.  I’m not sure how a lynching fits into Glenn Beck’s interpretation of America, but then I’m not insane. 

And then, because in Glenn Beck’s world all roads always and inevitably lead to Obama, Beck declared that the President had conspired to bomb Boston. Beck knitted together bits and pieces, layering fevered conspiracy on top of wild-eyed hysteria like a mental patient weaving random delusions into his nightmare world. Beck became so caught up in his own insanity that he issued an ultimatum to Obama: admit your complicity or I’ll expose you on my show.

Beck gave Obama three days.

Unsurprisingly, in the midst of national crisis, the president didn’t so much as acknowledge Glenn Beck even existed.

Beck then spun out his infamous “212 3B” theory, telling anyone who would listen how the President of the United States was engaged in a massive cover-up. Beck claimed Obama had conspired with the Saudis to blow up Boston because something something Muslims ook okk Bigfoot blert blert New World Order buy gold!

Beck even claimed that Al Harbi had met with President Obama in the Oval Office.

And then came the clincher, Beck claimed he had irrefutable “evidence” Al Harbi was about to be deported under US Code section 212 3B for “terrorist activities.” 

Since Obama hadn’t responded, Beck gleefully issued a challenge to the rest of America: Prove me wrong. Go on. You’ll just just embarrass yourselves!

Beck was in his element. His idiot audience was blood maddened and howling for a good witch burning. The guy Beck accused was a nobody, a foreigner with a funny sounding name who couldn’t fight back and his guilt was a foregone conclusion. There were plenty of dead and horribly maimed Americans, all Beck had to do was hate on Obama and Muslims and wave the flag with a tear in his eye and the money poured in. Beck gorged on it, like a feral hog nose deep in rancid slop, oblivious to the lives he was destroying in the process, and utterly oblivious to the terror he himself inflicted on the innocent.

Unfortunately for Glenn Beck, somebody took his challenge.

That somebody was retired Immigration and Naturalization Service Special Agent Bob Trent, who in a few short minutes on Beck’s show completely dismantled Beck’s conspiracy theory. Live on the air, Trent effortlessly demonstrated that Beck’s entire theory was based solely on Beck’s ignorant misunderstanding of the actual law.

Beck was wrong.

Completely wrong.

Wrong in every way it is possible to be wrong.

Al Harbi was, is, no terrorist. He was not “about to be deported.” He was just a student, studying in America.

And, as I mentioned above, every single piece of evidence gathered in the Boston Marathon Bombing has supported Al Harbi’s innocence.

Glenn Beck’s personal crusade fell apart the night he interviewed Special Agent Trent.

And, true to form, he stopped talking about it.

He never apologized.

He never admitted that he was wrong.

He never admitted he’d been made a fool of.

He just moved on to other conspiracies and other victims and the depth of this man’s hypocrisy never ceases to amaze me. Beck claims to own Iva Toguri’s microphone, the one she used as Tokyo Rose during WWII. Beck called Toguri a hero and even wrote a book about her, decrying post WWII media personalities who painted Toguri as a terrorist and as an enemy of America and who would have had her executed if they could have pulled it off. I myself wrote about Beck’s obsession with Toguri in detail, and as I said then, while Toguri was certainly a tragic figure, calling her a “hero” might be stretching the definition of that word to the breaking point. That said, and whatever your opinion of Tokyo Rose, Beck is willing to hoist Iva Toguri up onto the plinth of American heroes while himself waged a personal campaign in the media to crucify an innocent man.

Abdul Rahman al Harbi’s life was destroyed by Glenn Beck.

He was wounded when the bombs went off, but the injuries inflicted on his life by the murderous Tsarnaev brothers are nothing compared to the damage done by Glenn Beck’s lunatic greed.

Al Harbi filed suit against Glenn Beck, The Blaze, Mercury Radio Arts and Premiere Radio Networks for defamation and slander.

Instead of owning up to his mistake, Beck attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed.

True to form, the man who touts “personal responsibility,” who pilloried media personalities for waging a campaign of defamation against Iva Toguri, that man argued even though every word he’d ever said about Al Harbi was a proven falsehood before he said it, Al Harbi was a “public figure” and therefore Beck should be able to say whatever he liked without consequence. Never mind the fact that Beck himself was the one personally responsible for making Al Harbi a public figure in the first place.

The judge didn’t buy it.

Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Patti Saris ruled the suit brought by Abdul Rahman al Harbi could go forward.

Defamation and slander are damned hard cases to win, but if anybody has a chance it’s Al Harbi.

I wish him the best of luck.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bring It On

 

“With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek. And as I told him yesterday, he’s damaging the presidency itself.”
- Speaker John A. Boehner

John Boehner says Barack Obama is damaging the presidency itself.

John Boehner.

