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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dominos

Well, I got my window shield so filled
With flags I couldn't see
So, I ran the car upside a curb
And right into a tree
By the time they got a doctor down
I was already dead
And I'll never understand why the man
Standing in the Pearly Gates said:

Your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more
We're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more…
- Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore, John Prine, 1971

 

Vietnam.

That’s the bottom end of the scale, right? Vietnam.

The pinnacle of America’s military prowess, is, of course, World War II.

Sure. The Greatest Generation, that’s what they call themselves. The Great Ones. America kicked some serious ass in WWII.  By Jiminy, that’s how war should be, isn’t it? Glory. Heroism. For God and Country. Four, maybe five, years and whamo! enemies utterly destroyed and their countries rebuilt as allies, peace for everybody, and home to parades and cheering and a golden age of wealth and prosperity, right?

Sure.

That’s what they tell us anyway.

But it’s been mostly downhill ever since.

And the low point? The antipode? That’s Vietnam, isn’t it?

That’s the one America doesn’t want to talk about. ‘Nam. Couldn’t win, couldn’t leave. Quagmire.

Vietnam. We’re always worried the next one will be Vietnam.

Nobody says, “hey, this one is going to be World War II all over again! Kickin’ ass and takin’ names! We roll through <insert name of Third World Country here> just like Patton chewing through Italy! Woohoo and hi-yo Silver! 

Nobody says that. No, it’s always going to be Vietnam again.

And right from the start, right from that first night of the invasion on March 19th, 2003, the Iraq War has been compared to Vietnam.

Mark my words, boy, we never learn, it’ll be another quagmire, another Vietnam!

I’m leery of any such comparison, just as I am when people compare every politician they don’t like to Hitler.

But certainly there are parallels, aren’t there?

There are obvious lessons to be learned by looking at Vietnam.

And less obvious lessons, including one really big one, the one staring us right in the face. The most important one.

We’ll come back to that.

The current popular version of history says that America got involved in Vietnam over a lie, an unprovoked attack on US forces that never actually happened, the so-called Gulf Of Tonkin Incident – which became the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which then became the Vietnam Conflict, which was eventually relabeled properly as The Vietnam War. Whether description of that supposed attack was a deliberate lie or just the fog of war combined with political opportunism, I can’t say. Just as I can’t say with any certainty that the men who sent me into Iraq were deliberate liars or just criminally misguided.

But as they say: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Truer words were never spoken and nobody does that better than America.

The reality of the matter, if that word has any meaning here, is that we were involved in Indochina long, long before the Gulf of Tonkin. That’s why American ships were in the Gulf of Tonkin that night in the first place.  We were just looking for an excuse and if it wasn’t an attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats on US Navy destroyers, well, it would have been something else. Almost anything would do, political forces in the US were determined to have a war and they were going to get it, one way or the other.

You see, those men were terrified of communism.

They were certain that America and the rest of the so-called Free World were in imminent danger. They’d fought in World War II and they were fighting in Korea and they were facing the Red Scare at home and they were convinced, utterly convinced, that the communists were coming for them.

Americans were told to be afraid.

And so they were.

And so we went into Vietnam on the pretext of “the domino theory.” That is, America was told that they had to contain communism because if one country fell to the Red Menace, others would too, like dominos one after the other until the Russians and the Chinese came to kill us in our own houses.

"Burma, Thailand, India, Japan, the Philippines and obviously Laos and Cambodia are among those whose security would be threatened if the Red Tide of Communism overflowed into Vietnam."
-
US Senator John F. Kennedy addressing the American Friends of Vietnam, 1955

The Red Tide of Communism. That’s it, right there. That’s what they were worried about.

So certain were they of this domino effect, that the Eisenhower Administration actually considered dropping nuclear weapons on Vietnam and Cambodia – in the 1950s, long before American forces were on the ground there. 

Think about that for a minute.

Think about it in the context of the 1950s.

There was no internet in those days. TV and broadcast media were in their infancy, there was no satellite relays, no live streaming cable news from remote corners of the world. No Google Earth. No History Channel. Hell there weren’t even any Vietnamese restaurants in America. There were no Vietnamese Americans. No Laotians. No Hmong neighborhoods. Asians in the United States lived in Chinatown and most of white America didn’t even speak to black people let alone Asians.  America was barely a decade out of World War II. Vietnam? We’re talking about a former French colony in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Vietnam? Nobody went to Vietnam for spring break. Americans didn’t buy anything from Vietnam. We didn’t sell them anything worth noting. There were no Americans in Vietnam, not in any significant number.

99.9% of Americans had never heard of Vietnam and had no idea where on the globe it was – nor did they care.

And yet … Eisenhower was thinking about nuking them?

Imagine just how scared you have to be in order to find yourself considering that option.

The Vietnam War required us to emphasize the national interest rather than abstract principles. What President Nixon and I tried to do was unnatural. And that is why we didn't make it.
- Henry A. Kissinger

By the time the 1960s arrived, our full involvement was nearly inevitable.

And so we went into Vietnam.

It was supposed to be quick, they were just peasants with pointy sticks after all.  And we were Americans, Goddamnit, we had a modern military and nuclear weapons and Aircraft carriers. We’d train them to speak English, how to fight, and they’d beat back the commies.

And America would be safe again.

A police action and military advisors quickly turned into actual war and more than a decade of bloody combat. 

And we couldn’t get out.

We won every battle, but we couldn’t win the war.  We couldn’t get out. No matter how many we killed, no matter how high the body count, them, us, they just kept coming and we couldn’t get out.  We kept sending in more, more troops, more guns, more planes, more ships. Liberal president. Conservative president. Republicans. Democrats. It didn’t matter, we couldn’t get out. So we just kept throwing our children at them because we couldn’t think of anything better to do. Back home, the country tore itself apart. There were protests and riots and Watergate and bombings and mass murder and social upheaval and cults and counterculture and police brutality and military action against civilians.

And it just went on and on and on.

Every night the news was full of body counts and pictures of dead soldiers. The newspapers and magazines were filled with Pulitzer Prize winning pictures of burned and maimed children, atrocities, mass graves, burning villages, and bloody battlefields. Our streets were filled with hippies and ragged veterans, the airwave sang protest songs, and the VA waiting rooms were stuffed to bursting with shattered men.

And we couldn’t get out.

But we had to do it.

We had to.

Sure we did. We had to because if we didn’t, well, sir, the communists were certain to take over the world. If Vietnam fell, if Cambodia fell, then the Red Tide would flood all of Indochina and spill over into Asia, the Pacific, Europe, and then, inevitably, America.

By the time we did get out we’d been there for twenty years, from 1955 to 1975 and America had been changed nearly beyond recognition. But for some, it wasn’t enough, they were convinced we could still “win,” that we could remake Vietnam into America.  And they might have convinced us to go back, but public support for the conflict was long, long gone and so we finally left Vietnam once and for all.

Nobody really knows how many Vietnamese died. Most Americans don’t really care.

But 58,000 Americans died in that jungle.

Some of them are still dying.

For nothing.

The war didn’t make America any safer. The war didn’t make Vietnam any safer. The war didn’t end the slaughter. It didn’t stop communism.

Those 58,000 Americans died for nothing.

And here we are.

We’ve been at war, again, for a decade. More. We went into Iraq because they told us we had to, because they told us Iraq had attacked us – I know, I was there. We went into Iraq because we were told that if we didn’t fight them there, we’d have to fight them here. Loud voices back home had been shouting for war and if it wasn’t 911, it would have been something else. We just needed an excuse. In the years since, hundreds of thousands have died, nobody really knows exactly how many. Most Americans don’t care. And we can’t get out. Every night for the last fourteen years, since 911 our TV screens have been filled with the dead and dying, the burning villages, the horrors, the atrocities, the machines of war. And we can’t get out. Our country continues to cut at itself, our streets are filled with protests and riots, cults and militia grow like cancers, we hate and fear our government and our own neighbors. And we can’t get out. Conservative president. Liberal president. Republicans. Democrats. And we can’t get out. Our streets are full of ragged veterans, our VA waiting rooms are filled with shattered soldiers. And we can’t get out.

Vietnam, they say. Quagmire.

We thought it was over, we thought it was done. We thought, we thought, we’d done a better job this time. We won the battles, we won the war. We left Iraq on our own schedule, a schedule set by a republican and executed by a democrat. This time there were no pictures of overloaded helicopters lifting desperate Americans from the roof of our embassy as enemy troops smashed through the walls below. 

After ten long, brutal years – twenty really, and more – we thought it was finally over.

But now Iraq is falling apart, along with Syria.

See? The warhawks crow. Told ya! We should have stayed, we should have kept fighting! We should go back!

Last week, Fox News’ Eric Bolling openly declared that America needed to put fighting forces into Iraq and Syria to combat “terrorism.”

Fox’s Jonathan Hoenig agreed, “We have enemies, and they’re the ones who are declaring war on America and slicing journalists’ heads off.” Hoenig then explained that there were no more Japanese kamikazes or attacks from the Nazis because the United States wiped out both those threats in World War II.

“I honestly wonder if our current administration would have won World War II. I think we would have lost it.”

Why stop there?

If Obama was president during the Indian Wars, why we might have lost the Great Plains! America would be confined to a thin slice of North America east of the Appalachians. What if Obama was in charge during the Spanish American War? Who then would have freed Cuba to become communists? And what if Obama was in charge during the Civil War? Why we might still have secessionists and Tea Party racists waving Confederate flags … Okay, that’s a bad example, let’s just move on.