The same John Boehner who has done more to divide and damage the institution of the United States government than any Speaker since the Civil War, that John Boehner, says Obama is trashing the presidency and stinking up the White House.

I’ll remind you that this is the same John Boehner, acting for his party, who has repeatedly embraced a strategy of gridlock and obstruction in order to counter the president at every turn. Every turn. Every single one. For two years John Boehner’s party, the party of hysteria and paranoia and insane conspiracy theories run wild, has done nothing, absolutely goddamned nothing, but hurl the most vile of insults and accusations at the president and has deliberately, proudly, refused to work with Obama in any fashion whatsoever.

Over the last five years, congressional Republicans led by John Boehner and his ilk have treated Vladimir Putin with more respect than the President of the United States.

And this guy says Obama is damaging the presidency?

Oh, the irony.

As expected, Thursday night President Obama announced that he will take unilateral action via executive order to reform the nation’s immigration system.

And as expected, this morning Republicans are going apeshit.

Because going apeshit is the only thing Republicans can agree on.

Already this morning while John Boehner cries his orange tears of woe, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA and winner of the ironic name award when it comes to fear of immigrants) railed against Obama’s “brazen power grab.”  No word on whether or not executive action was a “brazen power grab” when Reagan or Bush did the same exact thing, or if it’s only absolutism when the black guy does it.

Representative Mike McCaul (R-TX) howled that the president’s actions are “a threat to our democracy!”  He then declared that he would “use every tool at my disposal to stop the president’s unconstitutional actions from being implemented!”  Again, McCaul raises the same question, why are executive actions constitutional under a Republican president but not under a Democrat? I’m all ears.

Of course, I’m not the first to bring up the comparison. And the problem with it is that logic and reason are utterly wasted on irrational and unreasonable people. You know, modern Republicans.  Pointing out Obama’s executive action on immigration falls far, far short of executive actions on immigration taken by Ronald Reagan does Democrats no good.

And right from the start, that’s been Obama’s greatest weakness. He’s a professor. An intellectual. He keeps making the mistake of thinking he can reach Republicans with logic and calm reason. He can’t. You can’t reason with unreasonable people. You can not reason with Birthers and Truthers and FEMA Camps and Death Panels and people who believe that hurricanes are caused by magic fairies in the sky who hate gay people. You can not reason with people who think the earth is 6000 years old and their personal prophet rode around the Middle East on the back of a vegetarian velociraptor. You’re trying to reason with people who are just plain fucking nuts.

Fox News Bill O’Reilly accused the president of “declaring war on Republicans.” Good! It’s about goddamned time somebody declared war on these silly sons of bitches.

It’s long past time for Obama to doff the professor’s robes and take direct action.

Somebody has to get congress moving again and it sure isn’t going to be John Boehner or Mitch McConnell.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said, “The president is the one who is acting provocatively, not the Congress. The last thing this Congress wants to do is have this kind of fight, but at some point the institution has to defend itself.” Defend itself? Defend itself from what? For what? More inaction? More gridlock? More obstructionism? What exactly are we supposed to be saving here? Seriously?

Representative Pat Tiberi (R-OH) blamed the White House for “playing politics.”  Yes, that’s correct, a Republican member of the House of Obstructionism, accused Obama of playing politics.  Yes, you may indeed go ahead and make the facepalm. In fact, double up on it, because you’re going to need it. Tiberi went on to complain, “What did the president do? He pulled the pin on the grenade two weeks after the election, as our leadership was trying to extend the olive branch of working together.”

Oh, is that what Republicans were doing? Extending the olive branch of cooperation?

Really?

I must have missed that, what with all the threats of impeachment and government shutdowns and violent overthrow of the US Presidency by force of arms.

Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) declared everything from impeachment to putting President Obama in prison should be on the table. 

That’s right, Brooks thinks Congress should consider arresting the president and putting him in prison.

There it is. There’s that olive branch of cooperation. You’ll have to forgive me, I must have confused that stick with the kind of willow switch old white guys like Mo Brooks from Alabama used to whip their slaves with.

Representative Steve King (R-IA), the House’s most outspoken opponent of immigration reform and one of the GOP’s most vehement obstructionists, said that congress would censure the president or shut down the government rather than allow any immigration bill to proceed. That’s King’s solution to everything. Shut down. Obstruction.

Representative Michele Bachmann, who is today blundering randomly along the Texas border with Steve King in tow, offered up more of her bigotry and softheaded paranoia, “The social cost will be profound on the U.S. taxpayer. Millions of unskilled, illiterate, foreign nationals coming into the United States who can’t speak the English language. Even though the president says they won’t be able to vote, we all know that many, in all likelihood, will vote.”