It’s not enough to address what’s actually happening, it’s not enough for a supposed news source to report the actual news, no, they have to imagine what might happen in some alternate universe. See, what if Obama went back in time and replaced Franklin Roosevelt as president? My God, can you imagine a liberal in charge during World War II? A liberal? Why Obama would have lost the whole damned thing and we’d have been fighting Nazis, goddamned Nazis, in the streets of America! Thank Holy Jesus, Roosevelt was a socialism-hatin’ small government conse… Okay, again, bad example, but I think I’ve made my point here.

We’ve got to go back. We need boots on the ground. Air strikes. Cruise missiles. Nuke ‘em from orbit!

If we don’t kill them over there, why, we’ll have to kill them over here!

And it all just sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? Like the steady beat of the drum or the click click click of dominos falling, one after the other.

“To destroy ISIL, you have to kill or capture their leaders, take back their territory, cut off the finances and destroy the capability to regenerate. This is a war we’re fighting not a counter terrorism operation. This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home!
- Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC

Oh no! Not back here at home! Not that!

Predictably, Graham went on to compare the Islamic State in Syria to the Nazis, because, well, Goddamned Nazis, you know.  We need boots on the ground Graham said, in Syria. We need to send the Army back to Iraq. Or else the dominos will fall, one by one, click click click, until Islam comes for America.

This,” Graham declared, “is ISIL versus mankind!”

Mankind.

ISIL versus Mankind no less.

Wow. All of Mankind. Just like the commies. Click click click.

The world’s bestest conservative, Ted Nugent, who himself managed to infamously avoid serving in Vietnam, declared that Americans would absolutely positively be fighting Islam in the streets of their hometowns, door to door and hand to hand, on September 11. That would be September 11th, two weeks ago. You remember, right? Big battle. Slaughter in the streets. How many of them did you have to kill?

Those who carry guns had better gun & ammo up no matter where you go, carrying at least 10 spare mags or 10 spare speedloaders because the allahpukes are confident they will once again methodically slaughter walking cowering whining cryin helpless sitting ducks capable of zero resistance. To gullible naive embarrassing ill prepared targets, there is still time to firepower up ASAP. Head for cover but retain an attentiveness in order to identify the evildoers and dbl tap center mass, then two to the head. Then take cover and prepare your next evasive escape, taking dwn known jihadists to the best of your ability, Aim small miss small center mass & headshots, This is going to be the real deal & absolutely survivable against these 4th world allahpuke zombies. STAND! Go heavy, Only a–holes are outgunned, Dont be outgunned or out ammo’d. Goodluck. Be safe, Shoot straight & OFTEN, Godspeed, killemall

Helpless sitting ducks. In the streets of America. This is going to be the real deal, folks. We’ve got to armor up! Seek cover, shoot for the head!

Except September 11 came and went …

… and somehow the streets weren’t filled with Islamic fighters. 

It wasn’t the real deal.

There were no zombies.

No Nazis.

Americans remained safe in their beds.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Aisle, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) was cautiously satisfied with President Obama's plan. But then he went on to say that he strongly opposes any effort to use ground troops unless Congress authorized a war.

It’s not that he was willing to rule out war and invasion, he just wanted to have a hand in it this time.

"Every war I've been in Congress on has started out with advisers and no boots on the ground. And then..."

Every war I’ve been in Congress for? How many is that, exactly? And is it just me who finds that statement more than a little troubling, for a number of reasons?

Last Tuesday Rangel explained that if America did send troops back the Middle East, Congress would first have to declare war, and second … authorize a draft.

Advisors, then a declaration of war followed by boots on the ground.

And a draft.

Talk about Vietnam.

What’s next Charlie? We going to have Ted soil himself in public again, while we dig up the festering corpse of General Westmoreland to run the thing?

Vietnam.

If there is one man, one member of Congress who should understand the folly of an endless, unwinnable war, it’s John McCain.

If there is one man, one member of the American government, one war hero, one leader, who should understand the value of prudence and caution, it’s John McCain.

If there is one veteran who should understand reluctance to throw our children into the fire without specific goals, without well thought out plans, and without a unity of the national will, it’s John McCain.

If there is one man, one man, who should understand Vietnam, goddamn but it should be John McCain.

“Kill ‘em!”

Kill ‘em!

That was John McCain’s response to Greta Van Susteren on Fox News last Tuesday when she asked what our strategy should be.

Kill  ‘em!

She asked him to maybe provide a little more expansion on his plan, kill ‘em:

“They’ve got to be destroyed! And you’ve got to have a goal, the president does, and we have to have a strategy to fit that goal and policies that will implement it. We have none of the above.”

That’s what John McCain learned from Vietnam. Kill ‘em!

McCain used his interview with Susteren to push for war in both Iraq and Syria. He declared that the threat requires the “full weight of American air power” and “some more boots and support on the ground.”

“All this didn’t have to happen. We could have left a force behind in Iraq that would have stabilized Iraq. And we are paying an incredible price for the president’s leading from behind, whether it be in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya, or a number of countries in the Middle East. We are seeing the chickens coming home to roost.”

We could have left a force behind in Iraq, so says John McCain.

We could have. The obvious implication being that President John McCain certainly would have left American combat forces in Iraq.

McCain conveniently failed to mention that that force would be either an occupying force or a force subject to Islamic law.

McCain also conveniently failed to mention that putting American combat forces on the ground in either Iraq or Syria would be an act of open war. 

And that war would be a preemptive one. 

You see, while the Islamic State may certainly be a threat to American interests, they have not attacked us.  They killed an American hostage, yes, but we generally don’t start wars over one person. Do we? Especially ones that travel of their own free will to meet the enemy. The Islamic State is fighting the Iraqi and Syrian governments – one of which is a corrupt and unreliable ally and one of which is a self-declared enemy of the United States – not us.

Last time I checked, preemptive wars are illegal, a violation of both international law and our own.

And John McCain, of all people, should know that. What McCain demands is illegal, it’s against our law, international law, Iraqi law, Syrian law, and the wishes of our allies in the region.  And yet, he’s a prominent figure in the party who keeps saying that Obama doesn’t adhere to the law. Riiiight.

Neither the Iraqi government or most especially the Syrian government wants American troops on their territory. Syria’s hatred of America is well known and unchanged – especially since we are openly supporting the rebels fighting against the Syrian government. And Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said on Wednesday that foreign troops on Iraqi soil are "out of the question."

So, if we were to put “boots on the ground” as John McCain demands, it will be as an invasion. 

For us to put combat forces into Iraq and Syria, “boots on the ground,” it will have to be a full up declared war. There are no bases for American forces there, no safe havens, no allies. We will return as invaders, we will have to either topple the legal governments of both countries or take them hostage at bayonet point and force our will upon them – all while fighting both their militaries and the Islamic State.

You’ll note John McCain failed to mention that as well.

McCain also didn’t bother to mention what happens when you let politicians and their contractor pals run a war for profit – like Vietnam.

Take the Institute for the Study of War as an example.

Institute for the Study of War. Sounds ponderously official, doesn’t it? The Institute describes itself as a non-partisan think-tank, but it’s run by a bunch of civilian staffers/military hangers-on – Whiz Kids, to use the Vietnam era vernacular – and various former Army officers and funded almost entirely by defense contractors such as Raytheon and General Dynamics. 

Non-partisan. You’ll forgive my skeptical expression, won’t you?

Not entirely surprising, the Institute for the Study of War typically proposes more war as a solution for war.

Last week the Institute’s founder, Dr. Kimberly Kagan and the Institute’s director of research, Jessica Lewis, a former Army intel officer (who is careful not to include her former rank in her bio and who was one of those folks who won themselves a bronze star or two for non-combat related action, hoorah!), penned an official looking report that makes a case for, well, war.

It’s called “A strategy to Defeat the Islamic State” and it’s freely available to the public on the think-tank's website.

It’s an interesting read. It makes some good points and outlines some useful objectives.

But the part I really enjoyed was the last paragraph of the executive summary:

Though this strategy contains a high risk of failure and the near-certainty of U.S. troop casualties, the outcomes of ISIS retaining control of the territory it has seized, an escalated sectarian war, more foreign fighters, and the largest al-Qaeda safe haven it has ever known outweigh those risks.

A high risk of failure.

Near certainty of US casualties.

Gotta do it though. Fight ‘em there, or we’ll have to fight ‘em here. Dominos, boys, dominos.

Goddamn, if that isn’t pure Whiz Kid I don’t know what is.  I went back to see if the Ghost of Robert McNamara was on the Institute’s board of directors.

Listen to me, when you let the defense industry tell you when to go to war, you’re never going to have not war. Ever.

And it appears McCain learned nothing from Vietnam.

As did we all.

See, we never talk about what happened after.

Oh certainly we learned a few things in the years since 1975. Support the troops, don’t blame them for the sins of our political leadership.  See that they are properly equipped – we don’t do that, but we know that we should.  Have a plan, a solid strategy with measurable goals – we don’t do that, but we know that we should.  Have a plan for after the war, for rebuilding the nation, for winning hearts and minds – we don’t do that, but we know that we should.  Take care of veterans when they come home – we don’t do that either, of course, but we know that we should.

But we missed the big one.

When we left Vietnam, well, to be blunt, the domino toppled.

We left our former allies to their fates, to the killing fields and the mass executions and the reeducation camps and the atrocities of civil war. We left them to collective farms and economic collapse.

We left them to the communists. 

And the communists won.

And yet – and yet – Burma (now Myanmar), Thailand, India, Japan, the Philippines, those dominos didn’t topple.

Myanmar is a brutal repressive regime today, but that has nothing to do with our departure from Vietnam.  There was already a repressive government in the Philippines, one propped up by the United States and made worse by the flood of American forces pouring through the whorehouses and tattoo parlors outside of Subic Bay and Clark Air Force base. Since that time, since America left, the Philippines has become an actual democracy. Though I doubt anybody would say the country is perfect, things are far better for Filipinos today than they were back then. Thailand continues on as it always has, ditto Japan. And India is rapidly becoming a superpower. 

In point of fact, it seems that the domino theory was about as accurate as Ted Nugent.

In the forty years since Vietnam, the dominos that fell were mostly communist.

The Soviet Union withered and died, bankrupted by a war ironically in the very same region and against the very same people John McCain would have us return to fighting.

After two decades, reform came to Vietnam. The old guard was peacefully replaced, the collective farms were privatized, Soviet style economics became free-market reforms.

And Vietnam today?

The communists still hold power, true. Vietnam is one of the few remaining nations with a single party socialist government, but even that is slowly fading away. Vietnam is a vibrant country, a ripe target for American investment and economic growth.

Vietnam is hardly a paradise. But it has become a peaceful nation and, predictably, an economic partner of the United States.

And the region is far more stable today for our lack of boots on the ground than it ever was as the pawns and proxies and colonies of the First World.

Fast forward 40 years and certainly we can not stand by and allow ISIS/ISIL to slaughter the innocents without protest. Morally we must do something, we must send aid, we must help our allies, no matter how unsavory. We must train and equip those willing to defend their own homes. Certainly, I don’t argue that.  If we are to call ourselves moral people, then we have a moral obligation.

Just as we have a moral obligation to rescue our people from the clutches of terrorists. Just as we have a moral obligation to hunt down and destroy those who would murder our people.

But boots on the ground? Invasion? War?

No.

Certainly the fanatics of the Islamic State may one day come for us. That is certainly a possibility.

Or they may not.

Certainly the fanatics of the Islamic State may one day threaten other nations in the Middle East.

Or they may not.

Or, perhaps, like Vietnam, forty years from now these people will find peace and civilization if left to their own devices.

Will they? What are the odds? Is it likely? Maybe not, probably not, but it for damned sure isn’t going to happen in a state of continuous invasion.

This threat exists because war and conflict have destabilized the region.

More war won’t fix that.

Just as throwing more and more of our children into Vietnam didn’t bring peace or stability there.

Most certainly we should be concerned. We should be outraged and appalled at the brutality and the horror. Absolutely we should be. Absolutely we should acknowledge our role in this mess and provide what support we can to aid those caught in the middle. With caution. With prudence. With an understanding that real peace and stability can’t be imposed at the muzzle of a gun or dropped from a bomb bay or by shouting Kill ‘em!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no pacifist – though I don’t care if you think I am.

I’m no Neville Chamberlain. I’m no isolationist. I spent my entire life in the military. I did my time in Iraq. But my oath was to defend the United States, not throw my life and the lives of the forces under my command away for political goals or because fearful men shake in terror at the thought of what might happen someday.

And that, right there, is the real lesson of Vietnam.

 

Yeah, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin'
I'm sitting here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation
Handful of senators don't pass legislation
And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return, it's the same old place
The poundin' of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace

And, tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don't believe we're on the eve of destruction
No no, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction
-
Barry McGuire, Eve of Destruction, 1965

Thursday, September 11, 2014

911: Thirteen Years On

Foreward: I wrote this essay on the morning of the 10th anniversary of 911.  Rereading it, I see little I would have said differently. // Jim Wright




It’s been ten years now.

A decade today.

And frankly, I think that’s about enough.

There comes a point where you have to stop reliving the horror over and over.

There comes a point where you have to say enough, this and no more.

I think a decade is enough time.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the events of September 11th, 2001 were traumatic on a national scale.  911 was a shock like no other in American history, hell, maybe even in world history.  The modern Information Age saw to that, bringing it right into our living rooms without any delay to soften the impact, live and in horrifying color. 

All of us remember where we were and what we were doing on that terrible morning, I know I certainly do

I’m not in any way saying that we should forget, but there comes a point where you have to allow history to become history.

There comes a point where you have to move on.

Today marks a decade now, since 911.  In that time, we went to war and seven thousand more Americans, some of our very best, died.  Tens of thousands more were maimed and scarred and damaged forever.  Hundreds of thousands of innocents died. 

Entire countries were laid waste.

In the decade since 911, we Americans have became a callous people who can look upon those devastated lands and say, well, you know they had it coming, all of those bastards had it coming including their goddamned children.

In the decade since 911, we became a nation that tortures people and disappears people and detains people, including our citizens, indefinitely without trial or recourse in abject repudiation of the very spirit of our nation’s own founding – and we are unashamed of that and unrepentant. 

In the decade since 911, we have become a nation where, as an American, you must put aside your freedom a dozen times a day. You must show your papers. You must submit to naked body scanners and you must allow unsmiling uniformed men with the force of secret laws behind them to grope the most intimate areas of your children and yourselves. Such has become the price of freedom in America. We have become a nation  where you – as an American – can be detained for a glance or a gesture or a careless word or for checking out the wrong book from the library or for worshipping the wrong God.  We have become a nation where the only acceptable response to uniformed authority is immediate and total submission. Talk back, question, stand pat on the rights of previous generations and you’ll be branded an enemy. We have become a nation that claims to revere liberty and justice, but believes those things can only be had when secret agencies monitor our every email and our every communication without warrant or probable cause. 

The day after 911, September 12th, 2001, Congress stood upon the steps of the Capitol with the smoke of the burning Pentagon still hanging in the air above their heads and solemnly pledged to the American people that they would put aside their partisanship and their personal agendas and work together for the sake of our nation.  

In the decade since that moment we have become a nation divided instead, a nation of partisan rancor writ large – and those who stubbornly proclaim their patriotism loudest are the very ones who would lead us into civil war and secession.  They would destroy what terrorists could not.

And yet, in the decade since 911, we have found those responsible, rooted them out, and ground them into dust.  It took ten years, but Osama bin Laden is dead at the hands of Americans.  So is his successor. So are hundreds of his lieutenants.  So are thousands of his foot soldiers.  

So are many, many others, including thousands of Americans.

But it has not brought us closure.

And it has certainly not brought us peace.

Nor has it healed us as a nation.

911 was horrifying. It was personal to us all, every single American. It left us scarred, as a nation, and traumatized.

And we keep using that horror, that trauma, as an excuse to lash out in a massive case of collective post traumatic stress disorder.

The wounds of that event run deep and are still raw a decade later – but those wounds will not heal so long as we keep picking at the scab over and over and over.

Today, we will relive the horror yet again – a fevered nightmare that simply won’t go away because we will not allow it to go away.  

Again, don’t get me wrong, we should always remember the events of September 11th, 2001, just as we remember Pearl Harbor or the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the hundred other events that shocked and traumatized our nation. But if we are to heal, if we are to move on, we have to stop reliving that horror over and over. 

Certainly we should build the memorials and lay the wreaths.

Of course we should always remember the names of the fallen and hold them sacred.

But we need to stop covering ourselves in the blood of that day.

Today, right now as I write this, hundreds of media channels will play the recordings of those trapped in the towers.  They’ll play those recordings over and over and over again. Recordings of the tortured calls to emergency services and the final calls to loved one.  And we’ll listen, yet again, to the intimate agony of those dying people.  They will play on endless loop the videos of those who jumped seventy stories to their death, lingering lovingly on their faces, speculating about their last moments, reveling in the horror. They interview those who witnessed the death and destruction and horror and they’ll beg, “Tell us what you were thinking. Tell us what you were feeling at that very moment.” We don’t need to know what they were feeling, what they were thinking, because we felt the same exact thing. We’re still feeling it. But we’ll listen anyway like a entire nation slowing down to goggle wide-eyed at a car wreck. 

We’ll watch the towers fall. Again.

We’ll see the Pentagon crumple and explode.  Again.

We’ll hear the tapes of the air traffic controllers, of the horrified confusion in the towers, and the phone calls of those Americans who fought back above the corn fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  

I hear those tortured voices, I see those dying faces, and I don’t feel hate. I don’t feel a need for revenge. I’ve had a decade of hate. I went to war in revenge. I’ve been covered in blood long enough.

Instead, I look at those pictures and I feel revulsion. 

There is something obscene about listening to 911 calls, any 911 call.  While those records may have value to history, it is nothing but a voyeuristic grotesquery to broadcast those intimate communications to a public jaded by reality TV and violent slasher flicks. 

It serves no purpose whatsoever but to keep open festering wounds that should be long scabbed over.

Today, pundits and politicians will use this anniversary to drive us further apart, to reopen the wounds, for their own selfish agendas, to further inflame partisan fervor and to brand their neighbors as enemies and un-American. 

And we will let them do it, because in the decade since 911 we’ve become a nation of cutters who hack at our own flesh with mean abandon.

Since 911, an entire generation has been born and grown to self-awareness.

Those young Americans have never known their nation at peace. 

They have never known a nation that is not divided.

They have never had a single day where they weren’t told to hate their neighbors and to report them if they don’t seem patriotic enough.

They have never lived a single day in a nation that wasn’t bent to the terrible business of revenge.

They have never known a nation that didn’t roil in fear and cringe in terror every single day.

They have never flown on an airplane without having been treated like a criminal.

They have never checked out a book from the library without having been subject to secret scrutiny.

They never sent an unmonitored email or made an unmonitored phone call.

They have never lived in a house that isn’t subject to unwarranted search.

They have never had the right to redress or legal challenge when their name is placed on secret lists – and in point of fact, they don’t even have the right to know if their name is on that list at all.

They have never lived in a nation where they have the right to confront their accuser and demand proof of more than just suspicion.

They have never lived without the threat, however unlikely, of being disappeared.

They have never lived in a nation that didn’t regard the torture of human beings as an acceptable option.

This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.

The terrorists didn’t do that.

We did it to them.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Bang Bang Crazy, Part 10

An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.
- Robert Heinlein, Beyond This Horizon

An armed society is a polite society.

That’s what somebody said to me today.