Bachmann, who is never, ever, able to produce any shred of proof in support of her raving nonsense, went on to say illegal aliens vote “all the time.“ She has absolutely no proof whatsoever, she can’t substantiate her accusation in any fashion, but she says it’s something “we all know” about, because that’s how we do it in America, right?  When asked why she thinks undocumented immigrants are “illiterate,” Bachmann said that’s what she was told by, you know, random people at the U.S./Mexico border. “That’s what they told me. Those are not Michele Bachmann’s words, those words came from Hispanics who live on the border.” Ah, proof, you see, just like Bachmann was told by some random nut in Texas that the HPV vaccine makes girls retarded. And into filthy whores. Or something. Whatever, it’s all part of some vast conspiracy by Obama to something something illegal voters something liberals something Ebola! Oh hey, it’s not me, I’m just repeating what some random Texan said, because as a lawmaker, that’s what we should base policy on. Way to take responsibility for your bullshit, Bachmann.

Republicans have had years to do something about immigration. But they didn’t.

Congress could have put forward an immigration reform bill, they didn’t. They tried, sure, if that’s what you want to call it, but Republicans led by Ted Cruz killed the bill. And John Boehner let them. Say what you want about Nancy Pelosi, love her or hate her, when she was Speaker of the House she got shit done. John Boehner? The only thing he’s accomplished is … nothing. On purpose. He can’t even get his own quorum to agree on things they all agree on.

And he calls Obama a poor leader. Give me a break.

Congress could have acted on immigration at any time, in blunt point fact they could do it right now

But they won’t.

And now they’re mad that Obama called their bluff.

No matter how you slice it, the President’s actions are a direct result of Congress’ petulant refusal to do their job.

Reform by executive action is a direct result – a direct result – of republican obstructionism. Period. They tried to force the president into a corner, and he won’t go. And it’s really just that simple. And the really, really embarrassing part for conservatives is that part where they rail against “amnesty,” but it turns out that Obama didn’t actually offer any such thing … Ronald Reagan did.

Republicans are over a barrel with their bare asses pointed at the sky and they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves.

They can pursue impeachment and they’re welcome to try. Hell, last night Obama all but dared them to do it. Bring it on. Bring it on, go ahead, impeach me. Stop talking about it and do it. See where it gets you. File that one right next to John Boehner’s magic expanding lawsuit that never seems to get actually filed.  Boehner can tack on Obama’s executive action on Immigration, sure, why not.  The only problem with that is the court generally sides with the president. Executive Orders have been occasionally overturned by legal action in the past, mostly during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, but that’s typically not how it works out. And Boehner knows it.  The president is fully empowered to take executive action, it says so right there in the Constitution.

Of course, the Constitution also says that Congress could pass a bill making Obama’s Executive Order illegal, they’d just have to get him to sign it into law or come up with a super-majority to override his veto. Let’s call that one Plan B, shall we, Republicans?

They can shut down the government. Sure. Obama all but dared them to do it again. Go ahead, shut it down, Republicans, see where it gets you. Because it worked out so well for you the last time, right? Sure, you go right ahead and screw the entire country, fuck us all right in the ass, again, Republicans. Do it. See you in 2016 and say hi to President Hillary for me, will you?

Of course, the GOP’s leadership knows they’re looking at a no win scenario. They want to stick it to Obama so, so bad. Their dimwitted base is howling for blood and instant gratification and they don’t care about long term consequences, they just want the boy in the White House whipped for his audacity and for thinking he’s as good as they are. But saner heads in the GOP, if that term even applies here, know what will happen if they attempt either impeachment or a shutdown.

Don’t believe me? Go ask Newt Gingrich. Go on, ask him.

John Boehner doesn’t have to ask, he was Gingrich’s towel boy, he knows exactly what will happen.

So, speaking of KY Jelly, Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, suggested that instead of shutting down the government, the House should pass a broad spending bill to fund the government by its Dec. 11 deadline – then rescind just the funds for the president's proposed executive actions. Because, that’ll show him, right?

Just one problem, Citizenship and Immigration Services, you know, the executive agency that will carry out the president’s orders? Yeah, they’re not funded through the appropriations process.  Instead they operate on the revenue gained through fees attached to immigration applications.

Republicans could always hold up Obama’s nominations as a form of leverage.  Only two problems there, they’re already holding up Obama’s nominations and have been for more than five years. Frankly that threat has pretty much lost most of its oomph.  And two, well, heh heh, if Republicans refuse to confirm, oh say, Loretta Lynch for Attorney General, well, then they get to keep living with Eric Holder. I’m good either way, just for the sour expression on Mitch McConnell’s face.

“Pass a bill,” President Obama bluntly told Republicans last night.

Pass a bill.

It’s really just that simple. Pass a bill. Do your job.

Congress has nobody to blame but themselves. They tried to play chicken with a president who has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

They can end their pain at any time, all they have to do is their job.

 

Q: What's the difference between the House GOP and the unemployed? A: The unemployed want to work.
- John Fugelsang, via Twitter