I said, ah, so you’re a Heinlein fan then?

The reply was a blank stare.  Heinlein, never heard of him. NRA?

Uh, no, not exactly. But he’s the guy who said it, that bit about an armed society, the idea you’re quoting out of context. And really, listen, I hate to be a wet blanket, and I’m as big of Heinlein fan as anybody, but I’m going to have to call Shenanigans on that one right up front.

An  armed society is a polite society.

Uh, no. No, it’s not. Not outside of science fiction anyway.

You see, when Robert Anson Heinlein wrote that line, “an armed society is a polite society,” it was in the context of a fictional story. That’s what he did, you know, he wrote science fiction. You could say that in certain circles, he’s somewhat known for it.  He created a “politely” armed society for his 1948 novel, Beyond This Horizon (first printed 1942 as a two part serial in the pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction).

And in Heinlein’s case, “polite” is subject to broad interpretation.

Horizon describes what’s nowadays typically referred to as a “post-scarcity” utopia.  All the problems plaguing mankind have been beaten, hunger, poverty, disease, conflict, old age, and even death from natural causes in large part, are all relics of the past.  Genetic modification of human beings is the norm (in fact, “natural” or unmodified human beings are so rare, they are a endangered and protected species).  Most humans in this society are what we’d call “supermen,”  they’re physically perfect and mentally gifted. Nobody wants for anything and nobody has to work – or do anything they don’t want to.

Naturally, the world is packed end to end with the resulting mass of bored humanity.

Which means that people have plenty of opportunity to bump into each other, physically and mentally, and be insulted or offended. 

So they all go armed.

Nearly everybody in Beyond This Horizon carries a personal sidearm. Those that don’t are pariahs and have to wear special identifiers. And they get the opportunity to use those weapons on a regular basis because dueling is the primary method used to resolve interpersonal conflict.

Which is where the quote comes in. See, if you don’t want to duel to the death with an immortal superman, then you’d best be damned careful not to give offense in any way. You’d better be unfailingly polite.

An armed society as a polite society works for Beyond This Horizon, and it works because Heinlein wrote it that way.

It was simply a device to hang a story on and nothing more.

Which is probably why we shouldn't base our society on pull quotes from science fiction - no matter whether the writer be a master storyteller like Robert Heinlein or a deluded hack like L. Ron Hubbard – or Ayn Rand for that matter.

Heinlein, whatever his failings, wasn't any drooling ammosexual. He had strong opinions about society and he was certainly not shy about stating them, both in his fiction and in his life. But he also believed, very strongly, in personal responsibility and individual accountability - something the gun nuts never seem to mention when cherry picking his work. He's been dead now for 20 years and it's too late to ask, and as I said the definition of “polite” in the context of the story is somewhat subjective, but given his background and beliefs I seriously doubt that Robert Heinlein expected Americans to go around so terrified by the likely armed response of irrational people that they just hide in their houses and keep their mouth shut or be willing to risk death daily in the grocery store or on the way to pick up their kids from school. 

But, you know, even if he did, if even that’s exactly what he actually thought, so what? He was a writer, not some infallible omniscient deity.

The quote isn’t profound, it’s just a line in a science fiction story.

I might enjoy Star Wars, but I don’t think America has to live by the Jedi Code.

But then again, maybe Heinlein had a point. Maybe if everybody is armed and willing to kill each other over any minor altercation, if every American is so angry and so utterly terrified for their lives every minute of every day that they must respond to any confrontation no matter how small with deadly force in fear for their lives, well, yeah, maybe we will get a more polite society.  What’s left of it after the carnage. After we've gunned down all the people who frighten us, all those people with different skin colors, and those with sexual orientations that make us uncomfortable, and those with funny accents and alien customs, and the punks who wear strange clothes and go around sporting tattoos and piercings, and especially those people who worship the wrong gods or none at all, and … parents on the way to pick up their kids from school. Sure, once we get rid of those people, thin out the herd, what's left will be a whole lot more polite – courteously shouting "please" and "thank you" from their bunkers, no doubt.

 

Wait, what was that last one?

 

Shoot people on the way to pick up their kids?

Well, yes, that’s exactly correct.  That’s what happened in Michigan this week.

Tuesday, 69 year old Martin Zale was driving like a horse’s ass through a residential neighborhood, speeding and driving aggressively (No, that’s not my opinion, there were witnesses – including Zale’s wife). He crossed paths with 43 year old Derek Fleming, who along with his wife, was on the way to pick their two young children from school. Zale nearly collided with Fleming, tailgated him, and then cut him off despite the fact that Fleming had politely moved into the right lane in order to let Zale pass.  After cutting Fleming off, Zale slammed on his brakes forcing Fleming to slam on his so as to avoid a collision. At the next intersection, Fleming got out of his SUV and approached Zale’s truck.

There were witnesses and they are all agreed, Fleming was not armed and did not threaten Zale in any way, he simply asked, “What’s your problem?”

Zale rolled down his window, pulled out a concealed pistol, and without a word shot Fleming in the face, killing him.

And that, right there is the “polite society” these gun nuts would have us live in.

They want the right to act like assholes, to say or do any goddamned obnoxious thing they like, force a confrontation and then when questioned about it claim that they felt “threatened” in order to stand their ground.

That’s it. That’s the society these people think they want to live in. Dodge City. Tombstone. Beyond This Horizon. Duels and pistols at dawn. Blood in the street.

What?

No.

Don’t. Just don’t.

Don’t get all narrow eyed and start making that patting gesture and telling me that I’m wrong.

Don’t tell me I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.

Don’t try to tell me that it’s just one isolated incident, just one crazy gun-toting asshole with a chip on his shoulder and grudge to settle.

Don’t.

After all the blood and all the bullets and all the insanity this suicidal gun crazy culture has inflicted on America, just don’t.

Instead, how about we review what a shitting sitting member of the National Rifle Association said this week:

“Those who carry guns had better gun & ammo up no matter where you go, carrying at least 10 spare mags or 10 spare speedloaders because the allahpukes are confident they will once again methodically slaughter walking cowering whining cryin helpless sitting ducks capable of zero resistance. To gullible naive embarrassing ill prepared targets, there is still time to firepower up ASAP.  Head for cover but retain an attentiveness in order to identify the evildoers and dbl tap center mass, then two to the head. Then take cover and prepare your next evasive escape, taking dwn known jihadists to the best of your ability, Aim small miss small center mass & headshots.”

Of course that was Ted Nugent yesterday on Facebook.

Well, of course it was. Who else would it be?

And of course Nugent is a murderous madman – just another drooling ammosexual with an arsenal. Not to mention a guy who shit his pants at the very thought of having to face down armed enemies for real.

Ted Nugent is an active and outspoken member of the NRA Board of Directors. When he speaks, he’s speaking for them, for every single member past and present of the National Rifle Association and their apologists, for the gun culture of America – and don’t tell me that he’s not, not until the NRA publically ousts him and unambiguously and in no uncertain terms condemns his murderous paranoid bugfuckery.  Not until his shows are cancelled, not until he’s ruined financially, not until he’s held to account for his bullshit, not until he’s arrested for making terroristic threats.

Listen to me, if one Muslim extremist is the face of all of Islam, then Ted Nugent is the face of the NRA. Quod erat demonstrandum. Period and you can’t have it both ways.

“This is going to be the real deal & absolutely survivable against these 4th world allahpuke zombies. STAND! Go heavy, Only assholes are outgunned, Dont be outgunned or out ammo’d. Goodluck. Be safe, Shoot straight & OFTEN, Godspeed, killemall.”

Nugent was talking about his belief that Muslims, or “allahpukes” as he calls them, will attack America on the anniversary of 9-11, and that Americans, real Americans, will have to fight for their very lives in the streets of their hometowns. But his mindset, the paranoid armed insanity that is this exact mindset, the idea that the whole world is out to get you, that you have a god-given lawful right to act like a selfish obnoxious asshole all of the time and if questioned about it in any way whatsoever then deadly force is somehow the right and proper response, that mindset is exactly what led to the cold-blooded murder of Derek Fleming.

Tell me, what else are we to make of “…walking cowering whining cryin [sic] helpless sitting ducks capable of zero resistance. To gullible naive embarrassing ill prepared targets…” Is that what Derek Fleming was? A sitting duck? A gullible na├»ve embarrassing ill prepared target? No really, you tell me, what distinguishes the murderous rhetoric of Ted Nugent or the murderous terrorism of Martin Zale from any Jihadist? Zale gunned down an American in the middle of a residential neighborhood. He killed a father who committed no crime who made no threat, who was on his way to pick up his kids. Zale slaughtered a husband in cold blood while his wife watched.

Now, you tell me, what distinguishes Martin Zale from the men who cut off James Foley’s head?

That’s not defense of country.

That’s not self defense.

That’s not freedom.

That’s not liberty.

That’s not justice.

That’s not what the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution means.

That’s insanity.

People like Martin Zale, people like Ted Nugent, should not, under any circumstance, be allowed to own or operate a gun. Hell, Zale at least shouldn’t even have a driver’s license.

Police took Zale into custody after the shooting. It took two days, but today he was formally charged with one count of open murder, two counts of felony firearms, and the discharge of a weapon from a vehicle.

And then this happened:

“I fully support the right of individuals to keep and possess firearms, but it’s when they misuse those weapons that it becomes a problem.”

That was Livingston County Prosecutor, William Vailiencourt, the guy who charged Zale with open murder.

I fully support the right of individuals to keep and possess firearms.

That’s great, Bill, it really is. But you know it’s a damned sad day when a public official feels he has to preface a press conference about an aggravated murder with that caveat. 

Big fan of the Second Amendment here. Love those guns, fellas, love ‘em. America, fuckin’ A baby. Fuckin’ A. Buuuuut if people “misuse” firearms, well, boy, yeah, okay, that’s gonna be a bit of a problem right there. You bet. We’ll have to do something about that. 

It’s not a “problem,” Mr. Prosecutor, it’s stone cold murder.

It’s a sad day when Americans are so goddamned bang bang crazy that you have to make sure, absolutely sure, that you’re not perceived as maligning the sacred holiness of the Second Amendment in any way no matter how slight when talking about cold blooded murder.

But he had to say it, didn’t he? Vailiencourt had to caveat his words, he had to make sure Americans understood he supports unlimited gun rights. Had to. Or else he’d lose his NRA endorsement and that would be the end of his political career.

And there it is, right there.

That’s the fear which reveals Heinlein’s comment for what it is: science fiction.

Beyond This Horizon is a darned entertaining story, but it’s not a blueprint for civilization.

The simple truth of the matter is that in reality an armed society isn’t a polite society. Not even close. It never has been. And, short of Heinlein’s fictional utopia it never will be. This is provable and repeatable as many times as you care to run the experiment. The results are always the same. An armed society simply swaps one form of tyranny for another.

As much as I enjoy reading Robert Heinlein’s work, as much as I respect him as a Navy shipmate and as a writer and as a teller of tales and as a human being, outside of fiction his observation is pure bullshit.

An armed society is not a polite society.

It’s not even a civil one.

It’s a society that lives in abject fear

Every single day.

No statement should be believed because it is made by an authority.
-
Robert Anson Heinlein

 


Footnote 1:

Attention gun nuts: Save it. Really, just save it for somebody who hasn’t heard it all before.

Save my time and yours – but mostly mine.

Commenting on Stonekettle Station is moderated. By me. Stonekettle Station is not a democracy, it’s my private property. You want to call me names, threaten me, question my patriotism, you go right ahead and do that, that’s your right.  But you’re not going to do it here.  You want to comment? You want to make your feelings known to the readers here? Then you will goddamned well be respectful, courteous, and well spoken. You will use proper grammar and punctuation. Above all, you will be polite. Period. This is non-negotiable – and you shouldn’t have a problem with that, given that I’m armed.

Oh, yes, that’s correct. I’m armed. Guess you didn’t see that coming, did you? Maybe, just maybe, you’d best rethink threatening me. Your call, I’m good either way. Click on the link to Part 1 below, read the footnote there if you read nothing else, get your mom to help you with the big words if necessary.  It’s very likely that I know more about guns, their operation, their care and feeding, and their use in violent confrontation, and the Second Amendment, than you do.  I was trained by professionals and likely I own more guns than you do.

So do us both a favor and save your threats and accusations and other drooling NRA bullshit for the guy who shit his pants in public rather than serve his country. You shouldn’t have to look very far to find a guy like that, you can smell the rank stink of his fearful cowardice from a mile away.

 

Footnote 2:

Every time I write another addition to this series, I hope it's the last. But it never is, there's always another massacre. Always another murder. Always another angry lunatic with a hard-on and a gun and score to settle. Always. It never ends. Welcome to America.

Here’s the rest of it:

 The Seven Stages of Gun Violence
And the Bang Bang Crazy Series:
Part 1, What we need, see, are more guns, big fucking guns
Part 2, Gun violence isn't the exception in America, it's who we are
Part 3, Sandy Hook, the NRA, and a gun in every school
Part 4, More dead kids and why we have laws
Part 5, Gun control means using two hands
Part 6, The Christopher Donner rampage or they needed killin'
Part 7, Still more dead kids and now we can print our own guns!
Part 8, Let's try blaming the victim, shall we?
Part 9, Armed soldiers on post and nothing to go wrong there. Nothing at all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ass Backward Into The Unknown

 

But how the world turns. One day, cock of the walk. Next, a feather duster.
- Aunty Entity, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, 1985

 

There’s this scene in the last Mad Max movie.

You know the flick, right? Two men enter, one man leaves.

Mel Gibson made the movie during the height of his popularity, back when he was handsome cheerful roguish Mel Gibson and not the miserable Jew-hating drunken misogynist Mel Gibson we all know him as today – and, boy, if you read me on a regular basis you’ve just got to figure that’s some serious foreshadowing right there, don’t you?

Beyond Thunderdome is arguably the last and least installment of the post apocalyptic trilogy, but there are still some great moments in the movie.

The defining scene comes near the end.  Max has bested the monstrous Blaster in the movie’s eponymous dome and, along with his trusty band of orphans, misfits, and criminals, blows up Bartertown’s power plant in a spectacular blast of fart gas and flaming pig shit along with any hope for the recovering civilization. He kidnaps the diminutive brains of the operation for his own selfish reasons and crashes out of the city in a steampunk locomotive while fighting off leather-clad crossbow wielding gladiators.  They’re rolling full speed down the tracks into the desolate radioactive wasteland pursued by an enraged army on jet-powered Baja buggies and led by Tina Turner in a chainmail miniskirt. 

Max takes a long look back at the pursuing horde.

Then he carefully climbs along the outside of the train to the cab where a guy with the charming moniker of “Pigkiller” is in the driver’s seat.

Max, yelling over the roar of the slipstream and the growling engine, asks, “So, what’s the plan?”

Pigkiller grins from ear to ear and bursts out in a loud guffaw.

Plan?” Pigkiller barks incredulously. “There ain’t no plan!

 

I imagine right about now that exact scene is playing out over and over in GOP circles.

 

The election train is barreling down the tracks headed for November. There’s Mad Paul Ryan, he was a cop once, come to save the day, the road warrior, but now he’s grown mean and sallow faced, tormented by his demons, consumed by revenge. There’s the cranky midget, McBlaster, angrily shaking his pudgy little fist and grumpily shouting, “Who run Bartertown? Who run Bartertown?!” (Except in John McCain’s case, it’s not a rhetorical question, he really has no idea what the hell is going on).  Chris Christie is the massive child-like ham-fisted mutant in leather cod piece, he’s not much on brains but he loves nothing better than squeezing the life out of his foes. Lurking in the background is Karl Rove as The Collector, he’s never going to be mayor of Bartertown, he just likes to fondle everybody’s junk.  Marco Rubio as Dr. Dealgood, Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, dying time’s here he he he! And the man without a plan, Rand Pigkiller Paul.

All looking over their collective shoulders in terror at Aunty Hillary in a chainmail pantsuit, coming up fast.

Republicans are headed into 2016 the same way they went into Iraq and Afghanistan: ass backward into the unknown and no idea what the hell they’re going to do if they win.

Their election strategy, hell their plan for the country should they win the Senate and maybe even the White House in 2016, is based almost entirely on “We hates Obama, Precious, we hates him!” while gleefully rubbing their hands together and cackling maniacally – other than that they’ve got nothing.

Going into this election, the GOP has no new ideas at all, none. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

In point of fact, their primary message has been about rolling back the clock instead of going forward into the future.

For the last five years, the GOP has done nothing but pound the Obamacare drum. In the House they’ve voted more than 50 times to repeal the law, knowing they had no chance.  Some conservatives have gone so far as to demand impeachment of the President over the Affordable Care Act, again knowing they have no chance of actually removing the president from office (and really, who knew republicans loved Joe Biden so much?).  For years, we’ve heard how the ACA was going to destroy America, how it’s the worst thing that ever happened to freedom in the history of mankind. 

Once upon a time, access to healthcare was an American issue. But once Hillary Clinton started talking about it back when she was First Lady, well, sir, that’s when conservatives suddenly remembered how Hitler probably gave everybody healthcare just before he exploded Europe and Republicans have been whipping the Nazi pony in a hysterical froth ever since – and whatever happened to those death panels anyway? Where’s Obama keeping those? And has he offed Palin’s lopsided kid yet?

Right.

In 2012, apparently oblivious to the staggering irony of it all, Republicans actually ran against Obama with the very guy who came up with the genesis of the Affordable Care Act in the first place, Mitt Romney.  I suppose that you’ve got to admire that kind of chutzpah.

For the last five years John Boehner’s Twitter feed has burped out a dozen anti-Obamacare tweets every single day …

… right up until about two weeks ago, when less than three months out from the election, all of a sudden republicans have mysteriously gone dark on Obamacare (well, except for Ted Cruz, but then that figures, doesn’t it?).

And why is that, do you suppose?

Oh, c’mon, take a guess. It’s no great mystery.

Okay, fine, I’ll give it to you. It’s because Obamacare is working, that’s why.  Even Bloomberg says so,

Republicans seeking to unseat the U.S. Senate incumbent in North Carolina have cut in half the portion of their top issue ads citing Obamacare, a sign that the party’s favorite attack against Democrats is losing its punch.

The shift — also taking place in competitive states such as Arkansas and Louisiana — shows Republicans are easing off their strategy of criticizing Democrats over the Affordable Care Act now that many Americans are benefiting from the law and the measure is unlikely to be repealed.

Now look, don’t get me wrong here: Obamacare is a piece of shit.

It’s too complicated. It costs too much. It doesn’t cover everybody. It doesn’t fix some significant problems. It makes certain aspects of healthcare worse.  Even the most liberal of liberals are unlikely to argue with you about that.  Hell, I doubt Obama would argue with you about that.  But it could have been much better. It could have been much much better, we could have done it right, if republicans had actually gotten involved and helped with its original draft. 

And it could have been drastically improved in the years since its implementation if conservatives had actually worked with the president instead of calling him a Nazi and acting like spoiled rotten children.  If they had actually had a goddamned plan other than to oppose the president at every turn simply because they can’t think of anything better to do.

The United States is a wealthy nation. We boast that we’re the world’s only superpower.  We call ourselves exceptional.  And yet a significant fraction of our population doesn’t have access to basic healthcare. 

We Americans actually argue over whether or not access to healthcare is a basic human right.  Guns, in America owning a gun is a right, but not the ability to see a doctor. 

That’s some seriously fucked up logic right there, folks.

Honestly, if the same number of Americans didn’t have access to indoor plumbing or electricity, we’d damned well do something about it (and we did).  Hell even Joseph Stalin tried to extend electricity and indoor toilets to every Soviet proletarian. But healthcare? Soviets got healthcare too, massively shitty healthcare to be sure, but even shitty Soviet healthcare is better than the republican plan at this point.  And, really, you’re telling me that America, America, can’t do better than the Soviet Union? Are you kidding me?

Honestly, if Obama came out in favor of electricity and running water republicans would squat in the dark, shit on their own shoes, and call it liberty.

Folks, obstruction for the sake of obstruction isn’t a plan.

Intractability out of spite isn’t a goddamned plan.

And you’ll note that even after five years republicans still haven’t presented a healthcare law of their own – well, other than Romneycare, I mean.

The only option republicans offer is a return to the past:  40 million uninsured Americans.

And suddenly, that doesn’t look so good, even to them. Even John Boehner’s pet intern stopped tweeting about it – obviously so. And that’s pretty damned significant given that the snotty sophomoric sock puppet who runs Boehner’s account has been unable to tweet about anything else for the last year.

So where does that leave them?

I mean, that was the whole deal. Republicans staked everything on the idea that Obamacare would implode, but now that it’s working, at least in general terms, they don’t know what to do.

And that, that right there, is the modern Republican Party’s trademark, flaming pig shit and no goddamned plan. Ass backward into the unknown. Obamacare is Iraq all over again.  Republicans sent us in and they never, obviously never, expected us to actually win.  Certainly not so soon.  Because they had no plan, absolutely no plan whatsoever, for winning. 

We made it to Baghdad in less than a month, Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed like wet paper, and we were all cheering and throwing our hats up in the air … until it went sideways when it became apparent that nobody, no goddamned body, in the Bush Administration had even the slightest idea of what to do next.

This morning, in a mind boggling display of utterly clueless irony, John Boehner tweeted:

image

Leaving aside the fact that Boehner apparently tweets from an iPhone, the preferred communications device of liberals everywhere, he’s kidding right? 

Republicans had eleven years to come up with a coherent workable plan for Iraq. Where is it?

Plan? There ain’t no plan!

And now Boehner’s bitching because Obama hasn’t crapped out a counter-ISIS strategy in what? A month?

They excel at picking a fight, these modern republicans. They love to fling the pig shit and light their farts on fire. Benghazi. The IRS. Birth Certificates. Death panels. But it’s all, all of it, every damned bit of it, nothing but yellow cake uranium. 

Hell, the smoking gun, Benghazi, even after a dozen republican led witch hunts backed by every asset Congress could bring to bear, even the most intractable of House conservatives have to admit that there’s just nothing there.  And you notice they’ve stopped talking about that too.

Immigration? Again, they’re great at blaming Obama, but where is the republican plan?

They don’t have an immigration plan. And now they’re threatening to shut down the government again if Obama takes any action via executive authority (while perversely demanding that Obama do something). Shutdown the government. Again. Blow up the power plant, cover us all in flaming pig shit. I mean, really that’s all you’ve got? Shut down the government? You can’t come up with any other plan? You know, like maybe IMMIGRATION REFORM?

No. Just shut down the government.

These idiots learned nothing the last time around. Nothing.

Folks, Boehner couldn’t even get House republicans to agree to something they all basically agree on.

And that should tell you everything you need to know.  These people can’t even agree with each other even when they all agree with each other. 

They’ve had five years to come up with a plan for America’s future and it’s not that they haven’t, it’s that they can’t

The last republican with any vision was Reagan 30 years ago. And his spiritual descendants have turned his shining city on a hill into a grim fortress surrounded by a moat filled with scummy stinking stagnant water.

The only vision republicans have nowadays is hindsight. The only plan is to go backward.

Rick Perry’s been indicted and, really, what’s the campaign slogan going to be? Better the crook you know, than one you don’t! Nixon Perry, 2016!

Jeb Bush? Because America hasn’t had enough of the Bush family, right?

Mitch McConnell was recently recorded at a Koch Brothers Donor summit, openly admitting the republican party works for the rich and for corporations – and not the people they’re supposed to be representing.  If these people get their way, America would return to the days of the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers and you and I would get to pay them for the privilege of eating out of their garbage cans.  These are the corporate people who, like the recently announced Burger King/Horton’s merger, demand all the benefits of the United States as their rightful hereditary due, they want America’s freedom, her economic opportunities, her protection, her law, her military might, her prestige, her investment climate, and most of all her subsidies, but they don’t want to pay for it.  These people are the ultimate freeloaders, they don’t create jobs for Americans, they create jobs for everybody in the Third World. They don’t create wealth for Americans, these greedy fuckers create unlimited wealth for themselves and sit on their piles of gold like Smaug the Dragon – gloating while millions go sick and hungry and homeless.  But, boy, they sure pride themselves on their Christianity, don’t they?

John McCain demands that we return to war.  That’s his solution for everything. Bomb ‘em! Bomb ‘em all!  Forty years later and he’s still pursuing the same losing strategy of Vietnam. Two men enter, one man leaves! Bomb ‘em! There just aren’t enough bodies for John McCain and he wasted no time last Sunday, the wine bottles were still falling in Napa Valley, when Johnny Walnuts used the early morning quake to blame Obama for the fact that republicans had no plan for Iraq after the invasion.

"The president has to understand that America must lead and, when American hasn't, a lot of bad things happen! This is not like the earthquake in San Francisco. All of this could have been avoided, like leaving a residual force behind in Iraq, and obviously the challenge is now much greater than it would have been."

So, it’s America’s fault that bad things happen? Or just Obama’s?

It all could have been avoided, this new outbreak of violence in Iraq, if only Obama had kept us in Iraq forever, right? Yeah, except for that part where we could have avoided it all together if we hadn’t invaded in the first damned place. Or that part where Congress and George W. Bush set the timeline for our withdrawal from Iraq.  Or except for that part where nobody, especially supposed fiscally conservative republicans, wanted to pay for leaving such a force behind and rebuilding Iraq. Yeah, except for that, McBlaster was right on the money, as usual.

John McCain knows it, he was there when they voted for war and when they settled on the schedule and the budget. We couldn’t leave a residual force in Iraq, not without subjecting American soldiers to Iraqi law – the very Sharia law conservatives like McWalnuts fear so much.  The same “law” that just cost another American his head.  Our options were to pull out the troops according to the agreed upon schedule or subject them to Islamic law and Iraqi justice or … topple the Iraqi government again and start over. And that’s McCain’s plan. Do over. Go back to 1961 and invade Vietnam 2003 and invade Iraq again.  He doesn’t have any new ideas, just a rerun of the last 40 years and another 5000 American lives.

I’ll tell you, for a guy who doesn’t think much of liberals, John McCain sure seems determined to keep repeating Lyndon Johnson’s Southeast Asia strategy over and over like some blood soaked version of Groundhog Day.

At this point, you’ve got to wonder how long it’ll be before he starts quoting McNamara.

Meanwhile, Rand Paul wants to throw out the Civil Rights Act.

That’s Rand’s plan. That’s how he wants to fix America. Let businesses discriminate if they want to. Let the free market fix it, because capitalism was so, so very successful at ending apartheid without laws and regulations. Sure, get rid of the Civil Rights Act, let’s do that. Good idea. That’ll bring minorities to the Republican Party. Righto, Rand, good plan.

Paul hasn’t exactly been shy about saying so and neither has his father. 

As further evidence that Republicans have no plan and whose election year unity resembles a barnyard of panicked poultry, Sunday morning while John McCain was raging and rattling the bars of his bamboo cage, Paul was on Meet the Press warning people that Hillary Clinton is some kind of “war hawk” who’ll get us into another war.

What?

No, I am not in point of fact shitting you.

If you want to see a transformational election in our country, let the Democrats put forward a war hawk like Hillary Clinton and you’ll see a transformation like you’ve never seen. People are going to find that, and I think that's what scares the Democrats the most, is that in a general election, were I to run, there's gonna be a lot of independents and even some Democrats who say, 'You know what? We are tired of war. We're worried that Hillary Clinton will get us involved in another Middle Eastern war, because she's so gung-ho.’

John McCain: Conservatives demand mowr waaaaar in the Middle East!

Rand Paul: Oh noes! Liberal Hillary Clinton will get us into another war in the Middle East!

Hillary Clinton is too gung-ho. Americans are tired of liberals getting us into Middle Eastern wars.

Rand, meet Senator Walnuts. John, Rand. You guys belong to the same bromance, right? It’s like you’re so in sync you finish each other’s sentences.

 

I’ll just pause for a moment here so you can admire the united front that is the Republican Party two months out from the midterm elections.

 

At this point the only thing republicans have in common is their hatred of Obama.

That’s their whole damned plan, we hate Obama. That’s it. That’s the whole thing.

They’ve got nothing else.

Case in point, there’s movement afoot in conservatives circles to encourage Mitt Romney to run for president against (assumed) Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Mitt Romney.

 

I’ll just pause for a moment so you can amuse yourself with that idea.

 

Mitt Romney, folks. Again.

The one goddamned republican who you know for sure can’t get himself elected to the White House (Okay, two, John McCain, you got me, but since republicans no longer believe in math just go with me on this one). Romney, that’s the guy they’re thinking about running against Hillary Clinton

Mitt Romney.

Against Hillary Clinton. 

Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) told MSNBC,

I think he’s [Romney] proven right on a lot of stuff. I happen to be in the camp that thinks he’s actually going to run and I think he will be the next President of the United States.

There’s a Facebook group Mitt Romney for President 2016, they’ve only got 4,600 “likes” so far but that’s more than I would have guessed – unless those are Democrats. Hmmm. 

The Week says Mitt Romney is the clear republican frontrunner for 2016.

Ann Coulter, Matt Drudge, and Paul Ryan are all onboard the Draft Mitt campaign.

Ryan thinks it would be a good idea for Romney to run again because, and I quote, “Third time’s the charm.”

Romney.

Mitt Romney.

Against Hillary Clinton.

Shit, she won’t even have to put on the chainmail to beat that raggedy man.

 

I’ll just pause for a minute so you can contemplate Hillary Clinton in a chainmail miniskirt. You’re welcome.

 

The GOP is old and tired and bitter.  They’re plumb fresh out of any new ideas and they’ve got no plan whatsoever. It’s just the same old obsessions, abortion, gays, guns, and Jesus. Bomb ‘em, bomb ‘em all!

They can’t even agree among themselves on the things they all agree on.

Now, you tell me, how are they going to run the country?

Look, I’m not saying the Democrats are great, but at least they’re going forward. Inch at a time and uphill all the way, kicking and clawing and howling at the moon – and that sure beats retreat any day of the week.

Here’s the thing, so pay attention: If the republicans take the Senate in two months and/or the White House in two years, it won’t be because of their innovative comprehensive plan for rebuilding America or their infectious enthusiasm.

No, it won’t. Obviously. Because they have neither.

It’ll be because democrats are too goddamned lazy to get off their asses and do something about it.

If you can’t win against these dour disorganized pessimists, then you don’t deserve to be in charge.

Give that some thought, won’t you?

 

Remember: no matter where you go, there you are!
- Pigkiller

 




Addendum: A note about my use of the word “lopsided,” in reference to Palin’s child.

Look at the sentence in context.

The entire point of Palin's Death Panel bullshit, the entirety of it, was because she openly accused President Obama (and by extension all liberals) of engaging in Nazi-style eugenics. Her allegation was that Obama would bring the mentally challenged, the old, the infirm, and specifically her Down Syndrome son, before a government panel to be judged and (presumably) condemned to die. 

Death Panels. She accused us of being fucking Nazis, she was quite specific about it.

Yes, I used the word lopsided.  I didn't use "inferior," "deficient," "defective," "retarded," "Mongoloid," "special," "handicapped," or any other demeaning or outdated euphemism.  I would also point out that I didn't call him a goddamned Nazi. I used a non-threatening word with no attached social baggage. I did it on purpose to identify the child Palin herself made a political token by holding him up as different and less than her other children – and that’s exactly what she did, she didn’t say liberals were going to off Willow or Bristol or Tyvek or Snowshoe or whatever the rest of her kids are called.

I didn't bring Palin's kid into this, Palin did. Loudly. Repeatedly. She used that child as a political token, and she did it  specifically because of his developmental condition. She assumed special authority because of her child. She made a specific point of it. So where is it? Where are those death panels? Where are they? She said we'd kill her kid, she said the Government would kill her kid, she said liberals would kill her kid specifically because he is mentally challenged and we are baby murdering Nazis.

So why is he still alive? Well?

Guess what, I didn’t kill her kid. Liberals didn’t kill her kid. Obama didn’t kill her kid. Obamacare didn’t kill her kid.  So far as I know, he’s doing just fine. Last time I saw him in public, he was cute as a button. I don’t think he’s lopsided, she does.

But here’s the thing, kids are dying.  Because they don’t have access to fucking healthcare, because spiteful insane selfish assholes like Sarah Palin don’t think they deserve it.

If Sarah Palin doesn't want me using her goddamned kid to make a political point, she shouldn't have brought him to the fight and hauled him up as different in front of the nation.

And she shouldn't have called me a fucking Nazi.

Lopsided is a hell of a lot more polite than calling the rest of us baby murdering fascists.

And unlike her, I own what I say.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Pressure Cooker

Can we all get along?
- Rodney King, 1992 Los Angeles riots

 

I don’t like being cynical.

Especially about the United States of America.

I’m not particularly good at that kind of pessimism, because I’m generally an optimist when it comes to my country.

And I’d like to say I’m surprised.

I’d like to say that I’m shocked.

I’d like to say that I’m surprised and shocked at the violence and the rage in Ferguson, Missouri.

But I’m not.

Of course I’m not.

I’m not surprised or shocked in any way whatsoever.

And I doubt you are either.

Oh we’re appalled, sure. Some of us are disgusted with the behavior of the rioters and the looters and the protesters.  And some of us are disgusted with the behavior of the police and the various governments.  Like Israel and Gaza, we’ve all got our usual suspects to blame for the conflict, our side to root for and cheer on. But still, whatever side we’re on, we’re all disturbed by the images on our screens.

But we’re not surprised. Are we?

And, you know, that’s the worst part, isn’t it? That, right there. None of us are shocked or surprised. No. This is exactly what we expect in America.

We’re used to it.

I’d like to say I’m outraged, and I am to a certain extent, but not nearly as much as I should be, because the violence, on both sides of the street, cops and protesters, is the norm and not the exception. 

I’d have been surprised if it didn’t happen.

This is part and parcel of The Big Lie we Americans tell ourselves. That one about our vaunted exceptionalism.  Heh, heh, exceptionalism. Riiiiight. Exceptionalism isn’t even a real word, but then that’s par for the course. Tell me, America, what’s so damned exceptional about fearing the police? About living in fear of authority? What’s exceptional about armed troops in the streets? About armored vehicles and automatic weapons on the corners, in the playgrounds, guarding the schools and the store and the police stations? About blockades and showing your papers? What’s exceptional about being shot down without trial or due process? What exactly is exceptional about dead kids in the street? What’s exceptional about tear gas and rubber bullets – or lead ones for that matter? But then what’s so exceptional about an armed population? About citizens who solve their differences with pistols and assault weapons? What’s exceptional about racism and inequality and disparity and naked hate? What’s exceptional about crime and riot? What’s exceptional about the arrest and detainment of journalists and reporters? What’s exceptional about political division that verges on civil war? These things are all too common around the world.

Come now, tell me, America. 

Compare the images from Ferguson, Missouri to Gaza, to Moscow, to Tiananmen Square, to Brazil, to any of a hundred supposedly inferior Third World places we see on our TVs every single day and tell me again about our great American exceptionalism.

If you want to be exceptional, America, then you have to be the exception.  Q.E.D.

The events of Ferguson, Missouri over the last week are the norm in America.

And there is nothing particularly new about any of it. From the Whiskey Rebellion to Ferguson, this is how we so often do business in America. Shoot first, ask questions later, let God sort it out.

The violence in Ferguson is the natural consequence of short sighted policies enacted out of fear, out of reflex and political laziness and a lack of national will. It exists because we are too damned lazy to do anything about it except wring our hands and blame somebody else.

The violence in Ferguson is a direct result of our exceptional inability to face the real problems and deal with them as a mature nation, as a civilized society, and as a reasonable people.

Both the initial confrontation and the resulting violence, those things really aren’t surprising in America at all. They happen all of the time. The media is daily full of similar events. We’ve watched this same scene play out over and over.  Dead kids. Riots. Looting. Burning buildings. Clouds of gas. Police intimidating and almost machinelike in military gear. Enraged citizens. Bloviating politicians. Posturing pundits. A media more interested in manufacturing news than in reporting it. And, of course, as always, a dimwitted easily led American population dutifully lining up on either side each according to political affiliation like good little clockwork automatons, short on facts, long a rumor and rhetoric, shrieking and manically shaking their fists at each other.

Here’s what will happen in Ferguson: Eventually a handful of rioters will be prosecuted and found guilty of property damage or public disorder or some other equally convenient charge. Soon thereafter the police will be exonerated of any wrong doing, though the chief will talk about how they could maybe do things better and how they’re gonna hire themselves more police of color, because, heh heh, you know.  Violence will erupt again, briefly, when it becomes apparent, again, that there really is no justice to be had despite all the promises. But this time the police will be ready and it’ll all peter out into sullen rage and renewed cynical resentment. 

The lessons will be reinforced: Black and white, Right and Left, Rich and Poor, and Fuck the Police.

By then, of course, America will have long forgotten about Ferguson, Missouri.

And we will go on as before.

And the problems that cause this will remain. Unaddressed. Unsolved.

My cynicism and the violence in Ferguson, they’re both symptoms of a much larger problem. A problem that’s been simmering and bubbling for decades – hell, centuries – and every once in a while it boils over. We get scalded, sure, and it’s terrible, and we all scream, why? Why doesn’t somebody do something?  Why can’t we all just get along?

But we never turn down the heat. We never fix the real problem.

We just put the lid back on and hope it’ll be different next time.

Then we forget about it.

Until the pressure cooker explodes in our face yet again.

Last Saturday, a unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was shot dead by a white police officer.  The shooting occurred around noon in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, as Brown and a friend walked down a street.

That part is not in dispute.

But nearly every other detail of the event is.

Police say that Brown was shot during a struggle with the arresting officer when he tried to grab the cop’s gun.

Other reports say Brown was killed while kneeling in the street with his hands up.

Of course there’s no video of the event. We’ve got a billion gigabytes of cats and boobs and rednecks doing stupid shit with guns, but somehow the important stuff never gets recorded, does it? All we have is the cop’s word. And the conflicting words of supposed witnesses. Brown, conveniently, isn’t around to defend himself.

Barring the ability to travel through time, we’ll never really know what happened. Not really. Not indisputably. We’ll each believe what we want to believe, whatever best suits our own viewpoint and perception.

But, ultimately, what it comes down to is that an unarmed black teenager was shot dead by a white cop. Again.

As I said up above, there’s nothing exceptional about this scenario. In America, it happens all too often.

At its core, this is about racism – both the individual and the institutionalized kind.

Yes, it's about race. Yes it is. That is the very crux of the matter.

And don’t try to pretend that it’s not.  Race and how we view race in America from our various perspectives always shapes how we perceive incidents like this.  Everything, the inevitable violence, the mollifying empty promises, the gravid media analysis, the openly racist comments, the subtly racist comments, the contemptuous dismissal of the race issue, everything that always follows this kind of event depends from this basic fact: In America it’s always about race.

Ignoring that fact or pretending that it’s not so in order to avoid dealing with it is precisely why it continues day in and day out.

 

image

 

When the police refer to the black population as “animals,” on record, to a reporter, it’s about race.

When the population is predominately black and the police force is predominately white, it’s about race.

When the dialog focuses on the dead teenager’s appearance, his clothing, his friends, his school record, his family, his habits and haunts and hangouts, when the media publically debates whether he was a “good son” or a “thug,” it’s about race.

When the media openly speculates about the victim’s possible drug use or criminal history, it’s about race.

When your perception of the dead teen’s guilt or innocence is determined by which political party you belong to or which political pundit you listen to, it’s about race.

When you attempt to justify the death of a black teenager because other black people smashed windows and lit shit on fire in protest, it’s about race. 

When you attempt to dismiss another dead black teenager at the hands of the police by quoting statistics about “black on black” crime, it’s about race.

When you’re more outraged about the unconstitutional arrest and intimidation of white reporters than you are about the unconstitutional shooting of a black teenager, it’s about race.

When you’re more concerned about the militarization of white police than you are about the fact that those same police gunned down a black teenager for no apparent reason other than he happened to be walking down a public street while black, just like any of a hundred other black teenagers gunned down by those in authority, it’s about race. 

When you suggest with a knowingly raised eyebrow that a black teenager ought to be smart enough to immediately submit to police authority without any trace of resentment or risk summary execution, but you think a bunch of white ranchers are patriots for defying the government and pointing assault rifles at federal agents, it’s about race.

When those things, all of those things, are what determines in the court of public opinion whether or not the dead kid deserved what he got or whether he was a victim, well, folks, then it’s about race.

When a white cop shoots dead an unarmed black teenager, it’s about race.

In America, it’s always about race.

 

image

 

Where were the up-armored police forces when it was the Bundy Ranch? Where was the tear gas? Where were the journalists being dragged away in handcuffs while police confiscated their cameras?

And the real question is where were the bodies of those who refused to submit to lawful authority?

That’s what I asked on Twitter.

The responses were … educational.

Take Dante DaDemonkiller for example:

image

Ah, paramilitary white secessionists of the  Bundy Ranch, armed and organized (heh heh) are good then, right?

I have to wonder what Mr. Demonkiller and those of his Libertarian persuasion would say if Black Panthers, organized and armed with assault weapons, had shown up in Ferguson to defend the black population from white police officers?

Visualize it, visualize your TV screen full of angry defiant black men in paramilitary clothing coming from across the nation, carrying assault rifles, standing shoulder to shoulder in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, facing down the police. Go on, picture it.  What do you see? Patriots? Do you see patriots? Is that what you see?

Don’t make me laugh.

Oh certainly, I’m speculating here. Perhaps Dante the Demonkiller would cheer when Nation of Islam soldiers took up arms against the government of Ferguson.

But I suspect not.

Tell me it’s not about race, go ahead, I’ll try to keep a straight face.

 

image

 

Why do I compare the two events?

Why do I invite division?

Oh yeah, it’s me. I’m the one.

It’s not the fact that once again police shot down an unarmed black teenager.  Noooooo, that’s not it.

It’s me, I’m the one inviting division by asking why it’s okay for white militia to come from across America and point guns at the government without so much as one single arrest, but an unarmed black kid can’t walk down street in his own neighborhood without risking a death sentence?

Yeah, it’s me.

If you think questioning the status quo is what causes division, there’s nothing much I can say to you.

The events in Ferguson are, to some extent, about the line where rightful protest becomes wrongful riot.

But what gets lost in that discussion is why the protest began in the first place – and the riot, for that matter.  When people feel they’ve been treated poorly, when they have no hope of anything better, when their very lives and the lives of those they love can be taken without consequence, then they tend to fight back via any means available.  Yes, black people riot in America, true, and so do white people and yellow people and red people and it turns out that violent riot isn’t the exclusive domain of any one race.  If you think it is, if you think white people smashing windows and beating the shit out of each other after a sporting event is just “boys being boys” but black people reacting in rage on the streets of Ferguson is how “animals” behave, well, folks, as I said, all you’re doing is proving me right.

Riot is wrong. It’s criminal and illegal and dangerous, counter-productive, and worse, it distracts from the real issues. But here in America, what distinguishes riot from protest is very, very different depending on race, affluence, neighborhood, and political affiliation.

Much of the hand-wringing during this last week is over militarization of America's police force.

Yes, our police forces are growing increasingly mechanized and more heavily armed.

Social media and the news are rife with discussions about government programs to distribute surplus military equipment to police departments. Our screens are saturated with pictures of cops, insectile and menacing in military style armor, scowling impassively at the camera from behind the gaping muzzles of their heavy weapons. 

But what’s missing here is the counterbalance.

While it’s true that our police forces have up-armored, so has the civilian population.

We’re armed to the fucking teeth, we Americans.

Or did you miss those Tea Party rallies, the gun shows, all those militias, or those pictures from the Bundy Ranch? And the gangs and the criminals toting semi-auto armor piecing weaponry.  Guns fill our stores, our homes, and our streets and a loud vocal well funded fraction of Americans wants more guns, more more more.

And what? You think cops should face that armed populace with their trusty old .38s and a smile? C’mon.

This is nothing new. Back in the 1870’s following the Civil War, former soldiers, some Union but many former Confederates, terrorized the West using surplus military equipment and tactics.  You’ve maybe heard of the James Gang, right? The Youngers? The Daltons? The Wild Bunch? Eventually the various police forces and private security companies used military tactics to hunt those criminals down and restore order. In the  1930s, during the heyday of Prohibition, gangsters roamed the streets of America, robbing banks and blazing away with Tommy Guns.  You’ve heard of this, right? Seen the movies maybe? Sure, Ma Barker, Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly. And again, eventually the G-Men got themselves some Thompson submachine guns of their own. And armored cars. And surplus war equipment. And they set up road blocks and id checks and tapped phones.  After World War II the same thing happened. And after Vietnam. And here we are.

So, yes, we’re giving surplus military equipment to local police forces. Of course we are. Because otherwise we have to leave it in Iraq or Afghanistan. Or we could let that equipment rust on military bases across the nation because we don’t have the funding or forces to maintain it, or we could dump it over the side of the transport ships into the sea like we did coming home from Vietnam. 

Those MRAPs and armored vehicles cost us, you and me, a very large fortune – and that’s a bill we and our children are going to be paying on for a very long time.  Those machines were designed for a specific role in a particular conflict and they came too late to be of much use. So what the hell do we do with them? We do what we always do, we hand them out in some forlorn hope of recouping maybe just a bit of the massive cost of war.  This is nothing new. Our national guard armories are full of WWII field pieces, and Korean war jeeps, and Vietnam era helicopters. 

And so the national guard and the police find themselves with obsolete armored trucks that are in large part prohibitively expensive to operate and not really very useful for much of anything other than starting conspiracy theories.

The body armor and the assault rifles? Well, hell, folks when you’re facing militia in body armor and armed with assault rifles, what the fuck do you expect?  That’s what happens with escalation, one side up-armors, so the other side up-armors, so the first side up-armors more, which means the other side has … well, you get the idea. 

Which, inevitably leads to the “well, yeah, but see, the [citizens/government] started it! We’ve got to react, man, got to! We can’t let the [citizens/government] get the upper hand! Fascists! Nazis! Mobs! Revolution! Blah blah blah, round and round, in a perfect case of the self-licking ice cream cone.

[edit]

Does that mean that we shouldn’t be discussing the limits of law enforcement and its role in our communities? No, of course not. Obviously we need to talk about it, and take action, and watch closely. Of course. But that isn’t the point here and that discussion is part of the larger conversation we should be having.

There’s no damned point in patching up law enforcement if the laws and the society they support aren’t just and equal to begin with.

[end edit]

And now we’ve drifted far, far from the real issue.

The violence in Ferguson, and in Sanford, and Los Angeles, and Watts, and Selma, wasn’t caused by militarization of the police force. That was most certainly a contributing factor, but it’s not the cause.

The violence in Ferguson wasn’t caused by the current occupant of the White House, or the previous one for that matter. Nor was it caused by illegal immigrants, or Benghazi, or the IRS, or NSA, or 911, or UFOs. 

The violence in Ferguson sure wasn’t sparked by the arrest of white reporters. It wasn’t caused by the media or the pundits or social media, though all of those things certainly fanned the flames.

The violence in Ferguson wasn’t caused by liberals. It wasn’t caused by conservatives. It wasn’t caused by republicans or democrats or the goddamned Nazis.

It wasn’t caused by any of those things. Those things are side effects.

Allowing ourselves to be distracted by side effects blinds us to the real causes and therefore to actual solutions.

The violence in Ferguson, Missouri is about race. 

Everything that’s happened begins from that simple point.

And until we deal with that, that right there and all the myriad complex problems that depend from it, the centuries of social inequality, the lack of justice, the us and them mentality, the poverty, the drugs, the guns, the politics, the lost potential and opportunity, and especially the rage, until we face that head on and actually do something about it in a fair and reasoned manner, then scenes like Ferguson will continue to play out on the evening news.

I don’t like being cynical.

Especially about the United States of America.

I think we’re better than this.

I think we can be exceptional.

But I’m not holding my breath at this point.